and helpless in his cell, Legolas struggled and squirmed in his bonds,
way he was held barely even gave him enough leeway to chafe his already
wrists, much less have any hope of escape.
Finally the prince was forced to give up, falling limp and panting against the unrelenting stone under his stomach. When he stopped fighting the only thing left for him was defeat and despair. Doriflen was right, he thought bitterly as helpless tears slid down his cheeks to wet the smooth stones beneath his face. He was weak and the cracks that ran through him were tearing him apart. He should not be this afraid of anything... but he was. Valar help him, he was.
The thought of how Doriflen’s cruel game would hurt his mother and father broke his heart. He could not bear to imagine their reaction... It hurt almost as badly as his fear did.
When Legolas heard the door open again he could not bring himself to look up. He was shaking and he did not wish to have to totally humiliate himself by letting his uncle see the terror and weakness that was shredding his soul.
There was no sound of footsteps, but that was to be expected from an elf. Even so, when a hand touched his outstretched arm, Legolas flinched and jerked visibly. Cringing backward as much as his bonds allowed he stifled a sharp, wobbling intake of air.
The unexpected voice, laden with so much real concern, made the prince look up sharply. He blinked several times, certain he had fallen asleep somehow and was dreaming.
Raniean knelt quickly beside his prince. “Oh, Legolas! What has he done to you?” the young elf cried with quiet bitterness as he saw the marks that decorated his friend’s prostrate body.
Pulling his knife from its sheath at his side, Raniean swiftly cut the cords binding Legolas’ right wrist, and then his left.
“Raniean, what are you doing here?” Legolas asked shakily, wiping his reddened eyes as the other boy helped him rise unsteadily to his feet. “I-is my father here? Please tell me he did not accept Doriflen’s terms!” his eyes suddenly widened in fear.
Raniean shook his head quickly, placing his fingers against Legolas’ swollen lips to silence him. “No, Legolas, he has not, and I’m afraid he’s not here either. It’s just Trelan and I... it’s a long story we haven’t got time for, I’m afraid. We managed to get in without anyone noticing we didn’t belong here, but I don’t know how long we can keep that up before someone finds us out. Trelan is standing guard in the passage outside; we’ve got to hurry.”
Wrapping his arm around Raniean’s shoulders for support, Legolas hurried out of the room as fast as his weakened legs would carry him.
“You should not have risked this!” he whispered with painful gratitude in his eyes as Trelan joined them, motioning that the coast was clear. “But thank you.”
Trelan smiled as the three friends hurried and hobbled up the passage. “We couldn’t let you have all the fun alone.”
Raniean quickly tossed his own cloak around the prince’s shoulders, pulling the hood up over Legolas’ tangled golden hair. The disguise would not hold up under scrutiny, but it would hopefully deflect a casual glance.
Legolas was weak and shaky after his long ordeal and his two friends tried to shoulder his weight between them, but the severe inequality in Raniean and Trelan’s heights slowed them down and made it difficult.
All three elflings’ hearts were pounding as they rounded the end of the hall and hurried for the stairs leading to the surface. Once they saw where they wanted to go, Raniean and Trelan had gotten in easily enough by attaching themselves to the tail end of a small group of younger guardsmen that were entering the fortress as the watches changed. Because Doriflen favored the malleability of child soldiers, even Trelan’s diminished stature, which made him look like a much younger boy, did not raise any eyebrows.
Getting out however, was going to be harder. While they had been fortunate enough to not run into anyone who remembered Trelan from his brief stay here, they dare not hope the same would hold true for Legolas. He would be easily recognized on sight if anyone looked closely enough.
Legolas drew himself up and tried to walk more on his own so they would look less suspicious. Doriflen had obviously trusted too much to the secrecy of this fortress when placing guards inside. Yet the simplicity of their passage thus far was frightening because they all knew that it could not possibly be this easy.
They mounted the stairs with hurried steps... only to be stopped by the two sentries guarding the trapdoor to the surface.
Raniean and Trelan quickly juxtaposed themselves in front of Legolas, trying desperately to look natural. They failed. Miserably.
The two elder elves glanced over the three elflings with raised eyebrows.
“Where are you young ones going? No one’s allowed up top until next watch,” Niphred warned.
