A/N: This is my first bit of writing in a long time. I hope that any of my old readers who are still around enjoy it, and the same to any new ones. This story is a sort of prequel to my other fic 'Where Fault Lies' but it can stand alone as well. Thanks for reading!

Best Laid Plans

'I told you it would never work,' Aragorn muttered, scowling at the elf before him. 'Many times. But you would not listen to a word of it.'

There was no response to his grumbling and Aragorn's frown deepened even as he continued. 'You have only yourself to blame for the situation we are in and I shall make certain that all know it. Your father, the Lord Elrond, my brothers…even Gandalf, if that fool of a wizard will stay in one place long enough for me to find him.'

Again, there was no answer. Muttering an obscenity, Aragorn shifted slightly so that he was at a better angle, cursing the ropes that bound his wrists together and so prevented him from getting a better grip on the blood-soaked cloak he had pressed against his unconscious friend's shoulder. Throwing a quick glance at the low glow of the campfire that smoldered in the darkness just outside the mouth of the small cave, Aragorn carefully peeled back the bunched cloth and grimaced as the dying flames threw a stuttering red light over the mess of blood, dirt and torn flesh that had once been a healthy body part.

Replacing the makeshift bandage with as much care as he could manage, Aragorn continued talking, hoping that the sound of his voice would help rouse his friend, yet wary of speaking too loudly in case he drew any unwanted attention. 'And do not even begin to think that I will defend you. I was certain it was a terrible plan from the start and I told you as such. So when your father demands to know how it was that we got into this mess, I am going to tell him. Do you hear me? Legolas?'

'Filthy elf scum!'

Aragorn froze, his entire body tensing at the harsh, guttural voice of one of their gaolers. Slowly, he released his grip upon the slowly darkening cloth beneath his fingers and turned so he was facing the solitary orc that had just entered the cramped cave into which he and Legolas had first been thrown over two days ago.

The orc grinned at Aragorn, its teeth glinting black in its cavernous mouth. Its skin was grey and wretched, stretched so taut over narrow, pointed bones and sinewy muscles that the foul creature looked almost emaciated. Its eyes gleamed a sickly yellow and bulged forth from its deformed face, with one almost twice the size of the other. Even from some feet away, Aragorn could smell the stench that came from it, of rotting eggs and stagnant water, and uncooked meat that had been left out in the sun for days beyond count.

Still focused on Aragorn, the orc shuffled forward with a ragged, lopsided gait until it stood no more than three feet away. Supremely aware of the limp form of Legolas, bound hand and foot on the floor of the cave, Aragorn steeled his nerves and forced himself to eye the orc calmly, his gaze belying no trace of the fear that was twisting its way into his gut.

The orc chuckled, a horrible wheezing cackle that rasped through its throat like stone grating against iron. Reaching out a gnarled hand, it shoved Aragorn cruelly, sending him sprawling to the ground, unable to catch himself with his hands bound as they were. He rolled over and managed to bring himself to his knees, only to be struck down again by the orc's heavy fist. Winded, he lay there, gasping, trying hard to draw breath into his lungs but with little success. He could only watch as the orc moved forward, still chuckling, and delivered a harsh kick to the bound body of the elf.

'Let him be,' Aragorn panted, struggling to draw in enough air to get the words out. 'He is wounded. He can do you no harm.'

The orc turned to stare at the ranger, its pebble-black eyes bright with hate and bloodlust. 'What's it to you?' it hissed. 'I'm gonna have a little fun, that's all. You should be glad it's not you I'm looking at.' Turning back to Legolas, it knelt down and prodded him in the shoulder with one of its sharp fingernails, watching in fascination as the deep wound there began to leak a foul-smelling mixture of blackened blood and pus that dribbled down the elf's arm to the dirt floor.

Sucking in a breath, Aragorn rolled over so he was lying on his back, looking up at the ink black roof of the cave with his bound hands resting on his chest. He managed to summon a grin, ignoring the blood that was gathering at the corner of his mouth from the orc's first blow. 'You are like all the others then,' he commented. 'Truth be told, I should have guessed.'

The orc glanced up at him, distracted from its task of carving some dark symbol into the exposed flesh of the elf's right forearm using the cruel tip of its fingernail. 'What're you talking about then?' it grunted. 'What're you saying? What others?'

