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Chapter Two

Legolas walked and walked and walked but saw no sign of giant spiders or their webs. Pathendir had said they were fifteen miles south of the palace. Legolas had no idea how far that really was, but he felt that with all the walking he had done, he surely should have traveled that far by now. However, no amount of searching had revealed any evidence of spiders. The little elfling continued onward.

As he walked, Legolas noticed that the shadows that managed to reach the ground under the trees were growing longer. It was not yet time for concern, but in his original thoughts, it was past time for him to be heading home after finding and killing the nasty creatures he hunted.

He stopped and sat down while taking out a small water skin to get a much-needed drink. After replacing the skin in his pack, he looked around him. The shadows had seemed to thicken, bringing on an early gloom to the forest, though he could still see quite well.

"Where are the spiders?" Legolas asked in frustration.

"Right behind you, little elf."

The insipid voice caused Legolas to jump with fright. His head jerked around. What he saw made his mouth suddenly go dry and his

eyes become as large as saucers.

On the ground a few feet from him sat a black spider. Its yellow eyes were staring intently at the elfling. They reminded Legolas of the ones he had seen in the drawing in the book he had looked at that morning. But this creature was much, much larger than a kitten or a puppy. It was more the size of a small pony.

Legolas stood up and faced the beast, who also stood to its full height. "You are huge!" he declared, more from shock than fear, as his eyes were forced to move upward. He could easily see how these creatures could hurt a grown elf. He didn't stip to think what one like this could do to an elfling like him.

"Yes, I am." There was a menacing tone to the deceivingly soft voice.

It took another moment for Legolas to realize that the spider had spoken to him. "You...you spoke. No one ever said spiders could talk."

"We speak when we have something to say," the spider explained.

The cold eyes continued to stare. If they could have narrowed, they would have. The creature was clearly scrutinizing the small being in front of him.

Legolas swallowed hard and then remembered his sword. He pulled the small blade, little more than a long knife, out of his belt and held it up in front of him with both hands.

The spider made a derisive sound that passed for a laugh. "You plan to use that puny knife on me, little elf?"

"It is a sword!" Legolas said indignantly in a raised voice. "I know the patrol warriors use them to kill your kind." He knew that more often they used bows, but he didn't say that, since that wasn't the weapon he had with him.

Another laugh greeted those words. "You are not a warrior, little elf."

Anger re-enforced the elfling's courage and made him bolder. "I am a prince," he declared firmly. "I am here to protect my people. That is what a prince does."

"Does a prince also die for his people?" The question was asked in the same soft voice, and the implication sent a chill down Legolas's spine. He suddenly realized that he was terrified of this huge spider and what it was saying to him, but he tried hard not to show his fear.

"No answer, little prince?" the spider mocked, as it moved closer.

Involuntarily, Legolas moved backward a couple of steps, gripping his small sword even tighter.

For several minutes, the defiant elfling and the menacing spider stood and stared at each other. Neither moved an inch.

The spider knew why it was in this standoff. It was trying to build up fear in the elven child, though it was hardly to gain an advantage. The beast had that already. It was simply trying to make the elfling show the fear he felt.

Legolas was running through every piece of strategy for battling these creatures he had ever heard of. His father and brother may have tried to keep from him details of the dangers the realm faced, but still he heard things. Warriors talked. Conversations in the palace were overheard. Legolas was precocious and had a knack for finding out what he wanted to know. Now he needed to remember how the warriors described fights with the giant spiders.

The spider had no illusions about the intelligence of elves, but it doubted that one so young would truly know what he was doing.

An adult elf would survive the venom of a giant spider unless bitten several times. This little elf would likely die from one bite.

The mental battle was getting the spider nowhere. It was getting tired of this war of stares. At least the warriors he had faced offered an interesting challenge. It had survived numerous fights with them, though many of its kind had not.

"Are you afraid of me yet?"

"No," Legolas replied, trying his best to show this spider he had courage.

It's ridiculous to say that a spider can smile, but this one did. Then it pounced.

