A/N: (If words are like this, that means that the characters are talking in Sindarin around people who do not understand it.) "Sindarin is the elves' primary language so assume that they are also speaking Sindarin when only with other elves, even if the text is normal. It just means that they are not around people who do not understand the language." Does that make sense?
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Innocence, Ignorance, and Control
Iãgaw stood in front of the Witch-King, facing away from his servant as he studied the mass of elves in front of him. The Shadowed Elves were all silent, standing in army formation. They stared blankly ahead with their demonic black eyes, waiting for their Master to command them. The Void walked in front of the first line, studying each Dark-tainted elf as he passed. Some eyes glinted with lingering intelligence, others were absolutely blank, and still-others showed nothing but bloodlust and savagery.
He had summoned them through his shadows before the Nazgûl had set the two elven realms ablaze. Now they waited, in straight, patient lines, for their Lord's orders. They were all his servants, his slaves. He could do with them what he wished and they would give their lives for his cause, loyal to him and only to him.
If he told them to burn villages they would. If he told them to murder children they would not hesitate to do so. It he told them to turn on their fellow Shadowed Elves and massacre each other, they would obey his commands. With a few exceptions, all of their previous personality had been extinguished, leaving creatures that lived only to serve the Void.
Iãgaw glanced sidelong at the one Shadowed Elf that was not in the lines, the one who had been in Minas Morgul for almost sixty years. Amulug was as silent as the rest of his kin, but the Darkness was deeper in his eyes, as was the intelligence. He was not one of the ones who had become a mindless, cruel beast, keeping his mind and intelligence, but still completely loyal to his Master.
If the Shadowed Elves were Iãgaw's cult of followers, then Amulug would be the priest. He held enough of himself to lead others and make calculated and strategic decisions. He would attack without question or mercy. The Darkness had molded him well, into a weapon and a leader. That was what Iãgaw needed for his Shadowed Elves.
The Void turned back to his ranks of obedient slaves, surveying each one in silence. He halted in front of one that wore the garb of a Rivendell warrior, looking into the savage, dark eyes.
"What is your name?" the Void asked in a pleasantly curious tone.
Black eyes flickered, and the elf bowed low. "Liphen, my Lord."
"Liphen..." Iãgaw said the name, rolling it over his tongue. He smiled at the Shadowed Elf. "Kill yourself."
Without hesitation, the Shadowed Elf unsheathed his sword, and plunged the blade into his own chest. Crimson blood spurted from the wound and the elf collapsed. Around him, the other Shadowed Elves did not so much as blink as one of their own died.
Iãgaw looked down at Liphen, watching his life fading. "Absolute control..." he murmured softly, almost awed by his own power. "That surpasses even the survival instinct... Very good."
He knelt next to the Shadowed Elf, not caring about the blood, and watched as the light that was Liphen's soul flickered. A tiny void began to form as the soul began to leave the body. That void was all Iãgaw needed. He reached forward, touching the elf's chest, and grabbed the soul before it could flee into Mandos's Halls.
It struggled against him but it was only a soul and he was the Void. None could resist him. The soul quickly realized this and gave up, dim and complacent in Iagaw's hands. He retracted his hand, a ball of light in his palm, and rose to his feet. He turned to the Witch-King and Amulug.
"I will be working on a special project for a while, and will be unable to turn my attention elsewhere for a little while. Send the orcs and Shadowed Elves out to wreak havoc upon the realms of men while I am busy, will you?" It was not a question.
"Yes, my Lord." both said, bowing low.
"My Lord, what will you be doing?" the Witch-King asked.
Iãgaw smiled cruelly at him, eyes burning with malice and delight. "I'm going to prepare a surprise for the Free People. I'm sure that they will love it, and thank me oh so generously for the gift..."
He entered Minas Morgul without explaining more, heading up to the topmost tower. There, he settled into a deep meditative state, losing all awareness of everything around him. The soul in his hands was fragile, delicate and weak, so he would need to proceed carefully if he wanted to succeed.
The soul dimmed further as he let his Darkness touch it, but he refused to let it fade or be destroyed. He kept it together with his Darkness, as gentle and careful as a caring mother's hand. Slowly, his Darkness invaded it, streaks of Shadow entering the ball of light.
And for a single second, Iãgaw saw a flash of beautiful wide-open halls.
Sinking deeper into meditation and concentration, the demon smiled.
