Author's Note: The fragment of the song is Galadriel's Lament from LOTR. It pretty much says everything that needed to be said! And I borrowed a bit from Bilbo's travel mentality in The Hobbit. See if you can find where I slipped that in!
Chapter 12: The Breaking
The elves rose before dawn to make their final farewells, ready their horses, and gather their belongings. The Golden Wood fell silent, and the only sign of its breaking was the whispered murmurs of namarië, farewell in the elven tongue.
Legolas looked upon the Lady of the Wood for the final time in Middle Earth. She sat upon a white palfry, clasping her husband's hand in this moment of their parting. The promise of unshed tears deepened her eyes to the color of twilight.
Legolas saw Farothin and Haldir saying their goodbyes, and glimpsed Miredhel sitting soundlessly upon her horse, her eyes fixated on the beloved trees of her homeland. He had sent Eledhel to check over the young saplings they had prepared to take to Gondor as a present for the King Elessar.
Celeborn's voice rang out above the trees as the sun's first light began to illuminate the horizon. "Go now with many blessings to the havens, Ithilien, or wherever the Valar may lead you."
With Legolas' signal, the host of elves turned west to make for the southern rim of Eryn Lasgalen, but Lady Galadriel's party headed east for Imladris to meet up with Lord Elrond before taking to the havens. Legolas rode in the front, flanked by Eledhel, Sulindal, and Belegil. To Farothin, he had given the task of scouting the road ahead, and the young elf had more than eagerly agreed to such a responsibility.
As the procession passed the city gate, Legolas' ears pricked to distinguish a single voice, low and lilting, singing of farewell and the fall of leaves like gold in the wind. His gaze darted to Belegil. Did he hear it? Legolas shook his head. He must have dreamt it. None of his companions showed any sign of hearing such a song. He glanced toward Eledhel to see a solitary tear clinging to his lashes. Eledhel had heard. Now Belegil and his brother turned their heads to look back toward the long line of elves. They now heard the silken strains too, some of the old words replaced by new:
Ai! Laurie lantar lassi surinen,
Yeni unotime ve ramar aldaron!
Yeni ve linte yuldar avanier
Mi ormardi lise-miruvoreva,
Namarie, Lorien, Namarie!
The silvery notes dressed the air like fat dew drops hanging from pine needles. Her lament rose in the clear morning chasing the sun's slow creep over the horizon. Now all heard. Another voice joined her, a baritone, lending a peaceful balance that was not there before. Legolas craned his neck to discover that the duet was brother and sister, Eledhel and Miredhel. He caught Eledhel's eye only to read the pain that lingered there.
"We will take this road together, my friend," he said softly and then joined in the song. His tenor voice rang sweetly with that of his friends'. Soon more of the host united in song, finding comfort in the refrain of their elven voices. The passage of the elves seemed but a flash and shimmer through the Golden Wood, their chorus, only a haunting spectre of an age forgotten.
They reached the edge of the wood by midday. Middle Earth lay open before them. Legolas knew these paths well. The way was easy but not necessarily safe. Even with the defeat of Sauron, the enemy still lurked at large. Legolas worried for the safety of his convoy. With such a large number, they could not slip past unnoticed. He hoped that the size of his party would deter most rogue bands of orcs. Still, the elves would have to keep up their guard, which is exactly why he sent Farothin ahead to scout.
Farothin had been waiting for them as per Legolas' instructions. He wanted to know if the young hunter had seen any signs of trouble.
"What news, scout?" asked Legolas, and he gave a signal for the company to halt.
"There was some evidence that trouble may be afoot, my lord," Farothin reported.
"Orcs?" questioned Legolas.
"More than likely. I saw some prints back at…" Farothin began.
"…the old guards' flets?" guessed Legolas.
"Yes, I saw those as well," agreed Eledhel. "Haldir would be none to happy if he knew of it!"
