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Eschewal

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Legolas did not spare a moment before letting his first arrow fly. The familiar feeling of feather fletching flitting past his fingers, the conversant whistle of the arrow as it rushed through the air, and the satisfying thump of the projectile finding its intended target – all of this eased the Wood-Elf’s initial anxiety entirely, for with this first, well-placed shot, the Prince became dispassionately calm. In his long life, Legolas had spent countless hours of countless days preparing for this very kind of situation, and he had already fought through countless battles much worse than this one.

This was for what the Prince had been trained. This was for what he had been born. This was Legolas’ craft.

It took no longer than had the flight of his first arrow taken to meet its mark for Legolas to establish his strategy; emotionlessly, his mind rapidly deliberated the best tactic for removing as many of his targets as he could, as quickly as possible, while also choosing the most dangerous marks first. In that split second of planning, ere the first man the Prince dispatched even realized he was doomed to die, Legolas decided this: the harriers who held arrows upon their bowstrings would be pursued first, as a single fired arrow from any of them might eventuate in another child’s death. Next, Legolas would take down anyone else who had a bow in hand or in their possession, as they could cause carnage without needing to draw near. And then, there would only be left those of their attackers who now stood with swords and knives drawn, who would need to run closer to be of much danger to the innocent children and womenfolk, and thus, those whom the Elf deemed currently to be the least dangerous. Should Legolas not already have been shot down himself by the time he eliminated all the bowmen, the Prince would take out the rest of the harriers as they tried to run into melee range – hopefully, he could kill as many of them as possible before they reached the main throng of women and children surrounding the cart upon which Legolas stood, as he did not currently trust his aim to fire among the refugees.

Although his eyesight was not perfect as had it been before the injury to his head, Legolas had been studying and practicing archery since he was a child, and he had spent years perfecting his craft not merely on straw targets, but moving, screaming, fighting Yrrch and spiders. Thus, even unable to see quite as clearly now as before, he was able to rely upon millennia of battle-borne instinct and the mind clearing rush of adrenaline to aid him.

By the time his first target fell dead upon the ground, Legolas knew the position of every attacker and knew which of them to strike down first. By the time the other slavers took notice of the first man’s death, the Silvan released two more arrows, causing two more deaths. And finally, they seemed to realize what was happening; in a dazed confusion, the men looked to where Legolas stood upon the cart. They had noticed him when first he had leapt up from his hiding spot atop Hannah’s prone form, but apparently, they had not appreciated the Elf as a threat. Yet, as the fourth of the harriers’ marksmen – the last who held his bow at ready rather than at his side – fell dead with an arrow to his chest, chaos erupted amongst them, with the remaining few with bows reaching for them now. They were Legolas’ next set of targets.

In motions too fast for the surprised harriers to discern, the laegel reached for Hworin’s well-crafted arrows, releasing each in rapid succession, and each finding its mark with murderous ease. Had the Elf even looked down, he would have noticed he grabbed the shafts not from the quiver he had lain on the bench seat of the cart, but directly from Hworin’s grasp, as his elder Silvan had slithered the upper half of his body through the missing boards between the wagon’s rear and its front, and was handing his liege each arrow so his Prince would not fumble to find a single one. Three times he was handed an arrow by Hworin, and three times said arrow struck a harrier in the heart. Those three now dead were amongst those Legolas had determined would die in his second wave of volleys, for they were the ones with bows who – once over the initial shock of the Prince’s attack and thus once Legolas’ advantage of surprise was gone – might have tried to take Legolas down or perchance threaten the group of refugees in an attempt to halt him.

Wait, he told himself. His hands sought another arrow to begin the final round of his strategy by killing next the men who held swords and were even now running towards the refugees to get into range of Legolas, to halt his slaughter of their group. There was another one with a bow, he believed, though obviously he could not take the moment to stop and search for the missing man. Instead, he aimed at a harrier who was first to near the outer fringes of the amassed refugees, while hoping to take this slaver down before he might try to carve his way through the women, elderly, and children to try to get to the Prince.

A sharp tug at the waist of his trousers caused the Wood-Elf to stumble and sent his arrow flying off into the sky, far above its intended target; however, Hworin’s interference to shift his Prince’s stance was intentional and well-timed, for by his actions, Hworin moved Legolas from the way of a dagger thrown at him by one of the men, who had reacted more quickly than his stunned brethren. Said blade struck the bench seat beside him, where it clanged against the side of the wooden planks and fell to the floorboards underneath without having found its way into the Prince’s flesh.

The man who had thrown the dagger – along with three others – ran towards the huddled group of refugees in a poor attempt to reach Legolas with their melee weapons. Although the Silvan stood higher than the rest of his companions and thus made an easier target, he stood on the cart in the middle of a hundred or so crowding people through whom the Overseer’s men would need to wade, for these harriers were without bows and had not thought to stop to pick up their fallen brethren’s weapons to take aim from afar.

