"Kianon, come down from there! We were told not to wander off! We must head back to the camp now!"
Young Legolas Thranduilion waited impatiently as his friend, Kianon Iolwinion, shimmied down from pine tree in which he been perched and leapt to the ground at his side. The young prince of Mirkwood was accompanying his father on a visit to Imladris for a conference with Elrond and Celeborn and, though Legolas had no interest in political matters whatsoever, he was eager to get there. He was looking forward to seeing Elladan and Elrohir again and he hoped that Haldir, Celeborn's foster son would be there too; for it would be the perfect chance to compare archery shots! Even better – he would be able to show them his new bow!
"Ada's boy!" teased Kianon impishly. "Valar, Legolas, what is coming over you? You have become far too well-behaved! Soon you shall be no fun at all!"
"That is not fair!" protested Legolas, blushing darkly, even though he knew Kianon was only teasing. "I just don't want to make Ada or Lord Iolwin angry with us before we even get to Imladris! We were told not stray from hearing distance for we shall be setting off soon! Everyone will be cross if we cause them delay!"
Kianon saw the sense in this and the two began to make their way back to where the small Mirkwood delegation was encamped. As they walked in companionable silence, Legolas thought over his friend's words again. If he was honest with himself, as he usually was, Legolas knew he would rather cut the tips off his pointed ears than anger or worry his Ada. Thranduil had been everything to Legolas since his mother had died and father and son were exceptionally close. He supposed Kianon was right; he was a bit of an Ada's boy, but his friend's teasing did nothing to alter the fact that Legolas loved his father with all of his young heart and would do anything rather than worry him.
As they returned to the clearing where the elves were encamped, they were spotted immediately by Lord Iolwin - Thranduil's seneschal and Kianon's father. He called his son over at once and interrogated him as to where exactly he and Legolas had wandered off to, and what they had been up to.
Meanwhile, Legolas himself slipped into the tent he shared with Thranduil to find his father quietly browsing a map. He settled contentedly at the end of the makeshift cot and waited patiently until his father was finished.
"Good morning, little one," Thranduil smiled affectionately at his son, as he folded away the map. "Are you ready to depart?"
"As soon as you are, Ada," said Legolas. "When do you think we shall reach Imladris?"
"About sunset, I should think, if all goes well," Thranduil replied, smiling at Legolas's enthusiasm. He knew that the elfling was keen to see the Elrondion twins again. He got to his feet and held out his hand to his son. "Come along; let us make a start while the day is yet young."
With elven speed, their small camp was soon packed away and the party of ten – Thranduil, Legolas, Lord Iolwin, Kianon and six guards – mounted their steeds and moved off. They rode at a leisurely pace, enjoying the winter scenery and not at all bothered by the cold wind. The day passed quickly and, when they were about six miles from Imladris, the party stopped briefly to let their horses rest and let the younger members of the group stretch their legs.
Legolas and Kianon wandered away again, heading for a large pile stones about fifty yards away; the surfaces of which were glittering with ice. Kianon immediately leapt atop the highest, spread his arms, and began to slide along it. As he reached the end, he leapt off lightly and disappeared down the other side. A sharp cry immediately followed.
"Kianon?" cried Legolas urgently, running round the pile of boulders to the other side. "Are you hurt? Did you land the wrong way?" He rounded a tall stone and found Kianon crouching on the ground. Legolas's sapphire blue eyes widened to inordinate size.
"ADA!" he screamed.
Over by the horses, Thranduil and Iolwin froze at the sound of Legolas's scream. As one, they both drew their swords and sprinted towards the boulders that were screening their sons from view, closely followed by Thranduil's guards.
Thranduil dodged the stones and was beside Legolas in an instant, realising, to his horror, that there was blood in the snow.
"Ion-nin? Are you alright?" he asked anxiously, keen blue eyes rapidly examining his son for any sign of injury. Legolas did not answer, but pointed soundlessly towards Kianon. Thranduil's eyes travelled in the direction that his son was pointing and his stomach twisted in horror.
The body of a little elfling was lying by Kianon's knees. The snow beneath her was dark red with spilt blood and the dirty clothes she was wearing were torn and almost falling to bits. She was a pitiful sight indeed.
"Ai!" Thranduil crouched beside her and felt for a pulse. The elfling's skin was like ice, but astoundingly, her heart was still beating, albeit very weakly.
Thranduil shrugged off his thick cloak and wrapped it gently around the unconscious body. As he turned her over, he noticed that her little face was covered in bruises; savage discolouration which stood out all the more due to the paleness of her skin. The child's list of misfortunes did not end there: her arms and legs were covered in scars; some faded and some livid, the shabby tunic she was wearing was stiff with dried blood and her right ankle lay at such an unusual angle that he suspected that it was broken.
Her hair looked as if it was blond, but in truth, it was so filthy it was hard to tell. The Elvenking's brow creased with distress to see so much evidence of pain on a child who was certainly no older than Legolas was. A little hand tugging at his sleeve suddenly distracted him.
"Has she gone to Mandos, Ada?" asked Legolas quietly, his blue eyes filled with pity.
"Nay, Legolas, she is yet still alive," Thranduil answered, gathering her up easily into his arms. She seemed to weigh nothing at all. "But she appears to have lost much blood and she is fading fast. We can do nothing for her here. Elrond is her only hope."
"You are right, mellon nin." said Iolwin, his grave face very pale. "We must reach Imladris as soon as we can."
"It is her only chance. We must set off again right now," said Thranduil with a nod, getting to his feet. He cast a small, comforting smile at Legolas and Kianon, both of whom were visibly upset. "Well done, children. You may have saved her life by spotting her there."
Slightly reassured by this, Legolas and Kianon followed silently as once more, the party of elves mounted their steeds. Thranduil settled the skinny child into a secure hold and gave the signal to move off. Together they rode towards the home of Elrond Peredhel with all the speed their horses were capable of.