Well Laid Plans
The Fellowship is reuniting, but may face a new threat that is hunting them all.
I had a slight change in plans for my story, and so
Author's note: I had a slight change in plans for my story, and so
this chapter wasn't what I had expected to write at first. In fact, I had not
even intended to write this chapter, but my muse wouldn't leave me alone, and I
finally gave in. Hope you enjoy!!!!
White hot and searing engulfed him, lashing at him like tongues of flame and stealing the very air from his lungs.
Such as he had never known before, filling him and building until he thought he must surely explode from the pressure.~
"Wake up, Legolas!"
~Cold, hard stone pressed against his back, a sharp contrast to the fire flowing through his veins. A coarse cloth covered his eyes, blocking out all sight, as rough hands gripped him and held him fast to the ground, cruel laughter filling the air.
He struggled against the ones holding him, thrashing and twisting in an attempt to break free, but this only caused the hands to tighten their grip, adding to the sea of agony that threatened to sweep him away.~
"Get UP, Elf! The dawn has already come and Aragorn will be riding on without us if you do not rise! Get Up!"
~He could sense an unnaturally dark presence near by, and his struggles intensified, but to no avail. He felt a slight shift in the ones that held him down, and then something hard and cold was pressed against his chest. A wave of evil, so intense it drowned out even his pain, swept through him. He moaned as his body went completely limp, all energy drained from him.
A freezing blackness seemed to be all about him, entrapping him more effectively than the rough hands that still held him. The blackness seemed to be trying to meld with him, sinking into his very skin, his very soul. The pressure on his chest increased, bringing with it a new pain, darker and colder. The cruel laughter was gone, replaced by soft, black words in a language he had never heard, the words seeming to aid the darkness in its takeover of his body.
"No," he cried out in his own language, trying to drown out the dark words being muttered above him. "No! You shall not have me!"~
"Even the hobbits have risen, and yet you still sleep? Wake up or I shall be forced to pour a basin of water over your sleeping head!"
~He had never experienced anything like the cold that now had hold of his body. It seemed as if all light and warmth or memory of warmth was being drowned in an unstoppable sea of ice and dark. His very soul was wrapped in black ice, and he knew there would be no escape. He tried to cry out once more, but no sound came as he at last gave over to the shadow.~
The dream shattered into a million sparkling fragments, just as it seemed his very soul shattered. With a shout, Legolas jerked awake, his body going immediately into the movement that had been denied it during his dream. Drawing his knife smoothly, he jumped to his feet, the sudden light in contrast with the darkness of his dream temporarily blinding him. He heard a muffled exclamation, then a thud, and the soft splash of water.
Still not able to see completely, Legolas whirled toward the sound, knife extended.
"EASY, Legolas! It is just me! Stop waving that thing around!"
Legolas gasped, his sight returning slowly, and with it the realization of where he was. Dim light filtered through the thick canvas of the tent he had shared the last few nights of travel with Gimli and the hobbits.
He glanced down to find Gimli sitting rather awkwardly at his feet. The dwarf was soaking wet, a metal basin lying on the ground a few feet away.
Legolas could only stare at the dwarf mutely as his body began to shudder in an attempt to throw off the dark vestiges of his dream. It was always like this when he first awoke, and he knew it would be a long time before his body would completely stop shaking.
Still sprawled on the ground, Gimli looked up at Legolas worriedly. The dwarf had never seen such raw emotion displayed on his friend's face.
"Legolas..." Gimli began, attempting to rise from his undignified position. Before he could say another word, Legolas swept past him so quickly that Gimli lost his balance and found himself sprawled upon the ground once more. He turned just in time to see the tent flap fall back in place behind the elf's retreating back. For a couple of long seconds, Gimli just sat on the ground, too shocked by the elf's abrupt exit to think, let alone act. Legolas hadn't even said one word to him!
Outside the tent, Legolas paused only long enough to take a deep, steadying breath and school his features to calm, before he quickly lost himself among the morning preparations to break camp.
