Summary: One of the greatest friendships of the ages began when Legolas and Aragorn literally ran into each other trying to escape an Orc prison…
NOTE: All italics are either thoughts or flashbacks, and all words encased in ~ are spoken in elvish.
* * *
Legolas waved the orc-scimitar threateningly, practically daring his pursuers to come closer. The underground corridors were dark, dank and narrow. None willed to brave the way towards him, and the orc-soldiers grunted in dismay.
"Lay it down, elf!" the captain, an Uruk-hai, commanded him, "Lay it down and your punishment will be less severe."
Legolas looked at him wryly, knowing for a certainty that it was a lie. They would have their way with him if they caught him again, and he would much rather not have that happen.
The elf warrior waved the scimitar wide, and stepped forward towards his enemies, forcing the orcs to stumble backward against each other. Legolas used the moment to turn his back on them and start running again.
The corridors were slim and lined by dungeons, practically all of them empty. The halls wound about impossibly, and even his elven senses and memory was uncertain as to where to go, how to leave. The only thing he knew for certain was that he was not going back.
Orc-arrows whizzed over his head, past his ears, beside him, below him… he might have been lucky, then again if he really were lucky, he wouldn't be in this situation in the first place.
He turned a blind corner, and ran smack into a hard wall of muscle. The collision threw him back a step, and he caught his footing cleanly, throwing his arm back to strike at this orc he had collided with using his stolen scimitar.
His eyes at last caught up with his defensive instinct, and he caught his hand and held back his lethal blow just as he recognized he had bumped into a human, not an orc.
The blade of the scimitar stopped a hair away from the man's neck, and to Legolas's dismay, the human had a sword against his throat as well.
Their eyes met.
It's as if time had stopped, and he found that he recognized this human as a kindred spirit. A warrior's heart, with curiously elven-wise eyes. Legolas's senses picked up sounds of pursuit behind the human as well, and he put the pieces together: kindred spirit indeed this was, he too was trying to make his escape!
As the sounds of their pursuers drew nearer, the two warriors showed a great sign of trust and turned their back on each other, facing their captors with weapons poised to kill. Back to back they parried and fought the droves of orcs that fell upon them.
Many of their enemies did they take, but many more followed in an endless stream, until both warriors, though stout of heart, drowned in this black abyss.
* * *
^Put them in the same place,^ said the Uruk-hai commander to the lesser orcs in their tongue, ^And double the guard there. Do not let this happen another time, I am sick of it!^
Aragorn chuckled to himself, understanding enough words of the speech to put the idea together. He was being dragged along by several orcs, his body weary, next to the stubborn elf who was still struggling with his captors, albeit vainly.
~If you are clever,~ Aragorn said to the elf, ~You will stay still. You are spent. Save it to try another day.~
The elf looked at him coldly, as they were wont to, but calmed and did as the human suggested.
Side by side they were dragged through the winding ways, past empty cells and deeper into the underground, until they reached the furthest cell. Unlike the other prisons made with iron bars, this one was an iron door with a fist-sized hole, the only avenue by which the dim firelight from the corridors reached the dark and cold within. The room was small and practically airless.
"Welcome to your new home," the orc next to Legolas breathed against his ear, "made especially for our elf guests. You stay here long enough, and you would wish you were dead."
"It's funny," Legolas said, facing him, "I've been enjoying your hospitality for quite awhile, and the only death I keep wishing for more and more is yours."
The orc growled and roughly pushed him forward, the elf slamming against the rock wall. The human was pushed in after him, and the two made for an unglamorous pile on the slick ground.
The door shut behind the snickering of the orcs, and the room darkened further, lit only by the dim light sneaking in through the hole on the door.
Aragorn shuffled to his feet, and offered his hand to the elf, who glanced at it but did not accept the help, rising on his own. Legolas sauntered over to a corner and sat there, enfolding his arms around his knees.
