AUTHOR: Susan Zell
STYLE: Movieverse, non-slash
SPOILERS: The Two Towers
CHARACTERS: Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli
SUMMARY: What happened in the aftermath that was Helm's Deep.
RATING: PG-13 for scenes of war and death
TYPE: Missing Scene, Hurt/Comfort
COMMENTS: I am long time writer of fanfiction, but this is my first Lord of the Rings fanfiction. I'll admit right now that I am a tad nervous because the quality of some of the work out there today is incredible, and I'm not sure if I can even began to add to it. But I'm an old fan of J R R Tolkien now returned to the fold, and the prospect of dabbling in the richness of his world and characters once again beckons. I know I'm not qualified to write in Tolkien speak but I am capable of writing movieverse. So I practiced there first; who knows where it might lead me. There's not much here at present, in other words, it's a PWP fic. It's not exciting or thrilling, but it is more an exercise in writing the characters and practicing their complex voices. Only the readers will be able to tell me if I got it right. And if my confidence grows either on its own accord or with the assistance of positive feedback, I will perhaps dabble a bit more and see where that road takes me. For we all know, it may very well go on and on.
APOLIGIES: My knowledge of Tolkien is rusty and now colored
a bit by the movies. I am in the process of going back to the original sources,
but in the meantime, forgive me any glaring errors and feel free to set me upon
the right path where needed.
By Susan Zell
Black smoke drifted across the sea of blood-soaked mud and dying flesh. The dark wet earth covered the corpses so thickly that it was difficult to recognize the race of each sullied shape. Only when the rain cleared aside a patch of polished armor or red flecked pale skin was the difference discernable between man, elf, and altered orc. The torrential rains had lessened but Aragorn could no longer feel it, so inconsequential atop the exhaustion, the pain, and the despair that hung on him.
So many lost.
His mind quickly flashed back as he and King Théoden rode out one last time to defend the keep, Aragorn had made his peace with death. He had been prepared to depart this world; the odds had been too meager to believe that they would survive the night with the Uruk-hai already within the walls and only a hair's breadth from reaching the women and children. It had been an act of desperation, one last attempt to rally the men of Rohan to battle. He had not expected it to buy the necessary time. But miraculously it had been enough.
He squinted eastward into the midday sun breaking through the thick clouds.
Gandalf the White had kept his word. He had returned on the morning of the fifth day bringing behind him the salvation of Rohan. Éomer, son of Éomund, Third Marshall of the Riddermark, was still loyal to King Théoden despite the malice of Grima Wormtongue's treachery. And with him had rode the entire regiment lost from Rohan all these months. They had returned to defend their home, their people, their king.
Their coming had been a glorious visage to behold spilling over the crest of the mountain.
But that was hours ago. They stood now at the crest of the mountain looking down into the lands beyond where Gondor and Mordor lay. Plumes of rising steam filled the air around Isengard, while black smoke hung over realm of the White City. On so many fronts had the war been waged. Aragorn had not known what else was happening in the world before today, but it appeared that there had been no peace for anyone this night.
"Sauron's wrath will be terrible, his retribution swift. The battle for Helm's Deep is over. The battle for Middle-earth is about to begin," Gandalf stated while staring at the billowing smoke far in the distance. Then his gaze shifted to the weary men around him, all pale faced and grim at the sight. "But it will not happen today," he consoled.
Gandalf smiled at Aragorn. It was worn but reassuring and it still had the power to lighten the weariness weighing upon Aragorn's shoulders. He could feel the wizard's questing eyes upon him as he took in the Ranger's blood soaked and filthy garb, ripped and torn in far too many places, splashes of red marring the chain mail underneath.
"Your arrival could not have been more timely," Aragorn spoke honestly, leaning forward over the pommel of his saddle, resting his sword arm that ached with a fiery burning down its entire length. "And your promises more valued," he whispered in a voice hoarse with fatigue.
Gandalf nodded and placed a wizened hand gently upon the Ranger's left shoulder. Quick eyes did not miss the flinch of pain that flitted across his friend's face before abruptly becoming a mask once more.
