Chapter 2: Raging waters
Limping into the direction Legolas had gone, Aragorn fought his way through the tress and the low underbrush, until the sound of the flowing river reached his ears. Louder and louder it became, until it was even louder than the pounding of his own blood in his ears. Breaking through the last restraining bushes, Aragorn stumbled out onto the pebble strewn shore. Before he had even consciously thought about it, he sank through his knees to rest on the ground. Wiping sweat from his brow, he looked around for Legolas.
It was not difficult to miss the elf. Tall and silent he stood at the shore, the tips of his boots shy of touching the water. His long blond hair moved gently in the breath of the river, and Legolas's eyes were fixed on the flowing water, following its ups and downs and the little eddies that were born here and there.
While the river was quite gentle here, Aragorn knew that it became more quicker and stronger to the South, where it finally cascaded down a steep cliff in a white fuming waterfall, which's noise they could now hear.
Letting himself sink down on his elbows, and then flat on his back, Aragorn closed his eyes tiredly. Sooner or later he would have to get up and resume the walk to Imladris, and he was not looking forward to having to cross this stream. Only now did he realize how difficult it would be to make his way over the river. Had he been hale he would have had no problems crossing it, but in his injured state…
For a few glorious moments Aragorn enjoyed lying still, his hand pressed against the pounding wound in his side. Now that he rested, the pain seemed to intensify rather than to diminish as he had thought it would. With the gurgling and singing river in his ears, he felt himself slowly drift away, his mind going slowly blank.
Suddenly, a hand on his shoulder brought him back to reality. Snapping his eyes open, Aragorn peered up at Legolas, who was standing above him.
"How do you feel, Strider? Do you wish to rest for a moment longer?"
"No." Shaking his head quickly, Aragorn struggled to get to his feet. With a bit of help from Legolas, he finally found his balance, grimacing in pain when his side protested the movement.
Not taking his supporting hands away, Legolas looked at the bloodstained bandage that wound around Aragorn's side. "Are you certain, young ranger? We could rest here for today and cross tomorrow."
Pushing his pain away, at least for the moment, Aragorn gestured at the river, "Let us cross now. The bank of the river is not safe at night."
Legolas gazed at him for another moment before he spoke, "The current is swift and the river deep. We will not be able to avoid your wound getting wet. And it will be tiring to cross."
Sighing inwardly, Aragorn shrugged his shoulders, "I can rebandage it once we have crossed. The healing supplies are in a waterproof bag."
"Still, it will be difficult to fight the current." Legolas said, narrowing his eyes and looking form the wound to the river and back.
For a moment, Aragorn said nothing, but then he decided that Legolas was right, and that he probably only meant it good. "Then let us rest once we have crossed. Imladris is not that far from here. Maybe a patrol spots us ere we spot them."
A relieved smile lit Legolas's face, and he began to untie his belt. "That is decided then. Come Strider, take off your belt so that we can tie them together like a rope."
It took Aragorn rather a long time to untie the leather belt he was wearing, for he had to bend over and this was causing his wound to scream in pain at him. Small tendrils of hot agony were slowly making their way down his leg, and Aragorn felt cold sweat appear on his shoulders and back. But once the belt was free, he gave it to Legolas who deftly knotted their belts into a long rope, before he secured it between them. In this manner, they would be tied together while crossing the river, and should one of them fall, the other would be able to help him.
"Ready, young ranger?" Legolas asked, standing at the edge of the fast flowing water.
"Yes." Now that he was about to enter the water, Aragorn regretted his decision to go on and not rest for a while longer. Only standing at the river made him shiver with cold, and he knew that the water would be freezing. Still, he swallowed his discomfort and hid it behind his 'lets-do-this' mask, before he carefully followed Legolas into the water.
As soon as the water it touched his wound, Aragorn gasped in pain. Not only was the water as freezing cold as he had thought, but it stung his open injury, taking his breath away. He balanced himself wit his hands, stopping in his tracks to catch his breath.
"Strider?" Legolas came back to him, frowning. "Maybe we should go back."
"No, I can do this." Aragorn ground out, and with a deep breath he willed his legs to walk on. After a moment of hesitation, Legolas followed him, quickly taking the lead once more.
While they walked, the water rose to their chests, and Aragorn felt himself more floating than actually walking. The ground of the river was strewn with stones and pebbles, slippery from moss and algae, and when they had crossed the middle and therefore the deepest part of the stream, Aragorn took a relived breath.
Slowly, they made their way towards the other side. The pain in his side steadily grew, and Aragorn bit his bottom lip to keep from groaning in agony. His legs felt stiff and cold, almost devoid of feeling, and his arms and hands felt like lead. But his wound was sending arrows of pain into the rest of his body, making him regret every single step he took. The only thing that kept him going was the leather rope that connected him to Legolas, who seemed to have no problem at all in the churning water.
Concentrating on his every step, Aragorn was surprised when Legolas's voice called to him, "We are almost there, Strider."
