6. Chapter 5
He was about to call for Ethuiel to come and draw up the ladder once he was down. As he turned to do so, he saw that she was already behind him, wearing her cloak with her gear on her back and she was taking a long draught on a cup of water.
"Well, we are not likely to dispatch him from here." she said with a laugh in her eyes. "I suppose we could try making some dreadful faces at him, but I doubt if he would spy us and be miffed."
Legolas failed to see the humor and shook his head emphatically. "I will go Ethuiel. Please, please do not quarrel with me on it. DRAW UP THE LADDER WHEN I AM DOWN!"
She stared at him as if he had gone mad. "You are keeping me from my sworn duty and my Oath, Legolas. The longer we quarrel on it, the closer he gets to MY LADY! Where there is one, there is a pack. I would sooner shoot you myself than allow you to go alone. There must be a breech in the northern guard. I pray that none of our own have paid for it with their lives." She drew up her hood and with that she was down the ladder and off. All he could do was follow.
"Yrch!" she said when he caught up to her. "He is a nasty one! I can smell him from here! Can you?" He confessed that he could not. He could smell the trees and the back of Ethuiel's neck. As she tracked the fiend he kept a keen watch for others who might be close but silent--and perhaps better kempt. He could not help himself from admiring the beauty that encircled him. The sky was pitch and the stars were miraculous; glancing off of the silver boughs and branches of the mallorns; causing the leaves to twinkle as golden mirrors of themselves.
His mind wandered to others who had fallen in love in Lothlórien. There was Nimrodel and Amroth. Their end had not been a happy one. Of course there was Arwen and Aragorn, and the outcome of their tale had yet to be seen. He thought of what it might be like to stay and be in love at last in the Golden Wood; to wed upon Cerin Amroth, and lay with Ethuiel among the elanor and niphredil.
He was called back from his musings when she turned to signal him that their prey was near. His thought now turned to what a dark and dangerous place Middle Earth had become. He thought of Frodo and The Quest. He did not think it likely that any of them would return to reap the bliss or share in the torment, whatever the outcome. Legolas realized that his tale of love would, in all probability, be a short and joyless one. Despite its glory and grace, he decided that Lothlórien was perhaps not a good place in which to fall in love.
He approached Ethuiel and she pointed into the wood. There at nearly forty paces the orc was edging through the trees, and would have been quite silent had he not intermittently muttered to himself. "Slaves!" he grumbled, "They're too spineless to do their jobs on the scout, so who gets stuck with it? Rachmat, that's who, Well those lads are gonna pay when..."
Legolas readied his bow and was about to end him when Ethuiel stayed his hand. "Wait until he is in front of a tree." she whispered, and signaled for him to observe her. He was perplexed, but did as she bade. Finally the brute did step in front of a large mallorn. Ethuiel reached behind into her quiver and drew out an arrow. Upon the shaft, Legolas saw the words, "For Gondolin" flicker in the moonlight. They were drawn in silver, Elvish script. She nocked an arrow and took aim. At the last she got the notice of the devil creature. "Pssst" she hissed loud enough to be audible to him. He wheeled round to attack and she loosed her dart. In the next instant a dead orc stood nailed to a mallorn with Ethuiel's signature through his throat.
"Guard my path." she whispered to Legolas and made off swiftly toward her kill. A highly confused Elf stood with drawn bow intent to kill for her. She approached and snapped off the dart where it entered the beast's neck and then quickly went back to Legolas. "Now he will draw them all." she said in a gleefully maniacal tone.
He glanced up to see the ghoulish sight and realized her purpose. In the dark, it did indubitably appear as if the thing was simply leaning against the tree. "Come vana edhel," she whispered, "we must be out of sight when his unfortunate companions arrive." She clasped his hand and led him to a nearby tree.
He placed his hands upon her waist and was about to hoist her up when he saw that she was gazing up at him with shining eyes. He could delay no longer--orcs or no. He raised her chin and found her mouth with his own. With that one sweet and simple kiss, Legolas knew that he was changed. He felt it steal softly into his blood and cast her mark upon his heart. He knew also the moment it had revealed itself to his soul. He looked on her again and she smiled with sleepy eyes. She then nodded and pointed up into the tree. He lifted her lightly and she caught a branch. Up she went and he jumped up and followed after her.
