Title: There, but back again?
Disclaimer: Well, if I got a penny for every time I write this, I would be rich by now. I own nothing that has to do with J.R.R. Tolkien and the LOTR. I make no money with this story.
Summary: On his way to Imladris to deliver an important message from Gandalf, Aragorn runs into trouble along the way. Can he find a way out before it is too late? And what about the elvish escort from Mirkwood that brings Legolas to Imladris as well?
A/N: Written for the March Teitho Challenge "First Sentence". (1st place) Aragorn is still young in this story, around 22.. The challenge was to start the story with exactly this sentence: "It seemed like a good idea at the time".
Chapter 1: The Chase
It seemed like a good idea at the time. But now, the closer the chasing orcs neared Aragorn's position, he felt that his idea to run from the band of orcs had been a decidedly bad idea. He should have stayed and fought, one against twenty or not.
Panting and forcing his hurting legs to run even faster, he chanced a quick look over his shoulder. He could not see the orcs that pursued him, but he could hear them and he knew that they were gaining ground. No wonder, he thought bitterly, I am wounded after all.
And it was true, while fighting briefly with the band of orcs which he had accidentally stumbled upon in the woods of Imladris, one of the orcs had managed to get under his defences and cut him with a crude scimitar. His side was still bleeding freely, and with every step he took it send fiery tendrils of pain up and down his body.
Cursing inwardly, Aragorn looked at the way in front of him. The rain of the last weeks had made the path muddy and slippery, the dense undergrowth and the low hanging branches of the trees made his flight even more difficult. The weak spring sun reflected on the numerous water droplets that clung to the young leaves, but Aragorn had no time to marvel at the beauty around him.
Suddenly, he felt his feet slip on the wet ground. Reaching out quickly, he braced himself against a tree trunk to stop him from falling, scraping his hand badly on the rough bark. Gasping in pain and feeling the agony that radiated off his injured side at the sudden movement, he swallowed thickly, took a steadying breath, and ran on.
He could not stop, if he stopped, the orcs would catch him, and he knew that they would torture him before they finally send him on his way to Namo. Gulping and feeling fear spread in his body, Aragorn quickened his steps. They must not catch him!
And not only because he had no intention to die so young, no, he had a message to deliver to his father from Mithrandir, and he knew that the message was important; otherwise the old Istar had not asked him to journey from Bree to Imladris with due haste.
Aragorn sped through the forest, feet splashing in the sludge, arms and hands scraping against branches and thorny bushes. A low hanging branch sliced a shallow cut in his cheek and more than once he felt his cloak entangle in the underbrush, only to be ripped free without mercy seconds later.
Panting and cursing the stitch that had developed in his other side, Aragorn looked around and scanned his position. Hope flared in his heart as he recognized the trees and the forest around him. Only a few more minutes and he would reach the wide chasm that led to the higher levels of the cliffs that surrounded Imladris. And the free hanging wooden bridge that crossed said chasm. If he could make it over the bridge, then he could escape the orcs. He was certain about that.
Ignoring the pain in his body, the loud and evil screeches and jeers of the orcs that slowly but surely gained ground on him, and the heavy pounding of many iron shod feet stomping on the earth, Aragorn forced his legs to move even faster. He was almost there, almost there…
A few days prior…
It was such a nice and wonderful spring day, that Legolas sighed in contentment. His escort and he had left the Misty Mountains behind them only a few days ago, had descended into the forests that surrounded Imladris, and were now on their way to the Last Homely House.
The trees around him were lush and lively, the young spring leaves of such a bright green colour that it warmed Legolas's heart to look at them and hear them whisper. Flowers of white and yellow blossomed on the ground, moss wound around the trunks of trees and lichens covered the stones. Birds sang in the branches and when he passed a huge old oak, Legolas could see two red squirrels chasing each other, before they vanished inside their winter drey.
With the melting of the snows and the passing of the last frosty days, the rivers and tiny streams had swollen to enormous sizes, but the elvish horses had no problems making their way through the woods; to Legolas it seemed as if the horses enjoyed the ride as much as he did.
