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A/N: Buckle in, dear readers—this one is quite the ride. If you've binge-watched ER, you'll probably be fine, but if that kind of thing makes you squeamish, you may want to skip to the end when you get to that part. I hope the length of this chapter makes up for how long you had to wait-it's the longest one yet. This chapter contains italicized quotes from The Fellowship of the Ring.
Aragorn blinked, struggling to clear his vision as he tied off the last stitch on Boromir's arm. His arms trembled at the effort, but he needed to hold them up and steady a few minutes longer. Stitching wounds on a thrice empty stomach after the day he'd just experienced really was inadvisable. It was difficult to see by lantern light, and he hoped the scar resulting from his shoddy needlework wouldn't become another point of contention between himself and the man of Gondor, who—judging by the slump of his head—had fallen asleep almost as soon as he'd resigned himself to their current path. His own mind kept stuttering to a halt, and he kept finding himself staring at each newly completed stitch, trying to remember where he was in the process. Counting the stitches, he realized he just needed to tie off the thread and then stay awake to plan with Haldir. He hadn't been able to manage the act of speaking and stitching at the same time, and with each stitch the monotony of the task had made the siren call of sleep even harder to resist. A full day had not passed, yet it felt like a lifetime.
A call came from below, and Aragorn jerked to alertness once more, yanking on the uncut thread that had somehow become tangled in his fingers. Boromir gave a yelp, and the ranger jabbed his thumb with the needle before he came awake enough to realize what was happening.
As he sucked the bead of blood from his smarting digit and wondered exactly how long he'd succumbed to sleep, Pippin's excited voice cut through the fog. "It's Frodo and Sam!"
He watched with relief, bemused, as he and Merry overcame their fear of heights once more and wobbled over to the opening to watch their kin climb shakily up the rope ladder to the talan. An elf Aragorn hadn't yet seen brought up their rear. As they stepped onto the talan, he could see that Sam's face was pinched with pain, and Frodo was breathing shallowly again, but when he looked them over, he saw no sign of new injury, save some new scratches on Sam. His eyes narrowed. He was sure there was a story there, but the two weren't exactly diving right into explanations. Indeed, they stood frozen on the platform in a crouched sort of way that suggested being terrified at the talan's great height. He thought Sam was muttering something about hobbits not being meant for places so high above ground, and how he didn't trust a few pieces of wood not to give way beneath them.
The other elf, who of course was used to the treetops, ignored them all and began a rapid report in Silvan almost the moment he was off the ladder. Aragorn found himself looking from the elf, to the hobbits, and back again for clues. As the story—whatever it was-was related, they all settled around the lantern. Aragorn started a bit as Boromir handed him a water skin and a wafer of lembas.
"Eat," the man growled quietly.
Across from them, Haldir was sharing his supply of the waybread with the hobbits. Watching them dig in, he suspected the marchwarden's supply might soon begin to run low. Midway through the report, and long since he'd given up trying to understand, Haldir sucked in a breath and looked over at him expectantly. Sam and Frodo, ironically, seemed to have followed the conversation and now somehow seemed to be waiting for him to explain. Feeling wrong footed, he scrubbed a hand over his face and tried to shake the last of the cobwebs from his mind.
"Orophin and the others have gone for Thranduillion." Haldir's tone was somewhat chiding, both clueing him in and admonishing him without words for failing to report such an important detail.
"How did..." Aragorn was still struggling to follow, and with great aggravation longed for a mug of black, sludgy coffee to jolt him awake. Elves of course, had little use for such a brew, and therefore never had any one hand.
"We told him about Legolas," Frodo supplied helpfully, interrupting the side trip his brain had taken. The ringbearer was looking at him curiously, as if to ask why Haldir hadn't already known about their elven friend. Aragorn flinched under his gaze, guilt descending like a cloak.
"Don't be too hard on yourself," Haldir allowed, offering an olive branch, "You were too weary to think clearly, so Eru intervened. Besides, I'm impressed you managed to stitch up your companion's arm in your state."
