Title: The Last Journey
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings
Era: Fourth Age of the Sun
Genre: AU, Action/Adventure
Rating: M / FRM
Main characters: Aragorn, Celeborn, Elladan, Elrohir, Elrond, Éomer, Erestor, Faramir, Gandalf, Gimli, Glorfindel, Haldir, Legolas, Meriadoc, Nazgûl, Pippin, Thranduil (, OCs).
Pairings: Legolas/OMC (brief Aragorn/Arwen, Éowyn/Faramir)
Summary: After many peaceful years that have followed the war against Sauron, everything changes. Evil returns, striking without warning, and it is stronger than ever before. It is time for the final fight, but who shall achieve victory?
Work in Process.
Warnings: Characters’ death (major, OC), violence, torture, slash, mild sexual content (het and slash), plenty of evil, etc.
“)…(” = Sindarin
The horses galloped steadily forward, raising a sheet of dust in their wake. Aragorn, on Roheryn’s back, let his gaze wander across the plateau before them. He could already see Fangorn in the western horizon. Even if they were moving swiftly, it felt too slow for the former Ranger. Right now he felt great need for haste. Slightly before him Éomer led his eored forward with all speed he could afford: if they would ride any harder than they currently were, their horses would never last it to the far borders of Eryn Lasgalen. Aragorn also knew this, but he felt frustrated none the less.
With a quick glance to his side, Aragorn noted that Faramir was still near him, the Men of Gondor riding as near as possible to their King. On the other side of Aragorn rode Asthaldo upon his steed, his fallow eyes scanning the plains before them even more actively than Aragorn’s.
Noticing that he was being watched, the Elf turned his gaze to Aragorn, giving him a small smile that hid many emotions.
Aragorn was inwardly relieved that Asthaldo was recovering swiftly: he would have hated to tell the Elf that he needed to rest. Knowing the Cousin’s reputation, telling Asthaldo to rest when the other didn’t desire to do so, would have been very unwise – possibly even a fatal attempt.
Suddenly Asthaldo straightened on his mount’s back, his eyes narrowing as he gazed to the direction of the north. “We shall have company,” he stated at last, causing the riders to look at the direction of his gaze, even if the Men couldn’t see what the Elf was seeing.
“Enemies?” asked Éomer, wordlessly commanding his men to a slower their pace.
“I cannot tell yet: they are still too far, even for my eyes. But wait a moment and I shall inform you more directly.”
By then, the eored had nearly stopped, the riders leaning nearer to hear the discussion. But no further words were exchanged, and Asthaldo guided his horse to the side of the riders, keeping a close eye upon the oncoming strangers. It took only a few seconds for the Sinda’s eyes to recognise the arrivals. With both a surprised and delighted shout he spurred his old steed forward.
For a moment, the Men of Gondor and Rohan sat upon their horses, unsure what to do. Then Aragorn rode forward after Asthaldo, wondering what kind of welcome they were going to receive – and most of all, by whom? It took only a few hundred yards before Aragorn also understood Asthaldo’s reaction.
“Galadhrim. If we are lucky, we shall hear tidings from the north. Come, let us not delay!”
In the meanwhile, Asthaldo had already reached the Elven company. He stopped his mount before those of his kin, dismounting with one graceful movement.
The Galadhrim had stopped and dismounted as they saw the other group draw near, and now waited in silent readiness.
Asthaldo circled around his horse to meet the other Elves, and then froze. His face adopted a look of one who is staring at the ghost of someone who was extremely dear. Right before the youngest Cousin stood Dínnor, and beside him the cause of Asthaldo’s reaction: Thalión.
Though Thalión’s own expression wasn’t nearly as dramatic as that of his cousin’s, it was also one worth seeing. A swift shock soon melted into relief, and Thalión stepped forward, putting his hands on Asthaldo’s shoulders. “Asthaldo. Bless the Valar you are well. I thought the worse…”
“ You thought?!” Asthaldo finally woke from his trance, returning the embrace with full force. “ I thought you were dead! But here you are, all safe and sound…” Asthaldo ran his eyes swiftly over his cousin’s form, and decided that the elder one wasn’t exactly ‘sound’. But at least he was alive. “You made me worry for nothing,” he finally breathed.
