Look at your eyes,
The haunted black circles of your plight.
But you can get by,
Oh and killing you might take one more night...
Cause you’re a famous monster,
You’ll do whatever they offer,
You tie their noose around your neck,
And they throw you over,
Cause you’re a famous monster.
Sunlight, bright and warm, streamed in around the dark iron bars set in the tiny window high above; a reminder that the world was bigger than this one, cold, little cell, and that although darkness may triumph for a time, it can never have total victory.
The bright rays shone down on tangled and dusty golden hair, splashing its fleeting radiance across proud shoulders that were pulled forward and slender limbs made clumsy by the weight of chains much heavier than should have been placed on any living thing.
There was weary acceptance in the exhausted form on the cell floor; but no hint of hopelessness or capitulation showed in the fair, blue eyes that turned upward, seeking the sky beyond the bars. If only you looked at him, the slave’s piercing stare and clear gaze instantly marked him out as different from the rest of the hopeless, helpless, rage-filled, broken refuse of humanity that were housed here in the many small cells of the great arena cages of Rahzon.
Caged up like animals and treated worse, these slaves were forced to fight one another for the amusement of others and kill or be killed. No honorable warfare this; these were not the kind of tournaments one might see in Gondor, nor even the barely respectable gladiatorial style games often practiced down in Harad; these were vicious, primitive blood-baths, no better than dog fights.
Yet the one with the unbroken eyes in cell number eight needed little to distinguish him from the masses of slaves who came and went here, because he already stood out. He was the only elf amid the crawling mass of humans.
Legolas Greenleaf, Prince of Mirkwood, was a very long way from home, and at this moment he missed it with every fiber of his being. He knelt quietly on the floor of his small cell, his face upturned to catch the golden rays of the rising sun. Once the glowing orb climbed too high, it would move out of sight of his window and this tiny nine-by-nine square hole would be dipped back into the dusky gloom that was its natural state. But for a few hours in the morning each day, the sun rose in the east and painted even this miserable speck of blood-soaked earth with the celestial radiance of light and hope.
A dear friend of his had once told him that there was always hope, and longer ago than that, in another dark and painful cell, another wise elf had told him that hope could be enough if only one held on to it. Legolas clung to both of those truths right now, because without hope, there was no reason for his heart to keep beating here in this inhuman place of death and pain.
Three months. He had been here for three months. It was a lot longer than most slaves ever lasted in the blood pits and even to an immortal those months felt like an eternity.
Legolas heard the heavy, barred grate behind him being pulled open. It must be time for another fight. That was the only time his prison was opened up. Ever.
The elf did not rise or turn, but neither did he attempt to resist when the two pit-guards dragged him roughly to his feet and led him out by his chains. Resistance was useless, escape was not possible and the results were horribly painful; he had already found that out.
So now they would take him out again. They would lock him and some other unfortunate slave in a huge iron cage suspended in the center of a large, open-air arena and they would be forced to fight one another for the pleasure of the spectators. Only one could leave the cage alive.
The elf prince lifted his chin and followed his captors with a surprising air of unquenchable dignity. They could take many things from him, but they could not take everything. Inside, Legolas steeled himself for what was to come.
The elf prince stumbled slightly and fell to his knees when the guards thrust him roughly into the cell once more. Legolas winced in pain, his breathing quick and shallow as he pulled himself into the corner and drew his knees up close to his chest. Bright red blood ran down his arm from a cut to his shoulder and three long crimson scratches cut across his abdomen. Blood that did not belong to the wood-elf drenched his leggings and stained his hands.
Legolas pressed his eyes closed, more disturbed by what he had been forced to do than by his own injuries. Making himself breathe deeply and slowly, the elf stilled the slight trembling in his limbs. He hated this place. He hated it! He was a warrior and he was not afraid to kill or to die, but the cruelty of the pits was unbelievable. To have to kill for the pleasure of the bloodthirsty crowds was sickening and he hated himself for it.
The crowds loved him; he was a spectacle, a novelty, a freak. He made his owners insane amounts of money, because no one had ever survived as long as he had, or won as many matches.
Morosely the fair elf looked down at his bloodstained hands. Caged like animals, treated like animals, what was to keep one from becoming an animal here in this light-forsaken place? What if he already was? That he feared more than anything. Always, he had fought for a cause; he had killed and killed efficiently, but never without the conviction that he was doing the right thing. Here, all that had been stripped away from him and the act of taking life became a cruel perversion of everything he believed in. He didn’t have a choice... or did he? Was he fighting because they made him do so, or because he was slowly becoming what they wanted him to be? Valar, he hoped not.