'Your companions,' Aragorn said, tilting his chin in the direction of the cave mouth, where he knew a pack of orcs sat within two dozen feet, relaxing after a full day of tormenting their captives. 'All this day and into the night, they played only with the elf. They were far too frightened to come near me.'

The orc's face contorted into a horrible expression of confusion. 'What's so special about you then?'

Aragorn smirked. 'I can fight back.'

The orc howled with laughter. 'The human says it can fight back!' it jeered. 'And it wants me to play with it! It's a fool, is what it is!'

Aragorn raised an eyebrow. 'Fool? No. I am simply curious as to whether all of your kind are cowards or simply some of them.'

The orc grunted angrily. 'Shut your mouth, human! I ain't no coward.'

Aragorn nodded towards Legolas. 'Yet you remain torturing one unable to fight back? That sounds well enough like a coward to me.'

'I said shut your mouth!'

'Come over here and fight me then,' Aragorn taunted. He made his voice as scornful as possible. 'Perhaps it shall do you some good to have to work for once.'

With an enraged howl, the orc raised itself to its feet and staggered towards him, sending dirt flying about the cave with each shuffling stride. Still lying on his back, Aragorn braced himself and, as soon as the orc was near enough, kicked up with his legs with all his strength, wrapping them around the haggard grey throat. With a quick, corkscrewing twist of his body, he snapped the orc's neck and it dropped to the ground, dead.

Aragorn fell back to the cave floor with a thud that knocked the breath from his body for the second time that night. Carefully, he extricated his legs from the stinking carcass of the foul creature and allowed himself to simply lie there for a few seconds, panting with effort. Soon though, he was shuffling forwards towards his friend and stretching a hand out to feel the weak but regular pulse that beat at Legolas's throat. 'I will say it again, mellon nin,' he muttered, 'and as many times as I need to after that. Every bit of this is entirely your fault and I will let everyone I have ever met know it for years to come.'

It took Aragorn far longer than he would have liked to saw through his bonds once he had started. However, considering that his only tool was that of the dead orc's pointed fingernails, he supposed that haste was beyond his grasp for the time being. Once free, he severed the ropes that bound Legolas's hands and feet, wincing as he examined the mangled mess that used to be the elf's slender fingers, and then paused, considering the next problem. He needed to get Legolas to safety. Legolas, however, was unconscious, meaning that he would not be of much help in that particular regard.

Aragorn gazed at the elf glumly, hoping that he would wake up of his own accord. When that failed, he struggled to his feet and grasped Legolas under the arms, careful of his bloodied shoulder and the tips of his pointed ears, which had been cruelly nicked by one of the orcs earlier in the day. With some quiet cursing, he managed to drag the elf's slender weight over towards the mouth of the cave. Hiding Legolas in the shadows, he pressed himself close to the cold rock opening of the cave mouth and peered outside, only to drop back immediately at the sight that faced him.

Over a half a dozen orcs were lying about the campfire, lazily picking meat out of their teeth with their fingers or snoring heavily where they lay sprawled on the ground. Aragorn swore silently to himself, suddenly glad that his years with the rangers had supplied him with curses vicious enough to suit the situation. Backing up until he sat beside Legolas' still body, he dropped his head into his hands and thought. He knew that it would not be long before another of the orcs decided to pay the two of them a visit, whether to check on its absent companion or simply because it was bored and wanted to entertain itself with a little torment. Aragorn, however, had had enough of life underground. Being trapped in such a small space with only one point of entry and exit had made escape impossible over the last two days. It would not do to remain in the cave any longer. No, what he needed was to get outside, where it would be easier to make an escape for the both of them should the opportunity present itself. But how was he to get himself and Legolas outside without the orcs throwing them back into the cave?

Aragorn puzzled over it for a while, then lifted his head as the bare bones of an idea came to mind. Perhaps what he needed was for the orcs to be the ones to throw them outside of the cave in the first place? A smirk crept upwards at the corner of his mouth, cracking the blood drying there. Absentmindedly, he brushed it away with his knuckles as he formulated a plan that would hopefully lead to their escape. A plan that would only need… Legolas.

Aragorn groaned, dropping his head back into his hands. He had been trying to rouse the elf since the orcs had thrown them into the cave earlier that evening, after tiring of their cruel games. Legolas, however, had persisted in remaining stubbornly unconscious. To be fair, Aragorn could not blame him for it. The elf had borne the brunt of the orcs' torment, simply because of what he was. Orcs and elves had hated each other with a viciousness that belied words for millennia beyond count, and these particular orcs had not let the chance to torment one of their most sworn enemies pass them by. Aragorn looked down at the bloodied elf beside him, then back in the direction of the cave mouth. He sighed. It was no good. His plan needed Legolas awake, upright and ideally able to fight. He had to try to wake him.

