Disclaimer: Not mine.

Wow this is a long chapter! I considered splitting it, but in the end I didn't… Enjoy!

This is the end of this part of the arc. There are a couple of minor loose threads that I'll sort out in a one-shot, and one more major part of the overall story to go.

Many thanks to everyone who's reviewed and followed and favorited… I hope you had fun with this story! I know I had fun writing it.


Part VI

28 September, Afternoon

Saeldur did not know whether it was for Legolas' benefit or his own that he had settled himself beside Legolas at the window instead of helping the others. Eredhion, Voronwë and a hastily-summoned Feredir hauled Míron's body into an empty antechamber to prepare it to be returned to his family for burial. The King and Lord Arbellason conferred in low voices about how to handle the outcome.

It was true that Legolas, exertion and shock having sapped the little strength he had regained, was leaning drowsily on Saeldur's shoulder. It was also true that his friend's presence was the only thing keeping Saeldur grounded amidst the chaos in his head.

He had killed Míron.

He did not regret it for a moment. Of that, at least, he was certain. It might have been Legolas whose body was cooling on the other side of the corridor, Legolas being readied for burial. But Legolas was here, warm, living, and Saeldur could not bring himself to wish he had not killed the traitor who had been about to murder his friend.

That frightened him more than anything.

Traitor or not, Míron had been an Elf, and Arahael had been Saeldur's friend until his sedition had forced Saeldur to choose sides.

"I am not sorry," Saeldur whispered, too softly for anyone but Legolas to hear.

"I know."

"Would you have ordered me to do it, if you had known what was going to happen?" Legolas opened his mouth, and Saeldur held up a hand to forestall him. "Tell me the truth. Do not say yes simply to assuage my conscience. Would you have ordered me to do it?"

Legolas shrugged. "I knew… I knew you would do… something."

Saeldur would have smiled at the fact that Legolas was stubborn enough to manage complete sentences when the occasion called for it, but his heart was too heavy.

"Legolas, do not avoid the question. Was it what you would have ordered?"

"No… I would not… have ordered it. I would never… never have wanted you… to have to bear the… the burden… Legolas paused for breath. "The burden… of taking the life… of an Elf."

"I could not let him kill you."

"I know, Saeldur." Legolas patted his knee. "I do not… blame you… Nobody will."

It was Saeldur's fault, though. Legolas had no idea… Saeldur had known, perhaps not that Míron would find the courage to march into Legolas' sitting room with a dagger in his hand and murder in his heart, but he had known that the Elf wanted to assassinate the Prince.

He had known, and he had thought he could handle it.

Saeldur had had no choice but to kill Míron. He knew that. But it had come to that only because he had allowed the situation to run on unchecked.

Míron was dead because of Saeldur.

Legolas had been on his knees with a knife to his throat because of Saeldur.

Saeldur tightened the arm he had around Legolas' shoulders, wishing he had the words to confess everything. But he did not dare. Not now, with others present. Not later, when he could do it in privacy. Even Legolas' generous nature might not be enough to forgive the fact that his most trusted captain had been part of a conspiracy against his life.

And who would even believe Saeldur if he said he had only done it to protect Legolas? He had intended to tell Legolas everything before Míron had interrupted them. Now it would only sound as though he had had doubts at the last moment and was trying to keep himself out of trouble for his part in it.

And his part in it would become public. As soon as Arahael learnt what he had done…

It was better to confess, he knew. It was better that Legolas should hear it from him than from Arahael.

He still could not find the words.


25 September, Evening

Thorontur had never in his life received as many dark looks and sullen glares as he did when he stepped onto the archery range to oversee the evening's training.

He set his jaw. The archers respected him, but they were completely, fiercely, blindly loyal to Legolas. And they had apparently decided that he was threatening their prince. Thorontur knew Legolas, whatever differences they might be having, would never have let any anger show before the archers. But they would have been hard pressed to miss the ever-present tension in the air.

There would be no quarter from them.

"Line up," he ordered.

They lined up, mainly, he suspected, because they did not want to suffer Legolas' displeasure if he knew they had disobeyed their Archery Master.

Thorontur glanced at the other end of the range. It should have been Saeldur's shift, but Colfind was on duty. That was just as well. Saeldur was likely to let his temper override his judgement. Colfind would at least make a pretence of friendliness.

