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Family Trouble

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-Family Trouble-

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~*PART ONE*~
~Dark as a Tomb~

 

Aragorn sighed deeply and slid down the rough wall of stone that blocked his path.  Crumpling at the base of the caved in wall, he slapped the rocks ineffectually.  As his anger ebbed away, fear and pain eagerly rushed in to take its place.  The sound of his breathing was loud in the small cavern and he had to fight back the claustrophobic feelings that overwhelmed him like a flood tide blocking all rational thought.  He could barely hear the townsfolk now.  He wondered idly how much debris lay between him and the outside.  Slight sounds of shifting rocks caused him to wince and hold his breath. The mountainside was still settling in on itself, adjusting under the weight of the newly shifted rocks.  Dust fell into his eyes and choked his breath.

 

Closing his eyes the ranger worked to calm his breathing and still the anxiety in his heart.  He didn’t need any more adrenaline in his system.  He already felt shaky from what they had just survived.

 

They...

 

Legolas!  The elf had to be in here somewhere.

 

Giving up his failed attempts to dig them out, Aragorn crawled a few paces to the back of the cavern.  The shallow indentation in the cliff face that they had been buried in was no deeper than the length of a man and barely tall enough for him to stand upright.  From what he had seen before the rocks caved in the opening, Aragorn thought the width of the cave could have been no more than ten paces long.  He fought down the bile that rose in his throat conjured from the fear of their confinement.

 

Hesitantly he tested the floor in front of him with his right hand.  It was pitch black in the cave and he couldn’t see a thing.  His left arm was useless, having been broken or dislocated in the fight.  He hadn’t taken the time to find out exactly what was wrong. He was fairly certain something was broken, it hurt too much when he moved his arm and it wouldn’t support any of his weight.

 

His fingers brushed against soft cloth and he inched closer.  Gently, Aragorn ran his right hand over Legolas’ prone body.  The elf didn’t move.  The prince was lying in a crumpled heap where he had been thrown.  Slowly Aragorn turned the elf over onto his back and eased Legolas into his lap.  It was hard to do with his left arm hurting so badly but he needed to know his friend was alive and he needed the contact whether he wanted to admit it or not.

 

“Legolas?”  His voice was oddly loud in the silent cave.  Tomb, he thought darkly to himself, this is a tomb.  Or it would be if they weren’t found soon.

 

The elf in his arms didn’t answer him.  The ranger gently laid his right hand on the prince’s chest.  To his great relief, the steady beat of his friends’ heart thumped softly against his fingertips.  Now that his eyes were adjusting to the lack of light, the human could make out the natural glow of the elf.  Closing his eyes the ranger sighed in relief as the wild tinges of panic began to recede.

 

Scooting back against the wall, Aragorn pulled Legolas more tightly against him and settled them both as comfortably as he could.  The ground beneath him was cold and littered with small pieces of rock and debris.  The wall of the cave behind him wasn’t much better.  It took him a couple of minutes to find a place that was smooth enough where the rocks didn’t dig into his back and shoulders. 

 

With a hiss, he shifted his wounded arm so that it lay across the prince’s chest.  It felt better when the weight was taken off of it.  He was beginning to think his collar bone was fractured.  He had had broken arms before and this didn’t feel like that.  Carefully he worked his hand and arm.  Movement in his shoulder sent shooting flares of pain through his awareness and he stilled stiffly until the ache was gone.

 

Definitely his collar bone, he thought darkly.  Well at least it was something new and not the same old broken arm or leg that he usually returned home with.  Not that Ada would find that amusing.

 

Turning his attention back to the elf, Aragorn wondered how badly Legolas had been hurt.  His fingers trembled slightly as he brushed the prince’s face.

 

It shouldn’t have ended up this way.  He had never seen it coming.  The possibility hadn’t even entered his mind.  He thought they had left the memory of Hebrilith behind.  That had been nearly two years ago.  But they had forgotten that the Silvan prince was a dead ringer for the tormented elf that had hunted the humans this side of the mountains.  And the folks hereabouts thrived on tales and myths.  The legacy Hebrilith had built over the years through his activities had been enlarged upon in the small outposts until the dark elf had become the embodiment of all evil that haunted the villages.  They didn’t know Hebrilith had died.  And they didn’t believe the ranger when he had tried to reason with them.  It was easier to believe the lies, the half truths and legends and to keep the fears alive.  Tales told round campfires late at night have a way of never dying.  And so Hebrilith lived on.

 

Aragorn wanted to kick himself for not thinking about that when he and Legolas had entered the outskirts of the town.  It was almost on accident that they had stumbled on the village at all.  They were following the trail of recent evidence that seemed to point to a small enclave of orcs nearby when they very nearly ran into a group of hunters.

 

He remembered the looks on the faces of the men when Legolas had walked up next to him.  Fear, horror and surprise were quickly masked by anger and rage.  No amount of talking or reasoning had convinced the men that Legolas was not Hebrilith.  They had even accused Aragorn of being merely an embodiment of a dead ranger that Hebrilith had enslaved to his corrupted will. 

 

“Quite an imagination,” Aragorn whispered aloud.  He sighed deeply and shook his head.  They weren’t bad people, just scared people.  He knew the populaces in the hills near Imladris were a superstitious lot when it came to things like elves or the other races that inhabited Middle Earth.  Most had never even seen an elf and Hebrilith had done them no favors.

 

Aragorn gently touched his head.  He winced as his fingers brushed the jagged cut to his temple.  He had been trying to reason with the hunters when he had been knocked unconscious.  When he woke up he found himself inside this small cave.  The villagers were sealing it off, stacking large rocks in even rows against the opening.  Aragorn had begged them to go to Rivendell to verify his story but they wouldn’t listen.  The ranger had no idea what they had done next.  But after they were through sealing the cave, the hunters had somehow triggered an avalanche and buried them deep within the mountain.  They wanted to make sure that the evil the elf had done was never able to escape. 

 

And they’ve done a good job of it too, Aragorn thought darkly.

 

The fact that Legolas was unresponsive worried him deeply.  The last time the prince had been mistaken for Hebrilith it had nearly cost him his life.

 

He began slowly inspecting the elf more closely.  Legolas’ natural glow was extremely dim in the darkened cave.  His wrists were abraded and cut.  A nasty gash on the elf’s temple mirrored the one on his own.  He couldn’t tell if the prince was wounded more severely than the external bruises and cuts.  He would have to wait until Legolas woke up.  He hoped that would be soon.

 

Before they had left, Aragorn had told his brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, where they were going and when they could be expected to return.  When the elf and ranger didn’t show up, he was sure the twins would start hunting for them. 

 

“Legolas?  Come on, I need you to wake up. Please,” Aragorn quietly begged the still elf.  His shoulder and arm were aching fiercely.  He wondered idly how he had come to be so beaten up.  What had happened to them after he had been knocked out? “Legolas?”

 

He could feel the elf breathing underneath his left hand and the steady pulse of the elven heart beat beneath his fingertips.  At least Legolas was alive.  For the moment that was all that mattered.  Leaning his head back against the rock wall behind him Aragorn closed his eyes.  He just needed to be patient, just needed to rest...

 

Someone stirred nearby.  White hot pain flared behind Aragorn’s eyes and a sickening grinding feeling in his shoulder brought him fully awake.  Involuntarily he cried out and tried to stop the movement that jarred his arm.

 

“Aragorn?!” The panicked shout reminded the ranger of their predicament.

 

“Stop moving, Legolas,” Aragorn panted hoarsely.  He closed his eyes and held his breath against the pain.  His right hand tightened on the princes’ shoulder.  “We’re safe for the moment.  Just don’t move.”

 

“Estel what is it?”  Legolas’ questioned worriedly immediately stilling his movements.  He realized with sudden clarity that he was being held by the ranger.  His hands gently touched the ranger’s wounded arm and began feeling it for breaks.  “Is it your arm?”

 

Aragorn shook his head still trying to calm his own racing heart.  Finally finding his voice he responded aloud.

 

“No.”  His voice was soft in the small confines.  “I think it’s my collar bone.  My arm seems to be fine but it hurts when I move it at all and I can’t put any weight on it.”

 

“I should wonder if it didn’t.  I was afraid you had been injured more severely,” Legolas responded cryptically.  He groaned softly as he stirred.  “Where are we?”

 

“Don’t ask,” Aragorn responded distractedly.  “You really don’t want to know.”  He was looking around them in earnest for anything they could use to make their stay more comfortable.  It appeared that their captors had simply thrown them in the cavern and kept all their supplies.

 

“Are we in a cell?”

 

“Of sorts,” Aragorn answered.  He directed his attention back to the elf in his arms.  “How badly were you hurt?  What happened, Legolas?” He gently brushed the hair away from the elf’s face as best he could with his right hand.

 

“Well I only remember some...” the elf’s words were soft and they drifted off as Legolas recalled the events that he could.  He didn’t move out of Aragorn’s arms.  The truth was he hurt too badly at the moment and their surroundings were strangely frightening if he thought about it too hard.

 

“After you were knocked unconscious I tried to get to your side and help you, but they wouldn’t let me.  I told them the truth many times but they were convinced that I was lying and would hear none of it.  They intended to slit your throat in hopes of ‘freeing’ your spirit that they just knew I had enslaved,” Legolas quietly repeated all that had happened to them.  “Finally I simply agreed with them.  I told them I was Hebrilith and they could do what they wanted with me if they left you alone and let you live.  It was the only way I could convince them to let you remain unharmed.”

 

The elf sighed softly.  It was hard to breathe and harder to recount what had happened.  When he breathed in deeply it was painful.  He was positive he had broken ribs.  It was a feeling he had learned over the past few decades and one that the mind didn’t let go of easily.

 

“What did they do to you, Legolas?” Aragorn asked fearfully, the horror evident in his voice.  His grip tightened on the elf as the prince spoke of his treatment at the hands of the men.  Aragorn knew that he was greatly simplifying what had really happened.  “I’m so sorry I was not there to help you,” the ranger whispered.

 

“Estel, it was not your fault.  Who knew that this village had been so devastated by Hebrilith’s hunting?  Honestly, it wasn’t anything worse than Taradin and his men did to me.  I will be fine,” Legolas concluded.  “I will heal.  You, however, sustained your injuries when they threw you into the back of a wagon that was brought up from the town.  You fell out and landed on rocky ground when the horses were spooked by the hunters’ caches. It was the dead deer that they piled into the cart that set them off.  No one was paying attention to us at that time.  I was positive that you had been injured but they did not care.  In fact when I expressed concern for you they used it as an excuse to beat you as well, though there is not half the sport in beating an unconscious man.  That is probably why you ache all over.  They said they were going to make sure that I could never harm another soul and that my corruption would not spread through you either.  Then the large man that knocked you out did the same to me.”  The elf shifted slightly and fingered his temple.  “I really hadn’t thought I would awaken.  I thought we were both dead.”

 

“Well...”

 

“Don’t tell me these are Mandos’ Halls, my friend,” Legolas jested, trying to lighten their situation.

 

A small snort of laughter was the ranger’s reply.

 

“No, I’m afraid we are still in Middle Earth...somewhere.  However the townspeople felt that in order to keep us from spreading evil we needed to be buried,” Aragorn explained simply.  He felt the elf in his arms stiffen.

 

Now that he focused on their surroundings Legolas realized where the familiar sense was coming from – they were underground.

 

“We are in a cave?”

 

“Yes, I’m afraid so, my friend,” Aragorn answered.  “They walled up the exit and then somehow brought the mountain down on top of us to ensure we could not get out.  I cannot find a way out.  I have been trying.  The cavern itself is small and there is no tunnel leading out but the one that they collapsed.  El and El will come for us, I know it, Legolas.  They told me if we didn’t return in a fortnight they would come after us.  They will come.”  The elf simply nodded against the man that held him.

 

Silence fell in the grotto.  When Legolas didn’t speak up right away, the ranger tried to change the subject.

 

“Tell me where you hurt,” Aragorn asked softly.  He pressed the fingers of his left hand down gently on the elf’s chest.

 

“I ache all over,” Legolas answered with a small laugh.  “I’m sure I have broken ribs as well.  It hurts to breathe.”

 

Aragorn turned his head and silently laid his cheek on the elf’s head.  “I’m sorry,” He whispered softly, his heart breaking.  He knew if they ever got out of this predicament they would have to return to the village and ensure that this abuse was never repeated.  He knew of a few people that could come to his help in that matter – if they got out.

 

“You know, Estel, I don’t mind getting into trouble with you or even running into enemies. But I am sorely sick of having broken ribs,” Legolas spoke quietly.  He stifled a small laugh when his body protested.  “It is not something I ever wish to do again.  I want you to know that, because I have never had them until I met you – *human*,” he jested lightly.

 

His taunting did the job as he felt the man laugh softly.

 

“You expect me to believe that you never had a broken bone before you met me?”

 

“No, in all honesty before I met you, Estel, I *never* had a broken rib.  My wounds were... of a different nature I am afraid.”  His voice quieted as he thought back to an earlier time.”

