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Author's Chapter Notes:
Disclaimers: I don't claim any right to the characters or creations of Tolkien.

Beta: Nieriel Raina

Disclaimers: I don't claim any right to the characters or creations of Tolkien.

Keeping Watch

by Misty

Aragorn swung his sword in an arc, taking the head of the orc in front of him. Panting from fatigue, he turned quickly to check for the next enemy, only to slowly realize that the only ones standing were he, Elrohir, Elladan and Legolas. Not willing to lower his guard just yet, he scanned his gaze over the ground, noting the fallen orcs and looking for signs of movement, studying the woods around them. Only when he was convinced that all of their enemies were dead did he dare to lower his sword to his side and relax his tense battle-ready posture. He turned back to face his brothers and Legolas. "Is everyone well?" Roaming his eyes over the others, he automatically began cataloging possible signs of injury. His eyes narrowed when he noticed Legolas holding a hand to his side, and a growing red stain on his tunic under the hand. "Legolas?" His voice was filled with concern as he quickly crossed over to his friend's side.

"I do not believe it is serious." Legolas tried to deflect Aragorn's worry, but the pallor of his face and the pain evident in his voice belied his statement.

"Why do you not let me be the judge of that, my friend?" Aragorn took Legolas' arm lightly in his and directed him to sit on a nearby log, brushing away the coating of snow first, so that he could examine the wound. Glancing aside at his brothers, he saw Elladan reach out to steady Elrohir as the younger twin swayed where he stood. "Elladan?" Aragorn asked, nodding toward Elrohir, asking for information on his condition.

Elladan nodded to indicate that he had heard the question, but kept his attention focused on his twin. "Elrohir, where are you hurt?" His eyes roamed over his brother, looking for the injury, but there was nothing immediately apparent until he gently turned his brother around, keeping one arm wrapped around his brother's waist for support.

"My back," Elrohir whispered, grasping Elladan's arm to steady himself and keep upright.

"Yes, I see that," Elladan said, his voice grim. A large gash cut across Elrohir's back, from left shoulder to right hip, and his clothing was soaked through with blood. Glancing around for a place clear of the detritus of battle, Elladan helped Elrohir to walk over to where Aragorn was examining Legolas' injury. He lowered his brother gently to sit on the ground, allowing him to lean forward and rest against the same log upon which Legolas sat. "How were you still standing, 'Ro? You lost a lot of blood." He glanced up and looked worriedly at Aragorn for a moment before gently removing the shredded cloak and pulling Elrohir's tunic away from his body to get a better look at the wound. Elladan grimaced when he realized that he could see bone through the gash over several of Elrohir's ribs. The injury was deepest at the shoulder, and grew shallower as it progressed downward. "How is Legolas?" he asked, to distract Elrohir from what he was doing as he used Elrohir's discarded cloak to apply pressure in an attempt to slow the flow of blood.

"Not as well as he would have you believe," Aragorn said, attempting to keep his tone light, but failing miserably as he examined the injury. Once he had pulled aside the clothing, he had seen a nasty puncture wound underneath Legolas' ribs on the right side. "Our friend here apparently managed to get himself stabbed. I cannot see how deeply the weapon went. I would hazard a guess that it missed the heart since he is still alive, and he would have bled to death already if it had severed a major artery, but beyond that, I cannot yet tell. There is a lot of blood here." He looked up into Legolas' pale face. "Are you having any trouble breathing? With the upward angle the blade took, there is the possibility of damage to your lungs."

Shaking his head, Legolas hissed in pain as Aragorn prodded the injury. "I can breathe well enough, as long as you do not do that!" He reached a hand down to swat Aragorn's hands away, but a look from Aragorn stayed the movement.

"Forgive me, but I must determine how badly you are injured." Glancing quickly aside at his brothers, he caught a glimpse of Elrohir's back and winced in concern. An injury of that size would take many stitches, and a good deal more treatment than they could give while in the middle of a battlefield. Reaching up, he took Legolas' hand and pressed it against the injury. "Keep pressure on this. It should help slow the bleeding. We cannot remain here. I will scout for a safe place to take refuge for the evening. You both need to be treated and should be moved no more than necessary."

Elladan nodded agreement. "I will tend to them both. Could you check on the horses and bring me one of our bags before you venture far? We should have some three-seven root that will help stop the bleeding."

As he stood, Aragorn looked around at their surroundings. "I will return shortly with the bags." Picking up his sword from where he had leaned it against the log, he quickly wiped it clean and sheathed it before striding away. It would not do to go anywhere in these dangerous times without a weapon. They had ordered the horses to flee the battle to keep them out of the orcs' reach, but the well-trained elven horses should return swiftly at the correct signal. Aragorn wanted to keep enough distance from the battle scene so that the horses would not be spooked by the scent of the orcs and the blood that had been spilled. Giving two sharp whistles, he waited for the return of the horses. After a moment, he heard movement off to his left, and turned, ever on the alert, to see three horses approaching him, one of which was limping. His brow furrowed in concern at the fact that Legolas' horse was limping and that his own horse was missing.

"What happened, Tinnu?" he asked gently as he approached the horse and examined the leg that the grey stallion was favoring. He didn't see any obvious injuries, but the horse flinched when he ran his hands down the lower leg. That movement combined with the heat and slight swelling along the cannon bone made him think the horse had bowed a tendon in his flight from the orcs, possibly by taking a misstep. After making sure there was no injury that needed immediate attention, he turned back to Elladan and Elrohir's horses. "I hope you two are well." He spoke in a quiet voice to them as he approached, and began riffling through the saddlebags tied to Elladan's stallion, Thalion. "Ah, here is the bag your master wanted." He patted Thalion's flanks and whistled for the horses to follow him. "I don't suppose you could tell me where Baraben has gone? I hope he has not fallen prey to our enemy." As he approached the clearing, he ordered the horses to remain where they were, and he continued on his way to Elladan's side. "Here," he said, offering the bag to his brother. Noticing that Legolas was now sitting on the ground beside Elrohir, resting his head back against the log with his eyes closed, Aragorn looked inquiringly at Elladan.

