Chapter Seventeen: Promises Broken
Legolas looked as the dragon circled above him like a craven vulture winging a black wreath in the sky. "Anything," he murmured to himself, "anything, something must be done." He knew he must not give up hope. Why would the Valar spare their lives, only to let them meet death now? It did not make sense to Legolas, and he bit his lip in frustration. Tiny red beads began to draw above his collar, for Eledhel still pressed the sword firmly to the prince's neck. He did not feel the cut or pain from his other injuries of the previous night. Legolas' entire being focused on this desperate twist of events and how he might save himself, Eledhel, and Miredhel. "Miredhel," he whispered softly, and Eledhel gave him a sharp glance. Legolas repeated himself, "Miredhel!" Her head jerked up, and he knew that she had heard him. "Ride, Miredhel!" he shouted. "Go!"
She kicked in her heels, and Legolas sighed. At least she among them might be spared. Yet Legolas' relief was to be short-lived, for Miredhel upon Arod turned and rode toward the river. Legolas cursed her foolishness when he saw Miredhel take up her bow and fit an arrow. What made her think she could succeed where he had failed? Still, she was his only hope at the present, and all of Legolas' prayers went with her arrows, borrowed from his quiver, no less. "May they fly straighter and swifter than any shot I have ever made," he intoned.
Miredhel grasped her small bow as she lifted an arrow from her bag. She fired the first at the dragon to no avail. It struck his hard scales and skittered off; however, she did find success in drawing Anglachur's attention to her. He turned in an arc of smoke and brimstone to claim her, satisfied that the other two elves were appropriately distracted.
"Not again," Miredhel despaired as he raced toward her, and she pulled another arrow from her satchel. The arrow felt light in her hand, but warm to the touch. Silvery engravings and runes graced the shaft and arrow. "So beautiful," she whispered and looked up at the dragon, "so hideous." The air hummed around her as she fit it to the string with a melodious twang like lyre's song. She squinted in the sun and searched out the dragon's form as he flew. Her fingers deftly pulled the string taut and popped it, sending Legolas' arrow flashing across the sky.
Catching the dragon flush in the side, the arrow pierced the ebony scales in a silver streak. Anglachur had never met with such injury or pain in all his dreadful years. "Wretched elves!" he howled with rage. Pitching and twisting, he plunged in a downward, lopsided spiral into the deep chasm and the river far below the banks. His frenzied tail lashed at the world and finally struck the crumbling stone supports for the elven bridge. The current rushed around him, and Anglachur the Black vanished in a hiss of steam and the dark, swirling waters of the Great River.
At the dragon's first howl, Eledhel's sword arm fell loosely to his side, and the weapon clattered to the ground. Head bowed, he sunk to his knees. When at last he looked up at Legolas, his eyes were true and grey. Legolas offered him a hand up when the stone beneath their feet began to shake. The bridge groaned, and the elven statues dizzily swayed as if intoxicated by a heady Dorwinian vintage.
Eledhel looked confused, but Legolas did not have time to explain. He pulled his friend to his feet, and the two elves sprinted for solid ground. The middle section of stonework gave way first in a heave of rock and white curls of dust. Both Legolas and Eledhel dodged falling columns, only seconds later to find themselves leaping across gaps where chunks of the bridge had fallen away. The bridge had borne the weight of many: elves in grim armor on their way to battle, consorts riding afar on fair steeds, dwarves and men, and peaceful folk; but the dragon's passage cost too great a fare. The ancient stone wrought of old would not have it.
As Eledhel and Legolas reached Miredhel on the other side, they turned to watch the rest of the bridge collapse into the Anduin. The two carven elves, so faithful for untold millennia, wavered and were gone. As Miredhel watched them fall, a dull ache thudded in her chest, and she mourned them.
"Lorien is no more," she said in a small voice. "This bridge…gone. Who will hide in their hearts the deeds we have done? Who will remember us? You were right, Legolas. Our power fades. Who in a hundred years will remember those elven statues?"
"Do not worry, Miredhel, for even they will find their way to the sea." Legolas comforted her, even though she spoke the concerns of his heart as well. He wiped the dust and grime from his face and swept his hand across the cut on his throat. "How do you feel, Eledhel?"
