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Tears Like Rain

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-Tears Like Rain-

 

 

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~*PART ONE*~
~An Uncertain Future~

 

 

The bright sun shone down through the leafy green canopy overhead, sprinkling diamonds of light onto the dew-covered grass of the glen. Light, merry laughter filled the air.

 

“Pin him Raniean! Pin him!”

 

“Come on Legolas! Throw him off!”

 

Encircled by a ring of encouraging fellow students and under the carefully watchful eye of their instructor, two young elves were grappling on the grass with a considerable amount of skill for their age.

 

Physically the two boys were very alike. Dressed in the simple green tunics and leggings of their class, with their golden hair was tied back from their faces in knots that were swiftly sliding free in the course of the struggle. They might have been brothers, but they were not. The one currently on the bottom with his back pressed hard against the earth was Legolas, son of Thranduil and prince of the woodland realm. His companion, straddled on top and struggling to find a way to pin his opponent so that the match would be over, was the prince’s friend Raniean, son of Randomir. Randomir was one of Thranduil’s top chieftains and leader of Mirkwood’s largest contingent of warriors. At the moment however, that force was not at all as impressive as it sounded.

 

The wood-elves were by heritage a pastoral people more concerned with singing in the trees, working with their hands and perfecting the skill of the hunt than the with the bearing of arms.

 

That was changing. Everything in Mirkwood was changing. What had always been had been suddenly stripped away, revealing an uncertain future. Nearly half the merry folk of the wood that had lived here in peace for countless centuries, were now gone. Killed with their King in one desperate battle on the plains of Dagorlad far to the south. The slain of that war were too many to even bring home, and the survivors too few. Buried where they fell, the departed were not spoken of, but their memory lingered on underneath the trees like a raw wound; a painful lesson in marching out to war with a people unprepared.

 

It would never happen again. Prince Thranduil, now King Thranduil, returned from burying his father with the firm resolve that his people were never, *ever* going to be caught that unprepared again. From now on Mirkwood would not ignore the need for a standing army. From now on all Mirkwood elves would become trained warriors, from childhood up.

 

The few truly skilled fighters among them were placed as teachers over classes with pupils ranging from older elves whose memories went back nearly as far as the forests themselves, to these classes, filled with the young wood-elves who were approaching the end of childhood and transitioning towards what humans would have called teenage years.

 

Training the youth took special importance since they had the best chance to learn new things and learn them well. Therefore, Maethor, or Warrior training as it was called, had become a mandatory part of every young male elfling’s life.

 

The children took to it readily, accepting the regimes as part of their fun, as well as their schooling. It was a matter of honor to get the most points on their skills in any given week and they practiced outside class as well as inside.

 

Legolas and Raniean knew each other’s moves too well for this to be a quick match. They often sparred together and were evenly matched for strength, so theirs was a contest of skill and ingenuity; the kind they both liked best.

 

Legolas feinted that he was going to pull right and attempt a roll, a trick they both knew he often used when in danger of being pinned. Raniean adjusted quickly, throwing his weight to that side and grabbing his friend’s shoulders tightly, his fingers bunching in Legolas’ tunic. Suddenly, Legolas reversed tactics, grabbing Raniean’s left arm with both hands. Trapping the other young elf’s leg with his own the prince arched his back and breached upward, using Raniean’s own weight and momentum against him. Flipping them both over, the prince reversed positions so that Raniean was now on the bottom.

 

Raniean was surprised by this turn of events for just the fraction of a second that Legolas needed to get inside his guard and put the other young elf into a lock. The prince pinned his friend with his forearm across Raniean’s throat, straddling the other boy’s chest. It was a match-ending move and they both knew it, still, Raniean hesitated a moment, testing his opponent’s strength.

 

From his position Legolas could easily screw down on his arm and cut off the other boy’s air, but he wouldn’t do that in a sparing match, and not with his friend either. Instead he just waited Raniean out. “Anno?” he questioned, seeking the words that would end this. “Yield?”

 

Raniean relaxed, accepting his defeat. “Anno,” he sighed, disappointed, but not seriously upset.

 

Legolas quickly removed his hold, rising off his friend and offering Raniean a hand up, which the other boy accepted.

 

“Good match Legolas,” Raniean clasped his arm at the elbow to which Legolas responded in kind. “I shall remember that trick of yours from now on.”

 

Legolas smiled and gave his friend’s arm one more squeeze. “Then I shall have to try to come up with new ones!”

 

There was a momentary buzz of conversation among the two young elves’ classmates and friends as they rejoined the ranks. Tegi, their teacher, patiently hushed the boys with a glance and summoned the next two partners who moved forward to take the field. “Garilien, Brenyf, pair off.”

 

A small elf, who looked quite out of place among his fellows, clapped Legolas and Raniean on the back. “Good match mellyn,” he complimented them both in a whisper, his smile bright. “Tegi couldn’t even find anything to correct you on, did you notice?”

 

Raniean and Legolas smiled. It was true; their teacher had not once interrupted the match to correct either boy’s form. That was rare and it made them both proud, no matter who had won.

 

An hour later class wound up for the day and the young elves gathered their things. Legolas changed somewhat hurriedly, pushing his class tunic into a bag after pulling on his finer silk shirt and hastily trying to brush the loose hair back from his face. For most, classes were now over, but as Prince, Legolas had additional studies in law, language, policy and lore with a private tutor for an hour more. He did not exactly dislike them, but Maethor training was definitely his preferred pastime.

 

“Are you going to be at the archery ranges tonight?” Trelan asked his friend as Legolas cleaned up. Trelan was still wearing his practice clothes. He would change when he got home.

 

“Maybe, I hope so,” Legolas nodded. Archery was part of their normal regimen, but only twice a week, so those who favored it more, as the prince did, could attend optional sessions in their free time in the evenings. “But father might have another meeting and then I’ll have to sit in.”

 

Trelan nodded. “Raniean can’t go either, so I probably won’t then.” He did not intend to take on the additional class if neither of his best friends were going to be there. “Ran’s got his first meeting with his Saelon tonight!” the young elf said with obvious excitement.

 

Legolas halted for a moment before slipping the strap of his bag over his shoulder. “Raniean has been assigned a Saelon? He didn’t tell me.”

 

“I’m sorry Legolas, it happened so fast,” Raniean had heard the last part of the conversation and came over. He also was still in his class clothes; faint darker-green grass stains on the elbows and knees were a reminder of their earlier match. A slight hesitancy to meet his friend’s eyes told that that statement wasn’t quite true.

 

Legolas ignored what he saw and smiled instead. “Ran, that’s wonderful! Who did your father choose? Are you allowed to tell?”

 

Raniean looked a little relieved, excitement taking over him again. “Yes, it’s all right, I have been given leave to speak of it. He chose his friend Cirlith, the hunter.”

 

“Garilien’s father?” Legolas asked and received an answering nod to the affirmative. “That’s wonderful news. Although I regret that we will not have as much free time together anymore.”

 

Saelon was simply the wood-elves’ term for mentor, and as part of their Maethor training each boy’s father, or mother if the father were no longer living, would eventually choose one for their son. The Saelon took the boy under their wing like family and saw to additional instruction as necessary. It was part of the new plan for the younger elves to gain as much diverse experience in their training as possible. And it was also because with the way things now sat, far too many young elflings had been left entirely without a father to begin with.

 

One elf might be a Saelon to several different students at a time, but the elflings didn’t usually know it because that part of training was considered a private affair, something special and uniquely tailored for each student. As such it was not discussed much and although Raniean’s mentor had given him permission to tell, that was not always the case.

 

Trelan laughed a bit at Legolas’ statement. “You never have any free time anyway Legolas, what with all your duties at home. Did I ever tell you I was glad I wasn’t a prince?”

 

“Yes, Trelan, regularly,” Legolas rolled his eyes in amusement. Trelan exaggerated as usual. The prince may not have had as much spare time as his friends, but he was hardly as encumbered by duty as they sometimes made him out to be.

 

Raniean was both happy and excited that he was able to move on towards the higher stages of instruction, but he was also still a little hesitant. “Has your father said anything Legolas? Have you asked...?”

 

Legolas forced a smile and shook his head, cutting his friend off. “Ran, please, don’t feel like you can’t talk about it, it doesn’t bother me, really. I’m happy for you. My father... is very busy. I haven’t wanted to trouble him. If he is going to choose a Saelon for me he will do it when he feels the time is right.” The prince defended a little too quickly and it betrayed the emotions well hidden underneath.

 

“I know,” Raniean looked away. “So many people depend on your father now Legolas, it’s different than when King Oropher was alive. My Ada says it’s not easy to lead a broken people and try to change a whole way of life overnight.”

 

“No,” Legolas nodded. “It isn’t, but I know that Adar can make it happen,” he said with a small glow of pride in his voice. He loved and respected his father very much. But he worried about him, and wished he could somehow be of more help in these troubled times. The young prince saw the lines appearing on his father’s smooth brow and the graveness that was stealing the spring from his step. Legolas had lost a grandfather, but Thranduil had lost his father and his King, leaving on his shoulders the weight of an entire kingdom.

 

“I don’t mind that it takes a lot of his time, I just wish I could help more,” Legolas sighed slightly.

 

“What about your Uncle?” Trelan tilted his head to the side questioningly. “Surely Lord Doriflen could help ease his burden a little, he *is* his brother.”

 

Legolas shrugged. His family was confusing sometimes, how could he try to explain it? “He does, but he doesn’t always seem happy about what he’s doing. And sometimes Adar doesn’t seem to want to let him help either... Naneth says they’re both still trying to deal with losing Grandfather and I should give them time and not worry about it. So I think picking a Saelon for me is the least of Ada’s worries.” Legolas shrugged, trying to pretend that it didn’t matter, that he didn’t care. He felt that was the grown-up way to handle his disappointment.

 

The truth was that they suspected most of their class had been assigned individual Saelons by now. Although the semi-secrecy surrounding it was intended to keep the boys who had moved on to that stage of training from picking on the ones who had not, some of the less considerate were not above voicing random, general comments meant to let the others know what they thought. There was a certain personal stigma attached to the idea of not being thought ready enough by ones own parents, whether the world at large knew about it or not.

 

Trelan gave Legolas a small, sad smile of understanding and squeezed his arm. “I know,” he said softly. “My Ada doesn’t think I’m ready yet either.” He sighed. “At least you *can* move on when your father gets around to it. I can’t even get enough points to pass muster.”

 

Legolas let the shadow of disappointment slip away from him and focused his thoughts on helping his friends.

 

Raniean was shaking his head. “There’s nothing wrong with your skills Trelan, you haven’t passed only because Tegi won’t give you enough sparing time for you to have a chance to qualify. He’s afraid some of the others would try to take advantage of you. You know how vicious a few of them can be when they want to win.”

 

Trelan resisted a momentary flare of temper, balling his fists and looking down. “I know. I’m small but I’m not helpless!”

 

“Of course not!” Legolas soothed his friend quickly. “We’ll just have to keep working amongst the three of us so that you can convince Tegi to give you a shot at the bigger boys. They will seriously underestimate you and that will give you quite an advantage.”

 

Raniean laughed. “Just don’t beat them up too bad.”

 

Trelan smiled, his anger forgotten, or at least, put aside for now. “Well I’ll try, but I’m not promising anything.”

 

Legolas glanced up at the sun, suddenly realizing how much time they had spent talking. Most of the others had already left and the glen was empty. “Oh dear, I’m going to be late! I’ll see you both tomorrow!” he called as he hurried back towards home, his soft leather boots slapping soundlessly against the glistening grass.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

King Thranduil sat with his head bowed studiously over his desk, scribbling swiftly away on a piece of parchment. He wrote several lines only to pause, strike out half the letters, and begin all over again. He did not react when a slender set of hands dropped down onto his tense shoulders, rubbing small circles into the stiff muscles. He knew that his wife had entered the room, even though she had not made a sound. He could sense her presence and it lent a certain measure of calm to his fraying nerves.

 

“Trouble?” Elvéwen let her chin rest lightly on the top of her husband’s head as she stood behind his chair, eyeing the marked up parchment on the desk. Her dark hair slid over her shoulders and brushed lightly against the Elvenking’s cheek, mingling with his own golden locks and carrying with it the soft smell of woodland flowers.

 

“Always,” Thranduil sighed, leaning back in his chair and pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers, trying to stem a headache. “Esgaroth is having a bad year, there’s a famine. They’re sending to us for aid and I have none to give them. Indeed, we almost need *their* aid as much as they are now saying they need ours. I can’t break trust with them, but what am I supposed to do? Our store houses, our treasuries, everything is empty. I don’t even know how we’re going to get *our* people through the winter. How do I squeeze anymore blood from this turnip?”

 

The elven King let his head drop down onto his hands. He wished he knew how his father would have handled this. Oropher was a good elf, a good father and a good King, but while publicly outgoing with his subjects, in his personal life he had always been a very private individual. Thranduil stood by his father’s side for many years, but the King’s councils were always his own and he did not share them with his sons. Oropher had carried all his wisdom and insight into ruling this land to his grave with him, and Thranduil felt uncomfortably like he was floundering in a job that he knew far too little about.

 

His brother’s caustic opinion of him and his abilities did not help much. Since Thranduil had returned from Dagorlad a handful of decades ago, Doriflen had done nothing but fault-find with the way he handled everything. Thranduil supposed that his brother’s jealousy came as no great surprise; he had not been able to look to his older sibling for friendship or support since they were young and Doriflen had started changing. Thranduil made Doriflen a vice-regent in an attempt to stem some of the ill will between them that Oropher’s leaving the throne to the younger of the two brothers had caused. Unfortunately it seemed to be but a small bandage on a festering wound.

 

Sadly, Doriflen was not the only one voicing rising doubts about Thranduil’s ability to rule. More and more often the Elvenking was beginning to hear whispers of it from his subjects and he was hard pressed to understand where the dissatisfaction was coming from and what exactly he was doing wrong, besides perhaps *everything* which at the moment seemed entirely possible.

 

He swore to himself that he was never going to leave his son in a position like this. He was going to make sure that Legolas was prepared to take the throne should he ever be called upon to do so. Even immortals it seemed could not afford to take life for granted.

 

Thinking of Legolas made Thranduil glance towards the angle of the sunlight filtering in through the window. He sighed again. “Legolas will be finishing with his tutor soon. I had wanted to take him to archery tonight, but now it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to do so.”

 

Elvéwen nodded slowly, wishing she could ease all the burdens behind her husband’s tired gaze. “I will take him, but he is old enough to go alone.”

 

Thranduil snorted softly. “Of course he is, but that doesn’t make it any easier for him when all the other boys’ fathers are there to watch them,” he murmured with regret. The King wondered bleakly if everyone promised themselves they were going to be different with their children than their parents were with them, only to end up passing on all the same little heartaches. Yet he knew his son would understand. Legolas always did.

 

Elvéwen sat down in the chair beside Thranduil, seeking his eyes. “If you appointed Legolas a Saelon...”

 

Thranduil’s gaze clouded. “I don’t need someone to pay attention to my son because I cannot!” he snapped slightly before he caught himself and let his frustration slip away before speaking again. “He’s not ready yet. He’s just a boy.” After Legolas had a Saelon, the next step forward, when the Saelon deemed it time, was for the young elf to take part in the border patrols with the regular warriors. Thranduil couldn’t think of letting go of Legolas like that just yet... not when other losses were still far too near his heart.

 

“He’s not ready, or you’re not?” Elvéwen questioned softly. Her voice held no accusations, only gentle questioning.

 

“Both,” Thranduil turned his attention back to his parchment. He had to get this finished. “Besides, who would I trust? Lately it seems that even those I thought my friends doubt me, how could I expect them to mentor my son? Who do you entrust with the future of a kingdom...?”

 

A soft sigh and shake of his head signaled that their conversation was drawing to a close. Elvéwen knew her husband’s body language well.

 

“No, Véa, I will not assign Legolas a Saelon yet. It is a good plan, but I fear some of the others rush their sons forward too fast. Maethor training is important, but I did not implement it to steal our children’s childhood from them.”

 

Elvéwen nodded. That she understood. Even in these difficult times children still needed to be children. She just wished sometimes that Thranduil would tell Legolas the reasons for which he did things. She feared that although their son loved his father, he did not understand him or his actions. Glancing at Thranduil, whose head was now bent over his work again, his attention focused, she feared the same was true of his understanding of his son.

 

Unheard and unseen outside the closed door, a shadowed figure slipped away. He had heard enough. Thranduil was a fool, and was playing right into his hands.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Elvéwen was not able to take Legolas to archery practice that evening after all. Several of the elven lords who sat on the council with Thranduil had cornered the Elvenking into an emergency meeting on the situation in Esgaroth. Most were opposed to trying to lend any aid when they themselves were in such dire straits and a few were hinting not so gently that Mirkwood needed to look to its own concerns. After all, look what had happened *last* time they put their lot in with outsiders and humans.

 

Thranduil however, knew that their survival was going to still depend on their friendship and old ties with their neighbors, but trying to make anyone else see that was painfully difficult.

 

Elvéwen could not leave him to face them alone, but neither did she wish to make Legolas sit in on another council meeting which she knew her son silently abhorred. So she suggested he go with Raniean’s family.

 

Legolas did not tell her that Raniean was not going tonight because he knew it would only make her feel bad. He could already see the apology behind her eyes and he didn’t want that. It was no hardship for him to go alone; he had become used to doing things by himself. He was simply relieved to not have to sit indoors all evening and listen to the older elves bicker. He didn’t understand why they couldn’t see his father was right. In his young mind, his father was always right.

 

Strapping on his quiver and slinging his bow over his shoulder, Legolas made his way towards the archery ranges where the classes were held. They were a little over a mile away from the palace and he could cover that quickly.

 

His brisk trot out through the gates halted slightly when he saw a familiar figure waiting just outside.

 

“Vede,” he smiled and greeted his father’s brother with the elvish term for uncle. “You aren’t in the council with Ada?”

 

Doriflen smiled somewhat ruefully and shook his head. He wore his darker, chestnut-hued golden hair loose around his face, unlike the braided hairstyles favored by his brother and nephew. “No, they don’t want me around. I just get in the way. But then, perhaps that’s not so bad, more interesting things to do out here, right? Where are you off to?”

 

Legolas chuckled. “Well I think so. I’m on my way to archery practice,” he gestured to his bow.

 

“So I see,” the elder elf nodded, looking around. “All alone?” he acted slightly disturbed. “When was the last time your father made it with you?”

 

Legolas shrugged. He knew exactly how many months it had been, but didn’t want to talk about it. “A while. You know how hard it is on Ada right now.”

 

“True enough, true enough,” Doriflen agreed. “Well do you mind if I go with you? I hear you’ve got some real skill with a bow, I should like to see that.”

 

Legolas flushed somewhat pleasantly. “Of course you can come if you want to Vede, but I’m not really that good, not yet.”

 

“Ah, but I’m sure you are,” Doriflen shook his head, putting his arm around the boy’s shoulders as they walked off together.

 

Despite the sham of a title Thranduil had given him, Doriflen was not usually welcome at important meetings of state. Thranduil said he tended to say things he ought not, but Doriflen knew he was just being spiteful, flaunting the fact that his younger brother had somehow weaseled their father into thinking he would make the better King.

 

Well, if the state of the kingdom right now was any indication, that was a pretty poor assumption. Doriflen knew he should be King, it was his right... and soon enough, it would be a reality. He was going to break his brother for the wrongs done him and take back what was his. But for the present, the elder elf put to good use the extra time he had on his hands right now to watch and observe.

 

Tension was high in Mirkwood. Things were ill and people wanted someone to blame. It was the perfect climate for him. It was all too easy to stir the flames of discontent. The common people could be so easily swayed by the simplest of suggestions... But to truly break Thranduil, Doriflen knew he had to get much closer to home than just the people.

 

His brother’s family was a tight little unit, but he saw where the cracks lay. It wasn’t hard to single out Legolas as his way inside. The boy was young, naïve and trusting. He was at an age where he silently craved the adult attention he was not receiving. When he was at home Legolas was almost always alone. It was perfect really.

 

Perfect.

 

Legolas knew none of the dark thoughts going through his uncle’s mind. He could only see the bright smiles he was given and the appreciative way in which Doriflen watched him at practice. Neither Raniean or Trelan were there of course, but Legolas loved the sport for itself and did not miss them too much.

 

After practice on the way home, Doriflen was full of praise and questions, letting the young elf talk on and on about the intricacies of his favorite subject in a way that usually made people’s eyes glaze over pretty quickly. Doriflen never seemed to lose interest and Legolas ended up talking much more than he usually did until he caught himself and apologized.

 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to chatter at you so Vede.”

 

Doriflen smiled amiably. “But I enjoy it nephew. I am glad you feel so free with me. It is good because...” he stopped walking and turned to face Legolas, who obligingly did the same. “Because I have something important to tell you.”

 

Legolas raised his eyebrows lightly in question. “Oh?”

 

Doriflen nodded. “Your father has asked me to be your Saelon Legolas.”

 

Legolas smile brightened. His father hadn’t forgotten! He *had* chosen a mentor for him after all. The young prince really didn’t know his uncle very well. Until this point the elder elf hadn’t had much to do with him, but Legolas had no reason to dislike his uncle and after tonight it seemed rather a pleasant arrangement.

 

“Then I am very honored Vede, I will do my best to make you both proud.” Legolas bowed slightly in the fashion of the elves.

 

“I know you will Legolas,” Doriflen smiled. A flicker of something deep and dark skittered just under the surface of his friendly gaze, but if Legolas even saw it he would not have understood its meaning.

 

“Am I permitted to speak of it?” Legolas wanted to know if he could tell his friends or not. Either way was all right with him, he was just glad his father really did think he was ready.

 

“No, Legolas, I would rather not. Let’s keep this between us for the present. Mirkwood is going through some difficult times, and your father is not sure whom to trust. He doesn’t wish there to be any ill feelings stirred up because he chose his brother for you rather than one of the other elves. We wouldn’t want to cause him anymore headaches, would we?” Doriflen’s beguiling smile masked his true motives far too well.

 

Legolas nodded easily, he understood. He would never want to cause his father more problems. “Very well then Vede, it shall remain between us. But... thank you. For accepting.” The boy smiled shyly.

 

Doriflen laughed softly, shaking his head as they started walking again. “Oh the pleasure is all mine Legolas, believe me.”

 

 

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Chapter Text

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~*PART TWO*~
~Enter Night~

 

 

Doriflen quietly insinuated himself into almost all aspects of Legolas’ life after that. He was careful however, to avoid letting his actions be noticed by the boy’s father or mother. Thranduil was not so hard to avoid, Elvéwen on the other hand could be quite a nuisance to his plans sometimes simply because she spent far too much time with the child for his likening. Still, Doriflen had the capability of being supremely patient when it suited his purposes.

 

Legolas had to trust him first. Then the true molding could begin.

 

It was almost two weeks later that Legolas first began to see a possible darker side to his new training.

 

Legolas’ tutor had left him about an hour before and the young prince was stewing in his rooms. Today hadn’t gone too well. His instructor, Lord Dridian, informed him he was not paying enough attention to his studies and said that he was going to talk to his father.

 

The door opened and Legolas half-expected it to be his father, but it was not, it was his uncle.

 

Doriflen had met Dridian in the hall when he tried to see the King. His brother was busy he said, but if it concerned Legolas he would take the message to him later.

 

Thranduil would never get the message.

 

The elder elf walked across the room, running his fingers across the pile of scrolls and haphazardly stacked books that Legolas had shoved to one side of his table in frustration.

 

“Your father is not pleased with Lord Dridian’s report of you Legolas.”

 

Legolas looked down. He hadn’t suspected he would be. “I’m sorry Vede, I don’t *mean* to vex him so much. It’s just all the names and dates and facts... they’re so hard to remember sometimes. I know that’s no excuse though,” he added quickly.

 

Doriflen nodded slowly, gesturing for Legolas to come to him. The prince did.

 

“I told your father I would help make sure your marks improved and he agreed. So...” Doriflen picked up one of the scrolls near the top. “Is this the one Dridian was using today?”

 

Legolas nodded. “I’ve been going over it again since he left, I will do better next time.”

 

“Well then, we’ll go over it again now. I will ask you questions, you will answer them. All right?”

 

Of course Legolas agreed, and so Doriflen worked his way down the page, quizzing the younger elf on every nuance of the text and the information contained therein.

 

To his credit Legolas really had done a comparable job of memorizing the information but inevitably he eventually fumbled on a question and got the answer wrong.

 

Legolas started and yelped slightly in total surprise when his uncle slapped him firmly across the face with an open hand.

 

Doriflen liked the startled, pained look in the younger elf’s eyes. He was sure his brother was far too lax with the child for Legolas to understand physical punishment. So he reversed his swing, backhanding his nephew the other direction.

 

Legolas backed up a few paces, utterly shocked and confused. Both his cheeks were flushed and hot and he pressed the back of his right hand against one, looking to his uncle with wide, questioning eyes.

 

Doriflen’s face was impassively neutral. He acted as if nothing unusual had happened. “That was the wrong answer, try again.”

 

Legolas wasn’t sure he wanted to, but he collected his thoughts and tried to figure out which part he had erred on. He spotted it without much difficulty and corrected himself, looking hesitantly to his uncle to see if he was right this time.

 

Doriflen smiled and nodded. “That’s correct.” He moved on again, posing another question, and another until the prince missed one again.

 

Legolas didn’t make a sound this time but he still started sharply when his uncle struck him. He unconsciously pulled away a step, although it did no good because Doriflen just followed him. He tried to correct himself again, but it was a question he was a little uncertain about and it took him several tries to get it right.

 

Doriflen struck him for each wrong answer and the prince’s eyes glistened with a dangerous amount of moisture by the time he finally got the right one. Legolas’ breath came quick and fast, wobbling slightly.

 

“All right, enough study for today,” Doriflen abruptly ended their session, rolling up the scroll and setting it aside. “We’ll do more later. I don’t think you’re prepared enough right now.” He brushed Legolas’ flushed cheek with one hand, his thumb skimming under the prince’s eye and catching the un-spilt tear. “Tears are for children Legolas, you’re an adult now. Please act like one when we’re together.” The reprimand was not exactly biting, but it was close.

 

Legolas nodded, blinking his eyes dry quickly.

 

Doriflen’s fingers tightened on his chin a little. “Say ‘yes, sir,’ when I give you an order Legolas.” His voice was deceptively soft.

 

“Yes, sir,” the younger elf responded dutifully. “But... Vede?” his confused eyes were questioning. “Why...?” he couldn’t figure out what exactly he was asking.

 

Doriflen smiled somewhat condescendingly. “Legolas, Legolas, you have so much growing up to do! Don’t take it personally. I am here for a purpose, to help you learn better. Pain is a teacher, it molds us, shapes us, hardens us to face the future. When you first took up a bow you hurt afterwards, did you not?”

 

Legolas nodded slowly. Yes, that was true. He often ached after practice. And if they weren’t careful when sparing, the boys could hurt each other or themselves pretty badly. He understood the concept that if it hurt, you wouldn’t make that mistake again. He supposed he had better stop being such a big baby about this.

 

“Never shy from pain, especially the pain I give you,” Doriflen nodded approvingly when he saw the boy rationalizing it all in his mind. Legolas was so eager to please, and that made him supremely pliable. “It is for instruction and for your own good. Do you understand that nephew?”

 

Legolas nodded. “Yes, Vede, I’m sorry. I will do better.”

 

~*~

 

Over the days that followed, Doriflen continued to ‘help’ Legolas with his studies, relying heavily on this form of instruction. Although he quickly deemed that bruises on his face would draw far too much attention. Therefore he took to quizzing Legolas with a switch instead, applying a single stroke to the boy’s shoulders or backside for each wrong answer. There, the bruises he left his nephew with did not show.

 

Legolas’ studies did improve, since he now lived in fear of getting a wrong answer. Lord Dridian complemented him on his progress, but was privately puzzled by the boy’s subtle change of attitude. Although the tutor had sometimes complained of a lack of attention, Dridian had always found his young charge inquisitive and outgoing; a bright mind full of questions. But Legolas asked fewer questions now and seemed slightly withdrawn from their discussions. The boy could almost always cite exactly the right answers from the text, but he no longer elaborated on them, no longer tried to use his own logic and imagination as the source of those answers, preferring instead to stay strictly with whatever he felt were the safe or expected replies.

 

Dridian couldn’t complain because the boy’s knowledge was exemplary, but still... it was odd.

 

Legolas knew he shouldn’t fear his training, but he slowly began to dread lessons with his uncle. The older elf was becoming more and more demanding, which usually meant that Legolas was left hurting.

 

Yet even so, nothing prepared Legolas for the evening when Doriflen summoned him to his chambers. He should have felt uneasy when his uncle locked the doors, but he was still far too trusting.

 

“You avoided me today Legolas.” Doriflen turned to the younger elf and Legolas backed up a pace. He didn’t like what he saw in his uncle’s eyes. There was a strange light in them that wasn’t always there. It sent a funny shiver down the prince’s spine.

 

“No, sir, at least, I did not intend to...” Legolas started to shake his head, but was stopped when Doriflen backhanded him. The boy flinched but had become accustomed to that kind of treatment.

 

“Do *not* contradict me,” Doriflen warned. “Now we always have lessons after your tutor leaves. So why didn’t we today?”

 

Legolas was surprised to realize what this was about. “I-I thought you were too busy today Vede. I waited for you, but you did not come.”

 

The prince expected the blow that followed. He could tell his uncle was angry, and it frightened him.

 

“And am I always supposed to come running to you? If you know you are supposed to do something you do it Legolas! You don’t wait for others to hand it to you. If I am not there you should have come looking for me!”

 

“Yes sir, I will remember that,” Legolas promised, trying to keep his heartbeat steady.

 

“I’ll make sure you do,” Doriflen countered darkly and the younger elf felt a zing of fear shot through him, turning his blood cold.

 

“Come here. Come *here*!” Doriflen grabbed the boy’s wrist when he did not obey immediately. He shook Legolas hard. “You’re not making this any easier on yourself Legolas, you obey me when I speak and you do it instantly, or you will suffer the consequences, do you understand?”

 

Legolas could do nothing but nod in terror. His throat had closed off and left him no voice.

 

Doriflen flung Legolas facedown over the end of his bed and pulled off his belt. There was no warning, no preamble; he simply started lashing the boy.

 

Legolas jerked and started, unused to this new kind of unrestrained abuse. He tried to get up off the bed, tried to get away from the sudden, terrible pain, but Doriflen caught him and flung him back down again.

 

“You do not run and you never, *EVER* fight me!” Doriflen punctuated that command with a hail of forceful blows, while he pressed Legolas down so hard that the boy’s face was half-smothered in the bedclothes, leaving the young prince dizzy and faint.

 

“I’ll tie you down if I have to, but believe me Legolas it only gets a hundred times worse for you after that!” he threatened darkly. Doriflen liked pain. He liked to see people in pain, and he liked to play twisted games with Legolas’ mind. But right now he was also angry. Thranduil had somehow managed to push through the limited measures he had proposed for the aid of Esgaroth. Not only that, he had actually swayed some of the councilors into believing it was the best thing for them all. This did *not* fit well into Doriflen’s plans and he was angry with his brother. Yet there was no way he could vent that anger on Thranduil... so tonight Legolas would pay the price instead.

 

Realizing he had no choice, Legolas stopped struggling and lay as still as he was able, squirming only when the pain became bad and allowing his uncle to beat him without restraint.

 

It was not the worst beating Legolas would receive from his uncle’s hands, but it was the first and it left the boy weak and in a world of pain.

 

When Doriflen finally released him that night he made Legolas thank him for the punishment, which the prince did, through hitching sobs. Then he sent the boy back to his own rooms with a warning.

 

“I trust you *will* remember this Legolas. And that you will not shame your training. Everything that passes between us falls under the bond of Saelonship. You understand that Legolas? This is just between the two of us. I will never shame you by speaking of what you make me do to you to others, and you will not shame yourself or your family by weighing them down or breaking the trust of your training.”

 

Legolas nodded shakily and promised to remember before fleeing back to his rooms to bury his burning face in his pillows and let them receive the torrent of his confused and hurting tears.

 

He hadn’t known. He hadn’t known that going forward with his training would be like this. No wonder students weren’t allowed to talk to one another about their Saelons! He wondered if Cirlith was this hard on Raniean. He hoped not. The young prince felt incredibly betrayed that his parents would submit him to this, yet at the same time he felt horrible for even feeling that way. Certainly he knew they loved him, they were wiser than he was, and if his father felt this was what he needed, then the fault must lie in himself.

 

Slowly, Legolas’ breathing calmed, although the pain remained. It was a lesson, like his other lessons, he had to think of it that way; he had to be rational and accept correction when he erred. He sighed into his now damp pillow. He would simply have to try harder. If he made fewer mistakes, he would not be punished like this again. Or so he hoped.

 

Physically and emotionally exhausted, the prince eventually fell asleep.

 

 

~~~~~~~~
Something’s wrong, shut the light,
Heavy thoughts tonight
and they aren’t of snow white.
Dreams of war, dreams of liars,
Dreams of dragon’s fire
and of things that will bite.

Sleep with one eye open,
Gripping your pillow tight
Exit light
Enter night...

-- Metallica
~~~~~~~~

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

The next morning was bad. Legolas hurt terribly. When he bathed he could see that his uncle had left him with multitudes of bruised welts across his shoulders and backside. The water stung and he didn’t stay in it long. As he gingerly pulled on his class clothes he took a moment to be glad that he had some time ago convinced his father that he was too old to be having servants bathe and dress him every morning. These marks he bore today would have been too humiliating to explain should anyone have seen.

 

He arrived on time for class, which was a kindness at least, but moaned inwardly when he realized they were going to be sparing again today. He did not feel up to it at all. To make matters worse, he was paired with Nynd, one of the bigger boys who was often reprimanded for over-aggressive behavior in matches.

 

Legolas was good, but he wasn’t compensating well for his injuries and after only a few painful minutes, Nynd pinned him hard. Legolas’ hurting back was ground into the rough dirt below, making the young elf grit his teeth.

 

“Anno,” the prince gasped out, not caring if he lost at this point, just wanting to be let up.

 

Nynd pretended he hadn’t heard the soft word and pressed down harder. It was the first time he had beaten Legolas in a match and he was enjoying it. “What?”

 

“Anno!” Legolas’ voice was jagged and he struggled to be released. Pain flared, making his breathing short.

 

“Nynd!” Tegi was beside his two students now. The dark-haired elf’s green eyes flashed in warning.

 

Nynd quickly let up when their teacher said his name. Rocking backward and giving Legolas one more small, triumphant shove as he rose to his feet.

 

“Are you all right Legolas?” Tegi was puzzled by Legolas’ poor showing today, but the boy was breathing heavily and his voice before had held a strangely desperate edge that made the teacher think Nynd must have been hurting him more than they could see.

 

Legolas was not all right, but of course he didn’t say so. Instead he nodded, giving a weak attempt at a smile. “Yes, sir, I’m sorry.”

 

“What’s the matter *you’re highness* not used to a few bumps?” Nynd chuckled unpleasantly. He disliked Legolas simply because the boy was the prince.

 

Tegi was scowling. He was not impressed. Several of the boys’ behavior routinely dismayed their instructor. Nynd son of Melryn and his cousin Amon son of Amilon were two of the worst offenders.

 

“Nynd, a match is not just about winning, but about *how* we win,” Tegi tried for the fifty-millionth time to get that across. “I am not going to give you points for victory unless you show you can gain it in a responsible manner.” He let that sink in for a moment before clapping his hands. “All right then, clear the field. Next pair, Raniean and Trelan, let’s go!”

 

After class was done, Legolas did not change his clothes as he usually did. He did not want to take his shirt off around his classmates right now.

 

“You don’t have lessons today?” Raniean drifted over almost as soon as class ended.

 

“No, I do, but I’ll change at home,” Legolas dismissed it easily. “You and Trelan looked really good today. Tegi’s got to give you more field time now Trelan, you were good!”

 

Trelan pretended to scowl. “I didn’t *win*,” he glanced at Raniean. “But at least I know that you didn’t let me win either.”

 

“Never worry about that,” Raniean assured with a teasing smile. “But Legolas is right, you did really well. It was almost a fluke that I beat you.”

 

Trelan smiled and shrugged, then turned his attention back to the prince. “Legolas... are you all right? Did Nynd hurt you?”

 

Legolas bit his lip, fighting the flush that wanted to creep up his cheeks. “Not much, really. He just pinned me kind of hard, I couldn’t breathe too well.” It wasn’t entirely the truth, but it was all Legolas could give them. “I feel like such an idiot over the way that ended up. I’m just having a really bad day I think.”

 

“I’m sorry Legolas,” Raniean said, wishing he could do more than that. Genuine concern showed in both his friends’ eyes. “Is there anything we can do?”

 

Legolas smiled and shook his head. “No, it’ll be all right. Well... actually, would you walk home with me?” The prince didn’t want to be alone just at the moment, he wanted someone to smile with, he wanted something to take his mind off his problems at home.

 

“Of course!” Trelan agreed for them both and all three boys headed back towards the palace.

 

“So do you want to tell us what’s making today so bad?” Raniean asked presently, once they were away from the training grounds.

 

Legolas didn’t shrug because that would have hurt, but he imitated one pretty close. “Not really. Just... family matters. You know. How are things going with your Saelon?” It was a question that had been burning Legolas’ mind for a little while now.

 

It was Raniean’s turn to shrug. “All right. Cirlith’s a good teacher, I like him. He’s not overly patient though.” He chuckled. “I think I drive him crazy sometimes, but so far, so good.”

 

Legolas nodded slowly. “Ran, does he ever... is he ever... really hard on you?”

 

Raniean wasn’t sure what his friend meant. “Yes, I suppose so, sometimes. Why? Legolas, do you have a Saelon now?” Raniean’s look turned excited.

 

“If I did you know I might not be able to tell you Ran,” Legolas shook his head.

 

“I know. Bother that whole thing, it’s such a weird way this all works,” Raniean sighed.

 

“Well *I* still don’t have one in case anyone is wondering,” Trelan spoke up.

 

Legolas wanted to tell his friend that he didn’t want one, that he had no idea what the future was like... but he couldn’t.

 

“Well you’re not missing too much right now, I can tell you,” Raniean chuckled. “I am becoming convinced that no one can give withering glares quite as well as Cirlith.”

 

Trelan laughed. “Oh? Well from what I heard you had that coming. Honestly Ran, you rigged the trap *backward*?”

 

Raniean flushed and turned to Legolas. “You know, for being little he sure has big ears!”

 

“I heard that!” Trelan protested.

 

“And an even bigger *mouth*,” Raniean added loudly.

 

Legolas was chuckling now too. “Peace! Peace! Both of you, now I want to know what happened!”

 

“If it’s up to Trelan the whole FOREST will know before sundown,” Raniean muttered. “All that happened was Cirlith that was teaching me how to lay a particularly difficult type of snare and I simply reversed a few of the steps by accident.”

 

“Oh yes, which caused the trap to spring backward and catch Cirlith about the ankles. He was left dangling upside-down from a tree so high Ran couldn’t even reach him!” Trelan broke out in another fit of giggles. “He had to go get his father to cut him down!”

 

“Ha ha ha, oh yes, it’s sooo funny Trelan,” Raniean’s cheeks were completely flushed now.

 

Legolas was laughing, he couldn’t help it. “I’m sorry,” he apologized when Raniean turned his glare on him. “I hope you didn’t get into too much trouble.” Legolas suddenly realized that this might not be a laughing matter at all. He shuddered to think what Doriflen would have done to him for something like that.

 

Fortunately for Raniean, Cirlith was nothing like Doriflen and would never have thought of harming the boy. Nor would Raniean’s father, or the true bond of a real Saelon, have allowed such a thing.

 

“No, it’s all right,” Raniean assured, rolling his eyes. “I’ll live. Living it *down* however...” he glared at Trelan. “Seems to be harder. Oh Trelan, Cirlith taught me something new after that. Remind me that I want to take you Trellep hunting sometime.”

 

“Trellep hunting, what’s that?” Trelan inquired curiously.

 

“You’ll see when I take you.” Raniean replied with a grin. “Oh, you’re welcome to come too Legolas.”

 

From the way his friend was grinning Legolas wasn’t so sure this was a good thing or not, but he laughed anyway. “I doubt I’ll have time for a while, but someday I will go with you.”

 

“Good.” Raniean smiled again.

 

The three friends parted ways outside the palace gates since Legolas had more lessons to attend and the other two had family waiting for them.

 

Legolas felt better after talking to his friends, but also concerned. Interpreting Raniean’s comments from his unknowingly skewed perspective made him a little uneasy for his friend’s wellbeing. Raniean *seemed* all right... but then again, so did he.

 

Lessons with his tutor went well, but the session with Doriflen afterwards did not. His uncle was still in a singularly sour mood and Legolas could have sworn that Doriflen was throwing questions at him that they hadn’t covered merely as an excuse to punish him for not knowing the answers. Of course, he figured it was his imagination.

 

Still hurting from yesterday, it was hard to hold still for the ‘lessons’ today, but Legolas managed not to cry this time. That seemed to please his uncle. Doriflen did not hold Legolas past their allotted time at least and indeed, the older elf seemed to have other things on his mind. Legolas was only too glad to be ignored.

 

Many troubling questions were weighing on the young elf’s mind, and although he was a little frightened, he wanted to do what he had always done and go to his parents with what disturbed him.

 

Thranduil was in his study, working very hard over something, when Legolas knocked hesitantly on the doorframe. The Elvenking looked up and graced his son with a small smile before turning his eyes back to his work. “Come in Legolas.”

 

Legolas did, carefully seating himself gingerly on the edge of one of the chairs near where his father was working.

 

“What are you working on?” the boy inquired, not sure how to even begin to ask his real questions.

 

Thranduil rubbed his tired eyes. “I’m going over requisition lists. These are all the things that people in various parts of the kingdom need that they want us to supply.”

 

“Can we supply them all?” Legolas slid off the chair again and wandered closer.

 

“No,” Thranduil shook his head with a weary sigh. “Not even half. So I have to decide which ones are most urgent, and how to try to care for the rest with resources we don’t have. To make matters worse, some of these requests have already been filled, but they are not of the most pressing nature, so I have to figure out how to ask for those resources *back* without offending people and creating a small riot...” Thranduil stopped, smiling slightly. He doubted Legolas really wanted to hear all that, or even understood most of it. Still, the concerned and interested look on the boy’s face warmed his heart.

 

Legolas was close now, peering over his shoulder at the lists and confusing arrays stamps and seals decorating the parchments. He frowned. “Isn’t Vede supposed to be handling that?”

 

Thranduil’s smile was brittle. He wouldn’t speak ill of his brother in front of his son, but he could *think* ill all he liked. “Yes, he was. That’s how some of these requests became... mistakenly filled. But I have to do it now.”

 

Legolas nodded, although he didn’t understand a tenth of the sabotage and intrigue that was going on behind the scenes. Not even Thranduil really knew that. Not yet.

 

“Ada...” Legolas studied his fingers as he tried to work up the courage to speak. Thranduil had gone back to work and Legolas hated to bother him when he was busy like this, but...

 

“I was wondering... I mean, well, I... A-about the Saelons-”

 

Thranduil held his hand up, halting the boy mid-sentence. “Legolas, that is not something I can talk about right now, all right?” He had to find the right words to explain to Legolas why he wasn’t choosing a Saelon for him yet, and at the moment his attention regretfully had to be elsewhere.

 

Legolas hesitated uncertainly. He knew it wasn’t supposed to be talked about, he had simply hoped...

 

“Is there anything else?” Thranduil looked up after a moment when Legolas said nothing, but did not leave. He didn’t *mean* to sound impatient, but it was the effect that came across.

 

“No, Ada,” Legolas said quietly, shaking his head.

 

Thranduil turned back to his work, but a few moments later he paused, realizing Legolas had probably taken his words as a curt dismissal, which wasn’t exactly how he had intended them.

 

“Legolas?” He looked around, but his son had already left, as silent as the wind. Thranduil sighed. He would have to talk to Legolas later when he could more fully explain himself. Unfortunately, such resolves are easily made, and just as easily pushed aside by other pressing matters. Sometimes, ‘later’ never comes. Little did the Elvenking realize how much this conversation would haunt him in the years to come.

 

No one could really tell how Doriflen got all of his information, but the things he seemed to know sometimes made one ready to believe that the walls themselves had eyes and ears to report to him. When Legolas went back to his rooms, his uncle was there waiting for him, a dark look in his eyes.

 

Legolas froze in the doorway, almost unable to breathe. What had he done now?

 

“Legolas, Legolas...” Doriflen was pacing now, his belt already clenched double in his hand as he patted it lightly into his other palm. “You almost broke the bond today. Your father is very angry that you tried to speak to him about us. He told me to teach you a lesson worth remembering.”

 

“Please, no...” Legolas didn’t resist when Doriflen pulled him into the room and shut the door, but his heart recoiled within him. He knew he shouldn’t have done that, now he had made his father angry with him too.

 

Doriflen’s look was unrelenting. “You learn the rules so slowly Legolas, I’m going to have to start being harsher about how I teach them.” He smiled at the fear in his nephew’s eyes. “Oh yes, much harsher.”

Chapter Text

~*PART THREE*~
~Spinning Out of Control~

 

 

Several months passed and summer faded towards the early stages of fall. With the approach of winter tensions in Mirkwood began winding ever tighter as it became apparent that the wood-elves were going to have a very hard time of it this year.

 

Doriflen had slowly gone from being a benign nuisance to a full-blown problem. By now Thranduil was aware that his brother was one of the chief instigators of unrest in the realm. Unfortunately there was little he could do about it without fanning those very flames of discontent.

 

The controversy caused by Oropher and Thranduil’s disastrous decision to go to war for a cause that many felt was not their own had become a moldering gash in the fabric of the kingdom’s unity, exacerbated by Doriflen who was quick to point out that he had remained behind, opposed to the whole affair. If he had been King, the whispers grew, they would not be where they were now and all the loved ones who had been lost would still be with them.

 

Open rumors were starting now that Oropher had not even truly willed Thranduil the throne, but that he had taken it from his older brother by treachery and then convinced his father to take on this mad venture that had led the king to his death. Empty accusations, but they hurt. Hurt badly.

 

Thranduil sat by an open window, looking out across the trees that were just beginning to show their first signs of color change. He felt like he was trying to hold onto a handful of water... it just kept slipping away from him.

 

“Maybe what they’re saying is right meleth-nín, my love,” he told Elvéwen in a tired, vacant tone. “Maybe I am simply not made for this.”

 

Elvéwen didn’t speak for a few moments. Part of her heart wished that her husband had never been called upon to be King. The tensions in their lives since Thranduil returned from Dagorlad had all but torn their family apart. Even Legolas seemed to be showing the strain. He had become much more quiet and reserved over the past few months; withdrawn almost. A troubling weight seemed to have settled upon him... upon all of them.

 

“If you are not hervenn-nín, my husband, then who is?” she said at length. “Certainly not your brother. His supporters do not know him as you do. He would lead them to ruin.” She sighed. “Some choices are not given to us hervenn-nín, we are merely placed on the road and have to walk it as best we can.”

 

Heavy silence flowed between them for a few moments. “Thranduil, about your brother...”

 

Thranduil closed his eyes. “I *know* about my brother Elvéwen. What I do not know is what to *do* about him. Restrain him? Try to keep him quiet? Add ‘bloody tyrant’ to the title of usurper he has already pinned on me in the eyes of our people?! This kingdom balances on the thinnest of threads. Place but a little weight in the wrong direction and it will all unravel. And why should the people not doubt? What kind of King can’t feed his own people through the winter? We can only hope that the woods will support us, but with so many of our hunters gone...”

 

Elvéwen hesitated, knowing the reaction her next suggestion would likely garner. “Then what about seeking aid?”

 

“From where?” Thranduil spread his hands helplessly. “The Dale men are in as dire of straits as we, if for different reasons.”

 

“Then what about Lórien or Imladris,” Elvéwen said quietly. “You know Lord Elrond offered...”

 

“Oh yes, take the charity of the Noldor like a beggar at the gates, that would *truly* endear me to the people,” Thranduil spat somewhat bitterly. “They got us into this. Perhaps they would help, but at what price? I will be hanged before I become one of their serfs! Besides, that is just the show of weakness that Doriflen is waiting for.”

 

Elvéwen sighed. She thought her husband judged the Noldor elves too harshly, especially since many in Lothlórien were in fact her own people’s distant kin; but he *was* right about Doriflen. Any sign of weakness in Thranduil now and there would be open revolt. They were in an almost impossible situation.

 

“Despite what you think meleth-nín, many of the people are still entirely loyal to you. Don’t give up on them.” Elvéwen said quietly.

 

Thranduil nodded and rose. “Well, wish me either luck or a speedy death because I must go wrangle with those hungry lions masquerading as my council members again. At least it is only a normal policy meeting... *if* that can be trusted,” he sighed. “And if you see Legolas, remind him I told him to be there today. That boy has been sulking about *something* and ignoring my wishes and requests all week.”

 

Elvéwen frowned disapprovingly at the assessment. “He’s not sulking Thranduil, he’s withdrawn. I believe he misses you. Think how much time you two spent together when he was little. He had entire days of your time all to himself. It’s different now.”

 

“I know. I know it is,” Thranduil looked pained. “But what am I supposed to do? If this kingdom falls apart it isn’t going to do him any good either. Don’t you think I would *like* to be able to spend more time with him? To make all this turmoil go away so we could go back to the days when life was good? If only it was that easy!”

 

“I’m not faulting you Thranduil, I’m just saying what I see,” Elvéwen said gently. “Legolas knows the load you carry.”

 

“I used to think so. But lately... I don’t know what to do with him! I tell him I want him somewhere, he’s not there. I give him tasks to carry out, they remain undone. It’s not *like* him. If he thinks this is a good way to get my attention he’s wrong and that is more than a little childish.”

 

Elvéwen looked away. It was true, Legolas had been acting erratic lately, but she still felt Thranduil was too hard on him sometimes. “He’s a child my love. He needs a father, not a King.”

 

“I know...” Thranduil’s voice was soft and sad. “And I don’t know anymore if I can be both.” He closed his eyes. When he opened them again he chuckled mirthlessly, glancing at the angle of the sun. “Well presently *I* shall be late for my own meeting. I have to go. And Legolas had better be there this time.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

~~~~~~~~
I’ve done everything that you said;
I followed your rules without question.
I thought it would help me see things clearly
but instead of helping me to see,
I look around and it’s like I’m blinded.

I’m spinning out of control, out of control,
spinning out of control...

Where should I go?
What should I do?
I don’t understand what you want from me!
And I don’t know if I can trust you,
I don’t understand what you want from me.

--Hoobastank
~~~~~~~~

 

 

“Vede...” Legolas begged softly, squirming against the silken scarves Doriflen had used to bind his hands. The silky bonds left no mark upon his soft flesh that anyone else could see, but they held him quite securely. Doriflen often had to tie him down now, because the beatings routinely became more than Legolas could handle without struggling. “Vede please...”

 

Another sharp smack of his uncle’s belt across his unprotected rear made the young elf jerk and draw in a sobbing breath. “Please, not today, I-I have to be at the council meeting! I’m late, f-father will be angry...”

 

Doriflen sneered slightly. “And yet I am not invited to be present, as usual. Your father has the gall to call me a Vice Regent, but keeps me oh so carefully out of the way. They would rather do things behind my back as if I were a traitor!”

 

Legolas muffled a helpless sob as the strength of his uncle’s blows increased along with his anger. Doriflen often rambled when he was strapping him, but it didn’t always make much sense.

 

“And what of you Legolas? Will you tell me what they talk about in there?” the elder elf questioned more softly. The hand that held his nephew pinned against the tabletop pressed down with crushing force against Legolas’ lower back, keeping the young elf still and submissive despite the prince’s struggles to get away from the abuse.

 

Legolas repressed another shuddering sob. If he said no, his uncle was going to keep beating him, but he knew he could not say yes. It was horribly confusing to him. He wasn’t at all sure that his uncle wasn’t just testing him, to see if he could be forced to break his vows of silence, lest an enemy should ever do the same; that probably made the most sense. The prince’s young, trusting mind could fathom no other reason.

 

“Please Vede, I-I can’t... you know I can’t...”

 

“Oh you can, you just won’t!” Doriflen started lashing him so hard Legolas had to bite his lip to keep from screaming. “Because you would seek to betray me just like everyone else in there!”

 

“No, no!” Legolas shook his head, tears of pain tracing down his flushed cheeks. “I-It’s not that at all! It’s not just you, father says what happens behind those doors is secret, I can’t even tell Naneth...” The young elf was almost sobbing too hard to speak now. Doriflen’s blows across his exposed backside and legs where beginning to draw blood. “Please Vede! Please stop! Stop!!” the young prince pleaded desperately, struggling against his uncle and his bonds, but in vain. He knew he couldn’t get away until Doriflen was done with him. He never could.

 

“Your father,” the elder elf’s voice was cold. “Your father, your father, your father, that’s all I ever hear!” Doriflen hit the child a few more times before suddenly stopping; loosing the prince’s hands he shoved him roughly off the table.

 

Legolas fell in a miserable heap, but rose quickly, his hands trembling as he pulled his clothing back into place and tried to deal with the pain that was flaming through his body.

 

Doriflen laughed at him, tilting the child’s fair, tearstained face up roughly by the chin. Legolas’ golden hair was disheveled and his face was flushed. The pain that glazed his large eyes made him look so much younger than his years. The elder elf half wiped, half slapped the tears off his nephew’s face, holding his moist hand up accusingly.

 

“What? Tears Legolas? The young prince of Mirkwood cries like a baby? Still, after all this time you can never master that? It’s no wonder your father prefers for me to deal with you; he probably couldn’t stand the shame of seeing what a sniveling weakling his son really is. I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again, although you never listen: you are a prince! You do not show pain, you do not show fear, and you never, never cry!” Doriflen slapped his nephew again. “You shame the family you belong to!”

 

Legolas had to resist the urge for those words to wring more tears out of him, but he blinked hard and gulped in huge lungfuls of air, trying to keep his emotions in check and school himself back to the impassive state that his uncle wanted from him.

 

Doriflen released Legolas’ chin with a disgusted grunt. “Now kneel and make apology for the errors for which you have been punished.”

 

Legolas was familiar enough with this part of the procedure and slowly dropped submissively to his knees, head bowed, shoulders still trembling with the hitching breath he could not control. He searched his mind desperately for the words his uncle wanted, but could not find them. Doriflen wanted him to show that he understood why he had been punished and that he would not repeat the errors that had led to it... but Legolas didn’t know why he had been punished this time. He must have done something wrong, but he could not for the life of him figure out what, and that scared him, because he knew what that meant.

 

“Well?” Doriflen’s voice was sharp and made the younger elf jerk. “I’m waiting.”

 

“I-I...” Legolas bit his lip, his eyes glued to the floor. “I don’t know what I did wrong, please tell me Vede, I won’t do it again, I swear!”

 

“It doesn’t work like that,” Doriflen’s voice was cold. “If you can’t see your own errors then you will never be able to correct them. I want you to think about it, and expect you to have an answer for me by this time tomorrow. If not, you can expect that I will punish you for it again.”

 

A small, choked moan escaped Legolas’ lips without his leave. He wished his uncle would just tell him what he had done. He wished he had never entered this hellish bond. He wished that when his father was angry with him he would deal with him direct instead of going through Doriflen... but then maybe this was better, as his uncle said it was. Legolas loved his father, and he didn’t think he could take this kind of handling from Thranduil’s normally gentle hands. His father had only used physical punishment on him once or twice when he was younger... and it was nothing like what Doriflen did to him nowadays.

