by Cassia and Siobhan

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    Without warning a volley of arrows came from behind the small group, driving into the floor of the tunnel.  Faster than they could comprehend what had happened, more elves materialized out of the passage behind the King’s party, but these newcomers had their weapons pointed at Doriflen’s troops, not the escaped prisoners. 
    The now outnumbered usurpers halted, confused by this turn of events and unsure.
    Legolas looked down as a familiar presence fell in beside him.  He smiled, relieved and surprised.
    “Lay down your arms!  Let the true King of Mirkwood pass!  Or suffer the consequences!” Trelan ordered fiercely.  The elves behind him shifted their weapons slightly, emphasizing his words.
    With the tables now turned, the outnumbered guards began to comply. 
    “Traitors!” Amon hissed at them.  “Stand and fight!”
    But the elves weren’t listening.  They did not have a cause they were willing to die for.  Not anymore.
    Nynd and Amon sprang forward alone.  Their attack was intended for Thranduil, but they never reached the king.  The elven warriors Trelan had brought with him stopped them before they reached their goal.  There was a swift, lethal struggle, and the two traitors were dead before anyone had realized what happened. 
    “No wait!...” Legolas started to say, but it was too late.  He sighed, turning his eyes away in sorrow at the loss of elven life, no matter how twisted.  He didn’t want bloodshed if it could be avoided.  Elves had not killed elves in countless centuries and for it to start again now, in his home...
    The rest of Amon and Nynd’s troop gave up without any struggle and the warriors took them into custody.
    Legolas was just staring at the bodies on the floor, a sad, distant look in his eyes.
    “Legolas?  Legolas?” Aragorn shook his friend slightly, a worried expression on his face. 
    “I knew them,” Legolas turned his gaze on Aragorn and it was full of sorrow.  “I knew them before he took them away and twisted them...” Legolas closed his eyes.  No need to specify that Doriflen was the ‘he’ of whom the prince spoke.  “He tried to twist me that way once... it was horrible... I cannot imagine what living with him for thousands of years would do to one...”
    Thranduil overheard the soft words and touched his son’s shoulder gently.  Legolas started, not having meant for his father to hear him. 
    “They were corrupted by him, I fear. Doriflen planted his own evil in their souls.  But it is not so with all of them...” the king looked at the frightened, young faces of the troops his men had just taken into custody. 
    “No more blood is to be shed unless there is no other option,” the Elvenking’s last statement was spoken louder and directed to his warriors.  The elves nodded.  They did not wish to have to kill either.
    Legolas and Aragorn turned to find Trelan, wanting to know how he came to be there, but the shorter elf had moved away and was talking softly to Raniean. 
    The little elf’s eyes were burning hotly and he touched his friend’s back gently.  “Who did this to you, Ran?  I’ll kill them!”
    Raniean smiled somewhat ruefully.  “That has already been taken care of I think,” he said, his eyes glancing towards where Amon and Nynd’s bodies were being taken away.  “But I’m all right, really.  It is the prince and the king who concern me.”
    Trelan looked up quickly at Legolas, Aragorn and Thranduil as they approached.  He had not noticed before for they covered it well, but it was now obvious that none of his friends were in very good shape.
    “Na vedui Trelan, mae govannen; Hail and well met,” Thranduil greeted the small warrior.  “And what brings you to our aid just in at the right moment?”
    “And couldn’t you have made it little sooner?” Legolas put in with a teasing smile.
    Trelan pointedly ignored his friend and spoke to the King.  “I returned yesterday.  Everything seemed in turmoil.  The people are much confused and distressed.  They don’t know what is going on in here, and seem to think that you are away, Your Majesty... but there are nasty rumors going around that something more ill is afoot.  Yet Doriflen has set his pervasive lies in action once more.  He’s blaming you for what has become of Mirkwood these past years; saying things would have gone better if he’d been here instead.  I fear the people don’t know who and what to believe.  I came to the palace to find out what was going on, but Galion caught me first.  He told me what you told him, Legolas, and that neither you nor Strider had been seen or heard from since.  We both deemed that the time had indeed come to act.  We were on our way to search the dungeons with as many of our faithful as have managed to escape Doriflen’s scourge thus far and that’s when we found you,” the elf explained quickly and concisely.
    “And we’re very glad you did,” Aragorn said with a grin, unconsciously leaning against the wall a little.  His leg was still giving him a lot of trouble. 
