Chapter Six: Waking Nightmare

Panic filled his heart as he perceived the Orcs. There were simply too many of them for the group of Rangers to cope with, even with Legolas’ aid. Diyrenë required the attention of at least one of the men for protection whilst her midwife cared for her. The Orcs outnumbered the company two to one, and that was with all of them fighting. Simply not enough. In the face of being so horribly overwhelmed, Legolas proceeded with a frantic hunt for solutions. His riled brain overturned many thoughts, but few were of any use: running was taken into consideration … but the Lady was in labour, and getting everyone on horseback before the enemy hit the camp was, frankly, an impossibility. The same logic was applicable to hiding. There was simply no other option open to them.

“We have to make a stand.”

But the side of LegolasÂ’ brain that was dedicated to thinking through situations fully – running completely against the side that thought brashly and caused him to act upon impulse – was currently taking great joy in belittling him with its cruel logicÂ… “Idiot! Make a stand, and you will die! How, exactly, do you propose to both protect Lady Diyrenë and engage in combat at the same time with the odds so against you?”

But upon this thought, Legolas selected to ignore the ranting of his own mind, and plucked his bow from his back. The dark wood warmed in his hands, its craft fitting into his hand like a sconce into a bracket. This weapon had been constructed for his use and his only. They were one, he and the bow, and the familiar touch installed a quiet calmness into his spirit.

An arrow sliced the crisp air, the angle at which it was fired causing it to sing a shrill song of a macabre melody as it found its mark. The fall of this one Orc helped him somehow, equipping him with a steadily rising confidence. They could win this. It was possible, even though prospects appeared bleak.

Another arrow to the stringÂ…

At his shout, the Rangers had quietly dispatched themselves, melding into the shrub, lost as shadows in the darkness. Their disappearance was complete, and Legolas, eyes as sharp as they were, was hard pressed to locate them. But spot them he did – at the same moment that he realised there were arrows training on him. He held the absolute attention of the Orcs. There were positive and negative elements to this situation. As long as they focused on him, they neglected to look for the Rangers, into whose circle they now wandered unawares, their eyes all on the Elf. He knew the Rangers planned to trap them. This was all very well and good, but it also meant they were perfectly aware of his exact position, placing Legolas in a rather large predicament. And there was one section of his mind that maintained the indignant thought of: “The Rangers are using me as bait!”

He was gauging. In his mind, measurements were being taken as he stared at the arrow tips pointing so fixedly on him. He estimated exactly where the arrows would fly once loosed. Distances were judged with a precision that was keen as a catÂ’s, the required muscle tension being rapidly asserted for every needed limb, the give of the branch beneath his feet carefully assessed, all during an eternity of seconds, in which Legolas braced himself to be shot.

The Rangers waited.

The Orcs edged that little bit further

The arrows accended into the boughs.

Legolas had an odd sort of tranquillity running through him. He considered it a bizarre feeling, but one of vital importance. If he did not have this unwavering calmness during situations such as this, he would fall to pieces. Were he simply to think about the true implications of the dangers he placed himself in, there was not a shadow of a doubt in his mind that he would be thrown into an irrecoverable terror. But, as it was, there was no such fear in his mind, and that was why he was still able to enact the procedure he had conceived a few seconds prior. LegolasÂ’ feet used the branch upon which he stood as a veritable catapult, gathering the momentum he required from it in a single push. He ascended into the higher boughs as shafts ripped at where he had previously stood, exuding grace even as he made his hastily constructed retreat. His hands wrapped about the girth of a branch, and he swung himself over and up, placing his feet lightly on the wood. It gave slightly with his weight, but not enough to send him plummeting to the earth below.

With their bowstrings bare, the Orcs were at a severe disadvantage when the Rangers made their attack. Cloaks whipped out into the snow, shadows of death. Swords sang against their sheaths as they were drawn. Though the Orcs were surprised by the attack, they were far from defenceless, and it took mere seconds for them to regain their orientation and draw the vile scimitars they so favoured when it came to hewing at bodies, casting down the bows like a child would with an old toy. And they threw themselves into this new fight with all the gusto of a bloodthirsty pack of Wargs, their ugly blades slamming into the glimmering planes of the swords of the Dúnedain, screeching into the ill night.

