CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Matters of Regret

Legolas' pulse was erratic and faint. Placing his shaking hand on the Elf's heart, Aragorn felt it beating rapidly, laboring with every pump of blood through his body. The prince's face had gone far too pale and his lips were changing from a faint reddish pink to an unhealthy blue.

Aragorn couldn't believe it.

Legolas was fading.

Not caring if Legolas could hear him or not, Aragorn desperately called to the Elf. "Legolas please, please come back!" He watched, as the prince remained motionless, lying on his back and his fingers went limp, uncurling as his body relaxed. He seemed so fragile now that his body was fading to a white color and his face seemed to show signs of aging. "Legolas please! I will do anything! Anything!" Aragorn begged his friend, who was unable to hear his cries.

"I can't go home without you," he whispered into the Elf's pointed ear as he leaned over him, feeling his pulse again. It was still there, though it was weakening. "Don't leave me now, Legolas. Not now. I saved you! Stay with me!"

The battle was nearly over and his men were allowing the retreat of many Haradrim soldiers who hadn't truly wanted to be a part of this anyway. As everything seemed to draw to a close, they gathered around Aragorn where he was crumpled by the motionless frame of Legolas.

Their captain seemed to be in a daze and he didn't even acknowledge their presence. "Sir, there is nothing you can do. He has been through so much…allow him the rest he craves." They didn't mean this in a discourteous or unthoughtful way, but they didn't know what else to say. They had to get out of Harad or they all would be dead.

Aragorn turned to them and then slowly, looking at his friend's body again, he stroked Legolas' dirty hair from around his face. Legolas should have never followed him here. He should have never allowed the Elf to come. Barely able to stand on his own, Aragorn slid an arm beneath Legolas' knees and then placed his other arm under the prince's shoulders, gathering him up so that Legolas' head was cradled against his chest.

Holding the Elf close, Aragorn began to walk towards the stairs of the scaffolding when a young boy, maybe ten years old, bounded up. "Sir, do you need a place to tend him?" he offered. "You can use our house. It isn't much but my mother is a healer. She can help."

"Sir," said one of the men. "This is insane. Are you going to sacrifice all the rest of us for one Elf that is at Death's Door?"

"Why are you doing this?" Aragorn asked the boy, ignoring his soldier. He had thought that they were hardly appreciated by the Haradrim and had expected to be killed by a mob of villagers, not this sudden kindness. Aragorn felt his body trembling as terror ate at his heart. He could lose his best friend forever and there was nothing he could do about it.

"My mother," the boy answered. "Said she wants to honor your bravery and that of the Elf. It is something to be respected," he explained. With his tousled hair and scrawny face, he looked like an older version of Mytra's son.

Aragorn didn't even ask his men's approval before he eagerly shook his head, willing at this point to try anything.

The Gondorian soldiers that were left looked at each other before hurrying to catch up with Thorongil, who was trailing at the little boy's heals.

Once inside the home of the boy and his mother, Aragorn was showed a place to lay Legolas down.

Gently placing the Elf upon the bed, Aragorn felt hot tears sting his eyes as in the dark of the house Legolas looked even more pale and his Elven glow was non existent. His chest was barely rising and falling as his lungs strove to get oxygen through his body. Grabbing some pillows nearby, Aragorn put them behind Legolas' head, trying to support the Elf in a way that would make breathing easier.

The soldiers filed in, finding places to lean on the walls as they watched the woman enter. She was lithe but not young and with her she carried a steaming pot of boiling water.

Aragorn watched as she took some dried Athelas, or as the Haradrim called it, Kingsfoil, and steeped it in the caldron. Then taking out a long knife, she stood by the Elf and began to saw away at the tunic given to him by Mytra, or what was left of it. It was already in tatters from the abuse of his recapture.

Once the tunic was removed they had to work quickly.

Aragorn was too tired to be of much assistance, despite his own talents in healing, so he settled down and watched intensely. To his dismay he could tell just how many ribs the Elf had without a second glance and he saw how thin Legolas looked, stretched out and relaxed on the soft mattress. He had always been lithe but never overly skinny, not like he was now. Dark circles were around the prince's eyes, giving him the look of a skeleton rather than an Elf-prince.

The woman narrowed her eyes in mild confusion and then looked at Aragorn incredulously. "He should have died a long time ago." Her voice was soft as she dipped a cloth into the hot water and began to cleanse Legolas' chest and abdomen of dirt, blood and grime, careful not to irritate any of his injuries or press on his broken/cracked ribs.

As she washed away the dirt the pale skin still looked mottled with dark bruises, especially over the places were during interrogation Sarchel had broken a rib. Aragorn didn't know what had happened to the man, but the was grateful that he wasn't around.

As Aragorn watched his friend's wounds being washed, he felt his heart bathing itself in guilt and regret. He knew it wasn't a mercy to try and bring Legolas back and that it would be better for the prince to visit Mandos' Halls and see his mother again. But he just couldn't bring himself to let go, he couldn't.

