entered the room that he was led to and
stopped on the threshold: evil tainted the air here. These
different from the others. They were old, but seemed to have seen
over the years. Here was harbored a vague sense of horror that
seemed to have
seeped into the very rock itself. The guardsman shuddered as he
stepped into the
room indicated by his men.
As he entered, he could see that a deep pit had been dug in the middle of the cavern. Cautiously approaching the edge of the dark hole, Amil-Garil leaned out over the ledge, trying to peer into the recess below.
“What lies here?” he asked quietly. A soldier came up on his left, having heard his captain’s question. In answer, the guard dropped his torch into the yawning mouth of the pit. The fire glinted off rows of spearheads set into the edge of the hole and illuminated the razor sharp edges of dozens more arranged on end at the bottom. Their razor edges glinted like teeth in the firelight. Old, ominous dark stains covered what could be seen of the floor around the spikes.
Amil-Garil sucked his breath in, startled by the knowledge of the true function of this room. He glanced at the soldier in horror. The silver-blue eyes that watched him gazed above their heads and the captain of the guard looked up to see a restraint device swinging freely over their heads, above the pit.
This room was used for torture. There was no other reason for such devices.
At the back of the enclave a door led into a smaller antechamber. It was here that Amil-Garil found the rest of the soldiers.
An adult elf lay on the floor of the cavern, talking softly to the warriors. His breathing was ragged and from time to time he stopped speaking altogether as spasms of pain wracked his thin frame.
Kneeling quietly next to elf, Amil-Garil silenced him as another fit of coughing of took over. There was blood on his lips when the elf turned to gaze dully at the captain of Thranduil’s guard.
“The King is in danger,” the elf rasped softly, his hand reaching out towards Amil-Garil. What was left of the prisoner’s clothing was torn and filthy, simply rags. In several places it was stained dark with blood. It was apparent from his wounds that he had been beaten repeatedly over a period of time. Imprisoned and poorly cared for, he was on the brink of death. Shut up in the dark, in these conditions, it was surprising that he had not given up his spirit already. Amil-Garil’s men had been right, this one seemed bound for Mandos’ halls and he was not sure that anything could keep the elf with them short of a miracle.
“How long have you been here?” Amil-Garil questioned softly, his hand gently grasping the one that reached for him. His heart wrenched inside of him, for no elf should ever be treated in such a manner. No immortal should be forced to find their end this way.
The one that stared up at him shook his slowly. He had no idea.
“Please, please tell me that my wife and children live. He said that he killed them because I would not join him; tell me it is not true. Tell me has not killed the King as well?” Huge silver eyes implored the captain.
Leaning down closer, Amil-Garil frowned at the wounded elf. He shifted slightly as his men worked around him trying to stabilize the imprisoned elf and ready him to move from the wretched room in which they had found him.
“No one has been killed. Of this I can assure you. Who told you all this?” Though he was sure he knew the answer, the Captain had to ask.
“Doriflen, the King’s brother.” The elf’s eyes flashed anger momentarily before he grimaced in pain as he was eased onto a makeshift stretcher. “I would not aid him in his plan to overthrow the throne. Beware of him! He has built a large base of supporters that are sympathetic to his lies that he was cheated of kingship. They will stop at nothing. Nothing! They wanted me to join them, but I wouldn’t. I was going t-to go to the King, and uncover the whole thing but somehow Doriflen found out before I could. He had me seized and brought down here. He...he...” The elf broke down in quiet sobs.
Amil-Garil squeezed the injured elf’s hand and rose as the stretcher was picked up. This was confirmation of their worst fears. Doriflen planned a rebellion and he was not alone. Gently Amil-Garil laid the injured elf’s hand across his chest, resting it on what was left of the torn tunic and tenderly touched the elf’s shoulder.
“Shh, it is all right. The King knows of this treachery and has not been harmed as you were told. Give me the name of your household and I will seek out your family and tell them you live. You will see them with your own eyes, for there have been no deaths in the kingdom that I am aware of, and I do not think that that spawn of Melkor has followed through on his plans as of yet. I will bring them to you myself. They will be under our guard; no one will touch them.”
“I am Umdanuë and my wife’s name is Velthwen,” the elf replied softly. His eyes glazed over and he sighed softly, his body relaxing.
