Finally, here´s the next chapter. I hope you´ll enjoy :-)
A big Thank You to all who read and of course all who review ((big hug)). You really make my day, every comment is appreciated.
Disclaimer: Not mineRed Snow
The winter world lay quiet.
Winds chased clouds of white along open fields with no more but a subdued hiss.
Crows collected in trees, strangely silent for their usually noisy kind. Just the ruffling of their black feathers spoke of their presence.
By a frozen creek, a wizard and two wounded elven lords planned their next steps amongst the carnage of a village, whispering as to not upset the wounded.
By an ice-covered lake, an immortal prince and a young ranger watched a traitor disappear amongst the trees, not speaking a word as to not alert him to their whereabouts.
Within a restless village, a small boy impatiently awaited the return of his friends.
The world was holding its breath, the anticipation of what was to come a chain on every living soul.
One soul, however, fought to break free.
A shriek rose above the quiet of roofs of Imladris, shattering the uneasy peace that had settled within the hidden valley after the departure of its lord.
Heads rose all through the Last Homely House.
Healers soothed their wounded charges. Scholars attempted to concentrate on the works they were reading. Guards shifted uncomfortably before gazing into the distance again, senses tuned to anything that would speak of a danger for their home.
And a group of Mirkwood warriors, barely healed enough to leave their beds, looked at each other, shaking their heads in sorrow.
"He needs to be set free," one said gravely, "if only to find his master´s dead body."
"Do not speak thus!" another cut in angrily. "There is no indication that the prince has died, and we should not raise demons that yet lie sleeping."
"Nay," a third added in a mere whisper, "that we should not. What we should do is raise ourselves and aid our king´s son."
The stallion shrieked again, and the warriors could hear a voice giving a quiet command. Hooves drummed along the cobbled yard, and the gates were thrown open in such haste that they loudly collided with the stone walls.
Finally free, the stallion threw up his head in triumph and neighed loudly, sending flocks of dark birds into the skies. In wide strides the horse raced away from the protection of Rivendell, drawn towards his elven rider by a bond so deep it was almost visible to those who cared to watch closely.
One of the Mirkwood warriors rose unsteadily to his feet, supporting himself on a friend´s shoulder as he watched the proud steed leave with a haste that they all felt yet with a strength that none of them had.
"Valar berio chen," /May the Valar protect you, he whispered sadly, "Valar berio in man nivra roeg." /May the Valar protect those who face the demons./
"Nev sain telar!" Legolas called out, surprised into using his native tongue, and quickly corrected himself, "Here they come!"
"I knew that was what you meant," Léod chuckled despite the raiders that now broke through the bare brushes with threatening roars and raised weapons. "I will be at your side, my prince. Go ahead and impress them as it was your plan to do so."
Legolas had no time to react to the human´s taunt, for his horse´s momentum had already carried him past the first row of the attackers and straight into the midst of battle. Four foes had fallen by the elf´s quickly fired arrows before he was forced to grab the steed´s mane as the inexperienced animal panicked from the melee and reared, almost unseating the elf.
Too fast,' a voice warned in the back of Legolas´ thoughts even as he whispered soothing words to the distraught beast, seeing both Erestor and Léod close in on him to keep the attackers at bay. Even Bowder´s massive frame was not far away, a ring of destruction already forming around the broad human. ´They should not have been this far out already!´
Although the group of humans and elves had sought attention and approached without any attempt of hiding themselves, they had expected their enemies no sooner than within the woods beside the lake. Now they were already engaged in a fierce fight on the slopes before the woods, and more and more raiders poured at them from amongst the silent trees, none of them on horseback. There was only one explanation. The raiders had already been on the move to attack the village. They had been so sure of themselves that they had not even deemed mounted fighters necessary.
Yet there was no sign of wolves.
"Protect the prince!" Léod yelled out right beside Legolas, almost managing to spook the barely calmed horse again, "Keep them away from the prince!" The young ranger caught the elf´s glare and winked, but the gesture seemed strained. Blood dripped off the human´s sword and there was a strain around his eyes that Legolas knew only too well. It was the strain of being forced to kill.
The elf nodded towards his friend and then pushed his horse ahead once more. He had exchanged his bow for his knives, aware that his mount might very well panic again soon. Right before him a tight group of raiders mowed their way through the villagers, dead bodies littering their path.
Impress the enemy. This was as good a chance as any.
Guiding his horse with his weight, he bore down upon the raiders, using the element of surprise to cut down two with his knives before they had even understood that this sole creature truly meant to take them on.
Warm blood splattered Legolas´ hand but he ignored the feeling and forced his horse around for a fresh attack. By now the group was ready for him. They had formed a circle; backs towards each other, their weapons raised high. The elf had no doubt that, should he ride past them close enough to use his knives, they would cut at his steed, bringing him down to surround him and finish him off together.
He would not do them the favour of allowing such a turn of events.
