The sound of horse
hooves rang through the palace as Raniean led his small band of
warriors back into the castle’s courtyard. Their horses were hot and
lathered from the long push home and they paced uneasily as the elves
threw themselves from their backs and pelted towards the common area.
"Close the gates!" Legolas called out to the guards. He had no idea how far behind them Sarcayul and his men were, but he would take no chances until his father had heard their case. Grabbing Aragorn by his coat sleeve, the prince drug the human with him as he chased down Raniean and Trelan.
Elrynd intercepted the warriors, "Peace. What is wrong?" He took note of the prince’s presence and bowed slightly to the royal.
Legolas pressed to the front of the group of elves and addressed his father’s servant. "Elrynd, find my father ask him to meet us in the assembly hall. We have word of Sarcaulien’s killer. It is not the Dùnadan and we can prove it." When the servant nodded in understanding, the prince shoved Raniean towards the meeting hall, the elves following them quickly. "Hurry, Elrynd." He called back as the servant swiftly left the courtyard.
Once inside the huge hall, Raniean stationed two of his warriors near the doors with warning to let no one pass. The elves paced nervously waiting for their liege to enter. Legolas pressed Aragorn down in a seat near the front and cautioned him, "Stay seated and stay out of the discussion. Let Raniean, Trelan and I deal with this. We walk a very fine line, my friend, and this still may go badly for us. Do you understand?" He stared down into the brown eyes intently watching him.
Aragorn simply nodded. Any response he would have formed was cut off as the king entered from his side chamber flanked by a small contingent of guards.
The elves immediately bowed low, waiting for Thranduil to address them. The king’s eyes swept the small group of warriors, settling on his son. His heart contracted as he noted the young elf was well. How he had missed him! But his anger with his son’s actions warred against his emotions and he cast a dark glance at the ranger before speaking.
The glare was not lost on the human, who quietly maintained his seat.
Finally Thranduil chose to speak. "Elrynd tells me you have proof that the Dunadai is not guilty of Sarcaulien’s death."
"Yes, my lord," Raniean answered for them all.
"I would know of it and how you came about it." The king speared them all with a serious look.
Raniean glanced at Trelan and nodded at the small elf. The warrior stepped up and bowed once more. "My lord, it was I who discovered and retrieved the evidence."
Thranduil raised a hand indicating permission to speak. "Tell me of your evidence then."
Trelan quickly but thoroughly explained how he had overheard Morifwen, Sarcayul and Sarcayul’s men discussing Sarcaulien’s accidental death and their purpose for hiding the truth about his demise; simply put, a reason to get rid of the Dùnadan permanently.
It was several moments before Lord Thranduil addressed the warriors. During Trelan’s explanation his ire had risen. He was angry with Sarcayul and his men for hiding the truth and putting a guest of the house of Thranduil in mortal jeopardy, but he was even more incensed that this whole cover-up had involuntarily drug his son into the middle of it, in a fashion that he was now powerless to control or repeal.
Legolas watched his elder. He noted the way Thranduil’s lips tightened about the edges as Trelan had explained their discovery and he had seen the way the king’s eyes had narrowed. He knew the monarch was terribly angry and he found himself slightly fearing his father’s next words.
"You realize what you speak is very treacherous if you are lying to me?" Thranduil gazed hard at the small elf warrior standing before him. "This proof you speak of, have you it in your possession now?"
"Yes, my lord." Trelan dropped his eyes and turned back to Raniean. The tall warrior passed him Strider’s quiver and the elf quickly removed two arrows from its main chamber. "With your permission, my lord." He held the shafts out on his open palm.
Thranduil motioned and one of his guards stepped forward and retrieved the arrows from the warrior, passing them to the king for inspection. The elf lord looked up from the weapons and shook his head. "These are identical. I fail to see your proof."
"My lord, if I may?" Raniean stepped forward and bowed, requesting permission to approach the king. Thranduil motioned him forward and leaned towards the elf as he stepped near.
"The one with the blood on it," Raniean twirled the arrow lightly on the kings palm where he held them, "See this, my lord?" He ran his finger around the band of elvish writing, "It says..."
"I can read elvish, Raniean." The king warned, smiling as the warrior’s cheeks reddened slightly at the barb.
"Yes, my lord, forgive me." The elf raised his eyes back up to meet the king’s and relaxed when he saw the elder elf smiling back at him. Thranduil motioned for him to continue. "This blood-stained arrow belongs to Morifwen. And this one belongs to the Dùnadan. They are identical, for Morifwen taught the ranger how to fletch his arrows and he gave Strider his own fletchings. But the human has no knowledge of the ways of elven warriors and he did not mark any of his arrows with his name."
