Building Ithilien

Dangerous Games

Building Ithilien

Chapter Forty-one: Dangerous Games

Legolas and Miredhel met together later that night in the comfort of her tent that the prince rebuilt for her. They sat comfortably on their blankets spread over the sweet prairie grass, and both elves embraced the chance to be alone together.

"I've been waiting all evening to do this again," he said, pulling her into a fierce hug and raining eager kisses along her forehead, cheek, and neck, before capturing her mouth in a searing, hungry kiss.

She gladly complied, tilting her head back and leaning into him to make the most of his welcome embrace.

"If it seems like I'm crazy about you, Miredhel—I am," he confessed, wrapping his arms around her even more tightly and kissing the top of her head possessively. "You were all I could think of today," he whispered.

"Legolas," she said in turn, tilting her head just a little so her frank, hazel eyes could meet his hectic blue ones. "I am so glad and relieved that I came with you on this journey. I seriously don't know what I would have done if I were still back in Minas Tirith right now, wanting you the way I do." She traced her thumb gently from his forehead across his cheek to his perfect lips. "If you only knew the way I feel inside—"

"Like molton rock?" he guessed.

"I was going to say like the strongest miruvor—but yes," she agreed, her voice going soft. "And all I can think of is how much I want to be with you." She looked at him a bit wild-eyed and then leaned her head against his shoulder.

"I'm right here," he soothed, smoothing his hand over her hair.

"It's almost painful," she murmured, "and you're right here with me. I can't imagine how I would feel if you were gone."

"I know," he said, "I know," and he tried to make sense of their feelings. "After last night, I wondered—no, I knew this would happen. I knew it that night. It's why I insisted you join the war party with me."

"Legolas, it can't be—"

His eyes deepened as he looked at her cheek upon his shoulder. "It can, Miredhel," he said gently, "and it is. I knew it after the first time we made love."

"Forgive me, if I'm not as experienced in these matters as you," she said and frowned, pulling away from him, "but doesn't it seem a little hasty to you, Legolas? It was only one night!--albeit several times, but—"

"Miredhel, I love you," he said, pulling her back into his arms and delivering another fierce kiss to the top of her head. "I LOVE you, and I can not imagine any other elf that I would rather bond in love with, than you, you and none other."

"It feels like it's happening so fast, but then at the same time, I have been waiting for this all my life," she said and attempted a small laugh, "—all those nights, Legolas, that I spent dreaming in that garden. I never dreamed it would happen like this—"

"Shh, Miredhel," he said quietly, "I know it's not a perfect courtship, but I promise you that—"

She stopped him mid-sentence by covering his lips with her own, and he gave into the kiss, open and tender. He let himself lean back onto the blankets and grass beneath them, pulling her down beside him, their legs tangled together, and he could feel how warm she was beside him and felt the beating of her heart against his chest.

Miredhel stopped the kiss and looked in his eyes.

"I don't care about a perfect courtship. I just want to be with you. Legolas," she said, shaking her head, "you're a prince, a leader, and a hero to our people." She ran a tremulous finger across his hairline and down one of his braids. "A hero to me," she said quietly, gazing down. "I'm honored, and amazed, and so very glad that I should share in this gift with you, a bond with you." She looked up at him again, and her eyes were wet and laden with love and longing.

He rolled over on his side and propped himself up on one arm. "Oh, Miredhel," he murmured, "the things you do to me inside," and he brushed a stray curl away from her eyes and kissed her there.

He then gathered her into his arms, and she was amazed that one so strong could also be so tender; and both elves took comfort in the love they shared and the bond they had newly forged. Their sighs and the occasional moan were lost among the whispering of the tall grass in the field around their tent, and none of the men of the camp were any wiser to the pledges of love and the passion which passed between Prince Legolas and Lady Miredhel that night.