Legolas and Gimli sat on horseback on the other side of Gandalf, both looked as pitiful as Aragorn, but the light in their eyes bespoke of victory and life. It was the spark that filled all creatures at merely surviving. Gandalf acknowledged them with a nod and a beaming grin, pleased to know that they too had made it through this conflict. This branch of the Fellowship still endured at least.
"This battle is over. Time to rest and gather strength," he told them.
"And bury the dead," Legolas intoned. His delight at seeing Gandalf faded as he looked back upon the killing field.
"Yes, our fallen brethren deserve their peace," murmured the wizard. "But that task is not for you to do. Leave that to Éomer's riders and myself. We will see your kin to their final resting place."
There was hesitation in Legolas for his fallen people. So many strewn the ground. He could discern the multitudes even from here. Aragorn spoke beside him. He didn't know to whom the Ranger addressed his words, whether it be to Gandalf or himself, but it did not matter. His words crushed down upon the elf like the weight of the mountain.
"Haldir has fallen."
Legolas gripped his reins tight as his very breath seized in his chest. His light eyes jerked toward Aragorn, whose face held all the emotion and despair that his could not.
"Where?" The elf's voice was but a ragged whisper.
"There on the rampart, struck from behind."
An immense sadness fell across Gandalf. "A great loss," he grieved. It was a cruel blow to the elves of Lothlorien and elsewhere. He could feel his friends' pain from where he sat upon Shadowfax. "Go see to him."
Legolas and Aragorn turned their horses and returned to Helm's Deep, both solemn and immersed in their own thoughts and memories. Haldir had been friend and companion to both. He would be missed by many.
Aragorn did not bother to explain what happened in further detail to his friend for he sensed no reproach from Legolas. The elf knew about war and the cost of it. Haldir had come to Man's aid as Elrond and his forces had done before him. He had believed in the cause of good over evil, regardless of the fact that Elves would soon hold no place in the new world at the side of Man. Aragorn understood such loyalty. He himself allied with Elf and with Man though he could not claim home to either. It was merely the right thing to do to defeat an evil that threatened to sweep across the land. But still there nagged at Aragorn a sense of responsibility as they rode through the carnage yet he kept silent.
Dismounting, the three members of the Fellowship climbed the stairs to the top rampart of Helm's Deep. The bodies lay thick and it took care to climb over them. The King's men were there wrestling the orc bodies over the wall; those that were still alive, if only barely, were dispatched quickly and mercilessly before being shoved over. Only Elves and Men and a single Dwarf were allowed now within the keep's walls.
A great pyre was being assembled outside Helm's Deep where the orc bodies were being burned. The smell of death and burning flesh stung at their eyes and throat. Aragorn's mouth was dry, his lips on the verge of cracking, and the black smoke that hung heavy on the air did not help matters. But again it was just one more discomfort that must be borne. Too many other duties were still to be done.
Suddenly Legolas leapt over the last few bodies. His keen sight already spied his fallen comrade. The huge weapon was still buried hilt deep within the elf warrior. Haldir lay at an odd angle resting on the blade. Legolas eased the cold, still form into his arms.
Haldir's eyes were open and gazing at the war torn chaos around him but they held neither comment nor emotion. Legolas did not close the elf's eyes but whispered in the dead man's ear words of soft elvish. Even Aragorn, standing close by, caught only snatches.
[Speed on your way to Valinor, my friend… won't be long before your people join you… Find only peace in paradise.]
Aragorn knelt gently behind them and laid a hand on the blade that had killed Haldir. Legolas raised his head and met his eyes. He understood what needed to be done. He nodded, tightening his hold on Haldir's body, pressing the cold flesh against his own.
It took all of Aragorn's strength to force the Uruk-hai weapon to relinquish its hold and it came free with a sickening sound. Scowling with rage, the Ranger threw the weapon aside; it landed with deadly accuracy into an orc body nearby, the one that that had landed the killing stroke on the noble elf captain. It was about to be carted away by two Rohan men. They looked up in surprise as the blade sunk deep into their cargo, but they quickly understood and moved with greater speed, forcefully throwing the marked orc over the precipice.
Legolas rose with Haldir in his arms, carrying the fallen elf with little strain. Aragorn led the way down into the base of the fortress. As they passed, the few remaining elves sank to their knees as their lost captain went past, their right arm sweeping across their chests in a gesture of reverence.
