A Tale of Mirkwood - Chapter Two - The Road East
The Orcs battled Legolas fiercely. He had escaped their grasp unharmed, but was separated from his company. Stranded and alone, Legolas now had only what he carried on his person: his clothing of green and brown, his longbow, a quill of arrows, and a long, white elven knife.
The attack and pursuit had driven him far south of the mountains, deep into the perilous domain of the spiders. He knew well of the villainous spiders, who were eager to drink the blood of any man, elf, or orc who had the misfortune to become tangled in its web. A lone Elf wandering in a land such as that, even in daylight, was hazardous indeed. He stood within a clearing and puzzled as to his next move. "Returning the way I came would be folly. The enemy is bound to search that way." Legolas knelt to the earth. Fresh tracks could clearly be seen in the disturbed soil. "Orcs, and many." He stood and extracted his longbow; he would keep it in hand. "Southeast is the wisest direction to take," he thought, and strode off again for the Veridis path.
Hours passed, and evening sky loomed overhead. Legolas abruptly stumbled upon something he did not intend, and would have rather avoided. In front of him stood saddened trees snared with mammoth webs. The silky ropes hung like walls of a great labyrinth. He could go no further.
His sharp Elven ears heard a clicking noise and within a flash, Legolas' bow was armed. His eyes rose, and high in the gnarled, twisted trees sat an inky spider. He could see its many eyes staring at him. It was not as large as some he had slain throughout his long lifetime, but even the smallest in Mirkwood was deadly.
It sat, poised, clicking delightedly to itself. What a treat! A nice, juicy elf, all alone. "You fearful of little me? I cannot harm a great Elf like you," it said in a rasping, hissing voice.
Legolas said nothing but stepped cautiously back.
"Where are you going?" the spider asked. It made no movement to overtake him; it simply sat in the tree, waiting. Legolas stepped further backward. His sense of dread was increasing every moment.
"Now Siiliis! Catch him!" Legolas whirled his head up and saw a massive spider sinking down on him. He bolted out of the way and loosed his bow once more. The giant spider screeched and green, slimy ooze flowed from the wound. It made a horrible hissing cry and then lunged for him. He cast down his bow and drew his knife, slicing three legs from the enormous beast before stabbing it fatally in its belly. He stepped back and wiped the filth off his sword with the spider's wooly coat. He picked up his bow and glanced back to the small spider; it was still sitting in the tree, now trembling. Legolas put away his knife, and resumed his journey.
* * *
The sun began to diminish. He reached the Old Forest Road, but that did not comfort him. He feared it would be watched. Not an hour passed before all was dark. He stopped still on the dark road and grasped his bow. His keen elven ears had not failed him. Voices ahead on the path! Legolas could hear their loud cursing approaching fast. Still even more voices made Legolas turn his head toward the north.
"Gâshk, you're a simple-minded fool!" the voice said in the Common Speech. "That elf's here, I tell you!"
Legolas quickly reacted to his predicament and lightly jumped off the path and into the underbrush by an immense beech. He pulled out his long blade, rested it behind him and sat perfectly still. Foul voices approached on the path. Three orcs were seen, filth ridden and sinister. Their evil eyes scanned about them. One had only eight fingers on his left, blackened hand. "I know I heard something," it said.
"You always think you've heard something," said another. The wind rustled some leaves.
"Quiet!" The eight fingered one whispered odiously. They all stood still and listened attentively. An Orc slowly approached Legolas' hiding place; it leaned toward the brush, peering in. Legolas sat perfectly still; the hilt of his blade gripped tightly in his right hand. The Orc, desperate to see inside the brush leaned forward still, until suddenly, a loud howl was heard as six Orcs pounced onto the road. All blades were instantly drawn and then let fall at their sides. A massive Orc stepped forth. Legolas immediately recognized him as being among the same Orcs that attacked him earlier.
"You scraping dogs!" it spoke. The three from the east merely stood, unamused. "You missed a hard battle, but now you hunt with us."
"We have our orders, Ugnúl," said the eight fingered one. "Khásh's orders were to patrol the road."
"Oh, haven't you heard?" Ugnúl let out a vindictive laugh. "He's not heard." The gang around Ugnúl also laughed wickedly. "Khásh is dead. I'm in command now. Got that Lâsh?" he said, pointing to the eight-fingered one. "There's a nasty little elf out there that I mean to catch."
