what seemed a very long time, the sound of the key in the cell lock
Legolas flinch. He pulled back into the corner of the small
room. Afraid of
who might be entering, the young elf buried his head in his arms and
look up. Was it possible that Doriflen really had killed Raniean
and his uncle
had come back to taunt him and gloat over his pain? It would be
just one more
thing that would help kill his already hurting heart. He truly
was not sure
how much more shame and hurt he could handle and he knew he could not
emotions in front of his uncle; it would only make things worse.
A shadow fell across him, blocking out the light from a tiny lamp that sat on a shelf high above and he tensed, holding his breath. The soft sounds of rustling fabric caught his attention and he fearfully chanced a look at his visitor.
Elvéwen slowly knelt in front of her son; her eyes shimmering with barely restrained tears as she took in the sight of the forlorn child huddled in the corner. This was not her Legolas, the prince of the Great Greenwood; this was a frightened, haunted waif that glanced tearfully up at her. What had happened? What was going on that had wrought these changes in her son? Something was greatly amiss and had been for some time, the Queen felt, although she had not seen it this clearly before.
“Legolas?” Elvéwen gently reached out her hand, cupping the youth’s chin in her slender fingers, her thumb softly wiping away the tears that spilled unbidden from his blue eyes.
The gentleness of his mother’s voice and the sorrow in her gaze broke through Legolas’ feigned impassiveness and the young elf pulled away from the soft touch; he did not deserve to be touched gently. Everything that had come to pass was his fault and there was nothing left inside him that would ever be worth redeeming. He had betrayed everything he loved and now he hated himself for showing his abominable weakness in front of his mother. The prince loathed himself for breaking down like this and allowing his repressed emotions to surface when there was someone there to see.
“I’m sorry,” he rasped quietly, his breathing hitching as he spoke. He was trying desperately to calm himself, but it wasn’t working. His mask had shattered and lay scattered in too many pieces around him; he couldn’t pull it back together again.
Elvéwen settled herself on the floor in front of her son and rested her hands in her lap. More than anything she wanted to hold the boy, but he was resisting her right now and she would not push him.
“Sorry for what, my love?” Hoping to find out what had been going on she spoke gently, but was unprepared for her son’s response.
"For... for everything! For betraying father, for not being strong enough, for showing my weakness in front of you and shaming the family.” Legolas' eyes were large in the semi-darkness of the prison and only added to making him look younger.
“How?” the Queen whispered quietly. “What shame is this you speak of, Legolas?” They would come back to the issue of his father later. Elvéwen doubted she could get any straight answers on that yet and didn’t want to make Legolas close off again by pushing too fast.
Wiping violently at the tears on his face he held his hand out towards his mother, “These! These tears, they are like me: weak and pathetic. I am sorry. I know it’s wrong, I don’t want to hurt you! I shouldn’t be so weak; I should... I don’t know...”
With a small gasp of sympathy Elvéwen leaned forward and pulled the child into her lap. “Oh Tyndolhen! No! Tears do not show our weakness and they are not for shame. Tears are given us by Ilúvatar that we may know when another is hurting that we may help them with their burdens. Never hide them from me, my child; your tears are precious.” She kissed his eyelids gently, tasting on her lips the bitter saltiness of the tears trapped by his long eyelashes as she sought to sooth the hot ache of his inner pain with her loving touch.
So much hurt. She could feel so much burning pain radiating from his young, unguarded heart when she touched him that it almost took the Queen’s breath away.
“That is not what Uncle says.” Legolas winced slightly, inhaling sharply as Elvéwen gently rubbed his back. It was meant to be a soothing gesture, but Legolas’ back was still excruciatingly raw from his uncle’s last beating.
Pulling away from the young elf, the Queen carefully cupped Legolas’ face in her hands and forced the prince to look her in the eyes. “What of your uncle?”
Jerking away from his mother the child simply shook his head, scooting away. He wanted to tell, but he was still afraid, afraid that Doriflen would make good on his threats. In his heart, Legolas feared his father had already abandoned him and now maybe Raniean was gone too... There was no way to reverse what he had done and Legolas felt miserably helpless. He didn’t even know what to say.
Something seriously wrong had happened to her child and Elvéwen’s mother's instincts tingled with alarms. Never in his life had Legolas flinched and shied from her touch or refused to speak to her. The way he had winced at her gentle ministrations a moment ago sent fear spiking through her heart.
“What has your uncle said?” she repeated.
Legolas shook his head slowly. How he wanted to tell her, how badly he needed to! He opened his mouth to speak but the words would not form on his lips.
“What has he done to you?” Elvéwen’s words, although soft, held a hard edge as she began to guess at the fullness of what was going on just as she realized that the mystery was deepening.
Without waiting for the young elf to answer, Elvéwen moved next to Legolas and gently, but forcefully pulled his tunic up over his head. The prince stiffened.
At the small gasp that escaped her lips, Legolas began to cry softly once more. He was bitterly ashamed that his mother had to see the results of his wickedness. The pain-filled words he had been hiding in his heart tumbled out through the sobs.
