Priceless Treasure

Chapter 7

by Cassia and Siobhan

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...80 years before...

Legolas knelt silently in the snow-clad bushes; his light-colored cloak and jerkin helping him blend in with his surroundings. Ahead of him was a small spring, the center of which still flowed, unfrozen. He had intended to drink from it, but something put his senses on the alert and his keen eyes scanned the area, trying to determine if he were alone or not.

The Misty Mountains loomed large and snow-clad behind the prince. He had left the steepest terrain behind and was now in the sometimes rolling, sometimes jagged and craggy foothills of the range. Legolas had made this journey more than once in his life, for he was now not many days travel from Rivendell, but never had the way been so harsh and imposing. The worst was now behind him and that was a blessing. Unfortunately, the last blizzard had totally obliterated the trail he followed, although Legolas told himself it was only a matter of time until he picked it up again. He would not admit defeat when he was this close. Aragorn and his kidnapper could not be that far ahead now... not at the rate that Legolas had been driving himself.

The elf could not find the source of whatever he had sensed, so he slid silently out of the bushes and moved towards the stream. The water he carried with him kept freezing and had to be thawed out over a fire before it was useable. Legolas had not bothered to waste time on that for at least a day or so, but knew that he could push himself only so far without water.

Many animal tracks leading to and from the riverbank showed that the prince was not the only one who had found this river to be a source of much needed refreshment in a frozen wasteland.

It was doubtless a prime hunting spot, but Legolas did not have time for hunting, although he certainly could have stood some food. Raniean had not been exaggerating when he pointed out that Legolas was not prepared for a journey such as the one he had undertaken. What supplies he had had with him had run out over a week ago. Legolas had barely taken time from his quest to sleep, much less hunt. Truly, to a degree, his body did not need much... but he had extended himself beyond his reserves some time ago and, although he hated to admit it, he really could have stood a good meal about now.

That was beside the point to the elf, however, because his chief concern was the fact that, at the moment, he had no idea where his friend and the man who had captured him had gone.

Legolas knelt lightly on the ice that was much too thin to have held the weight of anything but an elf. Cupping his hand, he drank from the clear stream, abating his thirst.

Suddenly he stopped, his senses going to full alert. There was someone nearby. He could hear them... but only just. Whoever it was was being extremely quiet.

Rising slowly to his feet, Legolas drew one of his knives and held it loosely at his side, keeping his motions small and unnoticeable. He was nearly fully recovered from his previous injuries and felt prepared to handle whatever was out there.

Behind him. The sense he was getting was coming from behind him.

The prince clenched his blade tightly in his fist, his jaw steeling. Whoever was back there was going to get a lot more than they bargained for if they tried anything.

Legolas was tired, hungry, frustrated and even a little cold, not to mention being worried half to death about Aragorn. He was in no state of mind to be trifled with and would need very little provocation at this point to take someone’s head off for them if they thought to waylay him.

The presence was close now. Legolas realized he could barely hear the other, but he could feel him. Turning swiftly the prince brought his weapon up in warning, spinning to see of what nature this new threat was. He was not prepared for what he found.

"Legolas?" The dark-haired elf blinked once in surprise, backing up a step at the ferocity in Legolas’ glare. From behind it had been impossible to know who it was that knelt and drank from the stream, for the hood of the fur-lined jerkin Legolas was wearing under his cloak covered the prince’s golden hair.

"Elladan?" Legolas was no less surprised to see one of Elrond’s twin sons than Elladan was to see the prince. Legolas dropped his weapon back to his side, re-sheathing it. "What are you doing here?"

"Hunting. This bitter winter has made game difficult to find, even near Rivendell. This stream is a favorite watering spot for many creatures. Elrohir and I had hoped to bag a deer... we never expected to catch a prince instead." Elladan chuckled. "But I should be asking you that. This is after all a lot nearer to our home than yours. What on earth could have brought you over the mountains in this weather? Please don’t tell me Estel came with you. I should hope he at least had more sense than that." The dark-haired elf’s smile was light as he whistled through his fingers, signaling for his brother to come out of his hiding place upstream.

"Estel has been taken," Legolas said simply. He had not the energy nor inclination to try to be delicate about it.

