Rafél sat down with a sharp breathe, trying not to grimace as Thalión’s sure fingers probed his wounded thigh. “You should count yourself lucky: this is a clean cut, easy to tend,” the Cousin stated, yet his exploring didn’t get any less tender. “Asthaldo, fetch me some hot water, will you?”
“Of course,” the youngest Cousin replied, disappearing past the gathering ring of Elves.
“How did you manage to do that?” Ithika asked with a smile while binding a small cut in his own arm.
Rafél didn’t answer, his unhappy look telling the spectators enough. The Elves laughed, making way to Asthaldo as the warrior returned.
“Now, keep still,” Thalión informed his kinsman, taking the water. “Dínnor, hold him still.”
“I can stay still on my own, thank you,” Rafél replied.
“What is going on here? Did you find a lingering enemy?” came a gruff voice, Gimli pushing past the Elves. Legolas followed him, Merry and Pippin at his sides. “Oh, I see. Does this serve Elves as a number of entertainment?” the Dwarf laughed, earning a killing look from Rafél.
“What happened to you?” Legolas exclaimed, pushing roughly past the Dwarf. “I did not see that after the battle.”
“That is because this old fox kept it hidden,” Thalión snorted. “Now, if you don’t mind,” he said, pouring some of the hot water onto the wound. Rafél jolted back, his fingers digging into the stone he was sitting upon. His eyes flashed with pain, but he let out no sound.
“I know Elves are quick to heal and everything, but do you have to be this rough while tending your friends?” Pippin asked, seemingly more affected by the events than Rafél himself.
“He deserves it,” Thalión replied, bathing the leg again. Blood was washed away with the water, trickling down along the pale flesh. The wound was soon cleaned, gaping open and looking very painful. Rafél merely sat on his place, biting his jaws together, his eyes observing the hurt.
“You kept it hidden?” Legolas pressed, stepping nearer to his guardian. “And wasn’t it you who used to tell me that every wound – however minor it may seem – must be told of immediately?”
“That only counts you,” Rafél ground out, shifting his leg. “As I am responsible of you –”
“You said that to every warrior you commanded,” Legolas reminded.
“Perhaps, but just to remind you. And when I command someone, I am responsible of that person as well,” the older Elf sighed, trying not to shy away as Thalión bound his leg. “My wound was so minor it didn’t need further attention from others,” he noted, shooting a glance at Thalión. “Now, if you are quite finished…” he began to get up.
“And where exactly you think you are going?” Legolas barked out, pushing Rafél back down. “Let your wound heal in peace, or else you will be no use to me.”
Rafél looked ready to argue, but one glare from Legolas – in additional to the warning looks he was earning from the other Elves – kept him in his place. “Fine,” he muttered unhappily. “I will rest for a while.”
“I think I have never seen Legolas use such an authority before,” Pippin whispered at Merry. What was meant to be a private announcement turned into a local statement, sharp Elven eyes turning at the Hobbits immediately. Pippin understood his error, giving the immortals an uncertain smile. “I mean, not in a bad way, but, err…”
It was Haldir who laughed first, to everyone’s surprise, but the others soon joined to him. Confused Hobbits looked up at the Elves, unable to understand what had just happened. Gimli muttered something beneath his breath, shaking his shaggy head. “Crazy Elves,” was possibly nearest to the truth.
“You are quite right, I suppose, master Peregrin,” Asthaldo smiled. A playful glance was directed at a confused Legolas, a merry glint shining in the fallow eyes. “Very rare are the times when you see the youngest Prince of Mirkwood reveal his true might.”
While another series of laughter took place, Pippin and Merry eyed the Elves. “They all seem to know Legolas pretty well,” Pippin dared to whisper, earning a nod from Merry. “I wonder where they are all from: they have different kind of clothing, and their hair is bound differently too… As far as I can remember, that should mean they are from different places.”
“Where indeed are our manners?” Elrohir announced loudly from behind the whispering couple, making unprepared Hobbits jump with surprise. “There are still some introductions to be made,” the Lord of Imladris continued. “Legolas, if you may?”
The Prince gave the Half-Elf a smile full of venom, but his expression turned completely warm as it was directed at the Hobbits. “Forgive us our manners, indeed. Twin-sons of Elrond as well as Glorfindel you must remember from our time in Rivendell,” he said indicating at Elladan and Elrohir, and then to the golden haired Elf beside Haldir. The Hobbits nodded, giving the twins and the elder warrior a hasty bow before turning back to Legolas. “Haldir and his brothers, Rúmil and Orophin, we met on our journey through Lothlórien.”
“We remember,” Merry smiled at Haldir.
“Ithika and his sister Khai are from the Golden Wood as well,” Legolas continued. “They have know me since I was a youth, just like Haldir and his brothers.”
“Ever be blessed that place,” Gimli sighed with a surprisingly emotional tone. Some of the Elves seemed astonished by such a comment, but Legolas merely smiled, moving further in his introductions.
“The rest of the Elves are from my homeland, though they are originally from the ancient realms of Elves: all of then have seen the lands of Beleriand north from here. These three are the Cousins of Hithsîr, well known among my own kin: Dínnor, Thalión, and Asthaldo.”
The Hobbits gave the trio a respectful look, their minds already wondering what kind of deeds those Cousins had done. Then Merry glanced at the Elf sitting next to Legolas, his eyes shifting back up at Legolas. “What about him?” he asked, trying not to sound rude.
