busied himself with taken care of their steeds. He spoke to them softly giving them plenty of attention. Remaining longer then necessary, Legolas glanced around at the camp taking in the swarm of human that he was now among. He was happy to attend events with Estel to work with the rangers because he knew Halbaradís group enough to feel comfortable among them. But now he realized just how many newcomers had joined them. Which meant many stares and quiet comments made as his presence became known to the rest of them. Giving a slight sigh of defeat he finished up with the horses and released them to graze. Grabbing his stuff he followed the path that Estel has taken and made his way through the assembly of men.
He made it about half way through the group when the first whispers assaulted his sensitive ears. He caught the tone and the words that the men spoke and the lingering looks that accompanied them as he passed. An "elf," not always the most popular race among men and Legolas knew that but he was willing to but up with it so that he could be with Estel.
Strider continued his conversation his eyes welcomed his friend as he took a seat next to him by the fire words were not always necessary between them such was their relationship. Legolas made himself comfortable as he listened to them talk hearing about the discord that was among the rangers gathered here. Halbarad was explaining the situation to Strider his strength and conviction about the importance of the matter was clear in his voice as he spoke.
"Many are willing Strider, but some hold back and the rest are cautious because of this. They are afraid to give up their command, but I am not asking them to do that I just want them to remain as leaders under one command. We will never regain our strength or reputation if we do not. The name of the Rangers has been tainted by many who do not honor the way of our ancestors and have let greed and hatred control them. I have heard of reports of rangers raiding and harming innocent people."
Stroking his beard and lowering his voice so that just Strider and Legolas could hear he added. "I do not know if it is a large group of them or just a couple bad ones but I would appreciate some help on this if I am going to find out who they are and stop them."
Looking to Legolas, Strider commented. "We will do what we can" Legolas nodded in agreement his eyes sweeping over the camp with a new perspective.
Brightening up Halbarad changed subjects. "Thatís enough shop talk for now. I will cover more later. How have you both been?"
Strider picked up the conversation filling him in on the happening in his part of the world. As the evening worn on more rangers joined them at the fire as the meal was prepared. The last group had arrived a few hours ago and now after the meal talks would begin on the future of the Rangers.
As they came together for the meal introductions were made as new rangers mixed with the old. Most appeared to know Strider and shook his hand in greeting as they came up to sit by the fire. Hot stew was soon passed out to everyone and they all ate in earnest the sounds of spoons scraping against the bowls carried through the campsite.
The rangers seemed timid around the elf they greeted him kindly but refrained from looking him directly in the eye. The seat next to him remained empty throughout the night as none seemed brave enough to fill it.
Soon the meal was done the men helped clean up as they waiting for the discussion to begin. Halbarad opened up the talks discussing what he wanted to accomplish with the joining of the small bands into one.
Standing Halbarad cleared his throat to gain everyoneís attention when the campfire became silent he began. "I have called this meeting to propose that we "The Rangers" return to our old ways and work as one unit against the dark forces that arise in the land. Evil now travels the country side harming innocent people and destroying our towns. We must do what we can to halt its progress if we want to keep our families from danger."
Many of the men nodded their heads in agreement some having first hand experience with the evil that ravaged the countryside. Some whispered among themselves their words even too quiet for Legolas to hear.
Halbarad sat back down letting his words sink in as he pulled out his pipe from his cloak pocket to smoke. This apparently was a wonderful idea because the rest of the men including Strider pulled out theirs to do the same exact thing much to Legolas displeasure. The conversation began in earnest as the men drilled questions at Halbarad. The discussions went on for hours as the men voiced their opinions and Strider and Halbarad both took turns trying to win the men over.
Legolas was finding it difficult to concentrate the nauseating smell of the pipeweed was becoming unbearable. He did his best to ignore the odor and the smoke but he could not quiet the coughs that escaped his starved lungs as they revolted against the polluted air. His head was beginning to pound from the unrelenting smoke that filled the area. The breeze was light and therefore the smoke lingered around the campsite with no place to go.
Strider noting his friendís distress leaned over to speak. "Go my friend; I will fill you in later, watch from the trees and leave this smoke behind you do not look well." He added with a grin knowing how much the elf hated the habit.
Relieved Legolas nodding and quietly took leave of the group grabbing his pack and disappeared in the darkness. He waited until he was out of site to gracefully ascend the nearest tree to watch over the group. He continued to cough for a few more minutes as he cleared out the remaining smoke in his lungs. His head felt better with the intake of fresh air. Watching Strider from above he smiled never understanding the manís love of the offensive stuff.
Enjoying the solitude of the tree he listened to the conversation from below his keen eyes watching the menís posture and attitude for anything amiss. Most seemed to support Halbarad, but some in the back of the group spoke among themselves their eyes giving away their unwillingness to commit to the man just yet. Legolas did not get a bad feeling about this he knew that the men would not be willing to follow blindly.
The hours drifted by and the group began to break up and head to their bed rolls others stayed in small groups to discuss what had been said. Soon all the men left leaving just Halbarad and Strider by the fire still deep in conversation. Legolas watched their faces as the fire illuminated the emotions that they felt during their talk as the discussion turned to old times. Their occasional laugh filled the night air as they remembered past times together. The elf did not intrude but remained in the tree giving them their time together.
Taking in the sweet smell of the forest Legolas took a deep breath but halted his intake as the distinct smell of pipeweed filled his nose the odor lingering on his clothes and skin. Shaking his head in disgust he was amazed at the strength of the stuff. Hoping to free himself from its stench he decided to go to the river and try to get rid of as much of it as he could. Landing lightly on the ground he followed the moonlit path to the river never noticing the pair of eyes that followed his movements.
At the river he proceeded to drop his pack and kneel down to the waterís edge to wash his face and hair. The water was refreshing and he loved feeling clean again. His clothes he could do nothing about but he was not about to sleep with his hair smelling of the stuff. He smiled imagining Estel laughing at his pickiness. Squeezing the water from his hair he stood and drank in the beauty of the river before picking up his pack and turning to go.
Making his way back the same path he only took a few steps and was surprised to find two men approaching the river. Not giving them more then a glance he continued on his way but made a subtle adjustment in his direction to veer off the path slightly so as not to pass by them too closely.
He was surprised to find two more men just behind them but more to his left not walking on the path but to the side of it putting him in the middle. The river seemed to be a very popular place all of a sudden. Raising his eyebrow in suspicion he did not think that so many rangers would be concerning themselves with bathing or even washing up since they were not usually the cleanest lot of men but he said nothing, just changed his direction to avoid any close contact with them. To his surprise and instant agitation the last two men stepped over to block his path their intentions obvious Legolas narrowed his eyes as he moved backed to the left but found the first set of men blocking his original path. With the river to his back he was trapped. The men were typical Rangers, unkempt, dirty, and smelly. His appraisal of them was interrupted by the larger one speaking.
"Well boys look at what we have here if it isnít that Striderís pet elf." He said looking the elf up and down very slowly.
Taking a restraining breath Legolas tried to hold in his anger as he looked the huge man square in the eyes. "I am no oneís pet!"
"Aw boys look we have made it angry." The large man continued in a mocking tone.
Another man spoke up. "It was taken himself a bath. We must have interrupted him."
Picking up on the direction of the first a suspicious gleam appeared in the large man eyes. "Maybe we should let him return to his cleanliness" he sneered.
The second man who was shorter but burly of size with deep red hair and beard picked up where the other man left off hitting his bigger friend in the arm he said. "Hey! Maybe we should help him with his bath. You know how important it is to be clean out here in theses woods. Canít have this critter smelling up the forest now can we? No guessing what kind of creature it will attract." The men laughed getting braver by the minute.
What! Legolas thought have they smelled themselves? Shaking his head in disbelief he decided he did not like the direction that this conversation was going and tried to diffuse the situation.
"If you will excuse me I will be going." He said as he moved to walk between the two men who had been doing all the talking. He was not surprised to find his way still blocked as they moved together blocking off any attempt to walk between them.
