Legolas rode slowly across the barren land, wary as he sometimes became when traveling within in an area so entirely absent of trees. He hated the exposure of it, and far more than that, he hated that he could not feel the life surrounding him as it did in the forest of his home. Even though some of the great trees of Mirkwood were forced to grow in shadow, he could still feel the life in them, and he sorely missed it now.
He pushed his wariness aside, however, though he still remained vigilant of any danger. Soon he would be in Rivendell, and he knew his troubles would ease. It had been decades since he had last visited and gone hunting orcs with Elladan and Elrohir--and the closer to Rivendell he became, the more he realized just how much he had missed his friends. But his absence was his own doing, and in his opinion could not be helped. The further the shadow spread over his home, the more reluctant he became to leave it--deathly afraid as he was of what he might find upon his return.
But fighting back the dark creatures of the forest so long without rest had worn him down, and his father had insisted he take a rest. Forbidden at the moment as he was to join the patrols at home, he had instead asked for permission to go to Rivendell, where he intended to hunt orcs with Elladan and Elrohir safely out of sight of his father's watchful eyes.
Thranduil had easily read his intentions, but hoping that Elrond's twin sons might help lift his spirits, he had let him go. After much more argument, he had allowed Legolas to depart without the escort he had prepared. And as Legolas caught sight of movement to the left and behind him from the corner of his eye, he wondered if insisting he ride alone might have been as foolish as his father seemed to believe.
Legolas leaned forward, and whispered soothingly in Sindarin to his horse--reacting to the commands instantly, the horse spun around to face the coming threat. A party of orcs came crashing over a rise in the distance, not quite a half mile away. Legolas noted with distaste that some were riding wargs. He would deal with them first. He lifted his bow and grabbed an arrow from his back in one flawless move. The arrow still had not reached its mark when he had already shot two more, and as they finally made it across space between him and the orcs, the wargs began to fall one by one.
He ran his eyes over the coming group, and counted maybe forty. But he was not afraid--the wargs already lay behind the charging orcs dead or dying, and he was sure he would fell many more of the enemy before they ever got close enough to fire their own arrows at him. He would lower their number by half before he ran out of arrows, assuming he didn't miss. And he never missed.
Still, that left twenty to fight with nothing but his twin knifes. He had fought as many or more before, but doing so was a risk he would not normally want to take. As his last arrow hit its mark, and another orc was sent to the ground and trampled by the others, he turned to look anxiously behind him. If he rode, he would make it to Rivendell before they caught him--he was close enough to the haven by now. The orcs that were left were on foot, and he was a fast rider, but he could not bring himself to run.
He slid down from his horse, the orcs still somewhat in the distance and obviously enraged that he had so casually killed half of them while remaining firmly beyond their own short reach. Whispering again to his horse, he sent him running reluctantly away to Rivendell with a firm pat on his side. Staying on his mount would make him a target, and he needed the freedom to move. Besides, he saw no reason why they should both be put at such risk.
He looked back to the coming enemy as he pulled out his knives and prepared to fight, smiling grimly when he noticed the orcs had not stayed together. Not the best strategists in middle Earth, the faster of the orcs had gained on those lagging behind, and Legolas felt better of his chances if he did not have to face them all at once.
Scanning them, he noticed that there were no archers left among them. They had been the next he had aimed for after the wargs, and he was glad he had gotten them all. They would have to come close to get to him, and Legolas was not about to make it easy.
Tossing one of the knives deftly to his empty hand, he stood firmly--and waited for them to come.
Elladan and Elrohir were returning home. They had spent the last weeks hunting a rather large party of orcs that had been not far south of Imladris. As much fun as they both believed their trip had been, they were not regretting the return journey. They were looking forward to sleeping in real beds again, as well as seeing their father and Estel--Arwen, unfortunately, was still away in Lorien.
They had not parted with Estel on the best of terms, as they had spotted him trailing after them before they had even left the stables, a small knife held in his hands that he had apparently intended to use to 'take care of some of those nasty orcs'. He had not been too happy with them when they had sent him off to Elrond instead of giving in and taking him with them. He didn't seem to understand that ten year olds shouldn't be off hunting orcs.
Nevertheless, Elladan smiled at the memory. He had a feeling the incident would be remembered far more fondly by him and Elrohir than by Estel, whose young pride had not faired well.
"Do you think Estel will be happy to see us?" Elrohir asked, as though he had read his brother's thoughts--which he may well have.
Elladan smiled over at him. "Of course. He'll not want to be reminded of being so easily caught, I'm sure, and he will be far too interested in hearing the stories of our adventures as always to hold a grudge."
Elrohir winced. The stories of this trip would be grimmer than most, and he wasn't so sure this time they should be told. The large group of orcs they had sought took many battles to finally defeat, and though they were both now healed from injuries they had received, neither had escaped every battle unscathed.
Elladan's tense voice pulled Elrohir from his thoughts, and when he lifted his gaze to his brother's face he saw his eyes focused on something in the distance. He turned to where he was looking and saw a rider-less horse running towards them. Not sure at first what had caused his brother's alarm, Elrohir finally recognized to whom this particular horse belonged. There was no saddle, but the blanket thrown over his back held the markings of Mirkwood, and less conspicuously, there were markings identifying the horse as belonging to the prince.
"Oh no," Elrohir breathed. "What's he gotten himself into this time?"
Elladan didn't answer, having already urged his own horse in the direction Legolas's came from. Elrohir followed him an instant later. To their surprise, Legolas's horse barely seemed to notice them, carrying on instead towards Rivendell without pause. Elladan stopped and spun to watch it with a frown.
