By Finrod's Beard
Legolas wiped the light sheen of sweat off Aragorn's face as the ranger twisted restlessly in his embrace.
"Dinnen Estel, I am with you."
But Aragorn could not hear him for a fever raged within him and had been for the last two days. Blinking back tiredness and growing distress Legolas tried to settle more comfortably in the cramped space into which he and Aragorn had crawled only four short days ago.
Hearing the movement the warg above them growled menacingly pushing his long snout into the small opening in an effort to reach them. For a long time his muzzle blocked out the air and light and the only thing Legolas could smell was its stinking breath. He pressed backwards reflexively but there was nowhere to go. They were caught like rats in a trap.
Finally the warg gave up and retreated and the stingy light that filtered in shone through the hole once more. Bending forward Legolas looked up to mark the time of day. It was just noon; he did not dare try to climb out or do more than look, for the warg pack was five strong and eerily vigilant. It had been pure luck that he and Aragorn had escaped them in the first place. Now the same fluke that had saved their lives threatened to end it for they were trapped in a caved in hollow with no food or water.
Escaping a roving orc band they had fled to the plains, racing to get to the river and thus safety, but fate had been against them and a hastily thrown orc spear had pierced Aragorn in the side. In desperation they had turned and headed for the Swallows, a warren of hollows, caves and tunnels in which they could evade their pursuers… and so they did. For six days had the orcs hunted them and for six days had they evaded their would be captors.
Finally growing tired of the hunt the orcs ceased to follow. But they, trusting nothing to chance continued on that path which emerged at the foothills of the Great Mountain Range. It was there that the warg pack, an untamed band of the lean shaggy creatures, picked up their scent and pursued them relentlessly. Already taxed by the six day chase they sought refuge in the hillocks around. Aragorn had literally fallen intothe deep, well like, hole leaving Legolas no choice but to follow. Trapped and desperate Legolas had crouched over Aragorn as the wargs descended upon them. To his great surprise the painful bites he expected did not fall, instead a shower of small rocks and soil beat upon his back. Giving a shout of horror Legolas held onto the unconscious dúnadan.
In the end they had not been buried alive as he had feared but they were now stuck in no more than a worm's hole. A hole guarded by hungry, rabid unforgiving beasts.
Already untended for days, Aragorn's wound had slowly given in to infection and by the second day he had succumbed to fever.
Wordlessly Legolas looked up at the sky above that spoke of freedom and then bowed his head. It was not cowardice or fear that kept him pinioned where he was but three failed attempts to escape. All he had received for his efforts were nasty rakes along his forearms and back. They hurt more than they ought and he knew that the infectious warg saliva was trying to surpass his body's defences. But that would take a long time, longer than the time the ranger would last without help. Legolas studied the wan face of the sleeping ranger and wandered at the ill wind that seemed to follow them of late.
"The darkness seeks you my friend." he whispered and at that moment resolved to try his utmost to escape the confines of their uncomfortable prison or die.
The wargs were caught off guard but soon in the true manner of predators they turned the tables on the weary elf. He cried out as a large salivating jaw clamped on his leg. Using the pointed end of his broken bow he struck at it, but the warg simply growled and worried at the elf's leg as a lesser dog would a bone. An anguished cry was torn from the elf's throat. Legolas again struck at the warg's head and this time the jagged edge pierced the thick skull just above the eye. Thick viscous blood began to flow and the warg gave an awful shriek of surprise and pain. He tossed his massive head flinging the offensive elf away from him.
Legolas staggered and fell, hitting the length of his body hard on the pitted ground. He scrambled to his feet, quickly bringing his long knife to bear. He held it defensively across his chest and crouched to make himself a smaller target.
The wargs advanced growling menacingly at the bleeding yet dangerous creature before them. The creature gave ground slowly as they moved forward; the scent of its blood was infuriatingly sweet.
Legolas did not hold out much hope for himself. He could kill two maybe three before he was overcome. Then he thought of Aragorn dying alone and unmarked in a shallow grave.
'I cannot leave him here, I must survive.'