“He is Rafél, Legolas’ kinsman and Guardian. One of the eldest – if not the oldest – Elf remaining on these shores,” Glorfindel spoke up. “He has travelled upon this earth since the Age of the Stars, and has seen many years pass into history.”
“Guardian?” Pippin choke out. “Does that mean, like a body-guard?”
“Yes,” Legolas muttered unhappily.
“But why does Legolas have a body-guard?” the younger Hobbit asked as if it would have been the most ridiculous thing in the world. “He needs no-one to look after him, of that I am certain.”
Dínnor actually gifted Pippin by laughing aloud, earning a glare both from the guardian and his protege. “When Legolas was a youth, he definitely needed someone to look after him. Though several ‘someones’ would have worked better. Rafél had, at times, his hands more than full of his task.”
“I still can’t believe that,” Merry agreed with his cousin. “It would be such a waste of time.”
“Mirkwood was a dark place to grow up,” Gimli explained. “At the time when Legolas was a child, the forest was darker than ever. And whom do you think taught him to fight? His father of course had a role to play in that, too, but the task was mostly Rafél’s. And knowing Legolas, it is rather good thing he has his watcher with him at the moment: it would steal too much time from us others,” the Dwarf laughed. “Do not try to deny it, for you have been in a lot of trouble at late.”
Legolas’ entire body tensed, his face freezing, and no other dared to speak, knowing that Gimli had crossed a dangerous line. Seeing the uneasiness pass over the group, Merry decided to change the subject, and turned into Orophin beside him. “I did not know that you knew Legolas from the past. I mean, when we met at Lothlórien.”
“We were not very close friends, but we knew him well,” Haldir answered. “We met Legolas for the first time when he was merely a youth, and visited his homeland at times after that. Since the war ended, there has been more dealings between us.”
Merry nodded, thinking about the next possible subject, but Aragorn saved him from the trouble. Stepping into the group, the King received many respectful bows. Aragorn waved his hand, troubled look upon his face. “Please, my friends, that is not necessary.”
Elves nodded, understanding the Man perfectly. “Can we do something for you?” Elladan requested.
“The healers are running out of certain local herbs,” Aragorn said quietly. “I would wish for someone to find them for me, as I cannot go myself.”
“Of course. Give me a list and I will search for what you need,” Legolas volunteered, pushing Rafél back down as the other was about to rise. “Merry and Pippin, if you would join me. And Gimli,” he added as he noticed the Dwarf’s expectant look.
“I would come as well, if allowed,” Faramir called out, joining to them. “I am used to travelling in the forest.”
“Very well,” Legolas welcomed the Man with a warm smile. “And in the meanwhile,” he raised his voice, silencing his kinsmen effectively, “I would wish the remaining Elves to scout around. I do not wish to be surprised any more than the rest of us. Any sign of enemy will be a valuable information.”
The Elves nodded, already forming groups and planning routes. Rafél shifted on his place, but Legolas’ grip upon his shoulder kept him in place. Glaring up at the younger Elf, Rafél did not trouble to hide his mounting anger.
“)Keep your peace. You are in no condition to watch my back, anyway. Gimli will take care of that, but we have no reason to assume that we will meet enemies,(” Legolas whispered, his eyes still locked into the people around them.
“)Is that what you told to yourself before the Men of Gondor caught you?(” Rafél answered a bit harshly, his eyes narrowing. “)You told me once, not a long while back, that you would let me to do my job.(”
“)In this condition you could not guard even yourself,(” the Prince replied, finally looking down.
Rafél shook his head, standing up even as Legolas tried to stop him. The pain in his leg gave away before his anger, his gaze pinning Legolas down with its intensity. “)Do not tell me what to do. I am your senior, and well aware of my body’s limits. Unlike you seem to be.(”
Everyone had hushed around the fighting couple, heads turned at their direction. The Hobbits looked from one Elf to another, not understanding a single word. Other Firstborns looked fairly troubled, trying to decide between leaving the two in peace or breaking them apart.
Legolas glanced at their companions, then at the Elf before him. “)You stay behind. Do not forget that I am your Prince.(”
Rafél opened his mouth, but at that moment Aragorn stepped in, setting a firm hand on the other’s arm. “If you would help me with the wounded, I would be most grateful. Glorfindel also promised to join me, but we would wish to have more of your kin with us. My powers are lacking at some cases.”
Rafél gave out a long sigh, knowing that he had lost the game. “I am more than happy to help you, King Elessar,” he replied, but his eyes that met Legolas’ told entirely another story.
“I will look after him,” Gimli told the guardian as the Elf walked away after Aragorn. Rafél merely nodded, afraid to put his answer into words.
Legolas kneeled in the undergrowth, his knowing eyes searching the plants Aragorn had asked him to find. Faramir and the Hobbits were some distance to his side, Gimli watching the forest almost suspiciously. The Dwarf should know better. If there is an enemy nearby, I would be able to sense them miles before the Dwarf. But then again, it is not his fault that he is on his guard: I have given him enough reason for that. Frowning, Legolas thought about this. He was too far by now to merely pass the fact that he wasn’t acting quite normally at times. Small changes were taking place in him, but yet he knew not how to repel them. Or maybe it is just me… But Rafél is certainly worried. And he is not the only one. Legolas sighed, shaking his head. It seemed that everyone around him were concerned of his well-being. And not without a reason, again. But perhaps my dreams shall end now that the fight I foresaw has passed.
