4. Wine Goes In At The Mouth
When Legolas crossed the Cirith Forn en Andrath he did so with a troubled heart. He had timed his passage so that he would traverse the pass at midday, and by nightfall he had descended to below the tree line on the other side. He found a sheltered spot and made camp. He would have liked a fire, but no sane man or elf would chance a fire at night in orc territory. If there was anyone who held to the mistaken belief that the First Born did not feel the cold, Legolas would gladly have invited them to join him in the river the day before, or to have heard Galion's complaints when the three of them, Elvenking, prince and valet, had awakened on the eastern slopes of the Misty Mountains to find themselves covered in a foot of snow. Elves merely chose to ignore the cold as much as was possible, and Legolas did this now, drawing his cloak around himself for the warmth and concealment it would provide. True sleep would also have to wait until he was safe behind his father's gates
Legolas heard a faint rumble from the west, and he glanced back up to see the clouds above the Pass lit with flashes of light. He was glad now that he had not tarried an extra day at Rivendell, thus arriving at the Pass ahead of the bad weather. It was no doubt raining heavily on the other side of the mountains, and the slow going on wet trails would have been an added frustration in an already fruitless mission
It seemed to Legolas that his journey had accomplished nothing but a waste of time and good horseshoe metal. All he had received was a courteous interview, a pat on the head for the Elven-princeling, and a quick dismissal, thank you very much. Elrond and the White Council were not going to listen to the likes of Thranduil's elfling boy. Which was hardly anything new, Legolas thought sourly. If only he could have found the words to convey the enormity of what he had seen and felt in the south of Mirkwood
It had come upon him some months ago, a desire to look upon Amon Lanc, the original home, long abandoned, of his people when Oropher had first led them to Greenwood the Great. The woods in those mountains were crawling with orcs, and, being unwilling to be responsible for danger to a warrior under his command just to indulge a whim, Legolas had dismissed his guards and gone on alone. He had not shared this detail with his father, for he knew that if Thranduil ever caught wind of how his son had risked himself, he would remove his command and keep him close to home for the next several decades at least
His first sight of Dol Guldur had been across a steeply wooded valley. The tall hill of Amon Lanc rose dark and forbidding in the distance, with the tower on its bare summit. The moment his eyes fell upon the accursed place, Legolas had felt himself overcome by a nameless menace that emanated from the tower, and he had frozen like a terrified rabbit. The spit had dried in his throat, and the secret parts of his body had tried to hitch back up into his belly. Already crawling on elbows and knees for stealth, Legolas had hugged the earth for what seemed an eternity until he could force himself to move again
These were not words he could use before Elrond, however, without being dismissed as a coward, and a crudely spoken one at that. Legolas was certain that Master Elrond had never found himself to be so utterly unmanned, at least not within the last few millennia. And yet, if Elrond spoke aright, the wizard Mithrandir had actually gone inside that evil place. Legolas found himself with a much heightened respect for the old man they called the Grey Pilgrim
Tonight, Legolas carried a flask of the Old Winyards, Elrond's gift, strapped tight to his waist. He was very tempted to take just one sip to bring a little cheer and to banish the cold loneliness of the wild. Giving in, he uncorked the wine and drank. It was strong and sweet. Oh yes, Legolas thought, once his father tasted this fine potent vintage, he would no doubt be inspired to buy it by the barrel, and those barrels by the wagonload, save for the inconvenient fact of a high mountain range between Mirkwood and the source of supply. Legolas smiled, thinking of home. Thranduil was a generous monarch who loved his creature comforts and shared them with his subjects. Life in the Elvenking's Halls was good. Legolas wanted it to stay that good, but he feared it would not if the terror of Dol Guldur remained on their southern doorstep
Along with those worries, Legolas carried an even deeper hurt from which he felt he would not soon heal. All the way from Rivendell, he had been haunted by the memory of two dark eyes. He had spent centuries living among the most beautiful females on the face of Arda without feeling more than a glimmer of interest, only to lose his heart to an adaneth who barely noticed he existed. His head told him that such an alliance was impossible and that he must forget. His heart, ever rebellious, refused to listen. As in all things concerning the First Born, his head ruled, but he knew his heart remained unconvinced and that the two sides of his nature would be at war for many a year, much to his sorrow. He took another sip to toast the ironies of life and then re-corked the bottle. It was very tempting to keep on drinking, but he dared not lose the edge of his wits out here
He rested his head upon his bent knees and slipped into the open-eyed half-sleep of the trail until the snap of one of his guard snares being triggered brought him back to full alertness. Quietly, he set an arrow to his bowstring and crept to the perimeter of his camp. His Elven eyes were designed to see by starlight alone, and he needed no extra light as he moved silently through the night. If his snare held an orc scout, he was prepared to silence any outcry. If the snare held some creature that could be his dinner the next day, that was then so much the better.
