Disclaimer: Don't own LOTR.
Set several years after Return of the King. Slightly AU.
Summary: After a violent attack on the elven settlement in Ithilien due to ancient prejudice, the lives of thirty one elves and a single human hang in the balance as their friends attempt to bring aid from Gondor.
The Princes of Ithilien are Dead
A man and an elf knelt next to one another on a high platform, overlooking a crowd of impassioned, shouting humans. Each had their wrists bound tightly behind them and were stripped to the waist, their weapons and most of their clothes taken long ago. They bore circlets of poisoned ivy, oak, and sumac in a cruel mockery of the crowns the two so rarely wore, and these had created ugly rashes across their foreheads. Behind them were several men, working the crowd into a frenzy as they raised fists and weapons into the sky.
Faramir closed his eyes briefly, searching ever deeper into his reserves of strength. How had they come to this point? How had a few rebellious men, unable to let go of years of animosity, invaded their homes, burnt half of Ithilien to the ground, and taken her princes captive? His family had been visiting Legolas in the portion of Ithilien populated by elves. It had been late, they had been sleeping, when a frantic banging on the door awoke him…
"My lord!" called the blonde elf as soon as the doors were opened. In his half-sleeping state, Faramir could not quite remember the elf's name. "You and your family must come quickly! Take cloaks to hide yourselves, weapons, and naught else but what is dearest to thee!"
Eowyn appeared at his side. "What is happening?"
"I do not know for sure, but strange, angry men have come with lust for destruction; they are setting fire to the trees and attempting to kill any elf they see. We believe you are also in grave danger, and my brother has already gone to find your children. We are to meet them as soon as possible," he explained.
Eowyn was pulling out their traveling cloaks before Faramir's mind had a chance to register what had been said. "Faramir, now!" she shouted. "We must not keep Rúmil waiting!"
That was the name. Rúmil and his brother Orophin had come to Ithilien with several other elves from Lothlorien, hoping to ease the pain that came from the death of their eldest brother, Haldir. They had not sailed because they felt no wish to leave the place their brother had given his life to save, and together they were making peace with the world of men. Now it seemed that would never be. Shaking his head clear, Faramir pulled on a tunic and buckled his sword-belt around his waist. He threw the dark cloak Eowyn offered over his body, squeezed his wife's hand, and followed Rúmil into the hall.
They met Orophin a door later, their four-year-old daughter Faelwen tucked safely in his arms and their ten-year-old son Elboron gripping the elf's cloak. Elboron was wearing a fairly non-descript cloak of his own that may have once belonged to one of the hobbits, as Faramir could have sworn he recognized it, and Faelwen was wrapped in a blanket, too small for anything else. Orophin himself had a cloak wrapped around his shoulders, and once he was sure that Faramir recognized him he pulled up the hood. Rúmil did the same, and Faramir was pleased to see that it would be difficult for any who did not know them well to tell that they were from two very different families.
Eowyn took Faelwen from Orophin, and though the child clung to her mother's breast in fear she did not cry. Faramir reached for his son, but Orophin shook his head. "If we get separated, it would be best if you were not caught with your son, my lord. I promise to take good care of him; don't let go of my hand, alright Elboron? No matter what."
With a nod from Faramir, the child squeezed his hand tighter and the little group set off. Rúmil put a finger to his lips when they reached the exit, and carefully made his way down a ladder that led from the brilliantly crafted tree home. He reappeared moments later, gesturing for the others to follow. He took Faelwen from Eowyn and the lady followed her daughter down the ladder. Then went Elboron, Faramir, and finally Orophin. When all of them had gained footing on solid ground, they started off again, carefully following their elvish guides through trees that looked black against a soft orange glow that was coming much to close for them to be comfortable. The smell of burning wood filled the air and smoke made their eyes water. Faramir noticed that Rúmil and Orophin seemed more affected by the destruction than the smoke, and he wondered what the many woodelves who lived here must have been feeling. To them, the forest was alive; they heard the trees sing, and now…now they must hear them scream. "I am sorry for your trees," Faramir whispered to Rúmil, who was close enough to hear.
The elf shook his head, "As am I, but I fear for our cousins more. Orophin and I feel the woods as all elves do, but the woodelves are part of it."