Boromir shuffled a bit at his right, and Aragorn grimaced as the man inspected the stitching that held his wound closed. There was a muttered oath before the man fixed him with a stern glare. Aragorn shrugged apologetically, steadfastly ignoring the teasing glint that had come into Haldir's eyes. The steward's son, however, peered at Aragorn evaluatingly and then grunted his acceptance.
"How bad is it this time?" Haldir's voice brought the ranger back to the present, and he turned to find the elf's mirth dying and his expression growing more serious. "Oh come now, even in Lothlórien we hear the tales of Thranduillion's escapades with a certain Dúnedain. Undómiel herself has regaled us with quite a few of them—not to mention your erstwhile companions from your last stay here. All fraught with perils and tales of barely surviving."
"He's certainly gotten out of worse scrapes," Aragorn allowed, ignoring the curious looks he was receiving from the others and forcing himself to focus. He didn't share the marchwarden's optimism.
"You know Legolas?" Pippin interrupted curiously, and the elves' eyes grew round as the hobbit reached gingerly for another piece of lembas and popped it into his mouth. Aragorn was reminded immediately of the hobbit's tendency to latch onto the smallest, most random detail and remember it for all eternity.
"Only by reputation. I've never met the Green Leaf. I've met his father, and that is enough." Haldir grimaced at this last, and the ranger struggled to keep his lips from twitching.
Legolas' father did have quite the reputation. Pippin's eyes were already narrowing in suspicion, and Aragorn could seem him mouthing Thran-du-il-li-on, his eyebrows furrowing as he tried to riddle out the elvish name. Aragorn saw the moment he'd gotten it-hobbit's jaw dropped in utter astonishment.
Merry was not far behind him in his deductions and looked from Aragorn to the two elves, and then back to Aragorn. "Thranduil's son."
"Wait," Pippin cut in, "You mean that our Legolas is the son of Thranduil. The Thranduil." Both hobbits' eyes widened further when Aragorn made no attempt to deny it.
"You mean to that Mr. Legolas is the son of the elven King from Mr. Bilbo's adventures?!" Sam actually dropped his dinner in shock.
Aragorn found himself nodding, not missing how Frodo's face lacked any surprise—perhaps Bilbo had told him. For his part, Boromir seemed well and truly confused by the significance of the moment. "He would have preferred that fact remain unknown to you, though it was no secret."
"But, why?" Merry asked quizzically.
"Because he and his father never quite saw eye to eye on that little misadventure and he'd rather you and your kin got to know him as himself."
"So-how bad?" Haldir repeated, ending their digression from the point at hand. At least for all his optimism, he'd gotten some sense of the urgency.
"It's…not good." The Ranger managed, looking both chagrined and worried. "He took an orc arrow near Moria. If it had not happened while we were still so far from Lothlórien, and we had not been pursued, I think this would hardly be worth a note in his history of scrapes, but we were forced to flee instead of treating it, and aside from the wound itself, if the orcs have tracked them, he will not be able to defend himself. Gimli will defend him, of course, but one companion…"
"It is likely too late to intercept the orcs now. What will come to pass has likely been determined already," the elf pronounced gravely.
"I'm worried about Mr. Gimli, too," Sam interrupted suddenly, "he'll defend Mr. Legolas with his life, he will. He's honorable like that, but it's my thinking that whenever those elves find them, they won't treat him right."
Aragorn found himself heartened by the faith Sam had that their two companions would live long enough to be found, but Haldir frowned in confusion, and not a little offense, "Why would we harm one of your companions?"
"Because," Aragorn replied evenly, catching the elf's eye, "Gimli is a dwarf."
"A dwarf?!" The ranger groaned as the elf, predictably, proved Sam's point, his nose wrinkling. "We have not had dealings with the Dwarves since the Dark Days. They are not permitted in our land," he spat.
After that outburst, Aragorn was inclined to agree with the hobbits. In a moment, the genial supper had shifted and all four hobbits were beginning to look very, very angry and rather less accepting of the elven hospitality they had been shown. Gimli's position when found with a wounded elf by a patrol of galadhrim would be perilous indeed, even if Legolas reassured them otherwise, and to this point, the elf himself had barely tolerated the dwarf—a fault over which he and Aragorn had already exchanged words over several times.
