Lalaith Elerrina--Daughter of Valinor - Chapter 1

Lalaith Elerrina--Daughter of Valinor
Chapter 1

Lalaith lay in a dark and troubled dream. It seemed that she was once again in the black gloom of Moria, hearing haunting echoes of the past. Gandalf's voice rang through the darkness as he faced the Balrog upon the Bridge of Kazad-Dûm. White light flashed as he brought his staff down, and a mighty crack, as a boom of thunder, resounded through the darkness. The stone cracked away as the Balrog stepped upon it, and toppled backward into the darkness of the abyss, its whip catching Gandalf's ankle as it disappeared into the depths.

"Fly, you fools!" Gandalf had ordered, catching vainly at the crumbled stone, the last words she had heard him speak while he was alive, and then as before, an eternity passed in an instant, and then he fell.

She saw Boromir snatch Frodo bodily up, the Hobbit kicking and crying out Gandalf's name. And she saw herself, her face white with grief and weakness, dragged back by Legolas. But the scene moved. Her dream sight flew down into the darkness of the pit into which Gandalf and the Balrog had fallen, black and sightless, but for a spot of fire illuminated in the distant depths. She could see a stream of billowing smoke streaming upward, marking the path where the Balrog fell, the source of the distant fire. And in that fire, though not of it, was silhouetted a smaller figure. A figure wielding a sword, and smiting repeated at the Balrog as the two fell. Furiously the Balrog and the figure, tiny in the furious light the demon cast off, battled as they fell, striking blows even as they were battered mercilessly against the encroaching walls of the pit.

But suddenly the sides of the narrowing chasm opened into a vast subterranean chamber. The Balrog and the being who fought it were plummeting toward the floor of the chamber, the surface undulating and sparkling beneath light that had not illuminated this vast underground cavity since the first ages of Arda.

Lalaith realized with a sudden breath, that Gandalf, for that is who he was now, she knew, was plunging toward a vast black lake of water. The water drew closer, growing brighter and brighter. And at impact, a bright light exploded within her mind, and she gasped.

"Gandalf!" She cried, jerking awake with a start. Cold air blew on her face. She was lying on her back. It was night. Evening was fading slowly in the west. She turned and suddenly wished she were back in her dream. Her wrists and ankles were tied with cords. Tight cords that cut into her skin, and chaffed her flesh, burning her wrists almost as fiercely as a lancing pain burned in her side, reminding her that she'd been struck by an arrow. But yet she was still alive? Her wondering mind demanded. She glanced down to see the broken shaft still piercing through her jerkin that was stiff and crusted over with dried blood. Beside her Merry lay, unconscious, his face, what wasn't covered in blood, was white, his breathing shallow. He had been struck on the head, for blood caked his face, dried from where it had flowed from an untreated wound on his temple.

They were lying on stiff grass, but she could see little beyond the spot of ground where she lay, between the two Hobbits.

"Ssso you're awake now, ssshe-elfff?" A voice came at her from her other side, and she turned her head to see an orc crouching near, smaller than the huge goblin men she and Boromir had battled. She could see the huge ones she remembered, beyond its shoulder, scattered among smaller orcs, like the one before her, farther away in many small groups, snapping and snarling at each other in their abominable tongue. This nearest orc had a row of rings marching down its face, tarnished and rusted, piercing grotesquely through its skin from the top of its brow, down to the end of its nose. "Awake are you?" It repeated in a sucking, hissing rasp.

Pippin lay on his side, his back to her, between her and the orc who was smiling at her in a way that drove a shiver of fear through her. She was grateful to see that he was breathing more regularly than Merry. And he was awake, for he turned his head to glance at her, and offer her a brave, but half-hearted grin.

The orc muttered, "You're alive anyway." with a sneer when she didn't answer. "If you were dead, we woulda eaten ya by now." The orc's large orange eyes grew even larger, and its smiling green lips curled back from sharp, pointed teeth. It ran a long purple tongue over its lips. "They sssay ssshe-elfff meat is essspecially sssweet. But ssssince yer not dead yet-,"

"You lay a finger on her, and I'll bite it off!" threatened Pippin bravely from where he lay, struggling against the bonds that were holding him.

