Chapter Two: A Song Amidst Cobwebs
A/N Once again, I have taken some material directly from The Hobbit. I am referring to the two songs that Bilbo sings in "Flies and Spiders," which are on page 145 of the Houghton Mifflin paperback edition.
Special thanks to Kayson135 for betaing this chapter.
ORIGINAL CHARACTER GUIDE:
Celeguir—Thranduil's firstborn, was killed at Dagorlad.
Gwiwileth—second child and only daughter
Girithron—third child, the crown prince of Mirkwood, and chief military commander
Malaithlon—captain of the guard
Members of Legolas's Patrol: Calethor, Tuinir, Sarnon, Raenlas, Aewenor, Galadthor, Lithanuir
Helediron—elf in Hananuir's Patrol
Legolas whistled twice as he veered sharply to the left, knowing that the elves fighting under his command would fan out according to the signal. He stopped running and drew an arrow to his bow. He waited until an answering whistle from far to the right denoted that the warriors were in place. Relaxing his fingers slightly, the prince of Mirkwood sent an arrow whistling to crunch into his victim below.
Suddenly, the previously still forest was alive with the crashing bodies of spiders as they fell from the trees, caught completely unawares by the elves. Screeches and hisses filled the air as the spiders manifested their hatred and sought to reorganize themselves. The sounds of clacking pincers and too many legs skittering across branches became overwhelming.
Legolas spun quickly as a spider dropped suddenly from the branch above his head. Drawing a knife, he swiftly impaled the creature before it could sting him. The young archer grimaced as he turned to meet ten more spiders, materializing out of seemingly nowhere in the tree in which he was perched. The prince still remembered a time when battling spiders during the light of day did not exist. Many years ago, the foul creatures would merely hide by day and wait until the dark of night before pressing an attack. That was also before spiders learned group formation, Legolas mused as he remarked upon the odd coordination of the spiders advancing upon him. He had dispatched four of them, and the elf briefly wondered where the others had gone, when a sudden sticky substance falling on his head provided the answer.
With a shout, Legolas leapt nimbly from the tree. Jittering excitedly, the spiders hurried behind him, believing they had successfully cornered their prey. Barely touching the forest floor, the prince spun and shot two of the oncoming spiders before they had arrived fully on the ground. The other two became knife-work but were quickly destroyed. Legolas paused and registered that the last two spiders had not followed him out of the tree. He rotated himself rapidly, checking the position of the others in his patrol. Spider carcasses were piling up quickly, and Legolas nodded grimly as he ascertained that no elves had yet been injured.
And yet, more came. The prince found himself back to back with his second in command, as Legolas hacked at spiders with his knives, and Calethor skewered the creatures with his sword.
"Think you Girithron is herding them south?"
Legolas tore cobwebs from his hair with a free hand, as he answered, "Nay, for he would have sought to warn us!"
"Then Malaithlon's estimate is short!"
The prince did not answer as he suddenly lost hold of the hilt of one of his knives. The weapon was buried in a spider's body, and Legolas had not been able to twist it out fast enough before the creature had collapsed backwards, only to be replaced by another spider.
"Legolas! Calethor! Dive!" Tuinir's cry prompted the prince to duck before the oncoming spiders and roll toward the sound of the voice. Calethor had done the same, and over their heads Legolas registered the familiar whoosh of elven arrows and the crunching thud of a well-met target.
Straightening immediately, Legolas pivoted and turned his attention to an elven cry of surprise. He cursed as he realized that one of the youngest elves had been ensnared by the spiders and was trapped in their sticky web. Running towards the spiders converging on the helpless elf, Legolas noted that all of his warriors were outnumbered. The prince realized that he was on his own to free Sarnon, and this sobering fact provided the extra burst of energy he needed to arrive seconds before the spiders could poison their victim.
