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The Heir Apparent  by Mirkwoodmaiden

Chapter 15 is here!  A bit of violence in this chapter.  Hope nobody minds.

MM

Chapter 15—Hannon le

2946  TA

Mirkwood soldiers had been riding since early morning and were stopped briefly, to allow the horses drinking time from the stream leading out of the mountains.  Thranduil sat his horse wearied to the bone, yet he needed to continue.  He could not stop; the image of Legolas’ face contorted with pain was waiting if he dared close his eyes, as if imprinted on the inside of his eyelids.  That and the never faded memory of the fate that had befallen his beloved Lasgalen, waiting in the Halls of Mandos these last two thousand years is what drove him forward.  He shut his eyes to stop the memory of his wife’s death, but the faithful image of Legolas in torment greeted him as he did.  It would seem that he could not stop the memory.  It would visit him again.

~*~*~*~*~

Circa 1100 TA

“Do not go this month, Melldanya!  There is an ill-favour in the air and I would ask that you postpone your journey.” Thranduil was referring to the trip to Imladris to visit with her cousin, Celebrian that Lasgalen would depart for on the morrow.  “I can have my messenger send to Elrond that you will come next month.” 

“You just do not want me visiting with the Lord and Lady.  That is why you speak of ill-tidings, my love.  I know you far too well.” Lasgalen smiled as she looked over at her stern husband and then walked over to put her arms around him.

He looked down at his petite wife.  Golden haired and smiling, he often wondered why this little ray of sunshine had decided to marry him with his foul moods and his slightly jaundiced view of the world.  He had over the centuries asked that very question, and she always gave the same answer, “Because I knew I would never marry anyone else.”  And that he was perfect for her.  To this day he did not understand, but he had learned to not question the bounty given to him by the Valar.   He knew that Celeborn and Galadriel would be in Imladris and it did not please him, but it was more than the guest list that worried him.  “It is no secret that I dislike the Lady.  But Las’ it is more than that.  Orcs have been spotted more and more since the strange habitation of Dol Guldur.”  He looked into her laughing eyes.  “You cannot go!  I will not allow it.”  He watched the laughter in her eyes turned to anger.

“You cannot stop me, I will go!  Celebrian’s letter said to come immediately and that is an end to it.  I will go now and say good night to Legolas and then I will go to bed, my lord.”  With that she disentangled herself from Thranduil’s arms and in a flutter of pale green silk she was gone.

Thranduil cursed and ran after his lovely yet stubborn wife.  She only called him “My Lord” when she was very angry.  He knew that to forbid her to go was the surest way to invoke her ire, but his worry overrode all else.  He saw her enter their youngest son’s bedchamber and was about to open the door when the beautiful sight within caught his eye, the golden hair of mother and son softly blending together.  He listened to their whispered conversation.

“Why do you have to go, Nana!”

Thranduil listened intently, “Because I must, mellion.  The sea calls to my cousin.  She can resist no longer and I wish to see her before she leaves these shores.”

“Why does the sea call her, Nana?”

“Because she is not well, mellion.  The sea beckons and it is her hope that by returning across it she can be whole again.”

“Was it the Orcs?  Did they do this to her?”

Lasgalen looked at her young son.  “How did you know about that?”

“I heard people talking.”

Lasgalen paused, regretting that her youngest should have heard the truth in such a haphazard fashion.  Mistakely perhaps, they had purposefully not told him, because what happened to Celebrian was not something that children should know.  She looked at her youngest and realized that soon he would start the training to become a warrior.   He was no longer a child, no matter how much she wished to think he was.  “Yes, my love, it is because of what the Orcs did to her.”

“I hate them.”

“Shh-shh.  So do I, my love.  For they are driving away a very dear friend to me.  But now is not the time to dwell on such matters.  Now is the time for sleep.” Thranduil watched as Lasgalen smoothed her son’s brow and wove a kind of contented sleep upon him, softly singing a melody from their childhood long ago.  In a soft voice she said, “Thranduil, you can come in now.  Legolas is asleep.”

Startled Thranduil hrumphed and quietly opened the door, entering.  “How did you know I was there?” 

“I heard.” She turned slightly aggrieved eyes upon her husband.  “How much did you hear?”

“Enough.  Why did you not tell me that the sea-longing had come upon Celebrian?” inquired Thranduil, somewhat aggrieved himself that Lasgalen did not trust him enough to share.

“Do not vent your ire upon me.  I did not say because I knew it would only upset you.”  Thranduil started to protest.  “I see your face every time the sea-longing falls upon one of our own people.  I would spare you that.”

Thranduil still continued to look somewhat aggrieved, but now realized that no amount of argument would stop his wife from making the appointed journey.  His countenance softened as he reluctantly gave in, “Be safe. My heart.”

“I will, I do not travel unprotected, my love.  And the reports of Orc attack are not so much taking the northern route.  I will be fine.”