A small breathe of wind swayed the trees, making the leaves rustle against one another. Wandering among the trees seemed to calm his mood, and he thought that he would even be able to meet his guardian after returning to the village. Rafél would be furious, of course, but it couldn’t be helped. He cares so much. Perhaps too much, for his own good. A fond smile passed Legolas’ features as he thought his tall guardian. Something between them had changed radically after he had left with the Fellowship. But the greatest turn had taken place during their latest events, after the attack to Woodland Realm. Sometimes it seems to me that the way he looks at me has changed. His touch, the way he says my name... With an ironic smile, Legolas dismissed his thoughts. It is merely my own imagination. But then again, how do I see him at the moment? Has he become so close that I must actually push him away now that I try to hide my thoughts? He has always been close to me, yes, but this feeling is something new. And it has nothing to do with my dreams. The conclusion seemed to be far too easily reached, and Legolas gazed at the trees, his mind wandering. I think differently of him, yes. There is no way I can deny that. My heart has chosen its course…
Snapping out of his thoughts, Legolas looked around, and then moved forward, trying to force his mind back to the matter at hand. It is dangerous to mingle the matters of heart with my current problems. But why did I think such a way in the first place? Biting his lip, Legolas mused on that, the plants entirely forgotten. If this is what I think it to be…but no, it cannot. And then…
“Are you actually trying to find something, or did you decide to sit there all day?” a gruff voice asked, Gimli’s heavy boots sinking into the soft moss beside Legolas.
“I was merely thinking,” Legolas mumbled, directing his eyes back to the ground after a quick look to his friend. “I stuck into my thoughts.”
“And what kind of thoughts are those?” Gimli inquired with a strange tone. “Such a blush on your face is new to me.” Legolas’ hands shot up to his face, making Gimli laugh. “Ah, poor Elf. You went into that almost too easily. But does that mean I guessed some of your true thoughts?” the Dwarf teased, earning a deadly scowl from the Elf.
“Keep your mighty nose out of my business, Dwarf, or you may loose it swifter than you realise.”
“Now, now, let’s not be touchy! I did not ask you to tell me anything,” Gimli grumbled. “But I am all ears if you wish to speak of it.”
“You would not understand…” Legolas muttered beneath his breath. “Just leave me alone, will you?”
“Of course, your highness,” Gimli answered with a bow, backing off swiftly. “Could it be that I found a soft spot…” he mused, glancing back at the Elf. Legolas seemed finally focusing at his task, but Gimli had watched him enough to know that the other’s thoughts were somewhere else.
“Do you think we could speak with him for a moment?” Pippin’s small voice asked beside Gimli, the Hobbits observing the Elf as well.
“Sure,” Gimli chuckled. “Just don’t point out that he is a bit in his dreams,” he added as a piece of advice, winking.
“Ah… right,” Merry muttered, and then walked beside his cousin to the Elf. “Legolas?” he called out hesitantly, not wishing to bother the Elf if the other wished to be alone.
But Legolas smiled at the Hobbits, silently inviting them to join him. “Can I help you?” he asked softly as the couple came up to him. The small creatures busied themselves among the plants for a moment, as if trying to find a proper way of asking something.
“We were wondering…” Pippin began, glancing at Merry for aid.
“These Orcs,” Merry continued, facing Legolas. “Were did they come from? I thought they were all destroyed with Sauron.” Pippin nodded eagerly, also standing up, herbs forgotten.
Legolas looked at the two for a moment, sorrow filling his blue eyes. He had completely forgotten how naive this folk was, even if these two had seen enough evil for many lifetimes. But they deserved a worthy answer, for even if they lived in a world of their own, they were not stupid. “Most of the Orcs fell the day Sauron was destroyed, yes, but not all. Great number fled to the mountains, hiding from the other people. But now they have multiplied in silence and gathered together.” There was a long silence, and for a moment the Hobbits thought it was the end of the tale. But Legolas’ eyes turned to the east, strange light filling them. “They united: under what commander, we do not know. Months back, they attacked Woodland Realm. Now it seems they have made it this far.”
“Attacked Woodland Realm?” Pippin stammered. “But isn’t that the place where you live? I mean, before you moved into Ithilien. And the place where Bilbo and the Dwarves were imprisoned.”
“It is,” Legolas replied quietly.
“But… isn’t there a lot of Elves there? Didn’t they destroy the enemies?” Merry wondered with a frown.
Gimli let out a warning cough, knowing that the Hobbits were unconsciously putting themselves into a great danger. But Legolas did not rebuke the small being, nor did he anger. He had travelled long enough with this couple to know how their minds worked. “My homeland was destroyed. The enemy was too many, and we were surprised. Most of my people were slain…”
“You speak as if you were there,” Pippin mused, compassion on his youthful features. “I am sorry.”
“We were there,” Gimli spoke up, making the others turn at his direction. Faramir also joined to them, curious for the discussion that was taking place. “I can still feel the fire raging in the halls, the smell the death,” the Dwarf continued. His hand stole to the necklace around his neck, Legolas mimicking his actions unconsciously. The Dwarf’s brown eyes met Legolas’, something passing between them. The Elf bowed his head, a strange gesture of guilt. Faramir and the Hobbit’s shared a look, all of them feeling outsiders at the moment.
Suddenly Legolas’ head jerked up, his eyes wide. He glanced at the forest, alarm upon his fair face. “We must return at once,” he gasped. He glanced at others who stared at him in wonder, not understanding his sudden haste. “Go, I said!” Legolas exclaimed, pushing the startled Hobbits forward. “Tell Aragorn to summon his Men at once.”
“What is wrong?” Faramir asked as he turned to leave, letting the smaller folk pass before him.
