The Fellowship gathered around the fire. It was a cold night and the moon and stars hid behind large, dark clouds. The fire wasn't the only giver of light as Gandalf's staff also lit their surroundings.
Frodo and Sam huddled near the fire while the other two hobbits were waging a futile battle against Aragorn. The two hobbits were no match for the cunning swordsman and they quickly resorted to tricks, bringing Aragorn down to his knees by charging him. Aragorn's amused laugh echoed through the night and he ruffled Pippin's hair, pleased that the hobbits didn't give up easy. It might save their lives in battle later.
"Mercy," pleaded Aragorn jokingly. "Have mercy on me, my brave hobbits!"
Merry laughed, and Pippin chuckled pleased as they got off Aragorn's back. "We beat you!" said Pippin proudly.
Aragorn didn't tell him that he had let the hobbit win, choosing to not throw them off. "I surrender," chuckled Aragorn, relieved that the laughter had taken away some of his tension. The playful fight had lifted his spirits and as he looked toward the fire, he saw Gandalf grinning as well. Gimli merrily slapped his knees, and a broad smirk shone across the Dwarf's features. "I suggest you choose a more worthy adversary the next time you want to indulge in a fight," joked Aragorn while exchanging a glance with Gandalf.
For the last few days the Fellowship had started to trust each other and the laughter only deepened their bond. The mirth and fire drove the cold from their bones that Caradhras had left behind. Now that the snow and ice was behind them, their bodies and minds were growing warm again.
"Stop fooling around, Aragorn and join us at the fire," said Gandalf, signaling Aragorn to sit down next to him. "You should rest. All of you. Tomorrow's road will be long and harsh. The mines of Moria await."
Aragorn looked questioningly. "Where are Legolas and Boromir?"
Gandalf's eyes searched his surroundings. "Legolas is drawn to the silence of the forest and we disturb it with our merriment. He's a loner... The forest is his home and he draws comfort from it."
"I understand that Legolas might want to be alone," said Aragorn with a hint of concern. "But what about Boromir? I can't recall him ever leaving camp before. He's usually found near the hobbits."
Gandalf frowned. "I do not know the answer to that question. Maybe he needed a moment alone as well."
Aragorn watched the hobbits eat and then took a bite of the rabbit Gimli had prepared. "They do not like each other."
"Boromir and Legolas?" Gandalf shrugged his shoulders. "Neither do Legolas and Gimli."
Aragorn shook his head. "That is different. Elves and Dwarves bear each other old grudges, but they will realize the other's worth in time. Boromir however, showed his dislike clearly at the council of Elrond when Legolas came to my defense, telling Boromir he owed me his allegiance. Boromir did not like hearing that. There's a dark gleam in Boromir's eyes."
"He desires the Ring for himself," said Gimli unexpectedly. "He craves it. Craves the power."
Gandalf nodded, pleased that others saw the danger as well. "Boromir craves the power of the Ring because he thinks that desire will fill him, give him purpose. What he lacks is true conviction."
"I still wish Legolas and Boromir hadn't left camp. Nothing good can come of it," said Aragorn concerned. "Maybe I should look for them."
"Give them time. Maybe they need to clear their heads." Gandalf didn't feel particularly worried. This Fellowship had been carefully selected by Elrond and he, and although the members thought they had volunteered for this quest the truth was that they had been masterly manipulated in to joining.
A sense of foreboding swept through Aragorn as a sudden gust of wind resembled the startled cry of an Elf...
Boromir returned to the camp several minutes later and Aragorn studied the Gondorian closely. Boromir settled down quietly near the fire, laughed at the hobbits and then stared in to the flames absentmindedly. No matter how hard Aragorn tried, he just didn't understand Boromir. How could Boromir think he could handle the One Ring? It would consume him, burn him and leave him evil and vengeful. The Ring had to be destroyed, had to be cast back in the fire of Mount Doom!
"I saved you some meat," said Aragorn, handing Boromir his eating bowl. The expression in Boromir's dark eyes seemed haunted and troubled, like he was still struggling against the temptation the Ring presented and maybe the struggle did have a tight hold on him. Aragorn decided to be cautious and to keep a close eye on Boromir, whom he conceived as the weakest link in the Fellowship. Boromir was the most likely to give in and to use the Ring to his own advantage.
