His people fled by the hundreds, fleeing their homes in the wake of the monster that bared down on them. Saruman had sent an evil fire to Mirkwood that their Elven ways were powerless again. Flames raced from treetop to treetop, oils and sap exploding in the heat, adding to the inferno. Everywhere people were fleeing, screaming, running and riding for their lives. The fire had been unexpected, taking only minutes to threaten the woodland village, then only seconds to reak destruction on the peaceful people. So this was their punishment for aiding in destroying the One Ring. This was their fate.
Legolas urged his horse onward, guiding the frightened animal through a maze of trees and boulders, his skill the only thing between him and the fire. He wondered for an instant about the rest of his family, his brothers and father, but a tree exploding nearby brought his keen mind focus on one thing. Escape. The feeling of helplesness decended upon him as he rode, there was nothing he could do to help anyone, his archery and swordsmanship useless against a beast born of pure evil. Still he rode on, desperate to escape, guilty for abandoning his home, and now struggling to find his own path as the fire decended upon him. Thick smoke filled the air, depriving his lungs of oxygen. Tears started streaming from his eyes, making him squint just to see the ground in front of him. His mount was faring no better, coughing and stumbling as the air around them was sucked into the fire. They decended into a deep gully, the terrain difficult and rocky but not altogether impassable on a good day. But this was not a good day. Day turned into night as they galloped downwards, every step forward a miracle in that they didn't stumble and plunge into the darkness below. His Elven eyes were usless in the smoke, already burning and tearing from the acid air, he didn't see the boulders approaching until it was too late. His horse skidded, also seeing the boulders too late to avoid them. They tried to leap over, but misjudged the takeoff, leaving long skidmarks in the earth and they collided with the solid rock. He had no chance to protect himself and his mount pitched forward and his bright eyes closed to the darkness.
Meanwhile just beyond the forrest Gimli and Aragorn were on their own way home after bidding farewell to Legolas and his people when Aragorn caught a strange smell in the air.
" There is something in the air Gimli, a foul stench of evil" he said while finding a clearing in the thick trees from which he could see the surrounding countryside. His gaze fell apon a thick plume of smoke rising from the distance, in the direction from which they had just come.
" Is that not the direction of Mirkwood?" Gimli asked as he struggled to see clearly from his short stature. His dwarven heart filled with a sense of dread.
" Aye it is, and the flames move quickly. We must hurry" Aragorn muttered tearing his eyes away from the plumes of black smoke.
" But it is a two day journey!" Gimli protested, his eagerness to aid dampened by the knowledge that there would be nothing they could do once they arrived.
" Let us hope then that they can survive until then" Aragorn answered grimley, his own heart filling with the knowledge that a dear friend may be lost.
They travelled the rest of the day and through the evening, pushing harder as green undergrowth turned into a blackened moonscape. As the early light of dawn filtered through the smoking landscape Aragorn spied something on the dark earth. The marks of a galloping horse were still visible in the ash, telling the Ranger all he needed regarding the speed, direction and emotions of the animal.
" These marks are those of a frightened Elven horse, under a skilled by frightened horseman" he whispered, examining the marks.
" Legolas is a highly skilled horseman and could handle the most resisting of horses, but there is something in a terrified animal that no man or elf can control." he added grimley.
" Come let us follow these marks, they may lead us to someone in need"
They followed the hoofprints for nearly an hour, and soon a deep gully came into view. Gimli slowed as the going got rougher, and he would have protested had he not seen a spot of colour in the distance. Aragorn had seen the same thing and hurried towards the object. Their hopes fell as deep skid-marks cut into the ground before them and a beautiful Elven horse lay dead upon a pile of boulders.
" No-one could have survived this" Gimli muttered as they approached the fallen animal.
" Alas it does not look promising" Aragorn replied looking in the surrounding area for the rider. He rounded the boulders and saw another shimmer of colour. An Elven cloak was protruding from a gap between the rocks, along with a few strands of blonde hair. Calling Gimli over they heaved to dead horse off the rocks, grunting as the huge animal finally moved and revealed its precious cargo. An Elf was wedged between the rocks, deathly pale with a trail of darkened blood weaving a trail down his face. His eyes were closed and his lips still as Aragorn reached beneath his cloak to feel for a heartbeat. Nothing, a moment, nothing, then the slightest of flutters before nothing again.
" He lives!" Gimli cried from his position seeing Aragorn's hand recoil in shock.
" Aye, but he is weak. Here help me free him" he called, still not knowing the identity of the fallen Elf. They pulled the limp figure from its premature grave and laid him on the blackened ground.
" Legolas?" Aragorn gasped in disbeleif as he brushed the blonde hair away from the Elf's injuries. He gently tapped his friends face, hoping to rouse him, but the Elf remained as still as before.
" We should move him to the stream below and cleanse his wounds" Gimli suggested as they hovered over the unconscious Elf.
Aragorn took the shoulders while Gimly took his feet and they slowly carried their friend towards the rushing water deep within the ravine. Easing Legolas gently to the ground Aragorn produced a cloth from his pack, soaking it in the water before dabbing at the angry gash. He cleaned the wound and dressed it with some liniment that he always carried with him. Cleaning the bloody cloth in the running water he opened his friends mouth and trickled some water inside. A horrid groan followed his actions as Legolas awoke, coughing up the water and trying to reach his head injury.
" Be still Legolas, for you do not wish to do yourself more harm" Aragorn soothed, holding his friend still as he struggled weakly. Legolas stilled and allowed Gimli to help him into a sitting position leaning against a charred tree. He accepted the offer of water from Aragorn and drank heartily from the cup, ignoring the streams that escaped his mouth. His eyes closed once more, easing his mind into blackness, but not before his mind begged for the answer to one question.
" What happened here?" he gasped before unconsciousness claimed him. Aragorn looked at Gimli for answers and saw him shaking his head in disbeleif.
" Rest Legolas, you must recover your strength" he muttered, easing the sleeping Elf back to the ground. What is one supposed to say in such a situation?
" Gimli, stay with him while I search for other survivors" Aragorn said as he rose and headed back up the steep incline. " I shall return before nightfall"
| Part II |
| Index |