Between Sky and Earth
Chapter Sixteen: Between
Sky and Earth
Not since that fateful day on Amon Hen, had Legolas felt so helpless as he did now. He could only watch as the dragon vaulted up in the sky and then hurtled toward Miredhel. Her eyes blazed through unshed tears as she bit her lip in determination. Legolas stole a look at Eledhel as they rode toward her. They would not be able to make it in time, and both elves knew the truth of it. They were out of range and utterly incapable of lending assistance. All the color drained from Eledhel's face as he watched the scene unfold.
"Eledhel! Eledhel, listen to me!" Legolas commanded. "Ride for the bridge. Perhaps we can draw him away from her."
As Eledhel kicked in his heels to speed toward the bridge, the dragon at that very moment swept from the clouds toward the earth. Miredhel fired arrows in succession at its mouth and eyes, but most withered and were lost in the beast's fiery breath. The dragon stretched outs its claws to grab her where she lay, and Legolas cursed. She should not die, so young so fair. He had seen many less deserving than she face death and live. Neither he nor Eledhel had proved successful in attracting the dragon's attention. Still, he had to do something. Legolas was not one to sit by and idly watch anyone die, so he drew his long bow, pulled an arrow and fired. His shot did little but to alert the dragon to his and Eledhel's presence and perhaps anger the beast even more. With a swish of his powerful tail, the dragon roared and then triumphantly snatched his prize in his long claws.
Miredhel cried out as his cruel talons pierced her side, and she twisted vainly in his grip. Blood ran freely down from her upper arms and torso where the monster's claws gouged into her skin. She knew she had little time to act, for dragon's vengeance came swiftly. If only she could loosen her arm, then she could free the small dagger she kept in her belt.
The dragon flew low toward the bridge, and Legolas chased him, carefully aiming his arrows so not to strike Miredhel. The dragon fully intended to spoil and devour this elf maiden in plain view of her companions to torment them, so he rose into the sky and turned a loop to taunt the elf who rode behind him. Foolish elves, he would teach them what it meant to suffer.
The dragon released his grip on the maiden in order to squeeze her all the more tightly and make her scream as he passed over the elf on horseback. But as his claws relaxed, Miredhel freed her arm and pulled the dagger from her waist. Summoning all the strength within her, she drove her blade into the soft flesh under the dragon's foreclaw. He howled and released her. Furiously beating his wings, he shot into the sky and shook his claws to dislodge the knife. His prize temporarily forgotten, the dragon darted through the clouds and disappeared. Relieved to escape, Miredhel now pulled her arms to her sides in pain as she found herself falling between sky and earth. There was little she could do to save herself now.
Legolas gasped as he watched her fall and then spurred Arod forward. He would not allow this maiden to escape the dragon's claws, only to watch her plummet to her death. He jumped from his horse and then positioned himself to catch her. She fell into his arms with such force that his injured arm and shoulder gave out, and he stumbled backwards. Both elves rolled to the ground, and Legolas pulled her close to him and breathed a prayer of thanks to the Valar.
He opened his eyes and realized that he still held her tightly as she lay haphazardly across him. The elf managed a weak smile and choked out, "I think you knocked the wind out of me."
"That is hardly flattering," she said breathlessly. Her heart still raced in her chest, and she tried to keep herself from shaking. Legolas released her, and she sat up, only to clasp her sides with a grimace. Red blossomed from the torn sides of her riding dress, where a deep gash scored her midriff. Legolas noticed it too, but nothing could be done for her now, for their foe's return seemed imminent.
He stood and asked her if she could ride, and she nodded bravely. "Good," he replied. "We must, for the dragon will return, even more irritable than before, I can imagine."
"I can not fathom his sudden departure," she said, trying to make light of the danger and keep the fear from her voice at the same time.
"Whatever you did to him, it was more than I accomplished," admitted Legolas. He stretched out his hand to help her from the ground and placed her on his horse. He then mounted to ride in front of her. They took off in the direction of Eledhel who waited on the bridge.
"You cannot mean to outrun this creature," Miredhel protested.
"No. It is folly. Do you still have your bow?" he called back to her.
