A/N: So much thanks go out to my reviewers.
I also want to thank those of you who read and reviewed my story "The Friend I Leave Behind".
For those of you who voted for any of my stories at the MC Awards 2008, thanks to you, too. The results, three firsts (one a tie) and one second, made the plot bunny smile, so maybe I can catch him off guard in this chapter. Let's see if it works. :o)
Chapter Thirty Seven
Aragorn winced when he saw Legolas get hit in the back with the branch that had been intended for him. He could almost feel the intense pain himself. It took a second to register the fact that the elf had fallen backwards rather than forwards. Then he saw the reason why. A troll had hit the elf from the front, landing the blow on his jaw.
"He be mine," the troll who had tried to kill Aragorn said. Shaking his fist in the other troll's face, the creature intensified his anger by narrowing his eyes. "Tack said to kill 'em," he snarled, "so I aim to kill 'em."
"I don't care what Tack said," the other troll declared just as fiercely. "Sump said they was to be captured, so that's what I'm gonna do."
"Sump ain't my leader."
"Well, Tack aim't my leader."
Looking above him, the ranger saw the two trolls, who had caused so much devastation to Legolas, squaring off against each other. They resembled dueling tree trunks. The man was glad that their attention had been diverted, but if he didn't get him and Legolas out of the way, they could still suffer as 'innocent' bystanders.
Aragorn looked toward Legolas, who wasn't even attempting to rise. Fortunately, he was moving just enough to indicate he was alive and at least partially conscious.
The ranger was not willing to risk trying to stand up and attract the attention of the quarrelling trolls, who were obviously focused solely on each other. He also was not willing to risk having his good leg give way on him again opening up the possibility of twisting it and causing further damage. His luck might not hold another time, and he and Legolas would be doomed for sure.
As quickly as he could, Aragorn belted the long knife, then crawled over to where Legolas lay in obvious pain. He watched as the elf made a futile effort to raise what the ranger could only imagine was a severely bruised back up off the ground. He prayed that no bones had been broken.
Aragorn pulled himself up enough to lean over the elf. "Legolas?" the man whispered. "Can you hear me?"
"Yes," came the soft, almost inaudible, reply.
"Can you move?" The man was terrified that Legolas's spine could have been crushed, rendering him paralyzed.
Legolas didn't answer that question directly, but he did move both of his feet, as much to reassure himself as it was to set his friend's mind at ease. "I must still be alive," the elf remarked. "I hurt too much to be dead. Was I hit with a tree?"
The ranger couldn't have kept a smile from his face if he tried. "You are most definitely not dead," Aragorn reassured. "And yes, you were hit with a tree, or more specifically the rather sturdy branch of one."
The shouting of the two trolls above them, arguing over their fate, sent more urgency coursing through the ranger. "We have to get away from here as quickly as we can."
Until now, the elf's eyes had been slightly unfocused, even though his mind remained relatively sharp. Hearing the trolls and understanding what was going on immediately brought the archer's attention back to the situation at hand. He nodded.
Aragorn grabbed Legolas's upper right arm and pulled him up into a sitting position, as he himself sat up straight.
The elf had no idea if he could do anything resembling traveling, but little choice had been left to him. "Go," he told Aragorn. "I will follow."
Having seen the pain the elf was trying to hide when he sat up, Aragorn didn't think that was likely to happen. "Sure you will."
At least half a dozen of the trees on the nearest side of the clearing were growing so tightly together that they would provide a temporary hiding place, provided they were able to get there undetected. Hiding would work at least until the two friends could get themselves sorted out enough to make a run for it, though perhaps run wasn't exactly the right description to use, under the circumstances.
It was impossible to push Legolas, so Aragorn had no choice but to go ahead of the elf and pull him along the ground, even though it meant that if they were spotted, the elf would be the first to get caught, not that the man would be out of range.
Legolas had dampened his natural elven glow when the fight had first begun. Had he not, the trolls would have followed them like following the glow from a torch.
Though their progress was so slow it seemed to take forever, the pair finally made it to the sheltering trees. Aragorn pulled Legolas against him and lay panting from the effort he had expended.
A frown crossed the man's face. Why hadn't the trolls come after them? There were dark shadows all around, but the area was not in total darkness. Two beings dragging themselves across the ground should have been picked up by somebody.
After a moment spent catching his breath, Aragorn rolled around the far side of the tree they were behind and cautiously peered out.
The clearing was still full of trolls. Most were watching the two who had been arguing over the seemingly cornered prey. Several had begun trading punches. It didn't take long for all the trolls in both Tack's and Sump's groups to begin engaging in an all out battle.
The rovers, who didn't have affiliations or even a spark of friendliness toward either group, were going about punching any trolls that weren't part of their own band.
"I can't believe it," the man muttered.
"What?" came the elf's soft voice beside him.
"They're all fighting among themselves. None of them seems the least interested in us."
"That ain't exactly true," came a gruff voice from above and behind them.
Aragorn jerked his head around, and Legolas lifted his up. Both stared at a lone troll, standing about ten feet away, his fists resting against his hips. It was one of the rovers.
"Seems I got you both all to meself."
"No you ain't." Now, another rover joined the little group. He pointed at Legolas. "He's the one that killed Raster. I want to be the one that takes care of him. You kin have the elf."
"I want the elf," the first troll declared menacingly.
It was clear the rovers, at least these two, didn't get along among themselves any more than those in the other groups did.
None of Tack's group had known that Legolas was an elf. Pickett had believed Aragorn's story that he was his brother who had deformed ears. It was unclear if Sump's group knew Legolas's origin either. However, this troll evidently did. Since the rovers moved across troll territory from one end to the other, it was likely they, or some of their predecessors, had come in contact with elves at some point.
