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Prodigal Sons  by daw the minstrel

4.  Men


In the course of the night, the weather changed and a thunderstorm blew up.  Clouds covered the moon and stars, and deepened the darkness.  Rain penetrated even the thick leaves above them and soaked them both, making sleep impossible.  Their horses were unhappy at the thunder and had to be reassured.  Along with their animals, they huddled under the thickest foliage they could find to wait out the storm. They had stood there for perhaps twenty minutes, when, over the noise of the storm, Legolas thought that he heard some sort of stir further down the path.  He strained his eyes and ears and had just put his hand up to grab his bow when Turgon said tensely, “There’s something coming.”


The two of them acted in speedy concert. They sent the horses away, moved to the underbrush, and readied their weapons.  The noises sorted themselves out into at least three creatures, two of them heavy and the other lighter.  The lighter one was stumbling, as if it were injured.  Legolas had just had a sudden flash of knowledge about what the heavy creatures must be when they burst into the sight.  Orcs!  Legolas cursed himself and Turgon for not having taken to the trees instead of the underbrush.  They had been told over and over again that trees were the best vantage point for fighting Orcs who could not climb themselves.  But he had simply not realized until too late what the approaching creatures must be.  He had heard talk of these beasts all of his life, but he had never seen one before. The darkness made it impossible to see clearly now, but the hulking, clumsy creatures moved far more quickly than seemed possible from their heavy forms.


Responding to his long training rather than to his somewhat panicked feelings, Legolas aimed, fired, and had the satisfaction of seeing his arrow lodge in the left shoulder of one of the Orcs, although the creature seemed to take about as much notice of it as he would have of an annoying insect bite.  Turgon had sent a shot into the other one, but the two of them were still notching new arrows when, alerted to their presence by the arrows, the Orcs turned upon them.


Both Orcs carried swords that they swung as they charged the two Elves.  Legolas managed to get off another shot that again struck home before he had to scramble out of the way, drawing his long knife.  He far preferred a bow as a weapon but its use was limited in quick, close combat.  The Orc that he had shot kept coming at him, seemingly untroubled by the arrows.  The creature stank and its eyes glowed yellow. Legolas ducked under the Orc’s sword and came in close.  The Orc grunted and clouted him on the side of the face with the hilt of his sword.  Legolas was stunned, but not too stunned to use his long knife in the same move he had practiced over and over only three days ago.  With a grunt, the Orc sank to the ground.  Legolas wrenched his knife free and turned to see how Turgon was faring.


To his surprise, someone else had now entered the clearing and was wielding a sword alongside Turgon.  The Orc that they were battling hacked at the newcomer, who parried with his own sword but probably not before the Orc had wounded him in the shoulder. Legolas ran to them, but the stranger managed to drive his sword into the Orc’s gut and the creature collapsed.


“Are you all right?” Legolas asked frantically.


“Yes,” said Turgon, although his voice was shaky.  He had spun and was now pointing his sword toward the stranger, uncertain of who he was and why he was there.  The stranger raised his hands placatingly, swayed, and then, in a slow, graceful move, he collapsed to the ground.


Legolas and Turgon looked at one another and then moved cautiously to the stranger’s side.  To Legolas’s shock, he realized that their supporter was a Man.  He was tall and dark-haired, with a stubble of beard on his face.  Legolas had glimpsed Men occasionally, when the Men of the lake brought goods or messages to Thranduil, but he had never been close to one or spoken to one.  Thranduil was mildly hostile to the race, seeing in all of them the people who, along with Elrond and Gil-Galad, he believed had bungled the Battle of Dagorlad and caused the deaths of two-thirds of the Mirkwood warriors, including Thranduil’s own father, Oropher. That the leader of Men had then kept the Enemy’s ring for himself had confirmed Thranduil’s opinion of Men’s general untrustworthiness.


Legolas had as a matter of course come to share some of his father’s distrust of them and was alert to possible deception by the prostrate Man.  Thus he kept his knife in his hand as he bent over him, checking to see what injuries he had suffered.  There was a deep cut on the man’s left shoulder, probably the wound that Legolas had seen him suffer at the hands of the Orc. More serious, there was a gash in the top of his head that had probably been there before he ever entered the campsite.  Legolas pulled back his hand and found it sticky with human blood.  “He has a head wound,” he said, sheathing his knife. “Go and get one of our packs.”  Turgon stood immobile staring at the Orc who lay dead at his feet. “Turgon,” Legolas urged. “Get one of our packs.”


Turgon roused himself and raced off to retrieve a pack from under the tree where they had sheltered.  He brought his own back and extricated his healing packet, something neither of them would have entered the woods without.  All warriors in training were taught simple healing techniques that would inevitably be needed on the battlefield. The packet contained some herbs and a limited amount of clean bandaging. Luckily, the storm had moved off and the rain was now dwindling, so Legolas was able to see the Man’s wounds as he cleaned and bandaged them.  He did not want to risk using the herbs on the wound; he had no idea of how they would affect a Man.


