Deliphy had followed Durndil in a guilt-stricken haze down innumerable halls until he stopped in front of a door.
Opening it with flourish, he said, “This is your new home.” Deliphy stared in wonder at the high faulted ceiling and the spacious windows, decorated with creeping vines and wisteria. The room was furnished with two beige day beds, a long wooden table, and shelves filled with hundreds of scrolls and books. A fountain graced the center of the room. Outside, Deliphy could see a tiny garden, and further back, a latrine. A fence that she realized would be impossible to scale surrounded the whole area. Her attention was drawn back inside when the orcs unceremoniously threw Layiwen onto the floor, eliciting a gasp of pain from the otherwise silent elf.
“Be careful!” Deliphy barked angrily. The orcs hurriedly scuttled out of the room. “And you,” Deliphy continued accusingly, focusing on Durndil, “What do you mean by playing these games?”
Durndil simply smiled “What games?” He said as he walked into the hallway. Pulling the door shut after him, he added, “Oh, and Princess? Try escaping again and you’ll deeply regret it.” The sound of the door being bolted resounded throughout the spacious interior.
“Are you okay?” Deliphy asked Layiwen.
“I think so,” the elf-maiden replied. “I just really got the wind knocked out of me. That, and a large bump on the back of my head.”
“I’m so sorry,” Deliphy said guiltily.
“It’s okay,” Layiwen said, trying to sound cheerful, “I’m just a bit shaky, and I was seeing stars for a while, but it’s nothing serious.” Deliphy helped Layiwen over to one of the day beds.
“So why is Durndil accommodating us so nicely?” Deliphy wondered aloud. Layiwen sank back into the pillows with a sigh.
“Best guess? He said something before about us helping him gain lordship over Middle Earth. My guess is that he’s making an effort to coerce us into helping him willingly,” she said.
“Fat chance of that happening,” Deliphy snorted.
Two days later, Aldariel was standing on the site of Durndil’s tower, literally. She experimentally prodded the burned wood and blackened stones with her foot.
“Well?” She asked Farand. He shook his head. “So where do we go next?” Aldariel asked, surveying the rubble.
“I don’t know,” Farand said, gritting his teeth, “but I will find her, no matter what it takes.” Hearing his tone almost made Aldariel pity the souls that crossed the Captain. Legolas and Haldir soon joined Aldariel and Farand. Haldir gave a long low whistle.
“When we left all those years ago, the tower didn’t look quite this bad. Most of it was still standing, ” Legolas said.
“It is incredible what time and scavengers of the human persuasion will do to a place,” Haldir said.
“Legolas? Where do you think Durndil would have taken off to?” Aldariel inquired.
He furrowed his brow, “Well, maybe he’s gone to wherever this stone is, but I’ve never heard of it.”
“Wait a minute, what stone?” Haldir asked thoughtfully.
Legolas looked confused, “Did I not tell you of the prophecy?” “You may have briefly mentioned a stone, but I have forgotten the context, concerned as I was for my beloved.” Haldir said, embarrassed.
Legolas withdrew the scroll from his pack. Haldir read it carefully while everyone else surveyed his face anxiously.
When he had finished, Haldir sighed. “It is very frustrating. I believe I have heard something like this before, but I can’t remember what.” Aldariel waited patiently. She knew that it was only a matter of time before Haldir would recall what he was thinking of. Finally he snapped his fingers.
“I’ve got it!” He exclaimed. “It’s the Cheberacoi.” “The chebera…what?” Farand asked.
“Why did I not think of that,” Legolas berated himself. Aldariel just stared in disbelief.
“Surely you must be joking. The Cheberacoi is a myth, a bedtime story for children.” At the last comment, Legolas snorted.
“And does that make it untrue? I have it on good account, Princess, that you first thought the prophesy given Durndil was nothing more than the manifestation of an imaginative mind, yet know you know it to be true. It would seem we can no longer discount myths, as they could be reality.” Aldariel had no answer.
Silence ensued for a long minute until Farand asked. “So what is this thing you speak of, the Chebera…”
“The Cheberacoi,” Haldir interrupted. “It means `Keeper of Life'”
Legolas took up from there. “The legend or `myth’ says that a stone of great power is located near the western edge of Mirkwood Forest, though it has never been found. There is a catch to harnessing the stone’s power, however. It is missing three pieces. When these three pieces are returned, the power of the stone will be immeasurable, but until then, it lies silent,” he added.
Farand looked thoughtful, then nodded. “That sounds like it pretty much parallels Durndil’s prophecy, except for one thing. The legend says nothing of who can use the three missing pieces, but according to the prophecy only Aldariel, Deliphy, and Layiwen can wake the stone.”
“Perhaps the legend is incomplete,” Aldariel said softly. “It is only a legend. Maybe part of the truth has been lost. After all, Galadriel said only the three of us could unlock Middle Earth’s power.”
“Aye, that is true,” Legolas agreed, “Either way, Durndil believes that he needs the three of you alive, which is good news.” He smiled at her.
“We must make for the western border of Mirkwood,” Farand declared.
“So how much longer will this little trip take us?” Aldariel asked. Farand traced a line from their present position to Mirkwood.
“I’d say anywhere from four to ten days, depending how far up the border this stone is.” Aldariel sighed. She was getting impatient. They had already ridden for three days since they left the site of Durndil’s Tower. The size of their party was making the trip take longer. Aldariel, used to traveling with just her sister, found the pace maddening. In exasperation, she flung open the tent flap and stomped outside. She noticed Legolas walking over toward her. Aldariel was in no mood to deal with him. She strode quickly away, hoping it was Farand he had come to talk to.
