Chapter 4: Run
The forest was darker than Legolas had imagined. The elfling slowed to a halt, and looked around. He could feel that dawn was not afar; the fog was heavy and damp upon his skin. Legolas squinted through the night. The fog and the darkness made it difficult to see. The trees looked unfamiliar and scary in the dark. And the voice...the voice was gone.
"Nana?" he called, hope brightening his nervous features. He gripped his small bow tight, and looked around. The sodden ground swallowed up his feet with ravenous appetite, having been battered by relentless rain for weeks. Legolas wrinkled his nose, and trudged on.
"Nana," he called again. An edge of anxiety laced his voice.
Legolas looked about uneasily. The trees were whispering something dark and foreboding in hushed voices. The dark air chilled him to the bone. He clutched his bow even tighter. Where was Nana? He was sure he had heard right. The voice that had so often called his name. The musical laughter, the gentle voice. And the scream.
Legolas' heart began to pound fast. Had he lost her again? But this was the same path they had taken on that day – the path directed at Rivendell.
Legolas took a deep breath, looking out into the darkness again. What if she had been here all this time, while everyone believed her to be lost?
At this thought, the elfling's feet began to move automatically. "I'm coming Nana," he called out as he ran deeper into the forest. "Don't go!"
The thick fog swallowed the child as he quickly disappeared into the sinister darkness.
Gandalf growled in frustration. He had been tracking for Valar knew how long, and yet there was no good news coming his way. I shouldn't have let him go, he chided himself silently. I am such a fool. Should have seen it coming, with this evil fog.
With another effort at patience, he bent over the wet earth and inspected the trail. He could barely make out the footprints of the light-weighted elfling; he had the rain-trampled dirt to thank for what little clue it did provide.
Slowly making his way through the tangle of trees and bushes, Gandalf wondered once again why Legolas had acted the way he had. The prince had finished crying, the wizard had wiped his tears and smiled at him – all was well, and Gandalf was ready to walk back into the castle with the elfling. But something had stirred in the air; he did not know what, but he was sure of it, for the elfling beside him stopped abruptly. Before Gandalf could question his behavior, he cried, 'Nana!' and sped into the ominous darkness of the forest.
Gandalf growled once again. Legolas was swift; the elfling could no doubt make his way through the mesh of thorns and branches quicker than the old wizard. He may have lost the prince already, for all he knew. Gandalf looked up into the trees and gripped his staff firmly. Somewhere in the darkness lurked a great deal of dangerous creatures. Yet he dared not use his magic to brighten the way, for that would give away his presence. It was likely that Legolas, despite his age and lack of experience, would be able to slip into the forest unnoticed; Gandalf did not want to put the elfling in danger by awakening the creatures of the night. The wizard grunted and quieted his footfall as he hurried along a small path laid out before him.
Where is that elfling? He glanced back over his shoulder, frustration building in his veins. And what is taking his father so long?
Things were becoming more dangerous by the minute. The longer Legolas stayed out here, he knew, the less chance he had of survival.
The wizard hastened on through the obscure darkness. He knew he would have to save his strength; he may need his magic later.
Gandalf desperately hoped things would not come to that.
Legolas looked around, bewildered. Had he not heard his mother's voice? Surely it was her. He knew her voice by heart. But why was she not here?
Every time he ran closer, it seemed that she would move away farther, laughing and calling for him to follow. Was this some kind of trickery of the mind? He clutched his bow tighter, cold sweat breaking out upon damp skin.
"Legolas," called the soothing voice again. He turned, eyes brightening with joy. But there was no one there. No deep, sparkling blue eyes. No tumbling golden hair. No warm hands reaching out. The elfling's spirit fell. And suddenly, Legolas felt very tired. And afraid.
"Nana," he called out once more. The weak, helpless voice dissipated into the hungry darkness. Legolas slowly sank to his knees, hanging his head. He was far away from home, and from safety. He was lost in a dark place where evil monsters roamed. And he was very much alone.
"Ah, look at the poor little elfling."
