Title: Buried: Descent 1/8
This story chronologically follows "Choosing" (where Estel meets Sadoreth). There is no need to read "Choosing" first. If you want to read it the fic is at under the name Pentangle.
Slightly AU: Elrond has raised Aragorn (Estel) as his son, Gilraen is out of the picture, and Elrond has recently told Estel something (not all) about who he is and about his destiny. Estel and Legolas have known each other since Aragorn came to Imladris.
Many thanks to my beta Niroveka!
Aragorn was 15 years old. He was in the forests of Mirkwood. He was sick. He was alone. At least he thought he was alone. It was hard to be sure with all these people around.
Estel, lying on the ground, shivered and retched again. One Elrond scornfully derided his physical weakness. "Sniveling engwar! Wallowing in your own vomit! Crawling like a beaten dog, whimpering and whining."
"Ada, help me!" Aragorn gasped, struggling to reach a shaking hand toward his father. The stern figure swept his robes' skirts distastefully away from his son.
The other Elrond was worse.
That one stooped and patted his son's hair perfunctorily. "Such a shame. Years wasted in raising a light-weight. You cannot help it, of course. We tried, all of us, but look at the material we had to work with. Estel! Hah! We should have named you Kaulo. You are weak, cowardly: a slaveling when we needed a king."
Estel tried to ignore them, but their words bit deeply. He drew his hands along the stony ground and put his palms on either side of his ribs. He pushed with all his might. His head moved upward a few inches, then his chest. His arms were shaking; his gasping breath whistling harshly. The first Elrond laughed heartily as though the sight was the funniest thing seen in a long, long life. The other Elrond "tsked, tsked" sadly. The two walked off, arm in arm. Estel looked after them in disbelieving sorrow.
His arms gave out and his head hit the ground hard. Two familiar boots entered his field of vision and stopped within inches of his face.
"No," he whispered in utter despair, "Not you. Please, not you."
Engwar: 'the sickly', mankind
Kaulo: great burden, affliction
One month previously, in Mirkwood
Estel lay in bed and groaned in frustration as the first tremble began in his hands. The healer pulled a long, thin rod of soft wood, carefully shaped and smoothed, from the goblet that held a dozen such. He held it to the fifteen year-old's mouth and waited patiently. They were always patient. Their faces were serene and carefully smoothed of all emotion. They hated tending a human but never allowed it to show, by expression or word. Their King had given explicit instructions and their Prince reinforced them by his constant presence. But neither Prince nor King could make them feel compassion or warm their cold touch and voices. It is hard to be fifteen, ill, and despised by your caretakers.
The hand with the wooden rod waited still, and with a defeated sigh the boy opened his mouth and accepted it like a bit in a horse's mouth. He closed his teeth firmly. The hand disappeared from before his face and clasped his right wrist and pressed it into the bed. The other healer in the room grasped both ankles. It had become a ritual. A macabre dance for four participants.
The door to Estel's room opened and the Prince of Mirkwood stepped inside. He frowned when he saw the healers holding the young man he was inordinately fond of.
"Again? Surely the attacks are increasing, not decreasing! You assured me that the herbs we gathered would cure him!"
"Your Highness, we are doing everything that can be done. Since you have insisted on participating in his care, please take your place."
Legolas stepped quickly to the bedside and grasped the other wrist. The trembling, so innocuous at first, increased in intensity, spreading from the extremities to Estel's entire body. Soon he was jerking and convulsing, nearly breaking from the strong hold of the three elves. For nearly five minutes the boy's body fought their hold, and then, as always, the attack lessened slowly until he was left weak and gasping. The hand (that same hand, how he would like to bite it!) appeared to take the rod, now deeply indented, from his mouth as Legolas gently wiped the cold sweat from his face with a soft cloth.
Legolas spoke soothingly to Estel and watched as he fell asleep as he always did after an attack. The Prince then looked sharply at the healers.