    Legolas gave the keys to his friends and Raniean and Trelan quickly set to work freeing the prisoners in the dungeons, most of whom were also their comrades and fellow warriors.  Amid the joy of being freed and ready for action once more, it was saddening to see how many faces were not there.  Doriflen had not dealt lightly with those that refused to follow him.  
    “Your – uhm, Your Majesty?” one of the captured elves spoke up hesitantly as they were placed into the now empty cells and Thranduil turned towards him.  The rank mark placed this youth as being a lieutenant, ranking above the others here, although he had obviously been under Amon and Nynd. 
    “Doriflen is holding a huge meeting in the main hall.  Most of the people are there.  He intends to tell them that you and your son have been killed in a tragic accident abroad and he is assuming the throne.  The doors of the hall are locked and barred with guards all around...” the young elf hesitated as if ashamed of what he was saying.  “Any who refuse to accept him as Lord will be killed.”  That stroke had obviously almost been too much for even Doriflen’s followers to swallow.
    Legolas’ face paled.  “We must get up there now, we must stop this!” The people would never stand for this, but somehow in his twisted mind, Doriflen thought he could make them, and whether or not he could, carnage and bloodshed would be the result if they could not act in time.
    “Indeed,” Thranduil nodded.  “I thank you for the news,” he added to the elf as the warriors prepared to close the cell door between them.
    “I-if I have pleased you, my lord, a request, please, one only,” the young elf stammered slightly.  “When our time comes, my men and I, be swift.”
    Thranduil turned back once more with a somewhat perplexed look.  He glanced at Legolas but his son didn’t understand either.  Yet the fear in the young warrior’s eyes was very clear.  It crossed the King’s mind that this lad was probably quite a bit younger even than Legolas; barely into adulthood. 
    “W-we know the rules, we do not expect mercy and we are not afraid to die...” the young elf said quickly when it was clear the King did not follow him.  The quaver in his voice belied that last statement however.  “But-but I would that death come quickly, for my men at least, if not for me.”
    Legolas blinked and looked away.  The rules... Doriflen had always been big on whatever he considered to be the rules.  He pitied the young lieutenant.  He pitied anyone caught under his uncle’s ruthless thumb.  He remembered only too well what it had felt like.
    The King actually felt his heart go out to the boy, but it was Legolas who spoke first.
    “You surrendered willingly into our custody; we have no intention of executing any of you.  That is not the way things work here,” the prince shook his head.
    Thranduil inclined his head in concurrence.  “I told you before, I am not my brother and I think you will find my hand much gentler than his.  Be of good hope.  Freedom is coming for everyone, if they choose it.”
    The young lieutenant smiled gratefully, stunned speechless at this unexpected and undeserved grace as the cell door was shut and locked.
    Their ranks swelled by the many, many elves released from their cells, the group made its way towards the main hall, making a detour by the armory once more to outfit the rest of their party.  Surprisingly, there were no guards posted there anymore... all of them having been called away to control the great gathering Doriflen was conducting in the upper halls.  The elves’ pace increased.
    Aragorn lagged slightly, but with so many others about he didn’t think anyone would notice.  However, he was wrong. 
    “Aragorn?” Legolas’ voice was soft, but it still startled the human.  “Are you all right?”
    Aragorn grinned ruefully “Not really, how about you?”
    Legolas gave a small chuckle.  “I suppose we have both been better.  But... Strider... truly, I would not think less of you if you stayed behind.  My father was right, this is not your fight, though I treasure the fact that you have stood by me in it.  However, I would not see you further hurt because of this.”
    Aragorn just shook his head, his smile turning somewhat roguish.  “Haven’t you learned yet that you can’t get rid of me that easy?”
    “All right,” Legolas grinned as they swiftened their pace to catch back up with Raniean, Trelan and his father.  “But if you get yourself killed I am NOT going to be the one to tell your brothers!”
    As they approached the main hall, they could hear Doriflen’s voice, his rambling speech to the converged throng of elves in the great room echoing through the tunnels as they drew near.  Thranduil’s face was set, his eyes hard as he walked swiftly towards the meeting chamber. The elven warriors and the ranger ran to keep pace with the Elvenking as he determinedly approached the hall.
