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Disclaimer: the characters and setting of Middle-earth are the creations of J.R.R. Tolkien and belong to his estate. I do not have permission to use them. This story is written for entertainment only and no monetary profit is being made.
Author's Notes: here is a new chapter at last. I thank you for your patience in waiting for updates, and I especially want to acknowledge those readers who have been with me since the beginning. To See A World is nearing its third birthday (good lord!), and your persistence in staying with this monster and reviewing regularly instead of vanishing into the shadows is very much appreciated.
The slow pace of chapter updates is probably quite permanent – real life makes many demands on me – but I promise you that new installments will continue to come. This story will not be abandoned, but I do sincerely hope that it will not come close to celebrating its fourth birthday, and you are probably hoping the same. I think we'd all collapse.
To See A World by Nightwing
Chapter 43: Love is the Answer
Under a darkened sky, Aragorn crouched under the protection of the trees that crowded near the crumbling stones of the city wall and took a quick swallow of Arath's brew. The wind, which had blown with sharp strength as the men had furtively crossed the open meadow in tiny groups, was only able to whisper here. The barren branches of a massive oak creaked overhead, the last of the clinging leaves rattling dryly.
As he had come down the hillside and crept across the open plain, the ranger had been impressed by the closer glimpses he had gotten - though they were shadowed by the night - of the outer stone wall of the city of Carbryddin. It was massive; three times the height of a man, and had undoubtedly been nearly impenetrable in earlier times. Once he was closer, Aragorn could see the scars and pits that both time and weapons had inflicted on the great stones. He wondered how old the city was, and how many sieges it had withstood.
Alun was a short distance off, speaking with a knot of men who pressed against the shadows, their backs hunched to the cold. Final words were being said, and as Aragorn watched, one man broke away from the group at a gesture from Alun and ran toward the waiting hill-men, who were clustered in their own group a short distance away. Alun turned away and joined Aragorn.
"Do you see it?" he hissed, gesturing to one of the stone towers that jutted above the wall. "Do you see that banner?"
Aragorn glanced up, straining his eyes at the banner snapping in the wind. In the darkness it was difficult to make out its features, but after a moment he saw, red against a darker background, the image of an eye. It appeared to be roving, seeking, looking in every direction as the wind caught at the flag and whipped it about. Aragorn regarded it for a moment in silence before turning to Alun.
The soldier shook his head in anger. "That is not the banner of our city. Do you remember Tarnan's cloak – red, with the rearing white stag? That is the emblem of our Lord's city, not that eye thing. Ramhar has torn down the emblem of our Lords and put up his own – the traitorous bastard!"
"No," Aragorn said grimly. "That is not Ramhar's banner. It is the old man's doing. He claims your city for Mordor."
Alun swore under his breath and stared up at the tower again. "The bloody thing looks like it's watching us," he muttered. He squared his shoulders, his eyes smoldering. "I'll tear it down myself ere the night is out or die in the trying. I'll not have Sauron's banner flying on the walls of my city."
The soldier squatted and leaned his back against the wall. He extracted a container of tobacco from his pocket. "Everyone will be in position soon. We await our friends from inside. As one, we will all go over - or through - the wall and settle into our places before the attack. The first move is to take care of the guards posted around the city and at the main gate. Some of us will move on the known houses of our enemies. It should all be quick and quiet, in the beginning. Meanwhile, I will take you to the Lord's house, try to get you in and down to Legolas before things get wild." Eyeing the tobacco with a scowl, Alun groaned and thrust it back into his coat. "Valar, what I would give for a quick pipe before we start this."
Aragorn smiled, understanding the longing. "Once we are over the wall and occupied, you will forget you ever wanted it. The waiting makes it worse." He raised his gaze to the solid wall. "This is a monstrous barricade," he said, and glanced unhappily at his bandaged hands.
"From the Great Days," Alun said. "It was built some five-hundred years ago, when the city was founded, and has withstood many attacks. Lucky for you and your hands, we will go through it, not over it. Should save you some pain."
Aragorn tilted his head back, taking in the size of the individual stones. "I appreciate that. However did they move these great stones?" he murmured.
