a well-loved voice filled with tender concern broke through the haze
surrounding the young prince’s mind. “Legolas?”
A gentle hand caressed the child’s bruised cheek, easing away the traces of dried blood clinging to the side of his face tenderly.
Legolas tried to blink the familiar face into focus, unwilling to trust his blurry vision. “A-Ada?” his voice was a quiet whisper.
Thranduil enfolded the bloody child immediately into a strong, comforting embrace, his heart breaking at the lost, hurting look upon his son’s dazed features. Legolas’ face was deadly pale and Thranduil was frightened that at first the boy had not even seemed to recognize him.
Legolas trembled in Thranduil’s arms like a new leaf shaking in the wind as relief overtook him. “Ada...” the word turned into a small sob. He had thought he would never see his father again. He had truly thought he was going to die.
“Yes, Legolas, it is I, it’s all right, you are safe now, you are safe my little leaf,” Thranduil assured, holding the boy close and stroking the back of Legolas’ head. “Oh Legolas...”
Thranduil held the boy tightly. When the three young elves crashed out of the trees into his search party, he had been summoned quickly. When he saw Legolas, faint and pleading with the soldiers whom he obviously could not recognize were trying to help him, Thranduil thought he must be dreaming.
“I was so afraid, ion-nín, so afraid I had lost you,” he murmured, his voice thick with emotion. Once he was over his initial shock, the Elvenking quickly eased up his hold on Legolas’ bleeding back, realizing he must be hurting the young elf. Legolas however, had barely even noticed. He let his father hold him, he needed his father to hold him.
The prince sighed, wrapping his arms around his father’s waist and letting Thranduil’s encompassing love wash away some of the shuddering hurt and horror from his injured body. “I thought you did too,” Legolas whispered back, his small hands wrapping tightly in the soft folds of his father’s tunic. “Is Nana all right?”
“Yes, child, she is fine, although she will be much better when she knows you are safe!” Thranduil smiled, pushing Legolas back a little and cupping his son’s face again, brushing his fingers gently through the young elf’s badly tangled hair. He was still trying to assure himself that this was real. “But how did you get here, Legolas? What miracle has brought you running safe into my arms again?
Legolas smiled wearily, his eyes searching the crowd for his friends. “Raniean and Trelan, they rescued me.” The prince frowned slightly. “They won’t be in trouble for leaving on their own, will they?”
Thranduil followed Legolas’ gaze to where the two elflings in question were standing not far away, watching the reunion with quiet smiles. Randomir had been summoned from the head of the column and was now standing behind them with one hand on each young shoulder.
“No, Legolas,” Thranduil shook his head, smiling at the two young elves. “They won’t be in any trouble. Rather, they shall have my never-ending gratitude. This is a tale I would hear!”
Before much more could be said however, there was a commotion in the trees behind them. Several scouts came rushing up to report to Thranduil, dropping respectfully on one knee before rising again.
“Your Highness, we encountered some of Doriflen’s troops in the woods! They avoided a confrontation, but did not withdraw. There are more massing beyond the river bank. A great number it seems and more are on their way; we are not sure from whence they are all coming.”
“Highness, Doriflen’s hidden stronghold is not far from here,” Raniean informed with a bow. “It is where we found Prince Legolas. We were pursued and I fear there are more in the woods that have been summoned.”
“Can you take us back there?” Thranduil asked the young elf. This had to end. If they were really that close to his brother’s elusive fortress then the time to move was now, before Doriflen had a chance to slip away again. Looking down at the hurting, frightened boy in his arms, Thranduil knew they must act now to keep this from ever happening again.
Raniean and Trelan both nodded. “Yes, Highness.”
Thranduil gently disengaged from Legolas’ arms. “Legolas, I will send you home with Randomir and a contingent of his most trusted warriors. Tell your mother I will be back as soon as I may.” //Valar willing, with good news, and not ill// he added silently. He knew this confrontation could go either way, but it was now or never.
Legolas clung to his father’s robes and was reluctant to let him go. The last time his father and grandfather had left to go to war, one of them did not return. “No... please, Ada, do not send me away. I-I would go with you.”
“Legolas, you cannot,” Thranduil shook his head. “You are hurt my son; you need care, and I would not willingly put you within a hundred miles of my brother again.”
