The Test of the Fellowship
"We're gaining on them," said Aragorn after interpreting the footprints the Uruk-Hai had left behind. "I can also see Merry and Pippin's footmarks. They are walking on their own, so they shouldn't be in any immediate danger. Saruman probably ordered the Uruk-Hai to deliver the Hobbits at Isengard alive." He heard Gimli's relieved sigh and smiled for a change. "We'll get to them in time."
Aragorn looked at his traveling companions. He had been pushing them ruthlessly, trying to decrease the distance between them and the Uruk-Hai, and although Legolas managed to keep up with them, he couldn't help but worry about the Elf. At first Legolas' hand had rested on his shoulder, accepting guidance, but later Legolas had removed it, trying to find his way on his own. Every time Legolas tripped, struggled with branches or bumped into trees, Aragorn was there to help the Elf back on track, but Legolas now refused any help with a polite nod of his head, insisting he could manage.
Gimli exchanged glances with him and Aragorn read the concern in them. It seemed so unfair that the Woodland Elf was blind. Maybe a healer could help. He had to remain hopeful.
Now that night had fallen Aragorn decided it was finally time to rest. Hopefully they would catch up with the Uruk-Hai tomorrow. "We camp here."
Gimli stared at the Elf, realizing they needed water and food. He took it upon himself to provide them. "Aragorn, I'll hunt the grounds... We need food."
"I can help," offered Legolas. His right hand rested against the trunk of a tree and his head was cocked. He was hoping his hearing would guide him on the hunt.
"No," said Gimli firmly. "I will hunt alone tonight." He refused to expose Legolas to unnecessary risks. "I've been hunting for centuries, Elf. I can manage."
Legolas felt disappointed. He understood that they worried about him, but he could pull his own weight if only they let him! "I can be your ears!"
This time Aragorn answered, eager to end this argument and see to it that Legolas rest. "You can help me start a fire, Legolas."
The Elf knew when he had lost a fight and remained quiet. He wouldn't be able to change their minds. "I will gather wood..."
Aragorn wanted to stop Legolas, but realized he had to treat Legolas respectfully. Stopping Legolas now would tell the Elf he was no longer of any use to the Fellowship. "We'll gather it together."
Gimli disappeared in to the forest, and Aragorn fell in to step beside Legolas, clearing their path when branches nearly hit Legolas. He felt like he needed to comfort the Elf. "I'm sure the Elven healers can restore your vision once we return to Rivendell. Maybe we'll encounter one before we reach Mount Doom."
Legolas remained quiet. Aragorn's words were spoken in kindness, but didn't lessen his emotional pain. From a young age on he had learned to hide his feelings behind a mask and he had learned his lesson well. That he had almost lost control over his emotions earlier was a shock to him. It showed how deeply losing his vision affected him. But the mask wouldn't slip. Come what may, he would face it alone.
"Here, you can carry the wood." Aragorn correctly identified the swimming expression in the Elf's eyes and opted for distraction. He didn't want Legolas bending down and then bumping his head.
Legolas accepted his new task with a stoic expression on his face. Only a few days ago he had been an important part of this Fellowship, now he was a burden.
"You cooked well," complimented Legolas Gimli. He was trying to act politely, but privately he was crying. Not even the task of preparing the rabbits Gimli had caught had been his. The Dwarf had roasted them himself. They deemed him completely useless now. Why then did they still keep him around? He was confident he could find the way home to Mirkwood. Once he was gone they wouldn't have to worry about his safety. Maybe he should take matters in to his own hands and leave during the night?
He leaned against a tree, and for the first time in his long life he regretted not having a blanket. Since the poison had invaded his body he felt cold. For once the tunic did little to keep him warm. Would he always feel like this? Would he find an Elven healer who could take away these effects the poison had left behind? Why was he tormenting himself like this? He didn't have the power to change a thing!
Suddenly something was draped across his body. His hands quickly identified Aragorn's cloak. "This isn't necessary."
"Keep it." Aragorn swallowed past the lump in his throat. Getting used to Legolas being blind would take a lot of time and why was Legolas shivering? The cold shouldn't affect the Elf like that. It had to be the poison. "Try to rest." Later, once Legolas was asleep, he would search for the healing herbs that had fought the poison in the Elf's body. Maybe they would help fight these lingering after effects as well. "I'll take first watch." Legolas wanted to speak, and Aragorn felt relieved when Gimli beat the Elf to it.
