By Elizabeth Goode

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The silence pounded in his ears. That single word coming from those lips tore his heart asunder. Moments before, he had felt like an adult, participating in adult conversation with another adult. A man, in love with a woman who returned his love. That one word reduced him to a child again, an abandoned child, hungry and desperate for love and approval. Suddenly, it mattered not that his skill with the sword was legendary, that he could track a deer through terrain that would scarcely take a footprint. It mattered not that he had risked his life for this man and those he held dear. Years of happiness in Rivendell were torn away when his foster father, Lord Elrond Half-Elven, uttered that word.

He forced himself to remain outwardly calm, but it was difficult, so difficult that he could hear the repressed tears bleeding into his voice upon occasion. "When must I depart?"

"Within the week. Your wounds should be healed enough by that time."

Estel moved his arm experimentally, unable to hide the wince of pain that small movement caused. The arm was broken and badly. He would be lucky if he could even move it by the time he was expected to leave. That Elrond would send him away in that condition spoke to how much the elf lord wanted him gone. The pain in his arm was nothing compared to the pain in his heart.

"Of course. I will go and say my goodbyes, but I would speak with you first."

"Say what you must."

"Thank you for taking me in when you did not have to. Thank you for extending your hospitality well past the onset of my adulthood. I apologize for any inconveniences I or my mortality have caused for you and your kin. In time, I hope to repay at least a small portion of your kindness."

Taken aback by his foster son's words, Elrond could only nod. "You will be given food and supplies, and of course you will take your pick of the horses."

Estel spared no time. He immediately went to pack his food and supplies, taking them to the stable, where he readied his horse. Then, he went up to his room and wrote two letters, one for each of his brothers, bidding them goodbye. Heading back to the stable, he secured his packs and used his good arm to help get himself onto the horse's back. No one noticed that he was gone until morning, when Elladan and Elrohir found and read their letters.

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Legolas Greenleaf arrived at Rivendell the next day. He had been in Mirkwood for the last couple of months, and he was happy to be visiting his friends again. Elladan and Elrohir met him at the stables and helped him care for his horse.

"It is good to see you both again. I feared that my father would keep me occupied with matters of state forever!"

When the twins neither laughed nor smiled, Legolas felt a strange sensation of foreboding in his stomach. He looked from one pair of sad eyes to the other, noting for the first time the slump of their shoulders.

"What is it?" When neither of them answered immediately, he asked, "Where is Estel?"

Elladan closed his eyes. "It is a terrible day you are witness to here in Rivendell. Father found out that Estel's admiration of our sister is not one-sided. Arwen returns his love."

Legolas shook his head and repeated, "Where is Estel?"

"He is gone, Legolas. Father exiled him. He cannot return to Rivendell, nor visit Lorien ever again. Father gave him a week to heal before he left, but Estel was gone this morning. He left a letter for myself and one for Elladan."

"Heal? What happened to him that he needed to heal from?"

Elrohir sighed. "Orcs. He and Arwen had stolen away for a picnic under the stars. They were attacked by a small band of orcs, and Estel fought them. Luckily, Father and Elladan and I were out hunting the orcs and helped him to put an end to the foul creatures, but not before one of them snapped his arm out of sheer cruelty. Arwen knelt beside him, called him her love. It was as though Father's blood turned to ice. He sent Arwen, Elladan, and I back home, and I suppose that he treated Estel's arm and informed him that he was no longer welcome here."

The prince of Mirkwood frowned. "Do you agree with this decision?"

Both twins burst out at the same time, "No!"

Elladan explained. "I am sad that Arwen might decide not to sail to the havens with us when our time on Middle Earth is finished, but I cannot be glad that Estel has gone. He is my brother."

"And mine." Elrohir shook his head sadly. "Father will come to regret this decision, I fear. He loves Estel like a son."

"Loved, Elrohir. I have no love in my heart for a man who would take my daughter's immortality away from her. I gave him my love when he was a child, I trusted him as much as I trust my own children, and he betrayed that trust. I have done my duty by the Heir of Isildur. Let us pray to Iluvitar that I have instilled in him enough strength of character that he will do his."

Legolas glared at the Lord of Rivendell. "Estel has stronger character than most elves. Please don't insult my friend in my presence."

Elrond pressed his lips together. "All right, though I would remind you, young prince, that you are a guest in this place."

"No, I don't believe that I am. You let your son ride away from here with despair in his heart and an unhealed wound. I will ride after him."

With that, the prince of Mirkwood swung back onto his horse and rode away.

