Tainted

Disclaimer: Those you recognize belong to Tolkien. I do not own them. Those you do not recognize belong to me.

Summary: Gaining the friendship of a mortal child was not something Thranduil expected on his trip to Imladris with his son. But when secret plots result in grave consequences, the boy may be the king's one hope of survival.

Rating: T

Genre: Drama/Friendship

Characters: Thranduil, Aragorn/Estel, Elrond, Glorfindel, Legolas, Elladan/Elrohir, Erestor, and OCs

Author's Note: My Thranduil muse insisted on another story. Little Estel moved his way into another one (it's his cuteness– it's hard to say no when he looks at you with those wide, gray eyes of his and says, "Pwease?" Lol!). I thought it'd be interesting to put these two characters together and see where it led, and I can honestly say I didn't expect where it took me, lol! Of course, no slash whatsoever between anyone. Also, this is a four part story, so for those of you used to my oneshots, there's a bit more to this one, lol! Much thanks to doreenthatshot for letting me bounce ideas off her and her help in figuring some fine points out, as well as to AnaOfRohan, for without her, this story wouldn't have been created. Granted, it has changed greatly from our ideas at one in the morning, but at least that's where this story got its start, lol! Read, review, but no flames please. Enjoy!

Elvish:

ion-nín– my son
ada– father
tithen pen– little one
hannon le– thank you
mellon-nín– my friend
hír-nín– my lord

Chapter 1

Thranduil sighed as he passed a ringed hand over his face and leaned back in his chair. It had been the fourth long day for him and Elrond, lord of Imladris, as they deliberated over the agreements between them for that season. The king of Mirkwood had been involved with many of them since he had ascended to the throne and before, none of them necessarily pleasant, and though dealing with a friend was a bit more effortless, there were still the inevitable frustrations of reaching an agreement. Elrond himself had stepped outside for some air, and he was inclined to do the same.

Then, the door to the room slowly opened as though with difficulty, and quick, light footsteps began to make their way toward the table after whoever opened it slipped inside. A hint of a smile appeared on Thranduil's face as he watched the small, dark-haired figure struggle to climb up onto the cushioned chair across from him for a moment. He then rose to his feet and walked around the table, reaching a hand out and helping the child so that he was sitting safely on the high seat, and he was met with a broad smile and bright, gray eyes. The king's own smile widened slightly as he met the boy's gaze, still amazed how quickly he had grown on him after he and Legolas had arrived in Rivendell.

"I am eager to meet this mortal child you have grown so fond of, ion-nín. You speak so highly of him."

Legolas smiled when he turned to meet his father's gaze as a few dark-haired Elves approached them to take their horses to the stables. "He is a dear friend, Ada," he said as they began to walk toward the house with their few guards behind them. "I believe you will feel as I do, after a time." The Mirkwood king was not necessarily the most trusting, with valid reason, though he hoped the boy would have the same impact on the older Elf as he had on him when he had first met him.

Thranduil smiled slightly, but before he could respond, a higher voice from the porch before them caught both of their attentions.

"Legowas!"

A small, dark-haired figure was standing at the top of the staircase with the twin sons of Elrond, his gray eyes shining with excitement when he saw the Mirkwood prince. Thranduil glanced at his son, seeing a similar look was on Legolas' face, before he turned back to the child as he started to run down the steps.

Then, in his hurried pace, the boy stumbled when he reached the last couple steps and fell to the ground. Legolas rushed to the small mortal while Elladan and Elrohir quickly made their way down the staircase, but the prince reached him first. He knelt down beside him, setting his hand lightly on his back while the twins stopped on either side of him. "Are you all right, Estel?"

Thranduil took a couple steps forward, watching the dark-haired child with interest. He hadn't moved much after his small tumble, nor had he made a sound. But when Legolas helped him to sit up, the king was surprised to see the smile had not left his face.

"I'm awl right!" Estel answered, causing his foster brothers to chuckle. Legolas smiled in return before he embraced him when the child wrapped his small arms tightly around his neck.

"You will have to be more cautious, Estel," Elladan told him, ruffling the boy's dark hair when he released the prince. "I know you are excited to see Legolas, but we do not want you getting hurt."

Estel turned his gaze to the older twin as Elrohir quickly clasped Legolas' arms when he rose to his feet. "But I didn't get huwt," he replied.

