A/N: Thank you to all who favourited, followed and reviewed the last chapter! Your feedback is what keeps me writing! BIG thanks to HollyHobbit13, Applejax XD, heroherondaletotheresuce, theviolinxx, KD Skywalker, Hyacinthia Phoenix, LegolasGreenleafLove and AdalineXC for reviewing!
Also, thank you so much to KD Skywalker for her invaluable help on this chapter.
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A Road Less Traveled: Chapter 4
Ana sighed as she took one last look at the place where she'd spent her entire life, wanting to take in every detail of the white palace walls of her childhood while she still could. Instead of the dresses she often wore, the princess was clad in clothing suited for long hours of riding and her long hair was braided down her back for convenience. The departure day had finally arrived and in a few short moments, the procession would ride out to take her to her new home in Lindon.
Throughout the palace courtyard, the guards were readying their mounts for the journey and from afar Ana caught sight of Faeron and his friend Veryan as they made certain that their packs were safely strapped in. She hadn't spoken to him since the ball; there had simply been no opportunity to do so as she readied herself for a new life in the West. Faeron, it seemed, had also been very busy fulfilling a multitude of pre-departure tasks given to him by the Captain of the Dorwinion guard, and Ana hoped that as the procession journeyed they might be given opportunities to speak again.
"So it seems that the day we have all dreaded for weeks has finally come," Thalion's saddened voice pulled Ana from her reverie and she threw her arms around him. The crown prince held his younger sister to him and embraced her fiercely.
"I will miss you every day," came her muffled reply as she buried her face in his shoulder, fighting the small tears that threatened to escape her, "Come visit me."
"I will, as soon as I am able," Thalion reassured as he stroked her hair, "You are far stronger than you think Ana and you will bear this with a grace and courage to make us all proud. I love you, little sister."
"I love you too," Ana swallowed the lump in her throat as she pulled away. She certainly did not see what Thalion saw in her, but she hoped that he was right and that she would find her courage on this life-changing journey. Her older brother had always been there to protect her, but now she was going to have to learn to protect herself.
"We will certainly have to visit," said Cuilwen, coming up beside her husband and lacing his fingers with hers, "Your niece or nephew will be anxious to meet their aunt."
She placed their joined hands over her pregnant middle and Silima, who was making sure that they hadn't forgotten to pack anything in the baggage train, stiffened ever so slightly. She was now used to the dull aching of her heart whenever she saw Thalion and his wife together, but even though she wanted the best for him, she still wished that he had chosen her. Perhaps the distance afforded to her by her new life in Lindon would be her saving grace and she could finally learn to be happy without him.
Soon, the preparations for departure were complete and it was not long before king Aradan and his queen arrived to bid farewell to their only daughter. As they whispered words of love and encouragement, they each took her in their arms and held her close. At nearly two thousand years old, she was leaving them and it was a heartbreaking notion even though they knew that this match was for the good of the kingdom.
"You will be happy, I am certain of it," said the king as he kissed Ana's forehead, "I am proud of you, my daughter."
Ana replied with a soft kiss to her father's cheek before hugging her mother one last time.
As he mounted his coal black stallion at the front of the procession, Legolas watched the scene with mixed emotions. He was enlivened by the thought that their adventure was finally beginning, at the thought of seeing distant lands with his own eyes when he could only dream of such sights. But even so, he was sorrowful for Ana and the great loss of her home and family – unlike him, she did not yearn to leave and he wished that there was something he could say to give her comfort.
Beside him, Veryan climbed up onto his horse and adjusted his bow and quiver.
"So begins the greatest adventure of our lives," he said, slightly puzzled as to why Legolas kept casting a glance towards the princess.
The prince nodded absentmindedly as his mind wandered. This was the day they had unknowingly been waiting for their whole lives, the day that would change everything. Legolas wondered if he would even feel at home in his father's halls when their journey ended. Would he even want to go back after everything he will have seen and experienced?
"When we return," he replied, "I'll wager that we will not be the same."
"I'll wager that you're right," said Veryan and he thought of Tauriel. When he returned, he would tell her how he really felt about her and hope that she would allow him to court her the way he longed to.
