Title: The Last Journey
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings
Era: Fourth Age of the Sun
Genre: AU, Action/Adventure
Rating: M / FRM
Main characters: Aragorn, Celeborn, Elladan, Elrohir, Elrond, Éomer, Erestor, Faramir, Gandalf, Gimli, Glorfindel, Haldir, Legolas, Meriadoc, Nazgûl, Pippin, Thranduil (, OCs).
Pairings: Legolas/OMC (brief Aragorn/Arwen, Éowyn/Faramir)
Summary: After many peaceful years that have followed the war against Sauron, everything changes. Evil returns, striking without warning, and it is stronger than ever before. It is time for the final fight, but who shall achieve victory?
Work in Process.
Warnings: Characters’ death (major, OC), violence, torture, slash, mild sexual content (het and slash), plenty of evil, etc.
Author’s Notes: It has been a while, again, and I am sorry for it! Yet here I am, presenting you another chapter! Not much action here, though some re-unitings are in order (to my beta, Kitt, this should be something to look forward to ;) I hope you others enjoy, too!
The next chapter, Fatal Mistakes, shall be full of action, so let us gather our breath in here: there is no chance for that in a near future! (Promises, promises, I know… but I am trying to keep them, you know!)
Now then, to the chapter itself! Enjoy, as usual! And remember to review. I am ever thankful to those who have! You give me reason to hurry on, and you are such an encouragement! Hannon to all of you. #hugs and bows#
“)…(” = Sindarin
At the same time when their friends were nearing the Gap of Rohan, the other half of the company made their way down along a steep mountainside. The path was visible – at least for the eyes of both Elves and Dwarves – weaving down between rock and huge stones. All in the company were walking, moving on steadily and without hurry. They all knew what might occur while crossing a mountain in a rush. None wanted to end up with broken limbs or a twisted neck.
Gimli shifted his gaze to a side, not for the first time wondering how the horses were able to manage the terrain they were crossing: used to small ponies themselves, Dwarves usually picked up easier ways to travel, to enable their animals to survive the journey as well. This time, the Elves had made a decision of their route, and seemingly, they had known what their mounts could endure.
“One of them is going to end up with a broken leg,” Adír muttered beneath his breath, tugging his light brown beard.
Gimli answered with a snort, fixing his eyes ahead of him. The horses were not the only thing to puzzle his mind.
A way ahead of the others, Legolas and Rafél walked together in privacy, side by side. If one stared at them long enough, one could see a light touch of shoulders, or an occasional brush of fingers against another. The guardian and his Prince had taken a habit of travelling close to each other ever since they had parted from Aragorn’s group – though Gimli was sure this had taken place ever since their departure from Hobbiton.
“They look comfortable together,” Asthaldo noted aloud, voicing a fact they all were thinking about.
“I think they have been so for a good deal now,” Dínnor snorted, smile tugging his lips. “I only wish to know what is going on.”
“Legolas’ hair is braided differently,” Gimli murmured, making the Elves turn to look at him in wonder. Lifting a heavy eyebrow, the Dwarf glared back at them. “I have spent enough time with Legolas to know exactly how he does his own hair – ceremonial or no.” He left in unsaid that he, as well, had at times braided that smooth mane. “I am not as ignorant as you might think.”
Asthaldo have a muffled laugh, looking back at the couple before them. “What do you think, Thalión?” he asked his cousin, knowing he was the most sensitive of them three.
“I say ‘mind your own business’,” Thalión snorted, though his eyes as well rested upon their comrades.
“Oh, come now!” Asthaldo practically whined, jumping closer to his elder playfully, “that look is absolutely dubious!”
Thalión merely pushed Asthaldo away, giving him a sideway glance. “Do not interfere, youth.”
Asthaldo burst, trying to appear hurt. “Youth? Youth?! You can highly call me one, after all our years together!” As Thalión made no reply – not even to join the sparring – Asthaldo narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “He knows something.”
“Naturally,” Dínnor retorted. “He always does.”
Thalión merely threw them a secretive smile over his shoulder, making the others hurry after him with new questions – of which none would be answered.
Ahead of the rather loud discussion, Legolas smiled, amused, his fingers immediately touched by the Elf on his side.
