Siege of Dread

Chapter 10: Unraveling

by Cassia and Siobhan

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I can feel my heart beating faster
I can tell something’s coming down
But if it’s gonna make me grow stronger then...

Bring it on
Let the lightning flash,
let the thunder roll,
let the storm winds blow...

Bring it on
Let the trouble come,
let the hard rain fall,
let it make me strong
Bring it on.

--Steven Curtis Chapman

“Peace, Legolas,” another, similar voice replied as two hooded and cloaked elves stepped into the light.  The dim glow they shed was completely covered by the dark, velvet cloaks they wore.

“Elladan?”  Aragorn stood to his feet as first one then the other shed their hoods revealing the dark-haired twins that he had feared lost to him forever.

“We heard you talking about us, little brother, and came to make sure you could find your way home,” Elrohir teased as he stepped into the human’s embrace.  There had been a few long minutes when he had thought he would never see the human again. 

Ignoring the comments, Aragorn pulled his brother tightly against him, breathing in deeply and trying to still the emotions that raged inside of him.  He had not wanted to believe his brothers lost and relief washed through his weary heart as he spoke softly into his brother’s ear, “I thought you were dead.” 

Elrohir smirked slightly.  “Fortunately our supposed demise was not as certain as our enemies might have hoped... Although it was a near thing,” he commented in a softer tone as he saw his younger brother’s eyes straying in concern to the long, jagged cuts that ran down the side of his face and neck. Elrohir unconsciously touched the wounds.  “It’s all right, Estel, El already cleaned them, they will mend.” 

“What happened?” Aragorn wanted to know as he turned and hugged Elladan as well.  Elladan had also obviously been hurt, although less visibly.  When he embraced Aragorn it could be seen that his right forearm was bandaged. 

“We were stupid enough to walk into an orc trap is what happened,” Elladan came down hard on himself as usual.  His eyes turned distant.  He had honestly thought that he and Elrohir were as good as dead when the trap dropped out from under them.

//The two elves fell into the darkness.  Elladan crashed into a thicket of sharp-tipped spears, snapping several of the shafts where he struck them.  The elf felt a sharp, biting pain in his arm and side as he finally crashed to the ground.  Elrohir landed almost on top of him.  The pit was deep, far deeper than was necessary, but the orcs seemed to think that deeper was better.

For a moment the twins were too stunned from the fall to move.  An orc head blocked out some of the fading light from the mouth of the hole far above.

“They dead?” a voice asked.

“Don’t know...” the orc looking down had trouble telling from the top.  The twins lay in a tangled jumble of broken spears and spreading blood.  “They look dead, but we can’t take no chances...” the dark creature edged over the lip and began trying to climb down the side of the hole.

Elladan felt Elrohir begin to stir against him.

“Shhh... don’t move,” he whispered almost soundlessly into his brother’s ear, hoping that Elrohir could hear him.  He knew they would never make it out of this pit alive if they had to try to fight the orcs down here, with so many of them out there.  Right now playing dead was their best option.

Elrohir stilled and did not move again.  Elladan hoped that most of the blood he could dimly see around them was coming from the throbbing gash across his inner arm and that none of it was his brother’s.  From the way they lay, he could not see if his brother was hurt or how badly.  At least they had managed to avoid being impaled.

The orc attempting to climb down slid on the loose dirt walls, discovering that the trap had been a little too well made.  With a shrieking squeal the creature lost his handhold and fell backward into the trap.  He was less fortunate than the twins.  One of the spears jabbed into his back, skewering through the orc’s body.

The creature screamed and flailed, snapping the spear and throwing himself sideways.  Unfortunately this only threw him onto two more of the wicked projectiles.  One of them pierced his dark heart and he finally went still.

Elladan tried not to breathe because he feared he would gag as the putrid scent of orc blood filled the air.

The orcs above swore loudly and there seemed to be a scuffle as the orc in charge tried to get someone else to go down for the bodies.

“I ain’t going down there!  They’re dead, let ‘em be!”

“MAGGOT!  I’m not going back to Guruth empty-handed or not able to say for sure that they's dead.  Now you get your worthless carcass down there or I’ll throw you down!”

Apparently the orcs did not have any rope with them, Elladan thought numbly.  He wanted to shift and put some pressure on his freely bleeding injury, but he dared not.

Finally another orc appeared over the rim of the pit and reluctantly began climbing cautiously down into the deep hole that they were no doubt regretting was so deep now.

This one made it to the bottom of the pit, stepping dispassionately over the broken body of his fallen comrade.  The punctured body had muddied the bottom of the pit in dark blood, lending more finality to the scene of carnage.

Picking his way around the spears that had not yet been broken or knocked down, the orc crouched by the two unmoving elves.  Elrohir was on top and the orc roughly jerked the elf’s head up.  Head wounds bleed prodigiously and Elrohir had several.  The fair being’s face was smeared with enough blood to make it look as if his whole head could have been broken open.

The orc smiled as it pressed its filthy, gnarled hand under Elrohir’s nose to see if he drew breath.

Elrohir held his breath and remained limp, intentionally slowing his heart and doing his best to feign death.

Grunting, the orc rose, picking up the elves’ weapons from where they had fallen a few feet away.  Tossing them up to his companions topside, the creature flung them out of the pit.

“They’re dead. I say we take these back as tokens for Guruth, and let them rot like they deserve,” he called up.

“Nothing doing.  You bring the bodies up like you were told.  Hurry up, we haven’t got all bloody day!” his superior snarled from overhead.

The orc muttered dark curses under his breath and hoisted Elrohir none-to-gently onto his back.

It was all Elrohir could do to not wince and remain limp.

Elladan felt sick when the orc picked up his brother.  If they were carried out of the pit, they could only take this ruse so far... although at least once they were out he supposed they stood a better chance.

The orc found it difficult trying to climb out of the pit with his new burden and panted dark curses the whole way as he slowly edged up the steep sides.  Finally he reached the top.

“Give me a hand here you lazy wor-” the snarled insult to his companions was never finished.  From the bottom of the pit, Elladan couldn’t see what happened, but somehow the earth the orc had his feet braced against simply crumbled.  Weighted down with his load, the orc scrabbled to hold onto the edge, but without success.  Half a moment later he was tumbling back into the pit, taking Elrohir on another downward journey with him.

They bounced off the pit wall and landed with a crash at the bottom.  There was no shriek this time.  The orc was killed instantly, his body pierced and his neck snapped.

Elrohir was lighter and that was an advantage, but he still hit hard, his skull impacting against the earthy stones at the bottom of the pit and momentarily stunning him.  The orc broke most of the spears in their path and that was the only thing that saved him.

Elladan felt his heart stop beating.  Elrohir lay on his face several paces away, partially draped over the orc’s broken body.  One bloody spear protruded from the back of his brother’s cloak.

Shouts from above heralded the dismay of the orcs at this turn of events and a lot of shouting broke out about whether anyone else was going to go down into the death trap.

