8. Chapter Six: Dimulmaion
They hit the water hard but not enough to damage themselves from the great height they had fallen because Legolas’ horse landed first and broke the surface tension of the river before he and Melia plunged into it. A blanket of cold water immediately swirled in overhead as the momentum of their fall forced them almost to the bottom of the river. It was hard to keep stock of each other after such a tumultuous landing and all Legolas could do when the black waters hid the sky from him was to follow the course the bubbles emerging from his mouth to reach the surface. Beneath the river, it was absolute dark, not even sunlight guided them to air. He could not see Melia at all and that filled him with some sense of panic. It did not help matters that the current of the river was strong and was sweeping them further down its length with each passing moment.
"PRINCE!" He heard a panicked cry as soon as he broke the surface and emerged into the night air again.
Legolas’ eyes searched immediately for his lover and found her not far behind him. She had managed to surface long enough to utter that frantic cry and he soon saw why she had called, because she was clawing frantically to stay a float. It took but a second to realize that she was not swimming or threading water for that matter. She could not swim! Legolas immediately broke into powerful strokes as he fought the current to reach her. However, the white frothing waters around him did not make it easy. He took a deep breath and dove under the waves, swimming unhindered once he was beneath the onrush of water.
The elf reached Melia just as she faltered in her battle to stay afloat, her hand clawing desperately for something to keep her above the surface when she began to descend into the depths of the Forest River. With far more speed than he thought himself capable of, Legolas surged towards her and wrapped his arms around her waist, as she became completely submerged in the icy water. Securing his arm around her, Melia immediately did the same around his neck and clung on for dear life as he used their collective buoyancy to push them both to the surface.
When they broke the surface, Melia was gasping greedily for air she had been denied almost to the point of death when he had reached her. She clung to him tightly as he tried to steer them towards the embankment but her added weight upon him and the strength of the river would not allow them to break free of its powerful currents. Legolas tried to catch sight of their horse and saw that the steed had been born further down river. Suddenly, something surge into the water near his ear and as he followed its direction, saw the goblins were staring at them from the edge of the small cliff over which they had fallen. The creatures were hissing at them in fury at their escape but were not about to relent in their pursuit. They were soon descending the cliff by way of the incline that led to the shore, hoping to ensnare their prey when he and Melia emerged from the river.
"Hold on," he ordered over the sound of the rushing water and she complied with a frightened nod as he let himself relax no longer fighting the flow of the river. The rushing water was more than happy to accommodate them as it swept them further down its length, until they were moving so fast that it was difficult to keep track of the enemy and almost as difficult to keep the river from claiming them permanently.
The river carried them further downstream for how long, neither Melia or Legolas could say but the goblins seemed to falter in their pursuit after a time. The water had frozen their limbs beyond tolerable levels and it was very necessary for them to leave its cold behind or else they would be seriously chilled and possibly take ill. Neither had any desire to have that eventuality befall them, especially since it felt as if they were on the edge of the world or beyond it perhaps. Legolas knew that if his elvish endurance was teetering to the point where he was unable to withstand their situation any further, Melia’s state would be even worse. He searched the shoreline and saw no evidence of their pursuers but he could not be sure. He sensed danger all around them, not from any specific place so he could not tell whether or not it was safe to make for the embankment.
Legolas caught side of his steed staggering out of the water, the creature appeared exhausted as its hooves dug into the shale beach. It shook the water off its body and did not appear uneasy as it had been during their flight from the goblins. It was still dark overhead and would be so for many hours but Legolas knew they could not stop here. It would not be truly safe in this area until the sun was above them once again. He started swimming towards the edge, deciding that the nearest shore was as good as any to make their emergence. Fortunately, his bow and arrows had remained fastened to his body as well as did Melia’s crossbow. If there were to encounter the enemy, at least they would be far from defenseless.
After what seemed an eternity, they arrived at the shore, almost completely exhausted from the effort because the weight of their clothes and their weapons had increased the load upon them considerably. Legolas was rather surprised that they had managed to remain afloat whilst battling the river but would not question what little consolation that was to be had from their present crisis. Upon crawling onto the embankment, they collapsed heavily against the sand, succumbing briefly to their ordeal in the river. Melia was already starting to shiver against the icy cold water against her skin but she was doing her best to tolerate it.
"How is it," Legolas said through his exhausted breath when he finally turned to her, "that you can ride as well as any man, shoot a bow better than most, fight and I might add curse like even the most hardened of warriors and somehow in all that accomplishment, forget to learn how to swim?"
Melia scowled at him darkly, "I do come from the Sunlands you know, there is not a great deal of water there. What little there is we conserve for bathing and drinking, not anything as frivolous as swimming."
"But you have been in Middle earth for some time, did you never think to learn?" He asked.
"No!" She declared defensively. "Do you know how to sew?"
"I am a Prince of Mirkwood," he retorted with great dignity. "I am not required to know such things. Besides what use is it to me?"
"Exactly," she grumbled, wringing the water out of her hair and quickly scanning the surrounding trees. "We need to get out of here," she muttered.
