Title: Something wicked this way comes
Author: Gil Feir
Rating: M (for later chapters)
Genre: Slash. What else?
Warning: Much smut and slash, some quite explicit scenes. Non-con.
Disclaimer: Same old, same old.
Summary: Legolas and Aragorn finally arrive in Mirkwood and there is so much to see and learn that Aragorn nearly forgets the danger that lurks behind every tree. And then something so wicked and horrible happens that it could shatter the future of Legolas and Aragorn.
A/N 1: This is the sequel to An Autumn's Tale. It was intendes as the first part of another series of stories, but my muse left me, so this story is (sadly enough) the end of this series. That is, until my muse finds me again. The reading order is: A winter's tale, A spring's tale, A summer's tale and An autumn's tale, Something wicked this way comes.
g Hope you enjoy it.
A/N 2: I know you are all waiting for good old Lithdal to show up. Well, your wish shall be granted soon. He will play a major part in this story, although he appears rather late.
Chapter 1: Entering Mirkwood
They had entered the Forest of Mirkwood four days ago, and still Aragorn could not take his eyes away from the mighty trees that rose all around him. To their left, the Forest River gurgled merrily in its bed of white stones. While the river was not wider than a man was tall, its current was strong and the river deep. Boulders and rocks were hidden under the surface, creating eddies and splashing waves. Legolas had explained that the Forest River originated somewhere in the Ered Mithrin, the Grey Mountains. It ran South for many miles before it entered Mirkwood, where it turned East, past the Home of the Wood-elves and then out into the Long Lake, where the town Esgaroth had been rebuild after the fall of the dragon Smaug. There the waters of the Forest River joined the water of the River Running, and together they ran South into the Sea of Rhûn, where their journey ended. Legolas had told this so passionately, that Aragorn had thought for a moment that Legolas was speaking of two lovers and not rivers. In a way, it was a nice thought, for the two rivers rested together for all eternity in the large Sea of Rhûn.
While their journey took the elves Eastwards along the river towards the area that the Wood-elves had made their home, Legolas told them all stories of his home. He seemed to enjoy to point out plants and animals, to entertain Aragorn with lengthy explanations of the cartography of the area and he was especially fond of the history of the Silvans in general and his House in particular.
Aragorn, on his part, was an avid listener. Of course he had been taught in the history of Mirkwood and its inhabitants by his tutors, had been shown pictures of the plants that only grew in this forest, and heard tales of the Wood-elves. But all his tutoring paled in comparison to what he now saw, heard and smelled. Mirkwood was a magical place!
The first thought that had crossed Aragorn's mind upon entering Mirkwood was that the forest was not as dark and foreboding as everyone said it to be. On the contrary! The road that they followed ran alongside the river, and while the trees stood close, their boughs were not dense enough to shut out the light. The branches closed above them like an archway, but there was enough space between the branches to let the sunlight filter through it. Aragorn had heard his brothers saying that riding through Mirkwood was like riding through a dark tunnel. But Aragorn did not think so. Riding through Mirkwood was like riding through a green wonderland.
Soft green grass grew to both sides of the path, speckled with tiny flowers that blossomed white and red. Mushrooms grew on the barks of the trees and near the road. Birds and smaller animals seemed to be everywhere, and once Aragorn thought he even saw a large buck. Not once did he have the feeling of being watched by something invisible, and when the fourth day of their journey ended and they made camp at the side of the road, he began to think that his brothers had exaggerated and that their stories had been nothing but fairy tales to scare him. No, in his opinion, what he had seen of Mirkwood so far was not scary at all. It was fascinating. The only thing that dimmed his happiness of finally having reached the old forest of the Wood-elves was his slow recovery.
Even so many days after having been rescued from the orcs, he was too weak to ride on his own. He had to sit in front of Legolas or one of the other elves, for his dislocated arm and leg made it impossible for him to ride behind. Furthermore, the arrow wound on Legolas's back had not healed yet, and Aragorn knew that it must be painful for Legolas if he rode behind him. He knew that the other elves and especially Legolas did not mind him riding with them, but it was frustrating to say the least. Aragorn was no stranger to pain, but he began to truly hate the fact that his limbs and especially his ribs still hurt quite badly. He was sure, had it not been for the pain dulling tea he drank every day, he would not have been able to ride at all.
