Telrayn and Meluiel, Trelan’s parents, were the first to greet him upon
mad dash between the courtyard where he and Umdanuë had dismounted
throne room where he hoped to find King Thranduil. Umdanuë
and two servants
who had admitted them hastily upon the insistence that their news was
followed swiftly in the boy’s wake.
“Trelan, how did you get here? Where have you been?!” Meluiel was relieved and annoyed at the same time. The child had been missing for three days. “We have been looking everywhere for you! Are you all right?”
Trelan allowed his mother to sweep him into a worried and relieved hug for a moment. He hugged her back tightly before he quickly wiggled free. “Nana, Ada, I’m sorry. I-I was captured...” he saw the alarm spreading across their faces and tried to head off the questions he did not have time for yet. “I’m all right, really, but I must get to the King at once, I have an important message for him about Prince Legolas!”
“What about Legolas?” Randomir was not far behind Telrayn and Meluiel. Since Trelan and Legolas disappeared three days ago the search for them had been intense. It was lucky that Trelan had caught them here at all, since they had only just returned from their latest fruitless search venture to regroup and compare information before heading out to look again. “Trelan, you’re pale as a wight, are you all right?”
“Yes and no,” Trelan was looking around for a way to escape all the questions and the gaggle of elves that were quickly congregating in the hall, drawn by the commotion. “Please, the King, I’ve got to see him!”
Amil-Garil was there now as well, trying to back the crowd of servants away so he could find out what was causing the disturbance.
“Amil-Garil, Randomir, what is going on?” a commanding voice made everyone look up and stop talking as Thranduil strode quickly down the hall, following the sounds of sudden clamor in passages that should have been quiet at this time of night. Raniean, filling his role as royal sentinel with the serious attention he paid everything, followed exactly five paces behind his liege.
The King was not dressed in his normal robes, but in his riding garb. His soft leather boots were still damp with dew and it was obvious that he too had just returned from the search for the two young elflings. Dark worry haunted Thranduil’s eyes. Legolas was gone with no word and no trace. It was inconceivable that his son had simply run off again and all he could do was fear the worst.
Everyone bowed quickly except for Trelan who was too worked up and confused to remember that he should. Because he barely stood even with most of the adults’ waists however, it was almost impossible to tell.
“Your highness, Trelan has returned!” Randomir said quickly as he and Amil-Garil cleared a path between Thranduil and Trelan.
Raniean wanted to run forward and greet his friend in relieved joy, but he hung back and remembered his post, letting Thranduil be the one to hurry forward.
Trelan’s heart broke anew when he saw the worried and hopeful look in the Elvenking’s eyes. How could he give him this news? Yet he had no choice.
Dropping to his knees before Thranduil, Trelan clasped his clenched fists together in his lap and hung his head for a moment in an anguished, hesitant bow.
“Y-your highness...” he didn’t know where to start and now he was scared as well as heart-broken. He had never actually tried to address the King before. Despite being so close to Legolas, he was somewhat petrified by his father. “I-I bring you ill news. Two days ago, Legolas and I were taken by Doriflen’s forces in Lant Gerin. I’m sorry, your Majesty, there were too many of them and we were taken by surprise.” He was not yet sure he could speak of the betrayal that had led them to that fateful place.
Thranduil paled visibly. “Go on,” he bid Trelan quietly. Elvéwen had appeared at his side from somewhere and he gripped her hand tightly.
Trelan swallowed hard. Everything had gone dead silent and all eyes were fixed on him. “We must have been knocked out because I remember little after that until waking up in a dark room with no windows. I was alone, but presently they brought me to where the prince was...” Trelan screwed his eyes shut, trying to hold back the tears that came every time he remembered what he had been forced to watch.
“D-Doriflen was there and he... he...” Trelan’s voice broke and he dropped his face into his hands, sobs shaking his shoulders.
Cold horror flooded Thranduil’s entire being. He was too stunned to even try to comfort Trelan as he normally would have. Elvéwen was squeezing his hand so tightly his fingers burned, but his body was numb.
Telrayn stepped forward quietly; resting his hands encouragingly on his son’s hunched, shaking shoulders. “It’s all right, ion-nín,” he soothed softly. “Please, Trelan, tell us what happened.”
“Doriflen beat the prince, badly. H-he made me watch. He said I was to remember it all and to tell you...” Trelan’s voice was on the verge of cracking again, but he willed himself to be stronger than this and plowed ahead. “I will never forget it,” his voice rasped slightly, horror evident in his tone as he pressed his palms brutally into his eyes as if trying to wipe the images away.
Telrayn closed his eyes as Meluiel knelt by their son’s side, touching his arm lightly. Trelan had obviously witnessed horrors that no child should have had to see.
“He sent me back, to give you this message: He says that if you do not surrender the throne of Mirkwood to him in one week, Legolas will... he’ll...” Trelan could not bring himself to repeat Doriflen’s viciously gruesome words. “He’ll kill him,” he finished weakly instead.
