TITLE: In the Eye of the Beholder
AUTHORS: Greenwood ('This is Greenwood' on this site) and Wednesday McKenna
ARCHIVE: Our webpage only. We also ask that our work not be nominated for any awards.
SUMMARY: Evil!Thranduil maneuvers to have an unwilling Legolas marry Elrond. This story is Alternate Universe (i.e., the story takes place within the LOTR universe but does not follow canon).
FEEDBACK: Dreaded, actually. We ask that if this flavor of tea offends you, please consider simply leaving it for someone else to enjoy rather than lashing out and hurting those who brewed it. Your beloved, original LOTR characters and world are just over there in your bookcase: pristine, intact and very much unharmed.
DISCLAIMER: Lord of the Rings and all character names are the acknowledged trademarks of the J.R.R. Tolkien Estate and/or its licensees. Character and other creative elements from these respective works are used in this story without permission for entertainment, not-profit purposes only. .No money is collected or made off of anything on this site. Everything here is fictional (this means it never happened). Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
It was pitch black in the dungeon cell, but Legolas didn't need vision to mark the limits of his captivity. Pacing out six restless steps, he turned. Pacing another six steps, he turned again. Endlessly he circled, like a great cat caught in a narrow cage.
For six weeks he had been incarcerated below his father, King Thranduil's, Mirkwood stone fortress. For six weeks Legolas had stayed on his feet, even during the brief twilight sleep his body demanded intermittently. He dared not sit to rest and dared even less to lie down, lest the resident rats run over anything but his booted feet. From the beginning, Legolas had shared his meager rations with them, so that they might be less inclined to want to nibble on him. It wasn't enough - was far from enough - for all of them.
The Elf felt covered in filth from the centuries-old dust that billowed up to accompany him on his endless journey around the cell. It hurt now to breathe, as he'd inhaled too much of the dust along with the mold wafting from the sickly brown moss he knew grew on the wet walls. His joints ached and he felt that he was weakening bit by bit, day by day. Worst of all, he was locked away from the light of the sun above, away from warmth and life itself.
Heavy metal doors clanged open and shut beyond his cell. Legolas didn't pause in his pacing, for he knew that his visitor was only Mithrandir, come this morning as he came every morning and evening. No guard accompanied the wizard, for none was needed. Thranduil knew his son would not harm the old man, and as for the old man trying to rescue Legolas, Mithrandir would never overstep his bounds by interfering with private punishment meted out to a wayward, disobedient son.
A small hinge at the bottom of the cell door was lifted and a tray was scraped across the cold stone. Porridge, apples, and milk were on the menu this morning, as they were every morning. The rats would descend on the porridge, and if Legolas moved quickly enough, the apples and the milk could be his.
Torchlight flickered between the cracks of the door - the only light the Elf saw each day. Forsaking the food, Legolas widened his eyes and feasted on the desperately needed radiance, but shadows interfered as the wizard moved outside of the cell. The glow disappeared altogether for a brief moment, and Legolas flinched. Had Mithrandir left again so quickly, leaving him in darkness and silence?
An impotent rage seized the Elf, along with a soul-deep urge to claw his way between the cracks of the door and seize the torch, even if it meant breaking the wrist of the hand that held it. Shaking his head, he shook away the madness behind the thought; Mithrandir little deserved such violence, and he had always been Legolas's friend. Every day, when everyone else had forgotten he was trapped below, the wizard brought food and light to the miserable captive. He didn't have to do so, and it was not Mithrandir's fault that the Elf found himself so punished.
"Do you yield?" the wizard rumbled, as he did each time he came. In his mind's eye, Legolas could see him standing with torch in hand and his ear to the door, hoping that he would be answered.
Weeks before, Legolas had stopped answering for in his pride and obstinacy the answer could never change. In defiance, he had ignored the question, had merely scooped up the mug and the apple and continued pacing.
This morning, the Elf broke off his circling and went to the door. Bowing his head against the cold iron, he closed his eyes. No Elven craft save Thranduil's key could open the door, just as no will but Thranduil's own would be allowed to guide his son's life if Legolas wished to escape this dungeon. To gain his freedom, he had to lose it forever. Sometime during the dark time, Legolas had come to understand that some cages were worse than others.