Legolas was almost amused by the hunters' reactions to the shadowy forest. The men were watching the dark trees around them nervously, the more active shadowed trees twitching and swinging their limbs randomly without a breath of wind to explain their movement.
The assassin could sense the shadowed trees curiosity and fascination with their new mobility and sanity. They loved being not bothered by things that were too-bright. They loved being able to stretch and sway, almost humming in content.
Their minds were clear, free of the evil Darkness that had claimed them for so long, and they were almost giddy with joy at their escape from unwilling servitude to the Shadow. They were not Light, but they were free, and they were happy.
But the men with Legolas knew nothing of this, and so they watched the trees warily. The assassin doubted than any of the hunters had ever been in an elven realm before. It had to be unnerving to see trees moving and reacting as casually as a flesh-and-blood creature.
Still, the violet-eyed elf was more amused and analytic of the hunters' reactions than sympathetic to their plight. Because although they had fought together, although he was leading the men through the Sanctuary that was Mirkwood, although he was bringing them to the realm's heart, Legolas did not trust them. They were strangers, and the assassin would remain suspicious of them until he knew more about them, their background, and their goals.
He was not the type to trust others immediately— with a few noteworthy exceptions— and he found men to be the most volatile of the Races. They were the most likely to follow Darkness. He remembered the men in Dol Guldur, and although he would not call himself prejudiced, he was decidedly wary of men he knew nothing about.
The mortals were the only people who could be servants of the Darkness without the Darkness showing in their auras. Elves auras showed the Shadow because elves were meant to be Light. Hobbits rarely served the Darkness, and if they did it caused physical changes and showed in their eyes. Dwarf eyes would also show Darkness and evil, like the open greed and lust for gold that plagued some of their kind. But men could hide the Darkness in themselves because they were the most likely to choose it freely.
Orcs and trolls were born to the Darkness. Elves could be slowly converted to it and become Shadowed. Dwarves fell to it through greed. Hobbits rarely chose to join the Shadow. However. men could and would choose Darkness, a thing so common in some places that some people claimed the curse of Isildur was present within all of his Race.
Legolas remembered Aragorn's old fears that he would one day become corrupted like his ancestor, saying weakness was in the nature of men. The assassin firmly believed that men were not weak, especially not Aragorn and that the Heir of Isildur had nothing to worry about.
However, some men were weak, to corruption, evil, and thoughts of power. They were capable of cruelty and sin without outside forces influencing them. That was why, out of all Races of the Free People, Legolas was the most wary of men he did not know at all. He knew nothing about his companions except that they were hunting, so suspicion settled in his mind. It was better to be wary and prepared rather than friendly and caught off guard.
Out of all Races, the assassin was most cautious around unknown men, because that was how Ciaran had trained him. Legolas never could figure out if Ciaran hated his own Race for an unknown reason, or if he simply knew that men had equal potential to be treacherous or friendly.
"Because our lives are short compared to many," the assassin remembered his mentor saying once. "We do things others wouldn't, without thinking about the consequences, because we know we don't have much time to gain the power we desire. Our lives are so short and fleeting that many of us want to leave a mark on the world, just so it knows and remembers that we were there. For better or wose."
Legolas had encountered many men over the years, and had seen just how capable of good and evil they were. He remembered Riagán, who had wanted to attack and murder innocents in Blue Harbor in order to conquer it and leave its natives cowed. That had been the man's desire for power, and his desire to leave a irremovable scar in that small part of the world. No not-Shadowed elf would partake in Kinslaying, few dwarves would attack their own kind, and killing their fellow hobbits was beyond the friendly people's comprehension.
So yes, Legolas was wary of these men, but he would give them the same benefit of the doubt as he would any strangers he met. Still, it might be a good idea to try to gather some information...
"How much further?" the leader of the hunters, Jodac asked the elf.
Legolas gave him a blank look. "(I'm sorry, I do not speak Westron.)" he said in Sindarin.
One of the men he did not know the name of groaned. "Of course they send us with the one that cannot understand a word we are saying!"
"Be quiet, Koun." Jodac ordered irritably. He sighed and smiled wearily at Legolas, gesturing forward emphatically. "Lead on."
The assassin smiled back and went on without comment, listening as the men spoke quietly behind him.
"You need to be more respectful, Koun." Jodac was lecturing his friend/subordinate. "The elves could have left us outside of the forest with no help for Elisedd."
"Why are you whispering?" Koun grumbled loudly. "It is not like he can understand us anyway."
