In the Jaws of Death|
Aragorn, traveling to Mirkwood on behalf of his Ada to renew a peace treaty between the two places, runs into Legolas. The elf, not knowing who he is, accidentally shoots him, and the man takes a turn for the worse. Can new friendship spring from the ashes of an injured life?
Aragorn crept through the forest, silent as the Ranger he was. His hand rested on the hilt of his sword, repeatedly loosening it in its sheath. His dark hair fell in front of his eyes, and he quickly pushed it out of the way. He couldn’t risk not being able to see clearly right now, not with someone stalking him. He didn’t look back. He didn’t want to alert whoever was following him to the fact that he knew they were there.
The man was travelling through Mirkwood, intent on getting to his target location in one piece. The young man was delivering a message from his Ada, Lord Elrond, to King Thranduil of the Woodland Realm. He’d never been this way before, and now he regretted that shortcut he’d taken. He should have just stuck to the path, and he wouldn’t be in this mess at all.
Thinking that simply carving a straight line through the forest would be quicker than taking the long, circuitous route around, he had foolishly dived right in without thinking about the possible consequences. And now he paid the price.
He was lost. Hopelessly lost, in the forest, having no idea where he was going, and someone, or something, was stalking him. Good job, Aragorn. Just walking right into these messes, aren’t you? He thought, reprimanding himself for being a fool. You’re a Ranger. You should know better.
He stopped suddenly, hoping to trip his follower up, and whirled around. He grimaced when all he heard was a faint rustling sound. No sign of his shadow. Whoever he was, he was good.
He continued his trek through the woods, hoping to find some way out or run into an elf patrol.
But, after another hour of walking, he’d found none. He stopped in his tracks, sighing as he glanced around. The strange person was still following him, though he’d grown slightly more relaxed. Whoever it was obviously didn’t wish to kill him. At least, not yet. But still, the Ranger training instilled inside the man’s head didn’t let him let his guard down, so he remained alert. He did a full 360, hoping to spot something that would help him find which direction he was going in. Then he caught it. The faint sound of running water. Following the sound, he reached a river, only a few yards away from where he was standing.
He beamed. His Ada told him that, if he ever got lost, just find the river and follow it. It would lead him to King Thranduil’s residence. So the man set off again, this time with renewed vigor. He was still wary of his stalker, though, and often abruptly hesitated in his stride to see if he could hear the footsteps of the mystery person. But, each time, as soon as he changed gait, the other person would, as well, or the had just stopped quickly. Whichever it was, Aragorn couldn’t tell. He just hoped he could make it to the palace before whoever it was caught up with him.
After following the river for several more hours, the palace of the Elvenking finally came into view, and he sighed in relief. For a while, he had been convinced he was going to die in those woods. Dead opposite from my name. He thought wryly. Estel. The hope of men.
A bridge ran over the river, and it led directly into the palace. As Aragorn stepped up onto the intricately designed stone bridge, he heard the familiar twang! of a bow. Spinning around and simultaneously drawing his sword, and barely ducked as a brightly-fletched arrow whizzed above his head, crashing to the stone bridge behind him.
The Ranger’s eyes darted around, searching for his attacker. Then he spotted him. Hidden up in a tree, invisible to all except the extremely observant, crouched a wood elf. He had long, blond hair and a dusty brown tunic, a deep brown belt cinched around his waist. Immediately, he knew what was going through the elf’s head. He thought he was an attacker. No human ever came into Mirkwood, and, after all, his Ada had not sent them a warning that he would be sending a human. For all he knew, they were still expecting Elladan or Elrohir, not him. He had worried about this, but Elrond had given him his seal and told him it would insure his safety. Aragorn, though still skeptical, had just shrugged and gone to saddle up his horse.
His horse was long gone now. After being frightened by a very violent mob of crows flying from the edge of the forest, Roheryn had galloped off, the fear of the dark forest finally overwhelming him. Aragorn knew his stallion had made it back home. And he was glad for that. He would never wish any kind of harm upon his beloved horse.
