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
When Legolas arrived at the Hall of Fire it was crowded with people. He had been sitting in the gardens when one of the Elves running past him had informed him that a large group of Elves had just arrived. Now that he saw them himself, his heart caught into his throat. All of the Elves that had arrived were familiar to him. But of all places upon Arda, they were not supposed to be here.
Seeing a young Elf on the edge of the crowd, Legolas walked to him, approaching the other with a swiftness that made the young Elf startle. “My apologies, Brilving. I didn’t mean to scare you,” Legolas apologised.
“My Prince Legolas, I am glad to see you are well,” the younger Elf smiled, bowing slightly. “We had a word that you were saved and brought here.” No words were spoken of the battle in the north, for all Elves in Middle-earth knew about their kinsmen’s fate.
“What brings you all here?” Legolas asked finally, his blue eyes running from Elf to another.
“They have left Ithilien. Most of them are planning to go on with their cousins from Woodland Realm and go to the Havens,” came another voice and Legolas turned around, meeting Glorfindel’s sorrowful gaze. “The Men have become hostile in Gondor. It seems as if the Elves are made guilty about the Queen’s death.”
“But how could have that happened?” Legolas said, shocked. “And surely Aragorn would have done something to prevent the hostilities –”
“They attacked us, my Prince,” Brilving said quietly. Legolas head whipped around, disbelief upon his face. “They attacked the settlements first, after they had killed one family a day before. And finally they tried to reach the colony. We were afraid to fight back,” the youth continued, seeing Legolas’ face grow more horrified after each word. “We didn’t wish to fight because we knew it was merely a misunderstanding, and you wouldn’t have allowed us to fight the Men…”
Legolas was just about to open his mouth when a strong hand closed around his arm, yanking him out of the room. “Watch your words, for we are at weak ice here, Legolas,” a voice hissed into his ear, and Legolas turned around, meeting Rafél face to face. The young Prince was about to say some selected words to his guardian, but then mastered himself, noticing how close he was to loosing his temper. “All those who are not here are dead,” Rafél continued, eyeing the group of Elves that was now joined by the runaways of Woodland Realm.
“Is it really necessary to remind me of that fact?” Legolas said, his voice breaking. Rafél looked down at the younger Elf, alarmed. Legolas’ face was pale and he was trembling, his eyes somewhat unfocused. Rafél drew Legolas quickly into his arms, and the Prince came willingly, clutching into Rafél like he would have been the anchor to the life itself. “What have I ever done? What has my kin done to deserve this kind of ending?” Legolas veiled, his voice muffled by Rafél’s tunic.
“We have done nothing. It is the will of the world,” Rafél soothed, drawing them to the side of the corridor, out of immediate sight. He had no real desire to be caught like this, and he knew Legolas would feel even more so. Holding the trembling Elf in his arms, Rafél hummed soft words, trying to soothe his protege.
Legolas had improved in health greatly inside the last few weeks, and Celeborn had returned to East Loríen a week ago. Rafél hadn’t yet spoken with Legolas about the matter of Thaíly’s visit, and it seemed that he would be forced to wait a little longer. This day had yet again proven that Legolas was still suffering from the injuries of the battle. His reactions were unexpectedly strong and hard to control or expect by others, and it seemed that Legolas didn’t fare any better with himself.
Finally Legolas calmed down, but he stood silent in Rafél’s embrace for a long time after it, drawing strength from the older Elf. He felt so tired, his entire world falling to pieces before his very eyes. His people were now fleeing from these shores, and for once, he didn’t have the strength or the heart to stop them. This time he truly understood what his people were running away from. Pain and death weren’t the fates planned to Elves. There was no excuse as to why they should face such an end.
I asked them to stay and wait over this storm, and that is all I can do. The rest is up to them. But as for myself, it seems as if the longing has died. At least one good thing came of the facing a Balrog: I am no longer driven mad by the song of the Sea. Or maybe it takes more time to hear it, like it took several days to hear the song of the trees again. Legolas shook his head, not wishing to think of it. The yearning awaken by the gulls was something he didn’t wish to bear.
Pushing the last clothes to his pack, Legolas reached for the packages of food, stuffing them to the company of the rest of his equipment. He would travel swift and lightly, for as an Elf, he was able to take long journeys with little food and rest, and most of the things to ensure survival he would find from the nature.
Feeling ready, Legolas swiftly put on his cloak and rest of his weapons, shouldering his pack and heading for the balcony. He stood there for a long moment, listening intently. The twins and the three Cousins had been hunting Orcs on the slopes of the Misty Mountains for some days already, so he didn’t have to fear for them to catch him while leaving. Rafél, on the other hand… Legolas wished that he could have asked his bodyguard to come with him, but he knew Rafél would merely march him back to his room, telling him yet again that he was still recovering.
