28. When Wiser Eyes Turn Elsewhere
A whisper almost as silent as the waning night brought the party to a halt, and Sam shuffled closer to Pippin, telling himself it was for the other’s protection as much as his own. A bit of starlight gleamed briefly off Gimli’s axe as the dwarf stopped next to them, and then a slight murmur of elven voices could be heard in the stillness before they also fell quiet. The air seemed to grow heavy, and it took Sam a moment to realize that the elves they’d traveled with were now dispersing. Without their presence, the shadows upon the ground grew stronger, and Sam felt as though tendrils of darkness were curling around the back of his mind.
Sam touched Pippin’s arm, silencing his friend, and closed his eyes, listening intently. After months of traveling with the Fellowship and honing his ears on companions such as Legolas and Strider, Sam had developed an ability to pick out the noises of stealthy elves. It was a difficult task and his unease was certainly not helping him concentrate, but despite the circumstances, he eventually heard the shifting of trees and the faint rubbing of leaves against one another that indicated quiet movements above and around them. The only other sounds came from Gimli and Pippin as they shifted restlessly in the dark.
"No Orcs, at least," Sam whispered as he continued to listen.
"I don’t hear any Orcs," he repeated, opening his eyes and looking toward Pippin.
"Then why are the elves moving off?" Gimli murmured, his eyes trained on the branches overhead where he had apparently managed to track some of the elusive archers.
A shape suddenly detached itself from the surrounding shadows, and Sam’s hand flew to Sting before he recognized one of Rivendell’s twin lords. Elladan, he told himself. Elladan was the one who collected us. Elrohir is still with Strider.
"Come, my friends," Elladan whispered, stepping to one side and gesturing for them to follow. "Lord Celeborn wishes to speak with you."
"It’s about time," Pippin muttered, and though he said nothing, Sam heartily agreed. After being removed from whatever council the others had been holding—Sam was still a little shaken at the look he’d seen in Thranduil’s eyes just before they left—the two hobbits and Gimli had taken out their frustrations by glaring at the darkness. This had been less than effective, and when Elladan and Celeborn turned up later, both had nearly lost their heads when they were set upon by a very hushed but very determined dwarf who had demanded to know what was going on. In the end, the promise of a complete explanation was enough to convince Gimli, Sam, and Pippin, to follow the two elves as they began collecting other elves, almost exclusively archers. Then they had started walking.
Sam’s sense of direction and distance had never been very reliable outside the Shire, and he was now completely lost. Pippin had the same problem, but Gimli was a different story. According to the dwarf, they had traveled in the opposite direction of supposed entrance to the Orcs’ cave and then had slowly turned back toward it. But Gimli could say no more than that, for he had not seen the actual entrance and only knew its general location. Still, Sam took heart from the knowledge that their travel probably indicated decisive action of some kind in the near future. As Pippin had already noted, it was about time.
Stumbling over a root hidden beneath the shifting shadows, Sam shook his head and redirected his concentration. If the elves were indeed about to act, he had best be ready, and he would only be ready if he was alert and prepared. Ahead of them, Elladan was periodically stopping to make certain that they were following, but in his eyes was a flash of impatience that signaled he was anxious to hurry. If Sam had learned anything from his months in the Fellowship, it was that an anxious elf was an unpredictable elf, and they would be wise to hurry after Elladan before he decided to leave them in the darkness because they were too slow.
"Haste," Gimli murmured quietly, seeming to reach a similar conclusion. No one objected to this counsel, and together, the three quickened their steps as Elladan led them swiftly through the trees. After a bit the ground began to rise, and they found themselves climbing, scrambling over and around rocks as the earth beneath them began to change.
"Caves, right?" Pippin hissed, and Gimli’s helmet flashed in the moonlight as the dwarf nodded. Sam’s stomach clenched briefly, though whether in anticipation, excitement, or fear, he could not say.
At length, the ground leveled out, and Elladan led them around a thick cluster of trees and stopped. The light of moon and stars did not penetrate the thick leaves overhead, and it took a moment for Sam’s eyes to adjust. But it was not long before he could make out a group of elves huddled further back in the trees, and at their center stood Celeborn. The group had been speaking quietly amongst themselves, their hushed voices blending almost seamlessly with the dark silence of the night, but now they fell quiet. After a moment, Celeborn gave the other elves a sharp nod and they withdrew, disappearing from sight.
"There has been little time for talk and I apologize for that," Celeborn said, his voice barely above a whisper as he walked over to Sam and his companions. "You must have many questions."
"Yes, we do," Pippin said. "I was hoping that you could explain a few things to us."