Reacting quickly Amil-Garil halted the soldiers that carried the stretcher and gently placed his fingers against the injured elf’s throat. With a sigh he nodded and urged them to hasten. “He lives but barely. Take him up to one of the guest rooms in the palace and be quick about it; I will send others to find his family.” He pushed the soldiers out of the room and directed the rest of his company to search the surrounding tunnels to see if they held any more prisoners.
The men returned shortly, answering to the negative. The passages and rooms were clear, although some retained marks that elves and other beings had been kept in them lately. The carcasses of several animals were found also, their mutilated bodies left where they had died. Truly this was an evil place and Amil-Garil ushered his men quickly out of the area. He would see to it that no one entered this realm again. Once Thranduil heard this news, he was sure the Elvenking would order these passages sealed off, and it was an action that Amil-Garil approved of whole-heartedly. He had never been in a place that made his flesh crawl this badly.
In the upper
areas of the palace the staff was in
chaos. The healer had been summoned out of his sleep and brought
Thranduil’s chambers. Raniean lay, still unconscious, on one of
couches that formed part of the seating arrangement in the outer
had been brought that another injured elf had been discovered and his
in the balance. Nesteriu, the King’s chief healer, had left two
behind to work over Raniean while he accompanied Amil-Garil to an
guestroom to see what he could do for Umdanuë.
Below in the foyer, the wounded elf’s family had come to the palace, having been roused in the early watches of the night by soldiers from the King’s court. They paced the marbled floor, questioning anyone who passed by. Randomir was seated downstairs as well. He had been summoned some time ago, but no one had come back for him as of yet. A mix of palace guards and other warriors bustled about. He recognized some of the men from his contingent present, but they could tell him nothing other than that they had been summoned to aid the palace guard.
“Randomir! What has happened, have they found Raniean?”
Randomir looked up to see Cirlith walking quickly towards him, his young son Garilien in tow.
Randomir shook his head. “I don’t know, there has been no word. Everything seems in chaos here.”
Cirlith scowled. “There’s bad business going on this night. I was looking for you and found out they’d brought you here. Dom, The whole village is in an uproar, not just ours either. There’s been a lot of talk of course, but I never thought it would come to this. There’s outright treason being spoken out there and many are taking off somewhere and they won’t tell where they’re going. Melryn and his brothers took over five-hundred souls away with them, including youngsters like his son Nynd and his nephew Amon. I don’t know what’s whipped them up, but it’s as if the whole kingdom is suddenly trying to split down the middle with those loyal to the King on one side and those who support his brother on the other. It’s almost come to blows in the street. The warriors don’t know what to do to keep the peace. Even worse, I think some of them aren’t altogether on our side. It’s acting like the end of the world out there, Dom.”
Garilien, roughly the same age as Raniean, shifted uneasily at his father’s side. This was obviously not where he wanted to be. “Father, we should go...”
Cirlith motioned the boy to be quiet.
Randomir rose to his feet at Cirlith’s news. This was a disaster. He needed to be with his contingent, they needed to do something about what was happening... but he could not leave with his son’s fate still a mystery.
“Cir, please, talk to my warriors, or better yet find Telrayn, they’ll listen to him. We’ve trained for an eventuality like this; they just need someone to lead them. Tell them to go on alert status until further notice. Send word that anyone who doesn’t absolutely have to be on the street is to stay in their homes. Telrayn knows those whose trust is without question; tell him I need him to set up the patrols like we discussed, keeping anyone with questionable loyalty away from the most strategic points. Make sure Traycaul has been alerted and his people are also ready. Be wary of anyone who was under Melryn’s command that did not depart with him. I cannot leave until I know about Raniean, but you have to keep the peace,” Randomir said urgently. “Please, do this for me, my friend!”
The older elf nodded quickly, clasping Randomir’s arm. “I will, Dom. And I pray that whatever the news about Raniean, it will be good.”
“Thank you, Cir,” Randomir said gratefully as Cirlith hurried away. The elf sank down into his chair, rattled by the news. Maybe the world really was coming to an end, it certainly felt that way. His worry climbed a notch higher when more healers entered the palace and hurried by without a word, swiftly mounting the stairs to the upper chambers.
