buggering… hell..!’ Elle mentally panted while attempting
to not look completely knackered. The four had been running ceaselessly for
longer than she cared to think about. Only now had they stopped for a moment so
that Aragorn could track the Uruk-hai through the vibrations in the stone, to
Elle it looked like he was taking a nap but she thought it best not to say
anything. She took the opportunity to plonk herself down on one of the rocks to
rub her feet, the elvish boots she wore were light and comfortable so it was
surprising that after so much use they were still as fine as they had been the
first time she had put them on. It occurred to Elle that even though it was not
technically her body, this had been the most exercise she had ever done in her
life! All of her previous hobbies were either on computers or paper
and so she had little love of running, or any form of strenuous exercise. In
fact she was sure that if she combined all the movement she had ever done since
she was born, it would be about the same as the amount of running she had done
since being in Middle-Earth. They had neither slept nor ate since the hobbits
had been taken and Elle had had little time to process the sadness she felt for
Boromir’s passing. She supposed the running had helped; the repetitive motion
had given her time to think while all she had to do was follow the leader.
“Their pace has quickened… they must have caught our sent. Hurry!” Aragorn yelled as he sprang from the rock. With a heavy sigh Elle stood back up and made to follow the ranger. As the elleth moved to catch up Legolas fell instep beside her before he turned his head towards the dwarf and encouraged him to keep up. She looked at him flatly to which he gave her a confused tilt of his head.
“Aren’t you exhausted?” The elves ran a little behind the ranger but still a fair way ahead of the dwarf.
“I am a little uncomfortable but that will not impede our quest to rescue the hobbits. Have no fear we will save them.” He said with a roguish smile she had not noticed before, it was a real smile not a small tweak at the corner of his lips. At that moment she was thankful that Eircassiel’s cheeks didn’t flush easily.
“No, I meant that… never mind.” She sighed as she pulled her eyes from him and to the dwindling figure of the Dúnadan that had ran ahead. Who knew he had so much stamina, she thought momentarily allowing her mind to wander and then her eyes landed upon Legolas. Shaking her head she cleared the throat.
“What is on your mind?” Legolas inquired innocently referring to her previous statement.
‘Bad Elle!’ She chided herself. Then she paused in her thoughts trying to remember what she had been saying before her mind had wandered.
“Oh, er, yes. It’s just that continuously running for days isn’t exactly easy for those who aren’t of the elvish persuasion.” Elle subtly gestured towards the dwarf that had been huffing and puffing behind them.
“What of Aragorn? He is not of the elven.” He pointed out.
“Yeah well… I’m not sure why he has not passed out yet.” Elle shrugged. “But my point was that telling Gimli to hurry up will not make his legs carry him faster.”
“Clearly you have not known many dwarves, lady.” She flashed him a curious look before he continued. “They are a very proud people and love the gentle rivalry between our races.”
“So you do it to encourage him… and for fun?” She asked slowly.
“Yes.” He smiled before surging forward to catch Aragorn.
It had been hours and miles between their conversations for Elle found it difficult to run and chat for long periods of time. She was simply too tired yet her body felt pretty much okay. Elle decided that her human mind and elven body were a little out of sorts. She had never been awake this long; the closest she had ever come was, ironically enough, a lord of the rings extended edition movie night… with Chris. She wondered how far her best friend had gotten, whether they were in the company of Gollum and if she had to fight of some twist caused by Morgoth’s influence. Elle hoped that Varda would hurry up and rally the other Valar already. Being in in Middle-Earth in the middle of a war was one thing but also having to watch out for the possibility of some kind of cosmic meddling was kinda hard.
“Not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall.” Elle almost tripped over her own feet. She had not noticed the man stop to pick up the elven broach and had to move back to inspect the gilded leaf.
“They may still be alive.” Legolas said clasping Aragorn on the shoulder.
“I should bloody hope so!” Elle said under her breath, obviously having heard the comment the elf looked up at her. “I mean yay.” She amended a little awkwardly.
“Less than a day ahead of us. Come!” The three started running again at a newly invigorated pace.