"And I'll take second." Gimli grinned. Tonight they would keep their Elf safe.
Legolas waited until Gimli was asleep. The Dwarf's breathing told him when Gimli's dreams took over. Doubtlessly the Dwarf's dreams were filled with meat, malt beer, and visions of the great Dwarven cities.
Once he was sure that Gimli wouldn't notice him leaving the camp side, he removed Aragorn's cloak and soundlessly rose to his feet. He inhaled deeply, trying to draw energy from the air, trees and animals around him. Extending his arms, he felt for trees or other obstacles he might encounter. His sense of smell guided him, telling him a lake was near. He yearned to make contact with the clear liquid, to reconnect with nature, a connection he had lost when his eyesight had been taken away from him.
It took him several minutes to find his way to the lake. Branches, bushes and rocks blocked his path, but he continued with iron determination. His intuition told him there was no moon tonight, but he felt the power of the stars on his skin.
Now that he had reached the lake, he knelt, extended his arms and let his fingertips touch the water, caressing the cool liquid. The water felt pleasant and almost seemed to return the caress. Slowly, he dipped his hands in to the water, relishing the power the lake possessed. Man, Dwarf or Hobbit, none of them shared this connection with nature. Being a Woodland Elf, the connection was even stronger.
He cupped some water in his hands, pulled them back and bowed his head, trying to listen to his heart. It was trying to get in to tune with the forces around him. The water dripped slowly from his fingers and before it could escape he used it to rinse his eyes. It was a only a symbolic cleansing. He could not get rid of the Uruk-Hai's poison that nestled inside his blood.
Now that he was alone, he indulged himself and let the tears flow which he had been holding back all day long. Tears and water mixed, creating a moist mask that covered his face. His fingers clawed the earth, digging deep. He closed his eyes, relishing the earth between his fingertips. It was soft and soothing. He rubbed the earth between his fingertips, reestablishing contact with Middle Earth.
His head bowed, the wind suddenly played with his long hair, letting it dance on his back. The wind seemed to release a soft sigh as it cradled the Elf's form. The wind enfolded him, surrounded him, offered him shelter. He had never felt the elements this clearly and it urged him to free his hands from the earth. Opening his eyes, he felt disappointed when the darkness remained.
The hair at the back of his neck stood rigid as a rush of wind moved over the land. Aragorn frowned and he put the healing herbs in to a pocket. He would brew the tea later and make Legolas drink it. The Elf would listen, aware of his knowledge of herb lore.
The wind seemed to whisper and the rustling of the leaves almost sounded like a voice. Alarmed, Aragorn checked his surroundings. His eyes made out a form in the distance, but he couldn't identify the figure. Curious, he sneaked closer, making sure he didn't draw any attention to him.
His breath caught, finally realizing it was Legolas. The Elf was kneeling near the water and the wind played with his hair. Dirt clung to his hands and Legolas' face was wet with... with what? Water or tears? Briefly he felt like an intruder and he almost started his way back to the camp, when he froze in his tracks.
He had never seen such beauty shine from Legolas' face. The Elf seemed to glow in the dark, covered by radiant starlight. The sight was almost magical. Although he had spent his whole life around Elves they still mystified him. Legolas had never seemed more desirable, more beautiful and his heart filled with love for the Elf. He swore that no matter what happened he would always protect the Elf.
Entranced, he watched as Legolas raised a fist. The fingers slowly uncurled until the palm was revealed. Aragorn's eyes narrowed seeing some sort of light in the Elf's palm. He sneaked a little closer, making sure he didn't make any noise. His eyes hadn't deceived him; a small flame burned in Legolas' palm. The Elf should be in pain, but instead there was a hypnotic stare in Legolas' eyes.
This was impossible! Not even an Elf could create fire out of nothing... But did he know that for sure? He had heard about Elves gifted with special abilities. Gandalf had mentioned these ancient Elves which never revealed themselves to Man.
No, his eyes must be deluding him! But as he continued to watch, the flame only shone brighter from the Elf's palm. Puzzled and worried, Aragorn couldn't stop watching. Suddenly a strong wind rushed toward the Elf. The water stirred restlessly and the wind carried earth and dirt with it, that whirled around the Elf's form.
Legolas was a Woodland Elf, maybe they had a special connection with nature and this was their way of showing it? Somehow that explanation didn't reassure him. His instincts told him there was more to it. They also told him not to reveal himself to Legolas at this point. He watched Legolas, using the trees for cover.
