Little Nudge Out of the Door, A: 21. Each Night I Dream Of Home

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21. Each Night I Dream Of Home

Several days later…

Among the off-duty rebels taking a rare opportunity to actually rest at night, Yalc and Dersten were both suffering from anxiety-induced insomnia. Had it not been so, they likely would never have seen what transpired among the sleeping men crowded into the castle’s great hall. Between the influx of rebel farmers and their families, conditions in the castle were actually rather cramped, and the constantly-changing shifts of duty and comings and goings of all had resulted in the soldiers sleeping apart from the women and children in various parts of the castle. Most of the men were weary enough when they came off duty to go right to sleep, but Yalc and Dersten found that they could not, and so whispered quietly of defense plans and weapons-knowledge as their comrades dreamt.

Around midnight, Alagion and Strider came inside after their watches. Strider went right to sleep, and at first the farmers thought Alagion too was finding it difficult to rest, for he seemed to be staring at the ceiling. Then Dersten remembered that elves all slept that way: with their eyes open. Or at least that was what people said.

Fascinated, Yalc and Dersten had stared at the slumbering warriors across the hall, until they noticed Alagion’s peaceful face growing steadily more tense, and then a barely-perceptible moan reached their ears. They had exchanged looks, wondering what to do, but Strider had roused then. Frowning with concern, the Ranger took note of the elf’s increasingly-fitful sleep, and he reached over and gently shook Alagion’s shoulder. Getting only another moan in response, Strider shook him harder and whispered, “Legolas!”

As Yalc and Dersten looked at each other in confusion, the elf blinked and seemed to come back to his senses. Looking at Strider, he smiled wryly and sat up, rubbing his brow. “Forgive me, I did not mean to disturb your sleep.”

The two farmers remained as still as they could, and in the echoing silence of the hall, they heard the quiet words clearly. “You’re the first elf I ever knew to have nightmares, son of Thranduil.”

“It is just this castle; I dislike sleeping beneath stone. The stars would give me peace.”

A rather exaggerated sigh reached their ears. “I thought you had set aside pretense when you favored me with your true name, Master Elf.”

“I did!” came the elf’s rather indignant reply.

“Yet you forget that I saw your dreams troubled at least twice on the plains--both times on clear nights, so do not blame the clouds.”

There was a long pause, then a faint chuckle. “You have the advantage of me, Aragorn.”

“Of course.” A more taunting chuckle.

“But it is out of no mistrust of you, merely that I…do not wish to speak of my dreams. To anyone.”

“Fair enough. But I still admit to being curious at what a prince of Mirkwood was doing alone so far south when we met.”

“It is a long story.”

“We’ve plenty of time.”

(Shove) “Go to sleep, son of Arathorn. We do not need you keeling over while on duty.”

“May I remind you that it was you who did the keeling over two minutes after we met--”

“--Only if I may remind you who is the better swordsman!”

“And who managed to get himself captured last week?”

“I could easily have taken care of myself if I had been able to trust you to do the same. But I was forced to guard your flesh as well as my own! And I did not need your help getting back OUT of the camp!”

“No indeed, ‘Lord Celeborn.’ Perhaps if I get captured I will just pretend to be Sauron.”

“They would believe you.” (Snicker!) “How many have deserted Fompran since then?”

(Chuckle!) “Nearly two dozen, and there would have been more if Vrall hadn’t increased the perimeter guards around the camp. You played that role well, it seems. Have you met Lord Celeborn?”

“I have. My sister is wedded to Orthelian of Lórien.”

“That would be Limloeth of Mirkwood, I presume?”

Yalc and Dersten feigned sleep as the elf’s head turned in their direction, but both could see the distant look in his bright eyes. Having been separated almost constantly from his wife and son for nearly two weeks, Yalc in particular recognized it: longing. *I suppose an elf would naturally be lonely here among so many strangers. I wonder if he has left a family in Mirkwood.*

“Yes, but she chose to dwell in Lórien with her husband’s people.” Even a naïve farmer like Yalc caught the way the elf--was he really a PRINCE?!--changed the subject. “You once told me you were a friend of Lord Elrond.”

Strider--or rather, Aragorn--had also noticed, but chose not to comment on the elf’s evasiveness. But what he said shocked the two eavesdroppers yet again. “You may have heard of me before now. But I would have been called Estel.”

“Lord Elrond’s foster-son?!” Alagion--that is, Legolas--sounded equally startled. Then he chuckled wryly. “I do not know why I am surprised--recalling now your skill with weapons. Training by Elrohir and Elladan would explain it well. Or were you taught by Glorfindel?”

“A combination of the three, actually. Or rather, the two. Elladan and Elrohir come as a pair in all things, as I’m sure you know.”

“Indeed!” Legolas laughed. “They taught me a few of their tricks when they rode with one of Mirkwood’s war parties some years ago.”

Now it was Aragorn’s turn to laugh. “That would explain how you evaded me during our bout last week. Even for a Mirkwood warrior, such prowess was exceptional. I knew then you were no ordinary elf.”

“As I knew you were no ordinary Ranger.”

They both chuckled. “We’ve many tales to exchange, my friend.”

“And I shall enjoy it, but the hour grows late. We’d best get some sleep while we can.”

“You think Fompran will strike soon?”

“Very soon; he and his Vrall are as unimaginative as orcs, and twice as predictable. They will charge the gate as soon as that battering ram is completed.”

“And it will be done within two days. You’re right; we had better take some rest.”

“Good night, Aragorn.”

“Good night, Legolas.”

Yalc and Dersten raised their eyebrows at each other from where they lay, but there was no point in talking now. Both the elf and the Ranger would easily hear them. So despite how interesting--and revealing--the conversation had been, discussing it would have to wait. On that thought, the two eavesdropping farmers decided to follow the advice they had overheard--and get some sleep.

***

The next day…

Vrall wished he could grab the sides of his head. “It’s suicide, my lord!” he exclaimed frantically. Then he had to duck to escape a thrown goblet.

