Waiting had never been a favorite activity of the Prince of Mirkwood. He was good at it however, for if one was a warrior of the darkened and treacherous forest of Mirkwood, one spent far more time waiting and watching than in actual action. Countless days spent in silence as he and his brethren kept watch over the dark tower of Dol Guldur from hidden vantage points, hours of stalking and staking out spider lairs and lying in wait for the foul creatures, and the very different sort of waiting that was the result of the endless, mind-numbing attentiveness required of him during matters of court when his father sat upon his throne… all of these situations had instilled in the young elf-prince an ability to remain rock-still and silently aware, whatever his situation and emotional state. Whether in a tree, or crouched in a shallow hollow beneath a boulder, or even hidden underwater with only a reed to breathe through – as had happened once when he had been caught too far from safety at the edges of his lands and had sensed danger in a large party of unwashed Men passing by – he had long since learned to master himself and control his emotions whenever he had been forced to wait. There was no place for boredom, inattentiveness or fear when waiting was required of a warrior and a prince.
But what he was being forced to undergo now was a sort of waiting he had never before experienced. It was the uncertain waiting of a captive, where the only surety was the promise he had been given: that physical trials and suffering of the spirit would be inflicted upon him. When and how the tortures would be done he did not know, but be felt certain that it would be soon. It would have to be, if the army indeed was preparing to march out within the next day or so.
Legolas assumed that Ramhar's methods would be of the physical kind. He feared that less that what the old man might have in store, for Ramhar would strike only his body. Malcovan would attempt to attack his mind, and the elf did not know in what manner it would be done. He worried that he would not be capable of withstanding it, given that he was already weakened and in pain. Even were he whole and in possession of his entire strength he knew that he would still fear the old man, for how could one prepare for an attack that would involve the use of sorcery?
The silence of the room chilled the elf. He had been alone since Alun's departure, but for one check by the other guard – the cruel one - some time during the night. Maibon had taunted him with water but had given him none, and had struck several blows when he felt his prisoner had not cooperated quickly enough with his demands. Legolas had been left clutching at the wall and panting for breath after the man had finished with him.
If Legolas was still able to judge time accurately, the hours that had since crawled past had nearly brought the dawn. It had been a full day since he had been secured in this room. Ramhar and Malcovan were undoubtedly busy ensuring their new positions and overseeing the readying of the army, but they would not have forgotten their prisoner. They would come for him soon. Morning would break, and then his time would be upon him.
With gritted teeth, Legolas pressed his hands against the wound in his side and shifted his body. The chains clanked in the quiet as he settled cross-legged and pressed his back against the rough-hewn wall. Squeezing his eyes shut he exhaled softly, fighting with the pain in his neck and head. The unending pounding within his skull was a miserable feeling, and the occasional piercing pain worse. He rested his head in his hands as he once more ran through his mind the falsehoods he would tell them.
Legolas knew that he could not entirely lie to his captors, for he did not know how much they might already know about Mirkwood. Ramhar was from Dale, and though he would never have come close to his father's inner realm - only elves and those invited were permitted that - the man might well have a reasonable understanding of Thranduil's territory, its boundaries and entrances, and its number of warriors. And the old sorcerer, if he did indeed spend time in Dol Guldur, would know even more.
The elf was resolved to hold his tongue as long as he possibly could. If he could stand firm against the torments they had devised for him, he would. But he knew in his heart that they would keep at it until he was forced to give voice to his agony, and when that moment came he must be certain about what he would reveal to them. He would sprinkle little falsehoods here and there amidst the true statements; that bands of roaming elven scouts were less than they truly were, and of watch posts being here when in fact they were there. He only hoped he would remember all he had thought to tell them, when they finally succeeded in making him scream, and that he would be able to draw them out and make them reveal some of their plans. Ai, if only his head did not hurt him so, for he had to hang onto his wits!
At last the door opened, and he felt himself falter, longing to shrink back from what awaited him. Fighting to master his fear, he drew deeply at the air, summoning what he could of his courage. Remember who you are, he told himself. Warrior and prince, and no plaything for corrupt men. They can take nothing from you that you do not offer.
With his features carefully controlled, Legolas turned toward the sound and unfolded his legs. Rising to his feet he stood quietly, his manacled hands clenched before him. The chain running from his collar to the wall was heavy, but he resisted its dragging weight and held his head erect, fixing his eyes as best he could upon the doorway.
The elf knew that in truth there was much they could take from him. Though he would resist them long, eventually the dual torments delivered upon his body and his mind would break him, and his self-control would crumble. In the end he would struggle, and he would scream. But he was determined to triumph over his captors in the way that mattered most. They would not get the information they sought. They must not.
Legolas loosed the breath he had been holding as he recognized the footsteps as Koryon's, and he felt his knees nearly give way in relief. The fear had been greater than he wished to acknowledge, even to himself. Drawing quick control over his reaction he waited silently, noting the haste in the young man's movements. The door was pulled half-closed, and Koryon strode rapidly toward him.
