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Siege of Dread

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-Siege of Dread-

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~*PART ONE*~
~Gathering Clouds and Rays of Hope~

 

 

~~~~~~~~
You haunt me in my dreams
but I can never see your face
I hold you close through
midnight
but dawn leaves me no trace.

Is my heart searching for you,
or has it lost its way?
Dark portents cloud my vision,
have they led you astray?

--Cassia
~~~~~~~~

 

 

 

Cold. Everything was so very cold. He knew that’s what it was although the feeling was foreign, unfamiliar. He shivered. That wasn’t right... something about this was wrong. Very wrong.

 

What was this place? Was it the void? It could have been. It felt that empty.

 

But no... it wasn’t empty. There were mountains; their dark shapes barely discernable from the surrounding darkness. Evil. There was great evil all around. And there were others present... horrible creatures. Orcs and goblins.

 

Their fell voices rattled with the black speech, a foul curse upon every breath they took. They seemed pleased in a cruel sort of way; stirred up. They were sporting with something... nay, someone.

 

Someone whom they had up against a cliff wall... it seemed the being was in chains, but he couldn’t see the captive clearly through the press of foul, reeking bodies. Yet somehow he felt it was important that he know.

 

Who?

 

He felt his blood boil.

 

Who was being subjected so to such blatantly evil whims?

 

He tried to move, to help... but found himself utterly powerless to do so. He could do nothing but sit there as the orcs jeered and strangled cries were wrung from the unseen source.

 

The soft voice was pleading, broken, and eerily familiar as it begged someone also unseen to let death take away the pain.

 

“I cannot endure with them any longer. It is time for me to go, my spirit has become too weary, I cannot abide here anymore. Please help me. Free me. Do not leave me here with them. Do not leave me at their mercy again...”

 

The plea rent his heart and made him choke. Yet he could not shake the feeling that the voice was speaking to someone else. The words were not meant for him, he was listening as an outsider... but an outsider whose heart was breaking.

 

A strange flame of desperation burned in the pit of his stomach, as if he knew this, as if he had seen it before and knew that he wanted it to stop, even if he could not remember why.

 

The mottled, starless sky overhead disappeared and it seemed that the world shrank and pulled in on itself, trapping him in the inky blackness of a cave. Yet the figures of the orcs remained the same, undeterred from their cruel games.

 

Suddenly the dark mass of orc bodies parted and their prisoner was thrust forward.

 

His heart stopped. Time stopped. Everything became suddenly deathly silent as the orcs threw the bleeding blonde elf to the ground.

 

“LEGOLAS!” his heart screamed in recognition, but it was barely a trembling whisper on his lips as his son fell limply into his lap; the younger elf’s golden hair spilling across the elf king’s legs like tattered remnants of sunshine fading from sight in this darkened world.

 

Legolas’ head came to rest against his knees; the prince’s glazed silver-blue eyes staring up into nothing.

 

“NO! LEGOLAS!! What have you done to him?! LEGOLAS!!”

 

Thranduil sat bolt upright in his bed, the cry still on his lips. His hands were tangled in the bed sheets next to him and his chest was heaving. Perspiration moistened his brow and made his long blonde hair cling to his face.

 

He blinked at the familiar but unexpected sight of his own chambers, bathed in the faint light of pre-dawn creeping in under the long velvet drapes. His heart was still hammering in his chest and it took him a few moments to rationalize what he was seeing now with the gripping terror of only a few moments ago.

 

“Your majesty?” A concerned voice from the direction of the doorway made Thranduil look up. The Elvenking ran a shaking hand through his tousled hair, smoothing it away from his face. His voice when he answered was steady, although still slightly confused.

 

“Yes, Elrynd? Is something wrong?”

 

Elrynd was in his dressing-gown still, standing in the doorway and looking quite concerned.

 

“You cried out your Majesty... are you all right?” Elrynd’s gaze was openly worried. Elves did not usually suffer from nightmares, being able to wander in dreams of their own choosing when they lay down to rest on most occasions. Therefore the king’s current condition was cause for confusion and mild alarm from his loyal servant.

 

Thranduil let his breath out slowly, allowing the last of the unfathomable terror to roll away from him.

 

“Yes, I’m fine Elrynd. I simply...” Thranduil did not finish his sentence. How could he explain that he had been having nightmares for over a year now? No, not nightmares, he corrected himself. Nightmare, singular. It was always the same one, but in his dreams he never recognized it for what it was until after he awakened. These horrible visions did not come frequently, he had had it only a handful of times, but it was still a highly disturbing occurrence.

 

The first time the dream came to him was nearly six months after Legolas left on his journey south to visit Estel in Gondor a few years ago. At that point the King had been sorely tempted to send someone out to look for the Prince, to assure himself that everything really was all right. Reason had taken over in the end however. Thranduil had realized he had no idea *where* in Gondor his son was heading and by the time any messenger covered the great distance the prince would in all likelihood no longer have even been there.

 

Time passed and Thranduil had just about convinced himself that the dream had been nothing more than his subconscious mind expressing its concern for his son’s safety since it seemed always that he got into trouble whenever he went off with his human friend.

 

Then the dream returned.

 

Thranduil’s relief was unspeakable when the message came from Rivendell a few months ago that Legolas and Estel had returned to Imladris alive and well. The letter hinted that they had some rather trying adventures behind them, but Lord Elrond was nothing if not diplomatic and had obviously not wished to give a full accounting in a letter, saying rather that Legolas would explain all when he returned.

 

Legolas had included his own note in the dispatches. He bid his father well, made a jesting reference to whether or not his ketrals had yet become the side-dish at a feast as his father had so often threatened whenever the small creatures caused mischief, and said that he intended to stay in Rivendell for a time.

 

All seemed well, and yet Thranduil could not shake the small feeling that there were things he ought to know that he did not.

 

The dream had come again that night.

 

Now, less than three months later, it returned once more to haunt him. Never before had they come so close together and Thranduil did not like this one bit.

 

The elf lord pushed the covers aside and swung his legs off the edge of the bed. Elrynd was still standing there, staring at him.

 

“I’m fine,” Thranduil repeated, much more in control of himself now, his usual authoritative presence becoming clear once more. “Is there any word from the elves sent to Imladris yet?”

 

Not long after the return of the nightmare, Thranduil sent messengers across the mountains with responses to the letters he had received, and some carefully worded prodding that he hoped would give him some insight into what was plaguing him so.

 

The messengers did not return and a search party was sent out for them.

 

As of right now, all of them were sorely overdue. If this continued, Thranduil was going to take matters into his own hands.

 

Elrynd nodded his head in assent, which surprised the Elvenking, who had not expected an answer to the affirmative.

 

“Raniean returned late last night your highness...”

 

“What?” Thranduil rose swiftly, pulling a robe on over his sleeping clothes. “Why wasn’t I told? I said I wanted to be informed at once if-”  

 

Elrynd held up his hands in apology. “I am sorry your Majesty, but it was no more than an hour or two ago and he was in no state to be able to speak to anyone. He is with the healers; they put him in one of the guestrooms for the time being. I was just coming to get you now when I heard you call out.”

 

Thranduil nodded as he knotted his corded sash around his waist to keep the robe shut. “The healers? He is injured? What happened? What of the others?”

 

Elrynd’s face was grave. “He returned alone your Majesty. It appears that they were attacked by a great host of goblins and wargs in the mountains. The passes are not safe. He said it is doubtful that the messengers they went in search of ever made it through.”

 

Thranduil was already on his way down the hall towards the guest chambers while Elrynd hurried along behind, explaining as they went. The Elvenking’s expression was troubled. These were not good tidings.

 

 

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

 

 

Elrond stood quietly in the recesses of the far north balcony of his home. Here the sun touched the open veranda and warmed the cooling fall air.

 

Elrohir was stretched out upon the couch that faced the balustrade, overlooking the Bruinen far below. The younger twin had fallen asleep on the brocaded coverlet, his face turned towards the autumn sun. His chest rose and fell gently and he had closed his eyes against the bright afternoon light. His lips were parted slightly in sleep and the cool air had painted his cheeks a rosy pink. He stirred a little as some dream haunted his rest, but quieted with a sigh as he settled back into deep slumber.

 

A shadow to his right alerted the elf lord that they were not alone and he stepped forward.

 

Aragorn stalked quietly onto the balcony from the stairwell that led down into the gardens below. He knew that Elrohir had been spending a lot of time here lately and he fully intended to surprise his brother, hoping to lighten his spirit. Elrohir had despaired of late when his hearing did not return as quickly as he had thought it would. Withdrawing from their usual activities, he had separated himself from the others and pulled inside himself. This grieved Aragorn and he knew it was almost eating Elladan alive although the older elf was trying not to admit as much.

 

“Estel,” Elrond called to his human son, stopping the man in his tracks. “Don’t my son. It will only scare him.”

 

Aragorn swiveled in surprise towards the sound of the voice. “Ada?”

 

The elf lord left his vigil and walked out into the sun.

 

“What are you doing here?” The human asked softly.

 

“There is no need to whisper.” Elrond drew the man with him to a bench against the wall of the house. His gaze trailed back to the sleeping elf. “He can’t hear you.”

 

Aragorn sighed as he took a seat next to his father. “I know. But you and Gandalf both said you thought it was only a matter of time, surely soon...” the ranger’s voice trailed off at the pained expression on his father’s face as Elrond shook his head.

 

“That is what I *thought* Estel, and I still do hope. The sad fact however, is that his hearing is only a little better after all this time and he is not dealing with it well. He suffers from bouts of dizziness also; they sap his strength. Elves are not used to feeling ill. I think right now a surprise would not be the best thing for him.” The elf lord smiled softly in Elrohir’s direction before turning back to look into the silver eyes that watched him quietly.

 

Aragorn’s gaze flickered from his fathers to the sleeping form before resting on the blue eyes once more. “I only meant to cheer him. It worries me that he does not go out with us anymore. I wish he would realize that we do not care whether he can hear us or not, we just want to be together. Is there nothing else we can do for him, Ada?”

 

“There is one more thing that I have not tried,” the elf lord admitted slowly. “I was going to suggest it to him, but when I found him sleeping out here I had not the heart to wake him. It’s been a long time since I have found him curled up asleep on this balcony.” A smile spread across Elrond’s lips and he looked across the rift. His gaze did not perceive what was before them now, straying instead across the recollections of what had been.

 

“This was my wife’s favorite place in the autumn. We could always find her out here enjoying the sun in the late afternoons. She claimed it was the warmest spot in the house during fall. As a child, Elrohir would join her often. Sitting at her feet with a book or a toy, as contented being here as she was.” With a sigh the elf blinked slowly and it was apparent that he was once more in the present.

 

“He and Elladan are twins.” His gaze settled once more on the dark haired elf, “Identical in nearly everything and inseparable. It used to be hard for me to tell them apart. But as they grew older they developed their own personalities. Elladan hides his fears and what he perceives as his weaknesses in controlling the situations around him, and sometimes the people.” the elf lord glanced at the human next to him with a fond smile. He placed his arm around the ranger’s shoulders, staring into the attentive eyes. “He has taken up the role of protector, acting as the firstborn that he in fact is. Sometimes he takes his role too far.” A small laugh escaped the older elf. “His heart is soft but he hides it. Elrohir, however, never could. His tenderheartedness has ever been his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.”

 

Aragorn watched his brother as the elf slept. He knew that Elladan was the more stubborn, strong headed of the two. Sometimes his over protectiveness had irritated the ranger and yet there were times that he welcomed it, a reminded of home, of safety. But Elrohir had always been the one he had gone to when he had hurt himself or woken in the night afraid when Elrond was away. It hurt his heart to see his brother withdrawing and pulling away from them like he was.

 

He started slightly when Elrond began speaking again, pulled out of his reverie by the elf’s deep soft voice.

 

“When Celebrìan left, it nearly broke his heart. He knew she could not stay and yet he was torn in letting her go alone. He very nearly left with her. I... I almost expected him to, as much as that thought hurt. I never could be sure he didn’t stay simply to spare me further loss,” Elrond sighed. “For weeks I would find him out here, tears rolling his face. He said he could feel her more here than anywhere else in the house. Wounds fade in time, even for elves, but some more slowly than others. Elrohir feels deeply, but his spirit is too light and free to remain bound by sorrow forever. Still... it was not so very long ago as we reckon time. Then you came along. Many years had already passed, but I think your being here did his heart more good than any of us expected. Often were the nights I would find the two of you in your bed because he had stayed when your nightmares returned.” Elrond smiled down at the human next to him.

 

“I remember that.” Aragorn laughed softly, “He always came back into my room with me. Elladan was harder to wake up than Elrohir and for some reason he could never understand what I was saying in the middle of the night. Elrohir was quick to wake up and always quieted my fears. He would sing to me, tell me stories, make me laugh and stay until I fell I asleep.”

 

“Yes.” Elrond’s smile widened. “He loved having a child in the house. In many ways in his heart I still think he is one. They both are, but he would probably admit to it more readily than Elladan.” Elrond smiled faintly. “Elladan would rather be the mother, that is how his heart heals, but Elrohir... Elrohir would rather be the child.”

 

Aragorn chuckled slightly. “Maybe that is why they compliment each other so perfectly.”

 

With a small answering smile the elf lord rose, “I think I shall wake him and see if he would like to try this treatment. I have only heard of it, never preformed it or had reason to.” Elrond glanced back at his human son, “Would you like to help me?”

 

With a nod Aragorn rose also, walking to the balustrade and watching as his father sat quietly on the large couch. “Elrohir?”

 

Elrohir didn’t stir. It broke the elf lord’s heart as the twin slept on. He moved forward to touch his son and wake him when Aragorn interrupted.

 

“Ada, wait.” The ranger spoke up quickly. He was watching his brother carefully, “See if he can sense you before you waken him. Give him a minute.”

 

“What are you thinking, my son?” Elrond turned back and watched the ranger but Estel was intent on the twin.

 

“This is something I have been wondering about...” Aragorn’s voice trailed off and a smile spread across his face, “There...see?”

 

Elrohir stirred slightly, his right hand easing up in front of him as if to ward someone off. Gently he rested his palm on his father’s leg, his consciousness registering that someone was near. A second later, grey eyes opened and squinted questioningly up at the elf lord.

 

“Ada?” Elrohir pressed himself up on the couch, slightly surprised to see his father so near and yet realizing that he halfway expected it as well. He was confused.

 

Elrond smiled at the twin before frowning slightly at Aragorn. “How did you know?”

 

“What?” Elrohir questioned softly.

 

“Not you.” Elrond glanced back at the human again causing Elrohir to follow his gaze, “Your brother.”

 

“A hunch.” Aragorn shrugged, “Something I’ve been noticing lately.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Elrohir’s confusion was growing by the minute. He sat up, brushing the long dark strands of hair away from his face. His braids had come undone in his sleep and he pushed the wayward locks out of his eyes.

 

“You.” Aragorn deadpanned as he stared at his brother, “What else is there to talk about?”

 

With a snort of derision Elrohir shook his head, but the human’s smile was mirrored on the elven face.

 

“No, really?” He asked again.

 

“No, *really*!” Aragorn answered with a chuckle.

 

“Enough of this you two.” Elrond stopped the banter, giving his youngest a stern look. “I expect you to explain what you are going on about when we get inside.”

 

“What is it Ada?” Elrohir was sitting up fully now, watching his father and brother speaking and trying to keep up with their conversation. He was becoming more skilled at lip-reading, but it was hard when people were not talking directly to him. He lost too much of a conversation looking back and forth between the different speakers.

 

Elrond turned his attention back to the elf next to him. The gentle touch to his arm by the twin caught at his heart as Elrohir tried to keep up with the two of them.

 

With a soft smile the elf lord explained himself as he pulled Elrohir to his feet. “I would like to try one more remedy for your ears if you are willing.” He spoke softly and clearly, the words of the high tongue easiest for the younger elf to follow.

 

“I am.” Elrohir nodded quickly. He had had enough of living without sound and longed to hear again. At nights sometimes he would strain to hear, willing his ears to open up again, but always he was met with the same quiet, muted world. Sometimes he thought he could hear something, but he could not be sure if he actually was, or if it was the phantom of his imagination. His impairment was wearing on him and he could no longer pull himself out of the depression that dogged his spirit.

 

Aragorn trailed quietly behind them as Elrond led his sons into his medicine pantry. The small apothecary was comprised of shelves and cabinets that lined the walls. A countertop of burnished wood ran the full length of the long, narrow room; wrapping around the corners and making the pantry seem smaller. A waist-high worktable sat like an island in the middle of the room and Elrond quickly began clearing the contents off of it.

 

“Estel, bring me some towels, three or four please, whatever you can find.”

 

The human ran out of the room quickly to obey as his father lit a large candle, placing it in a holder beneath one of his copper pots that he frequently used.

 

When Aragorn returned, Elrohir was seated on the island behind Elrond as the elf lord mixed a concoction of herbs and oils. The sweet smell of the concoction lingered in the room scenting everything it touched. A dash of lavender was added to the mix and Aragorn smiled as the smell washed over him.

 

Unconsciously Elrohir began tapping his boot heels against the wooden cabinets underneath him. He couldn’t hear the sound, but he could feel the resonating in the table he sat upon. Elrond endured the repeated noise for a little while before turning around and touching his son’s knee, a smile softening the unspoken reprimand.

 

Aragorn laughed quietly, silencing quickly when his father glanced at him. Holding out his hand for the towels in the ranger’s arms, Elrond beckoned him forward.

 

“It smells good.” Elrohir commented, his voice hushed.

 

“Hopefully it will be useful for more than just its smell.” Elrond answered as he folded two of the towels into neat squares and laid them one atop the other at the far edge of the table, creating an impromptu pillow. He patted the cloth and indicated he wanted Elrohir to lie down.

 

Placing one hand alongside his son’s face, he gently but firmly lowered Elrohir down on the long table, positioning the elf on his side so that he faced away from the counter where Elrond had just been working.

 

“Estel, this is where I will need you.” Elrond glanced up at the human who stood once more quietly in the corner watching. “I want you to talk to Elrohir, tell him everything I say.”

 

When the ranger moved forward, the elf lord walked back around the table standing behind the twin, his hand gently resting on the younger elf’s shoulder so he would know where his father was at all times.

 

“What’s going on Estel?” Elrohir asked quietly, his eyes fastened on the human’s.

 

“I don’t know. Father wants me to tell you everything he says.” Aragorn smiled softly at his brother. He gently took the elf’s hand in his own.

 

“Will it hurt?”

 

Aragorn laughed softly; “I don’t know El. Let me ask.” He glanced up at Elrond.

 

The elf lord had turned back to the counter behind him and was stirring a mixture of sweet oil and healing herbs. He tested the liquid to make sure that it was not too hot and ladled out a small amount into a tiny glass pitcher.

 

“Tell him it won’t hurt. And I need him to unbutton his shirt and pull the collar away from his neck.” Elrond smiled slightly at the exchange. He realized he should have explained himself a little better.

 

Aragorn relayed the information and helped his brother roll his collar down away from his neck after he had unbuttoned it. Gently the ranger brushed the twin’s hair away from his exposed ear, pushing it back so it flowed off the thin table behind him.

 

With his hands, Elrond gently held Elrohir’s head firmly in place and explained to Estel exactly what was going to happen.

 

“Tell him that it is very important that he stay still. I need his head to remain in this position.” Elrond pressed down slightly with his fingers emphasizing the words that the twin could not hear. “I’m going to pour this oil in his ear. It will soften the eardrum and coat it with the herbs. It is liable to feel strange and he may want to resist it at first. It’s not hot, just warmed slightly. I’ll need him not to move so I don’t spill it and so that it stays in his ear for a few minutes before we remove it with water.”

 

With a short nod Aragorn relayed all the information to Elrohir. The elf’s blue were locked onto the human’s face, intently reading his brother’s lips as Aragorn repeated everything in the high tongue.

 

“Did you understand everything El?”

 

Elrohir nodded slightly under Elrond’s touch.

 

“Good.” The elf lord acknowledged as he draped one of the towels around the twin’s neck, in case he were to accidentally spill some of the oil. He tucked the ends of the cloth behind the base of Elrohir’s head and under his chin forming a ‘u’ around the elf and helping to brace him so that he would be less inclined to move.

 

When the first drop of oil touched his ear and trickled down to rest against his eardrum, Elrohir flinched, grimacing.

 

“Is it too hot?” Elrond stopped quickly and asked.

 

“No.” Elrohir whispered as Estel translated, “It feels...odd.” He swallowed hard, as though at high altitude.

 

“Don’t fight it, just rest and let it do its job.” Elrond instructed as he proceeded to fill up the elf’s ear channel with the healing oil. He pressed a heated wet towel over Elrohir’s ear and gently patted the elf’s head.

 

“Now I’ll need him to stay still for a bit while the oils work in. So he needs to relax. I’ll heat up some water to clean it out with while we wait. Keep him occupied will you Estel?” The elf lord explained himself to his youngest son.

 

Aragorn repeated everything to his brother, leaning down on the counter top and resting his head on his right arm, so he was eye level with the twin, only inches from the other’s face.

 

Elrohir nodded and glanced away. Soundlessly Aragorn touched the elf’s forehead with his hand, directing his attention back. “What is it?” He mouthed silently.

 

Knowing his brother could read lips as well, Elrohir spoke, his voice barely above a whisper. He didn’t want his father to worry and wasn’t sure if the elf lord had left the room or not.

 

“What good is a deaf elf Estel?” The grey eyes pleaded with the human to give him a reason to not despair.

 

“Elrohir, your hearing does not make you more of an elf nor does your loss of it make you less.”

 

“I am no good to anyone like this. I am a liability. I cannot go out hunting or riding, for I cannot hear if a warning is called. I cannot go visit Beoma or anyone else because I constantly need someone to explain everything to me. I know El is more than glad to do it, but I’ll just get him in trouble too. I am defenseless and incapable of communicating. It’s as if the world has totally closed off to me.”

 

Aragorn’s heart ached at the words that tumbled out of his brother’s mouth and the fear and hurt that they were spoken with. He didn’t dare look up at his father, but he knew that the elf lord had heard the whole conversation because he had turned and was staring at them both now. Elrond had no idea of how to help his son and the younger elf’s words broke his heart.

 

“That’s not true.” Aragorn whispered, “None of it.”

 

In his heart Elrohir wanted to believe him, but he couldn’t and he shook his head slightly, forgetting that he was not supposed to move. Elrond’s hand lay gently on his face as a reminder, stopping the twin. Tears formed in the elf’s eyes as he stared at his brother, realizing his father had been right behind him the whole time. He hadn’t wanted Elrond to hear that.

 

“I’ve been watching you,” Aragorn continued, he sat back up a little to explain himself better. “You may not be able to hear, but you can *feel*.”

 

Scrunching up his face in confusion, Elrohir raised an eyebrow and stared quietly at the ranger, asking silently for an explanation.

 

“Here. Watch this for example.” Estel turned quickly, searching the countertop behind him. His fingers brushed one of Elrond’s stirring sticks and he snatched it up, moving back next to his brother. He held the utensil up and explained himself, “When I tell you to, I want you to close your eyes and try to sense when this is close to you. Understand?” When the elf mouthed a silent ‘yes’, he proceeded. “All right, then close your eyes now.”

 

Elrohir did as he was told and lay very still. The world about him was dark and quiet. He felt his father’s hand against his face, the rough, warm cloth that covered his injured ear and the towels that held him still. Suddenly another sensation rippled through him. Something was close to his face. Jerking back and opening his eyes he noted that the stirring stick was inches from center of his forehead.

 

Elrond’s hand clamped down on him forcefully as Elrohir sucked his breath in and tried to move away.

 

“Estel!” Elrond reprimanded, “Do not cause your brother to move!”

 

“Sorry, sorry!” Aragorn apologized quickly, setting the stirring stick aside and touching Elrohir’s hand once more, “No moving.” He said with a smile as he gazed into the grey eyes.

 

“I felt it!” Elrohir was excited. It was the first time he had had a glimmer of hope in the past few weeks. “How did you know I would?”

 

“I’ve been watching you.” Aragorn’s gaze flicked up to meet his father’s before focusing on the twin once more. “Your hearing may not work but your other senses are compensating. Your sense of awareness is heightened. If you think about it you *know* when someone is near, like this afternoon when Ada sat down next to you. And I’ll wager the same is true of your sense of smell,” The ranger continued on hurriedly as he noticed the way his brother was relaxing and smiling more, “Yesterday you told us dinner was ready before Celboril comes to fetch us. Your body is taking care of what you perceive as a lack. I imagine with practice you will be able to sense even more if you are aware of what you are doing.”

 

Aragorn laid his head back down on his crossed arms near his brother, “You are not defenseless, nor are you useless. So you can’t hear right now?” He shrugged slightly, “You are far more useful than you realize.”

 

Elrohir stared at him quietly for a few minutes, reading deeply into the human’s eyes. If Aragorn were just trying to placate him, he wanted to know. His heart needed something to grasp onto and he prayed his brother was telling him the truth.

 

“It’s almost time Estel.” Elrond spoke up quietly. When the human looked up at him the elf lord was smiling widely, “That was well done my son. You never cease to amaze me.”

 

“I am right am I not?”

 

“Yes indeed you are. I had not noticed until you brought it up, but you are correct. Elrohir has been much more observant than when he had his hearing. In fact he knew when Taradin and his men were nearing the house last week when we were in the courtyard. I think he could feel the vibrations and just didn’t realize what was happening.” Elrond smiled.

 

“What is father saying?” Elrohir touched Aragorn’s arm lightly.

 

“He is saying that it is true and he has noticed it in you as well.” The ranger smiled at the elf. “What say you we practice when you are able to move around a bit more?” He teased gently.

 

Elrond tapped the younger elf on the shoulder and inched his fingers underneath Elrohir encouraging him to sit up. The elf lord held the cloth pressed tightly to the side of the twin’s face as he tipped Elrohir’s head towards him, allowing the oils to run out into the cloth.

 

Elrond flushed the younger elf’s ear with warm water several times, cleaning it out and drying the exterior with a dry towel.

 

They repeated the process with the other ear; Estel keeping his brother occupied the whole time. The ranger came up with all sorts of hair-brained ideas about how they could work on sharpening Elrohir’s other senses. Some of them were out-right forbidden by Elrond as they were suggested and others just made the younger elf laugh, which had been their purpose. Estel also realized that the more he talked with his brother and the more words he used, the more adept the elf would be at lip reading. Everyone hoped Elrohir’s hearing would return, but if it did not then Aragorn was determined to prove to his brother that he could still learn to function normally once more.

 

Elrond’s heart warmed at his youngest son’s successful attempts at lightening his brother’s weary heart. The human had been a blessing for them from the start and he was always surprised by the young man’s ability to see what they all overlooked and took so for granted.

 

“Dinner is almost ready.” Elrohir spoke softly as an easy lull developed in their conversation. Elrond was washing out his ear for the second time and the elf flinched as some of the water dripped down his neck, staining his tunic a darker green.

 

“What are we having?” Estel asked playfully as his stomach grumbled.

 

Elrohir breathed in deeply and closed his eyes, grimacing as Elrond dabbed at the inside of his ear with a corner of the towel.

 

“We are having wild boar, with fresh baked bread. The good kind.” Elrohir smelled the air again. “The one Celboril makes with the flecks of herbs and seasonings in it.”

 

“What else?” Aragorn prodded as Elrond finished and pulled Elrohir’s shirt up around his neck.

 

“Corn.” Elrohir smiled, “sweet corn and other vegetables that I can’t identify.” He frowned slightly a little confused that he couldn’t be more specific.

 

“That’s okay El.” Estel touched the elf’s hand as Elrond motioned him down, off the table. “Ada watch this.” the human grinned wickedly. “What’s for dessert El?” he continued.

 

Elrond stepped around the twin and inspected his ears, leaving off the bandages this time.

 

“Apple pie.” Elrohir answered softly, a smile broadening across his face. Apple pie was one of the twin’s favorite deserts, but not one that Celboril made frequently. Doubtless he had made it as a surprise for them. Everyone knew how badly Elrohir had been feeling of late.

 

“Oh yes, you’ll come in very handy.” Estel teased, ducking a playing smack from his father as he warned the youngster off. Given enough time here, Aragorn always seemed to eventually revert back to the younger man who dwelt in his heart, slowly easing out of some of the care and burdens that built up on him when he was away from home.

 

The ranger dodged outside the room, heading up the hallway to see how far along supper was from being served.

 

Gently, Elrond pulled Elrohir nearer and tipped his son’s head down, kissing the top of his forehead. He spoke directly towards the blue eyes when he stepped back. “Your ears look much better. The scars are fading and the oils should help. I firmly believe that you will back to normal in no time my son. Be patient with yourself.”

 

“Thank you Ada.” Elrohir whispered. He stepped back from the doorway seconds before Aragorn reappeared on the threshold, deftly avoiding a collision.

 

“Come on. Celboril is calling us!” His eyes alight with mischief. “You were right El, its ham. I took Elladan’s place settings and hid them, we’ll see how long it is before he notices.”

 

“Estel.” Elrond rolled his eyes at the human’s antics. Perhaps sometimes the ranger reverted a little *too* far in his maturity level when under his brothers’ influence long enough. “How are old are you?”

 

“Far younger than either of them are and Elladan hid my plate last night!” Aragorn laughed at himself as they entered the dinning hall. “Turn about is fair play.”

 

Elladan stood near his seat staring at the ranger with a glower on his face. Legolas was already seated, trying hard not to laugh.

 

The prince spoke first, “It appears that Elladan will not be dinning with us tonight, he seems to have misplaced his fork and knife.” The restrained mirth in the elf’s voice was enough to send the ranger over the edge and he started chuckling.

 

“Hey!” Aragorn danced around the table, hiding behind Legolas as his older brother stalked towards him. “You hid my plate last night!” The ranger stepped close to the elf prince, “Fair is fair! Besides if you lay a hand on me you’ll have to deal with Legolas.”

 

The prince laughed and stammered objections to being dragged into the middle of this family squabble. He moved partially out of his chair as Aragorn grabbed his shoulders and positioned the Silvan Prince between himself and the glaring Noldo who stalked him.

 

“You’ll both have to deal with me if you don’t sit down right now! Estel produce those utensils or I will give your brother yours.” Elrond’s admonishment was softened by the smile he turned on the younger being. Good grief, had he not suffered through this endearing nonsense quite enough when they were young?

 

“Now.” He added quietly, raising his eyebrows to indicate that although amused, he was serious.

 

With a mischievous laugh the ranger retrieved the fork and knife from behind a potted plant near the wide window much to his brother’s chagrin. Aragorn made a great show of polishing them up before handing them over. Elladan growled, un-amused, and snatched the items in question away from his little brother.

 

Elrohir and Legolas were trying hard not to laugh and to pretend that they did not know either party involved in the antics by the time Celboril entered.

 

“So what was missing this time?” the older elf asked with feigned grumpiness. His questioning glare sent the younger occupants of the room into further bouts of half-choked mirth.

 

Aragorn dropped down in his seat on Legolas’ left as Elrohir took his own chair on Estel’s other side. His hand lightly touched the human’s arm drawing the man’s attention.

 

“Thank you, Estel.”

 

With a brilliant smile Aragorn pulled his brothers head down against his shoulder giving him a fierce hug. “You’re welcome. It’ll be all right Elrohir. You’ll see.” He answered.

 

He was surprised when the elf held tightly to him, moving his head so that his ear was placed directly over the human’s chest. “Say it again!” He whispered.

 

Aragorn tensed slightly, wondering what had happened. The whole room quieted as they watched the two.

 

“Say it again Estel.” The elf repeated himself, tightening his grip on the human to get his attention, “Please.”

 

Aragorn glanced around him hesitantly as he gently held his brother, “I said you’re welcome. And not to worry, it will be all right.”

 

The room was silent for a few moments and Aragorn began to wonder if every thing really was all right after all. “Elrohir?”

 

“Say it again.” The elf commanded him. “My name, you spoke it, did you not?”

 

“Elrohir.” A smile widened on his face as he felt his brother smile against him, “Can you hear me?”

 

“Yes.” Elrohir whispered.

 

Elrond stood from where he was seated and rounded the table slowly as Elrohir sat up.

 

“Ada, I could hear Estel when I placed my ear against his chest.” The elf was visibly excited.

 

“Can you hear now my son?”

 

A frown marred the elf’s features. “What? Say it again?”

 

The elf lord repeated himself as he stopped next to the twin’s seat.

 

“I hear something but I cannot make it out.” The shadow that had fallen in the elf’s eyes was gone as he glanced up at his father. “I can hear but it is not clear and it comes and goes.” He sat for a minute before he glanced at Aragorn again and shouted joyfully, “But I hear *something*!”

 

The room erupted with everyone talking at once. Estel grabbed his brother and pounded him on the back while Elrond tried to quiet them, attempting to get his sons’ attention.

 

“Give it time my son. Let your ears heal on their own.” The elf lord silenced the room with his words, motioning for Celboril and his staff to bring their dinner. “Celboril, let us all dine together, for tonight we will celebrate.”

 

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART TWO*~
~Legends and Myths~

 

 

Thranduil entered the guestroom where Elrynd indicated Raniean had been placed without preamble and surprised the young healer who was currently locked in an argument with his patient.

 

Raniean’s left arm was in a sling and his hair spilled around the bandage that covered his forehead, but he was on his feet and obviously attempting to leave the room.

 

“Nestad, stop it,” Raniean batted the healer away. “I am all right, I must speak with the King...”

 

“And I would speak with you Randomirion, if you are well enough.” The King’s voice startled Nestad, who had his back turned to the doorway. The healer jumped slightly, spinning around and giving a bow.

 

Raniean was also surprised, but quickly dropped a respectful bow as well, although lowering his head was a bad idea. He suddenly found himself required to reach out and catch hold of the wall to remain upright. Nestad grabbed his good arm quickly in a steadying gesture.

 

“After you fall down on your face in front of the king maybe then you’ll listen to me, hm?” the healer chastised, trying to lower Raniean back onto the bed. Raniean would have none of it; it wasn’t proper to sit when his Lord stood before him. When he took over for his father many years ago, Randomir had imparted the duties of his position to his son along with his own unbendingly strict code of honor.

 

“Raniean, sit,” Thranduil gestured to the bed. His captain looked pale. He needed to talk, but he did not want the younger elf to stress himself with formalities.

 

Raniean obeyed, his good hand drifting to the bandages on his head. It felt like there was a cave troll up there, still hard at work. “My Lord, I fear my news is ill.” A deep sadness touched Raniean’s clear blue eyes; sadness and guilt. “My companions...”

 

Thranduil raised his hand, wishing to spare the younger elf that particular pain right now. “I know Raniean, Elrynd told me.” The King let his hand fall to rest lightly on Raniean’s shoulder. “Do not blame yourself because you came back and they did not. It is the sad way of this world sometimes. But tell me, what news is there? Is the High Pass blocked? Why?”

 

Raniean laid his own personal feelings aside for the time being and focused on the King’s questions. “There is something going on up there your Highness. Never have I seen so many orcs and wargs in the mountains. The wargs caught our scent quicker than we thought they would. I... I should have known better your Majesty, I am sorry,” he admitted his culpability plainly. As a leader, anything that went wrong was his responsibility by default. “I have dealt little with those fell beasts and I fear my ignorance cost us dearly.”

 

Raniean dropped his gaze. It was true, few wargs had ever ventured into Mirkwood itself, seeming uncomfortable in the close confines of the trees and in border skirmishes they had only dealt with them a little outside the forest. Still, he did not feel that absolved the blunder that had cost his warrior’s lives.

 

Thranduil’s hand tightened gently on the younger elf’s shoulder. In a way it was Raniean’s fault, but it had not come through a lacking of care or diligence. The King knew his young Captain’s worth and this error was not going to change that. “Experience is hard-learned sometimes. Honor the memories of the fallen by learning from the mistakes made and never repeating them. But do not hold their death on your head, that wrong belongs to the creatures that killed them, not you, do you understand?”

 

“Yes, sir,” Raniean nodded quickly.

 

Thranduil sighed and let his hand fall back to his side. He could see that Raniean didn’t really, not yet. He would need time to get past the grief first.

 

“Did it seem they were laying in wait for you? Do you think they mean to attack?” Thranduil was deeply disturbed about this threat, even if it was quite a distance away from any of their immediate borders. He didn’t like all this trouble coming on the heels of his disturbing nightmares, even if it was only coincidental.

 

Raniean shook his head slowly. “No, I do not feel that they were waiting for us at all. Their attention did not seem to be focused on the paths that we came up upon, it was more like a muster of some kind and we had the ill fortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It seemed that many of them were arriving from away to the south. I do not know what their purpose is, but for so many of them to be out and about in the daylight... they are up to no good, that is certain.”

 

Thranduil nodded thoughtfully. This was not good news. “How long since the attack?”

 

“Perhaps six or seven days my Lord, I... I do not entirely recall my entire return journey I am afraid,” Raniean admitted quietly.

 

Nestad eyed his patient. “Some of our scouts found him in the border woods half-delirious yesterday and brought him here with all haste your Highness,” he ventured. “He needs to rest despite what he says.”

 

Thranduil nodded, smiling slightly at Raniean’s glower. “Yes, I have no doubt he does. Raniean, you take after my son far too much. With that in mind Nestad, you may sedate him if he refuses to behave otherwise,” the king threatened with a small, wry grin.

 

Raniean was a lot like Legolas in that way...

 

Legolas...

 

Thranduil’s heart was troubled. He missed his son as a few seasons’ separation should not have warranted. Something told him that this odd concentration of orcs bode ill for the elves and they could not afford to ignore it, even if it did not seem to directly affect their kingdom.

 

Raniean started to protest, but Thranduil silenced it with a commanding look. “I need you well Raniean. I do not like these developments. In two days I lead a host of our people to the mountains. If there is still trouble, we will deal with it, otherwise we will journey across to take Council in Rivendell with Lord Elrond.” //And see Legolas again, to confirm with my own eyes that he is all right// Thranduil’s heart added the significant, but unspoken after-statement.

 

“I would that you went with us Raniean so that I might leave Amil-Garil in charge of the troops here, but I cannot allow it unless Nestad gives you a clean bill of health. So I suggest you follow his instructions.”

 

Raniean half-bowed in obedience. “As you command your Majesty.” It was not entirely unusual for Thranduil to ride out with his troops himself, but it usually signaled an important event. The last time it had happened was when they rode to aid Lake Men who were being devastated by the dragon Smaug, only to arrive and end up participating in the Battle of the Five Armies on the slopes of the Lonely Mountain instead.

 

Thranduil nodded and turned to leave. He couldn’t help smiling slightly. If only Legolas were that easy to deal with when he was convalescing. Unfortunately his son usually seemed to feel a little less honor-bound to obey the Elvenking without complaint.

 

Elrynd opened the door to let Thranduil out and the king found himself face to face with another elf. Although... chin-to-face was perhaps a better description since he had to look down to see anything other than the top of the other elf’s head.  

 

“Trelan,” Thranduil smiled slightly as the younger elf quickly backed up, murmuring apologies for having almost run into the king.

 

“I’m sorry your highness, I heard that Raniean had returned... is he...” Trelan’s lively eyes were filled with worry.

 

“He is going to be fine Trelan, go in and see for yourself. You may visit, but not too long, he needs to rest.” Thranduil moved aside to let the other warrior into the room. He knew that Trelan would be able to do his friend’s heart good and Raniean needed that right now. Doubtless Raniean’s relatives would be along soon as well. If they wished to take Raniean home to recover the King would allow it, although the warrior was more than welcome to stay in the palace if he so desired. If Legolas were there the question would be moot, Raniean would stay and the prince would enjoy the chance to fuss over his friend.

 

But Legolas was not there.

 

Thranduil sighed.

 

Elrynd followed wordlessly in his master’s wake as they walked down the halls towards the council chambers until Thranduil spoke to him. “Elrynd, send for Lord Celemir, I need to speak with him.” Thranduil would leave Celemir regent while he was away and they had much to discuss.

 

 

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

 

 

The fire flickered low and Estel leaned back against the cushions behind him, eyes half-lidded, only barely listening to the minstrel’s stories. He had heard most of them many times before and they were now merely a pleasant backdrop to his relaxed state. Outside the moon was high overhead.

 

Evenings such as this were not uncommon in Rivendell, but this evening was all the more festive an occasion because they were celebrating Elrohir’s return to the hearing world. Indeed, they had been for the past several days, so great was the whole valley’s joy at the lifting of the dark cloud that had descended on the Peredhil family.

 

It was a tenuous return at first, but now, after three days, it was amazing how quickly everything had begun to come back. The finer ranges of Elrohir’s hearing had yet to return, but he could already hear at least as well as a normal human. Elrohir was simply glad to be able to hear *anything* again and trusted that his hearing would continue to regain its former keenness with time.  

 

Legolas lay on his side near where Estel sat. The elf prince was propped up on one elbow, his head resting on his hand so that his unbraided golden locks spilled down around his arm, gracefully brushing the floor. The elf had stretched out on one of the many downy spreads strewn across the large hall for the comfort of those who wished to do exactly as he was doing. The prince had a bowl of cherries and was eating them slowly while he listened to the tales. Ever and anon his attention drifted away, but he paid more heed to the stories than his human companion did, since to the Mirkwood elf, the tales of Rivendell were not nearly so familiar or well known.  

 

Elladan and Elrohir sat on Aragorn’s other side. The elder twin was sitting on the floor, reclining against a cushion very similar to the one being used by his human brother, while Elrohir was lying down with his head resting on his brother’s leg. Elladan’s long fingers ran aimlessly through his twin’s dark tresses, lightly touching Elrohir’s healing ears with a tenderness that spoke of how relieved even his subconscious mind was that it no longer looked as if he would lose his twin to a silent world.

 

Aragorn lazily watched as a cherry arched gracefully over his head - the result of Legolas tossing Elladan one of the fruits he was eating. Elladan caught it easily in one hand, the fingers of his other never even leaving their protective resting-place on Elrohir’s head. Legolas and Elladan had been doing this for a while now since neither of them felt like actually moving from their comfortable positions in order to more effectively share the cherry bowl.  

 

Elladan popped the cherry into Elrohir’s mouth and caught another for himself.

 

“You could just give them the bowl Legolas...” Aragorn murmured with a contented, sleepy voice.

 

Legolas smiled and teasingly pulled the bowl in closer to his chest, enjoying pretending to be childish. “If they want it they can come and get it. What, not worried about my aim are you?”

 

Aragorn chuckled softly, not even bothering to open his eyes. He was too comfortable. “I saw how much you drank at dinner. I have good reason to worry.”

 

That remark was rewarded by a wet cherry pit that immediately lodged itself in the ranger’s ear with a firm thwap.

 

Aragorn half-yelped as his contented near-doze was interrupted by the unusual feeling and he shook his head, brushing the cherry pit onto the floor.

 

“Your wines here are a child’s drink compared with my father’s preferred vintage of Dorwinion.” The prince’s laugh was light as he watched his friend remove the cherry pit. “Besides, I think my aim has not suffered any, hm?”

 

Aragorn dropped back against his cushions once more with a smile, settling easily back into his former state of semi-wakefulness. “Whatever you say Legolas.”

 

The prince smiled. He could learn to like arguing with the human when Aragorn was relaxed and comfortable. It made him extremely compliant. He eyed the cherry pit that Aragorn had let fall to the floor. It had rolled a little ways away and lay on the polished wood floor near the walkway.

 

“You’re just going to leave that there? Someone could slip.” The elf said with an apathetically lethargic tone that suggested he wasn’t really very concerned.

 

“Mmm,” Estel murmured. “You pick it up. You’re the one tossing them around.” He yawned. “Besides, you’re the one with the cherry bowl, it’s your ears Celboril will pull for leaving things on the floor, not mine.” That last was accompanied by a satisfied smirk.

 

The human was rewarded with another cherry pit that smacked right into his eye. Aragorn flinched, but didn’t get up this time, merely flicking it easily off his face with a sweep of his hand. “That makes two now. Celboril will make you wash dishes.”

 

Elladan and Elrohir chuckled beside them. Elrohir reached his hand out from where he was laying and picked up the two offending cherry pits, which had rolled close to the twins.

 

“There, I saved you from the fearsome wrath of Celboril, Legolas,” the younger twin said with a smile. “Now you owe us some more cherries.”

 

At that, Legolas launched a playful mini-barrage of the small fruits at the two elves, about half of which intentionally missed their target and ended up pelting the human that sat between them.

 

“Hey!” Aragorn batted at the flying fruit hitting his face.

 

The twins abandoned any attempt to catch them and laughed helplessly as it rained cherries.

 

Across the room, Lord Elrond sat in a high-backed chair by the fire, watching the younger beings with an unconcealed smile of fond amusement. For an instant his eyes caught those of his human son. Aragorn felt a familiar, overwhelming sense of warm serenity fill him as the elder elf’s dancing eyes held the gaze of his youngest. A small quirk of Elrond’s lips and Aragorn suddenly found himself in danger of bursting out into laughter as well. The human shook his head with a wry smile, giving his foster father a ‘what am I supposed to do with them?’ look.

 

Elrond just smiled but his amused eyes clearly seemed to say: ‘You think I have any idea? After all these years you should know better...’

 

Aragorn chuckled and let his head fall back again, his gaze languidly tracing the curves of the ceiling beams. Ignoring the small clusters of ripe red berries that pooled in the folds of his tunic and slid down to the floor beside him he listened to the centuries old elves on either side of him giggle like children.

 

“You elves are so strange,” he murmured with a smile.

 

Aragorn perceived the cherry heading for his nose after that comment and opened his mouth in time to catch it instead, eating the sweet berry and rolling the pit absently around on his tongue. These were the good times. The times he treasured. At this moment he felt so utterly complete that it didn’t matter what perils he had ever been through, nor even those that may yet lay ahead... as long as he always had his family and friends... had this special place to return to... nothing could ever be too bad.

 

The cherry bowl was now empty, its contents spread in a small mischievous halo around the three elves and the human. Legolas let his head fall down onto his arms, his chuckles finally dying down to a self-contented smile.

 

Elrohir rolled onto his back and was now playing with a pair of cherries still on the stem, dangling them from his fingers and watching them swing with a relaxed fascination that could only be accomplished after a lot of food, a fair amount of wine, a warm fire and pleasant company.

 

Elladan brushed cherries off his lap and out of his brother’s long brown hair that lay tangled across his legs now.

 

“Somebody ought to pick those up...” the elder twin glanced at the berry explosion around them, snagging one near his hand and popping it in his mouth, at the same time wiggling his leg to unsettle his brother who was still lying on him.

 

“Mmm, not me,” Elrohir lifted his head until his brother stopped moving, then promptly plopped it back down again. “Legolas started it.”

 

Legolas grinned, pillowing his head on his arms and turning his attention back to the minstrel. “That would require moving, which I do not see happening any time soon. Estel can do it.”

 

“No he can’t.” Estel retorted placidly without opening his eyes.

 

Elladan snorted. “I think you *all* had too much wine.”

 

“I note you’re not moving brother,” Elrohir gave the cherries another spin.

 

“That’s because you’re laying on me *brother*,” Elladan pointed out, quickly catching Elrohir’s head and pushing it back down when the younger twin started to pick it up.

 

Elrohir laughed.

 

Comfortable silence descended once more as the minstrel finished the rather fanciful love story he had been weaving and began to move on to another of similar sort. Some of the other elves groaned and laughed merrily in protest.

 

“Come Sinnarn, we can only take only so many verses about moonlit nights and flowers in a maiden’s hair; can you not sing something else?” Moranuen teased his friend.

 

“Something more exciting!” Another elf near the fire chimed in. “Perhaps the battle between Sauron, Hurin and Lúthien on the bridge!”

 

“Oh please!” someone else quickly protested as others added their opinions. “I’ve heard that one a dozen times. Can we have something not *quite* as old as the hills?”  

 

“Something heroic!”

 

“Something frightening!”

 

“Something with great deeds!”

 

“Something we have not heard in a while!”

 

The chorus of voices called out their preferences amid merry laughter.

 

Sinnarn, their storyteller for the evening, chuckled at the good-natured jesting. “Well it seems we certainly could use something to shake sleep from our minds...” he commented with a smile as his gaze traveled across the half-slumbering room. “Very well then, if it’s bloodshed and mayhem you young warriors desire, I will tell you a tale of the exploits of Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen,” he smiled as he strummed his small lap-harp softly. “Although I usually doubt the wisdom of telling these tales after dinner...” he continued to tease his half-lively, half-sedated audience.

 

The dark haired elf’s fingers traveled rhythmically over the strings of his instrument, gently stroking them without even needing to look down at his work as he slid into his next tale.

 

Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen were two warriors who had lived in Rivendell what seemed a long time ago. Legolas started really paying attention only part way into the story and wasn’t sure if the two elves’ swords carried the same name as their owners, or if he was simply too tired to be separating the details because Sinnarn was using an artistically hyperbolic and symbolic story-telling manner. In any case the pair had apparently lived up to the names, which meant “Orc Slayer” and “Goblin Bane” respectively in the old tongues of the region. If the tales held true they had washed the vales and surrounding hills in a dark and vengeful tide of orc blood until there were none of the evil beings left living for hundreds of miles in any direction. And in those days no foul creature dared come near this area for fear of the merciless duo.

 

Legolas pondered how very much he had often wished to do the same thing for his home, but it was a foolhardy risk of life and in practicality would take a far greater number of warriors to accomplish than made for a good tale. The skill and obvious burning hatred behind Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen’s bloody purge was a little breath-taking, especially the way Sinnarn told it and the elf prince, who had never heard this story before, found himself listening with no small amount of interest. Legolas had to commend their deeds, although a few of the particulars made him wince. The prince had more than expected the tale to end in Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen’s deaths since Sinnarn spoke of them solely in the reverential past tense, as was customary only of the dead in the style of story telling being employed. However, the minstrel finished his tale without giving the specifics of their demise, but only alluding that they passed out of knowledge and their memory faded back into the hills, a warning whispered with fear and loathing by all orc-kind.

 

Sinnarn then moved on to an account of the Fall of Gondolin, but Legolas had heard this tale before. The blonde archer turned to Aragorn.

 

The ranger jerked awake when he felt a cherry pit ping his temple. “Legolas!” he was half amused, half annoyed as he rubbed his eyes. “What was *that* for?”

 

“You were sleeping through the story,” Legolas smiled slyly.

 

“I’ve heard it before,” Aragorn grumbled.

 

“Was it true?” the elf prince inquired.

 

“Hmm? Oh, yes, so they say,” Aragorn looked as if he would like to go back to sleep, but his elven friend was not about to allow that yet.

 

“So what happened to them?” Legolas prodded.

 

“What happened to who?” Aragorn’s voice was laden with traces of slumber.

 

“Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen!” Legolas was amused by his human friend’s sleepy state and gave the ranger’s arm a poke, causing Aragorn to grumble like a hibernating bear and try to pull farther away from the suddenly irritatingly energetic prince. “Sinnarn didn’t say how they were killed, but considering the run-ins we’ve had with orcs around here they must have departed many ages since if the tales of their purge are true. So what happened?”

 

There was a long pause and Legolas wasn’t sure if Aragorn was falling asleep again or just ignoring him. “I don’t know Legolas, they were long before my time.” The human closed his eyes again, seeming to say that the elf would get nothing more useful than that out of him.

 

Legolas turned to the twins to ask them, but Elladan and Elrohir had risen to their feet, shaking cherries out of their clothes.

 

“We’re retiring for the evening. Good night Legolas, good night Estel,” Elrohir yawned and bid their companions farewell.

 

Aragorn watched his brothers leave under half-lidded eyes and Legolas thought he heard the ranger sigh softly before his gaze darted across the room. Following his friend’s glance, Legolas’ saw Lord Elrond also watching his sons’ somewhat abrupt departure, a brief shadow flittering across the wise face.

 

Legolas pushed himself up on his elbows, turning questioning eyes upon his friend. “Estel? Did I say something wrong? I’m sorry.”

 

Aragorn shook his head against the pillows, his dark, wavy locks fanning around him a little more. He opened his eyes and turned a small, reassuring smile upon the disconcerted prince. “No, Legolas, you did nothing amiss. Do not trouble yourself over it.”

 

Legolas let his forehead fall forward against his arms, blinking as he found himself eye-level with a cherry. The rhythmic rise and fall of Sinnarn’s flowing voice carried his thoughts away again and he felt himself growing tired as well.

 

“Aragorn?” he murmured after a few minutes.

 

No answer.

 

“Aragorn?”

 

A soft, barely noticeable snore made the elf realize that his human companion was asleep again.  

 

Legolas lifted his head to find Aragorn asleep with his head falling forward a little. The ranger’s right hand had automatically come up to curl under his cheek and his dark, tangled tresses tumbled in unruly curls about his brow.

 

A gentle smile tugged at the elf’s lips. When Aragorn slept the lines of care and age smoothed out of his face and he looked again the young man, nay, the boy that Legolas had met and befriended so many years ago.

 

Aragorn’s left hand was hanging out from his body in what looked to be an uncomfortable manner, so Legolas picked it up gently and placed it upon the human’s chest. Aragorn stirred but did not waken.

 

Legolas smiled, brushing the curls back from his friend’s face and stealing one more moment for fond reflection before rising to his feet.

 

Idh mae, mellon-nín,” he whispered. “Rest well, my friend.”

 

A suddenly devilish grin caught at the prince’s fair features as an idea struck him. He stooped swiftly, picking up the empty cherry bowl and placing it in his slumbering friend’s lap before he turned to leave.

 

Legolas felt eyes on him and turned to see Elrond looking at him with an amused grin. The elf lord raised one eyebrow. Legolas just smiled. Placing his hand over his heart before sweeping it out to the side, he silently bid the elven lord good night.

 

Elrond shook his head, his eyes going back to his human son who now sat slumbering amid a chaotic sprinkling of cherries with an empty bowl resting incriminatingly in his lap.

 

Celboril would *not* be pleased.

 

Chapter Text

__________________________________________________________

 

~*PART THREE*~
~A Moment Long in the Making~

 

 

~~~~~~~~
You have always been my safe home.
I walk, I run, I burn out into you...
You have always been my safe home.
My whole world has moved on.

I know what I am and I’ll always be,
your reality, is better than I could dream.
All my fears turn from black to white
and I’d stand and fight
the whole world for you.

--Anthrax
~~~~~~~~

 

 

 

Aragorn woke because of a soft swish of movement somewhere nearby. His senses swung suddenly to life and he registered a flood of things at once. It was dark, the room was cool, if not cold, and he felt a little stiff from sleeping in an unusual position. There was also someone nearby... no, not just nearby, his keen senses told him. Right next to him and moving stealthily as if wishing not to wake him. He felt the soft brush of fingers against the collar of his shirt and half-assumed that either Legolas or his brothers were attempting to do something to him.

 

Swift reflexes kicked in and his hand shot up, catching the unknown presence by the wrist in a firm grip. He opened his eyes to find himself looking into the last set of eyes he had expected to see.

 

“Ada?” he blinked a little blearily. Lord Elrond was kneeling on the floor by the ranger, leaning over his human son. The ranger’s grip on the elder elf’s wrist held him in place, but his elven father’s eyes were as gentle as they were amused. In his lap, Elrond held a nearly re-filled bowl of cherries with his free hand.

 

“Peace Estel,” Elrond said quietly when he saw that his youngest son’s mind was not quite as fully awake as his body.

 

Estel quickly released the elf lord’s wrist, rubbing his eyes.

 

Elrond smiled and plucked up the berry nestled in the folds of Aragorn’s shirt collar that had been his earlier goal. He dropped it into the bowl on his lap; gathering a few more out of the cushions around Aragorn with quick, graceful movements.

 

Aragorn realized that the house was still and quiet. It must be far into the late watches of the night now, and he and Elrond were the only two remaining occupants of the hall.

 

“Ada?” Aragorn tried to clear the sleep from his voice, but Legolas was not the only one who had enjoyed more than a fair share of wine at dinner last night. The ranger was not actually hung over, but he was somewhat groggier than usual and his head throbbed a bit. “What are you doing?”

 

Elrond chuckled, a soft, rich sound. “Keeping you from an hour-long lecture by Celboril tomorrow morning. I thought perhaps he should not be the one to wake you... especially since... well, let us just say that Legolas and your brothers left you in a... compromising position,” he gestured to the bowl and the cherries that he had now very nearly completely cleaned up.

 

“Figures...” Aragorn chuckled too, stretching and sitting up, rubbing his temples with a small moan.

 

Elrond’s gentle hand came to rest on his shoulder, steadying him. He had very nearly let the little joke go, as it would be quite amusing indeed to hear just how *loud* Celboril would be when he discovered Aragorn sleeping amid a mess of cherries, stems and pits. But the elf lord had had pity on the human, judging that loud shouting was probably *not* the best thing for his youngest to hear tomorrow morning.

 

“You don’t have to do that Ada, I’ll get it,” Aragorn tried to take the bowl from his father, but Elrond pulled it away from him, squeezing his shoulder reassuringly.

 

“No, Estel, it’s all right. I will do it. It is not often anymore that I must clean up after my children... but I find that rarity makes the experience less arduous than in the past.” His warm smile was as light and teasing as it was loving.

 

Aragorn tried to protest but nearly fell sideways off the cushion he was sitting on. Elrond caught him with a laugh and easily helped the human up onto his feet. “Time for rest Estel, I think you will find your own bed preferable to the floor, I will take care of this. Go on, rest now my child.”

 

Aragorn smiled lopsidedly, finding his eyelids difficult to keep open. Bed sounded deliciously good right now. “Are you sure?”

 

Elrond smiled. “Yes, Estel, I’m sure. Now go on and go lie down before you fall down.”

 

“Yes, Ada,” Aragorn wavered for a moment, before stepping forward and giving his father a hug. “Thank you Ada.” The human hoped his elven father knew he wasn’t speaking just about the cherries. He meant for everything. For the way the elf lord had opened his home to the orphaned human, for the way he had given him not only a place to live but a family to belong to, for always being there for him, for *loving* him.

 

Somehow, Elrond did know. He gave Aragorn a small, tight squeeze before turning him firmly towards the hall leading to his bedroom. “Good night, ion-nín. Good night, my son.”

 

Aragorn smiled one more time. “Good night Ada.”

 

A sudden thumping sound echoed hollowly through the silent halls of Imladris, causing both Aragorn and Elrond to pause and listen. A moment later it came again and they realized that someone was knocking on the front door... no, pounding, that was a better word to describe it. Someone was pounding urgently on the huge double doors in the main hall that had long ago been secured for the night.

 

“What in Arda...?” Elrond murmured, setting the cherry bowl down on one of the tables as he walked swiftly out of the feast hall.

 

Aragorn adjusted his intended course, trailing his adopted father down the darkened passage ways that led to the foyer. His weariness receded quickly as his reflexes took over and he readied himself for whatever they might find. The human could not imagine who would be knocking so loudly at this hour of the night... it could only mean trouble. He snatched a low burning candle from one of the wall sconces along their route to aid them should they need it, although both father and son knew their way around this house well enough that they could have traversed it with their eyes closed.

 

Elrond worked the bolt on the door with a single fluid motion and pulled the portal open, peering out into the starry night to see who had come to his doorstep at this hour.

 

Two shadowed figures stood in the archway, one leaning heavily against the other. When they stepped forward into the light of Estel’s candle, both the elf lord and the human recognized them immediately.

 

“Halbarad, Arendur, what’s happened?” Aragorn pressed immediately as the two rangers entered his father’s house. He assumed they were there for him.

 

Halbarad was supporting Arendur and the dim candlelight played faintly across dark red stains on the young ranger’s torn tunic. The older ranger walked the younger across the threshold carefully. He inclined his head respectfully towards Elrond.

 

“I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour my Lord, I would not have had my mission been less urgent,” he apologized. “I fear that Arendur needs greater help than I can give him and it could not wait.”

 

Elrond waved the apology off quickly. “My house is open day or night to those who have need Halbarad, come in and be welcome.” The elven healer was already checking the younger of the two Dunèdain.

 

“Aragorn,” Halbarad turned his gaze upon his leader. “I had hoped to find you here.”

 

About this time Celboril arrived. His room was near the front of the house and the knocking had awakened him.

 

“Celboril, prepare a place for Arendur while I examine him,” Elrond requested of the seneschal. The elf lord pressed his hand against the youth’s pale, clammy cheek, making a quick decision. “Bring bedding and bandages to the Hall of Fire, we will lay him out there for the moment. His body is cold, we must get some warmth back into him.” Elrond knew that the only fire still burning at this hour of the night in his house was in the great hall, so that was the best place for them at the present.

 

“Come Halbarad, Aragorn and I would hear your news while we help your friend,” Elrond added to the other ranger as he helped shoulder some of Arendur’s weight, leading them away.

 

Elrond worked swiftly over the boy and once they were assured that Arendur’s life was no longer in serious jeopardy, Halbarad told his tale wearily.

 

“Aragorn, you recall that I had to leave you after the Barrow Downs incident because wargs were plaguing some of the cities we watch over? Well I met up with a few of the others on my way there, but by the time we reached the cities the wargs had moved on, leaving a line of ravaged villages heading north. We followed them as quickly as we could, trying to catch up with them and stop their unchecked spree... unfortunately, that seemed to be exactly what they wanted us to do. Two days past we tracked them into a canyon and they led us into an ambush. It was not just packs of foraging wargs as we thought, they were working with orcs and had designs more clever than we had given them credit for. Many of our people were killed, many more wounded. Most are being cared for on the outskirts of this valley, but for Arendur I was gravely concerned, so I brought him hither with me. The wargs have disappeared, for now, but I am disturbed that they would attack us in this area that has been safe for so long. They are a threat that must be dealt with and I came to request your aid in that endeavor.”