Legolas paled at the very thought, but squared his shoulders bravely. “But, Father, I can help. Not all those who follow Doriflen would tolerate his ways, I have seen that, I have seen it change people’s minds about him. Let me go back with you,” Legolas whispered. “Let them see what he is capable of doing. Let there be no more elven bloodshed to stain our woods.”
Thranduil was torn. He saw the sense in his son’s words, but at the same time he did not wish to risk Legolas’ life again after just getting him back.
“I can do this, Ada, please trust me,” Legolas said quietly, his eyes searching his father’s.
Thranduil laid a hand on his shoulder. “I do trust you ion-nín. Very well, you shall come, but I will allow no harm to befall you. Randomir? I want you and ten of your best warriors guarding the prince at all times. He is your first and only charge. If things go ill, I want him out of there at once, understood?”
Randomir nodded and bowed, “I will protect him with my life, sire.”
Thranduil knew he would. That was why he charged Randomir with the task. “Then come, assemble the troops. We go to end this now, one way... or another.”
tension in the air was so thick and heavy that Legolas thought he could
it’s bitter tang on his lips. Crossing the enchanted river higher
where fallen trees had created a natural bridge, the long column of
army wound its way into the clearing before Doriflen’s no longer secret
Thranduil knew they were being allowed to enter, he could sense the watchful presence of Doriflen’s warriors hidden in the trees around them, tracking their every move. But it was time to end this, so he accepted the bait and allowed Doriflen to lure him into the heart of the twisted elf’s self-proclaimed realm.
Just short of the hill that led up to the first ring of the encampment, the war party stopped. Facing them on the top of the ridge was a silent wall of opposing elven warriors.
The trees around them were also bristling with silent sentinels who slowly disengaged from their hiding place, showing that Thranduil’s party was surrounded.
The numbers on both sides were more or less evenly balanced and the tense charge crackling between the two factions stole the breath away.
It was strange and surreal: elf facing off against elf, those that had once been brothers now locked in a bitter struggle. Unease fell over both armies. Thus far there had been no major battles worthy of mention. Isolated incidents, yes, unfortunate accidents and secret atrocities certainly, but as of yet there had been no large confrontation of troops or hideous bloodshed of full-blown kinslaying. Some had fallen to traps or shots gone awry, but unless Doriflen was directly in charge of a mission it was usually capture, rather than death, that was the objective of the warring parties. Now, however, they were approaching a moment of final truth when one side or the other would have to back down or face the fact that large quantities of elven blood must be spilled by elven hands in order for there to be resolution or victory. It was a horrible thought.
Legolas, ringed by his protective guards, shuddered.
On both sides of the dividing line, hands were on sword hilts and bows were held notched and ready. Yet both armies hesitated, loath to begin that which could never be called back or undone.
Thranduil moved out in front of his troops. “We have come seeking an end to this conflict that is claiming all our lives and our hopes one by one. Mirkwood cannot stand divided, she will surely fall. Let Lord Doriflen come out for there are grievances that must be addressed ere this conflict sink to where there is no hope of return. If you can hear me, Doriflen, come forth and show your face! If you have the courage to do so after what you have done to my family! Come forth!”
There was silence for several moments, with not even the song of a bird for answer. All the birds had flown away, fleeing the tension radiating from the elves that they loved. The world was desolate and empty around them, a portent of what this war was doing on every level of life.
Then the troops on the top of the rise parted and Doriflen stepped through them, gazing down on his brother with a dark glare.
“Why have you come here, brother?” Doriflen inquired, his gaze fixing upon Thranduil. “Are things so difficult in Lasgalen that you come to beg food from someone who knows how to take better care of his people? Or can it be that you have suddenly acquired some measure of conscience or caring for the son you have thus far chosen to ignore? I’m surprised at you, Thranduil. Have you not had over a week to decide if you cared more for your son or your precious pride? The decision comes late.”
Thranduil’s face tightened and his eyes flashed at the barbs, especially concerning Legolas.
“Doriflen, you took from me that which no one has a right to claim, you tried to take the life of my child and for that I denounce you as more despicable than the foulest servant of shadow,” Thranduil’s voice was stony.
