Mist and Shadow
From the previous chapter: Aragorn has left Minas Tirith with his soldiers to help defend the fort at Calenfen. Legolas and Miredhel accompany him, and Adrendil is along for the ride as well. Meanwhile, the other elves wait on reinforcements at the fort.
Chapter 39: Mist and Shadow
Moonlight flickered through yawning veils of cloud and mist to cast eerie shadows against the aged stone walls at Calenfen. Wind from the east moaned against the main gate, bawling its churlish discontent to the few who guarded the outer walls. The men kept their hoods pulled high and huddled against the ramparts, for a foul breath lingered, and a general malaise spread through the air.
A storm brewed.
Only two warriors braved the winds on the highest wall, and any foot soldier passing below them, whistling his lonely tune to take comfort in the familiar, might not have noticed them at all. If he had looked closer, the two sentries' cloaks would have told them for what they truly were—elves, each keeping silent vigil with the stars that dared to peer through wind-shredded clouds. Both strained their eyes against the night, fearing, and yet longing, for the resolution that the morning's light might bring: another day, and with it, the possibility of death and battle.
One of the elves frowned at the swirling mist and the vague outline of southern mountains. At the moment, everything seemed so distant to him, and the more the wind howled, the more anxious he became. Finally, he broke the silence with soft elven words:
"Sulindal, we have seen no sign or trace of our enemy since we have arrived. I have heard the men talking, and they believe that this is some sort of elvish plot on our part. They grow restless."
Sulindal permitted himself to smile a slow, careful smile behind the folds of his hood. "It seems that they are not the only ones who are restless, Eledhel."
"I am sorry, friend. You must excuse my impatience. It's just that the enemy—"
Sulindal turned his head to catch his friend's eye and interrupted, "I sense that this impatience is not entirely based on the absence of our enemy." He placed his hand on his friend's shoulder to lend him comfort. "Eledhel, do not fear for your sister. She left in Adrendil's protection, with Legolas not far behind them."
Eledhel pulled back his hood to expose his face, and his grey eyes gleamed. "I think I have spent more time worrying about my sister with those two elves, than actual orcs."
"She knows her heart, melonin, and Legolas loves her. I am glad for them both," said Sulindal fairly.
"Well, I suppose I am too, but honestly, my sister's love affairs will surely be the death of me some day! Thank goodness that you had enough sense to stay away from her."
Sulindal only smiled.
If Eledhel noticed this, he pretended not to and averted his gaze south. "Legolas and Aragorn should be on their way here by now."
"I expect so. Do you hope to see them from afar, and that is why you've been standing in this very position since the second day of our arrival?" he asked wryly.
"Sulindal, I am in no mood for smug lectures," replied Eledhel sternly.
Sulindal did not reply, but the look in his eyes said enough to loosen his friend's tongue.
Eledhel recklessly raked his hands through his hair and answered frustratedly, "Nothing about this makes any sense, Sulindal. Thranduil's spies spot an enormous orc host moving past the southern fringes of Mirkwood and southward to Gondor, so our company leaves to warn the villagers. We meet up with the orcs at the secret pass through Emyn Muil. Farothin disappears and then returns to us almost battered beyond recognition. We raced to this fort, fearing an onslaught, and then…nothing. Does that not strike you as odd?"
To that, Sulindal had no wise answers or observations. He pensively folded his arms across his chest and remained silent.
"Where are the orcs? There is a host of thousands out there somewhere, and we make the perfect target. Why have they not attacked yet? Why would they hesitate?"
"You are right, Eledhel," acknowledged Sulindal. "Orcs are not known for their patience in battle. Perhaps they already moved south."
"In which case, we ought to withdraw from Calenfen and have our company meet Aragorn and Legolas on the road," Eledhel suggested.
Sulindal nodded mindfully. "Someone should scout the surrounding areas for traces of the enemy to see if they linger."
The two friends' eyes met, and Eledhel leaned against a parapet and peered into the shadows. "I will go," he answered quietly, and his words hung in the cold night air.
"And I will go with you," Sulindal agreed, his dark grey eyes offering reassurance. The proposed task would not be an easy one. Both elves remembered Farothin's fate.
Once the decision was made, Sulindal and Eledhel acted quickly. The elves told their friends of their intended plan, left Belegil in charge, and fetched their horses.
The gate groaned in opening, but more eerie was the sound of the heavy wooden bracers being secured behind them. One of the elves' horses whinnied nervously as if he knew and shared in his master's burdens. Sulindal and Eledhel circled the fort together once, and then agreed to each take part of searching the outer perimeter. Sulindal would ride along toward the north, and Eledhel, to the south.