 

Doriflen said this was part of growing up... well Legolas hated growing up.

 

Doriflen looked at his nephew sharply. “I mean it Legolas, you had better come to me tomorrow, either with an answer or ready to accept the consequences of not having one. You don’t want me to have to tell your father that you’re breaking our agreement would you?”

 

“N-no!” Legolas shook his head quickly. He would rather die than let his parents down or be proved unworthy of their love and trust. Father always seemed upset with him lately as it was; he feared what placing one more strain on their unraveling relationship would do.

 

“I would hope not. He told me you were strong enough to begin this part of your preparation for the future, I would hate to have to tell him that he was wrong and you were too weak to go through with it all.” Doriflen lied through his teeth, but Legolas did not know it. What reason did he have to think his Uncle would lie to him about this?

 

“No, I can go through with it! I-I will figure out my error, I promise!” the young elf assured somewhat shakily.

 

“All right then, show me how you accept rebuke and move onward,” Doriflen put his belt away, watching the young prince.

 

With skill that was growing quickly, Legolas closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, calming his body and returning his breathing to normal. Completely drying his face with his hands he straightened his clothing and hair until only his flushed face gave away the fact that anything unusual had happened to him. This was important, he knew. Doriflen was quick to punish him further if he was not able to make himself totally calm and impassive at a moment’s notice; completely able to hide whatever pain he was feeling.

 

Showing pain was weakness. Letting others know you were hurt and making them worry was not only weakness, but cruelty. And one thing Legolas never wanted to do was be cruel to those he loved.

 

“You improve Legolas,” Doriflen nodded slowly as he watched the transformation. Indeed, Legolas was such apt pupil at this that he had been able to abuse the young elf on a regular basis for the past several months and no one in the palace knew what was happening... least of all the boy’s father. That thought pleased Doriflen greatly. Anyway he could hurt his brother pleased him.

 

“As a prince you will often have to put feeling aside and act only on duty, no matter how painful it may seem to you, or to someone else. Now go, I think your father specifically told you not to be late, and now your own errant misbehavior has already made you tardy. I may have to see you about that later as well. Go on, they’re waiting, go!” Doriflen dismissed his nephew.

 

Legolas nodded quickly and hurried out of his uncle’s chambers, running down the hall as fast as his legs would carry him. Even watching him move one could barely tell that anything was wrong. It was no wonder not even those close to the prince knew what was going on behind closed doors.

 

Doriflen smiled as he watched the boy go. Legolas still refused him today, but eventually he would work his way around the boy’s defenses, wearing him down until the child no longer knew right from wrong. He would break the prince using Legolas’ own sense of duty and love of his parents against him, until one day Doriflen could use him to destroy those very things. He would fill his nephew’s head full of whatever ideas he wanted to plant there and if he kept Legolas in enough pain and threat of pain that the boy jumped whenever he said jump, then the day would come when he eventually had complete control over the younger elf. What better way to hurt his brother and possibly destroy him as well?

 

“You are a fool Thranduil...” Doriflen muttered under his breath. “And I will turn even your own son against you in the end.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

~~~~~~~~
I feel like I’m spinning out of control,
I try to focus but everything’s twisted.
And all along I thought you would be there
to let me know I’m not alone...
But in fact, that’s exactly what I am.

--Hoobastank
~~~~~~~~

 

 

“Prince Legolas, where were you? Your father started the session almost a half an hour ago!” The servant standing outside the doors to Thranduil’s council chambers shook his head reprovingly when the young prince pelted around the corner and pulled up sharply in front of the large, closed wooden doors.

 

“I-I lost track of the time Elrynd,” Legolas hated lying, but his uncle told him it wasn’t really lying, it was ‘not showing weakness’, and was part of his training.

 

Elrynd shook his head with a small smile, pressing the back of his hand against the prince’s flushed cheek. Legolas was still very young and occasional lapses in memory were to be expected. Yet he was afraid the boy’s father wouldn’t see it that way. Thranduil had very high expectations for his son and everyone knew that. “Catch your breath your highness, you must have run quite a distance.”

 

Legolas nodded distractedly, only wanting to get away from questions and inside before he got into even more trouble. He pulled his face away. “Please Elrynd, let me in, I’m already late.”

 

The elder elf opened the door and Legolas slid quietly inside. He had hoped to go unnoticed, but the moment he entered everyone fell silent and all eyes in the chamber turned on him. The young elf felt a hot, painful blush darken his already flushed face. His father’s eyes locked on him with decided disapproval and Legolas wished he could sink into the ground.

 

“I see you *finally* decided to join us Legolas,” Thranduil said coolly. “Pray take a seat so we may continue without further interruption.”

 

“Yes father,” Legolas barely whispered, looking down and slipping quickly into the chair on his father’s right which had sat empty waiting for him. The young elf tensed slightly and held his breath when his injuries touched the chair, but he gave no other outward sign, and none of the grown up elves were looking at him anymore, all of them having returned to the deep discussion that he had interrupted.

 

The meeting seemed to crawl by. It was all about treaties and policies and things that even under the best of circumstances did not remotely interest the young prince. In his current state, Legolas could keep his mind focused on very little. He was acutely aware of the displeasure radiating from his father beside him and his mind was still spinning, trying to come up with an answer for Doriflen... by the stars he did not want to have to go through again tomorrow what he had today...

 

Legolas knew he was not supposed to let on that he was hurting, but the pain was intense and he shifted slightly in his chair, trying to ease the discomfort.

 

Thranduil thought that Legolas was being fidgety and inattentive and shot him a sharp look of warning.

 

Legolas immediately stopped moving, shrinking back in his chair and trying to hold perfectly still.

 

If Thranduil saw fear in his son’s eyes he thought it was because the boy rightly perceived that he was in trouble for being late, and could not in his wildest dreams have begun to guess at the true cause. If he had, someone’s head would have rolled pretty quickly. Thranduil had his share of faults, but callousness towards his son and his son’s wellbeing was not one of them. He loved the boy, fiercely, even if sometimes that led him to be rather hard on Legolas. From those he loved most, the King expected the most.

 

When the meeting was finally over, Legolas remained quietly in his seat while the other officials left. He knew his father was going to want to talk to him about today. He dreaded it.

 

After everyone had left, Thranduil sat back down, his gaze fixed on his son. “All right. Do you want to tell me what was so important that you missed half the meeting when I specifically told you I wanted you present?”

 

The King’s voice was disappointed, but not necessarily angry. Legolas flinched all the same. “I’m sorry father. Truly I am. I did not mean to be late, I swear... I-I lost track of the time...” He couldn’t even tell his father why he was truly late... that was against the rules. The training was supposed to be invisible to everyone but Legolas, and it would make his father very angry and disappointed indeed if he spoke of it or tried to use it as an excuse, Doriflen had made that very painfully clear.

 

Thranduil sighed. Legolas looked so abjectly sorry it was hard to be stern with the boy. “If it were the first time Legolas, I would believe you, or even the second... but Legolas, this is sixth time you have neglected your responsibilities and disregarded my wishes... the sixth time *this week*. What can I think but that you are deliberately disobeying me? That you-”

 

Legolas paled, his heart twisting. “I-I’m not father, truly I’m not!” he protested, accidentally interrupting the older elf.

 

“Don’t interrupt me,” Thranduil said quietly, but with warning. For all that he could see Legolas had become increasingly rebellious over the past few weeks. He supposed it was some kind of stage, sometimes children did become difficult when they were making the transition from childhood towards maturity, but he expected Legolas to show more sense than he had been exhibiting. He would not tolerate disobedience from his subjects, so he most certainly was not going to tolerate it from his own son.

 

Legolas dropped his head in shame, fighting the tears that wanted to come. He couldn’t cry in front of his father, oh Valar he couldn’t! But his body wanted to betray him.

 

“Look at me Legolas.” Thranduil would not speak to the top of the boy’s head.

 

Legolas’ head popped up quickly and he wiped his eyes, hoping his father wouldn’t notice.

 

Thranduil’s brows furrowed. The sight of his son’s glistening eyes tugged painfully at his heart, yet in his mind Legolas was too old to be crying over a simple rebuke and he did not want the boy to get in the habit simply because he knew it pulled at his father’s sympathies.

 

“Legolas you’re too old for tears. I expect to be able to talk to you like an adult, not a child.” He had no way of knowing how deep those words struck into the boy’s hurting heart.

 

Legolas quickly pulled his walls of impassiveness up around him once more, willing his composure back into place. *Never show pain, never show fear, never, never cry...* He couldn’t believe he was such a baby and constantly managed to do everything wrong. It was no wonder Doriflen had to treat him the way he did... he simply couldn’t do anything right lately. He wondered if he were going to be punished for that later as well. Probably. Doriflen usually had an exhaustingly detailed list of things to punish him for by the end of any given day.

 

“Legolas I don’t drag you to these meetings to make your life miserable, nor do I make rules simply to hurt you. I love you Legolas, and I want you to grow up to be a prince worthy of your title, which I think you are. It may be boring when you are young, but these things you learn now are essential for your future. I want to be able to share my responsibilities with you Legolas, I want to know that it is capable hands I am placing this kingdom in should the day ever come that you are called upon to rule it. Do you understand my son?” Thranduil asked earnestly. He didn’t want Legolas to think he didn’t care, he did, more than he could ever say! But the boy needed to start showing some responsibility.

 

“Yes father, I do,” Legolas said quietly. “And I am sorry. I will not make you disappointed in me.”

 

Thranduil smiled slightly and laid his hand on his son’s shoulder. “I know you won’t Legolas.” He sighed. “But I expect you to report to either Ravir in the Gardens, or Galion in the cellars every evening after supper for the next week. You’ll help them with whatever needs doing until bedtime, starting right now, understand?”

 

“Yes father,” Legolas nodded without reluctance. He knew that left him no time for archery or being with his friends, but he did not complain. It was far easier punishment than what Doriflen would do to him later.

 

Satisfied that the situation had been dealt with, Thranduil turned to leave. Legolas’ small voice stopped him in the doorway.

 

“Father...?”

 

“Yes, Legolas?” He turned.

 

“I really am sorry,” Legolas’ eyes begged forgiveness.

 

“Just don’t let it happen again Legolas, all right?” Thranduil said softly. “I expect better from you my son.”

 

Thranduil left. Legolas folded his arms on the table in front of him and let his face sink down onto them. If he had ever had a worse day he couldn’t remember it right now.

 

A soft hand on his shoulder made him jump and jerk upright again a few moments later. The soft sent of rosemary and wildflowers told him who it was even before he looked up to see his mother’s face.

 

The Queen smiled gently at her only son, smoothing his long blonde tresses gently back from his face and caressing his hair in a way that only she could. With anyone else it would have made him feel childish, but not with her.

 

“You look unhappy Tyndolhen,” Elvéwen said gently, looking down at him with her huge, beautiful blue eyes, so like his own. Truth be told, she had been outside and heard everything that passed between her husband and son a few moments ago, but she wanted to give Legolas a chance to talk about it, if he desired to do so.

 

Legolas smiled briefly at the fond use of her special nickname for him. It was an odd mix of Sindarin and Elvéwen’s native Silvan tongue. The word itself was somewhat untranslatable, but loosely meant ‘golden-haired dreamer child’. The prince’s face clouded again as the troubles surrounding him pulled his aching heart down.

 

“I let father down, *again*,” the young elf said miserably, hanging his head and pecking at one sleeve of his tunic with the fingers of his other hand. “I was late. He told me not to be.”

 

“I see.” Gently, Elvéwen pulled Legolas closer to her, letting his head rest against the silky white folds of her dress as she stood next to where he sat. Soft, dark chocolate tresses framed her smooth, pale face as she looked down at her son.

 

Legolas turned and buried his face in the welcoming embrace of the warm, glossy fabric. It didn’t matter that he felt too old to be coddled... right now he desperately needed a soft touch, and somehow it never felt like babying when his mother held him.

 

Elvéwen let her hand rest on the back of her son’s head gently, still stroking and petting his hair. It was such a rich, soft gold... like his father. Yet in so many other ways he was like her, especially his heart. “Your father is hard on you because he loves you Legolas... it’s his way. With all those he loves,” her eyes were full of understanding. “It will be all right, you’ll see.”

 

Legolas nodded mutely into her dress.

 

The Queen felt the heat coming from her son’s face and pressed her hand to his forehead with concern. “Legolas, do you feel all right?”

 

Legolas nodded quickly, withdrawing from his mother’s touch no matter how much he wanted to stay within her warm embrace. “I’m fine... I ran to get here.” Of everyone, he hated lying to her the most. “I’d better go, father wants me to help Ravir and Galion.”

 

The Queen looked somewhat concerned and unconvinced as she regarded the younger elf’s flushed, downcast face. “All right then, but don’t push yourself too hard Legolas... and Legolas? You would tell me if anything else were wrong, wouldn’t you?”

 

Legolas swallowed the huge lump in his throat and forced a quick nod and a fake smile before turning and making his escape lest she press him further.

 

Elvéwen watched her son go. He was more upset than he was letting on, but she didn’t know why. Perhaps there was more that had passed between Legolas and his father than she had heard... the Queen shook her head.

 

She knew her husband had a lot on his mind lately. Doriflen was becoming more and more of a problem and a threat. They tried to shield Legolas from the truth about his uncle... children were apt to say things that they should not if they knew too much, and the King and Queen felt the prince was too young to understand how a family member could be such a danger. But things were beginning to go too far. Her mind drifted back to their earlier conversation. Doriflen was tying his brother’s hands and it was a difficult and dangerous situation.

 

Elvéwen knew that that looming threat made Thranduil more short with everyone, especially Legolas; and now was such a delicate time for their son, poised as he was, uncertainly on the brink between the end of childhood and the beginning of growing into an adult. Elvéwen sighed. Sometimes being royalty was a hard road to walk, for everyone involved.

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART FOUR*~
~True Friends~

 

 

“There you are Legolas, we’ve been looking everywhere for you!” A tiny elf, only a little over half Legolas’ size called out, nimbly vaulting the waist high-fence around the gardens and landing near where the prince knelt on the grass beside a huge flowerbed. Legolas’ hands were earthy and a small pile of uprooted weeds was quickly growing next to him.

 

“What are you doing?” a second elf, this one a few hairs taller than Legolas, followed after, raising his eyebrows when he saw his friend’s somewhat grubby appearance.

 

Legolas looked up from his work, rocking back on his heels. Pushing stray locks of hair out of his eyes with the back of his hand he left a dirty smudge across his forehead. “What’s it look like Raniean? I’m weeding the flower bed.” Legolas looked out at the mammoth patch of brightly colored flora and ugly, nettled creepers. “The very *large* flowerbed,” he amended slightly, blowing his wayward hair out of his face once more in a rueful sigh.

 

“Why?” Raniean blinked several times.

 

Trelan elbowed Raniean in the ribs. Although the shorter elf’s unusually diminished stature made him look younger, much to his eternal chagrin, he was in fact the same age as Raniean and Legolas and had twice as much sauce as either of them.

 

“Because he must have got in trouble for something you nift,” the shorter elf hissed at his friend in a not-so-quiet whisper.

 

Legolas rolled his eyes. “Yes, I did, and if you’re wondering, no, I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

“That’s fine ‘cause we don’t want to hear about it,” Trelan said cheerily, earning him a scowl from both Legolas and Raniean.

 

“Hey look who’s on garden duty!” another voice interrupted the friends. Legolas sighed as he looked up and saw four other young elves leaning against the fence and looking over at them. A ripple of laughter ran lightly through the small group of newcomers. “What’d you do this time Legolas? Don’t tell me you smarted off at Lord Dridian again!”

 

“None of your business Sarcayul,” Raniean rolled his eyes. “I don’t think anyone here was talking to you. Or wants to.”

 

“Yeah, why don’t you move along?” Trelan added.

 

“Why?” the older elfling lounged against the fence post, smiling tauntingly. “I think we’d rather stay here and watch. Not everyday you get to see how a prince pulls weeds. Hey I think you missed a few over here!”

 

“Legolas, you’ve um... you’ve got something on your face,” Sarcayul’s younger brother, Legolas’ sometimes-friend Sarcaulien, shot his older sibling a long-suffering look before rubbing his forehead demonstratively.

 

Legolas wiped his forehead quickly.

 

“Don’t you think you’re a little old to be playing in the dirt?” Sarcayul put in again, ignoring his brother’s glare. “No, wait, if you plant shrimpy do you think he’ll grow?” the older elf indicated that he meant Trelan.

 

“I think you should leave,” Legolas felt his color rising again, but he spoke quietly, refusing to let the other elven boys get a rise out of him. “Now.”

 

“Why you-” Trelan spluttered at the insult and Raniean had to quickly wrap an arm around his friend’s waist to hold him back from charging at the bigger boys on the other side of the fence.

 

“Aw, leave the little guy alone,” Amon, another one of Sarcayul’s friends mocked with an unkind smile. “At least his father doesn’t seem to think he’d make a better gardener than a prince,” he said, shooting a sardonic glance at Legolas. “Your father’s made a mess of this kingdom anyway, my father says, so you might as well learn another profession while you can.”

 

Legolas jumped to his feet. They could rag on him, but the instant they started touching his family they had crossed the line. “You take that back!”

 

“Make me!” Amon scowled. “Unless you’re as much of a weakling as your father is.”

 

“Amon, shut up!” Sarcaulien hissed at the older elf. He and his brother may have been bullies at times, but they were loyal to the royal house, and that was treason Amon was talking.

 

Legolas was across the fence faster than it took to blink and tackled Amon, knocking him over. The two young elves rolled over a couple times, tussling in the dust.

 

Raniean and Trelan followed him over and the whole situation would have degraded very quickly except that another one of the young elves in Sarcayul’s party gave a quick cry of warning. Morifwen did not like conflict and had held back from the altercation. Since he was on the fringes, he heard the approaching footsteps first.

 

“Somebody’s coming! Break it up, somebody’s coming!” he called quickly, tugging Sarcayul and Sarcaulien back away from the fight.

 

Everyone else stopped too at the warning, although Amon used the opportunity of the distraction to strike Legolas in the mouth with the flat of his hand before pulling away and taking flight after his friends. None of them wanted to get in trouble for fighting, especially with the prince.

 

Raniean and Trelan helped hurry Legolas back to the side of the fence they were supposed to be on and everything looked nearly normal when Ravir rounded the corner to check on Legolas’ progress.

 

The prince hastily wiped his bleeding lip with the back of his hand and started pulling weeds fastidiously.

 

Ravir thought his young charged looked a trifle too fastidious and Raniean and Trelan were acting a little too innocent, but he just raised his eyebrow at the prince’s friends. “Don’t be bothering his highness now you two, and don’t step on the geraniums on the way out,” was all he said before going on about his duties.

 

Raniean and Trelan looked at each other and burst out laughing after the gardener had left. “And don’t step on the geraniums on the way out!” Trelan mimicked.

 

Legolas didn’t laugh. He was still upset over what Amon had said.

 

“Well we’d better go I guess,” Raniean said after a moment. “But the reason we were looking for you was to find out what time you wanted to get to the tournament grounds tomorrow. We should get there early if we want a good spot.”

 

Legolas looked down at his hands, twisting a bent weed between his fingers. “I can’t go to the tournament tomorrow Ran.”

 

“What?” the other boy was shocked. “But Legolas we’ve been waiting for this competition forever! It’s the archery finals of the season! Cúrorth and Galdil are going to be facing off for the championship!”

 

Legolas did not look up, but the weed in his hands snapped in two. “I know! I know. But I don’t have a choice Ran. I have to help Galion in the cellars tomorrow.” The young elf’s disappointment was keen. He had indeed been waiting for this event all year; he tried not to let his friends see how he felt, but it was a futile attempt.

 

Raniean and Trelan looked at each other. They felt badly for Legolas. They knew that he had wanted to go probably more than either of them did. Archery was the young prince’s favorite passion.

 

“I’m sorry... is there anything we can do?” Trelan asked quietly.

 

Legolas attempted to smile and shrug it off. “No, don’t worry, I’ll be fine. You two will just have to tell me everything that happens, and then it’ll be like I was there, all right?”

 

The other two elven boys were not convinced, but took their leave shortly thereafter, not wishing to get the prince in anymore trouble by hanging around.

 

After they were gone, Legolas felt the tears of disappointment welling in his eyes, but refused to let them fall. It was childish. What did it matter anyway? He dug back into his task quickly to keep himself busy so he didn’t feel the ache of the growing loneliness inside him.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Dutifully, Legolas made his way to the cellars after lunch the next day. Usually he would have had lessons still after lunch, but it was a festival day, so lessons were cut short. Legolas was half tempted to take the fact that it was not after supper and only after lunch to mean that he did not have to go to work yet and could catch the beginning of the tournament... but he knew that his father had meant that he was not to leave the palace until his punishment was over and the very last thing Legolas wanted to do was get in trouble again and further disappoint his father, or garner more of Doriflen’s wrath. He still didn’t have an answer for his Uncle about yesterday and the prince knew that sooner or later today he was going to need one. It made his palms clammy just thinking about it.

 

Galion regarded the downcast young prince with kind-hearted pity. He knew what the boy was missing. The butler put a gentle hand on the younger elf’s shoulder as he showed Legolas what needed doing.

 

Legolas was having a bit of difficulty rolling one of the heavier barrels up the ramp into the upraised storage area on the far wall, when another set of hands joined him; hands that were too small to be Galion’s.

 

“Let me help you with that.”

 

Legolas started and nearly dropped the barrel.

 

Raniean caught it and kept it from rolling backward until Legolas got his shoulder back against it again.

 

“Raniean? Trelan?” Legolas looked quickly between his two friends. “What are you doing here? The tournament grounds must be packed by this time, you’ll never find a spot!”

 

Trelan shrugged with an impish grin, adding another hand to the precariously balanced tub. “It doesn’t matter, I can never see no matter where we stand.”

 

“Yeah,” Raniean nodded. “We decided it wasn’t worth contending with the crowds. Trelan always gets stepped on and then smarts off at whoever did it, and I have to save him...”

 

“HEY!” the small elf elbowed his friend sharply. “Do not!”

 

“Do too! Raniean chuckled and shoved his friend away. “But anyway, we decided to skip all that, what’s one more tournament anyway? We thought maybe you could use some help down here.”

 

Legolas blinked, totally stunned. “Y-you can’t do that, I know how much you two have been looking forward to this! Go on, go, I don’t need you to feel sorry for me.”

 

“Legolas,” Raniean caught his friend’s eyes and smiled. “Don’t you understand? We don’t feel sorry for you. We’d just rather be with you than at any dumb old festival, all right?”

 

Legolas didn’t know what to say. He smiled gratefully at his friends, his eyes saying what he couldn’t put into words.

 

“Now can we get this barrel up the ramp before it rolls us over?” Trelan put in as the tub shifted again.

 

The friends laughed and rolled the barrel the rest of the way up.

“Before it rolls *you* over you mean!” Raniean teased.

 

The three young elves moved the barrels around with quick, light hands and nimble reflexes, making games out of the labor and racing the barrels down the ramp to see who could get theirs through the trapdoor and into the water first.

 

Galion watched the barrels bump and crash together much more roughly than he would ever have let his normal helpers get away with. But the three boys were enjoying themselves while they worked and it was all right with him. He thought well of the prince’s young friends for the sacrifice they had made for friendship.

 

Evening was drawing near when the butler approached his young charges. “Well now, with all three of you working, things have gotten finished up much quicker than expected, there’s nothing left to do here. However, I do have to go check how the wine supply at the tournament is holding out... I don’t suppose I could get you boys to come help me...” his eyes twinkled.

 

“Sure!” Raniean and Trelan agreed quickly, but Legolas hesitated.

 

“Now,” Galion looked at the young prince, sensing his hesitation. “Your father said you were supposed to help me, right? Well I need your help out there. You’re under my charge and it’s my responsibility your highness, you won’t be doing anything wrong.”

 

Legolas smiled brightly. “Very well then!”

 

Checking and refilling the large, public wine flagons took less than twenty minutes, after which, Galion took his young charges up to the roof of the stone alcove that housed the festival’s free wine and food. From the roof, the four of them had perhaps the best view of the entire tournament grounds. The match had just about reached its climax and the three young elves watched with rapt attention as the two best bowmen in Mirkwood faced off against one another in a series of breathtaking challenges as inventive and clever as they were difficult.

 

Galion brought the boys up some of the huge, sticky pastries that were being given out down below and the young elves shared the goodies amongst themselves as they watched.

 

“Did you SEE that?!” Trelan gasped animatedly, gesturing excitedly with sticky fingers.

 

Raniean shook his head in awe at the skill they were watching, ripping off another piece of the pastry without ever taking his eyes off the field. “Never seen anything like it! How in the world did he get it to go there?!”

 

Legolas watched, entranced. “It was the way he twisted his wrist, right before he let the arrow go,” he murmured, keen eyes straining to capture every detail, every move.

 

“You would know,” Raniean nodded, smiling. Legolas was the resident archery expert in their little group.

 

“Someday we’re going to see you out there, right Legolas?” Trelan said with full confidence.

 

Legolas laughed lightly, it was in fact a dream of his. “Maybe someday.”

 

“Ohh, oh, watch,” Raniean tugged on Legolas’ sleeve and pointed. “They’re going to do that relay shot we’ve been hearing so much about. I’ve never seen it done, I was hoping they would do it this year.”

 

It was an incredibly complicated shot, which only the best archers attempted with any success. Two elves stood side by side, one holding a bow and the other with several long, multi-colored trailing ribbons tied around a ring. A third stood several stone throws distant with another bow and an arrow.

 

“Lagor revio, thenid revio! Hado! Fly true, fly swift! Fire!” the archer standing next to the elf holding the ribbons called out, signaling his readiness to begin.

 

The lone archer across from the pair shot his arrow at the unprotected heart of the other elf holding the bow.

 

The crowd held its breath.

 

Almost quicker than sight the second archer pivoted on his heel and caught the arrow in his hand, stopping it in mid-flight just before it reached his chest. The third elf slipped the ribbon-ring around the shaft of the arrow even as the elf who had caught the arrow put the projectile to the string of his own bow and sent it back to the original archer.

 

The whole thing had taken less that a heartbeat to transpire.

 

With the same display of fluid grace, the second archer caught the arrow and sent it back, keeping the ends of the yellow ribbons trapped in his fingers. The arrow was sent back and forth in this manner several times in a kind of faster-than-sight dance, with the archers twisting and catching the different colored ribbons as they went. Less than a minute later, the two archers stopped, stretching tight the colorful strands that now hung between them. The crowd roared with applause when they showed that they had expertly braided the ribbons into an intricate pattern of delicate knots with the colors arranged to mimic the rainbow.

 

Legolas, Trelan and Raniean jumped to their feet on the roof, cheering loudly. They had never seen anything like that and it was incredible.

 

“We are going to learn to do that!” Legolas said excitedly. “I know Cúrorth will show us how it’s done if we ask him.”

 

Raniean and Trelan nodded in agreement as they settled back down to watch the rest of the match.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Night had fallen some time ago as the tournament grounds emptied slowly. Legolas said goodnight to his friends, but became separated from Galion in the crowds. So it was that he was alone as he walked towards the darkened palace.

 

The young prince jerked and started when a hand clamped down on his shoulder from behind. Spun sharply around, Legolas found himself staring up at his uncle’s angry face. If he had been startled before that quickly solidified into pure terror now, but he did not fight as Doriflen dragged him off the path.

 

“I waited for you all day boy. We need to have a talk,” Doriflen hissed threateningly.

 

Legolas felt his mouth go dry as he stumbled off after the older elf. This was going to be bad.

 

~*~

 

“Uh oh,” Raniean stooped, picking up a small brooch in the shape of a circle of silver leaves from where it was being trodden upon on the ground. “Legolas must have lost this. Legolas! Hey! Legolas!” but his friend was already lost in the crowd.

 

Raniean shrugged, tucking the brooch into his breast pocket. “Trelan, Nana said we’re having dinner at your house tonight, so my parents are probably already there. When you see them will you please tell them I’ll along in about twenty minutes? I’m going to return this to Legolas really quick. You know how his father is about him losing things.”

 

Trelan nodded. The last thing they wanted was for their friend to get in any more trouble. “All right, but hurry or I can’t guarantee that my cousins will leave you any supper!”

 

Raniean laughed as he jogged away into the darkness. “I’ll try.”

 

The young elf slipped into the palace quietly. It was easy enough for him to do since the gates had not yet been closed for the night and all the guards were used to seeing the young prince’s friends come and go as they pleased.

 

Legolas was no longer with Galion, so Raniean asked one of the servants, who thought that maybe they had seen the prince with his uncle and the young elf should look there.

 

Raniean made his way to Doriflen’s wing of the palace. No one answered his ultra soft knock so instead he pushed open the large doors that let into the Vice Regent’s lavish set of rooms and looked around. There was no one in the main chamber and Raniean hesitated to search any further. He did not particularly like Legolas’ uncle and he supposed he could just leave the prince’s brooch in his room for him. The young elf was about to leave when muffled sounds from the bedchambers down the passage made him freeze and edge closer.

 

“How many times,” *whack* “do I have to impress this upon you,” *whack* “before you learn?!” *whack* “You avoid me and shirk your duties and I will,” *WHACK* “be more than glad,” *WHACK* “to show you the consequences!” Doriflen’s low, angry voice was punctuated by a sharp, sickening crack of leather whistling through the air and striking something soft. But that wasn’t what made the young elf’s blood run cold. It was the muffled, miserable, choking sobs of pain that accompanied the sound.

 

“I-I’m s-sorry... it won’t happen again, I swear it won’t! Stop, please stop, I’m sorry...” Legolas’ voice broke as the pain became too much for him again. A muffled scream earned him a sharp clout across the back of his skull. His head was spinning and blackness tinged the young prince’s vision. His body was strong, but it was slowly wearing out from Doriflen’s repeated and unrestrained abuse.

 

Raniean had never heard his friend beg before and his blood boiled. Peering around the corner the young elf saw a scene so unreal he would only have believed it possible of a nightmare. Legolas was on his knees on the floor; his wrists bound tightly to one of the foot posts of the bed in the middle of the room. The prince’s shirt was on the floor next to him and his slim shoulders were marred darkly with bleeding welts. Doriflen stood over his nephew, beating the boy without compunction.

 

Horror rose like bile in Raniean’s throat as Legolas slumped limply against the bedpost, unconsciousness claiming him. “Legolas!” he gasped his friend’s name.

 

Doriflen’s head jerked up and his burning gaze landed on the intruder.

 

Raniean reeled back a pace under that menacing glare, but he was so consumed by the terror of the sight in front of him he did not hear the footsteps behind him until a hand pressed firmly over his mouth and a strong arm wrapped around his chest. The youth struggled in shock and surprise, but a quick, sharp blow to the base of his skull put a stop to that and Raniean slumped forward, also unconscious.

 

 

___________________________________________________________

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART FIVE*~
~Painful Discoveries~

 

 

~~~~~~~~
I have a tale to tell,
Sometimes it gets so hard to hide it well.
I was not ready for the fall,
Too blind to see the writing on the wall...

A man can tell a thousand lies;
I’ve learned my lesson well,
Hope I live to tell
the secret I have learned, ‘till then...
It will burn inside of me.

--Madonna
~~~~~~~~

 

 

When Legolas woke he was no longer bound and was lying fully clothed on his Uncle’s bed. The young elf moaned softly in pain and rolled onto his side. He had only passed out a handful of times when Doriflen was punishing him, but it was becoming more frequent as Doriflen became more violent. Legolas stared down at the muted shades of the rust-colored quilt underneath him and realized he was shaking, but it wasn’t just from the pain. He was scared.

 

Something was wrong. Somewhere in his heart he was having trouble believing that his father and mother wanted him hurt this way, this frequently. He still believed that some of what he endured was normal, but he was beginning to think that his Uncle’s unstable nature was making it worse than it should have been.

 

It hadn’t started like this... at first lectures and lessons had been all there was, and Legolas was used to that from all his teachers. Then when the abuse started... it hadn’t been all at once, but introduced gradually and the young prince always believed it was his fault. Lately though, Doriflen seemed to have no restraint with him and Legolas was truly beginning to fear that his Uncle might go too far and kill him by accident one of these days. It was a horrible feeling and a sickening fear to carry all alone.

 

There was something wrong with his uncle. He could see that now, some unbalanced fire in his eyes and his soul that Legolas had learned to fear.

 

Besides all that though, there were also the disturbing things he’d been hearing about Doriflen of late that made him question just how much trust he should be placing in the elder elf... it had been for a little while now. Yet... he was afraid. He was afraid to question, afraid what Doriflen would do to him if he found out, afraid that his parents would be angry. And he was ashamed; ashamed of the secrets, of the lies, of the hurts and humiliation, of what his uncle did to him and his own reactions.

 

Voices from the next room caught his attention, so he just lay still on the bed and listened, not feeling ready to do anything else yet.

 

“You have the brat secured?” Doriflen was asking someone who responded to the affirmative and Legolas wondered what they meant since he himself was no longer bound.

 

“Good. The last thing we need is more people knowing too much. Amilon tells me that there are some who are beginning to question my authority and who doubt the truth of what I say.”

 

“It is true, there are indications that some of our following are beginning to doubt your claim to the throne. The unrest is growing, we must move soon or I fear we will lose too much of our backing. Words mean nothing without action.”

 

Legolas recognized the voice of the second elf as that of Melryn, Nynd’s father. The things he heard Doriflen saying startled him. What could they possible be talking about? Legolas had heard the rumors that there were traitors amongst them, but surely it couldn’t be his uncle. Thranduil’s own brother couldn’t want to hurt him that way... could he?

 

The prince’s brows furrowed at the disturbing and confusing words he was hearing. It seems he was coming into the middle of a conversation.

Slowly he pushed himself off the bed and made his way uncertainly across the carpet towards the door. He didn’t know what time it was now and had to get back to his rooms before he was missed, but something troubled him about whatever Melryn and his uncle were talking about. There was a light coming from under the door to Doriflen’s study and Legolas quietly made his way down the hall towards it.

 

The voices of the elves within the study grew louder as they argued and Legolas carefully cracked the door, barely pushing it past the frame as he listened.

 

“Is that what they are saying?” Doriflen asked darkly as he paced back and forth. “Well I think I know just the thing to stop their doubts.” The elf lord stood perfectly still and smiled darkly at his captain. “In fact tonight we will have rule from within the palace and no one will question me again.”

 

“My lord, how do you propose to do this?” Melryn asked, shifting nervously under Doriflen’s piercing gaze. “Thranduil is still king and his guards are loyal...”

 

Melryn stepped back quickly as Doriflen moved menacingly towards him.

 

“Thranduil is weak,” Doriflen spat with venom. “His rule is weak and he is not the lawful king. He is a sniveling usurper and I will expose him for what he is! Tell me, Melryn, have you found anyone with access to Thranduil’s chambers yet that we can trust?”

 

Melryn seemed a trifle disgusted. “No. No one goes in or out of the King’s private chambers at night except for his family and his personal attendant. There’s no moving Elrynd, he would cast himself into the fire before he betrays Thranduil.”

 

“You were not too obvious with him were you?” Doriflen asked sharply. “I don’t really relish having another case like Umdanuë on my hands right now, they’re still searching for him. Someone like Elrynd would be too conspicuous of an absence. Dealing with that nosey child is going to be quite enough.”

 

“No, my Lord, Elrynd suspects nothing.” There was a pause. “My Lord, what *was* done with Umdanuë?”

 

“None of your concern,” Doriflen brushed the question off with irritation. His voice had taken on a quiet, dark tone, his attention distracted by the smallest of unexpected sounds.

 

On the other side of the door, Legolas’ heart froze. What madness of treason was this that they were speaking? With a quiet gasp the prince realized that his uncle *was* the traitor he had heard about. He almost couldn’t comprehend this sudden revelation, yet it was all there, too much to be ignored. It was true then; the ugly whispers he had been hearing were not rumors only. Doriflen did intend to try to take the throne from his father. Legolas still did not understand everything being said, but what he did understand was quite enough to horrify him.

 

Motioning Melryn to silence, Doriflen walked soundlessly back to the far side of the room, out of Legolas’ view where he stood by the door. The silence within alerted the youth and he quickly turned to flee, but he was not fast enough. He had just reached the hallway when Doriflen flung the door to his study wide open.

 

Legolas darted back into the bedroom, but he was sure his uncle had seen him. He tensed, listening – he had been discovered. He spun on his heels, there was no escaping now, he would have to admit he had been eavesdropping. Under normal circumstances that would have been frightening enough, but now...

 

“Nephew, you are awake.” Doriflen walked into the bedchambers, his tone conversational, his hands clasped behind his back. “Feeling better are we?”

 

The question tossed Legolas off guard and he stammered slightly as he replied, “Yes Uncle, but I should be going or I will be missed. Was there anything else?” His attempt at innocence did not fool the older elf.

 

With a feral smile that shot fear straight through Legolas’ heart Doriflen walked up to the young elf and placed his arm around the prince’s shoulders, directing him back into the bedroom. He wondered how much the boy had heard. Probably more than was healthy. They might just have to speed things up a little.

 

“Actually, it’s funny that you ask, there is more to tonight’s lesson.” The fear that shown in Legolas’ eyes at this pronouncement delighted Doriflen. “Tell me Legolas how does the King deal with those who eavesdrop on important meetings in his chambers without leave?”

 

Unwillingly, the prince began to shake, he could not handle another beating tonight, he feared he would not survive.

 

“Tell me child, don’t make me wait for the answer. You know what happens when you aren’t prompt with my questions.” Doriflen stopped walking and turned the younger elf towards him, lifting the boy’s chin until Legolas was forced to stare into his eyes. “Now answer me.”

 

“They are flogged.” The elfling whispered. He was trying hard to control his breathing and contain his fears, but his stoic mask was slipping.

 

“Ah,” Doriflen turned his back on Legolas and walked to the far side of the room as though deep in thought. “That is what I was afraid of.” He commented after a few moments. “Then that is what I shall have to do to you.” With a slight, sympathetic smile he glanced back at his nephew. “You were snooping near my door were you not?”

 

Without waiting for Legolas to answer, Doriflen picked up a coiled whip that lay on the chair near his bedside. Legolas did not want to consider why it was there. Doriflen slapped the leather handle in the palm of his hand, beating out a steady rhythm as he walked back towards his nephew.

 

“You know how I hate to do this...”

 

Try as he might Legolas could not stay put as he was told. Doriflen had never used a real whip on him before and he was terrified senseless by the threat. He backed away from the older elf, his hands in front of him in a placating gesture.

 

“No, uncle please. I...I am sorry, it was not intentional it was...” Legolas stopped pleading as he bumped into Melryn, who gently held the child in place. Legolas squirmed lightly in his grip, petrified. He didn’t know if his uncle knew how much he had heard or not and did not want to let on that he knew about the treachery for fear that his uncle would never let him leave these rooms alive if he did. Glancing at the whip in Doriflen’s hands the prince’s heart trembled; maybe his uncle did not intend to let him live through tonight anyway.

 

Melryn had walked out into the chamber after his lord when heard the prince’s voice and now held the boy’s arms firmly. He had been afraid that something like this might happen. He had told Doriflen many times in the past that attempting to turn the king’s son against him was reckless folly, but his liege would never listen to him.

 

“No?” Doriflen repeated Legolas’ request, twisting the word back on the child, mimicking the prince’s voice. “Then perhaps you have a better punishment in mind.” When the young elf did not answer, Doriflen continued, “I thought not. You know I cannot let you go unpunished. You must learn and you are such a slow learner.” He tapped the handle of the whip against his lower lip as though deep in thought.

 

“There might be a way for you to redeem yourself without forcing me to flog you.” Doriflen gazed at the elf that held the child securely, a wicked smile spreading across his thin lips.

 

Touching the leather thong of the whip to Legolas’ cheek, Doriflen tormented him with the feel of the instrument of punishment, forcing Legolas to wait on his uncle to continue. The prince closed his eyes tightly and evened his breathing out as he waited. Anything that Doriflen could come up with instead of his regular beatings would be bad indeed.

 

Jerking the leather roughly along the line of Legolas’ chin, Doriflen walked back to the chair and dropped the whip back into it, his tone of voice conversational once more. “Yes, there is another way.”

 

When his uncle turned back to him, Legolas shivered involuntarily at the demented light in the elf’s eyes.

 

“Have you seen the ring that your father wears? The one with the green stone set in silver leaves?”

 

Legolas nodded slowly. “The edsiria?” he asked quietly.

 

“Yes, the edsiria of the royal house that should have passed to me when father died, but did not,” Doriflen concurred darkly. The ring was old and had a very long history, most of which was unknown to Legolas.

 

Crafted many ages ago by one of the Mírdain of Eregion the mithril and emerald ring had been one of their early essays into making rings that were more than just jewelry. The edsiria, as the ring was called, was not at all like the later rings of power that had been forged by those elves, but it was special all the same. The ring had no power in its own right, but it acted as a channel, or a prism that enhanced and focused the natural strengths and abilities of the wearer.

 

The edsiria had been given as a gift to Oropher before Sauron, calling himself Annatar, had come to Eregion in fair form and befriended the craftsman elves. The skills that had made the edsiria and other lesser rings like it were then used as building blocks for the creation of the rings of power, although since it had been made before Saruon’s arrival, the edsiria was untouched by the evil that tainted most of the other work done thereafter.

 

Oropher’s ring was the last known instance of one of those early rings that still survived in Middle Earth and Doriflen greatly desired to posses it. Not only was it the official seal of Mirkwood, but it allowed Thranduil better control over the elf ‘magic’ at work through the woods, including the palace gates and many other measures of protection in their realm. If Doriflen had it, not only would Thranduil be crippled, but Doriflen’s own power would expand. Getting it was the only problem, and Doriflen had a plan for that.

 

“So, you’ll be able to redeem more than one wrong tonight Legolas. You will get the ring from his room and bring it to me.”

 

Before he realized what he was doing, Legolas was shaking his head, “No, no Uncle I cannot. The ring is special and I am not allowed to touch it.”

 

“Did you just refuse me?” Doriflen’s voice was cold and the tone shot fear through Legolas’ heart. He knew what it meant for him.

 

“No... I mean yes. But no, I did not mean to refuse you.” The prince stumbled for the right words to assuage his uncle’s ire. “I meant that father never removes it from his finger. I have not seen him without it, it would be impossible.” Legolas swallowed hard. He could not steal from his father it was unthinkable.

 

Doriflen sighed as though speaking to someone who was very slow, “Your father does not always wear the ring Legolas. Your *father*,” he bit the word off as though it were a slur, “is bound by tradition. It rules him, he believes in the codes and the old ways passed down by the ancients and therefore I *know* that your father does not wear the ring at night. You see the ring used to belong to our father and he would always place it in a wooden box by his beside at night. A small polished wood box with carvings on the outside. Have you seen such a box?”

 

Again Legolas simply nodded.

 

Even though the edsiria had never been touched by evil and indeed did not posses the power-retentive qualities that would have been needed for it to retain such evil even if it had been, Oropher had never felt completely comfortable about it after the revealing of Sauron and the destruction of Eregion. He got in the habit of not wearing the ring all the time and taking it off when he went to rest at night. All this was unknown to Legolas however, since Thranduil had not considered the ring a topic for children.

 

Legolas was not struggling anymore so Melryn released him and moved to the doorway that led to the hall. He stood guard to see that no one interrupted. The last thing they needed was to be discovered now. The captain watched with awed surprise as Doriflen manipulated the young prince to concede to his way of thinking. It was always a bit of a shock how Doriflen could bend people to his will, even people like the prince who should have had deep reasons to despise or distrust him.

 

“If you have seen the box, then you have seen where the ring lays at night. This is your final test Nephew. Bring the ring to me after your father has fallen asleep.”

 

“How can stealing from my father be one of the tests uncle? I do not understand.” The request felt wrong. Legolas knew that his father had told him to never touch the ring. He did not know why but had always been told that in time he would learn everything when it was necessary for him to know.

 

Doriflen, knowing the logic that Thranduil used on Legolas, as it was how their own father had treated them, turned the king’s words against his son, “When it is time for you to know the ‘why’ of everything I will tell. But now is not the time nor is it yours to question me as your Saelon. All elves must pass a final test similar to yours. Do it and bring me the ring.” He watched amused as Legolas warred within himself.

 

His father had rules. Doriflen had rules. The rules themselves seemed to contradict each other and the prince was confused. Moreover, having heard the treachery his uncle was planning made him extremely hesitant to trust anything he said. The words of his father’s caution rang more clearly in his head and with shame he dropped his gaze, his voice a mere whisper. “I cannot Uncle. It is forbidden to me to touch it. I cannot disobey my father. Let me tell him of your request and then...”

 

“You will do as I tell you!” Doriflen’s outburst of anger caused even Melryn to flinch and step back, bumping into the doorframe. He winced when the elf lord slapped Legolas harshly.

 

For a few moments Doriflen paced the room. This was getting him nowhere and they were running out of time. If persuasion wouldn’t work, he would try something a little stronger. Stopping in front of the prince he reconsidered his options. “Very well Nephew. I had not wanted to do this, but you give me no choice.”

 

Legolas steeled himself for the worst, but he knew he had chosen right. He needed so desperately to talk to his father about what was going on, but after refusing his Uncle he wondered if he would even have the chance.

 

“Your friend, the taller one that you play with in the afternoons? Remember him?”

 

Nodding slowly Legolas glanced from Doriflen to Melryn, fear knotting once more in his stomach.

 

“Well he interrupted your lesson this evening.” Doriflen smiled as Legolas’ eyes went wide as that information sunk in. “Very rude of him, walking in without knocking. He saw things he was not meant to see, and for that he should be punished. I have him hidden away and if you do not do as I say and return to me before sunrise I will give *him* the flogging that you so richly earned. His blood will be on your head, do you understand me? Now go get that ring and bring it back here. And do not think to go for help or try to tell your father what I have done, for if anyone but you passes back through my door this night, Raniean will not just be punished, he will be dead. If you tell anyone what has passed between us, or what errand I have set you, your friend is dead... and he will not go easy, that I promise you.”

 

When Legolas hesitated Doriflen continued, “Need proof do you?” The elf lord stalked into his study and returned with a wadded up green cloth. He threw the bundle at Legolas, causing the young elf to stumble back slightly.

 

Carefully Legolas shook out the cloth. It was a cloak, a simple elven cloak that might have belonged to Legolas; but the brooch that was pinned at the nape of the neck was not the royal insignia, it was the symbol that belonged to the house of Randomir. Legolas thought his heart had stopped beating as his fingers gently brushed over the silver pin. Ran had been wearing this only today; he remembered it clearly. There was no way Doriflen could have gotten a hold of this if he hadn’t captured Raniean.

 

“He was brining you this.” Doriflen tossed Legolas’ own brooch at the elf. It fell to the floor between the boy’s feet. “Really Legolas, you must be more careful about leaving your things around. I do believe you have already had a lesson in that have you not?”

 

Slowly Legolas glanced from the glittering brooch near his boots to his Uncle’s face.

 

“Uncle,” his whisper was broken. “I will do what you ask, just do not harm Raniean.”

 

“Then you had better hurry, you’ve already wasted precious minutes, dawn is not getting any further away.” Doriflen taunted. He looked to Melryn and motioned to the guard who quickly opened the door and stepped aside as Legolas fairly flew out into the hallway and headed for the upper rooms. He had no idea how he was going to pull this off but Raniean was counting on him.

 

“Do you think this wise?” Melryn asked softly after the child was gone. He was not convinced that the prince would not simply run crying to his parents about the whole thing. But then, he did not know Legolas as well as Doriflen did.

 

The laughter of his liege sent chills skittering up Melryn’s spine. Doriflen walked back to his guard and closed the distance between them, “You question my intentions and my command constantly Melryn, *that* is not wise. Legolas will do as he has been told. Once I have that ring it won’t matter what my brother knows. I will be in control of all his precious defenses and he will have no choice but to step down. Now go, hide that brat of Randomir’s where he can never be found but by us, you know where I mean. Gather the men and be ready for my call, tonight the throne will belong to the proper king.”

 

As Melryn formally bowed at his dismissal, Doriflen was already planning what his next steps would be. He no longer paid attention to the soldier that left to do his bidding. Thoughts of the future he had set in motion flooded his heart and mind and he hummed happily to himself as he entered his study to wait. It wouldn’t be long now. He would have the ring, he would have the rule and elven blood would run through the house of Oropher once more in payment for the foolishness of an old elf that had not the foresight to see the inevitable – he was the rightful ruler of Mirkwood, he had always been.

 

Legolas stopped running when he reached his own chambers. He gently set Raniean’s cloak down on his bed. His knees buckled beneath him and he crumpled to the floor, crying. He felt trapped. There was no one he could talk to, no one to whom he could turn. He wouldn’t have time to reach Trelan’s house and get back before sunrise and even if he did, his friend could not help him, no one could help him now. Every moment he spent crying was one more that he could not afford to lose. He wanted nothing more than to run to his father’s room and tell him everything, but he feared for Raniean’s life. Doriflen would carry through on his threat, of that he had no doubt.

 

Pulling his knees up against his chest he tried to calm himself and formulate a plan. He needed to get the ring, deliver it to his Uncle and then he would go straight to his father and tell him everything.

 

Everything!

 

With that resolve in mind he pushed himself up off the floor and crept stealthily out into the hallway. Of course the sentries guarding the passage that led to his parent’s chambers did not even look twice when the prince padded silently by them. Legolas could come and go as he pleased as far as they were concerned.

 

The door to his parent’s rooms was open and as Legolas approached he could see his father at his desk. Thranduil had been entering the last of the day’s events in his journals and going over the kingdom’s records, trying to make a balance between the need of the people and the supplies they were able to obtain. It was a tiring business and one he had gotten into the nasty habit of doing right before bedtime. So it was that he often fell asleep at his desk and the task had been given to Elrynd to wake him and send him off to bed.

 

This was how Legolas found his father tonight as he stole quietly into the main chamber and stealthily approached his father’s desk. True to what Doriflen had said, there was no ring on Thranduil’s finger. Legolas simply stared at the sleeping elf for a few moments, wondering what his father really thought of him, what he would think when he explained everything, wondering if things could ever go back to the way they had been between them before. Tentatively he reached out towards the older elf.

 

Thranduil shifted in his sleep, the pen in his fingers rolling off the edge of the book as he settled himself more comfortably. Legolas pulled back quickly, standing perfectly still. He was afraid he had woken his father; but the elder elf slept on.

 

With a small sigh, the prince headed for his parents’ bedchambers, set just off from the small study. The door was cracked open, wide enough to let Thranduil in and closed enough so that Elvéwen could sleep. The queen had grown accustomed to her husband’s late night habits, although she hated to see him wearing himself out in this way.

 

Slipping silently into the room, Legolas glanced quickly at his mother to make sure she slept and sidled alongside the bed. He hadn’t the heart to gaze on her for very long because he knew what he was about to do would hurt her. He hated to give Doriflen what he wanted, for he began to fear that it was somehow part of his plot to injure his parents, but he did not know what choice he had and he could only pray that they would understand when he explained himself afterward, if he could.

 

The box sat on the small nightstand near his father’s side of the bed just as Doriflen had said. The young elf’s booted feet made no sound as he approached the table and quietly pressed the ornate fastener aside; it wasn’t locked. Lifting the wooden lid he revealed the silver ring that lay in a pocket of deep green velour. It was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. The silver band of the ring was fashioned like overlapping leaves and intertwined branches that held a beautiful green gem. The stone was like an emerald, but cut so that it reflected all the colors of the rainbow and into its shining surface was etched the royal emblem of Mirkwood, making it one of the most exquisite sealing rings in Middle Earth.

 

Taking a deep breath, Legolas plucked it up from where it lay. Looking into the jewel it seemed that it had no end, almost as if it were eternal like the race that had bore it. It was breathtaking really, but the young prince could enjoy none of its beauty at the moment.

 

Legolas never even thought of putting the ring on, but grasped it tightly in his fist as he made his way back to the outer chambers and into the hallway. With a sigh of relief he rounded the corner in the passage, thinking how easy it had been and grateful that he had enough time to reach Doriflen before Raniean’s time ran out. Once he knew his friend was safe, then he could expose the treachery that was being plotted. His thoughts were so intense and so wrapped up in formulating his responses to his uncle and the explanation to his parents that he was taken completely off guard when he rounded the corner and ran straight into Elrynd. The ring flew from his open hand and clanked against the wall, drawing the servant’s attention.

 

The moon was bright and fully overhead this time of the evening hours. Elrynd smiled softly to himself as he gauged the depth of the night about them. This was the hour that Thranduil had asked his servant to come and wake him should he have fallen asleep at his desk. Elrynd stirred the cup of tea one last time before placing it on the tray and heading for Thranduil’s rooms. He had nearly gained the king’s study when Legolas bolted around the corner and collided into him.

 

The young prince, completely startled, stumbled backwards and lost his balance. The tray teetered dangerously in Elrynd’s hands and it took all of the servant’s skill to keep from losing the cup of tea all over the ground as he recovered from the collision.

 

The clank of metal against the walls of the passageway drew his attention and Elrynd bent over to retrieve the bit of silver that Legolas had dropped.

 

“Are you all right your highness? Here...”

 

The prince scrambled for the ring but he was not fast enough.

 

Elrynd scooped the trinket up and offered it back to Legolas when he suddenly realized what it was he held. The prince did not reach out for the ring but stood horrified as recognition dawned in the servant’s eyes.

 

“Legolas, this is your father’s is not?” The fingers of the older elf’s hand closed reverently around the piece of jewelry, “It is very powerful and is only to be worn by the king. What were you doing with it child?”

 

“I...I was...” With a sigh Legolas stopped talking and hung his head, unable to tell the servant what was going on, not with his friend’s life at stake. “Please Elrynd.” He begged with a shake of his head. He was in too deep and there was no way out now; if Elrynd stopped him Raniean would pay the price.

 

“I think young one, we had better go back and talk to your father.” Elrynd wrapped an arm around the dejected shoulders of the elfling and led him back into the King’s chambers.

 

The soft sounds of Elrynd’s moving about the room woke Thranduil. He smiled as the servant placed the warm mug of tea near his hand and was about to say something when Elrynd gently set the King’s ring down on the open page of the journal in which he had been writing. The smile slipped from Thranduil’s face as he saw the jewel and he glanced sharply at his servant.

 

“Elrynd, where did you get this?” His questioning was harsher than he intended, edged with surprise at seeing his family’s heirloom where it should not have been. He touched his ring finger absently, trying to remember if he really had placed it in the box next to his bed before returning out here.

 

“I am afraid I do not know why it is out of the box my lord, but I do know who may.” Elrynd stepped aside as he spoke and Thranduil noticed for the first time that Legolas stood behind the servant, trying to hide for as long as possible.

 

The prince had no idea how to explain any of this to his father. He thought to win Raniean’s freedom and then come back with an explanation, but of what manner he hadn’t yet decided.

 

“Legolas?” Thranduil stood to his feet and rounded the desk to stand before his son. “Did you take my ring from the bedside?”

 

The sounds of voices in the antechamber had awoken Elvéwen and she entered the study, wrapping her slim frame in a thick robe.

 

“My love, what is it?” She walked up behind the King and smiled at Legolas. “What troubles you so this late at night?”

 

Instead of answering his wife, Thranduil simply opened the palm of his hand and revealed the edsiria, his gaze never straying from Legolas’.

 

“Legolas?” Elvéwen queried the silent elfling, her eyes clouding with concern. “What happened son?”

