Out of the Mist
Chapter 31: Out of the Mist
Fog hung heavily across flat lands. Neither Miredhel nor Legolas could really see beyond a few feet, but they heard plenty: the constant thud of heavy shod feet, the sleek hum of arrows, and a low familiar bird call.
"Eledhel?" mouthed Miredhel silently to Legolas, and he shrugged. There was no way to know for sure. It certainly did not sound like an orcish signal to him, but Miredhel remembered such a birdcall from her distant youth, of her father and brown, slick feathered woodland thrushes. Her father had said, 'such birds call their young back to its nest, and so shall I call you.' Miredhel remembered, and she whistled back, one long and two short.
She whispered, so quietly that only another elf could hear, "He's looking for us, but I cannot tell where he is, can you?"
"No, let us keep moving toward camp," Legolas returned, and following his lead, Miredhel also slid her knife from her belt.
Legolas led the way, and he traveled so quickly that Miredhel could hardly keep up. She was not sure that he even knew where he was going, and especially at such a deliberate speed, but she trusted him. When he looked back and saw that she had fallen several paces behind, he reached for her hand so they would not be separated.
A low throaty snarl broke the silence, and a broad shadow loomed before the elves. Though he tried, Legolas could see nothing beyond barely two arms' lengths. Letting his fingers slide from Miredhel's hand, he gripped his knife and pulled its mate from his belt. He hung back for a moment, remembering to breathe, his ears pounding, his mouth feeling wickedly dry, and then he charged toward the unknown.
With a feral gleam in his eyes, Legolas rushed forward, his muscles tensed and honed for pursuit, for that first strike and battle: a quick slice and a rush of warmth, followed by the acrid stench of winning, of killing your opponent, of death. He found none of these things however, for his opponent had vanished before he could act. The prince skidded on his heels and turned.
"Miredhel, did you see?" he started, but she was gone.
"Miredhel?!" He raced back to where he had left her, panic gnawing through his gut. Then he heard her gasp, followed by the shrill screech of metal scraping against metal.
"Legolas, watch out!" she screamed, and his head snapped toward the sound of her voice, and he chased in that direction. The orcs had better watch out for him.
"Legolas, duck!" she yelled. "Get down!"
"Miredhel?" he shouted, hoping he could find her, help her. He frantically pushed through the swirling walls of fog, quick footfalls of a heavy force pounded behind him, but he cared not. He had to find her.
So focused he was on the path before him, Legolas failed to notice the assailant on his left, who sprang from the darkness, tackling him to the ground. The world bloomed red as the back of his head collided with the earth, and then all faded black in the hush of night.
* * *
Out of the darkness leapt a blaze of flames, brilliant, burning. Then through the midst of the fire, a sleek, black beast pierced the darkness with wings outspread, his myriad scales glittering like embers in the dead of night. His yellow eyes gleamed as he rose to rival even the moon's height then dove down toward the earth, his great malice lending him speed to crush his foes.
Legolas watched quietly. His eyes had roamed the land, for the mist and fog had cleared from the desolate plains. All was empty, a dry and bitter wasteland. He was alone, utterly alone. Desperation consumed the elf, and he reached for weapons but found none. He was alone, utterly alone.
Without friends, without love, without family, he faced the dark night and foe. So many times he had leaned on the strength of others to pull him through pain and conflict; even if he would not admit it, this was true! Now he stood without defense, all by himself, and the great dragon soared toward him. The heat of its breath licked his face, his eyes watered and squinted, but he would not look away, nor would he run. A great flame billowed before him, and he thought, 'here is my end…"
* * *
When he came to, his head ached, which Legolas took as a good sign to mean that he was, in the very least, still alive. He gradually became aware of someone patting his cheek.
He propped open one eye and looked up. He saw dark eyes and a blur of golden hair. "Miredhel?" he croaked.
"Can you not heed the simplest of instructions?" she lectured smiling, and helped him to sit up. "I told you to duck!"
"I didn't care. I was going to rescue you."
"Me? You were the one who needed rescuing! You had four orcs chasing behind you!"