Quickly sheathing one of his knives, Legolas dug his free hand into the horse´s mane. He prayed that the beast would follow his plan and rode straight at the raiders, picking up speed as he went.
From behind him, a voice called out in Elvish. Legolas could hear anger and a hint of fear mingle in Erestor´s words and he could not help but smile as the older elf clearly foresaw his move. From the looks of the stunned raiders´ faces, they did not.
"Baw, Legolas, i roch altortho rhenio!" /No, Legolas, this horse does not know how to fly/
The young archer tightened his legs around the horse, feeling its muscles hunch as it drew closer to the raiders. "Rhenio anim, "/Fly for me/ he whispered, seeing the raider right before him bring up his hands to protect his head, his weapon forgotten.
With a frightened whinny, the horse obeyed and jumped. Its front legs collided sharply with the foes that had stood directly before them, and then its body came crushing down right within the once tightly-knit group.
Legolas swung his knife around before the animal had even found its footing, feeling the sharp blade connect and cut, slip, connect again. Shouts of fear and pain engulfed him, but then he felt his horse flinch and heard it shriek. A sharp pain exploded in his right leg and he could feel blood well hotly from the wound, yet he did not stop his circular movement.
His horse shrieked again and sank down on its front legs, never even trying to defend itself.
Recognising little more of his foes but dark blurs that rose around him, Legolas swung again, aiming high. With sudden clarity he saw one raider's eyes widen, hands reaching up towards his cut throat while he fell backwards. A rain of blood tainted the very air red, making it taste of metal and salt.
Legolas dug his heels into the kneeling horse´s sides. "Amerio!"/Get up/ he called out to the beast, willing it to oblige. He could feel the cold snow at his knees, forming a sharp contrast to the heat of his blood that ran down his calf. "Amerio!"
More red as the horse struggled to regain its footing, its shrieks rising in intensity. More pain as something blunt connected with his right shoulder, causing Legolas to tumble sideways across the horse´s neck. His left hand tightened in the mane, the right one never letting go of his knife even though his fingers felt numb after the blow. He could see the bloody snow below suddenly move away from him with a jerk as the animal finally managed to heave itself upright again.
There was the familiar whine of an arrow above him and he felt a red streak of pain across his back before he heard a raider call out in agony.
Straightening with an effort, he saw the last of his foes fall, a quivering shaft embedded within his neck.
"Protect the prince!" he heard a familiar voice yell right beside him, followed by a low mutter. "Darn, I had aimed for his heart."
Legolas turned, looking Léod in the eye even as he switched his knife to his left hand, the right one rapidly losing any feeling, rendering it useless.
The young ranger quickly rid himself of his bow, drawing his sword once more. He shrugged with a slightly apologetic grin that quickly evaporated as he glanced over Legolas´ shoulder. "You made an impression indeed," he said tightly, "for here come more!"
Out of thin air Erestor appeared at their side, his face splattered with blood and his eyes shining with rage. Without a word he slapped Legolas´ steed across the back, sending it racing away even as he joined in to Leód´s repeated calls. "Protect the prince!"
Legolas´ cut down two more raiders without so much as thinking about what he was doing before he was suddenly free of the melee.
Turning with a wince, he forced himself to widen his view that had narrowed in battle.
The fight was still raging fiercely, and it was obvious that a number of raiders had broken through and streamed towards the village. In the distance, the elf could hear bows sing as the town's guardians fulfilled their oath to protect the humans.
There were still no wolves to be seen, but at least he had managed to draw enough attention to have a large host of raiders following him. Erestor had once again disappeared in the throes of battle and Léod was nowhere to be seen, even though Legolas was sure he had not gone far. Bowder squarely stood within the path of the foes that attempted to keep up with the prince. Many fell from his blows, causing more to brush past him towards the young elf.
A sudden stumble drew Legolas´ attention back towards his horse. The animal was breathing heavily. Violent shivers shook its sweating frame, blood steadily flowing from its side to leave a bright trail in the snow. The elf leaned forward, running a gentle hand across the wet fur as he attempted to assess the damage.
"Im dem naeg-cîn," /I regret your pain, he mumbled. "Lhagr lhein."/Soon you are free./ Raising his head he could see the frozen lake beckoning from a short distance away. It lay shrouded in a fraud of peace. If not for the shrieks of battle behind him, Legolas might have been tricked into believing the promise of quiet contemplation that the silent waters seemed to offer.
The weakened horse stumbled again, and Legolas gently urged it on. "Alûr," /Not far/ he soothed, "alûr, bôr roch."/Not far, loyal horse./
As loyal as the poor beast truly was, its fading strength did not permit it to carry out its duty. On a slight slope, with the lake still a short distance away, its legs gave way in mid-stride.
Legolas could feel more than hear a defeated whinny before he went down with the falling animal. He swiftly tried to roll, desperate to keep away from the heavy body, and managed to twist sideways enough not to be trapped beneath his mount. The momentum and the weight of the horse were enough, however, to keep beast and rider sliding down towards the lake.
