The battle of Helm’s Deep was won, though victory came at a very dear cost, more evident as the morning progressed and the sun harshly revealed the overwhelming number of dead or dying beings covering the grounds outside the great fortress. All able-bodied were kept busy retrieving and rendering aid to injured allies while dispatching any lingering foes. Then began the even more arduous task of disposal of the corpses; though the departed of Rohan’s families and friends would have honor accorded them, it was of minimal ceremony due the circumstance of sheer number involved. To that was added the understanding of all that though this battle was over, a war was yet to be fought.
Legolas wandered the fields, his sharp elf-eyes checking the still bodies for signs of breath or movement that mortal sight might miss. He had emerged from the fiercely bloody night with hardly any damage to himself and, to his great relief, his friends Aragorn and Gimli had similarly escaped largely unscathed. All had known of the huge mass of the enemy come to their doorstep, yet the darkness had at least hidden the oppressive odds, each fighter focused mainly on close surroundings as he fought. Legolas and Gimli had even taken up their ‘counting game’ again, as a measure of concentration on the few foes immediately at hand rather than the daunting consideration of the whole army that attacked; that device, however, had almost defeated its own purpose, as the elf found himself quickly surpassing any previous count he had attained in battle.
Legolas sighed; he had softly given what prayers his kind sang at such funeral occasions, adapting them as well as he could to show respect to the many Men that had passed. None listening truly understood the words they heard, as it was in Elvish Legolas sang, yet his intent was clear and his voice superb, and all the listeners were deeply touched. Now, however, the elf felt his presence superfluous and stood apart from the others clutched together in sorrow. Legolas looked for those in his Fellowship ‘family’. Estel is nowhere in sight - most likely hard at work in the healing wing of the fortress. Gandalf is probably with him, giving boosts of magical aid. Gimli…I could miss his short self in this throng…yet I suppose him also performing some duty, mayhap the restoring of the fortress itself. The elf smiled briefly as he imagined each person doing those tasks that seemed so particularly suited, then sighed again.
I am near useless here now. He considered merely offering his support to his friends, but flinched at the thought of reentering Helm’s Deep. The great building, admittedly a marvel of architecture, was nevertheless for a wood elf an oppressive place even lacking the gloom that surely saturated it now. Legolas shuddered. Nay, they would end having to tend to my ‘affliction’ - a great help that would make of me!
Wandering further afield, he gave an uneasy glance to the piles of enemy corpses that were burning or awaiting some other method of disposal. He had helped heap the pyres, in their placement taking care that the ensuing smoke would blow out to the open field rather than back toward the fortress. Now seeing the total of his work and the separate battered, bloody forms that comprised it brought a pang of grief to the elf’s heart; not that he regretted his warrior’s prowess, but rather that such a skill should be needed at all. Especially were the orcs of a hurt to his spirit; faced with such great numbers of the corrupted creatures, the elf could not conveniently ignore their origins, and thus what he might really have fought against. Ai, so many! So many souls lost or destroyed…though the monsters breed true to themselves mostly now, lately has Saruman used Men to ‘improve’ their monstrosity; and still yet do Elves ‘disappear’ and remain unaccounted for… Legolas was unsure if such damaged Elven souls could manage to answer Mando’s call to succor them; he took a deep breath, attempting to steady himself. I must only think of them as freed of their torment finally; yet still must suffer the ones left behind, whom these were sundered from - the family and friends. Of so many, mayhap I would find some had even been taken from…home…
Suddenly Legolas was stricken with an intense homesickness, a yearning to convince himself his loved ones there were alive and safe. He wanted - needed - to see their familiar faces, hear their voices, feel their hearts beat as he embraced them. The elf blinked back threatening tears, grateful no one was watching closely as he composed himself. I have obligations and I will fulfill them. I am not some elfling that flees at imagined frights into his adar’s arms. Legolas knew he was only fooling himself, for within his father’s arms was exactly where he wished to be at that moment.
Turning away from the looming mounds, the elf found his gaze resting on the forest nearby. An intriguingly strange place that was, having ‘grown’ there entirely overnight. Gandalf had warned the Rohirrim soldiers to keep their distance; any enemy that had entered seeking sanctuary had apparently been unpleasantly received, as indicated by the cries that had issued forth. In short time silence reigned, and no being had come back out of the dense tree line, either to fight or surrender. Even at that, Legolas had no fear of the forest - he was a Prince of Wood-Elves, and so dearly loved all trees of Arda; the trees instinctively knew this and loved him back.
