Disclaimer: I do not own anything except for my OC's (Huledin, and Eriphael). Everything else is Tolkien's.
The sun's warm, golden rays draped the proud shoulders of a blonde elf. Though a few white, puffy clouds dotted the sky, they seemed to bear no promise of rain for the time being. Birds fluttered through the air, chirping a variety of melodies. A slight breeze caressed everything it touched as it floated along. The air was sweet, light, and soothing. Legolas clucked softly, bringing his gray mare to a halt.
From his position on the cliff, he surveyed the scene below with a smile. Lush, green life covered almost every part of the Hidden Valley. The trees murmured happily as their new leaves rustled as they swayed back and forth in a carefree manner. Bright red, orange, and green fruits hung amidst the boughs of some of the trees. Flowers and blades of grass poked their heads out of the warm earth. The excited chatter of various creatures scampering around enjoying the effect of spring on their home reached his keen ears. His sapphire blue eyes drifted to a roaring waterfall in the distance. The hint of a rainbow as a result of the light danced around the rocks at the bottom of the falls. Finally, his attention was drawn to the heart of Imladris where the Last Homely House stood. Colorful flowers and trees adorned the house and its grounds. To the prince, its beauty and serenity seemed to promise happiness, peace, and rest.
With a gentle nudge to the side of the mare, he eagerly maneuvered her towards the path into the valley. The escort of elves behind him followed their liege silently, not wishing to disturb the tranquility of the atmosphere. "Clip-clop" sounded quietly on the small stones from the horses' hooves while they made their way down.
Inhaling deeply, Legolas sniffed the nectarous aroma of flowers, filling his whole being with pleasure. The scent of roses, daisies, dandelions, violets, buttercups, and tulips pleased his senses. He relished the feeling of tension slowly leaving his body. It was if his whole body was sighing gratefully. The ache of travel left his bones. His bow, quiver, and knives strapped to his back did not seem so heavy anymore. The burdensome, draining weight of world that came with performing his duties as a royal of Mirkwood lessened. It has truly been a long, hard year. Glancing behind him, the prince observed his guard, all dressed in the same earthy green traveling garb he wore. A twinkle appeared in his eyes as their creases, carved on their faces from months of worry, slowly disappeared. It would appear that this year has been difficult on everyone.
The elf's thoughts were no exaggeration. The events in Mirkwood had pushed many hardened warriors to their limits, no more so than Legolas and his patrol. Hordes of spiders had gotten bolder, attacking more frequently than ever before. Their webs ensnared forest creatures, birds, and elves, especially elflings. As the protectors of their realm, several patrols of warriors had set out to vanquish the evil beasts. Two patrols had not come back, and numerous other elves had been wounded by the spiders. Inwardly, the prince cringed at the memories of he, Thranduil, and the other captains informing the fallen elves' families of their loss. The whole process left Legolas with a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
A little over a month after the battle with the spiders, orcs began ravaging the forest. Once more, Thranduil summoned the soldiers of Mirkwood to eliminate the threat. Finishing the orcs became an ordeal that had lasted ten months. The elves would take care of one legion of orcs only to be notified by scouts about the arrival of a new orc pack in another part of the forest. The fights that took place were bloody, gruesome, and lengthy. It felt that for every orc they slayed with arrow, knife, and sword, another orc took its place. The elves had fought off orcs and orc raids in the past, but this year's attacks were just more brutal and tougher to repel.
Despite the hardships, they fought against the darkness as they always had, with the resilience of their race. Legolas' patrol, along with one other, saw the most action and engaged in the most battles. They paid dearly for it. The monsters gradually decimated them. By the end of all the fighting, half of the soldiers under the prince's command were dead. They were my friends, my gwadors in arms.
Each passing hurt, but the death of one in particular pained him the most. Legolas shut his eyes tightly and an almost imperceptible shiver ran through him as he remembered Huledin's demise. He was still haunted by the image of one of his closest friends staring blankly at the sky with a black, crude arrow embedded deeply in his stomach. It had taken three days after their return to his adar's halls for Thranduil to convince his son to sleep. Even then the sleep was not peaceful. His nightmares required his adar to awaken him several times during the night.
In the weeks following Huledin's death, Mirkwood's prince was not his usual lively self. Instead, he was quiet, sad, and withdrawn. Having learned from the way that Legolas dealt with death of the queen, the king refused to allow his son to fade because of his grief. Thranduil rallied around the younger elf. With much care and love, the older elf gently peeled away the prince's defenses and convinced him to share and release his sorrow. The two spent an entire night in the embrace of each other, one elf sobbing his heart out, the other elf consoling. Legolas changed for the better after that, but he was still weary in both heart and body.
Recognizing his son needed a break, Thranduil had strictly ordered Legolas to take the elves under his command, and to go spend the summer in Imladris. The prince's lips curled upward as he fondly recalled his adar forgoing his customary requirement of making Legolas promise to not get into any trouble, as long as the young elf promised to have fun. To be honest with myself, I am looking forward to a few pranks at Elladan and Elrohir's expense. A few days of casual hunting would also be nice. I almost forgot that Aragorn will be here in Imladris. His last letter indicated that he intended to spend the summer here too. According to his plans, he should have arrived over a month ago. It will be wonderful to be carefree again!
