A/N: I apologize that the update took longer than I planned it to since I've been absolutely bogged down by school work :(. Also, I would like to thank all of my wonderful reviewers; you guys are great.
Do not pray for lighter burdens but for stronger backs…-unknown
"Take a patrol of about ten elves or so and see that the southeastern borders are safe. And penneth, please try to come back in one piece."
Legolas opened his eyes and gasped, desperately trying to draw air into his deprived lungs. He lay still, panting for breath and blinking away the fog from his eyes. For a moment he wondered where he was but then it all came back to him with a sharp impact. The battle, the pain in his side, the orc, the storm... Groaning, he lay there with the side of his head on the ground, unwilling to move and aggravate the already inflamed wound.
Somewhere far away, a bird twittered happily but Legolas was too groggy to even notice. All he could do was stare sightlessly ahead, his eyes glazed with pain although his mind was desperately trying to function. Reflection was all that he was capable of, but even reflection was difficult enough for his mind to decipher. He had survived, yet he struggled to believe that he was still alive. During the thunderstorm last night he had surrendered his life in the expectation that he would die. Somewhere along the way, he had lost consciousness once more yet he survived despite his wound and the poison that was coursing through his veins.
Shivering, he angled his head and peered up at the sky. Since his clothes were uncomfortably damp and the sun was still touching the horizon, he hazily concluded that it was morning, which suited him fine. Although the rays of sunlight cast upon the earth were warming to the touch, Legolas felt as though he had spent the night out in the snow. His head was throbbing and his vision was blurred despite efforts to clear it.
Desperate to quench the horrible thirst and dryness in his throat and mouth, Legolas painstakingly licked dew off the grass in front of him but although he was careful to make only the slightest movements, a wave of nausea overwhelmed him and he was forced to remain still once more.
His father had told him to come back in one piece... Legolas remembered those words and couldn't cease agonizing over the nearly ironic conversation he had shared with his father before he had left, feeling guilty, despondent and confused at the same time. Thranduil had spoken those words so lightheartedly but Legolas had noticed the shade of concern in his eyes, for when Thranduil wished any elf well when venturing into the forest, he was never joking.
The thought of his father and of Mirkwood and those he loved sent a tiny spark of alarm that was quickly snuffed out by his protesting body. All he wanted to do was lie still and wait for whatever resolution would come, yet somehow amid the endless pain that rendered him helpless, he knew what he needed to do. His wound had to be tended to.
Drawing in a deep breath of air as if he were about to dive into very deep water, Legolas twisted to his left in order to see the wound. The movement sent waves of pain shooting all over his body and his vision flashed red.
Blinking away the tears in his eyes, Legolas slowly pushed away the cloak he had used to slow the bleeding and carefully lowered his side onto the earth, hissing in pain. Short of breath once more, his body chose an appropriate opportunity to send him a painful fit of coughs. Legolas weakly hacked out whatever moisture was left in his mouth and after the coughs subsided he resumed his job of examining his wound. It was a sight.
The injury was an indecisive shade of red and purple with dark tendrils weaving away from the initial cut. A scab was beginning to grow over the wound but this development was worse news than better. If the cut was poisoned then it would be just as fatal for the injury to close up, trapping the poison within. Legolas blinked and tried to focus on the wound, frustrated at his failing vision. It was oozing blood and some watery substance. By feel, the cut stretched from his abdomen to his lower left back.
Legolas sighed and rested his head back on the ground. It was difficult to breathe and each movement taxed his body. Despite making little effort to try, he knew it was hopeless to save himself. He could not move nor think clearly. His body was ignoring him and his thoughts were not his own. He felt numb, as though he was not supposed to be in this situation or in his failing body. The thought of struggling to live no longer was appealing and even in his incoherent state, he recognized that a part of him had slipped away and died during the storm last night. What was left of him was too weak to carry on and there was little he could do to improve his predicament. All he could do was wait for death. With this final and slightly releasing thought, Legolas gave into the pain and entered a world of shadow, and he was gone.
Turohir glanced behind him to make sure the rest of the patrol was maintaining their hurried pace and satisfied that they were, he quickly burst ahead to catch their captain leading the patrol who was following an intricate path that seemed to be only visible to his eyes.
Belril, a daring and clever elf, had been pushing them to travel quickly for the past day and a half. The patrol he was leading had been assigned to guarding the southeastern border and they had been there for about a week with no significant events until two days ago. It had all happened so quickly. Belril and Turohir had been hunting together but within minutes since they had been gone, a horrible scream had pierced the air along with the sound of crossing blades.
