23. Dreams and Danger
The cave was deep, with hidden crannies and nooks off the many passages that led farther into the hills. Tathiel had led the children silently down several passages, finally climbing up on to a ledge that overlooked a good portion of the cave below them. From this vantage point they could not be surprised; however they also had little hope of escape if they were seen. Tathiel had made sure they left no footprints in the dirt of the floor to trace their passage.
She had been aware of the orcs for several days. They traveled only at night, and she had switched their travel schedule to match – always keeping some distance away from the noisy and noisome orcs. On this night, though, they had been nearly overtaken by a second band of orcs that had appeared from the north. Unable to retreat due to the band she knew was south of them, Tathiel had chanced the western hills and its many caves in hopes of finding one uninhabited by orcs or other servants of shadow.
The quarreling orcs had also entered the hills; whether they had sensed the presence of the elves or this was their intended path Tathiel did not know. She could hear them outside the cave, and the clefts in the rock face that opened to slits into the night only amplified the sound.
Eärundra was pressed close to Tathiel’s left side; Legolas was in her arms, and Tinánia at her right side. Tinánia was tense; Eärundra was terrified. Eärundra’s grip on Tathiel’s arm was bruising in its intensity, and as the volume of the orcs calling and quarreling with each other increased, so did Eärundra’s grip.
Tathiel had her dagger laid against her right knee; her fingers lightly touching it, ensuring its presence and keeping it within reach. As the voices grew louder, she shifted Legolas slightly and pulled the long knife from its sheath at her side. To her right, she saw Tinánia carefully withdraw an arrow and loosely notch it in her bow.
Two orcs entered the cave, hands gesturing and their foul language rising and falling in rhythm as they argued. Tathiel grimaced; she thought it was an argument but the language was so harsh that she wondered if the quarrelsome sound was normal for orcs communicating. The two seemed to be inspecting the cave; finally one called sharply and orcs streamed in, one after the other. The flung their packs on to the cave floor quickly covering the main area, and other orcs began exploring the passages of the cave. Soon the noise of orcs was all around them, as well as under them as several orcs took up the small space below them for their own.
Tathiel had ceased counting after she reached one hundred; yet still they came. The noise level was unbearable to the sensitive hearing of the elves, and Tathiel quietly pulled a blanket over Eärundra’s head. Eärundra curled herself up under the blanket, its meager protection helping her to control her shaking body.
Tathiel kept her hand loosely over Legolas’ mouth, and covered his head with a blanket as well. Tinánia kept watch with her, as they listened to the orcs argue.
The sun rose, its bright rays shining in narrow shafts through the slits in the ceiling of the cave. Orcs lying in those shafts of light cursed and moved themselves back into darkness. The elves could not understand the words, knowing only that anger was at the core of a disagreement between two orcs who broke into a fight over the space one had claimed on the floor. The first orc was in the light, and kicked the orc next to him to encourage him to move. That orc grabbed the leg of the first, flipping him on to his back, and a fight ensued.
Many orcs were on their feet in a circle around the contestants, each cheering and goading on their favorite. Weapons were drawn, and Tathiel could smell the blood as knives slashed through skin. Shrieks filled the air, causing Legolas to jump and a small noise escaped him. Tathiel clamped her hand tightly over his mouth, and he began to struggle and cry. She held her hand tight, letting not a sound escape him, and untangling her other arm from Eärundra’s grip, she placed that hand on his forehead. She concentrated as best she could on calming him, finally succeeding in pushing him into sleep, while fervently hoping she had not harmed him by invading his mind in this way. Legolas relaxed in her arms, and she gave a small sigh of relief.
Eärundra still trembled beside her, her hands now gripping Tathiel’s tunic. Tathiel stroked her hair, then settling her hand on the child’s forehead she gentled the paths of her fear much as she had soothed the pain from her the winter before. In spite of the shrieks and fighting below them, Eärundra too quieted under Tathiel’s touch.
Tathiel and Tinánia watched in horror as the orcs battled to the death, the first falling beneath a blade that nearly beheaded him, and the second, in his moment of rejoicing, was cut down by one who was apparently a leader of the group. The crowd quieted and then dispersed when a tirade of harsh words and a few well aimed blows from a club reminded them who their leader was.