It was neither. A small boy, very familiar, hung by one foot from the released sapling. Already he was trying to double himself back up to reach the knot that imprisoned his ankle. The lad must have followed all the way from Rivendell, never revealing himself by sight or sound until now. Legolas found himself very impressed with the boy's ability to move swiftly and silently. Just as quickly, he found himself experiencing a rush of angry horror. The lad had trailed him through the orc-infested pass, with all its dangers. He cursed himself for the inattention that had allowed such a thing. It would never have happened if he had not had his head in the clouds, mooning over his own sorry troubles.
Legolas put away his bow, took out his dagger and strode into the clearing
"What, in the holy names of the Belair, ever possessed you to do such a mad, reckless thing?" he demanded, grabbing Estel none too gently by the scruff while he used his other hand to cut the thong binding his ankle
"I want to come with you, back to Mirkwood."
"That is quite impossible," Legolas answered.
"But, why?" the boy wailed
"Because it is! Your Lady Mother is no doubt worrying herself sick at this moment, and Master Elrond . . ." Legolas shook his head angrily. "Elrond would have my ears in a flask on his desk if I thought to do otherwise than to return you immediately. He may well be in a mood to do so anyway if he thinks I had the least part in this. The moment the sun rises, we are turning around and I am taking you straight back to Rivendell."
Estel began to struggle beneath his hand. "No! I won't go back! Rivendell is boring. No one pays attention to me, and I never get to have any excitement!"
"Keep your voice down, idiot child! These mountains are teeming with orcs. You will bring them down on us!"
"I don't care! I'm not going back, and you can't make me!" said the boy loudly, twisting to tear his collar from Legolas's grip
"Oh yes you are, and I shall make you, even if I have to truss you like a game bird and tie you to my saddle!" said Legolas with a bravado he did not quite feel. He was not at all confidant of his ability to travel back over the Old Pass and down to Imladris with a screeching, struggling brat tied behind him and alerting every orc for leagues around. Legolas could not even hope to meet one of the numerous search parties that Elrond no doubt had sent out, for his shortcut up to the Pass was known only to himself and the current bad weather on the other side of the Hithlaeglir would have already destroyed his trail.
Legolas swept the boy up by the waist to carry him back to where the horse was tethered. He realized his tactical mistake when the boy kicked out and landed a blow in a spot where no man or elf is immune. Legolas let out a tortured gasp and doubled over in pain, losing his hold on Estel, who promptly ran off into the night
"Stop, you young fool, it isn't safe!" Legolas croaked, as soon as his breath had returned Too late. He heard a high-pitched shriek quickly cut off, followed by some grunts and laughter in the Black Speech. Estel had met his first orcs
Legolas forced himself to his feet and limped in the direction of the commotion. All he found was scuffed earth and footprints leading away. The trail, plain enough to his keen eyes even in the dark, chilled his heart, for it did not lead back up into the mountains to the goblin caves of the Old Pass. The trail led downhill and southeast, towards the southern edge of Mirkwood and the tower of the Necromancer
Alone in the dark with none to see, Legolas did a most un-elflike thing. He sank to his knees, punched the ground with his fist and cursed
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Belair: Sindarin word for the Valar
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