Here it is: the LAST chapter! Boy, this story really wanted to get written, it would not leave me alone!
I seriously hope you´ll like this - as always, please let me know.
I´m even a bit sad now that it´s done - I could have carried on and on and on, there were idea enough, but I did not want to "kill" the plot by throwing in too much.
Besides, the idea for a new Legolas/Aragorn fic is already nagging me - I hope I can start posting soon!
Tychen: Wow, now you are a real fan! I´m sure they would like to have you at their side!
Et-spiritus-sancti: Hey, welcome! I hope you enjoy and feel free to keep the reviews coming!
Star-Stallion: Was that quick or what?!
Arayelle Lynn: No, no waiting! Glad you like it!
Ertia: I feel the same, but all stories have to end sometimes... (sniff)
Deana: Don´t die, please don´t - here´s more!
NighShadow131: And I´m speechless at your review! Thanks!!!
To all of you once again: Thanks so much!! Please review this last chapter, too, and I hope you´ll be around to read my next fic.
Until then - enjoy the end of this one.
Rating: PG 13
Disclaimer: Not mine
The storm picked up overhead, swirling the sparks around in a mad dance, some settling atop the dark beasts, dying upon their wet hides with a sickening hiss. The wind tore over the burning mill, yanking loose whole chunks of wood that came crushing down around them. Multiple howls arose, matching the growing screech of the storm. Yellow teeth were bared from dark fangs as the howls turned to snarls. Aragorn shot one last glance at Legolas. The elf had taken on a defensive stance, though weaponless, as he awaited those who dared approach him, blood streaming from his leg and murder in his eyes. The man sent a silent prayer to the Valar to protect both himself and his friend and grant them a reunion after this battle, then his view was blocked by powerful dark bodies hurling themselves through the air.
Aragorn ducked, crouching over the still unconscious Telias at his feet. He could feel a paw brush his shoulder, undoubtedly by a beast that followed its master´s order to go after the elf. With all the reflexes earned in years as a ranger, his hands shot out and grabbed the muscled leg, pulling hard. With an annoyed scream the creature crashed down paces from its intended target and swirled around, ready to rip apart whoever had upset its plans.
The man was dimly aware of shouts behind his back and the wet sound of steel entering flesh, but all his eyes would register was the dark bulk that collected itself in front of him. His hands briefly searched the ground in the heartbeats that he waited before rising to his feet, and miraculously he found a still glowing board in his hands. A wry grin crossed his soul when he balanced the wood in his hands as if it were a sword. This was even worse than the poker he had used earlier that night.
The red eyes glaring at him seemed to twinkle in amusement that quickly turned to bloodlust when the beast jumped at him, its massive jaws wide open. Aragorn willed himself not to flinch, allowing his attacker to believe its aim was true before dropping to the side, delivering a hard blow to the animal´s side as it passed him.
The creature roared and twisted its massive body in mid-air, much more like a cat than the wolf it seemed most closely to resemble. The move caught Aragorn by surprise and he had no time to bring his makeshift weapon up again. All that was left was to roll over the boy´s motionless body to shield at least him from the onslaught that was to come.
A huge paw crashed down on his side, knocking all breath from his lungs before mercifully slipping off him to heavily sink into the wet ground. Mud splashed into his face and momentarily blinded him, but he could feel the huge creature hovering over him. From somewhere in the distance he felt his name being called in frantic urgency. Unsure why the beast waited with its kill, he groped the earth for the board he had dropped, hoping against hope to repeat the move that had saved him once before.
Aragorn´s fingers had just closed around the rough wood when a snarl filled his ears and a claw came down, accurately piercing his arm just above the wrist and locking it to the damp ground. He could not stop that scream of pain that ripped from his lungs even though he had little air left even to breathe. Tears clouded his vision but his mind cleared with sudden fear. He turned his head with an effort and felt Daramus´ eyes on him.
The scenery wavered before the ranger and he dimly realized that the boat of shadows was still there, shrouded in mist, but no creature of old had moved to embark from it. What had once been the old man still stood facing the possible threat, but the dark waters of his robes were flowing again, marking the end of his former paralysis. The demon´s head was turned, and the look of grim satisfaction on his mask-like features made Aragorn´s heart turn to ice.
