The world around them was grey now, and the shadows had lengthened, but Legolas' elven eyes had no problem seeing clearly and he could smell the warg's blood and the pungent odour of its fur.
The creature was limping, but its leg did not bleed freely anymore. The beast was slowly moving ahead of the elf, only to fall back behind him again, all the while casting furtive glances at its intended prey. Legolas' heart began to beat faster, and he had to fight hard to hide his fear. His breathing seemed to be far too loud to his ears.
He was no stranger to death and blood, as no elf living in such times as these could be, but he did not want to die, not here in this dark place, nor at all, and he was afraid of the pain the fangs and claws of the large creature could cause him. He suddenly did not know how any warrior could ever face the thought of dying slowly and cruelly at the hands of a merciless foe, without anyone ever learning of his fate.
Legolas had not had such thoughts during the battle some days before, but then he had simply been thrown into the fight, and he had not been alone, or wounded. It only seemed to prove to him once again that he was not suited to being a warrior. Apart from all his other faults, he also seemed to lack the courage that everyone else had. At that moment he wished desperately that he could be more like his father.
Why did he have to keep disappointing both his father and all the elves in his realm, even if no one was even here to witness his failure? He clung to the thoughts of his father, ignoring the voice that told him that Thranduil probably did not even want him as a son anymore, and tried to draw strength from his memories. He could not imagine Thranduil being afraid, or facing a foe in any other way but fearlessly.
Squaring his shoulders, Legolas forced himself to face the warg, keeping his eyes on the creature without looking away for a single moment, hoping that the beast was not able to smell his fear. After ignoring him for a while, the warg suddenly turned his bulky head and stared back. Legolas could see evil intelligence in those dark eyes, and he could almost feel the thoughts of the creature resting on him, planning, brooding...
He knew that wargs were much more intelligent than mere wolves, but at that moment he wondered how intelligent the beast in front of him truly was. To a certain degree, wargs were able to communicate with orcs and follow their orders, but were they also capable of planning on their own? Looking into those blood-shot, cunning eyes, Legolas began to believe that this one was.
Suppressing a shudder, Legolas continued staring coldly at the beast. The warg's piercing gaze had turned almost thoughtful and Legolas felt that he was assessing him, weighing him, trying to find out how dangerous an attack might still be. The young elf did his best to keep his face expressionless, simply staring back at his foe. The warg turned his snout into the wind, sniffing the air, and then, finally, he broke eye contact, staring ahead again.
A short time later, the warg slowed down until he had fallen behind once more, changing his direction until he vanished somewhere between the trees. Legolas followed the warg with his eyes until he was out of sight. For a while the elf remained tense, not sure whether he could trust the peace, but he could not feel any danger approaching and finally he breathed a soft sigh of relief, relaxing a bit.
Obviously the warg had decided that his prey was not ready for the kill yet, but Legolas doubted that this would happen a second time. The warg, too, was weakening. The next time the beast drew close to him again, it would attack. Now that the tension from the last moments was fading, the young elf felt more tired than ever before in his life. He knew he must neither rest nor stumble, but the simple act of moving was becoming more and more difficult.
The wounds in his side throbbed and burned and sent waves of fiery pain through his body with each step and he was feeling increasingly dizzy. He could only hope that the blood had finally stopped flowing, but he knew that he had lost too much of it already. The wounds were too deep to heal on their own, and the strain of the continuous movement did not help at all. Legolas had tried to use some snow to clean the deep gashes, but he had not been able to do much good before he threatened to pass out from the pain. Being an elf, he was at least not likely to suffer from infection.
Fleetingly Legolas wondered if it would not have been wiser to goad the warg into an attack as long as he still had some strength left and his fingers were not too numb to hold a knife. He had wrapped two more strips from his cloak around his hands to keep them as warm and movable as possible, but he knew he could not fight his growing weakness and the merciless cold with his thin clothes and fading body warmth for long.
Even if he killed the warg, he would very likely die soon afterwards, either from the cold or from his wounds. Still, Legolas preferred either to being torn to pieces by the warg's fangs, and if he reached his destination and managed to win the fight he would at least have a chance of surviving a bit longer.
Scanning his surroundings, the young elf realized that he would not have far to go now. It was still snowing lightly, but not enough to obscure his sight. In spite of the cold, Legolas found that he was grateful for the snow. The night would be long, but at least it would not be very dark. He had always had problems adapting to the long nights and the bare trees in winter.