"But he is from the Lonely Mountain, one of Dain's trusty people, and friendly to Elrond—who himself chose him to be one of our companions," Frodo cried indignantly, "and he has been brave and faithful."
Boromir rose then, and began to pace with a nervous sort of energy that Aragorn wished he could share. "Gimli will not be able to resist a war of words if provoked. The situation could very easily come to blows."
"We've got to get out there!" Merry decided, giving a single nod as if the matter was settled, "For both their sakes."
Haldir paused to consider. "Even if you left this very moment, it would be impossible for you to overtake them. Once it is light, my marchwardens will be able to handle any number of wounds. No one denies you are a skilled healer, Aragorn, but they may not in fact, have need of you."
"You have yet to reassure us about our companion," Frodo cut in, falling silent when Aragorn held up a hand. Trying to plead Gimli's cause was a futile waste of time.
"It is my hope that I will not be needed," he allowed, "But my heart tells me differently." Legolas had been away from help too long, and the reclusive Lórien elves, protected by Nenya, had more of a patch them up and retreat strategy. Healers of the caliber his friend's wound required were only found within the walls of Caras Galadhon.
Haldir's eyes narrowed at this pronouncement, and the ranger knew he'd finally revealed, without the rest of the Company realizing it, the gravity of Legolas' situation. The elf could die, simply because time had forced their hand. And if he died—Aragorn shivered—Gimli's position would be precarious indeed, especially if no one of their Company was present.
"I'm going with you," Merry announced suddenly, getting to his feet.
"Not you, Merry," Aragorn said wearily, trying to dredge up enough energy to argue. "Me. I must go alone. And soon." It was not lost on him, or apparently any of the others that Haldir had not refuted their assumptions about how their dwarf companion might be treated.
"Alone? But why?" Pippin retorted in dismay before crossing his arms and fixing his jaw mulishly. "That's ridiculous."
"You would only slow him down," Boromir replied in Aragorn's defense, sitting back down. The ranger winced at the bald truth of his words, and was not surprised to find that Merry and Sam, in particular, had not taken them well.
"Now see here—" Sam began.
"You know Boromir meant no offense, Sam," Frodo jumped in soothingly, though he threw the man a peevish look.
"Prejudice aside-you're wrong, the both of you," Merry hissed. "Can you not see how foolish it would be to go alone? Once you've found them—and that's optimistic 'cause you're dead on your feet—you'll be focused on Legolas. There will be no one to watch over Gimli—he could be hurt for all we know! The fact remains that we are not children to be cossetted and protected. Sure, we're short and unaccustomed to battle, but I think we've more than proven our worth. You must take one of us with you!"
His eyes simmered as Aragorn met them, but the tension was broken when Pippin—reaching for another wafer of waybread—exclaimed with a calculated sort of cheer, "We are burglars, after all." Boromir looked confused, but Aragorn found his ire loosening in the face of the hobbit's subtle point. They were not children to be cossetted and protected—Bilbo's adventures proved that much, and perhaps their loyalty to Gimli stemmed not only from their recent friendship, but also from their shared histories.
"And you think you're the best choice?" Boromir asked, having disregarded Pippin's comment and gotten to his feet again to tower over Merry, his voice harsh and incredulous. Aragorn looked at him in surprise. The man was usually less abrasive with the hobbits.
"Well—I'm fitter than you lot," Merry returned testily as he looked them over pointedly. Following his gaze, Aragorn had to concede that he wasn't wrong. Boromir's arm needed to knit a while longer before he climbed down the ladder and went traipsing all over the countryside, and even though the man could likely manage just fine, one of them needed to stay with the hobbits. Poor Pippin's hands wouldn't be able to hold anything without pain for at least a week, and of course it would be foolhardy to take the ring bearer further from safety. Aragorn frowned suddenly at the wound he'd spotted on Sam's hand. Were those…tooth marks?
The ranger gave a great sigh, at which Merry seemed to sense he'd won and bit out slowly and deliberately, "I'm coming with you."
And that had been the end of it.