Abruptly, a cheerful voice broke off the prince's musings."What are you smiling at, your highness?" questioned an elf as he pulled his own horse up alongside Legolas' own. A cheeky grin plastered the firstborn's youthful face. His facial features were fair to the eye, not sharp like those of some elves. His braided hair was a shade of light brown with a few detectable highlights of brownish-gold. The green of his tunic contrasted with the bright green of his eyes.
The elf atop the gray mare growled while nudging the newcomer in the ribs with his elbow, "You know I hate it when you refer to me as 'your highness' outside a formal occasion, Eriphael!" Before the brown-haired elf could retort, Legolas continued in a pleasant, innocent tone, "I was simply smiling at the image of you looking like a drowned rat after I personally dunk you under one of the waterfalls. And do you know what makes the image even funnier, mellon nin? The fact that it will only be the first out of numerous times that I will dunk you before we return to the Woodland Realm."
The mock expression of shock and indignation on Eriphael's face caused Legolas to laugh out loud. Eriphael crossed his arms, faking a pout. "Just because you are my prince does not mean I will protect you from or resist from participating in certain prank wars."
"Are you suggesting that you would forsake the sacred oath that you took as an archer and warrior to protect Mirkwood's forest, people, and especially her rulers," inquired the prince coldly, sounding very much like Thranduil at the moment.
The warrior resisted the urge to quake at not only the tone, but also at the sight of the other elf who had a brow raised and an icy stare that could skewer a wild boar. A sparkle in Legolas's eye assured Eriphael that his friend only jested, still, he was very convincing. Resisting the urge to stammer, Eriphael replied with a shrug, "Of course not. I was merely informing you of the likely consequences that the action of nearly drowning me can have, should you decide to go through with your cruel plan."
Suddenly, a frown appeared on Legolas' face. By this time, the group of elves had reached the floor of the valley and were less than half an hour from arriving at Lord Elrond's doorstep. Perplexed, the prince glanced around. "What do you sense, Legolas? What is the matter?" asked Eriphael, his hand hovering above the knives on his back, just in case.
The elf answered solemnly, his frown deepening, "It is what I do not sense that troubles me. We should have been met by guards by now. They have either abandoned their posts or they are being put to use elsewhere. It is the likelihood of the second option being the case that causes me worry." Legolas paused, closing his eyes. "Mellon, can you hear what sounds like faint calls?
Honing his senses to focus on the sounds of the valley, the warrior concentrated. After a few seconds, he reported, "Aye, they are indeed calls made in the elvish tongue. Yet, I cannot make out the words. They sound distressed, but the elves are not in trouble. It as if they are searching for someone."
Nodding his head in agreement, the prince called out for the elves behind him to be alert and ready in case there was any danger lurking about. Turning back to Eriphael, his countenance was no longer that of one who was carefree, instead it was the expression of one on high alert. The fear of uncertainty clouded his blue eyes slightly. "Come, the sooner we reach Lord Elrond's place, the sooner we can be informed of the trouble and assist if we are needed." With a sharp cluck of his tongue, he urged his mare into a canter. The rest of the elves followed suit.
Within minutes, the group was halting their horses at the entrance of the Last Homely House. An elf wearing a periwinkle tunic rushed out to meet them. He quickly adjusted the circlet that sat awry on his head. He bowed low. "Mae govannen, Prince Legolas Thranduilion of Mirkwood. It is an honor to host you and your company."
The blonde elf dismounted and returned the bow, "Hannon le, Erestor. The King of Mirkwood sends his greetings and gratitude to the Lord Elrond of Imladris." He eyed Erestor's disheveled appearance, noting the bags under the elf's eyes. The facts that Elrond was not present and that Erestor had made no mention of him coming out momentarily to meet Legolas, who he considered as a fourth son, further affirmed the fact that not all was well.
"I sense that something is not right. Erestor, tell me what has happened?" The advisor shifted uncomfortably, as if he was trying to decide what to disclose. The prince's voice hardened, leaving no room for argument, "Do not try to hide anything from me, especially if it concerns Lord Elrond, Elladan, Elrohir, or Aragorn." At the sound of Aragorn's name Erestor cringed slightly. Legolas' heart plunged. Oh no, not Estel. Valar if he has…
"Aragorn is missing. He sent word last month that he was going to be delayed for two weeks. Now, he is a over a week and a half overdue and we have heard nothing. Elladan and Elrohir rode out to see if there was any word of him, but they heard none." Erestor wearily dragged a hand down his face. "The rangers don't even know where he is. We are searching the valley, along with some of the nearby towns. We have searched non-stop for the last three days."
Reining in the urge to panic, Legolas shakily asked, "So you know nothing? Surely, Estel must have left behind a clue."