 

“I...I need...it’s just that...” Legolas stopped speaking, he was near tears and angry with himself for the weakness. He desperately needed to tell them what had happened but knew that it would only end badly for his friend. The fear of not being able to answer correctly and the anger in his father’s gaze froze him in place and he did not know what to say.

 

“I will ask you again. Did you take the ring Legolas?” Thranduil glanced up as Amil-Garil stepped into the chambers, followed by his second in command. Agitated voices from within his Lord’s chambers had drawn the Captain of the Guard to the scene in concern. He was in time to hear the prince’s whispered answer.

 

“Yes, Adar, I took the ring.” Legolas winced as his mother gasped softly in shock.

 

“Why would you do this love?” The tenderness in her voice choked off Legolas’ answer and he simply shook his head, biting back the tears.

 

Thranduil gripped the ring tightly in his palm, a sinking dread pulling at him. There were few who knew about the edsiria, or his habit of taking it off at night. Legolas would have had no reason to take the ring for himself, no reason the King could think of to want it... but Thranduil knew someone else who did.

 

“Legolas, have I or have I not told you to never touch this ring?” Thranduil demanded, his stomach tight with fear and betrayal.

 

Legolas nodded miserably, he couldn’t speak. Of course Thranduil had, even if he didn’t know why.

 

“Then why did you?”

 

No answer. Thranduil had been trying to gather his calm but Legolas’ guilty silence ground on his frayed nerves. “Answer me Legolas. Who put you up to this? Was it your uncle? Tell me child!” he had no idea how Doriflen would have gotten Legolas to be his pawn, but it both hurt and angered him that his son would let himself be used in this way.

 

Legolas desperately wanted to say yes, wanted to explain the whole, sorry mess... but that would seal Raniean’s fate, if indeed, his own failure had not already done so. If he failed, Raniean would be flogged, but if he told... Raniean would be dead. The prince buried his face in his hands and did not answer.

 

“My lord is everything all right? We heard voices. Do you require our assistance?” Amil-Garil asked quietly.

 

“The penalty I would pass down for any other subject of this kingdom caught stealing from the royal family is imprisonment.” Thranduil ignored his guard for the moment. His tone was harsh; he was finding it increasingly difficult to understand his son. Legolas’ willful disobedience and refusal to even speak to him made him question the boy’s motives even further. If Legolas had been tricked that was bad enough, but if he was actively choosing compliance... Thranduil did not want to have to consider that. It was easier to hide behind the veil of power and duty than reveal the depths of his betrayed heart.

 

“Can you explain yourself? Do you have a good reason for the treason you done here? Have you any idea what could have happened if this were put in the wrong hands?” Thranduil was almost certain he knew exactly who was behind this attempt to gain power over his house, but he wanted to hear it from his son. He *needed* to hear it from him before he could take any action in response.

 

“I cannot tell you why, please Ada...” Legolas stepped back a pace, flinching as his father cut off his explanation.

 

“Yes you *can*, as your father and as your king I command you to tell me, it’s important, please Legolas,” Thranduil’s appeal was both firm and entreating at the same time.

 

Legolas couldn’t breathe. He had never seen his father this angry and yet there was nothing he could say. No way he could explain his hideous actions without forfeiting Raniean’s life. It broke Legolas’ heart to refuse, but the child could do nothing but shake his head helplessly. “I’m sorry Ada.”

 

A stony mask fell over Thranduil’s face. “Very well then. If you wish to play the base roll of a common criminal, you shall be treated as such. Amil-Garil, it seems that I do have need of your assistance.” Thranduil’s voice was firm and his eyes hard. Legolas had betrayed him and would not even tell him why. “Take the prince to the prison and put him in one of the cells. He is not to be released until I say so.”

 

Any remaining color drained out of Legolas face as he dropped his head, unable to stand the contempt in his father’s eyes.

 

Elvéwen tightened by her husband’s side. She would not openly cross him in front of the guards, but her gentle eyes burned hotly as they followed Legolas’ small form out of the room.

 

Elrynd waited for his liege’s nod of dismissal before following the sad little party out, a deep, troubled frown on his face. He did not understand what was happening, but hated seeing the family he loved and served so torn apart.

 

As soon as the door closed behind them, Elvéwen rounded on her husband with an icy glare. “In all our years together Thranduil I have never questioned you, never contested any order you saw fit to give. But here I draw the line. You are *not* putting our son in prison! He is a *child*, a frightened child. I don’t pretend to know what is going on in his head that he would do what he has done, but you *know* he is not the one behind it.”

 

Thranduil sighed and dropped down into a chair, clenching the edsiria in his fist and putting his head in his hand as she spoke. Finally he turned his eyes up towards her.

 

“Véa... I know he is not behind it. This has Doriflen’s fingerprints all over it. He *used* Legolas my love, he used him, and somehow Legolas let himself be used. No, I don’t doubt that the boy’s reasons were good in his own mind, but understand Elvéwen, if Doriflen used him once he will try to use him again. We have no way of knowing what Doriflen has over Legolas unless the boy tells us, which he seems unable to do, but whatever it is he must not be allowed to use it again. Legolas is *safe* in prison because my brother cannot get to him. I do not lock him up only to punish him, I do it to put him out of harms way and that decision I will not recant.”

 

Elvéwen’s heart twisted in her chest. She understood her husband’s reasons but that did not mean she liked the methods. “I will not leave him there alone,” she said quietly.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

The heavy door closed quietly, but Legolas could hear the key turn in the lock with a distinctive click. The young elf pulled himself into the tightest ball he could manage, hugging his knees and burying his face against them to muffle the sound of his shame-filled tears.

 

He had lost everything. His parents love, his father’s trust, maybe even Raniean’s life.

 

A few minutes after the guards left Legolas heard a sound outside his cell and froze as a familiar voice hissed in through the grate in the door. “You failed me Legolas. You failed me. And tonight Raniean shall pay for your failure since I cannot reach you.”

 

“No!” Legolas scrambled towards the locked door. “I-I didn’t tell them! I didn’t tell them anything. Leave Ran alone!”

 

The dark chuckle that answered chilled the prince’s young heart. “It’s too late little one. You’ve failed me for the last time. I hope you told him goodbye when you parted last.”

 

Legolas fairly flung himself against the locked door between them. “Don’t hurt him don’t you dare hurt him!” the young elf half-raged, half-pleaded desperately. “You *used* me uncle! You are a traitor to Mirkwood and plotting against my father, I heard you! If you hurt him I will tell them everything I know, I swear it!”

 

Doriflen just laughed softly. “Then you seal his doom all the more swiftly. I will destroy him. I will destroy your father and your mother and anyone else who stands in my way. Except maybe you nephew... you I may keep to finish your training, or discard you broken if you continue to prove unworthy. Tell them what you like little princling. It doesn’t matter anymore. After tonight, nothing matters.”

 

“Uncle? Uncle!” Legolas pounded his fists on the door, but Doriflen had already left. “Hello? Is anyone out there? Help me! Hello?!” he shouted desperately, seeking anyone that could help. He had to tell someone the truth before it was too late, he had to try!

 

Unfortunately Amil-Garil was far away from there and the two sentries on either side of the prince’s cell did not move as they watched their lord walk away, ignoring the cries of their young prisoner. After tonight they would no longer have to serve Doriflen in secret.

 

Horribly, Legolas realized that no one was going to come. He as alone, despised, forgotten, and utterly helpless. His shoulders shaking with sobs he could no longer contain, the young elf slid to the floor, leaning against the rough wooden door and burying his face in his arms to hide the shameful flow of unstoppable tears.

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART SIX*~
~Shattered Peace, Mended Heart~

 

 

~~~~~~~~
Don’t waste your touch, you won’t feel anything
or were you sent to save me?
I’ve thought too much, you won’t find anything
worthy of redeeming.

Break down, and cease all feeling
Burn now, what once was breathing
Reach out, and you may take my heart away...
Take my heart away....

--AFI
~~~~~~~~

 

After what seemed a very long time, the sound of the key in the cell lock made Legolas flinch. He pulled back into the corner of the small room. Afraid of who might be entering, the young elf buried his head in his arms and would not look up. Was it possible that Doriflen really had killed Raniean and his uncle had come back to taunt him and gloat over his pain? It would be just one more thing that would help kill his already hurting heart. He truly was not sure how much more shame and hurt he could handle and he knew he could not show emotions in front of his uncle, it would only make things worse.

 

A shadow fell across him, blocking out the light from a tiny lamp that sat on a shelf high above and he tensed, holding his breath. The soft sounds of rustling fabric caught his attention and he fearfully chanced a look at his visitor.

 

Elvéwen slowly knelt in front of her son; her eyes shimmering with barely restrained tears as she took in the sight of the forlorn child huddled in the corner. This was not her Legolas, the prince of the Great Greenwood; this was a frightened, haunted waif that glanced tearfully up at her. What had happened? What was going on that had wrought these changes in her son? Something was greatly amiss and had been for some time the Queen felt, although she had not seen it this clearly before.

 

“Legolas?” Elvéwen gently reached out her hand, cupping the youth’s chin in her slender fingers, her thumb softly wiping away the tears that spilled unbidden from his blue eyes.

 

The gentleness of his mother’s voice and the sorrow in her gaze broke through Legolas’ feigned impassiveness and the young elf pulled away from the soft touch; he did not deserve to be touched gently. Everything that had come to pass was his fault and there was nothing left inside him that would ever be worth redeeming. He had betrayed everything he loved and now he hated himself for showing his abominable weakness in front of his mother. The prince loathed himself for breaking down like this and allowing his repressed emotions to surface when there was someone there to see.

 

“I’m sorry.” He rasped quietly, his breathing hitching as he spoke. He was trying desperately to calm himself, but it wasn’t working. His mask had shattered and lay scattered in too many pieces around him; he couldn’t pull it back together again.

 

Elvéwen settled herself on the floor in front of her son and rested her hands in her lap. More than anything she wanted to hold the boy, but he was resisting her right now and she would not push him.

 

“Sorry for what my love?” Hoping to find out what had been going on she spoke gently, but was unprepared for her son’s response.

 

“For... for everything! For betraying father, for not being strong enough, for showing my weakness in front of you and shaming the family.” Legolas eyes were large in the semi-darkness of the prison and only added to making him look younger.

 

“How?” The Queen whispered quietly. “What shame is this you speak of Legolas?” They would come back to the issue of his father later. Elvéwen doubted she could get any straight answers on that yet and didn’t want to make Legolas close off again by pushing too fast.

 

Wiping violently at the tears on his face he held his hand out towards his mother, “These! These tears, they are like me: weak and pathetic. I am sorry. I know it’s wrong, I don’t want to hurt you! I shouldn’t be so weak; I should... I don’t know...”

 

With a small gasp of sympathy Elvéwen leaned forward and pulled the child into her lap. “Oh Tyndolhen! No! Tears do not show our weakness and they are not for shame. Tears are given us by Ilúvatar that we may know when another is hurting that we may help them with their burdens. Never hide them from me my child, your tears are precious.” She kissed his eyelids gently, tasting on her lips the bitter saltiness of the tears trapped by his long eyelashes as she sought to sooth the hot ache of his inner pain with her loving touch.

 

So much hurt. She could feel so much burning pain radiating from his young, unguarded heart when she touched him. It almost took the Queen’s breath away.

 

“That is not what Uncle says.” Legolas winced slightly, inhaling sharply as Elvéwen gently rubbed his back. It was meant to be a soothing gesture, but Legolas’ back was still excruciatingly raw from his uncle’s last beating.

 

Pulling away from the young elf the Queen carefully cupped Legolas’ face in her hands and forced the prince to look her in the eyes. “What of your uncle?”

 

Jerking away from his mother the child simply shook his head, scooting away. He wanted to tell, but he was still afraid, afraid that Doriflen would make good on his threats. In his heart Legolas feared his father had already abandoned him and now maybe Raniean was gone too... there was no way to reverse what he had done and Legolas felt miserably helpless. He didn’t even know what to say.

 

Something seriously wrong had happened to her child and Elvéwen’s mothers instincts tingled with alarms. Never in his life had Legolas flinched and shied from her touch or refused to speak to her. The way he had winced at her gentle ministrations a moment ago sent fear spiking through her heart.

 

“What has your uncle said?” She repeated.

 

Legolas shook his head slowly. How he wanted to tell her, how badly he needed to! He opened his mouth to speak but the words would not form on his lips.

 

“What has he done to you?” Elvéwen’s words, although soft, held a hard edge as she began to guess at the fullness of what was going on just as she realized that the mystery was deepening.

 

Without waiting for the young elf to answer, Elvéwen moved next to Legolas and gently, but forcefully pulled his tunic up over his head. The prince stiffened.

 

At the small gasp that escaped her lips, Legolas began to cry softly once more. He was bitterly ashamed that his mother had to see the results of his wickedness. The pain-filled words he had been hiding in his heart tumbled out through the sobs.

 

“I am sorry that I am so bad, I-I don’t mean to be, honestly Nana. I am sorry that I must be punished daily. Please, when father is angry with me, can’t he come himself? Must he send my uncle to punish me? Uncle Doriflen does so enough on his own and... Vede is not... not *right*.” He had wanted to say *sane*, but didn’t. He suspected that Doriflen probably ‘improved’ upon whatever commands his father gave regarding his punishments. Certainly, it would have to be at least a *little* better if his father handled it himself. Doriflen took too much pleasure from causing pain; even Legolas could see that much. Thranduil could be very hard with him, but he had never seen his father enjoy another’s suffering. Maybe he was blind and misguided, but Legolas simply could not imagine Thranduil holding him down and beating him until he bled as his uncle did routinely, although in the darkest corner of his heart that was Legolas’ deepest fear. For that very reason, he had never before dared to ask that his father deal with him in person on these issues; he dreaded that he might find out he was wrong. At this point however, the young prince had already hit rock bottom. There was no lower he could go and desperation finally overcame fear.

 

Legolas flinched again as his mother touched the welts that striped his back; some of them not yet fully sealed over. They were ugly and swollen and not something that should ever have been seen gracing the body of one so young.

 

“Why?” the young elf’s whispered question was filled with anguish. Doriflen was a traitor, Legolas knew that, but was sure his father did not. Yet even ignorant of the treachery, the question of why Thranduil had submitted him to this kind of treatment to begin with was too much for his aching heart to handle any longer. He had tried, he had tried so hard to understand... but he could not.

 

Legolas broke down completely. All his barriers fell and the walls that held the pain back came crashing down as his mother pulled him against her, her own tears wetting his hair as she rocked them both.

 

Finally Elvéwen spoke, her words soft and calming despite the horror and rage welling up inside her at what had been happening to her baby without her knowledge.

 

“My dearest, I did not know,” she whispered, her voice rough with emotion. “I didn’t know! Please heaven Legolas, you have to believe me I knew nothing of this! Tyndolhen, neither your father or I knew until this very moment that Doriflen has been beating you. You have done nothing to be deserving of such treatment my child! We could not be more pleased with you, there is no reason for you to be punished so and what has been done to you is not even punishment.” Elvéwen buried tearful kisses into the tousled hair on the crown of his head, wishing she could wipe away every moment, every memory of this pain. “It is the worst kind of abuse, and it’s abominable! You father would never agree to this, never, and neither would I. I promise you that Legolas.” She held the boy tenderly against her, running one hand repeatedly through his long unkempt hair in a soothing motion.

 

Elvéwen’s heart shattered into a million pieces as she began to realize the horrible secret Legolas had been hiding from them. She bled for him inside and yet it was so hard for her to understand... what kind of heartless beings did he think they were that they could allow him to be treated so?

 

“Oh child, how could you think we would want you hurt like this? How is it he has done this and no one knew? How long has this been going on?” She was almost afraid to ask.

 

“He bound me with silk so that it would not show. H-he said it was part of the secrecy of the Saelons. It was part of my Maethor training... he said father had told him to do it,” Legolas’ voice had dropped to a hoarse whisper. “They were lessons. Tests of my abilities to remain faithful. I-I figured you knew best.” Legolas murmured softly against his mother. The fact that his parents had not known and would never have allowed all this quieted the ache in his heart and yet raised even more confusion inside him. “But they hurt Nana... they hurt so badly...”

 

Elvéwen took one of Legolas’ hands in her own and turned it palm up, looking for any marks on the child’s wrists. Doriflen, though cruel, had been thorough, covering all his steps so he would not be found out. Elvéwen’s anger flared and she held Legolas’ tighter. She didn’t care if he was her husband’s brother, Doriflen deserved to rot in the void with Melkor and at this moment she would gladly put him there.

 

“I’m so sorry.” The young elf kept repeating.

 

“Shhh... my love it wasn’t your fault.” Elvéwen closed her eyes against the pain and anger warring in her heart, “You were deceived. We all were. Legolas, your father would never have given you Doriflen as a Saelon, he lied to my son; he lied about everything. It is I who am sorry... I should have seen. Oh my dear one, my dear one, I should have seen. Is that why you tried to take the edsiria tonight ion-nín? Because he threatened to hurt you again?”

 

“I did not know they were lies,” Legolas voice was soft as he finally began to see the tangled world of twisted deceptions in which he had been living. It was almost too much to absorb. “But even so, I never would have stolen from father, ever, if I had not known that Uncle...” How could he tell her that Raniean’s life was in danger because of him, “If only I had...”

 

Elvéwen’s hand slipped around the youth’s forehead, holding him still and silencing him. She kissed the top of his head before easing Legolas’ tunic back over his shoulders and refastening it.

 

“How long has this gone on?” She questioned further.

 

The young elf dried his eyes on the sleeve of his tunic, closing his eyes and quieting his breathing, just as he had been instructed so many times before. A calm façade fell across his fair features, schooling his emotions before he answered.

 

The effort to control himself was not lost on his mother and she recognized the cruelty of her brother-in-law behind the strict teaching. It was something she and her husband would have to try to help Legolas unlearn once this was all over.

 

“Do not hide yourself from me, my son. Tell me how long.” She softly chided.

 

With a small nod Legolas dropped his gaze to the floor of the cell and whispered, “Several months now. It did not begin like this. First it was simply lessons and lectures, but then more. It has been worse the past few weeks. I fear he will kill me if they continue.” He started to say more but stopped as thoughts of Raniean rose once more in his heart.

 

The touch of his mother’s fingers underneath his chin lifted the elf’s face up and redirected his gaze, “Tell me all that is in your heart young one.”

 

“Raniean.” Legolas choked on the name of his friend, deep-seated fear causing him to fumble for the right words.

 

“What of Raniean?” Elvéwen pressed.

 

“He caught Uncle Doriflen beating me earlier this evening. Uncle has taken him away and said that he will kill him. That is why I tried to take father’s ring. He said that if I did not get it for him then Raniean is dead. It’s my fault and I do not know where to find him. He is in danger because of me!” the heavy weight on the prince’s shoulders eased a little as he confessed the secret that had kept him quiet this far. “Uncle Doriflen is a traitor Nana! He’s plotting to take over the kingdom, I heard him! He said that after tonight nothing would matter any more. He said Raniean would be dead. He said...” Legolas could not finish.

 

“Raniean will not be allowed to be harmed, and neither, my child, will you. Come with me.” Elvéwen stood, her face resolute. She held her hand down towards Legolas and helped the boy to his feet.

 

Calling to the guards she waited while they opened the cell and stood there holding Legolas tightly to her side. Instead of moving out of the small room she straightened her shoulders and commanded the guard to her left, “You, go and find Amil-Garil. Bring him here at once. Tell him the Queen awaits him, go now.”

 

Hesitantly the guard rushed off, leaving his counterpart to watch the cell.

 

In moments Amil-Garil rushed down the steps.

 

“My lady?” The head of the King’s guard took in the scene quickly.

 

“I need to speak with you alone.” Her eyes begged the captain to trust her and he nodded, sending the two guards away. His second in command stayed by his side.

 

“Begging your highness’ forgiveness, but protocol demands there is someone else with us and I trust Gáriand with my life. Anything you say in his presence will be kept between us.” The guard bowed, begging his Queen to understand.

 

“As you wish.” Elvéwen moved out into the corridor, trailing Legolas. The young elf walked behind her, her fingers entwined in the sleeve of his tunic.

 

“My lady, the child is to...” Amil-Garil was suddenly highly uncomfortable with the position in which he had been placed. The King had ordered his son locked in the cell and they had been instructed to keep him there no matter what.

 

“The child is coming with me.” Elvéwen leveled the guard with a stern glare that brokered no argument. “The prince has been beaten and his life threatened, he is not safe here. He needs medical attention and he does not need to be locked in this cell like a criminal. He is not.”

 

“The King gave the orders.” Amil-Garil countered softly. He did not like being caught in the crossfire like this.

 

“So he did, and I am revoking them. Thranduil will as well once he hears everything. I will take full responsibility should his wrath fall on you. That is why I am asking you to garrison us in my quarters and request that the King to come to me immediately. I wish you to stand guard until I release you from that duty. In the meantime, place a guard on this cell as though the child remained here with strict orders that he is not to be spoken to nor is he to have any visitors whatsoever. My husband’s brother has violated the King’s trust; he must not learn that we know of his treachery just yet.”

 

“Your highness, what is this you speak of?” Amil-Garil stepped forward, removing his cloak and draping it about Legolas’ shoulders. He pulled the hood down far over the elven boy’s face so he could not be recognized. The captain of the guard did not notice when Legolas’ winced at the touch of the fabric across his back as the soldier clothed him, but his sharp ears easily caught the small gasp of pain. Amil-Garil’s eyes reflected concern.

 

“Doriflen is not what he seems,” Elvéwen answered curtly, by way of explanation. “He has hurt the prince and endangered the life of another elven child as well. Raniean son of Randomir has been kidnapped. We need to find him before Doriflen discovers that he has been found out. He will kill the child, for Raniean knows too much.”

 

Amil-Garil’s countenance grew grave. The Queen’s news was no small matter. Raniean’s Saelon, Cirlith was a friend of his and he knew Randomir. As a matter of fact, Randomir had been to the palace only an hour or two before, inquiring after his son whom he seemed to think had come to see Legolas. Amil-Garil had been able to give him no news and was sorry to send the worried father away.

 

Turning quickly to Gáriand, Amil-Garil quietly ordered the guard to begin a thorough search of the palace and the outlying grounds. He warned the soldier to be careful whom he chose to take with him. Pulling Legolas behind him, Amil-Garil closed the cell door and called the prison guards back.

 

“Watch the cell. The prisoner is to have no visitors. No one is to speak to him or see him until I give you word, is that understood?” He leveled the guards with a serious gaze while he gently moved Legolas out of their sight, shielding the boy with his large frame.

 

Elvéwen pushed past the captain, pressing Legolas in front of her as they exited the dungeon. In moments the three were fleeing quietly through the palace halls until they reached the King’s bedchambers. Amil-Garil ushered them in unnoticed and called Elrynd, sending the personal servant out to find his master.

 

Elvéwen passed the guard back his cloak and the captain shut the doors behind him. He drew his sword and stood in front of them, waiting.

 

Thranduil stormed down the hall to his private rooms, Elrynd close on his heels. When he saw Amil-Garil guarding the large double doors he stopped up short, his gaze questioning the captain. Stepping lightly aside, the soldier simply opened the doors and followed the King in, shutting all of them within the bedchambers and locking the doors from the inside.

 

“What is this?! What is the meaning of...” Thranduil stopped speaking as he took in the sight of his wife seated on their bed. She was resting against the ornate headboard, gently stroking Legolas’ hair. The boy lay sleeping, sprawled on the bed on his stomach, his head in her lap. But it was the bandages covering the boy’s back that caught Thranduil’s attention first. Small stripes of bright red blood oozed through in several places. His son had been hurt and his wife had been crying.

 

“Elvéwen what happened? What is going on?” Thranduil whispered softly this time as he sat gently on the edge of the bed leaning over the still body of his son. “Who did this?”

 

“Your brother.” The Queen leveled the King with a stern gaze.

 

Thranduil’s eyes snapped. “I told you to leave him in the cell and he would be safe there! Amil-Garil, how dare you-”

 

“This happened *before* you had him thrown in the cell,” his wife interrupted quickly and not without a hint of ire. “Amil-Garil released him upon my word.” Elvéwen’s hand rested on the boy’s head and Legolas moved slightly in his sleep, his left arm tightening about her waist.

 

“We have been horribly blind Thranduil, and Legolas has paid the price. Doriflen has beaten him everyday for I don’t want to know how long, saying it was punishment handed down from you. He’s tried to steal not only your kingdom but your child as well.” She continued as the King gently ran his fingers over his son’s bandaged back. “Your brother has threatened not only the life of the King’s son but that of the son of your Captain, Randomir.”

 

The King looked up sharply at the Queen.

 

“Doriflen is as much a traitor as we feared,” Elvéwen continued. “He has taken Raniean and has promised to kill him because the boy found out what was going on and tried to stop him. That is why Legolas was stealing from you. He was trying to save his friend’s life.”

 

“Why would he allow this to be done to him?” Thranduil’s voice caught on the emotions he could not keep out as he gently undid a soiled bandage and carefully replaced it. “Why did he say nothing...?”

 

“Because he loves you and he wanted to please us so very much. He thought you wanted it this way. He thought *we* wanted it this way.” Elvéwen met the King’s gaze evenly, although her voice caught. “I don’t know why he didn’t come to us. Did he try and we missed it?” The painful question in her eyes was vivid. “But I know he was afraid Thranduil. Fear can kill logic, you know that. Doriflen has made him afraid of loosing his life and his friend’s life not to mention your love.”

 

“But I never...” with a sigh the King leaned over and gently kissed his son’s temple. He would never suffer his child to abuse like this; it made his heart sick that the boy had kept quiet, thinking to please his father by his acquiescence to the cruel torture. The trust of children is far too easily taken advantage of and elven children were no exception.

 

Amil-Garil spoke up softly from his place near the door, “My lord it is not my place but...”

 

Standing swiftly from the bed Thranduil stalked back to his guard, “No, it is your place. That is why you are the captain of the guard. If I had listened to your reservations in the very beginning about my brother none of this would have happened.” He whispered fiercely. Amil-Garil had said for a very long time that Doriflen should be put out of the palace; he was not to be trusted.

 

“I believe my liege, that he has set his sights on nothing less that your majesty’s throne. He has tried to overthrow you through your son and through subversion with the people. His support is mounting. There are rumors. If he is not stopped there is no telling how far this will go.” Amil-Garil continued when the King nodded curtly, encouraging his counsel. “I know we have held back to prevent creating the conflict we wish to avoid, but I fear the hour grows too late. Let me take a small contingent and hunt him down. He may not yet be aware that we are on to him. He does not know the boy is free.”

 

“I would that you stayed here with my wife and son. But yes, entrust this to some of your best men.” Thranduil turned as Elrynd walked quietly up behind the two elves.

 

“My lord, let Amil-Garil go. Let him do his job. I will stay with the Queen and your son. No one will get past me and it will not look suspicious for I am often in your chambers. A guard outside the door will attract undo attention.” The seneschal offered.

 

With a smile Thranduil clasped his attendant’s shoulders with his hand, “Yes Elrynd, good thinking. That is best.” Turning back to Amil-Garil the King opened the doors and walked out into the lobby with soldier.

 

“Go quickly, find my brother and Randomir’s son. I would that no harm come to the child on our account.”

 

“Yes, my lord, we will not fail you.” The captain started to go but turned back, “My lord, if you need anything...”

 

The offer hung between the captain of the guard and his liege for a few moments before Thranduil smiled and nodded in understanding. Quickly the King returned to his family, they needed him right now as much as he needed them.

 

Reseating himself on the bed, Thranduil noted that his son was slowly waking. Elvéwen was quietly talking to Legolas as he groaned softly mid-stretch. His back ached fiercely from where his mother had cleaned the stripes that marked him and he arched against the stiffness carefully.

 

The bed gave way a little as the King sat down and Legolas sleepily glanced over his shoulder. However, when his mind registered that it was his father, the prince bolted upright, ignoring the pain that shot through his body. Schooling his face into a passive mask he stared at the older elf with a wide-eyed gaze before glancing questioningly at his mother. He was afraid.

 

A slight frown marred Elvéwen’s features as she noted her son’s reticent timidity around his father.

 

“Legolas...” Thranduil wasn’t sure how to approach his son; he felt responsible for Legolas’ state. The fact was that his child, his only son, that which his heart treasured more than life itself, had been used against him and he had not seen fit to notice. Elvéwen was right, Legolas had reached out to him to for help, but he had been too busy. The King vividly remembered the night the young elf had come to his chambers with questions regarding Saelons. If he had only taken the time to truly hear what Legolas was saying *then* all of this could have been avoided.

 

A small, gentle touch to his hands brought Thranduil back to the present. The King looked down to see the slender hand of his son tentatively cover his fingers.

 

“Ada?” Legolas whispered, ready to draw his hand back quickly if his father disapproved. Inside, the young elf battled the fear that tried to stifle him; the mind numbing terror that whispered in his ears, saying that some part of the things his uncle had said was still true. His mother’s insistence that they were not had not been enough. He had lived a lie too long to be able to see his way free of it so easily. He needed to hear the truth from his father. He needed to know that Thranduil did not hate him, nor wish him brutalized as he had been.

 

When Thranduil glanced up into the large blue eyes, Legolas flinched ever so slightly and moved back quickly. But his father’s large hands encased his smaller one and pulled Legolas forward.

 

The elven youth tensed at the touch, his heartbeat speeding up. He had not experienced tenderness from his father or any adult male elf in some time and the last one besides his mother who had grasped his wrists in this way had been Doriflen during one of his ‘lessons’.

 

Legolas held his breath as Thranduil gently wrapped his arms around the younger elf’s slender shoulders and pulled him forward, holding him against his chest and quieting the tremors he could feel in the slight body he held.

 

The King glanced up as Elrynd silently slipped out of the chambers, giving the family some privacy as he closed the door behind him. Thranduil knew that his faithful servant would be just outside if they had any need.

 

Legolas’ tense body slowly relaxed a little in his father’s arms; the tremors turning to contained sobs. Thranduil realized that Legolas was speaking through his tears, barely above a whisper.

 

“What did you say, my son?” Thranduil questioned, holding Legolas’ head gently against his chest as the younger elf scooted closer, comforted by the embrace of his father and unwilling to lose that touch.

 

“Did you... was it really a lie Ada?” The pained question was hesitant. “Did you not appoint Doriflen as my Saelon? Did-did he truly not have your permission for our lessons?”

 

Thranduil shook his head, pressing his eyes closed against his own surfacing emotions. “No, Legolas, I did not and he did not. Whatever he has told you was a lie little one. I gave him no rights to you at all; I did not even want you around him. What else did he tell you ion-nín?”

 

“He said... he said he hurt me because you told him to,” Legolas whispered. “I-I didn’t always believe that, I thought that sometimes he was making it worse. I just didn’t know...” the prince swallowed. “He said the pain was part of Maethor training that I wasn’t allowed to speak about. I know, mother said that is not so.” Legolas confessed as all the pain and confusion in his broken heart surfaced anew. “But he also said that he would kill you and Raniean and he would become King and this I know was not a lie. He will do it if he can Ada. He’ll kill you all, all... but me. He said he... wanted to keep me. I-I would rather die I think Ada.” Legolas pressed his palms into his eyes. “I was so blind. It’s my fault that we are in this trouble now, I’m sorry...”

 

Tears streamed down Thranduil’s face as he glanced up at his wife. The pain her in own eyes was evident.

 

“The secrecy of the Saelon’s will have to be dealt with my love. It was never meant to hide something of this nature. This cannot happen to another family, ever.” Her voice was soft but her tone brokered no argument. The training arrangements for the youngsters were going to have to change, and it was a priority.

 

“I wouldn’t have stolen from you father, not ever, if it hadn’t been that Raniean’s life depended upon it. Please believe me. I wanted to tell you, I... I didn’t know how and you were so busy, I didn’t want to bother you...” Legolas’ breath hitched and he stopped talking as his ragged breathing interrupted him. “I’m so sorry.”

 

“No, I am the one to blame.” Thranduil stared down into the huge glistening eyes of his son as Legolas pulled away from his father. “I was the one who never had the time to listen, and I should have.” Tears sparkled brightly in the blue eyes of the older elf.

 

“I never appointed you a Saelon Legolas because I dared not trust you to just anyone. You are more precious to me than the whole realm and I did not want to lose you so fast to adulthood. I wanted you to enjoy this time of your life, but because I did not tell you what was in my heart, you have lost it instead. I never would have given my brother leave to do to you what he has done. No one would ever be allowed to treat you thusly. Legolas... you will never be a bother to me. I know I am busy, and I’m sorry, but please my son, promise me that if anything like this ever happens again, you will come to me, no matter what? I will listen, and if I do not... *make* me listen Legolas. Never suffer thus in silence again.”

 

Small, trembling fingers brushed the high elven cheeks of the elf lord, gently clearing away the tears that spilt down them.

 

“I promise, but Ada, it wasn’t your fault. I trusted Vede and I should not have.” Legolas gaze did not waver as he spoke, “You have the weight of the whole realm upon you I did not wish to burden you further. I thought all Saelon’s were as Vede was with me. I feared for my friends, thinking they lived under the same harshness.” The young elf rested his head back against his father, listening to the steady elven heartbeat. “I will never let another cause me to doubt you again.” He whispered softly. “But... can... can you promise me you will talk to me next time? Please Ada? I may not be old enough to help with the kingdom but I have never been too young for you to talk to.”

 

The simple request broke the King’s heart and he gently rocked his son. The child was now sitting fully in his embrace with no trace of fear or trembling. “I promise you Legolas.” Thranduil glanced up at Elvéwen. She had been silent throughout the whole exchange. In her heart she felt a heaviness lift. The throne may be in jeopardy and the kingdom close to ruin, but her family was reconciled and for now it felt right.

 

“I promise.” Thranduil whispered as he held his wife’s gaze. “And tomorrow I will effect changes in the Saelonship. I see now that it cannot continue as it is.” He grasped Elvéwen’s hand as she reached for him, gently kissing her palm.

 

Elrynd stepped hesitantly back into the private chambers. He had not wanted to disturb his liege but events were moving quickly and the King was needed.

 

Glancing up Thranduil questioned the elf with his gaze.

 

“My lord, your pardon please.” Elrynd bowed slightly, “Randomir has been brought to the palace.”

 

Legolas twisted around in his father’s embrace and eyeing the servant hopefully. “Raniean?” He questioned softly.

 

“I have not heard my prince. Rest easy, I am sure Amil-Garil will find him.” Elrynd ducked his head and motioned ever so slightly to the outer chambers, “My liege...” He left the request open and stepped out, leaving the door ajar.

 

Gently kissing the top of Legolas’ head the King shifted off the bed, releasing his son to Elvéwen. Leaning back down he took the child’s face in his hands and tipped it up so that the blue eyes were staring straight into his own. “I love you Legolas and I wish now I could recant my harsh words to you earlier. We were both working under a false perception of reality. Will you forgive me?”

 

“Always, Ada.” The answer was quick and the smile that stretched beneath the older elf’s hands lightened the King’s heart.

 

With another kiss to Legolas’ forehead Thranduil moved to the outer chamber. The soft questioning of his son stopped him on the threshold.

 

“Ada?”

 

Thranduil turned back. Whatever his family needed was more important.

 

“Please, if they find Raniean, please let me know.”

 

“I will my son.” Thranduil’s fist tightened on the door latch as he pulled it open, “I will have them bring him here first thing.” With that he stepped outside and closed the door behind him, leaving it cracked open a small space so he could hear his family if they should need him.

 

“My lord, Amil-Garil sends word that Doriflen is nowhere to be found. He is not in his chambers. They are proceeding with their search for the child,” Elrynd reported quietly.

 

Thranduil’s face was set as he turned towards the servant. His brother had utterly betrayed him. He was mildly surprised that even as well as he knew the threat that lurked there, some corner of his heart still managed to be shocked at the extent to which his older brother had gone to ruin him and destroy his family. There was a deep ache waiting to be felt, but Thranduil could not get too near it right now. Damage control first; then, later he would allow himself to feel the implications of what had happened.

 

“Randomir has arrived,” the seneschal continued. “Should he be told of these events?”

 

Thranduil hesitated. Randomir deserved to know, but know what? That his son was the captive of a cruel tyrant who had dared to abuse even the King’s son? They had to find the boy.

 

“Yes, but... not yet,” Thranduil shook his head. “Let us try to find some good word to give him first.”

 

Where could Raniean be? Where would his brother hide something like that? The King’s eyes narrowed. “Elrynd, stay here with my wife and son, guard them with your life. I must speak to Amil-Garil again... if Doriflen wants to hide something, there is another option we have not considered.”

 

~*~

 

“Do you swear to me that neither your nor your men will ever speak again of that which I am about to show you? On pain of death?”

 

“Yes, my Lord,” Amil-Garil responded to Thranduil’s question without hesitation. The Elvenking had found them searching the lower tunnels and led them without explanation into a little-used storage room that lay far off the main thoroughfares.

 

“All right then,” Thranduil turned towards a large closet that was apparently built into the wall. “Move that.”

 

Amil-Garil looked slightly surprised at the request, but ordered his men to comply without question.

 

To their surprise the closet slid aside with a little effort, revealing a yawning passageway beyond. The captain of the guard’s eyes widened slightly.

 

“My lord?” He turned questioning eyes upon his King.

 

“Secret passageways built by my father and now known only to myself, my brother and now you. I expect you all to take this knowledge to Valinor with you having never spoken of it again. But if we are to search everywhere, then these tunnels must be part of that. Yet take a care, there is much about them that is unknown.”

 

Thranduil did not come down here often. Actually, he did not come down here at all. These tunnels were an emergency measure and nothing more. Only once had Doriflen talked his younger brother into exploring the forbidden labyrinth without their father’s knowledge.

 

There had been an accident, or at least he had always thought it was an accident. Thranduil ended up falling into one of the waste-disposal channels and nearly burning to death except that their father had discovered his sons’ little unapproved venture and arrived in time to save his youngest. Doriflen seemed moody and remorseful and avoided his brother for some time after that.

 

Even though they were both already fully adult elves in their own right by that point, their father had been very hard on them for the deliberate transgression that had nearly cost one of their lives. Thranduil never went into the tunnels again after that day. He hadn’t thought that Doriflen had either. After all, there was nothing there of any interest... but now nothing was sure and nothing could be assumed. Every possibility, even the most remote, had to be checked. His men had been watching Doriflen’s every move outside the palace for months now. No one had seen Raniean leave. It was possible that some unsuspected servant could have smuggled an unconscious child out easily enough, but it was also possible that Raniean was still here somewhere.

 

Amil-Garil nodded his compliance with his liege’s orders.

 

“Good,” Thranduil accepted his soldier’s obedience to his wishes with a nod. “Report to me if anything is found. I must see if there is any word yet on my brother’s whereabouts.”

 

The soldiers split up as they entered the unknown labyrinth. Amil-Garil led one contingent while Gáriand led the other.

 

The passages here were dim and foreign. The company of soldiers walked cautiously through them, carefully checking each and every doorway that greeted them. Everything seemed empty, deserted and almost eerily quiet.

 

Dark, uneven stone walls stretched out in all directions, creating a confusing and twisting array of tunnels. Designed to bewilder any attackers who might invade the secret catacombs, they were doing their job well. Yet there seemed to be no one here. There were few rooms in the labyrinth of passages, and the ones that were there stood cold, silent and barren. When they finally encountered one chamber that was apparently locked, the soldiers broke down the door.

 

“What is this place?” One of the guards called softly to the others. Unlike the other chambers they had passed through, this room was far from empty. Massive stacks of boxes lined the walls and created islands of crates in the middle of the room.

 

“Break them open,” Gáriand ordered. “Find out what is in them.”

 

The first few crates held arrows, sheaves and sheaves of them.

 

“Break them all open.” The second-in-command ordered as dread filled his heart. He feared what evil this discovery boded. If these tunnels were unused and secret, then there should have been nothing in them. However, these crates were all fresh. Footprints not very many days old stood out against the thick layer of dust on the floor. The supplies looked ready to outfit an army.

 

“There are more back here!” A soldier called out from the far side of the room, near the back wall.

 

Gáriand examined a bow that had been freed from a crate containing twenty such finely crafted weapons. Knives and swords were stacked in piles on the ground at his feet as well as chain mail garments. That type of clothing was not common amongst the elven peoples. Indeed, it was particularly rare in Greenwood, since the wood-elves shunned armor of any type. Doriflen must have been trading outside their realm.

 

“By the Valar! Gáriand come quickly!” The urgent cry from across the room caused Gáriand’s head to snap up abruptly.

 

The soldiers near the back of the room began tearing apart a rather large box, murmurs and exclamations following as they revealed the strange and tragic contents.

 

A young elf lay folded into the box. Though large, the crate was far too small to comfortably contain his youthful body. The young one’s hands and feet were bound and blood covered the front of his tunic. He had obviously been knocked around quite badly.

 

Even for those who did not know the elfling personally, it was not hard to know his identity at a glance. Very few wood-elves had golden hair like the King and his son. The prince’s two best friends were some of those rarities.

 

“Find Amil-Garil, bring him at once!” Gáriand pushed the soldier nearest him towards the door before kneeling on the ground near the unconscious child. “Go with haste!”

 

~*~

 

Amil-Garil stood in the dim hallway of the palace’s under-passageways. These tunnels seemed to wind forever and they had found nothing noteworthy besides empty rooms and dusty hallways. He hoped they were not wasting their time down here. They had scoured the surrounding gardens before the King had found him, and the guard had sent several more soldiers into the forests to search as well. They had to find Raniean before it was too late. Their hope was that Doriflen would have been keeping his leverage close at hand, but they could not risk counting on it as fact. The sad truth was, Raniean could be anywhere. In his heart the Captain of the Guard feared that the child might not even be alive anymore. Doriflen was an excellent liar. They had no guarantees.

 

The palace had been built upon a labyrinth of halls and storage rooms that ran the length of the building stretching as far down as to meet the Forest River that ran through Mirkwood. He could find his way around most of them in the dark. But these strange walkways and tunnels that the King had shown them were completely new to him. They were also completely different in design and layout than the others. Searching them was slow work.

 

“There are more Captain.” Gáriand approached his superior. “They extend for leagues in all directions. Some look to have been scarcely traveled, but others show recent use. Something has been going on down here. Captain, we’ve found young Raniean.”

 

“Does he live?” Amil-Garil asked the question to which he most feared the answer.

 

Their discussion was interrupted as a soldier pelted up the hallway behind Gáriand. “Captains, we have found another bank of rooms and tunnels hidden behind these. There are things there you should see.”

 

“In a moment.” Amil-Garil nodded. Raniean was his first priority. He followed Gáriand around countless turns as the passage twisted off into others before they came to the hidden storage room where several soldiers were busy breaking into large wooden boxes and spilling the contents about the floor.

 

Weapons littered the area. Sheaths of arrows and reams of bows were stockpiled in the small room. It took the elvish captain a few moments to realize that these were not supplies that the King had stored here. Once he did the dreadful realization came to him that they were obviously standing ready for an internal invasion of the palace itself. No doubt Doriflen had not been making idle threats when he told Legolas that tonight nothing would matter anymore. This was one viper’s nest they were discovering only just in time... or at least, Amil-Garil *hoped* it was in time.

 

His attention was redirected by Gáriand, who pulled the Captain forward, stepping over the open boxes and caches of weapons. Near the back of the storage room two elves knelt on the floor in front of a narrow box that had been wrenched apart. Lying on the ground was the small form of an elven child. The boy’s eyes were closed and bruises decorated his face and arms. He had not been beaten as severely, or in the same manner as the prince, but it was obvious that someone had hurt this child, and done it intentionally. The elfling’s hands were bound tightly behind him and one of the guards was busy cutting the thick bonds as another gently pulled the child into his lap.

 

Fear stabbed through Amil-Garil’s heart. The closed eyes and ashen look on the youth’s face frightened him and he was afraid they were too late. “Does he...? Is he...?” The captain of the guard could not finish his questions, unsure if he truly wanted an answer.

 

“No. He lives.” One of the soldiers on the ground glanced up as the child’s bonds were cut. “But his wounds are serious.” The guard stood up, holding the young elf in his arms. Amil-Garil saw for the first time the blood that caked the side of the boy’s face as well as staining his tunic. There was a nasty gash across the base of the Raniean’s skull where he had obviously been violently struck with something hard. The slight, ragged rise and fall of his chest was the only sign that the young elf lived.

 

“He wasn’t meant to survive this.” The soldier holding the boy said quietly as his Captain gently turned the youth’s head, examining the head wound.

 

“He was left here to die. From the looks of it, we were intended to find him only after it was too late.” The elf turned pained and angry eyes upon his captain. What kind of monster condemned a child to this kind of slow, terrible death?

 

Amil-Garil shook his head. No one who had a heart could have done such a thing. But then, the same was true of the little he had seen of Prince Legolas’ injuries. “Quickly, take him to Lord Thranduil’s chambers. Gáriand, go ahead of him, tell them we will have need of the King’s healer. Be quick!” He commanded as the elf raced out of the room, followed more slowly by the two soldiers that had discovered the hidden elf child.

 

“Tell me, how did you find him?” Amil-Garil stepped carefully back through the room, following the two warriors. His men were busy sorting through the weapons cache and removing it from the hidden alcove.

 

“It was an accident my lord.” The guard on his right answered, “The men found the crates stashed in here and we opened them. That there was a room down here for storage struck us as odd.” The elf carrying Raniean shrugged slightly, stepping over the pieces of a broken crate that lay on the floor.

 

“Tarilan found him after we broke the last crate open.” The soldier nodded with his head towards his companion.

 

“Off with you then. Let no one stop you and speak with no one on your way.” Amil-Garil removed his cloak and draped it over the unconscious child to help hide their task. The situation was becoming more grave and sinister by the moment. It was impossible to know now who was on their side and who was not. It was best to keep all this quiet for as long as possible.

 

He stood in the passageway watching the soldiers as they hastily rounded the bend. A deep sigh escaped his lips and he glanced back into the small room. This was worse than he had expected. The treachery of the King’s brother had gone farther than they were prepared to handle.

 

“What should we do with all this my lord?” An elf carrying a bundle of newly crafted arrows asked.

 

“Take it all to the King’s supply rooms and lock it up there. Station a guard and see that no one is allowed in until I tell you otherwise.”

 

“Amil-Garil!” A shout behind him caused the elven warrior to start and he spun around quickly.

 

“There is unfortunate soul held captive down here! We found in him in one of the hidden chambers my lord. Come quickly for I fear that Mandos will have this one before the hour is past.” The soldier walked quickly up the hall with the captain of the guard right on his heels.

 

Behind them, unseen by the elves in the storage room, a hidden doorway slowly slid shut, clicking silently into place. Even within these tunnels there were many more secret ways and passages that would have taken days to discover. These passages extended all over the palace. It was not for naught that Doriflen seemed to have eyes and ears in the very walls themselves. The truth of the matter was that he *did* and he used them to great, and sometimes deadly, effect.

 

Brooding eyes glinted grimly. He had meant them to find the boy of course, but not so soon, and not here. He had intended for it to be a little present for his brother and nephew if things did not go well for him, but he had not meant for them to find any of this so soon. He should have known Thranduil would think of the tunnels; it was an oversight on his part to not move quicker... but they hadn’t been prepared to move quicker, not just yet. Now, his secret had been uncovered.

 

A dark scowl crossed Doriflen’s face, deepening the hatred that shone in his eyes. They might have been found out a trifle ahead of schedule, but this coup was far from over. They would simply have to move their operations elsewhere. The secret tunnels had worked well to this point, but they would no longer be safe now. Thranduil knew about them and even if he did not know all their ways as well as his brother, their secrets would soon enough be discovered.

 

He and his followers would need to move swiftly. They would have to make their move tonight. Fortunately, he had already been prepared for such a necessity. The time for hiding was over; the time for action had come. Truth to be told, Doriflen was not sorry.

 

Stalking through the darkened passageways that he often haunted, Doriflen re-entered the normal palace somewhere in the lower dungeon area. He headed straight for Legolas’ cell. He had a suspicion that he knew how his well-laid plans had come to ruin.

 

He should have done away with that brat long ago, but that was his one folly, his weakness. He grimaced to himself over his own self-perceived flaws – he enjoyed toying with his victims, he thrived on their pain. Oh how his initial deceit had almost worked save for this error! Never mind. It mattered little that his treachery had been discovered. Even if he could not now hope to take over the palace from within, it was too late for anyone to stop what had been put into motion.

 

Finding Legolas’ cell empty he killed the guards in a fit of rage. They had been loyal to him, but he saw no need for fools. If those two had obviously not been smart enough to know when they were guarding an empty room, his ranks would be better off without them. Leaving their bodies where they had fallen in a spreading pool of blood, he exited the palace by a secret entrance. It was time to seek out Melryn, Amilon and his other followers. They already had their orders to move. All was in preparation. He would have liked to be able to strike a swift and decisive blow inside the palace itself... but that part of the plan would have to be discarded. Legolas had failed him and Thranduil’s guards had discovered the tunnels too soon for him to bring any of that to fruition, but it was a minor set back only.

 

Doriflen and his followers would regroup in the woods to the east at their preset rendezvous and plan the next step from there. War was at hand, and there was nothing now that could stop it.

 

This game was far from over. Thranduil may have gained his son back, but as far as Doriflen was concerned, he had lost his kingdom.

 

Stalking into the darkened forest the elf lord headed for Melryn’s house. It was time to rise up, it was time to relocate.

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART SEVEN*~
~A Kingdom Torn Apart~

 

 

Amil-Garil entered the room that he was led to and stopped on the threshold. Evil tainted the air here. These passages were different from the others. They were old, but seemed to have seen much use over the years. Here was harbored a vague sense of horror that seemed to have seeped into the very rock itself. The guardsman shuddered as he stepped into the room indicated by his men.

 

As he entered, he could see that a deep pit had been dug in the middle of the cavern. Cautiously approaching the edge of the dark hole, Amil-Garil leaned out over the ledge, trying to peer into the recess below.

 

“What lies here?” He asked quietly. A soldier came up on his left, having heard his captain’s question. Without answer the guard dropped his torch into the yawning mouth of the pit. The fire glinted off rows of spearheads set into the edge of the hole and illuminated the razor sharp edges of dozens more arranged on end at the bottom. Their razor edges glinted like teeth in the firelight. Old, ominous dark stains covered what could be seen of the floor around the spikes.

 

Amil-Garil sucked his breath in, startled by the knowledge of the true function of this room. He glanced at the soldier in horror. The silver-blues eyes that watched him gazed above their heads and the captain of the guard looked up to see a restraint device swinging freely over their heads, above the pit.

 

This room was used for torture. There was no other reason for such devices.

 

At the back of the enclave a door led into a smaller antechamber. It was here that Amil-Garil found the rest of the soldiers.

 

An adult elf lay on the floor of the cavern, talking softly to the warriors. His breathing was ragged and from time to time he stopped speaking altogether as spasms of pain wracked his thin frame.

 

Kneeling quietly next to elf, Amil-Garil silenced him as another fit of coughing of took over. There was blood on his lips when the elf turned to gaze dully at the captain of Thranduil’s guard.

 

“The King is in danger.” The elf rasped softly, his hand reaching out towards Amil-Garil. What was left of the prisoner’s clothing was torn and filthy, simply rags. In several places it was stained dark with blood. It was apparent from his wounds that he had been beaten repeatedly over a period of time. Imprisoned and poorly cared for he was on the brink of death. Shut up in the dark, in these conditions, it was surprising that he had not given up his spirit already. Amil-Garil’s men had been right, this one seemed bound for Mandos’ halls and he was not sure that anything could keep the elf with them short of a miracle.

 

“How long have you been here?” Amil-Garil questioned softly, his hand gently grasping the one that reached for him. His heart wrenched inside of him, no elf should ever be treated in such a manner. No immortal should be forced to find their end this way.

 

The one that stared up at him shook his slowly. He had no idea.

 

“Please, please tell me that my wife and children live. He said that he killed them because I would not join him; tell me it is not true. Tell me has not killed the King as well?” Huge silver eyes implored the captain.

 

Leaning down closer, Amil-Garil frowned at the wounded elf. He shifted slightly as his men worked around him trying to stabilize the imprisoned elf and ready him to move from the wretched room in which they had found him.

 

“No one has been killed. Of this I can assure you. Who told you all this?” Though he was sure he knew the answer, the Captain had to ask.

 

“Doriflen, the King’s brother.” The elf’s eyes flashed anger momentarily before he grimaced in pain as he was eased onto a makeshift stretcher. “I would not aid him in his plan to overthrow the throne. Beware of him! He has built a large base of supporters that are sympathetic to his lies that he was cheated of kingship. They will stop at nothing. Nothing! They wanted me to join them, but I wouldn’t. I was going t-to go to the King, and uncover the whole thing but somehow Doriflen found out before I could. He had me seized and brought down here. He...he...” the elf broke down in quiet sobs.

 

Amil-Garil squeezed the injured elf’s hand and rose as the stretcher was picked up. This was confirmation of their worst fears. Doriflen planned a rebellion and he was not alone. Gently Amil-Garil laid the injured elf’s hand across his chest, resting it on what was left of the torn tunic and tenderly touched the elf’s shoulder.

 

“Shh, it is all right. The King knows of this treachery and has not been harmed as you were told. Give me the name of your household and I will seek out your family and tell them you live. You will see them with your own eyes for there have been no deaths in the kingdom that I am aware of and I do not think that that spawn of Melkor has followed through on his plans as of yet. I will bring them to you myself. They will be under our guard no one will touch them.”

 

“I am Umdanuë and my wife’s name is Velthwen.” The elf replied softly. His eyes glazed over and he sighed softly, his body relaxing.

 

Reacting quickly Amil-Garil halted the soldiers that carried the stretcher and gently placed his fingers against the injured elf’s throat. With a sigh he nodded and urged them to hasten, “He lives but barely. Take him up to one of the guest rooms in the palace and be quick about it, I will send others to find his family.” He pushed the soldiers out of the room and directed the rest of his company to search the surrounding tunnels to see if they held anymore prisoners.

 

The men returned shortly, answering to the negative. The passages and rooms were clear, although some retained marks that elves and other beings had been kept in them lately. The carcasses of several animals were found also, their mutilated bodies left where they had died. Truly this was an evil place and Amil-Garil ushered his men quickly out of the area. He would see to it that no one entered this realm again. Once Thranduil heard this news, he was sure the Elvenking would order these passages sealed off, and it was an action that Amil-Garil approved of whole-heartedly. He had never been in a place that made his flesh crawl this badly.

 

In the upper areas of the palace the staff was in chaos. The healer had been summoned out of his sleep and brought to Thranduil’s chambers. Raniean lay, still unconscious, on one of the thick couches that formed part of the seating arrangement in the outer rooms. Word had been brought that another injured elf had been discovered and his life hung in the balance. Nesteriu, the King’s chief healer had left two of his progeny behind to work over Raniean while he accompanied Amil-Garil to an adjacent guestroom to see what he could do for Umdanuë.

 

Below in the foyer, the wounded elf’s family had come to the palace, having been roused in the early watches of the night by soldiers from the King’s court. They paced the marbled floor, questioning anyone who passed by. Randomir was seated downstairs as well. He had been summoned some time ago, but no one had come back for him as of yet. A mix of palace guards and other warriors bustled about. He recognized some of the men from his contingent present, but they could tell him nothing other than that they had been summoned to aid the palace guard.

 

“Randomir! What has happened, have they found Raniean?”

 

Randomir looked up to see Cirlith walking quickly towards him, his young son Garilien in tow.

 

Randomir shook his head. “I don’t know, there has been no word. Everything seems in chaos here.”

