Black Breath


by Cassia and Siobhan

First > Previous > Next  

    Opening his eyes slowly, Aragorn glanced about his room. He could tell it was midday from the bright light that streamed in through the open curtains.  His gaze landed on Elrohir who sat in a chair near the picture window, his fingers laced behind his head and his feet propped on the chest of drawers, staring lazily out across the ravine.
    Aragorn tried to speak but his throat was incredibly dry. He swallowed hard and tried once more, “Father know you are disrespecting the furniture again?” The words came out barely a whisper and his voice cracked as he spoke.
    Startled, Elrohir jerked into a sitting position, his boots crashing to the floor as he jumped to his feet.
    “Estel, you are awake!” His brother headed quickly for the door. “I’ll fetch father.”
    “No, wait.”  Estel reached out to stop his brother from leaving, “I just wanted a drink of water.” He let his hand fall back onto the bed and sighed, looking towards the pitcher of water on the end table; an impossibly long ways away.
    Aragorn eased himself up in bed. The slight movement proved to be too much for his aching head and he stopped, resting his head in his hands until the pounding stilled.  His fingers brushed the stitches that knit the cut in his brow and he idly touched the bandage that wrapped around his temple.  He realized that the arrow had been removed from his shoulder and had been bound sometime while he slept.  His arm was lathed in ointment where it had been rubbed raw by the granite.  All the tiny aches in his body had begun to demand his attention at one time and he closed his eyes, trying to block out the painful signals. 

    Elrond entered the room followed quickly by the twins.  He noted the way Estel was hunched over himself, holding his head as though it were going to break apart any moment.  Sitting carefully down on the edge of the bed, he took the young man’s hands in his own and moved them away from the injuries, tipping Aragorn’s head slowly up to look into his eyes.
    “Just what do you think you are doing?” He smiled at the ranger.
    “It hurts,” Aragorn groaned softly.
    “I bet it does.” Elrond gently reached behind the boy’s head and touched the knot at the back of his skull. “That was quite a hit you took.”
    Aragorn reached his hand back, placing it over his father’s and drawing in his breath slowly.  “Is that why I feel sick?”
    “Yes. More than likely it is.”  Elrond pushed his hand down gently and readjusted the bandage, “You are lucky you have a very hard head, my son.”
    “You should have seen what you did to the granite wall,” Elladan muttered, a smile on his face.
    “Is that why there was a crack in it when we went back?” Elrohir questioned.
    “Funny. Very funny.”  Aragorn frowned at his brothers as his father pressed him back down, pulling the pillows up so that he could rest against them, “Next time you get to fall off the cliff. I’ve had it with that.”
    Elrond reached out and grabbed the pitcher, pouring the cool water in to a glass and handing it off to the ranger.
    “Thank you,” Aragorn replied somewhat grumpily. “That’s all I wanted.”
    “Well, for now, when you want something,” Elrond reseated himself and stared into the silver eyes, “you will ask for it and someone else will bring it to you, until I say otherwise.”  He held up his hand staving off the argument he could see in the youth. “Do you understand?  You took a very nasty fall and you have quite an assortment of injuries, none of which I am pleased with.”
    “It wasn’t my fault,” the human muttered before taking a drink of water.  He coughed as the liquid touched his dry throat.  “How long I have I been out?” He asked, relinquishing the glass to Elrond.
    “Two days.” Elrohir answered, dropping lightly down into the chair in front of the window.  He tipped the seat backwards and stared out into the valley, balancing his weight on the back two legs of the chair.
    Elrond cleared his throat and pointed to the ground when the twin gave him his full attention.  Guiltily, Elrohir let the chair fall back into place.  Aragorn had totally missed the entire episode, his thoughts caught on his brother’s words. 
    “Wait a minute. Two days?”  He reached out for the glass of water again and his father passed it to him.
