2. The Road East
THE ROAD EAST
The Orcs had battled Legolas fiercely, but he had cleverly escaped their grasp and was unharmed. Separated from his company, stranded and alone, he now had only what he carried on his person: his clothing of green and brown, his bow, a quiver of arrows, and a long, white Elven knife.
The attack and pursuit had driven him far south of the mountains, deep into the perilous domain of the spiders. He knew well of the villainous spiders who were eager to drink the blood of any man, elf, or orc who had the misfortune of becoming tangled in their webs. A lone elf wandering in a land such as that, even in daylight, was vulnerable indeed. He hid near a shaded thicket and puzzled as to his next move. "Returning the way I came would be folly. The enemy is bound to search that way." Legolas knelt to the earth. Fresh tracks could clearly be seen in the disturbed soil. "Orcs, and many." He stood and extracted his bow and would keep it in hand. "Southeast is the wisest direction to take," he thought, and moved stealthily off again for the Veridis path.
Hours passed and evening sky spread widely overhead like a gruesome hand. Legolas stumbled abruptly upon something he did not intend, and would much rather have avoided. In front of him stood saddened trees snared with mammoth webs. The silky ropes hung like interconnected walls in a great labyrinth from which there was no path of escape. He could go no further.
His sharp Elven ears heard a clicking noise and within a flash, Legolas's bow was armed. His gaze rose, and high in the gnarled, twisted trees sat an inky spider, its many eyes staring his way. Though not as large as some he had slain throughout his long lifetime, he was ever wise that even the smallest spider in Mirkwood was deadly.
It sat, poised, clicking delightedly to itself. What a treat! A nice, juicy Elf, all alone. "You fearful of little me?" it said in a rasping, hissing voice. "I cannot harm a great Elf like you."
Legolas said nothing but stepped cautiously back. Retreat was the wisest course.
"Where are you going?" the spider asked, its pincers snapping together. It made no movement to overtake him; it simply sat in the tree, waiting. Legolas stepped further backward. His sense of dread was increasing every moment.
"Now Siiliis! Catch him!" the spider cried. Legolas whirled, looked up and saw a massive spider sinking down upon him. He bolted out of the way and loosed his arrow once more. Siiliis screeched and twitched uncontrollably while green, slimy ooze flowed from the wound. It then made a horrible hissing cry and lunged for him. Legolas cast down his bow, drew out his knife and, swinging madly, sliced three legs from the enormous beast before stabbing it fatally in its belly. He stepped back and wiped the filth off his weapon with the spider's wooly coat. Picking up his bow, he glanced back at the small spider; it was still sitting in the tree, now trembling and recoiling into the darkness. Legolas sheathed his blade, and resumed his journey.
- - -
Sunlight began to diminish. The Old Forest Road had been reached, but little comfort did that bring as he suspected it would be watched. Not an hour passed before all was completely dark. Legolas stopped still on the shadowy road and grasped his bow. His keen Elven ears had not failed him. Voices from the south! Legolas could hear their loud cursing as they approached. About to retreat, he was halted again by the noise of even more voices coming along the path from the north.
"Gâshk, you're a simple-minded fool!" the voice said in the Common Speech.
Legolas quickly reacted to his predicament and jumped lightly off the path and into the underbrush of an immense beech. He pulled out his long blade, resting it behind him and sat perfectly still. Voices grew louder and their foul makers suddenly appeared. Three Orcs stepped into Legolas's limited view, each filth ridden and sinister. Their evil yellow eyes scanned about the darkness. One had only three fingers on his left, blackened hand, Legolas observed. "I know I heard something," it said.
"You always think you've heard something," replied another. The cool, spring wind rustled some newborn leaves.
"Quiet!" the three fingered one ordered odiously. They all stood still, listening attentively. An Orc slowly approached Legolas's hiding place, something had caught its okra coloured eye. Had it seen the sheen of his blade? The Orc leaned toward the brush, peering in. Legolas sat perfectly still; the hilt of his blade gripped tightly in his right hand. The Orc, unable to see inside the brush leaned forward still, until suddenly, a loud howl was heard as six Orcs pounced onto the road. All blades were instantly drawn and then let fall at their sides. A massive Orc stepped forth. Legolas recognized him immediately as among the same Orcs that attacked him earlier.
"You scraping dogs!" it roared. The three from the east merely stood, unamused. "You missed a hard battle, but now you hunt with us."
"We have our orders, Ugnúl," said the three fingered one. "Khnásh's orders were to patrol the road."
