Author's Note: This story takes place in the year 2954 of the Third Age of Middle Earth - 12 years after the events of The Hobbit, and 64 years before those of Lord of the Rings. While most fans of Tolkien's legendarium seem to accept that Legolas is around 3000 or so years old (probably close in age to Elladan, Elrohir, and Arwen), canonically his age or birthday was never given. In this story, I have set his birth year as T.A. 2834, which would make Legolas 120 years old at the time of the events that take place - 20 years after his coming of age (Aragorn, having been born in T.A 2931, would be 23 at the time of this story). I needed Legolas to be younger and thus less experienced than what most fans put him at in order for his actions in this story to be believable.
This is, at its core, a tale of trauma and grief, and will be my first M-rated story. Please be warned that this story contains possible triggers for self-harm, panic attacks, and PTSD experiences, as well as graphic depictions of (non-sexual) violence in the first chapter. Take care and don't force yourself to read scenes that may trigger you - I will try to provide warnings at the start of relevant chapters and provide summaries at the end for those who would prefer to skip such scenes. While Aragorn isn't in this chapter, don't worry - this is still an Aragorn and Legolas fic!
Chapter One: Blood on the Snow
Twigs snapped underfoot and the horses' breaths rose into the crisp wintery air in steaming plumes as the small group of elves emerged from the treeline. The leader of the party, a tall, chestnut-haired Silvan, halted his mount and held up a hand to indicate to the others that they should follow suit. He took a moment to glance about their surroundings before swinging easily down from the saddle, his boots crunching over the fine layer of snow that had settled over this part of the Greenwood.
"We will make camp here this night." At his words, a palpable wave of relief rippled through the others; shoulders visibly relaxed while tired smiles were shared. "Traston and Radriel, you will care for the horses. Caladwen, fetch water and get a fire going. Prince Legolas, take Elenath with you and search for game, but do not stray far, and return by dusk. I will keep watch – you all know the signal in the event of trouble. That is all – you are dismissed."
"Yes, commander Radhron." A chorus of assent rang out from the little company, and at once the snowy clearing became a buzz of activity as each elf fell into his or her assigned role. Radhron handed over the reins of his bay mare to a golden-haired elleth, giving her a curt nod before turning towards a large oak tree at the centre of the glade.
"Thank you, Radriel."
"Legolas!" The young Prince of Greenwood looked up at the jovial voice, just in time to catch an empty sack as it sailed towards his face. The raven-haired elf who had thrown it strolled leisurely to meet him, a playful grin lighting his features.
"Really, Nath?" Legolas quirked an eyebrow. "I shall remember this attempt on my life, and you, oh traitorous Silvan, shall pay." Unable to contain his laughter any longer, Legolas chuckled as he rolled up the sack and tucked it into his pack. "Radhron seems to have it in for us this night, I fear. I was so hoping to sit down for a moment or two, but – " The blond checked quickly over his shoulder to ensure that the commander was out of earshot before he continued, his tone a mockery of the older elf's. "Prince Legolas, fetch my supper, for I wish to climb a tree!" At this, both young warriors burst into fits of giggles before Elenath elbowed the prince in the ribs, a look of mock-seriousness on his face.
"Perhaps you should have considered the implications of showing off with your bow this afternoon, then. The real victim of this situation is clearly me." Elenath's lips twitched as he tried to keep from laughing again.
"But of course." Legolas rolled his eyes and gave the other elf a sharp shove that nearly sent him sprawling into a nearby snowdrift. "Come on, lazy Silvan. We have a hungry Radhron – I mean, a hungry platoon to feed!" Still stifling their laughter, Legolas and Elenath turned back to the forest. Both friends at once became sombre as they left the safety of their companions behind, their hands falling automatically to rest on their weapons.
Dusk was falling over the Greenwood as the two hunters returned triumphant. Elenath carried the sack, full to the brim, while Legolas bore a brace of rabbits. Today's patrol may have been gruelling, but at least tonight they would all bed down on full stomachs – that alone lifted the tired hunters' spirits. An elleth with flaming red hair ran forward and began to eagerly inspect their takings, her grey eyes alighting as she peered into the sack.