    “Slower this time,” Elrond cautioned. “Yes, my son, two days. Which is why you will take it easy.  Part of that was my doing, you needed the rest but you have woken long after the medicines would have worn off.”
    Estel tipped the glass to his lips and took a small sip of the liquid, letting it run slowly down his parched throat.  He nodded his head in understanding. “Has anyone sent word to Legolas?”
    “Not yet.” His father stood and walked to the doorway. “He said that he would return when he was able.  If he has not by the time you are better, we’ll discuss it again.  Remember, Estel, Legolas is royalty and he has duties to his standing as such.  He has tarried here with us far longer than he originally planned.  His father may need him for a time. I will have a runner leave word with his House that you are safe.”
    “Thank you father.” Aragorn gently pressed his fingers to the skin around his left eye; it was sore to the light touch and rough. “My face really hurts,” he murmured, pressing himself up in bed so he could glance into the oval mirror above the chest of drawers on the opposite side of the room.
    “I can imagine it does. I will get some more ointment for you; it will take the sting out.” Elrond left and returned in moments. 

    Aragorn stared at the reflection in the mirror.  The left side of his face was black and blue and his eye was reddened.  There were scratches and cuts all over his face from where he had been drug along the bottom of the lake.
    “You had dirt and small stones embedded in your skin. It took a bit to clean you up after they brought you home.”  Elrond gently wiped the cuts with a soft cloth that he dipped in the soothing ointment.
    Aragorn winced at the gentle administrations.  “Perhaps it’s a good thing that Legolas is not here,” he growled testily. “I’d never live this down.”
    “Don’t think that you ever will.”  Elladan smiled wickedly at his younger brother, dancing out of the human’s reach before being chased out of the room by his father.
    “For now you will take things easy.” Elrond sat back and smiled at the human. “I am sure that Legolas is fine and enjoying himself. You too will be back at it in no time I am sure.”
    Aragorn laughed lightly. “Well the next time we are ambushed when we go fishing, it will be them and not us who do the running.”
    “Estel,” his father warned with him with his tone, “hunting orcs will do nothing but get you into trouble.”  He smiled as the young human laughed heartily. 


    Legolas slapped the tree branches out of his path as he made his way rapidly up the steep, rocky incline that led further and further into the Misty Mountains.  He had made good time since he split company with the sons of Elrond two or three days ago and moved at a steady, determined pace.  The faster he got home the sooner he could return.
    To say that Legolas was angry or upset would have been going too far, for he had more sense than to waste time on either of those feelings when they changed nothing.  It was impossible to harbor resentment towards a festival or event because it was merely the way the passage of time fell and one might as well curse the rising of the sun, but that would be absurd.  Beyond that, Legolas knew that his duty was his duty and it did not serve him, nor do him any credit to feel angry towards his father for being his constant reminder of just what was and wasn’t expected from a Prince of Mirkwood, no more than it would have been justified for him to be upset with Elrond for agreeing with his father on this issue.
    Still, it could hardly be said that Legolas’ frame of mind was entirely settled, or that his heart was peaceful, because it was not.  He hated leaving without knowing Aragorn’s fate, or being able to help in the search. 
    With his thoughts tangled up in the web of emotions running through him, he almost did not sense the other presence nearby until he had just about passed it. 
    Legolas froze suddenly.  He had been making hardly any noise at all, even in his slightly agitated state, but now he was completely soundless as he turned slowly round, trying to find what had alerted his senses. 
    Slight sounds, audible only to elven hearing, gave him the information he was seeking.  There was someone or something hiding between a large, jagged outcropping of stone and the thick, tangled over-growth that was choking the life out of the shrubbery some distance away on his right.  Whatever it was was watching him and trying to conceal its presence.  Legolas was aware that the orcs who had shot Aragorn were still out here somewhere and did not particularly care for the idea of any of them skulking around and watching him, especially if it were a scout meaning to see which way he went so as to bring the whole pack down upon him at some inopportune moment. 