Briefly, Elrond sought to meet his sons' eyes, but both of them looked away.

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Estel rode hard through the night, never stopping to sleep or even to rest. In a day's time, he was still in the wild. He ate a small ration from the food he had taken with him from Rivendell, and the sight of it sent tremors of misery through his body. Did Arwen truly love him, as she had said? Had his - had Elrond ever cared for him at all?

He remembered being a very small child, curling his body against his foster father's for comfort. Elrond had often comforted young Estel after nightmares, sitting up with him until the young human fell asleep. He remembered falling into the river from a serious height while on a hunting trip with his brothers and Legolas. Elrond had healed his wounds and stayed with him throughout the illness that had followed. Estel would never forget the gentle touch of Elrond's hands as they stroked his hair away from his fevered forehead.

Estel brushed his tears away, even though there was no one to see them. What would Arwen think when she discovered him gone? Would they tell her why he was no longer in Rivendell, or would they allow her to believe that he did not care for her any longer?

He rode for three days straight, stopping only to eat and relieve himself. When he approached a village, his first thought was to find somewhere to stay for the night. Even a Ranger such as himself could not last much longer without a good night's sleep.

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His bed on the second floor of the inn was scarcely better than sleeping on the ground outside. The inn was poorly built and drafty, the bed old and hard. In the end, his exhaustion won out over his physical discomfort and emotional pain. The young Ranger slept soundly, until a shrill, piercing cry from outside jarred him rudely awake. It was the scream of an orc, and in his experience, there was never just one orc.

Sword in hand, he crept silently down the stairs. There was next to no warning as the door of the inn burst open and several orcs rushed in. The patrons of the inn and the innkeeper's family screamed in terror. Estel was the only armed man in the room, and so he faced the orcs alone. Had he been rested and fully healed from his injury, he would have been able to kill at least ten of them, but he was suffering from exhaustion, his spirit was troubled, and his arm hurt terribly. He managed to kill eight of them before cruel orc hands closed around his throat, squeezing until everything went black.

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Legolas saw the smoke on the horizon, and felt a sinking sensation in his stomach. He hoped that his friend was not in any kind of trouble, but in his heart, he scarcely dared to hope that it was true. Trouble followed the young human as though it were glued to his cloak.

Encouraging his horse to move faster, he covered the distance to the burning village in a very short time. When he arrived, it was a depressing sight. Buildings burned, people tended the wounded, shouts of despair and anger rang out. Of all of the buildings, the inn had fared the worst.

Legolas secured his horse, whispering elvish words of comfort to the animal, which was clearly distressed by his surroundings. A stranger in an unfamiliar place would have gone directly to an inn. Estel was a stranger to this place, and so Legolas was certain that he might at least find a clue, if not his friend inside.

The main room of the inn was destroyed. The carcasses of eight orcs lay near the stairs, and they were no mere goblins. These were some of the most powerfully built orcs the elf had ever seen. Had Estel cut down those orcs? Had he done it alone, with his sword arm badly wounded? What had happened to him afterward?

A voice jolted the elf out of his thoughts. "You lookin' for somebody?"

The voice belonged to a man who could have been anywhere from thirty to sixty. He was dirty, filthy, in fact. He smelled as though he had been around pigs for a very long time.

When Legolas did not reply, the man repeated his question. "You lookin' for somebody? 'Cause if they were here, they're probably dead or worse by now. The orcs emptied the inn of all meat and ale, and killed most of the inhabitants."

The Elven prince moved upwind of the stranger. "I am looking for a friend. He probably arrived last night, and he has dark hair nearly to his shoulders. He might have used the name Strider or Estel."

The man's eyes dulled sadly. "Strider, you say? Tall fellow, arm in a sling?"

Legolas nodded eagerly. "Yes, that's him! Where is he?"

"He's gone, that one is. He killed all of 'em orcs in that pile. It was because of him that I was able to escape with my family and hide among the pigs."

Fighting the urge to scream in frustration, Legolas forced his voice to remain gentle. It was not the fault of the odiferous man that his friend was missing. "Tell me, sir. When you say that he is gone, do you mean that he left or that he is dead?"

"Neither, master elf. I mean that the orcs overpowered him. I watched from the pigsty as they left. They took your friend with them. Flung him over their shoulders like a sack of flour, they did."

