Disclaimer: Do not own.

Rated:Hard T for violence and mentions of rape.

This takes place before the story "Frolicking in the Woods".

Flames are not appreciated. If it does not suit you, kindly press the back button.

I am not a professional author, so kindly keep a polite tongue if you wish to review.

~S~

Thranduil's Halls,

Greenwood,

Early Third Age,

"Another day," Thorontur commented, sliding the plate of fresh tarts in fronts of Legolas. "How is the King?"

"Father seems to have improved." Legolas commented, taking up one of the berry tarts and studying it. He took a bite, enjoying the flavour. "You must have noticed as well."

"Well, I did notice him sleeping properly now."

Fifteen years. It had been fifteen years since the Last Battle. Elves were not one to forget easily, and the terrors of the Last Battle were still fresh on everyone's minds. Thranduil, coming to the crown on the battlefield, along with everything else, was affected the most.

"You do realize there will come a day when he will be irritated by the fact that we discuss him every morning." Legolas commented, taking another bite.

"I will bless that day," Thorontur said wearily. "It hurts seeing him like this. I liked him better when he was fighting with the trees and driving me insane."

Legolas chuckled.

"If it helps, I saw him chatting with Mithon last night before retiring to bed. Whatever Mithon had said, my father laughed to it. I think he is reverting back to his old self."

"He still won't take Oropher's room."

Legolas sobered.

"You can't expect him to." Legolas said. "I think a part of him still hasn't accepted that grandfather is gone." Legolas finished his tart and reached for another one. Thorontur's canary flew over their heads before settling on its customary perch beside the table. It sang a few sweet notes. Thorontur absent-mindedly stroked it with his finger.

"Nevertheless, I do hope he realizes that he is king, and he has the right of the king's chambers. I haven't allowed the servants into Oropher's rooms, only to clean it. Even his clothes are still there, along with his books and other things."

"I know. I saw."

"You needn't be here, you know." Thorontur said, pulling away when the canary tried to rub her head against his cheek. "Your father is doing better than before. And I know your heart is in the forest."

"I am fine, Thorontur." Legolas commented. He finished the crumbs sticking to his fingertips. "My father is always my first priority, even more so now that he is king. I will go to the forest when I see my need has finished. Besides, father, I think the Halls seem to have improved."

"Improved?" Thorontur asked and then shook his head. "I sometimes think we forget our sorrow too slowly. There is still some despair hanging over these Halls, and that will not change until our king's demeanour changes."

"He is getting there." Legolas said adamantly. "You can see the change."

"You are right, I do." Thorontur said, soothing Legolas' ruffled feathers. "I simply miss him being himself that is all. Have some more."

"No thank you." Legolas said laughing. "Your lady makes excellent tarts, often making me wish that I did not need to keep so fit. Anymore and the Rangers will have to roll me out of the Halls and into the forest when the time comes. I think you should go now."

"You are not coming with me?"

"Not this time. The new recruits need training and I am leading it."

"Ah, the prince finally sees some of the outdoors."

"Some, though, not all. Just the training grounds." Legolas said, laughing. There was a screech as he pushed back his chair.

"Enjoy."

They parted ways outside Thorontur's rooms and Thorontur made his way to the king's study where he found Mithon, Thranduil's Guard, waiting outside.

"Is he well-rested?" Thorontur asked after they greeted.

"I did not take notice." Mithon said.

"I checked in on him at night. He was asleep then."

Mithon gave a sudden coughing fit. Thorontur recognized it too easily.

"What is it?" He asked warily.

"Nothing."

"There has to be something, Mithon. I spent disappointedly long time with Rangers to know when I am being mocked."

"It is not that," Mithon said hastily. Then there was a small smile. "It is a running jest among the Guards that the king's advisor hovers over the king like a mother does a sick child, no offense, my lord."

"None taken," Thorontur said dryly. "That sounds exactly the kind of thing the Rangers would say."

