Chapter 1: Part One
-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.
Chapter 2: Part Two
"Faster scum, these rocks won’t move by themselves!" one of the guards growled harshly, giving Legolas a sharp cut across the back with the ribbed whip in his hand.
Legolas’ features were tight and pinched as he struggled with the rage that burned inside him towards these people. Remaining silent despite the taunts of his captors, Legolas hefted another huge chunk of rough, hard-edged rock and carried it over to the small cart, which was quickly filling to capacity.
Dozens of hopeless slaves toiled in these rock fields, thralls of King Melèch and doomed to harvest stone and gravel for the use of Dorolyn from now until the day they died, which would be quite soon because mortality rates in the stone quarries were high.
Fleets of cruel, sneering slave drivers watched over them, driving the poor souls without rest. But of them all, Legolas was the only slave who had the dubious distinction of having his own personal guards assigned to him. Then again, Legolas was the only slave whose entire life was not bound to this one, grinding task. No indeed, King Melèch liked to keep his favorite decoration handy, however, Legolas had been nothing but trouble for his captors since the day they took him.
The elf’s strong will refused to be broken and he could not be moved, either by pain or coercion, to break his vow to never acknowledge the wicked King as his Master or his Lord. The three weeks Legolas had been in thrall to Melèch had been absolute hell for the elf. His latest impudence had earned him a week and a half’s worth of hard labor in the stone quarries as punishment.
The guards Melèch assigned him were responsible both for making sure that the prisoner did not escape, and that he pulled the double and sometimes triple work-shifts that the King had assigned in an attempt to drain some of the spirit out of his unruly slave. What Melèch did not count on was the strength of elven endurance.
Legolas could keep going for far longer than the guards who watched him, which angered the men to no end. They took shifts while Legolas was forced to toil both night and day. Elves need little rest and had their own ways of regaining their strength even while on their feet and moving. So, for the first three or four days of his sentence, Legolas had not shown even the slightest sign of fatigue. However, as the second week drew on, the harsh, unyielding labor that was uniquely ill-fitted for a wood elf, began to take its toll on the young prince’s spirit and body.
It did not help that the men guarding him delighted in making the elf’s life a misery. Because they could find no legitimate complaint about his work, they resorted to creating them and nothing Legolas ever did was fast enough or good enough to suit them.
Heavy iron chains connected Legolas’ wrists and ankles to one another and to the thick iron collar around his neck. All together the ugly manacles must have weighed well over thirty pounds and lugging their weight around all day did nothing to ease the elf’s job.
Using the tools provided him, Legolas chipped another block of stone off the rock face he was working on with repeated blows from a dull-edged pick. Rolling the huge boulder he had created along the ground with a sizable amount of effort, Legolas got it to the cart and lifted it in on top of the others. He was breathing heavily from exertion and perspiration covered his body, making his torn, soiled clothing cling to him as he moved.
The elf’s long fingers were cut and bleeding from over a week of handling and hauling the sharp, jagged pieces of stone. He had wrapped cloth around his palms and wrists as the other stone workers did, but even that protection could not prevent the cuts and blisters he had acquired in his time here.
Again, his guard’s lash came down across Legolas’ shoulders; catching the elf off guard and making him stumble on the uneven ground. Legolas fell painfully to his hands and knees on the rocks, which just gave his captor more of an excuse to beat him.
Quickly scrambling to his feet with a surprising amount of grace given the circumstances, Legolas returned to work, but the taskmaster only found some other excuse to berate him.
"You call that work?" the man sneered deprecatingly. "Look at the sloppy angles on those *pebbles* that you’re chipping out. You think we can build anything with those?" A stinging slash of pain across the elf’s shoulders emphasized his words. "So much for elvish craftsmanship!" the fellow taunted.
Legolas clenched his painful hands into fists. He had just about had it with these impossible, arrogant humans.
"If you want perfection in your stonework get a dwarf," Legolas said shortly, his eyes snapping with irritated fire as he turned towards the man. "The skill of the elves does not lie in grubbing about in the earth, nor in the chopping of lifeless rock."
Predictably, Legolas was struck to the ground for his bold words.
Stepping on the chain that connected the elf’s collar and wrists before he could rise, the guard pinned Legolas to the earth on his stomach.
"You have far more lip than is good for a slave," the man said darkly, raising his lash and letting it fall repeatedly across his helpless prisoner’s back.
Legolas grimaced in pain as the new welts were laid on top of old. He knew that if he just lay still and took it, the lashing would be over sooner, but his strong spirit rebelled at the submission that such a thing required.
Legolas struggled with the man holding him down, nearly knocking the taskmaster off balance. Of course, the fellow did not respond well to that at all.
Kicking Legolas in the chest with his other leg and grinding the chains more firmly into the rocky earth, the man swore at the elf angrily. "Feisty one, hm? We’ll have to take that out of you, won’t we?"
Legolas sucked in a quick, gasping breath as the cruel lash fell twice in the same spot, cutting him deeply. The guard metered out six more searing strokes before he finally stepped back and allowed the elf to rise slowly and painfully back to his feet.
Drawing in deep, shuddering breaths, Legolas staggered slightly and had to steady himself against the wall for a moment. He was weary in a way that elves rarely were. He had been allowed less than five hours of rest total since he had been brought here over a week ago. The work was draining and the abuse just kept getting worse.
"Go on, back to work!" the merciless taskmaster demanded, aiming another whistling slash at the elf’s bloodstained shoulders.
Legolas gave a small, gasping cry at the agony of the unexpected blow before he caught himself and quickly cut it off.
The elf’s long golden hair was tied back in a ponytail to keep it out of the way, but some had worked itself loose and clung to his face, falling in his eyes. Pushing the stray strands back with trembling hands, Legolas wearily lifted his pick once more.
Night hung over the land and the bright stars twinkled down from the sky above. Work in the quarries never ceased, but continued in shifts through the night by torchlight. Legolas had to wonder what incredible need for stone and masonry Dorolyn had that it should require such extreme measures. He was finding many mysteries about this place.
Most of the time, the elf was required to work through the night as well as the day without break, but tonight he was actually granted a few hours rest. It was well, because Legolas needed the break more than he wanted to admit even to himself.
The sheer weight of the hopelessness of all the other beings around him formed a dark cloud that tugged at his spirit and as Legolas sank cross-legged to the ground he closed his eyes with a sigh as if seeking to dispel the grey cloud lingering about him.
His chains rattled and grated as he settled himself back against the cleft of the rock behind him, grimacing painfully as he leaned against his throbbing back.
When he opened his eyes again, Legolas could see the bright, star-filled heavens looking down at him and felt a certain amount of peace fill his being as he took strength from the unchanging face of the sky. His gaze sought out Eärendil, the star most dear to the elves, and there it fixed. Even here, in the midst of all this misery and suffering, Eärendil still shined. Evil men like Melèch could not harness the stars and bring them to their knees, and neither could they harness Legolas’ spirit.
Pulling one knee up to his chest as he let his weary, hurting body recline lightly against the rocks, Legolas began to sing softly in his native tongue as he gazed up at the stars. It was a soft, haunting tune, but not a sad one. It spoke of the passage of time, of the changing earth and the unchanging stars. It spoke of things the young elf had yet to experience and of understandings far older than his comparatively small years.
As Legolas sang he felt better, and his clear voice became louder and more sweet, if that were possible.
The flowing elvish words floated on the wind and seemed to stir some buried spark in the hearts of the hopeless dredges still laboring in the quarries for they all looked up and a thoughtful look flittered across previously numb faces.
"Shut up you!" one of Legolas’ guards snapped harshly.
The elf complied, but he smiled quietly to himself in the darkness. They could silence him, but they could not silence the song of the stars, nor still the hope that rested in the heart and soul of every living thing, waiting only to be awoken by a kindred flame with enough strength to push away the darkness of despair.
Legolas was surprised when he was taken from the quarries the next day and carted back to the palace. He knew he still had at least two more days on his sentence and it was not like these people to give him a reprieve.
When questioned, his guards said only that King Melèch was entertaining guests and wanted his new trophy to attend him. Legolas’ lips curled disdainfully at the thought, but he gave them no excuse to abuse him further. He had learned long ago that these people were not hesitant to punish any infraction, real or imagined.
Once back at the palace, the elf was washed up and his wounds tended. Dressed in tunic and leggings made of deep emerald velvet as befitted a royal slave, the only thing that now denoted Legolas’ status was the gold-plated chains that replaced the scuffed, iron ones he had been wearing previously.
When the elf was brought to the King, Melèch frowned in grim amusement because if it were not for his shackles, Legolas had a bearing and carriage that made him look more like nobility than the king’s own sons did.
"You see the kind of life you could have if only you behave yourself Nindäl," Melèch said as Legolas was forced to kneel and pay homage to him.
Legolas met the king’s eyes squarely. "Golden chains are still chains," he said coldly. "I see little difference."
Melèch grinned thinly. This slave had a unique knack for getting under his skin. He was a man who liked to feel powerful and in control and Legolas had the exact opposite effect on him.
"I’m having some guests for dinner tonight, you will serve us. And make no mistake, if you embarrass me in front of these people I will have not only you, but every kitchen slave on the staff flogged within an inch of their lives." Melèch’s dark, brooding eyes said that he did not make idle threats. "So unless you want their blood on that pretty head of yours boy, you had better not disappoint me."
Legolas nodded curtly. Melèch had already learned that almost the only way to secure the elf’s good behavior was to link the consequences of Legolas’ actions to the fates of other innocents.
Melèch’s dinner guests proved to be a very odd assortment indeed. One of the men was tall and noble looking with flowing dark brown hair that spilled out from under a shimmering turban that encased the fellow’s head. The cut of the man’s clothes was simple, yet their texture and richness was exquisite in an understated sort of way. The second guest was a decidedly haughty fellow who wore so much jewelry and finery that Legolas thought he must surely tip over under its weight. The third man however seemed the most out of place. He was dressed well, but looked unaccustomed to the fine attire. A long scar marred one side of his face from forehead to chin, slicing directly across his eye, yet apparently having missed damaging the fellow’s vision. Bushy eyebrows and beard complemented the man’s squinting eyes and although Legolas tried to never form premature opinions about anyone, he did not like that man from the first.
"Welcome friends," Melèch greeted his guests courteously. "I am honored that you accepted my invitation."
The brown-haired one just nodded his head and scar-face grunted, but the glitteringly bejeweled man looked around with a certain amount of distaste.
"It is odd company I find myself in Melèch," the man said self-importantly as he cast a meaningful glance at scar-face. "Exactly what is the nature of our business?"
Since the fellow had totally ignored the King’s title, Legolas guessed that he too, must be royalty and the notion was confirmed a few moments later.
"I will explain all in time Elnon," Melèch said, doing a good job of hiding his irritation. "But first, I believe introductions are in order. King Elnon of Ilnnarion, this is Lord Esgal from beyond the Misty Mountains," he gestured to the tall, regal man. Legolas knew that Ilnnarion lay to the west of Dorolyn, but since no home country was given for Lord Esgal, he could not place him. "And this is Unuth, formerly from Umbar he has recently turned his attention to our area of the world." This introduction was made of the scar-faced one.
Legolas’ lip curled slightly in concealed disgust as his dislike of the fellow solidified.
Lord Esgal raised one trim eyebrow. "The Corsairs of Umbar seldom stray so far from their ships," he observed coolly. "It is a riddle, what brings you so far from your home master Unuth?"
King Elnon snorted slightly. "Not so much of a wonder if you keep your eyes open. If I’m not very much mistaken Unuth here has been enjoying the pickings of our rich lands for the past several years. Are you not the leader of those brigands that men call the ‘Rhûnsûl’, or the ‘east wind’ because nothing good ever blows in from the east?"
Unuth grinned and gave a small, mocking bow. "My reputation proceeds me I see." He did not seem at all disturbed by the stuffy nobleman’s words, indeed, he seemed to enjoy their scorn.
The past several years Legolas had heard much of the Rhûnsûl. Unuth and his band of pirates and highwaymen had been terrorizing the countryside north of Mirkwood for some time now, burning, pillaging, looting and taking captives. The main function of the Rhûnsûl was as slave traders, although none knew where the poor souls they took as slaves disappeared to, only that they were never seen again.
This was indeed a strange gathering and Legolas’ interest was peaked. He was not too sorry now, that he was required to be here. The longer he spent in Dorolyn, the more he felt certain that King Melèch was up to something... something bigger than the elf could yet guess at. If he had the chance to overhear some of these men’s conversation, he might learn something of value.
Once the three guests were seated around his elegant table with Elnon on his right, Esgal on his left and Unuth across from him, King Melèch clapped his hands, signaling that he wanted Legolas to pour their wine.
Legolas obeyed, fetching the fluted wine pitcher and filling the glasses in a clockwise circle, starting with King Melèch’s and moving to King Elnon next. He kept his eyes bowed to his task and moved quietly as was expected of him, partly because of the threat hanging over the other hapless servants’ heads should he misbehave, and partly because he wished to be allowed to stay and serve them, that he might be able to listen as they spoke.
"Like you my new prize?" the King commented as Legolas filled Elnon’s cup. Although Elnon seemed loath to admit it, he did seem quite impressed by the unusual servant.
