|Dance of Puppets
Author: Maranwe Elanor PM
[Sequel to OMaN] Control. Power. Domination. Ever has the Enemy sought these things. When Elladan and Elrohir become pawns in a deadly game, will Aragorn and Legolas find them in time? Would they be better off not finding them at all?Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Drama - Aragorn & Legolas - Chapters: 24 - Words: 261,597 - Reviews: 165 - Favs: 19 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 07-11-05 - Published: 12-31-03 - id: 1666722
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I've also come to the rather painful decision that I'm going to post every other day. *winces* Even saying it hurts. Of course, that is subject to change if conditions aren't met: namely, if I don't get reviews. I'm not gonna bust my butt to get chapters up if I don't know people are enjoying them, and two--everyone knows this one: if I don't have enough time. Schedules have a nasty habit of changing, so it may push a chapter back a day or two if something happens, but I shall try to be diligent and prompt.
Um . . . Can't think of anything else, so that makes all for the pre-story notes. *g*
Title: Dance of Puppets
Rating: PG-13, might be higher for later chapters but I'm not sure. I'll warn of questionable material before each chapter.
Spoilers: Yes. Lol. Okay, let's see: for False Reality, I think, Of Memories and Nightmares, I know; First Meetings (Cassia and Sio's story) and . . . That's probably it. I think that's it.
Summary: Begins about three months after Of Memories and Nightmares. Aragorn and Legolas have been healing in Mirkwood, and the twins, Elladan and Elrohir, have been trying to keep their mind off their little brother so as not to worry. They accepted a simple errand to that effect and left Rivendell for a peaceful little excursion. The reappearance of a dispised evil grabs the twins and sends Aragorn and Legolas on a race to find them--when they aren't even sure they're missing. Will the unseen hands of fate guide them true? Or are there other forces at work, forces more dangerous than the nurturing hands of the Valar?
Disclaimer: They aren't mine. Celboril belongs to Cassia and Siobahn, and I somehow forgot to ask if I could use him, so if he doesn't appear later, that's because I didn't get permission to use him. *winces* But he's their's, and Tolkien's aren't mine, and the only one's that are mind are evil, it seems. Gee, that's nice. No, wait, hehe. Never mind, I found some of mine that aren't evil.
Warnings: Violence. Some pretty nasty violence at the end that I blame on holiday stress. *g* Nasty traffic, holding me up. Lol.
This story is dedicated to all my wonderful reviewers from Of Memories and Nightmares and False Reality because you all make it so much fun to write. Thanks so much!
Last story responses are at the end of the chapter.
Review and have fun! Happy New Years!
A cloaked and hooded figure strode quickly through the streets of Corstratveil, a small town with a reputation for being cut-throat, a place where people could go when they did not want any questions asked. The buildings were simple and slightly run-down, the streets muddy and unkempt. The few people outside as dusk cloaked the land glanced at him and scurried out of the way. They did not know who he was, and they did not want to know.
The figure's steps were light, almost unnaturally so, as he made his way through the town to a certain building, seeming to almost glide across the ground. It was distinguishable only by its severe disrepair, an air of gloom hanging over the place like a shroud. Without a sound, he turned and pushed through the knobby door into the shabby building.
There was little light, and the light there was cast harsh and deep shadows. All wore hooded cloaks, and few paid more than cursory attention to the newly arrived figure, save to mark his passage in case he proved a threat. None would challenge him. No one was ever challenged. That was the beauty of the place. Each person's business was his own.
He paused inside the door, his gaze unseen, scanning the occupants of the room. Most shrunk as they felt his gaze, whether they knew why a shiver ran up their spine or not. Only one did not.
The dark figure strode over to a small table situated in a quiet corner of the room, secluded from the rest of the occupants by impression if not by a barrier. Deadly power hidden behind flimsy cloth, he crossed the room and saw the figure before him shift uncomfortably. He spoke, "Everything is in order." It was a statement that would brook no denial.
The one across from him nodded. "It is, my lord."
"Good." Dark, gleeful anticipation sounded in his voice, sending a chill down the spine of his accomplice. "Good. You know where they are?"