His tone was not quite a challenge, but it was close enough that a flash of anger briefly darkened Celeborn’s eyes. Sam shivered and hastily intervened. "What he meant is that we’re not sure of our role here."
"Durin’s beard, we know exactly what he meant," Gimli growled. "And I believe that Pippin speaks for all of us. Enough of dawdling and enough of secrets. I am more than ready for answers!"
Celeborn’s eyes flashed again, and Sam was reminded of stories he’d heard in the Hall of Fire about the brutal wars of the First Age and the battle skills a certain elven lord who would later become the lord of Lothlórien. If Sam remembered his history correctly, angering Celeborn was not a particularly wise decision. And though he was also anxious about Merry and Legolas, Sam was not yet so far gone in his worry that he could not see just how frayed tempers were becoming.
Fortunately, Celeborn’s restraint proved greater than Sam’s fears, and the elven lord merely favored both Gimli and Pippin with a sharp look before speaking. "You know that we discovered a cave guarded by Orcs."
"We wouldn’t have known had Gimli not been the one to point you in the right direction," Pippin muttered.
"Begging your pardon, that is," Sam said quickly. "It’s just that no one seems to have the time to talk to us and—"
"Then listen now while there is time," Celeborn said, his voice soft but stern. "Otherwise there will be no chance for answers until this is over." He paused for a moment, and to his credit, Pippin had the grace to look away and nod in agreement. "Good. Now, the cave’s entrance is currently to the west. We have come around behind it, and the rest of our party sits to the east. The entrance sits in the side of a hill. The incline is sharp and makes travel above the hill difficult without ranging far out of the way. Because of this, we are now above most of the Orc patrols. Archers are keeping a close watch on the few scouts that are up here and will alert us should we need to conceal ourselves. Extreme caution is in order, and for this reason, none of you are to be alone at any time."
"I have no wish to conceal myself," Gimli spat. "We’ve done nothing but conceal ourselves since—"
"If you will allow me to finish, I will explain," Celeborn interrupted coolly.
His voice had been impossibly quiet, yet it had somehow managed to completely override Gimli’s voice, and Sam found himself shuddering slightly at the tone. Perhaps Thranduil had not been the one to fear earlier. Celeborn was doing a remarkable job of scaring him right now.
"Thank you," the elf-lord continued when no one spoke. "Now, directly to the east of our cave’s entrance is a large clearing flanked by trees. Come daybreak, Elrohir will lead a force of Rivendell swordsmen into this clearing and challenge the Orcs. He will feint an attack and then withdraw, pulling the Orcs after him after a sufficient number have engaged him in battle. His retreat will last only until the trees are once again at his back, and then forces from Gondor, Lothlórien, and Greenwood shall attack from the north and the south. The way west they will keep clear, though, for from that direction, reinforcements from the caves shall arrive.
"You want to draw out all the Orcs inside the caves," Pippin said slowly, his eyes narrowed. "And you want to keep their attention focused on the west."
Sam was rather impressed. His own mind had begun to wander when Celeborn started speaking of the plan’s specifics. He knew he should pay better attention, but strategy had never been his forte and none of this seemed to directly affect him.
"Then we are to be a rescue party," Gimli stated.
Sam scratched his head. Apparently this did directly affect him.
"Precisely," Celeborn said. "Once enough Orcs are involved in the battle, we shall make our move for the entrance. Archers above the hill will cover us from the east, and archers in the trees about the battle will distract the Orcs should they think of looking back. If our timing is correct, we should be able to slip into the caves."
"But what then?" Pippin asked. "I’ve been to Moria, and I can tell you that some caves are very long with all sorts of twists and turns. We could be lost for days."
"First of all, these caves are not Moria," Celeborn answered. His face was devoid of expression but in his voice was a hint of impatience. Sam was suddenly very glad that he had the inquisitive Pippin along to ask the questions, for he didn’t think that he would have had the courage to do so himself. "The caverns will not be overly extensive. There is little chance of our becoming lost for any extended period of time. Furthermore, Elladan seems to have inherited vicarious memories of the tunnels. His knowledge may prove invaluable. Additionally, the elves I have chosen to accompany us are old enough to remember the elven caverns of Menegroth and Nargothrond from the First Age. They will not lose their way. We will also have Gimli’s experience and instincts to guide us. Using all of this, there is a good chance that we will find our friends. Finally, it is highly doubtful that we will be lost for days as we are not going. You, Peregrin Took, are staying here, along with Master Samwise."