“Let them banter: it does not make them any wiser,” Rafél decided, knowing they were in peace for a moment. A small distraction on the others’ side proved them some private time, without several sets of eyes constantly burning their backs.
Legolas smiled, nodding. He did not fear Thalión spilling his information, either. Of all his companions, he knew whom to trust. That thought made him smile again, his fëa shifting unconsciously towards its mate. Rafél drew in his breath beside him, casting a warning look at the younger Elf. Unable to resist the temptation, Legolas pushed his hands gently against the other’s shoulder, whispering “Catch,” in the process. Then he sprang off, eyes full of mirth.
Rafél knew this game, being familiar with it ever since Legolas’ youth. Taking the challenge in full, he took after his protégé, both forgetting for a moment that their playground was not the safest possible. Yet their senses took care of that side, allowing them to focus on the chase.
The guardian took up with his Prince rather quickly, almost colliding to the other’s back as he realised Legolas was no longer running. The Prince stood on a verge of a rather steep slope, unmoving. First Rafél thought Legolas might be hurt, but was soon proven against it: Legolas leaned against him, placing one strong hand on his chest. The blue eyes remained on the landscape before them, Rafél’ brown ones soon following the other’s line of sight. What he saw made him tense, his right hand reflexively reaching over his companion’s waist, drawing him closer.
Legolas swiftly glanced at Rafél, his eyes dark and worried. Then they gazed at the land down before them again, sharp sight following movement on the ground far beyond mortal sight. Dark mass moved between river Anduin and forest once known as Mirkwood. There was no doubt what they saw, yet neither of them was willing to voice it.
Sounds behind them told that the rest of their company had arrived. “What is going on?” Gimli asked, eyeing the Elves carefully.
Dínnor walked to the edge of the slope as well, his eyes widening. “How can that be…?”
“Orcs,” Legolas hissed, his eyes shining with loath.
“Where?” Fundal asked eagerly, pushing closer.
“Are you sure?” Adír asked, trying to decide if the dark patch on the side of the river was something that had alarmed the Elves. Gimli remained silent, knowing his eyes could hardly see what the Elves did. But he also saw the dark patch, and for a moment thought it was moving.
Thalión pointed down, confirming the eyes of the Dwarves. “They are moving south.”
“I wonder if that is a good thing…” Gimli muttered, fingering his axe.
Legolas shifted, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. Even from the distance, the Elves were able to sense the evil creatures. Yet there was something else down there… Something that made his skin crawl and long healed wounds ache. His back muscles constricted, making him swallow to keep down a moan when pain flared anew in the long scars marring his backside. He also swallowed a curse as Rafél turned worried eyes on him. Of course he notices: he is standing close enough to hear my heartbeat, not to speak of the connection we share…
“What is it?” Rafél asked, bowing his head down, touching the other’s forehead quickly. Legolas was in pain of some kind, he knew it.
Legolas shook his head mutely, closing his eyes in obvious distress. Even if he felt the impact of evil, there was something new in this. Each time before, when I faced darkness, it recognized me immediately. Now I have a feeling I am not even noticed… Shaking his head, he opened his eyes again, staring closely at the army. He felt the darkness there, pure in malice and strength. One glance at the others told him that they might suspect something great was moving past them, but he doubted they felt the evil as he did. Something is out of place here. No shadows whisper in my mind, and there is no actual pain, nor a foreign power trying to consume me. Could it really be he was healing? Or was this something else entirely?
“Las?” Rafél whispered again, his hand tightening around the other’s waist. He no longer stared at the army, but to the Elf beside him. Something was out of place.
“Be at ease,” Legolas finally whispered, leaning unconsciously to the other’s embrace as the pain began to fade from his body. It lingered as a distant throbbing, but no longer made his senses reel. “I am well. Better than I thought, and it took me by surprise,” he muttered, knowing only his guardian would hear his words.
Rafél frowned, but did not hunt the matter further. He would have his moment later. Right now, there were other things to decide upon.
“It is difficult to estimate their number,” Thalión was answering Adír’s question. “Several thousands, at least.”
“What are we to do now?” Gimli asked, intently gazing at the moving shadow. Or so it seemed to his eyes, as he could not see as far as the Elves.
“We go on as planned,” Adír answered, shrugging. “They are going south, so they should not trouble us.”
