"What bothers you, Lithroleah, for it has been days since anything remotely resembling a smile has passed your face!" Caeriel said.
Their relationship had progressed much in the days since the prince was called to duty beside his father's side. Love had grown out of their friendship, and it was something they had gradually come to accept. Gone was the awkwardness that plagued the initial moments of the realisation of their feelings for each other.
"It is not something I can put my finger on, which troubles me so," he replied, face drawn into a tight knot. "It concerns the forewarnings that have been plaguing me ever since the Orcs attacked."
Caeriel's lip quivered. It had been long since Lithroleah had any premonitions. She had thought them gone for good.
"I know not their exact meaning, but their message is clear. Something terrible is about to befall Eryn Galen. A dark entity moves about in Shadow. I fear for the safety of those I hold dear to my heart."
The last sentence was directed as Caeriel, as he looked feelingly at her.
"It concerns Legolas most of all. The events will be centred around him. Great tribulations would be placed upon him, and we would be helpless and can only stand and cry out in fear. I have had many a dream of him. In them, he runs. He is running from something, something dark and strange, evil and foreign. He is afraid, and so alone. Happiness is not far away, but unattainable. There is so much pain and suffering."
Caeriel's lips trembled, and she gave a small cry. She reached forward and clasped the other's hands, bringing them closer to her.
"These dreams. Do you not think they will come true?"
"Once again, I know not. They come to me as I lie asleep, staring at the sky. My mind enters a different world, and they are presented to me as visions. I do not know if they speak the truth or serve to cloud the eye, for it is not unknown that they are wrong."
He frowned. It was as if the images were dancing in front of his face. The Elf was unsure if the reason for his visions was the guilt he felt. The guilt he felt at accepting the love of Caeriel. A love that rightly should have belonged to Legolas.
Before she could reply, a strange rustling was heard.
Lithroleah flung himself in front of Caeriel, a reflex action, his bow drawn and ready. Although they were still within the confines of Eryn Galen, caution was necessary. The King had dictated that the forest was under a threat.
There was silence. The sound was not made by anything that the Elves were familiar with. Caeriel put her arm on Lithroleah's shoulder. It was trembling.
The feeling swept over him with such a force that he was stunned. It spoke of danger making its way up toward them. He let loose an arrow, and the vibrations of the singing string carried up high, reflecting off the forest roof.
The powerful Elf rushed forward to the spot where his arrow had hit its mark. A large beast lay there, its centre pierced by the sharp tip of the arrow.
Caeriel ran up to join her friend. She gave a small cry as she saw the strange beast, the likes of which had never been seen in Eryn Galen before. It was so aberrant with what they knew about the forest that it left them stunned. Its eight long legs were so reminiscent of an arachnid that one would think it a giant spider.
Lithroleah was so preoccupied with examining the fallen beast that he did not notice the second dark creature that sidled up to his side. It slammed into him, attacking him with such a fury that he was pinned to the floor. He shouted to alert the Elf-maiden, as he was held there in a vice-like grip. Pale yellow eyes grinned malevolently at him, victorious and taunting.
The shout drew an immediate reaction from Caeriel. Brandishing the long knife she wore at her side, she hurled herself at the beast.
The monster released its grip on Lithroleah to ward off her attack. It seemed surprised at her strength and considerable skill. It had underestimated its opponent. Lithroleah swung his short sword up. It embedded itself in the flesh of the creature. It screamed loudly, the sound piercing through the woods, and turned its attention back to the Elf who was still on his back.
Pincers reached forward and attempted to inject its deadly poison into the Elf's throat. Lithroleah thrashed and squirmed convulsively, brandishing his sword wildly.
Caeriel renewed her attack on the spider-creature. With frenetic strength, she managed to get a stab on the creature's legs. Screaming in agony, the desire to pierce the throat of the Elf forgotten, it picked up the Elf maiden, without releasing the grip on the Elf pinned to the floor.
Lithroleah watched in horror as the creature hurled his maiden across the forest. He heard the sickening thud as she was slammed into a tree, saw with wide eyes as she slumped forward, a trickle of blood flowing from her head down her deathly pale face.
A hot wave seized him and he made a enormous effort to get the creature off him, but to no avail. Instead, the creature gave a satisfied grunt, and turned back to him.
This time, it did not attempt to gorge the Elf's throat out. Instead, it held him there, enjoying the moment as a cat does with its prey. Lithroleah squirmed and thrashed further, growing numb with his efforts to break free.
