Faráel signalled to his hidden counterpart at the other side of the thickets dense growth, he waited the allotted ten heartbeats then retreated back to the tall oak where they had first spotted and followed them. As expected his watch partner followed suit and soon joined him at the base of the tree.
“Random or organised?”
“There are too many of them to just be out hunting for food, did you see their chief—he was an Uruk” answered Seline, a warrior female of the Golden Wood, one of the few females who regularly ventured from the borders of the Lady’s realm.
“I suggest we head back and tell Lord Haldir before the scum find their dead guards. There are yet a few hours before dawn and who knows what they are up to”
“Good idea ‘ráel. Lets get moving”
Back at camp the two scouts roused and reported their findings to Haldir, he was surprised to say the least; it was not often that orcs travelled abroad in such numbers. He was worried that his forty elves would come into contact with the three-score humanoids so he woke his most trusted warriors to formulate a plan of action.
Day two out in the woods and Tae was becoming used to travelling, that is to say that her backside had stopped throbbing from saddle soreness. She now lay curled up under her cloak fast asleep next to the dying embers of the fire, though far enough away that no stray sparks could dance into her hair and cause mischief.
She was dreaming of her mother for the third consecutive night. Tae saw herself in bed as a child cradled in her mother arms as she learned all about elves after a particularly nasty nightmare. This time Tae noticed a lone tear making it silent way down her mothers’ cheek as she spoke about the ‘imaginary’ beings.
She could now see the resemblance and connections between Palermo and the elves; she was one of them. The elf stood up as Tae’s father entered the room, an easy smile on his dark features and a loving twinkle in his eyes as he surveyed those closest to his heart. With a birds eye view Tae watched the scene unfold; again with a different ending.
This time Palermo began to change. Before her daughter and husband she began swirling her hands in the air and speaking foreign words, the lights flickered and Tae watched on, a feeling of dread in her heart. Her mother stepped away from her family as they looked on in confusion, next the room seemed to shiver involuntarily and the Palermo’s figure became taller and more imposing, her clothing likewise changed, the knee length skirt becoming floor length and her shirt expanding and spreading into long robes which changed to an iridescent blue colour. It was her mothers eyes that drew Taes attention the most, through the metamorphosis they where the most startling.
Suddenly Palermo looked up at the ceiling, arms raised, pointing as if in accusation right at the spot where Tae viewed the scene from. Palermo clenched one fist as if grasping an invisible object and Tae felt her throat instantly tighten, her mother continued to squeeze and Tae found it hard to breathe; as if her own mother was purposefully strangling her after noticing her watching the dream.
But Tae wasn’t about to stick around and get strangled, with the mood she saw her mum in; it was worse than when at fifteen she had come rolling home reeking of cheap cider and singing Bilbo’s walking song which Palermo had taught her as a baby.
Tae frantically roused herself- anything to get away from those piercing black eyes, pupil-less and staring right through her and at the same time belonging to the mother she knew as a gentle soul. She opened her eyes away from the disturbing vision and drew breath desperately- the constricting feeling already fading away into the lightening gloom of the forest.
Tae sat up in the forest, her eyes becoming accustomed to the dim light. All around her elves where up and about, some packing up belongings and others strapping on swords and getting into silvery mail shirts; it took a while for Tae to register what was happening, and remember that none of the elves had worn armour at the beginning of the journey. She was suddenly jerked more roughly into reality when a pair of hands took her by the shoulders; she looked up with confused eyes into the cool gaze of Haldir. He transferred his hands to hers and pulled her into a standing position.
“Get ready Tae, we leave in a few minutes” he stated with a strained smile and then turned his back to see to other matters. The marchwarden was always serious when the subject turned to orcs.
Tae noticed the guarded look that was hidden in Haldirs green eyes but had no chance to ask when he simply walked away, she turned around and began gathering up her things with a sigh when a shadow darker than the nights shadow that still lay thick on the ground crept into her awareness.
“How come we’re up this early anyway, the sun has yet to rise” she asked looking up and stretching herself at the same time. She curved her spine backwards until she was satisfied and clicked her neck back into its usual position with a wince.