"I dropped it when I was attacked," she said and pointed. "It is on the field before us—there."
Legolas shifted his weight to lean on the side of Arod. As they neared her bow, he crooked his left arm around the horse's neck and then swung his upper body and free arm toward the earth to grab the bow and her pack, tossing both items back to Miredhel. He then whispered an elvish plea for quickness, and Arod shot forward. The sudden jolt caused Miredhel to nearly slide off the horse's back, and she found her arms instinctively wrapping around Legolas who sat in front of her. He tensed for a moment, surprised by her action, and then relaxed. Legolas was used to Gimli for a saddle mate and was pleased to find that the feel of Miredhel's arms around him was infinitely more enjoyable. He glanced down to notice dark scratches and bruises scoring the length of her arms. Anger surged within him, burning his veins like hot oil. He would kill this beast; even if the price were his own blood, he would see it dead.
Legolas angled his head back to glance at Miredhel who seemed a little peaked. "Do you think you can still pull a bow string?" he asked her, studying her expression.
"Of course, it will take more than a few scratches to undo me," she replied.
"Good, pull some arrows from my quiver," he told her, " but I hope you will not need them."
They darted across the stone bridge where Eledhel stood waiting, sword-drawn. With his grey eyes shining, he stretched his hand out to his sister, and she clapped it as they passed. At the eastern foot of the bridge, Legolas dismounted.
"I want you to wait with the horses away from the bridge," he instructed her.
Her eyes darkened and she frowned. "I can fight. Let me help you," she protested, but Legolas brushed his fingertips to her side where the dragon's claws had torn her skin. His hand came away edged in red.
"Nay, you are injured, lady." He hastily wiped his hand across the side of his leg. "Stay here and tend your wounds."
She opened her mouth to object again, but Legolas silenced her with a look that he had learned from his father.
"I want you to ride as soon as the first of us falls…"
She broke in, "But I…"
"No, you must," he said and clasped her hand tightly. "Promise me you will do this."
Briefly, she closed her eyes to summon her last bit of courage and then looked into his. She did not want to say it, but she could not refuse him. "I promise," she said softly. Her skin seemed almost translucent in its paleness, and her hand shook as it held onto Arod's mane.
He took her hand in both of his, hoping to calm her. "Miredhel," he began to say, but a shadow darkened the earth even as he uttered her name. He eyed the sky. "It is time." With a great deal of reluctance, he let his fingers slide from her hand and turned to join Eledhel on the middle of the bridge.
Miredhel could never recall if what happened next was more of her own accord or Arod's. The horse moved around his master, blocking Legolas' path.
Legolas was annoyed. Had she not just agreed with him to leave the bridge? "Miredhel…I thought we decided that you…"
"I know," she interrupted, "but…" Her eyes flew up to the sky. The dragon began to drop down toward the bridge. Surprising to the both of them, Miredhel unexpectedly leaned over and kissed his forehead. She frowned as soon as she had realized what she had just done. "I am sorry," she whispered apologetically and rode off the bridge.
The dragon landed on the bridge between Eledhel who still waited in the middle and Legolas who had just begun to walk from the far end. The stonework groaned beneath the beast's weight, and Legolas noticed a crack split and widen under his feet. The dragon's claws clinked across the marble as he crawled first toward Legolas and then back toward Eledhel, as if he were inspecting them both. His serpentine eyes flashed in recognition as they passed over the Mirkwood elf. Legolas diverted his eyes to observe the creature's armor, searching for any sign of weakness. The creature's talons and mouth were thick with blood and fur, the fresh red streaking the black. Legolas could only guess that Miredhel's horse had met a nasty fate. He studied the razor-sharp claws as they moved toward Eledhel, and the elf could not help but wonder how Miredhel had ever survived their grip.
The only sound was the tapping of his nails and the rush of the river far below. Legolas looked down and then up. The cracks in the stonework fanned under his feet. He knew the bridge to be ancient, built even before his time. He could only hope that it could last a little longer.
By now, the creature had turned its full gaze onto Eledhel on the other side. The elf stood adrift in the river breeze, his sword hanging loosely at his side, bathed in the golden light of the dragon's eyes.
