9. The Apple Tree
“Twelve!” Tathar announced by way of greeting as he rejoined Legolas.
Legolas did not reply but narrowed his eyes at the surrounding boulders, certain that the company had not taken the entire band. Tathar was about to speak when the first rays of the sun broke over the mountainside. Two orcs, unable to remain hiding from their pursuers, burst from among the rocks and dashed up the hillside, grunting and screeching in the light. Tathar went for his bow, but Legolas drew two arrows and shot them both cleanly.
With a sly smile, Legolas turned back to his friend. “Eighteen.”
Tathar looked disgusted, “I thought you did not like to crow over killing orcs.”
“It was you who goaded me into it, my friend. You’ve none to blame but yourself.”
“Come, both of you, we must ride,” Langcyll called to them. “Winter comes and we have many peaks yet to scale if we wish to reach Rivendell by summer.”
“Beware making loud noises, lest we bring an avalanche upon us,” Langcyll cautioned the warriors as they led their horses through a snow-covered mountain pass.
Legolas looked apprehensively up at the huge deposits of snow on the cliffs above them. This blizzard seemed to be lasting forever, and the wind added still more snow to the drifts, which seemed mountains in themselves. The thought of rock avalanches in these mountains had always weighed upon his mind, but the idea of being buried under a snowdrift was not exactly pleasing either. He tugged his winter cloak tighter around him and picked up the pace, wishing he and Tathar had not offered to bring up the rear during this leg of the journey.
After that first real battle in the foothills, Langcyll had said it was a bad sign that they should engage the orcs so soon into the mission. He had been proven right; the Grey Mountains had been infested with the foul creatures, and the Misty Mountains were proving little better. Elunen said that Legolas and Tathar had fought more orcs in the past eighteen months than she had in her first century of adulthood.
Legolas did not find himself thinking much of home. Their remote positions in the mountains and the speed of their travel made it next to impossible for messages to be sent, and they had received no news of Mirkwood since they had met one of the other parties in the foothills during the second month of their journey--more than a year before. All was as well as could be expected in such times, they had been told. Legolas had been unable to suppress a wince when he had heard one of those warriors saying that King Thranduil had become dispirited and ill-tempered in recent weeks. He sometimes wondered now how time had affected his father’s feelings about his departure. But for the most part, he was glad to have no way of knowing.
“Daydreaming again, my lord?”
Legolas looked at Tathar and shook his head in disgust. All of the other warriors had ceased addressing him by his title save Tathar--who did so only to irritate Legolas. “Anything to take my mind off you as my partner,” he replied glibly.
Tathar chuckled, afraid to laugh loudly while they were in the pass, though the scream of the wind stole almost all sound away. “This winter shall be a bore. Any sensible orc will have holed himself up in a cave until warmer weather.”
“Sensible orc is a contradiction in terms, Tathar,” Tuilinn called from in front of them. The other warriors laughed and nodded agreement.
“Perhaps, but orcs will survive even less in the snow than hobbits,” Elunen remarked. “We will see little of them until spring comes, but I doubt we shall be bored. Not all fell creatures are hampered so by snow.”
“Wargs, perhaps?” Legolas asked.
“I think so. They would not try to hunt a party as large as ours under normal circumstances, but this season has forced much of their game from their trails. Hunger may drive them to come for us.”
“They shall have to form a very great pack to threaten us,” Tuilinn said dubiously.
“Given the choice between a fast death on a hunt and slow starvation, they will cast their lot while they’ve still the strength to attack. Guard your horses well; a desperate warg will choose the easiest prey it can,” Langcyll advised the group.
Legolas felt Lanthir tug on his lead, and he chuckled, patting the horse’s nose. “Fear not, my friend, I shall never let any harm come to you,” he murmured.
The wind had picked up, blowing snow into the faces of the elves as they continued their long walk through the pass over rapidly rising snowdrifts. The elves themselves could walk upon the drifts with little difficulty, but for their mounts, it was another matter. “This pass will soon be completely blocked,” Gwilwileth said. “We should hurry or the horses will be trapped.”
So loud was the wail of the wind through the pass that it was nearly impossible to distinguish the wind from another howl that rose through the blowing snow. But Legolas heard it, as did Langcyll. “You were more right than you know, Elunen. Already they watch us.”
“From where?” the others looked up along the cliffs.
“All about!” Legolas exclaimed, squinting through the blowing snow to see dark shapes upon the white cliffs. It was very odd; the wargs stood motionless, in plain view of the elves. “Why are they just standing there?”
“It is not like wargs. They await something…” Langcyll leapt upon a larger drift and put his hand to the canyon wall. He jumped down, “Quickly! The snowdrift has weakened! An avalanche comes!”
The warriors put their heads forward and charged through the snow, yanking their frightened horses behind them. Legolas now heard the creaking of ice and rock over the storm and the howling wargs, as the weight of the snow deposits grew too great for the cliffs to bear. *The wargs hope the avalanche will bury us and then they shall take us as we come up. Or if we should perish beneath it, they hope to dig us out.* He urged Lanthir harder as the cracks of the ice and rock grew louder.
“It is not much further! Hurry!” Langcyll shouted, seeing the end of the pass before them.
