Dark Horizons: 16. Hidden Traps

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16. Hidden Traps

Legolas stood completely motionless, his head cocked slightly to one side.  The only thing that moved on the elf was his eyes, which were busy scanning the rocky slopes of the Ered Nimrais.  The mountain rose before him like a giant finger thrusting from the earth, casting a shadow across the small wooded glade the tall archer now stood within.  The morning rain had lessened to a light drizzle, and Legolas had cast back the hood of his cloak, allowing the clean, fresh drops to fall freely onto his face and hair.  He continued to study the slopes of the mountain up which Aragorn and he would soon be traveling.  Already, the ground was beginning to slope upward, and the elf guessed that their travel would become more and more difficult as they continued on.

Suddenly, he turned, his eyes perusing the deep shadows of the trees behind him.  He frowned slightly, his eyes narrowing and his hand caressing the hilt of one of his long knives.

A few paces away, Aragorn knelt upon the soft ground, examining what little the rain had left of the orc army’s tracks.   This glade had been the first opportunity to find clear prints, and Aragorn was careful to read the tracks for any information they could give him.  He searched for clues as to whether or not the orc army had split after their withdrawal, or remained in one giant force.   He had been afraid that if the army split into two or perhaps more groups, each going to a separate cave, he and Legolas would have no way of knowing which one Malek occupied.   However, from what he had seen so far, Aragorn guessed that they had all remained together, and this was welcome news to the ex-ranger.

He studied the ground for several more long minutes before finally rising and turning to Legolas, motioning to the elf that he was ready to move on.  He was surprised when Legolas didn’t even seem to notice him, instead staring intently back the way they had come, his body tense and alert.  Aragorn felt the first stirrings of anxiety and he quietly moved to stand next to his friend.  “What’s wrong,” he asked softly, his voice a mere whisper that blended in with the softly falling rain.

Legolas still did not turn towards him or acknowledge his presence, but Aragorn knew the elf had heard him.  A few seconds of tense silence followed until Legolas at last let out a small sigh.  “We’re being followed,” the elf stated, his words as soft and quiet as Aragorn’s had been a moment before.

Aragorn’s only response to the statement was a slight tensing of his shoulders and a sigh that matched Legolas’s.  He also began scanning the path behind them, although he knew he would be unable to see anything.  “How many?” he asked simply, his tone showing that he was not surprised at this new development.

Legolas shrugged and at last turned to meet Aragorn’s gaze.  “I cannot be completely certain,” he replied slowly, “but I believe there is only one.  The trees whisper of its presence, and yet they tell me very little.  They do not seem overly disturbed, and yet that could be simply because a lone orc means little to them after the army that just passed through.”  Legolas shrugged once more as if in apology that he could not tell Aragorn more.

Aragorn nodded slowly, accepting the elf’s words without question.  “How long before the creature reaches us?” he asked quietly, his eyes scanning the surrounding trees once more, as if expecting the orc to step from them at any moment.

“He has kept a pretty steady distance between us, but now that we have stopped he will undoubtedly gain on us.  Perhaps…” Legolas trailed off, and instead of finishing his sentence, he strode to a tall tree standing nearby.  He leapt upward and effortlessly caught hold of one of the lower branches, pulling himself up gracefully and quickly climbing higher into the tree.

Aragorn watched as his friend became lost within the thick leaves.  Several minutes of silence followed, and Aragorn had to fight down the urge to call up and ask what Legolas had discovered.  He was still unsure of how far away their orc shadow was, and he didn’t want to alert the creature that they were on to him.  He had expected something like this, yet he had hoped to at least reach the mountain before….

Aragorn gave a start as Legolas dropped silently before him, materializing seemingly out of thin air.   The elf looked troubled, and Aragorn looked at him expectantly.  “What did you learn?” he asked.

Legolas shook his head.  “The creature has already entered the woods, and the trees hid him from my view.   I expect he will reach this glade in a matter of minutes.”

Aragorn sighed, glancing up at the midmorning sun peering through the fading clouds.  He had hoped to be a lot further along by now; at least on the first slopes of the mountain.  Who knew how far away Malek’s hiding place was, and Aragorn did not relish the thought of getting caught within the mountains at night with thousands of orcs on the prowl.