Another nod. "Sources confirmed their position yesterday. Everyone is in place."
"Do not strike too soon, Conyc. It would be . . . devastating if you were to mess up. My Master would not be pleased. You know what happens when my Master is not pleased, do you not, Conyc?" His voice was silky, an anticipatory glee hiding under his words of warning. He would actually enjoy nothing more than to have an excuse to . . . play with the man before him.
He swallowed. "Yes, my lord."
"When he is not pleased, I am not pleased. You do not want me to be displeased."
The man's hands tightened where they rested, betraying his anxious agitation. Silence hung in the air before he found his voice. "They will be ours, my lord."
"See to it personally," the dark figure instructed, then he rose. The one before him watched, knowing that any failure of the plan would result in pain for him. As quickly as the figure had come, he was gone, faded away to join with the shadows of the night that had crept upon the city in their absence, inseparable from the darkness that surrounded him.
When this was over, the fate of Isildur's heir would be assured, and the elves who harbored him would know his wrath. He had an old friend to show his place.
Aragorn jerked awake with a gasp. His hand immediately sought out his sword at his side, but his fingers caught naught but the flesh of his hip. Panic shot through him and he sat up quickly, silver eyes darting around rapidly to locate the threat. His mind screamed danger.
But with the coming of wakefulness came the realization of place, and the calming of fears. He knew where he was, knew who he was with, and knew there was no reason to fear. That no one else was in his room only served to enhance that fact.
With a hand that shook slightly from reaction, he pushed back his unruly hair, and his eyes automatically sought the balcony that hung off his room where heavy curtains were drawn across the entrance, moving slightly with the strong wind that battered them. Tossing back the fabric that covered his legs, he swung them over the side and moved to his feet, slowly pulling a quilt around his shoulders to ward off the chill as he moved to stand outside. The cold immediately bit through his bare feet, making them ache terribly, but he did not mind, not yet. It was his hands that gave him trouble, but he ignored them, too.
The full feel of winter hung over the forest of Mirkwood, the trees bare of their leaves and waving in the powerful bursts of cold air that tossed them to and fro. Snow covered the ground in irregular piles, some also claiming residence on the balcony, and it crunched beneath his feet before melting, the cold biting into his feet before numbing them completely. When he reached the railing, he brushed off some of the snow, watching idly as it fell to the ground, then he turned his gaze to the stars.
Thranduil's palace was the only place in Mirkwood where one could see the stars, and the ranger was thankful for the view as he sought out the light of Earendil. What troubled his heart, he could not tell, but a shadow was growing in his mind, speaking of danger, yet he did not think he was in danger. Mirkwood, while not one of the safest realms, was safe enough. And though the elves were not the friendliest towards humans would not harm a guest under their liege's care. King Thranduil himself was perhaps not the kindest elf, but he was far from the cruelest, and the young man knew he was safe in the king's house. That meant the danger must come from another quarter.
Immediately, his thoughts turned to his family. Little was ever wrong with Elrond, but the same could not be said of his sons. Elladan and Elrohir were the two most trouble-prone elves, with the possible exception of Legolas, in all of Middle-earth. He had no idea where they could possibly be, but he had the awful feeling that they were in trouble. In trouble, and there was no way he could help. It was that helplessness that hurt the most.
He looked back down to his hands, watching in seeming fascination as his fingers traced over the remaining snow on the balustrade, randomly forming a pattern in the snow. There was nothing he could do, and he would have to trust that they would be well. Sometimes that was hard, though, because he worried about his brothers just as much as they worried about him.
A frown hung about the corners of his lips, his eyebrows drawn together in consternation. Why were bad things always happening around him? Why could he not keep his family and friends safe? Why, no matter how hard he tried, were they always in danger? Why did he have to have a heritage that would never let him escape it? Why was he always getting injured? Why was he edain, weaker, vulnerable? Why did everything have to be so complicated?
