A/N: (stares goggle-eyed at reviews) You guys are wonderful, do you know that? (huggles reviewers) It means so much to me that my story is so well-loved, and encourages me to keep writing! And I feel honoured to be placed on so many alerts and favourite lists! (huggles again)
Thank you to my dear reviewers Surf all day and do the hula, Seira Ayuda, A. NuEvil, Yanzen Uroloki, Tigger Pooh, Legolass Q, Masterarcher, Quellesirel Peredhil, Elanor, Briryan, Deana, Inwe Nolatari, Elithraniel, Legolas's fanatical fan girl, Invisigoth3, Surfredia, Annalon, Gemini 969, Daethule, Coolio02, Del Rion, Svana, Elwen, Captain Morrigan Savvy, Leggi's Gurl (the e-mails I write you keep coming back, I don't know what to do about it :-( !), Setrinan and Laiquendi! And I hope you silent readers and lurkers enjoy the story, too:-)
I had originally planned to post this once a week, but after being buried under a heap of enthusiastic reviews and e-mails I decided to post early! (happy grin) Here's the third and last part of my story, with lots of Legolas, Aragorn and Brego for all of you… (smiles and hands over update on silver platter) And to all of you who wanted to know if I'll write another story, there's a preview at the end… Read and enjoy, and, as always, I'd love to get feedback! ;-)
Disclaimer: Still not mine… (sniffles and pouts)
For a moment he froze, and it was all he could do under the sudden onslaught of emotions. The spark of hope suddenly became a bright flame, quickly followed by a new and paralyzing fear. How often had he seen the elf like this, and feared what he dreaded now? Legolas didn't move. Aragorn didn't even know if he was still breathing. Only the upper body of the elf rested on the sandy ground, his legs were still in the water. He hadn't had the strength to drag himself out of the river completely. This sight broke the spell, and Aragorn was at the elf's side in an instant, falling to his knees.
Brego tossed his head and moved a bit to the side, making room for the ranger.
"Legolas?" Aragorn whispered.
The elf reacted neither to his presence, nor to his voice. His face was deadly pale, the eyes closed tightly. Aragorn's heart constricted in his chest, and a sudden wave of anguish swept over him. He reached out with a trembling hand, searching for any signs of life. The elf's skin was cold to the touch, but under his fingers Aragorn could feel a steady, if slightly erratic, pulse. The relief that washed over him at that moment was so great that it made his head spin. He could feel a silly smile spreading on his face, but he wasn't able to help it. Legolas was alive. Somehow, he had survived this ordeal.
Aragorn recovered quickly. One look at the face of the elf had been enough to know that Legolas was hurt. The ranger let his eyes roam over the prone body in front of him, trying to judge his friend's state. The clothing was torn and bloody in many places, and there would be cuts and bruises everywhere. Aragorn had expected as much. A gentle examination revealed that some of the elf's ribs were at least bruised, if not broken. Both the hair and the tunic of the elf were still damp.
As soon as he was sure that Legolas could be moved without inflicting further harm, Aragorn dragged him all the way out of the water. He removed the quiver from Legolas' back, spread out his own grey Lothlórien cloak and laid the elf gently down on it. There was a still bleeding wound on Legolas' temple that had been hidden from his sight before, and a sprained ankle that also demanded his attention. He closed his eyes once more. It could have been much, much worse. All he was able to feel at that moment was an overwhelming gratitude.
Then he set to work, taking his healing herbs and bandages out of his pack and treating Legolas' wounds as best he could. After he had finished and made sure that the elf rested comfortably, he leaned back and regarded his work. Legolas was breathing more easily now that his two broken ribs had been tightly wrapped, and some color had returned to his cheeks. His face, which had been pale and drawn before, seemed to be nearly peaceful now, whether it was due to the presence of his friend or the influence of the healing herbs.
There was still wonder in Aragorn's eyes as he fondly took in his friend's face.
"I am glad you did not leave, my friend," he said softly, not caring that the unconscious elf couldn't hear him and the horse didn't understand him.
