The Test of the Fellowship
Legolas only knew pain. His entire body ached and judging by the pain in his right shoulder the joint had popped out of its socket. How much longer would Saruman enjoy tormenting him? When it would end? Would the Wizard turn him in to a wraith or simply end his life?
"The Ring, Elf." Saruman was losing his patience. "If you don't tell me where you hid it, you'll live the rest of your immortal life as my servant..."
Shivers crawled down Legolas' spine. He tried to move, but his body refused to comply. He was lying at Saruman's feet; his mouth was bloody, the piece of fabric that Gimli had used to bandage his throat had slipped and the cut had started to bleed again. Physically he was completely exhausted and it took his last strength to answer Saruman. "Ne...ver..."
Enraged, Saruman raised his staff. He was ready to plant it in Legolas' chest when a scream alerted him that an intruder had arrived.
"Stop!" Gandalf stared at Legolas in shock. He had known that Saruman no longer abided by the rules, but the fact that the other Wizard was inflicting pain on purpose still shocked him. "Let him go, Saruman." He had fought Saruman once before and he had lost the fight, but this time he was alert, ready to strike hard.
Aragorn tried to use the shadows to his advantage, sneaking toward Legolas. It worried him that the Elf had closed his eyes and the motionlessness of the gracious body told him that Legolas was hurt worse than the Elf would ever admit. "Gimli, guard the doorway. I'm going to get Legolas."
Gandalf provided the distraction Aragorn needed by challenging Saruman and he quickly slipped past Saruman the White. He knelt at Legolas' side and turned the Elf on to his back. The broken eyes that stared back at him made his heart miss a beat. Was he too late? He quickly checked Legolas' pulse, found it weak, but present. He looked up at Gandalf and Gimli and nodded once. Legolas was still alive!
Gandalf threw his hat on to the floor, raised his staff and aimed it at Saruman. "This time you won't defeat me that easily." His eyes briefly locked with Aragorn's, telling the warrior to get Legolas out of here. He would keep Saruman busy! Saruman made the first move, trying to fling him through the room, but he blocked that attack with his staff.
Aragorn lifted Legolas in his arms, heard the strangled moan and regretted adding to the Elf's discomfort, but he didn't have the time to be gentle. He draped Legolas over his shoulder, held on tight and began running, signaling Gimli to follow him and watch his back.
Gimli growled pleased now that they were finally taking action. He tried not to stare at the blood clinging to the back of Legolas' head, staining the fair hair, and focused on possible attackers instead. An Orc left its hiding place and attacked. Using his mighty axe he cleaved the Orc's head and grumbled satisfactory. Other Orcs who opposed them would meet with the same fate!
Aragorn, sword in hand, scanned the corridors. So far the few Orcs they had encountered had been easily dealt with by Gimli. What worried him most was Legolas' shallow breathing and the blood that continued to drip from the Elf's throat. Suddenly a roar erupted to his right and his eyes narrowed, seeing a group of six Orcs rush toward them. He couldn't allow them to detain him; he needed to get Legolas in to safety and couldn't waste his time fighting Orcs!
"I can take them, Aragorn!" Gimli, baring his teeth, raised his axe in welcome. These foul creatures were his.
Aragorn nodded thankfully and ran down the corridor, eager to take Legolas in to safety. Behind him, Gimli released a battle cry as the Dwarf threw himself at the Orcs. Aragorn wanted to join in the fight, but his precious charge urged him in to the open. He didn't stop, not even when Saruman's enraged scream echoed through Middle Earth. He ran, tightly holding his charge in place and finally reached the safety of the forest.
He put some more distance between them and the Tower, and once he judged it safe, he gently lowered the Elf on to the grass. His hands checked Legolas' injuries quickly, encountering a dislocated shoulder, cracked ribs and blue lines covering most of the Elf's body. He ripped off a piece of fabric from his cloak and pressed it against Legolas' throat, trying to stop the bleeding. Except for the poison he didn't expect much complications and he immediately started to look about for the healing herbs he had used earlier. Disappointed, he noticed that they weren't in sight. He would have to look for them later.