Deciding the man's angry tone and raised voice was enough of an explanation for him to turn around, Legolas looked at the scowling man, open worry in his expression. "(I don't like you.)" he said in a voice that portrayed nothing but concern and ignorance.
"What did he say?" Koun asked suspiciously.
Another man— with dark brown-black hair— gave him a pointed look. "I think he was probably asking if everything was all right."
He smiled at the elf, nodding in an attempt to say yes, everything was fine. Legolas snorted internally, and kept up his ignorant facade.
Koun huffed and rolled his eyes, but kept his tone even. "You have no idea what he's saying, so shut up, Cynbel."
Cynbel ignored his companion, and Legolas turned away once more, still listening as the men continued to speak to one another.
"I think this one is young," the brown-black haired man revealed softly and thoughtfully.
"How would you know?" Koun challenged. "All elves are supposed to look young."
"It's his eyes." Jodac said knowingly. "They seem rather... innocent and carefree."
Legolas blinked, glad he was turned away as a surprised expression crossed his face. Him, innocent and carefree? He could be at times, he supposed, but right now, when he was on edge? It was nice to know his acting skills were still good, especially since his emotions were in turmoil within him. But still, he had never had his eyes described as innocent as long a he could remember. At least, not to his face.
"You saw him fight earlier," Cynbel murmured. "He is well-trained, and used to war."
"Of course he is," a fourth man said. "We're in Mirkwood. It's not exactly the safest elven realm."
It is now, Legolas thought.
Speaking of which, he wondered how the other realms were faring. Were his Gwador and the others all right? He hoped so. Who knew what Iãgaw was doing in the outside world right now, or what had occurred in the few days since his arrival in Middle-earth. Mirkwood was safe, but everywhere else was not. And with the Shadowed Elves working for Iãgaw... an attack may have already happened.
Legolas sighed internally, hating all of the sudden unknowns that were hovering at the back of his mind, waiting to pounce and swarm him the moment he let them in. His fear for his friends, his frustration at his missing memories, his inability to fully process all that had occurred, and his overall stress and concern waited patiently for him to let his guard down.
Just a little longer, he told himself, knowing that bottling up his emotions was not a good idea for him.
When he did finally let his emotions free, and registered all that had happened, he wondered if he would break down and have a panic attack, or would simply go into shock. So much had happened, and was still happening, and he had had no time to sort things out and deal with it. Hopefully he would be able to before he withdrew or exploded.
He wished for solitude to think about things, but could not get it yet. So he continued to lead the men through the forest, pretending to be innocent and ignorant, with companions he did not know and barely trusted.
Thranduil was calmly reading a missive from Erebor when Amon stormed into his office, two Councilors behind him. The Elvenking resisted the urge to smile smugly at the irate adviser, already knowing what was the source of his agitation.
"It seems that common etiquette and respect for the King has vanished from this realm," the Sindar commented benignly.
Amon glared at him. "Do not act as if you do not know why I am here! Prince Fael, Prince Megilag, and Princess Bereneth are gone!"
Thranduil rose both eyebrows at the adviser. "Really? Are you sure that they are not in the kitchens? Their rooms? The training grounds? Surely you would not try to keep my children from training."
"They are not anywhere on the Palace grounds, as you know very well!" Amon snapped. "Where are they, and how did they get out of the Palace?"
"They are fully-grown elves and warriors," the Elvenking said, still pleasant in the face of the adviser's wrath. "I feel no need to keep track of their every move."
"You..." Amon growled.
A sharp rap on the door interrupted whatever the irate elf was going to say. Snickering internally but calm and detached outside, Thranduil bid the newcomer to enter. Esgal walked into the room, bowing slightly to the King.
"Esgal." the Elvenking greeted warmly, knowing that the violet-eyed elf would not have come back if the Sindar's children were not yet out of the forest. "I see that you have returned. Nestor is quite angry at you."
The assassin shrugged. "No offense, Elvenking, but I would not have returned if not for the men I encountered at the edge of the wood. They were being chased by orcs after they stumbled upon them while they were out hunting. I assisted them and brought them here. One of them is wounded and is being looked after by Nestor now. The others are waiting in the Council room for you to address them."
"You let men into Mirkwood?" Amon almost shrieked. "You have no right to grant outsiders passage into the Sanctuary! Unless..." He glared at the assassin, eyes cold with realization. "...unless the missing Royals gave their permission."
In an expression remarkably similar to Thranduil's, Esgal rose his eyebrows at the adviser. "Why would I need the Royals' permission to bring people into Mirkwood?"