About two hours before dawn, Aragorn set out with Merry, leaving instructions for the others to take the road south as soon as it was fully light. His muscles had stiffened in the stillness of the talan and now protested mightily. They crossed the Nimrodel, and set a brisk pace to the edge of the wood. The crisp morning air invigorated him at first, but as their distance increased, he found himself tiring once more. To his chagrin, it appeared he was slowing Merry down, but the hobbit graciously refrained from the kind of told-you-so-remarks that so often made up Legolas' particular brand of torment.
Dawn was approaching as they emerged from the wood. To their left lay the old road, like a worn and winding carpet on the grasses, and to the right dead bodies of orcs lay scattered about. A little apart, Aragorn could see a curious pile of packs, and beside them, Boromir's shield. Beyond that, the Silverlode ran, gurgling merrily.
The orcs' trail extended northward, a blackened path of trampled grass. Their direction was obvious even to a child, though Aragorn dropped into a squat to examine their tracks. As he'd expected, the heels of the topmost tracks dug in to the South. Of the elves Frodo and Sam had mentioned, he found only an occasional trace that yielded no information at all. "Well, I guess it's no secret which way we'll be going," Merry commented dryly as he approached, hefting his newly-retrieved pack higher on his shoulders.
The second trip across the plains seemed a much greater distance when not fleeing for one's life. They continued on, side by side, and Aragorn could see the angry set of the hobbit's jaw. He wasn't quite sure how to deal with an angry hobbit—as he'd only ever had experience with merry, valiant, and stubborn hobbits-though some of that fierceness he'd seen in Bree came belatedly to mind.
As day dawned, the grasses on the plain began to glisten like a golden sea and Aragorn picked up the pace, not wanting to waste a single moment of daylight.
They had continued on like this for quite a while, Merry keeping up just as he'd promised, when a sharp whistle rent the air. Merry stumbled into Aragorn as he stopped suddenly, searching for the signal's source.
"Is it them already?" The hobbit asked breathlessly as he bent over, hands on his knees, using the pause to catch his breath.
Across the Silverlode, and still some distance away, he sighted two elves, who held up a hand in greeting. They wore only simple tunics and jerkins, but as they neared, he recognized the faces of two marchwardens who were known to him.
He turned to Merry, unable to contain his relief, "These elves are known to me-we must cross over to them."
Without waiting for the hobbit's reply, he waded across the shallow stream, ignoring the slight roll of Merry's eyes at his stating of the obvious. "Foendil! Tûron!"
Merry followed him, completely soaking his trousers, but the hobbit made no comment as he reappeared at his elbow.
Of the elves that could have found them, Aragorn was doubly relieved it was these two. Though they had never met Legolas, they had been his companions during his travels through Lórien. If anyone would listen to him about Gimli, these two would. The conversation that followed almost made him wilt with relief.
A look of impatience flickered across Merry's face, and he found himself offering hurriedly, "They have found them both—alive, but we must hurry." He found himself raking a hand through his scraggly hair to hide the relieved tremble of the appendage.
As they continued on northward, he realized he should probably begin instructions.
"Tûron, Foendil—" he gestured to Merry, "Meriadoc Brandybuck, tôl en Shire."*
The hobbit dipped his head in acknowledgement as they hurried along, "Yes, yes. Hello." Then he rounded on Aragorn, "Now that introductions are over, perhaps you'd be so kind as to tell me what exactly they've told you."
"They found both of them this morning," he began, letting the elves walk in front of them.
"So you've already said," the hobbit snapped impatiently.
Thinking that perhaps the Brandybucks might have some overlooked reputation for fierceness, Aragorn hastened to add, "Alive, and for the most part, no worse for wear. They told me they tracked the orcs into the early morning. Legolas and Gimli had taken refuge in a narrow gap in the hillside—I suspect our dwarf friend had something to do with that choice. Its defensibility saved their lives when the orcs found them."
Here Merry's breath sucked in sharply, so Aragorn plowed ahead, "Gimli took a blade to the hand—the only injury."
The hobbit's eyes flashed and the ranger hurriedly added, "From the orcs!"