Alun shook his head. "It was either magic, or bloody good engineering. For the sake of the slaves who built it, I hope it was magic. It must have been back-breaking work, and taken years to complete."
"And how do we go through the wall? Have we a bit of magic to help us with that as well?"
Alun grinned. "Mere human labor. We have spent over a year, cutting away secret openings here and there where the wall is crumbling and at its weakest. The masons know their work."
"You have been planning this for some time."
The soldier sighed. "I can hardly say what we have been planning. We've been all in a muddle for such a long time, Aragorn, so fearful and unsure. Do we act, do we not act, and when, how? We might have debated - and thus hesitated - forever, but for the assassination of our Lord. We knew then we had to pull our plans together and act. And so, Valar help us, here we are at last. Perhaps we should thank Legolas for finally getting things in motion, unwilling though he was to play the role that was forced upon him."
A low whistle from the other side of the wall brought both men to their feet. Alun responded with a different whistle of his own, and pulled Aragorn back. He pointed to a section of the wall covered by shrubs. "Watch there – tell me if we were able to deceive your eyes."
The sound of something heavy being pushed aside came to Aragorn's ears, and a moment later the bushes began to shake. A man's head popped out. "Alun?"
"Well met, Celyn. Is all quiet within?"
"Aye. No sign that anyone suspects a thing, though Ramhar has set more archers than usual along the parapet these past few nights. I don't mind telling you I've been jumpier than a hound with fleas waiting here. One of the cows over there made a bit of noise and I nearly shot her head off. I'm glad to finally be seeing you. How many men are with you?"
"Twenty-three with me. Arath is at the next opening with about fifteen of his folk from the hills. Goreu is near the main gate with his brother and enough fellows to handle the guards. They will remain there and open the gate if we need to flee the city. We've Anwas and Garym on the other side with good numbers of men each. I count on them to handle the soldiers in the barracks. Did you manage to speak with your friends there?"
"I did. They will attempt to gather the weapons while the soldiers sleep, and await Anwas' arrival. It will be interesting, when the time comes, to see how some of the men will choose. It is a hard thing, to ask them to turn against their masters. They will be caught between fear and loyalty."
"Both powerful motivators," Alun said. "But choose they must. Anwas will spare their lives if possible, but we cannot allow anyone to betray us. He must hold them there, and let none escape who might cause trouble."
"Aye," Celyn said quietly. "Well now, all is quiet here. Send your men through, one at a time. Mind they bend low and watch their heads. Tell them to stick to the wall when they come out, and to be quiet for Valar's sake and not frighten the cows. Skirt wide around them. Oh, and watch where you put your feet."
Alun snorted. "It would be just my luck to trod in cow shit my first step in. Not a good way to start this off."
Aragorn and Alun waited as the men crept to the tunnel in the wall and vanished into the black hole one by one. The bushes snagged Aragorn's cloak as he crouched and ran his hands over the opening. It was small, and he was a tall man; the walls pressed around him, and he nearly had to take to hands and knees as he made his way through. On the other side, he straightened and glanced quickly around him. Celyn took him by the arm and pushed him against a nearby tree. Alun emerged a moment later, brushing the dirt from his clothing. "Nearly got stuck in there," he muttered.
An open field spread before them. In the darkness, Aragorn could make out the humped shapes of cattle clustered together near a shelter, their rumps to the wind. Here and there, watch fires gleamed in the darkness, and the silhouettes of the guards could be seen. Amid the shadowed buildings the great mass of the Lord's house could be seen, silent and dark, some half-mile away. Alun turned away to speak with his men. Aragorn did not join them. He drank again of Arath's brew and stared at the place where Legolas was imprisoned.
The men broke apart into several groups and melted into the night, and Alun turned to Aragorn. "Come."
They traveled along the wall, giving the animals a wide berth, and then struck out across an open field. It was dotted with trees however, and the two men crouched low, darting from one to the next along the edge, holding their cloaks closed against the cold. Aragorn saw that in fact the great field was divided into multiple garden plots. The barren stalks of the previous summer's corn hissed in the wind.
Alun nodded toward them. "It is said that our city withstood a three-year siege long ago," he whispered. "The people were able to grow enough food to keep themselves alive without aid from outside. We have many of these gardens within our walls."