"I yield," he rasped in a voice graveled through long disuse.
A brief silence followed, as if the wizard were trying to manage his surprise. For a moment, Legolas feared that Mithrandir might simply turn and leave him there. Might leave it to Thranduil to descend the stone steps, throw back the door and gloat his triumph before releasing Legolas to walk the insane path he demanded his son follow.
But Mithrandir did not leave. No key jangled in the lock, yet the rusted tumbler still kicked over. The latch was shoved up with a sudden enthusiasm that belied any Mortal or Immortal hand upon it. Wizard-craft slammed back the door, and it tried to claim Legolas's booted toes on the journey.
Leaping backward to save his feet, the Elf blinked painfully as torchlight attacked his eyes. Stepping into the cell, the wizard slid an arm around Legolas's shoulders and squeezed hard.
"It is good to see you, young one. Are you broken within or without?"
Legolas didn't mean the word to come out on a growl, but it did. Turning into the wizard's embrace, he inhaled deeply of the tangled beard that smelled of woodsmoke and pipeweed. His fingers dug into the rough-spun gray robes, clinging shamelessly to the first human contact he'd had in weeks. Long an adult, Legolas still felt like a child, cleaving to the only benevolence left in his life.
A callused hand raked down his hair. "Your usually golden mane is matted, and you look a royal mess. A bath and change of clothes are in order before Thranduil is allowed to witness what will probably prove a sour victory. Say good-bye to the rats and let us leave this accursed vault."
The bitterness in Mithrandir's voice did not go unnoticed by the Elf. Legolas followed to climb upward from the dungeon and entered the main corridors with what he hoped looked like proper humility to the guards stationed at various points around the keep. Extra guards, he noticed, in case Thranduil's youngest was so foolish as to try to escape. Wizard and Elf both kept their silence until they gained access to more private corridors where no guards walked.
"You called him Thranduil," Legolas murmured, testing his voice as they entered the private bath-chamber attached to his old rooms.
"I beg your pardon?"
Frantic to rid himself of weeks of filth, Legolas stripped away his soiled tunic and leggings. "Before, you always referred to him in conversation with me as 'your father.'"
"No parent should ever imprison their child, Legolas, much less force them into an unwanted bond. The Valar themselves would never condone such an action." The wizard's blue eyes were kind, but his voice held a finality which made Legolas think Thranduil had lost all claims to nobility, at least to Mithrandir. "Did any of those rats bite you? Have you wounds that need tending?"
"I am uninjured."
The old wizard still eyed Legolas's nakedness with a critical eye, and the Elf allowed the inspection as he slipped into the warm, soothing water.
"No physical injuries, any road," Mithrandir commented, "as far as I can see at the moment."
Very much aware of watching wizard, Legolas sighed and arched in the sunlight streaming through the windows of patterned stone. Reaching for the soap, he cleaned his hair thoroughly before lathering the rest of him. Ducking beneath the surface of the water to rinse off, he knew that another inspection would undoubtedly follow upon his emerging from the pool.
The Elf was not in the habit of letting others watch him bathe, but Mithrandir's caring was comforting in ways Legolas didn't quite understand. For so private an Elf as he had always been, he was letting Mithrandir creep absurdly close. But during the dark time, Legolas too had ceased to think of his captor as his father.
Mithrandir smiled to see the shift of strong muscles across Legolas's back, the easy way he moved while bathing. Such ease said that the Elf's body had not failed him during his captivity.
[He is safe now, and this pleases me,] the wizard thought, gathering an armful of thick towels and placing them well within Legolas's reach. Pacing boldly into the Elf's private chamber, he took the liberty of retrieving a fresh set of clothing and boots and carried them into the bath-chamber as well. Settling on the stone wall and waiting for the Elf to finish, he considered. [No need to wait while he heals: we can leave Mirkwood for Rivendell as soon as Thranduil allows it.]
Mithrandir had arrived six weeks before to deliver a formal message to the king from Lord Elrond of Imladris: a message that had resulted in ongoing apprehension for Mithrandir and almost immediate imprisonment for Legolas.
