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Interrupted Journeys: Part Two--Journeys Perforce

Chapter 3: It would rise again

by ellisk

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A long peace followed in which the numbers of the Silvan Elves grew again; but they were unquiet and anxious, feeling the change of the world that the Third Age would bring…. But there was in Thranduil's heart a still deeper shadow. He had seen the horror of Mordor and could not forget it. If ever he looked south its memory dimmed the light of the Sun, and though he knew that it was now broken and deserted and under the vigilance of the Kings of Men, fear spoke in his heart that it was not conquered forever: it would arise again. Unfinished Tales
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Thranduil maneuvered his horse carefully, winding silently through the thick trees at the front of the column of warriors that he led to Amon Lanc. His golden-silver hair and richly embroidered dark green cloak were the only physical signs that distinguished him from the elves behind him but his regal bearing alone unmistakably marked him as their king. He cut an imposing presence on his large, chestnut war stallion. The elves that followed him were secure in the knowledge that their king was a formidable warrior and they took comfort in that fact given the disquiet they felt in the forest around them.

Thranduil glanced to his right and his eyes met those of the captain of his personal guard, Conuiön. They shared a look that communicated their dismay. Conuiön drew a deep breath and spoke so that only Thranduil would hear him.

“Do you remember the first time these trees greeted us?” he asked softly.

The king nodded in response, instantly understanding the significance of Conuiön’s words. He remembered. The journey east with Oropher from Lindon to the Misty Mountains had been a long and arduous one. When their small group had finally arrived at the mountains, many despaired at the seemingly insurmountable barrier. Thranduil had not allowed his doubt to be seen, but even he questioned his father’s belief that crossing those mountains was worth whatever might await them on the other side. Thranduil recalled with perfect clarity the moment they crested the highest rise in the pass at Caradhras and he caught his first glimpse of Greenwood the Great on the horizon below them stretching as far as they could see. The sight of the lush, beautiful forest was stunning—literally breathtaking. Even from the mountains, Thranduil could feel the powerful call of its vibrant life. The trees around Amon Lanc were the first creatures to welcome him to what would become his father’s realm. Their warm presence as he and his father first ventured under their protective canopy had filled him with a sense of security and ‘home’ that he had not felt since his childhood in Doriath.

Now these same trees begged for his protection. Their suffering filled Thranduil with grief as their contentment had filled him with hope nearly four millennia ago. The contrast was nearly overwhelming as they rode the last few miles to their destination.

Dusk was falling when Thranduil entered the camp his brother had established several miles from Amon Lanc. There he left his warriors and proceeded himself to seek Aradunnon, knowing without being told that he would be at the forest’s edge. Followed still by Conuiön, Thranduil swiftly covered the distance to the dark hill. As he reached the point where the forest thinned to reveal the tall peak of Amon Lanc, Thranduil saw his brother descend from a tree that was scarred with the bite of axe blades and missing several main limbs. The king was aware of his brother’s approach but his eyes were focused beyond him. Once a fresh, green grove that held mighty oaks and delicate beeches, the cleared land was now a waste of stumps and ruined earth that smelled of mud and the smoke of orcish fires. Thranduil felt icy fingers constrict around his heart at the sight.

After staring silently for several long moments at the desolation before him, Thranduil’s gaze finally shifted to his brother. He had stood with Aradunnon many times in defense of Greenwood but never had either seen such severe damage done to the forest. The king saw the fury that he felt reflected in his brother’s eyes.

Aradunnon had expected this reaction from Thranduil. He merely returned his gaze evenly.

The king looked back at the desolation, shaking his head. The fact that his brother was still consumed by rage after spending over two weeks here confirmed for Thranduil how horrible the situation truly was.

Aradunnon finally broke their silent exchange. “I must admit that I did not expect the king himself to lead the warriors I requested,” he said with a questioning look towards Conuiön.

The guard adopted the bitter look of a sorely lost battle but remained silent. Clearly he did not approve of Thranduil’s presence. Aradunnon’s guard, Colloth, smirked knowingly.

Thranduil raised his eyebrows. “I did not expect a report describing the invasion of my forest by one hundred orcs. Surely you do not think I would sit idly as servants of the Enemy lay claim to that which is mine?”