Then, snapping back to the present, Aragorn dropped his sword to the stones with a clatter and reached inside his tunic pocket, pulling out his Ada’s seal. Hopefully the elf would be able to see it clearly from this distance, or at least understand he was surrendering.
But it was too late. The next arrow was already on its way by the time Aragorn had grabbed out the seal, and it slammed into his left shoulder, sending him careening down to the cold rock. The seal fell from his grip and skittered across the bridge, clinking dully against the huge doors of the palace.
He just lay there for a moment, trying to digest what had just happened to him. Then he glanced down and saw a yellow-feathered arrow protruding from his shoulder and thought he would get sick. He hadn’t even registered the pain yet, and he tried to sit up, calling to the elf that he was a friend.
He saw the wood elf slip down from the tree and land nimbly on the ground, slowly approaching him. He looked young, his golden blond hair falling slightly past his shoulders. He had tall boots that came almost up to his knees and he held a longbow in his hand, another arrow already knocked.
Aragorn struggled to stand, but, as the pain radiating from the arrow wound finally penetrated into his subconscious, he staggered backwards, falling to the ground again. He would have leaned against the railings on the bridge, but there were none. He glanced nervously beneath him, seeing the river raging below.
“Who are you?” The elf asked as he got closer.
The Ranger winced, shifting uncomfortably with the pain in his shoulder. “I am a messenger…from Lord Elrond.” He added. He decided to keep his identity a secret for now, not wanting to cause any trouble. Besides, you never knew if something could be wrong here. They could easily capture him and hold him for ransom. And Aragorn knew his Ada would pay it, too.
The elf’s piercing blue eyes narrowed. “Prove it.”
Aragorn looked pointedly behind him, towards the palace gates. “It’s over there.” The Ranger saw the look of hesitation cross the elf’s face before it was quickly masked. He knew he would have had the Ranger get it if it had not been right in front of the palace gates. The man knew he would never allow a stranger to get that close to the stronghold.
In a few swift strides, the blond elf was standing before the doors and he picked up the seal, studying it carefully. Sure enough, it was the seal of Lord Elrond of Rivendell.
He nodded slowly, but he had one more question. “Who are you? Why would Lord Elrond send an adan to deliver the message?”
Aragorn sighed. So much for keeping his identity a secret. “I am his son.” At the look of surprise on the wood elf’s face, he amended his statement. “Or foster son, rather. I am called Estel.”
The young elf nodded in understanding, obviously having heard the name before. “My apologies, Estel. I thought you were an enemy.” He said briskly.
Aragorn quickly broke the shaft off the arrow still sticking out of his shoulder and allowed the elf to help him up by his good arm. Aragorn would have snorted in disbelief, but he quickly smothered it. The elf’s uncaring manner did not reflect his actions or his words.
“Don’t worry about it.” Aragorn said, examining his injury. The arrow did not go too deep, so he knew it would not be too hard to remove it and he would recover quickly.
“Please, let me take you to the healers. I will take the message to the king.” The elf said, holding out his hand for the message.
Aragorn hesitated. He did not wish to hand it over to the elf. After all, he had promised his Ada he would give it to the king personally. “May I ask your name?” He asked quietly, not sure how the elf would respond.
The blond wood elf nodded slowly. “My name is Legolas Thranduilion.” His hand remained outstretched, as if those five words were enough to satisfy the young human.
And they were. “Legolas Thranduilion? The Prince?” He asked, stunned.
Legolas nodded impatiently. “Is that not what I said?”
The Ranger snapped back out of his daze and realized the young prince was getting irritated. He quickly handed over the message, figuring it would be safe enough in the hands of the king’s own son. Then he allowed Legolas to lead him down a maze of corridors until they reached a spare bedroom. Legolas told him to make himself comfortable while he went to fetch the healer.
Aragorn did as he was told, sitting gently on the bed, though careful of the partial shaft still protruding from his shoulder. He shifted again, the amount of pain radiating from his shoulder growing. All he wanted was to get this arrow out; it was really starting to bother him.