“I’ve made up my mind, Captain!” Lord Fompran snapped. “We attack as soon as the battering ram is ready!”

Close to howling in frustration, Vrall said urgently, “My lord, that is EXACTLY what the rebels except us to do! They’ll be waiting and prepared for it, and they’ll take us all!”

“Bah!” Fompran waved his hand irritably. “I’m tired of wasting away in this camp. Those rebels are peasants, not soldiers. With the exception of those three foreign rabble-rousers there’s not a warrior among them. Just get us through the gates, and they’ll surrender.”

“Sir, I cannot guarantee half of the men won’t desert when we give the order to charge!”

Jerking his fat hands up an down, Fompran said, “Well…well…flog them all the way, if you have to! I’m the rightful Lord of Haloel, and I intend to be sleeping in the comfort of my own bedroom tomorrow night!”

Vrall sighed helplessly. “Very well, my lord. I’ll prepare the men to charge the gates tomorrow at dawn.”

“Thank you; don’t forget who’s the lord around here. Hmmm,” Fompran cocked his head thoughtfully. “The men need a little motivation, do they? Break open a few crates of wine before the charge. Be generous, Vrall. Nothing like a little Haloel grape juice in the blood to raise one’s spirits and courage!”

Feeling a sense of utter dread for the morrow, Vrall said dubiously, “You wish the men to be drunk when they attack, my lord? Is that wise?”

“I’m the lord of Haloel, Vrall, nothing I do is unwise! And even if it is, it’s not your place to say so.”

“No, my lord.” *But I will when the Rangers and the elf have us both in irons!*

Fompran was thinking again (always a dangerous thing.) “Yes, I think a little wine will go a long way toward endowing our fighting men with strength. And more,” *Oh curses, what now?* “I shall ride with you!”

For a moment, Vrall could only gape. “What?!”

“Well, with their lord riding with them into battle, the spirits of the men will be greatly raised, don’t you think?”

*As a matter of fact, I don’t,* Vrall thought, wincing at the idea. “Er, my lord, I do not think we have a horse…strong enough for a rider as…imposing as yourself.”

“Ah, but we do. Fate has sent him to me, and then I knew I was meant to ride with my men tomorrow!” Fompran said fervently. He rose and beckoned to Vrall, “Come, I will show you.” The deposed lord led Vrall to a tent converted to a stable, and the captain could hear angry whinnies and shrieks coming from inside. One of the guards opened the tent flap, and Vrall beheld two horses, hobbled tightly to wooden stakes, kicking and snapping at the men trying to make them accept saddle and bridle. “What do you think?” asked Fompran proudly.

Vrall raised his eyebrows, feeling still more doubtful. The horses were impressive, no doubt of that. One, a tall and sturdy black stallion, bared his teeth and snapped at any man who ventured near, but the other, a smaller but hauntingly beautiful gray, was bucking and thrashing against the imprisoning ropes in an endless attempt to free himself. “They’re quite magnificent, my lord, but…they seem less than broken-in. I wonder if they would be reliable to ride into battle.”

Fompran waved a hand dismissively, “Do not worry about it, Vrall, I’m an expert horsemen, and the guards have promised they will be ready for us tomorrow. I shall take the black--he’ll look marvelous with my red tunic, won’t he? And you shall ride beside me on the gray. Think what a sight we shall be; our men will be truly inspired!”

The captain thought for certain that he was going to be ill. But he replied weakly, “Indeed, my lord; our victory is all but certain!” *Only if the sight of you on that horse causes the rebels to die of laughter!*

***

That night, in Mirkwood…

For Thranduil of Mirkwood, the dream began as the same one that had periodically visited him for over a thousand years. After the deaths of his son Tavron, and his twin daughters, Meren and Lalaith, Thranduil had managed to submerge his own anguish to care for his grief-stricken wife and remaining children. But at night, the dream had come, a horrific tidal wave of sorrow that could no longer be repressed. When Minuial had still been alive, she had been able to sense when the nightmare came upon her husband, and roused him, but since her death…alone at night, the dream plagued him. Always the same: a merciless, second-by-bitter-second memory of the day the news had reached Mirkwood. Always horrific, always the same.

Until tonight.

It was early evening, the setting sun had shone red upon the white walls of the outer palace, the summer breeze blowing lazily through the open window of Thranduil’s study. He had heard a rider coming through the gates, approaching fast.

He rose, sensing that it was an urgent message, and started out to the outside steps. Never imagining that it could be anything terribly dreadful, he had not run. Perhaps if he had, he would have gotten the fateful news before his wife and daughter.

But he had not run. And so it happened that he was coming out into the foyer when he heard it, a sound that was permanently seared into his conscious and unconscious mind. Limloeth had been in the courtyard when the messenger arrived, and she had taken the message scroll and opened it. Just as Thranduil had been approaching the palace door, he had heard his daughter scream.

Sometimes he was aware that it was a dream, but was still powerless to keep himself from reenacting that day. This night was one of those, and his mind fought to break free even as his dream-self rushed the last few steps out the door.

The elven queen was ahead of him, dashing frantically to where Limloeth was on her knees in the grass, her eyes fixed on the scroll’s dreadful words, and practically screaming out sobs to the heavens. Instinct to shield his wife had taken over then, though in the back of Thranduil’s mind, he had realized his daughter’s cries could mean only one thing. “Minuial! Wait!” he had shouted as she grabbed the message from Limloeth. But she did not wait.

