11. Ears and Beards
“If you loathe dwarves so much, Galithil, you could always have gone on the Anduin mission,” Legolas said irritably. The company was making good time on the journey south through the Misty Mountains and consequently, coming ever closer to the great dwarf stronghold of Moria.
But the incessant carping of one of the company about how the infinite failings of that short race were beginning to exasperate the son of Thranduil. “I merely point out that we would do well to guard our belongings when we draw near to Moria,” Galithil said curtly, irked by Legolas’s retort. “Those dwarves will make off with anything made of metal.”
“Peace, Legolas, Galithil,” Glorfindel said as he joined the company by the campfire. “Like all races, dwarves have their good and ill qualities, as well as good and bad individuals. One cannot generalize in either direction.”
Galithil snorted. *At least you always saved your snorts for a good reason, Tathar,* Legolas thought, feeling very cross. He snapped back to attention when Langcyll called for watches. “I will stand a watch.”
Langcyll looked suspiciously at the prince (he no longer thought Legolas in danger of killing himself with his grief, but still hounded him like a doctor over a recently-recovered patient.) But apparently, he found no cause for preventing Legolas, and nodded, “Very well.” Elladan offered to stand the first watch with Legolas, and then Glanaur and Fanfirith would relieve them. “The rest of you, take some rest. There will be orcs about tonight.”
Even in the highest mountain peaks, the summer sun warmed the air, and Elladan spent a very pleasant first watch, standing in the shade of a large tree and feeling the warmed mountain breeze. On the other side of the sleeping warriors, he could see Legolas gazing attentively up the mountain slope.
*How he has changed in two years. His friends and family will scarcely know him when he finally returns home,* Elladan thought. *If he returns.*
The son of Lord Elrond did not believe Legolas was foolish enough to get himself killed, but the news of King Thranduil’s…how to put it…lack of reason back home were likely to drive him even further from Mirkwood. So many things had changed for the young warrior during his travels, and it would be a torture to see how his home had also been altered in his absence. Which was why Elladan had begun to suspect Legolas would consider returning to Imladris and traveling with their warriors, or journeying to one of the other elven realms when this mission was over.
*We elves flee from the things we cannot change,* Elladan thought. *That is why so many of us have traveled over the sea, unhappy with this world and what it has become. I wonder if or when Legolas might grow weary of Middle Earth. The shadow that menaces his realm is enough to drive any elf mad.*
Speaking of being driven mad, Elladan too was tiring of Galithil’s endless grousing about the dwarves. While Elladan did not consider them the wisest (or handsomest) of creatures, Glorfindel had been correct in his estimation of them. In many ways, Elladan rather liked them. Certainly their handiwork was magnificent--he wore a gold and emerald-studded knife crafted by dwarves (he had won it the previous winter from Firith of Lórien in a wager over whether that hobbit would survive his trip back to the Shire.)
*The dwarves still hope to take back their old realm of Moria. Since the defeat of Smaug, they’ve come to believe they can take down any foe. Brave they are, that much is certain. We shall certainly encounter their parties as we draw closer to its gates. I hope Langcyll and Glorfindel entertain no fancies of trying to improve our relations by helping them force their way in. I would not willingly find myself groping about in an orc-infested cave even if it meant peace and prosperity for all Middle Earth!*
Movement across the camp caught Elladan’s eye, and he turned to see that Legolas had stiffened, and was now standing stock-still and looking beyond the camp. He could hear something. A moment later, Elladan’s elven senses picked up the sounds of movement and voices over the next mountains. Whoever it was made little effort to conceal their presence, and seemed to be traveling openly. Legolas turned and looked at Elladan, “Dwarves.”
*So, our encounters begin sooner than I had anticipated. If they also travel to Moria, we will see much of them on the trail until we bear east again for Lórien. I hope Galithil does not spend the entire trip picking quarrels with them.*
The clamor of the dwarves--they truly were such noisy creatures--soon roused the camp. Langcyll and Glorfindel turned to Elladan, who assured them, “All is well. The dwarves have not even noticed our presence yet, though they are but one hill away.”
Elrohir looked around, listening to the sounds of the dwarves crashing through the brush and chuckled, “Making that much noise, I doubt if they would notice an orc camp.”
Faron sat up then, and grinned slyly at Elladan, “Perhaps we should send a scout to inform them of our presence so that they are not frightened out of their dwarven wits when they come upon us.”