    “So my dear elven brothers it is with deep regret that I inform you of the loss of Thranduil and his beloved son.”  Doriflen’s sorrowful speech had almost ended by the time they reached the huge carved doors.  The inside of the entry was guarded by a mixture of the insane elf’s brigade and part of Raniean’s own troop.  Legolas doubted that they had been informed of the violent suppression tactics that Doriflen’s men had been commanded to perform.  He was sure they never would have gone along with this if they had. 
    At the sight of their commander and their lord, a collective intake of breath swept through the ranks of Raniean’s men and they dropped quickly to one knee.  One of his captains came forward, nodding to each in turn, “Raniean, my Lord.”  The elf fell to his knees before the royals, disbelief, joy and fear warring on his face. “We were told you were dead.  We have searched for you everywhere.  When we would not follow Doriflen’s leadership he had some of our men flogged, some beheaded.  We had no choice.”  The captain dropped his eyes, obviously feeling like a traitor.
    Thranduil’s gaze softened as he looked on the warrior and he nodded slightly to Raniean.
    “Rise, Brenyf. It is well.  We know well what Doriflen has been up to.” Raniean leveled a pointed glare at the closed door between them and the one of whom he spoke.  “Usurping and attempted murder!  Trelan and I have returned and Thranduil and his son are back.  Help us reclaim the throne.”  As the warriors rose and nodded pledging their allegiance, Trelan stepped forward.
    “And as for you, those who have come here serving that madman, you have two choices...” The smaller elf’s threat was cut off as Thranduil stepped around the warrior, approaching Doriflen’s guard.
    “He is right, you will have two choices and you will make them now. You may suffer with your master or you will fall in with these men and serve me. Either way the choice is yours.  You are free from your exile but you will not be tolerated in this house unless you know your place.” The King's eyes were mere slits as his hard gaze fell on each of the outcast elves.  “CHOOSE!” He thundered at them.  Those closest to him flinched but one by one they fell to their knees and surrendered their weapons.  The moment the true king walked past these doors they knew the game would be up, for the people would never follow Doriflen over Thranduil if given the choice.  They themselves had followed Doriflen for years, but those years had begun to disillusion them about him.  Now that they were actually free once more, they were not about to follow him into ruin again.  They had had enough.
    “Fall in behind us then,”  Legolas ordered, bidding them rise.
    The sound of Doriflen’s platitudes and placating false comforts filtered through the heavy doors.  “We will rebuild our kingdom.  We will take back what is ours.  I promise you a future...”
    His words were choked off as Trelan and Raniean forced the doors open and allowed Thranduil and Legolas entry into the hall.
    The elves attending the council jumped to their feet with gasps and quiet talking as the royalty walked down the long corridor between their seated subjects.  A few shouted at Doriflen, accusing him of lying. 
    When he reached the foot of the steps leading to the throne, Thranduil held his hands up and the hall immediately quieted.  Legolas’ eyes were riveted on his estranged Uncle.  His gaze was hard and cold and his lips formed a thin line on his fair face, his rage barely concealed under the civility that was required and expected of one in his position. 
    Aragorn stood just behind the King and his son. He glanced back at Raniean and Trelan and motioned with his head to the far side of the great meeting place where several more of Doriflen’s men had stood and were gathering themselves together.  Trelan notched his bow and sent two arrows flying across the room to bury their heads in the wall behind the conspirators.  Doriflen’s men stopped and glanced at the elven warriors.
    “You will desist immediately.” Raniean ordered them.  Addressing the crowd he raised his voice, “The king is not dead and the one who claims he is is a traitor!  All who follow Lord Thranduil and serve him will come to me now.  This deceptive charade is over!”
    The contest of wills had not ceased at the front of the hall.
    Doriflen smiled softly as dropped back onto the seat of the throne behind him. He spoke quietly so that only those directly in front of him could hear his voice, “You think you have won?  You cannot banish me, brother, and I know you will never kill me; you don’t have it in you.  My men may claim for the moment that they will follow you and your pitiful alliance.  But in the end they are loyal to me, unless you want to kill them all and just prove what kind of a monster you are.”  He toyed with the carved arm of the throne, running his fingers idly over the marble pattern, relaxing further into the large stately chair. “The throne is mine now, as it always should have been.”
    The hall was filled with noise as Thranduil’s warriors stood from their seats and gathered behind Raniean and Trelan.  The small warrior still held his bow at the ready, another arrow notched. The room was filled with tension.