Large lumps of snow had begun to fall, as a precursor to the massive collapse that approached. If the elven warriors left the horses and run across the snow, they would surely make it. But none would leave his mount, and their survival in this unusually-harsh winter depended upon the supplies the horses carried. Legolas heard a collective howl rise from the watching wargs, and looked up in alarm as the triumphant cry was drowned out by a still-greater noise. With a great roar, a massive wave of snow spilled down the steep mountain slopes into the pass--directly onto the company.
Legolas continued to charge for the exit, but knew there was no chance. He hoped some of the others might get through. Next to him, the horses screamed, Tathar yelped, and Legolas gasped, raising a hand in futile defense as a thundering wall of snow slammed into him, flinging him to the ground beneath its massive weight. For several moments, he blacked out.
Returning to consciousness was a strange experience. Legolas found himself lying flat, facedown, and for a moment he felt suspended in cold air. Forcing his eyes open, he realized he was encased completely in tightly-packed snow, so deep that all around him was darkness. He was also bitterly cold. *I must get out soon. New air will not reach me beneath this drift.* The elf swiftly began to claw at the snow around him, trying to give himself space to turn over. Then it occurred to him--*Which way is up?*
Fighting the urge to panic, he flailed against the snow and ice, praying that he was moving in the right direction. He was not yet in danger of freezing to death, and the snow was not packed tightly enough to smother him, but if the oxygen in the trapped air around him ran out, he would die of deprivation. His mind was beginning to race, *What of Tathar? He was beside me. If he too is trapped, I’ve no way to aid him. And Lanthir and the others--*
The young warrior forced himself to focus on digging, though the cold--or perhaps it was decreasing air--made him feel sluggish. *I do not want to die this way…I must get out.* He managed to twist himself around so he faced the direction he thought was up, and continued to push the snow from over his head, trying to swim his way out. A rock above him barred his way, and as he wriggled it to dislodge it, the snow suddenly shifted--falling and encasing him as tightly as before.
*No! I must get out! I will not last much longer!* though the air was not completely cut off, Legolas knew he was running out of oxygen. His head was beginning to swim, and he felt detached. *I…must concentrate…must keep digging…I cannot…* But his arms and legs would no longer obey him. The snow no longer felt cold around him, and his mind wandered. Limloeth said had said they would meet again. How upset she would be when she learned Legolas had perished. He wondered if she had married Orthelian yet. *I did not mean for another of us to die after an avalanche. For that I am sorry.*
An even deeper blackness was now sweeping over his vision, *How strange. Even now I am not sorry I joined this mission. I hope the others escape the snow and the wargs…at least the company would go on…* He was so disoriented that he did not realize his eyes had closed. *At least I had the chance…I was a warrior…for Mirkwood…* Had he been able to see, he would have realized the snow was growing lighter above him as the upper layers of the drift were dug away. But the last vestiges of consciousness were leaving him.
More than half of the company had escaped the pass before the avalanche struck. Langcyll turned back and cried, “No!” as the white wave swept over six members of his party and their horses, burying them deep.
No sooner had the snow settled than the nine remaining warriors flew back out into the pass, digging frantically into the snow. “Quickly!” Langcyll cried, struggling to suppress panic and despair. “They will not live long under such weight! We must get them out!”
“Langcyll, the wargs!” Tuilinn shouted, pointing as the dark shapes above them began to make their way down.
“We don’t have time for this,” the captain growled as he dug. “Take over!” he ordered Nathron to continue where he had been digging and went for his bow. “Gwilwileth, help hold off the wargs. The rest of you, dig! Dig with all your might!”
He took aim at the warg already descending onto the snowdrift from the rocks and fired, planting an arrow right in its skull. The thing dropped and he aimed at another, not yet a threat to the diggers, but within range. An arrow from Gwilwileth struck another, and it fell onto the snow with a shriek. Langcyll and Gwilwileth kept up their defense as the warriors continued their desperate digging. *It is my duty to protect my warriors. I cannot let them die beneath a snowdrift. We must be in time!*
“Langcyll!” Nathron shouted. The captain turned his gaze briefly from the wargs--who were now hesitating to approach the snowdrifts--to see Nathron had a firm grip upon a hand sticking out from the snow. “Hold on, I have you,” Nathron said to the trapped elf, pulling with all his might.
All at once, the snow disgorged its prisoner. It was Elunen, coughing and gasping, but unharmed. Beneath her, they found Fandoll and Glanaur, and their horses feet away. “Caranaur, Tathar, and Legolas remain missing,” Fanfirith said anxiously. “We are running out of time!”
“Keep digging!” Langcyll snapped, readying an arrow as a hungry warg took a few cautious steps forward on the higher rocks, obviously debating whether to attempt a descent. Langcyll doubted the creatures would attempt it, but just to discourage any others, he shot it. *These foul beasts will not fall upon my warriors when we are rescuing our comrades.*
“Here!” Edlothia and Fandoll shouted simultaneously.
