To Survive by Lindir
Chapter Eight: A Whispered Evil on the Wind
Aragorn watched the moon rise. He had not done such a thing for a few years now, and seeing her raise her pale face to gaze shyly upon the lands was something that he found he had missed. Never before had he paid it so much attention during a watch, but now that the greater majority of the Fellowship whom were actually present were sleeping, he discovered that he had the time to watch to his heart’s content without being greatly hindered.
Boromir dosed lightly, waking at the slightest movement. Gandalf did not sleep, but sat with a pensive expression on his face, pipe in mouth. Merry and Frodo slept deeply, having taken note of Pippin’s actions: the Hobbit had become so very bored with inaction that he had simply curled up under Boromir’s cloak and gone to sleep.
Sam, however, did not sleep, nor did he sit doing nothing: he stood with Bill, smoothing the pony’s face and talking to him in soft tones. The animal was responding well to Sam’s love, Aragorn noted. Indeed, he seemed to have put a great deal of weight on since Aragorn had bought him from Bill Ferny. Perhaps the food had made the changes. Perhaps it was the boundless love Sam gave him. Whatever it was, Bill was the most enthusiastic and cheerful pack animal the Ranger had ever encountered.
A … something stirred in the forest below. Aragorn felt more than saw it, but there was definitely something there. A fleeting brush against his senses, and it was gone. But he was keen to discover what the something was. Though he was not an Elf nor would he ever claim to be, Aragorn’s senses were more finely tuned than most mortals. It was an inevitability for one whom had grown up with Elves. If you went hunting with Elves, you learnt how to use your eyes and ears correctly, not the way mortals abused them, as Elves saw it. You also developed a keener ability to detect when there was something wrong near you Â– not quite like an Elf Â– the Ranger was simply more attuned to the world than most other people. However, that did not stop him missing Legolas’ much finer senses at that moment. The Elf was easy to read for any who knew what they were looking for: if Legolas sensed something was not right, he would become restless and fidgety, and, even better, would be able to tell Aragorn exactly what the problem was.
Bill snorted. Aragorn turned at this, his brow knitted in concern. Bill was quite possibly the most placid animal Aragorn had ever known. But now that he looked at him, the Ranger saw the eyes of the pony rolling in his head with evident terror, hooves pawing at the ground. He started to neigh, rearing up and straining against the head collar. Sam was the only thing holding the beast in place and, despite Bill’s size, he was certainly strong enough to rip a rope from a Hobbit’s hands and bolt.
‘Bill? What’s wrong?’ The worry rang in Sam’s voice as Bill released another neigh into the bitter air.
Aragorn descended from his perch atop the boulder he had selected as his lookout post, rushing over to the pony. ‘Let go, Sam,’ he instructed, as Bill reared again, fully thrashing his forelegs this time. It certainly tested Aragorn’s strength to hold the animal in place. His hands slowly advanced up the length of rope, calming words of Sindarin being softly uttered. Bill eventually stilled his unnatural behaviour to Aragorn’s soothing strokes and gentle words Â– but his eyes still roamed frantically over the surrounding area, the odd snort being emitted into the cold air.
Boromir appeared at his shoulder, eyes questioning. He had not failed, Aragorn noticed, to bring his sword with him.
‘What is wrong?’ he more or less whispered.
‘Some evil stirs in the forest, though I know not what,’ Aragorn relayed. ‘If it is enough to upset Bill, then it is enough to suggest to me that a scouting party is called for.’
The niggling feeling woke him up. Again. Legolas was unable to shake it from his shoulders, no matter how hard he tried to do as Gimli said and let the matter rest. His mind continued to work through his sleep Â– Legolas had, after all, learnt to entrust his life to his senses. Listening to them was how he had endured over three millennia. His subconscious clearly deemed his willingness to give up on the puzzle presented to him as unacceptable and, ultimately, stupid, and so it had toiled on through his rest to try and solve it. Now it was screaming at him to listen once more…
‘You’re awake again, aren’t you?’
Legolas cast his eyes to the Dwarf, who was currently watching him through the fire.
‘How did you know?’ the Elf asked, his voice soft, echoing slightly in the immense space about him.
‘You’ve been tossing in your sleep for the better part of three hours,’ came the response. ‘When you actually lay still for the first time, I knew that you’d either died or awoken.’
