Elrohir’s lung’s were about to burst. He risked another glance over his shoulder, skidding a little in the deep snow as he did so. Blessed Elbereth - they were gaining on him! It was all very well leading the Orcs away from Elladan, but it would gain his brother nothing if they killed him.
His gut twisted at the memory of Elladan, white-faced, his leg pinned beneath the rock fall. Elbereth help them both.
He scowled at the slate grey clouds looming over the stark white plain. More snow was on the way, which would do Elladan no good at all. It wouldn’t help him, either. He didn’t often envy pure-blood elves, but on this occasion he would welcome the ability to run fleet-foot across the snow, instead of floundering like an oliphaunt through the drifts. Morgoth’s balls, the clouds were stacked so thick on the horizon, they looked like…
He rubbed his eyes. Trees! Escape. He quickened his pace, his panting breaths making puffs in the air. Then he hesitated. This must be Mirkwood. His father had warned him against going there; the Wood-elves were a wild, fey lot. Dangerous.
He glanced over his shoulder again. The orcs were so close now he could smell their fetid stench and see the strings of drool dripping from their fangs. He broke into a run.
‘You. Can. Do. It.’ He gasped each word to punctuate his strides. Just a bit further. The blood pounded in his ears, drowning out everything but his laboured breathing and the yelps and snarls of his pursuers. Every breath burned. His limbs were so heavy he could scarcely lift his feet from the ground. Twice he stumbled and recovered. He made a supreme effort to stay on his feet. If he fell again he doubted he would have the energy to regain his footing a third time.
Then the snow-laden boughs reached out to him, drawing him into the trees. On trembling legs he staggered into a clearing. An overwhelming weariness swept over him. He could go no further. Sword in hand, he turned to face the orcs.
He whipped his head around to see who had hissed the command. Only when an arrow whistled perilously close to his cheek did the meaning get through to his numb mind. He flung himself flat, fighting to draw breath into his heaving lungs. All around him came the whoosh of arrows, gurgling screams and thuds. Then came silence for the space of several thumping heartbeats.
‘You can get up now.’ The voice had a mocking edge but too lyrical to belong to an orc.
He dug his fingers into the snow, scrabbling for purchase through layers of ice and leaves until they found gnarled roots. Using them to steady himself, he heaved himself onto his back and counted each breath until he could speak. A lattice of branches framed the leaden sky, rattling the last of their withered leaves.
‘Thank you. Who—?’ He raised his head and found he was addressing nothing but towering beeches and a pile of orc corpses, all with arrows protruding from their throats. ‘Where—?’ He pushed himself to his knees.
A figure appeared from nowhere. One moment he was looking at the tree trunks, the next, without any discernible movement a Wood-elf was standing there. At least he assumed it was a Wood-elf. No self-respecting Noldor would be dressed like that. If you could call it dressed. Painted would be a better word. Or possibly daubed. ‘Welcome to the Greenwood,’ said the apparition.
Elrohir staggered to his feet, unable to tear his gaze from the man. It was definitely a man. The skin-tight leggings that were his only clothing left that in no doubt. Their sheer fabric was the silvery grey of beech bark and clung to every bulge of muscle and…Elrohir licked his lips. Oh, yes. Definitely a man. He trailed his gaze upwards across a muscular chest, decorated with swirls of grey-blue paint. His fingers twitched as he imagined how it would feel to trace those painted whorls, over each ridge of solid muscle.
His blood, which until now had been pulsing in his ears, pooled further south. He dragged his gaze higher. To a face of extraordinary beauty no amount of paint could disguise. Streaks of black mud only emphasised exquisite cheekbones and jaw; slanting green eyes glinted like sunlight through spring leaves; golden hair cascaded down his back, woven with intricate braids and a mixture of amber beads, feathers and glossy leaves.
The Wood-elf’s head tilted, as though waiting for something. ‘Are you well?’ the musical voice asked.
Reality crashed in on him, and Elrohir gasped. ‘I’m unhurt, but my brother—Elladan. He needs help. I must go to him.’
The man frowned. ‘You may be unhurt, but you’re in no state to go anywhere. Tell me where to find your brother, and I’ll send some of my men.’
‘We were ambushed in the hills a league away.’ Elrohir pointed in the vague direction. ‘A rockfall. Elladan’s leg was trapped.’
The man nodded. ‘I know the place.’ He gave a series of whistles and five more Wood-elves materialised from the shadows of the trees. After a series of orders in a strange language Elrohir couldn’t follow, the five dashed away.
Elrohir sagged with relief. ‘Thank you. If anything happened to him, I—’ He caught himself. ‘I beg your pardon. I haven’t introduced myself. I am Elrohir Elrondion. I’m in your debt.’
‘There are no debts between warriors.’ The man’s teeth flashed white in his face in a feral smile that reminded Elrohir of his father’s warning. ‘It’s always a pleasure to kill Orcs. Now come. We have a camp nearby. You can rest there while we fetch your brother. After that, when you are both recovered enough to travel, I shall take you to my father.’
Elrohir stumbled after his saviour, wondering vaguely why he should need to meet this man’s father. Would he be required to meet his cousins and great aunts as well? ‘What should I call you?’
‘Legolas,’ came the reply.
Legolas. Greenleaf. An appropriate name for such an elemental creature. Elrohir admired his strong back and the flex of buttocks and thighs as Legolas led the way down a barely visible trail. If he’d known such folk lived here, he’d have ignored his father’s warnings and visited Mirkwood long ago. As it was, he had no objection to staying awhile and getting to know more of these mysterious Wood-elves. One in particular.
He let his gaze linger on Legolas’s pert rump.
Oh yes, this would be a most interesting visit.