Thranduil gazed down his nose as the frail elven creature attempted to stand on her own, with her knees quaking and honey-brown eyes glazed over with pain. Dirt trailed its way across her sallow face, down her neck and arms, and her thick mahogany hair was uneven in places and tangled about her shoulders. She did not lift her eyes to him, but shook only a few paces before him. She was small, even for one of the Maghi, the ancient, quiet race elves with the blood of the Numenoreans. They lived to the North, and within the last decade, prey to attacks of Wild Men, bearing the image of the red eye.
They had been all but eradicated, a few stragglers drifting into the greenwood, to Imladris, begging for help. He gave them rooms and food, but so few remained now. Many passed onto the fade, some even electing to sail for the Undying lands.
But...this, this waif in front of him breathed through chapped lips and covered yellowing bruises with frail hands.
“M-my lord...” she stammered, voice a soft rasp of breath. He swept to the side, and placed a regal long-fingered hand on top of her head.
“Silence.” He murmured, before glancing sideways at one of the stoic guards, “bring her to a fresh room. And do clean her.”
The guard nodded, eyes averted from his king, and nodded briskly. With one swift movement, he lifted the tiny, dirty creature into his armored arms.
“Do be gentle.” Thranduil murmured, and the guard paused at the unusual softness in the king’s voice, but the king was turned away from the guard and barely struggling creature. She lay listless in the armored arms, skin quivering with an unfelt chill. Her eyes dropping.
“T-thank...thank-k-k y-you...” she whispered, breath heavy.
Thranduil waved them away, eyes straight ahead, absently swirling the red wine in his goblet. Abruptly, he turned and leveled his gaze on the remaining soldier, who had a distasteful look on his face.
“Give me a report on her.” The guard snapped to attention, “Now.” The guard scurried off, in the direction of the previous one.
The creature weighed on his mind. When the caravan stopped in the usual trading grounds - far from the palace naturally - strange murmuring reached him immediately. These troubled him as they mentioned an elven maiden, manacled to the back of wooden wagon. Thranduil deigned to investigate this himself as many came to him, nervous and perturbed by this sight.
Upon arriving at the merchant camp, he sought the slave immediately, and when he saw her, pitifully crumbled beneath the wagon, her brown eyes locked with his. She did not plead or call out to him. Instead, she returned his gaze, until the caravan leader - Samhi - interrupted them. Samhi was loathe to part with his prize, but only a fool denied the king his desire. Even Thorin caved eventually, so this grime was no match. Thranduil informed the merchant he needed a new wash maid.
So she was unceremoniously slung over the rump of a soldier’s horse, and they trotted away. Once safely in their borders, she was taken down and wrapped in a warm cloak. Thranduil oversaw two soldiers as they gave her fresh water to drink, the droplets soaking into her parched lips.
Once again her eyes zoomed in on his, caught and held them.
He slightly turned to a guard walking below his horse, “Return to Samhi and inform him not to travel the eastern path, although it is the shorter route to Dale.”
“My lord?” the guard’s brows furrowed.
“Samhi will know that the Western road takes him away from the river. A meandering route.”
The guard suppressed a smile, and bowed low. “It would be my pleasure, my lord.”
“This is not about pleasure,” Thranduil growled, “but honor.”
Once the guard disappeared behind them and the young maid was carefully cradled on a free horse, a guard behind her, keeping her upright, he wheeled his horse around, coming abreast of the captain of the guard, Lildar, brother to Haldir.
“There will be tresspassers on the Eastern Road, keep a keen eye, and make certain they do not leave our borders alive.” Lildar nodded grimly, eyes flicking to the swaying figure on the horse. He did not nod or turn away.
“Yes, my lord.”
Thranduil nodded, and quickened his pace.
Now, as he stood at the edge of one of the clear water rivers that ran through the underground palace, the image of the elven maiden drifted in his mind. It was indeed a very disturbing turn of events.
“My lord,” the soft voice interrupted his train of thought. With a wave of a hand he encouraged the healer to continue.
“We have...bathed the maiden and put her to sleep.” the healer gulped, “She was very frail, my lord. And...wounded.”
“My lord...it is a private matter.” Thranduil’s jaw clenched.
So that merchant scum used her for his apish pleasure? Defiled her as she was some orc? He slammed the goblet down, and with a quick turn, stalked out of the room. The healer’s head was downcast, but tracks of tears dampened her face.
She slept for three days, her bruises disappearing as healers tended her. They brushed out her hair, and changed her blankets, dripping water into her mouth every few hours. Slowly, too slowly for Thranduil’s liking, her breathing evened, the rasping sound fading with the hours. He came to check her progress once each day, watching the healers as they administrated athelas and murmured incantations to the stars over her prone form.
On the fourth day, the healer’s informed him she awoke briefly, her croaking gratitudes bringing even the guards to tears before she drifted to slumber once again. Thranduil nodded solemnly. He looked down at her, the shorn sections of her scalp hidden now by braids. Silver threads of luck were twirled into the hair, but only made her pale skin look sallower.
He bent down, and brushed his fingers across her forehead. “She is feverish.”
He cast a look at the healer.
“Yes, my lord.” the healer replied, pausing her work in crushing fresh smelling herbs. “It comes and goes.”
Thranduil stood up straight, looking at her peaceful form. But he knew the storm that brew underneath, he could feel the fear even as she slept.
“When she awakens next,” he draped his heavy silver robe over the maiden, “I wish to speak with her.”
The healer nodded. “My lord?” the healer’s whispered voice made him slow.
“Have the merchants taken the Eastern road yet?”
“Not yet,” Thranduil opened the solid white wood door, “but they will.”
And with finality, he firmly shut the door and stood in the quiet, empty hallway. The smooth floors reflected the soft encased starlight. The scent of the night blooming flowers - always pleasant favorites of his - filled the palace like mid-morning fog. But tonight...tonight it seemed all too dull. The flowers, the starlight all dimmed beneath his ire.
The circumstances surrounding the ill elven maiden in the room behind him troubled him. Troubled him more than Thorin’s disasterous quest. For long now, he dismissed the faint rumors of elven slave traders. Elrond first spoke of these rumors at the Autumn council. The refugees of the Maghi fervently whispered of this, their eyes barely hiding their fear. Even Thorin, upstart King Under the Mountain agreed that in recent years, certain merchants asked unseemly questions.
But the body he now held safely in his realm proved these rumors to have some weight to them afterall. His thoughts flickered to his son, Legolas, who still wandered the wilds with Dunedain and that impish Dwarf, Gimli. He believed Legolas to care for himself, and to remain safe with the rangers of the north. Still, this was ill-fated news indeed.
First, fire-drakes, then the rise of the Sauron and the destruction of his power, and now this? It seemed petty almost, to deal in the trade of the living. First, the Maghi, who next? His realm needed stability, not the fear of a slave trade. But how? Who would desire to deal with the wrath of the Elves? He must send word to Galadriel and Elrond, possibly his kinsmen, Turin to the far west, in Belriand. He took off to his study, to deliberate further on how best to speak of this news. This was no mere problem. A council must be held.
Feeding trails of Maghi refugees was one thing, protecting them from slave traders was another.