First he needed to build some sort of shelter. Looking over his shoulder at the black tower he felt that they were still too close and he decided to put more distance between them and Saruman. How was Gandalf handling things? Was Saruman winning or had Gandalf decided to retreat? Hopefully he would find out shortly.
Lifting Legolas in his arms, he cradled the Elf against his chest and started deeper in to the forest. Gandalf had told him to head west, insisting he would find shelter there and he hoped the Wizard was right. Legolas needed a warm and dry place to recover.
His eyes suddenly made out a small, wooden cabin to his far right. It was partly hidden by trees and bushes, and he had almost missed it. Maybe Gandalf had referred to this cabin? Aragorn decided to check on the cabin and headed toward it. Legolas moaned softly, his body shook violently and then he grew calm again. It urged Aragorn to move faster.
He kicked open the door and scanned the interior. The cabin was clean, sparsely furnished, but there was a bed and several chairs. Aragorn headed for the bed, managed to push back the covers and then lowered Legolas on to the bed. Looking out of the small window, he saw a spring outside and he immediately fetched some water.
First, he checked on Legolas' throat and hissed, realizing the cut was deep. Using part of the clean sheet he cleaned and then bandaged the wound again.
Now that he had taken care of the most dangerous injury he pulled up a chair and started to remove the blood from the Elf's face. He was ashamed to admit that he almost lost himself in the act of tending to his injured companion. The long, flaxen hair was a mess and he combed the long strands with his fingers, getting rid of dried blood clots. The shoulder was next and he prayed that Legolas would remain unconscious a little longer. With practiced ease, he popped the dislocated shoulder back in, but Legolas' eyes suddenly opened and stared at him with a blank expression. Aragorn cursed privately. The Elf was still blind and had no idea who was with him.
"It's I, Aragorn. We fled Saruman's tower. You're safe, my friend." Aragorn's fingers tenderly pushed back a stray lock behind pointed ears. "You're bleeding, your shoulder is dislocated and I suspect you have some broken ribs. Please lay still and let me tend to your injuries."
Legolas' eyes softened. "Aragorn?" He couldn't believe the Man had come for him. "Gimli?" Was the Dwarf safe as well?
"Orcs attacked and he covered our retreat. I'm certain he'll join us shortly. What caused that cut on your throat? It's bleeding and badly infected."
"His fingernails... There was more poison beneath his nails." Legolas finally allowed himself to relax. "You shouldn't have come for me..." Only then he fully realized that Gimli was still at the tower, fighting Orcs. "You must go back! Gimli, Gimli has the..." He forced himself to swallow the last word. He couldn't tell Aragorn about the Ring!
"He has the Ring of Fire. Why the secrecy?" He unbuttoned the Elf's tunic and his fingertips gently probed Legolas' ribs. Now that the fabric was gone he realized he had been right earlier. "You suffered two broken ribs..."
"I'll heal..." Legolas hated slowing the Fellowship down. If it hadn't been for him, Gimli and Aragorn would have freed Pippin and Merry by now!
"We need the healing herbs to counteract the poison." He gently pulled Legolas in a sitting position, removed the tunic and bandaged the cracked ribs. "You'll stay here, Legolas, while I search for the herbs." After covering the shivering body with a blanket, he uncovered the Elf's hunting knives and placed them next to the bed. "I couldn't find your quiver or bow... But I managed to secure your hunting knives."
Legolas nodded thankfully. Shivers tormented his body and his throat ached for water.
Aragorn gently stroked the Elf's brow. "I'll be back with the healing herbs shortly and I'll make you some tea. Try to rest in the meantime?"
"I'll try." He lacked the strength to do anything else than rest. Aragorn's touch suddenly registered and he wondered about the gentleness in that touch. "I'm glad you found me..."
"So am I..." Aragorn bowed down and pressed a chaste kiss on the Elf's brow. "I must take better care of you."
Had the fever now finally gotten a tight hold of him? Legolas swore he had just felt Aragorn's lips against his brow, but that must have been a hallucination. Why would Aragorn kiss him? But it was a sweet illusion and one which he wanted to hold on to.