Legolas smiled. ‘I’ve never heard of anyone being woken up by silence before…’
‘It happens. Sometimes. Mainly when you really desperately want to sleep.’
Legolas took himself to his feet, now fed up of lying down. Something is wrong…
‘You really are worried about that smell, aren’t you?’
The Elf cocked his head at Gimli, pausing briefly in what he did. He resisted the temptation to say “how very observant you are,” and selected a more polite answer: ‘I know what it is, and there lies the problem; had I not taken that Dimforn, I know I would be able to remember Â– how frustrating it is to not remember!’ He began to pace, running his hands through his hair in his aggravation.
‘You are confidant that it is of something dangerous, then?’
Legolas sat down on a rock, never leaving the light of the fire, Gimli noticed. ‘Yes, it is a danger, and it is serious.’ He began to pull his boots back on…
‘How is it,’ Gimli began, after watching the Elf’s bare foot disappear into a boot, ‘that you can wear those boots with no stockings?’
‘They are soft inside,’ came the response, and Legolas offered Gimli a boot so that he could test it.
‘No thank you,’ said the Dwarf, pulling away a little. ‘Your feet smell.’
Legolas glowered at that comment. He finished with his boots and then set to replacing his jerkin and quiver, taking out a broken shaft and proceeding with picking his nails with the arrowhead. It seemed to Gimli that the Elf was nervous Â– he was not one to fidget like he was doing…
‘Tell me something,’ Legolas said, feeling a need to lift the silence – even though it had been short – from the place. ‘What is your home like?’
‘Why on earth would you want to know that?’
‘Please, Gimli Â– satiate my curiosity. I wish to know, that is all.’
Gimli scrutinised Legolas’ face intently, hunting for any possible insincerity. When he found nothing but a purely innocent face looking back at him attentively, he began to talk. ‘It is a fantastic place, Master Elf. Beyond the magnificent gateway of carven stone lies a kingdom of such majesty as you have never before witnessed: countless halls and caverns finely crafted to flaunt their beauty in all its fine glory.
‘All around is the music of the mountain: we did not care to divert the course of the water springs, and so they run through the great halls, providing all with their song.
‘The walls shimmer, they are so polished, and hardly a torch is needed, for their wonderful surfaces reflect the light so well.’ Gimli stopped, a far-off look in his eyes. But he seemed to come back to the now dreary-seeming cave they were in at that moment, and he turned to the Elf prince on the rock, who had not moved a muscle. ‘What of your home, Elf?’
‘My home? Well Â– Mirkwood is Â– is-‘ He could not think of what to say. Finally he came out with: ‘Troubled. Our lands are beautiful enough: the trees stand tall despite the wrath of the seasons, and the palace is a fine place. But my people are plagued constantly by Orcs and … and…’ Legolas paled dramatically, so much so that Gimli was sure he would pass out.
‘Elf? What’s wrong?’
Legolas’ eyes, clear as any sapphire ever mined by the Dwarves, were wide with sudden terror. There was a slight tremble to his voice as he said with a timbre barely louder than a whisper: ‘Gimli, we are in a warg cave.’
‘A warg cave? Are you sure, lad?’
Legolas leapt to his feet, crossing to the fire and stamping frantically on the flames. ‘This is not the ideal time to start questioning me, Gimli! I learnt millennia ago to entrust everything to my senses. They have been trying to tell me for long enough that this is a dangerous place, and now I know why! You have brought us to our deaths!’
‘You are missing out on something, Elf.’
‘Oh yes? And what might that be?’ came the terse response.
‘There. Is. Nothing. Here!’
‘Don’t be so stupid!’ Legolas hissed. ‘Do you honestly think that wargs don’t go hunting? Believe it or not, they eat!’
‘Now don’t you-‘
Gimli found it hard to believe himself, but he actually silenced at Legolas’ command. The Elf had stiffened, clearly listening, bright eyes that reflected even the smallest hint of light as though it were the sun staring out into the pitch of night. Gimli was forcefully reminded of a deer sighting a predator. The eyes seemed to detect something – though what it was Gimli could not see, even though he strained Â– as they jerked to the right-hand side of the cave entrance, fixing on something. Legolas watched something … and Gimli had a horrible feeling that something was watching him back.