He snorted and shook his head, adding one more question to the list of questions he had: why was none of this new? They were all old questions he had yet to find answers--satisfying answers--to. The answers he did have calmed him none at all. Most of them could be summed up with a simple phrase, the answer inherent in his identity: Isildur's heir.
With a tired sigh, he pulled his arm back and clenched his fists in the soft fabric around his shoulders, drawing it closer to him, forcing his fingers to bend and tighten around the fabric. It was galling that that which he did not want, he could not get rid of, but that which he wanted he could not achieve. He shivered as the cold seeped in through his feet and cut through the light elven material around his shoulders, a fine trembling that was not held even from his lips, and he could hear his teeth chattering lightly but uncontrollably. He clenched his jaw shut, but that did not stop the shivers that wracked his frame.
"Are you trying to get sick, human?" a voice demanded from behind him.
The ranger turned, looking back at his friend of several years. The elf prince hovered just past the curtains dressed simply in a light pair of pants and a loose long sleeved shirt. His hair was pulled back from his face simply, loose from the braids he usually kept them in. For all that he looked sleep disheveled, Aragorn would have been hard pressed to say his friend had actually slept.
"Are you making these late night visits a habit?" the young man shot back, arching an eyebrow expectantly.
Legolas smiled and walked the rest of the way forward, turning when he reached the railing so he could lean against it. "Why aren't you sleeping?"
Aragorn shrugged. "I thought I felt something, but I was wrong. I could not go back to sleep."
"So you decided to freeze instead?" demanded the blonde-haired elf, looking caught somewhere between concern and amusement.
His lips twitched briefly, then he looked away into the distance once more, watching the trees sway in the wind. "I had not thought it, no, but now that you mention it. . . ."
Legolas shoved him playfully, and Aragorn started laughing, more than happy to take this distraction from his thoughts. That was a path he did not care to travel down for fear that it would lead back down that path he had just left, and he did not think he could survive another trip so soon. "Never," he denied, firmly. "But what troubles your thoughts this night? What did you feel?"
The ranger sighed, glancing back at his friend with a slight scowl before once more seeking out the light of the stars. "I worry for my family," he admitted softly. "I thought . . . and yet it cannot be true."
"What?" the elf prince pried, frowning slightly as he took in the concern in his friend's gaze.
"That they were in trouble. That danger haunts them, a danger they do not expect."
Legolas watched the young man's profile closely, mulling over his words in silence for a few moments, testing them in his mind, before he ventured a response. He pushed away from the railing, drawing his friend's eyes. "Likely they are back, safe in Rivendell, to face the winter chill. Nothing could hurt them there."
Slowly, Aragorn nodded, himself moving away from the railing to follow his friend inside. As they stepped through the divide and entered the ranger's room, Aragorn spoke. "Yes, you are probably right, my friend. And it is useless to worry."
But even as he spoke, he glanced back towards the stars now hidden from his view, a nagging doubt wriggling in the pit of his stomach, saying it was not so.
The sky was clear. The grass was a pale green that crackled under foot as the clip-clop clip-clop of pounding hoofs raced across its surface. The wind howled, racing against itself to reach the sea, ignoring all obstacles in its way and rushing around the ones it could not push through. It teased hair and cloaks, swirling them around and into the faces of the elves, wrapping them around necks and arms.
The identical beings caught by the wind's fury paid no mind to the twisting of their clothing, eyes fastened straight ahead, fixed on the horizon that was their goal. They had been absent for nearly three months and had had no news of their youngest brother. Their hearts ached with the thought that the worst could happen and they would not be there.
When they had left Rivendell ninety days ago, they had been headed north to meet with a group of Dúnadain and share news. Information had reached Elrond that needed to be shared with the rangers, and they had volunteered to carry it, more than willing to make the journey. Their years of hunting orcs with the rangers had developed a strong bond between them, and if there was danger then they would help.
Once the message was delivered, they had traveled further west with the rangers till they came abreast the Old Forest. There, they had encountered a group of their kin traveling to the Gray Havens. Old friends, and they had traveled with them to the Blue Mountains ere they took their leave. In that time, the days had melted away and winter had come. Now its fury was upon them and it was only their elven resistance to cold that allowed them to ride on, though for the sake of their horses they would need to stop soon.
