Building Ithilien

Hope, Always

In the previous chapters, Legolas had suffered some serious orc interrogation and all the benefits. He was beaten, cut up, and basically demoralized. Now, rescued by his friend Eledhel and fixed up by Aragorn's kingly healing ability, he suffers the memory and indignity of it all, along with the next big question-- what should he do next? There's a battle that must be waged and a dragon to be fought. How will the faithful band of friends (+Aragorn's army) defeat Anglachur the Black and his army of orcs?

Building Ithilien

Chapter 43: Hope, Always

Shadows lengthened around the camp as the moon waned, and Eledhel and Aragorn had been planning for many hours their strategy to take back Calenfen from the dragon and its host of orcs.

The king and elf had decided that it would be best if Aragorn's riders could assault and break through the front lines first. Speed was essential. If they were to have any hope of victory, they needed to eliminate the dragon quickly, and the sooner, the better.

"The question is, how?" Eledhel asked Aragorn. "I have seen this beast. He is as cunning as he is strong. He will anticipate our moves, and it will not be a question of if he takes flight to swoop down upon your men, but when. And when he does, he will make short work of laying waste to all of Gondor's forces."

Eledhel's grim painting of the battle shredded what was left of Aragorn's hope; he knew that the elf was prone neither to exaggeration nor pessimism. His gift was for seeing things as they were, and the king knew that their battle would be as difficult as Eledhel had described.

There was one minor detail, a tiny shred that kept the king from despair—Legolas' arrows. Aragorn explained to Eledhel about Legolas' theory that Miredhel had used one of Galadriel's enchanted arrows that the prince had won as a prize in the archery contest on the dragon Anglachur.

"There is some kind of wizardry worked upon them, Eledhel," Aragorn concluded. "These arrows can break the strongest armor, including dragons' scales."

"If what you say is true, then we could lure the dragon away from the main battle, pull him out onto the open fields where we have our best archers waiting. This plan could actually work," surmised Eledhel, and for the first time that night he truly smiled.

Aragorn tucked his pipe into his belt and stood. "Legolas still rests, I hope, but let us go and see how many of these arrows he has. We could decide which archers will be on our special dragon detail."

"Good idea," the elf agreed. "And we can figure out how to lure the dragon from the main battle. And do not even think of volunteering yourself for the position of bait, Aragorn…" Eledhel smirked as an idea came to his head. "We should ask Adrendil to do it."

"We'll see. Let us go look at those arrows first," Aragorn said, and together the king and elven captain went down into the camp toward the king's tent where Legolas and Miredhel rested together.

Legolas had been twitching uncomfortably on his side in the king's tent for several hours now. Miredhel lay beside him, her hands loosely clasping his, her face relaxed in the silent repose of elven dreams.

If it would not have proven quite so painful, the prince would have been tossing and turning. But since his new injuries prevented him the luxuries of fidgeting, Legolas continued to lie stiffly on his side. He had feigned sleep earlier to lull Miredhel into sleeping herself, and now that she finally rested peacefully, Legolas stared listlessly, his mind churning. He had never really slept well since the War, and now his body ached for the renewal a few hours rest could bring, but again, his mind would not allow it. His thoughts tricked him back into that circle of orcs, their spears in hand, gleaming jagged in the night as they pounded them in a furious rhythm to the crack of the whip and the sound of Legolas' own screams.

The prince knew that Adrendil and some of the king's men had engaged the orcs at the camp in battle, if it could be described as such. It was probably more like an open-ended slaughter. The knowledge of his captors' deaths brought Legolas no peace. He found it almost laughable to even consider that it would. No, he knew that justice for him could only be found on the battlefield at the tip of his own daggers. This was something he had to do for himself. Vengeance was his right. Had he not earned it, with every stripe on his back?

Let Aragorn and Eledhel make their plans for battle. Legolas was already certain that Aragorn would try and dissuade him from fighting; Eledhel was only a matter of time. Any time spent trying to change the prince's mind on the matter would be time wasted. He would fight in that battle. He lusted for his opponents' blood like never before. Legolas simply had to fight. The orcs had taken away his ability to fight back that night when they tortured him. Let them try and do so again. Just let them try.