Trying to still the fears in his heart, Randomir rested his head in hands, blocking everything from sight. Even if the world was tearing itself apart outside of these walls, his heart could fix on only one thing. His son.
Raniean had not come home tonight... no, last night, Randomir corrected himself as he realized that morning could be no more than a few hours distant now. Trelan had told them he went to return Legolas’ brooch, but no one at the palace remembered seeing him, and Randomir’s fear had grown steadily as time crept by and Raniean did not return. Something was wrong, he had already been able to read that in Amil-Garil’s face when he asked about Raniean and whether Prince Legolas might have seen him or known where he was. Amil-Garil would not speak to him about the prince and he seemed troubled. Now, some very anxious hours later, he had been summoned to the palace again. They said it was about his son, but hours had crawled by and no one could give him any more information. He had begun to fear the worst.
stalked into the round waiting room, glancing over the elves that were
or standing within. He did not have to hear Cirlith’s report to
know what was
going on. His own warriors had already brought news of the
massive unrest that
was shattering the formerly peaceful night even as it shattered the
peaceful kingdom. Already security measures were being
taken. The palace was
being fortified, with only the most trusted guards set around the royal
family. Beyond the confines of the palace was out of Amil-Garil’s
so far the warrior contingents were responding to the situation well,
slowly. Grimly, the Captain of the Guard wondered what the scars
of this night
were going to look like when the sun rose.
His eyes lighted on Randomir and he approached the warrior, his soft leather boots sounding quietly on the smooth polished floor. At least this night, as tumultuous as it was turning out, was not quite as tragic as it might have been.
“Randomir?” Amil-Garil called softly.
Instantly drawn from his worrying, the warrior glanced up at the captain in front of him. He leapt to his feet quickly when he realized who was there, saluting the other officer. Randomir was chieftain of the largest contingent of regular soldiers, but as head of the King’s personal guard, Amil-Garil’s position commanded unique respect.
“There is no need for that here,” Amil-Garil responded. He smiled softly when the other glanced back up at him. The Captain of the Guard was tired, very tired, and it showed in his eyes. Amil-Garil had missing people, chaos in the palace and a coup that they had yet to quash, let alone find its leader who had conveniently disappeared without a trace. The smile he laid on Randomir was compassionate, but did not reach his eyes.
“Has anyone brought you word of your son?” When the warrior before him shook his head, Amil-Garil simply took the other by the arm and led him up the steps towards the King’s chambers. He knew the child was already with the healers; there was no reason to keep the father away. If everything were not already in a state of barely controlled chaos, he would doubtless already have been taken thither.
“Sir!” A woman’s voice called out from the room below as the elves ascended the steps. She was blocked by several of the King’s own guard and pressed back into the common area.
Amil-Garil stopped at the sound of the voice and glanced back down into the foyer. A female elf stood at the foot of the staircase, one child in her arms and trailing an older son. She looked as though she had hurriedly dressed and the children were still in their bedclothes without even shoes on their feet. He sighed heavily; his men should not have rushed the family out of their house quite so fast. He would have to speak with them about being considerate over those kinds of small details. It mattered when one dealt with the populace.
“I am Velthwen,” the lady continued awkwardly, sweeping strands of long dark hair out of her eyes, “Some guards roused us from our sleep saying they had news for us, but would tell us nothing, simply leaving us here. Please sir, what is it? Is it my Umdanuë? He has been missing. I have tried to tell others and get help but no one would listen. They said he was hunting but I knew he would never have been gone so long without telling me. Is he...?” She stopped speaking and swallowed hard her eyes searching the ones that stared down at her.
If it were his family, Amil-Garil knew he would be just as persistent; he would want to know. He turned so that the small family had his full attention. Laying his hand on the other soldier’s forearm, he quietly begged the elf’s indulgence.
“Yes, we have found your husband,” Amil-Garil spoke softly, his deep voice easily carrying back to those that waited below. “He has asked for you, but he is with the healers now. Let me check on him and if all is well. I will send for you shortly. Be patient with me please, my lady, the night has been long.”
The news surprised and frightened the little family and the mother quickly hushed her children. She bowed as much as she was able while holding her youngest. “Thank you, my lord. We will await word from you.”
With a nod, Amil-Garil started to ascend once more but was stopped as Randomir spoke up at his side.