“They are here,” Legolas said with a hollow voice, his eyes suddenly distant. Faramir did not bother to ask further, for he as well was able to feel the nearing darkness.
“What is it?” Pippin asked fearfully as they ran through the forest, Legolas some distance behind them.
“I am not sure, but I don’t wish to stay and find out, either,” the Steward answered, giving the forest behind them a careful look. “I can feel it, the darkness. Maybe the Orcs have returned.”
A high, unnaturally piercing scream rang through the forest. Trees fell silent, animals hiding in their nests, and a deadly silence seemed to fill all the world. Only a moment after another series of such screams followed, making the Hobbits cover their ears in pain. A wall of malice seemed to spread from behind, eating alive all hope of survival.
“You know, that sounded just like –”
“Don’t say it, Pippin!” Merry cried out at his cousin, his eyes wide. “Just run.”
Gimli slowed down a little, his eyes spotting Legolas some distance behind them. The Elf seemed somehow lost, his movements almost forced. What is that stupid Elf doing? First he warns us of danger, and then he waits until it reaches him?! “Legolas, hurry!” he shouted, his mind screaming with terror. Something evil was approaching them swiftly.
Legolas blinked, Gimli’s words clear in his ears. But yet he found himself reluctant to follow. Whispers were filling his mind, shadows blocking his view. His thoughts were getting disoriented as well, not letting him to analyse the events taking place around him. Only when Gimli shouted his name again and the jewel around his neck flickered in alarm, he blinked, waking from the dream he had been almost trapped in.
With a final look to the suddenly dark forest, Legolas turned towards his friends, racing after them. He saw Gimli giving him a nod, and then the Dwarf also ran forward, the others already a good way ahead of them.
Legolas felt his body shudder in response as a hissing voice filled his mind. He fought off the darkness, pressing on.
“It is too late to run. Obey us.”
Legolas clenched his eyes shut, his mind aflame with blinding pain. His entire awareness was limited to the evil voices calling for him, and flash of agony followed every time he denied them.
“Come to us,” the voices called. It might have been one, or many, the words echoing as if in emptiness.
With a pained gasp, Legolas rushed forward, knowing that if he fell too far behind, he would never make it back to the others.
Aragorn sighed wearily, standing up to flex his tired muscles. He had worked for several hours now, helping wounded of several stages. Broken arms, deep gashes, pounding heads and twisted ankles. He couldn’t even bring himself to remember them all. Though whatever damage he faced, it did not belong into a creature like a Hobbit; folk as peaceful as they could have never gained more bruises than too many ales or snacks could have caused. Or so it should have been. As it was, Aragorn’s only choice was to do his best to help the wounded ones.
And yet there is another battle to come. Or at least one. No one has dared to guess how long the Orcs will assault this area. The Man let out a tired sigh, his hand searching for his pipe. Then he remembered that it was in his pack, and with an unhappy shrug he walked down a small hill to join into his fellow Men.
Éomer had just returned from his own scouting mission, welcoming Aragorn with a warm smile. “I was just about to come and search you, but it seems you saved me from the trouble.”
“What news do you bring?” Aragorn questioned, suddenly awake and alert again.
“It seems that the Orcs didn’t attack all the Shire. This is strange, because other parts of this land are closer to the Misty Mountains, not Hobbiton which they attacked,” the Horse-lord mused.
“Which means they attacked this place with purpose,” Aragorn pondered. “They circled the other areas, then? Buckland and the areas between it and Hobbiton?”
“Yes,” Éomer confirmed.
“Someone is commanding them,” Aragorn muttered. “And that someone has a plan. Before we know it, we have no way of knowing that the Hobbits are safe.”
Éomer nodded, agreeing fully. “What are we going to do?”
“I have no idea,” the King of Men confessed. “We must just wait and see what out enemy decides to do. Perhaps there won’t be another attack, as there was none against Woodland Realm, later.”
“The Elves are returning,” Éomer said suddenly, pointing at the gathering group some distance away from the Men. “They might have news for us.”
Aragorn nodded, striding to the place where the Elves were gathering. “Any news?” he asked eagerly. Elves had a custom of sharing information with each other – a habit that served in a purpose to fill one’s story with another’s. After this, every Elf would know practically everything.
“Nothing overly surprising,” Elladan spoke up, others agreeing with him. “The enemy is waiting for the nightfall in every shelter possible. If they move at sunset, it will take them under an hour to reach us.”
“An hour…” Aragorn murmured. “It is too little for us, at any rate.”
“And it is only an estimation,” Haldir continued, glancing at the returning Cousins. “They may get here quicker if the closest ones come ahead of those further away. This way they could form two waves in their attack.”
“They are preparing for battle,” Dínnor added, “there is no mistake of that.”
“We should also prepare, if that is the case,” Éomer said quietly. “I will summon my Men.”
Aragorn nodded, unhappy of the way the events were taking place. They could not win, perhaps not even protect the Hobbits …
“There is evil in the air,” Rafél said suddenly, making everyone fall silent.
“I feel it,” Thalión agreed. “But it is deeper… purer than the Orcs’.”
“It’s –” Rafél halted suddenly, his eyes getting wide. “Legolas…” he gasped. Then he let out a series of harsh Elvish curses, making his kinsmen cringe back in alarm. He was just about to rush forward when two small creatures emerged from the forest a half a mile away from them. They halted momentarily when they arrived to the open land, waving their hands and shouting as they ran forward again.
“What on earth…” Éomer mused.