"Don't pretend you were not with them!" Amon snarled. "If you assisted them then you have broken the laws put down by this Council and you will be—"
"Are you threatening me?" Esgal asked pleasantly.
His eyes flickered, and for a moment Thranduil swore they turned a dark purple, almost black. Amon balked, paling slightly as he remembered exactly who he was talking to. Esgal, the assassin and wild card that was only loyal to those he wanted to be. Thranduil had gained the assassin's respect, trust, and loyalty. The adviser had not, and yet here he was, trying to bully the dangerous young elf...
Esgal turned away from Amon, looking levelly at the Elvenking with vibrant violet eyes. "You probably should not keep them waiting, my Lord. Oh, and just so you are aware, they do not think that I can speak Westron. I would prefer that they keep that belief."
That one statement was enough to tell Thranduil that the assassin may have led the men here, but he did not fully trust them. The Sindar nodded in acknowledgment to his caution, leading the way with Esgal while the cowed advisers trailed behind them.
The Elvenking wished he could glower at the Council to keep them in line and stop them from questioning him, but that would be rather cruel for a King. Sure, they had lost much of his respect when they went behind his back and tried to stop his children from finding Legolas, but they were still his Council and advisers. He would rather not rule them through fear. No, being insufferably pleasant and calm to the Council would be his strategy for now.
Thranduil entered the Council room, where eight men were standing about awkwardly, looking around with nervous eyes. They saw the newcomers, spotted the crown upon the golden-haired elf's brow, and bowed deeply. Well, at least they were polite.
"Welcome to Mirkwood." the Elvenking greeted them. "Esgal has told me what occurred at our border. I trust that the healers are looking after your friend?"
"Yes, my Lord." the foremost man said, obviously the leader of the little group. "Thank you for letting us seek refuge in your Palace."
"Orcs are the enemies of us all, and we would not leave you alone out in the cold." Thranduil said. "Please, may I know the names of the guests within my home?"
"Of course, my Lord." the spokesperson said hurriedly. "I am Jodac. My companions are Koun, Cynbel, Eoghan, Arlen, Cathasach, Aedus, and Odhfin. Elisedd is the one who is currently recuperating in your Halls of Healing."
Thranduil nodded politely, studying each of them with piercing blue eyes. Jodac was properly respectful and calm. Koun seemed wary and tense, looking at the elves with open suspicion and narrowed eyes. Cathsach, Aedus, and Odhfin were also wary, but not showing open suspicion and hostility like Koun. Cynbel smiled hesitantly at the elves and bowed slightly, nervous but trying to be polite. Eoghan looked too terrified to move. Arlen was nudging him with an exasperated look on his face. And the wounded one, Elisedd was off in the Halls of Healing. The Elvenking wondered if he felt uncomfortable among the elves.
"While your friend recovers, you may stay in the guest wing of the Palace." the Sindar told the hunters. Once he is well, it is up to you what you will do. I am guessing that you all have families you wish to return to?"
"Yes." Jodac said softly. "I have a son waiting for me back in our village."
Thranduil' blue eyes softened slightly at his words. "You will be reunited with him soon. Galion will show you to your rooms, as well as tell you where everything can be found within the Palace grounds."
The men bowed again, some a hair after the others. "Thank you for your hospitality, my Lord." Jodac murmured.
The Elvenking left then, Esgal once again walking at his side while the three members of the Council were behind.
"(Esgal,)" Thranduil said. "(What do you think of the hunters?)"
The assassin mulled over the question before replying. "(I do not trust them, but I do not mistrust them. I have not gained enough information from them to see whether or not they are a threat. It appears to be true that they were indeed hunting when they were accosted by orcs, but I do not know enough of their story to tell whether they are lying about certain things.)"
Thranduil's brow furrowed. "(They bother you. What is making you uneasy?)"
Esgal hesitated. "(I will admit that it is not just them that is making me on edge. I am currently... stressed, and have had no time to deal with the source of it. However, the men are being too vague for me to not be suspicious. It could be just an unintentional lack of communication, or it could be that they are keeping secrets. Did you notice that they did not say what village they come from, or where they were hunting? I did not ask, to keep up my facade, but still, it is quite odd that they kept such details to themselves.)"
"(What did they say while you were walking here?)" Thranduil questioned. "(That was your reason for pretending not to know Westron, was it not?)"
