Disclaimer: For full disclaimer, please see chapter 1.


Sorry for the delay, guys. Life is insanely chaotic at the moment. I am staying at my brother's place and am annoying him the tiniest bit (poor guy) and am looking for a flat. The problem is that my future flat mate is doing an internship on the other side of the country, meaning that I have to look for it alone. Which is not as easy as it may sound, considering that we both have to like it. We're finicky, too. •grimaces•

Oh, and they also lost one of my bags when I came back from Madrid. Again, can you believe it? How bad can someone's luck be? And this time they don't seem to be finding it. I have been trying to find it for two weeks now, and no one can tell me anything. All my favourite clothes were in there, all the necklaces, earrings and stuff that I bought and all the good-bye presents from my flat mates. It's just stuff, I know, but I am really heartbroken at the moment. Plus, I don't know how much compensation I am going to get (if I am going to get any), and I have to replace some summer clothes and stuff because I will be going to Turkey on Monday. I have to buy another bikini and I already have three! Or rather, had three. •grr• Yep, welcome to my life. •hangs head•

Anyway, here's is the next (and last) chapter. I hope it's still funny - I am not feeling too cheerful at the moment. So, Aragorn is stuck with a repetitive maniac and eventually loses his temper, Legolas has a nice little chat with Tim, Elrond cheerfully scares henchmen, Tim is close to losing his sanity, the mercenaries decided that they've had enough and Elrond and the kidnapper have the inevitable stand-off. Everything's just like it ought to be.

Have fun and review, please!

Chapter 3

"I will make him beg! I will make him rue the day he was born!"

Legolas did his best to stifle a yawn. He didn't really know why – there was no one here to see him – but his parents hadn't raised him to be impolite. In fact, his parents had raised him to be polite no matter what, at least in public. Here, however, his attempts might have been for nothing. The evil elf who still had to give them his name was still rambling about just what he would do to Lord Elrond once he got his hands on him. Aragorn had, sometime very early into the other's monologue, sat down on a large chest and was looking extremely bored. The two of them would hardly notice anything.

And he, Legolas finished his trail of thought, was still trying not to fall asleep. He knew from experience that it was hard to pay attention when someone rambled on and on and on about impending doom and death, but it was especially bad when said someone was addressing someone else. He should be a good friend and keep paying attention to this latest madman who had now been describing for almost two hours how he would kill the half-elven lord, but this time, he found it very hard.

He was not the only one, though. Aragorn was quite clearly daydreaming, and was only then and again making noncommittal sounds like "Hm", "Yes", "Clearly" and so on. He couldn't blame the young human. Listening to evil madmen could be really annoying.

"You hear me? He will crawl on his knees and beg me for death!"


That was apparently enough for the madman to keep going, and Legolas returned his attention to the upholstery of the armchair he was sitting in. It was an old chair, slightly pink but very comfortable, and if this and the entire setup was supposed to be some sort of torture, then the other elf was even crazier than he looked.

Then again, he looked very crazy already. Honestly, who else but a crazy person would repeat the same sentences over and over again when his audience clearly wasn't interested in anything he was saying?

Politicians and councilmen, he quickly reasoned, but he had the feeling that this elf was in fact neither.

Legolas yawned again and belatedly toed a bright white stone over to the right, where a small mountain of stones was already waiting. Similar heaps of red-grey and black stones were also visible further to the right, along with a larger mountain of mixed stones to his far left. An empty stone jar was on his left, which Legolas hadn't touched at all, of course. It had simply "fallen", as had so many other things over the years.

He eyed the small white heap with interest. Twenty-seven stones. That wasn't bad, considering that the mad elf had spent the first hour enumerating all the reasons why Lord Elrond was evil incarnate and deserved to die. He hadn't really understood any of his reasons, but it had mostly revolved around the half-elf being "arrogant and blubberish", whatever those two words were supposed to mean in this particular context and combination.

"What are you doing, elf?" a voice behind him asked, sounding very much as if its owner didn't really want to know.

Legolas turned around lazily, deciding that these armchairs really were great. Even though his hands were still tied behind his back, he was feeling very comfortable. If there hadn't been the small problem of an evil megalomaniac talking incessantly in the background and them being stuck in a cave in the middle of Valar-knew-where, it might have been a rather nice evening.

Just as he had expected, somewhat to the left of him stood Aragorn's current favourite mercenary … Tim, yes, that was it. The ranger was horrible in this regard; if he saw something or someone that he regarded as "nice", he seized his chance and tried to "connect", whatever that was supposed to mean. Legolas sighed softly. He was worse than Celylith sometimes.

"Sitting," he finally answered, not even bothering to keep his voice down. There really was no need; the elf was still going on and on about whatever it was that he was talking about at the moment. "There seems to be nothing else to do."

The man took a step closer.
"What in the name of all the Gods are you doing?"

Legolas ignored his question and kept his eyes on the other elf, disgust laying itself over his features.
"And you work for him?"

The mercenary looked at the object of the bound elf's attention and had to admit that his employer was as mad as a hatter. But then again, so were this elf here and his ranger friend who was right now looking as if he was dozing.
"You two are still alive?"

Legolas gave him a look of renewed loathing.
"I really hate to ask you this, but does any of your senses work the way Eru intended it to? You know, hearing or sight or…"

"Funny, elf, really funny," Tim ground out. The man liked him apparently as much as he liked him. "I am surprised, that's all. I had expected him to kill you long before now."

"Oh, you really are new at all this," the fair-haired elf told him, faint loathing and amusement mixing in his voice. "You really have no idea how these things usually work, do you?"

In a split second the man decided two things, namely that he had liked the ranger a lot better and said ranger had been right: This one was arrogant.
"But you do?"

"Of course I do," Legolas said, as if he was stating the most obvious thing in the world. "I have been through a few of these kidnappings, and if there is one thing I have learned, it is that the evil megalomaniacs always like to talk, without exceptions. I think that is why they become evil megalomaniacs in the first place, so they can talk and have people who have to listen to them."

The man didn't know whether it was the stress of the past few hours or some sort of mysterious mental illness, but all this was actually beginning to make sense to him. It was something that scared him profoundly.

"This one," the elf went on, leaning back into his armchair as if he was having nothing more than a friendly chat with an acquaintance, "is a bit more annoying than most, I have to admit that, but he is hardly exceptional. There was another one … when was it … a year ago or so, and he talked about our impending doom and the manner of our deaths for over seven hours. In the end, I was close to snapping."

"I know exactly what you mean." Tim smiled at him in a way that looked not at all friendly or genuine.

If Legolas noticed the sarcasm, he was very good at hiding it.
"Don't mind him," he advised the mercenary. "He will calm down, sooner or later. Or so I hope, because I absolutely refuse to spend the rest of the night like this."

"That's why I am here," Tim told him. "To bring you to your … room for tonight." A thoroughly evil grin spread over his face. "Then again, I think I will wait a bit yet."

The glare Legolas shot him would have fried even the brain of a Nazgûl. Fortunately for the soldier, however, the elven prince's attention was soon diverted by movement to their left, where the dark-haired elf had once again begun to wave his arms around in wild, unsteady arches.

"He will regret having ever crossed me! I will make him beg!"

Aragorn, rudely awoken from his light slumber, started and shook his head.
"Oh, yes. Of course," he muttered, blinking quickly.

The elf looked at him for a moment, clearly contemplating if he was being mocked, but soon returned to what was far more important to him: Continuing his monologue.
"I will make him watch while I slowly kill you. Maybe I'll cut off your fingers first, one by one by one."

"That's always nice." Aragorn nodded somewhat absent-mindedly, already looking as if he was drifting back off to sleep.

"And then, when he has watched that and couldn't do anything to stop it, I will kill him. No, I will make him beg me to kill him, and then I will perhaps grant his wish."

"I'm sure it will be spectacular."

And the dark-haired elf was off again, but Tim barely noticed. He couldn't help but stare when the elf next to him nudged one white stone, a grey-red stone and a black stone over to the right where they joined the small mountains already heaped up there. The man looked at the fair-haired being as if he had taken complete leave of his senses, but then again, no one would have noticed. It was an expression he had been wearing since early this afternoon, after all.

"I know I asked that at least once before, but are you out of your mind?"

Legolas looked at him as if he was seriously contemplating that.
"Honestly, I don't really know. If you were to ask … certain people, I am sure you would hear at least partly affirmative answers." The man looked at him with wide eyes, and he frowned. "Oh, I am sorry. Was that supposed to be a rhetorical question?"

Tim looked at him in a way that very clearly stated that he considered him a mad, thoroughly disconcerting individual that should rightly be beaten to death with a twelve-inch-thick branch or drowned in a barrel of hot water or be brought to death in an equally exotic manner.