"That's… where we heard it from, my lord."

This time Thorontur gave a broad smile. Things really were settling down, as Legolas suspected.

"Is he within?" He asked. Mithon nodded.

"Stay put," Thorontur added the unnecessary command, "And keep your cheek to yourself."

"You know no one can over here."

"Hm, that must be why I always have to remind people."

Mithon's soft chuckle followed him inside the study. Thorontur hid a smile when he saw Thranduil lounging in his chair. After coming to his Halls, Thranduil often opted for sober colours. It was only recently that Lady Berethil, Hanon's wife, managed to wrestle into the maids who laid out the king's clothes and tailored some lightly coloured clothing for the king. Galion started to oversee the maids. At the moment, Thranduil was dressed in light blue and white robes, with delicate embroidery of white birds done on the shoulders. The colour and design suited Thranduil.

"What do we have to do for today?" Thranduil asked when he looked up and saw his advisor. Thorontur glanced at his face. Gone was the mischievous smile. Thranduil had become more solemn after the War. It did not suit him.

"Work, work and work. And we need to go about the Halls for it as well." Thorontur said. "Let's get started."

For Thorontur, work came easily to him. It comforted him. But not everyone shared his love to serve. At night-time, it was only when Thranduil rubbed a hand over his face did Thorontur realized with some guilt that he had pushed the inexperienced king too far.

"Thranduil, you do not have to-" Thorontur began.

"I am fine, Thorontur." Thranduil passed him a tired smile. "I am fine. Truly."

Thorontur glanced at the candles and realized it was far later than he thought. Oropher was known to burn the midnight oil when it came to his kingdom. While Thranduil was just as dedicated, it did not mean he needed to do it. These days, Thranduil's nights were fragile. If anything kept him awake, Thranduil would stay awake throughout the night. Legolas will not forgive him for this, he thought.

"We can do this tomorrow." Thorontur said.

"Thorontur-"

"We can do this tomorrow." Thorontur repeated firmly. "I will not be dragging your tired body all the way back to your rooms." Thranduil laughed.

"I am not that tired."

"Right, and I recall you not sleeping properly." Thorontur said. "If there is anything that will kill you, my friend, it is your lack of rest. Come. Up, up, up!" Thranduil did not move in spite of the insistence.

"I sometimes see my father, dead on the field," Thranduil said. "That is why I cannot sleep." Thorontur did not know what to say and before he could think of a reply, Thranduil got up and cast an amused look at his advisor. "Remember that you encouraged me to sleep in my early years as king when in the years to come, you will chase me down the Halls in an attempt to get me to work."

"I will conveniently forget we had this conversation later on." Thorontur answered flippantly. Thranduil only smiled, suddenly looking much younger. Just as they moved to leave the study, however, Mithon arrived.

"Yes, yes," Thorontur said impatiently. "Tell Legolas that I am taking his father back to the chambers where he belongs for the night. There is no need to reprimand me."

"That is not why I am here." Mithon said. "There is a man who wishes your audience, Sire."

"He can rest for the night and have it tomorrow." Thorontur said. Thranduil did not move.

"Who is he?" Thranduil asked.

"He is from the woodsmen from the south of your forest." Mithon said. "He says it is urgent. In fact, he pleads for an audience."

Thranduil raised his brows but said nothing.

"There must be a reason to the urgency." Thranduil said. "Also, the woodsmen live by the forest but they have always kept their distance. This must be important. Thorontur, come with me. Mithon, how did he come here?"

"He had a horse, he said. But it was old and died on the way. He ran the rest of the way."

"And he did not rest?"

"Only if he needed to, and by looking at him, I doubt he rested even then."

