I strode from the camp in an effort to contain my anger. Lainethir had no business disgracing my warriors that way. Ignoring the danger, I ran up the road to the pass. The way was rocky and barren, cutting deeply through two shoulders of the mountain that towered stark and foreboding on either side. I stopped and lifted my eyes to the ridge high above me. There was an ancient oak, gnarled and defiant. It was cloaked in the dark greens of midsummer, a clear reproach to the darkness at hand. I took a deep breath and calmed myself. If I was to change Lainethir's mind, I'd have to speak words of reason.
I climbed over the crest of the pass, hid behind a cleft in the rocks, and peered off to the south. In front of me was a wide gravel road that led down through a small boulder field to a grove of stunted oak and elm. From where I stood, I could discern ropes strung in the canopy of those trees. The ropes were lower than I would have liked, barely fifteen feet from the ground, but the broad trunks and thick branches would offer secure cover as we fought. Beyond and below the woods stretched a wide meadow that the orcs would have to cross uphill before reaching our archers. With luck, we could take many of them down before they got to the trees.
My gaze wandered to the woods far below the meadow, where previously I had seen the orcs. They were still moving about. Could I sense their spirits from such a distance? I closed my eyes and listened. At first, I was disturbed by the intensity of the darkness on the far side of the pass. It curled over and around me, testing my defenses. Resisting the urge to panic, I set my jaw and concentrated, refusing to let it in. When I was balanced again, I felt for the spirits of the animals nearby. There was nothing, save for the hollow nothingness of the dark animals that served the enemy. I furrowed my brow and envisioned myself drawing close to the orc encampment. The darkness grew wider and deeper, ever more foreboding. Yet amidst the darkness I could sense the nuances of the orcs. It reminded me of listening to a herd of deer in the woods near home. I could not discern individual spirits; but the spirits were there, collectively telling me of their presence. Suddenly I detected a glimmer of spirits. I smiled and opened my eyes. My training had not been in vain.
When I got back to camp, Lainethir's soldiers were preparing for battle. Bow strings were being checked, swords were made ready. Conversation was muted. Occasionally I heard laughter, sharp and quickly cut short.
My own warriors had congregated around a pair of weathered oak trees, and were shifting restlessly, looking at Lainethir's soldiers with ill-concealed envy. Orothador and Seron circulated among them, speaking quietly to still their unrest.
Decisively, I headed across the camp to where Lainethir was giving orders to a cluster of soldiers. I stood right next to him before he finally turned and acknowledged my presence. I did not bow.
"Yes, young prince?"
"I have come to offer again the support of my warriors. I have seen the battlefield. I know that we could fight well there. You must let us fight!"
Lainethir frowned and his gaze brimmed with tightly controlled anger. When he spoke, his voice was low and urgent. "First, I am aware that your father permitted you to train these soldiers, but he is not here and does not command the field. I do. Second, you were not there at Dagorlad, young one. You have no idea what a pathetic excuse for fighters the Laegrim were. They were not just overtaken in the field, they were slaughtered. You may think you have done your friends a favor, to train them in the way of the Laegrim, but as far as I'm concerned, they will all die a bloody death if they fight like that, and I'm not going to allow that to happen! I care for those men, much more than you will ever know! My orders stand. If the enemy breaks through, you'll have your fight to the death, but I will not send them into battle tonight! You are dismissed!"
Was that truly what had happened at Dagorlad? Suddenly I understood his misgivings. Stunned, I took a deep breath, and then bowed formally. What if he was right? What if I was sending them all to their deaths? My confidence shattered, and lay like broken crockery at my feet. It was all I could do to maintain my dignity as I walked away.
As I approached my warriors, their conversations stopped. They looked at me hopefully. Frustrated, I rubbed my face with my hand.
"Be seated," I requested. The company shifted and grumbled a bit, but they obeyed. I closed my eyes and tried to center myself.
"The captain has known each of you for many years," I began. "He just related to me how very deeply he cares for each one of you. He fought with most of you at Dagorlad. He saw many of your loved ones die. He does not want a repeat of what happened. You will not fight tonight."
There was nothing but a somber silence.
"But what do you say, Legolas?" asked Seron. "You are our leader."
What should I say? The bright prospects of summer training dimmed with the thought that I might be leading my warriors to their deaths. Lainethir's words were true. The Laegrim had been slaughtered.
