Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings and all characters belong to Tolkien.
Author's Note: This is the sequel to 'Inside the Darkness'. The drawing was made by Nellas
Part 4 - Explorations
Thranduil had talked for two hours now, knowing that his voice possessed the power to keep Elladan from losing consciousness again. He could keep this up for a few more hours, but what the young half-Elf really needed was a healer. "What are you thinking about, Elladan?" He had been asking questions to test if Elladan was still coherent, and so far he had received logical answers.
Elladan found that he couldn't pull away from his savior's voice. He had forgotten the Elf's name again, but his headache was growing less, for which he felt immensely thankful. "My brother..."
"What was his name again?" Thranduil knew very well it was Elrohir, but continued to test Elladan's memory, hoping it was still intact. He found he liked the young half-Elf and worried for Elladan. Hopefully they would reach Imladris shortly.
"Elrohir," whispered Elladan longingly. "He might... might have felt it too."
"Felt what?" inquired Thranduil curiously. He reached for a small golden flask and placed it at Elladan's lips. "Drink. The miruvor will strengthen you, and it is still a long ride to Imladris."
Elladan drank hastily, feeling thirsty. He almost protested when his savior removed the flask from his lips, attaching it to his belt again.
"Felt what?" repeated Thranduil. The half-Elf seemed to be recovering little by little and he hoped Elladan would continue to make progress. He still had one arm wrapped around Elladan's waist, making sure the youngster couldn't slip from Tuor's back accidentally.
"When we were little... he felt my pain and I felt his... He probably knows something is wrong... and has sent out search parties..." Tired, Elladan rested his head against a strong shoulder. "I wanted to thank you for coming to my aid... I was very fortunate indeed... They would have killed me... And I do not want Ada to suffer... through that... especially now he is hurt."
Thranduil frowned. Elrond was injured? He was tempted to ask, but feared making Elladan suspicious so he kept his questions to himself. He would find a way to satisfy his curiosity once they were safe at Imladris.
"Keep talking to me, Elladan." Thranduil looked at the darkening sky, hoping the clouds wouldn't bring rain. He couldn't afford to stop and seek shelter; they would be soaking wet when they finally arrived at Imladris. The trees whispered to him, telling him a large party of Elves was approaching. /Probably the search party Elladan mentioned./ Pulling up the hood, he hid in its shadow, determined to keep his identity a secret. "Elladan, tell me about your family, friends, adventures. I do not care what you talk about as long as I hear your voice."
Elladan nodded, understanding why he wasn't allowed to fall asleep. "It all started when... when Legolas..."
Thranduil tensed slightly, hearing his son's name, but forced himself to listen instead of questioning Elladan.
"He was injured and... and an Uruk-Hai brought him... to Imladris... It was the strangest thing... Lurtz, that is his name... seemed to care about Legolas... Did I already mention he is... Uruk-Hai?"
"Aye, you did." Thranduil felt pleased to learn that Lurtz had brought his son to the healers of Imladris, but now he wanted to hear the rest of the story.
"Legolas recovered... I did not believe him when he told me he was in love... with Lurtz... I had an even harder time... believing Lurtz returned those feelings... but then Lurtz ran and Legolas followed him... Ai, Ada! Then Ada got captured and tortured by Ugluk... I hate those Uruk-Hai! We killed them all!"
Thranduil wasn't sure he understood correctly. "Legolas chased Lurtz?" Well, that did sound an awful lot like his youngest son! Legolas knew exactly what he wanted and wouldn't stop at anything to get it.
"Aye... but things went horribly wrong and Ada - he cannot walk, you know - Lurtz helped Ada escape and took a... knife for Legolas..."
Thranduil nodded once. It almost sounded like Legolas had made the right choice when taking Lurtz for a mate, but he still wanted to meet his son's love in person.
/Thranduil, they are approaching... They are coming for the young one.../ The trees whispered softly, keeping Thranduil informed.
Thranduil inclined his head in answer, and he silently thanked the trees for this information, whispering soft words. Even after all these millennia he still marveled at the trees' ancient wisdom. He had always drawn his strength from the land and the trees, and offered his life force in return when the wood needed it. The trees had taught him so much - were still teaching him - and he always listened to and heeded their advice.
Elladan leaned heavily against him. If he wanted more details, he had to ask his questions now before the search party arrived. "Why was Elrond tortured, Elladan?"
"They wanted to invade Imladris... and Ada knows its defenses," mumbled Elladan, feeling entranced every time he heard his savior's voice.
"In what way is Elrond injured?" Aye, he heard the approaching riders and told Tuor to halt and turn around.
"They broke his ankles..." Elladan's eyes slipped shut. Not even that hypnotic voice could keep him from slipping into sleep much longer.
Thranduil trembled with anger at hearing Elladan's answer. /They broke his ankles?/ "And yet you trust this Lurtz?"
"He... is... different..." breathed Elladan, finally losing consciousness.