"You are sitting – with your hands bound behind your back – in a cave…"

"In a pink armchair," Legolas interjected. "How intimidating could that be?"

"In a cave," the man repeated, looking rather frazzled. He was, contrary to Aragorn, apparently not used to being interrupted mid-sentence. "In the company of a madman who is going on and on and on about your deaths. And what are you doing? Playing with rocks!"

"I am not playing with rocks!" Legolas retorted, sounding mortally offended. "I am an elf! We do not play with rocks! We have built cities out of them and have shaped them into great monuments and artwork before your kind first awoke!"

"So you're building a city, are you?" the mercenary asked. Legolas decided for the first time that Aragorn just might be right and that the man was developing a sense of humour.

"Of course not," Legolas shook his head disdainfully. "I am counting."

Tim, who could neither read nor write but knew very well how to count (how else could he ensue that he and his men would be paid?), looked from the stones to the elf and back again in utter confusion. A moment later he quite clearly decided that the fair-haired elf was mad and not worth thinking about and shook his head, which Legolas ignored, however. The elven prince had now reached such levels of boredom that even a conversation with a disinterested henchman sounded very tempting.

"He will regret having ever met me!" The dark-haired elf's voice sounded behind them, and Legolas unthinkingly moved another grey-red stone over to the right.

"I am sure about it."

So Aragorn was still awake, Legolas thought almost amusedly. He could still remember the one time the ranger had actually fallen asleep in mid-tirade. Their captor had not been happy about it. But no, the young man looked still alert enough, and so Legolas returned his attention to the speechless man next to him.

"White is for 'I will make him beg'," he explained. "Red-grey is for 'He will regret having ever seen me' or things like that. Black is for death threats."

Tim stared at him in consternation, trying to wrap his thoughts around what the elf had just said. After a few moments, it began to make some sort of weird, perverse sense.

"You are counting … death threats?" he asked faintly, suddenly feeling the urge to sit down in the empty armchair next to the elf.

"Yes," Legolas replied, as if that was the most natural thing in the world to be doing for an elf in his position. He frowned when he saw the man's incredulous look. "What? I was bored. There was no one to talk to. Why should Strider have all the fun?"

Strider did not look as if he was having fun. Strider looked in fact as if he was having the worst time in … well, since his last kidnapping, and the patient long-sufferance which he had displayed in the beginning was beginning to fray around the edges. Tim decided in a split second that he could understand him, and for another half-second he was even tempted to interrupt his employer under the pretence of having to take the two maniacs to their cell.

Sanity returned to him just as quickly. He wasn't here to help the two of them; he was here to bring them to their cell! And besides, he didn't even want to help them!

"You are killing me, elf," he muttered softly, not even noticing that he was speaking the words out loud. "You and that insane friend of you."

"Oh, no," Legolas said. "Weren't you listening? We won't kill you. That's what Strider's brothers are for." He wrinkled his brow. "Then again, Lord Glorfindel could do it as well. If you are really unlucky, though, Lord Elrond himself might come. Then you'll be in real trouble."

"What, more trouble than being killed?"

"Oh yes." Legolas nodded fervently. "Trust me, being killed isn't the worst of evils. Tomorrow afternoon, when Lord Glorfindel comes to rescue as, you can ask him about it. Being dead is, according to him, only boring, nothing more." The man stared at him, and he added, quite obviously annoyed about the soldier's slow-wittedness, "He died in the First Age."

"He died in the … whenever."

"Of course." The elf nodded again, as if that was the most logical thing to say. "But he came back." Tim looked at him as if he had turned into a three-legged, pink, talking oliphaunt who was demanding that he step dance. "In his defence, it was a balrog that killed him." Tim failed to look sufficiently impressed, and so Legolas added, inwardly rolling his eyes, "A demon from the Deep. A fire-demon in the service of the Dark Lord Morgoth."

Tim didn't say anything. Legolas decided that telling humans this kind of story who had no idea what he was talking about wasn't really diverting or entertaining.

"Be that as it may," he continued, deciding to ignore the silent man, "Having to face Lord Elrond in a huff is far worse than just dying. He hates kidnappings, you know."

"I am beginning to sympathise with that sentiment."

"Well, they can be somewhat entertaining," Legolas conceded, not even listening to the human, "but only from a scientific point of view. I am thinking about founding a new school of science, Abductology or something like that."

Tim gaped at him. Legolas decided that among the man's ancestors there must have been a fish or two.

"I have been thinking about it a lot," he went on, conscious of the fact that he would most likely never again get such a chance. Aragorn and the twins only rolled their eyes at him when he mentioned his idea, and he wouldn't tell his father or Lord Elrond for all the mithril in the world. "It could be taught at the great universities of Gondor. I am sure it would be very useful for a lot of people."

"You will both die in agony! I will cut you into little pieces and then he will have to watch while I rearrange you!"

Legolas frowned slightly as he heard the elf's voice behind him. He looked at Tim, who looked back at him, an empty, blank look on his face that did not look becoming in the slightest.

"That was an interesting one," the wood-elf commented to no one in particular, but in the end nudged two black stones over to the right.

"You will?" Aragorn spoke up, seemingly waking up for the first time in several hours. There was undisguised interest in his voice. "Really?"

The dark-haired elf frowned at that, but still answered.

"Oh, good, then." The man smiled at the elf in a manner that would have looked appropriate in a different setting, for example during a nice afternoon tea party. Now, however, it just looked out of place and slightly demented. "Just leave my spine where it is and we'll be fine."

Their kidnapper wasn't paying the ranger's words any attention. It was probably a good thing, too, Legolas decided, since most evil madmen took it personal when they were being mocked, interrupted or ignored during their monologues. He watched for a moment longer to make sure that Aragorn hadn't made the other elf angry – apparently he hadn't, for he was once again prattling about hot pokers and finger traps and Eru alone knew what else – and then turned back to Tim, who looked very much as if he had been working on a secret or perhaps an open plan to escape from here as quickly as humanly possible.

"Where were we?" he asked innocently, pretending not to hear the whimper the man couldn't suppress. "Oh, yes. So, I am thinking about giving classes. I am not sure if it's a proper thing to do for a prince of Mirkwood, but … well, I would like to give it a try. My father will find out eventually, yes, but until then it might be somewhat amusing."

"Prince?" was all the man said, a hollow, echoing sound in his voice.

"Oh, yes, didn't your employer mention that?" Legolas asked, sounding very amused indeed. He was getting used to this reaction. Most hired henchmen really had no idea just whom they were kidnapping, which was rather short-sighted in his opinion. "My father isn't as scary as everybody thinks him to be. He is just … well, you could call him a big, fluffy teddy bear, I think. A big, fluffy teddy bear that happens to have a temper to rival Fëanor's and hundreds of loyal, blood-thirsty, battle-hardened warriors at his disposal, but still."

"Ah." Tim didn't say more, not that he would have needed to. There was nothing more to say to this, after all.

"As I said," Legolas went on, "I might teach Abductology. Perhaps I will pick a different name, but then again, I do like it." He didn't ask for the man's opinion, which was probably a good thing. Tim was looking right now as if he was one step away from fainting or running away as fast as his legs could carry him. "I even have thought about a program. You know, like a sequence of courses that each pupil would have to complete successfully in order to pass."

The man whimpered almost soundlessly. Legolas ignored him.

"I was thinking, for the first year, about studies I would call 'How to handle the average abduction'," the elven prince elaborated. "It would consist of ten different classes, like 'The importance of looking dashingly handsome in even the most stressful situation', or 'Bound riding for beginners', or 'How to get the evil maniac to share his nefarious plans', or 'Top ten excuses for having been abducted in the first place', or…"

Tim's whimpers had become more audible, and so Legolas trailed off. He looked at the human, clearly puzzled but also wickedly amused, and arched an eyebrow.

"Are you not feeling well, adan?"

The whimpers stopped, and the mercenary looked at the elf out of wide, scared eyes that were full of incredulity and something that could have been called almost hatred.

"Perhaps you should sit down," Legolas went on and nodded at the other pink armchair next to his. "These are really surprisingly comfortable. It is a rare thing, to find a comfortable armchair in a madman's house … cave … whatever."

The man did sit down, but more because he couldn't keep his feet any longer. This was insane! The elf shouldn't be so completely and utterly mad and at ease with his surroundings, he should be cowering in fear in some corner or other! The ranger shouldn't be humouring his insane employer in so obvious a way, and his employer shouldn't be so oblivious to all this!

And he, he concluded tiredly, should have listened to his mother and become a scribe.