    Fading back into the shadows of the broken, crumbling rocks that littered the area, Legolas worked his way silently around until he flanked the intruder.  So quiet and stealthy were his moves that the being hiding in the thicket did not know he was near until Legolas stepped up and parted the overhanging vines with one swift move.  Grabbing the dark, hunched figure by the arm, Legolas pulled the being out into the light, one of his long, ivory-handled knives clenched firmly in the prince’s other hand.
    “Who are you and why are you spying... on me,” Legolas’ demand faltered as he took in the young, human girl who was staring up at him with wide, terrified eyes, curled over her knees on the grass and cringeing back from his grip on her upper arm.  Wavy auburn hair spilled in tangled ringlets around her flushed face.  It looked as if she had recently been crying.  The young woman could not have been much over seventeen years of age and regarded the fierce looking elf with paralyzed horror, too scared to even move. 
    Legolas quickly sheathed his knife and released her arm.  The girl started crying.  Or rather resumed crying, since Legolas felt that he had perhaps interrupted her in the middle of such a state.
    “It’s all right,” Legolas knelt next to her.  “I’m sorry I frightened you, I thought you were an orc.  But be assured, I mean you no harm.”
    “I-I’m not an orc!” the girl snapped, trying to dry her tears.  Irritated now at her own weakness and still more scared than she wanted to admit of the strange warrior she found herself facing, she said, “My name’s Maraen, from Holswollow.  W-what are you?!”  She had never seen an elf before.
    “My name is Legolas, good lady, an elf, from Mirkwood.”
    “An elf...” she breathed.  She had heard a lot of stories about them, most of them good, but some of them not, and she was unsure which to believe.  As her panic calmed she couldn’t help noticing that this elf was perhaps the fairest man she had ever seen.  “Are all the elves as beautiful as you?” she asked before she could stop herself. 
    Legolas quirked an eyebrow in amusement.  “Are all humans as forthright as you?” he answered her with a question of his own. 
    Maraen flushed a little more at her own forwardness.  “Forgive me... my head is spinning, it makes me say foolish things without thinking.”
    Legolas just rose and offered her his hand up.  Maraen rose with difficulty, one hand wrapped tightly around her midsection.  When she was standing beside him Legolas realized for the first time that this girl was pregnant - very pregnant. 
    “You should not be out here in the wilds in your condition,” he said quietly.  “Holswollow is a day's journey from here at least.  Let me take you back.”
    Maraen eyed the elf prince warily, still not sure she could trust him.  After everything that had happened these past few days, she wasn’t sure she could trust anyone.
    “There’s no Holswollow to return to, so you needn’t bother,” she said somewhat tartly, but Legolas could tell her shortness came from fear and heartache. 
    “What do you mean?” the elf’s face turned grave.
    “The orcs destroyed it!” the girl choked slightly, pressing her eyes shut against the horror of her own memories.  “T-they just swept down out of the hills... raiding, sacking, killing... nothing like that had ever happened before!  Everyone who could ran for the hills and scattered, but they followed us... I don’t know if anyone else made it out or not.”  Maraen was trying hard not to start crying again.  “My husband Erron and I made it into the woods and hid.  B-but the next morning he insisted on going back to Holswollow to see if anyone else had made it... he said he’d be back in a few hours.  That was four days ago.”  Maraen’s voice broke and she turned away so that Legolas would not see her distress.  “I waited as long as I could, but I had to find water and... the baby... it’s due any day now.  I-I tried to go to Sendwait, but the orcs had hit it too.  There was nothing left.  Now I don’t know what to do...”
    Legolas reached out and took the girl's trembling shoulders, turning her gently around.  With a small sob, Maraen buried her face against his shoulder.  The elf prince let his arm rest lightly around her back as she cried, knowing that although she turned to him for comfort, she was not yet comfortable with this stranger that she hardly knew. 
