Title: Where Will You Go?

By: Espree

Rating: Strong PG-13 ('T' on this site). This first chapter's about as violent as it's going to get (which is more than enough don't you think?).

Timeline: Post-ROTK, set in the fifth year of the Fourth Age. Legolas has not yet brought elves to Ithillien, and Eldarion has not yet been born. Gimli, in addition, has not yet moved into the Glittering Caves.

Disclaimer: I do not own Lord of the Rings or anything created and copyrighted by Tolkien and New Line Cinema, I simply got bored and my muse decided to have a little fun with the characters. I'm making no profit from this, not now or ever. So don't sue, please.

Feedback: Yes, please, but no flames. If you don't like the story go read something else, don't waste your time and mine yelling at me because this isn't your cup of tea, so to speak. Constructive criticism is welcome, though.

Summary: Banished from Gondor and hunted by those he once called his dearest friends, Legolas must fight for survival if he is to see his name cleared of the terrible crimes for which he has been framed. He finds refuge in Forodwaith, the icy land of the far north, while some friends who have not given up on his innocence struggle to bring the real culprit to justice. But even if they succeed, can they find Legolas? And will they be able to convince him to come home; or has their friendship been ruined forever?

Warnings: Death, torture, angst, all that good stuff you've probably come to expect from a fic like this by now. In addition this story is non-slash, and any non-hetero love mentioned is brotherly/sisterly love, savvy?

Chapter Warning: Gruesome punishment, yet not as gruesome as some of the stuff they did to people back in the Middle Ages. Oh, and many of you are likely to be quite pissed with Aragorn by the end of this chapter.


Chapter 1: 'T'—For Traitor

The dawn broke over the city of Minas Tirith bright and full of hope as it had unfailingly throughout the many centuries since the city had first been founded. However for the crowd of people gathered at its gates there was no cheer, no hope.

Aragorn, son of Arathorn, known to his people as King Ellesar, sat tall upon his black stallion, Roheryn. His personal guards flanked him, both behind and to either side. Sitting on his own chestnut horse at the King's left was Faramir, son of Denethor, the King's Steward. His expression was grim, and his eyes kept flicking sideways to regard the man whom he knew not only as his king, but held in his regard as one of his dearest friends. Next to him Beregond, and the other members of his White Company added their strength to the king's guards, doubling the protection around their nation's leaders.

Arwen, Queen of Gondor, sat upon her gentle mare at her husband's right hand. Her face was drawn, and though she tried to sit as tall and firm as Aragorn and Faramir, she could not hide the anguish and torment that darkened her normally cheerful eyes, complimenting the dark circles beneath them. Secretly she wished they could just get this over with so that she could retreat back to the solace of hers and her husband's private chambers, and continue to grieve in peace.

Next to her Eowyn cast a sympathetic gaze on the queen, wishing there was something more she could do to ease the terrible pain she knew was tearing her friend apart from the inside out.

"Not much longer now, be strong my Queen," she whispered encouragingly. Arwen blinked back the tears in her eyes and nodded, unable to find the voice to respond.

The sudden increase in noise from the crowd gathered along the street caused all four of them, as well as their guards, to turn their attention to the group that was making its way down the street.

Ten horsemen in full armor carrying spears, swords and bows formed a rough circle as they went. Within the circle was another, this time of ten fully armored and armed men on foot. These walked with bows drawn and arrows knocked, perpetually trained on the one who walked in their center.

Legolas Greenleaf walked with his head bowed as low as the thick iron collar around his neck would allow, an equally thick chain ran from the ring at the front of the collar where it attached to the manacles on his wrists and then ran down to the short chain that connected the shackles around his ankles. He struggled to keep from tripping as the chain restricted his usually long stride. Next to him two more guards each held a chain that connected to the sides of the heavy collar.

The crowd was becoming increasingly loud as the elf and his guards came nearer to the city's great gates. They knew well what was taking place, and they were eager to see it done.

