By Fate or By Chance
As I tend to get unnecessarily graphic at times
Author's Note: This is very much outside what I normally write. It began when I was pondering over whether or not I should write a story for the Teitho contest (triple w dot teitho dot waking-vision dot com) run by Aragornwriter and the Mellon Chronicles Mailing List. This was the end result so to speak.
The quality of the work by everyone who participated was staggering. If you are in search of amazingly written works about Aragorn and/or Legolas, you should go and check it out -ends shameless plug-
In any case, now that voting has ended and this contest closed, I decided to post the one tale I worked on in March in here at last. :)
Technically, this is a short story, but I split it into two parts/chapters. Whether for a dramatic effect or for your own reading torture… you decide -sniggers-
Spoilers: Nothing significant. Just basic background character information spoilers.
Disclaimer: I am not the owner or creator of Middle-earth, nor am I the owner of any of the characters mentioned thus, minus those I created. This is just a fanfiction writer trying to tell a story that popped into my head and flowed onto the computer one day. Grammatical errors are my own as are spelling errors.
This story is based on the general assumption that Legolas and Aragorn knew and were friends before the War of the Ring (which is not too strange a concept generally speaking), and as there is no canon to dispute it, I allowed myself this creative embellishment. :P
Synopsis: An unnamed threat dares Legolas to place his fate in a game of chance. The alternative leaving no way that could possibly keep both himself and Aragorn alive…
Chapter I – Torn
How did it turn out this way? How did it come to something as dangerous as this? One wrong move, one misguided decision, and it'll all be over for the both of them.
Legolas stared at the two silver chalices on the wooden table before him, identical to the last engraving, the last gem. Dark, amber-coloured liquid rippled harmlessly within, so serene and so innocent-looking. Yet one held a deadly secret, one that was hidden from the elf.
One of them was poisoned.
"So elf what will it be?"
Legolas glared angrily at the one who cornered him thus, hatred being the only thing in his mind as he carefully eyed the hand that held the knife tightly against Aragorn's neck. The sight of Aragorn bound and gagged, trussed up in chains so that he hung from the wall by his arms caused rage to burn deeply in his soul, and if not for the precariousness of the situation, he would not need much encouragement to strangle the one responsible for it with his bare hands.
The sound of metal clinking told him that Elrond's sons, Elladan and Elrohir behind him had loosened their swords in its sheaths, making it ready to draw at a moment's notice. Their eyes were dark as they emanated as much disgust and hate as he did, staring at the one who held their youngest brother hostage.
But their adversary did not falter. His green eyes blazed all the brighter as he gripped more firmly at the blade that was beneath Aragorn's chin, giving the two Noldo elves a leveled gaze. "If either of you moves, I'll cut this one's throat," he growled, jerking the blade, cutting more deeply into Aragorn's already bleeding throat, causing blood to drip more quickly over the silver edge of the knife. "I have no interest with this young one or you, only the blonde elf there, but I ain't afraid to kill him if either of you interfere!"
A sharp hiss issued from Elrohir's mouth as Aragorn groaned from behind the dirty gag that covered his mouth as the pressure on his neck increased. "If you kill him, then your bargaining item is of no use to us!" said Elladan loudly. "And nothing will save you from our wrath if it comes to that! Death will be a blessing for you if he perishes by your filthy hands!"
"Perhaps yes, I lose my bargaining tool. But better I die doing you some emotional damage than being slain by mere carelessness," said the man callously. "I will let you know this, I never bluff."
He used his thumb to gently stroke Aragorn's unshaven cheek. "This one is important to you, is he not? Are you willing to chance it?"
The elder twin held his tongue, distress written on his features as he watched Aragorn shied away from the man's loathsome touch. He did not enjoy this, no more than the fact that he could not slay this ruffian of a man right this instant. But what else could he do?
"Who are you? What have I ever done to cause you ill?" growled Legolas as he glared heavily at his enemy, his lips tight in a thin angry line. "I have done nothing to deserve this."
