Title: Blood Weald

Second Place Winner for the Teitho "Boo!" contest (scary theme)

Author: Pentangle

Pre-Fellowship; Young Ranger, Legolas, Gandalf

Warning: mild language

A/N : Legolas has no siblings. He and Aragorn have been friends for many years. They often have adventures (er, very important missions) together.

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Ch. 1 "It is Evil"

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Their mission was not to battle the forces of evil—just survey them. The two had slipped through the territory as unobtrusively as they could but small skirmishes were inevitable. Aragorn had been wounded by a spider.

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"Legolas, I need to stop. Please. There is something wrong." The ranger's voice was tight as he fought waves of pain.

The elf who rode before him did not stop scanning their surroundings as he answered, his voice lowered. "I know. I know, Aragorn. We will stop soon. But not here. This was a place of ill repute even before Dol Guldur was built."

Instead of a response, the elf heard a soft susurration of leather against leather followed by a heavy thud. He jumped from his mount and ran to the man who now lay on the ground.

"Stubborn human," he chided softly, "You must always have your way."

The shock of the fall had knocked the breath from the ranger and his eyes were tightly shut with the pain of the impact, but his lips twitched and he nodded.

The elf looked about him, searching for a place to rest and tend his friend. He should not have been apprehensive. He should have been at ease, for everywhere he looked was green. Indeed, the man had fallen on thick green leaves that carpeted the ground. They were among huge, ancient trees that not only were bright with the leaves of high summer, but had large expanses of swagging vines covering them like huge, dense curtains. It was like being in a cathedral of green, with the only other color a small spot of blue sky high above them.

They were in southern Mirkwood, far to the east of Dol Guldur and below the bight, making for the palace after a scouting mission. They were in an area no one had willingly traversed for longer than Thranduil had been king. Even Orcs shunned the place. After Aragorn was wounded, Legolas had decided to take the chancy route since they would have the assurance of no attacks there.

Legolas pulled Aragorn's arm around his shoulder and helped him to the base of a tree that was at least 12 feet in diameter. The bright green leaves even covered the venerable trunk like a dense vertical carpet. He set Aragorn down with his back against the tree and his legs stretched out before him. Legolas untied the leather cords that held the torn leggings closed and exposed the thigh. He removed the bandages and shook his head. The man demanded, "What is it? It must be infected from the way it throbs."

"It is. Not only that, but there must be remnants from the spider's leg that cut you in there. See the green ichor oozing from that side?"

"No, thank you. You know I prefer not to look at my own wounds. Yuck."

"The healer will not heal himself?"

"Not if he can avoid it."

"Nevertheless, you know what must be done. First the stitches need to be removed and the edges debrided. Then I need to remove the spider oddments that have remained. Then clean and stitch again."

"A delightful program. Wait a minute—you were the one that cared for it in the first place! What do you mean 'spider oddments'!"

"I was working under the constraint of trying to not be eaten. I apologize that you are not now swinging from a tree limb, paralyzed and swollen."

"Ah. I take your point. You may as well begin. At least there are plenty of vines for me to hold onto while you torture me."

Legolas darted a glance at the tree but said nothing. After sterilizing his knife with miruvor, he looked up at the ranger. "Fast or slow? If I go slowly I will do a better job; not take away as much Aragorn."

"Fast." The ranger grabbed one of a multitude of vine stems in each hand.

"Hold then, son of Elrond." The elf leaned one knee hard on the ranger's. Legolas paused with the knife poised over the wound. There was nothing for it; it had to be done but he was loath to cause his friend such pain. He glanced up again into Aragorn's tense face. The ranger understood his feelings and nodded, tightening his hands on the vines. "Go on; do it."

The blade flashed, slicing through all the stitches and taking a thin slice of flesh from one side. Aragorn cried out but muted it deep in his throat. The elf repeated the action for the other side of the wound and watched as crimson welled forth. He looked at Aragorn who was panting and sweating, his knuckles white as he strangled the vines.

"I will wait a little to let the blood clean what it will."

Legolas went to his saddle and returned with a waterskin and a small square of linen. He poured a little water on the cloth and dabbed at the ranger's face gently. He held the spout of the skin to Aragorn's mouth and patiently waited while the man sipped between ragged breaths.

At last the pain receded enough that the ranger's hands dropped from the vines to lie limply in his lap. The ranger looked into blue eyes darkened with concern. The elf said softly, "I am sorry, mellon nin, to cause you such hurt. I am sorry I did not treat the wound properly."