“Talrith,” Randomir called down to one of his warriors who stood near the palace doors. “See that the family is given blankets and warm drinks. Let them have a room to rest in so the younger one can sleep. Give them whatever they need,” he directed the soldier who nodded once and moved to carry out his orders, ushering the family into a room just below the stairwell.
“Thank you,” Amil-Garil smiled gratefully as the two warriors began the climb once more. Had he not just been chiding himself over forgetting such seemingly little details? “Your thoughtfulness is well-known, Randomir. It is to my shame that I did not think of it first.”
“It is no shame,” Randomir countered quietly. “The night has been long, as you yourself noted, and the cares of the kingdom now weigh on those of us ill-prepared to shoulder them. I fear that sleep will be something of a rarity in the days to come.” They reached the top landing and Amil-Garil led the way down the hall.
“Please tell me of Raniean. I have been waiting for some time with no word. Tell me, what has happened? Does he live?” The raw uncertainty of the question written in the elf’s eyes was heart-wrenching. He had already prepared himself for the worst, taking the lack of news as an indication that his deepest fears were realized. He was ready to take the news like a warrior, but something in the aching depths of his gaze told that if he had to bear the death of his young son, he would forever lose a part of himself that there was no recalling.
Startled by the question, Amil-Garil turned to the soldier and answered him quickly, “Yes! Yes your son lives. Elbereth! Word should have been brought to you sooner, forgive me.” The guard slowly pressed the ornately carved wooden doors of the King’s outer chamber open and allowed the other entrance after he had made certain that it was allowed.
A visible weight seemed to ease from Randomir’s shoulders. Raniean had not left them for the Halls of Waiting; anything beyond that could be dealt with.
The King stood on the far side of the room, quietly discussing matters with those of his cabinet that he could be sure were loyal to him. The fact that only four elves were present, out of a cabinet of twelve, spoke volumes for the kingdom’s suddenly uncertain and dire situation. Thranduil stopped and looked up as Amil-Garil walked in, followed more slowly by Randomir. Both warriors bowed deeply, sweeping their hands out to the side from their hearts in the formal gesture of greeting.
Randomir’s gaze searched the room quickly and fell on the still form that lay on one of the couches. A healer was just finishing binding the child’s head with clean strips of linen. Raniean was very pale and unnaturally still.
Amil-Garil started when he heard Randomir gasp softly.
“Easy, your son lives,” he cautioned the other. It was obvious that the warrior had just slipped from one role to the other, and the father in him was pushing the soldier aside. Amil-Garil’s light touch kept Randomir from hurrying to his son’s side as the King walked over towards his two captains.
The doorway into the inner chambers slid silently open. Legolas and the Queen stepped through into the antechamber. With all the talking and commotion they slipped quietly into the room, unnoticed. The prince desperately wanted to see for himself that his friend lived and, when one of the attendant healers informed them that it would be all right to come now, Elvéwen let them both out.
“Ran?” The knot of adults that were talking in hushed tones in the other corner of the room easily heard Legolas’ soft voice. Amil-Garil leaned over and whispered in Randomir’s ear, giving him a brief outline of the events that had led his son to this condition. Randomir’s eyes filled with grief and compassion as he watched the two boys together. He had always liked Legolas; the prince was a very bright child and a good influence on his son. Legolas was often in and out of his house, and the fact that they could have been so close to the child, and yet entirely missed the world of silent pain he had been hiding, hurt the older elf.
The prince dropped quietly to his knees beside the couch that held his friend, oblivious of the attention being paid to them by the adults. The fact that Raniean’s eyes were closed troubled Legolas and he hesitantly questioned the healer that sat on the edge of the davenport.
Gently touching the wounded child’s chest, the healer rested his hand over Raniean’s heart. With his other hand he took Legolas’ left wrist and placed the prince’s hand over his own. “Yes, he will be fine. See? You can feel his heartbeat and his breathing.” The healer removed his hand, pressing Legolas’ palm against his friend’s chest.
The sight of the two children together had stilled the room, but the prince remained focused on his friend. It startled him when an adult elf knelt beside him near Raniean’s head. Randomir smiled at the young prince and Legolas could see the tears in the older elf’s eyes. He quickly scooted away to make more room, but Raniean’s father held him in place, gently wrapping his arm around the slender shoulders.