One arrow wasted, he told himself, not sparing the time to thank or so much as look at Hworin in gratitude. If he lived through this, he would thank his fellow Silvan later. Twelve arrows left, he counted in his head rather than with his eyes. Since he was left with twelve of twenty arrows and one had been lost, this meant seven men were already dead from Legolas’ righteous violence. Eight or so of them left, if none of them are hiding in the trees. And all those with bows are brought down, except the one… he reflected.

Even as his mind sussed through this information, his hands were still at work, and he reached down for another arrow, which Hworin handed him. Legolas intuitively notched and let fly the projectile, which burst through the heart of the man who had thrown the dagger. The now dead man was knocked backwards and his drawn sword fell to the ground. Another slaver leapt over his dead friend’s body and continued to sprint towards the refugees, his homicidal gaze upon Legolas. The wailing woman whose daughter had earlier been hit by an arrow to her belly knelt holding her now dead daughter in her arms. She cried out as this man ran near her and then reached out and caught hold of one of his feet, which tripped him and caused him to stumble into the group of refugees, his broadsword tumbling out of his hands. Weaponless and surrounded, the man tried to gain his feet in a hurry, with flabbergasted refugees standing there vacillating as to whether to attack.

And so, knowing the Edain must stand up and fight for themselves, lest any more of them die in the slavers’ attempt to get to him, Legolas called out in hope of uniting them, “To arms! Take them down! Their archers are dead and you now outnumber them!”

No less shocked than were the harriers with the sudden change of fortune from being overrun to having a chance at victory, the refugees were slow to listen to the Prince. A few scattered from the group to find the weapons they had dropped earlier at Hannah’s insistence, but the rest – farmers and merchants, untrained in battle as they were, and beaten down from their time as slaves on the Overseer’s farm – did not move until from the floorboards at Legolas’ feet, Hannah screamed shrilly, “Take them down!”

With Mother’s rallying cry, all the Edain’s hesitation disappeared. The last of the men and women who had lain down their arms at Hannah’s orders leapt up and ran to recover their cast aside arms. So far, of the fifteen or so of the Overseer’s men Legolas had previously counted, the Prince himself had eradicated eight. Except the missing bowman, the remaining slavers were immediately engaged by refugees bearing their shoddy weapons, but being that the former slaves were in groups battling single harriers, Legolas hoped that even should they not be able to take them down, they might be able to keep them at bay until he could get a clear shot. As for the man who had been tripped by the grieving mother, he suddenly found himself surrounded by a swarm of weaponless refugees – mostly women with their children pushed to stand behind them – all of whom vengefully dragged the now screaming man back to the ground, where they took to stomping upon him as he tried to struggle away. With too many people around the shrieking, panicked man, Legolas could not put him out of his misery, and so with little regret, the Elf left him to die painfully and slowly from being beaten to death.

Legolas scanned the writhing, confused, and chaotic mass of people around him in search for another target, and found one – the last remaining archer, who was smarter than the rest, it seemed, for he ran towards the tree line for cover. From there, if the man did not intend to run for his life but chose to fight, he could potentially kill as many refugees as he had arrows – if Legolas could not take him down quickly, that is. With every other slaver now surrounded by the camp’s defenders, Legolas quickly turned to hand his bow to Hworin, only to find the elder Silvan was leaping over the partition between the front and back of the wagon, his hand already out to take the weapon from his Prince. He did not need to ask Hworin for what he wanted; that is, for the elder Silvan to cover Legolas and the other refugees should the archer reappear to make trouble or should unforeseen reinforcements arrive from the woods to their west.

He leapt down from the wagon with the grace of his kind, but his speed was amplified by the adrenaline coursing through his body. This was not a true battle – not the likes of which Legolas had participated in before, with waves upon waves of Orcs or spiders to replace each one felled – but it was also more harrowing than a normal battle, as usually, Legolas was surrounded by his fellow Wood-Elves, all of whom were capable of fighting. This group of refugees, however, could barely evade the lunges from the harriers’ swords, and their own thrusts were parried easily by the Overseer’s men’s shields and greater expertise at swordsmanship.

Legolas pushed through the tangle of refugees and moved towards the edge of the cluster of people. He bypassed where Nigel and Henri were fighting together to eliminate the group’s leader – the one who had barked his orders and made his threats to the former slaves – and instead made a beeline for where two refugees, both of whom were no more than boys, were clumsily attempting to take down a huge, burly man wielding a massive broadsword. Luckily, the boys were quicker and evaded their attacker’s deadly, forceful, but slow swings of the heavy broadsword – but they did so only barely. Legolas stopped briefly, reached down to the corpse of one of the archers he had shot down only moments ago, and from the corpse retrieved a short sword of relative length and weight as his beloved long knife. Now armed for close combat, the Wood-Elf jumped into the fray between the mountainous man and the two boys. The burly man stood no chance against Legolas, for while this attacker’s swings were powerful, the laegel was too quick, and after the harrier’s first swing and Legolas’ first dodge, he could not recuperate in time to evade the Prince’s upward thrust. The blade slid through the man’s chest as easily as a finger parts water.