Legolas sighed wearily. It seemed that elves were hated and considered a prize by every foul creature known to Middle-earth. Lying there in pain, he was tempted just to go to sleep and let the creatures fight over him. It was a fleeting thought, of course, since he had no intention of giving up, even had Aragorn not been there to be concerned about.
Aragorn felt a tug on his sleeve. He turned to look at Legolas, who whispered in elvish, "Still armed?"
The ranger nodded.
"We can't run, and we can't surrender, so I see only one thing left to do."
It took the ranger a mere second to discard the idea that they could stand up and fight. That left only one way to deal with these huge creatures, and he was pretty sure it was the same idea Legolas had.
He slowly took the elven long knife out of his belt and gripped it firmly.
Legolas did the same, having thought of his idea as soon as he realized he was still firmly holding his long knife.
As one, both elf and ranger lifted their arms and let fly both knives, which hurtled through the air in deadly silence. The, traveled side by side, until each blade sank into the neck of one of the rover trolls.
One creature dropped straight down like a felled tree, dead before he hit the ground, while the other clawed at his throat as he fell, dying where he landed. Fortunately, they had fallen away from the two friends.
"That was close," Aragorn remarked. "A couple of feet this way, and we would have been buried under a large pile of very heavy, very smelly trolls."
In typically haughty style, Legolas replied, "I aimed my knife so my target would fall just where he did. Are you saying yours fell that way accidentally?" He sounded genuinely horrified at the notion that they had been spared purely by chance.
In lieu of a laugh, which might have drawn attention, Aragorn answered by swatting the elf on the arm. More seriously, he said, "We had better move out before the victors in the battle over there," he indicated the squabbling trolls in the clearing with a jerk of his head, "come looking for us."
"I agree," Legolas remarked. "One of them is bound to think of us before too long." The elf secretly hoped that they would be thinking of only one thing at a time - getting the upper hand against their neighbors.
Gritting his teeth tightly, Legolas made it to his feet. He began to sway and reached behind him and placed this hands against the tree trunk. With closed eyes and deep breaths, the archer concentrated on finding his balance. Once he regained it, he slowly made his way over to the two dead trolls and retrieved his knives. Walking back, he handed one to Aragorn, who put it back in his belt.
"Can you stand?" the elf asked.
"Help me up, and we'll see," the ranger replied, mentally preparing himself for what he knew was coming.
When he was on his feet, Aragorn let go of Legolas and tried to put his weight down on his left foot. It hurt like fire, but knowing it wasn't broken made him determined that pain alone wasn't going to stop him. However, he had to be practical. "I think I'll need you to lean on," he said reluctantly. He knew Legolas wasn't in the best shape and needed his own strength to keep himself upright, but they had to get going.
Luckily, the strongest part of the archer right now was his legs. Nothing more than bruises and soreness plagued them at the moment. He worked hard to forget what the rest of his body felt like.
The elf took Aragorn's left arm and draped it around his shoulders. It worked out well that the man's left side, including his bad foot, was on the elf's right, so that Legolas's body could act as a crutch, and his injured left shoulder was opposite the ranger's body where it would receive no pressure.
So it was that the two friends were able to put distance between them and the clearing, the trolls and hopefully any further chance of being killed or captured.
Sounds of shouting, clashing clubs and crashing bodies were growing fainter, as the pair made their way deeper into the dark trees.
The two friends were hurting, hungry and weary beyond belief, but they didn't stop until they could no longer hear anything but the night sounds of the forest, and those sounds were very comforting to both elf and ranger.
Just as they had decided they needed to stop and rest, they heard the unmistakable sounds of horses. Two horses to be exact.
Fearing to even whistle, lest the sound alert any troll who might be attempting to find them, Legolas pursed his lips and made a trilling sound. It was the same sound used in Mirkwood to call patrols' warriors to their captains and was virtually indistinguishable from the cry of a red-tailed hawk.
In less than a minute, both his and Aragorn's horses approached their two masters.
Aragorn's stallion was still limping slightly, but the gash had stopped bleeding, and the animal was more interested in greeting the ranger than worrying about his injury.
"Are you a sight for sore eyes," the man remarked, as he stroked the horse.
Legolas had let go of Aragorn when he saw that the ranger was able to walk well enough to hold onto his horse. The elf was soon greeting his own stallion with a rub on his forehead and long, loving strokes along the horse's proudly arched neck.
Both stallions nickered softly, and it was easy to see how happy they were to have found their masters again.
"Estel, you need to ride with me. He is still limping."
"I agree," the man replied and then explained in elvish why he was going to mount Legolas's horse instead of him.
The horse snorted and jerked his head up and down, clearing indicating that he was sure he could do the job.
Aragorn smiled. "No, my friend, I will not tax your strength or cause you more pain." With a final pat, Aragorn turned and swung up behind Legolas, who had already mounted his own horse and was holding out a helping hand.
Legolas wasn't sure which way would take them out of troll country the fastest. West led back the way they had just come from, and heading east would take them deeper into troll country. So, he asked, "North or south?"
Aragorn didn't know either, but he didn't want to stick around long enough to try and figure it out. "Let them decide."
Grinning in total agreement, Legolas leaned down toward his horse's ear and uttered one word, "Home".
I know no one was expecting this to end, at least not here, but it was time to get our guys out of there. Besides, I had to pull a fast one to get them out of harm's way before the plot bunny could jerk them back and continue the torment. :o)
I hope you all enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. I'll leave it up to you to imagine how Lord Elrond reacted when they got back to Rivendell. Tea anyone?