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The Tide of Times  by daw the minstrel

I borrow characters and situations from Tolkien but they are his. I draw no profit other than the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.

Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this for me.


8.  Enemies

 “Go!” ordered Eilian, sending the warriors from the Southern Patrol into the trees, hastening to intercept the Orcs who were traveling much too near to the settlement.  Their scouts had reported that the Orcs seemed to be fleeing in front of the fire, but rather than aiming for the settlement, they appeared to be following the easiest course and veering slightly south, through a valley that would take them around the higher ground on which the settlement was located.

Eilian was taking no chances, however.  He wanted his warriors between the Orcs and the already besieged settlers.  Indeed, he had been worried enough about the size of the approaching band that he had sent a messenger for Siondel and the Home Guard troops he commanded.  The novices and foresters would be safe enough in their camp without them, for the settlement and the fire were both between the Orcs and the Home Guard’s campsite.

As he leapt from branch to branch, he could sense the trees’ increasing uneasiness.  The fire was drawing closer, and the forest was mourning its losses.  The air was growing perceptibly warmer, and ash continued to fill the air, combining with the tantalizing rain clouds to darken the night.  In terrifying counterbalance, the western sky glowed an unnatural red.  Ruthlessly, Eilian pushed fears for Legolas and Celuwen out of his mind.  He needed to concentrate on directing the oncoming battle.  That was his job, and anything that distracted him from that task had to be temporarily put aside.

He came to a stop in an oak tree and sounded the signal for his troops to halt and arrange themselves in a line that would block access to the settlement and allow the Southern Patrol to kill as many of the enemy as possible.  Eilian was well aware that Orcs who escaped him today were likely to attack Thranduil’s people on some other occasion.  If the beasts were fleeing from the fire, he hoped they were doing so in blind panic, for that would make it easier to waylay and destroy them.

The spot Eilian had chosen was ideal for an ambush, because the Elves had come down from the ridge on which the settlement stood and were now ranged up the valley side, while the Orcs would be below them, caught between them and a stream.  The stream was the one that also ran near the settlement, but it was deeper and wider here.  Any Orcs trying to escape the Elves’ arrows by crossing it would be slowed down and become even better targets.

Maltanaur landed on the branch next to him.  “Siondel is right behind us,” he murmured, and Eilian nodded.  The two of them crouched motionless, their bows in hand and arrows nocked.  In a few moments, more shadowy shapes slid from the treetops behind them into positions that reinforced the line of warriors already in place.

As Eilian waited, a cool breeze murmured through the leaves, and he glanced up to see that the clouds had begun to move more swiftly.  Rain is coming, he thought, and hoped that it would come quickly.  And then, on the breeze, he caught the scent of Orcs, pungent even through the smoke that stung his eyes and throat.  His fingers tightened slightly on his bow.  As many times as he had lain in wait for Orcs, this moment when he first became aware of their approach never lost its ability to make his breath quicken and his heart pound.

Just when he thought he could wait no longer, large, lumbering shapes began to emerge from the smoky darkness and swarm along the edge of the creek, first singly, then in groups, and finally in a hurrying mass. Eilian waited until they were spread before the entire line of Elves, and then he gave the shrill, whistled signal that drew all of his warriors from their waiting crouches to send arrows flying into the bodies below.

For a stunned instant, the Orcs plainly did not understand what was happening.  Their minds had evidently been on the danger of the fire, and they had been caught completely unaware by the danger of the Elves.  Eilian’s warriors had time to loose a second and then a third round of arrows into them before their archers could even get their own bows off their shoulders.

In the chaos of the next few minutes, Eilian was hard put to keep track of all parts of the battle while shooting as many of his own arrows as he could. Increasingly thick smoke was obscuring his vision, and the Orcs’ fear of the fire had them behaving unpredictably.  The Orc archers were, for the most part, shooting back at the Elves, but the Orc swordsmen were using the time their archers gave them to flee rather than dodging arrows and waiting to engage in battle when the Elves had spent their arrows and had to take to the ground.  Eilian had no intention of letting the beasts escape if he could help it.