Legolas was already on his feet and striding towards the horse that had sighted his master and came in search of their familiar scent, waterlogged as it might be. For someone who was soaked to the skin, he moved with surprising speed and made Melia swear under her breath when she stumbled about like an infant on unsteady legs, in her saturated clothes. She needed to get warm but could not even think about a fire or anything resembling a campfire until they were well away from here. While there was still darkness about them, there was no reason to assume that the goblins would have given up their pursuit and if they had not, then they were most likely converging upon the riverbank even as she and Legolas stood upon it.
"The saddle is gone," Legolas noted with a frown as he noticed the bare back of the animal. Fortunately, the reins still remained but everything else was swept away by the river. Legolas decided not to complain for he was accustomed to riding Arod in such a manner but was uncertain if Melia was capable. "We will need to ride double," he stated as he took hold of the reins and steadied the animal in order to mount it.
"All right," Melia nodded, loosening the fasteners that held her crossbow in place across her back. Her stores of bolts had dwindled substantially for some had been washed away in the river. Only a handful remained in her possession and she was not happy of this fact. They were hard to replace at the best of times and out here in the middle of nowhere, it was damn near impossible. As Legolas slipped onto the steed’s back, he outstretched his hand towards her. Melia caught his arm as he pulled her up and she nestled behind him comfortably.
"We must move now," Legolas suddenly replied, digging his heels into the horse’s flank and sending the animal surging towards the cover of trees.
She did not need to ask why when a band of goblins burst out of the shadows. The closest one ran across the ground with surprising speed towards them, brandishing a cruel looking mace that was meant to disable the horse. Melia raised her crossbow without thought and let fly a bolt of steel. It embedded itself in the goblin’s forehead and the creature barely had time to offer a shriek before dropping dead in its tracks. Not that there were not already enough of the foul beings to take its place.
Legolas had already forced them into moving but the horse was struggling to pass the goblins that were beginning to swarm around them. Surging ahead nonetheless, the noble steed hastened the pace of its momentum as its hooves sought firmer ground than the soft shale of the shore. Nostrils flaring, the horse snapped its teeth at the goblins attempting to approach it and the riders entrusted in its care. The shadow warriors retreated a little but not enough for they were determined to attack and concerted themselves in an effort to push Legolas and Melia off the animal when it appeared that they might escape.
From the corner of her eye, through all the flurry of activity about them, Melia saw two goblins closing in on them, one raising a dagger to impale the horse or its rider, whichever it reached first. Melia aimed her crossbow at the vile creature, ending the threat of him before he could strike while Legolas kicked the other away and returned his focus to escaping the vulnerable position in which they found themselves. He reached for one his daggers, tucked neatly with his bow and slashed wildly at the forces attempting to converge upon them as they tried to slip past the line of goblins. Fortunately, the goblin archers had yet to catch up with them but Legolas did not dare believe they were anything but close behind.
"Back you foul things!" Legolas hissed and slammed his boot into the jaw of one of their attackers, feeling bone shattered beneath his heel. Another swung at him but the elf turned in time to catch the blade and returned it with as much intensity. Melia was shooting her steel arrows at the enemy but he could tell by that taut expression in her eyes that she would soon run out.
Suddenly a glint of moonlight caught something speeding towards the Prince. Melia saw it an instant before it struck. She pulled Legolas out of his path without thinking and they both fell off the horse just as the creature broke into a run, dragging a few goblins with it in its desperate attempt to escape. The arrow that would have killed her prince was now embedded in the steed’s neck, blood staining the gray of its pelt. The goblins triumphant in having succeeded in unseating the elven prince and his companion were now closing in for the kill. Legolas knew that if they were allowed to be trap, neither he nor Melia would live to see the morning.
The goblins had closed their route to the river and so there was only one thing left to do before they were surrounded completely. Legolas grabbed Melia’s hand and started running for the trees. In the wood, there was a chance of escape if he could lose them amongst the trees. Though he was more adept at losing himself within the forest then Melia, her skills as Ranger were nothing to underestimate. A goblin attempted to intercept them as he and Melia ran for the woods and Legolas made quick work of it by swinging his blade at the creature and tearing open its insides. Melia was also accosted but she reacted just as swiftly, slamming her crossbow, now exhausted of its supply of bolts across the face of another advancing enemy.
The action gave them the precious seconds of a cleared path and both took advantage of it, running faster than either had ever raced in their lives. They could hear the goblins falling into pursuit behind them as they tore through the woods, running through the foliage. While Legolas left no tracks, Melia certainly did and those tracks were unfortunately seen by the enemy. Had they the time, Melia would have been able to disguise her path but their main goal was too put as much distance between themselves and the goblins as possible. Dawn was still hours away and there would be no safety until the sunlight had returned.
Trampling through the forest, the terrain towards the mountain was hard and it was with dismay that Legolas saw that the canopy of trees would soon come to an end. The goblins would move with greater speed over the cleared terrain and they would have no place to hide. He could feel their presence behind them, relentless in their pursuit. It was with surprise that he realized that they were ravenous from hunger and were on the verge of turning upon themselves. He could feel the deep growling craving for food that was driving them so desperately after the first morsel of food they had seen in too long.
If they did not find a place to hide, they would die in the belly of the enemy.