At his words, the orc glanced at Pippin and laughed in a harsh, wheezing blast.

"Threaten me again, you sssqueaking rat, and I may forget my ordersss." It spat at him. "If I had my way, you'd all be dead now. Ressst while you can, little fool. You won't get thossse knotsss undone `lesss we cut `em. Curssse Uglúk and hisss Isssengardersss." The orc glanced over his shoulder, casting a poisonous glance at the largest among the massive fighting orcs, and muttered, Uglúk u bagronk sssha pussshdug Sssaruman-glob búbhoshhh ssskai." The orc passed into a long angry speech in its own foul tongue that finally died away into muttering and snarling. After it grew silent, it stood, and drew closer, a hideous grin curling the corners of its mouth up, away from its fearsome teeth as a line of drool came spilling out of one side of its mouth, hung suspended from its lip for a moment, before it snapped, and dropped, landing with a heavy plop on the hard, coarse grass beside her head.

"I never ssseen a Elfff-woman thisss clossse afore." It said, bending down and snatching her face in one of its hands, lifting her partially off the ground. "You're a pretty one." The orc's hideous, lurid face leaned even closer, but suddenly, it reared back with a howl of pain, and fell back on the ground, bent double. Lalaith's eyes darted to Pippin who had inched closer while the orc had been concentrating on her, lifted his bound feet, and kicked hard, right into the spot where he knew he'd get the best results.

"Marr vogul-shara!" The orc's howl was loud and shill, and must have carried far, but the other orcs barely noticed. They were speaking in the harsh angry tones of their orc speech, and neither Lalaith nor Pippin could understand them, but it was plain that a quarrel had begun, and was getting hotter.

With an angry, snarling hiss, the orc reached out as if to set its claws into Pippin's face.

"Don't hurt-," Lalaith cried, only to be cut off again by another scream from the orc. It was jerking its hand back from Pippin's face, and half dragging along the Hobbit as it did. Its scream was more shrill this time than before, and sharp enough to bring a few of the other orcs' heads around. At last, with a painful howl, the orc broke free, turned, and ran, staggering back toward the larger body of orcs, cradling the hand Pippin had latched onto.

"Plegh!" Gagged Pippin, spitting something from his mouth that fell with a heavy rustle into the grass beside him. He gagged, and continued spitting hard. "That was disgusting."

"The little worm bit my finger off!" The orc screamed, waving its maimed hand about. Its middle finger was now no more than a short stump, pulsing out black blood. "I'm gonna kill it!" It snatched up a thick, curved sword within its uninjured hand, and rushed back, with the clear intent to slice it into Pippin's body, but the cursing spiteful orc had barely made it a few paces toward Pippin before the larger orc reached after it, snatched what long stringy hair was upon its head, jerked its neck sharply back, and flung it fiercely into the grass.

The large orc, whom Lalaith guessed was Uglúk, kicked the smaller orc in the side, sending it squealing liked an angry piglet, back into the jumble of orcs. "Our orders," He growled, glaring fiercely at the others as if he expected to be challenged, "are to bring the halflings back alive, and as quickly as possible."

"Not our orders!" Shouted another orc angrily. It was one of the smaller ones, like the one whose finger Pippin had bitten off. And probably from the same clan. It occurred to Lalaith that these orcs were from different tribes, and they could not understand one another's orc speech. That was why they were using the common speech to speak to one another.

"Nor ours!" Shouted another orc, a skulking little orc with huge eyes, such as the orcs had in Moria. "We have come all the way from the Mines to kill and avenge our folk. I wish to kill, and then go back north. Even if we cannot kill the small ones, let us kill that she-elf! She is of no matter, and her bow killed many of our kin in the mines!"