"Why do I get the feeling that foolish elf sent the horse to ride to Rivendell to keep it from harm?"
"We have not the time for this now," Elrohir interrupted. "The horse left tracks that will be easy enough to follow. We must get to him, Elladan. Something tells me even now that we might already be too late."
Elladan nodded and again the brothers took off. Both of them hoped they would not have to go far to find their friend, and even more they hoped they would find him well.
Ten minutes later, at the bottom of a steep hill, sounds of battle began to reach them. They pushed their horses on, up to the top, and even as they did both were afraid what they might see when they reached the other side.
They stopped at the top to take in what was happening just below them, before pulling out their bows and urging the horses down to their friend. It was a massacre, but one both of the brothers looked on with satisfaction. Because in the distance they could see many orcs lay dead, and surrounding their friend, sixteen had fallen, and only five remained.
Legolas looked up and met their eyes for an instant, before grinning and then refocusing completely on the fight. Elladan and Elrohir both returned the grin, and each let loose an arrow, both of which hit their marks. Elladan cursed quickly in Sindarin when one of the orcs finally snuck under Legolas's defenses and grazed his arm with a blade, but it did not stop his friend so Elladan turned his attention back to the remaining enemy, and pulled another arrow from his quiver.
Legolas slipped his knife up and into the orc that had cut him, stopping the movement only after the orc's cry of surprise had stopped and he went still. He turned to face the others then, only to find them lying at his feet, an arrow in each of their necks. He was certain he probably could have handled them on his own had he been forced to, but he was glad for Elladan and Elrohir's help regardless, even more so because he had not seen them in so long.
He turned to face them as they rode to him, both of them grinning. Then he noticed with alarm that they appeared to be speaking to him, and he couldn't hear a thing. The knives held tightly in his hands suddenly felt far too heavy for such small weapons, and he stumbled forward when their weight became too much. He caught sight of the smiles falling from the faces of the brothers just as he fell to his knees, the blood stained knives in his hands slipping from his grip as he realized he could hold them no longer.
He thought he saw his two friends running towards him, and thought that perhaps one or both of them was even shouting his name, but before he could be sure, the world titled and then went black.
Elladan slid to his knees beside his friend, and caught him just as his eyes had rolled back into his head and he started to fall towards the ground. He looked over him quickly, laying him gently on the ground, wondering what injury he had overlooked that could possibly cause this.
Elrohir fell down beside him. "Where is he hurt?" he demanded.
"I don't know," Elladan said frustrated. "There is only the cut on his arm."
They looked towards each other then, their faces both reflecting the same fear. That this small scratch had brought their friend to his knees scared them far more than if they had found an arrow buried in his side. Only thousands of years of being a warrior kept Elladan's hands from shaking as he cut away Legolas's sleeve.
The wound was not very long, though still fairly deep, but it was not the wound itself that concerned them. The veins in Legolas's arm stood out sickly, and instead of seeing red in the cut the color mostly there was black.
"The blade was poisoned," Elrohir whispered.
"We have to get him to father," Elladan said sharply. "You will take him, your horse is faster."
Elrohir nodded, pulling himself to his feet, still somewhat disoriented from the devastation that one small cut had caused their friend. He quickly mounted his horse and gently pulled Legolas in front of him when Elladan handed him up. He didn't wait for Elladan to reach his own horse before taking off towards Rivendell, and though he never looked back, he knew Elladan would not be far behind.
"What is going on?"
"Not now, Estel," Elrond said gently. "Go back to the house."
"But something's happened," Estel said angrily. "I know something has. What is wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong, now please--"
"Fine," Estel said haughtily, before spinning on his heel. He continued to walk towards the house only until Elrond's attention was diverted once more, at which time he backtracked through the trees and made his way even closer than before.
"What does this mean?"
Estel saw one of the guards ask the question, then turned to watch Elrond, curious about this himself.
Elrond sighed, and Estel frowned. He looked weary. And the only time he ever looked like that was when Elrohir and Elladan were in trouble. He fought down panic at the thought something had happened to them.
"I do not know," Elrond responded finally. "The messenger that Thranduil sent telling us Legolas would be visiting mentioned the foolish elfling would be traveling alone. If he ran into one of those parties of orcs we've had reports of . . ."
Estel almost gasped. He had not been told Legolas of Mirkwood was coming. Which wasn't all that surprising, Estel thought with a frown, as no one seemed to ever tell him anything. He couldn't hold back a bit of excitement at the thought of meeting the warrior prince Elladan and Elrohir had spoken so much of, but it was tempered with the worry that something had befallen him before he was able to reach Rivendell.
The guard gave a grim smile. "Then I have a feeling they would rue the day. Legolas is a capable warrior, my lord. I have seen him fight."
"Even so," Elrond said cautiously. "I want you to send out a search party after him. Legolas certainly would not have simply lost his horse. He charms them too easily for them to leave him without reason. Either he set him loose, or he's been hurt."
Estel turned to look at the new arrival. Another guard, one he recognized as being posted on the outer border, came rushing through the gates.
"Merran," Elrond said tightly. "What has happened?"
"Your sons ride towards the gate," he reported quickly. "And they are not alone. It appears they have the prince with them--and he does not look well."
Estel gasped. He truly hoped Legolas would be alright. He had been dying to meet him for as long as he could remember. Not just anyone could work their way so efficiently into the lives of Elladan and Elrohir, for even though they made friends wherever they went, they seemed content to only ever truly rely on each other. So far as he knew, despite a long separation, Legolas seemed the one exception to the rule.