Kneeling down, he edged closer to Legolas and put his hand on his chest, giving him a soft prod with the heel of his hand. The elf's body was warm, and Aragorn's hope rose. 'Come, my friend,' he whispered in elvish, hoping that the familiar tongue would reach Legolas wherever his mind had retreated. 'It is time to go.'

The only response from the elf was a low groan, one which the ranger echoed in the quiet of his own mind. He knew that Legolas was in no condition to wake, much less to do what Aragorn required of him. However, there was a distinct lack of other options and so he resorted to what had always worked in the past whenever he wanted Legolas to follow him, or to pursue him, even. If he was being absolutely honest with himself, the phrase 'hunt him down as a hawk did a mouse' was probably closest to the truth.

'Legolas?' he said firmly, speaking as loudly as he dared into the elf's ear. 'Are you simply going to lie there whilst I do all the work? A mere human?' He leant even closer, resting his hand on the elf's uninjured shoulder and giving him a hard shake whilst letting his voice slide into the taunting singsong he knew the elf hated. 'What of the legendary resilience of the elves of which you are always boasting? Are you so weak that you would allow the orcs do as they wish with us? Why, even a dwarf has more pride than you!' Legolas shifted beneath his hand but did not wake. Throwing caution to the winds and knowing well that he would probably pay for his actions later, Aragorn reached up with his hand and tugged sharply on one of the elf's bloodied ears, careful to avoid the cruelly-placed notch in the tip of it. 'Thorin Oakenshield would not allow himself to be treated as such,' he declared abrasively, 'so why should a son of Thranduil willingly let himself break against the will of such foul creatures as orc kind? Or is it that the blood, no, the very spirit of the elves is weaker than that of the dwarfs?"

Aragorn felt the elf's lean body suddenly tense. Silently he rejoiced and released the elf's ear, shifting his hand again to Legolas' chest. 'Legolas?' he murmured, dropping his voice again and sending a swift glance towards where the orcs were hopefully still resting, sprawled disjointedly about the dying fire. 'Are you with me?'

'You will pay for that last remark,' came the soft words finally. Legolas' voice was pale and hoarse, a far stride from its usual melodious tones, but Aragorn was overjoyed to hear it nevertheless. Feeling Legolas shift beneath his grip, he tightened his fingers and carefully bent down until his head was no more than a hairs-breadth away from the elf's ear.

'Hush, my friend,' he whispered in the Grey Tongue. His voice was little more than a breath of wind but he knew that the elf, with his sharp ears, could hear him as easily as if he were shouting. 'You must stay still' He waited until he sensed the elf quiet before continuing. 'Do you remember where we are?'

There was a pause, then a slight nod.

'Good. Now, listen to me. I have a plan. And it is far better than the one that you had.'

One blue eye cracked open to glare at him through the shadows, but Aragorn reached out and flicked the elf's forehead. 'I told you to stay still.'

Legolas shifted again beneath him. 'It was a good plan.'

'We have been captured by orcs, Legolas!' Aragorn retorted, letting his voice rise. 'And that is not to mention that you have inside you considerably less blood than is recommended, and I am fairly sure that several of your ribs are more broken than not!'

'Calm yourself,' Legolas hissed, sounding more like himself. He raised his head and winced as the movement pulled at his torn shoulder. 'The orcs are near. They will hear us.'

Aragorn rose to a crouch. 'Do not presume to tell me to calm down, you pointy-eared elf!'

'Estel, keep your voice down!''


'They will hear us!'

'I care not!'

'Estel, the orcs-'

Aragorn cut off Legolas' words by balling his hands together and bringing them down sharply, catching the elf solidly on the jaw. He could feel bone shift beneath his fists and the elf prince let out a pained cry at the unexpected injury.

Seconds later, harried footsteps sounded outside the mouth of the cave and the disfigured head of an orc appeared, cloaked in the eerie glow of the failing fire. A scar ran down one side of its face, a long white fissure that bisected its jaw, giving it an even more grotesque look than was usual for one of its kind.

'Oy! What's going on in here?' it demanded. Aragorn hurriedly put his hands behind his back, hoping the orcs would forget that they had bound Legolas at all.

