Legolas listened to sounds of the night, struggling to piece together the fragments that came to him from the darkness. He found them confusing. The battle raged on throughout the city, but it was broken into small fights and skirmishes scattered about in pockets. There was no cohesion to what he heard, and he could gain no sense of what was occurring around him. He wished desperately for his eyes.
Far off shouts and shrieks were carried on the brisk wind that struck against him and threatened to tear the hood from his head. He clutched at it and held it firm with his left hand. In his right he held the dagger. Acrid smoke stung his nose. The city of Carbryddin was burning. When rushing footsteps passed too closely, Aragorn grasped him by the arm and pulled him back.
"Tell me what you see," Legolas hissed, his voice thin-edged with frustration.
"Forgive me my silence - it is difficult in the dark," the ranger responded. His words rasped in his throat, and he turned aside to cough. "Many of the people, women and children among them, have fled their homes. I see fires – I think the folk are being burned out. But the orcs have not yet come into view."
"And what will we do when they come into view?" the young guard Koryon gasped. His voice, though he seemed to be trying to control it, shook with apprehension.
"We watch them," Aragorn said quietly.
"Valar help us," Koryon whispered. "Do they truly come up the main road, as the men say?"
"We will see," Aragorn said. "Most of the people seem to be fleeing up the road, and the orcs may be following them. Courage, Koryon. The night is not yet ended."
"No," the young man muttered. "But I wish it was. I'd give anything to see the sunrise."
Legolas leaned forward and rested his brow against the railing, trying to turn his ear from the whistling of the wind to better hear the sounds he sought. The pain in his head distracted him, and he had not entirely shaken off the fatigue that his imprisonment had created. Here and there, blades still clashed some distance off, but the noises of battle had gradually diminished as more of the men learned of the arrival of the orcs and fled before them.
The elf crouched with Aragorn and Koryon on the second level of Koryon's grandmother's house, upon the balcony. When Koryon's young brother had delivered the news of the orcs, Aragorn had demanded to be taken to a place from which he could see far into the city. They had hastened across a field, Legolas clinging to Aragorn's arm and doing his best not to slow the pace, though Aragorn's injured foot had made the ranger much less fleet than usual. They had been fairly well matched, and had helped each other over the rough terrain. The elf had been concerned about Aragorn's harsh cough as they ran, made worse by exertion in the cold winter wind.
Leading them furtively through a twisting maze of streets, Koryon had finally stopped and shoved them through a door, whereupon his young brother had promptly excused himself and rushed off. A moment later, Legolas had heard the boy being sick in the next room, and he did not return to them.
Now, upon the balcony, Legolas sensed the arrival of the creatures of Mordor even before he smelled them, and long before the ringing of their iron-shod boots struck his ears. The air around him thickened somehow, humming with tension. A shiver ran over his skin. The feeling was the same, wherever he encountered them – the blackness that rose up in his heart and filled him with revulsion and bitter hate. Whatever the orcs once may have been, they were no longer. His fingers tightened round the handle of the dagger.
Beside him, Aragorn swore and shifted uneasily. "Legolas?"
"Yes, mellon-nin," the elf responded. "They come now."
The wind shrieked; even it seemed to flee before the encroaching evil. Soon the tramp of heavy footfalls could be heard.
"They walk slowly, spread out, searching round the houses with torches," Aragorn reported. "I count about thirty. If there are more scattered about I cannot tell. They may have left some behind in the city as they came up the road. They seek stragglers – they are looking round the edges of the buildings. No! They have found a man hiding."
There was a scream of terror, cut off abruptly. Koryon made a strangled sound in his throat.
"Come away," Aragorn said. "I have seen enough."
They withdrew from the balcony and scrambled down the stairs, where Koryon's young brother waited, struggling to control his terror. "I – I saw them through the window," he choked out. "Are they truly the orcs of Mordor? What will we do?"
"What we can," Aragorn answered. "Koryon, they appear to be heading toward the Lord's house, driving up through the city and herding the people before them," he said. "It would be natural, I suppose, for the citizens to flee to their Lord's home for protection, but it will offer them none now."
"I fear it is as you say," Koryon said. "The people will go there. The courtyard is surrounded by a stone wall, but not entirely. They will try to close the gate. The orcs will come through the open areas - "
"And the folk will be fenced in," Legolas finished the young man's thought. "Like sheep, gathered for the slaughter. Better they should make for the woods, and leave the city altogether."
"Some of them undoubtedly will," Aragorn said. "Those who still have their wits about them. But the helpless ones - the old, and the women and children - will look to their Lords and council members for safety. The orcs are in no great hurry," he added. "We can get back to the courtyard before they do, through the fields again, if we make haste."