When Thranduil entered the throne room, it was mostly empty, except for the guards standing by his throne. They snapped in attention when Thranduil entered but his eyes were on the only man standing in the middle of the room in front of his throne. Exhaustion was written on the lines of his face. He was young, barely a man, in fact. Thranduil guessed he was probably in his early twenties. There was an old scar on his chin from some accident and there was light stubble growing along his jawline. His hair was dark brown and the man wore dirty, travel-stained and rough clothing. He was fit, but he swayed on his feet.

"Get this man food and drink, and a chair to sit on." Thranduil said as soon as he saw him. "He is practically falling." The man gave a hasty bow that Thranduil accepted with an incline of his head. The servant in the shadows left. In a moment, the man was provided a tray full of food set on a table on the side. The man wasted no time attacking it. None of the Elves cared. With the War still fresh on their minds, they remembered the intense hunger and thirst that came with battle.

"Men from the East," the man said after he took a few morsels and washed it down with the offered goblet. "They came down on us without warning. They killed our most of our men, but they left our game. They took our girls instead. They said they… needed them. We have no weapons to defend ourselves with. We are peaceful lot. And none of our men are in the shape to go after them, except for a few and they are outnumbered. But we knew the King of Elves would have an army at his disposal. My lord, we ask for your help."

Thranduil looked at the man for a long while.

"The Men of the East are beyond my borders," he said slowly. "Your people I will send help to. I will dispatch my healers, allow you to hunt deeper into my forest for a limited time but to pursue these Men-"

"My sister," the man burst out. "My sister was taken among them. Please. She is only ten summers old. She is just a little girl. My da always said the Elves treasured their children. Please. Help us bring ours home."

Thranduil glanced at Thorontur, feeling troubled. This was a plea directly from the heart. The man was emotional, and it was clear he was desperate enough to beg.

"How many did you say these Men were?"

"Fifty, I think," the man said, a light of hope flickering in his eye. "Perhaps, seventy at best but no more than that."

"And what weapons were they carrying?"

"Spears, swords; the jagged ones they prefer."

Jagged ones; the type to cut through armour and flesh, but the woodsmen had no armour. Thranduil knew them to be small, harmless settlements, keeping to themselves and simply living their lives.

"How long ago was this attack?"

"Four days ago."

"Four days. That is not a long time but if we send out our forces the men may reach the river junction by then." Thorontur said. "Those men like to travel quickly after a conquest."

"And they will be following the river." Thranduil said. "That much is certain."

The man's eyes flitted back and forth, watching the exchange. Thranduil looked at him.

"How many girls were taken?"

"Twenty-seven," the man answered immediately.

"Of what ages?"

"Some were ten. The oldest was eighteen."

Even the silent guards behind Thranduil's throne stirred in barely concealed shock and rage. Those were no ages. Elven children were considered young at those ages, with not even the proper mental development to support them as adults.

"You should rest." Thranduil said. "I will have my company ready to leave before dawn tomorrow. It will take time," he continued on before the man interrupted. "I cannot let them leave without proper supplies. If any of the captives are hurt, we will need healers. And it will take time to gather their supplies for the journey and have their horses rested. You should stay here and gain your strength."

"I want to come with you."

"No," Thranduil said firmly. "You will be too tired to stay on horse for long and our ride will be longer. And I doubt you have the training needed to fight like a soldier. Can you hold a sword? Can you ride as you fight? Stay, and when you have rested, return to your people. We will bring the girls back to you. What is your name?"

"Biarn son of Storr, my lord."

"Well, master Biarn, you will remain here until you have gained your strength. Go back. The girls are our duty now."

Thranduil nodded to him before turning and leaving the way he came.

"Thorontur, prepare a company of a hundred soldiers. There is no need for either Rangers or Warriors to take part in this. But perhaps their healers will come in use. Where is my son?"

"Behind you," Legolas said.

"When did you join me?" Thranduil asked in surprise. His brow furrowed.

"I joined you in the throne room. I have… been standing behind you the whole time, father. Your attention was elsewhere."

