Legolas was struggling. The dull throb in his arm had settled down to a constant burn that hurt worse when he moved his arm. He hung back taking up the rear position with Faervel leaving Aithel his second in command to take the lead. At least that was how he hoped it looked – truthfully Legolas was scared his troop would notice the slouched way he was sitting in an attempt to protect his left arm without cradling it to him. He was known for his perfect, princely posture after all. Just one hour more and they should be near the spot Celegil and Thoron had picked out for them to spend the night. Legolas closed his eyes again – he could hardly wait.
Faervel watched as his friend's eyes slid shut again. Damn Legolas and his accursed stubbornness – Faervel knew his Prince was unwell – for as fast as elves healed even they had trouble with the poison of Ungoliant's spawn and Faervel knew that this was what still bothered his friend.
For a mere four days ago Legolas had been bitten by a spider. The troop had just finished their last round for the night and were about to head back to their camp when the creatures had attacked seemingly from all sides. The battle was sudden, fierce and brutal – the spiders had been determined to have elf for their dinner that night. However they had not bargained for a troop more than ready to lash out and take out their frustrations at still being on the Southern Patrol upon them.
The spiders had been decimated but not before the leader of the cluster, a particularly hairy and ugly beast, had stung Legolas square in his left shoulder. Legolas had continued to fight the bite not even registering as his body was full of adrenalin. It was Faervel who had first noticed that anything was wrong – after Legolas kept stumbling around as they tried to dispose of the spider bodies in an efficient and quiet manner – Legolas was anything but quiet as he tripped over this and bumped into that.
Faervel being the troop's chief healer had immediately pulled him to the side before looking into his eyes. Legolas' pupils were blown wide – a common side effect of the spider poison – and Faervel had then proceeded to check him over finally finding the bite on his left shoulder.
Legolas had then been a fever ridden, shaking and shivering mess for the next two days as his body fought against the poison within it. They had had to gag him so that he would not cry out in his delirium and bring down the Dark Ones creatures upon them. The entire episode had taken its toll on a troop stretched by being in the foul area of the Southern part of the Kingdom for too long. That was why two days after being bitten when Legolas had seemed in his right mind and to be doing lots better the troop were over joyed. They were especially happy when he had said that they were to leave the very next day and meet their replacements on the road.
Faervel had been unconvinced and had tried to argue with Legolas to stay put until the other troop came to relieve them. He did not think that Legolas was recovered enough to make the long trip home. Yet his friend and Captain had remained firm arguing with him privately that staying and being around the darkness and breathing in the foul air that came with the Southern Patrol would do nothing to help him heal fully. Faervel could not argue with that – and beside Legolas was his Captain – his word was law.
And so here they were now with Legolas clearly struggling to stay upright and awake on his horse leaving the lead to Aithel. Faervel fought the urge to shake his head. It wasn't that Aithel was incapable of taking the lead from her Captain when the need arose – oh no for she was more than able – it was just that Legolas still needed at least another two days' rest in Faervel's professional opinion. He was not ready for this trip as yet.
Faervel looked up sensing another's gaze upon him and saw that Aithel was giving him an inquiring look – a look that asked how their Captain fared. Faervel glanced over at Legolas taking his pale and now sweat sheened appearance. He turned to face Aithel again giving a curt shake of his head. No their Captain was not faring well at all.
Elias came to the clearing where the village of woodsmen was. Despite his considerable skill at moving near soundlessly through the forest he still felt thankful that he had put considerable distance between himself and those elves.
Suppressing a shiver at the mere thought of the elves Elias squared his shoulders and strolled into the village. It was getting towards sunset now and there were just a few village women shuffling about their business before darkness fell. A few looked up at him but quickly turned their backs or cast their eyes downwards not looking at him for any amount of time. They all moved in a fearful manner – hunched over, eyes cast down, jumping at the slightest sounds. Elias grinned – he felt powerful as he strode through the village making his way to what was once the chieftain's house. He enjoyed their fear and was glad that he had played a part in turning these once proud woods people into people near afraid of their own shadow.
Two weeks ago Elias' Captain, Elias himself and a group of travelling bandits had snuck into this village – one of only two villages of men King Thranduil permitted in his realm - and seized power. Brutally. They had slaughtered any woodsman who had tried to take a stand and had threatened their women with rape and murder forcing the remaining men to bend to their will. They had chain ganged the men and forced them to chop wood and haul water daily under heavy guard. The women they forced to cook, clean and take care of them – some were forced into bed.
Elias shrugged mentally – that wasn't personally to his taste he was merely in this for the money but some of the other men he travelled with were base. He simply put up with them as he was well paid by their Captain – very well paid indeed. His skills in scouting, spying and moving about as if a ghost were highly prized by his Captain and for this Elias was glad. His Captain, Aldred, was an unstable man prone to sudden fits of pique and fury – particularly if he did not get his way or if he felt someone had stepped out of line. Elias was spared from being punished for most of his sins by Aldred purely because the man valued his skills so much. Skills he had spent nearly all of his life learning.
Elias forcefully pushed memories of his past life away as he rapped out a quick coded knock on the wooden door before him – he would not think of those times.
The door cracked open an inch suspicious eyes peering at him before the door was swung open fully.
"Ah Elias the Captain has been waiting for you."
Elias nodded at the other man – Blacwin – a man who constantly looked world weary, bored and generally dissatisfied with life. Elias did not particularly like him – though he had far more decency than most of the other scum in this troop.
"I'll go in to him now Blacwin – all goes well and tonight may be the night."