Though the battle raged on the ground, Legolas did not dare surrender his position in the treetop to join it. His vigilant post was invaluable, and he knew as much. Instead, arrows streaked from his bow with as much vigour as he was able to muster, launching into the air and finding their mark in an OrcÂ’s back whenever such an opportunity presented itself. The one thing that concerned him was hitting one of the Rangers; even though it took a split second for an arrowhead to hit its target once loosed from the string, the battle below did not falter in its flow just for an arrow to find the correct mark.

There was more to this attack, the Elf knew it in the pit of his stomach. The feeling of unease, the sense of a higher form of danger, began to assert itself in his mind, and, once there, it would not allow him any solace. Orcs were not renowned for their intelligence, but they knew better than to attack a band of Rangers, even if their numbers were greater. Something else was at foot here, and that knowledge was extremely unsettling.

He could hear Diyrenë crying out her pain into the bitter air, could feel the palpable panic of the two maids as they worked to help their Lady through her birth in the midst of a battle. He wanted so badly to help them somehow, to be of some form of assistance. But that was not possible: the best he could do was defend them from the tree…

The battle was going ill. Two Rangers were dead, and the others tiring. True, there lay several Orc corpses in the depths of the stained purity of the snow, but there were others to fill their places.

Soon to be more.

The hair rose at the nape of his neck, and his spine gave an irrepressible shudder. His fine hearing picked up the sound of their scuffling feet and harsh breath, and Legolas felt his heart freeze in horror as he turned and observed the oncoming masses.

“Oh no.”

Twenty of them. At least. And they all smelt the blood hanging on the air, the smell of battle radiant to their loathsome minds. Legolas could hardly find the courage to say the figure out loud to warn Cirnan. Twenty meant sure death to them all. To say it would be accepting the fact. But he did not need to speak it, for the Ranger had been watching him, observing the Elf for any signs of further attack. He had seen Legolas looking the other way, and had followed his gaze. Now the pair turned their eyes to each other, and without words shared the knowledge that they were all going to die. Cirnan gave a wavering smile. Oh well, it said. We tried. But he was not ready to go without a good fight beforehand, and the man braced himself between the Orcs and the women, a one-man shield against an onslaught of demons.

There was no longer any use left in his position amongst the boughs. He realised this now, and Legolas descended as rapidly as he was able from his high post, intent only on helping Cirnan through what he did not doubt as being their final trial on this earth. If this were to be the way in which his life ceased, he would have it no other way.

The Elf joined his human companion silently, calmly drawing his white knives that he so valued and bracing them before himself. No word was said, nor glance exchanged; Cirnan drew comfort simply from the presence of the Elf, the sound knowledge that, at least, there was someone to fight with him, and someone to witness his death and morn his loss, even if it was for only a short time before Legolas himself succumbed to more or less the same fate.

As the Orcs approached, Legolas paused briefly, examining the scene behind him playing out between the women. There was so much blood, frantic movements, panic, and immeasurable pain condensed into that one small area. The thought of it made his head reel. But it was the safety of the women that mattered, nothing else. His own survival was of little to no consequence. They were what mattered. So he began to edge further forward towards the oncoming Orcs. Cirnan at did not question the action, but followed at his side. Whether he understood LegolasÂ’ intention or no, the Elf did not know, but was grateful that his motives were not questioned.

Scimitars raised, their ugly, angular heads stark against the white background: snakes poised for the strike. The Orcs pushed forward, though with some reluctance as to who should go first; this was, after all, a Ranger and an Elf that they faced, and the Orcs knew how competent both peoples were in the field of battle.

Cirnan, however, did not permit them to choose. He lunged forward, gleaming blade severing a head before seamlessly gliding into a stomach. This time, it was Legolas who followed, performing his graceful and deadly dance amongst his enemies, the lightening-fast strikes of his knives leaving Orcs dead in the snow, throats gaping wide like extra mouths. The pair ducked and parried, often back-to-back, providing each other with a much-needed defence against the heaving masses of their enemies. But, even together, they were overwhelmed. There was no opportunity Legolas could see that would allow them both to live out this nightmare they were trapped in and emerge on the other side alive and whole.