Somewhat mollified, Merry huffed, "Well, they had better be treating him fairly!" The hobbit sent a glare at the two elves they trailed.
Normally Aragorn would have found humor in a hobbit threatening and stamping about with his feet, but Merry looked so ferocious that Aragorn merely hastened to continue on with the story.
"Foendil and Tûron have reported, quite ruefully in fact, that he might have indeed been in some peril from them"—here Merry actually growled—"had he not made quite the impression by saving Legolas' life." This seemed to satisfy the hobbit, who relaxed and let Aragorn finish telling the story without further interruption.
The party hastened ahead in silence. Surely they must be nearly there, Aragorn hoped, all the urgency he had felt since they'd left Legolas behind the night before giving speed to his tiring legs, though they burned and trembled. He was sure Merry's shorter legs would have trouble keeping up, but he thought he might jump out of his skin if he slowed now. Foendil slowed and let him pass, falling behind to keep up with the hobbit, and some of Aragorn's guilt lessened.
He'd gone little more than a quarter league when he stumbled. Tûron grabbed him by the elbow before he could pitch too far forward and gave him a critical look. The ranger merely righted himself and shook his head. His exhaustion would be dealt with later.
Ahead, an elf emerged from the wooded hillside that led up to the dale where they had rested not a day before. He wore a cloak of gray and shouldered a pack as he led two other elves who held the ends of a narrow litter of foraged branches. Aragorn had no doubt it was Legolas being carried on it, covered by several gray cloaks and blankets. Behind them, a shorter figure stumbled laboriously along, the last to come into view. In the vibrant morning light, the dwarf—trailing behind-was pale, and what he could see of Legolas peeking out from underneath the cloaks and blankets heaped over him, was a sickly gray. Aragorn's heart clenched at how much he'd deteriorated since the night before.
"By the Shire…" Merry swore softly, appearing next to him. The others halted as Aragorn approached, his hands ghosting over Legolas' shoulders and forehead in despair before he finally got his wild emotions under control and pulled back the cloaks and blankets.
The elf shivered ever so slightly as his chest and torso were bared. Aragorn had never seem him like this. "Geheno nîn, mellon nîn,"* Aragorn whispered, his throat so tight with emotion that he could hardly get the words out. At the sound of his voice, the elf's eyes opened, and, for a moment, the ranger felt a swell of hope. But they drifted immediately closed again.
Legolas was so still. The ranger's practiced eyes skimmed the elf's torso, ignoring the older scars of pale silver to seek out the bandaged left side. The bandages were fresh and white, he noted, and he was loathe to remove the careful work. Something about them wasn't quite right—as if they should appear different—but, though the answer drew near, it eluded his weary mind. An elf drew near on his right, and after a moment, he recognized Haldir's brother, who was likely in charge. He looked up expectantly for a report.
"The arrow has separated from the shaft," Orophin told him quietly, the elf at last supplying what his brain had refused to work out.
With the knowledge came a wave of hopelessness that almost took his knees out from under him. "Damn shoddy craftsmanship," he growled tightly, despair making him feel suddenly unsteady on his feet. All he could feel was sorrow and exhaustion.
Orophin looked him over appraisingly before ordering quietly, "We stop here. Set him down."
Tûron placed a hand on Aragorn's shoulder and peered carefully into his face. "Perhaps you should take some rest first, son of Arathorn."
"No," he replied, turning away from the elf, "he has waited too long as it is and I don't want to waste anymore daylight." Looking down, he was surprised to see his pouch waiting by Legolas' feet. He wasn't sure how it had wound up exactly where and when he needed it, but he was grateful.
"Light a fire! Boil water from the stream."
Leaving the more menial tasks to the others, he knelt next to Legolas and readied his supplies, his hands shaking as he made sure each instrument was cleaned and laid out within reach, knowing that each cut he made with them could speed his friends' departure to Valinor. Through it all, Legolas never stirred, his breathing so shallow that Aragorn worried he would just slip away before anyone noticed. A water skin appeared in front of his face, jolting him from his thoughts.