The Men of Rohan took notice of them also and all heads bowed along the inner walls. It was the King's advisor himself that directed them to a quiet room. Legolas was momentarily surprised at the privacy allowed them. He didn't think Men would understand the solitary rituals that needed to be performed, especially since so many had fallen from both races. Most likely it was Aragorn's presence that has initiated the courtesy, but still he was grateful.
They laid the great elven warrior out on a wooden table set in the center of the room. Legolas eased the fair head onto the tabletop, smoothing out the hair and composing his arms at his sides. Water was brought in and Gimli started a fire in a small hearth. There was a great deal of wood littering the compound thanks to the smashed orc ladders. No one would suffer the cold this night.
Together both Legolas and Aragorn set out cleaning and preparing the body of their fallen comrade, wiping the blood from his pale skin and mending the tears in both cloth and flesh. Aragorn's eyes were unabashedly wet. Legolas was stone faced. It wasn't anger that marred his face but just an overwhelming sense of loss that one could see echoing solely in his eyes. The price of war was very high and his determination to defeat Sauron and Saruman only grew because of it.
Gimli stood off to the side, keeping silent watch as his two friends performed the funerary services demanded of their cultures. It didn't matter that Aragorn was of the race of Men. There were times Gimli saw the Ranger as more Elf than the race to which Aragorn swore natural allegiance. And lately that wasn't a bad thing, at least not as bad as the dwarf had once determined it to be.
Even he had to admit to being overjoyed when Haldir and his warriors had arrived at such a timely moment. Dwarves didn't fall into despair often, especially when glorious battle loomed ahead of them, but no dwarf likes to fight on the losing side. He was more than happy to accept assistance, even from elves. Through his camaraderie with Legolas Greenleaf, he had come to appreciate the fierce fighting skills and competitive spirit now so apparent in elves. Never before would he have believed that both Elf and Men were capable of meeting the battle ferocity of a Dwarf.
It took three hours but soon Haldir was ready, fully wrapped in clean linen from crown to end and awaiting his trip home to Lothlorien, along with the rest of his fallen brethren. The elves were preparing to leave on the morrow and bear their dead to rest beneath the leaves of their tranquil home.
Aragorn rested his bone weary body on stiff arms braced on the table's edge. But soon even that hurt, as his left shoulder sent spikes of pain down the length of his arm and across his back. It had been damaged from the battle with the warg days earlier, muscles twisted and torn, tied as it had been to the warg's saddle as the beast tumbled from the cliff. The fiery ache had yet to abate. He eased his weight off it as he straightened with a grimace.
Legolas took note and realized that it was long past time to take care of the living instead of the dead.
"Come, Aragorn. Let us see to our own wounds."
The Ranger who would be King almost protested, knowing that there was much to do still before Helm's Deep was secure again. The Uruk-hai could easily regroup and storm the fortress again. But he found he could not take another step. Exhaustion had claimed him firmly and would not release him. He had no choice but to place his trust in Éomer and Gandalf. He staggered suddenly and instantly Legolas was there on one side and Gimli rushed to the other.
"Perhaps you are right, my friends," the Ranger mumbled. He let them guide him to bed and he sat upon it, relieved because his legs trembled so that he feared they would not hold him any longer. Every pain that he had pushed aside suddenly came rushing once more to the forefront and made known their ills. His skin burned with a hundred small scratches and scrapes. Deep aches pulsed with the beating of his heart. His head pounded as if besieged by a thousand Dwarf hammers. He was overwhelmed, knowing he could ignore them no longer.
Legolas grabbed the edges of the chainmail shirt and made to lift it off but Aragorn found his left arm would not rise above his chest. It sent agony through him; he barely stifled a moan. Legolas immediately ceased the attempt. His mind immediately grasped upon another option. "Here, lean down." He gently pushed Aragorn so that he was bent over. "Let your arm dangle. Don't try to lift it up." Together he and Gimli pulled the chain mail off and let the weight take it to the floor without forcing the injured limb to move beyond its limits. It took the tunic beneath off along with it.