To make matters worse, he was still exceedingly weak from the blood loss he had suffered, and so he tired easily. Try as he might, he could not stay awake for longer than a few hours at a time, even though he slept all through the night without taking a single watch. He was a healer and knew that he was lucky to be alive at all, but that did not change his feelings of sheer frustration and helplessness at the matter.
He had been so looking forward to finally journey to Mirkwood! And then he had not only been allowed to go, but Legolas had come with him, too. And now he was here, and he could not enjoy it as he wished to, for his pain and tiredness dulled the wonders he saw. The only bright light in his gloom of misery was that Legolas had barely left his side since he had saved him from the orc camp.
During the day Aragorn mostly rode with Legolas, secure in his strong arms and warmed by the elf's love, and at night Legolas would lay down close beside him, claiming that he only wanted to make sure that nothing evil befell him in the dark. Aragorn had to smile every time the elf's fingers secretly brushed his while they rode, or when Legolas tucked a strand of his dark hair out of his face at night. Deep inside, Aragorn did not care any longer whether the other elves learned of their relationship or not, but he did not know how Legolas thought of the matter, and therefore he kept silent. But, Aragorn had to admit, he was really looking forward to reaching the Palace and to simply be alone with Legolas for a while. Just for an hour, a few minutes…just long enough so that he could look Legolas deep into the eyes and tell him how much he loved him, and how much he thanked him for saving his life.
As it was, they were still at least two days away from the Palace, for their gait was slow due to Aragorn's injuries. At the evening of their fourth day in Mirkwood, they stopped their horses, brushed them down and watered them, then made camp. Legolas told them that he thought it unwise to light a fire, and although none of them felt any threat, they followed his advice. They sat down on the cold ground, leaning back against the mighty trees, and ate cold meat and Lembas. They had run out of dried berries and nuts two days ago. The water from the Forest River tasted strangely salty, but Legolas assured them all that it was clean and of good quality.
When night fell completely and darkness descended on the forest, the temperature dropped drastically. It was close to winter, and while the days were still warm enough to feel comfortable in a cloak, the nights were chilly. Tired and in pain from the long ride, Aragorn soon began to shiver slightly. Since he had lost so much blood, he had felt bouts of extreme cold and trembling, but it had gotten lesser as the days passed. Still, from time to time these bouts returned, making him feel like a sick child. While the elves talked quietly, he leaned his weary body back against a large tree, tightened his cloak around his shoulders and closed his tired eyes. Almost immediately the chatter of his companions became softer and was soon nothing more than a whisper in the background.
But while the voices of the elves dimmed, the voice of the forest seemed to awaken. With his eyes closed and nothing but his hearing for company, Aragorn meant to hear the river gurgling loudly, as if he was sitting directly at its banks, and not a few feet away. There was a soft rustling in the leaves of the tree he was leaning against, maybe some bird or squirrel. And there, to his right and across the path, Aragorn imagined to hear the scurrying of many tiny feet. Perhaps a family of mice or rats was hurrying through the underbrush. A lonely hoot of an owl reached his ears, and Aragorn sighed deeply. Indeed, Mirkwood was a strange place, but certainly not stranger than any of the other places he had been so far.
With the sounds of Mirkwood in his ears, Aragorn soon dozed off. He was woken but an hour later by the strong shivering of his own body. Opening his eyes tiredly, Aragorn blinked a few times, but he saw absolutely nothing. The darkness around him had neither shadows of grey or shades of white like he was used to, and he shifted uncomfortably. That was the only thing his brothers had told him and that had been correct so far, he thought. The nights of Mirkwood were as dark as death.
Slightly unnerved by the complete darkness, Aragorn blinked again and turned his head left and right. He could still hear the sounds of the river, but the forest had gone eerily quiet. He could neither hear scurrying feet anymore, nor the rustle of leaves in the trees…or the quiet voices of his companions. Eyes wide but unseeing, the young man tried to catch the soft sounds of his companions. Surely they had not left him…
A moment later, his ears picked up the sound of rustling material, then soft footsteps that neared his position. A second later, his eyes made out a soft blue and white elvish glow. Smiling weakly, Aragorn waited until Legolas reached his side and crouched down beside him, before he spoke.
"I must have fallen asleep." His voice was soft and scratchy and still groggy from his slumber.
Beside him, Legolas smiled warmly down at him and tilted his head to the side. Even in the dark, Aragorn could easily read the worry in the elf's blue eyes, and his heart constricted. He quickly sat up a bit straighter to show Legolas that he was on the mend, and that there was no need to worry. But instead of reassuring Legolas that he was well, he only increased the elf's worry when he suddenly gasped and grimaced in pain. His leg send a bolt of lighting pain through his thigh, and Aragorn stiffened.
