The Greenwood Tales: Part 4 - Fleeing
The Elvenking carried his bow, fashioned from sturdy heartwood, and a full quiver of arrows on his back. His sharp eyes scanned the darkness nervously as the Elves hurried deeper into Greenwood, farther south, toward Lórien.
All through the night they ran, their soft feet making no noise on the loam of the forest floor. Throughout the night, as if spurring them on, they heard echoes of an Orc war-horn.
The party came upon the Elves just as the dawn was breaking. Thranduil shoved Elaimar behind a tree and loosed his bow. An Orc fell backwards, shrieking, with the shaft buried deep in his throat.
The guards, led by Aladain, started the charge, their Elvish swords flashing and whistling through the air. More than one Orc fell to the ground with cloven head. Haldir aided the Elvenking, his own shots flying straight and true to impale Orcs in the throat, head, or chest. Other Elves used small daggers or knives to defend themselves.
Elaimar picked a stone up from the ground and heaved it. It struck an Orc in the head, knocking him cold to the ground. Another came charging after the queen. Aladain threw himself in the way, protecting Elaimar with his own life.
Thranduil saw more than one Elf fall to the Orcs' cruel scimitars. Despair welled in his heart as he shot again. His people were dying before his eyes, and he could do nothing to stop it. Spinning on the ball of his foot, he kicked an Orc in the face and shot another.
At last, who seemed to be the orc-captain shrieked something in Orcish, and all the Orcs turned and charged off through the trees, shrieking and smashing branches, their horrible laughter echoing dreadfully through Greenwood.
"Aladain," Elaimar breathed.
She was kneeling, cradling the Elf's head in her lap. He was staring at her with blank eyes, his tongue working around the corners of his mouth. A bloody wound gaped in his chest, a wound surely meant for the queen herself. His arms fell flaccidly to the ground, his body limp in her arms.
"Aladain, NO!" Thranduil cried, running to his friend's side and taking the cooling hand in his own. "No!"
"Thranduil," Aladain whispered. "Thranduil." He paused, his tongue working across his lips again. "Remember what happiness was - so long...ago." With those words, the Elf's head fell back and his eyes darkened. His body stiffened in Elaimar's arms.
"No!" Thranduil cried.
Aladain was clearly at the very edge of death. He smiled up at Thranduil, his deep brown eyes empty. "My friend - my friend - I wish that you know - "
His body went limp.
"NO!" Thranduil cried, seizing Aladain's shoulders and nearly shaking him. "No! You cannot! You cannot! Aladain! My - "
Sobbing, he gathered the Elf's body into his arms and cradled it. Putting out his hand, he slowly closed his friend's eyes. Then his head fell onto Aladain's cold chest and he wept.
A light touch on his shoulder made him turn. Haldir stood there, his deep eyes full of sadness. "I grieve profoundly for your loss, Elvenking of Greenwood, but perhaps it is not the end. My Lady Galadriel knows of certain arts."
At that moment, Thranduil felt something stirring from Aladain's body. His life force, climbing the paths to paradise.
Wait, he implored it. Stay with me a while.
The force hesitated, fluttering gently. It seemed undecided as to whether to stay with its friend, or continue its journey to paradise, where pain and cold, grief and war would never trouble it again.
Thranduil stood, his arms thrown out to either side, his entreating face turned upwards. If Aladain's soul fled, his friend was truly lost.
The force rippled gently through the air, making a just-perceptible fluctuation in the air. Then it turned and dove through the trees, straight into Thranduil.
Thranduil felt a new life force within him, warm and effervescent, stirring through his veins. Each breath he took, he knew Aladain took also. When he moved his fingers, he felt Aladain move his. His friend's soul lived within him.
Haldir's dark eyes widened in astonishment. "The slaughtered Elf captain - he now lives within you."
"Yes," Thranduil said, feeling Aladain stirring in his veins. "Perhaps your Lady might yet be able to revive him."
For the first time, a hint of a thin, ghostly smile brushed across Haldir's lips. "Perhaps. I take it as a symbol of honor that you should place such faith in my Lady's powers. They are, after all, great." His eyes flickered nervously to a tall rowan, as if the tree itself might be listening to his words.
The Elves hastened off again, Aladain's limp body born by Thranduil. As he walked, the Elvenking did not feel sorrow, for as he drew each breath, he felt Aladain draw one as well. He felt Aladain make a move with each move he made.
The journey through Greenwood was long and arduous, day melding into day. Even as the bone-weary Elves struggled toward Lórien, in the hopes that the Lady Galadriel would shelter them from the terrible evil awakened in Khazad-dûm - Hadhodrond in Sindarin - they lost faith that this would be so. It seemed as if Greenwood would never end.
