Legolas lay on his side on the ground with his knees pulled up to his chest. He was covered in blood, both his clothes and his flesh torn in numerous places. He looked as though he had been trying to protect himself. Both of his knives were still in their sheaths. Whatever had attacked had been quick.
"Take care of him, Estel," Elladan said, as he and Elrohir rushed past and followed the blood trail that led away from their fallen friend. They couldn't tell if the blood was the attacker's or if it belonged to Legolas.
Aragorn dropped to his knees and reached for his friend. He hesitated, because there was no place he could put his hands that didn't have some sort of injury, and touching Legolas would likely cause him more pain.
He needn't have worried. Legolas was unconscious and beyond feeling anything.
The ranger turned Legolas onto his back and groaned at what he saw. There was more blood soaking the front of the elf's tunic, and the gashes here were deeper than the ones on his arms, legs and back.
"Hold on, Legolas. We will get you to Ada, and you will be fine." His last four words were meant as much for his own reassurance as for Legolas's.
Elladan and Elrohir returned shortly after. Both wore faces grim with worry and defeat.
The elder twin shook his head, when Aragorn looked up at him. "We lost the trail. But we will take up the search again, as soon as we get Legolas into Ada's hands." The look he gave his human brother begged to be told it was not too late to do so.
Aragorn nodded. As he carefully picked Legolas up in his arms, he asked, "What was it?"
"We are not sure," Elladan replied. "We did not see it, and the tracks we found were indistinct. All we know is that is was very large, probably a bear."
Aragorn shuddered. Had they been farther away from Rivendell, he would have taken the time to bandage Legolas's injuries for the trip on horseback. This close, however, he just wanted to get Legolas to his father as quickly as possible.
When they reached their horses, Legolas was handed up to Aragorn, and the ranger held the elf in front of him. Because the larger gash across Legolas's stomach was bleeding freely, Aragorn tightly gripped the two sides of the torn tunic and held it closed, forcing the ragged edges of the elf's flesh to close, as well. The bleeding slowed but did not stop.
The little group rode toward Rivendell as swiftly as they dared.
Not once since the attack had Elrohir uttered a single word. His heart and mind were so full of guilt, he couldn't bring himself to speak. He could barely move. He brought up the rear, because he also couldn't bear to look at what the animal had done to the Mirkwood prince. Worry for Legolas kept anyone else from noticing Elrohir's silence.
Lord Elrond sat up from the book he was reading. There was a nagging feeling in his heart that all was not well. He couldn't discern the exact reason for his unease, but he felt sure it had to do with his sons and the silvan elf that he thought of as a son. He felt sure that something had gone terribly wrong on the hunting trip they had embarked on a few hours ago.
Rising quickly, he made his way to the door of his home, arriving just as Aragon and the twins rode up. One look at Legolas told him his disquiet had not been unfounded. A quick glance at his sons told him that they were all well. His attention turned back to the golden-haired elf in Aragorn's arms.
"Bring him," was all the elf lord said, as he turned and headed toward the Houses of Healing.
By the time Aragorn arrived, Elrond had already issued orders to the other two healers in residence. They were in motion instantly.
Aragorn laid Legolas down on the nearest bed, which was in a front corner of the large room. Without being told, the ranger began to unfasten Legolas's tunic.
Elladan removed the young elf's boots and vambraces. No one noticed that Elrohir had lingered at the door but had not entered the room.
Herbs, water, cloths for cleaning and bandaging were brought by the other healers. Knowing Elrond and his sons would handle whatever needed to be done, they moved away but stood by discreetly, in case they were needed again.
As Elrond's deft fingers worked, he asked, "Was this done by an animal?" He had seen wounds like this many times before.
"We think it may have been a bear," Elladan replied. "It was probably already wounded or it to attack Legolas. Elrohir and I tried to track it, but we lost the trail and decided we needed to get Legolas back here far more than we needed to kill that beast."
"Wounded animals are extremely dangerous," the elf lord said. "It needs to be taken care of before it can hurt anyone else."
"I will go," Elrohir called from the doorway.
Aragorn grabbed his father's arm and whispered, "Do not send him."
Elrond frowned. "Why not?"
"I will explain later. Just do not let Elrohir go back out there."