"Eledhel," Legolas shouted, but Eledhel did not seem to hear him. The dragon slinked closer and then even closer so that his dreaded mouth and eyes were only a hand's length from that of the warrior's, and the dragon's breath blew whisps of his hair as he exhaled.
"Eledhel!" Legolas shouted again and waved his arms.
The dragon turned with a carefully crafted gleam in his eye, and then he spoke, "Mirkwood elf, why should he listen to you? You have shown yourself to be weak, unable now even to command a simple response from this elf."
Legolas' eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened as he pulled his bow taut. "I will slay you," he said in a low voice and pointed his arrow at the beast's side, "however weak you may believe me to be."
"Slay me? Ha!" The dragon cackled and then in his most oily voice addressed Eledhel, "I could kill you both with one sweep of my tail, but I crave a different fare, a sweeter meat. Bring me the maiden, the prize stolen from me earlier, and I will spare your sad lives…and the lives of all the other Lorien elves." He looked questioningly at Eledhel, and the yellow light of his gaze swallowed the warrior completely.
"The maiden…" Eledhel echoed the monster, his eyes glazed over.
Legolas looked with alarm toward the trees and the river where Miredhel rested. She sat with the horses and wrapped her wounds, watching them on the bridge, but Legolas knew her to be oblivious to what had just transpired.
The dragon purred again, "Yes, the maiden. Bring her to me now." To Legolas' great discomfort, Eledhel purposefully began to stride toward his sister.
"Eledhel? That is your sister he speaks of! Are you mad?" Legolas cried in alarm, but his friend did not answer. Instead he raised his sword hilt to his chest and pushed his way past the prince. The dragon lifted his wings and positioned himself on the great arch over the bridge. His tail snaked around the carven elven figure, and the narrow slits of his eyes danced in beastly delight. The corners of his mouth triumphantly twitched as the two elves face each other, weapons in hand.
Legolas knew the dragon had worked a deadly charm, which he must counter. The elf curved his bow as far as his strength would allow; this shot would have to garner enough force to drive through the slick black scales. Quick and deadly, the arrow soared toward its fate, but Eledhel stepped forward and smote it from the air with his blade.
"Eledhel!" Legolas shouted, his face turning red, "What the…" but the dragon also began to speak, and his voice had the power to cover all others.
"See, elf? He meant to destroy you with that arrow. He means to ruin your people, to sate his lusts on what he can seize for himself," the dragon purred.
Eledhel drew near his forgotten friend. "Traitor, murderer..." he spat. "Too long have my people died for your kind," he whispered as he circled the prince.
Legolas hung his bow on his quiver. "Eledhel, do you hear me? It is I, Legolas, your friend. I hold no weapons in my hand," Legolas said and took a step toward the warrior. "Do you not see? He means to confuse us!"
"No, I see all clearly," Eledhel said, his voice low and hollow. He took another step toward Legolas. Now they were only an arm's length apart. "You knew of the danger of this beast. You led us to our deaths. You killed Valraen. You would kill me too." As Eledhel spoke, a yellow flame flickered in his eyes, and he looked past Legolas toward his sister. "I would sooner spill her blood myself than let you have her."
"Eledhel, you know not what you say. I will not fight you." Legolas pleaded.
"Then you must die," he said and raised his sword. Eledhel brought the blade down hard, diagonally swinging it in a powerful stroke across his body. Legolas leaped back, and his hands flew for his knives. Crossing his twin blades before him, he caught Eledhel's sword between them. Both elves glared at one another in a contest of wills, tensing behind their weapons, knives and sword, a deadly triumvirate of metal.
Legolas gritted his teeth as he pushed his knives against the weight of Eledhel's blade. He had sparred with his friend before, in the spirit of practice, for fun. This was real. Eledhel was strong and well-studied in the art of swordplay. Legolas knew his friend's strengths along with some of his weaknesses, and he was pretty confidant that Eledhel, however poisoned his mind, would remember his as well. Legolas pushed into his knives. Fighting Eledhel seemed so strange, like one of the many dark dreams that had plagued his nights since the War. Legolas checked the world around him. The sky was blue and the bridge, beautiful. This was no dream. He was not sleeping, and he could not wake up. He watched in silent horror out of the corner of his eye as another crack split and widened right where he and Eledhel stood.
