AN: Look! Something distracting! (frantically posts new chapter while readers are distracted) Hello! What, me? I've been here all this time. Yeah, haven't you seen all the new chapters, and certainly no three-month delays between updating? Don't believe me? Well, fine! I'll just take everything down and start again at chapter forty-two.

All right...this chapter has some medical stuff...nothing worse than anything mentioned in the story so far, though. But I thought I'd warn you, just in case you've been keeping an eye on it. (It's also a little rough and cheesey, but unless you want to wait another few weeks it's the best I can get it right now. I hope to revise it and get it up to snuff in the near future.)


Chapter Forty-Two: A Mother's Heart

Gilraen easily slipped through the long hall, dodging between parties of elves. She'd heard of her son's return from a servant, but had been told he'd been taken to one of the healing rooms along with the visiting prince. Few of the elves noticed her passing, and the handful that did merely nodded to her.

That alone made the knot of anxiety in her chest ease somewhat. Surely if Estel had been seriously injured someone would have tried to warn her, tried to keep her away or break the news to her gently.

"Lady Gilraen?"

She nearly collapsed in relief when Emyntur found her, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm. "Do you know anything?" she demanded.

"Your son was injured, but not badly," the elf replied, guiding her through the gathering throng toward the healing rooms. "Lord Elrond sent me to fetch you."

Why? The question died on Gilraen's tongue as they reached a locked door. Emyntur knocked on it, calling out to the elf inside that he had brought the boy's mother.

The door opened slightly, and Elladan ushered Gilraen in.

"Nana!"

Gilraen's eyes found her son, stretched out on a bed on the far side of the room, and she was beside him in a moment. "Estel," she murmured, gently smoothing a strand of hair back from his forehead. "You gave me quite a scare, little one."

"It wasn't our fault, Nana. They came out of nowhere...we tried to escape."

"I know," she replied quietly, squeezing his hand. "Are you truly all right?"

He nodded, blinking back sudden tears as he looked across the room. "Legolas..."

Gilraen sighed and turned to follow her son's gaze. Lord Elrond and his sons were huddled around another bed, and she could just make out the blond hair of the visiting elf-prince. "He will be fine," she finally said, straightening up to sit on the edge of the bed next to Estel. "He's in the best hands."

"I know...Ada is the best healer...but, Nana..."

"He will be fine," she repeated, taking his hand again. Gilraen managed a smile as she let her gaze travel over her son's body. Estel was filthy, save for his right leg. A white bandage encircled his thigh, just above the knee. Dark circles under his young eyes attested to his exhaustion—he badly needed sleep.

Gilraen glanced back up to the three elves in the corner. Just how had her son been injured? And why had no one come to fetch her the moment they heard of his return? How could this have happened?

"Nana?"

She looked down, smiling a little at the concern in her son's gaze. "Just rest, Estel," she murmured, leaning forward to place a kiss against his forehead. "I will wake you as soon as Lord Elrond is finished."

The boy seemed to relax a bit, sinking deeper into the pillows. "Promise?"

"Of course. Now rest." Her voice was strangely calm, though her emotions were anything but. A piece of her wanted to grab Elrond by the collar—elf-lord or not—and shake him until he explained just how this could have happened to her son. But her questions would have to wait for later...until he was finished with both patients.

She glanced back at Estel as he tried to stay awake, and slid a little closer to him. Stroking his hair back with one hand, Gilraen softly began to sing an old lullaby, one that had always put Estel to sleep as an infant. It had never failed to comfort him, and in a few moments he had fallen fast asleep.

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Elrond barely noticed Gilraen's entry. Estel's wound had been cared for—it would heal easily, with no complications, thanks to Elrohir's treatments.

But his focus was on the injured prince. He had sent for a tub of heated water, laced it with herbs, and begun the grim task of cleaning the grime and blood off the young elf's body.

Elladan and Elrohir had not seen all that their friend had faced, but they told their father what they did know. Legolas had been beaten and whipped, and had killed Thilator. Never mind that it had been in self-defense...never mind that the dark elf had already been dying...they all knew that would greatly affect the younger elf's mind.

Elrond carefully examined the patient as they worked. His face was badly bruised, a long, jagged cut tracing down one cheek. His neck was nicked in several places just under his chin, no doubt from having a knife pressed against his throat.

Legolas' wrists were also badly torn—one look and Elrond could see where coarse rope had torn the prince's skin. His arms were bruised and scraped from being pulled and thrown about, five finger-shaped bruises decorating one arm near the shoulder.

Then came the arduous task of unwrapping the bandages from the prince's body. His sons had explained that there had not been time to properly dress their friend's wounds—what had been done had been to hopefully forestall any further infection.

He grimaced. He could feel the heat radiating off the young elf's back even through the bandages. A quick examination proved most of the wounds to be less serious than they looked—most of them went no deeper than Legolas' skin, though several sliced into the muscle. It was the infection and spread of the damage that was the true concern.

Lord Elrond frowned. Infection had set on terribly quick for an elf...granted, an open, bleeding wound untended in the wild was crying for trouble, but after only a day Legolas should not have been this affected.

Unless...he dropped his head with a sigh. The prince had already been taxed by the trouble with his brother and the journey to Rivendell. It was just terrible coincidence that he and Estel had been captured then, before Legolas had been able to regain his full strength of spirit. That and memories triggered by Thilator's presence had doubtlessly added to the young elf's difficulties.

"Ada?"

He glanced up, meeting the twin gazes of his sons. He nodded to them, slipping up toward the head of the bed to kneel near Legolas' head.