The Orcs, after a seeming eternity of jabbing at their opponents with no real strategy, finally pulled their force together and worked to separate the pair through relentless pushes. Underneath the rain of slicing swords and crude knives, Elf and man were driven apart, neither of them able to defend both themselves and their partner. Legolas found himself alone, and the focus of a good half-dozen adversaries, the only ones confident enough to take him on. He stood in the centre of their circle, daring them to attack him. “Come on,” he jeered inwardly. “Let me carve my name on your cowardly bellies.” The Orcs hissed and spat at him, the simultaneous sweep of several weapons causing him to back away from the blackened blades. It was he and his two long knives against six of them Â… their advantage was almost painful to think of. They were too tightly formed for him to make his escape between them, their scimitars poised ready for such an action.

The Orcs all made a push at once, ramming their blades viciously forward, to which Legolas responded with a lightening-fast flash of white. One Orc that had ventured too close fell dead Â… much to the rage of his companions, whose snarls became all the more vehement for their loss. The attack became more ferocious and persistent, each surge executed with more venom than the last.

Legolas was forced back through the trees from the battle, and, upon snatching a glance past his foesÂ’ shoulders, he could no longer see the Rangers, or indeed the clearing. He was losing his ground to these abominations. Anger exploded within his heart, and it made his next resistance all the more powerful. “Cirnan is on his own, the other Dúnedain are most likely dead, and Diyrenë is in labour in the middle of a battle! And why? Because of these filthy monstrosities!” Teeth gritted, Legolas gave the fiercest retaliation he was able, actually managing to regain lost ground with a flurry of enraged slashes and stabs. Flesh was pierced, a neck spilled lifeblood into the snow, gushing black into white. Still he continued his furious assault, his body no longer needing his mind to work. Another fell, squealing sharply as it clutched its belly and then becoming still. The memory of muscle came into play, serving him as brilliantly as it ever had done. Centuries of training and experience flowed from his movements as he became a machine, skills honed so keenly that they could work independently of conscious thought. He was going to get to Cirnan and Diyrenë, and no number of Orcs could stop him.

His shoulder flared in white-hot agony and he gave a short cry in his shock and pain, sparing only a split second to view the slash left by a scimitar in his left shoulder. It was not life threatening, but it certainly hurt horribly, and raising his knife suddenly became a difficult task through the pain. “Pain does not last, it does not matter – itÂ’s just a notification that there is a something wrong. You know what it is, you know how severe the problem is, so get on with it!” Legolas stiffened his resolve, rising in his moment of weakness to dampen the anger he felt for himself. His self-reprimand did not work quite well enough, though, and he found himself depending heavily on his right arm for all blocks and attacks. His left arm was near useless, the heated sensation of blood steadily soaking his clothing, a light trickle making his skin tingle.

This situation was no good. Legolas’ injury, combined with his dependency on his right arm, was causing him to tire. There was no hope of the Orcs simply backing off and leaving him alone – such an act of mercy was not the kind of thing an Orc would indulge in. He had to get himself out of this, and now, or it would surely be the end of him.

“One heavy push, and you can be out of this,he reassured his doubting mind. Just the one, and all will be well again.” He sneered at that notion contemptuously. How could it possibly be well again when they were so outnumbered? It was not something he wished to entertain any longer, though, and the Elf focused his attentions on this final push in which he planned to rein in the pull of his pain and defeat his foes. Either he succeeded this time, or he died. He knew it was that simple.

Blanking the protesting agony in his shoulder, Legolas tensed the muscles in his body, preparing them for the last attack he wished to make, sharply taking in the position of the remaining three. They were spread out a little more now – not so much as to permit him to escape, but wide enough for their reactions to be sufficiently delayed. The one before him was the furthest away, carefully out of knife reach. The other two, however, were a little bolder than their companion, though their scimitars were raised defensively. They waited for a sudden burst of movement so that they could finish him, Legolas was sure of that.

