eyes widened with shock and surprise. "L-Legolas?" he breathed his
son’s name unbelievingly. "My son... you shouldn’t be here, my son..."
the king whispered weakly, his face filled with unbearable pain.
Legolas dropped to his knees by the bed, forbidding his body to tremble. "Forgive me, Father, I had to come."
"Legolas..." Thranduil’s voice was frail and rasping, his eyes searching blearily for his son’s face.
"I know what it means, Father, I’m sorry," Legolas’ words tumbled swiftly out on top of one another. "But I-I had to see you again..." his voice choked slightly.
"Legolas," Thranduil cut him off, holding his arms out weakly.
Legolas had to choke back his emotions as he readily allowed himself to be folded into his father’s embrace. Clinging to the older elf tightly, Legolas buried his face against his father’s shoulder.
"My son... my son..." Thranduil murmured as he hugged Legolas close, cupping the back of the younger elf’s head in his hand and stroking his son’s hair as he did when Legolas was a child, many, many years ago. Silent tears ran down the king’s pale, wan face. "I have missed you, Legolas. All has gone ill since you left, as if a curse has fallen over us... I have failed my people when they need me most."
Legolas closed his eyes tightly against his own overflowing emotions, but was only partially able to hold them in check. "I missed you too, Father," his voice caught slightly as his shoulders shook despite his best efforts. "More than you can know. But the spiders are dealt with now, there is no more danger. You have failed no one, Father. You must get well now, you must."
Legolas heard the door open behind him. Elrynd had re-entered the room and Amil-Garil, captain of the king’s guard, was with him. They stopped when they saw the king and his son. Neither spoke. Neither dared.
Legolas tensed when he sensed the presences behind him, but did not move, lingering here in his father’s warm embrace for as long as he could. Savoring every last touch of his father’s love before having to face what he knew waited for him. When Thranduil told him to go with them, then he would leave and he would accept his fate without regret.
"What is it, Elrynd?" Thranduil spoke with more authority and strength than he had in months. Legolas still had not turned around and his father had not released him. He tensed as the elf behind him spoke, but his father’s hands on his back calmed him. It mattered not what happened now. He was not rejected in the one way that truly mattered. Whatever had to happen, his father loved him still.
"We found an intruder my lord." Elrynd spoke hesitantly.
Legolas closed his eyes and relaxed, awaiting the inevitable.
"He is my son." Thranduil did not move or release the young elf he held onto. "Leave us now."
"No, my lord that is not what I meant, the intruder, I..." the elf hesitated, unsure how to proceed as Legolas turned in his father’s arms to stare at Elrynd, "I was not speaking of your...your son, Lord Thranduil. I was speaking of this one."
The messenger stepped aside and the captain of the guard motioned two warrior elves into the king’s room. They drug a small figure in with them and shoved the intruder forward. He tripped at the rough handling and fell to the floor, the hood of his cloak concealing his identity. The person was tightly bound and made no move to rise.
Legolas did not need to see the intruder’s face to know who he was. The dark strands of hair that brushed the thick carpet gave his friend away and he could tell by the man’s breathing that he had been roughed up before being brought into the king’s chambers.
"No," the elf prince barely whispered the word, stunned silent by this new turn. Now they would both pay with their lives.
Thranduil watched his son carefully as one of the warriors reached down and jerked the hood away from Aragorn’s face. The man was lying on his side, his eyes closed in pain as he breathed in slowly, forcing air back into lungs that weren’t quite working right yet, trying to get his diaphragm to remember how to work correctly after the vicious pounding he had just taken from the guards.
At the sound of the prince’s voice the human moved his head slightly, looking in the direction of the elf. Legolas still knelt by his father’s bed. Thranduil had allowed the young elf to turn around but had not yet released him.
"I’m sorry," the young man whispered hoarsely, coughing as he finally caught his breath. "I got caught. I thought you might need help."
"You were not supposed to follow." Legolas leaned forward to help the man sit up, but was stopped by one of the guards who blocked his path.
"Release him," the elf prince ordered out of habit.
"You carry no authority here, outcast." The guard’s voice was hard and he would not look the elf in the eyes.