Once the wounds were cleansed, the woman threaded a needle and carefully began to stitch the deeper and more grievous of the frontal lacerations. Aragorn smiled remembering how Legolas had absolutely refused to allow him to apply stitches many times. He was beginning to wonder if the Elf didn't possess a fear of needles. Ah, well, he was unconscious now so at least he wasn't jerking the entire time.

Once the stitches were applied to the front, the woman motioned for Aragorn's assistance and together; they gingerly placed Legolas on his stomach so the procedure could be repeated on his back. All this finished, the woman swathed the Elf's ribs in gauze and wrapped bandages around them, tight enough to hold the ribs in place but loose enough to allow easy breathing.

Aragorn took a wool blanket and gently pulled it over his friend until he reached Legolas' neck, where, he suddenly noticed the bloody nick mark of a blade. That was how close Legolas had come to dying. Shuddering, Aragorn tucked the edges around the sleeping prince and bent over him to kiss his forehead, which was slightly warmer than normal.

Finding another cloth and soaking it in the Athelas water, Aragorn set it on Legolas' brow, hoping it would help bring his friend back. They had tried everything and so now they must wait and see if Legolas had the strength to pull through.

At his men's insistence, Aragorn had accepted what healing the woman could provide for him and then had taken a seat by Legolas' side, refusing to lay down as he talked everything over with his men.

All this had been about a week ago, Aragorn mentally determined, tearing off a bandage.

Aragorn looked over at the gently sleeping Elf-prince, who looked more peaceful than he had in days. The Elf had been unconscious for a long time, a few days, and then had wakened only to fall into a deep sleep. Aragorn and his men had carried the Legolas with them after healing him as best as they were able when away from the town and the talented healer. Aragorn was grateful he didn't have to forcefully have the prince pinned down to apply the stitches. He was afraid that would be more than Legolas could bear.

The people had been incredibly kind, providing them with spare cloaks and a few provisions to set them on their way. After all, the war had not been with the people, but with the soldiers, and Aragorn was more than willing to be friendly with the civilians.

Sighing as he watched the afternoon sun fleck Legolas' pale face, Aragorn remembered when he had dragged him off the scaffolding, folding him in his arms. Suddenly he saw his friend stir and stopping his own administrations to his wounds for a moment, he motioned to his men with a smile that the Elf was awake. Everyone stopped what they were doing, and to Aragorn's slight dismay, eagerly crowded around the fair being.

Legolas blinked slowly, feeling slightly confused as he discovered he was entirely comfortable. There was something soft beneath him and he was covered in an equally soft blanket. He also felt relaxed, unafraid and well. Unused to feeling such things, at least as of late, the Elf-prince was unsure how he should react to something of that feeling. Sinking further into the large and rather over stuffed pillows that he suddenly realized were really rolled up cloaks the Elf suddenly sat up.

He proved to have moved too fast and his head felt like it was whirling in the clouds. Many hands came and supported him to ease him back to the earth. A campfire flickered to his right and he started, crying out for Aragorn in his confusion, wondering if the human were all right and just what was going on.

There was a warm laugh and Legolas looked over to see Aragorn tending to his own wounds as he saw on a cloak spread upon the sands. "Thorongil?" he asked wearily as he yawned and observed the camp further. All around him seated patiently, were Aragorn's soldiers, watching him earnestly so that he would not hurt himself.

"So you think soldiers can confine me to a 'bed', Thorongil? How long have you known me? If the head healer of Mirkwood can't do it, what makes you think they can?" Legolas questioned and a smile danced on his face for the first time in what seemed ages. It wasn't as bright as it used to be, but it meant everything to Aragorn to see his friend smiling again.

Returning the warming gesture, Aragorn shook his head as he watched his friend discover the stitches placed in all his deeper cuts and the bandages on the others. "I didn't expect they could, but your wounds and weariness certainly will. You have been unconscious for a long time, we have tended you as best we could," he explained as to the poultices and other things covering his wounds.

It was then Legolas realized where all the cloaks had come from. The soldiers that had hated him not too long ago had given up their source of warmth to ease his traveling and healing. Looking at them with wide eyes of pleasant surprise, Legolas didn't need to ask; they knew what he was thinking.

"We were wrong, my good Legolas," answered one of them in a friendly and remorseful voice. "We let race stand in the way when it really should have made no difference. You have more than earned our respect, saving Thorongil's life and holding up under less…friendly circumstances. We were wrong to judge you before we knew you." The other men all nodded in agreement of studied the ground as though it was the most interesting thing they had seen in some time.

"Pardon me," interjected another, "but Captain Thorongil bid me have you drink this when you woke." One of the soldiers passed a cup with some strange smelling herb in it to the Elf, who accepted it cautiously and then leveled Aragorn with a glare. He knew that Aragorn knew he wouldn't make a scene about medicine taking in front of these men. Sly ranger…he would pay for this episode.