Legolas felt his legs go weak beneath him. There had been a time not so long ago, especially to an elf who had lived as long as he had, that the kidnapping of a human by orcs would not have affected him so. That had been before he met Estel. The thought of his dear friend in the brutal hands of the orcs made his blood boil with anger and his skin crawl in sympathy. He knew firsthand that Estel's stay with the orcs would not be pleasant. He also knew that he had to rescue the human before he was damaged beyond repair. Legolas had only been a captive of the orcs for a couple of days before the rest of his party had come to the rescue. His injuries had healed quickly because of his firstborn blood. Elves healed much faster than humans, and he shuddered to think of more harm befalling Estel.

"Thank you, sir. You have been most helpful. I must ride after them to save my friend."

The man nodded. "Good luck to you, master elf. I hope that you find your friend."

Legolas swung back up onto his horse and muttered under his breath, "I will find him. That much is certain. I only wish that I find him alive."

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Pain, bright and blinding. It was the only thing he could feel. His head ached, his arm throbbed mercilessly, and his soul felt as though it had been rent asunder. Images played in his mind, taunting him with his life before his exile. He saw himself as a child, playing hide and seek with Elladan and Elrohir. His Elven brothers had always taken great interest in playing with him. He remembered waking from nightmares to his foster father's gentle voice, soothing him back to sleep. He remembered Arwen, only days before his exile, declaring her love to him ...

Then, the images began to distort. He heard Elrond's voice change from soothing and gentle to harsh and full of hate. "Exiled." The word echoed in his mind until a powerful blow to his chest caused him to open his eyes in surprised pain.

He was surrounded by orcs. He was unarmed, and his hands were bound. Estel squeezed his eyes shut, uttering a prayer to the Valar that his death would be swift. To his surprise, they did not attack him.

"Who are you?"

Estel opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. Surprised, his hands went to his throat. He remembered the orc hands tightening around his neck and shuddered. His windpipe must have been damaged. Struggling to speak, he managed to croak hoarsely, "Strider, a ranger of the north."

The biggest, ugliest orc leaned close to him, and he almost passed out from the smell of its breath. "Well, Strider. A ranger? We could use us a good ranger!"

The other orcs laughed and mimicked Estel, whose hand still covered his bruised throat protectively. "Yeah, we need a ranger!"

"Shut up! I am Ugblood, Captain of this unit. You will lead us to the Elven kingdom of Rivendell."

Estel shook his head. He would not lead orcs into his home to harm his father, his brothers, and his beloved. They could kill him first. "I will not help you. I do not even know where Rivendell is located, and even if I did, I would rather die than take you there!"

Ugblood leaned close to the human again, fixing him with a foul, twisted grin that chilled him to the bone. "We will see, little ranger. Before I have finished with you, you will wish that I would let you die!"

Raw fear permeated Estel's senses as he struggled to escape his captors to no avail. One of the other orcs handed a long-tailed whip with a wooden handle to Ugblood, and Estel fought to escape as the orcs held him firmly down. As the whip bit into the flesh of his back, Estel brought his bound arms up to his face, biting down on his forearm to keep from crying out.

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Legolas watched the orc camp from the edge of the woods. He could not tell what was going on, but the sound of a ragged scream confirmed his suspicion that Estel was there and was, for the moment, still alive. Another scream caused the Elven prince to fall to his knees, holding his head in his hands. The orcs were beating him, and Legolas was powerless to help him. "Hold on, Estel. Don't give up! I will come for you under the cover of night."

When at last night fell, Legolas crept silently as only an elf can through the orc camp, looking for his friend. He did not have to look for long. Estel was bound to a wooden post that was buried in the ground. He looked to be unconscious, and in the moonlight, the human seemed very young indeed. What was left of his shirt hung in tattered strips from his shoulders, which were striped with cuts from the beating. An unsightly gash ran from his hairline down the side of his face to his jaw line. What caught Legolas attention most were the marks around Estel's neck. Deep purple bruises ringed his neck, in the shape of orc hands.

Drawing his blade, Legolas cut his friend's bonds, lifting the young human gently. At his touch, Estel gave a pitiful cry of pain, which Legolas stifled by rolling the human's face into his shoulder. Still moving silently, Legolas bore Estel away with him, into the forest, where his horse was still waiting. Practically throwing Estel into the saddle, Legolas mounted behind him and took the reins.

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After riding for long enough that he was certain the orcs would not find them, Legolas lifted Estel down from the saddle and laid him out on a blanket on the ground. The place where they had stopped was a hidden glade, deep in the forest. Sunlight poured down, but did not brighten the elf's mood as he began the unpleasant task of caring for Estel's wounds.