“It is Merry and Pippin,” Elrohir informed, his eyes narrowing. “I think something it wrong. They shout something of preparing for battle and enemies.” He glanced swiftly at Rafél who was now standing still as a statue, his face pale and focused. “What is going on?”
“I wish I knew,” Elladan answered, shaking his head. “It is too early for Orcs to attack: the sun hasn’t even set yet. Rafél?” he turned to ask, wishing that the older Elf could light them up.
“I am not sure…” Rafél said hesitantly. “Legolas senses it clearly, but he doesn’t allow me into his thoughts…”
Suddenly two other figures joined to the Hobbits, one taller and one shorter. All four rushed towards them, throwing uncertain glances at the direction of the forest. “Faramir and Gimli,” Asthaldo identified. “But where is Legolas?”
The Hobbits had almost reached them by then, their shouts reaching even the ears of Men. “You have to summon the Men! We are under an attack!”
“You can’t be sure about that, Pip! Legolas never said it was an attack,” Merry disagreed as they halted before the gathering group of Elves and Men, panting with effort.
“But you heard the screams! Surely there is something dark and terrible coming right after us!” Pippin almost shouted, shivering all over. “They sounded just like the Black Riders, and I am sure –”
“Enough, Pippin! They are dead, so forget about it!” Merry barked, turning to the waiting faces of others. “Legolas told us to come back and warn you. I guess he sensed something.”
Faramir and Gimli also reached the waiting company, both gasping for breath. “The enemy,” Faramir panted. “I am not sure what it was –”
“Wait, where is the Elf!?” Gimli bounced, looking back. “Argh, that stupid creature! I told him to follow us!”
Rafél moved before any one was able to stop him, moving towards the forest with a speed only Elves posses.
“This evil! What was it?” Thalión demanded, looking at the four, tired creatures before him.
“We didn’t see it,” Merry began.
“But we heard them!” Pippin exclaimed, rubbing his ears.
“Even I was able to feel the evil radiating from whatever was after us,” Faramir continued. “It was as if a wall of evil would have risen out of nowhere,” he explained, glancing back at the forest. Rafél was already gone from his sight, disappeared into the forest. Shadows of the trees leaned towards them in an unnatural way, like long, twisted fingers reaching over the grass-plain. “Why did Legolas stay behind?” Faramir asked quietly, worried frown upon his face. “He seemed quite afraid of what was coming…”
“I do not know, but we had better find those two before anything worse happens,” Glorfindel stated. “Call the Men together. It seems that the darkness comes early today, and Orcs may move out sooner than we thought. Then –”
A new set of screams rang through the air, making the Elves cover back in agony and filling the Men with unreasonable fear. Hobbits gazed at the forest with wide eyes, Merry suddenly grasping his hand as if it pained him.
“Only one creature on Arda makes a sound like that,” Dínnor gasped, holding his head.
“Nazgûl,” Glorfindel whispered. “But it cannot be… They were destroyed with Sauron!”
Rafél had feared the worse and prepared himself to search Legolas for miles, but as he entered to the forest, he spotted the younger Elf immediately. Standing on the edge of the wood, his breathing erratic and uneven, Legolas didn’t seem to notice anything around him. His eyes were tightly closed, as if trying to block away the outside. Or something in the inside, Rafél thought as he rushed at Legolas’ side. “Las, it is time to go,” he said softly, his hand pressing against the other’s shoulder.
Legolas shook his head, eyes still closed, but his hand shot out, fisting itself at Rafél’s tunic. After another shuddery breath he opened his eyes, looking at Rafél. There was apology in his eyes, but his guardian did not halt to scold him, instead drawing him along.
A furious scream rang through the air, making both Elves cover their ears. The wind turned cold and cruel, ripping leaves from the trees. Clouds veiled the sky, the darkness stealing all light of the sun.
“We have to…” Legolas gasped, his eyes locked at Rafél’s, trying to tell him what to do without words.
Rafél nodded, understanding. Blue eyes that gazed at him were shimmering with shadows, and it seemed that the younger Elf was having a fight with some inner demon. Giving the forest a quick glance, Rafél took Legolas’ hand and drew the other Elf with him, forcing him to follow. It was then when he heard them for the first time: a sound of hooves carried to his ears, but he was unable to hear any other noise made by horses.
Almost out of the forest, Rafél dared a quick glance back. It proved out to be a mistake: his entire mind froze, familiar feel of evil and darkness taking hold of him. His body also stopped, making Legolas collide into him, but he stood his ground, staring at the dark forest behind them. From the darkness materialised several shapes, riders upon great horses. They seemed to move as if in a dream, Rafél’s mind noticing every detail. Black cloaks fluttered in the air, armour-clad hands holding the dark reins… Then someone pushed against him, waking him from his dream of terror.
“We have to go!” Legolas shouted almost desperately, the shadows finally fading from his eyes.
Rafél nodded, coming back to himself, and started forward with Legolas beside him. They dove through the final layer of bushes and tangled trees, making their way to the grassy field. The sound of approaching horses filled their ears, waves of unnatural terror freezing their blood. But after living centuries in the shadow of Dol Guldur, the fear of evil did not paralyse either of the Elves.
Leaves rustled, small branches giving away before a greater weight. Across the field, Men and Elves watched in shock and disbelief as nine riders emerged from the forest. Creatures that should have been long gone raced towards them, their ancient, twisted blades raising into the air, shining with a dark light on their own.
“Valar, no…”Aragorn gasped, his eyes wide. “This cannot be…”
“Legolas!” Gimli shouted, his fear for his friend driving away the terror of Nazgûl.