As the bulk of the Lord's house loomed before them, Alun drew Aragorn toward the back, where it was most shadowed. Together they slid against what Aragorn took to be a supply shed. Before him lay a cobbled path large enough to accommodate the carts that carried provisions to the house, swept free of snow. Alun pointed.
"Do you see the black opening there, where the steps go down?" he whispered. "They lead to a door – that is our way into the dungeons."
Aragorn could see the dark forms of two guards at the steps. One stood motionless, propped over his sword, the tip driven into the ground. At first glance he looked asleep, but then he moved his head, and his eyes gleamed in the darkness. The other man was frankly asleep, sprawled against the wall with his mouth hanging open. The watch fire had burned to embers.
Aragorn's hand tightened on the small dagger in his belt. Now that only a short distance separated him from Legolas, it was all he could do not to burst from his hiding place and attack the guards himself. "Do we take them?"
"No. We do not want a commotion here, for if we get in we will never get out. Let the start of the fighting draw them away."
"I hope it will be soon," Alun told him. "But we must be sure that the soldiers in the guardhouse have been dealt with before the fighting begins. Once that is done, Anwas will give the signal for the others to start."
Aragorn nodded. It made sense. Were the soldiers to break free and regain their weapons, the result would be disastrous for Alun's men, and it would be for Legolas as well. But it was difficult to wait, and Aragorn found himself silently counting to five-hundred, and five-hundred again, as he stared at the guards and Alun fixed his gaze in the direction of the courtyard, barely visible to their right beyond a low hedge, and pulled at his beard.
Shouts rang out from the courtyard, and a moment later, a clash of swords. The alarm brought the dozing guard to his feet, and both men ran toward the front of the house and disappeared into the dark.
Aragorn and Alun broke from cover and raced to the steps. Alun flashed a grin at Aragorn as they stopped before the heavy door. He fished a key from his pocket. "Seems I forgot to turn this in when I quit my job," he whispered.
Cautiously he turned the lock and opened the door a fraction. He paused, listening, then nodded. "Quietly now – we do not know who else is about. Go in, get down the steps and hide yourself in the first storeroom on the left. I will follow."
They slid onto the landing and closed the door behind them. Alun did not lock it. A torch affixed to the wall gave light, and Aragorn, despite the pain in his foot, took the stairs two at a time. Before him lay a long corridor, the floor made of flagstones. Flickering torches lined the walls. Ducking into the storage room, he shoved his cloak against his mouth to stifle his coughing and reached for the flask Arath had given him.
Alun put his head around the corner. "Follow me. Legolas is down here. I do not have keys to the prison cells, however. We may have to break the door down, but we must be sure no guards are about before we attempt that."
Dagger in hand, Aragorn trailed Alun down the corridor, past numerous heavy doors that held only a small barred grate at the bottom. The last door before the corridor branched both left and right stood open. Alun looked at it and swore. Quickening his pace, he rushed into the room. "He's gone!" he hissed. "Valar help the elf, they have taken him out."
Aragorn pushed past him, staring round the darkened room in dismay. Dimly, he could make out chains dangling from the wall, a crumpled blanket on the floor beneath them. The cold seeped up through the floor. He spun about. "Where would they have taken him?" he demanded.
"There are several possibilities," Alun muttered as he strode out of the cell. "None of them good."
Aragorn's thoughts raced in desperation as he limped after the soldier. Had they taken Legolas to torture him? Had they already killed him? Valar, surely he was not too late!
Something suddenly clamped around his ankle, nearly sending him sprawling. With a snarl he kicked his foot free and turned, his blade flashing, and sought to engage his attacker. There was no one. Looking around him in confusion, he caught sight of a hand extending from the grate of one of the prison doors. One of the captives had grabbed at him as he passed. Alun knelt at the door and tried to look in. "Who's there?"
"Alun, is that you? It's Iaen."
Aragorn crouched behind Alun and peered into the grate. Barely visible in the darkness, he saw a young man, looking thin and tired, clinging to the bars.
"Iaen? Why do they hold you?"
The prisoner sighed. "I would not swear allegiance to Ramhar when he demanded it, as he has of every citizen. He demands a blood oath, Alun. He demands our very lives. They took my wife and child too, when I would not cooperate. I know not what has befallen them."
