The next day exceeded everyone's expectations in awfulness. Elrond had to administer strengthening draughts again and again to maintain anything approaching a steady heartbeat.
Glorfindel's arms, like steel bands, surrounded the boy while he retched to prevent him breaking a rib. Legolas forcefully straightened the arms and legs when the cramps tried to bend them in directions they could not go. And bad as these physical effects were, his caretakers feared his internal battles were even worse.
"Ah, poor human child. Your suffering is so intense. You were so far down the White Road, so close to rest and peace. You can still travel it. See? Even now you have moved a goodly distance along it."
Stubbornly: "You are not my Ada."
"No," said the voice, very gently and reprovingly, "No, for how could I be father to, to a… well, I hesitate to say it when you are so unwell."
Legolas smiled. "Say it to a monstrosity, he means. But truly, Estel, what is there here for you? Let go, and know peace."
In desperation Estel began to sing to himself the song the real Legolas had composed, about the race he had ridden against Glorfindel. Estel had begged him not to include the parts about disobedience, foolishness, and recklessness, but had loved the song anyway.
Legolas ignored the song. "Do you remember the dreams you had as a child? Not the nightmares, not those, but the ones where your mother and father came to you? They came and played with you on the swing and had picnics with you. Can you remember that, Aragorn? Remember Arathorn and how you missed him?"
"Stop! I will not listen."
"Gilraen sang lovely lullabies, I have no doubt. She would ease your pain if you went to her, Estel. She is waiting for you. Arathorn is waiting for you. Go to them."
As Estel's struggling body weakened, his spirit traveled farther down the Road once more. He began to remember how he had missed his human parents. He began to long for the peace of death, and their reunion.
His dearest friend laid his hand against Estel's cheek. Which Legolas was this? Surely if he were truly dying, the real Legolas would urge him to seek his parents. His Legolas would try to make the passage from one life to the next a little easier for his brother-through-love.
"Legolas? Should I go?"
"I think I see them, Estel. Hurry. Their arms are held out to you. Go to them."
Estel started walking toward the horizon on the sparkling pavement.
The struggling body suddenly went still and Elrond fearfully put his ear to the chest.
He looked up abruptly. "He has stopped fighting. We will lose him."
"NO! I will not let him go!" Legolas grabbed Estel and pulled him up roughly. He slapped him hard. "Estel! You will LISTEN to me! You only think of death because of those others! I do not know what they say to you but they lie, they lie!"
Elrond tried to pull Estel away from Legolas but the elf turned on him a ferocious expression of bared teeth and wild eyes.
"I will not let him go! I will go to the Halls of Waiting and hail him forth! Estel! Come back!….Ai! Ai! Estel!" He crumpled upon the boy he held, and from his mouth came an unearthly noise. In a human or wolf it would be called howling, but in the elf it was a beautiful and anguished lamentation. It transfixed those who heard it like a lance. Even the two healers from Mirkwood sank to their knees in grief at the sound.
In the strange world where Estel walked a beautiful Road that beckoned him on, he thought he heard weeping. Weeping that would break a heart of stone. His healer's spirit—which in life he had only just begun to recognize—hesitated. Someone was in terrible pain. He tried to walk on, but could not. The weeping pulled at him and he turned and started back.
Legolas tried to stand in his way. "You must go to meet your parents. They have been waiting so long. Just a little further and you will see them."
"What of him who weeps?"
"I hear nothing."
"Yet still he weeps. Let me help this sufferer and then I will go to my parents."
"No! Turn and go – "
Estel said flatly, "You are not my Legolas. He would never ask me to leave someone in pain. He also would help them." He started walking back the way he had come, as quickly as he could with his weak body, toward the one who wept. As he went he saw along the roadside those others who had hurt him so. They spoke again, repeating their vile poisons, but the keening wail pierced through their hateful voices and he hurried on toward it.
Elrond worked over the body of his son as tears ran down his cheeks. He pushed on the chest and breathed into Estel's mouth, but he believed his efforts were in vain. Across the room, Legolas struggled in Glorfindel's arms, still moaning the strange, haunting lament. Tears shone in the golden warrior's eyes, but he did not lessen his hold. The younger elf had resisted having the boy taken from him. Glorfindel bore scratches and gouges. He feared Legolas would fade…his grief was so intense.