When the Captain was satisfied that all was ready for departure, Ana and Silima mounted their white mares in the middle of the procession. Several guards at the front sounded the horns to signal the beginning of the journey and they began to ride out of the courtyard. Outside the palace gates stood a large gathering of elves on either side of the road who had come from all over the realm to see their princess off.
Amid the cheers and the white flower petals being tossed into the air by various onlookers, Ana moved her gaze back towards the palace where her family stood in the courtyard, their silhouettes slowly disappearing as she rode further and further away.
"Are you alright Ana?" asked Silima, taking the princess' hand in hers for a comforting squeeze.
After a few moments, she shook her head and willed herself to find the courage nestled deep inside of her. A small smile played on Ana's lips.
"I will be. We have a new home now."
She would bear this with grace and bravery, just like Thalion said.
Two weeks passed on the road as the company traveled through the vast and empty land of green hills; the earth was slightly dryer here with no sign of rivers or forests since they had left the lush valleys of Dorwinion. Normally such a journey could be achieved in a matter of days but for the safety of the princess and because their baggage train would not permit more speed, they were riding at a snail's pace.
On most days they began riding at dawn and by dusk the camp was made for the night. Legolas and Veryan shared a tent, which they put up near some of the guards. At first the others had regarded these newcomers with suspicion, they could not fathom why there should be two foreigners among their company, but gradually that distrust faded with the sharing of stories around the campfire and tales – although fabricated ones – of their home in Imladris.
Occasionally, the Captain would place them on watch of the camp at night and it was at those moments that Legolas reflected on what a strange turn his life had taken. He wondered if Thranduil was scouring the land for his missing son. Deep down in the recesses of his heart, he felt guilty for betraying his father's trust and he often thought of their final conversation in the king's study. Thranduil had been proud of him then, but he pondered now on how different their relationship would be when he returned home. Would his father still be proud to have him for a son?
Every doubt he'd had about leaving home was tenfold now that their journey had begun but Veryan always reassured him that while their lives would be different when they returned to Mirkwood, it would be for the best. The prince always hoped that he was right.
On his nightly patrols of camp, Legolas also allowed his mind to drift to Ana. They hadn't spoken since the ball and for weeks on the road he had only ever seen her from afar, when he looked back to the middle of the procession as they rode or when she and Silima were helping to set up their shared tent for the night.
It was on one such night, after a particularly long day of riding, that Ana lay awake while her lady in waiting slept soundly on the bed beside hers. This was not the first of her sleepless nights as thought after thought invaded her mind to the point where sinking into the land of dreams was near impossible. When they were riding and Silima was awake to converse with her, it was rather easy to keep from thinking of home, but when everything came to a halt at dusk, she was left alone to reflect on what her new life might hold for her and nothing to quell the host of emotions that raced through her.
Ana sighed as she stared up at the ceiling of her tent, tossing and turning as she wondered about her betrothed. Was he as kind as she was told? Would he be pleased with what he saw when her procession arrived? Would he make her happy?
The princess decided that rest would not come to her this night and slowly slid out from under the furs, being careful not to wake Silima. Ana slowly shook her head, as though to rid it of all unwanted thoughts that continued to plague her, and walked over to her leather pack to retrieve a warm cloak to wear over her nightgown. As she quietly pushed open the flaps of the tent and began to wander about the camp, she listened to the stillness of the night and enjoyed the gentle caress of the soft breeze across her face.
Ana wandered aimlessly, weaving her way through tents. All around the camp, everything was dark save for the stars that lit up the night sky like thousands of sparkling lanterns. Somehow the mere sight of them was enough to bring peace to her heart and make her forget her troubles for a few moments.
When she finally managed to tear her eyes from the heavens, the princess realized that she had walked much further than she had intended, and she caught sight of the warm, glowing light of a campfire beyond a small circle of tents as the smell of burning wood soon filled her nostrils.
Legolas, who was keeping watch over the camp that night, lifted his head at the sound of approaching footsteps and was surprised to see the princess emerging from the shadows. The fire illuminated her features with every small step forward and it seemed to him that she was just as stunned by his presence.
"Is everything alright?" concern flashed across Legolas' face as he noticed the flicker of sadness in her eyes.
"I could not sleep," Ana admitted, biting her lip. With a small incline of his head, he motioned for her to take the spot next to him and she timidly sat on the edge of the log. With a small sigh, she closed her eyes and allowed her eyelids to paint vivid yellow and orange hues as the heat of the flames washed over her face.