They pulled Caranaur from the snow, and found him disoriented and suffering from oxygen deprivation. The fresh air brought him around, but Langcyll thought anxiously, *We must find Legolas and Tathar before they run out of air entirely.* The wargs seemed to have given up, so Langcyll ordered Gwilwileth to continue watching and joined the effort, his arms churning through the snow. It seemed with every second that passed that he could see his two youngest warriors trapped within the snow’s grip, gasping for breath.
A cry went up again, and Galithil and Thalatirn pulled Tathar from the snow, gasping and semi-conscious. “Legolas, Legolas…”
“Peace, Tathar. Catch your breath,” Tuilinn said as the others resumed their frantic search. “We shall find him.”
“Legolas cannot be far, he and Tathar were together when it hit,” Thalatirn said, and the warriors focused their search close to where Tathar had been found. They discovered the last two horses, but not Legolas, and the elves were beginning to despair. Had the avalanche claimed their prince?
Langcyll reached as deep into the snow as he could, his arms sweeping through for some sign of the last missing warrior. *No…no…* All at once, his hand struck something that was neither a root nor a rock. With a shout, the captain all but dove beneath the snow, burrowing toward the object before him. The other elves converged on the spot, and moments later, Langcyll dragged Legolas free. The young elf was completely limp, and his eyes were closed.
“Does he breathe?” gasped Galithil, as the warriors came rushing forward.
“Stand back, give him air!” Langcyll said sharply, easing Legolas onto the snow. He felt frantically under the prince’s chin and gasped with relief--the heartbeat was there. And he was breathing, albeit shallowly. “He is alive. He will be all right,” the captain sighed, trying to slow his pounding heart. At the sight of his youngest warrior’s closed eyes, he had feared the worst. *Thank the Valar I did not lose him.*
Looking around, Langcyll frowned, “They will all need time to recover, but we cannot remain here. Can the horses travel?”
Edlothia nodded, “All of them. Even the ones trapped are none the worse for wear.”
“Come. Carry any who cannot walk. We are too exposed here, and we must find shelter from the storm and the wargs. Be on your guard; they know we have some wounded, and they may grow bolder given the opportunity. Gwilwileth, Thalatirn, flank us with your bows. Edlothia in front and Galithil behind. The rest of you, lead the horses. Quickly.” With that, Langcyll picked up Legolas and carried him swiftly over the snow to where the others were waiting. Elunen, Fandoll, and Glanaur were able to walk, but Caranaur, Tathar, and Legolas were still too weak. The warriors hurried out of the pass, and those who looked back saw the wargs descending, keeping out of range of the arrows but following nonetheless.
The company soon found what they were looking for; a wide-mouthed cave suitable for shelter. Scouting such a thing was not a job for volunteers--no elf would go far underground in a strange cave by choice. Still, a reluctant exploration revealed the cave to be little more than a hole in the mountainside that did not go deep, but provided sufficient cover for the warriors and their horses.
By the time they reached moved inside, Tathar and Caranaur were able to stand on their own, but Legolas remained unconscious. Tathar refused to budge from his friend’s side while the others made camp. “His eyes remain closed. Why does he not wake?” the young warrior demanded.
“He is badly bruised. He was not far from the opposite wall of the canyon,” Elunen reasoned, “or he may have been struck by debris. But his breathing and heartbeat are normal. Have patience. He will recover.” Forcing Tathar to briefly face her instead of Legolas, she dabbed at the raw scratches on the young elf‘s face.
Langcyll stood at the entrance of the cave, where Fanfirith and Thalatirn kept watch. He could hear the howl of wargs over the wind. *If those monstrous wolves think they can take advantage of this misfortune, they are sadly mistaken,* he thought fiercely, scowling out into the blizzard.
“Langcyll!” Elunen called. “Legolas is coming round.”
The captain rushed back to the fireside where Legolas lay wrapped in a blanket, and found that sure enough, the youngest warrior was moaning and tossing his head. “Easy, Legolas, you are safe,” Langcyll said, putting a hand on his shoulder.
The prince’s eyes opened suddenly, though he did not flail or cry out. He looked about him in confusion and asked, “Where are we?”
“Under shelter a ways beyond the pass,” Langcyll told him. “Do you remember?”
Legolas closed his eyes, and his companions saw him fail to suppress a shiver. “An avalanche.” Then his eyes flew open, “Tathar, and the oth--”
“I am here, Legolas,” Tathar laughed a bit shakily. “And everyone is safe. You were the last found.” Legolas seized his friend’s hand in relief.
Rising, Langcyll said, “We shall camp here for the night, and mount a double watch at the entrance. Those who are not on watch, rest. Especially you, Legolas. And I will not insist now, but you must eat ere we depart tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir,” Legolas moved his blanket further from the fire, then lay back down and fell asleep almost at once.
Legolas felt well enough, and the others agreed that the company was able to depart soon after dawn. With the orcs in hiding, there was little point in hunting by night, for spiders would not be found in these mountains during the winter and wargs were easier to spot by day.
“I do not know why we refer to sunrise during the winter as dawn at all,” Tathar remarked as he and Legolas walked side by side, as always. “This impenetrable blanket of cloud merely becomes light enough to see by. The sun never shows her face.”
“I never actively disliked winter until now,” Legolas agreed, squinting through the blowing snow. The wargs were howling almost continuously with the wind, and he would have given anything for the sheer noise in these mountains to cease.