    Doriflen rose in one smooth motion and walked to the edge of the step that the throne sat upon. “Good people of Mirkwood.” He called out into the hall, his voice quieting the murmurs of the elves.  “It grieves me to address you as such.  I should be addressing the people of Greenwood the Great! But alas it is not so because of this one and his son.” The insane elf spat the word at Legolas intending it to be a slur.  Aragorn tensed beside the elf and the prince calmly reached out bracing the human back.
    “Peace, Strider. This is not your fight,” he whispered to his friend.
    The human stepped back but did not relax the hand that gripped the pommel of his sword.
    “Must I remind you again that it is directly because of this one that you have allowed to rule you that your fair woods are overrun by spiders, and worse yet that portions of them have fallen to darkness and shadow?  How many of your very own were taken the last time these two, the very ones who are to protect you, allowed the spiders free access to you and your children? To your husbands and your daughters?  And do you think they’ll not do it again?  Their own lives they value above yours or have you been blinded by their lies and their promises?”  He glanced quickly at the king, a wicked smile on his face as the murmuring in the hall began to grow again.
    “Enough of this!” Aragorn pushed Legolas aside and leapt onto the marble stairs, his rage uncontained.
    “If you want lies you are being hand-fed them right now!”  He glanced over the heads of Legolas and Thranduil.
    “Aragorn!” Legolas tried to get his friend’s attention but the human would not look at him.
    “Who was it that made the steppes free for you to roam in?  Why are your forests now clear of the dwarves that trapped your bounty and wounded your hunters?  Why is Tairach dead and buried and her spawn chased back to Dol Guldor?  Who is responsible for this?  Are your memories so short that you have already forgotten why countless of you stand alive and are not still waiting for the spiders to end your sorry existence?”  His gaze was full of anger and fire as he looked upon the gathered elves.  “And did you not wonder where your King and his son were?  Had it ever occurred to you in the slightest that they were being held captive beneath your very sight, imprisoned in their own castle!?  Who of you came to look for them?  Who of you questioned?  And what happened to those who did?  Why are they not among you now?”
    The elves began to talk and agree amongst themselves.  The ranger was making sense. No one had really challenged the imposter and the ones who had were conveniently sent out of the area on errands from which they never returned or so everyone was told.
    Doriflen’s face was a mask of rage.  He had hated that ranger since he had laid eyes on him.  Jumping lightly down the flight of stairs he backhanded the human, catching the man beneath his jaw and snapping his head back with a vicious cuff.  The blow threw Aragorn to floor of the hall and he lay where he landed unmoving for a few seconds until the room stopped spinning.  His injuries screamed.  Of course Doriflen had known just where and how to hit him to inflict the most amount of pain, since Doriflen was the one who had given him those injuries in the first place.
    “STRIDER!”  Legolas jumped forward and knelt by his friend’s side.
    Thranduil had had enough.  He turned his back on his brother and addressed the crowd. “You may choose whom you wish to serve.  The choice is yours.”  His hard eyes lighted upon his own warriors at the back of the hall.  He wanted them very aware and on guard.  Raniean nodded in understanding and nudged Trelan who brought his bow around and sighted the tip of his arrow just above Doriflen’s heart. 
    “This kingdom is under my rule once more.  All who entered this realm with the intent of taking it by force under the guise of the false claims of Doriflen may suffer his fate or may align themselves with my house.  That choice is being offered now and now only.  Any who hesitate will not be shown mercy.”  The sounds of bows being notched throughout the room silenced all talk as Thranduil’s warriors took charge of the hall.
    A soft snicker made the king turn quickly back to gaze on his brother. “And just what will you do, little brother?”
    Legolas stood from Aragorn’s side as the human gained his feet.
    “I should think that time spent down in our dungeon, my brother, would do you some good.  It might be nice for you to revisit some of our old haunts, wouldn’t you say?” The king’s words were dark and hard and he let them hang in the air between them for the span of a few seconds not backing down to the evil glare that masked Doriflen’s face.
    Without another word, Thranduil turned back to the hall. “This council is adjourned.  Your rightful King is back.  Arrest this one immediately and take him to the lowest dungeon in chains.  He will live out the remainder of his immortal years there and so will anyone else who challenges me or supports him.”
    The king’s high guard stepped forward and swarmed up the aisle. 
    In retrospect no one could really say how it all happened, the sequence of events moved so quickly that it was difficult to tell.  Thranduil, with Legolas at his side, proceeded to walk to the outer doors of the hall, intending to head home. 