As the sun passed closer to the mountain peaks behind their backs and the light lessened, the wind grew cooler and they could feel their horses heaving for breath. They exchanged a glance, and whispered for their mounts to slow, gradually easing them into gentle walk.
Elladan looked around. "We will need to camp for the night, brother."
"Indeed," Elrohir agreed, his blue eyes shifting to his sibling. "But I would not choose to do it here."
"Long have all hint of shadow been gone from this land," Elladan reminded him.
"Yet it remains unclaimed by allies."
Elladan shook his head with a bemused smile. "And who do you know who would reside here? The Halflings are content in their Shire, thank you very much. The Dúnadain will remain a wandering people and claim no specific land until the shadows depart from the east and the north to plague Middle-earth no longer. And the Elves. . . . We leave these shores. We have no need to claim more land. Too few of us remain."
"Aye," Elrohir agreed soberly. "And it is only the light of the Elves that could restore this land to the beauty it once knew."
"But it is still beautiful, brother."
Elrohir laughed. "Indeed. Mayhap it is only my concern for Estel that tints my feel of this land. Something seems off."
"Indeed, it must tint my perceptions also," Elladan agreed, scanning their surroundings thoughtfully, though he caught nothing that spoke of ill-will. The animals that wandered the lands east of the Blue Mountains were quietly roaming, moving about the lands they had come to claim as their own with indifferent ease, and the sounds of their peace reached the elven ears, despite the roar of the wind. It was dying down as the sun bid its last until the next morrow. He looked back to his twin. "Estel will be all right. He is strong."
The younger twin nodded without comment, and the brothers passed on in silence, lulled into brooding thoughts by the steady rocking of their horses' steps. Slowly, the long distance between them and Rivendell was passing beneath their feet, their path gradually taking them to the Brandywine and into more heavily wooded places, though he trees were still relatively few and far between. After the woodless plains, though, a single beech was welcome.
Elladan chuckled wryly. I'm beginning to sound like a wood-elf, he mused, their love of trees well-known, even to the edain. Must be Legolas' fault. Yet he would forgive that elf anything if their brother returned to them. He stared at the soft mane before him, idly running his fingers through the light hair.
He was surprised, then, when Elrohir called out to someone he had not been aware of. "Hail, travelers! How fare thee?"
A small group, maybe a dozen strong, looked up from where they had been making camp, most still busy with the horses while the few women were hovering about the fire, readying their meal. Their clothes were filthy, a muddy brown that spoke of hard use without enough opportunities to wash. Most of the faces were smudged with dirt, and many of the people's expressions spoke of hard times. An older man with a strong bearing stepped forward and raised a hand in greeting.
"Hail, and well met!" he called, watching the two beings approach.
Elladan and Elrohir reigned their horses in, the two creatures coming to a halt mere feet from where the man who had addressed them stood. He had dark brown hair cut just above his shoulders in the style of those who hail from Gondor, just beginning to gray at the temples. His eyes were a pale green with hints of gray set deep in a chiseled face. The twins dismounted.
"What bears you so far west? Need you aid?" Elladan inquired, his gaze fixed on the man before him as Elrohir scanned the others with his keen sight.
"I fear, indeed, we are," the man said, casting a sorrowful glance back at his companions. "I am Gorvan. Me and my company fancied a journey west. We have not had chance to venture past our borders before. We stopped in Rohan, but wanted to see further lands. Now, I am afraid, we are lost, and our supplies are running as thin as our resolve."
"It is a wonder you made it so far," Elladan commented, his eyes narrowing slightly. "Men are not seen often in these parts. But mayhap we can offer some assistance. We were heading home, and Lord Elrond would likely be willing to see your stocks refurbished ere you head back."
"Truly?" Gorvan responded, a new light shining in his eyes. "We would be most grateful for any aid your lord would be willing to bequeath. We are a sorry bunch."
Elrohir nodded. "We were about to camp, so we can wait here and then begin the journey tomorrow morning with first light."