"Do you miss your home, Faeron?" she asked. Legolas was thankful that she'd kept her eyes closed and was unable to notice his slight flinching at her use of his false name.
Did he miss his home? Certainly he did, at times, but that was because the familiarity of his father's halls was safe compared to what awaited him in the world. At one point in his life, safe would have been enough for the prince to aspire to, but not anymore.
"I do sometimes," He pushed a fallen lock of hair from his face and stared down at his boots, "But I have been told that pushing the boundaries of one's comfort to experience all that this world has to offer us is the only way to truly be alive."
Ana's cheeks were now a slight rosy colour from the heat of the campfire and she looked up at him in a doe-eyed gaze. "Do you truly believe that?"
It was something that Veryan had told him early on in their journey, and though at first he had been skeptical, Legolas was starting to believe in the promise of those words. They now proved their magic as a small smile appeared on the corners of her lips.
"I do, Ana."
She didn't know what it was about the way he said her name, but his soft, comforting voice warmed her heart in all those places that were difficult to reach.
Legolas returned her smile, pleased to see that her previous sadness had melted away and secretly delighted that he had been the one to lift her spirits.
"I have something to show you," he said.
Ana playfully arched her eyebrow, "And what would that be?"
The prince rose to his feet and held his hand out to her. "Do you trust me?"
"I hardly know you," she replied, biting her lip to hide an unbidden smile.
A slight grin appeared across Legolas' face as he continued to hold his hand out to her. Within moments, she slid her palm into his and allowed him to draw her away from the fire towards a small gathering of tall trees on the outskirts of the camp.
"At my home I often climb the trees so that I can watch the stars," he explained when she gave him a puzzled look, "Every qualm in the world appears so insignificant under a clear, night sky."
They stood under the shadow of an ancient oak whose branches seemed to reach forever into the heavens and the only thing that Ana could think of was that she was not a climber.
"I'm afraid I haven't had much practice," she hesitated only to be met with another one of Legolas' reassuring smiles.
"I won't let you fall."
It was a promise and Ana knew that he meant to keep it. Without another word, she watched as he expertly climbed up to the lower branches of the tree before holding out his hand to pull her up. They slowly scaled the tree, Legolas stopping every once in a while to make certain that Ana was alright, until finally they came to a sturdy branch near the top.
Legolas perched himself and leaned his back against the tree trunk while Ana made herself as comfortable as she could while trying not to look down at the ground below them. It was a very long way down and just the thought of such a fall made her shiver.
"There they are," said the prince as he looked up at the night sky and all thoughts of falling vacated Ana's mind as she beheld the beauty of millions of white lights.
"How is it that they are so much more beautiful from up here?"
"I am not certain. Perhaps it is that we are removed from the rest of the world and can better appreciate them nestled safely in the branches of the trees," mused Legolas.
"Perhaps in my new home I will find a tree in which to watch the stars."
The prince brought his gaze back to her soft, hazel eyes. "It is going to be alright. I promise."
Ana gave him a small smile in response, "Are you always so certain of everything?"
Legolas shook his head. He was not certain of very much, especially where his own life was concerned. Once they stood in the shadows of the Blue Mountains, the pieces of his life were going to be scattered to the wind and he was going to have to face the consequences that awaited him when he returned home. He did not know what fate held in store for him and Veryan when this was over, but he was certain that with time, Ana would find her place among the elves of Lindon and before long she would cease to long for home.
"I am afraid there are many things I am uncertain of," he admitted finally, "Especially when it comes to my own father. We have a rather...difficult relationship."
"Why is that?"
"He places duty before all else, including his son. Since the death of my mother he has immersed himself in grooming me to take over the...family business when he steps down. I love him dearly but I wish he could see that there is more to this life than duty and obligation. I wish that he would simply be my father, rather than my -"
He'd nearly said 'king' but Legolas managed to stop himself just in time, settling on a different, more ambiguous choice of words so as not to blow his cover, "...rather than constantly holding me up to an impossible set of standards."
Ana's gaze softened as she realized they had broached a rather sensitive subject. In truth she was reminded of Thalion's relationship with their father. Ever since her brother had begun learning about the administration of the kingdom, their father had nearly ceased being anything but the king to Thalion. The emphasis was on grooming him to rule the kingdom one day, not on strengthening the bond between father and son.
