Thanks to daw the minstrel for beta reading this chapter.
This story is set in my Mirkwood world. Legolas is about 25 years old, and Emlin, daughter of Rawien and Tathiel, around 16. Picture a 12 and 7 year old. Tinánia and Lathron are now married. Please see the character list at the beginning of "Journey's End", if needed.
This story is for Karri and Dot, who both have birthdays in February. Thanks to you both for always encouraging me to come back to this set of characters.
"Can they see us?" whispered Emlin.
Legolas put his fingers to his lips. Emlin clapped her hand over her mouth and nodded, and Legolas turned his attention back to the scene before him. Lathron and Tinánia were walking along the riverbank, oblivious, Legolas thought, to the two who watched them from the tree.
Legolas fingered the acorns in his pocket. He had waited for a whole month since his last attempt, letting his quarry become complacent. Bregolas said he was too impatient. Legolas was determined to show him otherwise.
Tinánia stopped, pointing at something across the river, and Lathron turned his attention there also. Legolas pulled an acorn from his pocket and shifted slightly, taking aim at Lathron's back. Then he threw it.
And Tinánia snatched it from the air.
Grinning, she looked directly at him. "Nice try, Legolas!" she called cheerfully.
Legolas climbed down a few branches, then jumped to the ground. Emlin landed beside him a moment later. He scowled at Tinánia.
"When did you know we were there?"
"From the beaver's den," replied Lathron. "You did better concealing yourself, but I am afraid this gave you away." He reached out with one hand, lifted Emlin's braid and shook the shiny bead on the end of it.
"Emlin!" cried Legolas.
"Oh, it was not only Emlin's bead," interrupted Tinánia. "I saw first the glint off your dagger, which you could not help looking at as you waited."
Legolas flushed as they laughed. But Emlin tucked her arm through his. "We will get them next time, Legolas. You are very good."
Legolas gave in and laughed with them. "We will get you next time," he agreed with Emlin. "I am less impatient. Look how long I waited before trying again!"
"Bregolas will be impressed," said Tinánia. "But, little warrior, you must learn to remain still as well. Fidgeting and entertaining yourself with baubles are still signs of impatience."
Legolas grinned. "I am not ready to be patient then. And I love my dagger!" he crowed. "Soon, very soon, Ada will let me have a sword." He tugged Emlin's hand. "Come, Emlin, we will leave the lovers to their lane!"
They ran off into the woods before Lathron or Tinánia could say anything. But Legolas knew they did not mind being teased. They just laughed whenever anyone did.
They raced along the river for a while, then slowed to a walk. Legolas liked this time of evening. The animals that slept during the heat of the day would be out, foraging for food. The setting sun sent gleaming beams across the river, making it look like one could walk on bridges of light across it.
"Look, Legolas, there is the squirrel," said Emlin softly.
Legolas turned from the river to the dappled shade where Emlin squatted near the base of a large oak tree. Beyond the tree, an albino squirrel sat nibbling on a nut. They had seen this squirrel all summer, despite the dire predictions their families had made that his pelt would make him more obvious to predators. Legolas dropped to his knees beside Emlin and inched his way forward.
"Hello, moon-squirrel," he said softly. He held out an acorn. "Come closer and I'll give you an acorn."
The squirrel did not leave, but neither did it come to him. Legolas had made friends with the garden squirrels long ago, but he really wanted this one to come live near the palace. That way, it would be safe from predators and he and Emlin could see it all the time.
"Give me your bead, Emlin."
Emlin hesitated for a moment, for she loved the colorful bead her father had given her. But Legolas knew she'd let him have it. "I will not let him take it; I just want to tempt him with it," he told her.
Emlin placed the bead in his hand and Legolas held it out to the squirrel. The animal's attention was immediately captured and he lowered the nut he was chewing on. He came two steps forward and stopped. Legolas set the bead on the ground.
The squirrel scurried forward, and both Legolas and Emlin held their breaths. Then in a sudden move, the animal snatched the bead from the ground and ran.
"No!" cried Emlin, leaping to her feet.
"I will get it!" answered Legolas, a stab of guilt piercing him.
He chased the squirrel to a large beech and then followed the animal up into its branches. The tree seemed to enjoy the chase, aiding both him and the squirrel. The squirrel leapt to the next tree, another beech, and then sailed through the air, barely catching its front paws on the branch of a stately oak. Legolas looked at the distance and knew he'd never be able to jump that far. He climbed to the ground and ran to the oak, which welcomed him and nearly tossed him up to where the squirrel was waiting.