~More words for orcs than I, it seems,~ Aragorn teased him, using the elf's tongue as easily as if it were his own.
Legolas glanced up at him disapprovingly, ~Your spirits are remarkably high.~
Aragorn smiled wryly at him, took up the corner opposite to the elf's, and sat down, leaning against the rock.
~Come now,~ said Aragorn, ~Are you mad because I foiled your escape, bringing those orcs with me and effectively blocking your route?~
~It hadn't been much of a route,~ Legolas admitted. They fell to an awkward silence for a long moment.
~And,~ Legolas added hesitantly--belatedly, as if it were a joke he just suddenly remembered, ~If I were angry at you for foiling my escape, I would be lending myself to your anger as well, for foiling yours.~
~Sounds fair,~ said Aragorn, studying the elf's face, ~I think you are who I think you are.~
~Whoever you think I am,~ snapped Legolas, ~Keep it to yourself. They are quite unsure of me, and I prefer to keep it that way. The walls have ears.~
Aragorn shrugged, accepting this. ~Well. Master elf. You may call me Estel.~
"A human with an elf name," Legolas commented, shifting languages to the human's, because speaking so fluently with this man in his own tongue was profoundly disconcerting, "Curious. I seem to recognize your face and yet… I could not recall where from."
"Aging very quickly, I see," Aragorn teased, face bland though his eyes danced.
"It's hardly funny," commented Legolas, "I never forget a face, a name. In all my years. Except for yours."
Aragorn gave him a hesitant smile, all teasing vanishing from his soulful eyes. "I imagine you must have been preoccupied at the time."
* * *
And who wouldn't be? Aragorn thought to himself, recalling that day he had first set his eyes on the Prince of Mirkwood months ago.
~We are home,~ Elladan said, throwing his human adopted-brother a smile, as Estel rode his horse between Elladan and his twin Elrohir. The twin elves and Aragorn have been riding hard across the territories of Rivendell and its surrounding kingdoms with a small contingent of their father Elrond's soldiers, hunting orc and keeping their home safe.
~You did very well, Estel,~ Elrohir commented, ~Father will be pleased.~
Aragorn tried to look at him wryly, as if to ask him why any of them would expect any less of him. But he was truly moved, and more than a little embarrassed. He averted his eyes.
~Curiously quiet, isn't he?~ Elrohir asked Elladan, winking at his twin, knowing what was making Aragorn uncomfortable.
~I saw you wink at him!~ exclaimed Aragorn, ~You will not lend yourself to his teasing, would you, Elladan?~
~When did I ever not?~ Elladan laughed.
~For several thousand years of living,~ commented Aragorn coolly, though his eyes were glistening, ~You seem to be overstaying upon your most juvenile stage.~
Elrohir laughed, ~Remarkable! He sounds just like ada!~
~Yes, yes,~ agreed Elladan, ~He sounds older than you or I, Elrohir. After all, Estel is already past twenty and we are still stuck in sixteen.~
~You have been stuck there for thousands of years!~ Aragorn teased them, ~When will you grow up? I thought elves were only immortally young in beauty, and not in mind?~
Their laughter was carried by the wind, as they were met by a party of riders who were leaving Rivendell, just as they were entering it. The other group of riders carried a kind of gloom about them, that made the winds still and the laughter seem shrill and irrelevant and dead, fading into nothingness as it reached them.
Ever perceptive, the three sons of Elrond shushed as the group of riders approached. The party was spearheaded by a fair elf in green clothes, his face drawn and grave. He was sharing his saddle with a figure bound in the purest white cloths, a figure that jerked and bounced in a hideously macabre way with the movement of his horse…
It was soon apparent that this elf was sharing his saddle with a dead body shrouded and prepared for burial, his arms enclosed upon it protectively, almost reverently.
He barely spared them a glance as he moved past, though he was diplomatic enough to nod politely at them, before turning back to the road ahead of him. The brief contact was enough for the brothers to notice a healing scar across his cheek, like a brand of some sort that the green-clad elf touched momentarily, as if it shamed him.