The Orc to his right gaped in shock as a knife sliced his stomach, quick as a viper and equally deadly. Legolas was leaning heavily on his right leg, practically on his haunches in order to escape the blade of the OrcÂ’s weapon. And, just as anticipated, the left-hand Orc made his attack with the fall of his companion, but a second later. Through lucky prediction, Legolas had theorised that the Orc would bring the scimitar round in a swinging motion in order to take the ElfÂ’s head off. As the Orc charged forward, Legolas rose with incredible grace, gyrating into the OrcÂ’s attack and inside his swing, throwing his weight onto his left leg and behind his knife. The gleaming metal shimmered black in the night as it plunged deep through the gut. The Orc froze, shock at this sudden pain staying his movements. But it did not last for long, as the stunted legs buckled and he fell forwards, further onto the knife. Legolas, recognising that there was a danger of his blade getting stuck in the ribcage, withdrew the weapon abruptly, disgust on his face as the creature collapsed at his feet.

The remaining Orc stood motionless for a few seconds, and Legolas watched him, his eyes burning with a hot iciness with regards to thefou beingÂ’s welfare. The Orc seemed to pick up on this, for he hissed venomously, and then turned to run away through the trees.

All was still. He breathed deeply, and again, closing his eyes and swallowing down the waves of hot agony that tried so hard to sway him. But there was a deafening silence to the place now. It was wholly unnatural. Legolas opened his eyes to the pressing darkness, and was greeted by a pressing stillness. The trees did not offer any hidden foes, nor any allies, their dark trunks black against the shadowed snow.

He started as the silence shattered with a piercing scream, physically jolting with the shock. A second later, it resonated again. It was riddled with pain and fear.

“The cry of a woman.”

Legolas hared through the trees back to the clearing, panic gripping his heart, his blood pounding in his ears. He did not hear the crying of a new-born baby, or indeed the sound of other women’s voices. Please let them be safe, please.

He cleared corpses as they lay in his path, sparing them no time … until he crossed Cirnan. He was dead. Orc bodies lay sprawled around the Ranger, snow stained by their black impurity. A steady pool of blood spread slowly from a deep wound in Cirnan’s stomach, but that was not what had killed him; an arrow protruded from the point where his collar bones met, right at the peak of his breastbone. Legolas stopped, at once saddened and suprised by the RangerÂ’s fall. It was not an Orc arrow: the fletching was of goose feathers, grey in colour, neat and crisp, rather than the tattered crow feathers Orcs favoured. It was a human’s arrow. Legolas looked about him, further between the trees than before. He could see no trace of a man other than the one before him.

The shot was perfectly aimed. He sevearly doubted that it was a lucky one. The angle of the projectile was tilting upward, a sure indication that the arrow was loosed from some distance. “Such a perfect shot … I’ve never seen a bowman not of my race with such a skill.”

It made him shudder with revultion. It was such an accurate shot that he doubted he himself would have been able to execute it so precisely. Murdered by one of his own race. Legolas could never understand such a thing: Elves did not kill other Elves – save during the Kinslaying, that most horrific event that marred their history. But humans? It seemed to be a frequent thing for them…

Another scream lifted him from his revery with a shock, bringing his thoughts back to the task he prviously had in mind. Leaving Cirnan’s body with one last glance, a final “I am so very sorry,” Legolas commenced his flight to the clearing where he had last seen Diyrenë. The snow was no longer crisp and white under his feet, but churned and reddenned. He could smell the blood hanging on the air, and it sickened him. Scenes of battle had met his eyes regularly, but rarely did he observe such mindless slaughter…

The maid and midwife were both dead, their throats slit, bodies horrificly mutilated. Their blood seeped through the snow in channels, almost like those used to filter melted ice over a fire for drinking water; save this was the essence of Death, not the sustainance of Life.

In the centre of the crimson sea lay Diyrenë, covered in blood, gasping and moaning in her consuming agony. Blood surrounded her, her skirts soaked from the first stage of birth. “Her birth!” Legolas cleared the earth between himself and the Lady, skidding on his knees to a halt before her Â… and was pained by the sight of an arrow, black and evil, protruding from under her rib cage, through her stomach. A mortal wound, Legolas knew. A damning thought invaded his mind Â… she would never see her child grow.