The wind suddenly calmed. The surface of the lake no longer showed any ripples and the flame in Legolas' hand flickered once, then faded slowly until it disappeared completely. Dark clouds shoved in front of the stars, taking away their silver light and the glow that Legolas radiated vanished. The Elf rose to his feet, bowed his head in silent gratitude and disappeared between the trees as he headed back to their camp.
Aragorn was jolted in to motion when Legolas' form vanished from view. Cautiously, he headed back as well, planning to arrive there before Legolas. His plan was to wake Gimli so the Dwarf could walk the grounds and maybe he could find a way to make Legolas open up to him.
When Legolas returned he hoped that no one had noticed his absence. He had no way of knowing if Gimli had already taken the second watch, or if Aragorn was still walking the grounds. Was Gimli awake? Asleep? Or was Aragorn watching him? He simply didn't know. The uncertainty only added to his nervousness. Where had he put Aragorn's cloak? Or had the Man retrieved it during his absence?
Being faced with reality after his magical experience at the lake caused him to inwardly cry out. Back at the lake, life and nature had been at ease, had strengthened him, but the confidence he had gained was fading quickly now that he was faced with his helplessness. He had gone asleep close to the fire, but it had died and couldn't guide him.
"Legolas? Come here and lie down."
Aragorn's voice startled him, but the mask stayed in place, never showing his surprise. "I'm most grateful for your offer, but don't trouble yourself. I'll learn to deal with the cold."
Aragorn sighed. "Legolas, why are you always this stubborn? I only mean well."
A ghost of a smile flashed across Legolas' features. His father always called him stubborn as well. Even Gandalf had. "I don't want to be a burden to you."
"You could never be a burden," said Aragorn firmly.
Footfalls sounded to his right and suddenly surprisingly gentle fingers curled around his. He allowed Aragorn to pull him to his bedroll, and he wondered why he was this willing to sleep in the Man's arms. He should put distance between them instead. What about Arwen? He couldn't be part of this and he halted in his tracks. "I cannot do this."
Aragorn stared questioningly at Legolas. "You cannot do what?"
I cannot give in to this temptation. Arwen awaits you at Rivendell. Legolas regretted taking a step back, but he couldn't let Aragorn do this. Sleeping in Aragorn's arms was something he craved after having experienced the Man's closeness, but this had to stop. What if Aragorn realized this meant so much more to him?
"Legolas?" The Elf's silence worried Aragorn. In the end he rested a hand on Legolas' shoulder, hoping to get through to the absentminded Elf. "What is it you cannot do? I'm merely asking you to rest and offering you a warm place to sleep. There's no shame in accepting some comfort."
Legolas suddenly felt shy. He had drawn the wrong conclusions. Aragorn was merely trying to comfort a companion. Why was he reading more in to it? "In that case I accept." What other option did he have? He had the feeling that Aragorn wouldn't give in until they slept side by side.
Relieved, Aragorn took Legolas' hand in his. The dirt that still clung to it reminded him of what he had witnessed at the lake. Trying to act casually his fingers searched the Elf's palm for burns, but the skin was smooth and warm. He had really seen that flame so why wasn't there a burn?
He forced himself to stop thinking about it. "Here, lie down." He helped Legolas lie down and then joined the Elf, facing him. "Are you still cold? And tell me the truth. I can tell when you're lying."
"Sometimes," admitted Legolas who wasn't in the mood for an argument. "This poison baffles me. It still affects me."
"I made more tea. Hopefully the herbs will aid your recovery." Aragorn carefully retrieved the warm tea and pressed the mug in to Legolas' hand. "Slip slowly."
"Thank you, Aragorn." Legolas sipped, and then handed the empty mug back to Aragorn.
Aragorn felt nervous when he folded an arm around Legolas' waist, pulling the Elf closer. His heart missed a beat when Legolas allowed it. "How does it feel? Being blind?" Maybe Legolas wanted to talk about it and he should give the Elf a chance to confide in him.
"I do not wish to talk about it." It was too personal, something he couldn't share. Aragorn's closeness also distracted him from his temporary problems and he found himself eager to rest in the Man's embrace. Should he return the embrace? What did Aragorn expect from him?
Aragorn's heart thundered in his chest with bliss when Legolas hesitantly answered the embrace, folding an arm around him as well. He smiled brightly, hoping Legolas would warm up to the idea of being more than companions, more than just friends. "We'll find a way to counter the effects of the poison."