I crossed my arms. I could play the leader no longer. "What if it is true?" I whispered. "What if your training will just endanger you?"
"Come and sit with us, little brother," said Orothador, extending his hand. I stepped forward. The warriors made a space for me in their midst. I sat among them as I had once long ago when I was young. Their strength and kindness surrounded me. I pulled my knees to my chest and put my head in my hands. They touched my shoulders and rubbed my back. I was surrounded by their love, surrounded by their compassion. I was reminded of the times when I sought comfort as a child in the village. It was much the same.
"We are not fools," said Orthador. "If you had tried to lead us along paths that we did not believe in, we would not have followed you. You gave us something that we had desired for a very long time. You put feet to our dreams, Legolas, and for that we thank you."
I could not look at him. I was still lost in my own misery.
"The question here is not what Lainethir believes. He is a captain with a lot of experience, but he does not know everything. The question is, after you have lived what you have lived, and done what you have done, what do you believe? Was the spirit of the orc real? Do we win by being ourselves, by fighting as Laegrim and not as Sindarin? Legolas, what does your experience tell you? "
I gazed into Orothador's eyes, finding trust and reassurance there. I looked around at the warriors who surrounded me. They were calm, waiting patiently for me to answer. I stared at my feet.
"The orc's spirit was there," I said at last. "Of that I am sure. As to the rest, who can say? This summer I have seen your confidence grow; I have seen your joy increase. I've learned so much of what it means to be Laegrim. If the people of the woods cannot save the woods, then who can? The Sindar are good fighters, but they are not of the woods. I believe that the Laegrim will overcome the darkness, and that we will do so by fighting in our own way."
"Eh," said Orothador, "then why do you doubt?"
Lainethir's troops assembled for combat with quick efficiency. They stood in formation, proud and tall. Save for some surreptitious sidelong glances, they ignored their comrades who were being left behind. They marched from camp with a sharp cadence, their boots making a dry, hollow sound against the rocky ground.
After they left, I set Condir and Tirgon to keep watch at the pass, and called the rest of my group to gather under the trees. It took some prodding, but I was able to coax Halthor to lead us in singing. He did not choose happy songs, but ones with complex melodies and haunting harmonies that reflected the disquiet in our hearts. Several of the warriors did not sing at all, but restlessly paced the perimeter of the camp.
The late afternoon slipped into early evening. The heat of the day did not abate. If anything, it grew hotter and more sultry. Above the pass and to the west, a broad band of dark clouds began to gather. The sky above was empty, save for a flock of black birds winging their way northward over the pass.
The singing dwindled and came to a close.
I found myself gazing frequently at the road to the pass. It remained silent and clear. I was just going to speak to Orothador about finding something, anything, to occupy the troops, when a small figure could be seen running down the path towards us. It was Tirgon. He carried no weapons; his long strides moved him forward in a smooth rhythm. As he approached, I heard his rough breathing and saw the sweat running down his face. He bowed quickly to me, then bent, with his hands on his knees, to catch his breath.
"Legolas, you've got to come quickly. Condir and I just sighted a huge group of orcs coming from the south. They aren't here yet, but Lainethir's troops will be vastly outnumbered."
"Are you sure of what you've seen, Tirgon?" I asked.
He nodded, "Condir has gone to warn Lainethir."
I bit my lip. It did not sit well with me to go against a direct order, but I couldn't just stand by and let Lainethir's soldiers get run over. I swept my gaze over my warriors. "We've waited long enough," I said decisively. "Now we fight!"
A rugged cheer went up from my men. They stood at once, fetching their knives and bows, getting them ready for battle.
Within moments, we were in formation.
Quickly we made our way through the pass. We scattered and made our way across the boulder field. At that point, we could hear the sounds of battle.
Lainethir was livid. He strode up to us as we reached the trees. Condir was at his heels. "What is your business here, Thranduilion? I gave you a direct order."
"That was before the orcs got reinforcements," I replied. "We can either fight with you here, or wait for the orcs to make it into our camp. They will overrun you if you fight alone. Together perhaps we'll stand a chance." I met his eye and did not back down.
He gazed at me for a long moment, then looked away. "It is as you say," he admitted after a moment. "We hadn't anticipated the second wave of orcs. Our archers are almost out of arrows."