"Legolas, you will lead the company to pursue them. I do not need any prisoners." They all knew what that meant. All of them must die. Thranduil gave a pause before continuing.

"I am coming as well." Thranduil said.

"Father, please-"

"No, Legolas. I may be king, but I will not send out my company and sit in the safety of my Halls." Thranduil glanced at his son. "You will not ask that of me."

"We have already lost a king recently-"

"I am not my father." Thranduil said, his voice leaving no room for further argument. Legolas only sighed and bowed his head. Thranduil could feel his son and his advisor exchange looks behind him, in a wordless conversation but neither of them tried to persuade him further. "Go, I want to leave before the crack of dawn. We have a lot of distance to cover."

Much to Thranduil's relief, none of them tried persuading him again.

Before Legolas was set to leave for the entrance of the Halls, Thorontur waylaid him first. Legolas was already dressed in his armour. They were to travel light.

"Look after him," Thorontur said in a low voice. "This is the first time he is taking up the sword after the Last Battle. I do not know what will come of it."

"I wouldn't worry too much," Legolas assured him. "Father only does what he knows he is doing right. But I will keep an eye on him, just in case."

Thorontur was better in not showing it, but he hated staying indoors just as much as Thranduil did. The only reason he was even staying behind was because there was sense in it; he was to keep things in order.

They found Thranduil already standing with the rest of the company outside the Halls' entrance in the courtyard.

"You are taking your hounds." Thorontur noted. Thranduil's hounds were large, almost reaching the waist, with thick furs of dark brown and muscled bodies. These were trained to hunt down and kill their prey.

"It will be a good exercise for them," Thranduil said.

"They have five days a head start." Legolas said.

"Which means it will take us a week to catch up to them." Thranduil said.

It took them a week, as they suspected to catch up to them. The plains were not levelled, but instead dipped and rose with lush green grass, and colourful flowers growing along the way. They followed the river and sure enough, the ones they pursued did not stray far from the river.

The camp was up ahead, Thranduil saw. They waited for the evening. They intended to attack just as twilight fell. As the hours crawled on, tension and anticipation began to build until it hung over the company like a cloud. They mounted their horses when darkness fell and the stars began to shine.

"Kill," Thranduil murmured to the hounds. Immediately they bared their teeth. Thranduil pulled out his sword.

"We will swoop down at them. Catch them by surprise. Sound the horn."

Legolas gestured at one of the Elves, who blew into his horn. The entire company charged, the hounds leaping forward and outstripping their horses. The hounds set themselves on the men, the teeth and claws reaching for their throats. In a second, the Elven Company was upon them. Some rode straight ahead, making for the middle of the camp where most of the men were.

Feeling he could fight better on the ground, Thranduil dismounted, throwing his reins over his saddle. His hounds attacked any man who came too close to him. A man gave a guttural cry and ran to him with his sword raised. Thranduil parried the coming blow easily.

"What do you want?" The man hissed, his words sounding foreign.

"You have something we want returned." Thranduil said coldly. Thranduil did not need to finish him off; his hounds set on the fallen man without another moment. Thranduil neared one of the tents. He heard grunts coming from it along with sobbing. Thranduil felt sick in the stomach. He raised the flap, his naked blade catching the moonlight one last time before Thranduil ducked his head into the tent.

The man was undressed, but his sword was close by. Even as he came into full view, the man scrambled for his jagged sword. Thranduil did not give him time to get up fully. He grabbed the man's arm and heaved him across the tent. The man's head struck against the tent pole and he looked up in daze. Thranduil buried his sword into his chest before pulling it free.

He heard heart-breaking sobbing coming from behind him. He turned his head and saw a young girl curled in the corner, her hair her only cover. Thranduil averted his eyes and undid his cloak before settling it over her.

"Hush," he murmured. He sheathed his sword. "I am not here to hurt you. I am here to save you."

He kept his voice low and quiet, which sounded very different from the shouts and sword clashes outside the tent. She turned her head towards him.