"Drink," Merry ordered, thrusting it further under his nose. He obeyed and handed it back. It was exchanged for a hunk of cheese. He looked up questioningly.
"I've been saving it," the hobbit shrugged. There was no trace of his earlier ire. "Elven food isn't all that tasty—now eat before you collapse."
Raising the cheese for a moment in a gesture of thanks, Aragorn ate. Apparently satisfied, Merry retreated. Aragorn watched as he picked his way over to where Gimli sat. Orophin, to the ranger's surprise, was already unrolling the dwarf's bandages. He winced and felt a pang of concern for the dwarf—they looked to be soaked through. The dwarf himself was staring blankly at the ground, looking every bit as haunted as Aragorn felt. Merry had been right to come, Aragorn decided, as he listened to him chatter soothingly to the dwarf, the only Westron voice in the camp, relating the adventure of the night before.
The sun beat down, and Aragorn found himself sweating despite the air's current chill. It promised to be a muggy day, and the cottonball clouds provided little shade, but he welcomed the discomfort for Legolas' sake. He placed a shaky hand on the elf's neck as he watched the low rise and fall of his chest. Stable for now, but that could change in an instant.
"Tûron!" Aragorn motioned and gestured across to Legolas' right. "Sit there and tell me if there's even the slightest change." The elf in question accepted the order with grace and knelt down on Legolas' other side, leaving the ranger free to wash his hands.
Bracing himself, he slowly began to unwrap the wound. He knew what to expect, having seen and treated many arrow wounds since Lord Elrond had begun fostering his innate talent, but he still he had to take several calming breaths against the bile that rose in his throat. The wound was angry and infected, as he'd known it would be. The orc habit of reusing arrows coupled with the attempts of the elf's body to heal itself despite the foreign body had produced a rather nasty infection. This was why so many considered orc arrows to be poisoned. Truly, it wasn't that the orcs spared so much time to lace their weapons with poisons, but rather that arrows—especially scavenged from carrion and returned to the quiver to be used again infused the wounds they made with many a foul substance. Legolas was lucky he was an elf—a man would have already succumbed, as Aragorn knew all too well.
Struggling to keep his hands steady, Aragorn palpated around the wound, feeling for the loose arrowhead that could easily have slipped too deeply to find. Legolas was far too weak to survive a prolonged blood-letting. Blood and pus oozed over his fingers as he pressed around, continuing his careful search. A soft moan breeched the elf's lips and Aragorn frowned. He was going to have to do something for his pain.
Tûron seemed to be ahead of him, motioning for Foendil to bring him some of the water that had been boiled and fishing a packet of powdered herbs from his own pack. Satisfied, the ranger returned to his inspection. About two inches down from where the arrow had entered, his fingertips met resistance. He pressed gently on and around the area to make sure it wasn't a pocket of infection before he allowed himself to hope.
Not able to take the risk of moving his hand, or even looking away, he kept his left hand carefully in place while he searched with his right, his fingertips tracing each utensil until he found the item he sought. He closed his fingers around it, hanging onto it as he dragged his forearm across his forehead to keep the sweat from dripping into his eyes. It was time to begin.
This part was so important, and the wrong kind of pressure would cause the arrowhead could slip deeper, or move to another place and he'd be playing a game of hunt and find that he'd never seen end in recovery. There could be no turning back. His eyes lingered on Legolas' ashen form. "Please don't die at my hand, gwador nîn."*
He glanced quickly at Tûron and watched as the elf continued to drip the pain draught into Legolas' mouth. Every few minutes, the elf would swallow reflexively. Satisfied that everything was being done as exactly as he wanted, the ranger steeled himself and made a careful incision beneath the lump. Slipping his finger in, he probed gently for the arrowhead.
Legolas jerked, a cry of pain gurgling in his throat. "Hold him!" He cried, scarcely able to breath. As Foendil raced over to brace the elf's knees, Aragorn forced himself not to panic. This was nothing he hadn't dealt with before.
Barely any force was required, but Aragorn still needed him kept completely still. Taking a deep breath, he cut deeper, slicing again and probing carefully. His heart clenched with sorrow as the elf arched feebly at the pain. This time his finger bumped something hard, and foreign.