Ana shifted her position, instinctively inching closer to her companion as she tried to avoid the edge of the branch they were sitting on. She could feel the soft warmth of his body as they now sat side by side and she slowly peeked down the length of the trunk, examining with apprehension the distance from where they were perched to the ground below.
"I'm sorry," she said, placing her hand over his without thinking. She wanted to find some way to comfort him, to convey to him that he was not alone.
A rather surprised Legolas looked down at their joined hands before meeting her gaze and Ana was thankful for the darkness of the night as it concealed the very pronounced pink of her cheeks.
"My own father can be difficult at times," Ana continued, averting her gaze and quickly pulling her hand away. "My brother is next in line to rule and father reminds him of this every moment of every day. Duty to the kingdom will always come before all else, even his children, which I suspect is also why he sought an alliance with Lindon to begin with."
"Why did he?"
"The Blue Mountains are rich in silver and Círdan the Shipwright controls the resources of the region," she explained, "You see, despite the front my father likes to put up for the rest of the world, Dorwinion is suffering since the breakdown of trade relations with Mirkwood. The exports to the woodland realm were our greatest source of income but now that my father and King Thranduil are less than amicable with one another, we have to look for trading partnerships elsewhere."
"And he is marrying you off to cement that partnership with Lindon," Legolas interjected with a small, sympathetic shake of his head.
What the princess said next utterly surprised Legolas so that if he were not so used to climbing trees, he might very well have fallen from the branch.
"Yes, well it is hardly surprising for he has previously attempted something of the like. He once tried to arrange my marriage to the woodland king's son but the negotiations were unsuccessful."
"What?" He choked out the word before he could stop himself and Ana gave him an odd look.
"My father wished for me to marry the woodland prince and King Thranduil apparently was not opposed to the idea, but then they had the silly falling out over wine and they each vowed not to have anything to do with one another, much less consent to becoming family."
Legolas was at a loss for words as Ana continued to speak. A flood of emotions raced through him but the most pronounced of them all was resentment. That the only reason he hadn't been forced into an arranged marriage was due to the injured prides of two stubborn kings was more than mildly disturbing, then there was also the fact that his father had told him nothing of these negotiations. Not so much as a word in passing! Did he not deserve to have a say in his future? Apparently the king did not think so.
Even though he was angry with his father for even entertaining the idea of an arranged marriage for him, the prince swept his gaze over the elleth beside him, wondering deep in his heart how different his life would have been if she had become his wife. Outwardly, Legolas hid his feelings with ease, however the turmoil inside him was making it difficult for him to think of anything intelligent to say.
"A dispute over wine does indeed sound silly," he recovered, averting his gaze so that she could not see how affected he was by such a revelation. This would only lead him down a path that he was reluctant to tread with questions that he simply could not answer without giving himself away.
"I certainly believe it does," Ana agreed with a small smile, "Have you ever visited the forest of Mirkwood?"
"I have," Legolas said cautiously, "The Lord Elrond sends delegations to the woodland realm at times."
The princess looked up at him with curiosity, "Then you must have met the king and his son."
"I've heard much on the subject of prince Legolas," Ana said, cutting him off before he could stir the conversation away from his homeland, "I always wondered if any of it was true."
Despite the corner he could feel himself backing into, the prince raised an eyebrow in curiosity, "What have you heard?"
Ana blushed slightly, running her hands through locks of her hair, "I've heard that he is quite...beautiful."
She did not know why it embarrassed her to reveal such a thing but the smirk that suddenly appeared across her companion's face did nothing to lessen the scarlet of her cheeks.
"and..." she continued, "I've also heard that he is a fierce warrior, his marksmanship unrivalled throughout the realm. I can only imagine that he has had his share of adventures."
"He had never left Mirkwood, actually, until recently" the prince said after a few moments, and the words seemed to deliver a blow to his heart. "His father always forbade it and he...obeyed without question. He is forever prisoner behind the walls of the king..."
Legolas sighed, leaning his head against the trunk of the tree. Ana certainly painted a desirable picture, but what would she say if she found out that the ellon she spoke of was not like the one in the tales she'd heard?
