-Captive of Darkness-
"Come out, come out wherever you are..." the tall, burly man said tauntingly, as if calling to a stray cat in need of a beating. The fellow was swarthy, with dark hair pulled back and hidden beneath a sturdy helm. In his fist he clenched a long, thick broadsword that weighed as much as a small child. Walking warily at his heels was a huge black dog with fangs like a worg.
The fair-haired elf who hid in the tree above was the polar opposite of the brutish man who hunted him. Slender and agile, the young elven prince crouched low to the branch he rested lightly upon, absolutely motionless save for the wafting kiss of the breeze stirring his long golden locks.
Watching the large man pacing warily below, Legolas wrinkled his nose in distaste and made a face at the man’s stupidity. Did he actually *expect* the elf to just come out and say: "Here I am! Oh please, won’t you kill me"?
"Better show your face boy, or it’ll be worse for you when I get my hands on your scrawny, skulking neck!" the man raged, his short supply of patience waning quickly.
The fact that this fellow, who could not have been more than 50, was calling Legolas a boy was ironic. Although by elven standards it might be almost true since the young prince was but a mere one hundred years old, he still was at least twice the age of his would-be captor. Legolas checked off another mental notch for this man’s diminished intelligence, although he supposed it was a common enough mistake for the ignorant to make.
Legolas held perfectly still. It was not this one man he was worried about, but the scores and scores of men and dogs all around who filled the woods, searching for him. Perhaps it was almost harder to avoid the dogs, whose natural abilities of smell and instinct made them more difficult to fool than their less sensitive masters.
Sent as an envoy for his father Thranduil, the Elvenking of Mirkwood, the young prince had responded to a message from King Melèch, ruler of the men of Dorolyn. Dorolyn lay to the far northwest of Mirkwood, at least ten days distant. King Melèch’s message had spoken of a vague threat creeping towards their two kingdoms and requested an envoy come to arrange a neutral meeting ground between the two realms to discuss news of the unknown danger.
Although a certain amount of wariness hung between the two kingdoms, the elves had no reason to distrust the men of Dorolyn, who had been their allies in the last great alliance of men and elves not so too many hundreds of years before. Therefore it was without much misgiving that King Thranduil dispatched his son to act as his representative in this matter.
However, when Legolas and his two companions arrived in the halls of the human king, it was a traitorous welcome that greeted them.
The elves that had traveled with Legolas were now dead and the prince mourned their passing in his heart, saddened by the shameful shortening of immortal lives. He had barely escaped with his own life intact. For hours now he had been forced to play a kind of cat-and-mouse game with the soldiers of Dorolyn. They had already lost many men to his swift arrows, but now the elf’s quiver was empty and he had been forced to abandon his bow in favor of one of his long, white handled knives. Elves were very good at not being seen when they didn’t want to be, but with the number of searchers increasing by the moment it was becoming more and more difficult to remain hidden and escape seemed an ever more remote possibility.
The man below Legolas was Dagred, captain of King Melèch’s guard. When he finally moved on, the elf remained still a few moments longer before dropping lightly to the ground and taking flight once more. He had to get out of here. He had to get back to his people and report the treacherous threat that King Melèch had become.
Legolas’ swift legs moved with urgent speed, hastened even faster than usual by the knowledge that the enemy which pursued him had in mind not only his own death, but the cold-blooded murder of his father as well. The very thought was too dark and horrible to consider, but he knew it was true, he had heard it with his own ears. It was that knowledge, which Melèch had never wanted him to have, that had turned this whole situation disastrous in the first place.
A dog suddenly started howling loudly and a few moments later an arrow zinged by the elf’s head. Legolas dodged, swerving to the left. The swift barrage that followed required all the elf’s skill and agility to avoid. The dog’s baying was quickly turned into a chorus as other animals took up the chase.
"Over there! Stop him!" the cry was raised and Legolas pushed his legs faster, preferring flight over battle when the odds were so overwhelmingly against him.
Three men stepped out of the trees ahead of him, swords drawn. Catching the tree limb above his head, Legolas swung up and kicked one of the men in his chest, knocking him back into his companions. Landing sure-footed like a cat, Legolas’ knife flashed in his hand as he twirled and sidestepped the men’s attack, his long hair flying about him as he spun and slashed.