~*~*~*~*~

2946 TA

She had not been fine.  A fresh sear of pain slashed through Thranduil as he shook himself from his reverie.  He thought of the messenger who brought the tidings and his beloved’s body being presented to him wrapped in her dark green traveling cloak.  He still did not remember much of the weeks after her death.  Dark times they had been, he was not very sure how he had survived to live on, but he had.  He looked around and realized that they stood at the foot of the very same mountain pass that had seen Orcs take and torture his beloved Lasgalen.  Only now it was their youngest who was missing and in danger.

“Adar?  Adar?”  Thranduil turned eyes of blazing intensity upon his oldest child. 

“Yes!”  He snapped.

Celebren bowed his head in apology, “I am sorry, Adar.  If I have disturbed you.” 

Thranduil shook his head in his own apology, “It is I who should apologise, ion nin.”  He rallied to answer in a more forceful voice, “In fact I should thank you for disturbing me for I was dwelling on memories that should not be dwelt upon.”

Celebren gave him a knowing look, but wisely said nothing.  Calming his father’s demons was never easy, now least of all and it was best not question further.  He changed the subject, “Do we proceed through the pass now or do we wait for light of day?”

Thranduil paused before answering.  He wanted nothing more than to tear down the mountains stone by stone and tree by tree to find his youngest, yet he knew how treacherous the pass was after dark.  After a protracted inner struggle Thranduil pronounced, “We shall wait for first light.  Make camp.”

“As you will, Adar!”  Celebren bowed his head and turned his horse to announce to the collected warriors that they were to dismount and set up camp and as a result did not hear his father mutter, “And may the Valar have mercy upon my soul if we are too late.”

Morning came and Thranduil’s company entered the mountain pass.  His intent was clear.  He would not stop until his youngest son was found.  They saw an Orc scrambling toward a cave in the mountainside.  Thranduil looked to his son again his eyes blazing with intensity, “It is time we sent a calling card, do you not think?  Pin him to the nearest tree.  Do not kill him.  We need him alive…for now.  If you wing him a little.  Oh well.”  Thranduil finished with a slightly wild look in his eyes.

Celebren nodded.  He deftly knocked an arrow to his bowstring, stilled his breathing and let fly the arrow.  It pinned the Orc to a scrubby little tree near the entrance.  Thranduil whispered coolly, “Well shot, ion nin!  Well shot!” as he dismounted.  Celebren motioned for four archers to dismount and provide cover for the King and another two to bind the Orc’s hands and feet.  Thranduil walked purposefully and carefully toward the pinned Orc.  He stood imperiously over the immobilized Orc, gazing down over him contemptuously for a full minute before speaking, the four archers set for cover waiting with arrows knocked and ready to fire upon their King’s word. 

After the Orc had been none too gently bound, he looked at the Elven King and spat upon the ground where the King’s foot rested inches from his head.  One of the archers drew and made ready to shoot him for the insult, only to be stayed by his King’s hand.  “Hold! I need this filth alive…for now,” he again added, maliciously.  

“You hold my son.”  Thranduil began in a cold, quiet voice that chilled the blood of the four archers.  They knew what rage was being suppressed within their King at this very moment.

“I do not know what you speak of,” spat out the Orc.

Thranduil’s hand whipped across the Orc’s distorted and grotesque face, “Be silent!” he hissed. “I care naught for your lies!  You will carry a message back to your lair.  You will bring my son to me within the hour or you will all die!”  Thranduil bent a little closer ignoring the repulsive stench emanating from the foul creature.  “Even if we have to tear apart the mountain stone by stone, we will retrieve my son,” he said in that quiet, cold voice.  “If you do not have him, I suggest you find him.  My forces will not stop until you are all dead.”  He stepped aside so that the Orc could see the array of Elven warriors ready to mete out swift justice.  The Orc’s face lost some of its arrogant smugness and turned his eyes back on the Elven King. “Do we understand each other?”  Without waiting for an answer he looked at the two Elves had been detailed to bind the Orc. “Release him and let him crawl back to his filth and deliver our message.”

His legs unbound, the Orc let out a bellow of impotent rage, and ran into the dank cave.  Thranduil stood staring into the darkness of the cave for a few moments to bring his rage back into check before turning back to his warriors. 

“Now we prepare for a sneak attack,” he said to Celebren after stomping back down to his son and the rest of his company.   “We have angered them and when they come out to fight we will kill them all.  Nobody holds my son.” He finished with a finality of steel and anger.

~*~*~*~*~

Estel awoke.  At least he thought he was awake.  Pitch-black darkness can easily fool the senses, but as he could hear the even breathing and warmth of Legolas’ body next to him he was fairly certain that he was no longer sleeping.   He whispered, “Legolas, are you awake?”

“Yes,” came the whisper back.

Comforted more by the sound of Legolas’ voice than he cared to admit, he ventured, “Do you heard that? It sounds like lots of movement, like scurrying.”

“I hear it.  What do you suppose is going on?”

Estel shook his head and then remembered that Legolas could not see such a gesture and added, “I do not know.  But I do know that I do not wish to spend any more time than is necessary in this dark hole.”

Legolas’ voice shared his weariness as he said, “I completely agree.  This is a darkness that would steal the heart.  Shall we venture forward?  Do you think you can walk?”