"Now, now, it would not be kind of us men to let this elf go without helping him. After all, his master is not here so letís help him out." The large man pointed out.
"Master? I need no master. I think that you have had your fun now it is time to end this before you regret your words" Legolas threatened.
The men moved in closer tightening the half circle that they had formed around him forcing him to back up towards the river if he wanted to keep any distance between him and them. Realizing that he was going to get wet he threw his pack back up the bank as he felt the water lapping at his heels. The gleam in their eyes was contagious and soon he saw it was mirrored in all of their eyes.
As if they all had the same idea at once they lunged at the elf gripping his tunic and forcing him backwards into the water. Since they were larger and heavier then the elf and their momentum easily carried his light frame with them. His balance was lost between their weight pushing him backwards and with the riverís strong current at the back of his knees he was immediately at their mercy as his feet were swept out from under him as they dragged him by his tunic out to the deeper water. He struggled to break free of their hands and get his feet back underneath him. Stopping in the center they submersed him under the water before he got any chance to strike at them holding him under for several seconds before pulling him up.
"Hey, is he clean enough yet boys?í asked the larger man laughing at the wet elf before him clearly enjoying himself.
"I do not think so, I can still smell Ďum" the burly man answered as he took a deep breath pretending to smell the air. In response the men pushed him back under the water before he had a chance to break free. Letting him up the second time they seemed to have enough fun and moved to head back to the shore dragging him between them.
Deciding that he had had enough Legolas locked his hands on the shorter man and pulled him towards him into the water as the man came down he tripped the larger man walking next to him dumping that one into the water with him. Using the other two men as leverage Legolas managed to pull himself back up on his feet. Keeping the element of surprise on his side he yanked the man closest to him into the last man successfully knocking them both into the water. Legolas watched the men struggle to regain their footing for a minute before he turned with a smile and walked to the riverbank. Not saying a word Legolas grabbed his pack and moved off into the forest leaving a trail of water in his path. He glanced back as and watched as the current seemed to make it difficult for the men to get their bearings. He smiled, thinking yes, Estel even the river likes me best.
Silently climbing a nearby tree he settled down to watch them free themselves from the riverís strong grip. They deserved more for what they had said to him but he had no desire for this to get blown out of proportion so he would have to settle for the fact that they were soaking wet and the last to get out of the water. Maybe they would even smell better now.
Not caring about his own wet clothes he was actually pleased because the smell of the pipeweed was diminished now that they were wet, he knew that they would dry by morning leaving none the wiser. He twisted the water from his long hair and flipped it back to dry.
Looking down he saw the men had reached the bank each slicked back their now wet hair to reveal their faces to the elf in the moonlight. He remembered this group from the campfire they hung in the back of the group of men constantly whispering among themselves.
He studied their faces so that he could avoid them over the next few days, in his past experiences with humans in this type of situation he knew that they would be angry for a couple days over getting bested by an elf. He was not sure if he would be even able to contain his temper if they continued to taunt him. He was no ones pet and certainly did not need a master! It had taken a lot to stop himself from putting them in their place.
The large man who had done most of the talking had black hair and a moustache. He was quite large not over weight just large his hands where twice the size of Legolas own hands. The smaller burly man with the red hair had a full beard and bushy eyebrows. The large and small man made odd pair he thought. The other two men appeared to be similar to each other possibly brothers with the same features, build, and brown hair. The group was defiantly trouble he would have to keep an eye on them.
The men walked back to camp their angry tones carried up to his spot in the tree. They were not happy at the turn of events. He was not surprised over their attempt to harass him he usually had to deal with some sort of human hatred for elves no matter where he went with Estel.
He had always kept this from his friend not wanting to be the cause of problems for his friend. He usually dealt with this stuff privately. Most of the time things would settle down in a few days as the humans got to know him and Estel was none the wiser. These interactions usually only hurt his pride. Being physically accosted like today rarely happened. Most humans were not brave or stupid enough to attack an elf.
Leaning his head back against the tree he tried to get some rest he knew Estel would be busy with Halbarad over the next few days and he would just stay out of the way until they left. The campfires below had begun to die down for the night except for where Estel and Halbarad sat talking quietly. Looking to the night sky he drifted into a comfortable sleep.
Estel never made it to his bedroll that night instead talking with Halbarad through the night. The sunís rays were already out and the men were out of the beds and ready for breakfast when Halbarad and Estel broke off their conversation and Estel headed out to the river to wash up and prepare for the now long day without sleep.
As he approached the river he was not surprised to hear a pair of light footfalls right behind him. "Legolas come to join me in freshening up?" he asked with a smile because he already knew the elf had washed off the smell of the pipeweed long ago.
"No, I am already quiet refreshed, thank you" he commented with a smile more to himself then to Estel.
Leaning in to smell Estelís clothing he pulled back at the odor that surrounded the man. "But you on the other hand are well over due for a full bath my friend. I will not be walking around all day smelling that horrid weed on your clothes and hair. Speaking of your hair?"
Estel stopped in his tracks turning to face his friend he asked narrowing his eyes in play. "And what is wrong with my hair?í
Without saying a word Legolas just raised his eyebrow and looked at the mess that Estel called hair. The night spent by the fire had coated his hair in smoke from both the fire and the pipes giving it a gray look.
Seeing the smile tug at the corners of Legolas mouth Estel swatted at him before he could go on but as usual Legolas gracefully ducked out of the way. Falling back onto the path they continued to the river.that will make you feel really good for the next 4 or 5 hours. You are in for a treat, I do not usual share, but for you, I made an exception" He said winking at the elf below him. He watched the elfís face closely looking for any signs that the drug was working.
Ale, why did all humans think the stuff was so great! Ale just by itself it made Legolas feel sick what would it do with whatever he added. The thought made him panic at not knowing what he was going to feel or experience from the drink. Only a few minutes went by and Legolas felt like he was being hit by a wave of nausea and pain. His eyes drifted shut his focus shifting to the internal war that now raged inside his body a groan escaped his lips as the assault commenced.
Smiling at the sounds Latch leaned down and whispered into this ear. "Now maybe we will get to hear that pretty voice of yours nice and loud."
The laughing increased as they released their hold upon his body sure that he would not be able to escape them now. The drug gave men a sedated high that left them drifting in and out for hours. They expected the same from the elf.
Legolas felt the weight leave his body but the outside world was no longer a concern for him the battle was raging inside his body now and it had his full attention. He was already too ill to make any attempt to get up. He rolled over onto his side away from the men and let out another groan as concoction invaded his system.
Standing over their victim the men did not hesitate to begin kicking at the unprotected elf. The blows were never ending each man trying to get as many hits as they could each wanted to be the one to make him scream. He tried to protect his already damaged ribs but he was surrounded by the men and there was no way to block the all the blows. Finally unable to take it anymore Legolas heard his own voice echoing through the forest. He was ashamed to give in but he could not fight both sources of pain.
Keeping to his promise, Latch signaled for the men to stop as soon as Legolas voice echoed through the forest. He kneeled down next to the elf and whispered into his ear. "See now that was not so bad, you have a pretty voice you should use it more often." He griped the elfís jaw tightly and pulled his head up so that he could see his face lifting his shoulders off of the ground.
Legolas opened his confused eyes to see the man leering at him. "You got all dirty elf. When you feel better we can help you with that bath again!" He laughed as he wiped his finger over Legolas swollen lip smearing the blood that ran from a cut in the corner. Repulsed Legolas tried to pull his head out of his grasp but he found he had little strength to do so.
Laughing at the elfís struggles to escape his grasp he caressed his bruised cheek some more as the elf increased his attempt to break away from the manís touch.
Latch tightening his grip on the elfís jaw and upper throat with his long fingers he squeezed tightly cutting off his air supply he studied the elfís face taking his time to enjoy his handiwork satisfied with his revenge he spat. "Sweet Dreams, pet!" Seeing the elfís face turn red in response to the lack of oxygen he finally released his grip and shoved him away letting his head hit the hard ground below smiling he stood to leave ordering his men to grab the deer.
Curling in on himself and gasping for air Legolas could hear their laughter fading as they walked away leaving him alone on the forest floor.