Oh, and enjoying the journey, he did. He had not seen the twins or Aragorn in months, as the High Pass had been impassable due to snow and ice, but with spring he had not been able to stay in his father's palace much longer. After much bribing and pleading, King Thranduil had finally given his permission and Legolas had left Mirkwood one week later to visit Imladris and his friends.
So far, the journey had been uneventful, if one counted a small band of wolves and some irksome mountain goblins as uneventful, and Legolas knew that he would reach the Last Homely House within the next few days.
Had he been able to, he would have sang in joy; his heart felt so light and happy to see the lost beauty after winter, and he could not help but grin stupidly. Suddenly, his horse nickered under him, and Legolas patted its neck affectionately.
"Aye, you enjoy the forest as much as I do, I know."
Oh, he longed to just press his heels into his horse's sides and race through the forest, to feel the wind in his long hair and the sun on his face. But alas, he could not. His smile faltered a little as he looked briefly over his shoulder.
To his dismay, his father had insisted that he take an escort with him, and not any escort, no! The five warriors behind him had all never been to Imladris; they knew neither the twins, Lord Elrond or Aragorn, and the King had thought it was useful to strengthen the bond between Imladris and Mirkwood by sending out "new" elves that could make new friends there.
As much as Legolas liked the idea that more Mirkwood elves got to know the beauty that was Imladris, these five special elves were not much to his liking. They were not unfriendly, no, but they were so…stiff. Yes, that was it. They were stiff like stone and did nothing out of their own accord.
And, Legolas mused, for them I am "Prince" Legolas, not just Legolas. Oh, how he longed to simply chase away towards Imladris, leave these five behind him and have some nice days with his friends before these five could ruin his fun.
Once more, he gazed over his shoulder at his escort. All of them were scanning the woods, whether for any threats or marvelling at the beauty, he could not tell. Then suddenly, an idea stuck Legolas.
What if he simply…No, he could not do that. But what if he did? Would it be so bad? His escort had never been in these woods, but surely they would find Imladris and reach it unscathed. Aye, his father would be fuming if he heard about it, but…
Without thinking, Legolas leaned down towards his horse's ears. "What do you say, mellon nin? Do you feel like having a bit of fun and to leave these spoilsports?"
His horse snorted and flicked its ears as if it had understood him. Being an elvish horse, it maybe had. Gripping the reins tighter, Legolas whispered, grinning, "Noro lim! Noro lim, mellon!"
And with that, he raced away into the forest, leaving flabbergasted and irritated elves behind. Before the five had truly processed what had happened, Legolas had vanished behind the green trees and the dense underbrush.
Laughing, Legolas urged his horse even faster. Soon he would reach the Last Homely House, and spend some wonderful weeks with his friends. And not even the thought of the angry escort, and the tell off he would surely receive upon his return to Mirkwood from his father could truly dampen his excellent mood.
Here and now…
Aragorn stumbled and nearly crashed face first into the muddy ground, but in the last moment he found his balance, straightened himself and forced his arching feet to take him a few more steps northward.
Breathing heavily and feeling his warm blood run down his side, he stumbled through the underbrush and finally reached the chasm. The blood that rushed in his ears was almost louder than the swollen river before him, framed by steep white cliff walls.
He placed his hand over the wound and suppressed a hiss that wanted to escape his dry lips. Valar, the wound hurt! Hoping fiercely that the scimitar had not been poisoned, Aragorn made his way over to the right. The bridge should span over the many hundred feet high cliff walls, and bring him safely to the other side.
Then, he would either cut the ropes and bring the bridge to collapse, or simply shoot his foes one by one when the orcs made it over the bridge. That the ugly beast could do the same while "he" crossed the chasm, was something he did not truly wish to think about.
Gasping and wiping some sweaty strands of hair away from his face, Aragorn made his way to the place where the bridge had been build so many decades ago. It was one of the rare places where a traveller could cross this deep chasm and enter the realm of Lord Elrond. Of course, the forest Aragorn had been chased through belonged to his father's realm as well, but the magic of the elves was decidedly stronger once one had crossed the bridge.