The riders came towards them with increasing speed, and with a desperate strength, Rafél pushed himself and Legolas to the ground, feeling the air rush past then as the riders passed them by an inch. Raising his head from the soft grass, Rafél saw the Nine halt before them, turning their horses around. They are coming back, he thought with despair. Glancing at his side, he noticed Legolas had most likely reached the very same conclusion. But the younger Elf’s face revealed no fear. Merely determination. Surety of something…
At that moment Legolas got back to his feet, meeting the Black Riders who were now spurring their horses back to a gallop. Blue eyes narrowed, his mind finally set. “Morchaint!” he called out with a clear voice. A neigh answered, the black horse rushing through the field. He must have sensed them coming, Legolas mused as he watched his steed approach. The Nine were getting closer, but it had taken enough time from them to halt and turn their horses after their previous pace.
Turning to Rafél, Legolas threw him a quick smile. “Trust me,” he said, knowing that it would do little to ease his guardian’s mind. Then he turned back at his enemies, launching forward just when Morchaint ran past him. With Elven agility he pulled himself up to the back of the horse, guiding Morchaint towards the dark forest. Nazgûl cried out in dismay, spurring their horses into a pursuit. “Last time they got too close, my friend,” Legolas said into Morchaint’s ear, tapping the side of the strong neck affectionately. “Let’s show them, this time.” Morchaint neighed, flattening his ears as they entered the forest, nine other riders following right behind them.
Rafél was quite sure he was not the only one shouting Legolas’ name as the Prince called out his horse and led the Nazgûl away. What is he doing? Surely he understands he cannot take care of them all by himself, he thought as anger bloomed in him. They would have a nice, penetrating discussion about this when Legolas came back, that would be certain. He was just about to call his own horse when something alarmed his senses. He turned to look at the forest, the voices of the trees filling his mind. It took him only one moment to understand what was going on. “)Yrch!(”
“What?” Pippin asked, still trying to recover from the sudden sight of the Black Riders. He gazed at Rafél who suddenly turned back to them, braking into a run.
“Orcs!” Dínnor cursed. “They are attacking!”
“This early? Weren’t they supposed to come with sunset?!” Merry asked, visibly frightened.
“Doesn’t matter,” Elladan decided. “Aragorn, collect your Men!”
The King of Men nodded, turning to his kinsmen nearest to them. “The enemy has come. Prepare for battle!” Several Men nodded, shouting out orders to those who were further away. Faramir also left, knowing that he would be needed while arranging their forces.
Rafél reached the rest of the group, trying to calm his breathe. “They will be here at any moment,” he gasped.
“What does that ridiculous Elf think he is doing!?” Gimli bellowed, almost making Rafél fall back in surprise as a Dwarven hurricane assaulted him. “And you just let him go!”
“Master Gimli,” Rafél tried, but he stood no chance.
“We have to go after him! He cannot –”
“Gimli! It is –” Aragorn began, but was interrupted himself.
“Too late. They are here,” Thalión said, drawing his bow. “Collect your Men, Elessar. The Elves will keep the Orcs occupied for a moment.” The Sinda let his gaze travel over his kinsmen, finally reaching Rafél. “Legolas made his choice. Let us pray that it was the right one.”
“He told me to trust him,” Rafél muttered, his downcast eyes showing his displeasure.
Thalión nodded. “Then we must do so. He knows something that we do not.”
Rafél raised his head, wondering about this, but there was time for no more words as a black wave came forth from the forest. Hundreds of Orcs raised their voices, shouting their challenge to the defenders as they rushed forward. Elves didn’t hesitate, bows sending a rain of arrows to the air. It was little when compared to the number of their enemies, but it made harm to the lines of Orcs.
Aragorn cursed under his breathe, falling back to give the Elves more space. His task was to organise his Men before the Orcs would reach them. “Éomer, gather your riders!” he shouted, running back to the village.
“Do you have a plan?” Éomer shouted in turn, gazing at the flow of enemies as he took after the other King.
“Perhaps. Now hurry, we are running out of time.”
The sound of hooves was muffled by the soft forest-floor, an occasional sound of a breaking twig and a rustle of leaves indicating the horse’s movements through the dark woods. Branches and bushes were forced aside as a great body pushed ahead, tireless and resolute.
As no more sounds could be heard behind him, Legolas looked back, his movements making Morchaint lessen his speed. Have they turned back? Legolas mused, worry entering his mind. It made no sense as the Nazgûl’s attention had been solely directed at him before. But as their pursue through the forest had drawn on, the Nine had fallen back, and now they were gone. Morchaint turned around under him, its great head rising to stare at the forest. Legolas slid an absent hand along the black neck, his senses reaching out to the early night. Where are they?
Not even a bare whisper of wind spoke of the presence of Wraiths. All the world stood silent, as if waiting for something dreadful to happen. Distant noises of the battle carried clearly in the air, informing Legolas that the Orcs had also come. That knowledge set his mind, and pressing his legs against Morchaint’s sides, he spurred the horse forward, towards the fight.
When Legolas emerged to the far side of the field, he halted for a moment to evaluate the situation. A black mass of Orcs was pushing against the line of Men, but the number of Orc-corpses told that the casualties were still mainly one-sided. Drawing his bow, Legolas commanded Morchaint forward, galloping through the plain of long grass. His first arrow knocked a giant Orc over, the second one bringing down a villain archer. A moment later he approached the line of enemies, replacing his bow with his white knives. Then he rode to the dark mass, taking a swiftest path to his comrades.