Strider and Halbarad had their hands full back at camp one group of Rangers were becoming more vocal in their opinion against the Halbarad as chieftain. They wanted to be able to continue doing as they pleased without any form of command. The group had finally packed up and left unable to come at an agreement.
Stressed out from the turn of events Strider returned to the main campfire and sat down. So far they had only lost one group so things were really not that bad but now they would have to see who else followed.
Running his hands through his tangle hair he looked up to find Halbarad sitting down next to him. The day had been full of heated discussions leaving them both exhausted. The lack of sleep from the night before was not helping either.
"You owe me for this day; I have never met such bullheadedness." He stated shaking his head. "I am actually glad that they left. Now maybe we can get something constructive done with the rest of the group."
Hlabarad agreed "You are very good at negotiated and even you could not get through to them. You could not have done any better. I for one am ready for a hearty meal and a smoke. How about you?" asked with eagerness his stomach growling at the mention of food.
"Yes, I will join you on both accounts but I am sure that Legolas will only agree on one he will have my hide for all the pipeweed, he hates the stuff " Strider answered his head still hanging between his hands.
"Speaking of him. Where is the elf? I have not seen him in a while have you?" Halbarad asked glancing around to spot the blonde being.
Strider frowned lifting his head he too looked around the camp noting the absence of his friend. "I have gotten so caught up in dealing with Maralís group that I have not even seen him since this morning. Has it been that long?" His stomach did a little flop at the thought of not checking up on Legolas for so long. He wasnít sure why he had a bad feeling but he did.
Standing up quickly he scoured campsite again trying to appease the feeling building in his gut.
Halbarad stood up watching Strider with concern he saw the change of mood. "You are worried about him?"
Strider nodded not taking his eyes from his search. "Yes, I worry he may have run into trouble off on his own."
"I thought only you did that" He teased.
"Nay, he is good at it too."
"Let me asked around and see if anyone has seen him lately." Halbarad offered.
"Thanks, I will check over by the horses." Estel was disheartened to find Legolas was not with his beloved horse. He scanned the area and turned to look back at the camp. There was not a single blonde hair in site.
Unsure of why he had this feeling he just knew that he needed to find the elf fast. Leaving the horse he returned to the fire pit where he found Halbarad speaking to a group of men. The men dropped a deer at Hlabaradís feet while they spoke.
"Have you seen the elf, Legolas?" He inquired of the men.
The large man with a mustache spoke. "No, we did not see no elf. Why has he left?"
Estel spoke up before anyone answered him. "Which direction did you come from?"
"We came along from the river. We were hunting in the meadow to the north." The man with the red hair said. The big man spoke up again quickly. "Yes, we were lucky to bring down a deer for the meal tonight but that is all we saw no one else."
Glancing down at the dead deer on the ground Estel looked back to the group of men as they continued to explain to Halbarad their travels but then something about the deer caught his attention examining the deer again he saw what had caught his eye and that bad feeling he had intensified. Looking back at the men as Halbarad questioned them he observed the large man closely hearing the lies that left his lips.
"We ainít seen the elf since this morning. Sorry, we can be of more help to yaís" He turned to go on his last words when Estel reached out and grabbed his arm stopping the large man from walking away.
"You say you shot this deer yourselves?" He asked his eyes narrowing as he watched the manís face while he answered.
"Why, Yes. Ya do not think I, a Ranger, can not take down a simple deer?" he questioned his anger rising to the surface at Estel insinuation. He seemed to grow even larger as he towered over Estel at the perceived insult. The vein at his neck was bulging his large hands clenched at his sides itching to wrap themselves around Strider neck.
Estel stepping up closer to the big man not intimidated by his size and said. "I believe that you are quiet capable of hunting a deer, Sir. But as to whether you could shoot it dead center in the heart is another thing altogether." He said his voice losing its friendly tone as he gestured to the bloody hole in the deer.
"This deer was killed by Legolas he always hits them dead center he never misses. Why do you have his deer?" Estel demanded. He felt Halbarad step up right next to him to back him up.
"I do not know what you are talking about. We ainít seen no elf and we certainly did not take this deer from him." The burly Red haired man answered as he stepped up to enter into the confrontation.
"I think I believe Strider here, I do not think that most humans could shoot a deer dead center like this and I know that Legolas can." Halbarad said pushing the red haired man back.
"What did you do to him?" Estel demanded grabbing the tunic of the large man and pulling him close. "I want the truth now!"
"I think you all have gone crazy. Why would we have harmed the elf?" He answered trying to push Estel off of him.
Estelís voice picked up a menacing tone as he maintained his grip on the man. "Who said you harmed him? Did you harm him?"
Seeing the situation getting out of control Halbarad stepped in separating Estel from the large man.
Pointing at the men he ordered. "You all sit down right here and do not move." Turning to speak to some of his men he commanded. "Do not let them move a single finger." The rangers stepped up and corner the men blocking off any exit they may take.
Puling Estel to the side Halbarad asked "We are getting no where Estel. Are you sure he is in danger?"
Pausing a minute to focus his thoughts he glared at the men in front of him. "Yes, I am sure."
Believing the man without hesitation, Halbarad stated the obvious. "It will be dark soon we must go look for him." Running his hand through his hair Estel nodded in agreement. Placing a steadying hand upon his shoulder he added. "We will find him even without their help."
Halbarad turned to the group at the fire. "Did anyone see these men come out of the woods?" he asked. A ranger nodded and pointed to the east not to the north like the men claimed.
"Keep these men here. Do not let them leave. Tie them up if you have to but under no circumstances do they move." He directed the men.
One of his own men stepped up and answered. "I will see that it is done." With that he turned and directed his men to place themselves around the accused men. "Sit" He ordered.
"NOW! Or I will have you tied up." The young man threatened. Another group of rangers stepped up behind the man who gave the order their actions speaking louder then words and the men sank to the ground by the fire.
"I see we have an understanding now." One of the newcomers said as he nodded to the young ranger who had given the order.
"You will stay put until we find the elf. If he is unharmed and safe then we will let you free." The young ranger announced. "Is everyone in agreement?" He asked of the group of rangers. All nodded or responded with a yes. Turning back to Halbarad he said. "Go find the elf. We will take care of everything here."
"Thanks you, Talbert." With that Halbarad joined Estel on the horses and they left in search of the prince.
Sinking to his knees on the forest floor Legolas again tried to make his way to the river. Hoping that by drinking some water he could rid himself of the stuff that he had been given.
But his head was exploding in pain; his body was weak and trembled uncontrollably. Supporting himself on his hands and knees he hung his head.
Taking deep breathes he tried to ride out the pain. Moans escaped his lips as he tried to get control back. Forcing the pain down he pulled himself to his feet and pushed himself on using the trees for support to keep upright.
Estel and Halbarad had not gone far when they found the trail of blood from the dead deer. They moved quickly from that spot trailing the evidence easily.
They soon came to an area where the blood had pooled and the ground was trampled like an altercation had taken place. Swinging down from the horse Estel kneeled and examined the ground close up. "Legolas was here. He was taken from behind and knocked to the ground here." He paused as he continued to read the signs in the earth.
"They pinned him down" He said feeling the impressions in the grass. He noticed small drops of elf blood spotted the green grass but not enough to fear for the elfís life
"Then they let him go and took the deer and left." Estel pointed in the direction of the camp. "But Legolas stood and traveled towards the river." Feeling a little better realizing that Legolas was up and walking.
Remaining on the ground he moved in the direction of the tracks his sharp eyes to the ground looking for more evidence of Legolas passing. Halbarad too got off of his horse and followed while Estel continued to read the clues from the earth.
Pausing again, he kneeled to the ground faced with more impressions. What little relief he had felt vanished suddenly as he realized Legolas had dropped to the ground and struggled to rise.
Before he himself rose he heard his name being called coming from just ahead of them. The voice was familiar but it gave him no sense of relief as it was thick with desperation and made his stomach sink.
Standing up again he strained to see through the trees when he saw a flash of blonde close to the ground. Sprinting, he quickly covered the remaining distance between them.