"The blood loss is taking its toll on them both," Elladan explained. "They are growing weaker and need treatment soon."

Opening his eyes as Elladan spoke, Legolas turned his gaze toward Aragorn. "It is not as serious as that, though I do admit that I will be relieved to find a place to rest for the remainder of the day. I must admit I am quite tired." Seemingly forcing his eyes to stay open, he glanced at the bag that Elladan was now rummaging through. "I see you found the horses. What was their condition?"

"Tinnu was limping. It could be just a mild strain, though I would not rule out a bowed tendon. I fear riding him is out of the question for some time." Aragorn turned his attention to Elladan. "Thalion and Sadron are well, but Baraben is missing."

"Did you see any sign that the orcs took him?" Elladan asked in concern. "I thought the horses would all remain together. If he was taken by orcs, there would likely be some sign."

"I did not take the time to look," Aragorn admitted. "Perhaps after we are settled for the evening and all wounds are tended. I rather fear that he bolted at the smell of orcs, or the sound of battle. He is a spirited horse, and not yet fully trained, as you know."

Elladan shook his head. "I warned you that he should not be ridden until he was fully trained." Sighing, he looked at Aragorn. "We do not have time to worry over your horse right now, you are correct. You must find shelter, and quickly." He placed a pinch of the three-seven root in Elrohir's mouth and coaxed him to swallow it. It was only at that point that Aragorn noticed that Elrohir was barely conscious. Aragorn nodded as Elladan gave the same root to Legolas, knowing that it would help stop the flow of blood from the wounds until they could be better treated. "I will borrow Thalion and return soon." A wave of the hand was Elladan's only response, as he kept his attention focused on the injured elves.

Quickly returning to the horses, Aragorn mounted Thalion and ordered the other two to remain where they were. He wanted them close in case Elladan and the others had need of them. Luckily, it did not take a great deal of searching before Aragorn found a small cave, roomy enough for their purposes, somewhat hidden, and most importantly, uninhabited. There was no sign that any animals or orcs had made it a home or resting place in a long time. He rode quickly back to his brothers and Legolas, and they very carefully helped Elrohir and Legolas onto a horse and then rode double with them, doing everything they could to keep the ride from jostling their injuries.

By the time they rode the short distance to the cave, however, Elrohir was unconscious, and Legolas was barely aware of his surroundings. Aragorn and Elladan quickly got them off the horses and settled into the cave. Elladan gathered the supplies they would need from the saddlebags, turning the horses loose to wander. He told them to stay near the cave and for Tinnu to mind his injured leg. Aragorn retrieved wood for a fire so they could melt the snow and have water to clean the wounds. His only problem was finding dry wood, as snow had covered the ground for the past week. Finally finding some dry twigs and leaves under the overhanging branches of an evergreen, he found enough wood to start a fire and keep it going for a short time. He also gathered wet wood, planning to place it near the fire to dry out for use later.

It took a few minutes to start a fire, gather a pot full of snow, and set it to melt. Then they turned their attention back to the injured elves. Elrohir had been laid on his stomach on a clean cloak from their supplies, and Legolas lay on his back, his face ashen as he drifted in and out of awareness. Legolas was at least aware enough to aid Aragorn in removing his cloak and tunic to reveal the injury. To keep from jostling Elrohir any more than necessary, Elladan simply cut away the ruined clothing. Once the snow melted, they each set about cleaning the injuries and examining them more closely.

Aragorn sighed with relief when he examined Legolas' stab wound. While it was deep and had been bleeding heavily, it seemed the weapon missed any vital organs, though Aragorn had no idea how the elf had gotten so lucky. Aragorn quickly prepared a paste with athelas and pressed it inside the cleaned wound, then wrapped the wound tightly with a bandage to apply pressure and hopefully stop the bleeding completely. Knowing that infection stemming from the dirty blades of the orcs, or poison applied to the weapons was always a concern, Aragorn was more worried about what might have been on the blade than about the actual injury. But all he could do now was watch and wait.

Once Legolas' injury was tended, and Aragorn had administered a tea to help dull the pain, he moved over to help Elladan. The cut to Elrohir's back required a great many stitches, and it would go much faster with two working on it. The entire length of it had to be cleaned thoroughly and rinsed with water infused with athelas to help prevent any infection or poison from taking hold. The cut was much deeper at the shoulder and upper ribs, causing damage to the muscles and tendons, growing shallower as it moved downward so that by the time it tapered off at his hip, it only cut through the skin. However, not only the length of the gash had to be stitched, but the muscles of his shoulder would have to be stitched together separately from the upper layers of the cut, necessitating at least two layers of stitches for the upper portion of his injury. It would be a long, tedious, painful process for Elrohir, and Aragorn found himself grateful that his brother was not awake for it. Reaching for a needle and a strand of the sinew used for stitching wounds, Aragorn only hoped they had enough. It was not often that this many stitches would have to be put into place.

For a long time, there was silence within the cave, only broken by comments and requests for assistance between Elladan and Aragorn. When the last stitch was put into place, Aragorn sat back and wiped a hand across his brow. Though the temperature outside was quite cold, it had warmed up nicely within. The strain of stitching up their brother had taken its toll on both Elladan and Aragorn. After treating the injury, Elladan mixed up a poultice to help dull the pain and fight infection. They applied it to the length of the injury and placed a clean linen over his back. There was silence as they cleaned up the bloodied cloths and needles they had used, placing the supplies back into the appropriate bags. The routine of cleaning up and re-organizing everything calmed them somewhat. By the time they finished, Aragorn felt more himself, and could think about the next task to be done.