He and Turohir had rushed back in time to help Nymlorel and Velhir who had been wounded as they strove to protect an elf that helplessly lay injured on the ground. Belril and Turohir's arrival turned the odds for the outnumbered elves and within minutes, all of the orcs fell to elven blades. But by the time that the battle was over, the fallen elf was dead, leaving sadness and confusion in their hearts.
There were more orcs out there, and Belril knew this since orcs usually traveled in larger numbers than those they had encountered and killed. It was safe to assume that the orcs they had killed were scouts or hunters or perhaps both which made Belril angry and yet wary that there were more roaming the land.
Although it was true that Mirkwood had been experiencing more outbreaks of orcs and aggressive spiders than usual, Belril had always remained true to his belief that the activity was in the south despite rumors that the orcs and spiders had dared pushed further north. Belril believed those rumors now. After the battle, he had made the decision to track down a large patrol of elves dispatched from the palace but a day before them.
The patrol's purpose was to investigate these rumors of orcs. Thranduil had felt it necessary to ensure that the patrol was larger than usual in case they should meet up with trouble and although it had probably pained in doing so, the King had sent Prince Legolas to be among them, which gave Belril confidence. The Prince would choose to stand and fight for he fiercely loved Mirkwood, despite her darkness.
It would be safest for his fatigued patrol to join Legolas's, and protecting his patrol and home was what Belril felt the most responsible for at the moment. A twig snapped behind and Belril whirled around to see Turohir, his steadfast friend and supporter. He impatiently slowed to a halt and glanced past his friend.
"Are they keeping up?" He asked before Turohir could speak. Turohir glanced back behind him at the two wounded elves lightly jogging a distance away.
"Aye, although I can tell that their injuries pain them."
Belril scowled; a broken wrist and a deep cut to the stomach weren't pleasant injuries to deal with but it was imperative that the elves were able to fight and keep up with their frenzied pace.
"Belril, how can you be sure that they went this way?"
Belril narrowed his eyes and turned away from Turohir. Elves' footsteps made little imprint on the ground by from what signs the earlier patrol had left; Belril had been able to follow them-until now. Some of the trees whispered their guidance and made it clear to remain on the same path they were on now, and Belril trusted them. It only made sense that the patrol was nearby since they were merely a day in front of them.
"Trust me," Belril muttered. "Tis a matter of when we'll find them. We must mass our numbers together in order to defeat the orcs. It is essential that they are stopped before more are killed," he said sadly, remembering the elf in his patrol that had died two days ago. He looked into Turohir's gray eyes. "I shall scout ahead and I want you to stay with the others." He nodded back at the injured elves. I do not want to make their injuries worse in our haste should we meet with more trouble."
Turohir hesitated but nodded his head obediently and Belril immediately turned on his heel and ran ahead, leaving the others behind. He sent a silent prayer to the Valar to protect his patrol from the awareness of the orcs and to aid him in finding Legolas's patrol. The forest around him was dense enough to keep many dangers hidden and it was reassuring to feel the quiver on his back and his dagger by his side.
The trees stirred as he ran as gracefully as a deer through the thick woods. He could hear a slight breeze above the canopy of branches over his head but other than that it was eerily quiet. Slight unease pricked his stomach and the further he ran; the more convinced he was that something was wrong. Shadows slithered around his feet and beckoned him forward, guiding him through the forest.
Sometimes one feels an inexplicable disturbance in their heart or mind. It may be when a stranger does not cease a penetrating stare, or it may occur simply after an ominous word is spoken. The point is that the feeling is there with little explanation for its presence. But it is true that we usually trust this feeling that is backed by so little because the world is full of awful things and our doubt usually outweighs our confidence in what is good. This feeling, the powerful and unstoppable wave of dread, was what Belril was experiencing. Although he could not explain it, he knew that something was wrong.
Slowing, he lightly jogged over to the tree nearest to him, looking for answers and any insight that the old pine tree might offer. As his hand traced the rough, weathered bark of the tree, he closed his eyes and reached out to gingerly touch the presence of the tree with his mind. The pine abruptly recoiled from his mind and his touch, actually shrinking away from his hand and leaving Belril bewildered.
Ever since he was an elfling, he had possessed a talent for communicating with trees, so naturally he had fostered this ability by speaking often to the trees, but never before had a tree shied away from him like that. Once more he attempted to reach into the tree's consciousness and when it did not yield nor respond to his gentle touch, he pushed more forcefully and broke in, while the tree limbs shook violently due to the pine's initial shock.