Gimli nodded, but knew it was not that simple. His frown increased, and he addressed his friend to get a second opinion: “Legolas, what do you think?”
Waking from his small moment of thoughtfulness, Legolas blinked and stepped back from Rafél almost sheepishly. His eyes followed Anduin downstream, his fingers playing with an invisible arrow. “True, they are no harm to us. But they will be so to our friends.” His eyes glimmered with worry as he thought about Aragorn’s group, and their possible meeting with this enemy.
“So let us send them a word, and be on our way,” Adír suggested.
“We might do just that, but what if the enemy does not head that far south? We would give them a warning for naught, and possibly disturb their own plans,” Legolas countered the other’s answer.
Dínnor shifted on his place, a cold smile appearing to his face. “You have already made your mind, haven’t you?” It was not a question, though phrased as one.
“And who exactly made him a leader?” Adír demanded.
“He is a Prince on his own right,” Gimli grunted, knowing that none of the Elves would stand on Legolas’ way, even if his senior. Legolas was from the royal family of Eryn Lasgalen, a Lord in his own land. And I think he has earned their respect thousand times over, he concluded. Moreover, I am just as eager to find out more about this army, before sending a word to our companions: there is not much we know of our enemies, and any piece of knowledge is welcome.
“I still do not agree. Our task was to warn our people, and gather forces,” Adír disagreed.
“I am sure our people are already warned, in the case they have not fallen blind,” Gimli calmed his kinsman. “And we have plenty of time to scout the enemy, as well as gather warriors.”
Adír was defeated at last, for he did not dare to speak against his Lord. Fundal, on the other hand, seemed to be glad of this turn of actions: he had been afraid to be left home when the others would set out again to meet with their allies. Now he had some extra time to venture! “Shall we go now?” the youth asked, all but worried about the sudden appearance of this enemy force.
The others couldn’t keep from smiling, and with a nod, Legolas stepped towards the path. “Let us be on our way! I still desire to reach home soon.” I am sure we all hope to do so, each for their reasons. His own motives were plain enough: he wished to join with the survivors, his family, and most of all, speak with his father.
A glance at Rafél told the Prince that he was not alone with his thoughts. Yet there are still things that are not suitable to be spoken off… His face darkened, fëa clenching his heart in brief agony. He had not spared much thought to the fact that he had yet to meet his family with his awoken feelings towards Rafél. Why do I feel so bad all the sudden? I knew all along that this was coming! A hand on his arm drew him from the thoughts, and he was not surprised to find his beloved’s eyes upon him.
“Let it be for now,” Rafél’s voice was low, and it was not hard to guess he had put some thought on the matter as well. Yet, between two of them, it would be Rafél, who would feel the impact of the truth the hardest… “Let it be,” Rafél repeated, this time also to himself. He would suffer the consequences when the truth came out, not before.
The small company made its way down the mountainside, all the time keeping an eye on the distancing army. By the time they arrived at the root of the Misty Mountains, even the Elves had lost the enemies from sight. Day was passing slowly, heavy clouds shadowing the earth from the sun. Slight breath of a cool wind swayed the long grass, an irresistible call for the horses as the animals reached the even ground as well.
“I say this is all strange,” Adír muttered unhappily, trying to stretch his already aching legs while attempting to give no hint of his discomfort to others. It was not suitable for a Dwarf’s nature to show weakness – even if the others were suffering the same. “It is not the brightest of days, but it still makes me ponder why the Orcs are moving at this hour.”
“Our life has been anything but normal, lately,” Asthaldo huffed, rolling his shoulders. “All this evil, attacks all over, Gandalf’s return, the Nazgûl…” He had no need to continue, as everyone knew what events he was referring at. “The last thing I would start to muse is why the Orcs are travelling in daylight.”
“Their boldness should warn us, if nothing else,” Rafél muttered. His eyes scanned the visible marks of the army’s passing. Even as they stood on the other side of the river, he could easily see trampled grass, broken twigs… Telltale marks of the Orcs’ marching. “If we wish to follow them, I suggest us to move on,” he continued, lifting his voice to catch the attention of others. “We can cross the river some distance south from here.”