He hated walking out on Gimli, and yet he felt he had no choice. He desperately needed to be outside, breathing in the fresh air, and letting some warmth and light return to his seemingly numb body. He did not think he could face any of his friends right now, least of all Gimli, nor could he face the questions they would have for him. Not yet. Not so soon after waking from the nightmare.
The dreams had been getting progressively worse, if that were possible, the further East he traveled. Now, the company was almost to Calembel, and Legolas wondered if he would ever dare sleep again until this thing was over.
Legolas continued wandering through the camp of soldiers busy preparing for the day's march. He didn't have a specific destination, but just continued walking because it gave him something to do besides think. He kept his pace quick and purposeful, avoiding meeting anyone's eyes and praying that no one would try and stop him. He was not in the mood to talk.
It was still very early, the sky appearing even more dim and bleak due to a thick blanket of dark clouds that blocked the sun's warm rays. The Ered Nimrais thrust upward ominously just a few miles to the North, its high peaks cloaked by the low clouds, giving the mountains a sinister and evil appearance. Legolas carefully kept his gaze away from the mountains, looking instead out to the plains, where the view was not so threatening. Rolling hills with an abundant amount of trees and scrub brush filled the landscape, dotted here and there with large boulders or little clusters of stone, looking almost as if they had been cast from the nearby mountains.
As he walked, Legolas caught sight of Gandalf talking with Faramir. The wizard glanced up, his eyes scanning the early morning preparations. Legolas quickly turned once more and headed in the opposite direction from the wizard. He did not want Gandalf to see him and beckon him over, for he knew the wizard would ask how he had slept, and more importantly if he had dreamed. He was not ready to talk about his dream just yet. He needed more time to relax and organize his shaken thoughts.
At last, Legolas headed toward the far edge of camp, where a long rope had been used to section off a sort of makeshift corral where some of the horses were allowed to wander free during the night. Shandarell stood alone within the enclosure, all the other mounts already having been retrieved by their owners and made ready for the day's journey.
The great horse stood perfectly still, his nose thrust forward into the easterly wind, his mane and tail waving peacefully in the gentle breeze. Suddenly, as fast as an arrow from Legolas's bow, the horse leapt forward, going from stationary to full speed in one bound. Letting out a shrill cry, the horse charged straight toward the rope blocking him in. The soldiers on the other side of the barricade fell back with sharp cries of warning, for it seemed as if the horse was not going to stop, but either jump or crash straight through the thick rope.
Seemingly at the very last second, Shandarell threw his weight onto his back haunches, twisting his front legs and doing a complete ninety degree turn in one fluid motion. His speed never slackening, he took off along the boundaries of the enclosure, neighing loudly and kicking out his back legs. The soldiers picked themselves up off the ground and laughed somewhat embarrassedly as they watched the horse complete a circuit of the enclosure at full speed and then start on a second round.
Shandarell was truly a sight to behold, his fiery red coat gleaming brightly, his head thrown high, and his long strides eating up the ground with a graceful ease. He seemed to be almost showing off for the soldiers who now gathered around admiring him.
Legolas let a small smile cross his face as he watched the antics of the horse that had become extremely dear to him. Approaching the small crowd gathered outside the enclosure, Legolas let out a low whistle. Shandarell skidded to a halt, bits of grass and dirt raining down on his back from the abrupt stop. He turned his head toward where Legolas was ducking beneath the rope and let out a loud snort, then suddenly leapt forward once more, this time directly toward Legolas.
One of the soldiers called out a warning, but Legolas continued forward, straight toward the charging horse. Once again, Shandarell swerved at the very last minute, brushing past Legolas before turning and starting to run excited circles around him. Legolas's smile grew larger, and he let the horse play for several more minutes before he raised his hand slightly. Shandarell immediately calmed and came forward to lay his head against Legolas's chest, ruffling the elf's clothes in a search for any treats Legolas may have brought him.
Legolas stroked the horse for a second before leading him from the enclosure. He didn't want to stay in one area for any amount of time where Gimli or one of the others might find him. He was desperately trying to think of a way he might avoid Gimli for the rest of the morning. Quite a task, since the dwarf normally rode with him.
Suddenly, an idea struck him and he quickly set off in search of Aragorn.
