Bittersweet Melodies - The Forgotten Saga of Araviel - Chapter 3

"We've gotta hold on; ready or not,
You live for the fight when that's all that you've got."

**********

December 3, 3016 - Somewhere near the Nimrodel, West of Lorien

Many miles away, on the other side of the Misty Mountains, two wanderers, neither of whom had ever seen or met Araviel, were running through the wilds west of Lothlorien, a band of Uruk Hai hot in pursuit. There were at least one hundred of the huge orcs, all intent on killing Will, an orphaned elf, and Padric, a wandering man who had taken him in. Their arrows were spent, their swords gone and they had been running for at least two hours.

Tough as they were, the long flight through unknown territory was spending what little was left of their energy. When Padric spotted a hollow tree, they hid themselves inside it, hoping the Uruk Hai would run past.

"Did we lose them?" Will whispered. His breath was coming in large gasps. Padric nodded.

"I think we lost them," he said.

"Who were they? What did they want with us?" Will asked loudly.

"Would you keep it down? Any creature with ears can hear your voice for miles," Padric said curtly. Will grinned.

"Awww, is wittle mortal afwaid of elvish voices?" he teased. Padric's look of worry turned to a smirk.

"Keep that clear voice down or I'll cut your immortal life a couple of millennia short," he retorted.

Will was about to respond when he heard rough footfalls echoing all around him. He pushed himself as far into the tree as he could, and pulled Padric with him. They both got up against the rough sides and looked at each other.

"How did they find us?" Will whispered desperately.

"Shh! They haven't yet," Padric answered harshly. Will gulped. All his arrows were spent and, although he had a knife, he was not prepared to take on a hundred orcs. They stayed there in silence, hoping the monsters would pass.

Just when he was beginning to breathe again, he heard an orc step close to the tree and saw a hideous face poke inside. The orc broke into a leering smile full of yellow teeth. Will stood, brandishing his knife, trying to look as brave as possible. Before he could make his move, Padric cracked the orc's neck with a well placed twist of his deft hands. It made a horrible screeching noise and was still.

Padric dropped his arms and sighed, but they only had a moment of repose before several heads peered into the tree. The opening filled with maybe ten greenish black orcish faces; their piercings gleamed in the fading sunlight, their hideous mouths smiled mischievously. Many more were watching from behind.

Padric stood firm beside him, fists upraised.

"Will," he said quietly.

"Yah?" Will's voice quavered. He didn't dare turn his head to look toward his companion.

"I'm giving you one job." Padric's voice was calm and steady.

"And what's that?" Will asked, his voice now trembling with apprehension.

"Stay alive," Padric said, and then rushed in towards the huddle of orcs. For a moment, Will just gaped, watching the unarmed man fell orc after orc with only his fists. Once he got a grip on himself he ran in to help, and several times felt his knife collide with hard, disgusting flesh.

One. Two. Three orcs down. Padric had probably already killed ten, but their number seemed to be increasing instead of diminishing. The evening air was cold, but Will felt beads of sweat running down his cheeks.

Nine. Ten. Eleven orcs down. How many were there? Surely Padric was killing even more than he, but they just kept coming.

There was no repose from the fighting; it just went on and on. Every now and then Will heard Padric yell fiercely, and he was spurred on with renewed energy. But it was only a matter of time before the myriad of orcs overpowered him. After stabbing one straight through the face, Will felt his arms pulled back by someone stronger than he, and his knife was wrenched from his hand.

"Padric!" he yelled, but to no avail. He lost sight of his companion in the sea of monsters. A slimy, stifling hand was placed over his mouth and he felt hard, thin ropes twist around his wrists, which were still held behind him.

More hands grasped his shoulders and shoved him to the ground. He writhed and struggled against them, but they grabbed his ankles and tied them together with thin, extremely painful wires. The hand on his mouth released its grip and he yelled once more for his friend, but a grimy cloth was shoved into his mouth and he choked, unable to make a sound. The green forest disappeared into blackness as a blindfold was bound tightly across his eyes.

He continued to struggle until a pair of strong hands grabbed his shoulders, pulled him to a sitting position, and punched his face and chest until he quit moving. He fell back to the ground and lay there, limp and helpless, until an orc picked him up, slung him over his shoulder, and the company started forward once more.

**********

Will awoke slowly. It was just a dream, he told himself. I'm asleep and it was only a dream. He opened his tired eyes and saw...blackness. His heart dropped. It wasn't a dream; with that realization, all the pain came rushing back. His hands were numb, the wires around his ankles had cut deeply into his skin and his mouth was completely dry from the gag in it. Every breath he drew put pressure on his aching, bruised chest.

The ground beneath him was the soft grass of a forest and he could feel gentle sunlight beaming down on him. He guessed the orcs had stopped for the day and were resting from their long night of plundering and fighting. He wondered where Padric was and how he was faring. Probably better than me he thought grudgingly. Well, at least he had followed his order and stayed alive, but barely. He felt almost done in.

His limbs were stiff and he wriggled a little on the ground, trying to loosen them, but a rough kick in his chest took his breath and stopped his movement.

"Be still you dirty little elf," a deep, gargling voice growled. The orc spat on him and Will groaned, feeling the oozing liquid drip down his arm.

"Will!" he heard a familiar voice call and then immediately a low growl and the sound of punching. He smiled inside. Even though Padric was captured (and probably now gagged), he was alive and aware of the situation.

But his friend's voice had come from at least twenty feet away and, even though it comforted Will that he was not alone, there was little Padric's presence would do for either of them. He heard another orc walk up to him and start speaking to his guard. Their language was full of harsh sounds and syllables, and Will couldn't understand any of it.

