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Overcoming Prejudices

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Overcoming Prejudices

By washow

 

Rating:  G

 

Summary:  Things go badly for the elves of Mirkwood and their only salvation may come in the form of a ranger of the north. Will the woodland king swallow his pride and ask for help?

 

Disclaimer: I do not own Lord of the Rings nor am I making any profit from this story. Any similarities to other fan fiction are purely coincidental. I tried to remain as true to the books as I could but there may be a few discrepancies. This is not slash but a tale of friendship and family love.

 

 

Chapter 1:  Troubles Abound

 

 

Legolas rushed down the hall, he was going to be late and would do anything to avoid his father’s wrath, even break protocol by running in the halls – something he hadn’t done since he was an elfling.  He paused before the door to take a deep breath and to calm his racing heart then calmly pulled the door open, only to find an empty room.  Legolas frowned and cautiously entered the room, had his father gotten so angry that he had gone searching for his errant son? Legolas was still standing in the door staring at the empty room when a member of the serving staff came in the other door, the elf bowed low and addressed the prince, “Ah, your highness you have finally arrived, would you like to be served now or are you waiting for your father?”

 

            The prince tilted his head, “You mean my father has not been here?”

 

            “No my prince, he has not.”  The servant replied and then assumed an at attention pose, waiting for the orders of his prince.

 

            Legolas narrowed his eyes in confusion; his father always came to the family dining room for breakfast.  The king claimed that the quiet time before beginning his day helped him to focus.  That he hadn’t shown up was strange indeed, as Legolas could not recall one single day that this father had not made an appearance in the family dining room.  Coming out of his musings the prince noted the tense way the servant remained standing and finally realized the elf was waiting for the answer to his earlier question, “Be at peace Thalinar.  I require nothing now as I’m going to search out my father, if he comes could you please tell him that I’m looking for him.”

 

            Thalinar once again bowed low, “Of course, my prince.”  Then disappeared from the room.

 

            Legolas momentarily ruminated on the necessary formality of being royalty then went in search of his father.  Since he knew there was no possibility his father had overslept he turned to the left and made his way to the royal study where he found the door slightly ajar, a clear indication that the room was occupied.  The young elf gently pushed the door all the way open and looked inside the room, frowning when he didn’t see his father.  Resolute in finding an end to this mystery Legolas boldly walked in and turned in a circle searching for his father.  When he saw the balcony door open he moved forward smartly and walked out onto the small suspended platform to find his father learning against the railing with his head in his hands.  The young one approached and gently laid a hand on his sire’s shoulder, “ada?”

 

            Thranduil was so caught up in is inner musings that he did not hear his son’s approach and jumped when he felt something come into contact with him.  This reaction caused Legolas to worry even more, “Ada!  Ada, what’s wrong?”

 

            Thanks to the quick reflexes of elves Thranduil was able to quickly recover from his shock and attempted to reassure his son, “Nothing is wrong my son you just surprised me.”

 

            Despite the elven king’s best intentions his assurances were getting nowhere with the younger elf, “Surprised you, ada I scared you nearly to Mandos halls.  Now please tell me what is bothering you.”

 

            Thranduil looked into the worried eyes of his son and smiled, the young one looked so much like his mother.  Then the matter at hand returned with a vengeance and the elven king tried to smile reassuringly at his heir, “Perhaps you are right my son, there is something wrong and as prince you deserve to hear about it.”  The king turned and walked into his study confident that his son would follow.  When Thranduil reached the desk he poured them both a glass of wine and after handing Legolas his, bluntly stated, “The acorn harvest is lower than it has been since the second age.”

 

            Legolas started, this was grave news indeed, acorns were a staple in the wood elves diet.  Sometimes they were eaten whole but more often than not they were ground into flour and used to make delicious breads.

 

            Thranduil just had to glance up to know this son understood the severity of the problem so he continued, “The same dry spring which caused the acorn shortage also left the grasses low, which caused the herds to move on in search of better pasture.  I’m in a real dilemma, if it were one or the other we would be fine but both – I’m not sure we can weather this hardship without a few loses.  Famine, I fear is eminent, my son.”

 

            Legolas was shocked speechless, famine!  Never before had he known his people to be in such a position.  He closed his eyes and tried to come up with a solution his father would agree to – going to the other elven realms was out of the question but what about the humans?  The men of Lake-town had always been on agreeable terms with the elves of Mirkwood, surely they would trade for flour as they had so many other goods in the past.  “Ada, what about the men of Lake-town, surely they would help us in our time of need?”

 

            Thranduil looked up from his glass of wine and Legolas was sure his father had never before looked so despondent, “No, my son they will not.  I sent a message requesting to buy some flour and received a very empathic no from the merchant in charge of the wheat trade.”  The elder elf dropped his head in despair, “I feel trapped in a losing battle, for once in my life I don’t know what to do and I fear our people will suffer for it.”  The king took a deep drink of his wine and looked to the west, “If only I knew why the men won’t trade with us.”

 

            The last part was spoken softly but it was just enough to rouse Legolas from his musings, “Why don’t you ask Aragorn to investigate?” 

 

            Thranduil took a deep breath and leveled his most formidable stare at his only son, “I am able to care for my own people and will not ask anyone, most especially not a mortal, for help!”

 

            Legolas closed his eyes in frustration, “But I thought you and he had parted under friendly terms.”

 

            The king turned from where he was seething in anger and faced his son, “We did part under good terms my son but I will not ask that man to help me run my kingdom!  Is that understood?  I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

 

            Legolas recognized the tone of voice from his younger days, when he had often butted heads with his father for one reason or another, and knew it meant his father wanted to hear no more but Legolas was older now and less imitated by his father and he wanted to say his peace, “That is exactly the reason we should ask him to help us with this, he is a man as are the people of Lake-town.  He could blend in and find out why they won’t trade with us much easier than we ever could.”  The prince chanced a look at his father and saw the king was still fuming at his son’s behavior.   Legolas took a deep breath and added one last thought, “Is your pride so valuable that you would risk every life in Mirkwood before you would ask for the help of a man?”