"How much does he pay you, anyway?" the elf asked him, sounding as if he was desperate to keep this conversation going.

Without even thinking, Tim told him. Legolas gaped at him for a moment before he started chuckling softly and shook his head.
"Oh, I see. You are new at this, and no doubt about it."

"What are you talking about?" Tim asked tiredly. He had long stopped trying to infuse these questions with interest or disgust or indignation.

"Well," the elf started to explain, leaning back into his armchair, "it's just that usually henchmen get paid more. I honestly don't know if it's just in our case or in general. You are being cheated, henchman. I mean, Tim."

Tim was about to tell him that he didn't care about what he thought, but then he closed his mouth again because he realised that this wasn't even about the money, at least not anymore. He didn't care about the money. He just wanted to get rid of these two, before they got him or his men killed or drove him to insanity.

Before he had to figure out what to tell the elf, the dark-haired elf's voice could be heard again, sounding fresh and unflagging and not at all as if its owner was beginning to tire.
"I will make him beg! He will scream and cry and crawl on the floor…"


Aragorn's responses were becoming less and less articulate, which just might have been enough to catch the elf's attention.
"Are you even listening to me, boy?"

The ranger's head shot up and he nodded quickly if somewhat unconvincingly.
"Oh, yes. Beg and scream. Crawling on the floor. I hear you."

Tim almost didn't see how the elf added more stones to his ever-growing heaps for he closed his eyes and leaned his head against the soft back of the armchair.

Yes, this was going to be a long night.

The morning had dawned bright and beautiful and had turned into an equally bright and beautiful day. There were a few clouds on the horizon, but the slight breeze that also kept the temperature from getting too hot and stifling was slowly but surely moving them away.

Not one of Tim's men had had a restful sleep, though. Those who hadn't been on guard duty had been afraid that they might be called on guard duty, and those who had just returned from guard duty were so traumatised by the experience that they could neither sleep nor speak nor, in some cases, move.

None of them understood just how the elf and the ranger had survived as long as they had. It was impossible to say how old the elf was, but the ranger couldn't be much older than twenty summers. How in the name of all the Gods had he managed to reach such an august age when he was clearly as mad as a hatter? And the elf was hardly any better. None of them had ever seen anyone who was so clearly insane and got away with it.

When their leader had come to them this morning, he had looked quite literally like death warmed over. His dark hair had been lank and stringy, his eyes had been wide and frightened and most were sure that only the man's dark beard was hiding a horrified expression. No one could blame the poor man. He had – or that was what they thought, because no one would ever think about questioning Tim about this – spent most of the night in the company of the ranger and the two elves. It was a miracle that he could still string more complicated sentences together.

Be that as it may, Tim had – with sloppy, rather uncoordinated movements – pointed at five soldiers and told them that they would ride to the appointed meeting place and pick up the elf lord. The five men had basked in the envy of their peers before they had disappeared into the direction of their horses as fast as their legs could carry them. Their leader had looked too far gone to be able to change his mind quickly, but none of them had wanted to chance it.

No matter what happened, the elf lord couldn't be worse than the elf and the ranger. It was simply impossible. Or at least everybody hoped it was impossible, because none of them was ready for the possibility that it wasn't.

But now, Vadoulynrir decided, all that didn't matter. They had managed to get away from the caves with their limbs and their sanity (mostly) intact, and they were waiting for the elf lord to show up. And even if he didn't show up, none of them would complain. The longer they could stay away from their insane prisoners and their equally insane employer the better.

"D'you think he's going to come?" one of the other men asked.

"Oh Gods, I hope not," another one commented. "If he doesn't come, we can stay here."

It was a sign of how worn-out they all were that the thought of having to stay all day long next to a dusty crossroad, where there was neither food nor drink nor any interesting company at all, looked more than a little bit appealing. The other four men, their informal leader Vadoulynrir included, nodded fervently.

One of them, the smallest and by the looks youngest of them, nodded especially hard. He was even paler than the rest of them who, by all means, would have fitted perfectly well into a group of ghosts at the moment, and his hands were still shaking from time to time without him even noticing. It was no wonder, as all the mercenaries agreed unconditionally. The poor boy had been forced to stand watch last night for over four hours – directly outside of the main cave. The Gods only knew what the boy had been forced to witness.

"Yes," the young man managed to say in-between almost violent nods. "Great Ones, yes. I am not going back there." He looked at the others beseechingly. "You won't make me, will you?"

"Well," Vadoulynrir began, "We will have to go back sooner or later."

"I can't!" the boy exclaimed. His eyes were wild and frightened. A charging oliphaunt couldn't have made a bigger impression on him than this particular prospect. "You have no idea what I had to listen to all night long! I can't go through that again!"

"Come now, lad," one of the other men tried to comfort him. "If … I mean when," he corrected himself quickly when he saw the younger man's increasingly panicky look, "when the elf lord arrives here and we bring him to our employer, he will kill all of them. We'll be rid of them once and for all."

"No!" The young man shook his head. "No! I won't risk that! What if he changes his mind? He's mad, after all, so that's very well possible!"

Vadoulynrir nodded. There was some sense to that, after all. Still, he didn't know what would happen (if one trusted the elf or the ranger, something that involved blood, death and mayhem), but he did know that there couldn't be any more guard duty for the boy. He was only one step away from losing it.

"All right, lad," he told the nearly frantic man. "We'll ask Tim to keep you away from them at all times. I am sure that he will see the sense of not assigning you to guard duty again."

The young man looked incredibly grateful and actually ran up to Vadoulynrir and hugged the startled mercenary. It took two other men almost five minutes to convince him to let the older man go. It didn't startle any of them; after more than four hours of guard duty they would have done a lot of strange things as well, up to and including hugging a man like Vadoulynrir.

"Thank you!" the younger man mumbled, almost sobbing. "Thank you! I will never forget this, never!"

Vadoulynrir frantically nodded at the other two men who were leading the boy over into the shade. If they'd had some camomile tea, they would have crammed it down his throat. They were discussing possible alternatives when hoofbeat could be heard, already very close to their position. They were whirling around, feeling unreasonably guilty, and almost came face-to-face with a very big grey-white horse. It took their eyes a while to trail up the animal's face and neck, and when they finally did, they regretted it, because they saw a dark-haired elf who looked more than a little bit peeved.

"You are the kidnappers?" were the first words out of his mouth.

The men looked at each other, clearly at a loss, until Vadoulynrir remembered that he was the impromptu leader and nodded.
"I think you could say that…"

"Wonderful," the elf cut him off. "Let's get moving. I have an appointment with the council today at the sixth hour. I would hate to be late."

Vadoulynrir felt how his chin almost dropped onto his chest.
"Are you … are you Elrond?" he asked, wanting to make completely sure.

The elf gave him a look that very clearly stated that that was a very stupid question.
"Who else would meet here with you at the tenth hour?"

"Well," Vadoulynrir began, "I don't…"

"Do you have something for me?" Elrond went on, looking impatiently at the five humans in front of him. These were indeed amateurs, he decided. Pathetic.


"A token," he explained. He wistfully remembered the abduction five months ago; the men had been professional and taciturn and had in the end given up without too much trouble. That had been a reasonably pleasant kidnapping. "Something that proves to me that my son and his friend are still alive."

The men looked at each other, clearly clueless.
"Uhm … no," one of them finally admitted.

The elf gave them look that conveyed that he considered their collective intelligence barely above that of a millipede. The men glanced at each other uneasily.
"Should … should we have?" Vadoulynrir asked.

Elrond actually rolled his eyes. He knew that this was most un-elf-lordly behaviour, but he had ceased caring a long time ago. Glorfindel and the rest of his warriors were too far back to be able to see him clearly, and these men clearly had no idea of … well, anything. And besides, after spending the night in a mixture of mild worry, annoyance and anger, he simply did not have the patience to deal with amateurish kidnappers.

"It is part of your duties," he told the humans curtly. "You bring me proof that the two of them are still alive and then bring me to your master, I agree to come with you without giving you any undue trouble and pretend not to plan your most gruesome deaths. That is how these things are done."

"Whose father are you again?" one of the older men asked, cocking his head to the side in obvious interest. The ordeal they had all been through had made him somewhat indifferent to the elf's threatening aura. "The blond one's, surely?"

"No, the ranger's." Elrond shook his head. "Strange, I know, but…"

"Oh, no," the man shook his head. "I believe you. I don't care about how and why, but you're his father, that's for sure."

"Insane, just like the boy," another man commented so softly that only the ears of an elf could hear him. "This actually explains a lot of things."

