prince rolled his eyes and addressed the dwarf king, "Lord Balin, if
and your warriors would follow me I will take you to the orc’s lair."
Turning to the assembled dwarves Balin called them to attention, his deep voice echoing through the large cavern, "Today we stop the orcs!" He waited until the shouts had died down, "We will follow the elf, he knows where they bed down. Be on your guard, men, I have no want to lose any more of you than I already have. We have mithril to return to and mine!"
The roar of a hundred axe handles slamming the cave floor in rhythmic unison deafened the human and he turned to Legolas with a smile, motioning with his hands for the elf to start walking out of the hall.
Legolas turned and gracefully exited Moria to the cheers of the dwarves who raced after him. Aragorn easily leapt aside as the small beings flooded out the gateway onto the plain following his companion. Casually the human brought up the rear, guiding any stray dwarves back onto the path that he and Legolas had taken previously as they had tracked the orcs back to their lair.
the time the entourage had gained the small dark glade, the afternoon
sun had slipped below the trees and evening was quickly approaching.
Legolas led them silently up to the front of the cave, his senses alert
and keen; he was slightly on edge, it was later than he wished to be
here. The orcs would be preparing to leave the cavern soon, they would
need to act quickly or lose the opportunity. The elf cautioned the
warriors to silence as they entered the dark trampled glade.
Aragorn gained Legolas’ side and edged close to the elf. "It will be dusk soon. We have come late."
"I know." The elf shifted warily, glancing into the gloom of the cavern. He bent down near the dwarf lord and spoke quietly to him, "This is their lair. We need to bring the cave mouth down. Can your men do it?"
Balin eyed the opening. With years of skill, he gazed back into the wooded area that covered the sides of the downsloping tunnel before he answered, "Aye, we can. My warriors are experts and this will not be difficult."
"How long will it take you?" Aragorn edged in, glancing quickly back at the cavern himself. He had picked up on Legolas’ unease and an anxiety filled his own chest.
"Not long." The dwarf lord turned and motioned silently to half his contingent, directing them to the top and sides of the cave. The rest of the dwarves fanned out around the perimeter, some taking up guard while others began to mark trees near the lair, starting their companions on the work of bringing the giant foliage down.
Several dwarves had gained the top of the ugly access and, using the pick sides of their broadheaded axes, they began to loosen the rocky formation that structurally kept the cave open and intact, working deftly with the stone.
Aragorn was surprised at the stealth with which the small compact beings moved and carried out their tasks, but with the soundings of the metal on stone and wood reverberating through the dale, there was no masking their presence now.
Legolas stood to the side of the darkened shaft listening intently for any sounds that might alert him to the approach of the orcs. Aragorn had climbed the rocky side of the tunnel and worked with the dwarves to loosen the structural integrity of the opening. He learned quickly as the warriors pointed out natural stress cracks in the granite that could be used to their advantage and the unbalanced weight from the stones that had naturally formed around the lip. Precise blows increased the stressed fractures and pressure placed on the unbalanced formations easily put the cave at risk of collapse. No matter how fortified the tunnel was inside it would not withstand the external damage the dwarves were wreaking.
Warriors to the sides of the maw were quickly cutting through the bases of the twisted pines that surrounded the orc’s lair. Aragorn took note that the wicked serrated swords the dwarves had brought along were being put to use to saw three-quarters of the way through the large trees; it wouldn’t take much to topple the giant pines on either side of the cave, crushing it beneath them.
Their work was almost finished and the light in the glade was nearly gone when the first of the orcs realized their plight and began a counterassault. The air in front of the cave was rent with a volley of arrows as the beasts inside took the war to the dwarves.
"Legolas!" Aragorn heard the sound and turned quickly toward his friend shouting at the elf as the arrows filled the air around the prince.
shafts cut close to Legolas, one just barely grazing the elf’s tunic as
he ducked, crouching low to the ground. A dwarf to his right was not so
lucky. Taking a direct hit, the small being crashed to the ground dead.