As if to confirm that, Colfind gave him a curt nod and ordered the first volley.

Arrows thudded into targets with something less than the pinpoint precision and lightning speed Thorontur demanded from the realm's finest archers. He could not say if it was anxiety about Legolas or a minor act of rebellion.

He decided not to comment on it, strolling across behind the line to join Colfind as a second volley followed the first.

"Perhaps you should speak to them," he suggested in an undertone.

"Perhaps Legolas should speak to them," Colfind said. His voice was the right side of respectful, but just barely. He was not going to be as tractable as Thorontur had hoped. "I do not know that they are concerned about what anybody else thinks."

"You know that is unacceptable." It was a struggle for Thorontur to keep his words even. Arguing with Colfind would help nobody. "We expect discipline from our warriors."

"What of what the warriors expect from you?"

"The security of the realm is more important than any argument they might have with me."

Colfind's only response was a noncommittal grunt. Thorontur debated pursuing the issue, but decided against it. It was not the archers' fault, and certainly not Colfind's, that they had all been put in this position. If anybody else had threatened Legolas, Thorontur himself would not have rested until the offender had been brought to justice.

He hoped Thranduil returned before the realm devolved into chaos.


28 September, Afternoon

Saeldur did not dare raise his eyes when Thranduil came to stand in front of them.

He had killed a member of the King's council.

He had killed a member of the King's council, and all he could think about was that moment of heart-stopping fear when he had thought he would not be in time to save Legolas.

"I am not sorry I did it," Saeldur mumbled.

"Of course you are sorry," said the King briskly. "There is no need to deny it, Saeldur. There is no shame in regretting what happened."

Saeldur looked up, angry despite himself. "Legolas –"

"Legolas is safe and as well as he can be." Thranduil's eyes softened as they flickered to his son. "Arahael is your friend. It is a terrible thing to lose a parent. I know that. So does Legolas. There is no shame in regretting that Arahael must now know it as well."

"I would do it again."

"I know you would."

"What am I to tell Arahael?" Saeldur whispered.

Then he cringed, tightening his arm around Legolas again as though to prove to himself and everyone that he would do it again if he had to, that he had not, not for a second, considered lowering his bow. That was true; he would do it again. All the same, it would be difficult to face Arahael.

"Adar…" Legolas murmured.

Saeldur was silent as Thranduil met his son's gaze, wordless communication passing between them. They looked so similar in that moment, golden hair in warrior braids, anxious blue eyes, that he had to stifle a snicker.

Laughing. He felt like laughing at a time like this. He must be losing his mind.

"I suppose you are right," Thranduil said at last. Legolas' hand landed comfortingly on Saeldur's knee. "Nobody needs to know the details. Míron came here to take the Prince's life and was killed in the attempt. That is enough for the council."

"But…" Saeldur looked from Legolas to Thranduil. "But then they are likely to think one of you did it."

Legolas shrugged. "Let them."

"I cannot let you take the blame for my actions."

"I would not describe it as taking the blame," said Arbellason, coming up to them. "Any of us would have done exactly what you did, if we had had a clear line of sight. Míron laid his hands on Legolas in the King's presence. He was never going to leave the situation alive. It was pure chance that the deed fell to you."

"He is quite right," agreed Voronwë. "An hour earlier or an hour later, and it might not have been you sitting with Legolas."

"What am I to tell Arahael?"

"Saeldur," said Thranduil, "unless you wish it, nobody need even know that you were present. If you want to avoid difficult questions from Arahael, that will do it. But he is your friend. Míron was his father. Whatever personal differences any of us may have had with him, if you think he deserves to know the truth, we willrespect your wishes."

"He must have known what his father was planning." Saeldur did not know why he even said that, save that Thranduil looked too much like Legolas in that moment and he could not keep the words back.

"I suppose he did, but we will hope he will stop now." Thranduil and Legolas exchanged another glance. "Legolas is right. Enough Elven blood has been spilt over this. I am not going to add to it. Legolas is alive. Míron will no longer plot against him. I would have chosen less drastic means of achieving both objects, but it is done. We should lay this to rest."


19 September, Morning

"You are doing this."

Arahael raised his unemotional gaze to Saeldur's face. "You will have to be more specific."