The elf stared longingly in their direction. It much resembles my beloved homeland…well, minus
evil spiders - all the better…that would make it more like as
He told no one of his plan, reasoning he need not trouble anyone, ignoring the small nagging concern that if they knew, the humans would worry and try to detain him. Eager to reach his destination, Legolas took a path keeping him in minimum contact with other wanderers, finally running full out towards the beckoning forest. Only one man took particular notice as Legolas sped past in a flash of green and brown. The sentry frowned, preparing to call out a warning; he remained silent at realizing he was privileged to finally view the elusive Elf Prince he’d heard gossip of. Watching the fleet creature disappear into the strange trees, the guard shook his head in amazement at the odd ways of Elves, and returned his attention to his current task.
Approaching the tree line, Legolas became aware of an oppressive emotional miasma, stronger as he moved closer. He slowed his pace, recalling more of the wizard’s words concerning the unique beings just ahead. Huorns, Gandalf named them - trees that walk, though unlike the Ents that tend them. These Huorns have a great hatred and rage against the evil in the land, and deal it a terrible reckoning. Legolas grimaced, for the intensity of the Huorns’ feelings battered his mind like a storm’s waves against the shore. If anything, though, it made the elf more determined to complete his mission. Here at last I may find my task…whilst I restore myself, I shall also offer what ‘magic’ I possess to heal their spirits. The Huorns will know and welcome me.
Legolas darted a bit deeper into the forest, soon stopping to marvel at his surroundings. It was indeed much like Mirkwood; yet even as the elf’s soul was soothed by the similarities, his head pounded from the currents of dark emotions around him. He massaged his aching temples, but that usual remedy failed. A sound of motion reached his sensitive ears, bringing him to full alertness. The elf swiveled around, searching in vain for the source. He heard the noise again and frowned in confusion, fingering his knife handles in readiness for use. Mayhap I have severely miscalculated the number of orc that may survive here. If they think I shall be easy prey, they will soon be made aware of their error. Legolas prepared for battle once more.
A third time a motion sounded, clearly behind him. Legolas whirled, knives ready, and froze. A stately tree was present where none had before been standing. The elf quickly lowered his weapons, eyes growing large in awe as the tree inched itself closer. Legolas sensed the powerful wave of curiosity emitted from the hulking Huorn; then a deep, rich voice echoed in his head. “Elf? Yes… Elf!” At that, a thread of wonder and joy rippled outward, contrasting sharply with the stronger, harsher ones that dominated the forest entities. At the same time, a word-image came to the elf, which he realized to be the Huorn’s means of introduction.
‘Greenheart’; how marvelously appropriate. He must be an elder of these gathered, to be able to communicate with language as well as simpler imagery. Legolas laughed in delight, and the musical sound brought forth another ripple of joy through the trees. Both excited and nervous, Legolas returned the greeting before blurting a hasty apology for his previous behavior. “My heart sings to meet you, Calenore. I am Legolas, and please forgive my less than friendly actions before! I had imagined an orc upon me.”
A second later the elf staggered in pain as a blast of rage assailed him, though he realized it was not directed at him. “No orc shall harm Elf! We destroy any that try.” The Huorns’ anger turned to fearful concern as Legolas dropped his knives and fell to his knees. Immediately, slender roots rose up to brace him, while vinelike branches reached down to stroke gingerly at his head and shoulders. “You are injured?”
“Yes…nay! That is…not physically, only…” the elf paused, considering how to explain his condition to his listeners. “I am just overtired; I have been through a most exhausting night.”
“Ahh, yes, an evil night. Darkness begets dark things. No proper place for Firstborn.” Calenore’s tone became suspicious. “This land favored of Men, with their habitat of stone…how came Legolas to be here?”
“I…I traveled to Helm’s Deep in the company of the Rohirrim, come to make a stand against the dark forces sent to destroy them.” Legolas was alarmed at the enmity the Huorns showed for the race of Men in general. They seem unable to comprehend a Man as friend rather than enemy. “I am here with you specifically that I might find release from…” …my private demons. I think I should not utter such thoughts further. He was too late in his caution.
“Release? You were taken from your kind, forced to fight for Men?” The Huorns’ indignation was great.
“No! You don’t understand. I didn’t ‘escape’…” Legolas gave a moan as another strong wave of rage washed against him.