Looking up from the water, Aragorn saw that Legolas was right. The water was still up to his chest, but the other shore was not that far away anymore. Taking a deep breath, Aragorn took another step, but his eyes suddenly widened wide in surprise, when his foot slipped on a rock on the river ground. With a yelp, he felt himself lose his balance, before he crashed face first into the icy river. Immediately the current swept him downstream, and for a moment the leather rope was pulled tight, before Aragorn felt Legolas fall as well, and the river swept them away.
Coughing and spluttering, Aragorn's head broke the surface, and he looked around for Legolas. There, a bit above him, Legolas swam on the surface, his gaze burning into his. Screaming to make himself heard over the river, Legolas asked, "Strider! Are you alright?"
Aragorn opened his mouth to answer, but only water entered, causing him to cough, before he finally managed, "Aye. We have to get to the shore."
Nodding, Legolas began to swim to the shore, with long, powerful strides. The belt-rope was pulled tight, and Aragorn grimaced in pain when his wound flared to new life. But, he clenched his teeth, and with awkward movements he tried to help Legolas get them to shore. The river was getting faster and faster, and soon the roar of the water was deafening. Slowly they had made their way towards the shore. While Legolas swam steadily, Aragorn felt his strength flailing. He knew that the elf was more pulling him with him than that he was swimming on his own, but he could do no more.
The rope once more pulled extremely tight, and this time Aragorn was not able to suppress his yelp of pain. Startled, Legolas whipped his head around, but whatever he was about to ask died on his lips. Instead, his face blanched, and his eyes widened. "The waterfall! Strider, we are at the fall!"
Turning around as well, Aragorn saw that Legolas was right. The river had swept them so far downstream that they had reached the waterfall. White mist hung over the river not very far away, and Aragorn felt his heart miss a beat. They had to get to the shore, now! Gathering all the strength left in his body, Aragorn swam, as did Legolas, but the river soon raged around them.
More and more rocks jutted out of the water, and Legolas and Aragorn desperately tried to get hold of one of them to stop their downstream movement. As they were close to the shore, the river created small eddies here and there, which hindered them in their attempts to reach safety. But then, in a stroke of luck, Legolas floated past a rock on the left side, and Aragorn on the right. The rope tightened, and their rush towards the waterfall stopped.
Groaning, Aragorn turned in the water so that he was floating on his back, avoiding the need to constantly keep his head above the water. The river tugged at him, trying to sweep him down, but the rope kept him in place. But, the rope also aggravated his wound, and Aragorn knew that it had started to bleed again, although he could not see it. Spots were dancing in front of his eyes, and the rush of the river was slowly fading from his conscious mind.
"Strider! Answer me!" Legolas voice ripped him out of his stupor. Blinking his eyes open that he had not even noticed he had closed, Aragorn wiped his wet hair out of his face.
"I'm here." When had his voice started to sound so tired and in pain?
"Oh thank you. For a moment I thought you…never mind. Can you climb the rock?" Although Aragorn could not see the elf, he knew that Legolas was already trying to climb onto the rock that had stopped their swim. It took Aragorn only one look at the stone to know that he would not be able to make it. It was not very high, but the sides of the rock were steep and smoothed by the river.
"Not without your help." He ground out, fighting against the pain in his side. Suddenly, Aragorn felt a tug at the rope and in the next moment he was carried downstream by the river, until the rope pulled tight again. His scream of agony was drowned by the river, and the number of black spots in his vision increased.
"Take my hand! Strider, reach up and take my hand!" Laying on the rock, Legolas stretched his hand down for him to grab, and Aragorn, turning back on his stomach, reached up. His fingertips touched Legolas's, but he could not grab his hand.
The rope that wound around his middle tightened even more, and Aragorn let his hand fall back into the water. He could not breathe properly, and his strength was waning. Water was rushing over his head, blinding his vision, and the roar of the waterfall was deafening.
"Try again! Come now!" Legolas screamed at him, leaning even more down towards him. But with every inch that Legolas came closer to him, the river carried him away, as far as the rope securing them to each other allowed.
Seeing the problem, Legolas gave up on his attempt to reach Aragorn, and instead he rose to his knees and took hold of the rope. With all his strength he pulled, causing the leather to cut into his palms. Screaming at the new assault of pain in his side, Aragorn looked up at the elf.
Again and again Legolas tried to pull Aragorn up the rock, but luck deserted them, and all their attempts were either thwarted by the river or the smooth surface of the rock. Becoming desperate, Legolas dared more and more, and not only once he was saved from falling into the river only by his elven grace and his quick reflexes. His palms were deeply cut and bleeding freely, when Aragorn finally decided that it was enough. He knew that his strength would never allow him to climb that rock, and the longer Legolas tried to rescue him, the higher the chance that Legolas would tumble into the river and they were both lost.
His body was one big source of pain, but unconsciousness had been stalking him for a long time, and he knew that it would engulf him quickly once the adrenalin left him. Looking up at Legolas, tugging once more at the rope, Aragorn reached down towards his boots and pulled his small dagger out of the shaft. With almost numb fingers he reached for the rope.
"Strider!? What are you…" Legolas screamed over the rush of the river, surprised and confused.
