Title: Broken Alliances
Summary: A man kills an elf and starts a chain of revenge-killings, resulting in a war between the races. Now, Aragorn and Legolas must face the only enemy that could make them fall in battle: each other.
Part 1: The Killings
Murder in Mirkwood
Legolas and his party of four other riders knew at once that something was amiss in their kingdom when they reined in their horses at the stables of the palace and was immediately engulfed in a flurry of anxious, lowered voices. There was a tension in the air that was almost stifling, breaking the usual routines that the elves of Mirkwood had greeted their everyday with.
Legolas looked at the elves he had just arrived with, coming from a patrol of the eastern borders with curiously, but of course none of them would know what this was all about.
"Porter," Legolas called upon the stable hand who was holding the reins of his horse as he dismounted.
"Milord?" the elf replied.
"What is going on?" Legolas asked, "We had come from the eastern border patrol."
"My prince, you've not yet heard?" exclaimed the porter, "Your cousin Lord Rios, he has been slain."
"By whom?" asked Legolas, alarmed. Rios was young, for an elf. Quiet and introverted, always off in walks even in the still-relative peril of these woods. He never got in anyone's way, never got into fights or arguments, he seldom even spoke or was seen, to the consternation of his loving, doting mother.
"I do not know for certain," replied the porter, "but they say it was a man. I heard this human," he slurred the word as if it tasted vile, "slew Lord Rios with his bare hands, inside our borders! The southern patrol captured him, and brought him before your father."
Legolas turned away from the porter and stalked towards his father's court, leaving his companions murmuring in surprise and dismay, that a human could not only trespass into their territory unnoticed, he could even kill an elf, for all of their skills and agility.
Legolas had been around men long enough to know what they were capable of. What made his heart hammer, was what all this anger and dismay could eventually result into. Times had changed since Sauron's time, when the enemy was made clearly known, and so was the cause to defeat him. Now was a time of complicated politics, that entailed a lot of strange rules and complications.
The Prince of Mirkwood paused before the barred doors of the court. It was often open, save for whenever King Thranduil was in the middle of important, secret sessions with his advisors, or, as Legolas knew very well, when it was time to scold his often-wayward son and heir.
"Let me pass," Legolas commanded the two guards outside the door quietly, and they did as they were told, the prince immediately stepping into the grand hall and walking forward, towards his father's throne as the door behind him shut close.
Thranduil glanced up at his son, before turning to the human that was on his knees before the throne, hands bound behind him. His clothes were torn, and looked like he had taken some beating, although it was glaringly apparent that some of the blood on his clothes and skin must have belonged to Rios.
"That elf killed my brother," the man was saying, his voice ragged as he ranted savagely, "He deserved nothing less than what I had given him. And I, I deserve my justice. My family deserves the justice that I have bought with my own two hands. He deserved to die."
"That's impossible," Legolas interjected, barely noticing his father sigh in dismay for his impudence, "The elf you killed is named Rios, he is very young and quiet, and he had never even held a weapon in all of his life."
The man turned to face the new arrival, and his eyes lit with hope, "You are the elf Legolas," he said, awed, "A hero of the fellowship! You have a love for justice. Surely you must understand me! You are a friend to men, you are a friend to my King!"
Aragorn, Legolas thought miserably, Why did this foolish man have to come from Gondor or Arnor? Such ridiculously unnecessary complications in our lives…
The man's attention was now focused solely on Legolas, his wild eyes searching the elf's almost pleadingly, "I've seen you in our lands often. My people adore you, and you have always seemed very kind and fair to us. I beg of you, listen to me."
Legolas glanced up at his father, "I fear the only concessions you may ask for are to come only from my father, the King."
Thranduil nodded at him approvingly, making him feel like a child-elf, as if his father were surprised that he had a shred of propriety in his being after all.
"State your name," Thranduil commanded.
"I am Leon… sire, from Arnor," he replied hesitantly. It chilled Legolas that this wild man seemed to find reassurance in his presence, when he knew that he had no promises to give; the man had killed an elf, and it only meant either imprisonment or death.
"You say the Lord Rios killed your brother," said Thranduil, "how can you claim this?"
"I saw with my own eyes," Leon replied, "It was in Bree. There are not very many elves who come through there, so you could see one right away if they did come."
Bree had always been, even during the War of the Ring, an active hub of commerce, a strategically-located stop between very important trade routes. Indeed there were few elves that traded with men and other races there, or anywhere else for that matter, but some did exist. They had become more reclusive since the days of active exchange with the dwarves in Moria, years and years and lifetimes ago.