The prince twitched when Elladan and Elrohir began cleaning his back. Elrond gently captured the young elf's free hand, murmuring softly to him to send his mind back to its unconscious state.

Legolas moaned, and Elrond half-rose to study his sons' actions. His heart ached in sympathy for the young elf...it seemed there was hardly a spot left untouched. Angry welts crisscrossed over ugly bruises, as though the man who had inflicted these had only cared about causing pain.

Some of the wounds were bleeding freely now that they had been cleaned. Elrond withheld another sigh. It was difficult to judge how long it would take the young elf to recover his strength, but he could not help but feel that Legolas' stay would be longer than expected. He would not be surprised if the prince was with them until Spring.

"A-ada?"

Elrond started, turning his attention back to the prince beside him. Bleary blue eyes were barely cracked open, then closed.

"Your father is not here," he said quietly, kneeling near the young elf's head again. "You are safe in Rivendell."

A tear slipped down the pale cheek. "Estel?"

He smiled at the faint whisper. "Estel is fine. He is resting across the room."

A cup appeared at Elrond's elbow, and he looked up to thank Elladan. "I need you to drink this, Legolas," he murmured, trying to lift the prince's head enough for him to drink.

Legolas gave a small whimper of pain, his body stiffening as the twins slowly eased him up to a sitting position. Elrond seethed inwardly as he once again caught sight of the bruises and cuts that lanced across the younger elf's stomach and chest. "Drink," he murmured again as he held the cup to his patient's lips, smiling a little as the prince obeyed.

He pulled the empty cup away, resting one hand on the blond elf's face and studying his eyes. His heart nearly broke at the pain he saw there—pain more emotional than physical. Thilator's treachery had struck deep...he could see its effects like a poison in the prince's mind.

The young elf's eyes closed as his consciousness faded, and Elladan slowly lowered him back onto the bed.

Elrond stood with another sigh, looking up to a point beyond his sons.

"Ada? Is something wrong?"

Looking back at Elrohir's concerned face, the elf-lord managed a small smile. "No. Continue, please. He will need your strength."

His sons exchanged incredulous looks, but returned to the task of treating their friend. They would understand all too soon. If Legolas fell to despair while so desperately wounded, there would be little they could do to heal him.

But there was always hope.

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Estel was still sleeping when Elrond ushered his older sons out of the room. The elf-lord paused for a moment, studying Gilraen, and slowly crossed the room to her side.

"It was not my intention that you be kept from your son for so long," he murmured, brushing back a lock of Estel's hair fondly.

"I understand," Gilraen replied, swallowing back her argument for moment. While it was clear that that might not have been the elf-lord's intent, it was also clear to her that it had been within his power to notify her immediately. "Is he...will Legolas recover?"

Elrond paused for a heartbeat. ""

"I told Estel I would wake him..."

"Let them sleep," Elrond interrupted, holding a hand out to her. "Legolas will not wake for some hours. Let Estel rest while he can."

She rose and followed him across the room, pausing at the end of the elf-prince's bed. "Again he has saved my son. I owe him a debt I can never repay."

"Yes," the elf-lord agreed. "The race of men owes him a far greater debt than you or I."

Only a mother's patience kept Gilraen from replying sharply. "Can you not forget his heritage for one moment, and look upon this with a father's eyes?" she asked softly. "Even were he to never fulfill his destiny...were he to remain Estel forever, the debt would be greater than I could pay."

She did not wait for Elrond's answer, and slipped out of the room. Again weaving through the gathered elves, she slowly made her way back to her chambers.

In just a few short years Estel would be grown...he would leave her to seek his fortunes in the world of men. But for now, for a little while longer, he could simply be her Estel.

And that was all she wanted—her Estel, for just a little while longer.

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Voices threatened to pull him out of the comfort of sleep. He knew them...though he could not remember how. He heard Estel's name, though his mind could not follow the conversation.

The voices receded, leaving him in silence. The last thing he remembered clearly was a clearing in the forest. He had been fighting someone, struggling. He remembered pain...and a pair of pale blue eyes.

Legolas gave a little gasp of pain as he remembered. Thilator. Thilator was dead...and he was a murderer.

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Elrond sank into the chair behind his desk, resting his head in one hand. Tending to the prince's wounds had taken longer than he'd anticipated, and then he had had to answer the concerns of the elves he found waiting in the hall.

And Gilraen accused him of callousness toward his foster-son. Could he not love Estel as his son and still bear in mind the young human's great destiny?

"My Lord?"

Lost in his thoughts, he had not heard the elf's approach. He looked up wearily, eyeing the nervous guard facing him. "Yes?"

"A party of elves is approaching from the mountain pass. We have word that their captain wishes to speak with you."

The elf-lord fought back a sigh, slowly standing up. It would take several hours for the party to reach Imladris, but there were still many preparations to be made. "Do you know how many?"

"Thalion thought he saw two dozen, though they appeared to have extra horses."

"Very well," Elrond nodded. "Inform the cook we are expecting added company for dinner," he commanded, striding out of the room intent on tracking down his sons to warn them about the impending visitors.

"One more thing..." the guard called after him. "The colors..."

Elrond turned, curious. "The colors?"

The guard swallowed, clearly not knowing whether he was presenting good or bad news. "The elves bear the colors of Mirkwood, Lord Elrond. They're from the king."


What's that, Brosia? We're close to the end so why not leave a little, tiny cliffie? Oh, all right...if you insist. Hey, don't blame me, blame my cat! It was her idea.

Whew! Let me tell you...this chapter has been the albatross around my neck for the last five weeks! Because, honestly, that's how long it's taken to write. Yep, I got back into trying to update over a month ago...this monster was just being that difficult.