“Dwarven wits?” Legolas demanded, laughing. “I have never heard of such a thing!” The others snickered and then the prince added slyly, “Perhaps Galithil would care to volunteer to give our greetings to the dwarves.” He received a rather black look from the warrioress of whom he spoke, and simply laughed harder.
“Why not you, then, Legolas?” Galithil asked snidely. “We all know how wealth impresses the dwarves, perhaps they would be more pleased by the sight of a prince of Mirkwood in our midst, even if he has lost his crown.”
None of the others save Langcyll knew what had happened to the crown, but many of them exclaimed in disapproval and censured Galithil for speaking so crudely. As for Langcyll, he all but leaped from his bedroll and looked anxiously at Legolas, who in turn raised a hand to dismiss the rather callous remark. But Langcyll exchanged a brief glance with Glorfindel, then smiled himself. “For myself, I think Legolas’s idea has merit. Glorfindel, would you care to accompany Galithil to inform the dwarves of our presence on this hillside?”
Glorfindel spoke with an unmistakable touch of glee. “Most certainly, my friend, for I fear that as a simple a people as the dwarves are, it might be beyond Galithil’s scope to engage in any sort of dialogue with them. Perhaps I shall do the speaking, and she shall watch.”
Galithil sat up in outrage, but before she could speak, Langcyll raised a hand. “Very well. Proceed, Glorfindel.” His tone brooked no argument.
Neither did Glorfindel’s. “Come, Galithil. The dwarves await.” The warrioress had no choice but to mount her horse and follow the Imladris captain from the camp.
No sooner had she gone than Legolas had both hands over his mouth, struggling to stifle his laughter. “She shall learn to curb that caustic tongue of hers before this leg of the trip has passed.”
Langcyll folded his arms and smiled blithely at his youngest warrior. “Be sure, young prince, all of this company shall find many attitudes changed before this leg of the trip has passed. Such is the truth with all prejudices. They cannot stand up to the power of true knowledge or experience.” With that, he picked up his water skin and went to fill it in the nearby stream. The others looked on, and exchanged glances, rather sobered by the faint censure in his tone that was directed at them all.
The sounds of the dwarves’ romping had ceased not long after Galithil and Glorfindel rode from the camp, and Legolas would have given much to know what passed between the elves and dwarves when they met. It was not long before his two comrades returned, both wearing expressions of combined amusement and aversion. “Well?” Elunen asked.
“They are taking the long way around,” said Glorfindel with the faintest of smiles.
Legolas looked away to hide his own smile. It would not do to get a scolding by Langcyll for his prejudices--*Of course, one can hardly call it a prejudice if the opinion is justified. But Langcyll defends the principle of the thing.*
The captain of Mirkwood was gazing at the reddening sky over the mountaintops. “Make ready to break camp. We move in one hour.”
As the company began repacking the horses, an all-too-familiar portent of danger pricked Legolas’s elven senses. Pausing from retying his bedroll, Legolas looked about and met Glorfindel’s eyes. The older elf smiled faintly. “It will be a long night. Make sure your knife is whetted.”
The others had sensed the presence of orcs as well, and the party continued their work with extra alertness. Legolas reached into his tunic pouch and touched the black pearl. He found himself reaching for it whenever he felt uneasy. In some obscure way, its smooth roundness was a comfort. But packing Lanthir required both of his hands, so he was soon forced to replace it. All the same, some of the anxiety had left him.
The orcs did not attack with the final fading of the sun, but nor did their presence diminish. “Biding their time?” Faron observed, voicing what all the other warriors had taken note of.
“I do not think there are many of them,” Elunen said, pausing to gaze into the darkness. “They may be hoping we will simply pass them by.”
Legolas nearly snorted, but caught himself. Several of the others did snort. “Sauron did not breed orcs for their intelligence,” remarked Fanfirith, and then he did not bother restraining a chuckle.
“Is all ready?” Langcyll asked them pointedly. Seeing the collective nod, he took his horse’s lead. “Then let us move out.” Bows in hand, knives at rest but ready to grab, the company followed on foot leading their mounts. Tonight’s orc hunt promised many kills.
They did not have long to wait. The presence of the orcs watching the company abruptly shifted before they had walked far down the mountainside, and every elf in the company knew that the fell band was also on the move. “They come!” Faron exclaimed, reaching for an arrow.
“Nay,” Langcyll looked troubled, for the screeches of orcs readying for battle filled the air, but the creatures did not seem to be menacing the company. “They are attacking, but not--” His keen elven senses following the sounds and awareness of the orcs, he looked back in the direction from whence the party had come. “The dwarf camp! The orcs menace the dwarves!”