"Are you mad?" Uglúk demanded. "Do you wish to lose fingers as Gratbag has? Saruman will decide her fate. As for the others, my orders are to deliver them, alive and as captured; no spoiling. That's my orders. No one harm the halflings. And no one harm the she-elf, not until we arrive in Isengard. Got it?!"

"My orders," said a voice, softer than the others, but more evil. "are that the halflings are not to be searched or plundered, and are to be taken to Lugbúrz, not Isengard. Those are my orders. And as we have no certain orders concerning the she-elf, what is the harm in enjoying her savory meat now?"

"I am Uglúk. I command." The spear wielding orc growled, swinging the spear until it pointed at the speaker, an orc that stood out of Lalaith's sight. "I return to Isengard by the shortest road. And I will deliver all my prey unspoiled to Saruman of the White Hand."

"Is Saruman the master, or the Great Eye?" Said the evil voice. "We should go back at once to Lugbúrz."

"If we could cross the Great River we might." Said another voice. "But there are not enough of us to venture down the bridges."

"I came across." Said the evil voice. "A winged Nazgûl awaits us north on the east bank."

"Nazgûl?" Pippin muttered under his breath to Lalaith. "Didn't your cousin wash them down the river?"

"Nazgûl can't die." Lalaith muttered, a sick feeling growing heavy in her gut. "They've come back."

"We must stick together!" Growled Uglúk. "I don't trust you little snagaz. You'd fly off with our prisoners, and get all the pay and praise in Lugbúrz, and leave us to foot it as best we can through the horse country."

"Aye!" Cried another voice. "We must stick together. These lands are dangerous. Full of foul rebels and brigands."

"You've got no guts outside your own sties, swine." Shouted Uglúk. "But for us, you'd all have run away. We are the fighting Uruk-Hai! We slew the great warrior. We took the prisoners. We are the servants of Saruman. We came out of Isengard, and led you here, and we shall lead you back by the way we choose. I am Uglúk. I have spoken."

"Swine, is it?" The evil voice asked, then rising in pitch, as if speaking to of the others, he cried, "How do you folk like being called swine by the muck-rakers of a dirty little wizard? Who does he think he is, setting up on his own with his filthy white badges? The folk in Lugbúrz might agree with me, Grishnákh their trusted messenger, and I Grishnákh, say this: Saruman is a dirty treacherous fool. But the Great Eye is on him."

Many loud yells in orc-speech answered him, and the ringing clash of weapons being drawn. A short, crook-legged creature with long arms that hung almost to the ground, probably Grishnákh, separated himself from the rest of the orcs, and stood, facing Uglúk. Round them were many smaller goblins. They had drawn their knives and swords, but hesitated to attack Uglúk.

"Put up your weapons!" Shouted Uglúk. "And let's have no more nonsense! We go straight west from here, and down the stair. From there, straight to the downs, then along the river to the forest. And we march day and night." Uglúk's snarling face swiveled toward Lalaith's and sneered. "And since the she-elf's legs work, she can foot it, herself. Save us the effort of carrying her."

"She's been wounded!" Pippin protested loudly. "You can't expect her to-,"

"No, it's all right, Pippin." Lalaith assured him. "I would rather run on my own, than be slung over one of their shoulders, anyway."

As she spoke, a smaller orc snatched her harshly by an ankle, and roughly severed the rope binding her ankles. Then it grabbed her by her elbow, and roughly yanked her to her feet.

Lalaith gasped as the sudden movement caused stars to dance before her eyes, and she stumbled to her knees.

"Get up!" Uglúk demanded, nudging her roughly with his foot. "Cursed, weak elf." He snatched the plait of her braid, and cruelly wrenched her upward, forcing her to rise again as several orcs looked on and laughed. Lalaith bit back a cry of pain, and shook her head, fighting to clear her vision as Uglúk shouted an order in his own vile tongue to a smaller orc that nodded and came trotting nervously to him, holding out another length of thick rope. Uglúk snatched it from the smaller creature's hands, then sent it scurrying away with a growl and curses. Lalaith flinched as Uglúk roughly snatched her bound hands and tied one end of the rope around the bindings between her wrists. He sneered as she coughed and choked at his hideous reeking breath that wafted into her face. "Lul Gijak-Ishi." He cursed, reverting to his own tongue, and yanking hard on the other end of the rope he held within his own hands. She stumbled, but managed to keep her feet beneath her.