"We've come to fight," I insisted. Lainethir avoided my gaze, but finally nodded.
"Thank you," I said, bowing hastily. The formation broke, and my warriors hurried to the trees. Doron stayed behind, looking miserable. "Doron, come with me," I commanded. Doron nodded mutely and came towards me. Trusting that he would follow, I ran to a large oak and climbed to the ropes. I could see my men making their way to the south edge of the woods. Without being told, they spread out two to a tree. The broad branches of the trees would give us solid footing to shoot from. Two in a tree would allow my warriors to cover each other in battle.
We clambered into position. The canopy was hot and the leaves were still. No wind blew to take away the warmth. When all of my men were in position, I took a moment to look for the enemy.
Down below me was the edge of the meadow. A goodly number of orcs had fallen into the late summer grass, with brightly fletched arrows protruding from their bodies. Directly beneath me, I could hear the shuffle and the clang of metal against metal as the ground troops fought to keep the orcs from gaining ground. The battlefield was hot, and rife with the grunts of soldiers fighting, the cries of the wounded. The rhythmic singing of the cicadas in the trees were oddly juxtaposed to the carnage below. Of the new group of orcs I could see nothing, but I could hear their clumsy thrashing through the woods below the meadow.
I looked up and down the line. Doron was beside me. His face was pale and drawn. "Are you with me?" I asked.
He shook his head. "I'm not ready for this Legolas. I want to be, but I'm not."
"Stand near the trunk and shoot when you're ready," I replied. Doron nodded and moved into position.
Berellin and Tirgon were situated in a tree to my left. Beyond them were Orothador and Seron. I closed my eyes and tried to listen for the rest of the warriors, but I was too tense.
I waited until I was fairly sure everyone was in his place. "Breathe together!" I cried, "and sing!" I closed my eyes and began breathing, listening for the breath of others nearby.
"I can't do it, Legolas!" cried Doron. "I'm not ready! They are coming and I'm not ready!"
"Look at me," I commanded. I met Doron's panicked gaze. "You could not fight as a Sindar because you are not Sindar. You are Laegren and you will fight today from your heart. Stay with me, Doron, and breathe!"
Doron stared at me. His eyes never left my face. I breathed deeply, trying to encourage him to join me, while tying myself to the breathing of others. For a moment, I thought that it could not be done, but then Doron's breath echoed mine. As he joined with the others' breathing a look of relief swept over his face.
"Are you with me?" I asked again.
Doron swallowed and nodded. "I think so," he whispered.
I turned my thoughts inward and, closing my eyes, envisioned myself in harmony with the warriors, my warriors. Soon Orothador began singing the opening tone of the uruvae. I joined him. The sound rose, rich and full, filling the canopy with its resonance. I opened my eyes. A horde of orcs were advancing across the meadow, weapons ready. The singing stopped them in their tracks. I heard a roar of triumph from Lainethar's men as they used the opportunity to their advantage. We held onto the note as long as we could as we positioned ourselves to begin shooting.
The orcs did not falter but renewed their advance. There were so many of them I could not count their number. I listened for them, timidly at first, but then with greater confidence. For each spirit I found, I brought down an orc. It was like hunting: the seeking of the spirit, the shot, the release, but it happened much more quickly. At first it seemed as though I were floating, as in a dream. The darkness slid through me like a cold wind, trying to divert my attention. I concentrated, shoving it away to do my work. With each shot, a spirit was released and I could feel the joy and relief of the creature that I had unbound. All too soon, the number of arrows in my quiver dwindled, and I began to take stock of the shots that I had made. All along, up and down the line, the bodies of orcs lay thick upon the ground. And yet more came on.
Doron fought beside me. His fear seemed to have abated. He grasped his bow, and set his jaw, determination in his eyes. His arrows flew flawlessly to their destinations. After one extended volley, he caught my eye and smiled grimly.
Even with all the carnage, the orcs showed no signs of retreat. With every orc that fell, the horde became more enraged. Those with scimitars and crude swords surged forwards. The few archers among them made their stand close to the edge of the meadow and shot arrows into the canopy until they themselves became the fallen.
The Song swelled within me. I felt the presence of my warriors. The shooting of arrows made its own kind of rhythm. We were deadly. We were strong. Our arrows, guided by the presence of the orcs spirits rained down into the meadow. Every shot flew true. Many, many orcs perished.