Of course, Legolas' grandiose notions of avenging himself all depended on the simple matter of his own strength. Could he even stand unaided? The prince grimaced to think that perhaps he could not. He glanced down at Miredhel still sleeping.

Now was the time to find out. He gently eased his hands away from that of his lover's and pushed himself up. Agony snapped through the muscles in his back and shoulders. Legolas sucked in his breath through clenched teeth. His muscles quivered and gave, all at the wrong times, and the elf could scarcely remember when last he had been so sore. Taking a shallow breath, he continued to push his upper body up until he was sitting upright on his knees. Touching a hand to the ground to balance himself as he shifted his weight to his right leg, Legolas slowly rose in the darkness of the tent around him.

His balance was timid at best. With hands and arms outstretched to preserve his equilibrium, he took one heavy-footed step and then another, edging his way toward the slim crack of grey moonlight pooling in from the tent's entrance.

It was tricky, but he could walk. Pain roared down every protesting fiber of his muscles, but he could walk. At least his captors had not taken that from him. His eyes, improved with a glimmer from this small victory, fell upon his weapons leaning up against the canvas of the tent. He could walk, yes, but could he fight?

Legolas reached for his bow and quiver when his knees most inconveniently decided to buckle. However, before the night came crashing down around the prince, a pair of strong arms shot out and braced him.

"You fool!" declared Aragorn. "Of all the pig-headed things to be doing when you're supposed to be resting…"

Legolas turned to his old friend with a sheepish look. "I know…and I tried to rest, Aragorn. I wish I could have."

"You should have put a sleeping draught in his water," Eledhel said, coming up behind them.

"I had to see if I had the strength to stand, Aragorn, if I could even walk. I hated not knowing."

Aragorn's eyes softened. "You're not going to have strength to do anything if you are not careful. If you will not sleep, then at least sit down."

Legolas nodded, and the man helped him lower himself down next to his weapons. His eyes shone to see his long bow, quiver and knives, for he had thought them lost upon his capture.

"Adrendil brought those back for you," Aragorn said. "He found them scattered across the field by the orcs' camp."

"I will thank him then. These are very dear to me."

"Yes, we were just coming to look at your weapons actually, Legolas, when we saw you standing there," Eledhel said, bristling inside but trying to keep a friendly note to his voice after the mention of Adrendil. He still could not believe that he had seen that sneak of a Mirkwood elf watching the orcs torture the prince. Just watching!

"We have been forming a strategy for the battle," explained Aragorn, "and I told Eledhel what you said about the arrows Galadriel gave you. We think if we use them right, we can take the dragon out quickly in the first minutes of battle to give our army the upper hand. "

"Undoubtedly," Legolas agreed, becoming excited. "After all, Miredhel used just one on the bridge with tremendous results. There's some enchantment worked upon them, I believe. If we had all of our best archers armed each with one of the arrows to fire simultaneously at the dragon…"

"We can slay him," Eledhel said with a thrill to his voice. "How many of those arrows do you have, Legolas?"

"Let me show you," the prince said, reaching for the quiver beside him.

But Legolas' hand stilled before he even grasped it, and Aragorn and Eledhel did not need to hear the prince's short gasp to know that something was horribly wrong. Legolas' bruise-mottled cheeks had drained dead white.

"The arrows are gone," he whispered.

Lingering in that hazy world between dreams and wakefulness, Miredhel comfortably stretched her body until she almost purred on the pallet inside the king's tent while her mind played over her most recent dream. She had dreamed of Legolas, and herself of course, walking together in an unfamiliar wood. There had been water nearby; she could hear its persistent murmur through the steady rustle of the forest boughs. There were ferns and bracken, mossy logs, and birdsong. The dream was serenity itself. And Legolas had been there, whole and pure, with no trace of his most recent scars or injuries. He had smiled and held her hand, and Miredhel had felt more whole in that one moment in that dream with him than she had in any waking moment without him.