"Perhaps but that is not my business to worry over," said the man languidly though he kept a cautious gaze on the three elves that stood on the other side of the table. He had heard of the magic of the elves, and feared that one may suddenly call lightening to strike him. The mere fact that he held a human friend of theirs, a sad, pitiful, ranger of the North, as a hostage was the only thing that allowed him to remain as cocky as he was. "And who I am is none of your business. Long experience has taught me that giving a name will only mark you for others to seek. All I can tell you is that I have only orders to see you dead, nothing more. And I never leave a job unfinished."
"Assassin," snapped Elrohir angrily his fair elven face set with a look of pure loathing, clenching his fist, as if try to resist the urge to draw his blade so to take off this ones head right then and there.
"Not especially," shrugged the man, his face a mask of abject innocence, although the fact he held a knife to the young ranger's neck bellied his humbled appearance. "I don't often kill you know, it's too messy. Let the others who don't mind having blood spilt on their hands do the dirty work."
"So how is this different?" asked Elladan coolly, though his eyes were as hard as stone.
"This particular job's pay was too handsome to refuse." Their adversary's expression suddenly transformed as he grinned wickedly at Legolas, his dark, unkempt face making him seem all the more dangerous. "You are quite the hot commodity, Mirkwood prince."
Legolas stiffened under the malevolent gaze of his enemy's as he averted his eyes to stare again at the chalices, so to allow him some time to think. It seemed so simple and yet, was it worth the risks?
"You will stay true to your word if I agree to play your game?" asked Legolas quietly, though he had his doubts if this man ever spoke a true word in his despicable existence. But he saw no other options; no other way that could possibly keep both himself and the ranger alive.
"You have my word as a Man," said the assassin firmly, though the malicious grin was still on his face, "that no harm will befall this boy of yours if you play my game. It's as simple as that."
"Legolas this is obviously a trap," hissed Elladan in the Grey tongue. "I'd trust his word as much as I'd trust an Orc's. He intends to see you dead!"
"Do you see any other way then Elladan? Any other option? Because I cannot," retorted Legolas darkly in the same language. "I can see no other way to ensure Aragorn's safety. And I would rather risk my life than his in this. He is an innocent."
"Aragorn will not want you to forfeit your life for his any more than you would if the positions were reversed!" cried Elrohir softly. "Can you not see? This is folly! How can you rest his and your lives in a game of chance?"
"Now now you pretty things," chuckled their adversary evilly, cutting into their conversation. "I will not have you three talk amongst yourselves in a language I cannot understand, else I get suspicious. And when I get suspicious…"
With his free arm he drew another dagger from his belt, licking its edge. "Let us see how well the ranger can take some pain before he begins to cry," suggested the man all too casually, sending the three elves a sinister grin. He knew that in battle, he was far outmatched by any one of them. And it was only luck that had bagged this ranger as bait. His only hope now was to outwit them and outplay them.
He had always prided himself as an intelligent man. And today, his very existence depended on how he played this game. And as he eyed them, he remembered the words that had been whispered to him many months before.
"I want him dead. Dead and gone. Use any means to get this job done…"
The first sweep of his blade left a shallow cut on Aragorn's cheek, causing the ranger to jerk his head slightly. Dark, unkempt hair fell into his eyes as blood dripped from it onto the gag at his mouth.
"Shallow cuts," sniggered the assassin as he raised the knife again. The second sweep left a deeper cut still on Aragorn's arm, and Aragorn had to blink back the tears as he tried to ignore the pain that tore down his arm, blood dripping slowly from the wound he was inflicted with. "Deep cuts," whispered his tormentor almost reverently in his ear as the ranger tried to pull away from his loathsome presence, but the man simply kicked the feet out from under him, a wide, chaotic grin on his face. Aragorn groaned as strain was placed on his already sore arms.
Elrohir's veered towards the man, his face white with fury. "Stop that! Stop it right now!"
"Why?" he challenged as he drew the blade across Aragorn's chest, the sharp edge of the knife slicing easily through the dirty fabric of the tunic and shirt he wore, leaving a red line across the ranger's skin. "Why must I stop this game when I'm having so much fun?"