Using his dagger, Legolas sliced the remainder of the shirt from his body, grimacing when the shirt stuck to the wounds. The cuts began at the tops of his shoulders and covered his back from shoulder to waist. The gashes cut into the young man's muscles, causing some of them to spasm from the stress. Gently, the elf cleaned the wounds, occasionally stopping to run his hand comfortingly though Estel's hair. His body trembled and his brow burned with fever.

"Ada! I am sorry! Please, do not send me away!"

The unconscious human was dreaming, and the desperation in his voice tore at Legolas' heart.

"Please, Elladan, Elrohir ... I am lost. You must find me, my brothers ... but, you do not wish to find me, I know. You would be proud of me, Elladan. I killed eight of the foul creatures, they will not find Rivendell."

Legolas pressed a water-soaked cloth to his friend's forehead. "Estel! Come back to the light, my friend. It is only Legolas who is here with you."

In response, Estel's back arched as he was assailed with a new onslaught of pain. "Arwen, my beloved ... no right, I had no right ... "

Shifting his position so that he could hold his friend to still his shivering, Legolas felt his anger rising again. As long as he had known the young human, Estel had felt all too keenly the differences between himself and the elves. He desired his father's approval above all things, and up until his unhappy arrival at Rivendell several days ago, Legolas would have sworn that Lord Elrond had a father's love for his foster son.

The elf prince frowned, lost in memory. His mind's eye saw Estel feverishly studying Elven history in the vast library of Lord Elrond. He saw a very young Estel, reluctant to speak at all because he could not yet speak Elvish. Then, still unwilling to speak very much until he was completely rid of his accent. So much determination for such a young child. Legolas remembered still more, seemingly isolated instances that now fit together to make perfect sense. Once, he had been on a visit from Mirkwood to see Elladan and Elrohir. The twins spent a lot of time playing with their young foster brother, as well as in training him. Estel had been a mere twelve years old when they began giving him training with a sword. Estel took this training as seriously as he took everything else, and in a short time had perfected the movements his brothers had taught him. Elladan had then challenged Estel to a mock-duel to test his ability to apply what he had learned. Using only the moves and defenses he had taught his brother, Elladan had been very careful not to harm the human boy, however, Estel proved to be a stronger opponent than Elladan had thought. Injecting a bit of surprise into the "duel", Elladan tossed his sword into his left hand, then ducked and rolled, taking Estel's feet out from under him. Laughing as he helped his young brother to his feet, Elladan had explained that the trick he had used was one learned from Arathorn, Estel's human father. Legolas heard young Estel's voice ringing in his head as clear as if it were happening right now. "I will not fight like the Edain. I will fight like an elf!"

Legolas shook his head sadly. The more elf-like Estel had acted, the more approval he got from Lord Elrond. The elf-lord had been sending his foster son unspoken, unintentional signals for twenty years, and the message had been clear; to be of the Edain was undesirable.

"Sorry ... I'm sorry, Ada! I will not trouble you again!"

The elf-prince lay his cloak over his friend and kept watch over him throughout the night.

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Riders on horseback raced into Rivendell, bearing the mark of the royalty of Mirkwood. Elladan and Elrohir ran to meet them. A tall, thin elf slid down from the back of a horse that was as tired as her rider, passing the reins to the other rider, who seemed to be the servant.

"Sons of Elrond?"

The twins nodded.

"I bear a message from King Thranduil of Mirkwood. There are urgent matters to discuss. May I have audience with your father?"

Elrohir spoke. "Of course. Please, tell us on the way to his quarters."

"There are two parts to this ill news. The first is that Legolas, son of Thranduil is long overdue in his return home. Last we heard, he had decided to visit Rivendell, but he always sends word. We have heard nothing from him. The second part is, I hope, unrelated. There have been reports of bands of orcs very near to both Mirkwood and Rivendell. We have reason to believe that they are trying to find Rivendell. Several small villages have been burned, all human."

Elladan's face went pale. "Well, I can tell you that Legolas was indeed here, but that he is five days gone from here. He did not even stay the night."

The messenger grimaced. "So, Thranduil's son could be out there alone with bands of orcs on the loose?"

"That's not entirely true. He might not be completely alone. He went in search of Estel, our youngest brother. Estel is formidable with both the bow and the sword, as is your prince." Elrohir's voice held a false confidence that he hoped the messenger did not hear. He had every confidence in Estel's abilities, and in those of Legolas, but he feared in his heart that something terrible had happened.

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After delivering the messenger and his message to Lord Elrond, the twins waited until the man had been led away by some of the servants to a room where he could catch some much-needed sleep.