"Elf," she said. Thranduil nodded.

"Yes. We are here to take you home." The girl fully sat up, gathering the cloak around her. Her hair was dishevelled, and half of her face was slightly bruised. "But first I want you to stay here. I will come and get you, but the fighting must stop." The girl was still crying. She wiped her eyes and nodded. Thranduil stepped over the dead body of the man and left the tent. The smell of blood mingled in the fresh cool air. One of the Elves rode past him, throwing his spear. It embedded into the collarbone of a man who collapsed, legs jerking beneath him. More Elves disappeared into tents, rooting out whatever men they found. Thranduil's hounds padded up to him, mouths and paws bloody.

"That tent has only the girls." Legolas called as he rode past. Both of his hands were busy handling his weapon. He guided his horse using only his legs and words. Thranduil pointed at the tent Legolas indicated and told his hounds, "Guard." The hounds ran and faithfully took positions around the tent.

The thicker part of the fighting was in the middle of the camp. Thranduil grabbed a piece of wood from the campfire and threw it on one of the man. His clothes caught fire. Legolas pulled back his bow and shot him. A guttural war cry sounded behind him and he turned, catching his opponent's jagged blade against his sword. He kicked the man between the legs, forcing him down on his knees and grabbed his head with his free hand. Still locked with the blade, he pulled the blade back along the opponent's neck before letting him fall to the ground. Thranduil turned, watched the Elves gallop after the men who had found their mounts and were fleeing. Spears were thrown, arrows were shot until the men fell dead on the ground. None of them were given quarter.

"Kill any man who survives!" Thranduil commanded, before turning to the tent he had first entered. The girl was still curled in the corner, sitting over furs. She was staring at the dead body when he came in. in his haste, he had forgotten to cover the body. He did so now. He grabbed a fur and threw it over him. The first thing he noticed about the girl was that her feet were covered with fresh blood.

"Will you allow me to look at your feet?" Thranduil asked. He knelt beside the girl. He took care to be seated directly in front of her, so that she could see him fully. "They are bloody. I have to stop the bleeding."

The girl was still trembling violently in his cloak but at least her sobs had lessened. She nodded wordlessly. Her wide eyes followed his every move. He kept his movements slow and precise. He took one of her feet and studied it carefully. Disgust and horror rose in his chest. There were five neat cuts at the soft flesh of her foot, each from her toe all the way to her heel. He placed the foot down and looked at the other one. It was the same. The men had did this to her, to play with her, to make sure she could not run off. Thranduil looked up at the girl. She could barely be fifteen or sixteen summers, thin, tall with dark brown hair. She was nothing but a slip of a girl who barely had the strength to do any lasting harm on anyone. All of a sudden he felt he dealt with a death blow too quickly.

"I know someone who can heal this. May I carry you?" The girl stared at him for a while before giving a jerky nod. Thranduil gathered her carefully in his arms, before realizing she weighed nearly nothing. She was lighter than he expected.

He found the healers outside, treating the wounded and the girls in the open air. The girls with more… severe wounds were treated within the tents for privacy. He found Bregon, a Ranger healer, step back from a soldier, his wounds tended to. Thranduil placed the girl on the ground and Bregon knelt beside her.

"They need to be stitched." The Elf said after he checked the lacerations. Then he looked up at the girl. "I will give you something so that you do not feel them. But I need you to be brave and stay still for me-"

The girl broke down crying. Thranduil threw a warning look at Bregon, who was startled.

"He told me to be still for him-" the girl choked out. Bregon recoiled in horror.

"I did not mean-" Bregon started to say.

"You are safe now." Thranduil intervened. "You will not come to any harm, I promise you. We are going to take you home, back to your family. But first we need to treat your wounds; otherwise you will not make it home. Do you understand me?"