“Will we follow?” Elunen asked, looking anxious.
“Glorfindel, how many dwarves were in the party you spoke to?” Langcyll asked quickly.
“Perhaps a dozen. We must go to their aid, Langcyll, even if we are unwelcome, the orcs must not escape,” Glorfindel said resolutely.
“Then mount at once!” With that, Langcyll sprang upon his horse’s back and rode back past the company at a gallop. Mounting their own horses, the other warriors followed, readying their bows and knives.
They had reached the top of the hill where they had camped when the screeches of orcs were met by dwarf battle cries and the clang of metal that heralded the start of battle. The horses did not take long covering the distance to the next hill where the dwarves had made their camp. They galloped into the torchlight without slowing, sprang from their horses, and with a great shout, launched themselves into the melee already taking place.
Falling with a shout of his own, Legolas leaped upon the nearest orc and plunged his knife into its back with a force that took them both into the ground. He sprang up again and nearly faltered when he found himself face to axe with an equally-startled dwarf, who had apparently just been chasing that same orc. The dwarf turned then, seeking some other foe, and Legolas did likewise.
Small or large were relative terms when describing an orc band. Though there were perhaps thirty in this group, they were better-skilled at fighting than some of the parties Legolas had fought over the past two years. He dodged a swipe from an orc’s knife and slashed its throat with his own, then shoved the knife into his belt and launched several arrows at a group of orcs attempting to overwhelm Faron and one of the dwarves. A screech from behind gave warning, and he jerked to the left, whirling and sending an arrow straight between the eyes of another orc.
“Beware!” Legolas heard the shout of warning from an unfamiliar source, but before he could react, a heavy weight slammed him from his feet. Legolas rolled onto his back, raising his knife only to have it kicked from his hand. The next few seconds were a blur even by elven standards. A large orc planted a foot upon the young elf’s chest, knocking the wind from him, and raised its sword over his head to deliver a killing thrust straight into his throat. Even as Legolas flailed frantically for anything to serve as a weapon, another form took shape from the corner of his eye, and in a blur of incredibly swift movement, the orc’s foot was gone from his chest, and the creature was down. Another dwarf pulled its axe from the orc’s back and looked at the elf he had saved.
Legolas leapt to his feet and grabbed his knife from the ground, seeking another orc to slay. But the last few were now fleeing the dwarf camp, and several elves and dwarves were already pursuing them into the darkness. Seconds later, their screeches announced their demise. Catching his breath, Legolas looked around, but the dwarf who had come to his aid was gone.
“Legolas, are you hurt?” Legolas jumped, and turned to face the speaker. It was Faron, and there was concern upon his face. “I saw you struck.”
“Nay, I am all right,” Legolas replied, though his chest and back ached with every breath. But other than bruises, he did not think anything was damaged. He looked around, “There was a dwarf…”
Faron nodded. “I should have liked to see more of how they fight. One fought beside me against the orcs, but now I do not see him. They are a strange race.”
“Very,” Legolas agreed, and they returned to their comrades.
There had been few injuries to either party. Elladan insisted on looking at Legolas’s chest and back to make certain his ribs or lungs had taken no hurt, but they were both satisfied that he would merely be a little sore for a few days. Elunen had taken an arrow in the leg, but she would be walking in a day or two. Two of the dwarves appeared to have taken wounds, but the hurts had been cared for by the other dwarves and none of their party seemed particularly worried.
That immediate concern past, the two parties now found themselves on opposite sides of the dwarf camp, staring doubtfully at each other and wondering who would be the first to speak. At last, almost at the same instant, Langcyll and Glorfindel started toward the dwarves just as two of the dwarves began approaching the elves. They met in the center. “Well met, Master Elf,” said the dwarf who appeared to be head of the company. “I am Naldin, son of Óin, and this is Sothi, son of Dwalin. You have our thanks for your timely arrival.”
Legolas was not surprised by the somewhat grudging tone in which the Naldin expressed his gratitude--he was, however, surprised that the dwarf thanked the elves at all. Though Langcyll and Glorfindel doubtlessly noticed the tenor of the dwarf’s speech, they made no outward sign. “Well met, Naldin, son of Óin. I am Langcyll, captain of the warriors of Mirkwood.”
“I am Glorfindel of Imladris. We too owe you our gratitude for your stand beside our warriors. The foul creatures of Sauron are the enemy of all the free peoples of Middle Earth.”
