Title: King's Guardian
Author: Del Rion
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings
Era: First and Third Age of the Sun
Genre: Action, Drama, AU
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Legolas, Oropher, Thranduil (, OCs)
Summary: The history of Guardians comes known to Legolas when Rafél reveals him a piece of his father's past.
Part of the history of "The Last Journey". Complete.
Warnings: Character's death, violence
Beta: Kitt of Lindon (thanks for betaing and the help with details!)
Disclaimer: This story is based on J.R.R. Tolkien's stories about Middle-earth (mostly on the Lord of the Rings). The characters are not mine - except for those whom I have created. The story is slightly alternative universe, but written to honour Tolkien's creations.
Feedback: Actually, it is expected of you, people! Please review, I would love to know your opinion.
Author's Notes: English is not my mother tongue, so it isn't perfect.
About King's Guardian: The idea to make this story came to me when I began to think about the guardians more deeply. How this tradition came to Thranduil's family? This is a fair explanation for that. It also reveals some of Rafél's past, and his tidings to Legolas' family.
My knowledge of the Ages before the Third Age is quite limited, so this story was also a small challenge (many thanks to my beta Kitt of her help!). There are not many records of Thranduil and his father, before or after coming to Greenwood the Great, so I have to figure out a lot myself. That's why the careful AU-marking :) This is my version, nothing to do with Tolkien. It would be fun to have some of his notes to aid me, though… As it is, I have to use my imagination and the facts I have already gathered.
Overall, this is a story of trust, loyalty, love, and loss.
Story and status: Here below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked (until someone of my dear readers points me out some mistake, or I will do some updating…).
Race: Sindar Elf of Eryn Lasgalen
Age: Born during the Age of the Stars
One of those few Sindarin Elves who came with Oropher to the Greenwood the Great, and fought in the Battle of Dagorlad. Legolas' bodyguard. Also a captain and a remarkable soldier in Woodland Realm's forces, though mostly his time is occupied with his duties to protect Legolas. Unlike (usually) to Sindar Elves, he has deep brown eyes. Long, very light, nearly white, brownish hair.
Race: Sindarin Elf
Age: Born during the Age of the Stars
Close friend of Rafél. Grew to know both Thranduil and Oropher well during their time in Doriath. Pale blond hair, light green eyes.
Race: Sindar Elf of Eryn Lasgalen
Age: Born in the Second Age
Legolas' oldest brother and the Crown-Prince of the Woodland Realm. Long golden hair and deep grey eyes.
Author's Notes: All speech here is in Sindarin. Translations in the end of the story.
This could have been done in several chapters, I know… Many will whine about it, but so be it! I chose to do the story like this. I think it would not make justice for the contents to split it up, especially when it is not necessary.
Complain and swallow people. Like it or not, here it is: a story of guardians!
Third Age of the Sun,
"Sometimes I just cannot understand the way my Ada thinks."
Rafél lifted his gaze from a half-made arrow on his lap. He was way ahead of his Prince in the task, but the reason was also obvious: Legolas' thoughts were resting somewhere else than in the matter at hand. His earlier comment spoke volumes of that. "That is how the things often lie between fathers and sons," he stated diplomatically.
"So you see the reason – whatever it may be – behind his orders?" Legolas demanded with a hurt tone.
The guardian sighed, pushing his work aside for a moment. He turned fully at the younger Elf, face set. "Would you care to tell me more, or do I have to guess?" Once again he rebuked himself of not attending the breakfast with the royal family: certainly Legolas had had a fight with his father during that occasion, as this strange mood has not been there yesterday. I suppose I have to leave my own morning practices aside for a while, he lamented, inwardly cringing at the idea. He had not much time for his own training nowadays, and the mornings had provided him just enough time – this far. A change in his schedule seemed to be in order, if this continued.
"My father approached me with such news that I do not know what to think of them." Rafél raised an eyebrow at that. Legolas, in turn, frowned angrily, tucking a root on his feet. "He could decide if he wants you around me or not."
Rafél pursed his lips, finally realising what was bothering his protégé. He had discussed of this with the King earlier. It was not the smartest move from Thranduil to bring up the matter like this, he lamented. "You are being too narrow-minded," he stated slowly. "He did not mean exactly that, and you know it."
Legolas snorted, then leaned against the tree behind him and glared at his guardian stubbornly. "He practically ordered you to back off."
"He wishes to make sure you can survive on your own," Rafél explained patiently.
"Then why to appoint you to protect me in the first place?" Legolas cried out. "He could have ordered a simple guard to watch over me, not to hire you into a lifetime task," he ended with a huff.
"Thranduil has his reasons," Rafél said a bit more reluctantly. This was something guardians never spoke of – not all of them even knew the whole story – but Legolas was old enough to understand… "Your father wishes to ensure that you will continue on if something would happen to me." Legolas gave him a sceptical look, like doubting such a thing could never happen. "Your brothers have been through this, at their time," Rafél went on, knowing this was a time for Legolas to have a small lesson. "Thranduil faced such an event in his youth. Even if he was not attached to the said Elf as you are to me – or your brothers to their guardians… it pained him. He wishes to make sure that if I die, you will go on."