“Your own I would have returned for my own,” Doriflen’s eyes narrowed and snapped darkly. “You speak of thievery, then what say you of the stolen throne upon which you sit? YOU are the one that led our people to slaughter before the gates of Mordor. YOU are the one who tricked Father into bypassing rights, traditions and laws that have been treasured for centuries and placed on your own head a crown you have no right to wear!”
Thranduil’s shoulders tensed. Doriflen’s words were lies, but they cut him in a way that could only be done by someone as close as family. Thranduil was angry, but some part of his heart was also hurt. He had loved Doriflen once. Doriflen had been a good and protective older brother to the young elf when they lived in Doriath. Thranduil didn’t know when and why things had changed, but they had, and the Doriflen he had known then had died somewhere along the way, willfully replaced by the person who could abuse innocent children and who now stood there hurling cutting and dangerous words at the Elvenking.
“Father passed the rule of Mirkwood to me because he loved our people, Doriflen, and he loved the two of us,” Thranduil said plainly. “He did not want you in a position where you could harm yourself or others. And he was right. Look what this war has already cost. Look!” the true Elvenking’s words were directed at his brother’s followers as well as his brother. “Is this truly what you want?”
Gently, Thranduil pulled Legolas forward, from behind his protective wall of guards. “You speak very convincingly, Doriflen, you always have, but your words are a mask with which you hide the illness of your soul. Father knew that, I know that, and if those who follow you have eyes to see they must know that as well. Look! Actions speak louder than any of your fair sounding words Doriflen! You abused my son’s trust and viciously tortured a child who has done you no wrong!”
Thranduil kept his hand reassuringly on his son’s shoulder, but turned Legolas around so that everyone present could see the cruel, bloody welts and scabs that covered the child’s back from his uncle’s repeated abuse.
“You beat my son every day for a week and reveled in his cries and his tears, you tortured him in front of his friend and enjoyed doing it! I can pardon many things, but this crime I will never forgive. I am ashamed to call you brother and I cannot see how any self-respecting elf could call you Lord.”
Rippling murmurs surged through the assembled elves. Most of Doriflen’s warriors had no idea what had gone on inside sealed chambers in the elf lord’s private dungeons. The willful torture and harm of any elf by another elf was considered aberrant, and of a child...
“And Legolas is not the only one!” Thranduil’s voice was impassioned. “You almost killed Umdanuë and only the Valar know how many others since we parted ways. Elves of Mirkwood, awake and think for yourselves. You are being led on a path to destruction and the truth stands before you!”
Doriflen scowled darkly. He knew that many of his supporters were not ready for this yet. “Your son is a traitor to Mirkwood, Thranduil, to you and to me. He has played both sides up the middle and lied to us both. He deserves whatever has befallen him, but the blame does not lie with me. You must look elsewhere if indeed it is not you yourself who have finally taken him into hand and now merely use him as another pawn in your vicious bid for power. Tell me, brother, will you stop at nothing to gain your end?”
Legolas blanched at his uncle’s cruel words and his pained blue eyes quickly sought his father’s as he shook his head desperately. No! It wasn’t true; he had not betrayed his father or his people!
Thranduil squeezed the boy’s shoulder reassuringly. He knew Doriflen spoke nothing but lies, no matter how convincingly they were voiced.
“That’s not true,” a soft, but firm voice spoke up from Doriflen’s left. Naerdil stepped out of the line of warriors.
“It was you who hurt the child, and I stood by and did nothing. Worse, I aided you,” the elf’s voice was thick with shame but steady with determination. “But I will aid you no longer.”
“Traitor!” Doriflen spat angrily. “You will pay for this!”
“Yes, I will, won’t I?” Naerdil’s eyes sparkled with the fire of one who has made their choice and had nothing left to lose. “Worse, it will be my wife and my child who pay, is that not the threat that you have hung over my head for weeks now? How many of us follow you to keep those we love from harm? What kind of life is that that you are offering? I believed in you once, but I no longer think I can.”
His words struck an answering chord in some of his fellow warriors and many of the elves on Doriflen’s side of the line shifted uncomfortably.
“Doriflen, it’s time to end this.” Thranduil shook his head.
Doriflen knew he was starting to lose control of the situation, and that did not please him. “You’re right, Thranduil. It is. Archers, take your mark.”