Uglúk grabbed the broken shaft of the arrow in her side and twisted at it, eliciting at last, a cry of pain from her as new warm blood dripped onto the broken shaft. The orc captain caught a drop on a finger, and licked it off, a sinister grin spreading across his face as he savored the taste. "Mm." He muttered thoughtfully. "It will not come out, unless we want you to bleed to death. And when we arrive in Isengard, my lads will want your meat to be fresh."

"Legolas." She choked, the word bursting without her bidding, through her clenched teeth that she crushed together in an effort to hold back her sob, though her side exploded in a fire of pain. She clenched her eyes shut hard, and envisioned his face. The image that came to her mind was clear and real, almost tangible. He stood upon a ledge of rock, his eyes searching the distance, seeking something, and within her mind she heard softly, the words, "I will find you, Lalaith." whispered from his lips.

"What did you say?" Uglúk demanded.

Lalaith ignored his order, and turned her face down and away from him. He grabbed her jaw in the vice of his fist, and twisted her face back. Her eyes met his, and as his cruel yellow, almost serpentine eyes, probed hers, she steeled herself, and met his gaze unflinching.

"Answer me, she-elf!" Uglúk shouted, spittle flying from his lips as he raged.

"Leave her alone!" Pippin cried, scrambling with a great effort to his knees, his face angry, his teeth clenched, no visible sign of fear in him in spite of his obvious helplessness. His wrists and feet were bound, his already small stature appearing even more tiny, surrounded by massive, seething orcs.

But for some strange reason, the sight of him had an effect upon the orc captain. For Uglúk's rage faded as he turned and looked on the small, bound prisoner, and his unconscious companion beside him. With a growl of disgust, he turned away from the sight of the angry Hobbit. "Pick up those other prisoners!" He shouted. "Don't play any tricks with them! If they are not alive when we get back, someone else will die too."

A large orc seized Pippin like a sack, put its head between his tied hands, grabbed his arms and dragged them down until Pippin's face was crushed against its neck. Another treated Merry in the same way, and Lalaith watched this all, glad that Merry, at least, was unconscious for this. She glanced away, taking advantage of the small portion of freedom now allowed her, though still, she was jerked this way and that by the rope that Uglúk still held within his own iron fist. They were on the edge of a rill that seemed to look out over a sea of pale mist, and somewhere off and away, was the sound of falling water.

Nearby, an orc came running, several companions following behind it, its breathing loud and labored, and Uglúk turned, taking great interest in this group as they approached.

Scouts. Lalaith guessed.

"What have you discovered?" Uglúk growled.

"Only a single horseman, and he made off westwards. All's clear now." Answered the first orc, puffing hard, bent double from exhaustion, its hands on its knees.

"You fools!" Uglúk roared, backhanding the first orc hard, so that he fell roughly to the ground. "You should have shot him! He'll raise the alarm. The cursed horse breeders will hear of us by morning. Now we'll have to leg it double quick." He turned and glared hard at Lalaith. She gazed back unflinching, trying not to quaver at the intensity in the orc's ugly, angry face.

"You. Come here." He ordered, though she had no choice but to obey as he yanked on the rope he held, and she stumbled near. "Take this." He barked, snatching her by the neck as he thrust a flask between her teeth, pouring some burning liquid down her throat.

Lalaith gasped, choking and gagging as a hot fierce fire flowed, burning, through her, and suddenly her legs were no longer weak.

"Now hoof it, she-elf, and keep up!" Uglúk barked, yanking on the rope and pulling her, forcing her into a run behind him as he led his band of orcs down a narrow ravine into the misty plain below.

