Aragorn paced in small circles inside the prince’s
chamber waiting for
Legolas to return. He had hated the idea of his friend going out
into the palace without him, but the elf’s argument had outweighed his
fears. Legolas could more easily and quickly make his way unseen
through the interior of his house than his human companion. And
so the prince had charged the ranger with staying inside the room with
both bolts locked and not opening the door to anyone but himself.
Aragorn glanced back out towards the balcony marking
off the sun’s
descent in the sky; he would give Legolas only a few more minutes and
then he would go looking for him himself. The ranger did not
trust the elf’s uncle and was eager to learn what had become of
Thranduil in their absence.
A soft rapping at the door caused the man to jump
and he quickly ran
back to the heavy wooden entrance. Even pressing his ear against it he
barely heard Legolas whisper, “Strider, it is I. Open the door!”
Aragorn quickly threw the bolts on the door, pulling
Legolas squeezed in before he had the door halfway open and
immediately shut it behind him, relocking it. The elf crept to
the balcony opening and pulled the thick curtains across its expanse,
shutting out the afternoon light and casting the room into
semi-darkness, causing Aragorn to falter for a moment before his eyes
readjusted to the lack of light.
“What’s going on, Legolas? What did you find?”
Legolas grabbed his friend and walked him away from
the door, towards
the bedchamber, and pushed his friend down in a chair opposite the
bed. He seated himself across from the human and leaned forward,
his face marred with lines of worry.
“Legolas? What is it?”
“It is what I did not find that worries me,” he
glancing back to the large door. “Aragorn, my father’s servants
are nowhere to be found. Elrynd has not been seen in weeks.
The elves I did find were either guards that I have no recollection of
ever seeing before or newly placed servants that are frightened out of
their wits. Few would even speak with me. None did I
recognize as having served in the palace before. I do not know
what evil is afoot but I know that my uncle has done something
terrible. There is no thinking that my father would leave and
take his entire staff with him to look for me! I am ages old, he
has done nothing like that since...” Legolas stopped, thoughts of
the past chasing fears of the present round his heart and mind.
Aragorn leaned forward and touched his friend. “We
them. They must be here somewhere. Someone must know
something. Did you look everywhere?”
Legolas swallowed hard, dropping his gaze to the
thick carpet beneath
his feet. “There is one place that I have not yet looked.”
“Then let us start there. Perhaps we will find the
“It is in the dungeons.” Legolas glanced back up at
Aragorn sat back slightly as the implications of
what his friend spoke
of slowly filtered into his mind. “Well then if that is so let us
start there. Someone knows.”
“Yes and that someone is right now poisoning the
minds of my people,”
Legolas said with bitter frustration.
“All the more reason for us to be about this
Legolas met the serious gaze of his friend with a
sad smile; the
ranger’s enthusiasm to always take his friend’s side and ever be of
help warmed his heart. “Strider, listen to me, this is no
game. I am certain that my uncle will kill us if he finds us
snooping around. I fear he may have already done so to my
father.” Legolas’ words were soft and he swallowed hard as he spoke
around his emotions. “His one aim in life has always been to sit on the
throne of Mirkwood and now that that goal is within his grasp once
again, it will be of no consequence if he must shed more blood to do
so. He has no qualms about killing and he will kill you as easily as he
will kill me simply because you side with me and not him. Do you
understand? He is capable of no small cruelty. He enjoys the pain
of others and I would not see you fall into his hands.” Legolas
spoke from hard-learned personal experience.
A huge smile split the human’s face and he was
shaking his head as his
friend spoke so seriously. Leaning forward once again the man
locked eyes with the elf and answered him softly, “I would think after
all this time that you of all people would realize that your troubles
are mine and that there is no way you can make me leave if I do not
wish to, which I don’t. I am your friend and I will help see to
it that the throne is restored to you and
your father who I have no
doubt is alive somewhere if he is anything like his son.” The
ranger’s eyes sparkled brightly in the dim light, “Now, which way did
you say the dungeons were? I am afraid I have forgotten since the
last time I was in your home.”
Legolas laughed softly and shook his head. “Strider
what will I do with
“I suggest taking me with you, because I am not sitting in this room
waiting for you to come back for one minute longer!”
Legolas stood to his feet and held his hand down to
the human pulling
the man up next to him. “Very well, my friend. Let us hope that
secrecy is on our side long enough to uncover what evil my uncle has
done in my absence.”