Alun clasped the man's hand as his cellmates pressed against the grate. "The rebellion begins, my friends. It comes tonight."
A low murmur of voices leaked from the locked room. "Can you get us out?" someone called. "We will fight!"
"If I can find the keys," Alun said. "Are there any guards about at this hour?"
"There might be," said Iaen. "But they are occupied. They have someone in that room Ramhar is so fond of, down at the end of the right side corridor."
"Was it the prisoner from this open cell?" Alun asked, pointing. "The elf?"
"Aye, it was the elf. They pulled him out some hours back. He put up an amazing fight. We were cheering him on. It took four men to drag him down there, but they got him in the end."
Aragorn started down the corridor, veering right as the hallway divided. Alun drew alongside. The corridor was unlit here, but for a faint red glow from the last room, and as they approached it, Aragorn heard a burst of derisive laughter. "What is this? You do not like your new accommodations, Prince?" There was the sound of a fist hitting flesh, and a surprised grunt, followed by a colorful explosion of Sindarin threats. The sound of that elven voice, filled with rage – filled with life - propelled Aragorn toward the door at a run.
Alun touched him lightly on the shoulder, reminding him to use caution. Gritting his teeth, Aragorn stopped as he reached the door. He peered around it. In the shadowed room, lit only by one feeble torch and a tiny brazier that glowed in the far corner, two men stood over a raised table of sorts. On it, the ranger could just make out the shape of someone lying with his arms stretched overhead and secured. Legolas' face was not visible, but Aragorn saw the elf's pale-gold hair spill over the edge of the platform as he fought to free himself, and his bare feet, roped together and lashed down, jerked hard against their bindings.
One of the guards, a big hulking brute with matted hair and a heavy jaw, was holding a metal poker in his hand. The end of it glowed red-hot, and his brought it to hover several inches above Legolas' arms. The elf's chest heaved, his hands knotting into fists as the burning tip was brought near.
"Stop," the other guard said. He was a younger man whose hair gleamed red in the firelight, and he tried to catch hold of the big man's arm. "Should we not wait for Lord Ramhar to return? If you hurt him too much – "
The older man angrily shook him off. "Koryon, you sniveling little beggar, I swear when I am done with him I'll brand you next! Lord Ramhar said to ready our guest for talking. The first mark will be mine, and I think I'll put it right on his pretty little face." He shifted his grip on the iron and began to lower it.
The younger guard said something else, and made another attempt to steer the poker elsewhere. Aragorn started forward, but Alun's hand clamped hard on his arm. "You take the boy," the soldier hissed, "and get him up against the wall. Do not slay him, I beg you. That big bastard is mine. And Aragorn, I'm first."
The last sentence was accompanied by a feral grin. Aragorn nodded silently, and the soldier pushed away from him, bolting into the chamber with a shout. The big guard spun about, his mouth opening wide, and he brought up the glowing iron to defend himself as Alun lunged forward. Alun smacked the rod aside with his blade and Aragorn raced past him, dodging the spray of sparks. Throwing his weight against the other guard, Aragorn bore the young man against the wall and set the dagger against his throat. The boy's blue eyes blinked in astonishment. "You!" he gasped. Aragorn stared hard at him, and recognized him as one of the men who had accompanied Ramhar on the night of the attack on the cottage. He growled and pressed the blade harder.
For an instant the boy seemed frozen in place, looking at Aragorn fearfully, and then he slowly raised his hands and held them high. A moment later his eyes widened even further and slid past Aragorn's shoulder, but the ranger did not need to turn to know what it was the young man watched. He had already heard Alun's sword enter his foe, heard the agonized gasp and the staggering, and the final, frantic wheezing breaths. In another moment, a body thudded heavily to the floor. Alun muttered, "Farewell Maibon, you wretched brute."
He was instantly beside Aragorn, glaring dangerously at the red-haired guard. Reaching out, Alun shoved Aragorn's dagger aside and clamped his hand over the boy's throat. "Valar's breath, Koryon!" he shouted furiously. "What the devil are you playing at? You've been torturing the elf? Torturing him?? I should run you through here and now!"
Legolas' voice came quickly from behind them. "No, Alun! He did not harm me."