Legolas dropped his gaze guiltily. He felt responsible for what had happened to his friend and more than expected Randomir to feel the same.
“I’m so sorry...” the prince murmured regretfully. He knew and respected Raniean’s father and feared what he must think of him at this moment. Randomir had always treated him like a second son when he was in their home and the prince hated the thought of having lost that along with so many other things tonight.
“No, your highness, thank you,” Randomir addressed the prince. “Thank you for telling them what you knew about Raniean. Your knowledge saved him.”
“But it also almost killed him,” the prince whispered hoarsely. “I wanted to tell sooner, honestly I did.” Legolas swallowed hard. “I-I just didn’t want to lose him. I’m sorry that he was hurt,” the young prince whispered. He relaxed slightly when he felt his father’s hands come to rest on his shoulders as Randomir moved aside. “He’s my best friend, he and Trelan, I promise I never wanted him to be hurt like this.”
“It’s not your fault, my son,” Thranduil cautioned the boy against claiming guilt that was not his to own.
Randomir gently tipped Raniean’s bandaged head towards him, tenderly holding the child’s face in his large hands.
“And speaking of the one who has done this, my lord,” Amil-Garil interrupted. They had little time to catch the traitor, little time to stop what had already been put into motion and, if it were not handled properly, who knew what would happen to the kingdom. “We have not yet found your brother although, if the unrest outside the palace is any indication, he is a bird that has already flown the cage. I would take my leave of you, if you permit it, and join my men. It is important that this be stopped tonight if at all possible.”
Randomir rose quickly. At least now he knew that Raniean was safe. His heart revolted at leaving his son unconscious and injured, but he knew he must put duty first, no matter how painful.
The King nodded his approval and started to answer when Amil-Garil interrupted once more.
“No,” he was shaking his head and stepped forward, quickly pushing Randomir back down. “You will stay here with your son.”
“My warriors need me. I would help you stop the man who has done this to him.” The warrior’s eyes flashed angrily.
“Dom, you are needed here. Stay tonight.” Amil-Garil’s tone softened as he gazed at the wounded child. “Telrayn is capable of leading the contingent for one night. Your son needs you. Tomorrow will come quickly enough. Besides... I have an ulterior motive,” the Captain of the Guard smiled wearily. “I would ask you to remain here with the Queen and the Prince. They should have a guard in here with them whose loyalty is unquestionable, and I have none to spare.”
With torn reluctance Randomir seated himself back down on the couch. His anger with the one who had done such things to his son was unabated but, when he glanced at the still unconscious elfling, he was loath to leave.
“As you wish, my lord, but if you have need, you know where to find me. In the meantime, it would be my honor to guard your Majesty’s family.” The warrior bowed low to the King before smiling down at Legolas, who now sat on the ground at his feet. “I will protect them to the death if it is needed.”
A small smile spread across Legolas’ face as Randomir patted his shoulder gently.
“Off to sleep with you now, my prince,” Randomir said fondly. “You are wounded and I am sure your body needs it.”
Thranduil watched the elven warrior with his son for a few moments before heading out with his cabinet members. The soldier was good with children and Legolas seemed at ease around him. He filed the information away for later. He did not have the time to think on such things just now but, when the moment was opportune, he would definitely speak to the chieftain about what was on his mind.
The door clicked softly shut behind Legolas and Elvéwen, cutting off the voices coming from the other room and muting them into a more comfortable murmur as they settled down for the night. Legolas remained in his parents' room with his mother for safety while Randomir stretched out fully on the couch next to Raniean, pulling the young elf into his arms and resting the boy’s bandaged head on his chest. Raniean couldn’t hear him, but he spoke quietly to his son anyway, talking long into the night as he silently stood watch over all those who slumbered within these chambers.
All Raniean knew
when consciousness began flitting
at the edges of his mind was that he hurt and that he desperately
The quiet stirrings of his son alerted Randomir that the younger elf was waking.
“Ada?” Raniean whispered softly. He wasn’t fully conscious and the fact that he could not move frightened him. His sluggish mind remembered waking inside of a dark cramped space and being unable to get out. Remembered the stuffy air, and barely being able to breathe. Remembered screaming for help and getting no answer. Remembered banging himself against the unrelenting walls of his tiny prison until his already aching body hurt so bad he wanted to cry. Remembered the blind, suffocating panic that had overtaken him before he had passed out.