“I am sorry that I am so bad, I-I don’t mean to be, honestly Nana. I am sorry that I must be punished daily. Please, when father is angry with me, can’t he come himself? Must he send my uncle to punish me? Uncle Doriflen does so enough on his own and... Vede is not... not right.” He had wanted to say sane, but didn’t. He suspected that Doriflen probably ‘improved’ upon whatever commands his father gave regarding his punishments. Certainly, it would have to be at least a little better if his father handled it himself. Doriflen took too much pleasure from causing pain; even Legolas could see that much. Thranduil could be very hard with him, but he had never seen his father enjoy another’s suffering. Maybe he was blind and misguided, but Legolas simply could not imagine Thranduil holding him down and beating him until he bled as his uncle did routinely, although in the darkest corner of his heart that was Legolas’ deepest fear. For that very reason, he had never before dared to ask that his father deal with him in person on these issues; he dreaded that he might find out he was wrong. At this point, however, the young prince had already hit rock bottom. There was no lower he could go and desperation finally overcame fear.
Legolas flinched again as his mother touched the welts that striped his back, some of them not yet fully sealed over. They were ugly and swollen and not something that should ever have been seen defiling the body of one so young.
“Why?” the young elf’s whispered question was filled with anguish. Doriflen was a traitor, Legolas knew that, but was sure his father did not. Yet, even ignorant of the treachery, the question of why Thranduil had submitted him to this kind of treatment to begin with was too much for his aching heart to handle any longer. He had tried, he had tried so hard to understand... but he could not.
Legolas broke down completely. All his barriers fell and the walls that held the pain back came crashing down as his mother pulled him against her, her own tears wetting his hair as she rocked them both.
Finally Elvéwen spoke, her words soft and calming despite the horror and rage welling up inside her at what had been happening to her baby without her knowledge.
“My dearest, I did not know,” she whispered, her voice rough with emotion. “I didn’t know! Please heaven, Legolas, you have to believe me I knew nothing of this! Tyndolhen, neither your father nor I knew until this very moment that Doriflen has been beating you. You have done nothing to be deserving of such treatment, my child! We could not be more pleased with you; there is no reason for you to be punished so and what has been done to you is not even punishment.” Elvéwen buried tearful kisses into the tousled hair on the crown of his head, wishing she could wipe away every moment, every memory of this pain. “It is the worst kind of abuse, and it’s abominable! You father would never agree to this, never, and neither would I. I promise you that, Legolas.” She held the boy tenderly against her, running one hand repeatedly through his long unkempt hair in a soothing motion.
Elvéwen’s heart shattered into a million pieces as she began to realize the horrible secret Legolas had been hiding from them. She bled for him inside and yet it was so hard for her to understand... what kind of heartless beings did he think they were that they could allow him to be treated so?
“Oh child, how could you think we would want you hurt like this? How is it he has done this and no one knew? How long has this been going on?” She was almost afraid to ask.
“He bound me with silk so that it would not show. H-he said it was part of the secrecy of the Saelons. It was part of my Maethor training... he said father had told him to do it.” Legolas’ voice had dropped to a hoarse whisper. “They were lessons. Tests of my abilities to remain faithful. I-I figured you knew best,” Legolas murmured softly against his mother. The fact that his parents had not known and would never have allowed all this quieted the ache in his heart and yet raised even more confusion inside him. “But they hurt, Nana... they hurt so badly...”
Elvéwen took one of Legolas’ hands in her own and turned it palm up, looking for any marks on the child’s wrists. Doriflen, though cruel, had been thorough, covering all his steps so he would not be found out. Elvéwen’s anger flared and she held Legolas tighter. She didn’t care if he was her husband’s brother, Doriflen deserved to rot in the void with Melkor and at this moment she would gladly have put him there.
“I’m so sorry,” the young elf kept repeating.
“Shhh... my love, it wasn’t your fault.” Elvéwen closed her eyes against the pain and anger warring in her heart. “You were deceived. We all were. Legolas, your father would never have given you Doriflen as a Saelon. He lied, my son; he lied about everything. It is I who am sorry... I should have seen. Oh my dear one, my dear one, I should have seen. Is that why you tried to take the edsiria tonight ion-nín? Because he threatened to hurt you again?”
“I did not know they were lies,” Legolas voice was soft as he finally began to see the tangled world of twisted deceptions in which he had been living. It was almost too much to absorb. “But even so, I never would have stolen from father, ever, if I had not known that Uncle...” How could he tell her that Raniean’s life was in danger because of him, “If only I had...”
Elvéwen’s hand slipped around the youth’s forehead, holding him still and silencing him. She kissed the top of his head before easing Legolas’ tunic back over his shoulders and refastening it.
“How long has this gone on?” she questioned further.
The young elf dried his eyes on the sleeve of his tunic, closing his eyes and quieting his breathing, just as he had been instructed so many times before. A calm façade fell across his fair features, schooling his emotions before he answered.
The effort to control himself was not lost on his mother and she recognized the cruelty of her brother-in-law behind the strict teaching. It was something she and her husband would have to try to help Legolas unlearn once this was all over.
“Do not hide yourself from me, my son. Tell me how long,” she softly chided.
With a small nod Legolas dropped his gaze to the floor of the cell and whispered, “Several months now. It did not begin like this. First it was simply lessons and lectures, but then more. It has been worse the past few weeks. I fear he will kill me if they continue.” He started to say more but stopped as thoughts of Raniean rose once more in his heart.