Swallowing dryly, Aragorn stumbled forwards and then suddenly stopped stock still. His eyes widened in disbelieve and his mouth went dry. His heart pounded wildly in his chest and his hands began to shake slightly. This could not be true. Oh, by Elbereth, no!
The bridge was gone.
Two wooden pillars, intricately carved and surely of elven make rose out of the ground, thick grey ropes wound around the wood, indicating where the bridge had once been.
Aragorn groaned in frustration. His eyes looked to the other side of the chasm, and he could see the ropes and wooden planks dangle down from the pillars on that side. His knees became suddenly weak, and he had to brace himself against the wooden pillar that had once marked the beginning of the bridge on this side.
Shaking his head in disbelieve, Aragorn's thoughts raced. The winter storms must have destroyed the bridge, and as the hunting parties normally never travelled to this area, the repair teams of Imladris had not yet noticed the broken bridge.
Suddenly, a loud scream came from the forest behind him, and Aragorn snapped out of his thoughts. The orcs! They had to be near; the woods were silent and he felt the tiny hairs on his neck stand on end. He had to flee, to leave! He could not fight them in his condition, not twenty against one!
Feeling panic rise in his chest, Aragorn looked around frantically. Where should he go now? Where hide? To hide in the boughs of the trees was no option, the crowns were still partly bare of leaves, the orcs would see him. Back into the forest? No, he could run no more; his side hurt terribly and his limbs already shook from exertion.
But, where should he go? Or should he stand and fight? His chances of survival were slim to none, perhaps he should at least take some of the dark creatures with him, and die an honourable death.
Nonsense! A small voice inside his head told him. There was no dignity in death, and to sell his last breath to these foul beast would not make his passing any easier, or more noble. Neither to his soul nor his family and friends. He must not die yet, he had much to do in his life yet, much to accomplish.
Then suddenly, his eyes lightened on the two wooden pillars that had once held the bridge. Grey rope still dangled from them, and in that moment an idea sprang to Aragorn's mind. Taking a deep breath, he jumped forwards.
The orcs would not get him, not if there was another way.
Sighing, Legolas slowed his horse to a trot. He had made good progress the last few days, despite the broken bridge that he had encountered. From what he had been able to tell, the winter storms must have knocked the bridge down, and no one had yet had the time to repair it.
The fact that he had been forced to ride some leagues upstream the river to cross the chasm at a natural ford had subdued his mood somewhat, but the thought of the Last Homely House, the warm fires, the good food and the songs sung in the Hall of Fire had lifted his spirits again.
After all, his stiff escort would encounter the broken bridge as well and be forced to ford the chasm upstream. Maybe he had lost some time, but the others would lose that time as well, and he would still be sooner in Imladris than they.
Grinning at the thought of Aragorn's face when he told him about his little escape from his warriors, Legolas rode through the forest that surrounded the elven haven. In only two more days he would reach his destination, and then he could enjoy his time with his friends. All was as it should be.
The elven escort was in no good mood when it had finally reached the other side of the deep chasm. The broken bridge had forced them to ride upstream for some time, ford the river, and then ride back the whole way on the other side.
It had not only cost them some time, but also their good mood and any hopes to catch up to the Prince. What had that young prince thought he did, anyways? The King had instructed them to keep an eye on the Prince and to make sure that no harm befell him. How could Prince Legolas act so foolishly and run away from them?
But Taragwath had known the prince closer for some years now, and he knew that his behaviour was typical for the Prince. But, by the Valar, why when he was in charge of the escort?
Sighing inwardly, he let his gaze travel to the path before him. With his keen eyes he could clearly make out the hoof prints of Legolas's horse in the wet earth.
It relieved his heart to know that the prince was well and had come this way as well. Taragwath knew that the forest on this side of the chasm was supposed to be safe; he had no doubt that Legolas would reach the Last Homely House in one piece.
But then, he thought, I will tell him what I think about his foolish behaviour, Prince of Mirkwood or no!