But I must go to Gondor. It seems that Aragorn needs my help, more seriously than ever. I have failed him times enough during these last few months, and now it is time to pay back to him.
His decision made, Legolas slowly crossed the forest between his rooms and the stables, arriving to the silent area where the horses were kept. Silently as a shadow he entered the shelter, making his way to Arod’s side. The horse pushed his head against Legolas’ chest, clearly happy to see Legolas again. They had had only few chances to ride together, and the young steed was bursting with energy. Soothing his eager companion, Legolas let Arod out from his box, leading him to the door.
A shadow shifted in one corner of the stable, making Legolas turn, his hand moving to the long knife upon his hip before he realised who was with him. With a sigh both relieved and disappointed, Legolas dropped his hand.
“Couldn’t let you go alone,” came a low voice and Rafél appeared, Lumén walking behind him obediently. Arod neighed happily, his ears flicking.
Legolas smiled, guiding Arod out of the stables, Rafél following after him. “You are not going to force me to stay?” Legolas asked as he mounted.
“Just so I could suffer another poor escape-attempt?” Rafél said, amused.
“I have escaped from you before,” Legolas reminded gently, and Rafél frowned, not wishing to remember any of those times. But he had learned to know Legolas’ mind since then, and it had been rather easy to know what Legolas had been planning to do tonight.
“Shall we?” Rafél asked, and together they trotted out to the dark forest, not once turning to look back at Imladris.
Elladan crawled forward, nearly lying on his stomach on the dusty ground. He had a knife in his hand, ready to be embedded to the first enemy he would encounter. Elrohir was near on his right, he knew. He didn’t need to look, nor did he hear him, but he knew. After all, they were twins. People usually took this as an explanation to their unusually strong connection.
But Elladan had seen such things elsewhere. Between the Three Cousins of Hithsîr, there was a connection unheard of. There was also some kind of strange bond between Legolas and Gimli, when you knew what to look for. And between Legolas and his bodyguard, Rafél, the connection was unquestionable. Thalión had once said that there were strong bonds between all the Princes of Woodland Realm and their guardians. Elladan didn’t doubt that a moment.
And at moments like this, such connections came handy.
The Cousins were not far, even if Elladan had at times difficulties to sense their presence, especially out in the wild. It seemed that Thalión was able to loose himself into the forest so completely that is would have been folly to even search for him, and it seemed that Thalión’s skill also hid his cousins when they hunted together. Not that Orcs would notice any of us, anyway, Elladan smiled to himself, crawling another yard forward. Then he stopped, waiting for any kind of sign that would tell him how to proceed.
But instead of a whistle, there came a silent snap of a twig when Asthaldo walked to the open, not even trying to conceal himself. “All wasted,” he shouted. “They ran off, entire pack. Bloody cowards,” he cursed, looking at the direction where the enemy had seemingly gone.
“Shall we give them a pursuit?” Elrohir asked, rising from his place in the underbrush.
“It would be a waste of an effort. Besides, we must return to Imladris, even if only to refill our supplies,” Dínnor stated as he also appeared, seemingly disappointed.
“Very well,” Elrohir nodded, seeing the wisdom in this. They needed more arrows and medical supplies, if nothing else. It wasn’t an option that they would use half-broken arrows or risk some of their lives when they knew that they had no proper things to aid a wounded if a battle came to that. There were always risks, even when hunting in a group as skilled as this.
“Where is Thalión?” Elladan asked, looking about.
“I guess he will make certain that the Orcs are indeed running,” Asthaldo announced, inspecting one if his short swords for injuries.
“I am back already,” came a smooth voice and Elrohir practically jumped, only then realising that Thalión was standing behind him.
“If you have had enough…” Dínnor smiled at his silver haired cousin.
“Of course,” Thalión answered, laying an apologising hand on Elrohir’s shoulder. “The enemy indeed continues south, probably over mountains in the process. The Warg-riders are drawing far ahead, thinking they might escape even if the others don’t.”
“They are splitting. Maybe there was even more disagreement between them that we noticed,” Asthaldo grinned.
“There is always disagreement among Orcs, even if there is only one of them,” Elladan muttered.
The others laughed, and then they started walking, counting how long it would take before they would reach the Valley again. It took them five hours to reach their horses that they had left on the roots of the mountains. They rode thorough the night, reaching the Valley at midday. Their horses were tired, but knowing they would be able to rest some days had kept them in a good pace.
As Elladan drew his horse to a halt on the courtyard, he immediately spotted new Elves among the crowd that was already gathering to welcome them. And some of the Elves that had been here when they left where nowhere to be seen.