Glorfindel and Langcyll exchanged bows with the dwarves, but now both sides appeared to be waiting once again. Suspicion had bristled on Naldin’s brow, and he asked, “What business have you in these lands?”
*The dwarves always seem to ask that, even in lands that belong to neither them nor us,* Legolas thought sardonically.
“We are hunting orcs,” Langcyll answered. “We have come south from Imladris.”
“This course will take you close to Moria,” Sothi observed. “That is where we go.”
“Moria?” Glorfindel looked doubtful. It was well-known that the children of Durin had abandoned the ancient stronghold long ago when it had been taken by orcs and other fell demons. Legolas suppressed a shudder at the thought of one of those demons in particular.
“Balin of the Lonely Mountain has sent us to scout the mines of Moria,” Naldin said, lifting his chin (invisible beneath a long beard) in response to the dubious tone of the elf. “The dwarves intend to take back their old realm. The foul creatures of the Enemy shall not claim it for much longer.”
Langcyll nodded, but to Legolas’s eye, it seemed more like a shrug, “Then we wish you every success. We must ride on if you’ve no further need of assistance.”
“Farewell then,” the dwarves bowed again, and Langcyll and Glorfindel bowed in turn.
As the captains rejoined their respective warriors, Legolas heard several of the dwarves muttering among themselves, “We never needed their assistance in the first place.” He caught Galithil and Faron rolling their eyes at him, and grinned. He was beginning to agree with Galithil’s estimate of the dwarves.
To the irritation of all concerned, the elf and dwarf parties seemed to be traveling at the exact same pace, causing them to encounter each other every few days. “Make ready to break camp--dwarves again, Elrohir?” Glorfindel asked with a slight smile.
Elrohir, who had been standing watch, nodded down the hillside. “They’ve taken to traveling at night also.” He pulled his mouth to one side, “I think we shall be on the same path.”
Glorfindel detected several discreet groans from the younger warriors of the party. “Well then, we shall have to tolerate them.”
“And vice versa,” he heard Faron whisper to Legolas, earning a muffled snicker in return.
Langcyll walked up beside Glorfindel. “These next few miles of trail look to be smooth. We may ride tonight; it will not be difficult for the horses.”
With a nod, Glorfindel ordered the warriors to mount, then paused as he considered the formation. “Elladan and Elrohir, you shall bring up the rear. Oh Elladan? Which side do the dwarves come from?”
“They are coming up from the west, Glorfindel.”
“Very well.” With a sly glance at Langcyll, Glorfindel ordered, “Galithil, you shall flank us on the west.” He was forced to quash a smile at the look of dismay on the face of the warrioress, then took note of the smirk that Legolas and Faron exchanged. “And you, Legolas.” Legolas looked decidedly less than enthusiastic.
“Mount up!” Langcyll ordered. “We ride south.” Catching Glorfindel’s eye, he added, “Faron, you will ride the western flank over the next mountain.” (Faron had been grinning just a bit too broadly at Legolas and Galithil.)
Within ten minutes, the slowly-riding company spotted the party of dwarves walking up the trail towards them. The dwarves looked no more enthusiastic than Legolas had about these circumstances. In a jovial voice, Langcyll said, “Good evening, dwarves of the Lonely Mountain.” He received a chorus of grunts in return.
Legolas enjoyed the rare opportunities to actually ride Lanthir in the mountains, for he would never dream of straining his horse. However, this was NOT the way he desired to spend the next stretch of trail. He was not close enough to the rest of the company to talk without being overheard by the dwarves (thus eliminating what might have been some amusing conversation) and talking to the dwarves was…not exactly Legolas’s idea of stimulating conversation. So other than to respond to the questions of the other elves, Legolas rode in stony silence and wished the trip would end.
He glanced at the objects of his thoughts. They were muttering amongst themselves (either unaware or unconcerned that elven senses could easily hear every word they said) and much of their conversation involved disparaging talk about the elves riding parallel to them.
*At least I no longer wear the crown of Mirkwood. Being from Lonely Mountain, this band would have plenty to say about my father. And it gall me further to admit that much of it was true.*
“I’ve heard of three of the Imladris elves from my father,” Naldin was saying. “The sons of Elrond may at least be trusted. Thorin and his company received fair treatment from Imladris at least.”
“For myself,” said another dwarf whose name Legolas did not know, “I do not trust any elf any further than I could throw him.”