"Oh, haven't you heard?" Ugnúl let out a vindictive laugh upon seeing the large Orc's confused expression. "He's not heard." The gang around Ugnúl laughed equally wickedly. "Khnásh is dead. I'm in command now. Got that Lâsh?" he said, pointing to the three-fingered one. "There's a nasty little Elf out there that I mean to catch."
"Elves dwell in the north, not the south," Lâsh replied.
"We passed his handiwork," said one of Ugnúl's cronies. "Wretched spiders! Nearly spoilt our sport!"
"He's here, but he won't get far," Ugnúl assured the gang. "He'll be heading north. I'll lay wagers he's been along this road."
"No Elf has passed our watch. I can vouch for that," Lâsh snarled.
"Vouch? Ha!" Ugnúl smirked. "You clods wouldn't notice if a troll passed you! We take the road. We'll catch him."
"He's not gone past I tell you!" Lâsh declared.
"Caught you napping, did he?" Ugnúl said. "Well, I'd like to see him get by me! Let's go!" he ordered. The gang of Orcs moved resolutely northward, and again all fell quiet in the forest. Legolas remained still for a while, pondering his next move. He shook his head, not liking the choices laid out for him. The safest route, he believed, now lay ahead, not behind. Farther south he must travel, then turn east until reaching the Celduin River. From there, home would be but a short distance, and a familiar one.
He rose and, once again, set out into the cursed darkness. He had much fear of what lay hidden in the south. Orcs frequently had legions moving around Dol Guldur which festered with evil forces. Wargs, allegiant to Sauron, roamed in packs, ready to sniff out any intruder in their territory, and there was always the possibility of stumbling into another spider's domain.
- - -
Night passed slowly, and subdued daylight finally broke in. He was fatigued; the previous day's trials had been great, but he found no place suitable or safe enough for rest. A slight wind brushed Legolas's face, but the air was heavy and hot.
As he journeyed on throughout the day, his heart grew discouraged. He crossed paths with no one and was acutely aware of every noise the creaking wood made. It was murky under the tall boughs of the massive trees, despite the sun being high in the sky. He passed neither stream nor pond, and his thirst was steadily mounting. The trees encircled him like giant, brown walls, stretching out as far as his elven eyes could see.
The sun began to sink in the west, but he could not see the dying orb. As darkness grew, the air fell even heavier. Orcs would come out of their foul holes soon, and be hot after his trail. He knew that they would have realized their error by now and altered their route. Of course, an elf leaves no trail: no marks upon the earth, at least. Loathsome wargs, however, were fierce stalkers. Not even an elf can escape what a warg can smell, and where the warg howls, an Orc is surely near.
Fortunately, one of the places a Wood-elf is most at home is in a tree. He stood at the trunk of a beech and let his soft hand rest upon its rough bark. He could feel the life under his palm, circulating and emitting a strong essence. Legolas jumped up, caught the bough, and gracefully pulled himself up. He climbed nimbly up the sturdy branches, up and up. Nearing a hundred feet from the ground, at last his head protruded from the roof of the forest. The sky was a radiant golden orange, and nearest to the earth, a dusky purple. Up on the tips of the treetops, Legolas closed his eyes as he felt the sweet, cool air sweep through his long, flaxen hair. The air was fresh, not weighty as in the bowels of the forest.
- - -
The sun set and night crept in. Evil would soon be underfoot. Gazing up into the sky, Legolas could see the glorious twinkling of Eärendil, the Elves most beloved star. More stars peeked out and Legolas's spirits were lifted. Yet, under their soft, watchful gaze, he knew he could not remain. He must be on the move ere the gruesome creatures caught whiff of him.
With deep regret, he lowered himself neath the forest roof and all was dark. Again the heavy air strangled his throat, but linger, he could not.
He climbed down ten feet and began to make his trek to the next tree. Up so high in the trees, no warg's nose could go. He leaped lightly from branch to branch, ever careful not to slip. It was slow moving in the gloom, but after he had passed three miles in the trees, rest was desperately needed, and well deserved. He found a mighty bough and lay atop it. His eyes remained open all night, while his head filled with ominous dreams.
Far off, now and then throughout the night, the sullen howl of wargs could be heard. Not close enough to alarm him, but he knew he was being hunted. He could feel the disturbing threat of evil steadily grow closer, and yet remain at a distance. For now, nonetheless, he would be safe.