“There is some trouble up ahead but nothing much to worry about, Haldir thought it best to start moving, whether we engage the enemy or not is entirely up to Eru” answered Legolas, spinning an arrow deftly through his fingers as if he’d been doing it his whole life.
‘Probably has’ thought Tae with a wry smile.
“What kind of enemy?”
“Orcs so I hear, though they may have a troll or two in their service”
“You could have just said orcs” said Tae with a shiver at the mention of trolls; she had a thing about crossing bridges as it was.
Legolas smiled warmly and lifted an arm to wrap it comfortingly about her shoulders, Tae instantly felt calmer and a lot happier to be around forty battle trained warriors.
“We wouldn’t let anything happen to you Tae, besides, Elrond would have our heads”
Tae smiled at the compliment and even managed a chuckle at the thought of ‘anything happening to her’ so sure she was that the elves would protect her.
“Never mind what his eldest son would do to us if we let his loved one get hurt” he called as he wisely began to walk away from the frowning half elf.
“Legolas, you know as well as I do that Elladan are just friends” she began to shout hotly at the departing elf but her voice lost all conviction as the glade fell into absolute darkness and Tae was pushed to the ground roughly.
Tae regained sight a few seconds later when the blackness swirled away directly in front of her as if Eru had stirred the soup-like darkness with a wooden spoon.
Tae had to physically blink and rub her eyes to comprehend what she saw in front of her. A few yards ahead an identical being lay on the ground in a similar fashion, only this image of Tae did not have her eyes open.
Right in front of her Tae saw herself bloody and bruised in the last moments of life, she watched on stiff with shock as the last streams of bright blood ran down from her partly open lips, her ripped and torn clothing stained crimson with the remnants of her lifeblood.
Tae practically saw her own chest heave for the last time, the faint breath of air escaping for the very last time from her blood filled lungs, the juddering movement as she died was enough to turn the face that gazed up at the heavens sideways to look at Tae, the lids falling limply open to stare sightlessly at herself. Tae shivered uncontrollably at the ghastly sight and felt bile rising in her throat; her body felt like it was being set on fire as heat rose into her face and sweat began a steady trickle into her eyes.
She blinked back the moisture that increased tenfold as she became aware of the stench of blood and guts filling the air and crawled over to the body, she was conscious enough to grasp the idea that the body in front of her was an apparition but the fact that she had just seen herself die did nothing to assure her that something was not amiss. It looked like an exaggerated extra from the Thriller video.
Maybe she’d been hit on the head by an orc and she was unconscious and dreaming about her own death, or maybe she had been killed in those few seconds after Legolas had spoken to her and now, in spirit form she was saying goodbye to her body before leaving for the afterlife. Tae was running these possibilities frantically through her pounding head as she reached herself and looked more closely at her own face, she tentatively reached out with shaking fingers to touch the corpses cheek, Tae was curious to see if touching the apparition would release her from this sick scene.
As her fingers neared the cheek Tae could feel a strange coldness emanating from the body, there was no way that a dead body could cool down to that extent so fast after death. Before Tae could contemplate any further the body jerked suddenly and she fell back in shock and fear. She watched in terror as the body stood up, dripping blood and gore everywhere and towered over Tae as she lay there in fright, the vacant eyes rolled sickeningly from their previous sightless position to gaze evilly at her.
Tae’s stomach lurched in sheer apprehension as she followed the movements of the living corpse as it lurched drunkenly towards her, displaying all the horrific injuries that it had received before it died, Tae counted a slit throat, disembowelling cuts and a deeply embedded crossbow quarrel as but a few of the injuries that could have caused this ‘twin’ of hers to die. She had more important things to worry about though, when the zombie-like being began to snarl and gurgle menacingly and it made to grab her as she scrambled back, legs pumping desperately to gain purchase on the sandy ground to escape the fearsome creation.
“Get your stinking self away from me——I–I–I’m warning you!!!—– HELLLP!! SOMEONE!!!!!!!!!”