*Than you must trust us not at all,* Legolas thought, a smile coming unbidden to his lips. *Were I to apply that standard, I would have to trust you a very long way.* He caught Galithil glancing back at him and grinned in response to her raised eyebrows. She grinned back and winked at him, *She knows I am swiftly coming round to her way of thinking.*
“I certainly would not trust any elf of Mirkwood,” one of the other dwarves was saying. “And they say that we dwarves are greedy. They are not only greedy for the same gems and metals that we love, and are too lazy to even work such things themselves. The emeralds of Girion--hmph! Had I been Thorin, I would have told that elvenking where to stick his twelfth share, Battle of Five Armies or no!”
“Greedy as an orc, that Thranduil. Probably would’ve let Naldin’s father rot in his dungeons along with Thorin and the rest of them were it not for that little hobbit.”
“Aye, Lorben, can’t say I blame the hobbit for all his part. Hobbits aren’t cut out for such ventures as that journey turned into. From what Balin told me, I myself would’ve been itching for a warm fire and peace and quiet by the time it was all over. Don’t know how the hobbit bore it all.”
“Didn’t take a very large share of the wealth, either. Generous, I’ll say that for him. Nothing like those elves.”
“Nay, you can never trust an elf. Especially a wood elf. I wouldn’t mind running into this party if they were all from Imladris, but more than half of them are Thranduil’s lackies. That Langcyll is Mirkwood’s first captain.”
“That one is Langcyll? Dáin ran into him two years ago coming out of Mirkwood with a bunch of his warriors. Said one of Thranduil’s sons was with him.”
Legolas felt his stomach twist painfully and turned to keep the dwarves from seeing his face. But that remark had aroused the curiosity of the other dwarves. “Think this is the same party? Which one do you suppose he is?”
“All the Mirkwood elves look the same. Except that one--he looks like he hails from Lórien. Don’t know what inter-realm marriage alliance spawned him. Did all of Thranduil’s get resemble his looks? I’ve seem the elvenking a few times before they went back to Mirkwood.”
“Can’t tell. Dáin said his son wore the crown of Mirkwood then, but that was well before Thorin arrived.” There was a snide chuckle, “Probably lost it, if the orcs in these mountains have been as bad as they say. A lot of elves died at Lonely Mountain, and I’ve heard they’re losing a lot more than they planned on in their war parties as well.”
Legolas had been listening previously out of bored curiosity, but now he wished he could shut their voices out. Reaching inside his tunic, he fumbled for Tathar’s pearl and pulled it from his pouch, rolling it over and over in his fingers.
“There, Legolas, now you have met dwarves!”
Langcyll was riding toward the center of the company, but his hearing was more than keen enough to detect the conversation taking place among the dwarves. He was content to ignore it until the subject turned to King Thranduil--and Legolas. *Thank the Valar they did not recognize him.*
He could see Legolas flanking the company closer to the dwarf party. Sticking Legolas there had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now Langcyll was having doubts. There was no cause to torment the prince by forcing him to listen to this sort of talk, and it was highly unlikely that overhearing it would remedy the young elf’s prejudices. Just the opposite was likely.
“Le--” he nearly called the prince’s name aloud, then caught himself. *They’ll know the names of Thranduil’s sons. Call his name and you guarantee that he’ll have their undivided attention.* As it was, Legolas had already managed to get the attention of at least one of the dwarves, who had noticed the pearl the elf warrior was holding. *So how to get Legolas’s attention?* Aloud, Langcyll said, “Change the formation. Elladan and Elunen, take the western flank. Nathron and Fanfirith, bring up the rear. Elrohir and Galithil, on the eastern flank.”
There was no mistaking the gratitude in the quick glance Legolas gave him as he traded places with Elladan. Then Legolas glanced back at the dwarves and noticed the one staring at Tathar’s pearl. With a distinctively defensive expression, the prince slipped the pearl back into his pouch and rode to the opposite side of the formation--effectively putting as much distance between himself and the dwarves as possible.
Langcyll sighed inwardly. *They are not all that way, but there would be no point in saying so to Legolas at this juncture. Better to wait and see if events change his opinion of the dwarves.*
With the rising of the sun, the two companies made camp on opposite sides of the hill they were on. “If I had been forced to hear one more dwarven grunt, I would not have been responsible for my actions,” Galithil remarked, coming to claim her share of rations.
Faron chuckled along with Fanfirith and Nathron, but Legolas did not laugh. He seemed in another world altogether. Faron glanced over his shoulder and saw that Langcyll and Glorfindel were in conversation with Elladan and Elrohir, and several glances were being directed at Legolas. Faron had heard the talk among the dwarves--consequently, he had cringed repeatedly throughout the ride.