"You will not die," Legolas laughed. "You are too smart for that." He thought for a moment. "And my brothers are still protected by their guardian's – daily. They have not been parted from each other."
"But they would go on if either of their guardians would die. I would die to protect you," Rafél said quietly.
"You will not die," Legolas repeated adamantly.
"The world has its plan for all of us. We cannot know about its twists before we are there," the older Elf said, his eyes distant. "Not before the mistake is done. Or the decision."
Legolas shook his head, but did not argue again. Instead, his expression got thoughtful and the anger faded to curiosity. "My father… He lost someone? Like… you?"
Rafél sat silent for a long while, his eyes gazing at events far in past. After several minutes, he looked at Legolas, his full age for once visible in his eyes. "Let me tell you something. A story. Many have not heard it, for it is not one of those re-told generations ahead among our people. No songs are made of these events, even if the times they took place in are strongly remembered by our kin. Certain things are never spoken forth, for their own reasons. But you may learn something from this, and moreover, you might learn to understand your father better…" He fell silent again, then began with a deep breathe, "This happened a long time ago, before your family first came to these woods. In Doriath…"
First Age of the Sun,
The very sight of the number of the enemy could have made one's blood stop cold. Line after line of dark troops flooded over a low hill, filling the coming battlefield. What was even more terrifying was the seemingly endlessness of them. Orcs and other dark servants of Morgoth marched closer to the lines of Elves, screaming their challenge to the air.
By his long experience in war, Oropher knew that the endless number of the enemy was deceiving: the horizon stood dark behind them, and the black clouds that hung low over the earth dimmed the light of the day. All this darkness seemed to stretch the enemy-lines beyond their sight. The enemy is endless, but not in physical form. The shadows are ever present where the dark ones move, yet these twisted creatures are not the true threat, he pondered, eyes narrowing as he stared at the distance.
Deciding there was nothing new for him to see, Oropher turned his gaze from the enemy and the darkness beyond them. He immediately spotted a younger Elf standing next to him. It was not the youth's first battle, only the greatest by far. Yet Oropher had faith in his son: they were of same blood. The youth turned to look at him, sensing his stare. There was no smile, only grim anticipation on the youthful features.
"They will be upon us soon."
"Vile, mindless creatures. Even as they outnumber us, one Elf is worth of more than a dozen of them."
"Vile, perhaps. But do not forget that their Lord's mind is theirs as well."
Oropher turned to look at the older Elves near him. One called Arathil was staring at the previously spoken one, Rafél. They stood side by side, apart from the others, bows ready and loose on their sides, faces defiant. Each of them was Oropher's senior with many years, originating from the Age of the Stars. They were both tall and fair to look at. Some might have thought they were related – but they were so only by heart. Their hair were almost identically bound, speaking of long friendship and years spent together. Refél's deep brown eyes were clearly contrasted by his almost white, slightly brownish hair. Arathil, on the other hand, has light green eyes that spoke of closeness to the living things, his pale blond hair bound with green stripes of leather. Their clothing was similar, as well, only the armour making a greater difference in design: whereas Arathil wore silver colours and nature-related markings, Rafél's golden armour was embedded with runes and ancient signs.
"True," answered Arathil haltingly. "Yet I fear more the Lord than his dogs. These are but a nuisance sent to bother us."
"We shall be victorious," Oropher stated, interrupting the two. "None of our villains' blood shall stain our grounds as long as a single Sindar stands!" he lifted his voice a bit, catching the attention of the Elves nearby. "Not as long as I stand," he added, turning his gaze back to the ones he had earlier spoken to.
"Then perhaps you should start consider crawling," Rafél muttered. "For soon shall come the day, when the Dark One himself will come out to challenge us. And against him, we have little hope."
"Is he always like this, before a battle this great?" a new voice joined to the conversation, young and full of dry humour. Thranduil met his elders' gazes with mere curiosity.
"Nay, just today," Arathil replied, smiling at the youth. "Yet there is always a piece of truth in his words. Remember that."
Thranduil nodded carefully, then glanced at his father. His sire was looking at the advancing enemy again, as if calculating how many foes he could kill with his bow before he would be forced to depend on his sword. It was a thing to be proud of in their family: both father and son were excellent archers.
A command to prepare rang through the lines, ending the debate between Rafél and Arathil short. Weapons were drawn and prepared. Archers placed their arrows to the strings and waited. Long moments passed by, silence broken by the harsh shouts of Morgoth's dogs as they rushed forward, death in their eyes.
Rain of arrows met the advancing enemy before their own archers were even nearing their range. Hundreds fell, but were soon trampled down by thousands. After the seventh volley of arrows, the Orcs gained their position and began to fire back. It was a moment the Elves had waited, archers holding their positions as the others surged forward to meet the enemy in combat. Swords and armour clashed together, like a thunder on the fields. Screams and shouts mingled, commands from both sides lost in the noise.
After he ran out of arrows, Oropher shouldered his bow and joined the battle. With a shout, he crashed into the line of enemies, hacking his way through with great swings of his long sword. Blood stained his clothes but he barely noticed; mind turned on the fight and survival.
