Okay, I am going to put these author notes in this chapter and in the last chapter, just so everyone catches what happened here. First off, let me offer my humble apologies for the very lengthy amount of time that has passed since I last posted anything. For those of you who saw the note I made on my profile page let me off a few more details. I was the victim of someone who I know using my trust and breaking into my e-mail account, deleting all of my personal letters and the reviews that I have received from all of you, then using my e-mail account to break into my account at FF-Net and delete all my stories. Fortunately I keep all my stories backed up, but I did lose all my wonderful reviews which makes me very sad because I really appreciated everything everyone ever sent me. After that, our computer crashed, so I could not access the internet for over a month in my home. But I am back now and I hope you all like the conclusion of my tale.:) Thank you all once again for your support and continued interest in my story. I deeply appreciate it.
Legolas breathed deeply, enjoying the morning air. It was a pleasure he had not been able to indulge in since his arrival in Rivendell, and quite franky, if Lord Elrond had his way, he still would not. However, the healing wing had been abandoned for once, and the young prince had seized his chance. He was surprised that he had not been intercepted in the halls of the Last Homely House, considering how slowly he had been moving, but the entire building seemed to be empty.
Legolas moved stiffly through the garden until he came to a low stone wall. With a sigh, the prince allowed himself to sink to the ground, bracing his back against the cool stones, his bad leg stretched out before him. It throbbed unpleasantly. Legolas gritted his teeth and told it in no uncertain terms to stop whining, but the injured limb only responded with an extra painful twinge to let him know that whatever he thought, it agreed with Lord Elrond's diagnosis and would much rather be back in his bed.
Legolas sourly told his appendage to mind it's own business. He had been inside for over a week, thank you very much, and he would go insane if he had to look at the healing wing walls for one more minute.
Ignoring whatever arguments his leg decided to make, the fair elf tilted his head back, enjoying the warmth of the sun as it crept into the valley. He could hear the soft sounds of doves awakening in the trees near him, and the peaceful hum of the trees themselves. A gentle smile curled the corners of his lips as he closed his eyes and sighed blissfully.
The soft sound of a door opening and closing broke through Legolas' reverie with all the subtlety of shattering glass. Mirkwood's heir froze. If he were found out here…Horrible images featuring the Lord Elrond most prominently began to dance behind the blue eyes.
Ignoring the complaints from his bad leg, Legolas swiftly pulled himself over the low wall, ducking out of sight. He waited for a few moments,. His heart pounding against his ribs, but nothing happened. There were no cries of outrage…no one screaming his name or asking what in the name of the Valar was he doing out of be…The prince breathed a sigh of relief. He had not been spotted.
The sound that did reach his delicately pointed ears was that of someone pacing across the paved stones. Obviously, it was the step of an elf. The sound was barely audible and could easily have been mistaken for the sound of wind in the trees.
Now he was in a dreadful fix. He would have to wait until the elf left, or try to sneak past him. Legolas quickly dared a glance, trying to ascertain whom it was that just happened to visit this remote area.
The fair elf's heart quickly dropped into his stomach with a nearly audible 'thunk'. He had caught the sight of sunlight glinting off thick gold hair, the graceful step that looked almost like a lion stalking, a presence that was at the same time dignified, but with a wildness beneath the calm exterior.
Lord Glorfindel was pacing, his fingers drumming a tattoo against the hilt of his sword.
Legolas quickly dropped back out of sight. His thoughts soon became an unprintable list of obscure obscenities as he cursed the luck that should bring Lord Glorfindel to this garden at exactly this moment. Suddenly, Legolas froze, his ears perking up.
Glorfindel had stopped pacing.
"I know you're there," came his deep voice. "Show yourself." The casual authority laced into the elf lord's tone brooked no argument.
Legolas groaned, but did as he was told, slowly pushing himself to his feet. He grinned sheepishly as he rose into sight, but was shocked at the elf lord's reaction.
Glorfindel's eyes flew wide, his jaw dropping nearly to his chin. "YOU!"
Legolas certainly wasn't expecting that and wasn't quite sure what the appropriate reply would be so remained silent.
"Are you mad? Ar gelydh ernil!" Glorfindel crossed the distance between them in three long strides, stepping over the low wall and catching hold of Legolas' collar in an iron grip. "What do you think you are doing!"
Legolas was shocked at this verbal attack. Usually his escapes from the healing wing were met with stern disapproval, but all in all they were treated lightly. He was unused to such harsh language for such a seemingly innocent escapade. More than the words however was Glorfindel's expression. The elf lord was not only angry, he was worried.
"Did you think to take them on yourself?" Glorfindel snarled down at the young prince.
"I…I am afraid I do not know of what you are speaking…"
"Then what are these?" Glorfindel's free hand shot over Legolas' shoulder and seized the handle of one of the white knives the prince carried strapped across his back, drawing it forth so quickly it whistled through the air. "You are unwell! How on Arda could we explain to your father that you were killed fighting a horde of invading humans when you have barely recovered enough to walk from a beating that should have rightly ended your life!"
As he spoke, Glorfindel was already stepping back over the wall and pulling Legolas with him, propelling the young elf towards the door he had just recently emerged from.
Legolas' head spun. He had simply seized his knives out of habit…but what was this about humans? For the first time, Legolas noted that Glorfindel not only carried a sword, but there was a dagger at his belt and one thrust into his boot as well. The elf lord was on edge, not nervous, but definitely prepared for trouble of some kind…
Abruptly, Legolas dug his heels into the paved walk. "What is going on?"
"Did I say to stop moving?" Glorfindel did not have much trouble strong-arming the elf prince forward.
"I want to know what is happening!" Legolas ignored the fact that he sounded like a spoilt child, desperately trying to keep his booted feet from sliding over the stones as Glorfindel placed a heavy hand in the small of his back.