“There’s one way to find out,” Estel said as he slowly began to move his limbs and flex his hands and feet in an effort to get the blood flowing faster again.”  The pin and needles assailed all parts as he realized just how still he had been, afraid to move lest he should attracted attention. 

“I’m going to move toward the opening now,” came Legolas’ whisper.  “Keep close as you can.”

“I’m right behind you,” Estel confirmed.

Slowly, feeling came back into his legs as Estel tentatively walked forward, taking each step on faith that there would indeed be firm ground beneath his feet.   He anchored his hopes onto Legolas’ slight footfalls, listening intently for each one, trusting it would lead him back into the light or at least the dimness of the passage ways of the cave.  Suddenly they were no more.  Panic flared in Estel’s heart.  “Legolas!” he whispered as loudly as he dared. Nothing.  He realized that his eyes were still closed, before in the pitch black it had not mattered and it was more comfortable to keep them closed but he opened them now out of necessity.  He saw dimness and lightly walked towards it.  He froze as he heard voices.  From the few words of Orcish that he knew, he could tell that there were two of them and from the faint sounds of struggling he knew Legolas had been captured.  He had to think fast.  He could not allow Legolas to be taken away.  He hugged the wall and listened for as much information as he could about the location of everyone in the passage and thought back to what Glorfindel had taught him about being outnumbered.  Thankfully there were only two he thought as he unsheathed his knives, readying to one to throw.  More he did not think he could handle.  And surprise was on his side, nominally.  He would have to incapacitate one of them very quickly.  He stilled his breathing and prepared his mind, finding the calmness that Elladan and Elrohir had taught him how to find.  He mouthed a quick prayer to the Valar and then burst out of the doorway.  He stabbed the first Orc in the back. The gasping noise caused the Orc carrying Legolas over his shoulder to turn around and Estel quickly took aim and planted the flying blade deep into the Orc’s thick neck.  He gurgled his shock and outrage looking at the boy who managed to take his life from him as he slowly collapsed, pitching an unconscious Legolas onto the ground. 

Estel stilled his motion and listened for any more signs of life from either the two Orcs he had just killed or any others that might happen upon them.  All was silence.  He bent to retrieve his bone handled knife that was imbedded in the second Orc’s neck and wiped the foul Orc blood on the Orc’s clothing.  His own clothing was befouled enough without added more to it.  Storing both of his knives back into his boot sheaths, he bent over Legolas.  His shoulders sagged in relief as he heard the unconscious Elf breathing.  “Legolas!”  He gently slapped the blond Elf’s cheek to bring him around and he suddenly remembered that he had some hartshorne in the little pouch on his side.  He felt for the little kernel of essence, snapped it and stuck it under the Elf’s nose.  Immediately the Elf gasped and his eyes fluttered open.  “Ow, What hit me?” 

“A two-hundred pound Orc and his friend, that’s what.”

Legolas looked around, and muttered at the pain such an action caused, grabbing his head.  After the wave of pain had passed, he said,  “You killed both?”

Estel shrugged, “This one,” he pointed to the Orc closer to them with the pool of blood around his neck, “had you over his shoulder and that one,” pointing toward the first one he had killed, “was following behind.  They seemed bent on taking you somewhere.  And that I could not allow.”  Legolas struggled into a sitting position and looked at his young friend.  There was a more serious and somber look behind the boy’s eyes.  He already looked less innocent than when he had first regained consciousness in Legolas’ dim cell.  He ruefully smiled, “I was meaning to protect you and it turns out that you are my saviour.  Hannon le, mellon nin!”  He touched his hand to his head and heart, albeit gingerly.  Estel smiled shyly as Legolas saw the young boy once again take the place of the man in his countenance. “I only did as I was trained.”

“You were trained well, but courage is innate, that cannot be taught.  My Adar will want to thank you.  If we ever get out here, that is.” 

Estel ruefully nodded and then paused saying after, “Legolas, have you noticed something.”

“No, what?”

“We have been sitting here in the middle of this passageway talking and no one has discovered us.”

“Tis most odd.  Where do you think they have all gone?”

Estel shrugged, “I do not know.  And I do not want to stay around to find out.  Can you walk?”

“I think so,” Legolas stood with the help of his friend.  “What direction were the Orcs headed?”  Estel pointed toward up the passage. “Well if it is all the same with you, I think I should like to travel in the opposite direction!”

“I most definitely agree.” Estel said with feeling.  He had had enough surprise run-ins with Orcs for one day.

The path they had chosen was the path they had initially started to follow when they first left the cell.  At least the upward incline seemed to suggest that it was.  There was really no way to tell.  One thing was for certain, though.  There were no Orcs anywhere in this portion of the cave.  The two Orcs that Estel killed were the last Orcs they had spotted.   Estel was not about to question this sudden turn in fortune, though.  No Orcs to hinder their path meant that they were likely to find the surface sooner rather than later.  This thought pleased Estel on many levels, because now that the immediate threat on their lives had lessened, time allowed Estel to worry about what torment Elladan and Elrohir were suffering.  He tried not to think on it, but the pit of his stomach had tightened into a hard knot of concern.  He must return to his brothers at all cost and as soon as possible.