Thranduil's youngest son had been running with a small group of Elves who had attached themselves to a larger group of Rangers, all in an effort to prevent Mirkwood from being overrun by a colony of orcs who had decided the darkening forests of Mirkwood and Thranduil's keep were only too perfect for their purposes. At 150 years, Legolas was a proven warrior. Battling orcs and spiders over the years to help keep safe his father's kingdom, the Elf had also agreed to keep an eye on Dul Goldur for Mithrandir. He'd turned out to be an able spy, with senses so intuitive that Mithrandir joked, "I have your eyes in Dul Goldur and my own elsewhere in Middle-Earth, but we are so alike in intent that the distance matters not. You're making my task much easier, young one, whether you know it or not."
Legolas gave a rare half-smile at the compliment which had been delivered with much glee and honesty. Seeing the Elf's reaction, Mithrandir found reason to believe that generous words had been scarce in his life. The result of the words had been that as the shadows gathered ever closer to Mirkwood, Legolas was more than eager to spend time sneaking around the outskirts of Sauron's old fortress in an effort to gain additional information that might be of value to Mithrandir. And so it was that the wizard had come to admire and like the young Elf, who was yet unbonded and known even within his own community as being very much a loner.
Mithrandir had delivered Lord Elrond's message, and Thranduil had called his son home immediately after he had received it. It had taken awhile for the summons to reach Legolas, and a little while longer for him to comply with his father's wishes. So it was that Mithrandir and Thranduil received word that evening, during the banquet set in honor of the wizard's arrival, that Legolas had arrived and was waiting in the king's own chambers.
"Is he not hungry?" asked Mithrandir. "Will he not join us here at the table?"
"Legolas is a moody soul, and he is probably feeling a bit surly after being summoned home so summarily." Thranduil grinned. "I doubt his mood will improve after I order him to Imladris, and so we will make him wait a bit."
[No matter how long I spend in Middle-Earth,] thought Mithrandir with some confusion as Thranduil turned his attention back to the wine and the night's entertainment, [I will never understand one creature's glee at another creature's unhappiness.]
Having totally enjoyed the night's festivities while the wizard had not, Thranduil swept into his chambers ahead of Mithrandir in the early hours of the morning. Heading directly to his bed, he flung wide his arms so that his attendants might peel him out of the rich robes he'd worn to dinner and into a sleeping-robe more comfortable for paternal discussions.
Settling just inside the door, Mithrandir stood quietly and watched as Legolas rose from his seat before the fire. His bow and quiver had been set to one side of the hearth, with his knives stored securely behind. Never out of reach, the wizard had come to understand that they were as much a part of the long-legged young Elf as were his silver-blonde hair and blue eyes.
Mithrandir all but gasped as shadow and flame carved the high-cheekboned face into harsh relief. As always, he was struck by the austere beauty of the warrior standing before him: of all the Eldar he'd met in his travels, both male and female, this one was the most beautiful. Oblivious as always to the affect he could have on others, Legolas offered a slight bow and murmured a formal greeting.
"Good evening my father, my king. And to you as well, Mithrandir. It is good to see you." His Sindarin was low and musical, as Thranduil's was ever harsh. Blue eyes cloaked in smoke settled on the wizard, their eager light promising new spy-tales to come.
"Good evening, Legolas," Thranduil's tones dripped ice. "So nice of you to have answered my summons so promptly. I trust you had a pleasant journey and were not pulled away from anything important with your Mortal friends?"
Wariness replaced warmth in the Elf's eyes as they slid from Mithrandir to Thranduil. This, the wizard knew, was the opening gambit in yet another verbal battle between father and son - a battle which the young Elf was never allowed to win. All of Legolas's conquests, Mithrandir knew from speaking with the other Elves, had come from slipping unnoticed from the gloom of his father's fortress to run free in what remained of Mirkwood's sunlight and try to defend the beloved woodland realm that was his true home.
Always, Legolas had run with the woodland Elves and the Rangers while Thranduil tried in vain to keep the younger prince of Mirkwood home and occupy him with matters of state. That was his duty, no matter his older brother didn't need any assistance and neither did the king, so that three royal personages trying to work with the King's counselors would have been a definite crowd. Unfortunately, Thranduil ever sought to prove his ownership and control of every glittering thing within his grasp, and was determined to keep it near him. Even as a child the light that was Legolas had refused to be so kept.