“I ain’t going down there, I don’t care what you say!  You want the whole lot of us to end up a great bloody lot of carrion on spits?  A nice prize for the vultures that’d be!  Look at ‘em, the bloody worms is obviously dead. If they weren’t before they are now,” one orc gestured down at Elrohir’s seemingly impaled form.  “I say we take the swords and go back home.  There’s nothing more to do here.”

Because no one wanted to be the next to go down into the pit that had already claimed two of their kind, the majority of orcs sided with that opinion and eventually Elladan’s keen ears heard the horde move away.

Not wanting to risk moving too soon, Elladan remained motionless for many long minutes until he was convinced that no one was going to change their minds and come back.

Shifting to his hands and knees he dizzily gripped his arm, stanching the blood flow.  Scrambling over to his brother’s side he gently and worriedly touched his shoulder, trying to turn Elrohir over.

“El?  El are you all right?  Oh Valar...” he murmured, frightened by the shaft that seemed to be protruding from his twin’s body.

Elrohir moaned and shook his head, shaking his hair out of his eyes, although the dark locks continued to cling to the blood matting the side of his face.  He grinned up into his brother’s face nevertheless.

“Just a little stiff,” Elrohir returned quietly.  “It could have been worse.”  He tried to sit up only to find himself pinned by the shaft through his cloak.  Lifting his arm he stared a little wide-eyed as he realized that the spear had passed just under his armpit, between his arm and his body.  A little higher or to either side and he would have been seriously hurt.  As it was, all it had done was graze his side and go through his cloak.

Elladan helped his brother pull his cloak free and agreed quietly.  “A lot worse.”//

“Elladan?” Aragorn’s concerned voice shook the elder twin out of his memories and Elladan realized that he had been lost in his own thoughts for a moment.

“Are you all right, truly?” the ranger’s eyes narrowed in trepidation at his brother’s lapse in attention.  “I was so worried... I didn’t want to believe them when they said you were both gone, but they were so sure it was you...” 

“Who?  Estel who are you talking about?” Elladan grasped Legolas' forearm in greeting as he questioned his sibling.  “How did you get out here?” 

“The orcs,” Legolas answered for his friend, his eyes shadowed. 

“We stumbled upon their lair,” Aragorn continued, still distressed over recent events.  “We found a back door they do not know about but we must hurry; we have no time to spare.  They have father, and King Thranduil is with them as well.  By some miracle the orcs are leaving them alone tonight but it will not last. Come! Quickly!”  He tugged at Elrohir’s sleeve trying to pull the elf with him. 

“Estel, what are you talking about?” Elladan questioned, trying to figure out how Legolas’ father had ended up in this conversation. 

“You’ve seen Father, you know where he is?” Elrohir asked, disbelieving.  His eyes filled with concern and dread. 

“Wait a minute,” Elladan was catching up slowly with the conversation, “You saw father, you were in Daradwayn and escaped?  How?” 

“What do you mean Thranduil is with him?” Elrohir frowned at the ranger, glancing between Aragorn and Legolas. 

Legolas held up a hand for silence, “Please, let us explain.  Estel...” the prince pointed at his friend to continue. 

“We were chased by the wargs into the basin at the fall’s head.  There was a dwarven water tunnel behind the falls, just like the ones that father used to tell us about.  We followed it to an underground lake, and from there to a room filled with orcs and wargs, the same ones that attacked Rivendell.  They have Father and they also have Thranduil, how we do not know.  They must have overrun Imladris to capture Ada, but as for why Thranduil is here...” Aragorn shrugged and glanced at Legolas who merely shook his head. 

“It is doubtful they attacked Mirkwood as well; that is much too far a journey from here.  Perhaps they were on their way to visit us...?  It does not matter now.  What does matter is that we were able to escape through a back door that the dwarves had carved; it is sealed by elven magic. I doubt the orcs even know it is there.  We can use it to access the tunnels once more and free Ada!”  Aragorn’s explanation tumbled out quickly.  His heart was still aching at having left Elrond unconscious and in the grip of orcs who were obviously tormenting him.  He was anxious to get back.  If his brothers were here, then the odds were improved enough to attempt a rescue, in his mind at least. 

Elladan and Elrohir exchanged odd glances; the news seemed to hold no surprise for them.  They realized that Aragorn, having not been present, had no idea what had happened at home.  Elrohir gently removed the ranger’s hand from his arm as Elladan quietly addressed them both. 

“Yes, the orcs did overrun Imladris.  They could not get past us in battle, but a small, secret force invaded the valley while we were all drawn off.  Some of the household staff were killed and Celboril was badly injured... I hope he will survive, but I do not know.  You and Legolas must return home and help Glorfindel see to the wounded, Estel, there are many.  Elrohir and I will continue on.” 

Aragorn shook his head incredulously.  “Don’t be ridiculous, El. We stand a much better chance together. Why do you think Legolas and I came looking for help in the first place?” 

Elladan was not about to budge.  “No, Estel, you’re going home.  It’s best.  Please trust us.” 

Elrohir flipped his hood back over his face and pulled his cloak tightly about him. “We will return to you if we are able.” 

Taken back by the strange change in their manner and the suddenly cold tone of his brother’s voices, Aragorn glanced between the twins before turning a puzzled look on Legolas. 

“I’ll not be returning without my father,” the elf prince replied in a tone just as cool as that with which the other two elf lords had dismissed him.  He did not understand what was going on, or the twins’ sudden reluctance to allow them to help.  He respected Elladan and Elrohir, but they were not his big brothers, or his lords.  They had absolutely no say over his actions and the prince did not take kindly to their behaving as if they did. 

“You cannot go with us,” Elrohir replied quietly, trying to soften the blow. “You do not understand.  This was started a long time ago and is something that only Elladan and I can finish.” 

“That’s not true.” Aragorn stepped forward, trying to glimpse his brother’s eyes.  Something was not right.  “Besides, you can’t just ignore the fact that however it has come to pass, Legolas’ father is involved now as well.  We can help you; we know where the back door is!  It will take all of us to free our fathers, but we can do it if we work together.” 

“This is not your fight,” Elladan replied.  He would not meet the human’s questioning gaze.  He wouldn’t take his little brother into this mess that they had started.  “It is ours.  It always has been.  We think that things die and are forgotten, but they are not, maybe they never can be.  That seems to be what this whole bloody affair has been to prove.  Those orcs asked for something and they’re going to get it,” his voice was tense with barely compressed anger.  “I’m sure Legolas will do as he pleases, although I wish to goodness he would go back with you.  But I will not have you mixed up in this little brother.  It is not your fight.” 

Legolas stepped back, realizing that this was suddenly a very personal family fight.  He had no intention of leaving his father with the orcs or of relying solely upon the elven twins to free them, but he knew better than to intrude into the siblings’ quarrel as Aragorn’s tone of voice dropped and he drew closer to his brothers. 

“This is about Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen isn’t it?” Aragorn asked darkly.  “I know the stories, but that was long ago and the situation was different.  I am telling you, there are too many and with prisoners they have the advantage.  You cannot just walk in there and expect to walk out again.  We need to work together!” 