"I believe we should find something to eat. They will need it when they wake, and it would not be amiss for us, either. What do we have in the way of supplies?" Aragorn began rummaging through the saddlebags and found some dried fruit, herbs and spices, and the pouches containing the rice and other grains they had brought with them. "If you wish to remain here with them, I can venture out and see if I can find some fresh meat to supplement our meal. Perhaps some rabbit?" Aragorn also wished to see if there were any sign of Baraben. He truly hoped the horse had not been lost. The stallion was spirited, fiery, earning his name, but he would be a good horse once he was fully trained.

When Elladan nodded and picked up the pot to gather more snow to melt, Aragorn grabbed his bow and arrows and headed out into the darkening evening. Before he started the hunt, he took the time to tend to Tinnu's leg. As there was no stream nearby in which to soak the horse's injured leg, in order to bring down the swelling, Aragorn wrapped it first with dry bandages, followed by snow soaked ones. He asked Elladan to remove the bandages in about half an hour if he had not returned by then. Only after being sure that there was no one else to tend did he leave to search for small game. He returned an hour later with two rabbits that he had already prepared, as the night was growing too dark for him to see. While he had been hunting, he had seen signs that a horse had fled in panic off into the woods, but no sign that he had been pursued by orcs. His only hope now was that the horse could find his way back or home to someone who would recognize him, either the elves of Imladris, or a Dúnedain village.

Upon his return to the cave, he found Elladan and Legolas talking quietly. His spirits rose as he saw his friend awake and aware enough to hold a conversation, despite his concern that it appeared Elrohir had not moved since he had left. He presented his catch to Elladan, who smiled at him and placed the meat on a branch and rested it beside the stew of rice and herbs that was bubbling merrily over the fire. "Thank you, Aragorn. That will greatly enhance our meal."

Placing his bow and arrows against the wall of the cave, Aragorn made his way to Legolas' side. "How do you feel now, my friend? You look much better than you did a short while ago." Legolas had put his tunic back on, and was sitting upright against the wall.

"I am feeling much better, thanks to your care," Legolas said with a faint smile. Noticing a bright sheen to Legolas' eyes, Aragorn silently reached over and placed a hand on Legolas' forehead to check for fever. Legolas just raised an eyebrow and stared at his friend in amusement. "Do you not trust my words, or is it your treatments that you do not trust?"

Ignoring his friend's comments, Aragorn frowned as he decided that the elf's skin was warmer than it should be. He would not say anything yet, but he would have to watch for further signs of infection or poisoning. Forcing the concern from his voice, he finally replied to Legolas' question. "You have often hidden injuries from us, my friend. Where your health is concerned, I do not trust a word from your mouth."

Legolas opened his mouth to protest, but Elladan intervened. "Aragorn, do not bait him. He is injured and needs his rest, not to get drawn into an argument with you. Save that for when he is well, please?" Elladan's eyes darted toward Elrohir's still form, and Aragorn realized that he was trying to keep them from waking Elrohir just yet. The rest was good for him, and he would be in a great deal of pain when he finally woke.

"I am sorry, Elladan," Aragorn apologized readily, moving over to join his brother by the fire. He picked up a dry branch and broke it into several pieces before feeding them gently into the flame. "I fear Legolas is developing a fever," he said softly as he knelt by his brother.

Elladan nodded to indicate that he had heard, but did not otherwise respond. "Our meal should be ready shortly." He stirred the stew and checked how thoroughly the rabbit was cooked before removing the meat from the fire, cutting it up and adding it to the stew. Leaving the stew for Aragorn to watch, he stood and crossed to crouch down by Elrohir's side. Placing a hand on his brother's back, he checked for fever or other signs of infection. After Aragorn told him about Legolas possibly developing a fever, he did not want to take a chance with Elrohir's injury.

A low moan emanated from Elrohir, and he stirred sluggishly under Elladan's touch. "El'dan?" His words were slurred by pain, and Elladan winced at the sound.

"I am here, my brother." He kept his voice calm and reassuring.

"Hurts," Elrohir whispered as he forced his eyes open and looked over his shoulder at his brother.

"I know it does. We have prepared a meal, and you need food to regain your strength. You lost a great deal of blood and need to replenish your body. Do you think you could eat if we sit you upright?"

Elrohir blinked for a moment, seeming as if he did not understand the words. "I believe so," he finally got the words out, though it was an effort. He moved a hand to try to push himself up, but Elladan quickly placed a hand on his good shoulder to hold him in place. "Not yet. Please, do not move. It will only cause more pain. Wait until we are able to help you." Elrohir subsided and lay still, waiting for Elladan's further instruction. When he was sure that his brother would not move, Elladan sat back on his heels and looked across Elrohir to Legolas. "How do you fare?"

"Well enough," Legolas responded. "The stew does smell very good. Will you need any help with Elrohir?"

"Aragorn and I will manage," Elladan insisted. "You were also injured, my friend. You are not to do anything to stress the wound." At that point, Aragorn approached and placed a bowl of the stew in Legolas' hands.

"Eat this. You also need to replenish your strength. I do not want you to do anything to strain yourself without our approval. Sit here and eat. That is all you need to do right now." Aragorn raised an eyebrow as he stared at his friend, in an eerie imitation of Elrond.

"Yes, Adar," Legolas said with a smirk as he took the bowl of stew. He watched in concern as Elladan and Aragorn worked to turn Elrohir over and sit him up without straining his back. He was panting by the time they had him upright.