As he spoke, he could hear Veryan's words echoing through him and telling him that he was too cautious, that he never took chances. He'd denied it from the moment they snuck out of the caves, insisting that running off without his father's permission was proof that he was perfectly capable of taking chances – even though he'd needed very much convincing. But now the more he heard himself describing 'Prince Legolas', the more he realized that Veryan was right all along and this was not who he wanted to be anymore.
He turned his gaze to Ana, his blue eyes meeting flecks of soft hazel and she smiled sweetly at him.
"It sounds as though prince Legolas might benefit from pushing the limits of his comfort," she said softly.
"I think you are right," a small smile made its way across his lips and as they continued to watch the stars, nestled in the branches of the great oak, silently Legolas vowed to begin taking his own advice.
When the first signs of daybreak began to lighten the sky and the stars slowly faded, the prince escorted Ana back to her tent in the centre of the camp. The land was not yet bathing in the golden light of dawn but it was only a matter of time before the company set off on another full day's ride. As they walked together, Legolas observed her from the corner of his eye. The sorrowful look in her eyes when she found him earlier that night was replaced with something else entirely. She seemed at peace now and for that his heart was glad.
Just after sunrise, the Captain gave orders to begin dismantling the camp as he hoped to cover a lot of ground before sunset. After spending much of the morning searching frantically for Legolas, who had missed breakfast, Veryan was reluctantly helping some of the guards secure the baggage train. He had heard some rather disturbing news among them that the procession was going to take the road through the south of Mirkwood to avoid losing time by traveling around the forest. Not only was the forest dangerous after coming under the shadow of Dol Guldur, with a manner of evil creatures claiming the dark woods as their home, but taking the road through Mirkwood also meant that there was a chance that they might be discovered, for surely the king had his guard scouring beyond the elven borders for his missing son.
This was going to be a problem and Veryan had wanted to find Legolas to warn him of what he'd heard that morning over breakfast but his searching had been in vain. The baggage train was nearly secured when Legolas finally made an appearance amid the disassembling of tents and the putting out of fires as the company made ready to take the road.
"Where have you been?" Veryan asked in a slightly raised voice as he watched Legolas approach, "You were not at breakfast early this morning."
The prince shrugged, unable to keep the small smile from his lips and clearly in a world of his own as he walked right passed a rather annoyed Veryan, completely oblivious to the alarm in his friend's voice, and into their tent so that he could prepare for the journey.
While most of their belongings were now packed away, Legolas' weapons and armour remained next to his bed roll where he'd left them the night before. He quickly got dressed and strapped in his quiver before sharpening his knives and placing them in their sheath.
Veryan walked in rather hurriedly just as the prince was pulling his bracers over his forearms.
"We have to talk."
Legolas looked up and furrowed his eyebrows. "What's wrong?" He was puzzled as to why Veryan wore such a grave expression on his face, normally he was the one who worried and the fact that now their roles seemed to have reversed was slightly alarming to him.
"The Captain is taking the procession through the South of Mirkwood. I overheard the guards at breakfast this morning."
"Are you certain?" The prince quickly stood up as a shadow crossed his face, and his heart accelerated. He was deeply troubled by such news and now the good mood he was in from a night of watching stars simply was no more.
Veryan nodded and began to pace the floor of their tent, deeply disturbed by the idea of having to cross through the darkness of the forest. "They are taking the East Bight to avoid losing several days by traveling around the forest."
"But that will lead us close to Dol Guldur!" Legolas breathing came hard and fast now as he contemplated what this meant, "There are foul creatures that live within those woods, especially near the fortress. Our kin, under the rule of Oropher, were driven to the north of the forest by that very darkness which sickened and destroyed the greenwood as we knew it."
"This is why I was looking for you this morning." Veryan tightened the muscles in his jaw, "Where were you?"
The prince said nothing and the guard sighed in exasperation, "I do not know what has gotten into you, but I do know that you are keeping something from me, Legolas, and I do not like it."
Legolas pressed his lips into a thin line as he watched Veryan getting more impatient by the moment.
"I was speaking with the princess," he said finally after what seemed an eternity of silence, and he watched the look on Veryan's face go from frustration to puzzlement.
"Until the early hours of morn," he stated flatly to which the prince could do nothing but nod.