A howl shattered the silence of the night. It made Legolas shudder with revulsion as the cry was answered by many others. They were spaced out, some of the responding beasts quite a distance apart.
‘No, Gimli,’ Legolas corrected in a grim tone. ‘Wolves are creatures of supreme grace and majesty: these are wargs. Abominations. A mockery almost as great as trolls are of Ents Â– or Orcs of my own people.’
Gimli heard the under-lying sadness in Legolas’ voice, and for quite possibly the first time in his life, he took pity on an Elf. He knew sketchily of the way in which Orcs had been created, and he found it difficult to relate the regal, elegant figure beside him to the bent and horrific forms of the Orcs.
‘Well. Do you have a plan of action against these abominations?’
Gimli could hardly see the Elf in the dark, but he knew exactly what the expression the other wore was like.
‘I cannot gauge how many there are,’ Legolas informed, a slight hint of desperation in his voice. ‘I couldn’t tell you whether it is one or ten outside.’
‘But surely those pointy ears of yours are good for something! Can’t you hear them?’
Legolas turned to Gimli in the dark, the bright eyes glinting with evident anger. ‘Something that you seem to be having great difficulty in grasping, Dwarf, is that wargs are of a more cunning nature than you are apparently capable of understanding! Their intelligence is not something to be scoffed at-‘ He cut short when he heard the low growl being emitted from outside. It was joined by the guttural threats of at least two other animals.
Legolas raised his bow, notching an arrow faster than the eye could see. He gave a soft, mirthless laugh. ‘Shooting in the dark.’ He paused, and, after a second or so of simply listening, loosed the arrow, relying on his ears to find the target rather than his eyes. There was a dull thud as the projectile found flesh, a yelp piercing the crisp air briefly, and then the sound of a sizable animal collapsing.
Legolas and Gimli waited, completely motionless, listening, not daring to breath. Nothing stirred outside, not even the wind. They waited for what seemed like an eternity for something to happen.
‘Do you hear anything?’ Gimli finally whispered tentatively, his voice seeming to boom in the pressing silence.
‘Nothing,’ Legolas replied.
‘Well,’ said the Dwarf, confidence reinstalled in his voice, ‘your ears are better than mine, and if you can’t hear anything, then surely ’tis safe!’
‘Gimli,’ Legolas said in a warning tone. ‘These creatures are more devious than you are giving them credit for-‘
‘-They are wargs, Legolas! Stupid beasts without any brains. There was one of them, and you killed it, so we are now safe to leave.’ With those words, Gimli began to advance towards the cave entrance.
‘Gimli, there was more than oneÂ– Gimli, NO!’
It loomed over him as the warg made its attacking leap. Gimli was paralysed before it, shock immobilising him Â– all he could do was stare at the teeth in the gaping maw. It was going to kill him…
The arrow sang through the air, its deadly song ending sharply as the cold point buried itself deep into the warg. The animal fell to the side, crying out with its pain. The cry, however, transformed into a tremulous snarl of blind rage, and the warg brought itself to its feet again, and Legolas was dismayed to see that his shaft Â– which had hit the neck Â– had not struck in the right place, failing to administer the fatal wound he desired.
It began to run at the Dwarf…
Gimli stumbled back, not taking his eyes from the evil creature as it pursued him through the cave. Legolas cursed strongly: he could make out no clear definition between the Dwarf and the creature he wished to shoot. The Dimforn was not yet out of his system, and it was making his vision less sharp than it should be.
Gimli watched with horror as the warg made a lunge at him Â– and then he found himself on the cave floor, having been pushed away. When he righted his position, he could only ogle at the scene. Legolas was stood primed, knives in his hands. The warg flashed its teeth at him. It was a strange contrast, watching this beast easily as large as a horse, matted dirt-brown coat raised at the hackles, yellowing teeth bared Â– and the lithe, pale Elf, his knives held with an air that promised death would be dealt from their beautiful edges if the warg made any move that did not fare well with their owner.
‘Come on,’ Legolas coaxed. ‘I’m waiting.’
It snapped at him, taking a lunge, only to jump back as a blade swiped at its nose. The warg snarled, circling the Elf, never too close to the biting knife-edges. Legolas gyrated with it, his eyes fixed on his enemy. Wargs, in his experience, were dangerously clever, and he dared not even slightly offer it his back.