The touch of his mother’s fingers underneath his chin lifted the elf’s face up and redirected his gaze. “Tell me all that is in your heart, young one.”
“Raniean.” Legolas choked on the name of his friend, deep-seated fear causing him to fumble for the right words.
“What of Raniean?” Elvéwen pressed.
“He caught Uncle Doriflen beating me earlier this evening. Uncle has taken him away and said that he will kill him. That is why I tried to take father’s ring. He said that if I did not get it for him then Raniean is dead. It’s my fault and I do not know where to find him. He is in danger because of me!” The heavy weight on the prince’s shoulders eased a little as he confessed the secret that had kept him quiet thus far. “Uncle Doriflen is a traitor, Nana! He’s plotting to take over the kingdom, I heard him! He said that after tonight nothing would matter any more. He said Raniean would be dead. He said...” Legolas could not finish.
“Raniean will not be allowed to be harmed, and neither, my child, will you. Come with me.” Elvéwen stood, her face resolute. She held her hand down towards Legolas and helped the boy to his feet.
Calling to the guards, she waited while they opened the cell and stood there holding Legolas tightly to her side. Instead of moving out of the small room she straightened her shoulders and commanded the guard to her left, “You, go and find Amil-Garil. Bring him here at once. Tell him the Queen awaits him, go now.”
Hesitantly the guard rushed off, leaving his counterpart to watch the cell.
In moments Amil-Garil rushed down the steps.
“My lady?” The head of the King’s guard took in the scene quickly.
“I need to speak with you alone.” Her eyes begged the captain to trust her and he nodded, sending the two guards away. His second-in-command stayed by his side.
“Begging your highness’ forgiveness, but protocol demands there is someone else with us and I trust Gáriand with my life. Anything you say in his presence will be kept between us.” The guard bowed, begging his Queen to understand.
“As you wish.” Elvéwen moved out into the corridor, trailing Legolas. The young elf walked behind her, her fingers entwined in the sleeve of his tunic.
“My lady, the child is to...” Amil-Garil was suddenly highly uncomfortable with the position in which he had been placed. The King had ordered his son locked in the cell and they had been instructed to keep him there no matter what.
“The child is coming with me.” Elvéwen leveled the guard with a stern glare that brokered no argument. “The prince has been beaten and his life threatened; he is not safe here. He needs medical attention and he does not need to be locked in this cell like a criminal. He is not.”
“The King gave the orders,” Amil-Garil countered softly. He did not like being caught in the crossfire like this.
“So he did, and I am revoking them. Thranduil will as well once he hears everything. I will take full responsibility should his wrath fall on you. That is why I am asking you to garrison us in my quarters and request that the King come to me immediately. I wish you to stand guard until I release you from that duty. In the meantime, place a guard on this cell as though the child remained here with strict orders that he is not to be spoken to nor is he to have any visitors whatsoever. My husband’s brother has violated the King’s trust; he must not learn that we know of his treachery just yet.”
“Your highness, what is this you speak of?” Amil-Garil stepped forward, removing his cloak and draping it about Legolas’ shoulders. He pulled the hood down far over the elven boy’s face so he could not be recognized. The captain of the guard did not notice when Legolas’ winced at the touch of the fabric across his back as the soldier clothed him, but his sharp ears easily caught the small gasp of pain. Amil-Garil’s eyes reflected concern.
“Doriflen is not what he seems,” Elvéwen answered curtly, by way of explanation. “He has hurt the prince and endangered the life of another elven child as well. Raniean, son of Randomir, has been kidnapped. We need to find him before Doriflen discovers that he has been found out. He will kill the child, for Raniean knows too much.”
Amil-Garil’s countenance grew grave. The Queen’s news was no small matter. Raniean’s Saelon, Cirlith was a friend of his and he knew Randomir. As a matter of fact, Randomir had been to the palace only an hour or two before, inquiring after his son whom he seemed to think had come to see Legolas. Amil-Garil had been able to give him no news and was sorry to send the worried father away.
Turning quickly to Gáriand, Amil-Garil quietly ordered the guard to begin a thorough search of the palace and the outlying grounds. He warned the soldier to be careful whom he chose to take with him. Pulling Legolas behind him, Amil-Garil closed the cell door and called the prison guards back.
“Watch the cell. The prisoner is to have no visitors. No one is to speak to him or see him until I give you word, is that understood?” He leveled the guards with a serious gaze while he gently moved Legolas out of their sight, shielding the boy with his large frame.
Elvéwen pushed past the captain, pressing Legolas in front of her as they exited the dungeon. In moments the three were fleeing quietly through the palace halls until they reached the King’s bedchambers. Amil-Garil ushered them in unnoticed and called Elrynd, sending the personal servant out to find his master.
Elvéwen passed the guard back his cloak and the captain shut the doors behind him. He drew his sword and stood in front of them, waiting.
Thranduil stormed down the hall to his private rooms, Elrynd close on his heels. When he saw Amil-Garil guarding the large double doors he stopped short, his gaze questioning the captain. Stepping lightly aside, the soldier simply opened the doors and followed the King in, shutting all of them within the bedchambers and locking the doors from the inside.