“Siondel!” he called, catching the other captain’s attention. “Take your warriors and see if you can head some of them off.”  Siondel nodded and waved his Home Guard warriors after the fleeing Orcs.

Eilian shot his own last arrow, dragged his sleeve through the sweat on his face, and then, after taking a final look around to make sure that all was going as it should, he launched himself from his perch in the tree to land on the back of a startled Orc archer and drive a knife into his neck.  All around him, his warriors were doing likewise, coming to the ground with blades in hand.  With terrible grace, Elves were bearing down on scattered and panicked Orcs. An unholy glee swept through him.  The enemy would suffer at the hands of his warriors tonight, and he rejoiced in that suffering.

Eilian drew his sword and swung it at an Orc archer, coming in close to hew at the Orc’s hands and knock the bow out of them.  The Orc grabbed for his own sword, but as he did so, he seemed to involuntarily cringe away, and suddenly, Eilian realized that something unexpected was happening.  Much too much light was shining into the Orc’s face, blinding him and leaving him helpless.  Without hesitation, Eilian ran his sword through his opponent’s belly, but then he jerked it free and turned to see where the light was coming from.

What he saw made him draw in his breath.  He abruptly realized that he had been aware for some time of a gradually growing roar and that the air had been becoming hotter.  Now he saw that the fire was crawling across the top of the ridge above them.  The wind that had come with the promise of rain had also fanned the flames and driven them forward.  The fire had jumped the cleared area and was sweeping toward the settlement.


Celuwen held the cup of water to Legolas’s lips and let him take another sip.  He was doing much better, she thought.  He could prop himself up on his elbow to drink, and he had kept down all the water he had drunk for the last two hours. Eilian would be pleased. She smiled at the thought, and Legolas saw her and smiled back. Then he let himself carefully down onto the bed again.

Suddenly, the door to the room was yanked open, and she turned to see her father standing in the doorway. “The fire has jumped the break,” he said grimly. “We need your help throwing more water on the cottage.”

She froze.  Worried that this very event might happen, her parents had thrown buckets of water on the cottage walls and roof the previous evening after they had finished cutting trees at the stream.  Celuwen had helped when she could, but she had not felt able to leave Legolas for long.  Now she hesitated.

“Celuwen,” he urged, “we need you.”

From the corner of her eye, she could see Legolas’s pale face, turned toward her father.  He was listening with his brows drawn together in a faint frown.  She suspected that he was not entirely certain what was happening.

“Celuwen,” her father insisted, “we have no time to waste.”

He was right, she thought reluctantly. There was no time to waste, and her choice was made.  To her unending sorrow, she had made it long ago when she had been too young to know what it would cost her.  The sound of someone pounding on the front door came from the other room.   She met her father’s eyes and answered him. “I cannot come.  I need to get Legolas away to safety.”

“If you help us, he will be safe here!” her father cried.

“I am so sorry, Adar,” she said, her voice cracking, “but I cannot.”

For a brief moment, he stared at her in disbelief, and then he gave an incoherent cry and whirled away to rush out of the cottage.  Through the open front door, a warrior hesitantly entered.  Smoke came into the cottage with him and wreathed itself around the edges of the room.  “Mistress,” he said tentatively, “are you ready to go? I have orders to take you and the youngling to the Home Guard’s camp.”

She pulled her gaze away from the empty space into which her father had vanished. “Yes, I am ready,” she said steadily.  “Here he is.  You will have to carry him.”

Roused by the urgent tones of everyone around him, Legolas was looking more alert by the minute.  Now he looked at Celuwen.  “Clothes,” he said firmly. “I want my clothes.”

She blinked.  “We do not have time,” she said in exasperation. "We will wrap you in a blanket."

“I will not go this way,” he insisted.  The warrior put his hand over his mouth to conceal a smile.

Celuwen regarded the stubborn young face and, mixed with irritation, she felt a sudden sympathy for Legolas’s clutching at what dignity he could in his current helpless situation.  “Very well!” she cried, grabbing Legolas’s pack from the corner where Eilian had left it.   She rummaged through it and drew out some leggings.  “Give me your knife,” she demanded, and when the warrior handed his weapon over, she dug the tip into the right leg and cut it open from the knee down so that Legolas’s splinted foot would fit through it.  She tossed the leggings to the warrior.  “Help him into these,” she commanded.  “Be careful of his right leg. His foot is broken.”