"There would be some elves who come through there," murmured Thranduil, "but to an absolute certainty, not Rios. He has confined himself to within our borders, and only in his own company."
Leon blinked. "That is not possible. I saw with my own eyes..." he started to sound uncertain, "I saw... He killed my brother. I saw with my own eyes!"
"What did you see?" snapped Thranduil, "golden hair? Fair skin? A quiver with bows and arrows?"
"Yes…" replied Leon haltingly, "That is what I saw…"
"Look about you, you fool!" exclaimed Thranduil, motioning for all the golden-haired, fair-skinned elves that surrounded Leon, "You had killed the wrong elf, if ever there was one who was worthy of your crazed revenge!"
"It's not my fault!" Leon retorted, "The elf killed my brother, he truly did. It was my right to get revenge. It was my mother's right that her son's killer be put to death! It is not my fault you all look the same," he glanced at Legolas, "except for him, whom I've often seen. All you blasted elves look the same! It's not my fault!"
Thranduil's eyes narrowed threateningly at him, "You should have thought of that before you slew one of our own."
The doors to the halls opened suddenly, and one of Thranduil's captains walked quickly towards the King, and murmured something near his ears.
Thranduil suddenly rose from his seat and pointed a long, angry finger at the human. His face and voice were as even as the most aloof and regal of elves, but his eyes burned with an angry fire, "Throw that vile thing into the darkest dungeons, I do not want to see his face."
His soldiers acted quickly, pulling Leon to his feet, and hurrying out the hall. They knew a smoldering, kingly rage when they saw one. As the last of the soldiers left, Legolas watched his father's face, as Thranduil sat back on his throne.
~We now know how he has entered our borders,~ the King said after a moment, shifting to their native Elvish, ~The western border patrol has not reported back in, and have been found murdered as well. All five of them.~
~How could that be?~ Legolas whispered.
~The human was made strong by his madness and grief, crazed with his passions,~ sighed Thranduil, ~that much I could see. But when he killed my nephew, and my soldiers, and broke into our borders, he set his stupid personal little battle against me and our kingdom, and that no madness could excuse. I could not forgive it. He will be sent to the executioner, as soon as this issue is made known to the King of Gondor and Arnor.~
~Elessar would ask you to bring Leon into their custody,~ pointed out Legolas, ~He would want to uphold his own human justice upon this murderer.~
~And he would be fair, that is certain,~ said Thranduil, ~he has such grace and wisdom… But I would not have it. Our people would not have it. We are deeply offended by this, and want this human subject to our punishments.~
~This would cause undue tension,~ Legolas said cautiously, ~Estel may accept your decision but his people would not be very pleased with it. They generally prefer to subject their criminals to their own justice.~
~I know,~ Thranduil said wearily, looking at his son, ~But I want this human punished and slain here, where I know for a certainty that it will be done. You may not understand why yet, my son. Elessar may not. But I know I want him killed before my very eyes.~
~Then make me understand,~ Legolas insisted, ~This is all so unnecessarily complicated.~
Thranduil paused, weighed the words in his head. ~You are impudent and I have a feeling that you may have been around men and dwarves so much that you are starting to share their passions and stubbornness.
~But,~ Thranduil continued, ~If today, by some wild chance, you had been assigned to the western patrol instead of the east, it would truly pain me to have lost you.~
Legolas was at a loss for words.
~He had come too close to my own blood,~ said Thranduil harshly, my own heart, he meant, ~He will be dealt with swiftly, severely and most definitively.~
Legolas looked at him intently. ~I understand,~ said Legolas, ~But I wish to be the one to inform Estel.~
~Times are dangerous,~ Thranduil said at once, ~And humans would not be pleased with us once word gets around that we are to execute a human, who only sought justice for his slain brother. 'Tis not safe. I forbid you to go.~
~Elessar is a friend to me,~ Legolas said, ~And the people of Gondor and Arnor have no cause against me, I am there often enough for them not to have any fear of me. If anyone of us there is safe, it is I.~
Thranduil frowned. ~You would only insist more if I try to persuade you further.~
~Do I have your leave?~ Legolas asked, almost smiling though he restrained himself.
~You never do,~ sighed Thranduil, ~But it has never stopped you before. At least this time, I can force you to bring a band of guards.~
~I hate traveling so conspicuously,~ Legolas protested.
~Did you or did you not ask for my permission?~ snapped Thranduil in his most Kingly fashion.
~I did, Your Highness,~ replied Legolas miserably, ~Thank you.~
Argorn graciously welcomed his old friend to his receiving hall, rising from his throne and meeting him at the very door, engulfing him in an embrace. Arwen, who trailed behind him quietly, restrained herself to a delighted smile.