Aragorn stood on a small hill overlooking the camp, watching the early morning preparations going on below him. Arwen stood silently behind him, offering him silent, yet welcome, companionship.
Down in the camp. all the soldiers worked with a swift proficiency, and Aragorn knew they would be ready to begin the day's journey soon. He was pleased with the good time they had made over the past few days, traveling swiftly along the base of the Ered Nimrais, the mountain casting an ever- present shadow over the company. However, this morning, Aragorn's mood was light with the knowledge that his journey would soon be over. Calembel lay only a half day's journey away, and Aragorn was anxious to arrive and begin preparing the city's defense.
Faramir had done an excellent job in splitting the army. Over fifteen hundred mounted soldiers now rode with Aragorn, and at least that many followed a few days behind on foot. Everything seemed to be going completely to plan, and they had yet to face any setbacks or major problems to slow them down.
Thus, Aragorn had allowed his men a couple more hours of rest this morning, knowing that they would reach Calembel by noon, and that they could very well expect an attack from Malek and his orcs this very night.
Aragorn was lost deep in thought and was slightly startled when Arwen greeted someone quietly behind him. He had heard no one approach, but when he turned and saw who it was that had joined them, he was not surprised by this.
"Good morning, Legolas," he said cheerfully, glancing up at the morning sky. "It looks as if we can expect some rain to grace us during our journey today."
"Good morning to both of you," Legolas replied, bowing slightly to Arwen, and giving a slight smile to Aragorn.
"Where is Gimli?" Aragorn asked, glancing around for the dwarf who was very rarely far from the elf.
Legolas shrugged, and Aragorn saw something flash through the elf's eyes before Legolas lowered his head.
He frowned slightly, wondering at the elf's reserved manner. "We will be leaving soon," he said slowly. "Perhaps you should find him."
Legolas raised his head, meeting his gaze, and whatever Aragorn had thought he had seen before was now gone. "I have come to ask permission to ride as a scout today," Legolas asked without hesitation.
Aragorn was surprised by the request, and also slightly suspicious. Something was telling him that all was not as it should be. "I am afraid the scouts all rode out several hours ago," he said , eyeing Legolas closely.
"I wish to ride on my own," Legolas replied quietly. "We are close to our destination, and our enemy knows we come. I would search for any traps he may have left in wait for us."
"Do you suspect ambush," Aragorn asked seriously. "even though it is day, and Malek will not show himself while the sun is out?"
"Malek may not abide the sun, yet the orcs have already proven they are willing to venture out under its light. We can not overlook the possibility that they may be lying in wait for us."
Aragorn nodded. "I have thought of this as well. However, I truly feel that Malek will not order an attack on us until he is there to oversee it. Even so, I am not completely unprepared. All the scouts this morning left with word of warning to keep a sharp eye out for any orcs that could be lying in wait for us."
"Still," Legolas argued, "I can perhaps find something that they might miss."
Aragorn frowned again, now even more certain that something was not right. "And what about Gimli?" he asked, still eyeing Legolas sharply.
"He can ride with one of the others for the day," Legolas said evasively, once more something flashing briefly in his eyes. "I doubt he will miss my presence too grievously.
Aragorn nodded slowly, still wrestling with feelings of unease. For some reason, he didn't want to let the elf go, but he could not explain it to himself, let alone Legolas. "Very well," he finally said quietly. "But I wish you with me when I enter the city this afternoon."
"I will be there," Legolas responded with a bow. Turning, he leapt gracefully onto Shandarell's back and the horse was immediately away at a full gallop. Aragorn watched him go, still wearing a small frown. After the elf had disappeared from view, Aragorn turned, and with Arwen at his side, made his way back down into camp.
They had not gone far, when Aragorn spotted Gimli making his way towards them, and by the look on the dwarf's face, Aragorn knew that he was not happy. It also appeared as if the dwarf was slightly damp, almost like he had slipped and fallen in a large puddle somewhere.
"Where is he?" the dwarf demanded when he was still a few paces off.
Aragorn eyed him shrewdly, shaking his head in amusement. "Why, I am fine Gimli, how nice of you to ask. And how is your morning?"
