Disclaimer: Not mine, no matter how I wish it.
Author's note: Sorry this update is later than promised. It's also a lot shorter than I thought too; but I do want to get it out as soon as possible. Sorry.
Author's note 2: To answer jeswin's question of why Legolas was imprisoned for so long though he should have the power to escape, that's mainly because he doesn't care where he is. He lives in his own 'personal hell' anyway before his imprisonment, so there really isn't any incentive for him to escape. Either way, dungeon or escape, he'd still be alone and viewed as a 'freak'. That's partly why he doesn't bother to speak for himself too. At that point, he knew that no matter what he said, his father would never stop hating him.
A sudden flash of light blinded Aragorn and his Orcs, forcing them to halt their escape. When sight returned, a lone figure, hooded in a white cloak stood before them. At a snap of his gnarly fingers, a battalion of Uruks left the concealing shadows of the woods to surround the Man and his group.
"Saruman" Aragorn whispered with narrowed eyes. He never trusted the Fallen White Wizard; he could sense ill will emanating from the Istar in waves.
"Aragorn" replied the evil Wizard as he removed his cloak to regard the Man squarely. "Lord Sauron is most displeased with your 'disappearance' from Dol Guldur. He has bid me to find you and bring you before him at once."
The Man watched as Saruman's soldiers drew their weapons; they were poised to forcibly take him home. But why? Had the all-seeing Eye sensed the conflict within him? But if his sire had seen into his heart, he must know Aragorn would not betray his people and join with the Elves. Why would his father give the Istar leave to treat him like a traitor? It made absolutely no sense.
A quick calculation of the Uruks' numbers told Aragorn that resistance against the wizard's minions would be futile. There were too many for his men to fight. Glaring at the White Wizard, he said evenly "There is no need for theatrics, Saruman. My 'disappearance' from home was not by my choice; and there is nothing I want more than a chance to speak with father on this matter. My men and I were on our way home before your arrival; we will join you as my sire commands."
As armed Uruks crowded around their leader, the Orcs shared a silent frown. While the Orcs had all sworn to serve the Great Eye, their first loyalty were always to Aragorn. They were sorely tempted to protest the Uruk-Hai's lack of respect for the Dark Lord 's heir, but the Man had spoken. They had no choice but to obey orders and join the Fallen Istar's group without incidence.
A growing sense of unease settled over them as Saruman's horde proceeded to bind their leader's hands. They knew Lord Sauron was ruthless and cruel to a fault; he would not hesitate to kill his own heir, if he were to doubt the Man's loyalty. While they knew their leader would never turn against them, they feared the Dark Lord would mistake the closeness between Aragorn and his Elven lover for treachery. They feared for the Man's safety.
As Aragorn's second-in-command, Garekk was well aware that Saruman's horde outnumbered their leader's loyal followers by two to one in Dol Guldur. Should the Dark Lord condemn the Man, the Orcs would not have the strength to protest the decision and protect their leader. They would need reinforcement elsewhere, if the worst should happen.
As the group marched towards Dol Guldur, Garekk deliberated the options. Their archrivals in Thranduil's realm were bent on acquiring Aragorn's allegiance; perhaps, the Elves would fight to keep the Man safe. But he had no means of contacting the Eldar; and even if he could send a message, those self-serving immortals would never believe it as a genuine call for aid. They would think the request a trap and dismiss it.
The other Orcs had little trouble guessing what was on their general's mind. At the risk of rousing the Wizard's suspicion, the captain of the Man's elite guards approached Garekk. "There is one who will help." Narod remembered the assassin's powers and sympathy towards his kind; he had no doubt the Prince would champion their quest to protect Aragorn.
The Orc general nodded in acknowledgement as he consolidated his scheme. He needed a valid excuse to leave one of them behind to deliver their message to the assassin. Noting Narod's limp, he knew he had found the perfect pretext. Drawing his sword against the wounded Orc, he spat"You will not hold us back any longer"
The captain of Aragorn's guards understood what must be done. He pretended to reach for his weapon as the other Orc plunged the blade deep into his belly. Pain exploded from his wound; he let out a cry of agony and collapsed unmoving to the ground. Now, all Narod could do was lie in wait and hope with all his heart that their charade had deceived the wise Fallen Istar.
Aragorn heard his second-in-command's sudden exclamation, but he could not act fast enough to stop the Orc's strike. He turned only in time to watch the captain of his guards fell. But this could not be; though Orcs were bloodthirsty and ruthless by nature, he had trained his men to value camaraderie over individual needs. They would never turn on each other over something so trivial.
The Man bit his lip in anguish and turned away from the scene. Before Legolas kidnapped him from home, everything made perfect sense. He was the Dark Lord 's heir; he commanded the finest Orc Army in history; and he was all set to conquer Middle Earth by his father's side. But now, not only was his heart in turmoil over his allegiance to his sire; his people were killing each other like savage lawless beasts. The world had turned into a place he hardly knew.
How he wished he could hate the Prince for turning his life upside down! But he could not. Even now, he still felt the coolness of the assassin's knife slung around his belt, reminding him that no matter which path he chose, Legolas would be there in spirit to watch over him. Though he would not admit it, he would forever be grateful for the understanding and unconditional trust the Prince had shown him. From this point on, whatever happens, Legolas would be in his heart always.