 

Cirlith scowled. “There’s bad business going on this night, I was looking for you and found out they’d brought you here. Dom, The whole village is in an uproar, not just ours either. There’s been a lot of talk of course, but I never thought it would come to this. There’s outright treason being spoken out there and many are taking off somewhere and they won’t tell where they’re going. Melryn and his brothers took over five hundred souls away with them, including youngsters like his son Nynd and his nephew Amon. I don’t know what’s whipped them up but it’s as if the whole kingdom is suddenly trying to split down the middle with those loyal to the King on one side and those who support his brother on the other. It’s almost come to blows in the street. The warriors don’t know what to do to keep the peace. Even worse, I think some of them aren’t all together on our side. It’s acting like the end of the world out there Dom.”

 

Garilien, roughly the same age as Raniean, shifted uneasily at his father’s side. This was obviously not where he wanted to be. “Father, we should go...”

 

Cirlith motioned the boy to be quiet.

 

Randomir rose to his feet at Cirlith’s news. This was a disaster. He needed to be with his contingent, they needed to do something about what was happening... but he could not leave with his son’s fate still a mystery.

 

“Cir, please, talk to my warriors, or better yet find Telrayn, they’ll listen to him. We’ve trained for an eventuality like this; they just need someone to lead them. Tell them to go on alert status until further notice. Send word that anyone who doesn’t absolutely *have* to be on the street is to stay in their homes. Telrayn knows those whose trust is without question, tell him I need him to set up the patrols like we discussed, keeping anyone with questionable loyalty away from the most strategic points. Make sure Traycaul has been alerted and his people are also ready. Be wary of anyone who was under Melryn’s command that did not depart with him. I cannot leave until I know about Raniean, but you have to keep the peace,” Randomir said urgently. “Please, do this for me my friend!”

 

The older elf nodded quickly, clasping Randomir’s arm. “I will Dom. And I pray that whatever the news about Raniean, it will be good.”

 

“Thank you Cir,” Randomir said gratefully as Cirlith hurried away. The elf sank down into his chair, rattled by the news. Maybe the world really was coming to an end, it certainly felt that way. His worry climbed a notch higher when more healers entered the palace and hurried by without a word, swiftly mounting the stairs to the upper chambers.

 

Trying to still the fears in his heart, Randomir rested his head in hands, blocking everything from sight. Even if the world was tearing itself apart outside of these walls, his heart could fix on only one thing. His son.

 

Raniean had not come home tonight... no, last night, Randomir corrected himself as he realized that morning could be no more than a few hours distant now. Trelan had told them he went to return Legolas’ brooch, but no one at the palace remembered seeing him and Randomir’s fear had grown steadily as time crept by and Raniean did not return. Something was wrong, he had already been able to read that in Amil-Garil’s face when he asked about Raniean and whether Prince Legolas might have seen him or know where he was. Amil-Garil would not speak to him about the prince and he seemed troubled. Now, some very anxious hours later, he had been summoned to the palace again. They said it was about his son, but hours had crawled by and no one could give him any more information. He had begun to fear the worst.

 

Amil-Garil stalked into the round waiting room, glancing over the elves that were seated or standing within. He did not have to hear Cirlith’s report to know what was going on. His own warriors had already brought news of the massive unrest that was shattering the formerly peaceful night even as it shattered the formerly peaceful kingdom. Already security measures were being taken. The palace was being fortified, with only the most trusted guards set around the royal family. Beyond the confines of the palace was out of Amil-Garil’s control, but so far the warrior contingents were responding to the situation well, if slowly. Grimly, the Captain of the Guard wondered what the scars of this night were going to look like when the sun rose.

 

His eyes lighted on Randomir and he approached the warrior, his soft leather boots sounding quietly on the smooth polished floor. At least this night, as tumultuous as it was turning out, was not quite as tragic as it might have been.

 

“Randomir?” The Amil-Garil called softly.

 

Instantly drawn from his worrying, the warrior glanced up at the captain in front of him. He leapt to his feet quickly when he realized who was there, saluting the other officer. Randomir was chieftain of the largest contingent of regular soldiers, but as head of the King’s personal guard, Amil-Garil’s position commanded unique respect.

 

“There is no need for that here.” Amil-Garil responded. He smiled softly when the other glanced back up at him. The Captain of the Guard was tired, very tired and it showed in his eyes. Amil-Garil had missing people, chaos in the palace and a coup that they had yet to quash, let alone find its leader who had conveniently disappeared without a trace. The smile he laid on Randomir was compassionate, but did not reach his eyes.

 

“Has anyone brought you word of your son?” When the warrior before him shook his head, Amil-Garil simply took the other by the arm and led him up the steps towards the King’s chambers. He knew the child was already with the healers there was no reason to keep the father away. If everything were not already in a state of barely controlled chaos he would doubtless already have been taken thither.

 

“Sir!” A woman’s voice called out from the room below as the elves ascended the steps. She was blocked by several of the King’s own guard and pressed back into the common area.

 

Amil-Garil stopped at the sound of the voice and glanced back down into the foyer. A female elf stood at the foot of the staircase, one child in her arms and trailing an older son. She looked as though she had hurriedly dressed and the children were still in their bedclothes without even shoes on their feet. He sighed heavily; his men should not have rushed the family out of their house quite so fast. He would have to speak with them about being considerate over those kinds of small details. It mattered when one dealt with the populace.

 

“I am Velthwen.” The lady continued awkwardly, sweeping strands of long dark hair out of her eyes, “Some guards roused us from our sleep saying they had news for us, but would tell us nothing, simply leaving us here. Please sir, what is it? Is it my Umdanuë? He has been missing. I have tried to tell others and get help but no one would listen. They said he was hunting but I knew he would never have been gone so long without telling me. Is he...?” She stopped speaking and swallowed hard her eyes searching the ones that stared down at her.

 

If it were his family Amil-Garil knew he would be just as persistent, he would want to know. He turned so that the small family had his full attention. Laying his hand on the other soldier’s forearm he quietly begged the elf’s indulgence.

 

“Yes, we have found your husband.” Amil-Garil spoke softly his deep voice easily carrying back to those that waited below. “He has asked for you, but he is with the healers now. Let me check on him and if all is well I will send for you shortly. Be patient with me please my lady, the night has been long.”

 

The news surprised and frightened the little family and the mother quickly hushed her children. She bowed as much as she was able while holding her youngest. “Thank you, my lord. We will await word from you.”

 

With a nod, Amil-Garil started to ascend once more but was stopped as Randomir spoke up at his side.

 

“Talrith,” Randomir called down to one of his warriors who stood near the palace doors. “See that the family is given blankets and warm drinks. Let them have a room to rest in so the younger one can sleep. Give them whatever they need.” He directed the soldier who nodded once and moved to carry out his orders ushering the family into a room just below the stairwell.

 

“Thank you.” Amil-Garil smiled gratefully as the two warriors began the climb once more. Had he not just been chiding himself over forgetting such seemingly little details? “Your thoughtfulness is well noted Randomir. It is to my shame that I did not think of it first.”

 

“It is no shame.” Randomir countered quietly. “The night has been long as you yourself noted and the cares of the kingdom now weigh on those of us ill prepared to shoulder them. I fear that sleep will be something of rarity in the days to come.” They reached the top landing and Amil-Garil led the way down the hall.

 

“Please tell me of Raniean. I have been waiting for some time with no word. Tell me, what has happened? Does he live?” The raw uncertainty of the question written in the elf’s eyes was heart-wrenching. He had already prepared himself for the worst, taking the lack of news as an indication that his deepest fears were realized. He was ready to take the news like a warrior, but something in the aching depths of his gaze told that if he had to bear the death of his young son he would forever lose a part of himself that there was no recalling.

 

Startled by the question, Amil-Garil turned to the soldier and answered him quickly, “Yes! Yes your son lives. Elbereth! Word should have been brought to you sooner, forgive me.” The guard slowly pressed the ornately carved wooden doors of the King’s outer chamber open and allowed the other entrance after he had made certain that it was allowed.

 

A visible weight seemed to ease from Randomir’s shoulders. Raniean had not left them for the Halls of Waiting; anything beyond that could be dealt with.

 

The King stood on the far side of the room, quietly discussing matters with those of his cabinet that he could be sure were loyal to him. The fact that only four elves were present, out of a cabinet of twelve, spoke volumes for the kingdom’s suddenly uncertain and dire situation. Thranduil stopped and looked up as Amil-Garil walked in, followed more slowly by Randomir. Both warriors bowed deeply, sweeping their hands out to the side from their hearts in the formal gesture of greeting.

 

Randomir’s gaze searched the room quickly and fell on the still form that lay on one of the couches. A healer was just finishing binding the child’s head with clean strips of linen. Raniean was very pale and unnaturally still.

 

Amil-Garil started when he heard Randomir gasp softly.

 

“Easy, your son lives,” he cautioned the other. It was obvious that the warrior had just slipped from one roll to the other and the father in him was pushing the soldier aside. Amil-Garil’s light touch kept Randomir from hurrying to his son’s side as the King walked over towards his two captains.

 

The doorway into the inner chambers slid silently open. Legolas and the Queen stepped through into the antechamber. With all the talking and commotion they slipped quietly into the room, unnoticed. The prince desperately wanted to see for himself that his friend lived and when one of the attendant healers informed them that it would be all right to come now, Elvéwen let them both out.

 

“Ran?” The knot of adults that were talking in hushed tones in the other corner of the room easily heard Legolas’ soft voice. Amil-Garil leaned over and whispered in Randomir’s ear, giving him a brief outline of the events that had led his son to this condition. Randomir’s eyes filled with grief and compassion as he watched the two boys together. He had always liked Legolas; the prince was a very bright child and a good influence on his son. Legolas was often in and out of his house, and the fact that they could have been so close to the child, and yet entirely missed the world of silent pain he had been hiding hurt the older elf.

 

The prince dropped quietly to his knees beside the couch that held his friend, oblivious of the attention being paid to them by the adults. The fact that Raniean’s eyes were closed troubled Legolas and he hesitantly questioned the healer that sat on the edge of the davenport.

 

Gently touching the wounded child’s chest, the healer rested his hand over Raniean’s heart. With his other hand he took Legolas’ left wrist and placed the prince’s hand over his own. “Yes, he will be fine. See? You can feel his heartbeat and his breathing.” The healer removed his hand, pressing Legolas’ palm against his friend’s chest.

 

The sight of the two children together had stilled the room, but the prince remained focused on his friend. It startled him when an adult elf knelt beside him near Raniean’s head. Randomir smiled at the young prince and Legolas could see the tears in the older elf’s eyes. He quickly scooted away to make more room, but Raniean’s father held him in place, gently wrapping his arm around the slender shoulders.

 

Legolas dropped his gaze guiltily. He felt responsible for what had happened to his friend and more than expected Randomir to feel the same.

 

“I’m so sorry...” the prince murmured regretfully. He knew and respected Raniean’s father and feared what he must think of him at this moment. Randomir had always treated him like a second son when he was in their home and the prince hated the thought of having lost that along with so many other things tonight.

 

“No, your highness, thank you.” Randomir addressed the prince, “Thank you for telling them what you knew about Raniean. Your knowledge saved him.”

 

“But it also almost killed him,” the prince whispered hoarsely. “I wanted to tell sooner, honestly I did,” Legolas swallowed hard. “I-I just didn’t want to lose him. I’m sorry that he was hurt,” the young prince whispered. He relaxed slightly when he felt his father’s hands come to rest on his shoulders as Randomir moved aside. “He’s my best friend, he and Trelan, I promise I never wanted him to be hurt like this.”

 

“It’s not your fault my son.” Thranduil cautioned the boy against claiming guilt that was not his to own.

 

Randomir gently tipped Raniean’s bandaged head towards him, tenderly holding the child’s face in his large hands.

 

“And speaking of the one who has done this my lord,” Amil-Garil interrupted. They had little time to catch the traitor, little time to stop what had already been put into motion and if it were not handled properly who knew what would happen to the kingdom, “We have not yet found your brother although if the unrest outside the palace is any indication he is a bird that has already flown the cage. I would take my leave of you if you permit it and join my men. It is important that this be stopped tonight if at all possible.”

 

Randomir rose quickly. At least now he knew that Raniean was safe. His heart revolted at leaving his son unconscious and injured, but he knew he must put duty first, no matter how painful.

 

The King nodded his approval and started to answer when Amil-Garil interrupted once more.

 

“No,” he was shaking his head and stepped forward, quickly pushing Randomir back down, “you will stay here with your son.”

 

“My warriors need me. I would help you stop the man who has done this to him.” The warrior’s eyes flashed angrily.

 

“Dom, you are needed here. Stay tonight.” Amil-Garil’s tone softened as he gazed at the wounded child. “Telrayn is capable of leading the contingent for one night. Your son needs you. Tomorrow will come quickly enough. Besides... I have an ulterior motive,” the Captain of the Guard smiled wearily. “I would ask you to remain here with the Queen and the Prince. They should have a guard in here with them whose loyalty is unquestionable, and I have none to spare.”

 

With torn reluctance Randomir seated himself back down on the couch. His anger with the one who had done such things to his son was unabated but when he glanced at the still unconscious elfling he was loath to leave.

 

“As you wish my lord, but if you have need, you know where to find me. In the meantime it would be my honor to guard your Majesty’s family.” The warrior bowed low to the King before smiling down at Legolas who now sat on the ground at his feet. “I will protect them to the death if it is needed.”

 

A small smile spread across Legolas’ face as Randomir patted his shoulder gently.

 

“Off to sleep with you now my prince,” Randomir said fondly. “You are wounded and I am sure your body needs it.”

 

Thranduil watched the elven warrior with his son for a few moments before heading out with his cabinet members. The soldier was good with children and Legolas seemed at ease around him. He filed the information away for later. He did not have the time to think on such things just now, but when the moment was opportune he would definitely speak to the chieftain about what was on his mind.

 

The door clicked softly shut behind Legolas and Elvéwen, cutting off the voices coming from the other room and muting them into a more comfortable murmur as they settled down for the night. Legolas remained in his parent’s room with his mother for safety while Randomir stretched out fully on the couch next to Raniean, pulling the young elf into his arms and resting the boy’s bandaged head on his chest. Raniean couldn’t hear him, but he spoke quietly to his son anyway, talking long into the night as he silently stood watch over all those who slumbered within these chambers.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

All Raniean knew when consciousness began flitting at the edges of his mind was that he hurt and that he desperately wanted his Ada.

 

The quiet stirrings of his son alerted Randomir that the younger elf was waking.

 

“Ada?” Raniean whispered softly. He wasn’t fully conscious and the fact that he could not move frightened him. His sluggish mind remembered waking inside of a dark cramped space and being unable to get out. Remembered the stuffy air, and barely being able to breathe. Remembered screaming for help and getting no answer. Remembered banging himself against the unrelenting walls of his tiny prison until his already aching body hurt so bad he wanted to cry. Remembered the blind, suffocating panic that had overtaken him before he had passed out.

 

“ADA!” the young elf nearly shouted, his eyes flying open and trying jerk away from what held him still. The frightened state he was in completely blocked out all else and he couldn’t hear his father’s quiet assurances.

 

“Raniean!” Randomir held the boy tighter against him, “Ran, I’m right here son. You are free, you are all right. Wake up child, wake up.”

 

Huge blue eyes stared into those of the older elf, locking onto the gaze as if it were a life-line.

 

“Ada?” The croaking voice was unsure.

 

“Yes Raniean. It is I.” Randomir kissed the top of his son’s head gently, careful of the bandage.

 

“Where am I?”

 

Early morning light filtered into the room from somewhere that Raniean couldn’t quite see at the moment. He was relieved that it was no longer dark and he was no longer alone, but he was groggy and confused.

 

“In the King’s chambers...” Randomir started to say, but at the mention of the King the young elf started and pulled away, looking wildly around the room.

 

Memories slammed into Raniean’s senses and he held his head gingerly as he remembered the events prior to his captivity.

 

“Legolas is in danger Ada! His uncle, he was beating him, I saw them. It was horrible! He beat him till he passed out. That must be why he’s been acting so strangely lately. Ada, please, you must tell his father, and if he won’t do anything...” Raniean was at a loss in his desperation. “...Then, then can we take him home? Away from here? Hide him? Please? You mustn’t let Doriflen touch him again Ada! I know he’s the King’s brother, but he is not what he appears to be. He will kill the prince if we don’t stop him!” The words tumbled out with frantic quickness. Raniean’s most over-riding horror when he was trapped alone and suffocating in the dark was that he was going to die and never be able to tell anyone what was happening to his friend. Now that he was free he babbled all his worries out in one long, anguished string of jumbled words.

 

“Easy. Easy my son. We know, and Legolas is fine.” Randomir sat, up swinging his legs off of the couch and wrapping his arm around the young elf’s shoulders. “I promise we won’t let anyone hurt him again.”

 

It took Raniean several moments to try to digest all this new information and he trembled slightly as he started to relax a little. “Truly?” his eyes begged assurance from his father. “I-I was so useless when he needed me. But, you’ll protect him, won’t you?”

 

“Truly,” Randomir nodded. “*We* will protect him, all right?” he said very seriously. At the moment all he wanted to do was cuddle the boy close and keep him from harm, but he could see Raniean was feeling that he had failed his training and his father. Now was not the time to seem like he was coddling the boy, it would only reinforce Raniean’s slipping self-confidence.

 

“You were hardly useless Ran. Give yourself time. Our family has always protected the royal house.” Randomir stroked his child’s hair gently. “And we always will. Dark days are ahead my son; days when I fear that even our youths are going to taste the bitterness of battle far before their time. Someday perhaps you will take my place as a leader of our people, but until then, I share this trust with you: as I stand by Thranduil, you must stand by Legolas; I feel he will need someone as loyal and resourceful as you young one.”

 

Raniean nodded, taking the commission very seriously. “I will Ada. I will make you and Cirlith proud.”

 

Randomir smiled. “Ran we already are. Legolas will be blessed to have someone like you on his side.”

 

Raniean blushed and shook his head quickly, trying to get his father to stop. “Ada!” he pushed the elder elf away slightly in reproof.

 

Randomir chuckled, but then looked concerned again when dark, sorrowful pain washed over his child’s face once more. “What? What is it Ran?”

 

Raniean sighed. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. Doriflen’s eyes when he looked at me... they were so dead. I was so scared for Legolas; he was crying and begging Ada. I’ve never seen him like that. It was horrible.”

 

“I know, I know,” Randomir soothed, trying to keep his anger at such a despicable act out of his voice. “But it is past now. Legolas is all right Ran.”

 

“I know, but... I... Legolas, he... it was...” the child couldn’t even find words deep enough to describe the horror he felt about what he had witnessed or the uncertainty of how he was going to face his friend again after this shocking revelation.

 

“Your father is right.” Legolas stepped hesitantly into the room. His sleeping tunic hung open, and the bandages that swathed his back and midsection could be seen. “I am fine. I am so sorry Vede hurt you. I never wanted you to get pulled into my problems.” The prince walked into the antechamber and seated himself gingerly on one of the large overstuffed chairs that faced the couch. He had heard Raniean’s out cry and slipped away from his still slumbering mother.

 

“Why did he do those things to you?” Raniean asked softly, relieved to see his friend looking himself and moving about. He eased back onto the cushion when his father forced him to remain seated. The child reached out a hesitant hand towards the bandages on his friend’s body, but pulled back again quickly. He was confused.

 

Legolas dropped his gaze to the carpet under his feet, shifting uncertainly. He really didn’t know himself, he had thought he did, but now nothing seemed certain anymore. It was hard to process having lived with a lie for so long and difficult to know what parts had been lie and what had been truth. When he answered, his words a mere whisper. “He said he was my Saelon and that it was part of our Maethor training. I did not know, I thought all Saelon’s were that way.”

 

“Cirlith has never hit me, ever.” Raniean answered, horrified that his friend had endured such abuse in accepting silence. “I wish you had talked to me.”

 

“I tried, but Vede said it was against the rules.” Tears brimmed in the prince’s eyes when he glanced back up at his friend. He felt so stupid, and knowing that it could have all stopped a long time ago if he had only told someone what was happening did not make him feel any better. “I didn’t know how to ask you. I-I thought I could fix it if I just stopped making so many mistakes.”

 

Randomir stood slowly and walked towards the prince, kneeling down in front of the younger elf’s chair so that they were eye-level. “Of course you didn’t know how Legolas, no one should have been faced with a situation like that. I’m sorry that none of us noticed anything amiss much sooner. Doriflen did not hurt you because of anything wrong with you young one, but because of something very wrong with him, you must remember that. He was no true Saelon, nor does he have the right to ever be. A Saelon is a mentor, and a mentor is supposed to be like an older friend who helps you learn things that your father and mother may not know how to teach you. But no one, no matter what mistakes they may make or how slow of a learner he may be, deserves to be treated like you have been. If it ever happens again you are to tell an adult you can trust, like your parents or Captain Amil-Garil.” He touched the young bruised face with his large weathered hand. “Do you understand?” He asked softly.

 

A simple nod was enough for the warrior who tussled the elfling’s hair before standing back up.

 

Legolas smiled. “My father said the same thing.”

 

“Well he’s right,” Randomir concurred. “Listen to him.”

 

“My Ada would make a great Saelon for you Legolas!” Raniean spoke up. He tried to stand but wobbled unsteadily on weakened legs and his father caught, him lowering him back down onto the couch.

 

“Ran, rest. You must give your body time to recover.” The warrior silenced the elflings protests with a glare. “Such things are only for the King to decide.”

 

Raniean settled back with a mock pout. “Well you would make a good Saelon, Ada. I just know you would.”

 

“He is right.” Elvéwen exited the private chambers and walked to the front door. The talking in the antechamber had awoken her. “I think it is something you should consider Randomir.” She commented with a smile as she opened the large wooden doors and quietly summoned Elrynd. “In fact we should talk about the Saelonship and the changes that need to be made to it while we break fast.”

 

She inclined her head to the King’s servant who immediately left to fulfill her wishes.

 

“I fear that it is only going to become more necessary as we stand on the brink of possible civil war...” the Queen sighed, her gaze traveling over the two injured elflings. They did not need more gloom or shadow over their lives just at this moment. “But come, plenty of time to talk over food. Something sweet I think if the kitchens can scrape anything together. I believe I heard Trelan’s voice from somewhere down the hall, shall we invite him as well?”

 

Legolas and Raniean concurred quickly, eager to complete their usual trio and Elvéwen dispatched another servant to bring the small elfling to them. The Queen’s sensitive elven hearing could now pick up the sound of many more children’s voices talking quietly down below. When the servant returned she made a mental note to make sure and see to it that the other children were also being taken care of, along with any other guests that they had acquired over the course of the long night.

 

Quietly, Elvéwen and Randomir exchanged glances. In times of war or invasion, it had always been the plan to pull the children back into the most easily defensible location until the nature of the threat was known... but this was the first time it had ever been put into practice. It was good that their sons could be with their other dear friend this morning, but if Trelan and the other children had been brought to the palace in the middle of the night; it could only mean that things went ill in the outside world.

 

The tiger was out of the cage, and there was apparently no putting him back inside.

 

 

___________________________________________________________

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART EIGHT*~
~A Young Runaway~

 

 

~~~~~~~~
So when I feel like running I have to look inside,
I want to find the answer
I want to break my line.

Take me as I am,
I’m not broken.
Pieces of my life are not tokens.
I want to let you know that I’m still learning,
How to love again and stop hurting.

-- Tonic
~~~~~~~~

 

 

-||-Twelve years later-||-

 

 

Late summer sunshine beamed down through the thick branches overhead. A troop of young elves scoured the grassy clearing and bracken-choked pathways intently.

 

Legolas pushed his loose hair back behind one ear and dipped his free hand down into a hollow hidden among some tangled roots. The prince’s searching fingers found what they were looking for as the smooth round surfaces of a cache of Aewlaer eggs made themselves known under his touch. Aewlaers were rare, summer-nesting birds indigenous to northern Mirkwood and it was a lucky find. The young elf froze however when he felt the warm, feathery brush of the bird sitting on the nest.

 

The creature did not retreat from the elf, but shifted questioningly. Legolas touched her downy feathers, the contact carrying his request. She had three eggs, would she share one with him? For his people? He wouldn’t ask except that so many were going hungry. Would she help them? The young elf’s entreaty was earnest.

 

He would not take them from her if she refused, the prince’s kind heart couldn’t do that, but he hoped she would understand that he would not ask if the situation were not serious.

 

The bird ruffled its feathers and trilled softly. Legolas felt one smooth egg roll into his hand.

 

“Hannon le, thank you,” the prince whispered, pulling the egg out and putting it carefully into the soft leather bag he was carrying.

 

“Find something your highness?” one of the adult hunters looked over.

 

Legolas held up the egg before putting it back in his satchel.

 

“Are there any more?” the hunter moved closer. Their findings were slim at best today.

 

Legolas shook his head. “I got what there was to be had Umdanuë.” He was careful not to tell a direct untruth, but he knew that the elder hunters would take all the eggs and probably the bird too. Under normal circumstances that would not be the case. The wood-elves were a hunting people and Legolas himself had already felled one or two deer in his time. Yet even so, they had always had an unspoken law about leaving a mother and her offspring in peace. They never set their sites on a doe with a fawn or a fowl in her nest. Now however...

 

Legolas sighed. He did not hold against the older hunters what necessity laid in their path. He understood that starving elven children took priority over even the elves’ respectful relationship with nature, but sometimes his tender heart wanted to leave a few things untouched and unchanged.

 

The prince watched Umdanuë move off again to oversee some of the other youngsters. Against all odds the hunter had recovered from his horrible stay in Doriflen’s clutches and seemed to be slowly returning to normal.

 

In some ways, the same could be said of himself, Legolas supposed. He was trying his hardest to put the past behind him, but it was difficult to do when every day brought another reminder of how much everything in their lives had changed.

 

Twelve winters had passed now since the fateful night that the Mirkwood that had been, was ripped asunder and replaced with the Mirkwood that was now. Usually a short time for elves, the days had seemed to stretch into eternity and it was difficult sometimes for the younger elflings to remember a time before the terrible strife.

 

Civil war was misnamed the prince thought sadly. There was nothing civil about it, especially this cold war that they were locked in now. There was no honor in a war when the casualties were the young and the weak, but they were Doriflen’s favorite victims.

 

Doriflen had drawn away all his followers and their families, locating farther to the south. The unstable elf kept the location of his military headquarters a carefully guarded secret, making it all but impossible for Thranduil’s soldiers to score a decisive military blow against him.

 

Thranduil would not stoop to striking against the women and children whom Doriflen had drawn to him, but Doriflen was not nearly so scrupulous in return. Oh he did not turn a sword against them, no, not even his most hardened followers would have abided that for long, but Doriflen was cleverer than that. He struck at the innocents in the most devastating of ways: burning crops, stealing stores, harassing and capturing hunting parties.

 

Already in uneasy straits, Thranduil found himself in a veritable state of siege; unable to feed his people or even his soldiers as Doriflen worked ceaselessly to keep their supply lines and resources cut.

 

The winters had been hard and cruel lately, leaving less and less hope each spring. What hope there was in the budding fields this year had been burned to ash when Doriflen’s men brutally razed their opponents’ gardens and fields in a devastating midnight raid only two weeks ago. Food almost ready for the harvest was destroyed and Legolas thought he had never seen his father quite so pale as when that news was brought. The entire kingdom of Lasgalen was teetering on the brink of oblivion, brought to its knees by the long and bitter struggle.

 

Because Thranduil would not return innocent suffering for innocent suffering, things were easier for the rebels in Doriflen’s camp and Doriflen never missed an opportunity to flaunt their relative prosperity before Thranduil’s weary and disheartened followers. The situation was grim.

 

Lost in his dark thoughts, Legolas did not hear the other elf come up behind him as he quietly bid a parting to the bird whose life he had saved.

 

“Legolas?”

 

“Randomir!” Legolas jumped slightly when his teacher’s hand fell upon his shoulder. Randomir had been his Saelon for several seasons now, and he had come to learn how a true mentor’s relationship was supposed to work. “You startled me.”

 

“So I noticed,” the older elf smiled slightly and raised a questioning eyebrow, glancing at the thicket behind Legolas that the young elf was unconsciously trying to hide behind him. “Is the bird safe?”

 

Legolas flushed and dropped his gaze, realizing his teacher knew him far too well. “I-I’m sorry, I know how tight things are, I just...”

 

Randomir raised his hand for silence. “It’s all right your highness, I understand. Sometimes one has to remember that there is mercy still somewhere in this world. I won’t tell anyone.”

 

Legolas smiled his gratefulness. “Thank you.”

 

Randomir squeezed his charge’s shoulder. Legolas had a good heart. He was young, but there was an oldness creeping into his large eyes these past seasons. In elven time, the passing of years had little effect on Legolas’ slowly maturing body, but in his soul he seemed to have aged very quickly.

 

Trelan scrambled over the hummock next to them and dropped exhaustedly to the ground near the prince. “Find anything useful Legolas?” he asked with tired disgust.

 

Legolas lifted his partially full catch bag. “Some. You?”

 

Trelan scowled and dropped his bag between his folded legs, opening the top and showing Legolas the contents. “Look: berries, berries, berries and... ohhh here’s a nut! ONE nut Legolas.” Trelan dropped his head dejectedly into his palm. “These woods are stripped clean, there’s nothing to be had here. They should let us go further out to forage.”

 

“Further out from the villages wouldn’t be safe Trelan,” Randomir shook his head. “The warriors are spread too thin as it is.”

 

“Yes, and they are needed to keep the *real* hunters safe,” Raniean’s discouraged voice joined them as he stalked over, his own bag only marginally full. “Not wasted on children like us.”

 

Raniean’s father cast a stern look his direction. “Ran, just because you are young does not mean that you are not important. All of you are very important. You are our future, that is why we seek to not place you in unnecessary danger. You will be going out into the world soon enough ion-nín.”

 

Raniean’s head came up quickly at the vague reference. “Have they set a time? Do you know yet father? When are we to go?” the boy’s voice was excited.

 

Trelan’s attention was captured just as quickly, as was Legolas’. The three young elves came of age this season and completed the first level of their training. Another class above them had already passed that landmark the previous summer and everyone below them was now anxious for their own turn to undertake the grueling rite of passage.

 

It must not be supposed that a wood-elf coming of age happened at the same stage of maturity as it did in other cultures. Indeed, in many regions beings of the same relative age would have been considered children for many more seasons yet, but not here. As in any culture however, the elvish children were eager to attain ‘adult’ status.

 

The final rite of passage was marked by a fortnight-long survival trial deep in the forest, wherein the young elves went out together in groups of twelve to put all they had learned to practice on their own. They went out children and came back adults in the thinking of the wood-elves.

 

Due to the current times, the practice had been modified since no one was willing to suffer the young ones to be alone in the dangerous woods. Now, a small contingent of their teachers went with them, although they still left everything up to the students.

 

Legolas, Raniean, Trelan and the others were supposed to have gone out earlier in the summer, but the trip was delayed repeatedly as the political and social clime steadily worsened. The young elves began to fear that they would not be allowed to graduate to the next level this season at all.

 

Randomir tried to silence the suddenly clamoring elflings without much effect. “Yes, yes, a decision has finally been reached, although I did not have it in mind to tell you until I could tell everyone this evening. So kindly keep it to yourselves until the announcement can be made, all right?”

 

All three young elves promised solemnly and then immediately pressed him for the exact timing.

 

“When? When Randomir?” Legolas asked eagerly. “I promise we won’t tell.”

 

“All right, peace all of you,” the elder elf shook his head. “Is tomorrow soon enough for you?”

 

From their cheers, it was. They could not believe that it was so soon. Randomir had known it was coming for some time, but for safety sake it was best to let the community at large know about it as late as possible. That way there was a lower chance of word leaking out to cause trouble. He hated to think what Doriflen would do if he thought he could capture a whole troop of elflings at one time. The unstable elf had a penchant for adding the very young to his fanatical following that did not sit well with Randomir.

 

Suddenly the sound of a horn made them all look up. A column of wood-elf warriors was winding its way across the far edge of the field.

 

Legolas watched them disappear into the forest with a proud, but sad feeling in his stomach. He had seen many such parties departing in his young life... and too many never came back.

 

Trelan saw Morifwen and Sarcayul near the rear of the procession. They had been in the group that came of age last year. Everyone knew that as soon as the young elves had come of age, they were eligible to join the war parties. The young elves looked forward eagerly to the honor... their elders looked forward with sorrowful trepidation to the loss of innocence that would follow.

 

Trelan waved a greeting as the procession passed away. Sarcayul did not notice, but Morifwen waved back ever so slightly, not wanting to break formation. Then they were gone.

 

Randomir watched them go with the ghost of a shadow flittering across his face. They were not part of his command. That troop was part of the contingent under Traycaul, Sarcayul and Sarcaulien’s father. Randomir believed that just because the young elves who came of age *were* eligible for patrol duty, it did not necessarily follow that they *should* be placed in that position so soon. Traycaul saw things differently and that was out of Randomir’s control. The different chieftains worked together, but they did not attempt to overstep their bounds into each other’s realm of authority. That position of final authority was for the King alone, and right now, Thranduil had far too much on his plate already. Regulating a dispute between the leaders of his two major contingents was not something he needed to have to worry about at the moment. So Randomir kept his peace. However, you were certainly not going to see Raniean out there with his patrols until his son had been seasoned more gradually for what he might be expected to face. That went for Legolas and Trelan as well if he had any say.

 

Another horn sounded, farther away but more urgent this time. This was a warning horn and all the elves had learned what that meant.

 

“Come children,” Randomir said quickly, glancing about to see that Umdanuë and Tegi were gathering up the other youngsters. “We should get back to Lasgalen immediately.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Randomir walked Legolas back to the palace and left only once he saw he was safely in the protection of Amil-Garil.

 

Legolas hated the way they fussed over him like that but he had grown used to it and paid little mind to the guards who dutifully dogged his footsteps as he slowly ascended the stairs leading into his home. Quietly however, he resolved that when he was older and had the choice, he was *not* going to spend every waking moment with a living chain of guards and servants trailing him around all the time. He would go where he wanted and do what he wanted, and he would be a skilled enough warrior that no one could worry about him. His mind was made up on that.

 

Elvéwen gave her son a hug when she saw him in the hall and asked how his outing had fared, as she always did. Legolas had already turned over his catch, such as it was, to the kitchens. He told her about it briefly. There wasn’t much to say really, but he appreciated that she always asked. If there ever was anything he wanted to talk about, but was too shy to bring up himself, it afforded him the opportunity to do so.

 

Through the half-closed door behind her, Legolas could see his father deep in conversation with Lord Celemir. He would not interrupt them now. He knew he would see his father later. These past few seasons, Thranduil made it a point that no matter how busy he had been during the day, he spent at least a few minutes with Legolas each night before the child went to bed. It was a pitiful concision of his time sometimes and the King knew it, but it often truly was all he had to give, and Legolas accepted the gift of his father’s time, such as it was, with the love with which it was meant.

 

“Is there trouble?” He asked his mother quietly.

 

Elvéwen shook her head. “Not this time at least. They are discussing what is to be done about the Yén festival. It is approaching rapidly and is a very important event. It will be your first Tyndolhen,” she ran her hand fondly through his hair. “I would that you could see it the way it should be and has been in the past. Unfortunately it cannot be celebrated properly as things stand, but neither can it be ignored. They will figure out what needs to be kept for tradition and what can be parted with because of necessity.”

 

Legolas nodded. “It will be good for the people to have something to celebrate about.”

 

This war was draining everyone. It was not a terribly bloody conflict by most standards. It was suspected, or at least hoped, that most of their warriors who disappeared had been taken prisoner rather than killed. That was certainly the objective of Thranduil’s war parties, although little by little Doriflen had been showing himself willing to up the ante from capture to slaughter if it achieved his ends. Because the killing of elf by elf was considered despicable by most of the warriors the actual deaths were thankfully not nearly as bad as they might have been, but it was a cold conflict that drained the spirits of everyone involved. Hope was the worst casualty.

 

“You look tired Legolas,” Elvéwen said quietly, seeing the dark thoughts flitter across her son’s face. “Have you eaten yet? They are keeping your soup warm for you in the kitchen. You are too drawn my little leaf.” She and Thranduil had agreed long ago that the royal family should not be shown any favors in the strict food-rationing that was in place throughout the torn kingdom, but for her growing son’s sake she wished she could provide better than a small mug of soup for supper.

 

Legolas shook his head, putting on a smile just for her and banishing the gloom. “I know, I’m fine Nana, I was just thinking.” He didn’t want to tell her that he had already given his dinner to Galion’s wife Febridë who was in the final stages of her first pregnancy. Childbearing took a lot out of elven women and Legolas judged she needed it much more than he did. Ever since he found the serving lady passed out on the cellar floor two weeks ago, he had been giving up his own supper regularly without anyone knowing what he was doing, including Febridë and his mother.

 

Legolas gave Elvéwen a hug and retired to his chambers. He was tired and hungry, but he pushed those unwelcome feelings away. Instead he focused on the excitement of finally knowing when their rite of passage would take place.

 

The prince opened the large windows near his bed and slid out onto the ledge, sitting on the windowsill and dangling his feet over the outside edge, as he was fond of doing. The sun was sinking for the western horizon, painting the verdant forest in shades of gold and crimson.

 

He kicked his heels lightly against the smooth stones as his legs dangled. Once he was no longer considered a child there was so much more he could do. He would be able to take on more responsibility and better share the load with his father and mother. Thranduil had already told him that once he was of age the King would start delegating Legolas some of the base level administrative functions that he could trust to no one else. While keeping records and managing stores was not something Legolas looked forward to, or wished to spend his time engaged in, the fact that in so doing he would be able to free up some of his father’s badly cluttered time made the thought worthwhile.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Elvéwen was out in the darkening gardens, overseeing the efforts to coax the vegetable gardens that had taken over the sculptured lawns to produce more at a quicker rate. The plants responded well to the elves’ gentle ministrations, but there was still only so much they could do.

 

The Queen halted by one of the female workers. “Stop, Febridë I told you not to work out here. We can manage. You need to save your strength for the child,” Elvéwen remonstrated, glancing with concern at the other woman’s huge belly.

 

Febridë was nearly full term and having a difficult time with the pregnancy. However when she looked up at the Queen the woman’s eyes appeared less shadowed than they had been in some time.

 

“Oh no, your Majesty, I will be all right, thank you. I am feeling much better.”

 

Elvéwen smiled, gratified at the change. “Very well, but be careful, all right?”

 

“Yes, your Highness,” Febridë nodded with a small smile. “And... your Highness? Please tell Prince Legolas thank you again. I don’t know how he managed to arrange the extra rations for me, but I truly appreciate it, and I thank you for your kindness in allowing it.”

 

Elvéwen was taken aback for only a moment, before she quickly nodded and accepted the thanks graciously before moving on. It would do no good to let Febridë know that she had no idea what the other woman was talking about. Besides... as soon as Elvéwen stopped to consider it, she knew exactly what had been taking place. No wonder Legolas seemed to be growing thinner before her eyes. He was not eating. That sweet, foolish child was giving his food away. Silently, Elvéwen determined to make sure she *watched* Legolas eat next time. She appreciated what he was doing, and could see the good it had done for Febridë, but she would find a way to arrange extra allowance for Febridë that would allow Legolas to keep his own meals. The young elf was growing and could not afford to deny himself so stringently.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Darkness had fallen, but Legolas remained on the windowsill, looking up at the stars. He felt a little too tired to do anything else. If he had been older he might have realized his fatigue had to do with his small and infrequent meals, but all the child knew was that he felt a little weary.

 

The moon was already high in the sky when Legolas heard the quiet sound of the door to his room being pushed open.

 

Candles and lamp oil were rationed just like food these days, and Legolas had not bothered to waste any lighting his rooms, so when Thranduil first entered, he thought his son was already asleep.

 

Upon seeing the empty bed however, his gaze went immediately to the dark shape in the window, framed by the pale starlight streaming into the darkened room.

 

“Legolas? Come down from there child, you could fall,” Thranduil chided gently, lifting Legolas down from the high sill.

 

Legolas laughed and shook his head at being treated like such a child. “Ada! I’m not a baby.”

 

“I know Legolas, I know. But it is still time for bed, even for big, grown-up elves...” the King’s voice held a softly teasing tone.

 

Legolas rolled his eyes but obligingly changed into his sleep tunic. As he was fastening up the row of ties that held the soft fabric closed at the neck, the young elf’s knees buckled without warning and he slid to the floor.

 

Thranduil thought Legolas was playing at some kind of a game until the boy didn’t rise.

 

Legolas did not remember falling. All he remembered was his father’s worried face bending over him, bathed in moonlight. Thranduil was shaking him and calling his name.

 

“Ada?” Legolas blinked in confusion as he sat up. “What happened?”

 

Thranduil looked extremely consternated and scooped the young elf up in his arms, carrying him to the bed despite the other’s protests.

 

“What happened Legolas, is that you are not taking care of yourself. Your mother told me what’s been going on with Febridë and while I appreciate your heart my son, it has got to stop. We’ll find another way to take care of her, all right? You need your strength too,” Thranduil said seriously, feeling how light Legolas was in his arms.

 

The fact that his son was practically starving in his own palace made Thranduil’s heart ache with sorrow and shame.

 

“Yes, Adar,” Legolas nodded compliantly. He was too tired to wonder how he had been found out and didn’t bother arguing with his father because he knew he always lost.

 

“You were discussing the Yén festival with Lord Celemir?” Legolas hesitantly broke the silence after a few minutes, wishing to lighten the oppressive mood that had descended upon them. “Will it have to be canceled?”

 

“No,” Thranduil shook his head, absently letting his fingers toy with the fringes on Legolas’ quilt as he sat next to the boy on his bed. “There is little enough to celebrate with, but I believe we have a workable plan now. We cannot simply ‘cancel’ the Yén. It is our most revered holiday here in Mirkwood ion-nín. To shun it now would be to admit that we have fallen so far we never hope to rise again.”

 

Legolas nodded as if he understood, although he didn’t completely.

 

“I will have to teach you what must be done, for we will both have an important role to play in blessing the forest for the coming Yén. ‘tis rather short notice, but I’m sure we will have it all worked out by then. We can begin tomorrow...”

 

“Tomorrow?” Legolas sat up, his brows furrowing. “I thought that the Yén was not for a fortnight yet. Ada, I have to leave tomorrow.”

 

“Leave?” Thranduil mirrored his son’s confused expression for a moment.

 

“The rite of passage, for our maethor training. Randomir said he and the others have finally set a date. We are to leave tomorrow,” Legolas explained, but as he did so he suddenly had the creeping suspicion that his father already knew.

 

Thranduil sighed deeply and Legolas did not like the way his father was acting. It did not bode well.

 

“Legolas... I don’t want you to go with them. You’re not ready yet my son and I need you here.”

 

Legolas took the words like a blow to the chest. He shook his head, trying to refuse tears. “I am ready Ada! I am! I can do this, I know I can!”

 

Thranduil was unmovable on the subject. “No, you are not Legolas. You’re fainting in your own chambers, and I am supposed to allow you to go out there into the wilds with little or no protection? No, Legolas. I’m sorry. Perhaps next year will be better.”

 

Legolas felt stricken, he couldn’t believe his father thought so little of his abilities. “Next year...” he echoed hollowly. Raniean, Trelan, Sarcaulien, Brenyf... all his friends would move on and he would remain left behind with next year’s candidates, cut out of his age-mate’s lives and their continuing training. The shame was overwhelming.

 

Thranduil ached for the sorrow he saw in his child’s eyes, but he truly felt this was for the best. The Yén festival was not the only thing he and Celemir had discussed. Spies had brought word. There was unrest in Doriflen’s camp. Despite the fact that their fields were not being burned or their crops trampled, mismanagement was driving them to nearly as desperate straits as Thranduil’s kingdom. Doriflen ruled them with a heavy hand and some of his followers were beginning to chafe under the treatment.

 

Doriflen was getting more desperate than he wanted to let on. He would be looking for an advantage, ready to take drastic measures. Under such circumstances, Thranduil was not willing to let Legolas out of the protective watchfulness of his home. The Elvenking hesitated to tell Legolas his concerns for fear of re-awaking those old scars that he knew were still far too near the surface for Legolas.

 

“Legolas, I understand how you must feel, but...”

 

“No, you *don’t* understand!” Legolas flared uncharacteristically. His weakened state made him more vulnerable to the emotional impact of what was happening.

 

“Legolas!” Thranduil was taken aback by the interruption. “Do not take that tone with me. I know what is best for you whether it seems like it now or not. You are just going to have to accept that. I need you here. If you go you may not be back in time for the Yén festival and that is not acceptable.”

 

Legolas dropped his head into his hands. “I don’t want to be part of any stupid...”

 

“Legolas,” Thranduil’s voice was warning. The prince was pushing the line here. He understood his son’s disappointment, but he expected him to deal with it and move on, not wallow in self-pity. “There *will* be other chances, when you are ready.”

 

“And when will that be?” Legolas murmured bitterly. “How can I ever be ready if you do not allow me to be!” //What more must I do to prove myself to you?// the elfling’s heart cried.

 

Thranduil’s lips pressed into a tight line. This was not going well and he was in no better mood than the prince was right now. “The childish way you are acting now only proves the point that you are *not* ready Legolas. I will not let you go out there and endanger yourself or those with you. Don’t you realize what kind of a target you would be Legolas? Doriflen used you once, he’ll use you again if he can.” He opted to be truthful with his son.

 

Legolas sucked his breath in sharply at the mention of his uncle’s name. Unfortunately in his disturbed state, he took Thranduil’s words in a way they were not intended.

 

“U-Use me?” he stammered around the swelling lump in his throat. Oh Valar, did his father really still think that he had had any kind of conscious roll in his uncle’s treachery? Did Thranduil think he could be so easily swayed that his Uncle could ever fool him into compliance again? Did his father *truly* think *that* little of him?

 

“Yes, Legolas, use you,” Thranduil said shortly. He did not realize what was going on in his son’s head or the undesired impact his words were having. “You know he would do it too.” Thranduil had come to the sad realization that his brother was nothing if not ultimately ruthless.

 

Legolas was trying hard not to let his hurt, angry tears spill over, but he was not succeeding.

 

“You don’t trust me,” Legolas whispered, balling his fists in the bedclothes at his side. “That’s it, isn’t it? You still don’t trust me!” That hurt worse than simply not being allowed to go. His father thought he would betray him again. If he thought that... then had he ever really forgiven him for before? Was Thranduil keeping him close to protect him, or because he feared the boy would turn against him? The terrible thoughts made Legolas’ head swim.

 

Thranduil had no idea where Legolas’ accusations were coming from. “Don’t be ridiculous Legolas. My trust of you has nothing to do with this. I said you’re not going and you’re not going. I’m sorry, but my decision is final, do you understand me?” the King said firmly.

 

Legolas turned his face into his pillow. His father’s words fell on deaf ears. Empty verbal assurances meant nothing when faced with actions that seemed to the contrary. His father thought he would betray him...

 

“I understand,” Legolas murmured into his pillow, refusing to look up.

 

Thranduil sighed in frustration. This was not at all how he had wished for things to end tonight. “Do you want to talk Legolas?” he inquired softly, letting his hand rest lightly on the boy’s tense shoulder.

 

Legolas swallowed and shook his head. “No. I-I’m sorry Ada. I’m-I’m just very tired. I’ll be all right.”

 

Thranduil nodded. He didn’t doubt that the child was tired. “All right then Legolas. Good night my son.” The king brushed his hand over Legolas’ forehead in a bedtime blessing before rising and moving away.

 

“Goodnight Ada,” Legolas whispered quietly, trying to keep the tight, choking feeling in his throat out of his voice.

 

The door clicked shut.

 

Legolas settled himself on his back, but he couldn’t sleep. His thoughts were in turmoil and his emotions swirled even more violently. Thranduil loved him, but he didn’t trust him, that much was clear. He thought Legolas wasn’t ready to be an adult, to help him share the load of the kingdom.

 

Legolas balled his hand so hard that his fingernails hurt his palms as hot indignation and betrayal burned in his chest, choking him. He *was* ready, he *was*! But if Thranduil didn’t think so now, when would he? Legolas was at the top of his class in every skill the young elves had been trained in, he had the highest marks of any of them and he knew it. If that was not enough, what would be? Would Thranduil even let Legolas go next year, or would he continue to doubt him? What more could the prince possibly do that he hadn’t already done to make his father see him as a person and not a baby to be protected and coddled?

 

The first time the thought entered his head Legolas dismissed it offhand. Thranduil would kill him for such outright disobedience. Yet the longer he lay there, the more plausible the idea seemed to become. He could go anyway. Not with the others, if he did that his father would simply send the guards to bring him back. No, Legolas could go by himself. That way he would not be endangering anyone else either. He knew what the rite consisted of and it was nothing he could not survive on his own. He heard stories that in the old days the young ones had always gone alone anyway... and if he succeeded, then Thranduil would have to accept that he was not a child anymore. More importantly, his father would see once and for all that he was not and had never been a traitor by choice. He *could* be trusted to be alone.

 

It took Legolas over an hour, but he finally talked himself into the idea.

 

Silently, he pushed aside the covers and slid out of bed. Changing into his woodland garments, the young prince strapped his quiver on his back and pushed his knife into his belt. His fingers fumbled slightly with the quiver clasp on his chest. He was nervous. He had never gone so contrary to his parents’ wishes before and he knew his father would be furious. Yet he hoped that he could be worthy enough through his trials that he would not shame them, and they could be proud of him upon his return.

 

Pulling a quill and parchment from his desk, Legolas scribbled a quick note so they would not worry... he gripped the quill tightly. Who was he trying to fool? They would worry anyway, but at least they would know what he had done. The prince signed the note with an apprehensive, but resolute stroke.

 

Besides a blanket, his arrows, extra arrowheads and fletching to make more, Legolas really had nothing to pack that was not already strapped to his belt in readiness. Food and drink were things he was going to have to find for himself in the woods. Slipping to his window, Legolas pushed the curtains open and pulled himself up onto the moonlit sill once more. With one foot in and one foot out of the window, Legolas paused one last time.

 

This was his last chance to turn back and give up the whole idea. The prince struggled with himself. Part of him wanted to jump back into bed and cling to the safety of doing what was expected, but another part of him rebelled sharply at always giving in and never standing up. If he had stood up to Doriflen in the beginning so much pain may have been averted.

 

Making his final decision and knowing that, good or ill, he was going to have to live with it; Legolas swung his other leg over the sill and dropped lightly down to a thin ledge directly below. The prince ran easily along the narrow edge until he was within reach of one of the tall, garden trees. Jumping like a squirrel into its branches, the prince traversed easily from tree to tree. He knew the gates would already be sealed, but he also knew that the gardeners had not been able to keep the palace grounds as neatly kept since the start of the war as they had been previously. An entire section in the neglected northwest corner of the grounds had become overgrown, allowing the tree branches to begin overhanging the palace walls. That was all that Legolas needed.

 

In a matter of minutes the prince had dropped down on the other side of the wall and was running swiftly and silently into the woods in the moonlight. He left the palace and all of Lasgalen behind him as fast as he could. He was apprehensive about what he was going to face, but the adrenaline that had carried him thus far was still pumping powerfully through his veins and he pushed aside his cares, preferring to feel the invigorating zing of knowing he was finally doing something by *his* choice.

 

He knew he would be in incredible trouble when he went back, but Legolas was determined to make it worthwhile. He would not fail.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Thranduil looked ready to put his fist through the wall as he crumpled the prince’s note. Elvéwen was silent and shaken. Neither of them could believe that Legolas had been so incredibly rash.

 

“Find him!” Thranduil ordered Amil-Garil tersely. “Find him immediately! Have Randomir and the others left yet? Check and see if he is with them. If not, begin searching the woods at once!”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Legolas ran all night, pushing aside his weariness and fatigue. He did not stop when pale dawn lightened the sky in the east, but kept going for as long as he could. He knew his father would send searchers, but he could not allow himself to be taken back in disgrace. He would return under his own terms, *after* completing what he had set out to do. He would lay the tokens of the completed rite out before his father’s feet and Thranduil would have to see that he was not a child, and not a traitor.

 

Legolas hoped that somehow his parents could forgive him.

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART NINE*~
~Rites of Passage~

 

 

~~~~~~~~
I ran to the treetops, I ran to the sky,
Out to the lake, into the rain that matted my hair
and soaked my shoes and skin...
Hid my tears, hid my fears.

I ran to the forest, I ran to the trees,
I ran and I ran, I was looking for me.

--Madonna
~~~~~~~~

 

 

Grey rain drizzled through the canopy of leaves overhead and pattered softly onto Legolas’ makeshift flet. The young elf prince sat curled up in a ball with his knees pulled up to his chest, conserving his body warmth.

 

It had been more than a fortnight since he left home. He was not exactly homesick, for he rather liked being on his own to some extent, but he was worried about how things faired for his family and his friends.

 

The young elf pulled his sodden cloak a little closer around his shoulders and wondered if Raniean and Trelan had completed their rites already and gathered all the necessary tokens.

 

Near the base of the tree, a bower of leaves kept a curing wolf pelt safe from the rain.

 

Legolas flexed his aching arm. He had panicked more than he wanted to admit when the wolves attacked him. His fright made his muscles tense and he had strained something in his arm working his bowstring. Still, he was alive and the wolves were not. It was not an encounter he would have wished for, and yet it did fulfill the need for one of his tokens.

 

There were three tokens a young wood-elf needed to bring back from his rite of passage. Twelve of the rare, healing herbs that grew wild in the woods, an animal hide, and a mark of courage. Legolas had everything now but the last. However the more he thought about it, the more troublesome what he didn’t have became. What in Arda was a mark of courage anyway? Their teachers had never explained that to the young elves, telling them that when they were out there, they would just know. Well blast it all Legolas didn’t know and time was draining away from him.

 

The prince rested his face on his knees. He had hoped to be back by now. He really had wanted to return before the Yén celebration, but by now it had already come and gone.

 

He wondered if his father was still searching for him. The young prince’s woodsman’s skills were advanced for his age and he had thus far managed to stay well away from anyone but the trees and the woodland creatures. There were not many of those right now. The fighting between the elves seemed to have driven them all away, which contributed to the problems that the hunting parties were constantly encountering.

 

Legolas knew he shouldn’t have been thinking about food. His stomach growled. He had not started this trip with any reserves to spare and had been able to hunt and scavenge a marginal living at best since then. Still, he had not done too poorly for himself and was stronger than the night he ran away more than two weeks ago.

 

The wolf meat was not to his tastes, but he was hungry enough that he ate it anyway. It was the first meat he had seen in a long time, even before leaving home.

 

The young elf was tired. He was always tired lately. Legolas did not mean to fall asleep, but presently his head was nodding and the soothing patter of the rain drifted him off to rest.

 

When Legolas awoke the rain had stopped and the sun was setting. The young elf jerked upright quickly, looking around. He usually did not stay in one place for so long, finding a new resting place each night for safety sake. Now however, he had no choice for he was not so foolish as to risk this wild part of the forest at night.

 

Climbing down the tree he bundled up the cured wolf hide and carried it back up the tree with him, rolling it into his pack with the carefully dried herbs.

 

Sighing, the prince settled himself down for a watchful night.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

In the late watches of the night, the peace of the forest was shattered by the urgent blowing of a horn. The panic-laden blasts were cut short almost as abruptly as they had started.

 

Sharp cries and angry snarls carried through the trees.

 

Legolas’ head popped up, his senses fully alert and looking for the source of the threat. That was soon to become apparent.

 

The prince saw six or seven wolves rush by under his tree, heading towards the sounds of the conflict. From the great clamor of snaps and snarls away to the south it sounded like there were already quite a few of the beasts out there.

