a smooth, flat stone zinged through the air and struck a stinging blow
elbow of the elf holding Raniean, another caught the fingers of the
attempting to restrain Trelan.
A swift, accurate hail of stones and sharp bits of wood rained down upon them, surprising the elven warriors momentarily. It was a brief distraction at best, but it was all that was needed. Raniean and Trelan bolted back up into the now empty trees, knowing what they would find there.
“Legolas! You were supposed to run!” Raniean remonstrated, hating to admit that as sorry as he was that Legolas was right back in danger, he was greatly relieved to have been rescued.
“I did!” Legolas tossed his friend a weary Morgoth-may-care grin. There was nothing in him that allowed the prince to run away and save himself if it meant leaving his friends behind in Doriflen’s clutches. “Come! I saw something, we’ve got to go this way!”
The young prince urgently led his friends on another madcap scramble through the tree branches barely one step ahead of their pursuers. Suddenly the trees ahead of them failed and they found themselves overlooking a deep, dark, swift-flowing river. Every wood-elf of Mirkwood knew at a glance that this was no ordinary stream: it was the enchanted river that wound its way like a snake through the heart of the forest.
Raniean was surprised; he had lost almost all sense of direction by now and had no idea they were anywhere near the dark river. Here, the trees failed utterly for a space, leaving a wide, open expanse that was too far to jump and too dangerous to even think of swimming. Raniean felt panic well up inside him; they were trapped!
Legolas however, had already seen the river from a distance and had brought them here intentionally.
“Raniean, your bow, quick!” he called, taking the other elf’s bow as it was swiftly surrendered and moving to pluck an arrow out of his quiver. Legolas found only air. The catch on Raniean’s quiver guard had come unlatched and he had lost his arrows somewhere in the course of their wild flight. Fortunately, Trelan still had his arrows and Legolas borrowed one from him. Snatching up the trailing end of the rope that Raniean still had curled around one arm, Legolas tied it to the shaft of the arrow with nimble fingers and let the dart fly. When he pulled the bowstring, a hot pain flared to life in his right wrist where his uncle had so viciously twisted it earlier in the day, and the young archer felt his grip slip slightly as the arrow left the string.
For a moment the elfling thought the injury had made him miss the mark, but the arrow flew true. It lodged itself into the trunk of an old elm tree on the other side of the river and stuck there, quivering. As Legolas swiftly pulled taut the rope that now spanned the two shores, his friends caught on to his plan. If they could make it across the river before their pursuers caught up, they would buy themselves preciously needed time while the warriors found a way to cross. Even if they did the same trick with rope and arrows, the elves chasing them would only be able to cross one at a time, and that would slow them up considerably.
“Trelan, go!” Legolas nodded for Trelan to use the makeshift bridge first. The small elf was the lightest of the three of them; if he went first, he could secure the rope for the rest of them. Legolas was still worried about how well the arrow would hold because of the difficulty he had had in shooting.
Trelan ran across the tightrope bridge easily, barely shaking the cord. Unfortunately, Legolas’ fears about the damage done by his unexpected injury were justified. Just as Trelan reached the far bank, the arrow pulled out of the tree. Trelan gave a small shout of surprise and tumbled downward, catching himself on one of the elm’s overhanging branches only moments before he would have fallen down into the river and been lost.
The small elf scrambled up into the tree, breathing hard from his narrow escape. The rope with the arrow still tied to it had fallen back into the river. Legolas and Raniean hauled back on the rope quickly. They could feel the trees warning them that their pursuers were almost upon them and they could hear the slight fall of elven feet running through the grass and the tree boughs behind them. They had to bridge the gap again quickly or they were lost.
The arrow snagged on some unseen rock or bramble submerged in the dark, swirling water. Legolas and Raniean yanked on the rope in urgent desperation. It finally gave and they nearly fell backward as they reeled up the dripping end of the cord.
Their hearts dropped. The arrow on the end was snapped and Raniean’s quiver was empty.
“Legolas, we don’t have any more arrows!” Raniean stated the obvious in distress.
They were lost.
Legolas’ jaw hardened in determination. No, not lost... there was still one last hope. “No, but Trelan does.”
He looked at Raniean, offering him back his bow because Legolas feared his sprained wrist would hamper their only chance.
If Trelan shot into the wood of the tree they were on, the arrow would most likely be damaged when it was pulled free and they had no time to hunt for an arrow shot anywhere else. Their options were not merely limited, they were all but non-existent.
Raniean read his friend’s intention in his eyes and knew instantly the desperate gamble Legolas meant to attempt. He shook his head, refusing the weapon. Raniean knew he couldn’t do it. He had tried many times and never even gotten close. Legolas had never succeeded either, but he had been the closest of them all; if they were to have any chance, he was the one to try.
Accepting that this was their only chance and praying that this one time, when it really mattered, he would not fail, Legolas stood to his feet on the branch, holding Raniean’s useless bow gripped tightly in one fist, his other hand empty and outstretched. Raniean stood by with the rope.
“Trelan!” Legolas shouted across the stream. “Lagor revio, thenid revio! Hado!”
Trelan stared at his friend as if he were crazy; recognizing the familiar ready signal and realizing what Legolas wanted him to do.
“Hado!” Legolas called urgently, feeling the branch they stood upon tremble under the fleet-footed weight of their pursuers as the elven warriors reached their tree. “Fire!”
Drawing in a deep breath and releasing himself to the automatic moves of the exercise they had attempted so many times, Trelan pulled an arrow from his quiver and sighted in on Legolas. He reacted to the prince’s urgent command and did not let himself stop to consider that this time there was no guard, no barrier protecting Legolas from being killed by the arrow if he did not react in time. If he had had time to think of that, Trelan would not have pulled the string. Instead, that realization struck like a knife of ice through his stomach a moment too late to recall his action as the small elf watched the arrow speed away from him towards its target.
