Captive of Darkness

Chapter 3

by Cassia

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    The next three days passed uneventfully. King Melèch’s three eclectic guests remained, enjoying his hospitality, although King Elnon seemed to become easily impatient as he did not yet appear to understand the full reason for his presence. However, the days of hunting with King Melèch’s excellent dogs and falcons and nights of luxurious feasting kept his complaints down to a minimum.
    Legolas paid close attention to all that transpired, although it did not help him overmuch as of yet. He watched Lord Esgal very closely as well and a shadow of suspicion began to grow in his mind, yet what exactly it meant, he could not tell.
    The opportunity for Legolas to repay the kindness that Lord Esgal had shown him came quite unexpectedly several days later, and it was only because of his growing suspicion and keen mind that the elf realized it for what it was.
    It was about midday and the weather was fair. As Melèch and his guests were preparing to set out on yet another hunting party, Legolas filled quivers and inspected arrows for them as the horses were gathered. It was his job to be sure that none of the arrows they were taking were bent or feathered incorrectly. The feel of the darts in his hands kindled in Legolas his deep desire for escape; yet, secured in the courtyard of the palace, surrounded by milling guardsmen, was hardly the time to consider anything.
    Legolas regarded the arrow in his hands. It was adequate, but he could tell that the feathering was off ever so slightly and the point not as true as it could have been. With mild disdain he flipped it into one of the waiting quivers. It was actually one of the better-made arrows. The elf found the weapons of the men clumsy and awkward compared to what he was used to, but of course did not feel inclined to point this out, especially since Melèch couldn’t have cared less for his opinion anyway.
    No less than five hunting falcons wheeled overhead, filling the air with their eager calls as they waited for the hunt to begin.
    King Melèch’s large, black hunting bird glided down on the air current to land gracefully on his master’s arm. Legolas could have sworn that the creature glared at him before fluttering away again, as if mocking the fact that he was free to go and come as he pleased and Legolas was not. The elven archer found himself calmly considering how very easy it would be to knock the gloating falcon out of the sky.
    "You are lucky that I do not have my bow, mocking one," Legolas thought disparagingly, before turning back to his work.
    Suddenly a loud commotion broke out overhead as two of the falcons got into a row about something and started fighting; diving and swooping at one another.
    One of them took a strong peck to his wing and plummeted from the sky, catching himself when he was only about a man’s height from the ground and turning his dive into a clumsy glide. The falling bird nearly struck Lord Esgal and the tall man stepped backward with incredibly quick and graceful reflexes. The attacking bird followed his fallen companion down, swooping low, his entire attention on his quarry.
    Unintentionally, Esgal stepped back into the diving falcon’s path.
    Esgal ducked at the last instant, dropping to one knee in a dodge which spoke well of his instincts, but the bird’s extended talon’s snagged in the turban that the nobleman never seemed to be without. The bird accidentally yanked the turban right off Lord Esgal’s head as it pulled up out of its dive.
    In that momentary instant, while all other eyes were turned upon the loudly squabbling fowls, Legolas’ sharp gaze caught a glimpse that confirmed his growing suspicion. He also knew that King Melèch and the other men present must not be allowed to know what he had just discovered.
    King Melèch was just turning to apologize to his guest when Legolas purposefully knocked over the large rack of hunting gear that he had painstakingly sorted out earlier in the morning. The heavy-laden shelf tipped over with a crash as weapons, supplies and snares went clattering to the cobblestones. The huge noise caused all eyes to turn on Legolas, which was what the elf had wanted.
    "Stupid fool!" Melèch shouted angrily at his slave as Legolas quickly dropped to a crouch and started picking things up. The King’s heavy boot landed a hard kick in the elf’s ribs, making Legolas catch himself on his hand to keep from falling over sideways.
    "They say that elves are graceful, but I have never had a more clumsy slave!" Melèch berated with irritation.
    Unnoticed by the others who were watching Melèch and Legolas, Esgal quickly pulled his long brown hair free of the clips that held it back from his face.
    "I’m sorry, it won’t happen again," Legolas forced himself to say, keeping his eyes downcast so that the King could not see that he did not mean what he said.
    Out of the corner of his eye, Legolas saw Esgal pull his hair forward to frame his face, covering his ears, neck and shoulders.
    "It better not," Melèch huffed, but he must actually have been in a good mood that day, because he let the subject drop and gave Legolas no further grief over the matter.
    "Lord Esgal, I trust you are all right?" Melèch turned apologetically back to his guest.
    Esgal nodded, retrieving his unwrapped, trailing turban from where it had dropped to the ground some yards away. "No harm done, King Melèch." He re-wrapped the turban quickly and efficiently, carefully encasing his head once more.
    "It appears the falcons too are in high spirits today." He spoke lightly to the king, but his eyes darted to where Legolas still knelt, gathering scattered equipment, and a silent look of understanding passed between them. Lord Esgal knew what Legolas had done and why.