The elf quietly walked back to the door, the ranger
stealthily. After unbolting the heavy locks upon the door,
peered out into the hall. With the slightest movement of his
he directed the human to follow him as they made their way down to the
lower recesses of the palace.
Aragorn felt a startling sense of dèja-vu as
he and Legolas slid
silently down the lush, stately palace hallways that now seemed charged
with an air of unknown danger. The last time they had been forced
to sneak through Legolas’ home Aragorn had been accused of murder...
but although everything had worked out well in the end, the young
ranger did not care to remember that particular time just at the
moment. The present seemed to hold enough mystery and danger all of its
If Legolas recalled that previous adventure as they
towards the prisons near the cellars, he gave no sign. His mind
was too consumed with trying to find his father to give thought to much
else. Although on the outside it seemed that everything was
normal, he knew it was a façade. He could feel it. Something was
deadly wrong here and somehow his uncle was behind it.
They encountered no resistance and indeed, no sign
of life at all,
which should have comforted them, but did not. To Legolas the
palace seemed altogether too quiet and empty, like a tomb.
Silently, Legolas led Aragorn around the turn where
the passage leading
to the dungeons branched off from the main corridor, which continued on
towards the cellars. A soft sound behind them made the elf jerk
and whirl around, hand going automatically over his shoulder for his
weapon. Grabbing the intruder he pinned the elf up against the
wall with a knife to his throat faster than Aragorn could blink.
The prince stopped when he found himself staring
into a startled elven
face that he knew well.
“Galion,” Legolas sighed as he backed off and
re-sheathed his weapon,
not having realized he was so on edge. “You surprised me.”
The butler allowed himself to breathe again as
him. Older than Legolas, the elf had served the prince’s father
for many, many millennia. “So I see.” He rubbed his throat
slightly and smiled for a moment, but his face was troubled and it was
not because of Legolas’ actions.
“Your Highness, I’m so glad you’re here. What is
going on?” the butler
shook his head, obviously disturbed.
“I wish I knew, Galion,” Legolas shook his head,
glancing back at
Aragorn. “I was hoping you could tell me. You’re the first
friendly face I’ve seen since I returned home.”
“Aye, it’s a bad business,” Galion responded
grimly. “The King
going off and leaving us like this, and everyone else seeming to
disappear shortly thereafter... I haven’t seen half of my helpers in
days, the cellars are in terrible repair, I can’t see to all the
barrels and everything down there by myself... and Tarius... he’s not
come down to join me for a drop and a tale in over a week!”
“That is unusual.” Legolas could not help smiling
Tarius, the head jailer, and Galion were fast friends and it was no
secret that they frequently enjoyed ‘taste testing’ the wine that came
to be stored in the cellars. Yet it was not surprising news that
Tarius was absent from his post. If what Legolas suspected were
true, Doriflen would have had to replace all the jailers. He did
not like the fact that they seemed to have simply disappeared
though. Those were disturbing tidings.
“Galion, when did my Uncle come back? What
needed answers and he trusted the butler to tell him truthfully.
“Several weeks ago, brought a whole passel of his
him. Said that his long exile had given him time to think and
come to his senses, said he wanted to make amends with your father for
all that had happened. The King accepted him as a guest, which is
more than I might have done...” Galion said softly, glancing around
somewhat nervously to see that he was not overheard. “Then...
then I don’t understand what happened at all. King Thranduil
seemed right wary of him at first, but a few days later what does he
do, but up and take off looking for you and leave the kingdom in
Doriflen’s care while he’s gone. A ‘symbol of trust’ they
say. I won’t speak ill of your father’s wisdom, Your Highness,
but I’m not comfortable with this at all and I don’t mind saying so
Legolas nodded slowly. It was much as he had
feared. “Did you see my father do all this, Galion?” he asked
“Nay, not I, but I’m not often at court you
understand,” Galion shook
his head. “But he has the King’s seal right enough and everyone
saw the search party leave.”
“Listen carefully now, Galion,” Legolas glanced
It was apparent that Galion had told all he knew and now the prince
wanted to move on quickly. “Something ill is in the wind and I
fear things may sour swiftly. Be careful. Stay clear of
Doriflen, keep your people away from him as much as you can without
seeming to do so. I am not at all convinced that he has any legal
reason to be acting as regent.”