Thranduil had not emptied his own quiver when his father rushed forward. With a disappointed frown, he put his own bow to his back and released a sword from his side. When he took after Oropher he soon realised he could not follow his sire for long: he lacked the power and the skill of his father. Swallowing his bitterness, Thranduil began his own battle, soon surrounded by dark creatures.
Out of nowhere, an Orc broke through Thranduil's defences, the leering face appearing before his in a second. Pain soon followed, blooming in his lower thigh where the foe's sword stroke. The youth barely had time to bite his teeth against the pain when another enemy appeared, taking advantage of the Elf's lapse of concentration.
The aftermath could have been much worse if Arathil would not have stumbled against the advancing Orc, Rafél's knife soon hitting the other squarely in the forehead.
Thranduil blinked, staring at Arathil who first finished the Orc that now lay beneath him and then got up swearing softly to himself. Pain was forgotten for a moment, warm haze taking over his body as he realised that he was still alive.
"Are you all right?" Rafél asked as he approached the two, Arathil also turning to the younger Elf.
"I am, but I think he is not," Arathil stated, immediately gazing around for Oropher. When he did not find the other Elf, he quickly checked the younger one before him. Blood staining the other's leg was immediately spotted by him. "Search the weapons of these two and see if they are poisoned," he shouted to Rafél, kneeling down to see the wound better.
Rafél nodded, first asking for aid from some of their kinsmen: they could not both take care of the wounded youth and protect themselves from the battle. After a group of Elves volunteered to watch their backs, Rafél searched the weapons of the dead Orcs. "They are clean of poison," he said, sniffing the stained metal of the other twisted sword. He grimaced. "Yet I would not call them clean."
Arathil nodded, still inspecting the wound. He neither saw nor smelled any sign of poison, either. The injury was not alarming, but he bet it was painful. Glancing up at Thranduil's face, he saw the other was slowly remembering himself. "You were lucky today," he noted, ripping a piece of fabric from his own clothing. "Scarce are the blades of Orcs that do not carry a poison on themselves," he spoke while binding the leg the best he could at this situation.
Thranduil tried to draw his limb away, blush rising to his cheeks. "I am fine," he mumbled, shifting his sword in his hand. "Just let me go back to the battle."
Rafél snorted, but Arathil merely smiled. "As far as you feel able," he guided, then got up. "Get it checked after the battle is over: an infection may set in even if the blade that cut you was free of poison."
Thranduil nodded hastily, wishing to be gone. It did not do any good to his pride to be lectured by these two, after making a mistake of letting an Orc get too close.
Allowing Thranduil to pass him, Arathil lifted his own sword. "Shall we?" he swung the tip of his weapon towards the fight.
Rafél looked sceptical, his eyes still on the youth who made a good effort of appearing to be unharmed – yet failed miserably in his eyes. "You will let him go like that?"
"That is why we had better hurry if we wish to reach him and watch his back, dearest Rafél," Arathil said with a low voice, smiling. He winked at his friend as he took after the youth.
Rafél merely rolled his eyes but followed without disagreement.
The battle ended after long hours of struggle, the Orcs vanishing to the remaining shadows of the night. A new day opened to a bright sky, the black clouds of Morgoth momentarily passed. Rafél welcomed the sunshine, basking in the warm rays. The sun was like a victory: as many of his generation, he did not stand on a field of victory today. This is merely stolen time before the storm shall be upon us, he thought bitterly. One day Morgoth shall come himself, sick of this playing. And he will end it all. Against a Valar, there is little we can do…
"Instead of dwelling in your dark, pointless gloominess, could you give me a hand?" Arathil called, small tone of anger in his voice.
Rafél turned to face his friend, almost smiling at Thranduil's defeated look. They had forced the youth to sit and be tended as soon as the enemy was beyond the immediate danger. The son of Oropher did not much appreciate their worry, of course, but had little to say when facing both of them at once. Now he sat in silence, Arathil tending his leg with slow devotion.
"Rafél?" Arathil called out again, this time turning to look at his friend. "You couldn't find any fresh water for me?" he requested slowly.
The other Sinda nodded, wondering if this land was anything but spoiled by the countless amount of Orc-blood that had flow today. "I will see what I can do." As starters, he found a small skin of water from his side. Arathil took it with a smile. Rafél turned to leave, but halted as he saw an Elf approach them.
Oropher pushed his way through he lines of Elves, clearly knowing where he was heading at. He slowed as he met Rafél's eyes, stopping beside his kinsman. Cool eyes took in the vision of his unhappy son, then turned back at Rafél again. "What happened?"
"He took a small touch with an enemy blade," Arathil answered, getting up from his place. He wiped his wet hands to his tunic, facing the Lord. "There is no infection, and the blade was not poisoned. I have tended it well enough so he will easily survive to the city."
Oropher nodded, visibly not happy about the events. "We are fortunate," he finally said, glancing at his son. Thranduil looked away quickly, seeing the rebuke in his father's eyes.
"Could I speak with you for a moment?" Arathil asked, his eyes steady upon Oropher. He might have called the other "Lord", but as Oropher was no lord to him, neither of them bothered.