    In a few moments Maraen pulled back again, once more wiping her eyes and trying to put a little more distance between herself and the elf.  She wanted to trust him, his eyes seemed honest and true, but he was so different than anyone she’d ever met before and she was scared.
    Legolas was deeply disturbed by the news of the violent level of orc activity.  To wipe out two entire villages, even ones as remote and isolated as Holswollow and Sendwait, showed more aggression and ambition than the orcs in these parts had exhibited in a long time.  By nature, orcs did not work together very well unless they could all see clearly what was in it for them, or, unless they were guided by some stronger will or plan.
    “The baby is due soon?” Legolas resisted the urge to touch the large, full, hump of her stomach.  He did not wish to seem forward with her, and had been around very few pregnant women in his life.
    “Any day now,” Maraen sniffed slightly, pulling herself together.  When she had heard Legolas coming, she had thought he was an orc, much as he had made the same mistake about her, and the terror had unsettled her.  Now that she was coming down from the scare, her natural resiliency was taking the front again and she resolved to herself that she would cry no more, not even at the horrible, painful loss of her dear, dear Erron, husband for only a year, but sweetheart since childhood.
    “If you will consent to come with me, Maraen, I will take you back to Rivendell with me,” Legolas offered her.  “It is not far.  They will take excellent care of you and you can have your child in safety.”
    Maraen nodded slowly.  “Thank you,” she said quietly.  She knew it was her only, and probably her best chance, but she hated leaving these hills, because it meant leaving Erron... even though she was sure he must be dead.
    Legolas read the hesitation in her eyes; it was one he knew all too well.  “I know you don’t want to leave your husband behind, not knowing what happened to him, but he would want you to look to yourself and your child.  If he is alive, he will find you.”
    Maraen looked up sharply, surprised that the elf could read her so easily.  “Can you hear my thoughts?” she asked somewhat suspiciously.
    “Nay,” Legolas shook his head, smiling gently.  “No matter what they say in tales, that is not something my people can do, although the very wise can sometimes see into others' hearts.  But it takes no great wisdom to see what is in yours, young one, because it is greatly akin to my own.  I know what it is to have to leave behind someone you care for.  But come, let us get you to safety and make both of our sacrifices worth something, shall we?”
    Maraen nodded slowly and allowed Legolas to lead her back down the path he had recently come up, heading once more towards Rivendell. 


    Although it had only taken Legolas a few days to get as far as he had, the way back was much slower traveling because Maraen could not go fast or far in her condition and they had to make frequent stops. 
    Legolas was incredibly patient with their achingly slow progress and never pushed Maraen more than she could take.  He was quiet and did not talk much, but Maraen realized that, although he said little, he seemed to be aware of everything and it felt a little comforting to know he was watching over her so closely. 
    The second day they were together, storm clouds rolled in and it began to rain torrentially.  Legolas quickly led Maraen to a place where the thick, interwoven boughs of two huge trees that grew side-by-side kept off the majority of the rain.  The pair seated themselves against the trunks of the two great oaks to wait out the thunderstorm.  Legolas draped his cloak around Maraen’s shoulders to stave away the chill.
    For a while thunder pealed and lightning split the cloud-darkened sky like jagged daggers.  Presently however the fury of the storm spent itself and it settled into a steady, simple downpour.
    “Where were you going, before you found me?” Maraen inquired, now that the wind had died down enough to allow comfortable conversation.
    “I was on my way home to Mirkwood.  My people are celebrating an important festival soon and my father requires my presence,” Legolas replied simply.
    “You don’t sound like you want to go,” Maraen observed curiously.
    Legolas glanced sideways at her.  “Now who’s reading people’s minds?”
    She grinned slightly, but didn’t let the subject go.  “Who is it?”
    “Who is what?” Legolas was slightly puzzled. 