The party that were following in his wake were made up of some of Lord Elrond's soldiers, and the twins and Aragorn greeted them quietly, not daring to ask about what had happened and where they were going, knowing that the leader of the party was sure to hear it, and it hardly seemed respectful to his apparent grief.
And so both parties moved on. The twins, Aragorn and the soldiers that moved with them rode deeper towards Rivendell to the House of Elrond, and the other party of riders trailing the grief-stricken elf in green headed for wherever it was they were meant to go, bearing their precious burden.
Curious as they always were, the three brothers found their father welcoming them at the door, and immediately assaulted him with questions.
~Ada,~ said Elrohir, ~We ran into the Prince of Mirkwood on our way here. It is him, isn't he? I've not laid eyes on him in decades, and we were never truly much acquainted. Did he come from our house?~
~Yes,~ Elrond replied, wincing, ~It is Legolas, and yes, he had come from here.~
~The Prince of Mirkwood?~ Aragorn asked, ~The elf in green? I've not seen him before.~
~It isn't a wonder,~ said Elrohir, ~King Thranduil's elves generally keep to themselves. They have their own problems there.~
~What brought the Prince to our fair lands?~ Elladan asked.
~The Prince, the Queen, and a band of Mirkwood soldiers had come from a journey,~ replied Elrond, ~And were attacked by orcs not too far from here. Legolas alone survived although his mother did as well, if only for a time. He rode his horse to the ground, trying to bring her here. She was long dead by the time he had arrived.~
~And so Mirkwood has lost its Queen,~ Elladan sighed, shaking his head in dismay, not saying that what had happened to the Prince of Mirkwood moved close to his heart; his own mother had been attacked by orcs after all, though she at least managed to survive and sail to the Undying Lands.
~And possibly the heart of its fair Prince,~ Elrond added quietly.
* * *
"I despise you."
Aragorn blinked, turning towards the elf curiously. Legolas was staring at him with burning eyes.
"You recall and yet I do not," said Legolas, "This makes me uncomfortable."
"You despise me for something so trivial," Aragorn commented, shifting his weight, "And you seem uncomfortable about a whole lot of things, anyway. Why should it matter."
It was true; the initial trust that his warrior's heart had found in the human was slowly being drowned by its owner's wariness. Who was this human? Why does this man know him? Why does he speak his tongue? Why does he have these perceptive eyes that seemed to grate into his soul?
"If I am who you think I am," Legolas said, gathering his thoughts, "Who does this make you?"
"That would make me your rescuer," Aragorn told him, their eyes meeting.
Legolas could not help it. He laughed, and helplessly, Aragorn joined him. They laughed 'til their eyes watered, because it was hideously manic and tragically funny. The rescuer had ultimately found himself in the same situation as the elf he was supposed to aid.
"I've not," Legolas said, catching his breath, "I've not had a laugh in awhile."
"I heard you sometimes found humor in strange places," Aragorn said to him, "I suppose this does make you who I think you are."
"My father," said Legolas, "He used to say the same thing, albeit grudgingly. It was… It was my mother who found the trait more amusing."
They fell into silence again.
"You do not know what to say to that, I can tell," Legolas observed coolly, "because you know she is dead, don't you?"
"Yes," Aragorn admitted, "I told you I knew who you were."
Legolas averted his gaze from the human.
And in that grave silence, in the deepest places of the Earth, in the heart of the territory of their enemy, they stayed for uncountable moments, until time stretched and weathered, and seemed to stop altogether.
* * *
~Lord Elrond,~ the soldier was breathless, having just come from the road as he ran straight towards his master, who was at the time, having dinner with his three sons.
~Catch a breath,~ Elrond told him coolly, and waited in great patience for this seemingly urgent news. He recognized the soldier as having been from the party that he had sent to Mirkwood to escort Legolas Greenleaf days ago.