Fire and darkness rained upon the field at the edge of a great battle. In the foreground, he caught a glimpse of Aragorn on his white charger, raising Anduril to rally the troops. On the distant horizon, the fort at Calenfen winked uncertainly through the thickening haze of smoke and ash. The roar of battle consumed him, growing louder and louder, and flames sprouted every where. In this dark hour, the dragon came forth, his voice more terrible than the shouts and trumpets of his minions, and stood before the prince.

"You have served me well, elf," the beast spat. "You have brought me my desire."

Legolas turned uncomfortably on his side, pulling his arm out from under his head to drape it gently across Miredhel beside him. He had just woken another horrific dream that left him completely unsettled and more than worried. He had dreamed of the beast almost every night since his first encounter with him that night on the Anduin.

Legolas shuddered. Did the dreams even have any meaning to them? He hoped not. Yet as he pulled the blanket up to cover Miredhel's bare shoulders, the prince could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. A shadow, more than just residue from the dark dream he had just woken from, plagued his thoughts. A threat lurked near the camp.

The prince sat up, taking great care not to disturb his lover beside him and pulled on his tunic, then reached for his weapons. He paused for a moment and placed a tender kiss on Miredhel's cheek. Her eyelashes fluttered, and Legolas whispered his love for her and then slid soundlessly from their tent.

Legolas searched the perimeter of the camp; the men slept soundly and the horses were quiet. The soldiers on watch gave him a respectful nod as he passed among them. Nothing seemed out of place, and yet… Legolas could not dismiss the way sense of dread that washed over him when he looked out past the camp into the inky darkness, or the uncommon chill creeping across his skin. He closed his eyes for a moment to clear his mind and sharpen his perception. The night was quiet enough, but Legolas sensed more. The enemy was out there. He focused on the feeling and let his elvish intuition take over, moving through the still rows of men sleeping until he stopped at the northern edge of camp.

Adrendil was there also, his eyes intent on the seemingly empty plain before them.

The prince's concentration broke when confronted with his errant captain.

"I had to rebuild that tent you smashed, you know, Adrendil," Legolas said good-humoredly and intoned, "Do be more careful next time."

The Captain cut his eyes to his lord. "My apologies, your highness. I'm sure I do not know what came over me."

A muscle along the prince's jaw involuntarily tightened at Adrendil's blithe tone. "I think you do, Captain Adrendil. Take care that it does not happen again," Legolas warned.

Adrendil gradually turned his head, and the elves' eyes met. Adrendil's gaze had none of the deference that a captain should show to his lord; instead, he looked upon the prince with obvious contempt.

Legolas' eyes darkened. "It is a dangerous game you play, Adrendil," said the prince, speaking of the elf's move on Miredhel.

"It is a dangerous game we all play," the Captain boldly countered. "Look at us now-- a prince and his captain vying for the love of one maiden."

"She made her choice clear to you tonight," Legolas pointed out.

"Of course, she did, and I gladly accept defeat from an opponent as worthy as yourself, lord," Adrendil said smoothly and paused, his eyes darting away to glance at the dark horizon below the moon. "But I worry for her, Prince Legolas. How can you promise her that you won't fall in battle? That you won't fall tonight?"

The prince followed Adrendil's gaze and peered out into the vague landscape. The truth of the matter was, Legolas had no idea what might happen in the next couple of days, and he never felt the keen limitations of his immortality more than now, now that he had fallen for Miredhel.

"You risk her death for her love," Adrendil accused.

"Don't we all risk death for love?" said Legolas with a small smile. "Do you not risk it every time you strap on your weapons? You love battle, Captain, yet it may bring your death."

"Yes, my death, Prince, but not someone else's," Adrendil shot back. "I do not also risk the life of a sweet, curly-headed maiden with eyes colored like the forest."

Legolas winced, and Adrendil was elf enough to notice it.

"If her grief returned, would you let her go? To leave these lands? Or would you selfishly try to keep her by your side?" Adrendil asked in a superior tone.

"It won't return," Legolas vowed stubbornly.

"Ah, but if it did?" Adrendil probed. "I know you too well, Prince. You would not forsake your duty to Ithilien or Aragorn to leave for the havens with your lover."