The horse neighed in fresh fear and kicked out, desperately trying to regain its footing. The flailing hooves narrowly missed the elf and he brought up his left arm to protect his head, at the same time digging his heels into the snow to slow his ascend. Before he had quite managed to stop himself, the soft ground suddenly disappeared from beneath him and was replaced with the hard ice of the lake.
Legolas slid on a little farther, turning several times as he did, before he finally came to rest. With a groan he allowed his head to sink down onto the frozen surface while he tried to calm his racing heart.
Panting, the elf felt the ice melt beneath his heated cheek. He heard the horse whinny and managed to lift himself enough to see that the beast had come to a stop a mere hand´s breadth before the lake. It rolled and heaved several times before it managed to shakily clamber to its feet once more.
Confused, the animal looked towards the elf and tentatively placed one hoof onto the ice, obviously inclined to follow its rider.
With a start, Legolas sat up and held up his hand. "Daro!"/Stop/ he called, barely in time to halt the animal. Its front legs were already on the ice and the frozen water creaked in low protest. Behind the bleeding horse, a broad trail of red, flattened snow marked the path elf and beast had taken. Even though on foot the first raiders were already close at hand, slithering down the slope with swords in their hands and grins on their faces.
"Ego!"/Be gone/ Legolas shouted at the horse, feeling his heart clench for treating the wounded beast so poorly. Yet he did not have a choice. The horse retreated onto the snow and watched intently when the elf rose rather unsteadily to his feet, walking father onto the lake. "Ego!" he called out again, waving his hands, and finally the animal obliged. It limped away along the shore of the lake, its head held low. Legolas saw it leave into the direction of the village, knowing that it would not be safe there, yet he did not know where else to send it. Turning his back towards the steed, he forced himself to concentrate on more important matters.
Below him, the ice made small noises of warning. Watching closely, he could see fine cracks that spread below the milky surface. Carefully he moved on. He could sense the current of the warmer creek far beneath the ice and took a few more steps before slowly lowering himself to the ground. Calmly, he tore a strip off his coat and wrapped it tightly around his bleeding calf. He could not risk his blood to weaken the ice further.
At the shore, the first raiders had stopped.
"Look what we have here," one of the called out in an amused voice, "an elven prince seeking safety from us right out in the open."
"Maybe he will turn invisible soon," a second said with a little more nervousness in his tone. "Keep good mark of where he sits."
"Pah!" a third scoffed, "do not be daft! He has left a trail of blood that even a baby could follow, that stupid creature."
They leered at him, waving their weapons in taunting challenge. Legolas watched them without a word, his eyes bearing into them, willing them to move. Willing them to finally step onto the ice.
"What are we waiting for then?" the first raider asked. "They all made such a fuss about him, I am sure he will gain us a good ransom. Come on!"
He walked onto the ice without care, not even looking down.
A shiver ran through the shining surface. Legolas could sense the ice groan beneath the strain and he fought back a smile. Only fools would fail to listen to nature´s warnings. Yet he was glad that those raiders seemed to be dumb, the whole lot of them.
Once one had stepped onto the lake without having been harmed by any kind of elven magic, others soon followed, the prospect of a good booty drawing them to the elf like moths to a bright light.
Legolas sat perfectly still, revelling in the rising voice of the ice as it called out its protest. Soon, very soon, it would open its jaws and swallow those who dared disturb it in such a fashion.
The elf´s head shot up at the sudden call. He felt a shiver run down his spine when a little further along the shore, a man stepped out from beneath the trees. At his sides, the sleek shadows of wolves milled into the open, silent and deadly.
"Who allowed you to turn from the attack on the village?" The man´s voice was far colder than the ice could ever be. "Who allowed you to waste your time on a single elf?"
There was a growl beneath the words, and in the man´s posture the wolf within shone through like a barely concealed shadow.
Quickly, the raiders withdrew from the ice. With each weight that left the shiny surface a sigh of relief rose from the lake as the pressure eased and stability returned once more.
Soon, Legolas was alone to watch as more and more wolves moved towards the lake´s shore, never putting a paw onto the ice, their red eyes steadily watching their prey. Not far away, the sounds of battle continued to rage unrestrained, and soon enough the raiders that had followed the elf would re-join the melee.
Legolas could sense eyes upon him from the left shore, knowing that Léod would be watching him, yet the sheer number of wolves that faced him from across the lake was too many for even an immortal prince and an insane ranger to fight. He shook his head lightly, hoping that the human would read his gesture correctly and stay hidden.
Just as he turned his full attention back towards the wolves´ leader, the elf tensed. He could clearly sense more eyes watching him, but their owners were at the lake´s right side. Not willing to move his head enough to indicate that there was anything there, Legolas strained to make out who it was but failed, for no sound could be heard.
Little did he know that a small boy and a big dog lay hidden in the snow.
Little did he know that his rescue was already being planned.