Thalión nodded, glancing swiftly at the arriving Men. Dínnor also looked like if he wanted to know what Asthaldo was doing here in the south, and especially in such a company.
Asthaldo didn’t waste too much time in explaining, for he had questions of his own. “I was sent to look for help from the Rohirrim. When I left, we hadn’t yet got everyone together. I lost the rest of my companions, but I made it to Rohan, finally. But what of you? How did you get here?”
Thalión glanced at Dínnor, who seemingly was going to be the one to tell their part of the story. “Thalión was taken prisoner with a few others – including Legolas. They escaped from the Orcs about a day ago. I was with the Galadhrim, escorting Lord Celeborn to join a group from Imladris. We took a short journey through Lothlórien, and then came across a dead Elf. Soon we found Thalión –” Dínnor glanced somewhat darkly at his cousin, “barely alive, and heard that Legolas also had escaped. Now we are trying to find Greenleaf before the enemy does. Most likely he has already reached Fangorn, but we cannot be sure how far he was able to go.”
Asthaldo’s face darkened. “You haven’t found Legolas yet? That indeed is bad news. Wasn’t Rafél with him in the battle? He should have taken care of Legolas…”
Thalión grimaced. “Well, Legolas’ guardian was indeed with him, but they most likely were forced apart during the fight. At least Legolas was alone with Gimli when I saw them for the last time…” Thalión stopped short, his eyes dropping to the ground.
Asthaldo immediately grew alarmed. But before the youngest could say anything, Dínnor spoke:
“Gimli is dead.”
Asthaldo’s heart froze, and for a moment he thought that his cousin was joking. But Dínnor never joked of things as serious as this.
Right then, the riders arrived, stopping at the respectable distance from the Elves, only their Lords riding forward. When Aragorn drew nearer to the Elves, he nearly dropped from his saddle: before him stood all of the legendary Three Cousins. After all, it was not hard to tell they were the Cousins of Hithsîr: they stood out of the other Elves clearly with their differently braided hair. Besides that, they were much alike with the Galadhrim standing around them.
It seemed that the three were in the middle of a heated discussion, though one of them was barely saying a word and looked only half conscious. Looking at the style of the Elf’s hair, Aragorn decided it must be Thalión.
One – who most likely was Dínnor – was talking at Asthaldo fervently, receiving only short replies. Aragorn tried to listen what was said, but then he felt someone lay a hand upon his right. Looking down to his right, the King of Gondor saw Haldir, who with a ghost of smile upon his lips stepped back slightly, bowing at Aragorn respectfully. “King Elessar. It is good to see that you are well.”
“Haldir of Lórien. It is indeed a most blessed coincidence that you always arrive to us when our need is direst. It is well to see you again, my friend.” Last time Aragorn had see Haldir, it was when the Elf had his brothers escorted him and the Fellowship through Lothlórien.
Before Haldir was able to reply, the Cousins had reached a decision in whatever matter they had discussed about, and stepped closer to Aragorn. “Prince Legolas escaped from the enemy captors and it is possible that he is somewhere near Fangorn, or in the forest itself. I think we should help with the finding of the Prince before we continue north,” Asthaldo explained swiftly.
Aragorn’s brains struggled for a while with this new piece information. Legolas ‘escaped’... But before you can escape you must be imprisoned. But so he said. ‘Enemy captors’. Ah well, maybe I will hear the rest of this story when the time is more appropriate. “Very well. If this suits to you, Éomer, then we shall continue with the Lórien Elves.” Aragorn felt like thanking himself when his voice held itself steady and strong. He felt everything but that. Now Legolas was somewhere out there, possibly alone, most likely hurt… It seemed that his wish for a change to his boring routine had been heard somewhere. But this wasn’t exactly what he had hoped. Not even near… He had hoped for a small, harmless adventure. This was disaster.
Éomer nodded, turning his horse to give his captains the needed orders. It seemed that the King of Rohan understood that Aragorn needed a moment with his thoughts, and so he didn’t ask more about this new twist of events.
Aragorn turned into the direction of a soft voice, meeting Thalión’s powder blue eyes and a smile that was shadowed with worry. “Thank me not. Prince Legolas is also my friend and trusted companion.” To put it mildly. But I think the Elves understand the relationship between Legolas and me without further explanations.