~We reached Mirkwood and stayed as your envoys for the Queen's burial as you had ordered,~ said the messenger, ~And on the dawn of our leave to return here, we had heard from Mirkwood soldiers that their Prince has vanished. We did not consider this our business, and made to return here except… all roads we had passed have been paved by slain orc. The stench of their blood was everywhere. We thought perhaps… the Prince encountered some trouble.~
Elrond frowned, thoughtful. ~He did not encounter trouble, Malik. He searched for it, and he found it. I should have known this would happen. He must be on a rampage.~
~I have sent a man to Mirkwood to inform their King, sire,~ said Malik, ~I thought it would be prudent to do so.~
~I could always rely upon your judgment,~ said Elrond approvingly, ~Very well. We shall stand by Thranduil's side in this. He has lost his wife, he certainly must not be allowed to lose his son. Prepare a search party, Malik, he should not be too far from where he had left his slain tormentors.~
Malik nodded and exited quickly, as the three brothers looked towards their father expectantly.
~I know you comprehend his anger,~ Elrond told them, ~You may come with the party if you please. Either way, you would go with or without my leave. I do not know why you even bother with the charade of looking at me as if my permission were required.~
~Oh Ada, you aren't really so upset, are you?~ Elladan teased, ~We would sit with you through dinner before we leave,~ he promised, turning to his brothers, ~Wouldn't we?~
* * *
I miss my brothers, Aragorn thought, his mind drifting back to the night that had ultimately brought him to where he was, They must be searching high and low for me.
Indeed, with his falling into the hands of the enemy, not merely was this episode despairing to the King of Mirkwood, but also to Lord Elrond as well.
Aragorn sighed, and it sounded so conspicuous in the gloom of this place that he was momentarily self-conscious. He glanced at the elf, who seemed consumed by his own thoughts, lording disconsolately over his own corner. Aragorn thought, What a miserable position to be in, he decided, though he could not imagine whatever made him believe that an orc-prison would be otherwise.
"I never knew orcs for taking prisoners," Aragorn said to the elf, "From my experience they killed on sight."
For a quiet moment, Aragorn thought that perhaps the Prince of Mirkwood would not reply.
"They don't," Legolas grunted, repositioning himself on the ground, "Or have you not looked around you? The dungeons are empty save for you and I. They do not take prisoners, no, hardly. They take toys. They will relish in breaking us, and after they have, they might just eat us when we cease to be amusing."
"This is my first time to be a prisoner of anything," Aragorn told him inanely.
"This is my second," Legolas said blandly, "in this same place, as a matter of fact."
Aragorn's brows raised, impressed. "You must be the luckiest elf in the land, then, to survive."
* * *
Hardly lucky, Legolas thought, recalling the first time he had sampled the hospitality of an orc dungeon. At least this time around, he was alone. With this strange human, yes, but he was with no one that he cared for. No one to account for but himself. No one to worry for but himself. No one to protect but himself. Not like the other time…
~Pace yourself, Legolas,~ she murmured to him, her voice soothing, always so regal and calm, controlled and assuring. It was her voice, her intonation, her kind eyes, that often eased his heart and his passions, as surely as it must have eased his father's. She had felt him trying to move without her assistance, and his arm muscles stiffened in pain and failure.
Father and son were more alike than they knew, equal in their strong-handedness and unbreakable wills. The Queen understood this clearly, and adroitly moved around them. She had always let her son be all the things that he had ever desired, and undoubtedly lent that free hand to the King as well. Always allowing for their freedom, and always there to catch them in case they fell. Both loved her dearly.
His head was still spinning from the blows he had received from their captors, and yet he walked aided only by her discreet hand upon his elbow, steering him along and walking as if she ruled all the lands, even as they were headed towards the darkest, dankest dungeons in all of Middle-Earth, moving under the threat of its cruelest, most vicious beasts. Her chin was raised and her eyes were proud and steely; he moved trying to imitate her grace, wanting himself to be a credit to her dignity.