The two dead orcs were kicked to the side, and then by the instruction of the leader, a fire was lit and the bodies dismembered and cooked. The stench was unbearable, as the flesh was seared and then burnt; the meat shared by the leaders and many of those who sat near. The rest ate from their packs some sort of ration, all the while grumbling and pointing at what they might have had.
Tathiel pushed Tinánia’s head down to her knees and rubbed her back as the child nearly wretched from the sight and smell. Eärundra and Legolas thankfully stayed asleep and silent throughout the terrible ordeal.
The orcs finally quieted and most seemed to sleep as the day wore on. On the ledge, the children slept as well; Tinánia finally joining her sister and Legolas in sleep despite her fear. Tathiel kept watch, noting the breathing of the three young ones, listening for any change to indicate awakening that she might quiet them before any sound escaped them.
At her side she kept the dagger, fingering it occasionally, and she remembered the words Rawien had spoken to her many months ago. She resolved to slit all their throats before an orc laid a hand on them, and she sat watch for hours with those dark thoughts and fears ever encroaching upon her mind.
Lathron stood upon the balcony of his room, watching the clouds roll swiftly across the dark sky. The air was cold, and yet he stood in just a light dressing gown, for the cold was reality and helped him clear his mind and differentiate his person from his dreams and visions.
He had been asleep when the sounds of a fight invade his mind, and he felt fear and confusion. The fear and confusion heightened, and were then stifled as he felt his mind and soul invaded forcefully by a calming presence. He separated then from the young spirit he had joined to, and saw the elfling he knew to be his brother induced into deep dreamless sleep. The turmoil resumed then, and he heard the loud voices and felt evil and unrest surrounding and encompassing him.
Unlike the many visions he had experienced before, this time he did not leave or allow the dream to overwhelm him. He turned back to the child, and wrapped his own presence around the tiny body. He whispered soothing words and sang to the child, feeling the child’s spirit relax and soar with him. As their minds touched, Lathron allowed the seeking child to touch him as a blind man might feel another’s face to memorize his look. He skimmed Legolas’ childish memories, sensing what the child loved, what he feared, what made him happy and that which caused him sadness. Time seemed to stand still, and Lathron was unaware of its passage until the child finally drifted from him into natural sleep.
Lathron withdrew from his brother, and waking, sat up in his bed. His heart began to race and his breathing increased as he pondered that which had just happened. He brought his hand to his lips, and then ran then down his arms, the taste and warmth of his skin confirming he was indeed awake. He rose and went out into the night, watching eastward, knowing that somewhere out there Legolas slept. Clearly the missing elves were in danger. Despite this, Lathron was momentarily consumed with that which he had just experienced. He sensed that he had been helpful to his brother – that his presence had eased him into protective sleep. He wondered if he could initiate this contact; he wondered if Legolas would remember the contact.
Unable to sleep, Lathron left his room and moved silently down the passage to the small room next to the chamber of his father; the space that would be Legolas’ when he was returned to them. He pushed the door open and entered. He stood in the dark quiet room and closed his eyes. He brought the image of the elfling he had just seen back to his mind, and tried to imagine the child in this room.
A vision appeared of a smiling, laughing young elf sitting on the bed, picture book in hand, grinning at him as he eagerly recited the story he was reading. The little elf grew, proudly standing before him, showing him his first bow and explaining how he strung it himself and fletched his own arrows. He saw next a little prince, circlet of leaves perched on his head as he stood with his father in court for the first time; eyes solemn as he heard the petitioner and listened to his father’s reply. He saw that little prince sitting with book in hand, enraptured as he learned the tales of old, turning to his Ada to point out a passage and nodding as he listened to his father explain its meaning.
The little prince was now at play, chasing after and being chased by other elflings of his stature. Climbing trees, singing and dancing under the stars, teasing his sister as she stood with the shy young elf who bowed before her and asked her to dance; his body strong and supple as a young willow and growing ever to maturity.
The prince was a young warrior now, standing with the initiates of the Woodland Realm, proclaiming his vow to protect and defend his King and his people. The eager young face scanning the crowd to rest finally upon his family, his eyes reflecting the pride of those who loved him.
