Disclaimer: Not one Elf.
Author's Note: Here it is, the next part of Míron-arc. This is the last story in the timeline before Practise to Deceive, and there'll be at least one more set after that to complete the arc.
This story is going to be four parts, perhaps five depending on how the chapter splits work out.
In chronology this follows Hours of Darkness, Tangled Web, Doubt, The Art of Artifice and Loyalties. I strongly suggest reading those first; this won't make much sense otherwise. It's set much after Loyalties, about a century before the events of The Hobbit.
One last note on the timeline in this fic: it's shifting. I tend to do that in stories and it worked best for this; I have one linear version and it simply doesn't have the same impact.
Enjoy the story!
Summary: Centuries of plotting come to a head. Betrayal runs deep in the court of the Elven-king.
27 September, Morning
About to enter Legolas' sitting room, Thranduil hesitated in the doorway.
Saeldur was perched on the edge of the table. He was supporting Legolas, who was in a chair pulled up to it, helping him drink something from a cup, but he had turned at the sound of the door opening. His wary grey eyes were on Thranduil. Eredhion and Voronwë were on their feet, standing directly in Thranduil's path.
The Elven-king opened his mouth to order them out of the way, but Saeldur shook his head.
"Legolas," Saeldur said gently, putting down the cup. "Your father is here."
Before Thranduil could begin to ask any of the fifty questions that statement roused – most importantly, why Saeldur imagined Legolas had not already noticed his presence – blue eyes were raised to his. His son managed a half-smile.
Thranduil had to force himself not to exclaim in dismay. Legolas' normally clear voice was weak and rasping.
He took a step forward. This time, Eredhion and Voronwë moved aside to let him pass. But they shifted back together at once, preventing any of the Elves behind him from entering the room. Thranduil knew he ought to ask what was happening, but he could not tear his eyes from his son's face.
"You look tired." Thranduil matched Saeldur's quiet tone. "I suppose now is not the time to scold you for failing to write to me."
22 September, Morning
The Elven-king fingered his son's last letter. It was several days old, short, hurried, and barely legible.
Of course, he had left Legolas a great deal of work to do – so much that he felt guilty whenever he thought of it. In the King's absence, Legolas was required to preside over council meetings, War Council and petitions in court. That was in addition to his normal duties, and the archery training that he and his captains had taken over to allow Thorontur time to handle Arbellason's work.
Legolas had probably not had a full night's sleep in weeks. He could hardly be blamed for forgetting to send a letter to his father.
Thranduil put the letter down and turned his attention to Arbellason, who had just entered the tent.
"I have been hearing rumours of cold drakes." Arbellason shrugged off his cloak and poured himself a cup of wine. "We should have brought some archers with us."
Thranduil laughed. "Then we would have spent days riding north on a dragon-slaying quest. I think we are better off without them this time." He paused. "Has the courier returned?"
The commander of his armies responded with a slight shake of his head. "Before you ask, he is only a few hours late. That can easily be explained by delays on the road. Do not worry, Thranduil. If any difficulties had arisen, Thorontur would have sent us word by now."
"Thorontur's last letter spoke of nothing but who was making trouble in court."
"Precisely. You know he dotes upon Legolas. Do you think he would write to you complaining about Míron and Norgalad if there were something wrong with your son?"
"No, of course not. All the same… Legolas has not written to me for over three weeks."
"Legolas is probably overwhelmed with work. He is a fine warrior. He is more than capable of defending himself. You must trust to that, if you trust nothing else."
27 September, Morning
"Legolas has been busy." Saeldur offered his friend another sip from the cup – water, Thranduil saw now that he was nearer. "He is tired."
"He is dying," Celebwen snapped from where she stood in the doorway, loudly enough to make Legolas flinch at the noise. "I do not know what you think you are doing, Saeldur, but this has gone far enough." She took a step into the room, only to meet the immovable obstacle of the Prince's guards. "Have the two of you lost your minds? Legolas is dying and you want to play at spies?"
"Celebwen," Thranduil said, because nobody else seemed to be saying anything, and he was going to lose his mind if she said one more time that his son was dying. "What is happening?"
Celebwen's voice was shaking with anger when she answered. "Perhaps you should ask Legolas' guards – and his captains – that question. They seem to be under the impression that the healers have all formed a conspiracy to murder their prince. Our prince."
