16. Chapter Sixteen
Laeriel's shouted warning nearly came too late as an arrow whizzed by him, tearing into the sleeve of his tunic. Throwing his hand up to where the tip had pierced the material, Strider felt the warm stickiness of blood. A scratch, he thought. Nothing to worry about. Unless it was a poisoned tip, his negative side answered.
Pushing those thoughts aside, Strider faced the oncoming foe. He was surprised when a fair Elf stepped from the cover of the woods. Holding his sword in front of him, he eyed the newcomer warily. He may be an Elf, but he had fired upon them.
"Why did you fire upon us?"
"I did not fire at you," the elf said, indicating the dead wolf behind them, his arrow embedded deep in its side. "I am Legolas of the woodland realm," the Elf said, lowering his bow. "Are you well?"
"We are fine. I am Strider, a ranger from the north."
"I have heard of the Northern rangers, though I have never seen one so far from the region they cover. What are you doing so far from home, Strider?"
Strider sheathed his sword, and stepped back closer to the fire ring. "I am escorting a lady of fine breeding to her home," he said, indicating Laeriel.
Legolas nodded his head slightly at the woman behind Strider, taking in her appearance. Waving his hand slowly across his chest, Legolas signaled to the rest of his party. "We were scouting and came across your tracks. You sit at the base of Emyn Sûl. If you are indeed headed to Fornost, you are quite a ways away yet."
"We were separated from the rest of our party," Strider explained, glancing at the other Elves in Legolas' party.
"Perhaps, you need a guide?" the Elf suggested.
"We are quite, fine, Legolas," Strider said. "We just need to rest and we will be on our way in the morning."
Legolas inclined his head slightly. "As you wish." With a slight nod of his head, Legolas and the other elves disappeared back into the wood. Strider watched as they melted into the trees. When he could no longer make out their forms, he turned to Laeriel.
"That was quite odd."
"Yes, it was. I grew up near the Grey Mountains. I have heard about Legolas. If this is the same elf, then we have just met royalty. Legolas is the Prince of Mirkwood."
Strider sat on a rock, surprised that the Prince of Mirkwood would have been so far away from his home. If they were indeed at the base of Emyn Sûl, then Mirkwood was quite a few leagues away. "What was the crown prince of Mirkwood doing so far from home?" he wondered aloud.
"I don't know, but the wound on your arm is bleeding. Let me look at it."
"It's just a scratch," he said, waving her off.
"Still, I want to look at it. Now sit and take off your tunic."
Strider rolled his eyes, but did as she asked. "You would see better if you had a fire."
"There's enough moonlight," she countered, knowing he was stalling. Gathering a bandage from her pack and some of her water, Laeriel set to cleaning the wound. Within moments, she had the wound cleaned and the bandage wrapped around his upper arm. "All set."
Strider glanced down at the bandage and smiled. He had more bandages on his body since she had come into his life, than he had ever had running the forests of Imladris with his brothers. If his Father knew the mischief he was getting into, he would be in for a long lecture. "We should get a fire going. I don't want to be surprised again. This time it was lucky for us that those that happened upon us were friendly. We may not be as lucky next time," Strider said, pulling his tunic over his head.
Laeriel nodded. She was still puzzled as to why the Mirkwood Elves had ventured so far from their realm. There must be strange goings on in Mirkwood indeed for the crown Prince to be so far from home.
Legolas and his companions delved deep into the cover of the forest, their footsteps silent amongst the leaves. They drew further away from the ranger and his lady, and with each step, Legolas felt unease in his soul. Something was wrong. The trees whispered with warnings, bidding the elf to remain on guard.
"My Prince? What is it?"
Legolas glanced at one of his companions, a warrior that had seen many millennia more than he. "I do not know. The trees are restless. The further we go, the more they beckon me to return."
"You are tired, my Lord. We should rest," the Elf said, reminding the Prince of the long days behind them.
"I am fine. But I still feel uneasy. There is something on the wind. An evil presence lurks in these woods. Be on guard," Legolas warned, his keen eyes darting from tree to tree.