"What do you mean, 'taken'?" Elladan demanded, his whole attitude changing abruptly. Elrohir arrived and looked questioningly between Legolas and his brother.

"Who took him, where?" Elladan fixed his gaze firmly on Legolas.

"I don’t know who." Legolas shook his head, rubbing his hand over his face. "As for where..." he gestured back at the mountain, letting them figure it out.

"Why?" Elrohir was still trying to get up to speed but, since no one there really knew what was going on yet, he was not at a great disadvantage.

"I do not know," Legolas’ voice was tense. He was glad he had met up with Aragorn’s brothers, but they were looking to him for answers he did not have. "I do not understand all that has happened. I simply know that he was taken in the shadow of the eastern side of these mountains and I have not been able to catch up with them since. But it was a deliberate attempt and, for whatever reason, the man who took him wants your brother very much."

The twins were trying to absorb all this information. Elladan frowned as Legolas touched his forehead again, rubbing his temples.

"Legolas, are you all right?"

"I’m fine," Legolas would never admit to otherwise. "I’m just worried, and frustrated and... and I’ve lost their trail," he confessed quietly, looking away. He was responsible. Estel’s safety had been in his charge and he had failed to keep him from harm.

"You followed them all the way across the mountains... but where is your gear?" Elrohir looked around. The prince carried almost nothing with him.

"I did not have the luxury of choosing the hour, nor the manner of my departure," Legolas said somewhat testily. He didn’t mean to be irritable, but he did not know what he was going to do now and having to give that kind of news to Aragorn’s family was not pleasant. His own sense of failure was difficult to handle.

Elrohir gazed hard at the blonde elf, realizing what a good deal of the prince’s problem was. Elves drew strength from the living world around them, but in the mountains everything was frozen, cold and dead. With no supplies and no food, Legolas must surely be feeling the wear of the long journey. "Come, come back to our camp. You can tell us the full story over lunch and we can decide what to do next."

Legolas nodded. He hated delay, but right now he had no idea which direction to go anyway and perhaps the twins would be able to shed some light on this puzzle. And, although he would never admit it, lunch didn’t sound too bad either.

Back at the twins’ base camp, the three elves talked while they ate, although only Legolas was really eating, Elladan and Elrohir were too concerned and intent on what the prince had to say to worry much about food. The more Legolas talked, the darker their countenances became. Anyone who dared harm their little brother was in serious danger.

Legolas had just gotten through recounting finding the dead horse and signs of a struggle. "Then I found a curious thing," he pulled the leather wallet from his pocket. "This. It was hidden in the snow and must have been lost in the struggle. It has a rather large sum of money inside."

Elladan took the wallet, looking inside and poking quickly and uninterestedly through the thin gold coins it held. They were of common make and told little about the bearer.

Elrohir, who had moved over so he could look over his brother’s shoulder, caught one end of the wallet and pulled it up a little. He gave a soft cry and turned the object all the way over, pointing and drawing his brother’s attention to the small flourish etched into the leather.

Elladan’s face paled a shade. "Oh Elbereth... we might have guessed."

"Guessed what? Elladan, might have guessed what?" Legolas’ full attention was taken and he edged nearer, trying to understand what they saw, but the small design still meant nothing to him.

"This is the crest of the house of Wealdholte," Elrohir explained slowly. "They live away to the south-east of Rivendell some distance and they were once a very influential human presence in these parts many, many years ago. Their house has dwindled and their line failed in these recent years, although their wealth remains great."

"What does that have to do with Estel?" Legolas interjected when Elrohir paused, seeming lost in disturbing thoughts.

"All that was left of their house was an old man named Mannyn and his youngest son, Mearces," Elladan picked up, his voice dark as he ran his thumb in thoughtful circles over the small design. "Mannyn’s older child died in infancy and his wife passed on giving birth to Mearces, so it was only the two of them left. Mearces was his father’s pride and joy, his whole world... unfortunately that led to an untempered arrogance in the young man. He thought he could do anything he wanted and his father bought him out of any trouble he got into. One night he got drunk in a local inn and started harassing one of the young ladies that worked there. Aragorn was in the tavern and intervened on the girl’s behalf. This was only shortly after Estel returned with us from Mirkwood, following the lifting of the two of yours’ exile."