They were close behind and as he came to a pause, he saw that Melia knew it too. Her fear was thick but she was too proud to show it. This journey on foot would not do, Legolas realized and searched the trees. They were as strong as they were old. Some of the branches were spread out like giant palms upturned towards the sky, their leaves a blanket of green. Legolas saw the branches that were thick and old and knew that if there was any escape tonight it would be have to be in trees above them. In the bosom of the forest, they might be able to double back the way they came, while the goblins continued their pursuit.
"Follow me," he instructed. "Put your foot where mine has been and nowhere else. Fail in this and we will both die tonight."
Melia nodded quickly not doubting his claim for an instant. Legolas started climbing a nearby tree, scaling its branches with such speed that he almost look like he was flying. He was well off the ground when his hands reached for her and he pulled her up into the cover of the leaves above her head. Poised on the thick branch, they moved as silently as was possible, the slight rustle of leaves making too much sound as they retreated into the forest once more. Below them, they could hear the goblins spreading out and when those noises drew too near, they froze in silence, praying that they were not betrayed by circumstance or by any failing of their own.
Legolas seemed made for the trees as he was crouched in the shadows, blending in as if he were one with its life in a way she could never understand. She watched him, still as the night air, seeming nothing at all like the man she loved, skin luminescent the way only elves’ could be, eyes burning in the dark, watching everything. She realized at that moment that she would always be this way. It gnawed at her as she felt the callused palms of her hands, scars and dullness of her skin that it would never endure as his would. The calluses would become more acute, joined with wrinkles and lines, markers that time was catching up to her. He said she was beautiful but she knew it would only be true today.
Tomorrow, she would be different.
"I think it is safe," Legolas whispered finally, breaking the silence after what seemed like hours. "We should remain where we are until sunrise."
Melia could not hear them but that meant nothing. Goblins knew the art of stealth as well as they. She looked up into the sky and saw that the indigo night was giving way to sunlight but dawn would not come for an hour yet.
"Then what?" She asked softly. "Do we continue?"
"We must," Legolas nodded. "We must put some distance between ourselves and the goblins for they will be roaming these woods as soon as the night falls again. It would take too much time retreating. We are safer continuing ahead."
"I have never known them to be so persistent," Melia shook her head in confusion. "Usually, they do not persist in such a relentless hunt for no reason."
"They are hungry," Legolas explained. "Did you not notice how there are no large game here? All the life we normally expect to find in a wood this size is absent. I have seen nothing larger than a rabbit and a diet of that alone cannot be enough for goblins who are used to larger fare for their bellies."
"The same was said of the Blue Mountains," Melia pointed out, remembering how barren it had been in the foothills before they reached the mountain range. However, that aberration was due to an infestation of worms that had thrived in its crevices. "But that was caused by the worms that Eowyn, Arwen and I battled."
"There are no worms in Ered Mithrin," Legolas said simply. "However, there are known to be cold drakes."
"Cold drakes?" She almost hissed loudly before realizing that they needed to remain silent for their own safety and looked at Legolas again, this time with more restraint. "There is a name I had no wish to hear again."
Melia remembered all too well what it was like to fight one of these beasts. She had no wish to do it again.
"The mountain was inhabited by the dwarves of Durin’s line until the cold drakes forced them out. Since that day, the drakes have remained in Ered Mithrin though I think many of them have returned to the deeper pits of the earth for none have been seen in some time."
"I thought the same," Melia remarked sarcastically, "then I found myself fighting one."
"Do not fear," Legolas said quietly, "there are far more dangerous things in that mountain than mere drakes."
"Mere drakes?" Melia’s brow arched. "I admire your ability to make so measured a judgement."
Legolas was content to offer a little smile in answer before his gaze dropped to the ground once more. He could not see the goblins but he could feel their presence near. Very soon they would discover that there were no more tracks to follow and ascertain that their prey might have taken another route into the forest, which meant they would be coming back. As much as the trees had provided them shelter in their hour of desperate need, Legolas did not believe that it would be enough. Sunlight was not long away and the goblins would be returning this way in order to return to their hiding places under the earth.
"We need to reach the edge of the forest," Legolas informed her quietly.
"Yes," Melia nodded in understanding. "If the dawn breaks, they cannot pursue us into the open."
"I should like to go eastward but that way takes us too far out of path and we already have a long way to go now that the horses are gone." He declared before his voice fell silent and he went very still. His superior senses heard their coming first. Against the serenity of the forest, their harsh language and their brackish natures were easy to locate. He could hear them trampling over everything that lived, hacking away living plants out of sheer spite as they sought out their prey. They were coming back this way and though Legolas was not as fluent in their speech as he liked to be or was comfortable with, he understood their far sounding words clear enough.
The goblins knew they were in the trees.
"We need to move," Legolas replied quickly, working his way across the long branches with Melia following closely. "They have guessed where we are."
"That was inevitable I suppose," Melia said tautly as she followed him and watched his movements closely, remembering what he had said about repeating his every step. Elves knew more about stealth than Melia would ever learn even if she did live as long as three millennia.
"Watch out!" Legolas turned around sharply as his senses warned him of danger.