"Easy, Estel." Legolas admonished and leaned closer. "Your body needs rest, lots of it. Do not push what you cannot change."
Bathed in the soft elvish glow of his friend and lover, Aragorn leaned his head wearily back against the tree. There was a note of defeat in his voice when he spoke. "It is just so frustrating, Legolas. Were I an elf, I had already healed."
To his surprise, Legolas's voice was stern when he answered, "Were you an elf, the orcs had killed you on the spot instead of toying with you. Were you an elf, you would be dead now."
"Legolas, I did not mean to sound ungrateful, or to anger you." Aragorn placed his hand on Legolas's and gave it a little squeeze. Why was Legolas so upset? Had he said something wrong? He had thought that Legolas, having been injured himself many times, would understand his feeling of helplessness and grinding frustration. When Legolas sighed and patted his leg absentmindedly, Aragorn inwardly sighed with relief. So Legolas was not angry with him.
"What is it Legolas? You know you can tell me." Aragorn coaxed gently while he tried to ignore his own shivering.
Sitting down and leaning against the tree himself, Legolas shrugged out of his cloak and draped it without a word around the young ranger's shoulders. Grateful for the extra warmth, Aragorn said nothing, and waited for the elf to speak. After a moment, Legolas sighed again, then spoke.
"I just cannot forget the day I almost lost you. The look on your face when you asked me to flee and get help."
His voice was so soft that Aragorn could barely make out the words. He was surprised by Legolas's words, for never before had the elf spoken to him of any of this. After his rescue, Aragorn had been weak and tired. For the first few days he had done nothing more than sleep and recover. After that, he had been too happy and relieved to be alive to think very much about the hours of sheer fear and panic that Legolas must have went through before his rescue. With a shock Aragorn realized that Legolas must have blamed himself for his capture and subsequent torture that led to his near death.
For a long moment, Aragorn was lost in his own thoughts. But then he shook his head to come back to the presence. In the dark, he reached out to grab Legolas's hand. Automatically he entwined their fingers and let his thumb caress the elf's hand.
"Forgive me, Legolas, for not thinking of this sooner. But it just now came to my mind how you must have suffered after the orcs found us. I…" Aragorn faltered, but then went on anyway, "It was so hard to send you away, Legolas. But it was the only way I could think of to safe you. You were injured yourself and would not have been able to help me. And had the orcs caught you, they would have killed you, as you just said. I did not want you to die just because of me. And I knew you would return with help."
Beside him, Legolas listened quietly. When Aragorn stopped speaking, he gave the hand he held a squeeze. "It was a very brave thing you did, Estel. Again, you saved my life. In my mind I know that leaving you was the only way to safe you in the end, but my heart …" Legolas took a deep breath. When he continued his voice was barely above a whisper, "But my heart broke when I turned my back on you, Estel. What if you had been killed? What if we had come too late?"
Reading the fear, agony and most of all blame in Legolas's eyes, Aragorn felt his throat tighten up. His own thoughts returned to the seemingly endless hours he had been in the captivity of the orcs. Had he not thought that they would come too late? That he would die, alone in the hands of orcs, where no one would ever find his body? That he would never again see Legolas's face, hold his hand and hear his heartbeat? A shudder that had nothing to do with the cold and his weakness raced through his body.
Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Aragorn turned his thoughts away from the past. He was alive. The orcs had not killed him. Legolas was with him, and in but a few days they would reach the safety of Mirkwood Palace. All was well. Turning his bright eyes to look at Legolas, Aragorn gave the hand he held and quick, but strong squeeze.
"Legolas, you rescued me from the orcs, and although I am not healed yet, I am well. Let the past be the past and look to the future."
Smiling, Legolas shook his head. "Such wise words for one so young."
Yawning, Aragorn shrugged, "As you might remember, I grew up in the House of Elrond. Books and manuscripts were my playmates when I was young. Scholars and poets thousands of years old were my teachers. Something had to stick."
Laughing softly, Legolas shifted closer to the young man. "How could I forget? But now, it is late and you should sleep, my friend."
"Aye, I must say that I am quite tired, to be honest."