Eledhel picked his way cautiously across the foggy bottomlands. The evening was too quiet for his liking, and something in the air or on the wind reminded him of that first night when they had encountered the dragon on the road to Legolas' forest.
Eventually his horse balked at going further, so Eledhel slid down from the side, his feet sinking into the marshy sod. After whispering a few words of consolation to his mount, he crept away toward the dim unknown. The land seemed to be rising in elevation under his feet, and before he knew it, the elf stood upon a ridge of sorts that pulled sharply away from the lower southern lands. It was of little consequence, thought Eledhel. He could see little before him but white against black, mist and shadow.
Unexpectedly, a breeze stirred from the north, and the clouds obscuring the moon slid away, exposing the land before Eledhel in a swift moonbeam. What the elf saw stole his breath away.
For there in the moon's own light, stretched a spiky slope of sentinel orcs in one long line across the horizon, watching and waiting. As far as the elf's eyes could tell, there was neither end nor break to their line—no weakness, no relief. Eledhel's long, graceful fingers drifted to his sword almost unconsciously, and his hand would not depart from the hilt for quite some time. With a curse under his breath, he turned on his path and traveled west in the direction of the Great River, toward the Anduin, for that would be the route that the king and Legolas would most likely take. Yet as far as he walked, the great line of orcs never faltered once, and Eledhel's fear for his friends' safety escalated as he began to wonder if the orcs encircled the entire fort.
The moon rapidly lost her brilliance, and the night dimmed as before, but Eledhel could still make out the line as he returned to his horse and traveled north toward the fort, following the perimeter from a comfortable distance. When he crossed the main road, which was really no more than a dusty footpath that led to the fort, Eledhel stopped once again to peer into the night. In the vague haze, he could discern even more shapes, the greatest concentration of orcs he had seen as of yet. There were too many to count, and even as he strained his eyes for a better view, the moon flashed through the clouds again, illuminating the horde before him. Lines of them curled back and across the silvery fields like a dark stain or ripples in a black pond; and in the midst of them all, gleamed the dragon, Anglachur the Black, as beautiful and sleek as he was sinister.
The beast stretched before his minions with a cat-like grace, and Eledhel found himself dismounting his horse and wandering in for a closer look. Although everything in his mind protested against his actions as folly, he could not seem to help himself. The longer he looked at the dragon, every second he lingered, the more he felt drawn to its power, its magnetism. With his hand still on the hilt of his sword, he crept closer to the enemy camp with his eyes fixed on the dragon.
The orcs milled soberly around their serpentine leader, with a caution bordering on reverence and fear. The enemy had lit no fires, but Eledhel could smell the brimstone of the dragon's breath. The closer he moved, the more overwhelming the stench became, and now Anglachur lifted his head as if to listen to the sounds of the night. Still the elf moved forward.
Then, pulling himself up on his enormous scaled haunches, the dragon turned so that his great golden eyes could roam the land toward the fort where the elf stood. Eledhel waited numbly on the path. Memories of his encounter with the beast on the bridge replayed in his mind. Anglachur had violated his mind, invaded his senses, and this knowledge alone revolted Eledhel. He had felt so unclean, so used. Now it was happening again; he could hear the creature's voice calling to him, beckoning him forward. He could not stop it…
Then, out of nowhere, something seized him from behind.
A hand roughly grabbed his shoulder, accompanied by a voice he knew well and loved.
"Eledhel!" Sulindal pulled his friend around to face him. "What are you doing?"
The elf sucked in his breath and paled as he realized what he had almost done. "Sulindal, we are in danger here," he said quickly, and the elves mounted their horses and rode up the path toward the fort. Once Eledhel felt that he was a safe distance from the orcs, and more importantly, the dragon, he slowed his horse so that he and his friend could talk.
"We are surrounded," guessed Sulindal. "I saw orcs patrolling our northern perimeter."
"Aye, and our southern too, but the largest group waits on the path to the fort," Eledhel informed him and paused uncomfortably. "Sulindal, I saw the dragon, there, on the road."
Even Sulindal could not hide his dismay at this news. "Then I believe that solves our mystery, my friend. I know why they have not attacked the fort, why they wait…"
Eledhel swallowed dryly. "It is a trap."
"And we are the bait," Sulindal rubbed the bridge of his nose in frustration. Aragorn and Legolas would arrive in days, and they would ride unwittingly right into the enemy's clutches.