On one hand, Legolas was relieved none of the other warriors had been hurt, but on the other, he wished he had not been the only one in serious trouble. His comrades now hovered about him the way they had during the first few days of the journey, and they seemed to have remembered that he was also a prince of Mirkwood. *At least I should have been able to lose this accursed crown in the avalanche,* he thought crossly. By some unhappy chance, it had remained on his head through it all, an ill reminder of the nobility he had spent nearly two years trying to live down.
“So, how do you like the mountains now, young Legolas?” Glanaur teased from beside him.
Legolas smiled wryly, “I think I prefer them green.” The others laughed. It was not the first time during the trip that Legolas had been seriously injured--eight months before, he had taken an arrow clean through the shoulder--but he knew from the others’ behavior that he must have been close to death from lack of oxygen when they found him. It was an unsettling thought, and he would be glad when the colors and smells of spring put it from all their minds.
Ahead, Elunen raised her hand and stopped the party. They were coming to a path between high rocks, relatively shielded from snow but narrow, high-walled, adorned with icicles, with little space to move once inside. Legolas frowned. He could see nothing, but she was right, something was amiss. Then he realized; the warg howling had ceased. And this tight trail would be the perfect place for an ambush.
Langcyll rode to the front to confer with Elunen. “There is no other way short of turning back and rounding this peak in the opposite direction,” he said.
“That would take us through the pass again,” Elunen muttered, grimacing back at Legolas, who was not exactly enthusiastic about the idea himself.
“It is not an option; with all this snow, the pass will be completely blocked by now.” Langcyll scowled, clearly worried. “We must move forward, though they await us.”
“Then let us send some of the part on foot over the rocks on the sides of the path to watch for wargs, and the rest shall lead the horses through,” Elunen suggested.
Langcyll clearly disliked the idea, but apparently could not think of anything better. *And the longer we stand here, the more time the wargs will have to make ready for us,* Legolas thought grimly. *This will not be a pleasant walk.*
“Elunen, you shall take the scouts over the rocks. Half of the party shall go with you. The rest, take two horses each, and have your bows ready. We shall fly as soon as they are in position,” Langcyll ordered.
Legolas and Tathar handed their leads to two of the other warriors, and joined the group following Elunen over the steep rocks, bows ready. There was no doubt in their minds that the wargs waited here, and their only choice was to strike first and secure the trail for their horses. No sooner had Elunen gained the first sharp boulders that a savage growl sounded, and a massive wolf launched itself from between the rocks, aiming to tear out her throat.
The warrioress slid swiftly back down, taking a deep slash in the shoulder from the creature’s claws, but its momentum carried it over her, where it was felled at once by elven arrows. “Come!” she shouted at her companions, and the scouts charged up the rock formations on either side of the trail.
Legolas was not far behind her, and saw great wargs emerging from everywhere, dozens of them. Their hunger had driven them into a massive pack, which dared challenge an elf party in the hopes of staving off starvation. Legolas took his stand to Elunen’s right and drew arrow after arrow, dropping the wolves even as more came charging at them. The other four scouts were encountering the same troubles on the north side of the trail. Behind him, Legolas heard Langcyll shout, “Fly now!” and the warriors led the horses into the path at a run.
Most of the wargs continued to concentrate on the nearest elves, but some soon smelled the horses and went for the trail to spring. Legolas leapt up to the edge of the high rocks and took two of them down. “Legolas!”
Legolas turned on hearing the cry of his name just in time to fling himself to one side as a warg lunged straight for him. His foot slipped on a patch of ice upon the rocks and he went down, frantically trying to catch himself as the warg recovered and went for Tathar, who was aiming at another down the slope. Drawing his knife, Legolas slashed at the warg’s face as it passed, putting out an eye. The creature writhed and screamed, blasting the elf with its hot, foul breath, it was so close. Its jaws open in fury and pain, the warg went for him again, but it could no longer see properly, and Legolas plunged his knife under its chin as it came.
The weight of the wolf knocked him off balance, and over the edge of the high rocks. Everything seemed to slow down. Legolas saw the stone he grabbed to catch himself break loose in his hand, and he hurtled over the edge--the path appeared beneath him, and he could see the expressions of horror on the elves leading the horses through. Rather dispassionately, he thought, *This fall shall likely break my neck.*
All at once, a hand seized his flailing wrist, saving him from a plunge that would seriously injure, if not kill him. Legolas found himself hanging over the side of the rocks, with Tathar gripping his wrist with both hands. “I have you!”
“Tathar!” Legolas cried, seeing a wounded warg dragging itself along the rocks toward them. “Look out!”
“I see it! Pull yourself up!”
Legolas struggled, but the rocks along the edge were coated with slippery ice, and he could not gain a foothold. The warg was coming closer. “You cannot! You must defend yourself!”
“Come ON!” With a fierce yank, Tathar heaved his friend back up onto the rocks, but the momentum flung them both backward and they tumbled together down the rocks again. Legolas righted himself first and gasped as another warg charged straight for his face, but an arrow from Elunen felled it feet away. He and Tathar clambered to their feet as they heard Langcyll’s shouting that the horses were through.
