8. Out of the Door
“Nay, my lord. It begins in just under an hour.”
*I shall walk down and see him before the training is started,* Thranduil decided. *There will be time for long conversations…and apologies…later, now I shall simply let him know that he has my permission and blessing to join the next war parties. That shall raise his spirits.* Thranduil had come to deeply regret his handling of Legolas in the matter of Gaerongil’s death. *I should never have spoken to him so in his distraught state. It is no wonder he lost his temper. The fault was mine, and tonight I shall let him know it.*
The elven king walked to the training fields where the novices were preparing for their exercises, and was surprised by the discovery that their numbers seemed to have dropped. “Where is everyone?” he asked no one in particular.
One of the elder novices turned and bowed to him, “Missions were called at dawn, my lord. Most of them have left for today, and more will depart tomorrow.”
*Confound it. I had forgotten.* Aloud, Thranduil asked, “Did Prince Legolas volunteer for one of the missions?”
There was no way the young novice could have known what had passed between Legolas and Thranduil the day before. “Yea, my lord.”
But the truth did not dawn upon the king. He sighed to himself and left the field, incorrectly assuming that Legolas had gone on one of the training missions (as Thranduil had suggested.) *Some of those missions take as long as a month, and after last night he may have wished to escape me. It may be weeks before I have the opportunity to speak to him.* The thought sorrowed Thranduil, but he supposed it was his just recompense.
Walking back towards the palace, the king saw his daughter Limloeth coming from the stables. The way she stiffened at the sight of him should have warned him, but he was so preoccupied that he did not notice. “Good morning, Limloeth.”
“Good morning, Father,” the princess said. Again, Thranduil missed the tension in her voice.
“I see Legolas has fled the palace?” he asked in an effort to make light of the situation, and let her know he was not angry at her brother. Limloeth nodded, and he asked absently, “Who commanded his party?”
“Langcyll,” she replied quietly.
Thranduil frowned in confusion, “Was there a change in plans? Langcyll does not usually command training missions.”
Limloeth took a deep breath, “Nor did he.”
Thranduil stared at her for a moment, then the truth struck him in a devastating blaze of light. For a second, he could neither speak nor move, then he started swiftly past her toward the palace. “Father,” Limloeth called from behind him. He turned, staring at her dumbly. In a flat voice, his one living daughter told him, “He is gone.”
“The first companies departed an hour past dawn this morning. The sun is now high in the sky. Legolas is gone,” there was neither sympathy nor comfort in Limloeth’s voice.
*No, it cannot be true. She is mistaken. It cannot--Langcyll always commands the longest and most perilous missions himself. Legolas would not be so foolish--* Thranduil all but ran toward the North Gate of the fortress from where the warriors usually departed.
The novices were there, preparing to leave with their training missions. Thranduil stared frantically about for Legolas until one of the novice masters, Seregon, noticed him. “My lord?”
Managing to keep his voice steady, the king asked hoarsely, “Where is my son?”
The novices had not known of the prince’s dilemma, but the masters had. Seregon replied nervously, “Prince Legolas departed this morning with Langcyll’s war party, my lord. They…are half a day down the trail.”
Thranduil’s mind raced, and he could not remember all the missions. “Where was that party to go?”
“The mission was to scour the mountains, my lord,” Seregon replied. “They plan to go north to the Grey Mountains, then west to Imladris, then south to Moria and Lórien, to keep the creatures of Mordor from taking refuge there when they have been driven from Mirkwood.”
“And how long was the mission to last?” Thranduil asked, dreading the reply.
“At least two years, my lord,” the novice master said, disliking being the one to break this news to the king. “Langcyll thought it…might be longer still if the enemy has gained much of a hold in the mountains, or if the company joins the other realms on a mission further south. Perhaps…many years.”
Feeling distinctly numb, King Thranduil returned to the palace and went to Legolas’s chamber. It was completely neat. At first glance, there was nothing to suggest Legolas was not returning--for his room was always immaculate. But on closer examination, his rough gear and boots gone, along with his weapons. Then Legolas’s father discovered the unarguable proof: the silver circlet demonstrating his royalty sat upon his bed like a farewell token. He had left no message. Thranduil sat heavily down upon his youngest son’s bed, holding the circlet in shock. “Legolas…”
Berensul and Belhador had also taken the opportunity to sleep late, and they had only just arisen when Limloeth returned to tell them that Legolas had gone. And that their father had just been told. The fledgling warrior’s brothers and sister shed tears of pride and sorrow--they would miss him greatly, and he them--but their minds were most occupied by how the elven king would react.
They were departing Berensul’s chamber where they had been talking, when the door to their brother’s chamber opened, and King Thranduil emerged. He stared at them, and they stared back; no words would come to either party. The king had his failings, but he still possessed elven senses and perceptions, and his children knew that he could see their minds. And that he knew their feelings--that he had driven Legolas to this flight. The elven king did not speak, but walked stiffly past them, into his own chamber, and closed the door.
As they heard the sound of the king’s chamber door being bolted, Berensul murmured, “And so it begins.”
That afternoon and well into the night, the King of Mirkwood remained within his rooms, and quietly drank until he was ill.
The wind whipped Legolas’s hair as the company galloped through the trees, moving toward the northernmost reaches of Mirkwood. They did not slow to search for enemies within the wood; other patrols and hunting parties had been dispatched for that purpose. Langcyll’s task was to begin scouring the mountains surrounding Mirkwood soon, to prevent the orcs, spiders, and other foul creatures from taking refuge after being driven from the greenwood, only to descend upon it once again when the danger had passed.
They were traveling for the moment with two other war parties: the company of Narbeleth, which included Merilin, and Eregdos and his party, which included Candrochon. “We will ride together with their companies until we reach one of the streams coming off the Forest River; there Eregdos shall lead his party to the Lonely Mountain, and Narbeleth’s party shall depart west for the Anduin,” Langcyll had told them.
So for a time, Legolas, Tathar, Merilin, and Candrochon found themselves together in the center of the contingent, half-amused, half-irritated at the protective positions of the older warriors. “I wonder if we would have been thus coddled if you were not here,” Candrochon grumbled at Legolas.