Images, sounds, and emotions flashed through Belril's mind. He saw sights that would be insignificant to a tree's daily life and he also saw actions that he knew had occurred many years ago. But as he was bombarded and immersed with these memories, his heart lifted when he noticed Legolas and the patrol passing by the pine. Then he saw woodland animals scurrying frantically through the brush, with a feeling of panic that was not his own but an emotion that the tree had felt then. What he saw next made his heart sink and stiffen with anger at the same time. A group of 25 orcs, give or take, rushed by the tree, viciously trampling brush and plants, their heavy footfalls causing the ground to tremble as they hastened in the direction that the patrol had gone.
Then there was rushed whispering in words that he could not understand and a beautiful yet horrible unearthly sound filled his ears like a distant echo, chilling him and plucking at his heart. As he was forced to listen to this strange noise, an almost shapeless melody he realized with start that it was weeping-the actual sound of trees crying.
He sucked his breath in and stumbled backwards from the tree, shaking as his worst fears were all but confirmed. He could only hope that Legolas's patrol had realized that there was a large group of orcs trailing them and somehow they had managed to evade or kill them. Yet to his weary heart it seemed too much to hope. The forest had not been kind to the elves in the past year.
Noticing that the tree was still trembling reproachfully and Belril stepped forward and touched it sympathetically. "Forgive me mellon nin. Rest now."
The pine stilled and became as motionless as its neighboring trees and Belril realized how distraught it must have been in the first place, for the trees deeply respected and loved the elves. It only made sense that something awful had happened to Legolas's patrol. With one last parting glance Belril reorganized his bearings and set off quickly once more.
The daylight was dimming as the sun wearily dispensed what light it still had left to offer to the earth. Yet Belril paid no heed as he ran blindly through the forest, alert to every noise, smell, shadow that flitted across his path. Suddenly Belril stopped and stood absolutely still, his acute senses quivering. A horribly familiar scent was settling like a cloud through the dense woods and it did not take long for the warrior to recognize the scent. It was the smell of blood.
Belril felt his heart sink and he cautiously crept towards the source of the smell, arrow knocked to his bow as he was cautious of any orcs lurking in the shadows. Following his nose brought him closer and closer to the where the forest abruptly broke into a small clearing as if the land itself had swallowed the trees formerly occupying the open space. Belril parted the prickly branches obstructing his view and stared in shock and dismay at the horrible sight before him.
He had heard from other elves what it was like to be the first to come across the scene of battle and he had participated in a fair number of battles himself, but nothing could have prepared him for what he saw. It was as if somebody had planned the carnage with artistic scrutiny, each orc and elf had fallen in his appropriate place to add a new horrifying dimension to the slaughter. Crimson and shadowy blood were painted over the bodies and had spilt onto the ground where they had then taken the liberty to mix into a horrible new color which was both sickening and disturbing to Belril. He heard his bow and arrow clatter to the ground and as if in a dream, he slowly closed the gap between himself and the destruction until he was standing over one of the bodies of the elves.
Eyes stared blankly up at him, peering up from a face crusted red with blood. Belril sighed and closed the eyes of the lost warrior. As he passed, he angrily kicked at the body of the orc lying beside the elf; the orc that was clearly responsible for the deep gash in the elf's neck and face.
He came across more elves and he checked each one to be sure they were as dead as they looked while at the same time reading the sad story of their passing. Death by arrow here, death by scimitar there, even a half-severed head greeted his eyes and after he closed the eyes of the nearly decapitated elf, he took a shaky breath and continued on.
Under a normal circumstance he would have been more guarded and would never have put his bow on the ground lest he was convinced that there was not even the slightest chance of danger around him. It was custom that had been engraved in him by habit and learning from his mistakes and those of others. Today was different though. Belril felt as though he could hardly breathe much less shoot an arrow straight. These elves were his friends. They were kin that he had trained with, laughed with and grieved with. He knew each of them by name and face and he usually came in contact with at least three of them every day. But they were gone. These elves were no more and Belril felt his soul cry out in anguish for their pain, his pain and the pain that Mirkwood would feel for their deaths. Thranduil would be devastated. The thought of his king triggered someone that Belril had forgotten. Where was Prince Legolas?
Scanning the destruction for a glimpse of the prince, Belril walked past elven bodies, over orc bodies and around tangles of the two species. Relief coursed through him when he initially did not notice Legolas amid the carnage but that liberation was cut short when Belril nearly stumbled over the prince's body.
"Legolas," Belril groaned and crouched by the blonde warrior. Legolas was lying on his stomach with his eyes closed and blood and grime smeared on his face casting an almost unrecognizable shadow over the elf. Sadly, Belril grasped the prince's hand and moved his fingers to the elf's wrist to check for a pulse although not daring to hope he would find one.