"An elf?" the King of Ilnnarion said with surprise, before he quickly pulled his carefully polished disdain back into place. "I’ll wager he’s more trouble than he’s worth."
Melèch smiled. "Oh he’s a stubborn one, no mistake, but we’re working on that, aren’t we boy?" he said, purposefully running his hand down Legolas’ back, which was turned to him, knowing the elf was still sore from his last beating.
Legolas’ body healed far faster than that of a man, but the abuse was fresh yet and Melèch’s movement was unexpected, so the elf actually tensed and jerked slightly when the King intentionally applied pressure to the still raw welts that Legolas’ tunic concealed. A momentary wince of pain crossed the elf’s fair features before Legolas quickly banished it, schooling his face into its impassive mask once more and moving stiffly around Elnon to fill Unuth’s glass.
Lord Esgal watched all this with out comment, but a dark shadow of disapproval flickered in the depths of his deep brown eyes as his gaze followed Legolas around the table.
"I asked you a question slave," Melèch’s voice was sharp and Legolas’ fingers tightened around the handle of the pitcher. He hadn’t realized the King’s statement wanted a reply, but now that he did he felt his stubborn pride rising up to refuse.
"I said, aren’t we?" King Melèch’s tone was deceptively soft, but Legolas could hear the danger in refusing it. Quashing his pride, Legolas forced himself to answer for the sake of the others.
"Yes... sir," Legolas still refused to acknowledge Melèch as he wished to be acknowledged. He knew he would pay for not calling the King Master as he desired, but that was unavoidable.
Melèch glared daggers at the slave, but said nothing for the moment. He would deal with Legolas later.
"So what think you Unuth? You know the worth of a slave," Melèch said casually.
Legolas felt the brigand’s eyes appraising him and was repulsed by their mere gaze.
"This one would fetch a pretty price my lord," Unuth said with calculating eyes. "He’s a real looker," the man complimented, but Legolas did not like the look in his eyes when he said it. "Oh yes, there’d be a lot of uses for him." Unuth calmly pinched the elf’s arm, feeling his muscle tone between his fingers.
Unable to stop himself, Legolas jerked his arm away from the loathsome man’s touch.
Unuth grinned. "He’d fetch more when he was properly broken however," he said as if speaking about a horse. "If your lordship was interested in selling, I’d buy him myself..." he left his offer open.
Melèch shook his head. "I’m not in the market to sell right now Unuth, but I may let you borrow him some time if you wish, it could teach him a valuable lesson." He said the last part looking straight at Legolas. It was a threat and the elf knew it.
"They say that elves are immortal," Melèch took a drink from his glass, smirking. "I suppose that makes him an heirloom I can pass down to my children, hm?"
The guests chuckled at his words, but Legolas did not find them at all amusing.
The elf moved to fill Lord Esgal’s glass last. He could feel this man’s eyes on him as well, but the weight of his gaze was not nearly so repulsive as that of Unuth. In fact, as Legolas drew near to pour the wine he had the oddest feeling. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but it made him look up. For a brief moment he caught Esgal’s eyes. The young elf faltered, surprised by the sudden spark of familiarity he saw in man’s somber gaze. He had never seen this man before that he could recall, but something about him made Legolas do a double take.
Legolas’ loss of attention to his task caused a few drops of the ruby-red wine to spill onto the glittering white tablecloth beneath.
Instantly, Melèch’s hand came up and he backhanded the elf so hard that Legolas was flung to the floor. The pitcher fell from his hands and came down next to him with a crash, creating an even bigger mess.
Recovering from the unexpected blow, Legolas pulled himself quickly to his knees, wiping his bleeding mouth with the side of his palm.
"Clumsy fool!" Melèch berated. "Clean this mess up, at once!"
Legolas dipped his head in a quick nod and fetched a rag, keeping his eyes downcast so that Melèch would not see the burning ire in them.
Esgal’s eyes followed Legolas silently, but when Legolas looked at him the tall man quickly wrenched his gaze away.
"Lord Esgal, did you bring with you the items I commissioned made by your smiths?" Melèch inquired.
Esgal nodded slowly. The items spoken of where huge, peculiarly shaped metal circles, made to fasten in the back and lock shut. Imbedded inside the thick plates was a fine obsidian powder, or so the specifications said. The purpose for all this, Esgal could not begin to guess.
"I have it, but I must admit that its usefulness eludes me," he said curiously.
"For now it is enough that you have them, I will inspect them later," Melèch said graciously enough, but avoiding answering Esgal’s question.
The rest of the meal was blessedly uneventful, so Legolas kept his ears open and his mouth shut as he served them. When he was not serving he was expected to stand patiently in the far corner of the room, where he could easily be summoned if needed. He had no trouble standing perfectly still for long periods of time, and listened attentively to all that was said. For although the intention was that the slave serving should be on call, but too far away to hear anything discussed, that plan did not take into account the power of elvish hearing. Legolas’ sharp ears were able to clearly pick up everything said.
To his disappointment, there were no clear plans discussed, and he began to get the feeling that not even Melèch’s guests fully understood what the King of Dorolyn had in mind as of yet. However, the vague drift that Legolas was beginning to get disturbed the elf greatly and in the back of his mind he feared that it meant grave danger to more than just Mirkwood and his family.
The stars were out again as Legolas made his way softly and silently out of the dark hole of a room he was supposed to spend the night in and crept out into the still courtyard. He moved very carefully, trying to keep down the sound of his chains’ rattle with moderate success. For one who was used to being able to move soundlessly, the bothersome impediment of the chains was very irritating.
Still, Legolas made it to the courtyard without drawing notice. If only it would be that easy to escape the palace all together... but the elf knew that it was not. Once already he had tried to escape, only to find what a difficult proposition that was. The result had been excruciatingly horrible. Legolas was not about to try that again unless he was certain he could make it away.
Tonight, Legolas wanted only to see the stars and smell the fresh air. He hated being cooped up inside the thick stone walls of the palace.
Kneeling by the fountain and listening to the soft burble of the flowing water, Legolas shrugged stiffly and painfully out of his tunic. Melèch had not dealt lightly with him after the king’s guests had retired.
Legolas dipped a clean rag in the cool water of the fountain. His face tightening with pain, he ran it over the back of his burning shoulders. The cloth came away stained red and Legolas leaned against the fountain edge for a moment, breathing heavily in an uneven and somewhat ragged cadence. At Melèch’s bidding, the man delivering the whipping had worked the slave cruelly and Legolas still felt lightheaded and ill from the pain.
He chaffed horribly at his captivity and helplessness. Always foremost in his thoughts was the impending danger facing his family. Mirkwood was a good ten-day ride from here and no doubt King Melèch did not intend to bring suspicion by making the first contact. Doubtlessly, his intention was to wait until the elves began to wonder why they had not heard back from their envoys and sent out another party to find word of them. Then it would be easy for the King to feign surprise, saying that no emissaries ever arrived. A search would be made which would eventually turn up the carefully planted remains that Melèch would be sure to have waiting.
It may take at least a week or two more before anyone from King Thranduil’s court should become concerned enough to begin the long journey out here. Legolas wondered if when they arrived he would have a chance to try to contact them... however he somehow doubted that Melèch would be stupid enough to grant him that opportunity.
At least with the passage of time, it became less likely that anyone would be able to tell which elf bodies lay hidden in the forest... Legolas’ heart tightened at the thought of how it would hurt his father to hear of his death. For any immortal to perish was a sad waste, and he was sure that his father would grieve for him all the harder because from the view of an elf, Legolas had barely begun to live.
Lost in his own thoughts, Legolas was not aware that anyone else was present until a quiet voice behind him made him jump.
"Do you seek the solace of the stars young elf?"
Legolas whirled around to see Lord Esgal standing behind him, gazing at him with mysterious, but not unfriendly, eyes.
For the life of him, Legolas could not imagine how this man had managed to sneak up on him like this without his knowledge. Shaken, the elf quickly snatched his tunic up and slid it back over his hurting shoulders.
"Walls of stone are hard to breathe in," Legolas said warily. "I sought only a few moments of the free air, no more." He defended his actions somewhat apprehensively. The proud elf would have been loath to admit it, but he was afraid of garnering Melèch’s wrath twice in one night. Especially when he already hurt so badly.
"Peace young friend, you have nothing to fear," Esgal shook his head. "I do not intend to report you to your master."
Legolas’ jaw tightened. "I have no master," he said fiercely, before he could stop himself and keep silent as prudence would have warranted.
Esgal’s brows knit tightly, but surprisingly not with anger or even indignation. He raised his hand to hush the elf. "I would be more careful with my words if I were you. Your pride will not help you here I think," he cautioned.
Legolas looked away. The warning was surprisingly sincere, but that did not mean he accepted it.
"You are hurt," it was not a question.
Legolas nodded noncommittally. "A little. It is of no matter. I should go before I am missed."
"Sit," Esgal commanded quietly and to his surprise, Legolas found himself obeying.
Lord Esgal seated the elf on the low edge of the stone fountain and sat down behind him. "Let me see your back."
Again, Legolas complied without really knowing why he felt compelled to obey this man. Dropping the open-fronted tunic from his shoulders, Legolas let it hang down against the stone ledge they sat upon. His arms were still looped through the sleeves, but his back was sufficiently revealed to satisfy the nobleman behind him. Pulling his long hair over his shoulder, Legolas took care to make sure it did not cling to, or further aggravate his injuries.
Esgal’s eyes looked slightly saddened and perhaps even a little angered when he took in the elf’s bloody back. Legolas’ fair skin was marred with layer upon layer of raw, ugly welts that spoke of harsh and frequent lashings.
The older stripes from yesterday were already healing thanks to the elf’s naturally fast regeneration processes, and remarkably, they left no lasting scars, but tonight’s whipping was still fresh and raw. It was almost a curse in this case, the fact that the elf healed so quickly, because it left Melèch free to visit his ire upon Legolas as frequently he wished without inflicting permanent or lasting damage upon the slave. Yet just because it healed swiftly, did not mean that the abuse did not hurt Legolas terribly.
Esgal picked up the discarded rag Legolas had had a moment before and dipped it in the fountain. With surprising gentleness, the nobleman washed the blood from the elf’s back and shoulders, carefully cleansing the cuts and lacerations.
Legolas stiffened and sucked his breath in sharply, but made no other movement or sound, even though Esgal knew that what he was doing, gentle as he tried to be, must be causing the elf great pain. Legolas’ body trembled slightly under Esgal’s hands, but it was not something that the elf seemed able to control and the nobleman did not fault him for that.
"I regret that you were placed in disfavor earlier on my account," Esgal’s halfway apology was totally unexpected. "Is that why you were beaten?"
Legolas shook his head stiffly, biting his lip against the pain. This beating, like many others, was solely the result of the elf’s absolute refusal to acknowledge Melèch as his lord and master.
"I seem to have a way of getting on King Melèch’s bad side," the elf admitted.
Esgal said nothing but finished his ministrations. Legolas was surprised at the amount of healing he felt in the man’s hands and touch.
"Do... do I know you sir?" Legolas inquired hesitantly as he pulled his tunic stiffly up again, shaking his hair off his shoulder so that it fell down his back once more. Somehow it did not feel odd or demeaning to call this man by a term of respect.
The look in Esgal’s eyes was unreadable. He shook his head. "I do not believe we have ever met before." That didn’t seem to answer Legolas’ question somehow, but there were no other answers forthcoming.
"You should go back now, before someone else catches you here," Esgal warned and Legolas nodded. He may have been pressing his luck, but he hesitated one moment longer.
"Lord Esgal, why did *you* come out here tonight?" he queried, wishing to understand this strange contradiction of a man.
Esgal treated him to a mysterious smile. "I too, came to see the stars."
Legolas turned and started to walk away when a barely audible whisper from the man behind him made him freeze in his tracks.
"Gil-Estel shines bright tonight, you see?" Esgal said so softly that even with his elvish hearing Legolas was not even sure he had heard rightly.
Gil-Estel was the ancient name for Eärendil, the evening star. How did this strange man know that? There were many elves who had forgotten it.
Legolas turned back abruptly, but Esgal was already gone.
Chapter 3: Part Three
The next three days passed uneventfully. King Melèch’s three eclectic guests remained, enjoying his hospitality, although King Elnon seemed to become easily impatient as he did not yet appear to understand the full reason for his presence. However, days of hunting with King Melèch’s excellent dogs and falcons and nights of luxurious feasting kept his complaints down to a minimum.
Legolas paid close attention to all that transpired, although it did not help him over much as of yet. He watched Lord Esgal very closely as well and a shadow of suspicion began to grow in his mind, yet what exactly it meant, he could not tell.
The opportunity for Legolas to repay the kindness that Lord Esgal had shown him came quite unexpectedly several days later, and it was only because of his growing suspicion and keen mind that the elf realized it for what it was.
It was about midday and the weather was fair. Melèch and his guests were preparing to set out on yet another hunting party and Legolas was filling quivers and inspecting arrows for them as the horses were gathered. It was his job to be sure that none of the arrows they were taking with were bent or feathered incorrectly. The feel of the darts in his hands kindled in Legolas his deep desire for escape, yet secured in the courtyard of the palace, surrounded by milling guardsmen, was hardly the time to consider anything.