"And what makes you think he's been this way?" Lâsh replied.
"We passed his handiwork," said one of Ugnúl's cronies. "Wretched spiders! Nearly spoilt our sport!"
"But he won't get very far," Ugnúl assured the gang. "He'll be heading north. I'll lay wagers he's been along this road."
"No elf has passed our watch, I can vouch for that," Lâsh snarled.
"Vouch? Ha!" Ugnúl smirked. "You idiots wouldn't notice if a troll passed you! We take the road. We'll catch him."
"He's not gone past I tell you!"
"Caught you napping, did he? Well, I'd like to see him get by me! Let's go!" The gang of Orcs moved resolutely eastward, and again all fell quiet in the forest. Legolas sat still for a while, pondering his next move. He shook his head, not liking the choices laid out for him. The safest route, he believed, now lay ahead, not behind. Farther south he must travel, then turn east until reaching the Celduin River. From there, home was but a short distance, and a familiar one.
He rose, and once again set out into the cursed darkness. He had much fear of what lay hidden in the south. Orcs frequently had legions moving to Dol Guldur which still festered with evil. Wolves allegiant to Sauron, roamed in packs, ready to sniff out any intruder in their territory.
* * *
Night slowly passed, and a subdued daylight broke in. He was fatigued; the past day's trials had been great, but he passed no place suitable or safe enough for rest. A slight wind brushed Legolas' face, but the air was heavy and hot.
He journeyed on throughout the day, his heart growing discouraged. The dank air plagued him greatly. He crossed paths with no one and was acutely aware of every noise the wood made. It was dark under the tall boughs of the massive trees, and yet he knew that the sun was high in the sky. He passed neither stream nor pond, and his thirst was growing. The trees encircled him like giant, brown walls, stretched out as far as his elven eyes could see.
The sun began to sink in the west, but he could not see the dying orb. As darkness grew, the air fell even heavier. Orcs would come out of their foul holes soon, and be hot after his trail. He knew they would have realized their error by now, and altered their route. Of course, an elf leaves no trail. No marks on the earth, at least. Loathsome wolves, however, were fierce stalkers. Not even an elf can escape what a wolf can smell. And where the wolf howls, an Orc is surely near.
Fortunately, one of the places a Wood-elf is most at home in is a tree. He stood at the trunk of a beech and let his soft hand rest upon its rough bark. He could feel the life under his palm, circulating and emitting a strong essence. Legolas jumped up, caught the bough, and pulled himself up. He nimbly climbed the sturdy branches, up and up. He was now near a hundred feet from the ground when at last his head protruded from the roof of the forest. The sky was a radiant golden orange, and nearest to the earth, a dusky purple. Up on the tips of the treetops, Legolas closed his eyes as he felt the sweet, cool air sweep through his long, flaxen hair. The air was fresh, not weighty as in the bowels of the forest.
* * *
The sun set, and night crept in. Evil would soon be underfoot. Gazing up into the sky, Legolas could see the glorious twinkling of Eärendil, the Elves most beloved star. More stars peaked out, and Legolas' spirits were lifted. Yet under their soft, watchful gaze, he knew he could not remain. He must be on the move, ere the gruesome creatures caught whiff of him.
With deep regret, he lowered himself neath the forest roof and all was dark. Again the heavy air strangled his throat, but linger, he could not.
He climbed down ten feet and began to make his trek to the next tree. Up so high in the trees, no wolf's nose could go. He lightly leaped from branch to branch, ever careful not to slip. It was slow moving in the gloom, but after he had passed three miles in the trees, rest was desperately needed, and well deserved. He found a mighty bough and lay atop it. His eyes remained open all night, while his head filled with dreams.
Far off, now and then throughout the night, the sullen howl of wolves could be heard. Not close enough to alarm him, but he knew he was being hunted. He could feel the disturbing threat of evil steadily grow closer, and yet remain at a distance. For now, nonetheless, he would be safe.