A woman, perhaps in her mid thirties, approached the pair, wiping her hands on an already grimy-looking apron. They came clean, though, so it was apparently cleaner than it looked, for the time being at least. She smiled at them gratefully and tucked a loose strand of curly hair behind her ears. "I am Frauni. Thank you so much for your help. I fear we would not last much longer on our own." A somewhat accusing glance was leveled at Gorvan.
"It is no trouble, my lady," Elrohir said graciously. She smiled and went back to the fire, immediately lending her aid to the other women preparing their dinner. They seemed relieved by this turn of events, as did the rest of the men who continued tending their horses without a word.
With naught else to do, the twin sons of Elrond turned to the tending of their own horses, talking quietly to them in elvish as they did so, murmuring comforting words and blessings for carrying them so faithfully through the cold wind. The horses nickered back quietly, more than willing to face the cold for their masters.
When the dinner was prepared, Elladan and Elrohir were handed bowls of stew and bid sit around the fire. They acquiesced easily and sat around the fire as the people began eating. After several moments of silence, a few began telling stories.
Apparently, in their long march across Arda, they had fallen victim to any number of things, from orcs to broken harnesses to bumps and bruises and injuries enough to rival Aragorn's own record. It was simply too incredible to contemplate, and all around the fire were soon laughing, even if the misdeed in question had occurred to them.
For a little while, the twins even managed to forget their concern for their little brother, the constant ache in their hearts pushed to the back of their minds as more immediate concerns took over. But by the time all were ready to bed down for the night, the worry had returned, and though Elladan and Elrohir knew they needed to stop, it was still hard to admit there was nothing they could do.
Quietly, they moved a ways away from the humans and laid back against the two nearest tree trunks, their swords close at hand, and slowly slid into a light sleep, eyes open as their consciousness wandered the path of elvish dreams.
Legolas walked quickly down the main corridor leading to the Great Hall where King Thranduil conducted his audiences. He needed to speak to his father, and he needed to do it quickly.
Aragorn had spoken little of his feelings regarding his brothers ever since that night a week ago when he had revealed his concern for their welfare, but Legolas knew it was bothering him, if by no other means than the slight touch of worry that hovered about his eyes no matter what he was doing. It was a hint of sadness that was not even erased by laughter, though it would take someone who knew the human well to see it.
The only way he knew to erase that pain was to go to Rivendell and let the human see for himself that his family was safe. If they did not leave soon, though, the pass would be closed for the winter, which even now hung heavily over them, threatening its cold fury. If that happened, then there was no way he could help his friend. Even now it could already be too late, but he would not fail for lack of trying.
He nodded to the guards standing outside the great doors and then brushed past them, pushing open the doors without pausing. No one was inside, courts not in session for the day yet, and Legolas continued past his father's throne to a small door at the back that was all but impossible to see once it was closed. He rapped gently, then pushed it open.
Thranduil looked up as he entered. Just inside the door, the prince paused, inclining his head respectfully and waiting for his father to admit him. The elder elf smiled slightly, visible only as a lessening of the hard planes of his face. "Legolas, enter." The young Thranduilion stepped forward and took a seat before the table that was spread with scrolls and papers. "What troubles you, my son?"
He sucked briefly at his bottom lip, inwardly debating how to start. He had gone over many different approaches in his mind, rewording each statement a dozen times, but he had never settled on what he wanted to say. Finally, he decided to be candid. "I would ask permission to go to Rivendell."
The elven king blinked and sat back, regarding his son with a level gaze. "Would you, now. What has brought this on?"
"Aragorn believes Elladan and Elrohir may be in danger," Legolas began.
"He has said this to you?" Thranduil asked sharply.
Legolas frowned. "He mentioned it about a week ago, but I bid him not to worry. He has mentioned it no more, but I can see in his eyes that his concern has not lessened, only grown. I would go with him to Rivendell ere the pass closes."
"The sons of Elrond are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves," Thranduil responded. "If they are in trouble, there is little a human can do, ranger or no."