"(That is correct.)" the violet-eyed elf said. "(Even then, they did not speak about themselves. They did not talk about their hunt, or bemoan about any game they may have lost. I did not even know half of their names until they introduced themselves to you.)"
"(Perhaps they are just wary of elves.)" Thranduil said mildly. "(We are as much strangers to them as they are to us.)"
"(Perhaps...)" the assassin echoed, sounding slightly defeated. "(...And perhaps I am just tired and overly cautious right now.)"
Thranduil put a gentle hand on the young elf's shoulder, noticing the tension in his muscles. "(You may leave if you wish. Go and sort out your thoughts.)"
Esgal shook his head, albeit reluctantly. "(Not yet. I think I should remain in the palace a little longer.)"
The Elvenking sighed. He swore the assassin was as bad at resting and recuperating as any of the Sindar's children. "(At least go rest in your room. I will ensure that Nestor leaves you alone.)"
The assassin rarely lingered in the Palace for long, but he did come often enough for the Royals to set up a permanent room for him to use if he chose to.
Finally, the assassin nodded, with a small, wry smile. "(If you are willing to face the wrath of Nestor, then I truly must need sleep. All right, Elvenking Thranduil. I will go.)"
Thranduil watched him depart, smiling to himself. He turned and his smile vanished, replaced by a blank look as he rose an eyebrow at the three still-hovering advisers.
"(Is there a reason you are following me around like lost puppies?)" he asked them.
Amon frowned. "(My Lord, to continue our conversation from earlier—)"
"(I do not know where my three children are, I do not know where they went, and I do not know how they got out of the Palace.)"
Thranduil blatantly lied to the Councilors' faces, not feeling a single ounce of guilt. They had lost his respect and trust when they had invoked the Council's Right in such a way, so he was not going to share anything to do with his family with them.
The Elvenking was angry at the Councilors, the simmering, slow anger of a bitterly-held grudge. They would have to earn his trust back, something that may take quite a while if the Sindar had any say in it. He was not going to easily forgive them for trying to keep him from finding his youngest son.
He walked away, dismissing them, and they did not follow him. Good choice. He went off to try to find Tollui, and have his adviser-friend explain how the Council's Right had been invoked. He was secretly worried. He wondered why Tollui had been unable to stop the unanimous vote, and why he had not come to find Thranduil after it had occurred.
He searched high and low, finally tracking down his friend in one of the Palace gardens. Tollui was sitting in a tree, looking quite odd in his robes. He stared up at the sky with blank eyes, watching the passing clouds without really seeing them. Thranduil climbed up the tree and sat beside the other elf, who did not look at them.
For a while, they simple stared at the clouds, listening to the soft wind as if passed through the branches of the tree.
"Are you angry at me?" Tollui asked softly.
Thranduil shrugged. "I do not know yet."
The adviser closed his eyes tightly. "You know that I had to vote 'Yes' in order for the agreement to enact the Council's Right to pass."
"I am aware of that." the Elvenking said. "But I can tell that you are not happy with the Council's decision. Tollui... did they threaten you in some way?"
He took a moment too long to respond. "No. They did not threaten me. However... Amon is one of the oldest advisers. He was an adviser of your father and the chosen spokesperson for the Council. He did not threaten me. He was just... forceful."
"He did not do anything illegal." The adviser was quick to say when Thranduil's expression turned thunderous. "He and the other Councilors were in agreement, and I was the only one who disagreed. Amon would not let me give my reasons why the Right was unnecessary. All of them kept telling me that I was only in disagreement because I was your friend. They just kept pressuring and pushing me verbally... and I caved."
Thranduil sighed anger, shock, and disbelief rushing through him. I have heard of men using such underhanded tactics to get their way, but elves? This is outrageous! To pressure one of their own into voting for something he did not believe in... its disgusting! And I thought elven politicians were different. The worst part is that there is nothing I can do, for they technically did nothing outside of their power. When did my Council become a pack of greedy mortals? If they did not have my trust before, they have lost all of it now.
"I believe that the Council is acting like this because they are afraid." Tollui admitted. "They are afraid of the Void and what will happen to the world and this realm if it falls. They need you to be there for them, and were terrified that you were going to run off to save the Lost Prince."
"I know my duty." the Elvenking muttered. "They should have more faith in me, and my children."
His friend smiled a little. "I'm guessing that a few of your children have escaped to find your son?"
Thranduil finally allowed a smug smile to cross his face. "What makes you ask that?"