 

            Thranduil didn’t even turn to face his son but instead strode out of the room, slamming the door after him.  The king stormed out of his study and strode forcefully through the palace until he finally made it to his favorite grove where he dropped to the ground like a stone.  For untold minutes Thranduil sat on the forest floor with his head resting on his knees.  Finally he raised his head and looked forlornly at the monument which stood not two feet in front of him, a monument which read, “In loving memory of Oropher – a wonderful king but more importantly a wonderful father.”  The king let a small sob escape his lips, “Ada, I’ve failed you - the people will suffer because of me – because of my unwillingness to forgive the past.  There is a chance a man could save us but not just any man – the heir of Isildur, I can’t do it ada!  How can I entrust the welfare of the realm to the likes of him!”  The dam broke and the woodland king sobbed – he cried for the loss of his father and cried for his helpless situation.  As his tears were slowing he choked out, “How can I let him help us?”

 

            Suddenly out of nowhere a sound reached his ears, “Because you must.”

 Thranduil quickly brought his head up and looked left and right but saw no one.

 The mighty king sighed and climbed to his feet, now knowing what he had to do. 

Resolutely he walked back to the palace and went straight to his son’s room, entering without knocking, “Summon the ranger.”  Not waiting for his son’s response Thranduil turned and withdrew to his study where he prayed to the Valar for intervention.

 

Chapter 2:  Delays

 

            A month had passed and still there had been so sign of the ranger, Legolas sighed as he watched the sun set, a sign that Aragorn would not be arriving this day.  The prince was frustrated at the delay, he knew the later in the year it became the more scarce food would become and the more his father would distrust the ranger.  At first the king had been understanding that perhaps the ranger was hard to locate but as time went on Thranduil had begun to think the ranger just didn’t want to help them and again began shouting about the selfish nature of the second borne.  Legolas let out another sigh – he knew that wasn’t true of his friend.  He also knew that something had to have occurred to cause Aragorn to be this late and that thought caused him to worry for his mortal friend.  Just as his imagination was starting to create horrible images a gate guard called out to him, he knew it must mean an arrival and for a moment his heart soared at the thought it could be his friend but then he discredited that thought for surely the guards would have said something had it been the ranger.  The prince shook his head to clear his thoughts and headed to the gate to release the enchantment and let the traveler in, as he walked he looked to the sky, “Oh, where are you mellon nín?”

 

            “Right here, Legolas.”

 

            The elf stopped short, he had been paying no attention to his surroundings and had not noticed the approach of his father and the ranger.  Legolas’ face lit up at the site of his friend and he forewent protocol drawing the man in for a tight embrace.  While the man was in his arms the prince whispered in his ear, “I was so worried!  I thought something horrible had happened to you.”

 

            The ranger had returned the embrace just as enthusiastically,” I am sorry mellon nín, I was delayed.” 

 

The small group had begun the short journey to the palace when Aragorn stumbled, while he managed to keep going Legolas was immediately at his side attempting to relieve the man of his pack, “Here, let me carry this for you.  You have had a long journey and are probably tired.”  In the midst of getting the pack off the man the wood elf inadvertently jabbed him in his side.  The result was instantaneous, the pain so great the man dropped to the ground and curled up in the fetal position.  Legolas was immediately on his knees next to the prone man, “Mellon nín, what’s wrong?”  When the man didn’t answer him the prince looked to his father with panicked eyes.

 

            Thranduil was just as confused as his son but knew that they could not remain in the middle of the path.  Instead he began to slide his arms under the man so he could pick him up, “Let us get him to the healers.”

 

            Just as the elf king was about to lift the man a soft voice stopped his actions, “I can walk, just give me a minute.”

 

            Both elves decided now was not the time to ask the man what was wrong and waited for him to gather his strength.  As soon as Aragorn could move father and son reached down and lifted him to his feet.  The first few moments of their trip were spent in silence until the prince asked the question which was on both eldar’s minds, “What happened mellon nín?  Is this why you were late?”

 

            The ranger was obviously drained after his episode but attempted to dissuade his friend’s fears, “It is minor Legolas.”  When the elf looked at him skeptically the ranger smiled, “All right, it wasn’t minor when it happened but it is almost healed now.”

 

            The king efficiently interrupted the conversation, “For now let us concentrate on getting inside young ones, when this young human is resting in the healing wing we can talk about what has occurred.”

 

            The human immediately attempted to stop their forward motion, “I don’t need to go to the healing wing, I just need to rest for a few hours.”

 

            The king would not by swayed by the man and resolutely kept going leading the trio directly into the healing wing.  Upon reaching a healer Thranduil handed the man over, parting with, “If my healers agree with you, you will be free to go, so fear not young one.”

 

            With that Aragorn resigned himself to his fate and allowed himself to be lead away while the two royals claimed chairs in the entryway.  A short time later a healer beckoned to father and son and they obediently walked down the hall to the place where the she elf was waiting.  “His wound is nearly healed, only a jostle in exactly the right place will cause him pain.  He is resting now but is free to go as soon as you have a guest room prepared for him.”

 

            The king was just about to enter the room when Legolas asked the question which was nagging at him, “What happened?”

 

            The healer smiled, “I don’t know exactly what took place but the wound was a severe one when it was delivered probably more than a fortnight ago.  It seems like someone was trying to cleave him in half.”

 

            Legolas blanched, “orcs?”

 

            The elf shook her head, “Not unless they were using swords instead of scimitars, I would say this wound was inflicted by men.”

 

            Father and son exchanged a quick look before heading into the room where the human waited.  Legolas noticed the room was lit with a cheery fire which provided just enough light to make out the ranger resting on the bed.  The young elf could see the rhythmic movement of his friend’s chest and reassured himself that the man was fine.  Moving stealthily Legolas made his way to sit on the bed next to his friend, he had just raked his hand through the man’s hair when the most unexpected thing happened, Aragorn opened his eyes.

 

            “I told you it was nearly healed.”

 

            The elf smiled, “So you did but you did not tell us how you got it in the first place.”

 

            The man shrugged slightly, “There were some road bandits preying on the hobbits.  Luckily I was there to stop them but unfortunately I didn’t get away unscathed.  It was fortunate that you had messengers searching for me, else I think I might have died in that ditch.  As it was a ranger looking for me with your message found me and got me help.  And, yes, mellon nín.”  Aragorn added, “That was why I am late.  I hope no harm befell your people due to my tardiness.”  Aragorn paused and gave the most formidable look he could from his prone position, “What is it the people of Mirkwood would ask of me?”