A second later, another misshapen head appeared, this one bulbous, heavy and thick, with skin that looked as though it had been charred in a fire. 'What's going on, Strigash? Is the elf awake again? It's my turn with him this time! I'm gonna break every one of his stick bones!'

The first orc took a couple of steps closer, moving in a lurching sideways gait as it ducked under the low mouth of the cave. It peered closely at the elf and ranger, then looked back at its companion, an expression of twisted delight on its face. 'Looks like these blighters want to fight!'

'What are you on about?'

Strigash bent down and grasped a handful of Legolas' pale hair. With one sharp yank, he forced the elf's face into the meager light thrown by the fire outside, sending shadows flickering over his rapidly bruising jaw. 'Look what the human did to his elf! He tried to hurt him, he did!'

Aragorn saw Legolas tense as a curved, cragged sword was lowered to the milk-white skin of his throat, held there by the second orc, which had pushed its way into the cave at its companion's words. The orc moved its blade forward until Legolas had his head craned back in a weak attempt to avoid further injury. His efforts were in vain, however, and Aragorn winced soundlessly as the sword pierced the pale skin, releasing a thin trickle of blood that ran down Legolas' throat until it met the already stained collar of his lightweight blue tunic, where it pooled, dark and ominous.

The second orc grunted. 'You trying to tell me the human did this?'

'That's what I said, didn't I!'

'Could have been Shakgul. He was here earlier, wasn't he?'

The first orc looked around and quickly spied the dead body of the orc lying at the back of the cave, its neck twisted unnaturally away from its body. 'He's dead!' it exclaimed. 'Shakgul's dead! These blighters must have killed him.'

'Maybe that's where the elf got his chin struck?'

Aragorn rolled his eyes. It was just his luck to encounter two orcs who could actually string two thoughts together. 'It was me,' he declared defiantly, causing the orcs to spin round to look at him. 'I struck the elf. He is wounded already, but I wanted the satisfaction of delivering a blow myself.'

'You?' Strigash echoed. 'Why'd you do that then?'

"Maybe that one's mad the elf got 'em caught!" the second orc snarled, leaning in closer towards Legolas, whose head was still craned awkwardly away from the weapon that lingered about his throat.

'I did no such thing.'

At the sound of the soft elven voice, so much of a contrast to their own guttural tongue, the two orcs growled as one, turning on Legolas ominously. "What did you say, you filthy little maggot?" Strigash demanded angrily.

'I said,' Legolas repeated, with all of the arrogance that was inherent to an elf prince, 'that I was not responsible for our being taken prisoner. My plan was faultless.'

Aragorn snorted loudly.

Legolas twisted to look at him, a wince flashing across his pale features as Strigash's grasping fingers snarled against his scalp. 'What was that?'

Aragorn bared his teeth in a feral grin. 'Your plan was the most foolish idea I have ever heard.' He turned to the orcs. 'Was it not? Never trust an elf, that's what I've learnt these past two days. If they don't betray you on purpose, they will do it through their own stupidity.'

'You're right!' Strigash exclaimed, sounding delighted that Aragorn had turned on his friend. 'It was a fool plan, wasn't it, Golbog? Using an elf as bait? Hah!' He broke off into raucous laughter.

'Shut your mouth!' Golbog demanded angrily. He leaned over Aragorn and Legolas, his straggly hair forming a ruinous halo about his misshapen head. 'Same goes for the both of you! We're in charge here, right, Strigash?'

The first orc wheezed its agreement but Aragorn ignored it. "Even an orc could have designed a better plan. Isn't that right, Strigash?"

Strigash looked surprised at being asked for his opinion. Caught off guard, however, he nodded, stopping quickly as Golbog glared at him.

'It appears I am right then,' Aragorn said with great satisfaction.

'You are not right, you are mad,' Legolas retorted, then hissed as Golbog dug his sword further into the thin skin at his throat, cutting off any further words.

The two orcs leered at each other, their mouths open in gruesome imitations of a smile. 'We can have some sport with these two!' Strigash cried, his eyes glinting in a wild sort of joy. 'Help me bring 'em outside, Golbog!'