Tollui laughed. "Nothing. I am glad that they are going to look for Legolas."
They talked for a while longer before both returned to their duties. Thranduil skillfully continued to ignore and avoid the councilors he met without seeming to. He remained in his office for the rest of the day, because even a potential war did not mean he could skip reading and approving the papers that crossed his desk.
As he worked, the Elvenking's thoughts turned away from irritating Councilors and questionable men, instead thinking about Iãgaw and the coming battles. Mirkwood was closed off, but surely nothing could have happened in the short period of time since the Void had come. Men would most likely be unprepared, Gondor more than Rohan due to Denethor's stubborness. As for elves, Thranduil was not sure how his kin would fare. Surely their Rings of Power would protect them somewhat.
But hadn't Radagast mentioned that the One Ring was a requirement to set Iãgaw free? Did that mean that the two Ring-protected realms would be revealed to Iãgaw? Even without knowledge of the Sanctuary, Iãgaw could see the immortal, Light elves as the greatest threat... Thranduil felt a shiver of foreboding at the thought. He hoped that the other realms still stood.
At least, the Elvenking knew that the dwarves would be prepared to fight the Darkness. Mirkwood's close allies had been alert and ready for years, never letting down their guard. Erebor, Laketown and Dale were all placed between Mirkwood and the Dark Lands.
Would that help or hinder any defenses the dwarves may take against the Void? If the worst came to pass, the people living there could find refuge in Mirkwood. This realm was no longer just the elves' because it was meant to be a Sanctuary to all of the Free People.
Thranduil sighed and shook his head, almost laughing aloud at how greatly things had changed. Years ago, he would not think twice about other realms and Races in Middle-earth, yet here he was worrying and planning to help them when they needed it.
The "when" was most definitely not an "if". Unless a miracle happened and the Void was destroyed before he turned his attention to the eastern lands of Middle-earth, the dwarf and men neighbors of Mirkwood would need the elven realms assistance. They were not lucky enough to be left out of the coming war.
The Council might plan to let the other realms fall, but Thranduil had no intention of doing that. If their allies needed help, Mirkwood would answer. It was not just about his realm anymore. It was about saving Middle-earth.
The Elvenking slowly realized how much time had passed, his candle melted down to a mere stub. The golden-haired elf sighed and stretched, standing. He winced a little as his body protested. He really had been sitting too long.
That is what happens when one thinks too deeply about the grand scale of things, he thought. Tomorrow I should go out into the forest. Radagast says that the shadowed trees are our allies now. I would like to speak with them, about our defenses... And about Legolas, to see if they know anything about what happened to him. Surely the ones close to where Dol Guldur stood must know something.
He turned a corner, heading to his room. Odd, but he thought that there would be more guards patrolling the halls. Perhaps the Councilors had decided no more Royals were planning on leaving the realm to find Legolas.
The Elvenking hoped his three children succeeded in their search. Preferably without being hurt, or— even worse— killed. He would not be able to handle finding his youngest son, only to have another child be lost in the search...
No. He would not spend every day fearing that one of his children had truly died. He would believe in their ability to survive their quest. They were the ones worrying about finding Legolas. It was Thranduil's job to worry about the realm, and prove to the advisers that he had not been planning on abandoning Mirkwood.
He could not spend his days thinking about how much he wished he was with his three children, searching for the Lost Prince. His duty— no matter how much he despised it right now— was to lead Mirkwood. And that was what he would do.
He turned into a new hall, blinking at the sudden darkness. Had Galion forgotten to light the candles again? He was probably in the cellars, downing bottles of wine like there was no—
Hands grabbed Thranduil from behind, two on each of his arms. A third pair pressed something over his nose and mouth at the same time another one hit him in the gut. The Elvenking breathed in sharply in response to the blow, a cloying, sweet scent entering his lungs.
A sleeping drug.
Thranduil lashed out blindly with his foot, the drug already taking affect, but managed to land a blow on one of his attackers. He heard a sharp curse in Westron, and responded with a mental curse of his own.
His attackers were men. They were the hunters. Apparently men could be better actors than the elf had given them credit for.
Two strong pairs of hands held him as he silently struggled, the fourth man keeping the cloth pressed over his nose and mouth. He tried not to breathe but it was difficult, the drug he had inhaled already making him tired and dizzy. Thranduil's eyes fluttered, weakness creeping through his body, and he sagged, unable to stand up any longer.
