Disclaimer: Unless someone should suddenly call me offering me the rights to Middle-earth and everything in it… ;-)
Author's Note: This is sort of a sequel to An Elf-Lord in Peril, and so this story also owes thanks to Silivren Tinu for starting me on that line of thought. Le hannon, mellon nîn!
I've tried to keep the tone light, but it refuses to stay that way entirely. Still, there is nothing too angsty in this. The story will be in three chapters.
Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Calenlass, for comments, suggestions, and a great deal of patience. *g*
Summary: The War is won, Sauron has been defeated, and Legolas is finally returning home in the company of his friends. They have a furious Elven-king to face. Characters: Thranduil, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Elladan and Elrohir.
And now… Onward to the first Hunter!
Part I: Wayward Son
The small party that rode through the forest consisted of three Elves, a Man, and a Dwarf. In the lead was a young Elf with golden hair that shone brightly in the afternoon sun. He was several yards ahead of the others, despite the frequent detours he took to examine things that caught his attention.
"It's a good thing I'm riding with you, laddie," the Dwarf grunted to the Man behind whom he was sitting. "The Elf would have driven me mad with his talk of trees and birds and – where is he going now?"
"He probably saw a beech in need of cheering up," one of the other two Elves said, rolling his eyes. "We knew he would be excited, of course, Master Dwarf, but to be honest none of us was expecting him to be this infuriating… This was not why we advised you against riding with him today."
The Dwarf looked appalled.
"Do you mean there is more Elven lunacy to come?" The Elf only chuckled. "Aragorn? Should I be turning around and going straight back home?"
The King of Gondor laughed aloud.
"You have no cause for worry, my friend… Well, at least not until the King meets you. If he decides that your friendship is likely to harm Legolas in some way then you do have cause for worry, but there will be nothing you can do about it. And there is no point running," he added, as the Dwarf seemed about to leap from the horse. "Thranduil knows we are here by now. I imagine we will meet a patrol before long."
"And that is when you do not want to be sitting on Legolas' horse," the Elf supplied. "His friends must be… worried. Incidentally, Estel, remember that persuading Legolas to move to Ithilien was your idea."
"Ro!" Aragorn protested, reining in and turning his horse so suddenly that Gimli was nearly unseated. "You would not do that to me!"
"That depends on whether or not Thranduil starts thinking that it was my idea. If he does… Well, I will be very sorry about it, of course, penneth, but sacrifices must be made. Besides, Elves believe in the principles of truth and justice at all times. You wanted Legolas closer to Minas Tirith. You pay the price."
The Elf who entered the Council chamber wore a smile so broad that Thranduil knew what tidings he brought even before he spoke.
"How long until he is here?"
"He should reach the stronghold well before dusk, my king," the young warrior said. "Estel and the sons of Elrond are with him, and also a… Dwarf."
"Ah, yes, the Dwarf," Thranduil responded. "I was told about the Dwarf."
The smile on the Elven-king's face would have been terrifying had everyone not known where his fury was going to be directed. As it was, the Councillors barely waited for him to dismiss them before they scattered to make hasty visits to their homes or the palace kitchen. In less than fifteen minutes, most had returned to the palace to take their places at windows overlooking the courtyard to watch from a safe distance when Thranduil greeted the arrivals.
Legolas saw the flash of movement a moment before he was knocked from his horse by an Elven form thudding into him. He landed hard on the grass, pausing to catch his breath before shoving his assailant off him.
"A fine welcome that is!"
"You will think it is a wonderful welcome when you see the one your father has in store for you," the other Elf said, getting up and hauling Legolas to his feet as well. "The last I heard, the Councillors were squabbling over the window seats in the small audience chambers. Thorontur even called a halt to today's archery practice so that he would not be late."
"Is he going to kill me? Actually, no, I think I know the answer to that. Will he at least grant me a quick death?"