The words made Faramir remember his dear friend and fellow leader of Ithilien. If anyone felt this nightmare, it would be him. "Rúmil, where is Legola-"
"Hush!" Rúmil cut him off sharply. "Say no names, they may be looking for him – or you. When I saw him last he was understandably distraught, but very angry. Nay, not angry. He was…I have never seen him like that, and I do not know the word to call it in your tongue. He ordered my brother and I to escort you to safety, but refuses to leave himself. He is cloaked as all of us are, and I fear more for any who cross his path than for himself. There will be blood, but let us not speak of it. We will keep your family safe, just as our brother did – we will die as well, if we must."
"I will not allow that," hissed Faramir.
"We will protect one another, then. But please, we should keep silent unless words are necessary," said the elf. They walked on in silence, both humans and elves well aware that the fire was spreading around them but saying nothing of it so the children would not become more frightened. They started to hear voices in the darkness, shouts, pleas, encouragement, curses…Eowyn hugged her daughter closer.
Rúmil stopped abruptly, making Faramir bang into him. The elf ignored the steward and looked to his brother, who nodded and pulled Elboron closer to his side. Rúmil pulled an arrow from the quiver in his back and pressed it against his bow, while Orophin drew one long knife. Knowing it would be wise to trust the superior senses of their elven guides, Faramir drew his sword as silently as possible while Eowyn shifted Faelwen to one arm, her free had brushing against the sword in her belt, than switching to draw the dagger hidden against her leg. After a moment of listening, the elves started to move carefully forward again, their weapons still drawn.
Suddenly, Orophin stopped again and pushed Elboron to the ground. "Get down!" he shouted. Faramir moved seconds before an arrow passed through the air that would have been his neck. Rúmil released an arrow into one of the trees; there was an agonized scream and a man fell with a thud, the arrow deep in his chest. Shouts came from all around them now, drawn to the hollers of one of their own men.
"Run!" cried Rúmil. The group shot forward again, their quiet caution worth nothing now. Fear for his family drove Faramir forward and back as he constantly checked to see if they were all present.
"We need to separate!" Orophin called. "Rúmil, take the children through Dol-Eth (Little Hollow); they can fit and so can you, and these horrid men will not be able to follow. My lord, my lady, we must follow a different path, or we would be trapped. Rúmil has always been slighter of figure, and he is quite the contortionist. He well see both your children to safety."
Rúmil slung his bow over his shoulder, took Elboron's hand from Orophin's, and made the boy hold onto the edge of his cloak. "Do not let go, understand?" Elboron nodded. Rúmil turned to Eowyn, opening his arms. "I swear on the light of blessed Elbereth that no harm shall come to either. We will reach Dol-Eth quickly, and from there on we will be safe. I will head for Minas Tirith, and warn the king of what has transpired here."
With silent tears, Eowyn kissed her daughter and handed the child to Rúmil, then she knelt and kissed her son. "Be brave, Elboron. I promise we will meet you again soon, if not along the way than in Minas Tirith. I love you."
"I love you to, mama," the boy replied, trying in vain to hold back his own tears.
Faramir hugged Faelwen and kissed her forehead, whispering his love for her before also kneeling before Elboron. "You'll help Rúmil to protect Faelwen, won't you Elboron?"
"Yes, no one's going to hurt my little sister!" he declared.
Faramir smiled, "That's my boy." He pulled a small dagger from under his cloak and placed the hilt in Elboron's hands. "Take this, it once belonged to your Uncle Boromir before he gave it to me, and before that it was your grandfather's. It is not a toy, Elboron. I had hoped not to give it to you until you were grown, but it seems you must be an adult before your majority. I believe in you, Elboron, and I know you are ready."
"Thank you!" he exclaimed, hugging Faramir's neck.
"You are welcome. Now go, and do whatever Rúmil says, understand?!"
Elboron gripped the edge of the elf's cloak again and held the dagger tightly in his other hand. "Yes. I promise."
With a nod to Orophin, who had apparently been having a silent conversation with him, Rúmil started running again. Orophin smiled grimly at Faramir and Eowyn as they started moving in the opposite direction, "Come now. Perhaps if we can find your horses we will be able to ride free of this madness. They were set free when these…these barbarians burned our stables."
Faramir was not sure how long they were running when Orophin let out a strangled cry and stumbled. Eowyn caught the elf before he could fall and braced him against her body while Faramir looked wildly around them. There was a throwing knife embedded in Orophin's leg, one long enough to pierce through muscle and bone to the other side. Eowyn winced in sympathy merely looking at the wound. Faramir growled low as several men came from the darkness, most armed with torches and swords and one with several more of the knives.