"I am sure it does," Elrond said, smiling in a way that looked both fake and rather disconcerting. "So, how do I know they are still alive? It is common practice to let them live, and be it only so that the evil madman has someone to gloat in front of while he is waiting for me to arrive, but you are new to this. I will not trust you to know of or adhere to the usual rules."

"Well," Vadoulynrir began, frantically trying to come up with something, "we haven't been given anything by our leader. I am sorry, elf, but you will have to trust us."

Elrond only looked at him.
"Do you have any idea how many times I have been asked that by some villain or other?"

"Uhm … no."

"More times than even I can count." The dark-haired elf crossed his arms over his chest, deciding that these people wouldn't recognise a rhetorical question if it walked up to them and introduced itself by name. He looked at the men's clueless and slightly frightened faces and grinned inwardly. This might actually become entertaining. "So, you do not have anything that would prove to me that my son and his companion are still alive. You could be making all of this up."

"Making all of this up?" The youngest member of the group had jumped to his feet, eyes blazing with indignation and incredulity. "Why in the name of all the Gods would we be making this up! For our own entertainment? Do you have any idea what I have been through last night? What I had to listen to? What I had to watch?" He shuddered and wrapped his arms around his chest. "They are … mad…"

"It's all right, lad, calm down," the oldest man said, wrapping an arm around the boy's shoulders to comfort him and glaring darkly at the elf lord. "They're gone. Don't worry. You will not have to return to your post…"

Vadoulynrir looked at the elf, who returned the look with a raised eyebrow that demanded an explanation. Then again, perhaps he was simply laughing about them; one could never tell with these elves.
"He had to stand guard duty outside of the main cave where our employer was talking to the two of them. He's feeling a little … off."

"Off?" the boy nearly shrieked. "I had to listen while the elf explained to Tim all the reasons why…"

"Ah!" Vadoulynrir held up a hand. "No! No more information is needed!"

"But it was horrible!" the younger man went on. "He was talking about something called 'Abductology' and was going on and on and on about it while the mad elf kept repeating the same words over and over and…"

The oldest man of their little troop pulled the boy away, back into the direction of their horses, all the while talking to him in a quiet, soothing voice. Vadoulynrir looked after them for a bit before he turned back to the elf who merely looked at him expressionlessly.
"As I said – off."

Elrond cocked his head to the side. The elf was enjoying all this far too much, the man decided darkly.
"So they have not been harmed?"

Vadoulynrir chuckled in a somewhat shaky way.
"We haven't harmed them, elf. We haven't done anything to them."

"I believe you."

The elf's words startled the man, and his head shot up.

"I believe you," Elrond repeated. "You have my son and his friend. I have seen this kind of reaction too often not to recognise it." He quirked an eyebrow in amusement. "It is rather common."

A part of Vadoulynrir felt very comforted by that. Another part felt that all this was going horribly wrong.
"We'll take you to our employer, elf. Your weapons."

The man decided immediately that no one should be able to raise his eyebrows to quite that height.

"I didn't bring any," Elrond told them, loathing once again laying itself over his features. "What do you think I am, an amateur?"

It was clear that Vadoulynrir would have chosen a different name for him. In the end, the man contented himself with glaring darkly at the elf who studied him in obvious and perverse amusement.
"I don't care what you are, elf. Our orders are to bring you back to our employer and that is what we will do."

"I have been trying to get you to do that for twenty minutes now!" Elrond exclaimed. "I don't have all day, so if you would…"

Vadoulynrir glared at him again but turned around and motioned his men to get the horses. The two obeyed without question, obviously more than happy to escape from this particular conversation.
"Don't move," the man advised the elf. "You wouldn't get far, trust me."

The dark-haired elf looked at him condescendingly. The mercenary decided that looking menacing was hard when your victim was at least a head taller than you and sat on a horse that would have been tall enough to serve one of the High Ones.

"Why would I move?" Elrond asked in a long-suffering tone of voice.

"What do you mean?" Vadoulynrir asked, suddenly beginning to understand why Tim had looked the way he had this morning. Dealing with elves just wasn't worth the trouble.

"I came here out of my own free will," Elrond elaborated, sounding very bored. "Well, actually I came because someone had threatened my youngest son and his best friend with death and doom – again – but that is beside the point. So, you told me to come here and meet you so that I may be taken to them and would be able to have the inevitable face-off that the evil megalomaniacs so love to have. Why would I want to move when this is the only way to get this whole unpleasant affair over with in a reasonably timely and civilised manner?"

Vadoulynrir frowned as he thought about that. It sounded reasonable, but then again, it was an elf that was talking. He didn't trust elves, hadn't before all this, and would never again if the way this was going was any indication at all.

"In order to … well, escape?" he finally hazarded a guess.

Elrond closed his eyes and exhaled. Then, after having forced himself to accept the fact that these men were apparently as intelligent as the average jelly fish, he raised his head again and gave the man the same look he would have given an idiot child.
"What is your name, henchman?"

"I wish you people would stop calling us that."

"It's what you are. Answer the question."

"I don't see how it would be any of your business," the mercenary began, but quickly added when he saw Elrond's truly dangerous look, "My name is Vadoulynrir."

"That figures," the elf mumbled under his breath. "Where do they find these people?" he asked no one in particular.

"What do you mean?" Vadoulynrir asked. He wasn't sure about it, but he suspected he should feel insulted.

"Listen to me, Vadouringir…" the elf began.


"As if it matters," Elrond waved his comment aside. "Do you know what I have been through these past few hours?"

Vadoulynrir very much doubted that it had been worse than what all of them had been through these past few hours.
"No," he finally admitted. He wasn't afraid of the elf, of course, but he was willing to admit that he looked just the tiniest bit frightening when he stared at you like this.

Elrond took a deep breath, ignored the fact that yet another rhetorical question had been answered and nodded his head.

"Let me tell you, then," he began very slowly and very, very calmly. Anyone who knew him – Glorfindel included – would have recognised the mood he was in at the moment and would have started running into the other direction as quickly as their legs would carry them. "It all started yesterday afternoon, when the news reached me that my carefully laid plans had been ruined by my beloved foster son, his friend and your employer." He leaned forward in his saddle, his eyes boring into the man's. "I had spent weeks coming up with something that would keep them out of trouble, and you ruined everything. Can you imagine how I feel about that?"

Vadoulynrir gulped openly. It was clear that he could.

"Then," Elrond went on, "I had a discussion with my sons – my other sons," he explained. The mercenary looked horror-struck at the idea of there being any more sons of this particular elf. "They were making bets on the outcome of all this, and I couldn't even join in because Glorfindel was standing right next to me, and so was Erestor. They would never let me hear the end of it if I did something like that."

The man nodded, as if he understood perfectly well what the other was talking about.

"And after that, I had to listen to Glorfindel trying to calm me down for most of the night." He narrowed his eyes at the soldier. "Do I look as if I was disturbed or having problems controlling myself?" This time, Vadoulynrir did not answer and merely opened and closed his mouth. "No matter," the elf lord went on. "I hate it when people try to calm me down. It doesn't help anyway."

Vadoulynrir didn't know who this Glorfindel was, but found that he admired him immensely for even trying.

"And then," the elf went on, almost causing the mercenary to start weeping, "I was chased through the courtyard by the horse of my son's friend. It is big and white and thoroughly evil, and has apparently taken its master's disappearance personally and decided to fault me. Me! Do you have any idea how humiliating it is to be chased through your very own courtyard by an insane horse that is intent on biting you in the … well, in certain parts of your body?"

Under different circumstances, Vadoulynrir might have found that amusing or at least mildly disturbing. Now, however, all he could do was shake his head mutely.

"I wouldn't have thought so," Elrond said scathingly. "These things seem to happen only to me. Be that as it may, I've had a bad evening. And a bad night. And a bad morning. My point is that I have no patience to deal with the idiocy of you or your men. I will come with you and face this newest insane madman responsible for this … farce. So, please do not take it in any way personally when I tell you that I will have to hurt you severely and repeatedly if you do not start moving soon."

Vadoulynrir would almost have asked him with what – he had no weapons, after all – but then he decided that he'd rather not know. Belatedly he realised that the elf was still waiting for an answer and so he cleared his throat, only just stopping himself from casting a desperate look over his shoulder.

"Are you … threatening me, elf?" he finally asked. He realised too late that there was the not-too-small possibility that the elf would say yes and that he had no idea what to do then.

The elf didn't look disconcerted at that question. He didn't even look as if he had truly listened to him. If anything at all, he looked bored.

"No, of course not," he said in a tone of voice that clearly suggested that he just wanted to get this over with. "I am stating a fact, but you don't really care about that, do you? Then again, what would I know about anything? I am only one of the Wise and possess the gift of foresight, but is anybody listening to me? Ever? Of course not! I don't even know why I still bother, I should just…"

"All right!" Vadoulynrir exclaimed, gesticulating frantically. "All right! We will leave now!"