“Come, Gimli! We are gaining on them!” Legolas called to Gimli before he shot a look towards Elle.
“I am wasted on cross-country! We dwarves are natural sprinters! Very dangerous over short distances!” Gimli blustered between heavy pants, Elle couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Then we will be sure to test that when this is over.” She teased over her shoulder.
“Aye lass, I shall hold you to that!” The dwarf huffed as he made to catch up. When she looked up she noticed the look Legolas was wearing.
“What? So you are the only one that can banter with Gimli?” She snickered as the elf simply shrugged nonchalantly.
Soon they ran through a rocky pass and up a grassy high rise. The four paused as they looked at the land that was suddenly laid out before them. Mostly grassy planes and flat lands with large boulders sporadically placed. That was pretty much it, just rocks and grass. Elle sighed heavily, she could not see any sign of anything. Meaning they had a hell of a lot more running to do.
“Rohan. Home of the horse-lords. There is something strange at work here. Some evil gives speed to these creatures, sets its will against us.” Aragorn spoke the familiar words but he had no idea how true his words had become.
‘You have no idea.’ She thought quietly to herself. Legolas ran ahead down the side of the hill and onto an outcropping of rock.
“Legolas, what do your elf-eyes see?” Aragorn called as they made to catch up to the elf.
“The Uruks turn northeast. They’re taking the Hobbits to Isengard!” He said in disbelief, but Elle didn’t really notice as her mind suddenly went to the youtube remix song.
‘Do dodo do dodo dooo!’ She mentally sang not wanting to spoil the moment. ‘Damn I miss the internet…’
It felt as if they were playing some kind of tug of war with the Orcs. One moment they would be right on top of the rabble and the next minute they would be trailing behind chasing the creatures from a vast distance. At some point in the night they had lost them. Elle wasn’t quite sure how, in fact she was sure they should have caught up to them already. But that morning the sky had been smeared with a crimson hue and she knew that the hobbits had fled to Fangorn Forest and would be safe.
The sound of hooves and horns had the four nestled behind a particularly large boulder waiting for some sign that they be friend or foe. A large group of horsemen galloped passed their hiding place with their banners raised they were identified as friend. Aragorn moved out first followed by Elle then Gimli and Legolas.
“Riders of Rohan, what news from the Mark?” Aragorn called causing the group to turn around and surround them. It was more than a little unsettling for Elle, especially when they all pointed their weapons at their throats. A rider burst from the ranks, Elle assumed it was Éomer, and looked at them with suspicion.
“What business do two elves, a man and a dwarf have in the Riddermark? Speak quickly!” He snapped menacingly at them.
“Give me your name, Horsemaster, and I shall give you mine.” Gimli said in a way that would make you think we were in his home instead of Éomer’s. Quickly the man dismounted and marched towards the dwarf causing Aragorn to place a steadying hand on his shoulder.
“I would cut off your head, Dwarf, if it stood but a little higher from the ground.” The Rohirrim warrior spat. Within the blink of an eye Legolas had an arrow pointed at Éomer.
“You would die before your stroke fell!” The spears drew closer as all present grew tenser.
“Woah, chill!” Elle couldn’t help but blurt. “Testosterone much.” She muttered as she crossed her arms while Aragorn lowered Legolas’ bow. Gimli released a relieved sigh while Legolas stared at Éomer with an icy anger.
“I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn. This is Gimli, son of Gloin, Legolas of the Woodland Realm and Eircassiel of Imladris. We are friends of Rohan and of Théoden, your king.” The ranger spoke quickly hoping to ease the tension. Subtly Elle brushed her fingers over the back of Legolas’ hand and gave him a weak smile.
“Théoden no longer recognises friend from foe. Not even his own kin.” Éomer removed his helmet, the spears were withdrawn and Elle felt the situation was a hell of a lot better. “Saruman has poisoned the mind of the king and claimed lordship over these lands. My company are those loyal to Rohan. And for that, we are banished. The White Wizard is cunning. He walks here and there, they say, as an old man, hooded and cloaked. And everywhere his spies slip past our nets.”