Several minutes later, an elf Aragorn did not recognize entered the room. As he readied all his supplies, he told Aragorn to lay back on the bed. Again, he obeyed.
As the healer approached him and began to examine the wound, he kept up a stream of idle chit-chat. He’s probably trying to distract me. Aragorn thought. The old elf was kind, and he would continually be making bad puns or trying to cheer the young adan up. Not that Aragorn needed much cheering. He was in a fine mood, except for the arrow still in his shoulder.
“Hmm….” The healer pretended to sit back and think hard. “I’m shot for an answer.” Then a smile lit up his face. “And, apparently, so are you.” He laughed at his own joke, then set about preparing to remove the arrow.
Aragorn smiled the elf’s attempts to make a joke, but, to be truthful, he wasn’t even sure if he got it. Not yet, anyway.
“All right, I am going to remove the arrow now.” He said, becoming suddenly serious.
Aragorn grimaced, then nodded. “Get on with it.”
Then, in one swift move, the healer tugged on the broken shaft and it was wrenched free. The Ranger gasped in pain, suddenly having a hard time finding breath. He felt the healer trying to slow the blood flow, but he could barely feel it. His pulse was racing in his ears, and black spots started to swim before his vision. After several seconds of deep breathing, though, they receded.
The old elf finished bandaging his shoulder and sat back, checking over his work.
As Aragorn fought the last of the pain overwhelming him down, he suddenly understood the healer’s joke.
And burst into laughter.
The old wood elf stared at him concernedly. He began to make his way back to his pack to find something, no doubt for Aragorn’s apparent loss of sanity, when the man stopped him.
“No, mellon. I have not gone crazy. I have simply understood your joke.” He grinned, forgetting about the pain in his shoulder and the blood slowly leaking through the bandage.
The healer looked up, doubt on his face. Then, as he realized what his patient was laughing about, joined in the laughter, too. He wasn’t quite sure if he should take this final realization of his joke as offensive, but he didn’t care. To him, it was funny. Just like most things in Middle-Earth were.
~ ~ ~
“Yes, your Highness?” Aragorn said, bowing low to the ground.
King Thranduil watched the messenger as he stepped into his presence, bowing low as he did so. The Elvenking nodded, satisfied with his respectful attitude.
“The message you have brought me.” He said, reminding Aragorn of the reason he was here. “Would you like to explain it?”
Aragorn was slightly confused at this question, but he answered it anyway. “Of course, my Lord. The treaty created many years ago between Imladris and your fair Greenwood is nearly expired. I am sent under terms of peace to renew our contract.” He licked his lips nervously, never before having been in the presence of the King of the Woodland Realm.
“Of course, of course.” He beckoned to a nearby servant, and the elf approached the king with a quill and a sheet of parchment. Aragorn just caught a few words of it and saw it was their copy of the treaty.
As Thranduil dipped his quill into a little bottle of ink and began to write, Aragorn sighed quietly in relief. He absently rubbed his shoulder wound as a little flare of pain sparked from it. But, as he touched it, it only aggravated it even more, and he quickly pulled his hand away. But the pain didn’t stop, and, in a matter of seconds, flaming agony emanated from the wound, making him sway slightly on his feet. Valar. He thought, as black spots began to swim before his vision and the world started to spin. Not before the king.
He vaguely registered the fact that the Elvenking was speaking to him again before he stumbled, having to take a step backward to steady himself. Thranduil glanced upwards from signing his name on the parchment, a light of concern and disapproval quickly flashing in his eyes. Aragorn immediately put a blank mask on his face and stood there, stock-still. He hoped the king hadn’t noticed. But then again, he was an elf. He probably had.
He looked over at Legolas, who was standing on his father’s right side, watching the proceedings with those steely blue eyes of his. He smiled wanly at him, hoping to erase that diffident expression from his face. But he got no reply.