"Right now? You've said that before, henchman. I don't really know if I can trust you."

"Yes! Right now!" the man confirmed and whirled around, quickly beginning to walk into the direction of the horses. He wouldn't wait for the others. There was no way at all he would wait for the others.

He would get this elf to Tim and let him deal with him. That would probably be enough to rob his superior of the rest of his sanity, but, by the Gods, that wasn't his problem.

They had never made it to the cell his men had prepared for the elf and the ranger. They had never even made it out of the room … cave, whatever it was where his employer was talking about death and doom and blubberish elf lords. Oh, and dismemberment. That seemed to have become a favourite of his.

Not that he couldn't understand that, of course; the two prisoners' mere presence was enough to drive anybody to the brink of a homicidal rage, dismemberment included. Not that that would intimidate or even disturb the two beings in question. They were acting as normally and unconcernedly as if all this happened to them on a daily basis.

Tim was beginning to suspect that it did happen to them on a daily basis. Somehow, that realisation didn't scare or surprise him nearly as much as it should.

The man's thoughts automatically returned to the night that had just ended a few hours ago, and, with a shudder, he forced that particular train of thought to stop, turn around and go back the way it had come. If he never thought about all this again, it would be too soon. And the next person who mentioned the word "Abductology" in his presence would find himself losing a limb. No, make that two, minimum.

Tim rubbed his forehead with tired, jerky movements. A headache of the likes he had never known before was pounding behind his temples in rhythm with his heartbeat, and somehow he couldn't see that stopping soon. He shot a quick look at the far-too-bright, far-too-cheerful-looking sun. If his judgement hadn't been severely impaired by all this – and he was too realistic a man to dismiss that possibility outright – he would say that it was about the eleventh hour, maybe even closer to the twelfth. The elf lord would be here soon – if he came, that was.

He would have understood it if he didn't come. He supposed that the elf was somewhat attached to the two of them, but every being had his or her limits. The elf lord's would have been reached several years ago.

The mercenary knew he should return inside, but he simply couldn't. He had escaped only a few hours ago when he had had to send some of his men to fetch the elf lord. He couldn't have said whom he had sent; he had been far too traumatised at that time to notice anything at all that wasn't connected to setting one foot in front of the other and not losing his sanity. There had also been the almost irresistible urge to start hopping up and down and squawking like a duck, but he had resisted it – until now. Another hour in the ranger's and the two elves' company and that might change, though.

"Are you going back in?" a voice behind him asked, and Tim slowly turned around, not unhappy about the interruption at all. The longer he stalled here, the less time he would have to spend with his employer and their insane captives.

"Yes," he answered the man that had asked the question. "Yes, I am."

He made no move towards the interior of the cave. The other man gave him a confused look and raised his eyebrows.
"I am only asking because there is a problem with the guards."

"What a surprise." By now, Tim was very good at conveying sarcastic disbelief. "With whom are we not having problems at the moment?"

"Well, technically…"

"I don't want to hear it," Tim told him firmly. "I – do not – want – to hear it. It would be a lie anyway. So, what kind of problem are we having with the guards?"

"Well," the other man repeated. He looked flustered, as if he didn't really want to talk about this. "You see, Tim, there are some … concerns."

"Concerns?" his superior repeated, wide-eyed. "Concerns? I can tell you what kind of concerns we are having at the moment! Our employer is stark raving mad and our captives even more so! And, if the two of them are to be believed – which, in this regard, I do not doubt, even though that means that I am even madder than them – there will be a horde of elves turning up soon, bent on cutting off our heads. Or talking us to death, if their," he nodded into the direction of the cave, "behaviour is anything to go by. What more concern do we have?"

"The guards have gone on strike."

That stopped Tim's tirade as quickly as a blow to his forehead.

"They have gone on what?" he asked. He wanted to be angry at somebody but found that he didn't have the energy or even the will for it.

"On strike," the other repeated. "They have made a list of demands, have chosen a spokesman and want to talk to you."

"They can't go on strike!" Tim exclaimed, feeling how his headache turned into a full-blown migraine.

"Technically speaking, they can. We are not part of any guild, so there is no policy nor institutions binding us to anything."

Tim fixed the other man with bloodshot eyes.
"And you are the spokesman, I take it."

"In a manner of speaking." The older man nodded. Tim glared at him. "Well, yes, I am. It is nothing personal, you see, but now with the elf and the ranger and everything…"

"What do you want?" the other man interrupted him.

"Not much," the strikers' spokesman assured him quickly, recognising the first signs of homicidal madness when he saw them. "Just your assurance that nobody will have to stand guard outside of the main chamber. Ever again."

"Well, somebody has to!" Tim was losing his patience.

"But not us!" the other man retorted heatedly. "I have ten men over at the stables who swear that their brains will explode if they have to deal with the two of them again!"

"And that is my problem … how?"

"I believe them!" the older man exclaimed. "It could happen!"

"No, it couldn't."

"Yes, it could."

Tim was about to repeat his earlier statement when a sudden thought struck him. Dear Gods above, he was beginning to behave just like the elf. He groaned inwardly. If he hadn't had such a horrible headache he would have started looking for a cliff to "fall" off of right this moment.

"I was inside the cave for most of the night," he said finally, as a last try to lead this conversation back onto more reasonable grounds.

"Yes, we know, sir." The other man nodded his head and tried to hide the look that fairly clearly stated 'And you can see it, too.' Still, there was something between awe and wonderment on his face that Tim would probably have found gratifying under different circumstances. "And we are not saying that any of this is your fault…"
"Of course not." By now, Tim was also good at conveying sarcastic condescension.

"…but you did accept this particular job," the other man went on.

"How could I have known?" The dark-haired man exclaimed, waving his arms. "How in the name of all the Gods could I have known! There aren't … It shouldn't… Things like them shouldn't even exist."

The older soldier couldn't contest that. It was quiet for a few moments before he opened his mouth again.
"Still," he reiterated, "if you don't want morale to drop to new lows, I would strongly suggest that…"

"I don't have time for this," Tim told him, shaking his head. "I have to go back inside so I can lose the rest of my sanity, if possible before the elf lord and his warriors show up to kill us all."

The other man clearly thought that it was far too late for that, but he was either too polite or too intelligent to say it.
"But I was told…"

"Don't worry," the dark-haired mercenary assured the soldier. "As you said, their brains will probably explode. People whose brains have exploded cannot hold you accountable for anything."

Before the other could say anything to that, he had turned around and entered the caves, almost moving at a running pace. He didn't really know what was happening, but everything was going from bad to worse to abysmal. If he didn't know any better, he would say that he was simply dreaming all this. Tim actually sighed at that idea. A dream – that would be a wonderful solution. A harmless dream he could wake up from…

It quickly became clear that it was not a dream, however. When he was nearing the main cave (which was no longer guarded by anybody), a slightly hoarse, but still strong voice reached his ears, speaking words he had heard only about a hundred times before.

"He will die, do you hear me? Die like the cowardly dog he is, lying on the floor before me and begging for his life!"

There was no answer. Tim supposed that even the ranger's energies had been depleted; not even he could make meaningless comments for almost twelve hours without the smallest break. Even though he should have known better (and a part of him actually did know better), he closed – with the firm, uncaring steps of a man who knew that he was doomed to die in the next hour or so – the distance between himself and the cave and stepped over the threshold.

The scene was essentially the same he had fled from earlier today: The dark-haired elf was still on his feet, walking up and down in front of the young ranger. He looked a little bit paler than last night and there was the tiniest hint of dark bags under his eyes, but the same were still bright and alert and just as insane. The ranger, however, was looking as if he was reaching the ends of his patience, if the scowl on his face was anything to go by. There was slight stubble covering his cheeks, slighter than most men's would have been after more than a day of not shaving, and he looked tired and angry and very annoyed. His fair-haired friend looked just the same as yesterday, namely beautiful, haughty and incredibly infuriating, but also very, very bored.

That was something Tim couldn't understand, and it was something that vexed him more than a little bit. The fair-haired being had almost succeeded in driving him to insanity last night, so the least he could do was look a little bit pleased.

"He will regret having ever crossed me, that I will make sure of! I will kill you in front of him and there will be nothing he can do about it…"

The fair-haired elf, Tim noted, had stopped counting. There were three heaps of stones of almost equal height in front of the elf's now vacated armchair, but no fourth, mixed one any more. It seemed that he had run out of stones before the other elf had run out of death threats. The ranger's friend had changed his position and was now sitting on the armrest of the other armchair, the one closer to the other two occupants of the cave. He was dangling his legs and kicking them idly against the side of the chair, only pausing now and then to roll his eyes and blow strands of fair hair out of his eyes.