It was his last coherent thought as the wargs surged forward.
Blade and teeth clashed. Fur and flesh tore. Death danced among them in a mad pirouette until in the end three wargs lay slain and Legolas was on his knees bleeding and battered. But there were still two wargs alive and Legolas was at the end of his strength.
The animals approached him warily for they both had suffered his terrible bite.
Legolas tried to draw his fleeing strength to the centre of his being in an effort to steady himself. He tried to focus on the larger of the wargs, but his vision was bleary. There was a nagging pain in his chest. He sat back on his haunches and forced his pounding heart to calm and his erratic breathing to slow. Yet still he felt his vigour draining away in each rivulet of blood that ran from the numerous wounds about his body. He made himself stand; he swayed as the world seemed to tilt. He brought up the bloodied blade slowly and the wargs growled in response.
The dwarves that still lived under the mountain did not often come to the surface. Not since their forefathers had they bothered to dabble in trade or barter with others. But ever so often they did come up to hunt, to restock their larder with fowl, with plant, with fish and with game.
They came upon the grisly fight in its final throes. They saw the tall elf fatally pierce the last warg. They watched as the animal fell. They saw the elf lurch drunkenly sideways, take two steps forward and then crumble, one hand outstretched as though in supplication.
Hadhod took one step towards it.
"Leave it be, Orod advised, "do you not see what it is?"
"Aye but t'is hurt. I'll leave no wounded creature out here." Hadhod replied grimly, making his way towards the fallen elf. But Orod had wandered out of earshot, reconnoitring the scene of battle.
"Five, by Finrod's beard!" he exclaimed as he counted the carcasses. "A mighty tally."
In grudging respect he turned to gaze upon the elf that lay bleeding on the ground.
"Dead is it?" he called, but Hadhod shook his head.
"Can't kill these so easily as you know right well. Here lend a hand."
Tucking his walking axe into his belt Orod good-naturedly ambled forward. Perhaps it was fate or simply a loose stone that caused him to stumble, lose his balance and fall almost nearly into the hole where Aragorn lay.
"Finrod's beard!" he swore.
Rising quickly he called out to Hadhod. "Here's another, dead by the looks of it!"
And indeed Aragorn did lie as one slain. Nevertheless between them both they managed to extract the wounded ranger. His skin was hot and upon examination a grisly wound was found in his side.
"Nasty business," Hadhod mumbled. Orod agreed.
In an accessible cave theyput them to lie side by side. On the elf they used their ancient herbs and bound the wounds. It was all they could do for him. The ranger presented more of a problem. The wound he bore had festered and the dwarves were obliged to cut and then sew the flesh. Despite the poultices his skin burned and in his moments of wakefulness he begged for water. Three days passed and Hadhod and Orod cared for and guarded the two as they would their own.
On the fourth day Aragorn's fever broke.
Legolas felt stiff and sore. He had sat all the way up before he remembered. Startled he reached for his knife staring around wildly. Only the dim recesses of a cave greeted his eyes. In shock he stared around, frightened a little now, but then a soft sound brought his eyes back to the ground. Aragorn was lying there quietly sleeping. The elf gasped in surprise and gladness. He touched the ranger's face finding it cool. He lifted Aragorn's shirt to find the wound neatly bandaged. Then he took stock of his own wounds to find them similarly tended. Attheir feet lay meat, water and his long knife. It had been cleaned and wrapped in dry-leaf. Aragorn's sheathed sword was next to it. Legolas pulled the knife to him. Unwrapping it he saw that the blade had been polished until it shone. Raising his head he said to the emptiness of the cave,
"Hannon le mellon. I owe you a debt that I hope one day to repay."
There was no answer.
In the shadows Hadhod and Orod watched as the elf woke the ranger.
"It's not as stiff necked as I thought it would be." Orod commented.
Hadhod snorted, "That's because it's young. Give it a few hundred years."
With that he shouldered his axe and began the long journey home.
"Finrod's beard," Orod whispered and taking a last look at the two friends hurried to join his taciturn friend.