The elves scrambled over the rocks, all too willing to escape the death trap they had found themselves in, and make a stand on safer ground. The wargs were not about to let them escape this place, and swiftly followed. But no sooner had the foul wolves exposed themselves coming down the rocks after the fleeing elves, than they met a barrage of arrows from Langcyll and his group, who waited with the horses. Legolas reached the group, bruised, aching, and breathing hard, and turned back toward the path to see the fallen bodies of the wolves. “We’ll not be dealing with this pack again,” Langcyll said briskly. “Let us go.”
As they led the horses away, Legolas turned to Tathar, “I am in your debt.”
With his characteristic snort, Tathar shook his head, “I am better at keeping tally of dead orcs and wargs than the number of times one of us has saved the other’s life, Legolas. You owe me nothing, for I too should be dead many times over but for you.”
“Besides which,” Elunen said from behind them, “he is your comrade in arms, Legolas. Each member of the party owes a life debt to any and all their comrades from the moment they join. You owe him nothing more than Tathar owes to you or any of the others. It is the way of all warriors.”
“And besides that,” Tathar added, with a sly note in his voice that immediately raised Legolas’s guard, “I believe I passed your score this time. Did you keep count, by any chance?”
Legolas glared at him, but paused with a frown, “Six--no, seven.”
With a sickening grin, Tathar drawled, “Eleven.”
“Curse you!” Tathar, along with the warriors nearest them, burst into laughter, and they continued their snowy walk with lighter hearts.
A few days later…
“I think I have seen more blizzards in the past two winters than in all my life before in Mirkwood,” Legolas remarked, shoving snow away from the top of his bedroll.
The company had camped for the night and those elves not on watch had spread their bedrolls under rocks and bushes, trying to find some shelter from the blowing snow and piling drifts. Legolas, Tathar, and Tuilinn were huddled together beneath several leaning rock formations that provided a buffer against the blizzard. But the snow continuously piled up, and Legolas and Tathar had already had one rude awakening when a drift had collapsed into their rock shadow--right onto their heads.
“Now you see why we have so few bad blizzards in Mirkwood,” grumbled Tuilinn from the other side of Tathar, turning over and pulling her blanket more tightly over her. “The storm clouds vent their fury in the mountains most of the time. How I hate winters in the mountains!”
“You knew we would face at least two,” Legolas said to her. “Why did you come?”
Tuilinn had burrowed so deep into her blankets that only her light blue eyes were uncovered, but Legolas sensed she was grinning at him. “Why did you?”
“I wished to…travel far and see much,” Legolas lied slightly. “I had never been to the mountains outside Mirkwood.”
“Or anywhere else, for that matter.”
“Close that great cavern in your face, Tathar. You are not exactly far-traveled yourself.” Legolas yanked Tathar’s blanket over his friend’s head, muffling a retort. He went on over Tuilinn’s giggles, “But you have done so before, Tuilinn, and you knew what was in store for us. Why did you not go south, or on one of the plains missions, or to Lórien?”
Tuilinn shrugged, “I have been to the mountains before--many times, actually--but never have I crossed them end-to-end. I chose this mission because of its challenges and discomforts, not in spite of them. It is something I have not done, and I will go many places I have not gone. And with Langcyll.”
“He is a great captain,” Tathar said, finally freeing his blanket from Legolas’s hand and pulling it down to his chin. “I am glad he leads us.”
“Did you know that Gwilwileth and Glanaur were asked to lead different war parties and they chose this one? Even the most seasoned warriors will go to great lengths to travel with Langcyll. Fanfirith, Fandoll, and Nathron were all offered command of the Lonely Mountain mission, but they chose instead to travel with Langcyll. Many of us choose to stay with him. He is a worthy leader. And especially during these dark times, it is best to cast one’s lot with the finest of the warriors.” Tuilinn greatly admired the ranking members of their party.
“Strange, is it not, that none of his children became warriors?” mused Tathar.
“Not especially,” Tuilinn replied. “My father was a healer, my mother an artisan, but I chose to be a warrior. They disliked the decision, for they prefer creating to destroying, so they said. I think all children desire to choose their own path, and more often than not, that means picking something different from their parents, to distinguish their own desires from those of their kindred.”
“True,” Tathar agreed. He snickered, “But my parents were both warriors, at least for a time, and I chose to become one to please myself. Do you suppose that reflects badly upon my character?”
“Everything reflects badly upon your character, Tathar,” Legolas said blandly, and then neatly rolled to one side to escape a clout.
Tuilinn giggled, and said, “But your choice was also to your own mind. I think it is a matter of chance whether children will follow in the footsteps of parents. In the end, we all wish to do what we please.”
