Once again, huge apologies for the horrifying wait. But good news - the exams are now over! All I have to do now is wait for the results... PANIC! Lol, but for now, on with the story. Thanks very much for all the feedback. I tried to reply to everyone.
P.S. wasn't sure about the Elf eye thing - I think I read somewhere that they sleep with their eyes open. Apologies if that's wrong!
"Gandalf. Gandalf. Gandalf!"
Gandalf flinched, looking up sharply. He had been awake for so long - for days, in fact, ever since he rode out to find Éomer and his riders to call for aid. And true, he was now Gandalf the White, but even a Wizard needed sleep sometimes. And he was beginning to long for it... he forced his mind back to the task at hand. He had begun to tend to Aragorn a while ago, although the Man didn't look much better. Éowyn had done her best, although Aragorn had still been in desperate need of attention by the time Gandalf had turned to him. His sword arm had been slashed open from shoulder nearly to his wrist, and Éowyn had been struggling to stop the bleeding. It didn't help that when Gandalf tried to bind it, Aragorn's fingers twitched and jerked reflexively like jumping spider legs. Éowyn had, however, taken care of the wound to his side and bathed the blood clotting in his hair. But even after Gandalf had done all he could, Aragorn's skin was slick with sweat and his eyes flickered wildly beneath their lids. Under the bruises and dark grazes, he was abnormally pale.
To tell the truth, Gandalf was finding it hard to look at him.
This was the future King of Gondor, someone who featured a lot in his hopes for the future. This was a man who had trusted he, Gandalf, to bring help in time to save Helms Deep and his life. This was the man Legolas had wanted to look for, and what had he done? He had said that everything would be fine, implied that it could wait. It was as if he didn't truly believe that any real harm would ever come to Aragorn, just like he didn't believe that they could bear to loose this war. Just like he had to believe that somewhere, somehow, Frodo and Sam were still alive and taking the ring to Mordor, because if he let himself think that their hope was lost, then he would not be able to continue...
He blinked, suddenly remembering the person who had just been calling his name. He turned away from Aragorn, looking up at Éowyn who was now settled beside Legolas. She had twisted around to look at him, her eyes wide in her pale face. Gandalf frowned.
"He's doing it again," Éowyn said.
Gandalf's heart sank and he made his way back over to her. She was right - once more Legolas' eyes had slid shut, his lips forming rapid, silent words, his hands clenching in the blanket beneath him. Elves slept with their eyes open, and it was clear to anyone that closing them for any long amount of time was a bad sign. Of course, there were only a couple of things that could cause such conditions in an Elf - poison, of which it could not be as Gandalf had checked and double checked every wound, an ancient, rare sickness more common in Elflings or... Orc blood. Or to be more specific, Uruk-Hai blood. Any kind of blood like that was bad when it came into contact with Elven wounds in large amounts, but it was nearly impossible to diagnose...
He just had to wait, and try to find out what had happened during the battle when the Elf was more conscious.
"How is he?"
Gandalf glanced up, and then realized that Éowyn was talking about Aragorn. "Not as well as I would like. I hope after he has had some rest... well, we shall see."
Éowyn's gaze strayed to Aragorn again. There was a longing in those eyes that nobody could miss, but Gandalf had no energy left to speak to her about affairs of the heart. She surely knew of Arwen. Instead, he turned back towards Aragorn, but no sooner had he done so than the door flew open and Éomer appeared, looking just as exhausted as Gandalf felt.
"Gandalf, the King requires your presence. He needs your assistance."
Gandalf opened his mouth, and then closed it again. "Very well," he murmured. "Éowyn...?"
"I'll stay," she said quickly.
He nodded gratefully, and with a final look back at the two unconscious men turned and followed Éomer out of the room.
When Aragorn opened his eyes, the first thing he was aware of was pain. It hung over him like a storm cloud, turning his limbs to lead and sending stabbing jabs of agony through his arm and shoulder and head and... and everywhere. He blinked up at the ceiling, trying and failing to recognise it. Where was he? Did he know this place? Maybe... he turned his head, and then gasped as the pain in his head rose to an unbearable level. Tears instantly leapt to his eyes and he blinked them away furiously. What was going on? He was not one to cry for pain or weariness like some child. He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself, and then called on any sliver of strength he had left and dragged himself a little more upright. His head swung dizzyingly and he felt nausea rise in his throat, hastily leaning his weight back on his elbows. The world swam and blurred before him, stubbornly refusing to make any kind of sense at all. He could barely remember anything at all... only...