Elladan urged his brother to lean forward against him as Aragorn helped him to eat the stew. He was only able to eat half the bowl before shaking his head. "Enough," he said, pain evident in his voice. "I can eat no more."

Aragorn placed the bowl aside, taking up a cup of tea he had prepared while Elladan was fixing the stew. "Please try to drink this. It will help with the pain."

Grimacing at the expected taste, Elrohir did as asked and drained the cup. The effort to sit up and eat had obviously exhausted him, and as soon as Elladan and Aragorn were able to lay him back down on the cloak, he was fast asleep. Elladan checked his temperature, nodding in satisfaction at Aragorn. "No sign of fever."

"Good," Aragorn said, taking the bowl back to the fire to fill it again before handing it to Elladan. "You should also eat." Seeing the look on Elladan's face, Aragorn held up a finger to halt the words he was sure would come. "I am going to eat as well, do not worry. We all need to keep up our strength if we wish to try to travel tomorrow. Elrohir will not be able to sit a horse in his condition, and we will have to construct a travois. The journey will be a trying one, for all that we are within a day of Imladris." He looked toward the cave entrance. "I only hope that we will be home in time for Yule."

"As do I." Knowing his brother was right, Elladan took a seat on the ground next to Elrohir and began eating his stew. Aragorn fixed a bowl for himself and took a seat next to Legolas. As they ate, Elladan and Aragorn conversed softly, but Legolas contributed little to the conversation. Aragorn looked sharply at Legolas when he heard the clatter of a bowl falling to the ground. Quickly placing his bowl aside, he grabbed Legolas' shoulders as the elf slumped against him. He cursed softly as he felt the heat rolling off of the prince. "Legolas?"

The elf rolled his head back on Aragorn's shoulder to look up at him, and the man winced at the fever-glazed look to his eyes. "Estel? I don't feel so well, after all." Legolas swallowed tightly and closed his eyes in misery. "It seems you were correct not to trust my words." He fell silent and went limp against Aragorn. The ranger moved the soup bowls aside and gently laid Legolas back on the ground, reaching down to loosen the bandages to re-examine the wound. The edges of the injury were red and inflamed, and a dark substance tinged the blood oozing sluggishly from the wound.

"Infection could not have set in so quickly," Elladan said, crouching down beside Aragorn and Legolas. "There must have been poison on the blade."

"It is what I feared, yes." Aragorn glanced at Legolas' face in time to see his eyes roll back in his head. "His fever is rising too quickly, Elladan."

"I agree. If a fever rises too high, too quickly, it can damage the mind." Elladan grabbed an empty bowl, and headed for the entrance of the cave. "Strip him while I get some more snow to melt so that we can attempt to bring his fever down." Disappearing from the cave, Elladan left Aragorn to struggle to get Legolas out of his clothing. The elf prince was nearly unconscious, and unable to assist Aragorn. When he had only succeeded in removing half of the elf's clothing, Elladan returned with a bowl piled high with snow, setting the bowl aside and kneeling beside Aragorn. "Would you like some help?"

"I would appreciate it. Legolas is not being overly cooperative at the moment." Without taking the time to give a verbal response, Elladan joined Aragorn and between the two of them, they were able to divest the elf of his remaining clothing. Upon feeling the warmth radiating from the elf's body, Elladan shook his head and reached for the bowl, taking a handful of the snow and rubbing it across Legolas' bare chest.

"Elladan! We do not wish to worsen his condition," Aragorn protested as his elder brother began to wash Legolas down with the snow. "Should you not at least melt the snow and warm the water?"

"He is an elf, not human, remember that," Elladan chided him. "The cold will not adversely affect him. We could take him outside now and toss him naked into a snow bank, and it would not hurt him so long as we did not leave him there too long." His face darkened. "If we cannot bring his fever down quickly, it may yet come to that."

Though the situation was quite serious, Aragorn could not help but see humor in the image conjured by Elladan's words. "I do not think that Legolas would be overly appreciative of such a treatment."

Sparing a second to give his brother a small smirk, Elladan quickly turned back to Legolas. "Then let us hope for his sake, and our own, should he ever find out, that it does not come to that after all." Quickly emptying the bowl over Legolas' prone form, Elladan handed Aragorn the empty bowl. "Fetch more snow, please. I believe this will work, but we do not have enough."

Taking the bowl, Aragorn quickly exited the cave to fill the bowl with more snow. When he returned, he knelt beside Elladan and began rubbing snow over Legolas' body. "I will do this, Elladan. Your skills would be better put to finding an antidote to the poison. I used athelas on the wound, but the poison did not seem to be affected by it."

"Very well," Elladan said, standing. "But you are more likely to be affected by the cold. If you need a respite to warm your hands, inform me, and we can trade tasks." Receiving a nod from Aragorn, Elladan scooped another bowl of snow and set it near the fire to warm while he rifled through their medical supplies to find what he needed. They always carried certain herbs that would allow them to make an antidote for the most common poison used by the orcs. If the poison were more exotic, however, it would be a good deal more difficult to find the correct antidote. The standard antidote would not harm Legolas, at any rate, and was a good place to start.

There was silence for a time then as they worked. Aragorn took a clean cloth and dipped it in the melting snow, brushing it over Legolas' face. A groan escaped the elf's lips, and Aragorn halted his movements. "Legolas?" The cold had apparently roused him from his fevered stupor, because he opened his eyes and gazed groggily up at the man kneeling next to him.

"Aragorn?" Legolas blinked a few times to clear his vision. His eyes roamed the cave, and he seemed to be trying to determine where he was. "Are we in a cave?"

"Yes, my friend. We took refuge here after the skirmish to tend to you and Elrohir. Do you remember that?" Aragorn was concerned over the confused look on Legolas' face. It could be due to the fever, the poison, or a sign of damage to his mind.