The arrow came out of nowhere and it struck her deep in the thigh. Melia let out a cry of pain as the metal splinter tore through her leg, upsetting her balance on the precarious walk she was perched upon. Legolas watched in horror as she slipped off the branch and he rushed to catch her but failed to reach her in time. She landed heavily in the center of the goblin raiding party; the arrow still embedded in her thigh. There were at least ten of them, two of them being archers and most likely the ones responsible for her injury. Legolas immediate unslung his bow from around his shoulder and removed two arrows. Positioning them carefully, he let them fly and felt some measure of satisfaction, when both struck their mark as he leapt out of his hiding place to help the woman he loved.
The pain in her leg was beyond belief but adrenaline and fear had shunted the pain aside as she saw the goblins coming towards her. Rising to her feet far quicker than she thought herself able in light of her injuries, she saw a goblin raising a weapon to her and could do little more than block the blow with her crossbow. The construct of her weapon was made of steel and the heaviest wood known to Middle earth and beyond it. It was her father’s and it was old when he had received it. They said that it had been fashioned by elves, but she never really paid it much heed. All she needed to know was whether or not it could stop a blade.
With far more determination to survive than it had determined to kill her, Melia shoved the goblin back and swung the weapon like a club, smashing the crossbow’s full span across its body and sending the goblin reeling backwards in pain. She wished more than anything she had a bolt to arm the thing with but all had been exhausted when they were battling the goblins at the riverbank. Unfortunately, the crossbow was not meant to be used in such a fashion and her swing though effective at first had left her wide open for attack. The other goblin barreled though her and tackled her to the ground. With the pain in her leg, she was able to do little to stop him.
She winced when he struck her across the jaw hard but it was not quite enough to disorient her from retaliating. She struggled hard to dislodge him from the straddling position he had taken over her body and damn near succeeded when the vile thing grabbed the arrow impaled in her leg and shoved it deeper into its wound. The pain it produced was beyond belief and Melia found herself screaming despite herself.
Legolas heard her scream and swung the dagger in one hand through the neck of the goblin closest to him. The other that was sneaking behind him during the confusion soon found the Prince of Mirkwood glaring murderously at him before a foot struck him in the chest and sent him flying backwards. Legolas threw the other blade in his hand and impaled the creature upon the tree it landed. Black blood spurted forth from the wound, staining the sword’s blade. Legolas retrieved his weapon and began to kill anything that stood between him and Melia. They were goblins and they knew nothing of skill in battle, their only strategy was to overwhelm by sheer force of numbers.
Fortunately, he was not held back by such deficiencies. He had fought at Helm’s Deep where Sauron had hurtled at the people of Rohan everything he had to take the territory. Legolas had stood with Aragorn, Gimli and all the other warriors who sought to prevent that and in doing so fought numbers even worse than this. A group of goblins were not that much of a problem when his blood was sufficiently fired up as it was at this moment. With dagger and sword, he fought without pause. Swinging his blade with such fury that it more or less killed on the first blow. He used the sword to wound and the dagger to kill. With the two weapons in his hands, it was not long before the battleground was covered with goblin corpses.
There would be more coming, he did not delude himself on this as he took the head from one of the beast. The creature’s head spun in mid air before hitting the ground hard with a loud squelch that would have made him shudder a little if he had cared enough to notice. He did not. Melia was struggling to keep the goblin poised on top of her from bringing down his blade against her throat. Her face was contorted in pain as the vile beast kept his firm grip upon the arrow in her leg and twisted it viciously.
"LEGOLAS!" She screamed desperately when she saw him at last, relief flooding into her terrified face.
The goblin turned around, just in time to see Legolas thrusting his sword deep into its body. It looked ahead at Melia, its own face now snarling with vicious pain as the point of the blade remained between them both, having passed through his body. Before it died, he felt the Prince of Mirkwood’s hand on his shoulder, tossing him away from the woman. He was the last to die and for the moment at least, there was a pause to allow them to catch their breath.
Legolas dropped to his knees next to Melia who was on her back still, groaning in pain, her hand clutching her leg. He examined the wound briefly and was gratified to see that it had penetrated flesh but had not severed anything that would kill her. His relief at seeing this to be her only injury filled him with untold joy even if he could savor it for only a moment because they would need to be on the move again.
"I am here," he said slipping his hand underneath her to help her up and succeeded in being on the receiving end of a heartfelt embrace.
"I almost was not," she said gratefully, tears in her eyes from pain and the relief at her survival. "Thank you."
"I promised you that I would let nothing harm you," he said softly as their lips met in a soft kiss.
"Yes," she murmured, taking comfort from his mouth against hers. "I should learn to believe you by now."
"Can you walk?" He asked softly, hating to disengage from her arms but the urgency of the situation demanded it.
"I think so," she nodded as he helped her to her feet. "Best to leave the arrow where it is," she suggested, looking at the sliver of wood protruding from her thigh. "I can manage until we reach the edge of the forest and step into the sunlight."
"Are you certain?" Legolas asked not at all happy about that. Goblin arrows were sometimes known to be poisonous and Legolas could see that the one lodged in Melia’s thigh was causing her a great deal of pain, though she would not admit it. Unfortunately, if he attempted to remove the arrow now, he would have to treat the open wound left behind immediately. They could not afford that precious time, not when there was still enough dark to ensure that they would be troubled by more goblins if they stayed where they were. Even now, he could hear their distant voices and the soft thrum of their war drums echoing through the forest, a call for more of their kind to come aid in the hunt.