The Queen of Mirkwood had made no sound. Oh, how Thranduil wished he could stop this nightmare, but it carried him on in its cruel current, like a fast-flowing river he could not swim free of. Minuial had raised her pale, blue-gray eyes from the scroll to meet her husband’s and the parchment had slid from her nerveless fingers. The wind caught it and blew it a few feet away, but Thranduil could only see his wife--and how the beautiful sparkle in her bright eyes had utterly vanished. He had run with all his mind and caught her as she sagged, her body going limp in his grasp. All the while, his mind had wailed the inevitable cause: *It is a message of death! One of my children is dead!*

But his immediate terror was for Minuial. She could not breathe; over Limloeth’s sobs he could hear her weak gasps. “No!” he propped her up desperately as her lips took on a blue tinge. “Breathe, Minuial! Stay, my love, you must stay! Breathe! A Elbereth! Do not let go!”

He had shaken her so hard it was a wonder he didn’t break her neck. But somehow, the shock abated enough for her to take a gasping breath. Then she had collapsed in his arm, not weeping, merely gasping his name, over and over, as though he could somehow change what had happened. “Thranduil…Thranduil…”

His gaze went past her to the fateful scroll, lying on the grass with its message revealed to all Mirkwood. Other elves, drawn to the scene, saw it, and soon the cries of grief crescendoed through the forest.

*I looked over at the scroll,* the dreamer remembered bitterly. *I didn’t have to read the condolences from Imladris to know what it was about. I only saw the names. I was bracing myself for one. But there were three. Tavron. Meren. Lalaith. Dead. My children. Three of them slain all at once. Then Berensul and Belhador came running and they too fell to the ground with grief. All around me, my family and my people wept, and I knew I should be doing something…but I could not move. I could not think. All that I could hear was the sobbing, and all I could see were those three names…*

“Why?!” Minuial cried, raising her face to look at Thranduil--as though blaming him.

*What? Wait!* the dreamer thought. *This is not right. It did not happen thus. Minuial did not speak. None of us could speak!*

But something more was different. The dream had changed. She was older. It was true; she had aged a great deal visibly after the children’s deaths, but that had happened over time. The light had not returned to her eyes until the birth of their seventh and last child. So how could she look thus only minutes after news of the tragedy had reached them? This was not right! And Belhador, he had not yet come of age when his elder siblings perished. Yet he looked grown here--as he had just before crossing the sea. What was happening?!

“How could you let this happen again?!” Limloeth sobbed, adding her accusing eyes to the faces suddenly focused on Thranduil.

“What do you mean?” Thranduil cried, recoiling. “It is not my fault; I could not have prevented your brother’s and sisters’ deaths! Why do you blame me?”

“Nay!” cried his wife, a look in her eyes that Thranduil had never seen when she had lived. She had never blamed him. So why did she in this dream? She cried out again, “But THIS death you could have stopped!”

“What?!” In disbelief, Thranduil looked over at the scroll, still lying mockingly upon the grass. But it too was different. In the most horrible way imaginable, the dream had changed. It did not seem possible. Could this be real?

Instead of three names, there was only one.

*It cannot be. It cannot be! IT CANNOT BE!!!*

“NO!!!” Thranduil leapt to his feet and cried out, in shock and horror, the name that his disbelieving eyes saw on the parchment: “LEGOLAS!!!”

Then he jerked upright in his bed, heart pounding, drenched in sweat, his throat still burning from the cry. For a moment, he could sit, trembling, staring around his chamber’s familiar sights in an effort to rid himself of the last hideous vestiges of the dream. After several minutes, with a deep, shuddering sigh, he rose and went to his study. He might as well get some work done. It would be useless trying to sleep again after that.

But even as he tried to distract his mind with practical matters, the questions bombarded him. Why had the dream changed? What did it mean? Could such a thing…truly come to pass? And if it did…would he be to blame? Thranduil closed his eyes and leaned his head against his balled fists, fear and pain making him tremble inside. “Legolas…”

***

At the same time (a few hours before dawn)…

Legolas stood upon the castle wall, hoping the rather chilly night wind blowing down from he mountains might clear his troubled mind. He had been dreaming again. The previous night, Aragorn had remarked that Legolas was the first elf he had ever seen suffering nightmares. *I am not surprised--for I am the first elf that I have ever known to have nightmares!*

It was not as if the elf had never had an unpleasant dream--after his mother’s death, he had dreamt of her every night for years. Those dreams had turned especially ill when Thranduil had finally told Legolas the truth of how his mother had died.

But this was the first time his nightmares had been noticed by others. He had been acutely embarrassed when Aragorn had roused him that first time on the plains, but the man had no way of knowing what it was his friend dreamt of, so Legolas did not dwell on it. But still the dreams came, unrelenting. His dreams were memories, always involving his father, sometimes good times, sometimes bad, and both mocking him in their own right. He had done his best to free himself from their hold, but tonight they had plagued him to the point where he no longer bothered to try and continue sleeping. Better to be awake than to face those nightmares over and over.

The young elf smiled bitterly to himself. *Running away again…*

Nearly all the rebels were up and about, readying themselves for the attack everyone knew was coming at dawn. The activity in the camp confirmed it: Legolas could see the soldiers moving about and honing their weapons in torchlight. The former ruler of Haloel and his army truly were predictable to the point of being pathetic.

They were shifting around that battering ram now, in plain view of the rebel watchers on the wall. Movement from one of the towers caught the elf’s eye, and he turned to see Dersten and Tergian pointing and laughing at the soldiers’ lack of originality.

“I wish I knew what they find so amusing.”

Legolas jumped; he had not heard Yalc coming out of the tower stairs. Unlike most of the other rebels, Yalc was tense. “I think they find Lord Fompran’s ineptitude rather comical. His men are astonishingly poor soldiers.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that there’s going to be a battle at dawn. No matter how many we take out with arrows, they’ll get through the gates with that thing.” The farmer indicated the battering ram, his brown eyes grave. “Many of us will suffer wounds. Some of us are going to die.”

“The risk of death is inevitable,” Legolas told Yalc. “It is the way of all warriors.”

The farmer laughed wryly, shaking his head, “Whoever said we were warriors?”

Legolas laughed in turn, “Each of you made your choice to stand against Lord Fompran. You could always have lived under oppression.”