Only darkness, and the sight of thousands of corpses tangled together on a bloodsoaked rock and earth, and that heavy, irrational fear that had taken hold of him and consumed him, that was still beating in his chest...
"Baw! Estel... Aragorn, can... hear..."
He shook himself, the terror suddenly spearing into him once more. Where was Legolas? He could not remember parting from the Elf, and yet now he appeared to be quite alone.
He flinched as the sudden voice drove in on him and made his head pound. Small hands flew to his face, pushing his sweat-soaked hair back as the weight of another person dipped the bed. Aragorn tried to pull back, but any strength that he had called on had now left him and he found himself simply clutching helplessly at the stranger's sleeve, still struggling to see. His own voice grated against his lips, so hoarse and quiet that he could barely recognise it.
"Who... I don't..."
"Aragorn? Do you hear me? Do not worry, I'm here. And Gandalf will be back soon, I promise."
It was a woman, but a woman whose voice he could not place. Her comforting words meant next to nothing to him - he needed to know where Legolas was. He needed to get up and... and stop something... He pushed himself upright with trembling arms, and the woman before him let out a cry of surprise, placing both hands on his shoulders in an effort to keep him down.
"Aragorn, please, you must lie still. You may start bleeding again. Aragorn-"
She broke off with a sharp gasp. For at that moment, Aragorn's struggling body chose to give out. The coppery taste of blood shoved itself up his throat and he spluttered, the warm liquid trickling from his lips. He gasped for breath, choking on the blood, and once again felt the woman's hands. Only this time they were supporting him almost completely.
"Aragorn! Oh no, I... Aragorn, it's alright, I have you, just... here..." Her voice had become panicked, and her hands shook as she pressed something to his face, wiping away the blood as best she could. The episode had been short, but now Aragorn was beyond terrified. He didn't know where he was, what had happened, or more importantly whether Legolas was dead or alive. And in the state he was in now, he was in no way to help the Elf let alone himself. He tried to push the woman away, but she misunderstood and reached for his hand, squeezing it gently.
"Do not worry, I will fetch Gandalf. Just promise me that you will stay still until I return, please?"
One thing stuck out in Aragorn's mind in that sentence - she was offering to leave. And if she left, then he would be alone and would have the chance to find out what was happening, where he was. He nodded quickly, and then froze with a groan as his head seared. For a fleeting second lips pressed against his forehead, and again he wondered who this woman was, why she seemed to care so very much about his fate. But then he heard her footsteps moving away, and those thoughts left him.
This was his chance.
He took a few moments to gather himself, and then once more sat up with a snarl of pain. He shut his eyes tight in a long blink, and then opened them once more and squinted out at the world. Everything was still swimming hazily, but if he concentrated as hard as he could he could just manage to pull the blurred colours into shapes. He was in room, other empty beds around him. On the cold flagstone floor beside him lay his shirt and jerkin, both covered with thick, drying blood. Bandages were wrapped around his chest and shoulder, almost mummifying him, scarlet blossoms showing through the fabric. He cast his eyes all around the room... and suddenly noticed the bed to his left, which was occupied.
But not the Legolas he knew. This Legolas was pale and streaked with sweat and blood, his skin pale, his eyes shut. Shut. Elves did not sleep with their eyes shut. Aragorn tried to call to him, but his voice betrayed him and came out as a hoarse croak. Still, with Elven hearing, Legolas should have been able to hear him. Aragorn felt terror rush through him and swung his legs off the bed, curling forwards over himself as he kept his gaze fixed on Legolas. Was he alive? He had to be alive. Even though Aragorn could not see his chest moving... he suddenly remembered something, a dream, or perhaps a living nightmare - a huge sword tearing through the Elf's chest, blood spilling from his mouth, golden hair drenched scarlet... Aragorn could not hold himself back any longer. He surged up to his feet and stepped forwards.
At once his legs crumpled beneath him and he crashed to the ground. His last memory was of agony spearing through his head, blinding him, consuming him, tearing him apart, his own voice screaming in a way he had never screamed before... and then there was nothing.
Whew, not giving Aragorn a good time here am I? Again, I'm so, so sorry for the ridiculous wait on this chapter. I hope to be far more regular from now on.
Reviews are very welcome.