"Game hens and potatoes! And Prince Legolas has brought rabbits!" Caladwen twirled with delight before taking the proffered items. "I will make us a fine roast indeed – no elf shall go hungry this night." She turned, but not before batting her eyelashes at Elenath, whose eyes settled on the elf-maiden's rear as she skipped away to prepare their meal.
"Anything to report?" Legolas had been about to send his friend into the nearest snowdrift for real this time when the sound of their captain's voice startled both elves into attention.
"Nothing, Commander Radhron." Legolas shook his head.
"Greenwood is quiet," Elenath agreed.
"Good; as it should be." The chestnut commander seemed pleased. He nodded towards Caladwen's retreating figure. "Legolas and Elenath, you two have done well tonight. You may rest and take some time for yourselves whilst Caladwen cooks. Elenath, do not forget to properly clean your blade – the spider blood will corrode the metal otherwise." Radhron clasped Elenath's shoulder and nodded to Legolas before he strode off to the campfire, where he proceeded to help Caladwen prepare the game. Legolas and Elenath had already gutted and cleaned their catches, but the hens would need plucking and the rabbits had to be skinned before they could be spitted over the fire.
The elves made their way to the centre of the clearing, where Traston and Radriel sat under the sparse shelter of the oak. Having finished tending to the horses, the pair were taking advantage of the vestiges of daylight to care for their weapons. Radriel's twin daggers lay in her lap whilst she oiled her bowstring, and Traston's long silver hair was reflected in his sword as the ellon polished its mirrorlike surface. The elves were talking quietly as they worked, but they looked up and greeted the newcomers with smiles.
"Mind if we join you?" Elenath flashed his most charming grin and was rewarded when the seated elves moved up to allow the hunters to sit gratefully beside them. As they shrugged off their packs, Elenath groaned dramatically and made a show of stretching his tired and aching muscles. This drew a smirk from Legolas as he unsheathed one of his white knives, pulling oil and a whetstone from his pack ere he started to work on the weapon.
It had been a long few days: the small reconnaissance party had patrolled the shores of the Enchanted River down to the foothills of the Forest Mountains and had then cut a path back towards the elven stronghold for their return. Game had been scarce, and every day filled with the constant threat of danger lurking beyond the nearest tree. Long days had blurred into even longer nights in the dim light of the forest, and tempers were frayed while bodies and minds had grown tired. Overall though, their patrol had been relatively uneventful: other than a few spiders, Greenwood had been quiet. Legolas suspected that Radhron had known that this would be the case and that this was the reason for the commander's choice of route for his young charges. The older, veteran warriors typically ventured much further South and could easily be gone for weeks at a time, always returning with thrilling stories of battle that enthralled their younger counterparts. Any day now, Legolas knew, the elves in his platoon would be called upon to serve in their ranks – a prospect that filled the prince with excitement. Over the last 120 years, Legolas had grown from an elfling into a strong and capable warrior and tactician, excelling at ranged and close combat alike, and ready to take up his duty to the realm. To protect the Greenwood and her people; to fight back against the darkness that sought to claim the forest. Legolas smiled and hummed lightly to himself as he worked – he was ready.
"Las." The prince's thoughts were interrupted as Elenath nudged him.
"Work my shoulders for me?"
"Fine, if it will make you stop your whining." Legolas laughed and sheathed his blade, rubbing his hands on his leggings to clean them. "Come here. But on one condition – once I have finished, you will do my neck." Legolas brushed away his friend's glossy black hair and laid his hands on Elenath's shoulders, his fingers seeking out and massaging away the tension there. The Silvan sighed in pleasure and closed his eyes as he leaned into the touch, his pain and stiffness melting away under the prince's nimble fingers. Tomorrow, they would be back at the palace – safe, warm, and well-fed. Sleeping in their own quarters, upon soft mattresses. Elenath was certain that he was not the only one craving a hot bath and a full goblet of spiced wine, either. And perhaps, Illuvatar willing, Caladwen would be among that number. Elenath's gaze drifted fondly to the elleth as she stoked the fire, his blue orbs caressing her lithe figure. She seemed to notice the stare of her admirer, for the redhead looked up from her cooking to fix Elenath with the most enchanting smile he had ever seen. Her alluring grey eyes locked with his for a few moments before she resumed her work, though the smile lingered on her features.
