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Disclaimer: I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien but they belong to him. I gain no profit from their use other than the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
AN: Warning to Dragon-of-the-North: Unreasoned violence against Orcs in this chapter. My apologies.
2. Getting into Trouble Abroad
Eilian moved silently and rapidly through the branches, straining with all his senses to catch any sign of Orcs moving through the dark forest. Here, in the southern reaches of the Woodland Realm, the chances were good that he would be lucky and spot some of the beasts so that the Southern Patrol could intercept them and do battle. In the last few months, no one had been better at scouting out Orcs than Eilian had. It was as if he had developed an instinctive feel for where they were most likely to be.
To his right, the starlight showed him Maltanaur also gliding smoothly through the trees, but he knew that the older warrior's attention was divided between the woods and Eilian himself. Maltanaur was of Thranduil's generation, and the king had made him responsible for Eilian's safety and training when he had first been assigned to the Southern Patrol nearly twenty years ago now. Even yet, Eilian seldom was allowed to make a move without Maltanaur at his side. Todith captained the Southern Patrol, and in theory decided how its warriors were to be arranged, but he evidently had no intention of defying the king. Eilian thought that using Maltanaur as a body guard for him was a waste of one of the Realm's precious few warriors. Moreover, he rather resented the implication that he could not take care of himself, but he also knew from experience the futility of arguing with his father or Ithilden on this topic, and exposing such a family disagreement to Todith was out of the question.
Suddenly, he felt the hair on the back of his neck rise before he had even consciously noted the presence of what he sought. A second later, he heard the heavy tromping and then caught the stench of Orcs. A band of them was ahead and just to the left. He paused and glanced over at Maltanaur to make sure that he, too, had noticed the Orcs. Maltanaur signaled and the two of them cautiously advanced toward the band to see how many there were and how heavily they were armed.
Eilian came to a halt in a large oak, and a second later, Maltanaur was on the limb beside him. They crouched in silence, and then the Orcs came into view beneath them. Eilian frowned, for the first thing he noticed was that at least half of the Orcs carried bows. That would make the coming battle harder for the Elves, for it meant that they were vulnerable even in the trees. He shifted his attention to counting and was gratified to note that the band was not a very large one, consisting of, at most, thirty Orcs. They should be easy prey, he thought with satisfaction, even with the archers. The Orcs were lightly armored with breast plates only, so the Elves' arrows should be able to strike home easily enough.
As the experience of the Southern Patrol had taught its warriors was wise, he and Maltanaur waited until the last of the band had passed beneath them, for they wanted to be sure there were no hidden weapons or trailing groups that would make for nasty surprises when the Elves finally engaged them. Moreover, they both knew that they could fly through the trees much more quickly than the Orcs could move on the ground, so there would be plenty of time to warn their fellow warriors and prepare for battle even if they took these few extra minutes for which caution called.
The band had passed into the woods and Eilian had just turned to signal Maltanaur that they should leave, when suddenly a smaller group of half a dozen or so more Orcs appeared. One of these caught Eilian's attention, for he was unusually large with an arrogant bearing and a golden band worn diagonally across the armor on his chest. The group's leader, Eilian realized. As were several of the other Orcs, this one was carrying his sword in his hand and, as Eilian watched, he swung it casually at a tree, leaving a wound in the bark. Eilian was unexpectedly choked with anger at the idea of this Orc defiling the forest, and he was seized with an almost overwhelming temptation to draw his bow and bring the overconfident Orc down now. There were only a few warriors in this group, he thought suddenly, and he and Maltanaur would easily be able to handle them and get away before the noise they would make would draw the rest of the band back on them.
As if he sensed what Eilian was contemplating, Maltanaur put a restraining hand on his arm. The Orc leader and his companions moved beneath them and disappeared in the direction the rest of the band had taken. Maltanaur jerked his head firmly in the direction of the Patrol's current camp, and reluctantly, Eilian followed him back along the way they had come.
They encountered the Patrol's sentries a few hundred yards from the campsite and dropped to the ground and hurried toward Todith. Eilian could feel excitement sweeping through the camp at the sight of them, for it must have been clear from their manner that they had found something. He could see warriors who had been lounging by the low campfire start to gather their weapons.
"There is a band of about thirty a league or so southeast of us, heading north," Eilian told his captain. "About half of them have bows. A group of six, including one who looks to be their leader, trails a little behind the main band."