Legolas tried his hardest to stay firm in his resolve and not show any more emotion than was possible considering his current circumstances. While he was mostly successful to anyone who happened to look at him—and right now there were many—inside the firstborn's mind was whirling down dark paths of despair. How could this have happened? Surely they did not think him capable of such an unspeakable act?

As his guards came to a halt before the assembled leaders of Gondor, Legolas finally dared to look up, only to see his answer mirrored in the eyes of four of the people he held most dear.

They did.

The guards holding the chains to his collar forced him to his knees before the king, and he looked up into Ellessar's eyes briefly, before his head was forced down.

If Aragorn had been sitting tall before, his height now seemed to double. His eyes held less compassion than any who knew him had ever seen before, and as his voice rang out it echoed with more power than even the fabled Horn of Helm Hammerhand in Helm's Deep.

"Legolas Greenleaf, you stand before us having been found guilty of murder, as well as high treason against the kingdom of Gondor. Have you any last words before you are sentenced?"

Legolas' heart clenched within his chest. What could he say? He was innocent! He'd been saying that ever since this whole thing began, yet as more and more evidence piled against him even Aragorn, who had been as a brother to him long before the Quest of the Ring, turned a cold eye on him, denouncing everything their friendship had ever stood for.

"I know not what you wish to hear, mellon nin. My heart bleeds for everything you have been put through, and I only hope that one day you'll know the truth, for surely you cannot believe I would ever do such a thing to anyone, let alone someone I count as a brother."

Aragorn bristled. "How dare you," he hissed. "At one time you may have been friend and brother to me, but never again! You threw that away the moment you decided to make an attempt on my life and end the life of my unborn child! You, Legolas, are forthwith banished from the kingdom of Gondor and the lands of those she counts as her allies."

Legolas paled. Gondor was allied with the majority of the peoples of Middle Earth. That meant that there would be precious few places he could go, and most of them were hostel towards outsiders. Especially those associated with the Reunited Kingdom. Not only would he be cut off from his home, but he'd also be unable to seek shelter with anyone who would have believed his side of the story. He'd also never see any of his friends or father again.

"But before you are cast out," here Aragorn almost faltered. He'd told no one about this part of the sentence, save for those whose help he needed to carry it out. He fought the urge to glance at Arwen and the others. They'd expected the banishment, but what he was about to do next had not been carried out as punishment for centuries in Gondor or Rohan. Only the Haradrim and Easterlings were rumored to still employ such penalties for convicted criminals, and they considered by many of his people to be vicious and barbaric. He had no way of being certain how such a sentence might be viewed by his wife or Faramir and Eowyn, let alone the people of Minas Tirith. However, looking at the one responsible for such pain as he and his beloved had gone through the past few weeks, his resolve snapped back into place.

"You will be marked for your crimes, so that all who might meet you will know that any who attempts such horrible crimes against the crown will not be let off easily, but that Gondor is not as merciless as others in the face of such treachery."

Legolas' eyebrows furrowed questioningly, though with his face pressed against the ground no one could see the unspoken query in them. What did Aragorn mean, 'marked for your crimes'?

At some silent command, the guard holding his head down let go, and the elf's upper body was pushed up out of the bow. As the guards kept their weapons trained closely on him, the shackles on his wrists were undone, and the chain on the front of his collar unclipped. The two guards holding the remaining chains manhandled the prince's upper body back until as much of it rested on the ground as was possible considering that his legs were still folded under him. Legolas winced at the discomfort such stretching caused his knees, and his calves and feet started to tingle with the reduced circulation.

The guards each kept one hand on his shoulders while they wrapped the chains around their other hand before leaning on said hands. Two more guards knelt next to their comrades, and pinned his hands palm-up to the pavestones. The final product was one very securely restrained elf.

Legolas did not like where this was going.

Two men who until now had remained off to the side and relatively unnoticed stepped forward. Legolas recognized them as friends Gimli had made during his frequent stays in the city. The elder of the pair, Thren, was a very well respected blacksmith in Minas Tirith. His son, Reus, the other walking towards the guards and their captive, looked to be more than a fine replacement for him when the day came that Thren decided his days at the forge were done.