~What brings you here?~ Aragorn asked, pulling away from Legolas.
~You have welcomed me so warmly and I regret I have nothing but ill tidings to give you,~ winced Legolas, shifting tongues, "I bear a message from King Thranduil."
Aragorn frowned. The last time the elf had brought a message from his father was at the Council of Elrond, when the fellowship of the ring was formed years ago. His message was that Gollum had escaped from his arrest in Mirkwood.
"Some days ago," said Legolas, "there was a murder in Bree. An elf killed a man, and had vanished from sight. The man's brother, however, had seen the murder and traveled to Mirkwood for revenge."
"So you have waylaid him in Mirkwood?" asked Aragorn, sighing inwardly with relief.
"That's not all," Legolas said quietly, "He killed five of our western border patrol to enter our realm, and murdered my cousin Lord Rios, whom he mistakenly thought was his brother's killer. My father told me to inform you that this man will be executed, as soon as I return to Mirkwood with your tidings."
"I understand why the King Thranduil would desire to punish this human in your courts," said Aragorn tentatively, "You can tell him that. But you know I am obliged to request that you turn him over to us. I guarantee he will be dealt with fairly."
"The King recognizes your grace and fairness," said Legolas, "But the act committed by the human is grave and publicly known. It is not only the King's wish that he be executed in Mirkwood, but it is also what our people desire."
"I understand," Aragorn nodded, "But I request the presence of human representatives to oversee that he gets a just trial. While I am certain that your people are wise and fair, they could formally attest to it upon their peers and kin, and my people would not have to rely upon my word alone. As you can see, my position in this matter is rather compromised."
Legolas understood all too well; when anger at the elves boils over, the people of Gondor and Arnor would be profoundly displeased over the fact that their King grew up with elves, are dear friends with several, and is even wed to one. They might believe his loyalties are not where they should lie.
"Of course," said Legolas, expelling a relieved breath. The issue was now practically out of their way…
"His family also needs to be informed," said Aragorn cautiously, "This duty I can do on my own…"
"I wish to go with you," said Legolas quickly, "It is only responsible that we have the courage to stand up for our decisions, after all. It would be cowardly not to have to face them."
"They obviously will not be pleased to see you," said Aragorn, "but I see where you are coming from. This is at Bree, you say?"
"Yes," said Legolas, "The man's name is Leon, of Arnor."
"Sire," said one of Aragorn's personal guards, a man named Sergio, "You need not travel. We can simply summon them here."
"No," said Aragorn with finality, "This family has already lost a son to murder. Today, they will be informed that they will lose another to the executioner's block. 'Tis the least we could do to be the ones to go to them."
Under Aragorn's masterful, dependable hands, the once-vanquished kingdom of Arnor thrived once more and rose in even greater beauty, in the short years it has fallen within the Reunited Kingdom.
The King Elessar with his guards, and the Prince of Mirkwood with his own men, made a glorious sight as they traveled across the countryside in the colors of their realms and in splendid horses and armor. Towns they passed cheered as they went, children trailing after them happily.
~I do not wish this crowd to be there when the news breaks,~ said Legolas to Aragorn.
~I must admit,~ said Aragorn, ~Often war is so much simpler than politics; we are kings and we may appear to rule over our people, but we must recognize that it is them we serve.~
The group rode on, until they reached a small farm at the outskirts of the main cities. They passed fields that were being worked upon by several men, and surrounded a humble wooden home, where an old woman awaited their arrival at her door.
They pulled to a stop before her, and she recognized her King and bowed her head before him humbly.
"What may I do for you, sire?" she asked, her voice cracked and wiry. She was glaring at the elves suspiciously. From inside the house, four adolescent boys came up behind their woman, as the farmhands stepped forward to see what was happening as well. Aragorn looked upon their faces and saw how similar in features they were. The man who would be executed—Leon, had ten brothers, aside from the one who was slain.
"I have news of your son, Leon," said Aragorn.
"He has been gone awhile," the woman conceded, "Does he live?"
Why could she not have asked some other question?
"He trespassed into the realm of Mirkwood," Aragorn replied, evading her question, "And killed five elf soldiers, and the nephew of the King Thranduil."
Did her eyes glint in appreciation, there?, wondered Aragorn as he watched her face, In pride? In bitter fulfillment?
She eyed the elves mockingly, "One of us against six of them. It can be so easy, couldn't it?" She spat on the ground, willing to get a rise out of them, but it was Aragorn's guard Sergio who put a hand upon the hilt of his sword threateningly.