Sam felt as though someone had just knocked the ground out from under his feet and then turned the world on its side. "Not going?" he found himself protesting. Apparently surprise and indignation could make up for a lack of courage when it came to questioning Celeborn. "What do you mean? Of course we’re going! Why would you bring us with you all the way to the other side of the cave—"
"We brought you here for your own protection," Celeborn said, and something in his manner silenced Sam. "The two of you will stay with the archers, and as they will not be involved in the battle until the latter part, you should be safe enough. I have spoken with one of Greenwood’s captains, and he has agreed to look after you."
It was the wrong thing to say. "He has agreed to look after us?" Pippin repeated, an expression of outrage spreading over his face. "I have not needed looking after since the War of the Ring, and if you think that you can—"
"I do not presume to think that I can, Peregrin Took, as I already know that I can," Celeborn said, and the chill of command forced Sam back a step or two. "There will be no more talk on this matter. Dawn approaches and we must away."
Pippin spluttered for a moment but seemed unable to find words. He turned to Sam for help, but Celeborn looked as though he had been pushed far enough and as Sam had no desire to die before the battle even began, he chose to stay quiet. Still searching for an ally, Pippin turned to Gimli and Elladan, but they seemed to be in agreement with Sam. Further discussion would not change the situation but rather make it worse.
Besides, circumstances could always be adjusted later. I just need to make Pippin understand that, Sam thought, hoping against hope that the other hobbit would follow the examples of those around him and keep his mouth shut. Fortunately, the Valar seemed to be smiling upon Sam that day. Or at the very least, they weren’t actively seeking to disrupt his life, for Pippin did not offer any further protest. The look upon his face suggested that he was less than pleased, but against all odds, he remained silent. Sam interpreted this as an exceptionally good omen.
Another elf had now appeared, stepping out of the night’s darkness as though it was a cloak he wore, and Celeborn began speaking with him. Sam tried to follow their words but they spoke in the elven tongue, and though he had given that language a game attempt, the gardener had never become very fluent.
"You would not enjoy the trip into the caves," Gimli murmured beside Sam, pulling the hobbit away from the elven conversation and giving him a look that combined an apology with relief. "Orc caverns twist about like a disease within the earth, and their filth upon the walls is enough to turn a dragon’s stomach. Had it been my decision to make, I would have done as Lord Celeborn has done. I would have ordered you to remain here."
"Remind me to have words with you about hobbit abilities later," Pippin grumbled, his eyes stormy. "But right now, I think the point is that it shouldn’t have been anyone’s decision to make. Who does he think he is, ordering us around?"
"He thinks that he is the commander of elven soldiers that will soon be risking their lives on a venture with a somewhat dubious chance of success," Celeborn’s voice broke in, as cold as a winter’s morning in the Northfarthing. "He thinks that he has seen enough battles and enough bloodshed during the last few millennia to know how to properly conduct a battle and its participants. And he thinks that minimizing the danger to both himself and those who follow him would be in everyone’s best interests, particularly when they are daring such dangerous risks."
Taking a firm hold of Pippin’s arm, Sam drew his friend backward. "Begging your pardon, but it’s been a long night," he said, tightening his grip when he felt Pippin start to move away. "We’ll just settle down back here and stay out of the way."
"Peace, everyone," Elladan said softly, speaking for the first time since telling Gimli, Pippin, and Sam to follow him. "Peace. The tension grows and our bickering makes it worse. Lord Celeborn, you said that one of the Greenwood commanders had agreed to watch over Master Gamgee and Master Took. Is this him, then?"
Celeborn gave Elladan a rather calculating look, but there was no longer any evidence of anger or irritation on his face. At length he nodded and then indicated the elf that had joined them. "Yes. This is Tawar. He has served Thranduil for many years and captains the archers who will be overlooking the ridge. Peregrin and Samwise should be safe enough in his care."
Sam could feel Pippin stiffening beside him and he felt his own hackles rising, but now was not the time for debate. Dawn was coming quickly. The edges of the sky were getting lighter, and if Sam understood the plan correctly—at least, the part of the plan he’d paid attention to—that was the signal for some of the elves to attack. Things would soon be underway, and this group needed to be ready. "Thank you, sir," Sam said, directing his words to Tawar while keeping an iron hold on Pippin’s arm. "We’ll be indebted to you, I’m sure."
Tawar’s sharp eyes studied the hobbits briefly and he nodded, giving an air of distance and indifference that Sam had found to be a common trait in most elves in from Greenwood. Or Mirkwood, more accurately, as it seemed to be a side effect of living in such a place. Then Tawar turned back to Celeborn and spoke, his words now spoken in the Common Tongue in deference to the hobbits. Sam took this as a sign of a remarkably considerate Mirkwood elf.