Lathron saw a warrior returning from his first campaigns; occasionally bruised and bloody, but always glad to return to the home he loved. He saw the young warrior standing proud with joy and humility as his captain bequeathed to him his first patrol to lead; he saw the young warrior shouldering the responsibility of commanding his own mission. He saw grief as that young commander lost his first warriors in battle, as he knelt before spouses and parents and shared their grief.
The images changed to a fully grown elf, standing in the midst of a group of mortals, offering them the protection his bow and his senses could offer. He saw runs of endurance, battles of epic proportion and finally his brother’s eyes drawn to the sky as a gull flew overhead. Lathron winced as he felt the call of the sea distract the warrior. He saw next a white city, and his brother standing before a man of Kingly stature, clasping the hand of dwarf in friendship and love. He saw his brother standing with pride before a beautiful land populated with the flets of wood elves; humans, dwarves and elves mixing in merriment in an open meadow beneath. He saw peace and contentment in the eyes of the young elf he called brother, and then the vision faded to a tiny elfling curled in the embrace of loving arms in the midst of darkness and the stink of orcs.
Lathron opened his eyes as he felt a gentle touch on his arm. His eyes focused on the form of his father, who watched him with concern in his eyes.
“Nin ion, are you unable to sleep?” Thranduil asked him quietly.
“Ada, please, come sit that I might tell you all I have seen,” Lathron answered with a smile. “They are in great danger this night, yet I have renewed hope for what I have seen of Legolas’ life this night is that he has some part to play in a future event of grave importance.”
The orcs slept most of the day, the large number of them combined with the echo of the cave causing a continuous low roar. Tathiel was grateful for the constant rumble of noise, for it overpowered any sounds the children might make in their sleep.
It was late afternoon when Legolas woke. He made not a sound, but reached up instead to touch Tathiel’s face. She smiled down at him, touching her finger to her lips then to his. He nodded, somehow grasping the importance of silence. Tathiel unlaced her tunic, and he gladly suckled at her breast, the rumble in his tummy making him grin at her.
Eärundra woke next, peeking her head out from the blanket and leaning out slightly from the wall to see the orcs still spread out on the ground below them. She looked at Tathiel and rolled her eyes, then pulled the blanket back over her head. Tathiel had quietly removed items from their packs during times of greater noise from the orcs, and now slipped food and water to Eärundra. The child’s head popped out momentarily and she managed a smile before retreating to the relative safety of her blanket.
Tinánia woke last, her nose twitching in disgust as she perceived the presence of the orcs without needing to see them. She also took a little food and water, and then leaned back against the wall, her body posture resigned as she realized they had yet several hours of the company of the orcs to endure.
Tathiel would have laughed aloud if the sound would not have endangered them. While all of them had reason to fear the orcs, the many hours spent in their presence had led to a certain amusement for their predicament. The orcs were foul, disagreeable, quarrelsome, and noisome. They were stuck in a cave with more than a hundred of the disgusting beings, and the orcs were unaware of their presence. Tathiel shook her head and smiled at Legolas who returned the grin. There was truly no humor to their situation and should their presence be discovered all four would quickly be inhabiting the Halls of Mandos; yet Tathiel could not help but smile.
The orcs began to rouse as dusk descended, and the sounds and smells as they argued, ate of their rations and relieved themselves drifted up to the elves. Eärundra tried covering her ears and pinching her nose, causing Legolas to point and Tathiel covered his mouth just in time to prevent the laugh that followed. Legolas did not smell so good himself at this point, and all of the elves hoped the orcs would leave that they might take care of their own needs. Darkness finally settled over the land, and the orcs departed leaving behind the remnants of their stay.
Tathiel held her fingers to her lips, and motioned for each of the children to remain quiet. She crept to the edge of the ledge and looked down. She saw no orcs in the main cavern, just the remains of the two that had been killed. She moved over to the spot where they had climbed up, and noted that the two that had camped below them had also departed. The silence in the cavern was frightening after the volume they had endured for the last day, and Tathiel found herself hesitant to speak. She finally set Legolas down next to Tinánia and climbed down from their perch. She moved silently through the cave, checking the near passages and main cavern, then walked to the opening and stepped into the cold night air. To the north she could still faintly hear the sounds of the orcs as they continued their journey. To the south she heard nothing but the normal sounds of the night – the calls of an owl, the crackles of shifting ice, and the wind as it whistled through bare branches. Content they were finally alone, Tathiel re-entered the cave. She climbed high enough that she could see on to the ledge, and beheld three shining sets of eyes.