Thalión nodded, glancing at the direction of the forest. “We should hurry…” he whispered.
“And we shall, my cousin. Mount your horse and try to gather some strength. We cannot know what awaits us,” Dínnor said sternly, pushing his younger cousin gently towards his horse. Too weary to argue, Thalión did as he was told, though rather solemnly. It seemed to Aragorn that the silver haired Sinda was determined to stay upright until he had found Legolas, even if that was going to be a difficult task. This idea arose new questions in Aragorn’s mind.
As the group started forward again with a quick pace, Aragorn searched Haldir. “What has happened here? I have only heard that Woodland Realm was attacked.”
Grey, eternal eyes turned to the King of Men, studying him for a moment. Then finally the Marchwarden answered. “Indeed Woodland Realm was attacked. Legolas and Thalión were among those few who were take prisoners. Soon after crossing Nimrodel the prisoners escaped. Or rather, one did: the others only made sure that Legolas would be able to escape. Thalión was the only one still alive, and even his injuries are grave.” There was a soft snort from Haldir. “I would have forced him to stay behind, but Thalión insisted to come along, and his Cousin seemed only too happy to comply. But it is not my decision to make. They are definitely old and experienced enough to know their own limits.”
Aragorn smiled, nodding. “It is a great relief to the Cousins to be together again, it seems.”
“It is. Dínnor has been among my people for some time, and neither he nor Thalión were sure what had happened to Asthaldo after the battle. Asthaldo on his side seemed to think that Thalión was dead. Now we only have to find Legolas…”
Aragorn nodded sadly, eyeing the Cousins who rode together with two Elves from the Galadhrim. The King was vaguely able to remember that the female Elf was a close friend of Legolas’…
“Excuse me, my Lord…”
“Ah, Faramir. Is ought wrong?” Aragorn asked from the Steward who had slowly inched closer to him with his mount, Éomer near behind.
“No, nothing is wrong. King Éomer and I were merely looking for some explanations. Or information, actually,” the Steward said uncertainly, glancing at Éomer for assurance.
“Information?” Aragorn asked, rising an eyebrow.
“Yes. About these ‘Cousins’. We have heard you mention them many times, and we were wondering… who they are.”
“Ah, I see. Well, I shall tell you, at least what I know, and that isn’t too much,” Aragorn laughed, relieved. “The Three Cousins of Hithsîr are great heroes among Elves. Known and respected warriors. Together they have fought in many great battles, but they were named after their first one: the battle of Hithsîr. In that fight, they alone killed hundreds of Orcs, and at that time they weren’t much more than children themselves.”
“Actually, there was only a hundred of Orcs or so, and we were closer to youths than children,” Asthaldo said, a smile upon his lips. “But it seems you know our story quite well – Human as you are.”
“Well, being raised in Rivendell has its benefits,” Aragorn replied.
“Ah yes, Estel of Imladris, I should have remembered. Even if I haven’t met you before, we have heard a lot of you – and not least from Legolas,” Dínnor uttered, cocking his head to the side.
Mentioning of the Elf’s name drew everyone silent, and the ride continued for some time without a single word uttered. They soon drew near the eaves of the forest, and the riders of Rohan grew more and more nervous. Even after all these years, the forest still looked dark to them. The trees seemed to shut out all the light, and the long, twisted limbs seemed to stretch out, ready to catch unwanted visitors. The wood was filled with different kinds of noises, not one of them inviting or soothing.
But this time it wasn’t just the Men’s imagination playing with them. Even the Elves were growing nervous.
“There is strange atmosphere it here,” Khai said quietly, eyeing the forest distrustfully.
“The trees are alarmed by something: angered, even,” Thalión said, guiding his horse slightly forward, his eyes peering into the gloomy shadows. He dismounted, and took a step forward. His horse, afraid that his rider would enter the forest, neighed loudly and pawed with his front leg. With a soothing stroke along the horse’s neck, Thalión whispered something at the animal’s ear, and the horse calmed immediately. “Something is going on. I think we should not try to enter without the permission of Fangorn.”
“Permission of the forest?” asked Irolas, bewildered, making the Men of Gondor murmur around him.