Yalc sighed, smiling, “True. I suppose fate made it inevitable. But I find it hard to imagine any of us as heroes.”

“Fate has a way of leading ordinary people to extraordinary deeds,” Legolas said. *Ah, I am quoting Langcyll again.*

The young farmer still looked doubtful. He turned away and gazed silently out into the siege camp, the wind ruffling his tousled blond curls. Out in the camp, the soldiers were now crowded around a tent, being handed skins. At first, the observers assumed it was water rations, but the men guzzled in a way that suggested the skins contained something else. And it wasn’t long before their bluster and shouted taunts to the rebels showed a marked increase.

“I DON’T believe it!” exclaimed Kartzel. “Vrall’s handing out wine!”

“Now they’ve really lost it,” chortled Tergian from the tower.

Equally amazed, Legolas shook his head and grinned at Yalc. “Take heart, we need no longer worry about their arrows!”

“Aye, none of them will be able to shoot straight by dawn,” Dersten laughed.

At that point, the soldiers began arraying themselves in mail, and Aragorn and Sarovin joined the others on the wall. “The excitement is about to begin, it seems?” asked Aragorn.

“And our friends out there are getting wined up for the final charge,” said Tergian, pointing gleefully at a group of soldiers having trouble with their armor.

Sarovin grinned, “You’re right; it won’t be long now. Is everyone aware of what position they’re to take?”

“Aye, Sarovin! AND we know which way to put on our chain mail!” someone added.

“Oy! Look!” Tergian pointed at the camp.

From the main tent came the grotesquely fat Lord of Haloel, dressed in absurd red robes (and bearing a goblet of wine.) His soldiers cheered him lustily, and with great bravado, Fompran toasted their imminent victory--several times. It was all Legolas, Aragorn, and Sarovin could do not to howl with laughter. “Ah, now there is one prediction untainted by reality,” Sarovin chuckled.

“Sadly true,” agreed Legolas, not bothering to restrain his grin.

What happened next destroyed the composure of every last one of them. Standing before his assembled soldiers, Lord Fompran threw off his outer robes, revealing equally-red riding clothes that made him look like a giant red beet. Holding out his arms, he stood with pumped-up importance as several of his soldiers clad him in armor.

“By the Valar!” Legolas breathed. “He’s not!”

Finally, Fompran finished the absurd ceremony by girding on a sword, and as his men broke into wild cheers, the rebel army fell apart completely.

Legolas was all but draped over the wall, completely helpless with laughter. Aragorn was equally beside himself; he and Sarovin were having to hold each other upright against their guffaws. Even Yalc had lost it, and he was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down his face. The rest of the farmers were faring no better at the ridiculous sight of Fompran strutting around below them.

“Better watch out, men!” Dersten shouted gleefully. “If they use him as catapult ammunition, we’re all in trouble!”

“Ah, so that’s their master plan! We were wrong!” shouted Tergian. “Vrall’s a military genius!”

That remark nearly prostrated Legolas again, along with the others. It amused the elf and Rangers still more to see Vrall standing just behind Fompran--looking slightly ill. *This is the end and he knows it. Such is his misfortune for casting his lot with an unjust lord. He could have chosen to aid the rebels, but that would have meant losing his high position.”

Vrall stepped forward then, and signaled someone the observers could not see. Then Legolas and Aragorn’s laughter abruptly stopped. Several soldiers dragged two struggling horses before Vrall and Fompran. They were saddled, tightly bridled, and wearing mail of their own (which also served to impede their efforts to break free.) But in spite of that, Legolas felt a surge of white-hot fury as he recognized Lanthir, and the black stallion as Aragorn’s horse, Pariedor.

Sarovin, alerted by his friends’ sudden stiffness, asked, “Those are your horses?”

“Yea,” Aragorn said, and the men nearest him jumped back at his tone.

Noting how serious the mood had suddenly become, Dersten told the rebels, “We’d better make ready. They’ll be coming soon.”

Seeing Fompran swinging his enormous bulk onto Pariedor, Aragorn cursed savagely. Legolas made no sound as Vrall mounted Lanthir, striking the gray between the ears as the horse protested. “Lord Fompran shall answer for much, my friends,” Tergian assured them.

“What of Vrall, Master Elf?” Yalc asked delicately. Vrall had managed to steady himself, but Lanthir was fighting the rider’s attempts to steer him. So the captain of Fompran’s army struck the horse’s flank with the broadside of his sword, bloodying the gray hide until Lanthir stopped pitching and bucking.

His eyes black and snapping with ire, Legolas spoke in a low, dangerous voice that froze the blood of all standing near. “He’s mine.”

***

Vrall swore savagely as he fought to keep the gray horse under control. Fompran was having just as much trouble next to him. He could see the rebels mustering on the castle wall. *And there’ll be another wall of them waiting for us if by some miracle we actually get through the gates!”

The rebels were already aiming their bows at the army, and Vrall ordered his men to keep their shields over their heads. They did--and promptly charged towards the gate with a collective yell of challenge. “Wait! Hold!” Vrall shouted.

But the wine had apparently done its courage-instilling job too well, and they paid him no heed. No longer in control, the captain had no choice but to spur his rebellious horse and follow the charge. Somehow, the shields protected most of the men carrying the battering ram (or perhaps the rebels were merely saving their arrows.)

Fompran was just ahead of him, his massive bulk of flesh shaking like a blob of red jam on the horse’s back, waving his sword wildly and shouting encouragement to the men. The soldiers were running so hard that the gates buckled the first time the ram hit them. On the other hand, the force of the impact sent the ram and its bearers tumbling to the ground. That gave Vrall time to ride up to them again, thanking fate that they were too close to the castle for the bowmen on the wall to pick them off.

An arrow struck the ground just inches beyond one of the soldiers, making Vrall wonder if he’d spoken too soon. He looked up at the wall in time to see a slight figure lean back to a safe position. *Probably that elf, curse him and all his race!*

“Get that thing up!” he roared at the men. “Bring it up! Ready, heave, now!”