They found two large branches, one beside the other, and made their perch. They leaned against the trunk and waited, bows at the ready. They did not wait long. Two of the hideous creatures soon came slinking through the wood; seemingly searching for the other. They caught sight of Rachmat and began to curse him as they approached. "Having a nap? You lazy cuss!" one of them hissed and then spat at him.
"A rather long nap I should say!" Legolas whispered.
Ethuiel stifled a giggle and raised her bow to loose it upon him. Legolas took aim at the other.
Before they had taken their shots, Ethuiel turned and whispered to Legolas. "Shall we place a wager?" she asked. He raised a brow. She gave the rules. "Let us each choose for the other the mark which our darts should find. If the mark be missed, the one who chose it shall be the winner and claim the stakes."
Legolas smirked and asked, "And what shall be the stakes, lady?"
Ethuiel drew her mouth close enough to touch his ear. She murmured, in the most bewitching voice that even an Elf could muster. "Should I be victorious, I shall claim another kiss from your mouth." Gently, she caressed his ear with her lips and continued. "Should you be the victor you may take another from mine."
When she withdrew, Legolas fought to shake off the dizziness of desire and thought for a moment. He found it a somewhat gruesome and macabre game, but at this particular moment, the prize, and the odds, were far too tempting. He decided that turn-about was fair-play. Softly, he reached into her hood and touched her face. He then brought her mouth very near to his own. "Very well lissier," he whispered seductively, "for your first target I say that you shall be required to find his heart."
"That is acceptable," she answered with a beaming smile and coy tone, "and your dart then shall pierce an eye."
He drew back and chuckled, "You make my task far more difficult, but I suppose that your challenge is a fair one."
They each then took aim and let their arrows soar. That from Ethuiel's bow sliced through the creature's chest and he fell dead at once. Legolas' target had his back turned on him when he loosed his bow. The dart had penetrated the back of the Orc's head. Ethuiel proclaimed herself clearly the winner and demanded her due. Legolas smiled and said, "I fear that you are mistaken, dearest, for I am certain that we both are winners this round. Let us withhold final judgment until we examine the kill while we remove them from sight."
They climbed out of the tree and made warily to where the beasts had fallen. Legolas turned his victim over. It was revealed that the arrow had stabbed through its head and was indeed protruding from the eye. Ethuiel raised her brows with an expression that demonstrated her esteem. "You impress me greatly, vana edhel,"she said, "but there is one matter about which you are misguided. We are not both winners in this instance, but losers I am afraid, for the rules of the game are clear; a winner can emerge only by the miss of his opponent. Thus, neither of us can collect the prize." Legolas frowned. He realized that when she had told him those rules, he had become dizzier than he thought. Ethuiel shrugged her shoulders and began to drag her kill out of sight by its feet.
Once the dead were stowed safely out of sight, they made quietly back to the tree. As they climbed in Legolas felt a leap of excitement in his belly. He hoped another pair would come shortly. He liked this game after all. Orcs, he thought, had always been a scourge of the land and he had certainly killed them whenever the opportunity arose, but there was suddenly something different about the delight he was taking at the chance to do so. He thought it curious, but did not give it more than a moment’s thought. Besides, he was determined to miss his mark in the next round.
They waited for more prey to present themselves from the safety of their perch. Legolas was considering making her next mark a back tooth (that the Orc probably would not even possess), and in this way, they would both be winners and could therefore each claim a kiss. As he was thinking this, he began to hear heavy, running footsteps drawing near to them. He braced his feet on a branch below him with his bow at a complete pull and waited. Ethuiel stood up on her feet and did the same.
A short time later, a band of six orcs came barreling through the wood. Legolas and Ethuiel each got off two shots in rapid succession, killing four of the running mongrels. The other two darted behind the trees to avoid the Elven darts. They were about to climb down and pursue when they saw two Elves rapidly giving chase.
As they drew closer, the two in the tree saw that it was Haldir and Rúmil who looked at the dead swine in confusion. "Rúmil!" she whispered, "Nelmet si, Ethuiel a Legolas! Galadhiesse tiro!" Rumil pointed them out to Haldir who waved and held up his hands motioning for them to point out the unseen orcs. Legolas used his arrow to point out the trees behind which the beasts were hiding. The Elves on the ground drew their bows and approached, while those in the tree made ready to assist if needed. No aid was necessary. Haldir dashed between them to draw them out and Rúmil shot them both dead before either took another stride.