Her back to them, she pulled out a tunic and inspected it.  It was fashioned from very fine linen and had obviously been made to fit him.  It would lie too closely on his back and chest to be wearable in his current state, she thought.

She hurried into the outer room and pulled one of her father’s still-damp tunics from the drying rack, gathered three towels that she dipped into the water bucket, and then hastened back into the bed chamber.  Legolas was sitting up on the bed and the warrior was just fastening the leggings.  She put her father’s tunic over Legolas’s head and gently eased his arms through.  He would have to do without shoes. At the moment, she had no idea where his were, and he could not have worn one on his right foot in any case.

She tied one of the towels across his nose and mouth.  “This will ease your breathing when we get out into the smoke,” she told him and gave a second towel to the warrior, who promptly tied it about his own face.  He scooped Legolas up in his arms and started out of the cottage.  She followed, fastening the third towel in place for herself.

Their faces masked by wet cloths, her mother and father were both busy dipping buckets into the barrel of water that stood by the corner of the cottage.  Their neighbors’ cottages were too far away for her to see what was happening at them, but she knew that they would be doing the same thing.  Smoke was thickening the warm air, and carried on the wind from the trees that were already on fire, small sparks were drifting around them.

Feeling traitorous, she ignored her parents and turned toward where the warrior was lifting Legolas up onto the back of a very nervous bay stallion. The fire and frantic activity around him had obviously alarmed the horse, and he was moving restlessly, making it hard for the warrior to settle Legolas without the horse treading on his foot.

“Do not worry, Pilin,” Legolas murmured, as she approached.  “It is only me.”

“I need to ride behind you, Legolas,” she told him.  “You are not steady enough to ride alone.”

The warrior looked doubtful.  “Perhaps you should take my horse, mistress, and I will ride with Legolas.”

“I will do it,” she responded firmly.

At that moment, while the warrior was still turned toward her, a spark landed in a clump of grass in front of the stallion and flared briefly.  Before the warrior could catch at the already edgy horse, Pilin whinnied and reared, sending Legolas sliding to the ground.  With a cry, Celuwen rushed toward him.  He sat clutching at his already broken foot.

“I fell off my horse!” he exclaimed in horror.

She almost laughed.  You may not become hysterical, she told herself sternly.  “Did you hit your head?” she demanded.

“No,” he said, clutching at his foot and beginning to rock slightly.  “I landed on my Orc-begotten foot.”  She pushed his hands away and found, to her dismay, that the splints had been shattered.  He had undoubtedly reinjured his foot. Another spark landed next to him and burned itself out.

“We must be on our way,” the warrior insisted and then picked Legolas up and put him on his own horse rather than on Pilin.  He motioned to Celuwen, who needed no further urging to leap into place behind Legolas and put her arm around his waist to steady him.  The warrior grappled for a moment with Pilin and then he, too, mounted.  He called to his own horse and kicked Pilin into motion, with Legolas and Celuwen following close behind.

She managed one quick look back at the cottage where she had lived for so long.  Thick smoke smudged the edges of the house, the trees, her parents.  Tears stung her eyes and not all them were caused by the smoke.  She turned forward again and buried her face in Legolas’s back.


Eilian stared in horror at the fire crawling along the ridge above them.  Something stung the back of his right hand, making him jerk, and he realized that sparks were drifting down on them.  A loud, terrified roar from behind him brought him back to the moment, and he spun to find that Orcs were fleeing both along the stream and across it.

“After them!” he ordered, running forward with his sword at the ready.  His warriors had evidently been caught by the same scene that had held him and panicked the Orcs, but now they were in motion again, pursuing the fleeing enemy.