Thranduil cursed privately, feeling the half-Elf slip away from him. But at least his most important questions had been answered. Now he stared at the approaching party, making out Glorfindel at the lead. It was a good thing he had pulled his hood back into place, for Glorfindel would instantly recognize him. He waited for Glorfindel to come to a halt in front of him.
/By the Valar, he is worried./ Thranduil effortlessly read the expression in Glorfindel's eyes. The blond had one hand on the hilt of his sword and his other was already reaching for Elladan. "Peace, meldir, he is not seriously wounded."
Glorfindel sighed, relieved at seeing Elladan's eyelids flutter. "I will look after him," offered Glorfindel, eager to check on Elladan himself. During the last few hours he had been horrorstricken, scared he would find Elladan dead. Taking Elladan's dead body back to Elrond would have devastated him, for he blamed himself as well. If he had insisted on returning to his duties earlier, none of this would have happened. But nay, he had been selfish in keeping Elrond to himself.
"I would advise against moving him," said Thranduil concerned. "He is no burden to me and I will follow you to Imladris."
Glorfindel cocked his head, suddenly alert. That voice sounded familiar to him, but he couldn't identify it. "Follow me, then, and tell me what happened. Where did you find him?"
"A pack of Orcs and Uruk-Hai attacked and injured him. I passed by and helped him defeat them. The cowardly creatures ran once their leader had been killed." Thranduil watched Glorfindel closely. The blond's eyes darted nervously and his hands twitched, holding the reins. "Do not worry for the young one. He only suffered a blow to his head and one to his arm. He will recover quickly once the healers have tended to him."
"I am so relieved I found him... alive," admitted Glorfindel. "I dreaded taking his dead body to his father." Glorfindel wondered why the hood remained up. Was Elladan's savior trying to hide something from him? "But where are my manners? I am Glorfindel and Lord Elrond will be eternally grateful that you saved his son from certain death." /You have no idea how grateful I am to see Elladan alive! Elrond, melme, your son is alive!/
Thranduil nodded once. "My name is Hynduil. I was on my way home to Mirkwood when I encountered the young one." He closely observed Glorfindel; the blond realized that something didn't add up. "I will continue my journey home once this youngster has returned to the house of his father."
"You will be our guest then," said Glorfindel, trying to identity that voice. There was something bewitching about its tone.
"I am honored." Thranduil's cloak had slipped and he wrapped it around Elladan once more. "How long before we reach Imladris?"
"Two more hours at least..." He signaled his escort to follow them, hoping they wouldn't encounter any of Saruman's creatures. He wanted Elladan to see a healer as quickly as possible. Watching Elladan, he saw the twin's lips move.
Thranduil pulled Elladan closer. "You and your brother will be reunited shortly. Do not doubt that you will see him and your father again..." He repeated the words, and then continued to whisper soft assurances, ignoring the curious looks Glorfindel was giving him. When Valthoron and Legolas had been much younger, his voice had soothed his sons, and he wanted to comfort Elladan as well. "Stay awake, Elladan. Your brother and father are already awaiting your return."
Glorfindel realized what Hynduil was doing and gave the other Elf a thankful look. "Thank you for soothing him."
Thranduil nodded once. "It is nothing. I have two sons myself and this one reminds me of my youngest."
Glorfindel remained close to Elladan, occasionally looking away to estimate the progress they were making. "One more hour... Can you keep that up?"
Thranduil simply continued to murmur soothingly, letting Elladan soak up his body heat. "Aye, I can."
Legolas noticed Glorfindel's return first. "Lurtz, they have returned! I will alert Elrond and Elrohir." Seeing Lurtz's confused expression, he added, "Meet Glorfindel and lead them here!"
Lurtz nodded reluctantly, wondering why he couldn't look after Elrond and Elrohir instead. Sighing, he descended the stairs to meet Glorfindel.
Legolas opened the door and hurried towards father and son. "Elrond, Elrohir, I bring joyful news! Glorfindel has returned and Elladan is with him!"
Elrond's eyes flashed with hope, but then it faded again.
Elrohir noticed his father's dark mood. "Remember what you told me; believe." Elrohir had wrapped one arm around his father, and he placed more pillows behind his father's back, ensuring Elrond sat comfortably upright.
Elrond slowly moistened his lips and met Legolas' gaze. "By Elbereth, tell me the truth. Is my son still alive?"
"Aye," said Legolas softly. "He is alive."
Elrond trembled violently and a tear escaped his eyes. "Alive? He is alive?"
Elrohir gently scolded his father. "Ada, you know he is alive. We can both sense his life force. Do not do torment yourself like this."
"I want Elladan in my arms... I need proof," whispered Elrond in an upset tone.
"And you will have him in your arms again..." soothed Elrohir. What was taking Glorfindel so long?
Glorfindel quickly dismounted and then turned to Elladan's savior. "I will take him to his father."
Thranduil leaned forward and gently lowered Elladan into Glorfindel's waiting arms. "He should see a healer."
"Aye, you are right. Lord Elrond is in no condition to tend to his son." Glorfindel looked about and spotted Lurtz, who stood waiting near the staircase. "Lurtz? I need your assistance."
