Cell Number Eight

Chapter 2: Stars Within

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Darkness had fallen and tonight the cloudy heavens obscured the stars.  Legolas sighed softly in the darkness as he lay on the cold, stone floor.  He was weary but could not sleep.  He missed the stars on the nights in which they did not shine, missed them more than he wanted to admit.

The soft sound of quiet, padding feet in the corridor behind him fell upon the elf’s sharp hearing and Legolas rolled over, towards the door of his cage.

A small, dark form appeared on the other side of the bars and, even in the gloom, Legolas’ keen eyes told him it was Dari.

The boy hesitated uncertainly outside the cage, looking around fearfully.

“Dari?” the elf whispered quietly, leaning slightly up on one elbow.

That seemed to be all the invitation the child needed because he quickly wriggled through the bars and sat himself down with his back against Legolas’ stomach, curling in tightly on himself and hugging his tiny knees to his chest.

Legolas felt the small, warm body trembling against him.

Gently the elf prince pulled the small human child up against his chest, wrapping one arm comfortingly about the boy and propping his own head up on the other.  The child remained tense in his arms, the tiny body now shaking with quiet sobs.

Legolas thought his heart would break.  “What are you doing here, Dari?  What’s wrong?” he coaxed in a quiet whisper.  Surely the child should be in bed at this hour.

“Scared,” Dari whispered back.  “Had a bad dream.”  Hetsupa had beaten the child last time he had woken the overseer because of his night terrors.  With no one to turn to and nowhere that he felt safe, the little boy sought out the one person who had been nice to him in the whole three hellish days that he’d been in this place.

Legolas brushed the little boy’s hair with his fingers soothingly.  “It was just a dream, Dari; it’s all right now.”  The elf wished that were true.  Unfortunately he knew the grim reality that this place was a living nightmare and they were all trapped here.

Dari snuggled back into the prince’s arms, resting his little head on the floor as he lay down with his back firmly pressed up against Legolas’ chest.  The little boy couldn’t explain it, but he felt safe with the elf, safety he had not felt since the last time he was held close in his father or his mother’s arms.  Dari was young and trusting, so he required no explanation.  His only feeling was one of relief that there was somewhere in this darkness that he could still go for refuge.  Someone who would hold him and not hit him.

Legolas curled around the child a little, offering the warmth of his body against the night chill, since the slaves were given no blankets or other comforts.  To the elf that mattered little, but Dari’s tiny body was still shivering from fear and cold, so Legolas held him close. Pillowing both his and the child’s head on the arm beneath him, the elf wrapped his free arm around Dari, humming softly to the boy in the darkness.

The elf’s heart was heavy and ached with the burden of their situation.  He wanted to be comforting for the child, but it all seemed so hopeless.

Dari turned restlessly in the elf’s arms at first, having difficulty settling down and falling asleep again after having been so badly frightened by his dreams.  “You sad, Leg’las?” he asked after a few moments, peering up questioningly into the elf’s face.

Legolas was surprised by the question; he stopped humming.  “Yes, Dari,” he was truthful.  “Maybe a little.”

“Why?” came the quiet question in the dark.

Legolas took a deep breath.  There were a million answers to that question, but he finally chose a simple one that the child could understand without being too distressed.  “There are no stars tonight; I miss them.”

Dari seemed to consider this.  “They aren’t gone, jus’ behind clouds so we can’t see them,” the child said pragmatically.

Legolas chuckled.  “Yes, Dari, you’re right.  I simply miss their presence on nights when they do not shine.  The stars give me hope, little one.”

Dari nodded slowly.  “I like the stars.  But I like the sun too. It makes me happy when ev’thing’s bright.”

Legolas nestled his chin atop Dari’s small head.  “As it should,” he said with a small smile.  “Humans woke first with the rising of the sun, but Elves awoke with the stars.  Their light was the first thing that those original elves saw when they wakened from the deep sleep of creation, and the love of them has always remained in our hearts.  But you, little one, are a child of the sun, born to love the light and the joys of daytime.”

Dari was slowly relaxing.  He liked listening to Legolas talk; it was soothing.  “I think I like the ‘tween hours best,” Dari’s voice was starting to sound tired again.  “When it’s not quite night, and not quite day.” The boy whimpered slightly, still a little frightened by the menacing shadows about them that acted as reminders of his nightmares.  “I wish it was then now.”

Legolas kissed the downy, little head gently.  “Sleep then, little child of the twilight.  I will let no harm befall you.  Morning shall come soon.”