“You don’t understand, Estel, this is beyond you. It is something that we should have taken care of long ago.”  Elrohir knew the human would not understand and tried to soften what Aragorn perceived as rejection and foolishness. 

“It is insanity!” Aragorn’s voice raised a notch in volume, “I have seen what waits for you; you cannot do it alone.  What do you think, that I cannot handle myself?  Do you know how many wars I have been through now?  I am not just your little brother anymore; I can help you.  Why won’t you listen to me?!” 

Estel reached out and touched Elladan’s arm, trying to soften his voice and his frustration.  He could tell his brothers were hurting.  “I know what this place must bring back, I know what you are up against, but this is not just your fight anymore.  There is Legolas and his father to think of and you have me now.  It is different; you don’t have to do it alone this time.  I know it hurts, but the dead can rest if you let them.” 

“No, no, Estel, you don't know!” Elladan said sharply, his eyes simmering with a burning rage Aragorn had never seen in their lively, grey depths before, and certainly never seen directed at himself.  “You speak of a past you cannot possibly know or understand.  You have no idea!  You weren't there!  You weren't even born!  You’ve heard stories, but you didn’t see it!  You didn’t carry your mother’s torn body out of that orch-hole!  You didn’t feel her sobbing and shaking in your arms, cringing even from the touch of her own sons!  You didn’t see Father nearly destroy himself to save her... only to find that he couldn’t save her, not where it mattered.” Elladan shrugged off his human brother’s touch roughly.  “I won’t lose Father that way and I won’t lose you either.  You are a liability we cannot afford, Estel.  You will be no help where we are going.  You don't know what they'll do, what they’ve done!” 

No one spoke for several seconds and the look of hurt on the ranger's face nearly broke Legolas’ heart.  Aragorn opened his mouth to speak but no words came out.  He shook his head slowly as he tried to get his breathing under control, tried to hide his emotions.  He was unsuccessful.  He knew Elladan.  He knew that the elder twin lashed out, sometimes violently, when he was scared and hurting.  But that didn’t make the stinging, verbal slap to the face that his brother had just delivered hurt any less. 

The human glanced over at Legolas and the elf could see the tears threatening to spill over.  The prince knew that the ranger held closely to his heart all that his brothers said, more than perhaps they even realized.

Aragorn's soft words surprised them all.  “Yes.  Oh, yes I do know.” His voice wavered with intense emotion as he continued.  “Because if they can make an elf whom you know is stronger than you can ever hope to be, beg for death from the hand of a loved one rather than face them again, they are incapable of no small cruelty.  I have seen more of orc brutality than I ever dreamed possible.” 

Legolas did not flinch at the reference, his eyes reflecting his steady compassion on what the three brothers were going through.  It was true.  Orcs had nearly broken him and Estel had been treated to the full horror of that fact.  It made his heart ache to consider Lady Celebrían in their hands, although he had barely known her... and even more so Lord Elrond, who he had by now come to know and respect so well.

Aragorn swallowed hard as he glanced back at Elladan, “I may not know first-hand what they did to Mother.  I may not have seen it with my eyes, but I have seen it in your eyes, in the fears that haunt you still whether you want to acknowledge them or not.  It is there in the shadow that passes over your souls any time that orcs are mentioned.  I have seen the scars you carry that you try so hard to hide.”  He touched his heart and looked over to where Elrohir stood; the elf's eyes were large in the starlight and filled with pain. 

“Did you think I would never hear the stories?” Aragorn’s voice was quiet now, and gentle.  “Or that I wouldn’t put it together?  Do you honestly think I don’t know who Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen are?” 

The ranger locked his eyes on Elladan’s, “Sword of Dread...” before turning to stare at Elrohir as he whispered the twins’ pseudonyms, “Bane of Orcs.”

Surprise and shock registered on the elven faces as they listened to the human recount their hidden history.  It was well known that the twins had rescued their mother, and had taken to orc hunting and riding with the Dunèdain after her departure.  Yet little was said of it in the Last Homely house.  The casual listener, such as Legolas had been, did not usually make the connection between these facts and the dark and bloody tales of Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen whose exploits were told only as ‘long ago’ and not set in a specific era.

“I have heard the stories told round many a campfire and not only elven ones either.  Halbarad filled me in on the details many years ago; the tales of the Dunèdain do not forget the identity of the two elves that rode with them, nor their mighty deeds.  I know of the fire in your blood and what put it there.  I know more than you give me credit for; you are not the only ones to have suffered at their hands.” 

Elrohir found the emotions that pounded in his heart alien and startling.  Perhaps it was a foolish wish, but they had never wanted their little brother to know the depth of the deadly rage that had consumed them after they had brought their broken mother home.  He feared what Estel would think of them after hearing of their ruthless killing sprees.  It was one thing to say that they had hunted orcs... it was another to know the details.  To know how far it had gone. 

They had driven every one of the evil creatures from the mountains that surrounded them, from here to the Redhorn pass: hunting them down, killing them with out mercy, pursuing them relentlessly... taking pleasure in their deaths.  The hatred for the vile beasts had culminated and hardened when their mother had left for the Undying Lands.  Her loss was more than they could bear and they lashed out in the only way that they knew how. 

Elrond had not restrained them.  He had been so lost in his own grief that he did not see what was happening to their hearts, or that just retribution was turning into something that was eating them alive, and so the twins had gone unchecked.  It had been many years now and yet the renewed pain felt as familiar as if it had all been just yesterday; the memories were so clear.  He slowly removed his hood and stared at the human before him. 

No one in Rivendell considered the twins to be killers for what they had done, no one save the twins themselves. 

Neither Elrohir nor Elladan regretted killing all those orcs.  The creatures were evil and had to be destroyed.  In fact they regretted now that they had obviously missed some.  The truth was they would do it again if the situation were repeated... and yet they desperately did not want to revisit those dark places in their souls where killing had ceased to be protective or necessary and had become something satisfying.  The shame of how close they had walked to the edge in those dark days was a blot on their memories... and yet they knew it was all right there, a righteous anger waiting to turn into dark vengeance as this new pain ripped old wounds wide open once more, viciously tearing sensitive hearts that could not take the loss of another parent in the same cruel manner.

As though reading their thoughts, Aragorn continued, his voice even softer now, “I knew it was you when first I heard the tales, even when I was very young.  I was so proud of you both and so saddened that you were hurt in such a way.  You are not murderers.  Your spirits are gentle, I know your hearts.” The ranger stepped forward and pressed the palm of his left hand against Elrohir's chest.  “The free peoples do not fear you, but the spawn of Mordor has good cause to.  Yes, I know what they have done and what they are capable of. I see the scars of it in my family every day and I hate them for it as much as you do.” 

The human could see his brothers feared his condemnation, but how could he ever think that of them?  He knew that, as always, they judged themselves and their own failings far too harshly.  Orcs were not like other creatures that one might have pity upon; they were bred in malice and wholly evil. They were creations of darkness and there was no redemption possible for them. 

The soft light of the moon traced the tear tracks down Aragorn's face as he stared at his older brothers. “I am very afraid of what they will do to Father and I was unable to stop them when I had the chance,” the ranger admitted brokenly.  He still felt guilty about being stuck under a mountain when his family needed him, and then for having to leave Elrond behind in the cave. 