 

            Legolas looked from his friend to his father, seeking aid in keeping his friend resting.  Thranduil immediately came to his son’s aid, “Not tonight young one.  We have waited this long no harm will come to the elves if the matter waits until the morrow, but I fear great harm could befall you if you do not get some sleep.”  The man started to protest but Thranduil silenced him with a look, “You will sleep ranger, and we will talk in the morning.  Now if you’ll behave and ask no more questions my son and I will escort you to your quest room where you’ll rest more comfortably than here.”  The man nodded and allowed himself to be raised to his feet and guided down the hall.  The man was so tired that by the time the trio had reached his usual room, Aragorn was nearly asleep.  Legolas relieved his father of the human and tucked him into bed, murmuring, “good night Aragorn” as he gently closed the door.

 

            The next morning dawned beautifully in the forest kingdom and Aragorn woke feeling better than he had since he started the journey to Mirkwood.  “Must be the bed” he mused before he dressed and headed out to find something to eat as well as the answer to the riddle of why he was needed here in the first place.  When the young ranger pushed open the door to the family dining room he was greeted by the two royals.  Legolas vaulted from his seat and walked to the man’s side, took him by the elbow and guided him to a chair, “How do you feel this morning, mellon nín?”

 

            Aragorn smiled at the thoughtfulness of the elf, “I am well” at a look from father and son the man continued, “Truly, the wound is old and usually gives me no trouble.”

 

            The prince sighed as he slid into his seat, “And it would not have yesterday if I had not hit you so hard.”

 

            Aragorn was in the process of reaching for a slice of bread but diverted his path just a little so he could grasp the elf’s arm in comfort, “You did not know, I would have done the same thing.”  The man looked wistful for a moment then added, “In fact if memory serves correct I have done the same thing more than once.  You forgave me then and I forgive you now.”  The man retrieved his desired food item and looked at his hosts expectantly, “So, what has occurred which caused you to bring me here?”

 

            Father and son exchanged looks then Thranduil began his tale.  When it was complete the king paused for a moment, took a deep breath, then looked into the ranger’s eyes.  “I was hoping you could travel to Lake-town and find out why the men suddenly want nothing to do with us.”

 

            Aragorn started momentarily, the king was asking for his help!  However, the man knew that every moment of silence was a nugget of doubt in Thranduil’s war chest so he quickly responded, “Of course your highness – I’ll leave right away.”

 

            The king visibly relaxed and smiled gently at the man, “Thank you for your eagerness young one but tomorrow will be early enough.  I would have you see the healers before you go.”  Aragorn’s head snapped up but Thranduil held him at bay with a wave of his had, “And we need some time to gather the supplies for your trip.”

 

            Aragorn saw the logic in that plan and nodded, regretful of the delay nevertheless.  He was broken from his thoughts when Legolas added, “Not your trip , our trip – I’m going with you.”

 

            Aragorn saw the king about to speak but beat him to the punch line, “Nay, mellon nín I’m going by myself.”  Legolas started to protest but Aragorn stopped him much as the king had stopped his own retort earlier, “Listen to me, as a man I can easily fit into the town and find out the needed information but you are an elf and will be discovered. This time I must insist on going alone.”  Aragorn climbed to his feet and stood in front of the elf, “You must trust me, I will be careful and I will come right back as soon as I find out what you need to know.”

 

            The elf stood unmoving in front of his friend, studying him in an attempt to find an untruth but finding none he smiled, “all right, you may go on your own but if you don’t come back as healthy as you are now I will have to kill you.”

 

            Thranduil smiled at the banter between the two friends but decided it had went on long enough, “That’s enough out of both of you, now eat your food before it gets cold.”

 

            The following morning three beings stood in the courtyard.  “Now remember to be careful” a blond being called as the dark haired member of the party mounted his horse.

 

            Aragorn smiled down into the anxious eyes of his friend, “It will be all right,

Legolas.  Please don’t worry, I’ll be back soon.”  With that Aragorn turned his horse and

rode through the gate.

 

 

Chapter 3:  The answer discovered

                        Aragorn rode hard hoping to make it to the tall birch, the half-way point, by dark.  The man knew that Legolas had the utmost confidence in his abilities but Thranduil was another matter entirely.  Aragorn was excited by this opportunity to grow closer to the woodland king and had no intention of letting the elf down.  Luck seemed to shine on Aragorn in this endeavor because he made his destination the first night and managed to get into Lake-town before the gates were closed on the second night.

 

                        Due to his fatigue and the dull throb of his wound Aragorn was forced to retire to his bed as soon as he found a room but rose extra early the next day, determined to find some answers.  As soon as he broke his fast Aragorn headed for the grain market, intending to find out if there was a shortfall here as there was in Mirkwood.  The man had opted not to wear the dark colors of the rangers but instead had dressed himself in the attire of local men hoping to be able to pass for a spokesman of a human settlement.  When he reached the market he took a deep breath to study his jittery nerves and knocked on the manager’s door.  Hearing a summons from within Aragorn opened the door and strode in to find himself facing an elderly man who had a gentle smile, the kind of smile that would put most at ease, but Aragorn was not like most men and could easily see the dangerous glint in the this one’s eyes.

 

                        The man rose from his seat, “I am Gordor, the grainery manager how may I help you?”

 

                        Aragorn shook hands with him as was the custom in these parts, “My name is Thorongil and I hope you can help because you see I’m in quite a fix.  My village, Greenbor, lies some thirty miles to your southeast and we have been hit with an invasion of insects that destroyed our wheat.  We are in great need of some to get us through the winter and we hoped you would sell us some, we could pay extra of course.”

 

                        The man’s eyes became kind, “No need for that.  We have wheat in abundance this year and if our excess can help you than so be it.  In fact we had so much that I was afraid it would rot.”

 

                        Aragorn smiled widely while his mind processed the new information, “I thought you have elves as neighbors, perhaps they would buy the wheat.”

 

                        The man narrowed his eyes suspiciously, “I’d rather die than sell that wheat to the elves now, later perhaps but not now.  Do you want the wheat or not?”