Oropher nodded absently, and they walked away from the two other Elves.
It took a moment before Arathil opened his mouth, his face thoughtful. "He might have died today." The statement was clear for them both, no more needed to be said.
"He needs more practice, then," Oropher concluded.
"With all respect, Thranduil is still young," Arathil spoke, turning to face the other Elf. His eyes were serious. "None of us but you seems to expect him to act and fight like a grown warrior. If he would be a son of mine, I would not even allow him to a battle – especially ones likes this."
"Yet he is no son of yours," Oropher smiled coldly, "but mine."
"Exactly," Arathil's voice was even, respectful yet resolute. "Will you not put your pride aside for your son? Because if you shall not, he will be the one to pay the price." He turned to leave.
"What do you suggest?"
Arathil halted with a secret smile. Slowly, he faced the other again. "That you let someone watch over him. Teach him, if that is what you wish. He has still much to learn, of life and war. But most of all he needs someone to cover his back, at these dark times." His smile was bright, genuine. "He has inherited your pride, Oropher: he will not let anyone to help him, if it does not suite him first. And I would not dare to wait until that day."
Oropher was silent for a long while, his eyes moving between the dark horizon far away in north and the Elf near him. Finally, he seemed to reach a decision, his attention moving fully on Arathil. "Would you take that task? Of protecting him? Teaching him?"
Arathil smiled and nodded. "I would be honoured to."
Oropher also nodded, then laughed shortly. "He will not be pleased of the news. Not pleased at all…"
"You must be joking! The entire idea is ridiculous!"
Rafél leaned heavily against a stonewall behind him, wondering if he could just shut his ears without making a sign to the outer world. He did not dare to use his hands to cover his head, and as he found no other way, he just had to bear it. I do not even understand why Arathil wanted me to come along. This is his project, not mine. Solely his idea… Why do I even bother? The answer was simple enough, and it annoyed him even further: after all their years together, they were like brothers. They did nothing alone, apart from each other.
"I will not accept this!"
"Did I ever ask your opinion?"
The answer was a whirlwind that stormed out of the door. Seemingly, Thranduil did not agree with his father's decision of this new experiment of a "guardian".
"Thranduil! Come back here at once!" Oropher shouted, but to deaf ears.
"Let me," Arathil said quietly, leaving the Lord with a bow. Rafél followed his friend like a shadow, daring to breathe only when they were out of the door.
"Tell me again why you are doing this?" Rafél muttered unhappily.
Arathil glanced at him, almost amused. "You know why."
So he did. But it did not make Rafél any happier of the situation they were in. "How are you going to get the youth convinced that this is solely to his own best?"
"The same way I convinced his father: by talking."
"It will never work," Rafél predicted. "I cannot imagine how you got Oropher into this, in the first place."
"Father is always… a father," Arathil ended thoughtfully, halting in the corridor. "If you mind, I would speak with the youth alone," he gave his friend an apologising smile.
Rafél gestured with his hand at the door in front of them, stepping slightly back.
With a final glance at Rafél, Arathil opened the door and stepped outside into sunlight. In front of him was a wide landing, continuing as stairs some ten feet away. Thranduil sat on the edge of the stairs, head leaning on his hands. The youth looked up annoyed, immediately glancing away as he spotted Arathil. "May I speak with you?" Arathil asked, not at all discouraged by the hostility welcoming him.
Thranduil shrugged. "Can I top you?"
Arathil laughed, taking a seat beside the youth. "Perhaps not." Silence filled the air between them for a moment, both of them staring at the city around them. "Your father is only thinking the best of you," Arathil stated finally, "like me." Thranduil snorted, turning his head away from the other. But the elder did not give up so easily. "I know Elven pride myself. In some, it is stronger, like in your family. But what alarms me most is that I have seen many great, good warriors fall prey to their own glory. Driven by their wounded pride, they lose themselves. I do not wish that for you."
"I am barely a warrior," Thranduil sniffed quietly. "I cannot even take care of myself on the battlefield. Your worry is strongly misplaced, I am afraid."
"Truly?" Arathil questioned. "What makes you think that?" He halted for a moment, then continued with a gentle smile. "You are still young. Therefore you do not have to be a great warrior, like your father – or I. You will learn, eventually, but it will be a hard road. And there I wish to aid you. One can never have too much help."
"I don't need your help," Thranduil answered, "and most of all: I don't want your help!"
"Do you know how Rafél and I have survived this far?" Arathil changed his tactics. "Because we have both learned to put out pride aside. We lean on each other, and there is nothing to be ashamed in that. We know each other's weaknesses, and are able to aid the other when the help is needed. It has been a long way for both of us to come where we are now, but we have both learned from it: pride is a waste of time among companions. You do not need that, when someone knows you well enough." He halted, sensing the change in the youth. "I do not ask you to cast yourself aside. I merely give you a chance to learn more, and become a greater Elf. Protecting you is one thing, but teaching is entirely another."
Thranduil was silent, but listening.
"Think of this, for a time," Arathil ended, slowly getting up again. "And tell me either way when you are ready."