Aragorn rose from his chair and stepped outside. He would have preferred to stay with Legolas and watch the Elf, but he needed herbs to fight the poison. A great variety of plants grew near the cabin and Aragorn set out to find the ones he needed.
"Aragorn! Where's the stubborn Elf?" Gimli walked up to the cabin with a blood covered axe. "I got to do some Orc hunting after all, but now I need to know the Elf is safe."
Aragorn smiled warmly. "He's resting. I took him inside and now I'm searching for the herbs which I need to fight the poison."
"Tell me what the plant looks like and I'll help," vowed Gimli.
Aragorn shook his head. "I'd rather see you went inside and sat with Legolas. I fear the fever might turn his dreams in to nightmares. Legolas will be relieved when he sees you. He feared for your safety... and for the Ring."
"I have it in my pocket. Aye, I'll sit with him and guard his dreams." Gimli went inside, placed his beloved axe near the doorway and walked over to the bed. He sat down, ran a hand through the silky hair and smiled pleased. The Elf's eyes opened partially and Gimli's smile broadened. "Your Ring is safe, Elf."
A smile appeared on Legolas' bruised face. "Then keep it, Master Dwarf, for I'm unable to guard it in my current state."
Gimli shook his head. "You're his keeper."
"Look at me," whispered Legolas. "I'm no match for an Orc, let alone the Uruk-Hai or Saruman himself."
The blanket slipped, revealed several bandages. Gimli pulled the blanket back in to place and gently rubbed the Elf's knuckles. "Why don't we let Gandalf decide?"
Legolas frowned. "Gandalf's dead..." Was fever affecting his hearing?
"No, Elf, he made it out of the Mines of Moria alive. He distracted Saruman so Aragorn could get you out." Gimli noticed the relief that shone from Legolas' face. "What?"
"Then I will return the Ring to Gandalf..." He no longer felt capable of keeping the Ring safe.
"I do not think so..." Gandalf appeared in the doorway, staff in hand and smiling.
Legolas recognized the Wizard's voice and tried to rise from the bed. Gimli placed his hands on the Elf's chest and made sure Legolas stayed down. "You're staying in bed."
"But..." Legolas tried once more to sit upright, but now a second pair of hands gently pushed him down.
"Rest, Legolas. You did well. You didn't give in to Saruman and you managed to keep the Ring safe," said Gandalf. "Now it is time to rest and heal."
Legolas, feeling frustrated, obeyed.
Gandalf looked at Gimli and extended his hand. "The Ring?"
Gimli uncovered the Ring of Fire and placed it in the palm of Gandalf's hand reverently. "It almost cost him his life..." He partly blamed Gandalf for putting this burden on Legolas.
Gandalf heard the concerned tone and felt pleased, realizing the Dwarf and Elf had become close friends. He sat down on the side of the bed, uncovered Legolas' hand from beneath the blanket and placed Narya on the Elf's ring finger.
Legolas' face contorted in horror. "No!" During all the centuries in which he had guarded the Ring he had never put it on!
"It will aid your recovery," said Gandalf in a kind voice. "There's nothing to fear except fear itself."
Legolas was tempted to remove the Ring again, but was unwilling to go against Gandalf's wishes. He expected to feel different, but he still felt the same.
"And now you will rest," said Gandalf, trying to sound menacingly. "Aragorn will be displeased finding you awake and brooding."
There it was again... Aragorn... First the Man had caressed him, kissed him and now Gandalf mentioned Aragorn's concern for him. "I'll heal fast," he repeated. "I won't slow down the Fellowship for long. Merry and Pippin..."
Gandalf and Gimli exchanged a glance. "Do not worry about the Hobbits," said Gandalf. "Gimli and I will go after the Halflings. Aragorn and you will stay here and only follow us after you recovered."
Legolas shook his head. "Aye, leave me here, but allow Aragorn to accompany you. He's the leader of the Fellowship and shouldn't be nursing me back to health."