Aragorn read Legolas' thoughts in his eyes and chuckled as he watched the Elf down the bitter tasting potion with one swill, doing his best not make a face but not having much choice in the matter. "Relax Legolas, it's not poison."

The prince snorted skeptically before he set the cup on the ground. This wasn't adding up, none of it. "How did we get here, wherever here is?" he questioned, looking around at everyone before settling on Aragorn, who was frowning.

"Do you remember anything?" he asked cheerlessly, finishing his own administrations to his wounds. Legolas had been unconscious so that explained a great deal of his bewilderment.

Legolas crinkled his brow before he eased himself back down onto the 'mattress' of cloaks, only to feel the hands of the surviving men supporting him, making sure he didn't collapse and land hard. He didn't want them to know how the touch of their hands against him made him cringe inside, because he knew their gesture was only meant in kindness.

"I remember Sirith…dying…."His voice squeezed off as he realized the amount of casualties must have been extensive. "I remember that I killed Dorrag and that Darcíl is dead. After that my mind is blank."

Aragorn looked at his men, who seemed suddenly more sorrowful and less inclined to conversation. "Legolas, the battle was over shortly after you went unconscious. I came and gathered you up and things were finished. We were given supplies but promptly escorted from the city because they didn't have any more means to help us and couldn't afford to keep us among them for many reasons. There are only twenty of us left. We had heavy casualties, but Harad shouldn't trouble us for quite a few years."

"What of the children of Astroggen? And the women? Are they…dead?" he couldn't bear to think of all that innocent blood being spilled. Closing his eyes he remembered Mytra and her little son….

"That is unknown. Legolas, we couldn't find out, time was too precious. We would assume that they were alive." He cast his friend a sympathetic and comforting look. "They know their way around better than we do and I imagine that they are perfectly safe for the time being." As are you mellon nin, as are you.

Legolas didn't want to break down and cry in front of all these soldiers, but he had been through so much in so short a time and it all hurt terribly. Aragorn looked at his friend, knowing his emotional and weary state and seeing the look in his eyes of a dam about to break. Glancing at his men he said, "Go and gather more wood and see if we can't get a decent dinner tonight. There has to be a herd of deer somewhere."

With respective nods the men all dispersed into groups of four to do their captain's bidding, leaving the healing friends to themselves. Aragorn scooted over to where Legolas lay, looking up at the sky and the overhanging trees of the oasis they seemed to have found. His eyes were wet and he looked over at the ranger.

"Estel," the Elf whispered quietly as a silent tear freed itself of the corner of his eye. "Some of the things I have seen, some of the things I have been through…I, I thought only orcs were so cruel. And when your men shunned me, well it brought back some horrible memories. I-I never expected such kindness in the end. I came to be with you and help you, though I fear I have been more of a burden. And I thought certainly after all those casualties your men took they would hate me. What did you tell them to make them be so…kind?"

"Legolas, I didn't tell them much of anything. Just that you had been through a lot and hadn't broken for their sake as much as for mine. They know how you tired to save Sirith and his attachment to you touched their hearts as well. Legolas, these men had good in their hearts but just as your race if suspicious of ours we are of yours." He shook his head and reached a hand out to remove a tear from Legolas' cheek but was surprised when the Elf caught and held his hand tightly in his long fingers.

Smiling, the Elf asked hopefully, "So are we going home now, I hope?" He had had enough of war and of seeing men slay one anther to last a life-age though he would willingly go through it all again for his friend's sake.

Laughing at the glow returning to Legolas' body and the light flooding back into his friend's eyes, he squeezed the Elf's slender hand back. "Yes, just as soon as I get our discharge papers from the good Steward of Gondor we will be on our way." Disappointment but understanding touched Legolas' face and Aragorn continued. "Can you wait just another few months? I promise, nothing will contain us any further." He knew very well that Legolas didn't need discharge papers since he had never enlisted and come as a 'hired' spy. "I would appreciate your company and I have a hunch that your wounds are going to need my administrations for a while yet."

A smile crept onto Legolas' face, erasing the disappointment. "And who knows what new adventures we could have."

Aragorn looked at the Elf with a sloppy grin and shook his head. "Hopefully not for a long time."

The End

The upcoming sequel "The Edge of the World" will be done after after "Ripples", being a bit difficult to write and a longer project . We would say it would be up by next summer but you never know what surprises life could have in store. :) If you haven't seen the preview go to our website and look at it. The actual picture will be up in August.

Namarie for now! Please review this last chapter! Thank you very much for all your support in this story! It made it a pleasure to write. ;) We had no time for review reponses, our greatest condolences but real life decided to make a timeconsuming appearance! We are glad you guys appeared to really enjoy chapter 25! Thanksfor all those flattering reviews!