 

                        Aragorn filed the information in his brain to process later and nodded enthusiastically, “Of course, we’ll be back for it in a week’s time.”  The disguised ranger then took his leave of the man and made his way back to this room where he could once again become a ranger and more importantly, be clothed in such a fashion that he could blend in with the shadows and find out some information.  Once redressed Aragorn begun wandering the streets while thinking over everything that had been said at the grainery manager’s office.  If the men had so much grain they were willing to let it rot, then why wouldn’t they trade with the elves?  He was sure Thranduil would be willing to pay handsomely for the grain if it meant saving his people.  His mind continued to work on the matter while his feet walked about the town.  He remained in his daze until he heard a shout and came out of his musing to see he was back exactly where he started – the grain mill.  He looked up and saw the shout must have come from the men who were getting off work.  The ranger hesitated a minute then decided the best way to find out what was going on in the grainery was to listen to the conversations of those men.  He could only hope that they, like so many others, would visit a pub on their way home.  So it was with that thought that he followed them down the street and around the corner.

 

                        Aragorn was glad that he had managed to change back into his ranger garb during the course of the day, it allowed him to be inconspicuous while he tried to gather information.  The men in front of him had indeed stopped in a tavern and Aragorn took a moment to ready himself before going inside.  As soon as he stepped through the door a hush gathered over the assembled crowd, this he thought, was the draw back of being dressed like a ranger – everybody was afraid of you.  Ignoring the hush of the crowd and the prying eyes Aragorn headed for the back corner of the establishment and settled himself in a chair.  Once the other patrons saw he was no immediate threat they went back to their conversations.

 

                        Aragorn ordered a house brew when the girl came by and focused his attention on the grain workers who were sitting nearby.  “Gordor told me a man came by today to ask about all that grain so it seems it won’t be going to waste after all.”

 

                        The other man took a drink of his ale and shook his head, “I don’t see why Gordor didn’t just sell it to them elves, they sure was interested in it.”

 

                        The first man cuffed the second upside the head, “Sure they were interested in it but they weren’t interested enough.  Gordor wants to hold out until they are really desperate then get the king to hand over a quarter of his land in exchange for the grain.  It will be great, Gordor has plans to cut the trees, sell the lumber then use the land to grow wheat.  He offered me a full partnership when I agreed to deliver the grain when the time comes.”

 

                        The men soon got up and made their way to the door but Aragorn was no longer paying any attention – they meant to cut Mirkwood?  Aragorn never thought his fellow men would stoop so low.  He could not even imagine the implications of such a proclamation on the royal family.  Well, he thought no time like the present to deliver the news and so he hoisted himself from his chair and within the hour was riding toward Mirkwood.

 

Chapter 4:  The Truth Comes Out

 

Two days later Aragorn was nearing the fabled gates of Mirkwood and the despair in his heart was growing stronger.  How could he tell Thranduil of the men’s desires for his beloved forest?  The ranger’s brooding was suddenly halted when he rode through the gates and found himself face to face with the two royals.  As soon as his horse stopped Aragorn was set upon by the blond whirlwind he called friend, “How was your trip mellon nín?  Did you find out why the men will not sell us the grain?  Are you well?”  The young elf’s concern causing him to speak his words in an accelerated pace.

 

            Thranduil smiled at his son as he came up behind him, “Be at peace young one the ranger seems to have taken no lasting harm from this journey but we should let him rest before extracting his news from him.”

 

            The man also smiled at his friend’s concern as he dismounted from his horse but shook his head at the king’s suggestion, “Pardon me sire but with all due respect, I am not overly tired and the news I carry is too grave to wait another moment.  So I would, if you please, request an audience with you and your son so I can tell my tale.”

 

            The king frowned deeply but nodded just the same, “As you will ranger of the north, follow me to my study and we will hear your tale.”

 

            The small party quickly made their way down the corridor and into the wood paneled study of the elven king.  Thranduil saw his son and the ranger comfortably seated with glasses of wine in their hands before he addressed the subject at hand, “So tell me ranger, why won’t the people of Lake-town sell their grain to us in our time of need.”

 

            Aragorn then proceeded to regale father and son with the story of his travels, flinching openly at the king’s angry stare when he mentioned the desire of the men’s hearts.  “They want to claim part of The Greenwood to plant in crops!  Ludicrous, we are not in nor shall ever be in such a desperate predicament that I will turn over any part of my land to the likes of those traders!”

 

            Legolas too flinched and attempted to appease his angry father while setting this situation to rights, “Let me lead one last delegation to these men, adar.  I will let them know that we have knowledge of Gordor’s plan and that if the town council continues to allow him to keep his position of power we will take that as a sign they support him in this plan, an action which could lead to war.”

 

            “I’ll go with you,” the ranger added quietly.

 

            The king opened his mouth in order to voice his opinion but was quickly cut off by his son who was addressing the ranger, “No you will not, Gordor will recognize you and call you a traitor to mankind before all the men of Lake-town, putting your life in more danger than it is now.  I will not stand for it, mellon nín, your part in this is done.  You are invited to partake in the hospitality of wood elves but you are not invited to risk your life and reputation.”

 

            The ranger flashed his friend a smile, “You worry too much Legolas, they will not recognize me for I was in disguise before and I shall go as a ranger with you, they will never know it is the same person.”

 

            Legolas threw up his hands in frustration, “Unless you last entered the town dressed as a műmakil they will recognize you!  Please, Estel stay here where it is safe and let me conduct this duty for the realm.”

 

            So focused on the ranger was Legolas that he jumped when a voice came from his other side, “No, you will not.”

 

            The younger elf whipped his head around and gazed at his father in confusion, “I will not what, ada?”

 

            The king stood to his feet and looked down at his son, “Conduct this business because I am going and you will be staying here.”

 

            Legolas’ eyes grew as large as saucers, “Adar you cannot be serious, this is much too dangerous.  Let me undertake this task and you can stay here ruling Mirkwood.”

 

            Thranduil’s eyes took on a dangerous look, “Too dangerous?  Then tell me, my son, if this task is too dangerous for me than why should I allow my only child to undertake it?  The child I swore to protect as soon as he was born?  I think not.  No, I will go; first of all because I will not allow you to do it and secondly because it is my duty as king.  When I accepted this crown I swore that I would do all in my power to ensure the safety and well being of the people.  Anything, Legolas, up to and including my death so don’t even think of taking this from me.”