Elrond looked up to see Elrohir turning away, ready to leave. "No, Elrohir. You remain here. Send at least four other elves to find the animal," Elrond instructed. "Tell them where to look."
"But, Ada..." Elrohir began but stopped when his father turned the look that said, 'Do not argue with me' on him.
Elrohir wanted nothing more than to go out and kill that animal, or whatever it turned out to be, so he could, in some small way, make up for what his disastrous prank had caused. Now he would not get that chance.
The elf turned forlornly and headed away to find the ones he would send out to do what he should be doing. He briefly thought of defying Lord Elrond and going anyway, but knew he could not upset his father by doing so. Either way, it seemed, he would suffer guilt.
Elrond, Aragorn and Elladan worked quickly yet methodically to repair the damage that teeth and claws had done to Legolas's body.
Finally, Elrond straightened up, throwing the last of the bloody cloths into a basin on a nearby table. Next to it sat a bowl of athelas leaves, steeping in hot water.
He let out a long breath, as he surveyed the elven prince's body. Deep blue bruises showed on almost every inch of skin not covered by bandages. Even with elven healing, it would take Legolas a long time to mend, if he survived at all, a fact that was not a sure thing, at this point.
The scent of athelas, mingled with other herbs, was thick in the air. "We have done all we can for now." It was a statement Elrond often made after tending to badly injured patients.
Aragorn and Elladan knew better than to ask if Legolas would live. They knew their father rarely commented on such things until the outcome was more certain, one way or the other. Besides, they were experienced healers themselves and knew the gravity of what they were seeing.
Elrond looked at both of his sons. "Now we wait." That was another of Elrond's usual comments.
The elf lord tuned his gaze on his human son. "Explain to me, Estel, why you told me not to send Elrohir after the animal that did this?"
Aragorn glanced at Elladan with clear shame on his face, causing the eldest twin to frown in puzzlement.
Knowing he had to tell the tale and hold nothing back, he began the story. He looked from his father to his brother several times during the narration.
On Elladan's face was an expression of shock mixed with anger, though that quickly faded.
On Elrond's face was a look of deep disapproval. "I have rarely discouraged the pranks the four of you play on each other, as long as no real harm was done. But deep down I always feared that this day would come for one of you."
He could not see it clearly just yet, but Elrond felt that both Estel and Legolas had destinies that would one day affect the lives of all who lived in Middle-earth.
What he did know for certain was that if Legolas died, not only would a precious life be lost, but none of his sons would likely ever fully recover from it.
"Elladan is the only one blameless in this," Aragorn began. "Elrohir started the hoax but Legolas and I went along with it, though they didn't know it." Somehow confession was not good for Aragorn's soul. He still felt guilty and ashamed. He turned to his brother. "I'm sorry, Elladan."
"Do not apologize, Estel. You said I am blameless. That is not true. This tale of giant spiders in Imladris was meant as revenge for a prank I pulled on Elrohir in Mirkwood. That makes me just as guilty as anyone."
Aragorn turned back to his father. "Ada, you need to go talk to Elrohir. It hadn't dawned on me until now that he never said a word on the way back here. And you saw yourself he never even came into this room, even though I'm sure he wanted to. I know how guilty I feel. I can only imagine how he must be feeling."
"I will speak with him." Elrond got up and left the room, knowing Legolas remained in good hands. He was sure his youngest twin would retreat to his own room, so that's where the elf lord headed.
The knock on Elrohir's door did not bring a response. A second knock was no more successful. Under ordinary circumstances Elrond would not enter someone's private room without permission, but in this case, he deemed it a necessary action.
Elrond entered and closed the door behind him. The room was empty. However, the balcony doors were open, and in a few steps Elrond was outside. He paused when he spotted Elrohir in the far corner, staring out over the valley at the setting sun.
Even without looking around, Elrohir knew immediately who it was that stepped up beside him, and he knew the reason why he was there.
Still not looking at his father, Elrohir said, "There is nothing that you can say that will change what I did."
"No, I cannot change what happened."
"What I did," Elrohir corrected emphatically, clearly taking full blame.
"It was not meant to harm anyone. I know that." Elrond's words were spoken low and soft.