The creature leaned forward, with the slowness of one enjoying watching the last moments drain away from its enemy, lifting its pincers to the sky, ready to strike.
Lithroleah looked away, eyes fixed on the one he loved. He feverishly hoped that after his death, the creature would leave her alone. Hunters would find her and rescue her. Her wounds would heal. A great sense of loss and hopelessness welled up in him.
He waited for his death with a calmness that amazed himself. Seconds passed. It grew to a minute before the Elf looked up and found himself staring at a large sword embedded in the body of the creature.
He pushed forward, and the beast fell away, still frozen. Lithroleah leapt up and ran over to the fallen maiden. To his relief, she stirred but did not awake as he gently lifted her up and cradled her head in his arms.
Then, he looked up and was greeted by the sight of one clothed in a black robe, head hidden in the cowl, staring at the two Elves. Lithroleah watched as the man moved towards the bodies of the spider-like creatures, and poured something out of a bottle over the corpses. Lithroleah watched with wonderment as organic matter began to melt into liquid and disintegrated. A moment later, no trace of the bodies remained.
The man moved towards them, face still hidden, such that even the keen sight of the Elf was unable to discern an outline within the shadows where it remained.
An arm, pale like one unaccustomed to the sight of the sun, reached out and touched the forehead of the maiden.
"She'll live." His voice was coarse and rough.
Lithroleah managed to gain back some of the composure he had lost. "I know not how to thank you enough!"
The man waved his hand. "Do not speak of it again."
"May I know your name, my benefactor?"
A snort escaped the many layers of cloth. "You need not remember me."
He turned to leave. Lithroleah set Caeriel down on the floor gently and leapt after him. He blocked the path of the other, holding his arms out at his sides.
"I would not let you leave lest you give me a name!"
His persistence seemed to pay off. The man nodded, a bare shifting of black, and spoke again, "I see there is no deterring you. Very well, bring the lady and follow me."
Lithroleah thanked the stranger profusely and did as he was instructed.
The man lead him through the edge of Greenwood and into the open. It was territory that Lithroleah did not frequent, having only ventured there with Legolas to hunt Orcs that dwelt there.
His curiosity increased as he followed the silent man. Never had he heard of one who roamed among the trees in East Eryn Galen, cloaked in robes of black.
They came presently upon the rocky side of a hill. Lithroleah's eyes grew wide as he saw the man lift a large boulder that concealed a passageway, leading deep into the bowels of the hillside.
The stranger walked in, not turning to look behind him, and Lithroleah followed suit.
The cave was small and sparsely furnished, with a bare bed in a corner, and a fireplace. The man had not removed his cloak, and bent over a cauldron that stood, simmering over the flames.
Lithroleah placed Caeriel on the bed and wiped the blood off her face with his hand. He heaved a sigh of relief when he realised that her injuries were not life-threatening.
The man, having done with the cauldron, walked to a small cupboard and procured a vial. Walking over, he shoved the bottle impatiently at Lithroleah, and grunted, "Give your companion this to drink."
He then proceeded back to the cauldron and scooped its contents onto two plates. Motioning for Lithroleah to join him, he sat down at the table and started eating, still keeping his features concealed. Only his bright eyes were visible, reflecting the dancing flames.
Lithroleah accepted the bowl graciously.
"Elves may not like the food I eat, but it is still sufficient to keep one going," the man said in between mouthfuls, his tone heavily ironic.
Lithroleah nodded respectfully. There was no point in pushing his rescuer for answers.
They ate in silence, Lithroleah barely noticing the food, questions racing through his mind.
"Your friend is waking."
The Elf rushed over to the bed, abandoning his meal. As if on cue, Caeriel stirred and her eyelids fluttered open.
"Lithroleah! I thought you lost!" Colour started to creep back into her face. She sat up and looked around anxiously. Her eyes widened as she saw the interior of a cave, and frowned in confusion as they settled upon the stranger.
The recluse walked over to them.
"You have recovered now. Be off with you!" he commanded.
"But we still know not your name!" Lithroleah cried.
"I am known in this parts as Praneer the Hunter. Now that you have a name, never come looking for me again, for I would not hesitate to finish the job the creatures set out to do. Go!"
Lithroleah nodded, and helped the Elf-maiden off the bed. They turned to thank their saviour one last time before turning and leaving.
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.