“Where is Legolas?” Dínnor asked before he had even dismounted, pointing his question to Glorfindel who was just within earshot.
“He left the Valley a day ago,” the warrior said, earning a confused look from the five arrivals. “He disappeared during the night. But do not worry,” he hastened to assure, “Rafél went with him. Or that is what we have come up with: they are both gone and so are their horses. Most likely they went to Gondor.”
“Why would they go there?” Elrohir asked, puzzled.
“And without us!” Asthaldo exclaimed. “I must teach that insolent brat some manners when I reach him…”
“Ithilien Elves. A lot of them. Too many in one place, expect in Ithilien where they should be in,” Thalión said quietly, observing the Elves around them.
“True,” Dínnor agreed. “Well, as long as Legolas stays within Rafél’s good care we needn’t to worry. But now you may tell us what is going on in here.”
When Elves travel with haste, it is a sight to behold, and an act that no other race could mimic. Elves don’t need sleep and very little food, their way-bread keeping them in strength for long periods of time. Elven horses have a legendary stamina, and it seems that some of their rider’s endurance is transferred to them.
Journeying swiftly south from Imladris, Legolas and Rafél didn’t meet any trouble on their way to the Gap of Rohan. They seldom stopped, only to rest their horses and to fill their water-skins, or to make sure they were not followed from any side. The day when they reached the Gap was dark and misty, wind blowing a slight drizzle of rain from the mountains. The wind, on the others hand, indicated that they would have a hard rain before nightfall.
Wrapped in his cloak, Legolas rode behind Rafél, their pace slackening with each passing hour. They barely saw ahead of them, their horses walking with their heads down, clearly as unhappy as their riders. Even if the Elves are not affected by the weather in any conditions, it didn’t mean that they liked to travel in weather like this. And the main reason for the dislike was borne from the years of hunting in Mirkwood: in weather like this – or any other difficult weather – you became more equal with your enemy.
Rafél knew this and it worried him, even if any kind of threat hadn’t yet presented itself. The years with Legolas had revised him into an ever-wary warrior who always sought to protect his Prince. Glancing back at Legolas, Rafél pondered again if they should stop to wait for the weather to change. Their horses were also cold and thoroughly soaked. It would not do good for the poor beasts to go on like this. “Legolas…” Rafél called back just when Lumén jerked into a halt, his head rising high, nostrils flaring. Rafél leaned down, running a hand along the long white neck. “)Man cenich?(” he whispered, his brown eyes searching for any kind of possible threat.
Behind the older Elf, Legolas had also stopped, his eyes narrowing as he tried to see through the wind and mist. Arod was shifting nervously under him, dancing from side to another. Legolas cocked his head, trying to sense if there was something out there. He thought he heard something over the roaring of the rain, but he couldn’t be sure. A strange tingling sensation on the back of his mind told him that something dark was drawing near. A shooting pain shot down his back along the dark scars that now ran from his shoulders to his lower back, the pain like both burning cold and hot at the same time.
And then it all happened, in a matter of seconds. Something howled in the distance, Arod reared up neighing in terror, and something swift and dark appeared from the midst of the rain and mist, crushing bodily to the horse. Legolas let out a startled shout, trying to turn Arod so they would both avoid collision, but it was too late. The attacking creature leaped with a roar, hitting the rearing Arod squarely to the chest, causing the horse to lose his balance.
Rafél forced Lumén around just to see Arod collapse to the ground, the horse’s movements frantic as it tried to get up again, the dark beast also on its feet and ready to continue its attack. In the dimness of the setting sun and mist Rafél easily recognised the form of a Warg now that it was closer and staying still. Cursing bitterly he drew his bow, arrow notched before another heartbeat had passed. From his right he heard more howls and then harsh shouts. Warg-riders, his mind informed him automatically. Releasing the arrow, Rafél brought down the Warg that was already upon them and then turned to look for Legolas.
The Prince was kneeling beside Arod, whispering at the horse fervently, trying to get it back to its feet. The other howls got closer and Legolas looked up in alarm just as the enemies came into their view: six Wargs, four of them with Orc-riders.
Terror gave Arod new strength and the horse rose to his feet, nearly knocking Legolas over. The Prince was on his feet in moments, bow in his hands, pushing Arod aside so he could see the enemy. Rafél’s bow was already singing and Legolas took aim, his mind calculating which of the enemies he should bring down first.