Elrond and the guard with him had rushed after Merran, though they stopped right outside the gate to wait. Estel moved out from the bushes behind them, but they were too focused on where they watched to pay him any attention. Estel could tell from a sudden strained movement from Elrond that the riders had come within his view, though they were still far from his.
At last they were near enough he spotted them. One twin was a few feet in front of the other, a blond elf held tightly in front of him. The golden hair was flying from the speed of the horse, and obscuring the view of his face. Even so, it was not hard to tell the elf was not well. He was slumped forward and most likely not conscious, held up only by the arm that one of the twins held firm around him.
"Father," Elrohir shouted as he pulled the horse to a stop before the gates. "It is poison," he said succinctly, before lowering Legolas into Elrond's arms.
Estel watched Elrond hurry into the house with the elf, and wondered at the raw concern he saw on his face. Elrond always kept himself collected when treating injuries, and the only time Estel had ever known him not to hide it was when he was treating him, or one of the twins.
"Elladan, Elrohir!" he shouted, running over to them as the other brother reached them and dismounted in one quick jump.
"Estel," Elladan greeted with a small smile, though his voice was strained. "You are well?"
Estel nodded quickly. "That was Legolas?" he asked quietly.
Elrohir looked over at his brother briefly before turning back to him. "It was."
"He was poisoned?" Estel asked. Elrohir and Elladan were two of the few that ever answered his questions, and though they too had their limits, he was determined to learn as much as he could. "Will he be alright?"
"He was poisoned," Elrohir agreed sadly. "But I do not know if father can help him."
Estel watched them sadly. "I am sorry. I know he is your friend."
"More than a friend," Elladan said softly. "More like family."
Elrohir nodded in agreement. "It does not seem fair that we should finally see him after all this time, only for trouble to follow him."
"Let us see if there's news yet," Elladan said, before leading the way into the house that Elrond and Legolas had disappeared into.
Elrond placed Legolas gently on the bed, and an assistant flew to his side with various poison remedies already in his hands. It was not hard to find the source of the poison, as the gruesome black in the cut on the young elf's arm seemed to have grown even darker, standing out against the surrounding pale skin.
"This is a deadly poison," he whispered, horrified. The orcs used more than one kind, and he was not surprised that if Legolas should be infected with poison that he would fall victim to the worst one. Like his sons, Legolas seemed to be half the time cursed and half the time blessed.
While the assistant saw to cleaning the wound on Legolas's arm, Elrond began preparing an antidote to stop the effects of the poison. He could only hope that he gave it to Legolas in time. He didn't know how long it had been since the poison had started spreading, and worried he may already be too late.
"Help me lift him," he demanded shortly to his assistant. A small cup of what would hopefully turn out a cure already expertly mixed together. "We have to get him to drink it."
They pulled Legolas up into a sitting position, and holding one of his medicinal herbs underneath the young elf's nose, he began to wake. The eyes that were revealed were glazed, and held no recognition, but Elrond wasn't giving up yet.
"Legolas, you must drink this. Do you understand?"
Despite a lack of response, Elrond held the cup to his lips and instinct took over. He got him to drink it all and then lowered him back to the bed.
Elladan and Elrohir flew into the room an instant later, Estel right on their heels. Elrond looked up at them.
"Is he--?" Elladan started, but trailed off.
"Alright?" Elrohir finished.
Elrond sighed. "It is too soon to tell." His gaze moved to Estel. "You should not be here," he told him gently.
"I want to be here," he said bravely. Legolas obviously meant a lot to Elladan, Elrohir and Elrond, which meant he ought to mean something to him, too.
Elrond looked almost ready to protest, but instead sighed and looked to his sons. "What happened?" he asked.
Elladan sighed, unintentionally echoing his father. "We saw Legolas's horse heading for Rivendell, and followed the trail it left. When we reached Legolas, he appeared to have things well in hand. A party of orcs had attacked, but he had already killed over thirty by the time we arrived. Elrohir and I helped kill the few remaining, but one Orc was able to cut Legolas's arm." Elladan paused, his eyes drifting towards Legolas.
Elrohir picked up the tale. "He collapsed almost immediately," he said sadly. Then his expression seemed to grow angry. "He fought that whole troop alone, killed nearly all of them and received only a scratch himself. It is not fair that it should cause him so much pain. Orcs are deceitful vile beings, using poisons on their blades."
Estel's eyes had widened during the retelling, amazed that Legolas had done so much on his own, even as he worried what the price for his bravery might be.
"He should have headed for Rivendell," Elrond said tightly. "He should not have fought them on his own."
Elrohir and Elladan shared a look. Both of them knew there was very little chance Legolas would ever take such a sensible road, and they sympathized, because neither would they.
They would flee if they had no other choice, but if a chance to rid the world of such vile creatures was offered, they could do nothing but take it. To leave behind a troop of orcs and then learn they had killed and caused destruction in one of the villages of men was a risk they always kept in mind, and one that usually kept them fighting even with odds against them.
With another weary sigh, Elrond looked again to his sons and a small, sad smile appeared on his face. "I am glad you two are both home well," he said softly. Enough times it had been them riding through those gates only half alive, and every time they left he feared they would never return.
"I just wish Legolas was as well," Elrohir said quietly.
Elrond looked down at Legolas, who he had known almost since the younger elf's birth, and prayed he would be well soon. "If you saw him get struck down with the poison," he said slowly, cautious of providing false hope, "then I should think we have acted quickly enough to stop it. He should wake."
"But you are not sure," Elladan said knowingly.
"There are never certainties, Elladan, you know that," Elrond said. "But we have nothing if we do not have hope."
