A/N: Hehe, lots of h/c in this one! And a few cliffies, but those are bound to happen when I am around." :) Thanks so much to everybody who reviewed "No Finer Friends"!
Disclaimer: not mine.
"It did not please me to have to send to Rivendell for help," Thranduil woodenly stated, sweeping gracefully down a long flight of stairs with his hands clasped rigidly behind his back. "But our situation has grown dire." He glanced behind him at the human following him, waiting for a response. Aragorn nodded once, trailing meekly just behind the king.
"We would have sent Ada, whom I realize you would have preferred, but he was gone to Lothlorien and your letter sounded desperate," he explained. The man resisted the urge to start twisting his hands together and instead held them loosely in front of him, meeting the king's eyes steadily before they continued on.
They pulled up to a stop before a pair of tall double doors and Thranduil rested his hand against the knob, but did not open it.
"Lord Elrond is the master of healing. I will not lie, I was disappointed to find you on our doorstep instead of him. However, my healers tell me they are at their wits ends so until Elrond is able to make it here, you will have to do," he said softly, though, to the ranger's slight surprise there was no undercurrent of bitterness or anger. Just weariness.
"I still do not understand everything," Aragorn pressed lightly, bowing his head momentarily to the king. Thranduil sighed heavily, and twisted the knob.
The door opened to reveal a brightly lit room and line upon line of beds, the healing halls. A smattering of healers where deposited throughout the room, bending over beds and armed with various healing tools.
"What happened?" Aragorn asked in a shocked whisper, his eyes growing wide as they registered that almost all the beds were occupied. A harsh cough sounded from directly next to them, and Aragorn turned his head to gaze down at a young, dark haired, elf. He didn't look well, not well at all. His frame was shaking as he continued to cough violently and Aragorn's heart twisted just as violently. Moving quickly forward, the man was pulled up short by Thranduil's hand on his arm.
"There is nothing you can do for him, Estel," Thranduil stated heavily, guiding him away. A frazzled healer rushed wearily past them and to the side of the elf's bed. Aragorn looked up at the king, horror and disbelief written in his eyes. Now that he was paying attention, coughing could be heard elsewhere through the great room, and the man once more let his gaze wonder.
"Why did you summon us if there is nothing we could do?" he asked, his eyes sliding past face after face of clearly ill elves. The king began to walk again, and Aragorn joined him, though he was unable to tear his eyes away from the devastating scene.
Thranduil did not answer, and Aragorn did not ask again.
"Four weeks ago the first elf was struck down," Thranduil began to explain in quiet tone, nodding to a flustered healer who cut across their path. "We did not realize the seriousness of the situation until our healers had not luck with finding a cure, as all the while elves just keep pouring in."
"But what is it exactly—?" Aragorn broke in, his eyes falling upon a female warrior who was struggling to breath. They were moving quickly through the room, and Aragorn had trouble keeping up with the king's long paces. Thranduil glanced behind him once more at the man's question, almost as if he had forgotten he was there.
"The orcs seem to have been dealing in mischief darker than we have ever counted on. They somehow managed to breed their own giant spiders. Their results…" Thranduil sighed, sweeping a hand out and gesturing at the bedridden warriors. "The venom does not just leave their victims in a helpless sleep. No, the results are much more deadly."
"But…but how have so many warriors been taken down in such a short space of time?" Aragorn asked, the confusion in his face only increasing. "It takes effort to get under a Mirkwood's warriors guard. That is no easy task."
Thranduil laughed with no humor evident in the sound or his face. "The orcs did their job well. These spiders move soundlessly, stalk soundlessly. They think faster and smarter. The only advantages we have over them is that if, if, you can corner one it is fairly easy to kill and that they have incredible short life spans. If you head to the south, then you will find the woods littered with their bodies. Thank the Valar for these, otherwise I fear Greenwood the Great would truly become 'Mirkwood'." He continued to walk forward, but Aragorn stopped.
"What new evil will the orcs come up with next?" he asked in despair, but no answer was given.
They were nearing the end of the crowded room and the ranger glanced once more behind him, the sight burning itself in his mind. He had never seen so many injured elves in the same room at one time, and it was startling. More than startling, it scared him to see the strong, seemingly infallible race brought so low.
Slipping out of the room after Thranduil, he eased the door shut. Turning, he found the king staring at him.
"You asked what you could do to help?" The king's bright blue eyes were boring into the human's and he raised his head, meeting the stare with practiced ease. "My healers are strung out in every which direction, trying to ease my people's discomfort. They have little or no time, or energy, to work on an antidote. You have some skill in this area, no?" Aragorn nodded and Thranduil nodded curtly back. "Good, we will put you to work with my head healer. But first, there is something else you must see."