Elladan raised his head as a loud neigh reached his ears, and he was just able turn before Legolas rode past him, decapitating an Orc standing beside him. The Peredhil smiled, waving his hand as a salute, and then returned back to the matter at hand. His brother halted momentarily to notice Legolas as well, but then joined his sword to Elladan’s.
“Good to see he is still alive,” Elrohir quipped, kneeling down to let his elder twin slay an approaching enemy.
“Saves us from a lot of trouble, later,” Elladan agreed. “Overall, I could say we are doing quite well: Aragorn’s plan worked as expected.”
“What else would you expect from him after all the years under our watchful eye?” Elrohir laughed.
“I would not expect much, my young Lords. Now, some focus if I may ask,” Glorfindel joined to them, giving them a sharp smile. The Twins nodded meekly, turning back to the matter at hand.
Oh yes, we may yet win this fight, Elladan mused, letting his thoughts wander a slightly as his body fell into rhythm of a deadly dance. After Elves met the first line, Rohirrim attacked the side of the enemy, pushing them apart. One side faced us, joined with Men of Gondor, and the other took the full impact of the Horsemen. Of course the second wave of enemies forced us to unite, but we got an upper hand of the foul creatures.
“Elladan,” Elrohir hissed with a warning voice.
“With you,” Elladan smiled.
“Always,” the other finished with a nod.
A dagger flashed through the air, embedding deep into an archer-Orc near the Twins. The couple raised their heads, meeting Asthaldo’s happy face. “What was that for?” Elladan wondered.
“He almost shot me,” Asthaldo mouthed back to them, stepping back to give Dínnor more space as the elder Cousin crossed swords with a giant Orc. With a disapproving look, Asthaldo shook his head and embedded his short sword deeply to the Orc’s gut. Dínnor gave him a dark glance, but moved on to find another enemy. “And my mother always told me to be polite and helpful,” Asthaldo muttered, following his cousin.
Thalión watched the display with a small smile, pairing up with Glorfindel next to him. With a nod from the golden-haired Elf, they fell into a similar speed, pushing the enemies back from them. Orcs fell all around them, replaced by others, but their calmness did not fade, their movement keeping their surety.
Elladan couldn’t but observe with honour as his elders fought, and think himself lucky. He had such companions in war, none of them lacking in strength or skill. Each of them could have taught him to be one of the greatest warriors of the world. As his eyes moved further along the battlefield, he spotted an Elf with almost white hair, his movement graceful and even, his face unmoving with concentration. Of all the heroes I fight with today, Rafél might be my choice for an instructor. Though it is no wonder: he is many times older than my own father, and he has seen countless wars take place upon this earth. No wonder Legolas has become what he is: he couldn’t have hoped for a better teacher.
On his side, Rafél lifted his head, his fëa informing him that his protege was near. His eyes spotted Morchaint almost immediately, joined into a group of Rohirrim riders. A brief smile passed his features as he saw Legolas was intact. The Prince rode forth with other riders, pushing back yet another group of Orcs. It seems that the army wasn’t as big as we first thought. But then again, even a force like this might do a lot of harm in a Hobbit-village. Thrusting his sword behind him, Rafél impaled an Orc that had attempted to creep upon the oblivious Elf. But we must still win an enemy whose number easily rivals ours.
Legolas smiled as he felt Rafél’s fëa reach out to touch his. Seemingly his guardian had noticed his arrival, and a rush of the other’s relief swam through him. Worry not, Rafél: I have no intentions to get hurt this time. Speeding Morchaint into a new attack beside the Men, Legolas balanced his knives in his hands, taking the required distance to the riders next to him. The great horse under him snorted, increasing his speed as Legolas’ thighs pressed against his sides to stable himself.
The impact jarred Legolas’ body as the line of riders hit the forces of Orcs. Snarls and shouts rose up to meet them, but the horses dove their way through the foul creatures, their riders leaving a trail of death behind them. Legolas’ own blades were shining with black blood, their deadly arches making steady destruction on the nearest Orcs. They reached the end of the enemy’s lines, turning their horses back, ready to return back to the side of the village.
It was then when the air seemed to freeze, Orcs halting in their battle momentarily. Then their voices rose with new intensity, and they pressed upon the defenders with new excitement. The Men of Rohan charged back after nothing happened, but Legolas stood frozen, his eyes distant. A whisper of air swayed his hair, making circles around him in the grass. Morchaint snorted softly, flattening his ears. Yet Legolas did not move, his breathe stopped, shadows filling his mind anew: asking him to wait.
Aragorn halted in his battle, his sword still tilted upwards as his eyes searched the battleground. He sensed that something was wrong, but he was not sure what. A feel of cold emptiness was filling his heart, desperation suddenly invading his thoughts. Shaking his head, he tried to rid his mind of such ideas. We aren’t near of losing, so why such thoughts? Unless… He sought the field before him, recognising Legolas’ still form. Is he also sensing it. But what is he waiting for..?
Legolas knew they were coming, but he found himself unable to move. And when he finally fought himself out of his trance, it was too late. Nine dark shapes emerged from the forest, their unnatural screams encouraging the Orcs and terrorising the hearts of their enemies. Morchaint reared, starting forward as if knowing they were in danger, but this time the others were a step ahead of them: facing the mass of the Orcs, Morchaint was forced to a halt. Legolas blinked, his fingers gripping the black mane maddeningly. The world seemed to spin around him, dark whispers filling his mind. Their whispers. Telling him to stop. To yield.