Tears glistened on Elrohir's cheeks as he pulled Estel against him.

Elladan swallowed roughly, touching Aragorn’s shoulder.  “I am frightened too,” the elf admitted quietly.  “More than I have ever been and I took out it on you, as I too often do. I did not mean what I said.”  Elladan laid his hand on Aragorn's back as he leaned against his brothers, his forehead resting gently on Elrohir's temple.  Quietly he asked for forgiveness, “I am sorry, please forgive me, Estel.  I should not have called you a liability... I simply do not want to lose you too.  I-I... I do not think I can walk this road again,” he admitted in a shame-filled whisper. 

“None of us want that, El,” Aragorn nodded against his brother’s shoulder, reaching out his arm and pulling Elladan in tighter.  He was well acquainted with his elder brother’s protective streak. 

Elladan pressed his eyes shut.  “No, Estel, I mean, I really cannot,” his soft words had turned hoarse, tortured with the emotion he was trying to hide.  The elder twin felt as if he were toppling towards a void.  Since his mother’s brutal torture, he had only felt something akin to this once before: when a demented man named Mannyn, hell-bent on revenge against Aragorn, had nearly caused the slow and painful death of his youngest brother.  Elrond had seen that rage building in his son again and reached out to help him.  In the end Elladan had pulled himself back from the brink of the abyss.  Elrond’s calming presence and love had always been there to bring Elladan back... until now.  Some part of the elder twin’s heart was filled with the fear that he was not strong enough to weather a second loss of this nature.  He feared he would lose himself in the process. 

“Then it is true?”  The soft question startled the small family and Aragorn looked over his shoulder at Legolas.  The elf prince stood staring at the twins with an oddly disturbing, open gaze.  So many things that had been puzzling about this entire affair made sense now.  “Aragorn, why did you not tell me?” 

“I’m sorry Legolas, it-” The ranger started to explain his silence on the subject, but Elladan interrupted and spoke for him. 

“It was not Estel’s story to tell.  I think you can understand, Legolas, when I say that there are some things which are left silent by those that know the truth, either from love, or respect.” 

Legolas did understand, only too well.  When he first met Aragorn many years ago, he had been shocked to find that a stranger from Imladris had heard more about his past in Dorolyn than his own people were allowed to recount.  It was easy to consider something forgotten if it was unspoken, whether it truly was forgotten or not, but it was the fact that Elladan and Elrohir’s stories had not been unspoken, merely changed, that puzzled the prince. 

“Yes, the tales are told,” Elladan answered the prince’s unvoiced question.  “We don’t learn from the past if it is hidden, although long ago the storytellers started changing the names and details, using what the orcs called us instead of our proper names out of respect for our wish to forget that part of our lives.  Some find the stories inspiring I suppose, many call Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen heroes.”  The older elf smiled at his human brother.  “But I like to think that usually, when the story is repeated, it is for the training of the younger generation... so they do not have to follow the same hard roads to understanding that we did in our younger years.” 

Elrohir took over the explanation at this point, “They are considered part of the songs of the glory days of the elves but there was no glory in them.  Not from our point of view.  They were dark days full of sorrow and hatred and they nearly consumed our family.”  The younger of the twins turned to the human and smiled softly.  “It was on one such excursion to eliminate a small resurgence in the orcs near Rivendell that we found Estel.  His presence under our roof did much to heal our hearts.” 

“Our people say that Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen are dead because we chose to let them be no more.  I suppose El and I almost let ourselves believe it was true.  Let them die with the stories... it was easier somehow.  They are times that we would forget but cannot.  I am Dehlfalhen and I cannot change that.”  Elladan finished the retelling quietly, his gaze searching the ranger’s and the prince’s.  He looked for condemnation for their self-perceived wrongs, but found none. 

“Then it is time that we put them truly to rest,” Legolas spoke softly. “We all have secrets that we pray the Valar protect, but I think it is Ilúvatar’s will that these things come out into the open that they may be healed, and sometimes healing can only come through another.”  He glanced meaningfully at Aragorn.  The ranger nodded in answer, knowing exactly what the elf was talking about.  It had taken them years to fully heal from all the emotional scars that decorated their hearts and through their mutual friendship they had begun to bring about a restoration in the world of elves and men. 

“If that is the case,” Aragorn smiled at the elves, “and I think that it is, then you will be needing help.”  Crossing his arms resolutely he glared at the twins.  “So, shall we lead you to the back door of Daradwayn?  Or would you like to go looking for it yourselves?” 

A short chuckle from Elrohir broke the uncomfortable silence, shattering the awkwardness of long-kept secrets that were now exposed.  “By all means,” he answered, grabbing the younger human in a headlock and dragging him out of the clearing as they headed for the base of the mountain.  Laughter echoed in the small meadow and the night seemed to lighten ever so slightly. 

They walked for a few moments before Legolas stopped them. “Daradwayn is not as stable as it once was.”  He glanced between the elves and the ranger as he worked through his thoughts.  His words tumbled out quickly.  “There are far too many orcs and wargs and in that cavern for the four of us to survive battle with.  But...” 

“But you have a better idea don’t you?”  Aragorn stepped closer to his friend, his mind running swiftly down the same paths as the elf’s.  “What if we use the orcs against themselves?” 

“Exactly!” Legolas nodded, their thoughts merging into the same battle strategies. 

“What are you two thinking?”  Elladan glanced between the friends, his brow furrowed.  People said that he and Elrohir were bad about finishing one another’s thoughts and leaving others out of the conversation, but Estel and Legolas could be just as problematic. 

“Daradwayn was affected by the earthquake we had some years ago.  Do you remember it?”  Aragorn turned to his brothers, explaining what he and Legolas were thinking.  When they nodded he continued, “The interior of the cavern withstood the quake, but there was damage.” 

“Perhaps exterior damage as well if we are fortunate.  It is not as stable as it was in the days of the dwarves.”  Legolas injected. 

“You are thinking of Moria aren’t you?” Aragorn questioned him further. 

“Yes.  Moria and Shellen’s Fallow actually.  Do you still remember what Balin, Rorin and the dwarves taught us?”  Now the prince and the human were talking simply to one another.  Their close association over the long years had bred in them the familiar ability to understand what the other was thinking often with just a glance or a motion. 

“Yes, I remember, and if there is a distraction within for long enough we can de-stabilize the entrance to the cavern.”  A thin, humorless smile spread across his face as Aragorn talked over the plan with Legolas.  “And if we can draw part of them out, we can use their own traps against them.”  He remembered that the orc scouts had mentioned setting traps around the perimeter.  “They were set for the two of you, to trap you.  But we can change that and make them lethal and turn the orcs into them.”  He glanced between his brothers. 

Elladan and Elrohir raised their eyebrows.  Oh yes, they were well aware of these orcs’ penchant for making traps. 