Legolas opened his mouth to retort, but from behind them, another elf spoke. “We do not coddle you, young one. It is custom that the least seasoned warriors ride at the center until they have gained more experience. And beyond custom, it is prudent. Shedding blood is very different from striking a target or scoring a hit. You must learn to face a living foe who seeks only your death. If we place you where you are set upon from all sides, you would be swiftly overwhelmed.”
“How many battles must be fought before we are considered ready to defend ourselves?” Legolas asked without resentment.
The she-elf, who was of Legolas’s company and called Elunen, smiled, “You are no longer on training schedules, my lord. As snowflakes or leaves in a forest, every battle and foe is different. You will be considered ready when you are ready.”
The four could find no argument with that, although Candrochon still appeared miffed. Elunen narrowed her grey eyes slightly and pulled her mount up to ride closer to them, “Be wary, young warriors. You have only just come of age and these shall be your most perilous years. Impatience and carelessness are a warrior’s greatest enemies, and if you become overly eager to test your prowess in battle, you may suffer for it. We are an immortal race; you shall have many thousands of years to prove yourselves--if you have the wisdom to learn what you must to survive.”
Seeing the newcomers’ thoughtful expressions, Elunen smiled and rode off ahead. As soon as she had gone, Tathar jabbed Candrochon with his bow. Legolas and Merilin exchanged grins. From the front, they heard one of the scouts calling, “We have reached the stream!”
The companies stopped to eat and water the horses. Seated together beside one of the meat pots, the four friends talked. “My company is not to be gone a terribly long time,” Merilin said. “Though we may follow the Grey Mountains east from the source of the Anduin if there is considerable orc activity. But we are expected to return within six months.”
“My expedition is expected to return home in nine months, perhaps a year if we encounter many foul creatures,” Candrochon told them. “And we do have the dwarves to reckon with.”
“We shall be gone even longer,” Tathar noted sadly. “Two years, perhaps longer still if winter in the mountains is very bad, or the creatures of Mordor more numerous than expected.”
It had begun to dawn upon the young warriors that they would not see each other again, nor were they likely to receive tidings of each other, for a very long time. As novices, they had trained by each other’s sides for centuries; rarely spending more than a few weeks separated. They had been taught to be close with their fellows in arms, but now the time for lessons was over.
As a rather melancholy quiet descended on them, Legolas had to smile, “It is a wonder; having spent all those hundreds of years yearning for the day we would come of age and ride away with the warriors, now we feel grief.”
Tathar laughed, “Still another catch to the warrior’s coming of age that our esteemed masters neglected to mention.”
They had made no effort to lower their voices (the other elves would hear anything said in such proximity) and Tathar’s remark was met by laughter from nearby. The four looked and saw that although they had not joined in, the rest of the warriors had been listening to the conversation of their newest comrades. Langcyll motioned some of the others aside and beckoned at the newcomers to join them. Blushing somewhat, Merilin, Tathar, Legolas, and Candrochon picked up their rations and joined the elder warriors.
“There is always sorrow in first farewells,” Elunen told them as they gathered into a loose assembly to talk to the youngest of their bands. “And no shame in it. A warrior shall never be closer to any than those who trained alongside him. Yet even in this, you grow. You shall meet many new comrades, see new places, as well as battle first foes. Thus is the way of warriors. The first coming of age begins the time of learning. The second begins the time of discovery.”
“And I fear we shall do much discovering yet before we are as seasoned as any in this number,” Merilin replied graciously.
The captain of Merilin‘s company, Narbeleth, chuckled wryly, “Do not despair, my dear companion, you may see action sooner than you think. And more action than even the most seasoned of our number should like,” she added, her tone darkening slightly.
“Another wise point, my friend,” Langcyll said. “Always remember that you do not merely seek to improve your skills and win glory for yourselves. An elf warrior fights to defend his home and his people. A shadow grows here, my young and eager companions. From whence it comes, we do not know, but it grows still and brings with it the foul creatures that plague our woods. We know not how to fight the shadow, but fight orcs we can, and fight them we shall, unceasing until they have been driven forth again.”
The four nodded solemnly, feeling awed, and somewhat unsettled by the captain’s words. Briskly, Langcyll rose. “Alas, I fear the time for farewells is upon us. We must be moving on, and here my party and the parties of Narbeleth and of Eregdos shall part ways.”
Quickly, and with an unashamed touch of sadness, the elves collected their gear and remounted their horses. Candrochon and Merilin moved their mounts alongside Legolas and Tathar and gripped each other’s arms at the elbow in parting. “Farewell, my friends and brothers-in-arms. I know not when we shall meet again, but I pray that fate keep you safe,” Merilin said.
“Until we meet again, my dear friend, farewell,” Legolas said.
“I’ve no doubt we shall know many worthy warriors in the future,” Candrochon told them. “But you three shall always be best and dearest in my heart.”
“My thoughts and prayers go with you, Merilin, Candrochon,” Tathar added.
Eregdos returned from bidding farewell to Langcyll, and gave the signal to ride east. “Goodbye Tathar, Merilin!” Candrochon called as he rode away. “Goodbye Legolas!”
They waved to Merilin as Narbeleth’s party rode west along the riverbank and vanished swiftly around a bend. Then Langcyll also gave the order to move out, and the company rode north. Legolas and Tathar looked back over their shoulders as the last of Candrochon’s company vanished eastward into the trees along the river. They then turned their faces forward and rode on, shedding this last vestige of novice-hood. Their companions exchanged approving glances.
Legolas had been picked when the party drew lots for watches that night, though with such a large company, three stood watch at any given time. He stood silently against a tree at the west end of the camp, glancing back now and then at Galithil and Fandoll, the other two on watch with him. The three watchers formed a triangle, with the remaining elves sleeping between, and the horses close by. They did not expect any problems, for they were still well within Mirkwood. It would be a brave orc or spider who would challenge a camp of fifteen elven warriors.