"Oh, please, may I have it back?" he said breathlessly. He held out his hand to the squirrel, who looked at him triumphantly. "Please?"
The moon squirrel made no move to return Emlin's treasure.
"A trade, perhaps?" offered Legolas. He reviewed his possessions, patting his pockets as he considered what the squirrel might take instead. He paused a moment, and said, "You know, if you would just come live in our garden I would find lots of things you would like."
The squirrel ignored him.
Legolas pulled his dagger out and set in on a tree branch, then emptied his pockets. There was nothing eye catching among his things: a short feather, an agate, an empty shell and small piece of hollowed wood.
"I know!" He reached into the front of his tunic and pulled out a leather cord. On the end of it was a piece of soft white stone. His brother Celebrinduil had found it and chipped it into the shape of a leaf, then bored a hole through it and threaded it on a leather cord. It had been his begetting day gift to Legolas a few years ago. Legolas had found another piece of the same soft stone and hung it on the same cord. He was hoping Celebrinduil would carve something for Emlin out of it. He unsheathed his dagger and carefully cut the knot that held the white piece, and held it out to the squirrel.
The squirrel was fascinated. He came closer. Legolas laid the white stone on the branch. "A trade. Give me Emlin's bead and you can have that."
The squirrel sat up on his hind legs and began chattering. He ran forward a few steps, right to the stone, but stopped and did not take it. His eyes were still fixed on Legolas's hand.
"No! Not the knife!" moaned Legolas. "My ada would be unhappy if I lost my knife."
The squirrel chattered some more, but when Legolas would not give up the blade, the animal grabbed the white stone and ran again.
"Wait! It was supposed to be a trade, you dumb squirrel!"
Legolas resumed the chase amidst the laughter of the trees. The squirrel ran to the ground and Legolas followed. Behind him, he could hear Emlin calling, first asking if he got the bead back, then telling him to come back.
He had not gone far when he realized it was getting dark. The moon squirrel could still be seen, waiting for him to resume the chase. "You are enjoying this," muttered Legolas. "Come on, give me the bead!"
The squirrel ran again. Legolas blew out an exasperated breath and followed. He had run for only a few minutes when the squirrel entered a small grove of trees. As quickly as it had run in, it ran out. It flew past Legolas as if a great owl were chasing it, and Legolas looked up, searching the tree tops. He did not see any great birds, nor hear them calling.
He approached the grove of trees cautiously. He could see some sort of flet had been built in one of the trees. Scrub trees had grown in a hedge around the trunks of the larger trees, but someone had cut an opening through them. Legolas was about to stick his head through when he saw a glint from the ground.
"Emlin's bead!" cried Legolas. He scrounged around on the ground a bit more. "And my stone! You dropped them both, you nutty squirrel!" he laughed gleefully.
He could hear Emlin calling him. "I am coming!" he called back loudly.
He stashed the bead and stone in his pocket and was turning to leave when he heard a strange noise in the trees before him. He could not see anything through the brambles of bushes, for they were thick and dusk was upon them. He glanced toward home, knowing he should meet Emlin and return before their parents worried. He heard the strange noise again. He hesitated. Then, promising himself it would only take a moment to investigate, he crawled through the opening cut into the brambles and entered the grove.
A clearing had been made beneath the trees, and a rough flet built in the one closest to him. Legolas ran to it and fingered the stairs someone had left down. The guards had not made it; their flets looked much better.
"Anyone here?" he called.
The night grew silent. No crickets chirped in here, no birds called. He did not even hear the strange noise anymore. He cautiously climbed the ladder, finally sticking his head through the floor of the flet. He pulled himself up on to platform.
The wooden floor was not very large. He could take six steps to the far edge, three to either side of the opening. Behind him, it looked like a large bird's nest had fallen on to the flet floor. He looked out over the forest and saw Emlin's golden head.
"Emlin, I am up here!" he called.
She stopped and looked up. In what little light was left, they could just see each other. "I will come too," she called excitedly.
"There is an opening cut through the brush, right by the maple tree," called Legolas. He watched as she searched around, finally finding the opening and crawling through. She scampered up the rope ladder.
"A flet! I wonder who made it?" she asked. She looked around. "Someone not very good at making flets. I wonder if anyone uses it? Maybe we can play here! It would be our secret place."
Emlin walked carefully to the fallen nest. "I wonder what kind of bird lived in this." She took a stick and poked at it, then jumped back.
"Legolas," she whispered. "There is something alive in there."
Legolas moved around her and took her stick, poking gingerly at the nest. The nest moved a little, and he saw a red eye looking at him. He swallowed hard. He had never seen one in person, but he had seen drawings of those eyes before.