“Legolas can show you the back door and get you inside.  Then you must wait and stay hidden so he and I can work on the cavern from the outside.  When we are through we will draw as many as we can out the front before bringing down the caves.  As soon as the commotion starts, you must free Father and KIng Thranduil and escape out the back, the way you’ll have come in.” 

“That doesn’t leave much room for error does it?” Legolas questioned softly. 

“No.” Aragorn glanced at the twins, his gaze full of the questions he could not bring himself to ask. 

“We can do it,” Elladan replied confidently.  “If you get us in and distract them, we will free our fathers and take down their den.” 

“Daradwayn will be no more.” Elrohir whispered.  He nodded slowly when Elladan glanced at him. 

“Then it is settled.” Legolas led them back through the trees, running at a slow pace as he spoke.  “I will get you inside and then it will take Estel and I a bit more time to set up things from our side.  So you’ll need to wait for us.” 

“We will wait,” Elrohir answered, his voice echoed by his brother who added softly, “Unless things get out of control.” 

The prince stopped at the side of the mountain near what appeared to be new growth in between the remnants of an old rockslide.  The white fletchings of his arrow were buried in the long grasses that grew up the side of the mountain.  “Then we shall pray that they don’t.” 

With a soft command from the prince, the door swung silently open.  The twins eyed him oddly at what he had said to open it, but Legolas just shrugged.  They weren’t his doors; he couldn’t help what they considered passwords.  The twins walked cautiously inside, drawing their weapons as they passed into the tunnel. 

Aragorn grasped Legolas’ forearm. 

“I will find their traps and mark them for you.  Look for me above the entrance and hurry quickly, I will need your help.”  Aragorn tightened his grip on the elf’s arm. 

“I will show them what they need to know and join you soon, mellon-nín.”  With a nod and a small smile, Legolas entered the mountain passage after the twins.  At his bidding the door resealed itself and Aragorn found himself suddenly alone. 

It took a lot longer to cover the distance between the front of the cave and the back from the outside than it did from the inside. Aragorn hurried to cover the distance as quickly as he could.  The orc traps were difficult to locate in the dark, but once he got there, Aragorn methodically swept the forest in front of the cave opening.  Most of the contraptions were ill-made and hastily thrown together.  It did not take long to move and re-rig the snares so that instead of catching the foot of an elf, the length of black rope would pull taut at the snap of a twig and catch the unsuspecting wayfarer at the neck.  An orc running through the forest could easily snap his neck on such a trap now that they no longer knew where they were. 

Suddenly Aragorn pressed himself close to the ground, letting his dark overcoat blend with the surrounding night.  He held his breath as an orc sentry stalked past.  It was the fourth one he’d had to dodge while going about his work.  These orcs were more watchful than most he’d dealt with, but the ranger was very good at staying under their scope of attention nonetheless. 

There were several traps in the form of intentional rockslides near the sides of the cave opening.  Aragorn moved the triggering mechanisms and easily overloaded them until their payload was lethal.  Nets strung between small saplings, bent to near breaking and used as springs, were replaced with quickly fashioned wooden spears that the ranger had created by using downed branches and breaking them to produce sharp tips. 

Pits that had been dug and marked by the orcs were re-camouflaged by the human and the orcs' own markings erased so the black creatures would fall prey to their own evil devices. 

The only traps that the ranger had not been able to turn useful were three strange mires he had encountered.  Apparently, holes had been dug into the ground and were filled with a foul mixture of the orcs' own creation: mud diluted and mixed with water, sand and forest debris.  The result created a highly unstable patch of ground that had been cleverly covered with leaves and fronds to hide its existence.  Aragorn had accidentally stepped into one such patch of concealed mud, having totally missed the tell-tale signs that the trap existed, so well covered it had been.  Immediately the thick, barely congealed concoction shifted beneath him, throwing the ranger off balance and sucking him in, covering his leg up to mid-thigh before he even realized what had happened.  Had he stepped onto the trap with both feet he would have been pulled under with no hope of escape. 

Throwing himself down onto the ground behind him, he twisted around until he lay on his stomach.  Catching hold of a low growing tree branch he had been just able to pull himself out of the quagmire.  For several minutes he simply stared at the black pit of faintly rippling mud.  The silt calmed almost immediately, the leaves trapped on its surface once again hiding the trap and making it appear as though it were simply part of the forest floor.  Never had he encountered such a thing, not even in his time among the orcs in Mordor. 

Cleaning the mud off his boot and legging as best he could, Aragorn quickly began marking off the perimeter of the unnatural bog.  It would do them no good if Legolas or one of his brothers fell into the pit in the chaos that would ensue after the escape was begun.  He found two more of the insidious pits at strategic locations around the cave’s entrance.  It hadn’t taken him long to recognize them once he had known what to look for and he marked them quickly with a pattern of stones and leaves that only his brothers and Legolas would recognize. 

Making his way back to the first sinking pit he had found, Aragorn began to grow concerned about Legolas. The prince should have joined him by now.  They needed to start working on how to bring the cave entrance down.  He had a pretty good idea about how to proceed, having staked the whole area out, but he would need help for his plan to work before the night was over. 

A soft glow through the trees, barely perceptible to one who was not looking for it, drew the ranger’s attention and he darted forward to intercept. 

Legolas crept through the night-darkened forest easily, his eyes and ears long accustomed to such forays.  The darkness no longer held any terror or obstacle for the elf.  The nights were as simple to walk through as the days.  The trees about him spoke to him of roots to watch out for, the rivers sang of their expanses and the night winds brought him the scents of his enemies hidden in the mountains, and the smells so familiar to him of the person that he sought.  Aragorn was close and approaching from the west.  The elf turned towards the path the human was on and picked up his pace. 

The ranger realized with growing horror that Legolas was headed straight for one of the orcs’ quagmire pits.  He reached the far side of the covered pit and skidded to a stop.  The elf was halfway across the orc trap.  A smile spread over the elf’s face as he saw his friend and he slowed his step. 

The smile on Legolas’ face slipped as the ranger stared in shock at him. 

“What is it?” The elf ran lightly toward his friend, his feet barely touching the top of the sticky mud below.  The coagulated silt stuck to the bottom of his boots and he noticed for the first time that something wasn’t right.  Picking up one foot Legolas frowned as the mud below him made a sucking sound, slipping stickily from his shoe. “What is this?” 

“Legolas!” Leaning out Aragorn grabbed the prince by the arm, jerking him away from the pit and putting them both safely out of harm’s way.  “What were you thinking?” 

“What are you talking about?” Legolas questioned, as he looked over his shoulder, watching as the ground undulated oddly before settling back, its deceptive layer of forest debris giving a false sense of steady ground beneath.  “What was that?” 

“Are you all right?”  Aragorn was having a hard time accepting what had just occurred.  He had fully expected to watch as his friend fell into the pit and was pulled under.  “Didn’t you see my markings?”  The ranger’s fear made his voice harsher than it would have normally been. 

“It seems as though I did not.”  Legolas turned his full attention back to the human.  Rarely did the man reprimand him with such a tone of voice.  He recognized the underlying fear and questioned his friend, “Just what were you marking?  I found all the others.”  The elf was about as confused as the ranger was. 