Aradunnon laughed grimly at that. “I do not. I merely thought Conuiön might have been able to talk some sense into you. For both of us to fight in a battle of this scale is not entirely wise.”

Thranduil snorted. “You, adar and I all fought at Mordor together and those battles were much worse than what we will see here.”

Aradunnon nodded. “If we had not, Eryn Galen might have fallen under new leadership whether or not someone from our House survived the war to be enthralled by the Evil One,” he replied quietly.

Thranduil frowned, eyes wondering involuntarily over the destroyed forest. “This may be the beginning of something that will not be so different,” he replied darkly after a moment. Then he returned his focus back to Aradunnon, adopting a serious attitude. “What do we face? I hope that you have better scouting reports than those that you sent me initially.”

“I do,” Aradunnon replied and motioned for Thranduil to follow him. He led him to a tree where several warriors and scouts sat watching the mountain. Aradunnon called his lead scouts, Pathon and Ostarndor, to join them. When they had, Aradunnon looked at them levelly. “Tell the king what you have found,” he ordered quietly.

Ostarndor looked at Thranduil levelly. “Pathon and I followed their tracks to Amon Lanc. There is a large cave entrance on the northwest slope where they have clearly established a camp—the tracks center around that location; they have spits for cooking set up there; that is where their middens are,” he summarized coolly. “It appears to be a large cave though we could not approach it directly. They have sentries around it.” Ostarndor paused and looked at Aradunnon.

The king did as well. “That cave is our goal then?”

Aradunnon simply nodded at the scouts, signaling them to continue.

“I believe that cave is our main goal, my lord, but there is more—we saw more than the basic requirements for survival around the main cave. They have huge piles of limbs and trunks from the trees they have cleared here. They are using them to construct tools and devices they might use to raise some sort of fortification. We saw a kiln, lifting devices, rollers, scaffolding,” Pathon said.

Before Thranduil could respond to that, Ostarndor’s expression drew the king’s attention. “How well do you remember the territory around Amon Lanc, my lord?” he asked cautiously.

Thranduil frowned slightly. He had been fairly young when Oropher was still settled near Amon Lanc. Ostarndor had already been a leader of the Silvan elves’ few warriors even then. “I remember it fairly well, though undoubtedly not with the level of detail that you would remember, Ostarndor,” he replied.

“How many caves do you remember in the mountain, my lord?”

Thranduil’s frown deepened at that question. He shook his head. “Ten? Aradunnon would remember better than I. It was always he and his friends that ran off for adventures exploring them.” He looked at his brother and his expression lightened slightly, a teasing gleam in his eye.

Aradunnon smiled at him but it was not a pleasant smile. “There were fourteen caves large enough for elflings to play in,” he affirmed.

Pathon leaned forward, looking at the king intensely. “We saw over thirty caves while we were scouting, my lord.”

Thranduil’s eyes widened.

“We explored them as much as we dared. They are interconnected. We believe several of them lead back to the main cave where the orcs camp though we could not go that deep into them. Many were obviously in the process of being dug.”

“They are delving caves and building construction tools?” Thranduil exclaimed incredulously. “You are suggesting that they are building some sort of permanent fortification in this forest?”

Aradunnon only returned his gaze silently.

Thranduil stared at him a moment and then spoke again. “Do you have better counts of their numbers?”

Ardunnon grimaced slightly. “A good count is hard to get. We cannot approach the main cave at night when they are active to confirm it is empty. I can only say for certain that we have accounted for as many as one hundred and seven orcs outside the cave at one time. I would estimate we are dealing with anywhere between one hundred and ten to one hundred and fifty.”

Pathon and Ostarndor nodded. “We think one hundred and fifty is a very generous estimate. Given the tracks around the cave and the amount of waste and hunting, we doubt there are that many,” Pathon stated.

“But they are well armed. Bows, swords, fully armored,” Ostarndor added.

Thranduil scowled and looked at Aradunnon. “So we are going to attack an unknown number of orcs, certainly more than one hundred, that are armed with bows and sheltered in a fortification that we must approach from down slope across an open plain at night?” he summarized.

Aradunnon nodded grimly.

“How did you think that this was different from Dagorlad?” Thranduil asked wryly.