Legolas regarded the arrow in his hands. It was adequate, but he could tell that the feathering was off ever so slightly and the point not as true as it could have been. With mild disdain he flipped it into one of the waiting quivers. It was actually one of the better-made arrows. The elf found the weapons of the men clumsy and awkward compared to what he was used to, but of course did not feel inclined to point this out, especially since Melèch couldn’t have cared less for his opinion anyway.
No less than five hunting Falcons wheeled overhead, filling the air with their eager calls as they waited for the hunt to begin.
King Melèch’s large black hunting bird glided down on the air current to land gracefully on his master’s arm. Legolas could have sworn that the creature glared at him before fluttering away again, as if mocking the fact that he was free to go and come as he pleased and Legolas was not. The elven archer found himself calmly considering how very easy it would be to knock the gloating falcon out of the sky.
*"You are lucky that I do not have my bow mocking one,"* Legolas thought disparagingly, before turning back to his work.
Suddenly a loud commotion broke out overhead as two of the falcons got into a row about something and started fighting; diving and swooping at one another.
One of them took a strong peck to his wing and plummeted from the sky, catching himself when he was only about a man’s height from the ground and turning his dive into a clumsy glide. The falling bird nearly struck Lord Esgal and the tall man stepped backward with incredibly quick and graceful reflexes. The attacking bird followed his fallen companion down, swooping low, his entire attention on his quarry.
Unintentionally, Esgal stepped back into the diving falcon’s path.
Esgal ducked at the last instant, dropping to one knee in a dodge which spoke well of his instincts, but the bird’s extended talon’s snagged in the turban that the nobleman never seemed to be without. The bird accidentally yanked the turban right off Lord Esgal’s head as it pulled up out of its dive.
In that momentary instant, while all other eyes were turned upon the loudly squabbling fowls, Legolas’ sharp gaze caught a glimpse that confirmed his growing suspicion. He also knew that King Melèch and the other men present must not be allowed to know what he had just discovered.
King Melèch was just turning to apologize to his guest when Legolas purposefully knocked over the large rack of hunting gear that had been painstakingly sorted out earlier in the morning. The heavy-laden shelf tipped over with a crash as weapons, supplies and snares went clattering to the cobblestones. The huge noise caused all eyes to turn on Legolas, which was what the elf had wanted.
"Stupid fool!" Melèch shouted angrily at his slave as Legolas quickly dropped to a crouch and started picking things up. The King’s heavy boot landed a hard kick in the elf’s ribs, making Legolas catch himself on his hand to keep from falling over sideways.
"They say that elves are graceful, but I have never had a more clumsy slave!" Melèch berated with irritation.
Unnoticed by the others who were watching Melèch and Legolas, Esgal quickly pulled his long brown hair free of the clips that held it back from his face.
"I’m sorry, it won’t happen again," Legolas forced himself to say, keeping his eyes downcast so that the King could not see that he did not mean what he said.
Out of the corner of his eye, Legolas saw Esgal pull his hair forward to frame his face, covering his ears, neck and shoulders.
"It better not," Melèch huffed, but he must actually have been in a good mood that day, because he let the subject drop and gave Legolas no further grief over the matter.
"Lord Esgal, I trust you are all right?" Melèch turned apologetically back to his guest.
Esgal nodded, retrieving his unwrapped, trailing turban from where it had dropped to the ground some yards away. "No harm done King Melèch." He re-wrapped the turban quickly and efficiently, carefully encasing his head once more.
"It appears the falcons too are in high spirits today." He spoke lightly to the king, but his eyes darted to where Legolas still knelt, gathering scattered equipment, and a silent look of understanding passed between them. Lord Esgal knew what Legolas had done and why.
Night was approaching and the light was fading, but Legolas was still hard at work. He had been set the task of washing the white and grey cobblestone pavement that covered much of the enormous courtyard. On his hands and knees with a bucket and brush, Legolas had been scrubbing at the grimy tiles for hours. Earlier he had had to contend with people constantly walking across the surfaces he had just scrubbed and tracking more dirt where he had recently washed, but now the courtyard was still and he was the only living thing out there.
When he suddenly found himself confronted by a pair of light, wrapped leather boots he looked up to find Esgal looking down at him. This time Legolas was not surprised. He knew that Esgal was the only person in the palace who could approach him without his knowing, and now he knew why.
Legolas raised himself to his knees and sat back on his heels, waiting for the other to speak first.
"Scrubbing floors is not a fitting task for a prince I fear," Esgal said quietly, dropping down into an easy crouch so that he could speak with Legolas.
Legolas stiffened slightly and his eyes narrowed. How did Esgal know he was a prince? None here knew that, or at least, he hoped they didn’t.
Esgal seemed to read his thoughts in his eyes. "Nay, your secret is safe, but I could not look upon the son of Thranduil and mistake him for anything else. Prince Legolas I assume?"
Legolas did not answer, but replied with his own statement. "You are an elf." He knew it was true, and that explained the odd familiarity he had felt towards Esgal from the beginning. However, the prince did not yet know what this knowledge meant. Just because this fellow was an elf, did not make him a friend or mean he was not a foe in league with King Melèch.
"And you do not wish it known, although for what reason I cannot guess." Legolas spoke plainly. Of course, Legolas now realized that in Elvish ‘esgal’ meant hidden; very appropriate for this elf, whoever he was. He did not see why he had not thought of it earlier, but supposed that you did not find what you were not looking for and he had had no reason to think of Elvish meanings for a man’s name.
One of Esgal’s hands drifted up to touch the side of his head where his gracefully pointing ears were carefully concealed by the turban he wore, enabling him to pass as a man.
"For now let us say that it is important that Melèch not know who I am," he said somewhat cryptically.
"Even I don’t know that," Legolas inclined his head to the side. "You have an unfair advantage on me Lord Esgal. You know who I am and why I am here, but I know not the same of you. Nor do I know why you have cause to know my father and yet I recognize you not." There was no use denying the truth of his lineage when Esgal was obvious already certain of his knowledge.
Esgal seemed somewhat hesitant and Legolas realized that perhaps this elf was as wary of the prince as Legolas was of him.
"It must remain a secret for a time young one," Esgal said finally. "For your own protection as well as mine. But you have my thanks for your aide in keeping my cover this afternoon."
Legolas nodded, unsatisfied but left with little choice other than acceptance. "You are welcome, but I am not young and I do not need you to protect me."
Esgal smiled wryly. "So proud young prince, so sure of yourself," he laughed softly, a quiet, mellow, musical sound. "Forgive me then noble elf, but when you have seen the passing of as many ages as I have you will understand that a matter of a few hundred years or more seems to be merely the life-span of a child."
Legolas bowed his head in acceptance. If Esgal was really as old as he said, then he deserved the younger elf’s veneration, not his impudent questions. Still, Legolas wished he understood more.
Esgal rose quickly, his sharp ears picking up the sound of approaching footsteps that even Legolas had missed.
"We must not be seen together," the elder elf whispered softly and Legolas nodded, quickly bending back over his work. He still did not know if he could trust Esgal or not, but neither would he give him away to the likes of King Melèch.
Chapter 4: Part Four
Two days later Legolas was greatly surprised to see a small company approaching the palace gates when an errand took him by one of the windows in the tall watch towers.
The prince froze; his heart speeding up as the wind caught and lifted the banner held in the lead rider’s hand, revealing the emblem of the green tree. These riders were from Mirkwood! Apparently his father had not waited as long as Legolas had thought he would before dispatching messengers in search of his wayward son’s party.
Normally, that kind of protectiveness might have irked the young prince just a bit, but right now he was simply too glad to see anyone from his home to feel anything other than breathless hope mingled with swirling concern.
Surely, King Melèch would lock him away as soon as he knew that a party from Mirkwood had arrived, searching for their lost envoys. Legolas could not risk Melèch being able to put his plan into action! No matter the risk, he had to attempt to contact the Mirkwood elves, and that meant avoiding the guards who were probably coming for him at this very moment.
Leaving his tasks unfinished, Legolas swiftly made his way down from the tower, his mind swirling as he quickly sought to construct a hasty plan of action. The arriving elves would be taken directly to King Melèch of course, and the meeting would most likely take place in the King’s great receiving hall. Therefore, his best chance of overtaking them would be when they passed through the courtyard. The elf’s legs moved faster.
Suddenly Legolas pressed himself back flat against the wall, alerted by the sound of approaching feet. Captain Dagred and several of his men appeared in the cross passage opposite to Legolas’ position and the elf held perfectly still.
"Spread out and find him, and I mean *now* or King Melèch’ll have our heads, got that?" Dagred growled to his men, confirming Legolas’ suspicion that Melèch had already ordered his detention.
Silently, Legolas willed the men to keep going straight and not take the side passage that he was hiding in. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
Dagred swung around the corner and nearly stepped on Legolas before he saw him.
Swinging into motion, Legolas shoved the Captain back, into the two men behind him, before turning and flying back up the stairs he had just descended as fast as his long legs could carry him.
Dagred swore loudly. "Here we go again!" he scowled harshly as he and his men chased the fleeing elf up the stairs. "You’re not going to be able to *move* when I get through with you elf!" he shouted angrily after Legolas. "I don’t care how you do it men, but catch him! If you don’t it’ll be all of you taking his punishment, is that clear?!"
Legolas fled swiftly in front of his pursuers, dashing lightly up the stairs despite his heavy, cumbersome chains. The clanking rattle they produced was horribly disturbing and served as an incredibly effective homing beacon for his pursuers to follow.
The short chains that connected his ankles also limited his usually long stride, making Legolas feel clumsy and stilted. His feet slipped on the steep, narrow stairs and he caught himself against the wall, but did not stop moving. Taking a turn off at the next level, Legolas tried to put as much distance between himself and Dagred as was possible.
Tearing down a long, tapestry covered hallway at full speed, Legolas was forced to pull up abruptly when half a dozen soldiers appeared in the cross passage ahead of him. Nearly skidding on the highly polished floor, Legolas backtracked swiftly.
Caught in the passage between the two groups of soldiers, Legolas took a desperate gamble and sprang lightly up, grasping hold of the curtain rod above one of the tall windows that studded the hall. Swinging forward feet-first, Legolas crashed through the window and jumped to the ground, four stories below. There was nothing to catch hold of or break his fall, so Legolas landed hard on the cobbles below in a shower of broken glass. He landed on his feet, dropping into a crouch to better absorb the impact, but he still felt one of his ankles twist under him slightly at the sharp, jarring impact. Pain shot up his leg as he sprang quickly to his feet, but the elf did not let that stop him.
His unconventional exit landed him in the large, bustling yard behind the kitchens. Unfortunately, this was the palace guards’ favorite place to linger, where they could obtain free food and liquor from the friendly kitchen staff.
Half a dozen guards immediately sprang to attention when they saw him.
Forcing aside the pain that was spearing up his leg, Legolas broke into a run. The main courtyard was only a few passages away from here.
"Stop him! Stop him!" Dagred’s voice from above called down and the guards immediately gave chase.
Moving as fast as he could around the new limp he had acquired, Legolas rounded the corner only to be faced with another score of guards hurrying towards him from the opposite direction.
Several of the soldiers grabbed for him and Legolas spun away, jabbing one man in the stomach with his elbow and flipping another lightly across his back.
Dagred and his men gained the ground level amazingly fast and now poured out of the doorway on the right to further overwhelm the lone elf.
Legolas spun, jabbed and twisted his way through them for a moment and the guards struggled to even lay a finger on him as he fought desperately. The courtyard was so close; it was just around the corner...!
But it was too far for the injured elf to reach.
Grasping hands caught Legolas’ swinging chains and jerked him off balance. He fought bravely, but with over thirty soldiers attempting to bring him down, the odds were simply too great.
His attackers bore him down to the ground, jerking him to his knees under a hail of irritated tugs and blows.
Dagred’s enraged boot caught the elf in the stomach, kicking him again and again as Legolas wrapped his arms around his now screaming ribs and tried to curl away from the abuse.
Unshed tears of extreme frustration and pain shimmered in the young elf’s eyes as the soldiers ground him ruthlessly into the cobblestones only a few yards away from his destination. But Legolas was too stubborn and too proud to let them fall.
Dagred dragged the bleeding elf to his knees, forcing a pole between Legolas’ elbows and back. Hooking the slave’s chains to the pole, they trapped his arms uselessly. Yanking him to his feet they marched him away, cuffing and cursing him liberally for the trouble he had caused them yet again.
"King Melèch is going to have your head on a spit boy!" Dagred threatened darkly as they locked Legolas up to await the King’s wrath. "You’ll beg for death before we’re done with you!"
Legolas’ wrists were still fastened to the pole threaded through his bent arms when he was dragged out of his cell to face a fuming King Melèch. Immediately, Melèch slapped the elf forcefully, snapping the slave’s head to the side. Legolas was already in so much pain that a little more barely seemed to register. In the time between his capture and his dreaded audience with Melèch, Dagred and his men had been making good the Captain’s threat about what kind of condition he was going to leave Legolas in after having been led on a second mad chase.
The elf breathed heavily, falling forward to his knees when he was released. One side of his face was slowly turning purple-brown with bruises and he could hardly bear to stand on his injured ankle anymore.