Turning around, he mounted the first step of a tall, spiraling, staircase. "Come," he called over his shoulder as Aragorn hesitated. The man followed without another word, his stomach rolling as he wondered exactly what the king wanted to show him.
They climbed the candle lit staircase until they came to a similarly lighted corridor, which Thranduil turned off into. That only led to another stairwell, and then more hallways. Aragorn counted each twisting turn carefully, trying to keep his orientation in the maze that the Mirkwood elves called their palace. This wasn't a path that he knew from his other visits to the palace, but he was determined to learn this one as well. It wasn't until they stepped into the fifth hallway that recognition of where they were slammed home.
"Oh, no, not..." Aragorn murmured, his feet fumbling to a halting and staring with dread at a door further along the long hallway.
"Oh, yes," Thranduil, turning back to Aragorn with a look that the man would have once termed as unreadable. Now, he simply understood that it was the face Thranduil adopted as a defense when he desperately wanted his emotions kept hidden, usually when he was scared. "Wherever trouble is, Legolas is bound to be also."
Opening the door to the prince's rooms, Thranduil slipped in and Aragorn hurried after him. He should have known, from the instant he saw Thranduil's writing on that letter instead of Legolas', that the prince was involved. But no, his heart had denied that possibility before the idea entered his mind. The idea hit him hard and the fear which he had been carefully keeping in check, jumped into control, taking his heart and causing it to double its beat.
The room was dim and it took Aragorn's eyes a minute to adjust. His ears and nose, however, did not have the same problem. The sound of ragged, uneven and labored breathes wheezed unnervingly through the room, mixing in the air with the smell of a variety of herbs. He didn't like this, he didn't any of it.
"Legolas?" Thranduil whispered, moving towards the bed and obscuring Aragorn's view of the prince. The healer who had been attending Legolas quickly stood, a damp cloth clutched in his hand.
"Hir-nin?" He bowed his head, glancing over at Aragorn with a silent question as the human hovered behind his liege.
"How is he?" Thranduil asked, ignoring the look, as he sat down on the edge of the bed and leaned over his son.
"His condition has not changed since the last time you were here, hir-nin," the healer said in a low tone, moving closer to his lord. "He was awake about an hour ago. And it won't surprise you that he wanted to get out of bed. He kept asking to see his warriors."
Thranduil nodded, giving an exasperated sigh as he glanced down at his son. "Of course, Legolas, you would do such a thing," he whispered tenderly. He made as if to stand, but a loud groan glued him back to his spot. "Legolas? Can you hear me?" he called.
Both he and the healer leaned over the prince and Aragorn moved forward, frowning lightly. The prince didn't like to be crowed when very first awakening, the healer should move back and let Thranduil stay. Before he could voice his opinion, however, the volume and intensity of the panted breaths increased.
"Legolas?" the king called again. Another moan followed his voice and Thranduil shifted closer.
"Ada…" the one wheezed and choked word caused the largest smile that Aragorn had ever seen on the king's face, but his own was falling. His healer side was screaming at him that Legolas wasn't doing well, he just didn't sound good, he didn't sound healthy.
"Yes, ion-nin, it is me. You just keep holding on, alright," Thranduil raised a hand, assumedly to gently caress his ill son's face. "I've brought help, look, see who has come." The king half turned, beckoning Aragorn forward with an impatient wave of his hand. The healer moved respectfully back, allowing the man room.
Moving forward, Aragorn felt his heart plummet to the bottom of his boots as he got his first glance at Legolas.
The elf was ghostly white, except for the bright red fever rash that has spread across his high cheekbones. Someone had braided his hair into one long braid, but several strands had escaped and were plastered across his face with sweat. His chest heaved dramatically as he strained for air and his mouth was parted to help the effort along. His nostrils flared with every breath as he used every resource to capture air. Both eyes were swollen almost all the way shut, but the man could just catch a glimpse of blue as they turned in his direction.
"Hello, Legolas," he said softly, dropping to his knees beside the bed and taking the prince's far too warm hand in his own. Despite how miserable Legolas had to be feeling, a smile parted his cracked lips and his eyes opened a little further.
"Estel," he breathed out hoarsely.
"Shh, don't speak," Aragorn ordered, squeezing the elf's hand tightly.
"Oh…I am…al…right," Legolas managed between gasps for air. He feebly squeezed Aragorn's hand back, before turning his face into the pillow and letting out small cough. Both the healer and Thranduil lurched forward at the harsh, tearing sound as if to grab Legolas, but the elf merely licked his lips and allowed his eyes to slip mostly shut. "How…my warriors…? Can…I…I…see them?" he murmured in an exhausted sounding whisper. Aragorn glanced up and Thranduil sighed.