 

“I’m sorry...” Aragorn repeated again.  When Legolas tried to protest the human resisted.  “No.  I’m sorry your ribs were broke and I’m sorry we are in this hole in the mountain.”

 

“I’m not worried, Estel.  None of this was your fault or mine.  It belongs to an elf whose soul is now with Mandos.  You were right, your brothers will come.  It was nearing a fortnight when we headed back two days ago,” Legolas commented softly. He smiled at the grey eyes that stared down into his.  In the dim light his glow afforded, he could see the worry in his friends gaze.  “Besides, this is not the worst imprisonment I have ever endured.”  The last was said with a small smile.

 

Aragorn nodded mutely.  His friend’s words sank slowly into his mind.  His eyes had barely adjusted to the dim light the elf shed and he watched the prince closely.

 

“Would it be better if you were sitting up?” Aragorn prompted.

 

“If you don’t mind,” Legolas answered honestly, “I would really just like to remain here.  It hurts to move too much and right now it’s not so bad.”

 

Nodding slowly, Aragorn relaxed against the rocks behind them once more.

 

A thought occurred to him and he gazed back down at Legolas.

 

“What do you mean it’s not the worst imprisonment you’ve ever had?  What was the worst?”  Aragorn questioned.  It helped to simply talk, helped keep their minds off the small confines they found themselves in.

 

Legolas barely laughed.

 

“Oh no, the worst came from a more familiar hand and in quite an unexpected manner,” the elf spoke softly and haltingly.  Sometimes his words were faint and at times he stopped to catch his breath.

 

“Is it a story you can tell?” Aragorn prompted.

 

“Now...yes,” Legolas answered.  “There was a time when it was never spoken of, a time when it hurt too much to even think about.  But now... now time has dulled the ache and it is more of a point of humor and embarrassment to those involved.  I am sure they wouldn’t mind if I told you.”

 

Aragorn smiled and simply waited his friend out while the elf took a few painfully deep breaths.

 

“You already know some of the story of my mother, but I have never told of you my sister,” Legolas began his story by way of explanation.

 

“Sister?!”  Aragorn leaned down closer, gazing deeply into the elf’s eyes to make sure he had heard correctly.  “You have a sister and you never told me?”

 

“I’ve seen what happens when you get around elven maidens,” Legolas joked, arousing laughter from the human.

 

“Don’t even go there,” Aragorn warned him off laughingly.  “Now what is this about a sister?”  His voice was teasing.  “Tell me more.”

 

“Well it happened over two thousand years ago,” Legolas began.  “When the forests were first overrun by the spiders we didn’t realize what a threat they were, how vile and evil their hearts were or the darkness that ruled their simple minds.  In the beginning we still ventured into the southern reaches of the forests thinking we were safe.  We were not.”

 

Legolas grew quiet.  A million thoughts assaulted his mind at once. It had been over a millennia and yet it still felt so fresh like the events had happened yesterday.  His heart had healed and he was content with the fact he would see his family again someday but memories were so different for the eldar – sometimes more painful.

 

Taking a deep breath Legolas launched back into the tale.

 

“My sister’s name is Celesté she is younger than I.  One day in late summer we decided to go on a small trip near the southern regions – the parts where travel is now forbidden.  It was not always as it is now. Mirkwood was beautiful.  We were all supposed to go, Ada, Nana, Celesté and I.  But my father ended up having to cancel because of affairs of state and things of that nature so he declined remaining behind while we traveled on.  Running a kingdom has always been a consuming job for my father,” Legolas commented softly, smiling as he thought back through all the times Thranduil had had to cancel plans to attend to some crisis or mediate some decision. 

 

Shaking his head to clear the more recent memories he continued. 

 

“Celesté was too young to ride a horse by herself so she sat with Nana.  The two had wandered off ahead of me...I don’t quite recall now why I was not nearer them.  Something had caught my attention and distracted me.  I never heard the attack.  Several large spiders dropped out of the trees in front of Nana’s horse spooking it.  The poor beast was terrified.  Celesté died instantly when she and Nana were thrown from the horse.  I was able to drive the spiders back so they could not reach my mother and sister.  Fortunately a small hunting party nearby heard our cries for help.  They chased the beasts away, but it wasn’t in time.  The damage had already been done.” Legolas’ voice had faded to a whisper and he closed his eyes tightly against the sorrow that welled in his heart as he remember the sight of his sister’s small body lying so still in the meadow.

 

“She was never still in life.  Always so full of all that was alive in the forests,” Legolas spoke distractedly. His voice startled him.  He hadn’t realized he was speaking his thoughts aloud. 

 

Glancing up at Aragorn he noted the pained look in his friend’s eyes.

 

“I’m so sorry Legolas,” the ranger replied.  He wasn’t sure what to say.  Legolas was right he had never heard this tale and that it still hurt the elf to retell it was painful for him.  “I never knew.  I mean I knew your mother had gone across the sea... but...”

 

With a smile the prince set the man’s heart at ease.  “It has been many years now.  My father and I have both come to terms with Celesté and Nana’s departures.  I know I will see them again.”

 

“Still...”  Aragorn shook his head in empathy as he thought through all the elf was telling him.  He understood loss, understood it all too well.  “But if your mother wasn’t hurt...why then did she leave? I thought she was wounded?”  The ranger asked gently.  He didn’t mean to pry but his curiosity had gotten the better of him.  It was a trait the elf had come to expect from humans and he nodded as he followed the man’s train of thoughts.

 

“Yes and no.  Not as you understand wounding.  Remember Estel that for an elf a wound to the heart can be as fatal as an injury to the body,” the prince explained.  “My mother could not get over the grief from the loss and left for the undying lands where she knew she would be reunited with Celesté.  It was not an easy decision, nor did it come quickly.  But it did compound the emptiness in both my father’s heart and mine.  You see my father was not there and for his part, because of that, he had his own guilt over it.  Because he was supposed to have gone with us and did not, he blamed himself for Celesté’s death and Nana’s state of heart.  With both of us experiencing the same guilt we naturally sparked off of each other and contributed to our problems growing father apart and never realizing what the other was feeling.  In the end after they had both left, we made our lives a living torment, unintentionally that is.”

 

“Why didn’t you just tell your father what you were thinking and feeling?”  Aragorn questioned.  He hadn’t meant the query to sound harsh he was simply trying to fathom why the situation had gotten so out of hand.  In his household everyone freely voiced their opinions, thoughts and emotions.  If he didn’t, his Ada would simply drag it all out of him anyway, so there was no use in hiding. 

 

“I wish we had had that type of relationship back then.  We could have avoided so much hurt and loneliness.  My father is a good king.  He is a decent father although he would be the first to admit he is still learning that role,” Legolas laughed softly.  His breath catching slightly as the pain reminded him of his injury. 

 

“I also have had much to learn.  When Nana left, it was hard to talk to anyone about the way I felt.  She was the one I always went to when I was troubled or frightened or needed advice.  I am sure that Adar would have wanted to be that one that I confided in, but most of the time he was too busy and...well...Nana just had a way about her that was soothing and calming.  I still miss her,” Legolas confessed.

 

“The fact remains that when she left I shut everyone out.  It was easier that way.  Easier to channel all the loss and pain and forge them into a blunt anger, which developed into a hatred for the spiders in the southern region.  I didn’t care what clan or enclave I ran across I simply wanted to kill them all.  I took to hunting them any chance I could get.  And I got pretty good at it too.  Of course once Raniean and Trelan found out what I was up to they wanted to accompany me.  We spent every spare moment tracking the spiders and killing any we came across.  It went on for a bit until it was brought to my father’s attention,” Legolas snorted softly as he remembered the exact day his father found out. 

 

“I don’t know if he was told what we were up to or if he simply noticed how much I was gone. But when he discovered our forays into the southern forests he forbade me to continue them.  Only his wishes didn’t matter to me at the time and I defied him.  It really was my fault.  I pushed him too hard, but at the time all that I was clinging to was my hatred and anger.  Ada had allowed his duties to the kingdom to consume him.  It was how he dealt with the pain.  But we were both just retreating from the truth.  Finally he could take it no more and ordered me to appear before him, which of course I declined,” Legolas admitted sheepishly.  He smiled as Aragorn shook his head at the elf’s stubbornness.

 

“Oh Legolas...” the ranger groaned.  “My friend you still have that stubborn streak down your back.”

 

“Yes, but at least time has tempered it.  Ada and I now have a much closer relationship.  We are both learning how to love one another,” Legolas replied.  “Now stop interrupting or I won’t tell you the rest!”  The elf laughed softly, holding his ribs with his arms.

 

The rocks in front of them shifted and slipped.  Aragorn curled over Legolas sheltering him as the wall in front of them moved closer, collapsing in on itself.  Small bits of debris rained down on them showering them with dirt.  Dust filled the air and choked their lungs making breathing hard.

 

Curling in on himself Legolas tried to catch his breath.  Fire raced through his body as his ribs protested any attempt to breathe.  Tears formed at the edges of his eyelids unbidden.  He could hear Aragorn speaking but he couldn’t concentrate on the words.

 

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~*PART TWO*~
~Rebellious Prince~

 

 

Choking and coughing Aragorn batted at the air in front of his face trying to clear the dust from the immediate area.  The shallow cavern was too confined to escape the polluted air and he had to wait for the silt to clear on its own.  A few of the smaller rocks tumbled down the face of the wall in front of them scattering across the floor of the cavern.  One smashed down forcefully on Aragorn’s left ankle and he stifled a cry as the boulder settled against his leg.

 

The rocks stopped moving with a groan, readjusting to new constraints and shifted weights.  Aragorn surmised with sudden clarity that the townsfolk had probably never intended for he and Legolas to survive the cave in.  They were hoping that the shallow indentation the two had been thrown into would have collapsed on them and killed them instantly.  He wasn’t sure if surviving the cave in was a blessing or a curse.  He was pretty sure they wouldn’t last much longer.  Without water and food it would be a matter of days.  If their supply of air was cut of by the shifting rock wall, it could be a matter of hours.

 

Pain shot up his leg from where it rested under the boulder.  He noticed that Legolas was curled into a fetal position trying to catch his breath.

 

Gently grabbing the elf’s shoulders he pulled the prince back into his lap.

 

“Legolas?” the soft question sounded strangely loud in the stillness that had reoccupied the cave.  “Are you all right?  Where you injured?”  He brushed blonde strands of hair away from the elf’s face.  Rock dust coated them both, smudging their faces a sooty grey.

 

The elf simply nodded by way of answering.  He had finally gotten his breathing under control and was trying to shunt the pain aside.

 

“Legolas?” Aragorn’s voice took on a more worried tone.

 

“It is well,” Legolas panted softly.  “I just couldn’t catch my breath for a moment.”  He relaxed back into Aragorn’s arms, his eyes fearfully glancing at the rock wall that hovered over them.  “I do not think they meant for us to survive this long.”

 

“I agree.  Let us hope that they will be found wrong on all accounts and we will escape,” Aragorn commented wryly.  He winced as his ankle began to throb.

 

“What is it?” Legolas asked. Shifting, he eased himself up so he could see the far wall.  A dark irregular shape rested against Aragorn’s leg pinning his ankle in place.  The prince scooted stiffly around and placed his booted foot on the rock and kicked at it trying to push it off.

 

Seeing his intent, Aragorn placed the heel of his right boot against it.  Together they both pressed the same side of the rock, sliding it slightly to the right and tipping it off its base.  It rolled a pace towards the rockface and stopped giving Aragorn enough room to pull his foot away from it.  His ankle throbbed worse now that it was freed and he hissed as the blood rushed back into his foot.

 

“Is it broken?” Legolas asked.  He leaned back against the ranger’s chest and held his breath as his body relaxed once more.  The beating he had endured was beginning to take its toll.

 

“I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  It just hurts right now.  It’s hard to tell,” Aragorn replied.  He leaned forward, around Legolas, as far as he could and felt his ankle.  It was beginning to swell.  “It could just be badly bruised.”  With a sigh he rested back against the rock wall and gazed at the dark ceiling.  His thoughts coalesced in his mind as dark as the rock prison his body was trapped in.

 

Silence fell between them for a span.  Legolas knew if they didn’t get help soon Aragorn would fade before he did.  If the human died and there was no rescue he would not linger long after.  His hand tightened on the man’s where rested against his chest.

 

Aragorn’s dark train of thoughts was broken and he glanced down at the elf.  His right hand absently brushed the prince’s hair away from his forehead.  There was nothing to say, they both knew the truth of their situation.

 

The air in the cavern had noticeably dropped a few degrees; it must be night time without.  The fact that the air had cooled gave Aragorn a bit of hope.  At least somewhere there must have been an opening that allowed fresh air into the cleft.

 

“I bet your father would have a few words to say about our predicament right now,” Aragorn joked hesitantly. He desperately needed to refocus his thoughts and he was sure the elf he held was in no better shape.

 

A soft short laugh was his answer.

 

“Oh that he would,” Legolas concurred.  “Would you like to know how he responded to my forays into the southern reaches?”

 

“Yes very much please,” Aragorn encouraged.  Settling his back more comfortably he closed his eyes and listened to the elf’s voice as Legolas picked the tale back up.