The warriors loyal to Doriflen raised their bows uncertainly. Did their commander really mean for them to fire on other elves at point blank range like this?
Thranduil’s warriors started to respond to the threat in kind, but the Elvenking held out his hand for them to hold. “No! Steady. Doriflen, don’t let it come to this!” Thranduil’s fervor was sincere. If Doriflen’s troops attacked, they would have to respond... it was an unthinkable scenario. “Is this not the same kind of atrocity for which we condemned the Noldor when they came over? I will not spill elven blood in these woods!”
“You always were weak,” Doriflen said with disdain. “Fire.”
Everyone tensed. Thranduil’s troops fingered their un-drawn weapons anxiously, but faithfully awaited their leader’s orders.
Doriflen’s troops drew their bowstrings taut, but hesitated to loose the projectiles into the hearts of their unresisting kin.
The air of the glade heated with the tension crackling between the factions.
Then one of Doriflen’s warriors let his bow go limp, dropping the weapon to his side. “Forgive me. I would do many things for you, my lord; I would die for you, but I cannot murder for you.”
In mute consent, several of the others lowered their weapons as well.
Doriflen was furious. “Obey me or be counted traitors, the lot of you!”
Silence followed his outburst for a moment. The soldiers were obviously torn, some had already made the decision not to fight, but some were wavering, whether held by devotion to Doriflen or fear of his retribution no one could say.
Then, to everyone’s surprise, an unexpected third group arrived. Most of the women from Doriflen’s camp stepped through the ranks of the surprised male elves and walked calmly down the hill, stopping when they stood directly between the two factions.
Onethiel looked up at Doriflen. “I would see peace in these woods again, I would have a safe world for our children to grow up in, and I no longer think that you can give us that. We follow you no longer.” Her gaze turned to the soldiers standing uncertainly beside the dark elf lord. “So fight if you must, but you will have to go through us to do so. This has gone on long enough.”
Naerdil walked down the hill to join the women. One by one, the other soldiers with Doriflen either did the same, or sheathed their weapons. There were a number who would not desert the Lord they had chosen, but were not ready to initiate another kinslaying either.
At a word, Thranduil’s troops quickly and quietly moved up the hill, taking the opposing warriors into custody. Even those still loyal to Doriflen did not resist. They were now heavily out-numbered and knew when a graceful surrender was in order.
Doriflen did not. He seethed quietly as he watched everything he had tried to build crumble around him. He turned bitter, hate-hardened eyes on his brother as Thranduil approached him.
“So this is the end then, Thranduil? You win again as usual,” Doriflen said grudgingly, letting his sword fall to the ground and holding out his hand to his brother as if in a peace offering.
Thranduil took it guardedly; he had not expected his brother to give up this easily. Something felt wrong.
“But let me tell you a little secret, brother,” Doriflen said quietly as he clasped Thranduil’s hand.
Legolas, where he stood, saw Doriflen pop the concealed dagger built into the bracers that covered his forearms out into the palm of his hand, but Thranduil was standing too close to see the movement until it was too late.
“ADA!” Legolas almost screamed as Doriflen’s grip suddenly tightened on Thranduil’s wrist, jerking his younger brother sharply towards him as he thrust the knife-hand forward, burying the concealed weapon in the Elvenking’s side.
Thranduil heard Legolas’ warning mingle with the alarms flashing inside his own mind only half a moment before Doriflen jerked him forward. The king twisted sideways. He did not have time to escape, but it was just enough to keep Doriflen’s blow from its most vital targets.
“You didn’t win,” Doriflen hissed through his teeth, his face mere inches away from his brother’s. He watched the shock and pain flash across Thranduil’s fair features with satisfaction as he twisted the blade cruelly.
Thranduil felt the knife bite deep into his flesh, the flash of pain taking with it the last rending wave of betrayal. He should have known, his shocked, reeling mind told him, he should have known Doriflen would do something like this, he should never have let himself get this close... yet some part of him hadn’t truly believed that his older brother hated him enough to try to kill him in cold blood. He had been wrong. He had been so wrong.
Thranduil reeled back as Doriflen tugged the knife free to strike again. Yanking his wrist away from his treacherous brother he threw himself backward as Doriflen stabbed at him again.
