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: Well, here we go again! This chapter continues where the previous left us: hunting an army with Legolas. Worry not, those who have their thoughts with Aragorn and his group: we will get there soon :) But first, some heart-clenching action… (at least I hope it shall please you people! Let me know ;)
For all those who have already reviews: huge thanks! You have no idea what kind of an encouragement and aid you are. I feel a lot more confident when posting a new chapter. And to my beta, Kitt: I guess you do not know how much your work and thought mean to me #hugs and bows everyone# Hannon lle, once again!
As a chapter-theme: Apocalyptica’s “Deathzone” (from the album “Apocalyptica”).
“)…(” = Sindarin
The next day went on in peace. No threat exposed itself, and even Thrénandu seemed to carry himself with more liberation. None hunted the truth with questions, but all saw that the six Elves, who had recently joined them, were enjoying their time. Even if their task was grim and dangerous, it seemed to release the Elven natures back to their true form, after months of holding back.
And some did not even seem to understand the danger.
At least that was what Gimli very soon decided, as Shannai chatted away easily, playing his jokes as he always did. The only amusing thing in the whole situation – on Gimli’s opinion – was the look on Fundal’s face. The youth’s eyes were practically glued on the Elf, staring wide and in disbelief. And for a reason! Shannai is, after all, the most unexceptional Elf I have ever met. Though I think that any Elf would share my opinion, as well. Shaking his head, he tried to ignore the fair voice. He did not dare to tell the Elf to shut up, even if he would have usually done so: Legolas was smiling and laughing, joking with his friend with abandon. It was a rare sight, and made Gimli smile as well. One look at Rafél and Cousins told the Dwarf that he was not alone with his knowledge. Maybe things are turning to the better, after all.
“Is he always like… well… like that?” Fundal asked with a whisper, making Gimli turn his head to the youth’s direction. They were all walking, the horses out of their line of sight. The Elves had said that the animals needed their rest, and they could continue on foot. Four other horses had joined them this morning, now accompanying the five that had come all the way from across the Mountains. They were a small pack of wild horses, now and then ridden by Elves in need – like today.
“Shannai?” Gimli snorted. “Yes, though he is quite reserved still. I have seen worse,” he winked at the puzzled Dwarf beside him. Fundal shot him a suspicious look, making Gimli roar with laughter. “Trust me, lad! This is nothing yet!” he patted the other’s shoulder while fighting for breath.
Shannai and Legolas were looking at them, interest in their bright eyes. “Are you quite alright, Master Gimli?” Shannai asked with amused concern.
Gimli merely shook his head and stumped on, muttering to himself.
Fundal reached the Elves who had halted to wait for them, giving Shannai a careful look. Cautious curiosity sparkled in his deep eyes, yet he was afraid to approach this rather strange Elf. He knew Legolas well, and came along with him, but Shannai was nothing he had encountered before. And there I thought I had already faced all the eccentrics of the Elves, the youth thought. As Legolas eyed him carefully, he blushed and looked away.
Shannai giggled softly, briefly touching Fundal’s shoulder as they continued to walk. “Gimli’s moods shift at times, but worry not: he is quite safe to be with. As am I,” he grinned, seeing the Dwarf’s startled look. “Oh, I know you have been eyeing me up!” Now he gave the Dwarf a curious look in turn. “Yet there is no loathing or mistrust in your gaze. That is interesting.”
“Why should there be?” Fundal asked, feeling a bit more at ease with this bronze-haired Firstborn.
Shannai shrugged, smirking. “Even my own people tend to look at me strangely. The Dwarves… well, let us say they do not like Elves that much, and find me threatening, I think.”
“Aye. I think it is because I do not fit the category they have built for Elves,” Shannai pondered.
Fundal laughed, nodding. “I have known you just a brief while, and yet I can say that myself. But I do not know if that is a bad thing, after all.” He gave the other Elves a quick glance in the case he had made an insult.
Legolas smirked, elbowing Shannai. “He is different. And that makes him special.” With that, the Prince moved aside, joining Rafél on the far side of the group.