 

~*~

 

Young prince Legolas had his arms folded across his chest and his feet planted.  He was not moving on his own. 

 

Captain Amil-Garil and the other soldier looked at one another and shared a silent sigh.  Easily picking the younger elf up by the elbows they carried him between them into Thranduil’s audience chamber where the elven king was waiting for them. 

 

Legolas did not resist them, but he did not help them either and when they set him on his feet before his father’s throne his stance did not change, save that his gaze remained firmly riveted to the arm of Thranduil’s large seat. 

 

Legolas didn’t need to see the look on his father’s face to know what was there.  Disappointment, anger, disgust... he’d seen them all before.  The prince tightened his fists against the side of his chest. 

 

Raniean and Trelan, far less resistant, let the remaining two guards prod them gently into the room.  The two young elves looked nervously between Legolas, the king and the guards.  Their loyalties lay with their friend, but they were a little frightened about what they had gotten themselves into. 

 

“We found them in the woods near the... near the last spider sighting,” Amil-Garil reported dutifully.  Thranduil knew exactly where his son and the other two young elves had been found, not by what the captain of his guard said, but rather by what he left unsaid.  Of course, Legolas had been out by Three Corners... in the glade where his little sister had died almost five standard years ago.  Thranduil had forbid the boy to go back again after he had nearly gotten killed hunting there alone the last time.  Legolas had defied him no less than six times now.  This had to stop. 

 

“They resisted your attempts to take them back no doubt,” Thranduil’s voice was hard as his eyes bored into his son, but Legolas carefully ignored him. 

 

“Yes sir they did,” Amil-Garil had no choice but to acknowledge. 

 

“Well Legolas?” Thranduil’s eyes were locked on the boy.  “What were you doing out there *this* time?”

 

“Hunting spiders,” Legolas’ tone was defiant; he was still staring at the arm of the chair. 

 

Raniean and Trelan shifted uneasily and looked at one another.  Legolas didn’t have to make things worse... but they said nothing.  They knew how hard Legolas had taken the death of his sister and when his mother decided that she could no longer remain in middle earth and passed over the sea it had been even harder. 

 

“I see,” Thranduil paced on his dais, his hands clasped behind his back.  “After I specifically forbade you to do so.  Just as you were specifically *not* supposed to leave your chambers until I gave you leave to do so in the first place.  So what do you do?  Immediately sneak out, round up your friends and go looking for danger!  What am I supposed to do with you Legolas?  And you two...” the king’s gaze fell upon the prince’s friends. 

 

“Raniean and Trelan did not know I was acting against your wishes,” Legolas defended quickly. 

 

Thranduil sighed, his gaze shifting between his son and the other two young elves. 

 

Trelan and Raniean bowed out of respect for the king when his eyes lighted on them.  For a moment the elder elf’s lips almost twitched when he saw their faces.  They were obviously scared out of their wits.  It wasn’t every day a young elf was arrested by the palace guards and dragged before the king after all, even if these particular two young ones *did* have a penchant for getting into trouble with his son. 

 

“Then that makes it worse,” Thranduil answered.  He shook his head, his face sobering as he turned back to his son.  “It wasn’t enough that you recklessly threw yourself into danger, you dragged others who trust you into it with you.  What if someone had gotten hurt?  *You* would have been responsible Legolas.”

 

Legolas’ jaw tightened and his eyes stung in a way he couldn’t control.  “Like nana and Celesté?” the young elf’s words were softly uttered between clenched teeth but Thranduil heard them clearly. 

 

The king’s face tightened as the pain that was ever near the surfaces stabbed him viciously.  Legolas had no business bringing them into this!  Yes, Legolas had lost, but he had lost too and it was no excuse for the boy to be acting up like he was.  They had to be strong, they had to go on, for the people, for Mirkwood... they had to go on.  Oh Valar it hurt though.  Pain lanced through Thranduil’s heart at the mere mention of the names, bringing a sharp edge to his tone. 

 

“Don’t change the subject Legolas.” The king’s eyes were hard with hurt.  That wound was still too raw, too open... for both father and son. 

 

“Is it changing the subject?” Legolas raised his eyes to meet his father’s for the first time and Thranduil found himself looking into tumultuous blue seas of swirling, raging emotions.  He almost wasn’t sure he knew Legolas anymore.  Had he lost his son as well as his wife and daughter? 

 

The king let his breath out slowly, frustration welling up in every pore of his being. 

 

“Out,” he ordered the guards and other elves to leave.  He and Legolas needed to have a talk and they did not need an audience.  “Take Raniean and Trelan back to their families.  If they are in any trouble over this let their parents deal with it.  I have no charges for them since I am quite sure that my *son* is fully responsible for any contravention of rules or law that occurred.”

 

The guards bowed and left, taking the other young elves with them.  Raniean and Trelan looked relieved and worried at the same time, stealing glances back over their shoulder towards their friend before they were ushered firmly out of the room.

 

When the door shut behind them Thranduil slowly descended the dais until he was standing eye-level with his son.  “Legolas I want to know what is going on with you, and I want to know now.  This behavior you have been exhibiting is totally unacceptable and I hope you realize that.”

 

Thranduil didn’t understand what was going on in the boy’s head and he couldn’t deal with it.  Legolas had never been this much trouble his entire life, never.  He was such a good child, always wanting to please, always respectful, but now...

 

Legolas didn’t answer.  He didn’t know what to say.  He didn’t actually *want* to make his father angry, but lately there just seemed no way to avoid it.  Thranduil never talked to him anymore unless it was to yell at him over something.  They had hardly said three decent words to one another since Elvéwen left for the havens.  Legolas didn’t know what he was doing wrong to garner such perpetual disfavor, but frustration had caused him to give up trying to figure it out.  If his father were going to be constantly angry with him, he might as well give him something to be angry about. 

 

Father and son loved each other very much, but they had not always been the best at showing it.  On more than one occasion Elvéwen had been the mediator between husband and son, smoothing over all those little bumps and helping them to see each other’s true motives.  It was as if she were the lifeblood that kept her family thriving.

 

But now Elvéwen was gone... leaving a huge, bleeding gap in the small, broken family. 

 

“Legolas I know you have been through a lot these past few years,” Thranduil continued, his voice softening ever so slightly.  The elvenking was trying, he was trying to see things from his son’s point of view, but his own heartache kept welling up and getting in the way, turning everything he tried to say into a reprimand.  “But that is no justification for the way you’re acting and don’t think I will accept it as such.  You are almost an adult Legolas, you have to put the past behind you and go forward.  Killing every spider you can find will not bring them back Legolas...” Thranduil’s eyes were sad.  “We’ve been through this before my son, you have to let it go.  It is no different then when you came back from-” the king stopped himself.  “When we have gone through other hurts or trials.  I expect you to be stronger than this.  I expect you to move on.” Thranduil looked away, remembering the bloodied, hurting young man who had been dragged home from Dorolyn almost thirty years ago now.  Legolas had shown remarkable courage and strength in the way he had handled his recovery from that situation.  As painful as it had been it had caused none of the problems they were facing now. 

 

Thranduil needed Legolas’ help to keep going, to keep the kingdom going and not let it fall prey to his personal heartbreak.  He needed the boy to help him, not make more problems.  This blatant rebellion the young elf had been exhibiting of late was driving the king up the wall and making an already difficult situation almost unlivable.  Thranduil expected more of Legolas than this... he expected more of himself than this. 

 

Legolas knew what his father was thinking; he saw it in his eyes when he looked away.  The young elf balled his fists tightly and dropped his gaze.  His father had spent so much time after his return from Dorolyn trying to convince Legolas that what had been done to him had not changed him or the way he was loved and respected by his family, but when Thranduil looked at him that way, at moments like this, Legolas couldn’t help but wonder if he really meant any of it.  Deep down Legolas feared that it really did matter.  Yet he knew that wasn’t what stood between he and his father right now.  No.  This was worse and it was slowly eating Legolas’ heart out.  He knew exactly what his father blamed him for... what he blamed himself for...

 

“Move on?” Legolas echoed disbelievingly.  Didn’t his father care at all about what had happened?  “You mean forget, like you have?” 

 

It was a mistake to say.  A large mistake. 

 

Thranduil rounded on the younger elf with pain-fueled fire in his eyes.  “Elvéwen and Celesté are *gone* Legolas!  I will NEVER forget them but nor can I afford the luxury of wallowing in the past!  I don’t know what you hope to accomplish by insisting on going out there to chase the spiders like this, except perhaps getting yourself killed as well.  But I want it to stop.  And I want it to stop right now!” Thranduil ordered firmly.  He would never show it, but deep down he was terrified, terrified that he was going to lose Legolas as well.  That would be a blow he could not take.  That would kill him. 

 

Legolas’ features were unmoved.  Thranduil’s jaw tensed, knowing what that look meant.  “I *mean* it Legolas!  This has got to stop!  I forbid you to hunt spiders and you disobey.  I forbid you to leave the palace and you take no heed.  I tell you not to leave your *room* and where do the guards find you?  Out in the forest again!  You are not leaving this room until you promise me that you will not go out again until I give you leave to do so.”

 

Legolas’ hard gaze was focused on the wall across the room.  He never broke his word once it was given; therefore he did not intend to make promises he had no intentions of keeping.  He did not wish to trade angry words with his father, no matter how riled up he was inside.  Despite what the king thought the young elf did respect him, greatly.  The prince kept his voice low and quiet, but very decided nonetheless. 

 

“I cannot make any such promise until all the brood that attacked mother and Celesté are dead.” 

 

Thranduil threw up his hands.  “Legolas our guards scoured the forests for months, they *are* all dead.  Any new spiders are just that, *new* spiders.  And you young elf will not speak to me like that.”

 

Legolas pressed his lips together.  It didn’t matter how he spoke to his father; Thranduil never seemed to want to hear.  Legolas knew it was because the king blamed him - because what had happened to his sister and his mother was his fault.  That was why Thranduil couldn’t stand to look at him anymore, he knew it.  He knew it and it was killing him slowly inside. 

 

“How would you prefer that I spoke to you your highness?  Would you rather I scrape and grovel like the rest of your slaves?” Pain made the young prince’s words carry much more bite than he would have wished. 

 

Thranduil turned sharply and Legolas flinched, half-expecting to be struck for his insubordinate words, half-thinking he deserved it. 

 

Thranduil did not slap Legolas although for a moment he had had half a mind to do so.  The king just pierced the young prince with his glare.  Yes, he knew Legolas was hurting, he would never punish the boy for hurting, but if Legolas let that hurt continue to lead him down this reckless path of destruction... It could not be allowed.  Something had to wake the boy up. 

 

“I am serious Legolas, I want you to promise me that you will not leave the palace again until I say you may,” Thranduil’s voice was very quiet. 

 

Legolas just looked away, refusing to answer.  He was not a child, he was an adult.  If he chose to hunt in the woods then that was his business.  Thranduil could not order him around forever. 

 

Thranduil’s look darkened.  “Fine.  If that is the way you want it.”  Clapping his hands loudly the king summoned the guards standing outside the doors.  “Take the prince down to the dungeon,” the king instructed the guards tersely.  “Lock him up.  He is to be treated no differently than anyone else.”

 

Legolas’ eyes had fixed on his father in semi-shock but his gaze was quickly darkening to match the flashing look on the older elf’s face.

 

Thranduil shook his head when he saw his son’s look.  “Legolas, if I cannot trust you to obey me of your own free will then you leave me no choice.  Take this time to think about the path you have been choosing with your reckless behavior and where it leads.”

 

The smoldering ire behind Legolas’ icy blue eyes told Thranduil that the prince was not appreciating the lesson he was trying to teach him.  Well, that’s just the way it was then.  Thranduil would rather have Legolas alive and hating him then dead from his own foolishness. 

 

The guards glanced at one another uneasily but saluted and turned their prisoner towards the door.  Legolas allowed them to lead him but the set look on his face was a dare, seeming to ask just how long they thought they could keep him against his will. 

 

“And Amil-Garil,” the king stopped the guards in the doorway with a sigh, having read Legolas’ thoughts on his face.  “If he tries to escape, give him twice the normal punishment.”

 

Legolas’ shoulders stiffened but he did not turn.  His father hated him.  If he had had any doubts about it before he knew it for certain now.  The young elf was angry yes... but just below the anger that he held up to protect his vulnerable emotions, his heart was slowly breaking.  His mother and sister were gone and his father hated him.  And he had no one to blame but himself.

 

Thranduil had no intention of ever letting the guards lay a harmful finger on his son, but he felt sure the mere threat of that kind of humiliation would keep Legolas from trying anything idiotic. 

 

The guards had never looked quite so unhappy or uneasy about fulfilling their orders, but they dutifully put the prince into one of the dungeon cells and closed the door behind him.

 

The instant he was alone in that small, dark room Legolas’ strong facade crumbled and he felt the familiar chill of terror sweep up his spine.  Loathing himself for his own inner weakness the young elf sat down in the corner and drew his knees up to his chest.  He couldn’t look at the bars; he couldn’t think about the dark... he mustn’t... The prince shivered slightly.  He hated being imprisoned.  He hated it.  Burying his face against his knees he rocked slowly back and forth in the darkness.