"Well, apparently they caught up to me. One of the savages knocked me down…" he rubbed his head and groaned.
"Legolas?" Miredhel said in a small voice. "That savage was me. I pushed you down. Eledhel and the twins could not get a clear shot at the orcs, otherwise." She pointed at three bodies laying a yard away, each with several green shafted arrows protruding from its back.
"And I thought I was trying to save you," he concluded, shaking his head.
"You already have," she answered and girlishly kissed him on the cheek.
He smiled and rubbed his head again. Mist still shrouded the world around him. There were no fires and no dragon. Still he could not shake off how real his dream had felt. 'It was a dream,' he reminded himself. Anglachur had died. Legolas had seen him fall. Nothing had changed, and nothing had happened. Of this, he should be confident.
"How long was I out?" he asked, painfully trying to stand.
"No more than a couple of minutes," Miredhel answered and added slyly, "So much for never having passed out!" She smiled sweetly at him.
Legolas smirked at her and then dusted himself off. "There is a distinct difference between 'passing' out and being 'knocked' out, Miredhel, if you catch my meaning."
"But Legolas, I think that most people would find the two very much the same," Miredhel countered.
"Most people?" the prince said and winced. "You know, you really don't have to tell anyone about what happened."
She pretended to be hurt by his suggestion. "As if I would do such a thing. For you even to suggest it….like I'm some Lady Limaer or another old gossip, who would run off and tell Eledhel or the twins the first chance that I get!"
Her eyes flashed, and Legolas shifted uncomfortably next to her, and pressed his hand to his head, which felt dangerously near to pounding again. He gave his lady a worried look and said rather tiredly, "Miredhel, I didn't mean it like that…so where is your brother anyways?"
"Don't try and change the subject!" she accused, fighting a grin.
His eyes widened at her, and she laughed. "Oh, Legolas," she exclaimed, "I was only jesting!" She paused, and her dimples deepened with her smile. "Of course, if you want my silence on this matter, I'm sure we can come to an agreement."
"An agreement?" he said hoarsely.
"I will not tell anyone about you fainting…" she began.
"In exchange for…a kiss, from the most charming elf on this side of the Anduin," she finished.
"Now for that, you need never ask," he replied, breaking into a boyish grin. He took her hands in his and drew her close for a kiss. Her face was smudged and her clothes, a mess, but he cared for none of those things. She had asked him for a kiss. To be entirely truthful, Legolas could scarcely keep himself from breaking into a jig right then and there. Then a thought occurred to him, and he pulled away from her with a puzzled look in his eyes.
"…the most charming elf, but only on this side of the Anduin?" he inquired, arching a single brow.
"Well, you know those sons of Elrond…" she joked, but was silenced when Legolas pulled her back to him, his lips meeting hers for a lingering kiss that would leave both their hearts smoldering for the next few hours.
"I am so glad to have found you," he said tenderly when they finally separated. His fingers glided down her cheek and away, and the moment faded and was lost unto the night as the other elves joined them from out of the fog.
Eledhel was there first. "Legolas and Miredhel, thank the Valar that you are both safe!" he said, a little out of breath. He clapped Legolas on the back and then looked curiously at his sister.
"Miredhel, your eyes!" Eledhel exclaimed.
"What's wrong with them?" she returned.
"They're shining," he returned and folded her into a hug. "It eases my heart to see you so." He stole an uneasy glance at Legolas. The prince had helped her when Eledhel could not. He was glad of her improvement, but felt with it the tiniest shred of envy that Legolas Greenleaf had done more for his sister than he had managed to accomplish over the whole summer. Eledhel sighed and leaned onto his bow. He would not think of such things now; more pressing matters required his attention.
"Ill news, my friend," he told the prince. "The orcs are moving more quickly than we anticipated, and now, well, they must know that we follow." He paused and ran his hand down the arc of his weapon. "We should leave now."
"Rauros will slow them down, for they will not know of the pass," Belegil advised. "We should still have time to reach Gondor and its first settlements."