Legolas' eyes flashed. "Her grief won't return, Adrendil. Stop talking about it."

"So certain are you?" sneered the Captain, and he enjoyed seeing the one who would always be higher than him, more noble than him, squirm.

"That's enough!" Legolas commanded, looking every inch the prince that he was. There was something etched in the lines of his face that spoke of a greatness not yet revealed, of a terrible will and power held in check by grace, summoned from mighty elf lords of elder days.

Adrendil fell silent. He did not cower, for he had been a Captain in his realm for many long years, and he knew how to hide his fear.

Even Legolas was a little shocked at how much his tone of voice had sounded like his father's. He folded his arms and looked at Adrendil directly, changing the subject authoritatively.

"Why are you keeping watch here, Captain? The king has plenty of men staked out."

"Something stirs to the north, my lord," he said.

Legolas nodded appreciatively. It was good to have another elf around, even if it did have to be Adrendil. "I feel it too," he agreed. "Have you seen anything?"

"Yes. Tiny flicks of light flared and then vanished, like a fire suddenly put out. I thought I dreamed at first, but then it happened again."

Legolas frowned pensively. "What do you think it was—torches?"

"Or campfires of some sort," guessed Adrendil. "There's no way of knowing."

"It could be nothing-- fireflies," Legolas mused, "but then why do I have this hunch that it's more?"

"Orcs?" Adrendil supplied.

"Why didn't you come and get me when it happened the first time?" the prince demanded.

"Respectfully, my lord? Your attention was otherwise engaged at the moment," Adrendil smirked.

"So it was," Legolas agreed, not at all nonplussed that Adrendil may have come by the tent while he might have been making love to Miredhel. In fact, he was rather pleased. Perhaps the situation would help the captain to appreciate the reality of the prince's relationship with her.

"Well, I'm here now," Legolas said dryly. "Let's tell Aragorn about your little discovery and then go down and have a look for ourselves."

"My lord, I advise you against waking the king. Men are noisy. They may inadvertently alert our enemy to the fact that we're aware of their presence."

Legolas' eyes shifted toward Aragorn's dwindling campfire. "Well," he hesitated. He did not travel with simply Strider the Ranger anymore. Aragorn came with a regular entourage now, and Legolas doubted that they would all carry themselves as quietly as Estel might. Adrendil was right. Waking the king now would create an immediate bustle at a most inopportune time.

"We can be back before the night watchmen even change posts," Adrendil averred, and Legolas nodded in agreement.

Both elves strung their bows and crept from the camp into the tall, waving grass of the plains, heading in the direction of the mysterious lights. While they moved, crouching to hide in the height of the grass, Adrendil slowly slipped his dagger from his belt. A peculiar smile flitted across his face as he stayed close behind Legolas, watching the prince's back.

Legolas turned, noticing both the dagger and the smile, and looked at him oddly. "Should I be concerned, Captain?" he quipped in a quiet whisper. His eyes held nothing but amusement, but a careful observer would have instantly noticed the tightening in his jaw, and the tension in his shoulders, like a spring coiling.

Adrendil had always been a careful observer.

"My prince," he said, astonished, and gracefully bowed his head. His voice took on a wounded quality. "You know that I have pledged my life to serve you, to die—for you."

"Yes, of course, Captain," Legolas said and cuffed him on the shoulder good-naturedly. "Come, let's find these lights." The prince turned back to making their trail, and Adrendil, smiling slyly continued to follow.

As they passed a small rise in the plains, the elves' keen eyes picked up movement in the grass far before them.

"Listen!" Legolas said excitedly.

"Orcs," hissed Adrendil.

"It's just a small party," Legolas whispered to the captain. "We'll separate and hide in the grass. We can pick them off one at a time."

Adrendil nodded, and the elves split off, heading in different directions.

Legolas carefully crept toward a small bluff, bow in hand, when he heard a distinct snarl to his right. He reacted quickly, his head whipping around toward the sound of his enemy.