 

If Thranduil had only known the kind of emotional terror being locked up still evoked in his son, he would never have done this.  He would never have willingly done anything that he thought would actually cause the boy pain.  But Legolas was good at hiding his own fears and feelings, so the king was unaware of how his son felt about small, dark, underground places.  He had never gotten in-depth details from Legolas or anyone else that would have let him know how much Legolas had come to fear prisons and anything that resembled a cave.  In his mind Thranduil saw this as nothing but a reprimand, a chance for Legolas to cool off before he did something truly stupid. 

 

Besides, Legolas wouldn’t be there long. Thranduil only intended for him to spend the night down there, then in the morning he would release him. 

 

But sometimes the best laid plans go horribly awry.

 

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART THREE*~
~Horribly Awry~

 

 

“Wait a minute! Wait a minute!” Aragorn interrupted.  His horror had mounted through the retelling.  He was having a hard time reconciling what Legolas was saying with the Thranduil he had met.  Oh he had heard the tales of the king’s quick temper and even seen it in action before. But he knew that Thranduil loved Legolas.  This was a part of his friend’s family life that he had never heard.  He needed to stop the story and get a few more details.

 

“Are you telling me your father imprisoned you for not giving your word?  In a cell?  In the dungeon?!  You are kidding me, right?”  The ranger found that information incredulous and stared in shock at his friend.  “Why didn’t’ you ever tell him how much you feared the dark and the confines.  You’ve told me.  It can’t be that terrible of a secret.  Legolas that stubborn streak of yours will be the death of you yet.”

 

“Well it almost was,” Legolas answered softly.  He smiled up into the wide eyed stare that Aragorn laid on him.  “You must know, Estel, that my father loves me very much.  He didn’t do it to be mean.  He thought he was helping the situation.  Believe me, he knows about my fears.  You have seen how hard headed he can be at times and you know of my stubbornness.  They can be a nasty mix.  I fear I am more like him than we both want to admit.  Sometimes we just don’t communicate very well.  Ours has been a very different relationship than the one you have with your father.  I always worried that he would see my fears as weaknesses and I would lose his respect.  His love I always have.  But I needed to know that he knew I could take over in his stead should he require it.  An elf that is afraid of the dark and small places is not fit for leadership.”

 

“Obviously that assessment is wrong,” Aragorn replied softly.  “Fears do not make you weak.  They make you more real, easier to get to know than if you were a perfect pointy eared elf.”  The last was said with a quiet laugh.

 

Legolas couldn’t help the quiet snicker that escaped his lips.  “Don’t make me laugh, Estel it hurts,” he whispered through gritted teeth.  “It has taken many years for me to be able to agree with you on that.  But at the time the losses in my life outweighed my reasoning and I locked myself away from all others – even my father.  It was not wise.”

 

Aragorn snickered softly.  “That’s an understatement.  Somehow Ada is always able to pry out of me what is going on in my head.  But if he imprisoned me every time I wouldn’t promise not to get into trouble or do something that he had asked us not to do I think we should all still be serving out our time in our rooms.  You know, come to think of it, we don’t have dungeons in Imladris.  We don’t even have cells.”

 

“Rivendell is not a kingdom like Mirkwood is,” Legolas explained a bit further.  “There are many differences in our homes.  It is important for a king to be constant in his rule even with his own children.”

 

“You said it didn’t work out well...what happened?” Aragorn asked hesitantly.  He felt Legolas shudder slightly and he tightened his grip on the elf’s shoulder.  “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.  I mean I know you told me your father had put you in the dungeons before, but I guess I just thought you were kidding.  I never realized you meant it.”

 

“No, I’m afraid this wasn’t the first time it happened.  Only it wasn’t meant to be for an extended period of time.  Later that same day word was sent of a violent orc attack on some of the patrols near the southern border.  So my father went out with a large contingent of reinforcements to see for himself what had happened and lend any aid he could.  When he reached the site of the battle it was revealed that many had been killed but dozens more were taken as captives.  That was unacceptable and my father wished to journey with the garrison to free the prisoners,” Legolas continued the tale. 

 

He halted every so often to catch his breath or rest.  It was hard to keep up the conversation, but it kept his mind off his hurting body and their cramped predicament.  Aragorn was satisfied to simply wait out the elf until Legolas was ready to speak again, letting him have what rest he needed.

 

“My father sent back a runner to tell Amil-Garil to release me, but confine me to the palace grounds until he could return.  Unfortunately, the messenger never reached the palace.  He was killed before he could return and his message was never delivered,” Legolas picked up the story again after a long pause.  Most of the tale evoked little emotion from him now.  It had all happened so long ago.  But parts of it were still painful to tell.  And this was one of them.

 

Aragorn was shaking his head in disbelief.  His stomach churned as the prince’s voice dropped off.

 

“I’m so sorry,” the ranger whispered.  “Was no one else sent back?  No word brought after?”

 

“Well, eventually some of the warriors who had been wounded, but not killed in the previous fight, made their way back to Lasgalen.  From those soldiers we were able to find out what happened and where the king and the other contingent went off to.  However, they also brought with them no word from the king on my behalf and so my guards had no other orders but the last ones they were left with.  Amil-Garil and the rest of the guard had no choice but to continue to keep me imprisoned.  For their part they did what they were supposed to do and it was to their honor that they did.  It brought them no pleasure and they were kind to me.  But they could not let me out without the king’s word.  They had no idea he had already given it.”  Legolas stopped speaking again and winced, holding his breath against a spasm of pain.

 

“Legolas?”  Aragorn moved slightly, wincing in sympathy.

 

“Perhaps I should sit up.  My ribs ache fiercely,” Legolas answered the question.

 

“Maybe you should just stop talking.  I could tell a story instead.  Have you heard about the time we tricked Ada into drinking some of his own tea, but Elrohir made it and it was too strong?  There was a delegation from the surrounding towns coming for a council the next day and Elrohir and Elladan took turns pretending to be Elrond because we couldn’t wake Ada up.”  Aragorn laughed at the recollection.

 

“Yes, I have! And shame on you all!  You are lucky it worked so well.  You and your brothers never cease to amaze me.” Legolas smiled up at his friend.  “But no, really, I just think I need to sit up for a bit, please if that’s possible.”

 

“Of course,” Aragorn complied.  “Wait a moment though...”  Gingerly he lifted his left arm from where it lay across Legolas’ abdomen and held it tightly to his chest.

 

As Legolas tried to rise, Aragorn knelt beside him and helped him sit up as best he could with his right hand.  After a few moments the elf was resting against the warm shallow where Aragorn had sat a few moments ago.

 

Moving slowly around the prince in the tight confines, Aragorn stepped over Legolas and seated himself on the elf’s left.

 

“You need a sling for that arm,” Legolas commented softly.  He was breathing better now that he was sitting up although the change in position hurt.

 

“It’ll be fine,” Aragorn commented. “I’m more worried about you right now.”  He watched as the elf moved slowly, unfastening the catches on the leather belt that held his quiver in place.

 

“Here, use this,” Legolas offered.  Leaning forward he clumsily adjusted the straps until they held Aragorn’s arm tightly to his chest, with the weight resting on the ranger’s right shoulder.  “That should help a bit.”

 

It did indeed help and the human sighed as the pressure was taken off his collar bone.

 

Sitting back against the rock he shouldered the elf forward until Legolas was leaning against him, his warmth helping to ease the pain.  For several moments neither of them spoke as their bodies readjusted to the movements and the new positions they sat in.  The pain slowly ebbed away and in moments Legolas was breathing easier.

 

“Better?” Aragorn whispered.

 

“Yes much,” Legolas countered.  He laid his head against Aragorn’s shoulder as they sat there side by side.

 

“They’ll find us.  I know they will,” Aragorn reassured quietly.  He spoke the words aloud as much for himself as for the elf.

 

“I hope they do,” Legolas whispered.  “I really don’t want to remain here for the rest of my days.”

 

With a laugh Aragorn glanced over at his friend.  “Yes, this would be much worse than one of your father’s cells.”

 

“Ah yes, that’s right.  The story,” Legolas smiled as he returned to the telling.  “Well in all honesty I actually feel a little bit like I did back then.  It was hard to breathe in the dark.  It felt like the walls were physically closing in on me whenever I opened my eyes.  In fact I actually took to softly banging the back of my head against the wall behind me repeatedly for hours on end.  It was odd, but it helped, and at that time I needed anything to distract from the tightness that the fears were wrapping around my heart.  Eventually I lost all track of time after the first three weeks.  However, far from becoming accustomed to the prison cell every passing moment seemed to make me more and more desperate to do anything to get away from it.  I couldn’t stand it, I couldn’t stay there.”

 

“Oh Legolas, tell me you didn’t try to escape,” Aragorn groaned quietly.  He squinted his eyes shut against the thought.  To him this retelling of his friend’s past was terribly painful.

 

“I did,” Legolas answered simply.  “Elves were not made to subsist in the dark.  It is one the closest things to death that can ever be done to them.  To lock them away from all that is good and fair or to banish them forever from their people – both are death sentences to an elf.”

 

“We’ll get out of here,” Aragorn repeated fiercely.  “I’ll not let you die here.  My brothers are out looking for us right now.  I know it.”

 

Legolas simply nodded and laid his back against the ranger’s shoulder.  It helped a little bit to have hope that someone was searching for them.

 

In moments Aragorn’s breathing had evened out and deepened.  The man had fallen asleep.  With a soft sigh Legolas relaxed against his friend content to wait.  At least this time he wasn’t alone.

 

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

The night was quiet and warm.  The sounds of small animals and night insects serenaded the full moon that shown above the canopy of trees sheltering a grassy meadow near the small outpost Legolas and Strider had stumbled upon not so long ago.

 

Silently two identical elves walked out from under the shadowed shelter of the woods and approached the clearing.  The meadow glistened in the evening moonlight.  On the far edge of the grassy bowl a group of men were sitting around a campfire, enjoying an evening meal and the company of one another.  The path that the elves were tracking passed right by this very shallow.  The fact that one of the human voices was familiar to the two elves was the very thing that had brought them out into the open. 

 

It hadn’t taken much in the way of tracking skills to find the hunter’s campfire.  The sharp ears of the elves had picked up the sounds of full laughter and loud boasting while they were still some ways off.  With barely a word spoken between them they had shifted their course in hope of uncovering clues to the whereabouts of those they tracked.   In the moonlight their glow was set off by the natural illumination that fell on them.  As they picked up their pace they moved as one.

 

The laughter round the fire died down as the men took note of the two cloaked beings that exited the forest.  A large man stood up and addressed them.  His eyes were quick and thick graying hair crowned his head.  He was dressed in the brown leathered garb of the hunters this side of the Misty Mountains.   Next to him a younger man stirred but was pressed back down by the older hunter.

 

“It’s late friends.  What brings you out this way?  Care to join us?”

 

The question was part invitation part warning if the strangers had mischief in mind.  His right hand strayed to the hilt of his hunting knife as he waited for a response.

 

“Told you it was Taradin,” a soft whisper traveled on the slight breeze.

 

“Who comes calling?” The hunter called again.

 

Elladan flipped the hood of his cloak back revealing his raven hair and fair features. A brilliant smile lit up his face.

 

“Taradin, you scoundrel, we thought we heard your laughter above the rest.  How fair you and young Garith?  He is there with you is he not? Father has inquired on your well being many a time,” Elrohir called out to the man.

 

“Elladan?  Elrohir?” Garith jumped to his feet and began shuffling the men over making room for the two elves near the fire.  “Come!  Sit and join us!  Is Strider with you?”  The young man had a fondness for the ranger that they had befriended.

 

“What brings you elf lords out this way?”  Taradin asked jovially.  He rounded the fire and grasped each of the slender elves in a crushing hug.  “Been meaning to head out your way before the winter storms set in.  How is your family doing?”

 

The twins exchanged worried glances.  The older hunter knew a bit about their family.  The exact nature of Aragorn’s relationship to them had never been fully explained.  They stepped round the fire and seated themselves next to Garith, easily exchanging greetings before answering Tarith’s questions.

 

“The reason we are here concerns a member of our family,” Elrohir answered hesitantly.

 

“Actually two of them, our extended family,” Elladan covered easily.  “Strider and Legolas have been missing for a few days.”

 

“It wouldn’t be odd usually,” Elrohir continued quickly, “But they said they would return in a fortnight.  That was two days ago and their trail leads near some of the more outer lying towns.  We were worried they may have fallen into trouble.  They were tracking orcs.”

 

Taradin sobered.  He glanced across the fire and locked eyes with a man on the other side of the fire pit.  The sandy hunter dropped the piercing gaze and shifted uncomfortably.  The man was more of youth. Caught in between the growing up years, the young hunter was broad across the shoulders, his green eyes obscured by a shock of light brown hair that kept falling across his face.  He was obviously uneasy with the attention and the change in conversation.