Many times they had to double back and try pick up from where they had made the mistaken turn, each mistake only deepened Estel’s worry.  Legolas, too, he noticed had become more quiet and withdrawn.  Worry hung over both of them and they pressed ever onwards trying to find the path that would lead them back to the surface and those that cared for them.  Slowly Estel realized how thirsty he was.  Neither he nor Legolas had had anything to drink since they had drained the last dregs from Legolas’ small wineskin while waiting in the pitch black hole.  He could not even be sure how long ago that had been.  Time seem to lose all meaning within this Orc enclave.

Hour upon hour they slogged on and making missteps and retracing their steps. Eventually the air they were breathing in and out did not seem quiteso stale and stifling.  Estel looked Legolas and rasped, “The air.  It seems fresher somehow.”  He swallowed drily, “Or is it just my too hopeful imagination?”

Legolas shook his head and said with some strain, “If you are imagining it, then so am I.  For I, too, smell a certain freshness.”  He looked around moving their meager torch through the air in an effort to illuminate more of the passage.  The fire from the torch flickered slightly towards Legolas once and then a second time.  “Estel!  Air!  Something is causing the flame to flicker!”  They both paused briefly to gaze at the meager light hoping it would flicker again.  Gazing upon it, Estel found himself praying to the Valar for a sign, any sign that they were near the surface. Just as he finished his brief supplication the flame flickered again, this time more substantially than before.  Legolas looked in the direction opposite the flicker and started walking.  “This way,” he whispered, not so much because he was afraid of being overheard, but rather it was all that was left of his voice.

The two wordlessly continued on in the hope that the flickering of the flame would lead them well.  After about ten minutes they heard voices.  They were indistinct, but lacking the gruffness of voice that characterized the Orcs that had held them captive.  Estel felt a thrill in his heart.  He knew these voices, had known them all his life.  He looked at Legolas’ firelight face and whispered hopefully, “We are found!”  He stepped forward carefully trying pinpoint where the voices were coming from.  “Elladan!” he tried to yell but his voice was nothing more than a tortured whisper.  He swallowed painfully and tried again.  It was no use.  Legolas tried banging on the walls with a rock lying near his foot.  It echoed around the passage but neither could tell if the sound was traveling beyond the passage or just echoing back.

Estel sank to a sitting position.  He was bone-weary and to have come so close and not be able to make their presence known sapped what was left of his strength, both mental and physical.  He was so tired.  His head was pounding and he was heartsick.  Legolas dropped into position at his back and they sat.  Neither spoke.  Neither had the energy to.   Estel just kept thinking, “Elladan, please find us.  We are close.  Please.”  He kept thinking and imaging his eldest foster brother’s face.

~*~*~*~*~

Elladan was digging threw the rubble and was very carefully removing a larger rock when he felt rather than heard a faint voice.  He replaced the rock and stilled his mind. “Please find us.  We are close.”  The “we” confused him but he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt whose voice that was.  Estel.  Alive and well.   He surveyed the work they had done.  They had made progress at clearing the entrance.  He saw a small opening near where Vivelle had been working and he made his way towards it.  Elrohir noticed the sudden movement and met his brother at the opening. 

“I know where Estel is.  He is not far.  I’m going in.”  He looked pointedly at his younger brother, “Alone.”

Elrohir just shook his head and said, “I’m following you.  You will need somebody to watch your back.  We do not know what is down there.”

Elladan looked at his brother.   Warring emotions conflicted within him.  Part of him yearned to keep Elrohir out of harm’s way.  He knew he could not bear it if any harm should befall his younger twin.  The other half, selfishly perhaps, wanted him right by his side.  Elrohir was the other half of his soul and he relied on him in all things.  Reluctantly Elladan nodded his consent. 

Elrohir smiled, “As if you could have stopped me!”

Elladan smiled, eyes twinkling, “I had hopes!”  then sobering he turned to Vivelle, “Keep watch and continue clearing the entrance.  I hope we are not gone overly long.  If we are, ride to Mirkwood and seek out Thranduil and see if he will aid us.”  Vivelle looked him a little dubiously over that last order.  Elladan smiled slightly, “I know relations have not always been cordial between Adar and the King of Mirkwood.  But Adar seemed to think that Thranduil would be more receptively of late.  It was one of the reasons we were to seek an audience with the Elven King.”

Vivelle put a hand on her heart, “As you wish, my lord.”  She added, “May the Valar guide your steps.”

Elladan nodded and gingerly placed a foot upon the small threshold of the opening, hoping that it would not give way.  It held firm and he lower himself nimbly into the cavity, landing lightly upon the ground below amid small billows of freshly disturbed dust and debris.  He moved quickly into the dark of the cave to make room for his brother.  He looked at the portion of the wall lit by the opening they had made.  He saw an empty crude iron sconce and realized he did not have flame.  He called up to his brother for two lamps.  While he waited he touched the wall of the cave.  It felt cold and damp to the touch and felt a pang of regret that his little brother had been held in this dismal place.  Granted Estel was not Elven, and not as susceptible to the deprivation of light and air experienced by Elves when forced underground.  He embraced that small crumb of comfort as he waited for light.  Thankfully, it was quick in coming.  Elrohir dropped the lighting taper through the hole before landing gently upon the spot just vacated by his brother.  Quickly the lamps were lit, and they poured a small amount of light into the dismal, cold tunnel.