"You had to try, didn’t you?" Melèch accused Legolas as he paced angrily before his prisoner. How close the elf had come to succeeding and totally bollixing up his whole plan made Melèch positively furious. "You just had to try. I don’t know what I’m going to do with you! I beat you, I work you, but you just refuse to learn!" Melèch was shaking with rage.
"Well no more. If you will not learn the easy way, then I will let those more experienced then myself teach you a lesson you will not forget!" Clapping his hands, Melèch summoned a servant who brought Unuth of Umbar into the room.
Unuth looked calculatingly between Melèch and the elven slave kneeling on the floor. "You requested my presence my Lord?"
"Yes," Melèch folded his arms, glaring coldly at Legolas. "This slave gives me nothing but trouble. You are a man experienced in these matters. I offered to loan him to you if you desired, well he’s yours. I leave him to you and Captain Dagred and his men. Do with him what you will, but do not be gentle and make sure it is something that he will never, ever forget!"
Unuth smiled cruelly as he looked down at Legolas’ hunched form. "With great pleasure my Lord," he assented.
Taking Legolas’ chin in his hand, he pulled the elf’s head up, his eyes sweeping the slave’s body. "This will be to my liking," the unsavory man said, cupping Legolas’ bruised cheek roughly in his hand and trapping the elf’s golden hair between his fingers.
Fear spiked in Legolas’ pain-glazed eyes and a shudder that he could not repress shook his frame as his body shied away from the man’s loathsome touch.
Captain Dagred’s knee in his back pushed the elf forward and held him still as Unuth’s coarse hands dropped down to work the catches on Legolas’ tunic.
May it be an evening star shines down upon you
May it be when darkness falls your heart will be true
You walk a lonely road... oh how far you are from home
(Darkness has come)
Believe and you will find your way
(Darkness has fallen)
A promise lives within you now...
Shuddering helplessly, Legolas hugged himself tightly as he rocked back in forth in the darkness off his small cell. Silent tears that he could no longer hold back coursed quietly down his bruised cheeks. He had refused to cry when his tormenters had him, but now, alone in the dark; the pain was too much to hold inside.
The darkness around him was thick, suffocating, and what was worse, Legolas felt as if the darkness was now inside him as well, eating up his soul and leaving him empty and hopeless. It was said that an elf could die from a broken heart, whether or not that was true Legolas did not know, but right now the despair working on him certainly felt as if it wanted to crush the life out of him.
Every inch of his body hurt and he had no escape from the pain and the endless torment of his memories of horror.
Suddenly the door to the cell scraped open and Legolas pulled back tighter into the corner, leaden fear clutching at his heart. Had they come back? By the Valar... weren’t they finished with him yet?
A quiet sob shook his shoulders as he tried to make himself impassive, not wanting his captors to see his weakness. Yet even the elf’s strong pride could no longer keep him emotionless in the face of his distress.
A tall figure entered the room slowly and the door was closed behind him. Legolas heard the lock slide back into place and the rough voice of the guard called in, "Just give a knock when you’re done with him, but be careful, them elves is dangerous folk."
Legolas resisted the urge to pull even further back into the corner. There was no use fighting the inevitable and he would not let these people see his fear if he could help it. At least there was only one this time... the elf bit back the raw, choking lump in his throat.
The elf did not raise his eyes because he found it easier if he did not have to look, if his tormenters remained faceless. He had closed off his extra senses long ago because it hurt far too much to feel anymore than he had to. Locked inside himself now, Legolas hugged his knees tightly and waited for the inescapable.
The newcomer hesitated in the entry for a moment, his deep, sad eyes taking in the miserable form of the young elf hunched in the corner. Naked except for his chains, Legolas shivered from much more than cold.
The fellow crossed the small room and knelt silently by Legolas’ side.
Legolas pressed his eyes shut, waiting, but the person beside him made no move. After several moments the apprehensive stillness was more than he could bear.
"Do what you’re going to do but do not toy with me," the elf ground out between his teeth, his hands balling into tight fists.
"Still so proud young one..." it was Esgal’s soft voice, laced with incredibly sadness.
Legolas’ head came up abruptly. Drawn up inside himself he had not known it was the other elf. For a moment he caught Esgal’s eyes, before quickly turning his head away and dropping it down onto his arms with a shudder that was really a barely contained sob. Somehow it was unbearable, having the older elf see him like this. Legolas did not want anyone’s pity.
"It is all right to speak if we speak softly," Esgal said in a quiet whisper, for Legolas’ ears only. "The guards think I am here on other business, they will suspect nothing."
Legolas made no response, but hugged his knees tighter. He did not know what Esgal wanted and right now his hurting heart could trust no one.
Sliding his long grey cape off his shoulders, Esgal draped it gently around Legolas’ shivering frame.
The young elf grabbed the edges tightly, hugging the soft fabric to his body with trembling hands. Still he did not look up. His own shame kept his eyes glued to the ground.
"What *is* your business here?" Legolas asked softly, his normally flowing voice roughened from physical and emotional pain.
"I heard what happened from Unuth," the obvious disdain and loathing in Esgal’s voice was clear and sharp. "I... I could not find it in me to leave anyone alone under these conditions." He laid a gentle, comforting hand on Legolas’ back, but the younger elf stiffened at the touch and Esgal withdrew quickly.
"I do not need your pity," Legolas blinked rapidly, trying to force back the treacherous tears that wanted to betray him. His voice ended up sharper than he intended.
Esgal was not put off. "That is well because you do not have it," the elder elf said calmly, but his voice was not hard. "Pity is for the helpless and you young prince are not helpless, neither are you permanently marred. People can do what they will, but they cannot change you, they cannot touch your soul if you do not let them." His words were strong, but his underlying tone laced with compassion. Esgal knew that Legolas was hurting horribly and that it would take him time to recover from this, but he knew the young elf *would* recover... Now Legolas just needed to know it.
"I see in you a strength young one that tells me these chains are temporary and that no bonds can hold your spirit if you chose not to let them." Esgal’s voice was soft now and he lifted his eyes towards the small, barred window near the top of the far wall. The moon had just risen and Eärendil shone brightly between the bars like a small but faithful pinprick of hope.
"I know of what I speak Legolas Greenleaf," the elf said slowly. "I have been a captive, I have lived despair. I have seen war after war, each one heralded as the conflict to end all conflicts. I have seen elves slaughter elves. I have lost my brother to the mortal fate, and my mother and father to the undying lands." Esgal took a deep breath.
"You wondered, Legolas, did you not, how I knew the name of Gil-Estel?" he asked softly, the light of the star mirrored in his eyes. "Well I have good reason to know it and know it well. Gil-Estel, the star of high hope... is the light of my father’s golden ship." In a gesture of trust and good faith, Esgal finally revealed himself for who he was.
"The radiance of the Silmaril burns on the breast of Eärendil, as he sails across the sky to meet my mother Elwing who waits for him in her tall tower..." the elf’s voice trailed off slowly as he gazed at the twinkling star, the only sight he had seen of his father in centuries.
"My brother and I were prisoners when my mother threw herself into the sea to save the Silmaril from capture. Our father was away. She found him again, but I have seen neither of them since. Ours was a light captivity as it ended up for our keeper became fond of us and treated us like his own... yet captivity is captivity son of Thranduil and I have endured far worse than that. I found the strength to go on, and so will you." The elder elf’s eyes burned with sincerity.
Legolas looked up to meet his companion’s gaze for the first time and the young elf’s eyes were wide with shock and awe.
"But... but that means... that would make you..." Legolas dropped into a respectful bow over his knees, his golden hair brushing the floor.
"Lord Elrond," he whispered, slightly over-awed at meeting for the first time one of the elves about whom stories and songs had been spun around the fires of his father’s court for time out of mind. "Forgive me, I did not know you... I have treated you ill my lord," the young elf murmured, even more deeply ashamed of himself now.
"Rise," Elrond bid him gently and Legolas obeyed, still trembling lightly. "You saved me from discovery when I was careless enough to almost be caught, I see no need for an apology," the Elven lord shook his head.
Legolas nodded slowly, leaning back against the wall with aching weariness. "Why are you here?"
"There are disturbing things going on in Dorolyn that I do not yet understand," Elrond said thoughtfully. "A shadow is creeping over the land. Several have come to investigate in one way or another, none ever returned. I came myself when I was convinced that the need was dire enough. Melèch thinks me to be a lord from the land of Emyth Muir. The men of Emyth Muir are well known for their metalwork, but they are good people. When a strange order from Dorolyn came to them they were perplexed and troubled by the secrecy that was demanded regarding it. This was discovered by some of my people and an agreement was reached between us that they would fill the order and I should take it, posing as one of them. In this way I hope to learn more of the situation and Melèch’s purpose for the strange rings I brought him."
Legolas’ hurting head came up urgently. "Then you must know, you must warn my father, his life is in danger. Melèch wishes to murder the entire royal family of Mirkwood, yet I do not know why."
Elrond nodded, deeply disturbed. "These are disquieting tidings indeed son of Thranduil, but do not fear. This man will not succeed in his aims."
Legolas sighed softly, feeling a little better already because at least *someone* knew what he knew. Someone who had a far better chance of warning his father’s messengers than he did at this point.
Elrond considered the younger elf somberly. He hated to leave Legolas in the cruel situation he was in, but there was nothing he could do at this time without endangering his cover. So right now the best he could offer the young prince was hope.
"Do not let your light go out Legolas," Elrond encouraged, lightly touching the younger elf’s shoulder. This time the prince did not flinch away from his touch and Elrond gently drew Legolas back to rest against his shoulder, stilling the young elf’s trembling with the incredible calm and peace of his presence.
Legolas’ body relaxed slowly under the influence of Elrond’s strong presence and healing touch that soothed both his injured body and hurting heart.
Together they gazed up at the small space of stars through the barred window. "See? Eärendil is shining down on you Greenleaf, he is watching over you just as he is watching over me. Gil-Estel, high hope... Sometimes hope is all we have Legolas, but it is enough, if only we are true to it."
Chapter 5: Part Five
Ardil, chief messenger of the Elvenking of Mirkwood, lay silently against the pillows of the bed in the large guestroom that King Melèch had given him. He lay still, with his hands folded upon his stomach. His eyes were not closed, but since elves slept with their eyes open, that gave little indication as to his state.
Ardil however, was not asleep. He lay in silent wakefulness as he contemplated his meeting with King Melèch. Something about the man did not sit well with the elf, yet he scarcely knew what it was. More disturbing however was the news that young prince Legolas and his party had never arrived in Dorolyn. What ill chance had befallen the envoys Ardil could only guess and he did not look forward to bringing such somber news back to his King.
He had suggested an immediate search for the missing ones, and Melèch had agreed readily enough, pledging his own men to help. Ardil hoped that there would be some innocent explanation for the delay, even though his heart and his fears told him otherwise. He did not like to think of how hard it would hit the Elvenking and Queen to have their only child taken from them so early in his life.
The bed was positioned under a shuttered window, and through the elaborately carved wooden slats the stars twinkled in. Suddenly a soft voice made Ardil sit up and pay attention as a form momentarily blocked the light of the stars outside the window.
"Envoy of Thranduil hear my words, for your King is in danger and your Prince even now lies in shadow and suffering in the dungeons below your feet," the voice was barely above a whisper, but Ardil heard every word with chilling clarity.
"What devilry is this that you speak?" Ardil demanded with both caution and concern. "What know you of the fate of Prince Legolas? Who are you?" He moved to open the shutters but the voice on the other side stopped him.
"Who I am is not important and would be perilous knowledge for both of us," Elrond said firmly. "King Melèch is a traitor and not to be trusted. He seeks the destruction of the royal house of Mirkwood for reasons not yet revealed. Prince Legolas is a prisoner and his companions slain."
Ardil’s eyes blazed with anger. "If what you say is true, voice in the shadows, then there shall be grave payment extracted from the purveyors of this scheme! I will not suffer any member of the royal house to be so treated!"
"Act with caution," Elrond warned, glancing around and knowing he must go before he was caught. Unknown to Ardil and the other elves, the Mirkwood envoys were being watched closely and the guards at their doors were there for much more than just their protection. "A small company such as yours can not hope to prevail against the entire might of Dorolyn. Do nothing yet that would arouse suspicion or I fear you will simply join the Prince in his fate, or worse, you may betray his identity. King Thranduil must be warned. There are ill deeds afoot in Dorolyn and an evil shadow is growing. You stand on the narrowest of threads, do not let it break."
"Your words are all of dread unknown one," Ardil shook his head, urgency and doubt filling him. "But how do I know this to be true?"
There was no answer and Ardil realized that the shadow was gone from his window. Throwing open the shutters he found no sign of anyone outside, nor even traces of their presence on the ground below. He would have thought the whole encounter a dream perhaps, but a moment later he noticed something small and round shining on the edge of the windowsill.
Ardil picked the object up and dread overtook him. A small silver wreath of leaves rested in his palm as he pulled the shutters closed once more with numb movements; his attention fastened on the object in his hand. It was unmistakably a buckle taken off the front of a quiver harness, tooled into the shape of the royal crest of Mirkwood. Only members of the royal house could wear that sign and only one member of Thranduil’s family was missing at present. It must belong to Prince Legolas.