"Legolas is dying."

"So I have heard." Arahael looked around, making certain they were alone in the corridor, before he drew Saeldur into an antechamber. "It is working, then."

Saeldur caught his breath, all his hope of being horribly wrong gone in that instant.

"What are you doing to him?"

Arahael shrugged. "Some poison or other. My father knows the details. It would have been better if you had stayed away longer. Then you would have been free of all suspicion."

"You have to stop."

"Stop? What for? We are close to success, Saeldur. We have never been this close, and it will happen without anybody knowing that we have anything to do with it."

Saeldur shook his head, searching his mind desperately for an argument – any argument – that would sway Arahael.

"What is the problem?" Arahael said impatiently. "Saeldur, you know we have to do this."

"Not like this," Saeldur said, finding his tongue at last. "Arahael, this is cruel. Legolas deserves better than to die in pain."

"What did you expect? My father has been telling you for years to arrange an accident on patrol. If you had done that it could have been as quick as you liked. Since you would not, this was the best way."

"I will speak to your father, then," Saeldur decided.

"It will do you no good," Arahael told him, "unless you are prepared to meet his terms."

"What terms?"

"Legolas must die," said Míron's voice. Saeldur started. He had not heard Míron approach behind him; he felt disconcertingly outflanked. "I know it is difficult for you to do, or even to contemplate. I do not blame you. But if you want me to stop poisoning him now, I will require your promise that you will do it before the week is out. Cut his throat – smother him with one of his pillows – I leave the means to you. But Legolas must die."

Saeldur opened his mouth to promise, perfectly willing to perjure himself if that was the price of saving Legolas now. But Míron shook his head.

"Saeldur, you must mean it. Because if you do not, you will only prolong his suffering. One way or another, Legolas is going to die. If you want it to be quick, the means are in your hands."

"Legolas deserves better than that."

"Then you have sealed his fate."


28 September, Evening

"What happened to my father?"

Arahael's voice was flat. Cold. Emotionless. His eyes were flint. For a moment, even Saeldur was frightened of him.

He opened his mouth, fully intending to confess everything, but Arahael was speaking again.

"Lord Arbellason told me nothing. Nothing! All he would say was that Adar attempted the life of the Prince of Eryn Galen and was killed in the attempt, there were three witnesses including the King himself and therefore it has been judged unnecessary to make the details public with a debate in council. And the council has consented! Those fools are full of sympathy for their beloved warrior-prince having to undergo such a terrible ordeal on top of what he has already suffered!"

"Arahael, I must –"

"Did he tell you anything?"

"What? Who? Arbellason?"

"Not Arbellason," Arahael said impatiently. "Legolas. He tells you everything. Did he tell you what happened?"

"No, but –"

"I cannot believe he is gone," Arahael whispered, his inscrutable expression resolving into unspeakable grief.

And Saeldur found he could not speak. He wanted to tell Arahael the truth, to have it out of the way before he spoke to Legolas, but he could not. Anger he could face without a qualm, but he was unequal to confessing his guilt in this. Thranduil had been right about one thing: it was a terrible thing to lose a parent. Arahael's grief was of Saeldur's making.

Saeldur drew in a breath. He would just have to tell Legolas everything first, and persuade Legolas to tell Arahael. Legolas was Saeldur's commanding officer; it was, strictly speaking, his responsibility… and Saeldur could not meet Arahael's eyes and admit that he had killed Míron.

He appreciated now just how much courage it had taken for Legolas to inform his mother of Candnaur's death.

Saeldur might not have the courage to make the confession, but he could do one thing.

"Arahael," he said, "do you not think it is time… we stopped?"

"Stopped what?"

"Trying to kill Legolas. It has brought only grief to everyone. Melda has been exiled. The King may never forgive Lord Thorontur and Lady Celebwen. Your father is…" Saeldur trailed off. "I think Eryn Galen has seen enough sorrow. We should not add to it."

"You cannot ask that of me. Legolas must die, now more than ever. My father is dead because of him!"

"Legolas did not kill your father."

"No, but someone killed him to save Legolas. Eredhion or Voronwë, I expect. If the King had done it himself, he would have said so. Two Elven lives were weighed and my father was judged less important than Thranduil's pampered brat."

"Arahael, you are grieving."