“Thalión meant something else with his words: an Ent,” Aragorn said, his eyes also turned into the direction of the forest. Roheryn started to move restlessly under him, neighing worriedly. It seemed that none of the horses were too happy to be in vicinity with the ominous forest. Aragorn ran a soothing hand down the animal’s neck, whispering comforting words to the flattened ears.
“So how shall we contact this… Fangorn, then?” Irolas asked, eyeing the forest with a doubtful glance.
“Leave it to us, Man of Gondor,” Haldir replied quietly, dismounting and motioning his brothers to follow.
“Are they going to enter the forest?!” one of the Men shouted, rising more astonished shouts, making the horses even more nervous.
“Worry not. There shall be no harm to an Elf in any forest of this world,” Aragorn assured his soldiers, and with that, Haldir and his brothers disappeared into the shadows of the ancient trees.
“What shall we do now, my King?” Faramir asked.
“We shall wait,” Aragorn answered, and dismounted. It could be a long wait: a one thing they could not afford, but they had little choice but to do so. Entering Fangorn when the forest was like this wasn’t an option. It would be a suicide. Legolas would have to survive on his own for a while longer.
As Aragorn led Roheryn a little further away from the edge of the forest, Thalión still stood staring at the darkness before him, chills running up and down his spine. Fangorn forest wasn’t only angered and shocked by something: it was screaming for the blood of the Orcs, craving for the death of the foul beasts. Thalión had seen many kind of reactions from the trees during his long life, but this was definitely the most primitive one. Something terrible must have happened…
It was not until the next morning that the Marchwarden brothers returned – but they did not come alone. When the three Galadhrim emerged from the forest, they were followed by a creature that would have scared even a bravest of warriors out of his wits, but the company of Men and Elves only stood on their places, watching.
Most of them had seen an Ent before.
Aragorn rose from his place, walking towards the forest, stopping when he reached Haldir and his brothers. “I see your trip wasn’t a wasted one,” he stated somewhat dryly. The King of Gondor was as eager to move on as everyone else. The Man turned to meet the ancient creature that had stopped before them. “Old Fangorn, it is great pleasure to meet you again.”
“Hrum, Hoom, it had been a long time since such a number of Men has dwelled on the edge of our forest. But I welcome you gladly, King of Men,” Treebeard bowed slowly.
Aragorn bowed respectfully in return, and was about to say something, but beside him, Dínnor stepped forward. “Mighty guardian of a great forest, you sound as you have had trouble. It is as plain as my cousin can feel the agony of the trees. Would you not tell us what is causing this disturbance?”
Treebeard turned towards the eldest of the Cousins, a strange expression upon his face. Even if the Men didn’t notice this, the Elves did, gathering closer. At length, Treebeard spoke again, his low voice rumbling. “It has been long indeed when this many Elves were seen this close to Fangorn.”
“But have you seen any Elves lately?” spoke up Thalión, whose face was deathly pale, but his voice strong. “We have lost one of our companions, and we are trying to find him.”
“Hoom, an Elf, lost. Well maybe I can help you by answering to both your questions.” It seemed that the Ent realised that this was not a moment to rebuke about too great haste: the Elves were staring at him anxiously, and even some of Men. It was clear that the group was in great hurry to find their lost friend. “The trees are indeed restless. Many búrarum has passed by during the last days. Filthy Orcs and other creatures.” Treebeard spoke something for a while, lapsing to his own language.
But it seemed that the Elves didn’t wish to wait. “Please, o Fangorn, tell us about our lost kinsman, if you know anything of him!”
“Know anything? Hrum, do not be hasty. Hoom, your lost companion is causing this distress in the forest, I may say. The Orcs hunted him into the forest a few days ago. But he ran right into huorns. Fortunate for him: the huorns destroyed the Orcs, but the forest had been restless since. Elven blood has been shed to the ground, and it is not easily forgiven by the trees, hoom.”
Thalión swallowed with an effort, shuddering as he gazed into the forest.
“Blood had been shed, you say. So you mean our companion is hurt?” Asthaldo asked when no other did. “Or is he…”
“Not dead, hurm. But badly hurt. We Ents found him from the care of the huorns, but we couldn’t do much. His injuries were grave.”
“He speaks as if Legolas would be dead,” Asthaldo muttered darkly.
“We do not know if it even is Legolas,” Ithika put in. “It could be another of the prisoners.”