 

Legolas had had a feeling that the three wolves he had encountered yesterday were merely part of a larger pack that must be somewhere nearby. The lack of game hurt the wolves as it did the elves, and drove them to greater ferocity. Instead of following the game in its migration out of Mirkwood, the packs had banded together and begun to attack the parties of elves that scoured the countryside for food. In such large groups, the creatures were fearless.

 

Legolas quickly hitched his pack over his shoulder and took off across the tree boughs towards the sounds of the altercation. He thought he had heard elven voices somewhere in the clamor. Jumping from branch to branch, the prince stayed in the treetops to avoid getting stuck in a melee on the ground. Wolves couldn’t climb trees, that was one small mercy.

 

Once he reached the place where the wolves were congregating, the sheer number of them gathered there took his breath away. Twenty at least, maybe more. He saw that a small number of the creatures lay dead already; their bodies a black splotch against the forest floor. However, they were not what held Legolas’ attention. What held his attention was the remaining wolves’ intended prey.

 

Two raven heads and one golden, obviously elves because they were glowing dimly, obviously young elves because their stature was far too small for an adult. It was difficult to see faces from above, but Legolas did not need to see. He knew them at a glance and his heart chilled in his breast.

 

Trelan, Brenyf and Sarcaulien were surrounded by scores of angry, snarling wolves. They were alone and badly out-numbered.

 

Brenyf seemed to be injured because he was favoring one leg as the three young elves stood shoulder to shoulder in a loose circle, trying desperately to hold their own against the ravenous hordes. The wolves had them trapped in the center of a large clearing, unable to reach the safety of the trees. The surrounded elves seemed to be gathered around something on the ground that the prince could not see in the dark chaos, almost as if they were protecting something or someone.

 

Legolas didn’t have to be a full-fledged warrior to see that his friends were not going to walk out of this alive.

 

Trelan had the disadvantage of being almost eye-level with the wolves, but he fought them with the energy of two elves. One fell with his knife in its throat while a second that had rushed him was abruptly checked by a swift, deadly slash from Sarcaulien’s flashing blade. Brenyf held a barbed spear taller than himself with which he was keeping the creatures in front of him at bay. His signal horn had been broken after the first call and there was no further chance of their trying to summon help.

 

The dark form of a wolf struck Sarcaulien in the chest, knocking him backward. Trelan, nearest at hand, leapt forward, practically jumping on the creatures back as he stabbed at it furiously, trying to pull it away from the other downed elfling. Unfortunately this left his own back uncovered and vulnerable.

 

A wolf leapt at the short elf, fangs snapping... only to fall with a surprised yelp, an arrow through its throat.

 

Standing on a low hanging branch that gave him the best view of the glade below, Legolas already had his bow bent and strung with another arrow. In rapid succession he loosed a fierce, deadly volley on the attacking creatures below, trying to give the others stuck on the ground a little breathing room.

 

Legolas’ constant practicing stood him in good stead now. He was lethal with a bow. He did not yet possess the full capabilities and prowess that later years would bring him, but for a child of his age, he was more than formidable.

 

Sarcaulien snatched the momentary reprieve to heave the wolf carcass off him and scramble back to his feet while Brenyf made sure that Trelan, also regaining his feet, was all right.

 

Looking up in the direction the arrows were coming from, they saw Legolas in the tree.

 

“Legolas!” Trelan shouted his friend’s name in surprise even as a new wave of wolves rushed them and they were forced on the defensive once more.

 

Legolas was shooting as fast as he could, but although every arrow found a wolf body, he was not yet accurate enough for every shot to be fatal. There were simply too many wolves; they could not win this fight. It would be better to run if they could.

 

“Trelan! Sar! Bren! Break for the trees! I’ll try to cover you, you’ve got to get off the ground!” the prince shouted.

 

Trelan shook his head, panting hard and out of breath. “We can’t Legolas! Ada’s hurt bad, he’s unconscious. We can’t leave him!”

 

Legolas could now see that the dark shape the three young elves were placing themselves around was the body of an older elf. Telrayn was shimmering only very faintly in the darkness and Legolas didn’t know what that meant, but he hoped it wasn’t bad. His mind raced as he strung off another round of arrows. No, they couldn’t leave the older elf to be devoured by the wolves... but neither could the three smaller elves hope to fight their way free of the clearing carrying him. Their only option seemed to be trying to defeat the wolves, no matter how hopeless a venture it appeared.

 

The prince’s groping fingers found only air behind him. A hasty glance over his shoulder showed him that his quiver was empty, his arrows spent. He could do no more good from up here in the safety of the trees. Taking a deep breath and pulling the long knife from his belt, Legolas leapt down into the fray. He could not hope to land directly near his friends because he was too far away, but he tried to angle his jump to get as close as possible.

 

One of the wolves caught his boot in its teeth before he touched down. Legolas was unprepared for the sudden jolt as his center of balance shifted wildly. He slammed into the ground hard on his back and felt hot pain lance through him as his right shoulder absorbed the full brunt of his impact with the hard-packed earth. A twisted tree root caught him between the shoulder blades, making him stifle a cry before he rolled to his feet, scrambling away from the wolves that were trying to pounce on him.

 

Immediately the prince was surrounded by snapping teeth and slashing claws. Fighting his way to the other elves’ side, he stood with his friends in the protective ring around Telrayn’s body. Legolas did not wonder what death would feel like, but he did have the odd, detached thought that if he died here, he was glad he would be dead when the news reached his father. Thranduil would kill him.

 

Death however, was not in the immediate future for this particular set of elves. Just when the four youngsters thought they could hold their ground no longer they heard the welcome sound of swift feet running through the trees nearby. A sudden rain of arrows filled the dark air, felling the ravening wolves in droves. After only a few moments, the beasts quickly realized that they were outmatched and turned tail, fleeing into the night.

 

Several elves baring torches rushed into the clearing, stepping over the heaps of wolf carcasses. Most of the new arrivals were other young elves but there were a few adult teachers among them.

 

Raniean and Randomir reached the small group in the clearing first.

 

“Trey, Bren, Sar!” Raniean was sobbing for breath, having run faster than he ever had before to get here after hearing the distress signal. “Are you all right? What happened to Telrayn? What...” he stopped abruptly when he realized there were one too many people present. He blinked. “Legolas?”

 

Randomir was absolutely shocked. “Your highness? What in the name of Elbereth are you doing here?!” He knew Legolas had been missing the morning they left, but had not been given any details and assumed the boy was hiding somewhere in the palace to show his displeasure at his father’s decision to hold him back. As per the conditions of the trials, they had had no further contact with civilization after that. None of them knew that the prince had been missing this whole time.

 

Legolas shifted uncomfortably under his mentor’s scrutiny. Any chance he had had was over now; he was certain Randomir and the others would make him go back. He would be forced to return a failure and that thought sent despair shooting through the young elf.

 

He was momentarily saved from answering by Trelan. “He saved us that’s what he did!” the small elf said proudly, shooting his friend a grateful look. Sarcaulien and Brenyf nodded. They would not have been able to hold out long enough for help to arrive by themselves.

 

Legolas flushed. “You were doing fine by yourselves Trelan, I just helped a little,” he tried to downplay his role.

 

“Right,” Trelan said sarcastically, hugging his sides, which ached from exertion and lack of breath. The small elf dropped down next to his father’s side on his knees, worriedly hovering over the older elf. “Is Ada going to be all right?” he turned huge, hurting eyes upon Randomir.

 

“He hit his head hard on a rock when one of the wolves jumped him during the battle,” Brenyf said quietly. “We couldn’t get him to wake up.”

 

Randomir was already kneeling by his friend’s side, checking Telrayn’s vitals. His face was more relaxed when he looked up again. He touched Trelan’s dirty and worried cheek gently with the back of his hand. “He’s going to be fine Trelan, he’s just unconscious. He’ll have a nasty headache when he awakes, but nothing more, thanks to the four of you.”

 

Trelan beamed happily. “Ran, he’s going to be all right!” he felt compelled to inform, although his friend was standing right beside him and had already heard.

 

Raniean smiled in relief. “Good. You should know better than to go getting in trouble without me!” he chided his friend good-naturedly. “What happened?”

 

“We were on our way back to camp from night watch and the wolves jumped us,” Trelan related excitedly, able to feel very proud of the whole adventure now that it was safely over. “Ada got hurt and we had to fight, and then when things were looking desperate, Legolas showed up firing arrows from the trees. He jumped down into the middle of them to join us and we all fought together, and then you showed up and you should have seen those wolves run!”

 

This caused Raniean to turn back to Legolas. Legolas could tell his friend was about to ask how he had gotten there again, so he headed him off with a question of his own. “Ran, what are you doing this far north? I thought you were all going to be many leagues from here.”

 

“Legolas, we have covered so much of this forest you would not believe it,” the other elf laughed easily. “But we are on our way home now, the trials are over; all of us passed!” he said excitedly.

 

Legolas sobered. “Oh. That’s... that’s wonderful Ran.”

 

Raniean was so happy, and so glad to see his friend whom he had sorely missed these past weeks, that he did not notice the other young elf’s less than enthusiastic reaction. “But what are you doing here Legolas? Did your father change his mind? I so hoped he would! Are your guards somewhere about? I can’t believe the King would let you out this far by yourself.”

 

Randomir was on his feet again now that Tegi and Cirlith were seeing to Telrayn and Brenyf, who had some nasty scratches across his calf.

 

“Yes, Legolas, that’s something I would like to know as well.” His mentor’s voice was cool and Legolas flinched.

 

Raniean frowned at his father’s tone and the way Legolas squirmed. He suddenly realized that maybe Legolas being here wasn’t such a good thing for the prince.

 

“Legolas... your father *does* know you’re here, right?” the young elf asked incredulously.

 

“Not-not exactly. But... I... I wanted to complete the rite,” Legolas admitted quietly, casting nervous glances in Randomir’s direction to gauge the elder elf’s reaction.

 

Randomir closed his eyes, realizing to his surprise and horror that Legolas had probably been out here on his own since they left more than a fortnight ago. “Legolas I appreciate your courage, but that was extremely unwise. I’m going to have to insist that you return with us right away. Your father and mother must be sick worrying about you.”

 

“I know,” Legolas whispered quietly. “I’m sorry. I wanted to prove I was worthy to be considered a real warrior, but I suppose perhaps I am not after all. I have two of the tokens,” he indicated his bag, speaking quickly now to cover his discomfort. “But no hope for the third. I’ve broken Ada and Nana’s trust for nothing,” he murmured ashamedly, pressing his palms hard into his tired, aching eyes.

 

Raniean bit his lip hard; wishing there was something he could do and Trelan’s brows furrowed deeply. They hurt for their friend. They wished his father would have just let him come.

 

Randomir touched Legolas’ arm lightly, making him look back up again. “Your parents are another issue Legolas, one that you and they are going to have to deal with, but this I will tell you: you did not fail.”

 

Legolas blinked, looking up at him in confusion. “But, the tokens... I don’t-”

 

Randomir shook his head. “The mark of courage is not something you can find laying around Legolas. It is earned. For Raniean and the others, they earned theirs at different points during our hunt, some in situations planned by us as elders to test them, some in accidental ways when the elements themselves chose the challenge.” Randomir looked around at the corpse-strewn glade. “It seems Legolas, that life has chosen to test you hardest of all perhaps, but you rose to the occasion. You stood by your friends with no thought for yourself. For this, I give you your mark of courage. Will you accept and stand witness to this Tegi?” Randomir turned to the other teacher who had the final say in such matters.

 

Tegi inclined his head in assent. “I will.”

 

Randomir clapped Legolas lightly on the shoulder. He was glad for Legolas’ sake that at least he would not have to return home with nothing to show for all his effort. The boy was going to be in hot enough water as it was; he did not need to feel like a failure on top of everything else, especially when that was not true.

 

“All right then.” Randomir glanced upward at the lightening sky above the treetops. “A new day is dawning. Let us go home.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

The rain returned with a vengeance when the elves were about a mile away from home. This close to the end of their long journey no one wanted to stop and the party pushed on, anxious to make their destination.

 

Most of them were anxious that was; Legolas was not. True, it was better to hurry up and face his parents, getting it over with sooner rather than later, but his feet felt heavy and his stomach gnawed with an unsettled feeling that had nothing to do with how little food he had had lately.

 

Legolas walked slowly, letting himself settle to the back of the party, trailing a little distance behind the main group. The happy, celebratory air of all the other young elves around him only made him feel worse. They were all wet, tired and drained, but his friends were happy, and Legolas wished he could share in their joy. At the moment however he felt like he was returning to the hangman’s noose.

 

“Legolas? Are you all right?” Raniean’s soft voice at his side pulled the prince from his darkly spiraling thoughts. Both young elves had their hoods pulled up over their heads and water plastered their golden locks to their faces. Raniean swiped at his hair, trying to push it back under his hood as the wind swirled lightly around them.

 

Legolas shook his head with a weary, forced grin. “No, Ran, not really.” He shrugged indifferently as if he didn’t care.

 

Raniean eyed his friend. “You aren’t hurt somewhere you’re not telling me are you? Should we ask Tegi and Ada to slow the pace a little?”

 

Legolas shook his head quickly to the negative. His right shoulder was hurting him quite a bit as a result of his tumble early that morning, but that was not what was bothering the young elf.

 

“I’ll be all right. Go on and catch up with the others, you should be celebrating.” Legolas tried to assure his friend, but his words caught in his throat a little and he was glad the patter of the rain covered his weakness. He felt so desperately alone right now, but he didn’t want Raniean feeling sorry for him.

 

“So should you,” Raniean countered quietly. “This is your victory too Legolas. You *passed* my friend, and you even did it alone. I’m actually rather jealous,” the young elf said with a small smile.

 

Legolas chuckled slightly. “You won’t be when I have to face my father and mother.”

 

“No, I suppose not,” Raniean agreed. “But think of the wonderful story you’ll have to tell someday!”

 

Legolas smiled, warmed by his friend’s attempts to cheer him. Then his eyes clouded up like the overcast sky above once more.

 

Raniean sighed. Legolas had grown moodier and more somber the past few seasons. He knew now that it had started with Legolas’ uncle, but it grieved Raniean’s heart that it had not completely faded even though Doriflen was gone from the prince’s life.

 

“There, I’ve lost you again,” he said sadly. “Legolas... you used to talk to me. I know I’m not always much good, but... Trelan and I are *here* Legolas. You’re not alone you know. I-I would protect you with my life, but I can’t help you when you won’t let me near you.”

 

Legolas’ lips compressed into a tight line, unconsciously imitating his father. His breathing came a little short and he was glad for the rain pouring down his face. He *wanted* to talk to Raniean, he wanted his life back as it used to be... but he wasn’t sure that was possible.

 

“I don’t mean to Ran, honest. I want nothing more than for things to be like they were,” Legolas’ voice was a whisper.

 

Raniean shook his head. “Legolas, Ada says that nothing can ever be as it was, because the past is past, but the future can be good too if we make it so. I think he’s right.”

 

Legolas considered this and saw the truth behind the simple words. However it was so much easier to know that than to live it sometimes. “I think so too. It’s just... it doesn’t seem like there’s anything too pleasant in my future right now.” The prince swallowed roughly and glanced back at his bulky pack. “And I know that’s my own fault, but... Ran... what if he doesn’t accept it?”

 

“You mean your father?” Raniean guessed rightly.

 

Legolas gave a single nod. It was almost unheard of for the father of a young elf to reject the offering after a successful rite of passage, but it was not impossible. If the offering was rejected then all the trials were as null; worse though, the young elf had no place in that house any longer. That thought had only occurred to Legolas a few days ago, and it had been wearing heavily on him since then. “I don’t know what I was thinking when I left. It seemed a good idea then, but now... even with success... I don’t know. What if they cannot forgive me? What if I have broken Nana’s heart? What if Ada rejects my tokens? What if... he rejects *me*?”

 

Raniean wrapped his arm around his friend’s shoulder. He would have liked to tell Legolas that that would never happen, but to be perfectly truthful, he didn’t know. Thranduil was something of an enigma to the prince’s friends and Raniean did not presume to know the King nearly well enough to guess his mind. For his friend’s sake however, he desperately hoped that the King would not wound his son that way, no matter what Legolas had done.

 

“Then you can come live with us,” Raniean said seriously, but with a hint of enthusiasm. “I know Ada and Nana would take you. I wouldn’t even have to ask, Ada’d take you in at a moment’s notice.”

 

Legolas chuckled around the hard lump in his throat at the clear-cut and easy way Raniean opened his family, his heart and his home to his friend. The thing was, he did not doubt for a moment that Raniean and Randomir *would* take him in if his own family rejected him... was it so wrong of him to wish that he could feel that sure of his own father’s unwavering love and approval? Oh, he knew Thranduil loved him... but under what conditions?

 

“What? Are we putting dibs on Legolas now?” Trelan had fallen back to join them and caught the tail end of their conversation. He could see that Legolas was feeling badly and wanted to help.

 

“You can’t have him Trelan, I offered first!” Raniean crowed good-naturedly, hooking his arm through Legolas’.

 

Trelan hooked his arm through Legolas’ other elbow. “Oh you’d like living with me much better Legolas. Ada can be testy, but Nana makes *the* best tarts and honey-cakes in the entire forest.”

 

“Trelan, he’d never get any rest! Your cousins are *always* at your house and they’re *always* getting into trouble!” Raniean protested. “That’s why you come and spend all your time at *my* house, remember?”

 

Legolas *was* laughing now, an honest, mirthful laugh which did Raniean and Trelan’s hearts good to hear. “Peace, peace! If you don’t mind I would rather hope to stay in my own home, but it is truly good to know that I will never be left without a place to go.”

 

Through the rain, the sealed gates of the palace wound into view. Legolas took a deep breath. “Wish me luck mellyn,” he whispered.

 

Raniean and Trelan both squeezed his arms before releasing him. They only wished there was more they could do.

 

Randomir appeared beside them. “Legolas, I told Tegi that I would take you home. Raniean, I want you to continue on to the village with the others. When you see Naneth, tell her I will be there as soon as I may. If I am not back in time for the commencement, Telrayn will stand for you until I can get there.” Randomir’s eyes asked his son’s forgiveness for being absent at such an important time, but Raniean harbored no hurt feelings over it in the least. He would much rather that his father went with Legolas right now; he knew the prince was going to need him.

 

Both boys bid Legolas one final, encouraging farewell before moving off. Legolas heard Trelan remark to Raniean as they hurried to catch up with the other boys: “So... if my father stands up for you too, then that makes us brothers in a way, doesn’t it?”

 

Raniean laughed. “Not if that means I have to live in your house! Are you trying to kidnap *everyone* Trelan? Honestly, don’t you have enough family underfoot?”

 

Trelan chuckled and shoved his friend, nearly knocking the other boy over on the rain-slicked ground, but they were too far away and his retort was lost to Legolas’ ears.

 

The prince sighed, realizing he was stalling. Turning resolutely back to the gates, he glanced up at Randomir. “Thank you for coming with me,” he murmured quietly.

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART TEN*~
~Take Me as I am~

 

~~~~~~~~
I want to roll my darkness into a million suns
I need to find forgiveness when all the pain is done
I want to hear I’m sorry, I want to let you go
I have to find my own life, I want to learn to grow.

Fear falls down like rain...
Fear falls like rain.

Take me as I am,
I’m not broken.
Pieces of my life are not tokens.
I want to let you know that I’m still learning
How to love again and stop hurting.

Tears fall down like rain,
and it makes me whole again.
Tears fall like rain...

-- Tonic
~~~~~~~~

 

 

Elvéwen stared out as the rain dripped down the eves and pattered outside the latticed shutters, but she wasn’t really seeing anything.

 

Thranduil walked softly up behind her and wrapped one arm around his wife’s slim shoulders.

 

Elvéwen started slightly in surprise, but then leaned into the silently offered embrace.

 

Thranduil held her head against his chest. She felt so thin and fragile in his arms, like a supple willow bow suddenly touched by frost. Elvéwen was strong, but he feared she was going to break.

 

The Queen looked up at her husband with hopeful eyes.

 

Thranduil winced and had to look away. Always now, she turned that gaze upon him when he came to her. That expectant, searching plea as if she still somehow hoped for the news that Thranduil was beginning to dread would never come.

 

“No, Véa,” he whispered quietly, his own heart aching as he wrapped his arms around her waist and let her lean back against him. “There is no word of Legolas. They have found no trace of him.”

 

Elvéwen sighed softly. “Maybe tomorrow then.”

 

Thranduil nodded, his throat tight. “Maybe my love.” Yet even as he spoke, he wondered if he hoped in vain. Legolas had been gone for more than a fortnight and thus far no searchers sent looking for him had returned with any hopeful news. The way in which the child had simply vanished into thin air chilled the King’s heart to the bone.

 

Would they ever find him? Did Doriflen have him? But surely, if his brother had the prince, he would have made this known to them already. Yet there were a thousand other dangers out there in the woods just as deadly. Legolas had left willingly, but what if he was now unable to return? What if he was laying out there somewhere... Valar forbid... *dead*? Would they ever even know? Or would the seasons continue to slide past, each one diminishing their hope of ever seeing their son again? The long uncertainty of never knowing what had happened to their little Greenleaf was almost a worse thing to consider than actually finding his body.

 

Thranduil pressed his eyes shut against the raging emotions that these thoughts sent swirling through him. He was heartsick and worried, but he was also angry. Angry at himself for not foreseeing Legolas’ reaction to his edict, angry at Legolas for showing such poor judgment and possibly getting himself killed, and angry at the powers which moved the world for letting these dark times come to his family.

 

His arms tightened around his wife’s body. She was wearing so thin lately. Hope beyond hope was still alive inside her, but every day Thranduil feared more and more what it would do to her if Legolas were brought back dead, or perhaps worse, never brought back at all.

 

Somewhere inside, Thranduil knew he would lose her if that happened. Perhaps he would lose himself as well. Their struggling little family could not take another broken cord.

 

An urgent knocking on the door disturbed the quiet moment between the King and Queen.

 

“Yes, what is it?” Thranduil tensed immediately when he saw Elrynd bow respectfully, looking a little out of breath. From the other elf’s countenance something had happened, and it was either something very important or something very bad. Thranduil was not sure he was prepared for either case.

 

“Your son, my lord,” Elrynd said hurriedly. “The prince is back!”

 

Elvéwen’s face lit up like a million candles, but it was Thranduil who answered.

 

“What? Where is he? Is he all right?”

 

Elrynd nodded quickly, moving out of the way so that Thranduil and Elvéwen did not bodily run into him in their haste to leave the room. “Yes, my lord. He seemed in good health. Randomir is with him. The young warriors have returned from their rite and apparently they found him on the way back. They await you in your study.”

 

Thranduil was not sure whether he was overjoyed that the boy was all right, or furious that he had intentionally stayed away this long, leaving them to worry without any regards for what that might do to his mother’s health. He settled on being both for the moment.

 

Legolas and Randomir were still sodden from their long trek in the rain. The guards and servants however, in their joy at seeing the prince return, did not seem to notice. The pair had been swiftly ushered to the King’s study and told to wait almost as soon as they had passed through the gates.

 

So Legolas stood, dripping water onto the floor by his father’s desk as he waited. It felt like years. He was so frightened he thought he was going to be ill.

 

Randomir pulled off his waterlogged cloak. Gently he unfastened Legolas’ as well and slid the wet material from the boy’s shoulders, passing both cloaks off to one of the servants who disappeared with them immediately.

 

Legolas was clutching his pack so tightly to his chest Randomir thought the child would give himself bruises. He could tell his young student was terrified.

 

“Legolas,” he whispered softly, pushing the damp, curling locks away from the prince’s face. “Your father may be angry, but he will not send you away. Be sure of this child from one who knows his heart. He could no sooner reject you than cut off his right arm.”

 

Legolas wished with his whole heart that he could believe that. “I know Ada loves me,” he whispered hoarsely. “But you can love someone, and still have to hurt them.”

 

Randomir did not have time to wonder where this tarnished gem of wisdom came from because the doors to the study opened, admitting Thranduil and Elvéwen.

 

The chieftain straightened up, wishing that he did not present such a soppy and disreputable picture in his Lord and Lady’s presence.

 

Neither Thranduil nor Elvéwen were paying much attention to him however. The instant she entered the room Elvéwen’s gaze lighted on Legolas and she hurried to embrace him.

 

“Nana, I-I’m wet,” Legolas tried to protest slightly as his sodden and soiled garments leached muddy water onto her green silk dress, but Elvéwen paid it no heed.

 

“Oh Legolas, I care nothing for that!” she ran her hands through his dripping hair, assuring herself that he was really here. “You are here and unharmed, that is all that matters. I was so worried Tyndolhen...” her voice broke and tears spilled down her cheeks.

 

Legolas felt wretched. He had been prepared for his father’s anger, but his mother’s soft distress hurt worse. He had not truly considered what his leaving would do to her and that thought smote him hard. He loved his mother more than life itself, and he had caused her great pain. That was not something he had ever wanted, or intended to do.

 

“I-I’m sorry Nana,” he apologized in anguish, trying to wipe the tears from her cheeks with his cold, damp fingers. “I didn’t think...”

 

“No, you did not, that much is obvious.” Thranduil’s voice made Legolas start. The Elvenking’s tone was frosty.

 

The prince licked his lips. They suddenly felt very dry.

 

“Why, Legolas? Why did you do this ion-nín?” Elvéwen asked sadly, taking both the boy’s hands in hers. “Don’t you know what might have happened? I thought we had lost you Tyndolhen.”

 

Legolas’ breathing was ragged. He was trying very hard not to cry himself, but his voice was mostly steady when he answered.

 

“I am sorry Nana, truly I am. I never meant for you to worry. I... I just wanted to prove that I was ready for the rites... I wanted you to be proud of me,” his voice fell to a whisper as he realized how very foolish that sounded now, in the face of how hurt they had obviously been by his actions.

 

Elvéwen’s heart ached. Didn’t he realize they already were?

 

“I fail to see how deliberate disobedience and reckless intransigence makes anyone very proud Legolas.” Thranduil was closer now and Legolas flinched at the hard edge his words carried.

 

Elvéwen glanced up at Thranduil; slightly startled by his hard words when she knew how badly he had grieved and worried for his son. “Thranduil...”

 

Thranduil gave his head a quick shake, clearly signaling that whatever she had to say, he was not ready to hear. He was glad Legolas was safe and relieved beyond words that he was back... but he was also furious. Furious that Legolas could have gotten himself killed through his own stubborn willfulness. Furious that he had almost shattered his mother’s spirit without even stopping to think about what he was doing. The child had a lot to answer for.

 

“I know father, I understand that now. I’m sorry,” Legolas bowed his head.

 

“That understanding comes late to you I fear,” Thranduil was trying to remain calm and refuse the bubbling rage that his own fear and heartache had created inside him. “Have you learned anything else while you were out risking your life and breaking your mother’s heart?”

 

Legolas tried not to let his father’s words bite too deeply into his heart. He knew he deserved them. What he had done had been unkind and foolhardy; he deserved whatever his father said or did to him now. That did not make weathering Thranduil’s displeasure any less painful however.

 

With nervous fingers, Legolas undid his pack and laid the carefully wrapped herbs and the folded wolf-pelt at his father’s feet. The prince bowed formally, then gave up his pretence of courage and dropped to a crouch-bow on the rug, his forehead near the floor.

 

“I-I present the tokens of a rite completed my lord. I went out a child and a fool. I hope I come back to you wiser. And, I hope... you can forgive me?” the prince asked hesitantly.

 

Thranduil was silent for several moments. He had not expected that Legolas had actually completed the rite on his own. His gaze immediately traveled to Randomir in question.

 

Randomir, silent until now, bowed respectfully when the King’s gaze landed upon him. “He did complete it your Highness. I myself gave him his mark of courage and Tegi stood witness as he will readily confirm. Telrayn and three of the other young elves were set upon by wolves on our return journey. Telrayn was rendered unconscious and all four of them would have been killed if Legolas had not shown up when he did.”

 

Randomir remained formal, but he hoped that his account would help Legolas, at least a little. He understood Thranduil’s anger; he would be incensed if Raniean had done something like this, but he hoped that Thranduil would also be able to see that Legolas still bore scars left him by his Uncle that made the young elf incredibly sensitive when it came to areas concerning his self-worth.

 

Thranduil swallowed. He wasn’t sure what to say. He wanted to be proud of his son for his accomplishment but the red haze that clouded his vision would not be dismissed so easily. He did not want Legolas to get the idea that he would condone his actions simply because the outcome had been positive.

 

“Why have you come back?” the Elvenking’s question was quiet, but still cold. Legolas had a reason for running away; he wanted to hear his reason for coming back.

 

Legolas flinched visibly and pressed his forehead closer to the floor. However his father had intended the question, it ignited his worst fears. Thranduil wasn’t going to accept his passage of the rite... his father would turn him out of their family. He felt sick.

 

Randomir shifted. He knew how Legolas would read that question, although he knew it was not what Thranduil intended. Randomir was painfully aware that it was not his place to intrude, but it was frustrating to watch the miscommunication between father and son.

 

“I...” Legolas’ voice choked off. He didn’t know how to answer. He didn’t know what his father wanted to hear. An apology? How many more ways could he say he had been wrong? Obviously Thranduil was looking for something else, and he didn’t know what. Old, well-worn fears of not having the right answer when a question was asked nearly paralyzed the boy.

 

“So you have no reason,” Thranduil’s gaze was leveled with his son’s bowed form.

 

Legolas withdrew into himself further. He wished the earth would swallow him up. What was he supposed to say?

 

“My Lord...” Randomir started quietly, but Thranduil held up his hand.

 

“Thank you, Randomir for bringing Legolas back safely, you may go now. I am certain that you will be needed with your own family.”

 

Randomir hesitated, obviously wanting to say more.

 

“You are dismissed, Randomir,” Thranduil restated firmly. When the King’s ire was up, no on crossed him.

 

“Yes, your Majesty,” Randomir bowed with a small sigh and regretfully took his leave. His fealty of obedience was to Thranduil as his King, but sometimes as his friend, he wished he could do things differently.

 

Legolas heard Randomir leave and his discomfort deepened. He realized with gut-twisting surprise that he had felt somewhat safe when his Saelon was with them. With him gone, Legolas’ apprehension mounted.

 

Thranduil’s feet stopped right in front of him. “Get up.”

 

Legolas scrambled to obey; quickly pulling himself back to his feet and standing straight, but with lowered eyes.

 

“Legolas, what exactly do you think I should do with you?” Thranduil shook his head. His mind was in turmoil. As his relief began to edge out his initial rush of anger, he was unsure how to proceed. He tried to think what his father would have done, but that was a useless venture, because Thranduil had always been far too much afraid of his father’s displeasure to ever cross him like this.

 

“Whatever you see fit my lord,” Legolas intoned quietly. His well-practiced mask was back in place and he showed no feeling on the outside. Inside he was both frightened and hopeful at the same time. As twisted as the logic was, he figured that if Thranduil intended to punish him, then that meant there was a chance he was not going to simply cast him out.

 

Thranduil exhaled in mild derision at Legolas’ reply. He took the calm statement and Legolas’ outwardly cool attitude to be a challenge. The Elvenking did *not* respond well to challenges to his authority. “Do you want a king or a father Legolas? Keep acting like a rebellious slave and you will be treated like one.”

 

Legolas tried not to show how much that quiet threat shook him. He had intended no defiance by his words but he felt as if he were treading on quicksand. He didn’t understand the rules here; he didn’t know what his father wanted. Doriflen had been very big on rules, even if they always changed. Legolas had learned how to operate under them; what to say, what not to say and when. At the moment though, he felt like he was floundering because he didn’t know his father’s protocol for a situation like this and was unintentionally making a grand mess of the whole thing.

 

“Thranduil,” Elvéwen’s voice was resolute. “We need to talk.” Thranduil looked about to put her off so the Queen gave him a serious glare. “*Now*.”

 

Thranduil did not look pleased, but he acquiesced with a nod of his head. “Wait here,” he told Legolas before turning and following his wife out of the room.

 

Once outside, he turned an irritated look upon the Queen, but she spoke first.

 

“Thranduil, I know you’re upset. I’m upset too, but please, consider this: Legolas has had a long and trying experience. He’s wet, hungry, tired and hurting. I fear you both may say or do things you will regret. Can we not let the matter wait until he is dry and rested at least? Surely it will not hurt anything to wait until morning?”

 

It was difficult to talk to Thranduil once his temper was up, but he tried to listen to his wife’s words and not immediately shut them out. “Elvéwen, I won’t send him off thinking we don’t care about what he’s done.”

 

Elvéwen’s eyes betrayed a stubborn glint. “I don’t think he thinks that Thranduil. And *I* would not have him thinking that we are sorry that he *did* come back.”

 

“That’s absurd.” Thranduil shook his head as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Véa, by his own insistence, he’s not a child anymore. If he is grown enough to complete the rite on his own, then he is grown enough to understand that actions have consequences and not assume that every little thing is a direct personal slight to himself. If he wants to be an adult, then he should stop acting like a child.”

 

“But he *is* a child,” Elvéwen insisted. “A few weeks have not changed that! Thranduil, I’m not saying he should not be punished, I’m just begging you to let him know that you have not cut him out of your heart as he fears.”

 

Thranduil sighed. Elvéwen was always so worried about that, but he didn’t see the point. Legolas *knew* he loved him didn’t he? Had he not told him so many times? Had he not shown it to him repeatedly? Did the boy think his father that faithless, or did his wife concern herself too much with fears over things that did not exist?

 

“Why should he think that?” Thranduil’s voice was terse. “Véa, you have a kind heart but that is not what he needs right now.”

 

“Why not?” Elvéwen’s voice was quiet, but piercing. “It’s what Oropher never gave you, or your brother.”

 

Thranduil’s scowl deepened. “Do not speak so of the dead! My father was a worthy elf and better king than I shall ever be. He knew we would have hard duties ahead of us in life and prepared us for such. He was strict but I knew he cared, and I did not waste my time worrying over his every frown!” He could not believe they were arguing about this.

 

“Did you not?” Elvéwen’s eyes bored into him. It seemed that she who had been at his side these many years now remembered differently. “Then perhaps our son has too much of me in him. Does that displease you hervenn-nín?” her gaze was open and questioning. Thranduil could see the flicker of vulnerability there and even in the heat of an argument he would not wound her with an uncaring response to such a statement. He knew well his wife’s sensitive spirit and had always tried to tread with care when it showed itself.

 

Elvéwen saw the change of attitude in her husband’s eyes and only wished he could see that Legolas had indeed inherited her sensitive soul in these areas, and not the thicker skinned resilience of his father and grandfather.

 

“Of course it doesn’t Véa,” Thranduil said quietly, making himself lower his voice and speak calmly. “I think you should go my love. I would talk to the boy alone.”

 

Elvéwen’s brows creased in concern and Thranduil shook his head, taking her hand in his.

 

“Do not put such little faith in me hervess-nín, my wife,” Thranduil stroked her cheek gently with his finger and let it curl under her chin. “I won’t bite. Trust me, all right?”

 

Elvéwen smiled sadly and nodded. She could not refuse him when he looked at her that way. She did trust him.

 

Thranduil kissed her palm and turned back towards the room where they had left Legolas. Pausing outside the door he drew his breath in and let it out slowly. Valar give him patience. He pushed the door open and reentered the room.

 

Legolas stood where he had been left; lips tight, eyes down and hands clasped rigidly behind his back. His stance was still tense, but Thranduil now thought he glimpsed an underlying hint of uncertainty... as well as something else, something elusive.

 

Legolas tightened ever so slightly when his father reentered the room alone. He had heard the raised voices of his parents arguing and it made him miserable to know that he was the cause. He could not hear what they had said, just the tone in which it was spoken and he knew Thranduil was still angry with him. The young elf risked a half glance upward before quickly dropping his gaze again. Make that furious with him.

 

The prince resisted the urge to swallow the knot of tension in his throat and shifted his aching shoulder stiffly. He knew he had brought this upon himself; he had no one else to blame.

 

The prince didn’t want to admit that his mother’s conspicuous absence and his father’s obvious anger frightened him. He didn’t want to acknowledge that the part of him that knew he deserved to be severely punished for what he had done was secretly terrified of what that might mean.

 

There was a time when even this situation would have garnered a different response from the young elf; a time when he could have dreaded his father’s displeasure, but not been so utterly terrified of the consequences. He never used to fear his father... at least not like this, not the cold, nauseating, gut-turning illness that was churning in him now. But things had changed; Legolas had changed. Doriflen had changed him. The young prince didn’t yet even fully realize how much of his views and expectations had been maliciously twisted and remolded by his Uncle’s cruel games.

 

In his head, Legolas knew his father was nothing like his uncle, but the training Doriflen had spent many traumatic months beating into the young elf was not so easily forgotten or dismissed. Legolas had unwittingly accepted too much of it as truth, even now that he knew the lies he had been fed.

 

Thranduil could see the tension in his young son’s ridged body, but failed to fully comprehend all the emotions behind it. He was silent for several long moments, trying to figure out what to say, how to impress on Legolas the extremely foolish danger he had placed himself in, how to even start without losing his temper again. He did not want to do that. He had promised Elvéwen he would be gentle, and besides, losing control of his emotions did not help either he or Legolas.

 

The silence shredded Legolas’ worn nerves a little further and he shifted uncomfortably, wincing as his bruised shoulder protested the motion, sending biting tendrils of stiffening pain skittering along his collarbone and down his arm again.

 

Thranduil tucked his hands behind his back and sighed deeply. He did not miss Legolas’ look of pain and briefly considered the stained, torn state of his son’s clothing. The elf child was soaked to the bone; water still dripped somewhat languidly from the ends of his hair and puddled around his boots. His tunic was soiled with dirt and grass stains, small rips in the fabric attesting to the rough state of the wilds he had survived. There was a bruise on the prince’s smudged cheek from where a wolf had nipped him without breaking the skin, and Legolas probably had other hidden injures that needed tending as well. Thranduil guessed there was something wrong with his arm from the stiff way his son was holding himself.

 

“Take off your tunic.” Thranduil’s command was sharpened by his concern as he considered what harm Legolas’ rash actions may have caused the child. The rite of passage was not an easy one. The fact that Legolas had taken his all alone, without even the aid of his friends or fellow group-mates was actually something that Thranduil would feel a little proud of one day, but right now he was more concerned with the fact that those same actions could well have taken his son away from him forever.

 

Legolas froze; his stomach dropping through the floor as his heart jumped up to hammer in his throat. He had no way of knowing what was going through his father’s head aside from the dark scowl on the King’s features... features that when he was angry looked far too much like his brother’s for Legolas’ heart not to skip a beat. The young elf had become accustomed to hearing that order, accompanied by that look, for only one reason.

 

“Legolas,” Thranduil’s voice was demanding and not to be trifled with. He knew how the boy could be about hiding his hurts and he was still more upset with the child than he wanted to admit. He was not about to put up with anymore of Legolas’ perceived willfulness at this moment. “*Now*.”

 

Legolas struggled to shake off the ice that had frozen him in place.

“Yes sir,” he whispered quietly, all the color gone from his face as he fumbled with the catches on his tunic. He tried to breathe deeply and not hyperventilate from panic as he slid the soiled garment off his shoulders and set it aside.

 

He could do this, he told himself. He would endure whatever was necessary to find forgiveness in his father’s eyes. If it meant that Thranduil would not disown him, then Legolas would gladly suffer through even one of his Uncle’s most severe lashings. However, that willingness did not remove his anticipatory fear.

 

The prince’s smooth, elven skin showed no trace of blemish anymore where his uncle had spent hours marking him, but although invisible to the eye, the scars Doriflen had left him with were laid heavily across his young heart and soul. If the Elvenking could have seen them, they would have made him weep.

 

Thranduil frowned, his attention on the ugly blue-black bruise spreading out across the back of his son’s right shoulder. The center of the bruise was inflamed and the upper layers of the skin were torn. A little dried blood crusted with dirt clung to the abrasion. The injury was not serious, but it was going to need tending.

 

The Elvenking gestured towards his desk, meaning for Legolas to sit down in the chair while he looked at the swollen abrasion. First however, before he examined it, he had to get something with which to clean away the dirt and blood. The boy had the worst lecture of his life still in store for him, but Elvéwen was right, it hurt nothing to wait at least until Legolas was dry and tended. Perhaps some much-needed wisdom would come to Thranduil in the meanwhile.

 

The King knew he could just as easily have some of the healers see to his son, but he didn’t want to involve anyone else at this point. He had too much he still needed to say to Legolas in private once he figured out how.

 

“Wait for me,” Thranduil’s voice was still tense.

 

Legolas saw his father gesture to the desk and tell him to wait. His mouth felt dry.

 

“Ada... please...” Legolas whispered softly, his resolve wavering. He was not sure he could take this from his father’s hand after trying so hard to accept that Thranduil had not been involved in what his uncle had done to him before. Even if he suspected it would be different with his father, even if he knew he really did deserve it this time... that didn’t make this any easier.

 

Thranduil’s jaw flexed. By the stars... Legolas could always pull on his heartstrings with just a word, even when he wanted to be angry with the boy. This kind of trait, this weakness of heart, was something Oropher had pointed out to him a long time ago as a possible problem for someone in a position of power or responsibly. The current Elvenking never could change how his heart reacted in these matters, but he tried to not let it rule his actions.

 

“I *said* wait for me,” Thranduil repeated, sharper than even he had intended, gesturing firmly towards the desk.

 

Legolas shrank back quickly as Thranduil left the room. He bit his lower lip, despair pulling at him. He’d really done it this time.

 

The prince was tired, hurting, hungry and damp. Adrenaline, anger and fear had taken a physically exhausting toll on his body. He tried not to tremble as he leaned over the edge of the desk, resting his forehead on crossed wrists. He tried to keep his breathing and body steady as he waited his father’s return, but the dread inside him was steadily growing, exacerbated by his extreme state of over-fatigue. His mind wandered down dark pathways without his consent, wondering morbidly what exactly Thranduil intended to use on him that he did not already have with him in the room.

 

A new zing of terror shot through his weary body at that thought and Legolas pressed his eyes tightly shut against the humiliating, burning sting. Valar, why had he pushed his father to this edge? Doriflen had always told the young prince that he pushed people until they had no choice but to hurt him. Obviously, he had been right.

 

Time dragged on. Legolas did not know how long, but it seemed a life age. He could not believe he had been this stupid. If he had wanted to regain his father’s trust, then this was the worst possible thing to have done. He must surely have shattered any chance he ever had with Thranduil now. Why did he only realize these things *after* the fact? The young elf berated himself harshly for letting his emotions get him into this mess that made his rational mind cringe.

 

The trembling slowly turned into soft, shuddering sobs. Legolas was physically and emotionally exhausted and could hold them back no longer.

 

When Thranduil returned with ointment and bandages, he was surprised at how he found Legolas. The position would make it harder to reach the boy’s shoulder, not easier. Then Thranduil realized that his son was shaking. No... his son was crying. Crying softly, unobtrusively and obviously trying desperately to choke it off now that he knew his father had come back into the room.

 

Thranduil’s heart clenched. Yes, he was angry with the boy, angrier than he had been in a long time. Yes, Legolas was in serious trouble. Yet even so... Thranduil knew how grueling the trials Legolas had just come from were. The boy was obviously spent and Thranduil now feared that he might be more injured than was readily apparent.

 

He put his hand on Legolas’ back and the child jerked sharply, the young muscles tense under the King’s hand. Legolas’ breath was coming rapidly even though he was attempting to conceal it. Dark fear rolled off the prince in despairing waves.

 

Thranduil recoiled in surprise. Why in Arda was Legolas so afraid? Certainly, he was in trouble, but had Thranduil really been that harsh with him a few moments ago? Harsh enough to make his son this terrified of him? The thought hurt. He wanted Legolas to respect him certainly, but he never wanted his child to be afraid of him, not like this.

 

“Legolas?” Thranduil’s voice was questioning and had lost some of its edge, but Legolas was too worked up by now to notice the change.

 

The young elf flinched at the sound of his own name. He wanted to ask, wanted to beg his father not to beat him, but the prince wouldn’t do that. If it was the only way Thranduil would accept him back, then he would prove himself strong enough to endure. He would accept the consequences of his actions and not bring any more shame down upon himself or his father.

 

“Legolas, what are you doing child? What’s wrong?” Thranduil pulled his son up gently by the shoulders, trying to see if the boy had any other hidden injuries that could be causing his unusual distress.

 

Legolas blinked in surprise when his father pulled him up and he saw that Thranduil was carrying only a ball of bandage swathing and a jar of salve.

 

“A-am I not to be punished now?” he asked quietly. Being made to wait would be worse than getting it over with right away.

 

Thranduil considered his son for a moment. He set the salve and bandages down on the desk. Seeing the boy’s weary, tear-stained and fearful face, his heart softened despite his best intentions. He supposed even the lecture could wait. At the moment Legolas looked very much a child and he supposed maybe he was expecting too much of him.

 

“No, Legolas, not right at this moment. You are hurt and worn out. We can wait to deal with that issue until tomorrow.” Thranduil’s anger was like a fire of kindling wood; it burned hot and bright when provoked, but died swiftly if it was not fed. His rage was slowly cooling in the face of his relief that Legolas had returned to him safe and alive. He would talk to Elvéwen about a suitable punishment for the boy later. It was likely that Legolas was going to end up scrubbing palace floors and cleaning the stables for the next few *years* if Thranduil had his way, but that aside, his fury had lost its bite now that the initial fear reaction was fading.

 

Legolas swallowed hard. He did not know what Thranduil had in mind and didn’t want to have to wait. He appreciated his father’s consideration, but he would get no rest fearing the future. Besides, he did not want his father thinking he was too weak to take his punishment like an adult.

 

“Adar,” he said hesitantly. “I am sorry. I know you don’t believe me, but I truly am. I realize now that I was not thinking when I left and I should never have disobeyed you that way. I accept the consequences of my actions, but please, couldn’t you do it now? I am all right, really and I-I would rather not wait.”

 

Thranduil paused at the odd request, a sudden, sad suspicion entering his mind. What if he and Legolas hadn’t been talking about the same thing at all?

 

“Do what Legolas?” the King asked quietly, noting how pale the boy had become. “What do you expect me to do?”

 

The young elf shifted and flushed visibly, not sure where this was going and afraid of giving the wrong answer.

 

“To... to beat me,” Legolas whispered softly. “I-I know I’ve earned it father, I’m not disputing that, I just-”

 

Thranduil suddenly pulled his son close, wrapping his arms tightly around the slim shoulders and cutting off the rest of the elfling’s hurried assurances.

 

Thranduil shook his head, unable to speak for a moment as he rested the side of his face on the crown of the boy’s head. It hurt deeply that Legolas would think him enough like his brother to take his anger out in that fashion, but at the same point if that was the assumption the boy had been working under, some of his actions made more sense.

 

“Legolas, I have no intention of hurting you like that. Not now, not ever. Do you understand me my son? I will *never* do to you what he did. Never.”

 

Legolas felt a small, unavoidable sob shake his frame. He was unbelievably relieved. Hearing his father speak so gently to him when he had expected only pain and incrimination filled an aching void in his heart. He could not fathom the sudden shift.

 

“B-but you were so angry...”

 

“Yes, Legolas, I was,” Thranduil confirmed easily. “I still am to an extent young one; because I could have lost you. You could have been hurt or even killed and that makes me very angry. Do not doubt that there will be consequences for your rash behavior, but they come because I love you ion-nín. And because I love you, I would never hurt you like your uncle did. No one deserves what Doriflen used to do to you Legolas, and it’s an atrocity I will never repeat. Do you believe me my son?” The question was earnest.

 

Legolas nodded against his father’s chest. “Yes, Ada, thank you,” he whispered.

 

“Oh my child,” Thranduil rubbed Legolas’ back soothingly as he held him. “You don’t have to thank me for not being my brother. I can only regret that I ever let him near you.”

 

Legolas shook his head slightly, his tense body finally beginning to relax. He turned tear-reddened eyes and a bright smile up towards his father. “No, I meant thank you for loving me.”

 

Thranduil felt his throat swell shut and his eyes sting. He cradled his boy’s head close to his breast and let his head fall down so that their golden hair mingled. Oh Valar, Elvéwen was right, somehow... Legolas really hadn’t been certain.

 

“Oh Legolas, you might as well thank the sun for shining. How could I help but love you my little leaf?” he murmured softly. “How could I ever do anything else?”

 

Legolas choked slightly on his relief. “Then-then you... accept it father? My passage I mean? Y-You will not turn me out?”

 

Thranduil had never even considered that possibility. Wherever did Legolas get his ideas from?

 

“Of course not child!” the King shook his head with a painful chuckle. “Legolas, you are my son, and you will always be my son. To cut you out of my heart would kill me ion-nín.”

 

Legolas relaxed, almost melting into his father’s embrace.

 

Through the partially open doorway, Elvéwen quietly watched her husband and son embrace and smiled warmly. Everything was going to be all right.

Chapter Text

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~*PART ELEVEN*~
~Treachery and Betrayal~

 

 

“Legolas! Legolas! Have you heard?” Raniean ran into Legolas chambers fairly beaming. “Father recommended me as a Sentinel!”

 

Legolas jumped up from his bed, leaving his lessons forgotten for the moment. “Yes, I heard, and Adar told me this morning he was going to accept you, so it’s official now?”

 

“Yes, I’m supposed to report to Amil-Garil to learn the passwords and duties that go with the position, I start today!” Raniean was very excited. The Sentinels were special guards assigned to the protection of the royal family. It was not often someone as young as he was even considered for such a post, but Raniean was advanced for his age and already well on his way to following in his father’s footsteps. He had begged for the chance and his father consented to recommend him. That he had actually been accepted was still making his head spin giddily. He really hadn’t expected it and it was quite an honor.

 

“That is so wonderful!” Legolas shared his friend’s excitement eagerly. Being the prince naturally excluded Legolas from participating in most of the posts in the palace, but that was only logical. Thranduil had promised his son that as soon as he was a little older and Randomir and Tegi agreed he was ready, Thranduil would commission him a lieutenant in Randomir’s contingent. Legolas looked forward to that eagerly, but he was willing to wait until he knew he was ready for such a responsibility.

 

“Did Trelan make it in too?” Legolas knew that Trelan had put in for the elite sentinel division as well and Randomir had agreed to recommend both boys.

 

Raniean sobered. “No, he didn’t. They say his marks weren’t high enough yet, but I think...” the young elf looked away. “I think it’s because they worry about him, being so small, just like Tegi does. I feel really bad for him Legolas, he was so disappointed. That’s actually part of why I came here. I was trying to cheer him up, but I have to report to Amil-Garil now, so I thought maybe...”

 

Legolas was already on his way for the door. “Of course, I’ll go be with him for a while. I don’t have to have this lesson done until tomorrow and Naneth said I may have the rest of the day off if I wish. We’ll go do something together.”

 

Raniean brightened. “Oh good, that should help. Tell him I’ll still meet him after dinner and we can run through a few drills together. Say... Legolas, are you free after dinner? We can try to work on the relay shot some more.”

 

Legolas rolled his eyes and grimaced, rubbing his chest. The boys had been diligently practicing the difficult trick they had seen in the tournament before the start of the war, but had yet to master it with any success. Because Legolas was the best of the three of them at archery, he was usually the one in the dangerous middle position, attempting to first catch the flying arrow and send it back again a moment later. Raniean and Trelan switched positions, alternately being the one to fire or the one to slip on the ribbon ring. The young prince wore armor guards to keep himself from getting injured when he failed to catch the arrow in time, but he had still accumulated quite a few bruises from having the projectile strike his chest guard repeatedly. He had yet to actually catch the arrow, so thus far neither Raniean or Trelan had had to worry too much about catching it on the return trip.

 

“All right, but *you* can be the middle person this time, I’m tired of getting hit,” Legolas agreed ruefully.

 

Raniean chuckled as he hurried out of the room, not wanting to be late. “All right. I have to go. I’ll see you later!”

 

Legolas waved goodbye as his friend dashed away before he turned his attention to searching out Trelan. He finally found the smaller elf on the empty practice field, taking his frustration out on one of the punching bags that the young elves used to practice their hand-to-hand combat blows.

 

Trelan kicked the bag and added a vicious elbow-jab, practicing his routines with unusual vehemence. He stopped and stood panting lightly as he sensed Legolas’ approach.

 

“I think the bag concedes the match Trey,” Legolas said lightly, glancing at the battered prop. As if agreeing with the prince’s assessment, the bag toppled over, falling to the ground with a soft thump.

 

Legolas laughed. “It cowers before such a fierce opponent!”

 

Trelan grinned somewhat bitterly, giving the bag a last kick. “It’s the only one that does. Everyone else thinks I’m a weakling. I *hate* being small, I *hate* being such a failure!”

 

“Trelan, you’re not a failure,” Legolas shook his head. He could sympathize with his friend’s feelings on this subject. “And you’re not weak just because you’re small. Naneth says that Ilúvatar made us all just the way we are for a reason, so we are each perfect in our own way.”

 

“Right,” Trelan said sarcastically. He was obviously unconvinced. “I guess you heard about the Sentinel appointments.”

 

Legolas nodded. “I’m sorry Trey, I know how much it hurts to be passed over. You’ll get in next time, I know you will.”

 

Trelan sighed, picking up the equipment he had been working with and putting it away. “Ada was really disappointed. He tried not to let me see, but it was obvious. I’m such a disappointment to him and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it.”

 

Legolas winced in empathy. “Well then we’ll just have to work extra hard to make sure you make it in next time, all right? I’ll help in any way I can.”

 

Trelan smiled wanly. “Thanks Legolas, you’re a good friend.”

 

Legolas clapped him on the shoulder. “So are you. Come on, I have the afternoon off, let’s go see if the fish are jumping in silver-pond. Sarcaulien said he saw a big one down there yesterday, shall we go see?”

 

Trelan nodded quickly. He was very quick with his hands and loved trying to catch fish right out of the water. Of course, Legolas knew that, it was why he suggested the outing in the first place. Together, the two friends raced one another to the lake.

 

Two hours later they were both wet and a little muddy from doing more swimming than fishing, but having a grand time.

 

“Prince Legolas, Prince Legolas!” an urgent voice interrupted the elflings’ play and made them both look up.

 

Another young elf ran into view. His dark hair clung to the sides of his face and he was panting as if having run quite fast.

 

After a moment, Legolas recognized him as Cirlith’s son Garilien.

 

Knee-deep in the water, Legolas quickly waded for shore, snatching up his outer tunics off the dry rocks as he went.

 

“Yes? What is it, is something wrong?” the prince asked with concern as he pulled his tunic back on over his head, letting it dry the rest of the water from his body.

 

“Your father is in Lant Gerin and sends for you at once your highness,” Garilien reported quickly.

 

Legolas frowned as he quickly buckled his belt and pulled his boots back on; Trelan was following suit.

 

“Why? What’s wrong?” The prince thought his father was going to be cooped up in the palace again most of the day, he wondered what had been disturbing enough to change his plans.

 

Garilien shook his head. “I’m sorry, I don’t know, he just said it was urgent, come.”

 

Legolas and Trelan hurried after Garilien, hoping nothing horrible had happened. Lant Gerin was a wide, open clearing encircled by oak trees In the old days it was often used for feasts and celebrations, but had not seen much company lately as the wood-elves had little to celebrate now-a-days. It was quite some ways from Lasgalen and took them almost ten minutes to reach even at a run.

 

The grass of the old party glen was carpeted with wild flowers that bobbed brightly as the three young elves passed by but was otherwise empty as Legolas, Garilien and Trelan entered the glade.

