The orc was taller, yellow teeth gnashing, wiry muscles straining and sweating. Faramir struggled against it, but was steady and capable, and could win the advantage.
“I have it covered, keep searching!” Faramir called, and his usually soft timbre was a rusty bark in the tense air.
Like the holding cells below, this large room had wooden doors set into the rough hewn stone. Jagged planks of wood made up tables and benches in the common area, and the rusty, nasty implements scattered about gave the impression of some sort of grotesque workshop.
Gimli kicked down the closest door only to find -- an armory, of sorts. If it could be called that. Stolen knives and swords of every make or model were scattered all about, and pikes from foreign lands leaned against the wall like sticks of tinder. Weapons -- weapons stolen off of victims and fallen enemies, appropriated for dark purposes.
Gimli turned to leave, honing in on the sounds of Faramir messily dispatching the orc behind him, when a shimmer of something caught his eye.
Leaning against a shelf of dented helms, tucked behind a rusted broadsword and gleaming in pristine condition, was the Bow of the Galadhrim.
It was unmistakable, not just in its elvish make, but in the massive curve of its delicate arms, and light, almost silver colored wood, down to the winding leaf motif delicately etched into the well-used grip. Gimli had seen this bow a million times, though he’d know it if he were blind.
Without thinking, he crashed into the room, scattering gauntlets and various worthless pieces of plate out of his way, and rescued it. Were he not wild with fury and anxiety he might have fancied it sung to be in his hands.
When he turned back to the main chamber he had never been more sure of anything in his life: Legolas was behind the next door. Gimli tossed the bow to Faramir, who caught it deftly without question, hefted his axe and drove it into the wood with such strength that the half-rotted wood exploded into hundreds of scattering splinters.
But even as Gimli kicked the rest of the wood out of his way, the figure inside did not flinch.
He swept into the room, heart in his throat and belly an endless churn of pitch. He vaguely understood that Faramir was standing watch over the greater room, but the sight before the Gimli muted all sensation, all sound, his own panting breath, everything was replaced by a disorienting buzzing between his ears.
Someone had shorn his beautiful hair - lopped it off in careless, uneven strokes. It was muddy in places, and caked with dry, rusty blood where it stuck to his cheeks.
Angry scarlet welts circled the wrists, peeking out from under the manacles that kept him chained too-low to the wall, forcing him into a painful-looking hunch. He leaned heavily against the stone, curled in over himself, naked, one leg tucked up and the other bent outwards at a splayed angle. Gimli could see a place in that same thigh where a black arrow had found its mark, and the shaft had been snapped. Whether purposefully, or in the chaos of being captured and dragged off, Gimli could not tell. Bloody lashes licked across what Gimli could see of his narrow chest, skin so mangled in some places it was a blind, wet mess of red. A terrible, ill-sounding rattle rasped up out of his lungs as he breathed.
Gimli was mute in his grief, but Legolas did not notice, did not seem to register at all that another body had entered the cell.
He did not look up even when Gimli fell to his knees in front of him, gently lifted his beautiful face between big, rough hands.
Only then, when he tipped the chin up with the care of a glasssmith (?**) did his love’s dark eyes squint up at him, out of focus in unrecognition, as if seeing something beyond this world. It was like a light had gone out within him. Gimli quaked at the thought of what could possibly steal such a light from Legolas; sweet Legolas, everyone called him, for his presence was the call of a mourning dove on a summer’s evening, an amber-colored glow of the soul that gifted Gimli strength and comfort in endless amounts. Oh, that he could somehow offer Legolas some of that comfort in the wake of such a heinous deed.
With trembling hands he smoothed Legolas’ sweat-soaked brow, pushing what was left of his hair out of his face, and the action disrupted a little of the grime that clung to his temple. His skin was tacky with sweat and dirt, and something black and tar-like clung to the corners of his chapped mouth.
Though his mind seemed somewhere else, Legolas leaned into Gimli’s touch like a trusting animal, let his head loll, his lips part wetly, his lashes flutter closed.
One of his ears had been nicked-- likely the work of whatever honorless ghoul chopped his golden locks in such a disgusting act of humiliation. Of all of Legolas’ wide catalogue of injuries, that single notch in his perfect, pointed ear was what snapped Gimli back to reality. The roaring tidal wave inside the head of a dwarf possessed faded away, and he returned to the dank cell in the Ephel Dúath with new adrenaline at the sound of Faramir crashing into combat once more outside the cell.
He wasted no more time. Gimli hauled to his feet, again taking up his weapon. The iron that made the manacles was incompetently forged, soft and easily hacked off of the peg in the wall with the slightest force. He would have to find a more dexterous way to remove them fully later, but for then, at least, Legolas had his hands free.