Boromir growled a thank you and began eating, all the while ignoring Aragorn's eyes, which only made Aragorn even more apprehensive. "Did you happen to run in to Legolas?"
Boromir shook his head, not deeming it necessary to answer. After eating his meal, he walked over to a tree, lay down, rested his back against it and pulled his long cloak close to his body. Aragorn had first watch, Gandalf second and Boromir would see the Fellowship in to the morning, taking the last watch. Although his eyes were closed, he was still alert, knowing Aragorn was watching him. Pretending to sleep, he ignored Aragorn's curious looks.
During his entire watch a sense of dread troubled Aragorn. His instincts warned him that something evil was about to happen, but he didn't know what caused the sensation. Except for Legolas all were accounted for and the Elf was more than capable to take care of himself. Still, the feeling continued to nag at him.
"Aragorn, your mind is troubled..." Gandalf, ready to relieve Aragorn, came to a halt next to his friend.
"I can't explain it, old friend," said Aragorn in a heavy tone. "But I need to make sure no Orcs are close." He planned on walking the perimeters until he was satisfied that the company was safe. "Is Boromir asleep yet or still merely pretending sleep?"
"Very observant of you. I noticed that too." Gandalf looked in to the dark night, wishing he had sharp Elven senses. "Maybe you should go find Legolas... For I don't know why but I worry about him."
Aragorn nodded his head. "I share that concern. Be alert and look out for Orcs or other foul creatures while I search for Legolas."
"No one will pass," assured Gandalf Aragorn, planting his staff in the grass and leaning on it. "Hurry."
Aragorn didn't need more encouragement and returned to the camp, where he searched for Legolas' trail, which was hard, as the Elf didn't leave clearly visible footprints. His vast experience and sharp eyes helped him find Legolas' trail and he followed it, disappearing between the trees. Looking up, he realized that the clouds continued to hide the moon. He had to track Legolas down in darkness, with no moonlight guiding him.
Standing completely still, he listened to the night, suddenly struck by the fact that he heard no animals moving about. He frowned. He should be hearing something! This utter silence placed a fist around his heart, squeezing hard.
A cold sweat formed on his brow and he broke out in to a run, still following Legolas' barely visible footprints in the grass. He sped up, as the wind carried a soft moan with it. Suddenly he found himself on a clearing. A rivulet presented no barrier and he leapt across it, finally seeing a form huddled in darkness.
His eyes narrowed, advancing on the mysterious form. Was it Legolas? But why was the Elf curled up in a fetal position? And why could he see Legolas' silver like skin through his shredded tunic? Shredded? Skin? Aragorn dropped to his knees and removed leaves and grass from the Elf's hair. "Legolas? What happened?"
Not getting a reply, Aragorn carefully rolled the Elf on to his back, desperate to make eye contact. Seeing the bruised face he cringed in sympathy. "What happened here?" His friend's face was black and blue, his clothes torn, leggings undone, and he smelled the metal tang of blood on Legolas. He cradled the Elf in his arms, searching for more serious injuries than bruises. Damn it, he needed light in order to examine Legolas more closely.
"Legolas? Talk to me, my friend." He felt terribly worried, seeing that Legolas' eyes were closed. The Elf was still breathing strong, but something had shook Legolas badly. "I need Gandalf's light and his help..." He pushed his hands beneath Legolas' knees and shoulder and gently lifted his friend. Another strangled moan left Legolas' bruised lips, alarming Aragorn. Maybe Legolas was wounded internally?
"Gandalf will help you," he said, more in an effort to reassure himself than Legolas. Pressing his precious charge close to his chest, he turned about and headed back to the camp.
"Gandalf!" Aragorn ran toward the Wizard.
Gandalf immediately started toward them. Seeing Legolas limp in Aragorn's arms alarmed him. "What happened? Where did you find him? Put him gently down so I can have a look at him." Light erupted from his staff, not caring if he alerted Orcs of their presence. Legolas' face was bruised, and a cut disfigured his brow. His hair was in wild disarray and the braids had been pulled loose.
Aragorn placed Legolas on the grass, knelt at the Elf's side and watched Gandalf's every move.