 

“Renning didn’t you say your townsfolk ran into some odd travelers not but two days ago?” Taradin questioned the younger hunter.  He turned to the elves seated next to him and explained the other’s presence.  “Renning here is from an outpost just over the next hill. Small town, mostly built on trading.  We passed through there just yesterday and some of the kin asked if they could accompany us – deers been scarce this season.”

 

“That would be from the orcs that Strider and Legolas have been tracking,” Elrohir offered.  “There is an enclave somewhere near these hills.  They were trying to uncover where the orcs are nesting before winter sets in and they become bolder ”

 

Turning his attention back to the hunter across from him Taradin pressed him for an answer. The youth had not yet been forthcoming.

 

Before Renning could respond an older man sitting on his left piped up. 

 

“The only people we seen in these here parts was that demon spirit of an elf and some poor ranger he enslaved to his will.  Weren’t your people,” he snapped at Elladan tersely.  “They’s the ones that haunt this area.  Finally caught them we did.  Took care of them right good.  They’s the ones scaring off the deer, not no orcs.”  The older man’s gaze shifted to Elrohir and his eyes narrowed.  “That one was pure evil, shoulda done him in long time ago.  Now he’s taken to capturing the bodies of good men and bending them to his will and lies – dangerous.  But he won’t be hurting no one, no more, now,” the balding hunter finished grumpily.  He locked eyes with Taradin and glowered at the man.

 

“Uncle!” Renning growled warningly trying to stop the others tirade.  “That is not true and you know it.  They were not spirits.”

 

The news was disturbing and more than that, confusing.  A frown creased Elrohir’s brow and he glanced at his bother.

 

“El?”

 

Elladan gently touched Elrohir’s thigh.

 

“I’m afraid you have confused us,” Elladan replied politely. “What elf are you speaking of?”  A mounting horror was eating at his heart.  He dreaded the hunters’ next words as much as wanted to hear them.

 

“There ain’t no demon elves in this area, Trenth.  Haven’t been any for a few years now,” Taradin explained slowly.  “Only the elves from Rivendell.”

 

“Nah, he weren’t like them.  His dress was different and his hair was lighter colored.  Not related they ain’t,” Trenth explained.  He leaned closer and pierced Taradin with a hard stare, “You know the one I’m talking of...killed your Elbamir a bit ago.  Bastard of an elf.”  The last was spit out as a curse.

 

“Valar no!” Elladan whispered as he finally understood what the man was thinking.

 

“Elladan!  We have to find them,” Elrohir had risen to his feet in alarm.

 

For Taradin it took a few moments longer to fully understand what Trenth was talking about.  When he realized that the townsfolk had mistaken the ranger and the elf for Helbrilith, the dark elf that haunted the woods a few years ago, he could barely believe what he had heard.  Memories of his own bouts with misperception dogged his conscience.  It was something he had learned to let go of but never forgiven himself for.  A lesson learned the hardest way possible.  The experience had left him no less gruff but much more humble and compassionate with those he encountered. 

 

At the moment however his ire got the best of him.

 

Trenth had stood to his feet and was shouting about the townspeople having done what should have been done a long time ago.  His nephew was trying to calm the older gentleman and settle those around the fire.  He was doing a poor job at it.  When Taradin spoke the whole camp quieted under his angry bellow.

 

“Trenth! I always took you for a damned fool but I never thought you were stupid enough to do anything like this.  Renning you’re no idiot like your kin, why didn’t you stop them?  Have you any idea what you have done?” Taradin shouted angrily.

 

Renning forcefully pushed Trenth back to the ground with a warning and paced around the fire till he was standing in front of the two elves.  Elladan’s glare made him flinch slightly as the elf turned towards him.  He would endure whatever they had in mind for him.  He needed to tell someone what had happened, it had been weighing heavily on his conscience.  Though he did not know these two, he hoped they could help.  It may not be too late.

 

“I did try.  You know the myths they tell in these places, Taradin.  There’s no reasoning with them when they get of one mind.  When I attempted to stop them Gentry strong armed me and tied me up, took me back to the outpost.  They were convinced the evil elf had filled my mind with lies.  They wouldn’t listen to the ranger and they didn’t believe the elf that accompanied him.  News never gets up to us here about the true goings on of things and that wood elf sure looked a lot like the evil one that used to pick us off.  Only he didn’t act like him at all.  Seemed he had a heart to him,” Renning explained softly.  He brushed the quickly hair out of his eyes before opening his hands displaying them for the elves and men to see.  Rope burns still flared painfully around his wrists confirming his story.  “I tried all I could to stop them.  They knocked them out and planned on burying them near the cleft, the one with the overhang.  That was all I heard before they dragged me back to town.”

 

The young man dropped his gaze and shook his head slowly.

 

“I’m sorry Taradin,” the tortured whisper was not lost on the elves.

 

“It’s not your fault,” Elrohir replied softly.  He reached out and touched Renning’s shoulder gently.  “Could you take us there?  Do you know the way?”

 

“Is there a chance they are still alive?” Elladan asked hopefully.  He was sure his heart had stopped beating.

 

“Yes, it’s not far,” Renning answered.  Turning his gaze on Elladan he shrugged helplessly.  “It’s possible they might still be alive.  From what I gathered they buried them in a shallow cave that the locals call the cleft.  It was two days ago now.”

 

“Trenth, I’m telling you the truth, that dark elf was put down nigh over two years ago now,” Taradin explained calmly.  “All those stories they still circulate are just that - stories.  If Elladan says there is a band of orcs nearby than you can bet there’s a band of orcs nearby, not elves.  These two were part of the ones that took that evil one down.  Why in the blazes didn’t you ask a few seasons back?  I thought we explained it all to Manneth.  Didn’t he tell you the truth?”

 

Trenth was chewing on the inside of his mouth, his brow creased in a frown where he sat crosslegged on the ground.  “Well, there was talk that Manneth was cracked.  Some didn’t believe him and the killings haven’t stopped none,” the old hunter offered.

 

“It’s the orcs,” Elrohir repeated patiently.  “You have sentenced my brother and his friend to death mistakenly.  The one you feared is dead.  He is in Mandos’ halls now.  I pray the Valar have more pity on him than you have shown to strangers passing through your lands.  Take us to this place so we can free them and then we will help you with the orcs.”

 

“If they are alive,” Elladan added darkly.  “If they are not, I will escort the orcs to your village and let them decimate it *before* I kill them.”

 

“You had best pray they live,” Taradin warned as he started packing his rusack to accompany them.  He nodded at Garith who quickly joined him as they broke camp.  Some of the men would remain behind with the traps and their catches.  Most of them would be needed to help dig the ranger and the elf out – all of them were more than willing to help.  Garith quietly began dividing up the camp, designating who would remain behind. He was quickly becoming more adept at being Taridin’s second in command and the men accepted his orders with the ease that they took their leaders.

 

Elrohir glanced at his brother out of the corner of his eyes.  The look on Elladan’s face frightened him. He desperately hoped Estel and Legolas were alive as much for themselves as for the sake of the townsfolk.  He hadn’t allowed himself to think through what his reaction would be if they found them dead.  He couldn’t.  They had to be alive.  Turning back to Taradin he helped the hunter collect what they would need.

 

They would be heading out tonight.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

He wasn’t sure when they had fallen asleep.  It was during one of Legolas’ longer pauses that exhaustion had found the two and overcome them.  Time was lost in the cave and Aragorn had no way of knowing whether it was day or night.  He stirred and stretched his legs out in front of him.  They scraped the wall of collapsed rocks reminding him of how tight their confines really were.

 

“You awake?” Legolas whispered.

 

“Yes,” Aragorn answered around a yawn.  “Did you sleep?”

 

“Not really,” Legolas confessed.  He had always found it hard to sleep when confined.

 

“Legolas...”

 

“Did you really expect me to?” The elf questioned sarcastically.

 

“No,” Aragorn sighed in defeat.  He was actually surprised he had fallen asleep himself.

 

Silence settled between them for a bit.

 

“Shouldn’t we try to get out?” Legolas offered softly.

 

“I have.  We are in no shape even if we could.  I can’t lift the rocks on this side of the wall and neither could you without further injuring yourself,” Aragorn explained.  “And I don’t have my pack so we are out of food and water and any herbs or medicines.”

 

“So what is the bad news?” Legolas joked lightly.

 

The sound of Aragorn’s soft laughter cheered his heart.

 

“The bad news is I am horrible at waiting,” the ranger responded.   He shifted slightly readjusting his position against the wall behind them.  “And I think my back end has fallen asleep from sitting on the ground so long.”

 

Legolas had to curl into himself to keep his ribs from hurting as a fit of laughter caught hold of him.

 

“Stop.  Please Estel, don’t make me laugh it hurts too much,” the elf whispered through boughts of mirth that mixed with the deep ache in his chest.

 

Aragorn chuckled lightly but refrained from commenting until the prince was able to catch his breath and relax.  The soft exhalation of their breathing was the only sound in the tiny cavern for some time as each of them dealt with their own private thoughts and emotions.

 

The dark possibility that they would not cheat death this time overwhelmed the ranger and he turned to the elf for distraction.

 

“So did you escape?  Did you get free?  You left the story there last time.  I’d love to hear the rest of it.” Aragorn asked curious to hear his friend’s tale.  “Please tell me that they didn’t recapture you.”

 

Legolas barely laughed, trying to contain his mirth as he watched his friend wince with the thoughts of the elf’s recapture.

 

“If you like I can tell it that way,” Legolas smiled softly.  “But that was not the way it happened.  You see, finally I could take it no more.  I was positive that my father really did hate me.  He had left me down in the dungeons with no word for over three months.  He hadn’t come to see me and no one had told me what had occurred or that he had been called away.  I simply thought I had lost him forever.  When Renault came in one morning to bring food for me to break fast with I caught him off guard.  I took his hunting knife, over powered him and locked him in the cell and I fled up the halls.”

 

When Legolas paused Aragorn did not interject.  He quietly sat next to friend and wondered at the depth of pain the young elf had erroneously endured.  How could the light hearted person he knew as Legolas ever bounce back so easily from such hurt and pain that he kept buried so deeply within.  He kept reminding himself that this was the elf’s far past and had happened long before even his father’s father was born.

 

“I nearly made it too, but Amil-Garil discovered my escape and cut off my route...”

 

~*~

 

“What are you going to do with that Legolas?” Amil-Garil kept his hands up and his distance even.  He would not draw a weapon on the prince, but neither could he ignore his King’s orders and let the boy escape.  “Are you going to kill me?”

 

Legolas wavered uncertainly, the blade in his hand lowering a few inches.  Of course he wasn’t going to kill anyone.  He had no intention of harming the guards, he knew they were only doing their job... he just wanted out.  He needed the free air like a starving man needs food.  The confinement and lack of light was killing his spirit. 

 

He would fight if he thought he could get away without hurting anyone, but with the passage behind Amil-Garil filling up with guards he knew that was becoming impossible.  He was trapped. 

 

“I want out.  Please Amil, I just want out!” his voice shook slightly, but the dangerous look had left his eye, replaced by one of despair. 

 

“I know you do, I’m sorry,” the captain of the guard moved forward slowly.  Gently he took the long dagger from the prince’s hand.  Legolas did not fight him, there was no point.  He had lost and now he had to suffer the consequences. 

 

Amil-Garil shook his head, touching the prince’s shoulder gently.  Legolas flinched instinctively and pulled back.  The guard’s eyes reflected pain.  He wanted to tell the young elf he wasn’t going to hurt him, but that would be a lie, because he knew he was going to have to hurt him, and that thought tore his heart. 

 

“Your highness...” Amil-Garil wished he knew what to say.  “Why did you have to do this?  You know our orders.”  He did *not* want to do what he knew he was going to have to do to the young prince. 

 

Legolas, breathing hard as he leaned against the wall just turned and pressed his forehead against the cool stones.  He was trembling slightly.  “I-I know.  I’m sorry.  I... I just had to get out!  I cannot take the darkness anymore, I shall go mad!”

 

Renault moved up next to his captain, still rubbing the sore arm Legolas had given him.  He felt no anger towards the prince however.  The guard’s anger was reserved for the King who could be heartless enough to punish his son this severely.  It was totally unlike Thranduil and they did not understand it.  Unfortunately, theirs was not to understand, theirs was to obey. 

 

“Come your highness, let’s get this over with,” Renault said quietly, taking Legolas’ arm with the utmost gentleness as he and Amil-Garil led the younger elf back down the passage. 

 

Legolas felt an icy slick of fear enter his stomach, making it churn.  He dug his heels in slightly, checking their forward progress.  “P-please, wait,” his voice shook slightly although that irritated him to no end.  “I know you will do what you must do, but... if I could spend just ten minutes in the garden first.  Please, I swear to you on my honor I will not try to run again, I-I just need to see the sun.  Please.”

 

Amil-Garil and Renault looked at one another.  They had never had a duty they hated this much.  There was nothing in them that could refuse the young prince his sorrowful plea, especially not knowing what they would have to do to him afterward.  If they got in trouble for it, then they got in trouble for it. 