Elrond had left his vigil in the early hours of the morning, to see about contacting Thranduil and his other duties to the realm. He left Legolas in the care of Elladan and Elrohir, who had not left his side, and under the sleepy gaze of Estel, who seemed to feel it was his duty to be present as well.
Elrohir pulled irritably at the edge of his tunic, growing angry when the threads stayed immaculately in place instead of unwinding so as to provide him with a much needed distraction. All night he had sat with Elladan, Estel and his father, watching the still Legolas and praying for him to move, just so they would know he still lived. But Legolas had not moved--and he was growing weary of the wait.
Legolas always had to worry them like this, and never, not once, had he the good grace to arrive at their gates quietly. "How is it he can never just stay out of trouble and come for a nice quiet visit?" he asked finally. He was angry. Not really at Legolas, but at the circumstances, and even at himself. He hated being unable to help his friend.
Elladan opened his mouth to respond, but someone unexpected beat him to it.
"How is it," Legolas murmured petulantly, though beneath a grimace of pain traces of a smile could be seen. "I can fight all manners of evil in my own realm without ever a scratch, and the moment I come into any kind of proximity to the two of you I find myself fighting for my life?"
The twins jumped to their feet, breaking out into matching large grins at this first sign their friend was indeed recovering from the poison. If he had been given the antidote too late, Legolas would not have woken at all--so hearing his voice, even weak as it was, was enough to assure them both he would be alright. Estel sat up from where he had fallen asleep on the couch, and smiled groggily.
"He can't possibly be blaming this on us, can he, Elrohir?" Elladan asked, sharing a look of thinly-veiled amusement with his twin.
"It would be highly unreasonable to do so," Elrohir said with a nod. "But as this is Legolas, I must say it's right possible."
Legolas rolled his eyes and then groaned at the piercing pain it caused in his head. The twins moved quickly to his side, and their smiles faded to be replaced with the calm they had been taught to show when acting as a healer. Neither was quite as adept at healing as their father, but they had been trained by the best, and they were quickly catching up.
"Where does it hurt?" Elladan demanded softly, grabbing Legolas's wrist to check the rate of his pulse.
"I'm fine," Legolas said, trying to pull his wrist from Elladan's grasp. "What happened?"
"You were infected with poison," Elrohir said. "The blade that cut you had been soaked in it."
"Oh," Legolas said vaguely. "I suppose I owe my life again to Elrond and the two of you?" The young elf groaned again, though this time not from pain. "I have a bad habit of that. I shall never be out of your debts."
The twins shared another look, and in the corner Estel watched their interactions in amusement. "I think you have saved us as well, Legolas, on enough occasions that you owe us nothing," Elladan said wryly. "But you owe your life to my father countless times over."
"Yes," Legolas said. "I do. My father is most unhappy about it, as I recall. For it places him also in Elrond's debt."
Elrohir laughed at that. Thranduil hated owing anything to the Lord of Imladris, despite that they were more friends these days than enemies.
"Where is Lord Elrond?" Legolas asked. "I wish to thank him."
Elladan looked slightly put out. "You have not thanked us," he reminded.
"You have already told me I do not have to," Legolas said with a grin. "Did you not tell me just now I owe you both nothing?"
"That's not exactly what I meant," Elladan said, and he was going for stern, but his smile and Elrohir's ruined the effect.
Legolas started to push himself up and the room began to spin rather ominously. He grabbed onto Elladan's sleeve to keep from falling, but it was a futile effort, as Elrohir was already pushing him back down.
"Easy, you stubborn princeling," Elladan snapped. "You are not well yet."
"Is he alright?"
The young voice took Legolas by surprise, and he turned his blurry eyes in the direction from which it came. He caught sight of a young human boy, watching him anxiously.
"All is well, Estel, but perhaps you had better go and get father," Elrohir said tightly, still holding Legolas's shoulder to keep him from rising again.
The boy nodded and sprinted from the room.
"That is Estel?" Legolas asked. He had heard of the boy Elrond had taken in from his father, who Elrond had sent a messenger to. He had been rather looking forward to meeting him, but this was not how he had envisioned it.
"It is," Elladan said, with a small grin.
"I fear I have not made the best of first impressions," Legolas said weakly.
"We'd expect no less of you," Elladan said, solemnly.
Elrohir, not as adept at keeping a straight face as his brother, snorted. "Of course we would not. If I had not heard it from Thranduil myself, I would not believe for an instant you could possibly be the son of a King. You are far too…un-princely."
"Spoken with all the tact one would expect from the son of a Lord," Legolas said ironically.
Elladan grinned at Legolas's quick retort, taking it as a good sign of recovery. Then he turned to his brother. "Elrohir, I fear I must disagree with you. Legolas is every inch a royal prince. That is, he is when he needs to be."
"Thank you, Elladan," Legolas said tiredly.
"You know," Elladan continued, ignoring Legolas's offer of thanks, "Like if he needs to charm his way out of trouble. He's right sweet and royal when he's up to no good."
"Why, Elladan, I do believe you're right. Forgive me, Legolas, I was mistaken. You are only un-princely when you are not up to mischief and lying through your teeth."
Legolas sputtered indignantly. "I do not lie! I place much value on honesty, unlike the two of you--who seem to make it something of a hobby to spin wild fantasies and call them truth."
"He has a point, brother," Elladan admitted. "He can be annoyingly honest."
"He just told us he was fine, then nearly passed out when he tried to sit up," Elrohir said dubiously.
"Also a good point," Elladan said, smoothly switching tracks. "That was not very honest, Legolas."