With a collective groan, the soldiers swung the ram against the gates, hearing them crack in response. “Again!” Crack! “Again!” Crack! “Again!”

CRASH!!!

Their bars splintered, the castle doors swung open. The lead soldiers immediately dropped the ram and charged in, forcing those who followed to climb over it only to meet a hail of arrows the minute they passed into the courtyard. In the press of wine-sotted men, Vrall and Fompran’s horses were forced aside from the gates.

What happened inside the courtyard, Vrall could not see, but the shouts of challenge were answered by a much-louder roar of defiance. There was the sound of running feet, the clang of metal, and then the men still charging through the gate faltered. Fompran spurred his horse back around to come in front of the remaining men. “Forward!” he yowled, riding through.

Vrall had no choice but to follow, and so he led the rest of his men in a wild charge through the gates into the castle courtyard, spurring the protesting horse until its flanks bled again. They found a battle taking place: swords flashed, and arrows flew in every direction. Ahead of him, Fompran was riding through the fray, waving his sword wildly over his head while caterwauling, “Surrender, traitors, your lord has returned!”

Then all at once, a dark-clad figure sprang at the Lord of Haloel and un-horsed him in a flying tackle. It was one of the Rangers, his gray eyes enraged. He did not press his attack, but held the mount’s reigns possessively as half a dozen rebels lunged at their former ruler, shouting out vengeance. Fompran disappeared beneath a press of furious men.

Even before Vrall could react, a hand suddenly seized the front of his collar and jerked him half-off his own mount. Never had Vrall known such terror as that moment, when he found his face merely inches from the elf. The immortal’s black eyes, blazing with a terrifying fury, flicked from the man to the horse, then back to the man again. His voice was like the edge of a sword as he growled, “Get off my horse!”

Then Vrall found himself sailing through the air until he crashed into the courtyard wall and slid to the ground with a grunt. Staggering to his feet, he turned around, and the last thing he ever saw was an arrow heading straight for his face.

***

Aragorn seized Lanthir’s reigns and bade the horse join Pariedor in safety outside the castle. He turned around in time to see Vrall drop with one of Legolas’s arrows in his neck. *Perhaps he was merely a fool, but he bought his own death the moment he struck that elf’s horse.* Pariedor had suffered similar abuse at the Haloel loyalists’ hands, and for that they would pay dearly.

Turning his attention back to the battle, Aragorn launched himself at a pair of soldiers menacing Dersten. The Ranger took out one and turned back to find that Dersten was holding his own against the other, deflecting the hardest blows and dodging and counterattacking. *When this is over, I shall ask the son of Thranduil for additional instruction to myself,* Aragorn thought admiringly.

A battle cry from behind made the heir of Isildur whirl around just in time to parry a fierce blow from another loyalist guard. He retreated under a furious barrage of blows as three more closed in on him. In spite of the loyalists’ inferior skill, it was three against one, and Aragorn felt a surge of dread as his back came against the courtyard wall.

One of the loyalists hefted a spear while the other two boxed Aragorn in--then the spearman pitched over with an arrow in his back, the spear falling useless at his side. The Ranger looked up, expecting to see Legolas, but instead, a curly-headed young farmer stood upon the wall, launching arrows into Aragorn’s other two attackers. Waving gratefully at Yalc, Aragorn charged back into the melee.

The rest of the loyalists, drunk as they were, had finally begun to realize that the battle was not going their way. Aragorn could see Dersten and several others running to shut the gates and trap their enemies inside. The soldiers suddenly found themselves with no escape, and Aragorn was nearly trampled in the stampede for the stairs by loyalists hoping to get over the wall.

The Ranger charged a group trying to beat open a corridor door. Two of the men leapt at him, swords flashing, while the rest tried another door, looking for a way out of the courtyard that had suddenly become a death trap.

“Down!” Sarovin shouted, and the younger Ranger dropped. Both of his opponents were instantly felled by arrows--one of them elvish.

A cry of warning alerted Aragorn as he rose; some of the loyalists had gotten through a door into the castle. He sprinted after them, hearing Dersten shout, “They could get to the women and children through that passage!”

With Sarovin a step behind him, he raced into the corridor, looking frantically to see which direction the soldiers had gone. Screams down the passage told them all too clearly, and they raced for the great hall. The rebels and Rangers arrived to find nearly twenty loyalist soldiers trying to get past Yalc and Tergian into a hall full of the farmers’ terrified families.

The rebels rushed to engage them, but the corridor was too narrow to give Yalc and Tergian effective aid. From behind, Aragorn heard Legolas say to several others, “We can get in from the other side! Come!” Several rebels and the elf bolted.

In front of Aragorn, through the mass of fighting bodies, Yalc and Tergian were in serious trouble. One of the loyalists had managed to break down the door before being felled, but the two rebels refused to retreat from the doorway. Cursing, their friends struggled to get to them, but there were too many soldiers in the way, and the two farmers were overwhelmed. Three of the loyalists disarmed Tergian, and screams rang out as a sword ran him through. Yalc gave a cry of rage and lunged, but there were far too many, and they forced him back.

Aragorn rammed his sword into another soldier and thrust the carcass aside, struggling to reach Yalc before the remaining soldiers killed him and got the farmers’ families as hostages. Another he swept aside with a dagger. Dersten dispatched two more and the rebels pressed forward.

They were too late. The last eight or so loyalists converged upon Yalc and bore the young farmer to the ground, leaping over his bloody form and into the hall. With a roar of rage and challenge, the rebels raced after them. The loyalists charged into the hall toward the women and children pressed in terror against the far wall. All at once, an arrow whizzed from the crowd to embed itself in the group leader’s chest. Niradam, Dersten’s wife, hurriedly but effectively notched another arrow and let it fly into another soldier. Just then, the opposite door of the hall burst open, and another group of furious rebels charged in, led by a bow-wielding Legolas. The elf prince dropped three more in rapid succession, and by that time the remaining five had seen enough. They threw down their weapons at Dersten’s order to surrender.