The girl swallowed but nodded. "Good. Bregon, make it quick." Thranduil looked up and spotted Legolas detaching himself from a cluster of soldiers. Thranduil went to him.

"We should have brought Ellyth with us," Legolas said, rubbing the back of his neck with a bare hand, his free glove clenched in his other fist. "They have a softer touch than we do."

"I was not going to risk the safety of our Ellyth in the company of these men," Thranduil said flatly, tilting his head towards the heap of dead bodies. "What casualties do we have?"

"We lost two Elves, one during the battle and another from his wounds. Other than that we have scrapes and bruises here and there but nothing more."

"And the horses?"

"All of them live."

Thranduil glanced at two girls huddled close together.

"Find the soldiers in our company who have daughters or have some experience in dealing with them. A gentle hand will not go amiss."

"I will." Still Legolas lingered. Thranduil soon found out why when his son vented. "Children," Legolas hissed. "The girls- they were just children. From summers ten to sixteen."

"I know."

"They were children!" Legolas stamped his foot in frustration. "How could anyone-"

"They don't care, Legolas." Thranduil said. "Having no honour, no morals or civility does that to a person. They see the girls as objects. That is all. Now I want you to go and carry out my command. These children are frightened. We need to assure them they are safe." Legolas only moved to leave when Bregon appeared.

"We lost a girl," Bregon said. "Barely twelve summers. She was bleeding too much."

"We will bury the dead. Keep our enemy far from the other graves." Thranduil said. Some soldiers came to him. "We found some good bed furs inside, especially in the leader's tent." One of them said. "Also I think there are some weapons in there that could be of some use."

"Gather the bounty. We will take them to the woodsmen. Leave the weapons."

"Weapons might help the woodsmen in defending themselves." Legolas said.

"Or they could use it to kill one of our own." Thranduil said. "No. I will not equip them with arms through my means."

The girl along with the two Elves they had lost was buried near the river banks. The enemies' bodies were buried together in a single large grave. With the bounty tied to the pack horses, and the tents in ruins, they soon left the camp behind them. It was a silent ride before a curious voice startled them.

"Why don't Elves have beards?" A shrill, but adorable voice piped up. Thranduil looked over his shoulder to see the speaker was a small girl of ten summers. Thranduil could not stop the grin forming on his face. The girl was seated in front of one of the soldiers, her head tilted up at the rider with her.

"We are made this way, by Eru."

"But how can you tell the difference between a girl and a boy?"

Many riders choked. Some of them were openly grinning.

"Well, some of us do have beards," the rider amended himself. There was obvious laughter in his voice. The girl did not notice.

"And ma says only girls are supposed to have long hair."

Thranduil choked down his laughter. Legolas looked at him with some amusement.

"My father always said that laughing at a child's words is rude," Legolas commented. "It makes them loose their self-esteem."

"Well, we aren't Men, so the rules don't apply to us," the rider tried to reason with the girl.

"I still think you look silly with such long hair."

Thranduil tried his hardest to stop the laugh erupting from his throat.

"She is certainly not lacking self-esteem!" Thranduil remarked.

"I am very sorry to hear that." The Elf said.

"Yes, Angrod, you look silly with long hair." One of the Elf's companions muttered to him, rising new bouts of stifled laughter.

"But all of you have long hair." The girl was surely outspoken, but her face and words were so innocent that it only made it endearing. Thranduil felt a little lighter in heart. This was one soul that was not broken. Suddenly the girl realized she was in the centre of a jest, because she plumped out her lower lip and slumped against the rider behind her. She folded her arms sulkily.

"You are making fun of me. I do not want to talk to any of you."

"No, no," Angrod hurriedly soothed her. Legolas let go of his reins and buried his face in his hands, shoulders quaking in silent mirth.

"A son of mine once said laughing at a child's words is rude. It makes them loose their self-esteem." Thranduil mimicked.

"She is certainly not lacking self-esteem!" Legolas retorted.