Legolas knew it was simply his “boyish eagerness,” as Langcyll had irritatingly taken to calling it, but he half-hoped something would happen. He knew life as a warrior would not be always filled with excitement and glory, but standing watch on this cloudy night, with no stars to see by, was a bore. He shifted his weight to his other leg, staring into the dark, and glanced around him. He caught Galithil yawning, and the young warrioress grinned at him, her pale gray eyes twinkling with merriment in the firelight. He was relieved not to be the only one of the company susceptible to boredom.
As the watch wore on, Legolas could not prevent his mind from wandering back to the palace--and wondering how his father had reacted when he learned what Legolas had done. Legolas wondered if Thranduil would forgive him. *Soon I will not have time for such reflections; my mind will be occupied by more important things. I must set aside the thought of my father now, and the past. The time has come to look to the future.*
Fandoll looked over at him then. Though the warrior had a merry nature, the dim light upon his dark features made him appear brooding. As if roused by some signal, Glanaur, Thalatirn, and Tuilinn awoke to relieve Legolas, Fandoll, and Galithil. Glanaur took Legolas’s place, “Nothing to report?”
“Nay,” Legolas answered. “All is quiet.”
The seasoned Glanaur was not fooled by the young elf’s casual tone. With a sly smile, (and irritatingly parental tone) he said, “How frightfully rude of the creatures of Mordor not to have made an appearance in honor of your first watch. What a disappointment.”
Legolas smiled sheepishly and wove his way through the sleeping elves to his own blanket next to Tathar’s--dead in the center. He reasoned to himself that there was no doubt he would see considerable action over the next months. Soon he would probably be wishing for a peaceful night of uninterrupted sleep. With that in mind, he cast himself down and fell immediately into dreams.
The following day, one of the scouts bringing up the rear of the company called ahead that a messenger was approaching, bearing the king’s flag. The other warriors instinctively looked to Legolas, who made no obvious reaction--perhaps only Langcyll and Tathar noticed that he broke a sweat. The messenger and his guards had ridden hard all night to catch up with the company, and the war party was very curious as to what urgent business could have sent him.
The messenger rode up to Langcyll and spoke to the captain for a moment. Then Langcyll turned to Legolas, who could not prevent himself from stiffening. “My lord, the message is for you.”
Legolas rode forward, painfully conscious of the eyes of the other warriors and took the small, carefully wrapped parcel bearing the king’s seal. When he opened it, he found the silver circlet of Mirkwood. A small scroll had been sent with it, bearing a note, unsigned, but written in the king’s hand: “It is your duty, and your right.”
Legolas placed the message silently in his saddlebag, then stared at the crown, wondering what to do. Langcyll sensed his youngest warrior’s dilemma, and rode up to him. “You should put it on, my lord. It is just one of your many duties.”
With a mental sigh, Legolas placed the crown on his head, wondering to himself whether this had been a signal of forgiveness or spite from his father. Thranduil knew being singled out as a prince troubled Legolas, but on the other hand…perhaps it was an acknowledgement. Perhaps both. Without imparting the message to his comrades (and they did not ask) Legolas resumed his place next to Tathar, feeling once again as though he stood out ridiculously. *For a time at least, I was just another warrior. I suppose to enjoy the rights of coming of age, I must also bear the less pleasant duties. How I wish I could simply be one of them.*
Tathar looked playfully at him as they rode on, “The crown of Mirkwood becomes you, my lord--do not scowl at me, Legolas, it is true! You can no more deny yourself as a prince of Mirkwood than the king could deny you were a warrior.” Never before had Tathar spoken so boldly to Legolas of his lineage, and he stared defiantly at his friend’s glare.
With a sigh, followed by a dry chuckle, Legolas shook his head, “As you say, Tathar. You’ve the better of me.”
“As always, Legolas. Be of good cheer. You need not face pomp and ceremony in the palace for a long time. You shall soon forget you even wear the crown, and the others shall soon cease to notice it.”
The pace was swift, but not hard; the company was aiming for thoroughness rather than speed in this mission. Within four days, the party had ridden out of Mirkwood, a vast plain spreading before them that crumpled into the purplish outlines of mountains in the distance. To the southeast stood the solitary grey hulk of Lonely Mountain. “Thither goes Candrochon,” Tathar remarked as they looked at it.
“And thither go we,” Elunen called to them, gesturing to the far end of the mountain range.
Legolas looked at the mountains, lining the horizon as far west as he could see. *We certainly shall be gone from home long. Already we are the farthest away from home I have ever been.* The thought was both exciting and disconcerting, but Legolas rode on with a light heart.
They made good time that day, and by the time the sun was low upon the horizon, the trees of Mirkwood were no more than a dark streak along the southwestern horizon. “We shall halt here,” Langcyll called as they reached a swift-running creek, “and give the horses extra rest. I wish to make a long day of it tomorrow.”
Legolas and Tathar, along with Langcyll and several of the others, took the horses to drink while the rest set up camp. “Take your fill, Sadron, you’ve had a long day,” Tathar told his brown stallion affectionately. “How do you like the flatlands, Legolas?”
Legolas stared about him, fascinated by the landscape that bore scarcely a sign of trees while the mountains had grown ever larger before them. “It is most certainly different,” he observed, and the others grinned.
“You will see many things that are different from Mirkwood before we are done, my lord,” Elunen called to him from across the creek, where several horses and elves were wading up to their knees. “The high mountains are still stranger to an elf of the greenwood.”
“How can an orc or a spider conceal themselves upon these open plains?” Legolas asked.
“They find ways, my lord,” Glanaur told him as he filled a water skin. The tall warrior rose and gazed around the seemingly-empty landscape, “They find ways. I suspect we shall see some before we reach the mountains.”
“Perhaps not,” Langcyll remarked as he passed them. “They may await us in the mountains in the hopes of staging an ambush.” Legolas had to fiercely suppress a shudder, remembering his brother and two sisters--or what he had been told of them, since they had died before his birth.
None of the others noticed, to his relief. “Legolas, Tathar, Glanaur,” Elunen called. “If your horses are sated, take them back to camp and bring the others. They must all have their turn and we must finish making camp by sundown.”