"Yes," she answered slipping her arm around his shoulder. "I cannot hear them as well as you but I know that they are coming."
Legolas shifted his eyes away from hers for a moment, unable to admit to her that the goblins were closer than what she thought because she was already trying so hard not to be a burden upon him. If she knew how truly close they were, Legolas had no doubt that she would attempt to do something selfless and undoubtedly foolish to save his life.
"We must move out of the shadows," Legolas said quickly avoiding the question all together and burying a little truth in his non-disclosure. "They are calling for reinforcements."
"I shall keep up as best as I can," Melia grunted, trying to force away the pain as she hobbled forward with his help. She did not wish their escape hindered by her injury and grit her teeth to endure the pain that surged through her each time she made a tentative step forward with that cursed arrow trapped in her leg. If she removed it now, she would bleed profusely unless he bound the wound immediately and they did not have time for that. For now, the arrow would make her wound weep a little if she could tolerate its invasion.
"I will carry you," he offered.
"No," Melia retorted hotly. "You need to keep your hands free in case they come upon us far sooner than we think." She kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Thank you for the thought."
"We will survive this," Legolas said staring into her eyes as they left the dead bodies behind them. "I promise you."
"I expect to be killed by something far fouler than goblins," Melia replied bravely as they moved through the trees.
Climbing into their branches was beyond her now. There was no way she could maintain the poise or agility required to stay aloft and so they were forced to take this course. Legolas tried not to think about what would happen if he could not get her out of these woods before the beating of those distant drums brought the swarm he anticipated it would. The worst they would do is kill him. The worst they would do to her was keep her alive.
"I am glad you have some preference in the matter," he replied.
They kept a brisk pace despite her injury and Legolas tried to ignore the pain he saw in her eyes each time she took a step. Unfortunately his efforts to convince her to allow him to carry her were met with strong refusal and in truth, there was a good deal of sense to her desire that he be free to fight if the enemy stumbled upon them far sooner than either he or Melia anticipated. If they could clear the wood, then perhaps they might survive this night but as they neared the edge of it, Legolas grew even more wary of their chances of reaching it alive. It was always darkest before dawn, someone had once said and at the moment, the Prince of Mirkwood thought it was very dark indeed.
He could feel them closing in even if he did not see them. Their presence was close and they were desperate to reach their prey because if he and Melia reached the sunlight then they would be robbed of the best feeding they had caught sight of in weeks. Legolas felt his blood chill and he drew his sword even as he supported Melia’s frame around his shoulder. She saw him unsheathing his weapon and her eyes filled with the same sorrow that it might end here, tonight and all the things they could have been together in the lifetime that they would be stolen from them.
"Prince," she said softly, "leave me."
"No," Legolas retorted, barely hearing her and expecting something like this to come from her lips in light of the growing hopelessness of their situation.
"You must or you will die here with me," she implored.
"Melia," he paused long enough to look her in the eyes and say firmly. "Do not tax my patience on this matter. I will not leave you. Clear that thought out of your mind this instant, it only wastes your energy."
"Why do you have to be so stubborn?" She hissed in exasperation. "I do not wish you to die."
"And you think that my leaving you here to face those goblins will not kill me? Were I actually cowardly enough to do that, I would take my own life in shame." He stared at her.
"It is not cowardly to save oneself," Melia retorted. "Why must you be so difficult?"
"Because I love you and like all your race, your efforts to be noble are usually half thought and usually made when high on too much emotion," Legolas declared sharply, not really paying attention to her because the tree line was just ahead and he could see the sunshine beyond it. Unfortunately, he could no longer hear the goblins.
"If it were not my life you were trying to save, I would be most furious about that statement Prince," she glared at him.
"You do not mean it," he remarked as his eyes searched the woods around him and found the shadows were too long for his liking. "You love me too much."
"Well," Melia frowned at him through narrowed eyes. "You have me at a disadvantage there though I might ask you to remind me why again."
"Because you like what it is I do to that sensitive place at the crook of your neck," he answered with a completely straight face.
She gave him a look and returned dryly. "It is good to know that we die in character."
Legolas did not answer because the shadows began to move as he expected and the brief interlude of levity withered away like ice in the sunlight. The goblins emerged, having waited for them to arrive, guessing that they would make for the sunlight as their only means of escape. Melia closed her eyes as she saw their numbers, too many to count and knew that there was no way either of them would survive the united assault of the forces rallied against them. The goblins sneered in triumph, their jagged and rotting teeth bared in expressions of exultant victory and menace as they closed in on the two. She released her hold on Legolas, putting her weight on her injured leg for it did not seem to matter any more. Taking his dagger as he held up his sword in an invitation for the goblins to try and take them if they dared, Melia held her ground next to her prince.
"I love you Prince," she whispered softly. "They will not take us easily."
Legolas met her eyes and felt his heart fill with love. "I had hoped for longer but what has been between us, is worth even this terrible end. I love you Melia."
And that was all that they were allowed as they faced the enemy once more, preparing to fight and die before they became a meal to any goblin.
The goblins moved in for the kill cautiously for an elf was nothing to be underestimated even if they surrounded him in the dozens.
