Author: Silivren Tinu
Summary: Sometimes words can cause deeper wounds than a sword. When an argument threatens to destroy not only a friendship, but also a life, will two friends be able to survive and find forgiveness, or will it be too late? Characters: Aragorn, Legolas, Halbarad and some others.
Disclaimer: I am not male, I am not deceased, and I am no genius – therefore the characters and places in this story still belong to the one and only J.R.R. Tolkien. ;-)
Warning: Tissue-alert for later chapters.
Author's Notes: Here is my new story, as promised. It is quite different from my last one, and much more serious. There will be a tissue-alert later on and you should probably drink something hot while reading the story – it will get very cold. ;-)
"Wounds" was written for the "Winter Wonderland" Teitho contest. It won the first place. The story was very difficult to write and written in a very difficult time for me. I do not think it would have been finished in time without the help of Vamp.Michelle, Pentangle-linnon, Keji and ElenaRoan who sent just the right e-mails at the right moment. ((hugs))
A big thank you goes to my betas, Vamp.Michelle, who emergency-betaed my story some hours before the deadline, and Imbecamiel, who re-betaed the entire story after the contest and patiently answered all my questions. ((huggles))
And finally I want to give another thank you to the readers of "Hunter's Moon" for the 100 reviews you wrote me:)
Now I'll shut up and let you read the story! Enjoy, and tell me what you think about it. :)
- Wounds -
Chapter One: Dreadful Discoveries
"Hold a true friend with both your hands."
He had stopped moving some time ago. He did not feel the cold anymore. He just sat there in the snow, the large dark rock at his back the only thing that kept him upright. He was alone, with only his painful memories for company. But his mind was nearly as numb as his body now, and the memories slowly faded away. There was no regret anymore, no pain.
Overnight, the ground around him had been covered with a white, sparkling blanket. The air was fresh and icy cold, and it felt like daggers on unprotected skin. It was silent. It was the absolute silence only a snowy day in winter can have, when there is no sound to be heard and everything seemed to be waiting, as if in quiet expectation. Mountains loomed up majestically in the distance, their peaks hidden by mist and deep-hanging, dark grey clouds.
Slowly it began to snow, big snowflakes that floated on the light wind, tumbled, and landed gently on the already white ground. He watched the snowflakes for a while, and listened to the silence. It was peaceful. The snow continued to fall, clinging to his hair and melting on his face, covering his knees with a powdery white layer. Some time later, tired eyes closed, and the silence seemed to deepen.
A red spot stained the pristine white snow beside the still figure, like a molten ruby in the midst of glittering crystal.
The path was steep and slippery. Part of the ground was frozen, and both ice and uneven patches lay hidden under the snow. The man had to walk slowly and lead his horse behind him. The beast had even more problems than he had, and the frozen ground made it skittish. One more tug at the reins brought them both to a sudden halt. The horse snorted nervously, and the man had to turn and try to calm it down again.
For a while he made no move to go on. He just stood there, one hand on the horse's neck, the other on its reins, following the path in front of them with his eyes. It was moving steadily upwards, into the mountains. He should have known that it would snow in the night. The signs had been there, but he had not been willing to listen. Now all traces were gone, and the way would soon be impassable.
Not that it would change anything. He knew he had to go on anyway, whatever the cost, but he was not sure any longer that he could justify taking the horse with him. It took him only a few moments to come to a decision. Quietly he started to unfasten two of the bundles that had been tied to the horse, and leaned them against the rock wall. The horse eyed him questioningly, and the man smiled.
"It is time for you to go home," he told the beast softly, patting the strong neck. He knew that the way down would be difficult for the horse, but he was confident that it would be able to make it. It was easier than the way that still lay before him. "Go and be safe."
He gave the horse a soft push, and the beast took a step back. Its ears flicked back, and then forward again. It seemed confused for a moment, but then, after a second gentle push, it turned around and slowly started to head back the way they had come. Relieved, the man shouldered the bundles and began to slowly and carefully move on again, freed of the responsibility for any other life than his own.
He knew that what he attempted was folly, but there was no choice in his heart, and his determination would not waver. A cold wind that blew down from the mountains made his eyes water. He kept his head down and hidden under the hood, and his cloak wrapped tightly around himself and trudged on. Behind him, the dark form that was his horse vanished slowly into the distance.
He did not know how long he had been walking – though it seemed like a small eternity to him – when he came to a bend and his surroundings changed for the first time. Instead of rock walls and ravines a wide, gently sloping plateau opened in front of him, which might be a meadow or a scree in summer, but was now no more than an expanse of white, only interrupted by occasional rocks jutting out of the ground.