Springing upon Lanthir’s back, Legolas rode with Tathar and Glanaur back toward the camp. Langcyll and Gwilwileth, a warrioress from Legolas’s sister Limloeth’s generation, soon passed by them upon their mounts, leading two more. Suddenly, Langcyll raised a hand and all the horses stopped. Gwilwileth and Glanaur rode up next to him, blocking Legolas’s view. “What is it?” he asked Tathar, leaning in the saddle.
“Someone comes,” Tathar hissed, just able to see past Langcyll. “Not the Enemy’s servants, I think. They come openly, toward the river. A group of--dwarves, Legolas! They are dwarves!”
“I’ve never seen a dwarf!” Legolas whispered back.
“I know. Langcyll and the others wait to meet them.”
“What will they say, do you think?”
“I do not know.”
The party of dwarves soon spied the elves making their camp above the riverbank and more elves on horseback watching them. Legolas watched with great curiosity, and urged Lanthir a few steps forward for a better look as the leader of the group, walked up to speak to Langcyll. The top of the iron helm the heavy-bearded creature wore barely reached the hip of Langcyll’s mount. “Wood elves. What business have you in these lands?” Legolas was startled by the unfriendliness in the dwarf’s tone.
“We have no quarrel with you, Master Dwarf,” Langcyll replied with dignity. “We are a patrol of Mirkwood, seeking to drive the orcs and foul creatures of Mordor far from our borders.”
“Hmph, and straight into our borders is where they’ll wind up, to trouble our people,” the dwarf growled.
“Nay, we intend to pursue them further, as far south as we can. Then neither our lands nor yours shall be troubled by their scourge.” The dwarf harrumphed, apparently seeing no cause to believe a word Langcyll said. “In any case, we needn’t trouble each other now. My company shall be continue riding on the morrow. We desire no argument.”
The dwarf grunted and jerked his head at his companions, who followed him and paid the rest of Langcyll’s party no heed as they headed towards the shallowest part of the creek. As Legolas and Tathar gazed curiously at them, the lead dwarf again glanced up and--like all others--his gaze was drawn to the silver vine circlet Legolas wore. His beady black eyes darkened still more, “Hmph. The crown of Mirkwood. He must be another of that greedy tyrant Thranduil’s spawn. I’ve lost track of how many there are.”
Legolas did not respond, so shocked was he by the scorn-ridden words. He stared after the dwarves, who had dismissed him as swiftly as they had noticed him, and were now plodding their way across the creek. The prince’s first thought was to wonder what vicious fabrications could possibly lead the dwarves to believe such things about Thranduil.
Then, memories began to wiggle unbidden into his mind: snatches of unintentionally overheard conversations, rumors, and gossip. He also recalled having come upon his father in one of his storerooms, examining gemstones and silver and other riches with a rather peculiar expression that Legolas had been too young to identify at the time. Could it be that…he turned back to his companions and was alarmed yet again by their collective expression--chagrin. Tathar shrugged at him, “There, Legolas, now you have met dwarves.”
At Langcyll’s urging, they rode back to camp for the rest of the horses. Legolas was silent for much of the evening.
As the other warriors gathered around the fires, eating, talking, and singing, Langcyll kept a discreet eye on the youngest. Tathar was seated close to one of the fires and talking earnestly with Tuilinn, one of the younger she-elves in the group. Legolas, on the other hand, was sitting a little apart from the rest, his eyes troubled. Only Langcyll had noticed that Legolas had eaten little and spoken even less since their encounter with the dwarves.
*He had to learn of his father’s shortcomings sooner or later,* Langcyll thought. *Once he left Mirkwood it was inevitable. But of all those who could have told him, why did he have to hear it from the dwarves? Perhaps I should have told him long ago.* He looked again at the young prince, who was gazing absently into the flames of one of the campfires, the light flickering off his crown. Langcyll, too, wondered whether the king had sent that as a token of honor or as a lash to hurt Legolas, for it was still another thing that forced Legolas to feel different. *Already he feels alienated; that is why he sits apart,* Langcyll thought with a sigh. It was not his place to interfere with the king’s relationship with his son, but then again--*Legolas is one of my warriors now, under my charge and care. It is my duty to see to his well-being, in all respects.*
With that in mind, Langcyll rose and walked to seat himself next to Legolas. And, in the fashion of a veteran elf warrior, he came straight to the point, “There are many things you do not know of King Thranduil, Legolas.”
Without taking his eyes from the fire, Legolas replied, “I am beginning to see that.”
“But neither the king’s deeds nor his reputation need hold power over you. You know your own mind and heart, young prince. Your destiny lies along a different path. A greater path, I think, than even an elven king,” the archer captain said.
Legolas blinked, apparently doubtful that any could call him “great,” in the present or future. Just then, Tathar and several of the others began laughing at something Gwilwileth had said, and one of them cried, “Come, my lord, Langcyll, you cannot sit alone by the fire all night.”
“Listen to Tuilinn. There will be little time for merriment in days ahead, my lord, best make the most of it now,” Glanaur called to Legolas.
The prince sighed and said in a low voice to Langcyll, “Must they call me that?”
“You are of noble birth, Legolas.”
“I desired neither this title nor this crown. I should like to make myself worthy of nobility before it is given me.” But Legolas rose, and he and Langcyll joined their comrades.
The following day did not begin well. It was still full dark, but anxiety invaded Legolas’s dreams. He woke with a bit of a start to find himself still surrounded by sleeping elves, but he sensed something was amiss. He looked around to see three new warriors on watch, but Langcyll had also risen and was talking to one of them, Nathron. Nathron noticed Legolas first and motioned to Langcyll, who seemed surprised to see the youngest of his warriors awake. Langcyll indicated for Legolas to join Gwilwileth at the south side of the camp.
“You could not sleep?” she asked as he reached her.
“A shadow disturbed my sleep,” he answered softly, staring into the darkness. “Something draws near.”
Gwilwileth asked, “What?”
Legolas paused, his elven senses scanning out over the plain, and his ears picked up sounds far too faint and distant for any mortal to hear. He had been drilled in the sounds and signs that identified foul creatures, but this was the first time he had actually heard them. Still, they were unmistakable. “Orcs.”