"And then?" asked Koryon.
"Rally the people. They must fight, or they will be lost. Koryon, is there a weapons store near the courtyard?"
"Yes, there is an armory in the Lord's house. But what good will that do against orcs?"
"It could make all the difference as to whether you will see your sunrise," Aragorn responded. "Come now, out the door," he urged. "Child, you will come with us, but you must make no sound and do exactly as I tell you. Do you understand?"
The boy Korim must have nodded, and Aragorn praised him for his courage. Together they slipped through the door, Aragorn gripping Legolas by the arm. "Three steps down, and we turn right. We will need to be faster than before, and – back you!" he suddenly hissed, and his blade cut the air and clashed against another's. Legolas' heart leaped in alarm, and his own weapon flew up.
"Valar's breath, save that for your foes, not your friends!" a deep voice growled.
"Alun! Well met!" Aragorn exclaimed. "I am pleased to see you whole. But you do have a cut on your brow that needs tending."
"Aye, but that is all. I am unharmed, though I cannot say all of my men have fared as well. We were fighting hard, though whether the battle was turning to us I cannot say. Then the beasts were spotted and everyone fled. Valar, I've never seen their like before, even in my worst nightmares. Ah, Legolas! How goes it with you?" the man inquired, and a rough hand landed on the elf's shoulder.
Legolas smiled. "I am well, Alun. We thought to return to the courtyard and see what can be done for the folk fleeing that way."
"Aye, just where I am headed. Let us press on together then. Though what can be done to stop those creatures I do not know. The sight of them gave me such a turn I nearly lost my head and ran off with everyone else. How does one fight a deathless foe?"
"Orcs are not deathless, Alun," Aragorn said. "They can be slain."
"Eh? Is that so? We have always been of the belief that they cannot be killed. But we have never encountered them in battle before, at least not in many years. They have always kept to the forest and left us alone, and so have mostly been the stuff of legend and of bedtime stories told to frighten the children. My father used to tell some bloody awful tales to me at night – my body used to quake so badly I nearly came out of my nightshirt. I always wondered why the devil he did that to me. Well, no matter now. Knowing that Mordor orcs can die after all lifts a heavy burden from my shoulders."
"Do not underestimate them," Legolas warned as Aragorn guided him through a deep depression in the rutted field. "They are extraordinarily strong, and fierce in battle. They do not fear as men do."
"If they do not fear, they will be reckless. That could be to our advantage," said Alun.
"But they are cunning, and will spare no thought for mercy," Aragorn put in. "They can be defeated, but only if we show equal cunning and ruthlessness on our side. And now we have come to the flat part of this field," he said, gripping Legolas' arm tightly. "Ready, Legolas? We must run."
It was pandemonium as the elf rushed into the courtyard with the others. Shouts and screams and the crying of children assailed his ears. He clutched the hood closely about his head as he plunged into the crowd and was jostled and knocked against Aragorn. Koryon sped off with his young brother, saying he would return once he had seen the boy safely to his grandmother in the infirmary.
"What a bloody mess," Alun muttered. "Got to get folk's attention and get them out of here, somehow." Shouting to be heard over the din, his voice faded as he started to fight his way through the mass of people. Aragorn guided Legolas to a wall and pressed him against it.
"I do not like the sound of your cough," the elf said, and reached to find the ranger bent double. "Aragorn?"
"A moment, mellon-nin," the ranger gasped. "I cannot catch my breath." Aragorn swore, coughing violently. Slowly he straightened. "I am not meant to run about just yet," he said hoarsely. "And given a choice, I would not. And I've nearly run out of that vile brew the hill men gave me."
"You must rest, Aragorn."
Aragorn choked out a laugh. "Just as soon as the battle is over and the orcs have been dispatched, I will seek accommodations in the finest lodge possible, and find the same for you. In truth, I think we both belong in the infirmary. But until we can get to it, leaning against this wall will have to do."
"Where did Alun go?"
"He is standing atop the wall a bit further down, shouting - he appears to be trying to get the people to leave the courtyard. But few are heeding him. I think they cannot hear him. I see some men at the door of the Lord's house, but the guards are standing fast and will not let anyone enter. Nor is anyone coming out of the house to speak to them. Perhaps the councilmen have fled. And there is precious little time before the orcs arrive. I would shout myself, if I could, to get the people moving."
Legolas listened with increasing dismay as the noise level of the crowd remained unchanged. The orcs could not be far off now. "Aragorn, what does it look like here? Are there buildings all around?"