    “Who did you leave behind?  When we met you said you had had to leave somebody behind too.  I see it in your eyes, the same thing I feel in my heart at leaving Erron to an unknown fate.  Was it your wife?  Your brother?” Maraen inquired softly.
    “No,” Legolas shook his head, “although he had become quite like a brother to me this past year or so.  He was... a dear friend of mine.  His name was Estel.  He was felled by an orc arrow and went over the falls... we had not yet found him before I was compelled to leave.”
    “And your father would bid you do such a thing?” Maraen did not understand.
    “Unfortunately a prince cannot always do as he pleases,” Legolas said with a sigh, glancing sideways at Maraen, judging her reaction to the revelation of his identity. 
    The girl looked at him with fascination, but since she had never expected to find herself sitting in the forest, in the rain, with an elf in the first place, it wasn’t that much greater of a shock to discover that she was sitting with an elf prince.
    “The yèn celebration is very important to my people, almost a holy day.  The king and one of his sons are supposed to be on hand to receive and to give the traditional blessing to the people.  Since I have no brothers, that responsibility falls to me.  I had already delayed as long as I could and would only just have had time to make it.  Although it is a joyous celebration, the day of blessing is taken very seriously in my realm,” Legolas tried to explain.  “They place a great deal of importance upon it.”
    “You won’t make it in time now, I suppose, not with backtracking all this way,” Maraen said quietly, playing with a blade of grass between her fingers as they watched the falling rain, waiting for it to stop.  She felt guilty for putting him out like this.
    “I suppose not,” Legolas concurred, shifting his position slightly against the thick trunk of the tree. 
    “My father died two years ago, but when he was alive he hated it if I didn’t come home when I was supposed to.  Of course I was a little girl then,” Maraen watched Legolas with interest.  He was much nicer to look at than the rain and she was just young enough to not really be able to hide the fact that she was staring at him.  The elf who had become her protector and guide was as enigmatic as he was beautiful.  He was a mystery to her, and now that she had gotten over her initial fear of him, Maraen wanted to know more about her quiet companion.  Yet if he wouldn’t talk to her, she could never find anything out. 
    It hadn’t exactly been a question, so Legolas did not realize she wanted a response and just nodded to acknowledge her words.
    “Will your father be upset with you?” Maraen prodded, trying to start a conversation.  The elf could be very difficult at times.
    “It is not something you need to concern yourself about,” Legolas brushed her worry aside lightly.
    “But you said it was very important to your people.” Maraen noted that Legolas had not denied what she had said, he had merely told her not to worry about it.
    Legolas resisted the urge to look peeved.  The girl minded her own business about as well as Aragorn did.  The thought of his friend hurt, so Legolas shoved it aside quickly.
    “Are all humans as nosey as you and Estel I wonder?” he mused, cocking one eyebrow as he turned his head to gaze at her.
    Maraen didn’t know whether the elf was amused or annoyed.  She shrugged, unsure how to respond.  “I take it then that your father will be angry with you, and it will be my fault.  I’m sorry.”  She looked away.
    Legolas sighed softly.  “No, it won’t be your fault.  If he’s angry I’m the only one to blame.  It probably wouldn’t matter that much if it were just about this one yèn celebration that I will miss...” Legolas rubbed his temple absently.  “But it’s not.  It’s the one before it, and the one before that...”
    “Oh,” Maraen nodded slowly, watching him again.  She couldn’t help it.  “So this celebration happens often?  When was the last one?”
    “About four-hundred thirty-two years ago by your way of reckoning,” Legolas replied without much thought. 
    “Four-hundred and thirty two years?” Maraen’s eyes widened.  She found it impossible to believe that her companion was old enough to have missed anything that happened that long ago.  She knew elves lived longer than humans, but it was still something of a shock to her.  “How can you miss something that you knew was coming for over four-hundred years?” she didn’t understand.