Elladan smiled as he in turn clasped their visitor's arms. "Not this time," he muttered with a pointed glance at the child.

Legolas' smile broadened as he watched his friends, but then he glanced at Thranduil, who still had a curious look in his eye. "I apologize," he said, setting his hand on Estel's shoulder. "Estel, I wish for you to meet my father."

Thranduil stiffened slightly when Estel turned his gray eyes to him, but a small smile appeared on his fair face when Elladan and Elrohir approached him first. "'Tis good to see you, Thranduil."

"Aye," Thranduil agreed, clasping the twins' arms in turn. He then turned his attention back to Estel when Legolas slowly led him forward. The boy appeared to be slightly intimidated by him as he gazed up at his stern features.

"'Tis good to meet you, Thwan... Thwan... Thwan'dil."

Legolas smiled at the five-year-old's attempt to say the proud king's name as his foster brothers had done, exchanging an amused glance with Elladan and Elrohir as the three of them chuckled. Thranduil's eyes narrowed slightly at the child's pronunciation, finding it to be a bit humiliating.

"'Tis good to meet you as well, Estel," he muttered. A mortal child named hope. It was something he had not been expecting.

Estel's smile widened, and though he was unsure why, Thranduil felt a slight smile tug at the corner of his lips as well. Then, the child looked up at him curiously. "Why do you have leaves and bewwies in your hair?" he asked.

"'Tis his crown, Estel," Elladan answered for him. "Do you remember when we told you he has a different one for each season?"

"Oh." Estel kept his gaze on Thranduil, still curious about the crown he wore for the autumn season. It was something he was unaccustomed to, for he had only seen the silver circlets his family wore.

Legolas then turned to his father, his smile waning slightly as he leaned a little closer to him. "What do you think, Ada?" he wondered quietly.

Thranduil met his son's hopeful gaze, sighing as he considered his answer. He had to admit that Estel was not much different than other mortal children he had been acquainted with, and he did not yet see what was so special about this one. But Legolas clearly had, he could easily see the obvious fondness he had for the boy, so he knew there must have been something. Elrond would not have given the child his name without a purpose when he had brought him into his home.

"We shall see, ion-nín."

It was after the second day of deliberations when Thranduil had begun to see what was so different about this particular child.

After dinner, the king had accepted Elrond's invitation to join them in the Hall of Fire to unwind with a couple glasses of wine. Estel had been sitting on the floor with Legolas as they listened to music and songs performed by Lindir before a fantastical tale was told in front of the fireplace that night. But talk of trolls had frightened the young boy, who had run to his foster father seeking comfort. Elrond had pulled him onto his lap until Estel requested to return to his room for the night. The Elf lord had been about to oblige since it was nearly time for him to sleep, but Thranduil, who had finished his second glass of wine, offered to bring him since he was prepared to retire to his room as well. Elrond agreed, assuring him he would put Estel to bed himself, and the king led the child out of the Hall.

"Awe thewe twows in Miwkwood?"

Thranduil glanced down at Estel as the child led him down the dark hallway toward his room. "Nay, tithen pen," he answered, raising his light eyes ahead of him again. "Trolls do not dwell in our forests. Fortunately, that is one affliction we do not suffer."

Estel's gray eyes narrowed with what appeared to be concern. This was not the first time he had heard hints of the dangers of Mirkwood since Legolas often alluded to them. "What is thewe?" he wondered.

The king sighed as they stopped outside of the door of the child's room. Talk of the continuing Shadow was something he did not deem appropriate for one so young. "I do not believe you would like to hear about them so soon before sleep, Estel," he muttered.

But Estel was not dissuaded as he reached forward and took one of Thranduil's ringed hands in both of his smaller ones. "But I wanna know, Thwan'dil!" he said. "I can handwe it. I pwomise."

Thranduil was startled by the boy's abruptness, his initial instinct to draw his hand away. But before he could, he glanced up when sudden movement caught his eye, seeing Erestor, Elrond's chief advisor, had appeared at the end of the hall. The dark-haired Elf began to approach them, but Thranduil raised his other hand to stop him, signifying he had control. Erestor obliged with a quick nod, and the king turned back to the child in front of him, who did not notice the strict, slender advisor.