He was her son, and he would not be the less of her. The remains of their Mirkwood soldier escorts treated their capture with the same reserve, and the orcs were vastly displeased by this.
They knew not who these elves were; but their nobility was undoubted. It was so tempting to shatter it, and the evil of the orcs was such that they could sense that what held this strength together was this woman with her cold, knowing eyes.
They wrenched her away from her son's elbow, and he stumbled before he caught his feet.
Growling in dismay, he rammed against the orcs beside him with his shoulders, his crafty hands reaching for one of the multitude of weapons the guards were carrying.
The Mirkwood soldiers about him began to spur into action, following the example of their valiant Prince. But their efforts were for naught, when the Uruk-hai commander of the outfit placed a spear against the female elf's throat and demanded that they desist or watch her die.
Legolas did as he was told without doubt. He laid down his weapons at the sight of the danger to his mother, although her eyes were horrified and seemed to scream at him to Fight!, and have no regard for her.
This he could not do. Though he and his other soldiers did not need further subduing, blows rained upon them, and seemed incessant until the Uruk-hai commander grabbed him by the hair, and told him that because of his delinquency, he would be given the privilege of watching the woman suffer before his very eyes.
* * *
"I thought so as well," Legolas winced, "But if I were truly lucky, I never should have been a prisoner at all."
They lapsed once more into uncomfortable silence, before Legolas rose up to his feet and uselessly dusted his clothes.
"Going somewhere?" Aragorn asked him, raising an eyebrow.
"They are coming for me," Legolas murmured, just before Aragorn heard the heavy footfalls of the orcs.
"Why not me?" asked Aragorn.
"You needn't take any offense," Legolas told him sarcastically, "You'll have your own turn. Unfortunately for you. Although, it is in some ways lucky for me. At least there are moments where their eager attentions are focused elsewhere."
Aragorn's eyes lit in understanding, although he clearly understood that what Legolas had meant by eager orc attention entailed blood and pain.
"Well," said Aragorn, "I did tell you I was your rescuer."
He detected a ghost of a puzzled, wry smile on the elf's face, before the orcs pulled the heavy iron door open and dragged the elf out with them.
* * *
Aragorn had paced the too-small length of the cell for the nth time since Legolas had been taken away, and he stopped midway from his furious walking when he heard the approach of the orc soldiers, and the distinct sound of a body being dragged along with them.
The door was pulled open, and the mostly-limp elf was thrown towards him. Aragorn caught Legolas and lowered him to the ground as gently as he could, fearing to look at what had been done to him.
"We'll see you soon, human," one of the orcs said maliciously, shutting the door at his bewildered face.
Aragorn waited for their footsteps to fade before he turned to look at the bloodied face of his prison mate. His eyes were glazed and unfocused, and his breath whistled.
~Legolas,~ Aragorn whispered to him, lowering his voice. The elf heard his name and was suddenly more alert, lending lucidity into his proud eyes.
~I told you to keep it to yourself,~ he snapped, trying to jerk away from the human's sure embrace.
~Stay still, fool,~ Aragorn told him, laying him on his back on the ground, ~I need you to tell me where to start.~
~Start what?~ Legolas asked irritably.
~Treating you,~ Aragorn replied, preoccupied as he looked over the elf, and started to run his hands across his body, checking for injuries. Without a doubt, his body was mercilessly peppered with cuts and bruises, even burns. But these were relatively superficial, and what Aragorn was concerned with was internal injuries.
~Do not--~ Legolas grunted, shifting away from Aragorn's hands, ~Would you please--~
~I will not take 'no' for an answer,~ insisted Aragorn, ~You need not fear. I was taught the healing arts by Lord Elrond himself.~
~I do not fear,~ Legolas told him coldly, ~I simply do not want your help. I do not need it.~
Aragorn looked at him with some amusement, ~Is hard-headedness a particularity of the elves? I've heard my brothers say the exact same things in almost the exact tone of voice.~
~It is your head that is as thick as the walls of Moria,~ grated Legolas, ~I expressly said that I do not--~
He involuntarily sucked in a breath, and his eyes watered when Aragorn probed at his ribs.
