Title: The Promise
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to J.R.R. Tolkien and his heirs, as well as the rightful right holders. I only own the plot of this story, and maybe not even that.
Summary: Legolas is injured during an archery training and all the evidence point at Aragorn. When the King of Mirkwood is convinced that Aragorn is guilty and sentences him for the attempted murder of the Prince, Legolas is hard pressed to save his friend.
A/N: Aragorn is 24 in this story. Written for the Teitho Contest "Lest we forget".
Warning: I like King Thranduil best when he is nice and understanding, caring and a loving father. But, for the sake of the story, he is not. So, consider this story AU in this regard.
Chapter 1: Accusations
The harsh wind of autumn blew the scent of rotting flesh and dead bodies to Legolas's nose. The sweet scent of blood and decay made him sick, and only the fact that his stomach was empty prevented him from feeling the urge to throw up. He was a hardened warrior, had been tried and tested more times in his life than most elves, but the gruesome sight of the battlefield in front of him made even his strong composure waver.
He let his eyes travel over the dead beasts; bodies were broken, bones bared, blood everywhere. The ground was soiled with the foul minions essence and Legolas wondered whether flowers would ever flower in this place again, or if the smell of death would forever defile this part of the forest of Mirkwood. Had they not enough to do with the deadly spiders that inhabited his home? Did they have to battle the increasing numbers of orcs as well that seemed to spread from East and South?
It would do him no good to dwell on these thoughts now, for Legolas knew there were things to rejoice for as well. This latest battle, as fierce and lethal it had been, had claimed no elven lives, and the injuries that the warriors had received would heal in time. And Legolas was grateful for one more thing. Turning his head to the side, he smiled softly. Aye, he thought as he watched two elves help Aragorn onto a stretcher, much to the young rangers protest.
Aragorn may have sustained a wound to his thigh and lost more blood than Legolas felt comfortable with, but he was alive. Once they were back in the palace, he would make sure his friend rested so that he could heal. Legolas stepped up beside the stretcher, giving Aragorn a reassuring smile when the group of warriors turned and left the horrible sight of dead orcs behind. He felt relieved. For a terrible moment, when he had seen his friend go down during the fight, he had feared that he would have to fulfil the promise he had given his friend a long time ago. A promise he knew could well be one he would have to fight to fulfil and that had the potency to be the first he would break.
The promise that he would not fade should Aragorn die one day and leave the circles of the world.
Due to his injury and slow recovery, winter reached the lands before Aragorn was hale enough to leave for Imladris. He had wished to return to his homeland in the North, but Legolas's assurances that he was welcomed to stay in Mirkwood for the winter season alleviated his worries.
Although Aragorn and Legolas had been friends for years, most elves of Mirkwood still looked somewhat hesitant on their friendship. Many of them still remembered the defeat of their armies in the Last Alliance, and the fact that King Thranduil showed and voiced his dislike of the race of men quite openly had furthered their prejudices. Never would they harm a friend of their beloved Prince, but that did not mean that they had to be friendly to the strange youngster.
Having lived most of his young life with the elves of Imladris, Aragorn felt the coldness in their voices although they spoke politely. He saw the frowns on the ageless faces and heard the whispered words of dislike whenever the elves thought he would not hear. Often did he wonder if Legolas had noticed it, too, but he never asked. And truly, what should he have said that would not have damaged Legolas's faith and pride in his people?
Due to his slow recovery and the slight limp that still graced his steps, Aragorn felt the elves superiority keenly. When he was alone and without Legolas by his side, the elves openly stared at his limp, making him feel as if he was an especially juicy bug under one of his father's examination glasses. Once or twice, while he walked in the palace gardens to train the damaged muscles in his thigh, he even thought that someone watched him, spied on him, but he saw and heard no one.