"Skirmish?" Legolas sounded quite groggy, his words slow. "Wait, yes, the orcs…" He glanced down at his body, checking for the wound, and only then took notice of the fact that he had no clothing. "Where are my clothes?" He did not sound angry over the missing articles, only confused. "I should be wearing clothes, should I not?"

"You have a high fever," Aragorn explained carefully. "We must bring it down quickly, and we removed your clothes to better treat you."

"Oh." Legolas seemed to think about that for a moment before nodding slowly. "That explains it. Thank you." Not noticing the amused smirk on Aragorn's face, Legolas let his eyes roam the interior of the cave again, coming to rest on Elrohir. "How is 'Ro? He does not look well."

"He sleeps," Aragorn reassured Legolas. "His injuries are painful, but not life-threatening. There is no sign of poisoning in his wound."

"That is well, then," Legolas responded, letting his eyes close again as sleep beckoned to him.

Placing a hand on Legolas' face to get his attention, Aragorn glanced aside as Elladan knelt down next to him with a cup of tea. "You cannot sleep just yet, Legolas. Elladan has prepared a tea with an antidote. I need to sit you up for a moment." Aragorn and Elladan helped Legolas to a sitting position, helped him drink the tea, and then laid him back down again. Barely a minute later, he was fast asleep, the poison and fever taking its toll on him.

Reaching for the bowl of water and the cloth that Aragorn had been using, Elladan shook his head as Aragorn opened his mouth to protest. "Aragorn, your hands are shaking from the cold. Take a moment to warm them over the fire, and then you can return to tend to his wound while I work to bring down the fever. We will have to thoroughly clean the injury again, and you may use warmer water for such a task."

Aragorn shook his head in exasperation at his brother's overprotective nature, but had to admit that it sounded like a good idea. He had lost the feeling in his fingers some time ago, though it was only a small discomfort that he would not have allowed to interfere with the treatment of his friend. Giving in gracefully, he first scooped a bowl of snow from outside and set it by the fire to melt, taking a seat nearby, holding his hands over the warming flames. Once the feeling had returned to his fingertips, he gathered his healing supplies and returned to Legolas' side. He was quite grateful that his friend would not be awake for this, as it would be a painful process for the elf when Aragorn cleaned out the wound.

Though the elf did not wake up while Aragorn treated him, he did moan and attempt to pull away from Aragorn's hands. Elladan had to help hold him still while Aragorn worked. Knowing that Legolas likely could not hear him, Aragorn found himself apologizing anyway. He did not enjoy causing pain to those under his care, though he knew it was often necessary to properly treat them.

Once he had finished, he packed the wound with a mix of athelas and other herbs designed to fight the poison. He and Elladan took turns bathing the elf with a mix of water and half-melted snow to control the fever. The fever did not rise any higher, but it did not subside, either, making it necessary to continue the bathing treatment. An hour or so after he drifted off to sleep, Legolas roused again, though he was less than coherent.

"Ada?" Legolas glanced around the cave, his eyes unfocused.

Placing a hand on the elf prince's brow, Aragorn spoke gently. "Your adar is not here Legolas. We are journeying to Imladris. Do you remember?"

"Imladris?" Legolas questioned, his brow furrowing in confusion. "I know Imladris; deep valley, pretty waterfalls, trees at peace."

"That is correct," Elladan said soothingly. "You have spent much time there, and we are nearly there. My father will be able to help you once we arrive."

"Why do I need help?" Legolas asked in confusion, looking around and realizing anew that he was naked. "Where are my clothes?" He looked over at Aragorn, seeming to recognize him now. "Is this in revenge for me hiding your clothes when we went swimming? I always wondered when you would retaliate for that."

Aragorn's eyebrows rose in surprise. "I thought Elladan and Elrohir did that!" He glanced over at Elladan in chagrin. "Forgive me, Elladan. I did not believe you when you denied your involvement."

"I did tell you I had nothing to do with it," Elladan said mildly, his lips quirking upward at Legolas' inadvertent confession.

Turning his attention back to Legolas, Aragorn pushed the irrelevant thought of the swimming pond incident aside and sought to reassure the elf. "This has nothing to do with retaliation, Legolas. You were injured in a battle with the orcs and you have a fever. We're doing what we can to bring that fever down and help you get better." Aragorn remained patient as he explained what had happened for the second time that evening.

"Oh," Legolas said. He was quiet for a long time, gazing around the cave, his eyes going unfocused once again. His gaze fell on Elladan. "Lord Elrond? What are you doing here? Where are we?"

Elladan sighed softly and answered Legolas' questions. While Elladan was speaking with Legolas, Aragorn fixed another cup of tea to fight the poison, and they coaxed Legolas to drink it. They patiently answered his questions for the next hour, whether or not they made much sense. In order to control the fever, they made sure that at least one of them continued to bathe him at all times. Quite often, it was necessary to either coax him to remain still or simply hold him down as he did not appreciate their actions.

Just when Aragorn thought Legolas had drifted back to sleep, he began singing.

'Sing all ye joyful, now sing all together!

The wind's in the tree-top, the wind's in the heather,

The stars are in blossom, the moon is in flower,

And bright are the windows of night in her tower.' *

Once through the first verse, Legolas stopped and glanced around at the others. "Why are you not singing?"

Aragorn and Elladan exchanged odd glances. "Should we be singing?" Aragorn asked cautiously as he stilled his hand.

"Of course," Legolas responded in surprise. "It's not as much fun when no one joins in." The expression in his eyes flickered, and Legolas spoke in a rare moment of lucidity. "It will help to lift my spirit, to keep the darkness in my mind at bay. Please, Aragorn. Do this for me?"