Dari slid one small hand under his shirt, hugging something tightly against his chest.  He felt safe and protected in the elf’s arms, but wished he could do something for his new friend like the elf did for him.  He was too young to understand all the reasons why Legolas was hurting inside, but he could almost feel the inner ache radiating from the elf holding him, and it made the little boy sad for his new friend.  Dari had a very big heart for one so young.  On a sudden impulse, he pulled the object he was clutching out from under his shirt, sliding it off over his head.  Turning to Legolas he pushed the wadded-up treasure into the elf’s hand.

“Here,” Dari said quietly.  “It’s a star.  It fell down and got stuck in a river.  I found it when I was little.  You can keep it for when the stars are gone, so you aren’t lonely.”

Legolas kept his amusement over Dari’s reference to ‘when he was little’ to himself and looked in surprise at the object in his palm.  It was a small, milky-white stone threaded upon a thin leather cord.  The little pendant had a naturally smooth, polished surface as one might expect from a river stone, but was otherwise unadorned and had not been shaped or molded by a craftsman.  Indeed, the only thing that seemed to have been done to it was the little hole that had been drilled in one end to allow the thin leather cord it hung upon to pass through.  It looked quite plain at first glance, and that was doubtless the only reason the child’s masters had not taken it away.  Yet in the elf’s hand, it almost seemed to glow slightly, sparkling in the dim light very much like a faint little star as the stone reflected the elf’s inner light.  Legolas imagined that it would probably do the same thing if subjected to the direct light of the moon, which was doubtless why the child thought it was a fallen star.

The elf prince was touched by the gift, but did not want to take one of the child’s only possessions.  “I can’t take this, Dari, it’s yours.” He tried to put it back around the little boy’s neck, but Dari shook his head, snuggling deeper into Legolas’ embrace.

“It’s for you.  Now you don’ have to miss the stars,” Dari murmured.  He wanted to make his gentle, new friend happy.

Relenting, Legolas slid the thin cord around his neck, letting Dari’s stone hang against his breast as he cuddled the child close.  The elf started humming softly again to fill the expanding silence between them and slowly Dari’s restlessness began to fade.

“Leg’las?” Dari’s sleepy little voice murmured after a while.

“Hm?” the elf whispered into his hair.

“I not so scared now.”

“That’s good.  You just rest little one, just rest...” Legolas soothed quietly.

Slowly the little body in the prince’s arms relaxed.  Legolas continued to hum softly to him long into the night, until the slowness of Dari’s breathing told the elf that the child was asleep.  Resting his chin lightly against the boy’s head, Legolas smiled faintly.

There may not have been any light in the sky tonight, but a light of hope was even now slumbering in his arms.  The empty ache in the prince’s chest eased slightly.  Not everything was dark; not everything was ugly and twisted.  There was goodness and beauty left in the world still, and it was worth the effort to find it.

Legolas smiled faintly before he too, fell asleep.  He dreamed as he had for many nights now of the stars in the heavens shining down upon the glassy surface of the murmuring ocean.  Glimmering lights of small ships sailed ever across the face of the water, going always away to the West and never coming back.

The elf stirred in his sleep, his arms tightening slightly around Dari’s small form as one might hold to an anchor to keep from being pulled away across the deceptively gentle, but unrelenting waves that dominated both his sleeping and waking dreams.


After that first time, Dari spent almost every night with Legolas in his cell.  He could not sleep unless it was in the elf’s arms.  Legolas soon came to look for the soft footfalls in the dark that heralded his little friend’s approach.

He tried to return the boy’s necklace, but Dari truly didn’t want it back.  The child seemed to prefer the elf keep it, as if it was one small thing he could do for the friend that he was quickly coming to look to as his guardian, his protector... and, Legolas realized with a small amount of surprise, his surrogate father.

Legolas had never really considered being a father.  He had protected children before, he had taken care of them and seen them safely along their path, but none had passed so deeply into his life as Dari.  Legolas had been many things -- a son, a nephew, a friend, a mentor, a guardian, a warrior -- but a father’s role, although combining different elements of the others, was new to him.  Yet he found it was not so hard.  All he had to do was love Dari with his whole heart and that, he found, was incredibly easy.

The elf wondered if Dari realized that the real gift the child gave was himself.  Holding the tiny body close and giving comfort as well as receiving it in the very act of giving was as good for Legolas’ sad and weary heart as the stars.  On the nights when they did not shine, Dari was his star: his tiny ray of hope that kept him grounded as surely as he was the beacon that kept the child’s gentle spirit from withdrawing completely in the face of the cruelty around him.

