They ran for the wall, Haldir bearing the woman over his shoulder.
Get her out, cried Legolas, pulling his bow from its strap. Quickly!
One of the elves, standing atop the masonry, threw down a rope. Haldir caught it, wrapped it under the womans arms, and tied it securely. Pull her up, he shouted. But the terrified creature had begun to struggle, and Haldir was forced to grab her, and hold her steady. Shhh, shhh, he murmured. You will hurt yourself
Legolas, meanwhile, was turning back, nocking an arrow and raising his bow; and his hands frozefor just a momentas his eyes travelled upwards, and he tried to comprehend the sheer size of the animal standing before him.
Valar, he thought, it was an eye.
The beastmanlike, though covered in thick, black fur and standing on all fourswas familiar, for he had seen one, caged, at the Circus in Far Haradbut that pitiful creature had been only a little taller than himself. Thisthis monster might easily scoop him up and crush him in its fist.
If it charges, he thought, a bow and knives will be useless. Unless
Behind him, Haldir was still struggling with the wailing woman. And the creature appeared to be watching them, its massive head tilted, as if in curiosity.
Legolas waited, hoping that his plan would not be necessary
Then the creature bounded forward.
Legolas lowered his bow and ran, quickly building speed and momentum, judging where the animals right fist would next come to restand was there when it touched down. He leaped, grabbed the thick fur, and climbedup the curve of the forearm, past the elbow, over the taut biceps and the great triangular deltoidonto the shoulder, where he scanned the creatures face and throat, searching for some vulnerability, somewhere he could sink an arrow and inflict pain without causing unnecessary damage.
If I can scare it, he thought, planting his feet and raising his bow, if I can make it run
The creature slapped its neck, like a man crushing a mosquito.
Responding to the mens war cry, the elves, moving as one, fell back to the centre, forming a protective cordon around Eowyn.
Driven down to the roots of the thick fur, Legolas struggled to catch his breathand felt the creature grasp him between finger and thumb and, with surprising gentleness, tease him out of the tangled hairs.
It lifted him to its face and peered at him. And the elf caught a glimpse of something heartbreaking in those terrible eyes: as though the spirit of a man had somehow been trapped inside them
Then the creature turned him upside down, and shook him hard, and brushed his hair back and forth against its cheek
Until its hand suddenly tightened andA-choo!it sneezed.
And Legolas clung to its fingers, riding out the storm.
Do not kill them! cried Eowyn, still determined to follow Legolas orders and preserve this strange, unnatural world. Frighten them; drive them back; but do not harm them!
The creature peered at Legolas again, creasing its brows in something like a frown. Then its expression changed to one of mild curiosity, and it brought him up to its mouth.
NO! NO! The elf struggled, beating with his fists, kicking with his feet. But he felt its warm breath, like a damp mist on his face and hair, saw its pointed yellow teeth and wet, purplish tongue, and heard his own voice echoing round its cavernous mouth
Through the fog of horror, he heard Haldirs voice cry, Shoot!
And, suddenly, he was falling
The men, unhindered by the elves, had disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.
It is as though, thought Eowyn, unconsciously touching the short tuft of hair beside her face, the only thing they wanted was that lock of hair. She shook her head. Is there any sign of them? she called.
No, my Lady, replied Rumil. Nothing. They move like shadows. If they stayed on the forest floor, they have left no footprints; if they climbed into the trees, they have not disturbed the branches. It is as though they never existed. He came up beside her.
And the child?
Gone, my Lady, said Rumil. With my apple.
Eowyn smiled, despite her growing feeling of uneaseof concern for Legolas. Might they still be close?
Then we will pull back to the cliff and form up in a horseshoe, said Eowyn, decisively. We do not know where Legolas will emerge. I want us ready to provide covering volleys in any direction, should he need them.
Still grasping his bow, Legolas twisted in the air, raising his arms to slow his descent, and preparing his legs
He landed on his feet, already running towards the wallShoot! cried Haldirand Legolas ducked as a second rain of arrows whistled over his head.
From the corner of his eye he saw the beast rear up on its hind legs, and beat its chest, roaring.
But he had already reached the rope, andpausing only to slip his precious bow back in its straphe climbed rapidly to the top.
What now? asked Haldir, helping him over the parapet.
Back to the camp and away from this place, said Legolas. I want to get Eowyn home as quickly as possible.
A month later
Smiling, Legolas fondled the short tuft of hair.
Lassui! Eowyn batted his hand away.
He knew that she was self-conscious about it, that she had asked the healerunsuccessfullywhether anything might be done to make it grow more quickly. It is a war wound, melmenya, he said. A badge of honour.
I did nothing to deserve a badge of honour. She tried to pull away.