A neigh of pain from Lumén tore Legolas gaze away from the advancing villains, and his eyes widened in shock. One of the Warg-riders had seemingly got too close, a sharp scimitar swinging in the air, a cloud of blood following it. From his position Legolas wasn’t sure where the weapon hit, but Lumén’s unstable step aside told him that at least the horse was hurt. Rafél had raised his own blade, meeting the Orc’s next blow with a sure hand. One slight dodge and another swing from the warrior brought the Orc down, and using the momentary confusion at his profit, Legolas crouched low, taking aim from between Lumén’s legs and sending his notched arrow straight to the Warg’s head. The wolf-like creature growled, throwing itself back and then collapsed to the ground.
Smiling, Legolas drew another arrow from his quiver, turning his head to the direction of other enemies. A rush of cold pain travelled down his back again, making him grind his teeth together. There was something wrong with him and he didn’t like the idea the slightest… More by an instinct than a thought he rolled down to the wet ground, avoiding a club directed to his head. A hiss beside his head told that his opponent wasn’t too happy about his miss, and Legolas rolled back up, finding himself face to face with another Warg-rider and his mount.
The Warg opened its huge jaws, snarling down at the Elf. A flash of memory ran through Legolas’ mind, making him hiss slowly. He had nearly lost his life to these beasts once before: he had no intention to repeat that again. Quickly he raised his bow, launching the arrow straight to the great face before him. Before the arrow hit, Legolas’ right hand had already found the knife at his side and he was on the move, raising his blade high to strike it to the unprepared Orc.
The Orc indeed was surprised, trying to stay on the back of his struggling mount. Cursing bitterly with his own black tongue the Orc raised his own weapon, searching for the Elf as the Warg collapsed to the ground, still struggling for its life. A flash of blade was all that the Orc saw when Legolas reached him from the opposite side, his Elven blade sinking deep to the dark flesh.
Yanking his blade free Legolas let the Orc fall to the ground. Trying to catch his breath Legolas turned to see how the rest of the fighting was moving on. Rafél had put down the other one of the riderless Wargs and dispatched another of its rider, but he was now in trouble with another Orc and his Warg. Lumén was limping badly, blood staining his right side and as the horse spun around under Rafél’s skilful command, Legolas saw that the earlier blow of scimitar had drawn a deep gash to Lumén’s right shoulder. The scent of fresh blood clearly drew the Wargs’ attention, for one of the beasts was advancing Lumén from the other side.
Counting in his head the number of enemies, Legolas turned to look for the other free Warg, finding it soon enough: the beast had driven Arod further away from the battle, making swift attacks towards the tired horse. Legolas raised his bow again, taking aim towards the Warg harassing his horse. An outraged cry from Rafél made Legolas turn his attention before he was able to shoot, and marking that his guardian was going to loose his life at any moment, Legolas hesitated. The Orc currently fighting the Elf had managed to slice Rafél’s arm and the force behind Rafél’s blows was slackening. Lumén tried to help his rider but the constant attacks from the Wargs on both sides were growing more bold and closer to their marks. Making up his mind Legolas turned to shoot the Warg before Arod, not staying to look if he hit or not. Another arrow notched in his bow, Legolas let out a shout, running forward to join Rafél’s fight.
The Warg nearer Legolas turned around when an arrow hit it from behind, leaping towards the approaching archer with an enraged growl. Legolas dodged aside, his free hand finding a small knife in his boot, and letting the Warg run past him he sliced the side of the beast, feeling a rush of warm blood upon his hand. Re-sheathing the knife the took careful aim, sending another arrow to the Orc’s direction, hitting the enemy’s shoulder, the arrow passing Rafél within five inches when the other Elf leaned down.
Throwing Legolas a quick smile Rafél swung his blade, relieving the Orc of his head. A whisper on the back of his mind guided Rafél and he swiftly pulled Lumén backwards, giving Legolas free line to shoot. Before the Warg was able to follow, a whistle of an arrow travelled through the air, the strength of the hitting shaft throwing the animal back.
Smiling to himself Legolas lowered his bow, throwing a worried glance at Rafél’s direction. The guardian soothed Lumén, preparing to dismount, his eyes meeting Legolas’. With sudden shock the brown eyes widened, Rafél’s mouth opening as he was about to shout something. Swifter than words, an alarming whisper ran through Legolas’ mind and he threw himself aside, a Warg’s jaws closing in the place where he had just stood.
The beast attacked again, its movements slowed by the deep wound at its side but the desire to kill numbed all the pain it might have felt. Legolas had no time to get onto his feet and he didn’t even try to, instead drawing his long knife and striking it towards the attacker’s head, feeling new flow of blood upon himself as the blade sank to the beast’s neck. Sharp claws dug into his skin and a giant head searched for its prey, fangs only inches from Legolas’ face. The Prince pushed the Warg back, drawing his small dagger out in the process, grimacing at the pain he felt in his lower body as the fresh wounds were torn in the process.