If Hetsupa or the other overseers knew about the child’s nightly sleeping arrangements, they did not seem to care.  So long as the little brat did not bother them, they were happy.

Legolas was dragged out to the arena nearly every other day, so Dari was often in his cell, dutifully lugging along his bucket and bandages.  To the child’s credit, he actually seemed to have some skill at healing, if only because his heart was so kind that he wanted to do anything he could to help.  Even when he was not there in his ‘official’ capacity, Dari began spending a good deal of time in cell number eight.  A naturally quiet child, he talked very little, but seemed to simply want to be near Legolas whenever possible.

The other inmates still frightened the child out of his mind and Hetsupa inspired surpassing terror, but so long as he could slip in and out of Legolas’ cell when he was not working, Dari seemed to be holding onto his trusting, innocent nature.  For that, Legolas was eternally glad.  It would be horrible to see one so young become scarred and jaded by the terrible situation that the little slave was forced to endure.

The blood pits were reaching new, fevered levels of brutality as they entered into what they considered to be their championship phase.  Legolas was forced to fight more and more often as he passed through the championship matches undefeated. 

It would have been so easy.  So easy to simply lower his guard in the cage, to just let the other slave kill him and end this horrid existence.  He had the opportunity almost every day now...

Yet even with this higher level of gruesome activity, the elf found the will and the strength to endure, because every time he went out there he looked down at the simple little pendant around his neck and remembered why he was fighting.  If he died, then Dari would have no one, and Legolas could not allow that.  Love for the child had given him a reason to fight that his conscience could accept.  Dari had given him something to live for.

Rapid footfalls sounded down the hall and Legolas looked up, recognizing Dari’s footsteps easily since the child had more or less moved in with him for the past month or two.  But today the footsteps were agitated and stumbling.  Besides, it was midday; Dari should have been at work in the kitchens above, not down here with the fighters.

Dari didn’t even pause when he reached the cell, having become quite accustomed to sliding in and out between bars.  He hurled himself into Legolas’ cage and crumpled into the elf’s arms.  His face was streaked with tears, but he seemed too scared to cry now.

An ugly red welt ran across Dari’s bare back, shoulder to waist.  The very sight of the cruel mark on the soft, tender flesh made the elf’s blood boil hot in his chest.  Yet before Legolas could even ask what had happened, Hetsupa’s voice boomed down the hall as his heavy feet pounded down the stairs from the upper level.  “COME BACK HERE RIGHT NOW BRAT IF YOU KNOW WHAT’S GOOD FOR YOU!!”

Dari trembled.  “I didn’t mean to trip him I didn’t!” the little boy pleaded with Legolas in quiet hysteria.  “Don’ let him hurt me please don’ let him hit me again!” The words were almost too jumbled and panicked to even make out.  The panic in the child’s wide eyes made the elf feel sick.  It was so familiar.  Legolas wanted to kill the person who had taught Dari these emotions, but he knew that there was nothing about their fate and well-being that was in his hands to control.

“Shh, shh, Dari...” Legolas held the little boy tightly, looking around his small, empty cell in desperation.  There was nowhere to hide... wait.  Yes, there was.

Hetsupa stalked in front of cell number eight and stopped, glaring at the infuriating, golden-haired slave champion inside.  “Where’s your little friend?  Did he come in here?  You better tell me the truth, freak!”

Legolas, sitting in the corner as he usually did, gestured around at the obviously empty cell.  “Do you see him?” the prince asked with biting disdain.

Hetsupa just swore and stalked off down the hall, still calling Dari’s name.

Legolas remained still until the overseer had gone.  Then he moved away from the wall and let the little boy who had been hiding behind his back scoot out of the corner.  “You can stay with me, in here, for a little while, all right, Dari?”  If he followed true to form, Hetsupa would be too drunk by evening to remember that he’d even been angry with Dari earlier.  For that at least Legolas was glad.

Dari nodded gratefully, scrubbing his dirty little face with his hands.

“I sorry,” the boy murmured, hiccuping through quiet tears.  “I didn’t mean to be bad.  Please don’ make me go away ‘cause I’m bad.”

Legolas hugged the shaking child gently, brushing away Dari’s tears.  “Dari, Dari... you aren’t bad and I would never make you go away.  Dari, when Hetsupa hurts you, it’s not your fault.  You know that, right?”

Dari snuggled tighter into the elf’s arms but didn’t speak for a moment.

