A/N: Wow, I love you people.
And not in the fake, "aww-shucks" mock-modesty way: I actually love each and every one of you. Just checked my stats and have found 4001 hits to this story! What! How has that happened? Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining, it's just astounding and very, very flattering... I'm pretty positive about half those hits have been mistakes, but nevermind... lol.
Also flattering is that I have people from as far away as Estonia reading this - belting! Yeah, okay, I'm stuck in Northern England, and the majority of you are in America or Australia... anything is more exotic than Newcastle! It's getting really cold here, as well: I have contracted "The Lurgie" as I usually do around this time of year. Or, in fact, anytime, as I seem to attract illnesses and injuried fairly often. Bahhhh. Hope none of you lot are feeling too rotten.
Anyway, MUST do some Geoffrey Chaucer investigating - he was a cool geezer, you know.
Enjoy the chapter and PLEASE remember to review at the end - it'll help me get better!
A/N2: Sorry, this was supposed to be posted ages ago, but I fractured my right hand and so understandably typing is taking a little longer than usual! Please forgive and enjoy!
Estel was cold. Really cold.
He shivered, and looked around him - it was utterly black all around him. He guessed the sun might come up again in a few hours, but until then, he was on his own. This idea didn't really appeal to him very much at all.
He'd lost track of Elladan and Elrohir's group some time before - they'd taken an unexpected turn while he hadn't been paying attention. And while Lord Glorfindel said he had the makings of a fine tracker and would most likely be a Ranger some day, the ten year-old himself admitted he was not all that good... at the moment. He'd been distracted by a large amount of noise coming to him from the distance to his right - it had sounded like screaming. Terrible screaming.
When he'd been able to move again, fright having stopped his motion, Estel had looked around to find the broad back of the elf he'd been following since Imladris completely disappeared.
And now he was lost.
The dark-haired child staunchly refused to cry, and he squared his small shoulders, searching the surrounding area for some sort of solution. Wrapping his arms around himself, drawing his nightshirt closer about him, he yawned, and rubbed a sleep-ridden eye with the heel of his hand. He needed some sleep - there was very little he could do about his current situation at the moment... and he'd surely be able to find his own way back in the morning. But he didn't trust that particular part of the forest to keep him safe from whatever was making those horrible noises in the woods: he couldn't sleep on the ground.
And so, sensible Estel picked a tree, and climbed up into it, feet getting scratched, even in their slippers. Once he was in the second-lowest branch from the ground, he leaned with his back against the thick trunk of the tall oak, legs tightly gripping the branch lest he fall out of his roost, and let his head fall forward onto his chest.
He was asleep before he could think.
Fienngil sighed and rubbed a hand down his rough and weary face.
Fatigue stole into his bones, creeping up on him after four days without sleep or waking dreams. But he could not rest now, not even as the sun began it's slow climb back up towards the heavens and dawn gradually swept away the darkness of night. They had not been too far from Imladris when the orcs had ambushed them, but now heavily injured and hindered, they had not been able to make much further progress. Their precious message was still undelivered, and Fienngil knew it to be imperative that Imladris recieve warning... but he also knew they were in a bad shape to be doing much forewarning.
He looked around at his group, and was saddened by the state of them since the attack the previous day.
Directly across the campfire - a fire lit despite the risks out of sheer need - lay Maegathir, flat on his back with his broken hands resting upon his belly. The dark-haired elf was exhausted and yet wide awake with the pain, the fire glittered off his helpless eyes as he stared upwards into the fading stars. The splint Fienngil had made for his left leg, as well as the binding of his fingers, had been good, and he had been able to lean upon Abrome and Fienngil the entire way, but the small journey had still done him in. But he would not say anything: this elf was far too proud for such a thing and Fienngil knew him well enough to know he was silently reprimanding himself for becoming injured in the first place.
It was cruel irony alone that the Valar would now not bless the stealth warrior with the sleep he so desperately needed.
Next to him, lying back against a tree trunk, knees to his chest, was Tauredal. He was fast asleep and yet his eyes had drooped to half-mast - evidence of his beaten endurance.
Though Fienngil knew it was probably not the wisest thing to let the younger elf sleep with the concussion he had sustained during the fighting, he also knew that Tauredal had been the one to volunteer to help Legolas on the journey - both the elves were lighter than Maegathir, whose weight needed the stronger Fienngil to hold him up - and despite Legolas' best efforts to remain upright right to the end, Tauredal had had to almost carry him by the time the wretched group hobbled into this camp. Tauredal deserved a rest.
On the other side of Maegathir's inert form was Abrome, lying on his side with his back to the dying fire. Fienngil could not see the guard's face, and so could not tell whether he was indeed sleeping - and yet the prince was somehow thankful for that.
Abrome had taken Legolas' injury particularly hard, and Fienngil suspected the guard believed it to be, in part, his own fault... something which was most likely not helped by Fienngil's admittedly blunt and harsh comments immediately after the attack when he had accused him of not fufilling his duties - a blackened slur on the guard's impeccable record. Abrome had been assigned to Legolas the day the youngest prince was born, when the guard was not much more of a youngster himself. Abrome's father, Ortensil, had been the Archer Supreme to teach Legolas all he knew about bows and arrows - the golden headed elf's perculiar talent with the bow had drawn the two families together even more, and Abrome had become a best friend to Legolas.