********

"Legolas-,"

Legolas lifted his head sharply, and glanced about, though there was little to see but the bare rock over which they traveled. Aragorn was only paces ahead, his eyes fixed upon the rock beneath their feet, searching for signs of the orcs' passing, as he had been, moments before. Gimli, his breath ragged and labored, was struggling to keep pace with the Man and Elf.

Aragorn lifted his head, seeing his expression, and demanded, "What did you hear?"

"Nothing." He said, rushing ahead of Aragorn several steps, and scanning the distant, moonlit horizon. "And yet-,"

Beneath his tunic, the necklace Galadriel had given him, seemed suddenly to grow warm against his chest, and his hand strayed to where it lay. And as his hand touched the cloth that covered the three small gems, a vision flashed in his mind of Lalaith, her hands bound, and though her face was twisted pitifully with pain, her eyes were fixed, and glaring with contempt upon a fierce orc who held a length of rope in its hands, one end tied to her bound wrists.

"Radatha le, Lalaith." He said, speaking aloud.

"Eh?" Gimli gasped, puffing to a stop beside him.

"I will find her." Legolas seethed softly, clenching his bow ever tighter.

"O' course you will. Course you will." Gimli assured him, slapping Legolas' arm as he bent momentarily over his ax, drawing in deep draughts of air. "And we'll be there with you, when you do."

"Their trail is hard to follow upon this rock." Aragorn called out. "Which way would they turn? Northward toward Isengard or Fanghorn, or southward to strike the Entwash?"

"This way." Legolas declared with sudden surety and darted forward, knowing somehow, that this, indeed was the path taken, the thoughts of his mind and heart were drawn in that direction as surely as if they were the arrows of a compass. Aragorn and Gimli followed swiftly behind him, neither questioning the Elf as they raced to keep the pace he set.

********

Lalaith's head dropped wearily forward and she drew to a stumbled halt as the orc in front of Uglúk, one of the massive uruks, called Lugdush, put up a fist, signaling a halt, and began sniffing at the air.

Her legs trembled beneath her as she stood, aching and burning as fiercely as the arrow wound in her side, and her lungs felt dry and raw as she pulled in fierce deep breaths. The warmth of the orc draught was long gone. She had eaten nothing in days, but she knew even if she had, it would not have stayed down. She felt sick and exhausted. How she longed to sit down and rest, if only for a few moments, but what little slack Uglúk allowed her would not permit it. How many days had she been running like this? She shook her head, and discarded the thought, for it hurt her addled brain to think. She vaguely recalled the sun rising and setting maybe three times, but she could not remember.

"'Ello, ssshe-elfff." A familiar, but detested voice hissed beside her. She did not bother to glance up, for she knew she would see Gratbag's leering green face, and she did not wish to feel any sicker than she did now. The lolloping little orc had been trailing her steps ever since she had regained consciousness and found herself a prisoner of the orcs. It seemed as if the little hunched creature was looking for an opportunity to get closer to her, but every time it drew near, Uglúk did not fail to chase it away. Nor did he fail to do so now.

"Back off, worm." He barked as the little green orc drew close, and Gratbag promptly hunched his back even further, and turned, scurrying fearfully, pathetically away.

"What is it? What do you smell?" Uglúk demanded, turning to Lugdush.

Lugdush sniffed hard at the air, before he growled, "Manflesh."

"Legolas." She whispered through parched lips, and a slight beam of hope lit the dark corners of her heart. Aragorn and Gimli would be with him. She turned her head, finding Pippin's face peering at her from behind the head of the orc carrying him. From the look of weary hope on his drawn little face, she could tell that he had heard, also. Merry, though, was barely aware of what was going on, only half conscious, on the back of the orc carrying him. His head, still caked with dried blood, flopped wearily to the side.

"They've picked up our trail!" Growled Uglúk with a roar, and the rest of the orcs followed suit. "Let's move!" He jerked hard on the rope tied to Lalaith's bound wrists, and she knew her momentary rest was over. "Leg it, she-elf!" He ordered, and Lalaith, fighting back a whimpered protest, forced her trembling legs, weary and burning, to run again.