"I am, but I have never been clearer in my mind. Adar died trying to rid the realm of Legolas. No matter what happens, I am going to fulfil his mission… Will you help me?"

"No." This had gone far enough. It had to be stopped. "We must put an end to this. I have spent days doing nothing but watching Legolas in pain, and it has ended in unhappiness for everyone. I cannot help you."

"You are worried about Legolas? What about my father? What about Melda? She has been exiled, and all she did was act in the best interests of the realm!"

"You are not thinking rationally. What you seek is vengeance –"

"You are right. I do seek vengeance. Why not? What is Melda's exile if not vengeance?"

"Melda confessed to high treason. She was sentenced in court. The King would have had her executed if Legolas had not begged him to be merciful. He would have shown your father the same mercy if he had had the chance."

"You confuse weakness with mercy. Legolas will die. If it is my last act in life, I will see it happen."

Saeldur said nothing. There was no point reasoning with Arahael now.

He turned to leave.

"Saeldur," Arahael said. "If you have any foolish ideas of making a full confession to your friend… Remember that, however merciful Legolas might be, nobody can trust a traitor. You will condemn yourself. My father is already… already gone, and everybody feels sorry for me now. Nobody will take your word over mine."

"Legolas will."

"Will he? Even when he knows how terribly you have betrayed him, exposing all his weaknesses to his enemies, will he still take your word over that of a repentant, grieving son?"

Arahael's voice broke on the last word. He walked away abruptly, leaving Saeldur staring after him.


26 September, Morning

"How is he?" Rochendilwen demanded.

Legolas' sitting room was full. Only Voronwë was to have been present, but Saeldur and Aeroniel, apparently unable to concentrate on anything, even training the archers, were there as well, and Eredhion had met Rochendilwen on the way and come with her.

It made Rochendilwen unaccountably nervous.

"He is no worse," Voronwë said quickly, guessing her thoughts.

"You look as though you have something to say," Aeroniel commented. "Please tell me there is good news."

Rochendilwen nodded, her anxiety dissipating when she remembered the tidings she bore. "The King is returning. My aunt told me that – she had it from Ellaurë. He should be here in the morning."

"Elbereth Gilthoniel." Aeroniel seemed ready to weep with relief. "Then Saeldur's last letter reached him."

"That means somebody was tampering with the correspondence," Eredhion muttered darkly.

"That is not important now. What is important is that the King is returning. He will get the truth, and… and Legolas will heal, and we can put this mess behind us."

"We cannot put this mess behind us," Voronwë said, rolling his eyes. "We must have proof of Míron's involvement, and the names of his associates, or this will all be for nothing. We will not be able to prevent him from attempting Legolas' life again."

"The King will know what to do," Saeldur said, speaking for the first time. "He will have the truth." He got to his feet. "I think I will wake Legolas and tell him. It will at least give him something to look forward to."

"He needs to rest," Rochendilwen objected.

"It is long past the time when rest will help," Aeroniel said gravely. "The King's presence might."


29 September, Morning

"You look better."

Legolas smiled, and if it did not have the irrepressible cheer the Elf-prince's smiles normally did, it was still bright enough to dispel some of Saeldur's worry.

"I feel better, though Feredir will still not let me leave my rooms."

"You might think you feel better," Feredir said. "But you have been ill for some time. Even an Elf cannot heal from that in a day. We will see how you are in a week, and then we will talk about attending council."

"A week –"

"Legolas," Saeldur said flatly, before Legolas could voice his objections.

Legolas met his eyes and gave him a small, unrepentant shrug. "What harm is there in asking? Be easy, Feredir, I will not break your bounds… today."

"Today is all I ask for. I will worry about tomorrow when it comes."

"You can go, Feredir, if you wish. Saeldur is here to see that I follow orders, and my father will come after council."

"Are you so eager to be rid of me?" Feredir asked, teasing.

"Are you not eager to see your family? I am grateful for your care, but you cannot avoid them forever."

"I do not want to avoid them forever. Only until… Until I know what to say." Feredir's glance took in both Legolas and Saeldur. "My sister tried to kill you, and my parents were going to stand by and let it happen. I do not know if I can forgive them, or if I even want to see them."