Galion’s eyes widened in alarm at the prince’s
warning. “I knew
something was not right about all this! I knew it! What can
Legolas squeezed the butler’s shoulder. “Be
wary, be watchful and
don’t believe that anything is as it seems. Be cautious, but
ready. Ready to act if you are called upon. You will know
when the time comes whatever it is you need to do. Now go. You
must not be seen talking with me or you may fall under suspicion.”
Galion nodded in understanding. He lingered a
before accepting the duty Legolas had placed on him and hurrying back
down the passage, towards his station in the cellars.
While the two elves were talking, Aragorn had
ventured down the hall a
little and now Legolas quickly caught up with him.
Elves treated their prisoners well as a rule, and
the dungeons were not
foul, nor horrible places, but they were grim and dark and the fear of
what they might find there made both friends tense.
The first row of cells turned off to their right,
while a second
branched off at an angle to their left. Legolas paused, a deep
frown on his face.
“What’s wrong?” Aragorn asked, whispering without
“There’s no guard,” Legolas looked around
ought to be a guard here on watch.”
“Well it makes our job easier this way.
Perhaps Doriflen doesn’t
have the manpower to keep all the guard stations operational since it
seems so many of your people have gone missing?” the young ranger
hazarded a guess, but he had to agree with Legolas. It felt wrong.
“Perhaps... but it’s almost too easy. I don’t
like it...” The elf
shook his head, hesitating in indecision.
“What do you think we should do?” Aragorn looked
around them, searching
for any sign that things were not as they appeared, but all looked in
order to his untrained eye.
“We must go on. We have got to find an answer
to this puzzle, no
matter how dangerous,” Legolas concluded at last, and they chose to
begin with the right hand passage.
Each thick, wooden door had a closed window set in
the middle of it to
allow those on the outside to look in and pass food and drink to the
prisoners, as well as a small, barred peep-hole near the top of the
door that admitted some light and enabled one to look in without being
seen in return by the occupants of the cell. Walking silently
between the double row of cells the two friends split up, Legolas
taking one side and Aragorn taking the other. They used the
small, unobtrusive peek-holes to peer inside each small prison in
turn. Legolas suggested they do this because he did not want
anyone who might be in here to accidentally give away his and Strider’s
presence, and it was well, for if once the occupants of the cells knew
that their prince was down there, the clamor would have been loud
Normally the dungeons stood all but empty and
unused, for crime was not
a common thing among the elves and since Mirkwood had fallen into
darkness there were very few intruders who ventured here from the
outside world to worry about. Yet such was not the case now and
Legolas’ heart twisted at what he saw.
Each cell, every single one, was filled to capacity,
actually, and the conditions were appalling. Legolas recognized
almost all the faces he saw through the narrow, slatted bars.
Friends, warriors, nobles, palace workers... it was an eclectic mix
that was thrown together down here. Tarius was among those
Legolas spotted, and doubtless, this was where all of the people who
had disappeared recently must reside. The prince felt guilty at
looking in on their sorrow and captivity without even letting them know
he was there, but he knew that he dare not risk discovery yet.
This was obviously something that Doriflen wanted to remain a secret
and he and Aragorn were treading on dangerous ground now.
They reached the end of the tunnel and took the turn
off back towards
the left-hand one, searching it as well, but to no avail. Amid
the many faces that they saw who should not have been there, the
Elvenking was not one of them.
Aragorn looked slightly awed and somewhat ill when
done. It was a travesty to see all these merry and noble elves
locked up and kept in darkness like this, in such crowded and inhumane
“We’ve got to get them out...” he whispered softly
The prince nodded, touched that his friend had
obviously been as
affected as he was by the sight. “We will, but we need keys and
we need a plan. And we have got to find my father. Come,
there is one more place to look.” Legolas led Aragorn swiftly
down the passage towards the cellars once more, taking a small,
ill-lighted turnoff that the ranger had almost not realized was
“There is an especially deep, dark cell down here,
reserved for the
most troublesome of prisoners. It is highly likely that that is
where Doriflen would have put my father,” the elf explained quietly as
they made their way to the cell door at the end of the hall.
The door was different than the others and had no
peep-hole in the top,
so Legolas lifted up the larger food grate at the bottom of the door,
peering inside into the gloom. He did not find his father
there. But who he did find, he would never have expected.