Legolas jerked his head up, and sprang to his feet reflexively. He looked wildly about. A low chuckle could be heard among the trees. The prince tensed, and stared with anticipation through the dense fog.
Slowly, black shadows moved. Legolas suddenly moved back, eyes widening. He was surrounded by big, horrible creatures – he had seen them before. On that day, when they were traveling to Rivendell. These monsters had been there – they had come with spiders. The prince's breath was quick and short as he swiftly reached back to pull an arrow out of his quiver.
Cold fear crept into his senses as Legolas remembered what his father had told him about the semi-magical creatures that bordered the fringes of their forest. They use foul tricks, Thranduil had told him. They imitate the voices of their unfortunate victims to lure innocent creatures to their doom. They are evil and deserve no mercy.
The elfling's eyes narrowed in anger as he carefully aligned the arrow with the bow. Why had he not seen it before? His father had reminded him countless times to never go out into the forest alone. Especially at night...
"Are you looking for your Nana?" snickered one of the orcs surrounding him. Legolas quickly turned to point his arrow at him. His bold stare seemed to greatly amuse the orcs, for they burst into laughter.
"What brilliant hair you have," smirked another orc. He moved closer to the prince. "You must be the litter of that she-elf from long ago, and that...Thranduil," he mused, reaching out to touch the child's golden hair. Legolas swiftly turned his arrow point at this orc, backing away slowly.
The orc snickered. "Are you scared, elfling? Aren't you looking for your Nana?" His eyes glimmered with dark malice. "We can tell you where she is."
Legolas stepped further back, his eyes never leaving the enemies surrounding him, until he found himself standing against an aged tree. The twisted bark of the trunk bit into his skin through the light tunic. "I don't believe you." The child's voice stung with cold ferocity.
Another howl of laughter ensued. Legolas looked around, struggling to swallow down his anxiety. The orcs were nearing him slowly, completely cutting off all routes of escape. He bit his lip as a resolute gleam of determination settled in his eyes. He steadied his aim upon the chest of the biggest orc. If they left him no way out, he would make one.
"Are you going to shoot?" exclaimed the orc, in mock surprise. "Shoot, if you want! Let's see how well you kill." Another fit of laughter.
Legolas swallowed. He didn't find this situation humorous. Why were these orcs laughing? Weren't they afraid? Legolas furrowed his brow. Maybe they were not afraid because they knew he was no match for all of them. Maybe...because he could not kill them.
Legolas risked a glance at the tip of his arrow. Was he capable of killing? If he shot the arrow into the heart of an orc, instead of a painted target, would the orc die?
If the orc died, where would he go? Would he go to the Hall of Mandos?
"I think the poor elfling is scared." The amused voice was right next to his ear. Legolas jumped away, eyes wide, and quickly pointed his arrow at the orc that had snuck up from the side. The orc simply tilted his head.
"Such a pity. You will kill us all without finding your Nana?" Laughter crackled again, and Legolas's knuckles whitened around his bow. Who did these horrific creatures think they were? He gritted his teeth, but reminded himself that these orcs had imitated the voice of his mother. Then that meant they had heard her voice...
The child's teeth bit on soft lips painfully. What if they did know? After all, it had only been five years, and his hair had only grown a finger's length since then. Perhaps she could be found. Perhaps...
"Where is she?" The childlike voice was shaky but demanding. The orcs snickered among themselves, elbowing one another knowingly. The orc from his side stepped closer, and stretched his arms out toward the dark sky. He gave a gleeful yelp.
"She is right where you left her, of course!" Shrieks of laughter followed. "We can take you there, if you want."
Legolas narrowed his eyes. Never trust them, Thranduil had told him. Never trust anyone who is not an elf.
Abruptly the laughter stopped; all dark eyes turned threateningly toward the small elfling who boldly stood his ground.
"Do you think so, elfling?" The voice was menacing. Legolas flinched, but did not loosen his grip on the bow. The orc approached him, slowly. "Do you really believe you can shoot that, little elf?" He tilted his head. A bitter, hard smile came to his lips. "You can't kill. You don't know what death is."