"Do not speak to him thus," Thranduil sat slowly up in bed, his eyes hard, his strength seeming to return before their very eyes. "He is my son." Looking to the human the king ordered his guards, "Leave us alone. Remove the human, I will deal with him later."
"No!" Legolas turned to implore his father, "No, father. Aragorn is the reason I am able to return to you at all."
The king held up his hand and the warriors stepped back, leaving the ranger lying on the carpet.
Legolas continued, "I suffered morgul poisoning, to the point of death. There was no one to help us. Aragorn saved me." He tried to cover up for Elrond’s part in his healing but the ranger softly spoke up.
"Elrond saved him. I only took your son home to my father." He met the king’s eyes and held them. Legolas sighed deeply and turned away from them both. He had not wanted to involve Elrond if he could help it, and he still was not convinced that his father would not take steps against the other elven lord.
"Did he now?" Thranduil’s voice was hard as stared back at the ranger.
"Yes, he did." Aragorn answered the question. When Thranduil did not back down the ranger simply shook his head and laid back down on the carpet, his body was still aching from the beating he had taken when the guards had caught him. Whatever his fate, it was out of his hands.
"Do not hold it against him, Father."
Thranduil’s gaze softened and he smiled at the young elf. "How could I? I owe him a great debt of gratitude that I cannot repay."
"But you can," Legolas returned the smile as a thought struck him. "Aragorn is Elrond’s own. He has claimed him as his son. Give him back his life as Elrond gave me back mine."
"Father," the young elf did not give the king the chance but continued, "It was Aragorn who had found the spider’s lair. Together we were able to destroy the nests and drive those foul creatures from the woods. Every wounded elf beneath your chambers in this palace owes his life to Aragorn."
"And to you." Aragorn twisted in his bonds and nodded at Legolas, more than anything he wanted his friend reunited with his father. Carefully he raised himself up to his knees, bowing low in respect to the elderly elf. "Your son underestimates his part. Because of Legolas the wastelands are free of orcs, their danger has been driven back into the evil mountains from whence they came." He smiled at his friend, "It was his bravery that slew Tairach where she hung in her nest. His actions would have made you proud."
"His actions have made me proud, young human."
Legolas turned back to his father, holding his breath in hope and fear.
King Thranduil looked between the two friends, gazing at them long and hard. His heart most desperately wanted his son back. The human, he would have to keep his eye on him before he was comfortable with the ranger, but the fact that Elrond had taken him as a son was no light matter. He could not condemn the man to death and he had the very distinct suspicion that if he did Legolas would go with him down to the grave.
Shaking his head at the two youths, he addressed the warrior standing closest to the ranger, "Release him."
Aragorn flinched slightly as the elf whipped out a long knife and stepped forward. He cut the ropes that held the man bound, in one swift motion.
As the bonds fell away from his wrists, the man sucked his breath in sharply, the rush of blood to his fingers causing him no small amount of pain. He carefully rubbed the red burn marks the ropes had made on the soft skin of his wrists as Legolas glared at the elf warrior.
"Leave us." The king ordered. "I will address the courts regarding the fate of my son and the human." As Elrynd bowed to take his leave the king spoke once more, "And see to it that proper quarters are prepared for the human. Re-open the prince’s rooms and see that they are well kept."
Legolas touched the king’s arm lightly with his fingers. "Father, I would be more at ease if Aragorn were allowed to stay in my guest quarters tonight," he implored the elder elf.
"I see your point." Thranduil conceded and addressed his servant once more, "See to my son's wishes and prepare his guest quarters."
"As you wish, my lords," Elrynd replied with a smile as he bowed to the two elves.
Aragorn still sat on the floor, watching the whole exchange, unsure if they had been released from their death sentence or just given a temporary reprieve.
"Father!" Legolas shouted the word with such joy that the human couldn’t help the smile that crept onto his lips as the young elf threw himself back into the arms of the king. "Thank you father."
"It is not finished yet, my son." Thranduil held the young elf to him, feeling his strength return more every moment as he grabbed back onto life, to love, to hope... to his son. "We still must face the council."
"Surely our actions speak for our intentions, do they not?" Legolas was unsure what would happen next.