Legolas had fallen silent during the exchange. Turning over to face away from his friends, he thought, *Father never disapproved of my desire to train as a warrior. He encouraged me to learn the skills. But…when I truly wanted to travel anywhere, that he discouraged. And I have never been easy with this nobility. Was it merely rebelliousness, or am I justified?* He looked at the crown’s silver edge peeking out from his pack. *I do not think it is an active desire to rebel against our parents that makes us choose our path. It is just that often our desires are different, and parents cannot always accept it. I think if Langcyll had been my father, I would still have chosen to be a warrior.*
With a soft “whump,” a pile of snow gave way and fell right onto Tathar and Tuilinn’s heads--their faces had been very close together at the time. Legolas sat up in surprise at their yelps, and began to laugh. “Ai!” Tathar sat up, brushing at the snow and knocking most of it onto Tuilinn. She squealed in protest, and Legolas laughed harder. “Oh, cease, Legolas, and help us get this out before we get wet!”
Struggling to stifle his laughter, Legolas attempted to heave the snow back out, but only succeeded in dislodging more on top of himself. He yelped in turn, and glared at his friends who were now giggling at him. Seizing a handful of snow, he walloped Tathar in the face, earning a cry of protest.
Tuilinn giggled and swiftly fashioned a snowball of her own, wasting no time to pelt Legolas in turn. Tathar leapt upon Legolas then and began attempting to shovel snow into his bedroll. “This is not fair! You cannot--mmph!--both gang up on me!” Legolas exclaimed, wriggling to get free of Tuilinn’s grasp as Tathar dumped snow upon his head.
“You should have thought of that before!” declared Tuilinn, and went for more snow.
Legolas squirmed free and dropped a wet handful of slush down the back of her tunic, laughing as she shrieked. “Aiii! You’ll pay for that, you fiend!”
“Come, then! Take--ai! Let go!”
“Hold him, Tath! I’ve got another one!”
“Get him, Tuilinn, quick!”
“Get off me, you great troll, you could never take me yourself--ow! Tuilinn, there was a rock in that thing!”
“Oh, Legolas, I’m sor--agh! You’re soaking my blanket! Oh, no you don’t, give me that! Ai! Look out, Tath, he‘s got--”
From his own small shelter beneath a stone arch not far away, Langcyll had been watching and listening to the talk of the three young warriors--and grinning to himself as the snow piled higher and higher without their notice. He had predicted that one or all of them would very soon get a cold shower if they did not remember to watch the drifts. But Tathar and Tuilinn had been too interested in each other to see it coming, and Legolas had discreetly been looking the other way. Now Langcyll muffled his chuckles in his arms as a small snow-wrestling match broke out between the three--started by Legolas, to boot.
Langcyll had not been surprised that Legolas had dropped out of the conversation when the subject turned to parents and rebellious children. It was true, Langcyll’s three sons had all chosen the art of something other than war. They all got on well with their father, their interests had simply been different. Langcyll thought, *In the heart of every parent lies the hope that our children will have desires and futures similar to our own, so that we might be better prepared to guide them. But it is unwise to try and force them. We must look for other ways to help them in life.*
With a smile, he watched as Legolas, scrambling to escape the tangled bedrolls, was tackled directly into a snowdrift by Tathar. And the thought came unbidden to his mind, as it had many times during the past eighteen months, and undoubtedly would come again. *Would that he had been my son.*
Six months later…
“At last,” Tathar pointed at the small blossoms beginning to open among the grasses that had finally reappeared on the mountainside, gleaming in the moonlight. “I thought that winter would never end.”
The other warriors nodded in agreement. When the first tender shoots of green grass had begun to appear through the blanket of snow, Legolas had found himself mincing as he walked--loathe to step on them. The reappearance of the sun on the slopes had been greeted with great joy.
“We shall be in Imladris within a month,” Langcyll remarked, gazing at the landscape from the high cliff they were passing over.
“I shall die of shock, seeing more than fifteen elves at any given time,” Legolas remarked, and the others chuckled.
Tuilinn, walking close to Tathar, smiled past him at Legolas, “I was the same when I returned from my first long mission. But it is pleasant as well, seeing old friends.”
“I shall be glad to see Imladris again after all this time,” Tathar remarked, ruffling Tuilinn’s unbound hair. During the winter, it had appeared the typical brown of Mirkwood, but with the return of the sun from behind winter’s clouds, Tuilinn’s curly tresses had been brightened to their usual color--an astonishingly rare shade of red. How like Tathar it had been to wind up keeping company with the prettiest of the she-elves in the party.
“When we arrive,” Langcyll was saying in the front of the formation, “we shall stay in Imladris at least a week or two to tell of our mission and hear reports of other journeys from their warriors. Then we shall depart south towards Moria.”
“Wonderful, more dwarves,” groused Galithil.
How many Imladris warriors will join our party?” Legolas asked Elunen, who led her horse just in front of them.
“We’ll not know the exact number until we arrive and hear the stories of the other war parties. There will be much news for us, having been out of contact in the mountains for so long,” the warrioress replied.
Legolas was uncertain of whether hearing all the news of Middle Earth would be a good thing, but Tathar sighed and said eagerly, “These last few weeks shall be unbearable. I cannot wait to see our kindred again.”
“It will be a merry reunion, to be sure,” agreed Elunen. “But we shall likely encounter some of their parties as we draw closer to Rivendell. So we shall hear news of home sooner still.”
Tathar grinned eagerly, “And to think, in spite of all the foul creatures plaguing these mountains, we have arrived without losing a one of our company.”
