The wolf was crouching, ready to pounce, sharp eyes fixed on him. With a tremendous leap, she sprang forward, landing on his chest, and pinning him down. He could feel hot, slavering breath on his face, and the fetid stench washed over him in a wave. The sound of harsh breathing echoed in his ears. The beast’s great jaws were wide open, exposing sharp, savage teeth.
The creature’s weight crushed down on him, making it difficult to breathe. With an effort, he pushed at his attacker, trying in vain to fend it off. It was no use. He was helpless beneath the huge body.
Legolas awoke with a start. He blinked several times, trying to clear the sleep from his eyes, and the fog from his mind as he roused from his dream.
But this was no dream, it was all too real.
The creature’s fangs were only inches from his face, and its weight pressed against him. With a gasp, he raised one arm in defence.
“Get off, Huan,” he hissed. “What are you doing here? You know you’re not allowed inside! Go away!”
With a soft whine, Huan gazed mournfully at Legolas, head cocked to one side. Legolas glared at the great wolfhound in exasperation.
“How did you get in again? And how did you get up here? I suppose I’ll have to get you back to the stables before anyone notices!”
The pack of wolfhounds, kept for helping the elves in hunting deer or wolves, were supposed to live in the stables. They were absolutely not permitted in the palace itself.
Huan, though, had other ideas. As a puppy, he had followed Legolas everywhere, much to his delight, although Thranduil had very strong ideas on what he termed ‘unsuitable’ pets. And although he had tried - not very hard - to dissuade Huan, Legolas had not been able to stop the infatuation.
The great hound still had Legolas pinned down, huge paws on his shoulders. Huan gave him a last friendly lick, then reluctantly moved, leaping off the bed and landing with a thud.
“Sshh! You’ll wake everyone up! Be quiet!”
With a sigh of resignation - these nocturnal visits were becoming too common - Legolas pulled on a loose robe, and found a pair of light shoes. He did not relish the idea of walking across the courtyards and out to the stables in bare feet.
Silently he opened the door, and looked out along the corridor. It was in darkness, save for a single torch left burning, and all was quiet. Softly he made his way down the hallway, urging Huan on in a quiet voice. Past his father’s rooms - all was dark and silence here, too; and then down a flight of stairs. Along another corridor, then past the guest quarters.
The sound of a door opening somewhere behind him sent Legolas retreating to the shadows cast by the flickering torch light, pulling Huan with him. The hound sat obediently as they waited. A figure appeared at the far end of the corridor, looked around surreptitiously, then made its way towards them.
Ellahir. What mischief was he up to at this time of night? And where was Elrodan?
It was impossible to hope to remain hidden, so Legolas stepped out of the shadows as Ellahir drew near. He jumped, and gave a muffled oath.
“Valar, Legolas! You scared me! What are you doing down here?” Ellahir’s eyes widened as he noticed Legolas’ companion. “What’s that?”
“This is Huan. He’s not supposed to be here. I’m taking him back to the stables, which is where he should be. If you breathe a word of this, I’ll tell your father you were -” Legolas paused, and looked at his friend suspiciously. “What are you doing, Ellahir?”
“Stop calling me that! I’m Elrohir! Can’t you tell the difference yet?”
“Don’t change the subject. What are you up to?”
Elrohir gave a sudden grin. “We were hungry. So we drew lots to see who should sneak down to the kitchens. I lost. Look, you won’t tell my father, will you? Or yours. I don’t think they’d understand.”
“It’s a deal. As long as you don’t say anything about Huan. Promise?”
“Promise.” They exchanged conspiratorial grins.
“I was going to go out of the back door, anyway. It’s quicker, and there are always guards on the main doors. I’ll show you where the back stairs are. They come out next to the kitchens. Come on!”
They set off again. Instead of heading for the front of the palace, and the wide, shallow, main staircase, Legolas let the way down a side passage, then down a steep, narrow flight of stairs. As promised, when they reached the foot of the staircase, they were next to the kitchen door.
“I never knew this was here! This is much quicker than the other ... way ...”
Elrohir trailed off at the look Legolas gave him.
“You make a habit of this, do you?”
The cavernous kitchens were in darkness, save for a red glow from the fires, banked until the following morning. Bread was baking in the ovens, and the aroma drifted across the room. Elrohir sniffed appreciatively.
“Do you think they’d miss a loaf or two?”
“Yes! It won’t be ready yet, anyway. Come on. If you help me with Huan, we’ll see what we can find when we get back. This way.”
Legolas pulled open the kitchen door, and with Huan they slipped out into the courtyard, then across the grass to the stables. There was a warm, sweet smell of hay and horses, the sound of soft breathing and shuffling hooves. In a stall at the far end the wolfhound pack slept, huddled together in the deep straw like puppies. One looked up and gave a soft whine at the sight of the two elves with Huan.
With a reproachful look at Legolas, Huan joined his pack, and dropped down with a thump into the straw.
“Well, that’s done. Let’s get back before anyone sees us!”
Back in the kitchens, they prowled around to see what could be purloined without anyone noticing. There was a nearly full bottle of wine, and in the cold store several cheeses. An earlier batch of loaves stood cooling on the table, and they took one of these, too. Then, laden with their booty, they retreated back up the stairs.
“Come back to our room,” urged Elrohir. “El and I can’t eat all this. Come and join us.”