“What is this?! What is the meaning of...” Thranduil stopped speaking as he took in the sight of his wife seated on their bed. She was resting against the ornate headboard, gently stroking Legolas’ hair. The boy lay sleeping, sprawled on the bed on his stomach, his head in her lap. But it was the bandages covering the boy’s back that caught Thranduil’s attention first. Small stripes of bright red blood oozed through in several places. His son had been hurt and his wife had been crying.
“Elvéwen, what happened? What is going on?” Thranduil whispered softly this time as he sat gently on the edge of the bed leaning over the still body of his son. “Who did this?”
“Your brother.” The Queen leveled the King with a stern gaze.
Thranduil’s eyes snapped. “I told you to leave him in the cell and he would be safe there! Amil-Garil, how dare you-”
“This happened before you had him thrown in the cell,” his wife interrupted quickly and not without a hint of ire. “Amil-Garil released him upon my word.” Elvéwen’s hand rested on the boy’s head and Legolas moved slightly in his sleep, his left arm tightening about her waist.
“We have been horribly blind, Thranduil, and Legolas has paid the price. Doriflen has beaten him everyday for I don’t want to know how long, saying it was punishment handed down from you. He’s tried to steal not only your kingdom but your child as well.” She continued as the King gently ran his fingers over his son’s bandaged back. “Your brother has threatened not only the life of the King’s son but that of the son of your Captain, Randomir.”
The King looked up sharply at the Queen.
“Doriflen is as much a traitor as we feared,” Elvéwen continued. “He has taken Raniean and has promised to kill him because the boy found out what was going on and tried to stop him. That is why Legolas was stealing from you. He was trying to save his friend’s life.”
“Why would he allow this to be done to him?” Thranduil’s voice caught on the emotions he could not keep out as he gently undid a soiled bandage and carefully replaced it. “Why did he say nothing...?”
“Because he loves you and he wanted to please us so very much. He thought you wanted it this way. He thought we wanted it this way.” Elvéwen met the King’s gaze evenly, although her voice caught. “I don’t know why he didn’t come to us. Did he try and we missed it?” The painful question in her eyes was vivid. “But I know he was afraid, Thranduil. Fear can kill logic, you know that. Doriflen has made him afraid of losing his life and his friend’s life, not to mention your love.”
“But I never...” with a sigh the King leaned over and gently kissed his son’s temple. He would never suffer his child to abuse like this; it made his heart sick that the boy had kept quiet, thinking to please his father by his acquiescence to the cruel torture. The trust of children is far too easily taken advantage of and elven children were no exception.
Amil-Garil spoke up softly from his place near the door, “My lord it is not my place but...”
Standing swiftly from the bed Thranduil stalked back to his guard. “No, it is your place. That is why you are the captain of the guard. If I had listened to your reservations in the very beginning about my brother none of this would have happened,” he whispered fiercely. Amil-Garil had said for a very long time that Doriflen should be put out of the palace, that he was not to be trusted.
“I believe, my liege, that he has set his sights on nothing less that your majesty’s throne. He has tried to overthrow you through your son and through subversion with the people. His support is mounting. There are rumors. If he is not stopped there is no telling how far this will go.” Amil-Garil continued when the King nodded curtly, encouraging his counsel. “I know we have held back to prevent creating the conflict we wish to avoid, but I fear the hour grows too late. Let me take a small contingent and hunt him down. He may not yet be aware that we are on to him. He does not know the boy is free.”
“I would that you stayed here with my wife and son. But yes, entrust this to some of your best men.” Thranduil turned as Elrynd walked quietly up behind the two elves.
“My lord, let Amil-Garil go. Let him do his job. I will stay with the Queen and your son. No one will get past me and it will not look suspicious for I am often in your chambers. A guard outside the door will attract undo attention,” the seneschal offered.
With a smile Thranduil clasped his attendant’s shoulders with his hand, “Yes, Elrynd, good thinking. That is best.” Turning back to Amil-Garil, the King opened the doors and walked out into the lobby with the soldier.
“Go quickly, find my brother and Randomir’s son. I would that no harm come to the child on our account.”
“Yes, my lord, we will not fail you.” The captain started to go but turned back, “My lord, if you need anything...”
The offer hung between the captain of the guard and his liege for a few moments before Thranduil smiled and nodded in understanding. Quickly the King returned to his family, they needed him right now as much as he needed them.
Reseating himself on the bed, Thranduil noted that his son was slowly waking. Elvéwen was quietly talking to Legolas as he groaned softly mid-stretch. His back ached fiercely from where his mother had cleaned the stripes that marked him and he arched against the stiffness carefully.
The bed gave way a little as the King sat down and Legolas sleepily glanced over his shoulder. However, when his mind registered that it was his father, the prince bolted upright, ignoring the pain that shot through his body. Schooling his face into a passive mask he stared at the older elf with a wide-eyed gaze before glancing questioningly at his mother. He was afraid.
A slight frown marred Elvéwen’s features as she noted her son’s reticent timidity around his father.
“Legolas...” Thranduil wasn’t sure how to approach his son; he felt responsible for Legolas’ state. The fact was that his child, his only son, that which his heart treasured more than life itself, had been used against him and he had not seen fit to notice. Elvéwen was right, Legolas had reached out to him to for help, but he had been too busy. The King vividly remembered the night the young elf had come to his chambers with questions regarding Saelons. If he had only taken the time to truly hear what Legolas was saying then all of this could have been avoided.
