Legolas looked up through the dense forest, to where the steeply sloping mountain, silhouetted against the blue sky, ended abruptly in a horizontal line of dark rock. We are almost at the foot of the cliff, melmenya. After that, we must climb another quarter mile, perhaps, he said.
The going was hard for a human amongst elves. Why did I let you persuade me to come with you? she grumbled.
I did not persuade youyou insisted, Eowyn nín. Legolas grinned, mischievously. And I took pity on you, since it was clear that you could not bear to be parted from me. Besides,he laid his hands on her shoulders and turned her roundif you had not come, you would have missed this.
Eowyn looked back. Below her, a long, winding line of elven warriors climbed effortlessly through the trees. Above their heads, through gaps in the vegetation, she could see across the valley to the next peaka lower, much gentler risecrowned by a forest of mighty carantaur trees, their deep red foliage glowing in the sunlight.
It is beautiful, she said.
And we are the first people to see it from here in over a thousand years.
How do you know?
He turned her back to the trail, and gave her a gentle push, and she began climbing again. Because Lord Fingolfin says so.
Ohthen it must be true.
Legolas laughedfor they both knew that the colonys great scholar was seldom wrong about such things. According to himand Master Berryn, cartographer extraordinary,he caught her round the waist and steadied her as she struggled to find a safe footholdthis mountain is just one of many created, during the Dagor Bragollach, by a great wave of molten rock that burst out wherever the ground was weak. Here, it formed a flat table, cut off from the rest of the world by its steep sides.
Eowyn, stopping to catch her breath, placed her hands on her hips and stared up the sheer wall of rock above their heads. How are wehow am Igoing to get up there?
We have ropes, melmenya. And Haldir and I will help you.
The climb proved difficulteven for elvesbut, eventually, a small group of warriors, led by Haldir, made it to the summit.
They secured the elven ropes to a line of sturdy trees and let the ends down so that their companions could follow more easily. Legolas took one of the ropes, fashioned a harness, and tied it around Eowyns torso; then he helped her climb, slowly and steadily, up a shallow rock chimney.
By the time the pair reached the top darkness was falling, and Haldir had already set up camp.
Eowyn, lying with Legolas in their shared bedroll, snuggled against his chest.
As always on one of their great adventures, she found herself marvelling at the twists of fate that had brought her to the elfs sideto live, with his support, the life of courageous action she had dreamed of as a girl. It was not necessary, she murmured, to give up the ways of a warrior
Melmenya? Legolas hugged her closer, pressing his lips to her forehead.
I was just thinking
They both sat up, surprised by the sudden soundand ripples of movement throughout the camp told them that the others had been startled, too.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Is it a drum?
I do not know, melmenya. It may be some natural phenom
Thud-thud. Thud. Thud-thud-thud. Thud.
A second drum, lower pitched and more hollow-sounding, had joined the first and, together, they were pounding out a complex rhythm.
People! whispered Eowyn.
Or Orcs, melmenya.
Haldir came up beside them. It seems that we are camping in someone elses territory, he said, softly.
Legolas nodded. Then, unconsciously wrapping an arm around Eowyns shoulders, he said, We cannot risk climbing down the cliff face in the dark, so we cannot move until dawn. Put out the fires and double the guard, just in casewe do not want to be taken by surprise.
And in the morning?
Legolas sighed. Let me give that some thought.
Just before dawn, Legolas woke Eowyn.
What have you decided? she asked, yawning and stretching.
In truth, melmenya, I do not know. If they are Orcs, confined up hereprevented by Arda itself from doing harm to any but themselvesshould we kill them? Or should we let them live?
Eowyn frowned. Why would we risk letting them live? She pulled on her boots.
Because, in time, they might have Legolas paused, trying to put his intuitions into words. In time, cut off from the evil that created them, even the worst of creatures might have grown bettermight have regained some sense of honour
Shaking her head in a mixture of love and disbelief, Eowyn held out her hands.
Legolas grasped them, raised them to his lips, and kissed her fingers. But, on reflection, I think that they are more likely to be human, he continued, and, if they are, they may have been living here, isolated, for thousands of yearsa hundred generations of men! We may have found descendants of the first elf-friends, Eowyn nín.
Or the children of Ulfang, trapped, and vying for land and food.
The land is fertile and the fruits of the forest are abundant, melmenya, andthey make music.
Threatening, warlike music.
We need to know more about them, said Legolas. We need to see them.
As the sky began to lighten, Legolas issued his orders. The majority of the elves, commanded by Eowyn, were to remain at the camp and, if it should prove necessary, defend the path back to the outside world.