“That’s very gracious of you. Considering it’s my father’s food we’ve just stolen!”
Muffling their laughter, Legolas and Elrohir crept down the hallway that led to the twin’s room. They had nearly got there when the door to Elrond’s room opened suddenly, and Thranduil emerged, Elrond standing just behind him in the doorway.
It was hard to say who was most startled. The two elf lords gazed at their reprobate sons in disbelief, and the two elflings stared back with identical guilty expressions. Legolas and Elrohir retained just enough presence of mind to thrust their ill-gotten gains behind them, out of sight.
Thranduil gave Legolas his sternest look. “Whatever are you doing? Wandering the halls at this time of night?”
Legolas gaped at his father, totally lost for words. “I - I ...”
Elrond took pity. “Maybe he could not sleep. Is that it, elfling?”
Legolas took refuge in the excuse. “Yes! I had a bad dream, it woke me up ...” he paused, hoping against hope that no one would ask what the dream had been about. Now was not the time to mention Huan.
“I see. And Elrohir?” The elf king did not sound convinced.
With relief, Legolas fell back on the simple truth. Some of it. “I met him in the hall. He - he was going the wrong way.” *Well, he was going the wrong way to get to the kitchens* Legolas thought defensively.
“I see. So you showed him where to go?”
“Yes!” Both Legolas and Elrohir nodded eagerly.
“Very well. Then you had better get back to bed, both of you.”
“Thank you. Good night, father. Good night, my Lord.” Elrohir and Legolas spoke in unison, exchanged a glance of deep relief, and fled down the hall, rounding the corner, and falling through the door to the twin’s room. They both leaned against the closed door in dramatic fashion, panting.
“Do you think they guessed anything?”
“No. They can’t have. We’d never have got away with it!”
Elrond and Thranduil watched as the two disappeared from sight. Hearing a door open and slam, Thranduil finally looked across to meet the other’s gaze. Elrond pulled him through the still open door, and shut it hastily. The lord of Imladris was shaking with mirth.
“Whatever do you think they were up to?”
“They had been outside,” Elrond deduced. “Their feet were wet.”
“It must be that wretched hound! I thought I heard him earlier!”
“Is that all they were doing? They were hiding something!”
“They came back through the kitchens. I could smell bread. And that pungent cheese from Esgaroth.” Thranduil, too, could spot clues.
“Ah, a midnight feast!”
By now, Thranduil too was laughing helplessly. “Ai, Valar, did you see their faces? I have never seen such guilt!”
Erestor, and Lanatus, Thranduil’s steward - who had been inherited from Oropher - were also there, having been sampling a new batch of cordial Elrond had brewed. It was similar in taste to miruvor, but less potent.
Lanatus looked disapproving. “Well, I hope you will speak to them severely in the morning. Stealing from the kitchens! I never heard of such a thing.”
“Stealing?” echoed Thranduil. “From my own kitchens? A loaf of bread, and a piece of cheese no one else would touch?”
“They also had a bottle of wine,” sniffed Lanatus.
“Which was already opened, and would have been sour by tomorrow. Stop fussing, Lanatus!”
“At least they had not taken the Dorwinion,” added Elrond, slyly.
Back in the twin’s room, Elladan watched in bemusement. He had been getting anxious. “I thought you were never coming back! You’ve been gone ages! Whatever’s the matter? What do you mean, did who see anything? And where did you come from, Legolas?” The questions poured from him like a torrent.
Legolas and Elrohir exchanged a glance, then sank to the floor, overcome by giggles.
“Well - ” began Elrohir.
Elladan listened in silence to the tale. He was rather annoyed that his little brother had had an adventure like that without him.
“But we were very lucky, at least we didn’t see any of the spiders,” Legolas finished.
Elladan and Elrohir regarded him suspiciously. They weren’t at all sure they believed in the spiders. They had spoken to several of the elflings from Greenwood, who had all assured them that the spiders were true, and really existed, honestly, but in such gleeful tones, the twins were still not convinced. It all sounded like a trick played on gullible visitors.
“What do you mean? asked Elrohir, uneasily.
“I told you about the spiders. They never come near Lasgalen in the daytime, they’re scared of my father, but at night, or in places where it’s dark, they come out, and prowl about. If they catch anyone then ...” he shivered expressively.
“What?” Elladan and Elrohir spoke simultaneously.
“They jump on you from the trees, and they bite you, so you can’t run away. Then they wrap you up in spider silk, only it’s not like silk, it’s as thick as ropes, and then ...”
“What?” they asked again.
“Then they eat you,” Legolas finished in a whisper.
Elrohir swallowed audibly. “Were they out there tonight, do you think?”
“Probably. We just didn’t see them. A friend of mine says there’s lots on the path that leads around the back of the hill. But no one knows if it’s true, no one dares go there, not at night.”
Legolas shook his head. “It’s too dangerous.”
While they had been talking, they had been eating the bread and cheese hungrily, passing the wine back and forth, drinking straight from the bottle. Before long, all that was left was a few crumbs, and some smelly leaves that the cheese had been wrapped in.
Legolas gave a huge yawn, then got to his feet. “It’s late. I’d better go back. I’ll see you in the morning.”
As Legolas made his way back to his own room, he wondered if the twins had taken the bait about the spiders. If they had, he would have to make plans.Stories > First > Previous > Next