 

“And you shall have it,” Elrond nodded as he wound bandages around Arendur’s wounds. “I shall summon as many warriors as can come at first light. They should be ready to leave by the following day at the latest. Will that help you?”

 

Halbarad nodded gratefully. “That would be well. You have my thanks. It may be that the foul beasts have already retreated to their haunts in the mountains, but if they are still at large in the valleys they should be dealt with if possible.”

 

Aragorn nodded, it was never wise to leave a threat like that standing if it could be avoided. “When the warriors are ready, I will accompany you and them.”

 

Elrond smiled at both rangers as he rose, laying a blanket gently over Arendur’s now unconscious form.

 

“Yes, and if you go we can rest assured that Legolas and your brothers will follow. But tonight you all must rest. I shall have Celboril prepare a room for you if you wish Halbarad, but Arendur should stay here by the fire for now,” the elf lord offered.

 

“Thank you, but I will stay with Arendur,” Halbarad shook his head, touching the youth’s matted curls gently.

 

“Then I shall have Celboril bring bedding to make you comfortable here. And you my son,” he turned to Aragorn who looked prepared to stay and keep conversing with Halbarad, “*Are* going to get some rest now and let them do the same, are you not?”

 

Aragorn smiled wryly at his foster father, sharing a quiet laugh with Halbarad. “Yes, Ada.”

 

 

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

 

 

The darkness of the woods concealed him as he stood on the edge of ridge in the predawn. His breath ghosted on the air as he watched the house settled in the large valley far below. Lights in the huge, ornate windows were lit one by one, casting their warm glow on the courtyards and outer regions of the gardens that surrounded the elven dwelling.

 

Away down in the secluded rift, movement could be seen stirring in various quarters, as if some kind of muster were underway. A dark grin quirked twisted lips into a smile.

 

“You see?” he whispered into the fading darkness. “What did I say? You strike against the rangers and the elves will rush out to help them... the fools.” He wanted them to gather; he wanted them all in one place, but did not intend to give them time to be prepared.

 

It had been centuries that he had waited for this very day. He glanced at the barely brightening sky, a few hours more wouldn’t hurt. Next to him a large, black form padded up quietly and stopped, squinting down into the valley. The animal barely resembled its distant cousin, the wolf, from which it had long ago been bred. It nuzzled the smaller creature that was fixated on the house below. Distractedly, the orc reached over and scratched the fur around the warg’s small ear. A deep rumbling purr issued from the creature’s throat.

 

“Today you will hunt.” He spoke softly to his mount. “Today you will feast on elf.”

 

The warg mumbled a staccato growl, testing the air with its sensitive nose.

 

“I don’t see anything,” A voice interrupted the rider’s conversation with his mount as a second warg-rider approached. “Just a vale shrouded in morning mist. Your eyes must be keen.”

 

It was true, Guruth’s senses were incredibly keen for an orc, but he knew this was not the case at the moment. Without acknowledging the other in anyway, the lead orc answered calmly as though speaking to a child. “No, Tmarkz, you do not see it because they do not wish you to see it. The old elf who lives there, the Healer, he is very powerful. They hide this valley, make it not to be seen by eyes like ours... but they cannot hide from me. I have touched one of them, I have seen into their collective souls. It took many years, but I learned to see it clear as day. It’s there. Look harder...”

 

Tmarkz blinked, slowly, he began to think he could see vague shapes moving in the mist, but only barely. “The ones you seek, they have not been heard from in years, are you sure they live there still?”

 

“Yes.” Guruth patted the warg next to him and folded his black gloved hands across his chest. “I know they do.”

 

Tmarkz watched his captain for several long moments. All orcs possessed natural long life, but Guruth was the oldest orc he had ever met, indeed, the oldest that any of them had ever known. Horrible, mauling scars covered his body and they all believed it was his hatred for the elves and his desire for revenge alone that kept him alive through the many things he had survived. Few even knew the tales from his past, but Tmarkz did. The scars he bore had twisted Guruth’s face into a cruel mask that matched the dark depths of his blackened heart. This orc was a leader to be feared, one to be followed without question; and follow him they had. It was no small thing that the dark creature could hold his minions to his will so tightly that they would prepare to attack what seemed to them an empty valley, doing battle with an enemy their eyes would not yet perceive.

 

Tmarkz glanced behind him into the forest that braced the edge of the cliff. A massive contingent of orcs, wargs and riders rested beneath the darkened canopy, their camps stretching away out of sight as the sat gathered around the now dead fire rings, drinking and entertaining each other with tales and displays of strength.

 

They were a mixed lot to behold, this army that had formed under Guruth’s leadership, drawn by his promises of plunder and mayhem. Over half came from the southern mountain passes, regions that Guruth’s kin had once called home. Yet many, many more had been added to their company as Guruth slowly gathered to him the scattered remnants of the northern goblins who had been left leaderless and bitter after the disastrous battle on the slopes of the Lonely Mountain several decades ago. Some had even wandered thither from much further south, leaving the protection of the Dark Land for a life less structured, but no less driven.

 

For years now, Guruth had trained his company for this moment, for this blow that would shatter the peace of the valley below... for this revenge. And it would be sweet. Very sweet.

 

“We will start with that group. They shall be our bait. There, see?” The older orc’s voice brought Tmarkz’s drifting attention back to the deep, mist-clad rift.

 

Tmarkz saw nothing, but didn’t want to say so. Guruth grinned, he knew that the underling was still blind to what he was watching, but liked the fact that he was not ready to question his authority.

 

A party of elves on foot and horseback was leaving the courtyard. They crossed the bridge that spanned the Bruinen and headed for the woods north of the orcs position.

 

“Just wait Tmarkz, you’ll see them in a moment,” Guruth purred softly, tracking their progress with his dark eyes. Beside him, Guruth’s warg rumbled softly in her throat. She didn’t have to see the elves; even this far away she could smell them.

 

A few minutes later Tmarkz started as he saw the group of hunters emerge from the fog as they left the protective confines of the valley behind and become fully visible to even his untrained eyes.

 

Guruth’s warg growled, a low warning sound as Tmarkz’ mount crested the small ridge and glanced down at the hunting party that was just disappearing into the woods. His focus was drawn to the large matriarchal warg but she was not interested in his attentions and nipped at his shoulder, sending him skittering backwards. The hair on her neck and back stood on end and she stiffened when he approached again more slowly.

 

Much like her master she was, a leader among her kind to be feared. This pack of wargs was hers. Most of the cubs that followed with the pack were hers. She tolerated no challenges to her authority and put down every usurper that vied for her position. Now was no different and she was not interested in the younger male’s advances, she wanted to track the elves.

 

When the last of the elven company had faded into the woods and were no longer visible to the naked eye, Guruth turned his attention back to his second in command.

 

“Tmarkz,” he barked the orcs name, “Get your mount under control. I don’t want them fighting today; I want them single-minded. Understand?”

 

Guruth walked past the other warg rider as Tmarkz grabbed his warg by the ear and turned the large creature away from the matriarch, pulling the beast alongside him and chiding the warg. The creature bared its fangs and rumbled at being checked, but did not buck the smaller being’s authority, for now.

 

“Were they in the hunting party?” Tmarkz asked as he jogged to catch up with his leader. He did not feel the need to specify what ‘they’ he meant. He doubted that Guruth had thought of much *but* them for the past few years. Tmarkz’s warg, Shelzahk, having had enough of being chastised, had sulkily joined the others who were bedded down on the outskirts of the orc encampment.

 

“It was hard to tell, but if they weren’t they will surely be in the muster.” Guruth stopped walking and eyed Tmarkz, “There was a ranger with the hunters though, and a younger golden haired elf. Not the older one who lives here, but the younger one whom I have seen only rarely. When it is here it keeps company with the ranger, I’ve watched them. They are much too friendly with the elves here. Kill them both; make sure they are dead. It is also time to end our trouble with the rangers, they’ve served their purpose. There are a few of them in that section of the woods there, the ones that we allowed out of the last ambush. See that they do not escape again, kill them all. They can track us and I won't have them ruining this. No one will ruin it this time.”

 

Tmarkz nodded and started to move in step with his captain when the older orc turned on him, grabbing a fist full of the other’s jerkin and pulling him close, “Do NOT kill our quarry should you find them first. If anyone kills them I will feed him to the wargs.” His voice was low and dangerous as he gave his orders. “They are for me alone.”

 

Nodding in understanding, Tmarkz stumbled slightly backwards as Guruth released him. “What if they are not here? What if we cannot capture them?”

 

Turning a feral grin on his second in command Guruth answered the question, “Don’t worry about that. If they escape capture they will still come to us. I intend to make sure that they will have no other options.”

 

Kicking out the only remaining fire, Guruth rallied his troops. It was time to move out, the element of surprise was with them and he had waited long enough.

 

“Tmarkz, take all the wargs and half their riders. The other half will come with me and Shelzkahz will lead those on foot. You know my mission. The rest of you will go with Tmarkz and draw the elves and rangers away from us. You may kill all of them...” Guruth turned towards his second in command and raised an eyebrow. Did the other remember his warning?

 

He did.

 

“You may kill them all but the ones Guruth described to you last night. You will recognize them by their weapons if nothing else should you meet them. If you kill the wrong elves, you forfeit your life. Understood?” Tmarkz instructed as he had been instructed. When an affirmative roar met his ears he continued, “A ranger and a golden haired elf are with them. The master wants them especially dead. All rangers we encounter should find us as their *last* encounter.” He laughed evilly evoking an affirmative round of cheers.

 

“Then go! We’ll wait your signal before we make our move.” Guruth patted his warg affectionately on her flank, “Go on Mrdhdúk, lead your pack out, make me proud.” The warg snarled, barring her fangs and charging off in the direction that the hunting party had been seen. The riders mounted their steeds quickly as the pack of wargs followed their leader.

 

In moments, Guruth and the remaining orcs were standing alone beneath the trees.

 

“How long do we wait my lord?” An orc soldier questioned, glancing uneasily down into the shrouded valley below.

 

“Until I tell you.” Guruth answered coldly, walking back to the ridge and resuming his vigilant watch. They dare not risk getting too close to any of the areas that the elves patrolled. Not yet. They had a few more hours to kill before the elves of the hunting party called for help and then, when Rivendell had emptied of its warriors and all the sentries had come running to the scene of the slaughter, then... He nodded to himself and smiled as he thought through his plan. Yes... then it would be time. It was worth waiting for. Getting his hands on *them* was worth waiting for.

 

The cold air carried his frosted breath out over the valley. Soon it would carry the scent of blood as well.

 

 

~*~

 

 

Legolas stopped, holding up his hand and calling for silence. He looked around, wondering what it was that had caught his attention. He saw nothing but waving, whispering trees surrounding them. The hunting party was well out of the valley now, out in the wilder-lands surrounding Imladris.

 

The prince had gladly joined the party that morning. It had been weeks since they had gone out with the other elves. They had been staying near the house of late and recuperating slowly from their latest misadventures.

 

Legolas had already fully recovered and both the twins were mending well. Aragorn too had finally recovered from the bruises and breaks he had sustained, although he healed more slowly than his elven companions did. Legolas was surprised when he realized how much time had slid by so quickly since they had come home from their little wight hunting expedition.

 

Home... Legolas almost laughed. It wasn’t his home, but there was something about this place that invited everyone to think of it thus.

 

Indeed, the months had passed swiftly under the rafters of the Last Homely House, the days uncounted, the hours unnoticed. Time seemed to nearly stand still in the peaceful dwelling. It wasn’t until Celboril had complained about the storehouses being bare that the younger elves had even considered going back out to hunt again. It had been good to lay their weapons aside for a while and not have to fear what waited around the corner.

 

They had put their trip off several days already, but now, with the prospect of being on the move tomorrow with Halbarad and the other warriors being called up, they could delay the hunt no longer. They would never hear the end of it when they returned if they left while the pantry was still in need of refilling.  

 

Now that they were out in the forests again, Legolas realized how much he had missed them, the whispering of the trees as he walked, the feel of the ground beneath his soft booted feet. However, the deeper they went the more it sounded as though the forests were warning them, cautioning, trying to dissuade them from moving forward and the messages he was receiving were confusing.

 

“What is it?” Aragorn mouthed the words silently to his friend as he gained the elf’s side.

 

Pointing into the trees and then pointing at his ears, the prince wordlessly told the ranger that the woods were speaking to him. His frown gave indication that the message was not a good one.

 

Unease stole over Aragorn as he glanced quickly about them. The elven hunting party had fanned out over the nearby hill in search of game and the few hunters he could see were waiting for a signal from the human or the Silvan elf that it was safe to proceed.

 

The signal never came.

 

Without warning, Legolas shoved Aragorn aside and fired an arrow into the woods on his right, quickly restringing another as the forest erupted with sounds and chaos. Wargs charged them from the side and orcs rushed from every direction, attacking the hunting party.

 

Where had they all come from? How had they gotten so close so silently? These were questions that they did not have time to ponder as the dark wave crashed into them.

 

“Elrohir!” Aragorn yelled to his brother as he cut down an orc, spinning aside as the dying creature tried his best to kill the ranger.

 

Unprepared for the dark tide, they were sorely outnumbered as the woods were flooded with the evil beasts. They needed help and they needed a diversion. Needed it quickly. Aragorn had faced down some incredible odds before, but he was no idiot; he knew that the small hunting party would never survive this vicious and overwhelming onslaught.

 

Knowing what his brother was asking for, Elrohir leapt into the nearest tree, scaling its heights and breaking through the leafy canopy. Facing towards the rift that he could barely see from his position, he placed a horn against his lips and blew three rapid blasts on it. The sound echoed through the hills and rang down into the vale far behind them.

 

Elrond, standing on the veranda with Glorfindel discussing how many warriors should be sent to the aid of the Dunèdain, heard the signal. His head snapped up sharply, alarm sparkling in his ageless eyes.

 

Three blasts, sharp and urgent.

 

It was the most dire distress call they possessed, used only in cases of great emergency. That in itself was alarming enough... even worse however, was that he recognized the call as having come from one of his son’s horns.

 

In moments Rivendell was thrown into action. The already assembling elven warriors heard the distress signal and hurried to help.

 

Lookouts on the ridges saw the battle taking place from a distance and observed with shocked horror the wave upon wave of dark creatures pouring out of the forest. Unless something happened, the hunting party would be overwhelmed in mere minutes. Already they were being rapidly forced back towards Rivendell. After they fell, there would be no barrier to keep the dark tide from sweeping down into the valley beyond.

 

The sentries’ signal horns took up the urgent call, echoing their own message to every corner of the vale.

 

“Wake! Wake!” the clear signal of the message horns rang out. “Peril is upon you, defend your homes, defend your lives, make haste!”

 

Elrond gripped the wrought metal railing of the veranda. He had not heard the sentries ringing such a dire message in years. Millennia even, not since the dark days before the Last Alliance when Rivendell had almost been overwhelmed.

 

Glorfindel’s head was cocked to the side as he listened intently to the wildly clamoring tale of the signal horns. “The valley is in peril of attack,” he breathed, almost disbelieving as he turned his gaze back upon the dark haired elf across from him.

 

Elrond’s grim face said he already knew... and somehow, his children were out there in the forefront of it all.

 

Glorfindel did not need to wait for instructions; he already knew what to do. Vaulting the veranda railing to save the time of passing back through the house, he hurried out towards the knots of elves swiftly forming in the courtyard beyond. He saw Moranuen and called to him, beckoning the younger warrior to him as he shouted out commands to the others.

 

Just because Rivendell had not seen war in several thousand years did not mean it had forgotten how to fight, or that it was unprepared.

 

As soon as the call went out, everyone who could took up weapons and headed out to find the hunting party, and the attackers. The stable hands released all the remaining horses and the animals met up with the warriors on the cobbled bridge. Snorting and nickering they urged their fair riders to hurry and mount them so they could be away towards where the distress call was still crying for help.

 

Suddenly Elrohir’s horn fell silent, although the other warning signals continued to clamor.

 

Elrond closed his eyes for a moment. His fingers played lightly across the ring on his hand. Always, he maintained a watchful protection around the whole valley, but right now his children, and the threat, were outside of Rivendell and outside his reach. Stretching himself and pulling some of his attention away outward he extended his reach to the woods beyond his realm that were shuddering at the turmoil tearing them apart, at the spilling of the blood of the elves they loved so dear. Elrond’s hands tightened as he tried to send more of his strength and protection towards the violent battle now taking place. Valar protect them, please, protect them all.

 

Glorfindel and Moranuen led the assembling elves in the direction that Elladan had told them they were heading earlier that morning with all haste. A sizeable war party had been gathered in a matter of minutes, speaking well of the efficiency with which Rivendell was prepared to deal with such an emergency when it arose.

 

Elrond walked quickly through the house, making his way to the courtyard. He stood on the flagstone steps watching the last of the warriors head out. He had an ill, unsettled feeling that he could not pinpoint, a darkness that touched deep memories flitting across the past, but simply would not light. With a deep sigh he turned and walked back into the house. He should be prepared for anything.

 

As he crossed the threshold, a darkness swept behind him and the elven lord turned quickly, expecting to find someone or something behind him. The courtyard was empty and quiet. There was no one there. The birds sang softly in the trees overhead. He raised his eyes to the hills across the way and tried to pierce the darkness of the forests. There it was again... a familiarity with evil that he should not have felt.

 

Guruth stood on the far side of the cleft, watching the healer through slitted eyes. A feral grin spread across his face as the elf finally turned back and walked into the house.

 

“What? Do you see him?” A slight, stooped-over orc standing just behind Guruth asked softly.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Then we go now?” the raspy voiced creature asked, his enthusiasm getting the better of him.

 

“No.” Guruth shifted his stance and watched the northern woods. Soon they would be returning, the wounded ones. *Then* it would be the perfect time. “We have a little more waiting.” Guruth answered softly before turning a wide grin on his companion, “And then we will go.”

 

The response garnered a guttural laugh that silenced the woods around them.

 

 

~*~

 

 

The woods were choked with orcs and wargs. Fighting them in the forests was proving deadly. The wargs blended in well with the darkened undergrowth. Most of the elves had taken to the trees to better deal with the threat but Aragorn and his elven brothers had remained on the forest floor in an attempt to cut off the attack from the ground. They had lasted much longer than they should have against these odds. The elves were proving their worth in a battle and an unseen force seemed to be aiding them as well, confusing their enemy and slowing the dark creatures’ movements. It was a subtle effect, but noticeable nonetheless. Elladan and Elrohir knew enough to sense their father’s handiwork from a distance, even if no one else recognized what it was that was helping them.

 

A second horn resounded through the woods, followed quickly by a third. There were two parties coming to their aid now.

 

“Who?” Legolas shouted to Aragorn as he kicked a dead orc away from him. Spinning viciously into a third, he slit the creature’s throat with his elven blades.

 

Aragorn was locked in a hand-to-hand battle with a warg rider that he had knocked from its mount and did not answer. The orc had gotten the upper hand, pinning the man on his back and holding him down with his weight. He pressed his short-bladed scimitar close to the ranger’s throat. The small, black handled blades were favored by the warg riders who made it a point to keep them razor sharp.

 

Seeing his friend in trouble, Legolas strung his bow and targeted the orc’s back. His shot went wild as a warg barreled into the elf, blindsiding him. The beast knocked the prince down and rolled him underneath its bulk as it charged past him.

 

Springing back to his feet Legolas watched as the wolf-like creature turned and skidded to a stop on the dew-wet grass. Aragorn had finally turned the tables on his opponent. Placing his booted feet against his attacker’s abdomen he kicked the orc over his head and rolled away, grabbing his sword from where it had fallen in the struggle.

 

The warg’s attention snapped to its rider as it saw its master free of the human. At a gesture from its master, the warg darted towards the orc. Aragorn raced to Legolas’ side in the span of a heartbeat. Time slowed as the orc leapt onto his steed’s back and the two dark creatures turned towards the elf and the ranger.

 

Thoroughly fed up with the warg, Legolas was prepared. He strung two arrows on his bow and leveled them between the wargs eyes. His stance was solid and he let the breath leave his lungs, steadying his aim even further. Aragorn flipped his hunting knife in his hand, catching it on the blade edge and flung the weapon at the orc rider. His knife cut through the air, streaking towards the advancing threat. Still Legolas waited, counting the seconds, watching everything unfold as if in slow motion.

 

Aragorn’s blade hit the rider square in the throat, throwing the orc off the back of the warg. The larger beast, aware that he had lost his master, faltered for a heart beat, enough of a hesitation for the elf. Legolas’ fingers barely moved and the long bow reverberated with the release of the arrows. The projectiles struck the warg through its thick skull and the beast fell dead a foot from its intended prey.

 

Breathing hard, Aragorn glanced around them. For the moment the fighting seemed scattered away from their position. He clasped Legolas’ shoulder and smiled weakly at the elf, “Nice shot.” Another blast from a horn calling for help echoed to their left, bringing Legolas back to his original question.

 

“Who else has come?” He glanced behind, them wary, tense.

 

“The first call was from Rivendell.” Aragorn pulled the elf with him as he raced towards the northern glens just beyond the ridge where they were. “The second was the rangers. The rest of Halbarad’s party was camped out here somewhere nearby.” He called over his shoulder and faltered, his footsteps slowing as watched half the company of warg riders split from the fight and head for he and Legolas.

 

The elf saw the horror reflected in the human’s eyes and followed his gaze.

 

Tmarkz had seen the ranger and the golden haired elf that Guruth had pointed out to him earlier attempting to flee from the fight. Calling Mrdhdúk and spurring his own mount on, he routed half the wargs and their riders, calling to them to make sure the pair did not escape alive. If he had learned anything from the years of service to Guruth, it was to make sure his leader’s wishes were followed through.

 

Legolas reacted faster than his friend, grabbing the ranger and racing down the gully on their left. There was no fighting an onslaught that massive; they would both be killed. The elf could just see the water’s head from where they were. If they could get to the lake before the wargs, they could possibly put the body of water between them and their pursuers. He could hear the large animals crashing through the forest behind them, racing alongside and just reaching the open glade before them.

 

“Run, Aragorn!” The elf cried as they raced down the incline toward the shallow part of the river that flowed from the deep pool beneath the Bruinen’s head. The thunder of the falls filled their ears, mixing with the pounding of their own hearts and making them have to shout to be heard.

 

Suddenly, their plan of escape was blocked as a large female warg leapt onto the bank, her hind legs just stopping her large body from skidding backwards into the lake. More warg riders appeared on the edges of the glade, seeming to materialize out of the mists that rose from the banks of the lake where it touched the rim of the forest.

 

Backing up slowly, the ranger bumped into Legolas. Instinctively he grabbed the elf’s sleeve as the two of them retreated warily. With their backs to the deepest part of the lake and every other direction crawling with wargs and orcs, all avenues of escape had been effectively cut off. The ring of black creatures tightened menacingly around them.

 

Aragorn’s foot splashed into the lake behind them and he held on tightly to Legolas as he steadied himself.

 

They could retreat no farther. They were trapped.

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART FOUR*~
~Paradise Lost~

 

 

Elladan bent over the body of a fallen ranger. The man had been cut down by the orc that the elf had just killed. The number of wounded was mounting, as was Elladan’s frustration. It seemed that the orcs were holding them at bay, working hard to keep them from retreating to Rivendell but not necessarily taking any and all measures to slaughter them outright. The whole situation felt wrong. And what were all these warg riders doing this far north anyway? Beside what Halbarad and Aragorn had told them this morning, he hadn’t heard any other reports that said the wargs were on the move again on this side of the mountain, in fact they hadn’t heard anything about orcs in the area for sometime. What had provoked this attack? What could these creatures possibly hope to gain from throwing themselves up against the formidable defenses of an elven stronghold like this? How had they even gotten this near the valley?

 

From his kneeling position Elladan watched as a warg rider bore down on his twin and quickly fired an arrow into the animal’s side, bringing the warg down on top of its rider.

 

“Elrohir, we must get the wounded back!” Elladan called to his brother as his twin rose from tending another fallen elf.

 

“What?” Elrohir called back as he turned, his brows furrowed. His hearing was much improved and on its way to being completely restored, but he was still having trouble picking individual sounds out of the chaotic clamor around them. He heard his twin’s voice call his name, but everything else was lost.

 

“Back!” Elladan gestured towards Rivendell and then to the bodies near his feet. “The wounded, we have to get them back to the house!”

 

“Agreed!” Elrohir responded quickly as the sounds of booted feet racing towards their position alerted them that others were approaching.

 

Two wounded rangers were supporting their unconscious leader between them. Halbarad had been seriously wounded in the fighting and was bleeding freely from a ragged cut to his midsection. Behind them Moranuen limped slowly, holding his arms across his chest. His clothes were bloodied and torn. Several more rangers and elves were with the small group, helping to support them and dragging other wounded with them.

 

“Elladan!” Moranuen called raggedly to the twin. “We have wounded.” He stumbled against the elf as the others gathered round. The front of the elf’s tunic was drenched in blood and he was very pale. He broke into a fit of painful coughing.

 

“Mora! By the Valar. You are wounded yourself.” Elrohir was alarmed by the wet rattle in his friend’s ragged breathing and tried to pry the elf’s hands away from where they were clutched tightly against his chest, but was warded off.

 

“There is no time. We must get back to Rivendell. Some of these will not make it if Lord Elrond does not see to them.” Moranuen regained his footing and stepped back from the twins. In truth he was not sure he would make the return trip, but he felt he had a duty to the ones that were with him, to get them the help they needed. The injured were no longer any good here and would only get in the way of the fighters. They needed a diversion so they could slip through the enemy defenses and return.

 

Elladan nodded grimly, he read the determination in the other elf’s eyes and moved closer to his long time friend, “Do not tread the Halls yet Mora, I would not be the one to tell Estel that you have gone on without him.”

 

Moranuen smiled softly, nodding in understanding. “If the Valar permit it I will stay.” He promised, swallowing hard and trying to still his heavy breathing, “Find us a way through, watch our backs.”

 

“We will.” Elrohir answered as he eased the elf he was tending up onto his feet and allowed another who was not so wounded to take the warrior from him. He passed his short sword to a ranger that was in better shape than most of the others, keeping only his long blade for himself. “Go and go swiftly. We’ll see that you get through.”

 

With a small nod, Moranuen led the wounded party out and down the valley by way of a little known trail. The twins headed back into the fray, routing the orcs and wargs away from the fleeing warriors.

 

 

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

 

 

Lights and shapes danced in front of Moranuen’s eyes, he leaned heavily against the rocks on his right as he stumbled along. He couldn’t breathe properly. He had been trying to support one of his wounded companions, but now it was all he could do to support himself. They made it down the winding path into the valley but he felt his strength waning. They were so close, he had to get his people through; he could not fail them...

 

“Mora? Moranuen? Answer me.” A strong hand gripped the wounded elf’s arm, anchoring him back to reality and Moranuen looked up, startled at who he saw.

 

“L-Lord Elrond,” he wheezed slightly. The elven lord stood before him, his eyes shadowed with concern and compassion. Elrond had seen the small party struggling its way down the path from a distance and came quickly to their aid, bringing along Celboril and a number of other helpers.

 

Moranuen noted with mild, sluggish surprise that a long, curved sword hung by the healer’s side. He had not seen Elrond take Hadhafang from its decorative mounting on the study wall since... well, ever actually. But the older elves such as Celboril could trace it back farther. The number of times that the elven lord had borne his weapon since he returned from the Last Alliance could be numbered on one hand. It proved just how dark this situation had already become.

 

“M-my lord, things go ill with the others. The enemies are many. Glorfindel and your sons... the warriors... holding them back; the rangers have joined as well...” Moranuen’s voice was strained and failing as he tried to report. “Everyone has been pulled forward to face the threat... I do not think they can breach the valley’s defenses but the cost will be high...”

 

The younger elf sagged suddenly forward. Elrond caught him easily. The healer saw the bleeding, gaping gash in Moranuen’s chest and caught his breath. The elf’s lungs were punctured and the rattling sound produced by his labored struggle for air told that he was literally drowning in his own blood. It was a miracle he had made it this far.

 

Swiftly picking the younger elf up in his arms, Elrond gently carried Moranuen back to his house while the rest of his staff assisted the other wounded. If Moranuen was right, they were in for a very long day.

 

~*~

 

 

From his vantage point, he saw them first. The orcs waiting his command stopped their conversations and watched intently as Guruth straightened, tensing, his eyes riveted to a point north of them.

 

“When we go, be sure none of you touch the river on the way over, it reports to the filthy elves,” Guruth warned as he watched the scene unfolding far below. These things he knew from much study, from the long preparation leading up to this moment. “I don’t care what you do or don’t see, just follow me and do as I tell you, I will get you in. Once we’re inside the defenses, everything will become clear enough for you.”

 

A small group of elves and men moved out from the cover of the forest and worked their way down into the valley. The wounded ones; they arrived at last.

 

Guruth smirked softly, watching them limp across the stone bridge and into the courtyard. His smile turned into a sneer as the healer leading them threw the doors wide and ushered the returning warriors and rangers inside.

 

“Now.” The one word whispered command was heard by all that had waited for it the past few hours.

 

With a shout the orcs raced down into the rift, blindly following their leader and heading for the Last Homely House.

 

 

~*~

 

 

Elrond pushed his hair back over his shoulder distractedly as he hurried down the hall. He and Celboril had set up a triage area in the Hall of Fire, laying the other wounded out alongside Arendur. Most were seriously injured and he had been required to put the majority of them into a deep slumber so he and his helpers could tend their wounds. Moranuen was one of the few elves he had not dared put to sleep because his condition was too fragile. He had finally gotten the young warrior stable, but whether he, or any number of the others, were going to survive, was still an open question. The healer had not tried to care for these many sick or wounded at the same time since he had aided some of the neighboring human villages during a severe epidemic several hundred years ago.

 

Many of the injured elves and rangers here now had survived long enough to receive treatment on the power of the elf lord’s will alone. It was draining, and unfortunately required that he withdraw a good measure of the support he had been giving the defenders, but Elrond would not lose any of those he had even half a hope of saving.

 

So many injured... and the healer feared they were only the first wave.

 

Passing swiftly through several chambers, the elf lord entered his small medicine pantry near the back of the house. The air of the small apothecary was strong with the scent of herbs and spices, giving the place a musky, wholesome smell.

 

Elrond’s long fingers paged swiftly through the rows of bottles and sachets of herbs neatly arranged on the pantry shelves. It was well that he kept such stores of healing on hand; they were going to have need of them this day.

 

His subconscious mind registered movement as of someone entering the adjacent room.

 

“Celboril?” the elf lord called distractedly as he gathered up a number of vials and dried herbs. “Send one of the staff that can be spared into the garden and tell them to cull some fresh balium...” Elrond paused, his hands halting above the small pile of medicines he was collecting. Something not right was niggling insistently at the back of his mind.

 

Whoever was in the next room did not answer.

 

“Celboril?” Elrond called again, but this time he did not really think it was his steward. He did not know who was out there, but they were not answering and the strange tingle of warning running up and down the back of his neck put him on edge. He had never felt this sensation in Imladris before and wasn’t sure what it meant.

 

He had left his sword in the foyer as he was not accustomed to wearing weapons around his own home and it only interfered with his work, but strangely enough he was suddenly wishing he had not. His roving gaze quickly landed upon a small, sharp paring knife used for preparing roots and herbs. It was the closest thing to a weapon that this room contained.

 

The elf lord picked it up and held it in his right hand, sliding it up under the voluminous sleeve of his robe where it could not be seen. In his left hand he took a small vial of dark amber liquid off the back shelf.

 

Turning slowly he carefully and deliberately strode out of the pantry and into the adjoining room. There were no windows in this room and the candles had all been put out, leaving it in a muted semi-twilight. Elrond’s keen eyes scanned the area quickly, piercing the shadows. It was not a purely natural gloom, of that he was sure. It was too dark. At first glance everything seemed deceptively normal, but the elf lord’s senses were fairly screaming at him now, telling him that he was not alone and something was not right.

 

A shadow stirred in the far corner of the room, by the door that led into the rest of the house.

 

Elrond’s eyes narrowed as his attention focused in on the being that detached itself from the darkness. His shock and loathing grew as the twisted form of a sneering orc became visible, moving towards him, but stopping a stone’s throw away from the apparently unarmed elf. Three long scars ran across the right side of the creature’s face, permanently twisting one side of his lips up in an evil leer.

 

Elrond cast his senses quickly about him and realized this goblin was not alone. He could now see or sense at least six or seven more moving stealthily in the shadows of the room all around him, including two that he knew without turning to look, had just moved behind him to block off the pantry door.

 

Orcs, in Imladris? The thought burned Elrond’s mind and his eyes darkened several shades in fury. He did not waste time on surprise over how the defenses had been breached, that was an alarming puzzle he would have to work out later. These foul creatures had gone too far to trespass into his very house. They would pay.

 

The elf lord could see a mad flame of blood lust in the eyes of the being before him. The fact that they were not already rushing him was curious.

 

Elrond’s hand tightened on the hilt of his concealed knife. “What do you want here, spawn of Morgoth?” the elf’s voice was hard with disdain and loathing. “You are not welcome in my house!”

 

The orcs laughed. The creature in front of Elrond sneered wider and he brought the wickedly notched scimitar in his hand up a little higher. “What do we want? We want *you*, lord Elrond,” the creature mockingly stressed the elf’s title.

 

Elrond did not have time for the shock of that statement to register before all nine creatures rushed him at the same time.

 

The elf lord flung the bottle in his left hand into the face of one of the approaching orcs. The glass shattered, splattering its contents all over the creature. The orc screamed, clawing at his face and eyes in pain as the liquid inside burned him like fire.

 

A swift flick of Elrond’s wrist flipped the knife in his right sleeve out into his hand. He ducked under the sweeping blow of a scimitar and jabbed the short blade into the orc’s neck, jerking sideways to sever the jugular. The foul creature grabbed its throat with a gurgled cry and fell back, but Elrond was still in motion as the others closed in tighter around him. First blood had been taken and it seemed to heighten the creatures’ frenzy.

 

Side-stepping two of the orcs with agile grace, Elrond slit the throat of another. His blade was too short to be effective anywhere else. The dying orc flailed and Elrond had to drop to a crouch to avoid his mad gyrations. Another attacker took this moment to try to kick the elf lord in the back, but made only the slightest contact as Elrond rolled away too fast for them to follow.

 

An orc grabbed at the elf lord as he sprung back to his feet, the beast’s dirty, clawed fingernails catching and snagging in the draping velvety sleeves of Elrond’s robe and jerking his knife arm to the side.

 

Shrugging out of his large over-robe in one fluid movement, the velvet sliding easily off of silk tunic he wore underneath, Elrond left the creature holding an empty garment.

 

For half an instant as he spun to face his attackers on a new front, Elrond saw the scarred orc who had spoken to him standing by the doorway. He was not taking part in the fight, but looked on with a self-satisfied smirk. The dead, personal hatred in the creature’s eyes was chilling.

 

Four dead orcs now lay around the elf lord’s feet, but more just seemed to keep coming to take their place. Valar! How many where there? Where had they come from and however did they get all the way in here? These were questions for which Elrond did not have time to find answers.

 

From somewhere else in the house Elrond heard loud cries. Metal rang on metal and the crashing sound of either glass or ceramics being smashed echoed down the hallways.

 

A bolt of alarm shot through the elf lord as he danced away from one of his assailants. Celboril! The wounded! Obviously these orcs that he faced were not the only ones to have breached Imladris’ defenses. He knew that his staff was loyal and brave, but none of them were warriors, some hadn’t held a weapon in millennia and most never had. With all the warriors drawn off by the massive frontal assault there were none now in the house itself save the wounded, the women, and those servants who had never had occasion to learn the ways of warfare... and, of course, Elrond.

 

Too late he realized that for some reason this was exactly what the orcs had planned. That the massive warg attack on the valley was merely a diversion to draw Rivendell’s defenses outward, even as the initial warg attacks on the villages had been a ploy to draw the rangers to them. Why they went to all this effort and what their goal was Elrond did not know, but whatever it was, he intended to see that they failed.

 

The elf lord tried to break from the circle he was being contained in, edging the fight closer towards the doorway. He had given up the bearing of arms a long time ago to focus on the healing side of his skills, but right now he was the only one in this house who had ever been a warrior and his people were in trouble, they were going to need him.

 

The dark creatures tried to keep him hedged in, but Elrond was too fast for them, and too skilled. They had thought to find themselves an easy target in the elf lord, but just because Elrond chose to devote himself to healing now rather than fighting, did not mean that he had not kept himself in form. The elf lord had lost none of the well honed skills that made him such a deadly warrior in the Last Great Alliance and even out-numbered with an inferior weapon, he was cleaving his way through the dark forces that sought to bring him down.

 

Elrond gained the doorway just as a familiar voice gave a pained cry down the hall. Concern flashed through his heart and stole his attention for only half a moment. Unfortunately it was half a moment too long. The scarred goblin who had yet to join the fight took this opportunity to lunge at the elf lord. Oddly enough, he was not necessarily trying to kill the elf, but rather, disarm him.

 

Elrond rolled with the tackle, not allowing himself to become pinned. He felt a sharp line of biting pain slice across his right arm as a grazing stroke tore a bloody line through his sleeve from the front of his shoulder to the back of his elbow. He absorbed the pain, registered it, and then refused to give it any further hold over him as he kicked the creature off and jumped to his feet.

 

Momentarily in the clear, Elrond sprinted down the hall towards the sounds of distant battle.

 

The white, marble floor of the foyer was slick with blood; the black blood of orcs and the bright red blood of elves. A dead orc lay across the threshold, a hearth poker through his skull. Propped against the far wall was the still body of an elf; one of the kitchen staff whose eyes had been closed to this world in eternal sleep. The elf lord did not need to stop to check him to know that he was already treading the paths to Mandos’ Halls; his throat had been sliced completely open.   Elrond’s stomach turned. He had seen much worse of course, but not in his home. Never had the peace of the Last Homely House been so shattered. A deadly flame burned hot in his heart. How dare they bring carnage into this sanctuary!

 

Elrond looked around quickly for his sword, but it was not near the door where he had left it earlier. He could hear the orcs giving chase from behind him and ahead the sounds of fighting continued from further down the passage... from the direction of the Hall of Fire where the wounded were laid out.

 

Hurrying forward, Elrond dashed into the hall to find Celboril locked in combat with a four huge orcs. The steward was standing in front of the wounded men and elves bedded down upon the floor behind him, obviously trying to protect them. He must have picked up Elrond’s sword from the foyer because Elrond recognized Hadhafang’s gleam as she sliced through the air, parrying the dark, rough-hewn scimitar pitted against her.

 

Unfortunately she was wielded by one who had never been trained in warrior arts. Celboril had a fierce heart, but he was obviously outmatched.

 

One of the orcs got behind the seneschal who was busy trying to fend off the three in front of him. Elrond arrived just in time to see Celboril sense the movement at the last moment, and try to turn. The elf lord was *not* in time to stop the vicious thrust that caught his steward in the stomach.

 

Celboril doubled forward, his mouth opening in soundless expression of shock as Hadhafang fell to the floor with a clatter. The elf’s hands flew to the bleeding wound in his midsection as the orc ruthlessly kicked the steward backwards, yanking his blade free.

 

“Celboril!” Elrond shouted his faithful friend’s name as he sprung forward. The orc had just raised his bloody sword to lop off the fallen elf’s head when he suddenly found himself thrown backward by a powerful kick in the ribs. Elrond knocked the orc viciously away from his friend and stopped to scoop up his weapon all in one furious blur of motion. The orc that had stabbed Celboril was dead before he even started to get up from where he had fallen and his three compatriots followed in remarkably short order.

 

Momentarily freed from combat, Elrond dropped down to check on his old friend and faithful servant’s vitals. Celboril had served Gil-Galad his whole life and Elrond had known him since he was but a young warrior proving himself in his new guardian’s halls. These past millennia Celboril had served Elrond as loyally as he had served Gil-Galad before him. Elrond had never thought it could end this way for them.

 

The elder elf’s weak pulse was fading fast. “I-I’m sorry my lord...” Celboril whispered, his body shaking. “I failed you...”

 

“No! No, my friend,” Elrond shook his head quickly, forbidding the tears that wanted to obscure his vision as he gently touched his steward’s pale cheek with the back of his fingers. “You have not failed me. You have never failed me.”

 

“This is going to be such a mess... to clean up...” Celboril almost smiled. Then his eyes glazed and his breathing shuddered.

 

“No...” Elrond’s anguished whisper was choked as he reached for his faithful friend’s bloodied hand.

 

With a cry the orcs who had been after him before spilled into the room, following their quarry. Their numbers had swelled and it seemed that more of their foul brood had come to join the fray.

 

The elf lord rose to his feet to meet the dark horde, raising Hadhafang in a battle-ready salute. If Elrond had been deadly before, he was terrifying now. Such a fire was in his eyes and a rage in his movements that his attackers almost quailed when he turned on them.

 

Hadhafang twirled in the air, biting foe after foe with the deadly sting of death, wielded now with a skill worthy of her lengthy heritage.

 

Elrond had locked into full battle mode now and he registered nothing and everything at the same time. The non-essential details of the world around him faded into unimportance while every move, every breath, every twitch of his opponents filled his senses like a pounding rhythm, guiding his steps as he moved in time with the warrior’s dance of death.

 

More orcs filled the room, and more... ten, twenty, maybe thirty of them. Elrond’s rational mind knew he could not stand off against these ever increasing odds forever, but his intense focus did not allow room for despair, only action. Hadhafang sang in her master’s hands, spilling orc blood like water and piling the casualties across the floor like chaff. Originally, the warg riders had been intent on taking the elf lord alive, but now they hewed wildly at him, intent only on bringing an end to this fight.

 

Suddenly a warning cut through Elrond’s focused rhythm.

 

“Enough of this!” a harsh voice snarled. “Keep fighting if you want elf, but if you do their deaths are on your head!”

 

Elrond whirled around to see who had spoken, but he kept Hadhafang held high; his defenses tense and ready for trickery. The orc with the scars from the earlier fight had dragged Celboril half-way up by the hair, his ragged blade pressed against the steward’s pale neck. Celboril’s face was white and his eyes glazed, but his chest still rose and fell with ragged irregularity. He was unconscious, but not dead.

 

“He’s not dead yet, but I can fix that,” the scarred one threatened. “We can put all these unfortunate maggots out of their misery for you if you so desire, *lord* Elrond.” The goblin nodded his head towards his minions behind him. The orcs had stationed themselves among the rows of wounded, blades poised to strike the defenseless beings.

 

Elrond could see Moranuen struggling weakly against the brute that had him pinned. The orc jabbed his elbow hard into the elf’s chest and Moranuen gasped softly, falling back with a small moan. Elrond’s fury simmered with the heat of helplessness. He could only hope Moranuen’s stitches had not been torn open.

 

Only Mora and one or possibly two others were actually awake; most, like Halbarad and Arendur, lay still unconscious and oblivious of their impending demise.

 

“At least most of them won’t even feel it I suppose,” Guruth sneered. “Not like the little squeakers what are still on their feet down in the cellars. Little weasels are trapped down there, just waiting for us to come for them. So go on and keep fighting, while you do, we’ll take care of these worms here and then go amuse ourselves with the live ones. I think I heard more than a few maidens’ voices down there... we can have lots of fun with them, can’t we boys?”

 

Several of the other orcs laughed and cheered their cruel assent.

 

Elrond found his breath coming short, but he didn’t know if it was from exertion or from the horrible choices being laid before him.

 

“What?” the orc sneered when Elrond did not speak. “Have you nothing to say? Not even going to tell us we won’t get away with this?” he mocked. “Just as well, because we already have. By the time your precious warriors get back here this house will be in ashes and every last person dead. And there’s not a thing you can do to stop us... except maybe one.”

 

“And what is that?” Elrond asked coldly, his knuckles whitening on the blood-slicked grip of his sword handle.

 

“Drop your weapon,” the scarred one smiled. “Understand this elf, we’re here for you, not for them,” he jerked his head towards the two dozen wounded and captive beings behind him. “But if you want to make things difficult, then we’ll kill them too and enjoy the task.”

 

“Don’t... my lord,” Moranuen rasped around the pain of the injuries that were slowly sapping his strength and his life. The orc above him applied a little more pressure to his wounded chest, cutting off any further thought of speech with a blinding rush of pain.

 

Elrond’s blade lowered a few fractions, his concerned gaze darting to Moranuen’s gasping form. “And you expect me to trust your word that they will not be harmed if I surrender to you?” his tone told just exactly how far he trusted to the honor of orcs.

 

Guruth shook his head. “I don’t care whether you trust us or not maggot. You’ve got to gamble now and decide what you can and can’t live with. If you comply, at least they’ve got a chance... but if you don’t, then their end is certain.”

 

Elrond felt the energy draining from his body along with his hope. The orc was right. He had to face the fact that there was no way he could save any of them by continuing to fight... most likely not even himself in the end, although he personally would rather die in battle than be taken prisoner by orcs. He didn’t trust the fell creatures for a moment, but if both sides of a choice were ill, then he had to at least go with the one that had some small glimmer of a chance in it, and apparently the orcs knew that as well.

 

“Take your time elf; I’ll just drink this one’s blood while you decide...” Guruth tilted his blade, starting to draw it across Celboril’s neck.

 

“No!” Elrond lowered his sword, crouching down to place it on the floor before rising back to his feet, holding his hands out to his sides in a gesture of compliance and surrender. “If it’s me you really want then you have me fuiagwaur //filth//. Let the others go.”

 

The scarred one laughed as his underlings quickly grabbed the elf lord’s arms, twisting them behind his back and forcing Elrond to his knees. Dropping Celboril’s unconscious form, the goblin rose and walked towards Elrond.

 

“And now they can all die, while you watch,” he sneered, dropping down into a crouch before his prisoner. “And once we’ve heard every last one of their screams, maybe it’s your turn. That’s what your precious warriors would have done to us, am I not right?”

 

Elrond’s gaze remained stony and unmoved. He had taken a gamble where either side resulted in death but he would not let these foul creatures revel in his pain. “I will never know how a race so twisted could have come from elves,” he said with quiet fury.

 

Guruth pushed his face up to Elrond’s, his foul breath assaulting the elf’s senses.

 

“You think we’re so different, you and I?” he hissed. Holding up his left hand, the creature showed his prisoner that he was missing all but his clawed thumb and forefinger. “What about this then? Or this?” He pulled back the shoulder guards of his leather armor to show terrible scars from what must have been a horrendous burn that covered almost one entire side of his body. “Or this!” he pointed to the scars on his face that Elrond had already seen.

 

“These were gifts from your precious warriors who left me to burn with the dead after they slaughtered my entire tribe. *You* Lord Elrond are going to pay for that, and through you the ones who did it shall also pay.” The goblin grinned, maliciously pleased with his own evil cleverness.

 

“Who are you?” Elrond’s hard, questioning gaze searched the face of his antagonist. The orc’s eyes were old and full of hatred. Orcs and goblins were not always entirely immortal, but many still retained a lion’s share of the longevity that Morgoth had maliciously bred into them when he crossed broken elves with the unspeakable dark things back in the far annals of history. Elrond guessed, and guessed rightly, that this particular creature was very old and had been nursing whatever twisted flame of vengeance was in his heart for quite a long time.

 

The goblin grabbed a handful of Elrond’s long dark hair up near his skull, tipping the elf’s head to the side.

 

“My name is Guruth, elf. Remember it well because I want it to be the last thing in your thoughts when you die. For five hundred lives of men have I wanted to see this day, even before I knew it was your blood that would flow to appease my vengeance. We didn’t know who they were, our killers; the warriors who drove us from our homes and slaughtered us like chattel. When they disappeared we slowly crept back...” his grip tightened painfully on the elf lord’s hair, as if he were trying to rip it out of Elrond’s head. “But I never forgot. And then, a year or two ago, I chanced to see a face that I have cursed daily my whole life. I watched them from afar and everything began to make sense. They weren’t dead, oh no, not them... but then, you know exactly what I mean *lord* Elrond, you always have. I hope that knowledge sits well with you, because you can take it to your grave!”

 

Elrond was beginning to suspect he did know what Guruth was going on about, but even now he still did not know the whole truth. “They say revenge is best served cold, but if yours has waited so many centuries, than it must be cold indeed.” The disdain in his tone was evident and he gave no effort to conceal it.

 

Guruth smiled ruthlessly. “Oh no elf, my rage has stayed very hot. You think this is not possible? I think you are wrong, and I can prove it. YOU think back almost five hundred years elf and tell me if other events that happened then are clear in your mind. Tell me what you remember. I’ll tell you what I do... I remember an elf woman with long blonde hair and pale skin. Such very, very soft skin. Those stupid elves never knew what hit them. She wasn’t the only captive we took, but most of them didn’t survive the journey north... they went slow and hard, but she survived quite long. She survived long enough for us to take her home. Oh yes... I remember. I remember the cries of her remaining companions when we killed them in front of her. I remember *her* cries in the cave that night... I remember the way she smelled, the way she bled... the way she called *your* name.”

 

All the color had drained from Elrond’s face as Guruth was speaking and a horrible, trembling rage claimed every inch of his consciousness. It wasn’t possible, all that twisted brood who had taken his wife from him so many years ago were dead! They were dead!

 

“Oh no *my lord*,” Guruth shook his head, as if reading the elf’s thoughts on his face and enjoying his twisted game. “If you thought we all died you are mistaken... I alone escaped. And I will kill you, the way we should have killed her.”

 

Um-edonnant yn droeg dheleb thaur!” Elrond cursed the creature in horrible terms with all the strength and fury in his burning heart. He tugged viciously against the hands on his arms. “If you have a soul may it rot in the deepest pit of torment for all eternity!” He wasn’t shouting, but his low, trembling voice carried every bit as much venom as if he had been.

 

Guruth just smiled, satisfied with himself. “So you see? Rage can stay very hot even after all these years.” He gave the elf lord’s hair one more jerk before releasing him and turning back to his minions. “Kill them all. Start with the humans, then the elves.”

 

The orc standing over Arendur lifted the boy’s head, baring his neck to the blade.

 

Elrond’s seething heart could barely contain any more anger and pain than it already did and he twisted to no effect in the iron hands that held him.

 

Suddenly two loud blasts on an orc horn sounded nearby. Everyone stopped and looked up.

 

“Captain, we’ve got to go,” one of the orcs near Guruth said nervously.

 

Guruth swore. That was a warning signal; it meant that some of the elves were returning. He did not have enough troops with him to face off against any more than a handful of warriors at best... he had not expected anyone to be returning this soon and it hindered some of his plans. It did not spoil everything however.

 

A wicked grin spread over the creature’s face. “All right then, let’s go. Don’t worry elf, your fun is only delayed, not canceled,” he kicked Elrond in the stomach as he rose to his feet. “I know a nice cave that has not been used in a long time. We’ll take him to Daradwayn and show him where we entertained his wife. We can take our time with you there, maybe find a few friends for you? That would be pleasant, don’t you think?”

 

Elrond had doubled over his knees when kicked, and the orcs instinctually let up on their hold a little. Guruth’s taunts elicited another burst of flaming wrath and Elrond threw his head back, smashing the nose and jaw of one of the orcs behind him with his skull and twisting out of their hands. A heavy club slammed into the back of his head as he rolled away and he was unable to dodge in time. The blow slammed him hard against the floor next to Celboril, causing millions of bright lights to flash before his eyes as the world momentarily darkened.

 

Elrond had only moments before the orcs had complete control of him again and he knew he was never going to be able to escape them. These creatures meant to kill him one way or another, of that he had no doubt. But if they intended to take him with them, there were some things they could not be allowed to have... some things that should never fall into the hands of darkness.

 

Consciousness was being fickle, but with what little clarity he still possessed. Elrond jerked the blue-jeweled ring off his right hand. Shoving Vilya into the sweeping sleeves of Celboril’s unconscious form he only hoped the orcs had not noticed the small motion.

 

A dozen rough and punishing hands grabbed at the elf lord, catching his shoulders, his hair, anything they could reach. Blows rained around him as they tried to get the fiercely struggling elf under control once more. Unfortunately, Elrond was now at a distinct disadvantage and they never gave him the chance to rise. Three or four powerful kicks to his chest and gut left the elf lord curled on his side, gasping for air and unable to fight back as he was dragged once again to his knees.

 

They bound Elrond’s hands behind his back and shoved a filthy gag into his mouth, cursing all the while as the elf lord continued to buck and struggle against them like a man possessed.

 

Four alarmed horn blasts sounded from outside.

 

“Blast it you maggots get him under control and let’s go!” Guruth shouted urgently. They were running out of time. They still had to make it OUT of the valley without being spotted.

 

Another blow to the back of his head sent Elrond’s world tipping out of focus and effectively subdued him, although he remained conscious as he was dragged to his feet.

 

“What about the rest of them?” one of the other orcs questioned their leader, looking over the rows of wounded.

 

“Leave them!” Guruth snapped. “We haven’t got the time. Besides, we’ve got the one we need. The others will just have to come to us.” Guruth pressed his face close to Elrond’s one more time, running the fingernail of his mangled hand down the side of the elf’s face. “We’re going to have fun with you elf. Perhaps we’ll even show you the same courtesies we did your mate... if you’re a good elf and live that long.”

 

Elrond was dizzy and only barely conscious, but he still jerked away from the vile creature’s touch, his eyes speaking the burning hatred that his gagged tongue could not. If he lived and were able, he would see each and every one of these brutes dead.

 

Guruth looked amused and slapped his prisoner harshly. “Come on! Bring him!” he grunted to his minions. “And I mean *alive* or you’ll get no share in the fun!”

 

Elrond glanced over his shoulder as he was dragged out of the room. His eyes caught on Celboril’s still form. He desperately hoped the elf would live.

 

//“May the Valar keep you faithful friend, I have entrusted much to your care over the years, guard for me the last thing I entrust you now and may only the right eyes find it...// Elrond could only hope that it would be one of his sons to discover the ring he had left behind. They would know what to do. If he perished, Vilya was to be taken to Galadriel and its fate fell into the hands of she and Lord Círdan.  

 

Behind Celboril, Elrond could see Moranuen desperately struggling to rise around the debilitating injuries that he had received barely hours before. The bandage around his chest was soaked crimson again and the younger elf coughed, choking up more blood. He would gladly die before he let these creatures take his Lord away, but his body was betraying him. The elf warrior made it up onto his hands and knees but then his strength failed him. He was unable to force his body to move around the labored spasms of his injured lungs.

 

Elrond shook his head warningly, trying to tell the younger being to stop, to not be stupid. Moranuen was only going to get himself killed, either by pushing himself too hard or by garnering the orcs’ attention.

 

Guruth heard Moranuen’s painful coughing and turned, his eyes sparkling with cruel mirth as he saw the injured elf struggling with his own body.

 

The orc next to Guruth lifted his bow, about to put an end to the elf’s attempts with an ugly black arrow, but Guruth put his hand on the bow, pushing it down. “Let the little worm live if he can. I have a job for him. If you live long enough maggot, tell your friends what has happened when they get here. Tell them all what I have done. Let them know what fate this one goes to,” he jerked his head towards Elrond as he was hurried out through the doorway. “It’s a message. Tell them! A message for Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen.”

 

With that Guruth turned and hurried after the retreating forms of his minions as they hastened to make their exit while they still could.

 

Moranuen’s arms buckled under him and he fell back onto his mat with a muffled moan. Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen... no... oh heaven no he didn’t want to deliver that message. Yet with each fighting breath he took, he struggled to stay alive long enough to do exactly that. They had to know. Someone had to tell what had happened to Lord Elrond. They had to save him. This could not happen again... it would destroy more lives than just Elrond’s if it did.

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________

 

~*PART FIVE*~
~Escape into Darkness~

 

 

 

Aragorn stepped back, balancing himself as he caught the orc’s scimitar with the edge of his sword. The feeling of cold water encasing his foot and the splashing of his own steps startled him. He hadn’t realized that they had been backed so far towards the edge of the lake that collected beneath the Bruinen’s water head. Behind him the falls thundered, obscuring the sounds of battle and even his own cry of warning to Legolas as the elf was pushed back into the cold shoals of the mountain pool.

 

With a sharp, quick move the ranger ran his opponent through, kicking the dying creature away from him. He glanced towards the hills that surrounded them. On their left wargs bearing their foul riders surged over the top of the rise and raced into the valley. Of the rangers or elves there was no sign. It seemed the tidal wave of orcs and wargs was slowly pushing its way towards Rivendell. Towards his home.

 

Gaining the lake’s edge, a large warg rushed Legolas. The elf sidestepped the brute, killing its rider with one fell stroke. As the mount turned back to finish what its master had not, Aragorn ran the few steps that separated them, leaping onto the animal’s back and plunging his sword deep into the wargs side, piercing its heart. The dark beast fell beneath him into the lake, its blood mingling with the sand and water at the pond’s edge.

 

There was no way out of the bowl-shaped canyon they had been caught in and there was no hope of help on the horizon. A rain of arrows hissed through the air near the two warriors. One of the projectiles nearly hit its mark as it grazed Aragorn’s left shoulder, searing a bloody line across his arm. Surprised by the attack he fell from the warg, using the large body as a shield. Warg riders did not usually use crossbows but this pack seemed to be more coordinated in their attack and the creative genius behind it frightened the man. Legolas was by his side in moments, steadying the ranger and pulling him safely behind the dead animal’s bulk. The slight protection gave them a moment’s rest and the elf glanced around them wildly.

 

“We are cut off. There is no way of escape.” Legolas words were rushed and hidden by the grey tongue, disguised from anyone who could hear.

 

Tearing his gaze away from the waterfall, Aragorn pierced his friend with a hard stare. He remembered this place all too well. The last time they had encountered orcs at the Bruinen he had fallen from the heights and been sucked behind the waterfall. He knew there was *one* way of escape but he was not so sure that they would be able to reach it in time.

 

“I know of a way.” Aragorn answered simply as Legolas crouched down next to him once more after releasing a volley of answering arrows. They had seconds left before their position was converged upon from all sides.

 

Without answering and without asking, Legolas simply nodded, ready to follow the human wherever he led them. There were no questions between them by now, no place that the elf would not follow the man. That was well, for they were out of alternatives.

 

Aragorn stood to his feet and raced into the lake, the water dragging at his clothing and impeding his progress. Arrows fell into the churning froth around them as Legolas easily ran after him. The sounds of the heavy feet of wargs rushing into the lake filled the elf’s heart with dread and he dared not look back.

 

Taking a deep breath Aragorn plunged beneath the surface of the cold mountain pool and swam to the bottom of the lake. Following the natural bowl carved into the rocks by the pounding water he headed for the waterfall. Without pause, Legolas followed his friend’s example and dived after him.

 

Near the back of the basin the water was turbulent and swirled in a mad rush about them, pulling at their hair, grabbing their clothing and tugging at their sodden boots. It threatened to never let them back up to the surface, pressing the two friends down against the jagged granite that lined the bottom of the pool.

 

Spears and arrows sliced through the water all around them. One lucky shot caught Legolas in the calf, cutting through the leg muscle and causing the elf to momentarily curl into himself, his cry cut short by the water that pressed them down. Willing the pain away the elf pushed on, locating the dim outline of Aragorn in the churned-up lake.

 

The human’s fingers bumped into the rough hard wall of granite that formed the cliff at the back of pond and Aragorn surfaced quickly, placing his feet beneath him and wedging them into a natural ledge of the rock face. He hugged the cliff, looking behind him for Legolas. The elf appeared a second later and the ranger grabbed the back of his tunic, hauling him up into a standing position and holding him against the rock until the prince got his feet underneath him. Legolas winced, but otherwise ignored his injury for the present. From this vantage point they were behind the waterfall, barely hidden from the sight of their pursuers by the gallons of water that fell ceaselessly from the top of the cliff.

 

“This is your plan!?” Legolas yelled over the roar of the falls. He glanced through the curtain of water and could see the wargs swimming out after them, their black shapes distorted and wavering when viewed through the liquid veil.

 

Shaking his head, Aragorn moved around the elf. Positioning himself on Legolas’ right, he inched closer and spoke loudly into the prince’s ear. “No, there is more!”

 

When Legolas glared at him Aragorn only nodded. He had no time to explain as the head of a warg pressed through the watery curtain, snapping and growling.

 

“Take a deep breath!” Was the only yelled explanation the ranger gave as he wrapped his arms around Legolas’ waist and pulled them both off the ledge. Falling back down into the dark lake, Aragorn hugged the elf against his chest. His back scraped against the cliff wall but he felt the current changing almost instantly and he ducked his head down, remembering the last trip he had into this subterranean river. One hand instinctively came up, wrapping around Legolas’ head and pressing the elf into the curve of his own body as they were sucked through the underground tunnel. Their speed increased until they were barreling down the passageway. The force of the rushing water threw them from side to side as they raced down the channel.

 

Despite the shouted instruction, Legolas had *not* had time to take a deep breath, or any breath before their sudden plunge. Just when he was sure that his lungs would give out, the elf felt Aragorn pulling his head up, tipping his chin back and he gulped in lungfuls of dank, musty air.

 

Aragorn had braced his feet against the sides of the passageway as soon as they were free of the tunnel and into the cavern. The current still threatened to pull them back deeper, farther in, but he held on tightly. The water level was significantly lower than it had been the last time he was here, making the current in the underground cistern much swifter and harder to manage as the stream was sucked back into another underground tunnel that higher water levels had rendered barely noticeable on his last visit.   Dried deposits of minerals from the evaporated water crunched and slipped treacherously under the ranger’s fingers as he scrabbled to keep himself and his friend out of the hands of the current.