He replied coolly, "Well enough to travel down the river and search out the dragon," and then added in a more concerned tone, "Please tell me, friend, of my actions on the bridge. I cannot remember what happened."
"You tried to kill me…" Legolas began.
"I did what?" Eledhel interjected.
"But I disarmed you before any real harm was done. You suffered from dragon-sickness, I believe. Anglachur had the power to poison minds. He made you believe that I was the enemy." Legolas finished. He had purposefully left out the part about Eledhel holding him at sword-point. No need to make Eledhel feel worse. Miredhel raised her eyebrows at this account. Although she had not been on the bridge with the others, she had seen plenty. Legolas minded her expression and decided to change the subject. "Eledhel, we do not need to search for the dragon. Your sister has slain the beast with a single arrow."
Eledhel was incredulous. "My sister? Miredhel?" he sputtered. "Killed the dragon? I cannot believe it."
"I did, brother." Miredhel protested weakly.
Legolas strode over to her side. He gazed at her for a moment, his eyes aglow with admiration for her. "She really did, and saved all our lives." He bowed his head to her for a moment, and then reached for her hand. Miredhel allowed him to take it up in his own. "All shall hear of your valor, Lady. You will be counted among the most famous of elves."
"My little sister?" Eledhel's eyes were full of wonder as he beheld her. "The one I used to call Goldie?"
"Goldie?" asked Legolas and chuckled.
"That was a very long time ago," Miredhel countered. She felt so very tired. Her body ached. She felt as though she might slip from Arod's back at any moment, if not for Legolas' intense gaze. It was not a look of scrutiny or severity, which in days' past she might expect from him, but of warmth, sincerity, and esteem. His firm hold on her hand lent her strength, and she gave him a rare smile.
"Although I must confess I cannot fathom how she did it," Legolas said to Eledhel. Miredhel stopped smiling. "It defies logic."
"Does it?" asked Miredhel.
"Not even with my long bow, could I break through his scales. Your bow, Lady Miredhel, is smaller and less powerful," he argued.
"And no doubt, between the two of you, Legolas has the stronger arm," Eledhel agreed. "You must have struck a weakness in his armor."
"I suppose so, if in deed, that is the only way a maiden such as I could possibly fell a dragon." With that said, she dejectedly let go of Legolas' hand.
"I do not mean to lessen your deed, Lady Miredhel. All of Mirkwood shall hear this tale," Legolas promised. He peered at her once again, but this time he noticed the way her shoulders sagged and that her fine eyes seemed dull and hazy. "We will not make my realm's borders tonight, but we should ride as far as possible anyhow."
"What of the dragon?" Eledhel questioned him.
"I do not wish for us to split up, and your sister is not well. We cannot go looking for it, whether the beast has died or is merely wounded," Legolas decided. He glanced at Miredhel again.
Eledhel, much alarmed, inquired after his sister's injuries. He checked the cuts on her arms and side and her sore ankle, all the while apologizing profusely for not noticing sooner.
Miredhel protested that she could ride, but neither Legolas nor Eledhel listened to her feeble arguments. They decided that Miredhel should stay on Arod and ride with Legolas, for the horse was much more used to double riders than Eledhel's warhorse. Miredhel was none too sure about the arrangement. Legolas had an uncanny way of making her feel permanently on edge.
He swung up behind her, explaining that he did not want her to fall off during the ride and him not know about it. She rolled her eyes at this explanation but felt relieved and decidedly more secure.
As they rode east away from the river, the horizon darkened in a green line of forest as far as even elven eyes could see. Miredhel wrapped her arms around her waist. She yawned but then instantly straightened her posture. She would not have that Mirkwood prince thinking she possessed any weakness, although her aching muscles severely tempted her to lean back into Legolas' chest and to let those strong arms hold her. She pushed the thought out of her head. She would not allow it.
Legolas smiled behind her. He had heard her yawn, but she obviously did not want him to know of her growing weariness. She had been through so much in the past few days. Of course, so had he, but he counted himself long used to hardship and tension. For many centuries had the prince railed against the growing darkness of Middle Earth, and he would continue to fight if necessary. The elf looked at the scenery around him—verdant green, soft hills, and in the distance, a much beloved forest—and he sighed.
"My lord?" Miredhel asked curiously.
"What?" he asked in return.
"Oh, nothing. I heard you sigh. You are not tired, are you?" Her voice was hopeful.