She had taken maybe a dozen steps before she heard him call, “Aldariel wait!” She gritted her teeth. No such luck. Legolas came up behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder. Aldariel automatically stiffened.
“Hey, is something wrong?” Legolas asked, concerned. Aldariel had had enough. She whirled to face him.
“What do you mean is something wrong? How can you even ask that? My sister and best friend are missing. We have really no idea where it is we’re going, but wherever it is, we’re going there at a snail’s pace!” She shouted, not caring that they were in the middle of camp. “And to top it all off, you’ve gone and fallen in love with my sister!” Aldariel hadn’t meant for that last to come out, and now she covered her mouth in horror. Legolas was taken aback, especially by Aldariel’s last comment. Suddenly everything made sense to him. Aldariel’s odd behavior since the raid, and her continued unwillingness to allow herself to fully trust him was because she thought he was infatuated with Deliphy. She most likely assumed he had seen her sister’s beauty and fallen for her. This belief would have been cemented because he had taken Deliphy into the woods to talk to her. How was he to tell Aldariel that when he had taken Deliphy into the woods, it had been to talk about her? And though her sister was very beautiful, Aldariel was just as stunning, and more so to him. How could he tell her that?
Aldariel was cursing herself. All the careful barriers she had erected around her feelings had come crashing done in a moment of weakness on her part.
“Aldariel…I…” Legolas started. A sudden commotion at the edge of camp registered on the elves’ keen senses, disrupting any further conversation. They both took off running, pulling out their bows as they did so.
“Legolas! They’re back!” Farand yelled as he burst out of his tent.
“Why?” Aldariel yelled back, but then realization dawned on her face. Legolas stopped in his tracks, grabbed Aldariel’s arm, and ran in the opposite direction.
“They won’t get you, I promise,” He said forcefully to her. Aldariel risked a glance over her shoulder. The orcs were swarming through the camp behind them at an astonishing rate. She turned her eyes forward, and all hope of getting away undetected faded. A patrol of orcs had been sent ahead, obviously to keep any soldiers from escaping. Legolas swore loudly. He notched an arrow and fired, sending it through the foremost orc’s chest. Another arrow quickly followed, also finding its mark. Aldariel followed suit, catching one of the orcs in the neck. It gurgled once, then fell dead.
The orcs obviously hadn’t expected the elves to stand and fight, so they were a bit slower in returning fire; but soon a volley of arrows filled the air. That was when Legolas realized their fatal mistake. The orcs wanted the Princess alive, but anyone else would be killed. The orcs were firing at Aldariel. Aldariel had somehow managed to evade the arrows, but the battle wasn’t over. The orcs rushed at the elves, brandishing swords. Legolas and Aldariel drew their fighting knives. Legolas managed just a few short words.
“Aldariel! They think you’re just a regular soldier.” He half expected her to tell him that was the point of her disguise, but she simply nodded once, letting him know she understood, her mind on the battle to come. Metal met metal in a clash borne of sight and sound. Aldariel slashed, then slashed again, each time with deadly accuracy. Her agility and strength had increased, fueled by her anger. But more orcs were coming, drawn to the fray like bees to a hive. Aldariel spared a moment to check on Legolas. He too was scoring heavily on the horde. She turned back to the battle, but against the orcs’ increased numbers, she felt her strength failing. She found it increasingly harder to parry blows. The only thing that kept her going was her hatred for these evil creatures who had taken her sister and friend.
After what seemed like hours, the last orc lay dead, fallen among its comrades. Legolas stood, breathing heavily, his strength utterly spent. Aldariel was in much the same condition, swaying lightly, as though a gentle breeze would knock her over.
“That wasn’t …so hard…now was it?” She gasped out in between breaths. Legolas grinned at her and she grinned back, their problems momentarily forgotten. Then it all came rushing back. Their expressions turned serious.
“Listen Aldariel, there’s something I need to tell you before you say anything,” Legolas said, walking over to her. She hesitated, but didn’t back away. “Aldariel, I don’t love Deliphy.”
Aldariel blinked, “But…”
“I just took her into the forest so I could ask about you. I so wanted to be your friend,” Legolas interrupted. Casting his eyes down, he added, “I want you to trust me. I’m so sorry if I’ve hurt you in any way.” Aldariel was trembling. She lifted Legolas’ head gently until his eyes met hers, and then smiled tremulously. Their reverie was soon broken.
“Legolas! Aldariel!” came the call. Haldir was standing on the other side of the carnage. “I was worried about you two,” he said. With a glance at the heap of bodies, he added, “I guess I didn’t need to.” Aldariel and Legolas walked carefully over to him.
“It is good to see you alive also, old friend.” Aldariel smiled.
“Where is everyone else?” Legolas asked, concerned.
“Most of the damage was done on the eastern side of camp. Come.” Haldir motioned. Legolas followed, with Aldariel taking up the rear. Bodies of the slaughtered raiders lay everywhere. Aldariel nimbly jumped over one of the orc bodies. Suddenly, a searing pain lashed across her side. Numbly she looked down and saw the sneering grin of the seemingly dead orc. In her wearied condition, she had failed to see that it was still alive; and was obviously looking for one last kill before the end. When the initial shock wore off, the pain became more intense. Agony filled Aldariel’s mind, clouding her thoughts. She stumbled a few more steps, then fell to the ground where she lay gasping in pain.