Locking their eyes, Aragorn smiled apologetically, before he cut the leather rope with a few slashes. Legolas's horrified scream of denial still echoed in his ears when the river carried him over the edge and out into the open. Water rushed past him, he was tossed and turned, flipped head over end, before the unforgiving surface of the river rushed up to meet him. Aragorn felt himself slam hard on the water, before darkness claimed him and he knew no more.
Horrified, Legolas watched as Aragorn was dragged away by the river, and how the water pushed him over the edge. He sat on the rock a few moment longer, stunned at what had happened, before he frantically got to his feet. Looking around, Legolas spotted another rock not that far away from him. Bending his knees he jumped, landing safely on the rock, before he jumped to the next rock. In but a few minutes Legolas reached the bank of the river, feeling wet pebbles under his feet.
As fast as he could, he rushed to the edge of the river and looked down, but amid the mist of water and the rocks that littered the small lake under the waterfall, he could not spy Aragorn. With his heart in his throat, Legolas searched for a way down, and when he finally saw one, he never hesitated, but hurried down to the lake. While the water had been rushing where they had attempted to cross, it was almost slow at the base of the cliff, but Legolas knew that the fall from the waterfall could have been deadly, even more so because Aragorn had been injured and tired already.
He reached the base of the cliff and looked around, hoping to find a sign of the ranger. He did not have to look for long. There, on the bank of the lake he lay, unmoving and silent. Legolas knew that in that moment he was probably running faster than he had ever done, but still it was not fast enough to bring him to the injured ranger's side.
Kneeling down quickly, Legolas rolled Aragorn onto his back, smoothing dark hair out of his face. There was a long cut on the side of his head, oozing blood, but to Legolas's utter relief, Aragorn was still breathing.
Stroking the cold forehead and pillowing Aragorn's head on his legs as best he could, Legolas dapped at the blood with his sleeve. "I'm here now, Strider. All will be well, mellon nin."
And then, Legolas reached for his pack and began to treat the scratches and scrapes Aragorn had suffered from his fall, rebandaged the wound at his side and wrapped him in spare clothes. When that was done, Legolas lit a fire and watched over Aragorn for the whole night, but the man did not wake.
The sun had barely risen, when Legolas suddenly sprang to his feet, knives in his hands. He placed himself protectively in front of Aragorn. There were sounds surrounding him, coming from the trees, but before Legolas could identify the sound, it was identified for him,
"Mae govannen, traveller!"
And in the next moment, a patrol from Imladris emerged from the trees, greeting the Prince. When they learned who Legolas and his companion were and what had happened, they quickly built a stretcher, helped Legolas to break camp, and headed swiftly towards Imladris.
It was not the cheerful twittering of the birds that woke Aragorn, but rather the smell of food. Sluggishly opening his eyes, he looked around, only slightly surprised to find that he was back in his room in Imladris. Judging by the dull pain in his body, his father had taken care of his wounds, while he had been unconscious.
"I am glad that you are awake. How do you feel?"
Turning his head, Aragorn saw that Legolas was sitting in a chair next to his bed. A plate with warm food stood on a tray on the nightstand. Rubbing his eyes and sitting up a bit straighter, Aragorn shrugged his shoulders a bit, "Fine, I guess. How are you?"
"I'm well, don't worry." Legolas answered, pushing a stand of blond hair behind his ear.
Yawning, Aragorn blinked tiredly at the elf, "What happened? The last thing I remember is falling…"
"A patrol found us after you fell down the waterfall and guided us to your father's halls. After that, Lord Elrond took good care of you. He assured me that you would heal completely."
Nodding his head, Aragorn looked away from Legolas, "I'm sorry that I scared you so, Legolas. That was not my intention. But cutting myself free was the only way I saw to…" Aragorn broke off, unsure what to say. He had seen the tight bandages that wound around Legolas's palms, and he felt guilty that his human weaknesses had caused Legolas pain.
Suddenly, a hand clasped his shoulder, "What you did was maybe stupid and foolish, but also brave and selfless. You probably saved my life and I will be forever grateful."
Legolas's words touched deep, and Aragorn shyly lifted his eyes towards the elf's, "Is that why you called me your friend after I fell?"
Surprised, Legolas tilted his head to the side, "I did?"
"Aye." Aragorn nodded. "I remember hearing you call me that, before I fell back into unconsciousness. It was the first time you called me 'mellon'."
Slowly, Legolas nodded, "I had not noticed…"
Afraid that he had offended the elf, Aragorn gestured at the food, trying to divert Legolas's attention, "May I have that? I am starving."
"Of course." Reaching over, Legolas helped Aragorn to sit up all the way, before he placed the tray on his lap and got to his feet. "I will inform your father and brothers that you are awake."
"Thank you." Aragorn managed around a sip of tea, watching Legolas move towards the door. Legolas was already through the door, when he turned once more, a smile on his face, "I hope you are well soon, for then we could go exploring this valley of yours, mellon nin." And then, he was gone.
Slowly, a genuine smile crept up Aragorn's face, "Well, that was definitely worth being almost stabbed and drowned." And then he dug into the food, still grinning. Things would definitely become more interesting around here in the future.
Mae govannen: Well met
Mellon nin: My friend
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