As the Warg attacked again Legolas sank both of his blades home, trying to rotate the longer knife so it would do more damage. The Warg growled, a furious light burning in its eyes. For a moment Legolas saw his own image reflecting in the eyes of his enemy, but then the Warg sprang back with a pained howl, turned around and drove itself into Rafél’s waiting sword.
Rising to a sitting position, Legolas looked up at his guardian, a thankful smile on his face.
“My duty,” Rafél murmured, his eyes running over Legolas’ blood-stained body. There were many wounds there and Rafél sighed, wishing for the rain and the cold wind to stop: their night would be uncomfortable enough as it was.
A nearby neigh drew the Elves’ attention to their side, and Legolas bounced up with a wordless cry. Partially running and sliding on the wet ground he reached the spot where Arod now lay in the muddy grass. The Warg that had been hunting the horse lay dead few yards away, Legolas’ arrow still embedded to its side. The tiny rivers of rainwater were stained red with blood, mixing with the mud and plants.
Legolas dropped himself beside his loyal steed, caressing the white head tenderly. Arod snorted slightly, pushing his head wearily against Legolas’ hands, his muzzle stained with blood. Legolas swallowed a sob that was forming on the back of his throat, his hands sliding over Arod’s white coat that was now marred with warm blood and dirt. The horse lowered its head to the ground, blinking slowly.
Legolas stroked Arod’s neck tenderly, his eyes running over the strong body that now lay on the ground, blood spreading around it and mixing into the water falling from the sky. The time seemed to stop and Legolas’ eyes wandered from ground to the body, his mind barely able to understand what he saw.
Long, deep welts ran across Arod’s sides, the marks of the Warg’s attacks plainly visible. At least one of his legs was broken, and the gaping wound below Arod’s neck was bleeding continually.
Tears in his eyes Legolas drew his knife, smoothing the bloodstained coat once more, whispering inaudible words to the cold air. Bowing his head and kissing Arod’s forehead, Legolas closed his eyes, fisting his left hand to Arod’s long forelocks. “I am so sorry, my friend. Forgive me…” Legolas sobbed, and then pressed his blade against Arod’s chest, driving it home. The horse snorted softly, shifting slightly, and then slumped down.
Legolas bit his lip, drawing blood, his hands clutching at Arod as he felt the horse’s life drift away. After all their years together Arod died on a nameless field by the hand of his own master.
Rafél stood silent for a long moment, staring at the sight before him. He felt Legolas’ loss and sorrow touch his spirit and it mingled with his own. The rain washed away the blood that no longer flowed, colouring the ground dark read. But some blood still flowed in the cold night and Rafél shifted, feeling a river of blood travel down his hand, dripping to the ground from the tips of his fingers. Glancing around, Rafél listened for a moment, but he heard nothing else but Legolas’ unsteady breathing and Lumén who stood behind them. Yet even if they were alone, this was not a place for them to stay.
Stepping forward, Rafél placed his hands upon Legolas’ shoulders, drawing the younger Elf away from the dead horse. “No…” Legolas whimpered, tears muffling his voice, but Rafél’s touch was adamant as he pulled Legolas to his feet, all but dragging him away. After a moment Rafél felt Legolas’ hands fist into his tunic and he slipped his right arm around his Prince’s waist, leaning him against his own taller body as he kept walking. Lumén soon appeared to their side, offering Rafél the little help he could. Rafél smiled to his steed, his left hand taking hold of the dirty white mane. Together they travelled through the rain, seeking for shelter.
None of them knew if it was only a matter of luck that they found a small group of trees some miles away. Eternally grateful, Rafél let go of Lumén’s mane as they entered the shelter. Legolas was by then walking on his own, his eyes distant and shimmering with sorrow.
Rafél walked ahead, his senses scanning the small patch of forest before them. When nothing informed him of danger he dropped the packs he had been carrying, turning around to see that Legolas indeed followed. The youth was leaning against a tree, his eyes closed. Lumén stood near him, as if guarding him while Rafél had his attention elsewhere.
Smiling at his horse, Rafél looked up to the sky and frowned. The night would be cold and misty, even if the rain was going to end soon. They would need to built a fire and tend their wounds. As if thinking about tending injuries would have made difference, the pain returned to Rafél. He grunted, pressing his hand against a hidden wound on his shoulder. He would have to push back his own discomfort for a moment to see for Legolas’ needs.
Rafél turned around, glancing at Legolas. “Wait here. I will see if I can find a dried place or some firewood.” Legolas merely nodded, his eyes still closed. Drawing a deep breath, Rafél turned back to his original direction, walking away swiftly. It seemed that the bond he had formed with Legolas during the years of their time together had returned, stronger than ever. As an addition to his own discomfort he now felt Legolas’ pain. But think at the bright side: our connection has remained intact through his journey with the Fellowship and his years in Ithilien. It seems that even his confrontation with Balrog hasn’t done any harm to our bond. This was small consolation to Rafél, but enough to keep him moving.
