The next morning, Legolas was still none the wiser as to whether the twins had believed him, and was unsure of how to find out without being obvious. He had just finished breakfast when they finally appeared. He passed them with a nod and a brief word, but did not stop.
In the doorway, he passed Brethil. He stopped, then back tracked.
“Brethil! I need you to do something for me.”
Brethil looked wary. “What?”
“You see Elladan and Elrohir over there? No, don’t look at them! I want you to sit near them, not too close, but so you can hear what they’re saying. I need to know what they’re talking about. Can you do that?”
Brethil was still suspicious. “I can, it’s easy, but I’m not sure I want to. I expect you’re up to something again. You are, aren’t you? You’d better be careful, you know what your father said last time. Why do you want me to listen? What are you going to do?”
“I’m not going to do anything, trust me!”
“Why won’t you tell me?” Brethil sighed. “You never tell me anything. Why not? You know I can keep a secret!”
Trying not to snort in disbelief, Legolas put on his most pleading look. “Please?”
Brethil felt resigned. Why did his friends always manage to talk him into things? “Well - I suppose sitting next to them will be safe enough. Your father won’t mind if I ...”
“No! Not next to them! I said near them, just so you can overhear. Thank you!” With that, before Brethil could argue, Legolas was gone. He had a lot of thinking to do.
The path that led around the back of the hill which housed Thranduil’s palace was remote, little used, and narrow. Gloomy even in the daylight, at night it was pitch dark, the trees clustering too close for moon or stars to shine through. Among the younger elflings, legend told of giant spiders that lurked here, spinning impenetrable webs across the path, concealing themselves in the thick branches. It was considered a rite of passage to brave the path, alone, at night.
Legolas, goaded by his friend Alfiel, had finally ventured down the Spider Path the year before. The normal night time noises of the forest had been magnified by his own fear and imagination into the creaking and hissing of the spiders, their scuttling and rustling. He had completed the last mile of the challenge at a dead run, to be greeted at the end of the path by a chorus of cheers and whistles, led by Alfiel himself.
Later that morning, he found Brethil in the stables, helping the grooms. Offering to help, they worked side by side for a while, until Legolas broached the subject uppermost in his mind. “Did you get to hear anything?”
Brethil looked puzzled. “I’m not sure. It sounded like they were talking about the Spider Path, but how would they know about that?”
“Then one of them - I’m not sure which one - said ‘If we’re going to go, we have to go tonight.’ What do you think he meant? Do you think he meant going along the Spider Path? But why would they do that? It’s very dangerous, especially at night. Whoever would have told them about it?”
Exasperated, Brethil straightened, and glared at his friend. “Legolas! Are you listening? Who do you think would have told them about the Spider Path? I think Lord Elrond will be very cross if they go there at night. Maybe they don’t realise about the spiders? Do you think I should tell them? Maybe we should both tell them about it. They might listen to you.”
Brethil stopped grooming the horse, and looked at Legolas. “Why not?” He realised that Legolas was being even more evasive than usual. “Why don’t you want to tell them?”
“Because - because ...” Legolas was hit by a sudden brainwave. “You know, Brethil, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. I think you should tell them. Tell them about the spiders, and how dangerous the path is at night. Warn them that they mustn’t go there! I think they’d be frightened.”
After making sure that Brethil would warn the twins - and therefore guarantee they would brave the path - Legolas, endlessly inventive, began plotting. In the stables he had found an old waterskin, intact, but long since discarded, due to a flaw that tainted the water. Half-filling it, he found it fell with a most satisfactory ‘splat’ when dropped. Then he went in search of one of the maids, who he recalled had worn a lacy black shawl at one of the feasts.
“Mireth, you know that shawl of yours? The black one? I wondered if I could borrow it.” He gave her one of his breath-taking smiles.
“Why? What do you want it for?” she asked suspiciously. She knew the little prince well. He would never intend to damage it, but things - happened - when he was around. He was always profusely apologetic afterwards.
“I just need it to wrap something in!” he explained.
Mireth was still suspicious. It sounded innocent enough, and she knew he would be telling her the truth - but probably only a small part of it. Looking at his pleading expression, she relented.
“All right. But not my new one. I have another you may use. You can keep it, if you like.” It would probably not be returned in any case, or at least not in any condition fit to wear again.
His face lit up. “Thank you, Miri!” He turned and dashed off.
“Stop calling me that!” she shouted after him.
His voice floated back to her. “Sorry, Miri!”
Mireth sighed in exasperation, then went to find the shawl. Taking it to his room later that day, she opened the door to find Legolas standing on top of a chair, which had been placed on top of a table. The chair, which had a rickety leg - Legolas’ first attempt at woodwork - wobbled precariously as he straightened, startled by her appearance.
To Mireth’s amazement, it looked remarkably as if he was practising dropping an old waterskin on the floor.
“What are you ...” she stopped, shaking her head. “No. Keep quiet. I really do not want to know. That way, when - whatever it is happens, I can swear to your father that I knew nothing about it!”
The chair wobbled again as he dropped lightly to the floor.
“Don’t worry, Miri. Nothing’s going to happen,” he reassured her glibly.
“Stop calling me that,” she began automatically, then finished: “Oh, I give up! Here – take the shawl. I have no intention of asking what you are going to do with it!”