"I was fine," Legolas said defensively. "At least I was until I sat up."
"And what happened then?" asked a brisk voice from the doorway.
Elrond swept into the room with Estel behind him, looking Legolas over with his keen eyes.
Legolas inwardly groaned. That was something he would have kept from Elrond if he could have, even considering how much he valued honesty as he had just pointed out to the twins, but he imagined Estel would have already have told him anyway. "I got a bit dizzy is all," he said dismissively.
"I think he's not being honest again," Elrohir said.
Legolas glared at him, and Elrond did as well--pushing his son aside, he kneeled beside Legolas in Elrohir's place. "Estel tells me you nearly blacked out," he said gently. "This is not uncommon considering the amount of poison that had spread before I could put a stop to it. The aftereffects should disappear quickly enough, but I would suggest you rest now. It is the quickest way to regain your strength."
Legolas nodded, though he really doubted how much he would be able to sleep. "Lord Elrond," he said gravely. "Thank you for saving my life. Again."
Elrond smiled at him. "I am happy I could, elfling, though I would much rather not to have to at all. You need to show more caution."
Legolas knew this was probably true, so he didn't protest. But then something disturbing occurred to him. "You haven't sent word to my father, have you? I really think it would be rather for the best if he was not to know, he worries needlessly, you see, and--"
Elrond held up a hand to slow the stream of words. "I have been preparing a letter for your father, but I was not sending it until I knew whether or not you would recover. I will be sending word to him now."
Legolas looked so crestfallen Elrond almost took pity on him. But his friendship with Thranduil was tenuous enough as it was, and he could not risk keeping something like this from him. Like Elrond himself with his children, Thranduil was very protective of Legolas. Perhaps even more so, as Thranduil had raised Legolas alone, and the child was his youngest one.
"He needs to know, Legolas," Elrond said gently. "Though I thank the Valar that the news I will be sending will say you are now, at least, well. You should be fine by tomorrow, though I would ask you do not overdo it even then."
"Yes, Lord Elrond," Legolas said obediently.
Elrond knew him well enough to know that however well intentioned his acquiescence had been, Legolas would likely be climbing trees by noon.
He turned instead to his sons, who were no better patients themselves, but were far more careful with the health of others. "You two are to look after him."
"Yes, father," they said together. They then turned to look warningly at Legolas. Now if Legolas hurt himself further it would be blamed on them, they were sure, and so they were more certain than ever that he would do as Elrond had told him to.
"Estel," Elrond said gently. "You should go out and play now, it's a beautiful day--and I'm sure Elladan and Elrohir would like to catch up with Legolas."
Estel looked disconsolate at this suggestion. "But he's only just woken! And I've been dying to speak with him. Please can't I stay for awhile?"
Legolas watched him with a smile. "I would very much like it if he could," he said quietly. "For I have been greatly wishing for a chance to speak with him as well."
Elrond looked at them both with exasperation, and the twins only smiled broadly--there would be no help from them. "Very well. But, Estel, you must not agitate him. He needs rest."
Estel nodded solemnly, his eyes wide. Elrond knew this agreement probably meant little more than Legolas's, but with a resigned sigh he left the room to finish his letter to Thranduil.
Estel bounded over to where Legolas was the instant Elrond was out of sight. "You've wanted to speak to me as well?" he asked, his voice filled with awe. "Why? What do you wish to know? I would tell you whatever it is as long as it is something I can tell you."
Legolas grinned at him, but before he could say anything, Estel had started speaking again.
"Elladan and Elrohir have told me much about you, have they told you about me as well? Is that how you decided you wished to meet me? I've wanted to meet you for the longest time. Elladan said you were a great warrior! And that no one could outshoot you with a bow. I'd very much like to see you practice. Do you think sometime I could? I wouldn't get it in the way, I promise."
Legolas was having trouble keeping up, but one part stood out and he raised an eyebrow in Elladan's direction. Elladan mouthed "It was Elrohir that said that" and then proceeded to point at his outraged sibling.
"I bet you know lots of stories," Estel continued. "I bet you have had all kinds of adventures, have you not? Elladan and Elrohir have told me some of them, but I bet you have many more all on your own. Do you really have spiders in your forest? Huge spiders that attack men and elves and build nests high in the trees?"
"You ask a lot of questions," Legolas said with a grin. "I have had many adventures, yes, and most of them have to do with the very spiders you speak of."
If possible, Estel's eyes grew even wider. "Oh, you must tell me. Will you? Elrohir tells me lots of stories, and Elladan too--but they're always about orcs. And I grow weary of hearing them." Estel ignored the outraged sputtering behind him, and remained focused on the prince. "I would very much like to hear about the spiders."
"Are you sure you are old enough to hear of such things?" Legolas asked, suppressing a grin because he already well knew the exasperated answer he would receive.
"Of course! I am ten years old, after all," he said self-importantly.
"Very well," Legolas said, his voice filled with false reluctance. "If you are sure?"
"I'm very sure."
"Well, I suppose it would be alright. Just this once. After all, you have been subjected to so many orc tales, I'm sure you're desperately in need of something exciting--"
Elladan, who was kneeling on the other side of the prince annoyingly checking him over for signs of distress, leaned towards his ear. "You're lucky you are not well, little prince, or I would have hurt you for that."
Legolas acted very much like Elladan had never spoken, and Estel, who did not have the hearing of elves, had not heard him anyway.
"Well," Legolas began. "When I was a few years older than you--"
Elladan clamped a hand over his mouth. "You're not going to tell him anything that will give him ideas, are you? This isn't the story I think it is, is it?" he demanded.