 

“Legolas I need you to get to the edge and pull yourself out. There is a ledge on either side of you. Hurry, I cannot hold on much longer.” The ranger ground out the commands as he strained to hold the weight of them both from tumbling into the darkness.

 

The pitch black of the cave had frozen Legolas in place. For a moment he was not even sure where they were or if they were truly alive, but his friend’s words shook him out of his stupor and he clambered out of the water more stiffly and numbly than he normally would have. The water was cold, icy cold, the last of the winter run-off and while the chill did not directly affect him so much, his wounds and the shock of his surroundings took its toll.

 

Breathing heavily, Aragorn flopped down next to the elf and lay quietly for several minutes on the cold rock shelf. There was not enough room to stand up here, there was barely enough room for them both. The elf’s labored breaths caught the ranger’s attention and he crawled closer to his friend.

 

“Easy Legolas. I’ve been here before it is well, we will be safe.” He rested his hand gently on the prince’s shoulder. His fingers softly tracing the elf’s body as he found his friend in the dark.

 

“Before?” The whispered question caused the man to smile slightly and he nodded, knowing the elf could probably see him now perfectly well as their eyes adjusted to the tiny bits of light that seeped in through the crack in the cliff face.

 

“Shhhh...” Aragorn pressed his fingers to Legolas’ lips as the light was momentarily blocked from sight. A warg had pressed its flattened snout against the rock wall, searching for the two warriors they had lost. Its growl filled the cavern. It knew the elf and ranger had passed this way, but was at a loss to figure out how. There was no chance of the creatures’ massive bodies getting sucked into the underground channel. The two smaller beings had barely made it in themselves without receiving scratches and gouges from the rocks that lined the walls. “They hunt us still.” The ranger barely whispered as he pointed towards the fissure in the wall.

 

Legolas stilled his movements and crouched down, dimming his light considerably so that the cave dropped into inky blackness once more. Within seconds the warg had moved away, pressed back by the thundering water that sheeted over the rocks high above. For many long minutes both elf and human remained completely still, barely breathing. The light filtered through the crevice unblocked and it seemed that their pursuers had given up the chase.

 

“*This* then was your brilliant idea?” Legolas turned back to glower at the ranger. His frown masked from the man who had garnered it by the darkness of the cavern. Slight sounds of mirth startled the elf and he shifted easing himself around and smacking Aragorn upside the head lightly. “It’s not funny.”

 

“Well, in a way it is. Remember when I said I would get you back for that stunt in Cirith Ungol?” The ranger left the question hanging between them.

 

Legolas’ soft laugh brought a smile to Aragorn’s face. “Then we are even. Let us not make a habit of this.”

 

“Oh my friend, it is far too late for that.” Aragorn eased himself back off the ledge and into the water. Legolas’ firm grip on his upper arm stopped him.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“I think they are gone.” Aragorn glanced towards the front of the cave, wedging his feet against the sides of the rough, watery tunnel to hold himself in place. “I’m going to go check.”

 

“You are going to go check?” Legolas’ tone was incredulous as he repeated the simple statement, “Alone?”

 

Pulling himself back out of the water with a sigh the ranger stared hard at the outline of his friend. He could just make out the elf’s features. “Legolas, I’ve done this before...”

 

“Over fifteen years ago my friend!” The elf glanced back into the water.

 

“Well we can’t stay here and they can’t stay out there. If they are gone I’ll come back to the crevice and tell you but if they are not it would be foolish of us both to go out there.” Worry for his friends and family still out there fighting the invaders would not allow Aragorn to remain trapped here for long.

 

The logic in the human’s plan couldn’t be argued but the elf fought the desire to do so anyway. “Then be quick.” Legolas released his friend and watched anxiously as the ranger took several deep breaths and slid back into the water, disappearing from sight.

 

Breathing slowly Legolas worked to calm his heart and still the fears that swirled through his thoughts. It wasn’t the first time he had been in a cavern, and by now he was almost positive it wouldn’t be the last. He was almost getting used to it... almost. But he did not like Aragorn going back through that tunnel alone. It worried him.

 

It seemed like it took longer than it should have to reach the channel’s opening. Fighting against the current was much more difficult than he remembered. Finally, Aragorn planted his feet firmly on the edge of the tunnel and pushed upward, breaking the water with a rush. He gulped in the air, keeping himself pressed hard against the cliff wall. Straining to hear any sound he remained there motionless for a few moments, hidden by the curtain of the falls.

 

“I’m going to take a look and see if they have moved on. I’ll be right back.” Aragorn whispered into the crevice beside him knowing the elf on the other side of the rocks could easily hear him.

 

Taking another deep breath, the ranger pushed off the natural shelf, diving down into the rushing water and allowing the motion of the falls to push him out into the bowl of the lake.

 

Surfacing a few feet from the churning water that now fell behind him, Aragorn gasped for air and shoved the hair out of his eyes. Glancing quickly towards the far shore on his left he noted that the forests were silent. The shore that had been filled with orcs and wargs a few minutes ago was empty of all life; even the dead had been removed. That struck him oddly as he had not been aware that the wargs would drag their own fallen away and hide their carcasses from the enemy. Orcs certainly did not usually take such care.

 

Moving his arms back and forth slowly through the water in rhythmic strides, the ranger turned in a semi-circle, barely keeping his head above the surface. As he shifted to look to his right, a dark shape exploded from the water, catching him off guard. The orcs and their mounts had had enough time to work their way to the opposite side of the lake. When the human had been spotted surfacing in the bowl beneath the falls the lead orcs had quietly sent their four-legged companions back into the water. The thundering of the waterfalls behind him had masked the wargs approach until it was too late.

 

Lunging, the evil creature tried to catch the ranger in its gaping maw, but the water impeded its unusually swift reflexes. The warg’s teeth grazed Aragorn’s arm as he ducked under the water. The ranger jerked backwards, tearing his coat from the warg’s fangs. He rolled onto his back, pulled his knees in tight and pushed away from the creature. His booted feet thudded hard against the beast’s bony chest and sent him shooting blindly towards the wall of the lake. The sharp kick surprised the warg, but did not move the large animal. It was just enough to throw the creature off however and had he been the only warg in the lake, Aragorn might have escaped unscathed.

 

As it was, several wargs on the shore had been watching. The floating human looked to them like a fun game. They had grown bored waiting on the shore and the excitement of a new chase overwhelmed them. Rushing in they joined their packmates, attempting to catch the small dark shape that swam past them underwater.

 

Aragorn had little breath left when the next warg attack came. He was struggling for the surface when a large paw curved down toward him, slicing easily through the water. The unretractable claws of the warg glistened darkly for a brief moment before he felt the hot, searing pain of their jagged edges raking along his leg. The swipe pushed the ranger farther down into the depths and he lost what air he had in his lungs as he cried out under the renewed attack.

 

When he looked back up towards the surface of the water, his wavering vision made out five large dark bodies circling overhead. He was out of time and out of air. The water rippled and churned around the wargs and Aragorn started as one of the animals thrust its head into the lake and glanced about for the ranger, its feral, black eyes tracking him. The beast snarled, revealing rows of yellow stained sharp teeth set at all angles as though they had grown in incorrectly.

 

Diving straight down despite his screaming lungs, Aragorn brushed the bottom of the lake. The water was more turbulent here, this close to the falls and black spots hedged the edges of his vision as his lungs cried out desperately for air. His shoulder and leg throbbed mercilessly as he somersaulted under the water. Aiming himself for the back of the waterfall he pushed up with all his strength. His head broke the surface of the water for one second before his pursuers found him. Dragging in half a lungful of clean air he was slammed back down as the wargs shouldered in, eager for an easy kill. The press of the foul bodies shoved the ranger back all the way into the subterranean tunnel and before he had time to register what exactly had happened he was sucked underneath once more.

 

The water raged around Aragorn, shoving him this way and that. His head smacked sharply against a rock that protruded from the side of the channel. Unprepared, he had no time to position himself correctly so that he could stay in the center of the passage and without enough air he was beginning to lose consciousness. It suddenly seemed so silly to keep fighting it all. His body went limp as he surrendered himself to the mercies of the underground stream.

 

Softly glowing light brightened above him and he found it odd that there was light in this tunnel. He had been here before, although it suddenly felt like a lifetime ago. There shouldn’t be any light here, he was almost sure. Staring up into the dim glow Aragorn reached out towards it and was surprised when it grabbed hold of him. If the light wanted him it could have him, and with that thought the ranger let go, drifting into unconsciousness.

 

Legolas heard when the wargs had converged outside the rift in the rock wall. He had been watching anxiously for the ranger to return ever since the animals outside had quieted. The silence that had fallen was deafening to the elf. A black shape under the water exited the underground tunnel and raced towards his position. It was Aragorn, but the ranger had not made any move to surface and an icy cold shaft of fear shot through the prince’s heart.

 

Plunging his arm down into the water, Legolas grabbed a hold of Aragorn’s over coat and stopped the human. The ranger didn’t move or help the elf as Legolas pulled him out of the cold water and dragged him up onto the shelf where the elf knelt.

 

“Aragorn?” Legolas leaned over the ranger, pulling him into his lap and gently tapping the side of the human’s face. “Aragorn!?” With mounting fear the prince realized his friend was not breathing. Lowering the man back onto the rock, he quickly rolled the ranger onto his side, forcefully pounding on Aragorn’s back to dislodge the obstruction in his airway.

 

With a choked sputter, the ranger spit out a mouthful of water and automatically drew in a deep breath. The air caught in his throat and he coughed, convulsing in the elf’s grip.

 

“Easy Strider. Breathe slowly.” Legolas lightened his grip on the man’s shoulder as Aragorn’s consciousness began to return.

 

“Where...?” His memory was slow to return. It was dark around him and the sensation of not knowing whether or not his eyes were truly opened was disorienting.

 

A snuffling sound came from the front of the cave and Legolas instantly dimmed his glow, curling around Aragorn’s body and covering the man’s mouth with his hand. “Shhh... they have not left.” The elf whispered in the ranger’s ear.

 

Aragorn stilled in Legolas’ grip, glancing towards the direction where the sounds of scratching and growling was coming from. Clarity fell into his mind like the blade of a knife and he stiffened, waiting until the warg slipped away from the crevice.

 

“They know we are in here.” Aragorn barely spoke, knowing the elf could hear him no matter how soft he was.

 

“Really?” Legolas voice held the frosty hint of sarcasm as he moved back and let the ranger stretch out. “I had not realized.”

 

Glaring at the elf, Aragorn pushed the prince away from him and sat up slowly. “Yes, really.” The answer was as sarcastic as the question. “We won’t be able to go back that way.” The human glanced at the fissure in the rock as the minimal sunlight that forced it way in was again blocked by the massive head of a warg.

 

“What did you see?” Legolas ignored the creature outside the cavern walls.

 

“The orcs have moved to the far side of the lake. They are pushing towards Rivendell, Legolas.” The ranger took a deep breath before continuing. His fear was mounting and he was unsure as to their next move.

 

“This is good...” Legolas stopped speaking when Aragorn glanced at him again. They both flinched as the sounds of claws on the rock face echoed in the chamber they occupied.

 

“It would be, for us, *if* they had all moved on.” The ranger’s eyes reflected the soft glow that the elf cast as he glanced towards the front of the cavern once more. “There is a small contingent that has remained behind. Either to keep us in here until their objective is complete or to take us with them when we exit the tunnel. They do not seem willing to leave without seeing us dead.”

 

It was silent in the cave save for the breathing of the two occupants and the muted pounding of rushing water outside.

 

“Were you hurt?” Legolas soft question seemed loud in the unnatural quiet.

 

Aragorn glanced at his torn leggings and gingerly fingered the raised welts across his shoulder and back that the warg claws had left. “Not really. Just scratches mostly and those were washed clean by the water.”

 

Legolas shifted closer, “Are you certain?”

 

“You’re the one with the arrow wound.” Aragorn reminded his friend, smiling slightly in the dark.

 

“A scratch.” Legolas shrugged.

 

“Right.” Aragorn drew the word out sarcastically, knowing full well the elf would never admit to being hurt. He stared at his friend blankly, waiting the prince out.

 

In moments Legolas could take it no longer and with a small laugh he shoved the human lightly, “We have bigger problems to worry about.”

 

“Like why the wargs and orcs are headed to Rivendell.” Aragorn replied softly.

 

“I was thinking more along the lines of finding a way out of here.” The elf’s counter answer lightened the mood for a moment. But the solemn look that spread over the ranger’s face chilled his heart.

 

“I think I know where we are.” Aragorn shifted past Legolas and gripped the edges of the tunnel that led deeper into the mountain, gazing hard down the darkened watery passageway. His thoughts distracted as he spoke softly to the elf. The last time he had been in here, he had been in no shape to think of anything, but now...

 

“My father used to tell us tales of the old times when dwarves inhabited the mountains near Imladris, before father built here of course.” The ranger turned an impish smile on the elf as he sat on the ledge of rock and dangled his feet into the cold water. “That was before the orcs came and drove them into the Misty Mountains, to join the others in Dwarrowdelf.

 

“He said in the time before the elves dwelt here, the Dwarves had hewn huge living spaces into the very mountains, much like what we saw in Moria. And that they used the Bruinen as their source of water, routing the river into deep caverns in the mountains where it would collect in pools for their use. That way they would never have to leave their homes.”

 

“Rock dwellers.” Legolas whispered under his breath. How an entire race of free peoples could chose to live underground and never want to come out was beyond his understanding.

 

“Legolas...” Aragorn growled playfully as he lowered himself back into this channel. “Look, I think *this* is one of those passages. The lip of this tunnel is smooth, not like the one we entered. It’s not natural...”

 

His explanation was cut off as Legolas reached out and grabbed his arm, trying to pull the ranger back out of the water. He pressed himself flat on the ledge and glared over at the human.

 

“You are not suggesting that we go deeper *into* the mountain?” The elf’s eyes were huge as the thought sunk into his awareness. “You do not know for certain that we won’t just be lost in darkness in the core of the earth."

 

It was hard not to smile, as Aragorn glanced up at his friend. He knew the fears the elf had about being in caves and darkness – a fact he still found a bit annoying as Mirkwood’s castle was built partly underground. Gently taking Legolas’ hand from his shoulder the ranger simply nodded, answering his friend’s question.

 

“We have to get back to Rivendell, Legolas. We have to get back to my brothers and warn them. All the warriors are out on the passes defending the valley, but those orcs and wargs will be at Imladris before the sun passes. We must stop them.” The ranger locked eyes with his friend, imploring the elf to trust him once more. “Legolas, it’s our only chance.”

 

The sounds of snuffling made the elf jump once more and turn towards the front of the cavern. Aragorn was right; their pursuers had not given up, and if they had not given up by now, it was unlikely that they were going to do so.

 

With a sigh of defeat the elf slid off the ledge and braced himself in the swift channel, “Then may the Valar direct our way. I will, as always, go with you my friend.” The ranger had turned so he was facing the elf as the prince positioned himself behind the human. “Though you do test my limits human!” The taunt was in jest and Aragorn knew it, laughing slightly as he turned back towards the darkened waterway.

 

“There is room to breathe in the channel, the water does not fill it completely and it looks to be much larger than the one we first entered.” Aragorn allowed the current to pull him closer to the dark gaping maw of the tunnel.

 

Legolas’ hand tightened on his shoulder. “Then let us see if your father’s stories were correct. We have no time to waste.”

 

With a quick nod Aragorn released his hold on the rocky walls on either side of him and shot into the smoothly hewn water channel. The force of the torrent pulled him quickly under and he found himself unable to maneuver in the slick passageway. Here, in the dwarf-carved aqueduct, there were no handholds and it was easier to be scraped and jostled against the hard walls.

 

The tunnel turned upward slightly, slowing their pace and he was able to surface and catch his breath before the channel flowed east once more, picking up speed as it angled downward toward the center of the mountains depths.

 

There would be no swimming back through this channel. For good or ill, they were now committed to the path they had chosen.

 

Legolas’ had barely gotten over his fear of being miles beneath the surface when the water in the channel picked up speed and they shot through the wide passageway heading back downwards once more. It was impossible to see where Aragorn was, but the elf was sure the human had not slipped behind him. Slowly uncurling his body he straightened his legs out and tucked his head between his outstretched arms, increasing his speed. In seconds his fingertips brushed the coarseness of rough wet leather and he relaxed, pulling himself back into a ball and raising his head just above the level of the water.

 

They were slowing once more.

 

The tunnel broadened a little as the water grew shallower and less forceful. Scrambling to get their feet back under them again and gasping for air, the two friends waded through the waist-high water in inky blackness illumed only by Legolas’ faint radiance.

 

After nearly an hour of sloshing through cramped, darkened twists and turns in the icy water, Legolas bumped Aragorn softly from behind, causing the ranger to turn and look at him over his shoulder.

 

“You take me to the most interesting places mellon-nín,” the elf remarked sarcastically.

 

Aragorn, far more affected by the water’s chill than the elf was, grimaced and gave Legolas a soft shove in return. “Keep talking, we could use some more hot air in here.”

 

Legolas snorted but resisted the urge to dunk the human. He knew that Aragorn would suffer more from this experience than he did and did not wish his friend to become ill.

 

Neither of them knew when or where this waterway would end so they proceeded with caution as they followed their dark, dank path deeper and deeper under the mountains.

 

There was nothing else they could do.

 

 

___________________________________________________________

Chapter Text

~*PART SIX*~
~Take this Out of Me~

 

 

~~~~~~~~
Innocence, innocence,
innocence lost
all souls want it back
some uncover the cost...

--Steve Taylor
~~~~~~~~

 

 

The house was in sight at last, thank the Valar. Elladan shifted the weight of the elf leaning on his shoulder. The other warrior was trying not to be a burden, but a badly turned ankle that was possibly broken was no light matter. Elladan himself had only cuts and some wicked bruises, but getting back down into the steep valley with their wounded comrades had been a long and painful process.

 

Behind him Elladan could hear Elrohir whispering encouragement to the young Dùnadan he was supporting.

 

“We’re almost there, see? Just hold on,” Elrohir’s voice was gentle and encouraging; carefully free of his sorrowful fear that the light of young man he was almost carrying was going to be snuffed out like a candle in the wind at any moment. The boy was barely as old as Aragorn when Aragorn first met Legolas. Elrohir hated to lose them this young. Babies. Just babies.

 

Elrohir stole a sideways glance at Glorfindel who walked to the twins’ left, carrying yet another wounded and unconscious elf in his arms. The elder elf was quiet, but Elrohir could tell he was helping to support the younger warrior in his arms with his own strength, as Elrohir had often seen his father do... as he was trying to do with the boy he was helping.

 

It was a sad group that made its way back to Rivendell today. The losses and casualties were grievous, such as had not been seen by this peaceful vale since the Second Age.

 

“Almost there,” Elladan murmured as they drew nearer to the beautiful and welcoming vista of his home. At least some things were still as they should be.

 

The Warg attack had finally been routed and driven back, although at the last it seemed almost as if they had received some unknown signal to withdraw, so quick was their retreat. Elladan could not shake the disturbing feeling that they had not so much won the fight, as been allowed to disengage. Yet that was highly unusual. Orcs did not retreat unless on the point of defeat, preferring to ruthlessly destroy their enemies while there was still any chance of bringing them down, and while the elder twin hated to admit it, they had been doing a pretty good job of bringing the elves and rangers down.

 

A cautious rear-guard, on the lookout for any trickery or reappearance of their enemy, had been assigned to patrolling the outer perimeter around the valley and envoys had been sent to Strayton to see if they had also been attacked, although at the moment it seemed that Rivendell had been the sole recipient of the onslaught. Another curiosity to be tucked away for a later date: why would the raiding orcs attack an elven stronghold while a much more vulnerable human village was barely a day’s journey away?

 

Elladan felt that there were disturbing answers to these questions hovering just out of his grasp, but for now that would have to wait. Their focus was on the wounded. Rivendell was a place of peace, a haven, not a fortress and the warriors who made their home in this valley were few now in comparison to the elder days. The border guard they had posted required nearly all the available warriors who were yet uninjured. That left only a small handful to accompany Elladan and Elrohir back to their father’s house with the wounded. Most of them were also nursing injuries, although of lesser gravity than some.

 

Elladan wondered in which category Aragorn and Legolas would fall when they reappeared. He was sizably disturbed that he had not seen them yet, but the fighting had been very widespread and they could be some distance away by now, there were many warriors who had not yet returned.

 

It gave him a mental chuckle to consider the long-suffering look that would grace his father’s features if either his brother or the elven prince were once again unceremoniously dragged home by the other; an occurrence not too uncommon over the long years of their friendship. Elladan never for a moment considered that they might *not* reappear eventually, he could not. However, once the wounded were taken care of, if Elrond had things under control, he would certainly beg leave to go search for them.

 

The elder twin’s relief at being home quickly began bleeding away into apprehension as they neared the house. Something felt wrong.

 

“Something is not right,” Elrohir echoed his twin’s thoughts in a whisper. “I don’t... don’t hear anything. El?” the younger twin was not yet ready to trust his newly restored hearing and looked to his brother to see if he were merely missing something.

 

Elladan was frowning. He didn’t hear anything either and realized that that was part of what was bothering him. No birds, no murmur of movement from within the house, no sound of feet pattering in the halls nor the soothing tones of his father’s voice as he tended the injured... nothing.

 

No, there was something, only just detectable to the elven hearing. A dripping sound.

 

 

 

Drip...

 

No one could say why, but the small sound sent a hard chill through them all.

 

Elladan and Elrohir’s free hands dropped immediately to the hilts of the swords at their side.

 

Glorfindel’s face creased into a deep frown. He set the elf he was carrying down carefully, keeping one hand on him. “Leave the wounded here,” he said quietly. “Something is amiss.”

 

Elladan and Elrohir concurred with that assessment all too well. Quickly they eased their charges down to the ground. By unspoken agreement, the golden haired elf lord remained with the others to protect the wounded if need be while Elladan and Elrohir proceeded cautiously forward.

 

Every inch of the courtyard was a familiar haven to the twins, so why now did the hair on the back of their necks stand on end and their bodies tingle with unexplainable warnings of doom? There was a shadow over their home as if the pristine essence of Imladris had somehow been violated and even the trees and plants quivered with the shock.

 

They could not yet see the front of the house, shaded from their view by the artistic arbor pathway, but something on the ground caught their attention. A dark crimson stain spread across the glistening white flagstone path from around the blind corner; a deep red trickle that could have been only one thing.

 

Both twins’ hearts jumped up into their throats and lodged there, almost choking them.

 

Blood.

 

Rushing forward with swords drawn they turned the corner, catching the first glimpse of the main entry to their home... and then froze in horror.

 

Black and crimson mingled freely on the cobbles before the entry and a great, hulking orc body lay dead in the partially open doorway. The creature’s hideous blood was pooled around him on the landing, draining slowly down the stairs... drip... drip... drip...

 

Elrohir felt sick. Not here. Not here in his home...

 

Elladan felt a blinding slash of rage burn through him. What had happened? What had happened here?

 

From inside the house the sound of a weak, struggling cough shook them from their momentary daze.

 

The two elves unfroze their feet and hurried on again, stepping over the hideous orc body with revulsion and noting with sorrow the slain elf across from him.

 

Elladan gripped his sword tighter. He and Elrohir exchanged looks; the fire in Elrohir’s eyes for once nearly matching his brother’s. Someone was going to pay for this violation of their home.

 

The coughing drew them quickly to the Hall of Fire. The great hearth flickered low, but the light it cast still filled the room, dancing upon the rows of deathly still elves and rangers.

 

For half a horrible instant the twins thought they were all dead; then they saw the rise and fall of breath leaving the bodies and knew that although injured, these beings at least still lived.

 

Their attention was immediately drawn to the scene in the front of the room. Moranuen was on his hands and knees. The bandage around his chest was soaked deep red and he was unnaturally pale. He knelt next to Celboril’s still body, obviously having dragged himself there with great effort. He had pressed a wadded corner of the steward’s robe against the older elf’s bleeding stomach wound, but the effort had been too much and Mora was doubled over, coughing helplessly and gasping for air he could not find. One of the wounded Dunédain who was awake was trying to work around his own injuries to go to Moranuen’s aid, but was not able to move very fast.

 

“Mora!” the twins shouted in alarm, almost at the same time. Rushing forward they dropped to the ground next to him.

 

Elladan gently scooped Moranuen’s heaving frame into his arms, holding the other dark haired elf gently and lending him strength. Laying a hand on Mora’s chest he tried to figure out how to best help ease his friend’s breathing.

 

Elrohir took over the pressure on Celboril’s wound that Moranuen had been struggling to provide. It was a praise-worthy effort, the younger twin noted as he quickly worked to stabilize the beloved household overseer. Moranuen’s actions had probably saved Celboril’s life. Elrohir winced as he got a better look at the jagged, gaping wound beneath the blood-soaked layers of the older elf’s clothing. It was not good, but it did not have to be fatal. Already the younger twin’s hands were in motion as he worked to save the other elf’s life.

 

Elladan was doing the same for Moranuen. “Mora, Mora what happened?” he asked with disbelieving concern as he pulled away the bandages around the other elf’s chest to reveal the split stitches. The small lenth of tubing Elrond had carefully placed to keep Moranuen’s injured lungs from being pressured into collapsing had been dislodged.

 

Moranuen couldn’t speak enough to answer, and Elladan didn’t expect him to at the moment. The injured human had now made his way over.

 

“What’s happened here?” Elrohir turned the question on the ranger while Elladan laid Moranuen down carefully, working with urgent haste to fix the damage that the orcs’ rough treatment and Moranuen’s own movements had done to Elrond’s life-saving handiwork.

 

The man shook his head blankly, frustration and pain in his eyes. “I-I don’t know... there were orcs... but it’s not clear... I remember seeing Moranuen, I wanted to help.” The human looked ready to collapse again.

 

“Shh, be still, it’s all right, don’t injure yourself any further,” Elrohir said quickly. Getting to the bottom of these grievous issues was going to have to wait until Moranuen and Celboril were stabilized. He didn’t hear or sense any orcs in the house, but with the chaotic confusion of what was normally such a peaceful place, it was hard to be sure.

 

“Ada? Ada!” Elladan called for their father as he worked. They needed help... where was Elrond? Surely he could not be far; he would have answers to all these questions. Where was he? “Ada!”

 

Finally realizing he would not get an answer, Elladan switched names. “Glorfindel!”

 

The elf in question had heard the earlier commotion and was already on his way into the room by the time Elladan called. The few uninjured elves carried their wounded comrades with them. The Balrog Slayer took one look around and knew that something gravely wrong had happened here. Although not nearly as severe or devastating, it brought back memories of the brutal destruction of Gondolin all over again.

 

“I will check the house.” The elder warrior left without waiting for a response, leaving the twins to their vital work and assuming responsibility for making sure there were no longer any enemies about.

 

By the time he returned the wounded had all been stabilized and were resting more or less comfortably, except for Mora who violently refused to let Elladan give him a sleeping potion to ease his suffering.

 

“No... must... speak, must... listen to me!” the frustrated elf struggled with his limited air intake. He wasn’t fully conscious or lucid, but Elladan was not going to push him, since he very well could be one of the few people who knew what had happened here right now.

 

“Shhh, all right, all right Mora, but you must be calm. Slowly, breathe slowly,” Elladan soothed, his hand resting on the injured elf’s freshly re-bandaged chest, willing it to rise and fall steadily.

 

Elrohir looked up from where he was assisting another warrior with one of the last wounded elves they had brought back with them. Celboril had been cared for, although he was still unconscious and they had not yet moved him to rest with the others, waiting for more linens to be brought for bedding. The younger twin looked up when Glorfindel returned, his eyes questioning.

 

The elf lord gave his head a shake. “The house is clear, as are the grounds; whatever ill brood did this is gone. There were only two casualties. Most of the others seem to have shut themselves up in the cellars, where the orcs trapped them. I freed the passage to the cellars and sent them for more supplies to aid you,” Glorfindel reported quickly, but distractedly. Who he had *not* found was what bothered him.

 

Elrohir nodded. The servants that Glorfindel spoke of arrived even before he had finished. Soon, to the twins’ relief, they had more than enough help to get their wounded comrades comfortably settled and tended. Elrohir stood and stretched his aching back out, before he stooped to pick of Hadhafang from where it lay on the floor, not far from Celboril. From the way it looked, he assumed Celboril had dropped it when he fell, but that didn’t answer the nagging question in the back of his heart... why did Celboril have it and where was their father?

 

With the help of one of the servants, Elrohir prepared to carefully move Celboril to a more comfortable place with the other convalescents.

 

“Did you find father?” Elladan voiced his brother’s thoughts, his eyes shadowed with worry as he looked up at Glorfindel from Moranuen’s side. The injured elf had a death-grip on his hand and Elladan was not about to leave if Mora was unwilling to let him go.

 

Glorfindel shook his head. “There are signs of fighting everywhere, but of Lord Elrond...” he did not know, and was hesitant to guess.

 

“Orcs,” Moranuen rasped softly, squeezing Elladan’s hand and trying to get his attention. His breathing had finally gotten back under control and he was more lucid than earlier, however the elf didn’t have much strength left in him and what he had was failing fast, he had to make them listen before unconsciousness claimed him.

 

“Shhh,” Elladan touched his lips gently, thinking his friend was still delirious. “I know Mora, they’re gone now, they’re gone, it is all right.”

 

“No!” Moranuen shook his head emphatically, although the word came out only as a whisper. “No... not... not all right. L-Lord Elrond... they took Lord Elrond!”

 

“What?” Elladan leaned close, his face paling. He hoped he had heard wrong, or that Moranuen did not know what he was saying. “Mora what do you mean?”

 

“They took Lord Elrond... prisoner. Took him with them... the orcs.” Moranuen put it as plainly as he could, his laboring breath breaking his sentences up oddly.

 

Elrohir gave a small cry. At first Elladan thought it was because of what Moranuen had just said, but a moment later he knew that was only partially true.

 

When younger twin lifted Celboril, something had fallen out of the steward’s clothing. After laying Celboril down on the pallet prepared for him, Elrohir went back to see what it was. This he discovered at the same time that Moranuen’s horrible news came out.

 

“Elladan,” Elrohir hurried to his brother’s side. Unclenching his hand he revealed the object lying on his palm.

 

Both brothers were pale as death as they stared at the small, blue-gemmed circle in Elrohir’s trembling hand.

 

“Vilya...” Elladan could barely gasp the word out. It seemed as if all the air had left his lungs, leaving him suffocating more surely than even the iron grip of a hill troll; a comparison he was qualified to make.

 

Elrohir’s eyes were written with deep, uncomprehending shock. He had never seen the powerful Ring of Air off his father’s hand, never. There was no way he would have allowed it to be taken from him unless it was removed from his dead body.

 

“He was alive... Mora, was he alive when they took him?” Elrohir’s voice was strained. He closed Vilya in his palm again, the smooth edges of the ring digging painfully into his flesh as he clenched his fingers tightly.

 

“Yes, he, he surrendered to... save us, I’m so sorry, so sorry, he should not have, I am sorry...” Moranuen murmured over and over, still grief stricken and guilty at having been helpless to act as he was forced to watch his Lord taken away.

 

“It’s not your fault Mora,” Elrohir said quietly, still unable to completely shake the shock and disbelief that lent an air of surrealism to this devastating news. “Father did what he thought was right.”

 

Elladan was having a little less trouble grasping exactly what all this meant, and his heart withdrew from the stabbing pain that that understanding gave him.

 

There was only one reason Elrond would have willingly abandoned Vilya, and that was if his father were convinced that he was not going to come back from whatever he was going into. Some said that was why Vilya had passed to Elrond in the first place. That Gil-Galad had had a portent of his own imminent doom before that final battle in Dagorlad, and had the foresight to entrust the powerful ring to the younger elf whom had become close as a son to him. Whether that was true or not, Elrond’s abandonment of the ring in this case could mean nothing else. The far-sighted elf lord anticipated his own death and that thought shook Elladan to the core of his being.

 

Moranuen was still speaking. “They said to tell... they said...” his difficulty in repeating the lead orc’s message was not due entirely to his injuries. “They meant to take him to... to Daradwayn, like your mother,” he whispered softly, pressing his eyes shut against the horrified pain that immediately flashed across his friends’ faces at his words. “They said... it was a message. A message for

Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen.”

 

Elladan couldn’t think around the rushing pounding that filled his head as his vision darkened with the heavy load of the crushing rage and fear that pressed down upon him. No, not again... not again...

 

Elrohir’s stricken face hardened into chiseled stone. “This cannot be allowed to happen. They have gone too far.” His voice was quiet but lethal.

 

Elladan squeezed Moranuen’s hand one more time, rising quickly to his feet by his brother and exchanging looks with his twin. A fire of loss burned behind their eyes that would not be denied.

 

Elrohir took a deep breath. “They want Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen? That can be arranged.”

 

“No...” Moranuen shook his head, his heart aching. He knew the history of pain that this whole situation was dredging up. “El... you cannot. Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen are dead. You know that better than any. Let the dead rest in peace.”

 

Elladan smiled slightly, but without any true mirth. “No, they aren’t.” His voice was clipped. “They’re very much alive and I know exactly where to find them.”

 

The twins turned to the door but stopped when they found themselves nearly up against Glorfindel whom they had forgotten about. The elf lord did not try to dissuade them from their chosen course of action. The twins were not children and he had no right to govern their deeds, besides, any such attempt would be useless at this juncture.

 

“You will take no one with you on this path you are choosing?” the question was quiet, but somber.

 

Elrohir shook his head once. “Everyone here is needed. There are no guarantees that this is not simply another trap, as every move of our enemies has been thus far. We dare not leave Rivendell open to further attack by drawing away what defenses we have left in place. Besides... if we are to wake Glamferaen and Dehlfalhen... it is better us two go alone.”

 

Elladan carefully took Vilya from his brother’s hand and pressed it into the palm of the golden-haired elf lord. “Watch over Rivendell. Watch over our people until we return and guard this with your life, as I know you will. If we return we will be bringing our father back with us... if we do not... it will only be because none of us return. In that case you must take Vilya to Lothlórien and see that it is given to the Lady Galadriel. Do you accept this charge?”

 

Glorfindel nodded. At moments like these it was very clear that for all their usual youthful energy and playfulness, Elladan and Elrohir were every inch the Lords of Rivendell that their heritage made them.

 

“I do accept, I will watch over them until you return, all of you. May the Valar watch over all your paths, no matter how dark the road.”

 

The twins accepted the gracious words of parting, but their minds and hearts were already a hundred miles away, treading the path that was swiftly opening up before their feet to swallow them. Their responsibility to Rivendell duly taken care of, the pair hurried for the door. They had already lost precious time; they could afford to waste no more. Both of them wished that Aragorn and Legolas were here, but perhaps it was just as well that they were not, considering what may lie ahead.  

 

 

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

 

 

 

~~~~~~~~
Closure is closer
Take this out of me,
Take anything you need.
I'll still breathe; I'll still breathe.
Fading thinner but still it's haunting me
Can't find the words to say to the angels
That took you from me...

--Die Trying
~~~~~~~~

 

 

Elrond’s breath frosted sharply on the biting air as he leaned against the rock wall behind him. He couldn’t feel his hands anymore and his healer’s mind dully told him that a prolonged loss of circulation to those areas could cause permanent damage after a while... however he doubted the orcs intended to let him live long enough for that to become a problem.

 

A sharp, vicious blow made the elf lord wince and double forward. Staked out as he was he could not move away from the abuse and would not cower in front of his tormentors anyway. Another sharp kick in the ribs and Elrond had to steel himself against a searing flash of pain that suggested something that had already been broken was being jabbed inward.

 

The orcs were paying him only passing attention right now and he knew it. He had suffered the full brunt of their interest earlier, when they had first stopped for a small respite in their hasty retreat from Imladris.

 

The orcs had moved swiftly and they were high up in the mountains now where the days were still warm, but the nights became desolate and biting. The orcs would rest only a short time before pressing on again towards their destination and Elrond wasn’t sure if he should be glad of the reprieve or not.

 

Guruth was shouting angrily at some new group of orcs that had just joined them. Elrond watched with dull disinterest.

 

“You idiots! You withdrew too soon!” Guruth yelled angrily at the underlings standing before him. “We almost got caught down there in the valley!”

 

The orcs in question growled something about thinking they had received the signal, which resulted in a lot more shouting. Presently Guruth pulled his sword and beheaded two of them.

 

Tmarkz was glad that *he* was not the one who had ordered the retreat, having been busy chasing the ranger and the golden-haired elf at the time. However, given his leader’s current mood, he wasn’t about to tell about the failure of that little venture right now.

 

Sullen silence fell over the rest of the group, but no one challenged the old, scarred orc.

 

Elrond noted numbly that Guruth must hold a position of fear and respect among the other orcs because they let everything die down after that. Pity, would have been much better if they all decided to slaughter each other right now.

 

“Enjoy your rest while you can elf!” Guruth stooped suddenly next to the healer, grabbing Elrond’s long brown hair and banging his head back sharply against the wall. “More fun later.”

 

Dropping Elrond’s head again he stalked away.

 

The freezing air made the elf’s bruised and aching lungs contract painfully with each breath. A slight shudder ran through his body. It was all so strange... he had never felt cold like this before.

 

He closed his weary eyes looking for strength, but what he saw was her face. Those deep, deep blue eyes, framed by the wispy strands of gold that always inevitably worked their way free to hang about her face... they danced when she laughed. He remembered that. Remembered it so clearly it hurt.

 

“You’re so serious melethron... smile for me...” Celebrían’s teasing face swirled its way from the deep recesses of his heart, hovering before him.

 

Elrond did smile. He always smiled for her. “I am weary melethril,” he whispered to the growing darkness. He knew she wasn’t real, he knew he was starting to hallucinate which meant he was probably sliding into shock... but those were things his *head* knew. Right now he’d rather listen to his heart. “I think I will be seeing you again sooner than we thought dear one...”

 

 

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

 

 

Aragorn had lost all track of time. There was nowhere to stop, nowhere to rest. Water and darkness stretched out to a monotonous, uncomfortable eternity. His body told him he had already missed more than one night’s rest, perhaps a lot more, he had no way of knowing any longer. It grew increasingly difficult to put one foot in front of the other as he battled the current that always wanted to sweep him away. The water was chest high now and freezing cold. The current had picked up again although the two friends were battling its pull. He feared that perhaps this had not been a good idea after all... how far did these tunnels go? Would there ever be a way out?

 

Behind him in the darkness, Legolas was singing softly. He had been for the last few hours. It comforted Aragorn to hear as much as it comforted Legolas to sing. The elf was doing very well for being in a cave under these circumstances and Aragorn was glad.

 

The ranger stumbled. He was so cold, so tired... the current tugged his feet out from under him and he felt the icy slap of the water closing over his head.

 

Strong, firm hands on his shoulders checked his forward rush and Legolas dragged his friend quickly back to the surface. The elf braced his feet against the jagged, but slippery floor of the subterranean aqueduct and hugged the human against him until Aragorn got his feet underneath him once more. The elf ignored the searing ache in his leg where the arrow had cut him. It hurt more than he was willing to admit, but he was more worried about his friend.

 

Legolas frowned. Aragorn’s body was too cold in his arms as the chilly water continued to sap the Dùnadan’s strength. The man was having a hard time getting back on his feet as he clumsily stood up with the prince’s help.

 

“Are you all right?” the elf murmured quietly, not releasing the ranger just yet.

 

Aragorn shivered, but nodded with a thin smile. “Just a little tired.”

 

Legolas was still concerned. They had been walking for a long time, at least two days, perhaps more. The elf would have no trouble pressing on for as long as it took to get them out of this hole, but he knew the limitations of his human friend, whether Aragorn wanted to admit them or not.

 

“Come,” Legolas hooked Aragorn’s sodden coat in his fingers and guided the ranger back the way they had come a small distance. Battling the current rather than walking with it was a little difficult, but they managed.

 

“What? Where are we going, Legolas?” Aragorn protested, not understanding what his friend was thinking. He did not resist however, he didn’t really have the strength to resist.

 

Presently they returned to a place where the water was shallower, only up to their thighs.

 

Pressing Aragorn up against the wall so that his back was to the tunnel, and his front was held firmly against Legolas’ body, the elf effectively supported the tired human’s weight as the dark water swirled about their legs.

 

Aragorn felt the welcome warmth of Legolas’ body heat sap some of the numbing chill from his weary limbs as the elf held him securely. He couldn’t help shivering now and was glad for the small respite.

 

Legolas tipped the ranger’s head forward a little so that it could rest on the elf’s shoulder, smiling softly at Aragorn’s puzzled, questioning gaze.

 

“Rest mellon-nín, sleep if you can. I will not let you fall,” the prince assured quietly. There was nowhere that Aragorn could possibly lie down to rest without being covered in water, so the elf presented the only other solution he could contrive.

 

Aragorn appreciated the offer but he hated to put the elf out this way or drain his friend’s strength when they were already in a place that he knew weakened the wood-elf. “Legolas, you can’t just stand there and hold me...”

 

“Why not?” Legolas cocked an eyebrow. “You always forget I don’t need as much rest as you human,” he teased lightly. “*I* just want to get out of here as soon as possible, but if you drown or I have to rescue you that will slow us considerably, agreed? So rest now and regain your strength. We will move faster when you awaken.”

 

Aragorn wanted to protest, but he really was drained. Whether it was because his own body shutting down or the result of a suggestive command that the wood-elf had learned from Lord Elrond, the ranger found himself sliding swiftly towards the even darker blackness of sleep.

 

Legolas felt Aragorn’s body relax in his arms and settled the human more comfortably against him, perfectly prepared to hold him safe from the current and cold until Aragorn’s body had sufficiently replenished its energy stores.

Chapter Text

~*PART SEVEN*~
~Can’t you Feel the Chains?~

 

 

~~~~~~~~
I can’t take the thought of you here
I can’t put you out
close your eyes and look at me here
across the miles
look at me...

Can’t you feel the chains,
feel the chains?
Can’t you hear a voice
behind the quiet?
Can’t you feel the chains,
feel the chains?
That keep us bound for life,
my love.

--Steve Taylor
~~~~~~~~

 

 

Guruth put his hand on the back of Elrond’s head, forcing it down as he and several of the others pushed the bound elf into the yawning mouth of the cave.

 

Elrond stumbled slightly as he was forced inside. Three days in the hands of the orcs left him drained. The pace they maintained was punishing and they had covered no small distance since leaving Rivendell.

 

The dank, musty air of the cavern felt heavy and threatening. The elf blinked to adjust his eyes to the gloom as he was roughly shoved deeper into the darkened interior. He had never been here before; he had never seen this place for himself... yet it was familiar. The healer had to close his eyes and draw his breath in deeply.

 

He had seen it, but not with *his* eyes. He had seen it in the mind of his beloved when he joined himself to her consciousness as he struggled to save her life so many years ago.

 

Without realizing it, the elf’s breathing started to accelerate as old images that weren’t even his own flooded back to his mind.

 

//The cavern walls lit by firelight. Elves dying. Orcs laughing... Celebrìan gave a whimpering half scream, shaking in her husband’s arms as he held her close, whispering soothingly to her as her emotional trauma washed over both of them. “Sîdh melethril, sîdh... peace beloved, peace...”//

 

Elrond forced his eyes open again. He realized he was shaking. Time had changed the cavern some, but not enough to make it unrecognizable. The elf lord felt a thrill of angry horror swell through his weakened body. If ever anyone had deserved his undying hatred, these creatures did. Yet he was a little shocked. So close... this place was so close to his home? They had never told him that. Celebrìan had been taken in the Redhorn pass, near Lórien, far away from here... he remembered with a shudder the way Guruth had spoken of a journey. Had his dear one somehow survived being dragged all this distance? Why?

 

Celebrìan had never spoken of what happened after her capture. All Elrond knew was what he had seen in her mind the night he tried to save her.  

 

The orcs and wargs flooded into the cavern, carrying Elrond forward along with them. One of the orcs slammed him roughly against the cave wall. The elf lord reeled back a pace only to have Guruth slam him forward again. Elrond’s temple connected solidly with the stone and the world swam out of focus. His knees buckled and he slid down the wall, catching himself on his bound wrists and knees as he struggled to hold onto his slipping consciousness.

 

Guruth laughed. “Not so mighty, not so proud now elf. Here you will be our guest until the others come, or until we decide your worthless life should end!”

 

Elrond looked up at the blurry image of the orc over him, his gaze maddeningly calm in the face of his situation. He knew exactly what ‘others’ they were talking about. “May you wait a thousand years glamog.”

 

The cold words earned the elf another violent kick to his broken ribs. Elrond hissed softly through his teeth, involuntarily curling in on himself.

 

Guruth crouched in front of him. “I think the years would pass swifter for me than for you belzek!” he taunted. “You have yet to see if you can last the night. Your journey was easier than your mate’s, you should hold out very long I think...” he taunted Elrond with the knowledge of this place’s history.

 

Elrond’s weary, burning eyes flashed hotly and Guruth knew that he was hitting a nerve whenever he brought up the past. He liked that.

 

“We won her you know, the elf woman. My brothers and I were only visiting, but it was fortunate timing. We won her from Ublug, her and a few of the others. So we got to take them home with us to the north... ironic now that I know who she was... I wonder if she knew how close she was to home. I wonder if she vainly expected someone to save her...” Guruth’s barbed, biting words dug deep into the freshly reawakened wounds in the elf lord’s heart and Elrond spit at Guruth, absolute hate shining in his eyes.

 

Raegonnen carpholoch!” The elf snapped in disdain. Guruth’s words explained the mystery, but only deepened his loathing. They should have told him... he didn’t know she had been this close. It broke his heart.

 

Guruth may not have understood the words, but the insulting tone needed no translation. He backhanded Elrond roughly. He had intended to try to keep the healer in at least semi-decent shape until the Rivendell elves got word to Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen. They were, after all, the ones he truly wanted, but the innate power that lent strength to the deadly hate in the elf lord’s eyes almost frightened him and that made the orc hideously angry. “You want to start now elf? You want me to teach you fear?”

 

“Great One!” a new orc scrambled through the mouth of the cave, shoving his way through the others. The younger creature bowed to Guruth. “Great One, more of them filthy elves approaching from the east! A lot of them.”

 

Guruth snarled. A lot? From the east? How had they come around to that direction? How had anyone followed them that fast? The Rivendell elves should not have had that many warriors to send after the attack... but no matter, perhaps Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen were with them, in which case he was glad they had come.

 

“Bind him to the wall!” He jerked his head towards Elrond. “Tmarkz, stay here with your warriors and be sure he is well guarded. I will take the others and deal with the elves.”

 

Several orcs jerked Elrond to his feet in compliance with their leader’s orders as Guruth strode towards the front of the cave once more. The orc paused in the mouth of the cavern.

 

“And be sure no one touches him ‘til I get back; he’s mine, you understand me? Mine. Enjoy your rest elf, I’ll be back soon, with friends for you.” Guruth promised.

 

Tmarkz scowled at the captive elf. “What if he makes trouble?”

 

Guruth grinned. “Then punish him. But see that he lives.”

 

The other orc grinned and leaned close to Elrond as Guruth left the cave. “So, elf... are you going to behave?”

 

Elrond did not answer, meeting his captor’s gaze coolly.

 

Tmarkz punched him sharply. “I didn’t think so.”

 

 

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

 

 

Trelan’s keen eyes scanned the rocks around him as he crouched low amid the huge boulders. His nose crinkled in disgust. Orcs. Lots of them. Slithering quietly backward the elf scout slid off the natural rock shelf he had climbed up onto and sprinted silently back to the main group. They were high up in the mountains now, taking their host towards Rivendell. They had chosen a less-frequented route than high pass, seeking to avoid any traps or scouts that might be on the lookout after Raniean and his company’s last disastrous encounter in the mountains. So far the tact had served them well and they had advanced unchallenged, until now.

 

“A large party of orcs and wargs fill the canyons to the north and to the south,” Trelan reported quickly to Raniean and Thranduil. “I have crossed these mountains before more than once and never seen so many. They are heading this way, I fear they already know of our presence and are moving to intercept.”

 

Thranduil nodded, this was not an entirely unexpected turn of events.  

 

Raniean quickly deployed several more scouts to watch their flanks and keep track of their enemies’ movements. Last time he and his warriors had been encircled and attacked, he would not allow that to happen again.

 

“My Lord, we must not let them trap us down in these ravines, it is a favorite trick of theirs because if we cannot maneuver then their wargs have the advantage,” the Captain advised his Liege.

 

Thranduil agreed with the younger elf’s assessment. “What do you suggest?”

 

“We send half the force over these rocks on the left flank and the other half across on the right. A smaller, third division remains here, letting the foul creatures think they have us right where they want us. When they attack, we can come down upon them from both sides and reverse their ambush upon them,” Raniean outlined his purposed strategy.

 

“A good plan,” Thranduil approved. “Raniean, take the left flank, Trelan, you take the right. I will be in command of the diversion force that remains here.”

 

Raniean’s brows furrowed. He did not like Thranduil taking the most potentially dangerous place for himself, but knew better than to argue. He could rarely ever change his liege’s mind.

 

Thranduil was not a fool, he knew that this battle was not without risk, but he would not order those who followed him so faithfully into anything that he was not willing to face himself.

 

“All right then,” Raniean nodded slowly after a moment, reading the King’s thoughts in his quietly commanding gaze. “If that is how you wish it. Trelan, alert the warriors and form the companies. Tell them if anyone gets separated we will all meet up again tonight by the shattered stone at the base of Mund’s Pass.”

 

Trelan saluted his friend with a smile and hurried off to tell the others.

 

“What do you think it means?” Raniean asked Thranduil quietly as the warriors began falling quickly into their assigned groupings. “What do these yrch want do you think?”

 

Thranduil shook his head. “I do not know, but my heart is troubled that some great ill is at hand.” His eyes darkened. He greatly feared that it somehow involved Legolas, although he knew that his dreams were more to blame for that than any logical reasons.

 

Raniean saluted and bowed to his Lord as his company fell in behind him. “Then let us try to stop it here.”

 

 

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

 

 

“Great One, the elves have stopped in the pass. The stupid maggots aren’t going anywhere, perfect targets,” an underling reported to Guruth with a bloodthirsty glint in its eye.

 

Guruth nodded. It was perfect, perhaps a little too perfect? He did not see any signs of a trap, but it was always good to be careful, he had learned that the hard way many years ago.

 

“Then we’ll have to put them out of the misery of their existence,” Guruth growled with a smile. He had already ascertained that most of these elves were not from Rivendell at all, but thought that perhaps they had come to their aid. He hadn’t counted on that, but he would not let it spoil his plans.

 

“I don’t like this whole situation, take half the men through the tunnels, we’ll back ‘em right into you.” Guruth ordered. No sense leaving anything to chance.

 

 

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

 

 

Raniean shifted uncomfortably as he watched warg riders advancing through the gap towards the small force of elves in the pass below. He knew Thranduil and his people were aware of their presence, but kept their peace to bait the creatures into the trap.

 

It was a perfect plan... but Raniean couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. He glanced to the other ridgeline where a small signal flash told him that Trelan’s force was ready and waiting for the signal to move.

 

That signal came a moment later. The wargs charged into the canyon, barreling into Thranduil’s force, which responded with much more readiness than the orcs had hoped.

 

Herio!” Raniean gave the command to charge, sending all the elves hiding up on the ridge flooding down into the canyon.

 

Guruth looked up at the elves streaming down the hills and swore under his breath. He had known something was wrong. Things were not going as he had hoped and he was not sure now that he would be able to annihilate them all as easily as he had thought... but even if it would not work as smoothly as he had wished, the dark creature was not without a plan.

 

Raniean and Trelan’s companies swept down into the canyon, catching the orcs between them in a deadly hammer-blow. For a few moments it looked as if the battle would be over fairly swiftly... then the rocks started moving.

 

Trelan whirled around in horror as he saw huge cracks opening in the ravine walls around them. For a moment he thought it was a rockslide... but it was worse than that, much worse. The gaping cracks were the mouths of hidden entrances to tunnels leading away under the surface of the mountains... tunnels swarming with orcs, goblins and wargs pouring out to fight them.

 

Hedged in by the new arrivals, the tide of the battle shifted yet again, this time against the elves.

 

Thranduil looked around urgently. They could not afford to be herded together for easy slaughter. “Scatter and regroup! Out of the canyon, NOW!” the Elvenking ordered, turning his steed in swift, tight circles as he called out the orders.

 

On command, the elves scattered in seemingly random, but actually completely pre-planned patterns. The warg riders were forced to separate in order to give chase, breaking up the massive brunt of their attack.

 

The elves fanned out into the hills with their enemies in pursuit. But the elven warriors did not run for long. As soon as they were out of the melee and into the clear they turned on their attackers with deadly ferocity, decimating the forces rushing so heedlessly after them. The fighting spread out across the face of the mountains, becoming a dozen small battles lost in the tangling maze of canyons and valleys.  

 

Thranduil ended up with a handful of warriors facing down a small troop of warg riders in the bowl of a shallow dale. The fighting was fast and fierce, but the elves were more than holding their own. A new wave of the enemy forced them back and the elves feinted a retreat, meaning to turn and attack again around the next bend as that had been working with great success thus far. Unfortunately, the orcs had the advantage of knowing the terrain far better than the Mirkwood elves.

 

A second group of warg-riders split off from the main host and came up the vale from the other direction, halting the elven host’s maneuver and forcing them to quickly make a stand between two opposing walls of enemies.

 

Thranduil pursed his lips as his sword twirled in his hands. They had thought they might have to fight to clear the pass, but this was turning into something much more than that. These orcs had a mission; they were no mere marauders preying upon unwary travelers. There was definitely something much more sinister taking place here.

 

Guruth was not pleased. He was losing vast amounts of his warriors to these strange elves, and he was beginning to believe that they may not even have had any connection with the elves he was after. If this were simply a case of bad timing he was going to be furious.

 

His eyes narrowed and he burrowed his knees harder into Mrdhdúk’s sides, urging his mount forward towards the elves they had cornered between them. A small bevy of dark haired warriors surrounded one golden haired warrior. They were obviously protective of him and the elf in question had a bearing of power that was unmistakable. This one was a Lord, or a noble at least.   Guruth frowned. All elves looked more or less alike to him and he had only seen so many of them from a distance. Could it be...?

 

“Great One!” one of the orc’s warriors nearby gestured to the golden-haired elf who had caught Guruth’s attention. “We fought him back in the woods by the elf city! He must have brought these other squeakers!”

 

Guruth’s eyes flashed with ire. He had thought as much. This elf must be the one he had often seen from a distance with the healer. The Balrog Slayer they called him, and the only golden-haired Elf Lord that Guruth knew of who frequented these lands. A cruel smile played around the orc’s lips. Then this one was Elrond’s friend...

 

“Separate them. I want the golden one. I want him alive. Now!” Guruth ordered. Whistling sharply, he called some of his other fighters from nearby, bidding them leave their engagements and rally to his side. The new arrivals crowded the field of battle, driving the outnumbered elves apart, even if they could not bring any of them down.

 

Thranduil beheaded an orc and whirled around burying his blade into the small beady eye of a warg. Suddenly his horse reared as a large warg jumped on it from behind, clawing at its hindquarters. Thranduil did not lose his seat, but the horse bolted forward, away from the rest of his fellow warriors. Another warg took advantage of the situation; leaping at the skittish horse and making it dance madly sideways.

 

Already distracted, Thranduil was ill prepared when an orc jumped from its warg and crashed into him, tumbling them both off of their mounts. The orc was dead on Thranduil’s blade before the Elvenking even reached the ground.

 

Thranduil landed hard, but rolled easily back to his feet. He realized grimily that he faced his attackers alone now, but he was not afraid. Legolas had not inherited his unflinching resolution from thin air. Thranduil twirled the sword in his hands gracefully, taunting the creatures, inviting them to try their best. He did not know if he could fight them all, but he did know he would take down as many of them as he could.

 

Orc bodies piled up around him, but eventually the lone elf was overwhelmed. A warg barreled him over; knocking the elf to the ground as half a dozen orcs jumped him. The Sinda elf felt a sharp pain lance through his arm and shoulder as his attacker’s dark, barbed weapon tore the flesh across his collarbone and shoulder before skittering over to rack down his upper arm, gashing him deeply.

 

Thranduil kept fighting until he felt the ragged bite of a blade slide under his chin and dig harshly against his jugular.

 

“Give me a reason to kill you elf scum!” the slavering orc sitting on him shouted in Thranduil’s face, obviously greatly desiring a justification to do just that. “Give me a reason!”

 

Thranduil glared at the evil creature that had him pinned. “You’d better kill me filth, or I swear I will kill you,” he growled in elvish.

 

The orc roared and bashed the elf in the side of the head with his spike-gloved fist, sending Thranduil into swirling unconsciousness.

 

“Idiot! I said I wanted him alive!” Guruth bellowed, hurrying over as he saw the golden-haired lord’s body go limp.

 

“He’s alive,” the orc sitting on Thranduil grunted, giving the elf a kick for good measure as he got up. “He’ll just have a nice headache when he wakes up.”

 

Guruth laughed. “That’ll be the least of his worries I’m thinking. Summon the others, pull them back. These elves won’t fight fair and die. I won’t lose anymore to them. They shouldn’t want to tangle with us again. I don’t think they’ll be so anxious to help their sniveling friends in the valley NOW. Make sure they don’t follow us.”

 

His underlings nodded and hurried away.

 

“Now my pretty...” Guruth grinned as he dumped Thranduil facedown across his mount’s back, pulling himself up behind. “We take you back to join the fun.” Guruth cared nothing for this warrior personally; he was just another elf that was better off dead. However, he had learned a lot about elves and their whole disgusting race in his long period of study and planning. He had discovered that as curious as it seemed, elves hated being forced to watch others suffer almost more than suffering themselves. If Guruth could hurt the Healer deeper through one of his little friends... well then, why miss such a grand opportunity? As soon as Glamferaen and Dehlfalhen arrived, then the real fun could begin.

 

 

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

 

 

Raniean looked around warily before finally sheathing his blade with aching fingers. The sun was sinking in the west. It had been a long and grueling fight, but they had survived it much better than he had feared.

 

It was impossible to know how many they had lost, or how many were wounded, because their entire company was spread across miles and miles of mountain ranges by now.

 

It was a good thing they had decided on a rendezvous point before the trouble started.

 

Wearily, the young commander led the handful of warriors still with him towards Mund’s Pass, slowly gathering a bigger following as they went.

 

Trelan was already waiting at the base of the huge, shattered stone that marked the top of the pass, along with fifty or sixty others.

 

“Where’s the King?” Trelan asked when Raniean approached alone.

 

Raniean shook his head. “I don’t know Trey, I don’t know where anyone is. Hopefully they will be here soon, although with the way we’re scattered...”

 

Trelan nodded. They were missing well over 300 warriors at the moment. It was impossible that they all could have been lost, so obviously many had not yet made their way thither. “It could be morning before we know for sure,” the smaller elf sighed in resigned concurrence.  

 

Raniean looked around and ran his hand over his face. He didn’t like it, but Trelan was right. There was nothing they could do now but wait.

 

 

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

 

 

Aragorn felt stiff and achy, but greatly refreshed when he awoke. He blinked and rubbed his eyes. “How long?” he inquired of the elf that was still watchfully holding him.

 

“Hopefully long enough, we should move on Estel. I worry what may be happening in the outside world while we are stuck down here,” Legolas said gravely, but gave his friend a reassuring smile.

 

Aragorn agreed wholeheartedly and tried to move away from the wall but he couldn’t feel his legs, submerged this whole time in the water as they had been and they crumpled painfully under him.

 

Legolas did not let his friend fall, supporting Aragorn until the human forced his numb legs to work again.

 

Aragorn answered his friend’s concerned gaze with a rueful grin. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I am sick of this place. Let us get out of here as swiftly as we may.”

 

Legolas nodded. “Agreed!”

 

They continued down the tunnel again for some time and the water became increasingly deeper and more swift. They tried to cling to the walls for support, but it was impossible. Suddenly the bottom dropped out beneath their feet.

 

Legolas, in the rear, saw Aragorn’s head suddenly disappear under the water. He could not catch his friend this time however because an instant later his own feet were pulled off the edge, finding only watery nothingness beyond.

 

The current was swift and merciless as it rushed them along, holding them under the surface. The water pressure increased as the passage narrowed. Aragorn could feel the pounding press of the water beat against his aching lungs and Legolas felt his eardrums compress painfully as they were propelled forward at frightening velocities.

 

Then suddenly they found themselves shooting out of the close, confined tunnel and sprawling in a confusing, swirling sea of open water.

 

The underground river dumped out into a deep black pool that stretched into a high domed cavern. Steps led up from the edges of the small lake, beyond that it was too difficult to make anything out.

 

Aragorn surfaced loudly a few feet away from Legolas, gasping for breath and treading water. He glanced quickly about him, trying to find the elf.

 

“Over here Aragorn.” When the soft glow of the immortal being caught his attention the ranger swam towards his friend who was making for the shore.

 

The elf had just reached the edge of the deep pool when Aragorn stopped him from exiting.

 

“Legolas look.” The awed whisper from the ranger startled the prince and he stopped. Half in the water and half out the elf’s glow lit up the bottom of the underground lake, if there was a bottom to it. The indigo depths of the subterranean pool twisted on out of sight as though carved by the water itself. Five feet below the steps was a natural shelf of stone that glittered oddly beneath Aragorn’s booted feet before dropping down into the twisting blackness of the bottomless drop off. He realized that ribbons of quartz and silver laced the sides of the pond. It was a wonder the dwarves had agreed to use this part of the cave as their water cache.