When he was still a child and had longed for the sun and the sparkling green and the colours of springtime during the grey days and long nights, his mother would smile at him understandingly and tell him that the winter was not a good time for a green leaf. Being a Silvan elf, she had always understood when his mood changed with the seasons, or even with the weather.
Thranduil had often shaken his head at the quicksilvery moods of both his wife and his son, but he had always indulged them. Legolas shoved those thoughts aside forcefully, a lump forming in his throat. Memories of his family were the last thing he wanted to think about right now. His mother was dead, and his father... his father was lost to him as well.
It was hard not to think of his family today of all days, and not only because of what had happened and was still going to happen. This night would be the longest night in the year, sometimes the only night in winter that Legolas truly loved. This special night was meant to be spent with family and friends, and it was a time for song and celebration.
From tomorrow on, the days would grow longer and the light would gain strength again, driving the darkness and the twilight away. It was a symbol of hope that seemed to be nothing but cruel mockery in his current situation and Legolas found that thinking about the meaning of this night and remembering previous years only made him feel even more miserable. Never before had he been alone on this special night.
Right now, the night appeared to be endless. As if in answer to his thoughts, Legolas felt the by now almost familiar sensation of hungry eyes boring into his back. He stiffened, knowing instinctively that the warg had finally made his decision.
All thoughts of winter solstice, family, and emotional pain instantly vanished from the elf's mind and his eyes searched his surroundings frantically. They alighted on a familiar outline, partly hidden between the trees to his right, and Legolas realized that he had finally found what he was looking for.
When he had been on the way with the patrol, they had rested in the trees only a short distance away from this place. Back then, Legolas had discovered a small cave in the incline right next to a frozen brook when it was his turn to keep watch. It was a sheltered and hidden place, and Legolas had only looked into it to see whether there was any creature hiding in there.
The cave had been empty, and as elves were usually not in need of hiding places on the ground, nor too fond of caves, Legolas had soon lost all interest in it. Now it could save him - or perhaps at least prolong his life for a while. The elf still carried his quiver and all his arrows with him, not because he had still use for them as weapons, but because he would need every bit of firewood he could get his hands on.
It hurt to even think of using them that way, but he had no choice. Both his broken bow and the arrows had been gifted to him by his father as soon as Legolas' considerable skill for archery had become apparent. What had happened to the bow and would happen to the arrows seemed to be a fitting symbol for their broken relationship.
If Legolas would still be able to use the arrows for anything at all. The young elf could only hope that the warg would take his time in catching up to him, as he had done before. Legolas had never been sure if the warg was walking slowly because he was in pain from the wound to his leg, or because he felt some kind of irresistible urge to play with his prey before the kill.
The elf did not dare to look back, keeping his eyes on the vaulted elevation in the snow that marked the location of the cave, and walking steadily onwards. The gaze of the beast was fixed on him now, and Legolas could feel it drawing nearer. Being watched like that caused a tingling sensation in his neck, and he began shivering again, though he was not sure whether it was from the cold or the fear.
If he managed to get inside the cave before the warg reached him, he would have a much better chance of defending himself. The beast would have to come and get him then, and it would only be able to come from one direction. The only problem was that he had to keep the warg from guessing his plan.
As the beast was a stranger to this part of the forest, Legolas felt fairly sure that it did not know about the existence of the cave. He decided that he would have to climb up the incline and get to the cave's entrance from behind. Hopefully the warg would follow him and not even notice that there was a cave or what he was up to until it was too late.
Legolas spotted patches of bluish ice jutting out of the snow and realized that he had reached the brook. Quickly he crossed it and began to climb up the incline on its other side, concentrating hard to neither slip nor slow down, and soon panting from the exertion. Reaching the top, his foot caught on a branch that lay partly hidden by the snow, and he stumbled, falling to his knees. Using his hands to support himself, he remained kneeling in the snow for one moment longer, trying to catch his breath.
Strangely detached, he noticed that the branch had torn through his leggings and cut into the skin of one knee, causing drops of blood to fall into the snow before him. He barely felt the pain, nor the bite of the cold snow on his skin. Realizing that the cold was beginning to get to him, Legolas forced himself to shake free from his stupor and fight his way back to his feet. In a sudden bout of panic, he could not help turning his head and looking back.
The warg was moving towards him at a slow trot, his gleaming eyes fixed on his prey, the fur around his mouth caked with blood. His jaws hung slightly open, showing his fangs and part of his tongue. The ribs and bones of the beast showed clearly through the skin and his wounded left foreleg seemed to be stiff, making him walk in a strange, limping gait. It was an even more gruesome sight than the first time he had seen it, looking very much like something dead and buried come alive again.
