Legolas and Aragron have woken something that had better stayed asleep. Now it is awake, angry...and very hungry.
Turning on his heels swiftly, the elf looked at his friend and stretched out his arm: "Come, Aragorn, hurry. Jump!"
His breath caught in his throat. No? What was his friend speaking about? Surely he had misunderstood him: "Come, jump! It is not as far as it looks. Aragorn, hurry!"
But when his eyes found those two grey orbs of his friend, the elf's heart stopped in his chest and his entire being screamed in agony.
Aragorn would not jump.
It felt like someone had stabbed him with an icy knife in the back and tears gathered in his eyes, but his voice was angry: "Aragorn, jump!"
"No, Legolas. Go."
How could the man answer him so calmly? Why was he doing this? The prince knew that there was no way to get the human over the chasm and onto the other side if he was unwilling to jump over it. Legolas could not carry him and throwing him was no alternative.
Closing his eyes briefly, the elf bit his lower lip. This could not be true. His friend could not give his life for his own! This was not as it should have been. They had not ran for hours through this cold and eerie forest to give up now! They had ran to live. To survive. Together.
Opening his blue eyes that spoke of more fear than they had ever done, he locked gazes with the ranger who still stood unmoving on the other side of the dark chasm.
Aragorn mastered a weak smile and his lips formed the two words that the prince despised in this moment more than anything else. In this moment he hated the man more than the evil that was hunting them, more than the unfairness that plagued them, more than death itself. How could Aragorn dare to give up now?
Oh, how the elf wished he would not have heard these words.
The man saw the face of his friend crumple. The elven eyes that held so much fire and spirit, that spoke of wisdom and strength, that carried hope wherever they went, were now void of all emotion save despair.
It was not just that he knew that Aragorn would not jump over the chasm, although the jump would perhaps not even be a problem for him. It was that the elf knew why his friend was doing this, why he was throwing his life into the scale of fate.
It was because he wanted the prince to live. Together, they would not make it, but Legolas had a chance. He just had to be forced to take it.
Just as the blond archer made himself ready to jump back over the deep void that spread between him and his friend, his sharp ears detected movement behind the ranger. The trees bent under a shadow, the leaves trembled in fear, the earth shook in terror of that which rushed over it. Coldness assaulted them, the droplets of water that clung to the dark grass froze before their eyes, the darkness deepened and the shadows completed.
It was here.
Wind rushed over them, the branches swaying. They could not see it, but they saw its path, heard its paws slicing through the ground, smelled the foul smell that engulfed the evil that was rushing towards them.
LegolasÂ´ mind screamed at him. Yelled at him to turn around, to run and run and never turn back, to flee and to abandon all bonds of brotherhood to save himself. His legs trembled under him, his arms shook from the shivers that raced down his spine, cold sweat appeared on his brow and his face turned even paler.
But, he did not turn. If Aragorn had to die, he would not leave him alone, no matter how gruesome the sight would be. It would only show him his own fate, because what ever would break from the trees in the next seconds, would not only settled the fate of his friend, but his own as well.
He knew they could not fight it. They had tried, his aching arm was witness to this. They could not kill it, no one could. It was ageless, faceless, fearless and immortal.
But that they could not kill it, did not mean they could not try.
Reaching behind him, slender fingers that shook from the strain and from fear, gripped the long bow that rested on the elf's back. It might not save them, but he would not die without a fight. Never.
Aragorn stood near the edge of the chasm, his back turned towards his friend and his gaze directed at the dark forest that lay before him, his grey eyes widened in pure fear, trying to penetrate the darkness that reigned, to see that which was coming, to face his end like the man he was.
He did not feel the pain from his ankle, neither did he feel the ach of his lungs or side. A freezing coldness had settled inside him, his legs trembled, his breathing was faster than it had been before, his skin drenched in cold sweat, his dark hair plastered to his white face. His arms did not obey him, his body was numbed.
Shivers of unknown intensity raced down his spine, the hair on in his neck stood on end. With a clarity that he had not known he possessed, he saw how the black trees bent under the presence of the beast, how the wetness of the grass turned to ice, how the white mist that indicated his breathing ceased, how the darkness that had embraced him for hours became darker, the shadows deeper. The end was near.
A foul smell waved at his face, the bushes in front of him trembled, the earth groaned. A growling sound full of hunger and malice reached his ears, the scrubs before him parted, the trees wailed, the ground shook, the darkness engulfed him, he felt the predator burst from the trees, thought to see black fur in a cloud of even darker mist, deadly sharp fangs, gleaming red eyes that glowed at him from the darkness, eyes that had seen the greatest evil that had ever happened on this earth, because their master had inflicted it.