"This is no game!" cried Legolas, his blue eyes blazing angrily, wishing that he had his bow with him, or even his white elven knives, but alas, he had left them by the door, in compliance to Aragorn's kidnapper's demands, lest he kills him. "This is sick!"
"So you mean to tell me you're not having fun?" questioned the man languidly as he continued his 'game'. "Tis a pity, because I sure am enjoying it. You have no idea how much concentration it takes to do something such as this. One cannot cut too deeply, or else you may do some permanent damage, and he'll die too quickly. And yet, one cannot cut too shallowly, or you will not get the delicious stream of blood that comes from it. Fascinating don't you think?"
Elladan's body trembled from the rage he held bottled within himself. "It is madness!" he exclaimed hoarsely, tears of rage forming from behind his eyes.
"Perhaps this will help you make your decisions faster then, my dear blonde elf friend," he whispered dangerously as he stared at Legolas.
"I am no friend of yours!" snapped Legolas.
"Regardless," continued the man, not at all fazed by the rage that was being directed at him, "if you don't choose quickly, this ranger boy will have so many open wounds that he'd have lost too much blood to keep himself alive."
Legolas stared helplessly as his friend jerked automatically at each slash that broke skin, causing more and more blood to stain his dark clothing. A muffled cry from behind the gag tore through Legolas' heart as a particularly deep cut sliced down his side. "He is an innocent!" shouted Legolas angrily, his voice strained from the emotions he was made to endure. No one deserved to watch a friend suffer by an enemy's hand. "Why do you torment him, wound him, when it is I you should be torturing? I am the one you want!"
"Oh but I am torturing you. And trust me elf, this kind of hurt digs deeper than any knife can cut," he sniggered, pausing in his task so to give Legolas a threatening stare. "The pain that is in your eyes, the sense of duty, the pity, the shame… you elves were always so caring." He pricked Aragorn's cheek roughly, causing another muffled groan from the ranger, Aragorn's grey eyes scrunched up tight as he tried to bite back the throbbing agony his body was enduring from the numerous cuts he was being made to suffer.
"Aragorn," whispered Legolas painfully.
"You are wasting time prince," growled the assassin. "Do you play the game? Or shall I let you and your elf friends watch me kill my hostage?"
Legolas sank to his knees, tears in his eyes as he stared emptily at the horrifying image before him, wishing that this was nothing more than a horrible, unending nightmare.
But it was not to be.
This was real.
"I had enough of these mind games, human," he said softly. "I will play your forsaken game."
His blue eyes shone brightly as he gave the man a leveled gaze as he spoke out more clearly. "I will play! Now cease your torture!"
"Legolas!" cried the twins in shock, grabbing his shoulders as one and pulled him to his feet as they spun him around.
"Legolas don't!" snapped Elladan heatedly. "He is our brother and we must be the ones to save him."
"He may be your brother but he is my friend," hissed Legolas fiercely. "And I may be the only one that can save your brother right now!"
"Legolas…" murmured Elrohir pleadingly, as he tried to implore the Mirkwood elf to change his mind. But Legolas refused to falter from the path he had chosen.
There was no other way.
Aragorn's eyes widened as he stared pleadingly at his friend as he turned around to face them once more, silently imploring the elf not to do it, trying to tell him that his life was not worth the chance that Legolas may die.
Legolas stared sadly back at the ranger. "I am sorry, my friend. But I will not sleep peacefully as long as my life endures, knowing that I am responsible for your demise," he thought. "Please do not think ill of me for what I have decided."
The assassin smiled.
"Good," he growled as he drew his two knives away from the ranger, but sheathing only one. "Nice to know you have sense, princeling."
Suddenly his knee flew up, landing a swift and punishing jab into the stomach of the ranger's, and Aragorn's eyes bulged as he shot forward, his body automatically doubling in on itself in response to the sudden pain and loss of air in his gut. A strangled cry, muffled by the gag, came from the ranger's mouth as he tried to will his lungs to resume breathing.