Tae kept crawling until her back was against an impenetrable object blocking her only means of escape. Tae struck out at the being with her long legs, though if her kicks made any effect at all the creature didn’t batter an eyelid. Tae had no option to give up; she did not want to die.
Tae screamed and punched with renewed vigour as the creature inevitably got to her, she felt its death cold hands grasping and scratching her body with long raking scrapes, it felt like daggers of ice tearing into her skin- steam rising as cold steel-like fingers met yielding skin and hot blood. Mercifully she blacked out before the creature got any further, her pounding hands falling limply and defeatedly on the beasts shoulders, her body becoming still after the frantic struggling that had the pair rocking in Tae’s fruitless defence only seconds before.
Legolas looked worriedly to Haldir, the marchwarden looked equally distressed but avoided his questioning glance, the Prince of Mirkwood returned his anxious stare to the lifeless form cradled in Orophin’s strong arms. She had ceased struggling and screaming only a few moments ago and for that he was glad, maybe now they could relax.
The elves had no choice but to attack the orcs because of the Lady’s state, thankfully there had been no losses in the short battle—yet. Tae’s screaming would have alerted even the most stupid goblin to their presence and given them opportunity to ambush; Haldir had chosen to act first- before their dim-witted brains could register the noise and connect that with the din of a female in distress. Legolas thought as ill of orcs as the next elf, but he had to credit that Uruk leader with at least some skill- he had lasted more than seventy seconds against the blond princes’ long hunting knives.
As the sun rose Haldir signalled for the group to stop, turning on his steeds back to see if there had been any change in Tae’s condition.
Orophin had seen her fall and he ran to her side just as Haldir had been calling for the party to mount up, the marchwarden had rushed over to where his brother held the lady in his arms and immediately checked her pulse and temperature. Her facial expressions were what persuaded him attack the orcs, Haldir watched as she frowned in confusion and then seemed to get scared, when she began to call out it only confirmed his suspicions that something bad was happening wherever Tae was and she needed help—-fast.
After around twenty minutes of riding Haldir and the elves engaged the group of orcs and slaughtered them efficiently, even those elves who hadn’t gotten to know Tae understood the haste that was in essence to kill the enemy and get Tae to safety. When she started struggling and kicking out, temperature rising to burning levels, she had been in Orophin’s arms as he stayed out of the orc battle to keep an eye on her.
When the rout was completed Orophin had rode through the orc bodies to where his brother stood waiting, the elves re-mounted and sped off on the road home.
After backing away into the elf that held her, away from some unseen foe that she seemed to be fighting desperately she then collapsed in exhaustion. Orophin called that her pulse had grown faint though her temperature was resuming some semblance of normality. Haldir felt a growing suspicion in his mind that something was drastically wrong and he set the group moving at a steady canter, fearful that the movement would aggravate Tae’s condition but anxious that they reach the Golden Wood before it was too late.
They reached the Golden Wood without further incident, Tae had still not woken up but her pulse was growing stronger. Orophin stared down at the lady cradled before him on the back of his horse, her eyelashes fluttered every so often and she seemed to be sleeping peacefully at last. He or everyone else for that matter hadn’t the slightest idea what had caused her collapse, the Lorien elf hoped that it had been nothing serious enough to cause a long lasting effect on her health.
He stroked her soft skin soothingly as he had been throughout the day that they had spent riding fast towards Lothlórien, she groaned softly and swatted his hand away,
“—bog off—elladan—” she murmured groggily
It was the first proper movement that she’d made since her struggle against the unseen assailment in the early hours of the morning; Orophin smiled, glad that she seemed to be recovering and urged his mount to catch up to his brother who led Onyx, Tae’s horse.
“I think she’s going to be fine brother”
“Just as well, the whole of Imladris would declare war on us if we let their Lady come to harm” smiled Haldir; angling his dappled grey gelding towards Caras Galadhon, rising like a shining leafy beacon through the forest.
“The Lady will know how to treat her, if there is even any treatment necessary. Tae will be up and about in no time as if nothing happened” he assured the younger elf.
“Ada, has there been any word from Lothlórien, have they arrived yet?”