 

When he turned back to look at the elf, the prince was smiling slightly gazing into the pool, “It’s almost like looking at the heavens at night and seeing the stars all out for the evening.”

 

“Almost...” Aragorn whispered, “except that we are in a cave my friend.”

 

“Thank you for reminding me.” The elf growled playfully as he stepped away from the cove and shook the water from his clothing. Legolas absently wrung his hair dry as he cautiously walked about the interior of the cave; something wasn’t right.

 

“There is something familiar about this place Aragorn.” The elf’s voice was barely above a whisper and the tone of the statement immediately set the ranger on alert. It was not really the location itself that pricked the elf’s senses, but rather the sense of evil that lingered there.

 

A tunnel ran back into darkness not far from the steps leading down to the pond. Tracks in the dirt overlaid one another and it was hard to tell who had been in here and just how long ago. However, four feet above the ground metal sconces had been set in the walls at intervals and although the torch holders were ancient they were not covered in dust and cobwebs as they should have been, traces of recent usage marked their metal rings.

 

“This cave is still occupied.” Aragorn observed quietly. “But by whom?”

 

A pile of refuse lay in the farthest corner from the pool and the only tunnel leading out. It seemed that the residents of the cavern were using this corner for waste. Legolas approached the pile cautiously, dreading what he might find. Pulling one long slender arrow from his quiver he fished the point into a piece of cloth that lay on the ground near his feet and brought the fabric gingerly up to his face. Aragorn stood behind him now, having seen the prince’s preoccupation and wondering what his friend was up to.

 

Throwing the soiled cloth to the ground, Legolas backed up into the ranger, wrinkling his nose at the foul stench that assaulted his senses. The word that fell from his lips froze Aragorn’s heart.

 

Yrch.” Legolas spat the elvish word out like a curse, backing slowly away and glancing quickly about them. “Aragorn, orcs live here still, else their scent would not be so heavy in this place.”

 

“It cannot be.” Aragorn backed towards the pool, “This place can’t really exist so close...” His words fell off oddly.

 

“Aragorn what is it?” Legolas turned back to his friend. The horrified look the ranger laid on him caused him to fear the answer to his question.

 

“We are there. This is *that* place.” Aragorn swallowed hard, his voice barely above a whisper. “You heard the tale of Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen that night in the Hall of Fire. Do you remember?”

 

“Yes, but...” Legolas’ confusion was slowly turning to fear. His response was cut off as Aragorn continued explaining.

 

He quoted the song, his words somewhat musical as he remembered how they went, speaking softly in the high tongue:

 

“For where the orcs had made their final stand

near the bottomless pool crafted by dwarven hands

they there were slain by the immortals,

who lit their way by dim-less portals of the eldar.”

 

Aragorn breathed in shakily, his eyes darting around them, “Do you know what that means? They drove the orcs here into this darkness and killed them all, Legolas, by the light of their glow. They were fearsome and terrifying and it is said that they left none alive. But if that is true then a new clan of orcs is inhabiting this place again.”

 

Legolas did remember now and the words Aragorn spoke next rooted his feet in fear to the place where he stood.

 

“We are in Daradwayn.” The ranger pierced the elf with a steady stare and Legolas could see how truly frightened he was.

 

The prince’s brows furrowed. That name had not been in the story and was unfamiliar to him. He did not have a reference point for his friend’s horror.

 

“It is a story only.” He tried to comfort the human.

 

“It is not.” Aragorn glanced towards the tunnel leading out as everything stated making a horrible kind of sense; “It is truth. *This* is where the orcs and wargs came from, the ones that mounted the attack against my house, it must be. We are in their lair.”

 

“But they do not know.” Legolas smiled slightly. “My friend if it is true then we are the ones who have the upper hand. Let us go and see what can find out, perhaps we can bring them down from inside their filthy caverns.” The elf pointed towards the far tunnel. “When have a few orcs ever stopped us before?”

 

Legolas’ levity broke through Aragorn’s fear. He knew more than he was telling the prince, but he could not divulge the information. It was not his to tell. Legolas was right, any damage they could do would only help his family and it was high time the orcs were run out again.

 

With a nod of understanding the two friends ran for the tunnel, Legolas leading by the glow of his inner light. It was simple for him to see in the gloom of the underground tunnel and Aragorn could easily follow in the circle of light that the elf barely cast about them.

 

They hadn’t gotten far before the shuffling sound of orc boots echoed down the passageway. Legolas halted them, his hand up, cautioning Aragorn for silence. The harsh words of the orc language reverberated softly down the hallway accompanied by the growling barks of their companion wargs. The occupants of Daradwayn were on their way down to collect water for the evening meal.

 

Here the tunnel was smooth, the dwarven work exceptional and flawless. Meaning there was no where for the two intruders to hide. In minutes the wargs would pick up their scent. Turning quickly, Aragorn tugged Legolas with him, drawing him back into the pool room. Though large and irregular in shape this room gave up no more shelter than the tunnel had.

 

The two friends could not believe that their luck had played them this foul again. Not for the first time since the fateful attack on Rivendell, they were trapped.

 

 

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

 

 

Elladan and Elrohir toiled up the mountainside with quick and determined steps. They had traveled swiftly and without stopping, following as quickly as they could on the trail of the orcs who had taken their father.

 

“El,” Elrohir glanced sideways at his twin. “Do you think we can do it? Do you think we can wake Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen after all these years? Do you think we *should*?”

 

Elladan’s gaze was focused in the distance, his jaw set. “What do you think El?” he quietly returned the question with one of his own.

 

Elrohir’s hand tightened on the hilt of his sword as his eyes searched for the familiar rock outcropping they sought. “I think we have no choice.”

 

Elladan nodded grimly.

 

Suddenly Elrohir stopped dead in his tracks, forcing his brother to stop with him.

 

“What? What is it?” Elladan’s brows furrowed in concern.

 

Elrohir was sniffing the air cautiously. “I smell something,” he whispered, sliding his sword silently from its sheath. “I smell orcs.”

 

A few moments later his heightened senses were proved all too accurate as a host of dark shapes materialized from between the darkened trees and boulders.

 

“Looking for someone?” One of the orcs sneered.

 

The twins stood shoulder to shoulder, weapons raised, daring the creatures to attack them. But the orcs just stood there, laughter dancing in their cruel eyes.

 

Suddenly Elladan’s stomach lurched as he felt the ground under his feet shift.

 

Without warning the supposedly firm forest floor they stood upon fell inward as the well-concealed trap they were standing upon was triggered.

 

Elrohir had only a moment to catch sight of the fading light glinting and twisting menacingly on dark rows of twisted spikes below before the two elves were plunged downward into the deadly dark.  

 

Chapter Text

~*PART EIGHT*~
~Hidden Doors and Visible Fears~

 

 

 

The sounds of the approaching orcs could be heard now in the cavern. Legolas prepared for the coming fight, pulling his bow from its place on his quiver. He turned back towards Aragorn only to find the human wading back into the pool.

 

“What are you doing?” The elf whispered incredulously, “You cannot think to go back out the way we came in?”

 

“No, that will never work.” Aragorn responded hastily, his tone preoccupied and soft. “Here, come, quickly!” Holding his hand out to the elf he dropped down off the steps, the water rushing up to mid-chest as he balanced on the natural shelf. “The rocks, they form a small platform here under the water, we can hide under the shelf until the orcs are gone.”

 

Light spilled into the cave from the torches the orcs held as they shuffled into view. Pushing one another out of the way and telling coarse jokes, they made their way toward the pond. The water rippled slightly and the orc holding the torch watched the lapping waves curiously. As the ripples stilled and the dark pool fell back to its gentle rolling, the dark creature shrugged and pushed his warg back from the surface where the beast had been lapping up the clean, cold water.

 

“We refill the stores first and then you may drink your fill Shehlzak.” He reprimanded the creature, pushing the warg’s muzzle away from him. The beasts low, rumbling growl was rewarded with a none-too-gentle smack and the animal backed away to pace the edges of the underground shoal. The warg showed his teeth, but submitted.

 

Below the water the sounds were muted and distorted. Aragorn stood next to Legolas, holding himself submerged by wedging his body into a crevice that was protected from view by an outcropping of rocks near the base of the lowest step. The light from the torches above played in odd, broken patterns across the top of the water as the orcs dipped bucket after bucket into the pond.

 

The elf watched the surface cautiously, waiting for the light to recede. He could hold his breath a lot longer than any human, but he did not like the position they had been put into; one small slip and their whereabouts would be given away.

 

Aragorn, however, was not having it as easy. He had learned to hold his breath for almost five minutes; an ability that had its roots of learning in his brothers’ mischief, but his adrenaline had heightened his heart rate and he required more air than he had originally thought. He tried to calm himself but the feelings of suffocation coupled with the crippling claustrophobia of the position they were caught in overrode his senses, claiming his focus and control. He closed his eyes and pressed back against the rocks behind him, looking for a distraction to ease the pressure building in his chest.

 

Seeing his friend’s discomfort, Legolas grasped the ranger’s wrist tightly, forcing the human to focus on him.

 

Finally, their wait came to an abrupt end when a small contingent of orcs raced into the room.

 

“Tmarkz! Guruth has returned!” The orc messenger told his superior.

 

Tmarkz turned casually and glanced at the regiment that poured into the room. He ran his hand down the mane of the growling creature that stood next to him, quieting the wargs grumbling.

 

“And...?” He questioned the underling. “Did they find what they were looking for?”

 

“Not exactly, but they did find something.” The answer roused the laughter of those around them as a cruel smile lit the dark hearted being’s face, “Guruth says he has a companion for the prisoner and quite a tale for the fire tonight. He says you’re to come.”

 

With a simple nod, Tmarkz signaled to his company and the orcs left the chamber, carrying as much water as they had already retrieved in large caskets tied to the backs of several wargs. Their croaking laughter could be heard echoing down the hallway as Aragorn shot to the surface of the pond, boosted by Legolas who pushed the human up onto the first landing of steps.

 

Shelzahk froze mid-step, glancing over his left shoulder. The hair on the warg’s back stood on end and he growled out a question to his handler. Tmarkz stopped and listened carefully; he rarely doubted his mount’s sense of hearing and smell; the beast was nearly always correct. He had just decided to go back and check the pool room when a second messenger raced towards them, urging them quickly back into the main chamber. Guruth needed help setting up traps near the entrance of the cave. With a small shrug, the orc petted the warg’s broad back, shouldering the animal back down the hallway with promises of fresh meat.

 

Unconvinced, the creature followed its master into the main dwelling under the mountain; it never went well between them if he disagreed. Something had been back there and Shelzahk intended to find out exactly what, but it could wait. Wargs could be very patient when they wanted to be.

 

Aragorn gasped for breath and climbed slowly out of the water. Legolas stood near the tunnel, listening to the orcs retreat, trying to catch phrases and words from the disjointed conversations that drifted back to him. He didn’t dare get too close for fear of the wargs picking up his scent. The beasts’ senses were nearly as sharp as an elf’s and it would do them no good to get caught in this place with no way out.

 

“What do you hear?” The ranger asked as he gained Legolas’ side. He was bitterly cold and trying not to shiver as they stood on the threshold of the darkened passageway. His breath ghosted on the air as he spoke.

 

“You are freezing, we need to get somewhere warm.” Legolas alarm heightened as he turned back towards his friend. The man was briskly rubbing his arms in a vain attempt to stave off the chill caused by staying so long submerged in the cold mountain water.

 

“We will. But I want to know what they are talking about.” Aragorn nodded up the tunnel, emphasizing whom exactly he meant. “Could you hear anything?”

 

Legolas sighed wearily; he hated to tell the ranger what he had overheard. “It seems they have prisoners. More than one I’d wager, it sounded like someone else was just brought in.” The elf watched the human carefully as Aragorn’s movements stilled at the news. His brows narrowed in concern. Being a captive among orcs was one of the worst fates he could imagine and if these were the same creatures that had attacked his home, it was possibly someone from Rivendell.

 

“Who?” the ranger wanted to know.

 

With a shake of his head Legolas’ gaze dropped to the floor, “I do not know. It was hard to tell. One of them mentioned a friend for the prisoner and it sounds like they are preparing to fortify their position. They are setting traps into the surrounding forest, to keep someone out I imagine, I couldn’t quite hear everything and much of it was in their own disgusting tongue.” Glancing back up the elf met the ranger’s hard stare. He knew what Aragorn was thinking and how he would have felt had these orcs just returned from a raid on Lasgalen. “I’m sorry Estel.”

 

Aragorn gripped Legolas’ arm gently and nodded in understanding, “Let us go find out who was captured and see if we cannot free them while we take down this evil lair.”

 

“Agreed.” The elf’s grim features lightening slightly as he smiled; “However, I think we may need help if they have numbers here like we encountered in the woods. They have wargs as well and if we are not careful they will scent us. We must go carefully.” Legolas grabbed the ranger’s sodden jacket, stopping his friend’s forward rush, “And we need to find an alternate way out in case we cannot reach the surface through the orcs’ lair. If what you say is true and this place is of dwarven construction, there will surely be a backdoor. You remember what Balin told us about how strongly the dwarves felt on that subject.”

 

Aragorn didn’t really remember, it had been so many years ago. He was mildly surprised that Legolas did, considering how glazed-over the elven prince had appeared whenever the Moria dwarves had held forth on the finer points of their society. Apparently Legolas was a better listener than he gave him credit for.

 

“If the orcs have made this their home, won’t they know about any other doors?” Aragorn could not help asking.

 

Legolas cocked his head to the side, considering this. “Very possibly. But it is more likely these foul creatures have not been able to find it, or use it even if they have found it. At least it would be wise to check.”

 

With a nod, Aragorn moved aside and let Legolas lead him up and out of the pool room. His heart was overrun with a mysterious fear for whom the orcs might have taken and his body was drained from the cold, wet journey. The result of both factors was that his mind was not thinking as clearly as the elf’s and Aragorn knew that, so he was more than glad to let his friend take the initiative to lead them.

 

The smoothly carved tunnel through which they cautiously progressed showed signs of decay. A dwarf dwelling was built to endure, but orcs had a habit of destroying almost everything they touched, including their own habitations. The walls showed scorings and claw marks where the wargs had gotten into scuffles with one another and refuse littered the passageway.

 

Legolas’ heightened senses were almost a curse to him here and he had to fight the urge to gag on the stench as they slid slowly along the darkened tunnels, carefully mapping the passages in their mind for later reference.

 

After a few long minutes of creeping along Legolas stopped, crouching in a darkened switchback. The concave curve was shadowed in an odd mist that clung tightly to the ground and seemed to crawl up the wall. Cool air fell from somewhere above as Legolas stepped closer to the strange sight. A vent high up in the natural rock allowed the fresh air to fall into the cave. Moisture brought in by the air turned to mist as it dripped through the layers of sediment and the natural rivulets that ran from the some other water source far above.

 

The fresh air coming in was a relief, but that was not the only thing that drew the elf thither. There was something about it that pricked the prince’s memory. Something about mist curtains that he had heard from the dwarves a long time ago. He wished now that he had paid better attention. Legolas swiped his hands through the mist, testing it. The rock wall did not continue on just behind it as one might have assumed from the way it looked. There was more passage behind the vapor.

 

Sounds of the orcs could be heard just around the bend and Aragorn inched past the elf as Legolas drew one of his blades silently from its sheath on his back. His keen sight pierced through the veiled mist into another passage. Not having noticed that the ranger had moved on without him, he whispered his intentions to the man.

 

“Aragorn, this is it, I think, the back door. I remember Rorin I think, saying something about the use of mist curtains like this in the olden days of the dwarves...” He pressed through the swirling vapor tendrils and walked down the short tunnel to a dead end.

 

Here the walls and floor were swept clean of debris. The stench of orcs did not linger in the air. It seemed that the orcs did not frequent this area as much as the other passages, and that was no great wonder. There seemed to be nothing here worthy of a second look.

 

For half a moment Legolas thought he must have been wrong as he glanced at the dark, barren stone walls around him. Risking a little more light, since he was somewhat protected from sight by the mist curtain, Legolas increased his natural incandesce a few shades, illuminating the rocks around him in a faint blue glow. Something in the rocks directly in front of the elf glittered faintly.

 

Reaching out, Legolas’ gracefully fingers traced the delicate patterns etched into the stone, now just barely visible in the blackness. The swirling pattern seemed to form the outline of an invisible door. Although he could not see it, the prince felt sure that what appeared to be solid rock was indeed a Dwarven door. Created by the skill of the dwarves and perhaps sealed by the magic of the elves as was often found in works from the elder days before the friendship between most Elves and Dwarves had cooled into a mistrustful scrutiny.

 

A few moments later, Legolas spotted the ancient Elvish script that flowed around one edge of the concealed doorway. Rubbing it with his fingers as if to make it clearer, the elf’s brows knitted in concentration as he tried to make it out. The runes in use were old, almost archaic now, and the tongue was definitely Quenya.  

 

An sahtatalyë i lúce o naugrim ar eldar querelye anto rôm ar quenelye lambello i naugrim... then the words became totally unfamiliar as the language switched from Elvish to Dwarvish.The final line again was Elvish: Ar i andor quenelye lambello i eldar.

 

Legolas frowned. Quenya was not commonly known in his father’s realm since in past it had been so long a forbidden language among his father’s people. He had learned a little of the ancient elven tongue only in passing when he was being taught the roots and history of language. The fact that Quenya had been forbidden immediately made it attractive to his young mind and he had learned a fair amount before eventually forgetting all about it and moving on to other things. Any other experience with that ancient tongue had been picked up from his association with Aragorn and books in Lord Elrond’s house. He had a sharp mind though and felt that given a moment to think, he could figure it out. The runes were a little more difficult, but he got the main idea. The words were instructions for opening the door. The real trick would be deciphering the Dwarvish, of which he knew none. Perhaps Aragorn would know. As strange as it was to admit, the human would probably know more of the ancient tongue of the Noldor than the Wood-elf did.

 

“We can escape through here Estel,” he whispered. “As soon as I decipher these phrases it should open and close upon command.”

 

Legolas started and turned when silence met his revelation. Aragorn was nowhere to be seen in the tunnel behind him.

 

“Estel?” Running quickly back the way he had come, Legolas turned into the main passageway, his footsteps undetectable as he raced up behind his human companion.

 

Aragorn had nearly gained the entrance to the main chamber. He inched along the right hand wall in the shadow of the tunnel’s bend, listening intently as he moved slowly towards the opening. The warm glow of firelight danced against the far wall in oddly shaped patterns as orcs and wargs passed in front of the burning fires inside the room.

 

A light touch to the ranger’s shoulder caused him to jump, turning fully around in his tracks, his hand held out to stave off an unexpected attack. Legolas bit back the smile that curled his lips.

 

“Who did you think would be following you?” The elf questioned, his voice barely audible above the raucous laughter coming from the other room.

 

“You scared the life out of me.” Aragorn breathed in deeply and then flinched as the crack of a whip resounded through the tunnel. Ignoring his friend’s question, he quickly moved to the passage opening and peered out, whispering to the elf what he had so far overhead.

 

“They do have prisoners.” Aragorn ducked back and pressed hard against the passageway as a drunken orc wove unsteadily past the opening. “They are elves.” His voice held the slightest tinge of distress. “I believe from what they have said that one of them is Glorfindel. He was captured in the hills nearby. They believe that having him here with someone they call ‘the other one’ will draw someone else to them.” Aragorn turned back towards Legolas, a puzzled look on his face. It was a frightening thought to consider that these orcs had somehow managed to capture the Balrog Slayer, but more than a little confusing who exactly they could prize as a bigger catch to be using Glorfindel against. “I don’t understand. I’m going to take a look. Maybe we can free them.” He answered Legolas’ cautioning frown.

 

Edging back towards the tunnel opening, Aragorn peered inside. The cave was filled with orcs lounging near several fires, sprawled against their resting wargs or arguing with one another over vats of their obscene draught. A group of orcs gathered around the prisoners in the right hand wing of the cave, obscuring his view.

 

Darting to the left side of the passage, Aragorn stepped partly out of the tunnel. The interior of the room looked as though it had suffered from a massive earthquake, possibly the one that had shaken Rivendell some years past. Whenever it had happened, a column had dislodged from the vaulted ceiling and crumbled to the floor, leaving troll-sized boulders scattered about the interior. One such large stone had crashed down near the tunnel opening and partly blocked the entry. It was in the shadow of this rock shard that Aragorn stood. From his new vantage point he could just barely make out the golden hair of an elf that was being tormented by his captors.

 

“Is it Glorfindel?” Legolas questioned quietly from his own hiding place across from Aragorn.

 

“Yes, I believe it...” The ranger’s face went ashen and he gasped as the orcs moved enough for him to see both the captives that hung from the twisted rope manacles across the room. “Oh by the Valar.”

 

The change in Aragorn sent a wave of panic through Legolas. “What?” He glanced between his friend and his limited view of the room, trying vainly to see what the human could. “Aragorn, what is it?”

 

An orc with a grotesquely scarred face punched a dark haired elf in the stomach, doubling the Noldo over. Wrapping blackened, clawed fingers in the elf’s long hair, Guruth pulled Elrond back upright and leered at the elf lord. A crude, thick blade played under the proud elven chin, taunting the healer.

 

“So, shall we continue with you or entertain... what, the captain of your guard is he?” Guruth drew nearer to Elrond and the elf grimaced, closing his eyes and looking way. He shuddered slightly as he tried to breathe around the pain wracking his body. It struck him oddly that the orcs thought Thranduil was one of his own, but he did not argue.

 

“No answer my pet?” The edge of the knife drew a harsh line along the underside of Elrond’s jaw. Seeing he would get nowhere, the orc slammed his elbow up under the elf’s chin, snapping his head back against the rock wall behind him. It was all Elrond could do to keep from crying out.

 

“Stop it!” The other prisoner demanded, seeing the brutal treatment of the orcs.

 

That voice.

 

Legolas started, his heart hammering in his chest. He knew that voice. “Aragorn...?” His question faltered as fear tingled through him.

 

Guruth swept his blade up quickly, severing Elrond’s bonds. The elf fell limply to the floor, unable to stand up under the abuse his body had taken.

 

Aragorn could take no more. He couldn’t believe his eyes and the horror that wrapped through his mind had stifled all coherent thought. Unable to watch his father beaten, he darted forward.

 

Strong arms wrapped around his waist, halting him mid-stride and dragging him back into the passageway. Legolas rolled to the ground, fighting the human he held as he moved back behind the bend in the tunnel to hide the sounds of their scuffle.

 

“Let me go!” Aragorn hissed dangerously, “I have to get them out of there. They can’t hurt him anymore. Legolas let me go!” He fought the hands that held him down. “You don’t understand.”

 

“No.” The elf was strong enough to hold the human at bay but was unwilling to hurt him, “No! Stop struggling.” He whispered into the man’s ear even as he tightened his hold on the ranger, effectively pinning him with his weight. “Stop it. Stop and think! We’ve been here before my friend. If you go in there you will be killed. There were at least 500 hundred orcs and half as many wargs.”

 

With a sob of defeat Aragorn stilled beneath the elf, unable to meet his friend’s gaze. Of course Legolas was right, Aragorn knew that, but seeing Elrond in that cruel situation had nearly stolen his reason away for a few moments.

 

“Now, tell me what you saw.” Legolas released the ranger and pushed away from him, resting his back against the tunnel wall. “Who is in there? Was it Glorfindel?”

 

Aragorn answered with a shake of his head. He sat up and pushed the hair away from his face, glancing down to the gravelly floor beneath him.

 

“I did not think so.” Legolas’ gaze wandered back to the tunnel opening, “That was not his voice.”

 

“No, it was not.” Pressing himself up, Aragorn stood slowly to his feet; tears glimmered in the corners of his eyes. “It was...” his voice trailed off as he walked back towards the main hall, “It was Ada and...”

 

Legolas’ hand on his arm stopped his forward movement, causing him to turn slowly back to his friend. “Tell me.” The elf whispered quietly, already shocked by the news.

 

“Elrond is in there and he is not alone.” Aragorn took a shaky breath and steadied himself, gently gripping his friend’s arms, “Your father is with him Legolas. Somehow the orcs have captured him and they have somehow apparently mistaken him for Glorfindel.”

 

Legolas’ mind reeled. He had known that was his father’s voice but had not wanted to believe it true. Why would Thranduil be here, so far from home? How in Arda had he managed to end up a prisoner? Surely he would not have been alone wherever he went... how had this happened? It was unthinkable. What could have possibly forced the king to leave his kingdom? “Are you sure?”

 

“We have to get them out of there.” Aragorn repeated quietly, he knew Legolas hadn’t heard him the first time. The elf was obviously as stunned and horrified as he was at the unexpected revelation.

 

Whatever the elf was going to say was cut short as shouting erupted from the main room, drawing both friends’ attention. The orcs were fighting amongst themselves; something had happened.

 

Guruth smirked as he toyed with his prisoners. It was fun to watch the two of them try to defend each other. Elves could be so selflessly stupid at times; he wondered how their race had survived as long as they had. A kick to the prone captive on the ground brought a shout of warning from the golden-haired elf still bound to the wall even as Elrond cautioned him off.

 

Stepping nearer to the Sinda elf, Guruth held the proud face in one gloved hand, his long, claw-like fingernails protruding from the torn leather tips. Thranduil didn’t flinch. Guruth smiled, his grin feral and evil. The fire in this elf’s eyes was still blazing and unbroken; it would be fun to change that.

 

Commotion at the front of the cavern drew his attention away and Guruth stepped back, giving Thranduil a moment of peace. The elf lord glanced to the floor where Elrond lay, forgotten for the moment amongst their captors. Of all the beings he might have expected to encounter here, the Lord of Imladris was definitely not one of them. Thranduil was sadly confused about what was going on and who exactly these creatures thought he was, but right now survival was the main priority, answers would have to come later.

 

A small scouting party of orcs tumbled into the chamber, fighting and arguing amongst themselves. One soldier held two distinctly elvish blades in his hands. He pushed his way to the front of the group, silencing them with an angry shout and approached Guruth.

 

The orc leader’s eyes narrowed and he scowled as the scout walked forward. “What is this? Report.” He barked out the command causing the room to fall silent, the inhabitants flinching slightly at the disapproval in his voice.

 

The orc plunged the two swords tip down into the rocky earth floor, leaving them stuck quivering in plain sight of the captive elves. “Two elves came up through the gap. They’re dead. One of Rhezsharb’s traps got them a little too well,” the orc scout informed his leader. “The filthy squeakers got stuck like pigs on a spit. Belzg thinks they mighta been the Elf Lord’s sons. They was identical of face.”

 

On the ground, Elrond’s already pale face whitened to near ghostliness. For a moment his gaze remained transfixed upon the familiar twin blades before he pressed his eyes shut, curling into himself and turning his head towards the cold stone floor. Those were Elladan and Elrohir’s swords, he knew them at a glance and his heart shattered within him.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

~*PART NINE*~
~A Hole in the Sky~

 

 

 

Guruth stared at the tokens for a moment, his jaw muscles working tensely. “You idiots! You weren’t supposed to kill anyone! They were to be taken alive!” Guruth growled with murderous rage. The wargs closest to the arguing orcs silently got up from the fire ring and moved away. It was best to let their masters fight things out themselves. “Who was responsible for this?”

 

No one answered; not a creature in the room even met the angry gaze of the orc that questioned them.

 

“Who!?”

 

“It was unfortunate my lord, an accident.” The scouting party’s leader finally replied. His answer was rewarded by a backhanded slap from Guruth. The force of the blow threw the other to the ground.

 

“YOU SLOBBERING MAGGOT-BRAINS! I ought to feed you all to the wargs! I wanted them here, like him,” he jerked his head towards Thranduil. “HERE!” He pointed to the ground beneath his feet, “So they could suffer, so he could suffer!” Guruth pointed a crooked black finger at Elrond, his gaze hot enough to bore holes through his own troops.

 

“But they was just elves and now they are dead ones.” Another orc from the firepit on Guruth’s left whined quietly, “You’re always saying that’s what a good elf is, a dead one.”

 

Lunging at the orc who had spoken, Guruth barely restrained himself from killing the warg rider. Guruth’s warg, Mrdhdúk walked slowly up behind her master and butted her head into the small of the orc’s back, whining softly. It was often left to her to calm the leader when fights broke out, rarely could anyone else reach through the orc’s rage.

 

Turning quickly, Guruth struck out at the beast behind him. Mrdhdúk ducked the blow and growled, baring her fangs. She only barely tolerated his outbursts. The creature was loyal, but it was ill advised to push her. Grabbing the large furry head of his mount, Guruth stepped alongside her, petting the tiny flat ears as he held her to him. He addressed the orcs guarding Thranduil and Elrond, his voice low and menacing.

 

“Cut that one down and get them out of my sight. We’ll just let them think about their futures for a while. See to it that no one touches them tonight. That is, if they stay where they are put and do not try to escape, if they do, then you can kill them.” He leveled a dangerous gaze on the elven lords, “Otherwise, whoever spoils them will make a nice breakfast for Mrdhdúk. And some of you slugs go back for the bodies of the other two, if they’re dead I want to SEE it, understand?” He barked out the question.

 

Murmured assents reached his ears and he stormed out of the main hall heading for his private chambers, his warg companion close on his heels.

 

“We killed many elves, why’s he care so much about those brats?” An orc soldier wondered out loud after their leader had left the cavern. His single question breaking the silence. “We’ve already got one playmate for his prize. I thought he said he was after...”

 

Tmarkz walked past the orcs position and clouted his fellow rider on the head, cutting him off. “Are you as stupid as you look? Think about it fool.” He continued on, retiring to his own corner of the room for the night. His mount however, did not heed his call. The warg glanced back towards the passage leading to the pool room.

 

Shelzahk hadn’t forgotten that there was something in the underground cistern that had bothered him and he was intent on finding out what it was before he bedded down. A growled question elicited a shrug from his handler. Tmarkz didn’t care what the beast did.

 

The orcs on either side of Thranduil released the thick cords that held him just above the floor. His hands were bound in front of him and he was dragged part way around the cavern to be thrown to the ground next to Elrond. The gaping passageway leading to the pool room was fifty feet to their left, but it might have well as been fifty miles for all the orcs and wargs that lay between them and their closest means of escape; had they even known it was a means of escape.

 

For a few moments Elrond simply continued to lie were he had been dropped. His mind and his heart were reeling nearly as painfully as his body. He was in a state of semi-shock both from the abuse and the horrible tidings that had caused Guruth to fly off the handle.

 

When Thranduil was thrown down next to him, the Sinda winced visibly and rolled into a partial sitting position, leaning against a boulder. He hugged one arm tightly to his chest, his face pale and his gaze somewhat glassy now that he was not faced with any orcs to defy.

 

Elrond’s brows furrowed as he saw the elven king’s blood-soaked sleeve and the many raw gashes and lacerations under the torn clothing. Apparently the orcs had had a difficult time taking him, and not been gentle with the captive after they had succeeded. The Noldo had to wonder how on Arda Thranduil had gotten here. He should have been in Mirkwood, many leagues distant. His thoughts mirrored Thranduil’s earlier because the Sinda was literally the very last elf he would have expected to see right now. His presence was both surprising and distressing.

 

“What are you doing here?” the Lord of Imladris ventured quietly, trying to keep his worn voice low enough to not be noticed by their captors. If thinking that Thranduil was Glorfindel kept the Elvenking alive for the present, then Elrond was not about to shatter that illusion.

 

Thranduil grimaced, but kept his eyes shut for the moment. “That is a very long story,” he murmured, but did not elaborate further. Talking seemed to be an effort for him. “What about you?”

 

Elrond sighed numbly. “Another long story. Rivendell was invaded.”

 

Thranduil looked alarmed, and ill. “I knew some evil was afoot, but I never dreamed...” He rubbed his forehead with his bound wrists. Perspiration glistened dimly on the blonde elf’s face and his breathing was rapid. “Is Legolas...”

 

Elrond could tell something was amiss. His attention was drawn back to Thranduil’s injured, blood stained arm. “I do not know. He and Estel were all right the last time I saw them.” Elrond swallowed the hard thought that for that matter, the same was true of Elladan and Elrohir. Elrond focused his attention back on Thranduil, trying to block the other crushing thoughts from his mind. He could not deal with them. “You feel ill?”

 

Thranduil did not answer. He did, but he would not admit to such.

 

Instinctively, the healer reached out with bound hands, pushing the ripped garment back and looking the injury over carefully. The cuts were deep and painful and Thranduil had no doubt already lost more than a safe amount of blood. The worst news however, was that they were poisoned. Not the dark, deadly morgul poisoning that would kill swiftly; this was a lesser variety that might not prove fatal even without treatment, but it would surely sap the other elf’s strength and make him very ill.

 

Elrond had nothing to work with and little enough left inside him to give, but that didn’t keep him from trying. Placing his bound hands against the other elf lord’s injured arm he wrapped his long, bloodied fingers around Thranduil’s bicep and tried to offer what he could to fight the poison.

 

Thranduil blinked, his pain-dulled eyes springing quickly back to life as he felt the tingling influx radiating from the healer’s touch. Clarity returned as he sensed the grip of the poisons working on him loosen and ease. Then he realized Elrond’s hands were trembling against his arm and his gaze snapped to the elf lord’s face. Elrond’s bruised face was pale and his eyes were starting to glaze and roll backward.

 

“Daro!” With a soft cry, Thranduil pulled his arm away and scrambled back a few feet, as much as his bound hands and injuries allowed. “Stop!”

 

Surprised at the sudden disconnect, Elrond tumbled forward a little before he caught his balance again. The dark haired Noldo blinked several times, clearing his head and his vision as he tried to discern the reason for Thranduil’s abrupt reaction. “Are you all right?”

 

“Am *I* all right?” Thranduil shook his head, his eyes dark with recriminating alarm. He did not know Elrond well, but even so, he had never seen the other elven lord looking so drained and empty. “I am not the one who looked ready to pass out a moment ago. Do not do that again. I... I appreciate what you were trying to do, but you are in no condition to be giving so much so freely. Save your strength, you need it more than I.” Thranduil tried to gentle his usually authoritative manner of speaking at the last.

 

Elrond exhaled in weary disgust, falling back to let his head and shoulders rest against the stone wall once more. “So much? I can give almost nothing right now.” The elf was badly frustrated by his own incredibly limited abilities. Not just because of his drained and weakened state, but because of the warrior’s role he had been forced to take. Elves had the choice, to be healer or fighter, but they could not be as powerful in both at the same time. Elrond’s foray into warrior mode had weakened his healing abilities a little and they would take a bit of time to return to full strength. If he lived that long.

 

It was for that reason that Elrond had long ago forsaken warfare in favor of strengthening his already above average healing skills. His sons preferred to walk in both worlds, healers and warriors, but their own powers could never match his because of that choice. Except perhaps Aragorn someday, since his heritage did not bid him chose between great strength in one realm or the other exclusively.

 

Thranduil shook his head. What he had felt was hardly ‘nothing’, although he knew he himself did not have a quarter of the healing power of the Noldo. “Now you sound like my son,” he muttered quietly, but with the hint of a smile. “Perhaps it is not only your human ward who has been a bad influence on him.”

 

Elrond gave a single, half-amused chuckle. “Oh, so Estel has been a bad influence on *Legolas* has he? I rather thought it was the other way around.”

 

Thranduil glowered at any suggested slight against his only child, but he knew Elrond was no more serious than he had been.

 

“Do you... think they are all right? Legolas and Estel I mean.” Thranduil asked quietly a moment later, his unease gnawing at him again as flickering traces of his nightmares replayed in his mind. He instantly regretted the question; realizing too late the agony of loss that it would bring back once more to his companion.

 

Elrond stared unseeing into the darkness, his thoughts flying back to the orcs’ terrible words not long ago. His sons they said... They would not have known about Estel, but Elladan... Elrohir... a small, stifled tremor shook his shoulders. No, he couldn’t think about that. He couldn’t imagine them gone. In his current state, it would break him. His head fell forward a little, loose brown hair spilling down around his face. People looked to him, they always looked to him, even Thranduil was looking to him now for some kind of wisdom to get through this; some kind of hope... but Elrond didn’t know if he had any anymore. Not for himself, and not for anyone else. Foresight had failed him and he was sure of nothing at the moment. He only knew what he wished in his heart.

 

“I don’t know. I honestly do not know,” he whispered quietly.

 

Thranduil sat uncomfortably still for several moments, having no idea how to react to the dark, despairing waves of pain that were radiating off the other elf. Then he hesitantly reached out and laid his hand on Elrond’s taught shoulder, despite the pain that caused his injured arm as it was obliged to move along with the other because of the bonds around his wrists.

 

“I’m sorry about your sons,” he said at last. It was a little awkward, as he was not normally given to highly emotional displays with people whom he was not closely acquainted, but he wanted to say *something* to try to help. “You are very strong. I-I think I should lose every last shred of reason in my body if Legolas...” his voice choked off. He had thought he lost Legolas several times in the past, and once it had very nearly killed him.

 

Elrond smiled faintly, acknowledging the other elf’s effort, but the pain did not leave his eyes. “They didn’t say if Estel was with them,” he murmured. “They wouldn’t have thought a human worth the mention, but I cannot imagine his allowing himself to be left behind...” Elrond feared he had lost all three sons today. His second fear, that Legolas would have been left behind no easier than Estel, remained unvoiced. There was no need for Thranduil to share the weight of crushing uncertainty and anguish that was devouring him.

 

“And if none of us return... what will that do to Arwen?” the elf lord’s voice was soft and almost toneless in the depth of his shock-numbed state. He had lost his whole family, his parents, his twin, eventually his wife and now even his sons... he did not want Arwen to go through that pain as well, but it seemed inevitable at this point.

 

Thranduil’s hand tightened on his shoulder. He didn’t have any answers, knew of nothing that could make something like this any easier. All he could offer was to be there and somehow hope that would help.

 

Elrond closed his eyes and leaned back against the cool rock wall behind him. Everything hurt and he needed to rest. They were given a reprieve for the night; he needed to make the best of it. Part of him knew he had the very simple choice to not wake up tomorrow, or to keep fighting. At the moment the former was a tempting option, but not one he was ready to take. If there were a chance for survival he would remain in the world for Arwen and for Estel if he yet lived. He just needed to rest so his mind would clear. Darkness stole his last waking thoughts from him and he shifted slightly as he gave into sleep that was more unconsciousness than rest. He was too tired to fight even that.

 

Thranduil watched the other elf with growing worry. He knew from experience there was only so much a heart could handle and wondered if Elrond had met his limit. Secretly, selfishly he hoped not.

 

The faintest of whispers reached the elven lord’s ears and Thranduil turned his head slowly towards the darkened doorway several stone throws away from him.

 

When the arguing had broken out, Aragorn raced back to the front of the tunnel, peering out into the main chamber. He wanted one last chance to free his father and Thranduil. He wasn’t yet convinced that they were entirely hopelessly outnumbered.

 

Legolas followed, intent upon keeping the human alive. As much as he wanted his father free of the orcs, he understood that they needed help badly, or at least a decent plan.

 

Pressing as close to the threshold of the opening as was possible, the two companions resumed their previous positions, with Aragorn on the left and Legolas in the shadows on the right. The ranger’s dark clothing blended much better with the boulder’s coloration than the elf’s attire did.

 

When news of the twins’ deaths had been reported it was nearly one blow too many for Aragorn. The human flinched physically; he clenched his eyes shut tightly and staggered back a step. In one fell swoop his family seemed to have been decimated and he had been unable to help, stuck in the bowels of the mountain trudging through Dwarven water tunnels. It was too horrible for words. Drawing in a ragged breath he met Legolas’ eyes. The elf’s hand on his elbow helped to steady him.

 

“You do not know that they speak the truth.” Legolas barely whispered, his words precise since he knew that Aragorn read his lips. The raw pain in his friend’s eyes created a hot lump in the elf’s throat.

 

A slight nod was all the response the ranger gave.

 

As Guruth left the cavern, the two friends pressed back into the recesses, crouching low to avoid being seen by the wargs that were now returning to the room, having been stirred up by their handlers’ arguments.

 

“We must go for help.” Legolas mouthed as he slid back to the opening and watched his father being removed from the manacles. His heart clenched within and he burned with hatred as the foul creatures threw the elf lord down out of his line of vision. The events of the past few hours swam dizzyingly through his head threatening to overwhelm his heart. Pushing his emotions aside he focused on the room. There were at least one hundred orcs and wargs between them and their fathers, not counting the hundreds upon hundreds beyond that. They could not free the elf lords, but from what Guruth had said Legolas guessed that for at least the next twelve hours, their fathers would be safe.

 

They had the element of surprise on their side, they only needed to find help, and fast. “We cannot free them or survive an attack on them as we are. They will not touch our fathers until their leader awakens. We need help.”

 

“They have father, my brothers are... could be... dead! Who do you think will be left to come?” Aragorn’s voice was choked.

 

Legolas shook his head when Aragorn resisted his logic. “Listen to me!” The elf whispered fiercely, “All of Rivendell cannot have been wiped out. Your household has survived; some of them had to have! I cannot believe your brothers would have come alone, and even if so, someone had to have been with my father, he *never* travels alone. We need to go for help, at the very worst we will fail to find anyone and can still come back alone and attack them as they sleep tonight! We would stand a better chance in a few hours anyway. I found a back door, we can leave and return and they will never know. But we must hurry.” His voice softened as the ranger turned a tear-stained gaze upon him. “Estel...”

 

“I know.” The man whispered raggedly as his breathing hitched. “Let me look on him one last time before we leave so my heart may rest at ease and know that he is alive.” The ranger’s eyes implored his friend, “Legolas please...”

 

With a nod the elf accompanied Aragorn back once more to the end of the tunnel.

 

Shifting as far out into the room as he possibly could, hidden as he was by the boulder, Aragorn quietly watched his father where the elf lord sat slumped over against Thranduil. Elrond’s eyes were closed and Aragorn’s heart beat wildly. Softer than most beings could hear, the ranger called to the elven kings.

 

“Ada?”

 

There he had heard it again. Thranduil slowly turned to gaze into the darkened recess. His elven sight allowed him to barely make out the form of a man crouching near the boulder that partly blocked access to the tunnel.

 

“Ada?”

 

Thranduil glanced back at Elrond. The elf lord had fallen asleep resting against him. “Cuia penneth.” Thranduil whispered softly, his gaze returning to light on the human. “He lives young one.” The sight of Strider in the orc hall brought a blossom of hope to the king’s heart. Where the human was, his son was bound to be as well. If Aragorn were alive then the chances were high that Legolas was also.

 

Hannon le.” Aragorn barely whispered. “Thank you.”

 

A slender, pale hand wrapped around the ranger’s mouth and drew him backwards causing the man to flinch slightly, surprised at the touch.

 

“Quiet. The wargs will hear you.” Legolas’ breath stirred the hair near Aragorn’s ear as he pulled the human back against him, intending to drag him all the way out of the tunnel by force if necessary. He was horrified when Aragorn had begun to speak.

 

Wrenching Legolas’ hand from his mouth, the ranger turned in the elf’s grip, his face nearly touching the prince’s as he whispered fiercely, “You can speak to your father. I was!”

 

The desire to see his father safe overcame his hesitancy and Legolas inched past Aragorn, encouraged by the ranger who crept behind him.

 

Thranduil, watching the opening as intently as he was, did not see the large dark shape that stalked silently towards the passage.

 

Shelzahk, already intent on returning to the pool room, had heard something as well. He knew his master had overlooked what his sharp ears were telling him. There were intruders in the cavern. Alerting the orcs would be unwise until he had made sure his assumptions were correct however. The smaller beasts had a nasty habit of taking out their aggressions on their mounts if they were woken unnecessarily. Stealthily the warg crept forward, his senses trained on the opening.

 

Leaning into the room, Legolas’ eyes locked onto his father’s and a small smile lit his face, mirroring the bruised and bloodied one on his father’s. “Ada,” he mouthed silently.

 

Thranduil smiled in relief. “Legolas,” he mouthed back.

 

Faced with his father’s injured and bloody visage, Legolas felt his heart tear deeper. For a few moments he understood Aragorn’s burning compulsion to rush in there and brave any odds rather than suffer their dear ones to be hurt even the slightest bit more.

 

Despite his own misgivings a moment ago, Legolas was about to question the older elf further when Aragorn saw the warg who was stalking slowly towards their position.

 

“Legolas now!” Aragorn grabbed the back of the elf’s tunic and raced back down the passageway. The ranger’s clumsy tug on the prince’s clothing unbalanced the elf and he threw a look over his shoulder at his father once more before retreating hastily after the human. He barely caught sight of Shelzahk as the beast’s bulk filled the tunnel opening behind them.

 

“Where is it?! Legolas, the back door, where?” Aragorn grabbed the elf as Legolas stumbled into him. “Tell me there is a back door.” He whispered fiercely.

 

The ranger’s eyes grew huge as he saw the dark form barreling towards them up the passageway.

 

“Yes, this way!” Legolas shifted around the human and raced for the veiled opening.

 

Drawing his sword, Aragorn stood between the way out and the warg that had caught their scent.

 

Shelzahk’s battle senses were on alert, his lust for blood was heightened and this cat and mouse game fascinated him. There were intruders in *his* lair. He moved forward slowly, his thick muscles tensing for the killing spring when he rounded the bend and found the human standing in his path. Barring his teeth he loosed a deep, low growl and stalked forward.

 

“Legolas?!” Aragorn called over his shoulder, his sword held before him as he backed up.

 

“It is here!” Legolas’ muffled voice called back to him, “Hurry, before we are discovered!”

 

“I think we’ve been discovered.” Aragorn muttered darkly under his breath as he continued backing towards the sound of the elf’s voice. He glanced over his shoulder towards the elf who stood in front of the close door. “Open it Legolas, quickly!” They tried to keep their voices as low as possible so as not to alert anyone else.

 

Darthag,” Legolas muttered distractedly. “Patience.” He hurriedly scanned the rows of runes before him; had had not been given the chance to decipher them earlier. The added pressure now did not help his concentration.

 

“An sahtatalyë i lúce o naugrim ar eldar,” Legolas murmured aloud. “To crack... to open the enchanted - enchanted dwarves and elves? No, enchantment OF dwarves and elves,” Legolas stumbled quickly through the translation, wishing to goodness for the first time in his life that Quenya was one subject he had studied a little harder in his youth. All the extra little words were confusing and different from the word-order oriented speech with which he was most familiar.

 

“Legolas!” Aragorn’s voice was alarmed as the warg backed him into the mist.

 

“I’m trying! You get down here and read this, you probably know more Quenya than I do!” Legolas snapped in frustration.

 

“Love to, I’m a little busy,” Aragorn murmured back as he feinted right, watching as the warg snapped its head that direction, following the move, and then following him back. Growling low in its chest the beast pressed closer into the passage. It knew it had its prey cornered and enjoyed the scent of their fear as he closed in for the kill.

 

“Querelye anto rôm ar quenelye lambello i naugrim... Turn you... giver?? No, face, *your* face... east and speak in the tongue of the dwarves.” Legolas finished hastily. He turned the proper direction, then stopped. The subsequent inscription was Dwarvish, but he knew little or none of that language and could not even decipher the runes.

 

“Estel! Can you read ancient Dwarvish?” the question was urgent.

 

Aragorn caught his foot on a snag in the floor and nearly stumbled. The warg started forward. “Speak, yes, read, no. Legolas! Now would be a good time to leave...”

 

Legolas gave the stone a sharp blow with his fist, urgency fueling his despair. The only Dwarvish words he knew were curses, and right now he was frustrated enough that he muttered a few choice ones under his breath.

 

The prince nearly jumped backward when the stone in front of him split silently open and swung outward. “Well...” Legolas blinked. Either any Dwarvish word would do, or the inventors of this particular gate had a crude sense of humor.

 

“Aragorn, quickly!” he called to his friend as cool, fresh air flooded the passage.

 

Sensing his prey was suddenly close to escaping, the warg pounced forward, his mouth snapping shut on air as Aragorn sidestepped and thrust his blade into the creature’s front leg, slicing through the muscle. Shelzahk howled with in pain and slammed his head hard to the left, crushing the human between the rock and his thick skull.

 

The air was compressed from Aragorn’s lungs as the warg flung him against the tunnel wall, pressing him hard into the rocky surface. With his free hand the ranger punched downward, striking the animal’s soft nose.

 

The creature recoiled, slamming its head into the top of the passageway and lurching sideways. Given the small reprieve, Aragorn stumbled into the mist-veiled tunnel. He held his left arm tightly across his hurting chest, his sword gripped in his right hand as he made for Legolas’ position.

 

The elf stood in the portal now, just outside the secret doorway he had opened. The moonlight framed his hair an even softer shade of blonde and it seemed that the elf’s natural glow had brightened considerably as he motioned for the ranger to hurry. Seeing the shape his friend was in, Legolas rushed back into the tunnel and grabbed the ranger about his waist, allowing Aragorn to lean on him for support. Together they scrambled back to the door and safety.

 

Shelzahk had recovered from the stinging blow and rushed into the now opened corridor. The hair on the back of the warg’s shoulders stood on end like a black, jagged razor as he tracked his prey into the tunnel. Blood ran in rivulets down his leg from Aragorn’s attack and saliva dripped from his fangs and open mouth as he snarled at the fleeing elf and human.

 

From deeper in the cavern several other wargs howled in answer to his cry. In moments their escape was not going to be much of a secret.

 

Gaining the threshold of the doorway, Legolas shoved Aragorn through the opening. The ranger stumbled into the woods that braced the east side of the mountain, breathing heavily in the cool night air as he tried to catch his breath.

 

“Legolas!” his shouted warning was in vain as Shelzahk leapt for the entrance.

 

But the elf was no longer paying attention. He had to get the gate closed!

 

Ar i andor quenelye lambello i eldar... he remembered the last line, even if he didn’t have time for a literal translation. The doors opened by a Dwarvish word, but were meant to close for an elvish one.

 

Solo!” Holding up one hand he called for the gates to close in his native tongue. Nothing happened. Quickly realizing his mistake he swiftly wracked his brain for the Quenya equivalent. “Táce!” was all he could come up with, although he wasn’t sure that was entirely correct. It must have been close enough because the Dwarven doors slammed shut without hesitation.

 

Unfortunately the doors weren’t fast enough. Shelzahk had nearly cleared the opening when the thick entry swung shut, trapping the warg half in and half out of the tunnel. The beast’s claws dug into the dirt raking up the forest floor in an attempt to squeeze through, but the rock doorway held it fast. Shaking his head in frustration and growling at the two creatures in front of him Shelzahk tried vainly to free himself.

 

There was no way they could leave the warg wedged in the opening like it was. The orcs were sure to find the back door and track the ranger and the elf from there. As it was the orcs might be able to track the warg to the hidden passage but if the door were sealed tightly they would never get it open. Quickly grabbing his bow from its resting-place on his quiver, Legolas strung two arrows and targeted the animal’s skull. In seconds the warg lay dead at his feet.

 

“We have to get it out of there.” Aragorn leaned on Legolas’ shoulder for support as he stepped back near the foul beast. With a slight nod the prince commanded the doors to open once more. Shlezahk’s bulk fell into the doorway as the rock entry released it.

 

They were running low on time. It was a miracle none of the other wargs or orcs had come upon them yet as it was. The ranger dropped to one knee and began digging through his pack. Handing over a coil of elven crafted rope to the prince he took one end and tied it off about the warg’s head and shoulders.

 

“We have no time to waste, we need that door closed.” He grabbed the end out of Legolas’ hand and stepped deeper into the woods. Swiftly finding a young tree with a medium sized girth he ran the rope around its base, using the sapling for leverage.

 

The elf’s sharp ears heard footsteps in the passage beyond. They had to hurry, the mist curtain would hide them momentarily from sight, but the wargs would smell them any moment.

 

Catching onto his friend’s intentions, Legolas grabbed the rope and helped the ranger pull the dead carcass out of the doorway. With both of them pulling it took only a few moments, though they felt like ages. As soon as the warg was out, Legolas re-closed the doors with a quiet command. The rock sealed itself perfectly, invisible to any and all who might pass that way. And not a moment too soon. Just as the doors were clicking shut they heard the voices of orcs in the passage.

 

“Come on, get back you,” an orc voice snapped, presumably at a warg. “I told you you was waking us all up for nothing, see?? What got them wargs all stirred up do you think?”

 

“I’ll be a bloody pig before I know,” a second voice returned. “Look for yourself, there ain’t nothing there...”

 

Then the stone sealed completely and they could hear no more.

 

Legolas breathed a sigh of relief.

 

“We’ll never find it again.” Aragorn stated softly as he searched vainly for cracks or crevices in the rock that would identify it as the doorway through which they had just passed.

 

Legolas leaned heavily on the warg, gazing at the mountain’s side. His leg was throbbing, he had almost forgotten it was injured, but it was reminding him now. Vocally. Worse though, he couldn’t shake the worry that gnawed constantly at his heart – he had just sealed his father in an orc lair. He only hoped that he was right and they would have the time they needed.

 

“I will be able to find it.” Picking up his bow the elf strung a single arrow and loosed the projectile. The tip of the weapon struck into the dirt near the right side of the door, driving straight through the loose ground until it hit rock. Only the fletching of the shaft protruded and those nearly blended with the vegetation that decorated the mountain.

 

A few minutes more and the two friends had dragged the dead warg far enough into the woods to make a casual discovery of the animal’s death impossible. Legolas walked stiffly back to the carcass and threw the pile of leaves and branches he had collected onto the beast’s back, helping to camouflage it in case anyone should stumble across it accidentally.

 

The prince’s limp had gotten worse even though he tried to hide it and Aragorn noticed that the elf was wounded more than he was letting on. The ranger quickly scoured the forest floor for a large enough branch to obscure their path with and walked back to where Legolas sat waiting for him.

 

“Let us move away from this place and then I would see to your wounds.” Aragorn stared hard at his friend.

 

“I am fine.” Legolas stood easily to his feet. If the ranger had not known him better he would have believed the elf. “I only needed to rest.”

 

“Right.” Aragorn led them deeper into the forest, away from the mountain in a westward arc around its base. “I’ve heard that before.” The ranger found a small clearing and stopped on the edge of the meadow. The night was still and cool about them. The crickets chirped in the deeper shadows of the forests and the sounds of small animals could be heard as they scurried about their business. They were alone and the woods were relaxed, it was a good place to stop.

 

Indicating a large boulder, Aragorn pointed to it and told the elf to sit. Legolas contemplated refusing but when he met the ranger’s gaze he realized he would be wise to give in; they weren’t moving on until he did so. He was also very aware of the fact that he did not know where they were. Their travels through the mountain in the dwarven aqueduct had disoriented him and the feeling unnerved the elf. He could not remember the last time he had lost his way.

 

“Aragorn, do you know where we are?” Legolas questioned softly. He watched as the human cut the tear in his leggings open more, exposing the jagged wound to his left calf.

 

The ranger gently probed the slash; the edges of the cut were inflamed and hot to the touch. Whether that was from the aggravation of their long, wet trek, or because the arrow had been poisoned but the drug diluted and dulled by the hours they had spent slogging through the cold water beneath the mountain, it was impossible to tell. Legolas should have said something to him about it earlier, but of course he hadn’t. Aragorn knew Legolas never did. The ranger was irritated with himself that he had almost completely forgotten his friend’s injury during the course of their underground journey. He should have tried to see to it sooner, even if there was almost nothing he could have done for it while it was being constantly submerged.

 

“I can find out. Give me just a minute.” Aragorn responded absently as he smeared a thick lotion into the wound. Most of his herbs were soaked and would be useless until they dried but the vials he carried were still intact. The substance stung and Legolas fought the urge to flinch.

 

As if knowing the elf’s reactions, Aragorn’s hand firmly wrapped around the prince’s ankle and held him in place, "Give it a moment, the sting will fade.” He spoke softly as he worked. He had found through the years that it helped to keep the other person preoccupied and focused on something else other than themselves.

 

Legolas stretched his leg out as the ranger finished tying off his calf with a piece of wet cloth. The bandage was cold but it felt good against the heat from the cut.

 

“You were saying you could find out where we are?” Legolas took Aragorn’s hand and the man helped him stand to his feet, “How is that? And do not think we are leaving until your wounds are dressed. I cannot afford to have you sick. I need you well for *I* have no clue where we are.”

 

Aragorn laughed softly and allowed himself to be pressed down on the rock Legolas had just occupied. He slipped out of his leather jacket and pulled his tunic off over his head before gazing into the sky. “Yes, I can find out where we are I just need to find them...” His voice trailed off as he searched the darkened canopy overhead.

 

Brushing the ranger’s hair away from the wound shoulder, Legolas bandaged Aragorn’s left shoulder where the orc arrow had grazed his back and gently spread the stinging liniment across the scratches that decorated his shoulders and sides.

 

Moving slightly to get a better look at the stars that were blocked by the trees overhead Aragorn answered Legolas’ unspoken question, “There! There they are. I know where we are now.”

 

“Stop moving or I will make this hurt.” Legolas cautioned as he clamped his hand down on the man’s collarbone, holding him still as the elf finished applying the bandages. “Now who or what are you talking about?” Legolas straightened and looked up into the sky trying to follow Aragorn’s gaze.

 

“The twins,” the human said softly, a momentarily husky and distant tone in his voice.

 

Legolas glanced quickly at the man next to him, not missing the tone or the words.

 

“There, see them? The twin stars?” Aragorn carefully ignored his friend’s scrutiny, his voice attaining a certain level of normalcy once more. He shrugged back into his tunic with a small groan; his muscles were beginning to stiffen up from the scratches and cuts he had accumulated. “The two side by side, that are almost identical in size and color?”

 

“Are they blue?” Legolas searched the starry heavens to see what his friend was seeing. His gaze landed upon two brightly shimmering blue-white stars that hung beside one another just above the tree line on their left.  

 

“Yes, those are they.” A small smiled played across Aragorn’s lips. After a moment he realized that Legolas was watching him questioningly. It was obvious there was something more to what the ranger was thinking right now than just celestial navigation.

 

Aragorn stared up at the twinkling lights as he explained, “When I was young I fell out of a tree and broke my arm. The other children teased me and I ran away and got lost in the woods. By the time father found me I had become ill from being out in the cold and the rain. After I healed he took me back into the very woods where I became lost and showed me those two stars.”

 

Legolas glanced at his friend out of the corner of his eyes. The ranger was no longer seeing the sky as it was tonight, it was obvious that he was remembering a day long ago when times were safer and simpler and his father was hovering near. Unaware of the scrutiny, Aragorn continued softly, his voice barely a whisper so as not to disturb the forest around them.

 

“Those stars are called The Twins. Elrond told me that they were Elladan and Elrohir, holding lamps to show me the way. He said that if I were ever lost again, all I had to do was find them and they would lead me home. They sit in the sky directly over Imladris, and he said that Ilúvatar must have bid them be placed there because He knew I would need them to guide me. Ever since then, whenever I loose my bearings I just wait for The Twins to appear in the sky and I know where home is.” The ranger’s voice trailed off, leaving an aching silence. He had never imagined a life without his brothers to tease him and worry over him. If what the orcs said were true... then a dark hole had been ripped in the starry sky of his heart and two of the bright guiding beacons he depended upon were gone. That thought hurt so much more than he was willing to let himself dwell upon at the moment.

 

With a quiet sigh Aragorn glanced back at Legolas, “Home is that way my friend.” He pointed behind them to the west. “And if there is any help to be had we must find it quickly; we only have until dawn.”

 

“Perhaps help has found you.” The sound of a soft, deep voice on their right startled them and Legolas quickly brought his bow up, training it on the darkness at the edges of the meadow.

 

Chapter Text

~*PART TEN*~
~Unraveling~

 

 

~~~~~~~~
I can feel my heart beating faster
I can tell something’s coming down
But if it’s gonna make me grow stronger then...

Bring it on
Let the lightning flash,
let the thunder roll,
let the storm winds blow...

Bring it on
Let the trouble come,
let the hard rain fall,
let it make me strong
Bring it on.

--Steven Curtis Chapman
~~~~~~~~

 

 

“Peace, Legolas,” another, similar voice replied as two hooded and cloaked elves stepped into the light. The dim glow they shed was completely covered by the dark velvet cloaks they wore.

 

“Elladan?” Aragorn stood to his feet as first one then the other shed their hoods revealing the dark-haired twins that he had feared lost to him forever.

 

“We heard you talking about us little brother and came to make sure you could find your way home.” Elrohir teased as he stepped into the human’s embrace. There had been a few long minutes when he had thought he would never see the human again.

 

Ignoring the comments, Aragorn pulled his brother tightly against him, breathing in deeply and trying to still the emotions that raged inside of him. He had not wanted to believe his brothers lost and relief washed through his weary heart as he spoke softly into his brother’s ear, “I thought you were dead.”

 

Elrohir smirked slightly. “Fortunately our supposed demise was not as certain as our enemies might have hoped... Although it was a near thing,” he commented in a softer tone as he saw his younger brother’s eyes straying in concern to the long, jagged cuts that ran down the side of his face and neck. Elrohir unconsciously touched the wounds. “It’s all right Estel, El already cleaned them, they will mend.”

 

“What happened?” Aragorn wanted to know as he turned and hugged Elladan as well. Elladan had also obviously been hurt, although less visibly. When he embraced Aragorn it could be seen that his right forearm was bandaged.

 

“We were stupid enough to walk into an orc trap is what happened,” Elladan came down hard on himself as usual. His eyes turned distant. He had honestly thought that he and Elrohir were as good as dead when the trap dropped out from under them.

 

//The two elves fell into the darkness. Elladan crashed into a thicket of sharp-tipped spears, snapping several of the shafts where he struck them. The elf felt a sharp, biting pain in his arm and side as he finally crashed to the ground. Elrohir landed almost on top of him. The pit was deep, far deeper than was necessary, but the orcs seemed to think that deeper was better.