 

            Legolas sat back in his chair; sulking, well aware there was no way he could sway his father now.  After several minutes of quiet brooding the prince raised his head and met his father’s eyes, “What about him?”  The prince inquired while pointing to the now smirking ranger sitting across the room.

 

            Thranduil looked from his son to the ranger and back again, “He is not my subject, Legolas, therefore I can not order him to stay.  However,” he added looking in the ranger’s direction, “I would rather you did stay but if you are coming be sure to be at the gates first thing in the morning.”

 

            The king then stood and walked from the room leaving elf and ranger staring at each other.  Finally Legolas broke the silence, “Well ranger, I suppose you won this round just be sure that you come back in one piece.”

 

            The ranger stood and grasped his friend’s shoulder in support, “It will be well, my friend.  I will return in one piece and I will make sure he does too.”

 

 

            The elf lifted worried eyes to his friend, “Be sure you do that” and disappeared from the room.

 

            Scant hours later two figures were lashing on their packs in the pre-down hours.  One, a human from the build, rubbed his eyes and glanced at his companion.  “Are you sure this is the right thing to do your highness?”  The man was still tired after being woken by his companion and informed they were leaving within the hour.

 

            The king spared his companion a quick glance as he finished loading his horse, “A large escort would attract undo attention.  I want to ride in and ride out with little fuss.”

 

            Aragorn sighed deeply, “Legolas is not going to like this.  He will probably send a guard after us as soon as he learns we are gone.”

 

            The king shrugged, “Most likely, which is why it was necessary to put those herbs in his wine last night, he will be out until late this afternoon.”

 

            The ranger just gazed up at the monarch who was now seated in the saddle, “You drugged him!?  Legolas is going to be so angry.”

 

            The king just smiled and began moving out the gate calling over his shoulder, “It is a father’s purgative.  Now if you are coming young one lets get going.”

 

            Aragorn spurred his horse forward, sure that this would be an adventure the like of which he had never before experienced.

 

Chapter 5:  The Day of Reckoning

 

            The pair had ridden in silence for several hours when Thranduil suddenly looked over at the man, “Are you always this quiet when you ride with my son?”

 

            Aragorn shook his head to rid himself of the daze he had drifted into, “Sometimes my lord, it depends on our moods at the time.”

 

            The king nodded his understanding but instead of dropping the matter continued to press ahead, “and when you do feel like speaking, what do you speak of?”

 

            Aragorn had to smile at the tenacity of a father who would do anything to learn about this son’s friend.  “Again my lord it differs depending on the day.  Sometimes we speak of our friends and families, others of our dreams for the future and the encroachment of the shadow and still others we recount fond stories from days past.  Of which would you now like to speak you highness?”

 

            The king smiled, “Just Thranduil out here young one and I think I’d like to hear of those pranks you and my son are said to play on the twin sons of Elrond.  I too was quite the prankster in my day and I may be able to give you some fresh ideas.”  And so it was that Aragorn and Thranduil spent the rest of the trip to Lake-town in happy laughter.

 

            When the pair were within elven sight of the gates the laughter was silenced and the two beings went on their guard.  Thranduil had the pair stop in their forward travels to discuss the plan of action, “I’ll need to meet with Bragal tomorrow to discuss the problem at hand and hopefully he will convince the council to unseat Gordor.”

 

            Aragorn smiled at the elf, “With all due respect my lord the council will not take your word over one of their own.  While I know that an elf would never lie it is not a commonly held belief among men and so you will need to show proof of Gordor’s treachery.”

 

            The king smirked, “And how do you suppose I go about getting that young one?”

 

            Aragorn smirked back, “Well I do not believe it will be hard but it will require you to go against the desire of your son.”  The king’s eyes lit up at the prospect of getting one over on his son so he pulled the ranger toward him and they spent a lazy afternoon by the river hatching a plan.

 

            The next morning the king and ranger split up, entering lake town separately so on one would ever guess they were together.  The king made his way directly to the home of the governor and upon identifying himself was immediately granted an audience.  Bragal, the governor of Lake-town, bowed when the woodland king entered his parlor.  “Your highness, what a surprise to see you here.  What can the people of Lake-town do for the elves of Mirkwood?”

 

            The king took the seat indicated and leaned forward, “You can sell me the wheat my people need to get through the winter.”

 

            The governor smiled, “Forgive me your highness but I believe you have come to the wrong man Gordor is in charge of our grain market, you will need to see him.”

 

            The man then stood to his feet with the intention of seeing the king out when Thranduil responded in his darkest tone, “I have tried dealing with him but have found him unwilling to sell me what I need which is why I came to you.”

 

            The governor retook his seat and looked kindly at the king, “I’m sure he has his reasons.  Perhaps we have no wheat to spare.”

 

            The king’s demeanor darkened even more, a feat which the man sitting across from him found improbably, “ I have it on good knowledge that he has plenty of wheat to sell but that he won’t sell it to me because of ulterior motives.”

 

            The governor’s eyes opened in surprise, “you sent a spy!”

 

            The king understood the governor’s reaction but he had no patience for the mortal’s outrage, “I did and I would do it again if it meant the survival of my people.  Now, my spy is here with me, meet us at the east dock just after mid-day and I will prove my words to be true.”  The king stood up preparing to leave but before he did he turned back to the governor, “Oh and come cloaked, it will not work if he knows either of us are there.”  The king then turned and left the room – leaving a distraught governor behind.

 

            Just after the mid-day meal two cloaked individuals stood along side Aragorn who was once again assuming the role of spokesman for Greenbor.  After going over a few rules the ranger turned and led his “councilmen” to the grainery.

 

            Gordor stood up when he saw the man from Greenbor enter his office but grew suspicious when he saw the two cloaked individuals.  “Thorongil what is the meaning of this?  Are you planning on robbing me of my grain?”

 

            Aragorn, moved closer to the grainery manager.  “Calm down Gordor it is nothing like that, my fellow councilmen wished to come along and hear for themselves why you are willing to sell to us and not the elves.  We are concerned that there is something wrong with the grain.”

 

            Gordor smiled, “Oh, it is nothing like that I just don’t like the elves and don’t wish to sell to them.”