"Why are his clothes torn?" Gandalf frowned. Gentle hands pulled Legolas upright, but the Wizard quickly lowered the Elf again when Legolas released a choked yelp. "He's hurting inside." His hands probed deeper, pushing aside Legolas' tunic and examining the Elf's ribcage. "That's strange. I can't find anything wrong."
Aragorn noticed the stark expression of horror that suddenly appeared on Gandalf's face. "What is wrong?"
"His leggings torn... No..." Gandalf's hands shook and his eyes swam with emotion. "Aragorn... was anyone with him when you found him?"
"No, he was alone..." Aragorn pleadingly looked at Gandalf. "What happened to him?"
Gandalf removed his cloak and wrapped it around Legolas. The Elf's eyes were still closed, making them fear for the worst. "Aragorn, my friend. The worst thing possible happened to him... I fear he might not survive." Disbelief now colored Gandalf's voice. "How can anyone do this to an Elf?" But he knew there were foul creatures on Middle Earth who delighted in tormenting such a pure creature as an Elf.
"Gandalf? Pray tell me!" Aragorn was losing his patience and his voice echoed through the night, waking the companions sleeping close to the nearly extinguished fire.
Boromir was the first to rise, and his sword appeared in his hand, ready to fight off possible attackers. "Who goes there?" Boromir sounded alarmed and he felt ashamed that he had fallen asleep while they faced danger. "Hobbits, stay here... Gimli..."
Boromir heard Gimli repeat his command, telling the hobbits not to move and he then ran toward Gandalf and Aragorn. The first thing he noticed was the expression of outrage on Gandalf's face, followed by Aragorn's bared teeth. Shifting his glance, he realized that someone was lying on the grass. The flaxen hair told him it was Legolas, but why was the Elf motionless? Suddenly the wind was knocked out of him as Aragorn charged, throwing him on to the earth. Aragorn's hands clawed his cloak and as he looked up at the other man, rage stared back at him.
"Boromir..." Aragorn's growl barely resembled a human's voice.
Boromir tried to throw Aragorn off, but the other man had a tight hold on him and Aragorn's fist hovered above his face, ready to strike. "What did I do?"
Gandalf stayed kneeled at Legolas' side, gently stroking the long hair. "He was beaten, and taken by force ."
Aragorn cried out in rage, as his worst fears were confirmed. "You beat him and took him against his will? You call yourself a true Son of Gondor? You're not worthy to bear that title!"
"Beaten and... raped?" Boromir's eyes widened at the realization that Aragorn thought him guilty of those horrible deeds.
"You bore him a grudge since he supported me at the council of Elrond! And now you acted on it. You're despicable!" Aragorn's fist raced toward Boromir's face and releasing his anger, he hit Boromir hard. "You followed when Legolas left our camp and bided your time."
Boromir was too shaken to stop Aragorn when the other man's fist impacted again.
"Stop it!" Gimli bared his axe. He didn't know what was going on, but he would find out. "You're frightening the hobbits and not helping. Aragorn, son of Arathorn, calm yourself!"
Aragorn stared at Boromir in obvious disgust. "I warned Elrond not to let you go on this quest. Your heart is black, Boromir."
Boromir finally shook off his confusion, barely believing the accusations Aragorn had brought forth.
"We need to tend to the Elf, not fight among ourselves," stated Gimli firmly.
Aragorn gritted his teeth, got to his feet and joined Gandalf, who was slowly rocking Legolas. "Gandalf?"
Gandalf's glance was filled with anger. "The Dwarf spoke wisely. We can't fight among ourselves when Legolas is this badly injured."
Boromir struggled to his feet, found that he was suffering from a nose bleed and wiped the blood from his face. He stared at Legolas, who was barely visible, wrapped up as the Elf was in Gandalf's tattered cloak.
"The Elf will recover... won't he?" Worried, Gimli approached Gandalf, but the Dwarf froze, realizing Legolas' eyes had closed. "That's a bad sign..."
"Yes, indeed, Master Dwarf, it is," sighed Gandalf.
"You said that being forced is the worst possible thing that can happen to an Elf," recalled Boromir. The night felt unreal to him. Who could overwhelm an Elf and assault him like that? Why hadn't they heard sounds from the struggle?
Gandalf's voice took on a sad tone. "Elves will never force themselves on someone; it's wholly against their nature, but someone forced himself on Legolas and... I fear he will reject life and pass to the Halls of Mandos."