They made camp far from the camp where they had fought. The sleeping rolls were given to the girls and the ones who had given them set up the watch for the night. Songs broke out and the stars shone brightly while the lamented the loss of their comrades, and the girl they could not save.

Within a week, they reached the edge of the woodsmen's homes. They pointed out the growing huts in the horizon to the girls, and they sat up a little straighter in their excitement.

Evidently their arrival was eagerly waited for. Women milled about impatiently, and so did the men. There were mothers, sisters, fathers, and brothers to welcome them home.

"The girl who died was named Liw." Legolas murmured to him. With a sinking heart, Thranduil realized he might have to deliver the news himself. But Legolas mercifully said, "I will do find the family and inform them."

"Thank you."

Legolas only nodded.

"Biarn, you said that Elves do not have beards, but they told me some of them do."

Thranduil's face broke out into a smile at the familiar voice. He turned and saw Biarn, on his knees, with the girl Angrod rescued in front of him.

"I did not some of them did, little sister." Biarn said.

"So this is your sister!" Thranduil said in surprise.

"My lord! It is good to see you. Yes. Why do you ask?"

"Nothing," Thranduil said, smiling. Before Biarn opened his mouth to ask he added, "She was unharmed when we found her." The relief on Biarn's face was prominent. "She entertained us with her words throughout the way back."

"Yes, she has a habit of talking too much."

"She kept the dark thoughts away."

"They sang songs, Biarn." Lothel piped up. The girl really did not like being ignored. Thranduil found himself grinning before he realized he was doing it.

"Songs?" Biarn asked. Thranduil's smile faded.

"For the fallen, and for the girl who died." Thranduil said. "It is a custom to sing farewell to the ones we love or respect."

"Thank you. It is a comfort, knowing she passed away not in the hands of those monsters." Thranduil smiled and then looked towards the girl.

"She has a Sindarin name."

"Yes, my mother went to a midwife in another settlement who knew words from the Elven Language. She offered this name."

"It suits her."

"Where is my doll?" Lothel asked her older brother.

"Inside the hut, on your bed, just where you left it."

"She must be so scared for being alone. I will go and fetch her!"

"None of them will forget what they just experienced." Biarn said.

"It will take them time." Thranduil said. Biarn looked over his shoulder.

"My lord, our leader is here."

Thranduil turned and saw Thorald standing in wait. He said farewell briefly to Biarn and made his way to him.

"Thorald," Thranduil greeted the leader. The elders of the settlement often took the role of the leader. Thorald was a large, sturdy man with shaggy white hair and bushy beard. He was a youth during the time Oropher was king, the son of a woodsman they once encountered. His large biceps bunched when his arms. He may be old but that did not mean he was weak. Still Thorald moved slowly. Age had caught up to him. There was a slowly healing deep gash on his cheek, clumsily stitched.

"One of the girls was lost. Her name was Liw." Thranduil said. "We buried her by the river, along with two of my soldiers whom I had lost."

"I am sorry to hear it. Her parents are both alive. This will grieve them greatly. Thank you for your help in bringing back the rest."

"We also bring back booty that we acquired from the conquest. There are bed furs, clothes, money and horses. I expect they will be of some use." Thranduil indicated the packhorses that the men were already unburdening.

"You should take them," Thorald said. "Your people were the ones who fought for us. It is only a just payment."

"We are not sell-swords who want payment."

"I did not mean to offend you. Consider it a gift then."

Thranduil paused, not knowing what to say.

"Take them."

Thranduil heard the pride as well as the unspoken plea in the leader's voice. Pride, because no debt passed by them without having paid for them. It was a plea, because they could not handle their pride being wounded. But at the same time, Thranduil knew this was all they had.