Shouting fiercely, Legolas hoped to momentarily distract the creatures before they could carry through their feeding ritual. The trick worked, and he was able to fell two spiders before the others were able to reorganize. The prince wedged himself between the body of his warrior and the other spiders. Legolas stood with his knives drawn in tense preparation for the spiders' advance. However, they did not press in upon him as he anticipated. This was unusual behavior for spiders, he noted, since they usually attacked without a plan in a mass of eagerness, which inevitably resulted in fatal confusion. A sudden jeering cackle behind him made Legolas suddenly realize that he had been surrounded. He sifted through the sounds of battle around him to reveal the specific noises of eight spiders that now grouped around him and Sarnon.
The spiders began to clack their pincers, and Legolas set his teeth against the black language that evil creatures speak. Another elven cry sounded from farther away, and the prince decided he had been waiting long enough. Lunging to his right, Legolas impaled a spider, before whirling and stabbing its neighbor. The elf spun and ducked, knives flashing, in a macabre dance of death. As soon as the prince could boast an advantage, he slashed through the webbing binding Sarnon. The younger elf gasped for air as he fell forward on hands and knees from his sticky prison.
Legolas took up a protective stance before his warrior and waited grimly for another attack. It did not come. The prince bent and wiped his blades clean on the ground as he noted that the others in his patrol had also stopped fighting.
The spiders had been defeated.
Legolas raised his hand and the other elves grouped toward him. Sarnon was on his feet and blushed at his captain's look of concern. Legolas nodded to the novice of the group, trusting that Sarnon had learned how to expect an attack from above when fighting spiders. The young captain then surveyed the faces of his warriors: none were seriously hurt. Legolas noted a few scratches, where the spiders' sharp pincers had grazed the skin, as well as an array of cobwebs matting faces, hair, and clothing. Satisfied, Mirkwood's last prince then eyed the bodies of the slain. Indeed, as Calethor had suggested, there were far too many spiders.
A slight breeze rustled among the warriors, and at any other time, Legolas would have been grateful for a breath of life amid the closeness of the forest. However, the wind rattled through the bodies of the spiders, serving as a reminder of the clicking and clacking sounds the creatures emitted in life. Eerily hollow noises filled the forest as the dead bodies were almost reanimated by the breeze. Besides the sounds of spiders, the wind also conveyed their smell. A dark stench was beginning to emanate from the corpses. The smell hinted at blood and rot and something acrid, which Legolas had always surmised belonged particularly to spiders.
The prince did not realize he had been holding his breath until the wind died away, and the elves were left in deep silence.
Exhaling softly, Legolas indicated that the elves should now retrieve their arrows. As his patrol spread out, the prince turned his attention to the runner of his patrol. "Raenlas?" A very slight elf bowed. "Report to Hananuir. Tell him also that we will veer west, and if he can, ask him to cross the river and meet us by the fork. If you can gather news of Girithron's group, that would be well."
As Raenlas retreated into the treetops, Legolas allowed himself another grim moment of surveying the dead. The sheer number of spiders was especially disgusting, and he felt his stomach twist and clench.
Suddenly, Legolas stiffened and felt his warriors imitate his actions. For borne on another wisp of wind, barely discernible, and at the limits of his hearing, Legolas heard…singing.
Indeed, the voice was coming closer and the elves began to understand the words to the song.
Old fat spider spinning in a tree!
Old fat spider can't see me!
Won't you stop,
Stop your spinning and look for me?
Legolas had never heard anything so ridiculous in his entire life. He practically gaped at Calethor, who stared back in absolute confusion. Astonished murmurs betrayed the feelings of the rest of the group. Despite his utter bafflement, Legolas signaled silently for the elves to take to the trees. The young archer could not begin to imagine what kind of creature would be responsible for the song, but he would not be caught off-guard, as the voice appeared to be approaching. The words of the song wove an irregular path through the trees, and Legolas half suspected the creature responsible had been drinking.
Old Tomnoddy, all big body,
Old Tomnoddy can't spy me!
Down you drop!
You'll never catch me up your tree!