“He is special, too…” Shannai whispered, eyes following Legolas. “He has been hurt so much lately. I can see it…”
Fundal looked up in surprise, the depth of emotion in the Elf’s voice almost startling. He also sought Legolas, shaking the evil memories from his head. “A lot has happened since the attack to Woodland Realm, I think,” he said cautiously. “I do not know everything, but I can tell you what I know, if you like…” He bit his lip, meeting Shannai’s eyes warily.
Shannai was first very still, then a fond smile appeared to his face. “I would like that,” he stated, his hand again dropping on Fundal’s shoulder. “Friends?” he offered.
Fundal opened his mouth, but was interrupted as Adír called for him. Nodding to the Elf, he sprang back to the elder Dwarf, knowing there would be a long lecture before of him. Adír perhaps was friendly towards Elves, and liked Legolas, but it did not mean he wanted to befriend them without prudence. With one last look at Shannai, Fundal settled at his guardian’s side, pondering all he had learned of the Elves – and how wrong he had been, at some places.
First image of Elves was easily far from the truth: cold, haughty, uncaring creatures of perfection. Prideful and arrogant they might seem – and some surely were so – but when you learned to know an Elf, you also started to fathom the complex life of the Firstborns. They were caring and loving folk, who worshipped all life. They believed in good, fighting all forms of evil with their powers given. They might live forever, but died of heartache – something Fundal himself found difficult to believe. Earning an Elven trust was a puzzling thing, as he did not know how exactly one did so. Yet the Elves seemed to see right into people’s hearts, and then decided if the other was worth trusting or not. And when one earned an Elven friendship, it was only a beginning. Immortal as they were, Elves fought for their friends beyond the bounds of mortality. They maybe did not understand death, but knew it was something they had to defend their mortal friends from.
Of course there is the matter of pride, as well, Fundal thought. But which are worse, the Dwarves, or the Elves? He had witnessed such discussions during their journey, and had shared Aragorn’s opinion shortly after witnessing the banter between Legolas and Gimli: there was nothing worse than Elven pride colliding with the one of a Dwarf. Maybe they keep their thoughts to themselves, but then again, they think differently. They shall live forever, so that must cause some differences to our thinking… Frowning, Fundal walked on, lost in thought. Even Adír was silent, noticing there was no point to lecture the boy now. It would go all for nothing.
Hours later, when nightfall began to creep over the world, the company halted to eat and make their plans.
“They did not enter Dol Guldur,” Thalión mumbled, nipping a small piece of lembas.
“Isn’t that a good thing?” Shannai offered.
“Who knows,” Dínnor snorted, “they can still attack Rohan.”
Shannai nodded, munching a piece of an apple thoughtfully. “They are still heading south, then?”
Before none could answer, Thalión shook his head. The motion was not as confident as usual, but a clear signal anyway. “They have turned slightly east, following the edge of the forest. They still remain close to the river.”
“Are you sure?” Thrénandu asked, leaving his food for a moment.
Thalión nodded, eyes distant. “That is what I know, for now.” His eyes briefly glanced at Legolas. “The trees are silent here,” he mumbled, getting up and walking to the edge of the forest.
“He will return with news,” Dínnor said casually, knowing that the Dwarves might not understand his cousin’s actions. “He needs a moment with the olvar. He knows a lot more when he gets all the information solved.”
Everyone nodded, even if some knew nothing of what the Elf was talking about. It took a long while before Thalión returned, his face troubled and pale. Yet his eyes were far more serene now, knowledge shining in them. When he reached out to for his bow to shoulder it again, Dínnor caught his hand, holding for a moment. It was shaking. “It took a lot of effort from me to draw out the information I wanted,” the Sinda snatched his hand back, fastening the belts of his quiver.
The others took in the example, gathering their own belongings. “So, what did you find out?” Thrénandu questioned.
Thalión was silent for a moment, his eyes turning south. “They have turned strongly east, abandoning Anduin. I do not think they would take such direction if they were heading at Rohan. Or Gondor,” he added, glancing at Legolas. Something shifted in his eyes, making Legolas take a step forward in alarm. Thalión shook his head, his lips a thin line, his eyes leaving Legolas only to cast a quick look at Rafél. “The forest is filled with shadows,” he finally whispered with a dreadful voice. “Dol Guldur is swarming with venom, and the trees are not easy to approach.” He took a deep breath. “Let us go on.”