An Orc tripped and fell to the ground directly in front of him, and with pitiless strength, Eilian beheaded him.  Then, unexpectedly, he had to stand still and struggle to catch his breath.  For a moment, he wondered what could be wrong with him, but then he realized that the hungry fire was drawing air up the hill, leaving both Orcs and Elves panting.  A warrior struggled with an Orc not ten feet in front of him, both of them gasping as they grappled.  Eilian stumbled forward and drove his already dripping sword into the beast.  The warrior nodded his thanks, and Eilian saw that his face was reddened from the heat. It suddenly occurred to him that his own skin, too, was warm wherever it was exposed to the increasingly scorching air. Another spark drifted down and burned a tiny hole in his sleeve.

It dawned on him that their enemy now was the fire.

He put his hand to his mouth and gave the warbling signal that called for his warriors to disengage.  To his left and his right, he could see Elves driving their swords home and then stepping back to allow the remaining Orcs to run along the edge of the stream and escape into the murky night.

“Into the water,” he shouted, waving his sword overhead so that his scattered warriors would all see.  But they did not need his urging.  Already they were wading into the stream, and Eilian staggered after them.  The cool water came up to his thighs and then his waist.  A spark bit into the back of his neck, and he slipped beneath the water, feeling its sting against the tight skin on his face.

He surfaced and turned to look at the ridge and the hill sloping down from it.  At the top, flames were reaching high into the night sky, with thick, acrid smoke pouring off them.  He knew that they were unlikely to descend the hill, for fire defied the force that held the rest of them to Arda and ran ever upward, but showers of sparks were swirling off the fire and drifting through the trees on the hillside.  And far off to his left, he could see more flames creeping along the valley toward them.

For a moment, his thoughts threatened to slide into terrified visions of Legolas and Celuwen, caught in the inferno and screaming for him to help them.  I cannot think of that now, he insisted to himself.  For now, I am a captain of the Woodland Realm and these warriors are depending on me.

He glanced behind him and considered ordering his troops to cross the stream where they might be safer, but he hesitated.  The settlement was in the path of the fire, and its inhabitants would need them once the flames had passed.  Moreover, he did not think the Orcs would return, but he could not be certain, he did not want to leave the settlers exposed to such a horrifying assault.

Even as he debated with himself, something light struck the top of his head.  He turned his face up quickly and felt another soft tap and then another.  It took him a moment to realize what was happening.  Rain! he thought jubilantly, scarcely able to believe it.  A ragged cheer went up around him as his companions, too, recognized that it was rain, and not sparks, that fell with increasing intensity all around them.

For a brief time, Eilian stood in the stream, letting the rain beat down on his face and chest, and then he waded toward the shore.  His warriors followed him from the water.  They had work to do, he thought, and they needed to do it now so as to be ready to go and see what remained of the settlement once the rain had done its work.  Once again, he choked back the fear and impatience that clouded his judgment when he thought about the two whom the fire would have come near.  I cannot think of that now, he reminded himself.

He considered.  Ordinarily they would burn the bodies of Orcs they had slain so as not to leave the forest polluted by their presence.  The idea of setting a fire now seemed like a very bad joke.  He shrugged.  He could only assume that the Valar had a strange sense of humor.

“Gather the bodies,” he ordered, and his warriors began the unpleasant task of dragging dead Orcs through the mud and wet ash that now lay all about them.

Eilian turned to Maltanaur.  “Check for wounded,” he said.  “You go that way; I’ll go this.”  Maltanaur nodded and they set off in opposite directions to check on the state of their own troops.  Eilian found one warrior with an arrow in his thigh and another with a sword wound in his left arm.  He set other Elves to tending both of the wounded.  Neither wound looked serious to him and his main concern was they be kept clean.  Ashes were still drifting down on them and the ground was becoming increasingly slick.

Increasingly impatient to be on his way to the settlement, he walked back toward his starting place to meet Maltanaur.  “What did you find?” Eilian asked, trying to use his wet sleeve to wipe the rain dripping from his forehead.

“Three from our patrol are wounded, although none of the wounds is serious,” Maltanaur said soberly. “But, Eilian, one of the Home Guard is dead.”

Eilian’s heart sank.  Of all his duties, the one he hated most was telling people at home that someone they treasured would not come into their arms again. “Who is it?” he asked.


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