Elunen had been a warrior captain for many centuries, and the younger elves saw a shadow of memory cross her fair face. With a slight grimace, she murmured, “May the Valar grant that this blessing holds.”
With the return of spring had come the old routine of hunting by night and resting by day. “This seems a likely spot,” Langcyll remarked as the company came upon a wide, grassy glade on the mountainside, exposed to the sun’s warmth. The warriors needed no urging to make camp.
Legolas and Tathar spread their bedrolls side by side, as always, then went to look around. “Forget not to get some sleep along with your sightseeing,” Tuilinn called, spreading her bedroll on the other side of Tathar.
“Ah, how glad I am to find sights to see,” Tathar sighed, pointing at an apple tree on the far side of the camp, its branches a mass of pale blossoms.
Legolas followed him closer, peering up and no less pleased by the gleaming sight, although, “What a pity we did not arrive a few months later, for then there would be many apples.”
Tathar shook his head, “Even an apple tree I prefer to see with blossoms, though we cannot yet eat its fruit. It seems a work of art.”
“And for your tastes, Legolas,” Tuilinn joined them, three small dried apples in her hands from the food supplies. Sitting upon a root beneath the tree next to Tathar, she smiled, “But for myself I agree with Tathar, there is no merrier sight than a tree in blossom.”
Tathar smiled at her, and Legolas beat a hasty retreat. Though Legolas considered every one of the company his dearest friends, he had not developed such a fondness for any of the she-elves in the party. Though at times like these, he envied Tathar somewhat, he was content most of the time to be glad for him. The same youthful restlessness that had driven him in horror from the thought of marriage two years ago still gave him no desire to establish lasting relations with anyone.
*I am young and restless yet for such things. There will be time enough for thoughts of love and romance later, when I have seen all I wish to see. I would not wish myself on any maiden in my present adventurous state.*
Three of the other warriors were beginning their watch, and Legolas had no other business to keep him occupied, so he took the opportunity to sleep under the sun. *How pleasant to enjoy a few hours peace here on this hillside. The shadow does not seem so near today.*
He awoke with a start some time later, even as the other sleeping elves were rising to Langcyll’s order to begin breaking camp. The sun was nearly down, and Legolas needed no pause for thought to realize what sense had awakened him. “Langcyll!” he called.
“I know. We should have seen the cave on the rock face above us. They will come as soon as the last rays of light have gone. We shall await them.”
“How many?” Tathar asked, rolling up his blankets and carrying them to his horse.
“Not a terribly large band, but if that cave is their stronghold, as Elunen seems to think, they will be especially hot to destroy us. We must be on our guard,” Glanaur told him.
“When are we ever not?” Tathar whispered to Legolas and Tuilinn, who giggled in spite of themselves.
Langcyll had been right; even as the last red beams faded from the sky, a great, awful shrieking arose from the mountain slope above them, and the sound of running feet heralded the approach of an orc band. An arrow embedded itself in the ground near Tathar’s foot, then all the warriors aimed at up the mountainside and loosed their own arrows.
The full moon, rising in a great orange globe on the horizon, provided more than enough light for the archers of both sides. The elves spread out as the orc band--nearly fifty strong--poured toward them. Many fell to elvish arrows, but they kept coming.
“Ai!” an arrow caught Tuilinn in the side where she stood near the apple tree, glowing white in the moonlight. Tathar raced from Legolas’s side and stood protectively before her, bidding her stay against the tree.
The foul beasts tore into the camp site. Legolas drew his knives and awaited their charge as Langcyll continued to shoot. Then the orcs were upon them, and there was little time to think, only to act. Legolas slashed the face of the first creature that came for him, and the arrows of elves and orcs zipped through the air.
He ducked under the swung knife of an orc and stabbed the creature in the gut. A swipe from another caught the flesh of his wrist, but he paid it no need--such nicks were commonplace these days. Four sword-wielding orcs then set upon him at once, and he grabbed a torch and waved them back, his knife in his other hand.
Though they retreated from the torch’s reach, the group of orcs did not desist altogether. One drew an arrow and Legolas danced out of the way. *I must strike or drive some of them off,* he thought swiftly. As he glanced past them at the other fighting forms, movement beneath the glowing tree caught his eye.
Time seemed to crawl…
Tuilinn, kneeling against the trunk with an arrow in her side, but armed with her bow, was shooting orcs as they came at her and Tathar. But the foul creatures knew one of the pair was wounded, and had begun to concentrate their efforts. Tathar had picked up an orc sword in one hand, his knife in the other, and was fighting fiercely, driving the orcs back.
But still they came, over a dozen. “Tathar!” Legolas cried and charged forward, the torch before him to force the orcs back. But three more had come up behind him, and he was forced to turn and deal with them. *I must get to him before he or Tuilinn are injured more. There are too many for them!* Legolas frantically swept the torch out and set two orcs ablaze, causing the ugly beasts to flee, screaming in agony. He turned back and ran frantically towards the apple tree, but more orcs soon stood in his way.
He could see Tathar sweep the sword and knock aside an arrow aimed for his face. Another pair of orcs wielding knives were shot down by Tuilinn’s arrows. Legolas lost the torch but not before he set another orc on fire. Grabbing a sword of his own, he slashed indiscriminately at every foul beast who blocked his path to his friends’ aid.