 

The two guards nodded softly and turned their course, escorting the prince towards the outside of the palace.  “We could no more deny you sunlight than deny you air my lord,” Amil-Garil whispered sadly as they exited out into the palace gardens.  “Please know... nothing we do is born of our wish.”

 

“I know,” Legolas whispered, stepping away from the guards who let go of his arms.  They trusted his word to them that he would not try to run. 

 

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART FOUR*~
~Punishment and Hope~

 

 

The instant they stepped outside the young prince felt a thrill of joy pierce him, despite all the sorrow and pain in his heart.  Lifting his face towards the sun he had so long missed Legolas sighed softly and actually smiled.  The gentle scents of the blooming garden filled his lungs and the sweet song that nature sings to those of the elven race filled his heart and his consciousness.  It was like taking a deep drink after languishing in a cold desert.  To feel the breeze in his hair and the sun on his face, to walk across the green grass... it almost made the price he knew he would pay for his escape attempt worthwhile. 

 

The guards let the prince linger in the gardens for almost two hours.  None of them had the heart to tell him it was time to go, yet Legolas could sense their growing unease and knew he could not remain in this bliss forever.  Slowly, with unwilling feet, he walked back to them.  He did not want to go back.  He did not want to go back into the dark, into the cage.  His heart cried out against it, yet he had no choice. 

 

Fear began to touch his heart again as he joined the guards, but he tried to force it down.  “Thank you,” he said softly.  The gift these few hours had been was not something he could even put into words. 

 

Renault looked away so that no one would see the moisture glistening in his eyes.  Just at this moment he hated himself and all the oaths he had taken that bound him to this blind duty.

 

“You have been good to me at risk to yourselves, I thank you,” the elf prince’s voice was quiet.  “I know I must be punished now.  I ask only one thing more of you, if it is within your power to grant.  Please...” he swallowed the lump of fear and shame that had formed in his throat.  “Please do not beat me in the dark,” he whispered, a lost, haunted look entering his eyes.  He had moved on, but old scars had not entirely faded.  He could still hear the rattle of chains.  Meléch’s voice taunted him in the dark corner of the cell as the lash fell again and again...  Legolas pressed his eyes closed to still the voices and images in his mind.  Dorolyn was no more.  Meléch was dead.  Amil-Garil and Renault did not hate him and took no pleasure from hurting him, it was different, it would not be that way.  Yet that did not seem to still the fear in his heart.

 

Amil-Garil looked a little surprised and definitely uncomfortable.  Obviously he knew the prince knew what they had to do, but hearing him speak of it seemed somehow to make it even more shameful. 

 

“Please, don’t put me in chains and not in the dark.  Let it be here.  I promise to submit to you.” Legolas’ plea was earnest.  He could take the pain, that was nothing to him, but the memories that being chained up and beaten in the dark brought back were more hurtful than any punishment ever could be.

 

“As you wish your highness,” the guards said softly. 

 

Legolas took several deep breaths, trying to settle the tremor that was making his hands shake before he slowly removed his tunic.  The simple motion was emotionally hard for him and his heartbeat sped up until it was hammering in his ears.  Cursing himself Legolas tried to bring his wildly fluxing emotions under control.  This shouldn’t be that hard.  He could not let that old fear have so much hold over him.  But it did.

 

Kneeling gracefully at the base of a tall beech tree, Legolas folded his hands and placed them against the tree trunk.  Leaning forward, he rested his forehead against the back of his palms. 

 

One of the guards stepped up behind him.  Legolas didn’t know which one and he didn’t want to know.  He just wanted this over.  He had too many dark memories of this kind of pain, first his uncle, then Meléch...

 

He tensed and winced as what felt like a leather strap made firm contact with his bowed shoulders.  The guards refused to use a whip on the young elf. 

 

Legolas leaned against the tree, drawing strength from its strength.  He didn’t know what the prescribed number of strokes was for an escape attempt, as the wood-elves seldom ever kept prisoners and punished them even less.  However he knew that whatever the usual was he would get twice as much, just as his father had said.  The prince bit his lip as the memory seared his heart.  Surprisingly enough he felt neither hate, nor even anger towards his father, just gut-wrenching heart-ache in knowing that their relationship had changed this much. 

 

Legolas slid his hands away and pressed his forehead against the rough bark of the tree.  Holding his breath, letting it out.  Holding his breath, letting it out.  It seemed impossible, but he always forgot how much this hurt. 

 

The guards went as lightly as they could, but the strap raised dull, flushed welts anyway. 

 

Legolas could tell the guards were holding back.  He knew how it could feel when someone wasn’t.  His uncle had taught him that.  The prince’s breath caught slightly in his throat.  Yes, the physical pain was sharp, but it was his heart that was bleeding.  What Doriflen had done to him left Legolas with a deep-seated, lingering fear that seemed to be proving true.  The fear that there was simply something fundamentally *wrong* with him that forced others to react to him in anger.  That made them have to hurt him.  And now he had finally pushed his father that far.  He could never hate his father, but he was quite sure his father hated him.  And why not?  Why not when he had caused the loss of everything that both of them had loved?

 

A soft, silent sob shook the prince’s shoulder as his emotional turmoil bubbled to the surface, goaded by the pain of the strapping.  Perhaps his father meant to keep him locked up forever.  Perhaps eternal darkness was the price he had to pay for failing to protect his little sister.  It was no less than he deserved he supposed, but the thought that he had lost all hope of love in his life nearly broke the young elf. 

 

Amil-Garil squeezed his eyes shut.  Oh Valar, please don’t let the prince be crying.  He couldn’t take that. 

 

But Legolas was crying, softly, silently. 

 

As suddenly as it had started, the beating was over.  The prince had absorbed only three quarters of the prescribed double-total, but the captain of the guard could not let it go on.  He could not stand to watch Legolas shudder as he was struck with tears running quietly down his face.  Orders be damned, the young elf had been punished enough.

 

Legolas felt gentle hands pulling him up and realized that he must have closed his eyes.  He opened them in time to see Amil-Garil and Renault looking at him with deep pain written in their eyes. 

 

“I’m sorry your highness, so very sorry,” Amil-Garil whispered. He supported Legolas as the prince regained his footing and drew several deep, steadying breaths.

 

Legolas just nodded.  He knew. 

 

The prince did not resist when they took him back inside.  He stood quietly in the middle of his cell until the door was shut again.  His back ached fiercely, but the beating had not broken the skin and no real damage had been done.  It just hurt.  Like his heart. 

 

Curling up into the smallest ball possible, on the bed against the wall, Legolas drew into himself as he tried to hold onto the feel of the wind on his face and the song of the trees as his world faded back to darkness. 

 

 

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

 

 

It was late at night when Thranduil returned at last to the palace.  The long mission had wearied him greatly, but in the end they had been successful and all the prisoners had been rescued alive, and for the most part well. 

 

The king knew it was late, but was slightly surprised and disappointed nonetheless that Legolas did not come to welcome him back.  He had hoped that the months apart might have cooled his son’s displeasure with him.  Thranduil sighed.  Perhaps it hadn’t... but the truth was he missed the boy.  Not just his presence, but the laughter and happiness that they used to share.  That had been missing for a long time now and he began to wonder if that was his fault. 

 

Thranduil half thought to go to Legolas’ room, just to see the boy, to hold him... But if Legolas had not come perhaps the king was not welcome in his chambers, and Thranduil could not handle his son’s rejection at the moment.  Not when he was this weary and heart-sick.  No, he would wait until tomorrow.  Surely Legolas would not avoid him forever.

 

Exhausted, the king sank into bed.

 

 

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

 

 

Amil-Garil strode swiftly and purposefully down the hall towards the King’s chambers.  Thranduil had been home since yesterday and he had not even mentioned Legolas or shown any desire to see him.  The king may think that the prince deserved this kind of treatment, but the Captain of his Guard did not.  Ordinarily he would never over-step himself like this, but Amil-Garil was becoming increasingly worried about Legolas’ health. 

 

Since his escape attempt and punishment, the young prince had not moved from his place in the corner.  He didn’t even eat anymore.  That had been three days ago.  If something did not change....  The guard pushed the door to Thranduil’s chambers open. 

 

“Elrynd,” he nodded to the king’s top aide and personal servant.  “Please tell his Majesty that I need to speak to him at once.”

 

Elrynd acquiesced, hoping that the captain of the guard was here about what he thought he was.  Everyone in the palace had begun to feel for the prince’s plight, but they were all a little too afraid to say so.

 

Thranduil was poring distractedly over some reports when Amil-Garil entered.  The king laid them aside.  When he heard someone wanted to see him he had hoped it was Legolas.  The boy had not joined him for breakfast as he had both expected and hoped.  The nobles and chief members of the council had dumped a load of backlogged policy issues and domestic problems that had accumulated in his long absence on him directly after breakfast and he had been trying to muddle through them ever since. 

 

He didn’t know exactly what Legolas wanted.  Yes, he supposed the prince was not pleased at being confined to the palace during the king’s extended absence, but Thranduil could not help that he had been gone longer than expected.  Both of them had duties to their people that came before personal matters and he knew Legolas understood that.  He was trying to be respectful of the young elf’s maturity and not act like he expected his son to come running whenever he called, but confound it all if the boy did not at least show up for meals with him after his having been gone so long, he *was* going to send for him.  Or at least ask one of the servants where he was and what excuse he was using to avoid his father. 

 

“Yes, what is it?” Thranduil inquired of his captain of the guard, hoping it was not another grievance he was going to have to settle.  The stack he had to deal with now was already reaching mountainous proportions. 

 

“Your majesty,” Amil-Garil bowed, unsure how to start.  “Your majesty, I bear you only the utmost respect and I hope you know that I have never questioned your orders nor your reasons.”

 

Thranduil nodded somewhat impatiently.  “Thank you Amil-Garil, I am aware of your loyal service record.  Is there a problem?”  There almost always was when someone started out with a statement like that.

 

“It’s your son your majesty.  Do you not think he has been through enough?” the guard asked quietly.

 

Thranduil did not understand what was meant.  “If Legolas convinced you to come to me to try to lift his restriction it is not going to work.  He can come and speak to me himself if he has something to say.”

 

Amil-Garil blinked at the easy dismissal and the words that did not make sense.  “That would be difficult for him to do from a prison cell your highness,” he said with a hint of bitter accusation in his voice.

 

“A what?!” Thranduil’s head snapped up, his full attention suddenly riveted.  “What did you say?”

 

Amil-Garil was thoroughly confused now and actually backed up a pace as Thranduil rose to his feet.  “Your highness I don’t-”

 

“Where is my son?” Thranduil demanded, cutting off the captain’s surprise.  “Where is he?”

 

“H-he is in the dungeons my lord, as you ordered.  He has been for the past three months,” Amil-Garil stammered slightly in shock at the violent reaction the king was having.  How could he have not known?  What kind of terrible mistake had occurred?  This didn’t make sense!

 

“My son has been locked down in that hole the whole time I was gone?!” The king’s eyes snapped fire and his voice was almost murderously angry.  He would never have done something like that to Legolas, never!  He knew how much the boy needed sunshine and free air.  This surprise blow was crushing and anger and horror mingled freely in the elf lord’s rapidly throbbing heart. 

 

“Yes my lord, but those were your orders to us before you left!” Amil-Garil backed away a little, not wishing to be on the receiving end of the king’s anger.

 

Thranduil shook his head in blank denial and shock.  “I sent Larous back to tell you to let him out but to keep him in the palace before we even set out!”

 

Understanding crashed into Amil-Garil and he felt sick as he realized what had happened.  “Larous was found dead in the woods a week after you left.  Orcs shot him.  He never returned here.”

 

Thranduil put his hand against the wall to steady himself as he too began to understand.  He thought he would be ill.  “Take me to him, at once!  He must be released immediately!  I will not have him down there another moment!”

 

Amil-Garil was only too happy to agree, but as he hurried down to the prison with Thranduil he knew there was more the king should know, and he had better know it before he saw Legolas.  “Your highness... you should know, the prince he... he tried to escape - a few days ago.”

 

Thranduil pulled up, a confused frown wrinkling his face as he tried to understand what was being told him. 

 

“Your last orders on that subject were followed,” the guard said quietly. 

 

Thranduil’s face drained of all color as he remembered that last conversation and the things he had said.  By the Valar he had never meant for this to happen though!  “You beat my son?” he whispered, his voice shocked and cracking.  “You beat my SON?!” the sorrow was quickly formulating back into rage. 

 

“I-I did not want to!  I would rather have died your majesty!  But I swore an oath to obey you to the death and those were your last orders to me concerning him.  We had no way of knowing a message had been lost... I am sorry your majesty.  If you want my head take it, it can be no worse than living with the knowledge of the horrible mistake I have made and the pain it has caused.”  Amil-Garil was dead serious. 

 

Thranduil shook his head, his hands trembling.  “It wasn’t your mistake, it was mine.  I am the one who deserves... oh Valar!  Just get him out!  Get him out!”

 

Quickly the correct cell was located and Amil-Garil turned the key in the lock. 

 

Legolas was still lying on the bed, facing the wall.  He did not look over when the door opened. 