"Emlin, climb down the ladder and run for home," he said as calmly as he could. When she did not move, he hissed, "Now!"
"Are you coming?" she asked fearfully.
"Yes, right behind you. You get down first," he said shakily.
Emlin climbed down the rope ladder. "I am down, Legolas," she whispered up to him. "Now you come!"
Legolas held the stick tightly. His feet found the rope and still holding the stick, he slid down it. Above him, the red eye appeared through the hole, only now there were multiple eyes. He heard the clacking noise again. Terror filled him.
He looked over his shoulder to make sure she was going, and saw another set of red eyes looking in through the opening in the bramble hedge.
"Emlin, stop!" he cried.
Emlin saw the eyes and she cried out too. "Spiders! It is a big spider!"
Legolas ran to her, trying to figure out where to stand to protect her. There was a spider in the flet above them and another blocking their escape. He suddenly remembered his dagger and pulled it from its sheath and held it out in front of him. He was sure he could stop the spider, at least long enough for Emlin to get away.
He looked around frantically. There had to be another way out. At the far end of the clearing, but leading in a direction away from home, he saw another opening. Grabbing Emlin by the arm, he began backing up towards it and pulling her with him.
"Look behind us. Do you see anything?" he hissed.
Emlin clung to his arm, but did as asked. "I do not see anything."
They backed up slowly to the opening. Dusk was giving away to darkness, and it was hard to see anything, but Legolas thought for sure the eyes were coming toward them.
"I don't see any eyes," breathed Emlin.
Legolas could feel her fingernails biting into his arm. "Take the stick," he said. She took the stick, but did not let go of him. She stepped through and he followed.
He could see little in the darkness. The only path he knew in this part of the forest was the one by the river. If he had been into this part of the forest, hunting herbs with Tathiel or playing with his friends, he did not remember it. He had not seen that grove or flet before, he knew that. Somehow they had to get around those spiders and get back to the river path. He thought suddenly of Lathron and Tinánia walking along the river. They had to warn them!
Emlin pressed against his side and he could feel her trembling. He drew in a deep breath and straightened himself. He was warrior Legolas. He had to be brave. He looked around, noting the shapes in shades of darkness. A tree, a large branch, a sapling. He took Emlin's hand and stepped forward. They would go east, as that seemed the closer to the palace.
They had taken only a few steps when something flew into their faces. Emlin screamed and fell to her knees. Legolas raised his dagger, swinging wildly. More came, filling the air with a buzzing noise. He felt the flutter of their wings hit his face and tangle in his hair, and he dropped beside Emlin, grovering her with his body. "Bats!" he cried.
As quickly as the bats had descended on them, they were gone. Legolas looked up into the night, then stood and pulled Emlin to her feet. "Come!"
They moved quickly forward. A sudden thought settled in Legolas's mind. He was moving to where the bats had just come from. No sooner had it occurred to him to wonder if something had spooked them from their homes when he heard hissing and clacking above them. He looked up into multiple pairs of red eyes. The spider was in the tree above them!
Emlin screamed again. Legolas heard his own voice join hers, even though he knew they should be quiet, and then they ran. Branches whipped their faces and tangled in their hair. Emlin stumbled and Legolas jerked her to her feet and kept going. Then he tripped over a root and fell, pulling her down with him. He looked up to see the spider leaping toward them. "Mine!" it cried.
"No!" He flung himself on top of Emlin.
The spider never made it to him. Legolas heard a whoosh of wind go past his head and a large thunk as something solid connected with the spider, which cried out in anger and pain. He looked up and saw a club swinging again, bashing the spider's head. It sputtered and spat and groaned, then lay still.
Hands pulled Legolas to his feet and took Emlin from him. "Take Emlin," he heard Lathron whisper.
"I have you, Emlin," soothed Tinánia.
Legolas looked into the fiercely calm face of his brother and took a deep shuddering breath. He could still feel tears on his cheeks, but he bit his lip and not a sob escaped him. Lathron took his knife from him, though Legolas did not want to let it go, but he only shook loose a dead bat that had been skewered on it and then gave it back. "Give me your hand. We have to move fast," said Lathron.
Tinánia led the way, holding Emlin in one arm and a club in the other. Lathron and Legolas followed, with Lathron watching behind them.
"Are there more?" Legolas asked.
"We saw only that one," whispered Lathron. "Did you see others?"
"We saw two," breathed Legolas.
Lathron gripped him tighter and sped up. They had rounded the grove of trees when Legolas saw the eyes peering through the hedge. "There!" he hissed.
Tinánia was past the grove already. She swung around to look.