He should have known not to trust the men. He should have kept a closer eye on them, or insisted that they be guarded. But he had not, and had brushed away Esgal's vague concerns. Now, he was paying for it.
Although he did not truly know the hunters, the Elvenking still felt bitterly betrayed. He admitted to himself that he had felt a connection with Jodac, for both of them had children. He had a let his guard down, and allowed strangers into his home.
He was such a fool.
The Sindar collapsed to the ground, blurry vision barely able to make out the man approaching him. The hunter stopped in front of the weakened Elvenking. He no longer had his act of courtesy and gratefulness, instead smirking coldly down at the golden-haired elf.
"Well met, Elvenking," Jodac said coldly.
A booted foot slammed into Thranduil's head, and everything went black.
Legolas woke to frantic shouts. He snapped from sleep to wakefulness in a heartbeat, leaping to his feet with his knives drawn. It was nighttime, his room lit only by the moonlight shining through the window. Apparently he had fallen asleep and slept through the day. The assassin exited his room and entered the hall. Elves were running about in panic, eyes wide with fear. Legolas stopped the closest warrior, an elf he did not recognize.
"What is happening? Are we under attack?" the violet-eyed elf asked urgently.
He could not sense any Dark auras, but he did feel like something was absent...
"The Elvenking is missing!" the warrior said in a rush.
Legolas went still, mind going blank. "What?"
The other elf nodded rapidly, terror in his expression. "Apparently the hunters we rescued took him—"
The assassin was already moving, thoughts and emotions in turmoil. Thranduil had been taken. By the men that he had led to the Elvenking's home. Guilt, betrayal, and anger rushed through the violet-eyed elf simultaneously. A small gasping sound escaped his lips and he pressed a hand over his mouth.
If anything happened to Thranduil, it would be his fault.
He had been the one to lead the men here. He had been the one who had failed to gather sufficient information on them. He had been the one who had been sleeping when he should have been watching the hunters. Now the Elvenking had been taken from his home, from the place he should have been safest. The men had gotten to their target without even a struggle.
It was all his fault.
Legolas had not had time to sort through his turbulent emotions. He had not had time to process the events of the past couple days. He had fallen asleep the moment he had laid down on the bed in his room, lost to dreamless oblivion until he had been abruptly awoken.
The stress, the anger, the guilt, the grief, the pain, the loss, the joy, the confusion. It swarmed him like a hurricane, flooding and drowning him as the same thought repeated itself in his head. It was his fault. It was his fault. It was his fault.
Legolas knew he could not let his emotions overwhelm him. Not now, when he needed to be at his best. He had to rescue the Sindar. He had to be in control.
The assassin inhaled, exhaled, just breathed... and slammed the door on his emotions, just like how Ciaran taught him to. His mind cleared, cold and calculating, as all fear and worry was cast away. There were no emotions to distract him now. All that mattered was completing his mission: to locate and rescue the Elvenking of Mirkwood.
The pale blonde-haired elf located the Crown Prince with his sixth sense. He was down in the dungeons, alongside one of the hunters. Most likely it was the wounded one, the one that could not capture the King with the others. His injury would have prevented him from assisting.
Legolas walked past the running elves without acknowledging any of them. He headed down to the dungeons, halting next to the Royal. The silver-haired elf jumped when he spotted the assassin, then sighed.
"Esgal. I am guessing that you have heard about what has happened?"
The elf nodded, but did not speak.
The Crown Prince ran a hand through his hair. "The men took my father but we don't know where they went or why they captured him. They left the injured one, Elisedd, behind. He isn't talking, and we do not have time to properly interrogate him."
The assassin looked into the cell that held the hunter. His wound was bandaged and he looked slightly rumpled. His expression was sneering and cold. The man in the cell was a far cry from the nervous hunter that had accepted the elves' help hours before. Elisedd did not look nervous or afraid now. He only looked grim, and determined to keep his secrets until he went to his grave.
He would not succeed.
"I will get the information you seek." Legolas said in an emotionless and cold voice.
The Crown Prince glanced at him before nodding hesitantly. "All right..."
The assassin entered the cell. He did not approach the prisoner, merely leaning against the wall next to the door. He did not speak, only stood and watched the man.
Elisedd looked back at him with scornful eyes, no sign of trepidation or fear in his expression. He was sitting on a cot not far from the back wall, hands clasped in front of him. "You're that one that can't speak Westron." the man scoffed. "How are you supposed to find out anything?"