 

Legolas paused on the edge of the desolate meadow in confusion. A funny uneasiness that he did not understand settled over him as he walked slowly forward with Trelan on his heels, calling for his father. There was no answer.

 

“Where is father? What’s going on Garilien?” the young prince turned questioning eyes on the elf that had brought them here, but Garilien was gone.

 

“Garilien?” Legolas called out, his gaze darting apprehensively around the empty meadow as he backed up. He and Trelan were alone and too far away for anyone from Lasgalen to hear them and the prince suddenly found himself desperately wishing that he was home. “Garilien!”

 

Trelan was just as confused and worried. “Legolas, what...” he never got the chance to finish.

 

Suddenly dozens of adult elves dropped from the trees around them and appeared from the edges of the clearing. Legolas recognized Melryn and one of the other chieftains who had formerly commanded warriors under his father but switched his allegiance to Doriflen at the start of the war. The prince’s mind screamed that this was a trap and panic pumped through his veins. He scrambled backward, only to bump into more warriors.

 

Before Legolas and Trelan could even respond to the sudden threat, strong hands seized them. Legolas remembered thrashing violently for only moments before a balled fist dug expertly into the pressure point behind his jaw and ear, causing darkness to descend immediately.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Darkness and the rushing murmur of voices filled Trelan’s ears as he floated between reality and dream. His eyes fluttered open and he saw the stars shining down through the trees above. It was dark and his fuzzy mind contemplated how much trouble he was going to be in with his parents for being out so late without permission.

 

He saw Legolas bobbing limply over someone’s shoulder next to him and realized they were both being carried through the darkened woods.

 

Someone must have seen or felt him beginning to stir because Trelan felt a sharp application of pressure behind his ear as he was intentionally plunged back into unconsciousness.

 

The next time Trelan awoke he was alone, but still in darkness. He was in a small room with no windows and a locked door that would not open. He pounded on the wooden door, yelling to be released and calling for Legolas, but no one came; no one answered.

 

Finally, what seemed a long time later the door did open and Trelan blinked at the brightness of the torch in the guard’s hand.

 

Jumping up, the small elf attempted to dart between his captor’s legs and escape, but they were too quick for him. Trelan was swift and slippery. It took several seconds of struggling and no few bruises before the older guards finally wrestled him down to the ground. Realizing they had a little tiger cub on their hands, they bound the young elf’s feet and hands so that he would not hurt them or himself by any further attempts. Picking him up, one of the guards carried the bound child over his shoulder out of the room.

 

“Where are you taking me, where’s Legolas?” Trelan wanted to know, still struggling against his bonds and trying to kick his captor in the chest.

 

“Quiet young one, you’re being taken to your friend now,” one of the guards said sternly, but not harshly, trapping the child’s feet to keep from getting pummeled. Trelan stopped fighting upon hearing that and let them carry him away.

 

Legolas had also woken up alone in a darkened room, but a soldier was keeping watch over him and as soon as he awoke he was removed from the room he was in and taken through several twisting, windowless passageways, flanked on all sides by attentive guards.

 

“Where are we going?” Legolas whispered, afraid of the answer.

 

“Lord Doriflen awaits you,” one of the guards answered him.

 

Legolas’ feet froze in place as panic surged through him. The guards pulled on his arms insistently and the prince went suddenly ballistic. Struggling and fighting like a wild thing, Legolas tried to get away from them. The sentries were surprised at his unexpectedly violent reaction, but the prince was too well guarded to get away. Catching hold of his arms they were forced to manhandle him down the hall and into another torch-lit chamber.

 

“Well nephew, we meet again,” Doriflen smiled as Legolas was dragged, struggling into the room.

 

“Release me Uncle!” Legolas demanded angrily, pulling in vain against the strong hands that held him.

 

“So bold young one,” Doriflen’s look turned wicked. “You forget your fear of me so quickly? I shall have to refresh your memory.”

 

Legolas felt his stomach flip-flop painfully as fear spiraled its way through his heart. No, he had not forgotten. He had not forgotten one hellish moment of what his uncle had put him through and although he was loath to show it, he was terrified.

 

“I will not be your pawn again!” Legolas shook his head, trying to deny his fear. “I know you for what you are now and whatever you are planning will not work.”

 

Doriflen looked slightly amused. “But you have no choice Legolas. You are mine, and you are the pawn that will topple a king.” He turned to the soldiers holding the prince. “Remove his tunic and put him in the fetters.”

 

Wordlessly, the guards obeyed, stripping Legolas against his will and dragging the prince to the center of the room where a set of chains dangled from the ceiling.

 

Legolas struggled and resisted them. Even though he was at a disadvantage, he still managed to make quite a nuisance of himself and the two older elves had to hold him very roughly to keep him subdued as they snapped the young elf’s wrists into the chains over his head. The manacles were hung at the right height for an adult elf and Legolas had to stand on his toes to keep from dangling when he was released. The cuffs bit sharply into his wrists and hands.

 

Doriflen walked around the boy, appreciating his helpless situation. “Chains befit you nephew,” He sneered smugly. “I always wanted to see them on you. You see Legolas; we don’t have to hide anymore. This is my kingdom and we do things my way. I can do whatever I want to you now and it doesn’t matter what marks are left to show for it...” he grinned, capturing the young elf’s chin between his thumb and forefinger. “I’m going to enjoy this, and you, dear prince, are going to regret the day you betrayed me. But first...”

 

Doriflen gave a short command and his men brought a second elfling into the room.

 

“Trelan!” Legolas was horrified that Doriflen was going to hurt his friend as well. “Uncle don’t...”

 

Doriflen slapped the youth, hard. “Do not speak unless you’re spoken to!” he snapped. His angry outburst cooled quickly and his menacing smile returned. “Don’t worry *nephew*. Your little friend will come to no harm, which is more than I can say for you right now. Fortunately for him, he is merely here to observe.”

 

Doriflen stalked over to where the soldiers held Trelan. The small elf was tied hand and foot and the soldiers were more carrying him than guarding him.

 

“Trelan son of Telrayn, do you consider yourself a loyal subject of my dear misguided brother Thranduil?” Doriflen inquired with mock-sweetness. “Or would you be loyal to me?”

 

“Don’t answer him Trey!” Legolas shook his head, making his chains clank. He did not want his friend falling prey to his Uncle’s twisted games.

 

Doriflen growled. “Shut UP Legolas, you are making what is ahead very difficult for yourself. Trelan, I ask you again, to whom are you loyal?”

 

Trelan was obviously frightened and his gaze kept traveling in disbelief to where Legolas hung from the chains, but his eyes snapped fire when he looked back at the traitorous older elf. “I am loyal to Thranduil, true King of Mirkwood and not even death can change that!”

 

Doriflen smiled knowingly. “Ah, so you say, but there are so many things worse than death young one. And what about your friend, what about Legolas? If it meant the difference for him between life and a long and painful demise... where would your loyalties lie?”

 

Trelan blinked, trying to fathom the horrible question of which loyalty was stronger, that to his King, or that to his friend. He opened his mouth but didn’t answer, anguish written across his young face.

 

“Trey, don’t listen to him!” Legolas would not keep silent. Doriflen was going to have his hide one way or another and he knew it, so he did not bother keeping his peace as prudence suggested.

 

Doriflen scowled, but kept his intense, penetrating gaze locked on Trelan. Legolas would pay soon enough. Trelan thought he was going to wither or be melted to the bone by Doriflen’s dark eyes. The elf may have been mentally unbalanced, but he was powerfully strong of will.

 

“I-I don’t know,” Trelan stammered.

 

Doriflen laughed, a light and surprisingly musical sound, yet still unpleasant. “Oh yes you do know little one. You would swear allegiance to your bitterest enemy if it saved your friend from a death of a thousand screams.”

 

Doriflen’s eyes seemed to pierce Trelan’s heart and the young elf knew that as much as he wanted to deny it, it was true. Legolas’ life would come first, even if he had to turn traitor to save it.

 

“You see? You aren’t as loyal as you think. Indeed, loyalty is such a fickle thing, is it not? Think about this as you watch what you were brought here to see. Because I fear that right now, nothing is going to save dear Legolas from what he has coming to him. Watch and understand what happens when people don’t know where their loyalties *should* be placed. Watch and remember every moment!” With those words, Doriflen released Trelan from his gaze and turned, striding back towards Legolas.

 

Trelan felt weak-kneed when Doriflen released him and almost didn’t notice as he was shoved into a chair, his arms and legs bound firmly to the frame so he could not move. The young elf had often wondered why people followed Doriflen, why he had been able to fool even Legolas for a time... now he did not wonder anymore. There was something darkly, but powerfully compelling about the elder elf; the innate power of his royal heritage twisted into a shadowed, seductive lure. Doriflen had a way of making whatever he said seem irrefutable and turning one’s own thoughts against them until a person was ready to question their most deeply held convictions.

 

Trelan hated Doriflen for all that he knew he had done, but his words still confused the young elf. He watched with trepidation and fear as Doriflen toyed lightly with Legolas’ hair, laughing when the prince scowled darkly at him.

 

“You will never defeat my father,” Legolas said bitterly, trying desperately to hold onto his courage as Doriflen stood before him, mocking the young prince with his own helplessness to avoid whatever the older elf had in mind for him. “Whatever you do to me will not change that.”

 

Doriflen’s manner turned condescending. “That is where you would be wrong Legolas. What I’m going to do to you will have everything to do with my winning this war. But for now... let’s focus on the moment, shall we? Your friend and I were talking about misplaced loyalty Legolas, something I fear you know a lot about. I gave you the chance to help me willingly, and you betrayed me. You’ll have to pay for that now nephew, and you will help me, unwillingly.”

 

 

___________________________________________________________

Chapter Text

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~*PART TWELVE*~
~Unimaginable Cruelty~

 

 

Doriflen stopped circling and held out his hand. One of his soldiers placed a three-tongued, braided rope whip in his upturned palm and Doriflen closed his fingers around the handle with a grin.

 

“I hear you completed the rite of passage Legolas, that makes you an adult now, doesn’t it? So we can lay childish things behind us and I will punish you like an adult.” Doriflen whacked the lash lightly against his leg.

 

“I know you’ve never felt the sting of one of these before, so let me tell you what to expect.” Doriflen liked to psyche out his victims so that they were living in fear of him even before he laid a hand on them. “This, is a training lash. If it were a normal one, made of leather, the beating I have in mind for you would strip the skin off your bones and possibly bleed you to death. Fortunately for you, I want you alive, for now. The rope will not cut so quickly nor so deeply, but I still think it will be a nice change from the dull implements we’re used to between us in past, don’t you think nephew?”

 

Legolas stared straight ahead, refusing to bend to his uncle’s games, but he could not deny the rapid pounding of his heart or the terrified dryness that was making his tongue cleave to the roof of his mouth.

 

Doriflen shook his head in mock-dismay. “Why Legolas, you really have forgotten everything I taught you. You answer me when I speak to you boy!”

 

Legolas’ straight gaze at the far wall did not waver. “I have nothing to say,” he ground out between his teeth. “Do whatever you’re going to do and be done with it.”

 

Doriflen inclined his head. “If that’s the way you wish it.”

 

Legolas winced as the rope flail connected sharply with his lower back. Pressing his eyes closed he tried to accept the pain and deal with it as it came. He pulled upon the steady breathing patterns he had learned to bolster his endurance when under his Uncle’s strict ‘training’ before. The young elf bit his lip. Doriflen was right, even his previous experiences with his uncle had not left the prince ready for the sheer, agonizing bite of the lash being used on him now. Despite what Doriflen said, Legolas felt like it must surely be cutting his back to ribbons.

 

Doriflen was a master of pain-craft. He flogged Legolas brutally, but not without strategy. He knew just how to pace the blows to keep his nephew reeling and unable to collect himself and he knew just when to focus on one place in order to make the young elf writhe in his bonds and hiss with contained cries.

 

Legolas wrapped his hands in the chains over his head, gripping them tightly as each blow swung him forward a little. He thought of stars dancing in the trees on a windy night and happy hours on the archery ranges with his friends... he thought of anything other than where he was and what was happening. The denial of reality helped, but not enough.

 

Trelan had started shouting and pulling against his bonds, but was quickly silenced when one of the guards shoved a wadded gag in his mouth.

 

“Quiet now, you’re here to watch only little one,” Doriflen sneered in Trelan’s direction, giving Legolas another hard crack with the lash. “The only voice I want to hear right now is Legolas’. Have you forgotten how to plea for mercy nephew? I used to tell you not to scream, but I lift that restriction now as needless. Indeed, you will hardly be able to help it eventually. Feel free to scream. No one will hear you, no one but us.”

 

Legolas clamped his lips shut tighter, ruthlessly muffling any and all sound of his distress.

 

Doriflen smiled. Legolas was such a very willful child. He would enjoy breaking him all over again. He switched hands, lashing the boy from a new angle. No sense wearing himself out too soon. Legolas had quite a long lesson in store for him. The pale skin of the young elf’s back was flushing swiftly, but he was nowhere near drawing blood. The rope lash was less damaging than his belt in some ways, but infinitely more painful in others; especially since it allowed him to flog the boy for long periods of time without doing any truly serious damage.

 

Doriflen had spent far too long scouting out his nephew’s strengths and weaknesses. So when he focused his cruel attention on the sensitive area below Legolas’ left shoulder blade the pain made the prince squirm and struggle earnestly against his bonds. The older elf was relentless, laying one stroke directly on top of another across the injured flesh until Legolas shook with only half-contained sobs and Doriflen was finally treated to the sound of his nephew’s cries.

 

Rather than easing off now that he had what he wanted, Doriflen drove the boy harder, quickening the pace of the blows cruelly. Now that he had broken Legolas’ shell, the real punishment could start.

 

Doriflen beat his nephew for a long time, intentionally draining Legolas until the young elf had screamed himself completely hoarse and spent all his tears. When Legolas could do no more than shake with dry sobs and dangle from his bonds, Doriflen finally stopped. Blood ran freely down the prince’s back and his head spun dizzily.

 

Grasping Legolas’ chin bruisingly between his fingers again he forced the boy to look at him. “Now do you remember Legolas? Why you *never* cross me? Or is a longer lesson necessary?” Doriflen shook out the bloody lash and moved as if to begin again.

 

“No!” Legolas croaked softly, his whole body shuddering from the shock of the terrible abuse. “N-no more, please.”

 

Doriflen paused and cocked his head to the side with a mocking grin. “What was that Legolas? I didn’t hear you. You say you want me to keep going?”

 

Legolas truly could not take any more, he had been too hurt already and his body betrayed his firm intentions to not let his uncle break him again. “No, please Uncle, no more,” he begged softly, his voice raw and trembling from crying. “I-I do remember. Please...” his small voice trailed off hopelessly as his head sank forward in pain and shame. He should have been stronger than this, but Doriflen knew too well how to utterly shatter his defenses.

 

One of the soldiers stationed by Trelan had to turn his face away to hide his tears. The sight of the bleeding, shaken child was too much. Torturing children was not what he had joined this party to do. Fortunately for the soldier, Doriflen did not see him. Otherwise such an action would have warranted death.

 

With a smug grin of satisfaction, Doriflen stalked over to where Trelan was tied to the chair, still gagged and sobbing quietly at what he had been forced to watch. “Think you will remember this child?”

 

Trelan could truthfully say it was a sight he would never forget; one that was now burned upon his heart and soul.

 

Doriflen read that truth in the boy’s hurting, angry eyes. “Good,” the elder elf nodded approvingly. “Then now you are going to do something for me and for Legolas. You’re going to be that good little loyal elfling and carry a message to Thranduil.” Doriflen grabbed a handful of Trelan’s hair, tipping the small elf’s head back until the boy’s neck was craned so that he was looking up into the older elf’s face from where he sat bound.

 

“You’re going to tell him that I have his precious son and if he ever wants to see him alive again he will drop this despicable charade, remove himself from the throne he has stolen and give me back my rightful place! Tell him. Tell him everything you have seen here today and make sure he knows that every day he delays, Legolas will pay this price again.”

 

Stalking back beside the prince, Doriflen pulled a knife from his belt. Legolas flinched in fear, but his uncle merely grabbed two of the small braids that dangled amidst his loose hair. Roughly cutting the plaits off near the scalp, Doriflen wound the golden plaits around his hand and ran one side of them across the bleeding welt below Legolas’ shoulder blade. Legolas shuddered and stifled a moan.

 

Returning to his other prisoner, Doriflen shoved the bloody braids into Trelan’s bound hands. “Give that to Thranduil. Tell him whose it is. Tell him I do not make idle threats. I will be watching his every move. If he has not done as I bid him in one week’s time, he will receive his son’s body in so many pieces he’ll barely recognize it. Tell him!”

 

Trelan nodded in horror and Doriflen roughly yanked the cloth out of his mouth, nearly making the child gag. “I-I will deliver the message,” Trelan rasped shakily, shooting a last anguished glance at Legolas.

 

At Doriflen’s bidding, the soldiers guarding Trelan unbound him from the chair. One threw the small elf over his shoulder while a second firmly tied a blindfold over the child’s eyes.

 

Doriflen folded his arms. “Don’t let him see the way out. Once you are safely away release him somewhere where he can make his way back. It would not do to have our messenger boy become wolf bait.”

 

The soldiers bowed wordlessly, and carted Trelan out.

 

“Hold on Legolas!” Trelan called desperately as he was carried blind out of the room. “Help will come, hold on!”

 

The door banged shut between them.

 

Legolas stared at the closed portal numbly, still trying to deal with the immense pain he was enduring. Hopelessness pulled at him as he saw the truth. Doriflen would use him for leverage against his father. If Thranduil submitted, then all was lost. If Thranduil did not submit... Legolas shuddered. He knew his father *could* not submit to these demands. The young elf wanted to be brave. He wanted to not care what rejecting Doriflen’s terms would mean for him... but the truth was he was afraid. He did not want to die, and he did not want to spend the last week of his life under his Uncle’s brutal care.

 

Doriflen turned back to his hurting, dangling nephew with a cruelly amused grin on his face. “Hard choices now, yes? Do you want your father to come, or do you want him to abandon you? Which way would let you die happier I wonder? Well, we shall see.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Twenty-six stairs. Trelan counted them as he was jounced up the staircase over the broad shoulder of his guard. Then a right turn. Now a left. They went straight and then mounted a few more stairs, probably through some kind of gate since Trelan’s keen hearing picked up the sound of heavy hinges turning upon themselves. Cool breeze on his face indicated that they had just passed outside.

 

Trelan tried to memorize every detail he could pull together about his surroundings as he was roughly dumped belly-first over the back of a horse. It was a game that Raniean, Trelan and Legolas had invented when they were very small. One would lead the other blind-folded along a difficult and twisting path, and then the blindfolded one would have to try to retrace their steps alone. When one such frolic had ended with Raniean nearly falling into the enchanted river, their parents had outlawed the game as too dangerous. Now, Trelan tried to put all that old practice to good use, attempting to remember everything.

 

He felt the horse shift as a heavier rider mounted behind him and sensed the presence of the rider’s leg near his face. The creature started off at a sharp trot. Straight, and then hard left.

 

The horse jolted and jounced under him, causing the animal’s hard backbone to dig into Trelan’s stomach and ribs. The impact was nauseating and gave the elfling trouble breathing. Trelan tried to ignore the discomfort and focus on the angle of the sun that warmed the exposed skin on his arms and neck. The trees frequently interrupted the sunlight so it was an arduous task, but he finally decided that it was striking him from behind, which meant that they must be traveling north.

 

The young elf’s head spun dizzily because of his inverted position and the helpless pounding his midsection was taking. His hands were bound in front of him, but another rope around his chest and elbows kept him from letting them hang over his head, forcing his hands to dig painfully into his diaphragm. He feared he was going to miss important clues if this kept up because he was feeling too miserable.

 

“Can I sit up?” he asked his captor. No answer or change of pressure from the hand that was resting on his back, holding him on the horse.

 

Trelan tried again. “Please, can I sit up? I think I’m going to be sick.” He made his voice more pathetic than he actually felt, hoping to get a reaction either out of pity, or at least because the guard would not want the elfling to throw up directly on his leg.

 

The horse did not stop moving, but Trelan felt large hands grip his arms and the back of his tunic, dragging him upright and settling his small frame easily astride the horse. Trelan’s bound legs kept him from straddling the animal, so he was placed side-saddle, with his knees bent together and resting against the horse’s neck. The soldier behind the bound child wrapped his arm around Trelan’s chest to make sure the elfling would not fall off.

 

Trelan’s bound ankles dangled off the left side of the horse, and the warm sunshine that fell upon them every now and again confirmed his suspicions about which why they were traveling.

 

Trelan could hear the sound of at least two other horses keeping pace with them, maybe more, and he tried to keep a silent gage of how much distance they were covering, although it was difficult to judge. They came to what was apparently a steep hill, because Trelan could feel the slant and the strain in the horse as it worked its way down the sharp grade. There was a shallow river or stream at the bottom apparently, for water sloshed audibly under the horse’s hooves for a few moments before they found dry land again.

 

Trelan’s hopes dipped as their ride dragged on and on. Deep under the cover of the forest now he could not feel the sun and hoped they were not making any drastic course adjustments that he did not realize. There was little to distinguish one part from another now and he feared he would lose all sense of direction. Images of the horrible scene he had been forced to witness in the small, windowless room that morning crowded his mind, demanding attention.

 

Trelan tried to shut them out, tried not to hear Legolas’ agonized cries in his head, but he could not. His heart burned and silent tears wet his blindfold. A few escaped quietly down his cheeks. Never in his short life had he seen anything that brutal or horrible. He was still badly shaken by the experience. His hands clenched tightly around the thin, silky braids entwined around his fingers.

 

The tree cover overhead must have opened up for a few minutes because Trelan suddenly felt the warm rays of the sun direct upon the side of his face. He realized with a start that they had gradually shifted their course because the sun was now striking low against the right side of his face. He was trying hard to hold onto his sense of direction, but this sudden change threw him a little and the young elf felt despair wash through him. A small sob escaped him as he realized he might never be able to bring anyone back to help Legolas as he had hoped.

 

The soldier riding with Trelan was the one who had turned away when Legolas was beaten. He was trying hard not to feel the tremors shaking the small body in front of him, but when a slight, muffled sob shuddered through his arm that rested against the little one’s chest he could ignore it no longer.

 

Gently, the older elf reached up and wiped the tears from Trelan’s face since the elfling was incapable of doing so himself because of the way he was bound.

 

Trelan flinched at the unexpected move and tried to pull away from the unfamiliar touch. All he could do was push himself farther back against the adult elf’s chest however and his body tensed.

 

“Nobody’s going to hurt you child,” the guard said softly. His voice was trying to be gruff, but not entirely succeeding.

 

“No?” Trelan choked on the word, his tone accusingly incredulous. He could not get Legolas’ tearstained, sobbing face out of his mind. He hated these people; he hated them for what they had done! “I suppose you’ve had your fill of torturing the innocent for one day then, is that it?” his voice was thick and bitter. It was an impudent thing for a captive to say, but Trelan did not care.

 

The soldier stiffened, but did not react in anger as the younger elf had expected. Instead he was silent for a long time.

 

“I’m sorry,” the older elf’s voice was barely a whisper, meant only for the ears of the child in front of him. “You should not have had to see what you did. I do what I am told by those I have sworn oaths to obey, that does not mean I enjoy the duty.” The soldier had had no idea that Doriflen was going to take the young prince’s chastisement that far. A little blood for the message, to let Thranduil know they were serious, that was one thing... but to take it in that way... to torture one child in front of another... to totally break one so young... These were things that the elf could not rationalize to himself. Worse, he had seen the feral enjoyment in Doriflen’s eyes when he flogged the boy. That was a side of his Lord he had never fully seen before and it both disgusted and confused him.

 

“Then don’t do it!” Trelan said softly, almost pleadingly. “Help me help my friend, please!”

 

The soldier’s heart was torn but he knew he dared not give in to the child’s dangerous request. Whatever he felt, he had taken oaths that he could not now pull back; and even if he could... was he so sure he was right and not merely missing the big picture somehow? Was he really willing to gamble with the lives of his own family? He knew what Doriflen did to those he considered traitors, Doriflen was always very good about making public examples. Now he saw that not even the young were exempt. Was he ready to see his own son in those chains because his father had showed any kind of doubt or hesitancy? No.

 

His answer was soft. “I cannot.”

 

“Naerdil! Don’t talk to him. You know what Lord Doriflen said,” one of the other soldiers warned, having seen rather than heard the other elf’s soft words.

 

Naerdil stiffened quickly. All of Doriflen’s soldiers lived in fear of getting put on report. When it became evident how harshly their Lord dealt with even minor offences, most of the troop leaders had quickly stopped recording all but serious transgressions. This did not please Doriflen however and he wasted no time in showing that if the leaders made *no* reports, then they themselves would be punished for hiding the fallibility of their men. Unfortunately, this resulted in the leaders having to *look* for a reason to report someone, simply to keep themselves and their families from harm. Naerdil did not wish to be the one who was picked as an easy scapegoat next time a report was due.

 

“He was complaining, I told him to be quiet,” Naerdil defended hastily. The other soldier seemed to accept that and they continued on in silence.

 

After what seemed an interminably long time, they finally stopped. Trelan was aware of Naerdil shifting behind him and presently felt something hard and cool slide between his bound hands. It must have been a knife because the young elf felt the ropes slip away and flexed his stiff fingers as tingly waves of feeling crept back into the digits. The ropes around his ankles and arms followed quickly thereafter. The blindfold was removed last.

 

“Don’t bother yelling or trying anything because we’re too far out for anyone to hear you,” one of the other soldiers warned.

 

Trelan blinked at the rush of visual input. It was evening and the sun, hidden now by the trees, must have been sinking fast for the horizon because long black shadows stretched around them. Almost before Trelan even had a chance to take all this in, Naerdil swung him off the horse and lowered the young elf to the ground.

 

Trelan stumbled slightly when he tried to stand and found that his feet were painfully asleep.

 

Naerdil did not like leaving the young boy this far out with night approaching, but they did not have leave to take him any further. “Go straight ahead, towards the evening star and you will find your people,” he told Trelan as the four soldiers wheeled their horses around.

 

Trelan looked about, trying to get his bearings and figure out where he was. “Please,” he called out to Naerdil. “Please don’t let him hurt Legolas again! Please!”

 

Naerdil refused to let himself look back at Trelan. “Deliver your message child, that’s the only way you can help your friend now.”

 

With that the older elves kicked their horses to a gallop and disappeared into the darkening trees.

 

Trelan stood for a moment, watching them go. He was almost positive that they had just left in a different direction than they had come, but he was turned around now and unsure. With a sigh he looked above the closely crowding treetops and saw the faint glimmering of Eärendil appearing in the sky as the sun’s receding light began to call out the stars.

 

Setting his face towards the star of hope, Trelan clenched Legolas’ bloody braids tightly in his fist and started for Lasgalen at a swift run.

 

The soldiers’ idea of ‘close to home’ left something to be desired. The moon was riding high in the sky and Trelan was still running through the darkened woods. His lungs burned and his sides ached fiercely, but he would not let himself slow.

 

It was an exhausted, wild-eyed elfling that crashed his way into the moonlit glade and right into the startled form of an older elf.

 

Trelan stumbled and fell backward on impact. The entire hunting party gathered around swiftly as the elf Trelan had run into bent over the small form.

 

“Child, are you all right? What are you doing out here?” Umdanuë’s worried face appeared in Trelan’s wavering line of vision.

 

“I’ve got to get to the King! They took him and they’re going to kill him and the King must be told, he can’t let them, he can’t let them!” Trelan scrambled to a sitting position and tried to rise, his panic making him difficult to understand.

 

“Slowly, slowly... Trelan, right? Breathe child, breathe. Catch your breath and tell us slowly what’s happened,” Umdanuë soothed.

 

Trelan shook his head. “No time!” he panted, but tried to compose himself anyway. “Prince Legolas, he’s been captured! Doriflen has him, h-he sent me back with the message,” Trelan choked back a sob that was half for air and half from emotion. “I have to get to the king at once, please!”

 

“What? These are ill tidings you bring.” Umdanuë’s face darkened immediately at the mention of his former tormentor. Helping Trelan swiftly to his feet he put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and started them both off at a swift clip towards the trees without waiting for the others to follow. The hunting party had only one horse with them that they had been using to carry their small catch of venison. Umdanuë quickly bid the supplies be removed. Putting Trelan up on the animal’s back the older elf swung easily up behind him. He knew the rest of the party would take care of business and make their own way back as soon as they could.

 

“Come child, you are right, we’ve not a moment to waste,” the older elf said as he spurred the horse towards the heart of Lasgalen at a quick gallop.

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART THIRTEEN*~
~The Price of Duty~

 

 

“Trelan!” Telrayn and Meluiel, Trelan’s parents, were the first to greet him upon his mad-dash between the courtyard where he and Umdanuë had dismounted and the throne room where he hoped to find King Thranduil. Umdanuë and two servants who had admitted them hastily upon the insistence that their news was urgent followed swiftly in the boy’s wake.

 

“Trelan how did you get here? Where have you been?!” Meluiel was relieved and annoyed at the same time. The child had been missing for three days. “We have been looking everywhere for you! Are you all right?”

 

Trelan allowed his mother to sweep him into a worried and relieved hug for a moment. He hugged her back tightly before he quickly wiggled free. “Nana, Ada, I’m sorry. I-I was captured...” he saw the alarm spreading across their faces and tried to head off the questions he did not have time for yet. “I’m all right, really, but I must get to the King at once, I have an important message for him about Prince Legolas!”

 

“What about Legolas?” Randomir was not far behind Telrayn and Meluiel. Since Trelan and Legolas disappeared three days ago the search for them had been intense. It was lucky that Trelan had caught them here at all, since they had only just returned from their latest fruitless search venture to regroup and compare information before heading out to look again. “Trelan you’re pale as a wight, are you all right?”

 

“Yes and no,” Trelan was looking around for a way to escape all the questions and the gaggle of elves that were quickly congregating in the hall, drawn by the commotion. “Please, the King, I’ve got to see him!”

 

Amil-Garil was there now as well, trying to back the crowd of servants away so he could find out what was causing the disturbance.

 

“Amil-Garil, Randomir, what is going on?” a commanding voice made everyone look up and stop talking as Thranduil strode quickly down the hall, following the sounds of sudden clamor in passages that should have been quiet at this time of night. Raniean, filling his role as royal sentinel with the serious attention he paid everything, followed exactly five paces behind his liege.

 

The King was not dressed in his normal robes, but in his riding garb. His soft leather boots were still damp with dew and it was obvious that he too had just returned from the search for the two young elflings. Dark worry haunted Thranduil’s eyes. Legolas was gone with no word and no trace. It was inconceivable that his son had simply run off again and all he could do was fear the worst.

 

Everyone bowed quickly except for Trelan who was too worked up and confused to remember that he should. Because he barely stood even with most of the adults’ waists however, it was almost impossible to tell.

 

“Your highness, Trelan has returned!” Randomir said quickly as he and Amil-Garil cleared a path between Thranduil and Trelan.

 

Raniean wanted to run forward and greet his friend in relieved joy, but he hung back and remembered his post, letting Thranduil be the one to hurry forward.

 

Trelan’s heart broke anew when he saw the worried and hopeful look in the Elvenking’s eyes. How could he give him this news? Yet he had no choice.

 

Dropping to his knees before Thranduil, Trelan clasped his clenched fists together in his lap and hung his head for a moment in an anguished, hesitant bow.

 

“Y-your highness...” he didn’t know where to start and now he was scared as well as heart-broken. He had never actually tried to address the King before. Despite being so close to Legolas he was somewhat petrified by his father. “I-I bring you ill news. Two days ago, Legolas and I were taken by Doriflen’s forces in Lant Gerin. I’m sorry your majesty, there were too many of them and we were taken by surprise.” He was not yet sure he could speak of the betrayal that had led them to that fateful place.

 

Thranduil paled visibly. “Go on,” he bid Trelan quietly. Elvéwen had appeared at his side from somewhere and he gripped her hand tightly.

 

Trelan swallowed hard. Everything had gone dead silent and all eyes were fixed on him. “We must have been knocked out because I remember little after that until waking up in a dark room with no windows. I was alone, but presently they brought me to where the prince was...” Trelan screwed his eyes shut, trying to hold back the tears that came every time he remembered what he had been forced to watch.

 

“D-Doriflen was there and he... he...” Trelan’s voice broke and he dropped his face into his hands, sobs shaking his shoulders.

 

Cold horror flooded Thranduil’s entire being. He was too stunned to even try to comfort Trelan as he normally would have. Elvéwen was squeezing his hand so tightly his fingers burned, but his body was numb.

 

Telrayn stepped forward quietly; resting his hands encouragingly on his son’s hunched, shaking shoulders. “It’s all right ion-nín,” he soothed softly. “Please Trelan, tell us what happened.”

 

“Doriflen beat the prince, badly. H-he made me watch. He said I was to remember it all and to tell you...” Trelan’s voice was on the verge of cracking again, but he willed himself to be stronger than this and plowed ahead. “I will never forget it,” his voice rasped slightly, horror evident in his tone as he pressed his palms brutally into his eyes as if trying to wipe the images away.

 

Telrayn closed his eyes as Meluiel knelt by their son’s side, touching his arm lightly. Trelan had obviously witnessed horrors that no child should have had to see.

 

“He sent me back, to give you this message: He says that if you do not surrender the throne of Mirkwood to him in one week, Legolas will... he’ll...” Trelan could not bring himself to repeat Doriflen’s viciously gruesome words. “He’ll kill him,” he finished weakly instead.

 

Picking up the thin twists of hair from his lap, Trelan rose to his feet, extending his hand towards Thranduil. “He bid me give you these,” the boy rasped miserably. “And tell you that every day he does not see your compliance he will... will beat Legolas again.”

 

Thranduil looked down at the two slim braids that curled in the palm of his hand in disbelief. Legolas’ silky golden tresses lay limply across his fingers. The unbound end where they had been cut was frayed and unraveling. An ugly, dark, brownish-red stain matted one section of the fair locks.

 

Legolas’ hair and Legolas’ blood.

 

Thranduil thought he had forgotten how to breathe. He closed his fingers around the horrible tokens, crushing them tightly in his grip as his world shattered around him.

 

Elvéwen buried her face in her husband’s sleeve. Not her baby, not Tyndolhen... how could they have let him fall into the hands of that madman again?

 

“No!” Raniean’s was the only voice that broke the shocked silence. He knew a small bit of the horror Trelan must have witnessed and his heart twisted violently within him. He should have been there. He should have been with Legolas; he should have protected him. He should not have let this happen!

 

“Please...” Trelan hardly knew what to hope for at this point as he turned red-rimmed, pleading eyes upon the King. “Please don’t let them hurt Legolas again! It was so bad, so bad...” the young elf was shaking.

 

Thranduil realized he was shaking too. If someone had cut out his heart and ripped it into pieces they could have wounded him no deeper than he was at this moment. It was a terrible decision that was being forced upon him. Even worse, was the knowledge that it wasn’t even a decision. What choice did Thranduil have? He could never deliver thousands of innocent souls into the hands of a tyrannical madman in exchange for the life of one elf, no matter how excruciatingly dear that life might be.

 

Thranduil needed to sit down. He desperately needed to sit down. Horror and despair were making him light-headed and dizzy. The hallway had nowhere that he *could* sit, so the King stumbled numbly to the nearest wall and leaned heavily against it, pressing his forehead to the cool stones as he hugged the fistful of Legolas’ severed braids to his heart. Most there had never seen the strong Elvenking cry, nor would Thranduil have ever allowed them to under normal circumstances. Now however, he was too stricken to even care for his pride and silent tears slipped down his cheeks as he leaned harder into the cold embrace of the stone. He did not want to even imagine what kind of pain his little boy had had to suffer at his brother’s hands to so obviously scar Trelan this deeply.

 

Elvéwen wrapped her arms around his shoulders from behind. She wanted to offer comfort but had none to give. Her own heart was too raw. All she could do was hold on to him as soft sobs shook her frame.

 

Few eyes were dry now and shocked silence reigned. Randomir had known Thranduil a long time, but he had never seen his Liege this shattered.

 

“My Lord?” Amil-Garil’s somber, quiet voice finally broke the spell that seemed to have fallen.

 

Thranduil pulled himself stiffly away from the wall. He had spent as much time as he could allow in useless grief. Now he had to try to figure out how to salvage this horrible situation. Elvéwen was still shaking and he wrapped one arm around her shoulders as he turned back to face his waiting subjects. They were all watching him anxiously, questioningly.

 

“Under no circumstances would I ever be able to accept conditions like these,” Thranduil fought to keep his voice from cracking. “I have responsibilities to our people I cannot just lay aside...” he lost the battle and his voice did crack, but none there would have dreamed of faulting him for that.

 

Elvéwen tightened in his arms, turning closer into his embrace. She knew this was true, she knew there was no other way they could answer, but that did not make it any easier to condemn her only son to a hideously unimaginable doom.

 

Trelan looked stricken. “W-we can’t leave him there...” he murmured pleadingly.

 

“Nor shall we,” Thranduil’s face darkened with determination. “I cannot submit to his terms, but I will be damned to the void before I let him harm my son again! Randomir, find Traycaul, marshal all the forces you can find. Order our defenses so that the towns are not left undefended, but pull away everyone you can spare. Do *not* be obvious about it, we must keep up the ruse that all is normal for as long as we can. Doriflen is out there somewhere. We’re going to find him, and get Legolas back. Tell Cirlith to-”

 

Trelan interrupted hesitantly. “Y-your highness? I don’t know if you want to trust Cirlith or not.”

 

Thranduil frowned, looking back down at the small elf, now flanked on either side by his parents. “What do you mean?”

 

“It’s just that...” Trelan twisted his fingers together nervously. He glanced sorrowfully at Raniean, knowing what this news would do to him. “The reason Legolas and I went to Lant Gerin was because Garilien said we had been sent for and were urgently needed there. He – he led us into a trap.”

 

The King’s eyes were dangerous now. “Send for Cirlith and Garilien, this instant!” he thundered angrily. “By the Valar we shall know what they know and swiftly!”

 

Raniean was stunned. He could not believe it. The young sentinel turned and ran heedlessly down the passage, disappearing around the bend in the hall. Position or no position, his emotions overwhelmed him. He could not bear the notion that his trusted mentor may have been involved in the brutal kidnapping of his best friend.

 

Randomir tensed and wished he could follow, but things were unraveling too quickly.

 

“I will bring them,” he said quietly, his voice betraying little of what he was feeling. Cirlith was one of his closest friends. If he had missed this hidden treachery that had now placed his own beloved student and prince in such horrible danger he would never forgive himself.

 

It was barely a half an hour later that Cirlith was brought alone into Thranduil’s presence.

 

Thranduil was waiting by himself in the throne room, having dismissed everyone else to their duties or to rest. Trelan he had sent back with his mother to rest and recover. Telrayn and Amil-Garil had sought out Traycaul and were busy beginning the surreptitious troop mustering that Thranduil had ordered earlier. Febridë had coaxed Elvéwen to accept a hot cup of tea and walk in the moonlit gardens with her for a few minutes. Raniean was still missing.

 

Randomir and Cirlith both bowed in the King’s presence.

 

Cirlith had circles under his eyes and a hopeless look on his face. It was as if he had aged millennia in a few days.

 

“My Lord,” Cirlith kept his gaze downcast before his King. “I ask that you kill me swiftly for my house has sinned gravely against you. Randomir has only just told me how deep this betrayal goes and it is more than I can bear.”

 

Thranduil’s brows furrowed. “We shall see about that after I find out the nature of this transgression. Speak and speak swiftly. What do you know about the plot to kidnap my son? Where does Doriflen have his secret dwellings?”

 

Cirlith blanched, but shook his head helplessly. “My Lord, I know not! I-I wish I did for perhaps then I could give you some news to assuage the ill that has been done, but I tell you the truth, I know nothing of how this has come to be. Only... only that my son is somehow involved.”

 

“Where is Garilien now?” Thranduil questioned.

 

“He was nowhere in the house or on the grounds Highness,” Randomir reported dutifully.

 

“He’s gone,” Cirlith replied hoarsely. “Four days ago... he came home late and I pressed him on where he had been. Too often lately were his absences long and unaccounted for. I feared some young maid had caught his eye... if only it were that,” the elf said miserably. “He became angry and we quarreled. It-it came out that his sympathies lay with your brother. He was greatly influenced by some of the other boys who left to follow Doriflen, particularly his friend Amon. He said that he had met Amon in the woods and they lived better than we. He said that with them he would not be treated as a child like... like I treated him. He ran out of the house. I thought it was a passing temper and he would return when he calmed down and came back to his senses! I-I never thought he would do something like this...”

 

“Why did you tell no one he had run off?” Randomir could not help asking. He had not even known his friend’s child was missing.

 

Cirlith looked pained. “I thought he would return. I-I did not think he meant what he said and I feared to brand him a traitor because of some careless speech. Forgive me my blindness, but... he was my son.” For the first time, the downcast elf looked up and met the King’s eyes.

 

“Your Highness, my wife is long gone to the halls of waiting, my son has made himself dead to me and I have become an unwitting traitor to all I hold dear. I ask for no mercy or forgiveness, for I do not deserve either, but know that I am truly sorry, beyond what words can express.”

 

Thranduil contained his initial urge to vent his anger on Cirlith simply because he was a handy target. It was not easy to admit, but the King saw no lie in the despairing elf’s eyes. Cirlith was not entirely blameless in this situation, but his culpability lay only in his blind love for his child, not in any traitorous intent or design of his own. Truly, Thranduil wondered, could he have brought himself to think of Legolas in that way? When Legolas ran away to complete the Maethor rite against his wishes, had he ever for a moment considered that the boy would betray him? Of course not. Garilien was *not* Legolas obviously, but Thranduil tried to make himself see another wounded father’s heart and not just someone who could have stopped his son’s kidnapping and did not.

 

The Elvenking leaned sideways on his throne, rubbing his forehead with a sigh. He almost wished that Cirlith *had* been guilty, because then at least they would have had a chance of finding out where Doriflen was hiding Legolas. Thranduil was quite sure however that Cirlith had already told them everything he knew on the subject.

 

“As head of your family, you are responsible for the deeds of your household,” Thranduil’s voice was weary. “But I am not so unreasonable as to hold an innocent father to task for the sins of a guilty son. I seek no retribution from you Cirlith, however, you will understand if I relieve you of your duties as far as the army is concerned for the present. If Garilien contacts you or you have any word of him whatsoever I expect you to tell me immediately, is that understood?”

 

Cirlith bowed deeply. “Yes, my Lord. Your grace is undeserved, but I thank you.”

 

Thranduil nodded. He felt incredibly weary of heart and soul. So much pain and deception... it seemed no one was being left untouched. “You are dismissed Cirlith. Randomir, please show him out and then return to me, we have much to do.”

 

Randomir saluted, bowed, and did as he was bid.

 

“Cirlith,” Thranduil said softly just before they left the long hall. “I’m sorry about your son.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

The night was long and spent in many preparations. Early morning was painting the outside world with the first touches of color when Randomir finally had a chance to seek out his missing son.

 

He found him almost by accident, curled up in a dark corner of the armory, hidden behind a barrel of spears.

 

Raniean was curled up with his knees to his chest, his eyes red from crying. He started when his father almost tripped over him and tried to wipe his swollen eyes.

 

Randomir dropped to his knees by the boy’s side quickly. “Raniean, young one, have you been here all night? Did you not sleep at all?” He guessed from the weary look in the boy’s eyes that he had not.

 

Raniean shook his head mutely. So much pain there. Randomir didn’t know what to say.

 

With a sigh, the father sat down next to his son, taking Raniean’s hands in his own. “Ran, Cirlith did not know what Garilien had done. He did not betray you or me, not wittingly.”

 

Raniean wiped his eyes again and nodded. “I know,” he murmured. “I heard.”

 

“You heard...” Randomir echoed. “You were *in* the throne room with us?”

 

Raniean nodded again, studying the floor. “Behind the curtains on the wall. I’m sorry Ada... I had to know the truth, for once.”

 

Randomir shook his head, but tipped Raniean’s chin up gently. “That was foolish my son, and more, it is something a sentinel could be flogged for doing,” his voice was serious. He did not for a moment expect that anyone would actually enforce that law on someone of Raniean’s tender age, especially under these conditions, but he wanted the boy to understand that in many ways he was not a child anymore and had to take responsibility accordingly. “Not to mention abandoning your post. I understand your reasons and I dare say the King will as well, but I never want you to do either of those things again, all right Ran?”

 

Raniean nodded. “I-I won’t, I’m sorry. Is the King very angry with me?” he ventured quietly.

 

Randomir chuckled. “Of a truth Raniean? I’m afraid he probably hasn’t even noticed that you’re gone. He has a lot on his mind right now.”

 

“Are you angry with me?” The question was a mere whisper.

 

Randomir shook his head, smoothing his son’s rumpled hair gently. “No. Worried, but not angry. Do you feel better now that you’ve had some time to yourself?”

 

It was Raniean’s turn to shake his head. “Not really,” he whispered. “I-I didn’t protect him Ada. I did not protect Legolas like I swore I would. I said I was never going to let Doriflen hurt him again and now...” Raniean turned his head away in shame. He did not have any tears left to cry, but if he had, he would have.

 

“Once again Raniean, this is not your fault. We protect, but that does not make us infallible. I didn’t stop it either my son; none of us could have seen this coming. We must not waste time now on guilt; we must focus on getting Legolas back and avenging the wrongs that have been done. Will you help me Raniean?”

 

Raniean nodded quickly. “Of course father. I’ll do anything.”

 

Randomir smiled, gently cupping his son’s swollen, tear stained cheek. “Then go home and get some sleep. A new day is dawning and we have much to accomplish. You will need the rest.” He planted a gentle kiss on the boy’s forehead. “And pray my son. Pray that Ilúvatar and the Valar have mercy on Legolas. I have a feeling he will need it very much in the days to come.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Legolas kept his eyes closed and his breathing steady when he heard the door to his cell open. He hung motionless from the chains over his head, but Doriflen was not fooled.

 

“You can give up pretending Legolas, I know you’re awake. And if you aren’t, I’ll give you something to wake you up.”

 

The young elf started when he felt the familiar bite of the rope flail snap against his still raw shoulders. His body was already trying to heal itself from yesterday. Most of the cuts were closed and the lighter welts were fading. Doriflen however, did not intend to give him a chance to fully heal. He found that hurt on top of hurt could be very effective.

 

Doriflen smiled when his nephew’s eyes popped open, dilated with pain.

 

“Good Morning *your Highness*, I hope your night was pleasant,” Doriflen mocked. “No? Pity.”

 

Legolas resisted a groan and shifted in his bonds. His shoulders burned with the strain of hanging suspended, but his legs and feet were too fatigued from straining on tip-toe to hold his weight any longer. No, it had not been a pleasant night, especially as he had been given nothing to eat or drink and had lost far too much fluid yesterday through tears and blood.

 

Doriflen stretched the cruel instrument he was holding between his hands. “I don’t suppose you can see it in here, but the sun is rising outside. No word from my scouts that your father has done anything noteworthy yet, so I’d say it’s time for another little session, wouldn’t you?”

 

Legolas twisted his numb hands around the chains in fear. Valar, not again, please not again! “He may not have even gotten your message yet,” the young elf protested hoarsely.

 

“Well that’s not my fault, now is it?” Doriflen was unmoved as he stepped behind his nephew, shaking out the lash. “Relax Legolas, if you do not provoke me, it will not always have to be as bad as yesterday.”

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART FOURTEEN*~
~Growing Disquiet~

 

 

Doriflen did not beat the prince as badly as he had the day before, but it was still almost more than the young elf could stand.

 

When it was over Legolas was sobbing again, which surprised him because he didn’t think he had any tears left *to* cry.

 

Doriflen released the catches on the chains around his wrists and the prince crumpled to the ground in a lump of misery. It felt good to be free of the agonizing manacles, but his whole body ached fiercely.

 

For a moment, the prince did not move as he tried to deal with the pain. Then he heard the sound of someone else entering the room and stiffly dragged himself back into the far corner of the small cell, scrambling away from whatever else his uncle may have in store for him. He felt too vulnerable in the center of the room.

 

Fortunately, the newcomer was not to be feared. An elf woman carrying a tray of food and a pitcher of water knelt next to the cowering child.

 

Legolas looked at her uncertainly, not sure what to expect.

 

The woman’s brows furrowed and faint traces of horror were visible behind her eyes as she gently reached out and touched the young one’s flushed cheek. No one had told her what was actually being done to the captive prince that she had been bidden to tend.

 

Legolas flinched and pulled back.

 

The woman wanted with all her heart to comfort the young prince, but with Doriflen’s watchful gaze upon her she dare not risk too much. She had tarried too long in surprise and compassion as it was and Doriflen’s harsh voice made her jump.

 

“Onethiel, you’re to make sure he’s fed, not worry over him like a mother hen,” the elf lord made himself clear.

 

Onethiel gave a quick nod and set her tray down, trying to avoid looking into Legolas’ hurting young eyes.

 

Legolas was desperately thirsty, but his arms and fingers were not working properly after having had his weight hanging from his wrists and shoulders for so long. Moving his arm even a little sent hot ribbons of agony through his torn shoulders, inside and out and the prince winced in frustration and pain. He could not make his fingers close around the cup.

 

Quickly and quietly, Onethiel picked the cup up for him and put it to his lips, allowing the child to drink. Legolas drained the mug dry and Onethiel obligingly poured him another.

 

Doriflen did not hinder her in this because he wanted the boy fed. He could not afford to lose him too soon, and Legolas would have to keep up some strength to deal with his daily visits.

 

In the end, Legolas had no choice but to allow Onethiel to feed him as well, which he found utterly humiliating. The discomfort was eased at least a little though because her eyes and her movements were filled with compassion and she obviously did not begrudge him the task.

 

When Onethiel took her leave, Doriflen went with her and Legolas was left alone.

 

As Onethiel walked away from the small room with the empty dishes, she felt a deep sense of shame and loathing filling her. Who could do this to a child? Even if his father *was* a usurper as she had been brought to believe... no young one deserved to suffer like that.

 

Her gaze flickered to Doriflen, striding down the hall ahead of her, the bloody flail still dangling casually from its strap around his wrist. Was she so certain now that this elf *should* be the King, after seeing what he was capable of doing? How had things changed so much? How had she come to a place where feeding the little prince after he had been tortured too much to be able to feed himself was all that she could do?

 

Onethiel did not know, and that galled her.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Trelan chewed his lower lip hard enough to leave bruises, an intent scowl on his face. He was attempting to retrace his path of the day before for the King and his scouting party, but the young elf kept running into too many things he could not remember.

 

Telrayn squeezed his son’s shoulder reassuringly, feeling the tension in the small body seated before him on his horse. “Relax Trelan, don’t try to force it, let it come to you.”

 

Thranduil was impatient, but he tried very hard to not let the elfling see that. Trelan had been attempting to lead them for the better part of the day. At first the boy had been sure of his directions, but now he was looking increasingly doubtful and frustrated.

 

A few miles further and they came to a broad, swift flowing tributary of the Forest River. Trelan wanted to cry.

 

“No, no, this is wrong; we didn’t cross a river this deep...” He buried his face in his hands. “I’m sorry Ada, I don’t know where we are. I thought I could retrace it... I’m sorry...” tears of frustration and failure wet his small face.

 

Telrayn hugged Trelan gently. “You did your best my son, it is all right. Your majesty...?” he turned questioning eyes upon his liege.

 

Thranduil sighed. It had been worth a try. “Take the child home Telrayn; at least he has pointed us in the initial direction. Randomir, divide your company and begin a thorough search to the north-east and north-west. Traycaul, take your people south-west and south-east and return the way we have come in case we have gone too far. Amil-Garil, take your company on ahead and scout the areas surrounding Doriflen’s known encampments. Be careful.”

 

The three leaders inclined their heads, placing their clenched fists over their hearts in salute before spurring their mounts away to gather up their contingents and do as commanded.

 

Thranduil rode ahead with Amil-Garil’s company of royal guards because they took the most dangerous path that would lead them closest to the enemy. They had scouted out the known villages and encampments of Doriflen’s followers for many seasons, although many of them moved frequently. Yet most of these were peasant dwellings only, full of women, children, and families. Doriflen kept his soldiers constantly on the move to avoid detection of their camps.

 

Thranduil feared it was in one of these moving encampments that Legolas was being held, for that would make the task of finding him doubly difficult. Yet Trelan’s account of where they had been held gave him hope. The child had spoken of rooms made of stone with no windows. Such a structure surely must mean that Doriflen had a more-or-less permanent encampment there. In all likelihood, it was the hidden base of operations that Doriflen seemed to withdraw and disappear into whenever Thranduil’s people came too close. Much effort had already been expended in an attempt to find this place since the war began, and all attempts had been in vain.

 

Thranduil could only hope against hope that this time, things would somehow be different.

 

//”I’m coming Legolas, please, hold on ion-nín,”// he thought painfully. The Elvenking looked up at the sun riding high in the sky above. They did not have much time.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

From the loud way the door was banged open Legolas knew that this was going to be a bad day. He had learned enough of his Uncle’s moods to ascertain that at a glance.

 

The prince rose slowly to his feet. Every inch of him hurt. Doriflen’s lashings had grown steadily worse over the past few days as Thranduil’s seeming lack of response gnawed at the twisted elf’s confidence in his plan. Legolas was grateful for the small mercies however, and at least since he was no longer left hanging for long periods of time his arms and hands had returned to normal function.

 

The prince remained in the corner, but refused to flinch or cower from Doriflen’s angry glare. He had resolved himself to perish here, but if he had to die, then he would not go as a coward or a weakling.

 

Doriflen did not like the change in the boy and struck him hard with an open hand, knocking Legolas to the floor. “Hold him!” he ordered his guards harshly.

 

Hesitantly, Naerdil and his companion took hold of Legolas’ wrists and ankles, pinning him to the floor.

 

Not bothering to take the time to even put him in chains, Doriflen laid into the boy with a vengeance.

 

Legolas whimpered and closed his eyes tightly. He knew that when Doriflen was too angry to even play at his mind-games, then he was in for a rough time.

 

Naerdil felt the boy’s slim wrists twist desperately in his punishing grip, saw the pain written across the prince’s young features. The guardsman thought his heart had stopped. Valar, what was he doing? Why was he going along with this? The child did not deserve this utter torture. Yet fear held the elder elf in place. He was beginning to think that maybe they were all prisoners in one way or another.

 

Doriflen was forced to stop in order to catch his breath, having pushed himself too fast and too hard in his rage to maintain a steady pace. He had been so brutal that Legolas’ back was already bleeding again.

 

Doriflen knelt by his shuddering nephew’s side, harshly tracing the injuries with the hard, rough pommel of the flail.

 

Legolas inhaled sharply and pressed his the side of his face harder against the cool floor.

 

“It seems your father doesn’t care much for you after all Legolas,” he said softly, but his words were hard-edged and lined with malice. “All he has to do is lay aside the throne and I would bring him to you... and all this pain could end. But I guess there are other things more important to him.” Doriflen gave a deep dig into an inflamed welt. “Only two days left nephew... time is running short. You better hope your precious Ada decides that you’re worth saving soon, or it will be too late for him to change his mind.”

 

Legolas gasped softly, but his eyes flashed steel. Doriflen could not play those lies on him anymore. He knew that it was not through a lack of care that his father could not save him.