"The King said your father told him they intended to speak openly to Eredhion and Voronwë if… if the situation deteriorated that much. Lady Celebwen was confident I would heal, and she was right."

"Legolas, please. You were dying when we returned. The time for my parents to speak to the Prince's Guards was at least a week ago. You cannot condone this!"

"I do not condone it, but I understand. Lord Thorontur was worried about his daughter. Melda will leave soon, Calathiel is barely speaking to your parents – and your father's friends are not speaking to him either. I will be fine for a few hours, and I will summon you or Lord Barancrist if I feel unwell. Your place is with your parents."

Feredir rolled his eyes and turned to Saeldur. "You talk sense to him. How can I face someone who has been plotting against Legolas, sister or not?"

"No," Saeldur murmured. "How can you?"

Legolas rolled his eyes. "You are not helping. Feredir… Go. Go, speak to your parents – listen to what they say, that is all I ask. Listen, and if you are not satisfied, I will not say another thing about it. Please, Feredir."

Feredir sighed. "Very well, I will go. But I will hold you to your word. I do not want to hear about this again."

Legolas nodded. Feredir left.

Saeldur took Feredir's vacated chair. "Can you really forgive Lord Thorontur?"

"Lord Thorontur was in a desperate situation."

"That is not an answer. Tell me the truth, Legolas."

"I will be able to forgive him. Maybe not today, but… I will." Legolas sighed. "I hope I will… I trusted him."

"I know."

"I trusted him, and… I never for a moment imagined he would… I know it was an unenviable position to be in, and I cannot answer for what I would have done in his place. All the same… I will be able forgive him, but I do not know if I can trust him again." Legolas shook himself. "It does no good to dwell on it. You were going to tell me something, yesterday… before Míron came."

"I…" Saeldur's throat was inexplicably dry. "It was nothing important. It does not matter… now."

Saeldur knew it was cowardice, but he could not stand the thought of forfeiting Legolas' trust.

There would be another time to tell him… a better time, when this was far enough in the past that they could all laugh about it.


19 September, Morning

"Stop!"

Saeldur's voice was urgent enough to make Legolas raise his head. Calathiel glanced up at Saeldur only for a moment before going back to the draught she was mixing. Melda, on the other hand, straightened fully, her position almost challenging as she watched Saeldur approach.

Under any other circumstances, Legolas would have wondered at that. He was too tired to give it more than a passing thought.

Saeldur had noticed neither Calathiel nor Melda. His attention was on the cup in Legolas' hands.

"Saeldur?" Rochendilwen was on her feet, knives in her hands. "What is it?"

"Legolas, give me the cup."

"What?" Calathiel demanded, at the same time as Melda said, "Have you lost your mind?"

Saeldur ignored them all.

"Legolas." He was in front of Legolas now. "Trust me. Give me the cup." Mystified, Legolas handed it over. Saeldur addressed his remarks to Melda and Calathiel, though his eyes were still on Legolas. "There will be no more pain relievers, no more fever reducers… no more medicine."

"Saeldur," Rochendilwen said, "what is happening?"

"Someone has been poisoning Legolas."

"You are out of your mind," Melda snapped.

"I promise I am not. Legolas, someone has been poisoning you. I know this. Please, trust me."

Melda's eyes blazed. "Even if your preposterous suggestion is true, how does it help to prevent him from taking his medicine? Have some sense, Saeldur!"

"He thinks we are poisoning Legolas," Calathiel breathed. "Saeldur, you think we are poisoning Legolas… But why? We would never do such a thing!"

Saeldur did not look away from Legolas. "We cannot take the risk. Melda, Calathiel, please leave. Rochendilwen, if you would fetch Aeroniel, Eredhion and Voronwë… We have to talk."

Rochendilwen hurried off, hearing the undercurrent of urgency in Saeldur's voice.

"This is absurd." Melda went back to the powders she had been measuring. "You have no authority to order me out."

"Saeldur," Legolas murmured, "you cannot really think any of the healers would…"

"Legolas, please. Trust me."

Legolas sighed and turned to Melda. "You do not have to leave. In fact, it might be as well to fetch Lady Celebwen. Anyone who has anything to say can say it, and then we will decide what to do."

"Calathiel, fetch Naneth," Melda ordered, moving to the door. "I am going to find Adar."

Legolas grimaced against the anticipatory pounding building behind his eyes.