“We should return home,” Thrénandu objected. “Send a word to your friends, and head back to Woodland Realm.” He gave the Dwarves a look, then turned to his Prince. “I am sure that the Naugrim would also desire to join their people.”
Gimli shifted, his shoulder brushing against Legolas’ side. It was all the signal the Elf needed to understand his friend’s mind. “I wish to go a bit further,” Legolas said, his eyes passing Thalión’s fleetingly. The Cousin nodded.
Thrénandu saw the wordless debate, trying to keep himself from groaning aloud. “There is no reason to go on –”
“Do you not heed your Prince’s wish?” Dínnor asked with a lifted eyebrow, inspecting the hilt of his sword with a bowed head.
Thrénandu cringed back, shaking head. “Of course not, but it is my duty to worry of his health!”
“I do not wish to go much further,” Thalión interrupted. “I just have to find a good place.”
“A good place for what?” Shannai requested, baffled.
“To send a messenger,” Thalión answered with a shadow of a smile. “The evil lingering in the wake of the army does not do any good, to any of us – nor the creatures living here.”
As he seemingly had no other choice, Thrénandu gave in and muttered an order to move out. No actual order was needed, naturally, but it gave him something to do. The group moved on, still on foot, as the horses were somewhere further away. Shadows drew longer with every passing minute, clouded sky making the evening darker than usual.
“Should we camp for the night?” Fundal asked, nearly running into a tree while speaking to the Elves behind him. They were entering a small wood beside the river, leaving Mirkwood further on their left.
“We can rest when we reach home,” Gimli muttered, brushing a branch from his way. “Yet I must ask why we did not stay on the open land? Wandering in a foreign forest in the middle of a night cannot be overly wise.”
“We just have to find a suitable place,” Thalión murmured, walking few steps aside from the others, eyes scanning the green layer above them.
“Evil lingers long after the Dark Army has passed,” Thrénandu said darkly, gazing at the forest. “Even here, you can feel it like a foul stench, stuck into your very being as you pass through it...”
Rafél gave the Captain a pat on the shoulder, passing him in silence. Wind started to blow, from southeast, gathering loose leaves on the ground to a fair play of dance. Branches above shook, filling the early night with whispery sounds. Anduin’s voice drowned into it, closing the company into a world of darkness and secret voices.
Rafél cocked his head, eyes narrowing. “Thalión,” he called, making the other Elf approach him swiftly, “didn’t you say the army turned east?” he asked. The other nodded. “They have just separated.”
All stood in silence, the breeze still blowing on its own accord. Thalión turned his head in alarm, listening to the wind. “Yes…” he said haltingly. “But…” he glanced at Rafél, “why to set out a small force like that? It cannot be more than a thousand.”
“Seemingly they have a plan, as we do not,” Thrénandu snorted, leaning at his bow. “They are too far away from us to be reached.” He did not add that without Dwarves, they might have done it, even on foot. After all, he had acknowledged by now that leaving the Naugrim was not an option.
Legolas went to stand beside his guardian, breathing deeply as he closed his eyes. “They are far, indeed…” he said distantly. Frown appeared on his face as he tried to focus on the wind and the message it carried. “Why do you think they have turned?” he asked, eyes still closed.
Rafél thought for a moment, eyes staring at the darkness ahead. “Their current path, straight south, would take them to Rohan. If they take a route through the Field of Celebrant and Wold, they will make it straight to the land of the Horselords.”
“It would still leave them to cross two rivers,” Thalión shook his head. “What is going on?” he whispered, trying to catch something new in the breeze.
Legolas shifted, lost in his own world. The army still lingered within the shadow of Dol Guldur, which made it hard to catch any concrete picture of their movements. Swallowing with difficulty, Legolas re-ordered his thoughts, again, trying to pry himself past the evil. It did not work, his Elven senses cast aside like a ragged doll.
“It does not work, Las,” Rafél said quietly. “I have tried. We cannot get any clearer message, I am afraid.”
“Yet we know they have separated,” Shannai said brightly. “Now we have actual news to give to Aragorn! To warn him!”
“They can still easily head at Emyn Muil,” Thrénandu warned. “The way is long, and they might change their course again.” He also gazed at the direction of the wind, feeling the menace easily enough.