Anger gripped Legolas and he unleashed his own answering volley, his
deadly arrows finding their prey and bringing them down. But the press
of orcs was too much.
Shouting up to his friend the elf called for help, "We must prevent them from gaining the mouth of the cave! Are you ready?"
Aragorn glanced worriedly at Balin, who shook his head curtly; they would need a few more minutes.
"We have not time to spare!" Legolas shouted as he jumped behind the trunk of a large tree, narrowly avoiding a second rain of orc arrows.
"Ori! Rorin!" Balin braced himself against a secure spot and leaned down shouting at the dwarves. "Get the front of the cave sealed off, I don’t care how you do it!" The two warriors glanced at each other for a moment until Rorin grabbed Ori calling out to the others, who raced into the surrounding forest.
Legolas panicked. The glade was empty now except for himself. With no resistance, the orcs would overtake them in moments.
"BALIN!" He shouted up to the dwarf king.
"Give them a minute, elf, they’ll be right back."
"A minute is all I may have," Legolas muttered darkly to himself as stepped away from the safety of the tree and began to rapidly fire back into the darkness of the orc cavern.
Just when he was beginning to think he had been abandoned to the orcs, a line of dwarves appeared dragging the trunks of three huge trees they had sheared from the forest. The tops of the pines were left intact and they began to set the needles aflame. As the fire ripped through the branches igniting and popping fed by the wood and the sap, they rammed the tops of the trees into the mouth of the cave while Legolas covered their advance. The smoke from the fire grew thick in the glen and the attack by the orcs was cut off as the air became unbreathable.
"Quickly before they escape out the back. Tell me, Master Dwarf, that you are ready!" Legolas shouted up at the dwarves that were scampering down the rock face. He covered his mouth and nose with the sleeve of his tunic as he breathed the noxious fumes.
Balin was running in front of his men, shouting at them to get free of the cave. Aragorn appeared out of the smoke on Legolas’ left and grabbed the elf, pulling the prince with him.
"They are bringing the cave down now, we have to move!"
When the contingent had sufficiently cleared the area and gained the knoll of a nearby small hill, Balin turned towards the orc lair and, cupping his hands around his mouth, he yelled back into the smoke filled valley, "NOW!"
For seconds there was no sound, no movement, and everyone gathered around the dwarf king held their breath, waiting to see if their work had been for nothing.
"What are they doing?" Legolas whispered in Aragorn’s ear.
"Shhh..wait." The ranger held up his hand, his eyes glued to the small vale.
Slowly the tree on the left of the lair began to bend downward, the creaking, tearing of its very fibers split the air as the tree to the right also wildly angled down, its crown falling beneath the smoke. A roar of wood and stones reverberated through the forest, shaking the ground, and a cloud of debris and smoke exploded upwards from the glen as the trees crashed down on the cave, hitting the rocks that had been structurally damaged and bringing the whole tunnel down on itself as the initial collapse created a chain reaction. The orcs would use this entryway no more, the damage was irreparable.
A small team of dwarves ran towards them out of the smoke, their clothes and beards white from the dust of the shattered rocks, contrasted sharply with the smiles that decorated their round faces. A cheer rose from the warriors around them and Legolas turned towards Aragorn, a smile on the elven face. "Mirkwood is safe now."
The ranger smiled back. "For a bit anyway. I am sure there is a back door to that thing."
"Perhaps but for now they are free from the orcs and the dwarves." He said the last softly, wistfully, and only the ranger heard his words. When Balin approached them he swiftly guarded his features and turned to congratulate the small king.
to the warriors two orcs were watching them from the cover of trees.
They had been separated from the pack when they had left Moria that
morning and had had to seek shelter elsewhere until night returned and
they could safely rejoin their clan. They had watched silently as the
cave was brought down by the dwarves.
"We should go help." One of the dark beasts said to the other.
But the orc questioned simply shook his head no, his yellow eyes memorizing the faces of his enemy.
"Then we should go kill the dwarves and their friends."