Legolas was watching Aragorn closely, waiting for his friend’s command.  The elf felt strangely disconcerted about their shadow, though he could not explain exactly why.  He wondered why it had taken him so long to realize that they were being followed.  He also wondered why he still could not sense the orc, although the creature had to be close.

Aragorn glanced once more at the mountain, and then swept his gaze behind him.  “Well,” he said lightly, his voice still toned low, “we can continue on and hope to loose the creature once we reach the mountain, or we can wait for him here and end his hunt of us once and for all.  What do you think, my friend?”

Legolas seemed to consider for a moment before shaking his head.  “I would prefer facing the creature now and not having to worry about him in the future,” he replied evenly, his eyes shining dangerously. 

“I agree,” Aragorn replied, unsheathing the knife at his waist.  “You go across the glade and cover me with your bow, and I will face this creature.  Hopefully we can be finished with this and continue on before too much time is wasted.”

Legolas nodded, then swiftly moved away further up the path, pulling his bow from his back.  Aragorn glanced around, finding a patch of scrub brush that would offer excellent cover without impeding his movement.  He quietly moved to the brush, hunching down within its cover and holding his knife ready, his entire body alert and waiting, listening intently for the first sounds of the enemy’s approach.  He glanced quickly in the direction Legolas had gone, hoping to find where the elf had hidden himself.  Legolas, however, had completely disappeared, and Aragorn knew he would not be able to find him.  He turned back to the task at hand, slowing his breathing and holding completely still, blending in totally with the brush around him.

Silence fell across the small glade, the only movement coming from two small squirrels playing tag around a giant oak tree, their chattering and arguing the only sound breaking the quiet.  The first squirrel was racing swiftly around and around the trunk of the tree, its companion hot on its trail.  Suddenly, the leading squirrel stopped cold, staring toward the far end of the glade, its nose twitching slightly.  The second squirrel, unaware that the first had stopped, nearly ran into his companion, letting loose a wild barrage of chattering that soon stopped as he too grew still and wary.

A figure had entered the glen, completely swathed in a black cloak and moving slowly and cautiously forward, bent slightly as it studied the ground before it.  Still concealed behind the scrub brush, Aragorn could sense it drawing near to his hiding place.  He tightened his grip on his knife, every muscle prepared for his spring forward.  He closed his eyes, letting his other senses take over and tell him what he needed to know.  ‘Just a little bit closer,’ he told himself steadily.  ‘Almost there….almost…’

Like a striking snake, silent and deadly, Aragorn leapt forward, his hand reaching out to grab the creature by the neck before lifting his knife and beginning the downward blow that would end the beast’s life quickly and quietly, with no struggle. 

It was only Aragorn’s excellent reflexes that saved him from making the biggest mistake of his life.  The knife came to a stop a mere inch away from its intended victim’s throat as Aragorn let out a loud curse.

Pippin closed his eyes tightly, too terrified to cry out or struggle, sure that his life was about to come to a rather nasty and bloody end.

Silence once more fell, as all of nature seemed to tense, watching the strange scene taking place at the center of the glade.

It took Pippin a few seconds to realize that the knife was not going to complete its journey, and he carefully cracked an eye open and peered above him.

Aragorn was too surprised to do anything but stare down at him in horror, his knife still clenched in his fist.

Pippin heard the quiet sound of running feet that stopped a few feet away, followed by a soft exclamation of surprise.

Aragorn seemed at last to be released from his shocked state, and with another loud oath he released Pippin, the hobbit falling unceremoniously to the ground.

Pippin glanced up at him and winced, realizing that Aragorn’s surprise was quickly being replaced with anger.  The man’s face could have scared away storm clouds. 

“By the Valar, what are you doing here?!” Aragorn erupted, reaching down and hauling Pippin to his feet once more.  “Don’t you know that I could have killed you just now,” he shouted, shaking Pippin for emphasis. 

Pippin was very aware of that fact, and was still in the process of trying to still his madly beating heart to a more normal rate.  Aragorn continuing to shake him like a rag doll was not helping matters much either.  Pippin looked past Aragorn to Legolas, hoping for some assistance, but the elf stood with arms crossed, his face completely blank. 

“I asked you a question!” Aragorn repeated, no longer shouting, but his voice low and dangerous, drawing Pippin’s attention back to him. 

