For Disclaimer and Summary checked in previous chapters.
Aragorn finally slowed down to catch his breath. The moon barely gave any light. Wasn't it supposed to be the full moon? Or was it the new moon? Aragorn only knew that he was deep in the woods and it seemed quiet here. And he was probably lost. Wait, it seemed quiet.
Aragorn tried to start a fire, feeling around for anything dry that could be used.
There was a bit of a warm breeze drifting over.
He needed light quickly. If he knew where he was, perhaps he could plan his next steps.
Why was the breeze warm?
Something wet touched him. Aragorn shivered. That wasn't rain. Rain didn't lick people.
Hang on... Lick?
Aragorn moved his torch slowly to see what was in front of him.
And nearly dropped his light.
There was this monstrously large head with gleaming eyes staring right at him. It's mouth yawned open, a chasm of darkness.
No, not again... This was entirely unreal but it wasn't just a dream. Maybe he should... Run! Whatever was he thinking? He turned and ran mindlessly. Anywhere else would do. His torch singed some of the undergrowth. Look, sorry, but there's no other choice. That... that thing was still following him easily. He could hear it scratch against the bushes as it came after him.
That warm breath again. Not exactly warm. Too close! Hurry! This was even bigger than that first one and he had only seen its head. Ouch! Something just scratched him. Probably a branch or... stop imagining. Think! Alright, this thing slithered. Another viper? A constrictor? It was gaining on him. Faster! This was going nowhere. Alright, it's huge. Bigger than him. So, what? Oh help!
A cave. Yes, that was it! It couldn't enter if the cave mouth was small enough. There, right ahead. Run. Faster! Almost there! Being eaten alive wasn't going to be pleasant. Having his bones crushed before being eaten was no better. Run.
Aragorn crouched and dashed into the cave. He looked around quickly. It was small. Some critters. Nothing else here. Nothing dangerous. He headed into the far end and slid down against the wall. That thing couldn't have that long a tongue. He tried to calm his breathing. His legs were aching from all the running. What had happened to his horse?
He buried his face in his hands. Now he wished that the twins were with him; they'd know how to kill that thing. Unfortunately he was alone in this unique situation and no one could help him. Would anyone find him here?
There was that strange breath again.
Aragorn now had to admit that his foster father was right. The next time he would ask for the twins to come along, and maybe Erestor too. The adviser loved to tell him stories about the mysteries that lay in Mirkwood, though he was far too foolish to pay attention to Erestor's words.
And now he had to face it all alone in this cold night.
He could hear that serpent moving, and Aragorn's breath caught as he met its venomous gaze. Those eyes were enough to strike fear into the bravest of men. Why had he thought this cave could protect him? It could simply crush the cave with him in it, couldn't it?
Aragorn clenched his eyes shut.
His own breathing was loud. He tried to regulate it. There was no other sound. He opened his eyes, tried to see beyond the darkness, tried to hear the serpent. Nothing.
Aragorn closed his eyes again and tried to sleep. Anything to make this awful day end.
In the morning…
Legolas walked toward the crook that the guards had pointed out to him. There had been something about a familiar person hiding in the cave.
The prince smiled when he confirmed who it was. Legolas could not believe that Aragorn had the courage to stay the night, but it seemed that the man had survived. Courage or foolishness? Legolas grinned as he thought of a way to test his friend. But first thing first.
"Aragorn, wake up," he called.
The man was definitely deaf. Time to carry out his plan. He left the cave and returned shortly after. Then he stood beside his friend and placed something on the man's shoulder.
Had he heard something? Aragorn's mind was still hazy and his eyelids were far too heavy. But his senses were screaming at him. There was something moving. On him. Sliding down his shoulder. It almost felt like last night… What was it? Oh my… It hissed… It was a snake… What kind of–
Aragorn's eyes flung open, all sleep suddenly wiped off his face. He tried to scramble to his feet then caught sight of a grinning prince. He glared at him.
"Get it off me." Aragorn tried to hide his desperation. "Last night was more than enough..."
Legolas only grinned and shrugged, leaving the snake to its own devices. It was not anything remotely poisonous but perhaps the man would not know that. He wanted to see how Aragorn would react.
"Alright, if you aren't going to get rid of thatthing, the next time I'm at Mirkwood there will be spiders in your bed and we know how much you'd like that," Aragorn threatened.