"Lalaith, it'll be all right." Soothed a small consoling voice beside her, amidst the gasping and grunting of the orcs. "You'll see." Lalaith forced her eyes to glance up at Pippin, whose orc had drawn even with her, and the small Hobbit flashed her a hopeful, sympathetic grin. She did her best to return it, though she could not speak, too weary, and thirsty for breath to respond as Pippin bent his head, and caught the leaf brooch at his throat between his teeth. Her drooping eyelids opened further as with a soft tear, he ripped it loose, turned his head to the side, and spat it onto the ground. Lalaith, though her head felt unbearably heavy, turned her head to see it fall, the leaf face up, and though an orc's iron foot trod heavily over it, crushing it deeper into the ground, it was still visible. Aragorn would find it.

"Hannad." She muttered, too tired to bother thinking or speaking in the Common Tongue. But Pippin still seemed to have understood, for he nodded and smiled, before the orc carrying him fell back, and she lost sight of him.

********

"Their pace has quickened." Aragorn's voice was low, the emotion within it, unreadable. But Legolas, paces behind, and darting lightly up the side of the steep hill, could hear his words easily as the Man lifted his head from the rock he had pressed his ear against and gazed into the far distance. "They must have caught our scent." Legolas saw the concern in the Man's eyes as Aragorn turned and glanced down at him. Concern that mirrored his own. "Hurry!" Aragorn called as he leaped to his feet, and started in again at a run.

Legolas glanced over his shoulder to see Gimli struggling upward, leaning heavily on the ax he used as a Gimli should have been exhausted beyond understanding now, but he was showing a hardiness that Legolas had not expected. For though his legs were stouter and shorter, still he was keeping hard on the footsteps of his swifter companions.

"Come on, Gimli!" Legolas cried, before he darted on, flying swiftly to match pace with Aragorn.

Behind him, Gimli struggled up the steep slope, puffing hard, but still struggling stubbornly onward. "Three days and nights pursuit." He muttered to himself as he tramped along. "No food. No rest. And no sign of our quarry, but what bare rock can tell."

It was true, Legolas admitted to himself as he rushed onward. Except for the scarred scratches here and there where the orcs' iron shod feet scrapped over the bare stone, and the stems of crushed grass that even his elven eyes had difficulty finding, there had been little sign of the orcs' passing. But he knew they were on the trail as easily as if he could see them with his own eyes. He could feel her presence. Somehow. She had passed this way.

********

"Lalaith is on foot. She is still alive, at least."

Gimli jerked to a weary stop gulping in huge draughts of air, and leaning hard over his ax. By Aulë, this land was like a crumpled piece of parchment! No sooner did he find the bottom of a hill, than he had to make his way up yet another one! He felt sure, if it were not for Lalaith and the poor Hobbits, he would not be able to keep this pace. Summoning a portion of strength, Gimli lifted his head, and looked up at Aragorn who had spoken.

Legolas stood at Aragorn's shoulder as the human knelt over an impress in the ground that at first looked no different from the crushed turf all about it until Gimli realized that this imprint was smaller and softer at the edges than the other footprints, nor was the impress as deep. Lalaith wore soft leather boots, not the hard edged footgear of the orcs. And she was lighter. But by now, if she was being pulled along with the orcs at the pace they were keeping, with her hands undoubtedly bound, she would be exhausted, her footfalls heavy and weary. Otherwise, Gimli mused with a soft thoughtful grunt to himself, Lalaith's soft, light feet, would have made no impression at all.

"And she is weak." Aragorn stood and took another step, his eyes fixed hard upon the ground as he moved slowly. "See here-, and here. She is running, but her steps are crooked and weary, and her feet are falling heavily."