Both Gimli and Gandalf grinned. "Take your axe, Gimli, the road awaits." Gandalf rose to his feet and watched Legolas' unease with amusement. "And Legolas, don't remove the Ring until you fully recovered." Legolas wanted to speak, but Gandalf beat him to it. "And don't argue with me."
"I'll obey," sighed Legolas.
"Aragorn will shortly return with the healing herbs..." Gandalf knew that the plants Aragorn needed grew close to the cabin. "Take the time to recover, my Prince."
Legolas knew objecting was futile. "As you wish, Gandalf." Aragorn wouldn't like this, wouldn't like being left behind to tend to him. The Man was a warrior, and should be on the Uruk-Hai's trail!
Gandalf stepped outside, but Gimli needed to say goodbye to Legolas first. "Stop being stubborn, Elf and enjoy the rest..." Wickedly he added, "And maybe you'll find that Aragorn doesn't mind taking care of you. Speak with him for I'm certain his feelings run deeper than mere friendship."
"It's not fair to offer me hope," whispered Legolas. The Dwarf's large hand settled on his brow and the callous fingers patted his skin. "Thank you for you concern, friend Dwarf."
Gimli nodded. "The best way to repay me is to make a full recovery, Legolas."
Legolas swallowed hard, as his name flowed from the Dwarf's lips once more. "I'll recover."
Gimli smiled, caressed a strand of long blond hair and then left to join Gandalf who was talking to Aragorn.
"Leave the Ring at his finger until he recovered," said Gandalf to Aragorn. One look told him that Aragorn had located the herbs which he needed to brew Legolas' tea. "The poison is very potent and Legolas will need to rest for several days. We'll go after Merry and Pippin."
Aragorn nodded in understanding, but wished he could accompany them on the hunt. But Legolas now needed him most and his place was at the Elf's side. It was also a unique chance to find out if Legolas felt the same way about him. He felt grateful that Gandalf gave him this chance.
Gimli, ready to leave, studied Aragorn and when Gandalf walked away from the house, he quickly said, "Don't let the Elf get away. He is stubborn. Make sure he knows you love him..."
Aragorn, stunned, wanted to reply, but Gimli moved faster, going after Gandalf and not giving him a chance to speak. In the end, Aragorn merely shook his head. Gandalf had known about his feelings for Legolas and now it seemed that Gimli thought the attraction was mutual. Taking more spring water with him he stepped back in to the cabin, got a fire started and brew the healing tea.
Every so often his eyes traveled to Legolas who seemed sound asleep, but one could never tell, because Elves slept with their eyes open. Studying Legolas' breathing he felt more certain of his first observation; the Elf was asleep. That meant waking Legolas so the Elf could drink the tea. He carried the mug over to the bed, sat down and placed the mug on the floor.
"Legolas? I regret having to wake you, but we need to fight the poison." Aragorn watched the Elf closely and when Legolas turned toward him, he smiled, wishing Legolas could see his face. "I made tea."
Legolas nodded absentmindedly. "I had forgotten..."
"What?" Aragorn helped Legolas to sit upright, steadied him by wrapping one arm around the Elf's waist and then placed the mug at the other man's lips. "You need to drink this several times a day. Once an hour should be sufficient. How's the shoulder? And the ribs?"
"Healing already..." whispered Legolas between sips. He leaned heavily against Aragorn, cherishing the other man's presence. "Gandalf shouldn't have made you stay. I know you want to go after Merry and Pippin."
Aragorn's mouth suddenly felt dry. "I'd rather nurse you back to health." Legolas' stunned expression made him grow hopeful. "You're important to me."
Legolas' blind eyes widened. "Aragorn?" Gimli had insisted Aragorn was interested in him, but he still had trouble believing it. What about Arwen?
Aragorn disposed of the now empty mug and helped Legolas to lie down again. "I promised you we would talk, that there won't be any secrets between us and we will talk once the fever has disappeared." Aragorn wanted to kiss Legolas, but had to wait until the Elf had recovered. "Do you wish to go back to sleep now?" If Legolas did go back to sleep he had to wake the Elf in one hour for more tea.
