A SHADOW FROM THE PAST
Chapter 1. Let the trouble begin
Legolas was sitting at the thick branch of one of the old trees that surrounded the training area near his father's palace. One of his arms was placed at the rough surface of the tree's bark while the other was wrapped tightly over the branch itself, his eyes opened widely as he looked in front of himself. This place served both for the young elves' trainings and the elder warriors' practicing and was usually occupied by at least few groups of elves. Yet, at this time of the day only few elves were in the field practicing their skills since the majority were occupied inside the palace, attending to different duties or studying. And at that particular moment only a small group of warriors was present. Two elves had their swords raised, preparing to start the fight, while five more were standing slightly aside, cheering them up.
The young elf was staring unblinkingly at the tall figure of his brother, who had just started a sparing match with a fellow warrior. Eluisul's moves were fascinating: both graceful and powerful as he danced out of the other sword's way or was rushing forward with the attack of his own. His long blond hair was shining in the sunlight like a pile of gold and it reminded the younger prince of Lord Glorfindel of Imladris whom he had once seen training lord Elrond's sons. Eluisul would probably be proud about being compared to the skillful balrog-slayer. Legolas couldn't help admiring his elder brother's skills with a sword. How he wished to be as good one day! To become a warrior and defend their home from quickly spreading darkness that was slowly suffocating Mirkwood. It wasn't because he wanted to gain the others' attention or to prove something to someone. No, his father made sure that his sons realize their position, and so both princes wished no more then to be worthy of their titles. Legolas understood the importance of being a prince and all the responsibility that came with it and so he wished with all his heart to be able to defend his realm and his people.
The problem was that Legolas was still considered young. He had already started his training as a warrior, off course, but was far from finishing it. At this particular stage young elves were learning basics of fighting with different kinds of weapons to both develop their first skills and enable tutors to notice which weapon was best for the warriors-to-be. And even though Legolas wanted to follow his brother's steps, he already knew that sword wouldn't be his weapon of choice.
Distracted by his thoughts, the young elf almost missed the warrior's attempt to disarm Eluisul. Catching his breath at the sight of an unexpected predicament, Legolas watched with wide eyes as his brother effortlessly stepped aside, getting gracefully out of harm's way, and brought his own sword down, stopping within inches of the other elf's back. Both of them smiled, exchanging half-teasing words which, try as he might, Legolas couldn't possibly hear. The other elves started laughing, their melodic voices intertwining with a soft breathing of wind and the rustle of leaves, reminding to the whole world how close their race was to nature.
The young prince of Mirkwood sighed deeply. He was lucky this far, being able to convince his history teacher to end the classes a bit earlier and sneaking unnoticed past the palace guards. Yet he knew far too well that he would need to go back soon unless, off course, he wanted his father to send a search party to find him and than lock him in his room for the remaining part of at least this week. It wasn't the first time he would run away to watch his brother practicing with his friends. Eluisul was the crown prince and due to that had to attend to almost every meeting their father had. Plus he was the captain of one of the patrol groups. Plus he had his friends and interests to satisfy. All in all, the two brothers didn't get much time to spend together and so it was rather important for the young prince to be able to at least watch him here, outside the palace walls.
Realizing that he had been sitting like that for at least half an hour, Legolas sighed. Why the time seemed to fly by him when he enjoyed it and insisted on creeping when he was bored? Legolas didn't think he knew the answer to this question, or would find it any time soon, for that matter. But one thing the young prince knew for sure. He'd better be going if he didn't want to be late for his next lesson. The tutor whom father asked to teach his son in maters of law and diplomacy was a rather demanding one. And punctuality seemed to be one the top of the list of his priorities.
Looking longingly at his brother, who became engaged in another sparring match, for one last time, Legolas turned into the direction where he had came from.
The young elf was ready to move down the tree when his heart skipped a bit. He wasn't entirely sure what had that particular feeling meant. He suddenly became aware of some danger that was hanging in the air around him. The danger, however, wasn't directed toward him and Legolas somehow knew that. The young elf looked around, hardly daring to breath, and tried to spot any clue to what was amiss. Trees around him rustled softly, almost comforting, yet the prince could still hear notes of distress in their fair voices. They weren't concerned about him and didn't seem to be warning him of any evil. But the feeling of dread spread through the young elf like the fire, burning a trail of worry in it's wake. His eyes were scanned the woods and his ears were strained to hear any tiny noise that might indicate the source of danger.
For a view beats of his wildly racing heart Legolas contemplated the idea of telling his brother about his feelings. Although he wouldn't approve his actions (sneaking out of palace and skipping his lessons wasn't the best thing to do), but Eluisul would never dismiss his presentiment of danger as unimportant. Yet, two things hold the young elf back in place. The first was sudden feeling of dread and fear, the mysterious confidence that should he move, it would end up in no good way. And the second - a strong sensation that he was already late and that he wouldn't be able to reach his brother in time.
In time to do what? Legolas had completely no idea what was going on or was going to happen. To his eyes the woods around him seemed to be usual, lacking any even remote sign of danger. Any other person on his place would have dismissed this sudden uneasiness. Which would have probably ended up in a disaster. And few moments later Legolas thanked the Valars for giving him the much needed patience, for as his eyes surveyed his surroundings once more, he suddenly caught sight of a cloaked, well-masked figure that was standing not too far from him. It's bow was drown and an arrow was notched and pointed, ready to be released. Legolas tracked the deadly point of the projectile to it's obvious target and felt his heart froze in his chest.
No, that couldn't be happening! Valars, what should he do? The young prince was starting to panic, watching as the stranger was preparing to kill his brother. What should he do?! What should he do?!