Todith immediately began issuing orders, but his warriors had begun to move even before he spoke. The Southern Patrol consisted of only two dozen or so warriors, for the kind of stealthy, mobile warfare in which they engaged was better carried out by a group of limited size. But these warriors were among the most daring in the Realm and most of them took a certain grim pleasure in a skirmish of the kind they were about to embark on.
"Sórion," Todith was addressing his lieutenant, "take half a dozen warriors and get ahead of them so that they are driven back to us. Everybody stay in the trees as long as you can. Aim for their archers first."
"Captain," Eilian urged, "if I take Maltanaur and Gelmir with me, can I go around to their rear and take out their leader?" Todith had reprimanded Eilian for rashness the week before when, to Eilian's mind, he had only been a bit too aggressive during a battle. He was trying to tread carefully with his captain now, but he could not get the picture of the arrogant Orc leader out of his mind.
Todith threw him a severe glance. "You may," he said, "but keep in mind that battle is not a solo activity."
"I will," Eilian promised eagerly.
Maltanaur had been hovering at his elbow since they returned from the scouting mission and had heard the order. Both of them turned to find that Gelmir was right behind them, strapping on his quiver. "This should be fun," he said.
Eilian grinned. He and Gelmir had been friends since they were Legolas's age. It did not surprise him that Gelmir had come to his side now without being called.
"Wait for my order to begin the actual attack," Todith told them. "Everybody go!"
The Elves were into the trees and away, moving east and spreading out to trap the Orc band between Sórion's small force and the rest of them. Eilian, Gelmir, and Maltanaur kept to the right of the main group of Elves so that they would be in a position to engage the group at the Orcs' rear.
As they reached the area where Todith had decided they would take their stand, Eilian managed to issue a quick admonition to his two companions before they all had to fall silent. "You two take out the small fry in the trailing group," he told them. "Leave the leader to me." Maltanaur did not look happy at this division of labor, but he held his tongue and gave a quick nod that Gelmir echoed.
They could hear the Orcs moving before they saw them, and Todith quickly had his main force lying in wait for the band to cross under them. With an arrow already nocked in his bow, Eilian crouched on a branch and watched, his breath quickening, as most of the Orcs passed beneath him and his two companions. The smaller group had just come into sight when he heard the bird call that was Todith's signal to attack. As one, the Elves rose to their feet and began to fire.
They had apparently taken the Orcs completely unaware, for their archers still had their bows on their shoulders. Now they scrambled to make ready to return fire, but their unprepared state had cost them dearly and, within moments, more than a third of them lay on the ground, dead or dying, and the others were scattering or making ineffectual efforts to bring the Elves down from the trees.
With a small part of his attention, Eilian was aware of this, but he was more than willing to let his fellow warriors take care of the main party of Orcs, for he was totally focused on the leader and the Orc warriors who were now defending him. He, Gelmir, and Maltanaur had risen and fired at Todith's signal, and his companions' arrows had struck home, for two of the leader's companions fell. But Eilian had not been so lucky. He had intended to shoot the leader but, to his fury, had been unable to get a clear shot. His arrow had wounded one of the Orc warriors who had accidentally stepped in front of his captain, but the leader had reacted to the Elves' attack more quickly than Orcs usually did and had dodged aside and entered thick underbrush to the east.
Incensed at the idea that the big Orc might escape, Eilian leapt over the top of the remainder of the smaller party and slid through the trees near the underbrush. He heard a muffled exclamation from Maltanaur but he ignored it, intent as he was on his search for the leader. Unfortunately, the underbrush was dense and in the darkness, he was unable to catch a glimpse of his prey. With the noise of the battle behind him, he was having trouble tracking the leader even by sound from his perch in the trees. He needed to get closer, he thought. Without a second's hesitation, he jumped to the ground, drew his sword, and began tracking through the bushes and brambles.
Inside the underbrush, the noise of the battle was muffled, and he could now make out the sound of breaking twigs that told him which direction to take. In contrast to the Orc, he moved silently, grim glee beginning to rise as he closed in. The noise ahead had stopped now, however, and he crept cautiously forward. Suddenly, he found himself face to face with his startled prey. The Orc had evidently been working his way back toward the battle and had his scimitar raised in anticipation of rejoining it. Now, with a roar, he charged at Eilian, swinging his blade with ferocious strength.