Ardil clenched the buckle tightly in his fist. So, the voice in the shadows spoke the truth, or at least part of it. It seemed now that their mission to Dorolyn had become suddenly perilous indeed.
Elrond leaned back in his seat, sipping at the tall goblet of wine in his hand while he sat with Melèch, Elnon and Unuth at the King’s table, watching the art and skill of several young ladies as they preformed dance and song for their master King Melèch.
The Mirkwood elves were out searching the woods for their missing companions with the dubious aid of Captian Dagred and a company of Melèch’s guardsmen. Ardil had done a good job of playing his part and not letting on that anything was amiss.
There was a different feeling in the air today and Melèch sent the dancers away early. Elrond had reason to hope that they were finally going to find something out.
Setting down his glass, he turned to Melèch. "I have enjoyed my time here," he lied gracefully. "But I cannot tarry here forever, however pleasant a thought that may be. I begin to think that your highness had naught in mind but a pleasant holiday for us when you invited us to your magnificent halls."
"I have to agree Melèch," Elnon added somewhat less eloquently than the elf. "You said it would be worth my while to come, but I have yet to see proof of that claim."
Unuth said nothing.
Melèch did not seem put out by his guests’ impatience, in fact, it seemed to amuse him somehow and Elrond got the creeping suspicion that he had been intentionally withholding his mind from them to bring their attention to a sharper peak.
"All things come to those who have the patience to wait for them," Melèch said somewhat cryptically. "But the time is drawing near now and I think we may begin to speak plainly. Elnon, is it not true that your kingdom has been greatly afflicted by inner turmoil of late, while wildmen ravage your borders?"
Elnon started to bluster but Melèch cut him off. "Come now, we are all friends here, let us speak truth. I know what I say to be the case. It is through no fault of your own of course; who does not have trouble with the rabble from time to time? But how would you like to put down those troublesome insurgents once and for all?"
Elnon scowled slightly, not liking it to be quite so well known that his kingdom was facing serious problems. In truth, Melèch had put it lightly for Elnon was facing all out civil war in Ilnnarion and was much less sure of its eventual outcome than he would have liked to let on.
Melèch did not wait for the other king to answer, but turned to Elrond. "Lord Esgal, your people are great metalsmiths, yet trade in your lands is slow. I commissioned from you several unusual pieces of craftsmanship, which you were gracious enough to bring me. Now, If someone were able to pay you in advance, how many thousands of those do you think you could create in a months time?"
Elrond looked contemplative, steepling his fingers before him as he considered the request. Fortunately he had learned all there was to know about the people he was supposed to be representing before assuming this identity, so the question was not a problem. However, it was a curiosity.
"Over 20,000 I would guess, but cannot say for sure because never have we been given such a request. It would require great wealth to pay for such an order." The words were calculated, but Elrond’s eyes piercing as he tried to figure out where this was going. "Besides, to what use could such things be put?"
Melèch smiled. "To supply an army my friend, to supply an army."
Elrond’s eyes narrowed. The strange circles he had brought thither as part of his cover seemed to be useful for nothing, yet Melèch spoke of supplying an army... "Neither Dorolyn nor Ilnnarion combined have enough men to fill that order, even should the items you require be of use to them. I do not yet see your point King Melèch."
"You will, you will, when the time is right," Melèch assured, languidly filling his own cup as if enjoying his game.
"See here Melèch, this game has gone far enough," Elnon put in somewhat curtly. "Speak plainly or do not speak at all. What is it that you are proposing?"
"You will understand my plans presently, and see how they will benefit us all," Melèch said, content in his own knowledge. "I know you have many questions, but I cannot answer them yet."
"Then what is the point-" Elnon started, but Melèch cut him off.
"Tomorrow evening we will take a little trip together and all your questions will be answered. You will understand everything then my friends. Tomorrow," Melèch assured. "Now, would you care for some more wine?"
Elnon and Elrond left after a while to seek other pursuits, but Unuth lingered behind. Elrond cast a backward glance at the slaver as they left and Elnon saw the gesture.
"I do not know what the Rhûnsûl is up to," the king of Ilnnarion said suspiciously. "But he knows more than he lets on. Did you note that at lunch he was the only one silent?"
Elrond inclined his head thoughtfully. Yes, he had noted that. "And Melèch did not address him as he did us. Almost as if Unuth already knows his part in whatever the king has in mind." The elf spoke plainly of his own suspicions because he hoped to see more of Elnon’s mind on the subject.
Elnon’s disdainful scowl deepened. "I do not know if I like this."
Elrond said nothing, but he could tell that despite what Elnon said, the monarch was nearly as desperate as Melèch had painted him. If Melèch had a way out, Elrond had no doubt that Elnon would jump at it, no matter how much he disliked Melèch’s high-handed methods.
Elrond had his own suspicions as to what was going on now, and he did not like the picture it was beginning to paint. Somewhere, Melèch was hiding a secret army of thousands and he doubted that helping King Elnon with his domestic problems was the only aim he had.
Ardil’s party had recovered the two bodies of their fallen kinsmen from the wood and bore them back to the palace with great sorrow. Melèch played his role just as he had told Legolas he would and Ardil, for his part pretended to believe the King’s feigned sympathy. Ardil declined to set a meeting date on the excuse that he was only dispatched to find the missing envoys, not to act as Thranduil’s representative in this himself.
Melèch was not at all pleased, but had no choice other than to let them go with only the promise that other envoys would be sent after the fallen ones had been properly seen to.
After they departed, Melèch brooded darkly on his throne for a time and all his servants stayed well away from him if they could. Finally he rose and made his way directly to the dungeons.
Legolas sat quietly in the corner of his cell. He had begun to recover himself from the cruel use to which he had been put and was able to meet Melèch’s eyes with a calm, albeit simmering, glare.
"I see your plan does not go as well as you hoped," Legolas observed icily as he rose to his feet, noting the King’s highly disturbed appearance. A silent feeling of satisfaction filled him as he realized that Elrond must have been able to warn the Mirkwood elves and effectively bollix up Melèch’s plans.
Melèch’s eyes flashed. He was in no mood for impudence from one of his slaves just now. Snapping his fingers, Melèch signaled to one of the guards flanking him. The man slammed the elf back against the wall, socking the defenseless prisoner in the stomach with an iron-gloved hand.
Legolas doubled over, sliding down the wall a little until rough hands on his arms dragged him back up.
"And I see that you have not yet learned your lesson," Melèch scowled. "Do you want me to give you back to my guards for further teaching?" he threatened darkly.
Legolas said nothing, dropping his eyes and looking away. Melèch had finally found something that the young elf was truly afraid of.
"Good, then keep your tongue in your head unless spoken to," Melèch snapped with irritable satisfaction.
The young prince was sullenly silent, but continued to watch the man before him with concealed alertness. He was nearly certain that things had not gone well with the Mirkwood envoys. If they had, Melèch would be gloating to him now about the success of his plan, not simmering with barely hidden rage. His thoughts were confirmed a moment later when Melèch spoke.
"Tell me elf, you’re from Mirkwood, would the king send a messenger who did not have the ability to represent his wishes?" Melèch demanded.
Legolas was tempted not to tell Melèch anything, but if he were stubborn he knew the king would punish him... and the young elf was not sure he could take another hideous nightmare like the last that Melèch had inflicted upon him.
"It depends on their errand..." Legolas answered slowly.
Melèch’s scowl deepened. That answer told him nothing, exactly as was intended. He felt certain that Ardil and the others had not been level with him somehow... but why or what they suspected he did not know.
The monarch shoved Legolas back against the wall, his face two inches from that of his prisoner. "Why would they not set a time?! What reason do they have to put me off?! Don’t play with me boy or you will live to regret it deeply!"
"I cannot tell you what I do not know," Legolas tried unsuccessfully to keep his own irritation and anger out of his voice. "Their reasons are their own and if you do not understand them, then how should I, who did not even speak with them, do better?"
It really wouldn’t have mattered what Legolas said at this point; the result would have been the same.
Melèch struck the elf upside the head, slapping his cupped hand viciously against Legolas’ ear. Legolas winced as the sharp pain stabbed through his eardrum and made his head ring.
"Why did they leave so quickly?" Melèch’s voice turned deadly with suspicion. "Why would they take such care with two bodies and not even seem concerned about looking for the third?" He had expected the missing body to cause at least another day’s searching, but Ardil and the others were in a hurry to leave and did not even appear to give it a second thought.
"Answer me, why?!!" Shaking Legolas until the elf’s teeth rattled, the irate king was fairly screaming. He struck Legolas again.
Legolas wondered just how much was at stake here for so simple a thing to make the King so furious and... and scared? Yes, that was fear he saw in Melèch’s eyes, but why? What could make him so afraid of failure?
"Truly, I tell you, I know not!" Legolas shook his head helplessly. He had his suspicions, but nothing he could voice. There honestly was no real answer he could give the King, but he was beginning to fear that Melèch did not really want an answer, he wanted someone to vent his rage upon.
Letting Legolas go and roughly throwing him forward, he sent the elf stumbling to his knees on the cold stone ground.
"Flog him!" he commanded his guard angrily.
Legolas clenched his fists as he was dragged to the wall and the chains about his wrists were hooked into a large metal ring, holding him helpless on his knees. He had done nothing to deserve a beating, this time he had not even been talking back. He would be punished simply because it pleased Melèch to hurt him and that made Legolas burn inside.
Melèch watched his guard whip the slave with cold rage flaming inside him. It may not be the elf’s fault that things had gone amiss this time, but that mattered little to him. Melèch was beginning to feel very frightened, and that made him even more dangerous than his anger did. If things fell through with King Thranduil, how then was he supposed to fulfil his bargain? And if he could not... that was simply not an option.
Melèch stormed down the hallway with a dark cloud following in his wake. Elrond observed his change in appearance from the day before when he had spoken with such self-assurance and calm to his guests with a keen eye. He knew about the departure of the Mirkwood envoys and had a good idea what had brought about the King’s foul mood.
The right sleeve of Melèch’s deep purple robe was dotted with darker stains that looked disconcertingly like blood and Elrond was concerned about where those stains were acquired.
"Your highness, are you hurt?" he asked, falling into step with Melèch and gesturing at the discoloration on his sleeve. He knew full well that the blood, if blood it was, did not belong to the King.
Melèch shook his head with a snort, as if noticing the stains for the first time. "The elf bleeds like a stuck pig," he said with disgusted distraction.
The lines around Elrond’s mouth hardened icily, but Melèch was too absorbed in his own concerns to notice.
"Is all well? Or is our trip going to be delayed?" Elrond prodded for information.
"No, no, I promised tonight and tonight it shall be," the King said with something akin to irritation. "There’s just a few minor details..." now he seemed to be talking to himself.
Suddenly Melèch stopped walking and looked straight at Elrond. "Tell me Esgal, and do not lie, is what your craftsman told me really true? Are the collars you forged truly unbreakable once fastened?"
Elrond’s eyes narrowed as he tried to grasp the sudden shift in topic.
"If he gave you his word, than he spoke truly, my people do not hold their reputation as the best for nothing." He spoke with pride that fit his part well, but he let his confusion show as well. "Why do you ask?" He did not fail to note the fact that for the first time he had been given a purpose for the strange objects that had puzzled him so much.
Melèch waved the question off. "Tonight Lord Esgal, tonight all questions will be answered. Right now I have some rather urgent business to attend to. If you’ll excuse me?"
Elrond nodded and Melèch hurried away, leaving the elf to wonder at the king’s strange words.
Darkness, heavy and thick seemed to flow out of the cavernous mouth in the cliff. Melèch and Unuth entered the cave, leaving their sweat-flecked horses outside. Unuth knelt and Melèch bowed.
The voice that spoke to them was unlike any voice of man or beast. Its form was hidden in shadow, but it seemed to tower over the two men.
~~"I grow hungry Melèch, you promise much but again you come to me empty handed."~~
"Only for a time," Melèch did a passable job of hiding his discomfort. "Soon..."
~~"Every time you tell me that!"~~ The dark voice exploded. ~~"And yet you have not brought me what you promised..."~~
Suddenly the being seemed to pause, sniffing the air as if having caught scent of something that attracted its attention. Bending low, it bowed its large, spiked head to sniff at King Melèch’s right sleeve. Suddenly the creature drew back with a sharp, angry hiss.
~~"You lie to me Melèch!"~~ The being seemed to increase in size and height as it reared itself up in anger. ~~"You seek to deceive me and put me off when you already hold what I desire!"~~
Melèch actually shrank back a pace. "I-I don’t know what you’re talking about, I swear! I tell you no lies! I am trying to set up the meeting, I am trying..."
~~"On your body you bear the blood of the house of the royal house of Mirkwood and it is fresh! Do not think to hide this from me!"~~ The cavern shook with the being’s rage.
Melèch looked at his sleeve in shock and then his eyes narrowed as realization swept over him.
"It is not you, but I who have been deceived Dor-Gor," Melèch said with rising anger. "I did not know what I held, but no matter, I know now and you may be pleased to know that I have at least one member of the royal family on which you may whet your appetite my lord, with more to come." Melèch’s grin was hard and wicked.