“All right, muindor, we are in.  Now where do we go?”  Elrohir looked quizzically at his older brother, noticing through the dust and grime his twin’s face bore an expression of expectancy. 

Elladan looked as far as the light would let him, “This way.”

After traveling for about five minutes they came to a fork in the passageways.  Elladan closed his eyes, breathing in and out, “Let’s try this direction.”  He pointed towards a passage with a slight downward inclination and Elrohir wordlessly followed him. After about three minutes they saw the faint glow of a torch blazed then guttered out.  Elladan quickened his pace against all caution.  Within the fall of light from his lamp, he saw Estel, sitting on the ground his back against a blond Elf that to his shock Elladan recognized immediately as Legolas Thrandulion, youngest son to Mirkwood’s King and kinsman to him and Elrohir, through marriage.

He would discover the mystery of Legolas’ presence here in the fullness time, but his only real concern was the welfare of his little brother.  He set his lamp down by his brother’s side and prayed to the Valar he was only sleeping.  Elladan place his hands on the side of Estel’s head cradling it gently, “Estel” he said in a voice choked with emotion, clearing his throat, he tried again. “Estel, muindoreg!  Awaken, please, my love!”

Estel’s eyes fluttered and then fully opened.  Elladan was weak with relief.  Tears stung his eyes, as he gasped, “He is alive!” to Elrohir now kneeling on Estel’s other side.

“The Valar be praised!” Elrohir exclaimed softly, tears partially obscuring his vision.

Estel blinked, “Dan?  Roh?” he rasped.  A slightly stunned look across his face, “You found me!”

Elladan just looked at him to convince himself that they had indeed found him alive and whole.  The fear and blame that had been gripping his heart and darkening his soul slowly released him.  Estel sat in front of him grimy and bedraggled and his clothing bore evidence of fighting and rough treatment; Elladan had never seen his little brother look more beautiful.  He was alive and seemingly uninjured.  “Are you well?”  he said in a choked voice, smoothing back the boy’s unkempt dark hair and caressing his cheek.

Estel answered in a whisper, “I am now, but I am awful thirsty.”  Elrohir uncorked his wineskin and handed it to Estel, who hungrily drank so much so quickly that he coughed and sputtered which in turn woke up Legolas.

The golden-haired Elf blinked twice and then rasped, “Elladan?  Elrohir?  You found us!  Thank the Valar!”

“Yes indeed.”  Elrohir said, wiping his tears on his sleeve.  “But the next question is, ‘what in all of Arda are you doing here?”

After Legolas had also gulped a sufficient amount of wine from Elladan’s wineskin, Estel at last discovered how it was that Legolas was captured by the Orcs.  He had been riding along with his scouting party within the borders of Mirkwood, albeit near where forest met plain.  They had been attacked just before dawn and Legolas had been grazed with an arrow dipped with some crude form of potion and taken back to their cave in the Misty Mountains. 

“I was to be a hostage until Adar met with them to agree to stop killing them, they had gold and jewels to give Adar if the killing stopped.  Later they told me this was the message they sent back with the rest of my party.”

Elrohir looked incredulous, “Even given your Adar’s love of such things, Orcs could not be so stupid as to think this could work?”

“Orcs are not given to understanding the better natures of others.  Adar is known to have a penchance for such things, so to an Orc mind this plan could work.”  Legolas said by way of some sort of explanation.

Knowing what he knew of Thranduil, Elrohir smiled slightly saying, “This can only end badly for the Orcs.   Your Adar is not the calmest or most sanguine of Elves.”

Legolas replied, “Understatement is a gift I see you have been practicing.” sharing the smile with the Imladris Elf.

“I do my best.” Elrohir spoke with a glint in his eye.

“This bandying of words is all well and good, but I think we should get our two foundlings out of this dark place and up into the light!” Elladan interrupted, “And I think we should see the youngest prince of Mirkwood safe into his realm before his Adar tears up half of Middle Earth looking for him.”  This last was spoken playfully but all knew the torment that Thranduil would be suffering at this moment.  All save Estel knew of what Thranduil had lost at the hands of the Orcs.  In fact if deeper hatred for Orcs glowed within any heart it was the twins of Rivendell for they too had lost one very dear to the foul creatures. 

~*~*~*~*~*~

The rays of the morning sun were diffused by grey clouds allowing only a few gentle beams to fall upon the discoloured field of slaughter, Orc blood mixed with the dirt and scant grass thatches, staining the ground a dark red.  Thranduil overlooked the field of battle scarred with the bodies of Orcs.   Anger still burned brightly within him, not even the slaying of Orcs had assuaged it.  A few Orcs remained alive for questioning after which they would be put summarily to death.   Thranduil could not think past his anger; it was the only thing that was driving him forward.   Beyond were a debilitating fear and sadness that he could not give into lest he become useless to his youngest son.  Find Legolas he would, find Legolas he must.  He could not see past it, their youngest son was Lasgalen’s last gift to him and he would not lose him.