"How strange; I was under the impression that your Orcs are quite loyal to each other."
The Wizard's comment roused Aragorn from his musing. In a quiet voice, laden with resignation, he answered"So was I."
Without sparing Saruman another glance, the bound Man recommenced his march towards Dol Guldur. If his return home meant death by his sire's command, so be it. At least then, he would have his answers; he would know that his lover and the Prince were right. One way or another, when he reached Dol Guldur, the pieces of his life would fall into place again. He could hardly wait.
Tall and defiant, Legolas stood as he faced his father. The Elven scouts had returned empty-handed; Aragorn and his Orcs were safe. The Prince's rekindled heart rejoiced; yet, all the while, his face remained an icy mask as he held his sire's furious glare. If death were his fate, he would gladly accept it. Perhaps his sacrifice would convince Haldir to not lose hope and to trust in Aragorn.
The Elven King could not bear his despicable child's cold steady gaze any longer. He was the Ruler of these Woodland Realms; it was his right to punish the traitor as he saw fit. He had no obligation to offer his hated son a chance to defend himself in Council. Drawing his sword, Thranduil made ready to execute his own flesh and blood.
"No, my Lord" pleaded the Lòrien Elf as he held the Sindar's arm.
Staring at Haldir in disbelief, the Elven King asked"Why do you plea for mercy on his behalf, noble Guardian"
"Legolas saved me from Dol Guldur; I owe him my life" replied the Lòrien Elf quietly as he offered his friend a small smile despite his grief for his lost love.
"But it is because of him that you lost the one you love" argued the Sindar, eager to rid Middle Earth of the hateful abomination of a son.
"Yes, but I do not begrudge him for following his heart" replied Haldir as he tightened his grip on the Eldar's arm.
A soft smile graced the icy Prince's features as he reached out and touched the Lòrien Elf's hand. With a small shake of his golden head, he whispered"Thank you, mellon nîn; your forgiveness means the world to me. I chose this path to give Aragorn a chance to choose his; I am prepared to follow it till the end. For as long as you have hope, my death, by my father's hand, will not be in vain."
The quiet passion that belied Legolas' voice was not lost on the astute Lòrien Elf. He knew not what occurred while he was unconscious, but he knew his lover had achieved the impossible: thwarted the Prince of Ice's heart. It was clear that Legolas cared for the Man; Haldir could not help but wonder if the feeling was mutual. Was the Golden Elf the reason for Aragorn's promise to return? Was the Man's signet ring, his only memento of his lover, meant for someone else?
The Guardian of Lòrien was never one prone to jealousy; yet now, as these unwanted question flitted through his mind, an uncharitable part of him wanted to release Thranduil's arm. If the Prince were gone, there would be no competition for Aragorn's heart when the Man returned. Haldir would bind himself to his lover; and he would fight by the side of the restored Hope of Men. Such a future would be a fulfillment of all of his dreams.
Yet, Haldir's hand remained frozen in place. Legolas had done so much for him without ever asking for recompense. He had saved him from Dol Guldur, extracted a promise to return from a Man who still believed himself Sauron's heir. No matter what the future held, the Lòrien Elf could not allow his friend to sacrifice himself so needlessly. "Please, my Lord, show mercy."
Till now, Gandalf had remained silently, observing the scene with narrowed eyes. He had known Haldir for many centuries and had always thought of him as compassionate and altruistic to a fault. He had expected the Lòrien Elf to plead for mercy on the Prince's behalf, despite his eagerness to recapture the Man; and Haldir had not disappointed him. Yet, judging from Thranduil's resolute growl, the Wizard knew the Guardian's words had fallen to deaf ears.
It was time for him to act. Drawing himself to full height, he gathered his powers around him. "Do not be so eager to deal out death in judgment, my Lord. Even the wisest cannot see all ends."
The King of Mirkwood had known Mithrandir for many years; he had always respected the Istar's wisdom. Yet, for the first time, he was tempted to disregard the Wizard's counsel. He knew the Istar was on his abominable son's side; and he could not see the logic of the decision. He wondered if, like Saruman, the Grey Wizard's will had turned into madness.
Seeing the uncertainty in the King's eyes, the Wizard proposed"My Lord, I only ask that you call Council to decide Prince Legolas' fate, nothing more. If his death be the will of the Council, I will personally see it done." Gandalf knew it would take weeks before a Council could convene. There would be ample time to send a message to Aragorn. He was certain the Man would return to save the young Prince.
Thranduil let out a sigh of annoyance and lowered his weapon. Though he hated relenting, he knew it was wise to avoid possible confrontations with the Wizard. He would allow his despicable child to live another day. "Very well, Mithrandir. I will respect your counsel. Let us return to my palace where the traitor's fate will be decided."
Haldir and Mithrandir shared a small smile at their 'victory', but the Prince's expression remained frigid. Truth be told, he wished his friends had not succeeded. Death held no fear for him; it never had. It would be an easier path; he would never have to see the Man who had taught him how to feel again in his only friend's arms. He could only hope his resolve was strong enough to resist the temptation of telling Aragorn these strange unsolicited feelings if they should ever meet again. But regardless of what the future held, he knew that one thing was for certain: no matter the cost, he would ensure the happiness of the ones he 'loved'.