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Glorious Summer  by daw the minstrel

I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

This story is set about a month after the end of “Spring Awakenings,” but you should not have to read that story to understand this one. (I hope!)

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.

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1. My Young Lord Lieutenant

Legolas crouched in the branches and darted quick looks left and right to make sure that the Southern Patrol warriors on his side of the clearing were arranged as they should have been. With satisfaction, he noted that, even for his Elven eyes, they were hard to spot, their green and brown clad presence betrayed only by small movements of leaves that ceased as they settled into position. Across the clearing, similar small movements showed him where Sórion was arraying the other half of the patrol.

And between them, to Legolas’s right, yawned the mouth of a cave where, their scouts had reported, a band of about thirty Orcs had taken shelter for the day that was now fading from the sky. Soon, the creatures would be on the prowl again, searching for whatever prey they could find in this summer of continued scarcity. The Long Winter was over, and the floods that had followed when the snow melted had eased, at least in the Woodland Realm, but game was still in shorter supply than usual, and the enemy had grown bolder in raiding the settlements of both Elves and Woodmen. For the safety of all, the Southern Patrol needed to destroy this roving band of hunters, as they had destroyed others over the past month in numbers that were unusually large even for this most dangerous part of Thranduil’s realm.

As Legolas looked at the cave, he felt his heart quicken a little. For him, these moments before battle were harder than anything that came after, when his blood was hot and his body in motion. And he was usually even tenser when waiting for Orcs to emerge from a cave than when ambushing them as they moved through the woods, for the fact that they were hidden away meant that those waiting could never be sure how many to expect no matter how well their scouts had done their job. Because the patrol had been operating in terrain with no caves recently, this was the first time he had waited outside one since returning from his leave as the patrol’s newly appointed lieutenant. He nocked an arrow and wished fervently that the battle would begin.

He checked his troops again, looking particularly for Isendir, who had joined the patrol only two weeks ago. Because Isendir was exactly where he should have been, Legolas could pick out his short, slender form through the screen of branches. Legolas and Isendir had been novices together, and like Legolas, Isendir had served in a variety of border patrols, but he had never been assigned to the Southern Patrol before. Legolas knew it was part of his task as the patrol’s lieutenant to keep an eye on its newest member, although he felt a little self-conscious about advising anyone, given that he himself had only four months of experience in the south. Tonight, Sórion had paired Isendir with the much more experienced Riolith, and as far as Legolas could tell, the two of them were positioned as safely as they could be while still having a good angle on Orcs who would soon, Legolas hoped, be emerging from the cave into the clearing.

Legolas glanced at Beliond, who crouched next to him. His bodyguard looked serene, so Legolas assumed he was correct in judging that the warriors for whom he was responsible were well-placed. Beliond was clearly trying to let Legolas find his own way as an officer and was offering very little advice despite his own years of experience in command, some of them spent as the captain of the Southern Patrol. But an attack on Orcs emerging from a cave was tricky enough to do safely that, if anyone had been out of place, Legolas was certain that Beliond would have told him.

He concentrated his gaze on the cave again, willing the Orcs to emerge in the deepening dark. As if in answer to his wishes, a darker shape stirred in the cave’s mouth, and a large Orc emerged, stood for a moment sniffing the air, and then shook himself and turned to shout back into the cave. The Elves were downwind of the cave, so the Orc had not scented them, but the stench of Orcs grew strong in Legolas’s nostrils as more of them emerged, and he had to force himself not to hold his breath.

The large Orc who had come out first shouted into the cave again. “Get a move on!” Orcs began emerging more quickly, and Legolas noted apprehensively that they all carried bows, making them far more dangerous to the Elves in the trees than they would have been had there been swordsmen among them, as there usually were in Orc bands.