Gimli grumbled something beneath his breath that Aragorn did not catch, but beside him, Arwen began to laugh. Aragorn glanced at her, and was about to ask what the dwarf had said that was so funny, but Gimli interrupted him.
"Where is Legolas," the dwarf repeated, glaring up at Aragorn as if he was somehow hiding the elf within his cloak.
Aragorn shook his head, wondering where the brightness of the morning had suddenly gone. "Legolas is out scouting the land before us," he explained with a sigh.
"You let him go!!!" the dwarf all but shouted, a totally incredulous look on his rough face.
"Is there a reason I shouldn't have?" Aragorn asked sharply, eyeing the dwarf intently.
"YES, there is a reason," the dwarf replied roughly. "That elf owes me some answers, and I am not going to let him avoid me any longer! I will be needing a horse."
Aragorn stared at Gimli, wondering if the dwarf was joking. He looked quite serious, and Aragorn shook his head in bewilderment. "You don't know how to ride a horse," he reminded the dwarf quietly.
"'I'll learn," the dwarf stated firmly, determination written all over his face.
Aragorn sighed and glanced toward Arwen. She shook her head slightly, then addressed Gimli. "Even if you rode out after him, you would not be able to find him. Especially if there is a reason he does not wish to be found."
"I can try," Gimli replied a bit less firmly and with the first hint of doubt entering his voice.
"Yes," Aragorn said calmly, despite a growing sense of unease. "You could try, but it would just be a waste of time and energy. I would much prefer that you remain here, with us."
Gimli looked as if he wanted to argue, but at last common sense won out. "I suppose so," the dwarf said, doubt heavy in his voice. "Legolas can not stay away from us forever, and when he returns I shall get my answers, or he will have a very sore head."
"And perhaps you can share some answers with me," Aragorn added quietly. "Such as what has caused this sudden anger toward Legolas."
"Stupidity," the dwarf spat. "The elf will not TALK to me. He continues to avoid me, and even when I ride behind him he is constantly changing the subject."
"Changing the subject from what?" Arwen asked curiously.
"Something is troubling him greatly," Gimli answered, his voice suddenly growing soft, and a concerned frown revealing just how much he cared for his friend. "He is much too quiet and listless of late. Have you not noticed?"
Aragorn and Arwen exchanged looks, and Aragorn sighed in exasperation. "Indeed, I have noticed, and I also searched for a time to talk to him about it in private. Unfortunately, I have not found such a time."
Gimli snorted loudly. "Even if you had, I doubt he would have told you anything. I have been working on him all week, but he still somehow manages to evade my questions. But not anymore, not if it means I have to tie him to the ground and sit on him to get some answers!"
"I wonder what could be bothering him?" Arwen asked softly of no one in particular.
"As to that, my lady, I may now have a guess." Gimli's voice was low and thoughtful, and he commenced in relating to them the morning's events. When he had finished, Aragorn shook his head and let out a small sigh.
"I should have known," the warrior said quietly. "Or at least, I should have guessed. All those secret meetings with Gandalf, and him not sleeping as he should. I have been a fool not to have seen it before now."
"Then I, too, am a fool, and a greater one, for I spend the most time with him, and it should have been obvious to me," Gimli said despondently.
"And if both of you are fools," Arwen said lightly, "then there is no hope for the world."
Both man and dwarf looked at her in surprise, and she laughed lightly. "I should not have to remind you of whom we speak. Elves have had thousands of years to practice keeping secrets. Legolas is an expert in this. He most likely used your own worries and suspicions to throw you off the real track, so do not be too hard on yourselves."
Gimli smiled at the elf princess and bowed low. "Well said, my lady," he said admiringly. Then he turned back to Arargorn, "So what do you suggest we do to convince Legolas to confide in us?"
"First of all," Aragorn said firmly, "we must be patient. If we do not choose the right time and place to confront him, then I fear he will merely find another way to slip from our grasp and evade our questions. Remember that he is an elf, and thus an expert at avoiding that which he does not wish to face."
Arwen arched a smooth eyebrow, and Aragorn continued. "Is this not true, my love. After all, you did very well in avoiding being separated from me once again."