“I…I…I….”  Pippin stuttered, trying desperately to think of a reason to give the furious man.  The truth was, he was uncertain even himself why he was here.  All he knew was that after talking to Merry, something inside of him had snapped.  He had decided the time was finished for him to be sitting around doing nothing, and he had acted without really thinking.  Yet how could he explain that to Aragorn?  He doubted in the man’s present condition he would understand something that Pippin didn’t entirely understand himself.  He had just had to come; it was as simple as that.  ‘Or as complicated,’ he thought as he looked into Aragorn’s angry eyes, his friend still waiting for his answer.  “I just wanted to help.”  Pippin finished lamely, lowering his eyes to the ground.

“Help?” Aragorn repeated, his voice still low and rock hard.  Suddenly he released Pippin once more, causing the hobbit to stumble back slightly before catching his balance.  “You just wanted to help?”  Aragorn repeated, his voice incredulous.  “How on earth could you think that following us, making us think you were an orc, would help?”

“I don’t know,” Pippin answered, feeling a strange well of emotion beginning to build within him.  “I guess I just got tired of sitting around guarding a bunch of baggage!”  He raised his head, at last meeting Aragorn’s gaze as his own anger began to blaze within his eyes.  “If you no longer wish me to be a knight of Gondor, you should just tell me instead of pushing me into the background!”  He blurted out, at last releasing the pent up emotion he had been carrying around with him.  “I know I may not be as strong and brave as the others, but I am smart enough to know when I am being used!  I have been insulted and humiliated, and I have had enough!”  Part of Pippin realized that he was shouting; shouting at Aragorn, and yet he could not seem to stop.  “I can do anything the others can,” he declared boldly, “and I will prove it if I must.  If you try to send me back, I will just follow you and….” 

Pippin finally managed to close his mouth, his eyes as wide as Sam’s favorite saucepan.  He dropped his eyes to the ground, suddenly ashamed of his outburst and feeling unpleasantly guilty.  He waited for Aragorn’s reaction, dreading it with every particle of his being.  After several long minutes had passed, and Aragorn still had not spoken, Pippin at last raised his head.  He found Aragorn looking at him with a strange, unreadable expression on his face.

At last, the man spoke.  “Gandalf once told me that you can know everything there is to know about hobbits, and a hundred years later, they will still surprise you.  I think I have finally figured out what he meant.”  Aragorn’s voice was low, almost as if he was speaking to himself, and there was a hint of…was it respect…. in his voice.

Pippin was unsure what Aragorn meant by this comment, but he was too busy trying to figure out why Aragorn no longer seemed angry to give it much thought.

“Know this, Pippin,” Aragorn said softly, his voice surprisingly gentle.  “You could never stop being a Knight of Gondor, nor would I ever wish you to.  Nor do you have to prove yourself to me, for you have already done so many times.”

Pippin’s eyes were locked in Aragorn’s powerful ones, and he suddenly felt all the anger and resentment drain out of him.  He knew Aragorn’s words were spoken simply and honestly, and he felt himself relax and a flare of hope ran through him.

Aragorn at last broke his gaze, looking upward at the sun’s position in the sky and shaking his head slightly.  Turning back to Pippin, his face turned hard once more, causing the hobbit to feel all his previous hope drain from him.  “I am afraid, young hobbit, that you are in serious trouble,” Aragorn said simply, looking down at Pippin.

Pippin lowered his eyes to the ground, certain that he was about to be sent back to the city.

“Even were I to allow you to come with us,” Aragorn continued, quietly, ignoring Pippin’s hopeful look,  “when we return to the city, I expect Gandalf will skin you alive, if he doesn’t think of something worse.”

Pippin winced, picturing the wizard’s wrath.  “I’ll face that when it happens,” he responded bravely.  “Please let me come with you!”

Aragorn shook his head slightly.  “The others will be worried about you, Pippin.  They will search for you.”

“I left a message with a guard,” Pippin responded quickly, thinking that he had to find a way to convince his friend to let him come.  “He will tell them that I came with you.”

Aragorn continued to shake his head.  “There are many orcs where we’re headed, and the chances are we might have to fight some of them before this day is through,” he warned Pippin seriously.

“I am not afraid,” Pippin responded; hope continuing to rise in him.  “I know I can help if you will but give me a chance,” he begged.