Almost unconsciously, he counted the Orcs as they emerged. What made this kind of attack difficult was that on one hand, the Elves needed to be sure that all the Orcs were out of the cave before they attacked, or they would find themselves having to dig some out of their den, a maneuver that was likely to be very dangerous indeed. On the other hand, they also needed to attack before those who had emerged first had moved far enough away from the cave that they would be outside of the lines of Elven warriors. And indeed, Legolas noticed with dismay that the big Orc who seemed to be their chief had already begun leading them toward the other side of the clearing, where they began passing under the trees in which Sórion’s part of the patrol waited.

The scouts had estimated that the band contained about thirty Orcs, and as Legolas’s count reached twenty-nine and no more Orcs emerged, he tensed, expecting to hear Sórion signal for the attack to begin. An agonizing moment passed, and then another, while Orcs moved steadily away. Surely even the habitually cautious captain could see the cave must be empty by now, he thought a little desperately. And then, just when he thought he could wait no longer, the signal came.

With a flood of relief, Legolas surged to his feet, drawing his bow as he rose and loosing his first arrow. It sank into the neck of a passing Orc with a pleasant ‘thunk,’ that he heard with satisfaction even as he spun to launch his second arrow and then his third.

For a stunned second, the Orcs had stopped in their tracks, but now they whirled with their own bows drawn and began running for what cover they could find at the same time they searched the trees for targets. A black-fletched arrow sailed toward Legolas, but he dodged easily, and then took a quick glance to his left and right to check on his warriors. Well-disciplined troops that they were, they were holding their positions, shooting arrow after deadly arrow.

By now, the Orcs had realized that they were in an untenable position, caught between the two rows of Elves who were sheltered in the trees while they themselves were more or less exposed on the ground. But Legolas’s gleeful satisfaction over their distress was cut off when a hoarse shout sounded from across the clearing, and suddenly, it dawned on him that Sórion’s Elves appeared to be in some trouble too. Fewer arrows were coming from them than Legolas would have expected, and as he scanned them anxiously, he abruptly realized what had happened. Some of the Orcs had passed Sórion’s forces and now had turned back to aid their fellows, so that Sórion too was caught between two groups of archers.

Next to him, Beliond spat a word that a much younger Legolas had once said in front of his father and spent an afternoon sitting in a corner as a consequence.

“Pin them down,” Legolas shouted, shooting rapidly. His archers needed to keep the Orcs in the clearing busy while Sórion took care of the smaller group that was behind him. But the Orcs in the clearing were beginning to panic, as the Elves’ arrows found their targets. Suddenly, one of them jumped from his hiding place and ran in the direction his chief had taken, seemingly believing that it was safer to cross under the lighter fire of Sórion’s troops than to stay in the clearing. As if a logjam had broken, his companions scrambled to follow him.

Battle frenzy swelled in Legolas’s gut, and he felt an almost irresistible urge to go after his prey. For a split second, he listened eagerly for the signal to take to the ground and pursue the fleeing Orcs, before he realized that he was now the one who would give it. And with that realization came the simultaneous one that he could not send his warriors off yet, not unless he wanted to take a chance on their being accidentally shot by Sórion’s troops, who were sending a flurry of arrows into the Orcs.

As Beliond touched his arm in silent warning, he looked to either side of him, frantically shouting, “Hold! Hold!” He turned back and fired his last two arrows, bringing down one Orc and leaving a second clutching his leg and limping as he ran. He shouldered his bow, readied his sword, and waited in an agony of impatience for what seemed like forever but was probably only a minute or so. Then, suddenly, he saw one of Sórion’s warriors leap to the ground sword in hand.

With a relief that nearly made him weep, Legolas lifted his sword over his head. “Go!” he shouted and, with Beliond right behind him, he took to the ground to lead his warriors after the fleeing enemy. With savage strength, he slashed his sword into the spot where an Orc’s shoulder joined his neck. The creature tottered and Legolas shoved him so that he fell as Legolas jerked his sword back.