Boromir blinked. "What are you saying, old man?"
"He'll die!" Aragorn glared at Boromir. "Legolas will die! Elves cannot bear the pain and humiliation of rape. They whither away."
Gimli gasped. "I did not know..."
"Hardly anyone does..." Gandalf sighed once more. "They are a strong and proud race, the Elves. They die in silence, never sharing their pain and shame."
"And you're saying this will also happen with Legolas?" Boromir shook his head in disbelief. "I learned that rape is a way to control your prisoners, to break their will, but it won't kill them..."
"You think as a Man," said Gandalf sharply. "Legolas is an Elf. They're pure creatures, untouched by darkness. When such evil happens to them, they can't comprehend. Think as an Elf and you will understand."
Boromir, still keeping a close eye on Aragorn, walked over to Gandalf and sat on his heels. When he got his first look of Legolas' face his brow grew furrowed. "I wonder who did this to him." Aragorn's snort irritated him. He was tempted to rise and confront Aragorn, but didn't want to disturb the Elf. How can Aragorn think I am capable of doing this? I never forced anyone in my life!
Gandalf's warm eyes searched Legolas' face, hoping the Elf would open his eyes and look at him. "His body is capable of healing itself, but his mind won't allow it. It's only a matter of days and then he'll release his last breath. I doubt he will regain consciousness again before his death, choosing to hide from us."
"I can't accept this," mumbled Boromir. "There must be a way..."
Aragorn angrily interrupted him. "Let him die in peace. Legolas won't return to us. We lost him... Why did I ignore my feelings of dread? Why not search for him sooner?"
Boromir met Gandalf's eyes and whispered softly, "Tell me, is there a way to bring the Elf back?" Unlike Aragorn he was unwilling to give up just yet. When he had commanded his men at Gondor they had trusted him to lead them and keep them safe. He felt the same responsibility toward Legolas, who now was helpless and weak.
Gandalf addressed Gimli instead of Boromir. "Return to our friends the hobbits, and reassure them that everything is fine. We do not want to them to know that Legolas' assailant is still running loose."
"Aye..." Gimli nodded, looked once more at Legolas with a concerned glance, and then returned to the hobbits who were restlessly pacing.
Gandalf returned Boromir's stare. "There is a way to bring him back..." the Istar said thoughtfully.
Boromir cocked his head. "What do we need to do?"
Gandalf shook his head. "Legolas' recovery depends on one man's dedication. He must realize that we care and if he chooses to return to us he will bind himself to that person."
Aragorn stepped forward. "I will care for him."
But Gandalf shook his head. "No, Aragorn, you are the leader of the Fellowship. You must scout ahead and choose our path."
Boromir began to fully understand what Gandalf was saying. "You need someone to bind himself to Legolas, that's what you're saying."
"If I were younger I would do it myself, but I'm old." Gandalf continued to rock the motionless Elf, rubbing Legolas' back in an effort to comfort him.
"None of the hobbits can do this..." Aragorn looked Gandalf in the eyes. "What about Gimli?"
Gandalf considered the suggestion. "The Dwarf's heart is opening up to Legolas, but it doesn't carry the dedication our Elf needs to survive. I'm speaking of unconditional support and dedication."
Aragorn sighed. "Then Legolas is doomed. He will die. My heart cries out in pain."
"I'll do it." Boromir nodded once. "I'll do it."
"No!" Aragorn's hands turned in to fists. "You did this to him in the first place!"
Boromir rose to his feet, faced Aragorn with eyes blazing with fire. "I am a warrior. I would never force myself on someone, let alone an Elf! You speak harsh words, Aragorn, convicting me of a crime I did not commit."
"Silence!" Gandalf lifted Legolas and pressed him close to his chest. "Boromir, do you know what you're taken on? It may be days, weeks or months before Legolas starts to respond to your care and once he accepts the bond, the two of you will be bound until you die."
Boromir swallowed hard hearing it phrased like that. Could he dedicate himself to one person for the rest of his life? Did he want to? There was a war to fight, a Ring to destroy and they needed to rebuild those parts of Middle Earth that Sauron's touch had already tainted.
"Gandalf, I beg you! Don't do this!" Aragorn couldn't believe Gandalf was seriously considering Boromir's offer.