"Ada? What do you make of this news?" Elladan had difficult time keeping the accusing note out of his voice.

"I believe that Prince Legolas is in considerable danger. We must send out a company to find him and kill the orcs."

His forehead wrinkled in thought, Elrohir asked, "Why would orcs suddenly be interested in finding Rivendell? They cannot hope to take it over, not with our archers and warriors."

Lord Elrond sighed tiredly. He had not been himself since he had sent Estel away, but any attempt to discuss the matter was abruptly cut off. "I do not know what they hope to accomplish, but that is neither here nor now. You must lead the company to find the Prince of Mirkwood. You are both the most skilled killers of orc in Rivendell, perhaps in all of Middle Earth."

Hesitantly, Elladan asked, "What of Estel? Perhaps Legolas has found him and is not alone after all."

"Or, " Elrohir put forth morosely, "Or, perhaps he has not found him, and Estel is alone out there. He could even have been captured by the orcs."

Elrohir had said what he had for a purpose. He wanted to watch to see if there was even a hint that the thought of Estel in the hands of orcs had any effect whatsoever on their father. It was a cruel card to play, as the idea of orc captivity always brought to mind the capture and subsequent departure to the Undying Lands of Celebrian, beloved wife of Elrond and mother of his children.

It worked. A muscle in the Elf-lord's cheek twitched, and he fixed his son with a hard glare. "If Estel has been captured, the orcs could force him to give away the location of Rivendell. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you find and kill all of the orcs. Is that understood?"

Elladan nodded. "It is understood, Father."

Elrond winced at his son's use of the formal title instead of the more familiar, 'Ada'.

"If you think that Estel would give away the location of Rivendell to orcs, you never knew him at all. He would die before he gave away even a hint."

Elrond shook his head. "I would like to believe that, but after he betrayed my trust in the manner he did, I do not believe that I can. He is, after all, of the Edain."


All three elves turned in surprise at the sound of a female voice. Arwen stood in the doorway, and none of them had ever seen her look so angry. Her face was even paler than usual, with the exception of the angry flush on her cheeks. She was not dressed in her usual gowns, but in riding clothes. Her bow was slung over her back in the Elven style, and her sword hung from her belt.

Elrond opened his mouth to speak, but was abruptly cut off. "No, you will listen to me. All of you will listen to me. Estel did nothing that I did not wish for him to do. In fact he was so afraid to touch me at first that it took a long time for me to make him comfortable around me. After all, I was in Lorien while you and the twins were getting used to having him in your lives. He made no advances to me. I advanced on him. When I saw him upon my arrival here in Rivendell, I knew then that the choice of Luthien would one day be mine to make."

She rounded on her father, again silencing his attempt to speak out. "I have not finished! You speak of his audacity to believe that an Elven maiden could love him - what of my audacity? He is to be a king of men. You did not name him Estel because you liked the name. If I win his heart, if I make him love me and then do not choose him? If I make promises to him and then leave for the Undying Lands, leaving a wrecked man to rule over men? Have you thought of this, father? Have you? I will not do to him what Mother did to you, to all of us!"

Even Elladan and Elrohir could not believe what their sister had said. They gaped at her. Her words had touched on a painfully unhealed wound in all of their lives.

"Daughter, you do not know what you are saying! Your mother - my Celebrian - she was harmed most grievously by the orcs. They abused her in every way imaginable. She chose to leave us because it was the only way she could deal with what happened."

Completely undaunted, Arwen shot back, "And what makes you think that the foul beasts would treat Estel any more kindly than they did Mother? And, because he is as you constantly remind me, of the Edain, the Undying Lands will not be an option for him. He will not be able to simply run away from pain and strife. He will have to live with it, or it will kill him. If there was not time enough for one of the firstborn to recover from captivity, what hope is there for Estel? He is grown, yes, but still young, even by the reckoning of men."

Arwen's words had affected Elrond. Even through his anger at Estel, he shivered at the idea of the boy being held captive by orcs. No one deserved that.

"I will be waiting at the stables when you are ready to leave, my brothers." With that, Arwen turned on her heel and stalked away.

The twins exchanged glances. Neither of them had seen Arwen like that before, and both hoped never to have to witness her wrath again. They also knew that she spoke the truth. They had been the ones to rescue Celebrian, and had never truly stopped feeling the guilt for not finding her sooner. She had not even said goodbye to her children before she left, and the twins had long felt that this was because she blamed them.

Without another word, Elladan and Elrohir followed their sister out, leaving Elrond alone to remember the past and hope for the future.

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