"The sun rises and my archers await my presence. I must leave now, my lord."
"May Elbereth watch over you," Celeborn answered. "Elladan, Gimli, we must go now to join our own party. Any additional questions that you have, Master Dwarf, will be answered as we walk. Master Hobbits, I pray that I will see you again when this is over."
"Good luck," Sam offered. Pippin said nothing, possibly because any sound he made would be a sound of agony. Sam still had a bruising grip on his upper arm.
"You have the better part of this," Gimli said, still attempting to reassure the hobbits. Celeborn and Elladan had already moved away, and the dwarf started after them before stopping one more time and glancing back at the hobbits. "Stay safe," he added gruffly. "Don’t try anything heroic. You’ve both done enough of that in the past." And then he was gone, lost in the darkness that didn’t seem to disperse despite the growing light in the east.
"Come," Tawar said, his eyes glancing over the hobbits for a moment ere he turned away and began walking. "We will seek a place of concealment for you."
"Coming," Sam said, physically pulling Pippin along with him. But the other hobbit was having none of it and he suddenly twisted, wrenching his arm away.
"Are you mad?" Pippin demanded in a harsh whisper, his eyes raging. "We’ve as much right to go in looking for Merry and Legolas as—"
"Of course we do," Sam shot back, looking over his shoulder but seeing no sign of Tawar. The other elf probably thought they were still following obediently. "But we weren’t going to convince Mr. Celeborn of that, and even Gimli was on his side. If we want to help look for Merry and Legolas, we’ll have to go about it our own way."
"And what way is that?" Pippin hissed, though anger now seemed to be warring with curiosity.
"Just a little something I learned from ol’ Stinker," Sam answered. "When Gandalf said Gollum might have a role to play, he was right, and in more ways than one. You can pick up the strangest lessons from folk like him."
"Sam, you’re not making any sense," Pippin said, and Sam could hear the anger winning out. "Why are you talking about Gollum? How does he have anything to do with—"
"Master Hobbits?" Tawar’s voice called to them from somewhere in the darkness, and Sam took the opportunity to once again latch onto Pippin’s arm and pull him forward.
"I’ll show you," he whispered as he walked, forcing the other hobbit to keep up with him. "But for now, play along, Mr. Pippin. It will be all right soon. You’ll see. Everything will work out for the best."
* * * *
Haldir was upset.
And becoming more so by the minute.
It was not the increasing number of Orcs that caused his irritation, though that was indeed worrisome. One misstep now and he may as well hand both himself and Orophin over to the foul creatures so as to save them all time and effort. Nor was his ire triggered by the yawning cave mouth several hundred feet away, though that was also a source of concern. The darkness that poured from it was almost tangible, and the feeling reminded Haldir far too much of the shadows that once crept from the walls of Dol Guldur. No, what bothered Haldir at the moment was his brother. Or more precisely, his brother’s choices, which now included a rather staunch decision about staying here instead of returning to Imladris.
"Have you lost all reason?" Haldir demanded, his voice low enough that the Orcs below would not hear him but loud enough that Orophin would be able to catch the outrage, astonishment, anger, and fear that welled up inside. "We’ve found the entrance to your cavern, we’ve monitored the patrols, and we’ve made a count of all the Orcs in the area. We can do no more here on our own. Let us leave and come back with assistance."
"We have no time for such things," Orophin murmured, not even sparing Haldir a glance. He spoke in the even, calm tone that indicated he had considered the matter thoroughly and eliminated all other options. Haldir remembered that this particular tone of voice had always managed to infuriate Rúmil. He also remembered that no one had ever been able to change Orophin’s mind once this tone of voice made an appearance.
The two brothers crouched together on a thick branch high above a huddle of Orcs, who were more interested in dividing up a bundle of raw venison than in noticing the existence of the elves above. Several hundred feet away, a large cliff rose above the forest, and at its base was a yawning black cave. It was what they had been looking for—the entrance to the Orcs’ lair. More than that, it was one of the main entrances, or so Haldir judged. The plants about the cave’s mouth had been trampled down, and the earth bore the marks of many feet. There didn’t seem to be much activity at the moment and the guards looked somewhat distracted, but there was no telling when the Orcs would snap to attention and notice just how close a pair of Marchwardens had come to their stronghold. Haldir was not willing to press his luck any further this night.
"Earlier you agreed to abide by my orders," he hissed to Orophin, deciding that he had nothing to lose by pulling rank. "If that has not changed, then obey me now! We are leaving. We have no purpose here."
"I did agree to follow your orders," Orophin answered. "But that was when other commanders did not involve themselves. You were my captain, and I could answer to no other. That has now changed."