"If you do not keep walking I swear by Eru and all the Valar I am going to…"
But what Glorfindel was going to do, Legolas would never learn. The elf lord's eyes were pulled towards the trees ringing the garden and his jaw tightened horribly. With a sound halfway between a snarl and a curse, the golden haired elf pushed Legolas to the ground so that the prince was hidden behind a thick shrub. Legolas was too surprised to protest, especially as Glorfindel bent and hissed in his ear, "If you value your life, stay there. Do not move unless I tell you to or unless it would be dangerous for you to remain."
Straightening swiftly, the elf lord turned his fair face towards the woods, a grim expression on his face.
An uneasy feeling had been plaguing the back of his mind since they had started to descend into the valley of Rivendell. Halith tried to shrug it off. After all, everything had gone perfectly so far. The woods were silent except for the bird calls. Everything seemed to be exactly as Strider had said. No guards. A clear easy way into the valley of the elves.
Why, then, did he feel as though he were walking deeper and deeper into a hunter's snare? His men certainly did not share his apprehension. With every step their hearts seemed lighter. They swaggered and smiled as though the mission were through and they were back at the base already. With an effort, the human forced his doubts from his mind. They were nearing a clearing. His hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. Dark brows pulled together over his cruel eyes. They had a job to do…
Through the thinning trees Halith caught a glimpse of golden hair, bright in the early morning sun. An elf. The color reminded him of the elf they had left for dead. With a jerk of his head, he signalled to his men. They broke immediately, racing forward.
Halith charged, hearing the whoops from his men as they too caught sight of the elf. But something was not right here… the weathered human's feet slowed unconsciously. His men were darting past him, weapons raised high.
Why did the elf not run? Sound an alarm? Anything? There was no possible way he had missed the five and twenty armed individuals running at him.
So why did he not flee?
Glorfindel cooly watched the humans approach. He was seething. It had been agreed upon between himself and Elrond that he would be the one to meet this particular group of humans, dispatching them. Elrond himself would be meeting the group that was approaching from the very mouth of the valley, along with a contingent of Rivendell's warriors. The scouts had believed that the human, Halith was among that particular pack of scum.
Though annoyed that he would not be able to help capture Halith, this was not what was perturbing the elf lord so greatly. What sent his temper into overdrive was the fact that he was standing over the heavily wounded heir to Mirkwood's throne. Legolas knew that he was in no shape to be fighting! Glorfindel ground his teeth together. When he found out who had let the prince know the humans were attacking, he would make sure that they were on kitchen duty for the next three millenia.
The first of the humans was almost upon him. Glorfindel could see the gleam of easy victory shining in his stupid face. The same gleam still shone, even as the elf lord's sword whipped through the air, taking his head as easily as drawing breath.
Halith stared in horror. His feet had come to a complete standstill as the elf's blade flew from its' sheath, like a horrible glittering bird. The sword took one human's head and stabbed another, slashing back to gut a third. In the space of three seconds, three of Halith's men lay dead.
In one horrible instant, the fierce blue eyes met Halith's dark, cunning ones. Halith saw his death written in the fiery gaze of an elf lord. He knew with sudden and horrible clarity that they had been deceived. This elf had been expecting them. And he fully intended to deal with their entire group.
Three more men had fallen to the razor edge of the elf's sword.
Strider had lied to them. If one elf could cause such destruction, what would a whole valley do? They would be slaughtered.
Halith turned and fled back into the woods.
Legolas saw Halith turn tail and run. Desperation flooded the elf prince's body. He was getting away! Glorfindel did not notice; the elf lord was busy dealing with the twenty some humans attacking him.
With a fierce cry, Legolas sprang to his feet and forced his injured body to pursue the fleeing human. Immediately, pain spread across his rib cage, reminding him that nearly half of his ribs had been broken and they were only partially healed. His leg throbbed agonizingly, letting him know that it had been less than a week since it had endured a vicious beating and it certainly did not feel up to pursuing this human.
The elf prince ignored the protestations of his injured body. His hands reached for the long handles of his knives, pulling the blades free as he ran. They glittered in the early morning sun.
He could not keep this up…the pain was increasing…Lord Elrond was going to be so angry at him when he found out what he had done. It felt as though several of his ribs had seperated within his chest and were straining to poke through his skin. His fair face twisted in agony, but he pushed himself on. Halith was close…
At the very end of his strength, Legolas dropped one of his weapons, and stretched out his left hand, seizing Halith's shoulder and pulling him around to face the elven warrior.
The dark haired human turned, his blade raised high, fear written plainly across his face. However, even wounded as he was, Legolas was faster than Halith could ever have hoped to be. The prince brought his other knife down in a swift arc. It was not a lethal blow…he did not want Halith dead, or he would never learn of what happened to Strider.
The knife carved a trail from the top of Halith's head, across his forehead, through his right eye and down his cheek.
The human shrieked in agony, tearing himself out of the elf's grasp, his sword dropping to the ground as his hands went up to cover the bloody wound where his eye used to be.
Legolas stumbled backwards. The fair elf bit down on his lips hard to stop himself from crying out. His left arm was not quite healed from being broken, and Halith had twisted it badly when he had pulled away. The elf caught himself against a tree his chest heaving as he fought to draw breath through the fire spreading across his ribs. "Where…is he?"
Rage shook the human. He was blind in one eye, and he knew instinctively that if he lived, he would never regain his vision. The pain was excruciating, but he knew he had to fight it back. He could not allow himself to be distracted by even the loss of his eye or he would end up dead.
Halith focused through his left eye, his gaze coming to rest on the elf that had attacked him. He nearly choked in horror. He recognized this demon! Fair hair was held back from the pale face with delicate braids. Blue eyes burned bright and fierce. A dark line marred the elf's forehead. A cut that had not fully healed yet.
This was the elf they had left for dead.