As the way with many dreams, Miredhel's was too good to last. Suddenly, she felt cold, and her eyes focused back into reality with a start. Legolas was gone! The king's tent was empty, but she could hear raised voices outside its walls. Very quickly she got to her feet, adjusted her clothing, and stormed outside.

"Legolas Greenleaf!" she accused. "You are supposed to be resting! And YOU, King Aragorn, should not be encouraging him."

"Miredhel," Legolas said, not even heeding her words, his eyes wide with disbelief, "the arrows, Galadriel's arrows! They're missing…"

Accusations forgotten, Miredhel dropped to his side, peering at the quiver skeptically. "All of them?"

"All of them," stated the prince flatly. "The orcs must have stolen them when they captured me."

"How could they have known?" Miredhel asked woefully, glancing up at her brother.

"We do not know, but they are gone. Those arrows were our one hope for killing Anglachur," Eledhel said and scuffed the dirt angrily with his boot.

Miredhel's eyes traveled from her brother to Aragorn, then back to Legolas. They all wore the same bitter expression to various degrees, but Legolas' bothered her the most. She would find some way to bring him hope, to bring all of them hope.

"Perhaps all is not lost," she said pragmatically.

"Sis, please," Eledhel interrupted irritably. "We cannot win. If we cannot kill that dragon off, Aragorn's men have no chance, and without those arrows, we have no way of killing that dragon. So you see? There is not much point in rationalizing the situation."

Miredhel stood to meet her brother's eyes straight on. He was weary, she could tell, and near defeat. "If my Grief has taught me anything, brother," she told him softly with a quick glance to Legolas, "it has taught me that there is always hope. Always."

Aragorn caught her gaze, and he gave her a small smile. "Miredhel is right. I am going back to the orc's camp and look around. Perhaps the arrows simply scattered over the field." He picked up a piece of driftwood from the fire for a makeshift torch.

"I'll go with you," said Miredhel, and the two set off toward the dark yawning plains.

Legolas and Eledhel kept the night watch together by the king's tent. Eledhel's eyes continually strayed to the path his sister had taken. He still worried for her, if hunched shoulders and furrowed brow meant anything. It was odd for these elves and friends to remain silent, so pensive, in each other's company when ordinarily a jest or a laugh was preferred. The night's recent horrors held them both transfixed. Eledhel brooded over seeing Captain Adrendil watching the prince's capture, and despite overlooking his personal contempt for that elf, there was no justifying his seemingly treacherous actions against his prince. If he spoke out against what he had seen, it would be his word against Adrendil's. He had no proof, no other witnesses. His final resolution on this was to keep silent, gather more evidence, and keep an even closer watch on Legolas' safety.

Eledhel broke his gaze away to glance at his lord beside him, and Legolas most unexpectedly bowed his head to him.

"I wanted to thank you for what you did," the prince said quietly, though his eyes kept a fierce and desperate glint.

Eledhel looked down at his hands and made to straighten one of his bracers. "You know there is no need for thanks among friends, especially you, Legolas."

"Yes, but I wanted to tell you all the same. There are some who would not risk attacking an orc camp by themselves to rescue one elf."

Eledhel shook his head now, but a small smile graced his lips. "Yes, but when that one elf is my friend, when he is my lord," he said and looked up, just barely enough to meet Legolas' eyes, "and when that elf is my sister's beloved, I would take that risk ten times over."

Legolas' eyes did not betray any surprise at Eledhel's remark, and to his credit, nor did he look away. At any other time, he might have blushed, but on this night, his face was bruised enough to conceal it.

Instead, the prince spoke earnestly, and for the first time that night, Eledhel caught a trace of hope in his voice.

"What you say is true, Eledhel. I will not deny it. Did I not confess my love for your sister to you, before she even knew it herself? And now I seek your blessing as her guardian, before asking her hand in marriage."

"But I know that you and Miredhel are already bonded," Eledhel accused, his eyes reproachful. "When did that happen, the exact moment the two of you left my sight? I trusted you, Legolas!"

"I love her, Eledhel," he said simply, making no excuses. "Bless our marriage."

"Is this a command from my lord?" Eledhel folded his arms stubbornly across his chest.