A pair of vicious, snarling dogs barked at the elf’s heels and Legolas had to dodge them as well. One man fell to the earth, dead, and another pulled back, clutching his arm. One of the dogs jumped, attempting to sink his razor sharp fangs into Legolas’ arm. The elf flicked his wrist at the last moment, catching the snarling beast upon the point of his blade so that the creature’s own rush became its undoing. At that moment, ten more soldiers arrived on the scene and things quickly became more difficult.
Legolas knew he could not fight numbers like this alone for long. Giving way slowly, he sought only the chance to break from the skirmish and flee. Seizing the first opportunity that presented itself, the young prince clamped his knife in his teeth and swung up into the tree nearest to him. Running along a branch above his assailants’ head, he leaped to the next tree, and the next, traveling with an almost feline grace and ease.
Captain Dagred, once more on the scene, swore with terrible oaths as he and his men took up pursuit. "Let’s bring this squirrel down men!" he shouted. "But don’t shoot to kill, King Melèch wants the troublemaker alive!"
Legolas traveled swiftly through the trees, swinging and jumping with more skill than any monkey and running lightly across limbs that should not have been able to bear his weight. His balance was excellent and somehow he managed to avoid most of the whistling arrows aimed his direction as well... most, but not all.
One humming shaft came too close and barely avoided piercing the elf’s right arm. Instead it tore through the sleeve of his long green tunic, cutting a painful groove in the flesh across the side of his upper arm. For a moment Legolas’ balance wavered as the pain and suddenness of the wound made him falter. His feet slipping on the thin branch, he slid, but caught himself in time to leap to the next tree, his heart pounding.
He was trying to outdistance his pursuers, but when more soldiers arrived from the opposite direction, the elf had to change his course abruptly and the possibility of losing them began to dwindle perilously.
A loud, shrieking caw and a flutter of ebony wings was the only warning Legolas had before a large hunting falcon swooped down at him. The large, dangerous birds were raised by the men of Dorolyn for sport and hunting and Legolas had just become their prey.
The large bird swooped down, its beak jabbing and its sharp talons extended. Legolas had just enough time to throw his arm up over his eyes to protect them from the bird’s pecking thrusts, but the beast’s tri-tipped talons caught his face, laying three painful, but shallow scratches across his cheek. The suddenness of its attack and the weight of its body slamming into him made Legolas stagger, throwing off his balance.
The falcon flapped wildly around the elf’s head, pecking and clawing as it beat at him with its powerful wings.
Legolas struck at the bird swiftly, keeping his arms up to protect his head and face from the attack. The falcon was unusually hard to defend against as it moved and fluttered with furious agility and grace and the elf’s precarious position did not help. Losing his footing, Legolas tumbled from his perch, only catching himself at the last moment and managing to land mostly on his feet in a low crouch.
Instantly, three of the dogs were on him. One caught Legolas’ forearm in its teeth and tried to yank him to the ground. It succeeded in throwing him backward and was kept from sinking its fangs into his flesh only by the sturdy black arm-guards that protected the young archer from his wrists to his elbows. Legolas found himself on his back on the ground, tussling with the three beasts that were attempting to sink their fangs into his neck. Apparently the dogs did not understand, nor care that their human masters wanted this elf taken alive. The falcon followed Legolas down, adding confusion to the already desperate struggle.
Rolling to his hands and knees and springing quickly to his feet, Legolas shook off the dogs only to run smack into six more soldiers. Backpedaling quickly the elf’s dagger whirled in his grip, his grey eyes flashing with defiance even as he began to feel fear forming into a cold knot inside him. He was bleeding now from his arm and his cheek and this conflict was turning desperate, but he was determined that he would not go down without a fight.
Four men and three dogs lay dead, but more just kept coming and with two falcons now wheeling about and diving at him, Legolas was not able to retreat to the treetops again. The young elf was wearying. He knew his opponents were intentionally driving him back, maneuvering him to where they wanted him, but he could do little about it.
Suddenly a heavy net dropped over the prince’s head, either thrown from the side or dropped from above, Legolas did not know. The weight of the snare bore him down to his knees, but his sharp elvish blade made quick work of the thick ropes and he cut himself free with lighting fast reflexes, only to be snared by another net, and another. He tried to dodge, tried to move away, but the heavy ropes encumbered him, twisting about his ankles and slowing his movement. One of the dogs leaped on his back, knocking the elf forward and further tangling him in the twisting mesh that enveloped them. Another net was thrown, until Legolas was trapped under so many layers he could scarcely move.