He closed his eyes. The end had come.
With mounting horror Legolas watched helplessly as the trees parted to reveal the ghost that that hunted them through the night, that had stolen their courage and destroyed their hope.
Without thinking of what he was doing, his hands notched an arrow on his bow and before he had really taken aim his fingers let the deadly projectile fly through the air, the weapon slicing through air and mist, a deadly shot from this distance.
A screeching erupted from the other side of the chasm, the dark shadow that had flown at the ranger seemed to rebound at the man's right shoulder, sending him crashing to the ground, the dark shadow itself sallying further through the air, the initiated target abandoned, red eyes fixing on the fair haired elf.
Desperately the elf tried to notch another arrow, but his fingers trembled and the slim projectile he had grabbed fell to the ground. Faster than he had ever done, the prince reached back and took another of his yellow feathered arrows, but the darkness was at the edge of the shadow, it was jumping over it, flying through the air.
LegolasÂ´ eyes widened in shook. A blackness that was deeper that the void before him was flying towards him, but still he could not see through the cloud that surrounded the evil thing. The presence of the beast made his skin crawl and his breath caught in his throat.
It was so near. A few seconds, or less.
Trembling hands lifted the bow, fingers that shook notched the arrow, his eyes never left the creature that had killed his friend and would end his life in the blink of an eye. Nevertheless, his fingers let go of the arrow, the wooden shaft catapulted through the crisp air, directly at the cloud of fear and death that had almost cleared the chasm.
A howl erupted from the beast, a sound so evil and unnatural that it hurt his elven ears and he wanted to fall to his knees and cover his ears to protect them from the piercing scream. It was no scream of pain, but more of anger and as Legolas looked in stunned fear and fascination, the dark shadow seemed to be thrown back in mid air and then, slowly, tumble down into the dark chasm, the screech of the best getting lower as it fell into the bottomless void.
Paralysed, the elf stood there, his breathing heavy, his arms still trembling and his legs feeling weak under him. Light-headedness made his head swim and when the last sound of the terrible screeches had faded away out of the chasm, he snapped back out of his trance.
He lived. He was still alive. The predator had fallen in the chasm, but Legolas knew it was only a short reprieve that was granted them, the creature could not be killed and as soon as it had found a way out of the void it would resume its hunt. They had bought time. Time that they needed desperately. If they made it until dawn, they would survive.
Shouldering his bow, the elf averted his eyes from the blackness in which the beast had fallen and looked over to the other side of the chasm, where he had last seen his friend. Perhaps Aragorn was not dead, the beast might just have injured him, maybe he was still alive. Legolas had bought them time. The man had to be alive.
Fearful eyes penetrated the darkness at the other edge, but he could not see the ranger. There was no movement, no sound, no sign of life. Panic and despair filled his heart and a painful jolt made his stomach churn. His mouth went dry and he felt his voice leave him. The complete stillness that had settled was hurting his ears.
This could not be. Aragorn could not be dead. They had made it so far, Legolas was unwilling to go on alone. Guilt settled in his body and with every breath he took it burned inside his being, his mind screamed at him, blamed him for his folly. He should have known the man would do something like this. It was his fault.
Closing his eyes against the pain that assaulted him, against the sight of the dark forest that lay so void of life before him, Legolas felt an emotion surface within him from which he had never thought that he could feel it in a situation such as this.
He was grateful. Grateful that the Valar had had mercy enough to grant his friend a quick end, not the painful and gruesome death that would now only be his fate alone. Tears pricked at his eyes as the took a shuddering breath. It was time to say goodbye. Not farewell as it was the habit of the elves. Time was precious, he needed to go.
And it broke his heart that he would have to let his friend, no, his friend's body, in this evil wilderness. Alone, abandoned, far away from light and all that the man had loved. No one would stand by his grave, there would be no flowers, no sad melodies, no tears. Only worry and uncertainty and then, after a while, acceptance and grief. They would grief, aye, and then they would go on. That was the circle of life. It hurt the prince's very being that there would be no one to tell their tale, to tell what had become of them.
Taking another deep breath, Legolas fought his tears back and turned around to the path that lay before him.
Darkness surrounded him and the coldness of the hard ground seeped through his clothing and alerted him to the present. It could have only been a few moments that he had been unconscious, if he had lost his consciousness at all. A loud shrieking assaulted his ears and his body reacted to it, his hand reaching for his ears automatically, covering them, his legs being drawn to his chest and his whole body shivering from the evil that had lain in this scream.