"Enough staring, you lovestruck fool." The dreamy look on the young Silvan's face was replaced with mirth as Legolas jokingly swatted the back of his head and moved to sit in front of his friend, pulling his flaxen gold hair over his shoulder to bare the skin of his neck to the other's hands. "My turn now." As he relaxed into Elenath's soothing touch, Legolas took up his bow, inspecting its flawlessly polished surface in the fading light. Radriel started to sing softly, and soon the other three elves had raised their voices in gentle harmony. Their bright song filled the clearing with warmth and comfort, holding at bay all that which prowled unseen in the shadows.
And thus the evening passed in pleasant song and chatter. As the hour grew later, bedrolls were unfurled and the ashes of the fire extinguished. The air was frosty with winter's chill, and even the young elves huddled close together on the ground for warmth and protection from the elements while Radhron left the camp to scout the area before taking first watch. Legolas had volunteered to take second watch and so he wasted no time in wedging himself between Elenath and Caladwen – anything to stop their infernal giggling if it meant he could get some sleep before his watch began. Elenath groused at him and sighed theatrically (which elicited a loud shush from Traston), but it was without malice and both knew it. Soon, an easy silence fell over the camp and Legolas drifted off.
The prince was woken late in the night as a hand descended softly on his shoulder. His eyes met Radhron's as the commander peered down at him, and Legolas knew that it was time. Instantly awake, the young archer slid silently out from under the covers, nodding to his superior. Radhron signed that all was well and then retreated to his own bedroll, leaving Legolas to take over his post. The prince shrugged on his cloak before strapping on his weapons and padding away from the others. Quickly scanning his surroundings, Legolas picked out a tall spruce that grew a short distance from the campsite. Standing out proudly above the canopy of trees, it would provide the perfect vantage point from which to survey the area and keep watch over his sleeping companions. Jogging lightly over the snow, Legolas was soon at the base of the tree. He climbed high into its leafy, evergreen boughs and concealed himself among the foliage to wait out the night. His bow at the ready, Legolas scoured the forest as far as he could see, at first focusing on his immediate surroundings and then sweeping his gaze out over the murky depths of the woods and back again. His senses were on high alert for signs of danger, but like Radhron had reported, the prince found the forest to be quiet. Somewhere nearby, a herd of deer foraged delicately through the undergrowth, and as Legolas watched, a black fox emerged from her den. She stopped to sniff the night air and then trotted briskly off into the darkness in search of dinner. Greenwood was at ease tonight. A faint smile played at the corners of Legolas's lips and his grip on his bow loosened ever so slightly. It would be a long night's watch, but at least it promised to be a calm one.
Presently, it began to snow. Fine, powdery flakes floated lazily from the skies to wrap the landscape in a soft, white blanket. Legolas's heart sang as he marvelled at the beauty of it, but then the snowfall grew heavier and he was forced to leave the verdant shelter of the spruce needles and inch his way out onto a bare branch as the visibility dropped. Initially, the young archer settled for simply brushing the snowflakes from his face, but it was a losing battle to which he eventually surrendered, raising his hood to keep the worst of the snow from his eyes. He had sacrificed a small percentage of his peripheral vision in doing so, but it could hardly be helped. The elf tugged at his hood, arranging it in such a way that it maximised his hearing. With his sight compromised by the snow and the fabric of his hood, Legolas would have to rely more on his other senses now. The elf drew his cloak tighter about his shoulders and peered out through the falling snow. An icy wind was beginning to pick up, and the prince hoped that they would not be in for a storm.