Thranduil’s eyebrows raised as he glanced from the warrior to the human. Aragorn had not moved since Legolas had seated him and he stared back openly at the king.
"Father," Legolas moved from the group of elves, speaking for the first time, "the Dùnadan is innocent. Sarcaulien’s blood was spilt by the hands of elves, it was an accident. Will you now lift the death sentence that Sarcaulien’s family requested?"
Thranduil’s gaze softened as he looked on his son. His own, who forfeited everything to clear the reputation of a man. How things had changed in the last few thousand years. How could he not grant his son’s wish, what they both knew would be Legolas’ last grantable wish. The king shut his emotions out and ignored his feelings, they had no place in ruling in a kingdom, what was done was done. With a sigh Thranduil turned to Elrynd who stood nearby, quietly listening to the proceedings.
"Have scouts sent out after Sarcayul and his men. Bring them back here by nightfall and inform the people that I have convened an assembly at dusk." He turned back to the elves standing in front of him. "You are confined to this hall and to its premises. You may make use of its guest quarters to freshen up and I will have refreshments sent to you. You are not free to leave this hall under any conditions. I will summon you when the assembly is prepared. Do I make myself clear?"
The murmured responses pleased the king and he stood, without a backward glance towards Legolas, and he left the hall.
Aragorn stood from his seat, unsure of what was going on. He approached Legolas who still stood watching the door his father had exited from. His face was sad and his eyes were full of longing. When the ranger touched his arm, he quickly steeled his emotions and turned towards his friend.
"Are you all right?"
"My father is upset. But he will rule in your favor, Strider." Legolas smiled at the worried look the ranger gave him.
"That’s not what I asked," the human pressed.
Choosing to ignore his question, the elf prince walked back towards the group of elves. "Come, let’s make use of the guest quarters. There will be food and refreshment there and we can rest before tonight."
Aragorn hadn’t moved as the elves walked quietly towards the far side of the stepped throne entering into a large spacious room that was set behind the hall. Legolas looked over his shoulder and turned back toward the man, "What’s wrong?"
"I don’t know. You tell me." He glanced in the direction that Thranduil had left. "Your father didn’t even speak to you, Legolas. I don’t feel very sure about this whole thing. What aren’t you telling me?"
The elf looked down momentarily. "Aragorn, there is much to this that you don’t understand and I cannot explain it all to you right now. If the scouts find Sarcayul and his men, which I am certain they will, we will face the court tonight. It will go well for you, but it would be best if you took rest while we can. There will be food prepared for us also, you should eat."
Aragorn grimaced at his friend. "I don’t think I can eat. My stomach’s all tied up inside."
The elf’s laughter lightened the moment. "Then at least come back and rest. We’ll be safe there. It will work out alright, trust me."
Nodding his head, the man followed the elf to the back room and joined the elves as they waited for the assembly.
True to Legolas’
word, the scouts had indeed found Sarcayul’s band with plenty of time
for an evening assembly.
The elves in the guest quarters listened intently as the hall filled and the attention of all was brought to order.
"Bring in the accused." Thranduil motioned to his guards who retrieved the prince and the warriors.
"Say nothing unless directly questioned by my father," Legolas whispered to Aragorn as they were ushered into the meeting hall.
"I think I hate this place,." the human quietly retorted, the sarcasm eliciting a sympathetic smile from the prince.
Once they stood before the king’s throne, Lord Thranduil’s guard took up position on either side of Legolas and Aragorn flanking the two and separating them from the rest of the elves.
"It has been brought to this court's attention that the request for retribution on the Dùnadan is out of order. Proof has been procured that irrevocably clears the human from the accidental death of Sarcaulien," Lord Thranduil addressed the hall of elves.
The proclamation brought forth a quiet chatter of whispers from those attending the meeting and the king held up his hand for silence. He nodded to the back of the hall and the great doors were opened as Sarcayul and his men were walked down the main aisle by a contingent of elven warriors. They were herded to the right of Raniean and his men and surrounded by guards.
"Morifwen, third son of Loriflen, step forward." Thranduil fixed the elf with a danger steady gaze.
The elf warrior swallowed hard, his eyes huge with fear as he stepped forward, trembling slightly.
"You have been accused of the accidental death of Sarcaulien. How do you plead to this charge?" Thranduil’s gaze never left the elf.
Morifwen glanced quickly at the prince and the ranger, but the king’s booming voice brought his attention back.
"Know you that I have in my possession evidence that supports this accusation." Thranduil leaned forward, "What have you to say?"