“They will not retake you. We will protect.” The tone became more soothing, the limbs again reaching to tenderly stroke the elf’s hair and head. “You hurt inside. You must rest and heal.” Calenore recalled vague rumors of the tragedy of Elven ‘fading’ caused by grief, and was determined not to have this precious Firstborn become such a casualty.
Even as Legolas appreciated the Huorns’ concern, he realized he had made a grave error in his venture. I shall only be at ease again when well away from here, I fear; yet they only mean the best for me. How might I convince them without hurt feelings that I must leave their company so soon? Mayhap a very brief disclosure of the Fellowship and our mission would serve. “I presented my situation poorly - I have not been anyone’s captive. I travel voluntarily with a small group of various beings on a special mission, and we happened to be passing through Rohan just when the local people had particular need of our aid.”
The Huorn was intrigued. “Your group…more Elves?”
The wistfulness of the great tree’s voice brought a smile to Legolas’ face. “Alas, I am the only Elf in the lot. It - my ‘group’ - is comprised of men and hobbits, mayhap better known to you as halflings, and a dwarf…” He paused as Calenore considered the information.
“Elves occasionally consort with Men, but not often nor long. Halflings - I have recent awareness of those…they are small, like elflings, so Elves would enjoy. Dwarves I recall - also small, but not at all like elflings! Elves not have much contact with Dwarves, nor want to, I think.” Having made these deductions, the Huorn concentrated again on Legolas with a mixture of concern and suspicion. “Tell of this mission you lead, that if possible we may aid you and your faithful followers.”
Legolas fought a momentary urge to giggle. Gimli would be most unamused at being labeled thus. The elf quickly became serious for his explanation. “You may aid excellently by continuing to cleanse this land, as I believe it not possible for you to follow us to our destination. Also, tis not my prerogative to enlist you, for I am not the mission leader; rather am I honor-bound, as are the other Fellowship members, to follow he who is…even should he lead us to challenge the Shadow directly.” The last words were barely a whisper, spoken more to himself. And I would follow that order unerringly, for I know it would not be given unless absolutely necessary; yet may I hope such a need shall not come to pass. Legolas felt a chill shudder through him as he gazed in the direction he knew the Eye of Sauron to be settled in.
The Huorns likewise experienced a tremor at the elf’s words, and a moment later a keening sigh swept through the leaves at realizing the admission’s dread meaning. There was now horror in Calenore’s voice, and his anger was rebuilding swiftly. “Winds whisper of a mighty army, one even greater than faced here, grouping in Dark Lord’s homeland. Legolas must not go near! What manner of being is your leader, who would compel any to seek and face such evil?”
Legolas moaned softly at the new onslaught inside his head. “I am not compelled, except to fulfill my own vow and duty. Our leader is very wise, having lived longer than even I…a great wizard…” The elf paused again, confused anew as the Huorns reacted in shock.
“Wizard! White Wizard directs your journey? This is unpardonable!” Calenore’s roar made Legolas dizzy. The elf had only a slight respite when the echo receded, as waves of hot outrage continued to pulse against him.
“Ai! You are mistaken! Our wizard is not the…well, actually he is, but…that is, he…umm…” Orc-spit! The only ‘White Wizard’ they know is Saruman, and right they are to despise him - how do I convince them there is a ‘new’ white wizard, and that Gandalf is not of wicked intent? If only I could have a few moment's peace to think clearly so I might explain properly! Legolas barely held back another moan resulting from his steady throbbing headache. He again massaged his brow in futility, about to make another attempt at placating the Huorns when abruptly their assaulting emotions lessened.
Before the elf could make any comment, Calenore spoke, his voice once more calm. “At last we understand the situation.” Legolas sighed in relief, wanting only to hasten back to his Fellowship companions and rest before the next step of their journey. He reached down to gather his knives from the ground where he’d dropped them; to his surprise, they were nowhere to be seen. “Your weapons are safely secured, as shall you be, until we may return you to your proper place and people.”
Legolas stood, eyes wide as he noted how completely the trees had surrounded him. “What? What do you mean?” Despite his anxiety, he was capable of faint amusement at the sheer irony of his situation. In the majority of my most desperate circumstances, I have been able to take to the trees as a reliable means of escape…but now I find myself searching for escape from the trees. “Please, try to understand - my proper place for now is with the Fellowship and I must return to them. You must trust me on this; I would not say it to you if it were untrue.”
“Of course.” Legolas relaxed, thankful the Huorn had heeded the plea, for the elf found it unthinkable he should actually fight against these good beings to win his freedom. The next moment, however, he tensed anew as Calenore continued, sadness in his deep voice. “White Wizard has bespelled you to believe that; there is no other reason Legolas would not flee Maker of Abominations.”