Legolas breathed deeply, knowing they needed more information. He had no desire to warn his friends for nothing, as they surely had their own problems to face. World isn’t kind enough to us to let anything happen smoothly, he decided, then concentrated. He could actually fathom the long shadows spreading from Dol Guldur, feel the agony of the infested forest around they ruined citadel. He passed this, trying to find the two pieces of the Dark Army with his mind’s eyes. The darkness blocked his way again, like a barrier, a soggy swamp he could not cross.
Rafél shifted beside him, sensing he was up to something. Legolas closed his eyes, trying to sharpen his focus. He had only one strike, and it might be his destruction if he failed. He heard the distant call of his guardian, and without another thought, curled his fingers around the Elf’s beside him. A surge of strength seemed to pour through him, Rafél’s fëa so close it seemed to burn his skin. He actually smiled, then returned to his earlier task. Countering the darkness on his way once more, he made sure Rafél – mentally – was behind him, as if covering his back in a battle. He could feel the other’s confusion, but gave it no time to hinder him: when the dark walls again rose to block his vision, he changed tactics.
The evil of Dol Guldur shifted, stirring. The wall set as a barrier seemed to shiver, like waves travelling the surface of the water. Doing something an Elf would never even consider with a healthy mind, Legolas summoned the evil. He entered it, allowing its brief embrace, then cast it aside. Like a curtain of spider webs, the darkness fell aside. For a moment, the army was revealed. The other, smaller half, was taking a route slightly to southwest. He could hear voices, whispers.
The image was full and clear, so much more perfect than the visions the trees and the wind gave to the Elves. Watching another moment, Legolas took in every detail, knowing he would not have another chance. Then suddenly, something else stirred. Turning his attention away in alarm, Legolas made a short notice of something approaching before he was forcefully pulled back.
Rafél had been puzzled at first, his fingers tightly grasping Legolas’, his fëa beside the other’s. Then, as Legolas had reached out, it was quite clear the younger Elf was trying to combine their powers to find out the enemy’s movements. This illusion was horribly broken when Legolas pushed him back, holding him as a shield, an anchor. Too late Rafél realised what the other was up to.
He felt the evil as soon as Legolas reached towards it. He could actually taste it in his mouth, feel it crawl against his skin. In despair, he tried to call Legolas back, yet halted when he noticed the dark wall was fading. He saw but a glimpse of what Legolas did, his fëa unwilling to enter the darkness fully. The Prince’s, however, seemed to have no qualms to linger in the eye of evil.
When something shifted in the dark world, making Legolas turn his attention in alarm, Rafél used the gap given and snatched the other out of the dark reverie. He did not desire to know what else the darkness had to offer, and he knew Legolas had seen enough to provide them information worth sending a word to the Men and their companions.
Legolas’ weight sagged against Rafél, his form held firmly in a strong embrace as both Elves fought to breathe evenly. The others stared at them in wonder, suspicion on the Elven faces.
“What did you just do?” Thalión asked carefully, not daring to approach the two just yet.
Legolas shook his head, opening the now dark blue eyes. Looking up, he met the dark gaze of his guardian, every emotion visible there. Directing his stare swiftly elsewhere, the Prince got up to his own feet, brushing his cloths as if there was dirt on them. “I… We…” he stammered, throwing a glance at Rafél again. The other’s face was pure of emotions, dangerous hint of fury set in the depths of his eyes.
Rafél gave a deep sigh, reaching out to touch Legolas’ shoulder, trying to assure the other he was not about to release his anger – just yet. He must know that what he just did was both foolish and extremely dangerous! But this time he “took” me with him. I think he is beginning to learn… He still did not like this at all. Legolas flinched under his touch, but soon relaxed, willingly leaning against him. “Legolas saw the enemies. It was as we thought: they have separated.” As the others gave him a sceptic look, he added, “I did not see it too clearly, but as soon as Legolas has… recovered,” he said carefully, “we will have more answers.”
Gimli had a deep worried frown on his face, and he made his way to his friend’s side. The moment Legolas had started – whatever he had done – Gimli had felt it like a stab in his chest. Cold feeling had seemed to spread all around him, centring the necklace beneath his tunic. He laid a careful hand on the Elf’s arm, looking up at the distressed eyes. “Are you well?” he asked. A stupid question, perhaps, but he needed to hear the Elf’s voice to calm himself.