Legolas’ eyes focused in on the arrow, ignoring everything else. He did not think of how many times he had tried this and failed, he did not consider that if he failed this time he would either be dead or captured; he thought of nothing but the arrow. It took no more than a second for Trelan to loose the projectile, and even less time for it to cover the distance between them. But Legolas’ focus was so intent that time seemed to slow and he saw the arrow as it sped directly towards his chest, rotating in place as its spiral fletchings made it spin for greater accuracy. The young elf pivoted on his heel.
The pounding of his own heart filled Legolas’ ears as he reached out his hand... and his fingers closed around the shaft of flying arrow. It was not a perfect catch, for he caught it more aft than was optimal and the fletchings cut his fingers when he checked their forward motion, but Legolas felt a small thrill of exhilaration surge through him nonetheless. He had done it. For the first time ever, he had actually caught the arrow.
Raniean had already taken over his part, looping a hastily pre-made knot around the shaft of the arrow still in Legolas’ hand and pulling the cord tight before the prince turned the arrow around in half a heartbeat and sent it flying back towards the elm tree on the far bank. Pain stabbed through his wrist again, but he was prepared for it this time and did not let the throbbing joint buckle until after the lifeline was safely away.
The projectile struck the tree right beside Trelan and the young elf wasted no time in yanking the arrow free and wrapping the rope around the thick trunk, locking it down with his foot and bracing it with his weight.
Legolas and Raniean had no time to try to walk across. The warriors were there on the branch with them now. Nynd and several older soldiers rushed forward as the arrow left Legolas’ bow.
Legolas fed the rope through his hands and felt it jerk tight when Trelan secured the other end. Wrapping it around his arm in one swift move he locked his other arm around Raniean’s waist and jumped off the branch just as the warriors lunged for them.
Raniean felt Legolas pull him off the limb and gripped his friend’s shoulders tightly, his free arm snapping up to grab onto the rope between them.
Legolas felt the stomach-stealing jolt of weightlessness as he and Raniean tumbled towards the enchanted river. He had one breathless instant to fear that he had misjudged the height of the trees and the length of the rope, before the cord snapped tight in his hand. Their momentum sent them swinging wildly through the air towards the far bank, skimming just above the surface of the black water. Legolas’ wrist and arm burned from the strain and his welted back hurt where Raniean was holding on to him, but when the two young elves tumbled into the far bank, they were on their feet again almost as soon as they landed.
There was a splash in the river behind them and they paused only a moment to see that Nynd, in the act of lunging for them when they jumped, had not been able to pull himself up in time and had fallen off the branch and into the river. The young elf was instantly taken in a deep sleep and pulled downstream. Several of the older elves were already hurrying down river with ropes in hand to catch the boy and drag him back to shore before he could drown. Nynd would be recovered unharmed, but he had unintentionally rendered a valuable service to the three escapees because it left even fewer warriors to try to follow them.
Trelan jumped down from the tree and together the three elflings fled into the forest. Behind them they could hear the ringing of signal horns and the soft thud of arrows being launched across the bank, but they had bought the lead they needed.
Raniean frowned deeply as he ran. His right arm was wet and covered with deep crimson stains where he had gripped Legolas’ shoulders when they swung across the river. He looked up sharply as Legolas darted in front of him through the dense undergrowth. In all the commotion of the escape, he had not noticed that many of the barely healed cuts across the prince’s back had ripped open again because of the stress of their flight. Legolas was bleeding freely. He probably had been ever since his fight with Nynd. It was amazing that the young elf was still on his feet.
Raniean knew they needed to stop, they needed to dress the prince’s wounds... but time was a luxury they did not have. They had to put as much distance between themselves and their pursuers as they could while they had the chance.
The trees were thick here and the three boys could hardly see more than ten feet ahead of them as they raced through the woods. When they broke from the tangle and found themselves rushing right into the arms of a huge troop of elven warriors, their hearts stopped beating.
Legolas was spent, he had already lost too much blood and the escape across the river had taken everything he had left. He reeled backward, his mind freezing with horror at their ill fortune.
As far as the eye could see a tall, graceful sea of elven soldiers flowed across the landscape and threaded through the trees; possibly more soldiers than Legolas had ever seen in one place in years.
Hands closed around the prince’s arms as he was pulled forward into the midst of the throng and despair overtook him. Raniean and Trelan were fighting and screaming. The soldiers around him were speaking but their jumbled words turned into a pounding, unintelligible roar in the young elf’s ears as his injury-weakened body gave into the light-headed whirling of dizzy failure that was trying to pull him under. The prince’s vision hazed yellow and then black and he was afraid he was going to pass out. The elfling wanted to cry; he could not bear to wake up again in Doriflen’s dungeons of horror... at this moment he would rather die.
Raniean and Trelan bit and kicked at anything that came near them, almost screaming in rage and despair as Legolas was pulled away from them. They fought desperately but in vain to part the veritable sea of warriors that now separated them. This is not the way it was supposed to end; they could not fail, not now when they had come so far!
Legolas was too weak to struggle although he could hear his friends fighting somewhere close at hand. His spirit was willing, but his body was betraying him. It was over. It was over... and now his friends would pay the price along with him. He couldn’t lift his head, couldn’t distinguish the faces around him through the yellow haze clouding his vision.
Raniean and Trelan fell suddenly silent.
“Please...” Legolas begged quietly as his legs buckled and he sank to his knees in their hands. He wanted to beg them to let his friends go, to not take them back to his uncle to suffer with him, but he couldn’t even form the words. “Please...” was all he could say; exhausted, hopeless tears filling his eyes.