Legolas nodded, he was following so far. It was amazing how long ago the events of his and Aragorn’s forced exile and eventual return now seemed; if the current situation were not so serious, he would have laughed at himself, he was almost picking up Aragorn’s human conception of time.

Elladan was still talking. "When Mearces woke and sobered up, he was incensed that someone who was, he felt, beneath him, had dared treat him like that. He sent ‘messengers’ to find Estel..."

"Thugs you mean," Elrohir muttered. "What they really wanted was to find him alone in a dark alley to deliver their ‘message’."

Elladan inclined his head in agreement. "They did not count on finding him in Rivendell. Much to their chagrin, all they could do was deliver Mearces’ challenge and demand for satisfaction. Now Mearces was at least six or seven years Estel’s senior and fancied himself quite a swordsman, but Aragorn knew that he was the more skilled of the two. Our brother didn’t want trouble and he didn’t want to harm the other young man over so trivial a matter; however, in the end Mearces left him no choice but to accept the challenge or be labeled a coward. The height of irony was that after the challenge was accepted, old man Mannyn tried to buy Aragorn off and bribe him to run; he never tried to discourage his son from the idea, however. Of course Aragorn would never sell honor for money so the fight took place." Elladan sighed.

"Elrohir and I acted as Estel’s seconds and went with him to the location that Mearces had selected. In all honesty, Legolas, Aragorn acted far more honorable about the whole situation than I might have when I was his age. He tried his best to disarm his opponent without seriously injuring him and took several nasty knocks himself because of it. But in the end Mearces moved the wrong way at the wrong time and ended up taking mortal injury. He died in his father’s arms. For this Estel was truly saddened, as were we all. Unfortunately Mannyn’s sorrow went swiftly to bloodthirsty rage. Of a truth, Legolas, if Elrohir and I had not been there I do believe he would have had his son’s hired ruffians kill Aragorn where he stood."

Elrohir nodded, his face sorrowful as he remembered. "But wealthy and powerful as he was, Mannyn wanted no quarrel with Rivendell or the elves, so he was compelled to let Aragorn go. Yet he swore vengeance on him, saying that he would put a price on Estel’s head so high that he would have to be afraid of his own shadow."

"For the first several weeks we were all on guard and for a time Father kept Estel close to home, wary of Mannyn’s threatened retribution," Elladan easily picked up the thread once more. "Then Moranuen came back from Strayton half dead and we first found out about the trouble with Hebrilith. You know what happened after that..."

Legolas grimaced slightly at the memory. Yes, he knew what happened after that. He had been the next elf brought back to Rivendell beaten almost to the point of death because of the dark elf’s murderous forays among the local human population.

"All was quiet again for a time that summer that you spent with us, then there was the earthquake and the Witch-king and... well, to be honest I think we all forgot about it," Elrohir admitted. "When you and Estel left for Mirkwood, it was almost nothing more than a memory. I suppose we all more or less decided that Mannyn’s words were nothing more than meaningless threats spoken in a grief-stricken rage, since naught was heard on the matter since then..."

"Apparently we were wrong," Elladan’s eyes turned cloudy once more. "And Estel’s paying the price."

None of them liked the sound of that.

"We’ve got to get back to Rivendell and tell father. It’s a three or four hour ride to Mannyn’s house from home, but it’s at least triple that to make it home from here, if we ride hard," Elrohir rose swiftly to his feet, beginning to gather up their gear. His brother joined him.

Legolas rose, but seemed to be hesitating in indecision over something as the brothers quickly broke up camp.

"Are you coming, Legolas?" Elladan called back over his shoulder as they un-picketed their horses.

Making up his mind, Legolas shook his head. "I’ll slow you down, you will go faster if one of your horses is not burdened with a double rider. Now that I know the direction they are heading, I... I want to see if I can pick up their trail again."

Elrohir looked a little worried. "Legolas... are you sure it wouldn’t be better for you to come with us? We have no way of knowing how far ahead of you they are, they may already be to their destination... and there are at least three different paths that they could have taken to get there, take the wrong one and you could miss them entirely."