“Help me move him to a drier place, if we can find one,” he requested. Between the two of them, they lifted the surprisingly heavy form and draped one of his arms around each of their shoulders.  The Man was unconscious, and they had to drag him, with his toes trailing in the mud, to the spot beneath the tree that seemed the driest place about.  Both of their blankets were wet from the rain, but Legolas wrapped the less wet one around the Man’s body.

“He needs a fire, I think,” he said.  Accepting Legolas’s leadership in this matter, Turgon began to search for reasonably dry wood and kindling.  After some effort, they managed to get a fire started.  They sat back on their heels and regarded their--what? Savior? Prisoner?


“Who do you think he is?” asked Turgon.


“I have no idea.  One of the Woodmen, perhaps.  I think that we have been following one of their trails.”


“I do not like this,” said Turgon.  “I do not think that we should be around when he wakes up.”


“We cannot leave him,” Legolas protested. “He is hurt, and there may be more Orcs about.”


At this, Turgon shivered.  The battle with the Orcs had not been nearly so exhilarating as the ones with the spiders.  He had come close to having his head cut off.  “What do you propose, then?” he asked, his anxiety making him sharp.


“We need to wait for him to awaken,” Legolas said stubbornly.


Turgon blew out his breath in exasperation.  “Very well,” he said, knowing it would do no good to argue.  He looked at Legolas, “Does your face hurt?” he asked in sudden concern.  Legolas touched the left side of his face where the Orc had struck him with the sword hilt.  Now that Turgon mentioned it, it did hurt.  He sat patiently while Turgon fetched the healing kit again and dabbed at the cut and the growing bruise around it with a salve that stung like fire. Turgon’s hand trembled slightly as he worked but Legolas refrained from commenting on it.  This battle had been frightening.  In a tribute to their training, they had both functioned well while it was happening, but in the aftermath of it, they were both taking time to recover.  Legolas felt no remorse for slaying the Orcs, but he felt a great deal of healthy respect for the threat they had posed.


When Turgon had finished dabbing the salve on his face, Legolas looked up at the stars that were now visible through the trees.  “There is only another hour or two of darkness.  Why do you not see if you can sleep?  I will keep watch.”


Turgon accepted the offer with visible gratitude.  With the excitement of battle draining away, they were both finding themselves exhausted.  Turgon lay down as close to the fire as he could, and Legolas sat down against a tree near the Man.  He contemplated the wounded Man and wondered what he was doing in Mirkwood.  Was this something he should be worried about? Should he try to get word to his father of the Man’s presence?   The warmth of the fire flowed over his tired muscles, and he became aware that his eyes were glazing over and he was drifting off to sleep.  He stood up and began to pace the campsite.


A sudden unexpected noise caught his attention, bringing him to full alert.  He strained his ears and the noise came again.  Someone, no, two people were moving quietly, but not quietly enough, around the edge of the campsite in opposite directions.  Legolas’s ears told him they were too noisy to be Elves and too quiet to be Orcs.  He drew the only possible conclusion. Turgon was stirring slightly, probably disturbed by the unusual noise but not yet awake.  Legolas prodded him with his foot.  “I think our guest has friends out there,” he murmured, as Turgon’s eyes came into focus.


Legolas searched his mind frantically, trying to remember any advice he might have been given on how to handle a situation such as the one they were in. He recalled Thranduil’s distrust of the race and hesitated. The Men probably did not know yet that Legolas and Turgon had heard them.  He could call to them, challenging them to appear, but for all he knew, they were hostile and were even now readying their weapons to fire at the Elves who would be quite visible in the firelight. Turgon was looking to him for an indication of what their actions should be.


Finally, Legolas did the only thing that occurred to him.  He drew the dagger from his boot and put it to the throat of the injured Man.  Having just enough wits to remember that the Men probably spoke Westron, he spoke carefully in a language he had never had occasion to use before.  “Show yourselves,” he called, “or I will harm your friend.”  He cringed at the shakiness of his voice.


There was a moment’s silence, and then, across the campsite, a Man stepped from the trees, his bow lowered and containing no arrow, his free hand raised with the palm out.  “We mean you no harm,” he said soothingly.  Turgon, who spoke no Westron, had sprung to his feet, clutching his own bow at the ready.  He had watched Legolas’s actions in some confusion, unable to believe that his friend would put a dagger to the throat of an unconscious person.  Now, he lowered his own bow in response to the Man’s soothing gestures.