From his vantage point on a sturdy branch, Legolas had to fight an insane desire to laugh. He imagined himself gasping for air as he fell against the tree trunk, helplessly victimized by his mirth.
However, the prince did not succumb to the hilarity of the moment, and instead strained his hearing further to try to discover the source of the voice. But Legolas did not achieve his purpose, as the rapid scuttling of more spiders announced that the battle was far from over.
Doubtless, the spiders are attracted to that inane song! Legolas silently cursed the being that was perhaps unwittingly betraying their position.
The prince did not have to bother to wait to signal his warriors, for twenty spiders closed in quickly. The fight was entirely one-sided, and the spiders had barely a chance to turn and face their attackers before seven elven bows sounded in unison.
Legolas narrowed his eyes as the sound of more singing could now be distinguished. Gesturing silently to his warriors, the prince began to close the distance between themselves and the voice. He did not need to urge caution, for the elves moved soundlessly through the trees, with barely a whisper or rustling leaf to announce their presence.
Breathing softly, Legolas lead his patrol forward, all the while listening sharply to the unseen voice. The elves crept silently through the trees, and Legolas sensed they were closing in upon the voice. As it began to sing once more, the prince was certain that in another few seconds, the patrol would meet the creature head-on.
Lazy Lob and crazy Cob
Are weaving webs to wind me,
I am far more sweet than other meat,
But still they cannot find me!
Shaking his head and deciding that the singing creature was apparently suicidal, Legolas briefly entertained the notion that one of the renegade dwarves from the previous night had lost its mind. He knew that it was not a dwarven voice, however, since the depth and timbre were much shallower than a dwarf's usual bass or baritone. Nor was it an elven voice since the accent was decidedly foreign. Could it be a man, then?
Here I am, naughty little fly;
You are fat and lazy.
You cannot trap me, though you try,
In your cobwebs crazy.
Legolas's musings were abruptly cut short as the elven patrol suddenly found itself practically colliding with an entire army of spiders. Recovering from the surprise much faster than the enraged spiders, Legolas and his archers quickly took action. Cursing himself for falling prey to the distraction of the song, Legolas knew he should have heard the spiders' approach. Half expecting to spot a man amidst the spiders, Mirkwood's youngest prince drew unusually careful aim. He noted that his warriors were also searching for the source of the voice. Satisfied that the victim would not escape them, Legolas allowed himself to relax slightly under the circumstances.
Barely a few minutes into the battle, the spiders began to retreat. The creatures hissed and sputtered as they careened into each other and the tree limbs in their mad haste to escape the deadly rain of elven arrows.
Whistling thrice, Legolas indicated for his patrol to pursue the fleeing spiders. The prince drew, aimed, and released automatically as his feet found secure footholds in the tree limbs without the help of his eyes. He had spaced his warriors close enough together that none would be able to pass through their ranks unawares. Confident that the singer was trapped in the melee, Legolas focused on the clicking mass of creatures in front of him. The prince let his eyes range over the army, in an effort to gauge their numbers, and in horror, he suddenly noticed that more than half of the spiders were retreating into the forest.
"Quickly! They are fleeing!" he shouted above the din, hoping to increase the rate of death his warriors were doling out.
The remaining spiders pressed forward, and Legolas knew that his small patrol could not possibly kill them fast enough to engage the ones that were retreating. Taking a gulp of air, the prince forced his mind to focus on the task at hand. Concentrate on what is essential. Prioritize, his mind told him. Legolas had intoned these words over centuries, and yet he often found himself pacing the worn road of the lessons to avoid panic during battle. His ritual worked, and he felt sharpness and clarity enter his mind. With the barest hint of a sigh, the prince allowed the retreating spiders to pass beyond his sight. He prayed that his brothers' patrols would defeat them.
Drawing and aiming easily, Legolas killed off two more spiders. It occurred to the young captain that the spiders were fighting more half-heartedly than usual. The creatures possessed an especial hatred for elves, and the feeling was most definitely mutual. However, the prince began to suspect that something besides the elves had managed to spark the spiders' ire today.