Aragorn ran back out to the courtyard to find that the remaining loyalists there had also surrendered. Kartzel came out to join him on the wall, staring at the bodies littering the ground, the blood staining the walls, the ravaged fields, and the remnants of the siege camp.

“Is it over?” the farmer asked, sounding dazed.

“Let us hope so,” murmured the Ranger. For centuries, Haloel had been a peaceful land, and this revolt had given her more than enough bloodshed for many lifetimes.

“Strider!” several of the farmers came from within the castle. “Yalc still lives! Alagion asks for your help at once!” Aragorn immediately ran from the wall.

***

The great hall had been converted now into an infirmary for all the wounded. Sarovin was treating an arrow wound when he saw Aragorn enter. “Yalc lives,” the elder Ranger said by way of greeting. “But he’s badly hurt. You’re the best healer.”

Aragorn made his way to where Yalc lay upon a blanket. The young farmer’s fair curly hair was streaked with sweat, dirt, and blood, and his fair skin had a clammy, pasty look. He was cut and bruised in many places, but the worst of the injuries was a stab wound from which he had lost far too much blood. A young, dark-haired woman knelt at his side, tragedy covering her fair face. It was Enilosa, Yalc’s wife. Her dark eyes met Aragorn’s as her last hope.

Alagion returned from tending another patient and knelt beside Aragorn. “How can I help?” the elf asked grimly.

“Hold him while I bathe the wounds.”

Returning her eyes to her husbands face, Enilosa asked them, “Is there aught I might do?”

Looking around the bustling hall, Aragorn told her softly, ’I shall need more athelas and water, Lady.” Quickly, drying the tear streaks on her face, Enilosa rose and hurried away.

Sarovin, Kartzel, and the others continued with the rest of the wounded. The women, though not warriors, knew much of healing and moved among the injured men, sending the children to fetch supplies. Sarovin thought, *When their dead are laid to rest, their wounds healed, and a new lord chosen, the people of Haloel shall build this land anew.*

A rather frazzled-looking Dersten came to Sarovin. “Have you the keys to the dungeon?”

“There’s no one in the dungeon,” Sarovin said in confusion.

Scowling, Dersten replied, “There is going to be.”

“One of the prisoners is causing trouble?” asked Kartzel.

“Aye. He’ll be safe in the dungeons, and I’ll not suffer my men to listen to his bleating after fighting all morning.”

Sarovin chuckled wryly and handed him the keys. “That is an act of mercy.”

Dersten sent three of the men to relocate the bothersome prisoner (one needed not guess who it was!), then he turned back to Sarovin. “We’ve a tally of the casualties.”

Sarovin braced himself. “And?”

“Twelve of ours dead, twenty-nine badly wounded.”

The elder Ranger winced. “What about Fompran’s force?”

“Vrall’s dead, along with more than half of his men. The rest fled or surrendered. Not enough escaped us to make us worry about a second attack, I think.”

Sarovin closed his eyes, sighing in relief and weariness. “Then it’s over.”

“Well over,” Dersten replied. “And may we never know war again.”

***

In Mirkwood, some weeks later…

Limloeth dismounted her horse and hurried up the steps of the outer palace to where her brother awaited her. “Berensul!” she threw her arms around the Crown Prince, laughing with joy.

“Ah, sister, I am so glad to see you,” Berensul said, hugging her tightly. “As is your niece,” he added, as a blur of gold and white came flying down the steps, shouting for her aunt Limloeth.

“Ai!” Limloeth caught up Silivren and spun the child around. Kneeling, she embraced her niece. “Ohh, I’ve missed you so, Sili!”

“I’ve missed you too,” Silivren said. “It’s been so dull since you and Uncle Orthelian and Uncle Legolas left. Where’s Uncle Orthelian?”

“He was detained in Lórien, I fear,” Limloeth said, casting an apologetic glance at Berensul. “He sends his regrets.”

“I am sorry he could not come,” Crown Princess Eirien said sadly. “Is the situation in Lórien so bad?”

Lowering her voice so Silivren would not hear, Limloeth murmured, “The shadow deepens. The numbers of our people there are lessening.”

Berensul’s eyebrows raised with alarm. “I have read the messages; I didn’t think so many had fallen in the Golden Wood.”

Limloeth’s bright eyes darkened with a sorrow not born of simple death. “Nay, not fallen. But leaving. In the past thirty years, nearly one of every ten Galadhrim in Lothlórien has departed over the sea. The song of Caras Galadhon seems to grow weaker with each passing year. Soon there will be none left.”

The news clearly grieved her kindred. In Mirkwood, the Silvan elves struggled on with Dol Guldor right in their midst--so how was it that the Galadhrim fled Middle Earth in ever-growing numbers? After wedding Orthelian, Limloeth had hoped to make the Golden Wood her home. But how long would it be before Caras Galadhon was utterly deserted? How long?

A sad sigh from Berensul brought her back to reality. “Well, we’ve enough to concern ourselves with now without dwelling on the bleak future. You should not tarry too long before seeing Father.”

And there broached the subject that promised to be the most unpleasant of all. “How has he been?”

“You know what happened when the war party returned?”

“Yes. Where is Legolas now?”

“No one knows. I’ve thought many times about trying to get a message to him, but I’ve no idea where to search. There has been no word of him from Lórien or Rivendell or any of the other elven realms,” Berensul shook his head helplessly. “After the way they parted, Sister, I do not know when…or if…Legolas will ever come back.”

“He MUST come back!” Limloeth gasped, seizing his arm urgently. “He must, Beren! So much depends…” she broke off, her brown eyes darkened with fear.

“What do you mean?” Berensul asked her softly.