“I can see where this is going.” Elle murmured knowing only Legolas’ ears were sharp enough to hear her. She noticed the slightest of nods from him.
“We are no spies. We track a party of Uruk-hai westward across the plain. They’ve taken two of our friends captive.” Aragorn explained causing a flash of recognition and realisation to cross Éomer’s face.
“The Uruks are destroyed. We slaughtered them during the night.” It may have been the first time Éomer had ever felt bad about slaughtering a rabble of orc.
“But there were two hobbits. Did you see two hobbits with them?” Gimli asked with desperation sounding in his voice.
“They would be small- only children to your eyes.” Aragorn elaborated.
“Curly hair, chubby cheeks… fuzzy feet?” Elle tried. He looked only more uncomfortable as they spoke.
“We left none alive. We piled the carcasses and burned them.” As the horseman spoke he pointed to a smoking hill that Elle had not noticed before.
“Dead?” Gimli clarified with sorrow heavy on his tongue. Éomer nodded gravely before he spoke again.
“I am sorry.” He then turned and whistled. Legolas placed a comforting hand upon Gimli’s shoulder in grief while Elle laced her fingers with the saddened prince’s.
“Hasufel! Arod!” He called and two horses moved from the ranks. “May these horses bear you better fortune than their former masters. Farewell.” The horseman then replaced his helmet and got back up onto his horse. “Look for your friends but do not trust to hope, it has forsaken these lands. We ride north!” The last he said to his company of riders who then rode away watched by the four hobbit hunters.
On they rode towards the smouldering hill, Elle on the back of Aragorn’s horse, the closer they got the fouler the stench became. She thought normal orcs smelled bad but flame grilling them was in no way cleansing of the scent. Soon they dismounted and hurried towards the steaming pile of death. Elle wasn’t sure if her elven nose was sharper or not but she could not get too close, she assumed Legolas was having a similar problem as he did not stray too close.
“It’s one of their wee belts.” Gimli exclaimed as he held up a charred scrap of leather that once held the beauty and craftsmanship of the elves.
“Hiro hyn hîdh… ab 'wanath...” Legolas spoke with his head bent and eyes closed. Elle touched a hand to his shoulder as Aragorn yelled in defeated sorrow and fell to his knees.
“I’m sure they will.” She soothed as his eyes looked up at hers with a look of confusion mixed in with the sorrow.
“Heniach nin?” He asked her disbelievingly.
“Of course I do.” Elle spoke cautiously. Legolas looked as if he was going to say more before they noticed what Aragorn was doing.
“A hobbit lay here, and the other.” He moved with the tracks. “They crawled.” The elves glanced at each other before following Gimli who was trying to see the tracks that had given Aragorn hope. “Their hands were bound…” He moved through the grass and dirt before coming across some frayed rope. “Their bonds were cut.” As he spoke excitement began to colour his words. “They ran over here… They were followed.” They began to speed up their pace as Aragorn watched the battle through the marks on the earth. “The tracks lead away from the battle…” They stopped just before the thick trees that loomed over them. “…into Fangorn Forest.”
“Fangorn. What madness drove them in there?” Gimli spoke dumbfounded.
“The same madness that will drive us to follow them.” Elle said as she placed her hand on his shoulder. “Hope.”
‘Okay, that sounded corny.’ She thought as they made their way into the dense and dark forest.
They had been travelling through the forest for several hours. Elle wasn’t sure if she was glad of the change, they were no longer running but the woods gave her an uneasy feeling. Gently she placed a hand on the thick bark of a tree. She wondered if it could talk and what it would say. Hearing Gimli splutter she turned to see him wiping something from his hand.
“Eck! Orc blood!”
“Gimli! Did you just put that in your mouth?!” She asked incredulously. “Seriously ew!” Glancing over at the others Elle was sure she saw Legolas roll his eyes.
Further still they ventured into the forest following the tracks that Elle could not make out.
“These are strange tracks.” Aragorn said after a while.