"Well well boys, look here," sneered the one in front, his sword shining with blood. "Another three elvsies ready for the slaughter. You don't belong here anymore, Eldar, this is a man's world!"
All three bit back scathing replies; two because they might reveal their identities, one because he was biting his lip against a groan of pain. But one elven voice broke over the scene. "Then you will pay for your crimes by dying a mortal man's death!" Two arrows flew through the trees, instantly killing the man who had spoken and the one next to him. Faramir held his tongue again; he knew the voice, but he hoped these men did not.
An elf cloaked in deep green landed on his feet between the men and the injured Orophin, bow pointed at the humans. Under the hood Faramir could see piercing blue eyes, so ice cold now that the invaders momentarily faltered. "Faramir look out!" screamed Eowyn, bringing his attention to the knife headed for his head. He ducked, but the knife caught the top of his hood and dragged it from his face.
The men chuckled, and the new elf turned a curious gaze on him, acknowledging his recognition with the slightest of nods. "You are no elf!" shouted the dagger's owner. "It seems we've made quite the catch after all, gents! Lord Faramir, here running with elves. It is only natural he should die with them…"
"NO!" Eowyn cried, placing Orophin on the ground so she could run to her husband's side with a sword raised. "I would kill you myself should any harm come to him!"
"Ah, a double treat! Lady Eowyn, I presume?" said the man with a mock bow. "Where are your lovely children? Or have you rejected your human spawn and adopted that pitiful creature for your child now," he pointed to Orophin, whose hood had fallen back when he fell to reveal obviously pointed ears.
"Leave them be, human," hissed the elf with blue eyes. "If your quarrel is with elves, than why do you hurt your own kind?"
"Because they are not our own kind!" one of the other men spat. "We will take them back to Gwarod, and he will show all those other elf-lovers what should become of them! And as for you and the other elf…kill them!" The humans sprang forward, trying to subdue the humans and slaughter the elves.
The elf stood protectively in front of Orophin, abandoning his arrows for twin knives. Unfortunately he did not see the knife thrower sneak behind him to lean over the wounded one. The man grinned, his awful breath making Orophin grimace in more than pain. "I just wanted this back, so I can put you out of your misery, little elf," he laughed, brutally ripping the dagger from the elf's leg. Orophin screamed and all eyes turned. An arrow lodged itself in the man's back before any but an elf could move, and he collapsed unmoving next to Orophin.
Men tackled the other elf from behind, pulling the bow from him before he could notch anotherarrow or reach for his knives again. The cloak was ripped away, revealing "It's the elven prince!" one of the men shouted. Legolas let out a shrill whistle before the men dragged him to the ground.
Faramir killed the man he had been fighting in his haste to reach Legolas while Eowyn went towards the now heavily-bleeding Orophin. The steward managed to free the elf long enough for Legolas to grab his knives and fight on his own again, a brief nod once again the only acknowledgement.
The sound of hooves thundered along the path ahead of them, and Faramir cursed, believing it to be reinforcements for their enemies. But Legolas whistled again, and Faramir finally recognized the sound. Arod, Legolas' faithful horse, came galloping into the scene wearing nothing but his own white coat. The horse brutally kicked at those near his master, but nuzzled against Orophin on the ground and the lady who was trying to protect him. "Faramir, take Arod and go!" Legolas shouted above the din of battle.
"And leave you here? Never!" the steward replied. "We are in this together, mellon-nin, are we not both Princes of Ithilien? I will fight!"
Legolas grinned, a frightening combination with his furiously flashing eyes. "I understand, Faramir, but they are sure to kill us! Go while you can, you have a family waiting for you, and Ithilien needs at least one lord breathing!"
"You have family too, Legolas, and there is another lord of Ithilien. Eowyn! Eowyn, my love, take Orophin on Arod and get out of here!"
"No!" she shouted back. "I cannot leave you, do not ask it of me!"
"Eowyn, please, I am not trying to send you away because I don't think you're strong enough to fight. I love you too much to lose you, and I know I'm not strong enough to go on without you! Ride, find Rúmil, warn Elessar, and return! If it is within my power, I will live to say that I love you one last time."
Still shaking her head, Eowyn helped Orophin onto Arod's back before swinging on behind him. "I will hold you to that promise, son of Gondor! I love you!"
"And I you, and I will say it again! Now ride!"