“We are alone,” Tathiel said, relieved.
She spoke in her normal voice and was amazed at how the sound carried.
“Lets whisper instead,” she said softly to the smiling faces above her.
Tinánia handed Legolas to her, then Eärundra climbed down. Tinánia passed the packs to Tathiel and then came down herself. They immediately took care of their own needs and then returned to the main cavern.
“Leges wet,” the reproof in his voice was unmistakable.
“I know you are tithen min, and I am sorry for that,” Tathiel replied. “You have not wet yourself in some time, but I think it was better to do so than to have the orcs find us.”
Legolas allowed himself to be washed, dried, and changed without further comment on that topic. Tinánia and Eärundra were looking around the cavern, both staring pensively at the orc remains in the fire pit. Tinánia finally pulled Eärundra away from the grotesque sight, and they returned to Tathiel and Legolas.
Tathiel studied the three faces before her. “I do not think we can continue tonight,” she said finally. “I do not want to catch up to that band of orcs. I think we will give them a days head start and continue tomorrow.”
There was no sadness at this announcement, for the elflings had not slept well during the day and Tathiel had not slept at all.
“I do not think we want to stay here this night, though,” Tathiel’s nose twitched at the lingering odor. “If there are more orcs, this spot would be inviting to them. Let us see if we can find something less hospitable to a large party of orcs.”
Tathiel wrapped the wolf-pelt cloak she had made for Legolas about him, and allowed him to walk as they left the cave. They all perked up in the crisp night air and climbed into the hills, searching for a spot to spend the night. The snow was too deep and the path too rough for Legolas to walk long, and Tathiel carried him in her arms. She considered placing him in the carrier, but had decided that while that was a good mode of travel for a young one, it was dangerous if an attack occurred and the young one could not be easily removed.
Tinánia and Eärundra were both becoming quite proficient at moving silent and invisible through the trees, and Tathiel listened to Tinánia whisper to her sister that this is why an orc would not be able to follow them. She then went on to explain that an orc was so noisy that anyone would know it was coming.
“I do not think I am very brave,” Eärundra said quietly, her hand on her sister’s arm.
“You have been very brave,” Tinánia replied, stopping to face her sister. “Why do you think otherwise?”
“I was so scared of the orcs in that cave that I nearly wet myself,” Eärundra confessed. “I was scared of Hazad and Nurnan and Patel and Guryn and Balak and Ban and the wolves and the rockslide………”
“I was scared of all those things too!” Tinánia interrupted her.
Eärundra stared at her sister, speechless.
“I did not think you were ever scared,” Eärundra finally whispered.
“Everyone is scared at some time or another,” Tinánia explained. She turned to watch Tathiel as she and Legolas came out of the small cave they had been exploring. “I think even Tathiel has been scared at times.”
“Come!” Tathiel called to them softly, motioning them to the cave.
The cave was small and snug, with two entrances both fairly well concealed by brush. Tathiel set Legolas down to play while she started a small fire. Tinánia and Eärundra set their packs down, and began rummaging in them for what food items they had left. Tathiel boiled some water, soaking strips of the dried meat in hopes of softening it some for Legolas to eat.
“Tathiel, are you ever scared?” Eärundra ventured.
“Yes,” Tathiel answered, stopping her task momentarily to give Eärundra her full attention. “I have been scared many times since we left the trees of the Greenwood. Why do you ask, pen-neth?”
“I do not think I am very brave,” Eärundra finally replied.
Tathiel smiled at her. “Bravery comes in many forms, Eärundra. When we think of one of our warriors as brave, we often mean that he fought valiantly or risked himself to battle a foe stronger than himself. But for most of us, being brave means that we endure through hard or difficult times; we continue when we might wish to give up and we face all the adversity that challenges and pursues us. You, nín sell, have endured pain, cold, hunger, fatigue, fear, and the presence of those who wished to harm you. I cannot think how you might have been braver than what you have been.”
Eärundra smiled as a tear ran down her cheek. Tathiel crossed to her, and drew the child into her arms. Eärundra accepted the embrace gratefully.
“I do not know if I could battle a foe stronger than myself without fear, though,” she whispered in Tathiel’s ear. “Nor do I think I would win.”
