1. The Orc Camp
Author's Note: I presume to own nothing of Tolkien's word, characters, or verse.
THE ORC CAMP
The forest of Mirkwood was dark and evil in those wretched times. Sauron's forces consumed it and aspired with all their hatred to quench the good that still walked beneath its mighty trees. Yet, the forest was vast and not all good is easily defeated.
Far into the north, past the Mirkwood Mountains, lived the Wood-elves: noble and graceful, mighty and elegant, wise and ancient. They were ruled by their King, Thranduil, who had four sons, all radiantly fair with golden hair and eyes of sky blue. The Elven princes' names, and in order of birth, were Legolas, Haldof, Tarnil, and Galamed. Long had the elves lived in peace and prosperity in the wood, but the Dark Lord had his own design of the fate of all who challenged his will.
Forces were growing in his darkened realm in the south, raiding only to scourge and retreat. Thranduil, stern and absolute, knew that their present course could not continue without soon infringing on his own lands and people. Scouts reported that a camp of goblins lay southeast past the mountains. Three attacks had these Orcs made in a fortnight and Thranduil's patience was spent. Fifty Elven warriors were chosen to lead the assault on the camp. Thranduil's four sons were amongst them.
Haldof, though born a year after Legolas, was always one to assume command. Legolas never felt affronted but regarded some of Haldof's decisions as rather impetuous. This attack required great planning and care; all of which Thranduil awarded to his sons' able control.
Elves assembled at the appointed hour to see their noble kinsmen off. Thranduil stood pensively in the clearing, stars glistening overhead. "For now, part we must, yet shall meet again. May you be swift and sure in battle and return once more." The company bowed low to their great king and moved to depart. Soft Elven voices rose high into the night sky in songs of valour and sodality.
"Legolas, my son," Thranduil called out. Legolas turned and strode back to his father. "You will oversee all, I hope. You are my eldest son and, therefore, in command."
"Aye, Father," Legolas said.
"Haldof, I know, craves leadership and is apt at stirring our hearts. But more so than him, you have a discerning mind. Your knowledge of battle is great, and you are quick to think coolly when situations are harried and critical. He may need your guidance but be reluctant to solicit it."
"Good," Thranduil said as his mind was put at ease. He placed a loving hand on his son's shoulder. "Delay not your return." Legolas nodded and sprung onward with the Elves heading for battle.
The band traveled throughout the night with much haste and reached the foothills the following nightfall. Clouds blew in from the north but hovered menacingly over the summits. No moon could be seen through the thick haze; nonetheless, they went onwards cautiously, resting little.
They halted briefly at the base of the mountains to sup on the fragrant herb bread and pungent cheese they carried with them. Haldof approached his brothers and requested a private meeting with them.
"We should take the pass by Crassus. That route is by far faster, and their camp is near the exit of the trail, so says Nathuil," Haldof said, certainty in his voice.
Legolas sighed; it was as he feared. "Nay, Brother," he said gently. "We ought not attempt that trail. It is known to our enemies and will be watched. The Veridis path is known only to us. It will ensure the element of surprise. They must not suspect our attack."
"You do not know it is watched. Moreover, we could handle an attack if there was one, which I doubt."
"It is a risk not worth taking. If our coming were discovered, we would be trapped. Nay, it is wiser to take the Veridis path and ensnare them from behind."
Haldof merely nodded, but did not appear to agree. "What say you?" he said to Tarnil and Galamed. "What is your opinion?"
Tarnil and Galamed eyed each other with silent conversation. They were the youngest of the brothers and were born more than a century after Haldof and Legolas. By nature they were each tame except during the heat of battle. Neither Tarnil nor Galamed wished to join this dispute, but Tarnil spoke first. "I think we should take the Veridis path."
Haldof nodded and turned then to Galamed. "And you?"
"I agree," Galamed answered.
Haldof nodded. "As you wish, Brothers," was his only reply before marching away.
With the path now chosen, they immediately set out on it. It was a difficult ramble which led them great distances out of their way. Haldof repeatedly gave his brothers reproving glances, but said nothing. As they rose ever higher up the mountain, a cold wind swept through their robes with frigid steadiness.
Upon their descent, they stopped for a few hours rest and simple fare in the lee of a battered rock. As trees grew sparsely on the crumbling stone, the bottom of Veridis had to be met ere the sunrise or they would be exposed to watchful eyes. At length, Galamed approached Legolas.
"I am concerned for Haldof. He has spoken to none for two days. Perhaps we should have taken the other path."
Legolas gazed deeply into his brother's eyes. They resembled his own. "The risk was too great. Do you now disagree?"
"No," said Galamed with resolution. "It simply pains me to see him thus. He envies you, you know. Well, there is naught to be done now," Galamed continued. "Shall I ready everyone?" Legolas nodded and Galamed strode off in duty.