Morifwen dropped to his knees and bowed low to the ground. "My lord it was I whose arrow felled Sarcaulien. It was an accident, my lord."
"And yet you thought to frame the Dùnadan and seek his life for your mistake? The very Dùnadan who was a guest in this house?" When the elf didn’t answer quickly enough the king’s voice rose, "You used your bigotry of men to attempt to end this one's life as well? Was not the death of Sarcaulien enough for your conscience to hold?"
"Oh my lord, it is too much!" The elf looked up at the king, tears streaming down his face. "It is true. I did these things that my liege speaks of. The fault is mine, have mercy on me, my lord." A sob broke from the guilty elf and he looked quickly back to the floor.
"The guilt is not yours alone." Thranduil’s eyes narrowed as he fixed his glance on Sarcayul. The elf warrior looked down, but there was no sorrow in his eyes. "In fact, Morifwen, I would say that you had help with this plan. I know your family and I have watched you grow up; this is not at all like you to bring shame on your household in this manner."
"Yes, my lord." Morifwen replied brokenly, not even daring to look at the king.
"However I am also very aware of the bent of the hearts of the sons of Traycaul. Your whole company, Sarcayul, stands condemned because of your actions and your subterfuge. The sentence that I passed on the Dùnadan allowing you the right of familial retribution is here and now revoked." Lord Thranduil thought about his next words very carefully, letting his verdict sink into the hearts and minds of the people.
His gaze landed on the human standing next to his son and he seized upon an idea, it was not unheard of, and so he proceeded. "Strider, step forward."
Aragorn glanced quickly at Legolas as he stepped towards the king. He glanced at the pitiful form of Morifwen before he met Thranduil’s gaze.
"You are free now. You may no longer be hunted under these woods. Do you understand?" When Aragorn nodded the king continued, "The ones who requested permission to end your life are the very ones who now stand guilty. As they so requested to pass judgment upon you, I now pass permission for you to decide their sentencing. They have requested mercy; what say you human?"
Aragorn was speechless. He glanced back at Legolas and the warriors who were watching him expectantly. He looked over the crowd of elves intently quiet as they waited for him to speak. The only sound that drifted to his ears in the large hall was Morifwen’s quiet sobs. His glance lighted quickly on Sarcayul’s narrowed hate-filled eyes before he again looked to the elf on the floor. There had been too much pain and hurt and anger. It had to end.
Deciding in that moment, he took another step towards the king and a bit closer to Morifwen.
"Have you decided?" Thranduil raised his eyebrow as he assessed the human.
"Yes, my lord, I have." He turned back towards the hall of elves. "You are immortal, your lives far extend beyond that of men and so too do your memories. When I am gone you will still remember this day and, if the conversation permits, you will discuss it even then, it will not leave your hearts nor your minds. There could be no greater punishment than for an act of cowardice and bigotry to live in the minds of an eternal people as yourselves are. There has been enough hunting and killing." Turning back to Thranduil he addressed the king, "Give them mercy my lord, let them live. Let them live among you. Let them live with all these in attendance as witness to what they have done, for what could be worse than a life sentence of shame?"
Thranduil was surprised by the human’s words and the wisdom and grace by which they were spoken. He nodded slowly as he appraised the ranger. For a moment his anger against the human was abated; Elrond had taught the boy compassion well. But the proceedings were not over and the king’s countenance darkened in thought.
"Very well, let it be on them as you have said." He motioned towards the guards surrounding Sarcayul. One of the elves moved forward and gently but firmly pulled Morifwen to his feet. "You are not permitted to hunt the Dùnadan anywhere in the realm of Middle-earth and you and your families will live with the shame of your actions all your days." The king looked at the guards and spoke quietly, "Remove them."
The small contingent of warriors was quickly taken from the hall.
Aragorn turned back to Legolas, a small smile on his face, but the elf prince was staring intently at the king; the proceedings were far from over.
Returning to Legolas’ side the human was brushed out of the way as, at a silent nod from Thranduil, the guards took Legolas by the arms, one on either side of him. Crossing his wrists in front of him they bound him securely, yet with the utmost respect in their movements. It was a paradox to see. The prince submitted quietly, knowing this was coming.
Aragorn glanced between Legolas and his father, stunned incomprehension written across his face. But before he could question the situation, Thranduil spoke to his son.
"Prince Legolas, you broke our law, defied my word, resisted arrest and fled the palace like a common criminal. Do you acknowledge your deeds?" Thranduil asked quietly.
"I acknowledge them," Legolas replied softly, but without remorse.