Legolas tried not to flinch as he recognized the two guards who had been present at many of his beatings. His stomach chilled and flipped. Surely they would recognize him, they would recognize Trelan...
“Go on back to your posts, you know what Lord Doriflen will do if he catches you not on duty.” Naerdil did not want the young ones getting themselves in trouble. Doriflen was very harsh about discipline.
“We have to be let out, it – it is Lord Doriflen’s orders, he sent us. Let us pass!” Raniean bluffed bravely, hoping that the guards might be too afraid of crossing the elf lord to call their charade.
Unfortunately, Naerdil and Niphred were not so easily fooled.
“Who are you? What company do you belong to? Where are you going?” Naerdil questioned suspiciously. Something was not adding up. He squinted hard at the shorter of the three youngsters as recognition hit him. It couldn’t be... that child had been blindfolded. It would have been nigh impossible for the elfling to backtrack to their base, but Naerdil was almost certain now that it was the small elf he had released a week ago. He cast a strange look at Niphred, wondering if his companion had come to the same realization.
The three young elves had no answer and started backing up uncomfortably.
Suddenly Niphred reached out and jerked the hood off of Legolas’ head, exposing his bruised face and tangle of golden hair.
Both guards started sharply, their hands instinctively going to their weapons as they realized what they had feared: this was an escape attempt.
Raniean and Trelan reacted with speed that would have done their trainers proud, whipping the knives from their belts and standing protectively on either side of Legolas.
“Let us pass!” Raniean growled, ready to fight his way out if it came down to that.
“And don’t touch him again!” Trelan added angrily, having seen the way Legolas flinched and cowered from the older elf’s handling.
Under any other circumstances, Naerdil and Niphred would have laughed at the fierceness of the young elves... but there was nothing humorous about this situation.
The two guards exchanged glances. Then, unexpectedly, they backed away from the elflings. Taking hold of the twin cranks on either side of the passage, they silently turned the wheels, causing the large trapdoor overhead to open.
Raniean, Trelan and Legolas all stared at them in shock, uncertain if this were some kind of trick or trap.
It was not. Both Naerdil and Niphred knew what would happen to the boys if they captured them trying to escape, or sounded the alarm. Doriflen’s retribution on all three of the youngsters who had tried to defy him would be swift, violent and merciless. Neither of the guards could stand to see that again, neither one was ready to have to hold Legolas or any other child while they were savagely beaten ever again. They were sickened, disillusioned and through supporting a tyrannical madman. It was the ultimate moment of choice. They knew that eventually they would probably pay for this with their lives, but they had begun to realize that they would have no life worth living left to them if they continued to follow Doriflen down into damnation. It had been an unspoken agreement between the two of them now for the past twenty-four hours, and deep in their hearts they were relieved that they would not have to stand by and watch Doriflen take the prince’s life by painful degrees.
Unwilling to look too closely at a gift so miraculously given, the three elflings rushed out of the gates as soon as the portal was open enough to admit them.
The shocked gratitude on Legolas’ face was enough to make the sentries’ sacrifice worthwhile. If hoping the children made it away made them disloyal, then right now, Naerdil and Niphred were both unrepentant traitors.
Legolas, Raniean and Trelan realized too late that bolting through the encampment as they were doing would immediately draw attention. Several soldiers moved to intercept the children to find out what was amiss, but the three elflings veered away sharply, running for the trees as hard as they could. They were too frightened to try to bluff again and their one thought was to put as much distance between themselves and their enemies as possible.
Almost immediately a cry of alarm went up, although the startled soldiers were not really sure what was happening.
The three young elves dashed into the embrace of the trees, leaving the camp glade behind them, but they knew they were far from safe.
Legolas could hear the horns blowing behind them as silent and fleet-footed elven soldiers pursued them into the forest. His heart was hammering in his chest, making him dizzy. Being out amid the green, living world once more renewed his strength and spirit, but his body was still weak and it was an extreme act of will to keep up his mad dash through the woods after almost a week of neglect and abuse.
stalked angrily up through the now open and abandoned trapdoors.
Niphred had used the confusion to blend into the rest of the soldiers
avoid immediate repercussions for their complicity in the escape.
