24. Chapter Twenty-Four
Morning came and the company, after quickly breaking their fast, set out to cross the River. In the light of day, Gimli could see that the Elves of Lórien had traversed the Anduin in boats. They had docked on the riverbank near where Legolas, Gimli, and Haldirriel had been camped. Though four rivers had spilled into its mighty banks by this juncture, the Celebrant itself had not. Thus, the flow was not as strong, nor the width as wide, as it might have been just thirty leagues further downstream. They considered themselves fortunate. It was easy enough, now, to board the boats and maneuver them across the Anduin. Within an hour, all ten boats were securely tethered to the ground on the eastern side of the Great River.
They began their march with high hopes. None of the signs they read at the ambush sight showed anything but the common variety of Yrch, not the hated and sun-bearing Yrch of Saruman's making. At least, that was their hope. So they walked in daylight with some confidence. Banter was light and the three bonded partners strode hand in hand in hand. Some of the other Elves gave them odd looks, but they cared not. Gimli walked behind, his pipe still in his hand, grumbling all the way.
At last, Legolas could stand it no longer. He fell back and began to walk next to the Dwarf. "Glad to see someone deciding to walk with me."
Legolas looked about him in surprise. It was true; none of the Galadhrim walked near the Dwarf; most walked either five paces in front or behind. The Elf blushed in shame. "I am sorry. There are still hard feelings."
"I know and I don't begrudge them their feelings. I'd have thought by now that the esteem my Lady has shown me would have rubbed off on them."
"Most of these warriors do not spend time in Caras Galadhon. They guard the borders; hence they take no notice of doings in the heart of Lórien. I am sorry."
"No need to be," Gimli said more gruffly than he meant. "It's kind of you to walk with me."
Legolas stopped, his mouth open. "I... I thought we were friends," he blinked a number of times. "You could have stepped up with us. You are a member of the Fellowship and greatly to be revered."
"As are you."
Legolas blushed. "I do not seek such honor."
"And I should?"
Though the Dwarf's tone was gentle, Legolas heard the reproof in it. "Forgive me. That came out poorly."
Haldirriel stopped and looked back. A wide smile graced her face. "Please, join us." She held out her hand; the entire company stopped, and Gimli strode forward. He took her hand in his, gently kissed it, and walked next to her. Legolas quickly joined them. Again, odd looks from the rest of the company accompanied their actions.
"I'm afraid we will lose the support of your men, Marchwarden, if you let Legolas and Haldirriel treat me with such respect."
"Gimli. The Lady of the Woods deems you fit company for her. Who am I to say you are not? As for actions previously, I have begged for forgiveness and it was given. Is it now taken back?"
Gimli stood straighter and looked Haldir directly in the eye, a slightly difficult feat due to the difference in height. "Once a Dwarf forgives, the incident is forgotten."
Haldir smiled. "The same is true of an Elf. Mayhap we are more closely kin than I imagined."
Gimli looked at him in surprise. "Now don't be saying anything about us being kin. I'd rather..." He stopped at the sharp hiss that escaped Legolas. "I'd rather be friend," the Dwarf amended.
Haldir began to laugh. After many moments, he drew in his breath and recovered himself. "I thank you, Master Dwarf, for your kindness."
A small sound; instantly the three left off their teasing. "We approach the woods," Haldir pointed. "Time to spread out and find the entrances. There will be more than one. Haldirriel, these twenty will follow you south. Legolas," he motioned and another twenty stepped forward. "You will lead these twenty further south. Gimli," he turned to the Dwarf, "I cannot..."
"It would be safer for your company to take care of themselves. I might accidentally slip with my axe and render eight or nine of them harmed. Best I keep to myself."
Haldir nodded in agreement. "I think that wise. Rúmil, Orophin" he called and his brothers came to his side. "Take twenty each to the north and see what you can see." Both Elves nodded, turned and led their men away. Haldir motioned and twenty encircled him. "We head east."
The noonday sun was hotter than it should have been and the air was stifling. Haldir felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. He whispered, "There are forges nearby. Can you smell them?"
"Yes," one of his men said, "and also there is the smell of Yrch."
Haldir nodded, his eyes widened. "We are close. Have you heard any signals?" None spoke. "Then I would deem we are the closest."
The attack came upon them by surprise. They had let down their guard a bit since it was full noon and the sun shone brightly. Nevertheless, it did naught to stop the ferocity of the Yrch who came upon them, bows whistling and blades singing.
Haldirriel felt the pain; her heart constricted and she pulled her company up short. "Haldir is under attack," she whispered, pointed and led them north. None questioned her; all knew of the bond.
Legolas nearly screamed when he felt it, Haldir's cry of pain and then nothing. His company watched him in surprise, then realized what had happened. He motioned them forward and they ran as swiftly as kine north.
It took Haldirriel's company only twenty minutes to reach the spot where last they had seen the Marchwarden. Legolas ran to her side another five minutes after that. Fifteen bodies lay in various stages of dying. She motioned and a healer moved forward, looking over the bodies and deciding whom to help first. She motioned for the rest of her company and they followed her. Legolas stayed at her side.
The tracks were not easy to miss. The terrain was beaten and bruised by the passage of the large company of Yrch. "Keep your eyes open," Legolas hissed. "They came out of the ground and the entrance must be close for them to have surprised our companions so easily."
One moment, he spoke and the next, he yelped. He had found the entrance by the expediency of falling into it. The company stopped; Haldirriel moved forward and called, "Legolas?"
"I am here and well. There are tunnels, but the passage of the enemy is well marked. Come down one at a time; if we are quick, we can overcome them."
"Nay," Haldirriel whispered. "It may be a trap. I will follow with ten of my men." She turned and motioned for her second to step to her side. "Find the other entrances; they must be near, and guard them. Send also for the others. When that is accomplished, send another company of ten down after me; wait another fifteen minutes, and send another company down. Do not send archers nor lancers. Have them guard the entrances. Send those with swords."
The Elf nodded and began to obey her orders. She chose ten Elves whom she knew and trusted from years on border patrol. They followed her as she climbed down the steep entranceway, sliding as she went. She landed in Legolas' arms and was comforted, for a moment.
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