The pale blonde-haired elf did not reply. He merely stared at the prisoner.
"I'll never talk anyway," the man sneered. "You're wasting your time."
The assassin did not respond. His violet gaze did not waver.
"I cannot wait until my Master slaughters the lot of you, elf." Elisedd continued coldly. "I just hope he shows you your King's corpse before he kills you all!"
The elf did not reply, move, or even blink. His gaze did not stray from the prisoner. To be honest, the blank stare was beginning to unnerve the man. The hunter looked back at the elf and found his attention riveted on the assassin's violet eyes. The longer he looked at them, the more he could swear that they were darkening, turning from a deep violet to an even darker plum shade.
Elisedd swallowed and shifted, but was unable to tear his eyes away from the unnatural violet orbs. He blinked rapidly, the image of the eyes appearing in his mind whenever his eyelids closed. As the prisoner watched, the elf's eyes seemed to change, something entering their purple — now almost black— depths. Those eyes aged in front of him, an ancient danger and power surfacing, along with a terrible glint that could only be described as predatory.
This could not be the innocent-looking, smiling elf that had led the hunters to the Elvenking's Palace. This elf was too dangerous, too cold, too murderous to be the same! The man's heartbeat sped up and and an increase in perspiration made his palms sticky. His breathing quickened and his head turned slightly as if he were trying to break eye contact with the elf, but found that he could not.
Legolas remained a silent spectator, a predator waiting to strike. A cold, calculating look entered his unnatural dark violet eyes and the prisoner knew that the elf was thinking of ways to break and kill him. The stillness of the other was scaring the man. It was not the serene or patient stillness of a calm day, but the dangerous absence of motion before the release of an avalanche.
The man found that he could not breathe, his panic rising as surely as if he were fleeing a warg. As it were, his flight instincts were screaming at him to run away. But this was one enemy he could not run from. Elisedd leaned back in his chair as far as he could, frozen as efficiently as a mouse under a viper's gaze. All of this, the motionless immortal watched, dark violet eyes never breaking away from his.
Then, the elf moved, only the tiny forward shift of his weight.
And the prisoner snapped.
Elisedd jerked backwards, falling to the floor, and scrabbled away until his back hit the wall.
"I'll talk! I'll talk!" the man screamed. "I'll tell you everything you want to know! Just get him away from me!"
The Crown Prince entered the room, glaring at the hunter with icy blue eyes. "Esgal is not leaving until you tell us what you want to know. Where have your allies taken the Elvenking? Why have they captured him? Who is your Master?"
The man shifted so that he was as far away from the assassin as possible. The elf was still staring at him with those eyes, eyes that promised pain and death while somehow remaining blank and emotionless.
"We were sent by the White Wizard Saruman to capture the Elvenking. He knows that the Sanctuary will collapse if the one of the Royals dies. He plans on showing the Elvenking to the Void. They have gone South, in the direction of Dol Guldur."
The Crown Prince turned to Esgal, only to find the space he had occupied was empty.
The assassin was already gone.
A/N: Well. That escalated quickly. O_O' And just when Thranduil was being all optimistic... he's kidnapped by the men he trusted in his home, only a few hours after letting them in. Yeesh.
I tried to limit the exposure to Iãgaw this chapter because he freaks me out, and I know he scares many of you. I'm both proud of and horrified with myself that I made a villain that scares the heck out of me whenever I write about him.
Poor Tollui got peer-pressured into voting yes. The Councilors are jerks. :(
Thank you for all of the wonderful reviews!
Responses to Guest reviews:
To "Bebeyeah": Thank you. Someone finds out very soon...
To "EventingRules": Thanks!
To "emi": Thanks! You'll have the answer to your first question next chapter. The question about the men was pretty much answered above. There will be a Fellowship, and some people will know who Esgal is by then, but not all.
To "Aisha": Thank you! She changed her opinion a tiny bit. Just a little. Aragorn will be back in a couple chapters.
To "Naomi": Thanks!
To "Eden": Thank you! He kind of knows that violet is not his natural eye-color at the back of his mind, but he cannot remember what color his eyes used to be. That's actually brought up in a couple chapters. :)
To "Em": Thanks! :D
To "ethuil": Thank you!
To "Anony-Mouse": Thank you! I've never heard of "Positively Dark". I'll go look it up...
To "Kryst": Thank you! I remember that about Mirkwood now! Good. That will help in the future, though it won't keep Iãgaw out for long. Bereneth's reaction is going to be interesting.