Gandalf looked from Aragorn to Boromir. "Aragorn, we do not have a choice. Boromir is strong and he can carry Legolas for many hours. He has seen men wounded in battle and he knows how to care for them..." Gandalf's eyes settled on Legolas' bruised face. "I do not want to lose this Prince for he is precious to me..."
Aragorn realized that he couldn't take away Legolas' one chance at recovery. He still didn't trust Boromir and a part of him wondered if the other man was to blame for Legolas' condition, but another, more rational part, told him that Boromir was incapable of such a foul deed. "You'll be his lifeline, his everything... If he accepts you... If he's willing to bind himself to you... You must realize that there is a chance that Legolas will reject you and die in spite of your care."
"I fully understand the risks," said Boromir thoughtfully. "But he needs help..." He needs me. I can't turn my back on someone in need, no matter what the consequences. The Elf is courageous, proud and a capable warrior. From one warrior to another... I offer you my support...
Gandalf smiled weakly, picking up on an echo of Boromir's thoughts. "Are you ready to start on your personal quest, Boromir? You might fail, you might succeed. There's no personal power to be gained; your strength and dedication is needed instead."
Boromir heard the warning in Gandalf's tone, but he had already made up his mind. "I refuse to let him die. If my strength can pull him through I will dedicate my life to him."
Gnashing of teeth sounded from Aragorn. "Boromir, if you fail him, you will face me."
Boromir ignored the threat, fully intent on Gandalf as the Wizard approached him.
"Open your arms, Son of Gondor..." Gandalf searched Boromir's eyes for a long moment and decided to trust in the Gondorian.
Boromir raised his arms and held his breath as Gandalf placed Legolas in his arms. "He barely weighs a thing..." The Elf was light as air and Boromir pulled him close. "I won't fail him," he said, addressing Aragorn and Gandalf. "But I need your guidance. I never cared for an Elf before."
Gandalf nodded approvingly. "Then listen closely. Keep him close at all times and make sure he's warm. He needs water, but no food. Never let him out of your sight, sleep close to him, fold your arms around him. Legolas must know you're close at all times. In time of battle, defend him, but don't desert him in order to chase the enemy. From this moment on Legolas must come first."
Only now did Boromir understand how much depended on his loyalty and dedication. "I will care for him as if he were my brother, Faramir..."
Gandalf's expression softened. "If you succeed your bond will be deeper than the one that you share with your brother."
Boromir moistened his lips, suddenly feeling nervous. Was he up to this challenge? "Tell me what to do."
Gandalf pushed back a stray lock of blond hair behind a pointed ear. "Aragorn, fetch some clear spring water. Boromir needs to wash away any stains that show on Legolas' body."
Reluctantly Aragorn agreed. He preferred staying close to Legolas so he could keep an eye on Boromir, but he couldn't go against Gandalf's wishes. He turned and headed for the brook he had encountered earlier.
Boromir stared at the helpless Elf in his arms. Legolas' head now rested against his shoulder. "Can he hear me?"
"Not yet... But he will, if you remain at his side and care for him. He will be unresponsive for a while, motionless like the dead, but his heart still beats and it's his heart that will hear and accept you... or not."
"I will make him hear me..." vowed Boromir. He had never abandoned anyone in need and Legolas depended on him. "After I cleaned him up... what do I do?" He wanted to save the Elf, but had no idea how to do it.
"Wrap him up in your cloak and keep him close during the night. Whisper reassurance, bestow gentle caresses on his face." Gandalf smiled, allowing himself to hope that maybe Boromir could pull Legolas through. "Everything now depends on you, Boromir."
Boromir thought back to soothing his brother when nightmares had troubled Faramir's sleep. He had soothed and protected his brother against the horrible shadows of sleep. "I can do this..." He met Gandalf's eyes. "Aragorn will return with the water shortly and I want to get Legolas settled down."
Pleased, Gandalf hummed, "Yes, you must go now and take care of Legolas..." He watched closely as Boromir returned to the camp, ignoring the hobbits questions and settling down beneath a strong tree. Boromir's stance was protective and determined. Maybe Legolas wasn't lost to them yet, maybe Boromir could bring the Elven prince's soul back to the land of the living.
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