Aragorn did not say anything, but merely studied Pippin for what seemed like ages, causing the hobbit to squirm and fidget beneath the intense scrutiny.  At last, Aragorn turned away from him and faced Legolas.  “What say you, Legolas?  Should we bring him along?” he asked quietly.

Legolas eyed Pippin sharply before turning once more to Aragorn.  “I would probably advice against it if it were not for the fact that we do not know whether there are any other orcs behind us.  Sending him back could be more dangerous than keeping him with us.  It is your choice, Aragorn, do what you think is best.”

Aragorn nodded, turning back to Pippin and reading the pleading look in the hobbit’s eyes.

A few seconds later, he made up his mind.  “If you can keep up with us, than you may come along,” he said at last, shaking off his misgivings.

Pippin resisted the urge to jump up and down in excitement.  “Thank you,” he gasped out, “I can keep up, I promise.”

Aragorn nodded once, his face grim.  He turned, Legolas following, and began a swift march toward the mountain.

Pippin watched them silently for a moment, then hiked his pack further on his back and raced after them, thinking that he would finally get a chance to prove himself worthy of the title, Knight of Gondor.

******

Gandalf was not happy, and this fact was quite obvious to anyone who happened to look at him.  The wizard’s bushy eyebrows were knitted together by his fierce scowl, and the very air around him seemed to crackle and snap with his anger. 

He strode down the main street of Calambel, completely unaware of the people that raced to get out of his path.  The three hobbits followed swiftly behind, practically having to jog to keep up with the wizard’s long strides.

“I am going to KILL him,” Gandalf muttered to himself, unconsciously clenching his fists at his side.  “When I get through with that young hobbit, he is going to wish he had never been born!”

“Gandalf,” a timid voice called out behind him.  “Do you mind slowing down just a bit?”

Gandalf once more became aware of his three small shadows, and he slowed his pace a bit, allowing them to catch up to him.  As they drew aside him, Merry glanced up at the wizard’s face, and then quickly looked away.  Gandalf sighed and tried to school his features to calm.  He knew that Merry, Sam, and Frodo were worried enough about their friend without having to fret about the wrath of an old wizard.

Noon had come and gone within the city of Calembel, and Gandalf had just learned about the foolish actions of the youngest member of their company.  The remaining three hobbits had been horrified when he had told them what he had learned from one of the guards, and Gandalf knew that Merry blamed himself for Pippin’s brash actions.

“Do you think he will be alright?”  Merry asked quietly from beside Gandalf, still not meeting the wizard’s eyes.

Gandalf shoved down his own anger and worries and strove to make his voice calm and soothing.  “I am sure he will be fine,” he stated.  “He has undoubtedly caught up with Aragorn and Legolas by now, and if they do not send him directly back, they will watch over him.”

“Maybe we should send someone out to look for him?”  Sam suggested.  “Just in case he got lost and is wandering around alone out there somewhere.”

Merry looked completely horrified at this possibility, but Gandalf quickly assured him.  “Nonsense,” the wizard said dismissively.  “Pippin has proved to me before that he is perfectly able to follow tracks, and since Legolas and Aragorn made no effort to hide their passing, I am sure that Pippin will be able to find them.”

“I don’t understand why he did this?” Merry said, looking as if he was close to tears.

“Nor do I,” Gandalf stated, “but I intend to find out!”

Frodo exchanged a glance with Sam, actually feeling somewhat sorry for Pippin whenever he returned.  He knew the wizard was not intending to be gentle with the young hobbit.

“Come,” Gandalf commanded, “enough time has been wasted this day!  We have much to do in preparation.”

Once more Gandalf picked up his pace, quickly pulling ahead of the three hobbits once more.  Merry, Frodo, and Sam exchanged looks, the same thought running through all their heads.  ‘What had Pippin gotten himself into?’

*****

‘What did I get myself into,” Pippin wondered as he crouched behind a large boulder with Aragorn and Legolas.   A big clump of thorny bush shared their hiding place, making things rather scratchy and uncomfortable.  Worse, Pippin seemed to be allergic to the plant.  He had gotten a rather nasty cut on his forearm from one of the thorns, and now his entire arm seemed to be swelling to three times it’s normal size.  And to top everything off, the storm clouds had faded away, leaving the afternoon sun to beat down relentlessly upon their heads.