“They have not yet built gates,” Aradunnon replied sardonically.

“Yet,” Thranduil repeated, turning to walk back to the camp and gesturing for Aradunnon to follow. It was time to meet with his captains and devise a battle strategy.

*~*~*

Two days later, Thranduil sat tensely on his stallion in the fading light waiting for the signals that would indicate all his warriors were in position. In front of him, up the slope and near the mountain, orcs were beginning to steadily emerge from the caves. His horse snorted and stamped the ground, sensing the anxiety around him in the songs of the trees, the elves and simply his rider’s stiff posture. Thranduil’s attention focused momentarily on his mount as he whispered calmingly in its twitching ears. Surprise was one of the few advantages they would have in this battle. Thranduil did not want to forfeit it by allowing his stallion to attract attention.

Positioned around Amon Lanc were half of the capital’s guards, half of the Western Patrol, half of the guards that patrolled the Forest Road and most of his personal guards—a total of one hundred and fifty elven warriors. Fifty of this number, mostly from the Western Patrol and the Road’s guards, had horses. All were armed with both bows and swords. All were chosen carefully because they had survived Mordor and were very experienced warriors.

That would be necessary because this would be a difficult fight despite the fact that Thranduil expected he would at least equal if not outnumber the orcs. The most important aspect of the battle would be to attack when the majority of the orcs had emerged from the caves and prevent as many as possible from retreating back into them. If the orcs hid in the caves, pursuing them into such a restricted space would be suicide and an effective siege of the mountain would require many more warriors than Thranduil had in his entire standing army. It was essential to prevent that outcome.

And that was the trick. The elven warriors would have to advance across a very long stretch of open plain, which would not hide their approach. Orcs were notoriously poor tacticians, but even they would easily understand that the best way to defend against a full frontal assault would be to take cover in the caves. Therefore, Thranduil, Aradunnon and their captains had decided on a battle plan that took place in several stages that they hoped would leave a good number of the orcs exposed outside the caves.

Positioned on the northern slope of the mountain directly in front of the main cave opening, Thranduil and the twenty-five warriors with him heard the owl hoots to the east and west flanks that signified Aradunnon’s troops were in position. As the signals sounded, twenty or so of the orcs that had been gathering for the last few moments outside the cave began to meander off across the rocky plain towards the forest, taking the path the elven scouts had watched them take every night. They were hunters, leaving the orcish camp to obtain game in the woods. Thranduil felt his blood heat at the sight of them lumbering over the tree stumps and into the forest. Eyes narrowed, jaw clenched and hand tightly gripping his bow, Thranduil found it amazingly difficult to refrain from firing on them himself. But that was not his part in this battle. Shortly after they disappeared into the trees, the king heard another owl hoot and he smiled grimly. There were now twenty less orcs in his forest and the first stage of their plan had been successfully completed.

The king turned his attention to the area around the cave opening as the eyes of twenty-five elves focused on him intensely. Thranduil made a quick count of the orcs outside the cave arriving at a tally of around seventy-five. Along with the twenty already dispatched, that accounted for all but between ten and fifteen of the known orcs. Of course, it left more than fifty in the caves if their estimates had been low. Thranduil could feel the eyes of the warriors waiting anxiously for his signal as he studied the orcs around the cave entrance. None had emerged for what seemed to be an eternity though it had been no more than a few minutes. With a glance to his guards, Conuiön and Tureden, mounted next to him, Thranduil turned his eyes to the twenty-five warriors at his left flank.

“Ready your bows and advance. Wait for my signal to release your arrows,” he ordered, nocking his own bow and urging his horse forward.

The elves moved out of the protective cover of the forest, marching onto the open plain, one row of twelve abreast in the front and one row of thirteen abreast behind. When they had advanced no more than a few dozen paces, Thranduil saw one of the orcs near the cave stand and look out over the plain in their direction, its jaw dropping slightly.

“Release,” Thranduil ordered as the orc called out their approach.

At such a distance, the arrows were not intended to do much damage. If some struck and killed targets, that would be a welcome outcome but their primary goal was to attract attention and enrage the orcs. This small force of elven warriors was not intended to engage the orcs by the cave—it was designed to draw them out. It was bait. Such a small force would hopefully present a tempting target to the orcs.