"You say you can handle it?" When Estel nodded earnestly, Thranduil smiled slightly. "Orcs have made themselves comfortable in the forests around our home," he told him calmly, watching as the boy's gaze flickered slightly. "And spiders have woven their nests in our trees."

Estel looked up at him with confusion. "Spidews?" he repeated.

Thranduil nodded in confirmation. "They are not the spiders you have here, tithen pen," he muttered. "They are much larger."

The child's face paled as Thranduil gently pulled his hand from Estel's tight grasp. "'Tis time for sleep now."

Estel appeared to rid himself of the fear of the larger spiders rather quickly, for he was now gazing at the king's hands with interest. "Do you have a Ring like Ada?" he asked, moving his gaze up to Thranduil's. "He weaws it sometimes. He says it hewps keep us safe."

Thranduil's gaze faltered slightly, but he forced another small smile. "Nay, Estel," he answered quietly. "The only purpose my rings serve is decoration."

"They awe not like Ada's?" Estel pressed, his gray eyes wide. When Thranduil shook his head, the child turned his attention to the king's hands again. "They shouwd be."

"Why is that, Estel?" Thranduil wondered curiously.

Estel met his gaze, a broad grin on his face. "You would be so stwong!"

Thranduil could not stop the quiet chuckle that escaped from him. "Thus far, I have been able to keep the darkness away from my home and my people," he said. "That is all that matters to me."

If possible, Estel's gray eyes grew a little wider. "You fight them by youwsewf?"

"Not alone," Thranduil corrected. "I have some of the finest archers and patrols who fight by my side."

Estel thought this over for a moment before recognition entered his gaze. "Like Legowas!"

Thranduil smiled as he nodded. "My son is one of my finest captains and archers," he confirmed.

"He's the best!" Estel's smile was proud as he thought of his friend. "He's gonna teach me!"

"Is he now?" Thranduil chuckled again when Estel nodded with excitement. "Mayhap when you are older. Now, it is time for sleep."

Estel turned and pushed open the door behind him, disappearing inside his room. Thranduil turned his gaze to where Erestor was still watching from the end of the hall, seeing his stern features contained a slight smile, before he stepped in the doorway of the room to see how the child was doing. Estel had already changed into his light shirt for sleeping, his tunic from that day lying in the middle of the floor, and was finishing rinsing his face in the wash basin sitting on the desk in front of the window. The boy then climbed into bed and covered himself up as Thranduil entered the room, watching as the king leaned over to pick up the discarded tunic from the floor.

"Can you stay 'til Ada comes, Thwan'dil?" Estel wondered, knowing his foster father would come soon to put him to bed.

Thranduil paused before he straightened up again, noticing the slightly nervous glint that still remained in the child's gray eyes. The story must have still been on his mind. "If it is the trolls that concern you, Estel, I guarantee you have nothing to fret over," he said, folding the tunic neatly and setting it carefully over the chair of the desk under the window. "They will not draw near here."

"Not the twows, Thwan'dil," Estel replied, his eyes slightly wide once more. "The spidews!"

Thranduil's smile broadened slightly, still uncertain of what had exactly drawn him to this child after that night. Estel. Hope. Perhaps his name suited him well after all. Though what he did know was he was anticipating when the boy grew older and was able to pronounce his name correctly.

"Thank you, Thwan'dil!" Estel said, his smile lingering as he made himself comfortable on the chair. But when Thranduil raised an eyebrow, he cleared his throat. "... Er... Hannon le!"

The Mirkwood king chuckled quietly. He understood the Common Tongue well enough, but over the few days he and Legolas had spent in Imladris, he noticed Elrond was always encouraging Estel to use the Sindarin he was learning so he would grow more comfortable with the language. "You are welcome, Estel."

Estel turned back to the table in front of him, his gray eyes quickly scanning over the sheets of paperwork that were spread out before both chairs. "Are you and Ada almost done?" he asked.

"Nay, tithen pen," Thranduil answered with a quiet sigh as he leaned on the back of the chair Estel had pilfered. "We will not be done tonight. Mayhap on the morrow."

"Oh." Estel glanced up at the king. "Awe you taking a bweak?"

"I was about to step out for some air," Thranduil confirmed.