"One does not do that in the presence of the King," he told her flatly, and she had to hesitate, even just a little.
Aragorn raised a hand to appease his wary guards. "She will be excused, for now. It is plain to me that this woman is in pain and anger. She will learn not to take advantage of our generosity," he said, looking pointedly at the woman.
"The elves killed one of my sons," she gulped, "and Leon merely avenged him. They deserved whatever they got."
"Leon killed the wrong elf," Aragorn told her, "And did not seek justice in the proper courts. He has been arrested and will most likely be executed."
Her face contorted. "Executed? Executed? So what if he killed the wrong elf, they are all of them the same! So arrogant, so intrusive a race! They all deserve to die! They killed my boy! Now they will kill another?! And what of the fact that he did not pursue justice in the proper way? Where do we hope to get justice, sire? From you? You with your elf friends and your elf hoar—"
Sergio put the blade of his sword against her throat. Her sons tensed to attack him, and Aragorn's and Legolas's guards raised their weapons to calm them.
"Bite your tongue, woman," Aragorn snapped lethally, "You forget your place. But you are certainly not allowed to forget mine, or my family's. You also forget that it is by the grace of the elves that we have lived through many of our trials. You forget a whole lot of things," to his soldiers, he said, "Lower your weapon, Sergio."
The loyal guard did as he was told.
"We came here to formally inform you of your son's transgression," said Aragorn tightly, "And to assure you that his trial will be fair. It will be held in Mirkwood, but he will have the best human lawyers there are in our land to ensure that his rights will be upheld, and all avenues of this grievous crime is examined. We did not come here to be disrespected by you."
Chastisement from the King was enough to make the woman curb her language although she could not help but continue, "And what of the elf murderer who killed my first son? This damned fate is mocking me! I will have two dead sons and that elf is running about freely! That race," she spat out the word, "is death to my family!"
"He will be searched for," Legolas told her softly, "And held accountable for his actions."
She looked at him scornfully. "I've stopped believing in your race's honor and promises," she said harshly, before grudgingly admitting, "But you, Prince, you I trust. I have a feeling you understand us."
Legolas refrained from wincing. Why did this crazy family have to look at him like a ray of hope?
* * *
The entourage left the farm, and made camp just outside of the city. When evening fell, Legolas joined Aragorn in his tent for a private dinner, while their men did the same outside.
"Even with the fairest trial in all the lands," Legolas said, "It is a certainty that he will be executed. It is a vile crime indeed, isn't it, Aragorn?"
"All murder is," the King replied.
"After he is dead," Legolas said, "I will accompany the return of his body to his family. I hope to see you then, so at least the long trip promises some joy, in the pleasure of your company."
"I would not have you pass through my lands without ever setting eyes on you," smiled Aragorn, "you know that."
They ate in companionable silence for a few moments.
"Where do you plan to search for the murderer?" Aragorn asked, "I heard your voice as you spoke to Leon's mother. There was a promise there. And your word, I know you never break."
Legolas expelled a breath. "In Bree, I suppose. But Leon's description is not very helpful at all. Blonde hair, fair skin… for all intents and purposes, he could have been referring to me."
"Why would an elf kill a man," reflected Aragorn, "Our contact is already so limited nowadays, it doesn't make any sense at all that an elf would do something like that suddenly."
"You think only of the elves you know," Legolas pointed out, "there is Lord Elrond and his sons," he enumerated, "the elves of Lothorien and of course, myself and my kin. You've not come across the kind that refuses to go into the fold."
"Refuses to go into the fold?" Aragorn inquired.
"We are not all of us the same," Legolas told him, "Some elves are not so complacent. Some seek adventure. Some seek fortune. Some seek a more independent, egalitarian lifestyle, away from kings and hierarchies that we both know are prevalent in our traditions. They are rogues, if you will. Such strange crimes I would not put beyond them."
"There are not very many such elves around," said Aragorn.
"You are correct," affirmed Legolas, "In thousands of years of life, one learns that in the end, you just really have to be one among your own kind and content with it, or face the grief of constant loss and wandering."
"Does that make you a rogue?" teased Aragorn, "you've not learned that part yet."
Legolas laughed, "As I said, I enjoy the pleasure of your company."
* * *
At daybreak, Aragorn and his soldiers made their way towards Bree to gather some information at the Prancing Pony Inn. It seemed nothing more than a typical inn in a busy, bustling city, but it was the best hub for intelligence, filled as it was with happy drunks and all sorts of other people from all across Middle-Earth. In the meantime, Legolas and his group headed towards the direction of Mirkwood to consult with his father about the upcoming trial and discuss the conditions King Elassar had proposed. It is along this road that they sensed they are being followed.