Legolas had thought that the other lurker was on his side of the campsite, but he had lost track of just where this second Man was when the other had stepped forward and spoken.  Now he glanced quickly around to see if another Man too had stepped into sight.  Suddenly, someone heavy sprang at him from behind, knocking him down and then wrenching the dagger from his hand.  At the same moment, the Man who had entered the campsite lunged at Turgon and seized his bow.  With some struggle, the Men overpowered the smaller Elves, and Legolas and Turgon found themselves pushed to their knees with their hands tied behind them.  The Man who had first entered the campsite searched them quickly, taking their weapons, including the dagger from Turgon’s boot.  He then stood in front of them with his sword drawn.


The Man who had grappled with Legolas bent over the wounded Man.  He spoke in Westron to the one holding the sword, “He has a shoulder wound and a nasty gash to the head. I thought I saw that Orc’s sword strike him there.  He must have gotten the shoulder wound after we were separated in the skirmish. The wounds have been cleaned and bandaged though.” Then he stood up from his examination and looked thoughtfully at the two Elves.  In Westron, he asked, “Was it you who bandaged our friend’s wounds?”


“Yes,” said Legolas. “The Orcs ran into our camp.  I think he must have been chasing them, because he followed after.  He helped us to slay them.” He pointed with his chin at the two Orc bodies that still lay further down the path.


“He helped you?” the Man holding the sword asked, sarcastically stressing the pronouns.  “Are you sure it was not the other way around?”  He appeared amused by the claim that this slim youngster had just made.


Legolas opened his mouth to say something undoubtedly unwise, given that he was bound and had a sword pointed at him, but the Man tending to the wounded one interrupted.  “Peace, Sarelad,” he said.  “Surely you can see they’re only lads.  I don’t think we will unbind their hands, though. We don’t necessarily want them summoning a pack of Wood Elves who will do more than threaten us with daggers, even though my guess is that these two had no intention of carrying out their threat, given that they had just spent a fair amount of effort in caring for Aragost. You may have to tie their feet as well,” he added regretfully.  “Let me see to Aragost, and then we will deal with our Elven friends.”  He searched in his own pack and removed a healer’s packet not so very different from the ones that Legolas and Turgon carried. 


The Man holding the sword did as he had been bid and trussed their feet. Then he stood back and regarded them curiously.  He could not imagine what these two obviously young Elves were doing in this dangerous part of Mirkwood, and he did not like situations that he did not understand. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” he asked suspiciously.


Legolas bristled.  These woods were his father’s realm, and these Men were intruders who had no right to speak to him or any other Elf in that tone.  The Man prodded Turgon gently with the sword point.  “I asked who you are,” he said.


“He does not understand you,” said Legolas. “He does not speak Westron.”


“Then you may answer for him,” said the Man with the sword.


Legolas grimaced in frustration, but answered.  “I am Legolas,” he said, giving no patronymic. “This is Turgon. And who are you and what are you doing here?” he added in as rude a tone as he could muster.


The man stared at him for a moment and then laughed.  “You have cheek. I’ll give you that,” he said.  Legolas was unsure exactly what “cheek” meant, but he chose not to ask.  The man bowed in exaggerated politeness. “I am Sarelad, and this is Berioger.”


Berioger sat back from his labors over the wounded man and frowned. “I think we will just have to wait.  I don’t want to move him, though. We should build up the fire.”  He glanced at Sarelad.  “Can you get some wood?”  Sarelad shot one last amused look at the Elves and then left to carry out Berioger’s bidding.  Berioger looked at Legolas. “You did a good job of cleaning and bandaging our friend’s wounds. Thank you.”   Legolas nodded once curtly in acknowledgement.  These Men had tied him and Turgon up and had been unforgivably rude.  He was not about to be polite from his current position.


Berioger waited until Sarelad returned. Then he picked up his own pack and pulled out dried meat. “Are you hungry?” he asked, as he approached them. “I will untie your hands so you can eat, but you shouldn’t try to escape,” he said.  “We mean you no harm, but we can’t let you go until Aragost is able to move on.  We have heard that Wood-Elves are not friendly toward Men, and I can’t take the chance that you’ll summon more of your people and try to take us captive or worse. Tell your friend what I say.”  Legolas translated, and when he had finished, Berioger untied first Legolas’s hands and then Turgon’s.  He offered them some of the meat.  They hesitated and then accepted, but they waited until he had eaten some before they tasted it themselves.  He snorted.  “Suspicious lot, you two are.”  He sat down with his back to the tree under which Aragost lay.  Sarelad settled next to him taking his share of the meat and never removing his eyes from Legolas and Turgon.


When they had finished eating, Berioger tied their hands again.  “You might as well lie down and try to sleep,” he advised.  “We could be here a while.”  They stared at him with gazes that he found unsettling.  “Lie down,” he said again, making it an order this time.  Legolas translated for Turgon.


“I do not like this,” Turgon answered.


“Nor do I,” said Legolas, “but we must bide our time.” The two of them lay down, but they kept their watchful eyes on the Men.

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