Halith took all this in in a second before he dived for his sword, expecting at any moment to feel the sharp, lethal pain as the fair being's blade entered his flesh… and yet it did not come. The human snatched the hilt of his weapon, his hands sticky with his own blood and quickly whirled to face his opponent again.
But the elf had not moved.
Legolas watched Halith dive for his weapon. The prince gritted his teeth in frustration. If he had been anywhere near his normal level of fitness he would have landed a kick to the human's side that would have sent him flying.
As Halith came back up, his sword held at the ready, Legolas tried to push himself away from the tree, but realised instantly that without the tree's support he would quickly find himself flat on his face. "Where is he…human?" he spat.
The dark eyebrows drew together in confusion. "Who?"
"Strider." Legolas' teeth were bared in a snarl, his fingers clamped tightly around the hilt of his knife. "Where…" a gasp interrupted the elf. A piercing pain was invading his chest. "Where is Strider!" he forced the words through lips that did not want to work.
He did not think that Halith would answer him. The dark haired man simply raised his sword high, obviously intending to bring it down in a killing stroke, bringing Legolas' life to a quick and violent end.
But he froze. The single eye was focused on a point beyond the prince's helpless form, and Legolas saw the fear that entered into the human's gaze. The fair prince pricked up his ears, and knew instantly what it was that caused Halith to pause.
The sounds of battle were drawing closer. Legolas winced. Glorfindel must have realised that he had disobeyed the elf lord's orders and was coming after him.
Halith's attention swung back to Legolas. For an instant, the elf prince saw intense hatred stamped across the human's weathered features. The human had no time, but if he could, he would stay and make sure that Legolas never left these woods alive. Unfortunately for Halith, the sounds of Glorfindel's approach grew ever louder. The human had to make a decision. Revenge and death, or flight?
"He's dead," Halith spat. "Dead, do you hear me? He was killed after he told us what we wanted to know."
"No!" The word fell from Legolas' lips. He could feel the blood draining from his face even as he struggled to push himself towards the human. "No! No, you lie!"
Halith was not listening. The human was turning and fleeing, his dark hair streaming behind him and his feet carried him far away.
"NO!" Legolas forced his feet to carry him several steps away from the support of the tree, but he could not continue. His legs folded beneath him and he crumpled to the ground. On his hands and knees, the elf prince glared after Halith, tears running down his pale cheeks. "NOOO! Strider!" Fire was spreading throughout his ribcage. Something warm and liquid was dampening his tunic. He could not breath through the sobs that were shaking his slender frame. Frustration and rage mingled with grief. The prince's slender fingers clenched into tight fist as he struggled to rise.
A hoarse cry reached his ears and he felt strong hands grip his shoulders. Legolas turned his tearstained face upwards, and saw Glorfindel gazing down at him. What was wrong with the elf lord? His face was twisted in horror…worry…
Glorfindel was reaching towards the damp spot and, looking down, Legolas was shocked to see a patch of crimson spreading across his chest. One of his broken ribs had actually punctured through his skin.
Blackness started to crowd around the edges of his vision. He welcomed it. Slipping into the dark void would remove the pain from his body and heart. Willingly, Mirkwood's heir flung himself into oblivion.
Lord Elrond grimaced as he meticulously wiped human blood from the blade of his sword. The elf lord's grey eyes darkened as he gazed at the numerous fallen bodies. Thankfully, none of them belonged to his own people. His normally neat braids were frayed and tangled. A shallow cut across his forehead bled freely, but he was not concerned. He knew it to be a superficial injury.
Why had they done this? Surely they knew they had no chance of defeating the elves. So what had their agenda truly been?
The elf lord's mouth tightened into a grim line. He had assumed that their purpose in taking Estel had been to gain knowledge of the elves and their weaknesses. If they had launched such a truly ill prepared attack such as this, then what had happened to his son? Had Estel refused to tell them anything and they had killed him? Was he lying in some dark and dismal dungeon? Had he been harmed? Long, slender fingers turned white as he clenched them tightly around the hilt of his sword, his eyes smoldering as they looked past the silver blade. If Estel had been harmed…
Elrond jerked, brought up out of his own private world suddenly. His dark braids whirled as he spun to face the elf calling to him. He was young, and Elrond knew him to be one of the healers' assistants. The youth's face was pale, and a worried expression was tracing lines across his forehead as he raced towards the dark haired elf.
Elrond swiftly brought his hand up, halting the elf. He kept his voice calm, though his heart skipped a beat at the sight of the other's expression. What had happened? "Sidh, pen neth, nin si. Man na den?"
"Sir…sir, Lord Glorfindel…"
The Lord of Imladris felt his heart drop from his chest. Glorfindel! He should not have allowed the golden haired elf to face that group on his own. "How badly is he hurt?" Already, Elrond was striding towards the healing wing.
"Very seriously, but sir…"
The moment the words left the assistant's mouth, Elrond was sprinting away. He could hear the young one saying something else, but he was not attending. Instead, his booted feet carried him onwards faster and faster. Glorfindel had insisted that he be allowed to face the humans on his own. The other elves were need elsewhere, he had insisted. No one had thought to argue with the balrog slayer.
Elrond flew through the doors to his home and pelted towards the healing wing, his speed marked by the sharp staccato of his feet on the stone floor. Elves quickly pushed themselves up against the wall to avoid the dark haired warrior. Elrond's gray eyes did not seem to see them.
His hand flashed out, snatching at the latch that held the healing wing's door shut against him. In a moment, he had flung back the wooden portal and sprang into the room… "Glorfindel!" Shock froze him in his place. Elrond's mouth dropped onto his chest as he stared at the scene before him.
A golden haired elf was seated beside a bed, his shoulders hunched forward. A small group of healers were surrounding the bed, obstructing Elrond's view of who lay upon it. Obviously, they had done all they could. This picture, in and of itself, was not so surprising. What stopped Elrond cold was the fact that he recognized the elf seated by the bed, and knew at once that he was not injured in any way shape or form.
