Galdin found them early that night, asleep in each other's arms, a picture of serenity. He stood there for a while, unwilling to disturb them, before walking up to them. He shook them, and watched as their eyes came into focus. A glimmer of fear was replaced by anger, and Legolas scrambled to his feet.
"Do not touch her, Dwarf!"
Galdin did not explode and hit him, in spite of what he expected, and the Dwarf even managed a small chuckle.
"Still ever the warrior, much like your father!" Galdin said. "Don't worry. Barin and his men have been banished from my kingdom. Are your wounds healing properly?"
Shocked, Legolas nodded, not knowing what to say.
"It is time for you to be returned to your people. Let this be a future lesson about wandering off on your own!"
The elation that broke across both faces almost melted his hardened heart.
"Unless you are capable of flight, that would mean returning to the caves in order to get out," he said, trying to hide his embarrassment.
As expected, Legolas shrank back in fear.
Caeriel stepped up from behind and took his hand, whispering into his ear
Gritting his teeth, Legolas took a big step in the direction of the caves, and a shudder passed through him. A firm squeeze of his hand pushed him forward, and he took a deep breath and plunged into the frightful blackness.
Once within, he felt a familiar rush of panic start to overtake him, but fought hard to push it aside. He focused on the torches that lined the walls, counting down through to freedom. Several times he felt himself almost succumbing to the terror, but each time he resisted. How could a Sindarin Prince, a son of Thranduil, appear so weak in front of the Dwarves?
After what seemed like hours, Galdin led them out into the open. Legolas burst out into the open air, relieved.
Looking about, he cried out with joy as he spotted his brother, tall and proud, a distance away from the great doors.
"Muindor!" He ran straight to Dethronir, and was about to throw his arms around his waist in relief when he was stopped short in his steps by an icy glare.
"Let us leave. You have caused enough trouble!" Dethronir said, before turning away, leaving Legolas in a state of shock. While it was true that Dethronir did not usually shower him with attention and kisses, this coldness was uncalled for, and a slap in the face of his euphoria.
He turned and saw that Caeriel looked confused. The Dwarves had retreated back into their realm without a word to the Elves, and so Legolas and Caeriel had no choice but to follow Dethronir, both feeling as if they were in disgrace.
Dethronir led them back to his steed, where Legolas made an exclamation of delight, only to be silenced by another venomous glower. Dethronir instructed them to mount the horse, increasing Legolas's sense of foreboding. Why was his brother so brusque and cold? Where was his father? Esendri? Why had the Dwarves let him go? The questions did not stop, but he did not ask.
Riding in silence, Legolas risked a few glances at his brother. He did not like what he saw, and the nervous feeling at the bottom of his stomach grew.
It was a while before they drew in sight of the forest. In spite of having just one good eye, Legolas spotted a figure in the distance, and leapt off the horse before Dethronir could stop him.
"Nana!" he screamed, picking himself up and raced towards Tuilinniel. He reached her, and was scooped up into a warm embrace. "Nana! I missed you!"
Tuilinniel gasped as she noticed his injuries, only to have him attempt to push her away.
"My poor lass tithen," she said, kissing his forehead. "We need to get you to the healers!"
"I am good," he said, before realising that his father was standing a few yards away, watching. "Adar?"
Thranduil's relief at seeing Legolas safe had turned into anger, which he fought down. He avoided Legolas's questioning gaze, and instead turned to Felnor. "Take him back, Felnor!" he said, ignoring the accusing look Tuilinniel threw at him.
"He is injured," Tuilinniel said, unwilling to start a full argument just yet.
"Then we shall get him to the healers!" Thranduil said.
Tuilinniel's quiet eyes flashed, but she allowed Felnor to take Legolas to his steed, as Caeriel watched from Dethronir's horse with wide eyes. Esendri had nothing to say for once as he watched Legolas's expression fall after a brave fide to maintain some form of nonchalance.
And so the Elves rode back to the palace, with Legolas's thoughts growing ever bleaker with the heavy silence that hung around them. It was as if some dreadful event he was unaware of had passed without his knowledge. A million different scenarios, each more unlikely than the previous, played through his head in the hours that ensured. Even the packed food Felnor handed him stuck in his throat, and he stared morosely at the horse's mane before him.
It was a long ride, and Legolas was in a stupor as they came into sight of the palace. He let Felnor take him up to the healers with nary a fuss, not even asking for Tuilinniel.
He was placed in a soft bed, and the healers stripped away his clothes, and dressed his wounds. All this he suffered in silence, not willing to put up a struggle as he might have done under normal circumstances.