His sister’s friend looked impressed. “Caranaur has only just awakened Langcyll, yet they roused you from sleep. Your ears are keen.”
Legolas was still listening. “They are between us and Mirkwood. They are a large band, and bold, or they’d not have dared coming so deep into our borders. Will they be bold enough to challenge the camp, do you think?”
Langcyll had come up then, and exchanged a wordless glance with Gwilwileth before Legolas turned back to them. “What do you think?” Langcyll asked him.
The young elf looked back out into the darkness, and this time could make out shapes moving stealthily (or with as much stealth as an orc could muster) among the ground and amid the low scrubby bushes that dotted the lowland. Moving towards the camp. “They come,” he said, feeling a strange new tightness in his insides. “Perhaps our patrols within Mirkwood have driven them out and they have no choice but to move our way. Their only means of escape is through us.”
Langcyll nodded, “I fear our king’s son speaks the truth. The fell creatures of Mordor grow bolder still. We must rouse the camp,” he raised his voice then, and the elves raised their heads in response. All immediately sensed the peril approaching and rose silently. In a quiet voice still enough for all the elves to hear, Langcyll said, “We shall prepare an ambush. Half of the company shall remain here with the horses and feign sleep to draw the orcs. The other half shall spread out.”
There was little time to speak or question as the shadow on the plains grew nearer by the second. Legolas and the others in his group removed their bedrolls and left them among the horses. Legolas felt slightly anxious at leaving his noble mount, Lanthir, to serve as bait for the orcs, but it could not be helped. Tathar remained among the elves in the camp, essentially using themselves as bait. Crouching behind a clump of thorny bushes, Legolas readied his bow, and waited for Langcyll’s signal.
They came in a group of twenty or so, dark, creeping, slimy, loathsome creatures, even more hideous than Legolas had imagined them. And dull-witted, for they shuffled loudly enough for a company of dwarves to be roused by the noise, but they did not seem suspicious of the six elves who lay apparently sound asleep in their camp--with no watchers and fifteen horses. From his vantage point, Legolas could see Tathar in the center, lying in a most unnatural position--undoubtedly with both of his knives in his hands and his bow well within reach.
Langcyll was also “asleep” in the back of the camp, where the orcs were approaching first, their own swords and knives gleaming dully in the dark. The orc in the lead crept on until he and five others were within feet of their prey. Legolas was all but holding his breath, and certain that the pounding of his heart would give them all away.
The first orc bent toward Langcyll, knife aimed for his throat--then quicker than lightning, a white hand shot from beneath the blanket and with a deafening shriek, the orc was down with his own knife buried to the hilt beneath his chin. At the cry, Legolas loosed his waiting arrow, and the orc threatening Tathar fell dead. Then the battle cry went up from both sides, and orcs and elves flung themselves into combat.
It could hardly be considered a battle even by boyish bravado. A hail of arrows took down more than half of the orcs before they could get to the bedrolls--which were already empty because the occupants had sprung to their feet. Legolas leapt over his bush for better aim and shot the orcs, one after another, as instinct took over for consciousness. Langcyll’s arms moved so swiftly that they blurred, his knives flashing in each hand, catching any orc that came too close. It took little time for the remaining orcs to break and flee, and Legolas was forced to lower his bow as the warriors pursuing them got into his path.
He was about to rejoin the others in the camp when the bushes rustled near him and with a screech, a lone orc lunged out, wounded in the side by an arrow. Legolas drew his knife, ducking under a wildly-swung orc sword, then swept his arm around to stab the vile creature in the shoulder. The sword dropped and with his other knife, Legolas slashed through the orc’s neck. He glanced about, listening for more attackers, but a few final shrieks beyond the camp told him the last of the band had been dispatched. With distaste, Legolas retrieved both his knives and his bow, and went to join the other warriors.
Langcyll was returning from the other side of the camp just as Legolas arrived, joining the rest of the company, “Are all accounted for?”
“Both orcs and elves, Langcyll,” Gwilwileth said. “The enemy’s creatures are all slain. None of our number are wounded.”
Langcyll nodded, “That is well.”
Legolas wondered why the captain looked so troubled. In a low voice, he asked Langcyll, “Is something else amiss?”
Langcyll gazed at his youngest warrior, “Only that such a great band of orcs would have ventured so deep into Mirkwood that they were driven out only after the departure of our war parties. The foul creatures of Mordor grow disturbingly bold as the shadow over our realm darkens. They cannot be unrelated.” He gestured briskly to Legolas and the other warriors, “Make certain to collect your arrows. We shall break camp and get an early start.”
As the company prepared for departure, Tuilinn (the warrioress with whom Tathar had been flirting the evening before) asked, “I wonder if that party of dwarves encountered these orcs. There were not many of them.”
“It’s no concern of ours,” Fanfirith told her. “Dwarves always take care of themselves.”
Legolas glanced about him as he gathered the remainder of his pack. He had not seen Tathar since the attack started. Suddenly, an arrowhead, one of his own and coated thoroughly with slime, was shoved into his view, followed by a broken shaft. “You’ll have to mend that.”
“My thanks,” Legolas replied wryly, taking both from Tathar’s hand. “I doubt if I shall have time just now. I could not see you after the fighting broke out. Where have you been?”
“Hiding beneath my bedroll, of course.”
“How many orcs did you take?” his friend asked, they finished packing their horses.
Legolas blinked, “I’ve no idea.”
Tathar snorted, “You did not bother to keep count? I took three.”
“Tathar, I hardly think it is a matter to crow about.”
“Mount up,” came Langcyll’s order from the front of the group.
As they rode out, the eastern sky growing red as dawn approached, Tathar whispered, “Admit it, you dissembler, you got a thrill from your first battle.”
Legolas rolled his eyes, “Even a first-century novice would be hard pressed to qualify that as a battle, my friend. But if you ask whether I feel pleasure in taking the life of any living thing, I would truthfully say no.”
“However, between your riotous behavior and your snorts, one might yet mistake you for a novice.”
“And your jests are as weak as ever!”