But Thalión shook his head, face sad, eyes still upon the forest. “It is him.”
Aragorn threw a quick glance between the Elves and the Ent, and then addressed Treebeard once more: “Please, tell us where we can find this Elf. He might be a close friend of ours, and we are greatly worried about him.”
“I will show you to the young Greenleaf. But the Men must wait here, for the forest is dangerous right now.”
A sigh travelled through the group, both relieved and disappointed.
“How did he know Legolas’ name?” Éomer asked suspiciously.
“Legolas and Gimli travelled through Fangorn after the War: they possibly met Treebeard then, though they also met him earlier, when we came to Isengard after the battle of Helm’s Deep,” Aragorn explained absentmindedly.
“Aragorn should come with us: he is a healer, after all,” Dínnor said, giving Aragorn a quick smile. Treebeard agreed to this, and they prepared to take a journey into the forest.
“Faramir, Éomer, I would ask you two to stay here, and keep your eyes open. Treebeard said that there has been Orcs passing by lately.”
“Worry not, Elessar. We shall stay on our guard, and whatever Orc tries to pass us by, shall be stopped – once for all,” Éomer said grimly. He of course wished to accompany the group going after Legolas, but he knew better than trying to emerge to the forest as hostile as this. “Good luck, and speed upon your journey.”
“I wish you the same, my Lord. Maybe this will give us more news of the events in the North,” Faramir added.
“I hope so, too,” answered Aragorn, “but I don’t keep it likely: Legolas and Thalión were both prisoners, and Thalión hasn’t been able to give us much more information than we already possessed.”
Near them, sudden angry voices rose to the air. “I am not staying!”
“Yes you are, so don’t question my authority, cousin.”
“Authority? You have no authority over me Dínnor. I am coming to see that Legolas is well – I won’t rest before I know he is safe.”
“Do as you like, Thalión, but you are not coming with us. You stay with the Men, and warn them if something happens. After all, you are the most sensitive of us –”
“Leave someone of the Galadhrim.”
“I have made my choice.”
“Without asking me!”
There was a moment of silence, Thalión sulking over the answer.
Aragorn felt a pang of pity as he watched Thalión’s face, knowing that the Elf only wished to see that his captured companion was well.
“They are close friends, Legolas and the Cousins,” said a soft voice beside the Man. Aragorn turned to look at the light grey eyes of Khai. “They have befriended ages. Ever since Legolas started to be trained as a warrior.”
“Legolas needs me,” Thalión started again.
“The only thing he now needs is a healer – and his Dwarf, perhaps,” Dínnor said, but his voice soon lost its sharp edge.
Aragorn frowned, and turned to Khai. He had spoke much with the Galadhrim while they had waited Haldir and his brothers to return, and he had learned that Khai and his brother Ithika were in close relationship with Woodland Realm’s Elves, and especially Legolas. “Where is Gimli? I heard he was in Woodland Realm with Legolas when the attack came.”
Khai’s expression bore itself deep into Aragorn’s mind, and memory of it lasting many years after. But the warrior didn’t answer him, only lowered her gaze.
“Gimli is dead.”
Aragorn tore his gaze away from Khai to look at her brother, Ithika. The other’s face was completely truthful, sadness visible in his eyes.
“He tried to safe Legolas, but…” Ithika didn’t dare to finish.
“)A warrior’s end,(” Haldir said, standing nearby.
They all fell silent. It seemed that Thalión had finally agreed to stay behind, as much as it pained him. Dínnor didn’t look too happy himself, but everyone knew he had done the right decision: Thalión was nearing the end of his endurance, and there wasn’t much he could have done in the forest anyway.
After the last instructions, a group of Elves plunged into the forest, Aragorn close behind. Led by Treebeard, the company travelled through the forest in tense silence.
Aragorn, lost deep in thought, didn’t even notice as the miles passed by. Ithika’s words still echoing in his head, he marched ahead, his mind in turmoil. The loss of Arwen still burned in his heart, and if Gimli indeed was dead… He refused to think about it. Maybe someone had been mistaken. As the Elves had said themselves, the battle in Woodland Realm and the aftermath of it had been such a chaos that it would have been no miracle to see the return of ones who were thought to be dead. After all, Asthaldo had thought Thalión dead…
But a dark voice in the back of the Man’s mind laughed at Aragorn. It mocked him. Of course Elves would not say such a thing if Gimli was alive. It was something beyond daring. And Gimli would have never left his Elf alone in the midst of a battle – even less to the hands of enemies.