An orc in dark, stained armor stared straight at him.

In one hand the beast held a gruesome dagger, and in the other, a long black whip. Legolas' arm shot back to pull an arrow from his quiver, but the orc moved just as quickly. He cracked his whip, and the black leather tore through the space between them. Legolas did not even have time to fend off the blow, and the whip's twisted sting caught the elf by the neck, wrapping around it like a deadly noose.

With a fiendish smile, the orc jerked his whip, bringing his captive to his knees, and the rough hide bit into the elf's tender skin. He could not cry out, he could not even breathe, and it felt as though his entire windpipe had collapsed. Bow and arrows forgotten, Legolas' hands groped at the sinewy leather that tightly bound his neck, trying desperately to buy himself one more breath. The leather straps tightened again, feasting on his already raw flesh, and Legolas felt the earth move beneath him.

He was being dragged to the orc camp.

As he choked, his eyes watered so much that he could only discern a dim outline of his enemy drawing near him. His ears pounded from the roar inside his head, and vaguely he could hear someone gagging. It was himself, Legolas realized. He spared one hand from pulling at the rawhide binding his neck and tried reaching for one of his knives. If he acted quickly, he could cut himself free…

The orc caught the elf's movement all too easily and swung his large metal-shod boot, connecting directly with the elf's hand. Legolas' knife flew through the air and was lost to the grass. The orc stomped down on the prince's wrist in a sickening crunch and leered over him, pulling up on his whip so that Legolas' neck and head lifted off the ground. For the first time that night, Legolas looked into his enemy's eyes. They were dark with conceit and sheer hatred.

The orc grabbed him roughly by the shoulder and loosened the whip from his neck. With a violent shudder, Legolas sucked in air greedily, his chest heaving.

"Elf-maggot!" the orc cursed, "No good killing you now—our night's just begun!"

With one swipe of his claws, he ripped the quiver and remaining knife from the elf's back and tore his tunic from him.

The orc eyed the broad expanse of Legolas' bare chest appreciatively. "So much smooth flesh, ripe for the spoiling…" he growled and bound the elf's hands behind him. He then yanked Legolas' arm, pulling the elf close to his side.

"Did you like what we did to your young scout?" he whispered gutturally in the elf's perfect pointed ear.

Farothin, Legolas thought, and a feeling darker than rage burned thick in his veins at the suggestion. His whole entire body tightened in his enemy's grip, and he turned his head and spit right at the orc's face.

The orc's lips curled into a nasty smile as he licked the elf's saliva from his cheek. "So you do remember!" the orc confirmed, eyes gleaming. He tightened his grip on Legolas' arm until his thick nails drew blood, and began to stride to the orc camp, half-dragging the elf the rest of the way.

The orcs shouted their glee as the fetched him into their filthy camp circle. Legolas struggled, kicking and twisting, against his captors as they brought him in, and the first enormous orc who had originally captured him cracked his whip at their heels. Amid the grunts and hisses of the enemy band, Legolas bore his captivity in silence and relative stoicism. He did not speak, or cry out, nor would he meet their eye; even as they pinched and grabbed and pulled cruelly at him as he passed, his expression remained the same. To see his eyes during that dark night was to know intensity; they were razor sharp, a lethal blue gray, piercing the darkness like the tip of a blade.

With churlish delight, they bound his hands to a shoulder high wooden post that the orcs had freshly dug into the ground for their prisoner. The prince's original captor, the tall orc with the whip, came forth, and the other orcs rallied and shouted his triumph over the elf whelp and another word which Legolas could only imagine was his name. The orcs called their leader Scabgrub.

"Feast your eyes, boys!" Scabgrub shouted, flicking his whip at the elf. "We have before us the great elf prince Thranduillion!"

Legolas' eyes flickered at the sound of his name and rank, and the corners of his mouth tightened in determination. He willfully stared down at the ground, knowing that whatever happened, he must not reveal any information.