"Then do you now choose to submit yourself voluntarily that your actions may be tried or will you require me to use force to restrain you here?" The king found sanctuary in the formality and tradition of his words, where he could try to forget that he was speaking them to his own flesh and blood. Legolas had defied and run from him once; he wanted to know what to expect, and strangely enough, he trusted his son to be truthful with him.
His father’s voice held an edge that Legolas did not miss. "I am here, am I not?" Legolas looked around as if proving his point. "I came back here willingly to face up to my actions, and I will remain so."
The prince raised his bound hands slightly for his father to see. "These are not necessary. I have accomplished what I set out to do, I will not run again."
Thranduil regarded his son quietly. There was no remorse in Legolas’ eyes and that angered him more than he wanted to admit.
"Take the prince to his chambers to await trial for his actions. Post a guard. You may unbind him when you get there," the Elvenking’s voice was hard.
Legolas’ jaw tightened slightly, but he did not protest at the notion of being led through his home in bonds, he knew it would do no good. His father was angry right now and there would be no talking to him until he had calmed down a little. After all the centuries they had known each other, Legolas knew his father’s moods fairly well.
Aragorn was sadly confused and alarmed by this turn of events. "But-but we proved-"
"That you did not commit murder. But Prince Legolas did break the law, and he admits that." Thranduil’s look was dark when he fixed it upon the human.
Aragorn shook his head in shock, too surprised to even protest. He had never imagined that Legolas would be in any trouble once the truth was proven... Legolas had never given him any indication that anything like this would happen!
"But..." Aragorn didn’t even know what to say. He felt as if his breath had failed him suddenly.
Legolas caught his eyes as the guards led him away, halting any further protest with a quick, firm shake of his head. Legolas knew that right now was not the time to press his father and, if Aragorn persisted, the young human would only end up in trouble again.
"Not now, Aragorn," Legolas commanded quietly. "You won’t be helping me." Then the guards ushered him out and Aragorn was left standing alone, staring after them and wondering how everything had gone so wrong so quickly.
"Good going, human," a soft voice
hissed in Aragorn’s ear as the young ranger stepped numbly out of the
throne room, still trying to understand what had just happened in
Aragorn jerked and turned to find Sarcayul leaning against the wall and appraising him with a cold eye. Aragorn’s brows furrowed and his gaze narrowed.
Sarcayul pushed off from the wall, his eyes not leaving the young human. Aragorn’s kindness to him earlier had only given him a deeper reason to hate the ranger. He would never allow himself to be indebted to a human, and definitely not this one.
"Do you realize what the prince has given up for you? Or do you just bumble through life without thinking about others?" the elf accused.
"What do you mean?" Aragorn demanded, in no mood for games.
"I mean that Legolas could face permanent expulsion for what he’s done on your behalf," Sarcayul sneered cruelly. "He interfered with the right of family retribution. He’s royalty, and that’s not allowed. Now he’s got to pay the price and, if King Thranduil isn’t too weak to enforce his own laws, he’s going to have to banish his son, making sure that Legolas can never show his face in Mirkwood again for the rest of his life. Do you have any idea how long that is for an immortal? Do you, human?!"
Aragorn resisted the urge to stumble back a step under the shock of the elf’s angry words. "You’re lying! You haven’t said one true thing since I met you, why should I believe you now?!"
The elf just shrugged and turned to walk away. "Believe me or not. I don’t care. It’s the truth. Good-bye, Strider. I hope you’re happy with yourself."
Aragorn felt eyes on him and spun around to find Raniean and Trelan watching him. "It’s not true?" he begged them to tell him that the other elf had been lying to him. "It’s not true is it?"
The two elves looked at one another sadly. "Strider..." Raniean said quietly, trying not to feel angry with the young ranger for the position that Legolas was in now. It was obvious that Aragorn cared just as deeply for the prince as Raniean and his other friends did. He couldn’t fault the human for what he hadn’t known. "He wasn’t lying. Legolas is in serious trouble."
"But I wasn’t guilty! We proved that! Sarcayul and his people had no right to seek my blood, so he broke no law by interfering!" Aragorn protested vehemently.
Trelan raised his hands to calm the young man. "You don’t have to convince us, Strider. And perhaps the King will see it that way too, we don’t know..."
Aragorn turned away from the elves in anguish.
"Don’t fear the worst until we know it for certain," Raniean tried to remain optimistic. "It’s not so sure a thing as Sarcayul would have you believe."
Aragorn nodded, unable to believe that any of this could really come to pass. "I-I’ve got to talk to Legolas."
Raniean laid a halting arm on the young man’s shoulder. "Give him a little time, Strider. The king may want to talk to him before he is called back for sentencing." Secretly, Raniean hoped that the king would. For his Legolas’ sake, and for Thranduil’s.
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