Note: 'Kay, I decided this fic would work best with an epilogue! I don't know if you're supposed to do epilogues for stories with forthcoming sequels, but what the heck.
This chapter chock-full of pretty little cliffies and teasers. If you thought the last chapter was bad, you better not read this one. It's worse. Much, much worse.
One last (unrelated) note: Christian Bale tips the hotness scale at 20 on a scale of 1-10. Peace out.
Taros felt an insuppressible flash of malicious pride shoot straight through his cold, dark heart. Hidden in the trees, alone, unable to be detected by the injured elves and handicapped Ranger, he watched as his plan unfolded with evil perfection.
The pretty little prince, blinded by fury and guided by rage, attacked the man who Taros knew had never committed a deed against him. The foolish immortal released his wrath and malice, pent up over months of torment believed to be by the man before him, on the stammering, terrified mortal on the ground.
And on the cold, unfeeling ground lay the eerily still body of Mirkwood's king. Taros smirked lazy. A casualty, unfortunately necessary. He could have killed the heir at this very moment, as he possessed a bow and arrows and the shot would have been clear. But no…the Eldar was welcome to return to his cold forest and shut himself up in it; in truth, Taros had absolutely nothing against the elf. He really didn't care what happened to him. Simply the only reason he had gotten mixed up in this delightful mess was that he happened to be the hated Dunedan's friend. Taros sneered at the thought. What Dunedan had friends? Or at least, an elf friend? Typically they stuck together in their little packages of Rangers and never really talked to anyone else for social purposes.
Taros shrugged. This was another instance where he simply did not care. It mattered little why, precisely, the elf chose to spend his time with the Ranger, the fact that he did was quite enough. He was valuable to the Ranger, and had therefore had been the perfect target.
Taros's thoughts were jerked back to reality as the far-too-resilient Ranger actually escaped his icy elven companion's death-grip and headed for the trees. Taros swore as he retreated backwards. The human could not get away!
Yet he had left every single one of his soldiers a way back, desiring to be alone in his view of the Ranger's downfall. He had also wanted to avoid detection. None of the party of four would have detected a single, discreet human hiding silently in the boughs of the trees, but a posse, even a small one, would have surely garnered unwanted attention and possibly Taros's own revelation as the perpetrator.
He beat a hasty retreat back to where he had left his soldiers waiting obediently and motioned.
"Quickly!" he snarled. They jumped up immediately and made after the human.
"Subdue him!" Taros snapped. "The human only! I care not about the elves!"
Taros was furious now. He had wanted the elf to kill the Ranger. He had wanted the man's last glimpse of life to be the cold, heartless of eyes of his former friend as the latter slid a steel blade across his lifesource, destroying him.
But if that didn't work, Taros would take matters into his own hands. He drew a knife, baring his teeth. He would destroy the Ranger himself. After all, it could be fun; the Ranger would get to stare his twin in the face and realize it had been him all along who had turned his best friend against him and made his life not worth living.
He followed the blindly charging Ranger closely. His lips curled and his eyes narrowed as the Ranger suddenly paused. As Taros drew nearer, he saw the reason for the sudden halt; the Ranger stood before a massive cliff beneath which a churning river raged mercilessly.
The Ranger cast a desperate glance behind him. It was almost like Taros could read his mind. The idiot human was going to jump.
"No, you do not," Taros hissed through clenched teeth. He raised his knife, preparing to hurl it through the air into the Ranger's back, killing him in cold blood.
But he didn't get the chance. In the blink of an eye, Taros's prediction came true. The true Aragorn had taken a deep breath and thrown himself off the sheer rock ledge. He landed with a splash barely perceptible in the raging waters, and disappeared from sight.
Taros nearly screamed in fury. He flung his dagger at the nearest tree with all his strength. It whirled end over end and embedded itself in the trunk of the tree solidly.
"Fine, then your friends will pay," Taros hissed through clenched teeth. He called his soldiers together.
"Find the elves. They are likely to be back at their leader's body," he said shortly. "Kill them."
They did as he commanded, and he followed. Accurately, they had surrounded the king's body. One held a torch. Clearly they had discovered they could not carry his body with them and were planning to honorably burn the body.
But this would not be, if Taros could help it.
"No burial for your precious father, princeling!" he snarled. "You have your friend to thank for that!"
They began their rain of arrows. Taros had given them strict instructions not to let themselves be seen. If one was captured, he might spill the entire story. Taros thought had tormented them enough to 'help' them remember to never, ever reveal anything, but this elf-prince looked just stonily furious enough to torture any information he wanted out of Taros's relatively weak thugs.