Confusion appeared to reign in the orc camp as Thranduil ordered the elves to prepare for another volley. Five or six orcs did fall under the initial assault. The rest screeched and scattered under the rain of arrows, grabbing weapons, searching for the source of the attack and looking for instructions from their leaders. Thranduil ordered his archers to release another round of arrows. By that time, the attention of every orc in the camp was focused on the small force of elves.

With a furious, inarticulate cry, one of the orcs brandished a scimitar and charged the elves. It was quickly pursued by a flood of its comrades. As the orcs swarmed down the slope towards the forest, Thranduil ordered the archers to fire at will. Standing their ground and fighting in a defensive posture, the elves drew the orcs down the field, firing on them as they advanced.

Conuiön and Tureden took up position to guard Thranduil from attack as he counted orcs. The second stage of their battle plan had apparently been fairly successful. Fully fifty orcs rushed pell-mell down the slope at the apparently easy prey. Thranduil could hear a few orcs near the cave yelling in Westron and the Black Speech calling for order but they were summarily ignored by the hot-tempered savages racing down the slope. Thranduil smiled grimly. That lack of discipline would serve him well.

Unfortunately, another twenty-five or so orcs picked up arms but looked hesitantly between the elves and the cave entrance.

When the main force of orcs was half way to their targets and well separated from those remaining by the caves—when clearly no more would be convinced to follow—Thranduil heard Aradunnon sound his signal to the warriors under his command. Fifty mounted elven archers pounded across the plain from the east and west flanks firing arrows and eliciting surprised squeals from the orcs already on the field. Too late, the orcs saw powerful war stallions outnumbering them and cutting them off from their officers and safe retreat. As his brother’s troops closed ranks, Thranduil signaled twenty-five archers still in the forest behind him to come forward. They joined the twenty-five elves that had served as bait. At the same time, the king heard his brother calling the remaining infantry from the flanks and ordering portions of his warriors to join Thranduil’s force against the largest group of orcs and others to join him in pursuing the orcs closest to the caves.

Having divided his enemy’s forces and cut the majority of them off from the possibility of retreat to the caves, the battle became one of simple person-to-person combat. Thranduil and Aradunnon waded into the sea of orcs on their respective sides of the field.

After a moment’s confusion, the orcs that had charged the initial force of elves continued down slope towards the archers and away from the more dangerous warriors on horseback. They ran as swiftly as they could in their full armor, firing arrows as they advanced. The elves now crouched behind boulders and tree stumps, taking cover where they could. As the orcs descended upon them, the elves pummeled them with arrows, thinning their numbers with each volley. By the time the orcs moved too close for the use of bows, the attacking force had been reduced in half while the elves had taken few injuries. Each group shouldered their bows and drew their swords.

Thranduil swiftly ordered the majority of the mounted elves and infantry that had joined him from the flanks to go help Aradunnon’s force attacking the orcs nearest the caves. He only needed enough elves at the orcs’ rear to keep them from retreating. That done, Thranduil drew his sword and finally slaked some of his fury by spilling his enemy’s blood. All the orcs wore helms to protect their head, but few wore aventails or coifs to protect their neck and throat. Therefore, Thranduil aimed his blows at orcish necks as he worked his horse, turning it to angles that offered both he and it maximum protection against the charging orcs.

Thinking they attacked an inferior enemy, the orcs had rushed down the slope in an utterly disorganized fashion. That had cost them and now Thranduil heard orders being issued. The king spoke the Common Tongue perfectly well and understood it when orcs spoke their mutilated dialect of it. He had spent enough time in Mordor to even pick up the meaning of basic commands in the Black Speech. He understood the commands the orcs yelled now and so did most of the elves that fought with them. Thranduil continued issuing his own orders and fighting as he noted from the corner of his eye that his guards were responding to one of the orders the orcs were shouting. As one of only three mounted warriors in this unit and the one obviously commanding it, Thranduil stood out as a valuable target. The orcs were calling on their comrades to focus their efforts on eliminating him.

This was clearly a tactic the king was completely accustomed to having experienced it in every battle in Mordor. When he originally began defending Greenwood with the Silvan elves, Oropher had assigned Conuiön to train him in the ways of warfare. When Thranduil became an officer in his father’s army, Conuiön served to provide him cover so he could focus on command. Thranduil utterly trusted his guards.