The air was hushed. Legolas swallowed nervously. He had never shot an arrow into living flesh before. He was sure it would hurt.
"I can take you quickly, little one," continued the orc, amidst the silence. "I can bring you faster than the wind to where your Nana went."
Legolas glared again at the mention of the name. "Where did she go?" he demanded skeptically.
Again, snickers could be heard here and there. "How cute, the elfling doesn't know where his Nana went..." "Maybe we should keep him as a pet..." "Surely would be fun to play with..." "Not every day you come across little elves..."
Legolas looked around, alarmed at the content of the leaking pieces of conversation. He readjusted his grip on the bow. The night felt intensely hot, as the chill of the fog licked his small form. His palm was slick with sweat. "Stay away," he warned.
"Then shoot." The orc spread his arms wide. "If you can."
Shock replaced amusement as the orc staggered a few steps back. Before him the elfling stood, hands frozen in midair. A hush fell into the mist.
The orc slowly raised his arm, gingerly fingering the arrow that protruded from his chest. His eyes were disbelieving as his fingers traced the blood that ran down his body.
"You..." The breath came out in ragged gasps. He slowly fell; then he moved no more.
Amid the silence, Legolas stared at the black puddle of blood, bewilderment tumbling about his young face. What had he done? What just happened? He looked at his hands. He had not thought of releasing the arrow. He did not intend to kill. But the orc was trying to hurt him.
Legolas shifted unconsciously. Something was blinking in his mind. Some taboo knowledge, a forbidden truth. He felt that he knew what it was; he could almost grasp it, but it continued to blink erratically, barely out of the mind's reach.
But not for long. He knew what it was. The blinking – it had stopped, but now Legolas wished, cold dread sinking into his stomach, that it had not. This was what it looked like – Death.
The child swallowed hard. A shiver ran up his spine; slowly, hauntingly, it spread through his body and gripped him with a feeling he did not understand. Fear. Horror. Dread. Legolas did not know what to name this new emotion that came with the knowledge that he, his father's sweet little Greenleaf, had killed a living creature.
Legolas slowly approached the fallen figure. Had he killed him in just one shot of an arrow? Was this – swift and thoughtless killing – was this what the archery practices were about? Is this how Nana had...died?
Legolas' body felt heavy and cold. Eyes rooted on the unmoving body on the ground, he slowly reached out with a shaky hand – and stopped.
Raising his head to meet the shocked gazes of the surrounding orcs, Legolas quickly glanced at the hole in the circle of orcs. He jumped to his side, and in a blinding motion, whizzed past the stunned creatures.
The orcs broke out of their stupefied stares. "After him, fools!" cried an angry orc, as they hurriedly moved to catch the elfling.
Legolas heard the arrow, but not soon enough. He swung wide to the right, and stumbled when he felt a burning pain ripping through his left shoulder blade. With a startled cry, the elfling fell to his knees; that was enough for the orcs. They pounced, and soon the elfling was pinned unto the muddy ground, struggling under the weight of his captors.
"Let me go!" The child screamed in rage, thrashing about madly. The weight upon his body made movement excruciatingly painful, but he forced his muscles to twitch, to writhe, to find any way out of their grip. They were bad. They were hurting him, and they wanted to hurt him more. They had done bad things to his mother. It was their fault. It wasn't his fault; it was theirs. All their fault.
He screamed again, this time in pain, when the shaft of the arrow protruding from his shoulder broke against the sodden ground, allowing the sharp point to bury itself deeper into his tender skin.
"Stop your screaming, little slug!" An orc clamped his huge hand upon the child's small mouth. Muffled screams ensued, followed by more kicking and thrashing, as the orcs tried to subdue the violent little creature.
Suddenly the orc who had been gagging Legolas yelped in pain. He jumped up and howled, clutching his hand. Down his wrist slid black streams of blood.
"Serves you right, fool," snickered another orc, as he grabbed the elfling's braid of hair and jerked him upright into a sitting position. "We need him to speak; we need his voice." He gazed into the eyes of the elfling. Other orcs surrounded them, tightly restraining the child's small limbs.