[He will never be happy hiding in dark stone as his father does,] Mithrandir reflected, watching the lithe body tense, the long fingers flex briefly with echoed stress.
"I am where you wish me to be, Father." Terse words, with an unheard message: I am here... for now.
A heavy silence fell between the two Elves, until Thranduil broke it. "May it ever be so."
Waving an impatient hand, the king dismissed his attendants, gathered his robes and stepped closer to the fire. Gazing into the flames, he said, "I have received a message of great interest from the Half-Elven ruler of Imladris this afternoon. Some weeks ago his wife, the Lady Celebrian, met an unfortunate death Oversea. Shortly after her death, word spread out from Imladris that the marriage bond between her and the Half-Elven had been broken. This affords him the opportunity to seek a new mate. It also affords you and me the opportunity to strengthen the relations of our two kingdoms through a marriage alliance."
"A marriage alliance... between whom?" Legolas asked cautiously.
Rounding on his son, Thranduil narrowly avoided catching his robes on fire. "Between you and the Half-Elven, you fool. Surely this is obvious, as I have no daughter and your brother is already bonded? For the first time in your sorry life, Legolas, you will be of use to me and to Mirkwood."
"I am already of use to you and to Mirkwood," Legolas said with what seemed an ominous quiet. "I help guard your shadow-filled borders, keep safe your roads, drive away the Nazgul and the orcs, bring news of Dol Goldur when others are afraid to step within its borders, and--"
"Others are more afraid of me than they are afraid of Dol Goldur. Others will guard our borders just as well after you have joined the Half-Elven."
The younger Elf narrowed his eyes. "Let me make sure that I understand you, Father. You are suggesting that I journey to Imladris and meet Lord Elrond Peredhil for the express purpose of joining myself to him in marriage?"
"No. I am ordering you as your king to do so. The Half-Elven has agreed to my proposal to have you, and I have sent word in return that you will have him. You leave for Imladris in the morning."
A deadly silence fell, wherein even Thranduil seemed to hold his breath, waiting for the explosive tantrum that was surely to come. Mithrandir waited uneasily at the door. [This is beyond tantrum,] thought the wizard. [This is absolute insanity. I thought it the first time I heard of it from Elrond, and I still think it. Legolas and Elrond both deserve happiness, while this arrangement will bring nothing but tears.]
"No." The soft word shattered against the stone walls. Turning away from his father, Legolas retrieved his quiver and set it between his shoulders. The bow was placed just so, the knives checked secure in their sheathes. Gathering his cloak, the Elf headed for the chamber door.
Thranduil scowled. "No, what?"
Legolas turned just short of the door. "No, Father, I will not bond with Lord Elrond of Imladris. I choose exile from Mirkwood rather than fall in with this mad plan of yours."
"Exile is not among the choices laid before you," Thranduil growled. "With time, I think you will come to see that there is only one choice, and you will take it. Guards!"
They poured into the room, some from a couple of entrances behind tapestries that Mithrandir hadn't even known existed. Shoving Mithrandir aside, they nearly bowled over their king in their haste to reach Legolas before he gained the door. The young Elf went down in a mob of Elves, never drawing knife or arrow in any attempt to defend himself.
When the pile of Elves had sorted itself out, one emerged with the quiver and knives still in their sheathes. Another grasped Legolas's treasured blackwood bow so tightly that his knuckles showed white. As for Legolas, he stood quietly among three other Elves, one of which had an arm locked around his throat while the others held Legolas's arms fast at his sides.
Legolas regarded his captors sadly. "I would never hurt you."
[He grew up with them,] Mithrandir realized. [Some may even have helped train him in his youth, but he's proven the better warrior and they know what they risk to attack him. Thranduil commands that which he owns at all cost and these Elves are bought and paid for, but the cost of commanding Legolas may prove dearer than Thranduil knows. Legolas will never yield without honor.]
"Take him," the king growled.
Mithrandir watched as the guard removed the unresisting Elf. "What will you do to him?"
"I, Master Wizard?" Thranduil arched an eyebrow and gave a chilling smile. "I will do nothing to Legolas. The dungeons below will do it for me."