The prince stiffened at those words, the slight against his friend raising his defenses, but he refused to get in an argument with his father about the merits of men at this time. It would be counterproductive to his purpose, so he ignored the words as best he could and spoke to the other issue. "Likely they are not in trouble, but the uncertainty is difficult. If it were me you worried about, would you not want to go and see that I was safe?"
His father raised an eyebrow, and Legolas dropped his eyes, knowing full well that it was not a hypothetical situation he talked about. More often than he would have wished, he had worried his father by coming home late or injured, or any number of other things that were beyond his control.
"Please, father," he begged. "It hurts to see him suffer, even silently, when the pain could be eased by traveling to Rivendell. For all that he learned patience in an elven home, he is still a Ranger and a Man, and both cannot stand inaction."
"Peace, my son," Thranduil bid. "You are aware that the pass may already be closed, your attempts in vain?"
He nodded. "But I would not be able to stand it if I could have done something but failed because I did not try."
Piercing blue eyes stared at him, a lighter shade than his own, but not so hard as they once had been. "You are set on this?" he asked softly. His eyes dropped down to the papers scattered about the table when his son nodded. Legolas waited as patiently as he could for his father's decision. The elven king looked back up. "Then go with my blessing," he said quietly.
It took a moment for those words to sink in, but when they did, the younger elf smiled and stood. "Hannon le, atar," he said, the gratitude in his eyes saying far more than his words ever could.
Thranduil nodded, a smile stealing over his own features. "Stay safe, my son. Return to me whole."
"I will." He bowed deeply, then turned on his heel and rushed from the room. If he and Aragorn were to make the pass before it closed, they would need to leave, and leave now. It was the work of but a few minutes to weave through the corridors of his home, the path well-known to him after so many years.
Surprising and yet not so, he found Aragorn asleep, the covers pulled up around his head, his face turned away from the door. His dark hair was spread across the pillow while some of it fell across his face and moved slightly with every exhalation he made.
A small smile crossed his face as he paused inside his friend's door. A man he claimed to be, but he looked so young when he was relaxed that it was truly difficult to see him as a grown man, never mind that elves did not age. Then, without further hesitation, he crossed the room and knelt on the edge of the bed, leaning over to grab the man's shoulder. He shook him. "Strider, wake up."
The young man moaned softly and tried to pull away, his eyes fluttering slightly, though he fought consciousness. Legolas laughed. "Human, open your eyes or we will never get to Rivendell."
The effect of those words was priceless. The young man rolled over and pinned Legolas with an intense silver gaze that was suddenly wide awake, his body twisted to look at the elf. "Rivendell?"
A smile played about his lips, and his blue eyes twinkled playfully. "Aye, Rivendell. Or do you not wish to go?"
Aragorn blinked several times, incomprehension registering in his eyes. "I . . . wish to go," he murmured, frowning slightly. "How are we going?"
"I thought we would take the horses," Legolas said.
"No," Aragorn objected, pushing himself into a sitting position and sliding backwards so his back rested against the carved wooden headboard. "I mean, how did this come about? Surely your father does not want you leaving his care again so soon."
"You worry too much, Strider," the elf prince laughed. "But as for how . . . I asked."
"Are you going to ask questions or are we going to go?" Legolas demanded. "The pass could close any day now. We have little time if we are to make it."
A smile parted his lips. "Oh fine, keep your secrets," the ranger laughed. "I will find out later. Now leave so I may get dressed."
Legolas crawled backwards and headed towards the door and Aragorn rolled the other way after flinging off the covers. He pulled open the door to his closet as the elf prince reached the door. He paused. "I will ready the supplies, and we can leave as soon as you are ready."
"Thank you, my friend," Aragorn told him, silver eyes serious under his dark hair.
The elf merely smiled, then turned and disappeared from the room. "Do not tarry, Strider!" he called. "You Humans are already slow enough without deliberately moving slower!"
Laughter drifted to his ears as he disappeared down the hall to finish the necessary preparations. He had spent the night gathering most of the supplies they would need so he would be ready if he got permission. And, if he were to be honest with himself, so they could sneak out quickly if he was denied. He much preferred having permission, though, and he was glad his father had agreed. Now, perhaps he could lay his friend's--and his own--fears to rest.