Aragorn ran to him. The elf's features were strained, and no wonder, for as Aragorn drew near his friend he was able to see just how painfully stretched his body was. Aragorn slashed at the ropes binding Legolas' hands and feet, and in a moment he was helping him to sit up and swing his legs over the edge of the platform. The elf grimaced as he slowly lowered his arms.
"Ah-ah! They have held me in that position for some hours – it is miserable once the ache sets in." Legolas shrugged his shoulders several times and rolled his head about. His eyes were pain-filled, weary, but shone brightly in the dim room. "I do not know why you have come back to help me, but am most grateful that you did, Alun. Thank you." He slid carefully to the floor and extended his hand.
Aragorn took it, smiling gently. "You are welcome, my dear friend," he murmured hoarsely in Sindarin.
The elf stiffened, and he recoiled against the table as if he had been struck. His mouth worked, but no sound emerged for a moment. Then he managed one word, his voice sounding as faint and ragged as the ranger's own. "Aragorn?"
"Yes, mellon-nin. I am here."
"Not - not dead?"
"Not dead," the ranger whispered, and took the elf's head between his hands to steady him, looking intently into his friend's stunned face. "Not dead."
Legolas' features suddenly darkened. He struck Aragorn away and pressed the heels of his hands against his brow, taking breath in great shuddering gasps. "The sorcerer toys with my mind! This is not real! I will not succumb to his manipulations!"
Aragorn started toward the elf, but Legolas retreated. "Take no step toward me," he snarled.
Aragorn halted, watching the elf closely. "This is real," he said gently. "I am here, though somewhat the worse for wear, with an injured foot and bandaged hands from the night you saved me from the trap, and a voice hoarsened by smoke."
"This is deception. My friend is dead," Legolas hissed. "How dare you foul his memory in this way? I tell you I will not be taken in by your tricks, sorcerer!"
The ranger looked at Legolas in dismay, seeing the wall of fear and rage that blocked his efforts to reach his suffering friend. And the elf had suffered – his wrists and ankles were torn and bloodied by his struggles against his bonds, dark bruises and cuts stood out starkly on his pale skin. He was clad only in leggings. A bandage encircled his ribs, and as Aragorn watched, the elf bent his body slightly as if in pain and pressed his hand against his right side. Then his face grew hard again, as if in anger at himself for showing weakness before one he perceived as an enemy. He straightened to face his unseen foe, and this time he took a step toward Aragorn, his eyes glittering dangerously. He tilted his head slightly, listening, the ranger knew, for even the smallest movement.
Aragorn realized he was about to be attacked. Legolas did not - could not – believe what he was experiencing. The blind elf had undoubtedly been subjected to terror, pain and isolation during his captivity. His mind was in turmoil. He was unable to fully recognize Aragorn. The ranger knew how badly the smoke had altered his voice, just as his injuries had affected his natural gait. If only Legolas could see him!
He cleared his throat in an effort to speak again, and in that instant realized his mistake. The elf flew at him. Aragorn gasped and tried to avoid the blow, but he could no more outrun Legolas than he could a lightning strike. Stars exploded before his eyes as a fist smashed into his temple, and he fell against the wall.
"Legolas, no!" Alun shouted.
The elf twisted his fingers into Aragorn's hair and yanked his head back. The ranger cried out. Blinking frantically to clear his vision, he saw Legolas' face, inches from his own, and saw the cold resolve in his friend's blazing eyes. Aragorn had seen that look before. It was only a matter of seconds before the elf would snap his neck.
"Legolas, I cannot find my socks!" he blurted in desperation.
The elf froze. "Socks? What -?"
"You must tell your cat to stop stealing my socks, Legolas. She has taken them all!"
"The… the cat is stealing your socks?"
"Tithlam, yes," Aragorn gasped. "She is a terrible thief."
White-faced, Legolas released Aragorn and stumbled back, horror dawning on his features. For a long moment he stood still, and then he reached out, extending his trembling hands before him. Aragorn understood, and taking them gently between his own, he led the elf's fingers to his face.