If the man had not known his way, he would have been lost, as the path had long since vanished under the snow and his sight was obscured by gently falling snowflakes. Apart from his own breathing and the crunching of his boots in the snow, there was no sound. If he stood still and listened, it seemed to him that he was the only living being anywhere. For some reason, the thought made him shudder.
He found the landmarks he was looking for and slowly started to navigate his way through the snow and the rocks. Soon most of the expanse was hidden from his eyes by the swirling snowflakes. When he had crossed about half of the plateau, one of his feet got caught, and he stumbled, barely catching himself before he could fall to the ground. Straightening and blinking against the snow, he noticed that there were several elevations around him, where something lay hidden beneath the cold, white blanket.
The small mounds had a peculiar form, and something about them did not look natural. The man hesitated, feeling a dark foreboding well up inside him. He looked down at the flat mound directly in front of him. His face lost all colour, and he stepped back involuntarily. Where his foot had collided with the mound, the snow had crumbled away, uncovering what had been hidden before. On the ground in front of him lay a hand.
When he had recovered from the shock, he noticed that the hand was dark and formed like a claw. Orcs. Suddenly wary, he unsheathed his sword and looked around, but nothing moved apart from the lazily swirling snowflakes. The orc seemed to have been dead for quite some time. Perhaps it had died last night, or even the day before… The man paled again when he realized what might be hidden in the other mounds, and what might have happened here.
He used one booted foot to give the corpse a push, freeing it from the snow, and looked closely at the body. Then he went on to the next mound, and found another orc there, just as dead as the first had been. Both orcs had been killed with a blade. The movements of the man got more and more hurried now, as he went from one mound to the next, searching for something and yet hoping not to find it.
The sixth corpse he found had been killed with a green-fletched arrow. The man paused, and the sudden cold he felt had nothing to do with the temperature outside. He looked up, towards the mountains, where he knew the path that he had been following would lead. For a moment he was undecided, feeling a sudden sense of urgency, but not sure which way to choose. Then a new determination entered his eyes, and he went to uncover the next corpse, for by now he was sure that that was what he would find under all the deceptively harmless-looking mounds of snow, knowing that he would find no peace until he knew who lay hidden beneath them.
He found five more dead orcs, at each discovery only taking the time for a short glance before he hastened on. Then he found himself in front of a larger elevation, half-hidden from his view by some rocks that jutted out of the snow in front of him. He hesitated for a moment, then he kneeled down, pushing the snow away with his gloved hands. He saw what he had expected to see: the cadaver of a grey horse.
The man bowed his head and let his hand rest on the head of the dead beast for a moment. Then he straightened and rose again. He could only see flat ground and rocks in front of him. He turned around and saw that the unearthed corpses were already covered again with a thin white film. His own traces had nearly vanished. He looked at the rocks again, trying to make out anything through the densely falling snowflakes. There was something strange about one of the rocks.
Stepping closer, he saw that there was a snow-drift at one side of the rock, but it was not formed as it should be. He tensed, and then he covered the distance in three long strides. The motionless being that sat slumped against the rock was nearly entirely buried under the snow-drift. Only on the downwind side a hint of pale gold and white skin could be seen and part of one arm and a hand lay free.
The man pulled his hood back, exposing tousled dark locks, and fell to his knees beside the still figure. He extended one arm towards the being in front of him as if in pleading, stopping just short of touching one snow-covered shoulder. Too late, a voice inside of him whispered, and a sudden fear broke over him, threatening to choke him.
"Legolas…?" he whispered.
There was no answer.
Finally Aragorn forced himself to move and touch the elf's shoulder. Instantly the still body in front of him started to slide and would have fallen to the ground if he had not caught it. The ranger drew his friend into his arms, finally freed from his shock-induced daze. As gently and swiftly as possible he started to brush the snow from Legolas' face and body. The skin of the elf was as pale as white marble, and his lips were nearly blue. His eyes were closed.
Numerous injuries lay hidden under the snow, and some of the cuts were deep. Especially one wound in the elf's side had bled heavily. None of the wounds had been tended to. Aragorn had to suppress the fear that was threatening to overwhelm him again, knowing that he had no time for that now. If there was time left at all. He removed the leather glove on his right hand with his teeth, ignoring the bite of the cold air on his unprotected skin. He touched his friend's face. It was cold as ice.
Aragorn unsheathed his hunting knife and just held it for a moment, staring into the elf's face and trying to gather the courage for the next step. Finally he turned the shiny blade and held it closely to Legolas' lips. When he raised the blade again to look at it, his fingers shook slightly. There was a gossamer-thin mist on the side of the blade that had nearly touched the elf's lips. Aragorn's hand shook even more and he barely managed not to drop the knife. He closed his eyes, breathing a sigh of relief. Legolas was alive.