Legolas looked out across the frozen terrain. He couldn’t explain it, but something in his heart was speaking to him... it was telling him that for whatever reason, he needed to stay on the trail he had followed to this point.

"My heart tells me they are out there yet. I know nothing about Mannyn, or the situation you have spoken of, I will be of little use to you there. Out here maybe I can still do some good. I’ve followed them this far... I just can’t give it up now." Legolas didn’t know how better to explain it, but in his heart, he held the silent fear that even if Mannyn’s house were indeed the intended destination, Aragorn might not make it that far, if the signs he had read in the snow before he lost the trail were any indication of his friend’s state of health.

Elladan eyed Legolas sharply for a moment. He could tell that the prince was not being entirely forthcoming with them about something.

He was right. Legolas had not shared with them the many indications he had found about how poorly their brother seemed to be doing. He had not mentioned the blood and other disturbing things he had read in the snow. It was enough to have told them that he suspected Estel was being kept subdued by drugs with a captor who could be utterly ruthless. The elven prince had not wished to further distress the twins without need.

After a moment Elladan shook his head. Whatever Legolas was hiding, he didn’t have time to push for it. Aragorn’s life could be hanging in the balance. "All right then, if they are heading for Mannyn’s house, of which I am certain, then they will have to either take the long pass to the right, down past the base of these trees and through the canyon, or the narrow way up that hill and around the cliff face, or they will have bypassed this valley entirely and gone around the other side of yonder gorge and be making their way down from there. If you find him, Legolas, make with all speed for Rivendell. Even if we are not there Glorfindel, Moranuen and the others will protect he and you if there is any serious trouble. Be careful, we do not yet know what exactly we are dealing with."

Legolas nodded. "And if I find nothing I shall still make my way to Rivendell, praying heaven that you have been successful where I failed."

The twins nodded and quickly kicked their horses up to a fast gallop, disappearing down the hill in a matter of moments.

For a few seconds Legolas stood still, feeling the wind on his face and listening to the subtle sounds of the earth around him, trying to decide which way he should go. Finally he chose the path that bypassed this valley and sloped away to the southeast. It looked the easiest way to go if one was on foot and dealing with an unwilling companion.

He could only hope he had chosen wisely.


Lord Elrond’s gaze was hard and flinty; his hands were clenched tightly inside the black leather gloves that he wore.

Elrohir, riding on Elrond’s right side, momentarily reflected that he would not want to be anyone who crossed his father at the moment. Glancing across the neck of Elrond’s coal black steed at Elladan, riding on their father’s other side, Elrohir decided that the same was true of his brother.

Elrond had listened to his sons’ tale quietly and then ordered the horses made ready almost as soon as they had finished speaking. They needed to pay Mannyn a little visit, and the sooner the better.

The scent of snow was heavy in the air as the early afternoon sun shone down on the three travelers. Its rays gave light, but no warmth. Yet these were elves so it mattered little to them.

When they reached Mannyn’s house, they had to wait for someone to open the main estate gates. This was finally done by a little old man with a limp who seemed to think that visitors were an uncommon and somewhat frightening sight, especially if those visitors were elf lords. Mannyn did not receive many guests these days.

The three elves rode into the courtyard, the echoing of horse hooves on stone muffled by the snow that blanketed everything. The old hostler and gatekeeper left a single, uneven set of tracks in the untouched snow as he blustered about, trying to figure out how to take the elves’ horses as they dismounted, since the beautiful creatures had no bridles nor reins.

"Is Mannyn at home?" Elrond inquired, his voice echoing hollowly in the empty courtyard.

"Yessir, he’s here all right," the small man bobbed his head in a friendly, if somewhat nervous manner. "If you want to wait I can tell him you’re here, Mr...?"

"That’s all right, we’ll announce ourselves," Elrond nodded briskly at the small man, brushing right by him and heading for the main house.

The hostler would never have dreamed of opposing anything the elf lord said, but he shook his head as he led the three horses, which he found followed him willingly enough now that they had been released by their masters, into the stables. Master Mannyn was a man who prized his solitude. He was not going to be pleased with his unexpected visitors.