“If I wasn’ bad he wouldn’t have ta hurt me,” the small voice almost broke Legolas’ heart.  “He said so.”

The elf closed his eyes.  That was familiar.  “No, child,” Legolas’ voice was loving, but very firm.  “That’s not true.  People like Hetsupa... they do not hurt you because there is anything wrong with you, but because there is something very wrong with them.  They are... hard and sick inside and they don’t know it’s wrong to hurt other people.  But it isn’t your doing.  Promise me you won’t ever believe it’s your fault, please, Dari?”

Legolas knew just how badly that kind of thinking could tear a young heart to shreds and he tried to speak the words he wished he could have heard when his uncle first started abusing him as a child.  He felt hopelessly inadequate, and wished there were someone wiser to help Dari, but there wasn’t, so he offered the best he could.

“’kay,” Dari sniffed uncertainly.

Legolas rocked the child for a while until he stopped crying.

Slowly, Dari got over his scare and began to watch the little crawling insects that made their way across the floor. Wriggling down out of the prince’s lap, the child followed the bugs around on hands and knees with great interest.  Legolas couldn’t help but think the boy was incredibly resilient for one so young.

“Tell me a story,” Dari looked up from his play and requested.

Legolas nodded.  “All right, I will tell you a story about a very good friend of mine.”

“Was he an elf?” Dari interrupted.  Usually a very quite child, this was a talkative mood for him.

“No, he was a human, like you.  When he was little they called him Hope, because he brought hope back into many lives...” Legolas stopped to smile at the child.  “You remind me of him very much you know.”

The little boy just smiled at the compliment and continued playing.  He liked being thought of as the elf’s friend.

“Well, one time he and I were together and we found a map leading to an ancient treasure...” Legolas told the tale in simple language so as not to lose the child and Dari enjoyed it greatly.

The child laughed lightly at some of the more humorous portions of the tale.  “Tell me about the plant again!  The one that wanted to eat you!” he asked, snuggling up into the elf’s lap and resting in his arms as he listened.

Legolas laughed gently and launched into the telling, humorously exaggerating at Aragorn’s expense, but his friend was not there to hear him, so he figured it mattered little.  The elf hadn’t thought he’d mentioned that particular escapade yet, but his mind had been wandering back across those years, so he must have spoken of it without thinking.   So much of his and Aragorn’s early years together were forever etched upon his heart, it was more like tracing its pattern with the fingers of his mind than truly telling a story.

Before they reached the end of the tale however, there was a clatter of footsteps in the corridor and several of the guards rushed by.  They seemed on edge and alarmed.  A general clamor was going up and Legolas rose to his feet, setting Dari down gently.  Going to the door of the cell he peered out, trying to see what was happening and what the reason was for the sudden increase in the levels of fear he was sensing around them.

“Khelekir!  Khelekir!” many voices were shouting far away and the instant the prisoners heard it they took up a horrible wailing cry of distress and fear.

“What?  What?!” Legolas tried to make himself heard above the din.  Turning his attention on the wild, bearded man who was throwing himself against the bars of the cell beside him, he tried again, focusing on the human and trying to get him to calm enough to talk rationally.  “What is going on?  What is the Khelekir?”

“Not what, freak, who!” even the other prisoners regarded Legolas as some kind of monstrosity, but he was used to that and shrugged their disdain off easily.  At the moment he was more concerned with information than etiquette.

The man gave another wail and shook the bars hard, screaming to be let out.  Legolas knew that wasn’t going to happen, so he pressed for information yet again.  The fellow prisoner snarled, but did eventually answer.

“The Khelekir live over the hills.  They are bitter enemies of our people and condemn the pit fight practice as insufferable.”

Legolas grinned without mirth.  //We agree on something then// he thought dryly.  He wondered that the man could still call these creatures who did this to them his people.

“They used to leave us alone, but they’re on a killing spree now, the guards say.  They raided a village over the hills not many days ago.  It was a clean sweep. ‘Rid the earth of them,’ that’s what they say.  Women, children, everyone, dead.  And us slaves...” the human spat in fury and fear.  “We’re especially fortunate.  They think we’re animals and they kill accordingly.  Over in Anond they made a bloodbath of the arenas.  Six dozen souls killed right in their cages.  We haven’t got near as many here, should go a lot quicker for them, curse them!”

Legolas moved back away from the bars, sitting back down on the floor with Dari who looked like he was trying to decide if he should be alarmed or not.

“Leg’las, is something bad happening?” the child inquired uncertainly.