"Then sleep." Legolas wrapped an arm around Aragorn's shoulders and drew the man closer towards him. Soon, Aragorn's head found Legolas's shoulder, and under the protective eyes of the Prince of Mirkwood he fell asleep. Smiling down on the sleeping man, Legolas hugged him even closer, the need to feel the young human's breathing and warm body against his own nearly overwhelming him.
Two days later the small group of elves and one human finally reached the outskirts of the part of the realm of Mirkwood where the Wood-elves lived. Sitting in front of Legolas, his injured arm now in a sling instead of being strapped against his chest, Aragorn was just telling Legolas excitedly of the group of black squirrels he had seen that morning, when their horse rounded a bend in the road, snorting softly. Aragorn stopped his talk in mid sentence, his mouth hanging open slightly.
He did not notice that Legolas gently stopped the horse, as did the other elves of their group, and neither did he notice the amused looks the warriors exchanged. All he had eyes and ears for was the sight before him.
The woods they had been riding through for days and that had bordered the road to both sides, with high dark trees that reminded Aragorn of silent sentinels, now lay wide and flooded by light before them. The road that had been nothing more than dried mud and pebbles, now turned into a cobbled way that wound in and out around slim white trunks of ancient looking beech trees. Wherever Aragorn looked, beeches grew. They stood in clusters or alone, between oaks and firs, but their white trunk shown and glimmered all around.
The river that had been deep but only as wide as a man was tall, suddenly broadened and roared mightily. Frog rush grew at the banks and little flowers clung to the grass that still grew green, despite the white frost that glistered here and there. Aragorn let his gaze travel further down the path in wonder.
There were huts and houses between the trees, with tables and chairs in front of the doors. Ropes and ladders wound their way up the trees, and when Aragorn tilted his head back and gazed upwards, he saw that there were houses built in the boughs of the trees. They were no flets, but real huts, and Aragorn stared, transfixed. Wood-elves clad in green and brown walked easily among the trees, jumping from branch to branch and swinging at ropes that hung between the trees. Elvish women and children used the ropeways that connected the huts in the trees, and while Aragorn watched, a group of elves nimbly climbed a beech tree without so much as the help of a rope or ladder.
So fascinated was he, that Aragorn missed the soft sound of laughter of Legolas. But when the elf kicked his heels into the sides of the horse to gently urge it on, Aragorn snapped out of his transfixed stare. Shaking his head, Aragorn exclaimed, "I thought the elves of Mirkwood lived in caverns!"
Smiling, Legolas shook his head, "We do and we don't." He let go of his protective hold of Aragorn's waist for a moment and gestured around. "The people of the Kingdom of Mirkwood mostly live and hunt in the open woods. As you can see, we have built huts and houses on the ground and in the branches. We love the beech trees most, for their white trunks remind us of the light that still resides in Mirkwood. In times past we used to live near the edges of the woods, from which we could escape at times of need or to hunt. At night we would escape the forest to run over the open lands by moonlight or starlight. But after the coming of men and the destruction of the dragon Smaug, we ever more took to living deeper in the forest and to the gloaming and the dusk."
Hearing a whistful undertone in Legolas's voice, Aragorn was not sure whether he should pry deeper. Before he could make a decision, though, Legolas continued, "But you are correct when you say that we live in caves, for that we do. When we were forced to retreat further North because of the Shadow in the South, and even long before that, when Oropher was still King, we established a home deep in the great caves East of Mirkwood. The King's Halls serve as home and fortress. Many a time we have been forced underground to protect us from evil, but always we have succeeded in pushing it back . Being elves, though, living underground does not suit us for eternity, and so many elves rather live in the woods than in the safe caves."
Aragorn, listening closely to his friend's words, could not help but suddenly feel very young. For all the years that he had known Legolas, the elf had never acted his age of a few hundred years, and more importantly perhaps, Legolas had never spoken in the tone he had just now used. The tone of a young Prince, used to command warriors into battle and burdened by the threat that haunted his people since millennias. Indeed, Aragorn suddenly realized for the first time, that Legolas was not as young as he was. And, that Legolas was a Prince among his people. Of course Aragorn had known that, but in Imladris, Legolas had just been his friend and a guest of his father. Nothing more. Now, things had obviously changed.
This became even more clear when a group of elves jumped lightly from a tree at the side of the road. Aragorn could see that they carried bows and spears and where clad in the deep green of the forest. Had they not moved, he doubted that he would have seen them in the trees at all.
"Hail Prince Legolas Thranduilion! Welcome home!" One of them said and bowed deeply, while the others bowed their heads.