    Doriflen saw his demise as the elves in the hall stood one by one, in groups of ten or twenty and turned their backs on him. His own contingents, faced with the prospect of an immortal life in chains and darkness or the grace of service to another king set their weapons down and allowed themselves to be taken into custody.  The power of the ruling family was uncontestable and with Thranduil alive and back, Doriflen had no hope of overthrowing his kingdom.  Madness and rage flashed in his dark eyes.  He rushed down the steps, pulling an elven blade from the back of his belt and threw the knife at the form of the retreating King.
    Raniean shouted at Aragorn when he saw the elf rush forward, descending from the platform.  The ranger turned, swiveling to look behind them as the deranged brother drew the hidden knife.
    Trelan instinctively pulled the arrow back against the drawstring of his bow and released the projectile.
    Aragorn threw himself at the royals, knocking Legolas into Thranduil and dragging them both down beneath his weight, his hands protectively covering Legolas’ head as he held them down, shielding them.
    Trelan’s arrow flew over their heads and drove straight into Doriflen’s heart.  His blade clattered to the floor a few feet in front of where Thranduil lay on the thick carpet.  Aragorn glanced behind them, wide-eyed as he watched the King’s brother fall silently to the ground, a look of surprise forever etched onto his face as his life fled him. 
    The room was completely silent as Thranduil pushed himself up onto his hands and looked back at his brother.  When the guards rushed forward to help him to his feet the hall erupted in noise and motion.
    Trelan dropped his bow and gasped as he watched Doriflen fall dead, his eyes huge as he realized what he had done.  His reaction had been automatic and he had fired without thinking.  Insane as he may have been, Doriflen was still Thranduil’s brother and the elf had just killed him.  Raniean picked up Trelan’s bow and pulled the smaller elf back against himself and out of the way as the hall began to quickly empty of the elves.
    Aragorn moved aside and allowed Legolas to stand.  He helped the prince to his feet, careful of his injured hands.  “Are you alright?” He questioned softly as Thranduil walked back past them and approached his brother.
    Legolas only nodded as they followed the king with their eyes.  Thranduil knelt beside the body of his brother and gazed into the unseeing, empty stare of the last member of his father’s family.  He gently laid his hand on the dead elf’s face and carefully closed Doriflen’s eyelids.  “Now may you have peace,” he whispered.
    Sound erupted from the back of the hall as Trelan broke free from Raniean and raced to the front of the room.  Legolas caught the elf as he tried to pass them and held the smaller being still. 
    “I’m sorry, my lord, it was an instinctive response.  I only meant to wound him, not kill him.” Trelan shook his head, still somewhat stunned and begging Legolas to believe him.  “Please, my lord...”
    Raniean followed quickly and quieted his friend as Legolas released him.
    Thranduil walked back to the small group of warriors that had congregated around the elves.  Trelan looked to the floor, afraid to meet the gaze of his liege. He swallowed hard as the King stopped in front of them.
    Aragorn glanced at Legolas who returned the questioning gaze.
    “Trelan,” the King’s voice was soft so only those near could hear his words, “What you did is what I expected you to do.” The younger elf looked up into the piercing blue eyes that gazed down at him, “It is what you were supposed to do.  You are a warrior and your duty is to protect the King and the kingdom.  Today you have done both and for that I thank you.”  When the elf bowed low to him in gratitude Thranduil continued, “I am well pleased with you Trelan, son of Telrayn.  You have my gratitude.”
    Raniean clasped the smaller warrior on the back and smiled at Legolas.  The prince returned the gaze with his own brilliant smile as he sighed.
    Aragorn looked about the hall and wrinkled his nose. “Doriflen’s taste in decorations leaves a lot to be desired.” He noted the dark tapestries that hung on the walls and the blackened drapes that were swagged over the frame of every door. “It needs a good cleaning out. I hate to think of what he did to the palace rooms.”  He muttered absently to himself.
    The sarcastic comments were rewarded with the warm laughter of the King and his son.  Legolas draped his good arm around the ranger’s shoulders and steered him to the door, “Why don’t we go find out?”
    Thranduil gestured to several of Raniean’s men and motioned to the front of the hall. “See to Doriflen and dispose of his body.  Have the servants clean this place up tomorrow.”