"Prince Legolas, they are coming for you soon, within the half hour. I have been told to wake you and bid you prepare yourself."
The elf nodded. "I have been expecting it," he murmured.
"They also want me to inform you that if you cooperate and tell them what they wish to know, they will be… merciful."
Legolas snorted. "Merciful? Will they cut my head from my body once I have given them the information they desire? I think not. They will kill me only after they have made me scream, and no doubt in a manner more drawn-out than a quick beheading." The elf shook his head. "They are not capable of mercy. I begged for my friend's life, but I will not beg for my own. You can take that back to Ramhar."
"They do not wish for your death. I have been asked several times to report on your condition since you were brought here. They will question you, yes, but not kill you. You are to live. I do not know what they intend, but Ramhar considers you of great value. I… I suppose you are, being both an elf and a prince."
The weight of the chain made his neck ache. Legolas grasped at it to ease the pull, and lowered his head. For a time he stood silent, tasting the full bitterness of the young guard's words, and then he sighed. "So I am to be kept as Ramhar's prize, where my days will grind together one after the other until they are naught but powder in his hands? I prefer death, Koryon."
"There may be a way to put the interrogation off for a time," Koryon said. "Alun spoke with me after he left you. He struck on an idea that might give you some time, and perhaps attention to your injuries as well."
"What did he say?"
"Ramhar will not torture you if you appear unable to bear it; he will not risk losing you. Lie down again, act sick, and they will bring in a healer. Perhaps even my grandmother will be sent for. She is a master healer, and highly skilled. She will do what she can to help you regain a bit of strength."
Legolas frowned uneasily. He was reluctant to delay what he had spent so many hours preparing to face, for the endless waiting had been unbearable. But it was true that were he even slightly stronger in body, his chances of controlling what he could of the interrogation would be improved. And at this moment his body suddenly seemed to make the decision for him. Pain lanced through him, spreading through his head and down his back in a strike like lightning, and with a groan he buckled. Koryon caught him as he fell to his knees.
"What is it?" the young man gasped. "What is wrong? No, do not try to stand."
Legolas allowed the guard to press him to the floor. He bit his lip, eyes tightly clenched as he rode out the waves of nausea that followed the pain, and for a few moments he could not speak.
"I think you need not act ill at all," Koryon said. He had stripped off his cloak to drape it over the elf's bare shoulders. "You've gone completely white – they have hurt you too much. And I see new wounds on your body. Did Maibon abuse you during the night?"
Nodding, the elf clutched at the warm fabric and drew himself up to lean against the wall. "Yes, but he did not cause this. I bear the pain of an old injury that never truly healed. It worsens in this place."
Footsteps rang out sharply in the corridor. With an oath Koryon hastened to the door and pulled it open. Legolas remained where he was, resting his head against the iron ring anchoring the chain that ran from his neck to the wall.
The steps were Ramhar's. Several men had accompanied him, but they remained outside as their captain strode into the room. "Well Koryon, is our elf awake?"
"He is, my lord, but he is very ill. His condition has grown worse since I left him last night."
"Bring the torch closer. Let me get a look at him."
Legolas listened dully as the booted steps neared him. He did not respond as Ramhar nudged him in the leg, but he shuttered his eyes closed as the man shifted to stand in front of him.
"How does it seem to you this morning, Prince of Mirkwood? Are you as sick as our kind-hearted guard would have me believe? Up now, on your feet."
The man's arrogant voice was too loud in this enclosed space, booming and echoing round, a grievous assault upon the elf's ears. Legolas winced as he struggled to a standing position. This voice was the last one ever heard by my mother. How it must have pained her. Was the old man part of her death as well? His voice is as the shadow of death… cold and so terribly dark… so dark…
Ramhar was speaking again, his voice harsh and demanding, and Koryon's joined it, his tone raised in sudden alarm. Words, words rushed out and spilled over the elf. Arms tried to grasp at him, but he had already fallen, toppling forward and striking his temple against the dirty floor, and he heard no more of what his captors said to him.
* * *
He woke to the sound of running water. Gentle splashing to his left – it was being poured into a basin. A cool cloth was draped over his brow, and he silently thanked whoever ministered to him. He began to raise his hands to touch the cloth, but he became aware of someone holding him by the shoulders, pressing him down, and another set of hands suddenly clamped over his bound wrists to prevent his movement. Legolas settled back, intending to cooperate, but then his hands were pulled to the side and a steaming hot cloth was placed firmly over the knife wound in his side. With an involuntary gasp he twisted his body in reaction to the pain, and was rewarded with a sharp blow to the face. A hand knotted into his hair and yanked his head back, and a thin edge of a blade was set against his throat. He swallowed, body held tense beneath the weapon.