The ranger was still sitting on the chest he had chosen earlier, even though he was not moving at all. He was quite clearly silently fuming, something Tim could even understand. His employer, perhaps puzzled by the continuing silence, shot the ranger a quick look before he continued, waving his hands for good measure.

"I will make him…"

"Oh, for Eru's sake!" the ranger finally exploded, his head shooting up. "Shut up already, will you!"

Tim, who had been about to walk over to the dark-haired elf to inform him that the elf lord would be arriving soon and that he would have to guard his two prisoners alone since his men had gone on a completely unauthorised but very understandable strike, stopped in mid-step. He hadn't just said that, had he? Unarmed, bound men faced with insane megalomaniacs were not supposed to react like this.

The dark-haired elf seemed to have the same problem, for he was simply staring at the ranger in open-mouthed surprise. The other elf didn't look too surprised and only leaned back against the armchair, an expectant smile on his face.

"I've had it with your threats!" the ranger went on, jumping to his feet and glaring at the dark-haired elf in a way that Tim found highly disconcerting. "They are unoriginal, stupid, repetitive and completely unrealistic! Can you really not come up with anything more interesting than 'I will make him beg'? I mean, honestly, just think about it for a second! We are talking about Lord Elrond Peredhil here, son of Eärendil and Elwing, Lord of Imladris, ex-herald of the High King Gil-galad of Lindon and brother of the first king of Númenor! He can trace his ancestors all the way back to Finwë himself! His great-great-grandmother was one of the Maiar and he descends from both Sindarin and Noldorin royalty, with a bit of Vanyarin thrown in for good measure! He is married to the only daughter of Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn of the Golden Wood! He would have had the right to claim the title of High King after Gil-galad's death if he'd only wanted to, and you want to threaten this elf? He faced the sons of Fëanor when he was a mere child, saw more death and destruction than most elves twice his age, saved Eregion and all of Middle-earth a few times almost single-handedly and fought the Dark Lord himself, and you want to make him beg? He can hardly stand saying thank you to a wood-elf! Why don't you try something more realistic, like trying to fly or correctly pronouncing the names of your henchmen?"

This was it, Tim decided calmly and somewhat gleefully. He would kill the ranger for this, hostage and planned torture or not. If one could believe the fair-haired lunatic – and he was inclined to do so in this regard – then a comment like this was something that not even the most insane megalomaniacs tended to let go unpunished.

"What did you say, dúnadan?" his employer asked predictably enough. Tim couldn't quite decide whether he really sounded incredulous or was just doing a really good job pretending. "You dare lecture me, who I have been alive before even…"

"…'your first worthless ancestor had been born who was not even worthy bringing me my morning tea before your honourless ada robbed me of what was rightfully mine' etc. etc.," Aragorn finished the elf's sentence, rolling his eyes. "I know that you do not believe my kind to be overly intelligent, but please give me some credit. I understand things when they are repeated to me fifteen times."

"How dare you!" the dark-haired elf shrieked. Legolas suppressed a bored yawn. "I can end your life with a snap of my fingers! You will regret having ever crossed me!"

"I don't believe this," Aragorn said, disgust evident in his voice. "Here we go again."

"Why, you impertinent human whelp!" the other screeched. Tim shook his head, trying to get rid of the ringing sound that was persistently clinging to his inner ear. "I will make you beg before I kill you!"

Pealing laughter interrupted whatever it was that he wanted to say after that, and everybody turned around to look at Legolas, who was ducking his head and swallowing the sounds of merriment that were still escaping him. If he'd had a hand free, he would have covered his mouth in embarrassment.

"I am sorry," he ground out, hiccupping slightly. "Please, continue. I just couldn't hold it in any longer."

The dark-haired elf's face slowly began to take on the colour of sun-ripened grapes. He stormed over to where Legolas was sitting and stopped just in front of him, his chest heaving and his eyes blazing in his pale face. The wood-elf remained totally unaffected.

"I don't care who your father is," he hissed at the other elf. "If you cannot hold your tongue, you will share the fate of your friend and his adopted father."

"Oh, I am keeping out of this," Legolas told him. "This one is Estel's kidnapping, not mine. But I have to agree with him: You are awfully repetitive."

"You will regret this," the dark-haired elf threatened, taking another step closer to the completely unimpressed prince. "I will cut you into little pieces, starting with your pretty hair and then working my way down…"

"Oh, you really shouldn't have said that," Aragorn said, a certain malicious glee detectable in his voice. The rest of him just sounded highly amused. "No one threatens Legolas' hair and gets away with it."

"Oh, I would be careful if I were you," the elven prince told his smirking friend. "He might threaten you to have you take a bath."

"I will kill you both!" the insane elf yelled, in Aragorn's opinion unnecessarily loudly. "You will crawl on the ground and beg me for death!

"Is he even listening to a single word we are saying?" Legolas asked.

"I doubt it, mellon nín."

Tim was seriously afraid of where this might be leading, but just in this moment one of his men came running into the chamber, panting and wild-eyed. His wildly moving eyes swept over the cave and finally came to rest on the pale face of his superior, and he practically flew over to him.

"Tim! We are being attacked!"

"About time," the ranger commented to his friend.

"They are late." Legolas nodded thoughtfully. "Well, not late per se, but I really had expected them sooner. Elladan is getting sloppy."

"Don't blame this on my brother," Aragorn told him sternly. "It might have been Glorfindel's fault, and you are more than welcome to discuss this matter with him once we see him."

Tim, displaying a level of practice that seriously worried him, ignored the two of them.
"Who is attacking us?"

"The elves, sir," the other man panted. "Vadoulynrir and the others were escorting the elf lord here, but suddenly there were more and they started attacking the guards and…"

"Elrond is here?" the dark-haired elf asked, grasping the man's arm and whirling him around. There was an insane light shining in his eyes that Tim would have found frightening only yesterday. Now, it was anything but. "Right here?"

The man looked at him as if he was completely mad.
"If he is the tall, dark-haired elf with the bloody sword in his hand who demands to see his son, then yes."

"That's him," Legolas and Aragorn said simultaneously.

"Take me to him!" the elf demanded. "Now!"

The man looked at Tim who started shaking his head vigorously. The elf didn't even seem to notice and, after a quick look at his two captives, stormed off, into the direction of the entrance of the cave from where the faint sounds of fighting and steel clashing against steel could be heard. Tim, shaking his head in disgust, motioned for the other mercenary to get the elf to his feet while he grabbed Aragorn's arm, and a moment later the two soldiers were pushing their captives into the direction into which their employer had disappeared only a moment ago.

"Remember what we told you, Tim," the ranger told him in a friendly tone of voice. "If my father is here, you are in real trouble. And if the twins find you…" He trailed off and winced, before he added in a low voice, "They don't always chop off heads, you know."

"No?" Tim asked, a surreal feeling once again sneaking up on him.

"No," Aragorn shook his head. He looked genuinely distressed. "Sometimes, they also chop off other body parts. When they're really annoyed, you see."

"No," Tim said curtly. "I don't. And, in the Gods' name, don't bother explaining it to me."

"Well," Legolas immediately chimed in, "they are really protective of Estel here, you see? There was this one time a bit more than a year ago when…"

Thankfully this was the moment when they reached the entrance to the cave. Outside, on the large lawn in front of the cave system, a small battle was going on that just looked the tiniest bit strange. The men – his men, Tim corrected himself absent-mindedly – were fighting a large group of elves as best as they could and were not having a very good time of it. They were pale and shaking and uncommonly jittery, while their elven adversaries looked bored more than anything else. Some of them also looked annoyed, but the vast majority looked as if they were doing this far too often for it to be interesting in any way.

There were in fact several elves to which the other man's description could be applied (most of the elves were tall, dark-haired and armed with bloodstained weapons), but Tim quickly saw who this Elrond had to be, for his employer was pushing his way over to one elf who was fighting to the left of the entrance. There was an insane intensity on his face.

"Peredhil!" the dark-haired elf called, waving his sword in what he probably thought to be a menacing manner. "At last we meet again!"

Elrond thrust the hilt of his sword into the face of the man he was fighting at the moment and turned around, keen grey eyes sweeping over the elf's figure. This was the elf the mercenaries had been talking about, he guessed; even in this part of Middle-earth there couldn't be that many elven maniacs out for his or his family's blood. A moment later he looked the other elf in the eye and raised an eyebrow, giving him a look that clearly stated that he was in the middle of something and did not appreciate being disturbed.