About an hour later, Legolas felt, rather than saw it. Something approached. Through the low howling of the wind, his sensitive ears could just make out the sound of several sets of light footfalls. Quickly, the prince nocked an arrow and waited, concentrating all his senses on the sounds as they grew nearer. He crouched low, making himself as small and inconspicuous as possible on his branch. Soon, a dark shape appeared from the trees, and Legolas breathed a sigh of relief. Rather than multiple beings, the cause of the footfalls – eight of them to be precise – appeared to be a single spider of the usual sort that plagued the Greenwood. Hardly a threat on its own. The elf resisted the urge to fell the creature where it stood, opting instead to simply watch the murderous arachnid. Provided it did not show signs of making for the camp, Legolas did not wish to reveal himself until he knew that the creature was indeed alone. He kept his bow trained on the spider as it crunched its way over the frozen ground, feeling a surge of elation that he seemed at last to have developed the skill to sense the presence of this blight on the forest. All the seasoned warriors could, and Legolas hoped that this was a sign that someday soon he would join their ranks. Just wait until he showed Estel! Legolas grinned at the thought of his young human friend, knowing how the Ranger would sulk at the elf's new advantage over him.
Wiping the mirth from his face, Legolas refocused his attention on the spider. It was gaining on him, and as it approached, the elf's newfound sense grew in intensity. Having no doubt in his mind now that not only was the arachnid the cause of his strange new awareness, but also that it was alone, Legolas released his bowstring with deadly effect. Slain before it had time to comprehend its plight, the spider dropped softly into the snow with a hiss, its hairy legs already curling in death. So great was the young warrior's triumph that it took him a few precious moments to realise that far from his sense of danger having lessened, it had instead grown. Confused and alarmed, Legolas squinted at the body of the arachnid for signs of life before he frantically glanced about at the forest. Had he been mistaken? Were there more? Legolas did not get the time to find out, for pain exploded in his chest as he was flung backwards with such force that he toppled from his branch. His last sight was of a black arrow embedded in his flesh before his back impacted the branches below and his world went black.
The first thing to breach Legolas's awareness was pain. A fierce, screaming agony that radiated from his chest and back, blocking out all else. He let out a quiet gasp and very nearly gave in to unconsciousness once again, but something managed to fight its way through the all-encompassing pain and into the forefront of his mind: Goblins. He had to warn the others. Legolas shot upright, everything else forgotten in his urgency, only to be overwhelmed by the pain as he nearly fell from the branches in which he lay. It was all he could do to cling desperately to the bark as he waited for the world to stop spinning enough to open his eyes. Forcing his leaden lids open, only now did Legolas notice the arrow that protruded from deep within his chest. His heart, already beating wildly within his ribcage, clenched in fear and the elf swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. When he managed to raise a hand to the wound, it came back slick with blood – if he tried to pull the arrow now, he risked bleeding to death. It would have to stay in, he knew – at least for the moment. Resigned to this, Legolas set his jaw and took a deep breath – a mistake. The resulting agony stole the air from his protesting lungs in a wheezing cough, and the archer tasted blood on his tongue. Ai Elbereth. Legolas managed to wrestle back control over his body and risked a shallow, cautious inhale. The pain was manageable this time, and he immediately glanced towards the camp, his mind back on the task at hand. To his frustration though, Legolas found that his view was obscured by a thick shroud of leaves – he had fallen some distance from his previous position and was now somewhere below the canopy, his earlier height advantage lost. He daren't risk calling out, not unless he wished to alert every hostile entity for miles, and try as he might, Legolas could not summon the breath to mimic the falcon cry that would usually serve as the unit's alarm. The elf cursed silently at his predicament. He would need to reach the others on foot and somehow avoid detection in the process. Praying that he would make it in time, Legolas set about disentangling himself from the branches and descending the spruce. He managed to clamber part of the way down ere his body gave out and he fell the rest of the way.
Once he had a firm grip on consciousness, Legolas staggered out of the snowbank and to his feet before he set off for the campsite as fast as his suddenly clumsy legs would take him. He clutched his white knives tightly, knowing that even if he had not lost his bow in the attack, his injury had robbed him of the dexterity he would have required to fire the weapon with any accuracy. The prince kept to the darkest shadows as much as possible, hoping that it might be enough to shield him from searching eyes. Please be in time, please be in time, please be in time. And then Legolas broke through the treeline into the blinding light of a winter dawn, and his world stopped.