"Maybe I could try… your way," the youth said tentatively, glancing up. His eyes were wide, shining.
Arathil nodded, offering his hand to help the other up. "We are both learning, here."
Third Age of the Sun,
"And so they were," Rafél laughed. "Their first practice together ended as a great shouting-match, until I went to tell them that they had to give each other a chance. They looked very sheepish, then," he smiled at the memory. "Their first battle together sealed their relationship. Arathil stood beside Thranduil during the entire battle. He did not tell him to do anything: just covered his back like any other companion would have done." His eyes were on Legolas again, shining with inner light. "Your father learned a lot of pride with Arathil. He learned to give in, listen to the others, and accept he could not always be right in everything."
"So it all ended well," Legolas chided, smiling widely. "A happy ending, despite the rocky start." He grinned, "Like us."
Rafél smiled at the connection, but the expression soon faded, his eyes turning dark. "All did not end well," he sighed, shaking his head slowly, as if trying to fight back a sudden wave of emotions. "One day, everything changed… Between your father and I, as well… It was a desperate battle to begin with. Completely pointless. But as so many times before, pride ruled the actions of Elves, and our Lords tried to save a city already lost in enemy hands…"
First Age of the Sun,
Battle raged all around the once fair city of Elves. Most of the highest walls lay in ruin, crashed down to fill the streets. Smoke rose to the sky, adding its own shade to the dark clouds above. A clash of weapons might have sounded distant, among all the unmoving havoc. Silence might have not been surprising at all.
Yet on the streets, a struggle over the devastated city was fought, in all its terrible glory.
Bodies lay on the rocky soil. Blood mixed with dust created a slippery footing on the broken stones. Every time Rafél's foot touched something on the ground that gave away, he forced himself not to look down. All he had to do was to make sure he did not trip over anything; else, he would be undone in a moment. There was also another reason why to keep his eyes in the matter at hand: he had looked down too many times before, finding empty eyes of a mutilated body staring back at him. His kinsman or an enemy, it made him shudder nonetheless.
As determined as the Elves were to keep their city, most knew it was a lost battle for them. This time the enemy was too great in number to be defeated, making them withdraw further in the city, forcing them to back up until they were driven to their holes like rats that can only wait for a certain death.
Rafél, however, was not willing to die just yet. Checking for his friend and Thranduil yet again, he mastered his tired body under his will and cut an advancing Orc in two. He noticed his arms were already shaking with effort, blood making his fingers slip on the handle of his weapon. One mistake, and it is over, he reminded himself, new power flooding in him due the angry thoughts.
Thranduil watched Rafél from the corner of his eye, again wondering how the elder was able to wield his sword yet again, bringing it upon an enemy with killing power. He envied the other's endless stamina, yet was resolute not to show it. One day, he would possess such skill himself. No point in showing he did not do so yet.
A breath of air blew against Thranduil's cheek, but for his credit he did not turn away. The motion beside him was already familiar. Arathil smiled at him briefly as he drew his sword back from a fallen enemy, then resumed his fight. Arathil was like a constant shadow of Thranduil, nowadays, but slowly the son of Oropher had learned to accept this. At times, he almost felt glad to have the elder warrior there, guiding and backing him up in battle.
Usually, Thranduil would have taken such actions offensively. Yet he had soon learned there was no mockery or amusement in Arathil's actions: the other honestly wished to help him to improve. It was still a hard bite for Thranduil to swallow, at times, yet he had learned to see when his pride was taking the better of him. Between friends, pride has very little meaning, the youth reminded himself of a phrase both Arathil and Rafél were fond to use – in both words and actions.
A different scream from amidst the battle drew Thranduil's attention. He glanced at his side, witnessing a female Elf running with three younglings, trying to get them into safety of a building before a group of Orcs caught them. The children were crying and screaming, horror in their eyes. Before Thranduil was able to move, the small group had disappeared through an opening before them, Orcs only a few feet after them.
Blood boiling with anger, Thranduil left his place in the line of the fighters, making his way towards the doorway. There was no way a woman could defend herself and her children from armed foes. He reached the entrance, halting to survey his surroundings. A dark, ruined corridor opened before him, no torch lighting the shadows. When a scream of a child rang on the walls, Thranduil hesitated no more. He was dimly aware of Arathil's cry behind him, but paid it no heed.
Arathil swore with abandon as Thranduil disappeared from his sight. With a quick look on his side, he spotted his friend. "Rafél! I will go after him!"
Rafél turned to look back, immediately understanding that Thranduil was on his way again. It was not the first time – nor the last, he feared – when the youth chose to leave his post. With a nod, he informed his fellow fighters that they had two new places to defend. As Arathil took after the youth, Rafél was careful to mark his path. Soon he was forced to meet the enemy again, his thoughts yet lingering with his two companions. I truly wish you can keep him safe, Arathil: there is little I can do to aid you.
When an opportunity presented itself, he again glanced at the doorway some distance away from him. And froze. A great group of Orcs broke free from the battle, making their way to the entrance. Without hesitation, the dark creatures entered, seemingly happy to get away from the battle – and with good luck to conquer a new territory.
