With Friends Like These

Chapter Five: Escape

by Jay of Lasgalen

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Legolas stared at the bulbous eyes in total disbelief and shock.  For a moment he was unable to move, frozen in place, but all the while his mind raced.

Everyone knew the spiders didn’t come this close to Lasgalen.

Everyone knew that the Spider Path was just a scary story to frighten your friends with.

Everyone hadn’t told the spider that crouched a few feet above him.  He could see a thick, sticky strand of web beside the creature.  It swayed slightly from side to side, rocking gently on its hideous, hairy legs.

Legolas could feel his heart pounding.  What could he do?  Escape?  That would not work.  The spider was between him and the trunk.  To climb down the tree he would have to move closer to the spider, then turn his back on it. He had no intention of taking his eyes off it, or of getting any nearer.

Perhaps he could jump?  He glanced very quickly downwards.  The ground was a long way down, too far to jump, and there were no branches close enough for him to use.

Try to fight it?  Ever since the incident with the wolf, a few days ago, he had taken to carrying a knife, sheathed, and attached to his belt, which could not be left inadvertently lying out of reach.  But he did not know how to avoid the creature’s fangs, or where it would be most vulnerable.  He did not think he could move quickly enough to kill it before it seized him.  But what other option was there?  Fleetingly, he wished his father was there with him.  Thranduil would know what to do, would know how to kill the spider. 

His hand crept towards the hilt of his knife.  He had to do something.

Mouth dry with fear, he tensed, wondering what would happen if the spider attacked. No one knew where he was.  No one knew he had come here tonight.  No one would know where to look, if he disappeared.

His father would never know what had happened to him.

That thought alone made Legolas determined.  He would not give in without a fight.  Straightening, he gripped the haft of his knife, and glared at the spider.

It eyed him back, then opened its mouth and hissed again, showing its fangs.  For all his determination, it startled him.

Involuntarily, Legolas took a step back, forgetting he was in a tree.  His foot met nothing but empty space.  He wavered for a moment, and tried to grab at the nearest branch.  His flailing hand met only leaves and twigs, which ripped through his grasp, leaving him with just a handful of mangled leaves.  Then, with a sharp cry,  he fell off the branch, hitting the ground far below with a thud and a gasp.

For a long moment he lay there, winded, flat on his back, utterly dazed, and trying to breathe.  He was aware of nothing but the desperate need to draw air into his lungs.  Finally, with a great gasp, he succeeded, and the red haze faded from his vision.

He decided he was still alive, and slowly sat up.  To his horror, he felt hot tears prick at his eyes.  Angrily he brushed them away and sniffed hard.  With an effort, he managed to control himself, and very carefully got to his feet.

Cautiously he peered upwards through the branches, and all around.  There was no sign of the spider.  There was no way he was going back up to look for it, so slowly, limping slightly, and aching all over, he made his way back to Lasgalen.  The ‘spider’ he had made for the benefit of the twins, lay abandoned, forgotten, on the path behind him.

By the time he reached Lasgalen he was as jumpy as a frog, and tense with fright.  The Spider Path had never seemed so long, or so dark, but at last he saw a gleam of light from an open door ahead.  He finally felt safe when he passed the stables and crossed the courtyard.

Stealthily, Legolas crept in through the kitchen door.  The kitchens were nearly deserted, with just the sounds of splashing and clattering coming from the scullery.  He did not want to meet anyone, not in his current state. 

There were bits of leaves, twigs and bark on his clothes, and moss and grass in his hair. His hand was scratched and bleeding where he had tried to break his fall.  He brushed at himself, rather hopelessly, and tried to pick off the worst of it.

Just outside the kitchen, he crept up the narrow side stairs, and had nearly reached the sanctuary of his room when he realised something.  Something unpleasant.

He would have to warn his father about the spider.  That meant admitting where he had been, and why.  A small voice at the back of his mind argued the necessity for this.  Surely there was no need?  If the spider stayed in the vicinity, someone else would see it and raise the alarm.  If it disappeared again, well, no one need ever know.

It was very tempting to listen to this line of reasoning.  Perhaps he should keep quiet?  After all, he did not want to get Elladan and Elrohir into trouble as well.

But after a moment’s deliberation, Legolas knew he had to tell his father.  He could never keep such a secret to himself.  And he had to do it now, before he changed his mind.

Thranduil’s bedroom was closest, so Legolas knocked on the door, then opened it.  Nothing.

He went back down the stairs to his father’s library, and knocked again.  There was a voice inside.

“Come in.”

Legolas went in, and very nearly retreated again.  Elrond was there.  Legolas had no wish to explain what he had done in front of the lord of Imladris.  He would surely be furious at the trick played on his sons.  But it was too late now to change his mind.  His father looked up at him with a smile.

“Legolas, come in.  I wondered where you were.  You were not at supper.”

Elrond also turned and smiled at him.  “Good evening, elfling.”

Legolas nodded at him.  “Good evening, Lord Elrond.  Ada?  I - there’s something I have to tell you.”