Thranduil finished writing and handed the parchment back to the servant, who then handed it to Aragorn. The human took it, made sure the ink was dry, then folded it carefully and placed it in his satchel.
“Hannon le, heru nín.” [Thank you, my lord] He said, completely forgetting that the Elvenking still had no idea who he was. He reprimanded himself silently, knowing he had just blown his cover. He didn’t know why, but he just had the feeling that, if someone didn’t need to know who he was, they shouldn’t.
“What did you say?” He asked, his eyes narrowing in suspicion. It was rare, very rare, for an adan to know the elven tongue.
“Thank you, my Lord.” He repeated, hoping that the king hadn’t noticed he’d slipped back into elvish.
The light of suspicion still in his eyes, he looked away, back towards the servant. “Thank you, adan. May I suggest you stay for a few days in our fair land?”
Aragorn allowed himself a thin smile at the king’s basic good manners, but he really had no wish to stay here. All he wanted was to go home. Besides, he still wasn’t feeling too well and the world was starting to spin violently again.
“Thank you, my Lord. But I am afraid I shall have to decline your offer. I must get back to Rivendell with the treaty.” He patted his satchel pointedly and Thranduil nodded in understanding.
“Of course. A horse has been prepared for you in the stables, I hope you find it satisfactory.”
“I am sure I will, King. Thank you for your hospitality.” Then, with one last bow, he turned quickly on his heel to leave, wishing the agonizing pain in his shoulder would go away.
But it didn’t. And, before he had even made it out the palace gates, he crumpled to the ground, the black spots swarming across his vision finally taking over.
~ ~ ~
Aragorn awoke in a soft, plush bed. He wasn’t quite sure what had happened, but, after a few seconds, his memory cleared. He cursed himself for passing out in the king’s presence, and by a mere arrow wound, at that! He glanced around the room. It was much like his bedroom in Rivendell, except that this room was made from wood and intricately carved with leaves and flowers. The windows were thrown open, letting bright morning sunlight stream in through them.
Wait. Bright morning sunlight? He looked again. He must have been unconscious for a long time. He struggled to sit up, but he fell back to the bed. His shoulder was afire, and he felt extremely warm. He began to kick off the blankets, but suddenly, someone opened the door.
And in stepped the old healer. “You’re awake.” He said, obvious relieved. Then he caught sight of the discarded blankets and quickly pulled them back on his patient. “Ah ah.” He said. “You have a fever. You must keep these on.”
The Ranger grimaced, moving his shoulder. Valar, did it hurt.
“What happened?” He asked, wondering how he had come to pass out from an arrow wound.
“You passed out.” The healer replied simply.
The man glared at him.
Then the old elf elaborated. “Apparently, the wound goes a bit deeper than I had expected. I should have kept you in bed yesterday, instead of letting you run off to the king. Infection has begun to set in. That is what you were feeling in the throne room.”
“Good to know.” Aragorn muttered, settling himself more comfortably on the pillows. He wasn’t exactly feeling his best and for some reason the healer was annoying him. Slightly.
The old elf approached again and began to unwind the bandages from Aragorn shoulder. The Ranger indicated the bowl of paste he was holding with a slight nod. “What’s that?”
“Oh, just something that should help with the infection.” He began to apply the remedy and ignored the man’s quiet hiss of pain. After he had finished, he wrapped the bandage around his patient’s wound again and stood. “Now,” he said, pointing a finger at Aragorn as if he were a naughty child, “you must rest. I do not want you trying to get up.” Then, without another word, he left the room, clicking the door shut behind him.
And soon after, the Ranger had drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep.
And did not wake the next morning.
~ ~ ~
Prince Legolas sat at the young human’s bedside, watching over him anxiously. He felt well and truly responsible for what had happened. After all, he had fired that shot off without even questioning the adan as to who he was or what he was doing.