Mireth closed the door behind her, and paused outside, running the whole scene through her head. She realised she had a broad grin, and tried to sober. Legolas had that effect on everyone. Irritating, exasperating and exhausting, no one ever remained annoyed with him for long.
Not even Thranduil. The elves of Greenwood had a healthy respect for their king, but they all knew his bark was worse than his bite - although his bark could be formidable indeed. She just hoped that whatever the prince was planning would not get him into too much trouble.
In his room, Legolas inspected the shawl carefully. It was thick, made of loosely woven strands of black wool, and edged with a long fringe. It would be perfect. He plaited some of the threads of fringe together, to make thicker, longer pieces. Then he wrapped it around the waterskin, and looked at it critically.
He unfastened the package again, and padded it out with some old, outgrown clothes. Then he retied the bundle, arranging the fringe around the outside. He sighed with frustration. It would never fool anyone. He could only hope that Elladan and Elrohir would not take the time to stop and look too closely.
It was now nearly dusk, and he would have to act quickly. He had no idea when the twins would set out, but had to be in position before then, and had yet to choose his vantage point.
Slipping quietly out of the back doors, Legolas crossed the courtyard towards the stables. The Spider Path branched off the main track, and led around the back of the stables, and behind the hill which housed the palace.
About halfway along the length of the path there was a tall beech, with a thick, sturdy branch jutting out over the path. Scrambling up into the tree, Legolas positioned himself on the branch, and waited. And waited.
The darkness became thicker. There was no moon, and a cloudless sky revealed the stars in all their glory. Here, high in the tree, he could look up through the branches at them. Hours passed. He was hungry, and began to regret that he had not picked up something from the kitchens as he passed through. He had certainly missed supper.
Waiting alone, in silence like this, was rather eerie, and he also began to regret not having asked Brethil, or Tirnan to join him. Or maybe Alfiel, but Alfiel was older, and would have little time for pranks.
Legolas was just beginning to feel that he was on a fool’s errand, and that the twins were never coming, when he heard soft voices approaching. He listened carefully, and peered down through the concealing branches.
Elladan and Elrohir were walking slowly, warily, looking around with every step. They were very close together, their shoulders almost touching.
A slight breeze sighed through the trees, and Elladan stopped. “What was that?” His voice sounded tense.
“Just - just the wind. I think.” Elrohir did not sound too sure.
“Come on. Let’s keep going.”
“It wasn’t me that stopped,” Elrohir murmured.
With a grin, Legolas reached out and shook one of the smaller branches. The leaves rustled gently.
Elladan stopped again. “Are you sure it’s only the wind?” he asked, seeking reassurance from his twin.
“Yes! Come on!”
Legolas shook the branch again, harder this time. The rustling of the leaves did not sound like the wind this time.
Both twins stopped. By now they were directly beneath Legolas. They looked all around, and up at the tree above them. Legolas kept very still, but knew they would not be able to see him, he was too well camouflaged.
“El? That wasn’t the wind, was it?” This time, Elrohir spoke, his voice very quiet.
“N - no. It didn’t sound like it.”
“What do you think it was?”
Elladan considered. “It’s ... probably nothing. I think we’d better go. We should get back soon, we must be near the end of the path. Brethil said it wasn’t that far.”
“He thought we’d be too scared to come here!” Elrohir sounded indignant.
Legolas stifled a snort of laughter. Of course, the twins did not sound in the least bit scared. He shook his branch again, and then made a soft hissing sound. Elrohir gave an undignified squeak, and grabbed at his brother’s arm, who had moved just in front.
“El! Don’t do that!”
“Sorry.” Elrohir sounded abashed. “But did you hear that?”
“No,” said Elladan, firmly and unconvincingly. “I didn’t hear anything.”
Legolas bounced slightly on the branch he was on, and hissed more loudly. He also made a clicking noise with his tongue.
The loud rattling of the leaves, combined with the hissing and clicking, unnerved the twins. “El, there’s something up there! Something big! It’s true, what they said about the spiders! They’re here!”
“I - I think you’re right. Come on, let’s go. Now!”
They continued along the path, walking very rapidly. Elrohir gave a final glance over his shoulder at the tree where the spider lurked, and saw something moving in the branches. “El! I saw something! There is something there!”
Elladan turned, just in time to see a large, shapeless, black - something - drop from the trees. It landed with an unpleasant splat and quivered. “Oh, Elbereth, it’s coming after us! Run!”
Legolas, still perched on his branch, moved back against the trunk, and leaning against it, laughed until his sides ached. The whole thing had worked far better than he had hoped. No more would they scoff at the stories about Lasgalen’s giant spiders.
He looked down through the branches, but the twins were long gone. And it was time he got back, too. He could get away with missing supper, but if he wasn’t in bed when his father looked in when he retired, there would be trouble. Thranduil would want to know where he was.
The hissing and clicking sounds he had made echoed in his head, and he laughed softly again. Then, turning to climb down the tree to return to Lasgalen, he realised the sounds weren’t inside his head.
They were above it.
Very slowly, he looked up into darkness, and saw the dull reflection of his face in two many-faceted eyes.Stories > First > Previous > Next