The advisor shook his head, "No,there is no trace of him. His last known location was with the rangers over near the Shire. The day before he left them, he sent word with a ranger traveling here that he wanted to check on something. The next day Aragorn left, headed in the direction of Imladris. No word has been heard of him since."
Legolas' thoughts were racing. Oh Aragorn, mellon nin, why did you not leave us more information to work with?! You could be dead for all we know! Or worse, dying. And there is nothing we can do because we can't find you! Humans can be so dumb and careless! On the outside he displayed none of his feelings. His face a neutral mask of calm. A mask that could shatter at any moment. No, I cannot lose it. Aragorn needs me. I need to be strong. Forcefully, he pushed his emotions of worry about Estel's well-being aside, along with the fatigue from his long trip from Mirkwood. "Where have you not looked, Erestor? My escort and I will begin searching there."
"Legolas, I know you want to help, but you have had a long journey. Even I can tell you are weary, though you are trying to hide it." Holding up his hand to still any protests, the advisor continued. "Lord Elrond is out with his sons, looking for Aragorn. However, if he was here, he would insist that you rest. You will be of no help to Aragorn if you collapse from exhaustion." Recognizing the signs of resistance in the young elf, Erestor lowered his voice so that only the prince could hear and played his trump card, "If you will not rest for your, or Aragorn's sake, then think of your escort. They are exhausted, they need rest. Please, just rest for the night. Then you can set out refreshed at dawn tomorrow. It is in the best interest of everyone."
The blonde elf warred within himself. He wanted to grant the elves under him some much needed rest. Yet, he yearned to find his friend and ensure himself of Estel's safety. His heart Knew that something was Terribly wrong. Aragorn would never worry his family and friends like this without reason. He was either kidnapped, severely injured, or, Valar forbid, dead. Time was not on Aragorn's side. While the duty of friendship called for him to immediately begin looking for his dear friend, the duty of being a prince who was supposed to look after his people commanded that he let his escort rest. Ugh! I wish I could throw duty to the wind!
Legolas sighed heavily, "Very well. We will rest for the night and join the search at sunrise tomorrow. Erestor, if it pleases you, will you show us to our chambers? I believe my escort and I would like to freshen up."
A relieved grin graced Erestor's countenance, and he turned to enter the house, beckoning them to follow, "This way. The stable hands will care for your horses."
A hand grasped the prince's left shoulder. He spun around to see Eriphael giving him a reassuring smile, "Fear not, mellon nin. We will find Aragorn. Once our hawk eyes begin scouring these lands for that ranger tomorrow, there is no way he can stay unfound."
Eriphael's attempt to alleviate his anxiety failed to soothe the twisted knot in his stomach. Aragorn was in trouble, most likely grave trouble, and nothing would convince the blonde elf otherwise. Still, he smiled back at the brown-haired warrior, "Hannon le, mellon nin." The prince then followed Erestor up the stairs. It is going to be a long night.
The chirping of crickets muted the soundless, booted footsteps of an elf crossing the hardwood floor. He had waited impatiently for hours until the last elf of his guard fell asleep. Noiselessly, he placed a small note beside the bedside of a sleeping Eriphael. Within seconds, he vaulted onto the closest window. Taking one last look at his friend, the elf slid out the window. He is going to kill me for this when he wakes up, he mused silently. The prince carefully climbed down the house, using the network of vines wrapped along the wall. Without hesitation, Legolas jumped the last few feet to the ground. He landed smoothly. Ensuring himself that there were no guards around, he sprinted to the stables.
He noiselessly propped open the stable doors and slipped inside. Blue eyes adjusted to the gloomy blackness. The musty smell of hay tickled his nostrils. Resisting the urge to sneeze, Legolas strode down the long line of stalls. "Mellon nin, where are you?" A small whinny sounded from the end of the stalls.
In a flash the elf located her. She greeted happily him with a nuzzle. After patting her head fondly in return, he removed her saddle from the wall. "I know you have traveled far, but I am in need of your assistance. I must locate Aragorn quickly, for I fear it may already be too late." Sensing her master's urgency, the mare nodded and remained still as he readied her for their journey. Not five minutes passed before the prince had her saddled and his pack secured on her back. As habit from centuries of training, he hastily checked his supplies and weapons one final time. All is ready.
Upon leaving the stable, Legolas effortlessly swung into the saddle. With a cluck of his tongue they were off. Soon the inky night swallowed him and the mare as they headed up the path that exited Imladris. Hold on, mellon nin. I will find you. Little did the elf realize that the darkness of the night was nothing compared to the darkness of evil that he would discover.
Author's Note: Any thoughts? Do you like it? Do you want more? Let me know :) Reviews would be awesome and much appreciated! At the moment this is not a companion piece to my other two stories, Worth Fighting For and Depths of a Promise. FYI, I am not abandoning my other story Depths of a Promise. I am just taking a break from that story until I can get my creative juices flowing again. Besides, I want to see where Without a Trace will take me. :)
Mellon/ Mellon nin - Friend/ My friend
Gwador - Brother
Adar - Father
Hannon le - Thank you
Mae govannen - Well met (or welcome)