Celebren walked up to the side of his Adar’s horse.  “The prisoners are ready for questioning, my lord.”  Thranduil drew a deep breath to calm his anger and looked down at his somber son.  Inwardly, Celebren was a bit taken aback at the anger still in his Adar’s eyes and thought Woe betide any who crosses Adar now!  He hated Orcs to the very core of his being but his hatred paled in comparison to his Adar’s.  He could almost pity the Orcs about to be questioned.   Almost.  Thranduil in full wroth was a frightening sight and one to be avoided by those blessed with even a modicum of common sense.

Thranduil dismounted his horse, landing lightly upon a blood soaked patch and quickly made his way through the litter of bodies to where the last two Orcs remained bound.  He surveyed them for a few minutes; his visage painted with disgust and barely contained rage.  Both stared back, defiant.  This only served to anger him more.  At length, he spoke in a voice of cold steel, “Now tell me what I wish to know.”  He paused, “Where is my son?”

“I will tell you nothing.”  snarled the first.

“Tell me now and spare yourself.”

“Hah!  He’s dead.  Could not take our ‘hospitality’ if you take my meaning.  Much like his mother, now that I’m thinkin’.   She died screaming and cursing that you did not come for her.”  The second Orc said, joining the exchange,  “That was, of course, after we had taken turns, you see.”

Celebren’s eyes went wide with shock and anger and his eyes flew to his Adar.  In a lightning flash Thranduil had unsheathed a jeweled handled dagger gifted to him by his beloved wife and from behind, had it at the Orc’s throat, “You lie!  Tell me or I will rip out your throat myself!” Thranduil roared into the Orc’s ear.

“Kill me, then!  For I will say noth—” His last word was cut short by Thranduil’s blade.  Thranduil turned eyes of blind fury upon the first Orc as he pushed aside the other still gurgling filth.  Drawing himself up imperiously, he then crouched down next to the first Orc.  Slowly cleaning the bloody jewel-encrusted dagger upon the torn collar of the Orc’s tunic, he said, “If you do not tell me now.  I can wait.  I have all day,” he said pointedly as the sun choose that moment to slip from behind a cloud, spilling early morning light onto the field, all but blinding the tightly bound Orc.  “I’m sure you will be most cooperative by noon when the sun is at its zenith.”  Thranduil ended in a low, threatening voice.  The Orc gulped and lost a much of his arrogant expression.  “Tell me what I want to know and I will make your death quick.”  Thranduil said quietly.  “Remain silent and,” Thranduil paused, “You will wish you had spoken.  Many, many ways I can think of to make you regret your earlier silence.”  Thranduil looked straight into the eyes of the already injured Orc, poising his knife blade at the Orc’s shoulder and gently dragging the blade along the Orc’s arm, just enough to draw blood,  “Slowly, but surely, you will beg me for death.” 

Celebren heard the words his Adar was uttering and he could not believe his ears.  He had always known that Thranduil had something of a cold streak, but never had he heard such language coming from him before.  He looked at the worry-worn face bent over his prey and wondered had he ever really known his Adar, for behaviour such as this came as a great shock.  Granted they had always had different temperaments, he was always more the scholar than his Adar wanted him to be, but this.  This behaviour was frightening.   “Adar!”

At first he did not believe Thranduil had heard him, but when his Adar turned his head to behold his oldest son, the frosty blue eyes leveled on him spoke to the fact that Thranduil had heard the uttered entreaty.  They locked eyes and might have remained in the battle of two wills if the Orc had not shouted,  “The Elf is not dead.”  A look of triumph crossed Thranduil’s embittered face as he turned back to the Orc, “Good.  Now where is he?”  the Elven King’s voice grew hard as nails.

The Orc paused and then blurted out, “I don’t know.  We went to get him and he was gone.”  A thrill ran through Thranduil.  His youngest was alive and had escaped.  He was almost dizzy with relief.

“Very well, you have served your purpose.”  He looked to the nearest Elf, “leave his hands and feet bound.  And leave him here.  We shall depart to continue the search for Legolas.   Perhaps someone will untie him, perhaps no.  It matters not, for he is no longer of any concern to me.  We ride.” 

Thranduil looked at his son and was stopped cold by his look.

 “If I offend you, I do beg pardon.  You needn’t have listened if it offended you so.”  The older Elf bit off each word and spat them at his oldest, his contempt clear in his voice.

 Celebren did not falter, “Adar, This was not the way!  The information could have been found differently.”  

“I’m sorry my methods do not find favour.  They are however effective.”

Celebren broke his stare to mount his horse, “Yes, but at what cost?”  he muttered under his breath.