“It is neither the winning or the lack of fear that makes the act brave and courageous,” Tathiel whispered back, hugging Eärundra close again. “You are brave when you endure or rise above your fear.”
Much contented, Eärundra let Tathiel release her and return to the cooking. Tinánia wrapped her arm about Eärundra’s shoulder and hugged her, the look in her eye confirming for Eärundra all that Tathiel had just said.
Legolas had been contentedly playing with his animals, but the sight of his ellyth all hugging each other reminded him of his need for such attention, and he rose on sturdy legs, ran around the fire and dove on top of Tinánia and Eärundra. They laughed and hugged him, and he sat on top of them both, very pleased with himself.
“Nania and Rundra sisters,” Legolas proclaimed.
“Very good, Legolas!” Eärundra encouraged him. She had been working on helping him understand family relationships as best she could, considering there were no Adas or Nanas among them to help demonstrate the most basic of families.
“Leges has brother,” Legolas informed them next.
“Legolas has an Ada and three brothers and two sisters,” Tinánia continued.
“Lafron Leges’ brother.”
Tathiel stopped stirring the meat and looked at the toddler curiously. She glanced at Tinánia and Eärundra who looked equally surprised.
“When did you teach him that?” Tathiel asked.
“I did not teach him that,” Eärundra answered.
“Nor did I,” Tinánia added. “We’ve been teaching him Elenath and Elumeril are his sisters, since he seems to understand sisters better than brothers.”
“Legolas, how do you know that Lathron is your brother?” Tathiel asked him.
“Lafron told me,” Legolas explained, leaning back against Eärundra’s legs.
“Come here, nin caun,” Tathiel held out her arms to him.
Legolas dropped his toys and raced across the ground to fling himself in Tathiel’s arms.
“I think Legolas likes hugs,” Tathiel squeezed him tight against her.
“Leges like hugs,” he squeezed back.
“Legolas, when did Lathron tell you he was your brother?” Tathiel asked him.
“Sleeping,” Legolas replied, squeezing Tathiel again as he liked that game.
“What else did he tell you?”
“Im meleth le!” Legolas grinned at Tathiel.
“I love you too, tithen caun. Do you know the names of your other brothers?” Tathiel continued.
“Breges and Duil,” Legolas answered, “an Agos gone away.”
Tinánia and Eärundra were staring at Legolas as if he had grown wings. It had taken them days of practice for him to remember Elumeril and Elenath!
“Yes, Alagos has gone away,” Tathiel whispered, hugging him close, his head under her chin, as she rubbed his back.
“Did Bregolas or Celebrinduil say anything to you?” Tathiel asked.
“No,” Legolas answered. “Lafron.”
He reached for some of the softened meat and began to chew it. The meat was too tough for his little teeth, and he finally spit it into Tathiel’s hand when she held it under his mouth. He reached for the waybread next, and one nibble was enough to know he did not wish to eat that.
“Fruit!” he looked at Tathiel with pleading eyes.
Tathiel unwrapped the pouch of fruit and allowed him a few small pieces. He devoured those quickly and then looked at her again.
“Leges hungry,” he said softly.
Tathiel felt her eyes water at those words that she had heard all too often over the last weeks. She was thankful she had not weaned him. What they ate on the trail was sufficient for herself, Tinánia and Eärundra, but not this little one. Her milk would sustain him.
“I am sorry, nin tithen caun,” she whispered to him. She untied her tunic and laid him in her lap to nurse. He accepted willingly, his tummy growling again. Tinánia and Eärundra moved closer, eating the dry meat and waybread without complaining.
“How did he know the names of his brothers?” Tinánia asked. “None of us told him.”
“I do not know,” Tathiel answered slowly, stroking Legolas’ hair. “He said he was sleeping. Perhaps a dream? Lathron used to have visions and dreams of things that were going to happen or had happened; things he couldn’t have known about.”
“Do you mean that Lathron talked to Legolas in a dream?” Eärundra asked, confused.
“I do not know if that is what happened. I do not know any more than you, and we know only what Legolas has told us,” Tathiel replied.
Tinánia spread the bedrolls out near the fire, and offering to take the first watch, she settled herself against a rock near the cave entrance while Tathiel, Legolas and Eärundra laid down to sleep.