Tathar cleaved one orc’s arm right from its body as it came at him with a dagger. Two more came with spears, and Tuilinn shot one between the eyes.
Legolas ducked under a slashing blade and cut the attacking orc’s throat. *Hold on, hold on…*
Tathar lost his sword and instead shoved his knife into the chest of another orc that tried to get past him and attack Tuilinn. But the move put him in front of her bow, preventing her from shooting the orc that came at him with a spear. “Look out!” she screamed.
Tathar turned and raised his knife. Too late.
Legolas did not even realize that the cry he heard was his own.
The long orc spear point pierced Tathar’s shoulder, driving him back, his knife flying from his hand, pinning him against the tree trunk. Tuilinn cried out and shot the orc, but the spear left Tathar trapped and helpless. Legolas ran with all his might, sweeping his sword and dismembering anything that got in his way.
Another orc dodged one of Tuilinn’s arrows and came forth with his sword--driving it straight into Tathar’s abdomen, lodging itself in the tree trunk. Then the creature found itself caught from behind, its head driven clean off its body by the sword of Legolas. His eyes stinging, Legolas cried, “Tathar--”
“Beware, Legolas,” Tathar gasped, his eyes behind his friend.
Legolas turned, and swinging with wild rage, tore into the orcs that had dared harm his companions. There were few orcs left to threaten the elves now, and those who remained were attempting to flee the camp. The shrieks of the ones disemboweled by Legolas proved the final warning, and the scant dozen or so remaining orcs broke and ran. A few of the warriors followed to dispatch the ones they could.
Legolas turned frantically back to Tathar. “By the Valar,” he breathed, uncertain of what to do. He knew pulling the sword and spear out would cause Tathar to bleed more, but his friend would not remain upright against the tree much longer, and his weight would widen the wounds. His heart was pounding harder than it had in the worst of the battles. Never before had he known such fear. Choked by panic and despair, he whispered, “Hold on. This will hurt.”
Tathar squeezed his eyes shut and Legolas pulled out spear and sword, then caught his friend as he fell, easing him to the ground with shaking hands.. He was peripherally aware of Tuilinn’s sobs as she watched, but she was not mortally wounded, and he could see nothing but Tathar. Kneeling beside him, Legolas looked in horror at the deep wounds, trying to figure out how to bind them.
Blood ran from his friend’s mouth as Legolas struggled to staunch the flow from his wounds. “You will be all right, you will be all right,” he chanted softly in a trembling voice as he fumbled with the strips he had torn from a stray blanket into makeshift bandages.
Tathar’s hand caught him, “Leave off, Legolas. It is no good.”
“No!” Legolas whispered, appalled, and struggled again to bind the injuries.
Tathar, his face twisted with pain, laughed weakly, “How stubborn you are, as always.”
“I will not let you go,” Legolas growled, as his throat tightened until he could barely breathe, and tears made it difficult to see what he was doing.
Tathar murmured hazily, “You never did know…when to give up…my lord.”
“Do not call me that!” Legolas cried, choking on his sobs.
“It’s…my duty…remember? To tease you…” Tathar’s dark gray eyes drifted closed, and his face had begun to look more relaxed and less pained. Blood was soaking the grass beneath him, and the cloth Legolas was pressing against his wounds. “You-are-noble, Legolas. I’ve…known you all our lives. I should know. Noble in…rank and heart.” Tathar’s breathing was faltering.
“No! You can-not-leave-me! Tathar--” the blood would not stop. Legolas gripped his friend’s shoulders desperately, “No, no…”
“We’ve…been through much…together…my dearest friend. But remember…who we are…warriors. We knew…such-a-thing…might hap-pen. You-will-go-on. You-must.” Forcing his eyes open, and breath into his lungs for the energy for one last act, Tathar reached up and gripped Legolas’s arm in the parting gesture of warriors, “Farewell, Legolas. My friend.”
His arm dropped. The struggling breaths ceased.
Gasping, Legolas fumbled for Tathar’s neck. There was no pulse. Tathar’s eyes had closed. “Tathar?” he whispered, staring in complete disbelief. Weakly, he shook Tathar‘s shoulders as though trying to rouse him. “N-no…” *This cannot be happening this cannot be happening no it is not true it is not real it cannot be--*
He heard nothing, sensed nothing, saw nothing save Tathar, still lying there with his eyes closed in that strange fashion. The youngest warrior simply knelt there, oblivious to Langcyll’s quiet call of his name from just behind him, or the other warriors just behind Langcyll, many who wept in despair at seeing one of their comrades slain.
*How can he perish? We will be in Imladris in a few weeks. We will see Elladan and Elrohir and Faron and Arwen. I cannot go home without him. What will I tell Merilin and Candrochon and our friends and our families and--*
Hands grabbed his shoulders and shook him anxiously, “Legolas!”
“No!” With a wild cry, like the breaking of a dam, Legolas flung himself across Tathar, pulling the lifeless form into his arms, burying his face in his friend’s black hair as sobs overtook him, shaking his whole body. “No, no, no…”