Eilian had no time to get out of the way of the sword that was slicing toward his waist, but he managed to step in close and get his own sword in position to parry the blow, using his left hand to support the wrist of his sword hand against the Orc's brute strength. In a move he had practiced over and over as a novice, Eilian then shifted his weight backwards, lowered his blade as if he intended to stab his opponent with his sword's tip, and instead drew it back so that its edge sliced a deep cut in the Orc's sword arm.
Although the Orc leader hesitated for a split second, he was undeterred by his wound. Indeed, he seemed incensed that Eilian's sword had touched him and charged again, with another horizontal swing that seemed aimed to slice the Elf in half. With a fierce sense of triumph, Eilian danced back out of the way and then immediately came in behind the strike. He put both hands on his sword hilt and swung with all his strength, ferocious joy flooding his system as he separated the Orc's head almost completely from his body. Black blood spurted into the night in a fountain that was as beautiful to Eilian as anything that had been wrought in his father's garden.
"Eilian!" Gelmir's voice shouted in warning, and an arrow flew over his head. He spun to see an Orc falling to the ground a few yards behind him, his scimitar dropping from his hand. He turned back quickly again and saw Gelmir standing in a tree at a little distance, nocking another arrow. His struggle with the Orc leader had taken them out of the underbrush and into the treed area. Maltanaur came up behind Gelmir.
"Get into the trees, you fool," snapped Maltanaur, and Eilian scrambled back to the safety of the branches to find both Gelmir and Maltanaur there with nocked arrows. Maltanaur said nothing more but led the way toward where their companions were finishing off the last of the band.
Eilian followed the other members of the Southern Patrol back into camp, weariness now making itself felt as the excitement of battle faded. Eilian wondered if it would be worth scouting for more Orcs yet tonight, but he reluctantly concluded that Todith would probably send everyone but the watch to rest. He stowed his weapons, checking and cleaning his retrieved arrows as he did so, and then went to see if he was needed to tend the wounded. Only three of the Elves had received minor wounds, however, and Sórion, who was the most skilled healer in the patrol, had already seen to them.
Suddenly, Todith was by his side. "I want to talk to you, Eilian," he said, and Eilian flinched slightly at his tone. He greatly feared that this was going to be another reprimand for his supposed "recklessness." He saw with dismay that Todith was now signaling Maltanaur that he wanted him too. Eilian could see Gelmir sending him a sympathetic look, and he grimaced back at his friend. Todith led him and Maltanaur a small distance from the center of the camp and then turned to face them.
"I believe I have a pretty good idea of what happened tonight," he said forbiddingly, "but why do you not tell me about it, Eilian?"
Eilian paused and then spoke carefully. "We attacked when you gave the order," he said, "killing two of their warriors and wounding another. The leader tried to flee, and I pursued him and killed him. Gelmir and Maltanaur killed the other members of the group." He stopped and looked at Todith hopefully, but his captain gazed at him with an unreadable expression on his face.
"Tell me about killing the leader," he said.
Eilian's heart sank. "He had hidden in some underbrush," he said resignedly, "so I had to get onto the ground in order to follow him. We crossed swords and I won. One of their warriors had followed us and Gelmir shot him."
"Gelmir was with you when you pursued the leader?" Todith asked.
"No," said Eilian. "He followed too. The Orc leader would have gotten away if I had waited," he said defensively.
"So you allowed yourself to be separated from your fellow warriors?" Todith asked. "Indeed, if I understand what you are telling me, you separated yourself from them widely enough that you would be dead by now if Gelmir had not arrived in time. You could not wait to take other warriors with you to pursue the leader who was on foot, on the ground, and undoubtedly making enough noise that an elfling could have tracked him."
Reluctantly, Eilian nodded.
Todith's eyes flicked to Maltanaur. "Have you anything to add to this sorry tale?" he asked crisply.
"No, Captain," Maltanaur responded. Eilian glanced at him. He had been able to tell from the way that Maltanaur spoke to him that he had frightened the older elf badly tonight, as he had done on several other occasions lately. He regretted that, but nonetheless felt that he had done only what he had to.
Todith sighed. "Then I have no choice," he said, and Eilian's attention snapped back to him. "You are a danger to yourself and to your fellow warriors. Tomorrow I am sending you home. You can carry my dispatches to Ithilden, and he can decide what is to be done with you. I will not have you in my patrol as long as you are behaving so undependably."
Eilian's heart stopped and he stared at Todith in shock. "You cannot be serious," he cried.
"I am only too serious," Todith responded grimly. "Maltanaur will accompany you, of course."