The man shook his head. "I should not have said what I did. You are never careless. And thank you for my life, since I was so churlish that I did not thank you at the time. We rangers have an aversion to being aged like beef and then having our juices sucked away."

While they spoke and recovered—Aragorn from the pain and Legolas from having caused it—blood had been flowing steadily from the man's thigh to the ground. Not so fast as to endanger him, but in steady snaking streams, falling to the green leaves alongside his leg—for the vines even covered the ground. As the crimson fell upon them, the drops did not stick but moved smoothly down to another leaf, then another, until they found their way to the ground. A little breeze must have sprung up, for all around the two travelers there arose a very soft rustling.

As they waited for the blood to flush some of the debris from the wound and for Aragorn to regain strength for the next part of the ordeal, Legolas looked about him tensely. It could even be said he looked frightened. This surprised the young man greatly.

"What is it, Legolas? Are there spiders here, too?"

"Nay, there are no spiders. Nor Orcs. Nor wild men. Nor deer, nor squirrels, nor birds, nor badgers, nor anything but carrion flies and such like."

"Nothing! What about the trees?"

"Look around you. Most are dead. The one you sit against is dead. The rest mourn or are so sunk in despair they have no thoughts at all."

"Dead! But the leaves –"

" Look up." He pointed and the ranger followed with his eyes. Straight up, high against the sky, he could see stark white tips of branches sticking up like clawing hands through the bright green that covered all the branches below. Now that he looked around carefully, he saw that every leaf, regardless of the type of tree it grew on, was the same shape and color. They were large with three lobes and were a bright, almost too bright, green.

Legolas explained, "All belong to one vine. It grows for miles here. My kin abhor this place. The trees on the edges of this aberration fear the vine. They groan with terror as it approaches them. In the past, when darkness had not yet come to the Greenwood, we kept the vine within bounds by burning the new growth each year. We could not beat it further back, though, no matter how we tried. Now it encroaches farther every year. Some say it grows a foot a day. Soon it will reach the narrows. We have no elves to spare, nor time, to try to fight it now."

Aragorn was astounded. "How can one root support such growth? How is it possible?"

"It is not one root. Everywhere the vine touches earth it sends down more roots. It strangles all above and strangles all below. It is evil."

Aragorn leaned forward to pull away from the leaves on the tree trunk. He looked apprehensively to Legolas and whispered, "Are we in danger? Can it harm us?"

"I do not believe so. I have traveled through here before when hard pressed by Orcs. I wasted no time, though, and neither should we. Are you ready to continue?"

"Yes. Finish it." The ranger braced himself again.

Legolas bent over the wound and probed with deft, merciless fingers until he found and removed what he knew must be there. The blood flowed faster and slipped quickly leaf to leaf, as though being handed along to the ground eagerly.

The wound was finally cleaned, sutured, and dressed. Legolas helped his friend to mount and watched to see that he was able to stay upright on his own. As they departed, the elf rode closely beside Aragorn to help him if he swayed, but the cleansed wound was feeling better in spite of its rough treatment. Aragorn now wanted to be away as quickly as the elf did, and they made good time.

As the ranger and elf left, the leaves and stems which had been flattened by them quivered, and began to rise. They slowly returned to their original positions. The leaves that had lain beside and beneath the man shown an even brighter green and their fine veins pulsed, gradually darkening. It was almost as though some darker substance was flowing through them, passing from one to another. The gentle quivering spread with the darkening veins, widening in a circle like the ripples from a stone thrown into a quiet pool. The widening was very slow; it moved in plant time. But after a day the circle was several feet across and all within it seethed and stretched and hungered. Ai, how it hungered!

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A few days of thankfully uneventful traveling brought Aragorn and Legolas back to the palace. They tarried until Aragorn was well enough to return home to Imladris. The ranger, now free of 'spider oddments,' recovered quickly. As the weeks passed, the bleak territory with its facade of vibrant, wholesome life faded from their minds.

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The circle that marked the ever increasing territory of the dark-veined leaves eventually reached the farthest extent of the strangling vine. At once, long tendrils began to move deeper into the untouched area of the forest. They grew at a terrifying pace and the trees that had been in fear before now moaned in horror and despair. The tendrils reached the first trunks and began to twine and wind around them. Even as they busied themselves with sucking life from their first victims, they sent out more tendrils deeper into the forest.

Word of the growing danger spread from tree to tree. The wood rustled with warning and anger. The warning spread to the Ancient Ones who recognized that only one of the Blood could have worked the spell. Disbelief was replaced with fury as the moans of the dying were felt throughout the forest.

End Chapter 1