Each carried in their hands a pole, to which was fastened a chain slinging between them a cauldron, with two black rods sticking up from where it leaned against the side. Smoke rose from the inside of the cauldron, and the arms and faces of those who carried it glowed and sweated against the heat.

Legolas' heart fell straight to his stomach, which was quite clearly telling him that under no circumstances would anything be allowed to stay there.

Eowyn gasped despite herself. Beside her Arwen was fighting to keep her hand from flying to cover her mouth. Instead she grabbed Eowyn's hand in a death grip.

Faramir's eyes widened in horror. He had heard of such a punishment having been used by various people throughout the millennia, and knew that in the east and far south such sentences were still carried out. But never did he think to see such a horrible thing done in Gondor. This was mercy? Aragorn in his anger and grief must have gone mad!

He turned to see his horror reflected in the faces of his wife and the Queen as well and looked at Aragorn. "Do you realize what you are doing? This is cruel and barbaric!"

"So is murdering a child who still resides within his mother's womb. I'll have there be no talk of me letting Legolas off easy for betraying us when as a traitor he by all rights should be put to death. I'm showing him enough mercy by letting him keep his life," Aragorn returned.

"What life? Do you really think he will live long out there with such limits as you have placed on him, and with such wounds?" Faramir couldn't believe what he was hearing. As much as this didn't sit well with him, the Steward had agreed that it was fair to banish the elven prince. Faramir still believed Legolas to be innocent. There were just too many coincidences for him to believe otherwise. Those coincidences had led Aragorn and the rest of the city to believe the blonde elf guilty, but in his mind they had further cemented his innocence. And Aragorn was right, the traditional punishment for traitors was death; at least if Legolas was alive the Steward could clear his name when he caught the real culprit and bring him home.

But this… Faramir was no fool. He knew how grief could affect an elf, and he had been worried enough about Legolas before. Now his heart told him that if they ever saw the prince alive again after this, it would be nothing short of a miracle.

"He deserves nothing less," Aragorn murmured darkly. He dismounted and strode over to meet Thren and Reus, motioning them to put the cauldron down and step away. His gloved hand reached down and grasped the handle of one of the rods, and lifted it out of the burning coals.

He moved towards Legolas, who was staring at his old friend with a mixture of horror and disbelief.

Arwen closed her eyes, the situation becoming more than she could bear. Never had she ever wished to witness something such as this. The fact that her husband was the one committing such an act and on one she once regarded as family was too much for her. How could Aragorn ask her to bear witness to this?

The guards holding down Legolas's hands forcefully uncurled his fingers, pinning them down to the street as well. Seeing the white-hot end of the iron coming towards him threw him back in time for a moment, to the days when he and Aragorn had spent years exploring and adventuring in and around Mirkwood and Rivendell. Sometimes with the twins, sometimes on their own, they had managed constantly to find trouble and seldom it was that they escaped unharmed.

The 'Disaster Prone Duo', that's what Elladan and Elrohir had called them. A sentiment echoed by no fewer than practically everyone they'd gotten to know over the years. Though after the War of the Ring such adventures and disasters were scarce, which Aragorn's advisors very much appreciated.

But they always would escape, and never with anything Lord Elrond couldn't patch up, though there had definitely been multiple close calls.

Legolas' musing came to an abrupt end as excruciating pain shot through his left arm, pooling most intensely in his palm. Any effort he might have put into remaining silent was forgotten as he cried out against the searing assault.

After what felt like an eternity the iron was lifted away, though the pain hardly lessened. Through his haze of agony Legolas saw Aragorn plunge the iron back into the coals. Betrayal hit him in the chest like a thunderbolt.

Not only did Aragorn not believe him, he was also resorting to acts that Legolas only ever believed their most sadistic enemies would turn to for revenge. It also occurred to him that escape wasn't going to be possible this time. Illuvatar, it had been proven the moment Aragorn had pressed the scalding iron into his flesh.