“Tathiel?” Eärundra whispered.
“Yes,” Tathiel murmured sleepily.
“I want to take a watch tonight.”
“I will wake you for the last shift before dawn,” Tathiel replied softly, knowing she would not sleep herself after finishing her watch.
“Thank you,” Eärundra snuggled into her blankets, a smile on her face.
The sun rose late, casting its bright rays on frozen ground as it began its ascent across the sky. Eärundra heard the noise first, and quickly shook Tathiel and Tinánia awake. The noise of bands of orcs had become an easily recognizable sound to all of them, and Eärundra heard their characteristic grunts and curses while they were still far off. The elves moved swiftly, packing their packs and rolling up bedrolls.
This band of orcs was smaller than the one they encountered the day before, and had discovered the large cavern where the previous orc band had spent their day. Leaving the cave, the four elves stood silent against the rock face of the cliff until the noise faded.
“I think they have gone inside,” Tathiel exhaled, relieved. “The sun is nearly up; they will be unable to follow us in daylight.”
“I did not think we would come across more orcs so soon after the last band,” Tinánia answered.
“Nor did I,” Tathiel replied. She looked at Eärundra, who was peering from the bushes towards the other cave, watching for orcs. She had warned them in time, and the boost to her confidence was noticeable.
“Let us go,” Tathiel said, reaching down to pick up Legolas who was being very quiet and very good.
The orc jumped from a high rock, knife drawn, knocking Tathiel off balance as she reached for Legolas. He landed on top of her, throwing her on her back, knife at her throat. Saliva dripped from his mouth, splattering on Tathiel’s face as his yellow eyes gleamed at her.
Tinánia had grabbed Legolas and ran away from the orc into the hills. She held him tight, afraid, wanting desperately to help Tathiel and yet unable to leave Legolas. She ran a short distance, then set him down at her feet. She freed her bow, quickly notching an arrow, and began to creep back to where the orc had Tathiel pinned.
Tathiel grasped the orc’s forearm, barely keeping the knife from her throat. Fear made her strong, and she began slowly pushing the orc’s arm up and away from her. The orc had her other arm locked in his grasp, their legs entwined as each struggled for supremacy over the other. Tathiel’s legs were longer, and she was attempting to raise her knees between herself and the orc when she heard the unmistakable sound of blade meeting flesh, saw the orcs eye widen and then his grasp on her loosened and she pushed him off her.
Standing near her feet was Eärundra, her arm still raised, and the knife the watcher had given them embedded in the neck of the orc at the base of his skull. Eärundra stared at the orc in shock, finally raising her eyes to meet Tathiel’s. Fear and panic broke the hold shock had on her, and she flung herself at Tathiel, nearly knocking her back to the ground.
Tathiel struggled to her feet, hugging Eärundra.
“Come, get your pack on, quickly,” Tathiel lifted it to her back and helped her push her arms through the straps. She turned back to the orc, pulling the knife from the it’s back, wiping the blood in the snow and then replacing it in its sheath on her pack. She pulled her pack on, then grabbing Tinánia’s pack in one hand and Eärundra’s hand in the other pulled the child in the direction she knew Tinánia had gone.
Tinánia had begun to creep back towards Tathiel, Legolas holding on to her tunic behind her as she instructed him, when she saw the second orc crawling across the rock above her. He was looking towards where the other orc had attacked Tathiel. Tinánia wasted no time, turning her bow upon the orc she released the arrow, quickly grabbing another from her quiver. She hit the orc in the back, and saw him stagger. She released the second arrow and struck him again in the shoulder. The orc fell from the rock, tumbling down the icy wall.
He landed at Tathiel and Eärundra’s feet. Tathiel drew her knife, raised the orc’s head by the hair and quickly slit its throat. It gasped once as it took its last breath, the blood gurgling from its open throat for a moment before it died. Tathiel quickly yanked the arrows from its back, and grabbing the pack, she and Eärundra ran to catch up to Tinánia.
Tathiel and Eärundra found Tinánia who, unable to fire her bow and carry Legolas, had dared not move any further. Tinánia grabbed her pack without a word, swinging it to her back. She wiped the blood off the two arrows and shoved them in the quiver. Tathiel picked up Legolas, and the three ran into the hills.