22. Chapter Twenty-Two
The rock hard body of the Dwarf, held gently in the Elf's arms, remained still. Once again, Legolas called to him. Dark eyes, under heavy eyebrows, blinked, then opened.
"Rukhâs," the Dwarf whispered. "Came out of nowhere with fire." Between gasps for breath, he continued, "Took them all, I think."
"Were you running from them?" Scorn dripped from Haldir's words.
Gimli's body hardened even further.
"Haldir!" Legolas' cry tore from clenched teeth. "Hold your tongue!"
Haldirriel knelt next to the Dwarf, his hand held in hers. Gently, she stroked back the hair that had fallen into his face. "The wound is deep, but he will recover, won't you Master Dwarf?" She smiled.
"I was not running, Legolas," the Dwarf managed to wheeze.
"Nay. I will not have that one think that of me. I left to make water. They came from behind me, but I knew it was Rukhâs from the smell. I should have - "
"Hush!" Legolas smiled. "They waited until you left. Too much of a threat," he gently teased.
Gimli smiled back, then groaned and reached for his head.
Haldirriel stayed his hand. "Let me clean this first. Haldir, make yourself useful and bring me some water." Her tone was cold and hard.
Legolas' brow rose in amusement. The Marchwarden had overstepped his bounds on this one.
After Haldirriel cleaned the wound, Legolas helped Gimli stand. A moment to catch himself from swaying and the Dwarf pulled his arm away. "I can stand on my own. How long was I out?"
"The fire is cool. At least two hours, maybe more."
"They have quite a lead on us. I didn't see which way they went." The Dwarf blushed. "No need. You probably already have that figured out already."
Haldir stepped forward. Gimli waited for the rebuke. "Once again, Master Dwarf, I must apologize to you. I am heartily sorry."
"Do not listen to him, Master Gimli," Haldirriel hotly interrupted. She turned in fury to face the Lórien Elf. "How dare you ask for forgiveness? Your tongue is vile!"
"Dear lady, I accept his apology. He knows no better. Has he not grown up fearing Dwarves?"
Haldir's face turned a bright red. "I fear no Dwarf!"
"Well, you had best learn, for if you insult this one again, you will answer to me!" Her voice rang clear and strong and Haldir knew he had made a mistake.
"I need no Elf to defend me." The Dwarf's eyebrows bristled and his hand touched his sheathed axe. He suddenly looked around for his other. Finding it under a bush, he picked it up and held it before him.
"Be still, Gimli, if you value our friendship," Legolas whispered. "It does my heart good to see her this way."
Gimli laughed and both combatants looked at him. "Enough of this. You'd think the Ring was still about, causing discord. Come. Let's find these Rukhâs and use this anger against them!"
"First, we break our fast, then we hunt Yrch." All agreed with Haldirriel. The fire was quickly replenished and what little supplies they had carried to the falls now became their morning meal. The Yrch had taken everything else.
"It's a pity you had your horses with you. I'd hope to be on my own two feet in this pursuit," Gimli stated as they made their way south after putting out the fire. "'Tis sad that the other fine beasts should now be food for those curs."
"I hope to catch them before the horses are butchered," Haldirriel said quietly. "My own mount I have had for twenty odd years. As much as he is older, his friendship is valued."
"It's a shame you rode with Haldir to the falls and left your own behind. Never having made friends with a horse, I will, however, offer my hope that we find yours quickly, Mistress Elf."
"What mean you, Gimli? Certainly you made friends with Asfaloth." Legolas mounted his own horse, very glad he had taken it with them.
"Well, he was your horse, Legolas, not mine."
"You brought him apples in Minas Tirith. I saw you."
The Dwarf harrumphed and held his hand up for Legolas to pull him up.
"Why would Yrch be here?" Haldirriel wondered aloud. "There is nowhere for them to hide. They head south - but south is Lórien. They would not dare enter those woods. Even without her ring, Queen Galadriel is a powerful enemy. As are her subjects."
"Mayhap all of Mirkwood has not become Eryn Lasgalen?" Haldir opined.
Legolas eyes grew large. "Surely they have not returned to Dol Guldur?"
"Where else, Legolas? There is nowhere here to hide."
"Then we go to Dol Guldur," Haldirriel said quietly.
Legolas nodded. Gimli put his hand on the Elf's shoulder. "Don't worry, Elf, we'll clean up whatever's there and you can have your pretty forest back."
Legolas smiled. "Thank you, Gimli."
"We will reach the forest - "
"We've had experience following Rukhâs before, Marchwarden. I doubt we'll catch up to these ones quite as quickly as you might think!"
Haldir held his tongue; obviously Haldirriel would misconstrue anything he had to say to the Dwarf.
"If they reach the forest, it is only another thirty leagues to the tower. They know the terrain and we will be hard-pressed to overcome them."
"Do we return to Lórien for reinforcements?" Haldirriel asked.
"Nay. We cannot slow down at all." Legolas paused for a moment. "Haldir. You know where your patrols ride. Are any near the east side? Would it be possible to notify that patrol?"
"It would, but that would mean one of us would have to go." He looked at Legolas in surprise. "Nay! I will not!"
"Someone must and it must be you. The Elves there know and trust you. You could command without question. If I go, or Haldirriel, they would take us to Caras Galadhon and that would be another day's ride. We cannot afford it." His tone was gradually growing harsher, more harried. "You must. I promise; we will wait at the border of the wood until you and your men arrive. I promise."
Haldir stopped. "I will take her with me, then."
"You do me a great disservice, husband-mine." Her tone was ice.
"Haldir," Legolas took him in his arms. "I promise. She will come to no harm whilst she is with me."
After many moments, Haldir relaxed in the Silvan Elf's arms. "You know I could remain in Middle-earth no longer... not if she were... I could not."
"I know. And I could not without you here by my side. Know that. After our bonding, could I do otherwise? I will not lose her."
"I will leave you when we reach the Anduin, not before. It is a short ride, only eighty leagues." His voice suddenly took on a tone of hopelessness. "I cannot lose either of you."
"You will not. Now, let us ride as if the wind carried us. We should make it to the river by tomorrow evening at the latest."
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