"Stop being absurd," Saeldur grunted. "When do you ever suffer as you should for your crimes? There is not an Elf in Middle-earth who does not know that you would have been far less unbearable if your father had locked you in the dungeon occasionally." He ducked Legolas' swat and went on, "So where is the Dwarf?"
Legolas pointed at the three horses approaching at a cautious pace.
An elleth appeared at Legolas' elbow with no noise other than the faintest of thumps as her feet hit the ground.
"Can we kidnap the bearded one?"
"Aeroniel," Legolas protested, although his mouth twitched slightly with amusement. "He is a guest."
"We will not hold him for long, Elfling. I only want to see how he reacts."
"No," Legolas said firmly.
"Just think about it for a moment, Legolas. We can abstract him now – it will be no trouble to overpower Estel, and the Elrondionnath are probably too busy worrying about what your father might do to them to offer much resistance – and smuggle him into the stronghold. That way he can avoid meeting the King. He will thank us for it later."
"Ada will not do anything to him."
The Elves on either side of Legolas looked at him incredulously.
"Are we speaking about the same Elf, Legolas? The King of Eryn Lasgalen? Your father?" Aeroniel shook her head. "But come, Saeldur, we are negligent in our duties. We must welcome our visitors."
Aeroniel and Saeldur each seized one of Legolas' arms and stepped into the path, holding him firmly between them as though afraid he would try to escape. The three riders neared them, Aragorn and his foster-brothers looking distinctly amused, the Dwarf torn between exasperation and fear.
"Daro!" Saeldur called loudly. "By what right do you venture here?"
"We are guests of your prince," Aragorn replied, grinning.
"The prince who is shortly going to be put in a guarded cell in the dungeons, there to spend the balance of his immortal life? Do you truly want to be his guests?"
"You can be my guests," Aeroniel offered. "At least, you can be my guest, Estel, and I will make up my mind about the Dwarf once we know how the King feels about him. You two," she went on, indicating Elladan and Elrohir, "are on your own. I do not know you and I do not want to know you."
"Is it that bad?"
"Worse," Saeldur confirmed. "I do not know what possessed you to promise the King that you would keep the Elfling out of trouble. Have we ever succeeded in doing such a thing, that you should manage it now?"
"Your doing, Dan," Elrohir insisted. "Your doing and Estel's. I have never claimed to have any influence on the Elfling."
"Do you think that will save you, muindor, if Thranduil decides you are to blame?"
"Changing the subject completely," Aeroniel said, "how come you to be here, Estel? And why?"
"Not that we are not pleased to see you," Saeldur put in quickly. "We are only puzzled that when you could so easily have claimed that you were too busy with affairs of your kingdom, you voluntarily came here to face the king's anger. Do you want Gondor to be kingless again so soon?"
"My brothers and my gwador have stood by me even at the very gates of Mordor. How could I possibly have abandoned them in the hour of their gravest peril?" He tried and failed to look solemn, shrugged, and laughed. "More to the point, who knows when next I will have the opportunity to see Elladan and Elrohir quivering like Elflings afraid of a thunderstorm?"
"I do not understand," Gimli protested. "Thranduil cannot be that bad… He threw my father into his dungeons, aye, but you are his kinsmen – surely even Elves stop short of imprisoning their own kin."
"Your father, Master Gimli, was suspected, at the very worst, of having designs on Thranduil's treasure. The four of us, on the other hand, might find ourselves accused of harming Thranduil's son. You will have heard tales of the Elven-king, most of them untrue, but this much I can tell you: he does eventually forgive those who try to steal his gold."
"If I might make a suggestion," Saeldur offered, "Aeroniel and I can take this delinquent –" He gave Legolas a light shake, "straight to the King. Give us an hour before you follow. If he works off the worst of his temper on the Elfling, you will get off lightly."
Legolas turned startled eyes on his friend, but Aragorn, Elladan and Elrohir made haste to accept Saeldur's proposal. Had they heard Legolas' whispered question as he was led away in the direction of the Elven stronghold, or seen the wicked grin on Saeldur's face as he answered it, they might have changed their minds about waiting.