Gimli let out a low whistle. Aragorn's flesh was covered with rich purple bruises, some so large that it was twice the breadth of his own hand. The bruise on the left shoulder wrapped completely around the man and halfway down his arm. The gash that streaked across it was barely visible. Dried blood had turned his skin almost black in areas so it resembled dead flesh.
"You look like you went to war with my cousin's wife and her kitchen hammer," remarked Gimli. "And you lost."
Aragorn sighed. "If she is as fierce as a warg rider then she is someone to be reckoned with."
"This is from the warg battle?" Legolas frowned. "Those cuts should have been tended to long ago." Both shoulders bore terrible gashes as did his left knee.
"There was little time to address them, not with the Uruk-hai army bearing down on us. Besides, they were not deep."
Legolas did not agree. If he had but known Aragorn was so grievously wounded at the time, he would have made a point of it. But he hadn't noticed. Though now he distinctly recalled Aragorn holding his arm when he returned and stiffening when the King had grabbed his injured arm to make a point while on the ramparts. The signs had been there. Legolas just hadn't discerned the gravity of the situation. How the Ranger had managed to fight and survive these last few hours in such a wretched condition was remarkable if not miraculous. During the battle at the bridge, Aragorn had even held both he and Gimli's weight by that arm as Legolas had hoisted them both to safety. The pain must have been excruciating for Aragorn, but he had not let go.
But it wasn't just the cuts on his shoulders that worried the elf. The contusions beneath the wounds were deep and widespread. Legolas suspected that the muscle was cruelly torn, as were most likely ligaments, which would take a while to heal fully.
Aragorn rubbed his eyes with grime crusted fingers. "I just need to sleep," he muttered.
"You will soon enough," Gimli grumbled. "But not before we have at you with hot water and several poultices."
"And what of your wounds, Master Dwarf? Should we not be concerned with your state of health as well? And that of Legolas?"
Gimli waved a dismissive hand in the air. "Not one of the enemy laid a hand on me. Dwarf hide is as thick as stone, don't you know."
"Yes, but not as thick as dwarf skulls," Legolas remarked idly, taking only a moment to cast a deadpan stare at his stout friend.
Gimli started grumbling loudly, cursing elven physiology and lack of manners. It lightened the moment, releasing the long held tension.
Aragorn merely regarded Legolas. "Are you wounded, my friend? We will also need to see to your ills before this day is done."
"Have no fear, mellon nin [my friend], my ills are mere scratches and if any of them are deep, I do not think I would want such an unsteady hand as yours to do the stitching."
Aragorn lifted a hand and regarded its involuntary tremors with almost a curious eye. Then he shrugged. "Better an unsteady Ranger than a unwieldy Dwarf."
A sputtering of oaths came from the dwarf on the other side of the room. "Not another word from either of you! It has been too long a battle already and I have no desire to knock any more heads together. I will brook no more on the subject of Dwarf shortcomings." The fire in the dwarf's visage spoke that his warning was sincere.
Aragorn could see a slight tightening of the elf's jaw muscles as he fought a final retort, especially at that last statement from the dwarf. At length though, he glanced down at Aragorn with a quirkish grin only; however his eyes did alight once more on the needle and thread close to Aragorn.
"If you have need of me, my friend, you have but to ask," Aragorn spoke quietly so that only elf ears could hear.
"Let us hope your skills are not needed," Legolas returned in the same quiet voice.
Legolas turned his attention once more to the task at hand. He could smell the start of an infection even from here in some of the warg cuts. It was nothing they couldn't handle but it explained the glassy look in Aragorn's eyes. There was some heat radiating from him that indicated a light fever.
Aragorn raised his head and regarded his concerned friend. "I will live," he assured him, wishing to alleviate Legolas' anxious expression.
The elf drew in a long breath. "Somehow you always do, though common sense demands otherwise. Your luck is remarkable."
"I prefer to call it skill."
Gimli snorted, approaching. "Trust us. It is merely luck or perhaps divine intervention." He handed Legolas the herbal bag that Aragorn always carried. Being a healer, Aragorn was never unprepared. And as a wandering Dunadan, he had opportunity to gather and dry a wide variety of plants that worked wonders. One of the most important being athelas, a plant that grew only spartanly in far too few places. They were lucky Aragorn had a keen eye for the medicinal plant.