Legolas was again upon the ground. His strength was gone he could no longer ride out the pain it had over taken his body and mind. His arms wrapped around his belly trying to contain the pain that was growing there. He leaned his exhausted body against a large tree for support no longer able to hold himself up. He could not stop the moans that escaped his throat. He called out to Estel his voice weak but it was the only thing he could think to do. The only person he knew could help him right now.
Estel dropped to the ground next to the elf as he lay against the tree his eyes closed his face was flushed and sweaty. His arms were wrapped around his stomach and his body trembled.
"Shh. Legolas" He whispered "I am here" He reached out gently to touch his arm. As soon as he made contact Legolas pulled away.
"No, Legolas itís me Estel. You are safe. Please let me look at you."
Legolas turned towards him opening his pained blue eyes to focus on the form in front of him. He was rewarded with Estelís face right in front of him. "Estel?"
"Yes, Legolas. What happened?" He asked taking in his bruised face and swollen lip he knew he was looking at the handy work of Latch. He carefully pulled the elf from the hard tree to rest against his chest.
He was shocked to feel his body trembling and the moans that came from such a simple movement.
"Make it stop, Estel. Make it stop" The normal strong and proud elf pleaded with his friend as he gripped his cloak in pain.
Panic sweep through Estel at the desperate tone he heard in the princeís words. "Tell me what happened. Who did this to you?" He said as he tried to comfort him.
Halbarad sunk to the ground next to him causing Estel to look up at him; he saw the panic in his friendís eyes. "What do you need me to do?" He asked sensing the desperation of the situation.
Before Estel could answer him Legolas tried to explain. "They put something inÖ" He stopped as a groan escaped. "In the ale, made me drink it." He finished breathless his body giving in more to the pain as he curled up into Estel warm body.
"Do you know what it was?" Estel asked heartbroken at the elfís pain he brushed back the strands of blonde hair that clung to his sweaty face.
"No." He responded letting out the breath he was holding "dried green leaves" he answered gripping Estelís cloak even tighter in a tight fist as waves of pain crashed through his body causing a gasp to break forth at the strength of it.
His heart sick at the condition of his best friend Strider pushed himself into action. "Lets get him on the horse and back to camp I can not treat him here."
Halbarad lead Estel horse over to them. He then kneeled down in front of the elf. "Here, lean him over this way so that you can get up onto the horse I will pass him up to you"
Agreeing Estel whispered their intentions to his friend and then carefully lifted the trembling body off of his and laid him onto Halbaradís. Legolas tried to pull away from the other man not comfortable with his closeness but did not have the strength to do so all he managed to do was whimper in distress at the pain and the unwanted contact with the human.
"Shh, Legolas hang on I will have you in a moment." Strider said trying to reassure him as he quickly mounted his horse while Halbarad gently scooped up the light elf in his arms and carried him to Estelís horse.
Legolas tried to get away again even pleading with Halbarad to let him go his mind too filled with pain to understand the reason for Estelís absence. He called out to Estel and was relieved to feel his presence again as Halbarad lifted him into Striderís waiting arms upon the horse.
"I am here, Legolas " Estel murmured to the distraught elf wrapping his arms around his trembling body to keep him secure as he spurred his horse back to camp his mind trying to figure out what they could have given him to make him so sick.
His mount needed no encouragement for she felt the urgency of the situation. The camp was in site within minutes. Halbarad rode in ahead of him shouting orders before he even dismouted. "Move out of the way men. Give the elf some peace. You two fetch spare blankets."
Dismounting he strode over to the fire and growled. "And get these men tied up and out of my sight!" He growled. His eyes coming to rest on the large man who he suspected was their leader.
Within seconds the camp burst into action and was cleared out except for Talbert by the fire and Halbarad by the time Estel rode in. Halabard reached up to take the elf from Estelís arms but Estel shook his head no. Instead he slid down the side of the horse with the elf in his arms.
He realized why when he heard the soft cries coming from the elf. More movement would only cause him more pain.
Estel approached the bed and slowly lowered himself to the ground to lay the prince down as gently as possible next to the warm fire. Grabbing his pack that Halbarad had set next to him he turned to his friend and said. "Go find out what those men put in his drink. I need to know what to treat."
Halbarad hesitated as he could now see the bruises that marred the elfís perfect face and on his neck the outline of a manís hand was forming around Legolas neck and jaw, a very large hand. He could very well imagine what lie underneath the elfís tunic if his face took so many hits. The look that passed over his face was frightening. He stood up as and he took one last glance at the wounded elf before he left to question the men. Estel knew that Halbarad would get the answers they needed one way or another. Turning his attention back to Legolas, Estel proceeded to check him over for other injuries. He felt carefully around his rib cage feeling for crack ribs that he knew he would find. His prodding forced more groans from his friend.
"I am sorry, Legolas" He whispered as he rested his hand on his brow to try and still his movements and brushed his hair back from his face. He pulled a warm blanket over his trembling body trying to ease his discomfort.
Legolas barely seemed to notice he was there. His eyes were squeezed shut in pain. Reaching down Estel took his hand in his. "Squeeze my hand Legolas" He instructed relieved when he felt Legolas grip tighten on his hand. Estel heard the footsteps of someone approaching he looked up to see Talbert standing a few feet away not wanting to get to close. "Strider?"
"Halbarad said to tell you it was Bur-root"
"Thank you" he said looked back down at his patient. Bur-root was a plant that many humans used to escape with giving them a mild high, but to elves it caused nothing but pain. It did explain the elfís current condition it was not life threatening just very painful. There was a plant that would lesson its affects but he did not have any with him. He would have to leave Legolas and go search for some.
"Yes, Strider" The young man answered.
"Please bring back Halbarad."
"Iíll be right back." He ran back over to the newly created secondary camp to retrieve his leader.
Within minutes Halbarad was by his Striderís side. "What is it you need?" he asked his anger still visible on his face.
"I need to find some Bell leaves, do you know what they look like?" he asked hoping that he was familiar with the plant.
"Nay, I am sorry strider I have never used it for anything." Confused he asked. "Why is Bur-root making him so sick? It does not harm humans." He said as he kneeled down next to the healer.
"Yes, but to elves, they only experience pain from it. I need to make a tea to lesson the pain and counteract the affects of the root in his body." Estel felt Legolas squeeze tighter on his hand drawing his attention. Torn between his promise and having to find the medicine Estel knew he had no choice but to go. He tried to pry his hand from Legolas crushing grip but Legolas refused to let go.
"Legolas, I must go and get your medicine. I will only be gone a few minutes to get it from the forest. Halbarad is here. Everyone else is gone. He will let no one near you." He tried to reassure him.
Trying to be stronger then he felt Legolas nodded his consent. He released his iron grip on Estel hand letting him go even through the pain was building and he felt worse then he had before.
"Iíll be quick my friend, Hang on." Estel jumped to his feet and ran into the forest he knew the plant well and it would only take a few minutes to find some this time of year.
Legolas was embarrassed to be so ill in front of the human so he tried to keep still. His head felt like it was being crushed between two boulders each one being pushed by an angry troll. His entire body hurt. Gripping the bed roll beneath him he tried to keep silent. In response to the pain his breath increased putting pressure on his cracked ribs causing them to burn in response.
Ashamed he could take it no more and a whimper escaped him sending a flush to his cheeks. He turned his head away from the man as more sounds escaped fueled by the unbearable pain that was controlling him.
Halbarad heard his distress and quickly stood cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled for Strider knowing the man would come instantly. Bending down to the elf he hoped he could still hear him. "Hold on Legolas. He comes"
Estel had just finished plucking the leaves of the Bell Flower as he stood he heard Halbaradís call through the forest. Securing the leaves in his pocket he ran. He broke into camp quickly coming in for a stop next to Legolas bed. He took one look at the prince hearing his heart breaking whimpers he quickly stuffed his hand into his pocket grabbing the leaves and putting them into Halbaradís hand. "Tea quickly" He said. Dropping to his knees next to Legolas he pried his fingers off of the bedding and held them to his chest to let him know he was back. He leaned forward and tried to reassure him of his presence.