Legolas' eyes were huge on his pale frightened face, a pure horror filling them. All thoughts seemed to abandon him, being washed away by the flood of fear. But even numb with panic, his brain knew well enough that he was the only person who was able to save his brother's life. And there was no way of doing it while simply sitting at the branch.
Gathering the last remains of his will to shake his brain into action, the young prince feverishly tried to think of a way to stop this stranger from doing what he had fully intended to do. Shouting to warn his brother would do no good since he was too far away from the two dueling elves. It may alert their attention but wouldn't be enough to stop the shooter. And even though he possessed a good, as for a beginner, skill with weapons, the young prince wasn't stupid enough to think he could overpower the killer on his own even considering the element of surprise as an advantage. But then what COULD he do?
Feeling the fear in his heart preparing to strike once more, Legolas closed his eyes for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly. He relaxed, steadying himself, just like his tutors taught him and once again concentrated on the problem in hand. His young heart saw only one option: to save his brother. And he was intended to achieve this goal whatever the price would be. Once again breathing in deeply, strangely feeling almost completely calm, he jumped down from the tree trying to move into the line between the archer and his brother. He decided to run toward the other elves, shouting, but keeping in the arrow's way. Hopefully he would surprise the attacker and distract him. The trees around were crying in protest, their leaves rustling in a wind that had suddenly grown stronger. But Legolas' mind was set.
He landed on the ground, facing the direction where the mysterious sniper was hiding. Partly to see what he would do and partly to make sure there would be no way the archer could shoot Eluisul. For a moment his frightened eyes met with a cold determined ones of the hooded stranger. The eyes of a true and professional killer. Not that Legolas had seen many killers in his life, off course, but that's what they must look like. The rest of the face and the archer's tall frame were hidden under the dark-green cloak that was almost invisible on the forest's background. For a few painfully long beats of the heart the prince seemed to freeze in spot, staring unblinkingly at the one who was trying to take Eluisul's life.
The eyes of the stranger were cold, drained of all emotions, almost dead. A small hint of surprise was quickly replaced by the tired acceptance, but his hands didn't lose their hold on the bow. They stared at each other for another second or two, both un moving. But then Legolas broke the sudden spell that seemed to envelope both him and the killer. When he started to move toward his brother, mouth opening for the warning shout, the young prince thought he could see a sparkle of regret that shadowed the stranger's gaze. But he had no time to think about that or at least to make sure if he had actually seen it, for at the same minute he turned around, the cry leaving his lungs, Legolas felt something hitting his back, knocking all the breath he had and cutting his warning shout abruptly.
Not realizing what had happen, the young elf made a few long leaps forward and into the opening of the training grounds before the agony closed it's arms around him. Legolas gasped in shock, still having no air left to scream in pain. His knees gave out from under him, making the elf collapsed to the ground. But the young prince didn't even noticed that, so consumed his brain was with sudden agony. The fire seemed to spread inside him, stealing his breath and cutting his ability to think. All that mattered was pain, so strong he wanted to cry or bang his head, or do anything else to stop it. But what frightened him even more, was the inability to drew breath. His lungs seemed to forget how to work, leaving his body starving for oxygen.
At the back of his mind he could hear some noises. Someone was shouting franticly in alarm and fear. Yet, it seemed to come from a long distance away. Legolas felt as if he was placed in some small almost sound-proof box that was been shoved into the fire.
A pair of strong arms grabbed him, lifting from the ground, causing the agony to raise one level up, although it had seemed to be impossible. If he wasn't in so much pain and was thinking more clearly, the young prince might have panicked at the feeling of someone taking hold of him, especially after meeting an unfamiliar person that was intending to shoot his brother. But at that particular moment he couldn't care less.
Soft soothing sindarin words managed to break through the agony that enveloped him, calming the young elf down a bit. They didn't and actually couldn't chase the pain away, but his mind and heart were at least assured that he was among friends. And with that comforting sensation the young prince gave in to unconsciousness, leaving the pain behind for at least some time.
Legolas' cry of alarm made the warriors instantly turn to face him, their hands instinctively moving to their weapons. Their cheerfulness and carelessness were gone. They no longer were a company of friends enjoining a sunny day, but a group of seasoned warriors facing an unknown danger.
Eluisul thought his world would crash into small pieces the moment he saw his brother collapsing to the ground, his hands pressed to his chest. Even before Legolas' knees touched the green grass, his brother had already been running toward him.
Catching the thin body, Eluisul stared in horror at the long arrow protruding from the younger elf's back. Large scarlet stain was spreading at the Legolas' shirt, running down the elder prince's hands.
"Search the forest!" Eluisul order to the four of his fellow warriors.
His attention was back with his brother. Legolas was obviously in the shock from his wound, oblivious to the rest of the world. He didn't respond to his brother's soothing words, but his body had relaxed a bit, indicating that at least his mind was relatively calmed.
"The injury is grave, my lord." One of the warriors stated, kneeling near the two princes. "We'd better get him to the healers fast."
Eluisul nodded, cradling his brother in his arms. Legolas had just lost consciousness. Although one part of him knew that with serious wounds like this it wasn't a safe for the victim to lose it's consciousness, Eluisul decided that it was for better. He wouldn't wish his brother to feel a new wave of pain each time he made a quick step that was bringing him closer to the palace.
Two warriors accompanied him, their bows ready to defend the two princes from any danger that still might be hiding among the trees. Their eyes were sad and troubled. It was a bitter picture to see such a young one, least of all their cheerful prince, injured so heavily. But what troubled their minds, was a question of how the intruder had gotten so close to the heavily guarded palace. And even more important one: why he did it.