Legolas smiled, knowing that his desire to hunt the enemy would be followed: Rafél’s authority was sparsely passed by any. Even Gandalf, years ago, had stated to the young Prince that he had a magnificent Elf as his guardian. “His glory might be hidden, but in his youth, there were few who dared to go against him. Even your forefathers have shown him respect.” Those had been Gandalf’s words, the Istari’s eyes glinting in the fire of torches as he had turned to look at the youth on his side. “A crown on the top of one’s head does not make one a King – nor a Lord, either. There are many who are fit to sit on a high throne, yet few ever do so. Hidden is the valour of those others, no crown revealing them.” The way the Wizard had gazed at Rafél had told Legolas enough. Yet even today, I have no idea what Gandalf truly meant, Legolas brooded. I have heard tales from Rafél himself, but he has never told me anything… significant. Pursing his lips thoughtfully, the Prince summoned Morchaint closer, Gimli already at his side.
Even Adír was silent as they mounted and rode south, accepting this was the course of action they were going to take. Either it was a common agreement, or submitting to others. After another hour they found the crossing they were looking for, guiding the horses through the river carefully.
“And so I expected you to shoot a rope over the water, and make us walk along it like squirrels,” Gimli joked, remembering his first visit to Lothlórien.
“We may do so, if you so desire, Master Dwarf,” Asthaldo chided, smirking.
Gimli shot him a glare, tightening his hold on Legolas’ waist as Morchaint sprang back to dry land. After they were all on solid ground again, they made their way along the visible trail of the enemy.
“How far ahead are they, what do you think?” Fundal asked from his place behind Asthaldo.
The Elf frowned, casting a look at his elder Cousin. Thalión answered his gaze, then halted his horse and landed gracefully before the animal had even fully stopped. Powder blue eyes searched the ground, fingertips caressing the moss. “I cannot be sure, but they are moving on with a good speed,” Thalión answered, lifting his head as he still crouched on the ground. Frown appeared to his fair face, eyes adopting a distant look. “I am not sure, but if they are making their way to Dol Guldur…”
“Let us follow and see, then,” Gimli huffed. “I have been forced to watch Aragorn crawl on the ground for hours, trying to guess the enemy’s movements. Now as we have a visible trail before us, let us follow!”
Legolas chuckled, patting the Dwarf’s thigh. “Remind me to tell that to our dear King Elessar, when we meet him again – I am sure he appreciates your… way of thinking.”
Gimli snorted, shifting his axe. “Is it a fault of mine that his way of tracking is not into my liking?”
“Nay. Yet you could show respect, as Aragorn was able to keep us after Merry and Pippin.”
“You could have done the same, eh? Just reach out with your senses and hunt down the Uruks?” Gimli countered, the idea hitting him out of nowhere. How I never thought of this before? Elves can sense evil, so surely they can follow it as well.
Legolas smiled secretively, moving his great mount forth after Thalión had mounted his. “I just wished to see if Aragorn was able to keep us on the right path. If not, I could have always gently push him to the right direction.” The Elf turned to throw the Dwarf a teasing glance as the Dwarf swore beneath his breath. “Truly, Gimli! Had I been able to do that, do you think Aragorn would have bothered to crawl all those miles?!” Silvery laughter followed the statement. “He has been raised among the Elves, and he surely knows what my kin can do. But I am honoured by your suggestion, so thank you. Someday, I might be able to do that on an open land. For now, I need trees, or many growing things to guide me forth.”
Gimli did not look convinced, yet the apologetic look in the Elf’s eyes spoke of truth. “But you could do it?” He was not willing to give in just yet.
“He could, if the need be,” Thalión answered instead of the Prince. Legolas lifted an eyebrow at that, gaping at the silver-haired Elf. “Oh come now! I and Rafél trained you well enough,” Thalión snorted, rolling his eyes. “After this whole mess is over, we must pay a visit to Rohan, and do some re-training, it seems.”
Legolas smiled at that, guiding his horse forth. “After this mess is over…” Why does thinking of that makes me nervous? Or is it just that what might lay before us before we get there. Shedding off his uneasiness, he pushed his mind to the task at hand: it was a good way to ignore dark thoughts occupying his mind. He felt Rafél’s knowing eyes on him, but did not turn to meet the other’s stare. It was no longer needed between them, anyway: they could sense each other’s emotions clearly enough.