"Do I know you?"

The dark-haired elf's mouth fell open.
"What do you mean, 'do I know you'? I will crush you like the vermin you are, you…"

"Listen, whoever you are," Elrond said impatiently, absent-mindedly grasping a man's arm, whirling him around and slamming him into a tree. "I do not have time for this. I have a council meeting at the sixth hour and Erestor will have my head if I am late. I don't know you and I do not care to know you; all I want is my son and Prince Legolas back safe and sound. You have three seconds to drop your sword before I kill you. I've had a rough day, so trust me when I tell you that I'll do it."

"'Whoever you are'?" the dark-haired elf shrieked. "You ruined my life, Peredhil! You took everything from me I ever loved! I swore revenge!"

"Do you have any idea how many people do that?" Elrond asked, his voice filled with distaste.

"I swore that I would kill you!" the other elf went on, ignoring the half-elf's words. "I wrote you hate letters every New Year!"

"Oh, that was you?"

"'Oh, that was you?' Oh, that was you? I will kill you for this!"

He was taking a deep breath, probably in order to keep insulting the Lord of Imladris, and took a few steps forward, waving his sword threateningly. Elrond rolled his eyes and brought his sword up, and the two blades met with a resounding clash. Before the swords had connected more than twice or thrice, a third figure suddenly appeared from out of nowhere, pushing the two of them apart. The dark-haired elf whirled around and attacked his new foe, but within seconds the thing that had to happen did happen: After a quick slash a body crumbled to the ground while the once-attached head bounced over to the right, past a very annoyed-looking half-elf.

"Was that really necessary?" he asked, looking at the far too innocent-looking fair-haired elf in front of him.

"Oh, I am sorry, my lord," Glorfindel said, doing his best to look contrite. "Were you not done with him yet?"

"I don't even know who he was," Elrond grumbled. "Then again, it is of no importance. I find that I have ceased caring about the evil madmen at least five kidnappings ago."

Glorfindel shot the by now still head a quick look.
"I don't recognise him. Then again, my friend, you do seem to attract them like a honey pot attracts flies."

Elrond looked at him incredulously.
"Did you just call me a honey pot?"

Glorfindel shrugged and turned slightly to give one of the mercenaries that were rushing up to them an arctic glare. The man, who had been about to seize their apparent moment of distraction, quickly thought better of it and all but tiptoed away to disappear around a tree. The blond elf quickly made sure that their men were holding their own – which was not too hard if one considered their opponents' state of mind (Aragorn and Legolas had apparently been their usual, charming selves) – before he turned back to Elrond with a smile.

"I would never do that, my lord," he told the dark-haired elf. "Never. I would be too afraid of your lady wife."

"True." Elrond nodded and casually pushed a man to the side, right into an elven warrior who dispatched him easily enough. "Sometimes I am, too, no matter how much I love her. She is Galadriel's daughter, after all." He shrugged and began to walk into the direction of the cave, where Mr. I-swore-that-I-would-kill-you had come from. "Let's get the two of them, shall we? I have had enough of this."

"After you, my lord," Glorfindel told him and smiled. He quickly began to follow the other elf over to the caves, completely ignoring the battle around them. Elrond looked better than this morning – a little bloodshed could do wonders for one's mood – but he was not willing to take any chances. These half-elves could get vicious when they were feeling off.

"I cannot stand kidnappings, Glorfindel," Elrond told the golden-haired elf while they pushed their way through the mêlée. "I simply hate them." Glorfindel was spared a very obvious answer to that by Elrond himself, who stopped for a second, scanning the fighting beings around him, and then, when he spotted the face he had been searching for, called out a name. "Captain Elvynd!"

The thus addressed elf neutralised the man he had been fighting – it was Vadoulynrir, Elrond noted absent-mindedly – and hurried over to them, looking strangely apprehensive.
"My lord?"

Behind the dark-haired captain, two identical faces appeared right and left of him, looking torn between amusement and annoyance. Elvynd turned around, nearly jumped out of his skin (these two could move far too soundlessly, he decided) and smiled nervously. The two of them ignored him and looked at Elrond, and Elladan raised an eyebrow almost as professionally as his father.

"So, where are they?"

"And who was that?" Elrohir added, nodding into the direction of the headless body. "Well done, Glorfindel. For someone who doesn't chop off any heads at all, you did that very professionally."

Glorfindel mumbled something under his breath that sounded highly uncomplimentary and vaguely like "Go kiss a warg", and Elladan grinned at his brother.
"True. Not quite as professionally as I do it, but still." He ignored the fuming elf lord and looked at Elvynd who looked back at him with wide eyes. There was a truly dangerous gleam in his eyes that could also be seen in his father's, and Elvynd blanched considerably. "So, Captain, have you already found my troublesome brother and his equally troublesome friend? After you let them get away in the first place, of course?"

Elvynd didn't even bother repeating what he had said a million times, namely that the warriors that had been with Estel and the prince were not of his guard and had never been of his guard. He only looked at the twin with large eyes, trying to fight down the unreasonable urge to run and hide.
"I am important."

"I am sure you are," Elrohir smiled at the warrior. Elvynd had been saying that quite often lately, the Valar alone knew why. "Still, there still remains the question of…"

"Elrohir," his father said in a warning voice, "if you are not silent right now, I…"

"Excuse me!" a voice behind them all but yelled. The five elves turned around slowly and came face to face with Tim. Only a few days ago this much elven attention would have frightened the man, but now it only awoke in him the powerful resolution not to let them succeed and drive him to madness. "Which one of you is Elrond?"

Given that four of them were dark-haired, it was a fair question. If the fact that a henchman was talking to them like this surprised anyone, they certainly did not show it. Then again, who knew just why henchmen were doing the things they were doing? Around them, the fighting was dying down, and Elvynd seized this chance to escape under the pretence of having to get the situation under control.

"I am," Elrond finally said curtly. "Who are you?"

"That doesn't matter," Tim answered. "I have something that belongs to you, it seems."

He turned and motioned at the mouth of the cave, where Aragorn and Legolas were standing side by side. If their faces were anything to go by, they were deep in earnest conversation. The soldier guarding them was standing as far away from them as possible and looked very pale and only one step away from dropping his weapon and running away. It also didn't look as if it was the fighting that scared him.

Elrond gave the two of them a quick look to make sure that they were unharmed and turned back to the man, his eyebrows raised.
"What are your demands?"

"Demands?" Tim repeated almost dumbly. "I don't have any demands. What are you going to do with my men?"

"That depends," Elrond retorted. "Did you hurt the two of them?"


"You didn't torture them?"

"We torture them?" Tim laughed. "The other way around would be more appropriate, Master Elf."

"You didn't maul them? Or had them mauled by something?"

"We don't even have dogs."

"You didn't cut off some body parts? That would be unusual, but you can never be too careful."

"No!" Tim exclaimed, looking positively horrified. "What kind of people do you think us to be?"

"No drowning or near-drowning?" Another headshake. "No cuts or burns or bruises or slow-acting poisons?"


"Fast-acting poisons?"

"No!" The man protested. "They are right as rain. We didn't touch them."

"Did 'F' over there touch them?" Elladan wanted to know, nodding into the direction of the dead kidnapper. Or rather into the direction of his head.

"No." Tim shook his head. "Are you Elladan?"

"Yes," the twin answered, surprised. "How did you know?"

"I've heard about you," the man retorted, absent-mindedly opened his sword belt and handed over his weapons to the twins. "Here. No need to cut off my head. Gods above, I don't think it would make any difference at this point."

Elladan accepted the blades as if that was the most normal thing in the world. Perhaps it was; Tim didn't know and refused to think about it. Elrond watched him, slight disdain on his face that was only tempered by the fact that this henchman was doing something original and somewhat refreshing, and returned his full attention to him.

"If what you say is true, nothing will happen to your men. As usual, we will leave you here when we leave. However," he went on, "if we ever meet any of you inside the borders of Rivendell again, we will have to kill you slowly and painfully."

"That sounds fair," Tim said curtly. "Trust me when I tell you that none of my men will ever again set foot on your lands. Or," he grimaced, "anywhere where there could be elves. Or rangers. Or a combination of the two."

"Estel and Legolas strike again," Glorfindel mumbled. Elrond only glared at him.

"What do you want, then?" Elrond asked suspiciously. "What is this, an attempt to exact ransom? If I do not do as you say, you will order your man to kill them?"

For a moment, the dark-haired mercenary only stared at him. Then, however, he started laughing so hard that he almost lost his footing and collapsed onto the ground. It wasn't a happy laugh, though; it sounded more than a little bit panicky and desperate.