And he felt guilty. Oh, did he feel guilty. When Estel had taken a turn for the worse last night and was not able to be roused from his deep sleep, Legolas had come to see what had happened. He hadn’t left his side since. For some reason, he felt a strange attachment to the human called Estel, and he felt terrible whenever he was away from him. Even when he was near him, he still couldn’t bear the thought of him dying, all because of a foolishly placed arrow.
He had thought it was a shallow wound, nothing to worry about too much. He had figured the healer could simply fix him up and he would soon be well again, but now he found his belief was sorely misplaced.
As he watched the young adan toss restlessly on the bed, he remembered what the healer had told him. Estel’s fever had gone soaring yesterday, and he had fallen into unconsciousness. Legolas wished the young human would just wake up so he could apologize to him, but he knew wishing was futile.
Legolas laid one hand on Estel’s, feeling all dislike or enmity for the human quickly dissipating. Lord Elrond would have to be notified of this drastic turn for the worse. Of course, they were not sure of anything yet. Estel could wake up any minute and recover quickly. But still, the wood elf was dreading the message that would have to be sent out to the Lord of Rivendell.
~ ~ ~
Aragorn awoke with a start, lurching upright in the soft bed and letting his gray eyes roam nervously around the room. Relieved that nothing from his nightmares haunted him in real life, he slowly shifted to a more comfortable position, rubbing lightly at the thick bandage swathing his shoulder. Then he remembered what had happened and glanced up, just in time to see Legolas waking. The elf was resting in a chair that had been brought up right beside the human’s bed, and Aragorn got the feeling he’d been there for a long time.
“Estel?” Legolas asked, leaning forward to feel the human’s brow. “Are you all right?” He stood, about to leave to call the healer, when the human’s hand darted out and grasped the elf’s wrist. Legolas, startled, turned back to the man on the bed. He cocked his head to the side, curious.
“I am fine, Legolas. Just a bit sick, that is all.” He said, a light of confusion in his eyes. Even thought his head swam and pain radiated from his shoulder, there was something he had to ask Legolas before he fell unconscious again.
“You were unconscious for hours…” Legolas’ voice trailed off, thinking that maybe the man was delirious. “I am going to call the healer.” He came to a quick decision. “Wait here.”
“Wait.” Aragorn demanded as the elf began to pull away. He tightened his grip on the wood elf’s wrist, and Legolas turned back to him. It took him a moment to regain his breath before he spoke again.
“Really, I am fine. I was just tired, that is all.” He hesitated, as if wanting to ask a question, but not knowing how to answer it. “Legolas…why are you here?”
Legolas looked confused in his turn. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, why are you concerned for my well-being? You seemed hostile when I first met you.” Aragorn said, hoping he wouldn’t offend the elf.
Legolas allowed a thin smile to permeate his lips and he gazed into the adan’s silver eyes. “I am always hostile towards humans, Estel. Most elves of Mirkwood are.” Seeing the question in his eyes, he continued before the young man could ask it. “It is a story that goes too deep to explain now.” He paused, thinking of an answer to the human’s first question. He wasn’t quite sure why he was there, actually. “I am here because…I feel responsible for what has happened to you. It was a foolish move, and I deeply regret it. I apologize.” He gave a slight bow, anxiety in his eyes as he waited for the human to answer.
Aragorn just smiled. “Apology accepted.”
Legolas felt the need to ask one more thing, but he didn’t know how Estel would react. Or how anyone else would react, for that matter. But he felt that the Valar had given him this human as a gift, a friend. And he wouldn’t turn it down. “Friends?” He asked tentatively.
Now Aragorn’s smile grew wider. “Friends.” He confirmed.
Aragorn, still smiling, let his head drop back onto the pillows. Legolas looked relieved, then he left the room quickly to find the healer. His new friend wasn’t completely well yet.
And that, mellon nín, was the start of a long, loyal friendship. The two would stay by each other’s sides for years to come, defending each other, joking with each other, being there for each other. The human and the elf, unlikely friends, had instantly formed a bond with each other. A bond that could not be separated over time or pain or grief. And they both knew that. They knew that they would hold each other’s friendship for many years.