Again the orc resisted. Two against one-hundred was folly and even the dark anger in his heart was not enough to jeopardize their lives for the sake of their dead companions.
"Thlurglol, we cannot just stay here. We cannot get home now," the first orc whined at the other.
"We will take the back tunnel and join the others," Thlurglol answered quietly, turning yellow hatred-filled eyes on the young orc beside him, before he turned and headed out.
"It will take all night to get there and even then we may not have enough time," the first warned again.
"Then we best leave now. Shut up or stay behind, I care not." Thlurglol watched as a human and an elf descended the small hill heading back to the Mines of Moria in the company of the diminutive warriors. The combination of beings was puzzling to the small dark mind. He would remember them. Oh yes, he would remember them all.
party in the halls of Moria that night was unparalleled by those in
attendance. And everyone swore it was better than any they could ever
remember under Moria’s halls. The dwarves celebrated their victory well
through the night with Balin bringing up the best of the mead he had
stored away and the finest fruits and meats that his storehouses held.
Legolas and Aragorn had simply watched the wild celebration for the most part, keeping to themselves as their hosts indulged in gluttony and self-congratulation. In all, only three dwarves had lost their lives in the skirmish and though their loss was terribly felt, the mood was nothing less that an abandonment to good cheer. Aragorn had decided that the only thing dwarves did better than mine mithril was to celebrate. Legolas laughed at his observations as they watched the revelry slowly begin to wind down and the celebrants began to break up, finding their way back to their own places to rest for a while.
Balin found them as they headed for their pallets, ready for a few hours of sleep.
"Would you like to see a mithril vein up close? They just uncovered a nice one to the east, I am informed," the dwarf lord offered magnanimously, his face rosy from the mead he had imbibed and his countenance light with mirth; it was an honor bestowed on few.
Aragorn turned back to the king and answered brightly, matching the dwarf’s smile, "Why yes, we would love to." To his surprise his voice was overridden by that of Legolas who spoke at exactly the same time.
"Thank you, but no we will pass."
The smile slipped from Balin’s face and he looked in confusion between the two friends.
Aragorn stared at Legolas, smiling and questioned the elf quietly through gritted teeth, "Legolas?"
The elf glowered at the human before turning to Balin and graciously accepting the king’s offer, "We would love to. Please lead the way."
When the ranger beside him choked back a laugh, he glared once more at the man. Aragorn whispered under his breath, knowing full well the elf could hear him, "You are a horrible liar. I’ll have to show you how to do that better sometime."
Legolas stared at the ranger through narrowed eyes, sarcasm etched across his features. "Just what I always wanted to learn." It took all of the human’s control to not burst out laughing. In an attempt to still his compulsions, he focused on the dwarf lord who had stepped away from them and commandeered the help of two miner dwarves.
"This is Rill and Rullyra," Balin introduced the miners. "They will lead you to the tunnel that the mithril runs through. I must see to a small matter regarding empty mead barrels and I will join you shortly." The dwarf king laughed good naturedly at his own joke as he shoved the two guides in front of him. "Go on now, boys, give them a good tour."
Rill and Rullyra nodded and headed off to the far side of the hall, talking all the way to the two friends about the great vein of mithril that had been uncovered just that morning while the warriors were out.
Legolas stepped around the ranger to follow their hosts, smacking the young human upside the head as he did so. He had no wish to go any farther into this dank hole than was absolutely necessary and now his friend had accepted a guided tour into the very bowels of Moria itself; exactly where he did not want to be.
Aragorn couldn’t stifle the laughter and ran to catch up with the elf when he recovered from the light blow. They followed the dwarves deep down into the depths of Moria toward the areas where the mines were located. They had passed up and turned onto so many branches and adjoining tunnels that Aragorn had easily lost his way a bit ago. He noticed that Legolas had become more edgy and jumpy the farther down they went.
"We are almost there!" Rill cast a look over his shoulder to the two friends.
"He has said that now seven times," Legolas muttered darkly. "If he says it once more I will put an arrow in him."