“This is what I was marking.”  Aragorn picked up a hand-sized rock that lay near him and tossed the stone onto the top of the mud pit.  The ground beneath the stone sunk in causing slight, thick ripples to move out towards the edges of the trap.  In seconds the rock had disappeared from sight and the false ground was deceptively still once more.  The ranger was watching the elf carefully, his gaze a cross between reproach and awe.  “Legolas, you walked across that and never fell in.” 

Turning back once more to focus on the ranger, Legolas noted the dried mud that caked Aragorn’s right leg, tracking up above his knee.  His friend had been caught in this trap before. 

“Aragorn, I am sorry to have frightened you.  It was not my intention.  Obviously the orcs are unaware that a trap like that is ineffective for catching elves.  We tread too lightly.  You have seen your brothers and myself walk on top of the snow, have you not?”  Legolas looked his friend over more carefully, trying to see if he had been injured in any other way. 

“You scared the life right out of me.”  The ranger breathed in deeply letting the tension flow out of him.  “Don’t do that again, walk around them for my sake.” 

With a quiet laugh, Legolas pushed the human ahead of him, moving them away from the orc trap.  “I promise.  I did see the other traps, you’ve done a good job of reworking them.  Elladan and Elrohir are waiting for our signal at the tunnel’s entrance into the main chamber.  Our fathers are resting and most of the inhabitants of the cavern sleep.”  The elf walked his friend closer to the mouth of Daradwayn, talking softly to redirect the ranger’s thoughts and re-focus him on their task at hand.  “Now, tell me have you found a way to bring down the cave entrance?  Were we right about it?” 

“We were, my friend, and luck is with us.” Aragorn grasped Legolas’ sleeve and drew the elf with him, racing for the northern side of the cave’s opening, but being careful of the prowling sentries. 

There, by the light of the stars, Legolas could see a break in the thick canopy of trees that spread high above them.  One very old tree had grown away from the denseness of the forest, bending its large, thick trunk away from the others and seeking the open light.  In doing so it had grown at an odd angle; the tops of its uppermost branches scraped the mountain above the cave opening.  The tree, however, was in the last stages of its life.  Having separated itself so from the others, its root system was not connected with the roots of the trees around it, in the interweaving fashion of its kind.  Interconnecting their roots helped the trees weather the storms that ripped through the vales on this side of the mountains and fought off the erosion brought on by the melting snows every year. 

Now, nearer the base of the crooked tree, Legolas could see that the root ball had been exposed.  It would only take one good wind to bring the old tree down.  The precarious way it bent placed it in the perfect position to release an avalanche of rocks down upon the cave entrance.  If it were destabilized properly, the whole cavern would collapse. 

Legolas reverently placed his hand on the rough trunk of the tree.  He hated to take from the forest, to kill anything that lived within it without cause, but Aragorn was right, they would need to topple this tree to bring Daradwayn down on itself.  So there was cause. 

“Well, what do you think?” Aragorn asked cautiously after a few minutes of silence. He hated to rush his friend, but time was no longer on their side.  The edges of night were fleeing and it would soon be morning.  They had a good hour’s work ahead of them and no more time to spare. 

“It is well.  The trees know we need their aid and this one’s time has come.  He wants to help us.”  Legolas stepped away from the ancient giant and turned his attention to the rocks that surrounded the cavern opening. “You do realize though that we will probably one day become known as the great cave destroyers don’t you?” the last was a jest. 

Aragorn grinned sarcastically and shrugged.  “If something works, it works.  I think I can live with that.  So long as we don’t mention it to too many dwarves, we should be fine.” 

Daradwayn lived up to its reputation.  The entry to the cave was fouled by the orcs that lived in it.  Large rocks littered the front of the low-hung opening.  The grasses and living things had pulled back from the entrance as if repulsed by the creatures that occupied it.  The light from the nearly spent fires inside barely reached the outer lip and the slight stirring of the orcs and wargs could just be heard. 

“We must work fast.” Aragorn stepped to the right of the cave as Legolas leapt to the top of the opening on the left.  Working their way in a crisscrossing pattern, they easily identified the stress cracks in the mountain’s foundation as well as the areas of least resistance to a well-placed landslide. 

When the tree was released, its thickest part would take down the rocks that braced Daradwayn’s entryway and hopefully cause a chain reaction well into the cavern itself.  At the very least it would seal the orcs in their den; they would hopefully never be able to escape.  It would take work, but it wasn’t impossible. 

After some time of swift and difficult labor, Aragorn wiped the sweat out of his eyes, pushing his hair back from his face as he looked up at Legolas across the way, wondering how far his friend had gotten.  The elf placed a stone wedge in a natural crack in the rock face and further stressed the widening tear by pounding the stone down harder.  Blue eyes met the ranger’s silver ones and the prince nodded slightly.  They were nearly ready. 

Before he could question Legolas further, the elf flattened himself out against the face of the cliff, motioning for the ranger to follow suit.  A dark shape flowed out of the cave entrance.  A warg had awakened and was sniffing the pre-dawn air.  Something had disturbed its sleep and it was curious. 

Hugging the side of the cliff, Aragorn tried to make himself as invisible as possible, barely breathing as the beast turned to look over its shoulder at the mountain that towered above it.  Small, dark eyes narrowed as the creature watched intently, trying to see through the early morning mists and gloom that clung to the forest floor and coated the sides of the hill.  Legolas had dampened his glow until it was barely imperceptible.  Stealthily he strung his bow, ready to fire if the warg gave way their positions too early.  They needed the element of surprise on their side. 

A call from inside the orc den startled the beast out of its concentration.  With a growl it moved back into the interior, the hair along its shoulders still standing on edge.  It didn’t appreciate being called away, something felt wrong... but the smaller beings were not to be trifled with.  So long as the orcs were kept content, then the wargs were well fed and for the most part that was what mattered. 

Releasing the tension on his bow, Legolas replaced the arrow in his quiver. 

“It is time.”  He mouthed the words silently to the human who was watching him carefully. 

With a nod, Aragorn scrambled down the hillside and leapt lightly onto the mud-and-rock strewn entry of Daradwayn. 

This was the risky part of their diversion.  It had been agreed that Aragorn would be the decoy since Legolas was the better shot and would be able to fell a greater number of the creatures as they flowed out of the cave than Aragorn could. 

Once he had a sufficient number of orcs on his trail, the human would release the tree that would trigger the rockslide.  The old trunk was held upright now with a length of elvish rope; it would take but a single pull to release it. 

Legolas made his way into the trees that bracketed the front of Daradwayn.  When he was in position he signaled Aragorn:  a single arrow embedded into the dirt near the human’s left foot.  Grabbing the shaft, Aragorn strung the arrow on his bow and ran into the mouth of the cave. 

Elladan and Elrohir had waited patiently through the watches of the early morning, keeping an eye on the orcs and the wargs within the cavern.  The two young elven lords went unnoticed as the inhabitants of the cave slept through the night.  Orc sentries stood guard near the front of the cave, but no one was watching the back.  Waiting had been no easy task and the twins had only just fallen into the rhythm of the uneasy peace that hung in the orc den when a lone figure burst into the main room, shouting in elvish. 