 

“Father will not come,” he said quietly. His young voice had a remarkable amount of steadiness and conviction considering his current situation. “Nor do I want him to do so. His first duty is to our people, as is mine. If I have to die for them to stay free, so be it. I do not count one life as too high a price to pay, and neither will Ada,” Legolas’ voice trembled slightly, but his sincerity was obvious.

 

The raw honesty of the little one’s words shook Naerdil to the core of his being. So much courage from one with so much to lose... it made him ashamed. He unintentionally locked eyes with the guard across from him, saw the same thoughts written clearly across his comrade’s face, before the other soldier quickly closed off and looked away. How had it come to be that they were all living in fear of one elf?

 

Doriflen reacted with a predictable flash of violent rage. As soon as he had finished speaking, Legolas immediately tensed, knowing what would come.

 

He was unfortunately correct.

 

Doriflen rose stiffly to his feet, a dangerous look in his eye. “So you don’t care what happens to you then nephew? That is well, because today I mean to make you wish that you were already dead!”

 

Naerdil found that his hands on Legolas’ wrists were trembling when Doriflen started in on the boy again. He couldn’t do this. It was wrong, everything in his being screamed it was wrong.

 

Naerdil released Legolas’ wrists, sliding sideways a little, closing his eyes and pressing his hand to his face.

 

Legolas curled in on himself at once, instinctively trying to twist his injured back away from the cruel abuse.

 

Doriflen faltered and stopped, turning an angry glare on the guard. “WHAT is the problem Naerdil, are you ill, or merely stupid?”

 

The two soldiers standing by the doorway tensed, as if awaiting orders.

 

Naerdil fought the dryness in his mouth. He wanted to speak up, to say something... but he realized with shame that he was too much of a coward. Gripping the bandage on his left arm that hid a wound he had received not long ago, he shook his head, trying to make his voice work. “I-I do not feel well. I think there may be something wrong.” Oh there was something wrong all right... *everything*.

 

Doriflen scowled, but he was too angry and too focused on Legolas at the moment to take his guard’s incompetence as anything other than mere incompetence. “Fool! Get out of my sight!” he shouted. “Get him out of here!” Doriflen added to the guards by the door who dutifully rushed forward to remove Naerdil.

 

Doriflen was about to order one of them to take his place, when a cruel smile twisted his lips. “Wait... bring me the new boy.”

 

Legolas took the small reprieve to gather his strength, wondering numbly what his Uncle was up to now.

 

Several minutes later, a boy that Legolas recognized entered hesitantly. The prince looked saddened. It was Garilien.

 

Garilien recoiled in shock when he saw Legolas curled up on the floor, his back painfully marred from his uncle’s attentions. The boy’s eyes widened and a shot of horror went through his heart. What had he done? Legolas was supposed to be a playing card only; insurance to force Thranduil to capitulate... he had never thought the prince would be harmed. He had accepted the offer Doriflen made him through Amon more to spite his father than anything else, after the blow-up they had had... but now he wondered at the cost his actions may have produced.

 

Doriflen did not miss the boy’s horrified look, but he had expected such. “Proud of your work Garilien?” he said softly. “I am. Don’t be concerned about Legolas; he has made some very bad choices that led him to the state you now see.” He walked towards Garilien slowly, the flail swishing with menacing ease in his hand. “But you don’t make bad choices, do you? You make smart ones. So I need your service again. Help Niphred hold him while we finish up this little matter,” he nodded his head towards the place that Naerdil had recently vacated.

 

Garilien backed up a step, only to bump into the soldiers behind him. He swallowed hard and shook his head. “I-I can’t... I didn’t want this... I didn’t want anyone to get hurt...”

 

Doriflen’s eyes locked on him intensely and the boy felt as if he had been rooted to the spot. “Didn’t you? Did you not join us to spite your father? Or was it out of true devotion to our cause? If the former is the case, then you deceive yourself to think you wanted no one hurt, if the later, then you will obey me because you must realize that I know what I am doing and obey me without question. This is war Garilien, people get hurt. Do you want to be one of them? Would you rather take his place?” the elder elf stretched the lash he was holding in front of him, letting Garilien see that the rope thongs were stained with blood.

 

Garilien crumpled under Doriflen’s powerful glare and maddeningly inescapable logic. He dropped his head. “No,” he whispered hoarsely.

 

Doriflen smiled. “Good, then do as your told and I will try to forget that you almost disobeyed me.”

 

Numbly, Garilien did as Doriflen ordered, kneeling and taking Legolas’ wrists in his hands. He couldn’t look at the prince and bowed his head guiltily.

 

“Garilien!” Doriflen’s voice snapped hash as a whip, making the child jump. “You watch your work, take pride in it... and do not make me think you unworthy or un-useful... consider this a meaningful lesson in what happens to people who are either of those things.”

 

Garilien obeyed and forced his eyes open as Doriflen struck Legolas sharply, but he thought he was going to be ill. He would not blame the prince if he hated him forever.

 

Legolas did not hate Garilien, that sole privilege was reserved for Doriflen. As odd as it seemed, Legolas felt sorry for the other boy because he saw someone who was falling prey to games he knew far too well. He tried to catch Garilien’s eyes, but the other elfling studiously avoided his gaze, although tears were forming rapidly in the dark-haired elfling’s eyes.

 

Doriflen made good on his threat about how severely he intended to make his displeasure known to his nephew. By the time he was done, Legolas had passed out.

 

Garilien pried his stiff, aching fingers off the prince’s limp wrists, looking at his hands as if they were alien to him. He was crying almost as hard as Legolas had been. He had never felt so despicable and wretched.

 

Doriflen dropped his hands soothingly on Garilien’s shoulders. “Pain will pass and harden into steel. It will make you stronger. I’m proud of you.”

 

Garilien had nothing but contempt for the older elf now, but he held even more for himself. Pushing to his feet he ran out of the room.

 

Doriflen watched him go with a small smile. Garilien hated him right now, but he could tell the boy hated himself more and that was all that was needed. Garilien could never go back to his old life with the weight of these things on his conscience. The boy was irrevocably his now. Doriflen’s eyes turned dark and distant. Wasn’t that the way it always worked? There were some things that changed you forever; some hurts that were best hardened into steel with which to force others to your will. That moment had come for him so long ago he almost did not remember it now, back after the ruin of Doriath when he and Thranduil were still children. Back when a young elf not much older than Garilien had been taken unawares in the woods by servants of Morgoth and taught the meaning of pain and despair.

 

Oropher tried to protect the boy when he was brought home and never spoke to a soul about the three days his eldest son had gone missing, trying to help him forget... but there was no forgetting. Thranduil had been only a child and everyone shielded him from the truth. To the end of his days he would never know what had put the first twist in his brother’s soul.

 

Doriflen had never let go of the hurt, letting it harden into hate, letting the helplessness he had felt burn out into an insatiable desire for power and domination. He chose to embrace the darkness that had touched him, seeing the might it wielded and reveling in the power it gave. He had been broken and within him grew the desire to break others, to show them how the broken vessel could be re-forged into something deadly powerful.

 

The dark elf had watched Legolas grow with interest. It was not only because Legolas was his brother’s son that he had tried so hard to turn him. He could tell the boy would be powerful in his own right someday. Legolas had inherited the strength of his father’s royal blood along with the influence of his Silvan mother’s stronger connection to nature; it was a promising combination. He had tried to show Legolas the same path to power that he had found, but the boy had refused to learn, refused the chance to become a force to truly be feared.

 

Doriflen scowled. Legolas may refuse to be taught, but even if they were less powerful he had found plenty of others that were much more easily molded. Children were his favorite candidates because they were so much easier to guide. Amon and Nynd were perfect examples; they were proving very apt pupils and he already had high hopes for their futures.

 

The elf lord glanced down dispassionately at Legolas’ unconscious and bleeding form. Those who did not let the pain mold them would find that it destroyed them instead. That was simply the way things were.

 

“How many times did I try to tell you nephew? In the beginning, we are all victims. Then we chose our path and become the masters of fate rather than its slaves. It is too bad you chose the path to destruction,” Doriflen shook his head with a small look of disgust. “You have no idea what you threw aside.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Trelan found Raniean sitting cross-legged on the bank of the small pond near his home, absently flinging tiny stones into the water with small, bitter movements. It was obvious the taller boy was upset.

 

Trelan sank down next to his friend, his own heart heavy. Neither boy spoke of the weight that was pressing down on them, but both knew what it was.

 

Two days. Unless something happened, Legolas would have only two days left to live. It was so hard for the young, immortal elves to understand death, and it was a frightening concept for them to try to accept that their dear friend might never be coming back.

 

Trelan rested his chin on his hand, feeling like an utter failure as he watched the disturbed ripples from Raniean’s stones dance across the surface of the pond. He didn’t want his last memories of Legolas to be what he had seen in Doriflen’s little room of horrors.

 

“Ada wouldn’t let me go out with them again,” Raniean said after a few moments, supplying the reason for his distressed irritation without being asked. Up to this point Randomir had allowed his son to join the search parties with either himself, or Thranduil. Now however, after nearly a week of ceaseless searching, Randomir had sent his son home to rest. But there was no rest for Raniean.

 

“I think he does not want me to be there if... if they find Legolas too late,” Raniean whispered, chucking the stone in his hand into the pond with a particularly vicious swing.

 

Trelan lay back and looked up at the sky, trying to deny the treacherous tears that rose unbidden to his eyes. “I should have been able to take them back to him Ran... I’m usually really good at that game, why couldn’t I do it when it really mattered? I tried so hard... I don’t know what went wrong.”

 

Raniean stopped throwing stones and reached out, resting his hand on Trelan’s arm. “You did your best Trey.”

 

“It wasn’t good enough,” the small elf turned away. More than a dozen times Trelan had tried to retrace his journey, but always without success and the young elf hated having wasted the search parties’ precious time.

 

“It was a long journey,” Raniean said quietly. “You must have ridden all day, you were blindfolded Trey, many wouldn’t be able to retrace something like that even with the use of their eyes.” The young elf tried to assuage some of his friend’s guilt.

 

“It wasn’t all day,” Trelan sighed bitterly, plucking several strands of grass and twisting them harshly between his fingers. “And I should have remembered.”

 

There was a long silence in which Raniean did not know what to say. His own guilt over failing Legolas was acute, how could he comfort Trelan’s?

 

Trelan rolled back towards his friend, a puzzled, thoughtful look on his face. “It wasn’t all day, was it?” Time had been so hard to measure. It *felt* like forever, but unpleasant things always felt that way. “I mean, it couldn’t have been if we got back before dark.”

 

Raniean shrugged, not understanding. “Well, unless you left in the morning.”

 

Trelan shook his head. Their cells had not had windows, but he had already been awake for hours before the guards came to take him to Doriflen and Legolas. It had to have been at least noon by then. “Couldn’t have, the time doesn’t fit. We were unconscious on the way there, but it can’t have been a day because one day there and one day back would leave no time for us to have been prisoners and...” he turned away, preferring to try to forget what he had seen.

 

Raniean blinked. “Trelan... you were gone for three days. Not two.”

 

Trelan’s brows furrowed and he stared at his friend, startled. Three days? That wasn’t possible, was it? He had been firmly convinced he was only gone two.

 

“Are you sure Ran?” Even when he told the tale, no one had thought to correct him before, they had been too lost in the horrible news of the message itself.

 

“Very sure,” Raniean almost laughed. “You didn’t know? We were searching for you for days already before you came back. How could you not know?”

 

Trelan wasn’t sure. Being rendered unconscious more than once and kept in a windowless environment that showed no daily changes had obviously skewed his internal sense of time. “We were unconscious... I didn’t think it was for very long. Then I woke up and it was dark... and they put me out again. The next time I woke up it was in the cell and I assumed it was morning...” his eyes were distant as he tried to sort the confused jumble of memories. “But if I we were really gone three days... then who knows *what* night it was or how long until I awoke again.”

 

A sudden jolt of realization shot through the young elf and he bolted upright. “Raniean! What if I was wrong about the time? What if it *did* take us all day to get back here? What if we *did* leave in the morning!”

 

The small elf was very excited suddenly, but Raniean did not yet understand why. “Slow down Trelan! Even if you were, what of it? What does that mean?”

 

“It means *everything*!” Trelan shook his head. “If it was morning, and *not* afternoon as I thought, than all the directions I was memorizing were backward! The sun would have been in the *east* not the *west* and that makes everything different.”

 

That would also explain how they seemed to go straight without a change of course under the shade of the trees for a very long time, and yet when they came out into the sun once more they seemed to have taken a distinct turn. They hadn’t turned; the sun had passed over noon and was now striking from a different direction!

 

“If that’s true, than we have to find father or the king! You’ve got to try again Trelan, working with reversed directions!” Raniean said, rising quickly to his feet, beginning to catch some of his friend’s urgency. Then he halted, realizing the problem with that plan. “...except that everyone’s gone searching and we have no idea where they are or how far away,” he said in deflated frustration.

 

Trelan rose to his feet as well. “What if I’m wrong Ran? I-I would hate to lead them on another wild goose chase, especially with so little time left to waste. I think the King would kill me.”

 

Raniean chewed his lip. No, they didn’t want to waste the searchers time, nor could they FIND any of them right now had they wanted to... that left only one option.

 

“There’s one way to find out for certain whether we’re right or wrong,” the young elf said decidedly.

 

Trelan took a deep breath, guessing what his friend was thinking. “You mean the two of us can try it out first.”

 

Raniean nodded. “That won’t waste anyone’s time if we’re wrong, and if things start feeling familiar to you than we can run back for help and try to find our fathers.”

 

“All right,” Trelan agreed without hesitation. “I’ll get my weapons and meet you back here in ten minutes. If we’re going to try we’ve got to hurry before we lose the light.”

 

Once they had gathered what they needed, the two young elflings made good time back to the by-now familiar glade where Trelan remembered being left by Naerdil. Consciously flipping every conception of direction he had had before, Trelan led Raniean off in the opposite direction from what he had been trying previously.

 

“Trelan?” Raniean said after a few minutes, causing his friend to turn and look at him. “Whether this works or not... it’s not your fault, all right?”

 

Trelan looked unconvinced, but nodded his thanks as they quickly forged deeper and deeper into the trees.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Naerdil stared into the fire as evening shadows lengthened. He imagined he could feel the eyes of Doriflen’s spies burning into the back of his head. He knew they were watching him; his actions had put him deep in the distrust of their leader. Yet surprisingly... the more he thought about it, the less he cared. Life without honor was worse than death, even for an immortal. Right now, Naerdil was beginning to think that they had all forfeited their honor for Doriflen, somehow. That was a disturbing realization.

 

He wished he had seen this earlier. He wished he could take his wife and his son and get out of here... he even wished that he could tell Thranduil where the prince was. All such wishes were in vain however. As long as Doriflen had his wife and child spirited ‘safely’ away in one of the other numerous camps scattered throughout the woods, Naerdil’s hands were tied. He would risk his own life, but not theirs.

 

To the naked eye, it seemed that Naerdil and the others were merely one of Doriflen’s small warrior encampments. The presence of women and children lent the temporary settlement an air of innocence. All that however was a mask, a sham meant to deceive; one that was apparently working very well. In reality the entire area was bristling with hidden patrols and sentries. This was the single largest concentration of Doriflen’s military presence in Mirkwood, but it was well disguised.

 

Not twenty yards from where Naerdil sat, concealed trapdoors covered the entrance to Doriflen’s hidden underground fortress. It was not a new construction. When Doriflen and his friends left Mirkwood in anger after his father had shifted the title of heir apparent to his brother, he had not spent all his time outside the forest. During those seasons he had overseen the construction that turned a natural subterranean cave system into a rough sort of stronghold. He had never actually lived there however. Word of Oropher and Thranduil’s hesitant decision to join Gil-Galad and Elendil in the Great Alliance had come to him shortly after it was finished. After that he had returned home to judge the shifting political clime, only too happy to take up with the sympathies of those elves who felt that Mirkwood had no place meddling in the affairs of humans or the Noldor.

 

The old fortress had lain unknown and unused... until the start of this war.

 

Naerdil sighed and shifted. Not far away he could see a group of ladies talking as they prepared food for their families. He recognized Onethiel as the one who cared for the young prince between his Uncle’s visits. His brows furrowed as he realized what she was talking about, and none too quietly either.

 

“I’ve never seen anything so cruel,” Onethiel was obviously disturbed. “He couldn’t even lift his head without crying the poor little thing. So much blood...” she shuddered. “It broke my heart. But he never complains. Heaven knows how much it had to hurt when I cleaned him up, but he never made a single sound...” the woman had to blink back tears. “It is more than wrong, it is unforgivable.”

 

One of her companions hushed Onethiel quickly. “Shh! Have you lost your mind? Don’t speak so loud. Do you want them to make an example out of your husband like they did with Meldir?”

 

One of the other ladies looked around fearfully. “I cannot believe Lord Doriflen would act so without a very good reason, maybe there is more going on here than we understand right now, you can’t know for certain.” In her heart, she did not believe that, but she was afraid who might have overheard them.

 

Onethiel grimaced bitterly. Doriflen had a way of using those they loved to keep them submissive and she was beginning to see that. She dropped her voice to a more cautious whisper, but her tone remained caustic. “What I *know* is that when Oropher and Thranduil were king we never had to worry about something we said causing one of our loved ones to be flogged and disgraced.”

 

The other women shifted nervously, but they could not disagree. Things were not going at all like they had thought when they separated themselves from their kin and took Doriflen as their lord.

 

Naerdil wondered how many other people felt just like them, but were too afraid to act... or had no idea what kind of action to take.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Raniean and Trelan glanced up at the fading sky. So far their progress had been fair... that was to say, they had not yet come across anything that Trelan knew should *not* be in their path... even if they had not come across anything that conclusively told them they were on the right track either.

 

As the sun dipped down below the horizon, Trelan paused. “Ran?” he asked quietly. “Do you think we should keep going, or turn back?”

 

Raniean’s mind was divided. If they were going to go back they should have done so some time ago. Now that darkness was falling going back was as dangerous as going on, and they still had nothing to show for their efforts.

 

“And tell them what?” the taller elf asked resignedly. “We don’t know if this is the way yet or not.”

 

Time was running out. They now had only one night and one day until Legolas’ time was up. Normally, Raniean would have taken the cautious route and gone back, but with his friend’s life on the line...

 

Trelan nodded, he was thinking the same things. Their parents would begin to worry about them soon, but they were already so far distant from home that it would take half the night just to get back. That seemed incredibly wasteful when they had no real news to give. There was nothing they could do at home but wait and hope... at least out here they were doing something, even if it didn’t end up amounting to anything. They were *trying*, and that was better than sitting around and waiting for their friend to be killed.

 

“Then let’s keep going,” Trelan pressed forward determinedly. The stars were already beginning to come out, and the young elves could navigate by them just as easily as by the sunlight. If they were not going to go back, then they were certainly not going to wait for morning to continue onward. Time was of the essence, and time was quickly slipping away.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Trapped in the windowless, underground cell, day and night blended into one long, miserable twilight for Legolas. He could only count the passage of days by how many times his uncle had come to beat him. The young prince wondered numbly if he should take comfort in the fact that there would be only one more such visit before the inevitable end of his captivity came.

 

He clung stubbornly to his resolve to bear this trial to the end without breaking again, yet despite what he told Doriflen, part of the prince wanted nothing more than for his father to rescue him... for anyone to rescue him.

 

Legolas wanted to go home. He wanted it so badly his heart ached nearly as much as his abused body. He wanted to see the woods again; the sun and the stars above the trees in their turn, the long grass blowing in the gentle breeze... wanted to feel his mother’s embrace, see his father’s smile and hear his friend’s laughter. He was resigned to die, but he wanted to live. Wanted it so much it hurt.

Chapter Text

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~*PART FIFTEEN*~
~The Hour Grows Late~

 

 

Adult Elves could easily go for days without sleep, never feeling a thing. Raniean and Trelan were not adult elves. They were not exhausted, but they were tired from their long trek by the time the light of the sun began to brighten the eastern sky, hidden from their sight by the leafy barrier of the woods.

 

The rising sun lent energy to the young elves’ movements and brought a clearer focus to Trelan’s mind. He had nearly despaired in the dark of the night as every tree looked like the one before and every slight rise and fall of the earth began to feel strange and out of place. It was slow going attempting to retrace on foot a journey that had been made on horseback and Trelan could only hope and pray that he was doing a somewhat accurate job.

 

As the sun rose, Trelan felt a small shudder of familiarity. Not so much for their location as for the way the sun felt as it struck the side of his face. Closing his eyes he froze for a moment, trying to absorb only the information he could feel and not that which he could see. Yes, if he had ever had any doubts before he was sure now that it must have been the morning sun he felt on his exit from Doriflen’s hidden fortress.

 

“We need to turn a little this way Ran, it’s striking me too much from the right,” Trelan turned aside a trifle from their previous course as they forged steadily ahead.

 

Raniean and Trelan were too young to know how impossible it should have been for two children to hope to retrace an unseen journey of this many leagues with any sort of accuracy, too hopeful to know that they should have ended up nowhere but hopelessly lost. Instead they proceeded with the trusting faith of childhood and the unswerving loyalty of friendship into the face of the odds against them.

 

It should have been almost impossible... yet sometimes, beyond all reason, Ilúvatar chooses to smile upon the innocent trust of the pure of heart. Such was the case today.

 

A wide, shallow stream cut through the forest ahead of the two elflings. On the other side the ground rose steeply up before disappearing back into the tree line.

 

Trelan became very excited. “Ran! Ran, this is it! I remember coming down this hill and riding through this river! We have to be almost there!”

 

The two young elves came to life, their weariness forgotten as they splashed easily through the shallow water and scrambled up the hill.

 

At the top, Trelan paused, collecting his bearings. They were not exactly where he had been, there was too much shade here and he distinctly remembered full sunlight when they crested the hill. The question now was which way were they off?

 

Fortune continued to be on their side, because their sharp elven ears could hear the faint murmur of voices and the smell of cook-fires being waked for the morning meal wafted to their senses from away to their left.

 

Blending into the trees, Raniean and Trelan made their way quickly and quietly towards the source of the sounds and smells. They had a long walk ahead of them, having wandered no small distance off course from the real path that Trelan had been taken.

 

The sun was a visible orb peering down around the branches of the trees by the time the two young elves came within sight of the first sentries guarding the encampment they had found.

 

Hidden behind a cluster of trees and tangled undergrowth, Raniean and Trelan pressed themselves to the earth as they watched the adult guard pad silently past them, his eyes scanning the trees around, but missing their hiding place. The children’s hearts hammered in their chests because they had almost not seen the sentry until too late. They lay on their stomachs in the hiding place for some time, barely daring to breathe, until they felt sure that the guard was well away.

 

“This must be it,” Raniean murmured, barely above a whisper, almost breathing the words into Trelan’s ear. “We’ve found them!”

 

Trelan nodded, but at the same time felt his stomach twist. Yes, they had found them, but they had found them too late for it to matter.

 

“We’re too late Ran, we’ll never make it back in time to lead anyone here before time runs out,” he whispered in dismay, cursing himself for not realizing his idiotic error sooner.

 

Raniean knew it was the truth. They were out of time. By the time they made it back for help, Legolas would be dead. His fists balled tightly, determination welling up inside him. He was a royal sentinel, sworn to protect the King’s house. Legolas was his charge, his responsibility, Randomir had all but told him that. Even more importantly than that... Legolas was his friend. Raniean was young, but he was not a fool. He knew what kind of chance he had of getting anywhere near Legolas, much less actually rescuing him alone, but his mind was made up. He would see the prince freed, they would die together.

 

“Trelan,” Raniean raised himself cautiously up on his hands and knees, looking around. “I’m going to try to find Legolas and get him out of here. I want you to go back as fast as you can, tell them what has happened.”

 

Trelan was already shaking his head fiercely. “No, Raniean, I won’t leave. I’m coming too.”

 

“Somebody has to tell the King!” Raniean protested. If they were both captured or killed, no one would ever know what happened. “Trelan... this is my task, and I have no illusions about my chance of success. I won’t take you down with me. Go!”

 

Trelan had his arms folded and his stubborn glare firmly in place. “You need me here Ran. You don’t know where Legolas is, you don’t know where Doriflen has him, or how to get in or how to get out.”

 

Raniean hesitated. That was true. “And you do?” he asked skeptically. “Trey you were blindfolded.”

 

Trelan gestured around them. “I got us here didn’t I? Ran, we stand a better chance together. If we fail, then it doesn’t matter if anyone knows where we’ve gone or what we’ve found, it will be too late anyway. I’m not leaving.”

 

Raniean sighed, unable to fight against his friend’s logic. “All right then.” He gripped his friend’s elbow. “Together?”

 

Trelan returned the gesture. “Together.”

 

Raniean glanced up at the tall trees around them. “These trees are tall, if we climb high enough we may be able to get quite close without anyone noticing us. If there is some kind of stronghold it should be easy enough to spot.”

 

Trelan nodded thoughtfully as they climbed swiftly towards the treetops. “I suppose...” a memory was niggling at him and he was trying to decide what it meant. “But Ran... I remember going *up* stairs to get out, and then we passed through some kind of gates and were outside.”

 

Raniean paused for a moment before swinging up to the next branch, absorbing this new information. Perhaps it was a good thing that Trelan was with him after all. “Then what we are looking for may actually be underground.” He grimaced. “This is going to be interesting.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Legolas lay curled on his side, his eyes closed against the darkness around him. It was past time for his Uncle to come for him and he was trying not to feel frightened. Yet he could not help jerking when the door scraped open and he saw Doriflen’s body framed in the entryway.

 

Doriflen was alone this time. He was beginning to question the effects that his dealings with his nephew were having on his guards. Because of what he planned to do today, it was best he be alone. Besides, he did not need them; Legolas was in no condition to fight back.

 

Dragging Legolas to his feet, Doriflen pulled the boy across the room, but did not place him in the center restraints as the prince expected. Instead, Doriflen pushed him against the far wall. There were several iron rings set into the floor in that corner and it was between them that Doriflen forced Legolas to kneel.

 

Legolas resisted stiffly, but had no real strength or hope to fight with as his uncle bound his left arm securely to one ring with a length of thick cording.

 

“You know, I don’t think your father takes me seriously,” Doriflen said in a conversational tone as he finished tying the knot off tightly, yet his eyes sparkled with dark malice. “Maybe I can convince him of the gravity of this situation... and you can help me.”

 

Legolas did not like the sound of that at all and watched his uncle fearfully as Doriflen forced his right arm through a second iron ring, jerking the boy roughly down to his stomach on the floor. Doriflen made Legolas bend his arm so that his elbow was hooked through the ring, stretching the boy tightly between the two restraints.

 

“Have you ever heard the story of Beren, a mortal man who dared set his sights on the daughter of King Thingol of Doriath?” Doriflen asked casually as he pulled Legolas’ right wrist forward, stretching the boy’s bent arm further forward and causing the metal ring around the prince’s elbow to dig painfully into his flesh. “Thingol set Beren to a task, but the human returned empty handed... do you know why?”

 

Doriflen paused, giving Legolas a hard-edged look that the boy immediately recognized from his many ‘lessons’. His uncle wanted an answer.

 

Legolas was tired and hurt too much to be pointlessly defiant. “Because the wolf took his hand off with the Silmaril in it,” he said quietly, resting his head against the stone floor wearily as he watched his uncle pull his wrist level with a third floor ring.

 

“That’s right,” Doriflen nodded, binding Legolas’ right hand to the last iron ring so that the boy’s arm was stretched uncomfortably tight between the restraint around his elbow and the taught cords around his wrist.

 

“And what about Maedhros, son of Fëanor, you recall his story?” Doriflen rocked back on his heels, regarding the bound child.

 

Legolas’ slight nod of acknowledgement was all Doriflen needed to continue. He put on a mock-teacher’s attitude, a condescending facsimile of the roll he used to play in his nephew’s life. “So tell me then Legolas, like a good little princeling: Upon viewing their stories, what similarities do you find between Beren and Maedhros?”

 

Legolas did not have to think hard, although he was growing uneasy about where this game was heading. “They both lost a hand,” he whispered, fear beginning to crowd the shadows in his eyes.

 

Doriflen grinned mirthlessly and twisted Legolas’ bound right wrist viciously, making the boy gasp and wince in pain. “True. Ah, but Legolas, you disappoint me, do not always stop at the obvious conclusion, for there is often more hidden underneath. They both lost their hands because they were failures, having not prevented their enemies from taking them captive, and they also both ultimately died.”

 

Doriflen smirked, allowing the large blue eyes locked on him to read the intentions in his own dark gaze. “So on all counts nephew, you will be in memorable company, if that is any comfort to you.”

 

Legolas felt his heart lurch as he realized his uncle’s intentions. The young elf began to struggle vigorously with the ropes holding him, but Doriflen had done his work well and Legolas was completely trapped by the cords and the iron rings he was staked out between.

 

“No! Uncle, please don’t...” Legolas shook his head, his body filling with terror as Doriflen rose and retrieved a small, curve-bladed elven hand-axe he had left outside the door.

 

The elder elf returned and crouched in front of Legolas again, turning the deceptively graceful weapon over in his fingers and glancing between it and Legolas’ outstretched wrist.

 

“Ah but I must, for it seems your father could do with a more substantial reminder of what will happen tomorrow if he does not respond immediately. I mean to send him a token that cannot be ignored. Oh don’t worry Legolas, it won’t kill you, not unless I want it to. There will still be time for Thranduil to change his mind before it comes to that... but not much. Still... ‘tis a pity really,” Doriflen smiled cruelly. “Even if he does come to his senses... you’ll never be able to handle a bow again. But then, there’s that element of self-sacrifice for the greater cause and all that that you always like to talk about. I hope that comforts you. And of course if he *doesn’t* change his mind than it won’t matter anyway, will it?”

 

Legolas was still shaking his head desperately against the cold stone floor, squirming in his bonds and trying to pull his arm away, despite how useless he knew the effort was.

 

Doriflen liked the terror he could see running through his nephew’s eyes. Legolas had never looked quite this frightened before and he savored having found something that truly seemed to shatter the boy’s iron defenses so completely. He only wished he could be there to see his brother’s face when he received his little ‘gift’. Maybe he would send Naerdil with it, that way if Thranduil exploded and killed the messenger, he would be rid of someone who was quickly showing himself to be a weakling of suspicious loyalties.

 

The elder elf touched Legolas’ face in mock-gentleness, tracing the boy’s tear-stained, trembling cheek. “Are you afraid Legolas? Would you do almost anything I bid you to escape what I am going to do now?” Doriflen asked quietly, that odd, unbalanced mix of genuine curiosity and malicious playfulness sparkling behind his eyes.

 

Legolas swallowed and closed his eyes, curling in on himself as much as he was allowed and bowing his head in shame. Valar forgive him, at this moment his uncle was right, he was terrified and desperate.

 

Doriflen chuckled, releasing his face. “You would, wouldn’t you? You know that, and hate it. But you know there is no escape for you now, don’t you? Can you feel them Legolas? The cracks running through your very soul? You are weak nephew; you refused what I tried to give you, the path of strength I would have shown you, and look where that has taken you. You will be destroyed, your father will be destroyed, your mother will be destroyed... and if I were *really* cruel, I would let you live to see it, but I won’t.” His hand tightened menacingly on the boy’s out-flung wrist.

 

“Please...” Legolas whispered hoarsely. “Don’t do this.”

 

Doriflen just shook his head. Fear, terror... they were such amazing things really. Give a person enough time and fear alone could kill them. It was just an emotion, just a feeling... yet one strong enough to break the will and the strength of the mightiest warrior if used properly. It always fascinated Doriflen to see just how much havoc a person’s mind and body could wreak upon itself if left to it’s own devices after a proper application of impending doom. Elves were more resilient in most cases, but he had seen some humans completely fall to pieces and become blabbering idiots with nothing but a little pain and a lot of fear to guide them. Sometimes you didn’t even have to touch them; their minds did all the work for you. It was really quite amusing.

 

It would be interesting to see just how far Legolas’ own fear would break him before Doriflen even applied the threatened amputation. Legolas always did hate to be made to wait for his punishments.

 

Smiling with morbid fascination, Doriflen rose to his feet, leaning the curved axe against the wall just out of Legolas’ reach, but well within his eyesight.

 

“I get ahead of myself. I should have a torchbearer here to cauterize the wound so you don’t bleed to death. Couldn’t have you dying too soon, now could we? Wait here Legolas, I’ll be back presently,” he smirked, as if the boy had any choice.

 

Doriflen shut the door behind him and threw the bolt across the latch, locking it from the outside. He could not afford to wait too long really, because he needed there to be enough time for the messengers to deliver his little gift to Thranduil... but one more hour would not hurt anything. He wondered what kind of a mess Legolas would be when he came back... it was very intriguing.

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART SIXTEEN*~
~A Desperate Attempt~

 

~~~~~~~~
You... walked away, heard them say
“Poisoned hearts will never change, walk away again.”

All the cracks will lead right to me,
And all the cracks will crawl right through me...

...and I fell apart

-- AFI
~~~~~~~~

 

 

Alone and helpless in his cell, Legolas struggled and squirmed in his bonds, but the way he was held barely even give him enough leeway to chafe his already raw wrists, much less have any hope of escape.

 

Finally the prince was forced to give up, falling limp and panting against the unrelenting stone under his stomach. When he stopped fighting the only thing left for him was defeat and despair. Doriflen was right, he thought bitterly as helpless tears slid down his cheeks to wet the smooth stones beneath his face. He was weak and the cracks that ran through him were tearing him apart. He should not be this afraid of anything... but he was. Valar help him, he was.

 

The thought of how Doriflen’s cruel game would hurt his mother and father broke his heart. He could not bear to imagine their reaction... it hurt almost as badly as his fear did.

 

When Legolas heard the door open again he could not bring himself to look up. He was shaking and he did not wish to have to totally humiliate himself by letting his uncle see the terror and weakness that was shredding his soul.

 

There was no sound of footsteps, but that was to be expected from an elf. Even so, when a hand touched his outstretched arm Legolas flinched and jerked visibly. Cringing backward as much as his bonds allowed he stifled a sharp, wobbling intake of air.

 

“Legolas?”

 

The unexpected voice, laden with so much real concern made the prince look up sharply. He blinked several times, certain he had fallen asleep somehow and was dreaming.

 

“R-Raniean?”

 

Raniean knelt quickly beside his prince. “Oh Legolas what has he done to you?” the young elf cried with quiet bitterness as he saw the marks that decorated his friend’s prostrate body.

 

Pulling his knife from its sheath at his side, Raniean swiftly cut the cords binding Legolas’ right wrist, and then his left.

 

“Raniean what are you doing here?” Legolas asked shakily, wiping his reddened eyes as the other boy helped him rise unsteadily to his feet. “I-is my father here? *Please* tell me he did not accept Doriflen’s terms!” his eyes suddenly widened in fear.

 

Raniean shook his head quickly, placing his fingers against Legolas’ swollen lips to silence him. “No, Legolas, he has not, and I’m afraid he’s not here either. It’s just Trelan and I... it’s a long story we haven’t got time for I’m afraid. We managed to get in without anyone noticing we didn’t belong here, but I don’t know how long we can keep that up before someone finds us out. Trelan is standing guard in the passage outside; we’ve got to hurry.”

 

Wrapping his arm around Raniean’s shoulders for support, Legolas hurried out of the room as fast as his weakened legs would carry him.

 

“You should not have risked this!” he whispered with painful gratitude in his eyes as Trelan joined them, motioning that the coast was clear. “But thank you.”

 

Trelan smiled as the three friends hurried and hobbled up the passage. “We couldn’t let you have all the fun alone.”

 

Raniean quickly tossed his own cloak around the prince’s shoulders, pulling the hood up over Legolas’ tangled golden hair. The disguise would not hold up under scrutiny, but it would hopefully deflect a casual glance.

 

Legolas was weak and shaky after his long ordeal and his two friends tried to shoulder his weight between them, but the severe inequality in Raniean and Trelan’s heights slowed them down and made it difficult.

 

All three elflings’ hearts were pounding as they rounded the end of the hall and hurried for the stairs leading to the surface. Once they saw where they wanted to go Raniean and Trelan had gotten in easily enough by attaching themselves to the tail end of a small group of younger guardsmen that were entering the fortress as the watches changed. Because Doriflen favored the malleability of child soldiers, even Trelan’s diminished stature, which made him look like a much younger boy, did not raise any eyebrows.

 

Getting out however, was going to be harder. While they had been fortunate enough to not run into anyone who remembered Trelan from his brief stay here, they dare not hope the same would hold true for Legolas. He would be easily recognized on sight if anyone looked closely enough.

 

Legolas drew himself up and tried to walk more on his own so they would look less suspicious. Doriflen had obviously trusted too much to the secrecy of this fortress when placing guards inside. Yet the simplicity of their passage thus far was frightening because they all knew that it could not possibly be this easy.

 

They mounted the stairs with hurried steps... only to be stopped by the two sentries guarding the trapdoor to the surface.

 

Raniean and Trelan quickly juxtaposed themselves in front of Legolas, trying desperately to look natural. They failed. Miserably.

 

The two elder elves glanced over the three elflings with raised eyebrows.

 

“Where are you young ones going? No one’s allowed up top until next watch,” Niphred warned.

 

Legolas tried not to flinch as he recognized the two guards who had been present at many of his beatings. His stomach chilled and flipped. Surely they would recognize him; they would recognize Trelan...

 

“Go on back to your posts, you know what Lord Doriflen will do if he catches you not on duty,” Naerdil did not want the young ones getting themselves in trouble. Doriflen was very harsh about discipline.

 

“We have to be let out, it – it is Lord Doriflen’s orders, he sent us. Let us pass!” Raniean bluffed bravely, hoping that the guards might be too afraid of crossing the elf lord to call their charade.

 

Unfortunately Naerdil and Niphred were not so easily fooled.

 

“Who are you? What company do you belong to? Where are you going?” Naerdil questioned suspiciously. Something was not adding up. He squinted hard at the shorter of the three youngsters as recognition hit him. It couldn’t be... that child had been blindfolded. It would have been nigh impossible for the elfling to backtrack to their base, but Naerdil was almost certain now that it was the small elf he had released a week ago. He cast a strange look at Niphred, wondering if his companion had come to the same realization.

 

He had.

 

The three young elves had no answer and started backing up uncomfortably.

 

Suddenly Niphred reached out and jerked the hood off of Legolas’ head, exposing his bruised face and tangle of golden hair.

 

Both guards started sharply, their hands instinctively going to their weapons as they realized what they had feared; this was an escape attempt.

 

Raniean and Trelan reacted with speed that would have done their trainers proud, whipping the knives from their belts and standing protectively on either side of Legolas.

 

“Let us pass!” Raniean growled, ready to fight his way out if it came down to that.

 

“And don’t touch him again!” Trelan added angrily, having seen the way Legolas flinched and cowered from the older elf’s handling.

 

Under any other circumstances, Naerdil and Niphred would have laughed at the fierceness of the young elves... but there was nothing humorous about this situation.

 

The two guards exchanged glances. Then, unexpectedly, they backed away from the elflings. Taking hold of the twin cranks on either side of the passage, they silently turned the wheels, causing the large trapdoor overhead to open.

 

Raniean, Trelan and Legolas all stared at them in shock, uncertain if this were some kind of trick or trap.

 

It was not. Both Naerdil and Niphred knew what would happen to the boys if they captured them trying to escape, or sounded the alarm. Doriflen’s retribution on all three of the youngsters who had tried to defy him would be swift, violent and merciless. Neither of the guards could stand to see that again; neither one was ready to have to hold Legolas or any other child while they were savagely beaten ever again. They were sickened, disillusioned and through supporting a tyrannical madman. It was the ultimate moment of choice. They knew that eventually they would probably pay for this with their lives, but they had begun to realize that they would have no life worth living left to them if they continued to follow Doriflen down into damnation. It had been an unspoken agreement between the two of them now for the past twenty-four hours and deep in their hearts they were relieved that they would not have to stand by and watch Doriflen take the prince’s life by painful degrees.

 

Unwilling to look too closely at a gift so miraculously given, the three elflings rushed out of the gates as soon as the portal was open enough to admit them.

 

The shocked gratitude on Legolas’ face was enough to make the sentries’ sacrifice worthwhile. If hoping the children made it away made them disloyal, then right now, Naerdil and Niphred were both unrepentant traitors.

 

Legolas, Raniean and Trelan realized too late that bolting through the encampment as they were doing would immediately draw attention. Several soldiers moved to intercept the children to find out what was amiss, but the three elflings veered away sharply, running for the trees as hard as they could. They were too frightened to try to bluff again and their one thought was to put as much distance between themselves and their enemies as possible.

 

Almost immediately a cry of alarm went up, although the startled soldiers were not really sure what was happening.

 

The three young elves dashed into the embrace of the trees, leaving the camp glade behind them, but they knew they were far from safe.

 

Legolas could hear the horns blowing behind them as silent and fleet-footed elven soldiers pursued them into the forest. His heart was hammering in his chest, making him dizzy. Being out amid the green, living world once more renewed his strength and spirit, but his body was still weak and it was an extreme act of the will to keep up his mad dash through the woods after almost a week of neglect and abuse.

 

Doriflen stalked angrily up through the now open and abandoned trapdoors. Naerdil and Niphred had used the confusion to blend into the rest of the soldiers and thus avoid immediate repercussions for their complicity in the escape.

 

The furious elf lord swore violently under his breath. The sounds of the warning horns had caught his attention when he was on his way back to Legolas’ cell to finish his gruesome task. Hurrying on to find the cell empty, Doriflen made his way topside with rising ire. He grabbed one of the boys rushing by and shook him hard, demanding to know what was going on.

 

Amon told him all they knew, which was only that three young elves had suddenly dashed through camp *from* the fortress and disappeared into the trees with pursuit hot on their heels.

 

Doriflen threw the boy aside in disgust, seething with rage. Whoever the idiot gate guards were that had either abandoned their posts or deliberately betrayed him were going to pay a terrible price once he found out who was supposed to have been on duty. Legolas was *not* going to escape him. He was not going to lose when he was so close to victory!

 

As he raced and crashed through the trees with far less grace and silence than he might have wished Legolas could hear his Uncle’s angry voice screaming at the soldiers.

 

“After them! Bring them back! Now you fools! Now!”

 

The prince’s limbs trembled at the sheer rage in Doriflen’s voice. He would kill them all if he caught them, of that Legolas was sure.

 

Legolas tripped on a tangle of roots and vines, his attention having been momentarily diverted. The young elf fell and tumbled down the rolling incline. He scrambled to his feet again quickly, trying to quell the swells of pain racing through him from his many unhealed hurts.

 

Raniean and Trelan were at his side in an instant, helping him up, dragging him forward with them, keeping their desperate flight in motion.

 

“They’re going up the trees!” Raniean shouted a warning when he looked over his shoulder and saw a rapidly moving flash of brown and green in the treetops almost right behind them.

 

Legolas was reeling in exhaustion but he kept pushing himself onward. “We can’t... can’t get caught on the ground between them!” he panted raggedly, knowing well the strategy their pursuers were taking. It was a classic entrapment maneuver that Tegi had taught them long ago.

 

Suddenly a silent wave of elves were rushing towards them from in front as well, summoned by the horn calls and rushing to their companions’ aid. The three children pulled up abruptly, backpedaling furiously to keep from rushing straight into the arms of their enemies.

 

“Legolas, if we take to the trees, will you be able to keep up?” Trelan asked with urgent concern as their options continued to shrink.

 

“I’ll have to!” Legolas replied as the three young friends jumped up into the branches of the nearest oak, fleeing squirrel-like to the west as their pursuers converged upon their location from the north and south.

 

The thing about running from elves, especially warriors, was that they moved swiftly and soundlessly and you had no idea how close they were until they were upon you.

 

So it was that Legolas was taken totally by surprise when someone dropped out of the tree above him, tackling the prince and sending them both crashing to the branch below.

 

Legolas landed hard on his stomach and felt his chin clip the rough bark lightly before he rolled around onto his back, struggling to keep his balance on the thick, round limb. His attacker sat astride him, trying to grab the young elf’s hands and pin his arms. Even before Legolas had turned around enough to see his attacker’s face, he recognized the moves being used.

 

“Nynd.” The prince found himself staring up into the dark-haired boy’s face as Nynd wrestled to hold him. “Nynd, let me go!”

 

Nynd shook his head, his eyes sparkling with vicious competition. “I don’t think so your *highness*!”

 

The two elflings rolled and tussled, shaking the tree with the force of their struggle. Their fight pitched them off the branch they were on and they fell several feet only to land unsteadily on another limb. The tree was trying to keep the young elves from falling to the ground.

 

Legolas moaned softly in pain as his injured back was scraped harshly against the rough tree bark, reopening scabs and welts that had not yet healed. They were wasting precious time; time Legolas knew he did not have.

 

“Nynd, you don’t know the truth about Doriflen, he is not right and he is not sane, he will hurt you and lead you down a path to ruin!” Legolas wished he could make the other boy see the consequences of the path he was choosing.

 

Nynd laughed and Legolas was surprised, saddened and a little frightened to see a glimmer of Doriflen’s dark madness in the other elfling’s eyes. Doriflen was obviously already well on his way to corrupting the child.

 

“No, Legolas, *you* don’t know the truth. Doriflen knows about power like no one else and not you, or your father is going to stop us!” Nynd spat, punching at Legolas’ midsection and trying to get a lock on the prince’s right arm.

 

Legolas deflected the blow to his stomach and twisted Nynd’s arm back on itself, wincing as his injured back was ground even more fiercely into the tree bark under him. Bringing his knees up inside Nynd’s guard, Legolas kicked up hard, flipping the other boy over his head.

 

Nynd flew through the air, but caught the next tree branch down and swung around to his feet again, agile as a monkey. He was not going to let Legolas escape so easy.

 

The tree shook lightly as another adult elf dropped into the higher branches. Legolas’ heart screamed that he was out of time. Suddenly Trelan leapt in from the tree on the right and kicked a very surprised Nynd in the back, toppling him off the branch and sending the bigger elfling to the ground with a muffled thud. Raniean appeared on the branch next to Legolas, urging the momentarily stunned prince on into the next tree.

 

But it was too late. They had lost too much time and their pursuers were upon them. If the warriors had not wanted to take their quarry alive it would have been easy for them to shoot the boys out of the trees. However, no elf that had not already given their heart completely to either darkness or madness would willingly and needlessly take the life of another elf, especially not an elf child. This gave the escapees a slight edge... but it was not enough.

 

Raniean knew their situation was quickly becoming hopeless and he squeezed Legolas’ arm. He had sworn an oath to trade his life for that of the royalty he protected, now was the time to fulfill that pledge.

 

“Legolas, run!” he whispered urgently. “Trelan and I will slow them down as much as we can and catch up with you later. Run!”

 

Legolas was trying to shake his head, knowing full well his friends would not make it out if they stopped to buy him time to escape. “No! Ran, you can’t-”

 

“Yes, I can!” Raniean said vehemently, shoving Legolas forward, propelling him onward. “You have to escape Legolas, you have to! Don’t make this a useless sacrifice your highness! Run!”

 

With that, Raniean dropped down out of the tree with Trelan right behind him.

 

Legolas was given no time to protest, or even to think. He knew Raniean was right, all he could do now was try to not let their brave and willing sacrifice have been for naught. Tears stinging his eyes he fled forward through the trees, silently zigzagging and making himself as difficult a target to spot or follow as possible.

 

Trelan pulled a long coil of rope off his belt and tossed the other end to Raniean as the two young elves ran along the ground. They were intentionally being as noisy as possible to draw as much attention away from Legolas’ flight as they could.

 

Several of the warriors jumped from the trees, joining the ones on the ground as they raced after the young elves. Suddenly diving opposite directions, Raniean and Trelan disappeared between two large trees. At the last moment, they pulled the rope between them taught, tripping the oncoming warriors who had just reached the spot.

 

The elflings wasted no time in racing away in opposite directions, knowing that the warriors would not be long caught off guard by the simple trick.

 

Trelan found himself surrounded as he raced into the middle of a nearly open glade and was forced to skid to a halt as his pursuers surrounded him. He looked desperately up at the trees above, but the branches were too high for him to reach and the trunks too far away, cut off by the warriors hedging him in on all sides.

 

“Don’t run boy, it’s all right, no one’s going to hurt you,” one of the well-meaning warriors assured, trying to calm the nervous, edgy child as they converged upon him slowly.

 

The sad thing was, Trelan actually believed that the warrior thought he was speaking the truth. Too many of them still had no idea what kind of an elf their leader truly was. Trelan knew far too well and his heart raced.

 

A shrill whistle overhead made Trelan look up just as a rope dropped from above. Trelan grabbed the rope, twisting it around his wrist as it was pulled swiftly upward, sending him flying up into the branches, leaving the warriors below rushing forward to grasp only air.

 

Raniean, still holding the other end of the rope, grabbed Trelan’s hand as they scrambled through the branches away from the main host. Moments later, the trees were swarmed with elves. The two boys tried to dodge, but they were being massed and could not long hope to avoid capture here.

 

Dropping back to the ground in a desperate last bid to shake some of their pursuers, Raniean and Trelan found themselves just as surrounded as before. All the elves around dropped out of the trees now that their quarry was on the ground.

 

An older warrior grabbed Raniean’s arm, wanting to halt this tiring game before someone got hurt. Raniean attempted to twist away, but the older elf was much more skilled, easily twisting the child’s arm around behind him and holding him gently, but firmly.

 

Trelan threw himself at the soldier holding his friend, but was intercepted and pulled back, kicking and struggling. Terror clutched his heart. He did not regret what they had done, but that did not make him any less frightened about facing Doriflen’s wrath.

Chapter Text

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~*PART SEVENTEEN*~
~From Danger into Danger~

 

 

Suddenly a smooth, flat stone zinged through the air and struck a stinging blow to the elbow of the elf holding Raniean; another caught the fingers of the warriors attempting to restrain Trelan.

 

A swift, accurate hail of stones and sharp bits of wood rained down upon them, surprising the elven warriors momentarily. It was a brief distraction at best, but it was all that was needed. Raniean and Trelan bolted back up into the now empty trees, knowing what they would find there.

 

“Legolas! You were supposed to run!” Raniean remonstrated, hating to admit that as sorry as he was that Legolas was right back in danger, he was greatly relieved to have been rescued.

 

“I did!” Legolas tossed his friend a weary devil-may-care grin. There was nothing in him that allowed the prince to run away and save himself if it meant leaving his friends behind in Doriflen’s clutches. “Come! I saw something, we’ve got to go this way!”

 

The young prince urgently led his friends on another madcap scramble through the tree branches barely one step ahead of their pursuers. Suddenly the trees ahead of them failed and they found themselves overlooking a deep, dark, swift flowing river. Every wood-elf of Mirkwood knew at a glance that this was no ordinary stream, it was the enchanted river that wound its way like a snake through the heart of the forest.

 

Raniean was surprised; he had lost almost all sense of direction by now and had no idea they were anywhere near the dark river. Here, the trees failed utterly for a space, leaving a wide, open expanse that was too far to jump and too dangerous to even think of swimming. Raniean felt panic well up inside him; they were trapped!

 

Legolas however, had already seen the river from a distance and had brought them here intentionally.

 

“Raniean, your bow, quick!” he called, taking the other elf’s bow as it was swiftly surrendered and moving to pluck an arrow out of his quiver. Legolas found only air. The catch on Raniean’s quiver guard had come unlatched and he had lost his arrows somewhere in the course of their wild flight. Fortunately, Trelan still had his arrows and Legolas borrowed one from him. Snatching up the trailing end of the rope that Raniean still had curled around one arm, Legolas tied it to the shaft of the arrow with nimble fingers and let the dart fly. When he pulled the bowstring a hot pain flared to life in his right wrist where his uncle had so viciously twisted it earlier in the day and the young archer felt his grip slip slightly as the arrow left the string.

 

For a moment the elfling thought the injury had made him miss the mark, but the arrow flew true. It lodged itself into the trunk of an old elm tree on the other side of the river and stuck there, quivering. As Legolas swiftly pulled taught the rope that now spanned the two shores, his friends caught on to his plan. If they could make it across the river before their pursuers caught up, they would buy themselves preciously needed time while the warriors found a way to cross. Even if they did the same trick with rope and arrows, the elves chasing them would only be able to cross one at a time, and that would slow them up considerably.

 

“Trelan, go!” Legolas nodded for Trelan to use the makeshift bridge first. The small elf was the lightest of the three of them, if he went first he could secure the rope for the rest of them. Legolas was still worried about how well the arrow would hold because of the difficulty he had had in shooting.

 

Trelan ran across the tightrope bridge easily, barely shaking the cord. Unfortunately, Legolas’ fears about the damage done by his unexpected injury were justified. Just as Trelan reached the far bank, the arrow pulled out of the tree. Trelan gave a small shout of surprise and tumbled downward, catching himself on one of the elm’s overhanging branches only moments before he would have fallen down into the river and been lost.

 

The small elf scrambled up into the tree, breathing hard from his narrow escape. The rope with the arrow still tied to it had fallen back into the river. Legolas and Raniean hauled back on the rope quickly. They could feel the trees warning them that their pursuers were almost upon them and they could hear the slight fall of elven feet running through the grass and the tree boughs behind them. They had to bridge the gap again quickly or they were lost.

 

The arrow snagged on some unseen rock or bramble submerged in the dark, swirling water. Legolas and Raniean yanked on the rope in urgent desperation. It finally gave and they nearly fell backward as they reeled up the dripping end of the cord.

 

Their hearts dropped. The arrow on the end was snapped and Raniean’s quiver was empty.

 

“Legolas, we don’t have any more arrows!” Raniean stated the obvious in distress.

 

They were lost.

 

Legolas’ jaw hardened in determination. No, not lost... there was still one last hope. “No, but Trelan does.”

 

He looked at Raniean, offering him back his bow because Legolas feared his sprained wrist would hamper their only chance.

 

If Trelan shot into the wood of the tree they were on, the arrow would most likely be damaged when it was pulled free and they had no time to hunt for an arrow shot anywhere else. Their options were not merely limited; they were all but non-existent.

 

Raniean read his friend’s intention in his eyes and knew instantly the desperate gamble Legolas meant to attempt. He shook his head, refusing the weapon. Raniean knew he couldn’t do it. He had tried many times and never even gotten close. Legolas had never succeeded either, but he had been the closest of them all; if they were to have any chance, he was the one to try.

 

Accepting that this was their only chance and praying that this one time, when it really mattered, he would not fail, Legolas stood to his feet on the branch, holding Raniean’s useless bow gripped tightly in one fist, his other hand empty and outstretched. Raniean stood by with the rope.

 

“Trelan!” Legolas shouted across the stream. “Lagor revio, thenid revio! Hado!”

 

Trelan stared at his friend as if he were crazy; recognizing the familiar ready signal and realizing what Legolas wanted him to do.

 

“Hado!” Legolas called urgently, feeling the branch they stood upon tremble under the fleet-footed weight of their pursuers as the elven warriors reached their tree. “Fire!”

 

Drawing in a deep breath and releasing himself to the automatic moves of the exercise they had attempted so many times, Trelan pulled an arrow from his quiver and sighted in on Legolas. He reacted to the prince’s urgent command and did not let himself stop to consider that this time there was no guard, no barrier protecting Legolas from being killed by the arrow if he did not react in time. If he had had time to think of that, Trelan would not have pulled the string. Instead, that realization struck like a knife of ice through his stomach a moment too late to recall his action as the small elf watched the arrow speed away from him towards its target.