A moment passed and Belril nearly dropped Legolas's hand, so great was his astonishment and joy. He hastily pressed his fingers against the elf's wrist once more to make sure that his mind was not deceiving him. His fingers were rewarded with a faint and slightly sporadic heartbeat, but a pulse nonetheless.
Tenderly, Belril lowered Legolas's hand back to the earth and gently rolled the elf onto his side. "Aye Iluvatar," Belril breathed, inwardly cringing when he caught sight of the wound, which was obviously responsible for the prince's condition. It was a deep and wide cut, inflamed and infected and desperately needing treatment.
Belril sat back on his heels and used his dagger to cut strips of cloth from his own cloak to use in order to wrap the wound. After doing his best to securely anchor the makeshift bandage around the injury, Belril reluctantly left his charge to check the other elves again in case there were survivors that he had overlooked.
A few disappointing minutes passed in what seemed like eternity but as he straightened up from the last dead elf, Belril heard a shrill cry of a hawk pierce the air from somewhere in the woods. Some may have searched the sky for the source of the birdcall but Belril was not fooled and cupping his hands to his mouth, he emitted an identical call in the direction that the first had come from. A few seconds later, his call was echoed but this time closer. Belril let one last bird call escape his lips before turning back towards Legolas and gently picking the warrior up in his arms.
Making animal calls was a way of communication for the elves in Mirkwood. After many years of practice, the elves had become so skilled in this that occasionally it was difficult even for elves to tell the calls apart from the real animals. This method of communication proved to be effective in the dense forest where one could not see where others were concealed within and when creatures such as orcs and spiders were also listening and could not accurately tell the calls from the real animal noises.
It was Turohir making the call, he was sure of it. Relief coursed through his body and also surprise at the speed the elves must have traveled to catch up with him so quickly. An affirmative birdcall sounded again, this time less questioning and more resolute. It would only be a matter of minutes until the elves would reach the clearing and witness the destruction for themselves. Belril only wished he could warn them.
In that moment Turohir emerged from the thicket on the edge of the clearing and froze when his eyes alighted on the bodies. The two injured elves burst out behind him and also paused briefly. Then the three flew over the grass on light feet to where Belril stood rigid, holding Legolas in his arms.
Turohir opened his mouth but no sound came out. He was obviously at loss for words as were the other elves.
"They were attacked by orcs as you can see," Belril nodded his head at the bodies. "This is just as I feared and we were too late."
Turohir's eyes rested on Legolas's still form. "Is he dead?"
"No," Belril muttered. "He is alive, but I do not think he will last much longer. He has a grievous wound there on his side."
Turohir eyed the wound with compassion for his prince but he felt joy that Legolas was alive nevertheless. The other elves did not miss the brief flicker of hope that shone in Turohir's eyes. "What should we do?" he asked.
Belril hesitated for he had not yet thought out a plan of action. "Well," he began, "you are without a doubt the swiftest on foot out of us all. I want you to carry the prince back to the palace. I shall remain behind with Nymlorel and Velhir for they are wounded and I do not think it best to aggravate their injuries further. We will see to it that our kin have a respectful resting place and then we will join you at the palace."
Turohir nodded, his eyes flickering once more over the carnage.
Belril stepped forward and gently placed Legolas into Turohir's arms. "Be swift and do not stop. He will not last much longer and his life is now in your hands."
Turohir nodded again, determination on his face. As soon as Legolas was comfortably and securely within his arms, he turned and ran as swiftly as though he was not caring an extra burden at all.
Belril watched him run over the grass as Nymlorel and Velhir began walking about the bodies. Mirkwood's fate rested in the hands of Turohir now, for if Legolas died, Thranduil could just as well perish from the pain of grief.
Having witnessed the king's sadness when the Queen had died, Belril knew for a fact that Thranduil had barely come to grips with it. He was still literally hanging on by a thread, and each time an elf died in Mirkwood, the king was pushed further and further to the edge. There was little probability that enough deaths in Mirkwood would be the breaking point for Thranduil since the king had seen many deaths in his lifetime. But under the thick skin there was a tender heart and without a doubt, Legolas was the one with the power to impact Thranduil the hardest.
Mirkwood desperately needed her king and prince at this time. With the already divided attention of Thranduil and then the possibility of life without Legolas and Thranduil, the waning light of good and hope that the elves protected, fostered and gave up their lives for would without a doubt diminish, and all would be lost to the darkness.
Hope was fragile but it was all Belril had left as he watched Turohir disappear into the forest, carrying a precious life, and then the light from the sun dimmed and an evening shadow fell ominously like a curtain over the land...