"Estel is here to help us find a cure," the king answered, "I am sure that in no time you will be back up and on your feet." Legolas nodded, swallowing thickly before wincing, as if the action had hurt. Thranduil bent low and gently kissed the top of Legolas' head.
"Get some more rest, ion-nin, please try and conserve your energy." Standing, he looked down at the human. "Come, I will show you where you will be working."
"Actually," Aragorn began not moving from his spot. "Could I examine Legolas first? It is always a starting point, and I think Legolas would be more comfortable with me than some of the other elves." Thranduil nodded in agreement, but still moved to the doorway.
"I have duties I must attend too. Our warriors have been greatly decreased, and the ones that are left must go where they are most needed."
"I…I could…somewhere," Legolas whispered breathily and Thranduil scoffed lightly.
"I'm blaming the fact that you are burning with fever that those words left your lips. No, Legolas." He turned, holding the door open for the elven healer who hurried past.
When they were left alone, Aragorn got to his feet and took Thranduil's vacated spot.
"Hey, Legolas, you doing alright?" he asked with a false grin, still clutching the prince's hand in both of his.
"You want…the truth…?" Legolas asked, licking his lips once more and momentarily holding his breath. Letting it out with a groan, the elf jerked his hand free of Aragorn's hold and clutched at his chest as he squeezed his eyes shut. Gritting his teeth, he pressed his head further into the pillow as he clenched and unclenched his fist.
"Yes, I want the truth," Aragorn said, his lips twitching upwards before falling once more.
"I…am…," Legolas manged between puffs of air, before coughing as he once more buried his face into the pillow.
"Hey, hey," Aragorn whispered, reaching out and sliding a hand under the elf's cheek to turn his face outwards once more. Legolas' skin was hot and sweaty against his palm, much to hot. "We are going to get you out of this, trust me."
Legolas shook his head, still clutching at his chest. "Of…course…I…" he was trying to say, but he was struggling to get the words out, his breath catching and stopping. He licked his lips, and again tried to speak, but nothing would come out.
"Legolas? Legolas," Aragorn called, his own breath hitching. He reached out, digging his fingers into the elf's shoulder and shaking him. "Legolas!" The prince's eyes were closed, all his limited energy going towards forcing air into his sluggish lungs. Forcefully, Aragorn yanked the prince up, supporting him as he shook him once more.
Legolas began to cough, the harsh, rattling noise making Aragorn cringe internally.
"Breathe through it, taking a breath," he ordered calmly as he slid closer to the elf so that his weight could rest against him. Pounding him none to gently on the back, he felt Legolas grasp a fist full of his tunic and repositioned himself. "Breathe, cough, breathe," he repeated into the pointed ear.
Luckily, it wasn't long before the coughed faded and Legolas breathing even out to as close to normal as they were going to get. Aragorn clutched his friend to him for a few minutes, his nerves sorely shaken.
"Are you alright?" he asked as he felt the elf shift against him.
"Yes..."Legolas said in what Aragorn supposed was agreement, though it came out distressed. Aragorn grasped him firmly and began to lower him back down against the numerous pillows. A line of clear phlegm coated Legolas' chin and Aragorn grabbed a cloth to wipe it away, but the elf beat him too it as he raised his arm and wiped at it with his baggy sleeve. His arm was shaking badly and Aragorn grasped his elbow for support. Not only his arm, but rather his whole body, the human amended silently.
"Sorry," Legolas gasped out, his puffy eyelids trying to rise so that he could look Aragorn in the face.
"Legolas, don't. Please just don't," Aragorn rebuked, lifting a nearby glass of water to the prince's lips. He eased the prince's head up off the pillows and pressed the glass against his lips. As he did so, Legolas' too large shirt slipped down to reveal two rounded and scabbed over holes. The wounds were position at the base of his neck. He had been attacked from behind.
A slowly building anger began fill Aragorn and it was with forced calmness that he set the glass aside.
"We will save your people, Legolas," he voiced, easing the elf's night shirt back into place.
"We…have…you…now…" Legolas agreed as his eyes closed. He was clearly exhausted and it wasn't even minutes before he drifted into slumber. Aragorn watched him, his heart clenching. What Legolas or any of the Mirkwood elves had ever done to deserve this, he didn't know.
Stripping off his coat, the man tossed it hastily aside and rolled up his sleeves. Bending over Legolas once more, he gently eased the sheets down to the elf's waist and began to undo the ties to his night shirt. He wanted a closer look at those pincer marks.
Oh...oh dear, looks like the Mirkwood elves do have themselves in a pickle this time round. :)
Just a note, this story is the fastest I have ever written a full story so bear with me if there are more mistakes then usual! I will attempt to edit them out but as I am sure you know by now, I miss things. :)