“We shall be there soon,” Asthaldo informed Aragorn gently, pulling the Man away from his dark thoughts.
With a nod, Aragorn drew himself together and steeled himself. In this condition, he would be no good for anyone.
This part of the forest seemed to be even more shadowed than the parts they had already crossed. Trees tangled together, and silent voices filled the air. Aragorn remembered the time when he, Legolas, and Gimli had entered Fangorn in search for Merry and Pippin: these cracking sounds and hushed whispers were very akin to those sounds they had heard then. And the Elves around Aragorn were not less awed by this than Legolas had been. The only difference was that this time the Elves didn’t stop to listen and gaze around: they kept walking, watching warily around, and Aragorn decided they understood what the trees were saying. Treebeard had already told them vaguely why the forest was acting like it was. But only now, as they drew near the source of the anger, Aragorn was able to fully understand what it meant to anger Fangorn. This was not a thing to play with. No story made justice for the feel of the fury of this forest.
With a wave of his limb-like hand, Treebeard told the Elves and Aragorn stay behind and wait. Treebeard himself walked a little further, and then spoke something with his own language. The forest hushed. From the shades appeared more Ents, their bodies blending together with the trees around them. Soon Treebeard returned, the green light of his eyes glowing in the shadows. “You may come now. But try to stay away from the huorns: they are still protecting the wounded one.”
The Elves nodded, and stepped forward, Dínnor motioning Aragorn to follow him. They entered to a tall cave, or so it first seemed. But if one looked more carefully, he was able to notice that the walls and the roof were made by trees growing side by side, the treetops forming a ceiling that was thick enough to probably keep the rain out.
“The ground is still broken and unsettled: these trees haven’t been here for long,” Khai said, eyeing the forest floor near the feet of the trees.
“)Huorns,(” Haldir nearly whispered, “)moving trees. Do not do anything to stir their anger: I can feel their rage easily enough.(”
Aragorn glanced uneasily around him. He had never found out what had happened to those Orcs that after the end of the battle of Helm’s Deep had ran to the huorns standing before the citadel. Maybe he didn’t want to know. A desire to ask Legolas had sometimes tempted him greatly, but he had kept his silence, knowing that even the Elf probably didn’t know. After all, Legolas had been amazed by the trees himself. But one thing was clear: not one of those Orcs was found later. And whatever had been their fate…
A soft gasp echoed in the enclosed space, and Dínnor rushed forward. An angry sound from above stopped the Elf, though, and he gazed up with both frustration and fear. As Aragorn also took few steps forward, he noticed the source of the Elf’s reaction: in the end of the cave, on a bed of soft moss, lay an Elf, his pale, blood-stained skin glowing only faintly in the dark. Aragorn swallowed, looked about carefully, and walked forward slowly, trying to give the trees an appearance that he was here to help, not to hurt.
Aragorn knelt down, letting out his breath, not having realised that he had held it. As he carefully swept some strands of dirty hair away from the Elf’s face, he was dimly aware of his other companions, who were approaching slowly. He didn’t care, though. The only thing that mattered was the Elf before him. He didn’t know if he was supposed to feel relieved or shocked: Legolas was alive, but his wounds were terrible. Some of them were days old, possibly received from the battle in the north. The others, more visible ones, were most likely caused by the hunt that the Orcs had given him.
“Legolas…” Aragorn whispered softly. There was, however, no response from the Elf. A touch of Dínnor’s hand upon his shoulder startled Aragorn, and he quickly glanced at the Elf behind him.
Dun eyes were shadowed with inner pain and worry as Dínnor gazed at his long time friend. “What can I do?”
Aragorn smiled. “Help me to tend his wounds. Though I am afraid I may not be able to…”
“Don’t say that yet, my Lord. Have faith for the strong lives of Eldar.”
With a nod, Aragorn turned back to his task, just in time to miss the shadow washing over Dínnor’s face.