"This cannot continue. It has been two weeks since he was bitten, and although the worst of the sickness passed quickly, these seizures will surely do him permanent harm if they are not stopped. Further, we were to have started the return trip to Imladris by now. I think we should proceed even as he is. Lord Elrond will be able to help him more than you have done!"
The first, and most senior, healer frowned austerely. "I doubt that Elrond-"
"-that Lord Elrond will have any better remedy than we can provide. And the human cannot undertake a journey in this condition."
"Then what do you suggest?"
"We are already doing –"
"I know: 'everything that can be done.' I believe that is the hundredth time you have told me so!"
"These attacks are unprecedented. We have never seen them before as a result of bristle bug poisoning. It must be because he is human. There may be no cure. It is unfortunate but…" The healer made a small gesture, as though tossing something away.
The Prince moved closer to the healer and his voice became softer and he smiled gently. It was not a smile that reached his eyes.
"I think that perhaps you are mistaken in your beliefs about this human child. You think that my father cares only because I care, and that I will care not at all once he is dead and out of my sight. Allow me to clarify our position. This boy is a guest of the Royal House. However my father may feel about humans, he will not look kindly on anyone who allows the slightest dishonor to shadow our name. And there is another factor that you may not have considered. Imladris, little though it is regarded here, is a major force in the larger world beyond Mirkwood. I do not believe that you will relish a visit from the foremost healer in Middle Earth, not when it is his son that you have allowed to fail. Nor will all the warriors we can field be enough to stop Glorfindel and his cohort if Estel dies. He is another who has love for the youngest son of Lord Elrond. Mayhap you will have heard of him – he is called 'the Balrog Slayer.'"
The healer stepped back a step and swallowed hard. Legolas followed him and spoke softer still.
"Now look at me carefully. Do you see one who will quickly forget the loss of this boy? He is not my pet. You may think of me what you will; I am not ashamed that I have much love in my heart for him. If he does not recover, it is possible—in my great grief, you understand—that I may do something foolish. Something foolish that will make whatever happens when the fully armed and angry contingent from Imladris arrives of no importance—to you."
The healer stepped back again, rather hastily, and blustered, "Your Highness! You forget yourself! But I will make allowances for your distress. I assure you that we will make renewed efforts to discover why the poison has affected him so strangely. Obviously the valerian is not working as it should. We will try other, stronger medicaments."
"Find something. Now leave us; I will watch over his sleep.
A short time later, Estel opened his eyes and saw his friend sitting beside him, reading. "Was it as exciting as usual? I can never remember much about it, afterwards."
"You kept us busy for a time." Legolas put aside his book. "How are you feeling? Would you like something to drink?" The elf reached for the decanter of water that was always placed on the bedside table.
"Thank you, yes. You know I always feel quite well after the attacks; well enough to get up. Please?" He took the offered cup and gave Legolas his best wheedling expression. He made no demur when Legolas held his own hand atop Estel's to steady the cup to his lips. There were few he would willingly show weakness before, but the blonde elf had long since persuaded him, by ruthless and arbitrary means, that there was no point in pretending with him. Legolas replaced the cup and Estel asked again.
"Please let me get up. I have not been allowed up for days. I should have at least a few hours before the next one hits."
"I see no reason why you may not. I will take on the healers, if necessary. I think they disapprove of any independent action taken by a patient, just on principle."
Estel swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He wore the lightest of leggings and a loose shirt of the finest linen Mirkwood could provide. His hair was clean and his nails trimmed. He received every care from the healers. But they were brrrr, so cold. Aragorn often wondered with a shudder what would have happened to him if the prince had not been there to oversee his tending.
Legolas slid an arm around his waist and when Estel tried to push it away, the elf frowned him down. "You are often shaky when you first stand up. You will allow my help, young man, or you will stay in bed!"
Since Estel was swaying gently, like a young willow, he wisely kept his tongue between his teeth and simply let Legolas help him to the window seat. The healing rooms were unusual in the Mirkwood palace as they had access to the outdoors. Estel settled with a sigh of contentment and looked out at the surrounding forest. The afternoon sun of late summer slanted through the leaves and Estel wanted to be out there: riding, walking, swimming, and just being free of the fusty sick room atmosphere. Legolas watched his young friend and marveled at the changes time had brought to him.