But these orcs were desperate. They had fallen into a trap. They were completely surrounded and fighting in close quarters with no possibility to retreat or regroup and plan. They were outnumbered. Their part in this battle was plainly lost. In such a situation, there are two options—surrender or attack. Orcs do not surrender and elves would not offer them quarter.

The orcs raised a screeching cry and charged Thranduil heedlessly as one. Elven warriors around the orcs drove their swords into guts and chests and throats but the orcs in the interior of the group pressed forward, sheltered by their fallen comrades and untouched. The elves pursued them as they closed the distance between themselves and the king. Conuiön and Tureden positioned their horses side by side and in front of Thranduil’s. The orcs tried to split and go to either side of the guards but they were attacked from one flank by the guards and the other by the elves that still pursued them. More orcs fell but five made it past the guards to attack the king. Conuiön and Tureden wheeled their horses and the elves on foot continued their attack. On his command, Thranduil’s well-trained, experienced war stallion raised up on its rear legs, kicking the two leading orcs and caving their helms into their skulls. The horse lowered to all fours, biting the shoulder pauldron of another orc and throwing him backwards into the midst of the elves with a thrust of his powerful neck. Two orcs approached Thranduil on either side. He parried a blow aimed at his calf with his sword as he reached for the dagger in his boot with his other hand. He drove the dagger into the throat of the orc to his left and used the return swing of his sword to slit the throat of the orc on his right.

Suddenly, all Thranduil heard was his horse’s furious snorting and stamping—the sound of swords clanking against armor and squealing orcs had stopped.

The king looked around at the corpses of orcs littering the ground and at the elves waiting for his next order. He drew a deep, calming breath and turned to two of the younger warriors.

“Denoth, Êgalason—the two of you stay here and helped the wounded. Then dispatch any of these orcs that are still alive. Those of you that can still fight, come with me.”

Thranduil dismounted, turning his horse loose, and proceeded on foot up the slope where Aradunnon fought the orcs that had remained nearer the cave entrance.

*~*~*

At Conuiön’s insistence, and much to Colloth’s disgust, Aradunnon had taken command of the unit facing the more dangerous duty in this battle—the one at the cave’s entrance. When Thranduil and Aradunnon devised their battle plan, it was not certain that any of the orcs would take the bait and be drawn from the caves. If they had not—if they had retreated into the caves instead—Aradunnon’s warriors would have charged them and destroyed as many as possible before they fully withdrew into the caves. The mounted archers’ faster speed made them more suited to this task than infantry on foot. Fortunately, that had not been necessary. A large portion of the orcs had fallen for their ruse and Aradunnon’s troops carried out their preferred duty—separating the enemy forces and holding the orcs from retreating away from the archers near the forest. That task accomplished, Aradunnon turned to the more difficult second goal—dealing with the orcs that did not take the bait.

While still hidden in the forest, before sounding his signal to charge, the prince had carefully counted the orcs still outside the cave entrance. Twenty-seven remained there. As the elven warriors emerged from the east and west flanks, those orcs quickly realized they had been tricked and they dove for the safety of the mountain disappearing rapidly into its protective darkness. Immediately upon entering the battlefield, half of Aradunnon’s archers fired arrows on any orcs that remained by the cave entrance. When Aradunnon approached Amon Lanc closely enough to see the area around the cave, nine orcs lay writhing on the ground. Aradunnon scowled. That meant almost twenty had made it into the caves.

“Dismount,” he called to his warriors. The horses had served their purpose and delivered them swiftly to their destination. Now they were loosed to return to the forest. They were no use in the caves.

Aradunnon gestured commands to his warriors and they carefully approached the cave entrance. It was impossible for even elven eyes to see anything in its pitch-black interior. The elves in the starlight were perfectly visible to the orcs. Arrows flew from the cave as Aradunnon’s troops moved closer. They split ranks and flanked the cave entrance, positioning themselves against the mountain so that it would be impossible to fire at them from inside the cave.