Legolas nodded absently, lifting his free hand to his neck. A brief smile appeared to his face as he encountered the jewel, and he finally looked down at the Dwarf. “I am fine, Elvellon. Just a bit… shaken,” he shrugged, only then seeming to realise he was still resting in Rafél’s loose embrace. One cast to his companions told him they were receiving more than a few pairs of curious eyes.
Dínnor cocked his head to a side, watching the Prince and his Guardian closely. Asthaldo had his eyebrow lifted at Thalión who seemed not to notice anything unusual. Shannai’s smile was almost fond, as if he had just uncovered a wonderful secret.
Thrénandu broke the silence with a loud cough, shaking his head. “’Let Guardians do their task the way they see best’, I have been told. So stop gaping, and give Prince Legolas his time to recover. In the meanwhile, Thalión could send the message so we can head back home.”
“And what task of a guardian this might be?” Asthaldo giggled softly, then yelped when Thalión elbowed him sharply. “Don’t bother. You can keep your secrets, cousin! I can use my own eyes, thank you very much!” he said roughly, rubbing his side. The fallow eyes were back on Legolas and Rafél quicker than his side stopped throbbing. Legolas was now standing a foot away from Rafél, looking slightly embarrassed. Rafél, on his side, eyed the younger Elf steadily, and it was clear they had a silent debate going on. “What are they doing?” he asked from his eldest cousin, knowing that Dínnor as well was watching the couple.
“Thalión?” Legolas called out suddenly. “Could I come to send the message with you –” he fell silent in mid-sentence, staring wide-eyed at the direction of Anduin. They could see naught but trees, and in the darkness of the late evening, the further trees faded to black. Blinking several times, Legolas shook his head, as if trying to get rid of some feeling.
“Do you feel it too?” Shannai asked his friend, stepping closer to the Prince and his guardian with a shudder. “I know that as the army is passing, the feel in its wake should be vanishing. But it seems to me that it is… increasing?” he almost squeaked, trying to suppress another shudder.
Rafél frowned, meeting Thrénandu’s eyes in the darkness. The only thing visible in the darkness was the halo around the Elves, and so they saw each other easily. The sky, heavy with clouds, hid the stars away from sight. For once I am glad we are travelling with Dwarves, the guardian decided. We do not have to be constantly afraid that they would lose us, even in darkness. They see here almost as well as we do. Better, Dwarves would have said, but it was no concern of his who saw the best in the darkness. As long as they would all stay together, no greater harm would fall upon them.
“I think I feel it also…” one of the Woodland warriors said with a fearful voice. “Is it the Shadow from the Valley?” his companions hushed him quickly, not wishing to hear such things.
Thalión shook his head. “It comes from the river.”
“And it is increasing. Should we move away?” Shannai stuttered, looking this way and that.
“Away where?” Gimli asked friendlily, knowing that if Shannai panicked – which did not happen often – they were in a trouble. A panicked Elf of any sort was a difficult thing to deal with.
“I do not care where!” Shannai said heatedly, fear of the unknown threat forgotten for a moment. “Just away from –”
“Hush!” Dínnor hissed, lifting a hand as a sign of silence. Everyone listened. The woods were no longer quiet. With a colourful curse, Dínnor turned around, his hand releasing his sword in a one graceful movement. Asthaldo unsheathed his two shorter blades, just as Thalión’s bow sang. A harsh cry of pain and a thud of something heavy falling to the forest floor was the only evidence of something being hit.
Silence followed. None dared to breathe, all senses focused on the dark forest ahead.
With a small movement, Rafél pushed Legolas back, shielding the younger Elf effectively. The Prince almost retorted vocally, but settled with glaring at his guardian while preparing his bow, notching one arrow to the string. He still had a fine line beside the other’s shoulder.
As swiftly as the silence had landed, it was broken. Dozen of Orcs came shouting and running from the shelter of the trees, immediately countered by Elven arrows, Dwarven axes and blades of those Firstborns who chose to fight hand to hand. It took a few minutes before the entire skirmish was over. The Orcs lay on the moss, silent as the night.