Picking up the thin twists of hair from his lap, Trelan rose to his feet, extending his hand towards Thranduil. “He bid me give you these,” the boy rasped miserably. “And tell you that every day he does not see your compliance he will... will beat Legolas again.”
Thranduil looked down at the two slim braids that curled in the palm of his hand in disbelief. Legolas’ silky golden tresses lay limply across his fingers. The unbound end where they had been cut was frayed and unraveling. An ugly, dark, brownish-red stain matted one section of the fair locks.
Legolas’ hair and Legolas’ blood.
Thranduil thought he had forgotten how to breathe. He closed his fingers around the horrible tokens, crushing them tightly in his grip as his world shattered around him.
Elvéwen buried her face in her husband’s sleeve. Not her baby, not Tyndolhen... how could they have let him fall into the hands of that madman again?
“No!” Raniean’s was the only voice that broke the shocked silence. He knew a small bit of the horror Trelan must have witnessed and his heart twisted violently within him. He should have been there. He should have been with Legolas; he should have protected him. He should not have let this happen!
“Please...” Trelan hardly knew what to hope for at this point as he turned red-rimmed, pleading eyes upon the King. “Please don’t let them hurt Legolas again! It was so bad, so bad...” the young elf was shaking.
Thranduil realized he was shaking too. If someone had cut out his heart and ripped it into pieces they could have wounded him no deeper than he was at this moment. It was a terrible decision that was being forced upon him. Even worse was the knowledge that it wasn’t even a decision. What choice did Thranduil have? He could never deliver thousands of innocent souls into the hands of a tyrannical madman in exchange for the life of one elf, no matter how excruciatingly dear that life might be.
Thranduil needed to sit down. He desperately needed to sit down. Horror and despair were making him light-headed and dizzy. The hallway had nowhere that he could sit, so the King stumbled numbly to the nearest wall and leaned heavily against it, pressing his forehead to the cool stones as he hugged the fistful of Legolas’ severed braids to his heart. Most there had never seen the strong Elvenking cry, nor would Thranduil have ever allowed them to under normal circumstances. Now, however, he was too stricken to even care for his pride and silent tears slipped down his cheeks as he leaned harder into the cold embrace of the stone. He did not want to even imagine what kind of pain his little boy had had to suffer at his brother’s hands to so obviously scar Trelan this deeply.
Elvéwen wrapped her arms around his shoulders from behind. She wanted to offer comfort but had none to give. Her own heart was too raw. All she could do was hold on to him as soft sobs shook her frame.
Few eyes were dry now and shocked silence reigned. Randomir had known Thranduil a long time, but he had never seen his Liege this shattered.
“My Lord?” Amil-Garil’s somber, quiet voice finally broke the spell that seemed to have fallen.
Thranduil pulled himself stiffly away from the wall. He had spent as much time as he could allow in useless grief. Now he had to try to figure out how to salvage this horrible situation. Elvéwen was still shaking and he wrapped one arm around her shoulders as he turned back to face his waiting subjects. They were all watching him anxiously, questioningly.
“Under no circumstances would I ever be able to accept conditions like these,” Thranduil fought to keep his voice from cracking. “I have responsibilities to our people I cannot just lay aside...” he lost the battle and his voice did crack, but none there would have dreamed of faulting him for that.
Elvéwen tightened in his arms, turning closer into his embrace. She knew this was true, she knew there was no other way they could answer, but that did not make it any easier to condemn her only son to a hideously unimaginable doom.
Trelan looked stricken. “W-we can’t leave him there...” he murmured pleadingly.
“Nor shall we,” Thranduil’s face darkened with determination. “I cannot submit to his terms, but I will be damned to the Void before I let him harm my son again! Randomir, find Traycaul, marshal all the forces you can find. Order our defenses so that the towns are not left undefended, but pull away everyone you can spare. Do not be obvious about it, we must keep up the ruse that all is normal for as long as we can. Doriflen is out there somewhere. We’re going to find him, and get Legolas back. Tell Cirlith to-”
Trelan interrupted hesitantly. “Y-your Highness? I don’t know if you want to trust Cirlith or not.”
Thranduil frowned, looking back down at the small elf, now flanked on either side by his parents. “What do you mean?”
“It’s just that...” Trelan twisted his fingers together nervously. He glanced sorrowfully at Raniean, knowing what this news would do to him. “The reason Legolas and I went to Lant Gerin was because Garilien said we had been sent for and were urgently needed there. He – he led us into a trap.”
The King’s eyes were dangerous now. “Send for Cirlith and Garilien, this instant!” he thundered angrily. “By the Valar we shall know what they know and swiftly!”