A small, gentle touch to his hands brought Thranduil back to the present. The King looked down to see the slender hand of his son tentatively cover his fingers.
“Ada?” Legolas whispered, ready to draw his hand back quickly if his father disapproved. Inside, the young elf battled the fear that tried to stifle him, the mind-numbing terror that whispered in his ears, saying that some part of the things his uncle had said were still true. His mother’s insistence that they were not had not been enough. He had lived a lie too long to be able to see his way free of it so easily. He needed to hear the truth from his father. He needed to know that Thranduil did not hate him, nor wish him brutalized as he had been.
When Thranduil glanced up into the large blue eyes, Legolas flinched ever so slightly and moved back quickly. But his father’s large hands encased his smaller one and pulled Legolas forward.
The elven youth tensed at the touch, his heartbeat speeding up. He had not experienced tenderness from his father or any adult male elf in some time and the last one besides his mother who had grasped his wrists in this way had been Doriflen during one of his ‘lessons’.
Legolas held his breath as Thranduil gently wrapped his arms around the younger elf’s slender shoulders and pulled him forward, holding him against his chest and quieting the tremors he could feel in the slight body he held.
The King glanced up as Elrynd silently slipped out of the chambers, giving the family some privacy as he closed the door behind him. Thranduil knew that his faithful servant would be just outside if they had any need.
Legolas’ tense body slowly relaxed a little in his father’s arms, the tremors turning to contained sobs. Thranduil realized that Legolas was speaking through his tears, barely above a whisper.
“What did you say, my son?” Thranduil questioned, holding Legolas’ head gently against his chest as the younger elf scooted closer, comforted by the embrace of his father and unwilling to lose that touch.
“Did you... was it really a lie, Ada?” The pained question was hesitant. “Did you not appoint Doriflen as my Saelon? Did-did he truly not have your permission for our lessons?”
Thranduil shook his head, pressing his eyes closed against his own surfacing emotions. “No, Legolas, I did not and he did not. Whatever he has told you was a lie, little one. I gave him no rights to you at all; I did not even want you around him. What else did he tell you ion-nín?”
“He said... he said he hurt me because you told him to,” Legolas whispered. “I-I didn’t always believe that, I thought that sometimes he was making it worse. I just didn’t know...” The prince swallowed. “He said the pain was a part of Maethor training that I wasn’t allowed to speak about. I know, mother said that is not so,” Legolas confessed as all the pain and confusion in his broken heart surfaced anew. “But he also said that he would kill you and Raniean and he would become King and this I know was not a lie. He will do it if he can, Ada. He’ll kill you all, all... but me. He said he... wanted to keep me. I-I would rather die I think, Ada.” Legolas pressed his palms into his eyes. “I was so blind. It’s my fault that we are in this trouble now, I’m sorry...”
Tears streamed down Thranduil’s face as he glanced up at his wife. The pain her in own eyes was evident.
“The secrecy of the Saelons will have to be dealt with, my love. It was never meant to hide something of this nature. This cannot happen to another family, ever.” Her voice was soft but her tone brokered no argument. The training arrangements for the youngsters were going to have to change, and it was a priority.
“I wouldn’t have stolen from you, Father, not ever, if it hadn’t been that Raniean’s life depended upon it. Please believe me. I wanted to tell you, I... I didn’t know how and you were so busy, I didn’t want to bother you...” Legolas’ breath hitched and he stopped talking as his ragged breathing interrupted him. “I’m so sorry.”
“No, I am the one to blame.” Thranduil stared down into the huge, glistening eyes of his son as Legolas pulled away from his father. “I was the one who never had the time to listen, and I should have.” Tears sparkled brightly in the blue eyes of the older elf.
“I never appointed you a Saelon, Legolas, because I dared not trust you to just anyone. You are more precious to me than the whole realm and I did not want to lose you so fast to adulthood. I wanted you to enjoy this time of your life but, because I did not tell you what was in my heart, you have lost it instead. I never would have given my brother leave to do to you what he has done. No one would ever be allowed to treat you thusly. Legolas... you will never be a bother to me. I know I am busy, and I’m sorry, but please, my son, promise me that if anything like this ever happens again, you will come to me, no matter what? I will listen, and if I do not... make me listen, Legolas. Never suffer this in silence again.”
Small, trembling fingers brushed the high elven cheeks of the elf lord, gently clearing away the tears that spilt down them.
“I promise, but Ada, it wasn’t your fault. I trusted Vede and I should not have.” Legolas' gaze did not waver as he spoke, “You have the weight of the whole realm upon you. I did not wish to burden you further. I thought all Saelons were as Vede was with me. I feared for my friends, thinking they lived under the same harshness.” The young elf rested his head back against his father, listening to the steady elven heartbeat. “I will never let another cause me to doubt you again,” he whispered softly. “But... can... can you promise me you will talk to me next time? Please, Ada? I may not be old enough to help with the kingdom but I have never been too young for you to talk to.”
The simple request broke the King’s heart and he gently rocked his son. The child was now sitting fully in his embrace with no trace of fear or trembling. “I promise you, Legolas.” Thranduil glanced up at Elvéwen. She had been silent throughout the whole exchange. In her heart she felt a heaviness lift. The throne may be in jeopardy and the kingdom close to ruin, but her family was reconciled and for now it felt right.