"Aragorn…" Tears sprang to Legolas' eyes, and he turned away. He came up against the table and clutched briefly at it, his face twisted in anguish, then he gave up the struggle to master himself and fell to his knees with a cry. Aragorn went to the floor beside him and took him by the shoulders as Alun, still pressing the guard against the wall, watched them in silence.
"Not dead… not dead…" the elf gasped. "Sweet Elbereth, what have I done?" Shuddering violently, his body jerked as if buffeted by a gale. Aragorn wrapped his arms around Legolas tightly and held him still.
"Easy, Legolas! Breathe… just breathe."
Legolas groaned. "Aragorn… forgive me. I have lost my mind. I wondered why I did not sense the evil. I felt only my own fear, and it blinded me to everything else. I should have known!"
"There is nothing to forgive. Your reaction is understandable, given what you have been through these past days. You nearly broke my head open, but it is good to see such strength in you!" Aragorn stroked the elf's tangled hair. "I feared I had run out of time to find you alive. Thank the Valar you are safe."
Legolas' voice was muffled, and he clung fiercely to Aragorn's jacket. "I had given up hope. When Alun told me there was a dead man in the burned-out cottage…"
"Nay, you cannot be rid of me so easily, Elf. It was one of Ramhar's own men, slain and left behind. The men who live in the hills pulled me out, and without a moment to spare." Aragorn glanced over his friend's body as he spoke, taking in the bruises that blossomed over his back, and he remembered the savage blows of the club that had finally taken the elf down during the fight at the cottage.
"Are you badly hurt?" Aragorn asked.
"Not too badly. Ramhar put a knife into me, but it was not meant to kill, and already it is healing. The other wounds you see are unimportant, merely the result of mistreatment. They had not yet begun their real work." The elf heaved a sigh and raised his head. His features were pale under the dirt on his face. He ran a shaking hand through his hair. "Alun, are you still here? Koryon was trying to stop the other one burning me. He has helped me through all of this. Please do not harm him."
"If that is your wish, Prince Legolas, I will stay my hand," Alun said. He released the boy and stepped back, fixing him with furious eyes. "You disappoint me, Koryon. It is time you made your decision. The rebellion begins tonight. Have you the keys to the other cells?"
Koryon nodded. "They hang on a hook in the storeroom, behind some boxes."
"Good," Alun said. "You will free the prisoners, all who are held without just cause." He grabbed the young guard by the collar and began to hustle him out of the room, muttering furiously.
The elf turned his head after them and called out. "Alun, wait! Ramhar and the old man have taken the boy Tarnan. They planned to bring him here tonight, to kill him in my presence. Now I know not what they will do."
Alun's hands fell away from Koryon. He stared at Legolas for a moment as if he could not truly see him, eyes squinting in a face gone the color of clay. "Do not tell me that, Legolas. Please do not tell me that," he whispered.
"I am sorry."
The soldier crushed his eyes shut. "Valar, what will I do? How will I find him in the midst of all this?"
"In the midst of all what, Alun?" Legolas asked. "Do you truly attack the city tonight?"
"Yes. It has already begun, and I must join my men now. But the boy – "
Aragorn watched Alun closely, sympathizing with his difficult choice. "Alun, you cannot abandon your men. They wait for you," he finally said quietly. "We can only pray that the child remains safe until he can be found. Your enemies will be busy enough tonight. Their plans for Tarnan will be put aside, and you will find him when the battle is over."
"I hope you are right," Alun said. He paced the small room and swung back again, his face set with helpless rage. "I will have Ramhar's head before the night is out, aye, and the old man's too, if they harm that boy! Valar protect him, I cannot help him now." He turned to Koryon. "You come with me – I'll give you one last chance to prove you can be trusted. Aragorn, I must leave you now. I think you will be as safe here as anywhere else. Shall I lock you and Legolas in? If anyone were to come for him, the door would stop them."
The elf tensed, frowning uneasily, and Aragorn understood. "No more confinement," he said to Alun. "Have you a weapon for Legolas, in case we must fight?"
Koryon stepped forward, looking at Legolas with a curious expression, and slowly pulled a well-made dagger from his belt. He offered it handle-first to Aragorn. "He can have this."
Aragorn took it as the young man crouched before the elf. "Prince Legolas, I know that you cannot forgive me for the wrongs I have done you, but I offer my apologies nonetheless. I am sorry for what you have suffered here."