"Not all the healers, my lady." Saeldur did not look at her as he spoke. "One healer. But since you will not help us discover who that one is, we must assume that any of the healers might be guilty."
"Are you trying to teach me my craft, Saeldur? I was watchful of everything Legolas was given to eat or drink since he returned to the stronghold injured, as I would be for any of my charges. He has not been harmed by anything we have done. Perhaps there was poison on the Orc blade, but we will never know, since you did not bother to retrieve it!"
"Orc blade?" Thranduil felt dizzy. "What Orc blade?" All of a sudden, nobody would meet his eyes. "What Orc blade?" he repeated.
"When we went south," Saeldur mumbled at last.
"But… You went south nearly a month ago. Are you telling me Legolas was injured weeks ago and nobody thought to tell me of it?" He shook his head, sinking into a chair. "What happened?"
4 September, Afternoon
Legolas knew as soon as he felt the sword go in that it was bad. He knew it before his knees buckled from the pain, before his breath shortened and caught, before Saeldur stepped in front him, knives drawn, and hissed, "Kill them all."
The archers moved, scything mercilessly through the Orcs.
Saeldur had not stopped to watch them go; already he was kneeling at Legolas' side, easing him into a more comfortable position. Legolas would have thanked him, but he did not have the air, his nerves were on fire, his lungs were tight –
"Legolas, look at me. Breathe. You can do it if you stay calm."
It took a moment, but Legolas did manage a short, shallow breath, and then another.
His vision was starting to blur.
Saeldur was moving, muttering to himself as he tried to find something in his pack. Legolas knew it was useless. They had both been trained in battlefield medication. There was nothing Saeldur could do to help him. And there were far more important things for him to be doing in any case.
"Saeldur." It hurt to speak. "No… Leave me."
Saeldur ignored him.
"Saeldur," Legolas tried again, intending to speak more forcefully but only managing a pained gasp. "You… you cannot –"
"Please do not finish that sentence, Legolas." Legolas felt his tunic being pushed aside and something cool and damp dabbing at his skin. Cleaning the wound. He felt oddly removed from himself, as though he were a spectator. "I know this is beyond my skill." Saeldur's voice was trembling. He had realized it was bad. "Let me put a few stitches in, and then I will take you back to the stronghold."
"No," Legolas protested.
Saeldur must stay if he himself could not. The archers could not be left on their own, and the border could not be left unguarded. Bercalion's warriors were on the move, but it would be at least two days before they arrived in enough numbers to hold ground – three, if there were unexpected delays.
"I will make a bargain with you," Saeldur said. "You cannot return to the stronghold on your own, and I do not trust any of the archers with us now to see you there safely. I know you do not like it, but I am going with you. You save your strength. We will assume that I am being disobedient and insubordinate and you can scold me for it when you have sufficiently recovered."
Despite himself, Legolas smiled as he let his head drop.
By the time Saeldur snipped off the thread, the archers were returning.
"We finished them," said Duvain. There was grim satisfaction in his voice. "How is he?"
"It is bad." Saeldur helped Legolas sit up, steadying him with a hand on his shoulder as a wave of dizziness hit. "I am taking Legolas to the stronghold. Take command, Duvain, and make certain –"
He stopped short at the sound of hoofbeats. Even with his fading senses, Legolas could tell they were too light to be any but an Elven rider. All the same, Saeldur stiffened, his free hand going for a knife.
"See who it is," he ordered.
One of the archers scrambled into a tree, returning a moment later to say, "Rochendilwen."
The report was followed by the arrival of Rochendilwen herself – at least, Legolas assumed it was Rochendilwen. The world was dissolving into light and shadow. He heard her feet hit the ground as she swung herself off her horse.
"I volunteered to bring letters," she said. "The couriers have enough to do riding back and forth to the King. It seems it is all to the good that I came." She crouched on Legolas' other side. "The trees have been urging me to greater speed. Now I see why. How badly is he injured?"
"He needs the Healers. Urgently." Saeldur gave Legolas a light shake. "Stay awake."
"I will take him back. Up, Legolas." She slid an arm around Legolas' shoulders, still speaking to Saeldur. "I will send word when they have seen him."
27 September, Morning
"Very well," Thranduil said. "Legolas was gravely injured. Rochendilwen brought him back. That still does not explain why nobody told me anything."