The injured, defenseless elves were forced to flee. Their prince—now king—had tears of fury and defeat streaming down his face. At least, to Taros's eyes so it seemed.
They pursued the elves to the river.
"Suicidal fools!" Taros raved, halting the pursuit as the elves threw their tired selves into the foaming waters.
He watched as the river carried their bodies away. It was not worth pursuing them. He was not so bent on their destruction as to risk his own life to do so. He thought the waters would surely destroy them; if not, so be it. Their lives would be miserable with that ice statue for a king that had formerly been their prince.
Taros rested his back against a tree, watching the river, now devoid of any signs of the elves it had swallowed.
His evil, twisted mind was already working. He would have the entire river checked for bodies. He had money and influence. People would do as he said. In the calmer area downstream he would order a search be conducted. If the Ranger's body was not found, he was alive. Taros had watched him for long enough to know that he was oddly resistant to being killed by things that ought to kill one. Long falls into rocky, swift water were no exception.
A cruel smile twisted his lips. And if the human were alive, that meant the game could continue. Actually, it would be rather good if he were still alive. It would mean all the more chance for Taros to make the true Aragorn wish he had not survived the fall.
After all, the Ranger had a family, located in Rivendell, did he not?
Elves were such fun.
Legolas, Áirúlas and Belthan returned home empty-handed yet heavily burdened. All of Mirkwood watched silently as their laughing golden boy took the throne and a shadow fell over their forest.
A mourning service was held for King Thranduil. Legolas attended, and his subjects shuddered to see the look of cold steel which had replaced the warmth in his eyes. He did not shed a tear, nor did any emotion replace the cold, hard look upon his once jovial face.
The new King Legolas often sat for days without speaking to anyone, or eating. He refused to move into his father's suite, instead ordering that the place be boarded up and the windows covered with steel. He sometimes went for weeks without leaving the palace.
At one point, a human mistakenly wandered into Mirkwood, having become confused and lost at its borders. He was unarmed, had not shot any game belonging to the elves, nor attempted to show them anything but courtesy and respect. He begged their forgiveness for his error.
Legolas ordered him beaten and imprisoned for a term of ten years. After this, the dark prince ordered, he would be executed.
The guards had exchanged looks at this. They feared for their young king and for the wellbeing of the kingdom. Sorrowful at the condemnation of the innocent, terrified human, they did as their king commanded, wishing there was something they could do.
But there was nothing.
Legolas's mind was lost to the darkness. Evil had crept into his mind and affected him fully. He was entirely gone, destroyed by betrayal and the unbearable pain of extreme loss.
Maybe there was something that could save him. The elves whispered, and speculated, and Legolas did not hear. He heard nothing of late. He was shut away in his own solitary prison from which he did not wish to escape.
Perhaps he could escape. But no one knew. The prince had fallen into darkness. It had sucked him in like one of the giant holes up beyond Middle-Earth where the darkness devoured anything foolish enough to get near it. Legolas had wandered, had been pushed, and finally had looked into the darkness and embraced it.
Who knew if there was any hope for him?
Only time would tell, and time, endless to immortals, was something of which they suddenly had very little.
With every passing day, Legolas grew colder and more ruthless. It would soon be too late.
If Legolas continued in his heartless rule of Mirkwood, the shadow would never cease to loom, and the Greenleaf's heart would remain permanently stone.
If there was a way to save him, it was invisible, and with every passing day, hope fled further.
They could only wait and see.
As for Aragorn, Taros was right; the Ranger had a jaw-droppingly amazing habit of surviving things which ought to kill one.
He awoke to severe blurriness and pain all over, in a calm area of the river. Water filled his lungs. He spat it out. Shaking water out of his eyes, he spied the bank not far away. He swam to the side.
Shivering, he crouched on the bank, the events of the week hitting him. Shudders wracked his drenched form, and before he knew it a furious stream of tears burst forth from his weakened form.
He had never felt more hopeless in his life. He had watched his best friend try to kill him without provocation. He had seen the dead, cold look in the friend's eyes as he raised the blade to take the life he had so many times before saved.
Anguish wracked him and he choked on a cry as he stumbled to his feet. He comissioned a horse from a nearby village, and, utterly drained and almost ready to give up, headed the only place he knew to go: Rivendell. He knew they would understand. He knew there he would be welcomed, loved. He was always welcome in the House of Elrond.
He didn't know Taros was headed there, too.
And somewhere, a blond-haired elf wandered, his clothes singed. He had no idea where he was. He would probably never find his way home.
Oh, but this was why Legolas's salvation was invisible.
The beautiful, lost elf had no idea who he was.
He had no idea he had a son.