Unlike the others, this cell held only one
prisoner. Indeed, it
was so tiny it hardly could have fitted more. The way the cell
was built, the actual floor of it was five or six feet lower than the
floor of the passage, and a sharply slanting stone slope ran up to the
door. The fair-haired elf sitting against the wall in the small,
flat area at the bottom of the slope looked up when the grate was
“Ran?” Legolas whispered softly in shock, not
wanting to believe what
he saw. A short chain connected heavy manacles around Raniean’s
wrists and similar bonds with slightly longer chains about his ankles
kept him shackled to the wall behind him.
Raniean’s head snapped all the way up at the sound
of his friend’s
voice and there was a soft rattle of irons as he pulled himself as far
up the slope as his fetters allowed.
The elf warrior in the cell stopped with his face a
few inches from the
grate, when the chains about his ankles pulled tight. Legolas and
Aragorn both had to resist the urge to wince. Raniean was
shirtless, and even in the dim light it was painfully obvious that he
had been scourged, and badly so.
“Ran...” Legolas breathed in horror. “Ran what
“Legolas, get out of here, now!” Raniean interrupted
urgently, gripping the bars. “You are not safe. Your
“I know about my uncle,” Legolas said darkly.
“But I don’t
understand what has happened or how. Raniean, you must help us.
What is Doriflen up to, why did he do this to you?” The prince’s
eyes blazed at the sight of his friend’s pain.
“Us... Strider is with you?” Raniean tried to peer
around Legolas to
see the ranger.
“I’m here, Raniean,” Aragorn dropped down into a
crouch next to the
prince so Raniean could see him.
“It is well,” Raniean said softly. “And
Trelan? Is he
“He’s not with us. I did not see him in the other
cells, more than
likely he is not yet returned. Detouring back to Rivendell must
have lengthened his trip,” Legolas assured quickly. “But what of
you? Ran, please... I need to know what happened.” The
prince realized that his friend seemed to actually be avoiding the
Raniean dropped his gaze. “After we left you
and Strider outside
Adirolf, Trelan and I headed back towards Rivendell, as we said we
would. We split company before we reached it, he continuing on to
deliver your message to Lord Elrond, and I turning homeward to deliver
it to the King. I came as swiftly as I could, but encountered
several delays and only returned five or six days ago. I should
have known something was amiss right away, but I was disturbed that I
had been delayed so long and wanted to get your message to your father
as quickly as possible. The servant outside the throne room said
the king couldn’t see me at the moment, but he’d take him the
message...” Raniean swallowed hard before continuing, his gaze fixed on
his hands, refusing to look up at his friend’s face.
“So I told him,” the warrior’s voice was quiet and
shame. “Then Doriflen came out of the throne room... And I knew
something was wrong, but it was too late, he had heard me talking about
you. He wanted to know more, more about you and your friends, who
did you trust? He wanted me to lead my men to follow him because
apparently not all of them trusted him and his regency... but I
wouldn’t. He pressed very hard, but I wouldn’t do it and I swear
your highness, I swear I told him nothing more...” Raniean’s throat
squeezed off as he shook his head slowly, begging the prince’s
forgiveness. “I did not mean to betray you to him, Legolas,” the
other elf’s voice was soft and sorrowful. “I swear I did
Legolas’ eyes stung and he quickly reached through
the bars, wrapping
his hands around his friend’s forearms and giving him a comforting
squeeze. “You didn’t Ran, I would have bumbled in here, same as
you, whether he knew I was coming or not,” the prince assured quietly,
gently touching the other elf’s flushed cheek, his voice asking Raniean
to meet his eyes. Raniean did, reluctantly.
“You did well, and we’re going to get you out of
assured; he had no idea how, but somehow they would. He had known
Raniean since childhood, for as long as he could remember, and it
burned him to see his good friend hurting so much, locked up in the
dungeons of the prince’s own home.
Legolas was thinking fast, but it wasn’t getting him
“We need those keys!” he swore in frustration, once again irked that
they had no idea where Doriflen had disposed of them.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Aragorn was apprising the
lock. “I think I
could get in if we had a pin or something like it...”