"No, it was not meant to harm, but it did. Legolas could die because of my little white lie." Elrohir emitted a bitter laugh. "It was supposed to be a harmless prank to get back at Elladan, but that does not excuse what I did."
The younger twin had not missed the fact that his father had not contradicted his statement that Legolas could die. He closed his eyes and turned his head away from Elrond.
The elf lord put his hand on his son's shoulder. "You will have to live with what happened, Elrohir. No one, not even I, can ease your heart. You must find the strength to do that. All I can do is tell you that that heart is one capable of great good and great love." He turned his son around to face him. "Elrohir, you must learn the lessons that events such as this have to teach you, but you cannot dwell on the events themselves. You will destroy yourself reliving the past that way."
He leaned over and kissed Elrohir's forehead before walking away. He would have to give Elrohir time to come to terms with his feelings enough to want to be with Legolas. He believed that they needed each other. Yet seeing the prince in his current condition might be too traumatic for Elrohir just yet.
The youngest of the twins turned back to face the valley that stretched out before him. He knew his father was right. Elrond had lived for over six thousand years and had gathered a wisdom matched by very few in all of Middle-earth. Even so, the elf knew it would ba a long time before this 'event' ceased to trouble his heart.
The next two days were touch and go for Legolas. He stubbornly clung to life, while Elrond, Aragorn and Elladan were just as stubborn in their determination to save the young warrior prince.
Not once in all that time had Elrohir come to the Houses of Healing. He had locked his door and refused to see or speak to anyone. Everyone had tried and failed to reach him. Even Elrond had not been able to get through to him.
It was on the morning of the third day that Legolas woke up. He opened his eyes, slowly focusing on the joyous faces of his friends. It made him smile, though it was clear he was still in pain.
"Welcome back," Aragorn said with the biggest grin he could manage plastered across his face.
"I am happy to be back," the elf replied, returning his friend's grin. Legolas's raspy voice testified to how dry his mouth and throat had become.
Elrond turned to the table and poured a cup of water from a pitcher. He turned back, and it was then he saw Elrohir standing near the bed. No one had seen or heard him approach. The elf lord handed him the water and nodded toward Legolas.
Elrohir shook his head, but Elrond pushed the cup into his hand and stepped back, pulling Elladan with him and motioning Aragorn away from the bed. They retreated to the far side of the room to give Legolas and Elrohir the privacy Elrond thought they needed.
Without anyone to cover him, Elrohir was left exposed to Legolas's view. He felt awkward, not knowing how his friend would react to him.
Legolas suddenly smiled, easing the tension evident in every muscle of Elrohir's body.
Gathering his courage, Elrohir moved up beside the bed. He handed the cup to Legolas and then helped him sit up enough to drink from it. After Legolas emptied the glass, the youngest twin eased him back down onto the pillows
When Elrohir went to step away, Legolas gripped his arm. The older elf's heart almost seized in fear of what Legolas would say to him. Perhaps he had misinterpreted the earlier smile. He wanted to pull away and run, but instead he waited.
"I do not fault you, Elrohir. Estel and I knew what you were doing, and we went along with it. We should not have followed you. It was none of our business."
Elrohir shook his head. "You would not have been in the forest at all, if not for the lie I told Elladan."
"It was a prank and a clever one at that. We all pull them."
"But no one gets hurt, certainly not like you did."
Legolas pulled on Elrohir's arm until the dark-haired elf was forced to sit down on the side of the bed. "No one could have known the bear was there. It was already injured, which I am sure is why it attacked me." Legolas paused to take a few deep breaths. "Elrohir, I cannot change what happened to me. I also cannot make you stop thinking that you are responsible for it. Only you can do that."
"You sound like Ada."
Legolas smiled. "That is a good thing. He is wise beyond all of us. Just know that I hold no blame against you." The wood elf's eyes reflected only truth.
"I will never again play a prank on anyone," Elrohir vowed solemnly.
"Do not stop playing those pranks, Elrohir. It is part of who you are, and I would not see that change because of what happened to me."
Elrohir nodded, more to please Legolas than to agree with him. He couldn't deny that his heart was lightened, but still he knew that , even though Legolas did not blame him, it would be a long time before he stopped blaming himself.