"We did not want to disturb you," Thorontur explained from the doorway. Eredhion and Voronwë were still barring both him and Arbellason, although Arbellason had been with Thranduil all this time and was therefore certainly innocent of anything the Prince's guards suspected the healers of doing. "You do not know how many times I took up my pen to write to you. It just seemed… unnecessary."
If Thranduil had needed anything confirmation that something bad had happened in his absence, the stiff formality of Thorontur's tone provided it. His business with the Northmen had been important, but not more important than Legolas. Thorontur, of all people, should have known that.
22 September, Afternoon
It was a sign of how distracted Thranduil was that he did not notice Brand's approach until his voice broke into the Elven-king's thoughts.
"Is something the matter?"
Thranduil turned to the leader of the settlement. He hesitated over telling him the truth. It was certainly not his business, and the Elven-king had an inborn distrust of mortals.
But Brand was acquainted with Legolas. They were friends, after a fashion.
"I am worried about my son," he said at last. "Legolas has been in the south with his warriors, in a particularly dangerous part of the forest. They should have returned by now, but I have not heard from him for several days, and nobody else will say anything of him."
Brand's guarded expression softened a little. It was amazing how often Legolas' name had that effect.
"Your son is one of the finest warriors I have ever met," he offered. "He almost managed to persuade me to abandon my sword for a bow."
Thranduil laughed. "Legolas is notorious for that. People see him shoot Orcs from four leagues away, assume it is as easy as he makes it seem, and take up archery training. I am glad to see you had better sense."
"I realized fairly quickly that I could not hope to match the legendary warriors of the Elven-king." Brand smiled. "I do not doubt that your son is quite well, Lord Thranduil. Indeed, I have a gift for him. That was why I sought you now."
"A gift? For Legolas?"
Brand held out a book. "The lays of my people. I had them translated into Sindarin for Legolas. I know he speaks the Common Tongue but I thought he might prefer this. The book arrived only this morning, or I would have given it to you sooner."
Thranduil took the book. "I will give it to him, Lord Brand. I know he will be delighted with it, and grateful to you for thinking of him."
And, although he did not say it, he himself was grateful beyond measure to Legolas for being the only Elf in the realm, perhaps the only Elf in all Middle-earth, who could win over a battle-hardened leader of the Northmen thoroughly enough to have him translating old songs into the Grey Tongue.
27 September, Morning
"There is certainly a good deal to discuss," Thranduil said. "Later. At the moment all I want to know is this: has any of you any proof that someone was poisoning Legolas?"
"We have no definite proof," Eredhion admitted reluctantly.
Saeldur, Thranduil noticed, had suddenly started studying one of the books on the table with great attention. He filed the fact away for later reference.
"If you have no proof –"
"We do not need proof," Saeldur said, not looking up. "I know there has been evil done. And there is no other explanation for why Legolas is still so weak, my King. I saw the injury. I stitched it myself. It was bad, I do not deny that, but Rochendilwen brought him back quickly. There should be no lingering effects."
"You cannot seriously expect anybody to take your word over mine," Celebwen said furiously. "Even if you are right in saying that Legolas has been poisoned, who do you imagine can give him medicine if you will not let any of us near him? You may have learnt how to stitch cuts and splint bones, but you know nothing of healing. You should be ashamed to be risking Legolas' life on some ridiculous childish whim. For all I know, you are poisoning him yourself."
"My lady," Legolas protested, but Saeldur hushed him with an admonition not to waste his strength.
Thranduil intervened before the argument could grow any more heated. "You are correct, Celebwen, in saying that Saeldur knows far less of healing than you do. I am certain nobody impugns your ability as a healer."
"Precisely," Celebwen said, with the distinct air of having been vindicated. "Now, if you will only let me see what he needs –"
She stopped short when Eredhion cleared his throat.
"You will not be near Legolas, Lady Celebwen, until we have learnt the truth."
Looking from Eredhion and Voronwë, standing immovably in the path of anyone who might attempt to enter the room, to Saeldur, whose eyes were like flint, Thranduil knew that not even a direct order from him would make them yield, not when they saw a threat to Legolas.
"Legolas will not last another day if you do not let me help him," said Celebwen.
Nobody said anything, but Thranduil could tell that all the young Elves were aware of that. Saeldur's fingers were so tight around the cup Thranduil feared it might break.
"Thranduil," Thorontur urged, "say something."