He grasped her hand, wringing it tightly. Diyrenë panted, eyes clenched in her pain. ‘Legolas,Â’ she gasped, ‘help me – please…Â’

He wanted to help, more than anything Â… but helping meant delivering, something he had never done with either a human or Elf-maid before. He had to, though. There was no choice open to him.

Legolas unfastened the gauntlets on his forearms, ramming them into his belt and rolling his sleeves up.

The world throbbed with her pain, the air pulsating with her cries of agony into the night. Beads of sweat collected across her brow, her breath coming in short, gasping gulps, eyes screwed up against her torment as she tried with all her soul to deliver her child. The stick she had been issued by the Elf had been hardly sufficient, and her teeth had made short work of it.

Legolas tried so hard to sooth her in her obvious distress, but his own hindered him greatly. He knew nothing of this matter: his experience with horses and dogs was reduced to nothing. Diyrenë had lost both her maid and midwife during the attack, so all expertise in this field was lost to them both. He could fight battles, tame wild horses, defeat Spiders, even trick the senses of Orcs, which were so akin to his own heightened awareness. But this…

‘You are doing well, my Lady,’ he offered, installing as much confidence into his voice as he could – though that did not prevent that slight waver that his own ears detected in his usually steady tone.

He was horribly aware of the loudness of her next scream, hearing it echoing through the trees. The snow was stained red with her blood – far too much blood, and his eyes found it difficult to focus on anything save the arrow that had been embedded up into her ribcage through her stomach. He was amazed, quite frankly, that it had missed the baby … but he was still greatly pained that it had hit her at all. He had become very fond of the widow on the travels with the Rangers, and to see her inevitable demise broke his heart.

He feared the enemy that had taken them so unaware would return in force any time now, expected them to return through the trees, black ghosts readying themselves to darken the night furtherÂ…

‘You must – take it to the village,Â’ she gasped between contractions, forcing her eyes to focus upon the nervous Elf briefly, imploring him to do this task for her, and then throwing her head back and crying out her misery as pain engulfed her once more, the arrow ripping at her with the next contraction. ‘Arya if it is a girl, an-and Arathorn be it a boy.Â’

‘No, my Lady,Â’ Legolas responded, desperation ringing in his voice. ‘You will take your baby to the village, and you will both be well.Â’ He grabbed her heated hand, squeezing it with the intensity of his feelings, his sheer desperation to cling to her life. His greater half believed his own naïve words, though the other side protested. “You fool! Do not lie to her in such a manner! You know that she will die this night, as does she! How could you try to deceive her in such a way?”

Diyrenë shook her head fiercely, and Legolas sensed the taxation she underwent for such an action.

‘The baby must survive,’ she uttered, her voice beginning to fade, a rose losing its scent to death. ‘You must ensure-’ She stopped mid-sentence as another contraction wracked her body, and she released her piercing shriek of agony to the cold night air.

The touch of new life. Despite the desperation of the situation, Legolas was completely taken in by the writhing form in his hands, covered in blood and other fluids, tiny balled fists waving needlessly in the bitter air. The bitter air. He abruptly remembered that this was no Elf he held in his hands, and shed the cloak that covered his back, wrapping its warmth from his own body about the child in his grip, shielding the minuscule, bawling life from the harshness of deepest winter.

‘Look, my Lady,’ he began, stunned elation making him laugh tensely as he held the baby forward to Diyrenë. ‘Your-’ His words failed in his throat as he gazed upon her still body. Her eyes were open, yet they were completely devoid of pain, despite the story the lines in her face scripted. They were peaceful, contented at bringing her child into the world before she passed from it. That had been her soul intention, nothing more, nothing less. Legolas lidded them with gentle fingertips, sheilding the from the unforgiving, evil night.