Legolas inspected the marks on the crushed earth as his gaze grew hard and his chest swelled with emotion as he hurried forward, following the marks upon the ground. "She is being dragged along like baggage!" He exclaimed at last, pointing out a small scrape where her foot must have dragged along the ground some distance as if she had almost fallen, but then something had jerked her forcefully back to her feet. " Aeg yrch!" He exclaimed, emotion heating his voice as he reverted to his own language. "Thaur hîn o Morgoth. Amin dagatha pain!"

Legolas seemed almost ready to sprint off on his own, as if he fully intended to take on the entire orc hoard himself, before Aragorn's calming hand fell upon the Elf's shoulder, and he spoke softly, "No thala, melon nin."

Legolas glanced at the Man, a look of questioning agony upon his face.

"Ú-na er." Aragorn continued quietly. "Ú-`osto, Legolas." He jostled the Elf's shoulder gently, before his hand fall away. "Ú-`osto. Melon lin ú-awarthia le. Ú-awarthiam Lalaith a pheriannath."

"It'll be all right, lad. We'll find `er." Gimli offered, for though he had understood nothing else, Gimli knew, by the look of grief on the Elf's face, that he needed reassurance.

At this, Legolas paused a long moment, and flashed a furrowed, look of weary gratitude at the Dwarf.

"Come." Aragorn said at last, and added soberly, "We must not rest while there is yet hope for them. Their tracks lead this way." He spoke these last words as he turned and darted quickly down the rocky hill. Legolas, grim faced once again, sprinted after him, and Gimli stifled a groan as he hurried behind at as quick a trot as he could muster on his tired legs, after his two friends.

********

Legolas kept his eyes upon the ground, following at a run, the tracks made by Lalaith's soft soled boots amongst the harder deeper imprints of the orcs' feet. The tracks, left by both Lalaith and the orcs, were easy to see, especially here. For the ground, passing through this shaded hollow between rungs of jutting rock, was moist. She was growing weaker. He could tell by the scuffed, crooked steps she left. His heart wrenched for her misery and his blood pounded thick and hot through his veins at the thought of the orcs that had her. But there was one good thing that could be had by the harried pace the orcs kept. For in their hurry, they had no time to stop and rest, and make sport of their captives. And Lalaith had more to fear from them than death. But if he could not catch them before they reached their destination-, the thought of what could happen to her filled his mind with a sick fury, and he refused to think on it. He would catch them. He had to.

Aragorn, several paces ahead of him, had dropped to one knee, to examine more closely, something upon the ground, crushed down into one of the deep prints of an orc's heavy foot. "Not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall." He breathed softly, his eyes upon something within his palm.

Legolas slowed to a stop at the Man's words and drew near, his eyes fixing upon the small leaf brooch that lay in the Man's hand. It was smaller, and surely one of the Hobbits'. He had feared for them as well, for he had seen no sign of either of the small ones, alive or dead. The orcs were probably carrying them. If so, then Lalaith would have the nearness of friends to comfort her, if nothing else.

"Then the Hobbits too, may yet be alive." He offered.

"Less than a day ahead of us." Aragorn returned, rising to his feet, and starting in again, at a run, his eyes ever upon the ground, watching the tracks that fled away over the grass as Legolas drew into a run beside him. "Come."

A deep throated dwarfish grunt met Legolas ears, and he glanced back as Gimli came, rolling past a rock, down the hill from whence they had come. He must have tripped.

"Come, Gimli! We're gaining on them!" Legolas cried over his shoulder, before he turned forward and rushed on, ever faster, on Aragorn's heels.

Ever the sturdy Dwarf he was, Gimli rose again to his feet, and followed "I'm wasted on cross-country." He hollered trotting as fast as he could force his stout legs to move. "We Dwarves are natural sprinters. Very dangerous over short distances!"

The Dwarf let out a huff of air, and rushed on, wasting no more breath on words as he fought to regain the distance between himself and the other two. The ground was steep and his legs tired as he struggled on over undulating ground, and slick rocks, drawing hard, deep breaths, and forcing his legs to move onward, ever struggling to keep up as the trail the orcs took twisted through the landscape.