Slowly, Elladan eased away from elven dreams, his eyes gradually returning to focus on his surroundings, and his keen eyes caught the faintest hint of light from the new rising sun just at the eastern horizon. Quickly, his eyes took in his surroundings, noting the still sleeping travelers near the now burned down fire. His glance strayed toward his brother, and he jerked slightly when he realized his twin was not there. He tensed as he searched around him, and movement on the other side of the camp caught his attention.
He relaxed upon seeing it was Elrohir, walking easily among the trees carrying a bundle of fresh roots and berries that were hard to come by at this time of season. He smiled slightly and gained his feet.
"When did you leave?" he asked softly, his quiet voice going unheard by the men in the camp.
"A while ago. I woke and could not sleep, so I decided to find them some breakfast," he responded with a slight smile. "A break from the monotony, so to speak. They've already met Elves, why not keep things exciting?"
Elladan shook his head. "We do not need, nor want, exciting, Elrohir. You know what exciting tends to mean."
His twin's blue eyes sparkled as he moved towards the supply pack to deposit his goods to be found once the camp awoke, and despite their desire to move on, neither elf wished to wake the humans; they had looked so tired the night before. Elladan paced him. "Aye, but there are no Orcs, dear brother. They do not roam here."
"Mayhap they will come, simply because you want excitement."
Elrohir snorted. One of the young men rolled over in his sleep, and both brothers froze, going completely still as they waited to see if he would wake up. When he did not, laughing eyes locked on his twin's. "I do not want excitement. I want them to have some excitement."
"A big difference," Elladan admitted sarcastically. "Well, news, dear brother: we are still with these humans, and any excitement they encounter, we encounter." He turned to look out over the forests before turning back on his younger brother. "And I still have to tell father about the Orcs."
"You need do no such thing!" exclaimed Elrohir, eyes going wide. "No harm came of it."
Elladan merely laughed, doing his best to keep it quiet. It was hard, though . . . for all of a dozen seconds, then he sobered, thoughts of his brother rushing back into his mind, for Estel was the reason they had been traveling the pass in the first place. "I hope he is well."
A forced smile worked its way onto Elrohir's face, a pitiful attempt at his normal good-humor. "He is fine. Likely he is terrorizing every Elf in Mirkwood crazy enough to cross his path with that kooky Prince at his side the whole time."
Elladan did his best to return the smile, and tried even harder to believe it, but his heart would not cooperate until he had seen his little brother well with his own eyes. He could see a similar sentiment in his twin's gaze that looked so sorrowfully back at him.
He opened his mouth to speak, whatever words he was about to say cut off as an arrow sliced through the air inches from his face between his and his twin's. Elladan's hand went to his waist automatically, but it met only air and soft cloth. A curse escaped his lips as he dropped to his sleeping mat where he had lain his sword by his side. Elrohir had his bow out and released an arrow into the greenery. Whether or not he hit anything, neither elf could tell.
Then like a rushing wave, dozens of beings melted from the backdrop of the trees, swarming over them like beetles swarm over a dead carcass, anxious to erase the once living flesh from its blight on the world. The camp behind them woke, too slowly, most of the people barely aware of their danger when they opened their eyes, and Elladan furiously wondered how they had managed to make it so far if they were so inept. Three fell before they had a chance to sit up, their eyes just opened and wide with the shock of their death.
He turned to those who came at him, striking at them and felling any who strayed too close to him, doing his best to stop them before they could get past him to strike at the men and women who had been placed in his care by his own concern. Behind him and several feet away, Elrohir did the same, finally having abandoned his bow.
Metal clashed, the vibration from the power of the strike traveling through his wrist and up his arm, but he could not pause and he could not let it bother him. He pushed back and met the next strike, backpedaling to keep his attackers before him as they moved in close, trying to get around him, the strikes coming fast and hard. Against his will, he was slowly being pushed back to the burned-out fire, into the midst of the newly awake men who were only just beginning to fully scramble to counter the attack. They grabbed whatever was at hand. He heard the banging of iron pots behind him and met the attack that came from before him.