Legolas quickly pulled out the three pouches. One for fever, one for pain and one to promote healing and reduce infection. The elf had paid close attention over the years to what Aragorn used and when. He was pleased when Aragorn nodded, approving his choices. The Ranger pointed to another satchel.
"Mix some of this valerian in with the willowbark. It will promote sleep." He glanced up at Legolas noting the worry building in his friend's face. It was an odd thing for the Ranger to ask. He was always keen to keep his wits about him. "My mind races with too many things," he explained. "I would have it be at peace for a short time."
"I will do what you ask." Legolas understood war, the echoes of which lasted far longer than the battles themselves. It would take a strong dose to prevent Aragorn from reliving the many battles and allow him the rest his body needed to heal.
Gimli went about forming the poultices since the water was near to boiling, while Legolas began the gruesome task of cleaning the wounds. He had gathered needle and thread to sew up the worst ones, but the warg wounds were days old now, already partially healing. They bled only because he had cleaned the cuts but to try and sew up the gashes now would not prevent scarring. It was almost better to leave them to the open air to heal. He mentioned as much to Aragorn.
The Ranger was pale and panting after the raw cleaning. His skin now burned and rivulets of fresh blood ran down his body. "Leave them. A few more scars will not make a difference to me at this age."
"They may to Arwen," Legolas stated matter-of-factly, thinking of the fair elf maiden who had given her heart along with her token to the Ranger.
Aragorn gave a low chuckle. "Perhaps she likes me because of them. I sense a touch of the wild in her."
Legolas allowed a relaxed smile. "Do not let her father hear you speak of her in such a manner."
"I think Lord Elrond knows that fact far better than even I do. I hear she was quite a handful in her youth."
"As were all of Elrond's children, foster and otherwise." Aragorn, despite being human and raised in Lord Elrond's household, was just as roguish and unruly as the rest of the royal clan.
Aragorn nodded, a blissful look seeping into his fevered eyes. "Good times those were when we were young."
"Aye, I miss them. Life did not seem so fraught with apocalyptic doom and mortal peril then."
That brought a rise to Aragorn's eyebrow. He cocked his head. "Yes, I miss the lighter days of battling ravenous Mirkwood spiders and blood thirsty orcs."
Legolas laughed at Aragorn's slight sarcasm. It was true. Middle Earth was always a dangerous place and usually the two of them were at the heart of it. But he knew also that given Elbereth's grace, they would always work as one to keep all the peoples of Middle Earth safe. It was not a task he took lightly. The Ranger and he were bound together by more than even blood decreed by that simple fact alone.
With deft fingers he finished his work. Gimi brought over the poultices and together they worked at placing them where they would do the most good. By the end, there was hardly a bare patch of flesh to be seen on the man's chest and arms.
Aragorn made a move to rise. "And now you, Legolas. Let us see how kind the orcs were to you."
"I will see to my own wounds." Legolas pushed the man determinedly down onto the pallet.
Sadly, Aragorn had not the strength to even resist. "See that he does, Master Gimli," he commanded the dwarf, desperately fighting the heaviness that was pressing down upon him with each breath. He could barely hold open his eyes.
"Aye, I will see to the elf, my worrisome Dunadan. Have no fear."
And with that consolation, Aragorn slept, letting the horror and pain of battle fall away from his frame for the first time in many days.
Legolas drew a blanket over the finally still figure. "He is more sorely injured than he realizes."
Gimli shrugged and began removing some of his own outer garb. "A man like Aragorn does not easily accept frailty. You among others should know that well."
Legolas turned to his own pallet and sat down wearily upon it. "Frailty is not a failing."
"But it is not the mark of a king." Gimli brought his friend a bowl of fresh hot water and numerous cloth wraps and poultices.
"But he was King out there today. More so than others who should have been. It was to his strength the men of Rohan rallied, more than once."
It was a sad realization. There were oft times Aragorn had led the battle and won them precious moments while King Théoden word's hung empty on the ears of his countrymen. It was the sheer valor of Aragorn's attacks and the insane resolution of his wild deeds that gave the warriors of Helm's Deep the strength to press on over and over against the overwhelming enemy.