Sulindal came in after Belegil, dragging the fourth dead orc by the heels behind him. He lumped it next to the others and casually joined their conversation. He spoke in low tones, and his voice was earnest.
"Something greater drives these creatures," he said carefully. "More than mere bloodlust. I could feel their hatred ere I ever saw them. There is a malice, a cunning vengeance that sets them against us, and I know not its origins, nor its depths."
"I felt it too," Legolas agreed somberly.
"By the time they pass the wetlands, their appetite will be insatiable. They will look for an easy target," Sulindal concluded.
Eledhel spoke up, "According to our charts, there was a village of men on the edge of Nindalf."
"Rilmost…farmers," Legolas supplied. "Then we must hurry."
* * *
At camp, all waited for their arrival and were heartened to see their prince returning with Miredhel at his side. The elves had left no trace of their campsite; the land was spotless as if no one had ever been there. Next to their horses, they stood silently in wait for Legolas' command, all save Colmaethor, who tended his lord's sister.
"She still sleeps, my lord," Colmaethor said apologetically.
"It's as I requested, but now we must ride."
Legolas and Colmaethor decided that Celeril should ride with her brother until she woke, so the prince mounted his horse and then had his sister handed up to him. With a whistle and a great shout, the elven host departed the Brown Lands.
Ill fortune not withstanding, they would reach Rauros and the pass by mid-morning to early afternoon; there, they would rest and then press on through the ancient lines of Emyn Muil, through a narrow canyon winding amid stone-ragged giants.
They traveled through the dawn until the sun rose to meet them, crimson and casting the air pink. Legolas and Miredhel rode together now, side by side, her curls whipping in the wind, her face bright and flushed in the morning light, and both their eyes were as radiant the songs they sang of hope and grace and even love. Despite the grim road before them, they laughed and talked as the twins and Eledhel flanked their sides, and all their merriment caught in the wind and stirred the spirits of those traveling behind them.
Even Legolas' sister still sleeping heard their words as one can hear the distant murmur of the sea or the rumble of rain and smell the fresh change in the air; she heard their songs and quiet laughter and dreamt of an easier time when she and Legolas made fun of and in the world. Celeril felt the warm morning sun on her cheek, and she woke up smiling.
Legolas felt her stir and ruffled the top of her hair with his hand. "Good morning, sleepy head!" he exclaimed.
"Ai, Legolas! Stop it, or my hair will look like an orcs' nest!" She turned and looked at him indignantly as she smoothed her hair down from where her brother had mussed it. Celeril then noticed the curious looks of those who could only be Lorien elves riding along side her brother.
"Erm, hello all," she said, taking them all in with bright blue eyes which looked very similar in appearance to her brother's.
Legolas made the introductions to her: Belegil, Sulindal, and Eledhel. When he introduced Miredhel to his sister, Celeril's eyes widened.
"I remember you, I think. You helped me in the forest last night!" she guessed excitedly.
Miredhel nodded, and a smile played across her face, for she was pleased that Legolas' sister should remember her. "Yes, and I am glad we are able to meet again now, under more pleasant circumstances."
Celeril laughed and then grew more serious. "Thank you for what you did, Lady Miredhel," she said. "I think I would have been lost if not for you."
Legolas joined in, "And I thank you as well, Miredhel, with all my heart. You took a great risk to save her, and I will be ever in your debt."
His eyes melted into hers with such longing and emotion, that Miredhel felt the tips of her ears grow warm, and of course the twins and her brother were privy to the whole scene. Oh, how they would tease her later.
Celeril looked slyly at her brother, and then at Miredhel, and then back at Legolas again. She smiled to herself. She would definitely have to come better acquaintances with this lady from Lorien.
* * *
When finally they reached their stopping point, Rauros steamed in the midmorning light as the lake fell away to a brave, gaping horizon. They would water and rest their horses here before cutting through the forgotten pass of Emyn Muil that would take them to the edge of Nindalf and to Rilmost, the farming village.