“Well, that was refreshing,” Asthaldo grinned, wiping black blood from his cheek. “What next?” He regretted that question for the rest of his life.
The darkness was filled with more rough shouts, metal clinging against metal. For all the warriors listening, it was immediately sure they were not facing another group of one dozen – or two. When the first dark shapes came to the Elves’ line of vision, they made the only reasonable conclusion.
“Run!” Dínnor shouted, leaving no place for questions – or objections. The sound of the feet behind them told that the number of the enemy was too great to be dealt with. “Get back to the horses!” the Sinda gave his final command, though it was not entirely needed.
“How do we find the horses in the first place?!” Gimli demanded, his words uneven and breathy as he tried to keep up with the others. “We haven’t seen them all day!”
“I am working on it,” Thalión hissed, turning for a moment to shoot an Orc. After he had got two more, he turned again to catch up the others.
As first arrows began to rain after them, a chaos ensued. Orcs naturally saw well in darkness, living in it all their lives. They also had the advantage of the pursuers. The Elves and the Dwarves soon found themselves in a serious trouble; dodging arrows, roots, and branches.
“Just let us stop and fight them!” Adír growled after almost toppling over on a root.
“They are too many!” Shannai answered, daring a look back.
“And they must be the swiftest Orcs on Arda,” Gimli cursed, feeling Legolas’ hand on his shoulder as he almost collided with a tree stump. Blood rushed in his ears, his already weary legs demanding for rest.
Another rain of arrows swarmed through the darkness, and with a piercing cry, one of the Elves fell to the ground. Dínnor and one of the other warriors halted, but then continued to run, leaving the fallen behind. Cold fury swept through the Elves: they had their first dead, and it did not suite their natures to run away from the enemy after such a loss. But if they wanted no more casualties, they had to escape the villains.
More arrows were launched after them, hitting nothing but trees and bushes this time. The Orcs kept screaming, uncaring if their opponents were still ahead of them: they were certain they could catch them in time.
“)Take to the trees!(” Thrénandu commanded suddenly, knowing that was the only way for them to survive. Hidden by the branches, they could launch their own attack, and make their way to safety.
“)Nay, stay on the ground!(” Legolas shouted back, his voice frantic. “)The Naugrim will not survive on their own.(”
The Elves ran in indecision, knowing they should take refuge in the canopy, yet understanding the Dwarves would then stand alone. Yet when Thrénandu did not repeat his order, they remained where they were, once in a while turning to shoot the enemies in the darkness. Greater number of arrows always answered, and the fleeing group knew they were going to lose this battle eventually.
Snapping of wood and increasing harsh cries alarmed the Elves before a thicker rain of arrows began. “Their force is growing!” Asthaldo shouted as he threw himself behind a large trunk of a tree, avoiding three dark shafts aimed at his direction.
“Are they growing from the ground itself?” Thrénandu muttered, swiftly counting his warriors as everyone sought shelter among the trees.
“The must have crossed the river,” Thalión guessed, daring as quick look at the approaching enemy. “We cannot stay here. It may be that this is only a foretaste of their true number.”
Everyone nodded, trying not to put too much thought on the idea.
“Is it still a long way?” Fundal panted, trying to catch his breath. His entire form was shaking with effort, the axe shaking in hands that gripped it in tight hold. Shannai, who stood next to him, shifted carefully to look at the darkness before them.
“It must be a mile yet,” one of the other Elven warriors counted, hidden near the young Dwarf.
“A mile? When did we come this deep in to this accursed forest?” Gimli barked out, shaking his head. “The trees must be moving… Moving trees… They never deem anything good…” he muttered, trying to forget the pain of his sore muscles. He did not know how he was going to run another mile in a pitch-black forest, Orcs on his heels.
Legolas lowered a hand on his friend’s shoulder, trying to give him strength. They had chosen a wrong direction to exit the forest, he knew that. But in their haste they had not had the time to take notice of their route. The forest bends here, leaving us a longer way to go than what we came. Yet it cannot be helped now! The only thing we can do it so see us all safely back to the horses. The temptation to summon the animals to them was great; but in saving their own trouble and efforts, they would endanger the animals – and therefore themselves again. A forest this thick was hard enough to travel at day, not to speak of racing in at night!