"A point that hardly pertains to this discussion," Arwen pointed out coolly.
Aragorn laughed lightly, despite his nagging worry over Legolas. Turning back to Gimli, he said "You will ride with me this day, my friend. At least until we reach the city. We will have plenty of time on the way to discuss our strategy in trapping our dear friend."
"I look forward to it," Gimli replied with an evil grin.
"Then might I suggest that we be on our way," Arwen suggested, still staring somewhat coolly at Aragorn.
"An excellent idea," Aragorn replied. "I wish to get as close to the city as possible before the rain comes. It seems that while we have been having our little discussion, everything has been made ready."
Even as Aragorn finished his last sentence, Gandalf and the hobbits joined them. The hobbits were already mounted upon their shaggy ponies, and Gandalf led his own mount, as well as Aragorn's and Arwen's. Merry and Pippin were both holding a round piece of bread in their hands, and Merry addressed Gimli.
"Where were you and Legolas at breakfast?" the hobbit asked, almost as if Gimli had committed a mortal sin by not being there.
"I wasn't hungry," Gimli mumbled in response. In truth, he had been waiting to eat with Legolas, but when the elf had disappeared, all thought of food had been forgotten. Now, with the sweet smell of the bread in Merry and Pippin's hands, he wished he still had time to grab something.
"Oh," Pippin said, obviously unable to comprehend the dwarf's statement. "Merry and I brought these sweet bread cakes for you and Legolas, but since he doesn't seem to be here, and you aren't hungry, I guess we'll just have to eat them ourselves."
Gimli turned to them, opening his mouth, but it was too late. With looks of extreme pleasure, the two hobbits had already popped the bread into their mouths.
Gimli moaned quietly and quickly looked away from where the hobbits chewed with looks of complete rapture on their small faces. His stomach rumbled loudly, but luckily no one seemed to notice.
Aragorn reached forward and took Roheryn's lead from Gandalf, thanking the wizard quietly. Gandalf merely nodded. "Are we ready to leave then?" the wizard asked, and Aragorn nodded.
"I will find Faramir and have him tell the captains to give the signal to move out. Gimli will be riding with me today, and I would like you to ride at my side, Gandalf. The dwarf and I have questions we would like to ask you."
Gandalf nodded once more. "If it is about Legolas that you wish to speak," Gandalf said frankly, "then I am not sure how much I will be able to tell you. You must seek your answers from him."
"We intend to," Gimli said dryly. "As soon as we can find a way to pin him to one spot long enough!"
"Ahhh," Gandalf said with a smile. "That, I can help you with. I have some rather long rope in my saddle bags if you wish to borrow it."
"We will try talking to him first," Aragorn said with a sardonic smile, helping Gimli up onto Roheryn's back before swinging up himself. "But if that does not work, I may take you up on your offer."
"Excuse me," Sam interjected politely, "But if I may ask, why are you talking about tying Legolas up?"
"Because he's an elf," Gimli stated, as if that were all the explanation there needed to be.
"Oh," Sam said, obviously not understanding, but deciding to leave the subject alone.
Pippin leaned over and whispered in Merry's ear. "I heard that dwarves have some really strange customs, but I have never heard of anything like this!"
"Good morning, everyone," a cheerful voice called out as Faramir rode up and joined them.
Aragorn turned to return the greeting, but all words died in his mouth when he caught sight of what the Steward was holding.
"Where did you get that?" he asked, his voice strained and barely above a whisper.
Faramir looked at him in surprise, then shrugged. "One of the soldiers brought it to me. Legolas must have accidentally left it in his tent this morning, and I was going to return it to him."
Gimli swore loudly, also catching sight of what the Steward held. Aragorn felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, as he reached out and took Legolas's bow and quiver from the steward. He suddenly wished desperately that he had not let the elf go. It was obvious that Legolas was not acting himself, that he was not thinking straight, and if he should run into any trouble while scouting.....
Aragorn let the thought die, turning and meeting Arwen's eyes. It was obvious from the look of worry on her smooth features that she was thinking the same thing.