That was the first thing he saw. Red, spilling into white. Splashed across treetrunks and dripping slowly from leaves. The drops saturating the snow below, becoming seeping pools of the deepest vermillion. It covered the meagre belongings that lay scattered over the ground, and it all originated from... Legolas's legs almost gave out and he felt the blood drain from his face before he took off into the sunlight in a stumbling run. For the clearing was littered with the bodies of his friends.
He reached Radhron first, falling to his knees in the crimson snow and heedless of the pain that assailed his body. The commander appeared to have been the first to react to the intruders: the warrior had made it almost to the far edge of the clearing. He lay on his back now, a familiar black-fletched arrow buried in his throat. Radhron's chestnut hair was sticky with congealed blood, and sightless green eyes stared hauntingly up at Legolas. The commander's powerful chest was still. Already knowing what he would find and yet needing to be sure, the younger elf extended a hand. It was shaking so badly that he struggled to press his fingertips to Radhron's torn throat – and when he did, no pulse thrummed beneath his fingertips. A sob caught in Legolas's chest and in desperation, he pushed harder. At once, the lacerated flesh gave way, and to Legolas's horror, his fingers plunged knuckle-deep into the bloody ruins of what had once been Radhron's throat. With a small cry of terror, the prince withdrew, falling backwards into the tainted slush. The fire in his chest billowed and flared as he started to cough again. His breathing was coming too fast and too hard, and dizziness threatened to steal his senses as stars danced before his eyes. Only once he tasted blood did he manage to steady his breathing enough for his sight to return. Steeling himself, Legolas closed his commander's eyes and got his feet under him. He needed to check the others. Wobbling to his feet as his breath came in shallow wheezes, the young elf made his way towards the centre of the carnage.
Traston and Radriel lay a short distance apart, each mutilated in ways more horrible than the last. It looked as though someone had taken a scimitar to their faces – if not for their silver and blonde heads, Legolas did not think he would have been able to identify them. Whoever had performed this sadistic act had done so with an intense hatred for their victims, the likes of which lay beyond Legolas's wildest comprehension. The ground around the two elves was covered with blood and flesh, and the archer fought the urge to vomit as he rolled them over, unable to stand the sight any longer.
A soft groan drew Legolas's attention away from Traston and Radriel. His head snapped up, his eyes darting to a bloodied lump that lay close to the middle of the clearing. The sound carried to his ears once more, and Legolas scrambled towards it, daring to hope. He reached Caladwen just as the elleth groaned again.
"Cala?" Legolas's own voice came out so thin and breathless that it startled him as he knelt beside the red-haired swordmaiden. She was lying on her front and there was so much blood that Legolas could not ascertain from whence it came. He reached out to brush away the hair that obscured her face as he repeated her name. "Caladwen, hear my voice." A pair of unfocused grey eyes opened slowly and the elleth tried to turn her head to face Legolas. Her mouth opened and her lips moved to form words, but instead, only blood flowed forth and soaked into the snow. Legolas felt his heart quicken. "Cala, I need to see where you are hurt. I am going to turn you." The swordmaiden's eyes widened in fear as Legolas gathered her into his arms, and it was only when a heap of something warm, red, and soft spilt out into his lap that he realised why. Caladwen thrashed once before she shuddered and went still. The unmistakable smell of blood and viscera hit Legolas and he was violently ill again and again as he tried to free himself from the tangled mess of entrails that seemed to cover him from the waist down. The world closed in around him as he choked, his laboured breath coming in stabbing gasps. Legolas could not get enough air, and his panicked hyperventilating only intensified as the carnage around him began to spin with sickening velocity, the edges starting to fade to black. If he did not get air soon, he would drown in this swirling miasma of terror. Legolas scrabbled blindly at the snow as he panted uselessly for breath. He was growing increasingly dizzy. He needed air. No matter how fast he sucked it in though, no oxygen reached his burning lungs. He needed air but could not breathe. His surroundings lurched, black spots appearing over red and white; becoming a terrible entity of blood and death that sought to consume him. Air. Ai Valar, he needed air. Help. Someone help.