He heard a clear voice yell his name again and knew who was calling him, but felt at a loss as to what to do. He tried to twist under his captor, sending a blinding pain up his arm but succeeding in turning ever so slightly. What he saw made him renew his struggles, heedless of the pain that threatened to pull him into black oblivion.
A host of dark beasts had indeed heeded their master´s wish and had encircled Legolas, who, by the Valar´s grace, had so far survived their ferocious attacks. Aragorn could see a still smoldering log embedded in one of the creature´s breast, its body convulsing in the flickering light. The elf had somehow retrieved two more burning pieces of wood that he swung at the snarling fangs around him, but the ranger noted that his friend´s accuracy was far from what it should have been and he was swaying dangerously with every move he made, his injured leg finally denying him its service.
Their eyes locked, and to Aragorn´s horror the elf turned his attention to him and called: "Estel, metho lhuth, metho lhuth hi!" //Estel, finish the spell, finish the spell now!// His lack of watchfulness cost him dearly. Legolas had faced the ranger as he desperately tried to deliver his message, no longer moving, and the beast behind him took its chance. It not so much jumped at the elf but ran into him, knocking him over and burying him under a mass of darkness. Howls rose again, howls of triumph.
"Baw, baw, maetho hain, meatho!"//No, no, fight them, fight!// Aragorn could feel his cry drowned in the renewed laughter rising from the tall figure that towered above the unequal battle, its back now turned to the boat behind him in complete disregard. The ranger viciously tore at the claw embedded in his flesh, trying to block out the mocking sound that was about to steal what resolve he had left. Almost unconsciously he replaced the sickening sound by Legolas´ clear voice, his words racing through his mind. "Metho lhud! Metho lhud!"
But how, how? He had never heard Legolas recite the spell, how could he know what was missing? The pain in his arm intensified with his struggles and he could feel his body twist, trying to escape the danger but incapable of doing so. A faint tingling gently rippled through the sounds of fight that still raged about him. He could faintly hear a dark creature wail in agony and welcomed the end of its foul triumph.
The gentle tingling continued, even more persistent than the demon´s voice that from somewhere tried to enter his thoughts.
"Metho lhud alpith, mellon-nin." //Finish the spell without words, my friend.// Aragorn´s head jerked up. His eyes eagerly sought out the source of the soft voice that had spoken to him over then din, but there was nothing to see but running legs, glinting steel, swinging paws. Nevertheless, he finally understood.
Allowing his caught hand to remain where it was, he reached out with the other, fumbling the pouch from his belt. He lifted his head again, the foul breath of the beast above him almost making him gag, and glared at Daramus´ haughty figure as it took in the bloodshed that washed around him like an angry sea. Behind him, the ghostly boat still loomed, rocking slowly on the rippling mist.
Summoning his will as well as his courage, Aragorn raised his voice. It cut through the madness that engulfed his fallen form and rang with a dignified authority that gave him back a strength he had not expected to still possess. "Heru nen lona, ni yallo elyo!" //Lord of the dark water, I call you !// And the world grew still.
The frantic movement of humans and creatures abated. Even the foul breath from the dark beast´s mouth seemed to cease touching the ranger´s sweaty neck. Daramus´ flowing form rippled slightly as it turned to face the boat once more. The light mists were caught in a new gust of wind, driven up. The swirls lazily drifted upwards, turning darker as they went, and slowly densed into a creature that dwarved the water demon´s form. No face was carved into the near transparent head, no eyes that senses could detect searched for the source of the summons. Yet Aragorn could feel the creature´s attention settle upon him like a blanket of steel.
No words came from the being. No sound shattered its utterly powerful presence. It not even extended one of its ghostly hands, but Aragorn cringed under the brutal demand that emanated from the smothering shape. He lifted the pouch, hearing the coins tingle yet again in anticipation, and threw it. "It is him you want." His own words sounded foreign to him in the stillness of the world, but he resumed nonetheless. "Take him to a place beyond escape."
His eyes followed the path of the pouch the slowed on its way, seeking out its owners hand and settling down gently. The faintest inclination of the head could be detected, a movement subtle almost beyond recognition but enough to turn the wheel of fortune to their favour.