It was Rafél's turn to swear. Cold sweat surfaced, making his skin cool down immediately. With a quick motion to his nearest companion, he drew away from his place. Sheathing his sword, he released his bow from his back, notching an arrow to the string. He pulled it taut, fingers itching, and entered the corridor. He heard sounds of fight before him, his eyes fighting to accustom to the nonexistent light. With hurried steps, he went forth, sending a prayer to the Valar that he would not come too late.
As Thranduil finally caught up with his quarry, the sigh before him made him halt. In a small room in the end of the corridor, somewhat light up by the rays streaming from the windows above, the Orcs had halted. At their feet lay four bodies, mutilated and lifeless. The vile creatures were in a process of tearing their victims apart.
Several dark heads turned to the Elf as he entered the room. Ugly fangs were revealed as the Orcs sneered at the Firstborn, their earlier task forgotten. They crept forward, weapons lifted, fresh blood sliding down the dirty blades.
It was no blood of warriors – but children.
Thranduil did not have to look to remember how that blood had ended there. He could practically smell it, the cries of pain and terror still fresh in his mind. Had I only come a moment earlier… he lamented. Regret turned into hot rage before he knew it, his own blade lifted, catching the weak light. He stepped forth, ignoring the fact he was outnumbered. Clear call of revenge sang in his mind, numbing everything else.
First clash of weapons made Thranduil's ears ring. It drove some of the haze from his mind, sharpening his senses to their utmost limits. His movements were guided more by instinct than thought. The only goal he had was to kill. To end those foul lives that had caused his kinsmen's deaths. But as resolute as Thranduil might have been, the Orcs had no intentions to die without taking the Elf with them. They attacked all as one, without any visible plan, searching for open spots to hit on. Soon Thranduil found himself pressed from all sides, only his unnatural Elven-speed keeping him alive.
Suddenly another blade joined to the Elf's, the Orcs shrieking and turning to face another enemy. Thranduil had no time to look, but he did not need to: he felt Arathil's fëa beside his, recognising the other and thanking him in his mind. The Orcs fell soon enough, two swords making sure work on them.
Calming his breath, Thranduil lowered his sword and gazed at the fallen, new wall of regret building in him as he gazed at the Elven corpses. If only he had come sooner…
"I have said this before, and I will say it again, and will no doubt tell you times enough in the future," Arathil said with a low tone, "don't you ever dare to leave like that again!"
Thranduil winced, turning to face his guardian. "I came too late. Had I waited for you –"
Arathil's eyes were ruthless as he gazed at the youth. "What if you had died, before I came? What if I had not noticed you left your place?" his voice rose threateningly.
Thranduil could not help but smile. "That, I deem, shall never happen. Your senses are too sharp to loose me for a longer time than a heartbeat."
Arathil frowned at the praise, his eyes falling upon the dead Elves. Sadness was visible in the light green eyes, making them adapt a phantom shade. "Not all can be saved…" he murmured, the words surely said to him in the past. He closed his eyes and drew a long breath, then jerked in alarm as harsh cries filled the corridor.
Thranduil lifted his gaze in alarm, his sword in the air before he knew it. Dozens of Orcs poured into the room from the passage, their shouts echoing on the stoned walls. Arathil turned to face the enemy, steadily keeping himself ahead of Thranduil. "We have to get out," was a last thing he said before the enemies were upon them. Thranduil nodded, knowing there was wisdom in the other's words: they would never survive against this number. As much as is hurt his pride, Thranduil knew that if he wanted to live, he would obey the other's words.
But the only way out was the corridor before them, and between stood the Orcs.
The Elves fought side by side, trying to keep the Orcs before them. If the enemy would get to their rear, it would be far too difficult to fight effectively. Yet like this, they made their way forward with painful slowness. Cursing beneath his breath, Arathil tried to form a plan before they both would be too exhausted to lift their arms.
A rescue came without warning.
A familiar whistle ended with a grunt from an Orc, the creature falling to the ground with an Elven arrow buried deeply to its back. Two other Orcs fell before the shooter appeared. Arathil cried out in happiness, his spirits lifting. Rafél changed from bow to a sword as he met the enemies, pushing the Orcs back from his forceful advance.
"Go!" Arathil encouraged Thranduil, shoving the youth towards Rafél.
Thranduil hesitated a moment, then made his way towards the entrance. His sword cut a path of death around him, yet his eyes remained on the elder Sinda fighting before him. He was dimly aware that Arathil was following him, keeping a safe distance to cover his back. After another minute that seemed to last forever, Thranduil reached Rafél's side. Rafél nodded his head in acknowledgment and then moved his eyes back to the battle. Arathil was making his way steadily towards them, his every move calculated and unhurried.
Rafél moved to meet him, hoping the youth would remain where he was.
A sharp cry from Arathil warned his companions, making Thranduil take a step closer to the battle. Arathil was clutching his side, pained expression on his fair face. With an effort, he blocked another strike of an Orc's axe, the blade bloody from its previous strike. Rafél called out his friend's name, but it was too late: Orcs were upon the wounded Elf in a second, seeing their opportunity.