And now Legolas had retreated into that distracted silence that always betrayed an inner disquiet. Langcyll, Glorfindel, and the rest of the warriors joined them, but Legolas stared at the fire and did not look up. The conversations flowed among the other elves while the son of Thranduil gave no indication that he heard a word that was said.
Rather quickly, Elladan addressed the group in general in a cheerful voice, “So! Are we enjoying our extended relations with the dwarves?”
Laughter and snorts were the collective response to this question, and Legolas did crack a slight smile. “Surely, Elladan, I learned a great deal from my stint along our flank,” Faron said in a voice dripping with honey. “I learned that dwarves cannot live without malt beer--”
“Malt beer or beards?” Fanfirith quipped, earning laughter all around.
“Well, those beards must be good for carrying tools or weapons,” suggested Elrohir.
“They are short, smelly, and they dress…peculiarly,” Galithil put in. “The last dwarf I met had breath that could slay a dragon at twenty paces.”
“I suppose that would explain how they slew Smaug,” Faron remarked.
“They were valiant enough against the orcs, but against a large foe, surely they could not put up much of a fight. One would need only to step on them,” Nathron added.
“They have a very peculiar walk, for that matter. Rather like a waddle,” said Elladan. “Eh, Legolas?”
“What? Ah, yes.”
“What do you think of the dwarves, Legolas?” Langcyll asked casually. It did not escape Faron that Langcyll had taken the other warriors to task for speaking so disparagingly of any other race of Middle Earth.
Twirling an arrow in his fingers, Legolas replied, “I think they care a great deal for their own troubles, and nothing for the troubles of others, but they are quick to condemn others for the same behavior.”
“Legolas, if you were any more gloomy, I think bats would use you for a perch,” Elrohir said.
At last, he got a reaction. Legolas looked up incredulously, “Bats do not perch!”
Elladan muffled a snort behind his hand, and his twin glared at him. “Well, they…they…”
“They hang, you great half-wit!” Elladan laughed, and the others soon joined in--including Legolas, to Faron’s relief.
“Perhaps that is what those great, heavy helms are for,” Legolas suggested. “Otherwise, they might be at constant risk of being stepped upon by larger foes.” It was a rather weak jest, but the others laughed heartily. At least Legolas seemed in a better humor.
Later that afternoon, Faron returned from standing first watch to find Legolas lying in his bedroll. At first glance, the young warrior seemed asleep, for he lay motionless, with his hands upon his chest, staring at nothing in particular. But there was a slight tenseness in his jaw, and his eyes were a shade too alert for sleep.
Faron casually crawled into his own bedroll, not that he needed to be wrapped in blankets in midsummer. “You should be sleeping, Legolas. Elunen told me we shall see more action tonight.”
Legolas did not move or even react--other than to pull his mouth to one side in a sort of half-grimace. “Unless the clamor from those dwarves makes them believe there is an entire army coming over these hills.”
Shaking his head, Faron propped himself up on his elbow, “Are you still ruffled at their idle chatter? Surely you cannot expect dwarves to be paragons of sensitivity.”
Legolas sighed, but turned his head to face Faron, “You speak the truth. I do not know why I let their words upset me.”
“Because we did not lose as many elves as they would think,” said Langcyll, who had quietly come up behind Legolas. The prince sat up quickly, and the two youngest warriors faced the captain of Mirkwood. “I have also heard dwarf rumor that our parties have lost more than half of their number.” He smiled wryly at the astonished expressions of Faron and Legolas. “Yes, I was equally surprised by such exaggerations. But, then I suppose their misconception can be understood. For all the mourning with which we elves greet one lost life, it would seem to them that many lives might have been lost. It is not a dwarven fault, rather a misconception among all mortals, that elves take life for granted due to our immortality. Nay, we did not lose so much in number over recent years, but still we lost too much.”
Faron had felt a lump rising in his own throat as Langcyll’s words struck home, then in a rush of anxiety, he stole a quick glance at Legolas. The past few weeks had been so eventful that it had been easy to forget that less than three months had passed since Tathar of Mirkwood had perished. And it had been even less time since Legolas’s grief had been so deep that Langcyll and Glorfindel had been frantic to reverse his condition.
To Faron’s relief, though his friend had gone very pale, he showed no sign of that black hopelessness that had threatened his life in the first weeks after Tathar’s death. The younger elf’s hand stole into his tunic pouch, and sunlight reflected on the dark luster of the black pearl as Legolas caressed it absently.