As petty as it was and as close as danger pressed, Haldir still felt himself bristle at that. Authority and command were things not easily gained or lost within the hierarchy of Lothlórien’s Marchwardens. "Has it indeed changed? Why is that?"
"We located the caves sooner than I expected," Orophin answered with a shrug that seemed to imply that the answer was self-evident.
Haldir frowned. "And because we found the cave, I have suddenly been dismissed as your captain?"
"Nay, you have merely been superceded."
"By what?" Haldir was rapidly losing patience. "The cave? The Orcs? The shadows upon the ground?"
"Hush," Orophin whispered, giving his brother a rather annoyed look. "Lower your voice. You risk alerting the Orcs."
"We risk alerting the Orcs by our very presence here! Explain to me why my orders no longer apply to you!"
Orophin’s jaw tightened and he looked back toward the cave they had found. "I thought the caves would be more difficult to find," he murmured. "With only two of us looking, I had little hope that we would accomplish anything. Yet we managed to find this. And with so many elves searching, it is almost a certainty that the others also managed to find something. Perhaps another entrance." Orophin rose from his crouch and eased himself up onto a higher branch, taking care that his movements did not attract unwanted attention. "They will have formed a plan of attack. That plan will draw these Orcs away from us. It will give us an opening, Haldir. It will give us an opportunity. And as Marchwardens, we have standing orders to make us of every opportunity to harass the enemy."
Haldir narrowed his eyes and moved up beside Orophin. "Marchwardens we may be, but two of us are hardly a match for an army of Orcs."
"We will not face an army," Orophin said. "Rather, we will face the leader of these Orcs and his guards."
Haldir blinked. "The leader?"
"Think on it, brother. The Enemy always saw the minions as soldiers that could be replaced, but the captains were protected. Think you that this situation will be any different? We face some agent of Mordor or Dol Guldur. He will not see himself as expendable and will wait out the battle from the safety of the caverns. He will be watching for an assassination attempt from the front, but will he watch his flank so closely? Especially when he is safe within the walls of his own stronghold?"
With a shake of his head, Haldir wondered if he was losing his own sanity as rapidly as Orophin seemed to have lost his. The proposed scenario and plan, as inane and foolish as they were, had made a strange kind of sense. Rubbing his hands over his temples, Haldir undertook one last attempt to dissuade them both. "I do not like this," he said.
"I do not ask you to."
"The opportunities spoken of are meant to be reasonable opportunities."
"This is a reasonable opportunity. The Orcs will leave to join the battle. We will have a chance to move in, facing only guards and lackeys."
"You do not know that the other elves have found anything. You do not know that they will seek to attack the Orcs."
"That is true."
"You do not know that the leader of these Orcs will be within the caverns. You do not know that we will be able to find him."
"Again, that is true."
"This entire plan is based on nothing more than conjecture. You are risking our lives on a guess!"
"Also true," Orophin said. He turned and gave his brother a wan smile. "But I am usually quite good at guessing. You cannot deny that."
Haldir wondered when exactly he had lost control of this situation while at the same time conceding that his brother did have a point. Orophin usually waited until as many facts were known as possible before coming to a conclusion of any kind, but when he did have to guess, he was almost always right. The uncanny intuition that had guided Rúmil also guided Orophin when he allowed it to. But it was unusual for Orophin to make no attempt at pursuing more information to back his guess. "How do you feel?" Haldir asked suspiciously, a grim possibility suddenly leaping to mind.
Orophin’s smile grew slightly. "I feel strained, weary, manipulated, and shadowed. But the darkness does not control me. I choose this path on my own."
Frustration took Haldir once more. "Orophin, we are only two elves."
"So you have said many times this night."
"You promised me that we would not involve ourselves and that should danger grow too great, we would retreat."
"We have yet to engage the Orcs in combat, and I have no intention of doing so unless there are far fewer Orcs than what we now see. As for danger, this is no different from what we have done many times at home."
Haldir sat back and closed his eyes. "You will not leave, will you? You are set upon this." He opened his eyes again and looked at his brother, sorrow and grief suddenly squeezing his heart. "Orophin, if this is about—"
"It is not about Rúmil, if that is what you think," Orophin interrupted, his voice becoming so quiet that it was difficult to make out. "At least, it is not about destroying those who destroyed him. But it is about honoring what he was. And he was a Marchwarden. As are you and as am I. We have a chance to strike against our enemy. We are obligated to take that chance."
"I have let this go too far," Haldir murmured, his eyes now moving to study the cave’s entrance.
"If it eases your mind, you had no choice," Orophin whispered.