- - -
The darkness rose slowly from the thick of the woods as daylight began to stream in. It would be safe now to move to the forest floor. Climbing down the tree, he jumped the last fifteen feet, landing by a bubbling stream. Indeed, he was thirsty; his mouth was exceedingly parched. He gazed into the pool, suspiciously. A white foam churned upon its surface, and a fetid vapour arose from its slimy rocks. It was not fit to drink. He would simply have to wait.
There was no path for him to follow, and even if there had been, he would not set foot upon it. Evil has eyes in many places and, undoubtedly, all roads would be watched.
The woodland seemed eerily calm as he walked along that morning. No birds sang out. No wind blew. No leaves rustled. The air remained just as heavy as the day before. Evil was near, even though the sun shone. All was quiet and still.
Legolas pushed on quickly through the day, running like a deer from a hunter. Even though he had now travelled more than ten leagues south, the peril in his mind did not diminish. It lingered with him throughout his journey, and each time he paused for rest, it seemed to rise again. He knew wrathful Orcs were coming for him.
Night was already beginning to fall. Too soon. He had not travelled far enough to his liking. Orcs can be fearless hunters and move with swift speed when they have the notion. It would not take long for them to discover his route. He resolved to run on until dusk and then make his home in the trees as he had done so the night before.
He wished to be on the easternmost edge of Mirkwood in two days at the most, and hoped only that he could remain elusive until then. He could handsomely slay a large group of Orcs by himself, but he knew not the number of his pursuers. Orcs, renowned for moving cowardly in hordes, are ready to stamp out and slaughter any poor tree, beast, or creature they meet. Legolas knew he could not defend himself against a strengthened squadron, fatigued as he was. The lack of water, food, and sleep was beginning to affect him. He simply must make it to the forest rim. Once there, escape would be much easier. The dense air made running arduous. His lungs ached.
It was not long before it was too dark and dangerous to run any farther. Legolas discovered an ancient oak with a massive trunk, and long, gnarled branches. Climbing the great tree proved difficult for his enervated body, but once high above the earth, he again moved with ease as he began his nightly expedition from tree to tree.
The menace that continued to haunt his senses had not waned with the setting of the sun. Rather, it intensified. Legolas's bright elven eyes flared in the dark of the wood, searching for any sign of danger. Scant light, however, allowed them to see very little.
Orcs! Legolas could feel them approach from afar. They felt distant but were moving swiftly and coming ever closer. "No rest again tonight, and I am already weary. If they are on the move, so must I be. I cannot linger, cannot wait, for their visit is impending."
Lightly, he stepped from branch to branch, crawling through walls of thick foliage. The forest grew denser. Immense vines choked his path until there was no way to go but back or down. The thorns which grew on the vines were small, but sharp as a dragon's claw. "Dragon's Snare," he said irritably. The slightest touch would tear the flesh. They scratched at his hands and pulled at his clothes.
Legolas drew out his long, pearly, white knife and struck mightily at the strong cords. They were sliced, but broke away only slightly. He slashed his blade repeatedly against the hardy ropes, yet in the end, to no avail. Crumbling vines broke loose only to reveal more vines adorned with thorny hooks. Advancing proved impossible; he could move forward in the trees no longer. Thus, he was now faced with a daunting dilemma: to remain there for the night, or return to the earth and make his way on foot. Neither choice was free of risk. To remain, immobile, in the trees seemed unwise. Orcs were closing in at that very moment. His only other choice, however, was equally unappealing as wargs would surely pick up his scent. He could not mask his trail.
Legolas decided his best chance now was below the trees, rather than in them, this night. If he remained and was discovered, he would be trapped and have no possible means of escape.
He leapt out of the tree and stood very still in the dark. He closed his eyes and listened to the whispers of the forest. The Orcs had moved closer. Yes, that was certain.
A warg's shrill howl rang out. Legolas's eyes flashed open. The warg was close, and off to the south. There was no time to waste.
He ran into the pitch with no stars or moon to guide him. Onward and eastward he went, and more roaring howls answered the first. Some felt more northward, others westward. There was now no doubt; they had discovered him at last. Their meeting seemed imminent.
Legolas stopped dead in his tracks. Ahead stood a massive warg, the fur along its spine standing up like giant spikes, its growl menacing. In a flash, Legolas had his bow in hand, ready to shoot. He stared at the warg; the warg stared back. Legolas could now sense other creatures around him, closing in. Glancing about, he saw two other wargs inching closer, baring their monstrous teeth.