His keen hearing picked up the sound of footsteps, and he opened his eyes—only then realizing that he'd closed them—and turned to see Aragorn coming at him again, the iron freshly heated.

Panic took over as he tried to pull away, not wanting to feel such pain ever again.

The guards, though more than one looked thoroughly sickened by now, tightened their hold pinning him firmly in place once more, as the king pressed the iron into his right palm.

Legolas screamed as his flesh began to sizzle and smoke, the scent of it burning now causing a few of the guards to turn away and retch. The horses were beginning to distress, the smell telling them that they should flee if they did not wish to meet the same fate, the elf's screams confirming the urges of their instincts.

Eowyn had by now joined the queen in adverting her eyes. Tears streamed down her face as Legolas' screams cut her to the core. Arwen was sobbing into her shoulder as the two huddled together and tried to offer each other strength.

Faramir himself was no less affected. It took all his willpower not to wrench the branding iron out of Aragorn's hands and flee to Ithilien with the elf until the whole thing blew over and Aragorn could be made to listen to reason. Giving his a good bop over the head with the iron on their way out might not have been a bad idea either.

The king replaced the iron in the cauldron and looked down at the prince, who was gasping for breath and shaking uncontrollably. For a brief moment his eyes locked with the tortured blue depths of Legolas'. In them he could see the betrayal, the hurt, and the anguish of knowing that fate held nothing good in store for him.

Aragorn turned back to the cauldron, and picked up the second branding iron, this one identical to the others, except larger by half an inch at least. What right did the elf have to feel betrayed?

He motioned to one of the guards, his mind remarking that he might want to give this group the rest of the day off to recuperate once all of this was over. The man, his fellow soldiers as well, was looking decidedly ill.

The guard leaned down and undid the ties of Legolas' tunic and pulled the fabric open, exposing the pale expanse of the fair being's chest and stomach. The elf's already labored breathing hitched, and he struggled to keep from crying out at the injustice of it all.

The Valar must really hate him.

A shadow looming over him caused Legolas to look up; straight into the eyes of the one human he was certain would never forsake him. Aragorn's eyes were cold and ruthless. Legolas had seen that look before.

It was the one he reserved for his foulest enemies, the one he speared them with right before he dealt them whatever punishment he felt they deserved. There was no mercy in it. No hope for redemption whatsoever.

Looking into those eyes, Legolas felt something in him die. His body went slack and he stopped fighting, though he still shivered at the thought of that white-hot metal touching him ever again. But the fight in him was gone, as was any trust and love that had ever been between him and the Edan. It was over.

"Any and every title you ever bore is no longer yours, and you are forever marked for what you are: a traitor, and a murderer, and my enemy."

Legolas didn't even look at the man. He simply waited as he felt the heat of the iron come closer, a harbinger of the doom it was made to represent. He hadn't failed to notice the shape both branding rods had been fashioned into.

Tinco—the tengwar letter equivalent to the letter 't' in the alphabet used by the hobbits and many of the Edain.

'T'—for traitor.

The white-hot metal bit harshly into his skin, and he didn't even try to hold back. He screamed, releasing all of his pain and betrayal and grief to the heavens.

Then the iron was gone, and Legolas simply lay there, panting and sobbing in pain. Presently the guards released their hold on his neck and shoulders, and pushed him up so that he was kneeling once more. They quickly found that they were required to hold him up; his body was in too much shock to support itself.

Legolas clenched his eyes shut and groaned as the fresh wound in his chest sent agony as white-hot as the iron had been through his system. A clicking sound reached his ears just before he felt the collar around his neck fall away. The prince gulped down huge quantities of air, now that the restriction to his throat was gone.

Unfortunately, this freedom was short-lived, as the cool metal of a lighter collar was put in the heavier one's place. He had little time to ponder this, as it clicked shut and he almost immediately felt searing heat against the skin of his chin and throat.