With a final hiss, the last spider died. The elves were left in silence. Now it was time to find the owner of the voice.
Legolas dropped silently out of his tree and noted that the elves had arrived in one of the clearings of the forest. His eyes narrowed as he observed that the spiders had woven webs between the trees, effectively seeking to cut off escape for any caught within the circle of trees. However, Legolas, frowned, the spiders had been unaware of the patrol. The creatures' total shock at finding themselves opposite elven archers was testimony to that fact. Furthermore, wood-elves did not usually travel on the ground, and the webs were all placed low. The sticky trap was not intended for elves.
This could only mean that the spiders had been chasing the singer, much in the same way that the elves had been seeking to track the stranger. Legolas felt tension in his shoulders as he studied the surrounding trees.
"There is nothing in the forest, Captain," Tuinir voiced what each of the elves had undoubtedly realized. A brief scouting run confirmed the fact.
The owner of the voice had simply disappeared.
"What if it waited until we were occupied with the spiders to flee in the opposite direction?" Calethor suggested half-heartedly.
"And what about the spiders that retreated?" Sarnon added timidly. "Do you think they could have been chasing the singer?"
"Then you suggest that either the spiders or we ourselves crossed the singer without seeing it before it could double back." Aewenor sounded skeptical.
"It did not pass us. Of this I am certain!" Galadthor was by far the veteran of the group and none challenged his assertion.
"But how did it then slip past the spiders? There were too many of them gathered to miss their prey." Lithanuir gestured to the pile of spider carcasses.
Silence stretched among the patrol as each sought to compose a plausible explanation.
"Nay, we did not miss it," Legolas reiterated glumly. "I fear," he said reluctantly, "that the Enemy has employed some new magic in his attack. We will go no further today." He realized that the afternoon shadows were fast waning and the day was closing. Legolas shook his head: the day had flown by with unusual haste and he was deeply confused by its events.
Suddenly, a sharp long whistle and a short whistle snapped the elves back to attention.
"Raenlas! They call for aid! Move!" Legolas bounded into the treetops and heard the warriors following suit. He cursed himself for having allowed such a large group of spiders to retreat into the forest and hoped that none had been injured because of his carelessness.
Ahead of him, he saw Raenlas waiting for the group's approach. As Legolas drew near, the runner matched his stride and the two elves raced through the trees together.
"Hananuir's group is surrounded."
Legolas inhaled sharply. He knew then where that retreating group of spiders had gone, and it was entirely his fault.
Straining his senses for the sounds of a battle, the prince plowed ahead and very nearly knocked both himself and another elf out of a tree. Raenlas had been a step behind and quickly steadied Legolas as the other elf slumped against the tree trunk.
Balanced once again, Mirkwood's youngest recognized a warrior from Hananuir's patrol. "Helediron?" he identified the figure.
A low whistle sounded on the ground below, and all three elves dropped from the branches at the gathering command.
"Well met, Legolas." Hananuir approached from the middle of the small clearing in which both patrols now stood.
"Hananuir, where are the spiders?" Legolas threw a sidelong look at Raenlas, who shrugged helplessly.
"That is just what we would like to know. Over fifty of them had us completely surrounded when all of sudden, they dispersed." Hananuir spread his hands apart to emphasize the obvious lack of spiders in the clearing.
"We also engaged a group of them who retreated despite their greater numbers," Legolas recalled.
Old fat spider spinning in a tree!
Old fat spider can't see me!
Won't you stop,
Stop your spinning and look for me?
The song floated out of the shadows to the left of where the elves were grouped.
"There it is again!"
"It comes from the west now!"
"We heard it before."
"The singing drew the spiders."
Several voices began speaking at once and Hananuir had to follow the rising of his hand with a sharp whistle. Instantly, the elves were quiet.
With narrowed eyes, Hananuir scanned the surrounding forest. "After defeating a mid-sized group of spiders, we heard the first song. We then began been following the source of the voice when we met the second group of spiders. The third group must have surrounded us during the first minutes of our attack."