So, Aragorn spent his days in the company of his best friend, ignoring the jibes and jokes, frowns and glares. His discomfort was lessened somewhat when two of Legolas's childhood friends, Voronwe and Thawcar, made the effort to get to know him better. He knew that they would never become best friends, but it was a start and Aragorn felt almost comfortable in their presence. Almost.
It was a sunny winter morning when Legolas and Aragorn made their way down to the archery field. Legolas, wearing a cloak that was embroidered with soft squirrel fur, carried his wonderfully crafted long bow over his shoulder, while Aragorn, wrapped in a thick winter cloak that was more practical than beautiful, carried his old hunting bow. It had been a gift from his brothers when he turned twenty, and so far he had felt no desire to replace it with a new one. A bird flew overhead, a dark shadow against the bright blue sky, and its song was heard wide and far.
"Make sure that you do not shoot the birds in the sky, my friend." Legolas teased his friend while he turned his face into the sun to enjoy the warm rays on his skin.
Grinning, Aragorn eyed Legolas's cloak. "I think it would be better for you to stand behind me while I shoot, or I could mistake you for game."
"Oh, make no mistake. I will definitely stand behind you; you have been trained by your brothers, after all." The mock sincere tone of Legolas was not lost on Aragorn, and so he put on his best imitation of being hurt. Putting a gloved hand above his heart, he sighed deeply. "That hurt, my friend. As far as I know, the twins' luck with arrow and bow is legendary."
A very unelvish snort came from Legolas. "Aye, if one calls shooting everything that moves luck, well then…"
"Oh, come now, Legolas." Aragorn laughed. "You are not still angry because Elladan nearly shot you? It was an accident. He said he thought you were the ill swan we were looking for to put him out of his misery."
Swirling around and almost unbalancing Aragorn with the swift movement, Legolas leaned in close and pointed a finger at the ranger. "Do I look like a swan? That, was no accident. They did it on purpose."
Lifting his hands in defeat and suppressing the laughter that bubbled up inside him, Aragorn conceded, "Maybe, maybe not. Who knows, my friend? Fact is they missed you and no harm was done."
Had Aragorn been able to take his words back, he would have done. Legolas's eyes narrowed to a deadly glare. "They only missed because I threw myself onto the ground, Estel."
"Ohm, aye, but it was not there fault, that there were horse dr.."
"Don't you dare say it, Estel. They knew it!" Legolas hissed, and Aragorn had to lean backwards to be able to keep his eyes focused due to Legolas's closeness.
"Legolas, don't be ridiculous. The twins could not have know that there were horse dr…"
"I warn you!"
"..droppings on the ground." For a long moment Legolas and Aragorn glared at each other, both faces a mask of control. Then, slowly, a grin tugged at Aragorn's lips that he could no longer suppress, and when he saw the mirth that sparkled in Legolas's eyes, he could no longer control himself. He burst out in a bark of laughter, having to hold his sides to not topple over in the knee deep snow.
Legolas joined him soon, and his musical laugher filled the air. For many minutes they enjoyed their merriment, finding happiness in their friendship. It was Legolas who calmed first, as he usually did. Clapping his friend on the shoulder, he straightened his tunic and cloak and resumed his walk to the archery training field.
There war a comfortable silence between the friends on their way to the field, and even when they strung their bows, checked their arrows and readied to take the first shots. It was when Legolas, having cast away his cloak, aimed at the target, that the silence was broken.
"And I still say they did it on purpose." Legolas said, then breathed out deeply and let his yellow fletched arrow fly. It hit the target dead centre.
"Not bad." Eyeing the still trembling shaft of the arrow, Aragorn nocked his own arrow, aimed and released. To his dismay the arrow flew past the target and buried itself into the wooden wall behind it that had been built to catch stray arrows.
"Don't say it, Legolas. That was more than bad." Aragorn said, rolling his right shoulder to warm the muscles. Then, he tried again, but once more his shot went wide.