Legolas nodded against Aragorn's shoulder. Resting like this was comforting, soothing, and he wished Aragorn hadn't given his heart to Arwen. He would never take Aragorn away from her and he vowed to keep his love a secret for the rest of his life.
Deep beneath Isengard the Uruk-Hai were born, trained and sent out on missions. Saruman the White controlled them, creating an army worthy of Sauron. The Eye of Sauron never rested, always watching Middle Earth.
Saruman sat on his chair, staff in hand, white hair flowing down his back. His stony face betrayed no emotion, but inwardly the wizard was restless and upset. Although the Fellowship had lost Gandalf in the mines of Moria he felt a very upsetting sensation. A force of magic had appeared, baffling him. At first he had thought it to be Gandalf, who had found his way out of the Mines of Moria, but although this magic felt familiar it wasn't Gandalf's.
It felt ancient and sacred and it worried him greatly. Now that Sauron was gathering his strength a surprise like this one was most unwelcome and had to be dealt with. A pack of Uruk-Hai was on their way back, taking two Hobbits with them, but now he was considering contacting the Uruk-Hai and giving them new instructions.
His secret spies told of an Elf, beautiful and graceful, with long flaxen hair and incredible skills at archery. They even whispered a name in to his ear; Legolas Greenleaf of Mirkwood. He had never heard that name before, but if what his spies told was true, the Elf could work magic.
When Elrond had invited representatives of all races, Saruman had watched, had witnessed their initial fight and he had been most displeased when a Fellowship had formed. He hadn't paid the Elf any attention. He had solely focused on Gandalf and the Heir of Isildur. He had thought them to be the most dangerous. Maybe he had been wrong.
He rose from his chair and descended the stairs. His mind was made up. He would sent a messenger to the Uruk-Hai and instruct them to capture the Elf as well. Once he had the Ring and the Elf he could report to Sauron that Middle Earth was his.
The only thing that could still go wrong was that Gandalf resurfaced. He knew Gandalf the Grey well enough to realize that the Wizard was probably hiding and biding his time.
He instructed the messenger and watched him leave. The Uruk-Hai was fast and didn't need rest. He would reach the pack shortly and after they captured the Elf he could investigate the mystery himself. The Elf was his!
Gimli chuckled most of the day, watching Aragorn trying very hard not to fuss over the Elf. It was a most peculiar sight and he wondered if Legolas had the faintest idea that Aragorn was watching his every move. Although they managed to set a firm pace, Aragorn always stopped to make sure the Elf didn't stumble.
When he had returned from his watch last night he had found them curled up tightly next to the fire and this time Legolas' arm had been slung Aragorn's waist. The embrace had been mutual.
He thought back to the Elf's confession a few days ago. Legolas was obviously in love with Aragorn, but not acting on it because he respected Arwen and didn't want to compete with her. But Gimli wondered if Arwen was the love in Aragorn's life after all. The looks Aragorn gave Legolas spoke of more than just friendship.
When I get the chance I'll talk some sense in to the Man. I bet my axe that Aragorn is attracted to the Elf, but he's too blind to see that it's mutual. Gimli exchanged a knowing glance with Aragorn. "I'll scout ahead." They had made visual contact with the Uruk-Hai this morning and Aragorn was eager to catch up to them so they could finally free Merry and Pippin. But Gimli worried about the upcoming battle. What would Legolas' role be? He hoped Aragorn planned to talk to the Elf about that.
Aragorn's thoughts circled around the upcoming battle and he needed to voice his fears. "I want you to stay behind me when we attack the Uruk-Hai. Now that your sight is gone your arrows won't meet their target any longer. You can only use your hunting knives and the fighting will be fierce. Stay close to me at all times."
A frown of indignation appeared on Legolas' brow. "And what if I don't agree to your terms?"
"Then you won't fight today." Aragorn regretted being this harsh, but he couldn't bear the thought of losing the Elf in battle. Legolas meant too much to him. "You must understand, my Prince. I don't want to lose another member of this Fellowship. We already lost Gandalf and Boromir and we face losing the Hobbits if we can't free them... I don't want to lose you as well. Your safety is important to me. Lord Elrond would never forgive me if you died."