Legolas opened his eyes, drawing a shuddering breath into his aching lungs and finding that he could. He must have passed out. His whole body ached and his head pounded in time to his racing heart, but at least he could breathe. Turning his head, Legolas caught sight of Caladwen's ruptured body lying in the ruby snow beside him. The mass of red that had spilt from her open belly steamed in the frigid winter air and Legolas felt bile climbing up his throat again. He scrambled to his feet with a frightened whimper, seeking to put as much distance between himself and the grisly spectacle as possible. The young warrior was shaking so intensely that he could barely walk, but he had to keep going. He had one more body to find. And once that had been done, Legolas could finally lie down and pass into the Halls of Mandos with the others. The arrow in his chest had pierced his lung, the elf knew, and he supposed that it was only his mission that still kept him alive at this point. And so Legolas braced himself, wiped the blood from his chin, and began to trudge through the snow in search of his oldest friend.
But where was he? Legolas squinted across the site of the attack, not seeing any further bodies. The snow had been sullied with the bloody footprints of elves and goblins alike, such that even Legolas had trouble distinguishing between them. He could feel his body giving in to his wounds more with every passing moment, and part of him hoped that he would simply die before he could find whatever was left of Elenath, thus sparing his heart. But, it was not to be, it seemed. Legolas had stumbled across a single set of footprints that led away from the campsite and into the trees. He forced his wooden legs to follow, and sure enough, there at the base of an aspen, was Elenath. The Silvan had gone down fighting, for next to his friend lay the twisted corpse of a goblin, and the patchy snow here was splattered with both red and black. The raven-haired elf's face was pale and blood had pooled beneath his head. His right arm was unnaturally bent and the Silvan's sword sat a few feet away as though someone, in an effort to disarm the young warrior, had cruelly ground the limb into the dirt until it had snapped. Legolas had found him; his mission was complete. The elf felt all the air leave his lungs as he sank to his knees in defeat, tears overflowing from his eyes and merging with the salty tracks that already streaked the archer's cheeks. And that was when he saw it – the subtle rise and fall of Elenath's chest.
Legolas froze, forgetting all else. Several long moments passed before he could convince his body to move, and then his hand shot out to grasp Elenath's shoulder, squeezing for all he was worth.
"Nath?" No response. Legolas's chest clenched as his newfound hope wavered. Was his traumatised mind finally starting to hallucinate? He placed a hand on the Silvan's neck, finding an erratic but easily detectable flutter of life that made his hope awaken anew. "Nath, wake up!" Despite the archer's urging, Elenath did not stir, though his breathing remained even. Legolas bit down on his bottom lip in agitation, proceeding to start a basic triage. The Silvan's sword arm looked to be badly broken, and the sleeve of his tunic was dyed wine red. Cautiously, Legolas lifted the raven hair to examine the elf's obvious head injury – likely the cause of his friend's unconscious state. The skin across Elenath's temple had been split open and ugly, mottled bruising had begun to blossom over the Silvan's face and neck. This was not an injury made by any goblin weapon, Legolas realised. No, this had to be… He cast his eyes over Elenath's general vicinity, soon finding it: a blood-spattered rock about an arm's length away. Picking it up, Legolas cringed. The sheer amount of blood on the rough surface could mean only one thing – his friend had been bludgeoned repeatedly, likely until he had succumbed to unconsciousness and had been taken for dead. The elf struggled to suppress the panic that rose within him at the implications of this on the Silvan's head injury. If Elenath had any hope of survival, Legolas would need to get his friend help urgently. And that would entail moving him – the last thing that should be done with an injury of this sort, especially one as severe as this. Legolas swallowed hard, trying to quell his shaking and think. He forced himself to his feet, willing his failing body to comply. No longer could he give in to death: not whilst Elenath still drew breath, bent and broken on the forest floor. Legolas would be the Silvan's only chance of salvation, and he owed it to his friend to try until his last breath.