“Yes, Dari, but it will be over soon.” Legolas hoped he spoke the truth.  The savagery the other prisoner spoke of was almost as bad as the pits.  It seemed that no one out here had any idea of mercy.  “Perhaps you had better go.”

“No!” the boy protested quickly.  “I want to stay with you!”

“I know Dari, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Legolas reasoned gently.  He didn’t want to frighten the child, but he didn’t want him in the cages if something should happen.

Just then, however, the guards came stumping back in, looking decidedly less afraid and more irritated.  From what he could overhear, Legolas quickly decided that it must have been a false alarm triggered by some over-edgy sentries and he relaxed a little.  Hetsupa was still in a sour mood so Legolas kept Dari hidden in his cell with him for the rest of the day until all the guards were so drunk they could barely remember their own names.

Dari left only long enough to carry out his duties before running back to the safety of cell number eight and cuddling up to the elf who had become his protector and comforter.

It became apparent that the events earlier in the day had disturbed the child more than Legolas first thought because Dari had trouble sleeping.  Legolas rubbed the little back gently, trying to ease the young one to sleep, but Dari was restless and rolled onto his back, lying in Legolas’ arms and playing absently with the ends of the elf’s long blond hair where it fell down against Legolas’ shoulder next to him.

“Leg’las... you won’t leave me, will you?” the little boy asked at last.  “They won’t take you away from me like...” he stopped, seeming to not want to follow that train of thought any further.  “Will you?  Promise?”

Legolas heart ached. So much trust, so much pain in one so young.  He wanted nothing more than to erase all the hurt behind those innocent eyes, but he would not make the child promises he was not sure he could keep.  Such a thing could scar Dari deeply if... if anything should happen.

The elf didn’t answer right away but stroked Dari’s hair absently, letting his fingers tangle in the curly dark locks much the same as Dari was doing with the prince’s.

Legolas regarded the child seriously, but tenderly.  “Dari, I promise that I will never willingly leave you for as long as you need me and I am able.  Beyond that young one, none of us can say.  But do not fear, all right?  You see?  I am here and so are you.  Neither of us is going anywhere tonight.”

Dari was not entirely satisfied, but it seemed to be enough and he snuggled close to Legolas again, finally finding enough peace to fall asleep.

Rest found Legolas more slowly.  He lay awake for a long time trying to think of some way he could get himself and Dari out of this situation.  There had to be a way, but he could not come up with any.  Sighing he laid planning aside and tried to decide what he would do when and if they did escape.  He would never leave Dari behind of course.  The prince’s greatest wish was to somehow be able to find the child’s parents and, in so doing, erase that pain behind the young eyes... but the more he learned, the more it seemed the child had no family to which the elf could return him.  Gently, so as not to wake him, Legolas pulled Dari closer.  If that were indeed true, then Legolas swore he would become the boy’s family.  His best friend had been a human adopted by elves and he was not afraid of the prospect.  Aragorn would help him, Raniean, Trelan, Elladan and Elrohir would help him... Legolas chuckled.  Those last two would just love to have another young human to dote on, no doubt.  Maybe he should keep Dari away from their influence if the stories Estel told had any truth to them.

With these pleasant thoughts on his mind, sleep finally overtook the elf.  And for the first time in a long time, the specter of the rolling ocean swells did not haunt his dreams.


The next day there was a fevered excitement in the air.  It was the big day, the championship.  Legolas was being matched against the champion from the next village over and huge amounts of money were being wagered.

More than the clamoring excitement though, Legolas felt something different today... something disturbing.  This conviction was deepened when his owner came to take him out of the cell.  Most often, the pit guards escorted him to and from a fight, even if his master were present to give them the key and then take it back again.  That the man who owned him had come to take his prize fighter out of the cage himself was not entirely unusual, but it was still another mark that there was change in the air today.  Hetsupa was also there and he leered at the elf as Legolas’ master pulled him from the cage, making a slicing motion across his throat with a gloating grin.

“Your day to die, freak,” he promised with a dark smile when the other human wasn’t looking.  He was paid good money to watch over the pit slaves by their various owners, but he did not like the elf because the creature unnerved him.  He was going to be glad to be rid of the pointy-eared warrior.

Legolas did not like the implications of these statements, but he was given no time to think about it before they were pulling him away.

Dari watched quietly from down the hall, his little lips pinched tightly together as he said the same silent, simple but heartfelt prayer that he said every time they dragged Legolas out to the arena.  He prayed that cell number eight would not be one of the empty cages he cleaned tonight.