Thranduil regarded his son solemnly, taking in his bedraggled appearance, though that in itself was not so unusual.  But the hesitancy, the downcast gaze - this was clearly no simple ‘goodnight’ visit.  There was a confession in the air.  He resisted the strong temptation to bury his head in his hands.  *Now what?  What had he done this time?*  Aloud, he said simply, “Well?”

“I - I went out this evening.  Along the Spider Path.”

“I see.  Why did you do that?”

Legolas glanced at Lord Elrond, wishing he would remember an urgent errand.  But he appeared to be studying the book shelves.

“I - it was a joke.  To play a trick on - on Elladan and Elrohir.”

Elrond’s hand, drifting along the spines of the books, froze, and he turned away.  He was furious.  Legolas’ heart sank.  He did not want to upset the elf lord, who had always been kindness itself to him, especially during the horrible months following Telparian’s death.

Legolas ploughed on.  “They didn’t believe in the spiders, so I pretended there was one on the Spider Path.  To scare them.  But - the thing is - there really is a spider.  I saw it!”

Thranduil’s attention sharpened.  “What?  Are you sure?  Where?”

“It was on the Spider Path.  Around the back of the hill.  It was hiding in the tree, just above me.  I saw it!”

“All right.  Just tell me.  Did it touch you?  No?  Are you all right?  Are you sure?  Did you see what sort it was?”

Legolas found he could only respond by nodding or shaking his head.  Then he elaborated.  “I couldn’t see what sort it was.  I think it was one of the black ones.  But I’m not sure.”

It was a little known fact, but there were two species of Greenwood spider.  The black, more common variety, was fortunately less dangerous.  Their bite was venomous, but not deadly. It simply caused drowsiness and sickness.  But they could still kill, especially when they chanced on a lone victim.  They simply wrapped their prey in spider-silk - as thick and tough as rope - and left them until needed.

The other species was smaller, and reddish brown in colour, with dark markings.  Much rarer, it was far more dangerous.  Its bite resulted in agonising pain, fever, and hallucinations.  It had often proved fatal.  If one of these was loose near Lasgalen ...

“I will send out a hunting party tomorrow.  We will find it, have no worry.  Now, tell me, what happened?  When did you see it?   Where?”

Legolas responded to his father’s questioning as best as he could.  Reaction was setting in again, and he began to tremble.  As he related his tale, Elrond came over, and gave Thranduil an unreadable look. 

“I will go now.  I want to make sure Elladan and Elrohir got back safely.”  He left, without another glance at Legolas.

“Father?  Is he very cross with me?  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get them into trouble.  I didn’t mean to cause any trouble.”

“Hush.  Do not worry.  Everything will be fine.  But please do not ever do that again!” 

Legolas, Thranduil reflected thankfully, had completely missed the wink Elrond had given Thranduil as he left.

As he spoke, the elf king put an arm around his son’s shoulders and pulled him close, hugging him tightly in relief.  Legolas flinched slightly, and drew back. 

“What is it?  What is wrong?”

“My back.  It hurts.”

“Let me see.  What did you do?  Take off your tunic, let me have a look.”

Legolas complied, wincing, and feeling stiff.  His voice was muffled as he pulled the tunic over his head.  “I didn’t tell you how I got away from the spider.”

“No, you did not.  I thought you must have fought it off with your knife,” remarked Thranduil lightly.

Legolas hung his head, feeling slightly ashamed.  “No.  I - I fell out of the tree.”

“You fell?  Legolas, you could have been killed!”

The tunic was off by now, and Thranduil ran gentle fingers over stiff muscles, grazes, and a spreading bruise along one side, which had taken the brunt of the impact.

He sighed.  “You could have broken your back, or your neck.  Never do that again!”

“I’m sorry, father,” said Legolas, very quietly.  “It was silly.  I won’t go out again, not on my own, not at night.  I promise.”

Thranduil looked at him.  “Legolas, you should never make promises you cannot keep.  Just - just be careful.  And do try not to go out alone, at least.”

He took a final look at the bruising.  “Go and have a hot bath.  It will help a little.  But you will be sore tomorrow.  Are you hungry?  You missed supper.”

Legolas looked up hopefully, and nodded.  “Ada?  Thank you.  For not being cross.”

“I should be.  You deserve it.  But I think you have had enough of a fright tonight.  Go on now.  I will come up to your room in a minute, and put some ointment on those scratches.”

Legolas gave his father a sudden hug, then left.  Thranduil gazed after him, even after the door closed behind his son.  Legolas was like all elflings.  He had no concept of his own danger, and still did not realise fully the peril he had been in this evening.  It could so easily have turned out differently.

Legolas had been the only reason Thranduil had been able to cling to his sanity when Telparian and Lissuin died.  Consumed by grief, he would have sought the sanctuary of the havens, regardless of his obligations to his people, to Greenwood, if it had not been for his son.  Without Legolas, there was nothing to keep Thranduil in Middle Earth.  If anything happened to him ...

Thranduil sighed.  Legolas appeared to possess the luck of the Valar.  He just hoped that luck would never desert him.  Legolas would need it, all of it, when Elladan and Elrohir found out what he had done.

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