“Legolas!” Suddenly Sórion was by his side. “Take Isendir and Riolith and make sure the cave is empty. And be careful!” he added, throwing Legolas a worried glance. Then without waiting for an acknowledgment of his order, he charged after the Orcs, leaving Legolas leaning after him in almost physical pain at the idea of breaking off the chase.

Then, with self-discipline he was relieved to find he had, he turned and shouted to Riolith, who was standing over a fallen Orc. “You and Isendir come with me and Beliond to check the cave.” Riolith grimaced but obeyed, catching at Isendir’s arm as he charged forward and then running after Legolas and Beliond. As he crossed the clearing, Legolas paused long enough to salvage an arrow from the body of an Orc, checking swiftly to make sure it was still usable and then fitting it to the string of the bow he now slid from his shoulder. From the corner of his eye, he could see him companions echoing his movements.

With Beliond beside him, Legolas drew a calming breath and then flattened himself against the rock next to the dark entrance to the cave, as Riolith took up a post across from him with Isendir at his rear. Legolas cocked his head to listen, heard nothing in the cave, and then edged forward to look sideways into the part of the cave he could see from where he stood. Riolith did the same thing, checking the part of the cave that was across from him and more or less behind the wall against which Legolas stood. They exchanged glances.

Legolas drew his bow, controlled his breathing, and then, giving a sharp nod to Riolith, he swung around the edge of the entrance and moved quickly aside to leave room for Beliond. He scanned the cave swiftly and then lowered his bow and let out a long sigh. The cave was empty.

“Sórion’s slowness made this easier anyway,” Isendir commented. “They had plenty of time to get out of here.”

Legolas looked at him sharply and saw Riolith scowling in his direction. As Legolas recalled, Isendir had always liked to make light of the novice masters behind their backs, but Riolith evidently did not find this comment amusing. He and Sórion were friends. And while Legolas could not help agreeing with Isendir’s evident judgment that Sórion had been slow to engage, he knew that, as the patrol’s lieutenant, he should not be criticizing its captain in front of the other warriors.

“Would you like me to pass your advice on to Sórion?” he asked dryly.

Isendir glanced at him and grimaced. “No.”

Legolas nodded. “Come,” he said. “Sórion needs us.” And the four of them hastened to join the rest of the patrol in chasing down the remaining Orcs.

The night had nearly worn away by the time they got back to camp, for the hunt for the Orc stragglers had been long. Legolas found Sórion near the campfire, bending over Fendîr and cleaning a long but shallow gash on his side. Sórion glanced up at Legolas and then, reluctantly, handed the task over to Gelmir and walked with Legolas toward the camp’s temporary command site, marked by the place where Sórion stowed his gear.

“How did Isendir do?” Sórion asked. But before Legolas could answer, Riolith, whose bedroll was nearby, jumped into the conversation.

“He did well enough, but I do not like his attitude.”

Legolas frowned. “He fought well,” he said, trying to make it clear that he was speaking to Sórion, not Riolith.

Riolith grinned. “And the new lieutenant did well too,” he added blithely. “Perhaps he will not get us all killed after all.”

Sórion raised a reproving eyebrow at him, but he also looked amused. “I know you are tired, Legolas, but as soon as it is fully light, I will be sending a messenger to Ithilden with a report on our recent battles. I want to request any supplies we need too. If you do not already know what we are low on, find out and write out the requisition.”

Legolas frowned. He did not know what they were low on, and he probably should have known. “I will have it ready for you within the hour.”

Sórion nodded and turned to write his own report. Recognizing his dismissal, Legolas pushed his tiredness aside and crossed toward the campfire where the patrol’s healing supplies were still spread out around Gelmir, who had just finished bandaging Fendîr’s side. Gelmir glanced up at Legolas.

“Did you want something, my young lord lieutenant?” he asked with a grin.

Legolas smiled good naturedly. “You sound just like Eilian.”

Gelmir laughed. “I would not want you to miss your big brother too much.”