Legolas’ breath shuddered slightly as he pulled it in and let it out. He wanted to be home... Ithilien, Gondor, Mirkwood, anywhere else but here. He wanted so badly to see a single instance of beauty or a single ray of hope and kindness. His whole body ached with the despair that was settling down on him and it was trying to crush his spirit. He let his head fall into his gory hands and freed his mind to wander under the green trees of Mirkwood and through the beautiful vales of Ithilien. What he would give to be back there now, with Raniean and Trelan and all the others who had moved thither. The land was finally beginning to respond to their tender care and spring was here... surely the buds would be blooming and the birds would be singing high up in the waving branches of the trees... if Legolas had not been far too proud and too stubborn to cry, he would have.
The prince barely even remembered how he had gotten here half the time and, when he did, it was too painful to dwell upon. He remembered nothing of his journey after he was taken captive and had no sense of how far away from Ithilien he was now. His first clear memory after capture was waking up in the auction house. The tremendous fight he had put up, even half-drugged and suffering a major concussion, had quickly caught the attention of a blood-pit master. After that... after that there had been nothing but this brutal, inhumane hell.
Raniean and Faramir expected him to be gone for quite some time, knowing that he and his party were off inspecting the progress down in southern Ithilien where the shadow had done some of its greatest harm. Did they realize that something was amiss? Were they even looking for him yet? Would anyone ever know what had happened? He feared not.
Legolas closed his eyes, blocking out his ugly reality as he tried to find escape in letting his heart wander through the trees of home in his mind... but his heart found no peace there. The beauty surrounded him, but it was remote, remembered, and unreal. The trees were silent, they no longer spoke to his heart in the deep way that he craved. Birds wailed overhead, drawing at his spirit with a cry more compelling than the whisper of the wind through tree boughs... gulls, they were calling... they were calling him. He could taste the sea air on his lips, remember the deep rolling blue-green of the ocean as seen from the shores of Pelagir... the elf’s breath hitched. He had seen the sea only once, but it haunted his dreams and ever held a small part of his heart captive to its call. In Ithilien he could ignore the pull, bury the ache under the enjoyment of all the work to be done, but here... ai Valar, his every fiber craved the sea, wanted to fling himself into its depths and let the water close over his head, not caring if he ever came up again. Wanted to...
The prince stopped and held his breath as the repressed desire squeezed his aching heart tight.
He wanted to follow the path that his mother and father had already taken, that every elf on Middle-earth was destined to take someday. He wanted to sail, wanted to find Valinor on the other side of those alluring breakers... wanted it so badly it hurt.
Legolas balled his bloody fists. He could not leave, not yet. He had promised Aragorn, he had promised Gimli... so many promises... but the longing did not recede, and in this dark hell it only burned ever brighter in his consciousness until his heart throbbed in time with the remembered crash and roll of the waves. To sail... to be free...
Soft sounds pulled the prince from his painful reveries and made Legolas lift his head wearily.
A tiny little boy with huge, grey-blue eyes and a curly mop of dark hair was standing just outside the bars of the elf’s cell, uncertainly clutching a pail of water and a rag; regarding the prince with unconcealed terror. The child couldn’t have been more than three or four years old.
Legolas wondered what a child so young was doing in a place like this until a barked command from down the hall made the little one flinch and hurriedly put the water pail past the bars of Legolas’ cell, following it through. The boy was so small that he was able to easily slide between the narrow slats of the elf’s cage, which was exactly why he had been put to this job.
The slaves’ cages were never opened except for when the inmates were taken out to fight; it was too dangerous any other time and, besides, none save the men who owned the slaves had the key to their tiny prisons. So the arena masters employed small slave children who could fit through the cage bars to tend the combatants after a fight. Legolas understood the practice, although this particular pit had not had a ‘cage brat’ for most of the time that he had been here.
The little boy was new and obviously terrified out of his mind by the situation he found himself in. Fixing large, frightened eyes on the elf, the child pressed himself back against one wall, clutching one arm to his chest as though it hurt and watching carefully as if expecting the bloodied elf to bite him.
Legolas smiled softly despite himself. “I won’t hurt you, little one. It’s all right...” He knelt and reached his hand out to the tiny human child. The boy looked uncertain, but edged slowly closer, knowing he had to do as he had been told or he would be punished again. He was still smarting from the last time.
Hesitantly dipping the rag into the bucket, the little one screwed up his courage to gently brush the soft cloth across the elf’s bloody arm, washing away the gore and dirt.
Legolas winced when the cold water touched his injury, but did not move away from the boy. There was an innocence in the child’s eyes and a gentleness in his touch that reached to the elf’s shadowed heart.
“Hurts?” The wide, questioning eyes looked up at Legolas with compassionate curiosity as he continued to gently mop the elf’s injury. Despite the natural clumsiness of his extreme youth, the young one’s touch actually had a somewhat calming or healing quality to it that surprised the prince. Had it really been so long since he was touched gently, or by any hand not meant to harm, that the halting contact of this mere babe should have that effect upon him? He supposed so.
Legolas nodded honestly. “Yes, but it will pass. And you? Does your arm hurt?” He noticed that the boy was still favoring one limb.