"Go!" ordered Lathron.
Tinánia ran. The ground was fairly clear back to the path and she disappeared from sight. Lathron pushed him. "Run, Legolas."
Legolas started to follow her, but he saw movement behind them. He turned and saw more red eyes. "Lathron, behind us!"
Lathron shoved him hard. "Run!"
Tears streaming down his face, Legolas abandoned his brother and ran. He heard the whack of the club, followed by the hiss of the spider. He could not make out the spider's words, but he knew it was talking. He was nearly to the path when he heard Lathron cry out. He stopped and turned back. "Lathron!"
There was no answer. Legolas took a step towards his brother. Lathron would yell at him. He took another step, and then another. He would be careful not to distract his brother. Soon he was running. He reached the grove moments later.
Red eyes glowed all around. There would be no way to know a spider was near in the darkness, except for their eyes.
Legolas froze. He heard the clicking noise above him and looked up. Terror filled him as he saw a large spider perched above him. It was talking about him! Then Lathron cried out again and fell to the ground, and the spider pounced on him.
"No!" cried Legolas. His fear turned to rage and he raced forward. He plunged his knife into the spider, then yanked it out and when the spider turned to him he shoved it into its eyes. The spider shrieked, releasing Lathron and rolling off him.
Legolas grabbed the club that Lathron had dropped and swung it furiously. It connected solidly with a spider body, then was wrenched from his hand. The spider flung the club aside with one of its many legs and advanced on him.
Legolas held his knife out. He wondered if it hurt to die, if it hurt after the spider stung him. Would he go to the Halls of Waiting with Lathron? Would they be together? The spider shot a piece of web at him, the sticky strand falling over his shoulder, tangling in his hair. He felt hot breath on his neck, but before he could turn, the spiders legs moved around him, spinning its web. He screamed.
Legolas heard the voice but he couldn't turn. Suddenly a great clamor rose around him. He heard the twang of arrows and watched as spiders fell around him. A sharp pain to his shoulder made him cry out again, then he was falling. He tried to reach out with his hands, but they wouldn't move, the webbing making him clumsy. He landed hard on the ground. He heard shouts and calls, heard the sounds of heavy bodies slamming into the ground.
Then someone grabbed him. He kicked with all his strength and heard a gasp.
"Legolas, I have you!" said Bregolas.
"Bregolas," sobbed Legolas. His brother pulled away the strands of webbing.
"Are you stung, Legolas?"
Someone appeared with a torch. Legolas had never been so glad for the light before. He tried to answer Bregolas, but all he could do was sob. Then he looked down and saw Lathron. He was covered in webbing, as pale as the moon, and he did not move.
"Lathron!" he cried, pushing at Bregolas. "Is he dead?"
Warriors surrounded Lathron. Their faces were grim. Legolas held his breath, waiting for one of them to answer.
"He lives," said Aranu grimly. "Barely. We must get him to the healers immediately."
When Bregolas did not move, Legolas shoved him again. The force of his hands did little against the rock that was his oldest brother, but Bregolas looked at him, stroking his hair back. "Legolas, are you bitten?"
"No," he croaked. "Help Lathron, please, Bregolas."
Bregolas let someone take him from his arms, then dropped down next to Lathron. More warriors had arrived, some with horses. Legolas saw Aranu, one of Bregolas's captains, pick up Lathron like he weighed no more than Legolas. Bregolas leapt on to the horse, took Lathron and then turned and galloped away.
"Bring a horse for Sadron," commanded Aranu. He took Legolas while Sadron mounted.
Legolas felt the captain running his hands over his back and neck, and when he probed at the painful spot, Legolas yelped. "Take him to the healers. He does not look poisoned, but he has an injury." Then he put him on the horse.
Sadron wrapped one arm around Legolas and then the horse took off like the spiders were still chasing them. They were not alone; other warriors raced alongside them, some holding torches aloft to light the way.
Legolas was suddenly very tired. He wondered if Lathron were dead. He wondered if Tinánia and Emlin had made it to safety. He wondered if his ada would be angry at him. All over a silly bead and a squirrel.
"Legolas, stay awake!"
Legolas heard Sadron's voice, but it seemed very far away. He wanted to answer. He meant to answer. He tried to lift his hand, but his arm was too heavy. Then the lights swirled around him and Sadron dropped him.
Ada caught him. Ada was speaking and he looked worried. Angry. He knew what Legolas had done.
"Sorry, Ada," he sighed, and then fell asleep.
The title is taken from the Ella Wheeler Wilcox Poem "Tis the Set of the Sails"
Like the winds of
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
'Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.