Legolas shut his eyes against the immense death that bathed the clearing in terrible red as he crossed the gory expanse, only cracking them open when he would lose his footing, tripping over things that he could not bring himself to look at. He quickly gathered what supplies he could salvage before he returned to his friend. First, he cut away Elenath's tunic to reveal the mangled arm beneath. The flesh was laid open in several places and dark veinous blood oozed steadily from the wounds. Legolas muttered a curse under his breath, applying pressure to the best of his ability as he dug around for a needle and thread with his free hand. He needed to stop the bleeding, but to his utter dismay, Legolas's hands were shaking too badly for him to stitch. He only stabbed his fingers when he tried, eventually dropping the needle in the leaves where it vanished from sight. Blood continued to well up over the archer's fingers, and so he did the next best thing – he bandaged the arm as tightly as he deemed safe. As he worked, Legolas felt bones shifting gratingly under the pressure until he was dry heaving into the snow, unable to contain his horror. After scrubbing blood and bile from his lips, the prince carefully splinted the arm before wrapping his friend's head in bandages with the utmost care. Elenath made a soft, pained noise as the blond elf turned his battered head, but he did not gain consciousness. Legolas unclasped his own cloak from around his neck and tucked it snugly around the Silvan. The season's chill bit at his skin and soon shivers merged with the prince's shaking. He had one last thing to do before they could leave for home.
Legolas skirted around the clearing this time, unable to bring himself to set foot on that abhorrent red snow or to risk catching another glimpse of the fallen. Reaching the patch of grass where the horses had been left the previous night, Legolas stopped in his tracks and stared aghast at what lay before him. Three of the horses lay lifeless on the ground. Their corpses had been butchered: limbs hacked loose from slender bodies, and great chunks of flesh torn away from exposed bone. Legolas counted his own beloved mare among them. Beyond the bodies, trails of dark claret stood out sharply against white where the goblins had dragged their prizes, eventually vanishing into the gloom of the forest. The other horses were gone, and Legolas noticed that three sets of hoofprints led away from the site and into the woods. He turned numbly to head back to Elenath, his mind overwhelmed and unable to come up with a solution to this new dilemma – just before a rustling sound broke out in the undergrowth. Legolas shrank back against the nearest treetrunk, suddenly becoming aware that he had lost both of his knives. His fists clenched into tight balls at his sides and he held his breath. If the goblins had returned, he would not be able to defend Elenath and the creatures would surely claim another two victims before the day was ended.
A wary snort sounded, and then a large white shape came into the light.
"Cerulean?" It was none other than Elenath's cremello stallion. The horse was uneasy – his flared nostrils catching the overpowering scent of death. As Legolas approached, the animal skittered sideways, but not before the elf had managed to catch hold of the rope that dangled from the stallion's halter. After soothing the spooked horse, Legolas wasted no time in fitting the steed with the first bridle that he found on the ground. The goblins had rifled through the tack, and Legolas could not find Cerulean's saddle amongst the chaos. There was no time to look, and so the elf grasped the reins and led the horse to his master. Carefully, he pulled the unconscious Silvan into his lap, cradling Elenath's head in his arms for support. Legolas's chest gave an agonising stab of pain as the arrow was jostled, and dizziness rose up to claim the archer once more. Through the ringing in his ears, Legolas realised that he would need to trim the shaft in order to travel. Once the pain had subsided enough for him to move, Legolas gently settled Elenath on the ground and used the Silvan's utility knife to saw through the wood until the offending object was almost flush with his skin. Repulsed, the prince flung the pieces away from himself, instantly regretting the sudden movement. Fresh blood was seeping from the wound with renewed intensity, and time was of the essence more than ever before.
Somehow, Legolas was able to get both himself and Elenath mounted once Cerulean knelt for them, and then the forest was flashing by in a blur as the horse took off for the palace. Blood dripped steadily from Legolas's chest and he started to feel faint, but he gritted his teeth and clung fiercely to Elenath, daring his body to just try giving up before he could deliver his friend to the healers.
They had been riding for several hours when Elenath shifted in the prince's grasp as he let loose a pained moan. Legolas startled at the sound and immediately slowed Cerulean to a walk, breathlessly whispering the Silvan's name until a pair of blue eyes opened, at first looking confused and then growing wide and panicked. "Nath! Elenath Thalion!" Legolas pulled him in close, trying to minimise his friend's struggling.
"…Las?" Much to Legolas's relief, Elenath stilled.