Dor-Gor growled low in his throat, but accepted Melèch’s words. ~~"Very well then, bring him to me that I might begin the process."~~
Melèch nodded, then spoke somewhat hesitantly. "Dor-Gor, listen, the men I spoke to you about, I will bring them to see you this evening, I have to be sure..."
~~"Bring me the elf and I will suitably impress your petty pawns,"~~ Dor-Gor assured, a greedy fire lighting in his eyes.
Chapter 6: Part Six
Dusk was beginning to fall when Melèch gathered his guests and a small company of his guards to the courtyard to prepare for their mysterious trip. Elnon blustered and wanted to know where they were going, but Melèch refused to say.
Elrond felt a growing apprehension stirring in his heart, but did not yet know what the warning meant. He was surprised to see that Legolas had been brought out and was apparently going to be brought with them. The younger elf’s eyes were glazed with pain and Elrond noted with cold anger the way that Legolas held to the wall for support as he was dragged forward by a leash-like chain connected to the iron collar on his neck.
The simple, black, long-sleeved tunic the elf prince was wearing hid whatever had been done to him earlier in the day, but from the way Legolas stumbled as he walked, Elrond knew that whatever the clothing concealed was serious. Clenching his fists tightly at his side, the elf lord had to contain his own disgust and ire as he remembered Melèch’s heartless comments about Legolas earlier.
Legolas made no sound when the guards grabbed him by his raw shoulders and jerked him to a halt in the middle of the courtyard, but the pain was clear on his unnaturally pale face. He was in so much pain that he felt ill and wavered slightly on his feet as the long leash-chain connected to his neck was fastened to the horn of Captain Dagred’s saddle.
He had been beaten many times since becoming Melèch’s slave, but never had he been lashed so severely as he had been this morning. Melèch had been determined to make the elf scream and had refused to call his men off until Legolas could not help the sounds that the pain wrenched from him.
Blood loss and the severity of his injuries was making the elf dizzy and Legolas felt his heart sink as everyone mounted up and he realized that he was intended to have to keep pace with the horses. Normally, this would have been no problem for the elf, but in his current condition the thought made Legolas want to weep for exhaustion and pain. His hurting, traumatized body was about ready to quit on him and he was dangerously close to wishing that it would.
Elrond did not realize until the party started off that Legolas was going to be forced to jog behind the horses. He clenched his jaw as he watched the young elf toil stoically along behind Dagred’s horse. The prince’s face was impassive as he pushed himself to keep up with the trotting horses, fighting with the chains on his ankles that shortened his naturally long stride. Graceful even yet, it took another elf to see through Legolas’ facade of strength and know that he was in trouble.
After the first mile or so, Legolas began to stumble as he ran, feeling wearier than he felt an elf ought. The chain on his collar continued to pull him forward as his feet struggled to keep up. He felt incredibly dizzy and faint. Underneath his clothing, his wounds were still bleeding. Holding the lead chain in his hands, he tried to keep it from making the edges of the iron collar dig into his neck as he fought to keep the pace and not weave as he jogged.
Elrond guided his horse over until he was riding next to King Melèch. Saying too much was risky, but neither could Elrond keep silent and watch the younger elf suffer. Glancing back at Legolas, Elrond kept his features impassive. "Your slave is having some trouble your highness," he remarked as off-handedly as he could. "I fear he shall slow us down. Would it not be better to let him ride behind one of the others and get on about our business more swiftly?"
Melèch glanced back at where Legolas was still toiling on. He seemed to consider the idea before shaking his head no.
"He will keep up or pay the price, we will not be slowed," the king said coldly. In his mind Legolas had a lot of paying to do. He had kept his true identity secret from Melèch and caused the king much grief. However, Melèch was sure that what Dor-Gor had in mind would more than pay the elf back for his deceit.
With nothing more he could say, Elrond let his horse fall back a little, where he could surreptitiously keep an eye on Legolas.
Legolas pushed himself as far as he could go, but it was not far enough. Two miles later he fell to his knees and was dragged forward by the chain for a few paces. He scrambled to his feet, only to fall again a few steps later. He tried to undo the thick clasp that connected the chain to his collar, but it was designed to only be able to be opened by someone working it from the other direction. It was not intended to be removed by the person wearing it. Legolas could not get his feet under him fast enough to regain his footing and keep up with the horse and the elf prince clutched the chain tightly to keep from getting dragged by his neck as he scrapped roughly across the ground for several yards.
Dagred pulled his horse to a halt and jumped down.
Legolas knelt in the dust, knowing what was coming but unable to make his reeling body go any farther. His breathing was fast and ragged as he hunched in on himself, instinctively tightening as Dagred approached him.
He moaned softly through his teeth when Dagred’s riding crop landed across his already abused shoulders. His body trembled, his strength spent. He wished he would die and leave this place of suffering once and for all. For an immortal, such a wish was a serious thing indeed.
"Get up slave! Get moving!" Dagred ordered bruskly, hitting the elf again. Legolas fell forward onto his hands, unable to keep from whimpering in pain. But he could not rise.
Elrond actually flinched when Dagred struck Legolas. He knew the young elf did not have the power to go on and felt the bile rise in the back of his throat when he heard the soft sounds of the prince’s distress.
The elf lord closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath to calm himself. His head told him that he could not endanger his mission when he was at last so close to finding out what he sought, but his heart told him that he could not stand by and watch this happen if he ever wanted to be able to live with himself again.
Elrond jumped down from his horse. Covering the distance in several long strides, he quickly and calmly unclipped the lead-chain from the front of Legolas’ collar. Practically shouldering Dagred out of his way, the elf lord wrapped his arm under Legolas’ armpits and pulled the younger elf swiftly to his feet. Crossing back to his own horse while supporting his companion, Elrond pulled Legolas up onto his mount with a surprising amount of grace, seating the prince in front of him.
Dagred and the others were so surprised that they did not react for a moment.
Turning a cold and, he hoped, careless gaze upon Melèch who was staring at him intently, Elrond strove for as much flippancy as he could. "By the stars Melèch if we wait for this dredge we will *never* get *anywhere*."
Unexpectedly, King Elnon came to his aid, the haughty monarch’s impatience bubbling over, as it was want to do. "He’s right you know, can’t we just get on with this? I do not wish to spend the rest of my life here."
Melèch bowed to his guests’ wishes, even though he did not like being told what to do with his things. He cast one last, hard glance towards Elrond before spurring his horse and ordering his men onward again.
Legolas leaned weakly forward against the protective embrace of Elrond’s arms as they rode, although the young prince was obviously trying to be strong and not disgrace himself in front of the elven lord. Now that he was this close, Elrond could see that the back of Legolas’ tunic was stained with blood that the dark color of the fabric hid from the casual glance.
"You should not have done that my Lord," Legolas whispered around his still labored breathing. He feared that Elrond may have just put himself in grave danger because of the kindness he had shown him.
Elrond was silent and Legolas closed his eyes, seeking the strength he could not seem to find. "I’m sorry," he whispered quietly, miserably.
"You have nothing for which to apologize," Elrond’s voice was soft and grave, yet surprisingly gentle too. "Hush now, and save your strength, I feel we may soon both have need of all the strength we possess." The shadow and warning in his heart and mind were growing stronger the closer they got towards wherever Melèch was taking them.
The company stopped at last in front of a large cave. The entrance of the cavern yawned from the craggy rocks surrounding it like the gapping maw of a giant dragon, the huge stalactites hanging from the ceiling looking for all the world like massive, threatening teeth.
The cave was dark and horror flowed out of it. Both elves could tell that whatever was inside there radiated evil like a festering carcass radiated stench. They were not afraid, but wariness came over them both.
Melèch and Unuth dismounted first, followed slower by the rest of the party. The King of Dorolyn left most of his guards outside, bringing only Dagred and one other to handle Legolas, whom Dagred took away from Elrond with a withering glare.
Legolas felt the darkness flowing out of the cavern as if it were a cold stream slamming into his chest and resisted as he was dragged forward towards the entrance. He felt suddenly sure that doom was waiting in there, in that inky darkness and he was in no hurry to meet it. His eyes widened slightly. He did not know what it was he feared, but a cold blackness was clutching at his heart and something inside of him was screaming that he must not pass underneath that shadowed arch.
Dagred kicked the back of the elf’s knees, but instead of pushing him forward, that dropped the weakened prisoner to the ground again. This time it was Melèch who stooped and grabbed Legolas’ collar.
"Come now *your highness*," Melèch sneered as he jerked the elf roughly back to his feet. "There’s someone here who wants to meet you and it’s not polite for a prince to keep people waiting."
On their right, Elrond stiffened almost imperceptibly at the words.
If it were possible for Legolas’ face to get any paler, it did. Melèch knew. Somehow, Melèch knew who he really was. A small thrill of terror ran up his spine as he was manhandled through the entrance and under the dripping, fang-like projections that hung above them.
Elrond, Unuth and Elnon followed, although Unuth seemed to know his own way quite well and Elrond’s suspicion that the slave trader already knew what was going on went up a notch.
Elnon complained about the dank darkness of the cave, but his objections were hesitant, as the oppressive atmosphere of the place seemed to affect even him.
Only King Melèch’s hunting falcon seemed completely untroubled, swooping down to follow them in and light upon one of the jutting stone ridges not too far inside.
For his part, Elrond felt as if his flesh were literally crawling.
"This is an evil place," Legolas’ words, strangely calm and detached considering his position, spoke what was in Elrond’s mind.
Dagred and the other guard lit their torches and the firelight bounced off the cave walls, casting eerie illumination on the pillaring stalactites and stalagmites that hung like great bats from the ceiling above and protruded up like teeth from below.
All around them huge columns of jagged stone stood among the smaller stalagmites, stretching back into the incredibly vast cave, farther than the eye could see. For some reason they seemed neither natural, nor benign, but one hardly knew why. About two hundred paces in, the natural look of the cave ceased and it appeared as if miners had been at work, for one could see the signs of pick and shovel work on the walls. While the natural stalactites ceased, the huge pillar-like structures continued on, looking as if they had been chiseled out of the solid stone for some purpose.
Melèch turned to his guests, his gaze fixing on Elnon and Elrond. "Now is the time for questions to be answered," he said with a dark glitter in his eye.
"What I propose is an arrangement that will benefit all of us. What would you say Elnon, if I had an army that could put down the rebellion in your land once and for all, and all it would cost you was the price to arm them? Esgal has already told us that for the right amount his people can provide whatever we need." Melèch said.
Elnon looked slightly skeptical. "If it were possible I would say it was well worth my while, *if* it were possible," Elnon stressed the word. "But Dorolyn has no such army and I do not see one in this dark hole."
Melèch smiled almost imperceptibly. "That’s because you’re not looking hard enough."
Suddenly, a large shape rose from the shadows at the back of the cave, almost as if one of the giant pillars had come to life and causing everyone in the party except Melèch, Unuth and the two elves to jump and step back a pace.
Dor-Gor rose to his full 10-foot height and Legolas’ eyes widened at the sight. The creature was unlike any he had ever seen before. Proportioned in some respects like a man, the creature could have been mistaken for some kind of troll except that its face was far more cunning and it did not shy away from the daylight filtering in from the cave mouth. Tall and compact, it looked as if it had been hewn out of living stone and only this moment come to life. It’s rough, granite-like hide folded and rippled in a totally unnatural way as it moved.
~~"Welcome mighty lords of the mortal world,"~~ Dor-Gor greeted with an ingratiating grin that seemed somehow fake on his frightening face.
Elnon was unabashedly hiding behind Captain Dagred and the other guard, peering fearfully up at the monstrous being before them. He was the kind of man who was very comfortable and strong when ordering the execution of dozens of helpless villagers who were accused of harboring insurgents, but a downright coward when it came to anything that he could not control. "W-what is it?" he asked Melèch fearfully.
Elrond’s eyes narrowed sharply. The elf already knew the answer to that, although he had thought this all but impossible.
"Dor-Gor is of an ancient race that was around back when the world was young," Melèch informed calmly. "His people are something like living stone, strong, and unbreakable. Look around you my friends, *this* is our army," the king swept his arms around the inside of the cave. Suddenly the brooding presence of the huge, odd-shaped stone pillars made sense. They were not stone, they were more creatures like Dor-Gor and yet... they did not move.
"You’re army is useless Melèch," Elrond shook his head, rapping on one of the pillars with his knuckles. "They are as dead as stone."
~~"Oh no, not dead, just in a very deep sleep..."~~ Dor-Gor laughed. ~~"You see, many centuries ago we had some... differences... with the local people. The king of Mirkwood and his people ruthlessly bound us to this enchanted sleep and sealed us up inside this cave, encased in solid granite. But they erred in their plans and my sleep was not so deep as the others."~~ A fierce hatred flared in his eyes and his gaze settled on Legolas. The young elf shifted uncomfortably. He got the distinct feeling that Dor-Gor too, knew exactly who and what he was.
Elrond was well aware of the events Dor-Gor mentioned, and knew the details the creature had left out. A very long time ago, back when King Thranduil was a young elf and Elrond’s own father and mother were still walking the plains of Middle Earth, these creatures had plagued and ravaged the countryside of this area, causing great death and destruction. One of the most difficult problems with them was that they did not reproduce after the normal manner, but fashioned more of their kind from hewn stone and breathed life into them by some dark art, so their numbers could expand dramatically in a very short time, if only they had enough stone to work with.