Legolas kissed the top of her head before letting her go. You followed your orders and you kept the way clear for our retreat. You were my lieutenant. Not every battle ends in a decisive victory, Eowyn nín.
They were strolling along one of the colonys aerial walkways, taking a few moments for themselves at the end of a busy day. Do you think that it would have eaten Tinnu? Eowyn asked, referring to the woman they had rescued, whom the elves had named Twilight, because of her dark colouring.
Wellit tried to taste me, said Legolas. Have you asked her?
The woman had begged (though that, of course, had not been necessary) to be allowed to stay in the colony. Now she worked in the gardens, where she seemed to have a natural gift, and was learning Westron from Eowyn and Lord Fingolfin.
She will not speak of it. I have asked, but if I push too hard she breaks down and cries. I do not want to frighten her, Lassui
But you think that she may know why the men took your hair.
Lord Fingolfin says that it has probably been made into a royal fly whisk by now, said Eowyn.
He says, she added, that those people may never have seen a blonde woman before.
Legolas wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Thank the Valar I got you safely home, he thought.
Eowyn smiled contentedly.
Legolas had carried her to their garden flet, and laid her on their canopied bed (with the covering rolled back so that she could see the stars), and made love to her with such sweet urgency…
She stretched luxuriously. He had left her nowhe often did, in the dead of night, when his elven body needed no rest and there was work to be donebut she knew that he would return before daybreak.
She knew that she would wake in his arms.
Three, fourperhaps fiveghostly figures ran silently through the Forest, pausing briefly now and then to listen, and to sniff the air.
They slipped past the elven guards and, ignoring the staircases that spiralled up the carantaurs, climbed effortlessly up the tree trunks and dropped onto the main walkway, where they crouched in the shadows, waiting for a patrol to pass.
When the way was clear they ran west along the wooden street and, using some uncanny sixth senseor perhaps following the guidance of some primitive deitythey climbed, without hesitation, up one of the smaller staircases leading to a platform higher in the trees.
The yellow-haired woman was alone.
The leader opened the small leather pouch that hung around his neck, tipped a quantity of powder into the palm of his hand andwith a sudden swift and sure movementclamped his hand over the womans nose and mouth.
She opened her pale eyes and stared at up him. But she did not struggle, for the powder was already doing its work; and, a moment later, her eyes closed.
Legolas looked up from the document he was laboriously annotating. Eowyn?
Through their strange mental bond he had felt a sudden jolt of fear andeven as the image of a dark head, staring down at him, and the sensation of deadened limbs were forming in his mindhe was on his feet and crossing the study.
His bow, quiver and knives were locked away in the weapons chest: there was no time to collect them now. Fetch the March Warden, he said to the guard at the door, quickly.
The sky was overcast and the city was dark. Legolas ran up the stairs to the garden flet, his heart aching with fear.
The bed was empty.
There was no sign of a struggle, no strange footprints, nothing to suggest that Eowyn had not simply got up and gone to the bathing room, except for those brief impressions he had caughtof a face, and of a feeling of helplessness. He ran to the edge of the platform and scanned the Forest beyond. There was no sign of her. He closed his eyes and reached out, trying to touch her mind with his own
Legolas? Haldir came running up beside him.
Nothing. They must have subdued her somehow, he thought. Put her to sleep. He turned to the March Warden. They have taken her, he said, calmly. They are going to feed her to the beast,he saw the big elfs face distort in horrorbut we will stop them, Haldir. Come.
Some time later
She awoke with a startfully conscious, mind racingwith no idea of who or where she was, or of what was happening to her. She searched frantically for a memory, desperate to fill the terrifying void inside her head.
In her mind's eye, her beloved elf stepped out of the darkness, and smiled at her.
She sighed; and felt physical pain.
It pulled at her wrists, stretching her arms out of their sockets; it strained her chest and drove sharp blades into her back; if she moved, it filled her head with light and threatened to empty her stomach. Eowyn forced her eyes to focus
And a scream bubbled up in her throat.
Leaving the others far behind, Legolas dashed through the forest. Memories of his own helplessness in the creature's hands tormented himhe must reach her in time!
At the edge of the city he nocked an arrow and broke cover, sprinting down the streets, running the gauntlet of the grotesque creatures that leered down at him from the carved walls.
Ahead, the gates were closing.
With a scream of fury, he plunged on, shooting into the milling crowd, clearing himself a path to the rapidly narrowing gap.
Around him, men were already recovering from the surprise of his attackhe heard shouts of anger, and cries of war, and then a thick, stone-tipped spear flew over his shoulder, and another fell at his feet, and a third buried itself in the wood of the gates
Just as the gates slammed shut.