 

For a moment the twins were too stunned from the fall to move. An orc head blocked out some of the fading light from the mouth of the hole far above.

 

“They dead?” a voice asked.

 

“Don’t know...” the orc looking down had trouble telling from the top. The twins lay in a tangled jumble of broken spears and spreading blood. “They *look* dead, but we can’t take no chances...” the dark creature edged over the lip and began trying to climb down the side of the hole.

 

Elladan felt Elrohir begin to stir against him.

 

“Shhh... don’t move,” he whispered almost soundlessly into his brother’s ear, hoping that Elrohir could hear him. He knew they would never make it out of this pit alive if they had to try to fight the orcs down here, with so many of them out there. Right now playing dead was their best option.

 

Elrohir stilled and did not move again. Elladan hoped that most of the blood he could dimly see around them was coming from the throbbing gash across his inner arm and that none of it was his brother’s. From the way they lay he could not see if his brother was hurt or how badly. At least they had managed to avoid being impaled.

 

The orc attempting to climb down slid on the loose dirt walls, discovering that the trap had been a little too well made. With a shrieking squeal the creature lost his handhold and fell backward into the trap. He was less fortunate than the twins. One of the spears jabbed into his back, skewering through the orc’s body.

 

The creature screamed and flailed, snapping the spear and throwing himself sideways. Unfortunately this only threw him onto two more of the wicked projectiles. One of them pierced his dark heart and he finally went still.

 

Elladan tried not to breathe because he feared he would gag as the putrid scent of orc blood filled the air.

 

The orcs above swore loudly and there seemed to be a scuffle as the orc in charge tried to get someone else to go down for the bodies.

 

“I ain’t going down there! They’re dead, let ‘em be!”

 

“MAGGOT! I’m not going back to Guruth empty-handed or not able to say for sure that theys dead. Now you get your worthless carcass down there or I’ll throw you down!”

 

Apparently the orcs did not have any rope with them, Elladan thought numbly. He wanted to shift and put some pressure on his freely bleeding injury, but he dare not.

 

Finally another orc appeared over the rim of the pit and reluctantly began climbing cautiously down into the deep hole that they were no doubt regretting was so deep now.

 

This one made it to the bottom of the pit, stepping dispassionately over the broken body of his fallen comrade. The punctured body had muddied the bottom of the pit in dark blood, lending more finality to the scene of carnage.

 

Picking his way around the spears that had not yet been broken or knocked down, the orc crouched by the two unmoving elves. Elrohir was on top and the orc roughly jerked the elf’s head up. Head wounds bleed prodigiously and Elrohir had several. The fair being’s face was smeared with enough blood to make it look like his whole head could have been broken open.

 

The orc smiled as it pressed its filthy, gnarled hand under Elrohir’s nose to see if he drew breath.

 

Elrohir held his breath and remained limp, intentionally slowing his heart and doing his best to feign death.

 

Grunting, the orc rose, picking up the elves’ weapons from where they had fallen a few feet away. Tossing them up to his companions topside, the creature flung them out of the pit.

 

“They’re dead, I say we take these back as tokens for Guruth, and let them rot like they deserve.” He called up.

 

“Nothing doing. You bring the bodies up like you were told. Hurry up, we haven’t got all bloody day!” his superior snarled from overhead.

 

The orc muttered dark curses under his breath and hoisted Elrohir none-to-gently onto his back.

 

It was all Elrohir could do to not wince and remain limp.

 

Elladan felt sick when the orc picked up his brother. If they were carried out of the pit, they could only take this ruse so far... although at least once they were out he supposed they stood a better chance.

 

The orc found it difficult trying to climb out of the pit with his new burden and panted dark curses the whole way as he slowly edged up the steep sides. Finally he reached the top.

 

“Give me a hand here you lazy wor-” the snarled insult to his companions was never finished. From the bottom of the pit, Elladan couldn’t see what happened, but somehow the earth the orc had his feet braced against simply crumbled. Weighted down with his load, the orc scrabbled to hold onto the edge, but without success. Half a moment later he was tumbling back into the pit, taking Elrohir on another downward journey with him.

 

They bounced off the pit wall and landed with a crash at the bottom. There was no shriek this time. The orc was killed instantly; his body pierced and his neck snapped.

 

Elrohir was lighter and that was an advantage, but he still hit hard, his skull impacting against the earthy stones at the bottom of the pit and momentarily stunning him. The orc broke most of the spears in their path and that was the only thing that saved him.

 

Elladan felt his heart stop beating. Elrohir lay on his face several paces away, partially draped over the orc’s broken body. One bloody spear protruded from the back of his brother’s cloak.

 

Shouts from above heralded the dismay of the orcs at this turn of events and a lot of shouting broke out about whether anyone else was going to go down into the death trap.

 

“I ain’t going down there I don’t care what you say? You want the whole lot of us to end up a great bloody lot of carrion on spits? A nice prize for the vultures that’d be! Look at ‘em, the bloody worms is obviously dead, if they weren’t before they are now,” one orc gestured down at Elrohir’s seemingly impaled form. “I say we take the swords and go back home. There’s nothing more to do here.”

 

Because no one wanted to be the next to go down into the pit that had already claimed two of their kind, the majority of orcs sided with that opinion and eventually Elladan’s keen ears heard the hoard move away.

 

Not wanting to risk moving too soon, Elladan remained motionless for many long minutes until he was convinced that no one was going to change their minds and come back.

 

Shifting to his hands and knees he dizzily gripped his arm, stanching the blood flow. Scrambling over to his brother’s side he gently and worriedly touched his shoulder, trying to turn Elrohir over.

 

“El? El are you all right? Oh Valar...” he murmured, frightened by the shaft that seemed to be protruding from his twin’s body.

 

Elrohir moaned and shook his head, shaking his hair out of his eyes, although the dark locks continued to cling to the blood matting the side of his face. He grinned up into his brother’s face nevertheless.

 

“Just a little stiff,” Elrohir returned quietly. “It could have been worse.” He tried to sit up only to find himself pinned by the shaft through his cloak. Lifting his arm he stared a little wide-eyed as he realized that the spear had passed just under his armpit, between his arm and his body. A little higher or to either side and he would have been seriously hurt. As it was all it had done was graze his side and go through his cloak.

 

Elladan helped his brother pull his cloak free and agreed quietly. “A lot worse.”//

 

“Elladan?” Aragorn’s concerned voice shook the elder twin out of his memories and Elladan realized that he had been lost in his own thoughts for a moment.

 

“Are you all right, truly?” the ranger’s eyes narrowed in trepidation at his brother’s lapse in attention. “I was so worried... I didn’t want to believe them when they said you were both gone, but they were so sure it was you...”

 

“Who? Estel who are you talking about?” Elladan grasped Legolas forearm in greeting as he questioned his sibling. “How did you get out here?”

 

“The orcs.” Legolas answered for his friend, his eyes shadowed.

 

“We stumbled upon their lair,” Aragorn continued, still distressed over recent events. “We found a back door they do not know about but we must hurry; we have no time to spare. They have father, and King Thranduil is with them as well. By some miracle the orcs are leaving them alone tonight but it will not last. Come! Quickly!” He tugged at Elrohir’s sleeve trying to pull the elf with him.

 

“Estel what are you talking about?” Elladan questioned, trying to figure out how Legolas’ father had ended up in this conversation.

 

“You’ve seen father, you know where he is?” Elrohir asked, disbelieving. His eyes filled with concern and dread.

 

“Wait a minute,” Elladan was catching up slowly with the conversation, “You saw father, you were *in* Daradwayn and escaped? How?”

 

“What do you mean Thranduil is with him?” Elrohir frowned at the ranger, glancing between Aragorn and Legolas.

 

Legolas held up a hand for silence, “Please, let us explain. Estel...” the prince pointed at his friend to continue.

 

“We were chased by the wargs into the basin at the fall’s head. There was a dwarven water tunnel behind the falls, just like the ones that father used to tell us about. We followed it to an underground lake, and from there to a room filled with orcs and wargs, the same ones that attacked Rivendell. They have father and they also have Thranduil, how we do not know. They must have overrun Imladris to capture Ada, but as for why Thranduil is here...” Aragorn shrugged and glanced at Legolas who merely shook his head.

 

“It is doubtful they attacked Mirkwood as well, that is much too far a journey from here. Perhaps they were on their way to visit us...? It does not matter now. What does matter is that we were able to escape through a back door that the dwarves had carved; it is sealed by elven magic. I doubt the orcs even know it is there. We can use it to access the tunnels once more and free Ada!” Aragorn’s explanation tumbled out quickly. His heart was still aching at having left Elrond unconscious and in the grip of orcs who were obviously tormenting him. He was anxious to get back. If his brothers were here, then the odds were improved enough to attempt a rescue, in his mind at least.

 

Elladan and Elrohir exchanged odd glances; the news seemed to hold no surprise for them. They realized that Aragorn, having not been present, had no idea what had happened at home. Elrohir gently removed the ranger’s hand from his arm as Elladan quietly addressed them both.

 

“Yes, the orcs did overrun Imladris. They could not get past us in battle, but a small, secret force invaded the valley while we were all drawn off. Some of the household staff were killed and Celboril was badly injured... I hope he will survive, but I do not know. You and Legolas must return home and help Glorfindel see to the wounded Estel, there are many. Elrohir and I will continue on.”

 

Aragorn shook his head incredulously. “Don’t be ridiculous El, we stand a much better chance together, why do you think Legolas and I came looking for help in the first place?”

 

Elladan was not about to budge. “No, Estel, you’re going home. It’s best. Please trust us.”

 

Elrohir flipped his hood back over his face and pulled his cloak tightly about him, “We will return to you if we are able.”

 

Taken back by the strange change in their manner and the suddenly cold tone of his brother’s voices, Aragorn glanced between the twins before turning a puzzled look on Legolas.

 

“I’ll not be returning without my father.” The elf prince replied in a tone just as cool as that with which the other two elf lords had dismissed him. He did not understand what was going on, or the twins’ sudden reluctance to allow them to help. He respected Elladan and Elrohir, but they were not *his* big brothers, or his Lords. They had absolutely no say over his actions and the prince did not take kindly to their behaving as if they did.

 

“You cannot go with us.” Elrohir replied quietly, trying to soften the blow, “You do not understand. This was started a long time ago and is something that only Elladan and I can finish.”

 

“That’s not true.” Aragorn stepped forward, trying to glimpse his brother’s eyes. Something was not right. “Besides, you can’t just ignore the fact that however it has come to pass, Legolas’ father is involved now as well. We can help you; we know where the back door is! It will take all of us to free our fathers, but we can do it if we work together.”

 

“This is not your fight.” Elladan replied. He would not meet the human’s questioning gaze. He wouldn’t take his little brother into this mess that they had started. “It is ours. It always has been. We think that things die and are forgotten, but they are not, maybe they never can be. That seems to be what this whole bloody affair has been to prove. Those orcs asked for something and they’re going to get it,” his voice was tense with barely compressed anger. “I’m sure Legolas will do as he pleases, although I wish to goodness he would go back with you. But I will not have you mixed up in this little brother. It is *not* your fight.”

 

Legolas stepped back, realizing that this was suddenly a very personal family fight. He had no intentions of leaving his father with the orcs or of relying solely upon the elven twins to free them but he knew better than to intrude into the siblings’ quarrel as Aragorn’s tone of voice dropped and he drew closer to his brothers.

 

“This is about Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen isn’t it?” Aragorn asked darkly. “I know the stories, but that was long ago and the situation was different. I am telling you, there are too many and with prisoners they have the advantage. You cannot just walk in there and expect to walk out again. We need to work to together!”

 

“You don’t understand Estel, this is beyond you. It is something that we should have taken care of long ago.” Elrohir knew the human would not understand and tried to soften what Aragorn perceived as rejection and foolishness.

 

“It is insanity!” Aragorn’s voice raised a notch in volume, “I have seen what waits for you; you cannot do it alone. What do you think, that I cannot handle myself? Do you know how many wars I have been through now? I am not just your little brother anymore; I can help you. Why won’t you listen to me?!”

 

Estel reached out and touched Elladan’s arm, trying to soften his voice and his frustration. He could tell his brothers were hurting. “I know what this place must bring back, I know what you are up against, but this is not just your fight anymore. There is Legolas and his father to think of and you have me now. It is different; you don’t have to do it alone this time. I know it hurts, but the dead *can* rest if you let them.”

 

“No, no Estel, you don't know!” Elladan said sharply, his eyes simmering with a burning rage Aragorn had never seen in their lively grey depths before, and certainly never seen directed at himself. “You speak of a past you cannot possibly know or understand. You have no idea!  You weren't there!  You weren't even born! You’ve heard stories, but you didn’t see it! You didn’t carry *your* mother’s torn body out of that orch-hole! You didn’t feel her sobbing and shaking in your arms, cringing even from the touch of her own sons! You didn’t see father nearly destroy himself to save her... only to find that he couldn’t save her, not where it mattered.”Elladan shrugged off his human brother’s touch roughly. “I *won’t* lose father that way and I won’t lose you either. You are a liability we cannot afford Estel. You will be no help where we are going. You don't know what they'll do, what they’ve done!”

 

No one spoke for several seconds and the look of hurt on the ranger's face nearly broke Legolas’ heart.  Aragorn opened his mouth to speak but no words came out.  He shook his head slowly as he tried to get his breathing under control, tried to hide his emotions. He was unsuccessful. He knew Elladan. He knew that the elder twin lashed out, sometimes violently, when he was scared and hurting. But that didn’t make the stinging, verbal slap to the face that his brother had just delivered hurt any less.

 

The human glanced over at Legolas and the elf could see the tears threatening to spill over.  The prince knew that the ranger held closely to his heart all that his brothers said, more than perhaps they even realized.

Aragorn's soft words surprised them all.  “Yes.  Oh, yes I do know.” His voice wavered with intense emotion as he continued. “Because if they can make an elf who you know is stronger than you can ever hope to be, beg for death from the hand of a loved one rather than face them again, they are incapable of no small cruelty. I have seen more of orc brutality than I ever dreamed possible.”

 

Legolas did not flinch at the reference, his eyes reflecting his steady compassion on what the three brothers were going through. It was true. Orcs had nearly broken him and Estel had been treated to the full horror of that fact. It made his heart ache to consider Lady Celebrían in their hands, although he had barely known her... and even more so Lord Elrond, who he had by now come to know and respect so well.

Aragorn swallowed hard as he glanced back at Elladan, “I may not know first hand what they did to mother.  I may not have seen it with my eyes, but I have seen it in *your* eyes, in the fears that haunt you still whether you want to acknowledge them or not.  It is there in the shadow that passes over your souls any time that orcs are mentioned.  I have seen the scars you carry that you try so hard to hide.”  He touched his heart and looked over to where Elrohir stood; the elf's eyes were large in the starlight and filled with pain.

 

“Did you think I would never hear the stories?” Aragorn’s voice was quiet now, and gentle. “Or that I wouldn’t put it together?  Do you honestly think I don’t know who Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen are?”

 

The ranger locked his eyes on Elladan’s, “Sword of Dread...” before turning to stare at Elrohir as he whispered the twins’ pseudonyms, “Bane of Orcs.”


Surprise and shock registered on the elven faces as they listened to the human recount their hidden history. It was well known that the twins had rescued their mother, and had taken to orc hunting and riding with the Dunèdain after her departure. Yet little was said of it in the Last Homely house. The casual listener, such as Legolas had been, did not usually make the connection between these facts and the dark and bloody tales of Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen whose exploits were told only as ‘long ago’ and not set in a specific era.

“I have heard the stories told round many a campfire and not only elven ones either.  Halbarad filled me in on the details many years ago; the tales of the Dunèdain do not forget the identity of the two elves that rode with them, nor their mighty deeds. I know of the fire in your blood and what put it there.  I know more than you give me credit for; you are not the only ones to have suffered at their hands.”

 

Elrohir found the emotions that pounded in his heart alien and startling.  Perhaps it was a foolish wish, but they had never wanted their little brother to know the depth of the deadly rage that had consumed them after they brought their broken mother home. He feared what Estel would think of them after hearing of their ruthless killing sprees.  It was one thing to say that they had hunted orcs... it was another to know the details. To know how far it had gone.

 

They had driven every one of the evil creatures from the mountains that surrounded them, from here to the Redhorn pass; hunting them down, killing them with out mercy, pursuing them relentlessly... taking pleasure in their deaths.  The hatred for the vile beasts had culminated and hardened when their mother had left for the Undying Lands.  Her loss was more than they could bear and they lashed out in the only way they knew how. 

 

Elrond had not restrained them. He had been so lost in his own grief that he did not see what was happening to their hearts, or that just retribution was turning into something that was eating them alive, and so the twins had gone unchecked. It had been many years now and yet the renewed pain felt as familiar as if it had all been just yesterday; the memories were so clear. He slowly removed his hood and stared at the human before him.

 

No one in Rivendell considered the twins to be killers for what they had done, no one save the twins themselves.

 

Neither Elrohir nor Elladan regretted killing all those orcs. The creatures were evil and had to be destroyed. In fact they regretted now that they had obviously missed some. The truth was they would do it again if the situation were repeated... and yet they desperately did not want to revisit those dark places in their souls where killing had ceased to be protective or necessary and had become something satisfying. The shame of how close they had walked to the edge in those dark days was a blot on their memories... and yet they knew it was all right there; a righteous anger waiting to turn into dark vengeance as this new pain ripped old wounds wide open once more, viciously tearing sensitive hearts that could not take the loss of another parent in the same cruel manner.

As though reading their thoughts, Aragorn continued, his voice even softer now, “I knew it was you when first I heard the tales, even when I was very young. I was so proud of you both and so saddened that you were hurt in such a way.  You are not murderers.  Your spirits are gentle, I know your hearts.” The ranger stepped forward and pressed the palm of his left hand against Elrohir's chest. “The free peoples do not fear you but the spawn of Mordor has good cause to.  Yes, I know what they have done and what they are capable of. I see the scars of it in my family every day and I hate them for it as much as you do.”

 

The human could see his brothers feared his condemnation, but how could he ever think that of them? He knew that as always, they judged themselves and their own failings far too harshly. Orcs were not like other creatures that one might have pity upon, they were bred in malice and wholly evil; they were creations of darkness and there was no redemption possible for them.

 

The soft light of the moon traced the tear tracks down Aragorn's face as he stared at his older brothers. 

 

“I am very afraid of what they will do to father and I was unable to stop them when I had the chance,” the ranger admitted brokenly. He still felt guilty about being stuck under a mountain when his family needed him, and then for having to leave Elrond behind in the cave.

 

Tears glistened on Elrohir's cheeks as he pulled Estel against him.

Elladan swallowed roughly, touching Aragorn’s shoulder. “I am frightened too,” the elf admitted quietly. “More than I have ever been and I took out it on you, as I too often do. I did not mean what I said.”  Elladan laid his hand on Aragorn's back as he leaned against his brothers, his forehead resting gently on Elrohir's temple.  Quietly he asked for forgiveness, “I am sorry, please forgive me Estel. I should not have called you a liability... I simply do not want to lose you too. I-I... I do not think I can walk this road again,” he admitted in a shame-filled whisper.

 

“None of us want that El,” Aragorn nodded against his brother’s shoulder, reaching out his arm and pulling Elladan in tighter. He was well acquainted with his elder brother’s protective streak.

 

Elladan pressed his eyes shut. “No, Estel, I mean, I really *cannot*,” his soft words had turned hoarse; tortured with the emotion he was trying to hide. The elder twin felt as if he were toppling towards a void. Since his mother’s brutal torture, he had only felt something akin to this once before; when a demented man named Mannyn, hell-bent on revenge against Aragorn, had nearly caused the slow and painful death of his youngest brother. Elrond had seen that rage building in his son again and reached out to help him. In the end Elladan had pulled himself back from the brink of the abyss. Elrond’s calming presence and love had always been there to bring Elladan back... until now. Some part of the elder twin’s heart was filled with the fear that he was not strong enough to weather a second loss of this nature. He feared he would lose himself in the process.

 

“Then it is true?” The soft question startled the small family and Aragorn looked over his shoulder at Legolas. The elf prince stood staring at the twins with an oddly disturbing open gaze. So many things that had been puzzling about this entire affair made sense now. “Aragorn, why did you not tell me?”

 

“I’m sorry Legolas, it-” The ranger started to explain his silence on the subject, but Elladan interrupted and spoke for him.

 

“It was not Estel’s story to tell. I think you can understand Legolas, when I say that there are some things which are left silent by those that know the truth, either from love, or respect.”

 

Legolas did understand, only too well. When he first met Aragorn many years ago, he had been shocked to find that a stranger from Imladris had heard more about his past in Dorolyn than his own people were allowed to recount. It was easy to consider something forgotten if it was unspoken, whether it truly was forgotten or not, but it was the fact that Elladan and Elrohir’s stories had *not* been unspoken, merely changed, that puzzled the prince.

 

“Yes, the tales are told,” Elladan answered the prince’s unvoiced question. “We don’t learn from the past if it is hidden, although long ago the storytellers started changing the names and details, using what the orcs called us instead of our proper names out of respect for our wish to forget that part of our lives. Some find the stories inspiring I suppose, many call Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen heroes.” The older elf smiled at his human brother. “But I like to think that usually, when the story is repeated it is for the training of the younger generation... so they do not have to follow the same hard roads to understanding that we did in our younger years.”

 

Elrohir took over the explanation at this point, “They are considered part of the songs of the glory days of the elves but there was no glory in them. Not from our point of view. They were dark days full of sorrow and hatred and they nearly consumed our family.” The younger of the twins turned to the human and smiled softly. “It was on one such excursion to eliminate a small resurgence in the orcs near Rivendell that we found Estel. His presence under roof did much to heal our hearts.”

 

“Our people say that Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen are dead because we chose to let them be no more. I suppose El and I almost let ourselves believe it was true. Let them die with the stories... it was easier somehow. They are times that we would forget but cannot. I *am* Dehlfalhen and I cannot change that.” Elladan finished the retelling quietly his gaze searching the ranger’s and the prince’s. He looked for condemnation for their self-perceived wrongs, but found none.

 

“Then it is time that we put it truly to rest.” Legolas spoke softly, “We all have secrets that we pray the Valar protect, but I think it is Ilúvatar’s will that these things come out into the open that they may be healed, and sometimes healing can only come through another.” He glanced meaningfully at Aragorn. The ranger nodded in answer, knowing exactly what the elf was talking about. It had taken them years to fully heal from all the emotional scars that decorated their hearts and through their mutual friendship they had begun to bring about a restoration in the world of elves and men.

 

“If that is the case,” Aragorn smiled at the elves, “and I think that it is, then you will be needing help.” Crossing his arms resolutely he glared at the twins. “So, shall we lead you to the back door of Daradwayn? Or would you like to go looking for it yourselves?”

 

A short chuckle from Elrohir broke the uncomfortable silence, shattering the awkwardness of long kept secrets that were now exposed. “By all means,” He answered, grabbing the younger human in a headlock and dragging him out of the clearing as they headed for the base of the mountain. Laughter echoed in the small meadow and the night seemed to lighten ever so slightly.

 

They walked for a few moments before Legolas stopped them.

 

“Daradwayn is not as stable as it once was.” He glanced between the elves and the ranger as he worked through his thoughts. His words tumbled out quickly. “There are far too many orcs and wargs and in that cavern for the four of us to survive battle with. But...”

 

“But you have a better idea don’t you?” Aragorn stepped closer to his friend, his mind running swiftly down the same paths as the elf’s. “What if we use the orcs against themselves?”

 

“Exactly!” Legolas nodded, their thoughts merging into the same battle strategies.

 

“What are you two thinking?” Elladan glanced between the friends, his brow furrowed. People said that he and Elrohir were bad about finishing one another’s thoughts and leaving others out of the conversation, but Estel and Legolas could be just as problematic.

 

“Daradwayn was affected by the earthquake we had some years ago. Do you remember it?” Aragorn turned to his brothers, explaining what he and Legolas were thinking. When they nodded he continued, “The interior of the cavern withstood the quake, but there was damage.”

 

“Perhaps exterior damage as well if we are fortunate. It is not as stable as it was in the days of the dwarves.” Legolas injected.

 

“You are thinking of Moria aren’t you?” Aragorn questioned him further.

 

“Yes. Moria and Shellen’s Fallow actually. Do you still remember what Balin, Rorin and the dwarves taught us?” Now the prince and the human were talking simply to one another. Their close association over the long years had bred in them the familiar ability to understand what the other was thinking often with just a glance or a motion.

 

“Yes, I remember, and if there is a distraction within for long enough we can de-stabilize the entrance to the cavern.” A thin humorless smile spread across his face as Aragorn talked over the plan with Legolas. “And if we can draw part of them out, we can use their own traps against themselves.” He remembered that the orc scouts had mentioned setting traps around the perimeter. “They were set for the two of you, to trap you. But we can change that and make them lethal and turn the orcs into them.” He glanced between his brothers.

 

Elladan and Elrohir raised their eyebrows. Oh yes, they were well aware of these orcs’ penchant for making traps.

 

“Legolas can show you the back door and get you inside. Then you must wait and stay hidden so he and I can work on the cavern from the outside. When we are through we will draw as many as we can out the front before bringing down the caves. As soon as the commotion starts, you must free father and Lord Thranduil and escape out the back, the way you’ll have come in.”

 

“That doesn’t leave much room for error does it?” Legolas questioned softly.

 

“No.” Aragorn glanced at the twins, his gaze full of the questions he could not bring himself to ask.

 

“We can do it.” Elladan replied confidently. “If you get us in and distract them, we will free our fathers and take down their den.”

 

“Daradwayn will be no more.” Elrohir whispered. He nodded slowly when Elladan glanced at him.

 

“Then it is settled.” Legolas led them back through the trees, running at a slow pace as he spoke. “I will get you inside and then it will take Estel and I a bit more time to set up things from our side. So you’ll need to wait for us.”

 

“We will wait.” Elrohir answered, his voice echoed by his brother who added softly, “Unless things get out of control.”

 

The prince stopped at the side of the mountain near what appeared to be new growth in between the remnants of an old rockslide. The white fletchings of his arrow were buried in the long grasses that grew up the side of the mountain. “Then we shall pray that they don’t.”

 

With a soft command from the prince, the door swung silently open. The twins eyed him oddly at what he had said to open it, but Legolas just shrugged. They weren’t his doors; he couldn’t help what they considered passwords. The twins walked cautiously inside, drawing their weapons as they passed into the tunnel.

 

Aragorn grasped Legolas’ forearm.

 

“I will find their traps and mark them for you. Look for me above the entrance and hurry quickly, I will need your help.” Aragorn tightened his grip on the elf’s arm.

 

“I will show them what they need to know and join you soon mellon-nín.” With a nod and a small smile, Legolas entered the mountain passage after the twins. At his bidding the door resealed itself and Aragorn found himself suddenly alone.

 

It took a lot longer to cover the distance between the front of the cave and the back from the outside than it did from the inside. Aragorn hurried to cover the distance as quickly as he could. The orc traps were difficult to locate in the dark, but once he got there, Aragorn methodically swept the forest in front of the cave opening. Most of the contraptions were ill made and hastily thrown together. It did not take long to move and re-rig the snares so that instead of catching the foot of an elf, the length of black rope would pull taught at the snap of a twig and catch the unsuspecting wayfarer at the neck. An orc running through the forest could easily snap his neck on such a trap now that they no longer knew where they were.

 

Suddenly Aragorn pressed himself close to the ground, letting his dark overcoat blend with the surrounding night. He held his breath as an orc sentry stalked past. It was the fourth one he’d had to dodge while going about his work. These orcs were more watchful than most he’d dealt with, but the ranger was very good at staying under their scope of attention nonetheless.

 

There were several traps in the form of intentional rockslides near the sides of the cave opening. Aragorn moved the triggering mechanisms and easily overloaded them until their payload was lethal. Nets strung between small saplings, bent to near breaking and used as springs, were replaced with quickly fashioned wooden spears that the ranger had created by using downed branches and breaking them to produce sharp tips.

 

Pits that had been dug and marked by the orcs were re-camouflaged by the human and the orcs own markings erased so the black creatures would fall prey to their own evil devices.

 

The only traps that the ranger had not been able to turn useful were three strange mires he had encountered. Apparently, holes had been dug into the ground and were filled with a foul mixture of the orcs own creation: mud diluted and mixed with water, sand and forest debris. The result created a highly unstable patch of ground that had been cleverly covered with leaves and fronds to hide its existence. Aragorn had accidentally stepped into one such patch of concealed mud, having totally missed the tell-tale signs that the trap existed, so well covered it had been. Immediately the thick, barely congealed concoction shifted beneath him, throwing the ranger off balance and sucking him in, covering his leg up to mid thigh before he even realized what had happened. Had he stepped onto the trap with both feet he would have been pulled under with no hope of escape.

 

Throwing himself down onto the ground behind him, he twisted around until he lay on his stomach. Catching hold of a low growing tree branch he had been just able to pull himself out of the quagmire. For several minutes he simply stared at the black pit of faintly rippling mud. The silt calmed almost immediately, the leaves trapped on its surface once again hiding the trap and making it appear as though it were simply part of the forest floor. Never had he encountered such a thing, not even in his time among the orcs in Mordor.

 

Cleaning the mud off his boot and legging as best he could, Aragorn quickly began marking off the perimeter of the unnatural bog. It would do them no good if Legolas or one of his brothers fell into the pit in the chaos that would ensue after the escape was begun. He found two more of the insidious pits at strategic locations around the cave’s entrance. It hadn’t taken him long to recognize them once he had known what to look for and he marked them quickly with a pattern of stones and leaves that only his brothers and Legolas would recognize.

 

Making his way back to the first sinking pit he had found, Aragorn began to grow concerned about Legolas. The prince should have joined him by now. They needed to start working on how to bring the cave entrance down. He had a pretty good idea about how to proceed, having staked the whole area out, but he would need help for his plan to work before the night was over.

 

A soft glow through the trees, barely perceptible to one who was not looking for it, drew the ranger’s attention and he darted forward to intercept.

 

Legolas crept through the night-darkened forest easily, his eyes and ears long accustomed to such forays. The darkness no longer held any terror or obstacle for the elf. The nights were as simple to walk through as the days. The trees about him spoke to him of roots to watch out for, the rivers sang of their expanses and the night winds brought him the scents of his enemies hidden in the mountains, and the smells so familiar to him of the person that he sought. Aragorn was close and approaching from the west. The elf turned towards the path the human was on and picked up his pace.

 

The ranger realized with growing horror that Legolas was headed straight for one of the orcs’ quagmire pits. He reached the far side of the covered pit and skidded to a stop. The elf was half way across the orc trap. A smile spread over the elf’s face as he saw his friend and he slowed his step.

 

The smile on Legolas’ face slipped as the ranger stared in shock at him.

 

“What is it?” The elf ran lightly toward his friend, his feet barely touching the top of the sticky mud below. The coagulated silt stuck to the bottom of his boots and he noticed for the first time that something wasn’t right. Picking up one foot Legolas frowned as the mud below him made a sucking sound slipping, stickily from his shoe. “What is this?”

 

“Legolas!” Leaning out Aragorn grabbed the prince by the arm, jerking him away from the pit and putting them both safely out of harm’s way. “What were you thinking?”

 

“What are you talking about?” Legolas questioned, as he looked over his shoulder, watching as the ground undulated oddly before settling back, its deceptive layer of forest debris giving a false sense of steady ground beneath. “What was that?”

 

“Are you all right?” Aragorn was having a hard time accepting what had just occurred. He had fully expected to watch as his friend fell into the pit and was pulled under. “Didn’t you see my markings?” The ranger’s fear made his voice harsher than it would have normally been.

 

“It seems as though I did not.” Legolas turned his full attention back to the human. Rarely did the man reprimand him with such a tone of voice. He recognized the underlying fear and questioned his friend, “Just what were you marking? I found all the others.” The elf was about as confused as the ranger was.

 

“This is what I was marking.” Aragorn picked up a hand-sized rock that lay near him and tossed the stone onto the top of the mud pit. The ground beneath the stone sunk in causing slight, thick ripples to move out towards the edges of the trap. In seconds the rock had disappeared from sight and the false ground was deceptively still once more. The ranger was watching the elf carefully, his gaze a cross between reproach and awe. “Legolas you walked across that and never fell in.”

 

Turning back once more to focus on the ranger, Legolas noted the dried mud that caked Aragorn’s right leg, tracking up above his knee. His friend had been caught in this trap before.

 

“Aragorn, I am sorry to have frightened you. It was not my intention. Obviously the orcs are unaware that a trap like that is ineffective for catching elves. We tread too lightly. You have seen your brothers and myself walk on top of the snow have you not?” Legolas looked his friend over more carefully, trying to see if he had been injured in any other way.

 

“You scared the life right out of me.” The ranger breathed in deeply letting the tension flow out of him. “Don’t do that again, walk around them for my sake.”

 

With a quiet laugh, Legolas pushed the human ahead of him, moving them away from the orc trap. “I promise. I did see the other traps, you’ve done a good job of reworking them. Elladan and Elrohir are waiting for our signal at the tunnel’s entrance into the main chamber. Our fathers are resting and most of the inhabitants of the cavern sleep.” The elf walked his friend closer to the mouth of Daradwayn, talking softly to redirect the ranger’s thoughts and re-focus him on their task at hand. “Now, tell me have you found a way to bring down the cave entrance? Were we right about it?”

 

“We were my friend, and luck is with us.” Aragorn grasped Legolas’ sleeve and drew the elf with him, racing for the northern side of the cave’s opening, but being careful of the prowling sentries.

 

There, by the light of the stars, Legolas could see a break in the thick canopy of trees that spread high above them. One very old tree had grown away from the denseness of the forest, bending its large, thick trunk away from the others and seeking the open light. In doing so it had grown at an odd angle; the tops of its uppermost branches scraped the mountain above the cave opening. The tree however was in the last stages of its life. Having separated itself so from the others, its root system was not connected with the roots of the trees around it, in the interweaving fashion of its kind. Interconnecting their roots helped the trees weather the storms that ripped through the vales on this side of the mountains and fought off the erosion brought on by the melting snows every year.

 

Now, nearer the base of the crooked tree, Legolas could see that the root ball had been exposed. It would only take one good wind to bring the old tree down. The precarious way it bent placed it in the perfect position to release an avalanche of rocks down upon the cave entrance. If it were destabilized properly, the whole cavern would collapse.

 

Legolas reverently placed his hand on the rough trunk of the tree. He hated to take from the forest, to kill anything that lived within it without cause, but Aragorn was right, they would need to topple this tree to bring Daradwayn down on itself. So there was cause.

 

“Well, what do you think?” Aragorn asked cautiously after a few minutes of silence. He hated to rush his friend but time was no longer on their side. The edges of night were fleeing and it would soon be morning. They had a good hour’s work ahead of them and no more time to spare.

 

“It is well. The trees know we need their aid and this one’s time has come. He wants to help us.” Legolas stepped away from the ancient giant and turned his attention to the rocks that surrounded the cavern opening. “You do realize though that we will probably one day become known as the great cave destroyers don’t you?” the last was a jest.

 

Aragorn grinned sarcastically and shrugged. “If something works, it works. I think I can live with that. So long as we don’t mention it to too many dwarves we should be fine.”

 

Daradwayn lived up to its reputation. The entry to the cave was fouled by the orcs that lived in it. Large rocks littered the front of the low-hung opening. The grasses and living things had pulled back from the entrance as if repulsed by the creatures that occupied it. The light from the nearly spent fires inside barely reached the outer lip and the slight stirring of the orcs and wargs could just be heard.

 

“We must work fast.” Aragorn stepped to the right of the cave as Legolas leapt to the top of the opening on the left. Working their way in a crisscrossing pattern, they easily identified the stress cracks in the mountain’s foundation as well as the areas of least resistance to a well-placed landslide.

 

When the tree was released, its thickest part would take down the rocks that braced Daradwayn’s entryway and hopefully cause a chain reaction well into the cavern itself. At the very least it would seal the orcs in their den, they would hopefully never be able to escape. It would take work, but it wasn’t impossible.

 

After some time of swift and difficult labor, Aragorn wiped the sweat out of his eyes, pushing his hair back from his face as he looked up at Legolas across the way, wondering how far his friend had gotten. The elf placed a stone wedge in a natural crack in the rock face and further stressed the widening tear by pounding the stone down harder. Blue eyes met the ranger’s silver ones and the prince nodded slightly. They were nearly ready.

 

Before he could question Legolas further, the elf flattened himself out against the face of the cliff, motioning for the ranger to follow suit. A dark shape flowed out of the cave entrance. A warg had awoken and was sniffing the pre-dawn air. Something had disturbed its sleep and it was curious.

 

Hugging the siding of the cliff, Aragorn tried to make himself as invisible as possible, barely breathing as the beast turned to look over its shoulder at the mountain that towered above it. Small, dark eyes narrowed as the creature watched intently, trying to see through the early morning mists and gloom that clung to the forest floor and coated the sides of the hill. Legolas had dampened his glow until it was barely imperceptible. Stealthily he strung his bow, ready to fire if the warg gave way their positions too early. They needed the element of surprise on their side.

 

A call from inside the orc den startled the beast out of its concentration. With a growl it moved back into the interior, the hair along its shoulders still standing on edge. It didn’t appreciate being called away, something felt wrong... but the smaller beings were not to be trifled with. So long as the orcs were kept content then the wargs were well fed and for the most part that was what mattered.

 

Releasing the tension on his bow, Legolas replaced the arrow in his quiver.

 

“It is time.” He mouthed the words silently to the human who was watching him carefully.

 

With a nod, Aragorn scrambled down the hillside and leapt lightly onto the mud-and-rock strewn entry of Daradwayn.

 

This was the risky part of their diversion. It had been agreed that Aragorn would be the decoy since Legolas was the better shot and would be able to fell a greater number of the creatures as they flowed out of the cave than Aragorn could.

 

Once he had a sufficient number of orcs on his trail the human would release the tree that would trigger the rockslide. The old trunk was held upright now with a length of elvish rope, it would take but a single pull to release it.

 

Legolas made his way into the trees that bracketed the front of Daradwayn. When he was in position he signaled Aragorn. A single arrow embedded into the dirt near the human’s left foot. Grabbing the shaft, Aragorn strung the arrow on his bow and ran into the mouth of the cave.

 

Elladan and Elrohir had waited patiently through the watches of the early morning, keeping an eye on the orcs and the wargs within the cavern. The two young elven lords went unnoticed as the inhabitants of the cave slept through the night. Orc sentries stood guard near the front of the cave, but no one was watching the back. Waiting had been no easy task and the twins had only just fallen into the rhythm of the uneasy peace that hung in the orc den when a lone figure burst into the main room, shouting in elvish.

 

Aragorn skidded to a stop inside the chamber filled with sleeping orcs and wargs. He buried Legolas’ arrow in the first dark hulk he saw and repeatedly fired arrows into the sleeping throng until the whole cavern was in an uproar.

 

Staring in shocked disbelief, Elladan turned towards Elrohir who was gaping open mouthed at their younger human brother. “He takes after you.” The younger twin whispered as the cave erupted in chaos. They had been expecting a signal, but not one quite like that.

 

Orcs and wargs stumbled over one another trying to gain their feet and stop the barrage of arrows that fell on their sleeping comrades. In seconds the occupants of Daradwayn were chasing the ranger out into the woods in a frenzied rampage spurred on by shouts from their leader.

 

“Bring me that upstart human! We’ll have him for breakfast or I’ll let the wargs eat anyone what lets him get away.” Guruth shouted angrily as he kicked the carcass of a dead orc out of his path.

 

Taking advantage of the melee caused by the ranger, Elladan and Elrohir sped stealthily out into the cave, keeping to the edges and heading for the momentarily forgotten prisoners.

 

Thranduil caught sight of the twins first and redirected Elrond’s gaze with a nudge, keeping quiet to keep from giving away their rescuers.

 

“Elladan! Elrohir!” Elrond said quietly, but with great joy as he glanced between his two very alive sons. Waves of relief brought tears to his eyes as Elladan grasped the elf lord’s bound hands tenderly in his own. Quickly kissing the top of his father’s head, Elladan slipped his knife through the orc rope and severed Elrond’s bounds. Elrohir swiftly did the same for Thranduil.

 

“Are you well Lord Thranduil?” The raven-haired elf asked softly, casting quick glances over his shoulders as he released the elven lord from the orc rope, “Can you stand? We are here to get you out.”

 

“He is injured.” Elrond spoke softly, answering before Thranduil could.

 

“No more so than your father.” The blonde haired Sinda retorted quickly, standing slowly to his feet and rubbing his wrists. Truth be told, he knew he was in far better shape than Elrond was.

 

Any possible answer was cut short as Thranduil shoved Elrohir aside and ducked, rolling onto his shoulder and coming up into a standing position a few feet away from the Noldor elves. An orc spear was embedded in the cavern wall inches from where Elrohir had stood moments ago. They had been discovered.

 

“Go!” Thranduil shouted over the noises in the cavern. “I will follow you!” He had seen how weak Elrond was, despite what the Noldo Lord had wished him to think. Elrond would not be able to move swiftly and Elladan and Elrohir were going to have their hands full. The Elvenking dropped into a ready stance.

 

The twins quickly pulled their father to his feet and pelted for the opening to the tunnel that led to the back door. Elrond could barely stand on his own and the twins had to half-carry him between them. The healer’s face whitened as his broken bones were grated painfully together, but pushed himself to keep moving.

 

For a moment through the swirling chaos Elrohir’s gaze caught on the faint glint of two familiar sword handles. The twin blades that had been taken from them earlier were stuck upright in the cave floor across the cavern. They were too far away to retrieve and the elves had no time, but strangely Elrohir felt no loss over that knowledge, despite what a personal thing an elven sword was.

 

Elladan caught his brother’s fleeting glance and nodded slightly as they hurried Elrond on between them, into the passage leading to the back door. “It’s fitting,” was all he said. Maybe Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen could finally find peace here, where it all started.  

 

Thranduil stood his ground, covering their retreat and gaining them the precious moments they needed to escape. A small party of orcs charged the Elvenking even as more swarmed after the fleeing Noldor elves, cutting off any chance for the Thranduil to follow.

 

Stepping into the upward swing of the first orc to reach his position, Thranduil rammed the beast hard in the diaphragm with his good elbow. The orc fell to one knee and the elven lord wrenched the creature’s scimitar from its black fingers, cleaving through the orc’s thick neck before the creature fell to the floor. Yet for every orc Thranduil slew more took their places, the battle was overwhelming as he pressed towards the opening of the cave.

 

Outside, Legolas’ deadly arrows from the treetops felled wargs and riders alike as they exited the cavern. He cleared the way around Aragorn as the human stumbled beneath the blow of a warg rider. The meadow before Daradwayn was a sea of confusion as the cavern emptied out onto the plains before the forest’s edge.

 

Aragorn battled his way to the far side of the meadow and had nearly reached the tree, intending to trigger the cave’s collapse, when he glimpsed blonde hair just inside the entryway.

 

“Legolas! Your father!” The ranger called up to his friend. Thranduil was trapped just inside the short tunnel leading outside, his back pressed against the cavern wall. He had made it nearly half way through Daradwayn, but there would be no escaping as the dark mass of orcs surged around him and blocked him from sight.

 

Glancing back up into the trees, Aragorn was slightly shocked to see that Legolas had already leapt to the forest floor and nearly gained the mouth of the cave. The elf prince’s blades flashed in lethal circles of crimson-black and silver as he cleared a path before him.

 

The fear of losing his father heightened his adrenaline and fueled his attack. He had learned long ago that adrenaline was a powerful drug in times of danger and allowed him to accomplish things he thought he would not be able to do and survive things he should not have been able to survive. He just had to have a goal, and right now he had a very compelling one; he was locked onto the sight of his father going down beneath a dark wave of orcs. Yet even focused as he was, he realized that they were tarrying longer than they could afford. Soon too many of the dark creatures would be outside the cave; they would not be able to handle them all.

 

Sparing a quick glance back to see how Aragorn fared he called to the ranger in elvish, “Bring it down Aragorn! Bring it down now and do not wait for me!”

 

The ranger watched as his friend disappeared into the darkened mouth of the cave. The morning light was just beginning to paint the mountainsides in the warm tones of early day, a fact that was lost on the human. He did however catch the dulled glint of orc steel as a scimitar swept in his direction.

 

Moving on instinct, the ranger ducked and spun around swiftly, bringing his own sword up and into the chest of an orc that had crept up behind him. Pulling his blade free, Aragorn leapt over the dead carcass and raced up the side of the cliff to the tether that held the ancient tree in place. With a quick tug and a shouted command he bid the rope release. The tough silken threads unwound obediently and the trunk of the tree began to tilt slowly sideways, gaining speed as it crashed across the rocks, tearing the mountain-face with its outstretched branches.

 

Small boulders loosed by the cascade of dirt and tree branches broke free of the cliff and bounced down the side of the hill, crashing into larger stones and creating a chain reaction. In moments it seemed as though the whole rock face was sliding down the mountain toward the opening of Daradwayn. The tree splintered from its roots, snapping from the weight of the rocks and crashing down upon the upper lip of the mouth of the cave. The natural stress cracks that the ranger and the elf had further aggravated groaned and shook under the built up tension and the repeated pounding of the boulders that careened off the mountain.

 

Below, the orcs and the wargs outside of the cave raced into the woods to escape the rain of stones that pelted them. A few were struck and never rose. Some of the fleeing orcs fell to their own traps that had been turned on them and the cries of orc and beast alike could be heard through the early morning. Several, either unaware of the mud pits their comrades had dug or forgetting about them in their confused panic, were sucked beneath the surface and never found.

 

All of this was lost on Aragorn who had jumped free of the tree trunk and entered the forest to escape the falling rocks and debris. His eyes were glued on the cavern entrance. Dust from the landslide was quickly settling, the cries of the wounded and dying were subsiding but there was no sign of Legolas or Thranduil.

 

Seeing that the worst was over and thinking that their attempts to bring the cave down had failed, Aragorn raced towards the opening of Daradwayn. He stopped in his tracks as an eerie groaning sound resounded through the forest. Glancing above him to the structure of the cavern Aragorn could see the mouth of the opening quiver slightly.

 

Their attempts had not failed Daradwayn was indeed collapsing.

 

“Legolas!” Aragorn called a warning to his friend as small rivulets of stone began to rain down from the interior of the tunnel and the ground beneath his feet shook with strain of holding the mountain steady.

 

Legolas had thought his heart was going to stop when he heard Aragorn call out to him that his father was trapped near the entrance. A million fears had raced through his mind in the few moments it had taken him to fight his way into Daradwayn. In truth most of the orcs he met were trying to get out and the wargs were as intent on escaping as their riders were. By the time he had reached him, Thranduil was backed against the wall by a pack of wargs. Legolas had dispatched their riders easily and gone after the evil mounts themselves afterwards.

 

Sweeping low with his twin blades, he cut the legs out from underneath an orc that leapt at him even as he bodily shoved his father behind him and out of the way of an attacking warg.

 

“The cavern is not stable. We must leave!” He shouted over the chaos and press of orcs as his crossed blades easily slit through the throat of another attacker. A warg charged the two elves, coming at them from Legolas’ left. The prince pushed his father swiftly down the passage towards daylight even as he deftly grabbed his bow and fired an arrow point blank down the gaping maw of the beast. The warg fell over on its side, sliding to a stop near the elf’s feet.

 

There was no time to think, no chance to regroup and no reprieve as Legolas kept up the incessant attack on the press of orcs and wargs. The cavern shook about them, the rocks and ornately carved columns groaned with the weight of the mountain. He knew that Aragorn had released the last trap and the cavern would fall in on itself in moments. They had been correct. Daradwayn had suffered under the last earthquake and it would not withstand this new onslaught.

 

With semi-conscious effort Legolas pushed any feelings or fears about being caught in yet another cave-in out of his mind. His father’s safety was what was important.

 

Aragorn’s shouted warning could just be heard over the din from the cavern entrance; they were out of time. Showers of dirt and small rocks rained around the elves as they raced for the open mouth of the cave. The orcs beside them were no longer intent upon keeping the elves imprisoned as their own survival instincts took over. Ignoring their commander’s shouts, the orc host made a mad dash for the safety of the outdoors.

 

Guruth was incensed. How had this happened? What the bloody hell were his sentries doing out there? Sleeping on their jobs to let anyone get this close?! He would not admit it, but he had not counted on Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen to approach him by stealth, nor indeed at all after their reported deaths. The elven warriors he remembered had bothered little with trickery, seeming to prefer engaging the orcs head on, recklessly ignorant of their own mortality. Immortal they might be, but the orcs had found that elves could die upon Mordor scimitars as easily as any other creature that walked in Middle Earth.

 

Guruth spun around quickly, searching the cave for the elven prisoners. They were nowhere to be seen and chaos ruled everywhere. A few moments ago he had seen the two elves he hated the most for only a moment. Chaos had kept them apart but he would find them. He would find them...

 

Mrdhdúk appeared at her master’s side. Guruth’s commands were being ignored, his warriors were fleeing and their home was coming down around them. It was time to leave. The large warg skittered sideways as a column crashed to the floor behind her rider. They needed to flee as well if they wanted to survive. She nudged the orc again, wincing ever so slightly as he turned angrily towards her.

 

Understanding what his mount desired, the orc captain vaulted onto the back of the beast and urged her for the entryway. The warg riders never rode their mounts into the cavern as the tunnel was too low, but it mattered little at the moment. If they were going to escape alive they would need all the speed Mrdhdúk could muster.

 

The warg bolted for the cavern mouth, dodging the boulders that now fell from the vaulted ceiling. Ancient, ornately carved Dwarven artwork fell like lethal rain from the columns and the upper levels, choking the air with dust. Through the black sea of orcs around him, Guruth could see two blonde heads bobbing as Thranduil and Legolas fled for the entry way. Leaning low he whispered in his mount’s ear and pointed out the escaping prisoner. If he lost everything this day he would not lose his revenge.

 

Leaping forward, Mrdhdúk used her powerful hind legs to catch up to the elves. Guruth was forced to lean low against the warg’s powerful back as the bone armor he wore scraped the top of the low ceiling in the tunnel entryway. He pressed his face against the coarse, thick hair on Mrdhdúk’s back, her scent a familiar smell in his nostrils. He smiled wickedly as they came up beside of the two elves.

 

Kicking out, Guruth caught Legolas alongside the head, slamming the younger elf into the older one.

 

Legolas’ vision exploded into lights and flashes. Completely caught off guard by the sudden attack from behind, the prince stumbled under the unexpected blow, tripping into his father and nearly going down beneath the press of orcs around him. Thranduil barely caught his son, dragging the stunned elf to his feet and holding him tightly as they fought their way out.

 

The groaning of the collapsing cavern had grown and the rocks now roared as they crashed into the cave, bringing Daradwayn down upon itself. The orcs trapped inside had no chance of escape as the tunnel collapsed beneath the weight of the mountain. The passageway exploded outward, showering the glen and the surrounding forest with debris and bodies.

 

Aragorn was standing near the opening, felling orcs and riders as they fled, looking desperately for any sign of Legolas or Thranduil. The dark press of beasts trying to escape the dying cave had kept him at bay, not allowing him to fight his way to his friend’s side. When the tunnel exploded he was thrown into the forest, away from the mountain, by the blast.

 

The ranger was thrown backward through the air until he was suddenly checked by a tree. His head and body connected with the trunk with a sickening crack. One rending wave of pain flashed through him before nothingness swallowed him whole. His body crumpled to the ground and he didn’t move. A gash near his eye covered his face with blood in moments.

 

Legolas and Thranduil were not entirely clear of the cave mouth when Daradwayn came down on itself. They were knocked off their feet and flung wildly forward, a deadly hail of flying stone surrounding them. Legolas, still recovering from Guruth’s attack, was slammed against the wall next to them. His head connected solidly with the stone and consciousness fled instantly.

 

Thranduil grabbed Legolas’ shoulders, curling protectively over the younger elf’s vulnerable head and chest and trying to shield his son with his body as destruction rained around them. Thranduil did not remember what struck him, did not remember losing consciousness, all he remembered was holding Legolas as the world went black.

Chapter Text

~*PART ELEVEN*~
~Playthings~

 

 

~~~~~~~~
Chase me down to the end of my rope
Bind me fast but you can’t steal my hope.
Chase me down to the end again
So many times I can’t remember when.

Doesn’t matter what you do
I’ll still breathe in spite of you.

Can’t touch a fire you don’t understand.
Hope reach out and hold my hand,
Courage come, make all fear flee...
You can take my body, but you can’t have me.

--Cassia
~~~~~~~~

 

 

The glen stilled. The dust still hung in the air, coating beast and plant alike with a white, ashen snow. Mrdhdúk stood slowly to her feet, shaking her mangy mane and dusting her rider with bits of stone. Guruth wove unsteadily on his feet, his face a mask of rage as he stared at what was left of Daradwayn. The cave had collapsed, taking with it a good portion of the mountainside. Water seeped from cracks in the newly formed cliff face forming tiny waterfalls that pooled in the mud at the base of the hill, the only remnants left to attest to the Dwarven cavern.

 

The orcs around Guruth were stirring, those that were uninjured and still among the living stood to their feet and looked to their captain, wondering what to do next. A warg sniffed the body of the fallen ranger. The mount’s rider kicked the human roughly. Aragorn rolled over, his bloodied face obscuring the fact that he lived. The orc grimaced and pushed his mount away from what he perceived to be nothing more than a dead human, their captain was calling for them and any delay would cost them. For the second time the orcs’ lack of careful scrutiny cost them a victim, although they did not know it yet.

 

“What of that human and the elves that escaped, where are they?” Guruth barked at the riders around him.

 

“The human is dead. His body is over there,” an orc spoke up as he walked into the circle of riders.

 

“Good.” Guruth growled, turning in a semi-circle, waiting for news regarding the rest of his question.

 

Tmarkz stumbled into the meadow. He was holding his right arm tightly to his chest. “The golden haired elf and the younger brat that tried to rescue him have been recaptured my lord.”

 

“Where?” The captain demanded, shoving his way through his companions until he reached the place where Tmarkz had led him. Two blonde elves lay on the forest floor, their hands bound behind their backs with thick rope. The younger of the two moaned softly, his eyes barely fluttering open. Faster than his men were prepared for, Guruth leaned over and struck the fair elven face sharply, knocking the young prisoner out once more.

 

Legolas stilled beside his unconscious father and was not aware when they were slung over the backs of two wargs. His slim frame was placed non-too gently across Mrdhdúk’s broad shoulders as Guruth mounted up behind the prisoner. The orc wrapped his gloved finger in the blonde hair and pulled Legolas’ head up, sneering into the elf’s face.

 

“I think this is that one I wanted you to kill before Tmarkz,” he glowered slightly at his underling, but wasn’t ready to start a fight right now. Instead he grinned somewhat wickedly at the other rider.

 

“Maybe this means that we’ll have fresh meat for dinner tonight!” He laughed cruelly as he slammed the elf’s face against the wargs coarse hide. “To the rendezvous! Gather up every warrior that can make the trip and head out. In fact...” Guruth turned on the small makeshift saddle that straddled Mrdhdúk and looked over what riders and soldiers he had left. “Tmarkz, lead a group out that way, Shelzkahz you take the foot soldiers over that hillock and meet up with us. If anyone decides to come after these two before we’re ready for them, they’ll have a hard time finding which tracks to follow.” He watched as the older elf was thrown over Shelzkahz’ mount and the orc soldiers followed the warg rider out.

 

He was more than positive that Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen had somehow made it out of the cavern with their father and was not about to be surprised by them twice.

 

 

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

 

 

When Legolas came to, he realized that he was bound. His hands were tied together and he was hanging from the low branches of a tree. A large fire burned in the center of a cleared glen. Dark shapes moved in out and out of his line of vision but it was hard to clear his mind. He floated between waking and unconsciousness for several minutes before the world darkened and the fire was blotted from his sight. He squinted, frowning, wondering what had happened when sudden realization hit him.

 

A large orc was standing in front of him, sneering. “So you’ve woken have you pretty thing? That’s good ‘cause the cap’n is awfully curious about a thing or two and your other friend ain’t talking.”

 

“Guruth! This one’s awake now!” The orc on guard called back to his superior.

 

A round of laughter and harsh cheering met the announcement as Guruth called for the elf to be cut down and brought to him. As he was dragged nearer the fire ring, Legolas could see that he was a prisoner of the warg riders. They had set up camp near the base of a rocky shale cliff. Their rendezvous took up the circumference of a large glen. He noted with dark pleasure that their company had been severely decimated and less than half the orcs and wargs had survived the collapse of Daradwayn. Desperately he searched the grounds for Aragorn or his father. Of the ranger there was no sign but he briefly caught sight of his father being roughly held on his knees before the younger elf was yanked onward and hauled before Guruth. Blood caked the side of his father’s face and it was obvious what kind of questioning he had already endured. Legolas’ blood boiled. They could hurt him, but the instant they touched his father they had just made themselves all dead orcs.

 

The warg rider stared hard at the prince for a long moment without speaking. He ran one black, dirty fingernail down the side of the prince’s face, his eyes tracing the elven form.

 

“I’ve seen you before. You come and go from the Healer’s house with that dead human. What place do you hold there? Who are you to them?” The orc asked; his tone was almost conversational as though he really expected Legolas to talk civilly with him. The orcs holding the prince’s arms dug their fingers into his skin harder.

 

Legolas’ heart skipped a slight beat at the mention of Aragorn, but he was not ready to believe a word Guruth said right now. Orcs always lied and they had been wrong more than once already.

 

“I have many questions and we have all night. Your friend was not forthcoming with me. I had hoped you would be smarter than he. Now, who else attacked us? Were Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen with you? Do they really still live? Do you know them?” Guruth was almost positive it was them he had seen, but he wanted to be sure. Things in the cave had been chaotic after all.

 

“Answer him.” The creature on the prince’s left purred in his ear, as Legolas tried to shy from the unwanted touch; “It will go better for you if you do.”

 

Turning his head Legolas spat viciously at the orc. He had no doubt they were going to kill them if they couldn’t get away and he was not about to divulge any information.

 

He was surprised when his reaction brought laughter from Guruth and he glared into the face of the orc before him. //Keep laughing,// the elf’s glare warned. //You’ll laugh yourself into your grave filth.//

 

The defiance in Legolas’ eyes was unbridled and Guruth sobered quickly. Reaching out, he backhanded the young elf.

 

Legolas licked his bleeding lip, but didn’t even register pain in his features. His eyes remained hard and taunting. Guruth was going to have to hurt the elf a lot worse than that before he even began to scratch the surface of the prince’s extremely jaded endurance.

 

“You came into my house and stole from me. You brought our home down upon our heads and killed some of my soldiers and wargs.” Guruth paced in front of Legolas, his ire was rising, “I bring you here and spare your life and ask you simple questions and you respond like this. You are lucky you still have a tongue in your head to spit with you elven brat.” The orc grabbed Legolas’ face in one hand and drew him closer, “Who are you and what do you know of Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen? Are you close to them? What are they up to? Answer me, or I will let my soldiers get the answers out of you.” Guruth turned his back on Legolas as he paced closer to Thranduil, “And trust me, you won't like that one bit.” He grabbed the elven lord by the hair and tipped his head back, “Will he?”

 

“Tell him nothing.” Thranduil said firmly in elvish. His defiance earned him a backhanded slap.

 

At the abuse of his father, Legolas thrashed in his captor’s grip, nearly breaking their hold on him. Guruth stalked back to his position and grabbed the prince by the throat, lifting him up onto his toes and stopping his fighting. “No answers?” When Legolas still refused to speak, Guruth’s fingers tightened around his neck, “Fine. Then my soldiers would like to talk you.” He shoved the elf backwards into the hands of the orcs behind him.

 

Pulling his sword from its scabbard, Guruth stalked back to where Thranduil was being held.

 

“Sit still or it goes a hundred times worse for him, understand?” Guruth pressed his long, wicked blade against Thranduil’s throat as he crouched down next to the struggling Elvenking. This threat alone subdued Thranduil’s resistance and he settled down a little in the hands that held him, his gaze boring deadly holes into Guruth’s smirking face. Guruth seemed singularly undisturbed by the elf lord’s wrath. He smiled evilly, turning his attention back to where his minions were grappling with the younger elf. “Relax,” he told Thranduil. “Enjoy the show.”

 

The orcs holding Legolas’ arms manhandled his back up against one of the cliff walls, pinning him there. For half an instant Thranduil saw something disturbing flash through his son’s eyes; something raw and vulnerable that was out of place in his fierce and unbending offspring. Then the guard around his son’s icy blue eyes slammed back down quickly, shutting off whatever he might be thinking or feeling from any outside scrutiny, even the insightful gaze of his own father.

 

Legolas flinched as the dark creatures harshly pealed his tunic off of him, exposing his upper body to the cold mountain air. He could hear his father’s voice still protesting and cursing the orcs violently. He almost smiled. He hadn’t known some of those words were in his father’s usually refined and highly polished vocabulary.  

 

Rough hands tangled in the prince’s hair and closed around his arms as they shoved him down to his knees. Legolas pressed his eyes closed. He was not going to be afraid of these beasts; he was not going to let them humiliate him in front of his father that way. He was not going to let himself remember just how cruel orcs could be or how much he still dreaded them. Instead he let his ire and anger rise up to cover his fear, allowing himself only to feel the less degrading of the two emotions battling for control of him.