It was not long before they finished, and they turned to leave without a word. Only Nearil, the chief healer, who had seen him through many broken bones and cracked ribs, gave him a brief, affectionate pat on the head before he too left.
Legolas stared up at the ceiling, but sleep was elusive. Where was his mother? He lay there in the darkness of the room, feeling the cool summer breeze blowing through the windows - alone.
He started to drift off into a world of troubled dreams, only to be startled awake by someone's entry through the window.
Sitting up in his bed, he regretted the sudden movement as his abused flesh cried out, and it was a while before he managed to focus on the intruder.
"Ai, how feel you?" Esendri whispered, before he sat himself on the edge of Legolas's bed.
"'Tis naught but a few cuts and bruises. Tell me, where is nana?"
A shadow crossed Esendri's face, causing Legolas to lean forward.
"Where is she?"
"I walked past the bedchambers, only to hear heated voices from within."
"What? Why? Legolas said, even though he knew Esendri was trying to tell him that his parents had fought. Such an idea was so aberrant to him that he found it difficult to comprehend.
"Think, Legolas! Did you really think the Dwarves released you because your brother requested it of them? That they let you go out of the goodness of their hearts?"
"We rode in search of you, and followed the Dwarves' trail. We managed to ascertain that you had been taken captive by the Galdin, and it was decided that Master Dethronir would negotiate for your release while the rest of us waited.
"He returned, and held a long, agitated conference with your father, before setting off again. It was then that we realised that the Dwarves had demanded for something in exchange for your safe return."
Legolas sank back into the pillows, disbelief written all over his face.
"And I thought Galdin had released me in pity!"
"They are Dwarves, Lass!"
"And what of Caeriel?"
"She was not hurt, and has been taken back by Milinral."
Footsteps sounded in the hallway just outside, and Esendri looked about in alarm.
"Farewell, Master!" he whispered, before bounding out of the window and making his escape.
The door creaked open, not giving Legolas any time to pretend to be asleep. It opened wider as the one outside saw that he was wide awake, and Dethronir slipped in.
"Muindor," Legolas said.
"Naneth requested that I check on you."
"How is she?"
Dethronir's smooth cheek twitched.
"If you cared about her, none of this would ever have happened!" Dethronir said. "Had you thought about how worried she would have been when you stayed out all night, you would never have gotten yourself captured!"
Legolas shrank back in his bed, burning shame and guilt rising.
"Do you have any idea what adar has had to pay for your moment of fun?"
Legolas did not answer.
"That the Dwarves be allowed free to roam the eastern edge of Eryn Galen, and he has promised them three of the mithril crowns, as well as the vest!"
The mouth of the young one dropped open in shock. He knew just how priceless those crowns were. In fact, they were only worn by the king and his two sons on special occasions, for the metal was too valuable to risk by daily wear. The vest, however, was a completely different matter. It was difficult even to put a value on it, but he knew that it was worth more than entire villages, from what Felnor had told him. Constructed for one almost as small as he, Legolas had been made to don it whenever he left the safe confines of the palace, sometimes as he rode out with his father or Felnor on patrols, and it had on occasions indeed saved him from a few otherwise crippling blows.
"Yes, Legolas, such is the price for your folly! In case you fail to understand, adar has been working for the past few centuries to keep the Dwarves out of Eryn Galen, and all this has been destroyed by you!"
"I had no idea!" Legolas said, hot, shameful tears coming to his eyes, which he wiped away angrily.
Facing the miserable one before him, Dethronir seemed to relent. Breathing a deep sigh, he said, "You must know that you were born into a position of responsibility, Legolas. You are a son of Kings. It is not your choice, but you will have to face up to your duties someday. It is not a life many will covet, but you will stand up to the scrutiny of your birthright, despite what you think of yourself."
Without waiting for his reply, Dethronir rose and left, leaving Legolas in a state of shock. This was the first time that he had spoken to Legolas about the burdens they both shared. Legolas felt a sensation of sudden warmth, for he knew that he was not alone. Still, the thought that even one as strong as his brother would feel the strain was unnerving.
Even then, his irrepressible nature fought its way to the surface, and it was not long before his mind was spinning, attempting to work out the best way to salvage the situation. He would get out of his disgrace and regain his father's respect. He would make the Dwarves pay for their tormenting of him and their humiliation of his father and their people.
***** Sindarin Translations: muindor - brother Nana - mummy Naneth - mother Adar - father