Scabgrub moved close to the post and the tied-up elf. With a preemptive smirk at his fellow orcs, he tangled his grimy, blood-worn hands in the prince's hair and then jerked down on the ends in a mighty tug, forcing Legolas to look up.

"Oh, we know who you are, princeling," he said, his voice a self-satisfied rumble. "Our spies have watched you ever since you left those damn woods enchanted by the elf-witch."

Lothlorien?--impossible, Legolas thought, and his face betrayed his obvious disbelief.

Scabgrub sneered and let go of the elf's hair. He swung his hand and backhanded Legolas across the cheek. The prince's head snapped to the other side, and Legolas tasted the coppery sting of blood in his mouth and on his lips.

The rest of the mob snarled their approval.

"Fool!" Scabgrub shouted at Legolas. "We know all your doings. Our master bid it so. We know where you've been, who your captains are, and the number in your war party…" The orc smiled cunningly and prodded Legolas' chin up with the butt of his whip, so that he could watch the elf's face. "We know of your closest friends, and we know about your lover."

Legolas' eyes darkened. It took all his powers of reserve to school his outward expression into one of casual disinterest, but inside the orc's words tormented him to no end. As best as he tried, he could not pretend that it was all lies. He could not. And if they spoke of Miredhel or threatened her, he did not know how long he could maintain silence or control himself.

"Oh, yes. We know all about her--that elf-wench with the curly hair and her smooth white body." Scabgrub taunted him, tracing a dark nail down the elf's cheek. "Do you love her? Should we fetch her to our camp and find out?"

An eager rumble spread through the ranks, and the surrounding orcs volunteered their services to capture her.

Legolas did not answer and looked stonily at his captor.

"Do you think she'll love you so dearly when we're done with you?" another orc sneered.

Still Legolas refused to answer, and in his mind he was far away from the orcs, and the blood, and the stench and filth. He thought only of Miredhel's eyes and the way she had looked when he spoke of them being bonded in love, the hope that was there, and he silently resolved to return to her no matter the price. For him, there could be no other choice.

"He won't talk now," Scabgrub decided. "Let's see if we can loosen his tongue, boys!"

All the orcs roared and clambered impatiently to see what could be done to the elf, and the ranks parted between them. The last thing Legolas saw before they roughly turned his body to face the post was a swarthy orc heading right toward him with a thick chain in his hands. Then Legolas remembered Farothin's wounds, the enormous and odd shaped lacerations across his back and sides; at the time, he could not make sense of the pattern flayed into his friend's skin, and he had wondered what could have caused so much damage.

Legolas' ears pricked at sound of the chain's end dropping from the orc's hand and hitting the earth with a solid thud. His muscles tensed, and he squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the first strike.

The chain viciously snapped into his back with a rumble like the coming thunder before a storm, and a flash of pain creased through his body.

Legolas cried out for the first time that night. He simply could not help the sound that had escaped his lips when the chain struck him. He felt like he'd been hit by lightning. He understood the marks on Farothin's back now.

The crowd of orcs around the elf jeered rambunctiously, and Scabgrub signaled for the orc with the chain to hit the prisoner again. Legolas gritted his teeth. He would not cry out anymore.

Snap! The chain whipped across his shoulders, and the prince found he could scarcely draw breath, and he did not have time to brace himself before he heard the rumble of the chain in the air again.

Snap! The links popped across his back and around his torso to his side. The elf's body shuddered from the blows, and Legolas could not stop himself from shaking.

The chain flew again, and again, then again, one blow right after another; the whip-master neither paused nor stopped. The prince lost count. The muscles in his back burned wildly, and the world around him seemed to shrink to tiny details—the smell of blood in the air and the cracking of the chain. His mind was quickly becoming a jumble of incoherent thoughts, and the only thing that made sense to him was that he was thankful for not being able to see what his back looked like.