Glorfindel turned at the sound of his Lord's voice. The elf's fair face was drawn, his lips set in a grim line. "I am sorry, Elrond."
Elrond recalled that the assitant had been trying to tell him something else, and now wished that he had stayed to hear what it was. With a feeling of dread clutching at his heart, the dark haired elf stepped forwards. The healers moved out of his way silently, parting before him and allowing to step to the side of the bed and gaze down at its' occupant.
He knew what he was going to see.
Somehow, he knew. He knew before he looked down at the pale, bloodstained face. He knew before he saw the golden braids spread across the pillow. Without a shadow of a doubt, Lord Elrond knew that the bed contained the Crowned Prince of Mirkwood, Legolas Thrandulion.
He was, most unfortunately, correct.
"I tried to to stop him," Glorfindel said quietly as Elrond swiftly seated himself beside the young elf and began to exam the wounds. "He was already in the garden by the time I arrived, and before I could take him back into the healing wing the humans were upon us. I pushed him out of sight behind some bushes and told him to remain there unless his life was threatened." Glorfindel's mouth tightened almost imperceptibly. "During the battle I saw him rise and pursue a fleeing human. When I tried to follow, I found my way blocked by assailants. I despatched them and came after the prince as quickly as I could, but by the time I reached him…" Glorfindel spread his hands in a helpless gesture, a look of frustration stamped across his fair features.
"You did what you could," Elrond said quietly, his dark head bent over the young prince. He knew the frustration that Glorfindel felt. The elf lord blamed himself for Legolas' condition. Surely he, the balrog slayer, should have been able to stop such a comparably young elf!
While Glorfindel had been speaking, Elrond gently removed the bandage that had been wrapped around Legolas' rib cage. As the blood stained cloth fell away, the Lord of Imladris felt his eyes widen. "Did one of the humans…" even as he started to ask, Elrond heard his voice trail away. He knew the answer even before he finished asking the question. This wound had not been inflicted by any weapon. The dark haired elf swallowed hard. Stupid, stupid young elf! Why had he done this to himself! What had been his intent? Surely he believed Glorfindel capable of catching a single human! With a grim sigh, Elrond set to work. His assistants had done what they could, but there was still a long and delicate job ahead of him.
As he probed the wound, Elrond made a mental note to have the prince tied to his bed when he regained consciousness once more.
"I received no message." The words rolled from Legolas' tongue, falling heavily into the still air.
Legolas saw his friend's silver eyes opening wide in confusion. Aragorn's lips parted, as though he was about to speak, but he was given no chance. Without warning, a hand seized the young ranger's shoulder, jerking him away from his friend. Legolas cried out in outrage, but to his horror, he found that he was unable to move. His limbs were frozen. "Strider!"
A knife appeared in the hand and pressed itself against Aragorn's neck. Legolas strained to see whom the hand belonged to, but all he could make out was a shadowy figure standing behind the ranger. Evil, and threatening, but the features remained indistinguishable.
"Let him go!" Legolas hissed. His teeth ground together in frustration, but he was powerless to help his friend.
The only reply was a mocking laugh. Suddenly, with the speed of a striking snake, the shadowy figure expanded, engulfing the young ranger. Aragorn disappeared with a cry of fear.
A shriek of rage forced it's way through the elf prince's lips. "NO!" As hard as he struggled, he could not force his limbs to carry him forward. He could not aid his friend… "Where is he!" Tears stung Legolas blue eyes as he glared at the apparition.
Laughter, evil and taunting filled the air. It nearly drove Legolas mad. "Where is Strider!"
The figure's features emerged slowly and if he were able, Legolas would have recoiled. It was a horrific sight. Dark strands of hair hung over the lined and weather beaten face. One eye gleamed cruelly, dark and intelligent. The other was lost in a pulp of blood and flesh. A gash had been carved across the face, starting from the forehead, running through what used to be an eye and making its' way across his cheek. Halith bared his teeth at the fair prince. "He's dead." The human lunged forward abruptly, his dagger held at the ready. "And so are you!"
Legolas cried out again, this time in pain and horror as the blade pierced his chest. He tried to twist away from the pain, but he was still unable to move. Now he could feel hands holding him, and he fought against them wildly, but it did not avail him.
"Hold him still!" Halith snarled as he pushed the knife in more deeply, making Legolas gasp in agony.
"Hold him still!" The voice was Halith's…and at the same time, not Halith's. The human's mouth was moving, but the voice that came from his lips was much deeper. Legolas froze for an instant. He knew this voice…
Before his eyes, Halith started to blur and fade. The pain did not dissipate, however. If anything, it grew worse as Legolas felt himself rising from the claws of a nightmare…
"Hold him still!"
Legolas jerked reflexively as he felt a sharp stabbing pain through his rib cage. Confused and woozy, the elf's eyes darted around in fear. For a moment, he thought he must be back within the confines of the nightmare. There were hands holding him tightly, a horrible pain in his chest, as though he were being stabbed, and a voice commanding he be held…
Lord Elrond's face suddenly appeared within his sight. The dark haired elf looked exceedingly grim, but the lines of his forehead lightened somewhat when he realized that Legolas' eyes were open. "Legolas," his deep voice calmed the young elf, even as the prince wondered at the anger he could see in the gray eyes. "You must be still. I've already had to set your ribs twice, and I do not appreciate you trying to undo all my work."
Legolas blinked, confused. Turning his head to the side, he saw (to his relief) that his arms were being held not by humans, but elves. Glorfindel himself had taken Legolas left side. The elf prince ceased his movements immediately, forcing himself to relax.
"Why did you do it, Legolas?" Glorfindel's voice was taut with frustration. "I gave you specific instructions to stay where you were. Why did you disobey me?"