Estel's face brightened up. "Can I come?" When Thranduil nodded once, the child smiled as he leapt off the chair and made his way toward the door. The king began to follow him, but he stopped when the door suddenly opened, nearly hitting the boy. Thranduil reached out and pulled him back a little, glancing up and seeing one of the house's cooks had entered with a glass of water in his hand.

"I apologize," the fair-haired Elf muttered, noticing Estel's startled expression. "I thought you would desire a refreshment after your deliberations, King Thranduil. If I had known Estel was here also, I would have brought another."

"I'm not thiwsty," Estel assured him with a small smile.

The cook returned it before he handed the glass to Thranduil. The king took it and gave him a grateful smile, though his eyes narrowed slightly as he gazed at the Elf. He appeared slightly familiar, though he could not place from where. Though he also noticed he almost appeared to be slightly agitated as his hands shook ever so slightly. "Hannon le."

"'Tis my pleasure," the cook replied, returning the smile. "I do not wish for our guest to be uncomfortable during his stay."

Thranduil took a long sip of the water, glancing at the glass curiously for a moment before he turned his gaze back to the fair-haired Elf. "I appreciate this," he said, nodding to the water before taking another smaller sip. "It was needed after negotiations."

"I believed as much." The cook then nodded respectfully as he backed out of the room, and Estel watched as he was joined by a dark-haired Elf he recognized to be in Rivendell's patrol before the door closed.

The Woodland king took his time finishing the last of the water in the glass, setting it on the table in front of his chair before he turned his attention back to the child. "Are you ready, tithen pen?" he asked.

Estel turned to look at Thranduil, a broad grin on his face. The monarch chuckled, pulling the door open and allowing the boy to step out first before he followed, shutting the door again behind them.


Elrond set the glass of water he had been given by Aeglironion, one of the head cooks in his house, aside on his desk without taking a sip. He appreciated the refreshment, but he was not yet ready to have it as he turned his attention back to the sheet of paperwork in front of him. He and Thranduil had mutually decided to leave the remainder of the agreements until the following day after they both took some rest. The deliberations were long, and after some time spent outdoors watching his twin sons train with Legolas, he was forced to turn his attention to matters that needed to be seen to in his own realm.

Then, he glanced up when he heard familiar laughter filtering through the open window behind him, and Elrond curiously turned in time to see Estel following Thranduil through the gardens below him as they made their way in the direction of the stables. A smile graced his fair features as he turned back to the paperwork on the desk before him, picking up his quill as he began filling out the financial report. He had been uncertain if the king of Mirkwood would be receptive to his foster son, but it appeared Estel had somehow managed to grow closer to Thranduil than either of them had anticipated.

The lord of Imladris rose to his feet when the ink he was using ran out, crossing the room to the closet. He pulled the door open and stepped inside, reaching up to one of the higher shelves and grasping a fresh container. Elrond stepped back into the room and shut the door behind him when he suddenly paused, the ink dropping from his hand and shattering to pieces on the floor as he closed his eyes tightly when flickers assaulted his mind.

A horse. The sun setting. The forest outside Imladris. A child crying...

"Elrond... Elrond!"

The Elf lord gasped quietly as his eyes snapped open, seeing he was now sitting on the floor leaning back against the closet door. Attempting to slow his rapid breathing, Elrond turned his gaze to his left where the voice had come from, recognizing the golden-haired Elf instantly.

"Glorfindel?"

The twice-born Balrog Slayer gave him a small smile. "Come, Elrond," he said gently, taking his arm and pulling the other Elf lord to his feet. Elrond did not protest as Glorfindel brought him around the broken glass and ink pooling on the floor over to his desk and carefully sat him down in his chair before sitting beside him on the wooden surface. "I was passing by when I heard the glass shatter. What happened? Is something wrong?"

Elrond considered his answers to the golden-haired warrior's questions for a long moment as his breathing slowed closer to its normal rate. With his gift of foresight, he was accustomed to being able to see hints of events before they occurred. However, though what he had seen had been vague, he could not rid himself of the feeling of dread that had settled upon his heart.

"What did you see?" Glorfindel's eyes had narrowed with concern as he gazed into Elrond's paler face, seeming to understand what had happened. When he still got no response, he sighed and glanced at the desk, reaching for the glass of water that had been left there.

Then, Elrond suddenly hissed and put his hand to his head, his eyes shutting tightly when more images entered his mind.