"We've spoken before, at the masked ball," he explained with a small sigh, "That is why I was gone so long when you found me on the balcony. Then last night, she could not sleep, she was homesick and I showed her the stars to lift her spirits..."
"You do remember that she is betrothed, this procession is for her after all," reminded Veryan with an arch of his eyebrow.
Legolas scowled in response, "Truly you do not think that I would forget that. We speak together but these are nothing more than platonic conversations. We are friends."
"You must be careful around her. One wrong word could ruin everything and your princess might very well be the reason we get sent back."
"She is not my princess and her name is Ana." it was Legolas' turn now to pace the floor of the tent as he continued to shoot rather annoyed glances at his friend, "Now I think we have a more serious matter to attend to. The procession must not enter Mirkwood for I fear what we would encounter. The spiders grow bolder."
Veryan nodded, "We must speak with the Captain, convince him to take the way around, for the spiders may not be the only fearful creatures that we encounter. Your father will have surely increased the patrols of the forest guard since your disappearance and extended them beyond the borders of the kingdom."
Legolas groaned. He almost preferred an encounter with the spiders to one with his father after the stunt he'd pulled. The wrath of Thranduil was legendary across Arda and none wished to be on the receiving end. Aside from the risk of being recognized once they set foot in Mirkwood, Legolas and Veryan knew that the procession was not equipped to fend off the dangers of the forest.
The prince retrieved his bow on the other side of the tent and slung it over his back. Veryan knew instantly knew from the look on Legolas' face that it was time to go. They had to warn the Captain and try to convince him to change their course.
As the camp bustled with activity all around them, the Captain faced the wall of his tent as he listened to the concerns of the two foreign elves in his company, while a few of his guards stood outside the door.
"In that forest, there is an evil that does not sleep," Veryan said, "It will be far safer to go around the forest-"
"And far longer," interrupted the Captain as he turned to face them, "It is nearly sixty leagues to go around, but by traveling right through the East Blight we cut our time in half. Our task is to deliver the princess on time for her wedding to the son of the Shipwright."
"Is her safety not also a priority?" cried Legolas, clenching his fist in frustration, "I can promise you now that taking the path through that forest will be a grave error in judgement."
"The princess will be safe," the Captain said sternly, "I can promise that if the both of you continue to question my decision, it will be your gravest error. These are my best fighters and they are more than prepared to face what lies in those woods."
"I very much doubt that," the prince replied icily before showing himself out of the tent. He'd had enough of this foolishness and he was afraid that if he remained in the presence of the Captain, he might very well do something rash.
Veryan watched as the prince slipped behind the tent flap before turning his attention back to the Captain, who by this point was far from amused.
"What of the woodland king? He will not be pleased when he finds out that we are traveling through Mirkwood," he tried, hoping that this would dissuade the crossing of the forest, but the Captain simply shook his head.
"King Aradan has already arranged for safe passage through the woods. We will receive no trouble from Thranduil," he said, "My decision is final. We will pass through Mirwood."
Veryan could do nothing but nod his head and show himself out of the tent the way that Legolas had only moments earlier. As he exited the tent, the Silvan guard wondered why Thranduil would give safe passage through his lands to elves of Dorwinion. He and King Aradan hated one another and deep down, Veryan had a nagging feeling that Thranduil knew what fate awaited the procession. That there was some sort of nefarious incentive to his sudden...generosity.
He sighed as he went off to find Legolas. They were going through Mirkwood and there was nothing to be done about it.
Legolas and Veryan were quiet and solemn for three days as the company rode towards their homeland, a shift that had not gone unnoticed by Ana who realized that something was off since the morning her new friend had walked her back to her tent. On the third day, the procession reached the south-east border of the forest of Mirkwood, entering via the East Blight.
The trees stood tall and menacing on either side of them as they traveled through the darkness of the forest, while above them was a canopy of heavy foliage so impenetrable that not even the rays of the morning sun could filter through it.
After traveling for several hours along the old path, the forest appeared to swallow them whole in its darkness and the air was heavy and dense so that breathing had become somewhat of a challenge. Everywhere she looked, Ana could see thick webs of spider silk hanging from the gnarled branches of the trees and more than once she had to whisper soothing words of comfort to her mare who appeared more and more reluctant to carry on the deeper they ventured into the woods. The mount of one of guards at the back of the procession was also having difficulties urging his horse onward. The beast had come to a complete halt and was refusing to go any further, and Ana watched as the rider tried in vain to lead his mount forward.