Brego snorted, and Aragorn shifted his attention towards the horse. Brego was standing on the other side of the elf, watching them both. Aragorn smiled as he looked at the faithful horse. Somehow Brego had found Legolas, keeping him company and guarding him while Aragorn could not. Because of him, Legolas had not been alone.
"Hannon le, Brego," Aragorn said to the horse. ((Thank you, Brego))
Brego snorted again, lowered his head, and gently nudged Legolas' shoulder with his nostrils.
"He will be better soon," Aragorn answered. "Or so I hope." And became suddenly aware that he was having a conversation with a horse. Shaking his head, he couldn't help grinning at the strange situation he found himself in.
"This is all your fault!" he said to the elf, taking advantage of the fact that Legolas, for once, couldn't argue. "I was a rather dignified person before I met you, and look at me now! Talking to horses and crawling over rocks to retrieve a lost elf!"
"Not… lost," a weak voice protested from the ground.
Looking down in astonishment, Aragorn's gaze was met by two sparkling blue eyes, which were still a bit confused, but firmly fixed on his face nonetheless. Aragorn's breath caught.
"Legolas?" he whispered, not sure whether he could believe his eyes.
"I am here," Legolas answered, responding to the concern in Aragorn's voice with a soft smile.
Aragorn took one of his hands in both of his and squeezed it gently. There was such a genuine joy in his face that Legolas felt slightly overwhelmed and even more confused.
"I've missed your voice," Aragorn told him quietly.
In this moment, Legolas could read all the answers he needed in his friend's eyes. He saw the traces of fear and exhaustion in Aragorn's face, and a deep, heartfelt relief.
"So bad?" he asked softly.
"You nearly… I nearly thought…" Aragorn trailed of, his voice failing him. He didn't want to remember. It was still too painful to face.
Legolas understood. Still he didn't really know where he was and what was going on around him. His head ached, and the rest of his body seemed to be in no better state. There were some practical questions that needed to be answered.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Don't you remember?" Aragorn asked in return, concern evident in his voice.
Legolas squinted and tried to concentrate, but the memory still evaded him. "Not really," he confessed.
"You decided to fall off a cliff," Aragorn informed him with a perfectly straight face.
"I decided nothing of this sort," Legolas replied without thinking, his voice sounding indignant in spite of its weakness.
Then his eyes widened as the memories came crashing back on him. He remembered being dragged over the edge of the cliff by a warg, then the fall… the impact. Water everywhere, pressing him down, the dreadful feeling of drowning, the pain as he hit a rock, his useless struggles to fight the raging current, to draw breath… And then, between all the fighting, the pain and the noise, he had heard a voice. Aragorn's voice speaking to him in his own heart, whispering words of comfort and courage to him. He closed his eyes for a moment, as the memories became too much to bear. He had been washed ashore a seemingly endless time later. Someone had been with him – no, not someone – something. A horse.
Aragorn's concerned voice brought him back to the present with a start. "Just… memories," he hastened to reassure his friend. "I'm fine." And then, realizing that Aragorn looked positively alarmed after that statement: "I do remember now. I just needed a moment to sort out the memories. They are not… entirely pleasant."
Aragorn tried not to snort at this understatement.
Legolas sighed and admitted grudgingly: "I do not feel fine. I'm aching everywhere, but all in all it doesn't seem to be life-threatening. So, considering the circumstances, I'm fine."
Brego snorted and Aragorn couldn't help chuckling at that.
Legolas looked from the man to the horse and back again. He raised an eyebrow. "You two know each other?"
Aragorn nodded. "This is Brego, the horse I met in the stables. I told you about him."
"What is he doing here?" Legolas asked, confused.
Aragorn smiled at him. "I do not know," he confessed. "I take it he likes elves. In fact, I am rather glad about it."
"So am I," Legolas agreed softly. Strange as it was, the comforting presence of the horse had made him feel safe as he succumbed to the pain and the darkness. He raised a hand and gingerly touched the light bandage around his head, trying to suppress a wince. Aragorn had released his hand by now, but Legolas could feel his friend watching him with the eyes of a hawk. The elf tried to sit up – and would have fallen back immediately if if there hadn't been a strong arm around his shoulders, holding him upright.