"When your man came to us, we initially refused to pursue the men. We told him that they were beyond our borders." Thranduil said. "He reminded us that we cherish our young, and we protect them from harm. If any harmed our children, we would hunt them down till we spilled their blood on the ground and hung them up for the world to see. If a child's life is safe, then no riches in the world can pay for it. And our company lost one girl. We cannot take these gifts. Keep them. May they serve you well."

"We do not let our debts linger."

"Consider that we do not have a debt then." Thranduil answered, "Merely our agreement over the forest."

Thorald smiled. He was sharp enough to see what Thranduil had done.

"Thank you." Thorald said. Thranduil nodded, letting the matter at rest.

"Your men can hunt for two weeks deeper into the forest. At the end of two weeks, I wish not to see any of your hunters beyond what we agreed for gaming. As for the healing herbs you may need, my healers will send you the supplies that you may need double the amount if you pay."

Thorald nodded.

"You may stay and rest for a while."

"No," Thranduil said. "I have been far from my home too long. We ride."

When they returned, Thorontur cornered Legolas again.

"He has changed." Thorontur said. His brow was furrowed. "What happened?"

"I don't know." Legolas said. "I think something changed him during the fight. He seemed more alert, more focused than before."

"He had something to fight for."

"That could be it."

"Where is he now?"

"I saw him last leaving for his chambers."

Thorontur went up to meet Thranduil within an hour. He found him sitting in front of the fire in the parlour, his feet resting on the footstool in front of him. The king was dressed in light gold and deep red clothing, with patterns of leaves stitched across his back.

"Berethil's designs suit you," Thorontur said, startling Thranduil out of his musings.

"I noticed." Thranduil said. "She intends to change my entire wardrobe."

"So you have days of turning into a pincushion ahead of you."

Thranduil laughed. He laughed more since he returned, Thorontur noticed.

"I hope not. There was a reason I give my measurements only once."

"Different designs beg for different measurements."

"You always show my future to be bleak."

"You wouldn't have it any other way."

Thorontur stood in front of Thranduil, his arms crossed over his chest. Thranduil stared into the fire. His eyes had a faraway look.

"Do you remember I told you that there were times at night when I saw my father lying on the battlefield?" Thranduil asked eventually.

"Yes," Thorontur drew out the word warily. Thranduil smiled.

"I do not dream of it anymore."

"When did it stop?"

"After the battle, I think." Thranduil said. Silence fell between them until Thranduil stirred again. "Tell the kitchens to prepare the feast and the Rangers to find us a good spot in the forest. We will dine outside tonight."

"Outside?" Thorontur asked blankly. It had been many years since they dined outside.

"Outside," Thranduil affirmed. "After all the forest is won."

"Alright," Thorontur felt he was in a dream. Thranduil sounded… normal. Thorontur turned to retrace his tracks but Thranduil's voice stopped them. This time, there was some amusement mixed in it.

"And Thorontur, the next time I hear you and my son use your mornings to discuss me, I shall find myself another advisor and you will find yourself lacking a king to follow."

Thorontur did not turn, and he could not stop the growing smile of relief on his face.

"I wouldn't dream of it, Sire."

He took another step before finally giving into the curiosity. He turned around and asked,

"What changed?" Thorontur only asked. Thranduil understood.

"I learned to put the past behind me."


Author's Note:

Legolas- I know a lot of fanfiction stories portray him as younger than the children of Elrond, but I always considered him to be far older than them. One of the reason is that he says the Fangorn Forest is so old that he almost feels young again. Fangorn Forest was present sometime in the end of the First Age. So this, at least is my interpretation.

Thranduil- The Last Battle is said to be horrific in its own right. The Battle had last not in months but years. I think the Mirkwood Army suffered a lot in it. You do not forget such things easily.

Thorontur- A loyal advisor and an elder Silva. He was a chieftain before Oropher became king and he advised Oropher and later Thranduil in their reigns.

Thranduil's manner- A loss of father, the sailing of his wife, and the sudden kingship tends to leave one more solemn. Thranduil is more serious here than he had been in my stories.