"I'm not sure I can sleep," whispered Legolas tiredly. "I assume you're displeased with me?"
Aragorn raised an eyebrow. "And why is that?"
"Because I didn't mention the Ring to you." He still wondered why Gandalf insisted he wore the Ring. Yes, it would help him heal, but the Ring wasn't his to wear; it belonged to Gandalf.
"Why didn't you tell me? Don't you trust me?" Aragorn leaned in a little closer, trying to read the expression in Legolas' eyes. "I vowed to protect Frodo and to keep him safe on this quest, I would have protected you as well." And for more reasons than just dedicating his life to the quest... Even more so because he had fallen in love with the noble Elf.
Legolas managed a smile. "Gimli asked me the same question. It has nothing to do with trust. I trust you, Aragorn... The burden is mine to carry."
"Well, I know about the Ring now," remarked Aragorn smugly. "I extent my protection to you, my Prince."
Legolas' smile brightened. He started to feel shy and vulnerable, and needed to change their topic. "Do you have more tea?"
Aragorn returned to the fire place, brew more tea and returned with a full mug. "Can you sit up?"
Legolas tried, but failed. "Not yet, maybe tomorrow."
Once more Aragorn helped him sip the tea. "You should sleep now... Sleep will aid your recovery." Surprised, Aragorn found that Legolas' icy cold hand now rested on his, keeping him in place. "Yes?" Legolas looked confused and Aragorn wished he knew what the Elf was thinking. They needed to talk so badly, but only once Legolas was free of fever.
"Why didn't you go after Merry and Pippin instead?" Legolas cocked his head, trying to let his instincts guide him now that he couldn't see Aragorn's face. "Gimli and I are warriors, we know what dangers we face, the Hobbits don't. Why free us instead?"
Aragorn moistened his lips. "As I said earlier, you're important to me." Legolas lips were close and the Elf looked at him pleadingly. Temptation grew stronger and he leaned in to kiss Legolas.
Legolas never expected the kiss. Yes, he had hoped for it, but not expected it. A soft moan escaped from deep within his throat as he parted his teeth to answer the kiss in a way that should tell Aragorn how he felt about this. He craved Aragorn, but... He pulled back, cringed from pain that shoot through his chest, but he managed to hide it. "What about Arwen?"
Now Aragorn understood. Legolas knew about his connection with Arwen and hadn't acted on his desire because of the fair Elven Maiden. "I asked her not to bind herself to me. We set each other free."
"And Elrond knows?" Legolas' eyes widened in disbelief.
"No, I don't think so. I didn't have the time to tell him, but maybe Arwen has told him by now." Aragorn gently fingered a lock of fair hair. "Legolas, you need rest. We can discuss this later. You feel too hot, though you're shivering with cold."
"Will you keep me warm tonight?" Legolas raised a hand, managed to locate Aragorn's face and rested his palm against the Man's cheek.
Aragorn smiled pleased. Now that Legolas' hand rested against his face, he knew the Elf would feel his smile with his fingertips. "Later... I need to gather more herbs and to walk the grounds just once to make sure no Orcs followed us here."
Reluctantly, Legolas laid down again. "I shouldn't say this, not now, but..."
Legolas' face was an open book to Aragorn. Love and desire showed in the Elf's gentle expression and the blue eyes were swimming with emotion. "You shouldn't say what?"
"I love you..." Legolas curled up beneath the blanket, trying to get warm by folding his arms around his waist.
Aragorn released a tormented moan. "I feel the same way about you, my Prince... If only I had known earlier I would have stopped the Uruk-Hai from abducting you. You suffered needlessly at their hands..." His fingertips hovered above the bruises that tainted the Elf's face.
"Such is the nature of war." Knowing Aragorn would keep him safe, Legolas stopped fighting his exhaustion. "Don't blame yourself..."
Legolas drifted off in to a deep, healing sleep and Aragorn placed one more kiss on the Elf's brow. Rising to his feet, he looked at the sleeping Elf. Legolas had surprised him by pushing the matter, but now he was glad Legolas had done just that. I love you, Legolas. And in time I will prove my love to you.
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