"Slowly, Legolas," Aragorn reprimanded. "You have survived the fall, but you have also suffered many injuries. You have two broken ribs, a head wound, a sprained ankle and bruises all over. Take it slowly."
Legolas blinked and waited until the red and black spots in front of his eyes had disappeared and his vision had cleared once more.
"How do you feel?" Aragorn asked him anxiously. He would have preferred to let the elf rest some more, but he knew they couldn't afford to stay much longer if they didn't want to be found by the enemy after all. They needed to get to Helm's Deep as soon as possible. Once more he was immensely grateful for the presence of the horse.
Legolas opened his mouth to answer, caught Aragorn's warning glare, and sighed. "I was not going to say I am fine," he said, slightly annoyed. Aragorn gave him an unbelieving look. "I am well. Just a bit dizzy. And sore."
Aragorn spared him an answer to that. "I do not think you should be moving yet, but we need to leave," he commented instead.
Legolas looked up at the sky and realized for the first time how many hours had passed since they had fought the wargs in the morning. How long had it taken Aragorn to find him? He looked the ranger up and down and noticed for the first time the cuts on his hands and the disheveled and torn state of his clothing. Aragorn must have been searching for him for hours. Suddenly he understood the fear, the immense joy and relief he had seen in the ranger's eyes.
"Why did you come after me?" he asked quietly. "Anyone else would have thought me dead."
"Anyone else does not know you the way I do," Aragorn answered with a smile, but Legolas saw that it was strained. Aragorn looked into the elf's eyes for a long moment. "I could not leave you behind," he confessed softly.
This time it was Legolas' turn to grab his friend's hand and give it a squeeze. "Thank you," the elf said simply. And, after a moment's hesitation: "I heard your voice. In the river, when I was nearly drowning. You told me to hold on. To fight. And I did."
Aragorn smiled at his friend. "I didn't dare hope you would hear me."
They shared a moment of comfortable silence, both cherishing the presence of the other.
"We need to leave," Legolas then reminded his friend.
Aragorn nodded and slowly helped the elf to his feet. Legolas swayed a little, then found his balance and managed to stand on his own. Aragorn retrieved his cloak and his pack, put Legolas' knives back in their sheaths and slung the quiver over his own shoulder. He didn't want the elf to carry the quiver yet, knowing that it would upset his broken ribs. He was relieved that Legolas didn't comment on his actions.
When he saw that Aragorn was ready, Legolas grabbed Brego's mane and hoisted himself on the back of the horse. His movements were less graceful then usual, and he straightened slowly, pain showing on his face. Aragorn mounted behind him, putting his arms around the waist of his friend to steady the elf.
"Hûl, Brego!" ((Go, Brego!)) Aragorn called softly to the horse, and Brego obeyed.
At first, the stallion moved slowly over the rocky terrain, then he dropped into a trot, and finally he broke into an easy canter as the plains of Rohan opened before them. After a while, Aragorn felt Legolas fall heavily against him as the elf tried to cope with his pounding head and aching ribs. It worried him, but he knew they could not delay any further, so he kept his silence and a firm hold on the elf and rode on.
Brego was strong and fast, and he carried them across the vast and empty plains without showing any signs of fatigue. After they had ridden for nearly an hour, Aragorn felt Legolas stir and tense in his arms. The elf straightened and turned his head to look around them.
"Danger approaches," the elf stated quietly. Aragorn's hand lay on the hilt of his sword before Legolas had even finished.
"What is it?" he asked, alarmed.
"I do not yet know. But I feel a great darkness, and it is headed towards us." Legolas' body remained tense, and his head was turned to the right. "It comes from Isengard," he whispered.
Aragorn let his hand rest on the hilt of the sword, looking around them in apprehension. He knew neither of them were in any shape to engage in a fight with Saruman's creatures right now. He felt Brego slow down imperceptibly. The horse's nostrils widened, as if sniffing the air. Whatever Legolas had sensed, Brego felt it, too.