Elrond knocked on the large door of the house. As they waited for it to be opened, Elladan scanned the area around them with a suspicious eye. "If he’s hurt Estel..." the young elf muttered under his breath.

Elrond touched his eldest’ arm lightly. "We don’t know that yet, Elladan." He looked between his boys. "Let me do the talking, understood?"

The twins nodded.

A few moments later the door was opened by a round, pleasant faced, middle aged woman in an apron. She had flour on her hands as if she had been baking and was busy dusting it off on the apron around her middle. She looked a little surprised to see the three elves, but smiled warmly enough.

"Well hello, gentlemen! What can I do for you?" she inquired, unconsciously straightening her tousled hair and rumpled clothes.

"We have come to speak to Lord Mannyn. Will you please tell him that Lord Elrond of Rivendell and his sons are here?" Elrond introduced himself to the woman, whose eyes got a little rounder, if that were possible.

"Right this way, my lords," the woman led them into a large room off of the main hallway. It was obviously an audience chamber of sorts, but it had not seen use in many years from the looks of it.

Large dust cloths were thrown over most of the furniture in the room and although it was obviously well kept up, a thin layer of dust had settled in the not-so-easy-to-reach places.

The woman flushed slightly at the state of the room and bustled about, yanking off dust covers until there had been a suitable number of chairs cleared. "Sorry, we’ve not had visitors in a while," she admitted what they could already guess, kicking the offending coverings into a bundled lump behind the door.

"You gentlemen just have a seat then, my name’s Dolmè. I’ll let Master Mannyn know you’ve come and put on some tea."

After Dolmè left, Elrond sat down, but Elladan and Elrohir paced until their father ordered them to sit. It seemed a very, very long while later that the door opened again, but it was not Mannyn, only Dolmè, now sans apron and rumples, and carrying a glistening silver platter heaped with fresh baked buns and a steaming pot of tea. There was no mistaking that she was a lot more nervous than she had been earlier.

She poured out the tea while chatting about the weather until Elrond caught her eyes. "Dolmè, we’re here to see Mannyn."

"Of course, of course you are," she nodded. "He- that is, the Master... he’s not in the best of health you know, and he’s, well... he’s not seeing anyone today," she finally got it out.

Elrond rose quietly, but there was irritation etched in the polite lines of his face. "Please tell Mannyn that my sons and I are waiting. We will not take much of his time, but it is vitally important and we must speak with him."

Dolmè nodded miserably. "Yes, sirs, I’ll tell him."

Elrond watched her leave with sympathy. He didn’t want her job.

Nearly an hour later, Mannyn finally made an appearance. He was a gaunt, pale man, yet there was nothing at all about him that seemed frail in any way. Perhaps that was because of the hidden fire behind his dark, deeply circled eyes. Although the elves quite rightly suspected that his being ‘too ill to see them’ was simply a put-off, it was not a far stretch of the imagination to see that Mannyn truly did not look well.

"What are you doing here?" Mannyn’s voice was crisp and to the point. "Can’t you understand what it means when a man says he wants to be left alone?"

Elladan and Elrohir exchanged peeved looks at the human’s rudeness, but Elrond refused to be baited.

"We will not trouble you long," Elrond assured, gesturing for Mannyn to sit as if he were in his own house, rather than being the guest.

Mannyn glared at him, but did sit down.

Elrond sat across from the elderly human, watching Mannyn closely. His manner was politely diplomatic, but his eyes were piercing and searched the man before him for any trace of deception. "I will be brief and straight to the point," the elven lord kept Mannyn fixed in his gaze. "I want to know what is this that I hear about you putting a price on my son’s head?"

Mannyn’s scowl deepened. "I have no idea what you’re talking about. It seems to me that your sons are fine," he glanced between Elladan and Elrohir with a sneer. "Which is more than I can say for mine." The words were hard. Cold. Bitter. "Besides, what interest would I have in them? Is this all you have come here to trouble me with?" The old man started to rise, but was fixed in his place when Elrond pierced him with a glare.