"No. Are you?" Legolas asked and then added, "If you are, it is to be expected."
"I feel fine," Miredhel insisted, but a jaw-splitting yawn followed her remark.
Legolas laughed, but he stopped short when she turned her head to look at him. She seemed pitiful and small, except her eyes, which looked overly large and soulful. "You have borne witness to much bloodshed and battle, my lord. I have not. Please do not make me feel the less for it."
Legolas never really considered himself battle-hardened by any meaning of the phrase. Although he enjoyed archery and fencing for sport, he loathed war and would far rather stroll through the woods than lead a siege. The Lady Miredhel, on the other hand, was a novice and had handled all events remarkably well so far. He told her these things, hoping his words would grant her comfort. She gave him a rather pathetic attempt at a smile and then turned to the front.
"We will not ride for much longer, lady. Then we shall all rest," he said softly and placed a hand on her shoulder. So delicate, this did not seem the shoulder of one who brought down a dragon. He still could not fathom how she had succeeded and was a little aggravated that he had only met with failure. A thought occurred to the prince, and he frowned in dismay. "Lady Miredhel?" he asked.
"Yes…" she responded, not really sounding like she wanted to talk anymore.
"Why did you ride back to the bridge?" he asked flatly.
"Is it not obvious enough?"
"I told you to ride away, and you deliberately rode back to the bridge," Legolas reminded her.
"I know," she said.
"You should not have done so," he said sternly.
She turned her head back to face him again and said pointedly, "I probably saved your life, my lord."
"You very well may have, but no one asked for your involvement," he said. His eyes darkened, and Miredhel swallowed. She figured that he was angry with her for not heeding his word. She did not want to argue with him, but…
"You seem rather ungrateful, Prince Legolas," she said aloud and then blinked. She should not have said such a thing. She quickly looked to his face, and those eyes were severe and brooding.
"We are not discussing my appreciation or lack thereof, lady," he said and paused. "You intentionally disobeyed an order."
"Do not confuse yourself. I am not one of your Mirkwood subjects, and I am not yours to command," she replied haughtily and whipped back around to the front.
"You are one of my subjects now, and you will learn to follow my lead," Legolas said low in her ear.
She turned again, and their faces were so close together that she could feel his warm breath on her cheek. She was glad that Eledhel rode in front of them, so he would not witness such a scene. Her face felt hot, and her eyes stung.
"I did not break the promise I made you," she said, her voice equally low and controlled to that of the prince's. "I promised to ride when the first of you fell. Neither of you did," she added smoothly.
"It matters not. You could have been killed," he insisted.
"You and my brother could have been killed," she retorted. "Do not make orders that you yourself would not follow." She glanced ahead to check that Eledhel still rode ahead. "Look me in the eyes. Tell me that if you were in my position, you would have ridden away like a coward, leaving your friends to die. Can you?" Miredhel asked, her bold words belied the way she felt inside, and her lower lip trembled.
Legolas knew the truth of her words, but he carefully looked her in the eyes anyway to make as though he might meet her challenge. Honesty had long been the foundation for his principles and everything he had fought for, and he would not cheapen that commitment now, merely to win an argument.
"You are right," he said slowly. "I would not have left, even if ordered to do so."
Her face softened in surprise, and the tears she had been trying so desperately to hold back escaped from the corners of her eyes. She had not expected this concession from him. She blinked and wordlessly faced forward. She did not want the prince to see her cry, for him to feel triumph in the power he had over her. Only now her brother had slowed his horse to walk by a small grove of trees, so Arod might catch up. Eledhel's eyes widened as they approached.
His sister's appearance shocked him. For someone who was usually so private with her grief, she sat silently crying and clutching her sides. "Miredhel, what ails you?" he asked and then shot an angry look to Legolas. "What happened?"
"Eledhel, it is…" Legolas started to say.
"My brother, do not worry for me. I am simply weary. Perhaps the prince would allow us a short rest before we join the road again," she said hopefully without looking at Legolas.
As much as he could not understand why she had kept their argument from Eledhel, Legolas could not refuse her request and announced that they would stop for the day and ride to the borders of Mirkwood in the morning. They dismounted and looked for a suitable place to camp among the trees, preparing for the evening and night to come.
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Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think and if you have any ideas about what the characters could do while they hang out!!