Aragorn's mien softened. "Of course, my friend. If you wish us to sing, we will sing." The relief in the elf's face made Aragorn glad he had agreed. It was such a simple thing, and if it would help, he would be glad to oblige.

This time, when Legolas started singing, Elladan and Aragorn joined in, keeping their voices soft so they did not carry to any potential enemies. Elrohir woke at one point, but though he did not raise his voice in song due to the pain, a smile crossed his face as he listened. As one song ended, another would be introduced, covering the range from seasonal songs, such as the spring song that Legolas had started to a wide variety of Yule songs, to the more traditional lays that told of historical events and figures.

A sense of comfort and well-being filled the cave with the songs, and Aragorn smiled as he thought that the songs were as beneficial to the injured as the teas and poultices they administered throughout the night. Even after both Elrohir and Legolas fell asleep again, Aragorn and Elladan continued singing softly as they tended to their injured brothers.

Toward dawn, the sound of another voice joining their song brought Elladan and Aragorn to their feet and racing to the entrance of the cave, never ceasing their song. They were amazed to see Glorfindel, their father, and Erestor leading the way, with five of Glorfindel's warriors trailing closely behind, ever alert for danger. An unmanned horse was being led as well, and Aragorn raised his eyebrows as he recognized his steed, Baraben. Elrond and Erestor were not dressed in the elaborate robes that the inhabitants of Imladris were used to seeing them in, but rather the breeches and tunics in brown and black that were the usual garb of a warrior on patrol. They wore their swords strapped to their belts, and bows slung over their shoulders, as did the other members of their party.

"Ada!" Elladan and Aragorn exclaimed simultaneously after an initial moment of shock, moving out of the cave to meet the others as they dismounted. "What are you doing here? How did you find us? Where did you find Baraben?" The words tumbled out of Aragorn's mouth as he moved to his father's side.

"A vision showed me you needed help," Elrond said, carefully looking over his eldest and youngest sons, looking for signs of injury. "The rest of the tale can wait. Where are Legolas and Elrohir?"

Elladan gestured toward the interior of the cave. "They are inside. Elrohir received a nasty gash from the enemy, but is in no immediate danger from the injury. Legolas, however, was stabbed with a poisoned blade. We have been fighting the fever and poison the entire night."

Hearing the report, Elrond grabbed his bag of supplies and called one of the warriors over to him. "Take a small patrol and return to the site of the battle. Retrieve as many weapons as you find. We need a sample of the poison to be sure we are treating it appropriately. There are any number of poisons that the orcs are known to use."

The warrior nodded to him, then obtained directions to the battle site from Aragorn and led three of the other warriors off to retrieve the objects. Aragorn followed his father and Elladan back into the cave. Glorfindel, Erestor and the remaining warrior stood guard at the entrance.

Elrond checked on Elrohir first, needing to see for himself that his son would be well. He hid the wince that wanted to cross his face at seeing the extent of the cut on his son's back. After a quick check of the injury, he was reassured that the gash was clean and stitched well. It would not be easy to get Elrohir home without causing him more pain, and he had a long convalescence ahead of him, but he would eventually make a complete recovery.

"Ada?" Elrohir asked as his father replaced the bandages across his back. He tried to turn his head to see if his eyes were deceiving him, but Elrond placed a hand on his uninjured shoulder.

"Be still, Elrohir. Yes, I am here. We will have you home soon, and you will be able to recuperate in more comfortable surroundings." Elrond's voice was warm and reassuring, and he reached down to stroke his son's cheek. "Rest now, and do nothing to strain yourself."

"Yes, Adar," Elrohir replied, closing his eyes and breathing out in relief. Now that his father was here, he knew everything would be well.

Turning his attention to Legolas, Elrond laid a hand upon his brow and frowned. "Has his fever been this high all night long?"

Laying a hand upon Legolas' throat, Elladan shook his head. "This is lower than it was earlier. We have managed to reduce it by bathing him with snow and water throughout the night. He has also been given several teas to reduce the fever and fight the poison."

Elrond reached into his bag and pulled out fresh athelas leaves, broom snakeweed, and golden seal. "This should help until we have a better idea of what poison was used." Elrond directed his sons to continue bathing Legolas while he brewed a tea to aid the unconscious elf. The three worked together and managed to wake Legolas long enough to get him to drink the tea.

"Lord Elrond?" Legolas asked upon seeing the elf lord bending over him. "Are we back in Imladris already? I do not remember the journey." He glanced around the cave in confusion before looking back at Elrond. "Where are we?"

Obtaining Legolas' attention, Elladan explained that they were still in the cave, but that Elrond, Glorfindel and several others had come to take them home. Legolas just nodded, accepting the explanation in a more docile manner than would be expected. Aragorn took that easy acceptance as another sign that Legolas was not doing well.

Once he drank the tea, Legolas fell back into an uneasy sleep. Aragorn stared at his father with amazement. "How did you come to be here? I have seldom known you to travel beyond the confines of the valley."

Sitting back against the wall near Legolas, Elrond gazed at his sons. "As I said, a vision came to me last night. In it, I saw that my help would be needed."

"Why did you not just send Glorfindel and the others?" Elladan asked, his curiosity roused as well.

"A messenger came to me in this vision," Elrond explained slowly. "It was made clear to me that I must be included in the search party. Neither Glorfindel nor Erestor would let me leave the valley without them, so they accompanied me as well."

"But how were you able to find us?" Elladan asked.

"You can thank your grandfather for that," Glorfindel remarked, entering the cave with an armful of weapons from the orcs. "The patrol has returned with the requested weapons, my lord." He laid the weapons down near the fire, and Elrond quickly made his way over to the pile, sorting through them to see if he could match the weapon to the injury on Legolas' side.