Through a combination of cunning and strife, the elves had finally put a stop to them once and for all, and Legolas’ father and grandfather had sealed them in their stony tomb, where they were supposed to remain forever... but obviously, something had gone wrong.
"I awakened Dor-Gor by accident, but fate has smiled upon the chance and provided us with an unequaled opportunity," Melèch picked up the explanation again. "Do you not think that your insurgents would flee in terror if such an army confronted them Elnon?"
Elnon nodded slowly, his greed overcoming his fear. His eyes narrowed slightly. "All for a fee to you I suppose?"
Melèch shrugged the question off. "Certainly I have incurred expenses... Unuth’s slaves are not cheap, and it took all of them that he could get to clear this cavern. It seems the air is unhealthy down here after a while and a disappointing number of them kept dying," the words were callus and uncaring. "But from you Elnon, I will take nothing for myself, only the cost of Lord Esgal’s armaments will I ask of you for the assistance of my new army."
"But what does Dor...whatever his name is get out of this?" Elnon pressed again. The king was obviously of the opinion that now one did anything for nothing, and he was right.
"For one, protection," Melèch was obviously very pleased with his own plan. "You see, these beings’ skin is so tough that naught can pierce it. They have only one weak spot, directly between their collarbones. And *that* Lord Esgal, is where your puzzle piece comes in."
Suddenly Elrond understood. Of course, the rings he had brought Melèch would fit perfectly around Dor-Gor’s neck, and shield the soft spot at the base of his throat from any harm.
"In the second place, Dor-Gor here cannot leave this cave until his companions are awakened, but to do that, he needed someone to bring him the means with which to rouse them," Melèch continued. "That too, I have now done."
At a nod from Melèch, Dagred and the other guard grabbed Legolas’ arms roughly and dragged him forward. Legolas resisted, but was forced to his knees in front of the hideous creature.
Dor-Gor stooped, placing his huge, chiseled, ugly face only a few inches from the young elf’s. The creature’s long fangs glistened wickedly.
~~"Little elf prince, your fathers laid this curse upon us, but you shall pay the price,"~~ he smirked evilly.
Legolas’ jaw tightened and he stared icily up at the monstrosity, refusing to pull back in fear, or give any sign of the terror that was flowing through his veins.
"Gondrauko," Legolas spat the elves’ ancient name for these creatures. "You are still spoken of in our legends and your legacy is an evil one. It makes sense now. All that stone in the quarries, it was not for building, it is for you, for you to shape more of your own twisted kind out of once you have your full strength back again." Horrible understanding washed over him.
~~"You know it, now take your knowledge to the grave with you. The rest of your miserable kind will be joining you soon enough, for we are unstoppable! And this time we will deal with you elves once and for all,"~~ Dor-Gor threatened.
Legolas did not flinch. "You were defeated once, you will be again."
Dor-Gor just laughed. ~~"I think not little one. And even so, you will not be there to see it. Prepare him."~~ The last command was given to Dargred and his companion. Dagred tangled his hand in the elf’s hair and pulled Legolas’ head forward, while his companion held the young prince’s shoulders, exposing the elf’s neck.
Dor-Gor lifted a sharp, jagged piece of stone that resembled a twisted dagger and placed it tip-down against the base of Legolas’ skull.
Chapter 7: Part Seven
~~"The blood of your house sealed our sleep and the blood of your house shall awaken us again,"~~ Dor-Gor intoned, his huge hand tightening around the knife-like shard. The cavern seemed to tremble with a breathless anticipation and a thin trickle of blood ran down the young elf’s neck as the sharp rock cut into his flesh. The instant it appeared the stone beneath their feet rumbled ominously.
Legolas was powerless to struggle against the arms that held him. Ice formed in his blood and circulated with every rapid beat of his heart. Closing his eyes he tried to accept the inevitable.
Suddenly, a flashing sword knocked the stone blade aside. Dagred and the other man were caught unawares and stumbled backward in surprise.
Elrond stood protectively between Dor-Gor and the young elf prince. His turban was thrown back and he stood tall and unafraid, no longer hiding his true identity. He had heard enough. He knew now the horror that Melèch was nursing to unleash upon the world, his disguise was no longer needed and he did not intend to let Legolas die, nor let his blood be used to waken the slumbering doom around them.
"Stay back creature of the ancient world!" Elrond warned darkly, holding his sword tightly and glaring at the beast. "You shall not have him."
Dor-Gor shrieked in rage. The cave trembled. The process had already been started, it had to be completed or else he and all those like him who slumbered here would return to the dust from which they came, never more to stir.
His heavy fist swung down towards the elf lord, but Elrond leaped easily aside, dodging the killing blow.
Legolas scrambled to his feet and Elrond pulled the younger, wounded elf behind him. They backed warily away from Dor-Gor and the two guardsmen who had re-gathered from their momentary surprise and were now pressing in close.
Melèch was shouting for his other soldiers and swearing; absolutely stunned at this sudden glitch in what had been a perfect plan. The fact that Esgal was in fact an elf, and a spy not only shocked, but angered him greatly.
Dor-Gor moved with surprising speed for his bulk, placing himself between the two elves and the cavern mouth. He lashed out wildly, again and again, forcing Elrond and Legolas to retreat backward, further into the cave.
Dor-Gor felt the earth tremble beneath him and knew that his time ran short. He wanted the two elves dead, but he had not the time to pursue them. Legolas’ blood had started the process. Any blood would finish it.
Turning abruptly, Dor-Gor slew Captain Dagred and the other guard in one quick move. The two guardsmen fell dead before they knew what had happened, their blood spilling across the rocky floor. Unuth, unlucky enough to be standing nearby, was next. It was not for nothing that these creatures had earned their foul and bloodthirsty names. Melèch did not realize the fire he was playing with, because the Gondrauko were completely ruthless and given to killing without compunction.
"Dor-Gor!" Melèch shouted in rage. "What do you think you’re-"
~~"Doing?"~~ Dor-Gor rounded on the king with a wicked look in his eye, blood dripping off his hands. ~~"Finishing what I start."~~
Legolas could feel the stirring in the cave around him and it took his breath away. Suddenly one of the menacing stone obelisks on their left shifted and expanded outward in a shower of stone and dust, like some horrible moth emerging from its granite cocoon.
Another Gondrauko stepped out, blinking his eyes and looking around. Yet it did not seem disoriented, as one might expect after waking from so long a slumber. Somehow, the creature seemed to know exactly what was going on. Dark, dangerous eyes fixed upon the two elves.
Another pillar exploded outward in a shower of sharp, choking debris, and another, and another. Elrond and Legolas blinked rapidly against the grit in the air, coughing as they drew back in the face of the overwhelming odds. Elrond tossed Legolas one of the long knives off his belt and the two elves stood back to back, ready for battle.
Thick arms wielded even thicker stone clubs, forcing the elves to jump and scramble to avoid being smashed. Their weapons bounced uselessly off the thick stone hides of their assailants and dust choked them.
Legolas aimed a quick, precise throw and his knife buried itself deeply in the soft flesh at the base of one of the attacking Gondrauko’s throat. The creature clutched its neck and fell to its knees with a loud cry. Falling forward onto its face, it simply crumbled into dust at their feet.
The two elves had no time for wonder, because three other creatures were already upon them. Around them, more Gondrauko were awakening, filling the cavern with the din of their exploding rock cocoons. Legolas and Elrond knew they stood very little chance of ever making it out of this cave alive, but they were prepared to meet their ends bravely and make the best stand possible.
Melèch looked around at the appearing creatures with horror. Not yet. This was not supposed to happen yet! "Dor-Gor! You told me you had to have the entire royal family’s blood..."
Dor-Gor grinned condescendingly. ~~"Did I forget to tell you? Royal blood to start it... any blood can finish. I need more Melèch! Bring in the rest of your men. I must finish this now!"~~
Melèch’s lips pursed. He had been deceived. He was not ready for this awakening, and he greatly feared that once he had served his purpose, Dor-Gor would not honor their bargain. He was not ready for this yet... but he would have to make do.
"Very well!" Melèch agreed, summoning the remainder of the unwitting men who were yet outside. "But first... a gift my lord! I have a sample of the armor we spoke of, a gift for you as a token of our future together!" The king quickly procured the massive ring that Elrond had brought with.
Dor-Gor laughed. ~~"*Our* future puny mortal king? I have no future with you, you have done all you are useful for. Do you really think *I*, with all the power that is at my command, intend to serve *you*? But, if your gift pleases me, and if you bring my blood to me swiftly, I will think about letting you live."
Melèch bowed, scowling deeply, but holding onto his pretended calm. He passed up the armor ring to Dor-Gor and helped him fasten it firmly around his neck. As soon as it was in place, Melèch’s fake grin turned hard and mocking. "Beware of gifts from those you betray Dor-Gor!" he hissed, moving away quickly.
Dor-Gor’s eyes widened in shock. ~~"NO!"~~ he thundered in sheer fury, tearing at the collar around his neck. ~~"NO!!!!"~~
"What’s the matter?" Melèch sneered. "Don’t you like the special ingredient I had built into your collar? Dust, from the hills of Edil, the dust from which you and your people came. As long as you wear that collar you are subject to the commands of the one who placed it upon you, to *my* commands. You will obey me whether you want to or not! Don’t bother trying to get it off, I have been assured that it is completely unbreakable."
~~"You betrayed me Melèch!"~~ Dor-Gor roared, rising up to his full height and glowering down at the monarch.
"One bad turn deserves another Dor-Gor," Melèch said darkly, knowing the beast could not harm him personally so long as he wore that collar.
Dor-Gor shrieked in hysterical fury and all hell broke loose. His minions turned on Melèch’s men and the two elves found themselves suddenly forgotten as their enemies fought one another. But the chaos did not have long to last.
The awakening Gondraukos began to tremble and writhe, and suddenly one of them exploded into a rough, sharp cloud of dust, followed by another, and another. The pillars of un-roused creatures also shook and began to dissolve as their own magic worked against them. It was an effect that no one had anticipated.
Vicious tremors shook the cavern, brining down chunks of the ceiling and making stalactites fall like deadly daggers to the cave floor. Dor-Gor’s unfinished awakening was going sour as its time ran out and the earth trembled with the force of it.
Elrond looked around, his face grim and streaked with dust and sweat. He could feel that this place was in its death throes. They had to leave and leave swiftly. Legolas, who had dropped to one knee in painful exhaustion, had much the same feeling. Elrond offered the younger elf a hand up and the two of them were just starting towards the cave mouth, when a huge section of the ceiling directly above them fell in.
They threw themselves out of the way; falling apart from one another as the sharp shower of deadly debris rained down upon the two elves. At nearly the same moment, the entrance to the cave fell in with a horrendous boom, blocking out the light and plunging everyone into almost total darkness.
The blackness was suffocating as the cave shook and trembled, collapsing upon itself amid the shrieking cries of men and Gondraukos. Somewhere in the din you could hear Melèch screaming something horrible and Dor-Gor bellowing as the maddened caws of Melèch’s hunting falcon added confusion to chaos.
Elrond pushed himself to his knees, his head ringing. His long fingers found blood on his temple, where a falling stone had grazed him. "Legolas? Legolas!" he called his companion’s name, but the younger elf did not answer.
The ground heaved beneath him, and a great crashing sound filled his ears. The elf lord glowed faintly in the darkness, and by his own light, he found Legolas’ still form. Parts of the ceiling had fallen upon the prince’s legs and chest. The elder elf tried to heave the chunks aside, but Legolas was wedged firmly and he could not budge the young prince by himself. Elrond felt worriedly for his companion’s pulse and was rewarded to find that Legolas still breathed. The same rocks that had trapped the prince had missed slaying him only because they landed upon other rocks, imprisoning, but not killing, the elf.
"Legolas! Legolas waken!" the elf lord commanded, shaking the young prince gently, but urgently.
Legolas moaned softly as he came back to consciousness, drawn more by Elrond’s command than by any physical reason. Every fiber of his body hurt and the darkness around them was frightening. When he realized he could not move, his fear heightened. Extreme claustrophobia ignited panic in the young elf’s heart and he struggled desperately with the rocks that held him down. His efforts only caused the stones to settle down harder, crushing more cruelly against his injured body. Legolas moaned in terrified pain, his head still cloudy and reeling.
Elrond laid a gentle hand on the frightened prince’s forehead and Legolas saw the outline of the elf lord’s glowing form through blurred, stinging eyes.
"Help me." Legolas’ lips formed the words without sound. His trapped lungs had no air for speech. He was suffocating.
He need not have asked. Elrond was already pulling at the stones once more. They moved, but slowly. Too slowly. Taking Legolas under the armpits, Elrond attempted to pull him free. The prince twisted and tried to help, suppressing a cry of pain. Slowly, Legolas inched out from under the deadly tangle.
The cavern shook ferociously and a great rending sound filled the air. The two elves choked on unseen dust. The trembling of the earth caused the debris to shift, and Legolas could not help crying out as the pressure on his legs intensified sharply with settling of the rocks.