Eilian opened his mouth to protest further but shut it again at the look on his captain's face. He felt Maltanaur touch his arm lightly. Using every ounce of self control he possessed, he put his hand over his heart to salute Todith and then turned away. He walked stiffly toward where he and Gelmir had laid their bed rolls. Maltanaur caught up to him just as he reached Gelmir's side.
"I am sorry, Eilian," the older warrior said and then went on to where his own gear lay.
"What happened?" Gelmir asked anxiously.
"Todith is sending me home tomorrow," Eilian managed to get out, his chest tight.
"On leave?" Gelmir asked.
"No," Eilian could hear the bitterness in his own voice now. "Apparently I am to stay away as long as I behave 'undependably.'" He flopped down on his bed roll and, putting his hands to his face, drew a long breath and then let it out and rested his hands on his chest. "What Ithilden is going to say, I cannot imagine," he said, staring unseeingly at the stars overhead.
"Or your adar," Gelmir added almost reverently. Eilian cringed. He had not thought about Thranduil's reaction to his unexpected arrival home. Trust Gelmir to remind him. He had seen Thranduil angry on enough occasions when the two of them had gotten into trouble as younglings that he was permanently wary of Eilian's father.
The camp was settling slowly to sleep around them. Keyed up warriors had gradually calmed down and were now tired. Moreover, a hunting party would have to go out at dawn, for the Southern Patrol needed to provide most of its own food, and those to whom that task would fall knew they needed to sleep now.
"I will talk to Todith again in the morning," Eilian finally resolved. "Perhaps he will have cooled down enough to change his mind."
"Good idea," Gelmir agreed sympathetically as he lay back. The sound of his even breathing soon told Eilian that his friend was asleep, but Eilian himself lay awake long. Unless he had exhausted himself, he often found sleep hard to come by these days. The stars had wheeled far around the heavens before he finally drifted off.
Except for the hunting party and those on watch, the camp slept late the next morning, and Eilian and Gelmir were just rousing themselves when they heard the sound of approaching horses. Eilian blinked, for it seemed to him as if he must still be sleeping and one of his most unpleasant thoughts had just come to life in a nightmare. Ithilden, along with his aides and guards, had just ridden into the campsite.
"That is bad timing," observed Gelmir with massive understatement as they watched Ithilden exchange greetings with Todith.
Eilian could only nod in dismayed agreement and then go forward to greet his brother.
Ithilden paused for a moment to make sure he had a firm hold on his temper and then crossed the camp to where Eilian and Gelmir were tending several roasting rabbits. Gelmir looked up first. "Hello, Ithilden," he said.
Ithilden nodded at him and then turned his attention to Eilian, who had not looked up at his approach. "Walk with me, brother," he said, knowing even as he heard himself speak that it sounded more like a command than an invitation. Resignation written on his face, Eilian rose and accompanied him to a sheltered spot just inside the camp's sentry line. Here Ithilden stopped and faced his younger brother. "Just what was it you thought you were doing?" he heard himself say and knew that all hope of remaining calm for this conversation was gone. He was furious, and he was not going to be able to pretend to be otherwise.
Eilian was evidently ready for his question. "I was doing my job," he protested. "Ask Todith who has scouted out the most Orcs in the last month. Ask him who has taken on the enemy most readily!"
"And shall I ask him who has failed to follow battle plans or who has leapt blindly forward, endangering himself and his fellow warriors?" Ithilden asked sharply. "I cannot believe that you have behaved so badly, Eilian."
His brother's face went white. "I was doing my job," he repeated stubbornly.
"Then it is time you had a different job," Ithilden answered, and Eilian's gaze snapped to meet his.
"What do you mean?" he asked tightly.
"I mean that I am reassigning both you and Gelmir to the Home Guard," Ithilden answered promptly. "I never should have agreed to posting the two of you here in the first place. You are too young and inexperienced."
Eilian stared at him open-mouthed. "What does Gelmir have to do with this?" he asked in apparent bewilderment.
"Do not pretend to be stupid," Ithilden rebuked him. "He is the same age you are. Neither one of you should be here."
Eilian stared at him and then gave a snort of scornful laughter. "You cannot protect everyone, Ithilden. Someone has to fight Orcs."
"I do not have to protect everyone," Ithilden snapped, growing even more heated, "only those who do not know enough to protect themselves."