 

Legolas’ eyes focused in on the arrow, ignoring everything else. He did not think of how many times he had tried this and failed, he did not consider that if he failed this time he would either be dead or captured; he thought of nothing but the arrow. It took no more than a second for Trelan to loose the projectile, and even less time for it to cover the distance between them. But Legolas’ focus was so intent that time seemed to slow and he saw the arrow as it sped directly towards his chest, rotating in place as its spiral fletchings made it spin for greater accuracy. The young elf pivoted on his heel.

 

The pounding of his own heart filled Legolas’ ears as he reached out his hand... and his fingers closed around the shaft of flying arrow. It was not a perfect catch, for he caught it more aft than was optimal and the fletchings cut his fingers when he checked their forward motion, but Legolas felt a small thrill of exhilaration surge through him nonetheless. He had done it. For the first time ever, he had actually caught the arrow.

 

Raniean had already taken over his part, looping a hastily pre-made knot around the shaft of the arrow still in Legolas’ hand and pulling the cord tight before the prince turned the arrow around in half a heart-beat and sent it flying back towards the elm tree on the far bank. Pain stabbed through his wrist again, but he was prepared for it this time and did not let the throbbing joint buckle until after the lifeline was safely away.

 

The projectile struck the tree right beside Trelan and the young elf wasted no time in yanking the arrow free and wrapping the rope around the thick trunk, locking it down with his foot and bracing it with his weight.

 

Legolas and Raniean had no time to try to walk across. The warriors were there on the branch with them now. Nynd and several older soldiers rushed forward as the arrow left Legolas’ bow.

 

Legolas fed the rope through his hands and felt it jerk tight when Trelan secured the other end. Wrapping it around his arm in one swift move he locked his other arm around Raniean’s waist and jumped off the branch just as the warriors lunged for them.

 

Raniean felt Legolas pull him off the limb and gripped his friend’s shoulders tightly, his free arm snapping up to grab onto the rope between them.

 

Legolas felt the stomach-stealing jolt of weightlessness as he and Raniean tumbled towards the enchanted river. He had one breathless instant to fear that he had misjudged the height of the trees and the length of the rope, before the cord snapped tight in his hand. Their momentum sent them swinging wildly through the air towards the far bank, skimming just above the surface of the black water. Legolas’ wrist and arm burned from the strain and his welted back hurt where Raniean was holding on to him, but when the two young elves tumbled into the far bank, they were on their feet again almost as soon as they landed.

 

There was a splash in the river behind them and they paused only a moment to see that Nynd, in the act of lunging for them when they jumped, had not been able to pull himself up in time and had fallen off the branch and into the river. The young elf was instantly taken in a deep sleep and pulled downstream. Several of the older elves were already hurrying down river with ropes in hand to catch the boy and drag him back to shore before he could drown. Nynd would be recovered unharmed, but he had unintentionally rendered a valuable service to the three escapees because it left even fewer warriors to try to follow them.

 

Trelan jumped down from the tree and together the three elflings fled into the forest. Behind them they could hear the ringing of signal horns and the soft thud of arrows being launched across the bank, but they had bought the lead they needed.

 

Raniean frowned deeply as he ran. His right arm was wet and covered with deep crimson stains where he had gripped Legolas’ shoulders when they swung across the river. He looked up sharply as Legolas darted in front of him through the dense undergrowth. In all the commotion of the escape, he had not noticed that many of the barely healed cuts across the prince’s back had ripped open again because of the stress of their flight. Legolas was bleeding freely. He probably had been ever since his fight with Nynd. It was amazing that the young elf was still on his feet.

 

Raniean knew they needed to stop, they needed to dress the prince’s wounds... but time was a luxury they did not have. They had to put as much distance between themselves and their pursuers as they could while they had the chance.

 

The trees were thick here and the three boys could hardly see more than ten feet ahead of them as they raced through the woods. When they broke from the tangle and found themselves rushing right into the arms of a huge troop of elven warriors their hearts stopped beating.

 

Legolas was spent, he had already lost too much blood and the escape across the river had taken everything he had left. He reeled backward, his mind freezing with horror at their ill fortune.

 

As far as the eye could see a tall, graceful sea of elven soldiers flowed across the landscape and threaded through the trees; possibly more soldiers than Legolas had ever seen in one place in years.

 

Hands closed around the prince’s arms as he was pulled forward into the midst of the throng and despair overtook him. Raniean and Trelan were fighting and screaming. The soldiers around him were speaking but their jumbled words turned into a pounding, unintelligible roar in the young elf’s ears as his injury-weakened body gave into the light-headed whirling of dizzy failure that was trying to pull him under. The prince’s vision hazed yellow and then black and he was afraid he was going to pass out. The elfling wanted to cry; he could not bear to wake up again in Doriflen’s dungeons of horror... at this moment he would rather die.

 

Raniean and Trelan bit and kicked at anything that came near them, almost screaming in rage and despair as Legolas was pulled away from them. They fought desperately but in vain to part the veritable sea of warriors that now separated them. This is not the way it was supposed to end; they could not fail, not now when they had come so far!

 

Legolas was too weak to struggle although he could hear his friends fighting somewhere close at hand. His spirit was willing, but his body was betraying him. It was over. It was over... and now his friends would pay the price along with him. He couldn’t lift his head, couldn’t distinguish the faces around him through the yellow haze clouding his vision.

 

Raniean and Trelan fell suddenly silent.

 

“Please...” Legolas begged quietly as his legs buckled and he sank to his knees in their hands. He wanted to beg them to let his friends go, to not take them back to his uncle to suffer with him, but he couldn’t even form the words. “Please...” was all he could say; exhausted, hopeless tears filling his eyes.

Chapter Text

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~*PART EIGHTEEN*~
~Final Confrontation~

 

 

“Legolas?” a well-loved voice filled with tender concern broke through the haze surrounding the young prince’s mind. “Legolas?”

 

A gentle hand caressed the child’s bruised cheek, easing away the traces of dried blood clinging to the side of his face tenderly.

 

Legolas tried to blink the familiar face into focus, unwilling to trust his blurry vision. “A-Ada?” his voice was a quiet whisper.

 

Thranduil enfolded the bloody child immediately into a strong, comforting embrace, his heart breaking at the lost, hurting look upon his son’s dazed features. Legolas’ face was deadly pale and Thranduil was frightened that at first the boy had not even seemed to recognize him.

 

Legolas trembled in Thranduil’s arms like a new leaf shaking in the wind as relief overtook him. “Ada...” the word turned into a small sob. He had thought he would never see his father again. He had truly thought he was going to die.

 

“Yes, Legolas, it is I, it’s all right, you are safe now, you are safe my little leaf,” Thranduil assured, holding the boy close and stroking the back of Legolas’ head. “Oh Legolas...”

 

Thranduil held the boy tightly. When the three young elves crashed out of the trees into his search party, he had been summoned quickly. When he saw Legolas, faint and pleading with the soldiers whom he obviously could not recognize were trying to help him, Thranduil thought he must be dreaming.

 

“I was so afraid ion-nín, so afraid I had lost you,” he murmured, his voice thick with emotion. Once he was over his initial shock, the Elvenking quickly eased up his hold on Legolas’ bleeding back, realizing he must be hurting the young elf. Legolas however, had barely even noticed. He let his father hold him, he *needed* his father to hold him.

 

The prince sighed, wrapping his arms around his father’s waist and letting Thranduil’s encompassing love wash away some of the shuddering hurt and horror from his injured body. “I thought you did too,” Legolas whispered back, his small hands wrapping tightly in the soft folds of his father’s tunic. “Is Nana all right?”

 

“Yes, child, she is fine, although she will be much better when she knows you are safe!” Thranduil smiled, pushing Legolas back a little and cupping his son’s face again, brushing his fingers gently through the young elf’s badly tangled hair. He was still trying to assure himself that this was real. “But how did you get here Legolas? What miracle has brought you running safe into my arms again?”

 

Legolas smiled wearily, his eyes searching the crowd for his friends. “Raniean and Trelan, they rescued me.” The prince frowned slightly. “They won’t be in trouble for leaving on their own, will they?”

 

Thranduil followed Legolas’ gaze to where the two elflings in question were standing not far away, watching the reunion with quiet smiles. Randomir had been summoned from the head of the column and was now standing behind them with one hand on each young shoulder.

 

“No, Legolas,” Thranduil shook his head, smiling at the two young elves. “They won’t be in any trouble. Rather, they shall have my never-ending gratitude. This is a tale I would hear!”

 

Before much more could be said however, there was a commotion in the trees behind them. Several scouts came rushing up to report to Thranduil, dropping respectfully on one knee before rising again.

 

“Your highness, we encountered some of Doriflen’s troops in the woods! They avoided a confrontation, but did not withdraw. There are more massing beyond the river bank. A great number it seems and more are on their way, we are not sure from whence they are all coming.”

 

“Highness, Doriflen’s hidden stronghold is not far from here,” Raniean informed with a bow. “It is where we found Prince Legolas. We were pursued and I fear there are more in the woods that have been summoned.”

 

“Can you take us back there?” Thranduil asked the young elf. This had to end. If they were really that close to his brother’s elusive fortress then the time to move was now, before Doriflen had a chance to slip away again. Looking down at the hurting, frightened boy in his arms, Thranduil knew they must act now to keep this from ever happening again.

 

Raniean and Trelan both nodded. “Yes, highness.”

 

Thranduil gently disengaged from Legolas’ arms. “Legolas, I will send you home with Randomir and a contingent of his most trusted warriors. Tell your mother I will be back as soon as I may.” //Valar willing, with good news, and not ill// he added silently. He knew this confrontation could go either way, but it was now or never.

 

Legolas clung to his father’s robes and was reluctant to let him go. The last time his father and grandfather had left to go to war, one of them did not return. “No... please Ada, do not send me away. I-I would go with you.”

 

“Legolas, you cannot,” Thranduil shook his head. “You are hurt my son; you need care, and I would not willingly put you within a hundred miles of my brother again.”

 

Legolas paled at the very thought, but squared his shoulders bravely. “But father, I can help. Not all those who follow Doriflen would tolerate his ways, I have seen that, I have seen it change people’s minds about him. Let me go back with you,” Legolas whispered. “Let them see what he is capable of doing. Let there be no more elven bloodshed to stain our woods.”

 

Thranduil was torn. He saw the sense in his son’s words, but at the same time he did not wish to risk Legolas’ life again after just getting him back.

 

“I can do this Ada, please trust me,” Legolas said quietly, his eyes searching his father’s.

 

Thranduil laid a hand on his shoulder. “I do trust you ion-nín. Very well, you shall come, but I will allow no harm to befall you. Randomir? I want you and ten of your best warriors guarding the prince at all times. He is your first and only charge. If things go ill, I want him out of there at once, understood?”

 

Randomir nodded and bowed, “I will protect him with my life sire.”

 

Thranduil knew he would. That was why he charged Randomir with the task. “Then come, assemble the troops. We go to end this now, one way... or another.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

The tension in the air was so thick and heavy that Legolas thought he could taste it’s bitter tang on his lips. Crossing the enchanted river higher upstream where fallen trees had created a natural bridge, the long column of Thranduil’s army wound its way into the clearing before Doriflen’s no longer secret fortress.

 

Thranduil knew they were being allowed to enter, he could sense the watchful presence of Doriflen’s warriors hidden in the trees around them, tracking their every move. But it was time to end this, so he accepted the bait and allowed Doriflen to lure him into the heart of the twisted elf’s self-proclaimed realm.

 

Just short of the hill that led up to the first ring of the encampment, the war party stopped. Facing them on the top of the ridge was a silent wall of opposing elven warriors.

 

The trees around them were also bristling with silent sentinels who slowly disengaged from their hiding place, showing that Thranduil’s party was surrounded.

 

The numbers on both sides were more or less evenly balanced and the tense charge crackling between the two factions stole the breath away.

 

It was strange and surreal; elf facing off against elf, those that had once been brothers now locked in a bitter struggle. Unease fell over both armies. Thus far there had been no major battles worthy of mention. Isolated incidents, yes, unfortunate accidents and secret atrocities certainly, but as of yet there had been no large confrontation of troops or hideous bloodshed of full-blown kinslaying. Some had fallen to traps or shots gone awry, but unless Doriflen was directly in charge of a mission it was usually capture, rather than death, that was the objective of the warring parties. Now however, they were approaching a moment of final truth when one side or the other would have to back down or face the fact that large quantities of elven blood must be spilled by elven hands in order for there to be resolution or victory. It was a horrible thought.

 

Legolas, ringed by his protective guards, shuddered.

 

On both sides of the dividing line hands were on sword hilts and bows were held notched and ready. Yet both armies hesitated, loath to begin that which could never be called back or undone.

 

Thranduil moved out in front of his troops. “We have come seeking an end to this conflict that is claiming all our lives and our hopes one by one. Mirkwood cannot stand divided, she will surely fall. Let Lord Doriflen come out for there are grievances that must be addressed ere this conflict sink to where there is no hope of return. If you can hear me Doriflen, come forth and show your face! If you have the courage to do so after what you have done to my family! Come forth!”

 

There was silence for several moments, with not even the song of a bird for answer. All the birds had flown away, fleeing the tension radiating from the elves that they loved. The world was desolate and empty around them, a portent of what this war was doing on every level of life.

 

Then the troops on the top of the rise parted and Doriflen stepped through them, gazing down on his brother with a dark glare.

 

“Why have you come here *brother*?” Doriflen inquired, his gaze fixing upon Thranduil. “Are things so difficult in Lasgalen that you come to beg food from someone who knows how to take better care of his people? Or can it be that you have suddenly acquired some measure of conscience or caring for the son you have thus far chosen to ignore? I’m surprised at you Thranduil, have you not had over a week to decide if you cared more for your son or your precious pride? The decision comes late.”

 

Thranduil’s face tightened and his eyes flashed at the barbs, especially concerning Legolas.

 

“Doriflen, you took from me that which no one has a right to claim, you tried to take the life of my child and for that I denounce you as more despicable than the foulest servant of shadow,” Thranduil’s voice was stony.

 

“Your own I would have returned for *my* own,” Doriflen’s eyes narrowed and snapped darkly. “You speak of thievery, then what say you of the stolen throne upon which you sit? *YOU* are the one that led our people to slaughter before the gates of Mordor. *YOU* are the one who tricked father into bypassing rights, traditions and laws that have been treasured for centuries and placed on your own head a crown you have no right to wear!”

 

Thranduil’s shoulders tensed. Doriflen’s words were lies, but they cut him in a way that could only be done by someone as close as family. Thranduil was angry, but some part of his heart was also hurt. He had loved Doriflen once. Doriflen had been a good and protective older brother to the young elf when they lived in Doriath. Thranduil didn’t know when and why things had changed, but they had, and the Doriflen he had known then had died somewhere along the way, willfully replaced by the person who could abuse innocent children and who now stood there hurling cutting and dangerous words at the Elvenking.

 

“Father passed the rule of Mirkwood to me because he loved our people Doriflen, and he loved the two of us,” Thranduil said plainly. “He did not want you in a position where you could harm yourself or others. And he was right. Look what this war has already cost. Look!” the true Elvenking’s words were directed at his brother’s followers as well as his brother. “Is this truly what you want?”

 

Gently, Thranduil pulled Legolas forward, from behind his protective wall of guards. “You speak very convincingly Doriflen, you always have, but your words are a mask with which you hide the illness of your soul. Father knew that, I know that, and if those who follow you have eyes to see they must know that as well. Look! Actions speak louder than any of your fair sounding words Doriflen! You abused my son’s trust and viciously tortured a child who has done you no wrong!”

 

Thranduil kept his hand reassuringly on his son’s shoulder, but turned Legolas around so that everyone present could see the cruel, bloody welts and scabs that covered the child’s back from his uncle’s repeated abuse.

 

“You beat my son every day for a week and reveled in his cries and his tears, you tortured him in front of his friend and enjoyed doing it! I can pardon many things, but this crime I will never forgive. I am ashamed to call you brother and I cannot see how any self-respecting elf could call you Lord.”

 

Rippling murmurs surged through the assembled elves. Most of Doriflen’s warriors had no idea what had gone on inside sealed chambers in the elf lord’s private dungeons. The willful torture and harm of any elf by another elf was considered aberrant, and of a child...

 

“And Legolas is not the only one!” Thranduil’s voice was impassioned. “You almost killed Umdanuë and only the Valar know how many others since we parted ways. Elves of Mirkwood, awake and think for yourselves, you are being led on a path to destruction and the truth stands before you!”

 

Doriflen scowled darkly. He knew that many of his supporters were not ready for this yet. “Your son is a traitor to Mirkwood Thranduil, to you and to me. He has played both sides up the middle and lied to us both. He deserves whatever has befallen him, but the blame does not lay with me. You must look elsewhere if indeed it is not you yourself who have finally taken him into hand and now merely use him as another pawn in your vicious bid for power. Tell me brother, will you stop at nothing to gain your end?”

 

Legolas blanched at his uncle’s cruel words and his pained blue eyes quickly sought his father’s as he shook his head desperately. No! It wasn’t true; he had not betrayed his father or his people!

 

Thranduil squeezed the boy’s shoulder reassuringly. He knew Doriflen spoke nothing but lies, no matter how convincingly they were voiced.

 

“That’s not true,” a soft, but firm voice spoke up from Doriflen’s left. Naerdil stepped out of the line of warriors.

 

“It was you who hurt the child, and I stood by and did nothing, worse, I aided you,” the elf’s voice was thick with shame but steady with determination. “But I will aid you no longer.”

 

“Traitor!” Doriflen spat angrily. “You will pay for this!”

 

“Yes, I will, won’t I?” Naerdil’s eyes sparkled with the fire of one who has made their choice and had nothing left to lose. “Worse, it will be my wife and my child who pay, is that not the threat that you have hung over my head for weeks now? How many of us follow you to keep those we love from harm? What kind of life is that that you are offering? I believed in you once, but I no longer think I can.”

 

His words struck an answering cord in some of his fellow warriors and many of the elves on Doriflen’s side of the line shifted uncomfortably.

 

“Doriflen, it’s time to end this,” Thranduil shook his head.

 

Doriflen knew he was starting to lose control of the situation, and that did not please him. “You’re right Thranduil. It is. Archers, take your mark.”

 

The warriors loyal to Doriflen raised their bows uncertainly. Did their commander really mean for them to fire on other elves at point blank range like this?

 

Thranduil’s warriors started to respond to the threat in kind, but the Elvenking held out his hand for them to hold. “No! Steady. Doriflen, don’t let it come to this!” Thranduil’s fervor was sincere. If Doriflen’s troops attacked, they would have to respond... it was an unthinkable scenario. “Is this not the same kind of atrocity for which we condemned the Noldor when they came over? I will not spill elven blood in these woods!”

 

“You always were weak,” Doriflen said with disdain. “Fire.”

 

Everyone tensed. Thranduil’s troops fingered their un-drawn weapons anxiously, but faithfully awaited their leader’s orders.

 

Doriflen’s troops drew their bowstrings taut, but hesitated to loose the projectiles into the hearts of their unresisting kin.

 

The air of the glade heated with the tension snapping between the factions.

 

Then one of Doriflen’s warriors let his bow go limp, dropping the weapon to his side. “Forgive me. I would do many things for you my lord; I would die for you, but I cannot kill for you.”

 

In mute consent, several of the others lowered their weapons as well.

 

Doriflen was furious. “Obey me or be counted traitors, the lot of you!”

 

Silence followed his outburst for a moment. The soldiers were obviously torn, some had already made the decision not to fight, but some were wavering, whether held by devotion to Doriflen or fear of his retribution no one could say.

 

Then, to everyone’s surprise, an unexpected third group arrived. Most of the women from Doriflen’s camp stepped through the ranks of the surprised male elves and walked calmly down the hill, stopping when they stood directly between the two factions.

 

Onethiel looked up at Doriflen. “I would see peace in these woods again, I would have a safe world for our children to grow up in, and I no longer think that you can give us that. We follow you no longer.” Her gaze turned to the soldiers standing uncertainly beside the dark elf lord. “So fight if you must, but you will have to go through us to do so. This has gone on long enough.”

 

Naerdil walked down the hill to join the women. One by one, the other soldiers with Doriflen either did the same, or sheathed their weapons. There were a number who would not desert the Lord they had chosen, but were not ready to initiate another kinslaying either.

 

At a word, Thranduil’s troops quickly and quietly moved up the hill, taking the opposing warriors into custody. Even those still loyal to Doriflen did not resist. They were now heavily out numbered and knew when a graceful surrender was in order.

 

Doriflen did not. He seethed quietly as he watched everything he had tried to build crumble around him. He turned bitter, hate-hardened eyes on his brother as Thranduil approached him.

 

“So this is the end then, Thranduil? You win again as usual,” Doriflen said grudgingly, letting his sword fall to the ground and holding out his hand to his brother as if in a peace offering.

 

Thranduil took it guardedly; he had not expected his brother to give up this easily. Something felt wrong.

 

“But let me tell you a little secret *brother*,” Doriflen said quietly as he clasped Thranduil’s hand.

 

Legolas, where he stood, saw Doriflen pop the concealed dagger built into the bracers that covered his forearms out into the palm of his hand, but Thranduil was standing too close to see the movement until it was too late.

 

“ADA!” Legolas almost screamed as Doriflen’s grip suddenly tightened on Thranduil’s wrist, jerking his younger brother sharply towards him as he thrust the knife-hand forward, burying the concealed weapon in the Elvenking’s side.

 

Thranduil heard Legolas’ warning mingle with the alarms flashing inside his own mind only half a moment before Doriflen jerked him forward. The king twisted sideways. He did not have time to escape, but it was just enough to keep Doriflen’s blow from its most vital targets.

 

“You didn’t win,” Doriflen hissed through his teeth, his face mere inches away from his brother’s. He watched the shock and pain flash across Thranduil’s fair features with satisfaction as he twisted the blade cruelly.

 

Thranduil felt the knife bite deep into his flesh; the flash of pain taking with it the last rending wave of betrayal. He should have known, his shocked, reeling mind told him; he should have known Doriflen would do something like this, he should never have let himself get this close... yet some part of him hadn’t truly believed that his older brother hated him enough to try to kill him in cold blood. He had been wrong. He had been so wrong.

 

Thranduil reeled back as Doriflen tugged the knife free to strike again. Yanking his wrist away from his treacherous brother he threw himself backward as Doriflen stabbed at him again.

 

Instantly, Thranduil’s guards were in action, springing forward to catch their liege and to restrain Doriflen.

 

Legolas broke from his guards and ran towards his father in horror as Thranduil stumbled backward, clutching his bleeding side and trying not to fall as his guards surrounded him.

 

“Your highness, wait! No!” Randomir called out, running after his young charge.

 

Doriflen had the element of surprise on his side and spun away from the guards that came after him. Snatching a bow out of the hands of one of his own shocked soldiers, Doriflen strung it and let the arrow fly before anyone could stop him.

 

The guards around Thranduil massed protectively, trying to react to the new threat... but the shot was not aimed at Thranduil.

 

Thranduil had only half a moment to see the arrow fly from the string, his eye following it’s intended path... straight towards the unprotected chest of his young son who was running towards him. The Elvenking didn’t even have time to call Legolas’ name, only enough time for a pain deeper than the wound in his side to pierce his heart and soul.

 

Legolas almost heard rather than saw the arrow that was intended to kill him. The young prince froze but did not have time to move out of its path.

 

Suddenly hands were on his shoulders, spinning him around, throwing him to the ground. He heard the dull, unmistakable *thunk* of an arrow finding flesh but felt no pain. Then a heavy weight landed on his back, momentarily pinning him to the forest floor.

 

A dozen hands ripped the bow out of Doriflen’s hands and twice as many grappled to hold him as the outraged wood-elves gained control of the situation once more. A sharp blow to the head rendered the traitor unconscious, but the damage was done.

 

Legolas heard Raniean’s familiar voice shouting something and getting closer. His friend’s anguished tone and what he was saying suddenly made its way into Legolas’ frozen mind and the prince wiggled onto his back, pushing himself up on his elbows.

 

Randomir rolled limply off of Legolas when the prince sat up, his closed eyes turning skyward. The arrow meant for Legolas was buried deep in his back and the warrior’s blood was staining the prince’s leggings. Thranduil had placed his trust in the right elf; Randomir had not hesitated a moment to put himself between Legolas and death.

 

Horrified, Legolas scooted backward, touching his mentor and guardsman’s face with trembling fingers. The world was spinning too fast for him to comprehend and he felt frozen as everything slipped away from him.

 

“Randomir...” he choked out as Raniean dropped by his father’s side, along with several of the other warriors.

 

Legolas caught his friend’s gaze in anguish. He wanted to say he was sorry, but how on earth could he hope to apologize for taking his best friend’s father away from him... father... father... Thranduil!

 

Legolas spun on his knees, his eyes searching desperately for his own father.

 

Thranduil was already there. The guards supporting him were protesting vigorously, but he ignored them. Holding his bleeding side tightly he swiftly made his way to where his son was. He had to be sure Legolas was all right.

 

“Ada!” Legolas gulped back a sob, hugging Thranduil tightly. “Are you all right? Don’t leave me, you can’t die, please!”

 

Thranduil wrapped his free arm around his son’s shoulders wincing in pain at the boy’s vigorous embrace. “Shh, shh Greenleaf, it’s all right. The wound is not deadly; I won’t leave you my son. I won’t leave you.”

 

Traycaul pressed a wadded bandage against Thranduil’s side while several of the other warriors buzzed around them. Thranduil may be ready to dismiss his injury that easily but they were not. The king would certainly live, but the sooner he was properly cared for, the better.

 

Safe in his father’s arms, Legolas turned relieved but hurting eyes back on Randomir and Raniean. Raniean had his father’s head cradled in his lap, tears streaming down his face while the other warriors swarmed around Randomir’s still body. The arrow had struck straight between the elder elf’s shoulder blades. His eyes were closed, his chest wasn’t moving.

 

One of the warriors bending over him shook his head sadly. “There would be no saving this one,” he whispered quietly to his companion as they worked. They tried to keep the words to themselves, but Raniean heard them clear enough.

 

“Ada...” Raniean whispered into his father’s hair in quiet anguish, rocking back and forth as he held the elder elf’s pale face between his hands. “Ada don’t go... don’t go...”

 

Those same feelings were still painfully fresh in Legolas’ heart and even his father’s comforting arms around him brought the hurt home even harder. Thranduil would live, Legolas would live, but Randomir would die. Legolas felt ill with grief and guilt. It should have been him. It should have been him.

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART NINTEEN*~
~It’s All Over, it’s All Over Now~

 

~~~~~~~~
Lay down your sweet and weary head
Night is falling, you’ve come to journey’s end.
Sleep now, and dream of the ones who came before...
They are calling, from across a distant shore.

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see,
All of your fears will pass away.
Safe in my arms,
You’re only sleeping....

-- Anne Lenox
~~~~~~~~

 

 

Thranduil held Legolas close, grateful that his trusted captain had not failed his charge, but heartbroken at the thought that it had cost him his life... in front of his son no less. The Elvenking swallowed the lump in his throat.

 

“Then he is...?” Thranduil did not want to finish the question.

 

One of the elves working over Randomir looked up. “No, sire, not quite. He is still with us, but his life hangs by a very thin thread. We should get him back to Lasgalen.”

 

Thranduil nodded and squeezed Legolas’ shoulders. “Yes, it is time for us all to go home.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

The hallway was very quiet. Randomir had been taken to the palace and the King’s healers were tending him, but things looked grim.

 

Raniean sat sideways on a cushioned bench in the hall and tried not to stare at the door across the passage behind which he knew his father was struggling for his life.

 

Legolas sat on the bench next to Raniean, holding his friend’s hand. Raniean’s mother was in there with the healers, but Raniean they still deemed too young. Thranduil and Elvéwen stood near, but let the two boys be.

 

Raniean shifted on the bench. “I wish they’d let me in too,” he whispered quietly. He knew they were trying to protect him, but he hated just sitting here and waiting.

 

“I know,” Legolas squeezed his friend’s hand tighter. He sought Raniean’s eyes, but his friend avoided him, letting his gaze drop down to wonder over the silk cushion they were sitting on.

 

Legolas’ throat hurt and he still felt a little sick. The healers had already tended and bound up his injuries, but he knew it was not his physical hurts that were making him ill; it was his heart. He wondered if Raniean could ever forgive him for being the reason his father was not there to watch him grow up.

 

“Ran...” the prince swallowed hard. “I-I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Do... do you hate me?”

 

Raniean lifted tear-reddened eyes to his friend’s face, a look of shock flittering across his expression. “Hate you, Legolas? Of course not! This is not your fault. I would have done the same if I were close enough. Ada did the right thing and I’m proud of him Legolas, so proud, I just...” the young elf’s voice cracked and he buried his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking.

 

Legolas wrapped his arms around his friend, pulling Raniean close and letting the other boy cry on his shoulder as his own tears fell silently into Raniean’s tawny gold hair.

 

A soft, heart-broken cry from inside the room across from them made everyone tense. Raniean recognized his mother’s voice and his heart froze.

 

The door to the chamber opened and Nesteriu stepped out. Everyone looked at him expectantly.

 

The healer looked very sad and drained. He shook his head. Inside they could just see Nesteriu’s son Nestad pulling the blanket up over Randomir’s head before the elder healer closed the door softly behind him.

 

Raniean crumpled forward, burying his face in Legolas’ tunic as his body shook with his grief. Legolas clung to him, crying just as freely. It seemed that Doriflen had found one last grievous way to hurt them all.

 

Thranduil placed one hand gently on either boy’s shoulder, standing quietly behind them. He couldn’t give Raniean his father back, but he would make sure the boy and his family were always well taken care of, that he promised from the bottom of his heart.

 

Suddenly the door opened again. Nestad gestured urgently for his father to come back into the room. “Adar, come quickly! I-I think I felt him draw breath!”

 

Nesteriu’s eyebrows shot up and he quickly hurried back into the room, not even bothering to close the door in his haste.

 

Unable to stand the suspense, Raniean disentangled himself from Legolas and slid off the bench, tiptoeing quietly to the doorway. Legolas followed. Through the open door they could see Nesteriu and Nestad working swiftly over Randomir’s still form on the bed. Randomir’s wife was holding his hand, whispering softly to her unmoving husband.

 

Thranduil gently guided both boys away after a few moments. “Come, let them work.”

 

It seemed like hours later before anyone emerged from the room again, but this time when he came out, Nesteriu’s weary face was wearing a smile. He gestured for Raniean to come and Legolas followed his friend hesitantly.

 

The small party was ushered into the sickroom. Raniean bit his lip at the sight of his father’s pale face resting upon the pillows, but when Randomir’s eyes opened and fixed on his son the boy’s entire countenance lighted up and he ran forward, wrapping his arms around the older elf and clinging to him tightly. “Ada!”

 

Randomir was very weak, but he wrapped his arm reassuringly around his son’s shoulders. “Not... getting rid of me that easy... Ran,” he assured with a faint smile. “Or you,” he added softly, turning his smile upon Legolas, who was hanging back in the shadows near his father.

 

At Randomir’s gesture Legolas hurried forward, smiling through his tears as he hugged his well-loved mentor. Thranduil came forward with his son, squeezing his loyal captain’s hand firmly.

 

“Thank you Randomir,” the King said quietly, his eyes drifting to Legolas, and then back to the warrior on the bed. “I shall never forget what you did for Legolas, and for me. I thought we had lost you my friend.”

 

Randomir smiled, a little too weak to talk much, but Nesteriu spoke up from where he waited unobtrusively by the door. “Not yet my Lord, this one is too stubborn to know when he should die. If he stays out of the path of any more arrows, he should be fine.”

 

Thranduil chuckled. “That is well, I would hate for the last casualty of this despicable war to have been so grievous.”

 

Legolas blinked slightly at his father’s words. Looking up at Thranduil he smiled hesitantly. “It’s really over then Ada, isn’t it?” It seemed they had been fighting so long, living heartache as part of their daily lives for so many seasons... it was a bit of a shock to really realize that it was finally ended.

 

Thranduil smiled, laying his arm gently around his son’s healing shoulders. “Yes, ion-nín, it really is over.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

~~~~~~~~
It’s all over,
It’s all over now:
The life of hiding,
with children fighting now.

The rain is falling;
the rain is falling now.
Today we’re leaving;
our souls are calling now.

Can I be changed?

Or am I the same?

It’s all over;
it’s all over now.

-- Seven
~~~~~~~~

 

 

A cleansing rain pattered down upon the green leaves of the forest. It seemed to be trying to wash away all the division and strife of the past seasons.

 

Legolas stood quietly by his parents’ side underneath the sheltering arbor of the trees. The leafy boughs knit their branches together to shelter the assembled elves below. The past week had been an eventful one as Doriflen’s scattered camps were slowly rounded up one by one. Once informed that their leader was in custody and awaiting royal justice they were given two choices: to swear allegiance to Thranduil and become part of a unified Mirkwood, or to keep their ties with Doriflen and accept whatever sentence was dealt him as their own as well.

 

The majority chose allegiance to Thranduil, but not all. Many chose to remain with Doriflen. Some such as Melryn and Amilon, fathers of Nynd and Amon, chose their and their families fates out of pride, unable or unwilling to admit they had been wrong. Others chose out of an overwhelming sense of guilt. Garilien was not the only elf, young or old, who felt that their families and friends would not take them back, or indeed, that they did not deserve to go back.

 

And now the day of sentencing had come. It was a quiet, somber day, yet even so, the whole forest seemed to be breathing easier already.

 

Thranduil’s wound was healing well, even as he hoped the wounds Mirkwood had sustained would heal with time. On Thranduil’s right stood his three captains, Amil-Garil, Traycaul and Randomir, who to everyone’s joy continued to pull through his grievous injury with remarkable strength. He was still recovering and the healers did not wish him out of bed yet, but on an occasion this important he was going to stand by his King, healers be hanged. On Thranduil’s left stood Elvéwen and Legolas.

 

Doriflen and all the elves that had chosen to link their fates to his awaited their sentence in the center of the protected glade.

 

Legolas stood uncomfortably at his mother’s side, studying the grass five paces ahead of him and consciously avoiding looking at his uncle. His injuries had already faded until they were almost completely gone, but the memory lingered. He could feel Doriflen’s eyes boring into him from a distance and it unnerved him. He was glad it was over, he wanted things to return to normal now... but could they? Could they ever? The prince had been through so much these past seasons, he wondered if he could be the same person he had been, or if he was irrevocably changed.

 

The prince’s gaze drifted to Raniean and Trelan who stood at attention off to his left. Trelan was wearing his Sentinel’s colors for the first time today, proudly taking his place beside Raniean as protectors of the Royal family. After what the two young ones had done to save their friend, it was an honor they had both more than earned.

 

Legolas saw Raniean cast a small, sideways smile at his father. He knew his friend was still grateful for his father’s escape from the brink of death.

 

Raniean caught Legolas looking at him and switched his bright smile to shine upon the prince.

 

Legolas smiled back. He supposed they had to remember that no matter how much had been damaged or ruined by the war, there was just as much that had been mercifully spared as well.

 

Legolas drew a deep breath in, letting the cleansing moisture of the rain-wet air fill his lungs and calm his skittish nerves. If he had been changed, he decided it was for the better. Gathering his resolve, the young prince lifted his eyes from the ground and fixed his gaze on Doriflen’s stormy face.

 

The prince’s stomach did an instinctive flip, but then he felt the painful butterflies inside him begin to fade. Squaring his shoulders he met his uncle’s gaze steadily. Doriflen had hurt and humiliated, but ultimately not truly broken him. Legolas was not going to let the wounds he had taken from the older elf’s hands color the rest of his life. He was not going to be afraid of Doriflen anymore.

 

Doriflen’s gaze darkened when Legolas did not flinch away from his malevolent stare. The elf lord’s hands were bound in front of him and guards flanked him on either side. His followers stood quietly behind him. They were unbound, but also guarded.

 

“Doriflen,” Thranduil commanded his brother’s attention. “The charges against you have been read and are disputed by none. You have warranted death by your actions, but I will not spill any more elven blood in this forest. Therefore, I look to the wisdom of our forefathers and the ancient laws. You, and all who have chosen to follow you, are hereby banished from Mirkwood forever; never to return on pain of death. You are furthermore denied rest or sanctuary in any elven haven from the mountains to the sea. You are outcasts to the elven race now and have no more ties to my family or to this realm. Have you anything to say?”

 

Doriflen glared at his brother, his eyes dark. “Only this: do not think this is over Thranduil. You will not be rid of me so easy. Someday everything you hold dear will be mine and I will see you rot in your own dungeons. Someday *little brother*. Someday,” he promised bitterly.

 

Thranduil remained unmoved. “Doriflen, I pity those who follow you into this doom unwitting. I would spare them if I could, but I hope I never see your face again. Go now, and may the Valar have mercy on you all.” The Elvenking turned to his soldiers. “Escort them out of the forest and see that they do not return.”

 

The warriors flanking the exiles nodded. They cut Doriflen free and led he and the others away.

 

Silence reined for some time after they had departed, broken only by the patter of the rain on the leaf canopy above. Finally, Thranduil spoke, his gaze sweeping across the other elves present.

 

“Elves of Mirkwood, we cannot pretend that these past years have not happened, we cannot ease the ache of further loss by ignoring that it occurred, but we can move forward. To us falls the difficult task of rebuilding so much of what has been lost; for ourselves, and for our children who deserve a world of peace and plenty in which to grow. It will not be easy, but it will be worthwhile,” Thranduil turned his head and smiled down at Legolas when he said this.

 

The assembled elves murmured in agreement. They would move on, they would rebuild, and Mirkwood would be stronger than ever in the end.

 

“It can never be like it was,” someone in the crowd said quietly. It was obviously meant for whomever was standing next to them, but everyone heard.

 

It surprised them all when Legolas responded.

 

“Nothing can ever be as it was, because the past is past, but the future can be good too, if we make it so. I believe we can,” the prince blurted out almost before he realized he had spoken. The young elf immediately flushed when he realized everyone was now looking at him.

 

Legolas looked hesitantly to his father, but the older elf was smiling. So was Randomir. He was glad that was a lesson Legolas had taken to heart.

 

“Legolas is right,” Thranduil said, drawing the boy closer so that he stood between the King and Queen. “We will find nothing looking to the past, but everything looking to the future. I think my friends, that we must all have the simple faith of children, to greet each new day as a new beginning. Then we shall surely succeed.”

 

A ripple of approval and agreement rolled through the crowd. Thranduil, Elvéwen and Legolas turned and dismounted the low dais they had been standing upon as the elves began to disperse. This chapter of Mirkwood’s history was over and it was time to start building the future.

 

Trelan’s father walked proudly behind his son, remarking to everyone within earshot about his recent placement as a sentinel, much to the child’s happy embarrassment.

 

Raniean wrapped a protective arm around his father’s waist, helping him down the stairs and murmuring about getting him back to the healers, avoiding the predictable fond cuff to the head that that garnered him.

 

Legolas saw Raniean and Randomir stop when they reached a lone figure that was hanging to the edges of the crowd. It was Cirlith. The prince was too far away to hear what they said over the buzz of the rest of the dispersing elves, but the hunter was obviously uncomfortable. He almost tried to flee his friends, but Raniean quickly wrapped his arms around his Saelon in a hug, keeping him from leaving. Slowly, Cirlith’s tense body relaxed and Legolas could see him shaking with quiet sobs as he returned Raniean’s embrace. Randomir put his hand on his friend’s back. They could not take his pain away, but they would be there for him.

 

Legolas had a feeling Cirlith was going to need Raniean as much as Raniean needed him for a time now. Legolas had not really known Garilien, but part of the prince’s heart hurt for he and the others who had left. He hoped that somehow, someday they could come back and restore the missing pieces to the fabric of so many lives. For now though, he knew those who remained had to focus on building with what they had, not with what had been lost.

 

Legolas nearly started when he felt his father’s hand on his shoulder.

 

“Legolas? Are you all right?”

 

The young prince smiled brightly as he turned back towards his parents, hooking one arm around each of their waists as they walked away. Thranduil and Elvéwen let their arms rest upon his shoulders, holding hands behind Legolas’ back.

 

Despite all that had happened, and all the work that yet lay ahead, Legolas was happy. Safely enfolded between his father and mother and wrapped up in the cocoon of love that enveloped their little family, the young prince decided that this moment in time was perfect.

 

Legolas nodded. “Yes, Ada. I am. For the first time in a long time I think.”

 

Thranduil smiled and dipped down to kiss the crown of his son’s head.

 

Elvéwen tucked wayward strands of hair behind the young elf’s ear. “I think the same could be said for all of us Tyndolhen.”

 

The trio walked back towards the palace together, and as they began to smile, and talk, and laugh, they were not just the King, Queen and Prince. For the first time in far too many seasons, they were a father, a mother and a child; and the love that bound them together was strong and radiant.

 

The rain had ceased and suddenly Legolas pointed up at the sky. “Look, a rainbow!”

 

Thranduil and Elvéwen followed his gaze up to see the brilliant colors painted across the heavens through the swaying leaves of the trees and smiled.

 

Rainbows had always been regarded as a symbol of promise and hope; it was fitting.

 

Linking arms, the little family wound homeward under the colorful rays of a new beginning for them, for their people, and for Mirkwood.

 

 

THE END

Continue for epilogue.

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*Epilogue*~

 

Dusk was falling over Mirkwood as Legolas made his way down the hall towards his chambers. It had been several months since Mirkwood’s reunification and the difficult work of beginning over had thus far been going very well.

 

The prince paused when he saw light spilling into the hallway from the partially open door to his father’s study. Thranduil was obviously working late again.

 

Legolas crept to the door and peeked in through the crack. His father was seated at the desk, working over a stack of parchments that were spread around him.

 

Not wishing to disturb the older elf, Legolas started to creep away again, but a voice from within the study stopped him.

 

“Legolas? Is that you?”

 

“Yes, Ada,” Legolas pushed the door open somewhat sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

 

Thranduil smiled and laid aside his quill, gesturing for the child to come closer. “You’re never an interruption Legolas, please, come in.”

 

Legolas complied happily. All the chairs by Thranduil’s desk were covered in requisition papers and missives waiting either to be read or sent, but the Elvenking pushed the stack of parchments on the edge of his desk further into the middle, patting the desktop in an invitation for Legolas to sit down.

 

The young elf hopped nimbly up and sat on the edge of his father’s desk, curling his folded legs under him and letting his hands rest on his ankles.

 

“Your mother says that Cúrorth has decided to sponsor you in the junior archery tournament next season. Would you like me to come with you tomorrow when you meet with him?” Thranduil asked.

 

Legolas beamed excitedly. “Yes father, I would love that, but I thought you had a meeting with the council tomorrow. I really don’t mind if you can’t, it’s not important.”

 

Thranduil nodded. “I do have a meeting, but if we aren’t finished by then they will just have to wait and we can reconvene the day after. Legolas... it *is* important,” Thranduil captured his son’s eyes. “It’s important to me to be part of your life and I have been too remiss about letting you know that.”

 

Thranduil reached up and squeezed his son’s hand. When Legolas squeezed back his fingers caught on the ring his father was wearing. The edsiria glimmered faintly in the candlelight.

 

Thranduil caught his son looking at it and Legolas quickly looked away as soon as he realized he had been, withdrawing his hand. The boy’s inner hurts were healing, but the memories would take far longer to fade.

 

“I’ve never told you the story behind this ring, have I Legolas?” Thranduil asked softly, considering the green and silver band on his finger. “It was given to my father by Maenas, a Sinda craftsman who was friend to Celebrimbor. It helps to channel and focus the power of the wearer, giving them greater control over their own innate strengths. It is a very special heirloom of our house and a secret not to be made known to the outside world.”

 

Legolas was studying his hands in his lap. “I didn’t know. Father, I’m sorry about...”

 

Thranduil touched the boy’s lips gently, bidding him stop. “No Legolas, no more apologies. They aren’t necessary. I tell you this because someday it may pass to you. If and when that happens, I want you to be ready for what guiding a people and guarding a realm entails. There’s so much I haven’t shared with you that I should; so much I want you to be a part of now... if you want to be. Do you want to help shoulder the responsibility of running this kingdom with me?”

 

Legolas nodded quickly, his smile brightening once more. “Yes, Ada, I would.”

 

Thranduil smiled and ruffled the boy’s hair. “Well then, you can start right now. How about helping me sort through this...” the Elvenking glanced around at the stacks of papers strewn about the room and gestured helplessly. “This *mess*?”

 

“All right, where do I start?” Legolas agreed eagerly. Thranduil never shared his personal responsibilities with anyone and the prince felt incredibly honored that he wanted to do so with him.

 

Thranduil assessed the carefully controlled chaos with a rueful grin. “I’ll take the right flank,” he gestured to the piles overflowing from the desk to the chairs on one side of the room. “And you take the left flank,” he gestured to the side closest to Legolas. “And we’ll catch them between us and meet in the middle.” The Elvenking laughed. “They almost all need answers. Most are fairly simple and you’ll know how to deal with them, if you have any questions, just ask. I think you’ll find another quill... under here... somewhere,” Thranduil chuckled as he rifled through papers until he discovered the extra quills and ink-dippers hidden beneath.

 

An hour later when Elvéwen looked in, she was surprised to find them both there. “Legolas, it’s past your bedtime,” she chided with a soft smile.

 

“I’m not tired Nana, I’m helping Ada,” Legolas said proudly, lifting the quill in his ink-smudged fingers as proof.

 

Thranduil smiled conspiratorially at his son over the desk they were sharing. “Ah, but we’re working my love. I’ll see Legolas gets to bed at a decent time.”

 

Elvéwen smiled and shook her head. “*Your* idea of decent could be questioned of late dearest, but very well, I will see you in the morning.” She was glad to see them together like this.

 

The next morning, Elvéwen realized that she had slept alone and Thranduil had never been to bed. Pulling on her dressing gown, the queen made her way quietly out of the bedroom. Just as she suspected, a faint light was still spilling from beneath Thranduil’s study door.

 

Soft sounds of laughter could be heard issuing from within and her eyebrows went up. Many mornings she had awoken to find Thranduil still busy at work from the night before, but there was never anything mirthful to the situation.

 

Cracking the door slightly she peered inside. The papers and missives had all been dealt with and were stacked neatly in the corner of the room. The desk had been cleared and a chair was pushed up against it at an angle. Much to the Queen’s amusement she found Thranduil and Legolas racing flat, circular goblet coasters down natural ramps made by the chair arms and attempting to knock over a tall tower of carefully folded and balanced scrap parchment.

 

Elvéwen could not help laughing, which caused both Thranduil and Legolas to look up at once; sharing the same amused, but slightly guilty look.

 

“Morning already dear?” Thranduil remarked with an innocent smile. He and Legolas had been having more fun than he had had in ages and the Elvenking had actually lost track of time.

 

“Good morning Nana!” Legolas bounced over to give his mother a hug. Despite having been up all night his eyes were glowing and dancing in a way that warmed Elvéwen’s heart. “I’ve beaten Ada five times now.”

 

“Four and a half,” Thranduil protested good-naturally. “We haven’t finished this one yet! Good morning meleth-nín,” he kissed his wife on the cheek.

 

“Good morning my loves,” Elvéwen could not contain her amused smile. “Well, since you are obviously still very busy with your important affairs of state, I shall tell them you won’t be wanting breakfast, although I did hear that they were making fresh fruit over aflas...”

 

“Aflas!” Legolas cheered happily. “Let’s go have breakfast Ada!”

 

Thranduil laughed. “I think that would be good. That way I can leave my ignominious defeat at four and a half. But I will be wanting a rematch,” he warned with a smile as the three of them headed down the hall together.

 

Legolas flashed his father a brilliant grin. “Any time Ada.”

 

There was much work ahead for all of them, but together they would find a way to make it through.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

The process of restoring everything that had been torn apart was long and difficult, but Mirkwood did rebuild and reunify completely, becoming a stronger and more affluent realm than ever before.

 

Eventually Legolas would get his wish, although in a way quite unforeseen, and many of the lost exiles of Mirkwood who had shared Doriflen’s banishment were brought home and reunited with their former kin. Such was the case with Garilien and Cirlith who were reunited after Doriflen’s death and managed to rebuild what had been lost; letting two broken hearts become whole again in newfound joy.

 

Over the years Thranduil never did beat Legolas’ record at coaster-racing and they stopped counting sometime after five hundred and thirty eight, although the Elvenking still swore it was five hundred, thirty seven and a half.

 

 

 

 

______________________________________________________________________

 

 

If this were a DVD, this would be the special features section. With that in mind, we have a tiny little bonus for you, an extended/deleted scene from Betrayal.

 

 

Betrayal Extended scene:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“What shall we do with the traitor’s guards my lord?” Raniean questioned, bringing up the awkward subject. The outcast elves had been rounded up and were being held inside the courtyard by a contingent of Thranduil’s warriors.

 

The King glanced over at the elves. Not a one of them looked up or met the piercing gaze. The fear of whatever lay ahead radiated from them. They had been exiled with an insane leader who ruled them with a cruel hand and now they were at the mercy of a King that they had only heard horrific tales about, their future was no more certain now than it had been before.

 

Thranduil thought on the situation for a moment. No one spoke, no one moved. A small voice floated across the courtyard carried on the evening breeze, “Isn’t that Garilien, your son?”

 

The King turned towards the soft conversation and watched as an older elf approached the group of outcasts.

 

“Legolas!” Raniean whispered softly as his gaze lighted on his old mentor.

 

Cirlith stood near the gate, watching as Doriflen’s soldiers were brought out, their hands bound together, their eyes downcast. They shuffled nervously, their fate weighing on their minds. It had been centuries since he had seen his son. The young elf had run off for a chance at what he thought was a better life under the dictatorial rule of Doriflen. It had nearly broken Cirlith’s heart. He had found it hard for the first few hundred years to remain in Mirkwood and there were nights that he had very nearly willed his spirit away but for the love of his students and with the care of his friends he had found a way to move past the betrayal and emptiness the loss of his son had caused. He was afraid to believe his eyes now as he stared at the full-grown elf that still carried some of the youthful features of his boy. He had given up hope of ever seeing his child alive.

 

“Garilien?” Cirlith questioned once more. The elf in question didn’t move or acknowledge the name. “Garilien, my boy is that you?” The warrior glanced up quickly and gazed into the older eyes of the elf.

 

“I know what to do with them father.” Legolas whispered to Thranduil, “May I?”

 

The King nodded and smiled as he crossed his arms and watched his son. Legolas glanced at Raniean exchanging a silent agreement. Trelan knew what had taken place so many years ago and curiously followed as the prince tugged on Aragorn’s sleeve and drew him with them as well.

 

The four of them approached the prisoners. Gently Legolas moved the older elf aside and glared at the one he had been talking to. Aragorn stepped next to the prince, curious. He alone did *not* know the history behind this moment, but it hardly mattered.

 

“Are you Garilien?” Legolas addressed the elf. He barely remembered the boy, and the adult was much changed.

 

“You best speak up when you are asked a question.” Aragorn threatened when the outcast did not reply.

 

The elf glanced at Legolas; “I am the one he says I am. He is my father.” The imprisoned warrior looked over at the elder elf and swallowed hard, trying to keep his emotions at bay. Fear radiated from the bound elf. It had been years since he had last seen Legolas and the memories of what he had been forced to do surfaced unbidden. What if the prince had never forgiven him? What kind of example would they make of him for the others? He would deserve whatever they did to himm but he still dreaded it almost as much as he dreaded his father’s response to his presence. It seemed that everyone he had cared for or been loyal to he had hurt and betrayed, his life was a mess – it was what had kept him away.

 

Legolas nodded slightly and followed his gaze. He smiled softly at the elf that stood just behind them; tears stained the elder’s face as he watched his son, his son whom he had not seen for hundreds upon hundreds of years.

 

“You are free from your exile.” The prince turned back towards the prisoners. “How many of you have family that may still live under Mirkwood’s trees?”

 

Many were the hands that slipped carefully up. A few did not.

 

“I’d like those that don’t have family if you would allow me my lord.” Raniean stepped up near Legolas on his left. “My company was harder hit than some of the others, nearly decimated by Doriflen, we could use the extra warriors.”

 

Legolas nodded, “Can you handle them? Can you put them down if you have to?” He spoke quietly but loud enough so the prisoners could hear.

 

“Yes, my lord, it will not be a problem.” He looked over the outcast, “Whom of you have no family left in Mirkwood?”

 

Seven elves shuffled to the front of the group. “Unbind them.” Raniean ordered the guards. “You belong to me now. I am your family. My men are your family. If you chose not to join me, I will take you to the edge of Mirkwood and throw you out myself. If you want to you can make a good life here. I know you have heard stories of your people that are untrue. Trelan and I are here to teach what is true. Will you have us?”

 

One by one the orphaned warriors consented and Trelan and Raniean walked them slowly back to the barracks where the warriors trained and spent a lot of their off time together. “You’ll like it here.” They heard Trelan talking as he walked alongside the others, “It’s nothing like what you’ve heard.”

 

“As for the rest of you,” Legolas addressed the remaining captive elves. “We will find your families for you and you will be returned home to them. You will have responsibilities and you will be held accountable. You have been lied to and have been living a lie. Its time you learned the truth. Your families know and they will help you to find it again.” He stepped forward and took the proffered knife from the closest guard quickly severing Garilien’s bonds.

 

Garilien could not move. He stared open mouthed at the one he had helped to injure so long ago.

 

“My lord...” He stammered quietly still unsure of his future. “I...I’m sorry. Forgive me.” The apology was barely audible.

 

Raniean had stopped at the corner of the palace sending Trelan on with the new recruits. He watched as Garilien bowed his head dejectedly and stood rooted in place before Legolas.

 

“It wasn’t you.” Legolas’ answered softly. “You were deceived, like I was once. I never held against you, what my Uncle forced you to do and I never once hated for you it.” Gently the prince touched the warrior’s shoulder. Garilien flinched slightly, his gaze rising to meet that of his prince.

 

“Go home. Learn what it is you have lost that you may find it once again. You are free of him now.” Legolas smiled softly into the large blue eyes that searched his for any duplicity, any ulterior motive.

 

There was none.

 

The elf nodded slightly to his new lord and walked hesitantly over to his father. The older elf grabbed his son and pulled the errant child into his arms. “How I missed Gari.” He whispered in the elf’s ear, “It’s so good to have you home son.”

 

Garilien tightened involuntarily in the warm embrace. He had forgotten what it felt like to be loved, to be wanted. Slowly he wrapped his arms around his father’s waist and held him tightly. The years fell away between them and he could not fight back the tears.

 

Cirlith pulled back and gently wiped his fingers across the tear stained cheeks.

 

“Lets go home.” He whispered brokenly, his own emotions too near the surface. Draping his arm around the younger elf Cirlith pulled him tightly to his side as they walked out of the courtyard. Garilien glanced over his shoulder and smiled slightly at Legolas, his tears unhidden as he mouthed a silent thank you.

 

“Nice going.” Aragorn leaned towards the prince as he watched the small family turn out of sight.

 

“Find their families.” Legolas turned back to the guards and instructed them, “Bring the elves up from the dungeons below as well and see that they are all returned to someone or give them over to Raniean for training.” He turned and walked away from the group of prisoners and glanced up at his own father. Thranduil had watched the whole proceedings with a smile on his face.

 

Unnoticed, Raniean quickly dried his eyes on the sleeve of his tunic. He smiled as he watched his old mentor slowly walk Garilien back to their home. It surprised him how light his heart felt as he turned to follow Trelan to the barracks.

 

“Well done my son. I hope they can all return to a full life.” He stepped down next to the two friends as they approached him and turned them towards the palace. “Meanwhile, you and I have a lot to talk about Legolas. I expect a very good tale out of you over what exactly caused the errant Prince of Mirkwood to miss the Yén festival *this* time.”