Legolas shook his head, trying to force Morchaint onward, but they were completely blocked. A cold wind whipped around the horse and the rider, the Orcs pushing back from them as if in fear or respect, but that joy was short-lived to Legolas. A second later, the Nine surrounded him, the Orcs falling back from them like frightened lambs.
The Elf stared at his enemies, his mind suddenly clear. No more whispers, no confusing darkness. He would have been able to run, but he couldn’t: he was trapped. One of the Nine came closer, his posture speaking of leadership. Angmar, Legolas cursed, his fingers tightening around the hilts of his blades. His entire body concentrated, tensing up with alarm.
Aragorn’s eyes widened as the Nine appeared again, but his frozen disbelief did not last long. However it was possible that these creatures were alive, it did not matter. They would fight the enemy, and ponder the “whys” and the “hows” later. When Legolas was surrounded, every rational thought left him. He sprang forward, knowing that his friend would need any help possible. He had fought these monsters before, and could do so again, if needed.
Legolas saw from the corner of his eyes as Aragorn left his place in the battle, making his way towards him. He wasn’t sure if he should curse the stubborn King or thank him: no Man could kill these wraiths, and at the moment it seemed that the Nazgûl weren’t about to leave before their task here was done, whatever it was.
Angmar moved even closer, guiding his horse beside Legolas’. Not a horse, the Prince decided. At least not a living one. What beasts do their ghosts of past ride? He had no time to ponder that as Angmar turned to him, a weight of pure malice falling upon Legolas.
The Prince turned away, pain assaulting him from both inside and out. His hand shot out without conscious thought, embedding his blade deeply into the Nazgûl’s chest. Angmar stared at the blade, hissing as if in pain. Legolas waited, eyes wide and full of sudden fear. With a noise that could have been an amused snort, Angmar ripped the blade from his chest, eyeing it carefully. Then the black hood turned to the side, and with an almost careless shot, he hurled the blade at the running King.
Aragorn’s body halted with a jerk, the pure impact making him stagger back. He blinked, not understanding what had hit him. Then he looked down, and his right hand released the sword it was holding. In his left shoulder, some inches above his heart, was Legolas’ white knife, buried all the way through his body. A violent shudder ran through him, and he fell to his knees, unable to do anything else. With a great amount of strength he lifted his head, his pained eyes taking in the scene before him, leaving him helpless to do anything.
Legolas watched in horror as his friend fell, rage and worry mounting in him. He turned at the dark creature before him, murder in his eyes. No-one would get away after such an act…
Angmar smiled, that was sure. It could not be seen on his face, but its coldness could be felt. Then he reached forward, his hand burying at gold tresses in Legolas’ neck, armoured hand preventing all movement from the trapped Prince. His free hand disappeared for a moment, and Legolas used that time on his advantage, burying his remaining blade into the arm holding him. Usually, Elven blade would have caused unnamed pain to a dark creature such as a Nazgûl. But Angmar did not even flinch, nor did he glance at the blade as he raised his right arm again, bringing a long knife in Legolas’ line of vision.
Legolas shuddered, his eyes tracing the blade of the weapon before him, his mind not even daring to guess what was written in the runes on its surface. In a way, it was a beautiful knife, glowing with its own inner light, its blade shining, unblemished. But its light was darker than any starless night, its runes speaking of evil and pain.
With a yank of his left hand, Angmar brought Legolas’ face up, forcing the Elf to face him fully. He leaned closer, their faces almost touching. “Welcome to darkness, Legolas, son of Thranduil, Prince of Dol Guldur,” said a voice of dark venom, dead and yet so alive. Then the right hand came forward, striking the dark blade deep into the immortal body.
Legolas’ mouth opened to a scream which never came, his eyes widening as the knife cut smoothly into his chest. Coldness spread through him, blending with a searing heat. All time seemed to stand still, his world narrowing to the one still holding him and to the blade in him. With a deft movement, Angmar tilted the knife slightly, and then thrust if forward, burying it to the hilt. At that moment the blade vanished, and Legolas screamed, pain assaulting him on its fullest. The handle fell to the ground, now useless.
Rafél halted as if an invisible wall would have collided onto him, pain blooming in his mind. His fëa screamed, its agony spreading all over his body, unforgiving and brutal. Panting for air, Rafél turned his head, uncertain for what he was searching for. He found out soon enough: a hundred yards away from him the leader of Ringwraiths moved his horse to the side, letting Legolas limp form fall to the ground.
Rafél never cried out his Prince’s name: he had no time for it. Legolas’ fëa clung onto his, almost forcing his feet from under him, the other Elf’s pain becoming his. Deathly cold spread over him, and all the world seemed to fall into dead silence. All colours disappeared, world turning ashen and bloody red. Life vanished, as if it wouldn’t have mattered anymore. Gasping in torment, Rafél pressed his hand against his heart, fighting to stay conscious. He could not give in now…
The Nazgûl gathered around the fallen Elf, forming a circle of darkness around the unmoving form. Angmar stepped closer, pulling off the hindering Elven blade still in his arm. Morchaint backed off in obvious fear, the animal’s high neighs speaking of pure terror. The Black Riders ignored the horse, their attention solely upon the Elf. Angmar knelt down slowly, reaching out with his hand, his fingers ghosting over the deathly pale skin of Legolas’ face.
Then an arrow shot through the air, sinking deeply into the Witch-king’s back. With an ear-piercing scream, Angmar’s body arched back, the arrow shining brightly against the dark material of the Wraith’s robe. Nazgûl turned around, facing this new threat with malicious sounds of hatred and anger.
to be continued…
Story Info / Part one…