Thranduil looked over his son’s shoulder at the man seated on the floor of his room and raised his eyebrow. He almost smiled at the wide-eyed expression on the human’s face, "Young human, you say Elrond has claimed you as his son?"
Legolas released his father and seated himself on the king’s bed, holding one of the elderly elf’s hands in his own.
"If I sent for him tonight and told him you were here, would he come for you?" the King queried again.
"Yes, my lord, and my brothers would accompany him also, I am sure of it." Aragorn looked questioningly at Legolas. The elf shrugged his shoulders slightly, uncertain where his father was going with the line of questioning.
"And you claim that your father does not acknowledge my sentencing of the two of you."
"No, my lord, he does not." A spike of fear ran through the ranger as he answered; unwilling to put his adoptive father in jeopardy; he began to defend the elven lord.
Thranduil raised his hand and stopped the ranger. "A king’s verdict on any given subject is law and therefore cannot be violated or simply ignored." The color drained from Aragorn’s face as he heard the words, but the king continued, "However if two rulers agree that the edict was perhaps ill-conceived or has outlived its purpose it may be overturned. It takes two, however, to do this." He stared hard at the boy in his room, "Will Elrond agree that perhaps this particular ruling in this particular case has outlived its purpose and needs be dropped?"
The rangers sigh of relief caused the king to laugh lightly. "I’ll take that as a yes." He turned towards the outer chambers and called for his servant.
When Elrynd opened the door and stepped in he was surprised to find the king standing near the fire, stoking the dying embers. Just how fast Thranduil was recovering was truly remarkable, almost unbelievable if Elrynd had not been witnessing it with his own eyes.
Legolas reached down to his friend and pulled Aragorn up into a warm embrace, checking the human out to make sure he was okay after the abuse he had taken when he had been caught. He was quietly chiding the man about being more careful and disappearing into his surroundings better. The whole scene shocked the servant who only moments ago was tending a dying king.
"My lord, you called me?" the servant asked.
"Yes Elrynd," The king approached the elf, "I need you to send an envoy to Rivendell tonight, to request that Lord Elrond attend a council that I will be convening in two days." The elf king glanced at his son and Aragorn. "That should give him enough time?"
"Yes, my lord." Aragorn replied respectfully.
"Tell him it involves his son." Thranduil turned back to Elrynd continuing to instruct him.
He was interrupted as Aragorn spoke up, "Begging your pardon, my lord, but please make sure to tell him, and especially his sons, that Aragorn is well and lives." He smiled a lopsided grin at the questioning glance from the king. "They can be overprotective," he explained with a shrug.
Thranduil nodded, "I understand completely. Make sure you tell Elrond that his son is well and tell the brothers not to worry, that it is a merely a formality. I am sure Lord Elrond will understand."
Waking up had not felt quite so good in a very
long time. Aragorn lay in his bed and let the soft sounds of morning
sweep over him. In no hurray to get up, he relaxed back against
the soft mattress. A smile touched his lips as he remembered that this
was the day his father and his brothers would be joining him at King
Thranduil’s palace in Mirkwood. He had spent the last couple of days
catching up on his rest as he and Legolas used the palace as a
sanctuary. Few of the elves even knew they had returned and those that
did had been sworn to silence by the king himself.
Legolas pushed the door open that separated their adjoining rooms and looked around the darkened interior for his friend.
"Are you still in bed? Know you not what hour it is?" The elf walked to the large window that exited on to the balcony and threw the curtains back, letting bright morning light spill into the guest quarters.
He turned and frowned back at the bedchamber. "Strider, get up!"
"Feels too good to just lie here." The man grumbled, pulling the covers over his head.
"Your brothers were spotted on the edge of the wood." Legolas smiled wickedly at the lump of covers that marked where Aragorn lay.
"What?" Aragorn moved and squinted at the elf. "Then get out of here and let me get up!"
Legolas laughed and walked back to the door, "Very well. Dress quickly, I’ll be waiting for you in the courtyard. Your family should be here any minute."
When the door had shut behind the elf, Aragorn jumped from his bed and quickly pulled on his leggings and tunic. He ran his hands through his hair and stuffed his feet into his boots, pelting down the stairs after his friend. Throwing the door open, the human nearly ran Legolas over where the elf stood in the courtyard talking with Raniean as they awaited their guests.