Aragorn tensed as he turned to look in the direction the elf had ridden, his hand gripping the wood of the bow so tightly that his knuckles turned white.
Legolas had not gone far from the camp when he became aware of his missing bow. It was a measure of just how distracted he had been that morning that he had failed to notice it's absence until now. Cursing himself mentally for being so careless, Legolas brought Shandarell to a halt, looking back toward the camp.
He cursed again, this time out loud, and Shandarell began to dance beneath him, picking up on his emotion. He had been so distracted by his dream, and then waking to find Gimli, that he had failed to retrieve it from the tent this morning. Afterwards, he had been so intent upon finding a way to avoid speaking to Gimli, that he had altogether failed to notice it's absence. This was truly saying something, for he always carried the bow with him everywhere, and he suddenly felt strangely naked without it.
Legolas finally sighed and shook his head. It was too late to go back for it now. Gimli would assuredly be waiting for him if he did, and although he knew he would have to face the dwarf sooner or later, he preferred it to be later. He was not completely defenseless, for he still contained his two long hunting knives and his extraordinary senses to alert him of any danger. He would just have to be extra careful and alert. Despite the argument he had used on Aragorn, he seriously doubted if the army had to worry about an ambush. This was not to say that he didn't intend upon keeping a keen eye out, yet he really didn't expect any trouble
Urging Shandarell into a fast canter, Legolas continued his journey, heading Southwest, angling away from the mountains, but still heading toward the River Ciril and the city of Calembel. Rolling hills and rocky terrain made it difficult to see far in any direction, so Legolas decided to head toward a tall hill that rose in the distance, higher than all the others. He would be able to get a good view of the plains leading up to Calembel from there.
The clouds continued to grow darker as he rode, and a chill wind caught at his cloak and whipped his hair about him. Legolas did not mind, for the cold did not bother him much. Besides, at the moment, he was reveling in the freedom of just riding, without having to think or talk.
The darkness of his dream was beginning to wear off, and Legolas actually began to look about him, enjoying the view and listening to the sounds of life carried on the wind. A herd of wild deer lay just to his right, their heads coming up and following his and Shandarell's progress as the two rode by. A flock of wild birds flew overhead, squawking and complaining about the coming storm, and Legolas smiled, relaxing even more.
He kept Shandarell at a steady pace, and about an hour and a half later he had reached the base of the tall hill he had seen earlier. He urged Shandarell up the steep climb, and when he had reached the top he looked about him, gathering his bearings and planning his next move.
The river Ciril wound like a silver ribbon to the west, twisting and undulating until it disappeared beneath the dark shadows of the Ered Nimrais. Far to the north, along the western bank of the river, and almost flush up against the mountains, the dark gray blur of the city of Calembel rested. The terrain up to the city seemed to smooth out a bit from the rolling hills he had just passed through. A long, mostly level plain lay parallel to the river, reaching up to the front gates of the city. There were still a great many trees and brush dotting the terrain, but the land lay mostly open and visible.
Legolas studied the area around him carefully, choosing his next course. He had two choices; he could travel directly toward the city, crossing the open plains and taking the same route that Aragorn and the Army would follow, or he could travel directly west until he reached the Ciril, and then follow the river upstream to the city.
The first plan would be the quickest and easiest, taking him no more than a couple of hours to reach the city. It was also the most likely way for the other scouts to take. The second choice would be much longer, for instead of flat terrain, the hills continued to the west, all the way up to the river, and several miles downstream. It was much harder to see what lay in that direction, for the hills still hid much from his keen view.
He finally decided upon the second course of action, more because it would take him longer than for any hope of discovering anything along the banks of the river. He guessed that this route would take him close to four hours, still getting him to the city in time to meet Aragorn. Leaving the high hill, Legolas held Shandarell back to a slow canter, studying his surroundings and keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.
He reached the river two hours later, just as the first big drops of rain came splashing to the earth. He pulled the hood of his cloak up over his head and began the ride north, towards the city. The hills were beginning to even out a little as he made his way further upstream. He allowed Shandarell to pick up his pace a little, knowing that the rain would soon make riding very uncomfortable. The roar of the river and the sound of the rain were almost deafening, and Legolas had to rely on his other senses to keep him from danger.