Elladan let loose an enraged roar as he tried to race forward; to kill this man that dared laid a finger on his little brother. But he was stopped by his brother and Legolas.
"Let me go and I'll skin this one's hide," snarled the elder twin in Sindarin as he tried to wrench his way out of their grip. But the two held fast, both trying to calm and reason with him.
"Brother to do so would ensure Estel's death!" hissed Elrohir in Westron as he dragged him back to the other side of the room.
"He's right." The assassin, initially taken aback by the sudden brute force of the elf's rage, had swiftly placed the dagger pointing directly at Aragorn's heart, giving Elladan a daring glare. "Come closer if you dare, kill me even! But before I die, I'll have to cut open this man's heart. And I'm sure you don't want that on your pretty head now do you?"
Legolas stared pleadingly at the elder twin. "This is my fight Elladan," said Legolas. "He said so himself. He doesn't want Aragorn. He wants me." He loosened his grip on Elladan as the elf regained some self-control over his rage. "I promise you," whispered Legolas softly in elvish, "no harm will come to him, not while I can help it."
"I'm getting bored of this," called the man lazily to the elves. "I don't have all day, your highness."
Legolas turned to stare angrily at the kidnapper. "You saw me put my weapons at your door when I first entered. I am unarmed." He held out his palms to show that there was nothing in them that could present a danger to the assassin.
"I know that, I'm not an idiot!" snapped the assassin. "Though your friends there are armed, and can be a potential hazard. I want them to take their swords and place it on the ground before them. Comply or this one is dead!"
"Go and may fate smile kindly upon you this day," murmured Elrohir to Legolas, as he and Elladan exchanged a pained look, feeling immensely helpless to do anything. They drew their blades in unison, and with the same smooth motion placed them at their feet, backing away as Legolas stepped forward.
"It is done," declared Legolas quietly.
"Good. Now you get to this table and choose your goblet or the deals off and this ranger will be warg bait!"
Legolas stared infuriately at the man, giving the twins a last look before he walked forward, stepping cautiously, as long experience has proven that most deals with such men are double-edged and dangerous, and one rarely ever knows precisely when a trap will spring. But nothing happened, and soon he was a mere metre and a half away from his tormentor, the table between them.
The man waved his dagger at the goblets. "The honour is all yours blondie. Choose the goblet that you will drink, and hope that you choose rightly."
Muffled yelling came from behind the man as Aragorn began to struggle violently against his bonds, his eyes wild and terrified. But Legolas ignored him. He couldn't turn back now. He has made his choice.
Without looking, he picked up the one that stood to his right, sniffing the contents slightly, making a face. It smelt something like what men called mead, like the drink that Aragorn always bought a pint of whenever he and Legolas travelled into one of the human settlements west of the mountains. The elf was quite frankly not a fan of western ale, preferring the richer and more delicate quality that comes to his father's halls from Lake-town.
The man was quick to take the goblet to the right, with such the malicious grin on his face, that Legolas felt slightly uneasy. Why did this man seem such at ease when his life too was on the line? Did he choose wrong? Or is the man bluffing?
What Legolas didn't see was the dark look the twins exchanged. Something wasn't right.
"We empty our glasses, down to the last drop or I kill your friend," said the man firmly, using his knife to point back at Aragorn. A brilliant grin graced his dirty face. "Shall we make a toast?"
Legolas made a face. "I will toast nothing in your company, save that you find your swift and painful way to the Halls of Mandos," muttered Legolas.
"Well now that's not nice," whined the man rather hurtfully, pursing his lips so to make a pout. "I know. Let us make a toast to pretty ladies and pretty jewels. Cheers!" And he began to gulp down the contents of chalice, but his eyes stared beadily at the elf, his knife gripped in his other hand, watching to be sure that the elf did indeed drink the contents of the chalice.
Legolas followed suit hesitantly, lifting the goblet to his lips with both hands, slowly letting its bitter taste pass down his throat. It seemed to burn his mouth as it passed down into his stomach but he did not stop. He could not stop.
