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11. Hunting Warg Riders
They followed the orc trail until quite late in the evening. Wynne had no idea how the elves could see were the warg-riders had gone, in her eyes the ground showed no evidence at all of anyone passing, but apparently elves’ heightened senses could discern the most slight of signs.
The trail went first further east, then south, then back west, in a semicircle which would in time take them to the Anduin again. Thranduil said these orcs must be a daring bunch, to come so close to the Rohan border patrols, or perhaps desperate. But it was getting late and they did not want to apprehend them after sunset. That would only serve as an advantage to the orcs, who normally were most active in the darkness. It was better to make camp for tonight, and take up the chase again tomorrow.
Wynne offered to prepare supper, and Legolas busied himself with digging out a pit for the cookfire.
“The rest of us should use the time to practice some fencing,” Thranduil decided.
“Good idea. We must not let our muscles go all soft,” said Galion and flexed his impressive biceps.
Wynne watched admiringly.
“They don’t look soft at all.”
“Show-off,” Legolas muttered from the fireplace.
The others went a little bit outside camp, and soon the rings and clangs of weapons could be heard.
Wynne unpacked a bag of dried peas to make a filling soup, and some smoked meat and hardtack crackers. She still had plenty of food, they would not be starving.
“This was the last of the firewood,” said Legolas, who returned from the pack horses with an arms load. “Tomorrow it shall have to be cold fare again. Back to good old lembas.”
“Will you ever tire of that lembas joke? It was not even funny the first time.”
“How come you smile, then?” His own grin turned into a grimace when he tried to strike a spark with the fire steel.
“Are you hurting?” Wynne noticed a reddish stain on his bandaged hand, where an orc had bitten him the other day.
“Nay, it is nothing.”
“Let me see.”
He reluctantly put his big hand in hers, and let her uncover the wound. A putrid smell radiated from the bite, and the fleshy part of his thumb was red and swollen.
“I know this does not look good, but I am sure it will heal soon,” he said. “I treat it with ground athelas every morning.”
“Athelas, is that the herb I saw in your equipment?”
“Aye. It quickens the healing.”
“Have you tried cleaning it with fire water?”
“The liquor you shared the day before yesterday? Nay. Does it help?”
“Yes, it works wonders on infected wounds.”
Wynne brought the water skin and soaked a rag in the spirits, and then carefully dabbed the injure. Legolas flinched, and sweat broke out on his forehead.
“I’m sorry. Almost done now.” She wrapped a clean cloth over his hand, and tied it securely. “I had better repeat this daily until the swell is down.”
“Thank you.” He put his good hand on hers and gave it a light squeeze. The touch made Wynne’s chest flutter, and she realized how close they sat. She could see the individual threads of his green woolen tunic, and the white collar of his linen undershirt. When he removed his hand, after an instant too long, she wished he had not.
“I should get the fire going.” He sounded slightly breathless.
“And the supper is long overdue.”
They left very early the next morning, Thranduil was eager to catch up on their prey. Not long afterwards, they found the remains of another camp.
“We are closing in on them,” said Nodir, who had dismounted. “These are warg droppings, still fresh. They must have camped here yesterday, probably around mid day.”
That of course made the elves even more eager for speed, and Wynne reluctantly bid Vatna to maintain a ground covering canter. The horses were strong and in good condition, but it would be cruel to force them to keep up that pace for long.
Thranduil was pleased.
“This is splendid. Thanks to your Mearas we can move faster than warg-riders!” He beamed at Wynne.
He was stating the obvious, not many creatures could beat a Meara in a running competition, but Wynne was rather satisfied nevertheless. To get any form of praise out of Thranduil was rare, and the fact that he knew to appreciate her horses’ part in the quest made her own place in it safer too. He would not so easily kick her out now.
It was almost noon when Thranduil finally made a motion for them to halt.
“There is something near the horizon. It might be them.” He shaded his eyes with his hand.
“I see it too,” said Legolas. “They sleep on the ground, orcs and wargs together.”
“I see nothing,” grumbled Wynne, hiding her nervousness under mock annoyance.
Galion held up a finger in the air.
“The wind is south-westerly, we should come upon them from the north to hide our scent.”
“Aye, and leave the horses some way off. We move more silently on foot.” Legolas turned to Wynne. “Will you stay with them?”
“Sure.” Wynne readily agreed, she had no wish to be close-up with orcs again.
They made a wide circle around the enemies, and dismounted when Wynne’s eyes still only perceived them as dark dots in the distance.
“See you soon.” Legolas grinned at her, his eyes bright and excited, and then he and the others were gone, sneaking away through the high grass. Shortly Wynne could neither see, nor hear them.
She sat down, waiting anxiously with the horses grazing around her. She had seldom felt so powerless. What if they failed, and were hurt, or even killed? The thought of being all alone out here scared her, but the thought of losing any of her friends was even more terrifying.
She recalled Legolas’ bright eyes just now, and shuddered. He must not die! It struck her that in almost no time, she had gone from finding the blond elf annoying, to actually liking him, bad humor and all. Had Mother demanded she made her pick of a husband right now, she knew who she would have chosen.
A cry in the distance made Wynne almost jump up in fright, and soon it was joined by other battle sounds. It had begun! She saw them now, the orcs were milling about, recoiling from arrow hits, and she heard high pitched yelps from the huge hound-like wargs. A few frightened wargs fled in various directions, others stayed their ground, seemingly trying to defend their masters.
The confusion lasted only a moment, soon the orcs charged in the direction of their attackers, some on wargback, others on foot. There were a lot of them, at least twice as many as the elves, maybe more. The numbers were in their favour, was the surprise attack enough to outdo that advantage?
They met with a clash of steel, a little too close to where Wynne waited for her comfort. She could see them clearly now, the ugly faces of the orcs and the swift figures that were the elves.
Her heart thrummed in her chest, and she dared not look away. Her jaws clenched together so hard it hurt. It looked like the elves managed well so far, but it would only take one tiny mistake, a wrong step, a moment’s inattention, and something dreadful could happen.
A dark figure in the corner of her eye finally drew Wynne’s attention from the battle scene, and she gulped when she saw what it was. One of the wargs who had ran off, was approaching the horses with a hungry look in its yellow eyes.
Wynne did not think, she instinctively surged to her feet and ran towards the beast. She waved her arms and yelled at it, like she would have done with a cougar threatening the herd back home. Surprisingly, that strategy worked on wargs as well. The ragged creature started to back away, eyening her cautiously, and that gave the horses enough time to flee. The warg let out a bark-like sound, then followed in their trail.
Wynne looked after it as it went, but was not really worried anymore, she knew it had no chance to catch up with the horses as long as they were running.
She wiped away the sweat that had formed in her forehead, and breathed out in relief. That was a close call!
She was just going to turn her gaze back to the fight, when a gnarled hand clasped over her mouth, effectively silencing her shocked scream.
Ooof sorry about the cliffhanger... :)
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