Legolas' mind was a jumble of thoughts and questions as he filled his waterskin, his fingers relishing the cool water. His fingers found a smooth stream stone, and he flung it across the lake—one, two, three, and plop, the stone sunk beneath the surface. The prince sighed. There was so much more on this road to Ithilien than he had bargained for: dragon, orcs, family problems, more orcs. Would it always be this way, one thing after another, never ending? Legolas splashed some water onto his cheeks and forehead. He would definitely have to consult Aragorn on this matter once he reached Minas Tirith. Legolas wished they were there already. He was not entirely convinced that they were making the right decision in terms of stopping at Rilmost. There was no way to know how the villagers would respond to seeing a large party of elves show up on their doorstop. They might not have even seen elves before, and through distrust, not accept their offer of help. He picked up another stone, and flicked it toward the water—one, two, three, four, five, six…
"Legolas?" It was Celeril.
"Yes?" He turned from the lakes, shaking the water from his fingertips.
"I did not want to speak of this in front of your friends, but—how come you just let me sleep like that? In front of everyone, too!"
"You lost a lot of blood, Celeril. You were weak," he stated matter-of-factly. Legolas decided to omit the fact that he had told Colmaethor to give her a heavy sleeping draught. If she asked him directly, of course he would admit the truth. He would not lie.
"It was really embarrassing!" she exclaimed.
"Something you should consider, perhaps, the next time you act completely irresponsibly, putting your life and others' at risk," he advised her.
"How quaint," she said, narrowing her eyes at her brother. "I thought that I'd left my father back in Mirkwood."
"Celeril," Legolas said in exasperation, "our father is probably going mad with worry over the fact that you've disappeared."
"He'll know that I went with you, Legolas," she retorted.
"And that will make him worry even more. This is not some social call!" Legolas said coldly.
"I know that," she stubbornly insisted.
"I really don't think you do, Celeril. Everything is a game to you. You could have died last night, and you still don't understand. We're not in our father's halls anymore, nor are we in Mirkwood. This is real. This is Middle Earth," Legolas shook his head in disgust. He loved his sister. She reminded him of himself, but her naiveté was going to get someone hurt, or worse, killed.
"Try not to get into trouble. I have duties to attend to," he said and brushed past her, pretending not to notice the hurt expression on her face or the tears welling deep in the corners of her eyes.
He had not walked very far when he ran into none other than Captain Adrendil of Mirkwood.
"Lord Legolas, it's a pleasure to see your lovely sister doing so well," he said smoothly.
Legolas inwardly groaned. Of all the people, he did not want to speak with Adrendil at the moment or listen to him complain about some minor injustice. He cleared his throat and said, "Thank you for your concern. Now if you will excuse me?" He walked past the captain, but Adrendil persisted in following.
"I wanted to voice some concerns I had with Captain Eledhel's plans," he said.
"Adrendil, I'm well aware that you and he are not on the best of terms, but our route is of my choosing, also. Considering our circumstances, it is the best possible choice," Legolas said over his shoulder to him.
"My lord, there used to be a time when you valued council from your Mirkwood captains," Adrendil objected.
Legolas stopped and turned. "And I still do, Adrendil. I'm listening." He eyed him patiently.
"I have my doubts about this 'secret pass' we are to take through Emyn Muil. What do we really know about it? The whole thing could be steep-sided and treacherous, or even caved in at some point, if its as narrow as the charts described." He leaned toward Legolas and lowered his voice, "There is only one way in and one way out. If we met trouble, we would be utterly trapped."
"I know, but it's a risk we must take."
"An unnecessary risk," Adrendil countered. "Why not take the longer route and be assured of safe passage?"
"We discussed all this in Mirkwood, Adrendil," Legolas said, frustration creeping into his voice. "You were there when we held this debate, and my answer still remains the same! It will take too long, and we will condemn the people on the edge of Nindalf to slaughter at the hands of orcs."
"Better them than us. Think of your own people, my lord."
"If we have even the slightest chance of saving those villages, then we must take that chance."
Adrendil's eyebrows lowered into a frown. "With all due respect, where is your loyalty to your homeland, to Mirkwood? Between these Lorien elves," he said and glared at Eledhel, "and your love for humans, I think you've forgotten who you are."
