Man on Fire

By Evenstar606

Disclaimer: I own nothing. Tolkien owns all.

Summary: While traveling in a foreign land, Legolas and Aragorn are assailed by a group of masked riders, and Legolas is injured. The aftermath of their attack reveals unsettling consequences, and Aragorn must track down the riders to find a cure and save Legolas before he succumbs to a deadly ailment.

"When will you be back?" the question passed Elrond's lips before he had time to think about it. Of course, there was no telling when Aragorn and Legolas would return from one of their hunting trips. Something always befell them.

Aragorn paused while fixing a bridle onto Swiftblade, his chestnut mare. The sounds of spring settled around them. Birds twittered in the trees, their melodic voices filled with carefree joy. A faint breeze drifted through the boughs of Imladris' towering pines, and carried the scents of herb and leaf into the secluded valley.

"A week at the most," Aragorn said finally. He handed Swiftblade an apple, which she munched greedily. Aragorn turned, and dusted the front of his woven shirt, covered in pollen and seed set to the wind by blooming flowers.

Elrond's next question was typical. "Where exactly are you going?"

Aragorn groaned. Now he felt obligated to answer, and Elrond would surely refuse to let them out of the Gates once the words had left Aragorn's mouth. "I've heard that the Iron Hills east of Mirkwood are good hunting ground," Aragorn began.

"Really," Elrond hardened his gaze. "That area has been abandoned for years—you could become lost, or worse!"

"Elrond, I'm not a child anymore," Aragorn insisted. Thirty-eight was hardly considered a child among human standards. He was a full grown man, well into his prime. "I am a Ranger; I know how to handle myself in the wild. Legolas and I won't go far, I promise you."

Just then, Legolas approached leading his white stallion, Amberle. She was loaded down with packs, and bedrolls, yet still stepped as lightly as ever over the grass. "What are you two arguing about now?" Legolas asked. His long blonde hair gleamed in the bright sunlight. Strapped to his back were Legolas's bow and quiver.

"Nothing, Penneth," Elrond sighed. He smoothly avoided a confrontation with Legolas, who was nearly as stubborn as Aragorn.

"Good," Legolas smiled, and climbed onto Amberle's back, while Aragorn mounted Swiftblade.

"You two be careful," Elrond warned. "Try to come back in one piece."

"No worries," Aragorn insisted. He prompted his horse on, and they rode out of the Gates, leaving Elrond to stand alone, doing what he did best: worrying.

Aragorn and Legolas rode in silence for several hours. By the time they crossed over the mountains, and found the Old Forest Road leading into Mirkwood, the sun was just beginning to set upon the horizon. Splashes of vivid color bathed the sky above, and the night grew chill. Legolas shivered, more from uneasiness than the cold as they passed under the black canopy of oaks into the vastness of Mirkwood. Hundreds of glowing red eyes peered out at them from the darkness; Legolas felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck, and Amberle pulled restlessly at the reins.

"Aragorn—we need to speed up. Soon it will be pitch black, and we won't be able to see our hands in front of our faces," Legolas said. His voice cut through the quiet like an owl in the empty void when all creatures should be at rest.

"What's wrong Mellonin, afraid of the dark?" Aragorn teased good-naturedly. He noticed that Legolas was awfully pale and seemed to be trembling, though it could have been the shadows playing tricks on him.

"I don't want to lose the path," Legolas admitted, and forced a smile. Aragorn nodded in understanding. Wandering astray into the depths of the forest meant certain doom; whether they were eaten by spiders or torn limb from limb by vile orcs. They could not afford to tarry.

"Make haste, Swiftblade," Aragorn urged. Legolas whispered softly to his frightened horse, and they galloped past the staring eyes, and rushed beyond the trees toward freedom and clear air.

At last Mirkwood was behind them. They stopped by the river and set up camp. Aragorn gathered kindling for the fire while Legolas tethered their horses, and stared into the gloom; he strained his ears to listen, could discern no sound of danger, but still a feeling of foreboding clung to him. He had been here before, many, many times, yet not in the waking world. Past nightmares flooded back to invade his subconscious mind, and he tried to shake them off, but they persisted.

Five-year-old Legolas dashed out of the trees, shrieking in contentment as his father chased him through the forest in a playful game of hide-and-seek. "Come and catch me, Ada!" he called, and hid behind a wide oak, clinging to the trunk and peering out with wide-eyed innocence. Minutes passed, but still no Ada.

A frigid wind rustled the branches, and rotting leaves cascaded down to land in Legolas's hair. Overhead, dark clouds slowly gathered. He felt a drop of rain on his nose. Legolas hummed softly to himself, waiting. He began to feel scared, his heart leapt into his throat and pounded rapidly. Panicking, the small Elf ling stepped away from the tree, and walked toward the edge of the forest and into an unfamiliar meadow

Out of nowhere, an army of masked riders descended upon him, and he soon found himself blindfolded, swept into their arms and carried away. He screamed but no sound came out. Then everything faded until he felt and saw no more.

"Legolas," Aragorn jolted him out of his thoughts. Aragorn gestured to the roaring fire. "Come rest, Legolas," he said, mindful of his friend's agitation. "I'll take first watch."

"Very well, Aragorn," Legolas sighed, and cast himself upon his bedroll, although as the night wore on, he did not sleep.

I hope you all enjoyed this first chapter. Any ideas of what you'd like to see next are welcome!

Evenstar606