    The warriors nodded and moved back towards the dead elf.  Raniean watched them for a minute and steered Trelan out the door behind Thranduil and Legolas.
    Aragorn glanced back at the small elf and smiled. “Not a bad shot for a Silvan elf,” he teased, trying to lighten the mood.  Raniean and the warriors that had remained near the King broke out laughing as the guards opened the doors and let the small group of elves out into the waning light of evening. A chill was just settling into the air and the warnings of snow hinted on the breeze that blew stiffly down the mountains.
    “What shall we do with the traitor’s guards, my Liege?” Raniean questioned, bringing up the awkward subject.  The outcast elves had been rounded up and were being held inside the courtyard by a contingent of Thranduil’s warriors.  The King glanced over at the elves.  Not a one of them looked up or met the piercing gaze.  The fear of whatever lay ahead radiated from them.  They had been exiled with an insane leader who ruled them with a cruel hand and now they were at the mercy of a King that they had only heard horrific tales about. Their future was no more certain now than it had been before.
    Thranduil thought on the situation for a moment. No one spoke, no one moved.  A small voice floated across the courtyard carried on the evening breeze, “Isn’t that Garilien, your son?”
    The King turned towards the soft conversation and watched as an older elf approached the group of outcasts. 
    “Garilien?”  The elf in question didn’t move or acknowledge the name. “Garilien, my boy, is that you?”  The warrior glanced up quickly and gazed into the older eyes of the elf.
    “I know what to do with them, Father.” Legolas whispered to Thranduil, “May I?”
    The King nodded and smiled as he crossed his arms and watched his son.  Legolas glanced at Trelan and Raniean and nodded at the elves.  The prince tugged on Aragorn’s sleeve and bid him follow him also.
    The four of them approached the prisoners.  Gently Legolas moved the older elf aside and glared at the one he had been talking to.  Aragorn stepped next to the prince, curious.
    “Are you Garilien?”  Legolas addressed the elf.
    “You best speak up when you are asked a question,” Aragorn threatened when the outcast did not reply.
    The elf glanced at Legolas. “I am the one he says I am.  He is my father.”  The imprisoned warrior looked over at the elder elf and swallowed hard, trying to keep his emotions at bay.
    Legolas nodded slightly and followed his gaze.  He smiled softly at the elf that stood just behind them; tears stained the elder’s face as he watched his son, his son whom he had not seen for hundreds upon hundreds of years.
    “You are free from your exile.” The prince turned back towards the prisoners.  “How many of you have family that may still live under Mirkwood’s trees?”
    Many were the hands that slipped carefully up.  A few did not.
    “I’d like those that don’t have family if you would allow me, my lord.” Raniean stepped up near Legolas on his left.  “My company was harder hit than some of the others, nearly decimated by Doriflen. We could use the extra men.”
    Legolas nodded. “Can you handle them?  Can you put them down if you have to?”  He spoke quietly but loud enough so the prisoners could hear.
    “Yes, my lord. It will not be a problem.”  He looked over the outcasts. “Whom of you have no family left in Mirkwood?”
    Seven elves shuffled to the front of the group.  “Unbind them,”  Raniean ordered the guards.  “You belong to me now.  I am your family.  And my men are your family.  If you choose not to join me, I will take you to the edge of Mirkwood and throw you out myself.  If you want to, you can make a good life here. I know you have heard stories of your people that are untrue.  Trelan and I are here to teach what is true.  Will you have us?”
    One by one the orphaned warriors consented and Trelan and Raneian walked them slowly back to the barracks where the warriors trained and spent a lot of their off time together.  “You’ll like it here,” they heard Trelan talking as he walked alongside the others. “It’s nothing like what you’ve heard.”
    “As for the rest of you,” Legolas addressed the remaining captive elves.  “We will find your families for you and you will be returned home to them.  You will have responsibilities and you will be held accountable.  You have been lied to and have been living a lie.  It's time you learned the truth.  Your families know and they will help you to find it again.”  He stepped forward and took the proffered knife from the closest guard quickly severing Garilein’s bonds.  “Go home.  Learn what it is you have lost that you may find it once again.”
    The elf nodded slightly to his new lord and walked hesitantly over to his father.  The older elf grabbed his son and pulled the errant child into his arms. “How I missed Gari.” He whispered in the elf’s ear, “It’s so good to have you home, son.”  He draped his arm around the younger elf and pulled him tightly to his side as they walked out of the courtyard.  Garilien glanced over his shoulder and smiled slightly at Legolas, his tears unhidden as he mouthed a silent thank you.