"Perhaps you should aim at the wall instead of the target. Then your arrows might hit it." Legolas quipped from his position two steps behind the ranger. His eyes sparkled with mirth, letting Aragorn know that he was not serious. Legolas knew very well that the young ranger strived on compliments form his family and friends. Comparing himself to elves all his life had made a fine warrior out of Aragorn, but sometimes his self assurance needed a little push into the right direction.
"Try again, Estel. Let me see how much you have improved since the last time we trained together."
Turning around towards his friend, Aragorn lifted an eyebrow. "Did I shoot that slobbering orc that tried to take a bite out of you, or not?"
"You did, but a battle is something completely different from this here. In a fight you react instinctively, on adrenalin. Your brain and your hands work without a true connection. It is more an eye hand connection. You do what you deem right without much thinking."
Aragorn frowned. "And how shall that make my aim better? You think I fight better when I do not think?"
Laughing musically, Legolas shook his head. "That was not what I meant my friend, but principally, yes. Sometimes I have the feeling that you brood to much, Estel. That makes your hand hesitate and your eyes to move too much. Try again, I will tell you what I mean."
Still not truly convinced, Aragorn readied his stand, nocked and arrow, aimed and released. This time the shot hit the target, but only barely.
"Aye, it is as I thought." Legolas stepped up to Aragorn and gestured at the target. "Before that shot, what did you think about?"
"What a stupid idea this is." Aragorn said, grinning a lopsided grin.
"Tsk, ranger." Giving Aragorn a light shove with his shoulder, Legolas nodded at the target. "Let us try something different. Nock an arrow and aim, please."
Aragorn sighed but complied. He nocked his third arrow and aimed, but before he could shoot, Legolas commanded, "Now close your eyes."
"Close your eyes Estel. Trust me."
Doing as he was told, Aragorn closed his eyes. It was as if someone had suddenly heightened his senses. He could feel the light wind on his face and the sunny rays warm his skin. The snow he stood in was cold and his feet grew slowly numb, but most of all he felt Legolas's calming presence beside him.
"Breathe in deeply, Estel, then breathe out and shoot." Legolas said softly, his voice blending in perfectly with their surroundings.
Cold air filled his throat and burned his lungs, but it was a welcomed feeling that cleared Aragorn's head and seemed to fill him with new life. He breathed out deeply and released the arrow as Legolas had told him. The smile in Legolas's voice was unmistakable, "Now open you eyes, my friend."
The arrow had hit dead centre.
"Wow. Legolas, thank you."
And at Aragorn's wondrous voice, Legolas could not help but laugh happily.
Unnoticed by both, a slim shadow moved in the woods behind the training field. It hushed from tree to tree, high in the branches of the evergreen trees, so as not to be seen. A wave of hatred and distrust emanated from the being, and when Legolas's soft laughter reached his ears, the figure grimaced in disgust. How could a mere adan make the Prince act as if he were an elfling? Legolas was a warrior, a leader and one of his best friends. This adan had reduced the Prince to a giggling youth again. It was something the figure could not accept. His prince was a hero to him, a symbol of strength and dignity.
When the ranger suddenly cursed and after a moment turned and made his way back to the palace, the figure began to smile dangerously. This was the perfect opportunity to get rid of his object of hatred. Once this was over, Legolas would once more be the proud and strong Prince of this realm.
With agile movements the elf who hid in the trees jumped to the ground and crept back to the edge of the woods, knocked an arrow, aimed very, very carefully and released the projectile. The answering yell of pain was bliss to his ears.
Aragorn cursed his bad luck. Why did his bowstring have to snap right now? The trip to his room in the palace and back to the training grounds had taken longer than he had wished. The knee deep snow and his slight limp did not help his mood any. He was so concentrated on not tripping while hastening towards the training field, that he did not notice the numbers of elves staring at him strangely. It was only when loud, agitated voices reached his ears that he looked up and took in the change in his surroundings.