The pounding of the horse's hooves suddenly seemed to be very loud, as did the pounding of his own heart. Legolas shifted restlessly against him. The light seemed to dim, and there was a soft drumming sound that seemed to reverberate through the ground beneath them. It reminded the ranger of the terrors of Khazad-dûm. A nameless threat engulfed them, and a shiver ran through the body of the man. Legolas didn't move anymore. He sat stiff and upright in front of the ranger, his muscles tense and his body ready to fight.
Then Brego reached the top of a hill, affording them a free view of a vast valley in front of them. The horse shied away from the sight that greeted them, giving a soft sound of distress like a stifled whinny. Legolas and Aragorn froze, and their eyes widened. The ground of the valley seemed to be moving, drowning under a dark flood of Uruk-hai, thousands and thousands of them. The earth groaned and shook under their feet, and they left a trail of destruction and burnt soil behind them. The sound of their marching feet resounded throughout the valley like war-drums, and their numbers stretched in the far distance like a gigantic lindworm.
Aragorn felt the elf's body tremble as his senses were assaulted by the presence of the vile creatures and the suffering of the land beneath their feet. The trembling subsided quickly, as Legolas refused to give in to the shock.
"Oh, no," Aragorn whispered. "They are marching towards Helm's Deep."
"The whole of Isengard must have been emptied," Legolas answered softly. "War is upon them now, and the Rohirrim will have to make their last stand. If Saruman is not defeated, Rohan will fall." There was a sadness in Legolas' voice that worried the ranger, but he did not comment on it. Now was not the time.
"We have to reach Helm's Deep before they do," he said. "Théoden must be warned."
Legolas nodded. He leaned forward, whispering quietly to the distressed horse in Elvish. Brego tossed his head, turned, and broke into a gallop as soon as they had left the steep slope of the hill behind them.
Soon, the sounds of the approaching army faded in the distance, and both friends breathed a silent sigh of relief.
Some time later Aragorn noticed that Legolas was still as tense as a bowstring, as if he still expected an attack any moment now. The elf's silence concerned him, and he wished he could see his friend's face.
"Legolas?" he asked gently. "Are you all right?"
The elf was silent for a long moment. "I am only worried," he answered finally in a soft voice.
"An approaching army of ten thousands of Uruk-hai does that to anyone," Aragorn remarked, and Legolas could hear the smile in his voice.
As Legolas remained silent, he gently added: "You are hurting, are you not?"
Again, the answer was silence, but this time he didn't need an answer. "Lean back on me," he said to the elf. "Try to rest as long as you can."
Legolas hesitated, but then he did as he was told. Aragorn smiled as he could feel the elf relax against him. Brego's hooves still thundered across the plain beneath them, and a fresh wind cooled their faces and played in their hair.
Aragorn didn't know how long they had been riding, when he finally brought Brego to a standstill on another hilltop. Legolas straightened in front of him, and together they looked down on the stronghold of Helm's Deep far below, where King Théoden had led his people in a desperate attempt to keep them safe, and where they were now trapped. The fate of Rohan stood on a knife's edge, and it would be decided tonight.
"The night will be long," Legolas said, as if mirroring the man's thoughts. He turned and tried to look into his friend's face.
"Yes," replied Aragorn, smiling at him. "But I am glad I do not have to face it alone." There had been one miracle already today. He was not about to lose hope now.
With these thoughts, he gently touched Brego's flanks with his heels, and the horse broke into an easy canter, heading for the long ramp and the open gates of Helm's Deep.
- The End -
Additional A/N: Hm, I have been wondering – would you be interested in reading a sequel to this story! It occurred to me that it would be possible to continue the story through the whole of Helm's Deep. I cannot promise anything, but I'd like to know what you think. ;-)
And here's the title and summary of my next story (which will be posted in a week or so):
Title: A Night in Lothlórien
Summary: Aragorn and Legolas share their grief over Gandalf's death in Lothlórien. Lots of friendship, a bit angst and bitter-sweet mourning... No slash.
Thanks again for your encouragement and your reviews! Perhaps we will meet again in another story… Till then, farewell :-)