Each day, Elaimar's belly swelled more, marking the growth of her and Thranduil's child within her. Each day, she became more and more weary with the punishing distances the Elves forced themselves to endure. Thranduil often had to aid her physically, as no horses had been brought.
One night, as some of the Elves were despairing that they would never come to Lórien, Thranduil sat alone beneath the shade of a tall oak, thinking to himself, Aladain's body lying next to him. Surprisingly, the body had not begun to smell or decay, even though Thranduil had been bearing it for at least a month. Aladain still seemed as if he was sleeping, deep in pleasant dreams. His eyes were closed; his golden hair arrayed neatly on his slender shoulders. His fair hands were clasped upon his breast.
At that moment, Elaimar, who was lying next to him, suddenly squeezed his hand. "Thranduil," she whispered, raw terror in her voice. "Thranduil - I think the baby's coming."
Not now! Thranduil leapt to his feet - at that moment, as ill fortune would have it, an orc-horn sounded faintly, somewhere to the east. He swore badly in Sindarin underneath his breath and called for Haldir.
The Elf-captain of Lórien was there in a moment, his swift soundless feet carrying him quickly to the Elvenking's side. "What is it, your Highness?"
"Her baby is coming," Thranduil said, motioning at Elaimar. "Or she says it is so. What shall we do? I heard an orc-horn to the east. If we do not flee, they will take us unawares and slaughter us all - yet we cannot make my wife run if her child is about to be birthed."
Around them, Elves had fallen into uneasy dreams, their open eyes staring past the trees at the clouded sky. They seemed to be awake, but they did not speak and did not move.
Thranduil bit his lip so hard that he drew blood.
"It is only you and I," Haldir said.
First, they made Elaimar as comfortable as possible, using their cloaks to make her a bed on the turf. Then, Thranduil took his wife's head in his lap and gently soothed her.
The labor began quickly. Contractions rippled across Elaimar's stomach, and her face twisted in pain. Thranduil took her hand so that she could squeeze it when the contractions got even more painful.
Haldir sat on his knees before Elaimar, trying to handle the situation as delicately and gently as possible. He knew the Elvenqueen was embarrassed to be giving birth to her child in the dead of night with enemies near at hand - the horn sounded once more - and therefore was trying to be as tactful as he could. He smiled ruefully. This was one thing he had never done before.
After two hours of labor, Elaimar gave a last push and moaned faintly. A baby boy slid into Haldir's waiting hands. He took a shaky breath, his dark blue eyes opening wide, and gave a wail. There was light fuzz on his head, and his face was nicely shaped.
As Haldir carried the child off to bathe him in the stream, Thranduil helped Elaimar clean herself as best as he could. She smiled up at him, her eyes bleary with exhaustion, and brushed a kiss against his face. "Our son."
"Our son," Thranduil repeated, stroking her cheek. "Our son."
Haldir carried the infant to the brook, laid him on the bank, scooped handfuls of water from the stream, and rinsed the blood of the birth from the baby's fine skin. Although the water was cold, the child did not cry, merely stared up at Haldir with his cobalt eyes.
When he had finished, he came back with the child, washed clean of the blood. He had swaddled the young prince in his gray cloak, to keep the newborn warm. He gave the baby to his mother, then stiffened.
Suddenly, Haldir gave a great shout, snatching the infant back from Elaimar. "Our enemies are almost on top of us! Flee! Run!"
The Elves leapt to their feet and took off at a dead run just as they heard Orcish feet thudding through the woods. Thranduil half-carried Elaimar, who was weak from childbirth. Haldir held the prince against his chest as he ran, his long strides carrying him farther and farther ahead.
All night, the Elves ran as hard as they could, keeping barely twelve feet in between themselves and their enemies. Growling and cursing, the Orcs ran as hard as they could, but even their surprise attack was not enough to catch the swift-footed Elves. One of the guards carried Aladain's body.
Just as morning dawned and the Elves felt deadly weariness stealing over them, they burst from the woods to see Lórien, the mallorn leaves glimmering in the pale dawn. They ran faster and faster, fear and hope giving speed to them, even as the Orcs drew nearer and nearer. The young prince, safe in Haldir's arms, was staring around with wide eyes, an awed look on his little face.
Just as it seemed the Orcs must overtake them, the Elves burst through the boundary of Lórien. The magic of Galadriel's ring, the mighty Nenya, had placed strong spells on the boundaries of the Golden Wood. The Orcs could not pass. Cursing, they shrieked as the Elves of the Greenwood ran deeper and deeper into the Golden Wood.
They had reached Lórien.