~Humans,~ one of Legolas's guards said distastefully, ~they are foolish enough to think they are discreet.~
~Perhaps they are merely curious about us,~ another guard said.
~No,~ said yet another, ~They have been trailing us for some time. They feel… familiar.~
~It is the murderer's family, isn't it?~ Legolas asked quietly.
~A family of fools,~ retorted his soldier, ~They have the gall to attack us. They will, my lord, you'll see.~
~I know,~ said Legolas, ~I can feel it. But be gentle with them. Do not kill them. They are acting on blinding grief. Do not make that woman right. We will not be the death to that family.~
~They are death to their foolish selves,~ said a soldier.
~Show them mercy,~ Legolas reminded his soldiers again, just as the ten brothers sprang from the woods and attacked the party with swords and axes.
Legolas immediately sought his swords, for the battle was a close-contact kind. He aimed at legs and arms, and pulled back his usually keen, vicious, lethal thrusts. He did not want the fools to die, he merely wanted them to learn that their brutal ways would not get them anywhere. Unfortunately, one of his soldiers did not have the same amount of control, and one of the young men was skewered with a sword.
~I said do not kill them!~ Legolas shouted over the din.
~Someone ought to tell them not to kill us!~ the soldier cried desperately, as he turned on the defensive and parried with all his might.
The elves were undoubtedly skilled, but a heroic restraint against a passionate resolve resulted only in the downfall of the elves, who up until the end, yielded to the orders of their Prince and refused to slay the madly fighting humans.
~No!~ Legolas yelled, his eyes bulging in horror as another one of his men fell. One by one did they all fall, even the Prince of Mirkwood soon found himself on one knee on the ground, holding his bleeding side as three swords were pressed threateningly against his throat.
"Do not move!" one of the humans said to Legolas's soldiers, "or the Prince dies."
Slowly, the elves froze and lowered their weapons.
"This is the one, right?" one of the younger-looking boys murmured to his older brothers.
"No!" exclaimed one of Legolas's guards, "I am the Prince. Set him free."
"Don't you lie!" yelled one of the brothers to the guard, stabbing him through the heart.
"You bastard!" exclaimed Legolas, struggling to his feet, only to be kicked back down. Eyes watering in rage and grief, he watched as one of his loyal guards sank to the floor with blank eyes, to join the several elves who had also died in the melee when they followed his orders and deigned to kill the humans.
"Do not hurt him too much," said the tallest, burliest one, "He is our bargaining chip."
"I would willingly go with you," said Legolas breathlessly, "If you would set what's left of my men free."
"No," said the burly one, "they die here. As a lesson to all elves who meddle in the business of men."
"Meddle?!" Legolas exclaimed angrily, pushing himself to his elbows, "Your fool of a brother brought us into your damned affairs when he slew our people!"
One of the brothers hit him with a back hand across the face, sending him to the ground again.
"You will not speak of Leon in this way," he said lethally.
"We must not tarry," the eldest interrupted, "Kill the soldiers quickly."
"Do not kill them!" protested Legolas, "I will come willingly with you, please. Please. Show them your mercy. They certainly showed you theirs, we acted solely in the defensive, surely you too must have noticed this! Show them the mercy they had shown you!"
"They will die," the man said simply.
Gathering his strength with his potent anger, Legolas threw himself against the eldest man with a cry, and grabbed the man's own dagger to kill him with. Legolas ran the blade clear across the man's throat, knowing by the sight of the spurting and pooling blood that he would be dead in moments. But one success would not be good enough to turn the tide of this battle. By now, numbers and strength were in favor of the humans, if not the skills.
Legolas was hastily overpowered, hit repeatedly and made to kneel before them and watch as each of his soldiers were brutally executed. Struggling for all he was worth, four of the humans could barely restrain him in his rage.
"Hit him, for god's sake," yelled one of the brothers who had one of his arms.
One of the brothers took a solid, iron grip against Legolas's throat. His eyes watered as his fingers closed around Legolas's neck tightly.
"You killed Jaime," he said softly, "You will pay."
"Do not kill him, Sisto," a small voice said, or maybe the voice was not really so small, just moving distantly as Legolas began to fade and choke, "We need him to ransom Leon from Mirkwood…"
But the grip would not ebb.
"Don't kill him, Sisto…" said the voice again.
But the world still crumbled into a silent, forbidding darkness.
* * *