Pippin shifted slightly, trying to get comfortable, then groaned when he felt a sharp prick on his bottom.  He seemed to be sitting on a branch of the thorny brush and there was no escape from its cruel thorns. 

Surprisingly, Pippin did not complain about his discomfort.  Nor had he complained when Legolas and Aragorn had insisted on marching all morning and into the afternoon, taking little or no breaks to rest or even eat.  This really didn’t matter, for Pippin had forgotten to bring any food with him anyway, a true sign of how upset he had been.  Luckily for him, Legolas had seen his discomfort and had dropped back long enough to give him some lembas to chew on.  This had filled him, if not satisfied him.

Now, Pippin wished for more of the strength-giving elven bread.  He was worn out from the several hours of traversing the steep mountain slopes of the Ered Nimrais, forced to keep up with two seemingly tireless companions.  The fact that they seemed to have at last reached their destination did little to cheer the hobbit.  He was not looking forward to the trek home.

“I must admit that Malek chose the perfect spot to hide his army,” Aragorn said softly from beside him, the sound of his voice breaking the tense silence that had surrounded the company of three.

Legolas merely nodded, and Pippin shifted once more to try and peer over the rock in the direction the elf and man were staring.  He sighed resignedly as he felt several more thorns dig into his flesh.  He glanced at Aragorn, wondering if his friend was suffering the same as him.  If Aragorn was, he gave no sign.  As for Legolas, it almost seemed as if the thorns were twisting out of their way to avoid pricking into his soft flesh.  ‘Merry is going to be picking these thorns out of me for hours,’ Pippin thought glumly.  ‘That is, if I survive the trip home, and Gandalf doesn’t meet me and hang me up by my toes from the front gate!’

Pippin at last maneuvered himself into a position to peer over the rock.  Although he knew very little about military strategy, he found that he understood exactly what Aragorn was talking about.

The large boulder the three friends hid behind was located at the base of a steep and rocky rise that lifted high above the companion’s heads before joining with a rock wall.  Directly above them, the mouth of a giant cave opened up, it’s yawning blackness a mockery to the afternoon sun.  On either side of the cave, the rock wall fell abruptly away into a sheer drop.  The only way to get near the cave would be up the rise before them, and this path was open and barren, free of any boulders or trees that could offer cover.  Nothing could approach the mouth of the cave without being plainly visible to anyone left on guard.

“So what do we do now?” Pippin whispered, despite the fact that the distance to the cave mouth was too far for any orc to overhear him.  “We have found Malek’s cave.  Isn’t that what we set out to do?”

“Yes,” Aragorn answered, “and yet I had hoped to learn much more than I have.”

“Like what?”  Pippin asked,

Aragorn glanced over the hobbit at Legolas, shrugging his shoulders.  “I’m not sure,” he responded.  “I just feel that we still know too little.  We don’t know how far back that cavern goes, whether it splits once inside, or if Malek is just using it as an underground passageway to someplace completely different.”

“I am fairly certain that Malek remains here,” Legolas spoke up.  “I can feel his evil radiating from this place and I also can sense orcs nearby, most likely those that are guarding the entrance.”

“I still wish there was a way to learn more about the layout inside,” Aragorn said, a hint of frustration in his voice. 

“Perhaps there is,” Legolas said thoughtfully.

Aragorn turned to him questioningly, and the elf merely shrugged.  “We obviously cannot get into the cave from this entrance, but perhaps we can find another.  You said before that many of these caves are interlocked, connected by several different tunnels.  There has to be another entrance somewhere, we just have to find it.”

“Finding it can take more time than we have,” Aragorn responded with a sigh. 

Legolas glanced up at the afternoon sky.  “We still have several hours of daylight left.  Why don’t we at least try?”

Aragorn seemed thoughtful for a time, and then at last nodded.  “If we skirt this rock wall and come at it from the other side, there is a chance we might come across a back entrance.”

“Then let us get started,” Legolas suggested, rising to a crouch and beginning to back away from the rock.

Pippin was more than willing to join him, giving the thorny bush one last glare.

When the company had moved far enough down the rise to be hidden from view from the rock wall, Aragorn turned and began leading them in a southeasterly direction, intending to skirt the wall to the south and come at it from the other side.  The three companions traveled in silence, keeping their ears open for any sound of roaming orcs set as guards.