"My loyalty is to Ithilien," Legolas said sternly, "and that includes you, Adrendil. Your concern is noted." With that said, he walked away.
Between conversations with his sister and Adrendil, Legolas' mood had quickly shifted from bad to worse. The source of his discontent could be summarized in one wretched word—leadership. His position in the group required him to be strong and decisive, and Legolas felt that he grossly lacked these qualities at the moment. He surveyed the elves around him and wished that he could just be another member of the party for Ithilien with no responsibilities, no cares, only to fight and ride when instructed, that he could be sitting with Miredhel at the water's edge holding her hand or braiding her hair, but leadership called him to be more. He was Legolas Greenleaf, Lord of Ithilien. He was their leader, bound by duty to make the difficult decisions that carried the weight of life or death.
His conversation with Adrendil had unnerved him. The captain had made some valid points that Legolas could not deny, and though he had chosen to travel through the secret pass, he certainly had his own misgivings, his own self-doubt. What if Adrendil was right, and the Emyn Muil pass proved a faithless trap? Legolas decided that he would feel much better about the whole situation after he heard the scouting report from Farothin.
"Where is Farothin?" Legolas asked Eledhel. "I wanted to hear from him the lay of the land ahead."
Eledhel looked surprised. "He's not back yet? He would have gone to you first, Legolas, if he had returned from scouting." They both scanned the area for any sign of him or his dapple gray mare. Belegil and Sulindal were nearby, saw them looking about, and joined their conversation.
"He's not back yet?"
"He knew to meet us here."
Now Miredhel came up behind her brother. "Are we leaving soon?" she asked.
"Yes, but Farothin has not returned."
With a sharp intake of breath, Miredhel dropped her eyes. "Do you think he is in trouble?"
"Undoubtedly, Miredhel. Otherwise, Farothin would be here," Belegil replied and turned to Legolas. "He may be young, but he's a good tracker and scout, Legolas. Haldir trained him in the field, and both my brother and I would vouch for him."
"I know," Legolas said resignedly. "We cannot linger, though. We must go forward. Farothin knows our plans and our route. I only hope that he will meet us further along our trail."
Miredhel's head snapped up. "Legolas," she said, "we can't just leave him. Something might have happened to him. He could be hurt or attacked by orcs!"
The other elves exchanged grim looks.
Legolas spoke up. "Eledhel, Belegil, Sulindal—ready the group to depart at once." The captains nodded and left, but Miredhel merely stood there, rooted to the ground.
Legolas touched her shoulder. "Come, let's get you to your horse," he said. She followed, but as they walked, she caught his sleeve.
"Legolas, this is wrong. Is there not something else we can do?" she asked desperately. "He's so young! Send out riders to find him or let us wait a little longer."
Legolas knew that he could not let emotion sway his decision, and he tried to explain that to the sweet maiden waiting beside him. "Miredhel, time is of the essence. The longer we tarry here, the further we risk our own party and many innocents of Gondor to open attack. We must trust Farothin to look after himself."
"What about riders then?"
Legolas stopped and gently placed both of his hands on her shoulders. "I will not send out more riders into this labyrinthine pile of rocks than is necessary, especially if we may be pursued by orcs. It's far too dangerous, and I would not command it of anyone." His voice was firm and calm. He hoped she would understand.
She did not. "Then I volunteer," Miredhel announced seriously, staring into his crystalline blue eyes.
Legolas actually laughed. "No," he objected. "Absolutely not!"
"Legolas, please. He is so young. Please, we must do something."
He took her hands in his. "Believe me when I say that I wish we could help him, Miredhel. I like Farothin as much as you do, but I have a responsibility to the rest of these elves and a loyalty to Gondor that I cannot ignore."
"What about your responsibility to Farothin?" she hedged, and his eyes darkened.
"I already told you 'no' once, Miredhel, and I meant it the first time," Legolas charged her. He put his arm around her shoulders and firmly marched her to her horse.