"It does not," Haldir sighed. "But I thank you for the effort." He shook his head and decided that knocking his brother unconscious would make too much noise. For better or for worse, they were committed. "What do you propose?" he asked.
"We wait and we watch," Orophin answered, looking somewhat relieved at Haldir’s agreement.
Orophin’s lips lifted in something that was more grimace than grin. "Then, brother, we become Marchwardens."
* * * *
Far away in the east, the sky above the Misty Mountains was shifting from black to gray with the coming of dawn. Shades of pink and purple painted the drifting clouds and hints of light could be seen on the backs of the peaks by those in possession of elven sight. And to most elves, the sight would have been considered beautiful. Reassuring. Peaceful. To most elves, the sight would have been welcomed with joy as a sign that hope could spring anew.
Tawar, captain of Greenwood and guard of the realm’s princes, was not most elves.
For that matter, nearly every elf that had labored beneath the shadow of Mirkwood would not fit into the category of "most elves." To them, the dawn was a farce. A sham. A mockery. Before the destruction of the Ring, the darkness within the depths of the forest had not fled at the rising of the sun. If anything, it had grown stronger, as though intent upon proving to the elves that they were not the masters of their own home. And for the most part, it had worked. Dawn had been a time when the elves realized that no matter what they did and no matter what great events happened in the future, a part of their forest would always be dark. Not even the brilliance of the sun could chase the shadows into hiding. What difference could their own efforts make?
After the destruction of the Ring, some of the elves had held the hope that the fall of Sauron might work a great miracle. A few had clutched fervently at the belief that Mirkwood could be salvaged and restored to its former glory. But in the end, it was not to be, for darkness lived. Despite the downfall of Dol Guldur, there were still shadows in Greenwood, and perhaps most tragic was the fact that these shadows survived in the hearts of the elves that had fought them. It was a bitter irony that they endured each time the sun cleared the tops of the trees and failed to chase the darkness away. Thranduil’s people had been tainted by evil, and they would never be the same.
And so Tawar watched the dawn with a familiar feeling of resigned sorrow. The darkness in the sky above faded, and as it gave way to the light of the sun, the feeling of shadow deep within Tawar’s heart became more pronounced. In some ways, it was worse now than it had been when the forces of Dol Guldur assailed the elves. Then, they had been too preoccupied to fully realize the cost of their struggle. The growing darkness without had made it easier to forget the growing darkness within. Now, they no longer had such a luxury.
Shaking his head, Tawar firmly redirected his mind. This was not the time for such thoughts. A battle would commence soon, and he would need all his faculties in order to make sense of the madness that would develop. For it was chaos that the elves sought to inspire within the Orcs, and no matter how carefully planned a battle might be—and this particular battle was anything but—disorder in the enemy tended to produce disorder within one’s own troops. Tawar would need to keep a close watch upon his archers. They would be somewhat removed from the battle and that would help, but when the ranks broke and Orcs began to flee up the steep slope toward them, anything could happen.
To make matters worse, Tawar had been charged with the care of two hobbits. Had anyone other than Celeborn asked him to take on such a task, Tawar would have denied them outright. Even Thranduil would have been hard-pressed to make Tawar accept such a responsibility. But there were some elves you did not refuse no matter the circumstances, and Celeborn was one of these elves. There were stories of Thranduil’s hot temper, and there were legends of Oropher’s fierce rage, but when Celeborn became angry—a mercifully rare event—he eclipsed them both. And so, sensing an unusual amount of impatience from the lord of Lothlórien, Tawar had quickly agreed to watch the hobbits.
Glancing back at the pair that now occupied his thoughts and noting that they were yet again falling behind, Tawar sighed and felt a brief swell of pity. It was really not the hobbits’ fault that they had become Tawar’s burden. This was probably the safest place for them, after all. But surely they could hurry a bit more! "Haste," he whispered. "We must position ourselves quickly."
The younger of the two—Pippin, Tawar remembered—looked as though he wanted to protest, but the other hobbit held his arm firmly and shook his head. At least one of them is reasonable, Tawar thought, turning around hurrying forward. One of his scouts had discovered a large stone sheltered by closely-knit trees near the crest of the hill and assured Tawar that the hobbits would be safe enough there. He could not be with them at all times for he had a battle to oversee, but he could at least remain close to them. That would have to be enough.
Finally reaching the shelter his scout had spoken of and noting that it was indeed a good shelter, Tawar directed the hobbits to place the rock at their back and draw their swords. "It is unlikely that Orcs will reach you, but much can happen during the course of a battle," he warned. "I will be ahead of you aiding the archers and will remain close at all times. If you are in need of aid, do not hesitate to call."