He pulled free his claimed weapon from the now dead man’s torso and scanned the woods for the missing archer, who had yet to reappear for Hworin to attempt to take him down. Left now were only the Overseer’s representative, whom Nigel and Henri still struggled to take down, a tall and ghoulish looking slaver who was soon felled by three of the refugees’ defenders, and two harriers who were nearly back-to-back, fending off all comers. While none who approached the duo had yet to be wounded seriously, several refugees had attempted to engage the two, only to be forced to fall back after being injured. As Nigel and Henri seemed the better swordsmen than those who were trying to bring down the two slavers working in tandem, Legolas again left Nigel and Henri to their skirmish and moved to aid the others against the back-to-back harriers.

However, the sing of an arrow distracted the Prince. He stopped in his tracks and instead turned to Hworin, hoping his fellow Silvan had fired this arrow. And yet, the shrieks of fear piercing the darkening night’s cool air a moment later told Legolas the missing archer had not run for his life, but had instead doubled back and was attacking the women, children, elderly, and injured refugees. Without hesitation, the Wood-Elf ran towards the rear of the group, near to where the arrow had struck and closest to the woods wherein the archer had run for cover. Again, he looked up at Hworin, but though the elder Silvan was observing the tree line intently with his arrow notched and at ready, he could not find the final archer amidst the thicket, it seemed.

Please, do not let it be another child, the Prince prayed to Varda.

Already, two little girls were dead this evening, at least. These poor Edain had been through enough without losing their children. To his guilty relief, this time it was not a child who was hit. Even as Legolas’ mind remained blank with the calm precision of millennia of experience in warcraft, he nonetheless came to the dire realization that the now dead man was the one he had seen earlier walking on crutches – the one whose daughter had complained about being tired and wanting to be carried, and who had been so gratefully happy when another refugee allowed the girl to ride upon his shoulders. So while it was not another child dead, a child now did not have a father. He stopped at the periphery at the rear of the group; the refugees were pressing northwards, nearly trampling each other in their attempt to flee from the range of the archer’s arrows, though he had yet to fire again.

A flash of silver hair caught the Elf’s eye and he called out to his fellow Silvan in Elvish, “The briars, Hworin!”

The Wood-Elf did not turn to look at his Prince, but kept his eyes upon the edge of the woods to their southwest, from where the arrow had come and where could be found the thicket of briars of which his Prince spoke. Trusting in Hworin’s abilities as an archer, the laegel considered whether to try to flush out the final bowman by rousting him from the woods somehow. Since he was taking aim at the defenseless of their group, this final archer was the most important target to the Wood-Elf. With the familiar twang of a bowstring being released followed by the hissing song of a flying arrow, an elderly man crumpled to the ground soundlessly, though the people around him screeched in fear and began pushing against each other in their attempt to flee in the opposite direction from where the arrows flew. Working entirely on instinct, Legolas did not form a coherent plan – all he knew was innocent people were being hurt and killed and he needed to end this immediately. Thus, when he ran against the throng of people, he had a vague notion of trying to distract the man’s attention away from the women and children and towards him, instead.

Another glimpse of the bowman’s grey hair amidst the foliage drew Legolas’ attention, which then caught upon the fletching of an arrow – white feathered – for it stood out in contrast to the darkening sky and the forest in the background. Legolas forwent trying to track the man behind the loosing of said projectile and instead followed the projectile itself, and thus was able to see it just when it began to fly from the bowstring. He quickly tried to predict its trajectory. While unable to tell at exactly whom the arrow was aimed, Legolas could see it was not aimed at him but at the tail end of the mass  of refugees to his right, where somewhat away from the others stood a woman and two children. Said woman was quivering in fear, her eyes wide but unseeing, and unlike the others, she was not trying to flee north away from the hidden danger of the bowman. She had her children gathered against her legs, her long skirts wrapped around them as if this might hide them or offer them some shelter from the violence occurring, but it would not protect any of them from the death hurtling at them right now.

In that split second of ascertaining the projectile’s flight path and seeing to where the arrow was headed, the Woodland Prince merely leapt towards the small family, turned his back to where the archer had walked out from behind a tree to make his shot, threw his arms out to catch the three Edain, and bowled over the woman and her children. He thought that if he could only knock the woman and children down in time, none of them would be hit, and as there stood no one behind the three Edain, the arrow might fly past everyone harmlessly. And then, perhaps, in the meantime Hworin could take the damned bowman down before he could let loose another shot into the throng of refugees.

Legolas did not have time to pray to Ilúvatar for the speed or strength to see this task done. He did not even have time to think through this hasty action. And indeed, the Prince nearly did not make it in time – and yet, he knew he had succeeded in saving the lives of the woman and her children when a sharp and debilitating agony speared through his left shoulder, beginning in his upper back and tunneling through his flesh to the front of his chest. The screams of the woman whom the Elf had knocked over, the shouts of Hworin from the cart where he stood, and the sounds of clanging metal as the Edain tried to bring down the last few of their attackers all faded to silence when the Prince hit the ground and his mind went black.