* * *
The darkness slowly rose from the thick of the woods, as daylight began to stream in. It would be safe now to move to the forest floor. He climbed down the tree, jumped the last fifteen feet, and landed by a dark stream. Indeed, he was thirsty; his mouth was exceedingly parched. He gazed into the pool, suspiciously. A white foam churned on the top, and a fetid vapor arose from its slimy rocks. It was not fit to drink. He would simply have to wait.
There was no path for him to follow, and even if there had been, he would not set foot on it. Evil has eyes in all places. And undoubtedly, all roads would be watched.
The woodland seemed eerily calm as he walked along that morning. No birds sang out. No wind blew. No leaves rustled. The air remained just as heavy as the day before. Evil was near, even though the sun shone. All was quiet and still.
Legolas pushed on quickly through the day, running like a deer from a hunter. Even though he had now traveled more than twenty leagues south, the peril in his mind did not diminish. It lingered with him throughout his journey, and each time he paused for rest, it seemed to rise again. He knew wrath was coming for him.
* * *
Night was already beginning to fall. Too soon. He had not traveled far enough to his liking. Orcs can be fearless hunters and move with swift speed when they have the notion. It would not take them long to discover his route. He resolved to run on until dusk and then make his home in the trees as he had done the night before.
He wished to be on the easternmost edge of Mirkwood in two days at the most. He only hoped that he could remain elusive until then. He could handsomely slay a large group of Orcs by himself alone. Orcs, however, are renowned for moving in hordes, ready to stamp out and slaughter any poor tree, beast, or creature they meet. Legolas knew he could not defend himself against a strengthened squadron; fatigued as he was. The lack of water, food, and sleep was beginning to affect him. He simply must make it to the rim. Once there, moving would be made much easier. The dense air, made running arduous. Legolas' lungs ached.
It was not long before it was too dark and dangerous to run any further. Legolas discovered an ancient oak with a massive trunk, and long, gnarled branches. Climbing the great tree proved difficult for his enervated body, but once high above the earth, he again moved with ease as he began his nightly expedition from tree to tree.
The menace that continued to haunt his senses had not waned with the setting of the sun. Rather, it intensified. Legolas' bright elven eyes flared in the dark of the wood, searching for any sign of danger. Little light, however, allowed them to see very little.
Goblins! Legolas could feel them approach from afar. They felt distant, but moving swiftly, and coming closer. "No rest again tonight, and I am already weary. If they are on the move, so must I be. I cannot linger and wait for their impending visit."
Lightly he stepped from branch to branch, crawling through walls of thick foliage. The forest grew denser. Immense vines choked his path until there was no way to go but back or down. The thorns which grew on the vines were small, but sharp as a dragon's claw. "Dragon's Snare." The slightest touch would tear the flesh. They scratched at his hands and pulled at his clothes.
Legolas drew out his long, pearly, white knife and struck mightily at the cords. They were sliced, and broke away slightly. He slashed his blade repeatedly against the hardy ropes, but in the end, to no avail. Crumbling vines broke loose only to reveal more vines adorned with thorny hooks. Advancing proved impossible; he could move forward in the trees no longer. Thus, he was now faced with a daunting dilemma: to remain there for the night, or return to the earth and make his way on foot. Neither choice was free of risk. To remain in the trees, seemed unwise. Orcs were moving in at that very moment. His other choice, however, was equally unappealing. Wolves would surly pick up his scent. He could not mask his trail.
Legolas decided his best chances stood below the trees, rather than in them tonight. If he remained and was discovered, he would be trapped and have no means of escape. On the ground, he had a much better chance of defending himself.
He leapt out of the tree and stood very still in the dark. He closed his eyes, and listened to the whispers of the forest. The Orcs had moved closer. Yes, that was certain.
A wolf's shrill howl rang out. Legolas' eyes flashed open. The warg was close, and off to the south. There was no time to waste.
He ran into the pitch with no stars or moon to guide him. Onward and eastward he went, and more roaring howls answered the first. Some felt more northward, others westward. There was now no doubt; they had discovered him at last. Their meeting seemed now imminent.
Legolas stopped in his tracks. In front of him stood a massive warg. Its growl was menacing. The fur along its spine stood up like giant spikes. In a flash, Legolas had his bow in hand, and arrow ready to shoot. He stared at the wolf; the wolf stared back. Legolas could now sense other creatures around him. He glanced about and saw two other wolves around him.