"Iím back, Legolas, I am here it is ok, the tea will be ready in a few minutes just hang on" He was desperate to relieve his suffering. "Hang on Mellon nin, the worst is almost over"
Nothing he did appeared to help the elf. Reaching his limit Legolas cried out unable to stop himself. The sound carried through the still forest.
Estel whispered calming words to him as he gripped his hand tightly. The time it took for the water to heat over the fire seemed endless. Everytime Estel would glance up he would see Halbarad pacing by the fire an anxious as Estel.
Soon he saw steam escaping the lid and he quickly he poured it over the cloth that contained the fresh leaves letting it steep for a few minutes he then brought it to Estel side. "Here Strider, it is ready."
Acknowledging his friend with a nod he addressed his patient. "Legolas the tea is ready you need to drink this right now." He said brushing his forehead free of the tangled hair that found its way back there. The words did not break through to the elf. The pain in his head was so loud it was like sitting next to a roaring river and it blocked out the very words that he was waiting to hear.
Trying louder Estel repeated his name trying to get his attention. Realizing it was of no use. He turned to Halbarad. "I am going to sit help him up offer him the cup when I say."
"Got it" he answered as he moved in closer to the patient. Estel rose and moved behind the elf. Carefully he lifted his head and shoulder up onto his chest he then pulled his body up to make it easier to drink.
Legolas tried to resist the touch and movement. He pulled away from the contact it just added more pain into his already painful world. "No, stop"
Pulling him closer Estel whispered softly into his ear. "Peace mellon nin, drink the tea. Please drink." He did not want to force him to drink it but he feared he would have to.
Legolas fought for a few more minutes and then tired out resting his head back onto Estel shoulder. "No"
Trying to reach him again he spoke louder this time. "Legolas you must drink the tea." Sensing the fight leave the elfís exhausted body he nodded to Halbarad to offer the tea.
Halbarad brought the cup up to the elfís swollen lip letting it rest there so that he could feel the warmth from the cup.
Legolas turned his head away from the cup. Estel nudged him back with his shoulder. "No, drink Legolas"
His head came back around to meet the cup again. Legolas tipped his head up for the drink Estelís voice breaking through his fog he instinctively trusted Estel so fighting his desire to resist he allowed it to be brought up to his lips again. Halbarad poured the tea slowly into Legolas mouth. He was afraid to speak that he might cause the elf to stop drinking the medicine.
The strong taste slid down his throat reminding him of the stuff that he had been forced to drink earlier. Not able to make himself drink anymore he pulled away. "No more" he moaned as his stomach threatening to revolt.
Halbarad looked to Estel to see if it was indeed enough.
Closing his eyes in relieve Estel mouthed yes. Making no effort to move he continued to support the elf while he waited for the tea to give him some relief. Murmuring to him in Sindain Estel tried to comfort him while he rested. Within a few minutes he felt him start to relax. He kept his arms around him.
Legolas rested his head against Estelís shoulder exhausted from fighting the pain. The tea worked quickly and within a few minutes sleep claimed him and he drifted into a restless calm.
Estel remained supporting the elf as he slept for the next few hours he drew as much comfort from holding the elf as the elf receive in being held by him. The worry had taken its toll on him and now he just wanted to assure himself that Legolas was well. He felt guilty for abandoning him while they were here. He had gotten so involved with dealing with the men he had forgotten about his friend for the entire day. He was pulled from his guilt as he felt Legolas stir.
Slowly coming to the surface of his deep sleep Legolas felt arms encompassing his body gripping him from behind his heart jumped and his breath caught in his throat.
Before he could act on his panic he heard a familiar voice behind him. "Peace Legolas, it is just me" Estel deep voice spoke into his ear softly.
The effect was immediate as he calmed at the words. Slowly he opened his eyes realizing the pain was dulled. It was there but easier to tolerate. He breathed in as best he could considering his cracked ribs and sighed in relief.
"Better mellon nin?" Estel asked from behind him.
Finding his voice he responded. "Yes." He discovered that he was extremely tired he tried to move but found his body felt like he was trying to run through deep water slow and sluggish. He groaned involuntarily as his body reminded him of what he had been through.
"Take it easy. You are not done yet with this Legolas. You must keep drinking the tea to keep the pain manageable as the root leaves your system. It will take more time and even after that you will feel tired and weak." Estel guided him back down to the bed roll.
"I want you to have more tea before you fall asleep again. Try and stay awake for now and I will wrap your ribs too." He dumped out the cold tea and added more from the pot that Halbarad had brewed for them.
He returned to sit next to Legolas. Without speaking he helped him sit up to drink the tea. "Do not even try and tell me that you can hold this cup on your own mellon nin." He gently teased as he saw Legolas hesitate to drink the offered cup.
Legolas turned away from the cup without taking a sip. He glanced quickly around the darkened camp noting to his relieve that no one was near.
"There is no one here, Legolas. All the men are on the other side of the camp" He assured him. Tapping him gently on the arm he tried to get his attention. "Drink the tea"
Legolas did as he was told. The smell was strong and pungent much like the ale containing the plant that was forced down his throat. Closing his eyes he pushed himself to sip the tea his fear of the returning pain stronger then his bad memories of the ale.
He barely drank half the tea when he could drink no more. He shook his head when the cup was offered again. He lowered himself down to the bed too tired to remain sitting up any longer.
Estel placed the cup back by the pot and moved to check his ribs. He pulled out a tunic from his pack in which to tear up for bandages. When he was done he moved back by Legolas. He saw his eyes were closed already.
"Legolas can I wrap your ribs quickly so that they can heal while you sleep?" he asked while he nudged the still elf.
Legolas eyes shot open he calmed when he found himself looking only at Estel instead of Latch. He saw the bandages and nodded. He pushed himself up a little and Estel helped him the rest of the way.
Neither spoke as his ribs were bandaged and his tunic was replaced the marks upon his body said everything that Estel needed to know for now. Each was lost in their own thoughts both too drained to speak.
Estel was upset at the abuse his friend had taken from the men he thought carried the oath of the rangers and did no harm to others but now he could see that it wasnít so and his friend was paying the price for it. The truth to the rumors that Halbarad had heard of was now visible to them. These ranger had no fear of hurting innocent people who else had they harmed?
Legolas watched Estel expression as he saw the large bruises that covered his chest from his encounter with the men. He knew that Estel would force him to tell him what happened. He could see that Estel was already feeling guilty and blaming himself for what occurred and he did even know the whole story yet.
By the time they were done Legolas was exhausted he sank back down into the bed closing his eyes with an involuntary groan as his head hit Estelís cloak that was serving as his pillow.
Wanting nothing more then for sleep to claim him he tried to let his mind wander to the realm of elven sleep but he was instead he was reminded that he was in a camp full of humans as his ears picked up tense human voices coming from the second camp. Reluctantly opening his eyes he saw Estel stand and look towards the commotion.
He could not control the fear the spiked through his body at the thought that Estel might leave to see what was going on. He was in no shape to defend himself and did not want to be left to the mercy of Latch and his men should come this way.
Sensing his friendís eyes upon him, Estel looked down catching the emotion as it played across the elfís face while his tired blue eyes stared at him. Guilt struck Estel as he saw the insecurity flood his features. Feeling that it was his all fault he sat back down he took Legolasí hand and held it reassuringly. "Rest, I am not leaving" He said as he watched his friendís face for understanding. He saw the relief spread a crossed Legolasí features as his eyes slid shut sleep winning the war that raged on between his body and mind.
Estel made himself comfortable as he knew it would not be an easy night as the elf battle with the effects of the root running through his system. The tea held the pain and the affects of the drug at bay for now but it still controlled his body and he knew it would make it appearance again soon. He knew not how long the tea would work because he did not know how much of the drug got into Legolasí system.
As he got comfortable his eyes wandered to the other camp trying to see what was happening there. He knew that Talbert or Halbarad would probably come and inform him if anything important happened. Hours later Halbarad made his way over to the Estel and sat down. Motioning towards the pale figure asleep in the bed he asked. "How is he?"