"Thank you for looking out for us," the older hobbit said, bowing slightly as he spoke. Tawar recalled that his name was Sam. "Has the rescue party already gone into the cave?"
Tawar shook his head. "Nay, they will not go in for some time. The battle must draw as many Orcs away from the caves as possible, and it must hold their complete attention. Only then will the rescue party move forward. My archers will cover them from above should any Orc glance back."
"So you’ll be able to see them go in? You’ll be able to see if they make it in safely?"
"We will see them leave cover and move toward the cave’s entrance," Tawar answered, hoping this would satisfy the hobbit. "They will signal us when they begin and we shall watch over them."
"Up until they enter the cave?" Sam ersisted.
Tawar frowned, and something in the back of his mind sounded a warning. "The rocks and slope make it impossible to see the cave’s entrance itself, but we will certainly watch them for as long as possible. They shall reach the cave safely, I assure you."
The hobbit nodded. "Thank you, again. And I’m sorry to be such an inconvenience. They told us it was safer here, but I know you’ve things to do."
"Your protection is among those things I must do," Tawar answered, deciding that, even if they were a burden, there could be no harm in reassuring the hobbits. "Take no thought for it. But I must leave you now to see to my archers. Be silent and be still. Do not move from this spot!"
Both hobbits nodded their agreement, the younger far more reluctantly than his companion, and Tawar left, satisfied. He would have a runner check on them in a bit, but he now felt better about his charge to watch the hobbits. The older one would keep the younger one quiet, and the elves would be free to concentrate upon the battle.
Almost upon the crest of the hill now, Tawar propelled himself upward into the trees, swung onto a low branch and signaled to an elf that was seated above him. "Laegen!" he hissed. "Report!"
"All are in position with the exception of Coruthal and some of his archers, my lord," the elf answered quietly, dropping down to share the branch. "Coruthal is pursuing a small party of Orcs to the south and believes there could be other Orcs in that region that may enter our territory unwittingly when the battle commences. He is hunting them now."
"The battle will commence in moments," Tawar muttered. "He had best make haste. How many did he leave to cover his position?"
"It is well, then. Should the need arise, we can compensate for him until his return. You said that all others are in position?"
"Yes, my lord, and all have sent messengers stating their understanding of the orders, my lord. Orcs that near the position of the search party will be shot, but until the search team is within the caves, we will not betray our position to any others."
"Good," Tawar said with a nod. "Return to the back lines. I wish to be informed of any Orc movement behind us when the battle begins. I will be among Thavron’s company."
"As you command, my lord," Laegen said, bowing before turning away and disappearing into the trees.
Tawar was quick to follow, moving into the upper branches and moving away from the top of the slope so that he would not risk being seen when he went to find Thavron. The rising tension in the air signaled that the battle would begin soon, and those Orcs capable of sensing such things would become cautious. If any of the elves on the eastern side of the cave were seen ere Elrohir could draw the Orcs’ attention to the west, everything would fall apart. Care and great caution were needed now. Everything had to happen exactly as planned.
That was when Tawar made the mistake of looking toward the hidden shelter where he’d left the two hobbits.
He had moved far enough away from the crest of the hill that he could see the trees surrounding the boulder where his two charges had been told to wait. Using both the growing light of the dawn and his keen elven sight, Tawar could out details on the stone, and he saw that the trees bent over it, forming a canopy of interlacing branches that would help deflect any arrows that might descend from above. He saw that a gap between trees behind the stone was too small for an Orc to squeeze through and that the only way to access the western side of the rock was to come at it directly. He saw that this was indeed a very defensible position and that his scout had chosen well.
What he did not see, however, were the hobbits.
* * * *
During the course of his long and reasonably sane life, Elrohir had occasionally acted in a way that might be considered rash or foolish. Most of the time, he could excuse himself by claiming that he had taken a calculated risk. And after explaining his perspective on the situation, he was usually accorded agreement. But once in a great while, there were times when his actions could not be classified as the product of rational analysis and were rather the product of frustrated rage.
This was one of those times.
Sunlight was now pouring swiftly over the Misty Mountains, and the Orcs around the cave’s entrance were reacting to it. They had drawn closer together and edged toward the gaping hole in the side of the hill as though seeking escape against the onslaught of light. Thus far, the elves had not been sighted. They had certainly been felt; it would have been nigh unto impossible for a group of elves this large to go unnoticed by Sauron’s former servants. But by and large the elves had managed to stay out of sight of the scouting parties sent out by the enemy, and those few creatures who did spy an elf were quickly and efficiently silenced. As a result, the Orcs knew that elves were about, but they did not know where or how many. This, combined with dislike of the rising sun, was making them anxious, annoyed, and angered, any one of which should have been sufficient to inspire great caution on the part of the advancing elves.