Next few hours went by in silence, only occasional discussions taking place between them. The Elves seemed quiet and edgy for some reason, glancing at the forest on their left from time to time. Fundal had asked if there was danger in the shadows, but Gimli had hushed him, understanding only too well what bothered the eternal creatures: their home-woods stood beside them, inviting them with a song no mortal ear could catch. It must have been agonising to be so close to home, and yet unable to enter.
Gimli had at one point thought to suggest that they might move on in the shelter of the wood, but in the eyes of the Elves he saw something else beside longing: distrust. Could it be that Eryn Lasgalen is Mirkwood again? the Dwarf pondered, turning his eyes towards the endless sea of trees. He shuddered, not knowing if it was caused by his Dwarven nature or some unnamed darkness that filled the air beneath the thick branches. Whatever it is, it does not make the Elves feel any more at ease…
Suddenly, when evening was already drawing upon them, the horses halted. The Dwarves looked around in confusion, yet the Firstborns made no move to explain the sudden stop.
“Surely we are not going to camp for the night?” Adír questioned. “It is Orcs we are hunting, for Valar’s sake…”
Thalión made an angry movement to silence the other, his eyes narrowed. “We are not alone,” he said beneath his breath, making the Dwarves struggle to make out the words. But the signals his body gave were enough to fill in the gap his hushed tone might have left, and the shorter creatures released their axes from their belts.
With a shared look, the Elves dismounted, helping the Dwarves to the ground. The horses moved back without any verbal command, visibly trying to stay silent. The Elves released their weapons, arrows placed on taut strings, sharp blades revealed from the sheaths. Dwarves pushed together, side by side, their ears trying to pick any sound possible. Yet the dusk was silent, not a breeze shifting the leaves.
Whatever this is, our attackers are coming from the forest, Gimli noted to himself, keeping a close eye on the Elves. It was certain they had a debate going on, though not a sound escaped their lips. But the way the depthless eyes moved told the Dwarf enough. Again I must thank my time with Legolas… Else I would be already roaring at them to do something. Glancing at his kinsmen, he knew the only thing that kept them doing so was his own calmness. He signalled his companions to wait, suddenly realising Legolas was coming towards them.
“Cousins shall take into the trees and go forth. Rafél and I shall remain on the ground with you.”
So the danger is above? Gimli felt like smiling, but kept his expression in check. Because if the attack would be coming from the ground, I am sure Rafél would be more than glad to take Legolas to the trees, instead of this arrangement… He nodded at the Elf, shifting the comfortable weight of his axe in his hands.
The Cousins dove into the increasing darkness, soon hidden by the thick layer of limbs. Fundal watched in awe as the lithe creatures moved with alarming speed. It was not the first time he saw Elves among trees, but the way they gracefully and fluidly moved on the branches was still something worth to wonder. A quick pat from Gimli woke him from his daydreaming, and again they all waited.
Seconds ticked by slowly, the air itself hushed and tense. Not a bird sang, and the shadows seemed to grow and reach out for the waiting warriors. Only the distant sound of Anduin running broke the silence.
Rafél cocked his head, frowning. He held his breath, reaching out with his senses, trying to read the movements of those approaching them. The Cousins were not far ahead of them, for some reason. Yet perhaps it is better so, as we are already few in number, the old warrior decided. Once again, he caressed a feathered head of an arrow in his hands. I just hope we are not facing more than some scouts of the enemy… His thoughts were interrupted as something moved among the branches, coming from their right side.
The guardian immediately shifted to block a possible attack, moving himself steadily between Legolas and the approaching creature. This threat took them completely by surprise: they had sensed the enemies before them, or at least slightly on their left. It seems a cunning mind is playing against us, Rafél concluded. And that someone approaching is silent enough to catch an Elf unawares!
They waited in silence again, the movement above them stopped. Perhaps it was one of the Cousins, but none of those on the ground truly believed it.
Legolas narrowed his eyes, reaching out with his bond to the trees. He had been apprehensive to do so before, knowing well it would do him no good if they faced greater evil than random Orcs: he had no time for an inner battle at the moment. I have started to learn of my mistakes, it seems. I wish that Rafél also sees this, he thought almost childishly. Some months before, he would have boldly countered whatever was approaching them. Now he was cautious. After several clashes with evil, he knew it was a dangerous game to go forth without being prepared. Or is it fear that keeps me at place? he pondered, not liking the idea the slightest.