The sounds of horses’ hooves could just be heard as they entered the cobbled stone entry of the courtyard. Aragorn’s excitement was contagious and Legolas found himself grinning as Elrond and his sons rode under the archway of the palace and dismounted near them. Raniean and his men took charge of the animals and led them away slowly, letting the horses walk off the long trip before they gave them food and water.
Aragorn found himself caught up between the twins who barely remembered their manners, bowing slightly to the prince before they overwhelmed their brother. Their laughter rang off the stone walls of Thranduil's palace and filled the courtyard. Elrond shook his head watching the three of them. If he hadn’t known how old the twins truly were, he would have thought them to be no older than Aragorn. The young human brought out the youth in his sons and he smiled as he watched them.
Walking over to Legolas he bowed slightly and questioned the young elf, "How do you feel, young prince? I trust you are better than last we met?"
Legolas formally returned the bow smiling, "Yes thanks to your ministrations, my lord, I am doing well."
Elrond turned to watch the brothers as they battered Aragorn with questions. Elladan stepped close to the human and cupped his hands under the man’s chin forcing Aragorn’s head back and inspected the almost healed wounds Tairach had dealt him, "What happened to you?"
"That looks nasty." Elrohir ran his fingers lightly around the man’s throat tracing the cuts the spider's claw had left.
Aragorn wrestled himself free of the two elves and brushed their hands aside. "I’m fine!" He glared at Elrond, begging for help, but the elder elf only smiled back at the youth and raised his hands helplessly.
Elrohir sidled up to Aragorn and leaned down on the human’s shoulder glancing at him conspiratorially as a wicked smile spread across his face. He threw a quick look at his twin before confiding in the human, "When Thranduil’s men came and requested our presence, Elladan wasn’t there. So when he got back I told him that they had killed you."
The elf started laughing at his own joke.
Aragorn turned wide eyes on his brother, "Elrohir! You didn’t?"
Through his laughter the elf continued, "I did. Elladan didn’t take it very well, but father ruined it and told him the truth."
Elladan glowered at his brother, "That was the cruelest thing you have ever done, Elrohir."
"I was only getting you back for that time you said the white deer were running in the vale and then you left me there without a horse." Elrohir stepped away from Aragorn and challenged his brother.
Legolas laughed and joined the conversation, "The white deer run through your woods?"
Elrond left the young elves to their hunting tales as Thranduil’s attendant, Elrynd, entered the courtyard. He bowed low to the Noldo elf, "My lord, King Thranduil has requested your company. Would you follow me?"
Elrond turned his gaze back to the companions watching as Elrohir held their attention, expounding on one of the twins’ recent hunting forays.
"They are safe here, my lord. Few know that they are in the castle and those that do have been sworn to secrecy," Elrynd offered, mistaking the elf’s attention for worry.
Elrond nodded and motioned for the twins to follow him as he caught Elladan’s eye.
"We’d like to stay with Aragorn and Legolas," his son called back.
"As you wish." His eyes cautioned the younger elf and Elladan nodded back knowingly. They were with Silvan elves, in territory that had been declared off limits under penalty of death to their human brother. Until the entire proceedings were over he was not out of danger and Elrond wanted his sons to be wary. Noldorin and Silvan elves were not always known to get along; the day’s events would prove very interesting. Turning back to Elrynd, he gestured for the servant to lead the way.
Legolas stilled his laughter long enough to catch his breath. He touched Elladan’s shoulder lightly, drawing the twins attention. "The assembly will begin soon. We need to prepare." He glanced at Aragorn and looked the human up and down, taking note of the dark, rumpled clothing. "You aren’t wearing that, are you?"
Elladan turned towards the human and appraised him. "No, he’s not," he answered for the man.
Aragorn looked from Legolas to his brother in surprise. "Yes I am! I am a ranger. This is how rangers dress."
"You at least need a shower." His eldest brother frowned at him.
"It’s all right, Aragorn," Elrohir interrupted them. "I brought your formal wear." He smiled at the man, noting the way the human had suddenly become highly self-conscious. Right now the last thing Aragorn needed was more stress; he had a feeling that the formalities of the assembly would be enough to put the young human on edge.