Thranduil was standing the courtyard, arms crossed over his chest, blue eyes snapping with anger. Legolas, after one look at his father's face, would have darted off into the trees had it not been for Aeroniel and Saeldur's unyielding grip on his arms.
"No, you don't," Aeroniel hissed. "You have had your adventure, and you will have to face him sooner or later."
They marched him through the gates, not releasing him until they were a few feet from the Elven-king. At that point Legolas did not believe he could have made a run for it if he had tried; his father's gaze held him in place even more firmly than his friends' restraining hands.
"M-my king," he stammered. "Mae govannen."
"Mae govannen," Thranduil said coolly. "Where are your companions? I was told that you were accompanied by two Elves, a Man and a Dwarf."
"They lagged behind, my king," Aeroniel said. "They will be here soon."
"Good. Until they come, then, Legolas, perhaps you can attempt to explain to me what exactly you were thinking all this time."
"Thinking, my king?" Legolas squeaked.
"Yes, Legolas, thinking. If, that is, you thought at all. You promised me you would be careful!" Neither Legolas nor Thranduil noticed Aeroniel and Saeldur sidling away. "Careful! And yet you consented to travel through Moria! Have you not heard enough tales of the evil beneath the mountains?"
"We could not cross Caradhras –"
"Caradhras? What is this about Caradhras?"
"Ah, you did not hear – nothing, Ada. We... we decided that it would be unwise to even attempt to cross the Redhorn Pass and so, without going anywhere near Caradhras, we –"
"Legolas, you know perfectly well that you have never been able to lie to me successfully."
"We climbed a part – a very small part – of the way up Caradhras. As soon as it became clear that we would not be able to cross the pass we –"
Looking appalled, Thranduil waved a hand for silence.
"You tried to cross Caradhras and the mines of Moria? Were you out of your mind? Legolas, how many times have you crossed the Hithaeglir? Surely you know the mountains well enough by now to cross them safely! Caradhras!"
"Mithrandir felt it would be wisest –"
"Do not even speak to me of Mithrandir," Thranduil growled. "I do not know when next I will see him, but I will have a thing or two to say to him then. Besides, have I not brought you up with more sense than to fall in with Mithrandir's mad ideas?"
"We would have been fine if it had not been for the Balrog –"
"That is like saying you could have been considered a responsible adult Elf if it had not been for your foolish stupidity!"
"But Ada –"
"And what do you mean by presenting yourself to me looking like a liege-man of Galadriel?"
With a start Legolas remembered that he was still wearing the Lothlórien cloak and brooch. He reached up hastily to undo the pin.
"I am sorry. I had forgotten about it. I will change my cloak." He backed away, glancing in the direction of the steps. "I will do it now. In fact, I believe I would like a bath. You are right, I am hardly fit to present myself to my king like this. If you will give me some time –"
"Stay right where you are," Thranduil said, in a voice that made Legolas stop short. "I am not finished with you yet."
"Yes, my king," Legolas mumbled unhappily.
Thranduil hesitated. He was still angry; truth be told, he was furious. But he was finding it very difficult to direct any of his anger at his son, especially when they were meeting after such a long time and so much had happened.
He held out his hands.
"Welcome home, Legolas."
With a soft laugh, and for once not caring that half the Elves in the stronghold were probably watching from windows and vantage points around the courtyard, Legolas threw himself into his father's arms. For a moment Thranduil was content to hold his son, but then came thoughts that made his eyes glitter dangerously.
"You do have some time before your friends arrive, Legolas... So, about that bath. I think it is a good idea." Thranduil paused. "I think it is a very good idea."
Legolas drew back to meet his father's gaze. The sparkle in his blue eyes said that he knew what Thranduil was thinking; the smile that curved his lips said that he approved.
"I will even wear my circlet," he offered.
Penneth – Young one
Elleth – Female Elf
Ada – Dad/Daddy
Daro! – Stop!
Muindor – Brother
Gwador – Sworn brother
Mae govannen. – Well met
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