"Please tell me you had a reason for that," he told Saeldur. "Because we have just unleashed a storm."

Saeldur sank slowly into the chair beside Legolas'. "Trust me."


29 September, Afternoon

Thranduil shut the door firmly and drew the bolt, coaxing a tired laugh from Legolas.

"Are you so disinclined to see anyone, Adar?"

"I have not had a single moment alone with you since I saw Míron with a knife to your throat. I know your friends are concerned, but… Legolas, you do not know how frightened I was. I thought I was going to lose you."

Legolas' gaze softened. A sharp glance from his father kept him seated, but he held out his hand. Thranduil took it and squeezed it, pressing a kiss to his son's forehead as he did.

"Thorontur wants to see you," he said, releasing Legolas and pulling up a chair of his own. "He asked me again just now. I told him I would not force you into it – you do not have to see him if you do not like."

"I probably should," Legolas said ruefully, "considering I sent Feredir to make his peace with Lord Thorontur. I will speak to him."

"If you wish, but wait until you are stronger. There is no need for haste. And it will do him good to worry."

Legolas raised his eyebrows. "Let all beware the wrath of the Elven-king," he said, the teasing lilt in his voice making his father shake his head in fond exasperation. He had been so close – so close – to never hearing his son's banter again.

But Thranduil could not bring himself to joke. "Anyone who lays a hand on you will face my wrath. Never doubt that. If Saeldur had not killed Míron, I would have… I would have done things to him that I would never want you to see me do, so perhaps it is just as well that I did not have the chance."

"I would not have blamed you for anything."

"I know you would not." Thranduil glanced at his son and then away. Legolas looked like him, and he always had done, but there was something in the quirk of his lips and the tilt of his head that was uncannily like Lindariel. "Your mother might have blamed me."

"Adar, please. That is not true. She would have done nothing of the kind."

"No? When I asked her to marry me, I did tell her that the life of a queen would not be easy, but I never imagined, neither of us imagined, that it would have included her son nearly being murdered by my enemies, and that more than once. She might have been less willing to accept me if she had known that was to follow."

"I do not think Lord Míron ever had anything against you. And even if he did, it is not your fault. You are not to blame for his actions."

"Perhaps, but I am to blame for trusting Thorontur."

"Adar, no. He is your oldest friend. And he would never have done what he did if he had not guessed one of his children was involved. What would you have done in his position?"

"That is not relevant," Thranduil muttered, "since you would never murder another Elf in cold blood."

"That Melda would is Lord Thorontur's misfortune."

"If he had brought her up to be a decent Elf she would never have contemplated such a thing. No, you will not make excuses for Thorontur, Legolas, even if he is my closest friend. I could have forgiven him if he had acted against me, but his actions almost cost your life. I cannot forgive that. Do not ask it of me."

Legolas seemed to realize it was pointless to argue. He bowed his head in acknowledgement and did not press the issue.

"How did you know to return?"

"Saeldur wrote to me… And I hope I have not earned him a scolding by telling you that. Disobedience or not, he managed to get word to me, which was more than anybody else did."

Legolas laughed. "I promise I will not call him to account for it. I would have written to you myself – you do not know how I wanted you to return –"

Legolas broke off abruptly, leaving Thranduil a little shocked at the uncharacteristically vulnerable admission.

"If you wanted me, you should have asked me to come home. I would have come, Legolas."

"I know. I just… I did not want to admit that…" Legolas paused, gathering his thoughts. "At first I did not write to you because I truly did not think it was anything more than a normal injury, and I saw no reason to worry you when you were so far. And then when Lord Thorontur advised me against it… I should have known then that something was wrong. When has he ever advised me to conceal an injury from you in the past? I was not thinking clearly."

"It is hardly your fault you were not." Thranduil reached for Legolas' hands again. "I meant what I said yesterday. You have been spared to me, and that is the greatest gift I could have asked for. Nothing else matters." He squeezed his son's hands and released them. "We should speak of more pleasant things."

Legolas laughed again, the sound light and merry enough to warm Thranduil's soul. "Then tell me, Adar, what did you think of Brand?"

"I liked him very much. He seems fond of you." Thranduil felt himself smiling. "Of course I cannot say I approve of his odd Mannish customs…"


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