The dog was trapped with Legolas, but he barely seemed to notice. Snarling and trying to snap at the elf, he managed to tangle them both up worse than they already were. As Legolas tried to fend him off his arms caught and snarled in the heavy weave; it was like attempting to swim through mud. A tangled heap on the ground, the beast stood on Legolas’ chest, snapping and snarling at the elf between the layers of netting that separated them. On his back, Legolas grappled with the dog and the heavy snare at the same time.
The dog was cut free and pulled away from the prostrate elf, and Legolas, still trapped, felt the cold steel of several sword-tips come to rest against his neck, chest and stomach. His captors were taking no chances with him anymore.
Dagred stamped heavily on the elf’s slender wrist, forcing Legolas’ fingers open and kicking the knife out of his hand. The elven prince was so tangled in the nets with which he had been snared that they had to end up cutting them away to get him free as well.
Once out, Legolas’ hands were immediately bound behind him, the ropes pulled painfully tight. A thick leather collar with sharp spikes ringing the inside was fastened about his neck, just tight enough so that the pointy spines dug lightly into the flesh of his throat and neck without breaking the skin.
Dagred glowered at the elf as he buckled the wicked contraption into place; his eyes filled with spite and anger at the long chase Legolas had led them on.
"We use these collars on disobedient dogs," he growled derisively. "You give us trouble and you’ll find out why." Dagred gave the collar a swift yank, just to let the elf know what he meant.
Legolas could not help flinching in pain as the sharp spikes cut into his flesh when Dagred jerked the cruel collar.
A length of rope was threaded through the loop on the front of the collar, effectively creating a leash by which his captors could handle the young elf.
"All right then, let’s head back. King Melèch wants to see you," Dagred told Legolas, giving the rope in his hand a quick, ruthless, and totally unnecessary tug to get the elf started.
Legolas’ eyes were cold and as hard as steel. If these men wanted to see fear in his face, they were going to be disappointed. He might feel it in his heart, but he would never give them the satisfaction of seeing it.
His captors seemed to delight in jerking on the hellish collar whether Legolas obeyed them or not and by the time they reached the palace once more the elf prince’s neck was beginning to bleed from the abuse.
Dragged into King Melèch’s presence like a beast on a chain, Legolas’ legs were kicked out from under him when he refused to bow to the evil monarch.
Dagred tangled his fingers in the hair on the back of the elf’s skull, forcing Legolas’ forehead to the floor in a submissive grovel, before releasing him and allowing the proud elf to quickly straighten up once more. The hands on Legolas’ arms held him firmly on his knees however.
Melèch regarded his captive coldly. The great, black hunting falcon that had followed them back swooped down and landed on the thick glove which adorned the king’s left arm for just such a purpose. Melèch stroked his pet, smoothing the feathers on the back of the bird’s neck. Tall and imposing with striking silver-grey hair, the king of Dorolyn fixed his elven prisoner with an icy glare. He was obviously upset.
"Who are you?" he demanded of Legolas. "What is your name?"
Legolas did not answer, jerking only slightly when his stubbornness was rewarded by a sharp kick in the ribs from one of the guards.
"I ask you again," Melèch said darkly. "Who are you?"
Still Legolas refused to speak. This time Dagred kicked him in the chest, throwing the elf backward. Jerking him up by his collar, Dagred struck Legolas forcefully across the face, splitting the young elf’s lower lip before throwing him forward onto his knees once more.
"You will quickly find that disobedience can be very painful and very foolish here master elf," Melèch threatened darkly. "I already know you are from Mirkwood, one of the three envoys sent by King Thranduil. It will not be terribly hard for me to find out the rest on my own, but before I let Captain Dagred and his friend teach you a rather painful lesson in manners, I will give you a chance to save yourself a lot of absolutely needless agony, and ask you one more time. Who are you?"
Legolas sucked his bleeding lip. It would absolutely never do for Melèch to know that *he* was the prince Melèch had been conspiring to kill along with his father. His life may be forfeit now anyway, but he did want this evil, traitorous man to have the kind of leverage that a royal hostage provided. Yet if he did not speak and Melèch found out, as he was bound to do, that Prince Legolas had been one of the envoys sent, he would easily put two and two together.