"The human…" Mirkwood's heir moistened his lips, wondering at what point someone had seen fit to drive a sharp stake through his chest. "Halith."
Every elf's eyes opened wide. Elrond bent over his patient, his anger towards the young elf disappearing. "You saw Halith?"
"Aye." Tears suddenly filled Legolas' blue eyes as he recalled what had happened underneath Rivendell's trees. "I followed him. I tried to stop him." A warrior's pride made him grind his teeth together in an effort to suppress the sobs that sought to tear free from his lungs. Why could he have not stayed in the comforting darkness? Why must he be the one to tell Lord Elrond what happened? Halith's sneering face rose in his memory. Aragorn was dead…Legolas opened his mouth to tell Elrond what had happened to the elf lord's youngest son, but found himself unable to say the words. Somehow, it seemed that if he said them aloud, it would make them true.
Elrond peered deeply into Legolas' blue eyes. "Did you speak to him?"
Legolas nodded once, miserably. "I asked…I asked him where Strider was."
"Did he answer?"
The fair elf nodded again. Elrond saw the pain and sorrow in the prince's eyes. He did not want to know what the human said. He didn't want to know… "What did he tell you, Legolas?"
The young elf closed his eyes and bit his lip. His mouth moved, forming words, but only a lip reader could have understood what he was trying to convey. However, for the lord of Rivendell, it was enough. The dark haired elf straightened abruptly.
"Glorfindel, take a company of warriors. Find his trail. There is still a chance he might be caught. You," Elrond indicated a young healer with a nod of his head. "Watch over the prince. Please make sure that he does not stir from his bed again." The last comment was half aimed at Legolas. The gray eyes met Legolas' once more, offered the young prince what comfort he could afford to give, then Elrond was gone, taking Glorfindel and the rest of the elves with him, leaving Legolas alone but for the healer.
Legolas lay back, staring up at the ceiling. Strider was gone. The prince would never travel with him to Mirkwood again, never sit at his side by a fire, never hear his laugh…
To the healer's confusion and distress, Mirkwood's crowned prince turned his face into his pillow, closed his eyes and wept.
Several days later.
Elladan stroked the dark, sweat soaked strands of hair from his little brother's forehead, feeling the young ranger's pale skin burn with fever as his body fought the poison racing through his veins. The elder twin shuddered convulsively. Estel was so ill… It frightened Elladan to hear his brother murmur in delirium, crying out in pain and horror when his mind transported him back to the dungeon that he had been rescued from. It hurt his heart unbearably when the ranger called for his brothers to come for him, begging their help, saying over and over how sorry he was for the words he had spoken. During the worst moments, the twins had found that it calmed Aragorn if one of them held him close, despite the fact that they knew they must be hurting him even more.
"Hold on," Elladan whispered again, feeling his throat clog with tears. They were near home now. He knew the land that surrounded them. Unfortunately, their progress had slowed even more. Aragorn could not stand to travel very long before he would be crying out in pain.
Normally, traveling home from this place, it would take merely half a days journey. Elladan had even considered sending Elrohir ahead to bring help, but as his twin had pointed out, neither of Elrond's twins were able to lift Estel onto the sled they had constructed without help. Ordinarily, it would not have been a problem, but with their injuries they were weakened more than either of them wanted to admit.
Elladan's grey eyes drifted from one brother to the other. Estel lay to his left, Elrohir on the right. The younger twin was sprawled in troubled sleep, his eyebrows knit close together as though his dreams were as turbulent as his waking moments. Dark braids, frayed and tangled, draped themselves across his fair skin. Suddenly, he looked very like Estel. The similarity had never impressed itself upon Elladan before, and for a moment, he felt doubly burdened. He closed his eyes tightly, screwing them shut against the mild late afternoon light.
The softest sound in the world brushed Elladan's delicately pointed ear. To the young elf lord, it was as though someone had blasted a trumpet next to his head. His eyes flew open. Again, the sound drifted to meet him, as welcoming as a warm drink on a winter's day.
Careful not to disturb his brothers, Elladan rose to his feet, steadying himself against a tree trunk. Stumbling only a little, the dark haired elf quickly set off through the forest.
"Utuvye i adan?"
Elladan froze for a moment, catching himself against a tree. The sound of the elvish tongue nearly brought tears of joy to his eyes.
Elladan cleared his throat quickly and called out, "Mae govannen, edhil. Tolo le ello Imladris?"
A startled cry answered him, followed by the swift sound of elvish feet. The very sounds he had followed through the woods. Within moments, the young lord was surrounded by a company of his father's warriors.
Lord Elrond stared out over his valley. Moonlight lit everything from the trees to the sparkling waters of the Bruien, outlining the smallest detail in silver. It created a fantasy world, the beauty of which would be enough to touch a heart constructed of steel.
Elrond was oblivious to it. His grey eyes swept over his land without seeming to see anything that lay before them. Oh, he saw silver, but it was not the silver of moonlight. Instead, the silver of a young boy's eyes danced before his vision. Tears swam in the elf lord's vision, letting the moonlight turn them as silver as his youngest son's.
Dark hair blocked his vision as Elrond allowed his head to drop, bowing under the weight of grief he bore. How strange it was to think that just days ago he had waited in this very spot, watching for his sons to return. Now he stood here knowing that one never would. Long, slender hands tightened convulsively around the balcony rails.
His elves still searched for Halith. They ranged throughout the land surrounding Imladris, searching, always searching. And here he waited for them to return with some sign of the human who had caused so much misery…
A slight movement caught the elf lord's attention. He narrowed his eyes, focusing on the pass that he had watched days before in the hopes of seeing his sons return… Yes. There were horses entering the valley bearing elven riders. A band of his warriors had returned. Perhaps they had brought some good news.
With a flutter of his robes, Elrond turned from the balcony rail and made his way towards the courtyard.