Legolas watched as Gelmir’s smile turned rueful. Gelmir and Eilian had gotten into trouble together as children and had stayed friends ever since. Legolas strongly suspected that Gelmir missed Eilian more than he admitted, although any loneliness Gelmir felt would have to be less acute than Legolas’s longing for his brother’s affectionate and amusing company. “Do we need any healing supplies? I am getting ready to write the requisition.”

Gelmir paused in gathering up the various herbs and bandages and storing them neatly in the healing kit. “We are low on haru,” he said, poking among the packets of herbs, “and it would not hurt to get some more spider anti-venom.”

Legolas nodded and then started off to check on the patrol’s supply of acorn meal. The patrol supplied most of its own food by hunting and foraging, but Ithilden kept them well-supplied with meal to make porridge and had managed to do so even when the winter was at its worst. Legolas did not know how he managed it.

By the time he had checked on all the supplies they depended on the troop commander to provide and prepared the list of what they needed, the rest of the camp had settled to sleep, except for Sórion and those who were standing guard. Legolas handed the list to his captain, who grunted his acceptance, put it with the report he had just finished, and stowed both in the leather pouch the messenger would carry home with him.

Legolas turned to make his way to where he would sleep next to Beliond, his shoulders sagging a little with relief that the long night was over. On the way, he stopped to take a handful of new arrows from the patrol’s supply, hanging from a tree near the captain. He would make more tomorrow if he had the time. He removed his sword, his quiver, and his boots, laying them carefully within reach, and then took his blankets from his pack, spread them out, and finally lay down on them with a groan.

“You did well tonight,” Beliond said, surprising Legolas who had believed him already asleep. “You kept your head when the battle took an unexpected turn, and you looked after those who were in your command.”

“Thank you.” He was absurdly pleased by the compliment, but Beliond did not praise him often. And true to form, Beliond’s breathing almost immediately slowed and deepened, as he entered the path of Elven dreams.

Legolas lay on his back, looking through a screen of leafy branches at the few stars that were visible among the clouds that seemed constant in this shadowy part of his father’s realm. Beliond always chose the spot in which they would sleep on the pretext that he was responsible for Legolas’s safety and wanted to pick a spot that would be defensible. But it had not escaped Legolas’s notice that his bodyguard usually positioned them near one of the healthier trees that could occasionally be found among those that shadow was slowly twisting. Legolas could hear the soft song of the one whose trunk rose just behind him, murmuring sleepily but already rousing itself to greet the new day, and it comforted him, as Beliond had undoubtedly known it would.

His thoughts drifted slowly over the past night’s battle and settled on Gelmir teasing him about Eilian. He sighed. From the time he had been small, he had admired his dashing, adventuresome older brother, and he had spent years pretending to be a warrior under Eilian’s command in the Southern Patrol. Then, about four months ago, his play had finally become reality and he had been assigned to serve here with Eilian as his captain.  That had lasted all of a week before Eilian was so badly wounded that he had to be sent home, where he had no sooner gotten back onto this feet than he had disobeyed their father and bonded with a maiden whose parents were still reeling from the event. Legolas’s mouth twisted a little as he thought of the tension that Eilian’s impulsive marriage had produced at home. Thranduil had been furious, and as a consequence, Eilian was still at home and likely to remain there for a while.

Legolas rolled onto his side and pillowed his head on his arm but then wrinkled his nose and lifted his head to regard his sleeve. His clothes stank of Orc, and he was not surprised to see the spatter of black blood down his sleeve. He had managed to bathe almost every day since joining the patrol, washing in snow at first and then in the steams they usually camped near. But they had been on the move so constantly that he had not had time to wash his clothes for nearly two weeks.

He pulled a corner of the blanket over his arm to keep his face away from the worst of the smell and settled down again. Perhaps the Orcs would take a rest, and the patrol would stay in this campsite tomorrow and he would have time to do laundry. Then the muscles in his back loosened, and his vision began to grow vague, and he ran along the path of dreams toward home.

 





        

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