The dark beasts, frozen until now with the rest of creation, began their menacing growls anew, only now they were directed against the one who had believed himself their master. The shadows enclosed the formerly towering form that seemed to melt at their sight, nothing but a pathetic whine escaping his watery lips.
Suddenly, a sharp pain ripped through Aragorn´s hand, speeding up his arm and quickly covering his whole body. Willing his eyes open for as long as they would obey him, the ranger drank in the sight of the broken demon succumbing to his own creation.
And then there was darkness.
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It was sound that touched him first. A gentle humming that was soothing to behold. Aragorn wondered sleepily who was bringing the hauntingly beautiful melody to life, for it was none he knew from his father´s house. His tired mind would not deliver an answer, but he was content to simply listen for a while.
As he was resting beneath the world of waking, he realized that the sound was not standing still but rather moving about, now and then stopping to be replaced by murmured words that carried just as much warmth as the friendly tune.
He drifted off again, body and soul demanding their peace before his mind could decide otherwise. The next time he fought his way out of the sweet darkness, the sound was gone. Instead, his other senses began to pick up his surroundings, alerting him to the sweet aroma of healing herbs - but also the metallic smell of blood.
The pain was next, and it only heightened the nagging unease that stole into his soul. He could now tell that his right hand was tightly bandaged and throbbing, though the pain was as yet bearable. He realized that he was lying on his stomach, his back covered in something cool he absent-mindedly identified as healing salve.
What had they gotten themselves into this time? The thought had come naturally but he felt a significance in it that pushed his mind towards alertness none too gently.
"Legolas!" The sudden rush of painful memories had Aragorn jerking upright, or at least as far as he was able. Almost as soon as he moved two small but firm hands pressed his shoulders down again. "Do not move around, Master Aragorn", said a child´s voice sternly, "or mother will become most upset with you."
The ranger forced his eyes to open and found that two brown round ones were staring back at him only inches from his face, but he was too weak to flinch back. Instead, he allowed himself to feel joy at the little boy´s sight, remembering only too clearly how his motionless body had lain beneath him in the midst of destruction. A slow smile stole across the Telias´ round features, his healer´s attitude cracking and letting the child shine through. "Gosh, am I glad you woke up! Let my tell mommy."
He ran off, too quickly for Aragorn to grab his arm and hold him back. He had desperately wanted to ask the child about Legolas, and now that this chance had passed, he grudgingly returned to his original plan. More carefully this time, he pushed himself up, drawing his legs over the side of the bed to sit on its edge. He impatiently waited for the bout of dizziness that seized him to pass and once it had, he lifted his head to look around.
He was back in Telanna´s healing room. He could hear a fire crackling in the fireplace, its warmth welcome to his weakened body. To his dismay, however, he found that his view of the other bed in the room was blocked by a simple wooden frame covered with white cloth - much like the ones his father used in his healing rooms to give his patients some privacy. Usually his severely wounded patients.
Aragorn briefly considered making his way around the offending obstacle, but his body was honest enough to inform him that he would probably end up flat on his face if he tried. Waiting was not an option, however, and with a silent apology to Telanna he reached across and pulled the frame towards him. It gave way easily and fell down with a thud, but the ranger paid it no heed. Instead, he forced himself upright and staggered the few steps towards Legolas bed, his legs only just allowing him to make the short journey before giving way again.
He sank down at the edge of the bed with little grace, careful nevertheless not to jostle the pale elf under the covers. Legolas´s eyes were closed as he slept, giving the ranger a start, but his breathing was even and when Aragorn placed a gentle hand on his brow he could detect no fever. Legolas moved slightly under his touch, eyelids fluttering. Although his healer´s instincts chided him for it, Aragorn eagerly wanted his friend to awaken and watched him closely. As he did so, he took in numerous injuries that had to stem from the fierce battle they had fought. The cuts and bruises looked mostly healed though, to his utter surprise, and he found himself wondering how long he had slept.
All thoughts were cut short when Legolas took a deep breath and finally opened his eyes. Aragorn waited for him to recognise him and was relieved when the ghost of a smile crossed the elf´s face. "Na vedui, le pannich hin." //Finally, you awoke.// Even though the weakness in the voice was apparent, so was the gentle mirth. Aragorn smiled back, arching an eyebrow in mockery of Legolas´ typical gesture.