“I promise,” Thranduil whispered as he held his wife’s gaze. “And tomorrow I will effect changes in the Saelonship. I see now that it cannot continue as it is.” He grasped Elvéwen’s hand as she reached for him, gently kissing her palm.
Elrynd stepped hesitantly back into the private chambers. He had not wanted to disturb his liege, but events were moving quickly and the King was needed.
Glancing up, Thranduil questioned the elf with his gaze.
“My lord, your pardon please.” Elrynd bowed slightly. “Randomir has been brought to the palace.”
Legolas twisted around in his father’s embrace and eyed the servant hopefully. “Raniean?” he questioned softly.
“I have not heard, my prince. Rest easy, I am sure Amil-Garil will find him.” Elrynd ducked his head and motioned ever so slightly to the outer chambers, “My liege...” he left the request open and stepped out, leaving the door ajar.
Gently kissing the top of Legolas’ head, the King shifted off the bed releasing his son to Elvéwen. Leaning back down he took the child’s face in his hands and tipped it up so that the blue eyes were staring straight into his own. “I love you, Legolas, and I wish now I could recant my harsh words to you earlier. We were both working under a false perception of reality. Will you forgive me?”
“Always, Ada.” The answer was quick and the smile that stretched beneath the older elf’s hands lightened the King’s heart.
With another kiss to Legolas’ forehead, Thranduil moved to the outer chamber. The soft questioning of his son stopped him on the threshold.
Thranduil turned back. Whatever his family needed was more important.
“Please, if they find Raniean, please let me know.”
“I will, my son.” Thranduil’s fist tightened on the door latch as he pulled it open, “I will have them bring him here first thing.” With that he stepped outside and closed the door behind him, leaving it cracked open a small space so he could hear his family if they should need him.
lord, Amil-Garil sends word that Doriflen is nowhere to be found.
He is not in
his chambers. They are proceeding with their search for the
Thranduil’s face was set as he turned towards the servant. His brother had utterly betrayed him. He was mildly surprised that even as well as he knew the threat that lurked there, some corner of his heart still managed to be shocked at the extent to which his older brother had gone to ruin him and destroy his family. There was a deep ache waiting to be felt, but Thranduil could not get too near it right now. Damage control first, then later he would allow himself to feel the implications of what had happened.
“Randomir has arrived,” the seneschal continued. “Should he be told of these events?”
Thranduil hesitated. Randomir deserved to know, but know what? That his son was the captive of a cruel tyrant who had dared to abuse even the King’s son? They had to find the boy.
“Yes, but... not yet,” Thranduil shook his head. “Let us try to find some good word to give him first.”
Where could Raniean be? Where would his brother hide something like that? The King’s eyes narrowed. “Elrynd, stay here with my wife and son, guard them with your life. I must speak to Amil-Garil again... If Doriflen wants to hide something, there is another option we have not considered.”
you swear to me that neither your nor your men will ever speak again of
which I am about to show you? On pain of death?”
“Yes, my lord,” Amil-Garil responded to Thranduil’s question without hesitation. The Elvenking had found them searching the lower tunnels and led them without explanation into a little-used storage room that lay far off the main thoroughfares.
“All right then.” Thranduil turned towards a large closet that was apparently built into the wall. “Move that.”
Amil-Garil looked slightly surprised at the request, but ordered his men to comply without question.
To their amazement the closet slid aside with a little effort, revealing a yawning passageway beyond. The captain of the guard’s eyes widened slightly.
“My lord?” He turned questioning eyes upon his King.
“Secret passageways built by my father and now known only to myself, my brother and now you. I expect you all to take this knowledge to Valinor with you having never spoken of it again. But if we are to search everywhere, then these tunnels must be part of that. Yet take a care, there is much about them that is unknown.”
Thranduil did not come down here often. Actually, he did not come down here at all. These tunnels were an emergency measure and nothing more. Only once had Doriflen talked his younger brother into exploring the forbidden labyrinth without their father’s knowledge.
There had been an accident, or at least he had always thought it was an accident. Thranduil ended up falling into one of the waste-disposal channels and nearly burning to death except that their father had discovered his sons’ little unapproved venture and arrived in time to save his youngest. Doriflen seemed moody and remorseful and avoided his brother for some time after that.
Even though they were both already fully adult elves by that point, their father had been very hard on them for the deliberate transgression that had nearly cost one of their lives. Thranduil never went into the tunnels again after that day. He hadn’t thought that Doriflen had either. After all, there was nothing there of any interest... but now nothing was sure and nothing could be assumed. Every possibility, even the most remote, had to be checked. His men had been watching Doriflen’s every move outside the palace for months now. No one had seen Raniean leave. It was possible that some unsuspected servant could have smuggled an unconscious child out easily enough, but it was also possible that Raniean was still here somewhere.
Amil-Garil nodded his compliance with his liege’s orders.
“Good,” Thranduil accepted his soldier’s obedience to his wishes with a nod. “Report to me if anything is found. I must see if there is any word yet on my brother’s whereabouts.”
The soldiers split up as they entered the unknown labyrinth. Amil-Garil led one contingent while Gáriand led the other.
The passages here were dim and foreign. The company of soldiers walked cautiously through them, carefully checking each and every doorway that greeted them. Everything seemed empty, deserted and almost eerily quiet.