"Aye, tis true," agreed Gimli. "Whether he knows it or not, Aragorn became what he has never sought. There is no turning from it now."
"He will not be comforted to hear it."
"Then it is a good thing he sleeps. We will speak of the matter no more." Gimli shook his bearded head as he stared at Legolas. The elf had removed his tunic and his fair skin looked no better than Aragorn's. Gimli noted as much.
Legolas delicately inclined his head toward the dwarf's own flesh, spotted numerously with great welts and contusions. "Apparently the long winded speech about thick dwarf skin is merely myth."
"Nay, it remains intact. Do you not see? No wounds are visible. These--" he gestured to his various bruises. "—are merely badges of honor! No blade made it through thick dwarf flesh." A mighty fist pounded his chest to prove his point.
Legolas winced just watching him, but it didn't stop him from lobbing a barb at his friend. "I believe they call that chain mail."
That brought a sputter and growl from Gimli, but then it dissolved into deep baritone laughter. "I only wish it had been mithril," the dwarf confessed.
"You have done well enough even so. Come Gimli, son of Gloin, let us bandage our wounds and seek the same peace in slumber as our kingly companion."
Together they made quick work of their ills. Even Gimli's stout hand could almost be considered gentle as he stitched the deeper of Legolas' wounds. But it wasn't long before their own exhaustion from the days' events bore them down into deep sleep.
Aragorn's eyes slipped open to be greeted by dim shadows creeping along the walls and gentle snoring from what the Ranger suspected was Gimli. He was relieved to see Legolas sleeping nearby. The elf was turned away from him, but he hoped his friend was resting, allowing his body to heal.
Oddly enough he was not in any pain, but he still lacked the strength to do more than look around him and take in his surroundings.
The dying fire in the corner still crackled and popped but he knew it would not last much longer. From the presence of the shadows he could tell that they had slept through the day and well into evening. When the fire ebbed the room would be completely dark. He knew he should rise and see to it but no amount of urgency could make his worn muscles cooperate. So he continued to lie there for just a moment more.
His gaze shifted to the table where Haldir's body was laid out. It lay so peaceful and serene that for a moment Aragorn almost believed his elven friend was merely sleeping with the rest of his company. But then the memory of truth invaded and Aragorn once more relived the horror of seeing Haldir slain. He had been too far to help Haldir; he had seen the blade fall but could do nothing more than shout out in shock as the light left the elf's eyes. Those eyes that had not turned from him, not even when the orc blade bit deep into his flesh. They had remained fixed on him as the warrior sank to his knees, as Aragorn fought his way to his side, but all to no avail. Haldir was lost.
If only he had seen the orc a few seconds earlier; if only he had been close enough to block the blow; if only…
Aragorn covered his eyes and drew a deep breath.
His hand finally dropped away. The anguish wasn't any less but it was under control. Opening his eyes again, blinking away the residual moisture, he saw Haldir staring at him from across the room. The fair head had turned and was looking straight at Aragorn with his unyielding gaze.
The Ranger's breath stilled in his chest, his own eyes widening in stunned surprise. He sought to see some reproach or resentment in the elf's eyes, but there seemed to be only a sense of sadness within that echoed his own.
Struggling to find his voice, Aragorn's lips moved but no words fell from them. Finally, he was forced to mouth. "Haldir, aranno." [Haldir, forgive me,] and prayed that it was enough. The noble head of the elf just continued to stare at him with eyes that bore deep into Aragorn's soul. His limbs refused to move and it was as if he was frozen to the bed frame. He tried to shout out his regret at not being there for his friend as his friend had been there for him. The weight of Aragorn's guilt was suffocating him.
But still there was no sound from Haldir, no deviation in his stare till it began to eat away at Aragorn like a disease from which he could not escape.
The voice penetrated the silence that had become deafening. The Dunadan's eyes snapped open and he gasped, half rising from his pallet. Strong arms gripped him, drenching him in blond hair.
He struggled to free himself.