What had happened? Where did they come from? Who were they? He had no idea and could not help but wonder how men could be so different. How they could attack one another without reason or provocation and never give it a second thought. If it were not for the fact that all men were not like that, he would have been worried about the fate of Middle-earth.
He swung his blade up quickly before him, then to the right, stepping to the side and spinning to miss the strike that came down where his head would have been from the person before him. Pulling the blade point down towards his right side, he countered the strike that came across to his side and ducked the blow aimed at his head. He continued the spin and danced backwards, avoiding two more strikes that came out of nowhere and deflecting another that would have sliced him from hip to hip.
Behind him, he could hear his brother's struggles and knew himself to be edging backwards, the tide of enemies forcing him back, battering at him relentlessly, and he could not focus enough on one enemy long enough to finish them off. After the first few, none seemed to stray close enough, and yet they poked at him relentlessly. He frowned, then danced quickly backward, jumping over a bag on the ground. He was in the midst of the camp.
A crash and familiar cry behind him spun him around. He saw his brother crash to the ground, saw him collapse under a tide of bodies. He took a step in Elrohir's direction, intending to cut the men who hurt him down, intending to leave the travelers to fight their own battles, intending to go to his flesh and blood. He intended . . . and yet managed none of it.
The elf turned his attention away from the men who surrounded him, turned his back, and he made it only one step before something hard impacted with the back of his head, sending a sharp report through his skull and fuzing his vision, making it jump and blur around the edges. In the split second before he lost consciousness, he saw his brother lying on the floor, felt his knees go weak and begin to drop him, and saw the ground coming ever closer.
He never felt himself hit the ground.
Elfmage: Um . . . Yes? I think that was a cliffie, in a way. Thank you so much. I'm so glad you loved it, and I hope you enjoy this one!
Kathira: Aragorn torture I can do. It's Legolas torture I seem to have trouble with. *frowns then smiles brightly* I'm glad you liked. Truly, you have no idea.
Deana: Well, not ealier than New Years, but it's not later than it either. *g* Hope you like this one, too.
Aragornsthe1: Enquiring minds could find out, but then that would ruin any surprises, wouldn't it? *smiles serenely* I'll guess you'll just have to read and find out. That'll be horribly taxing, I know. *g* Thanks for reviewing!
Nell Marie: I like the light-hearted endings, too. And the not-so-light-hearted epilogue definitely meant there was another story on the way. Lol. Subtle, aren't I? *smirks*
Bill the Pony2: Ooh, I'm so glad! I have good news, there will be plenty of chapters for you to enjoy . . . Unless they're bad, then there'll be plenty for you to hate. Hmm. . . . I was glad to hear from you. I was debating whether or not to post on schedule or wait till I had finished, and it's because of your email that I decided to post, so . . . . *g* hehe.
Grumpy: Ah ha, you took my request seriously, and I'm so horrified to say you were right: I had forgotten about the mountain pass. At the moment, I can't remember if I included anything about it or not. I think I did. *grimaces* It's been so long since I read that part. I know where it would be if it was there, so I'll have to check. The figure with the bloody hands will be identified . . . Eventually. *g* You just might have to be intuitive to get it. As for Legolas. . . . *shrugs* He should. Honestlly, I would.
NaughtyNat: lol. Yes, you were both 50th and 100th reviewer. You can shoot for adding 25th and 75th to the dubious honor if you like. Hehe. Lol, I can so picture that, too! In fact, that gives me an idea. . . .I just don't know if it will work. Hmm. . . . I didn't say how those two found them because Raniean and Trelan won't tell me. *looks peeved* It's quite rude of them, actually, but they won't tell until the ell prince and ranger spill the beans, so we'll all have to wait. *g* Nasty works. Wait till the last handful of chapters. . . . I mean last handful I have currently written. It's not done yet. I'm getting hearitly tired of this thing. It won't stop.