 Despite the rocky terrain, it took them less than an hour to completely skirt the rock wall, now facing it from the back, which was even steeper than the front.  Legolas was the first to spot the small cave located halfway up the steep front and partially hidden by a clump of brush.   The climb up to the cave looked quite steep and slippery, the ground covered with loose rock, and Aragorn and Legolas studied it for several minutes, looking for the best way to reach it. 

Pippin studied it as well, but with much more distrust and distaste in his eyes.  He knew it would be just his luck if the bush surrounding the cave was the same kind of thorny brush that they had just left.  He was already beginning to itch horribly everywhere the thorns had pierced his flesh, and he felt as if his entire body was beginning to swell.

“I would estimate that this cave sits behind and to the left of the one we just left,” Aragorn stated quietly.  “Thus, there is a good chance that it might connect with the other.”

“I still sense the presence of orcs,” Legolas stated quietly, “but it is distant and muted.  I do not think a guard has been set on this entrance.”

“Which could be bad or good,” Aragorn responded.  “It could mean that they have just not bothered exploring and finding other entrances, or it could mean that this cave does not connect with the other, after all.”

“There is no way to find out standing here,” Legolas said, looking up at the cave entrance with a reluctant distaste. 

“How are we supposed to get up there?”  Pippin asked, frowning at the steep face.

Aragorn and Legolas exchanged looks over Pippin’s head.  “Pippin,” Aragorn said quietly, kneeling in front of the hobbit.  “I want you to remain here.  Getting up there will be difficult enough for Legolas and I, and pure torture for you.”

“I can handle it,” Pippin said immediately, not liking the idea of being left behind.

“We need someone to watch our back, Pippin,” Legolas added quietly.  “If orcs discover we have entered this cave, they can trap us rather easily.”

“And how am I to stop that?!” Pippin exclaimed.  “I seriously doubt I can keep a horde of orcs from doing whatever they want.”

“No,” Aragorn said, “And I do not expect you to try.  Instead, if something like that happens, or if Legolas and I do not return before dusk, you must return to Calembel and tell Gandalf all that has happened.”

Pippin opened his mouth, not at all liking the sound of this conversation, but Aragorn did not give him a chance to speak.

“As a knight of Gondor, I expect you to obey your king,” Aragorn stated firmly.  “Now, I suggest that you move downhill a bit and use some of those trees for cover.”

Pippin found himself staring at Aragorn’s back as the man turned and began the ascent to the cave mouth.  Legolas gave Pippin an understanding look and a gentle squeeze to the shoulder before turning and joining Aragorn.

Pippin sighed loudly, also turning and making his way toward the suggested cover of the trees.  This trip was not turning out to be anything like he had hoped!

*****

Malek’s eyes practically glowed with his pleasure.  He dismissed the orc that had just made his report with an arrogant wave of his hand.  Everything was going perfectly, and Malek shivered in anticipation of what would come next.  Soon, very soon, he would experience the sweet taste of his revenge.  Malek laughed, and the sound was hideous enough to cause many of the orcs near him to cower in fear.

Striding over to the largest of his captains, Malek quickly gave the creature his instructions.  The orc’s eyes glittered with hate and malicious anticipation as he listened to Malek’s orders.  When his master was finished, the orc bowed low, then turned to carry out his duties.

*****

Legolas stumbled from the opening of the cave, gasping in relief as he felt the cool, fresh air sweep around him.  He raised his head and let the late afternoon light sweep over his features, calming and caressing him.  Beside him, Aragorn also let out a sigh of relief as he exited the cave, breathing deeply of the fresh air.

“That was a complete waste of time,” Aragorn said dispassionately, gazing into the orange ball that was the sun.  “It is almost dusk, and we have discovered nothing!”

Legolas shook his head, his eyes still closed as he basked in the freedom of the open air around him, relieved to be free from the close and claustrophobic confines of the cave.  “We will merely have to return again tomorrow and continue our search,” he replied, feeling his stomach sink at the thought of having to enter another cave so soon.

Aragorn nodded.  “We are quickly running out of time,” he murmured, more to himself than to Legolas.

“Let us be gone from this evil place,” Legolas suggested.  “The sun sinks fast in this land.”

Aragorn nodded and the two began to pick their way carefully down the steep rock face.  About halfway down, Legolas suddenly froze, his body stiffening and his eyes scanning the terrain below them.  Almost at the same instant, Aragorn became aware of an unnatural stillness in the air, and he too became alert.  Something was wrong.