"Resting, the tea is working for now but I am not sure if the drug is out of his body yet. We will have to let the tea wear off in order to determine that and I am not willing to do that yet."
Halbarad nodded understanding Estelís predicament. "Has he said anything about what has happened?" He asked looking at Estel directly hoping the elf had told his side.
Feeling Halbaradís eyes upon him Estel continued to look at his friend lying in the bed. "No, he has not said anything to me." Turning to Halbarad he added. "His chest is covered in bruises and he has 3 broken ribs."
Taking a deep breath he asked. "What have Latch and his men had to say about this?" Estelís face did not hide the anger that he felt towards the men. "Why did they do this?"
Shaking his head Halbarad told him what the man had said so far. "They claim that they only retaliated for what they elf did to them at the lake yesterday, saying that he accosted them. That they were only defending their honor"
Indignant Estelís voice rose in anger. "What! They lie! Legolas would never attack anyone unprovoked." Laying a calming hand upon Estelís shoulder he explained. "Easy, it is just what they have said. I do not believe their words. That is why it is important that Legolas tell us his story as soon as possible. I can not keep them detained without knowing the truth. I will have to release them soon. Already others from their group have asked for their release. I came here to ask that when he wakes up next that he tells his side. I know he is still ill but it is important if I am going to make a fair judgment in this. The men think I am favoring the elf because of you."
Nodding his head Estel understood now the angry voices that they heard earlier. "I do not like putting Legolas in this position. He will not want to speak on the matter. He is very proud"
Halbarad was adamant about it. "He must Estel, there are those calling for his detainment for attacking the men at the lake. There are witnesses that saw the men return from the lake all wet and they say that Legolas tried to drown them. The men are not willing to trust my judgment on this so he must tell his story to more then just me and you. The rangers are appointing three other rangers who do not know Legolas or Latch and his men to be present to hear what Legolas has to say and report back to the men to verify the truth what I say. So you see you must have him tell his story as soon as he wakes it is very important the longer we wait the bigger chance there is that Latch and his men will go free."
Placing his hands over his face Estel rubbed his tired face in frustration. "I agree it must be done. He will not sleep long he did not drink much of the tea and I will want him to have more soon."
Hearing someone approach they both looked up to see Talbert standing to the side not wanting to approach. Both Estel and Halbarad stood and walked the short distance to speak to the young man.
As they spoke, Legolas became aware of the voices speaking near him. His mind unsure of where it was heard the human voices and gave in to the panic that came naturally to him after his experience with Latch. Their cruel words filled his ears haunting his sleep. Struggling to escape his invisible foes he cried out as he could feel a large calloused hand squeezing his neck cutting off his air. With a gasp he sat up his hands going to his neck to pry off the invisible ones that he felt pressing against his vocal cords. The movement flared the pain in his chest causing him to cry out.
Watching his friend struggle with the dream Estel waited patiently trying to coax him awake. He had heard his struggles and ran back to his side finding him fighting with the men in his dreams. "Easy, Legolas" He said afraid to touch him just yet.
Legolas jumped at the sound of a voice so close to him and scooted back away from the source until his eyes focused on Estel kneeling next to him. "Estel?" he question still unsure of where he was.
ĎYes, it is just me. You were just having a nightmare." Estel said waiting for the prince to shake the remnants of the dream away.
Legolas nodded as tried to get his breath under control it was just a dream. He laid his head down on his arms as they hugged his knees to his chest. He was upset that the incident had affected him so much to cause him to dream about it and now Estel knew that he was disturbed by the turn of events. His eyes quickly sliding shut again he took a deep calming breath and buried his head in his arms.
Laying a hand on his shoulder Estel gently shook him ever so slightly to get his attention. "Do not sleep yet Legolas; Halbarad wants to talk to you." He felt Legolas muscles tense so he knew the elf was awake. "I am sorry but he can not wait any longer."
Legolas heard the words he had dreaded to hear since he had gotten back. He slowly raised his head bringing his face back out into the light.
"I know" He said quietly his voice rough from sleep and abuse. Legolas sat upon his bed while he waited for Estel to return with Halbarad. He did not look forward to telling them what happened Estel already felt bad now he was going to feel even worse.
Estel returned with Halbarad and three other men. Legolas lifted up his head to look at the newcomers. He looked at Estel immediately questioning the presences of the three other men.
Estel saw the look that Legolas aimed at him but did not move to answer instead he waited for Halbarad to explain. Estel gestured for all to sit so that they would not all be looking down at the elf. Halbarad and Estel sat next to Legolas the other three men sat at the elfís feet.
Halbarad spoke first his voice full of regret. "I am sorry to have to bother you with this now Legolas. I know that you are tired and still ill. But I need to settle this matter quickly. I have some men detained in regards to what has happened to you." He paused letting the information sink in.
Estel saw the intake of breath that Legolas took when he mentioned having the men. Legolas covered it well but not good enough to hide it from him he knew the elf too well. Legolas just nodded for Halbarad to go on.
Clearing his throat Halbarad started up again. "These men have given their side and want to be released. I do not feel comfortable doing that until I hear your side, Legolas. I can not turn these men loose unless I am sure that they are free of wrong doing. So, I hope you understand that if there was another way to get to the truth I would do it. These men here are going to verify what you say. The men feel that Strider and I are bias because we are close to you. So I am afraid that you must tell your story to them as well as Strider and I."
Legolas looked from Halbarad to Estel unsure if this was something that even Estel believed he must do he was not happy to have to tell all of them what happened.
Seeing Legolas look to him for a decision Estel spoke. "I do not know of any other way mellon nin, so please tell us what happened."
Taking a breath he nodded and began. His voice strained from Latchís hands around his neck. "I am sorry for all the trouble this has caused you Halbarad,"
"Sorry, I do not want to hear you say nothing about being sorry for this mess unless you got something to really be sorry for!" Halbarad was not angry but upset that the elf would feel responsible for anything that happened. He was sure the elf was innocent.
Glancing over at the three men who stared at him Legolas dreaded speaking. They all look at him like they had never seen anything besides a human before in their life. He was embarrassed to have to speak in front of them too.
"Legolas, talk to us, ignore them they are just here to listen." Estel suggested trying to make things easier for his friend.
Taking Estelís advice Legolas again started his story. He began at the lake when the men first approached him. How he let them push him around because he did not want to cause a scene. He tried to skim over details but he was stopped by Halbarad who would interrupt the story and question him in detail. Legolas paused remembering the name that they called him. He did not want to tell that part but they insisted on hearing everything. When he stopped or paused they took that as a sign that he was trying to brush over something and they made him back track like now.
His voice dropped to a whisper as he admitted that they had called him "Striderís pet" He could not look at any of them after that. He hung his head within his still folded arms letting his hair fall forward to block any view of his face. He was ashamed that he had let them call him that but he had not wanted to cause any problems so he had let it go even through it burn his pride to hear and it still burned now. He could feel the heat invade his cheeks so he kept his head hidden from view not wanting anyone to see how he felt.
As soon as he spoke the words Estel was on his feet his anger getting the best of him but Halbarad restrained him.
"It will only do more harm then good to march over there and take revenge upon them Strider, you know that."
Clenching his fists by his sides Estel returned to his seat. "I know, you are right. He finally admitted." Estelís anger dissolved instantly when he sat back down and saw that Legolas refused to look at them. He knew what the problem was but he knew of no way to help him out of it.
"Legolas please continue" Halbarad requested of the elf not realizing what was going through the elfís mind.
Estel moved forward to kneel beside his friend. He reached out and swept his hair out of the way. Leaning in close to him he spoke softly to him so that the others could not hear. "Legolas, they will understand how you feel. Do not feel bad for what has happened it is none of your own doing."
Legolas raised his head up to face Estel his cheeks still pink from his emotions and he responded in his own language so that the rest could not understand his meaning but those around could not mistake the angry words no matter what language was spoken.