The day passed slowly for Will, who could not see or speak. If he moved at all, a watching orc would kick or hit him. All he could do was listen to the stillness of the woods. He wondered what forest it was, or if it was really a forest at all; it felt and sounded like one, but they could have been in Moria for all he knew. The only thing that shattered the dead silence was a low, unearthly sounding moan that seemed to come from deep in the forest. But, since even the orcs didn't seem to be paying any attention to it, Will's hope that perhaps rescue was on the way quickly puttered out.

After what seemed like an eternity of anxious waiting, the air began to cool as the sun sank and the orcs began to awaken from their undisturbed slumber. An iron shod foot kicked him in his aching chest and a high, cracking voice screeched "Wake up, bloody elf."

Will didn't move and he was kicked again. "I said wake up!" the voice persisted. Will rolled onto his side to show that he was awake. Rough hands grabbed him and lifted his limp body over a slippery shoulder. Will struggled to get loose, but a rock hard fist collided with his stomach over and over. He groaned and was still.

"Foolish orders," the orc grumbled to himself. "Could be out raiding right now, but instead I'm stuck hauling this elvish piece of..."

But Will would never find out what he was a piece of. At that moment the orc's body jerked upright in surprise and it gave an almighty screech, full of fear and panic. The strong shoulders drooped and Will's thin form slipped off them to the ground. The orc gave no notice. Will heard its heavy footfalls as it took off running from something he could not see.

The forest gave another low moan, but closer this time; the ground shook as it resonated through the floor of the woods. Will writhed on the ground, trying to free himself from the tight bonds. He could hear orcs running everywhere, their horrible screeches and cries filled the air.

Boom. The whole woods rang and shuddered as something heavy as a house fell to the ground. It was like a great, forest drum, beating over and over again. Boom. Bang. Boom. It continued.

Will was terrified. Whatever was approaching was obviously causing panic among the orcs, and he couldn't even see it.

"Curse this blindfold!" Will's muffled voice cried. His dry mouth choked and he tried to spit out the cloth inside it, but it was too big. Orcs were now screaming as the huge crashes came closer and closer.

"Hoom hum hoom, no more shall the green grass die under your iron feet," a low, grumbling voice called. Will's stomach dropped. Whatever it was that spoke, it clearly was not a man, or an elf. Suddenly the ground he was lying upon shook as if thunder was growling underneath it and a great boom echoed right beside him. Will tried to yell, but could make no more sound than a muffled "Mmmmmmmm!"

Suddenly he felt himself lifted by what felt like a giant stump with the bark still on. He struggled and writhed, but giant, fingerlike branches held him firmly. He gasped at the unexpected pressure on his chest. He searched his mind quickly, trying to think of an animal or person with hands big enough to hold an elf. Whatever it was, it turned him upside down, and then righted him again.

"You are no orc," the low, grumbling voice said, with a hint of what Will hoped was pity. He nodded his head. For a moment Will was held, suspended between doubt, fear and relief, his body quivering from head to toe.

Before he could fully register this encounter with a giant, tree-like hand, his mind jerked back to the orcs, who were still running and screaming like dogs far below him. The hand swung around as the giant, echoing booms continued, and Will swung with it. He fought against the hard, pressing fingers, trying to free himself, but their grip only tightened. He cried out as his lungs screamed for air. Surely his ribs were about to break. The swaying continued and Will's head started to ache from being whirled around.

Just when he thought he was about to either pass out or throw up, the swinging stopped, the last boom echoed away and the woods were silent. No more orcs screeched or ran. The only noise was his own ragged breathing and a slight creaking coming from the trees.

"Now then, master captive, let's see who you are," the low voice said. The fingers released their grip slightly, and Will took in a deep breath, savoring the sweet, night breeze flowing in through his nose. Will felt one of the huge, rough fingers cut through the blindfold and it fell away. He found himself staring straight into a pair of very curious, gentle greenish brown eyes. The face they belonged to looked like a...but it couldn't be...a... tree?

He didn't have a long time to look. The huge hand turned him over and another finger quickly tore apart the bonds around his wrists, then set him upright in the giant palm. Now that his hands were free, he quickly pulled the disgusting cloth out of his mouth and gasped as his breath became normal and full again.

"I...huh?...you...Who are you?" he asked once he could speak. The huge eyes looked back thoughtfully at him.

"There's no need to ask who you are Will son of Paladin, for you are very well known to me," the `tree' said. Will jumped at the sound of his own name, coming from a complete, nonhuman stranger.

"How did you know that?"

"You have the look of your father."

"You knew my pare...wait, just what are you?"

"Never mind me. I will simply tell you that I helped your parents with a little, hmmm, shall we say, job. They were good people. My best to you and your hmmm friend," the tree said. Will continued to gape.

"But you're a, um, tree," he said.

"A tree herder you mean." The giant hand set him
on the ground. Will continued to stare at the great brown green eyes.

"Farewell for now. I will not say goodbye, for I feel we will meet again, ere your task is over," the low, grumbling voice said.

Will continued to stare at the tree, still stupefied by the fact that it was alive, it had killed orcs, it had spoken to him, it had saved him. The tree turned to leave, its steps shaking the ground. Will watched its retreating back, and listened as the foot falls became softer and farther away. Once the tree herder was out of sight, it felt as if a sigh of relief ran through the forest, the leaves fluttered slightly and the air became less oppressive. Will sat up and, in spite of all that had happened, threw his head back and laughed.

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