Legolas shook his head and groaned. They think I am taken to be ‘turned’, believing it is Saruman who leads the Fellowship. While he was grateful for the Huorns’ concern (for any elf would certainly wish to be rescued from the fate they thought awaited him), Legolas knew he had to remove himself from their good-intentioned but ill-consequented care. Yet even as he wracked his brain for a way to convince them of his sincerity, the Huorns acted on their intent. Pliant branches, slender but strong, wrapped around the elf’s waist and lifted him.
Legolas let out a yelp of surprise and struggled in the grasp, unable to wriggle free. A commotion behind caused him to twist around; the sight beheld made him gape - a large hole was being rapidly excavated. When he felt himself being moved toward the dark pit, the elf began thrashing desperately and protesting vehemently. They mean to bury me alive?
Calenore sensed Legolas’ fear and endeavored to alleviate it. “Legolas must be kept safe while we finish work here. We provide air; I apologize for no bigger space or light - I vow your time under shall not be long.”
Legolas was not much relieved. “And when you are done and bring me above ground again…what happens? Shall I then be released to go my own path?”
The Huorn appeared sorry to dash the elf’s hope, yet resolved to save this Firstborn. “You stay with us. Some day we find other Elves, mayhap searching for Legolas - to them only we give you up. They cure you of White Wizard’s curse and pain.”
Even had he any convincing argument, Legolas had no chance to present it. He was lowered into the hole by a gentle tumble across the sloping dirt floor. He braced to a halt and whirled to see the opening being closed by thickly interlaced roots atop which he heard earth being repiled. Springing up, he tugged and pried at the ‘door’ but to no avail; where his fingers managed to reach moist earth, the areas were too small to reward him for digging at them. After several moments, the dejected elf sank to his knees, and took a better look around his prison by using his own glow. I have at least room to stand or stretch out prone as I wish. That observation eased his claustrophobic tendency and he continued his assessment. Sniffing delicately, he wrinkled his nose at the understandably musty scent. Normally I should find the smell pleasing, for it would result of my gardening. As oft before have I planted some tender sapling to mature into a strong and sturdy tree…now I am the thing ‘planted’, and by the trees, no less.
Legolas gave a mirthless chuckle, and absently plucked at a strand of hair straying across his face, leaving streaks of dirt where his fingers tracked. He hugged his knees to his chest, wondering how long was ‘not long’ to a Huorn, and reprimanded himself fiercely for getting in this mess. ‘Fool of an Elf’ shall Gandalf call me, and mayhap threaten to transform me into a more biddable creature… though I think him not truly capable of such a magic. ‘Idiot Elf’ Estel shall say, and cow me with ‘the look’ he has learned so well from Elrond. ‘Blasted Elf’ - that shall be Gimli, who will threaten to divest me of some appendage with his axe.
The smile brought by his visions quickly disappeared. I think I might require all their assistance to take leave of my new benefactors. No doubt when my absence is realized, Estel will track me easily; Gandalf may decline to accompany him, but Gimli surely will follow, heaping curses upon me the entire way. Another smile began, when suddenly a thought occurred that nearly stopped the elf’s heart before setting it to pound almost out of his chest. The Huorns will still think them enemies who mean me harm, and…the trees will…oh, no…no, no… “Nay, they must not…!”
In terrified panic, Legolas flung himself at the tangle of roots, grappling at them while crying out for release. All he succeeded in was scraping his own fingers until they bled. As the bright red drops soaked into the earth, the trees reacted as more roots rose from the dirt and wrapped around the elf to firmly but gently restrain him; so intent was Legolas on his escape effort that he failed to notice until his legs, almost completely covered, were tugged to pull him down. He screamed in frustration and began straining against those roots, but more converged on his arms and body. In seconds, the elf was cocooned with only his face exposed to allow him breath.
The Huorns above experienced great sorrow at Legolas’
distress, but would not relent in their plan for his ultimate well being. Their
attempts at consolation were ignored by the wailing, weeping elf. Finally,
utterly exhausted in spirit and body, Legolas quieted, passing into a sleep too
deep for semi-dreams of reverie. Eventually the roots withdrew, the trees remaining
alert to rebind the elf if need be to prevent further self harm. Legolas slept
on, eyes unnaturally closed; an occasional tear trickled past the lashes as nightmares,
a rarity to Elves, disturbed his sorely needed rest.