Estel lapsed into the elfís language as he tried to reason with him. After a few minutes of heated exchange Legolas gave into Estelís reasoning. Remaining in his new seat next to the elf Estel waited for him to continue.
Legolas glancing up at Halbarad opened his mouth to let the first words that came to his mind out of his mouth but Halbarad stopped him by raising his hand.
ĎLegolas, if you are going to apologize to me again do not even bother. You have nothing to be sorry for so do not even try to say it again. Your outburst is understandable, just continue before I let Estel give you more tea" He teased him trying to lighten the mood.
A small smile came to Legolas face and he acquiesce the point. He continued on with the story explaining to them how the men forced him into the water and how they ended up getting dumped into the river as he fought to get away.
Moving onto the next day, he started out with the hunt and the deer that he was bringing back for the meal. Estel jumped in and exclaimed. "I knew that was your kill! No one can match your marksmanship."
"Yes, if it had not been for your good eyes we would have not have been suspicious of the men." Halbarad commented.
Legolas went onto explain the surprise attack while he was carrying the deer and how they held him down and forced him to drink the concoction that Latch made. Then he said that they took the deer and left.
Raising his eyebrow Halbarad looked at the elf with suspicion. "And your ribs or face? You are not leaving anything else out are you?" He did not want to keep at the elf but he wanted to make sure that the men understood everything that Legolas had been through and he was sure by now that the bruising on his chest would force the men to take the elfís side.
Legolas looked annoyed at Halbaradís persistence. "They decided to get a few hits in before they left" He added after Halbaradís prompting. "And that hand print around your neck? That was done by Latch? He questioned the bruising around the elfís neck bother Halbarad the most he knew the elf was stronger than a man but the size difference between the elf and the man was still troubling.
Legolas paused remembering Latchís large hand squeezing his neck while he held him close to touch his face. The disgust he felt then came back to him taking him right back to the moment that he lay on the ground at the manís mercy unable to breathe or escape his clutches. He found himself holding his breath as his hand subconsciously went to his throat he winced at the pain he felt went his finger pressed at the markings. He could feel the manís hot, smelly, breath on his skin and his parting words in his head.
Estel was concerned at the princeís lack of response. He had called his name twice and got no reaction, he nudged him on the shoulder carefully afraid to startle the elf from his thoughts. "Mellon nin, are you alright?"
With an audible intake of breath Legolas focused his eyes on his friend sitting next to him. "Yes, it was him." he answered dropping his gaze to the ground in front of him.
Seeing the princeís distress Halbarad hesitated to go on but he was afraid if he didnít the men would not understand the extent of the elfís injuries. "I am sorry to keep at you Legolas but I want to make sure there is no way they will get out of this." Pausing before he asked what he knew he must. "May we see your chest? I will understand if you choose not to but I feel it is important"
Legolas did not answer but looked at Estel for advice. Estel nodded for him to do as he asked. He hated having to do this he wished he could have just taken his own revenge and been done with it. But he was not among his own people where that would be acceptable he was an outsider here and it would have gone bad for him and Estel. He nodded his consent letting Estel help him with the bandages allowing them to see the colors that decorated his normally perfect skin. Legolasí pride was stinging again and he could not help it. He was a warrior and should have been able to protect himself from simple humans.
"Thank you, Legolas. I am sorry for having to bother you with but it was necessary. We will leave you to your rest. Strider, I will speak to you later"
"Good luck." Estel answered as the men took their leave of them.
Legolas just nodded not wanting to look at anyone again. Estel was carefully rewrapping his ribs as the men left leaving them in an uncomfortable silence. Legolas finally turned to face Estel as he finished tying off the bandage.
"Are you angry with me?" He asked quietly his weariness showing through in his voice.
Estel looked up into his friendís tired face. "No, I am not."
"But you are." Legolas insisted looking away into the night unhappy with having caused his friend to be upset with him.
Reaching out with his hand he turned Legolas face back to look at him. "No, I am not. I just want to know why you did not tell of this. Why did you choose to keep this from me?"
Unable to face his true fears Legolas could not look him in the eye instead he pulled his face away to stare back into the dark he said. "I did not want to cause any problems for Halbarad or you by making a big deal out of it. That is why I did not just exact my own revenge as I normally do." As soon as the words were said he knew it was a mistake. Estel would pick up on them and make the connections that Legolas had kept to himself for so long.
Shocked Estel stared at his friend not sure if he heard what he thought he just heard him say. "Normally do? You mean this has happened before?" He asked his voice rose in anger at what Legolas had let slip.
Legolas froze he did not speak or move his secret was out and now he would have to face Estelís wrath.
"Legolas, you have been harassed by men before when you are with me?" Estel asked clearly upset.
Legolas did not know what to say. Estel would be upset either way whether he spoke or did not speak. He was so tired, too tired to stand up to Estelís barrage of questions with any amount of success he knew he would continue to break and Estel knew it too. He lowered his head to rest upon his arms ashamed to be caught keeping something from his friend who was more like his brother.
"Legolas, I am not going anywhere until you tell me everything. Have you or have you not been harassed when you are with me?" He asked determined to get through to Legolas and get him to speak about it. "Legolas speak to me please" Estel appealed to his friend his voice losing some of its initial anger.
Sighing, Legolas turned to face him but kept his eyes to the ground unable to look him in the eye. "Yes." He said quietly.
Not letting up now that Legolas had let him in he pressed on. "You have been hurt, physically hurt by men sometimes when you are with me?"
"Nothing like this, Estel" He reassured him not wanting him to think the worst.
"Name calling, and bulling like yesterday?" He questioned searching Legolasí face for the truth.
Legolas nodded looking up at his friend finally. "But Estel, they never got the upper hand. I just usually took care of it myself. I do not need help defending myself" He said his pride stinging still from earlier so he was a little sensitive.
"Usually" He quietly added.
"But why did you not tell me? Why keep it a secret?" Estel asked then blurting out more questions before Legolas could answer. "Did you think that I would not believe you? Or not side with you? Why did you not trust me with this?" His voiced trailed away.
Turning to stare out into the dark again Legolas felt pushed into a corner he fell silent his head began to pound as the pain from earlier fought to return. It was no where near as bad as before so he did his best to ignore it.
Estelís voice broke the stillness. "Legolas please speak to me" He pleaded trying to find a reason for the princeís secret.
Defeated without the strength to keep up the stone wall he had built around his feelings he caved. "I did not want you to feel you needed to do things differently because I was with you." He admitted so quiet that Estel had to move in closer to hear the entire sentence.
"Legolas there is more to it then that there has to be more." He reasoned. "I would have done anything to spare you what you just experienced. Nothing is worth your pain." Pushing the elf even more he said. "Tell me the truth, Legolas"
The truth was on the tip of his tongue and it was too late to stop it from breaking free. "I was afraid that you would leave me behind and I would not be there when you needed me. You would be hurt or killed I would not be here because you wanted to protect me from a little name calling." His real fear finally pushed out into the open. Legolas could say no more. He waited for Estel to speak, to say anything he waited for a response.
Thinking about what Legolas had said Estel was quiet for a few minutes not realizing that Legolas still thought that he was mad at him and was waiting for him to speak.
Finally looking up from the spot on the ground that he had seemed to find so interesting he found Legolas still turned away from he so he moved to face the elf. "Legolas?" He asked trying to get his attention but the prince refused to meet his gaze. Reaching out he lifted his chin up to look him in the eyes.
"Legolas. You are right; I would have not brought you with me if I had known what was happening to you. I would have left without telling you." He admitted. As the words left his mouth he saw pain fill his friendís eyes pain that was caused by his words giving him the answer to his earlier question.
He was crushed at the words that Estel said his worst fear brought to life like a knife through his heart his words took his breath away. "ThenÖ you will leave me?" Legolas started to say trying to cover up his pain but was interrupted by Estelís finger to his lips.
"Hush, mellon nin, I will not. I see why now that you kept your secret from me. You traded one pain for another. "You would rather be hurt by strangers then by me leaving you behind." He said releasing Legolasí chin from his grasp knowing he had hit the truth.
