Meghan dropped Windlwyn's reins and brought her arms above her head in a long stretch. None of the other Elves seemed to be bothered by riding almost every day for just over five weeks, but she felt sore and tense in the saddle. And this had been an especially long day – they were so close to Mirkwood that they had kept riding past dusk so they could set up camp right outside the forest. But now that they had finally stopped, Meghan was so tired that she wasn't sure if she remembered how to dismount.
"Are you alright?" Legolas asked. He had already dismounted and was standing at her stirrup, Arod's reins in one hand and the other on Windlwyn's neck.
She smiled down at him and wondered how to articulate that she was more than alright, because the longest leg of their journey was done and he was simply the most wonderful person she had ever known and she still couldn't believe that he was hers. But all she said was, "I'm fine, thanks."
"Let me help you down," he said, offering her an arm.
She didn't actually need the support, but she took it anyway. Despite having an easy rapport with the warriors traveling with them, he maintained a reserved propriety with Meghan in front of them that she interpreted as his proper Prince of Greenwood the Great mode. And that meant limited physical contact – and even less kissing. She had only managed to steal a few quick pecks since they'd left Minas Tirith.
Even worse, he hadn't noticed how frustrated she was, but Gwaethir had. Once, about halfway into the journey, he had caught her eye over Legolas' shoulder after a particularly failed attempt on her part, and mouthed so boring with an exaggerated point at his brother.
So she put a hand on Legolas' upper arm and intentionally slid off Windlwyn so that she alighted quite close to him, congratulating herself on her cleverness. They were shielded between the two horses, which was surely enough privacy even for a very conscientious prince. Without giving him any warning (lest he flee in a fit of respectability), she went up on tiptoes and slipped a hand behind his head to pull his mouth down to hers.
He let out a surprised noise in the back of his throat, but she shushed him with her lips. Luckily he recovered soon enough and brought up his hand to her neck, his fingers tangling deliciously in the curls at her nape. It was still a restrained kiss, but oh, so much better than the brief pecks that had come before!
When he pulled away, she growled a little and considered dragging him back down. He seemed to guess her intentions because before she could, he pressed a line of kisses from her forehead to her ear and whispered in a husky voice, "Do you want horse duty tonight?"
The incongruous question and the way his breath tickled the little hairs at her temple made her burst out laughing. "No, you take it," she said, handing him Windlwyn's reins. They had a system of switching off who took care of the horses and who set up their corner of camp – an arrangement which Gwaethir called 'repulsively domestic' with a wrinkle above his nose.
As she watched Legolas lead their two horses away, she wondered, how am I ever going to wait a whole year to marry him?
The other elves had already nearly finished setting up camp – it was always fairly simple anyway, with a small fire to heat their supper and a scattering of bedrolls in a loose circle around it. Now they were tucked right up just a few yards from the eaves of the forest, and Meghan spread out her bedroll and Legolas' near the edge of camp. Whenever he took the setup duty, he placed them right in the middle by the fire.
Why do you always do that? she had argued once.
Because I like to stay warm, he had smiled, although it was summer.
Of course she knew it was because he was protecting her as usual, which made her love him a little more each time. And sometimes she conceded and setup in the middle, too. But tonight it was clear and warm and she wanted some seclusion that she couldn't get next to the fire, although the forest looked very dark in the moonlight.
She loved to watch Legolas interacting with his kinsmen. She could see him across camp, talking with a few of them as they curried down their horses. He laughed more now, and she saw glimpses of what he must have been like when he was younger. It made her wonder what Elf-children were like – and then it made her wonder what their children would be like.
A bout of sleepiness hit her, and she stretched her shoulders again. Riding alone, she had quickly learned, was a full-body workout. At least it meant that she slept well every night, and she was certainly tired now. They had already eaten a light meal in the saddle as the sun went down, so she lay down in her bedroll and waited for Legolas to finish with the horses.
She must have drifted off, because the next thing she knew the camp was totally quiet and Legolas was stepping over her to walk away again. "What time is it?" she whispered groggily, trying and not really succeeding to push hair out of her face.
Legolas turned back and crouched beside her. "A little past midnight." He smoothed the hair behind her ear. "Go back to sleep. I am going to check on Arod; he sounds restless. I will return in a moment."
Meghan made an agreeing sound and curled deeper under the light blanket. "Stay warm," she mumbled. One more caress of his thumb across her cheek, and the gentle weight of his hand disappeared.
Realizing that a root was digging into her back, she wriggled around to her other side so that she faced into the camp. The first night, seeing all those Elves stretched out and staring sightlessly up at the sky had unnerved her. She still didn't entirely understand their waking sleep, though after five weeks she had grown accustomed to it.
She had woken herself up more by shifting positions. It really was absolutely silent, except for the occasional sound from the horses on the other side of camp. Meghan wondered why Arod had been restless, wishing Legolas was beside her again. A half-formed uneasiness had curled up her spine and she propped herself onto her elbow so that she could see if anyone else felt the same. But Urúvien, who was on watch, hadn't missed a beat in whatever he was mending.
You're overreacting, she soothed herself as she settled into a more comfortable spot. If there was anything to notice, he would have noticed it. Trying to ignore her uncertainty, she closed her eyes and let her breathing even out.
That is, until an inhuman scream splintered into the silence and froze her bones.
Most of the other Elves had roused, reaching for weapons. As a hundred more harsh cries filled the air, Meghan bolted completely upright.
"The trees, they're in the trees!" she shouted at the exact same moment that two bands of Orcs poured out of the forest, rushing to surround the woodelves. Someone grabbed Meghan's arm and yanked her back from the outermost perimeter, and it was just in time. One of the Elves – Imrathon, she thought – swept up his sword to catch a jagged blade that had been meant for her. It was chaos, and so, so loud. The Orcs shrieked as they fought and Meghan wanted to cover her ears.
"Meghan, fall back! Get to the center!" That was Gwaethir, shouting at her from her left before he whirled away to cut down a trio of Orcs that had converged on someone else.
She could hardly even tell where the center of camp was anymore except for the smoking remains of the fire. A horrible smell was starting to fill the air, and she tried to convince herself that it wasn't blood as she scrambled deeper into camp.
Where is Legolas? she thought miserably. He must still have been close to the horses when the Orcs first appeared. Yes, there was his golden head, luminous in the moonlight. He was nearly the full length of the camp away, easily felling two Orcs at once. Just the sight of their blood spilling from his knives made her double over, retching.
Something whistled past her ear, and she instinctively flinched away. They have archers! She had never felt more useless in her entire life. No wonder Legolas always insisted that she stay away from battles! She hadn't even grabbed her sword. She searched for Legolas again, only to see that the tide of battle had drawn him even farther away.
With a sick horror in her gut, she knew that he couldn't protect her this time.
The sequel is now up! You can find it under my profile as The Ongoing Adventures of Meghan. I hope to see you there! It's gonna be a blast. Thank you all again for reading!