"No, but a plea from one who would call you brother," Legolas answered. "When this battle is finished, I would have our two families joined and my union with Miredhel sanctified before the Valar."

"No wonder she loves you," Eledhel said with an exasperated sigh. "You could talk a person into anything." He plucked some bits of grass from the ground below and then watched them scatter in the soft breeze coming with the dawn, and his voice grew soft. "This night my sister spoke of hope, Legolas—she, for whom all hope was once lost, made me believe again that anything might be possible."

Eledhel looked to the east where a thin, light blue line crept over the shoulder of the earth. Dawn was coming.

"I would be proud to call you my brother, Legolas," he said, carefully taking the prince's hand in his own.

Meanwhile Miredhel and Aragorn picked their way through the sweeping valley grass, parting the long reedy stems with their arms to search the earth below for any signs of the arrows or a tell-tale silver glint. The king and maiden separated, spreading apart to retrace Legolas' path to the orc camp, and Aragorn used all his skill as a tracker to uncover clues to where the arrows had fallen.

Not far from them, a smoking pile of embers still glowed from where the king's men had piled the slain enemies to burn.

Then unexpectedly, Aragorn crouched down to the ground, with the grass nearly hiding the top of his head until Miredhel could hardly see him.

Quickly she moved toward him, and he warned her, "Wait! Tread lightly, for the earth here may tell us what happened."

"What do you see, Estel?" she asked, falling into the elves' old name for the new king. Her inquisitive nature got the better of her and she moved around the spot to come up behind him.

"This may be where Legolas fought the orc and was captured," he guessed. "See the shuffle of orc tracks there? A struggle ensued." He turned and pointed to another soft indention in the grass where some stems were bent and flattened. "Legolas fell." The king traced the marks with his hand, and his eyes shifted away from them and toward the distant plume of smoke from the orc camp.

"The orc dragged him back to the camp," he concluded flatly. "These scuffs in the dirt are heel marks."

Miredhel bit her lip as she recalled her prince's injuries, more than just cuts and bruises. She knelt beside the man and ran her fingers along five distinct grooves dug into the soft earth; they were finger scratches, more like claw marks. Legolas had not gone along lightly. He had fought his captor all the way.

Her stomach churned as she imagined what he must have gone through, only a few hours earlier while she was resting safe and warm. She followed closely behind Aragorn as he traced the violent trail back to the enemy camp. So intent was she on looking in the grass for those arrows, Miredhel did not notice that the king had suddenly stopped to look down.

She ran straight into him and sent him sprawling into the path in front of them.

"Oh, I am sorry," she exclaimed and instantly offered him a hand up. "One should not knock a king to the ground. 'Tis most improper. Legolas would be mortified, I'm sure."

"He would laugh his boots off first, Miredhel," Aragorn corrected kindly and swept the dust from his hands. He looked appraisingly up at her and smiled. "You'll be a good match for him, I daresay."

Aragorn pointed out what he had been studying when Miredhel ran into him. "Look, Miredhel. The orcs had shorn him of his weapons here. See the imprint of his bow there in the earth and grass? And there lay his knives."

"But orcs usually want nothing with Elvish weapons. Why would they leave his bow and knives, and then take the arrows from his quiver?"

"I don't know, but they did. Look there, in the dust."

Even though Aragorn's tracking skills greatly exceeded her own, the evidence was plain enough for the most untrained eye to appreciate—a dozen crisscrossing lines in the soil only an arm's length away coupled with the firm print of arrowheads.

"Like they dumped out the entire quiver and then picked through the contents," she murmured and sank to the ground next to the king, resting her face in her hands.

"So there is no hope," she confided to the earth, and when she caught Aragorn's worried gaze, her eyes were wet and dim.

Not very far away, Legolas absentmindedly fingered the bright-tipped ends of the remaining arrows in his quiver.

"I should have gone with them," Legolas said plaintively as he and Eledhel continued to wait for Miredhel and Aragorn's return. "I could have at least pointed them in the right direction."

"You know Aragorn's skills as a tracker as well as I, Legolas. If the arrows are out there then he and my sister will find them."