Aragorn skidded to a stop inside the chamber filled with sleeping orcs and wargs.  He buried Legolas’ arrow in the first dark hulk he saw and repeatedly fired arrows into the sleeping throng until the whole cavern was in an uproar. 

Staring in shocked disbelief, Elladan turned towards Elrohir who was gaping open-mouthed at their younger human brother.  “He takes after you,” the younger twin whispered as the cave erupted in chaos.  They had been expecting a signal, but not one quite like that. 

Orcs and wargs stumbled over one another trying to gain their feet and stop the barrage of arrows that fell on their sleeping comrades.  In seconds the occupants of Daradwayn were chasing the ranger out into the woods in a frenzied rampage spurred on by shouts from their leader. 

“Bring me that upstart human!  We’ll have him for breakfast or I’ll let the wargs eat anyone what lets him get away,” Guruth shouted angrily as he kicked the carcass of a dead orc out of his path. 

Taking advantage of the melee caused by the ranger, Elladan and Elrohir sped stealthily out into the cave, keeping to the edges and heading for the momentarily forgotten prisoners. 

Thranduil caught sight of the twins first and redirected Elrond’s gaze with a nudge, keeping quiet to keep from giving away their rescuers. 

“Elladan!  Elrohir!”  Elrond said quietly, but with great joy as he glanced between his two very alive sons.  Waves of relief brought tears to his eyes as Elladan grasped the elf lord’s bound hands tenderly in his own.  Quickly kissing the top of his father’s head, Elladan slipped his knife through the orc rope and severed Elrond’s bounds.  Elrohir swiftly did the same for Thranduil. 

“Are you well, King Thranduil?” the raven-haired elf asked softly, casting quick glances over his shoulders as he released the elven lord from the orc rope, “Can you stand?  We are here to get you out.” 

“He is injured.” Elrond spoke softly, answering before Thranduil could. 

“No more so than your father.”  The blond-haired Sinda retorted quickly, standing slowly to his feet and rubbing his wrists.  Truth be told, he knew he was in far better shape than Elrond was. 

Any possible answer was cut short as Thranduil shoved Elrohir aside and ducked, rolling onto his shoulder and coming up into a standing position a few feet away from the Noldor elves.  An orc spear was embedded in the cavern wall inches from where Elrohir had stood moments ago.  They had been discovered. 

“Go!” Thranduil shouted over the noises in the cavern.  “I will follow you!”  He had seen how weak Elrond was, despite what the Noldo Lord had wished him to think.  Elrond would not be able to move swiftly and Elladan and Elrohir were going to have their hands full.  The Elvenking dropped into a ready stance. 

The twins quickly pulled their father to his feet and pelted for the opening to the tunnel that led to the back door.  Elrond could barely stand on his own and the twins had to half-carry him between them.  The healer’s face whitened as his broken bones were grated painfully together, but pushed himself to keep moving. 

For a moment through the swirling chaos Elrohir’s gaze caught on the faint glint of two familiar sword handles.  The twin blades that had been taken from them earlier were stuck upright in the cave floor across the cavern.  They were too far away to retrieve and the elves had no time, but strangely Elrohir felt no loss over that knowledge, despite what a personal thing an elven sword was. 

Elladan caught his brother’s fleeting glance and nodded slightly as they hurried Elrond on between them, into the passage leading to the back door.  “It’s fitting,” was all he said.  Maybe Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen could finally find peace here, where it all started. 

Thranduil stood his ground, covering their retreat and gaining them the precious moments they needed to escape.  A small party of orcs charged the Elvenking even as more swarmed after the fleeing Noldor elves, cutting off any chance for Thranduil to follow. 

Stepping into the upward swing of the first orc to reach his position, Thranduil rammed the beast hard in the diaphragm with his good elbow.  The orc fell to one knee and the Elvenking wrenched the creature’s scimitar from its black fingers, cleaving through the orc’s thick neck before the creature fell to the floor.  Yet for every orc Thranduil slew, more took their places; the battle was overwhelming as he pressed towards the opening of the cave. 

Outside, Legolas’ deadly arrows from the treetops felled wargs and riders alike as they exited the cavern.  He cleared the way around Aragorn as the human stumbled beneath the blow of a warg rider.  The meadow before Daradwayn was a sea of confusion as the cavern emptied out onto the plains before the forest’s edge. 

Aragorn battled his way to the far side of the meadow and had nearly reached the tree, intending to trigger the cave’s collapse, when he glimpsed blond hair just inside the entryway. 

“Legolas!  Your father!” the ranger called up to his friend.  Thranduil was trapped just inside the short tunnel leading outside, his back pressed against the cavern wall.  He had made it nearly halfway through Daradwayn, but there would be no escaping as the dark mass of orcs surged around him and blocked him from sight. 

Glancing back up into the trees, Aragorn was slightly shocked to see that Legolas had already leapt to the forest floor and nearly gained the mouth of the cave.  The elf prince’s blades flashed in lethal circles of crimson-black and silver as he cleared a path before him. 

The fear of losing his father heightened his adrenaline and fueled his attack.  He had learned long ago that adrenaline was a powerful drug in times of danger and allowed him to accomplish things he thought he would not be able to do and survive things he should not have been able to survive.  He just had to have a goal, and right now he had a very compelling one: he was locked onto the sight of his father going down beneath a dark wave of orcs.  Yet even focused as he was, he realized that they were tarrying longer than they could afford.  Soon too many of the dark creatures would be outside the cave; they would not be able to handle them all. 

Sparing a quick glance back to see how Aragorn fared he called to the ranger in elvish, “Bring it down, Aragorn! Bring it down now and do not wait for me!” 

The ranger watched as his friend disappeared into the darkened mouth of the cave.  The morning light was just beginning to paint the mountainsides in the warm tones of early day, a fact that was lost on the human.  He did however catch the dulled glint of orc steel as a scimitar swept in his direction. 

Moving on instinct, the ranger ducked and spun around swiftly, bringing his own sword up and into the chest of an orc that had crept up behind him.  Pulling his blade free, Aragorn leapt over the dead carcass and raced up the side of the cliff to the tether that held the ancient tree in place.  With a quick tug and a shouted command he bid the rope release.  The tough silken threads unwound obediently and the trunk of the tree began to tilt slowly sideways, gaining speed as it crashed across the rocks, tearing the mountain-face with its outstretched branches. 

Small boulders loosed by the cascade of dirt and tree branches broke free of the cliff and bounced down the side of the hill, crashing into larger stones and creating a chain reaction.  In moments it seemed as though the whole rock face was sliding down the mountain toward the opening of Daradwayn.  The tree splintered from its roots, snapping from the weight of the rocks and crashing down upon the upper lip of the mouth of the cave.  The natural stress cracks that the ranger and the elf had further aggravated groaned and shook under the built up tension and the repeated pounding of the boulders that careened off the mountain. 