Arathil fell to the ground, his fingers no more able to hold his sword in their grip. A blade cut his leg, another his shoulder, and he knew it was over. With the remaining strength he had, he called out to Rafél: "Take him out!"
Rafél stood in indecision, part of him yearning to go and fight for his friend, the reasonable side screaming it would mean certain death to all of them: the distance was too great, the enemies between them too many.
"Take Thranduil out of here!" Arathil called out again, pain shading his every word.
Thranduil waited no more, letting out a harsh cry, springing forward. He did not care how many enemies stood before him: all he saw was his friend and guardian, at the mercy of enemies.
Rafél caught the youth, his strong arms holding the other against his body. His eyes met Arathil's, and a message passed between them.
Thranduil screamed as Rafél backed away, towards the corridor. Struggling with all his might, he tried to get loose. But the elder's grip was firm, dragging them both towards safety.
Arathil smiled as Rafél retreated. It was the only wise decision they could do. You will look over him, for me. A sharp, hot pain cut through his body, giving him no time to gasp or fight, and then he felt no more…
Squinting in the light of the outside world, Rafél bodily lifted Thranduil from the corridor. By the sounds behind them, the Orcs would come after them soon enough. Let them, Rafél thought bitterly, scanning for their fellow warriors. I am more than clad to meet them out here, in the open. Tears burned behind his eyes but he forced them to stay as they were. It was no time for them yet.
Meeting one of his kinsmen's eyes on the battlefield, Rafél drew a long breath and held Thranduil tightly. The youth was sobbing in his hold, weakly struggling to get away. Yet they both knew it was over: Arathil was gone.
The victory, in the end, was a hollow image of the glory they all dreamed of: the city lay in ruin, streets covered with bodies. The Orcs had finally drawn back, and all the Elves could now do was to bury their dead and wait for the next assault. An air of mourning was deeply set upon the Firstborns, every motion hushed and sorrowful.
Thranduil sat on a pile of collapsed stone, near the entrance of the building he had fought in, some hours ago. His knees were drawn up, hands leaning on them, head supported by his crossed arms. His eyes were all that indicated he was indeed alive. They were locked in the sigh before him, unmoving, stoned.
A company of Elves emerged from the corridor, carrying a body between them. The dead was covered with cloth, hidden from view. Yet it was not hard to tell who lay under the blood-stained garment. Rafél stood alone by the entrance, his face emotionless. The company stopped before him, the foremost Elf presenting an item he carried in his hand: a sword of the dead. With a respectful bow, the warrior handed the weapon to Rafél, moving on when the Sinda had taken the offered token.
Rafél's eyes followed the company for a long while, the sword clutched in his hands. When he could no longer see the convoy, his eyes looked over the empty yard before him. His eyes met Thranduil's, their gazes locked for a moment. There was nothing but hatred in the youth's eyes, unhidden in its intensity.
When Thranduil could no longer bear the other's stare, he stood and left. He felt eyes following him, but he did not look back. He could not face an Elf who had merely watched his friend being killed by foes. Such coldness did not deserve to live…
Hours later, Rafél found Thranduil sitting alone on a battlement of the city. He advanced the youth cautiously, not wishing to alarm the other. He halted just behind the other, waiting to be acknowledged.
"What do you want?" came a harsh, cold demand.
"I wished to give you something," Rafél replied with a hushed voice, his eyes steady upon the other.
"Your best friend – as you called him, and Arathil you in return – you gifted with death. My apology as I do not want anything from you."
Rafél took a step forward, reaching the other's side. He turned the object he had brought with him in his hands, presenting it to the other. He saw the moment when Thranduil's eyes moved at the smooth article before him, gazing the elegant hilt of a blade in front of his face. Questioning eyes turned to Rafél. The elder nodded, shifting the blade in his hands. "I wish to give this to you. As his memory." He halted, emotions plain upon his face. "You deserve it," he ended, nodding again.
Tentatively, Thranduil reached for the weapon, its weight comforting in his arms. He cradled the blade to his chest, then gazed at Rafél again. He had no words, but they were not needed. Slowly raising to his feet, Thranduil held the blade in his left hand and turned to the other. Their eyes met again, but this time something had changed. The youth saw the deep wound in the other's soul, his grief like a living aura around him.
Without a word, Thranduil stepped forth and embraced his kinsman, tears burning his eyes. He felt an answering grip, and long moments passed in shared grief. When they drew apart again, Thranduil wiped his tears from his face, his shining eyes meeting the other's deep gaze. "Someday, I might understand," he murmured. "Not yet. Not today," he added, as if trying to explain.
Rafél nodded, then turned to watch at the Elf who approached them. Oropher halted before them, then reached out to put his arm around his son's shoulders. "The burial of the dead will begin soon," the Lord said, his eyes upon Rafél.
Rafél nodded, and with a last look at Thranduil, he walked away. Father and son followed, silence stretching like a barrier between them. But instead of plain hate and regret, there was understanding blooming beneath.
Third Age of the Sun,
"We watched his burial, side by side with your father," Rafél ended, his voice almost hoarse. Strange light filled his eyes, and he refused to meet Legolas' gaze directly.