    Of course, to the elven mind, time was entirely a different matter, so Legolas did not completely understand her question.  “It just seems to be the way it ends up... I don’t know why, but unfortunately it always seems to work out that I am somewhere else at the time of the celebration,” Legolas chuckled dryly.  “And usually against my father’s wishes.  It started a long time ago.  You see, when I was a child I had a... disagreement with my parents shortly before the yèn festival.  It doesn’t matter what it was about now, but it culminated in the fact that I wanted to go with my friends on their first hunting party, and was not allowed to because... well because of many reasons, but one of which was that they might not return in time to attend the celebration.  Being young, and stupid, I got angry, ran away and hid in the woods until it was over,” Legolas grinned slightly at his own childishness, but he had been quite young then. 
    “You will never hope to see someone as angry as my father was about that.  Of course, it had very little to do with my missing the celebration and everything to do with my running away,” the prince shook his head ruefully.  He could look back with humor upon the situation now, but of course it hadn’t been at all funny at the time.  Yet time had a way of changing things, and he could also understand his father’s other reasons now as well, for there was quite a bit more to the situation and the story than he saw fit to try to explain to Maraen at this time. 
    “I’m just lucky that my Mother was still with us then, or it would have been worse for me.  That was the first yèn festival celebrated in Mirkwood after my birth, and also the first one that I missed, but it wouldn’t be the last.  To be fair I have been to several after that without event, but it is the exception rather than the rule I fear.  The celebration before last I got caught up in a border skirmish that held my patrol and I pinned down for over a week.  Unfortunately, we weren’t supposed to be in that area in the first place.” Legolas gave it all in an overview, not caring to go into much detail. 
    “And then last time I was tracking a warg pack that had been ravaging the countryside and was forced to disregard father’s summons because I didn’t want them to escape when I had just about found them out.  He was not pleased.”  Legolas sighed.  He knew his father loved him dearly, but just sometimes it seemed as if there were very little he could do that did, in fact, please the elder elf. 
    “And now you’re going to miss again,” Maraen finished for him, beginning to see the irony of the situation. 
    Legolas nodded.  “Yes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he hung me for it this time,” the elf muttered with good-natured humor. 
    Maraen was not certain he was joking and her face paled.  “H-he wouldn’t really, would he?”
    Legolas actually laughed at her grave face, but smiled gently to let her know that he was not laughing at her, merely at the notion.  “No indeed, good lady, fear not, I was jesting only.  Until the day that disapproving looks can kill I shall be in no mortal danger from my father’s wrath.”
    “Well good then, you had me worried.” Maraen settled back once more, her hand resting on her large girth.  She shifted as a tense, squeezing pain made her wince slightly.  It faded presently and she let her breath out slowly.  “You elves are such curious folk, I’m not sure what to believe about you.”
    Legolas smiled and let his gaze drift away again.  “Not half so curious as humans are.”
    Maraen grinned slightly, trying to look at it from his point of view.  “I suppose.”
    The rain had slacked off to a mere trickle now and Legolas rose easily to his feet, helping Maraen with her more difficult ascent. 
    “The rain has let up, let us be moving on,” the elf said as he led her on once more. 


    The girl and the elf had traveled for about three more hours when the first shadow began creeping into Legolas’ awareness.  Dusk was stealing fast upon them and the evening star had just become visible, but it was not that darkness which Legolas felt pressing uncomfortably close.  His movements instinctually began to become stealthier and his steps quieter.  It seemed now that Maraen made an incredible amount of noise as she walked, and he held up his hand to halt her so he could listen better to the distant sounds that were disturbing him. 
    Maraen stopped and looked at him curiously, but the seriousness of Legolas’ stance told her not to speak. 
    A look of intense concentration crossed the elf prince’s face as he listened to something that Maraen could not hear.  Legolas glanced around, but his keen eyes could not see through the trees and that was all that could be seen, crowded densely on every side of them.  Dropping to hands and knees, Legolas listened to the earth for a few moments before jumping to his feet again quickly, a flash of dim alarm lighting his bright silver-blue eyes. 