********

Legolas could sense her, knew he was drawing ever closer, and in his eagerness, took the lead, which Aragorn willingly relinquished, for the human could sense that Legolas knew the trail as well as if he had seen their quarry pass this way in his mind. Indeed, some thought within Legolas' mind, insubstantial, like the memory of a dream, showed him the path, marked here and there by the tracks of the orcs that served to prove that his instincts were not wrong.

At last, the trail led upward, along the slick ledge of a wide, flat rock that tilted at a steep angle, the arching sides of which curved out and down toward the terrain below. And at the tip of the rock, he paused, drawing deep breaths, Aragorn beside him, to survey the grass covered land spread below, unfolding wide into the mist hazed distance pocked here and there with jutting, ragged stones, black and gray against the yellowed, gently swelling rolls of the grassy plain.

"Rohan." Aragorn muttered beside him as Gimli came to a stop beside them, thumped the haft of his ax upon the ground, and leaned, exhausted, over it.

"Home of the Horse-lords." Aragorn added between breaths. "There's something strange at work here. Some evil gives speed to these creatures. Sets its will against us."

His words settled soberly upon Legolas' mind. For Legolas had thought the same fearful words himself, though he had dared not utter them, as Aragorn had.

At this thought, Legolas darted downward, leaping off the rock, and rushing ahead as Aragorn and Gimli came on steadily behind him. As he did, the sides of the rock fell away, opening his sight to a vista even greater than what he had seen from the ledge above him.

"Legolas!" Aragorn called, as he hopped downward, from rock to rock, with Gimli trailing behind. "What do your Elf-eyes see?"

Tightening his grip upon his bow, Legolas gazed out across the land. A haze of yellow-gray dust rose into the otherwise still air, far in the distance, and beneath it, he saw the tiny pinpricks of dark, oily skinned orcs, surging tirelessly onward. They had altered their path, having arched about, heading now, in almost the opposite direction of their previous course. He sought for a glimpse of her fair skin, or the glimmer of her hair among the darker bodies, but all he caught was what might have been the small elvish cloaks of the two Hobbits, tied to the backs of two orcs. Lalaith, he prayed, was hidden somewhere in the midst of the hoard. His mind shrank from the chance that she might be lying lifeless somewhere on the vast plain before him. No. She was yet alive. He allowed himself no other thought, for if he did, his mind would sink into despair.

"The uruks turn northeast." He called out, watching the subtle shift in the dust cloud as it slowly crawled along, marking the passing of the orc hoard. And as realization dawn upon him, his smooth brow, covered in naught but a damp sheen of perspiration, furrowed with a new fear as he cried, "They're taking them to Isengard!"

"Saruman." Aragorn muttered behind him, and Legolas' heart gave a great throb in his chest.

No, not Isengard. Not Saruman. What the corrupted wizard could do to her, what tortures he would devise for her, or for the Hobbits, Legolas dared not imagine. No. He had no choice now but to reach her before the orcs found their way to Saruman's domain. For if the orcs were to take her into the black stone fortress of Orthanc, Legolas knew he would never see her alive again.


*translations*

Orc Speech:

Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai. - I am not entirely certain, but I think it means this: Uglúk is going to that cesspool with the prisoners of filthy Saruman, the great wizard. That however, is only a guess, because I do not know the meanings of the words, "pushdug" and "skai".

Marr vogul-shara. - Stupid Little-human.

Lul Gijak-Ishi. - You have flowers in your blood.

Sindarin:

Radatha le. - I will find you.

Aeg yrch.- Foul orcs.

Thaur hîn o Morgoth. Amin dagatha pain! - Vile children of Morgoth. I will slay them all!

No thala. - Be stalwart.

Ú-na er. -You are not alone.

Ú-`osto. -Do not worry.

Melon lin ú-awarthia le. -Your friends will not forsake you.

Ú-awarthiam Lalaith a pheriannath - We will not forsake Lalaith and the Hobbits.

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