Legolas raised his weapon, preparing to kill the first goblin that came upon them when suddenly, a bright and powerful ray of light flooded the clearing in which they were about to do battle. Its intensity was so strong that even the prince and his lady, accustomed to daylight were forced to flinch away. Its effect upon the goblins was far worse and the creatures screeched collectively in pain as the white light flooded their sensitive eyes. Legolas blinked once or twice as his eyes adjusted and saw that there was a floating orb producing the brilliance, as if a small sun had suddenly sprang up in mid air before them.
As stunned as he was by what he was seeing, the elf recognised salvation when it was upon him. Sheathing his sword, he wasted no time as he swept Melia into his arms and starting running for the forest edge, past the goblins that were trying desperately to shield their eyes from the overpowering illumination. Some had started to scatter in order to flee the burning ball of radiating energy, disappearing into the shadows only to find that it was no more and forced to flee deeper into the forest.
Legolas saw none of this retreat because he was surging through the forest like a stag running from a hunter. It was with a sense of irony that Legolas understood that the analogy was not so dissimilar considering what would have been their fate if the enemy had caught them. He let out a gasp of breath as they passed through thinning forest and burst into the terrain beyond the woods. They emerged into a field full of tall grass but decidedly lacking in hulking trees that would keep the sun from their skin. The heat of the morning was like a breath of air to those who lived because of its presence.
Legolas’ chest was pounding as he finally came to a pause and dropped to his knees, Melia still in his grasp. Only when he took a moment to catch his breath did he notice the wet streak across her cheeks, the tears that had come because his exertion had brought the pain in her leg to almost searing proportions and yet she had forced herself to remain silent. When he put her down, she lay flat on her back, her body shaking from the opportunity at last to rest.
"Take this thing out of me!" She demanded, glaring at the arrow.
"Aye," he nodded and cast a final gaze at the wood and knew that the goblins would not emerge into this deliciously sunny day. He dropped next to her and tore the fabric of her leggings surrounding the shaft of the arrow. Legolas felt it rip easily though the stench of blood saturated the dark material.
"What happened back there?" Melia asked as she looked away from what he was doing, trying to occupy her mind with thoughts other than the pain that would be soon inflicted upon her when he pulled the arrow out of her leg.
"I do not know," Legolas answered honestly. "If I did not know better, I would say that we were given a reprieve by a wizard."
"Then you would be right," a male voice said behind him and Legolas fairly spun on one knee to meet this new arrival with his sword.
The man before them was unlike any man they had ever seen. His skin was not that different from Melia’s though while hers was a rich bronzed shade, his was almost ebony and flawless. If not for the tufts of grey in his hair of short, tight curls, it would have been difficult to tell how old he was. He did not appear to be as old as Gandalf and there were markings under his eyes, shaped like teardrops against his skin. His eyes appeared kindly and Legolas sensed no danger from him. His robe was not unlike the garb of russet worn by Boromir with studs that seemed more fashionable on a warrior of Gondor. Although there was no doubt in his mind that this man was no warrior but rather a wizard of unknown allegiance and that made Legolas nervous and unwilling to lower his weapon.
"Speak your name Sir or I shall strike," Legolas said forcefully.
"My name is Dimulmaion and I would think that you would have no fear of me since I saved your life in that wood." The man replied rather patiently despite the circumstances.
"That was your work?" Legolas asked cautiously. He sensed no danger from the man but he was not about to assume that a wizard who was able to drive away goblins with balls of light would not be able to addle the senses of one elf.
"Yes," Dimulmaion said with a slight nod but his attention was focussed on Melia. "The young lady is hurt, I would ask you let me tend her."
"So you are a wizard and a healer?" Legolas retorted skeptically.
"Tell me," he looked at Legolas. "When did the Eldar become so cynical? There was a time when your kind had hearts as open as the sea."
"A great deal has changed in the world since then," Legolas replied. "Who are you? Are you Istari?" Considering that Melia had claimed an Istar had escaped to these mountains with her mother, it was not an unfair assumption to think that this might be the one they sought, though why he would help them was beyond Legolas’ ability to answer.
"No," Melia spoke up immediately. "This is not the man I saw at Dol Goldur. Legolas, he just saved our lives, be a little more civil."
"Your wife speaks wisely," Dimulmaion remarked as he lowered himself next to Melia.
"She is not my wife," Legolas remarked as he joined them, not liking this stranger to take such a familiar approach to Melia. "But we are together." He replied emphasizing the last word so that Dimulmaion would make no mistake.
"Oh forgive my error," the man said dryly as he examined Melia’s wound briefly before reaching into the pouch on his belt to produce some strangely aromatic herbs. "The way you were arguing in the wood before the goblins found you, I thought for certain you were husband and wife."
"No," Melia replied with a little hiss as the herbs he put on her wound burned a little but brought a strange numbing of pain once it had subsided. "That is how we always speak to each other."
"Then it must be an interesting relationship," the man smiled.
"You have no idea," Legolas frowned, wishing Melia was not so familiar with this stranger. "You did not answer my question. Are you Istar?"
"There is an Istar reputed to live in those mountains," Dimulmaion answered the prince, aware that he could not aid the woman unless he gave up that answer. "I am not he. Now I need to help your lady. The poison from the arrow is spreading and it will kill her if I do not remove it."