Two weeks later, the noon sun found the company riding over rolling hills that would slowly steepen into the Grey Mountains. Legolas and Tathar found themselves once again in the center of the group. While Tathar still desired be free from all restraint, Legolas only wished he did not have to constantly rein Lanthir in, for the horse preferred to ride faster than the pace Langcyll was setting. But there was no point in pushing the horses hard so early in the journey; the mountains would soon be upon them and force them to slow.
“The foothills themselves seem steep enough,” Legolas remarked to Thalatirn, who rode beside him. “Is it difficult for the horses in the mountains?”
“Difficult, but not impossible,” Thalatirn replied. The sturdy, dark-haired warrior was only a century older than Legolas, but had been on twelve mountain missions. “Once into the high hills, we shall dismount and lead them over.”
“It will be a long trip,” Tathar mused, staring apprehensively at the high, grey peaks. “Can many orcs survive such inhospitable conditions?”
“Nay, not directly upon the face of the slopes, but there are caves to provide shelter enough for many bands, should they be forced to take refuge there,” Gwilwileth told him.
“You do not think they would have already hidden themselves in the mountains?” Legolas asked, feeling an inner shiver at the thought of untold armies of orcs waiting in caves to spring with swords and arrows--and avalanches.
“It is unlikely,” Langcyll had been listening. Now he called back to them, “Until now, we have sought only to keep them from entering the Mirkwood itself, and they have never been pursued far beyond our borders. But they continue to plague us and other travelers on the roads between Mirkwood, Imladris, and Lórien, and the dwarves complain that we have driven them toward Lonely Mountain and the Iron Hills without bothering to send warning.”
“As if the dwarves would do such a thing for us,” scoffed Galithil.
Legolas nearly asked the others about the nature of the conflict between the dwarves and elves--it had existed as long as he had been living, but none had ever bothered to explain it to him. Now he realized how incredibly ignorant he was of life outside Mirkwood, and the thought disgusted him. He could not now bring himself to admit it to the group.
“Never mind the dwarves, we shall not be seeing much of them until we are south of Imladris,” Langcyll was saying. “And from the looks of the mountains, it may be a few years yet.”
“How will we cover all that ground even in that time?” Tathar asked, looking daunted by the massive slopes and high peaks.
“We are not the only party scouring the mountains, Tathar. Others will search the areas we do not cover. The fell creatures of Mordor shall find little hope of escape.”
The warriors burst into laughter as Legolas pointed in outrage at Tathar, “It was you who stole Narbeleth’s knife, you fraudster!”
“That was not I, that was Candrochon!” Tathar protested, raising his hands defensively. “I was on a hunt with Eregdos--Tuilinn was there, she will bear me out.”
From the opposite side of the fire, Tuilinn laughed, “He speaks the truth; I remember Tathar was there. I also remember him planting sour grapes among Fimsigil’s rations during that trip.” Tathar winced, and Legolas laughed in turn.
“May the Valar spare us from novice pranks,” Langcyll remarked to Elunen, who was standing watch.
“Come, come, my friend, I recall you having delivered your share of torment to your masters during your training,” the warrioress replied with a smile, not taking her gaze from the base of the hill where the warriors had made camp for the night.
“I was at least skilled enough never to be caught,” Langcyll said with dignity. The other warriors turned and stared in mock-astonishment that their venerable captain might at one time have behaved with such immaturity.
Gwilwileth placed another sausage over the fire, “Prince Legolas’s sister, the Princess Limloeth, was quite a prankster in her time, as I recall. During her second century of training, she once rigged the overhead targets with sacks of mud so that they would fall upon any unfortunate archer who shot them.”
“Ai!” Tathar made a face.
Legolas grinned, “Limloeth remains a mischievous spirit; I can well imagine her doing such a thing.”
Langcyll, munching on an apple, smiled at the prince, “It seems to run in the family, my lord; do not think I did not know it was you who put my bow in the topmost branches of that tree many years ago.”
“Aha! Now the truth is revealed!” Tathar exclaimed, pointing accusingly at Legolas, who grinned and blushed sheepishly.
“Why did you not accuse me then?” he asked Langcyll.
“I’d no proof, but you were the only one of the novices light enough to climb so high,” the captain replied blithely.
“However did you finally get it down?” Tathar demanded.
“With a great deal of ingenuity.”
As the other elves laughed harder and Langcyll turned to speak to Elunen, Legolas said defensively, “You were still the premiere trickster of us all, Tathar, so do not gloat too loudly.”
“Indeed,” Fandoll chuckled. “It was Tathar who took all the quivers and dumped the arrows into a pile before your practice once.”
“Untrue, that was Merilin!”
“No indeed, my boy, Lady Merilin may have instigated that lark, but it was you who carried it out.” (Fandoll had been the novice master who taught Legolas and his friends the art of making and mending their bows and arrows.)
Whatever retort Tathar made, Legolas did not pay attention. Elunen and Langcyll were now speaking urgently with one of the other warriors on watch, for something had drawn Elunen’s attention. Legolas shut out the cheerful conversations around him and discreetly scanned the rocky hillside.
For a brief second, upon a neighboring hill, he saw reflected light--not bright like water or metal, but faint, and it was instantly gone. Like flame reflected in the eye of an animal. He could not hear well for the rather loud discourse among the elves, but he thought there was more movement on the hills closer to the mountains. Were it a normal animal, the creatures would not take such pains to conceal their presence.
*So, the fell creatures of Mordor have beaten us to the mountains. If their numbers are large, they shall be able to prepare traps for us in many places.*
Langcyll returned to the fire and rejoined the chatter, while whetting his long knife. Legolas stared at the captain, who replied calmly, “We know the enemy awaits us, but there is naught else we can do tonight. To break camp and seek them out in the dark would give them too great a warning of our intentions. Soon we shall begin to hunt by night as we move further into the mountains.”
“Do they not mean to attack us here, then?”
“I suspect they will try before dawn to catch us unawares. It never ceases to amaze me how orcs can fight elves for so long and yet learn nothing of our ways.” Legolas thought it would never cease to amaze him how Langcyll could speak so casually of such things.