Recognition flared suddenly. It was Legolas who gripped him. Legolas! Not Haldir! Aragorn struggled for breath, willing his body to relax, his hands clutching Legolas' arms. It had been but a nightmare sprung from his own conscience. Nothing more. He could sense the concern in his friend as he hunched gasping over the elf.
"You were dreaming," stated Legolas.
Aragorn could only nod. It took a few moments to allow his heart rate and breathing to calm down once again to normal. Eventually, he inhaled deeply and his grip lessened. That pain that had seemed so numb minutes before settled upon him again and he steeled himself against it. Even that small amount of movement had sent pain signals coursing along his limbs.
Gradually, Legolas allowed his friend to lie back down. To say he was concerned seemed inadequate. They had fought many battles together and rare was it to see Aragorn so troubled afterwards. War and bloodshed was common to them both. It should not be plaguing the Ranger so now. Perhaps it was the fever. Humans were susceptible to internal temperatures and usually that was the trigger, but Aragorn's fever had been light. He brushed a cool hand across Aragorn's forehead as he had seen Lord Elrond do whenever he had to care for his foster son. It seemed cool, practically normal.
If it weren't for observing the elder elf take care of Aragorn, Legolas would have little knowledge on how to care for humans. They were far frailer in body than elves. Though he quickly learned that it was their spirit that carried them through. And it was up to Legolas to reassure that spirit now, for Aragorn's was sorely troubled.
He waited for the Ranger to tell him what was wrong but he did not. Aragorn just lay quietly, his attention riveted to the rafters in the ceiling.
"Are you in pain?" Legolas asked, wondering if he should stoke the fire to brew more tea, but Aragorn denied any discomfort.
"I am all right, mellon nin. It was but a dream," he whispered.
Aragorn shook his head again, but this time his gaze tracked toward the table where Haldir's body lay, still wrapped in the clean linen, including the warrior's face. Aragorn half expected it to be unwrapped and looking at him once again, but logic demanded that he was being nothing but foolish.
However, Legolas didn't miss where Aragorn's attention was centered.
"Did he speak to you?"
Aragorn jerked his gaze back to Legolas. "What?"
"Did Haldir speak to you?"
The Ranger was surprised. How had Legolas known what troubled him? Resigned at being found out, he answered his intuitive friend. "No. He said nothing, only stared at me with eyes that bore into me like a wood beetle into rotten pulp."
Legolas mulled that over before responding. "He does not harbor blame."
The Ranger drew in a deep sigh. "I know that. In my heart I know it plainly. But…"
Legolas remained silent, waiting for the man to find his own path. It was several seconds before Aragorn found the words.
"I know there is nothing I could have done to save him, Legolas. That is a fact of war. I know it does not come without cost. But for the first time, I realized how high the cost will be and how close it will strike. Haldir could have easily been Gimli … or you. It already has taken Boromir and Gandalf, though for the very life of me I still cannot claim to understand the latter's return." A well of sadness filled his eyes. "It will very likely take young Frodo, and that pains me, to the very core of my soul, it pains me. Worse than these wounds upon my flesh."
There was no answer from Legolas. He knew exactly of what Aragorn spoke. His own soul had been rent when the warg had fallen from the cliff carrying his friend with it.
"Death isn't something unknown to us, but rarely has it been so close. And this is only the beginning," Aragorn whispered.
"Perhaps," answered Legolas. "But perhaps we will have the power to see that these things to do not come to pass."
But Aragorn would not be assured. "The battle for Middle Earth will be a terrible thing. Sauron will not fall easily. The cost will be higher than we can ever imagine. I am not sure I am ready to face it."
The elf shifted closer, making Aragorn look him directly in the eyes. "You are as ready as you have always been, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, the estel [hope] of Man and Elf. You have shown incredible fortitude through these dark days. It has been your strength that all have relied upon. Do not doubt your abilities now." He eased back searching his mind for something that would ease his friend's troubled conscience. With great comfort he latched onto a memory, which he shared with Aragorn now. "Someone close to us once cautioned not to carry the weight of the dead."
Aragorn was puzzled. "Whom said that?"