The brave little elfling suddenly became a terrified child. Luckily, his reflexes were such that as soon as he saw the spider spring toward him, he fell to the ground and rolled to his right. Even he would never be sure if his mind told him to do that or if fear buckled his knees, causing the maneuver. It may have been al little of both.

The spider lost track of the elf for just a second. Thinking it had landed on his prey, the beast slammed its fangs downward, expecting them to enter soft flesh. A jarring vibration jolted its body when its fangs impacted the hard earth instead.

The spider backed up and looked down. The elven child was not there. Shrieking in anger, the spider spun completely around. All it saw were the trees.

Legolas, after rolling free of the spider, had scampered around to the other side of the large tree trunk. He leaned against the rough bark and shook. Whatever courage he had left the palace with was all but gone.

"I will find you, little elf," the spider said in a tightly controlled voice.

Legolas looked upward into the tree at the branches high above him. The closest branch was too far for him to jump up to, and there was nothing any lower to use as hand and foot holds.

He soon realized that climbing the tree wouldn't have done him any good anyway. Spiders also climb. Since they built their nests in the trees, that's where they spent most of their time.

Now what was he to do? It would be only a short time before the spider came around the tree and found him.

X

Balardoron, Crown Prince of Mirkwood, had led a small group of warriors into the forest after it was discovered that Legolas was missing.

Every inch of the palace, including the storage rooms and cells on the lower levels, had been searched, as well as the garden and the surrounding grounds.

The pieces of what had happened had been put together when the guards at the palace doors told Balardoron that Legolas had gone outside a few moments before a group of elves with their wagons had left for their home. The final piece of the puzzle clicked into place when one of the guards mentioned that Legolas had been carrying a pack with him.

Balardoron then knew that his little brother had left with the departing elves. Why Legolas would do something like that, he couldn't begin to guess.

Balardoron had caught up with the elves and informed them that he believed his little brother had left with them.

It seemed incredible to them that anyone, even a small child, could have hidden among them without their knowledge. It soon became apparent that he had, when the other children were questioned. They admitted to a "new" playmate that had been with them for while and then was suddenly gone. Those words sent a current of fear through Balardoron's heart.

The elf that seemed to be the leader of the traveling elves stood looking up at the tall prince. "My lord, we had no idea that Prince Legolas was among us. I apologize for not realizing it."

Balardoron could hardly blame these elves. Legolas was not only clever, but he didn't have dealings with the elves of the realm and thus was not immediately recognized by those that did not live in or around the palace.

Now Legolas was lost somewhere in the darkening forest, and the only thing on Balardoron's mind was finding his little brother before he got into trouble he couldn't handle.

Only the best trackers could possibly find the trail of an elven child in a very large forest, especially when they weren't sure exactly where the trail even began.

It took almost an hour, but Legolas's trail was finally located. Somewhat relieved Balardoron began following Legolas. The trail headed south, a direction that sent spikes of fear into the prince and the warriors with him.

x

Legolas could hear the giant spider moving around among the trees. The faint clicking noise made Legolas shiver.

The elfling started to cry. He had come here to kill giant spiders to help his people, but now he was standing behind a tree, shaking at the very thought that one of them was about to kill him instead. He tried hard to regain his courage, however, despite his efforts, Legolas sniffled.

The clicking got louder, and then the spider appeared from the far side of the tree. "Ah, there you are, little elf."

Legolas inhaled sharply, as he pressed himself against the tree trunk. The sudden surge of terror caused him to drop his sword. Unarmed, the small elf faced the spider, as it moved to stand directly in front of him.

"Tears? Where is your princely courage? Was it just a fa├žade?"

Legolas sniffed. "I do not know what that means."

That impossible smile appeared on the spider's face again. "Were you just pretending to be brave?" the creature asked in simpler terms the elfling could understand.

"No!" Legolas declared stubbornly. He wiped the tears from his wet cheeks and reached for his sword, lying at his feet.

One of the front legs of the spider came down on the blade. Legolas jerked his hand back.