Legolas, Haldir, and six hand-picked warriors would push northwards to whereall the elves agreedthe sound of the drums had come from.
Though he disliked leaving Eowyn behind, reason told Legolas that she would be safer staying at the cliff than trying to follow him through the trees. We must be invisible, he said, as his small band climbed aloft. We must observe, without making contact.
The elves peered down through the branches.
The cityLegolas supposed that city was the right word for it, because the strange stone buildings, carved with images, and incised with runes, were laid out in a geometric patternthe city was dominated by a massive wooden gateway, set in an equally massive stone wall (which sliced through its eastern quarter, stretching north and south for as far as the eye could see).
Before the gates, a crowd of filthy, gibbering creaturesnaked, apart from their skin loincloths and their bone jewellerywaited expectantly.
Are those men? whispered Haldir.
Yes. I believe so
Several of the brutish humans approached the gateway, pulled back the bolts, and, slowly, swung the gates outwards. Then four more, from within the crowd, stooped, lifted a long, slender object onto their shoulders, and marched through the opening.
Oh Valar, whispered Haldir, it is a woman He gripped his sword.
Legolas caught his arm. This is their world, Haldir. We should not interfere.
As the elves watched, the men stood the frightened, struggling girl between two poles and, whilst two of them held her upright, the others bound her wrists to the stakes.
They are sacrificing her, hissed Haldir, to some false god.
Yes said Legolas softly.
Then the men returned through the gates, and a womanold, and bent almost doubleshuffled forwards, carrying a bowl in one hand and a bundle of twigs in the other, chanting, Tor-ay Kong! Tor-ay Kong!and flicked blood over the victims head and shoulders.
The girl sobbed.
They are leaving her, whispered Legolas, as the old woman rejoined the crowd. To be taken by an animal, perhaps.
Or by other humans, said Haldir, distastefully. What are we going to do?
We will wait until they close the gates, said Legolas. Then we will go over the wall and bring her out.
How long has it been? asked Eowyn. She glanced around the camp site, checking, once more, that her elven lookouts were in position.
Less than an hour, replied Rumil.
It seems much longer.
You need not worry, my lady. My brother will keep him safe.
Eowyn smiled. Yes, I believe he will. But Legolas is not my only concern
What is it, Rumil? The elf had turned away, and was peering through the trees. And several of the lookouts, she noticed, had drawn their bows.
Itit is a child, my lady, said Rumil.
A child? Eowyn narrowed her eyes, trying to see like an elf. Are you sure?
Yes, my lady. A human girl And, as he said it, the childnaked and filthy, with long, matted hairstepped out into the clearing.
Can you see any adults? asked Eowyn.
No, my lady.
The woman signalled to the lookouts: Lower your weapons.
The elves obeyedthough most of them kept their arrows nocked. Rumil, meanwhile, having produced an apple from somewhere, was approaching the child, smiling. Here, he said, bending down to her level, you are safe; we will not hurt you
Be careful, said Eowyn. I am not convinced that she is alone.
The child held out her hand.
Rumil gave her the apple.
The child shriekeda single, piercing cry
And suddenly the clearing was filled with humans, baying like wolves, and brandishing stone-tipped spears at the elves who, having been distracted by the child, were momentarily at a disadvantage.
Eowyn drew her sword. Drive them back! she cried. But aim to frighten, not to kill!
And the elves, recovering quickly, obeyed her orders.
Using one of his white knives, Legolas cut through the girls leather bonds.
Haldir, already supporting her unresisting body, lifted her over his shoulder.
Then the ground shook; and somethingclose byroared; and the deafening sound, deep and resonant, made Legolas lungs vibrate in his chest. He whirled round, and caught a glimpse of it, dark and menacingCan that really be an eye?
Back to the wall! he cried. Quickly! Quickly!
The man hefted his spear above his shoulder, and drew back his arm.
Eowyn waited, watching him like a hawkher eyes fixed not on his hand but on his face. She saw the brows crease, saw the eyes focus, and ducked asidethe spear passed harmlessly over her shoulderthen she surged forwards, cutting with her sword, though deliberately striking short.
The man danced backwards, drawing a dagger.
Would he throw it? Or would he try to get under her guard?
With her sword, Eowyns reach was longer. She sliced again, this time coming in closer.
The man back-stepped again.
Eowyn followed, missed her footing, and stumbled.
She recovered almost instantly. But, in that split-second of vulnerability, she had been powerless to stop him leaning in, seizing a handful of her hair, and slicing it off.
The man threw up his hand, holding the lock aloft with a cry of triumph.
And his fellows, fighting throughout the clearing, answered him with a war-cry that echoed and re-echoed across the plateau, like the roar of some giant beast.