Raniean was stunned. He could not believe it. The young sentinel turned and ran heedlessly down the passage, disappearing around the bend in the hall. Position or no position, his emotions overwhelmed him. He could not bear the notion that his trusted mentor may have been involved in the brutal kidnapping of his best friend.
Randomir tensed and wished he could follow, but things were unraveling too quickly.
“I will bring them,” he said quietly, his voice betraying little of what he was feeling. Cirlith was one of his closest friends. If he had missed this hidden treachery that had now placed his own beloved student and prince in such horrible danger, he would never forgive himself.
It was barely a half an hour later that Cirlith was brought alone into Thranduil’s presence.
Thranduil was waiting by himself in the throne room, having dismissed everyone else to their duties or to rest. Trelan he had sent back with his mother to rest and recover. Telrayn and Amil-Garil had sought out Traycaul and were busy beginning the surreptitious troop mustering that Thranduil had ordered earlier. Febridë had coaxed Elvéwen to accept a hot cup of tea and walk in the moonlit gardens with her for a few minutes. Raniean was still missing.
Randomir and Cirlith both bowed in the King’s presence.
Cirlith had circles under his eyes and a hopeless look on his face. It was as if he had aged millennia in a few days.
“My Lord,” Cirlith kept his gaze downcast before his King. “I ask that you kill me swiftly for my House has sinned gravely against you. Randomir has only just told me how deep this betrayal goes and it is more than I can bear."
Thranduil’s brows furrowed. “We shall see about that after I find out the nature of this transgression. Speak and speak swiftly. What do you know about the plot to kidnap my son? Where does Doriflen have his secret dwellings?”
Cirlith blanched, but shook his head helplessly. “My Lord, I know not! I-I wish I did for perhaps then I could give you some news to assuage the ill that has been done, but I tell you the truth, I know nothing of how this has come to be. Only... only that my son is somehow involved.”
“Where is Garilien now?” Thranduil questioned.
“He was nowhere in the house or on the grounds, Highness,” Randomir reported dutifully.
“He’s gone,” Cirlith replied hoarsely. “Four days ago... he came home late and I pressed him on where he had been. Too often lately were his absences long and unaccounted for. I feared some young maid had caught his eye... if only it were that,” the elf said miserably. “He became angry and we quarreled. It-it came out that his sympathies lay with your brother. He was greatly influenced by some of the other boys who left to follow Doriflen, particularly his friend Amon. He said that he had met Amon in the woods and they lived better than we. He said that with them he would not be treated as a child like... like I treated him. He ran out of the house. I thought it was a passing temper and he would return when he calmed down and came back to his senses! I-I never thought he would do something like this...”
“Why did you tell no one he had run off?” Randomir could not help asking. He had not even known his friend’s child was missing.
Cirlith looked pained. “I thought he would return. I-I did not think he meant what he said and I feared to brand him a traitor because of some careless speech. Forgive me my blindness, but... he was my son.” For the first time, the downcast elf looked up and met the King’s eyes.
“Your Highness, my wife is long gone to the halls of waiting, my son has made himself dead to me, and I have become an unwitting traitor to all I hold dear. I ask for no mercy or forgiveness, for I do not deserve either, but know that I am truly sorry, beyond what words can express.”
Thranduil contained his initial urge to vent his anger on Cirlith simply because he was a handy target. It was not easy to admit, but the King saw no lie in the despairing elf’s eyes. Cirlith was not entirely blameless in this situation, but his culpability lay only in his blind love for his child, not in any traitorous intent or design of his own. Truly, Thranduil wondered, could he have brought himself to think of Legolas in that way? When Legolas ran away to complete the Maethor rite against his wishes, had he ever for a moment considered that the boy would betray him? Of course not. Garilien was not Legolas obviously, but Thranduil tried to make himself see another wounded father’s heart and not just someone who could have stopped his son’s kidnapping and did not.
The Elvenking leaned sideways on his throne, rubbing his forehead with a sigh. He almost wished that Cirlith had been guilty, because then at least they would have had a chance of finding out where Doriflen was hiding Legolas. Thranduil was quite sure, however, that Cirlith had already told them everything he knew on the subject.
“As head of your family, you are responsible for the deeds of your household,” Thranduil’s voice was weary. “But I am not so unreasonable as to hold an innocent father to task for the sins of a guilty son. I seek no retribution from you, Cirlith; however, you will understand if I relieve you of your duties as far as the army is concerned for the present. If Garilien contacts you or you have any word of him whatsoever I expect you to tell me immediately, is that understood?”
Cirlith bowed deeply. “Yes, my Lord. Your grace is undeserved, but I thank you.”
Thranduil nodded. He felt incredibly weary of heart and soul. So much pain and deception... it seemed no one was being left untouched. “You are dismissed, Cirlith. Randomir, please show him out and then return to me, we have much to do.”
Randomir saluted, bowed, and did as he was bid.
“Cirlith,” Thranduil said softly just before they left the long hall. “I’m sorry about your son.”