Aragorn found himself seized by the armpits and dragged roughly under the jagged mouth of the cave. He was then forced to his feet, only to be pulled and prodded across the open grass to where the other orcs sat grouped around the campfire. Worried about how his elven companion was taking the abuse on top of his existing injuries, Aragorn glanced over at him, but Legolas seemed to be holding his own, due either to a sudden surge of energy or to his own stubbornness, Aragorn did not know. The elf was determinedly refusing to be dragged across the ground like a piece of mutton, but was instead limping his own way there, with one hand clasping at his injured shoulder. Reassured, Aragorn allowed himself a deep breath of the fresh night air, savoring its bite after the damp of the cave in which they had been imprisoned for so long.

A few feet away from him, Legolas twisted round to glare at him with eyes like daggers. 'This is part of a cunning plan to allow for our escape, I assume?' he hissed.

Aragorn grinned as they were both manhandled towards the fire. 'Aye.'

'You realize that they likely want us to fight!'

'Then we shall.'

'We sha- Aragorn, have you listened to yourself? We should be fighting the orcs, not each other!'

Aragorn shrugged. 'So it would appear to a more limited mind.'

Legolas' voice rose indignantly. 'Limited?'

'That is what I said, was it not?'

'How precisely am I meant to fight? You said it yourself, I am wounded!'

'Grievously,' Aragorn agreed. 'It shall serve to make you even easier to beat than usual.'

Legolas stared at him. 'You truly are mad. It is the only explanation for this.'

'I am not the one who got us captured by orcs in the first place!'

'It was a good plan that merely went somewhat awry!'

'Did you not hear Strigash? It was a terrible plan!'

Legolas gaped at him. 'You are taking the word of an orc now?'

'He speaks more sense that you have these past two days.'

'Ara-' Legolas cut off abruptly, clearly remembering nearly too late the dangers of revealing Aragorn's true name in the company of any creatures from Mordor. 'Estel,' he began again, but was prevented from saying more as Strigash dug his fingers violently into the wound at the elf's shoulder, bringing him up with a jolt.

'That's enough of that!' Golbog said roughly from behind them. 'Enough talking!'

Aragorn looked around. They had been brought to a halt right next to the campfire, which was hissing and sputtering as the few remaining embers breathed their last. The only light now came from the stars that were scattered in a brilliant silver blanket across the otherwise black sky. Around Aragorn and Legolas was a wide circle made by several orcs who were hissing and grunting together, shifting and shoving as they fought for the best view of the upcoming event. Aragorn took a deep breath. The first part of his plan had worked: they were outside the cave. Now it was time to see if the rest of the plan would follow suit.

Strigash had released Legolas and moved around so he was standing on the opposite side of the fire. He had his arms raised, trying to get the attention of the rest of the orc pack, but it was not until Golbog, beside him, let out a furious, roaring bellow that the other creatures quieted and focused their attention on the two, who seemed to be in charge of the group, for the time being at least. Strigash raised his malformed head and spoke into the night, his voice echoing over the mountainous terrain. 'Seems our new friends are having a bit of an argument!' he cried.

There were long howls and fierce cries from the other orcs at the news. Aragorn kept silent, trying to count the number of orcs that were present, though it was difficult as they moved above like shifting, ill-formed shadows. There were seven, he decided finally, eight at the very most. The pack must have split sometime in the past few hours, for there had been far more of them earlier in the day, and an even greater number when they had first been captured. He knew that it often happened, this breaking of a pack, orcs being quarrelsome and cruel even amongst their own kind. It was good news for himself and Legolas, whatever the case. If the situation arose where they had no choice but to make a clear break for it, there would be less than a dozen orcs to outrun.

Strigash was still talking. 'So us being the gentle souls what we are, we thought we'd give 'em a bit of a chance to sort things out! Human against elf! The winner gets to die last!' There was more jeering, more laughter from the orc pack at this. Strigash turned to eye Aragorn and Legolas and his voice turned dark and menacing. 'Fight,' he hissed.

Aragorn locked eyes with Legolas. 'Shall we?' he asked, his voice pleasant.

Legolas just shook his head and, without a word, began circling him. Aragorn rotated on the spot, making sure to keep a wary eye on where each of the orcs were in relation to himself and his friend.

'So,' Legolas said, switching to the Grey Tongue. 'What is the next step of this plan of yours?'

'We fight,' Aragorn said simply. 'Is that not obvious?'

Legolas narrowed his eyes. 'Watch it, ranger,' he said menacingly. 'We would not want you to get too badly injured during our battle.'