Snap! Surely his skin hung in shreds by now, and the pain was unbearable, more than he had ever known—at any time. Legolas' head drooped unaccountably, and he realized he did not have the strength to raise it. His eyes rolled back in his head and then drifted down. The prince discovered that his pants were crimson from his waist to his knees, and someone's blood stained the freshly dug earth around the post where the orcs had chained him.

Snap! This time Legolas watched red violently splatter the post. His blood. His stomach heaved from pain and nausea while his legs gave out from under him. He sank to his knees, and the scene around him-- the orcs, the post, the chain-- crashed into darkness.

The next thing he knew, the enemy had turned his body around from the post to face forward again. The rough hewn wood offered no comfort to his raw back and arms, but Legolas had no choice but to lean against it. He had not the strength to do otherwise. The mob of orcs before him moved away and then returned, horning in even closer than before.

"Bring that 'ere!" barked Scabgrub. "Can't have his majesty fainting on us—that would spoil all our fun—"

He waved over an orc bearing a shallow helmet-turned-bowl, and Legolas realized what 'that' was—some sort of drink—syrupy, dark, and vile. No telling what it was, and the prince decided in seconds that he was not going to drink it.

The orc with the bowl tilted it to the elf's lips. The stench was unbelievable, like rotten eggs, spoiling meat, and Gimli's unwashed beard. Almost reflex-gagging, Legolas jerked his head away, and the liquid spilled down his chin.

The orc Scabgrub was not going to allow such behavior.

He belted his prisoner in the stomach, and when Legolas gasped, the other orc poured the noxious liquid into his mouth. The orc draught burned his lips and gums, and some of it eked down his throat, giving the elf a full-body shudder. A hot, fierce glow erupted from his throat down his stomach, and Legolas spit the rest of the drink back in Scabgrub's face.

The orc shot Legolas a bilious death-glare and then hollered to his companions.

"Nagburz, come! Ask your questions now," Scabgrub summoned another orc to come near the post.

"Ready to talk, elf?" Nagburz sneered. His voice was quiet and not so harsh as Scabgrub's, but infinitely more sinister. "We know that one of your wretched elf spies sneaked past our guards around Calenfen. What did he tell you?"

Elf spy? Legolas wondered and looked away.

Nagburz guided the elf's chin back to face him with a dark-streaked finger. "If you won't talk, perhaps there is someone else who will. Your lover, perhaps?" he questioned the elf with a knowing smile. "We could bring her here, steal her out of that stupid tent you built."

Legolas swallowed thickly.

"You wouldn't mind sharing her with us, would you?" his soft voice probed. "I can tell my suggestion bothers you. I can see it in your eyes, elf." The orc then leaned over and whispered a hideously lewd suggestion in the prince's ear.

Legolas' eyes flashed, and his face darkened as he lunged at Nagburz, only to be held back by the post.

"I thought as much," the orc concluded quietly. "Now tell me—will the king of the White City take his army to Calenfen?"

Legolas hesitated, and Nagburz repeated his heinous plans of what he'd like to do to Miredhel.

"I don't know!" Legolas seethed finally, breaking his long silence. Forgive me, Aragorn, he thought miserably.

"I think you do," Nagburz said confidently in his soft voice, "and every time you lie to me, prince, you make it worse for her."

"I don't know," Legolas insisted. "A king keeps his own council. His decisions are his own." Maybe he lost too much blood to think clearly or the orc draught was having a greater effect than he thought, but the prince could not understand what Nagburz was after; and the entire orc camp seemed caught in a filmy haze. His eyes would not focus properly, and he hung his head to find relief.

Nagburz' eyes narrowed, and he stomped away from the elf and the post.

"Bring me that elf wench or beat this one some more," Nagburz said, loudly enough for Legolas to overhear. "I can't get the maggot to say if he knows anything about the ambush."

Ambush? Legolas wondered, and stole a glance at the huddle of orcs to his right.

Scabgrub snarled his way into the conversation, "If the king turns away now, the Master's whole plan is busted. And then he'll torch us like that bunch of traitors that tried to waylay the elves on the road from Lothlorien."