I paused. I felt a ripple in the unity that bound me. I turned to look at Doron. He had withdrawn from the unity, from the rhythm and the deadly fight. I saw panic on his face, and a large orc arrow protruding from his shoulder. With a small cry, he looked at the arrow. For one tiny moment he held my gaze. Then he crumpled and fell from the rope.
I let go of my bow, grabbed the rope with both hands and swung down. Dangling in the air for a moment to get my bearings, I dropped to the ground. The next instant, my knives were in my hands. The first orc attacked almost immediately. He was bony and bent, whether with age or with pain, I could not tell. He swung at me wildly with his scimitar. My right knife sliced open his upturned arm from wrist to elbow. I stepped forward, and with my left, drove the blade deep up under his ribcage until it touched his heart. The orc fell heavily to the ground.
The next one came in from the side. My initial thrust went wide. I turned my hand and drove the pommel of my second knife under his jaw. His head snapped back and I was able to plunge my other blade into his body.
The orcs came quickly after that. I guarded Doron, hoping that his injuries could wait. I became aware that my other warriors had also dropped to the ground and were alongside me. Their knives flashed and swirled nearby. I almost caught a rhythm and then nothing. Then I felt it again. I listened for my warriors, and I could feel them listening for me. The movement captured our spirits, captured our bodies. It was the uruvae in motion, in what it was meant to be.
We danced our way through the rest of the battle. Every move I made, I made knowing where each of my warriors stood. I knew where they were and what they were doing. We were strong fighting together. We covered each other and moved as one great animal with a single intent. We killed the orcs, and still they came on. We fought smoothly, fearlessly. It was like a dance with listening. Lethal energy unbound. We killed the orcs and we set them free. We fought until the evening light gave way to dusk and the dusk gave way to dimness. I saw Doron stir, but I could not go to him. I was caught in the dance of the battle and it held me, propelling me forward to move and to kill until there were no more spirits, no more orcs to free. Only after the press of bodies abated was I able to disengage from the powerful sense of oneness that had swept over me.
When I finally lowered my blades, I was drenched in sweat, covered with blood, breathing heavily. My arms had several small cuts where the enemy had gotten through my defenses. The fight had taken me and made me one with my people. I was a warrior. I was Laegren. I was invincible.
Orc carcasses lay thick around me, but Doron lay unscathed, save for the arrow. I dropped my blades and knelt beside him. The arrow had caught him high in the chest, just below the collar bone. It was bleeding slightly.
"Doron, can you hear me?
He licked his lips; his mouth was dry. "That was one hell of a battle, Legolas, and I had a great view."
"We'll find you a better view next time, I promise."
I looked up. Slowly my warriors were emerging from the forest. Seron came first, his bloody knives still in his hands. Orothador was right behind him. Brethilas and Talfil showed up a moment later. They looked hot, tired, and triumphant. As the crowd gathered around us, I could see some of Lainethir's men as well.
"What?" I asked, "Is Doron the only one hurt?"
"He's the last one on the field," said one of Lainethir's soldiers. "Your line was too tight to let many orcs through. We killed what few of them came round the ends, but our injuries were minor."
Halthor made his way through the crowd. "I called for a healer," he said. "He'll be here in a minute."
"Does anyone have water?" I asked.
"Here, try this," Cunnethril handed me a flask. "It's got a good size serving of miruvor in it."
I uncorked the flask and helped Doron take a sip. When I looked up, the crowd had parted. Thinking it was the healer, I bent over Doron. Silence fell over the warriors. I looked up again and blinked. A tall soldier with golden hair was making his way towards me.
"Ada!" I exclaimed, jumping to my feet. I bowed formally.
"Legolas, you've been selfish. All that fighting, and you've left none of the enemy for us." But he was smiling.
"You've been here all along?" I asked.
My father shook his head, "My company arrived only a short time ago. When we found the campsite empty, we feared the worst. I led my troops up here to join the fight, but you and your men had things so well under control I decided it would be best not to step in. I've never seen fighting like that before, much less from Laegrim. How did you teach them to fight like that? "
I was speechless. I'd had no idea the King was watching.