"Im pannin hin?" //I have awoken?// he returned, carefully stressing the first word. Legolas managed a small chuckle at that, his eyes gaining their lively fire as he looked at the ranger. "Aye, le. A hi edtoltho ven fela, adan belda." //Yes, you. And now get us out of this cave, strong human.// He gazed at Aragorn with barely concealed anticipation of a reply, but the ranger felt a shadow fall over his mind at his friend´s words. "Fela?" //Cave?//, he asked carefully, wondering whether the elf´s senses had suffered somehow.
"Yes, fela indeed!" a strong voice behind Aragorn said, making him jump. Turning slowly, he saw Telanna standing behind him, her arms across he chest and a disapproving scowl on her face that would have made Lord Elrond proud. He had been so intend on his friend that he failed to hear her approach. "And we are only waiting for you to recover sufficiently, than we will be gone from here!" Her eyes turned softer when she looked at Legolas with a reassuring smile. "Alannan" //Soon// she said, making Aragorn wonder yet again how long he had been asleep.
No matter how long, it had obviously not been long enough. He felt his eyes growing heavy and a sudden dizziness made him sway. Telanna grabbed his arm firmly. "It was not I who allowed you out of bed", she said sternly, "and I had my reasons." She resolutely helped him back to his own bed. Then she began stowing away the shielding with a few muttered words of disapproval, most of which were lost on Aragorn who let himself slip back into the arms of sleep.
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The next few days proved to be a trial for everybody´s patience. Aragorn was eager to leave for Imladris as soon as possible, the uncertainty about his family´s fate still weighting heavily on his mind, but Telanna insisted with a healer´s stubbornness on waiting until they were sufficiently recovered. And she was the one to determine just what "sufficient" meant. The ranger grudgingly submitted to her lead, telling himself it was for Legolas´ sake whose leg was slow to heal, even though Telanna had done an excellent job at stitching and cleaning the tear.
Aragorn busied himself with collecting as much information about their situation as he could, and that involved seeing with his own eyes that they were indeed in a cave. He was amazed at how the village had changed. The rolling hills and meadows were gone, leaving the houses to stand on bare rock. Everything that had seemed green and alive had simply melted away when the ghostly boat had taken Daramus away, vanishing into the swirling mist it had arisen from.
The high ceiling arched away out of sight in the now neverending darkness, lit by nothing but torches and fires. It was no wonder Legolas preferred to stay in Telanna´s underground room. It was easier to bear than the bleak cavern that still reeked of the evil that had inhabited it.
Neither Telanna nor the other villagers where all too forthcoming with details of their fateful battle that night. The ruins of the mill still rose above the now empty bed of the brook, but there was no sign of the slain beasts. By some miracle, no more than two villagers had paid their courage with their lives, and it was a relief to all that at least their souls had been free to leave, along with those that had so long been chained to their prison.
Telias was the only one willing to talk about this, possibly because he had not consciously witnessed the departure, but his eyes filled with tears nevertheless when he spoke of the sigh that had arisen form the brook once Daramus´ power had been broken. There had been a murmur in the air, gentle touches passing those whose loved ones had perished, and then the rest of the water had faded away, taking the freed souls with it. Aragorn sighed at the words and at the tremendous amount of healing that still awaited the survivors. Their path to recovery would be long, but at least now they were free to travel it.
Telanna had been busy treating the injured, which included herself, but Aragorn could see the pride she carried herself with, and he was glad. He had quickly learned that it had been her brave charge at the dark beasts that had saved Legolas´ life, and he knew that he would never be able to repay her. All he could do was try.
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It was four days after Aragorn´s first awakening and seven days after the battle that the small group finally left the cave that had entrapped them for so long - some of them for years beyond count. They made their way across the treacherous rock slowly, fearing accidents to take them down at the brink of freedom. Even though they were heading for a life most of them had long stopped dreaming about, the mood was subdued.
Even Legolas, whose good spirits had taken many of the humans by surprise, was silent as he rode one of the few horses. His leg was still too weak to carry him, and he kept soothing the scared animal with gentle words, but his eyes were dark. Aragorn sought his company. He knew it was the ever-present atmosphere of death that subdued his friend, and he offered comfort by his presence.