Legolas' mind raced to when his company first left the Golden Wood, and Farothin had discovered the burnt, mangled corpses on the road. Those orcs had been waiting for him, and the dragon had killed them in turn. The prince eyed his enemies. If they kept talking, perhaps he could discover Anglachur's plans.

But another orc spied the elf paying too much attention to what was being said. "Fools!" another he squealed, "You've gone and said too much! He's heard you!"

"Won't matter," Scabgrub growled in turn. "He won't be able to tell anybody anything by the time we're done with him." He shared an evil, knowing look with Nagburz. "Forget the questioning and go put the irons in the fire, Nagburz… What we do tonight will be enough to make the king continue. The elf will help us give him a nice little reminder of what will happen at that fort if he doesn't go."

Legolas dismally watched Nagburz plant several cruel looking iron pieces in the hot coals of the orcs' small fire.

Scabgrub stepped forward with a malicious grin and brandished a short, jagged knife. "Ready to bleed, elf?"

The prince stared defiantly toward the dark horizon and decided he was about sick of this whole scene. The chain had been bad enough, but he really did not know how much longer he could last, what with the promise of knives and red-hot pokers to look forward to. What had happened to Adrendil?

With a half-fascinated and partly horrified expression, Adrendil looked on from a comfortable distance, hidden by shadows. At length, he turned to sneak away from the scene unheard when he was blind-sided and tackled to the ground by a furious and unknown assailant.

The captain tried to rise but his attacker pushed him to the ground and pinned his arms behind him.

"Traitor," an elvish voice hissed. "You would leave your prince to be tortured?"

"Who are you?" gasped Adrendil and tried to turn his head to discover his attacker's identity, but his opponent was too quick for him and grabbed a chunk of the captain's thick hair.

"Don't move!" the voice warned, and the mystery attacker banged Adrendil's head into the ground with a certain sense of relish.

"I should pummel you senseless and blind for this," the voice threatened, "and perhaps I will later. This has been a long time coming, Captain." A pair of strong hands pulled Adrendil's arm tight behind his back into an incredibly painful position and began to squeeze.

His hands were stilled by an anguished moan from Legolas at the orcs' camp.

"If you keep on like this, he'll die," Adrendil whispered bitterly. "I was going for help before you stopped me."

Adrendil's captor hoisted him up by the collar in one swift movement so they stood face to face, and the captain could not have been more astonished.

He stared into the gray steady eyes of Eledhel of Lothlorien.

"You. You have some nerve," Adrendil spat, "attacking me like that."

"And you will count yourself fortunate if that is indeed the worst I do to you," Eledhel warned. "You let Prince Legolas get captured by these beasts and did nothing."

"I was going to get help," Adrendil insisted darkly. "What do you think you can do against all of them?" The captain pulled his long, thick hair over his shoulder and glowered at Eledhel.

"I know what my duty is," Eledhel said, releasing Adrendil so strongly and suddenly that the elf almost fell to the ground again. "Do what you must, coward. I'm going to go save my friend." He left the other Captain where he stood and readied his bow for attack.

Adrendil frowned and then hurried back toward the king's camp, muttering as he went.

Meanwhile, Eledhel hatched a plan to save his friend, who was failing fast. He could shoot one orc to fall over the camp fire, temporarily blacking out camp. Then he would slide in among the orcs during the confusion, soundlessly slit the throat of Legolas' tormentors, cut the prince's bonds, pass him a weapon and then high-tail it out of there.

Eledhel waited in the grass. He could scarcely stand to look at his friend, for Legolas suffered badly. His face now sported a fearsome bruise and gash across his right cheekbone, and Eledhel wished that he could bring some comfort to the prince, to let him know that help was on its way. He pursed his lips and then carefully made a low bird-call, like a woodland thrush, one long whistle and two short.

Legolas lifted his head, his eyes alert, and then Eledhel struck at the camp, following his hastily constructed plan. He let his bow sing and skillfully shot an orc nearest the fire.