    Night was approaching and the light was fading, but Legolas was still hard at work. He had been set the task of washing the white and grey cobblestone pavement that covered much of the enormous courtyard. On his hands and knees with a bucket and brush, Legolas had been scrubbing at the grimy tiles for hours. Earlier he had had to contend with people constantly walking across the surfaces he had just scrubbed and tracking more dirt where he had recently washed, but now the courtyard was still and he was the only living thing out there.
    When he suddenly found himself confronted by a pair of light, wrapped leather boots, he looked up to find Esgal looking down at him. This time Legolas was not surprised. He knew that Esgal was the only person in the palace who could approach him without his knowing, and now he knew why.
    Legolas raised himself to his knees and sat back on his heels, waiting for the other to speak first.
    "Scrubbing floors is not a fitting task for a prince, I fear," Esgal said quietly, dropping down into an easy crouch so that he could speak with Legolas.
    Legolas stiffened slightly and his eyes narrowed. How did Esgal know he was a prince? None here knew that, or at least, he hoped they didn’t.
    Esgal seemed to read his thoughts in his eyes. "Nay, your secret is safe, but I could not look upon the son of Thranduil and mistake him for anything else. Prince Legolas I assume?"
    Legolas did not answer, but replied with his own statement. "You are an elf." He knew it was true, and that explained the odd familiarity he had felt towards Esgal from the beginning. However, the prince did not yet know what this knowledge meant. Just because this fellow was an elf did not make him a friend or mean he was not a foe in league with King Melèch.
    "And you do not wish it known, although for what reason I cannot guess," Legolas spoke plainly. Of course, Legolas now realized that in Elvish esgal meant "hidden", very appropriate for this elf, whoever he was. He did not see why he had not thought of it earlier, but supposed that you did not find what you were not looking for and he had had no reason to think of Elvish meanings for a man’s name.
    One of Esgal’s hands drifted up to touch the side of his head where his gracefully pointing ears were carefully concealed by the turban he wore, enabling him to pass as a man.
    "For now let us say that it is important that Melèch not know who I am," he said somewhat cryptically.
    "Even I don’t know that," Legolas inclined his head to the side. "You have an unfair advantage on me, Lord Esgal. You know who I am and why I am here, but I know not the same of you. Nor do I know why you have cause to know my father and yet I recognize you not." There was no use denying the truth of his lineage when Esgal was obviously already certain of his knowledge.
    Esgal seemed somewhat hesitant and Legolas realized that perhaps this elf was as wary of the prince as Legolas was of him.
    "It must remain a secret for a time, young one," Esgal said finally. "For your own protection as well as mine. But you have my thanks for your aid in keeping my cover this afternoon."
    Legolas nodded, unsatisfied but left with little choice other than acceptance. "You are welcome, but I am not young and I do not need you to protect me."
    Esgal smiled wryly. "So proud, young prince, so sure of yourself," he laughed softly, a quiet, mellow, musical sound. "Forgive me then, noble elf, but when you have seen the passing of as many Ages as I have you will understand that a matter of a few hundred years or more seems to be merely the lifespan of a child."
    Legolas bowed his head in acceptance. If Esgal was really as old as he said, then he deserved the younger elf’s veneration, not his impudent questions. Still, Legolas wished he understood more.
    Esgal rose quickly, his sharp ears picking up the sound of approaching footsteps that even Legolas had missed.
    "We must not be seen together," the elder elf whispered softly and Legolas nodded, quickly bending back over his work. He still did not know if he could trust Esgal or not, but neither would he give him away to the likes of King Melèch.

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