Some flash of insight flitted across Eilian's face, and with fraternal ruthlessness, he went straight for the jugular. "Naneth is already dead, Ithilden," he spat. "You cannot do anything about that now."
It was all Ithilden could do to keep from striking him.
"You and Gelmir will leave in an hour," Ithilden said with tight control. "It will take me that long to make sure all the dispatches are ready for Adar. Report to Deler when you get home. I am keeping Maltanaur here. He, at least, is likely to be of some use." He spun on his heel and started back toward Todith.
An hour later, Eilian and Gelmir were mounted and ready to start the long ride back to Thanduil's stronghold. Ithilden approached them and handed a packet of papers to Eilian. Then he turned to Gelmir. "Avoid any trouble you can on the ride home," he said. "Do not engage in battle unless you are forced to do so. The two of you are not a large enough force to stand against an enemy and be certain of victory."
Eilian flushed as he watched Ithilden issue orders to his friend rather than himself, but he held his tongue. Gelmir looked at him apologetically.
"Go," said Ithilden, and they were off.
Thanks to all reviewers, whether you sent comments via ff.net or www.StoriesofArda.com or email or Yahoo.
Dragon-of-the-north: I appreciate your patience with my portrayal of the Orcs. Eilian is really coming a little unglued in this chapter.
Caz-baz: Well, Eilian is here but he's not his usual cheery self. And it's not even raining where he is!
Levade: Legolas has a little kid's bluntness. As you say, he doesn't know that he's not supposed to talk about getting eaten by orcs. He'll be back in the next chapter.
Kay: Some heartbreak in this chapter too, although it's a little more disguised than Legolas's is. And all the worse for that, I think.
Tapetum Lucidum: Turgon and Legolas in trouble? Who would ever imagine such a thing? ;-)
PokethePenguin: I wouldn't worry too much about the ending. You know how this family looks 30 years from now, so it's just a question of getting them there.
Emmitajo: Eilian is being pretty snotty here, but he's hurting, so it's understandable.
Luin: I really feel bad for Ithilden. I think he's the one I feel worst for at the moment, although they are all in a bad way.
Lily: I actually feel a little freakish starting a new story so quickly, but I've had this one in my mind and in my notes for a while now, so it was ready to roll.
Frodo: Oh yes. Eilian will be in this story. I love the guy and want him around, although he's not at his best right now.
JustMe: So how do you like Eilian now? I think he needs that hug you have on offer.
Naneth: What a great name for someone reviewing this story! Legolas is sad right now. Poor kid.
Faervarya: You certainly guessed right about Eilian. Legolas is about 11, which makes him 4 or so in human terms.
Erunyauve: Oddly enough, I used the "eaten by an orc" thing as a childish delusion, but then my beta pointed out a line in TTT that goes: "We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand: the Hand that gives us man's – flesh to eat." So, it's unfortunately canon that Orcs eat men. I presume they would also eat Elves, although I haven't seen a reference to that fact.
Dot: They're all hurting right now. Poor Thranduil. As I was writing this, I could see more how he might miss his wife. Legolas was only 10 when she died, which means that they were still at the child-bearing stage.
Dy: Yeah, it is sad. But they do get better, as you can see from stories set in a later time. It's just a question of how.
Sekhet: Everyone in this family is sad right now. I can hardly bear to write about them. On whether Orcs eat their victims, see my reply to erunyauve above.
HardcoreWWnut: Ithilden is having a rough time right now. He doesn't show up as vulnerable very often. And reading all my stories in a few days must have left you on severe overload!
Fadesintothewest: I'm hoping I don't dig these poor Elves so far into their misery that I can't get them out again. I'd like to show them becoming what they are later, as you say! And review wherever you like. It doesn't matter to me.
StrangeBlaze: So here's Eilian, but he's behaving rather badly unfortunately.
TreeHugger: Ithilden came out sadder than I expected him to in the opening chapter and he's still having trouble. He's a strong person, so it's really surprising to see him struggling.
Nilmandra: So now we have the whole family, everybody suffering. What angst! How on earth do people write this stuff routinely?
JastaElf: I repeat what I said to Nilmandra above. How do those of you who write angst routinely manage to do it? This is so painful!
Orangeblossom Took: The king is going to have to learn how to mother his childen a little, I think. Poor guy.
Jay of Lasgalen: Lonely Thranduil is awful. And guilty Ithilden is almost startling. But it seemed to me that someone with his strongly developed sense of responsibility would be prone to guilt.
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