 

Rhach bo le gwaur hu.” //A curse on you filthy dogs// Legolas said coldly, his lips curling in disdain as the orcs holding his arms pawed him with malicious amusement. Their sharp, ragged, claw-like nails scratched his pale skin and he found their mere touch repugnant.

 

They did not understand his words, but the meaning was clear and the orcs snarled in anger. One grabbed the archer’s chin and tipped his head down to meet the creature’s disapproving glower as the orc crouched in front of him.

 

Legolas’ breath almost hitched at the over-familiar movement, but he did not allow the momentary swell of emotion to rule him. He was not in Mordor anymore and these creatures may temporarily control his body, but that was all it was, they never had and never would capture his soul.

 

“Keep your filthy elf-speak to yourself maggot!” the orc ordered gruffly, backhanding Legolas. “If you’re going to beg for your pitiful life, use words we can understand!” he sneered.

 

The warg rider’s spiked glove opened a bleeding abrasion across the elf’s cheek, but Legolas’ pain tolerance was high, built up by the many trying experiences in his life, and he barely even flinched.

 

The prince tasted his own blood as it trickled down the side of his face and he licked it out of the swelling corner of his lips. He smiled slightly, a cold, mirthless grin.

 

Thranduil groaned inwardly. He was fiercely proud of his son’s unbending nature, but he recognized the look in Legolas’ eyes right now and it usually meant the younger elf was about to do something incredibly foolish.

 

“Lang an trî hûn pân heniach, orch.” //A sword through the heart is all you understand, orc// Legolas growled, spitting at the creature. Despite how it might seem to an outsider, it was not as if he had any wish to antagonize them into making this any worse. Unfortunately however, his experience had already taught him that it didn’t matter what he did. The orcs were going to have their sport with him as roughly as they pleased whether he begged and pleaded or screamed curses at them, it was all as one to them. He had come to recognize that trait in some beings.

 

His own reactions were the only thing Legolas had control over now, and even a small and seemingly counterproductive act of defiance and provocation gave him a little bit of victory. They couldn’t take his will away from him, and even in a powerless situation, he still had the ability to anger them and get under their skin. Legolas had learned to take the small victories when they were all that was available. So he grimly enjoyed the look of irritated rage that blazed across his captor’s face right before the hard-gloved hand snapped his head to the side once more, followed by a gut-churning spew of ugly words in the black speech.

 

The prince instinctively drew in a deep breath and held it as he was yanked back to his feet, closing his eyes before the expected punishing barrage of blows hammered into his unprotected chest, face and abdomen. Orcs it seemed were predictable at least.

 

Legolas fell quickly into the rhythm he had adopted in order to survive in Mordor. Take a breath, hold it. Let it out slowly in time with the impact of the worst of the blows. Accept the pain, let it burn through him and then fade. Suck a second breath in quickly before another hit to his diaphragm could steal it away and repeat the process all over again. This was important. If once he lost his breath he knew that that was when the situation would change from painful to terrifying. There was something supremely panic-inducing about not being able to breathe and that could undo a strong resolve quicker than any amount of pain.  

 

The orcs pounded the captive body viciously, slamming Legolas back against the rock wall behind him repeatedly as their fists and axe-handles drove deep bruises into his unprotected flesh.

 

The prince focused on the rhythm of his breathing and let his mind go blank. Do not think. Never think, or if you do, think about something else. The comforting white noise that his vague focus on reality created in his mind helped to keep the prince detached from what was happening, giving him an ability to ride above the pain to a certain extent. He had discovered that a long time ago, and not necessarily in Mordor. That lesson went back a great deal farther. He had his uncle to thank for his consummate ability to detach his mind from what was happening to his body and let it float somewhere else while his physical frame absorbed the beating.

 

Thranduil was horrified; his anger and hurt rolled together into a seething serpent of rage coiling tightly around his heart. Legolas’ face had gone strangely impassive and his body seemed all but unresponsive to the malicious abuse being heaped upon him. The level of control required to achieve that both impressed and sorrowed the Elvenking, because he could not help but wonder how much suffering it had taken for Legolas to refine this level of indifference to so severe a beating.

 

Thranduil watched helplessly as Legolas’ eyes moved swiftly behind closed lids, as if the prince were trapped in a state of semi-nightmare. Impassive as Legolas was, he could not deny all expression of the pain being inflicted on him and his pale lips trembled slightly, his chest heaving raggedly with the forced effort to maintain his breathing pattern. Still the prince did not make a sound, even when the orcs, irritated by his lack of response, struck him in the gut with an axe handle. Drawing back only to repeat the move twice more in rapid succession, they nearly drove Legolas to his knees except for the hands that held him pinned upright against the rocks.

 

A second set of rapid, brutal blows to the same area did finally send the young elf to his knees when his legs gave out and his captors allowed him to slide down the wall.

 

Bright lights exploded behind Legolas’ clenched eyelids, swirling in brilliant patterns of pain against his consciousness. Short, quick gasps had replaced his attempt at deep breathing in the wake of the latest assault. He wanted to curl over his aching stomach but was not allowed to do so. It was all the prince could do to not cringe away from the blow he knew was coming when a heavy, sharp-toed boot slammed into his chest, adding one more burst of pain to his already over-loading system. Nothing could have prepared him to have that boot joined by three or four others in rapid tandem, forcing the last control over his breathing out of Legolas’ grasp and leaving him reeling and unable to inflate his lungs.

 

Doubling over violently, Legolas’ mouth opened in a silent, air-starved scream that he did not allow to carry any sound. Only one soft, half-trembling word slipped unconsciously from his lips as the prince sobbed for air and battled the fierce burning inside him.

 

“Ada.”

 

The serpent that had been squeezing Thranduil’s heart dug its claws in with full-strength vengeance, tearing bleeding gashes into his emotions at the soft sound of his son’s well-borne distress.

 

“Legolas!” Thranduil bucked wildly against the hands holding him down until Guruth was forced to tear his gaze away from the enjoyable specter of the suffering prince and turn his annoyed attention on the older elf.

 

“I told you to be still!” the orc leader growled. Purposefully grabbing Thranduil’s injured arm he dug the nails of his mutilated hand into the still raw and feverish lacerations, eliciting a sharp hiss of pain as he twisted the injured limb, driving Thranduil back down hard, pressing his knife under the elf’s chin until it drew blood.

 

Thranduil couldn’t see what was happening to Legolas from where he was now held, but the cadence of scuffling thuds and jeering orcs had not slowed. He heard a soft grunt of pain followed by a half-desperate hiss.

 

Thranduil did not care about the danger. Bringing his legs up he kicked Guruth in the stomach and knees, knocking the old orc away from him even though that motion caused the knife in Guruth’s hand to carve a deep gash across the Elvenking’s collarbone. “Morgoth spawn!” Thranduil spat angrily, struggling to his feet. “Release him!”

 

Guruth rebounded like a coiled wire, springing back to his feet once more with a glint of feral rage in his eyes.

 

The orcs beating Legolas stopped at the sounds of the scuffle and turned to look. Holding the prince by his elbows against the stone wall they let him sag between them a little, although he was struggling to remain upright under his own power.

 

The Elvenking’s burning eyes said just exactly how much he would like to strangle the life out of the twisted creature before him with his bare hands. More than that, they had behind the threat the actual ability to carry through on that desire. Thranduil probably could have taken Guruth in a fight, perhaps even with his hands bound if it had just been the two of them.

 

Unfortunately it was not just the two of them and Guruth had no intention of engaging in combat with the enraged elf lord. Instead, the orc just grinned and shook his head, glancing meaningfully at where his minions were holding the Elvenking’s son. He did not know they were related because to him all elves looked more or less alike in the end, but the golden haired Lord obviously cared what happened to the younger brat, and Guruth could use that.

 

“What exactly do you think you’re going to do elf? Take us all on single-handed with no weapon? You’re welcome to try, but rest assured the young one will be the first to die for such a foolish attempt.” Guruth expertly played one elf against the other and Thranduil scowled darkly as he realized that this creature had learned very well how to manipulate them.

 

With thick disgust, Thranduil did not resist when three or four orcs rushed forward to grab his arms from behind, wrestling him back to his knees and cuffing him liberally.

 

Legolas had opened his eyes when he heard his father speaking and watched with quiet dread as the orcs manhandled the elf lord into submission. He flinched when Guruth backhanded the Elvenking, splitting his father’s lip and adding to the alarming amount of blood already staining Thranduil’s blue-green tunic. Struggling stiffly against his captor’s clawed hands Legolas reacted far more to his father’s pain than he did to his own.

 

“You do not listen very well,” Guruth growled at Thranduil, pointing his bloody knife at the elf warningly. “You know, I had thought I might keep you two to try a trade for Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen if they’re not too big of cowards to turn themselves over. But if I neither of you will tell me whether or not they would care if you were dead or alive, then I have just as good a chance with one as two, don’t I? Keep pushing me and you’ll be the one who doesn’t make it!”

 

Thranduil met Guruth’s gaze icily without any trace of fear and the orc scowled. He hated these blasted elves and their damnable lack of self-concern; it was so foreign to his mind and such a nuisance. At the end of his scanty store of patience, Guruth gave a frustrated grunt as he grabbed Thranduil’s hair, tipping the elf’s head back and exposing his bloody neck. He had had enough of these stupid creatures. His rational mind wanted the elf lord alive, but his burning anger and frustration won out. Things had gone so wrong, he needed to kill something and the elf glaring at him right now was too good a target to ignore. “Keep on glaring elf. It will look very good on you when your head is no longer attached to your body!”

 

Legolas felt his heart drop out at the goblin’s words and the obviously deadly intent that was being turned upon his father. Taking a deep, shaky breath he mustered his strength, prepared to do anything other than watch his father killed in front of him. The orcs holding Legolas had become lax in their grip as they eagerly looked forward to a blood-letting, considering the younger elf too battered to be much trouble at the moment. Legolas used this misassumption to his advantage.

 

Dropping suddenly back to his knees, Legolas’ perspiration-slicked arms slid out of his captors’ hands in one deft move. Pushing aside the dizzy nausea created by his burning bruises both inside and out, Legolas somersaulted forward as the orcs cried out in surprise and outrage.

 

The prince rebounded to his feet behind Guruth’s back in a remarkable display of lethal fluidity. Grabbing the orc’s knife hand Legolas wrenched the weapon away even as Guruth spun to meet the sudden attack. The other goblins were already reacting, rushing after the loose elf. Legolas had only half an instant to act, but he seized the moment. Flipping the knife in his hand, he plunged it into Guruth’s unprotected side. An experienced warrior, the prince would have preferred the chance for a clean, instantly fatal blow to a more deadly region, but he worked with the limitations of time and movement that were upon him.

 

The warg rider howled in pain but reacted with a surprising ferocity. Before Legolas could even pull the knife free Guruth’s swung around, dragging the knife, still in his side, with him. His spiked fists struck out with consummate speed, forcing Legolas to duck in order to avoid being clubbed. At the same instant another orc struck the prince hard in his low back, knocking him forward. The blade jerked out of Guruth’s side, but Legolas lost his grip on the knife handle as his hurting body was propelled forward faster than it could compensate against. He quickly turned the tumble into a controlled roll before dancing stiffly back to his feet. He knew he could not give up this time; the orcs would kill he and his father both.

 

Thranduil made the most of the opportunity presented by the sudden attack. He tried to kick off the orcs holding his arms. Twisting and spinning he daunted their attempts to get a firm hold on him again. Lifting his arms to ward off a sweeping scimitar, Thranduil used its momentum to cut the ropes binding his wrists. He tried to get into the clear, but the creatures were gathered too close around and he didn’t have enough room to maneuver. All he could try to do was keep them from getting their claws on him again.

 

Legolas parried the whirling strikes of the orc attacking him with quick, firm moves. Dodging the swinging sword and blocking the orc’s punches and clouts with his forearms, he kicked the creature in the stomach. Suddenly his mind screamed a warning as a dark, fetid scent of death washed over his perceptive senses. He tried to turn but made it only partway around before the heavy, massive frame of the warg pounced on him. The force of the beast’s rush knocked Legolas to the ground facedown, slamming his already battered body against the sharp rocks and forcing the air from his lungs.

 

Legolas’ head swam as he struggled to turn onto his back and face the creature crouching on him. A sharp, burning pain ripped suddenly across the back of his right shoulder. He cried out at the surprise of it as the creature’s claws tore his flesh. With desperate effort, Legolas managed to flip over onto his back, only to find himself face to face with the open, dripping mouth of the foul creature. Grabbing handfuls of the beast’s filthy mane near it’s slobbering maw, Legolas pushed up with all his might, trying to put more distance between himself and those snapping jaws of death as he scrabbled backward on the sharp, rocky earth, trying to get out of this compromising position.

 

Thranduil heard Legolas cry out and turned quickly, seeing the desperate situation. At the same moment the orcs finally got his arms again and something heavy slammed into the back of the Elvenking’s head, knocking him forward and sending the world spinning out of focus for a few moments.

 

The huge warg placed its forepaw on Legolas’ chest, its claws digging painfully into the unprotected flesh and its massive weight pressing crushingly against his ribs and lungs. The prince could not breathe and his desperate struggles turned awkward and uncoordinated as darkness edged his vision. He was vaguely aware of the warg’s frightening, fanged face hovering right over his. This was not the way he would have chosen to die.

 

“Uzb Mrdhdúk!” Guruth, gripping his injured side, called harshly for the warg to halt in their own, dark tongue.

 

Mrdhdúk, with the scent of blood in her nostrils and her prey helpless beneath her, was obviously loath to obey, but her master’s authority was not to be disregarded and the beast’s primitive mind was aware of that. With a disgusted snort, she restrained herself from literally biting the prone elf’s head off. The warg shifted part of its weight off the prince’s chest as it resettled into a more relaxed stance, but maintained enough pressure on Legolas to keep the elf struggling for each breath.

 

Legolas tried to move but the warg growled warningly. Dropping her frightening maw back down to gape threateningly near the elf’s face, she reminded the captive being that he could just as easily turn into dinner at a moment’s notice if the creature so desired.

 

Legolas nearly gagged on the foul stench of the warg’s breath. Coupled with his lack of air, the reek was nearly enough to make him pass out, but he struggled to retain consciousness.

 

Guruth limped slightly as he made his way over to the huge warg, patting the creature’s mangy hide in approval. The orc leader was obviously in pain from his wound, but he was a survivor and had lived through much worse. He did not intend to let this little incident take him down, nor did he intend to let it go unpunished.

 

His eyes were dark and deadly. Guruth was through playing. These elves were going to pay for their meddling troublesomeness.

 

“Good job Mrdhdúk, you always obey me, don’t you?” he praised the warg, whom he had raised since she was a wargling, after he killed her mother. “Mrdhdúk does her work well, does she not?” he nodded towards the creature. “Better than *some* fools,” Guruth looked in recrimination at the other orcs who both scowled and cringed at their leader’s displeasure.

 

Guruth glanced from Thranduil to Legolas with a malevolent glare. “I think she’s earned a little reward.” The orc whistled around the fingers of his mutilated hand and Mrdhdúk’s ears perked up, obviously awaiting instruction. Two other wargs that had been hanging back nearby appeared over her shoulder.

 

Switching to black speech, Guruth said something to the wargs that appeared to please them, for a hungry, delighted fire lighted immediately in their small, dark, beady eyes.

 

Legolas, still trapped under Mrdhdúk’s grip, could feel the change in the creature’s demeanor and did not think it boded well.

 

Guruth moved stiffly over to a rock, holding his side as he sat down. He turned a dark grin on Thranduil. “In case you wanted to know, I just told them that they can have fun with the young one, so long as they don’t eat him... yet.”

 

Thranduil reacted with a blinding fury of helpless rage; tugging uselessly against the orcs holding him and spitting epithets at Guruth. The scarred orc was unfazed and leaned back, resting easily against the rock he was perched on. He was going to enjoy this.

 

Legolas tried not to feel terrified at the pronouncement, but the dark waves of malicious anticipation radiating from the creature above him did not help.

Chapter Text

~*PART TWELVE*~
~To Hold a Falling Star~

 

 

~~~~~~~~
I watched the stars as they fell from the sky
I held a fallen star and it wept for me; dying.

I felt the shooting stars encircle me, now as they fall...
Now as they fall.

--AFI
~~~~~~~~

 

 

The prince had always considered wargs to be more or less mindless creatures set only on destruction, death, carnage and sating their own blood lust. Now he found that was not entirely true. Obviously they could be both cunning and cruel in their own limited way.

 

Mrdhdúk did not tear into him like one might expect of a wild beast. Rather, she held him down firmly with one massive foot while she dragged the other clawed paw slowly along the elf’s side, cutting painful, but mostly superficial grooves in the prince’s pale skin.

 

Legolas clenched his jaw tightly in pain as the warg ran its claws slowly down his other side in the same manner, cutting him from armpit to waist. Legolas grabbed the paw on his chest, desperation lending him the strength to force it upward enough to roll away. But the two other wargs had joined the game by now and they did not let the elf get far. A darker-pelted warg pounced forward, knocking Legolas sprawling again. A third, smaller warg checked the prince’s forceful tumble, catching Legolas’ shoulder lightly in its teeth. It did not bite down enough to do serious damage, but its fangs lightly punctured the archer’s sensitive skin as it shook him roughly back and forth. Rolling its head with a snapping motion, the creature flung the elf back to the ground at its pack-mates feet like a giant dog with a play toy.

 

Legolas’ heart was pounding in fear and pain as he hit the ground yet again, his hurting body jolting painfully. He tried to scramble to his feet, but the wargs were not about to allow that. The elf was flat against the earth again in a matter of moments. Legolas’ chin impacted hard with the ground, sending a ringing buzz through his head. He tasted blood in his mouth at the same time that he felt one of the wargs latch onto his leg, dragging him backward in a slithering motion. Legolas had no purchase, no control over the situation as he was bumped and scraped roughly across the jagged ground before the warg released him with a flick of its head, sending him rolling again. Their teeth cut the elf, but they weren’t really biting him. However, hidden behind each ungentle touch was the not so subtle knowledge and threat that at any moment they could stop playing and become earnest. All it would take was one serious bite from those massive jaws when they were holding him and Legolas would never recover. The prince realized with sickening horror that if the orcs intended to kill him, then they meant for it to be very slow.

 

The wargs toyed with Legolas as if he were the object of a game, batting him back and forth between them, and pouncing him whenever he tried to get away.

 

Mrdhdúk leaned her revolting head down, lapping at the blood that was now flowing easily from the multiple lacerations the elf had been receiving from their rough treatment. Legolas started as the beast’s saliva sent of a new wave of burning agony through his torn body.

 

He struggled against the warg’s cruel ministrations, but Mrdhdúk just growled and flipped him roughly over onto his stomach like a disobedient wargling. The elf felt their claws again on his back and shoulders, tearing him teasingly as their combined weight held his weakened body helplessly against the rocks. The hard earth dug into the cuts on his chest as the wargs scrubbed him back and forth when they moved above him.

 

The wargs were still restrained, but their blood lust was obviously being whipped up to peak levels by their play and they were quickly becoming more vicious. The prince gasped and squirmed, crying out softly, unable to remain impassive or silent as the beast’s claws slowly raked his already injured flesh again and again. The pain and claustrophobia of being trapped under the creatures was making him desperate, but he could not escape.

 

The orcs had formed a ring around the wargs, chanting and urging them on, obviously enjoying the sport. Thranduil could barely see Legolas through their seething, churning mass and at the moment he couldn’t say whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.

 

The smaller warg seemed to have enough of this gentle play. He snarled sharply, pushing his claws down harder and tearing the elf’s back deeply.

 

Legolas screamed.

 

Thranduil fought the urge to retch. He had given up struggling; given up cursing these horrible creatures for what they were doing to his precious child... none of it did any good. All he could do was watch and listen in gut-wrenching horror as his heart was torn apart in front of him. Tears flowed freely, but he was not ashamed of them. If Legolas died here, in these cruel circumstances, Thranduil knew he would follow whether the orcs willed it or no. He could not stand to lose the younger elf like this.

 

Mrdhdúk butted the smaller warg aside somewhat roughly. This was her game and she did not appreciate others upping the ante before she was ready. Master had given them leave to play, not to kill and she never disappointed her master. The elf was bleeding freely now, too freely. His struggles had weakened to the point of non-existence and he lay still on the stony ground, his chest heaving unevenly as he tried to curl away from them. Her small, but sharp mind told the warg that if they pushed much further the smaller being under them was not long for this world.

 

Roughly, Mrdhdúk nosed the elf back onto his stomach and Legolas tensed, hissing in pain as he expected it to start all over again. Instead of claws however, Mrdhdúk lathered his torn back with her tongue, lapping up his blood and leaving a sticky coating of her saliva behind.

 

Legolas only barely kept from shrieking as the abrasive substance filled his wounds and added a new level of agony to his pain. Burying his mouth against the back of his hand he tried to not keep giving voice to his hurt as wracking sobs shook his shoulders. He could not take much more.

 

As paradoxical as it seemed however, Mrdhdúk’s ministrations would actually help the elf in the long run. Loathsome as it was, the warg’s saliva had a crude but remarkably powerful healing element to it. This was necessary since wargs often fought among themselves and the bites they inflicted so often became almost instantly infected; the wargs needed something to counter their own destructive natures in order to survive as a species. The odd healing power of the disgusting substance was something the orcs had discovered long ago and used often to their advantage. Mrdhdúk restrained the elf firmly, not above hurting it a little more just for fun even while she assured it was going to survive for the present.

 

Legolas didn’t have the strength to struggle anymore; it took all his energy not to keep crying out as Mrdhdúk savored the flavor of his blood, thoroughly licking his back clean until the bleeding had stopped. Lifting him none-to-gently in her jaws, the warg padded over to Guruth and dropped the elf’s limp body at his feet, looking up expectantly.

 

Guruth smiled and patted her shoulder in approval, whispering to her in their own language. He knew it showed her fealty and fear of him that she delivered the creature uneaten and still alive. Even if only barely.

 

“Feed them,” Guruth ordered one or two of the other orcs, indicating the wargs with his head. “You, pick him up,” he motioned a second group towards Legolas’ still form.

 

Legolas could not stand on his own and the orcs had to hold him up. Guruth took his hand away from his side, black with the orc’s own blood. Striking out he punched Legolas right where two claw slashes crisscrossed against the side of his ribs. Legolas winced sharply and moaned through his teeth, sagging a little further in his captor’s arms. The orc smiled, satisfied that the elf had paid for what he had done. Despite his earlier inclination to kill one of them, Guruth’s practical mind had begun to win out again now that his blood lust had been appeased and he knew that their chances were better with two than with one, if it were reasonably possible to keep them both alive. Although after this... well, the young one wouldn’t be long now, but maybe long enough to still be useful.

 

Thranduil had been shoved to the back during the earlier excitement with the wargs and he could not see when Legolas was dropped at Guruth’s feet. All he knew was that things had gone very quiet and he was mortally afraid of what that meant.

 

Suddenly the dark mass of orc bodies parted and their prisoner was thrust forward.

 

His heart stopped. Time stopped. Everything became suddenly deathly silent as the orcs threw the bleeding blonde elf to the ground in front of him.

 

“LEGOLAS!” the Elvenking’s heart screamed in sudden horror, but it was barely a trembling whisper on his lips as his son fell limply into his lap; the younger elf’s golden hair spilling across the elf king’s legs like tattered remnants of sunshine fading from sight in this darkened world.

 

Legolas’ head came to rest against his knees; the prince’s glazed silver-blue eyes staring up into nothing.

 

Thranduil thought his heart would never start beating again. Cold dread washed through him in crashing waves as a horrible sense of deja-vu flooded his entire being. His blood froze and goose bumps stood out against every inch of his flesh. No... no... not this. Not his nightmare come to reality. It could not be. It could not be!

 

“NO! Legolas! What have you done to him?! LEGOLAS!!” Thranduil found himself shouting the familiar and hated words out of the utter devastation of his heart as he took in the sight of his son’s battered body and unresponsive eyes.

 

At a nod from Guruth, the orcs holding Thranduil’s arms released him, allowing the Elvenking to lean forward and gather his injured child into his arms. Guruth found something perversely enjoyable about this scene and did not hinder them. His own injuries were hurting him however and he knew he needed to take care of that. The orc leveled a threatening glare on some of his underlings.

 

“Guard them. If they so much as MOVE again I will have all your heads,” he threatened. “And you,” he turned his dark gaze on Thranduil. “If you want to remain free to hold him then don’t try anything. If you so much as twitch wrong I’ll have you both tied up and staked out on the nearest wall. AFTER I let the wargs finish what they started with him,” at this he kicked Legolas’ limp form dispassionately. “Do you understand?”

 

Thranduil’s burning, hate-filled eyes said that he did. He would do nothing to endanger his son’s life at this moment. It was probably a small mercy for both elves that the orcs did not know they were father and son, their cruelty would only have increased, if that were possible.

 

Guruth snorted and moved away, calling for Mrdhdúk who was messily finishing whatever reasonably fresh meat the other orcs had scrounged up for her. Sitting down and removing his rough leather cuirass, the orc let her clean his wound.

 

Legolas had started trembling and Thranduil pulled off his dark blue cloak, wrapping the younger elf up in its soft, enveloping folds, careful of the prince’s multiple injuries. He gathered Legolas gently to him, pressing the boy’s head against his breast and holding the lithe, shaking body close.

 

“Legolas?” he whispered softly into the prince’s matted hair. “Ion-nín le ah nin? My son, are you with me?”

 

Legolas responded with a shaky nod against his father’s chest, not trusting himself to be able to speak just yet.

 

Thranduil breathed a soft sigh of relief at the response, however slight. “Gohena nin Legolas... forgive me,” he murmured. His utter lack of ability to protect his son when his son needed him burned Thranduil. It suddenly struck the Elvenking that he never had been able to protect Legolas and that thought cut deeply. The look in Legolas’ eyes earlier, and the way he accepted pain with so much tolerance had brought that fact crashing home to the king in the most painful way. Even when he was a child, Thranduil had not protected him from abuse that occurred right under his own nose, in Legolas’ own home. Then he sent the young elf off when he wasn’t even of age yet to a place where he would sustain even more grievous injuries and have his innocence stripped brutally away from him. And all that was only the tip of the iceberg... had he ever been there when his son needed him even emotionally? After Legolas’ mother left, had he comforted the boy, or had he withdrawn into his own private world of loss and further alienated his hurting son? Thranduil shuddered at the sudden, self condemning maelstrom that his pain and grief over what had just happened was whipping up inside him.

 

That brief look of vulnerability and jaded fear he had seen earlier continued to haunt him harshly. Legolas had been frightened of the orcs... that was natural of course, but it was not a normal level of fear, it was something darker and deeper. Something Thranduil could not reconcile with the soundless and accepting way Legolas had taken the subsequent beating. No one as young as his son should have had so much experience in how cruel the world could be. No loving father should have let his son suffer so much.

 

The accusers in Thranduil’s heart did not let him rest as he rocked the injured younger elf gently back and forth, murmuring comforting words. His son, whom he loved more than life, whom he had accidentally hurt so often, whom he had... *exiled* at one time for goodness sakes, how could he ever have done that? How could he have failed the one he cared for the most so many times? Even when he tried to keep his son safe, it usually ended up backfiring. Then Legolas saw him as restrictive and overbearing and they would quarrel. Thranduil had thought he was trying to keep his son safe by discouraging his friendship with Strider so many years ago, but by now he knew what a foolish and utterly futile attempt that had been. He was a king and a leader, but he was also a father... why was it that it was only the last he could never seem to handle correctly?

 

Tears spilled down the elder elf’s face as he buried his cheek against his son’s head, hugging Legolas closely to him. “Gohena nin, gohena nin...”

 

Legolas felt his father’s inner turmoil and anguish throbbing against him even as the older elf tried to be comforting for his sake. He could not begin to understand the reasons for Thranduil’s consuming guilt, but he did not want the older elf to be suffering so on his account. A shaky hand reached up and Legolas’ slender fingers pressed against his father’s lips, silencing the heartbroken words.

 

“Ú-moe edhored Ada,” he whispered faintly, still afraid to talk too loudly less his voice betray him and quaver. “There is nothing to forgive. This... this isn’t your fault. I... I’m sorry. I should not have reacted so shamefully. I didn’t mean...”

 

“Shh, no, no Legolas,” Thranduil shook his head firmly, taking Legolas’ fingers from his lips, kissing them and wrapping his hand around them, pressing them tightly to his breast. He couldn’t believe that Legolas would think he might be ashamed of him in anyway. Always, he knew, that had been Legolas’ fear; one he had never seemed to be able to fully assuage. “You are very strong Legolas. I am proud of you my son, very proud. I always will be. I’m sorry if I have not made that clearer to you over the years. I love you Legolas,” he whispered, abandoning his natural emotional reserve in the face of nearly having lost the younger elf... and the fear that he yet might.

 

Legolas smiled; a warm, genuine smile despite his weary, pain-laden body. He gingerly burrowed a little closer to his father’s comforting warmth, wincing as even the slightest movement pulled against his torn body. “I know Ada,” he whispered quietly, his drained voice conveying a surprising warmth and confidence in that fact. “I’ve always known. Sui im cared le.” //As I do you.//

 

Thranduil just held Legolas for a long while, rocking the younger elf gently. He desperately wished that he had Elrond’s healing abilities at this moment, because although he could feel Legolas’ weakened body struggling to maintain a viable balance between pain and survival as he pressed close into his father’s warm embrace, Thranduil could do so little to help.

 

To Legolas however, just having his father there was help in itself. Thranduil was not an emotionally demonstrative person and Legolas could not stand being perceived as in need of coddling in any case. He knew his father cared. Thranduil may have been a very private person emotionally, but he had always made sure that his son knew he was loved. Yet for the most part theirs was a strong, but formal and emotionally distant bond. The prince could barely recall the last time his father had been this gentle and tender with him. As ridiculous as he supposed it was, Legolas realized that some corner of his heart craved that kind of easily obtained affection, the kind he watched flow so freely between Estel and his family. In truth it was something Legolas had always desired, but after the deep wounds he took to his spirit in Mordor it was not simply a fond wish, but a deep, bone-aching need that he had scarcely even realized existed until he found it being filled now.

 

Legolas’ hurting body pulled him from his pleasant thoughts and he moaned softly. He felt dizzy and ill. His limits, incredibly high though they were, had been pushed too far, too fast and even the antiseptic quality of the warg’s crude care was foreign and painful to him. He kept his eyes closed and pressed his forehead tightly against his father’s chest, rocking back and forth in small, distressed movements in an attempt to distract himself from the overwhelming sting of his injuries. It was too much, his body was not springing back although it was trying hard.

 

“Your ketrals missed you while you were gone Legolas,” Thranduil said softly, hoping that conversation would help take his son’s mind off his pain. “They tore up Trelan’s house so badly his father brought them back to me and said under no circumstances were they going to watch them for you when you were away ever again.”

 

Legolas chuckled softly. He and Thranduil had clashed heads about his pets more than once, but he could tell his father was speaking with good humor this time.

 

“I’m surprised they’re still alive,” the prince murmured.

 

“They should count themselves lucky, I can assure you. If I had not been assured that their flavor was foul they would have ended up the appetizer for Lady Bethlia’s reception feast,” Thranduil deadpanned and Legolas had to look up to catch the glint in his eyes that said he was joking.

 

Thranduil could not help but smile gently at his son’s almost alarmed look. He smoothed Legolas’ hair. “You must know I wouldn’t do that Legolas. Lock them in the cellars yes... make them suffer through Lady Bethlia’s company, even as an side dish, no.”

 

Legolas laughed at that but quickly had to stop when it turned into coughing and made a few tears squeeze unbidden from his eyes. He hurt so badly, and there was nowhere he could go to escape the pain.

 

Thranduil stroked the hair on the back of Legolas’ head absently. “They are very prolific however. You have three new grandbabies waiting for you at home.”

 

Legolas smiled faintly. “I did not realize I have been gone that long.”

 

“You have,” Thranduil’s voice was soft. “They weren’t the only ones who missed you.”

 

Legolas blinked and looked up again, moving only his neck since anything else hurt too much. The prince searched his father’s eyes and was surprised by what he found. It had been such a short time really; he had barely expected his father to even notice he was gone.

 

Thranduil smiled sadly. Ordinarily, he would have shared the thoughts that he could see written clearly in his son’s silver-blue eyes, but this separation had not been ordinary somehow and he did not know how to explain that.

 

“I... worried for you, Legolas,” Thranduil admitted. “I had horrible nightmares. You...” he hated to speak of it aloud. “You were asking someone to end your life because you could not carry on.” His voice was fearful. Seeing Legolas as he was now, Thranduil dreaded the possibility of seeing the rest of his dream come to reality.

 

Legolas stiffened in his father’s arms. For a few moments he thought he was going to be ill. He had never intended for his father to find out about that, ever. That Thranduil had in some way seen that moment of ultimate defeat in his life horrified him.  

 

Thranduil was still speaking. “And then I saw this, now, what has happened...” His grip on his son tightened. “Do not leave me Legolas,” he whispered. “I promise that whatever happens to us I will not let you face it alone, but do not give up.”

 

Legolas realized that Thranduil had it backward and feared that what he had seen was a glimpse of the future, rather than an all too uncannily accurate depiction of the past.

 

“Fear not father, I promise I will do no such thing,” Legolas said seriously, but he smiled, trying to assure his father of the truth of his words. Indeed, Legolas had already decided that no matter what happened in the future, or how hard things became, he would never again give up the will to live. He realized now how cruel it would be to those he loved and left behind.

 

Thranduil believed the sincerity of his son’s promise, but he did not miss the uneasy way Legolas had stiffened against him when he spoke of his dream. There was something he had not yet been told here.

 

“Legolas,” Thranduil asked presently. “What happened while you were away? Lord Elrond said only that you and Strider returned alive and well after many trying journeys.”

 

Legolas did not look up to meet his father’s prodding gaze. “I know,” he murmured. He had begged the elf lord not to say any more, preferring to leave the retelling of the necessary parts of the story for later. Much later. Or perhaps not at all if he could get away with such.

 

Thranduil could read more from that statement than Legolas intended. Injured as he was, Legolas was not as guarded as usual.

 

“It was unusual for him to be so vague.” Thranduil tipped Legolas’ head up gently; meeting his son’s pained eyes with concern. “Legolas... what happened?”

 

“I...” Legolas swallowed hard. He fidgeted tensely, but the movement and tension sent new flames of agony shooting along his torn sides and back. Intense pain flashed across his face, and Legolas was glad for the excuse of his physical suffering to hide his discomfort. With a small gasp he let his head fall back down against his father’s breast. “I’m sorry, I can’t talk about it right now father. Please understand...”

 

Thranduil was already hushing him. “Then don’t my son, don’t. I had no wish to cause you more pain. We will speak of it another time. Shhh, rest, rest Legolas, ‘tis all right. Rest my son.”

 

Legolas sighed slightly, glad the issue was so easily laid aside for the present at least. He let his father sooth him back into a relaxed state.

Chapter Text

~*PART THIRTEEN*~
~Picking up the Pieces~

 

 

 

Elladan and Elrohir stood shakily from the forest floor. The explosive collapse of Daradwayn had crushed the tunnel they escaped from. The Dwarven-made door sat an odd angle in the mountainside, its edges exposed and cracked by the collapsed passageway. The thick slab of stone was broken and dust sifted gently from the vertical crevice.

 

The force of the cavern’s destruction had shaken the surrounding forests, throwing the three elves to the ground as the mountain shifted within itself and resettled once more. Quiet sounds from the woods around them were just beginning to creep back into the still dawn of morning, but the forest carried a foreboding as though the very trees were holding their breath - waiting.

 

The Noldor elves’ escape had been fairly simple; Thranduil’s diversion had bought them the time they needed and the badly divided orcs had not been able to capture the fleet-footed elves.

 

Elladan shut the door on their pursuers with the command that he was far more familiar with than Legolas had been. When the cavern began to tremble from its own weight the black hearted creatures had given up their pursuit and headed for the front passage. Their courage only withstood so much and their loyalty to the captain came second to saving their own hides.

 

Elrohir tore his gaze from the broken mountainside and gently hooked his hands underneath his father’s arms, helping the older elf to his feet. Elrond was bruised and dirty. Blood caked his right temple and he wove unsteadily on his feet as Elrohir held him. Raw red welts encircled his wrists from where the orc rope had burned into his flesh and his tunic was ripped from the lashings that the orcs had given him. He caught his breath and held it as pain from the recent cruelty of his captors flooded his body. He tried to still the dizziness that swept over him but it was a useless battle. He had not been this badly off in a long, long time.

 

“El, help me.” Elrohir called to his twin as he slowly moved Elrond to a fallen log and lowered the elf lord down upon it, “He’s hurt badly.”

 

“I will mend.” Elrond assured as he allowed himself to be eased into a sitting position. Gently he touched Elrohir’s face.

 

“The orcs said they killed you both.” He whispered softly, unable to hold the tears back.

 

Elrohir pulled his father into his arms and held him, tenderly fearful of aggravating his injuries.

 

“They lied to you Ada.” The twin answered quietly.

 

“They can not kill Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen.” Elladan added softly, kissing the top of his father’s head.

 

Elrond slowly shook his head; “Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen lie buried in Daradwayn. All I see are my sons, Elladan and Elrohir, and I love them with all my heart.”

 

The twins exchanged a knowing glance, smiling softly and feeling for the first time as if their past perhaps truly could finally be laid aside.

 

“We need to move.” Elrond spoke quietly glancing about them into the woods. His body ached more than he would admit, but they were not safe. They were barely outside Daradwayn and still in danger of being discovered. They could not afford to be complacent while the threat of recapture lingered.

 

It suddenly occurred to the elf lord that they had not all made it out of the tunnels. The fact that he had not noticed sooner told him how badly he truly was doing. “Where is Thranduil? Was he not behind us?”

 

“I did not see him. He was not with us when I sealed the door, there were only orcs in the passageway.” Elladan admitted quietly, “He may have made it out the main entrance.” The younger elf hoped so anyway. He had not always had an altogether complimentary opinion of Legolas’ father, but the way Thranduil had stepped in the gap to assure their safety without any hesitation had made Elladan stop to think that maybe Thranduil was more than he seemed. Perhaps Legolas was not an apple that had fallen that far from the tree after all.

 

“We should go look for survivors.” Elrohir was listening intently into the forest. “No one approaches and the sounds of the orcs are fading. Estel and Legolas were with us, we were supposed to meet up after our escape. Perhaps Thranduil is with them.”

 

“I will go and find them, you stay here with father.” Elladan stated simply; his twin agreed with a small nod but the young elf was halted as Elrond stood stiffly to his feet.

 

“We shall *all* go.” The older elf gingerly shook his head, forestalling the arguments; “If there are wounded they will require our combined skills. Thranduil was injured, he needs attention and I am worried that Estel has not joined us. The silence in the forests is a warning I think we should heed.”

 

With great reluctance the twins agreed, if only because they could refuse their father nothing. Elrohir supported Elrond; his arm wrapped about the older elf’s waist as Elladan led them back around the base of the mountain, towards where the mouth of Daradwayn used to be.

 

The woods were still in this part of the forest and the sounds of the elves’ light footsteps could barely be heard as they moved under the darkened canopy. The new light of day barely touched the forest floor here, which did not normally present a problem for the elves, but they were so shaken by the recent events and intent on listening to the woods about them that Elladan nearly stepped into one of the traps Estel had marked.

 

The tiny grouping of oddly piled stones and leaves caught Elrond’s attention. He was concentrating on where they were walking, trying not to stumble as he leaned on Elrohir when he recognized the warning marker he had taught the ranger to build when he was still a child. They used it between them as a sign when Estel had begun learning tracking skills. Elrond would mark out traps that had been set or places to avoid. As he had grown Estel had taken to using it to draw his father to his hiding place or indicate something of interest. He smiled softly, slightly surprised to see that the human had kept their secret signal even after so many years.

 

“Elladan stop!” Elrond’s soft sharp command froze the elf in place mid-step. Slowly the eldest twin backed away and glanced behind him.

 

“Ada what is it?” Elrohir questioned as he intently searched the ground and the surrounding areas. “I see nothing amiss.”

 

Stiffly Elrond moved away from Elrohir, speaking softly as he walked forward, “*That* is Estel’s marker.” He pushed the small grouping of sticks and leaves with the tip of his boot shifting the intricate symbol slightly. Upon closer inspection Elladan could see that what appeared to be nothing but leaves and ground debris had been laid out so that they formed the elvish symbol for danger.

 

“There must be a trap on the other side of it.” Elrond continued as he stooped to retrieve a small stone, “Step back Elladan. I see nothing either but he would not mark the ground if there were not something there.”

 

With a flick of his wrist the elf lord tossed the rock just beyond Aragorn’s marker. As the stone impacted the earth, the ground beneath it rippled moving away from the center of the stone like thick water before it sucked the rock under the false surface and returned to normal within seconds.

 

“What is that?!!?” Elladan moved farther back near Elrohir.

 

The deceptiveness of the trap shocked the elves. Such a thing was unheard of on this side of the Misty Mountains.

 

“I do not know. I have never seen such a thing but it is evil to be sure. We must make certain that we come back when this is over and dig this pit out and fill it properly. We cannot chance any living creature to fall into it.” Elrond tugged on Elrohir’s sleeve as he led his sons away from the edge of the trap. He had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that they needed to move on and quickly.

 

The meadow in front of Daradwayn was littered with the bodies of orcs and their mounts. Rocks were strewn among the dead, some stood as grave markers over those not fast enough to move out of their path when they tumbled from the cliffs above. The trio of elves stood silently in front of the mouth of the cave, amid the field of carnage.

 

So many horrors, so many memories and now all of them were sealed forever, never to be repeated and the evil that had been could now begin to heal. Even the forest here seemed lighter now that the cave had been collapsed.

 

“It is good.” Elladan whispered. So many years this place had haunted his nightmares. The silence that followed his quiet assessment was broken as Elrond began searching among the dead, looking for signs of Legolas, Thranduil and his son, Estel.

 

Elrohir quickly followed suit, tearing his eyes from the mountainside. It did his heart more good than the others to see his mother and father avenged they way they had been. The rage in his heart was stilled and he no longer felt the hatred burn within him. That was a relief to him, for hate was an emotion that did not sit well with his tender heart and he slowly felt the feeling that he was being torn in two begin to fade away. A peace fell over his soul as he lay the past behind him.

 

It was beginning to appear that only orcs and wargs littered the woods here when Elladan nearly stumbled on a smaller body. The ranger was rolled over on his stomach. Wrapped in his coat he almost appeared as nothing more than another dead orc.

 

But orcs did not wear ranger cloaks.

 

With a gasp Elladan called to his father and brother as he dropped quickly down next to the still body. He was afraid to turn Estel over, afraid of what he might find. His hands hovered just above Aragorn, barely touching him.

 

“Does he live?” Elrond reached them first. “Elladan!?”

 

His father’s voice shook the fear from the twin’s heart and Elladan gently turned their human brother over.

 

Aragorn’s face was obscured by his hair that had matted in the dried blood caked to his face. He moaned slightly as he was moved. The motion woke him and the ranger shifted, trying to escape whomever it was that held him. He couldn’t see well and remembering why he was so afraid at the moment was eluding him – everything was disorienting and his brain fed him a million pieces of jumbled information at once.

 

Legolas falling.

 

Thranduil... why was he here?

 

Where was here?

 

There was a cave... no... a cave-in.

 

Voices spoke to him softly in elvish and hands gently worked at washing away the blood on his face. With singular piercing clarity all his thoughts focused upon one image and he remembered seeing the mouth of Daradwayn collapsing in on itself, falling and blocking out the sight of Legolas and Thranduil.

 

“Legolas!” The ranger shot up into a sitting position, fighting off those who were trying to hold him down.

 

Gentle hands slid alongside Aragorn’s face and a quiet voice repeated his name, calming his racing heart and steadying him.

 

“Estel. Estel look at me.” Elrond knelt in front of the human, trying to get his son to focus. “There, good.” The elf lord smiled softly as Aragorn’s eyes locked onto his own and the ranger’s breathing began to even out. “You were knocked unconscious.” He explained quietly as Aragorn gripped his father’s arms tightly, his body still responding to all the adrenaline built up in it.

 

“Where is Legolas?” the ranger questioned, his voice a mere whisper as he glanced beyond his father to the body-strewn meadow in front of Daradwayn. Slowly he returned his gaze to the elf that knelt before him. “I saw him when it collapsed. He was here then.” Aragorn’s breathing had calmed and he easily held the steady gaze of Elrond. He was no longer leaning in his father’s embrace but had shifted himself so that he was sitting cross-legged on the ground. “Ada?”

 

“Ada!” Aragorn’s numb brain finally registered that it was in fact his father, freed from the orc’s lair that knelt in front of him. His heart sighed in relief as he pulled the older elf against him and held him for a few moments. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you sooner, there were too many.”

 

Elrond smiled softly, resting his head against the human’s. His sons lived. Convinced that the ranger was in no immediate danger and that his wounds were not life threatening, Elrond slowly sat back on his heels and gave his son a bit of space. “It’s all right Estel. After I awoke, Thranduil told me he had seen you in the cavern and it did my heart good to know you were alive.” The elf lord sighed deeply as the anxiety of worrying about his sons slowly faded. He gently touched the side of the man’s face. Unfortunately not all his news was so good. “But Estel, we have searched the area and of Thranduil and Legolas, we have found no trace.”

 

The news did not sit well with the ranger. They would need to begin a larger search soon, but the pounding in his head was interfering with everything else. With a groan Aragorn reached up to gently finger his right temple. It was tender and already a small lump was forming where he impacted against the tree. His head ached and the vision in his right eye was a little blurry. Gingerly he rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hands before his father stopped him.

 

“You have a cut to your temple and have hit your head very hard, you are probably suffering from the impact. Your vision will clear but I would suggest keeping your hands away from your eyes, they are filthy.” Elrond reprimanded with a soft laugh as he carefully inspected the cut on Aragorn’s head that Elladan had begun cleaning again. Despite the fact that he was probably the most severely injured of the four of them, Elrond slid easily into caretaker mode and his sons, accustomed to him being in that role, did not notice.

 

“Estel’s hands are always filthy.” Elrohir snicker softly.

 

It surprised the ranger somewhat to realize that his brothers were with them and not out hunting down any surviving orcs. Brushing the hair away from his face and gently moving Elladan’s hands away, Aragorn tipped his head back, glancing up to gaze into the smiling faces of his older brothers. “Well at least someone made it out of that cursed place without a scratch.” He commented sarcastically as Elladan leaned over and helped pull Aragorn up into a standing position.

 

“Not quite true.” Elrohir replied, showing the young human his left elbow. His tunic was torn slightly across his upper arm and he pointed to a small red scratch that jumped lightly across his elbow where the cloth hung in shreds. “Got that when we hit the ground outside the back door. So see I did get a scratch! And Elladan tore his leggings too.”

 

With a chuckle Aragorn clumsily pushed the elf away from him. “Oh I’m so sorry,” he retorted sarcastically.

 

His head was still swimming and he was finding it difficult to maintain his balance, but he was doing a good job of ignoring his body’s warnings. There was an insistent worry nagging the back of his mind, begging him to start searching for Legolas. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something had gone wrong and he needed to find his friend soon.

 

Immediately, the ranger began scouting the ground around them for clues, signals, tracks, anything that would tell him what had happened. He was taken off guard as strong hands grabbed him by the shoulders and dragged him back to a fallen log, pressing him down up on it.

 

“You may get up when Ada says so.” Elladan whispered in his left ear, patting him on the shoulder and holding him down in place when he tried to squirm away from his overprotective brother.

 

“Ada,” Aragorn’s tone was imploring as Elrond stepped in front of him and gently began tending to the gash on his head, “I need to begin looking for Legolas and Thranduil. If they are not here then I fear the worst.” He winced and sucked in his breath as the elder elf wound a torn strip of cloth around his head, winding it about itself to hold it in place. “There is a dread in my heart that they might have been recaptured and then we have no time to lose...”

 

The ranger’s voice trailed off as Elrond sighed quietly, catching his breath. He closed his eyes as he dealt with a dizzying sweep of pain and gingerly sat down next to his human son. He really was in no shape to be tending anyone, force of habit or no.

 

The world seemed to spin around the elf lord and he closed his eyes against the visual input. The rushing sound in his ears blotted out all his sons’ worried questions and he leaned forward resting his head in his hands. Gently Elladan took hold of his father’s shoulders, his quiet questions unanswered as the older elf fought to keep conscious.

 

Aragorn dropped to his knees in front of the elf lord and carefully pried his father’s fingers away from his face. Dazed blue eyes glanced wearily at the young human but the words the man spoke made no sense. Elrond shook his head gingerly, he didn’t understand.

 

“Where is the pain?” Aragorn spoke again, his voice softer and commanding. “Tell me.” The tone he had learned from his father long ago and the power behind the words that bid the elf respond was part of his surfacing heritage.

 

The question pierced Elrond’s confusion and he locked his gaze on his youngest, unable to withstand the call behind the simple request.

 

“I cannot focus.” Elrond whispered, “It seems as though the world spins around me even though I am sitting still. I ache everywhere. I probably have a concussion and moderate trauma-shock, plus m-mul-multiple lacerations and some broken bones. My body should begin to compensate soon... stabilize the spinning.” He grit his teeth as he self diagnosed. “But I’m not. This is not right Estel.”

 

“Keep talking to him Estel,” Elladan’s worried voice momentarily broke Aragorn’s concentration, “He seems to be able to hear you. Get him to tell you everything.”

 

With a quick nod, Aragorn turned his attention back to the older elf, “It is normal. You have been tortured and subjected to the attentions of orcs for the past three days. You can’t expect to bounce back like nothing happened. It is only Ilúvatar that has seen you through. Tell me what they did, so I can help you.” The ranger was gently holding the elf’s face in his hands, his gaze never wavering from the blue eyes that were locked onto him.

 

Unable to fight the request, Elrond nodded once.

 

“I was beaten, obviously.” He whispered softly. “Several times. They brought me here, to the same place...” He stopped talking, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. Tears spilled from the edges of his eyelids as his own recent ordeal blended with images from the past.

 

“Don’t remember that far back.” Aragorn softly directed, smoothing the hair away from his father’s face and gently resting his forehead against the older elf’s. He spoke clearly and quietly but the force of the words could not be denied. “Remember yesterday, then the day before that. They brought you here. Your arm is hurt. You have a nasty gash on your temple. Tell me how you got those. Did they force you to drink their mead?”

 

A small nod answered his fears and Aragorn felt his stomach tighten in fear. He glanced up at Elrohir. “Fetch some water quickly. Find my pack and steep the herbs in the silver vial in the water. It will help. It counteracts defaifel, which isn’t so very different from orc draughts. Hurry.”

 

Elrond was shaking his head now. “I’m not thirsty.” He did not resist as Aragorn with Elladan’s help shifted him down onto the floor of the forest, resting his back against the fallen tree he had been seated on.

 

“Now, do you really think I’m going to let you get away with that when you never let any of us do so? Besides, you know what happens when Legolas tells me he won’t drink my tea. Don’t make me force you, I will make a scene. I have had years of practice.” Aragorn glanced up and accepted the worn pack he carried. Elrohir had taken the vial as told and passed the rest of the contents off to the human.

 

Elrond began to drift. Closing his eyes, the world darkened and he no longer noticed the tilt and spin. Everything that had happened the past few days had finally caught up with him and he no longer had the strength or desire to fight.

 

“Ada,” the soft, but piercing request sliced through the hazy fog enveloping Elrond, “I need more information from you.” The smooth cold rim of a cup was pressed to his lips and Elrond drank deeply the sweet cold water that spilled into his mouth. He barely registered the faint taste of a foreign herb lacing the drink. Aragorn didn’t really need to know anything more than he had already seen, but he wanted to keep Elrond talking.

 

“That’s it.” Aragorn encouraged as he tipped his father’s head gently back. “You do this so much better than Legolas.” The hint of a smile touched the words.

 

“What more?” Elrond whispered. “I need to rest Estel. I do.”

 

“He’s right.” The ranger concurred. “We need to get him somewhere safe. Somewhere he can rest secure and stop fighting. I also believe he has injuries that must be tended soon that we cannot see.” Aragorn gently held the elf’s hands, wrapping his wrists in strips of soft cloth where the orcs rope had bit deeply into the soft flesh.

 

It surprised Elrond that he suddenly felt so bad, he found the sensation of being cared for reassuring. It was strange to be on the other side of things, but at the moment also unexpectedly nice. With a sigh, the elf lord let go of consciousness, knowing he was safe. A small spike of pride in his human son pierced his heart and he smiled slightly.

 

“Ada!” Elladan panicked as their father slumped forward against Aragorn.

 

The ranger caught the older elf and shifted Elrond onto his shoulder. “It is all right, Elladan. It will be easier to move him this way.” Aragorn wrapped his arms around the elf lord’s waist and stood slowly to his feet, aided by the twins. “Elrohir, find us a good safe place to regroup. Somewhere we can come back to after I find Legolas and Thranduil as well. Father needs attention and it would be best if we left here soon.”

 

The glade of dead orcs and wargs would not go untouched for long. The scavengers and predators of the woods would soon smell their evening meal and come. It would be best to leave them to their jobs and stay out of the way. As if in response to Aragorn’s words, a lone wolf’s cry reverberated across the mountains, it was joined by another away to the north.

 

Urgency lent speed to the fleeing escapees. Elrohir darted through the woods ahead of his brothers. Elladan walked in step with Aragorn, helping to carry their father between them. Estel, fearing the older elf had internal injuries and worried about aggravating them had suggested they both carry Elrond to minimize any further damage.

 

It seemed like hours that they fled through the forest. Elrohir had chosen a path that led them on a northerly direction. He was trying to follow the surviving orcs’ trail. Deviating from it finally, he led his family deeper into the woods, to a hidden pool that lay forgotten in a small, bowled out meadow. He and Elladan had found it years ago and used it as a base then. The soft sounds of water trickling down an unseen cliff face alerted the three brothers that they were near their destination.

 

In the shallow depression of the woods, the soft, mossy grasses had grown up the sides of the natural bowl and obscured any footprints from the boots that walked lightly through it. Thick greenery coated the floor of the meadow as it sloped towards a deep, small pool that nestled against a granite cliff. A small waterfall that emptied out from the rock face above filled the pond below. The granite rocks had long ago been smoothed and worn by erosion and water to form a low-level shelf along the back of the pool, sheltering the glade and its occupants. The trees themselves had hidden the small meadow as if reserving it for the elves’ use alone. As the four passed beneath the overhanging branches, the woods seemed to grow thicker and hide all trace of their passage from any passerby’s.

 

“Here, we will be safe here.” Elrohir glanced at his twin. He mirrored the smile on his brother’s face. Elladan recognized this place immediately.

 

“I had forgotten.” He whispered softly as he led Estel closer to the deep pool. “Over here, the rocks have been smoothed out to form a ledge. Ada, can rest here.” Allowing Aragorn to hold Elrond against him, Elladan quickly removed his cloak and spread it on the natural shelf where he and Elrohir had spent many nights under the stars.

 

With his brother’s help, Aragorn eased Elrond down onto his stomach. He was surprised as Elrohir lit a tiny oil lamp that had been hidden back on a small, natural shelf above their heads.

 

“Elladan and I spent many a night here when we were ridding this place of the orcs before.” Elrohir carefully positioned the small lamp so that the rock face behind it would reflect the most light. “It is friendly to elves here and unfriendly to the servants of darkness. No one knows of it or its existence. We will be safe here for as long as we need to be.”

 

Aragorn glanced around them in the warm glow. The trees had grown so tightly together here that it almost gave the impression of being walled in by the forest around them and he felt a deep sense of peace settle in his weary soul.

 

Returning his attention to Elrond, Aragorn began to gently remove the elf lord’s torn tunics. Elrohir’s soft cry of dismay as their father’s back was exposed cut the ranger’s heart. Elrond’s back was marred by red stripes. Some of the fresher wounds overlaid older ones. The orcs had been thorough in their punishment of the elf lord. Guruth had given Elrond little time to recover and much to remember him for.

 

Aragorn had nursed Legolas through injuries like these many times now and the wound to the older elf’s head worried him more than the stripes that marked him, although both burned his heart. Scooting around his brothers, the ranger gingerly moved Elrond so he could get a better look at the gash that drew a dark, bloody line from the elf lord’s right eye across his temple and back into his hairline.

 

His fingers started to tremble as Aragorn realized how deep the cut was. Glints of white bone could be seen beneath his fingertips as he cleaned the gash. The broken skin near his father’s eye was jagged and the bone showed through the wound. A simple bandage would not suffice to hold the injury together.

 

“I cannot do this,” the ranger whispered hoarsely, his hands trembling. He had seen many wounds and dressed much worse than this, but knowing it was his father, Lord Elrond in his care, the human suddenly became incredibly doubtful of his healing abilities.

 

Elladan squeezed out the bloody strip of cloth he held, dipping it into the cool water before laying it across his father’s shoulder. Leaning over he gently grabbed Aragorn’s hands firmly in his own, demanding the ranger’s attention.

 

“Yes, Estel, you can.” He squeezed the man’s hands, emphasizing his words. “Father has always said that the hands of the king are the hands of a healer. You *can* do this. It’s why he listened to your words when you spoke when he could not hear even us. It is your heritage, it is *in* you.”

 

Aragorn closed his eyes with a deep sigh, letting his head fall forward. “I gave that up.”

 

“You may have, but it doesn’t mean it has left you.” Elladan released Aragorn’s hands and placed the palm of his right hand against the man’s forehead pressing gently back and forcing the human to look up at him. “Relax. Listen to your heart and do what you know to do.” The twin reached behind him and grabbed Aragorn’s pack, handing it off to the man. “You can.” He reaffirmed one last time before returning his attention to cleaning their father’s back. Elrohir was talking quietly to his twin in the grey tongue as they worked, his voice a soft murmur in the background as Aragorn refocused on the task before him.

 

Taking a deep breath, the ranger glanced at the unconscious form of his father. Blood seeped slowly from the wound he had just cleaned and before he realized what he was doing, Aragorn was once more dressing the jagged cut. He reached into his pack and removed a bone needle and special threading the Gondorians used for sewing up wounds. In a few minutes he had neatly stitched the worst of the gash shut, drawing the flesh together over his father’s eyebrow and sealing it off. Leaning in close, he bit the thread in half just above the knot he had tied off, careful not to pull the new stitches too tight. Spitting out the end of the thread he kissed his father’s temple, laying his hand gently on the back of the elf lord’s head. “Îdh a na bell.” He whispered, his words half command, half blessing. “Rest and be well.”

 

By the time he had finished bandaging Elrond’s head, the sun was beginning to ride down the westerly sky and the nagging worry that Aragorn had pushed aside was back with a vengeance. He was unpleasantly surprised at how fast time had slipped away from them. It seemed only moments ago that it was morning.

 

“I have waited too long.” The ranger commented as he stood and glanced towards the late afternoon sun. “I need to track the remaining orcs, I truly begin to fear that they may have taken Legolas and Thranduil. I do not believe they made it out of the glen on their own and if they were free they would have found us by now. I left signs that Legolas would have known how to read. You said you checked the rubble... there’s not chance we could have missed them?” Aragorn knew he had not been entirely fully functioning earlier and it disturbed him that he had not checked the area for himself.

 

Elrohir stood stiffly to his feet, wiping his hands off on his leggings as Elladan carefully rolled Elrond onto his back and began to spread ointment over the bruises that decorated his chest. He was nearly sure that the elf lord had broken ribs from the looks his injuries. Their father was resting easily, the more serious of his wounds having been cleaned and tended. Glancing in the direction he remembered seeing the orcs tracks he shook his head in answer to Estel’s question.

 

“They were not there. I searched every inch of that meadow.” Elrohir pointed through the trees; “I followed their tracks part way here. If you double back a bit and head in that direction, I believe you will catch up with them. They were not hard to follow.” He frowned as he spoke. “It seemed that three groups left the glen, and at one point they all split off in different directions. My guess is they are meeting up at one rendezvous through different routes. The orc that leads them is a foul creature but he is apparently very crafty from all his years lived upon this earth. Do not trust him Estel. Keep away from him if at all possible. My heart tells me he is fully evil.”

 

A shudder gripped the ranger at his brother’s words. He had thought as much when he and Legolas had watched unseen in the tunnel in Daradwayn. If this creature truly had captured the prince and his father... Aragorn did not want to think of the consequences that might have for the two Mirkwood elves.

 

“I will be careful.” Aragorn shrugged into his coat and pack, “You two watch over father. Ilúvatar willing I will return to you with Legolas and Thranduil.” He stepped past the twins, intending to head out of the hidden glade, but was stopped by Elladan.

 

“*We* are going to return with Legolas and his father.” The eldest twin was shaking his head even as Aragorn formulated his protests. Gently Elladan took Elrohir’s hands and placed them carefully on Elrond’s chest just above the broken rib he had discovered, letting his brother take over where he had started.

 

“If you think I’m letting you go on your own into a warg den in a rescue attempt, perhaps it’s your head we should be binding and not father’s. I think you’re the one that said we need to work together. If you argue with me I’ll pour that tea down your throat and Elrohir and I will go while you and father sleep it off.” He backed the human down with his threats. A smiled played at the elven twin’s lips but the glare in his eyes was deadly serious he had no intentions of losing anyone else to his demon that haunted them from their past. Daradwayn could be allowed no more victims.

 

Elladan arched an eyebrow when Aragorn was slow to respond.

 

His oldest brother looked so very much like their father at that moment that the ranger couldn’t help the laughter that caught hold of him. “Very well then,” He answered in mock seriousness, “But you had best keep up with me and I don’t expect to have to save you from the orcs or their wargs once we find them. Understood?”