"Prince or not, you will die like the coward that you really are," the spider said and moved so close to Legolas that he stood above the elfling, who, had he wished to, could have reached out and touched one of the menacing fangs.

A sudden shriek of shock and pain erupted from the creature. It was so loud that Legolas flinched in pain and covered his sensitive ears.

Two more shrieks, though weaker ones, rang out before the spider's large black body dropped straight down on its crumpled legs. Three green-fletched arrows protruded from the creature's back.

The now dead eyes of the giant spider were on the same level with Legolas's face, and the elfling turned his head aside and closed his own eyes to rid himself of the nightmarish sight.

Legolas jumped, as he felt something grab him. He began punching out with two small fists, trying to get the foul spider's legs off of him. But it was not the spider that held him.

"Legolas," came a very familiar voice. "Legolas, it is me, Balardoron."

The little prince opened his eyes and saw his brother's worried face blocking out everything else.

Legolas leapt into the waiting arms and buried his head in his brother's shoulder. "Balardoron," he moaned before sniffing loudly.

"Are you all right?"

Balardoron felt the small head nod against him. "Did that thing bite you?" Then he felt a shake of the child's head. He gripped his brother as tight as his brother was gripping him.

The Crown Prince picked Legolas up and carried him away from the spider's hideous dead body. He didn't stop until he had passed the horses of the other warriors. "Did you see any more spiders?"

"No. That was the only one," Legolas replied in a very small voice only slightly muffled from having his face pressed into Talisa's neck.

To be on the safe side, Balardoron motioned for all but one of the warriors to move out and search for any other spiders. One warrior stayed to watch their backs.

It was several moments before Legolas raised his head and wiped his runny nose on the sleeve of his tunic.

Balardoron was willing to wait until they reached the palace before questioning his little brother, to give the elfling time to recover from his ordeal.

Legolas had other ideas. He wanted to get the scolding over with, although he was sure he would have to face more from his father. "I am sorry, Balardoron."

Taking the opening, the Crown Prince decided to satisfy his curiosity. "Why did you leave the palace?" he wanted to add 'when you know you are forbidden to' but kept that thought private for the moment.

"I wanted to kill the giant spiders. They hurt our people."

That answer took Balardoron completely by surprise. "I have never heard you talk about doing that before. Why now?"

"I heard Pathendir tell Ada about the spiders and about how we do not have enough warriors." Legolas lowered his head slightly, not willing to meet his brother's eyes. "I know no one tells me about the bad things, but I have heard about them."

Balardoron flinched to think that his little brother, who he wanted to believe was still innocent, had heard stories of the darkness in Mirkwood. It was also clear that Legolas had been listening to conversations he should not have. He would let his father deal with that.

Knowing as well as Legolas did, Balardoron was sure Thranduil was going to have a lot to say to this precocious child, so he turned the subject to something less intense.

"Well, it looks like your first trip alone in the forest has been quite an adventure. You saw your first giant spider." Balardoron hated the fact that there would be many more such encounters to come. He quickly shook off the unpleasant thought.

x

When the other warriors returned, night had fallen. They had seen no evidence of more spiders, so Balardoron put Legolas on his horse in front of him, and they all headed north toward home.

Balardoron couldn't help but admire his little brother for both his bravery and his ingenuity in implementing the plan he had formed, misguided though it had been. Of course, he had no intention of telling Legolas that. The child didn't need any encouragement to get himself into more trouble.

Balardoron realized that the years ahead were going to be very interesting, not to mention trying, for everyone close to the youngest Prince of Mirkwood.

As he rode with Balardoron, Legolas thought about all that had happened since overhearing the conversation in his father's office. One thing he knew for sure: For the time being, at least, he would leave the protection of the realm up to his father, brother and the experienced warriors. He was not anxious to have a second encounter with giant spiders or any of the Shadow's other foul creatures. The first encounter had been quite enough to last him for a long time to come.

By the time they reached the palace, the exhausted elfling was sound asleep in the secure arms of his brother.

The End

I hope you enjoyed reading my little tale as much as I enjoyed writing it.