~I thought so,~ Aragorn murmured, his brow furrowing in worry. He was not much comforted by the sound of the elf's breathing.
~An old injury,~ Legolas said lamely as an excuse, ~It demands no attention.~
~An old injury,~ scoffed Aragorn, ~One that I am sure your orc-friends enjoy constantly reminding you of.~
~You can say that,~ Legolas said, catching his breath again at Aragorn's touch, ~Stop it!~ he commanded, profoundly annoyed, ~Leave it be.~
~I'm sorry, my friend, I could not,~ Aragorn told him, tearing at the edges of his tunic to bind the ribs with.
Legolas was momentarily captured by the human calling him a friend, treating him with kindness, tearing at his own clothes just to aid him. It was a touch of the spirit that he had not felt in so long, and it caught him off-guard.
~I wouldn't do that,~ Legolas told him at last, covering the human's hands with his own, ~You would run out of clothing in a week's time. And I guarantee you the orcs would provide you with none. You need it for the cold of these caves, and you need it for when we escape.~
The we of the usually reserved, aloof elf's statement was noted by both of them, and Legolas was as embarrassed as Aragorn was moved. The human was perceptive enough to note the elf's discomfort, and wanted to give him a distraction.
~By the time we escape this place,~ Aragorn told him, gently lowering Legolas's hands and continuing to work, ~I'm sure you would have greater concerns than the indignity of running around with a naked human. To save face, I will hide in the wood when we reach the nearest town. You can purchase me a new coat and come back for me.~
Legolas chuckled, winced and grabbed at his side, ~Curse you, do not make me laugh!~
Silently and with no more complaints, Legolas let the human see to his wounds, his eyes staring at the dark rock-face roof, trying to keep still and avoid becoming even more of a bother than he already felt he was being.
"I do not understand you," he said quietly to Estel, "Why would you help me so?"
Aragorn worked quietly for a few moments, distracted, before he replied. "Because you need it. Because I can."
"You are a good man," Legolas decided quietly, letting the man work in peace, until he felt a strange relief beginning to emanate from his most severe injury. For a moment his heart stopped. He wasn't dying, was he?! Craning his neck to look at what the human was doing, he found Estel chewing on strange greenery and then applying them as a paste to his injury.
Legolas' brows furrowed, trying to comprehend what the man was doing. It is only at this time that he began to apprehend the severity of the situation. Estel was applying Kingsfoil to his wound. Kingsfoil. Athelas, as the elves referred to it, were miraculous in the hands of a King. This was not just some human, with a curious history with Lord Elrond, who had an acutely skilled healing hand. This man had the blood of Kings. And since most Kings are fairly accounted for save for one… he was beholding none other than the heir to the throne of Gondor.
Aragorn felt the elf's eyes on his face as he worked, and he looked up to meet the even gaze.
~I should have known you had old, noble blood,~ Legolas told him, ~I should have known.~
~Don't berate yourself for not knowing,~ Aragorn told him, ~I only found out myself, some days ago. Lord Elrond kept it a secret from me all these years that he raised me as his son,~ he chuckled, trying to make light of the situation, ~I always felt I was different. Not just because of the ears, mind.~
~It's in your eyes,~ Legolas said gravely, not taking the light cue, for he was curious of this startling revelation.
~And the hard head,~ Aragorn added with a smile, ~And the cleverness, for sure. I hid these in the seams of my tunics. And tied them up in my boots, just to look like I stepped on some grass and dragged them along with me.~
~You are full of surprises,~ Legolas sighed, letting his head fall to the ground tiredly, and letting his mind drift into sleep.
TO BE CONTINUED…