Legolas glared at the smirking orc with intense blue fire in his eyes. He spat black blood onto the face of the orc and received a harsh slap in return. He felt the taste of his own warm blood. The fact that he bled red, unlike the orcs, was a grim and meager solace.
"Temper like that she-elf," muttered the orc, wiping his face. He yanked a handful of the child's golden braid once again, drawing a cry of pain. "Your royal family sure stands out from the rest."
Legolas glared again, and muttered something in a language the orcs did not understand. He received another harsh blow upon the face. He bit back a cry, and glared at the orc. Then he threw his head back unto the night sky and screamed an ancient incantation of a curse in the incomprehensible tongue.
"Silence, you!" In a flash, Legolas landed hard on his back. He struggled in a defiant attempt to raise himself up, but screamed again in hot pain when rough hands pushed him down by the stubby arrow shaft lodged in his shoulder.
"I could be nice, little one," hissed the orc, close to his ear. Legolas desperately squirmed, turning away from the foul breath. "I can take you to your Nana..."
"You lie!" the child cried again, and with renewed vigor despite the painful wound, began to thrash violently. "You killed her!"
A wild echo of laughter filled the dense forest air. The orcs were howling with glee, unable to contain their amusement. Legolas took the chance to quickly sit up. Though his breath was ragged from pain, the elfling's eyes burned with intense hate.
"We killed your Nana? And what do you know about killing, little one? What do you know about Death?" An orc from the side laughed.
"No, little elfling, we aren't the ones who killed your Nana." The orc before him leaned closer, eyes gleaming darkly. Legolas stared back. "The one who killed your Nana was you."
Legolas blinked, staring at the orc in disbelief. What did this monster think he was saying? His eyes narrowed in anger, and keeping the hateful gaze upon the orc before him, he screamed again.
This time, the blow was hard. Very hard. The elfling gasped, and sank into the ground. Air refused to come into his lungs; breathing became painfully laborious, and his eyelids began to feel unbearably heavy. Don't fall asleep, he whispered to himself ferociously. If you fall asleep, Ada won't be able to hear you. Keep awake. Keep screaming.
"We really must silence this creature before he awakens the whole forest," mumbled an orc from afar. "Will you hurry? We can play once we get further away from the palace."
The orc that had struck Legolas bent down to inspect the hazy, unfocused eyes. "He sleeps," he announced, and grabbed him roughly by the collar. "We will take him – he is surely the elf-king's son." He stood.
It was then that a sudden flash of white light tore through the trees. The dark creatures shrieked in terror as the blinding rays fell upon them. The elfling was dumped unceremoniously onto the ground.
From the dazzling brightness stepped out the gray-clad form of the wizard. Gandalf stood before the panicking orcs, stern eyes scouring through the numerous bodies occupying the clearing. His gaze then fell upon the helpless heap of an elfling on the ground. He hurried toward the hunched body.
"Back, old slime! He is mine!" screamed one of the orcs, lunging at the elfling. But he was met with a more brilliant explosion of light, as he found himself knocked hard across the head in a swift stroke. He yelped and blindly scrambled away, whimpering in pain.
Gandalf reached down and lightly shook the still form. "Awaken, young Thranduilion." His voice was gentle but urgent.
Legolas stirred, a feeble moan escaping his lips. Gandalf grabbed his arm and began to pull upward, but dropped the arm with surprise when the elfling cried sharply in pain. The wizard's eyes widened at the sight of blood running down the length of the elfling's body. Legolas panted, eyes watering, and slowly gathered himself. Gandalf watched grimly as the elfling gritted his teeth and stood, somewhat shakily. Then the pair of blue orbs turned to the wizard, and widened in pale disbelief.
"Gandalf." The whisper was voiceless.
The wizard reached out with one hand and held the prince close, while continuing to hold up his glowing staff with the other hand. The brilliance of the light was fast burning out. He slowly bent down and brought his mouth close the elfling's ears. The chilly darkness stilled as he breathed a fierce whisper.
To Be Continued