 

Elven laughter echoed his words as Elladan shoved him towards the tree-made curtains that draped the meadow. “Elrohir, *we* will be back with Legolas and Thranduil and I will make sure that Estel does not fall prey to a hungry warg.”

 

“Come back quickly,” Elrohir called laughingly as he seated himself next to the resting elf lord, gently binding the older elf’s chest to help keep the bones in place. His quiet voice caught his brothers just before they exited the glen, “And Elladan, come back safely muindor-nín, my brother, do not make me go on without either of you.”

 

“I promise El. We *will* return. I won’t leave you.” He stared hard at his twin for several seconds quietly letting the elf read his soul. If Mandos himself called Elladan would refuse him. Their family needed to stay intact. With that promise the elf and the ranger disappeared into the forest and Elrohir was left to care for their father.

 

 

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

 

 

Elladan ran hard after the ranger as Aragorn backtracked their path to where Elrohir had diverted them from the orcs’ trail. The twin was surprised as his brother dodged rocks and tree roots nearly as nimbly as any elf. The light was fading fast now and adrenaline fed the ranger’s urgency. The nagging worry that had stayed on the edges of his consciousness flooded his mind and consumed his heart. Whatever had happened, they were out of time.

 

The warg rider’s path was easy to follow at first until it divided with groups going in three different directions.

 

Aragorn dropped to his knees at the point of divergence and fingered the tracks that the orcs and wargs had left behind. His eyes darted ahead of his hands as he surveyed the ground, every bent blade of grass, every indentation in the muddy path left behind told a story and he assimilated the facts quicker than his mind could register.

 

“They came this way...” The ranger pointed at the ground behind him, his fingers splayed as he ran them over the dirty print, “And then they split here.” He spoke out loud, collecting his thoughts, keeping Elladan apprised of what he was finding.

 

“But...” Aragorn shifted to his left, pointing in a northwesterly direction, “the wargs left through here, or the majority of them. They were in hurry.”

 

“How do you know that?” Elladan whispered softly. He was thoroughly intrigued by his brother. He had never seen the ranger at this kind of work before. Oh, he had traveled with his brother before Aragorn had left to spend time among the human races, and they had had the opportunity to accompany him to the Barrow Downs, but never had he seen the man use his tracking skills as he was now. Aragorn was seeing things he could not, finding traces of a story that Elladan could not even read.

 

“They did not bury their fallen at Daradwayn. I think they feared being caught out in the open. They are regrouping.” Aragorn answered distractedly. He moved forward on his hands and knees. The light was getting dimmer and he gritted his teeth at the misfortune. He needed to find something to tip the balance, some indication that he was on the right path. “If Elrohir was correct and they merely split up to meet at a rendezvous then we are fine, but if for any reason they did not all return to the same place we need to know which group took Legolas and his father...” Aragorn’s voice faltered and he stopped talking.

 

Fingering a broken reed near the edge of the trail, the ranger ran his fingers up the length of it, straightening out the stalk gently and rubbing a dark substance off its leaves. The forest was shadowed in a semi-twilight and the loss of the sun cast everything in shades of grey. Tentatively Aragorn touched his fingers to his nose smelling the residue. With heightened dread he tasted the liquid. The saltiness of the elven blood sparked his fears once more and he swiveled towards his brother.

 

Elladan had followed in his brother’s wake and was standing right behind the human. He braced the ranger as Aragorn nearly lost his balance.

 

Holding up his fingers for the elf to see was all it took for Elladan to understand. His eyes, not nearly so blinded by the fading light, could tell that what stained his brother’s fingers was blood, red blood.

 

“They have them Elladan.” Aragorn whispered, not trusting his voice. “This is the direction they went.”

 

“Then that is the direction we will go as well.” Elladan gently grabbed his brother’s hand and wiped it clean on his trousers before turning the ranger around and giving him a soft push down the sloping incline. “We’ll find them and get them back, tonight.”

 

Elladan led the way, his dim glow shedding light on their path and keeping them from losing track of the wargs’ trail.

 

“You are very good at tracking Estel.” The twin spoke up quietly as they ran up a small incline. “You saw things I would have missed, things I didn’t even see.”

 

A soft chuckle caused the elf to slow and glance at the human, “Well I’ve had years of working as tracker. First in Rohan and then in Gondor.” Aragorn shrugged as he paced his brother deeper into the woods. “Besides I had good teachers.” A bright smile returned Elladan’s questioning glance.

 

“We were *never* that good Estel. You have a gift for it. Don’t pretend it’s anything less. I know father has spoken of it, but I’d never...” Elladan stopped speaking and edged off the trail, pulling Aragorn with him. A quick motion for silence stopped the human from questioning him. Sinking into the darkness of the woods, Elladan crouched down near the base of a large tree. Aragorn followed his motions, his hand shifting automatically to the pommel of his sword.

 

The woods fell silent around them and the stillness of the night deepened. Something stirred to the east of them, stealthily approaching their position. Try as he might, Aragorn could not hear anything that would give away who it was that stalked towards them but he felt it as surely as the elf beside him heard it.

 

“There are many.” Elladan whispered, his voice barely audible, his lips just touching Estel’s left ear.   “They are approaching fast but cautiously. They may know we are here.”

 

Indistinct shapes moved across the trail from the brothers’ hiding place and Aragorn crouched lower behind the brush that concealed him.

 

“Wait a minute.” The ranger spoke out loud, surprising even himself as he did so. Faint traces of blue luminescence gave form to the shadows that chased through the trees and before he had thought through what he was doing Aragorn stood up and called out to them.

 

Mas no le bair, mellyn? Where are you from, friends?”

 

At the sound of his voice every shadow stopped, frozen where they stood. The shimmer of light he thought he had seen immediately died out to pitch-blackness and the woods fell into an unnatural silence.

 

“Estel!” Elladan whispered fiercely, tugging on his brother’s tunic. He did not have a clear view of the forest from where he was hidden and tried to use his other senses to detect what was going on.

 

Before the ranger could move out of harms way, a strong hand gripped his throat and the edge of a sword brushed underneath Aragorn’s jaw, tipping his chin back.

 

The assailant’s footsteps had been nearly undetectable. Nearly... but not so for an elf. Elladan stood from his hiding place in one fast, silent move, his bow at the ready. The tip of his arrow brushed through the unseen attacker’s hair.

 

“Let him go.” The elf growled.

 

“Elladan?” A distinctly familiar voice questioned.

 

“Trelan?” Aragorn echoed his assailant’s surprise.

 

“Strider!” The hand around the human’s throat immediately let go and the elf stepped back a pace, staring at the man through the darkness.

 

“What are you doing here?” The ranger questioned as Elladan dropped his bow to his side and reseated the arrow in his quiver.

 

Before he answered the ranger’s questions, Trelan turned to the woods behind him and called out to his unseen companions, “Raniean, stand down, it is Strider and Elladan.”

 

“You’ve brought Raniean?” Aragorn stepped from his hiding place behind the tree and clasped the smaller elf’s shoulder. “Thank Ilúvatar you are here. Legolas and Thranduil have been taken by...”

 

The man’s words were cut off as a large group of elves surrounded them. Trelan turned back to the ranger, questioning him before he could continue, “Legolas? He is not with you? You’ve seen Lord Thranduil?! Where is he? Did he make it to your house?” The alarm in the other’s voice caused the ranger to grimace.

 

“No, he never made it to Rivendell.” Aragorn whispered raggedly. “Orcs captured him, I don’t know how. Legolas and I tried to get him out. I was knocked unconscious when we attacked the orcs lair and they took him again. Now I fear they have them both.” The ache in the man’s heart echoed in his words. Elladan’s hand on his shoulder steadied Aragorn as the elves around them murmured softly in sharp dismay.

 

A taller elf pushed to the front of the group. “Trelan, did you say you’d run into Strider?” The voice was Raniean’s and Aragorn smiled as he squinted through the darkness.

 

The Silvan elves had yet to return the glow that marked them to its normally soft brilliance and Aragorn was having a hard time following all that was going on around him in the darkened forest.

 

“Yes, I’m here.” He called out. He jumped slightly as Raniean gripped his arm tightly in greeting, almost pulling the human forward a little in his strong grip.

 

“Strider! I am very glad to see you.” Raniean knew that where Strider was, Legolas was bound to be close.

 

The ranger stumbled slightly as Raniean released him and he laughed softly. “Hey, how about a little light here please. I can hardly make you out.” The jest brought a round of laughter from the elves that had gathered round and in seconds the forest was dimly lit with a gentle blue glow.

 

“Where’s Legolas?” Raniean questioned glancing around them.

 

The ranger dropped his gaze; the smile slipping from his face as the previous conversation was taken up again.

 

Trelan answered for him; “Strider says the warg riders have him and the King.”

 

“What?” Horrified shock registered across Raniean’s fair features.

 

“I’m so sorry.” Aragorn glanced back up, locking his gaze on the tall elven warrior. “It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. We freed King Thranduil and my father from the orcs who had taken them prisoner. But when we brought down their lair the explosion was so great that I was knocked unconscious. I don’t know why they took Legolas and Thranduil but left me.” The ranger explained quietly yet again. His feelings of guilt rose as the murmurs around them from the Mirkwood warriors increased. “I’m sorry.” He apologized again, closing his eyes.

 

Trelan gently touched the bandage that encircled the ranger’s head, seeing for the first time the signs of battle that the human carried.

 

“It’s all right, Strider. With all of us here we can get both of them back.” The smaller elf comforted; he smiled softly when the human glanced up.

 

“He’s right.” Raniean nodded, clasping the ranger on the shoulder once more before stepping around the human and leading Elladan off to the side of the group. Lowering his voice for the Noldor elf only, he questioned him further, “How many are left?”

 

Elladan turned aside and walked with the Silvan Elf away from the others as Trelan and Aragorn talked amongst the warriors who were anxious to hear about all that had happened in the last few days and how the orcs’ hiding place had been brought down. The pieces of the puzzle were finally beginning to fall into place, but the cost seemed to be proving very high.

 

“It was hard to tell.” Elladan shook his head, trying to remember. “If I am not mistaken there were at least five hundred riders sheltered in Daradwayn and half that many more foot soldiers. When the cave came down we were at the back of the mountain. From the looks of things, they probably lost half their contingents if not more.”

 

“That’s still far too many for my liking.” Raniean confided. “What’s happened to stir them up?”

 

Elladan sighed and thought through his answer carefully, “They attacked Rivendell, diverted our warriors and took out the rangers that were encamped in the mountains. The one who leads them has a vendetta against our household and my father was the target. He wanted to use him to get to Elrohir and I.” He did not explain the entire situation to the other, “I am sorry you were forced to get involved. I admit I do not really understand why they took Lord Thranduil captive in the first place, although Estel believes it is because they thought he was someone else. How many warriors do you have with you?” Elladan asked.

 

Raniean shook his head and sighed deeply, “Not as many as I started out with. We were prepared for trouble, but not this much. We thought some marauding band of orcs was terrorizing the pass... but we did not expect a full-blown army. The King wanted to visit Rivendell. It is odd, lately he has missed Legolas more than usual.” The elven warrior ran his hand back through his hair smoothing out the braids that fell elegantly in a knot at the nape of his neck.

 

“We set out for your valley two weeks ago with a full contingent. Then, a day or two ago as we neared the northern pass, we were beset by a horde of wargs and orcs. The fighting was close and the beasts knew of secret passages in the canyon around us that they used to devastating effect.   A fourth of my contingent fell. We were prepared, but not prepared enough. I knew the warg riders were nearby, but their numbers had almost tripled since I had seen them previously. I did not realize that such a force of them had gathered.”

 

Elladan raised an eyebrow, questioning the warrior silently.

 

Raniean’s face was lined with frustration and sorrow. “This is the second time I have tried to reach Rivendell and lost companions to those fell beasts.” He sighed deeply before continuing wearily.

 

“When the orcs attacked us we were split up. I lost sight of the king but knew he was with some of my best warriors. Later, after the fighting was over, I found most of them. Quite a few were dead. Several of them were wounded and I sent them home with a small guard to ensure they would survive. No one seemed to know what had happened to King Thranduil. We were all supposed to rendezvous that night if we were separated... he did not come. We waited for him a long time before I knew we could afford to linger no longer and must press forward in search. I had hoped that he simply had made it through and had reached Rivendell safely. Now I learn that the haven was overrun and he is captive to those foul beasts?” Raniean shook his head, feeling the weight of their failure. “That is ill news. We tried to retrace the paths our attackers had taken as best we could, but it backtracked so many times I fear we’ve lost it.”

 

“But we haven’t.”

 

The soft voice caused Raniean to jump slightly and he turned to find Aragorn standing behind him. The human had quietly left the group of elves behind and sought out his brother. Elladan leaned around the Silvan elf and smiled at the ranger. He was the only human the twin had ever seen who could so completely take another elf off guard.

 

“You know where they are?” Raniean turned around to fully face the ranger, “Strider, please tell me.”

 

The man smiled softly and laid his hand on the elf’s arm. “I do know and I can lead you there. I have been tracking them. I have a fair idea of where they have headed. There is a granite shelf that lies to the north not far from here. It’s surrounded by woods and is the perfect place for an encampment, plus it used to be an orc haven before it was cleaned out.” The ranger’s gaze sought out his brother’s. “They sing about it in the tales.”

 

Elladan’s face registered surprise as he recalled the exact place that Aragorn spoke of, “Its true! That’s where he would have gone. Its one of the places we chased them from back then. They would not have forgotten it. It’s bracketed by hillocks that stand clear of the forest. It won’t be easy to attack them there.”

 

“You did it once.” Aragorn’s open gaze, full of trust and faith in his brother’s abilities, warmed the twin’s heart. He let the statement hang in the air between them, knowing full well that the Mirkwood elves that had gathered near once more would not know of what the brothers were speaking about.

 

“Then we will do it again.” Elladan replied quietly.

 

“But this time you will have help.” Aragorn whispered, grasping his brother’s forearm in a tight grip.

 

“What are you talking about?” Trelan interrupted.

 

Raniean cut him off from further inquiry as he stepped next to the smaller elf and turned him back towards the direction they had come from. “I think this conversation is a private one Trey. But I get the feeling that those two know a bit more than we do.”

 

Aragorn laughed at the assessment as Elladan pulled him forward into a quick, fierce hug. “Together.” He whispered in agreement.

 

When his brother released him, the ranger jogged up beside the two elves, Elladan following quickly in his wake.

 

“We do.” The twin said confidently. “Let’s go hunt some orc.” He smiled wickedly at the Silvan warriors as he and Aragorn raced past them, the ranger easily picking up the orc trail by the light of Elladan’s glow. The brother’s led the Mirkwood elves back, heading them in the right direction and setting them on course for the orcs’ hide out.

 

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

 

 

Trelan eased over the edge of the grassy hill he had just climbed, laying flat out on his stomach next to the ranger. As the smallest elf among them he had been chosen to accompany Aragorn to spy out the warg encampment. Both he and the human were smaller than the average elf and were able to easily hide in the long grasses that covered the hillocks they scaled.

 

The valley below butted up against a granite cliff just like Elladan had remembered. The fires of the camp burned low and the huge vats of mead and stew that the orcs had gorged on hung askew over the dying embers. Smoke from the campfires hung low in the valley like a morning mist, but the hulking forms of the sleeping wargs and orcs were clearly visible.

 

Standing out in stark contrast to their captors, two lone, blonde-haired elves rested against the rock face.

 

With a small gasp Strider caught sight of the two elves. Automatically he grasped Trelan’s arm tightly. Forgetting for a moment that the elf next to him was not Legolas, he tapped the warrior’s arm in a fashion that would have alerted the prince to look in the direction he was looking.

 

“What?” Trelan whispered softly, not understanding what Aragorn was trying to tell him.

 

“Oh, sorry.” The ranger quickly pulled his hand away from the other, remembering that not every elf understood the unspoken language that he was so accustomed to using with his brothers and his friend.

 

“They are there, see.” Aragorn pointed past Trelan’s face to the far right of the camp redirected the elf’s gaze. “They are not bound. Legolas is not...” The ranger’s voice trailed off oddly and he lurched forward slightly, horror gripping him. “Trelan, Legolas is dead.”

 

The small elf next to him started and glanced down into the valley in alarm.

 

True, it seemed at first that both elves had passed beyond their help. Thranduil was slumped against the rock at his back, his head resting atop the prince’s, his arms wrapped around Legolas and from their vantage point it seemed his eyes were closed. The elf that Thranduil held in his lap lay still and unmoving; his eyes were closed as well. It was obvious from the stripes on his exposed chest that he had been badly treated. From this distance the human couldn’t see that Legolas’ chest rose and fell with his shallow breathing. All he could see was that there was something unnatural about his friend. Something he couldn’t explain. It shot fear spiking through his heart.

 

“No Strider, they live.” Trelan tried to calm the man. He reached out and tentatively grabbed the ranger’s coat near his shoulder, holding tightly to the extra fabric bunched in his hand to keep the human from moving. They couldn’t afford to give up the element of surprise just yet.

 

The ranger was shaking his head, a frown creasing his brow. He couldn’t see what the elf next to him could.

 

“No.” He whispered softly, his voice choked. This was what he had feared.   The warning that was screaming at him to move faster had now become a repeated condemnation chastising him – he had come too late, wasted too much time.

 

Sliding backwards, Trelan pulled the ranger with him. Aragorn was unwilling to leave and tried to fight the elf off. At the bottom of the hill, Trelan crouched in front of the angry human, pinning him in place against the grassy slope.

 

“They *are* alive Strider.” He pushed hard against the man’s shoulders with his hands, emphasizing his words. “They are. I can see what you can’t. Legolas was breathing and so was Thranduil. They are asleep.” He stopped the ranger’s argument with a glare before softening his words, “Trust me.” It was almost a command, but the pleading in the blue eyes that were riveted on the ranger begged the human to believe him.

 

With a small nod Aragorn relaxed, sighing deeply. He ran his hands back through his hair as Trelan released him. Resting his head against the slope behind him he gazed at the elf crouched in front of him. The worried look on Trelan’s face caused him to smile slightly.

 

“We haven’t much time. The sun will be up in a few hours and from the looks of it they consumed all the mead and food they had with them. We have the element of surprise on our side. I say we attack them while they sleep.” Aragorn leaned forward and whispered quietly.

 

The Silvan elf nodded in agreement. “What do you suggest?”

 

“The trees.” Aragorn glanced up into the forests that bracketed the backside of the small ring of hills. “Half the elves should use the trees for cover. From there they can rain a shower of arrows down into the bowl of the valley. They should be able to take out quite a few before we attack them. The chaos will be at maximum, orcs have been known to turn on one another in confusion when awoken in the midst of attack.” Aragorn returned the smile that was slowly forming on Trelan’s face. “At that point we can rush the valley. We need to take the wargs out. The orcs will be easier to kill without their mounts as back up. I’ll head straight for the King and Legolas if you and Elladan help me cut a path towards them. We need to get to them as soon as possible before they can be used as leverage against us. Elladan knows what their leader looks like, we need to stop him first if we can.”

 

The plan made sense and right now the small Silvan elf was angry enough with the orcs below that he was willing to do whatever it took to free his friend and his liege. He had not wanted to tell the ranger, but Legolas had not looked well at all and he feared for the prince.

 

Swiftly the two spies headed back to the contingent of Silvan elves waiting for them in the woods.

 

Raniean nodded in concurrence as Aragorn and Trelan apprised him of the plan. “It is good,” he agreed. “But we must be careful to station ourselves downwind of the camp as we move into position. Wargs are very keen of scent and I have made the mistake of not taking that into account before. Let us be careful of it this time.”

 

Aragorn agreed, it was a wise thought.

 

As soon as the plan of attack had been agreed upon, the warriors split into two groups. Raniean had his best bowsmen in the trees surrounding the orcs’ hideout, waiting on his signal.

 

The elves that had been chosen to remain on the ground fanned out, encircling the small hillocks. Aragorn climbed up the hill nearest the far side of the encampment and closest to Thranduil and Legolas’ position. Elladan lay next to him, staring down into the camp. A few of the wargs were awake now, lounging together on the southern side of the valley. The orcs still slumbered on unaware. Aragorn’s heart ached as he watched his friend and a silent fire of rage began to quietly build.

 

Glancing at Elladan, the ranger gave a short quick nod. It was time.

 

Elladan pressed up on his elbows and pointed at Raniean who glanced silently into the trees behind him. Raising his hand, the young captain garnered the attention of every hidden elf. Spinning on his heals Raniean brought his hand down with a short swift movement and a deadly volley of arrows followed the arc of his command down into the valley.

 

Just as Aragorn had predicted, the camp below them erupted in chaos. The orcs thought they were safe in the valley bowl, expecting their wargs to warn them if anyone approached. They had not taken into consideration the fact that their attackers would be elves or that the winds would be against them.

 

Shouts and screams erupted from the encampment. The growls and barks of wargs were accompanied by the angry commands of their masters. Orc turned on orc in the ensuing battle as a second volley of arrows followed the first.

 

Nearly in the wake of the flying projectiles, and closer to the streaking arrows than was acceptable to Elladan, Aragorn jumped to his feet and raced down the side of the hillock, heading straight for Legolas. He charged into the midst of the chaos, cutting down the surprised orcs in his path. Elladan followed closely behind, cleaving through the dark tide that folded in around the ranger.

 

Seconds later, the ridges of the hills were ringed with elves running down their slopes to join the battle. The archers maintained their positions, picking off troublesome orcs and targeting the wargs as they tried to join their masters.

 

Guruth rose slowly from his sleeping place and glanced about him at the bedlam. He had not expected the Noldor elves to regroup so quickly, he thought they had decimated their warriors more than this. The influx of elves confused him for a fraction of second until he realized that these were not companions of the healer, these were those wood elves again. He had believed his underling’s reports when they said that the Silvan warriors had withdrawn back towards their home, thinking they had no reason to meddle in the affairs of this realm. Obviously, that had been a mistake. He glanced darkly back towards his two captives, stalking over to their position.

 

Both elves were awake and watching the rescue attempt. Thranduil had not moved as Legolas was in no shape to be up and had not the strength to even attempt to escape. The King would never leave Legolas behind. The elf lord held his son tightly to him and prayed his warriors would reach them in time. Legolas’ eyes were riveted to the spot where he had last seen Aragorn. The ranger had fallen beneath an adversary and in the tumult of the battle, the elf had not seen him rise yet. It was maddening for him, he wanted to jump up and help his friend... but he did not have the strength. His injuries had sapped him critically and a deep, bone-gnawing weariness had taken hold of his limbs.

 

The vicious slap from the orc leader took Thranduil by surprise. He had not seen the orc approach them and he fell back under the abuse.

 

“You are not the Balrog Slayer are you?” Guruth leaned over the elf lord and pressed his blade against the king’s throat. “Who are you?”

 

Before Thranduil could answer the orc standing over him was thrown off-balance. One of the elven warriors in the trees around the camp had targeted the warg rider. The arrow that pierced the evil creatures tough leather armor did not reach his skin, but the force of the projectile was enough to send Guruth staggering to the left.

 

Legolas gathered his strength and kicked out at the orc, tripping him as he stumbled.

 

“Father go! You must escape!” Legolas tried to move away from Thranduil. He desperately wanted his father to reach the safety of the elves that pressed towards them, even if he knew he could not.

 

The prince, however, had not inherited his stubbornness from his mother, and Thranduil would be damned before he left his son’s side. “No.” The elf lord rose stiffly to his feet pulling his son up with him. “We both go.”

 

Legolas protested the movement. Nausea spun through his head like waves and it was difficult for him to stand.

 

Behind them, Guruth regained his footing, jerking the arrow from the leather buckler and tossing it aside. He lunged for the elf lord once more, grabbing Thranduil from behind and bringing his scimitar up underneath the elf’s chin.

 

Slowly Thranduil released Legolas and allowed the younger elf to ease back into a sitting position. He was not strong enough to fight and keep them both safe. He was injured and still battling mild poisoning. On top of that, he had been giving Legolas everything he had to offer.

 

“So you aren’t the Balrog Slayer, then there is no reason to keep you alive.” Guruth growled viciously. Thranduil felt the blade bite into his throat and closed his eyes.

 

~*~

 

Aragorn heaved the dead orc off of him and started to pull his blade from the vile creature’s chest. He ducked, leaping aside just as another rider bore down him, swiping at the place where he had been standing only moments before, trying to decapitate the ranger. An arrow from Elladan’s bow tracked the warg and lodged in the creature’s hindquarters, sending the mount tumbling and spilling its rider.

 

Everywhere the ranger looked, elves were engaged in battles with the remaining orcs and wargs. Trelan raced past Aragorn, calling for the ranger’s help. The human turned swiftly, following the smaller elf’s path. It was then that he saw what had Trelan so upset. Guruth was holding a blade to Thranduil’s throat with every intention of killing the king. Forgetting his weapon, Aragorn raced after the elf.

 

A bright red line traced the elven lord’s neck where the knife rested against it. Aragorn knew that Trelan would never reach them before Thranduil was dead. Rushing forward, the ranger drew his hunting knife mid-stride. He shouted at Trelan to drop.

 

The Silvan elf fell to the floor of the valley as he heard the shouted warning just as Aragorn’s blade whistled through the air inches from where his head had been. The knife pierced Guruth’s hand, causing the orc to drop the weapon he held on Thranduil. With a howl of pain he shoved the elf away from him and fell into a crouch, his gaze seeking out the owner of the blade. His dark stare fell on Aragorn and he pulled his lips back in a feral sneer. It was the same ranger that he had specifically told his men to kill. If the golden haired elf wasn’t the Balrog Slayer he was no good to Guruth, but the younger elf was almost always with the ranger. If he could no longer hurt the healer and his sons then he would make the ranger pay for everything. His vengeance needed an outlet and right now he didn’t care who his wrath fell on.

 

With a low, guttural growl Guruth pulled Aragorn’s weapon out of his hand and scurried towards Legolas. Kicking Thranduil away from the wounded elf he pulled the prince up.

 

Trelan reached the granite shelf seconds before Strider did. He raced to his liege’s side and placed himself between the king and the warg rider, his sword held before him in a defensive position, his left hand gently touching his monarch, reassuring himself that his lord lived. A dark hail of orc arrows assailed their position and Trelan shoved the King down quickly, covering his liege protectively with his own body.

 

“Trelan, don’t worry about me, go! Don’t let him kill Legolas.” Thranduil was beside himself with fear as he watched Guruth roughly pull the prince to his feet and drag him backwards, aided by the covering fire from some of his minions.

 

Trelan was torn; he did not want to let anything happen to his friend, but his first responsibility was to Thranduil’s safety and he could not leave his King.

 

“Ada!” Legolas whispered. His protests cut off as pain spiked through his awareness, momentarily shutting all else out.

 

Strider leapt onto the low granite shelf between the Sinda elf and the orc, straightening slowly from his crouched position.

 

“Trelan, see to the king. I’ll get Legolas back.” Aragorn did not even spare a glance at the elf lord. He was singularly focused on Legolas whom the orc was now using for a shield. The elf lord’s pleadings were lost as the world narrowed down to the prince and the vile creature that threatened his already weakened state. There was no way he would allow his friend to be hurt any further if he had anything to say about it.

 

Aragorn advanced on Guruth, his bow trained on the orc’s left eye. The warg rider kept himself well hidden behind the younger elf as he backed away from the enraged ranger. The blade he held at Legolas’ throat bit slightly deeper as he was forced to hold the elf up in front of him.

 

It was hard for Legolas to stand and his back was on fire as he was held tightly against the orc behind him and dragged away. Some of the deeper cuts he had sustained while the wargs played with him had broken open and were bleeding once more. Consciousness flitted about him, rolling through him in waves and escaping when he tried to focus too hard.

 

“You let him go now I or swear upon the Valar, I will kill you.” Aragorn cursed quietly as he slowly moved forward. The bowstring was tight in his hand and the arrow that was strung was centered on Guruth’s good eye.

 

A gurgled chuckle was the creature’s response, “And I suppose if I let him go you’ll spare my life.” The comment was sarcastic and meant to incite.

 

“You’d be surprised.” Aragorn muttered. He really didn’t know what he would do if Guruth gave up using Legolas as his shield, he hadn’t thought that far ahead. Right now he probably would have abandoned the orc and let someone else hunt him down. The shape that the elf was in set a fire in his heart that was consuming him. It wouldn’t be long before it was too far spent and he carried through on his threat anyway.

 

The warg rider was no fool and had been slowly working his way out of the midst of the fighting. If he could get separated enough from the other elven warriors he fully intended to kill the captive elf and his human friend. He did not know the relationship the golden haired elf held to the Noldor elves that he hated but the human seemed to value this one’s life and Guruth was sure that the ranger was not just simply another human because of how often he had seen him go in and out of the healer’s house, often living there for long periods of time. If it hurt Elrond, Glamferaen and Dehlfalhen, then he would gladly slit both these beings throats and he had no doubts that he could over power them once they were away from immediate help. His eyes sought out his warg companion and he silently called her to come with a small tip of his head.

 

The slight motion was completely lost on the ranger, as Legolas tightened in Guruth’s grip, fighting back the pain that was slowly overwhelming him. It wouldn’t be long and he would simply pass out. Aragorn saw his friend slipping away and had an idea, an off chance one that may or may not work depending on how far gone Legolas was.

 

Calling out to the elf in his native tongue, Aragorn gave the prince a quick warning, “Legolas, leitho a danno nan talaf! Let go and drop to the ground!”

 

The sound of Aragorn’s voice barely registered through the hazing buzz of darkness that dragged at the elf, drawing him down. If Aragorn wanted him to give in to it he would, he was tired and the thought of being beyond all that was going on and just resting was too tempting to resist. His father was safe and right now that was all that matter, Aragorn would take care of the rest.

 

Cerithon, mellon-nin” Legolas whispered as he released his hold on consciousness. “I will, my friend.”

 

The elf went limp in the orc’s hands and slid towards the ground. Guruth suddenly found himself dragged downward as he tried to hold the now unconscious elf up before him. He was nearly far enough away from the others and he could see Mrdhdúk making her way towards him quickly through the battlefield. His grin turned feral and he started to let the elf drop, his blade raking towards the prince’s jugular vein.

 

Everything slowed and stilled. Time stopped and the sounds of the battle behind him faded out as Aragorn realized what Guruth’s intentions were. He was going to slit Legolas’ throat and make the ranger watch. The elf’s chin caught on the point of the blade as he slipped from the orc’s hands and Guruth stumbled slightly as he pushed the prince forward, intending to impale him.

 

Aragorn advanced, his eyes trained on the orc. It seemed to him that he was barely moving so intent on his prey was he, when in fact the ranger’s perspective was simply skewed. Guruth jerked back unintentionally, shoving the elf at the human that raced towards him. The cry of rage that broke from the ranger’s throat matched any that the orc captain had heard in his lifetime and it chilled his blood.

 

With deadly accuracy Aragorn let the arrow fly from his bow. He was less than twenty yards away when he targeted the black-hearted creature and the shaft of the projectile buried itself fully into the orc’s head. Guruth dropped to the ground and did not move, his body draped over that of the wounded elf he had threatened.

 

“No!” Aragorn skidded to a stop by Legolas and fell down next to the still elf. He pushed Guruth’s dead body away from the prince and quickly assessed the elf’s injuries. Sitting down on the ground, the ranger gently turned Legolas over and pulled him into his lap.

 

“Legolas.” He touched the pale face and winced slightly as his fingers came away with the elf’s blood on them. The cut to the prince’s chin flowed freely and dripped down his jaw line. There was so much blood there he couldn’t tell how bad the wound was and was almost afraid to check. Legolas’ eyes were closed and Aragorn felt his heart clench inside of him. Shakily, he reached out and placed his hand over the prince’s heart gingerly, feeling for the heartbeat that he prayed would be there.

 

It was.

 

With a sigh, Aragorn leaned over and rested his forehead wearily against Legolas’. “Mellon nín, I need you to wake up. It is over. Come back Legolas.” He quietly whispered to the elf he held.

 

All else had faded from his world for a moment until he felt a hot breath on the top of his head and the threatening growl of warg near his left ear. Slowly Aragorn sat back up, only to find himself staring straight into the snarling face of Guruth’s mount. The warg’s ears were laid back against her massive head and she bared her teeth in a feral grimace. Saliva dripped between her fangs and her breath stirred the ranger’s hair when she snorted.

 

The ranger froze, barely breathing. He had dropped his bow and his sword had been lost in the fighting. If the warg wanted to kill them, there was precious little stopping her.

Chapter Text

~*PART FOURTEEN*~
~It’s too Soon for You~

 

 

 

Aragorn moved his hand from Legolas’ shoulder and eased his fingers around the small knife concealed in his boot, drawing it slowly. It wouldn’t do much damage against the warg but it was all he had. The glint of steel caused Mrdhdúk to lean in closer, her growl deepening to a warning, stilling the human’s movements. Aragorn kept his eyes locked onto the beast in front of him. He wondered that she had not already ripped his head from his shoulders, but the warg seemed to be waiting for something.

 

Placing one large paw on Legolas’ chest, the beast effectively pinned both human and elf in place. Her claw grazed Aragorn’s hand where it lay over Legolas’ heart. He tried to move his fingers but the slight motion alerted Mrdhdúk and she barked a warning at the man applying slightly more pressure. Her attention was distracted as the large warg leaned around the human.

 

Mrdhdúk nuzzled Guruth, snuffling his body and whining softly. Her master was dead, she could smell it; he reeked of death. Almost gently she licked his face clean once more. Beside her the ranger was trying to move again and she snapped her large head back towards him, growling low and deep. Her orc companion had been slain, in her small mind she rationalized that it had been this creature that sat before her on the ground. She tensed not sure if she should run or kill the small being that had provoked her ire. Unlike many wargs, she had never been free, Guruth had always been her master and she wasn’t entirely sure what to do without him to command her. She settled on killing them. The claw that rested on Aragorn’s hand dug into his flesh and he stifled a cry.

 

The ranger flinched as the massive head drew nearer. His fingers tightened around the small boot knife as the warg bent closer to Legolas, nudging the elf with her nose and smelling his scent deeply. The one that lay in the ranger’s arms smelled like her. She recognized the elf that Guruth had let her play with.

 

“Have fun with the young one, so long as you don’t eat him. I want him alive.”

 

The words of the dark tongue reverberated in her mind. It hadn’t been that long ago, and she hadn’t forgotten her master’s words just yet. That changed things.

 

Aragorn stopped moving and watched the warg curiously. Something was going on in the creature’s mind. He realized with a start that the warg wasn’t going to kill them. Something had happened to stay her; something about Legolas stopped her short of harming them. The claw that pierced the back of his hand slowly withdrew and Mrdhdúk backed a step away from the human and the elf.

 

Glancing back into the battle behind them, the warg watched as the orcs fell to the superiority of the elves. A large male warg yelped and dropped to the ground, arrows protruding from his back.

 

Returning her attention to the ranger who was now shielding the one who had been their toy, her dark eyes watched him intently, he hadn’t dropped the knife he held but he hadn’t hurt her either. A high pitched cry behind her drew Mrdhdúk’s attention once more to the battle. A young warg was under attack. It was one of her cubs.

 

The orcs were dead; her master was gone. She had no love for orc-kind in general and owed no allegiance to those that still stood in the glade. She would obey Guruth one last time and spare the elf and his companion, but she had no reason to stay. Her mind was not too small to register that this was a losing battle. It was time to retreat. The forests were full and thick here, her pack could easily lose any pursuers that might try to track them and the woods were full of game, they didn’t need the orcs to survive. Throwing back her head, Mrdhdúk howled, calling the remaining wargs to her. Her low, keening cry reverberated through the glade, nearly stopping all fighting as the large, wolf-like creatures disengaged from the battle and pelted up the hill towards their matriarch’s position.

 

Aragorn’s face paled as he watched the wargs running towards him. Pulling Legolas’ tightly to him, he tried to back up but was stopped as he scooted into Guruth’s dead body. He had no weapons and the boot knife was useless under the onslaught that raced in their direction. They were dead.

 

Satisfied the wargs were obeying her, Mrdhdúk turned back to the wild-eyed human. A low grunting snort in his direction checked his movement once more. Padding quietly back towards him, the large female warg nudged the elf, pushing Legolas’ head to the side. She ignored the human’s hand on her large nose, trying to move her away as she licked the blood from Legolas’ face and sealed the deep cut below his chin with her saliva. Yes, she remembered his taste and growled in satisfaction, a deep low throaty sound.

 

As the first of the wargs reached them, Mrdhdúk turned; nipping at the heels of the youngster that lunged at the seated human. Slamming her head into the side of the juvenile she darted off in front of the pack, leading them into the woods and abandoning the orcs to the slaughter they deserved.

 

Aragorn watched them disappear, their dark hides blending almost to invisibility within the depths of the woods. He started slightly when he heard Mrdhdúk’s lone, howling cry bidding her master farewell... and then all trace of them was lost.

 

“Aragorn!” Trelan bolted for the small hill where the ranger sat holding Legolas, “Strider! Are you alright?” The small elf dropped next to the two friends and looked them over carefully.

 

Elladan pelted up the hillock; his bow drawn and trained on the last place he had seen the wargs. They seemed to have just melted into the woods but he was unsettled by what he had witnessed. He had been unable to reach Aragorn before the wargs had departed and he feared what he would find when he did. That his brother and the prince were alive was nearly more of a surprise than he could handle. Dropping his bow to his side Elladan stepped back near the ranger and gently rested his hand on Aragorn’s head, his eyes still searching the forest. They couldn’t risk the wargs returning.

 

“Estel?” Elladan questioned shakily.

 

Aragorn gently grasped his brother’s wrist, “Yes, we are well. Legolas lives, he is merely unconscious.” Aragorn sighed deeply and glanced up at Elladan, “It did not kill us.” He was still a little shocked over that turn of events.

 

“What did you do?” Trelan asked incredulously, “We watched the whole thing from below but were unable to get to you. We thought you were both dead for certain!”

 

“I did nothing.” Aragorn glanced over his shoulder into the woods before looking back into the pale face of the elf he held in his lap. “There was something about Legolas that kept her from killing us.” He sucked his breath in sharply as he flexed his hand that the warg had pierced. The bleeding had stopped and the wound was sealing closed already. Some of Mrdhdúk’s saliva had dripped onto his gloved hand and seeped through the leather, speeding up the healing process. He held his hand up and glanced at the clear sticky substance that coated it.

 

“That’s disgusting Strider.” Trelan started to wipe the saliva from Legolas but the ranger stopped him.

 

“I think it was her way of fixing what had happened. It seems the wargs’ saliva closes off the wounds. Look.” Gently Aragorn tipped Legolas’ head, revealing the nasty cut that grazed his chin. It had already stopped bleeding.

 

The battle below was waning. The orcs, greatly outnumbered, fell before the elves and after a time silence hung over the glen once more. The soft sounds of the wounded drifted up to the small knoll where the ranger sat; now surrounded by some of Thranduil’s own guard. Raniean walked slowly towards them, trailing the King, whose protection he had taken over from Trelan earlier.

 

Thranduil looked as bad as Legolas but he would not accept the help of his royal guard, insisting that he needed to see if Legolas were alive. Raniean, no less anxious, did not argue.

 

The prince stirred gently in Aragorn’s arms and the ranger immediately focused all his attention on the elf.

 

“Legolas?” The human whispered his friend’s name softly.

 

It was quiet and there was a peace that pervaded even the darkness where he lay. Someone was calling his name, touching his face. There was more than one voice now. He recognized Aragorn’s, the last voice he had heard was the first one that filtered through the hazy warm peace that enveloped him. Legolas concentrated on his friend’s words, smiling softly as the ranger slipped into the grey tongue.

 

“He is gone Legolas, it worked. But I need you to come back.” Aragorn stopped speaking as the elf’s blue eyes opened and locked onto his face. “The battle is over and we are safe.”

 

“Legolas?” Thranduil’s worried voice cut through the prince’s sluggish thoughts.

 

“Ada?”

 

“Yes, Legolas, it is I.” Thranduil knelt on the grassy floor of the forest and leaned over to gaze at his son. “You passed out.”

 

“Aragorn told me to.” The prince whispered.

 

“Oh that’s it. Blame it on me.” Aragorn laughed softly.

 

“Well you did.” Legolas didn’t move. He hurt too much. The past two days had been more than his body could handle and he simply let his friend hold him. “I smell like a warg.” He frowned, wrinkling his nose as he touched the now dry saliva that coated his chin and cheek. “What happened?”

 

“You wouldn’t believe it. I’ll tell you all about it later, but we need to get you and the other wounded back to the rendezvous where Elrohir and father are waiting for us. We’ll be able to treat you better there, all of you.” Aragorn glanced up and pierced the Sinda king with a knowing glare. If his son were in this kind of shape then there was no telling what wounds the king was hiding.

 

“Yes, my lord, he is correct.” Raniean gently hooked his hands under his liege’s arm and helped the king stand stiffly to his feet. “Although I would hear this tale of how you survived that warg.”

 

Trelan rose and offered his liege a shoulder to lean upon.

 

“Later we all will, I believe.” Elladan countered quickly as he leaned down and helped Raniean relieve Estel of the prince so the human could stand. “For now though, we need to retreat and regroup and then we will comb the forest to make sure that the threat has been truly dealt with.” The elven twin was still not settled in his heart and he kept glancing into the woods around them. They needed to make sure the threat was really gone this time.

 

Calling more help up to the top of the knoll, Raniean agreed.

 

Trelan walked Thranduil back down the hill, following Elladan as he led the way back to the place where they had left Elrohir and Elrond yesterday evening.

 

Raniean and Aragorn trailed the others, supporting Legolas between them. The royal guard brought up the rear, carefully watching the woods around them as they stepped over the orcs that lay in the glen.

 

“I’m sorry we did not come sooner Legolas,” Raniean whispered quietly in his friend’s ear. “I thought my heart was going to stop when I saw that orc holding you... and I couldn’t get there.”

 

Legolas smiled faintly, squeezing Raniean’s shoulder where he clung to him. “’s all right Ran. You came. Ada’s all right and I’ll mend. If you hadn’t brought the warriors....” Legolas was interrupted by a small coughing fit before continuing. “Then Estel would have tried to take them on all by himself I’m sure, and none of us would have survived.”

 

Aragorn grinned, gently supporting Legolas from the other side. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

 

Legolas smiled warmly at his friend, making sure Aragorn knew he was joking.

 

Raniean smiled as well. “Well then I’m glad disaster was averted.”

 

The trip back to the secluded meadow near the deep pool took more time than they might have wished have since the elves walked only as fast as the wounded could go. By the time they reached Elrond and Elrohir, Aragorn was carrying Legolas over his shoulder because the prince had passed out again.

 

Aragorn headed straight for his father and Elrohir. The younger of the elven twins jumped up immediately and helped Estel when he recognized him.

 

“My cloak, Elrohir,” Aragorn shifted Legolas from his shoulder and held his friend against him, “Get my cloak and lay it on the ground so I may set Legolas down.”

 

Quickly Elrohir did as he was told, unfastening the family brooch and laying the brown cloak on the grass as Estel gently set Legolas down upon it.

 

“Father, he is hurt badly and I believe the king is in no better shape.” Aragorn was slightly surprised to see Elrond conscious. He scooted nearer his father who was tending a small fire. The older elf’s movements were slow and deliberate. He had woken not long after Elladan and Aragorn had left the secluded glade. With Elrohir’s help he had eaten and regained some of his strength. The world no longer spun around him where he sat and although he ached more than he would allow his family to know, with wounded being brought to him, the healer in him took over and he pushed his own weariness aside. Focusing his attention on the human next to him, Elrond gently took Aragorn’s hand and eased the bloodied glove off.

 

“It seems as though they were not the only ones that were injured.” Elrond turned the ranger’s hand over in his own. The puncture wound had not gone all the way through. “You had a run in with wargs?” Elrond glanced up at his youngest son, still holding the man’s wounded hand, “This is warg saliva. It has strange healing potential but I would wonder how it is you came in to contact with such.”

 

“That, father, is a tale that I will need Legolas’ help to tell...” Aragorn was interrupted by Elladan.

 

“We thought they were both dead. A huge warg attacked them but did not kill them - I do not know why. It was amazing father.” The eldest twin added. He glanced between Elrond and his human brother with a quirky smile. “And speaking of wargs, most of the pack retreated. We need to set up perimeter and scour the surrounding areas to be sure that we are really safe. Elrohir will you come with us? I will need you.” Elladan and Elrohir rarely fought separated from one another and Elladan had missed his twin keenly in their latest attack on the orcs. He was loath to leave his brother behind again.

 

With merely a nod, Elrohir jumped to his feet. Leaning back down, the young elf kissed the top of their father’s head and quietly spoke to him, “Ada you are not well yet either. Do not over work yourself until you are better. I would not want to lose you so soon. Please be careful.” He glanced at his human brother quickly, “Estel see that he does not injure himself further.” Elrohir begged softly as Thranduil sat stiffly down next to Legolas.

 

“I will, but should I not accompany you?” Aragorn started to rise from his seated position. Elrond’s hand on his thigh stopped him as did his brother’s protests. It seemed as if everyone spoke at once.

 

“No, stay with father.” Elladan ordered.

 

“I will need you here my son.” Elrond implored softly.

 

“We will not leave you alone.” Raniean stepped forward, pulling Trelan away from the royal families. As much as he wanted to stay with Legolas and Thranduil until they were well, he knew that Elrond and Estel were the healers, he was a soldier, and his job was to make sure they stayed safe. The twins were right, reconnaissance was in order. “Trelan will take half the warriors and set up a perimeter on the outskirts of the glen until we return. We won’t be long Trey.”

 

In moments everything was decided and Raniean’s warriors, accompanied by the twins, took off into the woods. Aragorn sat back down and smiled wearily at his father who still held his injured hand. He placed his other hand on Legolas’ chest and began to quietly explain to the two elven lords what had transpired as Elrond cleaned and bandaged his wound first.

 

It was the least life threatening of all their injuries but Elrond needed Estel’s help and he had worried over the human while he was gone. The cut to Aragorn’s temple had reopened sometime during battle and Elrond gently re-wrapped the gash with a clean bandage as the human answered Thranduil’s questions.

 

“And the warg just... left It did not try to injure you?” Thranduil pressed. The tale the ranger told them was highly surprising and if not for the fact that they were both alive he was not sure he would have believed it coming from a human.

 

“Only this.” Aragorn held up his now bandaged hand.

 

“Estel, help me see to the king...” Elrond’s request was interrupted as Thranduil resisted.

 

“Please see to Legolas’ first. I fear he took more injury than I did.” Thranduil gently brushed his hand through his son’s hair.

 

“I meant only to ask Estel to help me see you seated more comfortably while I looked over your son.” Elrond smiled softly at the other elf. “I will need full access to him and must unfortunately ask you to move while we work with him.”

 

Thranduil glanced down quickly. Wasn’t he always reprimanding those around him for interrupting his sentences and pre-guessing his intentions?

 

“My apologizes Lord Elrond. I fear I am not quite myself.” He countered quietly as he moved aside with help from Aragorn.

 

“I don’t think any of us are,” Elrond concurred quietly.

 

The ranger wadded up a discarded cloak and gently pressed the elven lord back against the base of a large tree. He handed Thranduil a mug of warm tea with healing properties that Elrond had been brewing and quietly reassured him before joining his father.

 

Elrond was carefully looking over Legolas’ injuries. They were bad, very bad. The prince seemed stable for the moment but something about his condition concerned the healer. He had learned long ago that the outward appearance of a patient could not always tell him what he needed to know. Elrond leaned closer, placing his hand against Legolas’ forehead, wanting to probe deeper. But as he started to reach out into Legolas’ body with his senses, a thing that was almost second nature to the elf lord after all these years, Elrond’s vision hazed and it felt as though everything was spinning again. It seemed even that small expenditure of his strength was taxing for his wounded body. Elrond was forced to drop both hands to the ground to steady himself lest he lose his balance.

 

Sharp, biting pain shot up the elf lord’s side when he lurched suddenly forward and he pulled one arm back quickly to hug his middle, gasping softly as painful pressure jabbed into his lungs. Squeezing his eyes tightly shut he concentrated solely on fighting back the nauseating waves of pain. Elrohir was right; he was in no shape to be up and moving around.

 

Aragorn turned back just in time to see his father grimace and pull in on himself, pain flashing across the elf lord’s features.

 

Hurriedly he scrambled over to his father’s side, wrapping his arms around Elrond’s shoulders in support and alarm when the elf lord remained hunched over, holding his chest and seeming to struggle for breath for a few moments.

 

“Ada!” the ranger said in concern as Elrond slowly straightened up.

 

It was obvious the Noldo elf was in pain, but he was unwilling to let his son see how much. Elrond’s breath was still labored a little when he smiled weakly at his youngest. “You won’t believe me, but I am all right Estel.”

 

“You’re right as usual,” Aragorn murmured fondly, but with concern. “I don’t believe you.” He laid his hand on Elrond’s chest, which seemed to be the new trouble area. “What is wrong?”

 

Elrond didn’t have enough breath to sigh. It felt like someone was jabbing hot, sharp arrows into his lungs. He knew very well what was wrong. “I have some broken ribs, apparently, they’re twisted inward and lodged against my lungs. If I am careful I will be fine Estel. With rest they will eventually re-seat themselves and heal correctly.”

 

Aragorn was not impressed. His eyes narrowed with concern. “And if you’re not careful you could puncture your lungs and die. Did Elrohir know? I don’t believe he would let you move around like this, you’ve got to be still until we can stabilize those ribs.”

 

Elrond smiled ruefully. “Elrohir is not as stubborn as you and *some* of my children are still willing to accept that their father is wise enough to know his own limits. I’m all right Estel; it’s Legolas who need our attention right now, and swiftly. He needs help, there is something about his condition that is troubling me.”

 

Elrond pulled away from Aragorn’s hands, turning purposefully back towards the unconscious elven prince. Unfortunately it was not a good move. Sharp pain stabbed at him again, making his face pale and his vision swim. This was going to be a real nuisance.

 

Aragorn caught his father before Elrond even realized that he was tipping sideways. “Yes, he does, but not from you Ada,” the ranger said quietly.

 

Elrond frowned in irritation at his own impairment. “They must be a little deeper than I thought,” he murmured breathlessly as Aragorn eased him back against the bundles of supplies and rolled up cloaks that Elrohir had made for him earlier.

 

As soon as he was leaning back and no longer forcing his injured body to support him, the elf lord’s breathing eased greatly and he let out a small sigh of relief. As much as he hated to admit it, Aragorn was right, he was in no shape to be doing much at the moment.

 

“All right Estel,” he said softly when met with Aragorn’s worried gaze, his silver eyes speaking what he could not. “Go back to Legolas, I do not like what I am reading from his body, he needs you my son.”

 

Aragorn nodded, glancing back towards where Legolas was beginning to stir uneasily. “Don’t worry Ada, I will take care of him.”

 

Elrond smiled faintly. “I know you will.”

 

Assuring himself that his father was going to be all right, he made his way quickly back to the prince.

 

Legolas was awake now, but seemed a little confused and distressed.

 

Lightly, Aragorn touched his friend’s face, letting the elf know he was there. Legolas pulled a small breath in and turned his head just enough to look the ranger in the eyes. He smiled at his friend. Weak though it was, the grin was heartbreakingly bright as Legolas figured out where he was and what must have happened.

 

“Well, here we are again Strider,” Legolas said with faint mirth. “Right back where we always are. You’re going to have to fix me up again and I’m going to hate it. I wonder sometimes if you think of me as a friend or a lifetime patient...” Legolas had to catch his breath as a shiver of pain raced through him, panting for a moment before he could push it to the background once more. He did not feel at all well. The pain he felt now was different from fiery ache of the gashes he had sustained and he found it slightly disturbing as a numbing cold slowly began to wrap around his body.

 

No matter how many times Aragorn had tended his best friend’s wounds, it was hard for him to see Legolas like this. The elf prince was extremely pale and very weak. He looked so incredibly vulnerable. Aragorn hated it.

 

The ranger smiled gently as he began cleaning and wrapping the multiple lacerations that the wargs had left on the prince. Legolas grimaced and pillowed his head on his arms, closing his eyes against the sting and breathing deeply.

 

“You really should stay away from orcs in the future Legolas, you just do not seem to get along with them at all. You know, I thought I was supposed to be the clumsy human who always got hurt, what happened to you?” the human teased back with gentle remonstration.

 

“Don’t know,” Legolas murmured, his words slurring slightly around his dry mirth. “Must have been your influence...” The elf’s body was beginning to tremble and he frowned. He looked at his hand for a moment, a perplexed look written over his fair features. “Why am I shaking Estel?”

 

Aragorn was a little disturbed by his friend’s slow and confused mental state - it wasn’t like Legolas.

 

“You’ve been through a lot Legolas, your body isn’t happy,” the human tried to keep his voice light. His mind supplied the more serious explanation; Legolas was in the early stages of shock. Really it was a miracle it had taken so long to set in, considering how injured he was.

“Ada?” Legolas’ voice was plaintive as he looked around, searching for his father.

 

Thranduil scooted closer, touching the back of his son’s head comfortingly. “I’m here Legolas.”

 

“Mmmnn,” the prince murmured and blinked, as if his eyelids were heavy. He winced sharply as Aragorn cleaned his wounds. The ranger was worried by how foggy his friend’s eyes were becoming. He moved more quickly, trying to stabilize the prince. It seemed the more he worked over Legolas the worse the elf was doing. His mind raced through every conceivable reason and always he heard his father’s quiet warning in the back of his thoughts...

 

“ ... there is something about his condition that is troubling me.”

 

“Ada... where’s Nana?” Legolas asked totally out of the blue.

 

Thranduil froze, the question itself frightening him. Legolas hadn’t asked about his mother in millennia. He knew very well that she had sailed a long time ago. The elf king shifted closer to his son. “She... she’s not here right now Legolas,” he said softly, doubting the younger elf really knew what he was asking at the moment; obviously, Legolas was not quite all the way there.

 

Aragorn frowned deeply. His friend was not doing well at all and nothing he did was helping. In fact...Aragorn realized with mounting horror that Legolas was actually slipping away more quickly now. He was getting worse. It confused him; the elf should be doing better than he was.

 

Lifting Legolas’ head and shoulders Thranduil eased them into his lap while Aragorn continued to clean and dress the prince’s wounds.

 

Legolas seemed comforted a bit by this and settled down a little, curling into his father’s lap, still shaking. The physical contact settled his heart even though it did not ease the strange chill that crept through his body. Thranduil looked questioningly at Aragorn as he stroked his son’s hair gently.

 

“Shock,” Aragorn mouthed quietly, over Legolas’ head.

 

Thranduil’s brows furrowed in concern.

 

Legolas sighed as his mind cleared a little. “Of course she’s not, I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m just tired... so tired...”

 

Aragorn touched Legolas’ eyelids softly. “Then rest mellon-nín, rest.”

 

“There you go again, I hope it ends up better than last time...” Legolas’ voice faded and his eyes glazed slightly as he slipped into semi-consciousness.

 

Aragorn was glad that the prince would get a small respite from his pain. Yet Legolas’ slumber, if it could be called that, was light and he still trembled slightly, which did not sit well with the human. His elven friend’s body was incredibly injured, but it seemed to be doing its best to fight back. Legolas’ will to live was strong and this was an asset to his healing right now, but what was it that thwarted their combined efforts to get him stabilize?

 

“Can you hold him up a little?” Aragorn requested of Thranduil as he gently uncurled Legolas from his father’s lap, attempting to reach the deep, dangerous gashes on his back. Aragorn winced. In many places the warg claws had cut Legolas to the bone. He was not bleeding as badly as might be feared, but he had obviously already lost quite a bit more blood than was good for him.

 

Thranduil complied, easing his son into a new position in his grip so that Aragorn had a clear access to Legolas’ back. “You can heal him?” he asked after a moment, his eyes fixed on the Dunèdain who was treating his son. He did not doubt the human’s worthiness as a being, but he had never seen him in action as a healer before and wasn’t entirely sure the man would be able to do best by his son.

 

Aragorn easily heard and just as easily forgave the unmistakable ‘do you know what you’re doing?’ implication hidden within the Elvenking’s words. He suspected Thranduil would have been more comfortable if Elrond had been able to help, or one of the twins had stayed remained, but did not fault the King for doubting that which he did not know. Aragorn was well aware how big a step it had been when Legolas’ father accepted him as a suitable friend for his son, for an elf to consider a human a capable healer was quite another step up.

 

The ranger nodded reassuringly.

 

“Yes. He is badly hurt, but he is strong. We will pull him through this,” Aragorn assured. Yet even as he did he frowned slightly, his hands momentarily stilling against his friend’s clammy skin. His father was right, something in Legolas felt vaguely... wrong and he could sense it now himself, more urgently than before. He couldn’t pinpoint what, but it niggled at the back of his mind as he gently rested his hand against Legolas’ cold cheek. The elf shouldn’t be cold, not like this.

 

Thranduil nodded slowly, trying to make his worried heart accept the assurance that the human offered.

 

“You’re sure?” he questioned quietly, gazing down sorrowfully at his son’s battered face.

 

Aragorn nodded, touching Thranduil’s shoulder reassuringly. “I promise. Your son is strong; he will not desert us if he is given any choice. I have seen him pull through many injuries, with even less will to live.” The ranger eased Legolas’ hair gently away from his cuts as he washed the blood and sticky residue of the warg’s dried flagem off the elf prince’s back.

 

Thranduil nodded once more, then his eyes turned distant as Aragorn’s words brought his dream back to him again. “Have you ever seen that?” the king inquired softly, the fingers that cupped Legolas’ head to his breast, playing lightly with the younger elf’s loose golden hair. “Have you ever seen him lose the will to live?”

 

Aragorn froze for a moment, a look of grief and hesitancy passing over his features. He was almost certain that their time in Mordor was not something Legolas would want him to speak to his father about.

 

Thranduil did not miss the look, nor the way Aragorn studiously bent his head keeping his focus to cleansing the wounds on the prince’s side and would not look at him directly when he answered.

 

“I have seen Legolas through many things your highness, he is one of the bravest, strongest beings I know.”

 

Thranduil knew very well that Aragorn was not telling him something, even as Legolas had not, but now was not the time to press for more information, not when Legolas’ condition was so precarious.

 

Aragorn turned his full attention back to the wounds he was dressing. The bandages he had just laid against Legolas’ back were already soaked and dripping. Something was not right, Legolas should not have been bleeding this heavily, he had not even been bleeding this much before. The trembling was increasing.

 

Thranduil frowned as he saw the same thing. “What is the matter? It’s getting worse.”

 

Aragorn wished he could deny that statement or assure that this was natural, but it wasn’t. Something was wrong. What scared him was that he did not know what.

 

“I don’t know,” Aragorn murmured distractedly, his hands flying rapidly as he checked his friend’s vitals.

 

Legolas’ pulse was racing out of control. His blood was not clotting. Fear clutched the human’s heart. This was all wrong, all wrong!

 

“Something is not right.” Aragorn quickly grabbed his pack. “Ada?” He called to his father as he rummaged through the sack, pulling out a small, round tin. The ranger swore in frustration when he found the contents wet and ruined from his previous underwater adventures. The powder had to be dry! He couldn’t even find the other vial he wanted and feared it had been lost somewhere over the course of the last few hectic days.

 

“No.” Aragorn denied the helpless feeling that swept over him. His brothers, one of them had to have brought their packs! Oh please Valar let them have what he wanted, let them have remembered their father’s constant remonstrations not to leave unprepared... he spotted Elrohir’s pack lying near Elrond and felt a short burst of relief.

 

“Aragorn!” Thranduil’s voice was alarmed. Legolas had begun shaking convulsively in his arms; the prince’s body was sliding swiftly down the slippery slope of trauma-induced shock. He felt his son’s light dimming before his eyes and fear took hold of him.

 

Ignoring Thranduil’s call for the moment, Aragorn snatched up Elrohir’s pack, and hastily dumped the contents on the ground, rifling urgently through them. His brother kept a different assortment of herbs than he did and Morgoth take it all he had them all crammed into a jumbled mix of unlabeled pouches and bottles that made sense only to him. Aragorn knew instantly what was what, but had to waste precious moments opening pouches and un-corking vials to see what was inside.

 

Elrond was struggling to sit up. His sensitive perceptions could hear warning signals radiating loudly from Legolas’ body. “Estel, poison,” he said breathlessly, realizing that must have been what he was sensing to begin with. He cursed himself for being so weak. If he had been operating at full power he would have been able to tell immediately. “Something in his system, he’s reacting to it.”

 

Thranduil held the younger elf tightly, his heart pounding furiously. “Legolas? Legolas...” his voice choked in desperation. The prince was not responding and his father’s heart was gripped with terror and helplessness at this sudden turn for the worse.  

 

Aragorn swiveled around, alarmed at his father’s words. Oh Valar no, Legolas was going into full fledge shock now.

 

“Estel...” Elrond was trying to make himself heard. “Wargs... sometimes their claws...”

 

“Are poisoned, I know Ada,” Aragorn finished for his father. He had been worried about that since he first saw Legolas, but thought the prince had somehow escaped the harm that filthy warg claws usually inflicted since his wounds seemed to be closing. Classic warg injuries were usually very slow healing and bled profusely, resisting clotting. Yet Legolas had not exhibited any of these signs until now. What could have changed? What could have happened? How could his condition have deteriorated so quickly? All that had transpired was that he had washed the prince’s wounds and... his heart froze.

 

“Oh no. The coating, the warg saliva, it must have been acting as an artificial clotting agent, countering their natural poison!” Aragorn could have kicked himself, but he hadn’t known; he had never dealt with this before.