He regarded her with a deep sadness. The poor creature had been so very young! A budding woman, who was willing to take on the task of single parenthood with the death of her husband, all of her plans for a wonderful life torn asunder due to one black-fletched arrow, leaving her baby in the world as an orphan.

“An orphan in my hands.”

The thought struck him, a blow in the chest that he had neither thought of nor anticipated. This baby had been faithfully placed into his care, he, who had no knowledge of children what so ever, nor of parenting – rearing foals, again, was his doyen with babies. He could cope with that – all he had to do was milk a mare that already had a foal and feed the orphaned creature himself.

“Ai, Eru – what will I do for milk?”

Panic sang through his heart like a saw through wood. This child would die for certain if he did not solve this problem, and quickly. But that was not the immediate problem before him: he needed to quieten the baby before undesired attention was turned their way. He had his deep-rooted foreboding sense running through him again, and he had long ago learnt to entrust his life to this feeling.

‘Stille,’ he soothed, slipping to his own tongue, hushing gently, placing a finger in the mass of tiny digits on one of the hands. Small, podgy fingers wrapped about his own, gripping contentedly to it with a small dose of strength. Legolas breathed a sigh of relief as the baby Arathorn, future father of the leader of Men – if the dreams were true – clung to him, no more sound being emitted from his narrow lips.

Something stirred in the air, and the Elf stiffened. His senses screamed to him that something ill was coming their way, and, sure enough, he smelt it on the wind: Orcs. There was also the scent of horses. Another smell met his nostrils, but he was unable to discern it in the conundrum of various odours. Orcs were a definite, however, and that was enough for him to want to move extremely fast.

Where could he go? They were clearly too close for him to run – he was only able to make no mark on snow if he walked, the inevitability of prints appearing with a faster action due to his need to push from the surface. The marks would be light, but more than enough for even the most inexperienced of trackers to pick up.

“You are an Elf, for the love of Ilúvatar!” he thought, condemning his panicked state viciously. “THINK!”

Trees. He had grown up in them, practically. As a Wood Elf, they were his natural protectors. He wasted no time in scaling the nearest beech, leaping nimbly from branch to branch, his lithe form and cat-like agility permitting him to ascend the limbs easily, even with one arm occupied with holding his charge. He disappeared from sight, shielding them by nestling into the shadow of the great tree, close to the trunk. As an Elf, he naturally blended into this particular background.

He waited.

He soon heard them, though they attempted what they thought was the correct execution of a stealthy approach. Nine Orcs, closely followed by eleven men. These were not men that he had seen before, however, their garb of blacks and deep browns, clearly accustomed to shadow rather than light. Each was equipped with a bow and quiver, swords in lengthy scabbards at their thighs, daggers in their belts. They all progressed with searching the bodies of the fallen, none seemingly finding anything of interest, until the last of them entered the small clearing.

The horse was a dapple-grey, tall and proud under an equal master. Legolas observed this new arrival with some interest. He was different to the others; for one, he had a mount, something that the others did not possess. His hair was drawn back into a neat queue down the length of his neck, the light-brown locks oddly covering the ends of his ears. A trim beard lightly obscured a handsome, finely chiselled face. But it was the eyes that Legolas looked at the most. Light grey orbs, misty and cold in their harsh, quick glare. They surveyed the bloody scene before them with no emotion at all. Blank to the sorrow that filled this place. Merciless.

‘Sir!’ one of the men called, jerking the interest of Legolas over to him. The rider merely turned his head a little to the left in order to see the man, a slow blink bidding the other to speak.

Legolas felt his heart flutter in his chest when he realised that the man had drawn the attention of the other – as well as that of the Orcs – to Diyrenë’s lifeless form, nudging her disrespectfully with the toe of his boot. Legolas felt a hot flush of rage pass though him at the insult – and was surprised and a little startled when the rider turned back around at the moment of his anger. The Elf held his breath, wondering at this action. Had it been a mere coincidence that he turned at that point? Or was there more to it?

The rider left his horse, crossing the distance to the dead woman with a brisk, purposeful gait. An Orc bent down, dipping a finger into the bloodied snow and afterbirth, sniffing it and then licking it. Legolas nearly heaved at the action, and the fight to keep his grasp on his composure was near lost.