Out of the night stepped a group of Orcs. They joined the Wargs, stood armed, and mockingly pointed at Legolas all the while laughing, fiendishly. Their leader, however was not amused. He was huge in body, and menacing in face. His bulbous yellow eyes glowed in the murky blackness. It was Ugnúl.
"You're a sly Elf, I'll give you that," said Ugnúl in the Common Tongue. It was a gruff, heinous voice which protruded from a foul, rotting mouth. "But that is a trait common among Elves, I should think. You're all slippery little sneaks, aren't you?"
Legolas made no reply. The Goblin could talk all he wished too, but as soon as his moment would come, Legolas would be ready.
A smaller Orc approached its leader. "We must not linger under these trees, Ugnúl!"
"You think I fear one measly Elf?! Maggot!" Ugnúl growled.
"It is not the Elf we fear, Ugnúl," said the others. "We could handle a hundred of `em."
"It is the witch," said the smaller Orc. "We're too close to her lair."
"What feeble-minded tales have you idiots been listening to?!"
"They are not tales! We must leave!" said the smaller Orc.
"I hear she can kill you just by looking at you," said another.
"She can make herself invisible! She could be here right now! We must leave!" shouted the small Orc. The others grew restless, and looked frantically about the darkness for any sign of the witch. Ugnúl stared in contempt and drew out his long, filthy sword.
"Cowards!" Ugnúl shouted. Then in one giant motion, he severed the smaller Orc's head. It's body slumped to the ground and it's head rolled and disappeared into the inky blackness. The other Orcs fell back with fear, and said nothing. When Ugnúl turned to face Legolas again, he was gone.
"Idiots! Where did he slip off to?" Ugnúl demanded.
The Orcs quickly looked around and saw the three bodies of the wolves. They had all been struck in the throat by elven arrows.
"Search everywhere!" Ugnúl thundered. "If he is not found by sunrise, I'll eat every last one of you for dinner!"
Legolas, meanwhile had been watching the chaotic scene from a high bough of a nearby tree. Luckily, no eyes rose upward. Orcs scattered, and soon all were gone. A short while passed. It was still some hours before daybreak, and too dangerous to remain where he was.
He sprang to the earth, and waited; nothing stirred. He sprinted toward the east, in the direction of the rising sun. Ugnúl, however, was too clever. He had been waiting behind a thick trunk. He pounced on the Elf and drew out his sword. Legolas found his knife directly. They both rose up, malice filling each other's faces. Ugnúl attacked, but Legolas was quick with his weapon. Orcs approached and cheered as the two warriors struck at each other with furious might. Their blades tangled, and Ugnúl served a swift blow which sent Legolas onto his back a few feet from the crowd. His knife landed sadly out of reach. Ugnúl was stepping forth to finish the kill when a holler rung out. "Ugnúl! You mustn't!"
"Try and stop me, weakling!" Ugnúl roared to his underdog.
"Please yourself," the Orc replied, "if you like to burn. That is the boundary of the witch's lair. They say any Orc that crosses it, bursts into fire."
Legolas stood up and gazed all about him. Little could be seen in the dark. It appeared to him the same as the rest of the forest.
"What Elvish rubbish is this?" Ugnúl demanded. "If you're so stupid to believe in such tales, then you'll see this witch for yourself!" Ugnúl grabbed the Orc with both hands and threw him toward Legolas. In a sudden and glorious flash, the Orc burst into flame. A shrill wail filled the air. The Orc stumbled back and the flames immediately died out. His skin was now burnt blacker than the night. The other Orcs grew fearful and began to retreat. "What magic is this?" they cried as they fled. Legolas and Ugnúl were now alone in the dark.
A malicious smile spread onto Ugnúl's putrid face. "Look for me, Elf! Look for me when you go to leave this place . . . and there you shall find me."
Ugnúl then withdrew into the black. Legolas dared not move, else cross the boundary which now protected him. He would be safe now, from the Orcs at least. But of this witch, he could not imagine. "Is she Elven?" he thought. "The magic that guards her is exceptionally powerful." Legolas could remember none but the High Elves who bore such magic and power. "If she guards against Orcs, surely then I have naught to fear."
Legolas lay down against a tree. He would sleep on the ground tonight.
End of Chapter Two