Where the gardens and training areas had been practically deserted only minutes prior, dozens of elves, most of them clad in the livery of the Palace guards, crowded the area. They carried bows and swords, gestured here and there and talked in hushed whispers or shouted orders. They looked as if they were searching for someone or something, and Aragorn could tell that they were on high alert.
Confused, Aragorn saw that most of the elves were heading in the direction of the training fields. What was going on? An elf with white robes and a leather bag under his arm hastened by, and in that moment Aragorn felt his stomach clench painfully. A healer. A healer was headed in the direction of the training field. Legolas!
Forgetting his injured thigh, Aragorn began to run through the snow as fast as he could. But he had made only a few steps before he was spotted by a tall guard. Upon seeing him, the guard pointed at him and yelled sharply, "Daro!" stop. The next moment his call was taken up by numerous other elves and before Aragorn knew what was happening, he was surrounded by at least ten guards. Some of them had their swords drawn and pointed at him, while others glared at him darkly, ready to act any moment.
Aragorn stopped in his tracks and looked at the elves. Due to their ability to stand atop of the snow, they loomed over him threateningly. "What has happened? Why did you…"
"No dhinén!" be silent A guard spat, before he ordered two of his comrades to bind Aragorn's hands and take him away.
Too baffled to protest, Aragorn did not resist when the elves bound his hands behind his back none too gently. Only when they began to lead him away from the training field and into the direction of the palace did he find his voice. "What? Why? What is the meaning of this?"
The guard who had spoken before stepped up to him and leaned towards his face. His eyes sparkled with hatred when he spoke, "You are arrested on order of the King and you shall get your rightful sentence, Adan."
"What am I accused of? Where is Legolas?"
If the eyes of the guard could have reflected the fires of Mordor, they did now. He hissed dangerously, "Should you not know where the Prince is, Adan? After all, you are accused of attempted murder of a member of the royal family. If I were you, I would start praying that Prince Legolas lives."
"What? No, I did not…" Aragorn's excuse was cut short when one of the guard that held his arms backhanded him sharply.
Aragorn's head was ringing and he did not fight the four guards that dragged him towards the palace. More and more elves exited the building, eyeing him with open distrust and hatred. They whispered and pointed at him. It was when another healer hastened by, headed towards the healing wing, that Aragorn realized that all of this was no joke.
Something had happened to Legolas while he had been away. He had been attacked. Someone, someone had tried to kill Legolas. Thousands of thoughts raced through Aragorn's head. Who? Why? How? Was Legolas still alive? What had happened?
The guards led him down the stony corridors of the palace, silent and threatening. The elves that stared at him became fewer, the noise of the guards that guarded the palace grew fainter, and when one of the elves guarding Aragorn opened a strong wooden door that closed loudly behind them, the sounds of the palace vanished.
Stepping through the door, Aragorn was lead down a stone staircase. It was dark in the corridor, the air was cold and wet. Torches sputtered in their holders on the walls, and the further down they went, the colder it became. A shudder crept across Aragorn's spine and the hairs on his neck stood on end. He knew where the guards would bring him. Not to one of the arresting rooms of the royal family, where misbehaving petitioners or drunken guests were brought. No, they were escorting him to the dungeons.
The guards shoved him through one of the many cell doors that lined the walls, making him stumble and fall heavily against the wall in the back of the cell. Aragorn turned around to see the guards close the door and lock it. The small peep hole in the door was opened and a guard called disgustedly, "Don't get too comfortable, Adan. If I know the King your stay will be short lived." The guard closed the small rectangle peep hole, and silence and darkness filled the cell.
For a few moments Aragorn could not move at all. His mind was racing, but it all made no sense. Legolas injured? Attacked even? Slowly, Aragorn sank down the cold wall. This could not be happening. It was so unreal. Coming to sit on his behind on the damp stone floor that was only barely strewn with hay, Aragorn drew his legs up towards his chest, placing his head on his knees. How could this have happened?