"You are right. I just want to be doing something. Anything would be preferable than just sitting here, waiting," the prince grumbled.

"I know you want to fight, mellon, and I cannot say I blame you. I would want to," Eledhel said with a vengeance as he reluctantly remembered the sight of his friend, bound and helpless to fight back against the beatings he received.

Legolas' eyes darkened, yet he said nothing. He looked down at his hands and his wrists, chafed raw from his bonds, and shuddered. A blood lust like never before coursed through him, consumed him. He plucked one of his knives from the ground beside him and his sharpening stone from inside his quiver and began sharpening his knife, his knuckles gleaming bone-white with every deliberate stroke.

"Legolas," Eledhel said reproachfully, "be angry, but despair not. Your chance will come to you. Aragorn and I will not keep you from fighting, even though we wish you would not. The truth is that we will need every soldier we have for our plans to work, and—"

"I hope those plans include me as well," Adrendil interrupted silkily as he joined their side; his features, a perfect example of schooled apology.

"My prince," he said with a solemn bow in Legolas' direction, and his eyes were glassy with seemingly unshed tears. "You can not imagine the depth of my relief at seeing you about so soon after that horrendous capture."

Legolas merely nodded and passed a curious glance at Eledhel who tensed like a bow pulled taut.

"If it pleases you, my lord, I want you to know that I killed many an orc on your behalf," Adrendil added, this time a bit nervously as he noticed Eledhel's rigid frame beside the prince.

"You also returned my weapons, Adrendil," Legolas said disarmingly, his weariness evident in his voice. "For that, you have my unending gratitude."

Eledhel's eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't have happened to see any arrows in the field, would you, Adrendil?" he inquired.

"Arrows? No, I brought everything back that I saw, except some pieces of Legolas' ripped tunic; I did not suppose that he would want it." Adrendil explained.

Legolas and Eledhel exchanged a long look that was more just disappointment, more like complete dejection.

Adrendil took a step forward and then looked into the inky darkness and the hills beyond edged with the faint blue light of the coming dawn. "Look, Prince Legolas, if the tunic means that much to you, I'll go and get it!"

"You fool!" Eledhel exclaimed, and Legolas cut him off.

"That won't be necessary, Adrendil," Legolas said tiredly. "We had hoped to find some arrows, not the tunic. Lady Galadriel gave me mithril arrows that could pierce the strongest armor. We had hoped to use them to bring down the dragon."

"Pierce the strongest armor?" Adrendil repeated incredulously, and his eyes gleamed. "Well, those could change things indeed."

"We believe the orcs may have stolen them," Legolas added, "but Aragorn and Miredhel are out looking anyway."

Adrendil nodded thoughtfully. "I will go aid their search if you wish," he said, and when Legolas gave his permission, the captain hurried out toward the smoking orc-fires.

"Let us keep looking," Aragorn said encouragingly, and he helped Miredhel up from where she had been sitting.

"I do not know, Aragorn. It seems as though the story of their disappearance is written before us," she said pointing to the tell-tale spirals and crisscrossing of dust that the king had shown her. "I hate to give up, though," she added. "We could finish the trail back to the orc camp. One of the arrows could have easily been dropped or missed by chance."

With that said, the two continued following the trail with Aragorn in the lead, and Miredhel close behind. Dawn came fast now, and both knew they would have to leave soon.

"I know you must return to ready your camp, but let me stay to keep searching," Miredhel said, eyeing the eastern hills.

"I am NOT leaving you out here by yourself. Your brother, not to mention Legolas, would flay me alive," Aragorn pointed out. "We'll return to the camp together."

Miredhel managed a glum sort of half-smile. "Let us retrace our steps then on the way back. Perhaps we missed something along the way." She hated to give up hope, but they had looked everywhere and found nothing.

Finally, Aragorn and Miredhel reached the starting point of their trail where they had first found the signs in the dust where the arrows had lain. Then Miredhel turned, despairing, and as she dropped her head, something, small and bright caught the corner of her eye. She would not even be sure why later, instinct perhaps, but she froze.