"We too tried to track the singer, but somehow, we lost it. I do not understand how we have missed this creature!" Legolas balled his fists in frustration.
"Let us combine our forces then. Half of us will remain hidden in the trees and the rest will walk on the ground. We will not let this creature escape us again!" Hananuir was exceptionally even-tempered for an elf, but there was no mistaking the anger in his voice.
With no more noise than a passing shadow, the elves turned and headed deeper into the forest.
Legolas felt the tightness in his head that preceded a rare headache. He heard the name "Attercop" echoing in the deeper recesses of his mind and wondered what effect that train of thought would have on his sanity. He strained his hearing past the normal sounds of the forest, but nothing unusual triggered his senses. The singing had stopped.
Suddenly, Hananuir's short whistle to halt resonated from the forest floor, and Legolas immediately stopped. He looked down to where he knew his brother stood and was momentarily baffled. The young archer dropped from the trees, as did the other elves not on the ground. The sixteen elves then examined the scene before them.
Scattered amidst the tree trunks and piled haphazardly atop one another lay the carcasses of spiders. The creatures were strewn along the path, almost as if in a perverse children's game of tossing pebbles. Black blood oozed from the bodies, pooling in stinking clumps along the grass.
"Legolas," Hananuir's voice was barely a whisper, "did your patrol kill these spiders?"
Hardly daring to breathe, Legolas shook his head.
"Nor did ours."
The two brothers contemplated the scene in silence.
Stiffening slightly, Legolas straightened as he registered the unmistakable tread of elven footfalls. Joining his brother's glance, Hananuir looked northwards, as Girithron marched into the clearing, at the head of his patrol and the auxiliary guard company.
Stopping short at seeing the dead spiders, Girithron nodded abruptly. "Well," he began, "I am pleased that you at least have pursued our enemies and destroyed them! We have been chasing shadows the entire day without sight or sound of any foe."
Legolas stared incredulously at his brother while Hananuir replied tensely, "We did not kill these spiders."
Lifting an eyebrow in a close approximation of their sire, Girithron asked, "Then who did, and what have you been doing?"
Brushing off the implied insult, Hananuir and Legolas recounted their various skirmishes throughout the day.
"How many spiders?"
"I would say at least two hundred-odd dead…not counting these," Legolas gestured at the bodies in front of them.
"And another fifty retreated from my patrol before we met with Legolas," Hananuir added. "They were headed south," he specified, thereby negating the chance that those fifty now lay dead at the princes' feet.
"About three hundred then." Girithron frowned at the total. "I am concerned at the lapse of the Southern Company. These creatures should never have made it so far north."
Uneasy silence met the crown prince's observation.
With a sigh, Girithron broke the silence. "Come," he gestured, "the day wanes quickly and it would be folly to remain outside the settlement tonight. We have much to report and many questions to answer ere daybreak."
As the elves began the homeward march, Legolas could not resist delving into the most curious mystery of his day.
"Girithron, what did you think of the voice?"
"The voice?" The elder elf stopped in his tracks and regarded Legolas with concern. "You have been hearing a voice?"
"As did I! Both our patrols heard it as well, muindor, so do not seek to discredit Legolas. The voice was singing," Hananuir muttered darkly.
"Singing?" Girithron could not quite keep the sarcasm from his voice. "And what did the voice sing?"
Trading an exasperated glance with Hananuir, Legolas shook his head firmly. Neither brother was about to embarrass himself with an elven rendition of the "Attercop Song," as Mirkwood's youngest had dubbed it.
"We will discuss the matter in the palace," Hananuir smoothly cut across Girithron's quiet chuckle.
Legolas let his brothers draw ahead as his head began to pound softly. In cruel mockery of his mental turmoil, his mind stirred and taunted him with the lyrics of the songs. With "Old Tomnoddy" and "Attercop" dancing circles in his brain, Legolas walked faster, hoping to erase one of the more baffling days of his life from his memory.