On Aradunnon’s signal, one of the elves took several large branches from the fire the orcs had built and hurled them in the cave. Aradunnon and another elf on the opposite side of the entrance poked their heads into cave. Before arrows began to fly at them, Aradunnon got a decent look around. He saw around forty orcs. That made sense given that twenty had made it back inside and ten to fifteen of the known orcs had never appeared that night.

But Aradunnon had caught a glimpse of something else in the cave that had disturbed him—a hole in the back wall opening into another passageway. At least one of the new tunnels they had discovered did lead back to the main cave. Orcs had been filing into the passage. The prince scowled. They were in for a lengthy, bloody battle if he had to pursue orcs through a maze of caves. He signaled for Pathon.

“I know you could not explore all the new passageways. Can you at least tell me which of the openings could not possibly lead back here so that we can concentrate on the ones that might?”

Pathon nodded. “Of the thirty, there were thirteen that led only to a dead end—they were obviously still being excavated. The others I could not swear did not connect back here somehow.”

“How closely grouped are they? Can I guard more than one opening with one set of warriors?”

Pathon considered for a moment. “You probably could guard about half of them that way,” he finally said.

“What about cover for the warriors watching the openings?”

Pathon nodded again. “That is no problem. There are plenty of crevasses in the rocks to take shelter in.”

Aradunnon looked briefly between the large cave opening and his warriors. “Good enough for me,” he said, turning back to Pathon. “You and Ostarndor take enough warriors to put four guards on each cave. Use four guards for more than one opening whenever it is safe to do so. Tell each group to signal if orcs begin emerging from the opening they are guarding and to fire at will. The warriors with me will respond to any signals. Everyone else should hold their positions unless they hear my signal. If they do, then they should respond to it. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then go quickly.”

Colloth frowned at Aradunnon as Pathon gestured for elves to follow him. “What are you doing?” he hissed into the prince’s ear. “It is not wise spread our numbers this thin.”

Aradunnon returned his guard’s gaze evenly. “I know this is risky. But we need to contain these orcs before they double back on us. There is a passage out of the back wall of the cave and they are using it.” Colloth scowled at that. “Just as entering the cave makes us easy targets, if the orcs try to use any of the other exits they will be easy targets if we guard them.”

Colloth looked at Aradunnon appraisingly. “Assuming we know of all the openings,” he added dryly.

The prince nodded. “I grant you that.”

“Why did you leave so many warriors here? If you are doing this, better to have more warriors covering the other entrances.”

Aradunnon’s eyes turned to the pile of limbs and trunks in the camp. “We will join them soon. First I want to make certain the orcs will not use this cave opening again. They have cleared hundreds of trees. I intend to make use of them to encourage our enemy to abandon those caves.”

Colloth raised his eyebrows. “It might work. You better hope it does because the king will roast you over your own bonfire for taking this risk if it does not.”

Aradunnon smirked. “Thranduil and I have different command styles,” he said simply, gesturing for one of the remaining warriors to retrieve more burning wood.

“That much is certain,” Colloth affirmed.

The warrior tossed the burning wood into the dark cave and Aradunnon once again ducked his head around the opening to look inside the cave. As arrows grazed his cheek he saw around ten orcs still inside the cave, bows nocked. As they rushed over to the wood to kick out the fire, Aradunnon leaned fully into the cave and fired off arrows. Colloth distinctly heard two orcs screech before Aradunnon was forced to take cover again.

In the meanwhile, the other warriors had deciphered the prince’s plan. When Aradunnon looked over at them to ask for more firewood, one of the elves already held several pieces. The rest had their bows nocked. Aradunnon smiled and nodded at the elf holding the wood. He threw it in the cave and the elves immediately charged the entrance, firing arrows as they did. Two elves fell but so did three orcs. The remaining warriors closed on each other, drawing swords. Aradunnon ducked under the arrow flying past him and swung his sword in a tight arc. It sliced deep into the thighs of the orc closest to him. The orc howled with pain and staggered back. As Aradunnon followed to deal it a fatal blow, he saw Colloth’s sword drive into the throat of another orc. The elf next to and slightly behind his guard screamed as a scimitar came down upon his shoulder. Colloth glanced at Aradunnon dispatching the orc he was fighting and briefly turned his attention to his fallen comrade. He stabbed the orc poised above the elf in the kidney. The orc convulsed and fell to his knees. Both Aradunnon and Colloth spun around, looking for more orcs but the other elven warriors had already finished them.