The elf's body suddenly seized up as the now empty chalice fell numbly from his grip, clattering loudly on the hard floor beneath him as he soon followed suit, eyes blinded by tears as he tried to ignore the how his stomach suddenly felt set aflame, like there was an inferno burning with his body.
He did not need the pain to tell him that he had chosen wrong.
Fate had not been friendly with him this day. And it had cost him his life.
"Legolas!" cried out the twins as they raced forward, stooping as one as they grabbed their blades on the ground only a short distance before them, ready to race in to deal with the kidnapper.
A single thud made them stop short as a knife quivered in the wooden beam a mere inch above Aragorn's head.
"Drop those swords and move back to the wall, because next time I won't miss!" yelled the man as he drew his second knife. "This elf is already a goner. Don't add this ranger's life on top of your losses. Now drop those swords! Now!"
Elladan and Elrohir seemed to contemplate whether or not to comply with the man's demands, but as he lifted his arm to throw once again, aiming directly at Aragorn's head, they dropped their blades swiftly, the metal clanging emptily on the ground below them, as empty as their own hearts were right then.
Keeping an eye on the two as they reluctantly backed away, he crouched down at Legolas' prostrate, trembling form, snatching a handful of his long blonde hair, lifting his head so that Legolas now partially sat on his knees, the two facing each other. "Well princeling, game over. You lose. In learning you will teach and in teaching you will learn... today's lesson for you and your friends is never to trust one who wants to live and wants you dead. But I'm afraid you won't be doing much teaching after today!"
His armed hand rose, ready to slice his throat as cries of despair and rage tore from the elf twin's throat as they raced forward again, though they knew in their hearts that they would not make it in time to save the Mirkwood prince.
Abruptly, an arm shot up and grabbed hold of the hand holding the hilt, causing both the sons of Elrond and the knife to stop where they were.
His green eyes grew wide in surprise as cold blue ones stared back at him, as cold and hard as steel as Legolas held fast to the hand, using all his strength to turn the blade, towards his foe. Sweat beaded from the elf's brow, and his breathing was hot and fast from the poison coursing through his body, but still he contested his strength against the man's, gritting his teeth as he willed his strength to hold out, so to finish one last deed before death takes him.
"If I must die," hollered Legolas to the man's face, "then I am at least taking you with me!"
"Stop!" cried the foe desperately, for he had underestimated Legolas' strength, and thought the poison to have paralyzed him by now, or even kill him. But now he realized the mistake of his assumptions, and his pride.
And he realized that he did not wish to meet death.
He tried to release his hold on his dagger, but the hand that gripped his held him with strength beyond any he could break. His eyes flashed wildly as he flailed in Legolas' hold, his mind telling him to pull away, but his muscles did not respond, and he could only cry out vainly: "Mercy please!"
"In learning you will teach and in teaching you will learn," snarled Legolas, his eyes becoming dark and glazed. "Today's lesson for you is to never underestimate your opponents, or to play mind games using a friend and an innocent as the source of torment and personal amusement!"
With a single burst of raw, unbridled energy, Legolas shoved the dagger away from him, digging it deeply into the man's dark heart, blood spilling slowly from the wound as his foe's eyes dimmed and darkened, the light of existence fading from his corpse as he fell back, away from Legolas, his hand still tightly gripping the hilt of the blade that became his bane.
"Unfortunately," gasped Legolas as he collapsed face down, "you… will not be… teaching… after today…"
Footsteps echoed about his mind as voices floated about his inner thoughts, calling to him, though they were dulled by the excruciating pain his body was undergoing, the burning, the piercing, the agony of its heat. Rarely before had he ever felt such torment inside him, such a fire rage within him, and he only wanted it to end. So that he could rest.
Words that held no meaning reverberated in his ears, as white light consumed his sight. And he embraced it.
And he saw no more.
To be continued...
Final A/N: Would I be so cruel to allow everyone's favourite elven warrior to die? Well it would be an interesting twist to write; the angst, the drama and the funeral arrangements... -eg-
-notices the dangerous light in everyone's eyes at the mind games I am playing-
I swear it was a good funeral? Ummm... -runs fearfully-