"Celeborn?" Elladan asked doubtfully. "We are nowhere near his realm. Did he and grandmother travel to Imladris for Yule without telling us?" He joined his father in sorting through the weapons as he asked his question.

"Not that grandfather," Glorfindel answered, standing back out of the way and watching the healers work. "It was Eärendil who guided us to you."

Elladan and Aragorn both grew still and gazed up at the golden warrior. "Eärendil?" Aragorn questioned. "I admit I often search for him and take comfort in his presence, but how did he guide you to us? His path across the sky is quite predictable, is it not?"

"Not tonight," Elrond answered, picking up the tale. "Tonight, Eärendil shone with a clear bright light, brighter than usual, and his path was not what would be expected. He led us ever westward, always remaining just before us, then stopped above this very cave. It was my father who led us here."

"Then I am very grateful to him," Aragorn said softly, watching Elrond in wonder at the tale. "And Baraben?" he asked, still wondering how his horse had come to be in the company of his father and the rescue party.

"We found him on the path here," Glorfindel replied. "He appeared to be returning home, but the sight of him, wandering alone, confirmed our fears that something had happened to you. We gathered his reins and brought him along with us." He gave Aragorn a stern look. "You need to spend more time training him upon our return to Imladris. Had he been better trained, he would not have left you stranded here."

"Yes, Glorfindel." Aragorn felt like a child again, being chastised for not paying attention to his lessons. Shaking the thought from his head, he studied a short knife he had just picked up from the pile. "I believe this weapon matches Legolas' wound." He looked up at his father. "Did you bring the supplies necessary to determine the nature of the poison upon it? I fear they were not part of our standard supplies. So even if we had found this weapon, it would not have enabled us to determine the appropriate treatment."

"Yes, I did bring them. The vision told me that they would be needed." Elrond reached for the knife and scraped a sample of the substance on the blade into a small vial. Handing it to Elladan, Elrond reached into his bag and drew out the various herbs and substances that would help them discover which poison had been used.

Aragorn glanced between Legolas and the testing supplies spread out near the fire. Seeing the indecision on the man's face, Glorfindel stepped forward. "Would you like me to tend to Legolas while you aid your father and brother?"

A smile and a nod were his answer and reward. "Thank you, Glorfindel. I would greatly appreciate it. I will gladly trust his care to your hands." Placing his hand on Glorfindel's shoulder, he gave a grateful squeeze before turning back to his father.

Glorfindel smiled at the young man, feeling that he had been given a great gift in his trust, then picked up the bowl and cloth and began tending to Legolas. They worked in silence for awhile, until Legolas' restless movements prompted Glorfindel to begin singing softly in an attempt to bring him comfort. Aragorn glanced up, smiled, and then joined in. Elladan and Elrond added their voices, and the combined chorus filled the cave with a sense of peace that sank into Legolas' mind. His movements stilled and his body relaxed, lulled by the song.

For the next hour, Elrond and his sons worked with the poison. Finally, Elrond looked up with a smile on his face. "I have found it. And we are in luck. Between the supplies I brought, and those you had on hand, we have what we need for the antidote." Aragorn bowed his head in relief for a moment before aiding his father and brother to mix the necessary ingredients for the antidote. They woke Legolas to administer the correct tea, and then sat back to wait. Once his fever began to recede, they draped a heavy cloak over Legolas to help him remain warm.

Elladan went outside to confer with Erestor to find that the councilor had directed several of the guards in building a travois to carry Elrohir home. They were now working on a second one in case it would be needed for Legolas. Elladan placed a hand on Erestor's shoulder to get his attention. "Thank you for this," he said, gesturing to the on-going construction. "Aragorn and I did not have time during the night to begin such a project. Elrohir will not be able to ride home, so this will be greatly needed. Thank you."

"I wish to help in any way I am able," Erestor answered earnestly. "How are Elrohir and Legolas doing? I briefly glanced in, but they were both asleep."

Giving the elder elf a reassuring smile, Elladan informed him of the other's conditions. "Elrohir is in pain, and will likely be for some time as he heals, but he will be much better once we get him home. We have been worried for Legolas, but Adar has determined the correct antidote, and he should be recovering soon." Elladan glanced upward into the morning sky and was surprised to note that Eärendil was still clearly visible, directly above the cave.

Following his gaze, Erestor placed a hand on the younger elf's shoulder. "Your grandfather is still watching over you, it would seem."

"So it would seem," Elladan said, gazing up with wonder at the sight of the mariner's ship in broad daylight. "Thank you," he said, still gazing upwards, placing his hand over his heart.

Turning to face Erestor, he bowed his head slightly. "Would you care to join us inside by the fire? You can wait with us for Legolas to wake. Adar will not want to leave before making sure that the antidote is working and his condition is better than it has been."

"I will join you shortly," Erestor answered, gesturing toward the second travois being built. "I wish to see the construction finished first."

With a small smile, Elladan patted the advisor's shoulder and returned to the cave. It was another two hours before Legolas awoke again, and Elrond nodded in satisfaction as he felt the injured elf's brow.

"It seems your fever has finally broken. How are you feeling now, Legolas?" Elrond watched his eyes as the younger elf spoke, looking for any sign of the delirium that had affected him intermittently throughout the night.

"I am feeling much better, though I am still tired." Legolas admitted the last reluctantly, but knew he could not hide the truth.

"That is certainly understandable," Elrond responded. "Your body has been fighting a persistent poison all night, and while I do not believe you are in further danger, you will need your rest to make a full recovery. We have prepared a meal for you, and once you have eaten, we will be ready to begin our journey."