Taking a deep breath, she regained control of herself. “I cannot say more, Brother. Only that Legolas and Father must make peace, for far more than their feelings are at stake. Oh, curse their pride!” She folded her arms in irritation, then started up the stairs with a shake of her head.

“You will try to talk to him?” her brother asked.

“Someone must. It will do no good persuading Legolas to return if the king will not accept him. And he must, Beren. He must!”

Limloeth came before the elven king in his throne room within the mountain. Although not as violently repelled by caves as her younger siblings, she still disliked the feeling of being under stone. The atmosphere in the room was oppressive enough on its own. It struck her like a slap to see that Thranduil had visibly aged since she had last seen him after Silivren’s birth thirty years before. He looked weary and desolate, but at the same time, there was a hard bitterness that made the difficult conversation she wished to have still more challenging.

Her father rose as she came into the Hall. “Welcome, my daughter!”

She bowed to the king and walked quickly to embrace him, “Hello, Father.”

Thranduil stepped back and smiled at her, but the expression did not reach his eyes. It had been more than thirty years since Limloeth had seen him appear truly happy. “I hope your journey was uneventful.”

“Not entirely, but I fear journeys seldom are anymore. Still, we arrived unharmed.”

“That is well.”

Limloeth took a deep breath. “Father, there is a matter I would speak with you about…”

But Thranduil was looking distractedly at the other elves in the room. “Soon, my dear, soon. But for the moment, I am occupied. I shall see you at dinner this evening.”

“I--” Limloeth started to press the issue, then decided against it. She had expected nothing less, really, than that Thranduil would try to avoid the painful subject. He might be aging and embittered, but his mind was more than sharp enough to be aware of the first thing his daughter would want to speak of.

*Very well, Dear Father, I shall let it go for the moment. I had hoped to speak to you alone, but it is clear you will not allow it. Therefore, you shall hear my mind tonight whether you wish it or not. You cannot run from me forever.*

As she walked out of the cave and back into the sunlight, the princess idly plucked an elm leaf from a low branch, caressing it with her fingertips. Berensul had told her in detail of the events leading up to the calamitous row between the elven king and his youngest son. For some strange reason, now she smiled. *In many ways, Father, this quarrel was inevitable. For he has grown up very much like you.*

***

Thranduil ordered a fine dinner for all his children in the palace that evening. He had hoped that the presence of his granddaughter would prevent Limloeth from bring up the subject of Legolas, and it did--if only Silivren had been so inhibited. “How long will you be here, Aunt Limloeth?”

Pausing from eating, the king’s daughter beamed at her niece. “Some precious time, I hope, Sili. Do not worry, I shall have time to give you many rides ere I depart.”

The little girl beamed like the sun coming out, but Thranduil averted his eyes. When she did that, she looked just as Legolas had at that age. It was yet another painful reminder. Casually, he asked his granddaughter, “Shall you ride on the river or Limloeth’s horse tomorrow, Silivren?”

Cocking her head in careful consideration, the child finally replied, “I want to ride the boat down the river!”

The family nodded in amused confirmation of her decision. Eirien remarked, “Beware, Sister, she demands to sail further and further downriver every time. Someday she will want to go all the way to Lake Town!” The others laughed.

Silivren nodded eagerly, “And I’ll go see Lonely Mountain, where the dragon is! Uncle Leg’las told me all about it!”

Thranduil winced inwardly--as he always did at hearing the name--but forced himself to say lightly, “The dragon is long dead, Silivren. There is little to see there now.”

Across the table, his daughter leveled piercing and too-seeing brown eyes at him. Without breaking his gaze, Limloeth said in a too-casual tone, “What else did Uncle Legolas tell you, Sili?”

Not noticing how tense the rest of her family had grown, the elf child replied, “Lots of stories, about his adventures. I want to be a warrior and have adventures!”

Still looking directly at Thranduil, Limloeth replied, “Perhaps you shall, Sili. Perhaps you shall. Uncle Legolas has had many adventures.”

This was NOT a subject he wanted discussed with his granddaughter. This was not a subject he wanted to discuss with anyone at all. “Limloeth!” Thranduil hissed fiercely.

“When is Uncle Leg’las coming home?” Silivren asked.

The innocent, slightly wistful question slammed into Thranduil like a battering ram. It was fortunate that Sili had been directing the question at Limloeth, or she would have seen her grandfather openly flinch. But all the rest of his children did see it. And their eyes were accusing, yet oblivious to the pain that their talk was raking up. Still in that falsely cheerful tone, Limloeth said, “I know not, Sili. Perhaps your grandfather might know.”

*Curse that girl! She has not the sense to leave the subject alone!* But Silivren’s inquiring blue eyes were upon him now, and Thranduil had to clear his throat to answer her. “I…your uncle is going very far, Silivren. He may be gone a very long time.”

“Oh.” Her dejected tone hurt his heart. Limloeth and Berensul were scowling as openly as they dared at their father. Thranduil glared back. *They fret so over Legolas, but think not of the pain their prying causes their father! Legolas turned them against me as well!*

Eirien had evidently had enough. Rising, she said briskly, “It is time for your bath, Sili. You’ve a busy day tomorrow if you plan to sail the river with your aunt. Come.” During all the centuries Eirien had dwelt in the elven king’s halls, her mild approach had been a defusing influence on Thranduil many times. But now she had her own child to care for. Perhaps if she had stayed, the discussion would have gone differently.

As it was, no sooner had she and her daughter departed the room than the table erupted into angry words. “Limloeth, I think I made it clear the subject is closed!”

“Do not bark at me, Father, I am now so easily cowed by you!”

“Watch your tongue, Daughter!”

“You cannot pretend Legolas does not exist! Do you know aught of where he is?”

“Nay, nor do I care! I will not speak of it!”

“Fah! Do not deceive yourself! If you cared not, such talk would not pain you! But I see your grief, Father!” Limloeth stood up and leaned across the table, not shouting, but very forceful. “There must be a peace between you!”