The furious elf lord swore violently under his breath. The sounds of the warning horns had caught his attention when he was on his way back to Legolas’ cell to finish his gruesome task. Hurrying on to find the cell empty, Doriflen made his way topside with rising ire. He grabbed one of the boys rushing by and shook him hard, demanding to know what was going on.
Amon told him all they knew, which was only that three young elves had suddenly dashed through camp from the fortress and disappeared into the trees with pursuit hot on their heels.
Doriflen threw the boy aside in disgust, seething with rage. Whoever the idiot gate guards were that had either abandoned their posts or deliberately betrayed him were going to pay a terrible price once he found out who was supposed to have been on duty. Legolas was not going to escape him. He was not going to lose when he was so close to victory!
he raced and crashed through the trees with far less grace and silence
might have wished, Legolas could hear his Uncle’s angry voice screaming
“After them! Bring them back! Now you fools! Now!”
The prince’s limbs trembled at the sheer rage in Doriflen’s voice. He would kill them all if he caught them, of that Legolas was sure.
Legolas tripped on a tangle of roots and vines, his attention having been momentarily diverted. The young elf fell and tumbled down the rolling incline. He scrambled to his feet again quickly, trying to quell the swells of pain racing through him from his many unhealed hurts.
Raniean and Trelan were at his side in an instant, helping him up, dragging him forward with them, keeping their desperate flight in motion.
“They’re going up the trees!” Raniean shouted a warning when he looked over his shoulder and saw a rapidly moving flash of brown and green in the treetops almost right behind them.
Legolas was reeling in exhaustion but he kept pushing himself onward. “We can’t... can’t get caught on the ground between them!” he panted raggedly, knowing well the strategy their pursuers were taking. It was a classic entrapment maneuver that Tegi had taught them long ago.
Suddenly a silent wave of elves were rushing towards them from in front as well, summoned by the horn calls and rushing to their companions’ aid. The three children pulled up abruptly, backpedaling furiously to keep from rushing straight into the arms of their enemies.
“Legolas, if we take to the trees, will you be able to keep up?” Trelan asked with urgent concern as their options continued to shrink.
“I’ll have to!” Legolas replied as the three young friends jumped up into the branches of the nearest oak, fleeing squirrel-like to the west as their pursuers converged upon their location from the north and south.
The thing about running from elves, especially warriors, was that they moved swiftly and soundlessly and you had no idea how close they were until they were upon you.
So it was that Legolas was taken totally by surprise when someone dropped out of the tree above him, tackling the prince and sending them both crashing to the branch below.
Legolas landed hard on his stomach and felt his chin clip the rough bark lightly before he rolled around onto his back, struggling to keep his balance on the thick, round limb. His attacker sat astride him, trying to grab the young elf’s hands and pin his arms. Even before Legolas had turned around enough to see his attacker’s face, he recognized the moves being used.
“Nynd.” The prince found himself staring up into the dark-haired boy’s face as Nynd wrestled to hold him. “Nynd, let me go!”
Nynd shook his head, his eyes sparkling with vicious competition. “I don’t think so, your Highness!”
The two elflings rolled and tussled, shaking the tree with the force of their struggle. Their fight pitched them off the branch they were on and they fell several feet only to land unsteadily on another limb. The tree was trying to keep the young elves from falling to the ground.
Legolas moaned softly in pain as his injured back was scraped harshly against the rough tree bark, reopening scabs and welts that had not yet healed. They were wasting precious time, time Legolas knew he did not have.
“Nynd, you don’t know the truth about Doriflen: he is not right and he is not sane, he will hurt you and lead you down a path to ruin!” Legolas wished he could make the other boy see the consequences of the path he was choosing.
Nynd laughed and Legolas was surprised, saddened and a little frightened to see a glimmer of Doriflen’s dark madness in the other elfling’s eyes. Doriflen was obviously already well on his way to corrupting the child.
“No, Legolas, you don’t know the truth. Doriflen knows about power like no one else and not you or your father is going to stop us!” Nynd spat, punching at Legolas’ midsection and trying to get a lock on the prince’s right arm.
Legolas deflected the blow to his stomach and twisted Nynd’s arm back on itself, wincing as his injured back was ground even more fiercely into the tree bark under him. Bringing his knees up inside Nynd’s guard, Legolas kicked up hard, flipping the other boy over his head.