They came out of the woods without warning, their yellow eyes glowing in the dark, their jaws dripping with saliva. The Elf that had been talking to Legolas never had a chance. The leader of the pack wrapped its jaws around his throat and dragged him fighting into the woods.
Legolas drew arrows and fired after the beast, at least three of them embedding into the hind quarters. With a fierce yell, he ran after the beast, the other Elves in his company fighting the rest of the pack.
Legolas trailed the beast a short distance. He found the warrior's body, broken and torn into shreds at the end of that trail. Looking around, he said a quick prayer for the warrior's fea. Unfortunately, he couldn't take the necessary time to give the warrior the proper burial he deserved.
The warg leader growled from within the brush, his yellow green eyes shining brightly. Legolas drew out his blades, holding them out in front of him. He eyed the warg as it circled him, waiting for the right moment to strike the beast.
Just as the warg jumped at him, Legolas heard arrows let loose, winging through the air right by his ear. Three struck the beast in the chest and it fell to the ground at his feet. Sheathing his blades, he turned, expecting to see his fellow warriors. Surprised, he found the ranger and his lady. They both had bows and it was obvious the arrows had come from them.
Nodding his head regally, he greeted them. "I did not hear you approach, but I thank you for your assistance."
"This pack has been trailing us for some time. We have had a run in with it before," Strider replied.
"I am surprised you survived."
"Not all of us did," Laeriel said quietly. "We lost one companion, my adopted father. That is why we are returning to the northern camp. To tell the rangers of the troubles with the wargs."
"We shall accompany you for a while. There is strength in numbers," Legolas offered.
Strider nodded. "We welcome your company."
Legolas nodded once more, than set off through the woods, searching for his remaining company. When the wargs had attacked, they had all separated, engaging in battles with the beasts. As their leader, he had to assure their safety.
Strider glanced at Laeriel, who shrugged. They had faced down a pack of wargs, tended wounds, fell in love, and come to the aid of the crown prince of Mirkwood. What else could happen on this trip?
Legolas returned to the small clearing, where he found three of his party. The others had been killed. With their help and that of Strider and his lady, Laeriel, they gathered the bodies of their fallen comrades and buried them properly. That task completed, Legolas had the warriors gather all they could.
"We will return to your camp, if that is all right with you," he said, looking to Strider for his agreement.
Strider nodded and turned to lead the way back to the camp. It was in a sheltered area, a high wall at their back and trees to the sides. They could defend it easily, now that they had the company of Elves in their party.
"Prince Legolas. You are far from home," Laeriel began, falling into step with the Crown Prince. "What brings you so far from the woods of Mirkwood?"
"It is just Legolas, please. You know of me, my lady?" he asked, turning to look at her, surprise on his fair features.
"I grew up at the base of the Grey Mountains. All there have heard of your father and of you."
"Evil times have befallen the realm of Mirkwood. We, my companions and I, have been hunting."
"Hunting? What have you been hunting this far from what you know?"
Strider listened to the conversation, wanting to know why the Prince was so far from home as well. He knew why his brothers strayed into the Wilds. They searched far and wide for Orc, hunting them down and killing them. Did Legolas have a similar reason?
"Giant spiders have ravaged the forests near my home. We had given chase and had killed them. In the process of clearing out their nests, we found tracks. Large ones. Ones I had never seen before. We decided to investigate."
"And what did you find?" Laeriel asked, fearing the answer.
"The pack of wargs that you and Strider had encountered. We were trailing them for a while, but it seems that they circled back on us. I believe it is the same pack."
"Well, we should be safe enough tonight," Strider said, sighting the camp ahead. The fire still burned brightly against the night sky. "There are enough of us to take several watches through the night."
"I shall take the first one," Legolas volunteered.
"You were just engaged in battle, my friend. You should rest," Strider protested.
"Elves do not need to rest like humans do. I am fine."
"I know of Elves, Legolas. Lord Elrond is my Father," Strider said, walking into the camp.
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