He had not gone far upstream when he began to develop a feeling of unease. He could not quite place where these feelings came from, but it steadily grew worse the further he rode, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Legolas’s senses had never proven wrong, so he immediately became more alert, looking about him with a sharper eye and bringing Shandarell down to a trot and finally a walk.
His entire body was tense, one hand lying loosely on the hilt of one of his knives. The trees and scrub grew more abundantly along the riverbank, and Legolas searched each branch and bramble for signs of danger. He had gone only a bit further when he became aware of the unmistakable scent of smoke lying heavy in the air, despite the rain. Shandarell smelled it also, and the horse snorted and tossed his head.
Legolas moved slightly away from the river, hoping that with the absence of its roar, he would be able to hear something. They had not come far when they came to the base of yet another hill. Legolas knew the strong scent was coming from the other side. He remembered when he was still young and a portion of Mirkwood had been set aflame. The elves had quickly managed to put out the fire before it spread too far, but the burnt smell had lasted for several weeks. It was this same smell that assaulted Legolas now; old, yet still poignant.
Legolas slipped from Shandarell’s back, ordering the great horse to remain where he stood. Shandarell snorted once more and stamped his foot, but he remained at the foot of the hill as Legolas stealthily made his way to the top, one knife drawn. He threw back the hood of his cloak so that his peripheral vision would not be obstructed. He reached the top of the hill and crouched near a tall tree, looking down into the small valley below him. He remained perfectly still, studying what he had found for several long seconds before he rose and sheathed his knife, whistling for Shandarell.
The horse dashed up the hill toward him, his hooves slipping and sliding slightly in the muddy ground. Legolas replaced the hood over his head to block out some of the water, although he was already soaked from his brief exposure to the weather. He glanced down into the valley once more, where the black ruins of a burned out town lay.
From his memory of the maps back in Minas Tirith, he concluded that he had stumbled upon the ruins of Murwell. The smell of smoke was heavier this close to the burned out town, but there was another smell as well. A darker and more oppressive smell. The smell of death.
Legolas didn’t bother to remount, but instead led Shandarell down into the small valley. The horse neighed and tossed his head as they approached the ruins, and Legolas sent him off in search of some grass to graze on while he went forward to examine the town more closely.
All that was left of the small town was blackened rubble. Here and there, pieces of buildings still stood; a couple of walls that had not collapsed to flame or a stone hearth, standing tall and alone amidst the ruins.
Legolas felt slightly sick at the horrible destruction, knowing that many lives had been lost here. There were no sign of bodies anywhere, and Legolas didn’t even want to think were they all could have gone. Hungry orcs would eat anything and everything they could get their hands on.
He wandered carefully through the rubble, not sure what he was looking for, but unable to just ride on from the sight of such destruction.
Something caught the edge of his vision, and when he turned, he felt his heart clench painfully.
Lying on top of a large stone, looking almost like an offering, lay a small rag doll.
The doll's white dress was surprisingly clean, contrasting sharply with the blackness of the burned out town. Legolas moved to where it lay, kneeling in front of it, yet somehow reluctant to touch it. He could not tear his mind from the image of a tiny blond, blue eyed girl, gripping the doll tightly and laughing with joy.
A strange emotion filled his chest, and he gently reached forward and softly touched the face of the doll. He knelt there, just staring at it for several seconds before he finally reached forward and picked up the small toy.
He was about to rise and call for Shandarell when his sharp ears picked up the soft, but unmistakable crunch of a footfall behind him.
Legolas froze, listening intently. The small sound came again, so silent that without his elven senses, he never would have heard it. And there were more sounds now, almost hidden by the sound of rain, but coming steadily closer, surrounding him.
Legolas resisted the urge to jump to his feet and face his attackers. From the sound, there were quite a few of them, and the element of surprise could very well be his only way of escape.
He once more cursed the absence of his bow, even as he slipped his hand beneath his cloak, clenching the hilt of his long knife. His body slowly tensed, as he waited and listened to the sounds of many sets of feet, walking stealthily, and slowly getting closer and closer.