After he had walked some minutes he halted, blinking in disbelief and drawing the water away from his face with his less wounded hand. Before him rose a small wall of stone, and on the root of it lay a small cave, partially hidden by the trees. Shaking his head in sudden relief Rafél stepped forward, quickly checking that this was no trap or a hiding place of Orcs. When he found nothing he headed back, blessing the Valar for their gift.
Legolas still stood in the shade of the trees, resting his head against Lumén, his hands slowly stroking the white neck. Legolas didn’t move when Rafél appeared, and Lumén only moved his ears, hanging his head tiredly.
“Soon you shall rest,” Rafél encouraged his horse. “Legolas, I found a fine shelter for us. The way is not long.” Legolas glanced at Rafél, frowning, as if his mind was somewhere else. Sighing, Rafél grabbed Legolas’ hand, guiding the other Elf forward. He collected the packs as they passed by them and then led them all back to the cave.
It was a small space but none of them was going to complain. Laying Legolas to the hard floor Rafél threw their packs to the back of the cave and then turned to look at Lumén behind him. He backed off from the shelter, stood up and walked to his horse, whispering soft words to the listening ears.
Legolas turned around to look at Rafél, his mind slowly beginning to form coherent thoughts again. At that moment Rafél released Lumén and the horse came forward, looking at the cave carefully. Then the horse lowered his head, walking into the cave that was just high enough for him. With a rather awkward move Lumén kneeled down, lying down onto the ground with a soft neigh. Legolas smiled, drawing himself to the horse’s side, whispering comforting words.
Rafél appeared soon, Legolas not being sure if he had even been gone. Dropping a pile of wood to the cave’s floor Rafél quickly built a small fire. Lighting it was a harder process for the wood was wet and the air was damp. After a valiant fight Rafél finally managed to get the small branches to burn, and they all sighed contentedly.
Crawling to the corner where their packs laid Rafél quickly searched for clean garments and healing supplies. After he found all he hunted for he returned at Legolas’ side, indicating the younger Elf to take off his tunic.
“You are also hurt,” Legolas protested, not making a move from his place where he laid beside Lumén. “And so is Lumén. If we wish to travel with any significant speed, we should first tend for the horse.” Rafél only stared at Legolas with a blank look, and the Prince rose partly to sit up. “The horse, Rafél,” Legolas said, his voice as cold as the air around them.
Rafél blinked, and then shook his head. “You are at my responsibility –”
“As far as I remember, you are no longer my guardian, and therefor not responsible of my condition in any way,” Legolas snapped.
“I am not?” Rafél said, a dry smile upon his face. He moved a little closer to Legolas, his eyes narrowing. “As far as I remember, your father has never liberated me from my duty.”
Legolas blinked, surprised. “I thought it was liberating enough that I went away with the Fellowship – without you. And that you didn’t join me in Ithilien,” Legolas continued when he noticed Rafél was going to argue.
Rafél’s gaze turned bitter, as if he regretted something. “You never asked me to join you,” he finally whispered.
“I guess that means something,” Legolas continued, though his voice faltered. “If my father did not command you to join me, I would take it so that he has… liberated you.”
Rafél met Legolas’ eyes, his chest feeling unnaturally heavy. His spirit had turned suddenly cold, and for a moment he wondered if this was what Legolas felt at the moment. But as he reached forward with his fëa he felt Legolas’ spirit touch his, the other’s sorrow and remorse pulling all other feeling aside.
Legolas lowered his eyes, his fingers drawing paths on the sand-covered floor. He felt Rafél reach towards him, searching the answer from his heart rather than from his lips. And as much as Legolas could have wished to tell him otherwise, his heart never lied to his guardian: he didn’t think he would survive without Rafél. He didn’t wish to be without him. As the darkness of the Balrog was eating his soul, Rafél gave him strength and faith to fight it. He had a reason to continue. And most of all, he was not alone.
The older Elf moved forward, laying his supplies to the side as his hands worked on Legolas’ clothing, removing it gently. Legolas glanced up at him, the blue eyes dark even in the light of the small fire. Rafél smiled down at him, running a soothing hand through the Prince’s hair before he stood up, taking one of the clean clothes with him to wet it in a small pond he had seen nearby. When he returned, Legolas was sitting next to the fire, chewing his lip. Giving Rafél a small smile he welcomed the other, seemingly ready to accept the other’s help.