- - -
All were again assembled and set forth down the mountain. The bottom was reached prior to dawn and they shielded themselves with the cover of woodland. Many miles were yet between them and the Orc camp. They stopped once reluctantly during the day, and then pressed on.
The sun was setting, but the air fell oppressively on the southern side of the mountains, and each Elf felt it. It was Legolas who finally called a halt.
"We are but three miles to the pass of Crassus. We shall take refuge here for the night."
Quietly and efficiently, camp was set but no fires lit. A great watch was positioned and appointed with relief every four hours. Legolas gazed at the stars which were peeping through the ceiling of the forest. Haldof approached and stood at his side.
"The air is foul here," Haldof said at length. He sighed and grew sad. "When I think of what once was..." There was no need to continue. Legolas remembered all too well himself how glorious Greenwood was until the Shadow came; then all fell dark, and evil grew. All was still dark.
"You were probably correct concerning the pass of Crassus," said Haldof, humbly. "It would have been foolish." Legolas gazed at his brother and smiled. He held out his arm, and Haldof, seeing it, grasped his forearm. They stood there momentarily, contented brothers, before joining the others.
All agreed the attack must come during daylight as Orcs by nature detest the sun and crave gloom and shadow. Legolas sent two scouts on ahead and at dawn, they returned.
"They have been dwelling in holes at the foot of the Crassus path," said Nathuil, one of the spying pair. Upon hearing this, Legolas and Haldof exchanged glances. Haldof sat abashed.
Nathuil continued. "There are many. Of those that we have slain in the fortnight past, more have arrived and in greater numbers."
"How many?" asked Legolas.
"Two hundred, perhaps more," replied Nathuil. A silence hung in the air. They were heavily outnumbered. Legolas sighed. He did not like it at all. Haldof broke the silence.
"We should attack now, and charge at them with full force."
Legolas spoke reluctantly. "Nay, that would be leaving our backs to the enemy. They could flank us."
The fires in Haldof's eyes were relit. "They will be unprepared for a fight today. As you have said, we shall have the element of surprise to aid us." He held out his arm to Legolas. "Trust me, Brother."
Legolas grasped Haldof's forearm and nodded in unwilling agreement. The conspirators soon disbursed and Legolas sat alone to contemplate the battle ahead.
- - -
The Elves departed within minutes and approached the Orc camp with great speed. All was still and quiet in the forest, and none could hear the soft footfalls of Elven feet. They approached the camp cautiously, bows raised, poised to kill.
Suddenly, a loud, crude clang rang out. A foul voice blared out: "Elves! We're under attack!" Orcs sprung out of their holes clad in boorish, black mail. Elven bows sang and many Orcs were slaughtered until they came too close to shoot. In one graceful motion, Legolas pulled out his long, white blade and made full attack with the others slicing throat and belly alike. Goblins were falling; the battle was being won!
Boom! The ground vibrated under their feet. From what seemed all around them, rose a deep, bellowing noise. Boom, doom, boom, the drum rang and Orcs appeared, hidden at first from holes, and behind trees. Boom, doom! More than a hundred Orcs charged from behind, flanking them. The breath caught in Legolas's throat. It was as he had feared.
The fighting momentarily ceased as Elves and Orcs stood ready, each watching their opponents with a killer's eye. Vulgar laughter erupted from the Orcs, but the Elves' courage did not falter. As Orcs charged, arrows and blades flew striking each target true. The Orcs, however, were many and swarmed lone elves that had been separated from their kinsmen. Legolas was among them.
Haldof gazed in terror upon seeing Legolas separated and swarmed. "Legolas!" he cried out in desperation. He moved to go to his brother's aid when the drums sounded again, and yet another wave attacked. Fighting was fierce and grisly. When the clash subsided, Haldof sounded for retreat. The majority of Orcs had been slain, and the remainder were now scattered, about to regroup. Three Elves had been slain during the battle and they were hurriedly carried off before another attack. The survivors, bloody and wounded, took rest a mile east of the camp. There was, however, no sign of Legolas.
"Perhaps he's been taken," Tarnil said, worried.
Haldof thought hard, heart racing. "I saw him being dislocated from the battle. They were pursuing him south."
"Surely we must search for him," Galamed said, looking forlorn.
Haldof's thoughts were clouded for a moment, in despair. "Nay," he said at last. "You must relate all to our father. Our fallen must be returned to our kinsfolk."
Tarnil was quick to rebuke. "But we cannot abandon our brother!"
"Nay, I said not so. I will go in search of Legolas. I place you both in command. You must tell our father the events of this day."
Distressed, Tarnil and Galamed looked at each other and relented. They were to lead the warriors over the Veridis path homeward, and Haldof went alone into the wild in search of his brother.
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