Legolas blinked back at him innocently, though he could not respond as Elladan had yet to remove his hand.
Elrohir moved to intervene. He removed Elladan's hand, but gave Legolas a look that kept him quiet just as easily. Then he turned to Estel. "If you had wanted to hear about spiders," he said gently. "You need only have asked. Elladan and I have fought many of the spiders of Legolas's home."
"Yes, you fight them, and then I have to show up to actually kill them for you," Legolas said with an evil grin. Both twins studiously avoided doing so much as looking in his direction, though Estel had cast him a conspiratorial glance.
"I will tell you about the time Elladan and I went to visit Legolas and ended up having to save him from huge menacing spiders."
"Oh, you want to tell him about that time that never happened, then?" Legolas asked sleepily, though he was grinning.
"Oh, it happened," Elladan said. "Though I know you rather like to spin the story in your favor."
Elrohir shot Legolas an irritated look. "You rest," he said. "I will keep Estel entertained until you are well enough to make up stories for him."
"I am not going to sleep and leave you to change the past in a retelling," Legolas said. "Go ahead and start--I shall correct any mistakes you make."
Estel had been watching the three fight with amusement, and at this, he nodded happily. "Yes, Elrohir, tell me!"
"Elrohir," Elladan said. "Are you sure I am not correct in my concerns?" He cast a dubious look over at Estel. "I think even considering the end of the story it might only serve to give Estel ideas for mischief."
Estel smiled innocently, as though he could not imagine for the life of him what Elladan could possibly be going on about.
"If anything," Elrohir said, "this should go to show what trouble little children can get into when they go wandering off."
"Its sad really," Legolas said, "that the best you can do is talk about the time you rescued me when I was but a child, a time in which I would remind you, I also saved the both of you."
"If you would prefer," Elrohir said airily, "I could tell him instead about the time we found you foolishly fighting an entire patrol of orcs on your own, and how you were cut by a poisoned blade."
"I do believe he knows that one--" Legolas said with a wink in Estel's direction.
"You're supposed to be sleeping," Elladan snapped.
"Sleep," Elladan demanded.
Legolas simply turned away from him, making a suspicious lack of effort to fall asleep.
"Okay," Elrohir began. "Elladan and I were being sent to Mirkwood to bring a message to King Thranduil from father. It was the first time we had ventured to the forest on our own, and the time before had been hundreds of years prior, and father had been with us. We were somewhat daunted by how much darker things had become."
Estel listened intently, and wondered idly if he would ever get the chance to see Mirkwood for himself.
"We had not been traveling in the forest long when we came upon the aftermath of a spider attack. But there was something very wrong with the scene that had been left behind. Usually, the Mirkwood patrols burn the bodies of the spiders immediately, but these had not been moved at all," Elrohir said.
Elladan broke in. "And each of the spiders had an arrow between its eyes, quite good marksmanship, actually, though you can imagine how surprised we were when the only footprints we could find belonged to a lone child."
Legolas was happy so far with the way the tale was progressing, but he knew the twins could afford to be kind to his role thus far, as their favorite part of the story had yet to arrive. He sighed.
"Well, you can imagine how worried we were," Elrohir said. "Imagine, a child alone in the forest of Mirkwood fighting spiders? How foolish can you get?"
Estel seemed to be thinking more along the lines of admiration than worrying about foolishness, and inwardly, Elladan sighed.
"It was not foolish--" Legolas began, but Elrohir continued without pause.
"So we set off immediately to find him. We figured he must have already been found of course, because we suspected whoever was watching him had been shooting at the spiders from the trees--but still, we wanted to reassure ourselves."
Elladan took over. "So we followed the tiny foot tracks, which were rather obvious for elf prints. We assume this child was something less than graceful, as he appeared to be stomping through the dirt--"
Legolas cleared his throat, loudly. "Aren't you getting a little off track?"
"Yes, of course, you're right. No need to get into all the sordid details of how careless the child in the story was," Elrohir said shamelessly. "In any case, Elladan and I were very worried when the only tracks we could see were his. If, in fact, someone had been with him, we feared they had been taken by the spiders because there was no trace of him now."
Elladan nodded. "Then we entered a clearing, and we found a small bow lying abandoned at our feet. It was obvious the bow belonged to the child we sought, and to our surprise, a lone arrow that had been also left behind was exactly the kind in which we had found buried in the dead spiders."
"That was when we began to think perhaps there had been no one else at all," Elrohir said. "Silly a thought as it was, and we feared even more for the lost child. But we found him soon enough, he was in a tree across the clearing, stuck in the center of a great white web."
"You can imagine our surprise," Elladan said, "When instead of asking for help upon seeing us, he instead glared at us quite rudely, as though we had been inconsiderate to delay so long in coming to his aid."
"Actually," Legolas said, rolling his eyes in a very un-princely fashion, "I was wondering just what the two fools, who had walked unknowingly into the middle of a spider colony with nothing but their swords, thought they were doing."
Elrohir glared at him. "You had walked there as well."
"I was chased there, and I at least took out five spiders before I was caught," Legolas reminded. "Not to mention, I was a child," he added smugly. "And you were both over a thousand years old."
"Hush," Elladan demanded. "We're telling the story."
"Well?" Estel demanded. "What happened?"
Elrohir began again. "Well, we went to cut him down, of course. We were unfamiliar with Mirkwood, and we did not realize we had actually walked into a trap. The spiders in that forest are unnaturally cunning, and they whisper things to you as they grow close. They had placed Legolas there as bait, to lure more elves to them."
"And you and Elladan walked right into the trap!" Estel said excitedly.
