Chapter Two

The next morning dawned chilly and clear. Legolas rolled over in his bedding and blinked away the fog of sleep. The first thing he noticed was that the hour of his awakening was unusually late. Ordinarily he would be up before the sun, and certainly before Aragorn - but the pale rays falling on his face told him otherwise, and once he propped himself on his elbows he spotted the human sitting beside a freshly kindled fire. Hearing movement, Aragorn looked over and laughed.

"Welcome to the land of the living, Legolas! I was beginning to wonder if I would need to bury you where you lay. Rise, before your breakfast gets cold!"

Legolas snorted and pushed back the covers, shaking his head at the human's silliness. The elf got to his feet and a dull pain rippled its way over his navel before dissipating. Legolas dismissed it although he couldn't help but feel a little surprised that some harmless bruising would cause pain the next day (he knew that it was harmless as he had thoroughly checked it once Aragorn had fallen asleep, and it was as he had suspected, merely superficial surface bruising).

Thinking nothing further of it, Legolas rolled up the bedroll and joined Aragorn beside the fire.

"Here." The human handed him a fire toasted corn cake topped with cold cheese and warm honey. The smell made the elf's stomach growl. Smiling his thanks, Legolas wasted no time in devouring it.

"How do you fare this morning?" he asked in a rather sticky voice, and cleared his throat before taking another bite. Aragorn answered without looking up from his own meal, which he ate only with his right hand. His left lay motionless in his lap.

"I am well." Legolas exhaled softly through his nose and frowned. He took a moment to wipe his face and lick his fingers before answering.

"You surely cannot expect me to believe that, Estel. Those cuts run deep; you cannot deny their severity - and thus you must be in pain."

"And you cannot deny that I have had far worse." Aragorn dodged the accusation with a smirk.

"True." Legolas stood and warmed his hands by the fire. "But still, we must get you home before infection has a chance to set in." He heard a splutter from the human and the young man was suddenly by his side.

"Legolas, no! This is absurd! There is no need - can care for the wounds on my own. I have learned from the best after all." He hoped that referencing his training under Elrond would make the elf see sense.

Legolas groaned in mild annoyance at the human's protests.

"Estel, come on. Do not be so difficult. We should not take the risk."

"Legolas, so few are the occasions upon which we are able to forget our responsibilities and spend time together as friends and brothers, instead of Prince of Mirkwood and… heir to the throne of Gondor." The last words were spoken heavy with resentment. Aragorn turned huge and pleading eyes on the elf. "Surely you would not begrudge me this." He held his breath and waited, unable to hide his satisfaction as, with a huge sigh, Legolas gave in and glared at him.

"Fine. On one condition." The archer folded his arms.

"Ai, here it comes," Aragorn wailed in mock despair. Legolas ignored him and continued unperturbed.

"Before we are to go any further, you will find Athelas, Alfirin, and Carandôl. Also Niphredil - just in case. Should you be successful, you shall allow me to inspect and dress your wounds morning and night. You have one hour."

Aragorn's mouth hung agape for a few dumbfounded moments before the human regained his ability to speak.

"What?" he gasped, "Surely you jest? I cannot possibly -"

"Well then, we shall turn around and leave, for I assure you that I am deadly serious."

Aragorn scowled but then brightened.

"Wait, there should be supplies still in the healing pack!" Legolas sighed again and shot the human a look of clear disapproval.

"Estel, then you have not checked the wounds this morning or you would know that they are all but depleted. Please, you must treat this with more gravity. I will not let you put yourself at even greater risk of infection. Go now, unless you wish to turn back. And when you return, I will check your arm." The elf's tone left no room for argument, and Aragorn knew it.

"Yes, mother." Regardless, he was still not about to go willingly.

"Do not go far," Legolas called after the human, and set about packing their things. All the while he kept a watchful eye on Aragorn as the young man hunted around between the aspens.

The elf had just finished his task and sat down beside the fire to bask in the warm glow when he looked up to check on his friend and found that the human was nowhere to be seen. Anxiously glancing about, Legolas got up and was about to start searching when someone grabbed him from behind. Wrenching himself loose and twirling away as well trained reflexes took control, the elf found himself face to face with Aragorn, who was shaking with laughter.

"Ai, Legolas! I shall lord this over you for many years to come! Seldom is it indeed that I am able to take you by surprise." The human smugly gestured to the healing pack. "Athelas, Alfirin, and Carandôl. Also Niphredil - just in case." He finished the statement with a smirk. "Now, are you ready to leave?"

"Wipe that look from your face and sit down. No-one is going anywhere until your wounds have been seen to."

Presently, the pair were ready to depart. Legolas insisted on giving Aragorn a leg up onto his gelding, and then nimbly swung onto his own mount. A sharp pain shot across him once more and he sighed in annoyance as he settled into the saddle, still not understanding why a bit of bruising would be causing him pain. His thoughts were interrupted by sudden hoofbeats, and Aragorn's gelding galloped past, the human letting out a delighted whoop.

"Catch me if you can, elf!"

"You had better pray that I do not!" Legolas laughed and let his mare go. The little grey may have been slight in stature, but her ground covering stride soon had her tailing the much larger bay. Both elf and human were soon shouting and giggling as they clung to their mounts, each trying to out-manoeuvre the other.

It was around mid-morning when Legolas felt the pain again. He frowned in annoyance and waited for it to pass - only this time it did not, instead settling around his navel in a mild, dull ache. Uncomfortable, but he had certainly had much worse and so the elf decided to pay it no mind.

An hour or so later, Aragorn called a halt, deciding that it was time for lunch. Legolas hopped lightly from the saddle and set off for the nearest cover, which happened to be a small thicket of brambles.

"Legolas?" Aragorn stopped rummaging in his saddle bags and called after the elf, who waved and kept walking.

"Nature calls, Estel. I will be back in a moment."

Positioning himself behind the thicket, Legolas crouched down out of sight and lifted his shirt. The nagging ache had been growing in intensity and he wished to check himself once more in case he had somehow missed an injury from the day before. The elf could not otherwise explain the discomfort, which at this stage was bothering him more than the pain itself.

Upon inspection, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The bruising was no worse than before, and running careful hands over himself, all the elf found was slight muscle stiffness - which was perfectly explainable. Chewing his lip in vexation, he lowered the shirt and returned to Aragorn.

It was growing late in the day and Legolas shaded his eyes from the sun as he scanned the horizon for a suitable campsite. Over the course of the afternoon, the pain had grown steadily worse and had brought with it a feeling of general malaise. He shifted uncomfortably in the saddle, succeeding only in provoking a wave of nausea. Not good. They needed to stop for the night, and soon. Legolas was not sure for how much longer he would be able to compose himself if the sickness worsened, and vomiting in front of Aragorn, should it come to that, would blow his cover in the worst way imaginable. Already he had broken into a light sweat, and he shivered slightly as a cold droplet ran down his neck and into his damp shirt. His gut gave a sharp twinge and he winced but dared not shift position again. He hoped desperately that his face had not lost colour, and was thankful that Aragorn rode in front and thus was not watching him.

Soon, Legolas spotted a copse of willows beside a stream, and called out.

"Estel, I have found us a suitable area to make camp, roughly a mile from here."

"Already? There is still daylight remaining!"

"Aye, we are not in any rush to reach a specific destination, and it would be enjoyable to simply relax in front of a warm fire. Do you not agree?"

"I cannot argue with that." Legolas heard the lighthearted reply and was relieved that he would not have to resort to using the human's injury as reason to stop. Aragorn would have protested it and the elf hadn't the energy for an argument. Now, Iluvatar willing, he just had to hold out long enough to reach the campsite.