It did not take them more than a few hours to reach the tunnel some of the villagers had discovered days ago - a tunnel that awakened unpleasant memories in Aragorn, and not only in him. They passed as quickly as they could.
Still in the darkness, Legolas suddenly raised his head. A smile spread over his face that lit the gloom more surely than their torches could. "A bird", he whispered to Aragorn, "I can hear its song." Not long after, they could all make out the sound and hurried towards it, towards life and the first breath of fresh, living air.
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The happiness they shared when the real world held them in its embrace once more was not to be put in words. Not even in dance or song. It was honored by them all in breathless silence as each and every one of the revelled in the pure strength of life that returned to them.
They did not travel much further that day, darkness descending on them quickly. It was a darkness full of gentleness and life that they all welcomed, but it would still not do to travel though it.
Aragorn grew more and more agitated anticipating their long road to Rivendell, a road they had decided to all travel together. There was not one soul in this group who did not require healing, and there was not better place in Middle Earth to find some peace than fair Imladris.
He paced their camp until Legolas asked him to rebind his leg, a request so openly desperate that Aragorn did his very best to suppress his restlessness after that.
He was not the only one who had trouble finding sleep. Telias had been all but unstoppable since they had reached open air, racing around the group with an abundance of energy that amazed them all but was now turning into a slight annoyance. Finally, Legolas took pity and limped across to a tree, calling the boy to him.
Telias came eagerly, his fascination in the fair being still unbroken. "Remember what Aragorn told you about elves and trees?" Legolas asked in a low voice, making it very clear that his words were only meant for the child but clearly aware that the ranger was listening. Telias nodded happily. He let himself fall to the ground with a thud and placed his hand on the rough bark, just as Legolas was doing across from him. "What does it say?" he whispered. The elf glanced across at his human friend for a fraction of a heartbeat, a mirthful smile on his lips, before turning back to the child. "This tree has quite a story to tell, my young friend. It seems that many, many years ago there was a fair elven maiden who was chased through these woods by a band of evil orcs..."
Aragorn chuckled at the mesmerised stare the boy turned on the elf and moved away to leave them in peace, fond memories of home and safety soothing his own anxiety.
Nevertheless, he found no sleep during their first night under the open sky, and consequently he grew weary quickly on the day that followed. "You should take the horse", Legolas offered kindly, "preferably before you fall over." Aragorn shook his head with a grunt. "Your leg will not carry you for more than a few steps, so don´t argue!" he shot back, "and besides, you did not sleep at all last night, either. I saw you sitting on that tree staring at the stars." The elf shook his head in mock desperation. "It was a wise tree with many wonderful adventures to share, not that you have noticed. And honestly, Estel, you really are impossible. How else would you dare to compare your endurance to that of an elf?"
Aragorn could not help but grin at that. "You mean the elf that fell unconscious for about six times over the last few weeks?" He allowed himself a chuckle at his exaggeration, some tension draining away with the banter. "You are right, it really is bold to think I could hold up to your strength." He quickly dodged the playful swat Legolas aimed at him from atop of his horse, and the whole affair might have ended in a rather rough chase had not a stern voice stopped them in their tracks.
"I wonder whether it was a wise decision to actually search for these two", the dark-haired elf who had rather suddenly appeared on the path in front of them sighed, "maybe we should leave and ride ahead to bar the gates instead?" He threw a look at the slightly slimmer version of himself at his side and was rewarded by a serious nod. "Absolutely. I cannot stand the thought that their bickering will shatter our well-earned peace once more."
Aragorn just stood and stared at them. Elladan and Elrohir. His brothers. His family who he had feared dead. There was no doubt left by their light manner that their father was alive and well also, and the ranger felt so relieved that tears welled in his eyes. He could not move a single muscle, his body so overridden with joy that it refused to obey him.
The two dark elves looked back at him, and their light cockiness melted away at his sight. They rushed towards him and gathered him in a fierce embrace. Aragorn allowed himself to be held, soaking up the love and protection they offered him, for once not caring to ask how they survived the vicious attack that had separated them, for it truly did not matter. All that counted now was their presence. He felt at home, finally at home, just as surely as if he had ridden through Imladris´ gates already.