‘Here is the evidence, my Lord,’ the Orc informed the man in his brutal, guttural accent.

‘I do not want the evidence,’ the man said with annoyance. ‘I want the baby!’ He inspected the area himself, muttering as he looked… ‘Babies do not get up and walk away. Someone has it-’ He stopped, taking in a deep breath through his nose, lifting some of the trampled snow to it. A knowing gleam came to his eyes, and he offered the closest Orc to him the substance to sniff at.

‘Elf!’ the creature concluded.

‘Elf,’ the man confirmed, his soft, almost melodic voice laced with a hatred so strong Legolas nearly shied from it. ‘Well. I thought this was going to be a boring mission – but it appears that I was wrong with that assumption.’

“How can he know?” Legolas asked himself, feeling barely controlled panic rise again in the pits of his stomach. “How can he smell me? Men have not the capability of such a thing!”

‘What do you wish for us to do about it, Gwareth?’

The man addressed as Gwareth gyrated, his face cold and impassive as he stared at the soldier, making the other avert his gaze to the churned snow. None present expected the fist to snake out from his side and strike the face of the already submissive man, nor did they expect the raging bellow that erupted into the nightÂ…

Legolas inhaled sharply at the brutality of the attack on the man, as a sharp kick was administered to chest of the soldier – but the foot stopped, the head of Gwareth slightly inclined to the left, as though listening intently to the silence. Legolas felt his breath catch in his chest, the sudden feeling that he was being listened for, looked for, clasping him in its fearful grasp.

The darkness lay in deep folds about the trees that surrounded them so intimately, casting its black cloak over the scene and tucking it into the folds and crags of the ancient boughs. All but the sharpest eyes were blind in the blackness. But he was not. GwarethÂ’s half-Elven heritage gave him finer senses than any other being of mortal line; sight, smell, hearing – they were gifted to him in all their entirety. “Just like an Elf.” He inwardly recoiled from the thought of being anything like that filthy race that he despised so intensely. And so he penetrated the black with a piercing gaze Â… and he made it out. A shape against the trunk, perfectly still, as though formed out of the wood itself. It was both attached and singular from the living structure, making it – to an untrained eye – invisible. But his eye was not so stupid as to miss this shape for what it was, and the arrow sliced through the air with the grace of lightening, the distances and angles gauged faster than any could blink.

Legolas propelled himself out of the way, fleeting out of the line of the projectile, an achievement that only one of the Firstborn would be able to attain – but the miss of the arrow was narrow, the tip ripping past his ear by just a fraction, embedding itself deep into the live wood of the tree behind him.

‘DO NOT LET HIM GO!’ Gwareth bellowed into the night air, so livid with the failure of his aim that he kicked out at the soldier at his feet who failed to get out of the snow fast enough. He mounted his great horse again, the reins hanging free, his hands occupied with bow and arrow, administering a sharp dig of his heals to get the beast to move. In all truth, the soldiers had little idea as to what they were supposed to be preventing from escape, but the fear Gwareth drove into them made them scamper in the direction they knew the arrow had been fired in, all silently praying to Ilúvatar that they would see whatever they were charged with trapping.

The Orcs, however, knew better, smelling Elf on the air at the base of the tree. They became mad with excitement, practically obsessed with the fact that Elf flesh was within their grasp. They had plenty of man flesh in this place, but Elf was a rarity for them.

LegolasÂ’ feet sprang nimbly from branch to branch, the trees serving him as a veritable road along which he ran, giving him momentum to leap agilely despite the bundle that he clenched so tightly to his chest.

“They will not have you, I will not permit them to take you like they took your mother.”

Arathorn seemed totally impervious to the frantic movements of his guardian, sleeping peacefully in his state of ignorant bliss, wrapped in the fine security of the thick cloak. But it was only a cloak, Legolas knew, the material thin despite its density, the security thinner: it would never stop the biting tip of an arrowhead. That was why he shielded the bundle so tightly, lest they should be shot at with a lucky shaft; at least it would only wound him, leaving the baby unscathed – until they caught up, that was…

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