Out of the night stepped a group of Orcs. They joined the Wargs, forming a circle, and mockingly pointed at Legolas, all the while laughing fiendishly. Their leader swaggered forward, fist tightly clutching his crude blade. He was huge in body and grotesque in face. His bulbous yellow eyes glowed threateningly in the murky blackness. It was Ugnúl.
"You're a sly Elf, I'll give you that," said Ugnúl in the Common Tongue. It was a gruff, heinous voice which emanated from a foul, rotting mouth showing strings of greenish saliva. "But that is a trait common among Elves, I should think. You're all slippery little sneaks, aren't you?"
Legolas made no reply. The Orc could talk all he wished too, but as soon as his moment would come, Legolas would be ready.
A smaller Orc approached its leader. "We must not linger under these trees, Ugnúl!"
"Maggot! You think I fear one measly Elf?!" Ugnúl growled.
"It is not the Elf we fear, Ugnúl," said another. "We could handle a hundred of 'em."
"It is the witch," said the smaller Orc. "We're too close to her lair."
"What feeble-minded tales have you idiots been listening to?!" Ugnúl replied, a look of bitter disgust upon his gruesome face.
"They are true! We must leave!" insisted the smaller Orc.
"I hear she can kill you just by looking at you," said another, growing nervous.
"She can make herself invisible! She could be here right now!" shouted the small Orc. The others grew restless, and looked frantically about the darkness for any sign of the witch. Ugnúl glared his contempt and raised a filthy, bloodstained sword.
"Cowards!" Ugnúl shouted. Then, in one lightning swift motion, he severed the smaller Orc's head. Its body slumped to the ground, lifeless yet still twitching, and its head rolled and disappeared into the inky blackness. The other Orcs fell back with dread, fearing for the safety of their own necks. When Ugnúl turned to face Legolas again, he was gone.
"Idiots! Where did he slip off to?" Ugnúl demanded.
The Orcs quickly looked around and saw the three bodies of the wargs. They had all been struck in the throat by elven arrows.
"Search everywhere!" Ugnúl thundered. "If he is not found by sunrise, you'll each regret it."
Legolas, meanwhile, had been watching the chaotic scene from a high bough of a nearby tree. Luckily, no eyes had risen upward. Orcs scattered, and soon all were gone. A short while passed. It was still some hours before daybreak, and too dangerous to remain where he was. There was naught for it. He must make an attempt.
He sprang to the earth, and waited; nothing stirred. He sprinted toward the east, in the direction of the rising sun. Ugnúl, however, was too clever. He had been waiting behind a thick trunk and pounced on the Elf knocking them both to the hard earth. Legolas found his knife directly. They rose, malice filling each other's faces. Ugnúl attacked, but Legolas was quick with his weapon. Orcs approached and cheered as the two warriors struck at each other with furious might. Their blades tangled, and Ugnúl served a swift blow which sent Legolas onto his back a few feet from the crowd. His knife landed grievously out of reach. Ugnúl stepped forth to finish the kill when a holler rang out. "Ugnúl! You mustn't!"
"Try and stop me, weakling!" Ugnúl roared to his underdog.
"Please yourself," the Orc replied with a sneer, "if you like to burn. That is the boundary of the witch's lair. They say any Orc that crosses it, bursts into flame."
Legolas stood up and glanced nervously about him. Little could be seen in the dark. It appeared to him the same as the rest of the forest.
"What Elvish rubbish is this?" Ugnúl demanded. "If you're so witless to believe in such lies, then you'll see this witch for yourself!" Ugnúl grabbed the Orc with both hands and threw him toward Legolas. In a sudden and glorious flash, the Orc was doused with bright, searing fire. A shrill wail filled the air. The writhing creature stumbled back and the flames immediately died out. His skin was now burnt blacker than the night, and the strong scent of charred flesh and hair filled the air. The other Orcs grew fearful and began to retreat. "What sorcery is this?" they cried as they fled. Legolas and Ugnúl were now alone in the dark.
A malicious smile spread onto Ugnúl's putrid face. "Look for me, Elf! Look for me when you go to leave this place...and there you shall find me."
Ugnúl then withdrew into the black abyss. Legolas dared not move else cross the invisible boundary which now protected him. He would be safe now from the Orcs at least, but of this witch, he could not imagine. "Is she Elven?" he thought. "The magic that guards her lair is exceptionally powerful." Legolas could remember none but the High Elves who bore such magic and power. "If she guards against Orcs, then, surely, I have naught to fear."
Resigning himself to that belief, Legolas lay down against a tree. He would sleep on the ground tonight.
Author's Note: Kindly review, please!
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.