The action had caught Langcyll’s eye as well, “Have a care there, Legolas. I saw at least one of the dwarves noticing your keepsake. Its value may be sentimental to you, but forget not that its worth is considerable in other respects. The dwarves do not actively wish us ill, but if they begin to covet something that belongs to us…” he let the thought dangle, and Legolas hastily slipped the pearl back into his pouch and looked about as though expecting someone to try and grab it.
Faron thought to himself, *Langcyll gives the dwarves more credit than they deserve. While they are not the Enemy by any means, I think they do surpass many beings in the measure of malice. They would covet Legolas’s pearl for its price, certainly, but I believe they would desire it all the more if they knew why he treasures it.*
The following night found elves and dwarves traveling the same trail once again, albeit with a little more space in between their parties this time. “We are not far from Moria,” Glorfindel observed as he walked beside Langcyll at the front of the company. “These hills are pockmarked with caves.”
The company was well spread-out, elven senses on full alert for fell creatures that might be using one of the many caves as a den. Langcyll and Glorfindel were front and center, leading the string of horses, with Elladan and Elrohir flanking to their right and Fanfirith and Glanaur on the left, Elunen and Nathron behind, and Galithil, Legolas, and Faron scouting around them. “Take care,” Elunen warned the company. “The ground is of rock, but these hills are riddled with hollows and tunnels. There is a danger of breaking through.”
“Oh, so that is how the dwarves do their tunneling,” Langcyll heard Galithil saying to someone, and the muffled laughter in response identified it to be Legolas.
Langcyll opened his mouth to chide them both, but an oddly distorted screech caught him. All the elves froze, uncertain. “Where--” Elladan began.
Legolas appeared from the clump of bushes he had been examining, and exclaimed, “Beneath us. They have a cave entrance somewhere near.” The young warrior looked about, appearing baffled as to how they should proceed.
Taking a swift opportunity, Langcyll said sternly, “It is a shame the dwarves are not closer; we would benefit from their GREATER expertise in this instance.” The blushes on both faces confirmed that his rebuke had not been missed. That dealt with, he went on, “Spread out in pairs and be wary. Do not stray too far from the main group.”
Faron quickly joined Legolas and Galithil, and the trio moved out ahead of the main party. Elladan and Elrohir moved down through the trees to the east, and Fanfirith and Elunen to the west. Then the screeches came again, this time undistorted by ground or distance--and behind them.
“Beware!” Langcyll spun around, drawing his bow, and saw orcs charging them from openings in the ground that he still could not see. That fact troubled him even as he took aim at the orcs in the very dim light.
They came far too fast and recklessly; the archers were able to pick off a good number of the orcs before they were even close enough to endanger the warriors in the back of the group. But soon Langcyll beheld the reason for their rushed attack: the dwarf party had seen what the elves had missed, and axe-wielding dwarves were pursuing the fell beasts straight into the elves.
“Stand here!” Glorfindel shouted to the company, seeing an opportunity to trap the orcs between a hammer of dwarves and an anvil of elves.
Those orcs that came to fast at the elves were cut down by arrows, and those who tarried were struck down by dwarven axes. In panic, the beasts of Sauron scattered in all directions, and dwarves and elves gave chase.
The orc band had been large, nearly a hundred strong, but their hand had been forced by the dwarf attack, and they could not rally themselves into an effective fighting brigade. Langcyll made his stand protecting the horses with half of his warriors, while Glorfindel and the other half of the elf company assisted the dwarves chasing down the fleeing orcs. When it was clear that all of the orcs were in retreat , Langcyll sprang upon his mount so that his far-seeing eyes might have a better view.
He could see Glorfindel and Elunen with Naldin the dwarf, pursuing a dozen or so orcs down the hillside. Many of the orcs in their desperation to escape had chosen the path of least resistance--literally running along the beaten trail with Elladan, Elrohir, Fanfirith, and Sothi along with several of his dwarves in hot pursuit. Legolas, Faron, and Galithil, along with four other dwarves that Langcyll did not recognize, were pursuing orcs to the west of the trail. The rough, rocky ground shook with the rushing and stomping of many feet, but suddenly a new shudder in the earth warned Langcyll of a new danger.