Elrond squeezed the young elf’s shoulders tightly, encouragingly. "You’re almost free Legolas, hold on." Even in the midst of all this ruin the elder elf’s voice was surprisingly calm and reassuring.
Another violent tremor seized the place and more debris rained down upon them. Elrond dropped to one knee, putting his hand over his head and crouching over Legolas’ head and shoulders, shielding the younger elf from further injury with his own body.
There was more light suddenly and they could just see that the latest cave-in had opened a hole in the ceiling that must communicate with the outside.
Elrond renewed his efforts to free his companion, but Legolas shook his head quickly. "Go!" he rasped urgently. "In moments it will be too late!"
Elrond did not respond, but with one more tug, he got Legolas free. Half-supporting the younger elf, the elf lord rose. Together they made their way swiftly towards the jagged fissure that had opened barely three feet above their heads. They could not see the open air, but they could smell it, and they could see the light filtering down. It was their only way out and their only chance. They had to take it.
"Can you make it?" Elrond inquired quickly, having to shout above the rending shriek of the dying cave around them.
Legolas nodded, pulling free of Elrond’s supportive hold, despite the pain it caused him.
Quickly shedding the cumbersome velvet outer-robes that would impede his movement, the elder elf jumped nimbly up and caught hold of the stone lip, pulling himself up. Bracing himself in the narrow, twisting fissure, Elrond reached down, offering Legolas a hand up.
Legolas was dizzy and unsteady. Everything that had happened to him in the past few hours had been entirely too much for his body to handle, elven-strong though it was. He caught hold of Elrond’s hands and somehow managed to clamber up into the fissure, but his vision blurred double and his head throbbed in time with his over-rapid breathing.
Quickly, the two elves scrambled upward, half climbing, half struggling their way up through the narrow, almost vertical shaft. Both of them were painfully aware that that the fissure could close, or fall in at any moment, crushing them to death inside it.
The chains that still connected Legolas’ limbs impeded his already difficult movements.
After several unbearably long and claustrophobic moments of desperate scrabbling, the two beings found themselves scrambling up, out of the fissure and into the glaringly bright, but blissfully open air of the mid-autumn day.
They still were not safe, for the earth trembled under their feet and not far from them the ground opened up with a rumbling roar as it collapsed in upon the cavern below. Elrond grabbed Legolas’ arm and half guided, half dragged the reeling younger elf to safety.
They reached solid ground not a moment too soon for the entire hill came down upon itself in a jumble of ruin, forever sealing the graves of those buried beneath.
Melèch, Elnon, Unuth, Dor-Gor... their own greedy scheming and lust for power had destroyed them all, just as Legolas had said it would. Those who sought evil usually found it, and it became their undoing.
Elrond spared a backward glance and shook his head, leaning slightly against the thick trunk of the tree beside him as he caught his breath after their narrow escape.
Legolas also leaned against the tree, the world wavering about him. The wave of relief and loss of adrenaline as he began to realize that they really were safe now was almost too much for his injured body to handle. His knees buckled, refusing to hold him any longer.
Elrond turned quickly and caught the prince, lowering the younger elf gently to the ground.
Legolas’ eyes were glazed with pain and his pupils dilated far too wide for the brightness of the afternoon sun. Blood, sweat and dust clung to his fair face and his chest heaved unevenly. Elrond knew his young friend was in a great deal of trouble.
Sliding his fingers underneath Legolas’ iron collar in an attempt to better feel the young elf’s pulse, Elrond scowled at the ugly chains that still held the injured prince fettered. He wished he could remove them, but the manacles had been welded closed upon Legolas’ limbs and it would take a metalsmith to unfasten them.
Legolas’ pulse was weak and thready and much too fast. Elrond’s fingers came away bloody.
Quickly opening the front of the younger elf’s soiled, torn tunic, Elrond moved the chains aside, running his hand lightly over the prince’s chest, checking for broken ribs or any other possibly serious injuries from the cave-in Legolas had been trapped under.
Legolas fixed frightened, pain-filled eyes on the elf lord as Elrond examined him; unable to help his body’s terrified reaction to its own helplessness and the painfully fresh memories of what other hands had done to him not very long ago.
Elrond stopped suddenly when he caught the look in the young elf’s eyes and realized that Legolas did not tremble under his touch out of pain only. The young prince had been hurt. Horribly so. It would take him time to get over the pain, physically and mentally.
Elrond pulled back slightly. "You do not have to fear me young one," he whispered soothingly in their native tongue. "I wish to help only. I will not hurt you, you have my word."
"I-I know y-you won’t..." Legolas whispered with effort, and he did mean it. He knew the elf lord meant him no harm, he simply did not have the strength to harness his body’s reaction. The world turned first yellow and then black before his eyes and it seemed that he heard Elrond’s voice coming to him from a great distance away, through a long tunnel.
"Be strong young one... you are free. Do not let go now..."
Legolas’ head rolled to the side as consciousness fled. Elrond tried to bring him around, but thought better of it. Scooping the elven boy up in his arms, the elder elf displayed the unusual strength of his kind. He had to get the young prince to some place where he could care for him, and soon, or it would be too late.
Chapter 8: Part Eight
Shape and shadow, reality and dream melded around Legolas as he drifted somewhere between this world and the next. He lost track of time as he wondered heedlessly between horrible nightmares and visions of light, but none of them owned him.
When he heard the voices speaking around him he did not know but that it was yet another dream.
"Gently now, be careful."
"This will break the king’s heart..."
"Hush, he’s waking."
The last voice sounded like Elrond’s, but Legolas couldn’t be sure.
The immense, burning pain of his body returned gradually, telling the elf prince that this was no dream now. He moaned softly and shifted. Forcing leaden eyelids open he found that he was being hurriedly carried along on a bier. Elrond walked beside him on one side and Ardil on the other.
Above him familiar treetops waved welcome and Legolas realized with a start that he was home once more, being carried through the trees of Mirkwood, towards his father’s halls.
He tried to sit up, but Elrond pushed him back down with gentle firmness. "Lie still Legolas, it’s all right. You’re home now, and fortunate to be so. I thought I was going to lose you for a time." In truth, if Legolas had been with anyone other than Elrond, he would have died. It had taken almost all of the elf lord’s skill to keep the boy in the land of the living, but the worst danger was over now.
Legolas must have drifted off again, because the next thing he remembered was the feeling of being eased down upon something soft and silky. He winced as his lacerated back made contact, attempting to struggle through the haze around him and once more reach consciousness.
"Legolas!" the familiar, distraught voice made the prince’s eyes drift open. He blinked, trying to clear his vision as gentle hands held the sides of his face and smoothed his hair back from his forehead.
"Legolas, my son... what have they done to you my son?" Thranduil gently caressed his child’s bruised face. He took in his son’s injuries and the ugly chains that still hung from the prince’s slender limbs with mounting, broken-hearted fury.
"Father..." Legolas tried to speak, but his voice came out a whisper.
"Shh, shh, don’t speak," the Elvenking gently placed his finger against his son’s bruised lips. "Just rest Legolas, just rest. Everything will be all right."
Thranduil clasped Legolas’ hand gently between his own and Legolas relaxed a little against the pillows.
Attendants were swarming around them now, tending the prince and attempting to make him comfortable.
"Get me a smith in here, at once!" King Thranduil ordered gruffly, not able to bear the sight of his child in chains.
Once the smith had been sent for, Thranduil turned to Elrond. The elf lord’s clothing was dusty and stained with Legolas’ blood and his face was weary, for he had poured much of himself into keeping the younger elf alive, but his nobility still showed in his bearing, despite his disheveled state. Of course, Thranduil already knew who he was; they had met before.
Although they respected on another, there was no great love between the two elf lords, especially after the outcome of Last Great Alliance of Men and Elves, which Elrond had supported but Thranduil and his father had not. In the end Mirkwood had reluctantly joined, but suffered great losses, including Thranduil’s father. Under normal circumstances Thranduil’s greeting of the other elf lord would have been cool and reserved, but given the situation, Thranduil dispensed with formality.
"What happened? What does this mean? What did they do to my boy?" he asked, his voice choked with fierce emotion.
"Great evil I fear," Elrond said softly, drawing Thranduil away from Legolas’ bedside a little so that the prince would not overhear them. "It is a long tale your highness, but now is not the time or place," he glanced meaningfully at Legolas’ half-conscious form and the other king seemed to understand. Thranduil pressed his lips into a tight line and Elrond couldn’t help noting Legolas’ gestures played out upon his father’s features, although, he supposed that it was actually the other way around, and it was Legolas who had inherited so many of his father’s mannerisms.
"The people who did this will pay a terrible price!" Thranduil threatened darkly, glancing painfully at his injured son.
"They already have," Elrond said simply. "Their own evil became their undoing."
Thranduil nodded slowly. As his initial shock and rage cooled, he began to realize that he had been discourteous. He sighed slightly. "You must forgive me Lord Elrond, I fear my welcome for you has not been what it should. Seeing Legolas like this..."
Elrond shook his head, indicating no apology necessary. "I understand perfectly. I know how I should feel if any of my children were brought home to me thus."
"You are weary, please, take your ease now, my home is your home. My servants will see to anything you need. I thank you for all you have done for my son," Thranduil said sincerely.
Just then the metalsmith arrived to remove Legolas’ chains and Thranduil returned to his son’s side.
Legolas’ body mended swiftly although his mind was perhaps another matter. Yet although the nightmares of what he had been through would haunt him for a long time, his light, merry spirit had remained unbroken and it was not long before he was walking under the trees he loved and singing carelessly to the stars once more.
Elrond tarried a fortnight as a guest in Thranduil’s halls while the remaining loose ends of the situation with Dorolyn were tied up. In truth, he also remained because he would see Legolas fully recovered before he left.
After King Melèch’s death Dorolyn became scattered. The death of King Elnon had rendered the civil war in Ilnnarion moot and a new, just ruler had quickly come to power. The new ruler annexed the floundering people of Dorolyn under a new name and it was a beginning of some of the first good times those two kingdoms had had in many years.
On one crisp, sunny day in late autumn, Elrond took his leave of Mirkwood, heading back up the Old Forest Road towards the Misty Mountains and Rivendell beyond. Legolas and a small party of Mirkwood elves rode with him to the edge of the forest to see him off.
Elrond glanced sideways at Legolas as they rode side by side. Legolas had turned to share a jest with his friend Raniean who rode on his other side and the two young elves laughed merrily, their clear, happy voices ringing musically through the tree branches.
The elf lord liked to see the young prince able to laugh and be at ease with the world once more. It took strength of spirit to come through a trial like that with no lasting ill effects. However, although Legolas bore no serious visible scars, mental or physical, from the ordeal, his opinion of the race of men was for a time significantly lowered. It would take one special man, many centuries later, to completely change his mind on that subject.
"I heard that the last of the slaves had finally been set free in Dorolyn. The stone pits are empty now," Elrond ventured conversationally after a few moments.
Legolas nodded, his eyes turning serious for a moment, but his smile did not dim. "Yes, and I am glad. I feel sorry for those people, they knew no life but drudgery, it will be hard for them to adjust to the change, yet it will be a good change for them. They had no hope before; I could see that, now they have some. And sometimes that is all one needs, so long as they are true to it," Legolas shot Elrond a knowing, somewhat impish grin. "Or so someone wise once told me."
Elrond just grinned.
When they reached the edge of Mirkwood Legolas and the elves of his party halted, leaving Elrond and the Rivendell elves who had joined him several weeks ago, to continue their homeward journey alone.
"Farewell Lord Elrond, you and your heirs shall always be welcome in these woods," Legolas bid the older elf goodbye.
"Namàrië Legolas," Elrond returned in kind. "May Eärendil always shine upon your path."
As soon as the Rivendell elves were on their way, Legolas and his friends turned back into the woods. As they did, the prince’s horse stumbled slightly on some hidden hummock. The creature shied sideways, making Legolas re-adjust his balance quickly. It was a small thing, so trifling it normally would not have been noticed, but the prince’s friends had come to feeling quite over-protective of him during his recovery.
"Legolas, are you all right?" the prince’s friend Trelan asked with concern.
Legolas rolled his eyes. If he *sneezed* they asked him if he was all right. He just wanted this whole thing behind him, and he did not appreciate being treated like glass.
"I’m fine, I’m not going to break you know," he said somewhat testily.
"I don’t know... looks like you could fall apart on the spot to me," Raniean said with a challenging grin.
"Oh really?" Legolas quirked one graceful, incredulous eyebrow. "Well then..." he glanced between his friends with a mischievous glitter in his silver eyes. "You’ll have no trouble getting back before I do!" he said suddenly, spurring his horse to a quick canter, inviting a race.
Trelan shouted in mock dismay at the unfair advantage of the first start as he spurred his own horse on, but Raniean had seen the look in his friend’s eye and been ready for him. Urging his horse until it was neck-to-neck with Legolas’ the friends vied for first place.
Legolas laughed at the fun of it. "You can’t beat me Raniean, I’m the prince! I think there’s a law against it or something..."
"Hm... well remind me to ask your father about that after I leave you far behind!" his friend shot back gaily.
As Elrond’s party rode away, they heard the merry laughter of the young elves retreating behind them. The Lord of Rivendell shook his head with a small smile. Young ones...