"Aye, I am here. You need to stay calm, you have a – "
"Don't feel well." Elenath scrunched his face and then gasped. "Sweet Eru. Las, stop; I – " Before the Silvan could finish what he was going to say, he started to vomit all over both himself and Legolas. The prince held onto his friend grimly throughout the process, doing his best to support Elenath's head while simultaneously trying to calm his own stomach. He had foolishly hoped that his friend's head injury was not as bad as it appeared, but this did not bode well. He wiped up the worst of the mess and then tucked the raven head under his chin, hushing the Silvan's mumbled apologies. Oddly, the other elf had not commented on the arrow shaft that still stuck out of the prince's chest, but Legolas supposed that this was for the best. If his friend found out about the injury, he would insist on stopping to treat the wound – Legolas was in no condition to argue, and the wasted time might just be the death of the Silvan.
Elenath murmured something into Legolas's neck and started to shiver. The prince readjusted the cloak and tightened his hold on his friend, knowing that he needed to try to keep the other elf conscious long enough for him to establish the warrior's condition.
"Nath?" There was a long pause and Legolas was about to repeat himself when Elenath spoke.
"Lasss?" His voice was weak and he was slurring his words.
"Nath, I need you to stay awake, alright? You've a head injury – I do not yet know how bad. Can you talk to me?" Elenath muttered something unintelligible but made no effort to respond otherwise. Legolas felt fear claw unwelcome at his chest, and Cerulean must have picked up on this, for the horse increased his pace unbidden.
Legolas went on for some time, trying to get a coherent response out of the young Silvan, but receiving nothing more than grunts and cries of pain – which only gave fuel to his worry. Legolas was trying to calculate how much further they had still to go when Elenath went rigid in his hold. Wincing, Legolas slowed the horse, sure that the Silvan was going to vomit again. Except, what actually followed was worse – so much worse. The raven-haired elf cried out as he started to shake and convulse, and Legolas nearly dropped him in his haste to dismount. Dizziness and pain engulfed him as his feet hit the ground, and he went down, his friend still clutched to his chest with every ounce of strength that the prince had left. Above all else, he had to keep Elenath's head still. Hold his head. Hold his head. Hold. His. Head. Legolas's breathing had been replaced by excruciating sobs as tears of anguish rolled down his cheeks. Hold his head. He hugged Elenath to his body as the Silvan twitched and writhed; crying brokenly as he begged his friend to live. It was getting harder to breathe now, and the dizziness had not left. Stay awake and hold his head.
Legolas was not sure for how long he sat on the cold ground, holding Elenath as the Silvan seized; powerless to do anything other than to try to protect his friend's head from sustaining further damage. But then the awful spasms stopped, and the breath left Elenath's chest in a quiet sigh as the elf went limp. Legolas felt himself go cold, frozen in fear before he summoned the last of his courage and pressed his fingers to the groove in the Silvan's neck. His own shaking had returned in full force now, and it took him several harrowing moments of limbo before he was able to find a pulse. Legolas's relief soon gave way to fear again when it became apparent that the warrior's pulse was considerably weaker than it had been before. A trickle of blood ran down the side of Elenath's jaw, mirroring the frothy sanguine that Legolas had coughed up as he had wept. They were running out of time. The prince turned a pleading gaze on Cerulean, and a knowing look seemed to pass between elf and beast. Once Legolas and Elenath were on his broad white back once more, the horse immediately tore off at a breakneck gallop, his gait imbued with the speed of the elves.
Legolas lost track of the passage of time as he held his friend protectively and focused his mind on staying awake. He was grateful for Cerulean, as the prince was certain that he would have long ago fallen from the horse's back by now if not for the extreme care with which the stallion carried his riders. Soon though, Legolas felt unconsciousness creeping up on his awareness – he had reached the end of his endurance. He lifted his head for one last look at their surroundings at the same time as Cerulean slowed. The gates of the palace clanged shut at their backs, and at once voices began to call out. Moving shapes surrounded the horse and his burdens, and Legolas felt hands on his exhausted body. They were home. And with that knowledge, the young archer gave in to the rising oblivion. His duty had been done.