Asthaldo leaned against the tree outside the ‘cave’, his face troubled. The Elves of East Lórien were scattered out near him, each in their own thoughts. They had been here nearly an hour now, but Asthaldo knew that rushing things would lead to nowhere. Aragorn needed time to tend Legolas’ wounds into a condition that would enable them to move the Prince back to the Riders.
Frustrated, Asthaldo pushed away from the wooden pillar, walking around for a while. After noticing that he was pacing, he stopped again, gazing into the direction of the cave. With a sigh, he strode back in, not knowing what else to do. Maybe he could help, to make things move little faster. He stopped few yards behind his oldest cousin and the King of Men, watching with little envy as the two tended the wounded Prince.
“Ah, Asthaldo, come here and help us.” Dínnor’s words were quiet, and he did not turn around as he spoke them. In the back of his mind, he felt Dínnor’s presence soothe him, telling his that it was alright if he felt afraid.
Slowly, Asthaldo stepped forward, suddenly feeling very young again. He always felt young when he was with Dínnor and Thalión – a feeling that he had tried to get rid of, but the habit had stuck hard. Even if he was only some centuries younger than his two cousins, he had always been the young one. Now that they all ware several thousands of years old, Asthaldo still felt like a youth around his cousins. As he stepped closer to their patient, Asthaldo tried not to shiver. “What have you been doing all this time? You haven’t yet even started to dress the wounds!”
“The bleeding had to be stopped first, or he would have died to blood loss,” Aragorn explained, digging out bandages from a bag he had brought with him. “Find me more clean fabric. I think we will need more bandages than I was prepared for.”
Orophin, who had been standing near the entrance, heard the words and went forth to tell to others. Soon he appeared back into the cave, bringing with him a pile of clean strips of various fabrics. With a silent smile, he gave his load to Aragorn and left again, knowing that he would be summoned if needed.
“All right, if you two help me to turn him around I will check his back before putting on the bandages,” Aragorn said, reaching out for Legolas. The Cousins did as they were told, gently as possible rolling the unconscious Elf to his side. As soon as this was done, a horrified gasp came from Asthaldo. Aragorn cursed under his breath. Dínnor, his eyes hiding his emotions, reached out a tentative hand to touch the long, burned welts running down Legolas’ back. But before Dínnor even touched the wounds, he snatched his hand back, with a small cry of pain.
“Evil. Those wounds… they are radiating with evil,” the oldest Cousin gasped, inadvertently rubbing the hand that had nearly touched the injury.
“How didn’t we notice these wounds before? They should have been tended among the first ones…” Aragorn muttered darkly, without daring to touch the welts.
“They are not bleeding. I think that is the reason why they didn’t catch our attention. Though I should have felt this before…” Dínnor replied. “What caused these?”
“Maybe Thalión knows. I have no clue,” Asthaldo spoke up. “But you are right, )selen nîn(: something evil caused this. Even I can feel it.”
Aragorn had finally gathered his courage and touched the bruises, his brow furrowing. “The are burned. The bleeding has stopped long ago, though it was only minor. We better tend these, and ask your cousin about their origin: maybe he indeed knows something.”
They dressed all of the wounds as quickly and gently as possible, and then drew a cloak warmly around their still comatose patient. Then they informed the others they were ready. The relief was nearly visible on the faces of the Elves, who seemed to be very anxious to continue.
Their way back through the forest was a rather quiet one, travelled as fast as possible. Dínnor carried Legolas in his arms, and Aragorn couldn’t but think what the Prince would say when he heard about the way he had been treated when he was out cold… But whenever the King’s eyes strayed to Dínnor, who carried his charge with uttermost care, he couldn’t but think how the Cousins were acting whenever Legolas was concerned. It seemed as if the three were feeling personally responsible about the Prince’s wellbeing,
Aragorn decided that he definitely wanted to hear how the relationship between the warriors of the ancient world and the Prince of Eryn Lasgalen had grown this great.
When the party at last arrived back to the waiting Riders, Thalión was first to meet them. Serenity was evident in the powder blue eyes as the Sinda spotted Legolas. That look didn’t last long, however, when Asthaldo asked his question:
“Thalión, have you any idea where those… wounds… on Legolas’ back came from?”