Yet here Elrohir stood, his feet surrounded by churning shadows, ready to march forth alone and strike the first blow.
There had been other elves willing to take this position, of course, and his captains had pleaded with him to let another take his place at the front. They knew that Elrohir would always set himself near the fore of any battle, but they had usually managed to keep him from taking a position on the front line. But this time, their persuasive efforts had failed. Elrohir was fuming, and though he knew that there was wisdom in his captains’ words, he refused to heed it. This nameless enemy had loosed Orcs on Imladris. It had taken prisoner two that Elrohir accounted friends. It had darkened the feet of the searchers with shadows and turned them against one another. And last but certainly not least, it had assaulted Elladan. It had sought to bring harm to his twin. And by so doing, it had roused a fierce protectiveness within Elrohir that now hungered for vengeance and retribution.
So he stood on the edge of the clearing, still hidden by the trees, and waited for the sun to rise just a little higher.
With slow, deliberate movements, Elrohir eased a large bow off of his shoulders and set an arrow to the string. His captains had managed to persuade him to use a ranged weapon for the first strike, adding that the bow was also a good defensive weapon if any of the Orcs chose to shoot him rather than charge him. Elrohir doubted that this would be the case as the enemy was nervous enough that they would probably relish a chance to loose their frustrations in physical combat. But it was always good to err on the side of caution in situations like this, and he had promised Elladan that he would take care of himself. Besides, after he had the Orcs’ attention, Elrohir was certain that there would be opportunities to could convey his anger and frustration in far more close and personal ways. He had only agreed to use the bow for the first blow. The second blow was reserved for his sword.
A high, piping whistle bearing a strong resemblance to a bird’s cry echoed through the clearing. The Orcs paid it no mind, but Elrohir recognized it immediately. The last of the archers were in position. Glancing up, he noted that the sun was just beginning to clear the mountains and that its light would soon hit the trees directly. A hint of gleeful anticipation shivered through him. It was time to act.
With no more thought, Elrohir stepped forward, raised the bow, and shot a large Orc standing directly in front of the cave’s entrance.
The Orc fell instantly and silently as the arrow tore through its throat. It happened so suddenly, in fact, that at first, no one seemed to notice. Elrohir even wondered if he would have to loose a second arrow in order to attract attention. But then a shout suddenly went up from the mouth of the caverns. A lanky goblin coming out of the cave raced to the fallen Orc and then began to cry an alarm. Others took up the cry and weapons were drawn with a sharp metallic ring that sounded loud in the morning air.
Taking this as his cue, Elrohir walked into the open, forsaking the cover of the trees. He shifted his bow into his left hand and bared his sword, raising it high into the air so that it caught the morning sun. "Elbereth Gilthoniel!" he cried in challenge, and every eye, both seen and unseen, focused upon him.
For one long moment, all of Arda seemed to hold its breath. The Orcs stared at him, clearly not understanding why one elf would choose to reveal himself in the face of so many Orcs. For his part, Elrohir met their confused looks with a glare of grim determination, his gray eyes flashing with deadly promise.
And then the moment shattered. The Orcs sprang forward, their shouts grating hard upon elven ears. The darkness about their feet rolled and boiled, and Elrohir awaited their coming with fey fury. He could hear minute shifts behind him as other elves prepared to charge. He heard the creak of wood as bows were bent and arrows nocked. He knew that the moment he dropped his sword, the other elves from the Rivendell contingent would spring forward after him and meet the Orcs, drawing others from the caves and then slowly retreating until they were close enough that the archers in the woods could engage them. But until then, Elrohir stood alone, and he reveled in the moment.
The Orcs were drawing close now, and with a cry of defiance, Elrohir finally dropped his sword and rushed forward. The woods filled with shouts as other elves began their charge. Surprise flashed across the faces of the Orcs, but surprise quickly gave way to rage. Upon seeing their mortal enemy, the foul creatures increased their pace, and in turn, Elrohir increased his. He sensed he was dangerously ahead of his companions, and should he survive, he knew his captains would lecture him on such reckless behavior later. But for now, the heat of battle was upon him, and he could not slow his pace. He would be the first to meet the Orcs. His blade would be the first to draw blood.
In honor of his brother, his mother, his captive friends, and all who had suffered at the hands of these loathsome beasts, Elrohir flung himself at the closest Orc with a rush and a cry as the fullness of the morning light broke over a field of shadows.
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.