 

“He has not moved in days,” Amil-Garil whispered quietly to the king as Thranduil brushed swiftly past him. 

 

Thranduil thought his heart would break when he saw Legolas curled up on the bed, looking so lost and alone.  Dear heaven what had he done?  What had he done?

 

Thranduil touched Legolas’ shoulder lightly, noting with horror and heartache the still clearly visible bruises and fading welts that crisscrossed the prince’s pale back.  “Legolas?”  His voice cracked.

 

Legolas started slightly at the sound of his father’s voice and rolled over.  “Ada?”  His voice was very small and Thranduil was pained to see fear in the clouded blue eyes.  Fear he had never hoped to see again... but then he had promised Legolas when they rescued him from Doriflen that he would never hurt the boy like his uncle had, and now he had broken that promise, even if it was unintentionally.  He had not meant to, but that was no excuse.  The fact was, it had happened.  And now Legolas looked at him with those fear-filled eyes that had seen too much pain already in their short lifetime.  Eru!  How could he have added to all that hurt in his son’s life that he hated? 

 

“I’m sorry father,” Legolas had sat up and was talking softly, holding his hands firmly clamped in his lap in an attempt to keep from trembling.  This was the first time his father had come to see him since his imprisonment and he desperately hoped it would not be the last. 

 

“I will not disobey you again.  Please... please don’t keep me here forever.  Even if you hate me, even if you can never look at me with love again, let me be near you.  If I do not deserve to see the sun or walk beneath the stars again then let me die and follow Celesté and Naneth, but do not hold me for an eternity of darkness!”  The broken words tumbled quick and fast from the young elf’s lips.  He was mortally afraid that his father would leave before he heard him out and he would be left alone once more with no hope.

 

Thranduil shook himself out of the horrified daze he was caught in and dropping to Legolas’ side on the small bed he wrapped his arms around his son’s shoulders, drawing the boy close.  “Oh Legolas...” his cracking voice was hoarse with pain.  “What have I done?  What have I done to you?”

 

Legolas was surprised by his father’s embrace, but welcomed it, letting himself rest against Thranduil’s chest and allowing the king to hold his head against elder elf’s shoulder.  Some part of him felt he should be angry over his father’s treatment of him, but his need for his father’s love and approval after the months of emotional privation was greater. 

 

“Legolas I am so sorry.”  Thranduil held his son’s head to his shoulder, running his fingers through the silky hair and feeling the boy’s hitched breathing against his chest.  He would have given anything to take all the pain and heartache out of his son’s body at this moment.  But it could not be done, and he wondered if Legolas would hate him forever when he found out what had happened.  He feared that this would be a wound between them that might never heal.  He feared that with all of his heart.

 

“I never meant to keep you here my son.  I never meant for you to be hurt like this... it was a mistake Legolas, a mistake!”  The king spoke softly into his son’s hair, his hands trembling as he felt Legolas’ body stiffen with confusion.  “I only meant for you to spend the night, a day at the most.  I was called away suddenly and came back only last night.  I sent a messenger back to tell them to release you before I left... but I find out only now that he was killed before he could deliver his message.  I never wanted you kept in darkness Legolas.  I would never be that cruel to you my son, I am so sorry.  So sorry.  If you can ever forgive me it will be more than I can do for myself.”

 

Legolas looked up to find that his father was crying softly, the silver tears wetting the younger elf’s hair.  The prince felt slightly stunned.  A mistake?  This had all been a mistake?  Could he even believe that?  Part of him was relieved, relieved that his father had not intentionally wanted him to suffer so, and part of him ached for the needless weeks of dark torment he had endured. 

 

“Ada?” he whispered into Thranduil’s shirt.  “Can we leave please?  I want to go outside.”

 

“Of course Legolas, of course.”  Thranduil drew Legolas up with him.  The boy was weak and dizzy, so he supported him as they made their way out into the gardens.  Once outside Legolas felt his strength beginning to return as his body was replenished by something better than food.  He thought he had never seen the world the way he was seeing it now, through the eyes of one who thought themselves condemned to darkness, only to discover that they still had an eternity of light ahead of them.  His confusing mix of emotions were too much and Legolas felt tears building in his eyes. 

 

“I never meant to hurt you,” Thranduil repeated quietly, his heart bleeding as he saw how pale and drawn his little boy had become.  “I hope someday you can forgive me.”

 

Legolas shook his head numbly.  Forgive him?  Forgive *him*?  Thranduil wasn’t the one who needed forgiveness. 

 

Unable to speak or reason through the jumbled tangle of his thoughts and emotions, Legolas grabbed the low flung branch of the beech tree and pulled himself up.  Climbing hand over hand he worked his way swiftly to a high place in the tree, at the same time reveling in the freedom he had been denied for months and trying to figure out what was going on inside him so he could actually formulate something to say to his father.  Everything had been happening so suddenly, he was still a little stunned and confused.

 

Thranduil closed his eyes and leaned against the tree.  He took Legolas’ actions as an answer to the negative.  The boy could not forgive him for what he had done.  Who could blame him?  The elf lord almost followed his first instinct to walk away and give Legolas space to enjoy his renewed freedom, assuming the younger elf did not want his presence, but then he stopped himself.  Lack of communication and misunderstanding had caused this whole mess.  He was hiding he realized, and he had been for years now.  He didn’t talk to Legolas when they had a problem because he was... afraid?  Yes, as idiotic as it sounded, he, Thranduil, King of Mirkwood, was afraid.  He was afraid to meet with his son’s rejection, especially now that his son was the only family he had left.  So he pulled back.  Gave the boy space... or at least that’s what he thought he was doing.  But now was not a time for that.  He owed it to Legolas to talk to him, and if the boy was angry with him, then it was no more than he deserved.

 

Legolas was surprised when he felt the tree quiver lightly with movement as his father joined him on the branch he was sitting on.  Thranduil had not climbed trees with him since he was a child. 

 

The Elvenking sat down next to his son.  He didn’t say anything right away because he didn’t know what to say, so he just sat for a moment, looking out at the gardens.  “It’s a beautiful view.”

 

Legolas nodded, swinging his legs lightly where they hung down over the end of the branch.  It was unusual that his father had pursued him rather than let the issue drop as Legolas had fully expected, but the younger elf was not necessarily displeased.  In truth he had felt more than a little abandoned by his father in recent years.  They never talked.  Problems were never resolved; they were just left to dangle and ignored like dirt swept under a rug.  The accumulative silence that had grown between them as a result had become painfully difficult to bridge. 

 

“I was punished at the base of this tree for trying to escape.” Legolas said after a moment, his gaze drinking in the sight of the forest spread around him.  “It’s easier to be up here than down there.”  His voice was quixotically light for the words spoken, but he held his father with his gaze as if testing the older elf by his reaction. 

 

Thranduil’s eyes registered deep sorrow, but he did not look down or break away from his son’s intense gaze.  “I am sorry Legolas.  I never meant for this to happen and I was wrong to put you down there in the first place.  I wish I could make right what has happened, but I cannot,” the elf king’s eyes were earnest and sad.  “I wish to heaven I could.”

 

Legolas did not respond.  His piercing blue eyes held his father’s... they seemed to be looking for something, but what it was he sought, Thranduil could not guess.  “I don’t know what else you want me to say Legolas,” he shook his head softly. 

 

“Say that you forgive me,” Legolas spoke so quietly he was nearly whispering.  “But only if you mean it.”

 

“Forgive you?” Thranduil was surprised at the request.  “For what?  Disobeying?  Hunting spiders?  Valar, it’s forgiven Legolas!”  The king was shaking his head, but Legolas closed his eyes and looked away, drawing his knees up to his chest and perching on the thick branch with ease that only an elf would have. 

 

“No,” Legolas whispered somewhat hoarsely.  That wasn’t what he wanted.  What he needed.  “Not that...”

 

“Then what?” Thranduil reached out slowly, softly brushing Legolas’ hair off his shoulders.  He touched the young elf’s face lightly with the back of his fingers; the contact a silent plea for his son to look at him. 

 

When Legolas turned back his eyes were full of unshed tears.  “For Celesté and Nana,” the prince’s voice wavered slightly and one silver tear escaped down his cheek.  “For not being there for them when I should have been, for – for causing them to be taken away from us like that!”  The tears were flowing freely now and soft sobs shook the young elf’s shoulders as he buried his face upon his crossed arms.  He did not want to let his father see him cry, but could not help himself.

 

Thranduil did not know what to say for a moment, so he quickly gave up on words and wrapped his arms around his son tightly.

 

Legolas seemed surprised and stiffened momentarily, but he let his father guide his tear-stained face into the crook of the older elf’s shoulder. 

 

“Oh, Legolas...” Thranduil’s whisper was hoarse.  “There is nothing to forgive.  I never blamed you, my son.  It was not your fault.  If we are to ascribe blame, it might as well be mine.  I was supposed to go with you that day, but I did not.  If I had been there, instead of at some meaningless council meeting...” his voice trailed away and his hand slid up to cup the back of Legolas’ head gently.  “But I was not.  We cannot change the past, ion-nín.  We cannot take back those we have lost.  Just... don’t let me lose you too.  I... I would die of grief.”  The last few sentences were spoken so softly they could barely be heard.  Yet hear them, Legolas did. 

 

It did not take away the pain of loss in the young elf’s heart, nothing could do that.  Time does not always heal, but healing always takes time.  Yet his father’s words penetrated the pain and added the one thing the prince had been missing in the long, dark seasons since his mother left – comfort, comfort and the assurance that there was still love in his life to counter the pain.  The comfort of knowing there was another heart that ached as much as his. 

 

Legolas buried his face deeper in the silky, brocade fabric of his father’s shirt, and wept freely for the first time since Celesté died. 

 

Thranduil held him close, pressing his face into his son’s tousled hair, his tears joining those of his son. 

 

Their hearts were broken, but now at least there was the hope that out of two broken hearts, whole ones could someday reemerge.  And neither of them wept alone. 

 

~*~

 

The tale told to completion, Legolas rested against the wall behind his back a soft smile on his face.  When he glanced over at Aragorn he was surprised to see tear tracks staining the ranger’s face.

 

“Oh my friend, why are you crying?” Legolas asked.  “What’s wrong?”  He sat up away from the wall and leaned closer.

 

“No, no it’s nothing,” Aragorn lied.  He swiped at his face clumsily, wiping the tears from the corners of his eyes. “I just never knew.  So much confusion and lack of communication caused so much pain in your family when you were younger.  How did you cope with all that?  And then as I thought it over it made me think of my Ada.  He doesn’t know where I am.  He was gone when I left.  But he’d back by now.  What if we never get to tell them, Legolas...what if we don’t have another chance?”

 

“Stop it,” the elf demanded gently.  “You cannot think that way. Do you believe your brothers would let it go that we did not return when they knew we were tracking orcs?  Do you honestly think your father does not know you love him?  My friend, there will be another chance but you must not give up.  I did then in that cell and it nearly cost us both.  My father would have passed on as well and who knows what would have happened to our kingdom.  Your father is counting on you coming back to him.  So is mine.”

 

Suddenly their roles were reversed as Legolas quietly consoled his friend and encouraged the man.  He knew how easily despair could siphon the life out of a body and he didn’t want Aragorn falling into that trap.

 

“Besides that, we best live for the sake of those idiot villagers themselves.  If your brothers and our fathers find out what has happened to us, that village will wish that Hebrilith *had* taken them all,” Legolas joked lightly.

 

“Their deaths would certainly be easier by his hand than our relatives,” Aragorn concurred.  The teasing had worked and the human’s spirit brightened considerably.  “Not to mention what Raniean and Trelan would do to them if my brothers left anything for them!”

 

Gently holding his ribs, Legolas couldn’t help laughing.

 

“You have a point,” the elf admitted.  “Therefore you can see how important it is that we survive this.”

 

Sobering, Aragorn glanced about them, eyeing the tiny cave once more.

 

“Then I guess I better get to finding us a way out of here.  There just has to be a place to start,” Aragorn shifted away from the wall and slowly stood to his feet.  His left ankle wouldn’t support his weight and he balanced on his right foot as he felt the rock wall with his good hand.

 

Legolas watched for a few moments; the ranger was not going to be able to do anything to free them.  And the elf knew that he was in no better shape to help.  His chest burned where his ribs were broken and fast movement made him nauseous.   He wondered if it had something to do with the beating he had taken.  There was no way either of them was going to be able to dig themselves out.  He even doubted that the cavern would remain stable if they attempted it.

 

“Estel sit down before you hurt yourself further.  We are not going to be able to move those boulders.  We must rely on Ilúvatar sending your brothers in time,” Legolas gently reprimanded the man.  “Come, sit.  It feels like it is night again.  Let us rest and preserve our strength.  Perhaps we will still have need of it in the near future.”

 

Aragorn leaned heavily against the wall in front of him, resting his head on his good arm.  He wasn’t ready to give up and he wasn’t sure what strength he needed to preserve.  He hadn’t much left as it was.  Thirst was now his constant companion, making him lightheaded and leaving a gnawing ache inside his body.  He hadn’t told Legolas but he was sure the elf knew anyway.  They didn’t have much longer one way or another.