    “Many feet are heading this way, at a great pace.  The earth groans beneath their steps, it does not welcome them,” Legolas answered Maraen’s unspoken question quickly and softly. 
    The girl tried not to look as alarmed as she felt.  “Orcs?” she whispered, hoping beyond hope that she was wrong.  She was not.
    Legolas nodded once.  “I fear so.  Come, we must move quickly and silently now.”
    Maraen followed his lead without question, although she hardly felt capable of being either quick or silent.
    The orcs were moving swiftly and were not now far away.  Legolas pushed faster than he had been before and Maraen struggled to keep up, panting slightly and feeling uncommonly like a fat, waddling duck trying to follow a fleet-footed ferret.  Yet Legolas was careful not to leave the young mother-to-be behind.
    They came upon two orc scouts that must have been running ahead of the pack quite unexpectedly, but Legolas was not totally caught by surprise and had his bow drawn and an arrow launched before the two creatures had finished recognizing their presence.  The first orc never got a chance to even make a sound, but fell dead at once.  The second rushed them with a cry, but tumbled to the earth a moment later, clutching the arrow through its throat.
    Legolas grabbed Maraen’s wrist and broke into a dead run, practically pulling her along.  There were other orcs on the way, drawn by their dead companion’s cry.  They had to get well away from there and quickly or they would have more trouble on their hands than Legolas felt prepared to deal with alone.
    Maraen stumbled and tripped, trying to keep up.  Legolas released her hand when it became an impediment to their rush through the trees, but still they ran on, hearing the shouts of the orcs recede into the distance a little ways behind them.  However they were still far too close for comfort.
    Legolas paused, realizing that the girl was not behind him anymore.  Turning he saw that Maraen was a distance back, holding onto a tree and leaning heavily against it for support.
    Quickly, the elf retraced his steps, glancing around them warily before fixing his eyes worriedly on the young human.
    “Are you all right?” he queried with concern.  It was now almost so dark he could only just see her, but Maraen did not look very good.
    The girl nodded bravely, one arm tightly clutching her large girth.  “I-I’m just having some kind of cramps,” she brushed it off, breathing hard.  “It’s been going on for a while now, they’re just getting a little worse... I think I’ll feel better when we can rest a bit.”
    Legolas nodded, his brows still furrowed in concern.  “All right, but come, we cannot linger here, the orcs are still far too near. We must keep ahead of them.”
    Maraen nodded and pushed off from the tree, struggling after the tall elf, despite her growing pain.  Neither she nor Legolas had enough experience with babies and childbearing to realize what her symptoms really meant.
    Ten minutes later, Legolas froze, his sharp ears picking up the sound of approaching feet.  Quickly pulling Maraen back into the dense foliage, he hid her in a small hollow between several fallen trees.  Venturing cautiously back out, he remained in the shadows and watched as the large orc troop came into view.  They passed directly by his position without seeing the prince.  About two-thousand yards away, the orcs stopped and began to drop their gear, obviously intending to make camp.
    Quietly, Legolas slid back to where he had left Maraen.  “We must leave quickly and silently,” he said with veiled urgency.  “The orcs make camp close enough for us to see their fires.”
    It was true; their small enclave was actually being dimly lit by the too-close-for-comfort glow of the fires the orcs had already kindled.  In that dim, ruddy light, Legolas could see that Maraen was terribly pale and her eyes were large with fear.
    “It’s all right,” he assured, thinking he had frightened the girl with his words.  “We just need to leave.”
    Maraen shook her head and Legolas realized that beads of sweat were standing out on her pretty face.  “I-I can’t...” she whispered, doubling over and holding her large belly tightly as anther contraction ripped through her. 
    Legolas looked puzzled and a little alarmed, not understanding what was happening. 
    “Legolas... it’s – it’s time.  The baby...” Maraen gestured helplessly.  “It’s coming!”