 

            Thorongil learned forward, “And so you are willing to deprive the farmers of their income because you are prejudiced?”

 

            Gordor smiled slyly, “Oh don’t worry about them I believe they will be paid for that grain in due time!

 

            Thorongil narrowed his eyes at the man and put a heavy bag of gold on the desk, “We are prepared to pay for our grain right now”  Gordor was practically salivating at the sight of that gold, “But first you must tell us the whole story of the elves because we do not believe you and refuse to deal with a man who will not be honest.”

 

            Now Gordor was a greedy man, of that Aragorn was certain, and often took more than his fair share of the grain price – a fact that led Aragorn to believe this would be his way of getting Gordor to admit his treachery.  The grain merchant contemplated the situation for a moment than leaned back in his chair and grinned, “All right, I’ll let you in on it but only because I trust you.  I’m going to sell the grain to those elves but later, much later.  I’m going to wait until the first flakes of snow are falling then offer it to them in exchange for a quarter of their lands.  By that point in time they will be so desperate that they will do anything for that grain.  I’ll bet I could even get them to kick in a few elven brats to use as free labor!”

 

            That was the thing which put Thranduil over the edge, he threw back his hood and glared at the grain merchant with such intensity that Gordor fell backward out of his chair.  The king roared, “I would never give you anything much less my people or our land!  You are truly a disgusting piece of filth and I can’t wait to see you in prison.”

 

            Gordor had managed to gain his feet and was now leaning against the rear wall, “No chance of that happening your highness – this is Lake town not Mirkwood.  You have no power here.”

 

            Suddenly the third person in the room stepped forward and threw back his hood, “No, but I do.”  The governor stepped forward until he was leaning against the desk.  “I hereby remove you from this office and declare you under arrest for unlawful business practices and endangering the people of Lake-town.”  The man looked at all three individuals in his office with wide eyes then pushed on the wall and disappeared out the secret back door.  The ranger moved to follow him but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder, he turned to see the governor smiling at him, “It isn’t worth your effort, I told the gate watchman to detain him should he try to leave before I met with you.  He shall  not be able to leave Lake-town.”  The man then slid behind the desk and took up quill and parchment, “and now your highness if you’ll tell me what you need I’ll make sure your order is filled.”

 

Chapter 6:  Surprise arrival

 

            The next day Thranduil and Aragorn were riding side by side on the path from Lake-town to Mirkwood, they had left before the grainery manager had been apprehended but had been assured it was only a matter of time.  As they rode along the king abruptly broke the comfortable silence, “I understand now.”

 

            The ranger tore his gaze from the road ahead and instead focused on the elf beside him, “Understand what?”

 

            The king met the man’s gaze and smiled, “Why my son calls you friend.  You are trustworthy and loyal even when it means you will turn against your own kind for the sake of what is right.”

 

            The ranger blushed, “Thank you for your kind words my lord.  Your son is also very fond of you and I can now see why he loves you so.”

 

            “One thing I can not understand.”  The king continued, “Is how it is you and my son always get into such trouble.  Until now I believed his claims that it was your fault but now – now I am not sure.  We have managed to travel without harassment, unlike that time you and he tried to make this same journey years ago.”

 

            The quite conversation continued as the two traveled, trading stories and sharing laughter.  The travelers were so preoccupied that they did not notice the men in the trees until suddenly they and their horses were caught under a large net.  The confinement caused the horses to panic and they reared repeatedly until finally their riders were required to slide off and murmur calming words in their ears.  When the horses calmed man and elf turned to face their captors and found themselves looking at a man they never thought to see outside of Lake-town -Gordor.

 

            Thranduil’s anger was so palatable that Aragorn could swear he could feel it as it rolled off the elf.  The king narrowed his eyes at the man, “I see you are a snake, and one who has managed to slither between the bars of his cage.  How did you manage to escape, oh no matter I am sure you will be caught soon and then I personally will ensure that you never escape from your new cage which shall be a pine box six feet under ground!”  Suddenly the king’s head snapped forward and then he fell to the ground.

 

            “Ah, much better – thank you Fortin that pompous creature was really starting to get on my nerves.”  The man then switched his gaze from the man holding the branch to the one kneeling under the net next to the prone elf, “Don’t worry, he’s still alive – he wouldn’t be any good to me if he wasn’t.”  The ranger glanced up and Gordor smiled at the question in his eyes, “Yes, I have plans for him.  Why would I have went to all this trouble if I did not.”  The man’s only response was to glare at his captor which caused Gordor to chuckle evilly, “You, however, are a traitor to mankind and will be executed for your actions.”  The man had an evil glint in his eyes which caused Aragorn to fear, although he refused to show it to this piece of filth.  Gordor on the other hand was no longer concerned with the ranger but was focusing his attention on his accomplice, the same man, Aragorn noted, who had led to his downfall by mouthing off in the pub.  “Get them out from under that net.”  Gordor barked at his helper.

 

            “Do you want me to bind the both of them?”  Fortin asked.

 

            The grainery manager knelt next to the woodland king and regarded him closely, “Don’t bother with this one he is out cold just bind the other and do it quickly, my patience grows thin.”

 

            Fortin obediently started pulling the net away but sensed this was not going to work with the ranger armed and swiftly delivered him a blow to the head.

 

            “Why did you do that for?”  Gordor demanded angrily, “You know I want to torment him before he dies.”

 

            Fortin was making quick work of tying the man’s hands and feet now that he was free of the net and took time only to nod in the direction of the man and elf’s weapons, “I had to get those away from him else he would have killed us both.  Not to worry though with a little slap he’ll wake up quick enough.”

 

            In order to prove his point the man slapped the ranger a few times and was finally rewarded with a pair of silver eyes staring straight back at him.  Gordor came over and was delighted to see the ranger looking at him, “Ah Fortin was right you are awake.  Good now we can carry out your sentence.”  The man was turning to grab something from the dirt behind him when his attention was drawn back to the ranger, “You trust him!  It is his fault I found out what you were up to, it seems he is incapable of keeping his mouth shut.”