 

He started to protest Legolas’ request when the prince spoke up again.

 

“Did you hear that?”

 

 

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART FIVE*~
~To See the Sky~

 

 

 

Aragorn glanced over his shoulder and remained very still straining to hear what the elf had. Slowly he shook his head.  The prince’s hearing was more acute than his own.

 

“There, again!” Legolas braced himself against the wall behind him and haltingly gained his feet.  Aragorn limped back to his side and help ease his friend into a standing position.

 

“What do those ears of yours hear?” Aragorn asked softly.  The elf wore an intent look as he strained to catch the sound again.

 

“Scratching, moving, like boulders shifting against one another.  And...sounds...of people talking,” he responded, surprise coloring the tone of his voice.  He glanced at Aragorn and a smile slowly spread on his face.  “I think someone is digging us out!”

 

“That could be good or it could be bad,” Aragorn replied cautiously.

 

“How so?”

 

“If those digging us out are trying to save us it will be a good thing. But if the townsfolk have to come to remove our bodies for proof of our demise...” Aragorn let the statement hang in the air.

 

“Then let us pray that it is the first group,” Legolas answered with a frown.  “Leave it to you to think up something so pleasant, Aragorn.”

 

“Well...  They were that superstitious,” the ranger conceded with a laugh.

 

Shifting back towards the rock, Aragorn placed his face in a crack made by two large boulders and called out in hopes of a rescue party.

 

“Elladan!”

 

~*~

 

Elrohir stopped digging.  He reached out and quickly grabbed Garith’s hands stilling the young hunter’s movements.

 

“Did you hear that?” the elven twin asked.  He pressed the side of his face against the rock in front of him and listened intently.

 

Those around him stopped their digging and watched the elf.

 

“Elrohir?”  Elladan walked over next to his brother. Placing his hand on his twins back he leaned in next to the raven haired elf his face inches from Elrohir’s.

 

“I could swear I heard Estel call your name,” Elrohir whispered.

 

“Estel!” Elladan shouted at the rock wall.  “Estel can you hear me!” Quickly he pressed his ear back against the stones and quieted.

 

“Elladan! Elrohir! We are here! Get us out!” the barely heard shout reached the heightened hearing of the two elves.

 

When the twins erupted with shouts of joy the men working nearby them spontaneously joined in. 

 

“Are they alive?” Taradin shoved his way nearer the twins.

 

It had taken them the better part of the night to back track with Trenth and Renning to the place where the townsfolk had buried the ranger and the elf prince.  And nearly half that time was spent convincing Trenth that the elf they buried was not the one that had harassed their village and killed their hunters.

 

With great reluctance the older man had agreed to trust Taradin.  For his part, Taradin had promised to go back with Renning and Trenth and set the village straight.  The twins had no doubts that by the time he left they would all be warned off the practice of hunting elves.  The old hunter had learned that lesson the hard way and he had never forgotten.

 

When they reached the cleft nothing was left of the rock face that looked remotely familiar to the ones used to traveling these parts.  The side of the mountain appeared to have caved in on itself, demolishing the overhang Renning had spoken of.  A veil of rocks and boulders covered the mountainside and spilled down the base.  The twisted trunk of a tree stood at an odd angle from the hill amidst the rubble, the only evidence that the mountain had ever looked differently at one time.

 

As they surveyed the damage the villagers had done, they pressed the two townsfolk for information.

 

“The cleft is not that deep,” Renning had warned them hesitantly.  “There is a possibility your brother and his friend were killed.”

 

Walking away from the group of men and elves, Trenth had located the exact spot where the shallow cave had once been.  It was there they had begun working, moving aside the boulders and digging out the smaller rocks.

 

Taradin carried little hope for their survival, but had wisely kept his thoughts to himself.  On more than one occasion he had been proven incorrect about these two.  He now considered the ranger and the elf trusted friends and desperately hoped they would find them alive.

 

The elven twins worked in tandem with one another.  Once they had been told the location and Renning had explained that the cleft was no more than a shallow cave that indented the rock face they had not stopped to speak with anyone.

 

This was the first time since they arrived at the mountain that either twin had spoken aloud.

 

Turning back to Taradin, Elladan smiled widely at the man.

 

“Yes they live.  Estel can hear us!” The dark haired elf replied.  The tears that brightened his eyes were easily visible in the early morning light.  “We must hurry.”

 

“Wait!”  Taradin cautioned.  Stepping back he eyed the side of the mountain.  “If we dig from this position and that cavern is as shallow as young Renning says, we’ll bury them before we reach them.”

 

Silence fell among the small group.

 

Elladan glanced at Elrohir.  To have come so far only to cause their deaths infuriated him.  He glowered at Trenth where the old man stood leaning on a shovel handle.

 

Elrohir touched his brother’s arm, knowing the thoughts going through his twin’s mind.

 

“Yes but if we dig from the top and the base at the same time it will ease up the pressure enough to bring the rocks straight down instead of collapsing inward,” Renning commented softly.  He was staring at the rock wall, assessing its weak points.

 

“Renning knows what he speaks of,” Trenth agreed.  “The boy used to work in the mine on the other side of the mountains. If he says we can get them out, then we can get them out.”

 

With a nod Taradin turned his attention to Renning.  “You tell us what you need; we’ll do what you say.”

 

In moments the younger man had divided the work force into four teams, two that attacked the top of the rock slide and two that worked below them.

 

When the sounds without had stopped Aragorn was sure his heart had as well.  He pressed closely to the wall and strained to hear.

 

“What’s wrong? Why have they stopped? Can you hear anything?” he asked Legolas.

 

The elf shook his head and closed his eyes trying to concentrate on what was happening on the other side of the wall.

 

“I can hear them speaking but I do not...wait...they begin again,” Legolas answered.

 

A shower of dust and small rocks rained down around them.  The prince grabbed Aragorn and pulled them both back against the far wall.  The boulders shifted and grated against one another as the weight on them began to transfer when their rescuers resumed digging.

 

Pressing back into the cleft as far as they could, Aragorn dragged the elf down to the ground with him and covered the elf with his body.  His leather coat tucked tightly around them kept the worse of the debris from hitting them.  The air filled with fine dust and dirt making breathing nearly impossible.

 

Beneath him Legolas was trying not to cough, his breaths were coming in shallow ragged gasps.  Aragorn didn’t dare glance over his shoulder. It sounded like the whole of the cave was collapsing.

 

Larger rocks now fell about them crashing into the opposing wall and littering the floor.  The rock wall had become a controlled avalanche as the weight on the top had been dispersed bringing the boulder slide down upon itself.

 

To the two occupants trapped in the cave it seemed more like the end had come.  The sound was deafening and Aragorn pressed his head against Legolas’ shoulder trying to dampen the roaring.  The ranger pulled his feet up closer to him as a boulder ricocheted off the floor and rolled against his left boot.  He could feel Legolas’ hands grasp the front of his coat as the elf huddled closer.

 

As soon as it started it stopped.

 

Clean cool air rushed into the tiny cavern.  Here and there small rocks skittered down the incline from precarious landing places.  The dust began to settle coating everything in a fine dirty powder.  At first glance it looked as though no one had survived, more to the point it looked as though no one had ever been imprisoned in the shallow cleft.

 

The rays of morning light were just beginning their decent down the mountain face filtering through the newly made opening.  Elladan batted at the air about him trying ineffectually to clear it enough to breathe well.  Covering his mouth and nose with a swath of cloth, he pressed forward, climbing over the mound of stones that led up to the craggy hole.  Peering through the darkened interior he looked desperately for any signs of life.

 

“Estel?  Legolas?” the twin called into the dimly lit cavern.

 

Towards the back small rocks and debris shifted slightly as Aragorn slowly moved, sitting up to give Legolas more room.  The elf was curled in on himself holding his ribs tightly as he tried to catch his breath.

 

“Estel?” Elrohir questioned as he climbed up next to his brother. He gazed into the cave with keen eyes and watched in astonishment as what they had assumed was a pile of rocks stood hesitantly to its feet.

 

Debris fell from Aragorn’s coat and dust sifted through his hair as he turned and gazed at the patch of light behind him.  The silhouettes of the twins in the opening brought a slow smile to his face.  As one they started talking and questioning their human brother.

 

“Estel are you hurt?”

 

“Is Legolas all right?”

 

“Are you injured?”

 

“Do you need help?” the last question was asked in unison by the twins.

 

With a small laugh Aragorn glanced back down at Legolas.

 

“Tell them yes on all accounts, please Estel,” the elf prince answered.  He was dirty and disheveled and hadn’t moved from his position.  A smile spread across his face mirroring the one the ranger wore.

 

With a small nod Legolas accepted the hand Aragorn held out for him and allowed the human to pull him gently to his feet.  The floor of the cave was littered with rocks piled knee deep.  Only the far back of the cleft had been spared as the cave-in had been excavated.

 

Elrohir scrambled over the lip of the opening and slid down inside the cavern.  He easily navigated the rocky ground cover and gained Aragorn’s side. With a sigh of relief he pulled the man into his arms and held him for the span of a heartbeat.

 

“We thought you were lost to us,” he whispered softly.

 

“We very nearly were,” Aragorn replied as he relaxed against his brother. He felt weaker than he wanted to admit and was glad to just be able to lean on the elf.  “You’ll have to be careful though, the townsfolk...”

 

“We know about them,” Elrohir cut him off quickly.  “They will be made aware of their mistake do not worry about that.  Taradin has accompanied us and some of the villagers are with him now.  They will go and make things right with the townspeople.”  The elf’s voice held the faintest edge of harshness to it as he pulled back from the ranger and stared into the man’s eyes.

 

His human brother was filthy, covered in dirt and bruises.  Blood had dried on the side of the man’s temple, a wound that was mirrored on the elven prince that stood behind him.  The frailty of the two beings was not lost on Elrohir and he quickly called for more help. 

 

Elladan jumped down into the cave and brushed past Elrohir and Aragorn as he moved to help Legolas.  The way the elf held his chest tightly with his right arm bothered the twin.  As he passed by Aragorn he stopped and touched his forehead to the humans, his right hand wrapped around the back of the man’s head.

 

“Thank you,” Aragorn whispered, “I hoped you would find us.”

 

“You knew I could not let you go just yet,” Elladan teased lightly. “You still owe me on that bet you lost last week. I’ll not be letting you out of it this easy.”  He smiled into the silver eyes inches from his own.  Gently he kissed the ranger’s forehead.  “Taradin is outside waiting for you.  He has water and food.  I’ll be out with Legolas in a moment.”

 

Aragorn squeezed his brother’s arms and let Elrohir guide him out into the small meadow at the base of the mountain.  Sitting down on the ground he lay back in the long grasses and simply breathed in deeply of the fresh air.  Elrohir gently worked his left boot off and looked over his swollen ankle.  He had a suspicion that the bone was fractured.  In moments Legolas joined the ranger.  Elladan gingerly lowered the elf prince to the ground careful of his injuries.

 

“Aragorn’s ankle and collar bone are both broken.  The ankle may only be fractured but he won’t be up on it for a bit,” Elrohir informed his twin.  He glanced up at Elladan and the ring of men that was slowly gathering around them.

 

“Yes, well Legolas has broken ribs and they both look as if they took a nasty beating,” Elladan concurred.  He squinted down at the ranger that was smiling up at him; bruises decorated the man’s face round his eye and temple. 

 

Aragorn winced and sat up when Elrohir began bandaging his ankle to keep it stationary.

 

“Well we were going to take the two of you back into town and clear things up with the folks thereabouts,” Taradin spoke up.  He eased into the ring of men and smiled down at the elf and ranger.

 

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Elrohir commented.  His concern was echoed in the ranger’s response.

 

“Hello Taradin.  I am ever so glad to see you as well.  However right now I simply wish to return home and see Ada,” Aragorn answered cryptically.  He glanced to his right and caught Legolas’ gaze. “Perhaps you can be persuasive enough for us in our absence?”

 

The elf was nodding silently.  He had no wish to return to the outpost and his own thoughts were running along the same track as those of the ranger’s.

 

“I too would like to see Elrond, especially in the shape I am in.  And if it would be permitted I would very much like to send my father a letter and let him know that I am well and will be staying on with you a bit longer,” Legolas requested softly.

 

Aragorn was nodding slowly.  Elladan glanced over at his twin.  Something had indeed happened inside that cave.  Over the last couple of days that the human and elf had been trapped in there he sensed a subtle change in both their attitudes.  They never asked to be brought home Elrond, especially when they were in this bad of shape.  It would make an interesting tale – one he intended to pry out of his younger sibling.

 

Smiling at his oldest brother, Aragorn caught the secretive glance between the twins.

 

They knew.

 

His brothers knew something had transpired and if he knew the twins they would drag it out of him as soon as they were on the way home out of earshot of the hunters.  Right now though, he didn’t care.  Legolas was right, they had escaped alive and they had been given another chance.  He intended to make the most of it.

 

They both would.

 

The End