Feeling the tiny tremor ripple under his feet, Langcyll identified it as not an earthquake but rather the shock of the ground--as something beneath their feet gave way. He felt it as it came, and the way that the horses started betold its direction. Langcyll looked along the hillside towards the source--and saw several elven heads racing up the hillside through the brush in pursuit of fleeing orcs, unaware in their hurry of the bedrock that had cracked directly below them.
Although Langcyll cared greatly for all his warriors, in his deepest heart he could not deny that the sight of the fair hair among the dark elven heads caused his heart to leap to his throat. “Legolas!” he cried, all but standing upon his horse’s back. Legolas stopped in his tracks and stared back at Langcyll, and that pause was enough for the young warrior to also feel the breaking rock beneath his feet. “Run, all of you!” Langcyll shouted frantically, kicking his horse into a run towards them. “Fly!”
Had Legolas fled that place at once, he might have escaped the cave-in that was approaching. But he would never seek his own safety without attempting at least to forewarn his comrades, and the dwarves who fought with them. “Galithil, Faron, dwarves, beware!” Legolas shouted. “The ground gives way!”
In spite of the furor of battle, all heard his cry of warning, and both of his companions as well as the dwarves broke off their hunt in search of stable ground. But there was little time left, even as they now felt tiny shocks beneath their feet from cracks that were tracing through the rock layer beneath them. “Back to the trail!” Legolas cried. “Fly, fly!” Seizing Galithil by the hand, seeing Faron just behind them, and waving the dwarves beside them in the proper direction, he sprinted with all his might even as the dirt and sand began to slide beneath their feet.
“Oh no!” Galithil cried out as her feet suddenly found no purchase, and Legolas heard several of the dwarves’ shouts and curses as they too were caught on the collapsing ground.
Putting all his strength and weight into his arm, Legolas flung Galithil forward with all his might, sending her crashing through the bushes and tumbling head-over-heels onto the sturdier ground of the trail where the rest of the company had taken refuge. But the act of doing so slowed his own momentum forward, and Faron was too far behind him to reach in time for them to assist each other to safety. One of the dwarves managed to seize some scrubby bushes that did not seem to be falling into the hole with the rest of the ground, and Legolas and Faron desperately sought to do the same.
“No!” disregarding safety in a fashion that would have earned a younger warrior serious censure, Langcyll charged forward, rushing onto the unstable ground that was crumbling like stale way bread under his warriors’ feet. Two of the dwarves had already vanished into the rapidly-widening chasm, and another clung helplessly to the edge. Though his heart thought first of his own warriors, Langcyll nonetheless made a grab for the nearer dwarf, but the rock to which he clung gave way and he vanished into the hole before Langcyll could reach him.
Legolas flung himself forward and managed to grasp the very base of another deep-rooted bush, but from behind him he heard Faron’s cry of panic as his friend found no such deliverance. Frantically, he twisted back and tried to grab Faron’s hand, no longer seeing Langcyll on his knees upon the unstable ground, his own hand extended toward Legolas. Legolas’s hand found Faron’s, and for a few seconds it seemed that they were both saved as they hung over a black pit who-knew-how-deep. But their combined, swinging weight proved to be more than the small bush could bear, and Legolas looked up in horror as a low “riiiiippp” heralded the roots coming loose.
Glorfindel raced forward as he saw more ground giving way, and yanked Langcyll back from the edge of the hole even as two of their warriors were swallowed up by the earth. The last thing the rest of the company saw of Legolas was his hand, still clinging to the unfaithful bush, as it vanished in the cave-in. More rock and sand poured into the break in the earth, and Langcyll and Glorfindel stumbled to their feet, staring in horror as great boulders and slabs of rock filled in the hole just as quickly as it had formed.
The dwarf company had gathered alongside the elves, and they too stared in dismay at the seemingly impenetrable barrier between themselves and three of their own party. After what seemed like an eternity, the sand and stone ceased sliding, and the vibrations of cracking stone ended beneath the warriors’ feet.
If one looked upon both companies at that particular moment, it would be difficult indeed to determine which looked the most distressed. Immortal the elves may be, but mortal injuries can be just as deadly to them, and it was doubtful that even the swiftest and sturdiest elf could escape a landslide of sand and stone unscathed. Though the dwarves are skilled in navigating caves, three of their companions had been caught in that same catastrophic rockslide.
Now two elves and three dwarves were trapped beneath a massive pile of collapsed stone in a cavern of untold depth, along with untold numbers of orcs. It seemed impossible that either company, being so unfamiliar with this particular network of caves, would be able to reach their companions before the agents of the enemy found them first. Assuming, of course, that any of them had survived.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.