Just as they passed by the broken pillars of the bridge, Taragwath sensed something. Stopping his horse immediately, he lifted his right arm, gesturing the others to stop as well. Something was not right; the woods were too silent and the trees spoke of darkness and trembled slightly in fear.
Dismounting quickly, Taragwath swung his bow from his shoulder and notched an arrow. Making sure that the other elves did the same, he rushed towards the dense bushes at the edge of the chasm. Whatever had alerted him, the feeling came from the other side of the river.
He narrowed his eyes and more sensed than saw the other warriors crouch down in the shadows of the bushes beside him, bows at the ready and arrows notched. Peering over at the other side of the chasm, he scanned the area. He could see the trees and the dense underbrush, the wooden pillars and a part of the bridge that was still connected to the posts.
Then suddenly, the bushes on the other side of the chasm parted, and a dirty and clearly exhausted human stumbled into view. The young man, clad in black and brown, panted and held his side. Taragwath watched how the man stumbled towards the pillars, only to then nearly fall to his knees when he saw that the bridge was destroyed.
Even without his elven eyes, Taragwath would have had no problem to make out the devastated and fearful emotions that flittered over the human's face. Looking closer, Taragwath could see that the man was bleeding rather freely from a wound to his side; his hand was already red and wet from his blood, his leg was drenched in blood from the wound as well, and the man's face was pale despite the run that he had obviously just absolved.
Then, the ranger, for Taragwath had no doubt that it was a ranger, although a still very young one, snapped his head around, only to then scan the area frantically. Searching…
Taragwath watched as the man practically jumped towards the two wooden pillars, gripped one of the ropes that dangled from the pole, only to then swing himself down into the chasm. The man scrambled to the left a bit, and then hid himself under the remainder of the wooden bridge, one hand gripping the rope, the other having found a hold on the cliff wall. After some searching, his feet found a hold as well, and then the ranger stopped all movement and waited.
Just when Taragwath wondered why the human had done that risky manoeuvre, his keen ears picked up another sound. Jeering and shouting, and only a moment later, a large group of orcs broke through the trees on the edge of the chasm.
Sneering in disgust, Taragwath felt his fingers tighten on the string of his bow; they itched to let the arrow fly and kill the beasts. But, he knew that the distance was great, and that they would only give away their position. Surely, no matter how good they were, some of the foul creatures would escape, and he had no desire to have these orcs chasing them through the forest. Not when the prince was alone in these woods.
Therefore, Taragwath signalled his warriors to not shoot, and watched what happened on the other side of the chasm.
A huge orc, yellow eyed and broad in built, sniffed the air and looked around the area. It was obvious that they had chased the human, and now they were looking for him. The orcs walked to and fro, looking, searching…
But, it seemed these orcs were no good trackers; they seemed not to see the human's footprints that led to the wooden pillars. Then suddenly, the huge orc, obviously the leader of the twenty orc strong pack, shouted something in its dark and foul language, and the orcs rushed back into the forest to resume their search there.
Taragwath could see the human press himself against the cliff wall, blood trickling down his side and leg, staining the white stone wall. But, the man did not move and gave no other sign that he was hiding there. Stillness settled over the area when all the orcs left to search the forest; all orcs but one.
The leader of the pack had not returned to the woods. With slow steps he made his way over to the edge of the cliff and then leaned over to peer into the chasm. The water stood high, due to the snow melt and the heavy rainstorm of spring, but still the level of the river was many feet away. Should someone jump from this height into the river, the current would drown him, if not the impact killed him first.
The orc sneered, and then suddenly turned his head to the right; his gaze now lingered directly on the wooden planks the man was hiding behind. But, he did not seem to see the ranger. A grunt came from the orc, and with slow steps he made his way over to the two pillars.
The orc looked around the area and made as if to leave as well. But then, suddenly, he sniffed the air. His evil yellow eyes locked on one of the ropes, and with a snarl he gripped it. Then, he lifted his hand and brought it before his face, sniffing and then licking his fingers.
An evil smirk crossed his face. He had found the human.
To be continued...
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