"No!" he finally gasped. "No, nothing like that!" He didn't mention that he seriously doubted that the guard would be physically and mentally able to do anything but drop his weapon and beg for mercy if it came to having to make a decision. "All I want is your assurance that you will take them with you and never come back." He looked at Elrond with earnest, almost wild eyes. "Promise me that!"

"You don't want ransom?" Elrond frowned.


"You want nothing else at all?" Elrohir clarified.

"For the last time, no! I just want you to take them and leave us alone!"

The four elves exchanged a quick look and shrugged simultaneously. Elrond was the one to answer, nodding his head curtly.
"All right. You give me my son and the prince and we will leave immediately."

"Thank the Gods!" the man breathed and frantically gesticulated at the guard standing next to the elf and the ranger.

The man nodded, unsheathed a knife and quickly cut his captives' bonds. A moment later he ducked back into the cave, leaving the two of them outside rubbing circulation back into their hands and wrists, but quickly showed up again, three knives and their respective sheaths and belts in his hands. He thrust the weapons into Legolas' hands and turned around, running down the roughly-hewn stone steps as quickly as he could. Tim would have been willing to bet that he would reach the stables, saddle a horse and ride out of this glade all within a minute or two.

Aragorn and Legolas looked first at the weapons, then at each other and finally shrugged. Fastening the belts and sliding their blades into their respective sheaths, they ambled over to where the four older elves were waiting for them, all but tapping their feet with impatience. While they were drawing closer, their conversation began to filter over to Elrond and the others, still clearly audible even despite the loud noises and shouts around them.

"…your fault, mellon nín," Aragorn told his blond friend. "I told you not to forget about him, but would you listen?"

"Be silent, Estel," Legolas said mildly. "I clearly said 'Elladan or Glorfindel'. It is not my fault when your hearing is so poor that you miss half my sentences."

"You said Elladan would chop off his head." Aragorn shook his head. "I heard you."

"I didn't."

"Yes, you did."

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did! I am not getting into this now."

"Suit yourself. I am still not paying you."

Aragorn grumbled under his breath, but did not get the chance to reply anything since they reached the others, and even their unbridled cheerfulness could not withstand the collective glare of four seriously displeased elf lords. The young ranger swallowed convulsively and smiled at his father, who in turn looked back, not looking in the least bit impressed or placated. The fake smile still firmly in place, Aragorn turned and nodded at Tim who merely looked at him as if he considered him a thoroughly demented being. Mind you, he probably did.

"So," he said in a friendly tone of voice. "You handed over your weapons. A smart choice."

"A safe choice," Legolas corrected him. "Afraid to lose a few body parts, weren't we?"

Tim only smiled at him in a way that would have made his late employer jealous.
"I never want to see either of you again."

"Why?" Aragorn asked, sounding truly offended. "What did we do?"

"And we had such nice chats, too," Legolas added, shaking his head in mock sadness.

"Nice? Chats?" the man repeated incredulously. He stared at the two of them and sharply turned around, shaking his head and beginning to walk over to where his men had gathered. Before he turned left to join the other mercenaries who were waiting behind a small copse of trees (either to avoid the sun or to avoid having to look at the elves), he stopped and turned around, clearly searching for words and finally only coming up with "You two are mad! Mad, you hear me?"

Aragorn watched the other man disappear in the shadow of the trees and narrowed his eyes at his retreating back.
"We have been over this!" he yelled after him.

"Don't mind him, Estel," Legolas said comfortingly. "He is a little stressed at the moment. I am sure he didn't mean it."

Before the ranger could retort something, the sound of someone clearing his throat could be heard, and with an inward groan the young man turned back around and smiled nervously at his foster-father.
"Ada – I can explain everything."

"I am sure you can." Elrond nodded benevolently. "I am sure you can. Did they hurt you?"

"No, my lord," Legolas answered, lowering his head respectfully. "We are fine."

"No broken bones, burns, bleeding wounds, poisons or cuts?"

"No, ada," Aragorn echoed his friend's words. "Nothing like that. We are all right."

"Good," Elladan chimed in. "You owe me fifteen silver coins, Elrohir."

Elrohir swore at his brother in an obscure dwarven dialect and looked somewhat pleadingly at his human brother and the wood-elf.
"Was he really an evil madman?"

The two of them exchanged a look and Aragorn finally nodded and shrugged.
"Yes, I'm afraid he was."

"Ha!" Elladan exclaimed. "Fifteen silver coins, Elrohir."

The younger twin grumbled but began to search his clothing for the money, but Elrond ignored him. Before one of the two could even blink, he had reached out and grasped one of Aragorn's arms with the left hand and one of Legolas' with the right and was pulling them over to where Elvynd and the rest of the warriors were waiting for them.
"You two are coming with me. You still have about three hours to get maimed by something, and I will not have that!"

"Yes, ada," Aragorn answered obediently. He didn't really know what his father was talking about, but he would be damned if he asked him.

"And once we are home you will explain to me in simple words just why you disobeyed my orders again and how you managed to get yourself kidnapped!"

"Yes, ada," the man repeated. He turned his head and smiled at Elvynd as he was being pulled past him, giving him a nod of greeting. "Elvynd."

"I am important!" the young captain retorted earnestly.

"I am sure you are," Aragorn unconsciously echoed his brother's earlier words. He turned and looked at Glorfindel. "What…?"

"Don't ask," the golden-haired elf said and shook his head.

And so Aragorn didn't and allowed himself to be pulled into the direction of the horses. It was silent for a few moments, but when they passed a rather familiar head that looked rather out of place without its body, he spoke up.
"Ada? Who was he? I never got around to asking what his name was."

Elrond shrugged.
"I haven't got the slightest idea, my son. I haven't got the slightest idea."

It didn't really matter, after all, at least not to them. Even while they walked back towards their horses, Aragorn trying to explain to his father just why he had been kidnapped and Legolas wisely trying to keep out of it, they knew that this would probably happen again. And, knowing their luck, a lot of times, too.

There were several positive aspects to this particular kidnapping, though. Elvynd, after several more hours of doubts and fear, was told that he was indeed important, something that reassured him greatly. Erestor was pleased that Elrond was not late for the council meeting and enjoyed himself trying to find out the dead kidnapper's identity. Elrond passed the next few months trying to come up with the perfect plan to keep his youngest son in the house and out of trouble while the twins were intensely pleased that their father was angry at their adopted brother and their friend. Glorfindel was happy about having been heroic once again.

And Tim and his men never again set foot anywhere where they could possibly meet elves or rangers.

Once was, in their often-voiced opinion, quite enough.

The End.

adan - human, man
dúnadan - 'Man of the West', ranger
ada - father (daddy)
mellon nín - my friend

Ah, so this is the end. In case you were wondering: Yes, I am insane. Thanks for asking. •g• Be that as it may, I hope you still enjoyed this story! I really cannot tell you when I will be starting to post "Visions of Betrayal", my next 'real' story, but don't expect it before the end of October/beginning of November. It depends on the flat and about a thousand other things, and I'm only getting back from Turkey on the 5th of October or so. Jack and I are going together, so we should have a lot of fun! For more news about the next story (i.e. more realistic and updated post schedules), please check my profile page. I will let you know as soon as I know anything myself.

Oh, one more thing: On Jack's instigation follows the complete "curriculum" of Abductology. At least of the first year. •g• She helped me compile it, so don't blame it all on me! We're weird, I know.

First Year: "How to handle the average abduction"
by Legolas Thranduilion, Prince of Mirkwood

1. The importance of looking dashingly handsome in even the most stressful situation
2. Bound riding for beginners
3. The ten most important conversations everybody should have with their kidnappers
4. How to get the evil maniac to share his nefarious plans
5. How to convince the daughter/wife/niece/cousin/sister of the evil maniac to fall madly in love with you and help you escape
6. How to convince the henchmen to help you escape. Convincing them to fall madly in love with you is only a last resort
7. What tools to bring: spoon, brush, hairpin, small hidden knife, candle, paper and pen to make a map
8. The transportation devices every self-respecting abductologist should know and how to use them during an escape
9. The most effective methods of surviving the inevitable reunion with your father
10. Top ten excuses for having been abducted in the first place

Don't ask. Just ... don't. •g•

I hope you enjoyed yourself; see you next story!


Additional A/N:

My apologies to Mari (still! •g•), Lemuriangirl, Kalmiel (FF-net doesn't allow email addresses to be shown in a normal review, so I couldn't read it, sorry - again) and Errin (no email on the profile page). Since I am responding to reviews by email, I need your email addresses. So, don't forget to either make sure that you have your email address listed on your profile page or to leave your email address if you want to review anonymously!

Thank you and sorry for the inconvenience!