The child nodded back, hesitantly pulling up his grubby little sleeve and showing several long, dirty scratches that were flushed and inflamed.
Legolas winced at the sight and took the rag from the boy’s other hand, dipping it back in the cool water. Gently holding the small arm, he washed the boy’s wound. “How did it happen?”
The little boy stuck his lip out but otherwise made no sound at the pain of having the infected scratches cleansed. “Big man with lots’a hair two cells down. He said he was gonna eat me!”
Legolas would have laughed at the youth’s round-eyed look if he had not known that the threat had not been delivered in a light-hearted manner. Many of the fighters in the pits behaved little better than the animals they were treated as.
“Did they give you any bandages, little one?” Legolas asked quietly.
“Oh!” The boy clapped his hands at being reminded and scurried out between the bars for a moment before quickly reappearing and slipping back in. “I forgot,” he apologized somewhat sheepishly.
Legolas just smiled softly as the boy tried to unroll the long ball of bandaging and end up getting tangled in it instead. Just what exactly they expected little ones this young to be able to do with the scanty tools given them was beyond the elf, but Legolas gently relieved the boy of the task, binding first the child’s arm, and then his own. That done, Legolas treated the rest of his wounds himself, washing away as much of the blood from his body as he could.
The child was watching him seriously. “Did you kill anybody?” he asked quietly, showing that he understood more of what went on here than he should have for one so young.
Legolas dropped his gaze, staring at the water in the wash-pail, now stained a deep red, his own feelings of taintedness coming back with a vengeance under the child’s innocent gaze. Certainly, as a warrior, he had taken many lives in countless battles, but that was different... he had been fighting for a cause or to protect others... not just the twisted amusement of the onlookers.
“Yes,” Legolas whispered. He didn’t want to answer the question but somehow felt compelled to do so.
The elf almost started when the little boy touched his cheek gently. “You didn’t want to.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.
Legolas shook his head. He smiled softly again as the little boy petted his cheek in an obvious attempt to make the elf feel better.
“It makes you sad. I sorry.”
Legolas ruffled the boy’s thick locks fondly. “You are a very perceptive child, you know that?”
The boy cocked his head to the side. “What’s precip – precept- what’s that mean?”
Legolas laughed, the first time he had done so in weeks. “Never mind. What’s your name little one?”
The child looked uncertain about trusting the stranger with this information and pulled his chin back a little, studying the elf.
“My name’s Legolas, it means Greenleaf in the language of my people,” the prince offered, prodding slightly.
“Dari,” the boy finally confided. “It means...” a thoughtful look crossed the little one’s face as he tried to recall if his name had a meaning. “It means me!” the boy smiled.
“So I see,” Legolas grinned. “And where are your parents, Dari?”
Dark clouds fell immediately across Dari’s face and tears welled instantly in his large, silver-blue eyes. Legolas realized too late that that must be a painful subject for the young one. The child didn’t speak but scrubbed at his eyes as the tears spilled down onto his cheeks, his breath hitching as he nearly dissolved into tears.
“Shh, shh, it’s all right, don’t cry, Dari, I’m sorry,” the elf tried to soothe, unsure what to do or say to help the sobbing child. He was not used to dealing with children, especially human ones. The most contact he’d had recently was with Aragorn and Arwen’s infant son several years ago, but he’d never been left alone to figure out what to do with the baby.
Suddenly a loud voice shouted Dari’s name from down the hall and the boy jumped almost visibly. “Dari? Where are you, you little brat?!”
A large, burly man stormed down the hall, stopping before the barred door to Legolas’ prison. Hetsupa was a quick, evil-tempered man; he was the overseer of this cage block and also Dari’s master.
The little slave boy was still crying, but visibly cringed in fear when Hetsupa’s bulky form stopped outside the cell. “Get moving, brat! This isn’t a social call! You had better get the rest of these cages seen to in less than no time or I’ll give you another whupping, got it?”
Dari hurriedly grabbed the bucket, cloth and bandages and slid out between the bars, casting one last, teary-eyed glance at the elf.
Legolas watched him go with a pain-filled gaze. He would have liked to wring Hetsupa’s neck for treating the little boy as he did, but he would only have gotten Dari in trouble if he acted up. That was the way things were here.
“What’re you looking at, arena-bait?” Hetsupa clanged his fist against the bars of Legolas’ cell.
Legolas pierced the man with his hard stare before settling back into the corner, crossing his arms over his knees and turning his face to look back out the window.
Hetsupa scowled and gave the bars another kick. “Freak,” he muttered deprecatingly. One good thing about the perpetually locked cages was that the overseers and guards couldn’t actually mistreat the slaves as much as they would have liked to.
Legolas ignored the hateful man, his eyes locked on the blue patch of sky that was his only touch of freedom. The pale, blue-grey expanse reminded him of Dari’s eyes.
Dari should be free. He should be free. They all should be... The elf steeled his shoulders so they would not shake. They did not belong here... no one belonged in this place.Next