"For the most part," the ranger replied. "The Lord's house, the infirmary, and the building in which you were imprisoned border the courtyard. The wall runs between them, though it is not continuous."
"How many fighting men do you see in the crowd?"
"It is too dark to say for certain. There are perhaps thirty men, including the guards at the Lord's house. I fear they are too few to engage the orcs hand-to-hand. The crowd mainly consists of old folk, and women and children."
"Did you say Alun is standing on one of the walls? Could people stand on the roofs too?"
"I think so," Aragorn said. "The slope is not too steep. What are you – ah! I follow you now. If my brain were working any better I'd have seen it sooner, mellon-nin. Archers!"
"Archers, Aragorn. If we can get some bows and arrows, and lie in wait for the orcs –"
"But this mob has got to be brought under control first," muttered the ranger. "We will not be able to get a thing done in the midst of this madness."
Legolas listened a minute longer, thinking of what would happen if the crowd could not be brought under control and the orcs came upon the helpless ones gathered in the courtyard. "Take me to Alun," he said.
Hugging the wall, the elf followed the ranger along its length. Alun gave up shouting as they came to stand beneath him. "They cannot hear me!" he called down to them.
"No, but they will hear me," Legolas shouted back. He grasped at the wall and swung himself up. Feeling the width to be certain of his safety, he rose to his full height and cast the hood from his face. "Alun, we must set archers around the courtyard. Get them up on the roofs." He turned toward the crowd.
"What are you doing?" Aragorn demanded. He was beside the elf in an instant. "Get down. They will see you!"
"Exactly," Legolas said with a nod.
Aragorn grasped at the elf's cloak, trying to pull the hood back over his head. "You cannot reveal yourself!"
"What other choice have I?" Legolas asked, drawing away. "These people will die! Stay out of view, Aragorn. No reason you must be seen with me."
Like many of the elves, Legolas possessed a talent that often went unheralded when set beside the more noticeable gifts of physical beauty and dazzling speed and skill in combat. He could whistle. In fact, according to Aragorn himself, the youngest son of Thranduil was possessed of a whistle that came close to shattering the teeth of anyone standing within a mile. Inhaling deeply, Legolas inserted two fingers into his mouth.
The sound ripped through the darkness. He drew it out as long as he could. All other noise was blotted from his ears as the piercing shriek continued of itself, rebounding and echoing round the walls and buildings. And when it finally died away, everything was silent and still. The air swelled with tension, and then the crowd gasped.
"An elf!" a voice cried out.
Legolas stood tall, his head thrown back, feeling every eye in the courtyard search him out and lock onto his face. He braced himself, waiting for the hands to grasp at him, for the blows to fall.
"You certainly got their attention," Aragorn muttered. He moved to place himself between Legolas and the people.
Alun wasted no time. "Women and children into the prison house now!" he shouted. "Older men, help them there! All who can fight - get into the Lord's house and take what you can from the armory! Set archers upon the roofs and walls!"
A man shouted back. "None may enter the Lord's house! Under orders from Lords Malcovan and Ramhar -"
"Stand away from the door, fool!" Alun roared. "Who do you think brought the orcs here?" Another hush fell over the crowd. People murmured uneasily.
"We cannot fight them!" someone cried.
Legolas twisted past Aragorn and turned toward the voice. "You can!" he called out. "My friend and I have fought them before. Orcs are strong, but they can be slain. Set anyone who can handle a bow and arrow upon the roofs and walls, and wait for the orcs to enter the courtyard. Others must find swords, to guard the helpless ones who take refuge inside the buildings."
"Who is this with you, Alun?" another man shouted. "You keep interesting company! Is this the elf who murdered our lord?"
"Had you any brains at all," Alun retorted, "you would worry less about the elf and more about why orcs have come to Carbryddin. I will take responsibility for the elf. He and his friend have fought orcs before – they wish to help!"
"The elf is our enemy! Why have you freed him?"
Legolas faced the crowd and turned his hands up. "Do what you will with me later. But you have no time for this now! You must defend yourselves or your city will be lost!"
A woman cried out, far to Legolas' left. "They come! I can see them!"
"How far?" Aragorn rasped. His voice had faded to nothing, and did not carry.
"How far?" Legolas shouted to the woman.
"No more than a half-mile away!"
Screams of terror surged from the crowd.
"Move, people!" Alun bellowed. "To the armory, now!" He turned to the elf. "Thanks to you, Legolas, we still have a chance. Stay close to me, both of you. I will protect you as long as I can."
Grasping Legolas' arm, he jumped to the ground.First > Previous > Next