"Nindäl, son of Ehnärfin," Legolas said coldly, taking the identity of one of his slain companions. That way even if Melèch did find out the identity of all the envoys sent him, he could think that the prince had been killed.
"Well Nindäl," Melèch locked eyes with the elf. "You and your friends have put me through quite a bit of trouble. Everything could have been so simple, but you couldn’t leave well enough alone, you had to be where you shouldn’t have been and heard things you should never have heard."
Legolas’ eyes flared. "You wanted to use us. You only wanted to set up a meeting with King Thranduil and his son so you could assassinate them both," he accused. The frightening thing was that he could have arranged his own and his father’s murder if he and his friends had not taken the wrong path through the woods and overheard the secret plotting of Melèch and some of his subordinates.
"And I still will my friend, I still will," Melèch grinned maddeningly. "I’m sure the Elvenking will be most distressed when he finds out that a band of marauding orcs set upon your company and destroyed them all. As a gesture of our sorrow and regret, we will help him search for the bodies until they are found, and then explain that this is the very reason our need to meet grows ever more urgent. And if they only find two of the bodies... what of it?"
Lightly shaking his arm, Melèch indicated to his falcon that he wanted him to move and the obedient bird flapped over to light on the arm of the king’s throne.
Legolas’ heart tightened with apprehension. Partially for fear that this man’s twisted plans might succeed, and partially because Melèch spoke of recovering only two bodies. Legolas was not sure where that left him, and was even more unsure that he really wanted to know. Following quickly on the heels of this concern, was the thought that if the bodies of his companions were indeed returned to Mirkwood but his was absent, there would undoubtedly be questions asked. Legolas was unsure whether his father would be suspicious of the story of their deaths or not, he certainly hoped he would be, but he *was* sure that King Thranduil would most assuredly ask about the missing body of his son. If that happened, and he were still a captive, then Melèch would know who he held...
"What of me?" Legolas asked, trying to keep his own worries to himself. The more he learned of this man’s intentions, the better. After all, he still did not understand *why* King Melèch would want his family destroyed.
Melèch smiled wickedly. "Now there’s the question, isn’t it?" he said, pacing slowly in front of his prisoner. "I could question you... it would be fun to see how much pain it took to make you scream." He paused slightly as if toying with the thought before discarding it.
"But I have a feeling my energy would be wasted," Melèch said as he caught Legolas’ stubborn, flinty eyes. "You’d die before you’d tell me the most insignificant thing, wouldn’t you?" The King was almost amused. "And besides, there is really no information that I need from you... no, I really have no use for you at all."
Legolas drew in a deep, quiet breath. If these men had no use for him, then he would very likely not live to leave these rooms. He did not want to die, but he was not afraid. He regretted only that he would be unable to warn his father of the evil that was attempting to ensnare him.
Dagred drew his sword, letting it rest against the back of Legolas’ neck, above the collar, as if eager for the command to slay the young elf who had cost him so much trouble and so many men.
"...But," Melèch’s grin hardened. Taking Legolas’ chin in his hand he tipped the young elf’s head up, tracing the scratches on Legolas’ cheek with one finger. "Then again, there may be other ways you could be useful to me. After all, how many mortal kings can say that they have one of the firstborn as a slave? You’ll make a pretty trophy my dear elf, a portent of the power I shall hold."
Legolas jerked his head away, fixing Melèch with smoldering eyes. "I am no man’s slave," he spat defiantly. "And even less a prize for you to flaunt. Those who seek power will be consumed by their own lust, it is a road that leads to destruction."
Coldly, Melèch pulled the thick, leather falcon glove off his arm and whipped the kneeling prisoner across the face with it, snapping Legolas’ head to the side.
"In time my young friend, you will learn to hold your tongue as is befitting a slave," Melèch said harshly, making the same mistake about Legolas’ age that his Captain had. "You will learn to cringe at my command and know me for your lord, because I own you body and soul."
The elf’s eyes blazed defiantly and his lips pressed into a tight, hard line. "Body only, and only for now. I will never call you master," Legolas swore coldly.
Melèch shook his head slowly, a small, cruel smile tugging at one side of his mouth. He was going to enjoy breaking the will behind those strong grey eyes. "That will change. You will learn to fear me," he promised darkly.