The sliver of a moon. Golden leaves taken by the wind. Estel lying curled beside a dark figure...

Elrond forced his eyes to open, the action driving away the haunting images. The dread in his heart had only increased, and he knew then that something was wrong. His foster son was in danger.

Glorfindel's hand had paused at the other Elf lord's gasp, but once he saw his friend had regained himself, he continued reaching for the water. As soon as his fingertips touched the cool glass, he was once again stopped by Elrond's hand wrapping around his wrist.

"I am not in need of it," the lord of Imladris murmured when the golden-haired warrior's confused eyes found his, slowly releasing his wrist as he leaned back in the chair. He was silent for another long moment before he rose to his feet and walked to the window, his intense gray gaze scanning the gardens beneath him. Both Thranduil and Estel were not to be found.

Elrond then glanced behind him when a gentle hand landed on his shoulder, raising his eyes up to Glorfindel's concerned ones. "What did you see, mellon-nín?" the Balrog Slayer asked quietly.

Sighing, Elrond turned back to the window, his gaze resting on the sun as it continued to set on the horizon. The feeling of dread remained as strong as ever.

Ion-nín...


"Can I come, too, Thwan'dil? I haven't been out today."

Thranduil glanced down at Estel as he finished preparing his horse. There was some daylight left, and he desired to get a little riding in before he rested for another day of deliberating. He had been anticipating some time in solitude, though he could not deny the pleading look in the child's wide, gray eyes. Sighing, the king took Estel and carefully lifted him up so he was sitting in front of the saddle before he climbed up behind him and took the reins. The boy smiled with excitement.

"I haven't been on a howse ride for a long time!" he told the Elf. "Not since Ada took me last."

"'Tis only going to be a short ride, tithen pen," Thranduil said as he began to guide the white horse forward. "We will have to return before sundown."

"Awl right!" Estel did not appear to mind the length of time they would be out in the forest, merely excited that he had the chance to be out with his newfound friend.

Thranduil smiled slightly despite himself as they left the stables, but then he slowed his horse to a stop when a couple more approached him from their right. Estel looked at the fair-haired Mirkwood guards as they stopped nearby with a wary gaze.

"We will accompany you, hír-nín," Tidurian, the head of his patrol, said. He may have been younger than many of the guards in his service, but Thranduil considered his refined skills with his weapons and closeness to his family to be of higher priority.

Estel turned to look up at the king. "Why do they have to come?" he asked.

Thranduil sighed, knowing it was regulation he had a couple guards accompany him wherever he went. However, that did not mean he thought it to be necessary now. "They need to ensure you are safe, Estel," he answered.

"But you can pwotect me," Estel replied, glancing down at the sword on Thranduil's hip. "And Ada's Ring keeps this pwace safe."

The Mirkwood monarch saw the determination in the child's eyes when they found his again, but before he could bring himself to argue with him, Thranduil looked up when more footsteps approached. Estel followed his gaze, watching as the guard he had seen with the cook earlier drew near them.

"I have set up our patrol in the forest," the dark-haired Elf announced, stopping beside the king's white horse. "If you desire a ride before sundown, you will be all right." He turned to the fair-haired Mirkwood guards, bowing slightly with respect. "Amonost, guard of Imladris." Tidurian dipped his head in response, though his light eyes never left the other guard.

Thranduil also turned to his own guards who still lingered near. "We will not go far," he assured them.

The patrol appeared hesitant to allow their king leave without them, but when they received a reassuring nod from the Rivendell guard, they relented. "All right, hír-nín," Tidurian muttered. "Though we shall remain close to the gate until you return."

"Hannon le." Thranduil nodded to him once as well before he urged his horse forward. Sometimes, he felt the need for solitude without his guards, and though Estel rode with him, it would not be as unpleasant as their hovering.

Amonost watched as Thranduil and Estel disappeared into the trees, the guards from Mirkwood lingering near the border as they had promised. Tidurian, who still appeared to be somewhat suspicious of him, continued to look in his direction before returning his attention back to the rest of his patrol. Amonost then turned his back on them, a slight smirk appearing on his fair face as he walked back toward the house of Elrond.

Author's Note: And that's the end of chapter one. More of a setup chapter, so the excitement will pick up soon. Thanks for reading! Your reviews are much appreciated, just no flames please. Thanks!