“ADA!” the young elf nearly shouted, his eyes flying open and trying to jerk away from what held him still. The frightened state he was in completely blocked out all else and he couldn’t hear his father’s quiet assurances.
"Raniean!” Randomir held the boy tighter against him. “Ran, I’m right here, son. You are free, you are all right. Wake up child, wake up.”
Huge blue eyes stared into those of the older elf, locking onto the gaze as if it were a life-line.
“Ada?” The croaking voice was unsure.
“Yes, Raniean. It is I.” Randomir kissed the top of his son’s head gently, careful of the bandage.
“Where am I?”
Early morning light filtered into the room from somewhere that Raniean couldn’t quite see at the moment. He was relieved that it was no longer dark and he was no longer alone, but he was groggy and confused.
“In the King’s chambers...” Randomir started to say but, at the mention of the King, the young elf started and pulled away, looking wildly around the room.
Memories slammed into Raniean’s senses and he held his head gingerly as he remembered the events prior to his captivity.
“Legolas is in danger Ada! His uncle, he was beating him, I saw them. It was horrible! He beat him till he passed out. That must be why he’s been acting so strangely lately. Ada please you must tell his father and, if he won’t do anything...” Raniean was at a loss in his desperation. “...Then, then can we take him home? Away from here? Hide him? Please? You mustn’t let Doriflen touch him again Ada! I know he’s the King’s brother but he is not what he appears to be. He will kill the prince if we don’t stop him!” The words tumbled out with frantic quickness. Raniean’s most overriding horror when he was trapped alone and suffocating in the dark was that he was going to die and never be able to tell anyone what was happening to his friend. Now that he was free, he babbled all his worries out in one long, anguished string of jumbled words.
“Easy. Easy, my son. We know, and Legolas is fine.” Randomir sat up, swinging his legs off of the couch and wrapping his arm around the young elf’s shoulders. “I promise we won’t let anyone hurt him again.”
It took Raniean several moments to try to digest all this new information and he trembled slightly as he started to relax a little. “Truly?” his eyes begged assurance from his father. “I-I was so useless when he needed me. But, you’ll protect him, won’t you?”
“Truly,” Randomir nodded. “We will protect him, all right?” he said very seriously. At the moment all he wanted to do was cuddle the boy close and keep him from harm, but he could see Raniean was feeling that he had failed his training and his father. Now was not the time to seem like he was coddling the boy; it would only reinforce Raniean’s slipping self-confidence.
“You were hardly useless, Ran. Give yourself time. Our family has always protected the royal house.” Randomir stroked his child’s hair gently. “And we always will. Dark days are ahead, my son, days when I fear that even our youths are going to taste the bitterness of battle far before their time. Someday perhaps you will take my place as a leader of our people, but until then, I share this trust with you: as I stand by Thranduil, you must stand by Legolas; I feel he will need someone as loyal and resourceful as you, young one.”
Raniean nodded, taking the commission very seriously. “I will, Ada. I will make you and Cirlith proud.”
Randomir smiled. “Ran, we already are. Legolas will be blessed to have someone like you on his side.”
Raniean blushed and shook his head quickly, trying to get his father to stop. “Ada!” he pushed the elder elf away slightly in reproof.
Randomir chuckled, but then looked concerned again when dark, sorrowful pain washed over his child’s face once more. “What? What is it, Ran?”
Raniean sighed. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. Doriflen’s eyes when he looked at me... they were so dead. I was so scared for Legolas; he was crying and begging, Ada. I’ve never seen him like that. It was horrible.”
“I know, I know,” Randomir soothed, trying to keep his anger at such a despicable act out of his voice. “But it is past now. Legolas is all right Ran.”
“I know, but... I... Legolas, he... it was...” the child couldn’t even find words deep enough to describe the horror he felt about what he had witnessed or the uncertainty of how he was going to face his friend again after this shocking revelation.
“Your father is right.” Legolas stepped hesitantly into the room. His sleeping tunic hung open, and the bandages that swathed his back and midsection could be seen. “I am fine. I am so sorry Vede hurt you. I never wanted you to get pulled into my problems.” The prince walked into the antechamber and seated himself gingerly on one of the large, overstuffed chairs that faced the couch. He had heard Raniean’s outcry and slipped away from his still slumbering mother.