Changing swift looks, the Elves nodded, and then moved forth again. Legolas and Shannai took their places with the Dwarves, trying to guide them as well as possible. The other Elves took their places to protect the other five, trying to buy them time to escape. More arrows shot through the night, Orcs swarming through the shadows.
When Rafél turned to look at the enemies behind them, it was as if the darkness itself was shifting, dozens of black forms pressed together and dashing after the Elves in a heated pursuit. An arrow shot beside his head made the air stir, driving the guardian back to reality. He dodged the next arrow, shooting one in return, and made his way along the path Legolas had taken. Knowing that the Prince was out of the immediate danger gave Rafél more freedom to see for himself and his other companions. He was fairly certain that Thalión had taken to the trees, trying to take down as many Orcs as possible. The rest of them were still on the ground, making their way forward with slow process.
Arrows rained on them continuously now, no true aim in them. It seemed that the Orcs were satisfied enough by shooting in their general direction, waiting some of the arrows to strike their target. This plan of action was far from practical – but at times, it worked.
And at times, fate was not kind to all.
Rafél had kept a careful eye on Legolas, making sure the younger Elf stayed outside the range of arrows. The Prince’s attention on the Dwarves and their safety, Rafél was able to trust the other on his own for a moment. After all, Gimli would make sure that his Elf was as safe as he could be, considering the situation they were in. With a grim smile on his face, Rafél shot one more arrow to the forest behind them, eliciting a gruff shout in return. One more down – hundreds to go. It was not an entirely cheerful thought, but he did not let it bother his mind. He had seen worse, smelled too many pyres that took his fallen cousins to the world of invisible…
A pain tore through his leg, making him stumble a few steps before he was able to halt his speed completely. Gritting his jaws together, Rafél glanced down, swearing in his mind instantly. A dark shaft of an arrow was hardly visible in the dimness. His questioning fingers confirmed what his eyes could not: the shaft was buried into his flesh from behind, sunk deep. The tip came out on the front. His fingers were soon covered with thick warm liquid, the smell of blood reaching his nostrils. Forcing himself still, he tried not to flinch as he bowed down and took hold of the shaft with both hands.
The noises of the Orcs came closer. His heart thrummed in his chest, breath ragged and shallow. The snap of the arrow was loud in his ears as he broke it in two, letting the feathered head fall to the ground. He was shivering now. Folding his fingers around the sharp tip, he tugged it once. It moved barely an inch, but the pain was overwhelming. Closing his eyes against the darkness that washed over his mind, Rafél refocused his thoughts, pushing the pain aside. When he opened his eyes again, his heart had stilled, pain controlled. The enemies were closer. Few more minutes and they would overcome him. Focus! he snapped in his mind, repositioning his fingers around the remaining piece of the arrow. He knew the weapon had not broken the bone – thought maybe grazed it a little. The arrow would come free easily enough… He drew his lungs full, then yanked. He needed a second pull to rid himself of the shaft, and finally allowed the slick object fall from his shaking fingers.
Leaning against a tree he had used as a momentary shelter, Rafél tried in vain to get his body under control again. Violent shivers wracked his form sporadically, pain washing over him in torrents. For a moment, it all seemed to be too much for his mind to comprehend, and he drew inwards, once more making sure he made no outer signal of his situation: he wanted Legolas to stay where he was – safe. Had Legolas known Rafél was hurt, the Prince would have run right back to him – and to his death.
After a few more seconds that felt like ages, Rafél pushed away from the tree and made his way towards the others. Once enclosed by thicker wood, Orcs had to slow down. Elves, on the other hand, could only quicken their pace. Ignoring the stabbing pain that would have brought a grown Man to his knees, the guardian continued resolutely. He only needed his mind, body, and fëa to work in harmony, and he could let any physical discomfort pull back to ignorance, until taken notice again.
To his eternal irritation, he had to halt again. Too soon, he cursed in his mind, leaning against rough bark of an old tree. The surface under his cheek scraped the skin, but he welcomed the small sting. Seconds passed, drowned in feverish determination to win the weakness spreading within. Just focus. You have done this before! Pain is mere hindrance. It can be dealt with, later. Breathe. Control. Breathe…
“Rafél?” an alarmed question sounded loud in the guardian’s ears, even if it was hushed in the silence. “Are you well?”