In spite of Legolas' fall, the warg made no move to hasten his pace, simply trotting on patiently, obviously aware that his prey could not escape. Legolas turned away, unable to bear the sight any longer and knowing that he could not afford to be mesmerized by his fear right now. He had to suppress the urge to start running, knowing that the warg's predatory instincts would immediately drive him to chase him down and that the beast was still able to run much faster than he could.
He walked on only a bit faster than before, following the edge of the incline until the vaulted elevation that marked part of the cave's ceiling was right beneath him, then he began to scramble down the incline on the side of the cave that was farthest from the warg, hidden from the beast's sight for a few precious moments. Unable to keep his balance and driven by his own urgency, Legolas soon began to slide down the incline rather than climb down, ending up on all fours right beside the cave entrance.
For one moment the young elf felt nothing but relief, though his knees and hands hurt and were scraped from landing rather forcefully on the frozen, rocky ground. He had made it. Against all odds he had found the cave and made it to the entrance. He straightened a bit, but before he could begin to rise from his kneeling position, he heard a sound: the crunching of frozen snow as something pressed down on it.
Raising his head so quickly that his neck almost cramped, Legolas looked directly into the dark, glittering eyes of the warg, which was no more than two yards away from his kneeling prey. The elf froze. The creature had not followed him up the incline, but had apparently chosen to take the easier route along the frozen brook, watching its prey from below. Once again Legolas felt the bitter taste of failure, but he had no time to dwell on it.
This time, the warg did not hesitate. Howling triumphantly, he used the remaining strength of his bony hind legs to catapult himself forward, his fangs opening wide to burrow into the flesh of his prey. Legolas reacted without thinking. He dropped to the ground and rolled into the cave, out of the way of the predator's fangs and claws. One of the warg's legs brushed fleetingly against his back without doing any damage.
The movement and the pressure it put on his wounds made Legolas feel as if a glowing red dagger was driven deep into his side, and he moaned when he came to rest somewhere inside the cave. Darkness encroached on him, and he fought desperately to cling to consciousness. An angry snarl finally helped to drive the haze from his mind, and he somehow managed to get first on his elbows and then on his knees.
The large shadow of the warg appeared in the entrance of the cave and Legolas could feel both his hatred and ravenous hunger. The elf's hand went to his belt... and found only empty air. Somewhere between here and his slide down the incline, he had lost his knife. Looking out of the cave past the flank of the beast, Legolas spotted the shining blade only inches away from one of the warg's hind paws. It could as well have been on the other side of the world.
The young elf stared at the warg, trying to fight down the rising panic and think. The creature bared its teeth, but made no sound, and to Legolas it seemed as if it was smirking. There was glee in the eyes of the beast as it slowly entered the cave and it raised its head slightly, smelling both the fear and the fresh blood from the reopened wounds of its prey, and being drawn to it.
The elf crawled backwards, not bothering to waste any time by trying to rise again. Soon his shoulders hit the wall behind him, and there was nowhere else to go. The cave that should have been a shelter was nothing but a trap now. Legolas stared at the approaching beast, thoughts chasing each other desperately in his head. Something pressed almost painfully against his back, and suddenly he remembered the quiver.
Quickly he reached back and drew two arrows out of the quiver, taking one in each hand. Realizing that his prey might still have a sting left, the warg snarled and covered the rest of the distance between them with a jump. Legolas tried to bring one arrow down on the creature's face, but the warg quickly caught it and crushed it between his teeth.
The elf managed to push the other arrow into the beast's shoulder, but he had barely succeeded in driving it through the thick hide when the warg already spun around and the arrow was torn out of the elf's fingers. Legolas could do no more than raise his arms in a last, desperate effort to defend himself, and then the warg was upon him.
The young elf experienced a moment of intense fear when he stared right into the glowing eyes of the predator and saw the widely-opened fangs prepare to burrow into his arm with bone-breaking force. Legolas quickly turned his head away and closed his eyes tightly, unable to bear watching any longer and hoping that it would be over soon.
Regret washed over him, and suddenly he could think of nothing else but his father, wishing that he could tell him how terribly sorry he was and that he had never intended to cause him such pain. The warg gave a piercing howl that ended abruptly and Legolas could hear sharp claws scratching over the rocky ground. There was a touch of foul, warm breath on his face, and the young elf tensed; one instant later the entire weight of the warg came crashing down on him, burying him beneath it.
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.