“Why did he do those things to you?” Raniean asked softly, relieved to see his friend looking himself and moving about. He eased back onto the cushion when his father forced him to remain seated. The child reached out a hesitant hand towards the bandages on his friend’s body, but pulled back again quickly. He was confused.
Legolas dropped his gaze to the carpet under his feet, shifting uncertainly. He really didn’t know himself; he had thought he did, but now nothing seemed certain anymore. It was hard to process having lived with a lie for so long and difficult to know what parts had been lie and what had been truth. When he answered, his words were a mere whisper. “He said he was my Saelon and that it was part of our Maethor training. I did not know; I thought all Saelons were that way.”
“Cirlith has never hit me, ever,” Raniean answered, horrified that his friend had endured such abuse in accepting silence. “I wish you had talked to me.”
“I tried, but Vede said it was against the rules.” Tears brimmed in the prince’s eyes when he glanced back up at his friend. He felt so stupid, and knowing that it could have all stopped a long time ago if he had only told someone what was happening did not make him feel any better. “I didn’t know how to ask you. I-I thought I could fix it if I just stopped making so many mistakes.”
Randomir stood slowly and walked towards the prince, kneeling down in front of the younger elf’s chair so that they were eye-level. “Of course you didn’t know how, Legolas. No one should have been faced with a situation like that. I’m sorry that none of us noticed anything amiss much sooner. Doriflen did not hurt you because of anything wrong with you, young one, but because of something very wrong with him. You must remember that. He was no true Saelon, nor does he have the right to ever be. A Saelon is a mentor, and a mentor is supposed to be like an older friend who helps you learn things that your father and mother may not know how to teach you. But no one, no matter what mistakes they may make or how slow of a learner he may be, deserves to be treated as you have been. If it ever happens again, you are to tell an adult you can trust, like your parents or Captain Amil-Garil.” He touched the young, bruised face with his large, weathered hand. “Do you understand?” he asked softly.
A simple nod was enough for the warrior, who tousled the elfling’s hair before standing back up.
Legolas smiled. “My father said the same thing.”
“Well, he’s right,” Randomir concurred. “Listen to him.”
“My Ada would make a great Saelon for you, Legolas!” Raniean spoke up. He tried to stand, but wobbled unsteadily on weakened legs and his father caught him, lowering him back down onto the couch.
“Ran, rest. You must give your body time to recover.” The warrior silenced the elfling's protests with a glare. “Such things are only for the King to decide.”
Raniean settled back with a mock pout. “Well, you would make a good Saelon, Ada. I just know you would.”
“He is right.” Elvéwen exited the private chambers and walked to the front door. The talking in the antechamber had awakened her. “I think it is something you should consider, Randomir,” she commented with a smile, as she opened the large wooden doors and quietly summoned Elrynd. “In fact we should talk about the Saelonship and the changes that need to be made to it while we break fast.”
She inclined her head to the King’s servant who immediately left to fulfill her wishes.
“I fear that it is only going to become more necessary as we stand on the brink of possible civil war...” the Queen sighed, her gaze traveling over the two injured elflings. They did not need more gloom or shadow over their lives just at this moment. “But come, plenty of time to talk over food. Something sweet, I think, if the kitchens can scrape anything together. I believe I heard Trelan’s voice from somewhere down the hall. Shall we invite him as well?”
Legolas and Raniean concurred quickly, eager to complete their usual trio, and Elvéwen dispatched another servant to bring the small elfling to them. The Queen’s sensitive elven hearing could now pick up the sound of many more children’s voices talking quietly down below. When the servant returned, she made a mental note to make sure and see to it that the other children were also being taken care of, along with any other guests that they had acquired over the course of the long night.
Quietly, Elvéwen and Randomir exchanged glances. In times of war or invasion, it had always been the plan to pull the children back into the most easily defensible location until the nature of the threat was known... but this was the first time it had ever been put into practice. It was good that their sons could be with their other dear friend this morning, but if Trelan and the other children had been brought to the palace in the middle of the night, it could only mean that things went ill in the outside world.
The tiger was out of the cage, and there was apparently no putting him back inside.