 

It was a surprise even for Elrond, but the instant Aragorn spoke, it made sense. The elf lord leaned up urgently on his elbows, trying to ignore the burning fire that ignited in his chest and ribcage. “Estel, the wounds must be closed, he’s too damaged to lose anymore blood. Do you have any of the fire-weed in your pack?”

Aragorn had reached the same conclusion moments before and already had in hand a small vial of red powder and a second of similarly colored oil. Both were taken from a spicy pepper plant, one of the many herbs cultivated in Elrond’s gardens.

 

“No, but fortunately El does.” He lifted them swiftly, showing Elrond that he already had them before he scrambled quickly back to his friend’s side, his intense fear only just covered with the cloak of his quick thinking and even quicker acting healer’s instincts.

 

Elrond tried to follow his son, forcing his dizzy, protesting body to move. Aragorn shot the elder elf a quick, warning look that he would never have dared use on his father under normal circumstances.

 

Daro Ada,” he shook his head urgently. “Stay. I cannot care for both of you.” Aragorn was afraid that Elrond would shift the broken ribs pressing on his lungs again. Elrond understood the justified fear and stilled his movements, gathering his strength.

 

The change Aragorn found when he returned to his friend’s side was drastic and terrifying. Legolas’ eyes were closed and he was slipping away. Thranduil was trying to cling to his son’s essence, but the prince was fading too fast. It was proving beyond the King’s ability or strength to hold onto him, no matter how deeply into the abyss he waded in an effort to do so. Legolas’ wounds were not deadly in and of themselves, and that was the deceptive problem. It was not the injuries that were trying to kill him; it was the subtle toxins that made his heart race; it was the already serious loss of blood that was being added to by the moment; it was the deadly shock that had already enveloped his body, disrupting all his vital functions.

 

Thranduil’s eyes met Aragorn’s for only a moment.   It frightened the elven king to feel Legolas’ presence fading away from him like this. It seemed so sudden, so uncalled for, so... terrifying and there didn’t seem to be anything he could do to stop it or help. “Don’t let him die!” he shook his head, his tone part command and part desperate plea. “Don’t let him die!”

 

//You promised...// Thranduil’s eyes accused with anguish. //You promised me... don’t you dare let him die.//

 

The look smote straight into Aragorn’s heart. He would do anything to keep Legolas with them, anything.

 

Uncorking the vial with his teeth, the ranger opened Legolas’ mouth gently and placed a few drops of the oil under his friend’s tongue. They had to try to pull him out of the deadly slide into shock.  

 

The effect was not immediate, but after a few moments Legolas’ eyes started to clear a little and the convulsions eased as the potent herb helped drag the elf’s body out of the traumatized state it had been sinking into. Unfortunately, the ranger knew it was a momentary reprieve only. The part of Aragorn’s mind that had been trained as a healer told him that his friend was in a bad way. Told him that his friend would very probably not survive. The part of Aragorn’s mind that had been through too much with this particular elf to accept that diagnosis resisted it utterly, clinging to the hope that was his namesake.

 

Working swiftly, the human feverishly tried to push from his thoughts the horrible, creeping knowledge that every other time he had seen anyone this far gone, whether on the plains of Gondor or right here near his own home, they had always died.

 

 

This was different. Aragorn focused on his task, blocking everything else from his mind. He did not even feel when Elrond leaned gently against him, trying to see over his son’s shoulder. This had to be different. He and Legolas had cheated death so many times... he could not believe this was meant to be the end now. He could not lose his friend like this, not to something so absurdly simple after all the harrowing things they had survived.

 

Legolas’ movement had stilled, his body too spent to even tremble. His eyes fluttered open as he was dragged painfully back to consciousness by Aragorn’s ministrations. He saw the two worried faces bending intently over him.

 

“Estel... Ada...” he wanted to speak. Wanted to say something that could take the pain out of both their eyes as he felt himself slipping towards eternal starlight, but he could not find the words.

 

“Shh, don’t speak Legolas, save your strength ion-nín,” Thranduil soothed him, cupping the fading young elf’s cheek gently in his palm.

 

Legolas smiled up at his father softly. He had no strength left to save, but he wanted his father to know he wasn’t afraid. He was at peace. Having walked with mortals he had decided that death was not something to be feared, even for an elf.

 

Opening the vial of powder, Aragorn pulled away the ineffective and blood-soaked bandages he had only recently placed. He spread the dark red dust over the worst of the prince’s bleeding cuts. To the ranger’s relief the blood began clotting almost immediately and he swiftly followed up by re-binding the wounds as quickly as he could with fresh cloths salvaged from his older brother’s pack.  

 

The bleeding was stopped almost as quickly as it had re-started, but the elf’s body was weak, too weak. The warg poison, even if held in check outwardly by Mrdhdúk’s primitive care, had been silently working its way inward and wreaking havoc on the prince’s internal systems. His heart was traumatized and beating erratically. His vital functions were shutting down.

 

Pain creased Legolas’ features as the fiery herb stung his wounds like a cauterizing brand. He moaned through his teeth, turning his face into his father’s tunic so he would not disgrace himself in front of them by letting them see his tears.

 

Aragorn’s cool, gentle hands squeezed his shoulders, his heart hurting so much he felt ill. “I’m sorry Legolas, I’m so sorry my friend. I have to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible. The sting will fade, I promise. Forgive me mellon-nín.” He felt this was all his fault. As a healer he should have thought, should have realized what washing the wounds might do! In reality however, it would not have mattered. The infectious toxins had already been at work before the father and son had even been rescued; it had only been a matter of time. And that was something they had never had.

 

Legolas could hear in the ranger’s voice that he was also crying. The elf slowly turned his face outward once more and gave his friend a weak smile, masking the pain he was still feeling with a portion of his usual façade of strength. Reaching out he squeezed Aragorn’s hand. The human had been a good friend. His best friend.

 

Over Aragorn’s shoulder, Legolas saw Elrond’s bruised face appear. The elven lord knelt gingerly next to his human son, one hand resting on Estel’s arm for support as he reached out to Legolas, brushing the prince’s hair back from his face and assessing his injuries, although even those small exertions seemed to drain him. He had ultimate faith in Aragorn’s healing abilities and skills, but Legolas’ condition was obviously spiraling out of control. He did not know if he could help or not, but he would not simply remain where he was and let Estel struggle alone to save his best friend’s life. He had to see if he could help Legolas. For the prince’s sake, and for his son’s.

 

When Elrond touched the prince his heart despaired at what he felt. His eyes locked with Legolas’ for a moment and realization passed between them. Legolas knew he was dying, and now so did Elrond.

 

The future flashed before the elven lord as it sometimes did, mapping its possible trails across his sensitive psyche.

 

Elrond saw Legolas carried home to Mirkwood on a bower of pine boughs. The prince’s skin was pale and his eyes closed... closed forever on this side of the sundering seas.

 

He saw Aragorn walking slowly beside the sad procession with heavy steps. His son’s eyes were red from sleepless nights of tears and he refused to release his friend’s hand even in death as he saw the elf prince on his last journey. Elladan and Elrohir trailed behind their brother, looking worriedly from one to another. A light had been extinguished from the ranger’s eyes and Elrond shuddered at the empty void that was swallowing up the bright spark that had been Estel. In this vision however, Estel was no more; for the human had let hope die with his friend... his brother whom he had been unable to save.

 

Thranduil walked at the head of the procession, his lost, tearless eyes even emptier than Aragorn’s. There was loss, remorse and resentment there where light and life had once lived. Thranduil blamed himself for Legolas’ death... and he blamed Aragorn too. It was unjustified, but grief knows no reason. The ranger accepted the mantle of guilt far too readily, adding Thranduil’s silent condemnation to his own. The weight had obviously crushed the young man’s spirit.

 

Elrond saw the Elvenking at home in Mirkwood. He saw him fading. He saw Thranduil’s grief overcome him completely and now it was the King who was borne on a sad, funeral litter to be laid to rest beside his son. Without their rulers Mirkwood fell into darkness, the groping shadow of Dol Guldur spreading upward like a stain to extinguish the light of the elven realm.

 

Elrond saw Raniean and Trelan fall side by side in battle before the last defenses crumbled. He saw Aragorn standing in the middle of a burned and devastated wood, surrounded by bodies... a lone survivor, or come too late, the elf lord could not tell.

 

All sound was sucked away as if in a vacuum and Elrond saw Aragorn fall to his knees in gut-wrenching despair, his spirit devoured by the loss of not even being able to save his dear friend’s people. A dark shape appeared behind Aragorn, but the human was too lost in grief to notice. Elrond’s body stiffened as the orc struck quick and fast. Suddenly Aragorn was looking down in shock at the blade protruding from his chest. The ranger’s glazing eyes looked up, locking with the elf lord’s gaze and Elrond almost felt his heart stop beating, the vision was so clear, so real.

 

Then suddenly, with a flash and a start it was gone, and Elrond found himself looking not into Aragorn’s face, but into Legolas’ silver-blue eyes... eyes that were glazing and fading before him just as surely as the ones in his vision. It had all passed before him in the breadth of an instant and yet he had seen the years fall away into chaos and darkness. The path ahead of them that they now tread was dark indeed and the chances of changing the foreseeable future were waning before his very eyes.

 

Aragorn glanced between Elrond and Legolas in concern. He was worried about his father, but Elrond seemed to be coping for the moment, he was more concerned with what he saw in the elder elf’s eyes when he looked at Legolas. Elrond had stiffened and gone still. The momentary glassy-eyed look was a familiar one to the human and he realized with breathless anxiety that his father was caught in a vision. He feared what the older elf had seen.

 

Legolas already knew what was happening to him, before he saw the undeniable truth of it flicker across Elrond’s face. He had been too close to death too many times to not know its familiar taste.

 

“Ada?” Aragorn hardly dared to breathe the word.

 

Elrond turned tortured, pain-filled eyes on his youngest son. He wanted to lie, wanted to deny what his healer’s instincts had already told him. Faced with Aragorn’s deep, searching gaze however, he could tell nothing but the truth, no matter how hard it was to do so.

 

“He’s dying Estel,” the elf lord murmured in regretful disbelief around the huge lump in his throat. Elrond knew the possible futures he saw were not always certain, but his heart told him that if the prince died, all he had seen would indeed come to pass in one way or another. So much would be lost. It was hard to comprehend.

 

Aragorn shook his head, unable to speak. He would not, *could* not accept that. He had never known his father to be wrong, but he had to be in this case, he HAD to be!

 

Thranduil’s reaction was equally vehement, if much more vocal. “No, he is not! How dare you say that!” he raged hotly around the painful tears clouding his sight and choking his voice. He held Legolas tighter, clinging to his only child and burying his face in the prince’s hair. “He is not! You are healers, do something!”

 

Legolas fumbled to catch his hand in a fistful of his father’s tunic. “Ada...” he murmured. He didn’t want his father angry, didn’t want him to blame Elrond or Aragorn for being the bearers of bad news they could not change.

 

“Legolas...” Thranduil shook his head, caressing his son tenderly. He could feel the boy fading in his arms, it was horrible. “Don’t go. Do not leave me like everyone else. Please my child...” his gaze came up to rest on Aragorn and Elrond once more. The anger was gone and now it was openly pleading. Something Aragorn had never seen before in the strong, proud Elvenking’s eyes.

 

“Don’t let this happen,” Thranduil pleaded for them to fix the unfixable, no matter how desperately unreasonable the request. He was offering Legolas all he had; he would give his life if it would save his son’s, but he was helpless to stop what was happening. “Don’t let him die... please, you are healers, you can do what I cannot... please...” Thranduil let his head fall forward to rest against Legolas’ breast, his voice cracking as his heart broke.

 

Aragorn couldn’t breathe around the pressure in his chest. He was trying everything he knew to do, every cure he had ever learned to give strength, every measure of support he could offer... but the deep-seated knowledge that it would never be enough had taken hold of him and the whole scene had become increasingly surrealistic. He would do anything to grant Thranduil’s request, but as he watched Legolas’ eyes flutter closed he knew he was just as helpless as the king.

 

“I-I am trying, I don’t know what else to do... I’m sorry. Forgive me, forgive me! Legolas...” Aragorn could hardly speak as he gripped his friend’s hands, willing him to live, to be stronger than this, to fight through as he had so many times before.

 

Legolas shook his head, forcing his eyes open with effort. “Please...” he croaked quietly. “Please don’t... shhh... Ada... Estel...” he didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t think; he couldn’t form words. Imploringly he turned his gaze to Elrond. Legolas’ ability to speak had left him, but his eyes caught the elf lord’s and Elrond read his last thoughts as clear as day: //“Don’t let this destroy them. Don’t let them blame themselves because I must leave. I’m sorry.”//

 

Elrond blinked back tears, stunned by the simple, but obviously unlimited faith the younger elf had in him. //“I won’t Legolas, I promise!”// the elder elf responded without heed to how impossible was the promise he had just made. Elrond kept his vows, and he would keep this one if he had to die trying.

 

Legolas relaxed at the assurance. He knew that he left his father and his friend in good hands. He sighed softly, letting the air out of his lungs... and did not breathe in again.

 

Thranduil felt his son stop moving in his arms. Pressing his hand to Legolas’ heart, he felt no movement, no breath passed between the still lips.

 

The prince was dead. Legolas was gone.

 

 

 

~~~~~~~~
Still choking from knowing the love you've given me
It's hard to believe what I see is no dream
I'm drinking and sinking, still it's haunting me

Not yet, not yet break me from these visions
Not yet, not yet it's too soon for you...

--Die Trying
~~~~~~~~

Chapter Text

~*PART FIFTEEN*~
~Come Back Home~

 

 

~~~~~~~~
Come back home for another year
and ask yourself if you could handle this.
Say my name before you disappear
I always thought that you could handle this...

And you know you're hard enough
and you find you're strong enough
and you feel you're strong enough...

Come back home
Yeah, come back home.

--Pete Yorn
~~~~~~~~

 

 

Aragorn just stared, letting the vials in his hands fall uselessly to the hard ground. He couldn’t understand it, could not make sense of the horrible reality. He had seen death a hundred times or more, but it had never prepared him for this moment. It was all so horribly wrong. Their whole adventure since the warg rider attack on Rivendell had been bizarre, but this ending was too twisted for comprehension. It should not have happened; they should not have lost Legolas like this. How had so many simple things gone so wrong? How had he gone so fast from injured but stable to... to this? Aragorn knew well that death often came suddenly and without warning, but he had never hoped to see just how suddenly in this way.

 

Thranduil curled over his son’s body, his shoulders shaking silently. Aragorn bowed his head, gathering Legolas’ face between his hands and resting their foreheads together as he had done so many times in life. He wept. He wept as if his heart would break from the force of his grief. He felt he would never feel joy again, never recover from this loss.

 

Elrond watched all this unfold with a breaking heart; he knew with crushing certainty that in one way or another, all he had foreseen would come to pass. Estel was right, he *would* never recover from this... none of them would.

 

The elf lord saw again the horrible future mapped out before them, and running underneath this despairing knowledge was Legolas’ voice in his head.

 

//“Don’t let this destroy them. Don’t let this destroy them...”//

 

There was only one way to keep his promise. Only one way to try to change what he saw... one way he could try to bring back the bright, lively elven prince that he loved almost as another son. His own life was a small price to pay.

 

Moving forward with urgency, he gently but firmly took Legolas out of Thranduil’s arms, ignoring the surprised and uncomprehending look that that action garnered him from the other elf lord. Pushing Estel aside, he lay the prince’s body on the ground and bent over him. Elrond placed one hand on Legolas’ heart and the other on his temple, their faces so close they were almost touching.  

 

“Ada?” Aragorn’s tearful voice was questioning, but he did not hinder whatever his father was doing, nor press his question when Elrond did not respond.

 

Elrond focused his attention on Legolas to the exclusion of all else. Letting the waking world fall away from him, the elf lord used his special gift as a healer to reach into Legolas’ body in a way that few other elves on Middle Earth could have. It was an extreme use of his skills and power that taxed him to his limits. Elrond had done this only once before. He had done it to save Celebrìan the night she almost died when the twins brought her home from that accursed place that now lay in ruins. He had been strong then, and even so the effort had critically drained him. This time... Elrond knew he did not have enough strength for them both this time, but he might have enough for Legolas.

 

Plumbing the depths of their newly forged connection, Elrond felt Legolas’ spirit lingering on the very fringes of oblivion, resisting the call to the halls of waiting. His body had failed, but his fëa, his spirit, had not yet fled, holding on tenaciously until the shell that held it had gone so far that it could never return. Legolas had the will to fight, to live if only his body did not betray him. Elrond was determined to give him that chance. Steeling himself he practically forced his life energy into the ‘dead’ elf’s body. He concentrated so hard his hand on Legolas’ chest began to tremble as he focused on the prince’s heart, commanding it to contract, willing it to beat again.

 

Tolo Legolas! Come!” Elrond murmured in elvish, gritting his teeth as the effort made his head swim. Forcing himself past his own physical weakness, Elrond intensified the energy flowing out of him. //“Please let me do this last thing, please help him...”// the elf lord prayed silently as he felt his strength failing.

 

Legolas’ frame jerked as an almost physical jolt of power or electricity shot through him and he arched up against Elrond’s hand on his chest. His heart fluttered, but did not respond.

 

Elrond’s vision hazed yellow at the strain of the extended connection and supreme effort he was tendering, but he did not break contact even as he felt himself sliding into the grey twilight. They were so close, so close...

 

Aragorn observed his father with concern. He could tell that a massive surge of power was passing out of the elven lord and into Legolas’ body. He feared what it was doing to Elrond, but dared not interrupt. Instead he moved quickly to his father’s side, laying his hand on the elder elf’s back.

 

The ranger’s eyes widened. It was like touching a vacuum. All of Elrond’s strength was funneling downward into Legolas with the force of the elf lord’s will propelling its rush. With his connections flung wide open and no strength to keep up any guards, Estel touched his adopted father in a way that was usually only possible between elves. Aragorn felt as if he were being sucked under with that powerful vortex, his strength spiraling out to join his father’s in its focused rush to oblivion.

 

Knocked breathless and reeling, Aragorn refused to move away from the staggering connection. He didn’t know if he could help either Legolas or his father, but he was going to try.

 

Elrond felt the small, bright flame of Estel’s consciousness enter his awareness. He felt his human son’s presence anchor him, giving him enough strength for one last try.

 

Elladan and Elrohir topped the small hill, returning from their foray only to find the heart-breaking scene unfolding below them. Thranduil was watching Elrond and Legolas with obvious concern and uncertainty, and Aragorn was pressed close to their father, seeking to give him anything that would help, but neither the king nor the ranger truly grasped what was happening. The twins, however, recognized what was going on instantly. They had witnessed it before. Now, they could almost see their father’s essence flowing out of him as he struggled to bring Legolas back. They knew they were about to lose him.

 

“Ada!” Elladan pitched himself down the hill at a dead run, stumbling and tripping down the incline in his heart-pounding haste. Elrohir was right behind him as they gained the bottom. “Ada, no!”

 

Legolas jerked and arched again under Elrond’s hand. The elf lord could not hear his sons, and if he could have, it would have made no difference. He had made his choice, and it was too late now to turn back even if he wanted to.

 

This time, Elrond was rewarded with the hesitant feel of Legolas’ heart contracting and expanding under his tingling fingers. It had started beating once more.

 

That was a start, but it was not enough. Elrond’s body was failing him, but he knew that Legolas would only slip away again if he were not strengthened sufficiently to keep his wounds and weakness from overtaking him once more. Feeding the last measure of his strength into the elf prince’s body Elrond gave all, keeping nothing back for himself. He was not afraid to die, in fact at the moment he did not think it sounded like such a bad idea at all. He was weary in heart and soul, old wounds having been stirred painfully back to the surface. He knew that death was not the end, even for an elf. The halls of waiting were not to be feared and after that there would be Valinor, even if it was the long route there. He was ready to see Celebrìan again. He was looking forward to it.

 

Warmth spread across Legolas’ chest as the gift of life, given freely and selflessly, flowed throughout his being.  

 

Elladan and Elrohir reached them. The twins dropped to their knees by Elrond, Aragorn and Legolas. Part of them wanted to yank their father away and sever the connection that was killing him, yet they knew to do that now would condemn both he and Legolas.

 

“What? El, what?” Aragorn remained by Elrond’s side, breathless and wide-eyed. His connection with Elrond had severed as the elf lord poured the last of his strength into Legolas, but Aragorn had yet to fully understand the depth, or the cost of the gift that had been given.

 

“We’re losing him,” Elrohir grit out in horror as he laid his hands on his father’s shoulders.

 

Aragorn was confused for half a moment, still reeling and a little unsteady from what had just happened. He thought they were talking about Legolas. “I know...” he choked softly. “He’s already-”

 

“No, Estel! Ada!” Elladan shook his head, kneeling next to his human brother on Elrond’s other side and wrapping his hands around his father’s shoulders from the opposite direction.

 

Suddenly, Aragorn understood what he had felt, what was truly happening, and found that his heart was being torn down the middle. No! He could not lose them both, he could not! His hand tightened on his father’s arm. //No, Ada...//

 

Elladan and Elrohir did not waste anymore time talking. Elrond was slipping away in front of their eyes and so was Legolas, they knew what their course needed to be now... the only thing they could do. Closing their eyes and tightening their grip on their father, they attempted something they had never done before. Taking the long plunge they tried to join Elrond’s connection; attempted to initiate with their father the same bond he had created with Legolas.

 

It was hard. Elrond was no longer open, no longer possessing the strength to maintain the connection he had had moments ago. The twins were untried at this, they were not as gifted as their father and weren’t even sure it was possible... but they had to make the attempt. Elladan felt his heart speed up until his pulse was pounding painfully between his temples, making the world swim in a blinding haze of whites and yellows as he sought to go deeper than his own gifts and skills as a healer truly allowed. Elrohir winced as painful pressure compressed his eardrums, the strain going immediately to his weakest point. It felt like being deep, deep underwater with no way to relieve the pressure. Despite the consequences, neither twin was willing to give up the attempt. They would not lose again. Elrohir let his head fall gently against his father ignoring the pain that sought to disrupt the bond they were forming.

 

Aragorn’s feeling of helplessness was deep as he watched his family struggling. He feared and hated that he could not help them. He had never more cursed the fact that he was not an elf than at this moment.

 

Thranduil did not understand what was happening, but he found himself holding his breath, rooted in place and able only to beseech the powers above for help and intervention; for his son, for Elrond, for the elven lord’s sons... for all of them.

 

Elrond was dimly aware of a new and foreign source of strength rejuvenating his weary body. He could not tell its source at the moment, but he was glad for it, because it enabled him to give one last push to Legolas’ mending body.

 

The elf prince’s eyes fluttered open. Silver-blue eyes tried to focus in confusion. Legolas had a jumble of memories and emotions that he could not reconcile for a moment. He was so deeply connected to Elrond that he was almost not sure who he was, or where his consciousness started and that of the other elf began. He knew things that his own experiences should not have made known to him. He could see pieces and memories of a life that was not his own. It was confusing, but strangely not particularly distressing. He was still in pain, but it was greatly lessened, the deadly edge sapping him had receded and he did not understand how this could be. Was he dreaming? Or had before been a dream?

 

Then everything suddenly snapped back into focus and he gasped deeply as his lungs abruptly began functioning once more.

 

Elrond smiled faintly as he saw the confusion leave Legolas’ eyes when the younger elf’s fëa returned to his body completely. Legolas would live. He had succeeded. With that final realization of success, Elrond’s grip on his own body slipped quietly away and he let go his ties to the world.

 

Legolas saw the elf lord smile faintly at him and for a moment he felt Elrond’s presence wash over him like a wave rolling out to sea... and then suddenly it was gone. Not just receded from its connection with him, but *gone*. Elrond’s eyes closed and he slumped forward against the elf he had just poured his life out into.

 

Legolas struggled to sit up, alarmed. He was trembling again a little, but he felt stronger than before. He knew that was because of Elrond, but a deep fear gripped his heart about what price had just been paid that he might live.

 

“Ada!” Elrohir half cried, half moaned. The twins had not severed their connection and clung to the elf lord’s failing body, fighting to replenish enough of the strength that had just been lost, fighting to bring him back as they all slid down the slope towards darkness. They meant what they had said to Glorfindel before they left. Either all three of them came home, or none of them would. Daradwayn could not have this last, final victory over them.

 

Legolas was gasping still as he scooted back a little on his elbows with difficulty, staring in confusion and horror at the three Noldo elves. His trembling gaze turned on Aragorn. “What have I done?” he whispered hoarsely. “What have I done?!”

 

Aragorn broke away from his helpless desire to aid his family long enough to quickly gathered his shaky friend against him, trying to sound more confident than he felt. “Shh, Legolas, you haven’t done anything,” the ranger’s voice choked.

 

Legolas was shaking his head, looking in horror at where Elrond lay still on the ground, Elladan and Elrohir kneeling over him now, clinging to him in a strange replay of the situation he himself must have been in a moment ago. Strange memories and longings that seemed both familiar and foreign ghosted faintly across his consciousness. He saw in his mind’s eye a beautiful golden-haired elf woman and the feelings that accompanied that image told the young archer that these memories were not his own. The prince blinked, trying to clear away the strange after-images of Elrond’s psyche that had been imprinted on his own.

 

“No... I’m sorry... I-I’m sorry mellon-nín,” Legolas was still confused, but clarity was coming back and with it the understanding of what had just transpired. “I-I didn’t want it this way... I would never have asked for this... this wasn’t what I meant...”

 

Aragorn shook his head, touching Legolas’ lips softly with a trembling hand. “He gave you a gift Legolas, it is not your fault. Quiet now, regain your strength...” the ranger’s voice choked off. He felt incredibly blessed that his friend had been returned to him from the brink of death, but with Elrond’s life now slipping away his heart was rent in two. He didn’t know how he was supposed to handle this, first Legolas, now Elrond... things were happening almost too fast for him to comprehend. He felt lost and incredibly helpless. He had never experienced the type of healing that his father and now his brothers were employing. It was both fascinating and horribly terrifying. He could only pray that it would work a second time.

 

Raniean had returned with the twins, but remained quiet on the sidelines, his heart aching. He hurt for Legolas, but he hurt for Aragorn too. He had been where the ranger was once. His father too had once been willing to give his life that Legolas might live. It was horribly twisted to have to watch something like this play out again, but he could only hope that somehow this situation too, would work out. He did not know Elrond and the twins very well, but he knew they were powerful elves... he had to believe they could find a way through this. He hoped so.

 

Thranduil was at Aragorn’s elbow, staring unbelieving at his son who was definitely not dead. Gently, Aragorn passed Legolas back to his father who was already hovering over them, desperate to hold his son, to assure himself that the younger elf really was still with them.

 

Legolas smiled faintly at his father, squeezing Thranduil’s hand against his chest. “Sorry,” he murmured. “You’ll have to put up with me a little longer.”

 

Thranduil held Legolas close, unable to speak.

 

Legolas’ gaze drifted back to Elrond and the twins. He frowned, his heart bleeding. Why? Why did he cause so much pain to those he loved? Valar, why did they not just let him go?! He wasn’t afraid. Outwardly, it seemed that Elladan and Elrohir were merely holding their father’s limp body, but the connection with Elrond that had brought his body back to life left Legolas with a lingering understanding of what was truly happening.

 

“Estel...” Legolas whispered urgently. “Your father... he is not sure he wants to return. He could fight his way back... but not without a reason. Help them, if your brothers cannot pull him back, they will go with him...” the quiet , dazed conviction in the prince’s voice frightened the ranger. Legolas spoke of things he should have had no knowledge of, but Aragorn did not doubt for a moment that he spoke the truth.

 

The ranger scrambled back over to his father and his brothers, wondering how in the world he could help them. Please heaven, let there be a way!

 

Elladan and Elrohir were locked in a silent but deadly struggle. Reality was slipping away from them as they chased their father down into the twilight seeking to take him from them. They fed all their combined strength into his failing body, but the elven lord seemed to be unwilling or unable to grasp that lifeline to pull himself back to them. Still they refused to let go.

 

A soft, gentle touch brushed through their minds.

 

//Dear ones, let me go... do not follow where it is not your time to go...//

 

The twins hung on stubbornly. //It is *not* your time either Ada, you must fight, you must stay with us...//

 

Yet all three of them were almost gone beyond recall now.

 

Standing on the outside of the struggle, Aragorn felt a rush of ice through his veins as he realized that Legolas was right. He could possibly lose all three of them together, for his brothers were unwilling to return alone.

 

“Don’t do this, don’t go...” the human whispered hoarsely, gripping Elrond and Elrohir’s shoulders. They could not hear him; they were too far away. All his knowledge of healing could not help the ranger now, because it was not a physical malady that they were battling.

 

“Call them,” Legolas rasped quietly, his voice returning to him slowly. “Reach out and call them Estel... you are the only thing they will come back for now.” He had had a privileged look into the minds that were now sliding away from them and he knew that of which he spoke.  

 

Aragorn did not hesitate, did not question, but did as he was told. Reaching out as his father had taught him to do many years ago when he had learned to dispel the shadow cast by the black breath of the Nazgul, the human put all the strength of his love for his family into the effort, into the call.

 

“Ada, Elladan, Elrohir... come back. It is not your time, come back... I need you. Arwen needs you. Middle Earth needs you...”

 

Instantly, Aragorn seemed plunged into a world of shadows as his senses tuned out that which was visible for the strange realm of that which was not.

 

The blackness was comfortable, not frightening. Elrond was not disturbed by it and neither were the twins, not anymore. They had forgotten why they were struggling, there didn’t seem to be a point. The sky was lightening and away in the distance a beautiful dawn of light like the sun shining through reflected crystal glass was beginning to appear. They were together, all was well... and all of them felt ready to go to meet the light.

 

Then they heard a voice. It seemed to be coming from a long distance off, but all of them recognized it.

 

“Estel?” Elrond murmured questioningly, struggling through his complacency to try to ascertain where his youngest son’s voice was coming from.

 

“Ada, don’t go. Elladan, Elrohir... I need you to come back. Please... come back.”

 

Aragorn’s presence burned like a twinkling flame in the distance, on the other side of the darkness they had crossed. The three elves felt themselves drawn to it, drawn to his call.

 

“I know you want to go, but not yet,” the human’s voice pleaded from afar, getting slowly closer. “There is too much yet to be done... too many who need you. Please, do not make me the one who has to tell Arwen that her family is gone. Do not... do not leave me.”

 

The shadow world slowly dissolved before Aragorn’s eyes and he realized he was seeing the waking world around him once more, still bent close to his father and brothers. A deep, dreadful ache filled his heart for a few moments as he thought he had failed and lost them.

 

Then, Elrond’s eyes opened.

 

Elrohir started coughing and he shook his head, as if coming up from deep underwater. Elladan jerked and looked around, seeming to be unsure where he was for a moment. Both felt as if they had run thousands of leagues without rest.

 

Aragorn felt strong relief course through him and realized he was trembling. He felt so drained he thought he could sleep for a month, but his heart was light.

 

Elrond was too weak to move, but his lips curled into a soft, small smile as he looked up at his sons who had all been willing to give everything they had for him. Yes, he would stay; he would stay for them. “You’re... very persuasive Estel,” he murmured faintly.

 

Aragorn smiled, gently touching the side of his father’s face with the back of his hand. “I had a good teacher.”

 

Elrohir ran his hand through his hair with a chuckle, waiting for his ears to stop buzzing; the pain in them was slowly receding. “Let’s not take anymore little family trips like this, shall we? I don’t know about the rest of you but I do not feel very well.”

 

Elladan rolled his eyes at his brother, but could not have agreed more. Curling his arm around his stomach he sat back a little, closing his eyes. “Yes, the next time we all almost die, let’s just leave well enough alone and go quietly. Coming back is torture.”

 

Aragorn laughed and clapped his brothers on the shoulder, pushing aside his own weariness. “Well there had better not *be* a next time, how much of this do you think I can take? I’m only human.”

 

Mellon-nín,” Legolas’ soft voice nearby made them look up. “*That* would be considered an understatement.”

 

Smiling, Aragorn scooted back over to the prince. “And *you* had better not scare me like that again either,” he chided with a fond smile.

 

Legolas smiled back weakly from his father’s arms. “I’ll try not to.”

 

A peaceful expression settled on Elrond’s face as he listened to the slow return of normal joviality between the four younger beings he loved. He had been ready to leave it all behind, weary of life and missing the dear ones who had gone on before... but he could not forget how much life and light there was left for him here. “Let’s go home,” he murmured.

 

Everyone agreed. Prudence however, suggested that they stay the night in the secluded glen and begin their journey in the morning, once they had all had a chance to rest.

 

The next day everyone was stiff and sore. Aragorn had begun to keenly feel the knocks he had taken when Daradwayn collapsed and rubbed his aching head and eyes as he looked out towards the rising dawn. His arm hurt terribly where he had smashed it against the tree when Daradwayn imploded. He had been ignoring it but was beginning to think he had fractured it and perhaps his collar-bone as well. Hugging his arm tightly against his mid-section he slowly sat up and watched as the Mirkwood elves quietly disassembled their makeshift campsite.

 

“Well, you look horrible,” Legolas’ soft voice nearby made the ranger turn and smile at his friend. The prince was sitting on the ground, wrapped up in a blanket and carefully surrounded by Thranduil, Raniean and Trelan. The prince was obviously trying to ignore his hovering entourage.

 

Thranduil had finally allowed the ranger to tend his arm late last night after he was sure that Legolas really was out of danger, and it now rested comfortably in a sling, while his other protectively lay gently across his son’s blanket-clad shoulder.

 

Aragorn rolled his eyes and then grimaced because that motion gave him a headache. “You should talk, I’m not the one who almost died yesterday. How are you feeling my friend?”

 

Legolas cast a wry, meaningful glance at his father, friends and guards. “Smothered,” he said frankly, causing all of them to chuckle.

 

Raniean glared balefully at the prince as he rose. “All right Legolas, point taken. I have to see to the troops anyway. Strider, watch him. If he starts pulling his ‘everything-is-fine’ act on you, don’t believe him.”

 

Aragorn chuckled. “Don’t worry,” he winked at Legolas. “I know all his tricks.”

 

The prince pretended to pout. In truth, Legolas was still weak, but he was able to walk well enough as long as he had someone to lean upon. Given the current company, Legolas had no shortage of helpers.

 

Elrond however, was in no condition to be going anywhere under his own power. The elf lord was still too drained and even if he had had the strength, they had his broken ribs to worry about. The less he moved until they could get him back to Rivendell and better set those broken bones, the better it was. Accordingly, Elladan and Elrohir fashioned a liter for him with the help of the other wood-elf warriors.

 

Morifwen and Brenyf offered to help carry him, but it was a precious burden that the twins took upon themselves alone, although they thanked the other elves for the offer.

 

And so they started for Imladris as the morning sun rose slowly above them.

 

Legolas leaned on Aragorn’s arm, having finally managed to convince his father to give his own injuries a little rest and allow the ranger to help him instead.

 

“I would be fine on my own you know,” the prince confided in his friend. “But I have to let all of you feel useful.”

 

Aragorn chuckled. “Well thank you so much your highness, I think my life would be painfully unfulfilled if I could not drag your sorry carcass around like a-”

 

The ranger ducked the elf’s retaliatory swing only just in time, proving that neither his reflexes, nor Legolas’ aim had suffered much. Legolas winced at the abrupt removal of Aragorn’s support and reached out lightly with his other hand to catch the wall that ran the length of the glen near the pond.

 

Aragorn quickly caught his friend’s arm once more, steadying him. “Hey, are you all right?”

 

Legolas looked over with a tired, rueful grin. “Will you never outgrow useless questions?”

 

The ranger smiled. “Probably not, indulge me.”

 

“Here now, if you can’t do a proper job let someone else more competent take over,” Trelan chided Aragorn for letting the prince stumble like that, but he winked as he said it to let the ranger know he was jesting only.

 

“Well that certainly wouldn’t be you Trey,” Raniean called over his shoulder from a little ways ahead.

 

Aragorn chuckled. He remembered how frightened and uneasy he had been around these strange elves once, long ago. How formally they had treated him, watching his every move carefully lest he hurt their friend and royal charge. He was glad that the long years that flowed behind them all now had changed so much. Now they often reminded him more of the twins than anything else.

 

Thinking of his brothers made Aragorn’s roving gaze search them out. They carried Elrond on the makeshift bed between them. Elrohir caught his little brother watching them and smiled, turning to smile gently down at his father’s pale face.

 

A mischievous grin twinkled in the younger twin’s eye and a moment later his words made everyone laugh. “You know Ada, this will be a first. This time Aragorn and Legolas are walking into Imladris, and you are the one being carried.”

Chapter Text

~*PART SIXTEEN*~
~Explanations and Healing~

 

 

 

“Raniean, have you seen Legolas?” Thranduil inquired of the younger elf. Raniean and Legolas had been together in the gardens earlier in the day, but now Raniean and Trelan were lounging around a low table near the fireplace with Moranuen and Arendur, playing some game of chance that Thranduil was unfamiliar with.

 

Raniean and Trelan both started to rise quickly. Mimicking his companions, Arendur did the same. Thranduil quickly gestured them back down. There was no need for that. Bowing, Raniean and Trelan returned to their seats, once again shadowed by the young ranger who was about as nervous around the Elvenking as Strider had once been.

 

Moranuen smiled up from where he reclined on a low couch by the table. “Forgive me my Lord, I would rise, but I fear Estel or one of the Twins will pop out of the woodwork and growl at me again.” He lowered his voice and glanced conspiratorially at Arendur who had undergone the same amount of babying. “They’re everywhere you know.”

 

Arendur nearly choked laughing and Raniean and Trelan chuckled. They were greatly enjoying their stay in Rivendell. They had stayed on in the once more peaceful valley for over a month now as Elrond would not let them leave his care until he was satisfied that all his charges had been rested enough. The twins and Aragorn had seen to most of the injured and were given to prowling around the grounds to be sure no one was pushing themselves too hard. Moranuen was truly recovered more than enough to be up and about, but Estel had been very over protective of him the day before, and was quickly becoming a running joke between the guests.

 

It seemed all those who called Rivendell home were finally beginning to recuperate from the losses and wounds that the warg riders attack had inflicted upon them. The halls of Imladris held a deepened strength and a protective peace that stayed the darkness that had touched it’s soul. It was good to rest here and Thranduil was in no hurry to leave. Half of his royal contingent had been sent back to Mirkwood, the rest had remained behind with Raniean and Trelan to escort the king and his son home when they finally desired to return.

 

“I believe that Legolas is outside with Strider,” Raniean answered his liege’s question of a moment ago.

 

Moranuen grinned wickedly, shuffling through the flat playing tokens he held. “He was *far* more hurt than I, and Estel lets HIM up and about...” the playful dark-haired elf was not going to his old friend live this down any time soon.

 

“That’s because nobody tells Legolas what to do,” Trelan chuckled, laying down one of his playing pieces. “Ha! I win again. Pay up.”

 

The small elf’s companions groaned.

 

Thranduil quirked an eyebrow. “What on earth are you playing?”

 

“A game that Halbarad taught us,” Raniean said ruefully as he pushed his coins towards his friend. “I am going to get that back from you mellon-nín,” he added in a quieter, taunting tone to his short friend as Trelan made a show of gleefully collecting his winnings.

 

Arendur scowled good-naturedly. “Yes, then he literally lost his shirt and didn’t want to play anymore... I’m thinking I might join him.”

 

Thranduil chuckled. “A wise plan. Well I shall leave you to it. I wish to find Legolas.” With that the King took his leave and went again in search of his son.   His arm was nearly healed and the initial fears he had held onto so tightly after their return had waned as the days passed in the peaceful valley. Legolas grew steadily stronger and the last wisps of Thranduil’s nightmare were almost lost to memory...

 

Almost.

 

Actually, that’s what he wanted to talk to Legolas about.

 

Thranduil finally found his son laughing quietly with the ranger as the two talked and rested on the Library balcony.

 

The King stepped quietly and unnoticed out onto the huge, sweeping veranda that measured the length of the study hall and overlooked the Bruinen.

 

Aragorn burst out laughing; trying to defend whatever position he had just taken in their argument.

 

“I did not!” He challenged.

 

“You did, and you know you did. You just didn’t want anyone else to know it and I do!” Legolas countered as he lightly ducked the feinted smack.

 

“You are so...” Aragorn stopped as he caught sight of Thranduil out of the corner of his eyes. “My Lord, please.” The ranger quickly stood and offered the Sinda elf a seat on the stone couch he and Legolas occupied.

 

“I did not mean to interrupt.” Thranduil answered, suddenly very aware that he was not sure how to proceed. He had hoped that now that everything was quieting back to peacefulness and all their wounds were mending, it would be a good time to take up with Legolas the subject of his troubling dreams that they had been forced to leave unfinished that night in the orc camp.  

 

“Father, you aren’t interrupting anything, well other than Aragorn trying to profess his innocence, which no one is believing.” The elf’s light laughter caused his father to smile as the human walked behind the prince and smacked the back of the elf’s head.

 

“Careful!” Legolas protested playfully. “I’m still healing don’t you know? And Mora says we all have to be *so* careful...”

 

Aragorn rolled his eyes. “I am going to *kill* that elf for making such a big deal out of such an innocent comment.”

 

Thranduil smiled. It was good to hear his son laugh after being forced to hear him cry at the orcs’ abuse. Thranduil watched the two friends interact together. As much as he had hated the friendship and been against it in the beginning, the ranger had been good for his boy, had drawn the elf back out into the world of the living after so many years. His eyes drifted over Legolas, looking for signs of the torture to which he had been submitted.

 

There were few.

 

The prince wore an open fronted shirt. He had not laced it fully up, relaxing casually here in Rivendell as he was not privileged to do at home. Two red stripes across his chest attested to the fact he had once bore much deeper wounds. He was healing quickly in this place that seemed to weave its charm on all that stayed beneath its rafters. A slight limp was the most obvious outward marking that Legolas retained and he most often tried to hide that. As usual, the elven prince was bouncing back with his normal resiliency.

 

The human however, had not healed as fast. A bandage wrapped around his temple, winding through the curly locks of wayward hair that hung about his face. His shirt was unfastened as well but for a totally different reason than Legolas’. Thranduil could see the cloths that bound the wounds to his collarbone and shoulder and his arm rested in a homemade sling that Elrond had contrived. He moved stiffly and much slower than his immortal friend. Carefully he removed his still healing arm from its restraint and shifted it painfully.

 

Legolas’ reprimand brought the king out of his musings. He watched with humor as the prince jumped to his feet and gently, but forcefully made the human use the sling once more.

 

“And where do they get off teasing *me* anyway? You’re worse than Elladan!” Aragorn fidgeted with the cloth restraint and moved out of the elf’s reach, “Stop it!” The ranger laughed, unable to escape the elf’s ministrations.

 

“Father, help me here will you?” Legolas laughed as he forced the ranger back down on the stone divan. As the younger elf leaned over, Thranduil could see that many of the other marks on the prince’s chest were still in various stages of healing. It brought home again the reason why the elf lord had set out to find his son.

 

“Legolas, I sought you out for a very different reason my son.” The elf lord sighed slightly.

 

“What is it father?” The two friends immediately felt the change in the older elf. Legolas was leaning gently on the ranger’s shoulders, careful of the human’s wounds.

 

“I wanted to continue our talk from the day we were captured by the orcs.” Thranduil answered softly. Part of him was afraid his son would shy from him again and part of him wanted nothing more than to demand the information at once. Something had happened that Legolas felt unwilling to share and that frightened him more than he wanted to admit.

 

Legolas’ eyes shadowed slightly. He had hoped that topic could remain forgotten. That confirmed Thranduil’s suspicions. His son was hiding something.

 

“I’ll leave you two alone then.” Aragorn broke the awkward silence as he stood to his feet. This was obviously something between the king and his son and the ranger knew when it was best to let those things stay within the family. However, he was stopped from leaving when Legolas’ hand clamped around his wrist and held him in place.

 

“I would that you stayed.” Legolas’ eyes implored his friend not to go. He could not answer his father’s questions, he couldn’t.

 

“Legolas...” Aragorn was suddenly at a loss. He glanced between the king and his son. “I’m not sure I can help here.”

 

Legolas had not turned to look at his father. He could not meet Thranduil’s gaze, he feared his soul would give his secrets away, so he kept his eyes locked onto the ranger’s silver ones.

 

“My father has had nightmares about me.” Legolas did not release the human as he explained, “He... saw me beg someone to end my life.”

 

Aragorn shot the king a surprised glance. He had not realized that all elves had some small abilities in foreseeing. The Sindar elf lord’s abilities were minor and latent at that but they were there. Thranduil had not realized that part of what he had seen had been the past and part the future. It laid heavily on his mind that some event yet to come might still take his son from him. He needed the truth, but Legolas could not give it to him.

 

“I...” Legolas’ soft voice faltered, “I cannot tell him Aragorn. Will you answer his questions for me?” The plea was nearly a whisper.

 

“Oh, Legolas.” Aragorn shook his head slowly, he knew exactly what the elf was asking of him and wasn’t sure he had the courage to tell his friend’s father either. Relating the story once to his own family had been bad enough; telling it to Thranduil, in front of Legolas no less, was *not* something he had expected to be called upon to do.

 

“Please, mellon-nín.”

 

The look of utter horror and shame that radiated from the prince’s eyes drove straight through the ranger’s heart. He could not tell Legolas no.

 

Gently, Aragorn squeezed Legolas’ hand that wrapped so tightly about his wrist.

 

“I will.” He whispered before turning back to Thranduil.

 

Legolas walked to the far side of the balcony, his back turned to the elf and the human. He could not bear to watch his father’s reactions. Leaning against the balustrade he closed his eyes and listened as Aragorn quietly began to speak.

 

“What would you like to know?” the ranger asked somewhat hesitantly. He seated himself on the opposite edge of the bench as far from the Elvenking as possible. He glanced up hesitantly at the older elf through the hair that fell into his face. It was hard not to fidget.

 

“What is so terrible that my son cannot tell me himself?” Thranduil stared at the prince’s hunched shoulders with growing alarm. It was unlike Legolas to react to anything like this. “Has what I saw *already* happened?” His fear mounted even as he asked the question.

 

Drawing a deep breath, Aragorn pushed the hair out of his eyes with his good hand. Resting his elbow on his knee he braced his forehead against the palm of his hand, unwillingly to look into the king’s eyes. “Yes, my lord, it has already happened.” His voice a whisper. He knew the elf could hear him. Both elves could hear him.

 

“Do you have an explanation for that answer?” Thranduil’s voice was a trifle sharp, but it always came across more sternly when he was upset.

 

“Father.” Legolas’ quiet plea checked the older elf. He already felt miserable for sticking Aragorn in the middle like this, the last thing he wanted was for his father to be upset with his friend for undertaking the task. “Tell him everything Aragorn.”

 

“Forgive me,” Thranduil apologized as the ranger glanced back at him. “Please continue.”

 

“When Legolas came out to visit me in Gondor, he became inadvertently involved in a conspiracy stirred up by a traitor to the Steward of Gondor. During one of the battles Legolas was captured by the Corsairs and I lost him.” Aragorn swallowed hard, shaking his head with the dark memories the confession was stirring up.

 

Thranduil’s frown deepened. He had heard of the Corsairs, but nothing that shed any light on the ranger’s tale.

 

After a few moments of collecting his thoughts Aragorn continued. There was no other way to tell the elf lord what had happened than to be straightforward with him.

 

“The Corsairs deal in slave trading. Among other things, they supply Mordor with its cache of slaves.” The ranger winced as Thranduil gasped quietly. His voice lowered a notch as he picked up the story; “I tracked Legolas as soon as I was able to. He had been taken to Mordor and sold to a band of orcs that were procuring slaves for Sauron. When I finally caught up with them Legolas had been separated from the humans and the orcs were using him for sport.” Aragorn’s voice dropped to a mere whisper.

 

“He...” closing his eyes, the man sighed deeply and forged on, “Your son begged me to take his life before the orcs could follow through on all they had planned for him. His light was gone and he wanted to leave,” Aragorn stopped speaking. Even now so long past, the events of that time hurt his heart deeply.

 

Legolas’ knuckles whitened against the balustrade and his head slid forward to rest on his clenched fists. He knew this was an unavoidable revelation now, but he had not wanted his father to know this, not ever. Perhaps it was dishonest of him, but he desperately had not wanted the Elvenking to know his son’s unforgivable weaknesses and how far he had been broken. Legolas knew he could not lose Thranduil’s love, but he dreaded losing his respect almost as much. He was so ashamed he had trouble breathing and his eyes burned.

 

Thranduil was surprised to see tears form in the corners of the ranger’s eyes as he spoke.

 

“I could not.” Aragorn choked out the words. A soft sob from the elven prince made the ranger wince and he caught his breath. “I couldn’t. I couldn’t free him right away either, but later that night Ilúvatar gave us the chance we needed and we both escaped.” He shortened the version of the tale he told the elf lord. That they had been recaptured and escaped a second time was something he had not the heart to tell the father that sat across from him.

 

“He showed remarkable strength throughout or escape, even having to take care of me when my own folly rendered me defenseless,” the ranger added quickly as he watched the anguish and shock playing across the Elvenking’s features. The *last* thing the ranger wanted to do was damage Thranduil’s image of his son, he knew how important it was to Legolas for his father to think highly of him.

 

The look on Thranduil’s face and the pain resurfacing in his own heart was too much. Turning towards Legolas Aragorn begged to be released from the retelling, “Mellon-nín, please...”

 

When Legolas turned towards the ranger, tears were streaming down his face. “Ada, forgive me.”

 

Thranduil was on his feet in an instant. Rushing forward he pulled the younger elf against him. “Greenleaf... Tyndolhen.” He used the name Legolas’ mother had always called him by. He had not done that in many, many, years. “There is nothing to forgive.” He whispered as Legolas buried his face against his father’s shoulder.

 

Quietly, Aragorn stood to his feet and headed back into the library intending to leave the two elves alone. A soft, broken voice called to him before he could escape.

 

Hannon le, mellon-nín.” Legolas whispered softly. He was staring at the ranger over his father’s shoulder. Thranduil had not yet released him, unwilling to let go after learning the terrible truth about his nightmares.

 

At the sounds of the quiet thanks, Thranduil turned to look at the man, his hand protectively covering his son’s head, holding him gently in place. “Yes, thank you.”

 

With a slight bow, Aragorn excused himself. His gaze locked onto Legolas’ for a brief moment and he could read the relief and gratitude there in the blue depths. The ranger smiled and nodded at his friend, it would be well. He needed to go find his own father. Right now he needed to be with his family as much as Legolas and Thranduil needed time alone. Quietly he slipped out of the library and headed for the northernmost balcony. He was sure he would find Elrond there.

 

 

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

 

 

The eastward mountains of the hidden vale of Imladris were cloaked in the last rays of the setting sun. The high peaks colored in a deepening crimson reflected the light and kept the last Homely House warm late into the evening. Drafts of cooling breezes wafted up from the Bruinen below.

 

Elrond was seated on the northernmost balcony of Imladris his thoughts far away; his eyes slightly glazed–over, lost in memory. Absently he touched the bandage that wrapped around his head. The gash to his temple was healing well, if slowly. The rest of his wounds were nearly imperceptible, the ones on his heart were still open and tender. He did not notice when Elrohir walked up the steps on his right and quietly seated himself on the floor next to the cushioned bench that his father sat on. The youngest of the twins leaned back against the bench, a small sigh escaping his lips as he gazed across the vale.

 

He loved this balcony. It held many memories for him; it was a refuge. Elrohir started ever so slightly as Elrond’s hand rested gently on his head.

 

Barely turning beneath his father’s touch Elrohir glanced up at the elven lord.

 

“Ada, are you all right?” His soft question could barely be heard over the sounds of the rushing river and the noises of the woods about them.

 

“I will be.” Elrond’s deep voice held a weariness to it that echoed in the elven twin’s heart. Elrohir leaned against his father’s leg and nodded in understanding. The past month had been hard. It was still difficult to believe that they had all made it out alive and he found himself at times surprised by the relief that flooded through him. It had affected them all. Elrohir had caught his father on several nights simply standing in one of their doorways watching his sons sleeping. Last night Aragorn had awoken to find the elven lord asleep in his room, sitting in the large chair that occupied one corner of his bedchambers.

 

The silence stretched comfortably between the two elves. It was good to simply sit near one another; there was no need for speaking.

 

A soft chuckle from the elf lord broke the silence and Elrohir glanced up once more to see his father smiling. Before he could question Elrond, the elf spoke quietly.

 

“Estel, come and sit with us, it is warmer out here than there in the shadows.”

 

With a start Elrohir leaned around the couch and caught sight of his human brother standing to the back of the veranda, wedged into a corner. The sling on his left arm and the bandage that could barely be seen underneath his collar stood out in stark contrast to the darker colored tunic he wore. The loose fitting shirt was untied at the top, allowing for ease of movement with his still healing wounds. He smiled slightly at the two elves, a weary, contented smile.

 

“How long have you been there?” Elrohir questioned playfully, the corners of his lips turning up slightly, mirroring the smile on the man’s face.

 

“Long enough to wonder if the two of you had fallen asleep out here.” Aragorn laughed softly as he stepped from the shadows. As he approached, Elrohir could see he held a thick blanket about his shoulders. This time of the evening it was chilly on the balcony, something that the elves he lived with did not experience. Pulling the warm covering tighter about him, Aragorn sat down on Elrond’s left, his gaze easily falling to rest on the far mountains.

 

The sun had fled the valley and the mountainside was clothed in shades of purple and blue as night chased the light from the sky above them, replacing the sun with its softer, mirrored glow. Celboril could be seen in the garden below lighting the lamps set about the house. He moved stiffly and slowly but would not allow anyone to help him, his pride having gotten the better of him. It had just been a few days since Elrond had given him the permission to do anything in the house other than rest.

 

“What were you thinking?” Aragorn asked quietly, unwilling to disturb the peace that had settled into once more.

 

The question struck the elf lord as odd and he turned to face his youngest son.

 

“Its just that...well you seemed lost in thought.” Estel explained himself further, “And I wondered where you were when I was watching you.”

 

The smile that spread across Elrond’s face was hesitantly mirrored in the human. “She would have loved you.” He answered quietly, gently brushing Aragorn’s hair out of his eyes as he had when the man was much younger, “You do have her heart.” Elrond swallowed hard, his eyes tracking back out across the valley.

 

Aragorn was beginning to think that he had spoken when he shouldn’t have but his father’s soft voice banished the thoughts. “Celebrìan would often ask me that very same question when she found me out here.” He smiled once more but the laughter did not reach his eyes this time. “I was remembering her. Remembering those days after she was returned home and how desperate I was to keep her near me and never let her go again...ever.” His voice trailed off as old emotions surfaced. “I could not understand her pain. Her desire to leave this world...to leave us.”

 

“Ada, you do not have to...” Elrohir was interrupted as his father gently shushed him.

 

“But I do.” Elrond glanced between his sons, one human and one elven. “For you see, I understand now why she had to go. I understand how deeply her heart was wounded by the evil that touched her.”

 

“You cannot think to go. You cannot leave.” Aragorn panicked, he couldn’t fathom being in the world without his father. After all they had just gone through to save, losing him now was horribly unthinkable. His silver eyes searched the blue ones that turned towards him. “Please...”

 

“Estel,” Elrond quieted the man, his hand gently touching the ranger’s face, “I have no intentions of leaving any time soon my son. I was merely telling you that I understood her need to leave. She is well and whole where she is and I would not wish her back to this place though my heart has long desired it. You asked me what I was thinking and I was thinking of her and telling her in my mind that I have accepted it. I am at peace now with her leaving and I am very glad that she was not here to see what happened in her beloved house. That was all, you need not fear.”

 

“Besides,” Elrohir spoke up, his tone hiding a hint of mirth, “If father left now you and Legolas would surely get each other killed one way or another.”

 

“I heard that!”

 

Their attention was diverted as Legolas stepped out onto the balcony. Night had fallen and the stars twinkled brightly above. The prince’s soft glow lit the stones beneath his feet as he walked towards them. He smiled as he watched Aragorn, “And I take exception to it as well. I would most certainly never get Estel killed. *He* on the other hand excels at getting us into the most dire predicaments.” The prince laughed as Aragorn stammered in protest. “Do not argue the point my friend. Who was it that dragged us beneath the falls, down Dwarven water holes and into an orcs den, and not for the first time mind you?!”

 

“What?!” The ranger followed the elven prince with his gaze as Legolas walked around them, stopping in front of his friend and leaning stiffly against the ornate balustrade. “That was the first time we have ever been there and it saved your life if I recall.”

 

“It certainly wasn’t the first time we have been up against more orcs than I have ever cared to witness,” he forestalled the inevitable argument, raising his voice above the rangers, “nor the first time that I have been in Dwarven halls and tunnels.”

 

“Probably not the last either.” Elrohir commented darkly from his seat on the floor.

 

“Elrohir, you are not helping.” Aragorn growled at his brother. “Besides if I recall it was not *I* who led us into Mordor, nor *I* who took us home from Bree by way of the shale valley, nor *I* who nearly got us hung for chicken thieving.”

 

“By the Valar what did they do to you during your stay in Harad? You have the memory of an oliphaunt!” Legolas teasingly kicked his friend’s booted foot. “And you blame those instances on me?” He asked, disbelieving.

 

“Silence the two of you, the evening *was* peaceful.” Elrond half teasingly stopped the age-old argument. He pulled Aragorn close, his arm tightening around the human’s shoulder, “No one is going anywhere for a very long time. Including you, young prince, nor your father, not until both of you are more fully healed. This family needs the rest and the only way I seem to be able to get any of that is by keeping the two of you within my sights. There will be no Grey Havens for any of us for quite a while I do believe.”

 

“Ada always wins.” Aragorn teased softly as he glanced at Legolas.

 

“Yes, that is why I am the Adar and you are not.” Elrond kissed the top of Estel’s head before releasing him.

 

Elrohir, who had remained mostly quiet for the entire exchange, spoke into the silence that followed, “I am glad everyone will be staying on for a time, I have missed having you here Estel. You have grown into an adult so fast and it seems that we have missed it all.”

 

“And we have.” An identical voice echoed from the archway into the house. Elladan walked out and nudged his twin gently with his knee. “Glorfindel says that dinner is ready. He would like to know if you want it served in the dinning hall or on your balcony?” The eldest twin directed his question to Elrond.

 

The elf lord raised one eyebrow and tried to stifle the smile that tugged at his lips, “Glorfindel?”

 

Elladan was not so successful at hiding his mirth, “It seems that he was caught near the kitchens earlier and Celboril, thinking he had nothing better to be about than snooping around his work area, commandeered him and gave him something useful to do.” The snicker of the elves seated around Elrond provoked the mirth in the older elf and he could not contain himself. “At least that is what Glorfindel said.”

 

“Well then I am afraid I will never hear the end of this. I asked Glorfindel to check in on Celboril to make sure he wasn’t over-stressing himself. I hadn’t thought he would be clumsy enough to be caught.” Elrond laughed, standing slowly to his feet. “In that event I suggest we take our dinner out on the balcony or I fear we shall have to endure the Balrog Slayer’s wrath all evening, you know he hates the kitchens.”

 

Elladan chuckled. “Well, I have word that Beoma heard what happened from some of the wood-elf warriors on their way home and is on his way here. So we should have no lacking of help in the kitchen soon.”

 

Elrohir seemed delighted. “Honey cakes!” he said with a laugh. Both the twins loved the old Beorning baker. Obviously the feeling was reciprocal considering the journey Beoma was making just to help his elven friends.

 

Legolas helped Aragorn stand and Elrohir rose stiffly next to him. They were all in various stages of healing and the little party moved slowly into the inner chambers.

 

“Shall I fetch Lord Thranduil?” Elladan offered.

 

With a laugh Legolas declined, “No, but I thank you. I think I shall bring father myself. I have seen Glorfindel when he is angry and do not wish to suffer his displeasure again.” The elven prince moved in the opposite direction as they gained the upper hallway.

 

“Oh and when was that?” Elrond turned an inquisitive look on his young guest. Behind him Aragorn was making shushing motions trying to get his friend not to speak.

 

“Well it was when he caught Estel in his...” Legolas’ tale was cut off as Aragorn stepped around his father and pushed his friend down the hallway.

 

“Enough, Legolas. My father does not need to hear *that* tale, right now!” He growled as he steered his friend away from his family.

 

“When shall he know then?” The prince giggled as Elrond called out to the human to explain further.

 

“About the same time I tell him of Kaldur’s fate.” Aragorn whispered fiercely, wincing as his father called to him again. “And if you are not careful that will be sooner than I wish!”

 

“We shall meet on the terrace gwador-nín.” Legolas replied for the human’s ears only, “And may the Valar be with you. I would love to hear how you get out of this one.”

 

“You will be the death of me yet.” Aragorn chided playfully.

 

“Funny, that’s what father’s always saying about you!” Legolas called back as he stepped away to retrieve the elf in question.

 

“Estel.” Elrond’s voice stopped whatever retort Aragorn had in mind, “Walk with me my son, I believe there are some things you and I should discuss.” With a shake of his head Aragorn stepped back next to his father, allowing the elven lord to pull him in close. He treasured these times with his father and brothers, all of them, especially the ones that fate had brought to him. He glanced over his shoulder as Legolas knocked softly on Lord Thranduil’s chambers, entering the room with a smile.

 

Turning back to his own father, Aragorn blushed as Lord Elrond’s questions were met with elven laughter and the young human in their midst tried to talk his way out of trouble once more.

 

 

 

The End