The elf started, eyes flying wide open in panic as he expected the brand to burn a mark into his throat as well. But no mark was to be placed there. The guards held the prince fast as Thren crouched in front of him and carefully welded shut the collar's clasp. When he was sure it wouldn't come open again he passed the heated rod to his son, Reus. The young blacksmith handed his father a bowl of water and a ladle. Making sure the hot metal never touched the fair being's skin; he dripped the cool water over it. The metal hissed and steamed, but cooled within moments.

Satisfied with his work, though sick and saddened that the kind elf was being tormented so, the blacksmith stepped away. He was tempted to smile encouragingly at the poor creature, but he didn't, thinking that in his agonized state the elf wouldn't take it for what it was meant to be.

The guards let go, with the exception of one, who dragged the elf to his feet, shoving a cloak and pack into the immortal's hands as soon as his knees cleared the ground.

Legolas swayed, both of his legs were asleep after being deprived of proper blood flow, and his hands howled in torment at having anything touch them and being asked to move and grab onto an object in addition. He tried to shift the pack and cloak so that they draped over his arm instead, and hissed as the pain of even moving his wrists was too much to bear. In the end, all he could do was clench them in a death grip, for once he let go, there would not be any picking them up again.

"From this moment on you are banished from the kingdom of Gondor and are barred from entering the lands of her allies as well," Legolas looked up and through the haze of tears in his eyes saw Aragorn—no, Elessar—sitting astride Roheryn once more. "You have three days to reach the border. At dawn on the fourth day, patrols will be sent out to ensure that if you are still within the lands belonging to Gondor you will not leave them alive."

Legolas dropped his gaze and nodded his understanding.

Faramir sucked in a shuddering breath, fighting with all his might to keep from placing himself between elf and king and telling Elessar just what he thought of him at the moment. Next to him, Beregond reached out a hand, placing it briefly and discreetly on the Steward's knee in support. He wasn't altogether certain of Legolas' guilt or innocence, for him there were just too many unanswered questions, and he supported Faramir in his desire for furthered investigation into the matter. But if Faramir openly threw his lot in with Legolas' now, their chances of getting any of those questions answered were zero.

Faramir reached down and returned the brotherly gesture, gripping the man's arm and giving him a weak smile. His gaze then moved to where his wife was currently trying to consol Arwen. He sighed, knowing the rest of his day would be spent dealing with a distraught wife and possibly an even more distraught queen as well.

After she'd finished chewing Aragorn out first, that is.

His attention was once more brought to the gates, where the guard was undoing the shackles on Legolas' feet. Once those had fallen away, the man stepped back behind the ranks of twenty guards who'd kept their weapons trained on the fair being throughout the entire procedure.

It took Legolas a moment to realize that he was free and expected to leave. That realization apparently didn't come quick enough for one of the guards, who loosed an arrow into the dirt scant inches from the blonde's feet.

Legolas took the hint, and forced his hurting body to move, feet unsteadily taking him from everything that had given him a reason to fight the sea-longing and stay in Middle Earth. Now, he suddenly realized that the terms of him banishment also meant that he would never be allowed to set sail from the Grey Havens.

He choked on a sob as the very last tiny bit of hope he had dissolved into black despair. A thud vibrated through the ground from behind, and he knew without looking that the Great Gates had been closed.

Where could he go? When a person was cut off from everything as he now found himself, where did they go?

The lands to the south he had no desire to see. More than likely he'd die of exposure and thirst before he learned how to survive in such a wasteland, providing the locals didn't kill him first. The thought that he might die of grief before he really managed to get anywhere crossed his mind, but for some reason that didn't frighten him. If he died then he died, there was nothing he could really do about that. What truly scared him was the prospect of belonging nowhere. Traveling was a fine thing and the prince loved it, but he also loved having a home to go back to once he got tired.

Now he had nothing to go back to.

Legolas sighed. His chest still ached something fierce, as he knew it would for some time yet, and his hands had gone numb, though he had only to wait until he put down the pack and cloak before they began to add their complaints again.

He thought about his options. If he was being forced to start all over again—which, by the way, he was—where would he like to start over again that he wasn't now forbidden to go?