"Do not move, elf," a low voice warned him.
"And you would do well not to strike my patient," another voice snapped. A woman's voice; dry and brittle as a winter twig, and sharp as the knife Ramhar pressed against the elf's neck. "I will not have it, sir. You will either put him into my hands for healing, or take him away now and do whatever it is you do to people in those dark rooms of yours. Make your choice."
Legolas furrowed his brow in confusion – who is this? Then he smiled inwardly. This must be Koryon's grandmother, the healer.
"I want him tended," Ramhar said. "But he is a dangerous creature. He will kill us at the first opportunity. He must be given no chance, for the elves - "
"Yes, yes, I know what you have said about the elves," the old woman said. "They are devils hiding behind beautiful faces, deceivers and deliverers of heartbreak. He killed our lord. I am merely going to treat his hurts, not release him from his bonds."
Legolas dared to speak. "I will not harm your healer, Ramhar."
Ramhar jerked the elf's head back even further. Legolas waited, teeth gritted against the pain the awkward position caused in his neck, as the captain addressed the woman. "I want to know precisely what you intend to do for him, Brina. I do not want him returned to full strength, but neither do I want him to die."
"I have hardly had enough time for a proper assessment of him," the old woman said shortly. She had continued to press the heated cloth against the wound, and now she pulled it away. "But it is obvious that you have brought me here to patch him up so that you can tear him apart later. I know your game, my lord, and an ugly one it is."
"You misspeak yourself," Ramhar growled.
The old woman snorted. "As you command, I will treat him. I shall bind this knife injury, and give him medicines to lower the fever. Water, for it is obvious he has been permitted none. Food… no? It would help him. Very well, he will not be given food. He can be drugged if he begins to cause trouble, though I doubt that even an elf at full health can break these chains. I fail to see why he frightens you so, my lord."
The woman had made no attempt to hide the sarcasm in her voice. Ramhar, for his part, hissed angrily and pressed his blade further into the thin flesh that covered the elf's throat. "One day I will see you look at me with fear, old woman."
"You are hindering me," she retorted, and Legolas blinked in astonishment at her words.
Ramhar shook the elf by the hair. "Do not get too comfortable under this woman's care, Prince. I will have you soon enough."
"I look forward to it," Legolas said evenly, and the weapon was pulled away. The captain rose to his feet and strode from the prison cell in offended silence.
"Idiot," the old woman muttered, and then she broke out laughing.
"You do not fear him?" Legolas murmured in bewilderment.
Koryon, who had been holding the elf by the shoulders, now released his grip. "My grandmama fears no one," he stated proudly.
"It is difficult to fear much of anything once you get to be my age," Brina cackled. "But, yes, I do fear him, for he has the power to harm my loved ones."
"And do you fear me?" Legolas asked, wincing as he rolled his head on the floor to loosen the cramped muscles in his neck.
"No, the woman said softly. "Koryon told me what they did to you. I know that you did not kill Lord Cadean, but the folk of the city do believe it. You are in a terrible pickle, young prince, and no mistake. It is beyond my ability to help you with that. But I will give you what aid I can. Let me have a look at you."
Legolas lay quietly and endured the uncomfortable things that had to be done as the woman cleaned and dressed his wounds. He was not pleased that he had collapsed before Ramhar. To display such weakness before his captor was a shameful thing, but perhaps it had been for the best. Even if he had only gained a few hours, he would be better able to face his enemies when they returned for him.
The woman spoke as she sponged his wounds. "You've got some great bruises across your back, but they already are fading. The manacles are cutting your wrists." She held his hands gently and applied a salve, cool and soothing on his broken skin. On the scent of valerian and balm drifted the memory of Aragorn.
Brina sent Koryon for blankets, and once the elf had been tended and given water and medicines to drink, she wrapped him carefully and set a pillow under his head.
"Well now, that's that," the old woman said briskly. "Stay under those blankets and rest as best you can. I must say for all my healing experience, you are the first elf I have ever tended. I thought my chance of meeting one was long past, and I would simply have to remember the story my old friend used to tell me about them."
Legolas stirred under the blankets and raised his head. "Your old friend?"
"Yes, the man in whose house you stayed – Gildwas."
"He had met elves?"
"Indeed he did, though it was long ago. I see you would like to hear the tale."
"Very much so, if you have time to tell it."
"I should have the time, if Koryon will mind the corridor and let us know if anyone approaches?"
"Of course, Grandmother." The young man retreated and quietly closed the door behind him.
Brina seemed to be settling herself, and Legolas waited for her to begin. Suddenly he felt a light touch on his face, and the woman gently angled his face toward her. "I will tell you my story if you will tell me yours, Prince Legolas of Mirkwood," she whispered. "Why do Malcovan and Ramhar hate your people so, and how is it you have lost your eyesight?"