"Well, if you two were going to see everything anyways, I do not know why you bother to send me ahead to scout." Farothin looked pained.
"Nonsense, Farothin," Legolas said. "Those were old prints anyways. If you saw something really important, you would ride back and tell us."
"Our whole company's safety rides with you," Eledhel said solemnly.
"I will not fail this trust." Farothin saluted and remounted his horse. "I will meet up with you again at the great river. Namarië!" He called and rode away toward the open sky.
"Farothin is a little over-zealous, is he not?" Belegil remarked to his brother.
"Aye, but that is exactly why Legolas chose him for the job," Sulindal replied.
"I cannot imagine any elf taking the task more seriously than he," Legolas added with a smile.
"Let us ride onward then to the river, else Farothin leave us behind!" Eledhel suggested and Legolas gave the signal. The company surged forward toward the open plain. As they began moving, a long elven banner streamed forth, caught high in the breeze.
"What is that?" Eledhel asked Belegil, jerking his head toward the flag. Legolas overheard and turned to look as well. His eyes widened in surprise. He stared at it for a moment, speechless. For here was clearly a banner made-up for Ithilien, yet he had given no elf any such orders to do so.
"Lady Limaer carries it. Shall I go and suggest that she roll it up for now?" Belegil asked.
"No, Belegil. I will handle this," Legolas and he whispered to Arod to turn around. He hastened down the side of the procession, passing Miredhel along the way. Their eyes briefly met, and he gave her a formal nod. Curious, she slowed her mount's pace, falling back in the ranks so she might discover the object of the prince's sudden interest.
When the prince finally reached Limaer, the young elven lady frantically smoothed her curls and manufactured a smile. "Your Lordship," she gushed, "I am so that we are finally on our way. What an exciting adventure this will be!"
"Lady Limaer, I hope our journey will actually prove to be quite uneventful, which is why I must ask you to roll up that flag and put it away for now." Legolas said evenly.
"I made it myself for Ithilien…for you, my lord." The banner figured approximately three arms in length, tapering to a point at the end. She had worked a large leaf onto the fabric, emblazoned in green and gold.
"I am flattered, Lady Limaer, but I must ask you to bind it. We cannot risk drawing too much attention to our party." A visible pout formed on her lips. Legolas noticed that many of the other elves, including Miredhel, now watched the scene before them. "As soon as we reach safer territory, we will unfurl it to the admiration of all. I promise."
Lady Limaer considered his words and then reached for the banner, folding it up to stow in her baggage. She already considered different lines of conversation that she could discuss with the prince. If she were lucky, she could keep him by her side for the rest of the afternoon. Fortunately, Legolas' experience quickly allowed him to perceive the mindset of the young lady. He was in the middle of making his excuses to her when a shout rang out from the front of the line.
"My lord, make haste!"
"Excuse me, ladies. I am needed." Legolas said, urging his horse to gallop ahead. Questions flooded his mind. Why had Belegil and Eledhel thought it so necessary to shout? Something must have happened. Farothin's sudden reappearance confirmed his suspicions.
"What has happened? What news do you bring, Farothin?" Legolas kept his voice calm, but Farothin's ashen face worried him.
"I found something that I think you must see…" Farothin said unsteadily. "I have seen nothing like it before."
"Well, that is not really saying too much," Sulindal pointed out. "You are still young."
Farothin shot him a withering look. "I doubt that even Prince Legolas has seen the likes of it, and he is more traveled than us all."
"We will see," said Legolas. "How far from the company is it?"
"Not even a quarter of a league, but I think we should go alone. I don't think the rest of the elves should see this…not the ladies…not the children."
"That bleak, huh?" said Eledhel, a little surprised. He was certain that Farothin's find was nothing more than some mangled road-kill.
"Farothin, you, Eledhel, and I shall go investigate. Belegil, I want you and Sulindal to stay here. Alert the other warriors to the possibility of immediate danger. I want you to flank both sides of the company, weapons ready," Legolas ordered. He wished once more that their journey could pass uneventfully. It was not the last time he wished that!