Dark, uneven stone walls stretched out in all directions, creating a confusing and twisting array of tunnels. Designed to bewilder any attackers who might invade the secret catacombs, they were doing their job well. Yet there seemed to be no one here. There were few rooms in the labyrinth of passages, and the ones that were there stood cold, silent and barren. When they finally encountered one chamber that was apparently locked, the soldiers broke down the door.
“What is this place?” one of the guards called softly to the others. Unlike the other chambers they had passed through, this room was far from empty. Massive stacks of boxes lined the walls and created islands of crates in the middle of the room.
“Break them open,” Gáriand ordered. “Find out what is in them.”
The first few crates held arrows, sheaves and sheaves of them.
“Break them all open,” the second-in-command ordered as dread filled his heart. He feared what evil this discovery boded. If these tunnels were unused and secret, then there should have been nothing in them. However, these crates were all fresh. Footprints not very many days old stood out against the thick layer of dust on the floor. The supplies looked ready to outfit an army.
“There are more back here!” a soldier called out from the far side of the room, near the back wall.
Gáriand examined a bow that had been freed from a crate containing twenty such finely crafted weapons. Knives and swords were stacked in piles on the ground at his feet as well as chain mail garments. That type of clothing was not common amongst the elven peoples. Indeed, it was particularly rare in Greenwood, since the wood-elves shunned armor of any type. Doriflen must have been trading outside their realm.
“By the Valar! Gáriand come quickly!” The urgent cry from across the room caused Gáriand’s head to snap up abruptly.
The soldiers near the back of the room began tearing apart a rather large box, murmurs and exclamations following as they revealed the strange and tragic contents.
A young elf lay folded into the box. Though large, the crate was far too small to comfortably contain his youthful body. The young one’s hands and feet were bound and blood covered the front of his tunic. He had obviously been knocked around quite badly.
Even for those who did not know the elfling personally, it was not hard to know his identity at a glance. Very few wood-elves had golden hair like the King and his son. The prince’s two best friends were some of those rarities.
“Find Amil-Garil, bring him at once!” Gáriand pushed the soldier nearest him towards the door before kneeling on the ground near the unconscious child. “Go with haste!”
stood in the dim hallway of the palace’s under-passageways. These
seemed to wind forever and they had found nothing noteworthy besides
rooms and dusty hallways. He hoped they were not wasting their
here. They had scoured the surrounding gardens before the King
had found him,
and the guard had sent several more soldiers into the forests to search
well. They had to find Raniean before it was too late.
Their hope was that
Doriflen would have been keeping his leverage close at hand, but they
risk counting on it as fact. The sad truth was, Raniean could be
his heart the Captain of the Guard feared that the child might not even
alive anymore. Doriflen was an excellent liar. They had no
The palace had been built upon a labyrinth of halls and storage rooms that ran the length of the building stretching as far down as to meet the Forest River that ran through Mirkwood. He could find his way around most of them in the dark. But these strange walkways and tunnels that the King had shown them were completely new to him. They were also completely different in design and layout than the others. Searching them was slow work.
“There are more, Captain.” Gáriand approached his superior. “They extend for leagues in all directions. Some look to have been scarcely traveled, but others show recent use. Something has been going on down here. Captain, we’ve found young Raniean.”
“Does he live?” Amil-Garil asked the question to which he most feared the answer.
Their discussion was interrupted as a soldier pelted up the hallway behind Gáriand. “Captains, we have found another bank of rooms and tunnels hidden behind these. There are things there you should see.”
“In a moment,” Amil-Garil nodded. Raniean was his first priority. He followed Gáriand around countless turns as the passage twisted off into others before they came to the hidden storage room where several soldiers were busy breaking into large wooden boxes and spilling the contents about the floor.
Weapons littered the area. Sheaths of arrows and reams of bows were stockpiled in the small room. It took the elvish captain a few moments to realize that these were not supplies that the King had stored here. Once he did, the dreadful realization came to him that they were obviously standing ready for an internal invasion of the palace itself. No doubt Doriflen had not been making idle threats when he told Legolas that after tonight nothing would matter anymore. This was one viper’s nest they were discovering only just in time... or at least, Amil-Garil hoped it was in time.
His attention was redirected by Gáriand, who pulled the captain forward, stepping over the open boxes and caches of weapons. Near the back of the storage room two elves knelt on the floor in front of a narrow box that had been wrenched apart. Lying on the ground was the small form of an elven child. The boy’s eyes were closed and bruises decorated his face and arms. He had not been beaten as severely, or in the same manner as the prince, but it was obvious that someone had hurt this child, and done it intentionally. The elfling’s hands were bound tightly behind him and one of the guards was busy cutting the thick bonds as another gently pulled the child into his lap.
Fear stabbed through Amil-Garil’s heart. The closed eyes and ashen look on the youth’s face frightened him and he was afraid they were too late. “Does he...? Is he...?” The captain of the guard could not finish his questions, unsure if he truly wanted an answer.
“No. He lives.” One of the soldiers on the ground glanced up as the child’s bonds were cut. “But his wounds are serious.” The guard stood up, holding the young elf in his arms. Amil-Garil saw for the first time the blood that caked the side of the boy’s face as well as staining his tunic. There was a nasty gash across the base of the Raniean’s skull where he had obviously been violently struck with something hard. The slight, ragged rise and fall of his chest was the only sign that the young elf lived.