Trying to lighten his friend's mood he teased the elf lightly, "Oh come on Legolas. How many of your people can ever say they saw the mithril veins? You’ll be the only one! Just think of it."
"My people brag about never seeing mithril veins, human." Legolas ignored the man who paced alongside him. "Our dealings with mithril are as crafters, not delvers. In fact it is with great pride that they can say they have never seen the inside of any cave deeper than our own halls!"
"You have got to get out more." Aragorn dodged behind the elf as the prince turned on him. Legolas merely shook his head as the ranger jumped back from him. He had intended to retort to the barb but a strange sound cut him off, reverberating oddly through the tunnel. It sounded familiar in a way that Legolas could not quite pinpoint. When the memory slammed into his awareness it was too late.
A low rumble and a trembling of the earth beneath their feet was the only warning they had. It was not enough.
Suddenly the air was filled with dust and great chunks of the roof of the tunnel were falling around them as the walls buckled and compressed spasmodically inward as if clapped together by invisible hands.
Legolas, standing in the mouth of the shaft, jumped forward a pace narrowly avoiding a boulder that would have crushed him. A second falling missile that the elf could not avoid struck his shoulder and drove him to one knee.
"Legolas!" Aragorn shouted in concern when he saw his friend fall. "Legolas!" but his voice was drowned by the roar of the collapsing passageway.
Suddenly the ground beneath Aragorn’s feet dropped away sharply and he fell forward as if a carpet had been yanked out from under him. The drop was too abrupt for him to try to catch himself, and the young man found himself half-tumbling, half-sliding down and backward.
Chaos reined supreme for the three breathless moments that it took the tunnel to completely come down on itself. Then there was a sudden, eerie silence, broken only by the soft sound of small rocks rolling and settling into their new positions.
Legolas choked on the thick dust that clogged the air, coughing as he tried to clear his lungs. His left shoulder was on fire and moving his arm was painful. He doubted anything was broken, but it certainly was not moving properly. Severely sprained at the very least, he guessed.
Rising to his feet and hugging his injured arm to his chest with a small hiss of pain, the elf blinked against the dust and grit in the air, seeking some sign of his friend.
"Aragorn?" he called, turning slowly around and attempting to pierce the gloom with his keen eyesight. There was no answer. "Aragorn?" Legolas’ call picked up a tone of urgency.
As the dust finally began to settle, Legolas could see what had happened to the tunnel. Simply speaking, there was no tunnel anymore. Instead there was a twisted, mangled heap of splintered support beams, ruined masonry, jagged boulders and broken stone. Aragorn was nowhere to be seen.
Icy panic gripped the elf prince’s heart as he picked his way carefully across the boulder-strewn floor to where the collapsed tunnel had sealed itself off. Searching the mound quickly, Legolas tugged at the rocks with his good hand. The boulders shifted and settled, making whatever headway he could hope to have absolutely futile. There was no way of digging through this. The entire mouth of the tunnel had come down and was sitting under the weight of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of stone and earth that hung over the elf’s head.
Legolas repressed a shudder. And Aragorn wondered why he did not like caves? What was there to like about the feeling that you had a mountain sitting on your head, one that could obviously crush you at a moment’s notice? The prince had been caught in a cave-in before, very long ago, and had almost not survived the experience. And now Aragorn was lost somewhere in this ruin...
The two young dwarves who had been waiting for them in the larger chamber picked themselves quickly up off the ground, having been knocked off their feet by the shaking of the collapse.
Legolas turned to them quickly. "Go get help. Now!"
Rill and Rullyra obeyed immediately, running off towards the long stair at the far side of the room, their faces filled with grave concern.
Legolas fought back the rising fear that clutched his heart when he considered his friend’s fate. Placing his hand on the twisted, lifeless rocks that blocked his path he willed the young ranger to have somehow survived this experience.
"Aragorn!" he called desperately. "Strider, can you hear me?" His own voice echoed hollowly in the empty, cavernous hall behind him, but there was no response from beyond the rubble.
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