Thranduil glanced around the room again. "I find it very difficult to believe that Celebwen has anything but Legolas' best interests in mind." He raised a hand to forestall Saeldur's objection. "That said, I find it even more difficult to believe my son's friends would risk his wellbeing without a very good reason."
6 September, Evening
A lone Elf was in a store room by the Healing Wards. The door was open, but the shadows concealed him from any passersby in the corridor. He had seen Rochendilwen ride into the courtyard, even her battle-trained charger rolling its eyes and prancing nervously at the smell of blood.
He had followed her discreetly. He had waited to see the flurry of activity in the Healing Wards as she handed Legolas into their care. He had waited to see Lord Thorontur, breathless with anxiety, burst into the room.
He was waiting still.
His patience was rewarded when the door opened. Rochendilwen and Lord Thorontur stepped into the corridor, followed by Lady Celebwen, Lord Thorontur's wife and one of the most experienced healers of the realm.
The Elf prepared to strain his ears, but, unaware of any listeners, Lady Celebwen did not bother to lower her voice.
"It is too soon to say anything." There was an undercurrent of tension, perhaps of fear. Good. Fear was good. "There seems little doubt that the blade was poisoned. It is a bad wound in any case. Saeldur did well with the stitches, or Legolas would not have lasted the ride."
"When will you know something?" Thorontur asked, his normally steady voice shaking.
"I will tell you, meleth, as soon as I do. But you cannot do Legolas any good by hovering. Neither of you can. Go out, go to the archery ranges. I will send someone for you."
She went back in, shutting the door firmly.
Rochendilwen and Thorontur stayed where they were, until sudden running footsteps made them start.
The Elf leaned out a little to see the newcomer. Aeroniel; by the look of her, she had just returned from patrol and heard the rumours.
"How is he?" she demanded. Then, taking in the sight of Rochendilwen's bloodstained tunic, "Elbereth Gilthoniel. Is that all from Legolas? What do the healers say?"
"That we must wait." Thorontur shook his head. "I do not like it, either, but my wife and daughters have the right of this. If only Barancrist had not gone with Thranduil…"
"Lady Celebwen is a skilled healer, my lord," Aeroniel said quietly.
"Oh, she is. But Celebwen is too fond of Legolas to think entirely objectively. And Melda and Calathiel do not have as much experience as she does. Feredir is at least accustomed to treating Legolas…"
"But he has gone with the King," Aeroniel finished. "It is a difficult situation… We should speak to the archers. They have been hearing all sorts of rumours. Half of them fear Legolas is dead and we are keeping it secret." She glanced at Rochendilwen. "They cannot see you looking like that, or they will all believe Legolas is dead. Get a fresh tunic. Then we can go."
The Elf waited until all three of them had gone before slipping out of the store room. He hurried out of the stronghold to a small room behind the smithy, where his parents were waiting.
"It is time," he said, without giving them a chance to speak. "Adar – naneth – it is time."
"What happened, Arahael?" His father pulled him inside and shut the door. "Tell us everything."
"Legolas was injured in the south. Saeldur sent him back – with Rochendilwen. I never thought Saeldur would show such good sense. It is the perfect arrangement."
"A wound from an Orc blade. The healers are still with him, so I do not know how serious it was. But Rochendilwen was covered in so much blood she looked as though she had slaughtered a horse."
"If we are lucky," said Lord Míron, "it will have been serious enough to kill him. But we cannot leave it to chance. Which healers are with him?"
"Lord Thorontur's wife and daughters."
"Even better. And Saeldur is still in the south. Do you know when he is expected to return?"
"The archers are expected to break camp the day after tomorrow, at first light. They will not be trying to outrun Námo as Rochendilwen was, so they will take at least three days on the journey."
"We must act quickly, then."
"No," said Arahael's mother sharply. "We must not be hasty. Thranduil and Arbellason are away, and, by happy chance, those of the healers who have the most experience in matters of poison are with them. Saeldur is in no danger of being suspected, since he is not even here. We will not have such an opportunity again, and we must not squander it by being rash."
"What are we to do, then?"
The elleth smiled. "There are messages to be sent to our friends. I will see to that. In the meantime, try to act normal. Nobody must suspect anything amiss. Now go. We will not speak of this again. What we do is necessary, but it is a dark thing to kill an Elf. Let it be done in silence."
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