“You know how to pick locks?” Legolas raised his
eyebrows as his friend
nodded. “And dare I ask which of your brothers taught you that
useful little skill?” He could not resist a slight smile as he quickly
searched his clothing to see if he had such an item. Aragorn was
always full of surprises.
“Actually, it was my father, but don’t tell anyone,”
“Lord Elrond?” Raniean’s incredulous voice from
inside the cell made
them both chuckle.
“He said you never knew when it might come in
handy,” the young ranger
“Obviously he was right...” suddenly Legolas stopped
“Legolas, someone’s coming!” Raniean said suddenly
in a hushed whisper,
his sharp elven ears picking up the same sound as Legolas had.
The prince and the ranger were in a dead-end passageway here; it was
not a good place to be trapped. “You’ve got to go, now!”
Aragorn was already alert and on his feet, straining
to hear what the
two elves had. Legolas half-rose, but hesitated, hating to leave
his friend down here a moment longer. He gave Raniean’s hand one
last, firm squeeze. “I promise we’ll be back and get you out of
here, Ran. You have my word!”
“I know, I know you will, just hurry! Go!”
Raniean urged them,
returning his friend’s squeeze before releasing the prince’s hand and
urging them on.
Aragorn and Legolas fled silently up the
passage. The way seemed
clear when they peered out, but both of them could feel that something
was wrong as they crept stealthily forward. That notion was
confirmed when they turned the corner into the main prison and nearly
walked smack into Doriflen and half a dozen of his guards.
“Hello Legolas. Fancy running into you here.” Was it
imagination, or did Doriflen’s mocking smile hold a bit more ice and
steel than it had earlier?
The two friends pulled up short. Aragorn
glanced over at Legolas,
but the elf prince’s face was a façade of calm.
“Indeed?” the elf prince replied with calculated
“The last I recall I was perfectly free to wander where I wished in my
own home.” He was going to play Doriflen’s cordial game for as
long as he could and as far as it would get them.
Unfortunately, Doriflen was not in the mood to play
anymore, not when
he did not have to do so. His smile would have frozen the
sun. “But you should be more careful young prince. The dungeons
are a dangerous place... people get hurt down here.”
Aragorn was suddenly aware that another platoon of
Doriflen’s elves had
come up behind them and felt a ring of alarm building inside him.
He and Legolas exchanged a glance; they were trapped here, between the
two groups and every instinct in them was screaming for them to run...
yet there was nowhere to go.
“Your concern is touching,” Legolas’ voice was as
frosty as a February
morning. “We’ll be leaving then.”
Doriflen laughed, but made no move to get out of the
way. In fact the
guards moved in closer, until they were almost touching the two beings
caught between them. Aragorn smelt an acrid, distinctive odor
that he recognized at once and tensed.
“You’re a very good actor nephew, but the human
reeks of fear.
And you know what? He’s the smart one.” Doriflen gave an
almost imperceptible nod and the guards behind Aragorn and Legolas
grabbed for them suddenly, attempting to press thick, drugged cloths
over the friends’ faces; that was what Aragorn had smelled.
The two friends were ready for the attack, but in
such close quarters
and against these numbers that helped them little. If their
enemies had been orcs, or men, or dwarves... but these were elves and
even Legolas had very little advantage over them in speed or
cunning. The struggle was fierce, but short.
Aragorn thrashed and gagged as he was thrown back
against the wall and
held there. A strong hand against his throat nearly cut off his airway
as another struggled to get the cloth over his face. The elves
were far stronger than he and he couldn’t move at all inside their iron
grip; it was a frightening, suffocating feeling.
A sharp blow caught Legolas in the stomach as half a
struggled to pull him down. The prince landed hard on his knees
and was struck again to keep him there; the sheer press of bodies kept
him from rising. From the corner of his eye Legolas saw Aragorn
drop senseless to the ground as his captors released him.
The rough, stinking cloth was shoved against the elf
prince’s mouth and
nose. Legolas struggled and squirmed, gagging on the stench of
the drug, twisting his head around violently and attempting to
escape. He could hold his breath a long time and had no intention
of inhaling the fumes if he could help it.
The other elves swore as they tried to hold him
their hands in his hair and attempting to hold his head still, one of
them kicked him viciously in the ribs, forcing the prince’s breath to
leave his body in a rush. Inhaling was automatic and with a
thrill of horror, Legolas felt the acrid rush of the drug entering his
lungs and a moment later the world went black.