Sitting down beside Legolas, Rafél looked at the younger Elf critically. Most of the wounds made by the Warg were still bleeding, but they didn’t seem infected. Silently Legolas stripped off the last garments upon him, wishing to be done with this as soon as possible. Rafél was hurt himself and they would need Lumén later to travel. Of the three of them, his wounds should have been tended after the others’.
Rafél cleaned Legolas’ wounds carefully, not wishing to cause more unnecessary pain. As his hands travelled over Legolas’ back to inspect it he halted above the older scars, his eyes darkening as he eyed the dark, nearly black marks tainting Legolas’ fair skin. Moving ahead, he dressed the wounds, making sure they were bound properly. When he was finished he wrapped a cloak around Legolas’ bare body, finding the other’s stare upon him.
“)Hannon le(,” Legolas said quietly, his eyes sincere. “)Forgive me my words, for I meant none of them. You are always welcome to follow me, even if I do not suffer to be taken care of as I was as a child.(”
Rafél laughed at this, his hands unfastening his own tunic. To his surprise, Legolas’ hands joined his, helping him out of the disturbing clothes. Legolas gasped as his upper body was revealed, his skin bloodied and torn in many places. He had a cut in his right arm and his right shoulder had a deep gash in it. The blood had trickled down his hand and chest, and his back didn’t look much better. “It is merely blood,” Rafél comforted Legolas, reaching for the wet cloth.
Faster than his wounded protector, Legolas took the cloth, standing up to clean it in the pond. He returned swiftly, sitting at Rafél’s side and then began to clean Rafél’s wound in turn. It took a little more time, for Legolas had less experience of the wounded and Rafél’s injuries were deep. When Legolas was finally done they both turned their attention to Lumén, drying the horse and washing his injuries the best they could.
Then, worn and tired, the Elves sat down, leaning against Lumén’s side. The rain had stopped some time ago and the small fire was giving them some warmth, but despite all that Legolas found himself shivering. Rafél noted this, his worry surfacing again. Perhaps it had been too early for Legolas to leave Imladris. But they had already waited months, and any Elf should have recovered from such a distant battle by then. But Legolas now bore upon him other wounds than those caused by Orcs or Wargs.
With a tired sigh Rafél leaned back against Lumén’s side, drawing Legolas to lie against his chest. For once, Legolas didn’t object, probably too worn to mind being treated like this. Sharing his body’s heat with Legolas, Rafél listened the other Elf’s breathing slow down as Legolas fell asleep, and after few hours of guarding Rafél allowed himself to drift off, trusting that his senses would wake him if a need came.
The White Mountains towered before them in the distance, the Misty Mountains slowly falling behind. Too slowly to Legolas’ liking. But he didn’t voice his thoughts, knowing that they journeyed with all their reasonable speed at the moment. Lumén’s leg still needed time to heal properly and caring two Elves was eating the brave horse’s strength. At times they let Lumén rest, jogging beside him, or then they took turns in riding. Not that it mattered if a horse carried one Elf or two: the Firstborns were lightly built and didn’t weight much.
Legolas halted on a grassy mound, his eyes running over the landscape before him. There was two options for them now: to take the southern way that would be swifter if they wished to reach Ithilien – or Minas Tirith. Going to the northern side of the Mountains would bring them among Rohirrim, and they could give them another horse.
“Many paths lay before us,” Rafél stated as he stopped beside Legolas. “Another horse would aid our journey.”
“I know,” Legolas said quietly.
“I thought you would,” Rafél noted, lowering his head. “You know a lot of things nowadays.”
“What was that supposed to mean?” Legolas demanded, puzzled.
“You commanded Thaíly to scout for you,” Rafél said, his gaze fixing on the horizon.
“And what bad there is in that? He can give us information we wouldn’t get in any other way,” Legolas continued quietly, watching Rafél carefully.
“I didn’t say it is a negative thing. It merely proves that you are taking the lead. Giving commands. That surprises me.”
“I need to know what is happening around me. Being ignorant makes me…” Legolas halted, searching for a word.
“Touchy. Or very near to it. You always got annoyed when I kept things from you,” Rafél laughed.
“Most likely you are still keeping things from me,” Legolas muttered.
“How could I?” Rafél asked, his face and eyes serious. Legolas glanced at him, and their spirits touched each other briefly.
“Maybe you cannot,” Legolas said finally, his voice strange to his own ears. “But it is your choice.”
“So it is,” Rafél whispered, whistling to call Lumén nearer. “One I never regret,” he turned to look at Legolas as he continued down the hill.