Legolas could not ignore that fact when presented to him so starkly. He had only to look at Melia to know that there was truth in the man’s words. Even as he questioned the man about his origins, Legolas could see the fine sheen of moisture that had appeared on her skin and her pallor had lost its richness, fading into a growing shade of gray that alarmed him once he paid closer attention. She was ill and growing worse so by the minute. She had hidden it from him as long as she could because his Melia was brave and would not admit defeat in anything, even when struck by an arrow. He loved her stubbornness although it caused him no end of ire.
Kneeling next to Melia, he watched Dimulmaion’s skilful hands prepare Melia’s leg for the extraction of the arrow. Even Legolas knew enough about such injuries to be certain that no matter how much the wizard attempted to dull the pain; she would feel it when they removed the arrow. Melia knew it as well for she clutched his hand tight and braced herself for what their new companion would be forced to do. Legolas could see in her face that she was having difficulty coping with the pain as she had. Her body was gripped with light trembling which he knew to be the onset of fever. Her skin against his did not feel warm but cold and damp.
"I have to remove the arrow," Dimulmaion spoke, his gaze meeting Legolas’ more than Melia.
Legolas tightened his hold on her and nodded in understanding, "Melia," Legolas spoke staring into her face, "this will hurt."
"I know," she said softly looking back at him, swallowing thickly as she attempted to be brave. She held his hand tighter, trying to draw the strength he was offering her so readily. "Do what you must. Remove this accursed thing from my body," she said finally.
Legolas shifted his eyes back to Dimulmaion and gave him permission to continue. The wizard said little resting his hands on the shaft of the arrow, securing his hold. The world seemed to drain into that one moment, when Legolas waited for the arrow to be freed from Melia’s body. He held his breath, almost in anticipation, trying to brace himself the same way she was preparing to tolerate the agonising pain that came with such removals. He had been on the battlefield and seen the most hardened warrior’s succumb to the cutting pain of such extractions. Legolas himself had endured an arrowhead once or twice in three millennia of existence. He did not envy what she was about to endure nor could he stand hearing her agony when Dimulmaion finally acted.
Suddenly, without further ado, the wizard tore the arrow out of Melia’s leg.
The scream that ripped through the air came easily from one who was so accustomed to hiding every weakness. It almost cleaved Legolas’ heart in two hearing that cry of pain and her fingers dug into his hand with such force, it nearly drew blood. Tears ran down her cheeks as she bit down hard, almost passing out from the intensity of the pain. Melia nevertheless slumped weakly against Legolas, exhausted from the ordeal. She was panting hard, trying to wrestle with the stinging pain and attempting to spare herself the indignity of fainting but failed when she lapsed against his body and did not move.
"Melia!" Legolas cried out in fear as he held her against him.
"She will be fine," Dimulmaion said soothingly, showing sympathy for the elf’s worry for the fate of his lover. "It is best that she sleeps for awhile. Come," he stood up regarding briefly, the bloody arrow in his hand with disgust, before tossing it away. "I have a place where you both can take a moment to rest and gather your strength," he responded before proceeding to treat the wound with some herbs from the pouch hanging from the belt around his waist. Once, he had completed that immediate treatment to draw out the poison in the blade, he looked at Legolas again indicating the elf follow him.
Legolas swept Melia’s unconscious form into his arms and stared after the wizard as he drew away from them.
"I do not sense danger in him Mia," he whispered softly to her though she was quite oblivious to anything he was saying. "But he is not what he appears and that worries me. Unfortunately, we have little choice but to trust him for now."
If she were awake, Legolas was certain Melia would agree.
With the sun on their backs, the wizard led Legolas through the tall grass, browned by the sun. Despite the sunlight overhead, the landscape still appeared gray and dour, blending perfectly with Ered Mithrin in the distance. As Legolas followed him across the terrain, the elf took time to study his new acquaintance and wondered if Dimulmaion was the Istar that had brought about the destruction of Melia’s mother and the rest of the River Women. Melia said that he was not the man she had seen in her visions and yet Legolas knew for a fact that Gandalf was in possession of great power. An Istar who managed to fight off a balrog would have little difficulty in conjuring a minor glamour to hide his identity. If so, why was he helping them now? If this was the Istar who was once allied to the Nazgul then what purpose did he have in prolonging their existence?
Perhaps the Istar had as little idea as Legolas, what would happen when Melia finally found the Istar she had seen in her dreams. Legolas wondered what would happen when they finally came face to face with the one who had possibly killed Melia’s mother? Would she kill him in turn or demand of him the answer to the question of what had done to the River Women. Gandalf had died as a mortal but he had been powerful when he lived and more so after his resurrection. Did he and Melia have a chance of combating such strength if it was pitted against them? If the Fellowship were here, Legolas would not be so defeatist about their chances but the Fellowship was not. He and Melia were alone at the edge of the world.
They walked for a good hour with Melia still in Legolas’ arms. His limbs grew weary but she was a weight he did not mind carrying. The fainting spell had taken her into slumber and Legolas saw no reason to wake her since in her unconscious state, she would be spared the pain of her injury. He shifted his gaze from the road ahead to glance at her briefly. She slept peacefully, with her head nestled against his shoulder and he thought how childlike she looked when she was quiet like this. In her face was the nakd truth of the person she was, with none of the complications that made her so guarded or reserved. Legolas came to the conclusion that if she was ever his in the way he wanted he would love spending his mornings looking to her face as she slept.