Slowly, Rafél opened his eyes, grasping Dínnor’s shoulder as soon as the other Elf was on his reach. “Just catching… my breathe,” he answered tonelessly. The throbbing increased, spreading thorough his body. “Do me a favour,” he spoke up before the other was able to say another words, “take Legolas to safety. I do not care what you have to do – no harm may come to him.”
Dínnor’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. He sniffed, smelling blood. “Rafél…”
“Do not question my command!” Rafél hissed, his grip painful on the other’s shoulder. “Now be on your way, and make sure you deliver the order given to you! Or I will bloody promise to rip off those ignorant ears of yours!”
“You are not well,” the Cousin muttered, bringing his own hand to Rafél’s shoulder. The hand was slapped away with force that surprised him, the fingers on his shoulder moving to the back of his neck, drawing him a bit closer. Dark eyes bore into his, leaving him no space to go.
“)Go.(” Rafél left no room for arguments, pushing the younger Elf away. Dínnor stumbled back, standing in indecision. “Legolas,” the Guardian reminded, his eyes resolute.
In the darkness, Dínnor was not sure where exactly Rafél was hurt. The smell of blood was distinctive. He battled with himself, knowing that leaving Rafél would be a mistake. Yet carrying out the other’s order was nothing he desired to do more.
Branches rustled. Sound of feet thrumming the earth drew nearer. Shouts and screams, banging of metal against metal. The Orcs were dangerously near now.
“I will accompany you back to the others,” Dínnor offered, reaching out with his hand.
Rafél shook his head, yet stepped away from the tree. “I can manage it on my own. Just go ahead and see to our Prince.” His eyes strayed in the darkness, and a moment later, three Elves appeared. He recognised Thrénandu’s warriors immediately. “Go,” he said again, nodding at Dínnor. “I will be right behind you.”
With a reluctant nod on his own, Dínnor took a step back. Then he turned around and sprinted to the darkness, silently as a wind.
Rafél looked after him, making sure the other Sinda did as he was told. Then he moved forth himself, sensing the other three hovering near. He did not know if they had come to hold back the enemies, or to see for their missing companions. I would assume the first, knowing Thrénandu. If we do not meet the horses immediately outside the forest, we are forced to meet the Orcs in a battle. And the outcome of such a clash was all too certain. They could not win.
“)The others go nearer to the enemy lines(,” one of the Elves spoke up, falling into hurried step beside Rafél. “)I shall remain beside you.(” It was an offer the guardian was only too glad to take.
“)You understand that two archers do not stand against such a force as we have behind us?(” Rafél asked quietly.
The other Elf nodded. “)They will merely slow them down. In the trees, they should be quite safe…(” A sudden, high-pitched cry of pain, somewhere behind them, and the following howls of Orcs, spoke volumes. The Elf swallowed, refusing to look back.
Rafél, on his side, looked behind them. He needed to evaluate the distance to the enemies. He had seen enough of his companions fall so not to be shaken by death – even if it never stopped to hurt to see an immortal life, gone and wasted. He did not know if they could make it. The forest’s edge stood before them, but the Orcs were not slowing down as he was. “Aronnen,” he spoke to the other, using the Elf’s name to wake him from a terrified silence. “)Just go ahead. I can –(”
“Nay, Lord,” Aronnen answered, switching into Westron haltingly. His eyes gleamed in the darkness as he met Rafél’s gaze. “I shall not leave. You are wounded, and above all, you were one of the warriors who taught me to never let a kinsman alone.”
Rafél couldn’t help but smile. True – he had spent his time with novices, Aronnen among them. “Very well,” he whispered, trying to speed up into a slow trot. The pain refused to leave his mind, but he was still able to push it aside some. Let it hover and wait. Soon, it won’t matter anymore… He saw the edge of the forest. The trees grew more sparsely now, leaving them free room to move.
Harsh, guttural cry pierced the air. An arrow embedded itself to a tree between the now running Elves. They maybe caught a glimpse of the open land beyond the trees – but the Orcs also saw them.
Story Info / Part two...