“Someday, you may,” Legolas breathed out, making sure that his fëa gave no hint to Rafél about his thoughts. Following the older Elf Legolas mulled in his thoughts. His bond with Rafél had grown to a new level after the attack of the Wargs – actually it had began to reform since the attack to Woodland Realm. He did not quite understand it, but it felt right, and so he didn’t worry over it. Rafél had always been able to sense him on completely another level when compared to others, and this little more intimate link between them made Legolas only feel more secured. For once, he felt safe. Truly, he was not alone.
Drawn into his thought Legolas nearly missed the movement on his right. He stopped, turning his head to the direction where he thought he had seen something. Yes, something moved on the plains. For a moment Legolas thought that their luck had turned and a caravan of some sort was drawing near to them, but when he looked longer, he realised it was a lonesome figure.
“A lonely horse,” Rafél guessed beside him, his eyes narrowed. “It moves slowly.”
“Let’s take a look,” Legolas said, and together they started forward the nearing creature.
Rafél had indeed been right: it was a lonely horse, hurt from one of its legs. When the two Elves and their horse reached the animal it halted, its great head rising up, ears flattening. “It is wounded,” Rafél said calmly from where they stood some yards away from the horse. “Possibly by a trap of some sort.”
Legolas nodded, seeing the front leg that was slightly bloodied and painful looking. Slowly, he walked towards the horse, whispering soft Sindarin words as he advanced. The great black horse started backwards, snorting nervously. Legolas kept walking, his voice calming. The horse had halted again, his nostrils flaring as he smelled the air, and then taking a tentative step forward he walked up to Legolas, stopping in front of the Sinda. Legolas slid his hand carefully along the strong neck, still whispering soothingly. The horse neighed softly, thrusting his head against Legolas.
Rafél started froward slowly, letting the horse smell him before he kneeled down to observe the injury. “I do not think the leg is broken. A firm bandage should help,” the guardian said finally, looking up at Legolas.
Legolas nodded, running his hand through the black mane, earning another neigh. “Let us do that, and then we shall continue.”
Rafél rose an eyebrow as he rummaged his pack. “This is a magnificent horse, Legolas. I do not think he has a master, though.”
“No, he has not. But his spirit is free: I can see it in his eyes. No creature like this should be separated from its freedom.”
Rafél shook his head, finishing his task and rose up from the ground and patting the horse’s neck. “Do you speak of this fine animal here or of yourself?”
Legolas didn’t answer, but his eyes beheld enough answer to Rafél. With a final stroke along the horse’s neck Legolas stepped back, beginning to walk at the direction of north again. Rafél started after him, throwing a quick glance at the black horse standing on its place like rooted.
They walked ahead again, this time in silence, both in their thoughts. After a hour or two Rafél halted, looking at the distance on their right. Legolas stopped when he noticed he was walking alone, looking at Rafél questioningly. “He is following us,” Rafél said, and Legolas turned to look at the same direction with the other Elf. And indeed, some hundred yards away from them stood the same great black horse which they had met previously. The horse had halted at the same time with them and he was watching the Elves intently. Rafél smiled, turning his head at Legolas’ direction. “It seems that two untamed free spirits recognise each other.”
Legolas shrugged and then let out a whistle. The horse’s ears twisted and with a loud neigh it galloped to Legolas, rearing up before the Elf as if saluting him or showing his strength. Then the horse calmed down, waiting patiently before Legolas. The Prince took a step forward, laying a gentle hand upon the horse’s forehead. “Morchaint,” he whispered, and the horse whinnied, throwing his head to the side. Legolas kissed the dark forehead and then stepped to his new friend’s side, lightly mounting him. Morchaint neighed, whisking his tail and dancing excitedly, as if willing to keep going. “Easy my friend. You are still hurt and so is Lumén. We shall be going, but not with all our speed,” Legolas calmed the horse.
“It is a beast,” Rafél laughed when he mounted Lumén. “I can see that much in him. Fearless and untamed. But you would not have anything less, would you?”
Legolas gave him a sceptical look. “By the necessity of the situation I must allow his help...”
“Right, right…” Rafél mumbled, turning Lumén more south. “Let us be on our way as long as the fortune favours us.”
Mumbling to himself Legolas spurred Morchaint forward to a light trot. The great horse moved smoothly under him, even more so than Arod ever had. Even if Morchaint was greater by size than any other horse Legolas had ridden before, his step was easy and light. Giving Morchaint a little more encouragement, Legolas reached Rafél’s side, and together they rode on.
to be continued…
)Sindarin(: - Westron:
Man cenich? – What do you see?
Author’s Notes: To those maybe/possibly (or then not) wondering, the group of Orcs and Wargs attacking Legolas and Rafél was indeed part of the very same group that the twins and the Cousins drove to the direction of south. How very nice of them… I hope you enjoyed this chapter (let me know, please!).