The Prince sat in silence, unable to say something. The wall of sadness radiating from Rafél was obvious, yet he did not have the words. Instead, he went to sit beside the other, his hands circling the other's shoulders in a comforting gesture. "You must have been close. You and Arathil." Legolas knew he was stating the obvious, but it was something easy to start with.
Rafél smiled softly and nodded. It was too early for words, yet. He knew Legolas understood. It was hard to recall those events and then fall back to the present, the pain returning as strong every time. Elves did not forget, and for once Rafél cursed that fact. He would have survived with the pain dulled by the years.
Legolas frowned suddenly, drawing back slightly to see Rafél's face. "What of Arathil's sword? What become of it?"
Rafél turned to look at the Prince, his smile genuine, this time. "What do you think is the sword your father carries?"
Legolas' eyes widened, smile appearing to his face as well. "I did not know…"
"He does not speak of it," Rafél confirmed. "For him, it is still…" He drew a deep breath, closing his eyes. "We all make mistakes."
Legolas leaned closer, leaning his head against the other's shoulder. "You would have both been killed," he soothed. "Not all can be saved," he stated mournfully. Rafél's hand wound around his waist, welcoming the offered comfort. They sat in silence, both in their thoughts.
Finally Rafél shifted slightly, releasing Legolas. He smiled his thanks to the youth, living light again in his eyes.
Legolas gave the other's shoulder a squeeze before getting up, gathering his equipment. "I shall see you later?" the Prince asked, knowing Rafél wished to be alone for a while. After Rafél nodded, Legolas made his way through the forest, returning to the underground palace. He dropped his stuff in his room, then made his way along the corridors. He came to wide doors soon enough, hesitantly knocking on the wood. When a soft call welcomed him in, he opened the door and stepped inside. His father raised his head from his work, a surprised smile on his face.
Legolas returned the smile as he close the door behind him, then walked deeper to his father's private chambers. He halted beside a table set against a wall, for once taking notice of the sword that lay there. As a child, he had of course thought it as a great weapon of strong warrior – like his father. Knowing the truth now, he felt no less awed.
Touching the scabbard gently, he set his free hand upon his heart and bowed. He did not have to imagine how many times this blade had saved his sire in the past – or Rafél.
"So he told you?" came the deep voice of the King across the room.
Legolas turned from the table, nodding. "He did."
Thranduil made a funny sound on the back of his throat, shaking his head. "He does not often linger in those memories. Why should he, of course? They are in the past…"
"We can all learn from our pasts," Legolas answered, stepping to stand in front of his father's desk. He shifted nervously, hands clasped behind his back. "I am sorry for the scene I made at the table this morning: your intentions are surely good."
Thranduil glanced up in surprise, forgetting his papers for a moment. "Indeed they are," he chuckled, leaning back in his chair.
Legolas stood unmoving, gazing at his father intently. "I see the logic behind the words, now. Yet… I think it is pointless to try and divide me from Rafél: we are closely bound by now, and space between us would probably cause more harm than good." A smile crept to his face. "After all, past remains as it is: future is what lies ahead of us."
Thranduil frowned, tilting his head to a side. "Shall we argue of this again?"
"You are my sire and Liege: you tell me what to do."
Thranduil stood up from his chair abruptly, coming around the table to stand beside his son. With strong hands upon the slim shoulders, he turned Legolas to face him, his eyes intense as they searched his son's. "I am your Liege, yes. But I am also your father. And as a father…" he halted, pain flashing in his eyes. "As a father I do not with so see you get hurt."
Legolas nodded, smiling. "I will not, Ada. Rafél will ensure that."
Thranduil sighed, shaking his head. "You are as bull-headed as I was, in my time." He chuckled again. "Let it be so, for now. You are old enough to know the risks and understand them."
Legolas bowed slightly. "I thank you for your trust."
Thranduil made a face, then leaned forward to kiss Legolas' forehead. "Now be on your way. I am supposed to meet your elder brother, and you have things to do, no doubt."
"I will see you on the dinner," Legolas replied, making his way to the door. He halted before the table again, eyes moving slowly over the blade settled upon it. Then he turned to open the door, startling Tirifëa who stood just outside.
"By Valar, Legolas!" the Crown-prince exclaimed, swatting his brother playfully. "Could you move any more silently?"
Legolas merely smiled, glancing back at his father before leaving the room. Tirifëa stood in the corridor for a while, looking from his brother to his sire, sensing something was out of place.
"Come in, so we get all the work done before the dinner," Thranduil called for his son, and with a shrug, Tirifëa obeyed. No point in trying to solve the riddle set upon him: it was certain that he would not find any answers from either member of his family.
Fëa - spirit
)Sindarin( – Westron:
Ada – Affectionate form of father (Adar)
Author's Notes: Well, here were are again! At the end. Not a long story, I admit, but I think it is important, in a way. And people who are fond of my OC-characters surely liked this ;)
Again, feel free to review! I hope you will, all the lurkers, too. I wish to know if this was enjoyable at all. Mostly written in a middle of the night, the quality might not be the best. Oh well, you decide! Who am I to judge my own work… #grins#
For now, goodbye to all with humble thanks of reading this far!