Legolas bowed his head. He had hoped Aragorn's reasons to see him safe were of a more personal manner. But Aragorn, the leader of the Fellowship, was simply doing his job, making sure an injured member wasn't exposed to any unnecessary risks. He doubted very much that Elrond would be mad with Aragorn if he died. Elrond was Aragorn's foster father and loved Aragorn like his own flesh and blood. "I agree to your terms," said Legolas with a sigh. He had to accept that he was no longer a warrior; he had become a burden.
"Aragorn! The Uruk-Hai are heading in our direction." Gimli, swinging his axe, quickly joined the two men. "They're coming back. Why?"
Aragorn frowned. "I don't like this. You have a valid point, Master Dwarf. Why aren't they heading to Isengard?"
"Does it matter?" Legolas uncovered his hunting knives. "We don't have much time. I can sense them closing in on us."
Aragorn reacted immediately. If Legolas said he could sense them move in, he believed the Elf. "Remember our agreement, my Prince. Don't stray too far and stay behind me."
Legolas didn't bother to reply. "They're here." His body was tense with the excitement that always preceded a fight. He cocked his head, trying to get his enemy's bearing, but the Uruk-Hai suddenly appeared from everywhere, attacking them viciously.
Aragorn realized their predicament. The Uruk-Hai ran at them, yelling and swinging their weapons. He uncovered his sword, roared a battle cry and attacked the Uruk-Hai, hoping Legolas would heed his warning and stay close.
Legolas felt momentarily paralyzed. The Uruk-Hai's roar deafened him, taking away the one sense he could still rely on. He tried to defend himself, but sharp nails buried themselves in his leg, pulling him to the ground. A crushing weight settled on him, knocking his hunting knives from his hands. He struggled, tried to fight off the Uruk-Hai, but his blows only hit air. Finally he understood why Aragorn had urged him to stay close.
"Aragorn!" Gimli tried to draw Aragorn's attention, but the Man had gone berserk and was taking out one enemy after another. Turning around to check on the Elf, he found that three Uruk-Hai were carrying off Legolas. The Elf was still trying to free himself, but his struggle was useless. The Uruk-Hai had a strong hold on the Elf.
Realizing that Aragorn wasn't reacting to his cry for help, Gimli decided to take matters in to his own hands. Charging, he released a growling battle cry. He could take on three Uruk-Hai, he had to! Legolas' life was at stake!
A group of four Uruk-Hai appeared in front of him and Gimli used his axe to cut open one's chest.
But then the leader of the Uruk-Hai took charge. He took aim and let the arrow flow free.
Gimli's eyes widened as the arrow impacted in his shoulder and he had never felt more thankful for wearing armor. Determinedly he pulled the arrow from his armor and threw it on the ground with a look of loathing on his face. But removing the arrow had distracted him from watching his enemies and the Uruk-Hai took advantage of his carelessness. They moved in, and one of them managed to land a blow to Gimli's brow. Blood dripped from his brow, blinding him. Several more blows were needed to take him out, but in the end he dropped to the ground, losing consciousness.
The leader of the Uruk-Hai motioned one of his men to pick up the Dwarf who could come in handy. Now that he had achieved his goal he called off the attack.
Legolas hoped Aragorn had managed to escape. He had no way of knowing if Gimli and Aragorn were still alive. A knife, placed against his throat, ensured his cooperation. He tried to act calm and controlled, but when the Uruk-Hai bound his hands, he almost panicked. He was dealing with a foe he couldn't see, couldn't fight, but he refused to give up. As long as there was a chance that Aragorn was alive, he had to fight.
"Legolas! Gimli! Legolas, answer me!" Aragorn stared at the fallen Uruk-Hai at his feet. He had managed to take down quite a few, but in his rage he had lost track of his friends. He pushed back his hair as the wind blew strands in to his eyes. "Legolas! Legolas! Gimli!"
Wide eyed he made his way over the battle field, searching for clues to what had happened to his friends. "No..." Gimli's axe was buried inside an Uruk-Hai's chest and still there was no sight of the Dwarf. "He'd never leave his axe behind..." Aragorn had to admit the horrible truth; Gimli had been taken prisoner, but what about Legolas? Had the Uruk-Hai killed him or taken him prisoner as well?
He continued to search the battle field and his eyes filled with tears seeing the two beautifully adorned hunting knives on the ground. He dropped to his knees and gathered them respectfully. The Uruk-Hai had taken two more of his friends prisoner and now it was up to him to free them all.
"I won't fail you, Legolas. I will find you and free you." Not wasting any more time, he rose to his feet and took up pursuit, taking Legolas' hunting knives and Gimli's axe with him.
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