Suddenly the body convulsed and drew its own breath. Elrond checked the heart and found it erratically struggling, but beating. He shouted for more herbs and tinctures, and the awestruck Mirkwood healers scrambled at the commands of the elf who could defeat death itself.
An hour later Estel was conscious and very, very tired. The poppies had finally let him slip from their grasp, and the shaking, nausea, and fever were gone. He would need much rest and there would be setbacks, but the worst was finally…over.
Estel held the hand of the prince that sat beside him. Legolas let his hand lay limply and just stared into the silver eyes.
"You saved me," Estel smiled. "Ada and Glorfindel, too, but you most of all. You called me back from the Road and I could not deny you. I was confused. I thought the Legolas in that place was you, but then I heard you weep…"
Legolas did not respond. He was still lost in the wonder of the warmth in the hand that held his, in the chest that rose and fell, in the pulse beneath his fingers.
Glorfindel came to stand next to Elrond by the window, away from the bed. "Elrond, something troubles me."
"You have not had enough trouble for a while?"
"Of course I am glad that he is well, or soon will be, but I have been thinking. Have you not wondered about those 'others' he spoke of in his delirium? Elrond, there are no 'others'. They came from his mind. The potion created them but it had to have something to work with. That means the things they said to hurt him came from his mind, as well. Elrond, those others seemed to want him to die. He believes those things, or at least can still wonder about them. In spite of all our assurances through the years, some part of him still doubts that we can love him. In addition, you have only just told him the truth about Arathorn and at least some of what that means. I think it is obvious he is having trouble dealing with it."
Elrond exhaustedly dragged a hand across his forehead and rubbed the area between his brows. "You are right, of course. I have not had time to think…there has been so much….I have been so frightened…" He gathered himself together. "We will not speak of this to him now. Let us get him strong again, and above all, home. Then I will decide how to deal with what has been revealed. But, Glorfindel, I tell you this: for today and some time to come the only thing I am going to think about is that I have my son alive."
Elrond turned and walked to the side of the bed. Estel had gone to sleep again. His father straightened the blankets for the tenth time around the sleeping youth. He held Estel's hand and marveled, like Legolas, that it was warm and supple, not cold and stiffening. He felt the boy's throat and drew a long shaking breath at the pulse that throbbed and strengthened. After a long time gazing at his son he turned to Legolas. "Go lie down; you are nearly as exhausted as he. Use the cot by the window and get some rest."
Legolas just shook his head and continued watching the young face before him that held life and the promise of years together yet to come.
"Glorfindel, will you please take Legolas –"
"Not for all the treasure in Mirkwood! Look at this! And this one! I need a healer! That demon has scarred me for life!" But Glorfindel's eyes laughed. In truth, they were all giddy with relief.
More seriously he continued, "Leave him. After a time he will fall asleep beside Estel and then I will move him then. For now, he has earned his place. In fact, I want to join him. I do not think I will let that boy out of my sight for a long time to come!"
"Now that you mention it, I would like to join him myself."
Some time later, the meek chief healer entered the room to ask if there was anything else that might be needed now that the crisis was over. The sight that met his eyes became a legend in Mirkwood for as long as the kingdom lasted in Middle Earth.
Three elves and a human shared one bed. A son of Earendil, a fabled lord of Gondolin, a young prince and a human boy. Arms and legs were tangled. Glorfindel snored. The healer smirked.
"Ah, they look just like a basket of puppies," he thought. "Extraordinary, terrifying, demented puppies."
This is part 1 of 3 in a series.
Thanks to the mental health professional who helped me with information about severe laudanum addiction. I chose laudanum because it causes more delusions than opiates alone, though no one is quite sure why. It is a tincture of brandy (or some other strong spirit) and opium. I figured the elves would use it since the brandy keeps the opium fresh and usable for a long time. In old books it is listed as an anti-convulsive, so the chief healer wasn't totally crazy!