When it was done, they went back to the tree where Ethuiel and Legolas were descending. They told them that there had actually been twenty-five of the goblins skulking about in a mob just outside of the boarder when they and some of the other elves who were on patrol had come upon them. They confessed that the one that was now pinned to the tree had somehow escaped detection, but were quite glad to see that he had been dispatched and that none had taken a hurt in the process. They told them that they would see to it that the carcasses were removed and burned; that they could go on about their night.
Ethuiel thanked them but then approached the tree were she had pinned Rachmat. She grabbed him by the wrist and hauled him down. She then enthusiastically kicked him from her path and approached the tree. She examined the hack that her dart had put there and shook her head. She produced a small crystal jar that contained a fragrant salve and spread it gently about the gash in the bark. She retreated with a gesture of gratitude and returned to the others.
Haldir and Rúmil embraced Ethuiel and welcomed her home, as they had not seen her since her return from Rivendell. They walked together back to her loft. Those on guard then took their leave. As she made her way up, they took Legolas aside. "I see the lady predicted correctly, as always, Legolas;" Haldir said, "for you have indeed looked upon her face again. Beware your heart now friend, for if you can free hers, you shall be counted among the greats of our kind whatever the end of The Quest brings." Rúmil shot Legolas a half-smile and slapped him on the shoulder. With that, they departed.
Legolas watched them go and thought for a moment about Haldir's words. He still did not believe that it was possible to lose one's ability to love and experience joy. He shrugged them off and went up the ladder. Ethuiel had removed her cloak and was seated on the mats with a glass of wine which she offered to him. He accepted it and sat beside her. On the one hand she seemed quite content, on the other; he saw that the lash on her leg was still bleeding slightly through the wrapping. He asked to examine it again, but she declined telling him that by the morrow it would be diminished. She smiled reassuringly.
"At least let us change the dressing." he said, "The blood has come through."
Still she declined. "Nay, Legolas! I tell you it will be well by the sunrise, which is not far off now. If it will put you more at ease, I will change the wrap myself, but I will do so unaccompanied if you please."
He looked at her suspiciously, but yielded and she rose and went with water, bandages and her crystal jar into a small side room by herself. She allowed a little light from the lamp that was there and unwrapped the dressing. The wound was up to her knee and it was not only bleeding, but also it looked poisoned; it festered and stank of death. The balrog's poison had been spent for long ages. That which remained belonged to Ethuiel alone. For all of the blood she had spilt, there would never be enough to quench her thirst for it; never be enough, to her mind, to match the volume of tears she had shed. She sighed and examined the wound more closely. "Oh, vile!" she thought to herself. Vile it was--and excruciating. It did not typically cause her so much pain. She, in fact, could not remember the last time she had felt it at all. She was too weary to ponder it further, so she cleaned the abscessed area well, wrapped it and returned to Legolas.
She displayed the new dressing and he looked satisfied. She rejoined him on the pillows and he took her in his arms. He lay her down beside him and told her thus, "I do not believe that there is such a curse that could leave one loveless and joyless and yet allow her heart to beat. I believe that your love is bound so tightly and densely within your sorrow that you simply cannot feel it or find it any longer. I will be patient Ethuiel. I will work those ghastly knots and brambles until they give way to me, and then I will give myself up to that which lies beneath. If I am allowed to live, I will heal you and love you." He then smiled at her and said, "I swear this before Elbereth Gilthoniel, and I shall never cease."
Legolas wiped away the tears that had welled in her eyes and kissed her with all of the passion in his changing heart, until the sun rose. And there in a Mallorn tree, in the darkest winter that Lorien had known, Love and Desire fell together into sleep. So much love there was in the heart of Legolas the Elf in that chill morning, that some escaped through his eyes and imparted itself to that tree. It stood with his love implanted in its roots long after all the others in Lorien had perished.
"Nelmet si, Ethuiel a Legolas! Galadhiesse tiro!" - "It is Ethuiel and Legolas! Look here in the tree!"
Yrch - Orc
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