They posted five guards that night. Though the others knew of the orcs lurking in the hills around them, they seemed content to sleep. But Legolas and Tathar were far too uneasy to sleep, so both volunteered for watch. *I suppose in time I shall get used to this,* Legolas thought as he stood on the edge of the camp, listening to the sounds of orcs moving about in the distance. *Perhaps when I am weary enough it will not be so hard to sleep in the shadow of danger.*
For the moment, all he could do was stand there and fidget. From a leaf on a nearby bush, he watched the stately progress of a moth emerging from its chrysalis. In spite of his anxiety, he smiled, *And even in the face of shadow and fear, new life comes.* It was a comforting sense, as the insect began fluttering its wings to dry them. *His wings shall be dry in twenty minutes, and he will be able to fly. Would that I had been able to enter the world so fast.*
Then the ominous noise of many orcs drew his attentions back to the danger the camp faced. The creatures appeared to have gathered into a group, and were now moving fast--straight towards the camp. The sounds grew louder, and closer. Legolas looked across the camp just as Langcyll woke the others with a sharp clap. There would be no opportunity for a neatly executed ambush tonight. “Make ready! They come!”
Nathron, one of the other watchers, readied his bow and called out, “Will we hold our position or go to meet them?”
“We hold here. There are not enough of them to form a siege. They will try, and retreat when they fail. It will be over then until they can draw reinforcements. Legolas, Tathar, help guard the horses,” the captain snapped.
Legolas darted across the camp to where Tuilinn, Elunen, Fandoll, and Glanaur already stood waiting for the assault. This would most definitely qualify as a battle. Elunen motioned him to her side, “Listen, Legolas. How many do you hear?”
“Forty, perhaps more,” Legolas said, feeling his heartbeat quicken. But at the same time, he knew there was no time to dwell upon fear, only concentration at what must be done for the warriors, the horses, and himself to survive. “They will come in a fast, hard assault and try to overwhelm us with numbers.”
“They will fail, my friend,” the warrioress said resolutely. In spite of his tension, Legolas felt gratified. *She did not call me ‘my lord.’*
The sounds were clear now, the swiftly moving feet and guttural growls. *They do not charge yet. They save their speed to try and escape our arrows as they come down the hill.* Legolas thought, his breath coming faster with every second. *They shall make for the main camp first. I must pick off as many as I can before they reach us. Then it shall be knife work.*
He could feel Elunen on his left, Tathar on his right, their bows ready to guard the horses and aid their companions. The orcs were on the northern slope of the hill, having come down from the mountains, and charging for the top. They were coming hard now, and Legolas could feel the charge in the ground beneath his feet, though he could not yet see them. *Being below them, we are at a disadvantage.* He heard the battle cries starting. *They are coming…now!*
Like an explosion of ants from a disturbed nest, the dark shapes of loathsome orcs poured over the top of the hill and charged down the southern side towards the fifteen elven warriors. Legolas bent his bow along with the rest and fired, dropping the front most. Still they came. Another volley of arrows were released, and another line went down. Then the orcs released their own arrows, and Legolas flinched as he felt one sweep just past his ear. Several yards away, he saw Langcyll use an arrow in his hand to stab an orc in the throat, then notched the arrow onto his bow and let it fly into the heart of another. In spite of his own predicament, Legolas thought, *I must remember that!*
Still they came, a great boiling mass of vile creatures, swords and spears waving, charging at an uncontrollable speed down the hillside. They would plow right into the waiting elves. Legolas fired off several more arrows, dropping four, but the front most had raised their shields and charged even harder. *They seek to knock us to the ground and hold us until they can finish us off. I must not go down in this chaos.*
The orcs now divided, having picked out their individual foes, and a goodly number of them were heading straight for Legolas and his comrades. Legolas actually met the eyes of one of the fiends and knew he had been marked out. Then Elunen shouted, “Forward!” and he drew both of his knives and ran to meet his foe.
The orcs had built up great speed, and Legolas ran straight towards them. But even as one drove straight at him, shield ready to knock him from his feet, the young warrior pivoted to one side, deflecting rather than taking the full blow. Even so, the shock of the impact swept painfully up his arms. He dodged the sword of another and swept his knife into a random orc arm, forcing it to drop its blade. The first came back, sword in one hand, shield in another. Legolas dodged sweeping blows and lunged with his knife. A blow from the shield threw him aside and nearly off his feet. He spun to plunge his knife into the chest of another beast that tried to catch him from behind, then whirled away to escape the sword of the first.
All around him were fighting bodies, elves and orcs, the sounds of clanging metal, sweeping weapons, and cries of pain--from both sides. The company would not escape unscathed this time. Langcyll and Tathar were back-to-back, taking a furious assault but holding it off with their knifes. Legolas moved back rapidly as the first orc came at him again, waiting this time for the creature to charge him first. It came, sword lunging straight to wound him, then suddenly swiped at him, and Legolas only just managed to dive out of the way. The orc tried to strike his head with its shield, but Legolas rolled aside and delivered a fierce kick to knock the shield aside. Then he was up, and slashed the creature’s shoulder, forcing it to drop its weapon. With a second, slashing blow to the neck, his enemy was dispatched.
“Legolas!” Glanaur shouted, and the young warrior saw two orcs making for the horses, hoping to kill them and prevent the elves from making a quick escape.
Legolas charged, shoving his knives into his belt and seizing his bow from the ground in a sweeping motion, then drew and fired twice, dropping one. The other caught the arrow in his shield and turned from the horses, heading for Gwilwileth’s unprotected back. “Beware!” Legolas shouted to her, frantically going for another arrow.
Even as he ran, a flicker of movement to his right was the only warning of his peril, and he barely managed to jerk aside as fire streaked along the top of his shoulder from a knife intended for his neck. With a hiss of surprised pain, Legolas lashed out with his fist, catching the orc who had nearly caught him and knocking it nearly five feet. That gave him the time to use his bow, and send an arrow straight between its eyes.