Legolas smiled sadly. "Boromir. In Lothlórien. After the fall of Gandalf, while you reasoned with Haldir, the man took the time to comfort Frodo, warning him not to bear more burdens than he was given. I do not believe it was the ring that bade him to speak thusly, but more from his own heart and concern for the young hobbit. He spoke naught but wisdom."
"Aye," responded Aragorn quietly. "He was a lord of Gondor."
"As are you."
"Yes." For the first time there was no hesitation in his affirmation. It seemed Aragorn had accepted his fate. Almost. "Yes, I will lead the world of Elf, Man and all free folk into the very jaws of hell. A fitting epitaph."
Legolas immediately tried to disagree but Aragorn would not let him, lifting a hand to ward off his friend's anxiety.
"But I will do all in my power to protect those that are lost even if it means journeying to the Lands of the Dead myself to bring them back. That I swear above all else."
The elf laid a gentle hand on the arm of his friend. "I would suspect nothing less of you."
Aragorn's hand slipped over Legolas', grateful for the support. It was that faith that everyone held in him that strengthened his resolve to a duty that had been heaped upon him against his will. He fought not for glory nor kingdom but something more personal, the lives and homes of his friends and family. He fought to preserve the Shire and the wonderful creatures of stout heart that lived there. He struggled to bring the races together so that Elf, Man and Dwarf could walk together in the light of peace. He fought to halt the darkness from slipping over all of Middle Earth and laying it to waste.
The call was not to become King for the vainness of honor and power but instead to protect the very lands that forever spoke to his wandering heart. All the places he had visited were rich in varied cultures and good strong people. He had to protect it all. It was his calling. He was a Ranger. Such simple values were instilled in him from birth. If he was the one that could truly bring that to pass than he would do so. Regardless of the cost to himself.
And he wasn't alone in that vow. All those that had left Rivendell that fateful day held to the promise: Boromir, Gandalf. They had all made that pact, even the little ones. They all knew what was at stake. Perhaps Legolas spoke the truth that with the Fellowship at the head of the battle more lives would be saved than would be lost. He clung to that as he clung to his friend's hand.
Aragorn raised a tired but resolved face. "We will travel this path together no matter where it leads, mellon nin. All of us."
"As it should be, as it was destined to be."
"You believe that?"
"Yes. Our paths are drawn long before we are even born. To try and stray from them only makes the pain more difficult to bear."
"Then I must stray too often from mine." Aragorn winced as he sat up a bit in the bed.
"You are most stubborn that way."
"So people continue to tell me."
"They only speak the truth."
"Your brutality in that manner is always most refreshing." He smirked at the elf.
"You are far more brutal on yourself than I could ever be, Estel," Legolas said, using the name Elrond had given him, knowing Aragorn's lineage and future. "Your heart is always troubled by what you cannot change. It wears on you heavily when you should rest and gather your strength."
Aragorn cast a sardonic eye at Legolas' paternal comment, but then he relented. The elf spoke only the truth. He could not deny it. A deep sigh left his chest. "I will rest, Legolas. And tomorrow we will continue on the path set before us."
This satisfied the elf. He left his friend with a gentle grin. "I will rouse us early."
Aragorn bobbed his heard in the direction of the snoring dwarf. "We may have trouble reviving Gimli if we depart before daybreak."
"Then the leftover water in the bucket will be especially bracing for him."
"You are very wicked for an elf. It is a good thing we are friends."
"Strange. I call Gimli friend also," he remarked with a gleam in his eye. "Do not sleep too late, mellon nin," he cautioned.
"I will not. My thanks for the warning."
The elf inclined his head graciously. Then as he regarded his friend, he grew serious once more. "Rest and be at ease, Aragorn. Your friends remain by your side."
Aragorn nodded and peace sank over him. He did not walk the path alone and that comforted him. Slipping back down on the pallet once again, he closed his eyes and the isolating darkness no longer concerned him.
DISCLAIMER: The characters, places and languages used this story belong to the J R R Tolkien Estate and occasionally to New Line Cinema. All new characters created for this fictional work are the property of the author. No money or gain of any sort was obtained at the expense of this piece. The story was told solely for the enjoyment of the author and hopefully the readers who follow. After all, who can blame those wanting to immerse themselves in the wonderful world Tolkien has created? It is sheer homage to genius and nothing more.