Thranduil glared furiously at her. “This feud was not of my making, Limloeth. I may have made some mistakes, but I am not to blame for its ill end.”

Now Berensul joined in, and to the king’s further rage, he too sided with Legolas! “There is plenty of blame to go round, Father. You both should leave off your pride.”

“So you challenge me as well!”

“It is NOT a challenge!” Berensul snapped, throwing his hands into the air. “I am frustrated by the foolishness of you both! Look at yourself, Father! You raged when he refused to speak to you, yet you respond to the situation in the same fashion! One day your stubbornness will get one or both of you killed!”

“Have done, both of you! I do not desire to discuss the subject further!”

“What will you do, throw us in the dungeons?” his eldest son demanded. “I wish my brother home again!”

Limloeth was catching her breath, and laid a hand upon her brother’s shoulder to silence him. In a soft, more supplicant tone, she said to Thranduil, “Father, the situation must be resolved. You cannot continue this way. Do you truly wish to never see him again?”

For a moment, Thranduil faltered. The face of Legolas, his son, swam through his mind, at many ages, all through his short elven life. For a moment, he was consumed by a longing to have his child back. But then in his mind he saw Legolas’s hard, unforgiving face, and heard his bitter words as his youngest son left Mirkwood so precipitously that last time. And Thranduil felt a surge of bitter anger that he had no wish to share with his prying children. “I will not discuss it.”

Limloeth turned away, her eyes closed, and she seemed near to weeping. Berensul, on the other hand, looked utterly disgusted, and his black eyes flashed with a fury still greater. “You fool!” the Crown Prince whispered. “You spiteful, unforgiving fool!”

Catching her breath in a sound very much like a sob, Limloeth turned pleading eyes to the king. “Father--”

“Save your breath, Lim!” Berensul said scornfully. “He will not hear you. He would not relinquish his vanity were Legolas even to suffer Lalaith, Meren, and Tavron’s fates!”

“ENOUGH!” Thranduil roared, slamming both fists upon the table. His son and daughter jerked back, distraught. Later, Thranduil would recall those details, but at the moment he could feel only bitterness and rage. “This matter shall not be raised in my presence again; that is my final word on the subject!” With that, the elven king turned sharply and marched from the room, his jarring steps startling the other elves in the palace, as anger born of hurt boiled within him.

That night, the dream came again.


***

In Haloel, around the same time…

*If these people learned nothing else, they know now that even the most justified war is won at great price,* thought Legolas, as he stood atop the eastern tower, facing the plains. The northeasterly wind blew over his face and through his hair, cool and smelling of trees. A surge of loneliness swept through him, with an intensity bordering on physical pain. He knew the scents carried on the wind; it was blowing almost directly from Mirkwood. *I wonder what they are doing now?*

“You look far away, Master Elf.”

Legolas jumped. Sheepishly, he turned and saw Yalc, one arm in a sling and leaning on a makeshift crutch. “Even wounded, you have the stealth of an elf, Yalc of Haloel.”

“Would that my wounds were able to heal.” Despair in his brown eyes, Yalc looked at Legolas. “I cannot make my living without two good arms, nor tend the fields on a crutch.”

“Strider said they may yet heal, my friend. Do not lose hope.”

The young man sighed. “I suppose such sacrifices are the way of all warriors.”

“It is true,” Legolas said with regret. “But that does not mean they are liked by any warrior. None wish to see comrades wounded or slain.”

Yalc looked quickly away, and Legolas put a hand lightly upon his shoulder. A moment later, he voiced what the elf knew had been on his mind. “When Tergian came and called my wife and me to the castle that day…none of us ever imagined he would die. Him least of all.” He looked back at Legolas. “Is it at all different for elves?”

Feeling a surge of deep inner grief at the memories being surfaced by this talk, Legolas nonetheless answered. “Nay. Death is never expected. We mourn the fallen no less, and I shall never become accustomed to it even if I live for thousands of years.” *Please do not ask me to be specific…*

Yalc looked speculatively at him, and Legolas feared that the man would question his own past experiences. But what the young farmer said startled him greatly. Hesitantly, Yalc said, “I heard Lord Aragorn refer to you as Legolas, prince of Mirkwood. Are you then the son of King Thranduil?”

Legolas turned sharply to face him. “How…”

“We heard you talking a few days before the attack.” Yalc grinned for the first time since the battle. “Fear not; we’ve told no one. None but Dersten and I know that the heir to the throne of Gondor and an elven prince lent us their aid.”

With a sigh of relief, the son of Thranduil smiled back. “I am most grateful for your discretion. But I would ask that you do me the favor of keeping our true names to yourselves.”

Yalc shrugged. “If you wish. The rest of the men shall go on believing that our saviors were Strider the Ranger, and Alagion, the wayward elf.” He and Legolas laughed. “But I do hope Aragorn at least remains here. We have need of a just leader. I know you will not be able to stay. You must long for your own people.”

Legolas did not answer, merely gave an ambiguous half-shrug, half-smile, hoping that would close the matter. It did not. Yalc was still watching him. “Kartzel thought it was incredible that immortals might feel such a mundane emotion as homesickness. I thought, among strange people in a strange race’s war, you must surely have longed to be away more than any of us.”

Legolas still did not answer, but Yalc’s sympathetic expression said that the silence was all the answer the farmer had needed.

*****


ORIGINAL CHARACTER GUIDE:

Alagion: Legolas’s alias
Strider: Oh, come on!
Sarovin: An older Ranger, a friend of Aragorn’s
Dersten, Yalc, Kartzel, Tergian: rebels of Haloel
Niradam: Dersten’s wife
Elinosa: Yalc’s wife
Fompran: Deposed Lord of Haloel
Vrall: Fompran’s captain

Lanthir: Legolas’s horse
Pariedor: Aragorn’s horse

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Jocelyn

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 03/15/04

Original Post: 07/09/02

Go to Little Nudge Out of the Door, A overview

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