    “Nice going.” Aragorn leaned towards the prince as he watched the small family turn out of sight.
    “Find their families.”  Legolas turned back to the guards and instructed them, “Bring the elves up from the dungeons below as well and see that they are all returned to someone or give them over to Raniean for training.”  He turned and walked away from the group of prisoners and glanced up at his own father.  Thranduil had watched the whole proceedings with a smile on his face.
    “Well done, my son.  I hope they can all return to a full life.”  He stepped down next to the two friends as they approached him and turned them towards the palace.  “Meanwhile, you and I have a lot to talk about, Legolas.  I expect a very good tale out of you over what exactly caused the errant Prince of Mirkwood to miss the yén festival this time.”
    Legolas stiffened slightly and flushed a little.  “Yes...” he nodded slowly, glancing sideways at Aragorn.  “A tale it is indeed... and more than one.  But... Father?  I really am sorry... about everything.”
    Thranduil shook his head with a smile.  “I’m not angry, Legolas. At this moment I don’t think I could be angry about anything,” he chuckled.  “Besides,” he raised an eyebrow with a rare, teasing glint in his gaze.  “If I were going to disown you for it I would have done it the first dozen times...”
    Legolas smiled, enjoying his father’s good mood.  “You exaggerate, Father, I haven’t even lived long enough to see a dozen of them yet!” he protested good-naturedly.
    “Yes, and the way you behave sometimes young one I wonder if you will ever live to see that many,” Thranduil chided with a smile.
    Aragorn could not help chuckling because he had heard that often enough at home from his father and brothers. 
    Thranduil wrapped his arm gently around his son’s shoulders and gave him a light squeeze.  “So, shall we go see how much cleaning needs to be done to our apartments?  I fear my late brother’s preferences in décor always left a lot to be desired.”
    Aragorn started to laugh, “Well my lord, if it’s anything like what he did to your hall, then you will have your work cut out for you.”
    “Don’t you mean we’ll have our work cut out for us?”  Legolas stopped walking and stared hard at his friend.  He drew in a deep breath and let it out, his breath frosted heavily on the evening air as the sun dipped below the trees. “Do you know what that means?”  He smiled wickedly at the ranger.
    “I am afraid to ask.”
    “That means the snow is coming and the pass back to Rivendell will be closed for some time.”  Legolas laughed lightly at his friend’s surprised look. “I think you will be staying here and helping us clean up after Doriflen after all.” 
    “Not to mention the fact that you look like I sent you out to battle and you lost,” Thranduil spoke up. “There is no way I am returning you to your father looking as you do or in the shape you are in.  I will send him word that you will be wintering with us.”
    “What? I’m fine,” the ranger lied to the king, trying to hide his limp as they walked slowly across the courtyard.
    Legolas reached out and gently tapped the ranger on the side of his ribs causing the human to groan and pull away.
    “Fine?” Thranduil raised one eyebrow and walked into the palace in front of them, “You’re as bad as Legolas!  Do you know the penalty for lying to the king?”  He called back with amusement.
    Aragorn rolled his eyes, “It can't be any worse than it is at home.”
    “You’d be surprised.” Thranduil smiled warmly at him as the ranger walked past, accompanying Legolas slowly to the upper rooms.  “I will send the healers up to see to you both shortly.”
    “Come on, Strider, before you really get yourself into trouble.”  The prince slowly mounted the steps, careful of his own injuries. “Let's go see what that guest room of yours looks like.”
    “All I want is there to be a bed in it,” the ranger mumbled as he returned the king’s smile and mounted the steps behind his friend.
    “I only hope my bed is still there too,” Legolas commented dryly. “It will be really nice not to have to sleep on the ground for a change.”
    A small smile crept onto Thranduil’s lips as he listened to the youths talk back and forth.  He turned back towards the entry and looked out across the courtyard over the tops of the trees to the stars that barely twinkled through the growing clouds.
    A group of relatives had accumulated in the outer courtyard, eager to find their lost sons. He called a servant to him and requested that extra lights and warm drink be brought out to the families that were reuniting with their loved ones.  Mirkwood may not have been what she once was, but at least she was at peace again and all her children had come home.

The End

Extended scene for the handling of the prisoners
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