It seemed for a moment that Thalión had some difficulties to breathe. At last, he got the words out. “Balrog. I am not sure, but when I saw Legolas with Gimli, Legolas was already down, and the Balrog was there. I am note sure: I didn’t ask him.” Thalión fell silent, his face troubled and his words making little sense to those listening.
Asthaldo laid a comforting arm to his cousin’s shoulder. “’I don’t know’ would have been enough, Thalión.” A nervous laugh. “What are we going to do?” This time, Asthaldo’s fallow eyes turned to Aragorn.
The Man glanced at Legolas. He had made his choice while they had walked back through the forest. Now it was time to voice it out. “Legolas’ wounds are beyond my powers to heal: the shadow caused by them is dragging him deeper with every passing moment. We need an Elven healer. A powerful one of that.”
“There is no such healers in Middle-earth anymore,” Rúmil argued, his words hesitant as he used Westron.
“There is,” Haldir said suddenly. “Lord Celeborn is both wise and powerful, and there still lingers Elves with great skill in Imladris.”
“And it is very possible that the Sons of Elrond learned something about healing from their father,” Khai added, her voice anxious.
“So we shall take Legolas to Imladris. But it is a long way. Shall he survive through such a travel?” Faramir spoke, for the first time.
“We use Elven paths, which are quicker than the main roads,” Thalión said, his face gaining some colour at last. “Legolas is strong: he has survived this far, and won’t give up any time soon. But we all cannot go.”
“If I may suggest,” Éomer said, his voice carrying clearly in the air, “I will take my men and go north, as we planned. We still do not know if the Elves of Eryn Lasgalen need our help.”
Aragorn nodded, his eyes searching Éomer’s, and he thanked the Man silently.
“We Galadhrim must return to East Lórien, I am afraid,” Haldir said. “Our people will stay alert in the case the enemies appear again. But I wish you all good luck, and speed on your way,” the Marchwarden bowed to both Aragorn and Éomer.
“I understand. Be careful,” Aragorn replied, clasping hands with Haldir. He saw clearly the regret in the other’s eyes, and upon the faces of the other Galadhrim, but they all knew that the Marchwardens had to return to their own land.
“We shall travel with you to the southern borders of Eryn Lasgalen,” Haldir turned to Éomer.
The Northman nodded, accepting this. “Good, let’s be on our way. We have a long way to travel.” Éomer mounted his horse, his men following his example. Turning to Aragorn, Éomer added: “It is sad that our ways part this soon again, Elessar. Take care of the Archer.”
“Indeed our travel together was short, King of Mark. But now I am keeping you from your way. When you reach the Elves…” Aragorn hesitated.
“I will know what to do, by then. After all, we cannot know what awaits us. Good luck,” Éomer said, and the turned to his men, giving a command to ride north. Elves of East Lórien beside them, the Rohirrim rode away.
After Rohirrim left, Khai and Ithika still lingered among the Men of Gondor and the Cousins. “It is a shame we have to go and leave you like this,” Khai said, her eyes falling upon Legolas. “Take care of Little Bird.”
“We shall. Worry not,” Asthaldo said, smiling.
“Khai, we must go,” Ithika said. “They will be just fine, and you know it.” He turned to look at Dínnor. “We shall inform the Men about the situation in the north as much as we can, and how to deal with Thranduil’s people.”
“Good. I leave them in your hands,” Dínnor replied. “Go now, or you will fall behind.”
With a laugh, the siblings turned their horses, and galloped after their companions, soon disappearing beyond the sight of Men.
“My Lord? Shall we leave at once?” Irolas asked from Aragorn.
Aragorn nodded to his captain. “Yes. Our way isn’t short either, and the sooner we start it, the sooner it is over.”
“You may travel through Fangorn if you like. We Ents shall take care that you won’t be hindered.”
Half of the Men nearly jumped out of their skins, completely forgotten Treebeard who was still standing on the edge of the forest.
“Thank you, old Fangorn. We appreciate your help,” Thalión said.
“Well, if we are done here, I would suggest that we move on,” Asthaldo said impatiently, calling to his horse who trotted to him, neighing happily.
“Yes, we are certainly done here,” Aragorn said, and took Roheryn’s bridles from Faramir. “Let’s go.” And may the Valar see us safely to our destination, as well as our kinsmen.
to be continued…
)Sindarin(: - Westron:
Selen nîn - My cousin