'Not if we might need to make a run for it if my plan goes awry. Which it will not.' He felt, rather than saw, Legolas' arm tense, and so was ready when Legolas swung at him, in a move that was unusually clumsy for him. Aragorn pivoted, dodging easily out the way and went for his own strike, which was parried easily by Legolas. They both dropped back, their breaths coming faster, then went for each other again, exchanging a volley of blows that looked far fiercer than they truly were. The cries of the orcs got louder as Legolas managed to land a blow on Aragorn's chin, payback, Aragorn imagined, from when he had struck the elf in the cave.

Pulling back for a moment, they circled again. Out of the corner of his eye, Aragorn saw the familiar barreled shape of Golbog, who had held the sword to Legolas's throat what seemed liked hours ago, but was in truth only a few minutes. Abruptly, he dropped to his knees and threw himself forward, rolling towards the orc. Throwing his arm out, he seized the very same weapon that the orc had used against Legolas from a rough belt at the orc's side that looked to be made out of the plaited hair that flew from the helms of the Rohirrim. Golbog let out an angry roar but Aragorn rolled away again and gained his feet, only to swing the sword wildly at Legolas, who was approaching fast from the left.

Legolas ducked, and the sword went flying out of Aragorn's hand to plant itself in the chest of one of the watching orcs. The creature gave a pained squeal, then fell to the ground, unmoving. Both Aragorn and Legolas froze.

'Oy! Take some care, you little maggot!' Golbog cried. 'You just killed one of my best fighters!'

'Oops,' Aragorn muttered, not missing the sudden fierce grin that flicked over Legolas' face, almost too fast to see. 'Apologies,' he called out loudly. 'It seems I do not know my own strength.' He turned back to face Legolas, who was standing still and breathing hard, his face deathly white in the starlight. Aragorn frowned. 'Are you well-' he started to say in the Grey Tongue, but Legolas cut him off with a short nod and moved in to attack. 'My turn,' he heard Legolas murmur as he delivered a sharp kick to Aragorn's calf before twisting away to seize a spiked piece of wood that lay beside the dead campfire.

In another few minutes, four more of the orcs lay on the ground, bereft of life from a variety of foul-aimed rocks, mis-directed kicks and hurled pieces of wood. The most recent to pass was Strigash, who had suffered a blow to the head from Legolas that had sent him crashing to the earth, never again to rise. Aragorn was starting to become concerned that the orcs had not yet realized his ploy. Surely the stupidity of even these creatures had its limits. But then, he supposed, orcs often managed to kill so many of their own kind through violence and sheer idiocy that perhaps a night such as this one was not that out of the ordinary for them.

Finally, there were only three orcs left, who formed a tight triangle around Aragorn and Legolas. 'Is it time yet?' Legolas panted, slipping into the Grey Tongue yet again.

'Why? Getting tired?'


Yet Aragorn could see that Legolas's body was betraying him. His movements were slowing, his strikes were less controlled, and he had once caught Aragorn a heavy blow to the head with his elbow that Aragorn was certain had been far from intentional. After two days of fearsome abuse, the limits of Legolas' elven endurance had been reached and he was failing fast.

Golbog's voice rang out through the night. 'Enough talk, the both of you! End this, now!'

Aragorn seized the moment. Legolas had turned automatically towards Golbog, looking for the source of the noise, expecting Aragorn to wait for him to be ready before he struck next. But it was not the time for honour. Without further ado, Aragorn dropped to the ground in a crouch, one leg extended, and swiveled, sweeping his leg out and across and knocking the elf's long legs out from underneath him, sending him plummeting to the cold ground.

Unusually for him, Legolas landed hard. He lay on his side, gasping, trying to catch his breath as he clutched at his ankle painfully. Not giving his friend a second's reprieve, Aragorn darted forward and pinned the elf prince to the earth, his knee planted firmly on the narrow back beneath him.

'Stay down,' he muttered out of the corner of his mouth when he felt the elf begin to push himself up with his good arm.

Legolas shook his head minutely, his pale, bloodied braids falling about his shoulders.


'You cheated, ranger,' hissed the elf prince. 'I will not stay down when I have not been fairly defeated!'

Disbelieving of what he was hearing, Aragorn dropped to his knees and, with one nimble movement, flipped the elf onto his back, pinning him there with an arm across his throat. Around him, he could hear the remaining orcs laughing as he leaned low over the elf, pushing down with all his bodyweight to keep him in place, and spoke into his ear. 'Are you mad or simply arrogant?' he hissed, using Legolas' long hair to hide the fact that he was talking to him. 'This may be our only chance at escape and you are willing to sabotage it because you are too proud to admit defeat?'