Elrohir lifted his head slightly as he and his twin rode through the gates to their home. The dark haired elves shared a horse, Elladan riding in front, and Elrohir behind, his arms clasped tightly around his brother's slender frame, making sure that the elder would not slide from the horse's back. Elladan had fallen asleep some time ago and leaned against the steed's neck in peaceful slumber at last. Elrohir did not begrudge him his rest. He knew that both of them sorely needed what sleep they could find. The younger twin cast a worried glance over his shoulder.
Four of his father's warriors rode behind him, each taking a corner of the sled Elladan and Elrohir had constructed to convey Estel home. Carrying the sled in such a manner reduced the jolting the young ranger received and allowed the elves to move with more speed.
A hoarse cry brought the young elf lord's head whipping back around, his tangled braids flying about his pale face. There, standing in the doorway, stood the Lord of Imladris. Elrond's face was white, his jaw hanging open. "Iyn nin!"
The pure relief that came from Elrond's voice when he spoke made Elrohir want to jump from his horse and run to his father's embrace. However, he realized with a grimace of pain, even if he were not holding Elladan in place he really was not up to running at the moment.
The need for him to move became unneccesary as Elrond dashed from the doorway and sprinted across the courtyard. Elrohir leaned down as far as he dared without losing his grip on his twin, and caught hold of his father's hand as the elf lord reached up to him.
"You are safe," Elrond said quietly, relief plainly evident in his voice. His gray eyes quickly flitted over his second born's frame, noting the blood stains and slashed garments. The lines around his mouth tightened with anger, even as worry poured from his gaze when he turned to Elladan.
"It is all right, Ada," Elrohir reassured his parent. "Dan sleeps. He has been wounded, but he will live." The younger Noldor cast a glance over his shoulder again, seeing the elves behind him dismount with eerie grace, never once jostling the litter on which rested a burden so precious…
Noting Elrohir's look, Elrond followed his son's line of sight, confused. For a moment, he could not process what his gray eyes were telling him they were seeing. Elrohir looked down at his father in shock as he saw the elf lord's face turn deathly white. For a moment, the elven warrior feared his parent would faint and he tightened his grip on Elrond's slender fingers. "Ada!"
"Estel," Elrond breathed. "He…he lives?" The elf lord fastened his gaze on his son's face, desperate to hear his words confirmed. Elrohir opened his mouth, but before he could speak a word, a low moan sounded from the sled on which Aragorn rested.
The ranger twitched spasmodically in his fevered dreams and a cry escaped his lips. "Ada…"
"Estel, nin si. Echo, ion nin. Le bar." Speaking softly and comfortingly Elrond moved to the side of his youngest, his heart breaking to hear the fear in the ranger's voice.
Elrohir bit his lip as he saw the grief in his father's face. He knew what the elf lord was experiencing. He and Elladan had gone through it for days. To hear the torment of one who was much loved and not be able to comfort them was a torture of the heart. For Aragorn obviously did not hear the words his father was speaking. The young man's eyes were wide open, but they did not see what was before them. His lips moved in a hoarse plea. "Gohena nin, Ada. Gohena bethath nin. Gohena…" his voice died away, yet his mouth still formed the words silently.
Tears obscured Elrond's vision for a moment as he gently stroked the sweat soaked strands of hair from Aragorn's forehead. The dark haired elf's eyes moved over his son's form, much as they had when he had first seen the twins. Again, his mouth tightened with anger as he noticed the bruises, the obvious pain his child was in… Dark eyebrows drew downwards into a V. Elrond peered closely at Aragorn's back, at a loss to explain the irregular ridges that appeared under the ranger's flesh. His hand was reaching out to touch them when his wrist was seized in an iron grip. Startled, Elrond looked up and met the eyes of his eldest. Elladan was breathing heavily, his skin unnaturally pale, but he did not loose his hold. Elrohir was dismounting behind him, concern for his twin written plainly across his face.
"You cannot touch them, Ada," Elladan managed. "It will hurt him horribly. Take him to the healing wing. Ro and I will explain everything on the way."
Elrond's hands moved gently and swiftly. The elf lord's face was a terrible mask of grief and rage, making his assistants wish they could shrink back into the shadows, but it was not possible. Their lord needed them to be exactly where they should, so as not to prolong his son's agony more than was absolutely neccesary.
Elladan and Elrohir had informed their father of what had happened, and were being tended themselves nearby, their gray eyes never leaving the limp form of their brother. Elrond had drugged the young ranger, forcing a potion between his lips and down his throat. That had been a difficult task, for Estel had twisted and writhed, choking on the brew. However, Elrond knew that there was no way he would be able to complete the task at hand if his son were conscious. The pain would have been too intense.
For both parties.
With a quick wrench, the elf lord pulled free the first wand that had been embedded in the human's flesh. It glistened with Estel's blood in the light of the healing wing. A choking sound rose from one of the twin's. Elrond swallowed hard, forcing back the rage that threatened to cloud his vision and make his hands tremble. He could not think like an outraged father. He must think like a healer. With grim determination, he placed the wand on a tray an assistant held out for him and turned back to his patient.
"When will he wake, Ada?" Elladan and Elrohir sat beside their younger brother's bed as their father finished washing his hands. Elrond turned, weariness etched in his face. The elf lord smiled wanly at his dishevled sons. It was hard to tell who at the moment looked worse. He had not slept, been through a battle, believed one or more of his children to have died a tortured and prolonged death, and had his son brought back to life only to have to perform an intricate and delicate procedure that he knew would cause the young ranger to be in terrible pain when he woke.
If he woke.
The twins however, had been on the road for weeks, seen their friend beaten badly, fought their fair share of battles as well, been wounded rather badly, and had been forced to endure the torment of listening to their sibling's crys of distress without being able to comfort him.