‘That’ll be Treebeard.’ Elle nodded, pleased that the hobbits were safe.
“The air is so close in here.” Gimli remarked. Elle wondered if it was just the trees that made him uneasy, as when they were in Moria he had never noted how stuffy the air had become or it could have been that he had become used to open spaces with all the running about they had been doing of late.
“This forest is old. Very old. Full of memory… and anger.” Legolas perceived, was it an elvish thing to feel the emotions of the trees? Or perhaps it was simply because he hailed from Mirkwood that he was so good at reading the forest. At any rate, elf or not, Elle had no idea how the trees were feeling. Loud echoing groans sounded through the forest causing Gimli to raise his weapon in alarm.
“The trees are speaking to each other!” The elf exclaimed.
“Gimli!” Aragorn whispered urgently to which the dwarf gave a confused grunt. “Lower your axe.” As he spoke he gestured lowering his arms.
“Oh!” Quickly the dwarf lowered his axe.
“They have feelings my friend. The elves began it; waking up the trees, teaching them to speak.” The prince looked around at the trees with a sense of awe in his words.
“Talking trees, what do trees have to talk about? Except the consistency of squirrel droppings?” He muttered to himself as the four moved on.
“Gimli, I’m sure even trees would find that dull.” She laughed. “Besides I’m sure they find the fuzzy creatures too annoying to study their crap.”
“Aragorn, nad no ennas!” Legolas said suddenly stopping sharply.
“Man cenich?” Aragorn asked cautiously.
“The white wizard approaches.” He said in a tone of anger.
“Do not let him speak. He will put a spell on us.” The ranger warned as he wrapped his hand around the hilt of his sword. Gimli’s hold on his axe tightened as Legolas swiftly notched an arrow, Elle considered not drawing her weapons as she knew it was Gandalf but decided it would raise too many questions if she did not. Slowly she drew her blades. “We must be quick.” He warned before they turned to attack the light that appeared.
Gimli threw his axe and Legolas loosed an arrow towards the light figure but both were easily deflected. If she had been looking Elle would have seen Aragorn drop his red hot sword but her elven blades too had become blisteringly hot.
“Mother f-” She stopped herself as she cradled her singed fingers.
“You are tracking the footsteps of two young hobbits.” The multiple voices echoed through the warm light that shined upon them, like Galadriel, the light reminded Elle of Varda.
“Where are they?” Aragorn demanded.
“They passed this way the day before yesterday. They met someone they did not expect. Does that comfort you?” As he spoke the voices sounded more like the wizard they knew.
“Who are you? Show yourself!” The ranger asked doubting the identity of the figure before them as foe. The light dimmed at his request to reveal Gandalf in gleaming white robes. “It cannot be.”
“Forgive me!” Both elf and dwarf fell to their knees. “I mistook you for Saruman.” Legolas apologised to the wizard.
“I am Saruman. Or rather, Saruman as he should have been.” Gandalf clarified with a twinkle in his eye. He went on to explain how he fought and defeated the Balrog, and how he died. When he mentioned the stars he glanced over at Elle and she knew for sure that he was aware of her mission but she remained quiet. “I’ve been sent back until my task is done.”
“Gandalf!” Aragorn said with awe.
“Gandalf? Yes… That was what they used to call me. Gandalf the Grey. That was my name.” He said happily as if proud to remember himself.
“Gandalf!” Gimli with emotions thick in his throat.
“I am Gandalf the white. And I come back to you now at the turn of the tide.” He said as he lead them through the forest once again.
‘Hmm, I wonder if there is a drinking game for how many times they say Gandalf? If there was I’m pretty sure everyone would be gone after that little conversation.”
“One stage of your journey is over, another begins. We must ride to Edoras with all speed.” The wizard announced.
‘Here we go then.’ Elle thought as they began to move to the edges of the forest.
Hiro hyn hîdh… ab 'wanath... - May they find peace in death
Heniach nin? – Do you understand me?
Aragorn, nad no ennas! – Aragorn, something’s out there!
Man cenich? – What do you see?