"We are not finished Mannyn. I speak of the ranger, Strider, whom we call Estel, and you know that. I know that you blame him for the death of your son. I am sorry for your loss, as a father I can understand-"

"You don’t understand anything!" Mannyn spat, suddenly fierce. "How could you? No one has taken your sons away from you! No one has cut out that piece of your heart!"

"Not yet," Elrond replied, still maddeningly calm. "But it is against such an event that I have come here. Where is Estel? Who did you hire to find him? Whoever it was left this behind." Elrond brought out the wallet that Legolas had given to his sons.

Mannyn’s eyes remained hard and unchanged. "I do not know where the ranger is, nor do I care. I am not his keeper. Neither do I know how you have come by something from my house, unless I assume that your family are pickpockets as well as murderers. But I’ll tell you this Lord Elrond, if something were to befall him, I would dance on his grave!" Mannyn had worked himself up into quite frenzy. His words dissolved into a coughing fit.

Elrond’s brow crinkled, his ire was hot inside him, but he did not let it rule him. He would not be drawn into a fruitless argument, nor a shouting match with the cantankerous old man. Instead he turned the conversation to a totally unexpected direction. "You are not well," he observed quietly.

An expression of severe disdain crossed Mannyn’s face. "So now you notice? Well talking to rude visitors who make baseless accusations has not significantly improved my cold any."

"You do not have a cold." Elrond shook his head, he was a healer, he knew these things. "Have you had anyone look at you?"

Mannyn just snorted in derision and stood. "I want your fake concern no more than your fake sympathy! I just want you gone. You think I have that ranger brat? Go ahead, search!" he flung his arms out, gesturing at the house around him. "Look to your heart’s content until you are satisfied he is not here, and then be gone and NEVER let me see you here again!"

Elrond rose gracefully, but his dignified features were set in stone. "If you say he is not here than I will believe he is not here, but mark my words Mannyn, wherever he is, if ill befalls him, I will hold you responsible."

With that, the elven lord turned on his heel and strode out of the room, his robes swirling behind him. Elladan and Elrohir had left somewhere early on in the conversation, although no one save Elrond had marked their passing. It was just as well; they would never have been able to keep silent. They now rejoined their father in the hall by the door.

"And what did you find?" Elrond asked softly as they fell into step with him. He already suspected their answer however.

"Estel is not here. Or if he is they have hidden him well. There seems to be no one here at all except for Mannyn, Dolmè and the little hostler. That seems to be the usual arrangement for them," Elrohir reported quietly.

Dolmè saw them off in very apologetic tones, more so when they opened the front door and found that while they were inside another blizzard had kicked up in full earnestness.

"Oh my land, you can’t go out in that!" Dolmè shook her head in dismay.

"Dolmè! Make sure those meddlesome elves are on their way or I’ll have your head!" Mannyn’s voice shouted up from the back rooms.

"Oh dear," Dolmè shook her head again, obviously flustered. "I’m so sorry... I..."

Elrond laid his hand gently on her shoulder. "It’s all right. We will be fine, but... Dolmè... if you see a young man brought here, dark hair, silver eyes..." his voice trailed off.

"I’ll let you know if I can," Dolmè whispered softly. "If the master is up to some kind of vendetta, I’ll not be part of it."

"Thank you Dolmè," Elrond squeezed her arm lightly before pulling his hood up and stepping outside.

The wind howled loudly and snow was blowing everywhere. It was not a storm the elves would have chosen to travel in, but they had obviously worn out their welcome here and there was nothing for it but to attempt the long ride back to Rivendell.

"I do not think you overlooked him," Elrond inclined his head a little against the wind, picking up the thread of his previous conversation with his sons. "When we arrived the snow was deep and old, but there were no tracks save our own in the courtyard. No one has been here before us. Besides, Mannyn was too confident. He would not have offered to let us search if he were hiding Estel here."

"But we know he’s behind this," Elladan shook his head.

Elrond nodded slowly. "Yes, I am certain of that... but if Estel is not here then there is little we can do about it yet."

They paused in the courtyard, considering the wild storm raging about them.

Elrohir’s soft voice spoke what they were all thinking. "If Estel isn’t here... then that means he’s still out there, somewhere. In this."

A silent shiver that had nothing to do with the cold around them ran through the three elves’ hearts.