Legolas allowed Aragorn to help him into a sitting position, glancing around while Glorfindel prepared a plate of food. Elrohir was now awake and sitting upright, his left arm in a sling, and Legolas remembered that Elrohir had not been able to move the arm since he was injured. The younger twin was leaning against his brother, who was helping him to eat his meal. Gratefully taking the plate from Glorfindel and digging into his own food with great relish, Legolas remembered that his horse had been limping earlier. "I fear I will have to ride with someone else for the journey home. I would not have Tinnu bear the weight of a rider until he is healed from his own injury."

"Oh, but you will not have to ride," Aragorn spoke up, his voice innocent. "Erestor has directed that a second travois be prepared so that you may rest on the way home."

Legolas nearly dropped the piece of bread he was eating. "I do not need a travois. I am perfectly capable of riding." His voice was indignant at the thought that he would need such assistance for a simple stab wound.

Aragorn rolled his eyes briefly in Elrohir's direction. "I would not argue with your healer, Legolas, unless you would like to make the journey back to Imladris in the nude?"

Narrowing his eyes, Legolas glared at Aragorn, his food forgotten. "You would not dare."

"Would you care to put that to a test?" Aragorn stared back, arms crossed over his chest and a stubborn look on his face.

Legolas glanced down, tugging the cloak tighter around his body, then glanced over at Elrohir and Elladan who were watching them in amusement. He had a feeling the twins would help Aragorn carry out his threat. As he realized that Elrohir would have to be transported on a travois, he slowly let out a breath. It would not harm the other elf's pride so badly if he were not the only one being transported in such a way. Deciding to give in for Elrohir's sake, but making sure to express his displeasure, Legolas folded his arms across his chest. "I believe you would take far too much pleasure in such a thing, revenge for past offenses, perhaps." The smirk that crossed Aragorn's face brought an answering frown to Legolas'. "Very well," his voice was surly, showing his reluctance to agree. "I will do as you say. You are the healer, after all."

Before Aragorn could respond, Elrond spoke up. "I know you do not wish to travel in this way, Legolas, but it will be an easier journey for you if you do not have the strain of trying to sit upright. This way, you will be able to rest as we travel."

Inclining his head toward Elrond, Legolas answered in a soft voice. "As you say, my lord." His tone of voice made it clear he did not agree, but that he would not argue the issue any longer.

After obtaining Legolas' agreement, Elrond turned to Aragorn. "Have I not taught you better than to torment your patients?" Elrond crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow at his youngest son.

With a look of chagrin, Aragorn lowered his head. "Sorry, Adar. I did not mean to dishonor your teachings."

A smile crossed Elrond's face and he reached over to place a hand on his son's head. "I know that you did not. It is well, my son."

Glancing up, Aragorn saw the teasing look on his father's face and knew that he had not meant his comments as anything other than something to lighten the mood. He nodded to indicate that he understood.

Once all had eaten, Elladan and Elrond carefully escorted Elrohir outside while Glorfindel put out the fire and removed the traces of their presence, and Aragorn helped Legolas dress, checking over his wound once more. Pulling Legolas gently to his feet, Aragorn offered to assist him to the rest of their party.

"I am perfectly capable of walking such a short distance," Legolas said in indignation. He attempted one step on his own, to find his legs buckling underneath him. Aragorn quickly stepped in and caught the elf's arm. A flush crossed his face as he grabbed on to Aragorn to steady himself. "Perhaps your father was correct," he muttered. "I find I do not have the strength to walk, much less ride."

Aragorn draped Legolas' arm over his shoulders. "Let me help you, my friend. There is no shame in it." Legolas nodded reluctantly then leaned upon Aragorn's shoulder as they made their way outside. Though Legolas was less than satisfied with the arrangements, Aragorn helped him get settled in the travois, and covered with furs and blankets that were secured to the framework. "Are you comfortable?" Aragorn asked earnestly, fussing with getting the blankets just right.

Legolas clearly wanted to retort something less than polite to Aragorn's query, but after a glance over at Elrohir showed the younger twin lying on his side, pain written across his face, he swallowed his retort. "Comfortable enough," he replied.

Kneeling by Elrohir's side, Elrond offered him a drink from a water bottle. "Here, my son. This will make the journey less painful for you." Elrohir obediently took a drink and then laid his head back upon the blankets as his eyes drifted closed. Stroking the hair back from the younger twin's face, Elrond waited until he was sure his son was asleep before standing. "Come, it is time we returned home."

They all mounted and turned down the path for the return journey. To the relief of all, the trip was uneventful, with no enemies making themselves known. Throughout the trip, Eärendil remained high in the sky, shining down on them all. It was just after dark that they arrived safely back in Imladris, and the injured elves were quickly taken to the hall of healing where their wounds were examined once again and they were put to bed. Elrond would not allow Elladan and Aragorn to remain overnight, but sent them back to their own rooms to clean up and seek their own rest.

The following night, all in Imladris gathered in the Hall of Fire for the Yule celebration, with logs burning merrily in the fireplace, candlelight filling the halls, along with the joyful sounds of laughter and song. Elrohir and Legolas were allowed to join in the celebration, as long as they remained in the comfortable chairs in which they had been settled. Elrond watched all three of his sons and Legolas laugh together and tease each other about their latest misadventure, and gave thanks that they were all here, safe and whole.

-o-o-o-

Chapter End Notes:

* 'All Ye Joyful' is a poem by JRR Tolkien which seemed to fit the story very well, so I borrowed it, though I have no claim to it.

- Three-seven root is another name for notoginseng, a hemostatic herb that helps to stop bleeding and replenish the body's blood supply.

- Broom snakeweed is used to rid the body of toxins, fight inflammation, infection, and lung conditions as well as to fight fever.

- Golden Seal is used to cleanse the system of infections.

Names of the horses

Tinnu - Twilight, dusky grey

Thalion - Dauntless

Sadron - Faithful one

Baraben - Fiery one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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