He and Eledhel followed Farothin at full gallop. Much to his chagrin, Legolas could smell the site before he could see it. Burnt flesh, loads of it, and from the stench, Legolas surmised that the carcasses were orc. Upon sight, he knew the truth of the matter. Heaping mounds of swollen, twisted black bodies littered the path before them. Even the ground was a rotted red. Some of the orcs' bodies still smoked, polluting the air with a yellow-gray haze.
"Farothin," Eledhel complained loudly, "have you not ever seen us burn the bodies of the ors we killed in the wood?"
"No, Eledhel. This is different," Legolas disagreed. He dismounted and walked to the nearest pile. The stink alone made him want to gag, but what he saw was worse. "Look at this," and he pointed to some of the limbs and heads, "these bodies did not die by the sword. This is not the work of elves or men or even dwarves…these bodies have been chewed on, eaten by someone or something…"
Eledhel and Farothin both blanched. Eledhel swung off his horse to survey the scene closer. He gingerly picked up a severed arm, still clenching onto a crude broad sword. He studied the ragged end, grey bone and ligaments.
"Ocs eat their own, do they not? Could they not have quarreled and then feasted on the remains of the victims?" Farothin guessed.
"No, I think not. Look at the splintering of the bone in this arm, as if it were snapped from the body by sheer force." Eledhel shuddered and dropped the arm in disgust. "And where is the rest of its body?" His eyes skirted the remains.
"This is a riddle. One I hope we may not have to solve," said Legolas as he knelt the clotted dust of the road, searching for clues. How he wished Aragorn were here with him! He could not make sense of the tracks. Some were clearly orcish, but the others—he had never before encountered.
"Perhaps we can count this as a blessing, Legolas. The tale of these orcs was at least fifty crouching in wait for an ambush, of presumably our party."
"Yes, but why are some of the bodies torched to a crisp, while others are not? What is the sense in it?" Farothin looked about in confusion. His sharp eyes caught something he had not before noticed. "Come, Legolas! Eledhel! Quickly…"
Some tall grassy weeds concealed a mortally wounded orc, still gasping and muttering curses in the Black Speech. His abdomen had been slashed, leaving his entrails to tangle in the roots and soil. Legolas took command of the situation. "What has happened here? Tell us, and we will ease your passing."
"Elves…" The orc drew a ragged breath and spat at Legolas' feet. Farothin released his knife, ready to avenge the insult.
"Steady, Farothin," Eledhel warned, his hand reaching for the younger elf's shoulder.
Legolas stood untouched. He had seen much of death in his years of late. This scene would be one more of many to torment his dreams. "Tell us…yrch." His eyes, steely blue, pressed the orc. The foul cry of a carrion bird broke the silence. The orc's eyes rolled back in his head.
"Ghǎsh, ghǎsh," he muttered, black bile choking his words.
"Slit his throat, Farothin," Legolas said without emotion and walked back to his horse. Eledhel followed.
"What did he say? What did it mean?"
"Fire…Fire. I do not know, Eledhel, and that is what worries me the most." Farothin joined them, wiping the last traces of black blood from his knife. "I fear for our company. Let us join them," Legolas said and paused, "Speak not of these horrors to any elf." He and the other two vaulted onto their steeds and raced toward the company. As they rode, Legolas issued a silent prayer to the Valar for safety and speed in their travels. The company could not reach Eryn Lasgalen quickly enough now to suit his desires. Perhaps his father would have intelligence on this new threat. He found now that Galadriel's warning held new meaning to him:
Your days of peril are not yet over …Beware, your road is not for the weary or timid. Much peril lies in store for those who would travel the roads to Ithilien. I have foreseen it.
Legolas vainly wished once more that their journey would pass uneventfully—Not for the last time!
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