She looked away from him angrily and bit her lower lip in dismay, before saying, "And what if I leave without your permission?"
Legolas guided her chin with his finger back so that she faced him. He leaned in closer and told her, "You are far too dear to me, and I simply won't allow it, even if I have to put you over my shoulder and carry you to Gondor."
She peered at him. "You would not dare," she said as he helped her onto the horse.
"Try me," he said, followed by a bow, and he was gone before she could make any further objections.
* * *
Eledhel watched Legolas mount his horse and give the signal to ride. They began to talk softly as the horses moved out.
"I take it my sister does not approve of your decision."
"To say the least," Legolas agreed. "She did not understand, and I did not have the heart to tell her my deepest suspicions."
"—That Farothin is probably dead," Eledhel said. He frowned and pensively rubbed bridge of his nose. "He left the Brown Lands so much earlier than we did. He had plenty of time to go beyond the lake and then come back to meet us."
"I know. In all truth, I expected him to be waiting for us when we arrived."
Eledhel drew a long, unsteady breath. "Legolas, I cannot even bear to imagine his fate, if the orcs did catch him," he said quietly.
The prince did not respond immediately. Images of the War of the Ring and battle flashed through his mind—death on the Pelennor fields, at Helm's Deep, in front of the Black Gate. "Too many times have I seen the handiwork of orcs in the remains of their victims: the cruelty, the abuse…"
"He is so young—half our age, and it maddens me to think that we abandon him to such a fate."
Legolas squeezed his eyes shut. "I did not want to mention this earlier when we were talking, in front of your sister, but do you think that Farothin could be pressured to reveal information? He knows all of our plans, the route we mean to take, how many people we have, and the list goes on."
"—he would never give us away, Legolas."
"Even to the pain of death?" Legolas asked, hating himself for saying such words aloud.
Eledhel winced and sorrowfully shook his head. "No, he may be young, but he is strong, and of a proud line of warriors. No nephew of Haldir's would ever betray his friends," he said, trying to sound confident.
"I hope that you may be right, Eledhel, or that we might both be wrong about his fate," Legolas said as they approached the shores near the edge of where the Anduin plunged into a mighty falls, and Gondor's snowy range and verdant vales loomed in the distance.
The elves wound their way past the sarn to the very brink of the falls and turned into the forest toward the craggy peaks of Emyn Muil. The woods opened into a rocky climb of stone and grass. If their charts held true, they would meet the secret pass through a slender fold of shale, which cut away to an unseen canyon with width enough for a single horse and rider. Legolas and the captains had looked along their trail for any sign of Farothin. At first they had spotted tracks leading away from the lake, but even those dwindled to naught. The young hunter had vanished.
When Legolas reached the opening to the secret pass, he waited there for the last members bringing up the rear of their party to arrive. Indecision still plagued his heart. Was he making the right choices? He met Miredhel's gaze as she appeared; her eyes were sad and distant. He guessed that she had marked Farothin's disappearing tracks as well, and guilt consumed him. Legolas had repeatedly told himself that his decision to move on was the best possible choice, but his emotions continued to rally against him.
He kept seeing Farothin's bright, expectant face in his mind. Farothin, who had been so eager to please, had been the very first elf that Legolas had encountered upon his return to Lorien. It had been Farothin that had begged the prince to compete in an archery competition against Haldir. Legolas felt a lump rising in his throat, and he looked toward the slanted opening of the canyon pass. His mind told him to go forward, that it was the logical thing to do. The rest of the elves looked at him expectantly, waiting. Leadership, his position, his heritage, meant having to make the choices that no one else wanted to make.
Legolas swallowed back the lump in his throat and quietly signaled for Arod to move ahead into the canyon. In the back of his mind, he could still hear Adrendil's warning: "There is only one way in and one way out. If we met trouble, we would be utterly trapped."
* * *
Aww, poor Farothin!! Do you think the orcs captured him? Should he escape? Live? Die?! Your opinion might make the difference! Let me know what you think!
Hey, please review!! Even if it's just to drop a line, it's truly encouraging to hear from your readers!