Aragorn nodded and smiled back. "Fine. Lets go then."
Legolas led the brothers back up to his quarters, "Come on, I need a change of clothing too. It will be very formal. I’ll tell you all about what to expect before we are summoned."
They mounted the stairs, listening intently to the elf prince as he explained everything that would take place over the course of the day.
An hour later a knock on the prince’s door
them that the proceedings were beginning. Legolas was dressed in a
green velvet leggings and tunic. The tunic had been embroidered with
golden thread, weaving intricate patterns of leaves around the cuffs
and near the buttons. Leather had been worked into the shirt forming a
stiff collar that dropped in an elegant ‘v’ neck where it was fastened
by a brooch in the shape of the royal insignia. The silver work was
exquisite. Soft deerskin boots covered his feet and his elven blades
were hung in leather sheaths at his side. As he opened the doors and
allowed the contingent of guards in, he looked every bit the royal that
he was. He looked the company of elves over quietly, not quite sure who
would have been sent to collect him and Aragorn. But as he opened the
door and saw Raniean and Trelan and their company smiling back at him,
he relaxed and stepped back so the elves could enter.
"My lord, it is time." Raniean announced with a smile. It was good to have the prince back.
"Aragorn, we must be going!" Legolas called over his shoulder as he clasped the warrior's forearm.
Behind him, the ranger stepped out of the adjoining room, trailing his brothers. Elladan and Elrohir, though princely in stature, had taken on the appearance of warriors instead. They had convinced Legolas to allow them to walk with the guards into the hearing, unwilling to let Aragorn go alone.
Raniean appraised the two Noldor elves, not at all pleased with the turn of events. As the Dùnadan stepped from around the unknown warriors, the Silvan elf stepped forward to greet the human and stopped in his tracks.
The man was dressed in dark trousers and a dark suede overtunic that swept down his back mid-calf. The shoulders and collar of the shirt were worked in gold and silver and the undershirt was a deep burgandy silk. Even Legolas stopped and eyed the man; he looked every bit a human prince at that moment.
The scrutiny was lost on the young ranger who was fiddling with the buttons on the leather tunic and pulling the tail of the shirt down as he adjusted to wearing the tighter fitting clothing. Elladan cleared his throat and Aragorn looked up for the first time. He glanced about him looking between his friends and his brothers, unaware of the effect his bearing had.
"What?" He glared at Legolas. "I showered!"
Raniean broke out laughing and looked at Trelan, "Then it must be you I smell!"
The smaller elf rolled his eyes and approached Aragorn. "You look fine. How are you feeling?"
"How am I feeling? You’re the one the spider was saving for dinner!" He laughed as he turned the elf towards the twins who still stood to the back of the room.
"These are my brothers, Elladan and Elrohir." He motioned to the Noldor elves, who both bowed slightly to the company of warriors. The fact that the human had called the elves his brothers was not lost on the elven guards and, when Aragorn turned back to continue his introductions, Raniean was frowning at the human in confusion.
Aragorn simply proceeded with the introductions, "And these are my friends." He introduced each elf by name to the twins.
"Your brothers?" Trelan leaned close and whispered the question to the human.
Legolas grabbed the small elf and steered him out the door. "It’s a long story, Trelan. Some other time. I think if we wait any longer they will send another contingent and I would rather walk among friends."
Aragorn stepped next to Legolas as they filed out of the prince's quarters. Elladan and Elrohir immediately took up positions behind the two friends and Trelan fell in step next to the human as Raniean flanked the prince. The rest of the contingent followed a step behind, closing the doors as they headed for the assembly hall.
Walking back into the large hall was more
than Aragorn had thought it would be. He remembered the last time he
had walked these same steps and the nervousness began to eat at his
stomach again. Sensing the man's unease, Legolas glanced at him out of
the corner of his eyes and smiled lightly. Elladan’s strong hand on his
shoulder steadied him somewhat and in seconds they stood once again
before Lord Thranduil’s throne, surrounded by the elves of Mirkwood.
Aragorn fought the desire to fidget with his clothing and instead
clasped his hands together in front of him and waited.
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