Aradunnon quickly assessed the situation. Three of the warriors that had stayed with him had been wounded badly enough that they could no longer fight. Eight remained.

“Ringion, Sidhion, Tawaron—get the wounded to safety and then come back here. Geledhel, Merenon—make sure no orcs come back through that opening,” he said pointing to the back wall. “The rest of you, help me.”

Along with the other warriors, Aradunnon began to drag large limbs from the cleared trees into the cave. They stuffed them deep into the small opening in the back of the cave. When they had blocked the tunnel entirely, Aradunnon threw burning wood onto the pile. Slowly, the rest of the wood caught and began to burn. Aradunnon picked up an orc shield and used it to fan the flames and smoke into the passageway.

“Stay here and keep this burning. Fan the smoke into the tunnel,” he ordered, directing himself to Geledhel and Merenon. “The rest of us are going to join the others guarding the remaining cave entrances and set more fires.”

Aradunnon and the warriors with him took more limbs and approached the nearest cave. Working swiftly, they filled several more openings with cleared wood and set it on fire. The acrid smell of smoke began to waft out of several other cave openings as they did. Finally Aradunnon heard what he had been waiting for—a signal from one of the groups of guards.

The prince ran nimbly over the rocks in the direction of the call, bow nocked and followed by six warriors. When he crested a peak on the slope he was crossing, Aradunnon’s eyes flew open. He saw four elven warriors above a cave opening. Orcs were emerging from the mountain under them—they were pouring out, followed by black smoke. Instead of the forty orcs Aradunnon had expected, there were easily one hundred of them.

*~*~*

Thranduil was surprised at the silence on the battlefield when his warriors had finally dispatched all the orcs that had been drawn from the cave. He would have expected to hear fighting from his brother’s position nearer the mountain. But all was quiet. As he cautiously ascended the slope, the king was very surprised to see no elven warriors at all. The area around the orc camp was deserted.

Thranduil’s heart began to race. Aradunnon took more risks than his much more conservative brother, but Thranduil could not believe Aradunnon would be so reckless as to direct his troops into the caves to follow the orcs. Such an action would be suicide, especially given that they had no reconnaissance inside the main cave. He approached the cave entrance silently from an angle protected by the side of the mountain. When they reached the opening, Thranduil frowned and looked at his guards. The smell of smoke was almost overwhelming. Conuiön and Tureden peeked around the cave wall and found themselves facing elven arrows. Both they and Geledhel and Merenon froze momentarily. Then Geledhel and Merenon relaxed and lowered their bows, stepping out of the cave. They stank of smoke.

“What is going on here?” Thranduil demanded, an openly confused expression on his face.

Geledhel gestured back into the cave. It was filled with smoke and the sounds of a roaring fire could be heard in its depths. “Lord Aradunnon is forcing them out of the caves,” he explained. “We are making sure no orcs return to the main cave.”

Thranduil snorted. “There seems to be little possibility of that,” he said pulling his cloak over his mouth. “I think you had better come away from the cave before you suffocate.”

Merenon looked sheepishly at the king. “We had retreated outside the cave, my lord. But we heard someone approaching and we thought it best to be cautious since there are only two of us.”

Thranduil frowned at the implication of that thought. “Where is everyone else?” he asked.

“Split up and guarding the other caves. Lord Aradunnon is setting more fires.”

Thranduil scowled and then turned his attention to the warriors with him. “You five,” he said gesturing to five warriors. “Stay here. The rest of you come with me.” He intended to lead his warriors to reinforce his brother’s.

As he was speaking, the signal that his brother used sounded three times. Geledhel and Merenon picked up their weapons and made to respond. Thranduil looked at them questioningly. “Lord Aradunnon’s orders were to hold our positions unless he signaled,” Geledhel explained, looking at the king with concern.

“Move,” Thranduil ordered simply. Something about his brother’s signal had sounded panicked and he had a suddenly very uneasy feeling. Thranduil set out swiftly across the slope in the direction of Aradunnon’s call.

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Chapter name
It would rise again
Created
02 Oct 2004
Last Edited
02 Oct 2004
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