Thranduil looked on as his son mounted and heard what Celebren thought inaudible, at what cost indeed, ion nin!  Suddenly he felt very tired.  He got had gotten what he had desired, but his methods allowed a possible gap to begin between father and son.  He would never have stooped to the torture that he had threatened the Orc with.  At least he told himself that.  Had the Orc not broken when he did there is no telling where Thranduil would have stopped.  The very realization chilled him.  Sometimes unpalatable actions were necessary, though.  They were a means to an end.  Celebren would understand that someday.  At least he hoped he would.  Thranduil sighed and closed his eyes.  Blissfully, the vision of Legolas in torment was gone.  Replacing it, though, was Celebren looking at his Adar in incredulous horror.  What must I seem in my beloved son’s eyes, mused Thranduil, saddened beyond measure.  The thought stayed with him long after he had dispatched orders to heap the Orc bodies into a funeral pyre and they began to undertake a search of the surrounding area. 

~*~*~*~*~*~

Elladan looked at the two sitting together by the fire, breaking their fast.  A young boy and a young Elf, for Legolas by Elven terms was still considered a young Elf.  He was only a little over five hundred years old.  One dark-haired youth, one blond Elf, an unlikely pair, but they seemed to fit together the one at the other’s side.  Elladan ruefully smiled when he thought of Thranduil’s reaction to Legolas forming a friendship with somebody other than an Elf.  Wood Elves, more than the Elves of Rivendell, kept to themselves.  They tended to shy away from frequent contact with others, even other Elves.  Thranduil had grown more reclusive since the battle of the Last Alliance.  His Adar had told him that the Mirkwood Elves bore the heaviest losses during the last battle with Sauron.  Thranduil had lost his Adar, Oropher and at least half of their numbers and Elrond said that Thranduil held him and Gil-galad responsible for such a high number of casualties among the Wood Elves.  Men he held in even less esteem, his Elves had borne such loss and through the actions of one man all their sacrifice was held at naught.  Isildur, son of the King of Men, did not destroy that which should have been destroyed, leaving the battle not yet won, not yet lost, only postponed and to be fought again.  He dealt with the Men of Laketown through necessity and could bare their presence tolerably well for short periods.  But he would not take well to the idea of his beloved youngest son forging such a strong bond with this young boy.  He would like it even less if he knew the boy’s heritage.  Never the less, noticing the strength of the newly forged friendship between the two, he thought Thranduil would be wise to accept the bond.

The musing prompted Elladan’s next action.  “We’d best break camp and depart for Mirkwood with all speed for I think keeping ion and Adar apart for much longer would be most unwise!”

Legolas looked up and with anxiety creasing his brow, “Let us be off!  I do not wish to contemplate what has happened in my absence any further.”

Within the hour they were riding along the trail leading downward towards the plains that gave away to the forest of Mirkwood.   As they rode Estel noticed a plume of smoke rising in the west.  He mentioned it to Legolas seated behind him on Gilgilath motioning toward the plume dissipating into the air.  The worry on Legolas face intensified.  Just then the wind shifted and an unmistakable stench floated in with it, the burning of flesh. 

Legolas looked at Elladan and without a spoken word the dark-haired Elf quickened the pace on the still narrow path.  Myriad images of what they would find at the origins of the smoking plume raced through Legolas’ mind.  None were very positive.  The further west they rode the stronger the stench became. 

At last they rounded a bend and came upon a small clearing.  From the blood stained earth to the bruised and broken thatched grass, signs of slaughter were everywhere.   Legolas looked off the side of the clearing and saw the source of the smoke.  A funeral pyre.  Riding swiftly to the base of the mound, Legolas dismounted and quickly began leafing through remains with his sword.  Orc remains and nothing else.  Legolas almost sagged with relief.  “Orc remains,” he informed the others catching up to him at the pyre.  Elrohir spoke for all as he uttered, “Thank the Valar!  But if this pyre was for Orcs where is Thranduil?”  No one doubted, not even Estel, who had been responsible for the slaughter. 

Just then the sound of a horse and then another distracted them from their musing.  Legolas looked towards the noise opposite from the way they had come.  Cresting a small incline was an older silver-haired Elf.  “Celebren!”  Legolas exclaimed as he saw his oldest brother and ran towards him.

“Legolas!  Praise the Valar!  You are safe!”  Celebren dismounted quickly and caught his brother in a bear hug.  “We had feared the worst when your scouting party came back with the dire news!  How did you escape?”  Celebren pulled back to look at his youngest brother.

“With the help of this young boy!  His name is Estel.  He saved my life, Celebren!”  Legolas motioned for Estel to come forward.   Estel dismounted Gilgilath and stepped forward shyly. 

Mae Govannen, my lord.”  Estel said, touching his hand to his heart and bowing slightly, “It was an honour to help your brother.”

Celebren surveyed the boy with kind, but curious eyes, and lifted Estel’s chin to look into the boy’s face and noticing for the first time the boy’s ears, “Mae Govannen, Estel. Hannon le!  I cannot thank you enough for what you did for my beloved brother!” and bowed deeply hand on heart, “We owe you a debt we may never fully be able to repay.” 

Estel coloured deeply at the praise, “We helped each other really.  He helped me more than I helped him.”

“Nonsense,” Legolas exclaimed, “I had been held at knifepoint and you killed both Orcs to free me!”

Celebren paled upon hearing how close Legolas had been to danger and looked upon Estel, respect evident in his eyes. “You did?”

Estel nodded, “Yes, but only because it was necessary!”