Aragorn wasted no time after that. Even if he had not been a healer, he would have known that the elf was fading fast. He took a blanket out of one of the bundles he had fastened to his back, and wrapped it tightly around his friend. He did not bother to dress the elf's wounds, knowing that they would not start bleeding again until they were out of the cold. He took Legolas' unresponsive body in his arms and staggered to his feet.
He needed to get both of them out of the snow and the cold if he wanted to have a chance to save the elf. It was hard to get one's bearings in this world of swirling snow, but Aragorn's years as a ranger had not been spent idle. He knew these mountains, and this was not the first snowstorm he had had to live through. He squinted against the snow, and then he began walking, remembering a place where they could find shelter if he found it in time.
Aragorn bowed his head and held the elf pressed tightly against him, trying to shield his friend from the snow and the icy wind. From time to time he had to stop and look for any traces that would tell him that he was still walking in the right direction. Moving through this white void, time soon lost its meaning, and nothing seemed to be real but the ground under his feet and the body in his arms.
In spite of the gloves and boots, the ranger's hands and feet started to get numb from the cold, and the snow froze in his hair and brows. He felt tired, but he did not give in. He concentrated on each step, counting them in his mind to keep awake and alert. His arms were heavy now, and even the light body of the elf began to weigh him down. He had to adjust his grip more than once, but he refused to let go or rest. Again and again he had to fight down the fear that he was only carrying the dead shell of his friend, and that Legolas had already succumbed to the cold.
Then, finally, the man nearly walked into a rock wall that suddenly loomed up in front of him. He came to an abrupt halt, and sighed with relief as he realized where he was. Quickening his steps in spite of his weariness, the ranger followed the rock wall, until a yawning black hole opened up to his left. Without hesitation Aragorn stooped and stepped through the low entrance into the darkness of the cave, nearly stumbling when the crunching snow under his feet gave way to firm, even rock. Instantly, the snow and the wind ceased and stayed behind.
Aragorn walked slowly further into the cave, until he reached the back wall. He kneeled down and lowered the elf gently to the ground, unfastening the quiver and the twin knives from Legolas' back and leaning them against the wall. Then he set down the bundles he had carried the entire way, and started unwrapping them. The firewood he had taken with him to prepare for the cold in the mountains had been securely wrapped, and was still dry.
Aragorn had not been able to carry all the firewood that had been fastened to his horse. He could only hope that it would be enough to warm Legolas and get them through the snowstorm. As quickly as he could, he made a fire and shifted Legolas as close to it as possible. He shook out the blanket before the snow could begin to melt and wrapped it around the elf again. Then he took his own cloak and his one set of spare clothing and lay them near the fire to warm them.
Afterwards he prepared the bandages and herbs he had taken with him, and when he was done he kneeled down beside the elf again. To his great relief, Legolas was still breathing, but his heartbeat was weak and erratic. Gently and carefully, he got the blood-stained clothes off his friend, revealing the wounds beneath. For a moment, he had to look away, and his hands clenched into fists.
When he looked at the elf again there was a deep sadness in his eyes, and a hint of something deeper, more painful. Once again, he had to force himself to start moving, knowing that Legolas' life was hanging on a thread now. Aragorn worked over his friend for a long time, cleaning and bandaging his wounds, rubbing his limbs to get some warmth back into him, and using up the entire supply of herbs he had brought with him.
He put his now-warmed spare clothes on the elf and continued rubbing his arms and legs until his muscles ached. The ranger was rewarded by a hint of colour that returned to the elf's pale cheeks, and a soft, barely audible moan. Legolas' lips were not blue any longer, and his heartbeat was more steady and a little bit stronger.
"Legolas?" Aragorn asked softly. "Can you hear me?"
The only answer was silence. Aragorn sighed and wrapped his friend into his own warmed-through cloak, and then the blanket above it. He leaned back against the rock wall, holding his friend in his arms, keeping the elf between his body warmth and the fire.
A short time later, Legolas started shivering, and the shivers soon became so violent that Aragorn could hear his teeth clatter. The ranger held his friend closer, whispering soft words to him in Elvish that made no sense at all. At last the shivering abated, and the elf's body went limp in his arms again.
Aragorn closed his eyes, pain etched into his features. He started to rock slowly back and forth, bowing his head until his forehead touched the elf's. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm so sorry…"
The fire crackled softly, and a stray gust of wind made the flames dance. A snow-drift had found its way into the entrance of the cave. Everything outside was hidden behind a curtain of whirling snowflakes, and the wind howled in the distance.
To be continued…
The next update will be in about a week. After that I'll probably be able to update in shorter intervals.
See you next chapter (hopefully),