Elrond would not be surprised if this episode had not taken years off all of their immortal lives. He could only be grateful that one of the troupes of his warriors who were searching for Halith happened to pass close to where his sons were resting.
"I do not know." The dark haired elf lord sighed dismally and set himself down between his sons. His long fingers gently stroked back the dark strands of hair that had escaped from their snarled braids. "If I were judging just by the potion I gave him, I would say that he would wake in perhaps a day." His gray eyes slid from the haggard faces of the twins, to the features of his youngest. There were lines of pain drawn there that might never fade. "But his body has endured much. Not only has he had the trauma of having those…things…in his flesh, but there is also the poison they were coated with." Elrond's eyes flashed brilliantly for a moment, smoldering with the intensity of his rage…when the dark haired elf continued, his voice was tight, as though he were forcing himself to keep it steady. "I do not know when he will wake." It was not fair he thought bitterly. To be given a treasure back only to have it threatened the moment you have it in your hands.
"What you are saying, Ada," Elrohir said quietly, "is that you do not know if he will wake at all."
Elladan started violently, his eyes swinging around to pierce his brother. The elder twin opened his mouth to voice a hot rebuke, but Elrond held up a hand, silencing him. Elladan turned his gaze to his father, his eyebrows drawn together in a fierce expression. His scowl melted away, however, when he saw the look of pain that marked the elder elf's features.
"Yes." Elrond slowly ran his hand through his hair, and was surprised to notice that it was trembling. "That is what I am saying."
Elladan remained uncharactaristically silent. With a sigh, the young elf reached out and took hold of his parent's shoulder, squeezing it gently. Elrohir silently leaned his head against Elrond's other shoulder, offering comfort without words.
The elder elf accepted the support gratefully, even as he wrapped his arms around his sons and gave it in return.
Time seemed to pass slowly for the elves. The days drifting by in a nearly silent parade. One day. Two. Before their eyes, death grudgingly released it's hold on the ranger, but the young man refused to wake.
The twins kept an unceasing vigil at their brother's bedside, leaving only when Elrond forced them to rest, and only then because Legolas offered to keep watch and alert them if anything changed.
The night of the sixth day was no different from the rest. It entered Imladris silently, drawing a restful blanket of peacefulness over all who dwelt there. But one thing had dramatically changed.
In the last homely house, Aragorn opened his eyes.
Estel woke with a start, and for an instant, could not think of where he might be. The surface beneath him was soft and yeilding, not the stone of his cell. Instead of the rank smell of those who had inhabited the dungeon before him there was a cool scent of lavender. He was lying on his stomach and his hands were free, not bound as they had been for so long.
And the pain he had endured for so long was gone. Not completely gone, he realized as he sought to push himself up into a sitting position. An ache reminded him of the torture he had gone through. Pushing his feet over the side of the bed (he was in a bed!) he looked down at his torso, half expecting to see the old ropes bound tightly around him, keeping the terrible wands embedded in his flesh. There were bindings, but they were soft linen, and he recognized them as the bandages they were. A soft sound of disbelief escaped his lips as he fingered the bandages in wonder. He was beginning to regain his equilibrium now. His brothers had come for him. They had rescued him from Daeion. He remembered leaving…but he did not remember arriving in the place where he was now.
A soft candle was the only light that shone in the dark room, but it was enough for Aragorn's sharp eyesight to pick out the long rows of beds…now that he concentrated he could smell the sharp, pleasant odor of the healing plants his father used. Swift tears blurred his vision. He was home…
"It's about time."
The young ranger started. His eyes flew to the far corner of the room to see a slim shadow detatch itself from one of the beds and slowly stride forward. The candlelight gleamed in his pale hair, shining in the blue eyes.
Aragorn immediately felt a lump form heavily in his throat. This was most inconvenient as there were a great deal of things he wanted to say…Unfortunately, he chose at that moment to recognize the fact that Legolas was walking heavily, and that there were bandages peeking out of the top of the prince's soft tunic. It was his fault that his friend had been hurt. The lump swelled to twice it's original size.
Legolas eyed the young ranger calmly. "It has been a week since the twins brought you home." A moment of silence passed uncomfortably. "You should not be sitting up. Your father and brothers will be most upset if they find you so." The elf prince waited for Aragorn to say something, but the ranger still could not force words from his mouth. Finally, with a soft sigh, the fair warrior turned as though to go. "I told them I would inform them if you awoke." He started to move away.
Aragorn watched him go in desperation. Stupid lump… "Legolas!" The word came out half strangled and nearly silent, but it caught the elf's ear. He turned, his face carefully blank.
"Legolas…" Aragorn's silver eyes were sad and haunted. "I am sorry. So sorry."
The prince drew in a deep breath and released it. In those words, he heard all that his friend was trying to tell him. Strider was sorry he had not thought of his family and friends. He was sorry he had not delivered the message to Legolas personally. He was sorry his friend had been hurt. He was sorry for his own foolishness that had embroiled them all in this mess.
A soft smile tweaked the corners of Legolas' mouth. "So…" he said quietly. "There was a message?"
Aragorn smiled back. "Yes. There was a message. And it was wonderfully worded."
"A supreme work of wit and excellent vocabulary, I am sure."
"I sense a note of disbelief in your voice, mellon nin."
"A note? Nay, Strider."
Aragorn's eyebrows rose in skeptecism.
"Tis an entire symphony you hear, dunadan."
Aragorn groaned, but his eyes were alight with happiness. Legolas quickly moved to his friend's side and placed a gentle, but firm hand upon his shoulder. "Lie back. I will return shortly with your brothers and your father."
The elf prince slid from the room on silent feet, leaving Aragorn alone. The young ranger drew in a deep breath, smelling the sharp scent of his father's herbs, the cool lavender of the bedsheets and another indescribable odor that was prevelant only in this valley…
A weary, satisfied smile spread across his face.
He was home.