Instantly, Thranduil’s guards were in action, springing forward to catch their liege and to restrain Doriflen.
Legolas broke from his guards and ran towards his father in horror as Thranduil stumbled backward, clutching his bleeding side and trying not to fall as his guards surrounded him.
“Your Highness, wait! No!” Randomir called out, running after his young charge.
Doriflen had the element of surprise on his side and spun away from the guards that came after him. Snatching a bow out of the hands of one of his own shocked soldiers, Doriflen strung it and let the arrow fly before anyone could stop him.
The guards around Thranduil massed protectively, trying to react to the new threat... but the shot was not aimed at Thranduil.
Thranduil had only half a moment to see the arrow fly from the string, his eye following it’s intended path... straight towards the unprotected chest of his young son who was running towards him. The Elvenking didn’t even have time to call Legolas’ name, only enough time for a pain deeper than the wound in his side to pierce his heart and soul.
Legolas almost heard rather than saw the arrow that was intended to kill him. The young prince froze but did not have time to move out of its path.
Suddenly hands were on his shoulders, spinning him around, throwing him to the ground. He heard the dull, unmistakable thunk of an arrow finding flesh but felt no pain. Then a heavy weight landed on his back, momentarily pinning him to the forest floor.
A dozen hands ripped the bow out of Doriflen’s hands and twice as many grappled to hold him as the outraged wood-elves gained control of the situation once more. A sharp blow to the head rendered the traitor unconscious, but the damage was done.
Legolas heard Raniean’s familiar voice shouting something and getting closer. His friend’s anguished tone and what he was saying suddenly made its way into Legolas’ frozen mind and the prince wiggled onto his back, pushing himself up on his elbows.
Randomir rolled limply off of Legolas when the prince sat up, his closed eyes turning skyward. The arrow meant for Legolas was buried deep in his back and the warrior’s blood was staining the prince’s leggings. Thranduil had placed his trust in the right elf: Randomir had not hesitated a moment to put himself between Legolas and death.
Horrified, Legolas scooted backward, touching his mentor and guardsman’s face with trembling fingers. The world was spinning too fast for him to comprehend and he felt frozen as everything slipped away from him.
“Randomir...” he choked out as Raniean dropped by his father’s side, along with several of the other warriors.
Legolas caught his friend’s gaze in anguish. He wanted to say he was sorry, but how on earth could he hope to apologize for taking his best friend’s father away from him... father... Father... Thranduil!
Legolas spun on his knees, his eyes searching desperately for his own father.
Thranduil was already there. The guards supporting him were protesting vigorously, but he ignored them. Holding his bleeding side tightly he swiftly made his way to where his son was. He had to be sure Legolas was all right.
“Ada!” Legolas gulped back a sob, hugging Thranduil tightly. “Are you all right? Don’t leave me, you can’t die, please!”
Thranduil wrapped his free arm around his son’s shoulders wincing in pain at the boy’s vigorous embrace. “Shh, shh Greenleaf, it’s all right. The wound is not deadly, I won’t leave you my son. I won’t leave you.”
Traycaul pressed a wadded bandage against Thranduil’s side while several of the other warriors buzzed around them. Thranduil may be ready to dismiss his injury that easily, but they were not. The king would certainly live, but the sooner he was properly cared for, the better.
Safe in his father’s arms, Legolas turned relieved but hurting eyes back on Randomir and Raniean. Raniean had his father’s head cradled in his lap, tears streaming down his face while the other warriors swarmed around Randomir’s still body. The arrow had struck straight between the elder elf’s shoulder blades. His eyes were closed, his chest wasn’t moving.
One of the warriors bending over him shook his head sadly. “There would be no saving this one,” he whispered quietly to his companion as they worked. They tried to keep the words to themselves, but Raniean heard them clear enough.
“Ada...” Raniean whispered into his father’s hair in quiet anguish, rocking back and forth as he held the elder elf’s pale face between his hands. “Ada, don’t go... don’t go...”
Those same feelings were still painfully fresh in Legolas’ heart and even his father’s comforting arms around him brought the hurt home even harder. Thranduil would live, Legolas would live, but Randomir would die. Legolas felt ill with grief and guilt. It should have been him. It should have been him.