"Aragorn, wait—" she said and caught his sleeve. Then turning quickly she pulled the grass back where she thought she had seen something.

"Oh, Valar…" she said, softness creeping into her voice as she stooped over the torn remnants of Legolas' silver green tunic, the very one that he had been wearing earlier that night when he had been captured. "For a moment, I thought it might have been the arrows," she added apologetically, feeling foolish for making Aragorn stop. Her heart plummeted in her chest from the lost exhilaration of an almost-discovery. Miredhel could not afford to hope anymore. The arrows really were gone. Aragorn, her brother, and Legolas would simply have to find some other way to win this battle. There had to be some other way, another solution. If there was not…Miredhel did not want think about it.

Miredhel glanced behind at the king, only to see her sense of defeat echoed in his proud, grey eyes. She hesitated and then lightly ran her fingers over the ruined fabric. How handsome and proud her prince had looked in that silvery green! Legolas had worn that very tunic on the night when she had first met him at Caras Galadhon. He had dressed in it the night after the great archery contest when they had shared their first kiss. And the prince had worn it again only the night before, when he had confessed his love for her in the queen's garden.

Miredhel had not shed a tear in Legolas' company that night since he had been injured, not a drop; but for some reason seeing that tunic ripped and fraying, her eyes welled up, and one miserable fat tear streaked down her cheek.

"I know everything in Arda is not meant to be fair and just… but this really isn't fair."

"No, it isn't," Aragorn conceded quietly beside her, for he had knelt next to her, "but we will find a way, Miredhel. We'll have to. And your prince's wounds will mend, even more quickly with your love and help, just like you could mend the rents in this tunic."

Miredhel nodded, and the stubborn glint returned to her eyes. She would save the scraps of tunic just like Aragorn had suggested. She determinedly picked up the fabric and bunched it up when her breath caught in her throat.

For there in the dust, laying tantalizingly perfect, was one bright, silvery arrow.

Miredhel stared at it, dumbstruck really, and then in the next second, she held the arrow tightly in her hand, solid, absolute, safe. She had snatched it up faster than she had probably grabbed anything in her whole life, for fear the arrow might have disappeared before her eyes.

"Estel," she stammered… "Aragorn!" and she stuck out her arm with the arrow still clutched in her hand.

The king's mouth hinged open when he saw what she had found, and then broadened into an enormous grin.

"Quickly, let us tell the others of your find!" He pulled her to her feet, and both king and maiden took off in a dead sprint back to the campsite. They passed Captain Adrendil along the way back, who stopped in complete astonishment to see King Aragorn race past him with Miredhel in tow and a bright silver arrow in her hand.

"So they found one," he murmured and turned in his tracks to follow them back, albeit much more slowly.

Legolas and Eledhel's enthusiasm, however, matched that of their friends. They had seen them coming and met them at the edge of camp with broad enough smiles to rival Aragorn's. Eledhel caught his sister in a gigantic hug and swung her around in his arms. After Miredhel staggered away from her brother's dizzy embrace, Legolas gently pulled her into his arms and kissed her in such a way, slowly and tenderly, that made her even more light-headed that Eledhel's spinning.

True, it was only one arrow out of the nineteen Legolas had left, but still—she had found one! Miredhel remembered with glee that she had only used one of Legolas' mithril arrows before when she brought down the dragon over the Anduin.

Before dawn of the next day fell, they would meet the dragon and orcs in a fight to the death. The arrow could easily change the entire direction of the battle if used properly to fell the dragon.

It was there on the edge of camp that the friends and king decided that a trap should be set to lure the dragon away from the main battle and onto the open fields, where a clean shot could be made. One member of their party would tempt the dragon away from the main fighting, while the other would wait on the open field to use the arrow from Galadriel's set to bring down Anglachur the Black. After a short, very heated, discussion, Legolas volunteered to be the trap, and Miredhel, the bait.

TBC….

Thank you for reading and please review. And all of my 'lurking' readers out there, I would LOVE to hear from you, even if it's just to say, "hey, I'm reading this story..."

thanks again,

raider-k

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