Two of the best archers, Fanfirith and Nathron , stood atop rocks and had begun picking off the orcs from above. Legolas saw a likely spot to do the same and headed for it, but three orcs apparently guessed his intentions and charged him. He took one down with his bow, then tossed it aside and drew his knives, hustling back towards a small tree and nearly tripping over a root. He knocked aside the spear of the first, driving it into the second, and grabbed a branch and swung himself up, kicking out with both legs to knock down one of them. The second menaced him with a wickedly curved dagger, and he dodged several swings. The second was rising, *I must dispatch this one before the other is up,* and Legolas suffered a slice on the right arm to grab the orc’s wrist--how revolting it was to touch the thing--and yank it to where he could cut its throat. He dropped the carcass, yanked his knife free, and a neat throw buried it in the skull of the one with the spear. He seized his bow, crossed the remaining strides to the small height in a few bounds, leapt upon it, and began shooting.
From above, it was clear that the elves were winning this battle. Orc corpses littered the main part of their camp, and the fighting warriors were no longer set upon from all sides. Legolas shot one menacing Fandoll with a sword and received a grateful wave, then took down a pair trying to pin Langcyll. He aimed for one trying to spear Elunen from behind, but Tathar appeared and caught it first with his knives. All at once, an unearthly screech filled the air, painful on his ears, and the scant dozen orcs still living broke and ran back up the hill. Legolas, Fanfirith, and Nathron shot half of them before the rest were over the top and out of range of their arrows.
Breathing heavily, Legolas stood where he was, trying to bring his spinning mind down to a sensible speed. Jumping down from his position, he knew all too clearly what distinguished this as a battle. Many of the warriors were bleeding, and some looked to be in considerable pain. Legolas faltered, uncertain of whom to run to first, then saw Gwilwileth on the ground near the horses. She had not heard his earlier shout of warning and the orc had caught her from behind. He rushed to her side. “I am not badly hurt,” the warrioress said through clenched teeth, clutching her side tightly.
“Legolas!” Langcyll shouted. “Bring her to the center of camp. Fandoll, start some water boiling on the fire and begin readying bandages. We must have light, Tathar, relight the torches around the camp. Fanfirith, Nathron, bring the athelas and the other herbs. Make haste!”
As Legolas swung Gwilwileth’s other arm over his shoulders and supported her to where the wounded were being treated. Pulling aside the bloodstained tunic, he wrapped affixed an athelas-soaked pad of bandage against the ugly stab wound in his companion’s side, then wrapped bandages around her waist. “My thanks, Legolas. Naught else ails me,” she said, patting his arm gratefully. “See to Glanaur; he bleeds too much.”
Again, the pace of time seemed to speed, as Legolas helped bandage Glanaur’s deeply-gouged leg. Then he removed an arrow from Tuilinn’s shoulder, splinted Thalatirn’s sprained wrist, and examined the deep bruise on Edlothia’s forehead, concerned that she might have been concussed.
“Thank the Valar there were no serious injuries,” Langcyll muttered as he walked up to see how the wounded were faring. “Do not neglect yourself, Legolas.”
“Sir?” Legolas blinked in confusion, and the captain gestured to his arm and shoulder, both of which began to throb on cue. “Oh.” *Strange, I had stopped noticing it.*
Tathar returned to the campfire and clicked his tongue at Legolas, “You never could duck fast enough. Here, let me.” He seized a roll of bandages and some of the athelas salve, and gestured authoritatively for Legolas to hold out his arm.
“You did not escape unscathed yourself, my friend,” Legolas replied, noting the bloody scrape on Tathar’s forehead and the torn tunic and black bruise near his collarbone.
Elunen walked briskly over to check on them, “So now you’ve both shed and spilt your first blood. At this rate, you shall be as seasoned as any of us by the time this mission ends. Make sure to clean off that orc slime before you dress the cuts, Tathar,” she added.
“Some water, please, Fandoll,” Tathar said. Allowing himself to be attended to gave Legolas time to slow his still-frantic heartbeat. Tathar had always been good at dressing injuries--the Mirkwood healers had considered it a waste when his friend chose to become a warrior instead. Legolas had always envied him his skill at healing.
Langcyll was pacing about restlessly, looking very troubled. “Will this attack delay as very much?” Legolas asked him.
“Not at all. None of us will be prevented from traveling by our injuries; we will ride at dawn as planned.”
“Dawn?” Legolas was surprised. Surely it was almost dawn by now--he looked up. The moon and stars had not moved at all in the eternity that the battle had lasted. Even the clouds had scarcely traveled in the sky. Feeling confused, Legolas glanced around him, and his gaze fell upon the bush where he had been standing watch before--as a moth fluttered its wings one last time and took off into the air. Legolas was astonished. *All that in only twenty minutes?*
As Langcyll had predicted, the wounded members of the party were more than recovered enough to travel by dawn. “Break camp!” Elunen ordered as Tathar checked Edlothia’s head wound once more.
As they assembled the horses, Langcyll assigned positions. “We shall ride two by two. Fanfirith and Nathron, take the front scout positions. Fandoll and Caranaur, in the back. Edlothia and Gwilwileth behind me, Tathar and Legolas behind them, Glanaur and Tuilinn shall follow, then Thalatirn and Galithil, Elunen shall bring up the rear.”
Legolas and Tathar mounted and entered the formation, only then did they realize that they were no longer in the most protected position in the group. They exchanged astonished glances as Langcyll looked back at them. Seeing their pleased expressions, the archer captain smiled briefly before raising his hand, “Forward!”
FIFTEEN WARRIORS IN LEGOLAS’S MISSION:
Langcyll--captain of the company, ranking warrior of Mirkwood, Legolas’s novice master
Gwilwileth, Glanaur --warrior captains of Limloeth’s generation, Langcyll and Elunen’s lieutenants
Fandoll, Fanfirith, Nathron --other senior warriors, experienced enough to start leading missions
Tuilinn, Edlothia, Galithil, Fandoll, Thalatirn, Caranaur--experienced but young warriors, a few centuries older than Legolas, not seasoned enough to command yet
Legolas, Tathar--first-year warriors, just came of age, have a long way to go yet before they’re considered seasoned
Other War Parties:
The Lonely Mountain mission--led by Eregdos, a warrior captain, and Legolas’s friend Candrochon is a member
The Anduin mission--led by Narbeleth, a warrior captain, and Legolas’s friend Merilin is a member
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.