Elladan glared at him. "We did and we would again, it was worth the risk when a child was in danger. Even one so ungrateful as him," he added, throwing a mock glare in Legolas's direction.
"Well, we'd just got Legolas down, and he'd been screaming at us the whole time. But he was talking so fast we had not a hope of understanding him. Once he was free, he said a few curses in Quenya, shocking us silent--before trying to pull away from us."
"We were getting irritated by this point," Elladan said. "As he seemed quite unhappy about us coming to his rescue, and we had not a clue why."
Elrohir continued. "But he broke free from us, and ran to his bow. He still had a quiver filled with arrows on his back. And once he had reached his bow, he pulled out an arrow and aimed it up. When we followed his aim, we could see countless spiders lowering themselves down from the high trees, closer and closer to the ground--and to us."
"Elrohir and I pulled out our swords, and ran back to the little child to protect him--"
"The little child who had already killed two spiders by the time you reached him," Legolas said airily.
As they had been for most of the morning, the twins chose to ignore this comment.
"We kept him between us," Elladan said, "But we were greatly out numbered. And as the spiders grew closer we could hear them hissing and chanting, saying kill the elves, and kill the little one--kill Thranduil's little brat."
"We were not sure we had heard correctly this last part," Elrohir said. "For we knew Thranduil was King, and the little elfling we had heard swearing us in Quenya did not seem exactly to be prince material."
"Oh please," Legolas snapped. "I have heard curses uttered by the two of you in Westron and Dwarvish that would put anything I could come up with in Quenya to shame."
"But nonetheless," Elladan continued undaunted, "we knew we must keep the elfling safe."
A rather loud snort could be heard from the bed, but the twins seemed unimpressed.
"We considered grabbing him and running to the safety of Thranduil's gates, but the spiders were dropping fast, and we were unsure whether or not we would make it in time," Elrohir said. "Now, as foolish and incredibly annoying as the elfling was, he turned out to be rather handy with a bow. He had taken down five more spiders, and had not missed his mark once. But even so, he had but a few arrows left, and the spiders seemed to become even more. We were trapped quite efficiently."
Estel leaned forward. "What did you do? How did you escape? Did you fight off all the spiders with your swords?"
Elladan shook his head. "It would have been very foolish to fight them, it was a battle we knew already would not be won by us. But neither did we see a way to run, for the spiders seemed to have us surrounded."
"We told the prince to run," Elrohir said, "But he told us that he would stand and fight, and that he was not going to let spiders get the best of him. He was very young, you see, Estel, and very stupid."
"Ahem," Legolas said unnecessarily loudly.
Elladan leaned forward towards Estel. "So we told him, under no uncertain terms, that he had to get back to the gates. And he said he would not abandon us to face the spiders alone. Very noble for one so young, admittedly, but as Elrohir pointed out, not very wise."
"Oh please," Legolas snapped quietly.
"But eventually he gave in," Elrohir said, "Because he was out of arrows, and the spiders were almost upon us. With a sigh, he said, 'very well, but you must follow me' and jumped up into one of the trees!"
"At first we thought him mad," Elladan said. "Because climbing the tree could only take you closer to the spiders--but he seemed to know the way out of their lair, and we had not many options anyway so we followed him. He took us through a short cut in the trees, and all the while we could hear the spiders scuttling ever closer behind us, screaming for our blood."
"We thought for sure they would catch us," Elrohir said. "But then, the gates to Thranduil's guarded haven rose before us, opening the moment we neared. The guards on either side looked very angry, and we realized quite quickly that it was the young prince who had angered them. We could not waste time, though, for the spiders were ever closer behind us. We made it through the gate, and the guards closed it again, the spiders came out of the trees and slammed into the closed gate, then the moment they touched it they backed away as though they had been burned. There is magic in Mirkwood, you see, a magic of Thranduil that protects all the elves that live in his kingdom and a magic the spiders can not bear to be near."
Estel was looking very impressed. "And so you were saved?" he asked.
Elladan grinned. "And so we were."
"But that is a magnificent story!" Estel said. "I want to go fight spiders! Oh, Legolas, will you take me?"
"Elrohir!" Elladan growled. "I told you this would give him ideas."
Elrohir looked sheepish. "Estel, you are too young."
"But Legolas said he was not but a little older than me," he pointed out.
"Legolas is an elf," Elladan said patiently. "A stupid elf that gets into all kinds of trouble. Even now."
"I am not stupid," Legolas said tiredly. "Walking into a trap made by spiders, now that's stupid."
"I want to be a warrior," Estel said patiently. "And one can not become a warrior if they do not at some point begin to fight."
"Unfortunately," Elrohir said sadly. "That is all too true. And, Estel, your time will come, I promise you. But it will not be such a happy day for me."
Estel frowned. "But why not? You are a warrior, Elrohir, do you not wish me to be?"
"I would spare you from it if I could," Elrohir said. "But just like Elladan and I had no choice but to fight, and just as Legolas had no choice but to learn to defend his home, you too will one day become a warrior, Estel. A great one. But you do not need to yet. Can you not let us protect you a little longer?"
Estel gave a long suffering sigh. "I suppose. But not too long. I have much to learn."
Elrohir grinned. "Deal."
Legolas moved gracefully through the garden, looking almost well but for the unusually pale features, even by the standards of elves. He had slipped from his bed the moment he had been alone, needing to seek the comfort of the trees before he would be able to entirely heal. He was almost sure his absence would not be appreciated, and he regretted any worry he might cause. But the call of the trees here was too strong to ignore.