Aragorn had nearly reached his full height and his face had fined down from the plump-cheeked boy Legolas had seen two years ago. There had been brief glimpses of the man in the boy he had known, but now the promise was coming to fruition. When Legolas had finally returned to Imladris, their reunion had been a joyous one and this trip to Mirkwood together was Estel's first venture without at least one of his father's household along for protection.
All had been well until Aragorn had (inevitably, snorted Legolas) been bitten by a poisonous insect. He had been sick for two days but then seemed fully recovered. Until the seizures had started.
This foul illness, whatever it was, was taking its toll. Legolas noted uneasily the gauntness in the cheeks, the pallor that had replaced the normal healthy tan. Estel had the resilience and strength of youth, but he could not continue having these seizures, especially as they seemed to be increasing in frequency as time went on. Legolas had begun to truly fear for him.
As Legolas watched the boy he contemplated that fear. How had this ephemeral human taken such a hold on his heart? Estel was compassionate, but so was Elrond and Legolas hardly wanted him for a boon companion. He was very intelligent, but so was Erestor. Trying to picture himself and Erestor a-roving was impossible. Legolas had many friends but Estel was different. Just then the boy turned his eyes to his friend and smiled. There. That was it, or a good part of it. Estel did not just look at you, he saw you. Did all future kings of Middle Earth have that deep, penetrating gaze? With no other heirs of Isildur about, Legolas could not say. He just knew that somehow the boy looked on him and saw him, all of him, and accepted and loved what he saw. It was impossible not to return the feeling.
Estel enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air for an hour or so before the door opened again and the chief healer came into the room. He frowned at seeing his patient out of bed, but had other, more momentous things on his mind.
"Your Highness, we believe that we have found something that will help!"
The healer continued, "As soon as we think another attack is imminent, I intend to dose him with syrup of poppies."
"I have had that for pain, many times. I was not having seizures!"
"No, of course not, but one of my apprentices has found references to the syrup in an old herbal. It is listed as a remedy for spasms and rigors of the body!"
"How soon will you give it to him?"
"We will watch carefully. He usually begins to sweat, then the trembling starts. As soon as we see the slightest movement, we will give him the dose."
Across the room, Estel raised one hand and waggled the fingers. "Hello, there! 'Him' is right here; 'him' can hear you. 'Him' can even speak and participate in the discussion about 'him'."
Legolas laughed. "I am sorry, Estel. How much warning can you give us that you will have another attack?"
"I begin to feel tingles even before the sweating starts. I will let you know."
The following hours were interminable for everyone, particularly Estel. As the time when an attack might be expected grew closer, he felt like a caterpillar on Elrond's salad. Even the most lethal amount of 'eyebrow' was not as unnerving as what he now endured. Two pairs of grey eyes (healers) and one pair of blue (Legolas) watched him with unblinking intensity. He tried to read, but any slight sigh or stretch of cramped muscles caused all three watchers to lean forward and intensify their stares. Finally, the boy began to pray for the next seizure to begin. Ah! At last!
"I think one is beginning. Yes, here it comes." The telltale sheen of sweat appeared and his left hand twitched. The healers and Legolas sprang into motion with such force that Estel was startled back against his pillows. The second healer grabbed a wooden rod and made the other preparations that had become habitual. The first healer carefully poured a tiny medicine cup full of the poppy syrup. Before anyone could pour it down his throat, Estel grabbed the cup and tilted it into his mouth. He was not completely helpless! The stuff was thick and cloying and nauseatingly sweet. Legolas, familiar with it from the treatment of past injuries, quickly offered a cup with a few swallows of water which Estel gratefully accepted. The cup shook violently as he reached to set it down and he stretched out in the bed and accepted the wooden rod in his mouth, yet again.
End Chapter 1