Nynd flew through the air, but caught the next tree branch down and swung around to his feet again, agile as a monkey. He was not going to let Legolas escape so easy.
The tree shook lightly as an adult elf dropped into the higher branches. Legolas’ heart screamed that he was out of time. Suddenly Trelan leapt in from the tree on the right and kicked a very surprised Nynd in the back, toppling him off the branch and sending the bigger elfling to the ground with a muffled thud. Raniean appeared on the branch next to Legolas, urging the momentarily stunned prince on into the next tree.
But it was too late. They had lost too much time and their pursuers were upon them. If the warriors had not wanted to take their quarry alive it would have been easy for them to shoot the boys out of the trees. However, no elf that had not already given their heart completely to either darkness or madness would willingly and needlessly take the life of another elf, especially not an elf child. This gave the escapees a slight edge... but it was not enough.
Raniean knew their situation was quickly becoming hopeless and he squeezed Legolas’ arm. He had sworn an oath to trade his life for that of the royalty he protected, now was the time to fulfill that pledge.
“Legolas, run!” he whispered urgently. “Trelan and I will slow them down as much as we can and catch up with you later. Run!”
Legolas was trying to shake his head, knowing full well his friends would not make it out if they stopped to buy him time to escape. “No! Ran, you can’t-”
“Yes, I can!” Raniean said vehemently, shoving Legolas forward, propelling him onward. “You have to escape, Legolas, you have to! Don’t make this a useless sacrifice, your Highness! Run!”
With that, Raniean dropped down out of the tree with Trelan right behind him.
Legolas was given no time to protest, or even to think. He knew Raniean was right, all he could do now was try to not let their brave and willing sacrifice have been for naught. Tears stinging his eyes, he fled forward through the trees, silently zigzagging and making himself as difficult a target to spot or follow as possible.
Trelan pulled a long coil of rope off his belt and tossed the other end to Raniean as the two young elves ran along the ground. They were intentionally being as noisy as possible to draw as much attention away from Legolas’ flight as they could.
Several of the warriors jumped from the trees, joining the ones on the ground as they raced after the young elves. Suddenly diving opposite directions, Raniean and Trelan disappeared between two large trees. At the last moment, they pulled the rope between them taut, tripping the oncoming warriors who had just reached the spot.
The elflings wasted no time in racing away in opposite directions, knowing that the warriors would not be long caught off guard by the simple trick.
Trelan found himself surrounded as he raced into the middle of a nearly open glade and was forced to skid to a halt as his pursuers surrounded him. He looked desperately up at the trees above, but the branches were too high for him to reach and the trunks too far away, cut off by the warriors hedging him in on all sides.
“Don’t run, boy, it’s all right, no one’s going to hurt you,” one of the well-meaning warriors assured, trying to calm the nervous, edgy child as they converged upon him slowly.
The sad thing was, Trelan actually believed that the warrior thought he was speaking the truth. Too many of them still had no idea what kind of an elf their leader truly was. Trelan knew far too well and his heart raced.
A shrill whistle overhead made Trelan look up just as a rope dropped from above. Trelan grabbed the rope, twisting it around his wrist as it was pulled swiftly upward, sending him flying up into the branches, leaving the warriors below rushing forward to grasp only air.
Raniean, still holding the other end of the rope, grabbed Trelan’s hand as they scrambled through the branches away from the main host. Moments later, the trees were swarmed with elves. The two boys tried to dodge, but they were being massed and could not long hope to avoid capture here.
Dropping back to the ground in a desperate last bid to shake some of their pursuers, Raniean and Trelan found themselves just as surrounded as before. All the elves around dropped out of the trees now that their quarry was on the ground.
An older warrior grabbed Raniean’s arm, wanting to halt this tiring game before someone got hurt. Raniean attempted to twist away, but the older elf was much more skilled, easily twisting the child’s arm around behind him and holding him gently, but firmly.
Trelan threw himself at the soldier holding his friend, but was intercepted and pulled back, kicking and struggling. Terror clutched his heart. He did not regret what they had done, but that did not make him any less frightened about facing Doriflen’s wrath.