“I do not know daughter, I conversed with your grandmother this morning but Tae and the others had not yet appeared” the smile belied the anxious feeling the Lord of Imladris felt in his heart, something had happened yet he had no idea what had befallen his young charge, or even if he was right to worry; he would not voice his concerns to his inquisitive child though; there was no reason for the whole of Rivendell to know.
“Maybe something happened—or they ran into trouble. Mind you, it would be nothing Haldir and the others couldn’t handle- sometimes I wonder whether the marchwarden ever looses”
Elrond chuckled and began to retell a rarely known story of when Haldir went one on one with a certain blond balrog-slayer. He tucked away the apprehensive feeling gnawing at his mind and told himself that Tae would be fine.
If anything did happen to her he promised himself that he’d take Legolas on a little outing to visit his woodland kin.
Elladan slumped to his bed exhausted, the last nights activities with a rather forward and willing maiden tiring him, out added to the day he had
spent with Glor on the ranges. The balrog slayer had gotten all serious on
him, chastising him for using maidens and not having the sense to keep his activities private; coupled with an irksome lecture on holding the bow properly.
Elladan didn’t care about the former much; it wasn’t as if their were rules about sex before marriage or anything clandestine like that. He scratched his smooth chin thoughtfully, letting his guard drop for a rare moment to think about a certain someone who was at this moment residing in Lothlórien, he sighed.
The elf lord didn’t usually act this way, he was missing Tae and angry all
at the same time- letting his wrath manifest itself by bedding a few maidens out of spite. He had tried in vain not to imagine Tae as he rutted with the female last night, he knew it to be a mistake but he had
stubbornly given in to temptation and bedded the eager elf in some futile attempt to forget about the only one that he truly wanted.
It was early evening and the elder-boy of Imladris had skipped the communal evening meal; preferring to take sustenance out in a secret spot in the gardens. He chose wisely to stay out of the public eye, if what Glorfindel had said was true than the whole colony would be buzzing about Elladan’s dalliances with Matarese, the loose elf had probably been boasting of her ‘catch’ to all and sundry. Elladan had no wish to face the questioning from his brother or sister as to why he had chose to sleep with her when it was so obvious he really loved Tae; he could not even give himself a satisfying answer.
Tae finally regained consciousness on the third day after leaving Imladris, she awoke tucked up in bright white sheets covering her from neck to toe; she swiftly sat up to get a measure of her surroundings. She figured that either she had found her way to heaven or someone had brought her back to life then found out she was really a princess and put her in such fabulous quarters that a member of royalty would deserve.
The bed was elaborately carved from a pale coloured wood and all around were hung thin veils of fabric, adorning the windows and bedposts. Through the windows slanted rays of golden light that danced on the gauzy material which swayed in the light breeze.
Tae stood up, then realised with a blush that she was starkers so she grabbed the bed sheet and wrapped it around herself, wandering over to a mirror hung on what seemed to be an authentic wooden beam that ran with several others floor to ceiling around the room. She gazed at her bedraggled experience, memories resurfacing of the ordeal with the ‘killer twin’, with the disturbing images that flashed across her mind Tae remembered the pain that had been coupled with the frightful experience and pulled open her makeshift gown to expose her flesh which Tae had imagined the zombie raking.
They searing agony blazed back in all its former glory and Tae’s head swam with the memory that was jogged as she saw the long, deep, reddish scars; some still bleeding and dripping all over her body. She gasped and shut the robe, blocking the horrific image of her body in the mirror; had she not imagined the assault by the dead being? Tae unnervingly opened the sheet again but this time there was naught there but a shining jewel smiling up at her from her belly button. Tae’s chin dropped and she stepped back in horror- was she delusional or had she really seen evidence of her undoing at the monsters hands?
She had no time to wonder though as there was a knock at the door, she wrapped the sheet more tightly around her body and straightened herself, prepared to her meet visitors; maybe now she could get some answers and find out where the hell she was.
“She seems to be recovering well my love, I wonder if she will even remember the details of her encounter with Serbitar’s shade in the next few weeks”
“I sincerely hope so my lady, even I have heard the rumours—-Peredhil would disembowel us all personally if he thought she had come to harm”