 

            Gordor diverted his gaze from the prone ranger to his helper, “Is that so, well I’ll have to punish him for his stupidity after I’m through with you but first what say you, lets have some fun.”  The man then produced a club from behind his back, only it was no ordinary club but one in which iron spikes had been embedded.  The sight of such a cruel weapon caused the ranger to struggle in his bonds causing the man to smile, “Like it, do you?  Ah I thought you would, you see it is used to harvest wheat – you know that thing you have such interest in.”  With that Gordor forcefully brought the thresher in contact with Aragorn’s back bringing forth a small moan of pain.  “Trying to be the hero, are you, refusing to cry out your pain for fear of looking less in the eyes of your peers.  Well by the time I’m done with you – you’ll be crying for mercy.”

 

            “Why are you doing this?”  Aragorn gasp out around the pain.

 

            The man smiled evilly, “Why?  Because you betrayed our kind for that of elves, you sided with them instead of us.  And for that you deserve to die but before you die you deserve to suffer for disrupting my plans.  You see it was all going to be so easy – a quarter of Mirkwood in exchange for enough food to keep the elves alive for the winter.  Then once the land was mine I was going to raze it to the ground and plant the largest amount of wheat in this part of Middle Earth, and I would be rich – rich beyond imagine and I would be respected for the wise man I am.  Ah but you had to interfere with my plan – no harm done though for now I have the king and will be able to get what I want and some for I’m sure the king’s life is worth half of the land of the wood elves.”

 

            “I did not know someone could be that stupid.” The man ground out, “The elves will never surrender Mirkwood to you nor will they stomach you touching their king – you will be dead before you ever open your mouth.”  This seemed to incense the man as he rained a series of blows upon the man’s back, sides and abdomen.  One or two landing exactly on his healing wound and causing it to split open and spill the ranger’s blood on the ground.  Just as Aragorn was starting to lose consciousness the blows stopped and he found himself sputtering as he was doused with water.

 

            “Oh, no you don’t – can’t have you losing consciousness before the grand finale – I want your eyes open when I take your life.  I want to see your fear.”  Aragorn was shaking his head in an attempt to clear the cobwebs when suddenly a sword appeared in his line of sight, not just any sword but his sword, the one which had faithfully defended his life all these years was now going to be the one which would take it.  Aragorn took as deep a breathe as his hurting ribs would allow and looked his assassin in the eyes, “Do it then coward and hasten your trip into the pits of Angband.”

 

            The man’s only response was to smile and begin his downward strike – Aragorn watched the blade descend and could not help but thinking – Legolas is going to be so mad at me.

 

Chapter 7:  Adventure’s End

 

            The blade was completing its arc and descending on it’s owner’s neck when a sudden disturbance erupted behind them.  Gordor reluctantly halted his motion and turned just in time to see his partner slammed into a tree.  The man looked up from the lifeless body of his helper only to meet the enraged eyes of the woodland king.

 

            Thranduil picked up his own sword and saluted, “Why don’t you leave that child alone and play with me?  It is my realm you want and to get it you are going to have to come through me.”  Seeing no other option Goldor turned away from the hurting ranger and brought the sword up to face his foe.  Aragorn’s many bruises and other injuries were making themselves fully felt and he was having trouble staying conscious but he would not give in easily for he was sure this was a battle he wanted to witness.  The ranger managed to turn his head just in time to see Thranduil parry a blow by Goldor and return a more forceful blow, which was unfortunately blocked.  Aragorn was mesmerized by the skill of the woodland king – Legolas had always told him that this father was skilled with a blade but until this time Aragorn had never had the pleasure of seeing him in action.  It was obvious that Goldor was overmatched and it was only moments later that Thranduil was able to get under the man’s defenses and deliver the killing blow.

 

            Thranduil was feeling lightheaded after the excursion but he refused to give in to unconsciousness before he checked on the ranger.  He staggered to the man’s side and found pain filled silver eyes staring up at him.  He gently stroked the man’s cheek, “I am going to cut your bonds now, it will probably hurt as the blood returns to your hands and feet.”  The man nodded his understanding so the king wasted no time and quickly cut the bonds.  The man moaned in pain and the woodland king gave him a sympathetic look while he began searching for wounds.  No matter how gentle the king was Aragorn could not hold in moans of pain as Thranduil’s hands brushed the most abused sections of his flesh.  His examination complete the wood elf turned the man on his back and looked into his eyes, “You are lucky young one, I do not believe you have any broken bones but this bruising is severe so you may have bruised organs and internal bleeding.  In addition your old wound has been reopened and will need to be stitched as soon as possible.  The good news is we are only a day’s ride from the palace so if I ride all night I can get you help by mid-day tomorrow. 

 

            The king stood to call their mounts and prepare to ride when a hand gripped his ankle, “You can’t do that, you have a concussion.”  The woodland king started to protest but was easily cut off by the man, “I’ve been trained by my father – I can recognize a concussion when I see it.  Plus I know my own body and while I may have bruised organs I don’t have internal bleeding so there is to need to rush heedlessly back to the healers.  If you can help me get up we can move away from this den of death and rest for the night, then in the morning you can stitch up my side.”  The king opened his mouth to oppose this plan of action but the man cut him off, “Trust me Thranduil if you can bandage it tightly, it will be all right until morning.”

 

            As much as he wanted to deny it he could see truth in the young one’s words and conceded defeat as the hammering in his head increased in intensity.  He hauled Aragorn to his feet and the pair managed to walk a short way down the path before both collapsed on the ground.  Minutes passed as Aragorn struggled to breathe past the pain and Thranduil fought for consciousness.  Finally the woodland king was able to gather wood and start a small fire all the while being watched by the human.  Finally Aragorn regained the strength to speak, “Thank you for saving my life.”

 

            Thranduil turned from the fire and smiled at the man, “That is what friends are for.  Thank you for saving my people from starvation.”

 

            The ranger returned the smile, “That is also what friends are for.”  The pair sat in companionable silence for a long while but finally Aragorn had to express his fears, “My lord, neither of us are in any danger of dying from our injuries.  Mirkwood may be a day away but Imladris is only a fortnight away and it lacks the presence of your over protective son.”

 

            Thranduil smiled, “I will never run in fear – especially from my own son.  Besides I will protect you from him because that too is what friends are for.”