Keeping his finger in place, he weighed the risk before commanding, "Add more powder to the draught—he can't afford for me to lose my grip on this, and I fear in his pain, you will not be able to keep him still enough." Tûron complied instantly, and continued dripping the medicine in bit by bit, this time massaging his throat so he swallowed more quickly.
Aragorn waited as long as he dared for it to take effect, hoping he hadn't just ensured that his brother would never wake again. To use so potent a draught had its own dangers. Laying a hand over Legolas' chest, he motioned for Tûron to stop. "That's enough for now—his breathing is far too shallow."
Not taking his eyes from the spot, he widened the incision and dropped his knife with a clatter onto his other tools, feeling frantically for his tongs.
"Here," Foendil said urgently, pressing them into his hands. "Just tell me what you need."
Guiding the tongs parallel to his finger, he secured them around the arrowhead and slowly drew out the digit to give himself more room to work. He tugged gently—terrified the arrowhead would escape the tongs and slip out of reach-until it emerged, dark and soaked in blood. Behind it, more blood was welling up. With a cry, Aragorn shoved his forefinger back into the wound, plugging it.
"You've got it!" Foendil breathed out encouragingly.
Aragorn nodded, hardly trusting himself to speak as he held it up the light. As he examined it, he thought he might be sick. The end that had been attached to the shaft was crumbling, and indeed the entire bottom of the arrowhead was threatening to crumble and fall from the tongs. He quickly discarded it.
"Our work is far from over," he choked out, "the arrow damn near disintegrated. We must retrieve even the tiniest piece if we are to save his life." Impotent rage clouded his vision for a moment and he fervently wished for a few orcs to skewer with his sword.
The day wore slowly on as he picked out dirt and debris from the entry and exit wounds, tuning out everything that didn't involve the wound in front of him, praying Legolas would hold on. There was nothing else that could be done for him. It was difficult to see for all the blood that kept welling up, and Aragorn was very glad he'd not attempted to remove the arrow at the gates of Moria. Even if they'd managed to avoid their entire Company being slaughtered by orcs, Legolas would have bled to death as they tried to flee—and he wouldn't have had time to ensure the wound was clean. Somehow knowing that it would have been a disaster eased his guilt.
He looked up for a moment and ordered more bandages to be cut and boiled. Every dip of the tongs brought out more dirt and bits of stone and the softened sinew that had once attached the arrow to the shaft. "This isn't working," he finally growled in defeat, throwing the tongs down and retrieving the knife. The entire wound would have to be opened.
Emotion welled up and his eyes burned, but he swallowed and ignored it. He had to do this. There was no choice if he wanted Legolas to live. He froze when the first slice drew a whimper from the elf, who flinched away from the razor sharp blade. The draught was wearing off. Aragorn opened his mouth to tell Tûron, but the elf was already retrieving it.
This time, the elf fought it. Blood began to pour out more quickly. Panicking, Aragorn dropped his tools and grabbed the cup, slipping his other hand behind Legolas' neck and bringing his head up to drink, his fingers leaving bloody smears in the golden hair. He glanced back for a moment, relieved that Foendil had taken up his place and was pressing hard against the wound.
"Ssh. You must drink this, mellon nîn.* I am here, but you must allow me to take care of you." There was so much more he wanted to say, not caring about the tears soaking his beard, but then Legolas calmed suddenly at his touch. To Aragorn's surprise, his eyes opened.
"Legolas?" The elf gave him a funny little smile and took a swallow from the cup held out his lips before he sagged against Aragorn's hand. Alarmed, the ranger thrust the draught back at Tûron and placed his free hand on the elf's chest. He nearly wilted in relief at the reassuring beating of the elf's heart.
Instinct told him he needed to hurry now. His friend could not survive a prolonged search which would also prolong blood loss, but neither could he seal the wound in a rush to prevent him from bleeding to death. That would insure a fatal infection from any debris that was left behind. The burden of the task pressed on him and he swayed, his hands trembling violently and his throat working frantically to keep the contents of his stomach where they belonged.