Elrohir laughed out loud, “That’s our Estel.  Acting bravely ‘only because it was necessary’.”  He looked with love at his little foster brother and stepped forward to put an arm around the slender shoulders, “You needn’t ever explain away brave and noble actions, mell muindor nin!” 

Celebren caught the endearment and again his curiosity was piqued, “A man child living among Elves, most unusual.”

Elrohir looked at Celebren, “He and his naneth came to live in Imladris after his Adar died.  Adar took them under his wing.”

“Indeed?”  Celebren said, raising a quizzical eyebrow.

“My Adar is very kind to all!  So it is no surprise that he take should Naneth and me in!” Estel interjected in defence of his Adar.

Celebren raised his hands and smiled approvingly at the show of loyalty and said amiably, “You are right, Master Estel.  I did not mean to imply otherwise. My apologies?”

Estel nodded and said strongly, “Accepted, my lord.”

Legolas heard the footfalls of more horses and went to inspect the noise.  From another path leading deeper into the mountains emerged a beautiful horse of a unique strawberry colour.  Only one Elf rode a horse of that particular shade.  Legolas looked up into the eyes of his Adar.  Father and son held eyes a few seconds and in one deft motion Thranduil was off his horse and sobbing in his youngest son’s arms.  The tears from his usually stern and controlled father somewhat unnerved Legolas and he had found himself trying to comfort him as he would his niece and nephew.  “I’m all right, Adar!  I’m safe.  Nothing has happened to me.” 

Thranduil pulled himself away to look at his youngest and most beloved son.  He could not believe his eyes.  He looked his son up and down.  Aside from grime and a few blood stains that he told himself were too dark to be Elven blood he looked well.  He looked into Legolas’ blue eyes saw no darkness, no sadness and pain that he was trying to hide from his Adar.  The tight bands of worry around his heart began to loosen for the first time since the scouting party had returned, one short in their numbers. “You are safe.  Mellion nin!  Valar be praised.”  Finally Thranduil noticed a little ways off a few Elves arrayed differently from those of Wood Elves.  “Imladris Elves?” he continued with more of his customary suspicion, recognizing Elladan and Elrohir.

Legolas noting the return of a more normal tone to his Adar’s voice inwardly sighed as he said, “Elrond’s sons are good people, Adar.  You know this.”  At the mention of Elrond, Thranduil turned a sharp look upon his son. “Hear them out, Adar.  They have helped me greatly.”

Thranduil continued to look at his son but relented.  Not even mention of Elrond could dampen the joy of his son’s return, whole in body and spirit. 

Elladan first noticed the two approach and quickly dropped a low bow, “Mae Govannen!  Thranduil King!”  The others quickly followed suit.

“Mae Govannen!  Sons of Elrond Half-Elven!  My son tells me that you have aided him greatly.  For this, Hannon le!

Elladan unbent and said, “My Adar sends you his warmest greetings and yes.  It has been our honour and privilege to have been of aid to your youngest and our kinsman.”

Something behind Thranduil’s eyes flashed at the mention of the link of marriage between the two families.  Celebren saw it and decided to turn Thranduil’s attention away from that vein of thought. Stepping forward he said,  “My lord, I wish to present to the one to whom Legolas owes his life.”  Motioning to Estel to step forward.  “His name is Estel.”

“Yes, Adar!  He saved my life in the caves!” Legolas added with great fervour.

Estel was unaccountably nervous as he stepped forward and prayed he did not trip over his own feet as he bowed low to the Elven King.  “Mae Govannen, my lord.” He said tremulously. 

Thranduil aside to his son, “Did he?”  Legolas nodded.  Thranduil looked at the youth kneeling, and lifted his chin with his hand to behold clear grey eyes and an earnest face. He saw a trace of nobility that reminded him of something, of what he could not place.  “Is this true?  Did you save my son?”

Estel looked into stern blue eyes and an imperious face, “Yes, but we helped each other, my lord. I was scared, and Legolas made me less so. What I did, I know he would do for me.  We needed to protect each other.”  He answered strongly and clearly.

Thranduil looked at the boy, “You are of the race of Men?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“And yet you speak the Elven tongue and wear Elven garb.  Why is that?”

“Lord Elrond is my foster-adar, my lord.”

Thranduil looked at Elladan for the truth of this odd statement, “It is true, my lord.  He is our brother.” Thranduil raised another eyebrow at the statement and turned his gaze towards his newly found son and then upon the kneeling boy musing for several seconds, then smiled for the first time.  “Estel.  It means hope.”  Grasping the boy’s hands resting on the bent knee, he raised the boy up.  “Ion nin, you are aptly named.  You have given me hope and have returned my son to me.  For that I will owe you a great debt.  Hannon le.”  Thranduil bowed to the youth, hand on heart.  As did their king, so did the Mirkwood Elves.  Elladan watched his young brother receive thanks and homage from the Woodland Elves and again a vision sat in front his eyes.  He saw a much older Estel crowned with a star-lit circlet shaped with eagle’s wings and the air suffuse with a sad, yet joyous song.  There were people, many people and then the vision was gone.

~*~*~*~*~*~

 





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