He slipped silently into the small forest bordering the garden, and disappeared up into the welcoming branches of one of the trees. He sat down on a high branch, and placed the palm of his right hand and his forehead against the trunk of the magnificent tree. He whispered thanks in elvish as the tree offered him solace, and with a sigh he sank deeply into the comfort it gave so freely.
"I'm going to kill him myself," Elladan said tightly, looking at the empty bed. "I knew the moment we left him alone he would disappear. 'Oh, it's only five minutes, Elladan,' you said, 'he will be fine alone for five minutes.'"
Elrohir glared at his brother for having this blamed on him. "We were going to all have lunch here," he said. "I could not have carried it all on my own."
With a sigh, Elladan set down the food on the empty bed and Elrohir followed suit.
"What are the chances we find him before father knows we let him out of our sight?" Elladan asked.
"Not good," a wry voice answered from the doorway.
The twins winced, then turned to face him. "Have you sent someone to find him?" Elrohir asked guiltily.
Elrond nodded, with a slight grin. "Yes. Estel, actually. Though I rather think you two ought to stop wasting time and join the search."
Elladan frowned. "Why would you send Estel?" he asked incredulously.
Elrond smiled enigmatically, before turning to leave. "He simply seemed to be a good choice," was all he said before disappearing from view.
"Where shall we start?" Elrohir asked once their father was gone.
"The garden," Elladan said at once. "He'll be in a tree. I'd stake my life on it."
With a nod from Elrohir, the two set out at once, both mumbling curses at their trying prince of a friend.
Legolas was so entranced with the warmth of the tree's embrace, that he didn't notice the new presence until it was right upon him. Startled, he came on guard at once--relaxing only when he caught site of the large curious eyes, framed by dark messy tresses.
"Estel," he said fondly. "You are very quiet."
Estel grinned. "You were very distracted," he said knowingly. "It is well, though, nothing would touch you here."
Legolas grinned at the words, so sure and wise for one so young. "Have you been sent to find me?" he asked.
Estel nodded. "Father worries for you."
Legolas still grinned. "I do not think he is so worried. He knows I am well, and he knows the peace I find here. He is probably being overly cautious. You will not tell him where I am just yet, will you?"
Estel hesitated. He had talked Elrond into giving him the task of finding Legolas rather easily, and it was not a task he took lightly. But then, he looked up to the prince in a way he had only ever looked up to Elrohir and Elladan, and he could not stand the thought of Legolas resenting him for anything.
Legolas's smile faded and he said softly, "Forgive me, it was not fair of me to ask that of you. I shall return at once--perhaps I could even tell you another story?"
Much as Estel longed to hear another story, he had seen a sudden sadness in Legolas's eyes at the thought of returning so soon. His mind made up, Estel shook his head. "Let us stay here for awhile yet. I was asked only to find you, after all, and I have."
"You have indeed," Legolas grinned. "You are very skilled."
Estel beamed. "That's what I'm always telling Elladan and Elrohir! They never listen though."
Legolas froze suddenly, and Estel too tensed at the movement.
"They come," Legolas said, before shooting Estel a mischievous grin. "I shall not be caught off my guard twice in so short a time." He moved silently to another branch, and then turned and held out a hand to Estel.
Estel hesitated only a moment before taking it and following Legolas onto the branch. Now, both were completely hidden from view by anyone below them. A moment later, the voices reached even Estel's ears, and he could hear the twins mumbling about what they would like to do to Legolas once they got their hands on him. Estel turned to Legolas with a grin.
The twins were right below them now, arguing about which way to go. Estel fought valiantly to keep from giggling and ruining it all.
When the twins had finally agreed on a direction and disappeared from sight, Estel let out a laugh he could hold no longer. Legolas turned to him in amusement, before helping him back down onto the lower branches.
Estel settled himself safely against the trunk of the tree, then turned to Legolas in excitement. "Will you tell me a story now?" he asked hopefully.
Legolas watched the child fondly as he sat down himself, balanced seemly precariously on a thin branch. "I would love to," he said.
Elrond watched the two as they spoke conspiratorially, huddled together in the branches of a tree. He smiled. He had wandered out to find Legolas himself when none of his sons had returned, but he had not been as surprised as even he might have expected to find Estel and Legolas already together.
He had worried about what Legolas's reaction to the child might be, though any fears he had had seemed ridiculous now. Thranduil seemed to have passed on only the best of his traits to his son, and Legolas's late mother had given him all the rest. There was none of the suspicion Thranduil held for all mortals in Legolas's eyes, and Elrond was very thankful for it.
He could sense a bond forming between the two that he did not entirely understand--an elf prince and a mortal child hardly seemed a pair destined to be great friends, but he could not shake the thought that great friends they would be.
Estel began laughing at something Legolas said, though Legolas was too intent on what he was saying to pause in what had to be an interesting story--and one Elrond would probably feel better if he never heard, he thought wryly. Often, it was best if he did not know half the things Legolas and his own sons did when they left his gates.
The half he knew was more than enough cause for worry.
With a frown, Elrond noted that Legolas was still unnaturally pale. He wondered if he should get the attention of both of them and take them back to Legolas's room, but dismissed the idea in the end. Legolas was smiling brightly, a shinning internal light seeming to surround him.
Thranduil had mentioned how much the shadow had been weighing on his son, and Elrond was pleased to see Legolas looked as light-hearted and innocent as ever sitting up in that tree with Estel, laughing and smiling without care.
Legolas would heal better there than in bed, Elrond decided. And besides, if his twin sons--his experienced warrior twin sons--could not find them, he knew the two would eventually find their own way home.