A hint of something familiar met Legolas’ seeking senses, making him blink in uncertainty. Rafél also sensed this, his stance changing in indecision. But before either of them had the message analysed, the approaching creature came forth – this time with no caution at all.
Rafél lifted his bow, yet the arrow never left the weapon as Legolas stepped at his side, his own bow aimed to the ground.
“Legolas!” The shout was all the warning the group got before the creature jumped to the ground, landing lightly on the moss. Yet the shout – a joyous one of that – had not come from the Cousins, but from the creature. Legolas blinked in surprise, then let his bow fall to the ground and met the newcomer halfway. The next second they were embracing each other tightly, laughing and gasping for breath.
“)Daro!(” came a shouted order from the original direction of the “enemies”. In the trees, leaves were brushed against something, creating a whispery sound.
The Dwarves looked up to the canopy, then again at Legolas and the arrival. Gimli shook his head with a sigh, lowering the end of his axe to the soil resolutely. He, naturally, understood such a usual word of Elvish, and his eyes saw well enough in the shadows to recognize the one beside Legolas. “Shannai, for the wrath of Valar, could you ever consider a normal, proper approach?” the Dwarf lectured the Elf half-heartedly. Yet the smile tugging his lips betrayed his tone.
The addressed Elf drew himself arms-length from Legolas, still holding his friend tightly. “Surely, Master Gimli, that would be nothing like me, then.”
“I guess not,” Gimli gave in, now openly smiling. He lifted his eyes from the friends just in time to see a large group of Elves lower themselves to the ground, the Three Cousins among them. He recognised many, but only Thrénandu he knew by name.
“)Ernil nîn(,” Thrénandu walked forth, bowing deeply before Legolas, hand upon his heart. “It has been long since we heard any news of you.” Many things were left unsaid in that sentence, yet there would be time for them later.
“Indeed it is good to see you, Captain,” Legolas smiled, bowing slightly in return. His eyes shifted to the Cousins, already finding out news from their kinsmen. “How come we were not informed it was you approaching us?” he lifted an eyebrow, gazing back at Thrénandu.
The elder Elf looked sheepish, shrugging. “We did not know of you, either. It seems that both sides sensed the other approach, but did not take enough care to identify the threat.” Light blue eyes met Legolas’ carefully. “After the Dark Army passed us, we expected to meet remnants of them, not ones of our own.”
“The shadows grow deeper with each passing day,” Shannai agreed, his brow furrowed. “Ever since the attack, the days have been darker and the enemies have multiplied their strength.”
“You say ‘enemies’,” Gimli halted the discussion. “There is more than one against us?”
Thrénandu shifted uneasily, angry eyes glancing at Shannai. Clearly there had been a slip. “We do not know much of the enemy’s activity, as our King wishes us to remain inside the walls as much as possible.” There was a strange light in the captain’s eyes as he tried to decide what to say next. “But it seems there is a lot going on, outside our gates.”
Legolas nodded carefully, knowing he would be forced to take Thrénandu aside if he wished to have a proper explanation. “How do our people fair?” he asked instead.
“Those who survived live on,” Thrénandu said simply.
“Though all the settlements in the forest have been emptied,” Shannai continued, earning another warning look from his commander. Showing no interest to heed the clear caveat given, the younger Elf went on, his eyes on Legolas. “It is not like your father to do something like this, on a long run. I understand if our people were gathered right after the attack – when he arrived. But this has been going on ever since. We do not strengthen our borders, we do not fight back the enemy which is practically leaning on our doorframe. We stay in the caves, and send out patrols only when additional supplies are needed.” The light green of his eyes was darker than usual as the young warrior met his officer’s gaze. “Then suddenly the King himself commands Thrénandu to take out a patrol and come on the other edge of the forest. He knew something would be here,” he smiled, yet there was no warmth in it. “And we ran into you,” he concluded.
“We sent no message,” Rafél interfered, thoughtful look on his face.
Shannai nodded. “I guessed as much.” His eyes fell upon Legolas again. “Did Thaíly reach you? It is a long time from the night I sent him after you.”