Slightly older than Legolas' other friends, and with entirely different natures, it was an odd relationship - but a much-loved one, nevertheless. Legolas balked at any security forced upon him, restrictions of any kind were quickly gotten rid of or just refused entirely... and so, the easy friendship between the pair, established when Legolas could not talk in order to argue, was a comfort to the King. And Abrome had shown himself worthy as Legolas' protector many times over, and Fienngil would not trade him for the world. And he would say this to Abrome... only, not now. Fienngil shifted uncomfortably in his own guilt and wrongness, and his mistake sat unwell in his heart - unfortunately, though, he took after King Thranduil, else he would have apologised immediately.
Finally, Fienngil's darkened eyes shifted to Legolas himself. The prince lay, utterly unconscious and unaware of the world, next to him. They had managed to bandage up the awful hole which had been made in his stomach, but the bleeding had not stopped, only slowed, and a darkening stain was slowly soaking through the light blue tunic that was wrapped around his midsection. His brother's haggard face looked grey and damp, and shivers quaked his limbs.
Fienngil winced as he remembered watching his brother pass out. Once as he first pressed the wadded up piece of cloak to the open wound, in order for Tauredal to wrap the strips of his tunic around Legolas' hips and waist. He remembered the thick blood seeping and pulsing over his hands sickeningly. Suddenly, a rasping cry of pain had come from above his head, ruffling Fienngil's hair, and he'd looked up, startled. Legolas, who had been panting hard since the would-be healers had begun their administrations, had blanched completely white, all colour flying from his cheeks and lips, but red flecks having appeared in his mouth. His eyes had rolled back. He had wordlessly slumped back onto Tauredal's shoulder.
The second time had been even lessfun to watch.
They had struggled onwards since the dawn, and Legolas had been bravely trying to keep up, hobbling along silently with his arm wrapped around the smaller elf's slim shoulder, having to endure constant questions on his well-being (his pride bridled somewhat at this and he had tended to answer rather sharply) as well as the terrible pain his wound was giving him. Tears streamed silently down his drawn face, and trembled to a stop around his jawline, shining and refusing to fall. No one commented - the belly was perhaps the singularly most painful place to get wounded, and Legolas had been dragging himself around rather than been allowed any time to rest: the weeping he could not hold back was perfectly understandable.
Reaching the clearing thankfully, Tauredal had gently set Legolas down, and sat quietly with him, one thin hand on his back, while the shaking that encompassed the prince's limbs subsided.
"Legolas? Are you all right? Friend, please answer me..." Fienngil had heard Tauredal murmuring softly to the downturned face of the younger prince. He'd watched from afar as the smaller elf had reached forward, and gently brushed away the sweaty bangs of dimming golden hair that had fallen into his friend's face, and tilted Legolas' face upwards towards him with his tender hand. Fienngil had not been able to see Legolas' face from where he sat, wearied and almost apathetic with Maegathir, but he had seen a look of dismay fly across Tauredal's kind features, before it was instantly replaced by one of stoic determination.
Tauredal's other hand had moved to grip the back of Legolas' neck in a show of solidarity and sympathy, and he'd sniffed. A hacking cough could be heard ripping through Legolas' lungs, immediately followed by an agonised scream... and suddenly, Legolas was no longer leaning forwards, rather Tauredal was struggling to hold him up as his hurting body keeled over backwards, and he fell into unconsciousness once more.
The remembered scream caused Fienngil to shiver involuntarily - he hated it when Legolas was in pain, and he now genuinely feared for his beloved brothers' life. He rose silently to his feet, and stalked off into the lightening forest: he had to get away, he had to think of a way to get them out of this hell. They had to reach Imladris before it was too late... for Lord Elrond, for Maegathir, and for Legolas. He had no idea where he was going, but Fienngil generally needed to move, or do some sort of mindless task, in order to think clearly in times of stress... his feet took him upon a wandering path and he did not question their destination. He would not get lost - he was a Wood Elf.
Without warning, he felt the trees around him spike up a warning - they shouted and clamoured their leaves and branches together so that even he, a self-admitted dunce of forest language, knew that something was wrong. Looking up into the boughs of the great beeches and the nimphropells and the giant hollies, he squinted at the message their varied branches might be giving him... after gazing blankly at the twisting branches for a single moment, he knew what to do, and what direction he had to travel. He set off on a sharp right at a run, and the close shout that was raised many yards somewhere ahead of him spurred his movements still further.
He didn't know what was drawing him, or why he felt such urgency, all he knew was that he simplyhad to do the tree's bidding, whatever that may be.
Fienngil rounded a sharp corner of impenetrably-wild bracknell with speed, and swiftly ground to a halt when he found three orcs, their horned backs to him, at the thick base of a tall oak. They appeared to be attempting to scrabble and claw their horrible way up the trunk, for reasons Fienngil was unaware of. He could see nothing in the lowest branches.
But, as his sharp eyes swept across the situation, he spied the tiny occupant of the tree, flattened against the trunk on one of the second-lowest branches, quivering with fright and unable to escape. Without a doubt, this was what he'd been called here for. He'd launched himself forward before he knew what to do.
A/N: I am a review-junkie, so please make me happy and let me know what you think!