Orothador stepped forward. "He gave us our minds, and our spirits, Thranduil. He made us proud to be warriors, proud to be Laegrim."
The two men gazed at each other, and something passed between them. My father lowered his eyes first, and nodded. He stood in front of me and carefully reached out and touched my shoulder. A Laegren gesture. "You have done well, Legolas, very well."
The King's company had brought fresh meat. Halthor combined his talents with the other cooks, and soon the rich smell of a hearty stew wafted across the camp. The soldiers had no problem celebrating their victory. They ate and laughed and told stories late into the night.
Shortly after the stars came out, Cunnethril came to where I was sitting with my men and tapped my shoulder. "Lainethir and the King would have a word with you." He took me to a smaller campfire, where the two leaders sat, deep in discussion. Cunnethril bowed and departed. I stood and waited nervously for the conversation to finish.
"Legolas, I'm glad you are here," said the King at last. "Lainethir and I were just discussing the merits of leadership. He is most anxious to have his company returned to him and I have agreed to restore the men to his command."
I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach.
"At ease, Legolas," said Lainethir. "Today's battle convinced me that your way of fighting has merit. I will allow your men to continue as you have trained them. They will be an asset to us all."
Stiffly, I bent my head and bowed. My father had told me that I would be under his command. I had no choice but to obey.
"Now, Legolas, if I were to give you another fifty or one hundred warriors, how long would it take to teach them what you taught Orothador's men? I'd like to put you in charge of training the rest of our Laegrim forces, but I don't want to overwhelm you. You would be captain of the Laegrim, and answer only to me. Do you think you could handle such a commission?"
My head snapped up and I looked my father in the eye. He was speaking with all sincerity. I loved my warriors and I would miss them dearly, but to train others to become warriors in the Laegrim way? I bowed again, but this time I was smiling. "It will be done," was all that I could say.
I visited Doron several times that evening. To remove the arrow, the healers dosed him with a miruvor and poppy extract, so that he stirred but did not cry out when they pulled the barb from his flesh. He lay unconscious for most of the night. When I finally prepared for sleep, I moved my bedroll next to his, falling asleep to the sound of cicadas, and the rise and fall of warriors' voices as they spoke around the campfire.
I woke in the darkness just before dawn. The camp was silent, save for Doron moving restlessly beside me. I sat up. His eyes were open and he was looking around.
"I'm here, Doron," I said, grasping his hand. "Can I get you anything?"
He shook his head and took a deep breath. "You know, Legolas, I killed my first orc today. Three months ago I would have been elated and proud and overjoyed. But it's not that way at all."
"How is it?" I asked.
"Sad, somehow," he said simply.
"I know what you mean," I said, thinking of the spirits that we had freed.
We sat in silence after that. I held Doron's hand until he drowsed again. Gently, I laid his hand on his chest. I considered going back to bed, but then another thought came to mind. Silently, I stood and made my way to the pass. I climbed up the shoulder of the mountain to the ridge where the great gnarled oak tree grew. Nimbly, I made my way high up into its branches, until I reached the very limits of the crown. I held on, savoring the gentle movement of the branches below me as the predawn wind blew across the pass.
The sky overhead was a great gray bowl. The moon was set, the stars had dimmed, and there was the faintest rosy glow on the horizon. The darkness before the day rested lightly on the woods. I turned my face to the wind, envisioning a time when they would be once again thriving and healthy and whole. The thought brought joy to my heart. I smiled and breathed deeply. Turning, I lifted my voice and began the sweet tones that would sing in the dawn. I sang and I sang and I sang.
It has been a year and a week since I began this story, 52 chapters ago. For those of you who have journeyed with Legolas thus far, I can only say thank you. I have a special thanks for those of you who reviewed. Your observations, insights and reactions have been my inspiration and moved my muse to try new things. Special thanks also to Elfscribe, russandol, erulisse, aearwen, scarlet, and the rest of the lizard community.
If you feel like you still want more of Legolas, I'd like to encourage you to read my stories Requiem, The Song of a Friend, Warm Bread, Dance in the Moonlight and A Tale from the Wilderland. These were all written before Another Road, but they fit into the story seamlessly. They do happen many years after my story, but Legolas is still his wonderful self.
If you review this chapter, I'll be sure to write you back. I want to send you a personal farewell and thank you personally for your wonderful support.