“Orcs,” Legolas said softly, “many of them.  They have been here recently, but I sense that they have gone.”  He glanced over his shoulder at Aragorn, his brow wrinkled with worry.

“Hurry,” Aragorn said urgently.  “We must find Pippin and get out of here!”

Legolas turned back around and began picking up speed, ignoring the rocks that shifted and slid beneath his feet.  A horrible fear settled in his stomach, and he could not shake it.  His eyes scanned the trees that Pippin should have been hiding beneath, desperately looking for the familiar shape of the hobbit.  He had expected Pippin to come forth to meet them as soon as he had seen them exit the cave, but as of yet, there was no sign of the hobbit.  He resisted the urge to call out, still sensing the presence of many orcs not that far off.  The creatures were out during daylight, and that did not bid well for their chances of getting back to the city unmolested.

Legolas slipped to a halt at the bottom of the rise, turning and offering himself as a balance as Aragorn slid down a second later.  His friend’s eyes shared the same worry that Legolas felt, and Aragorn was busy scanning the trees ahead of them in search of Pippin.  “Where is he?” Aragorn hissed, his voice both frustrated and worried.

“Perhaps he fell asleep,” Legolas suggested, hoping that this simple explanation was all that kept Pippin from meeting them.

Aragorn did not answer, but quickly strode forward into the small clump of trees, searching the ground for any sign of the hobbit.  What he saw caused his stomach to turn in fear.  Beneath the trees, the ground was littered with tracks, some recognizable as the hobbit’s, but most belonging to orcs.  “Pippin,” he called out as quietly as he could.  There was no response.  “Pippin,” he called a little bit louder.  Still no response. 

Aragorn turned as Legolas joined him, a grim expression on the elf’s face.  “The tracks go in two direction,” the elf informed Aragorn.   “I saw no sign of Pippin.”

Aragorn swore loudly, turning a slow circle to peruse the small stand of trees once more.  “Perhaps he heard the orcs approach and fled,” he said quietly.  “This does not mean he was captured.”

Legolas merely looked at him, not agreeing or disagreeing.  “What do we do now,” the elf asked, his voice filled with sorrow.

Aragorn sighed and rubbed a hand across his eyes.  “We have to find him,” he stated firmly.  “He could not have gone far, whether on his own or forced.”

Legolas nodded.  “If we each follow a trail, we may come upon some sign of him.”

Aragorn glanced toward the sun rapidly sinking toward the horizon.  “I am not sure we should separate,” he said slowly.

“We do not have much time,” Legolas replied urgently.  “I say we at least go two hundred yards both ways.  If we don’t find anything than we can decide what to do next, but we must at least try!”

Aragorn made up his mind swiftly, fighting down his growing sense of unease.  “You take the left trail and I shall take the right.  If you discover anything or run into trouble, just whistle.”

Legolas nodded briefly before springing away.

Aragorn turned more slowly, trying to shake the intense feeling that had settled upon him.  Something was wrong, very wrong!

‘I never should have left him alone,’ Aragorn thought bitterly, turning to begin his own hopeless search.

******

Malek sat upon a high rock, watching the activity below him.  The sun had yet to set, and Malek shied away from it’s light, too intent upon his mission to completely retreat into the safe shadows of his cave.  He felt the light weakening him, yet he had no fear that he was not strong enough to overcome any enemy that faced him, and night was fast approaching.

‘And what a glorious night it is going to be,’ Malek thought evilly, his grin revealing row upon row of sharp, jagged teeth.

“You will suffer tonight,” He grated out, watching the two figures far below him.  “Oh, how you will suffer!”

He continued to watch for several minutes as the two figures split up, each taking a different path in search of their pitiful little friend.  Malek laughed.  “It is your friendship that will destroy you,” he hissed joyfully.  “And how fun that destruction will be for me!”

Malek glanced once more at the fiery ball of the sun, willing it to sink faster.  Looking back down he considered which one of his enemies he should hunt first.  The very idea of this was too much for him, and he found he could wait no longer.  Slipping from his rock perch he began moving quickly and quietly downward to begin his hunt.


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.

Story Information

Author: littlefish

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 10/11/02

Original Post: 06/26/02

Go to Dark Horizons overview

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