Suddenly, Merry was back, steadying him. He nodded his thanks as he forced himself to drink deeply from the water skin. He accepted some more lembas, forcing it down. The light fare was ashes in his mouth. Sustenance could only help so much. He knew what he really needed was rest, but that was out of the question. He couldn't trust anyone but himself to do this.
Steadying his hands once more, he sliced as deeply as he dared between the two wounds, opening the entire abdomen. It was as he had suspected. Debris was visible from the entry point all the way to where the arrow had slipped after breaking off from the shaft. At least, he noted, save for some small scratches, none of his organs had been pierced. He'd take good news where he could find it. Taking a deep breath, he accepted the tongs from Foendil and set to work.
While he struggled to find and remove the tiny crumbles of debris, Orophin rejoined them, sitting at Legolas' head, his fingers slowly teasing out the warrior's braids and combing out the tangles. Aragorn could hear Merry and Gimli's low curiosity as dirt and grime were sponged away and the golden hair braided again, as if Legolas were an elfling.
"It is their custom," he found himself explaining in a gravelly voice, allowing them to distract him from the tendrils of doubt that had begun to creep in. Aragorn had always found the practice oddly comforting-feeling of home and family. Tûron motioned with an encouraging nod to the elf in their care, who seemed to be resting more easily, some of the lines of pain on his face smoothing even further.
The winter light had begun to wane as Aragorn continued to painstakingly pick out the debris left by the arrow. He had to be certain not the slightest speck of dirt remained. By now, Legolas' breathing was shallow enough to worry him, but each time he looked up expectantly at Tûron, the elf merely nodded for him to continue. There wasn't much else he could do, and Aragorn suspected the marchwarden saw the value in a quick death now instead of a slow death later. For his part, the ranger could only silently plead with his friend to hold on.
The sun had completely set as he turned to heat his knife, leaving Foendil to douse the wound with spirits. He thought he'd gotten everything, but it was too dark now to continue further. His vision grayed out for a moment as he rose to make his way to the fire, and he stumbled.
Strange hands caught him and hauled him upright. With dismay, he felt the knife being taken from his hand. "Let me do this part—it is time for you to rest, my friend." Aragorn's head felt heavy as he forced it upright to look blearily over their camp, taking in the crackling fire and the circular perimeter that had been set up, then Gimli talking quietly with Merry, a fresh bandage on his hand, and then Legolas. He opened his mouth to protest, but the words wouldn't come.
"I believe we are skilled enough to handle his care from this point," Tûron said kindly in his ear. Aragorn felt himself panicking as his body betrayed him at last.
"We are not taking over," the elf soothed, "we know of your deep friendship, but you can delay rest no longer. Please trust us—at least Foendil and I. His care will not suffer while you restore your body."
This time the ranger managed a noise of protest.
"I promise you I will take one last look before the wound is sealed."
Aragorn sagged, finding himself too weary to resist further and the elf steered him to a pallet a few strides from Legolas' side. He sank down in spite of his tormented mind, hardly able to resist the call of sleep, but his hand flailed upward in determination, grabbing the Tûron's jerkin. "Promise me you will wake me in two hours…"
His eyes fluttered closed, but he forced them open.
"Don't leave his side. Promise me."
"You have my word." The words came faintly to him as he at last surrendered unwillingly to the fog.
Ends notes: If you are a knitter, I'd highly recommend looking up Jennifer Woodhouse's (Woodhouse Knits) Lothlórien Shawl. I'm currently knitting it, and it's such a nice companion to writing this story.
Also, I realized after reading this that the entire first half could have been a chapter of its own directly before Gimli's last chapter. I'm not sure yet if I will go back and move it, or just leave it as is, since this is all from Aragorn's POV.
Meriadoc Brandybuck, tôl en Shire= Meriadoc Brandybuck of the Shire. (I chose "of the" instead of "he comes from the Shire" as Frodo used to show Aragorn's ease with the elvish language, but I am by no means an expert in which of these forms is correct.)
Geheno nîn, mellon nîn=I'm sorry my friend.
Gwador nîn=my brother (sworn)
Mellon nîn=my friend.
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