The light went out, plunging the camp and mob into unsteady darkness. The orcs howled, and the sharp screech of unsheathing blades pierced the night.

Eledhel pulled his long blade from its sheath and sliced his way amongst them, heading for the largest orc near Legolas first. The captain's eyes were sharp enough that he could see them and attack at will, and the mob of orcs had turned to chaos. As he slid behind Legolas, Eledhel palmed him a small dagger and then turned just in time to deflect a blow from Scabgrub's whip.

The orc hissed and charged, and Eledhel dodged to the right. Scabgrub missed hitting him completely, and before the beast could turn, Eledhel had swung his blade for a deadly blow. Scabgrub sank to his knees, tongue hanging out, and cursed before Eledhel beheaded him with not undue satisfaction.

"Legolas—" he called, over his shoulder while planting his blade into another orc. "Are you free yet?" When Legolas did not answer, Eledhel turned again toward the post where his friend had been tied, and there was his prince shoving a dagger firmly into the neck of his interrogator, Nagburz.

When Nagburz at last fell to the ground, so did Legolas, his face ashen with blood streaming from the corner of his mouth, and Eledhel saw for the first time that his friend's back was completely raw and open.

Eledhel was at his side in an instant. Most of the orcs in the camp had fallen to angry accusations against each other and had began to fight amongst themselves. As much as Eledhel would have liked to stay and avenge Legolas' suffering, instead he loyally lifted the prince over his shoulder and disappeared into the swaying grass. He was met halfway to the king's camp by Aragorn, Adrendil, and a good company of fleet-armed soldiers. Of course, Eledhel and Aragorn already knew each other. After all, Aragorn had been the one to introduce Legolas to Eledhel when the Fellowship had first come to Lothlorien. Neither the elf nor the man stalled on pleasantries.

"He's injured," Eledhel said right away in brief, clipped sentences. "I don't know how badly. No, the enemy's still back there."

Adrendil volunteered to lead the soldiers and finish off the enemy party, and Aragorn and Eledhel returned quickly to camp. As they hurried to the king's wide tent, Aragorn checked to make sure Legolas still breathed, and Eledhel filled him in on his side of events.

"The orcs and dragon have Calenfen surrounded. I broke through their ranks to warn you and then followed this miserable company of orcs, figuring they might lead me to you," Eledhel said, following the king past a couple of silver-helmed guards. Past the soldiers, he regretted to see Miredhel emerging from a tent at the edge of the camp.

"Oh, Valar, no," he murmured under his breath.

Aragorn turned his head to see what Eledhel meant and saw Miredhel coming toward them. "I should have told you your sister traveled with us, Eledhel," he said apologetically.

"Given the circumstances, I understand the omission, but why is she here with the war party and not at Minas Tirith?"

"Legolas wanted her to come," Aragorn answered honestly, and his eyes strayed across his friend's battered body and then to Miredhel who was still a way's off. He remembered happening upon them early yesterday morning while they still slept in each others' arms, and he knew Legolas loved her. The king was just unsure of how much Eledhel knew of the couple's relationship. One thing was certain, however; no woman should see her lover looking the way Legolas did at the moment. He looked half-dead.

"Quick, give Legolas to me," Aragorn suggested. "I will take him inside the tent, and you can speak with your sister."

Eledhel gently transferred the prince to the man's arms, and Aragorn disappeared with his patient into the canvas folds of the tent. Eledhel surveyed his blood-streaked clothing before his sister arrived and wondered if she had seen him carrying Legolas. He feared her reaction to the news that Legolas had been grievously injured. Although he tried to appear glad to see her, deep concern and sorrow burdened his heart; he worried for Aragorn fighting to save Legolas' life, for his sister's safety and her Grief, and for the elves that he had left at Calenfen surrounded by scheming orcs and dragon. The night around them was still so dark, and a dawn of any sort seemed far away.

Eledhel's eyes were wet and bright by the time Miredhel reached him.

The look on her face told him everything.

To be continued...
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