Letting his head sink to his chest Legolas was unable to answer he just nodded surprised that Estel could see right through him. Relief washed over him like a cold rain taking his pain away leaving him trembling in its wake.
"They had no right to treat you like that. I will never allow it to happen again." He said with conviction his anger still just under the surface.
Legolas head shot up in anger. "What will you do be by my side all the time? I do not need a guard. I can take care of myself!" He countered his injured pride flaring making him forget the tears that still haunted his eyes. He dropped his head quickly to his hands trying to hide them from his friend allowing his hair to provide a shield as he tried to contain his emotions.
He was left speechless for a moment at the sight of Legolas pain and anger. The princeís fear had been greater then he knew.
"No, Mellon nin, I do not mean to say that you can not. I just meant that you should not have to and I never want to watch you suffer as I did last night for peopleís stupidity." He said watching his friend giving him time to compose himself and catching gently him rubbing his forehead behind his curtain of hair.
His healer mode alerted he pulled back the curtain of hair that blocked his view. "The pain is returning?" He asked with concern.
Opening his eyes at Estelís question Legolas conceded without a fight nodding his head in agreement. "I am tired" The night had worn on and hours had passed since Legolas had experienced the nightmare.
Estel got up and place the water over the fire that Halbarad had stoked before he had returned to the rest of the camp. Looking closely at the prince he saw that his eyes were edged with pain that he was trying to hide if he admitted to a little pain then there was a lot more. He tended the fire and the water pot silently giving Legolas some peace from the questions. Once the water was warm enough he poured it into the waiting cup. Turning back to his patient he found the prince sitting in the same position as before his arms encircling his knees but this time his head rested upon his arms with his eyes closed.
He nudged him gently. Legolas lifted up his heavy head and took the tea. He sipped it slowly it still tasted horrible. He managed to finish the cup and handed it back to Estel.
"Are you still upset with me?" Legolas asked as he watched Estel tend to the fire and put his things away for the night.
"No, I understand why you did it. But I do not like secrets; this could have turned out much worse had I not realized that that was your kill. What if I had not found you? What price were you willing to pay to spare me this?"
"I am sorry, Estel I thought it best" He answered weariness taken over him quickly.
"I know you did. And I am sorry that I caused you to feel that way." Estel stopped any response from the prince. "No, Sleep, we will talk in the morning." Estel helped him lay back down on the bed. Estel made himself comfortable next to the elf so that he could fall asleep knowing that he was safe for the night. Legolas made no effort to fight the drowsiness that pulled at him and let his eyes close in exhaustion.
Before Estel gave himself into sleep Halbarad returned with the decision. The men were expelled from the rangers and went packing their things as they spoke. The men had sided with the elf after hearing his story Estel was relieved that they had believed him. Latch and his men were escorted to the horses as Halbarad talked with Estel.
Snickering as they passed the men paused by the new chieftain and stopped. "We would have left anyways. We would not have voted you as our leader. We like things the way they are." Turning to Estel he added with a sneer. "How is your pet? Heís got a really pretty voice donít you agree!"
Estel bolted immediately and before Halbarad could stop him and laid Latch out on the dirt with one hit to his jaw. The large man was surprised to find himself looking up at the smaller man his hand rubbing his stinging jaw.
Estel glared at the man on the ground no words were necessary to convey his meaning the man got the point loud and clear. Estel turned and walked away leaving the man on the ground.
Halbarad directed his men. "Get them out of here. Escort them out of the area." He ordered.
Turning to Estel he said. "Feel better?í a small grin forming on his face.
"Yes, I do" Estel responded with a smile as he rubbed his bruised knuckles.
The morning came and Legolas woke to find Estel still sitting next to him eating his breakfast. His head felt better and but his body ached. He was surprise to find that he had slept the entire night.
"Are you hungry?" Estel asked as he watched Legolas get his bearings.
He shook his head. "No" he answered his stomach was full of Estelís disgusting tea. "I do not think I can eat I have had too much tea" He commented as he sat up.
ĎDo you feel better?"
"Yes, I do. Thank you." He said as he moved to stand causing Estel to hurry and moved over to help him to his feet. Legolas took his friendís hand and let him guide him to his feet. "See, I am fine." Legolas replied trying to prove his point.
"So, it appears that you are." Estel concurred with his opinion but his tone was laced with suspicion. His trained eyes took in the bruises as they already showed signs of fading. His cut lip was healing and the swelling was receding. He also saw the linger pain in his eyes from their discussion during the night. The princeís attempt to cover it up futile under his scrutiny.
The thing Legolas wanted more then anything else now was to wash up. "I would like to go to the river and wash. I assume you are coming?" He asked a slight twinkle in his eyes at the tease trying to restore some balance to their relationship.
"Why do you presume that I will not let you out of my site now?" Estel sparred back.
"Yes." Legolas answered their banter relieving some of the tension left over from the night before.
"Then you would be right. I will be your constant companion today and do not even think of arguing with me." Estel threatened.
At the river, Legolas refreshed himself as Estel sat on the bank. The water felt amazing and he took his time washing the smell of the humans off of his body. Finally climbing out he dressed half way and gathered up his tunic to join Estel in the sun. He noted with a smile that Estel had laid out his own cloak for him to rest on. He sat down carefully on the offered cloak his ribs protesting the movement. Legolas lay down to let the sun dry him off the rest of the way. Estel had removed his bandages so he that could wash and they would have to put them back on when he was dry.
Estel cracked open one eye at appraised the elf. "Better now?"
"Of course. I am fine"
"You should still rest." He instructed.
Between the time spent in the river and the walk from the camp Legolas was already tired add in the warm sun and any strength he had melted away.
"Not tired huh?" Estel teased.
"No, the sun is too bright, human." He answered back without opening his eyes not wiling to admit his weariness.
Nodding his head Estel said "I see."
Taking the moment to get serious Estel brought up the sore subject between them "No more secrets, ok Legolas you promise? I promise not to leave you behind or to treat you like you need protection. But I reserve the right to voice my concern. Ok?"
"Yes, I am sorry that I kept it from you." Legolas answered regretfully.
"You had good reasons. I am just upset that you had to get hurt for us to talk about this. I am sorry for anything that has happened to you on my behalf." Estel said.
"It is not your fault, Estel." Legolas answered.
"Do you promise? Promise me to tell me if it happens again?" Estel prompted.
Legolas smiled and said. "Yes, I if get to hit him next time."
Estel moved to cover his bruised knuckles. "What?"
"Do not bother to hide it I already saw the marks." Legolas answered but he did not ask any further questions he just wanted to forget about Latch and his men. He was glad at least someone got to hit him.
Estel settled in to wait out Legolasí nap knowing that the elf was still upset over the incident and would need time to put it behind him. He knew that Legolas was more affected by the situation then he let on he hoped he would be able to get him to open about it later.
Legolas was too stubborn to admit his tiredness. He sleepily changed the subject. "Are you ready to leave?"
"No, Legolas sleep you still need rest you did not get enough last night."
"I am fine, I slept plenty last night. But if you insist." He continued in a sleepy voice. His mind weary from the events had been slow to pick up on what he just said. Then his mind turned over the events of last night coming to one conclusion. "Estel?" He asked suspiciously. "Did you drug me last night" He said barely able to put the words together as his mind drifted off the warm sun working its magic along with the left over sleeping aid that had been in his last cup of tea. He was asleep before he heard the slight chuckle escape Estel. Realizing that he was asleep Estel settled himself in too for the sun did indeed feel good and he was tired. He glanced around to make sure Talbert was just over the bank keeping the rest of the rangers away so that Legolas could rest in peace then he too closed his eyes and drifted off.
The next day the groups were ready to disband. Agreements had been reached and it was time to leave. Estel and Legolas traveled some of the distance with Halbardís group then said their goodbyes they spilt off going their own way. As they parted they did not notice the four pairs of extra eyes that watched them from the forest foliage hatred gleaming in their depths as they observed the two separate from the others. Revenge was brewing in their minds and they were just waited for a opportunity to act upon it.