The warg made a sudden rush…
And fell, an axe deeply imbedded in its head.
Legolas looked at Gimli, relief and a little shock on his face. Gimli grinned in the half-light.
‘How’s that for moving, eh, Elf?’
Legolas merely chuckled and shook his head.
The baying of more wargs echoed through the air. They were not so far as they had originally sounded…
Legolas began to walk cautiously over to the cave entrance…
‘Elf! What are you doing? Come back from there!’
Legolas, however, continued, sharp eyes surveying the surrounding area. He did not fully leave the cave, but dwindled in the mouth of it, still searching the area … and cupped his hands to his mouth.
Aragorn and Boromir stopped. They had heard the yelping and baying of the wargs, and Aragorn was now sure that it was those beasts that had made Bill so jittery. What he was not so sure about, however, was the location of the pack Â– they appeared to be spread out, but ever advancing towards one point, from which the yelping occasionally sprang.
‘I have a very bad feeling about this, Boromir,’ Aragorn informed the other, the tension he felt echoing in his voice.
‘You think it is Gimli and Legolas they are after, don’t you? I am afraid that is my thought also.’
Aragorn glanced at his companion in the clear light of the moon, which filtered through the trees with its ghostly rays, giving the younger man a slightly blue face. ‘Yes, that is my fear. From what Legolas said two days ago, neither of them are fine Â– they should have re-joined the Fellowship by now-‘
A howl rent through the air. It was not like that of a warg, though Â– it was far more beautiful, and it was much longer than a warg’s cry. It made the hair rise on the back of Boromir’s neck – but for all its majesty, it filled him with dread… ‘Wonderful. Wolves. Just what we need.’
But when he turned his eyes to Aragorn, he was shocked to see the other grinning almost stupidly. Aragorn looked at Boromir, and explained: ‘Not wolves, Boromir. Wolves do not go near wargs. No. That was Legolas.’
‘Legolas? Why would he be howling?’ Boromir did not understand at all; it seemed to him to be a highly idiotic thing to do in a situation where wargs were baying for your blood, so to speak.
‘He is speaking to me,’ the Ranger continued. ‘This is our means of contacting each other without betraying ourselves near enemies when we are apart and need to locate one another-‘ But he cut off as another howl shivered through the air, and the grin vanished completely from his countenance. In its place was evident horror, and he began to run, not looking back to see if Boromir pursued him or not.
‘Why the sudden change, Aragorn?’ Boromir called, straining to keep up with the fleet-footed man.
‘One howl is to locate the lost friend. Two is a desperate call for aid.’ He howled himself as he ran, the sound jerking with his uneven steps. “I am coming, my brother. Hold on.”
Legolas fell back from the entrance, two wargs materialising out of the black. He slashed the air with a knife, driving them back a short distance Â– they had seen what those blades could do, and were none too keen on finding out what their bite felt like.
Gimli shook his head at his lithe companion when he was back beside him. ‘You are insane,’ he said, still shaking his head. ‘You step casually outside where wargs are, and then you howl like one of them! Anyone would think that you wished for them to attack us!’
Legolas cocked his head, eyes never leaving the mouth of their prison. ‘Firstly, Gimli, I did not “step casually outside.” I made sure there was no immediate danger. Secondly, I do not wish for them to attack us or, indeed, to attract them. I called for help. Aragorn is coming.’
“He is not right in the head”, the Dwarf concluded. “He has gone, completely gone!”
One, perhaps, was to be expected. But a surge of three was more than Legolas and Gimli could cope with. Axe and knife dealt the fatal blows and slashes to two of the monsters, but the third Â– and largest Â– of the wargs escaped injury completely. Legolas did not have enough room to manoeuvre himself out of the way, and the breath was knocked clean of his body as the warg’s gigantic paws thrust into his chest. He cried out sharply, his hands releasing the knives in his shock. His back slammed into the cave floor so hard that his spine jarred agonisingly…
The Elf was able to gather his wits in time to realise that the warg was making ready to strike at his throat. Those jaws would clench about his neck. The teeth would make short work of his flesh, and his lifeblood would gush from his body. His windpipe was going to be severed, and here would end Legolas Thranduilion, only child of the King of Mirkwood, the only member of his people to travel on this boundlessly important journey with the Ring Bearer.