Blacwin just continued to look at him with the same perpetually bored expression and Elias fought the urge to slap the man – he would definitely be punished for that sin – for Blacwin was Aldred's second in command.
Calming himself Elias continued further into the house – a very nice one it was to be sure – and made his way to where Aldred had set up his headquarters. Knocking he awaited permission to enter – which was given in a typically irritated tone.
Elias pushed open the door which glided smoothly and entered the room. Aldred was sitting behind a huge mahogany desk listening to what sounded like the end of a report from one of the head guards of the forced chain gang of woodsmen.
"They are just getting harder to control Captain, today was a very close call. They are a strong and willful people. And vengeful – they shall not give into us altogether so easily – I fear they bide their time. What if they are in with the elves? We should be doomed then Captain."
"Silence man," thundered Aldred who was near purple in the face with rage, "You are afraid of these simpletons? These knuckle dragging woods people who actually choose to live in this forsaken forest with the accursed elves? Grab a hold of yourself and your wits lest I put an end to you all together."
"Sorry Captain," the guard hung his head low, "but they were very willful today and -"
"Hold your tongue," Aldred was roaring now and Elias tried his best to blend in with the rich tapestry adorning the wall to his back.
"Hold your tongue or I shall cut it out. I will hear no more of this incident nor your pathetic sniveling." Aldred turned to look at two thin lanky men sitting sprawled across the plush sofas at the back of the room.
"Samer, Saveric go and teach our chained slaves how to behave." Aldred sat back down having jumped to his feet in his earlier rage. "Here use these."
The two addressed men sprung to their feet at once, each taking a wicked looking whip from the outstretched hand of their Captain. The tall duo gave quick bows and turned to leave wicked grins upon their faces when they were stopped by the perpetually irritated voice of Aldred.
"You man" he pointed to the fearful looking guard, "follow them and learn how to properly bend others to your will for if I hear of another similar incident you shall be joining the woodsmen in their chains."
Aldred gave a quick dismissive wave of his hand, "Now leave the three of you."
The guard hastened to the door after Samer and Saveric who once again had evil grins plastered on their faces no doubt at the thought of the pain they were about to inflict. Elias forced himself not to shudder – those two were nasty pieces of work.
He had no longer to think upon the wicked brothers for Aldred's commanding voice snapped him out of his thoughts.
"Elias. Give me your report and this one had better be good."
Elias smiled at his Captain and moved to take a seat in front of his desk. He was sure Aldred would be pleased with his news.
Legolas was trying really, really hard to get a hold of himself – he could feel himself constantly drifting off into sleep – and mild delirium if he was honest with himself - and forced his eyes to open. He needed to take charge of this situation once again and let his eledhrim know that he was in still control. He could not show any further weakness now.
Willing away his headache and ignoring the throb of his shoulder he spoke up forcing his voice to remain steady and strong, "Celegil, Thoron we will be upon our campsite for the night soon will we not?"
"Yes Captain," Thoron's strong voice floated back to him.
"Good, you will go ahead now and ensure all is as you left it and naught is amiss. We shall break here and await your signal."
"Yes Hest," their answer was as synchronized as their leaps off horse back and into the trees.
Legolas addressed the rest of his warriors, "All of you into the trees and horses into the brush – let us not be sitting ducks for anything unfriendly."
His troop with dismounted with ease and speed leaping into the trees, whisperingly asking their horses to head into the shrubs and bushes off the path to hide.
Legolas guided Morchant under a low hanging bough before he hauled himself up into the tree with rather more effort than he would have liked. His horse looked up as though checking his master was safely in the tree before whipping his tail and shaking his head he headed off into the brush to conceal himself. Legolas smiled – his horse had so much attitude.
Legolas looked up and decided he was still far too low down in the tree to be hidden. With a barely held back sigh he proceeded to drag himself higher up the tree one handedly. There was no point in hiding his injured shoulder from his troop now – they had all seen him fall upon it after all. However despite the hindrance of only one properly working arm Legolas managed to guide himself to a decent height in the tree – he was a wood elf after all and especially beloved by the trees of his Adar's Kingdom – the tree he had chosen felt honoured and it would not let him fall. In fact it shuffled its branches around to better conceal him.
Satisfied with his position Legolas leaned back against the tree and listened to its excited chatter letting it soothe him. They would wait until given the all clear and despite his pleasant current company he would be glad when they would be on their way to the campsite where he would finally be able to rest properly.
Blacwin turned his bored gaze toward the door from where the irritated shout of his name had come and slowly moved towards it.
"Come in man, do you think I call you for naught?"
Blacwin held back a long-suffering sigh and opened the door before giving a slight bow of his head.
"Get in here fully and close the door already," Aldred snapped.
Having done as he was told Blacwin stepped closer before taking up the second seat in front of Aldred's desk. Elias still occupied the other.
Aldred looked at him before smiling indulgently at Elias – or at least he tried to – it came off more like a toothy grimace.
"Young Elias here has wonderful news – the elves shall be in prime position tonight. We shall have our pick of the bunch and Elias has a few targets in mind." Aldred did his disturbing version of a smile again, "Gather the men – but leave enough to guard this cursed race of people. We leave in half an hour."
Aldred rubbed his hands together in glee, "Yes, tonight is the night we put our plan into motion and we shall soon enough be rich indeed."
We see a little more of our baddies and Legolas is still feeling a bit rough.
Chapter end notes:
Eledhrim – Elves
Hest – Captain
Adar – Father
Hest – Captain
Adar – Father