Faramir grunted outside, and there was an answering snarl. Gimli could see the man over the shoulder of the orc that had gracelessly blundered into the cell and advanced on Gimli. He hardly had time to adjust his hands on the shaft as it growled and spat, laying into a savage assault with a nasty-looking sword which was covered in rust. Gimli was at a disadvantage immediately. Hyper aware as he was of Legolas on the ground, it limited his movements to ensure his own bulk stayed between the two.
It was a stalemate. They stood poised but did not circle, and every rope of muscle within Gimli pulled taught. The orc grinned over the rusted point of its own short sword.
“I see. Your elfling did not quite enjoy our hospitality, I think,” it sneered. Gimli snarled and sprung forward, the shriek of metal piercing his ears.
Gimli was hot with fury. He spat.
“What you have done to him, I will do to you a thousand times.”
And he stomped at the creature again in a tremendous whirl of movement.
Though the rage inside his heart gave him the drive, Gimli did not manage to land a blow until the third wheel around the dripping cell that squeezed them too-close. The orc squealed and blood dripped onto the wet floor from a wound in its bicep; only superficial. Gimli moved again and again in a protective half moon around Legolas, arcing wider and wider as he swung his blade and won ground against the assault.
Then, in an unlucky turn and a rapid series of blows, the orc had Gimli bracing himself against the wall, hands on the haft of his weapon, biceps straining to keep the dirty sword from sliding down and meeting its mark. Steel squeaked and groaned with the effort. Gimli looked up into the pale eyes of his assailant with defiant fire in his belly, pushing to break the hold but struggling, slipping with sweat. Distantly, he felt something grope at his feet - into his boot?
A flash of silver and the sick plunk of a knife meeting it’s mark sent black blood splattering all over Gimli’s face.
The orc reeled back, part of his own accord and part because he was propelled that way by Legolas, who was straining to pull out the knife he himself hacked into the creature’s throat. With great effort, the elf managed to rip it from the ruined flesh, only to plunge it inelegantly back in once more-- and then a third-- fourth-- fifth-- and then final time.
The orc burbled and sputtered as it died miserably on the ground, and Legolas trembled in tandem. He dropped the bone-handled knife -- yes, from Gimli’s boot -- and his legs shuddered, as if they would collapse under him in protest. Brown eyes were wide and he was panting -- struggling against deep, rattling gulps of air that made him look to Gimli as feral as tales of any forest creature used to spook young children in Erebor. His hands were black and slick with dripping orc blood. He looked incredibly, achingly fragile, as if he would shatter at any moment.
But he did not. Legolas Thranduilion was strong, could overcome-- had overcome even the darkest obstacles. Tentatively, he straightened, wobbled with each new inch of height like a newborn colt.
Of course Gimli could do nothing else. He dropped his weapon and went to him, gripped his elbows gently to steady him. Slowly -- together -- Gimli coaxed Legolas to limp forward one step, then another, studying his bare feet and trying to assess his mobility. His leg was clearly lame, though from the arrow or some other broken bone he could not guess in that moment.
Out beyond the staircase that brought him there, Gimli heard Lumeth’s voice call out to Faramir. Sounds of more enemies coming, have you found Legolas?
Gimli turned to look at Faramir, who was staring openly from the doorway. A deep crease in his brow weighed heavily over concerned eyes. Then, a dry swallow, he steadied his breath, flicked his head to signal that they needed to move.
“Legolas,” Gimli said in gentle tones, a voice far too intimate for these dripping stone walls, “Legolas, my own heart, my One, we are taking you home now.”
Legolas blinked, brow furrowing. Gimli thought he saw more recognition there than a minute ago, and felt heartened, so he repeated his name again and again, said it as many times as he would, hoping to reach him through whatever haze of torment in which he seemed to be awash.
“Listen to me, Legolas -- you cannot walk. You are hurt badly, love. I can carry you, but you will have to do your best to stay with me. Do you understand?” Gimli insisted, tightening his grip on his forearms, trying desperately to ground the elf in the present moment.
“Now, Gimli -- “ Faramir urged from the door.
In a single, efficient movement, Gimli grabbed Legolas’ left arm, dropped his shoulder and rolled it under Legolas’ hips, slinging the slender, injured body over his own broad shoulders. He did this sometimes at play; in Aglarond, in Ithilien, but especially in those carefree days in Minas Tirith, surprising his husband around some corner with a sneak attack of bullish dwarven might, and then hefting him easily off to bed like a king with a squawking mink stole.
It was well practiced -- whether by conscious will or by muscle memory, Legolas clung tight to Gimli.