A white hot pain shot through his shoulder and he felt a warm trickle run down his arm and chest. Blood. His blood. With a painful jolt his memory crashed down on him, making him gasp involuntarily.
When the darkness had sprung, sucking all the warmth and the light out of the air surrounding him, he had felt his life slip from his body, had felt the evil reach out to him, had smelled the odour of death and felt the claws of horror grip at him. And then, then...
Something had distracted it, had lured it away from him. Sharp claws had ripped his skin, sliced through flesh and muscle, had shattered his bone and had thrown him to the unyielding ground with such a force that it had knocked the breath out of his lungs and left him unmoving and numb, his mind not comprehending what had happened, his consciousness not daring to return to the surface.
His exhausted and injured body trembled from shock and fear, his ears felt the now reigning stillness keenly. It was quiet. So quiet that he could hear his shaking body ripple the dead leaves that were strewn over the ground.
There could only be one explanation why he was still alive, why he was still breathing, living.
He did not know what the elf had done, what it was that the prince had sacrificed to spare him of his gruesome fate.
Lifting his head from the frozen ground and feeling it pound in his heartbeatÂ´s rhythm, he brought his arms under him and lifted his aching body from the cold earth, first into a sitting position, then onto his knees, his feet. Wobbling legs wanted to crumple under his weight, but he forced them to hold him and when he was sure that they would carry his weight he turned into the direction of the chasm.
It was so dark that his eyes did not even see it, the blackness that had come with the ghostly malice had left the world dark and cold, the other side of the chasm was veiled by it and Aragorn did see neither movement, nor did he hear anything.
Taking a tentative step, he could hear a growling come from before him, from the deep void that separated him from his friend. Was Legolas still alive, was he still there? Waiting for him? Had the prince accepted his own sacrifice and turned away from him, saved his own life? Or was the elf lying on the other side, wounded and unconscious, needing help?
The fear that had never left him mounted again and when he stumbled forward another step, he took a deep breath. Whatever had happened, the creature could not be dead. It could not be killed and as long as it lived it would hunt them and be on their trail, or his trail. He had no time, he needed to go, to make sure that his friend had truly left him, that Legolas had saved his life as he had wished him to do.
And if his friend had ran on through this woods, if the elf had fled, abandoning him, he knew he would feel better. Because he would then know that his death would not be in vain.
In his heart, he knew that the elf would have done the same for him, it was their mutual promise that they had given each other when this nightmare had started. Do not look back, do not turn around. Who stayed behind, would buy the other one time to live. That was what he had done, that was what he would do. He had promised it.
Swallowing down his pain and fear, the sorrow that the felt for his friendÂ´s fate, the horror that wanted to throw him down, the man took a deep breath, closed his eyes and sprinted into the darkness. When he felt the edge of the chasm under his foot, he jumped, hoping that it would not be his last.
A whooshing sound met his ears and in a fluid motion Legolas turned on his heels, his hand going to his back to retreat one if his white twin knifes, his eyes peered through the darkness that still reigned.
The sound became louder and the next second he felt a heavy weight land on the hard ground to his left, a low groan reaching his ears, followed by a painful gasp.
Could it be true? Abandoning the thought of his knife, the elf turned to his left and moved to the source of the sound, his blue eyes searching on the ground for the man. A movement alerted him to the human, a shifting in the night, a grey spot in the complete blackness.
His only answer was another painful moan and then he nearly stumbled over the injured ranger. Aragorn had risen, his tall form leaning heavily on a tree, his posture speaking of pain and exhaustion.
Piercing eyes met LegolasÂ´ own. Relief shown in them, pared with fear and pain. The man looked his friend over, his eyes travelling from the elfÂ´s head to his toes and back, making sure that he was not injured, that he was no illusion.
The prince did the same, and when his eyes found the marks on the humanÂ´s shoulder, his gaze darkened, but he did say nothing. There was nothing they could do. They had to go on. Their looks met, grey eyes meeting blue ones and just as the blackness of the night lifted a little and they turned to head back into the forest, a low and menacing growl sounded behind them and they could hear the unmistakable sound of paws scrape over stone and rock.
Looking at each other for a short moment, they both swallowed and headed back into the darkness of the forest and ran on.
Morning was not far as it happened. Legolas could feel the beast coming closer, faster than before, more angry, more hungry, bloodthirsty and unwilling to play any longer, to let its victims escape. Perhaps it felt that the breaking of dawn was near, maybe it was just bored. Whatever it was, it had nearly reached them, its breath tickling their necks, its growl reaching their ears and its evil clawing at their hearts.