"Someone must warn them. I will go," volunteered Eledhel.
The other elf firmly shook his head. "Eledhel, no. Think of your sister, her grief. You are all she has left. You must not take such a risk."
Eledhel's eyes were bright as he answered, "I am thinking of Miredhel, Sulindal. She is why I must do this. Legolas rides with Aragorn's party….and I'm certain that she has fallen in love with him, despite all my warnings." He sighed and briefly looked down. "For that reason alone, I would leave to warn him, but he is also my friend. And hasn't the dragon been after the prince all along? Anglachur's set this trap for him!"
"We cannot be sure of that, Eledhel," Sulindal argued softly.
"Well, I am, and that is why I must go," said Eledhel. "Tell the others what we have seen tonight, keep a watch on the highest wall as before. When you see Gondor's colors, be ready for open battle."
"We will," Sulindal solemnly answered and saluted his friend out of respect and old tradition before giving him an inquisitive look. "And how will you get past the orcs?"
"I will just have to find a way," Eledhel answered determinedly as he turned his horse southward. He took one long look at his friend and smiled mischievously. "You know me, Sulindal."
The elf shook his head as though vexed, and watched his friend vanish into shadows. Sulindal would return to the fort alone, and he alone would have to bear his grim findings to the many hopeful families that waited there. A great many people's fates, both elves and humans, now depended on Eledhel's success. Sulindal raised his eyes to the stars, but the clouds hid them from view. No comfort would he find this night. He began a simple prayer to the Valar for Eledhel's safety, then he broadened it to include the men and women at the fort, and as he reached the gate and took one last glance at the thick night yawning behind him, his mind turned to Aragorn and Legolas, and with them, Miredhel. He could only hope that Eledhel would reach them safely...
Author's note: This chapter was a little shorter than usual, but it was transitionary. Originally I had planned on using it as an intro, but the more I developed it, I decided it could stand on its own. Also, because I figured I could go ahead and post it now, instead of making my readers wait an extra week/two weeks for the full update.
And a BIG thank you goes to Nevaratoiel for encouraging me to hurry up and post something. Peer pressure. Sometimes it's a good thing!
Thank you everybody who reviewed the last chapter: Legolas' melamin, Monkey's Harp, eyes of sky, Lil Lego, Alanis Darkholme, Amber Butterfly, Avey, Faerlain, emjo, Mellers, and Verpoort! Thank you so much!
Verpoort: I really like your idea in your last post. I actually have some plans along this line…
Mellers: Welcome to the story! Thanks for reviewing (and reading the whole thing! It's a long haul.) I hope to hear from you again. (are you a member on the OB files board?)
Alanis Darkholme: Welcome to the story! Like I said above to 'Mellers' thanks for reading the whole thing and for putting me on your favorites list! That rocks! I hope to hear from you again.
Avey: "Wow you updated! YAY! I think you should have Miredhel kick some annoying captain booty. He really needs to be put in his place.lol." Yes he does! And I think I know just the she-elf to do it…
Emjo: "Oh thank you, loved every word! Just please can they get married now? and I know I've said this before but please don't make this a sad ending PLEASE! hurry with the next update!" We still have a ways to go before the ending, and you know since this is modeled after Tolkien's stories, I'll probably try and aim for a 'Tolkienesque' ending...
Lil lego: I know how you much you like Sulindal, so I thought of you when I wrote this short chapter about what he and the others were up to. No harm has come to him yet, but no guarantees, okay? ;)
Eyes of sky: thank you for taking the time to review! I really enjoy hearing from you!
Amber butterfly: "Miredhel should definitely take Adrendil's lights out" Surprisingly enough, you're not the only one who thinks that! acts shocked I think it's only a matter of time… but that Adrendil can be pretty charming and a smooth operator. Who knows what could happen!
Faerlain: I know this chapter was short, but I hope it was still 'dudey' for you!
Monkey's Harp: "just want to whack Adrendil more and more with each chapter - he's such an infuriating prat!" I don't think you're the only one who feels that way… and I think Legolas (and probably Miredhel too) is coming dangerously close to beating Adrendil senseless as well…
Legolas Melamin: Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to post and say that! I really appreciated it! And you were the first to post for chapter 38! You win a prize… hmm… let me see.. How about Belegil or Sulindal? Take your pick!
To everyone who reviewed last time (or maybe I didn't hear from you), please leave me a review and let me know what you think about the story!
thank you for reading,