Rauros Falls came to mind, and with it the forest around Amon Hen, but that idea he discarded almost immediately. Faramir and Aragorn went there every year to visit the spot where Boromir had fallen and pay their respects to the man. He used to go with them, until now. He would not go there and risk being discovered. Even if it was unclaimed territory he had no desire ever to see the son of Arathorn again after what had taken place only minutes before.

To the east he would not go, and the south was already ruled out. West would lead him into the mountains, and Rohan.

So that left the north. Legolas would not settle on the Wetwang, but if he continued on Northwest he'd eventually reach the Misty Mountains. His heart clenched again as images of Rivendell and Mirkwood danced across his mind, as well as those of his father, Elrond and the twins. And of Estel, and of happier, carefree days when they were as close as blood kin, and the thought of betraying one another was an unspeakable evil.

Well, there was of course one time when they'd been forced to cast out poor Elrohir in order to flush out one of the many nutcases who'd somehow gotten it into his head that he could bring down the House of Elrond, but that had of course only been a ruse. Elrohir wasn't particularly happy when he found out that his ordeal had all been because he was the chosen bait, but he'd forgiven them after a few months, knowing that they'd only wished to cease the attacks on their family.

Legolas smiled in spite of himself. That had been quite the adventure. And they didn't even need to leave home to find it!

Tears welled up in his eyes, as he wondered what Elrohir and Elladan would have to say once they found out about his banishment. Honestly, he wasn't really certain he wanted to know. Seeing such a look of disgust and hatred on Aragorn had been bad enough. Seeing the same look on the twins' faces as well…

That really would drive him over the edge and into death. His mind also supplemented the same question in regards to his father and the hobbits and Gimli, and Legolas shook his head fiercely to make his thoughts travel different paths.

There were some things that were of more critical for him to be thinking of. Others, he'd rather not think of at all.

So, if the Misty Mountains were a no, then where else was there?

Where could he go that no one would ever find him? Where he could start over again completely and never have any more reminders of what he had lost than the brands, the collar, and his own memories.

The wind blew then, carrying with it a chill from the high peaks of the mountains. The chill, and the thought of snow from the high places brought to the surface of his mind a long forgotten passage he'd read long ago, while studying maps and the different peoples of Middle Earth with his tutor. Back when he used to spend more time in the great wood.

Far to the north of the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood and Angmar and the Grey Mountains there was a land as barren as the deserts of the south, but cold and icy as the tops of the mountains. Snow was almost perpetual there, save for the very height of summer. The people there were said to be strange. They had little to no contact with the lands south of their wintry world, nor did they care. Very little was known about them, and most of the information came from accounts in the second age, when the men of Numenor lost one of the Palatiri in the Icebay of Forochel.

Theirs was a world like nothing else in Middle Earth, and if ever Legolas wished for a new beginning, this was definitely his best chance at one. Of course the people of the north could turn him away, or worse, should they realize what his brands and the collar on his neck signified. But they could just as easily decide they didn't care, and give him a new life, one that was at least as removed as he could get from the terrible end of the life he knew before.

Hope may be frail, Elrond had once said, but it's almost impossible to kill.

Indeed, the Elven Lord's words rang true as hope flared in Legolas' heart once more, and he knew his decision was made. He would go north, his fate in the hands of the Valar and the people of icy Forodwaith.

With a direction to go in, Legolas lengthened his stride, determined to make the best of his three days and get out of Gondor.

Overhead, the sun looked down on the golden-haired elf, and on the White City that had forsaken him.

The guards on top of the wall watched the elf until he was out of sight.

The elf never looked back.

TBC…


A/N: Well, when the plotbunny bit I didn't think it would bite that hard. Now at 12:45 at night and after more than half a day spent at my computer, this is the result. Let me know what you think, and whether or not I should continue. Should the answer be yes, next chapter will show the aftermath of Legolas' rather spectacular expulsion from Gondor, as well as how our intrepid elf is doing. And yes, people will be having words with Aragorn. /grin/

Farewell for now.