Legolas's eyes were like flint. 'There was no honour in your victory!'

'This is hardly the time to be particular!' Feeling the elf struggle to rise again, Aragorn swore and drove his other elbow into the elf's ribs. 'I swear to the Valar, Legolas, next time I shall leave you behind and escape by myself! Now stay down or I shall put you there myself for a second time!'

The elf remained silent, yet Aragorn could feel him still beneath his weight. Finally, his eyes closed and, slowly, Aragorn climbed off the elf and stood up, turning to face Golbog.

'Well?' he said simply. 'I won.'

'By cheating,' Legolas muttered down by his feet, in a voice so low that only Aragorn heard it. Surreptitiously, Aragorn shifted his stance, delivering a swift kick to one of the elf's thighs. Legolas subsided again and Aragorn left him, walking forward towards the lead orc.

'What now?' he asked.

Golbog grinned. From behind his back, he drew out one of Legolas's own white knives, which had been taken from the elf prince upon capture. 'Now you get to kill your little friend.'

Aragorn took a step back. 'What?'

'You heard me,' growled Golbog.

'Never. I would die before I took the life of my companion.'

'You said it yourself, you filthy little maggot! It's the elf's fault you're even here. So make him pay. Kill him!'

'I will not!'

The orc tilted its head to the side, eying Aragorn consideringly. 'Kill him and I'll let you go.'

At that, Aragorn hesitated. He looked at the elf, then back at the orc. 'Do you swear it?' he said finally. 'I take his life and I am free.'

Golbog nodded, grinning nastily.

Slowly, Aragorn took the knife from Golbog's clawed hands, turned, and strode back to where the elf prince lay on the ground, unmoving. Deliberately, he slowly lowered the long blade until it rested across Legolas's neck, pressing a fine indentation into the pale skin. Around them, the three orcs gathered round, closer and closer, jostling for position as they tried to get the best view. Aragorn waited until they stood no more than three feet away, then spoke in the Common Tongue so the orcs could understand.

'The time has come.'

Aragorn raised the knife high into the air, then brought it down at tremendous speed, changing the angle at the last second and driving it through Golbog's thick chest so that the very end of the blade came out the other side of his body. Golbog gasped, his foul mouth opening and closing as he fought for air that would not come, then fell slowly backwards, toppling towards the ground.

Calmly, Aragorn pulled the knife out of the orc's chest, sending a spray of black blood over Legolas as he rolled sluggishly out of the way of Golbog's collapsing body before finally gaining his feet with far greater effort than was normal. Without a word, Legolas wiped his uninjured arm over his face, clearing away the worst of the black blood that covered him from head to foot. His eyes were like blue glints of ice as he reached out and took his own knife from Aragorn before driving it deeply into the stomach of one of the two remaining orcs, cutting cleanly through its flesh before pulling the narrow blade out again and watching as the orc's innards spilled onto the ground. Carefully, he handed the knife back to Aragorn, who lifted it before him and turned to face the last surviving orc with a feral smile.

He lifted a questioning eyebrow at the lone creature, which stared open-mouthed in shock and terror before turning on its heels and scrambling away as fast as it could go. Casually, Aragorn hefted the knife in his hand, looked after the fleeing orc, judging the distance, then threw the blade as hard as he could so that it spun, handle over blade, again and again until it struck the orc right in the middle of its back, sending it plummeting to the earth.

Satisfied, Aragorn turned back to Legolas, who was already limping away from the dead circle of orcs, back towards the mouth of the cave. To Aragorn's weary eyes, the elf seemed to be favouring just about every part of himself. Legolas disappeared for a moment into the darkness, then emerged carrying the cloak that Aragorn had used on him as a bandage.

'My father gave me this cloak,' he said simply before turning and hobbling off in what Aragorn was fairly certain was the direction of Mirkwood. Rolling his eyes, Aragorn followed him, pausing only to remove the knife from the orc's back and to hunt for the rest of their weapons. Finally, after a few minutes of searching, he found them, stashed beside a large rock, thankfully unharmed. He gathered them up in his arms and took one last look around the campfire, taking in the sight of the numerous bodies of the orc pack. He heaved a satisfied sigh. 'Now that was a good plan,' he muttered to himself, and turned to stride off after the disappearing elf prince who was limping slowly towards the dawn.