"I never thought I would see an elf look upon a mortal that way," Dimulmaion remarked with a little smile.
Legolas looked up; his face feeling hot with embarrassment for he had not noticed the man had stopped walking and was observing him so closely. Dimulmaion looked at him with curiosity, not derision but Legolas felt nonetheless self-conscious about being caught indulging in so personal a moment. He was a Prince of Mirkwood, taught all his life to be king, to be a paragon of virtue that would be a shinning example for those around him. Thranduil had told him time and time again that a king did not show his thoughts to others and though Legolas knew that he was more relaxed with the friends in the Fellowship, he had lived his long life always being guarded about his thoughts.
"She is the woman I love," he muttered in response. "It matters not that she is human."
"Then you will live a good life together," Dimulmaion replied with a little smile. "For however long she lives."
"I am aware of that," Legolas responded, wondering if everyone had an opinion on how impossible their relationship would be. "I have been told that a number of times already."
"And you chose not to heed their advice?" Dimulmaion remarked, a brow arching at that.
"How can I?" Legolas retorted with some measure of irritation. "I love her and she loves me. I do not even know if she will remain with me once we are done with our quest."
"Your quest," Dimulmaion stared at him "You are here on a quest?"
Legolas bristled because he had revealed more than he should have. "That is our affair."
"Of course," Dimulmaion nodded and continued walking through the large field of grass. It was clear that he was headed for a hill of rocks not far away from where they lingered. "It used to be so quiet here."
"How long have you dwelt in these lands?" Legolas asked, glad that they had moved the subject away from Melia.
"I have only recently returned," the wizard replied. "I have been wandering for many years in the Far East and thought I might return to the lands I knew in my youth but they are gone. Too many friends have left this world," he sighed with a little sadness in his voice that drew Legolas’ unwilling sympathy.
"I know all too well what you mean," Legolas answered, referring of course to the departure of elves from these shores. Since the end of the War, the call of the sea had become too loud for many of his kind to endure and so they set sail for the Straight Road that would take them to Valinor. Legolas himself had heard the siren song but he remained tethered to Middle earth because like so many of the elves that had opted to delay that final journey, he had reasons to remain. His imperative to stay initially had been because Aragorn was still his best friend as was Gimili and so many in his life would be sorely missed if he left them too soon. Now there was also Melia and her presence in his life had ensured that he would remain in Middle earth at least until the end of her existence, painful as that might be for him to think about.
"Yes," Dimulmaion answered, not looking at him. "Many of your people are leaving these shores. Soon the elves will be a memory."
"Not all of us are leaving," Legolas found himself saying defensively. "Some of us are remaining behind."
"But you will go too," the wizard replied and though Legolas could not see his face, he knew that he was smiling. "In the end the call of the sea is too much for your kind."
"And what of your kind?" Legolas asked, certain that this man was not a man at all. "Who are your people?"
"Oh they are gone now," Dimulmaion’s voice became sad again, engendering a feeling of guilt within the Prince because he had provoked it into being. "They have either lost their way or gone from this world forever."
"I am sorry," Legolas offered. "I did not mean to stir such sadness."
"It has been there for some time," Dimulmaion said dismissively. "You have not told me your name or hers."
"I did not think I needed to," Legolas retorted, realizing that he had not introduced himself or Melia to the man and was surprised by his lack of manners. "You seemed to know so much about us."
"I do," Dimulmaion glanced over his shoulder. "But the introduction is always nice nonetheless."
"Then it is the least I can offer you," Legolas replied. "I am Legolas."
"Legolas," the man mused softly. "Of Mirkwood?"
"Yes," Legolas frowned, supposing that it was not so unheard of that he had achieved some measure of fame. The Fellowship’s adventures had become something of legend now, though Legolas hated the fact that he was looked upon as some sort of great hero. The purpose that had driven the Fellowship to fight Sauron had been the desire to see all that they loved remain standing, not for fame or glory.
"And she?" Dimulmaion inquired further.
Legolas looked down at Melia a moment before answering. "Her name is Melia, daughter of Hezare of the Tribe of Bors."
"Bors?" Dimulmaion exclaimed. "She is a long way from home. An Easterling is she not?"
"Yes," Legolas nodded. "I believe she hails from the Sunlands."
"I had chance to travel there once," Dimulmaion remarked. "Dry as a bone that country. Here we have mere patches of desert while there it is a way of life. They are a hardy people, though twisted by war and Sauron’s brutality."
"She spoke something of it," the elf replied.
"What brings an Easterling so far from home?" Dimulmaion asked. "Their women are not prone to leave home. Actually, their women are not allowed to leave their dwellings for that matter."
"She searches for her mother," Legolas answered, offering only a scant bit of information for he did not entirely trust Dimulmaion yet.
The wizard did not say much but Legolas saw his shoulder sag slightly and wondered why that answer made him react so.
"I hope she finds her," Dimulmaion said with deep sincerity. "But such searches often end with the seeker regretting it. I hope that is not the way with her."
Legolas did not answer but he feared the same thing and deep inside, he was certain Melia knew it too.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.