Lord Elrond breathed deeply the scent of his gardens, enjoying the fragrance that wafted through the air of his home. It had been nearly two weeks since his sons had returned,and he was just now allowing himself to relax somewhat. The dark haired elf leaned against a tree for a moment, enjoying the roughness of the bark and the peaceful melody that hummed through the branches above him.
Legolas and the twins were all but recovered. There was still some stiffness to the prince's usually supple stride, and Elladan winced slightly when raising his arms in a certain way, but for the most part, they were well on their way to healing.
Estel regained his strength much more slowly. The young man had been through more physical trauma, it was true, but the human was simply not as swift to recover as his brothers and friend.
However, the elf lord was quick to notice a very large change in the young ranger. For the first time in his extensive memory, Elrond realized that Estel was not chafing in his enforced stay within the healing wing's walls. The human seemed content to be still, regardless of the antics of the swifter healing elves surrounding him.
Perhaps miracles did happen.
Elrond turned, startled. He had been so absorbed in his own thoughts he had not heard the shuffling step of his youngest approach. With a sigh, Elrond mentally retracted his former comment on miracles and went to take his son's arm. To his surprise, Estel did not pull away and loudly declare that he was fine…he could walk on his own…he did not need help… Instead, the young man gratefully leaned against his father's steadying arm, allowing the elf lord to lead him to a stone bench.
Aragorn smiled as he sank down onto the cool marble seat. "Hannon le, Ada."
"And what exactly are you doing out of the healing wing?" Elrond asked gently, seating himself beside his son, even as he wondered at this new compliance.
"I wished to speak to you," the ranger said evenly. "And you did say that I might get out of bed today."
"Getting out of bed and walking down into the gardens without telling anyone or requesting assistance are two entirely different things," Elrond remarked dryly.
Aragorn nodded gravely. "Indeed." The silver eyes sparkled for a moment, though his face remained placid. "However, I did receive the very great pleasure in discovering that while in this state I was still able to sneak past the assistant healer."
The dark haired elf lord quickly smothered his own grin. "I suppose your brothers have told you what has been happening with the warriors?"
"Aye." The eyes lost their sparkle abruptly. "They have found no trace of Halith as of yet." His fingers worried at the hem of his tunic for a moment. "But Elladan and Elrohir are certain that they soon will." The doubtful tone of his voice let Elrond know exactly what Estel's opinion on the matter was. The young man turned towards his parent abruptly, dark hair swing around his face. "Ada, that is not what I came to speak to you about."
Elrond surveyed his son's face closely. He noted with a healer's satisfaction that this face was rested, more peaceful than that of the young man who had arrived on a litter two weeks ago. A father's concern, however, also recognized that there were faint lines of pain etched upon Aragorn's features. In time, they might fade, just as the scars on his back. But it hurt him to see the evidence of cruelty on his son. "Man anirlye pennich?"
For a few moments, Aragorn did not speak. The silver eyes traveled over Elrond's face, stopping as they met the calm, grey gaze of the elf lord. "I…I am sorry, Ada."
Elrond's eyebrows raised slightly in surprise. "An man, ion nin?"
"I was so absorbed in my own pettiness that I did not stop and consider what I was doing."The ranger's jaw tightened ever so slightly. "In my overwhelming desire to be thought of as a 'man', I acted as a fool. I put the lives of my brothers, your sons, at risk. Legolas might have been killed…" Aragorn turned from his father and leaned forwards, putting his face in his hands. The young man's voice continued, muffled by his fingers. "I caused you pain. You were worried for me. The twins as well. And Legolas. Please, Ada," Aragorn straightened suddenly and met his father's gaze. "I never meant to hurt any of you. Yet it is my fault that this happened." It seemed as though he wished to say more, but his voice would not continue.
Elrond longed to wrap the boy in his arms, but he knew that the wounds upon Aragorn's back were still too tender to allow for such an embrace. Instead, he placed a hand on his son's cheek, feeling the harsh stubble against his skin. There was a time when this cheek was smooth and soft baby skin. So short a time ago it seemed, and yet, he now realized, so long. This was no longer a child, but an adult. And he could not have chosen better words to prove to his parent that he had grown up.
"I forgive you, Estel," Elrond said quietly. Tears swam in his eyes as he gazed at his son. In his mind's eye he could see a dark haired toddler with gleaming silver eyes reaching up to his father and brothers, hoping to be tossed into the air. The image was chased away by the serious twenty three year old sitting before him, lines of pain and dearly bought wisdom scouring his young face, the shadow of a beard darkening his cheeks.
"It would seem," the elf lord finally managed, "That you have learned what it takes to be a man." Elrond smiled as a tear traced it's way down his face. "I am proud of you"
Aragorn's face crumpled even as he grabbed hold of his father and enveloped him in a fierce hug.
How long the two stayed there they did not know, nor did they care. Time slipped away unheeded by the immortal elves, and for a moment it loosed it's hold upon the young man held in his father's arms.
There you go! For everyone who wanted to see Halith die a horrible and painful death…I am sorry but once I come up with a really good villain I have to keep him around for a while. Don't worry. He'll be coming back around another time. /evil smile./ Thanks again everybody! I hope to start another story soon, so maybe I will see you all then!
0-0-0-0Ar gelydh ernil!-Prince without wisdom!
Hir nin- My lord
Sidh, pen neth. Nin si. Man na den?-Rest, young one, I am here. What is it?
Utuvye i adan?-Did you find the human?
Avye-I did not.
Mae govannen, edhil. Tolo le ello Imladris?- Well met, elves. Do you come from Imlradris?
Estel, nin si. Echo, ion nin. Le bar.- Estel, I am here. Wake, my son. You are home.
Iyn nin-my sons.
Gohena nin, Ada. Gohena bethath nin- Forgive me, Father(daddy) forgive my words.
Man anirlye pennich?-What do you desire to say?
An man?-for what?