Legolas smiled, drawing a deep breath. “I have encountered him a few times since then.”
“Good, then,” Shannai laughed, swiftly returning to his normal mood. “And it seems he was able to keep you safe, after all.” He even dared to give the annoyed Rafél a wink.
“Whatever the King knew, or did not, when sending us here,” Thrénandu continued on their previous subject, “I am sure there is only one thing I can do now: to see you back home safely,” he addressed Legolas casually.
Instead of accepting this, Legolas shook his head. “Not just yet. We are hunting down the army you also saw pass. We have to make sure where they are heading at, and warn our friends to the south.”
Thrénandu did not take this well, drawing in his full height. “With all respect, my Lord, that is something you should not waste your time in. Danger lies on that path. Therefore I must insist you to accompany me back to Woodland Realm.”
“Do you insist, or is it an order?” Legolas challenged.
Thrénandu’s eyes spoke volumes. “It is your King’s wish,” he mumbled.
“So Thranduil knew they were coming?” Shannai exclaimed. “How is that?”
None answered the warrior, two Elves sparring for victory. Warriors stared at their Prince and Captain, not knowing what to do. Surely, their Lord had the authority to command Thrénandu, but the commander had his orders straight from the King.
“I will return home as soon as I have uncovered the enemy’s plan,” Legolas finally broke the uneasy silence. It seemed to be his final statement.
Thrénandu opened his mouth to object, but Shannai chose to step in before he was able to say another word. “If I may remind you, Thrénandu: Legolas is our Prince. It is our duty to obey him, or at least see for his safety if we cannot persuade him to take a safer road. Therefore, we should accompany him.”
Thrénandu seemed to go through a vicious inner battle. The warriors held their breath, not daring to look this way or that, all staring at their leaders. Finally, the Captain sighed, bowing his head in recognition. “We shall follow you, my Lord. Yet a part of my warriors have to return to the main patrol, and deliver a message that our plans have been changed.” He grimaced. “The King won’t take this well,” he muttered, turning and returning to his patrol.
Of the entire number of dozen, six Elves were sent back to the others. Thrénandu, Shannai, and four other warriors prepared to join Legolas and his companions.
While checking their supplies, Rafél approached Thrénandu. Taking a look around, the guardian made sure they were alone. “You gave in rather easily,” he mused with a silent voice.
Thrénandu met Rafél’s eyes, a rueful smile appearing to his face. “I have my reasons.”
Rafél nodded carefully. “And they have nothing to do with Legolas’ birthrights, do they.”
“He is my Prince, Guardian,” the Captain seethed, seemingly unhappy. Yet Rafél knew it was not anger directed towards any of their company. That made him even more perplexed. Seeing the other’s studying gaze, Thrénandu spoke again: “Thranduil returned only recently from another of those secret trips he has been attending. Only a day before he summoned me, that is, and gave me the orders to bring Legolas home. There was no question whether or not I would find the Prince. Of course, I was puzzled, but I am in no place to question the orders given to me.
“We left immediately, and not soon after we reached the western side of the forest – following our Lord’s orders. We saw the Dark Army pass us.” The Elf drew silent, his eyes dark. “They came from the north. From where, directly, I do not care.” His eyes fixed on Rafél, he spoke slowly, pressing each word with care. “All I know is that Thranduil also came from north. It may have nothing to do with this army, but I am worried.” He swallowed, seemingly nervous. Yet something akin to a shadow seemed to pass his eyes as he got the words out. “There is something unsettling in Thranduil’s behaviour. I refused to see it before, but as Shannai pointed out so cleverly…” he smiled sadly, “we do nothing to defend ourselves. We merely sit and wait for them to come.” There was no need to say ‘whom’ he meant.
Rafél chewed his lower lip, leaning against a tree behind him, arms crossed over his chest. “Odd things keep happening around us,” he finally said distantly.
“I agree, old friend. Yet there is the fact that I wish to follow Legolas, as I know he is…” the captain never finished, instead taking his weapons and joining the others.
‘Trustworthy.’ Might that be the word you did not dare to speak? Rafél pondered as he again took his place beside Legolas.
to be continued…
)Sindarin(: - Westron:
Daro! – Halt!