Darkness had come to them.
During the night, they had been forced to slow down a bit, the blood loss and the injuries Aragorn had sustained were wearing him down, his breath sounding sharp in the air, his step had lost the gracefulness it had once possessed.
Every time the ranger had fallen, Legolas had pulled him up, when he had wanted to give up and had slowed down, the elf had pushed him on. But now, the human had reached his limit and even the prince knew that every body could just go so far and not further.
It had happened when they had crossed a small frozen stream. Even for himself it had not been easy to cross, his normally surefooted elven feet unsteady and clumsy after a night full of running, of fleeing and fighting. It had been difficult for him, but impossible for the man.
The ice had not broken under his weight, but the slithering surface had cost the ranger his balance, sending him tumbling to the ground. And this time, he did not rise.
Skidding to a halt, Legolas moved to the manÂ´s side and grabbed his shoulder, shaking it and willing his friend to rise, to get up and move.
The humanÂ´s voice was merely a croak, his throat swollen from the constant strain, his strength gone, his body surrendering to the abuse it had endured, his mind yielding to the darkness. It was over. He could not go on.
"No, Aragorn. Get up, come on, get up now."
With hands that were sore from dragging his friend to his feet so many times, that were scratched from the numerous twigs and barks that had lashed at him and numb from the coldness that had assaulted them, he again grabbed the manÂ´s shoulder and tried to yank him to his feet, he shook the shoulder vehemently, yelled at his friend and pleaded with him. To no avail.
Aragorn would not rise, his strength was seeping from him like water out of a broken bottle, the blood loss, the exhaustion, the pain overwhelming him.
"I am sorry, Legolas. Go. Go...." It was merely a whisper that floated to LegolasÂ´ ears and when he shook his head in denial, the human had already closed in eyes in defeat and consciousness had left his body.
"No! Aragorn, please, no. DonÂ´t do that to me, my friend. Please!" The elfÂ´s voice held no anger, only fear and despair.
Slumping back when the man did not stir, Legolas felt his heart break. What should he do? He had promised, yes, he had sworn to his chosen brother that he would do all in his power to save himself, but now...he could not.
No matter what he had promised, he would not leave the man to die a gruesome death. They would die together, side by side, and their spirits would flee their bodies at the same moment. They could not be together in eternity, so let them be together in this life as long as possible.
With a shaking hand he wiped a lock of dark hair from his friendÂ´s pale face, feeling the chill of the skin under his touch. Tears gathered in his eyes and he whispered hoarsely: "Forgive me, but I cannot do what I have promised. Forgive me, mellon nin."
Rising from his position near his fallen brother, Legolas climbed to his feet, his back aching and his legs trembling. Facing the dark forest, he moved to stand over the man and with a determined look on his tired features, he drew his bow and notched an arrow.
He could sense it. It was near.
His skin tingled and coldness crept on spiderÂ´s legs over his back, his blood turned cold and the air before his face changed into an icy mist that stole his sight. With the cold came the darkness, with the darkness the foul smell and with the smell, came death.
It was there.
In this moment, when the thing broke from the bushed, the red eyes gleaming in the blackness, the darkness enveloping it, the silence broken by a menacing growl, LegolasÂ´ hand steadied, his legs felt stronger, his mind cleared and his thoughts stopped spinning.
This was the end. His end and that of his friend.
And to his surprise, he felt a great weight lift from his heart. No more wondering, no more uncertainty, no more fighting against the death, no more fear. This was it. He would die there and then. The hour of his death had come and with this clarity returned the smile on his pale face.
He might die now, but he had fought fear and he had gained victory over it, in the last moment that he had on this very Middle-Earth.
He sensed the blackness reach out to him, saw the shadow race towards him; the darkness reached him before the cold did and then, just as the red eyes and the deadly claws that were still buried in the shadow of the night reached out for him, Legolas closed his eyes and embraced his death.
Quiet met his ears, no sound could be heard, no movement be detected; the wind did not whisper, the stream not gurgle, the birds not sing.
It was cold, very cold, but...not as cold as it had been before.
Legolas took a shaky breath, lowering his arms that held his bow to his sides, his eyes still firmly closed. He could smell the forest, the ice, the trees, the dead leaves...he could smell Middle-Earth. He was still alive...
And then, a new sensation touched his face, a thing that seemed to come out of another world, once known but long forgotten. A grin touched his lips and widened into a full smile. Lifting his head to the sky, his eyes still closed, Legolas thanked the Valar, over and over again.
Sunlight filtered through the treetops, caressing his skin. Dawn had come.