“He wasn’t meant to survive this.” The soldier holding the boy said quietly as his Captain gently turned the youth’s head, examining the head wound.
“He was left here to die. From the looks of it, we were intended to find him only after it was too late.” The elf turned pained and angry eyes upon his captain. What kind of monster condemned a child to this kind of slow, terrible death?
Amil-Garil shook his head. No one who had a heart could have done such a thing. But then, the same was true of the little he had seen of Prince Legolas’ injuries. “Quickly, take him to King Thranduil’s chambers. Gáriand, go ahead of him, tell them we will have need of the King’s healer. Be quick!” he commanded as the elf raced out of the room, followed more slowly by the two soldiers that had discovered the hidden elf child.
“Tell me, how did you find him?” Amil-Garil stepped carefully back through the room, following the two warriors. His men were busy sorting through the weapons cache and removing it from the hidden alcove.
“It was an accident, my lord,” the guard on his right answered. “The men found the crates stashed in here and we opened them. That there was a room down here for storage struck us as odd.” The elf carrying Raniean shrugged slightly, stepping over the pieces of a broken crate that lay on the floor.
“Tarilan found him after we broke the last crate open,” the soldier nodded with his head towards his companion.
“Off with you then. Let no one stop you and speak with no one on your way.” Amil-Garil removed his cloak and draped it over the unconscious child to help hide their task. The situation was becoming more grave and sinister by the moment. It was impossible to know now who was on their side and who was not. It was best to keep all this quiet for as long as possible.
He stood in the passageway watching the soldiers as they hastily rounded the bend. A deep sigh escaped his lips and he glanced back into the small room. This was worse than he had expected. The treachery of the King’s brother had gone farther than they were prepared to handle.
“What should we do with all this, my lord?” an elf carrying a bundle of newly crafted arrows asked.
“Take it all to the King’s supply rooms and lock it up there. Station a guard and see that no one is allowed in until I tell you otherwise.”
“Amil-Garil!” A shout behind him caused the elven warrior to start and he spun around quickly.
“There is an unfortunate soul held captive down here! We found him in one of the hidden chambers, my lord. Come quickly for I fear that Mandos will have this one before the hour is past.” The soldier walked quickly up the hall with the captain of the guard right on his heels.
Behind them, unseen by the elves in the storage room, a hidden doorway slowly slid shut, clicking silently into place. Even within these tunnels there were many more secret ways and passages that would have taken days to discover. These passages extended all over the palace. It was not for naught that Doriflen seemed to have eyes and ears in the very walls themselves. The truth of the matter was that he did and he used them to great, and sometimes deadly, effect.
Brooding eyes glinted grimly. He had meant them to find the boy of course, but not so soon, and not here. He had intended for it to be a little present for his brother and nephew if things did not go well for him, but he had not meant for them to find any of this so soon. He should have known Thranduil would think of the tunnels; it was an oversight on his part to not move quicker... but they hadn’t been prepared to move quicker, not just yet. Now, his secret had been uncovered.
A dark scowl crossed Doriflen’s face, deepening the hatred that shone in his eyes. They might have been found out a trifle ahead of schedule, but this coup was far from over. They would simply have to move their operations elsewhere. The secret tunnels had worked well to this point, but they would no longer be safe. Thranduil knew about them and, even if he did not know all their ways as well as his brother, their secrets would soon enough be discovered.
He and his followers would need to move swiftly. They would have to make their move tonight. Fortunately, he had already been prepared for such a necessity. The time for hiding was over; the time for action had come. Truth to be told, Doriflen was not sorry.
Stalking through the darkened passageways that he often haunted, Doriflen re-entered the normal palace in the lower dungeon area. He headed straight for Legolas’ cell. He had a suspicion that he knew how his well-laid plans had come to ruin.
He should have done away with that brat long ago, but that was his one folly, his weakness. He grimaced to himself over his own self-perceived flaws – he enjoyed toying with his victims, he thrived on their pain. Oh how his initial deceit had almost worked save for this error! Never mind. It mattered little that his treachery had been discovered. Even if he could not now hope to take over the palace from within, it was too late for anyone to stop what had been put into motion.
Finding Legolas’ cell empty, he killed the guards in a fit of rage. They had been loyal to him, but he saw no need for fools. If those two had obviously not been smart enough to know when they were guarding an empty room, his ranks would be better off without them. Leaving their bodies where they had fallen in a spreading pool of blood, he exited the palace by a secret entrance. It was time to seek out Melryn, Amilon and his other followers. They already had their orders to move. All was in preparation. He would have liked to be able to strike a swift and decisive blow inside the palace itself... but that part of the plan would have to be discarded. Legolas had failed him and Thranduil’s guards had discovered the tunnels too soon for him to bring any of that to fruition, but it was a minor setback only.
Doriflen and his followers would regroup in the woods to the east at their preset rendezvous and plan the next step from there. War was at hand, and there was nothing now that could stop it.
This game was far from over. Thranduil may have gained his son back, but as far as Doriflen was concerned, he had lost his kingdom.
Stalking into the darkened forest, the elf lord headed for Melryn’s house. It was time to rise up, it was time to relocate.