Below, the orcs and the wargs outside of the cave raced into the woods to escape the rain of stones that pelted them.  A few were struck and never rose.  Some of the fleeing orcs fell to their own traps that had been turned on them and the cries of orc and beast alike could be heard through the early morning.  Several, either unaware of the mud pits their comrades had dug or forgetting about them in their confused panic, were sucked beneath the surface and never found. 

All of this was lost on Aragorn who had jumped free of the tree trunk and entered the forest to escape the falling rocks and debris.  His eyes were glued on the cavern entrance.  Dust from the landslide was quickly settling, the cries of the wounded and dying were subsiding but there was no sign of Legolas or Thranduil. 

Seeing that the worst was over and thinking that their attempts to bring the cave down had failed, Aragorn raced towards the opening of Daradwayn.  He stopped in his tracks as an eerie groaning sound resounded through the forest.  Glancing above him to the structure of the cavern, Aragorn could see the mouth of the opening quiver slightly. 

Their attempts had not failed; Daradwayn was indeed collapsing. 

“Legolas!” Aragorn called a warning to his friend as small rivulets of stone began to rain down from the interior of the tunnel and the ground beneath his feet shook with strain of holding the mountain steady. 

Legolas had thought his heart was going to stop when he heard Aragorn call out to him that his father was trapped near the entrance.  A million fears had raced through his mind in the few moments it had taken him to fight his way into Daradwayn.  In truth most of the orcs he met were trying to get out and the wargs were as intent on escaping as their riders were.  By the time he had reached him, Thranduil was backed against the wall by a pack of wargs.  Legolas had dispatched their riders easily and gone after the evil mounts themselves afterwards. 

Sweeping low with his twin blades, he cut the legs out from underneath an orc that leapt at him even as he bodily shoved his father behind him and out of the way of an attacking warg. 

“The cavern is not stable.  We must leave!” he shouted over the chaos and press of orcs as his crossed blades easily slit through the throat of another attacker.  A warg charged the two elves, coming at them from Legolas’ left.  The prince pushed his father swiftly down the passage towards daylight even as he deftly grabbed his bow and fired an arrow point blank down the gaping maw of the beast.  The warg fell over on its side, sliding to a stop near the elf’s feet. 

There was no time to think, no chance to regroup and no reprieve as Legolas kept up the incessant attack on the press of orcs and wargs.  The cavern shook about them, the rocks and ornately carved columns groaned with the weight of the mountain.  He knew that Aragorn had released the last trap and the cavern would fall in on itself in moments.  They had been correct.  Daradwayn had suffered under the last earthquake and it would not withstand this new onslaught. 

With semi-conscious effort Legolas pushed any feelings or fears about being caught in yet another cave-in out of his mind.  His father’s safety was what was important. 

Aragorn’s shouted warning could just be heard over the din from the cavern entrance; they were out of time.  Showers of dirt and small rocks rained around the elves as they raced for the open mouth of the cave.  The orcs beside them were no longer intent upon keeping the elves imprisoned as their own survival instincts took over.  Ignoring their commander’s shouts, the orc host made a mad dash for the safety of the outdoors. 

Guruth was incensed.  How had this happened?  What the bloody hell were his sentries doing out there?  Sleeping on their jobs to let anyone get this close?!  He would not admit it, but he had not counted on Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen to approach him by stealth, nor indeed at all after their reported deaths.  The elven warriors he remembered had bothered little with trickery, seeming to prefer engaging the orcs head on, recklessly ignorant of their own mortality.  Immortal they might be, but the orcs had found that elves could die upon Mordor scimitars as easily as any other creature that walked in Middle-earth.  

Guruth spun around quickly, searching the cave for the elven prisoners.  They were nowhere to be seen and chaos ruled everywhere.  A few moments ago he had seen the two elves he hated the most for only a moment.  Chaos had kept them apart but he would find them.  He would find them... 

Mrdhdúk appeared at her master’s side.  Guruth’s commands were being ignored, his warriors were fleeing and their home was coming down around them.  It was time to leave.  The large warg skittered sideways as a column crashed to the floor behind her rider.  They needed to flee as well if they wanted to survive.  She nudged the orc again, wincing ever so slightly as he turned angrily towards her. 

Understanding what his mount desired, the orc captain vaulted onto the back of the beast and urged her for the entryway.  The warg riders never rode their mounts into the cavern as the tunnel was too low, but it mattered little at the moment.  If they were going to escape alive they would need all the speed Mrdhdúk could muster. 

The warg bolted for the cavern mouth, dodging the boulders that now fell from the vaulted ceiling.  Ancient, ornately carved Dwarven artwork fell like lethal rain from the columns and the upper levels, choking the air with dust.  Through the black sea of orcs around him, Guruth could see two blond heads bobbing as Thranduil and Legolas fled for the entry way.  Leaning low he whispered in his mount’s ear and pointed out the escaping prisoner.  If he lost everything this day, he would not lose his revenge. 

Leaping forward, Mrdhdúk used her powerful hind legs to catch up to the elves.  Guruth was forced to lean low against the warg’s powerful back as the bone armor he wore scraped the top of the low ceiling in the tunnel entryway.  He pressed his face against the coarse, thick hair on Mrdhdúk’s back, her scent a familiar smell in his nostrils.  He smiled wickedly as they came up beside the two elves.

Kicking out, Guruth caught Legolas alongside the head, slamming the younger elf into the older one. 

Legolas’ vision exploded into lights and flashes.  Completely caught off guard by the sudden attack from behind, the prince stumbled under the unexpected blow, tripping into his father and nearly going down beneath the press of orcs around him.  Thranduil barely caught his son, dragging the stunned elf to his feet and holding him tightly as they fought their way out. 

The groaning of the collapsing cavern had grown and the rocks now roared as they crashed into the cave, bringing Daradwayn down upon itself.  The orcs trapped inside had no chance of escape as the tunnel collapsed beneath the weight of the mountain.  The passageway exploded outward, showering the glen and the surrounding forest with debris and bodies. 

Aragorn was standing near the opening, felling orcs and riders as they fled, looking desperately for any sign of Legolas or Thranduil.  The dark press of beasts trying to escape the dying cave had kept him at bay, not allowing him to fight his way to his friend’s side.  When the tunnel exploded he was thrown into the forest, away from the mountain, by the blast. 

The ranger was thrown backward through the air until he was suddenly checked by a tree.  His head and body connected with the trunk with a sickening crack.  One rending wave of pain flashed through him before nothingness swallowed him whole.  His body crumpled to the ground and he didn’t move.  A gash near his eye covered his face with blood in moments. 

Legolas and Thranduil were not entirely clear of the cave mouth when Daradwayn came down on itself.  They were knocked off their feet and flung wildly forward, a deadly hail of flying stone surrounding them.  Legolas, still recovering from Guruth’s attack, was slammed against the wall next to them.  His head connected solidly with the stone and consciousness fled instantly. 

Thranduil grabbed Legolas’ shoulders, curling protectively over the younger elf’s vulnerable head and chest and trying to shield his son with his body as destruction rained around them.  Thranduil did not remember what struck him, did not remember losing consciousness, all he remembered was holding Legolas as the world went black.

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