Legolas stopped his horse and nodded his head in greeting, "Well met, Guard. It is good to breathe the air of my homeland again."
Stepping forwards to stand beside Legolas's horse, the guard pointed towards the trees above and behind them, "My watchers saw you enter the forest and a runner told me of your arrival. We have food and drink prepared if you and your company wish to refreshen yourself before continuing on."
'Watchers and runners?' Aragorn thought confused. He had neither seen nor heard anyone since they had crossed the Anduin. How was it possible that they had been shadowed by elves all the time and he had not sensed them? Indeed, he had much to learn about Mirkwood-elves yet.
"We have been on the road for weeks, coming straight from Imladris and over the Misty Mountains." Legolas said, glancing at his companions. "Though I would love to refreshen myself, I think it would be better if we continue on towards my father's Palace. We had a run in with a group of orcs in a forest close to the Mountains, and as you can see we did not escape unscathed."
Aragorn saw the guard shift his eyes from Legolas to his own bandaged arm, then to his face, where Aragorn knew that the bruises were still clearly visible. He shifted uncomfortably under the close scrutiny, but said nothing. He did not know why, but he felt as if it was not his place to say something to this guard.
"My Prince, have you been hurt?" There was concern and anger in the voice of the guard.
"Merely a scratch and it is healing." Legolas answered, and Aragorn frowned. Being hit by an orc arrow, fallen from a horse and chased through a dark forest did not fall under his definition of 'scratch'. Despite his feeling that it was not his place to say something, his sense of protectiveness of Legolas reared its head. He took a breath to say something, but Legolas tightened his grip around his waist for just a moment, and then spoke smoothly, "My companion has been hurt more seriously. I would feel better if my father's healers would take a look at both our injuries soon, just to make sure."
The guard gave Legolas another look, but then nodded his head, "Then I will send another runner to the Palace to announce your arrival, your Highness. But tell me, have the orcs followed you? Is there a need to guard our borders more closely?"
Legolas nodded his head, "The orcs that attacked us are all slain. But I am concerned still, for it was a large group and they were vicious. I will speak with the King about the matter and I would like to send a group of warriors to scout the area. If any groups of travelers pass here to cross the Misty Mountains, they should be warned to not enter the woods at the banks of the Anduin."
Again, the guard nodded, "I will spread the word, my Prince."
"Thank you." Legolas said, and after a few words of farewell, the group of Imladris continued on their way towards the King's Halls.
Wherever they went, the elves greeted the company of rider and especially Legolas. Aragorn got the impression that Legolas was very beloved by his people, and he had to smile at the thought. Legolas had never told him that his people cherished him so much.
On their way through the forest, Aragorn saw not only houses and huts, but a water-mill, a bakery, a small forgery, something that resembled a marketplace, wagons and tiny gardens where the elves grew vegetables. Dozens of paths led hither and yonder, and Aragorn heard the elves sing while working and smile at their Prince when he passed. Mirkwood was truly very different from what Aragorn had imagined it to be. But although he saw many wondrous things, he also saw that all elves were armed in one way or another. While many elves carried bows and long knives, others carried spears or swords. The ellyn, too, were armed.
When the sun neared the horizon, the forest became increasingly darker. The light that had filtered through the boughs of the trees like bolts of lightning grew sparse, and also the dwellings of the elves became less frequent. Soon, they were riding through an almost silent forest, with nothing but the broad river rushing to their left.
And then, around another bend in the path, a huge stone bridge suddenly appeared before them. It was made of white stone, with mighty pillars that reached deep into the river. The banks on either side of the river were grassy and filled with weeds, while the mighty beech trees grew so dense here that some of them even grew in the water. And on the other side of the bridge, a huge, colossal rock formation rose into the sky. The white beeches grew to either side of the path and their branches created an archway that closed high above their heads. Torches and lights could be seen in the distance, illuminating a mighty stone gate on the rock's surface. Slowly, the group of riders made their way over the bridge and towards the gate. In the last light of the day, Aragorn saw that the gate was higher than three men were tall. Silver and metal adorned its surface in intricate patterns, and heavily armed guards stood to either side of it. They nodded in greeting to Legolas, their Prince, and let them pass without a word. As soon as the last rider had crossed the threshold, the mighty doors swung close with a clang.
They had entered the Halls of the King of Mirkwood.
To be continued.
A/N: The descriptions of Mirkwood are taken from the hints we get in The Hobbit. The rest is my own imagination.