"This forest is ill," she whispered to Silima, who rode beside her, as both ellith continued to look around them, "I've never seen or felt anything like it. I am afraid I have not felt at ease since the moment we crossed these borders, the sickness of these woods is almost infectious."
Silima looked back as she heard the whinnying of a horse and watched as the horse who had stopped behind them took off in the direction whence they came, abandoning his rider.
"I do not like this," she said, examining the spider silk that infested the forest like a plague. Ana nodded and placed her hand at the hilt of the dagger that Thalion had given her for the journey. Her heart raced as she realized that she might very well have to use it, for there was no telling what foul things were concealed withing these trees. She hoped that they would not have to find out, but the nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach indicated otherwise.
The old road they were treading was unkempt with the twisted roots of trees sticking out treacherously in their path and occasionally in the heavy silence, the snap of a twig or the rustling of leaves put Legolas on high alert. He and Veryan had kept their eyes peeled for danger from the moment they set foot in the forest, knowing what lurked in these woods. Now the propensity of spider webs as well as the agitation of the horses alerted them to one very important thing.
They were being watched.
Something was moving unseen in the shadows of the forest and the prince sensed as the webs became thicker, drawing on the sickness of the woods, that the company was coming closer to Dol Guldur. A place that his kin did not dare approach and one that he certainly wished they had stayed as far away from as possible.
"We are not alone as we approach the fortress," Veryan's hushed words echoed Legolas' own concerns and he nodded, placing a firm grip on his bow as he search the dark recesses of the woods.
In the middle of the procession, Ana and Silima watched anxiously as the guards drew their weapons. The princess unsheathed her dagger and held it out in front of her, her heart accelerating as she looked about her in every direction.
Legolas was just about to say that they should speak with the Captain when all of a sudden, the webs in the trees began to vibrate. Veryan and the prince exchanged worried looks as the vibrating became more pronounced and the leaves in the trees began to rustle violently. Suddenly, a large spider dropped down from one of the trees onto two members of the guard and chaos ensued as dozens of hairy, black masses began to drop down from the treetops to attack the procession. At the sight of the dark creatures, the mounts became restless and panicked, some of them bucking their riders off and running into the depths of the forest, never to be seen again as a few of the spiders chased them down.
Legolas pulled several arrows from his quiver and shot one that was making straight for him before unsheathing his knives and plunging them into the creature's head. All around the sounds of yelling, screaming and the unsheathing of weapons resounded as the spiders continued to attack, coming down from their nests to enjoy their hunt. Veryan had begun climbing the trees as one by one, elven guards were wrapped in spider silk before being taken up to the nest for feeding time, and he hacked through the webs in an effort to rescue his comrades. He soon realized that his efforts were in vain as the spiders were too quick, too strong and too hungry to allow their prey to escape. It became clear very quickly that the elves were outnumbered and this was a fight that they could not win.
In the disarray, Legolas did not see one of the spiders coming down above him and was caught by surprise when the creature pinned him to the ground. The prince grabbed hold of its giant pincers, forcing them away with all his strength as they snapped near his face. By some miracle he managed to kick the spider in the belly, giving him enough time to reach for one of his knives so that he could thrust the blade right through its body. Legolas hurriedly pushed the carcass off him and rushed to his feet, adrenaline coursing through him, as he jumped in to help some of the other guards.
As he fought his way through the chaos, hacking and stabbing at an endless stream of spiders and webs, Legolas realized that he could no longer see Ana or Silima. His heart slammed against the walls of his chest and as he stood amidst the fighting, a feeling of dread rose from the pit of his stomach.
"Ana!" he called out desperately searching for a sign of her as he pushed over several spider carcasses.
It was all to no avail. The princess was gone and Legolas was beginning to fear the worst.
A/N: Sorry about the cliffy! I just couldn't resist. Please review and let me know whether or not you're enjoying this story. Is it worth continuing? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Anyway, I've got something really exciting planned for the next chapter and I'm really anxious to write it, so stay tuned!
Also, for some really awesome Legomances check out KD Skywalker's Reflections series, especially Reflections Remixed, her stories as some of my favourite! Another amazing one is Raider-K's Wanderlust.