 

Chapter 8:  Epilogue

 

Legolas walked to the railing of his balcony and slumped against it, letting his head drop forward until it rested on the cold stone barrier.  He took several deep breaths to calm his nerves before finally looking out at the forest and letting his mind run back over the past few days.  It seemed like it happened only yesterday when in fact the terrible events had actually occurred many days before.  He had known it was wrong for his father and Aragorn to travel alone to Lake-town but he could do nothing to stop it, especially since his father had ensured he would sleep until they were away.  The thought of his father drugging him still made him angry, he could not believe his father would do such a thing!  When he had first woken he had every intention of riding after them but then Thaliondur summoned him to the throne room for what was supposed to be an important council meeting.  If Legolas was angry before the council session, during which he was forced to listen to the petty bickering of elves, he was furious after the meeting because it was too late to follow them without risking unsettling the negotiations, which would certainly be going on by the time he arrived. 

 

Legolas stood from his relaxed position and began to pace as he recalled how the unsettled feeling had appeared the follow morning and grown in intensity until it was so strong that he was rounding up an escort to ride out just before the sun went down that afternoon.  Once on the road his feeling of unease had only increased so he pushed the guard hard, but even so they had arrived in the glade too late, the damage was done and the sight which greeted Legolas was his father and best friend lying motionless and pale on the forest floor.  His heart had stopped for a moment while he searched for signs of life and was slow in restarting even as he felt the blood flowing through their veins.

 

Legolas drew himself out of his memories and leaned on the wall – he came so close, too close to losing them and why?  Because of greed, pride, and stupidity.  Yes, the man Gordor had been greedy and had nearly killed his best friend because of that greed.  A fact, which made Legolas angry, very angry in fact, but the man was dead and there was nothing more to be done about that.  The pride and stupidity however, were not traits of Gordor but of his father and friend.  The fact that the pair acted in a way that had nearly killed them made Legolas even angrier than he was with Gordor.  They should have known better and Legolas was going to make sure they understood the errors of their ways and that they never allowed something like this to happen again.  His mind finally made up, Legolas drew himself to his full height and marched down the hall to the room his father and Aragorn were sharing while they healed.  He took a deep breath and entered the room only to be stopped dead in his tracks while he watched them quietly conversing, something which brought joy to the prince’s heart because it meant they were getting along but more importantly that they were alive.  The ranger’s side was still tightly bandaged and his body was covered in colorful bruises but he wasn’t nearly as pale as when Legolas found them.  The prince’s gaze wandered to his father, the elven king was talking animatedly but Legolas was not listening instead he was marveling at the fact that his father was awake.  The king had a severe concussion and the healers feared he might never wake again, so every time Legolas saw him like this he was overjoyed.  As Legolas was thinking about how lucky they all had been the chatter in the room suddenly halted and when the prince focused his gaze he saw both occupants of the room staring at him.

 

            Thranduil looked at his son kindly, “Ion nín, what brings you here?”

 

            Legolas fixed his gaze on the king and felt his ire raise as he took in the bandage around his father’s head.  “What brings me here?  Why an errand which should have been completed days ago but you were on death’s doorstep so I had to put it off until today!”

 

            Aragorn could tell his friend was angry and desperately wanted to defuse the situation before the prince said something he would later regret.  “Death’s doorstep?  Nay, Legolas he was not there and well you should know it, for you yourself have been there often enough.”

 

            Unfortunately Legolas was in no mood to be distracted, a fact Aragorn soon realized, “As do you mellon nín, in fact you saw it again just a few days ago and all because you broke your promise by doing something foolish.  How could you be so stupid Aragorn, you know the hearts of men and yet you went off unprepared.”

 

            Legolas was getting ready to release the full fury of his temper when his father cut him off, “No, ion nín.  Do not take your anger out on your friend.  He did nothing to deserve it except go along with my plan, if you feel justified in being angry at someone – be angry at me.”

 

            The prince narrowed his eyes, “If I feel justified!  Ada, you act like you and Aragorn just went for a little walk in the woods instead of foolishly going into a situation you knew to be hostile.  You not only left without an escort but you drugged me so you could do it – me, your own son!  Do you have any idea how I felt when the guard and I found you in that glade?  I was devastated because I thought you were dead!  When I found out you were not I became frantic and almost killed the horses trying to get you back to the palace.  The entire trip back the only thought in my head was that this would not have happened if you had not been so prideful and had taken the guard.  One little concession on your part and this would never have happened!  Do you know how it feels to watch those you love suffer and know it could have been prevented!?”

 

            The king smiled gently, “That I do ion nín, that I do.  While I am sorry the ranger and I frightened you I am glad you now understand how I have felt when you have been brought back to me more dead than alive.  It is frightening, is it not?  It freezes your heart in your chest and your lungs refuse to move – yes, my son I do know how it feels.”  Legolas felt his anger deflate in the face of the king’s revelation and his head dropped to his chest.  The king saw the change in his only child and gently swung his legs over the side of the bed and pushed himself up.  When the world quit spinning he slowly walked to his son and raised the young one’s head so he could look him in the eyes, “Is it us you are angry at, Legolas, or yourself?”

 

            Legolas tried to turn his head away but was caught tight by his father, “Myself, I suppose.  I should have been there or at least gotten there faster.  I should have done something to keep you from harm!”

 

            The king could take no more anguish from his son and brought him in for a tight hug, “Oh, ion nín, there was nothing you could have done, it just happened, as things like this sometimes do.”

 

            As the king was speaking Aragorn made his way to the pair, “Your father is right, there was nothing you could have done to prevent this.  In fact it may have been for the best that you were not there because now I can call your father mellon.”

 

            Legolas looked from one to the other, “You are friends?  Really and truly?”

            Thranduil laughed, “Do not look so shocked my son, I am capable of forming friendships and I can not think of anyone better to be my first human friend than this man.”

 

            Aragorn nodded his head, “Your father is a good elf Legolas – I see where you get it from, and I am proud to be worthy of his friendship.”

 

            Legolas once again looked from one to the other and seeing no lies in their eyes laughed with relief, “I suppose there is some good in everything.”

 

            Thranduil put one arm around his son and one around the ranger then held them tight against him, “So there is my child so there is.”

 

            So began the friendship between the woodland king and the chieftain of the rangers.  Like every friendship it had it’s ups and downs but through it all they remained true to each other.

 

 

THE END