The elf nodded. "I do forgive you," he said quietly. "And I thank you for the kindnesses you have shown me."
"You – cannot see?" Koryon asked hesitantly.
"I am blind, and have been since last autumn."
Koryon stared at the elf. "But - but I saw the way you fought that night!" he stammered. "How could you do that without your sight?"
The elf smiled gently. "You know the answer, Koryon. We have discussed it before," he said, and closed his eyes.
Alun grabbed Koryon. "Get that body out of here. Drag him down to another room and hide him." He followed as the guard took hold of the dead man's feet and hauled him away. Glancing back as he crossed the threshold, Alun met Aragorn's eyes. "If it goes ill for us, get yourselves out of the city before daybreak. Do not tarry here overlong."
Aragorn nodded. "We will move on after Legolas has rested, and find a better spot to hide. You have done all you can for us, Alun. Go now, and may the Valar watch over you and your men this night."
Legolas raised his head. "I am indebted to you for my life, Alun. I will pay when I can."
"You owe me nothing, Prince Legolas," the soldier murmured. "You are reunited with your friend now, and if this night is my last one on this earth, at least I will die knowing that there was one good moment in it. If I do not see you again, farewell."
Aragorn helped the elf to sit against the wall. Legolas leaned his head back wearily. He had yet to relinquish his grip on the ranger's jacket. Aragorn was filled with questions and the desire to examine Legolas' injuries more closely, but he was willing to allow some time to quietly pass. Battle raged in the streets outside, but it was silent and peaceful in the dungeon.
"Aragorn, there is so much to tell…"
"I know, but it can wait for a bit. Rest, mellon-nin."
The elf still trembled. Aragorn stripped away his cloak, draped it over Legolas' shoulders, and drew him near. For a long while they did not speak, but simply held close, each listening to the sound of the other's breath. After a time the elf stirred. "Aragorn, have you water?"
Aragorn grimaced. "Forgive me, Legolas. I do not. I have only a medicinal brew given me by the hill-men. There is nothing in it that will cause you harm. You are welcome to it, but I must warn you - it does not taste pleasant."
"I thirst," Legolas said simply. "Please."
"You will regret it," Aragorn warned. But the elf extended his hands, and the ranger could see how desperate was Legolas' need for drink. Aragorn gave him the battered container. He watched as Legolas pressed the flask against his lips and tilted his head back. The elf swallowed eagerly, four great gulps, and suddenly wrenched the container away from his mouth with an exclamation of dismay.
"Aiiee! What is this?" Legolas gasped, sputtering. "Aragorn, it is terrible!"
Aragorn looked fondly at the elf's contorted face. "I cannot quite remember what they told me. It is either Warg piss or a cure for boils on the bum," he said with a grin.
The elf hastily corked the flask and thrust it toward the ranger. "Take it back. Next time you give me something to drink, I shall head straight to Ramhar and ask him to burn me, flog me, and string me up by my toes. His tortures cannot possibly compare to the horror of that brew."
"Valar, but it is good to see you again, Legolas," Aragorn laughed.
The elf lowered his head. "As it is to hear your voice again," he said softly. "I thought you were lost forever, and I was as good as, kept here in chains as Ramhar's prize. The old man controls him, and he in turn serves the Lord of Mordor. Never have I felt such despair."
"Your strength enabled you to endure it, my friend. But we are not rid of Ramhar and the sorcerer yet. It will be a long night," Aragorn said.
Legolas nodded. "I fear that our chances of getting out of this are still not good."
"Perhaps not, but whatever comes, we will now face it together."
Legolas grasped Aragorn's bandaged hands and held them for a long moment. "Yes, we are together again," he said. His fingers brushed against the dagger Koryon had left them, and he curled his fingers around the handle. His face settled into determined lines as he examined the sharp blade. "And if Alun cannot find the boy, you and I will."
"Legolas, how were you able to fight as you did that night? Koryon was not the only one who was amazed."
"Need you ask, old friend?" the elf said, his features softening as he turned to face the ranger. "I do not think I could have fought so hard if it had been only for myself. I fought for you. The answer is love, Aragorn."
To be continued…
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