The world rushed by as the two friends froze against each other. Both leaned in, arms rigid, waiting for the other to attack. Legolas was in a quandary; in battle, he had any number of means to disable or even destroy his enemy, but this opponent was his friend. The prince wanted to disarm him without causing serious injury, but he knew that Eledhel's intentions would not be so generous. Legolas would try talking once more.
"Eledhel," he persisted, "drop your weapon. I mean you no harm."
The yellow light dimmed in the elf's eyes and his shoulders drooped. "Legolas…?" he asked, confused.
"He will trick you!" The dragon bellowed, and Eledhel turned his head to look at him. "Finish him. Kill him…" the dragon purred.
Eledhel looked back to Legolas. "Kill him…" he dully repeated. The yellow presence in his eyes had returned, and his face sharpened into a cold resolution. He launched all of his weight into his sword and broke free from Legolas' knives, shoving the prince back.
It was then that Legolas decided to take the offensive against his friend. He must. With a flick of his wrists, he twirled the knives in his hands as he and Eledhel circled each other. "I do believe that beast wants us to kill one another," Legolas said lightly as he eyed Eledhel's stance. He knew his friend to lead right, and he would take advantage of that knowledge. Legolas feinted right and then spun left. Eledhel followed his movement and then corrected himself when he realized he had been tricked.
Legolas deflected the long blade in the air, and the duel began. Both elves moved seamlessly from defense to attack, anticipating each move and then responding with the quickest of reflexes. And so they fought, in a brilliant blur of cold silver. The river, the dragon, the bridge—all was lost to Legolas as he matched his friend, knives to sword. He felt nothing and heard nothing, save the clear ring of metal against metal. He struck and turned, twisted and parried; yet Eledhel met his every move. Together their movements wove a deadly tapestry of silver, blonde, green, and grey; and the dragon's eyes glowed with a murderous rage.
As he dodged the swing of Eledhel's sword, Legolas began to despair that he would not be able to stop his friend before serious injury came to either of them. Miredhel would never forgive him, if he accidentally maimed her brother. Legolas stole a glance toward the trees where she waited. She was still there, but looked confused. He could not blame her. He was right in the middle of the action, and he was clueless as to what was happening. The prince ducked a high swing of Eledhel's blade, chastisement for letting his mind wander. He had to gain the advantage. It was time to try something more unconventional. Since Eledhel had anticipated his every move, Legolas did something that no elf would expect, an old trick he had learned from Aragorn. The prince switched both blades into one hand and slashed left. Eledhel countered. Just as his sword cleared, Legolas reached back and drove his fist across Eledhel's jaw. The elf staggered back, and Legolas knocked the sword from his hands. Eledhel's eyes widened in surprise.
Legolas turned his knives toward his friend. "You tried to kill me," he said, sheathing one of them, "a crime punishable, only by death." He looked pointedly at Eledhel. "Do not move, or I will be forced to do something we will both regret," he added and walked toward the sword to retrieve it, all the time keeping careful watch of the blade's owner who had wielded it so potently. He picked up the weapon and pointed it toward the dragon still perched atop the arch. "You are a pestilence to this land and my people. Before the sun sets, I will bathe this blade in your blood."
The dragon smirked in faint amusement. "Kill me? You could not even kill this elf," the beast said. He lifted his black chin and spread his wings to full span. "Behold! I am mighty Anglachur, dread of Dol Guldur," he said and roared so that Legolas clamped his hands over his ears, and he felt the bridge rumble and stir.
At that moment, Eledhel was upon him, wrestling the sword from his grip. Seconds later when the dragon swooped from his perch, the elf held his sword at the prince's neck.
Legolas paid no heed to the cold sharp edge pressed to neck above the high collar of his tunic. He blinked and looked toward the sky. His mind was frantic for a solution, any advantage. He oddly felt a flood of relief at the realization that he could do nothing. At last, the fight was over. He had lost. He could not save himself, and he could certainly not save his friends.
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