Thranduil looked carefully, seeing the Uruk-Hai approach. Lurtz was dressed in brown robes and his long, black hair was braided... Mirkwood style. He grinned, his features hidden beneath the cloak. /I bet Legolas 'convinced' Lurtz to wear it that way. Legolas probably braided it himself./ In appearance, Lurtz resembled the Uruk-Hai that had attacked Elladan earlier, but the difference was in the dark eyes, not just in the clothes and his hairstyle. A solid strength was housed in that muscular body, and yet Thranduil encountered a remarkably tender expression in Lurtz's eyes. /He is a young soul; he came into existence not so long ago./
"Can I help?" enquired Lurtz softly as his eyes settled on Elladan. Dried blood clung to Elladan's brow and although the gash was closing, a few droplets of blood dripped down his face.
"Lurtz, would you go to the Healing House and fetch a healer?" Glorfindel started for the stairs, eager to reunite Elrond's family.
"Of course," said Lurtz, turning around and walking toward the Healing House.
Thranduil raised an eyebrow at Lurtz's eagerness to help. In his long life he had gathered much wisdom, and his instincts told him that Lurtz was trying to redeem himself, maybe even pay for past mistakes. /He is too eager to please.../
"Please follow me, Hynduil," said Glorfindel, climbing the stairs. Elladan moaned softly and he cradled the twin closer to his chest.
Thranduil complied, following Glorfindel as the blond headed for Elrond's rooms. /It has been centuries since I was here last./ As he reached the landing, he caught sight of Legolas, who approached them in a hurry.
"Good, you are back! Elrond and Elrohir need to see Elladan now!" Legolas stepped aside and Glorfindel rushed inside. Legolas noticed the stranger at Glorfindel's side, but didn't pay much attention to it, figuring that Glorfindel trusted the stranger if the seneschal had led him here.
Elrond sat upright in bed, supported by several pillows. He cursed the fact that he couldn't walk; now he had to wait for Glorfindel to bring him his son!
Elrohir immediately headed for Glorfindel, released a relieved sigh, and pushed his arms beneath his twin's knees and back, cradling him. "You are still alive... But what did you do to yourself?" He needed this one moment to convince himself that his brother was still alive before handing Elladan to their father. Placing Elladan on the bed next to Elrond, he found that tears were making their way down his father's face.
"Elladan..." Elrond's voice cracked, afraid to believe that his son was still alive. "What happened to him?" Elrond placed his hand on Elladan's brow, cautiously wiping away dried blood.
"Orcs and Uruk-Hai attacked him, but he was rescued just in time by Hynduil." Glorfindel signaled the other Elf to step closer to the bed. "He cared for Elladan after the fight and they were on their way to Imladris when we found them."
Elrond forced himself to look away from Elladan and to thank Hynduil for helping his son. Looking up, he briefly frowned, finding the Elf's features hidden beneath a hood. "You are among friends here," whispered Elrond, hoping Hynduil didn't mistrust them.
Thranduil quickly found an excuse for wearing the hood. "Forgive me, Lord Elrond," he started in a much heavier tone than his normal voice, "But I suffered scars from previous fights and they are not pleasant to look at." His eyes shifted from Elrond to Legolas and he was pleased to find his son in such good health. The light of his son's soul had never burned brighter before. /He is happy./ Then his gaze returned to Elrond, taking in the half-Elf's eyes battered appearance. Bruises and a gash showed on Elrond's face and he knew what the blanket was hiding: mending ankles.
"I want to thank you for saving my son's life. If there is anything I can do to repay this debt... " started Elrond, looking fondly at Elladan, who was resting in his arms. He had been afraid he would never hold his son in his arms again!
"There is no debt," said Thranduil, taking great care to speak in a different tone from that which Legolas was used to. "When he was conscious he proved to be a very charming and intelligent youngster."
Elrond smiled at the compliment. "You mean an impulsive and stubborn youngster."
Thranduil smiled silently within the confines of his hood. /We do have something in common; our sons. We care for our sons.../
A knock on the door signaled Lurtz's return and a healer quickly moved into the room to examine Elladan. Elrond watched carefully as the healer tended to his son's injuries and he briefly glanced at Hynduil again, wondering why he felt like he should know the other Elf. Seeing Elrohir wring his hands, he smiled warmly at him. "Elladan will be fine..."
Elrohir nodded gratefully, and realized that both Elrond and Glorfindel were transfixed, staring at Elladan. That meant he had to take on the role of host. "Hynduil, would you do us the honor of staying at Imladris until my father and my brother have sufficiently recovered to properly thank you?"
"No thanks are needed," said Thranduil. His eyes caught Legolas moving closer to Lurtz, placing a hand on the Uruk-Hai's back. It was a possessive gesture that made Thranduil grin. /I dare say Legolas is in charge of this relationship, and he probably winds Lurtz around his little finger as he does me./ "It was an honor to assist Elladan."
Elrohir nodded, grateful that Hynduil had looked after his twin when Elladan had needed help. "Legolas?" he turned around and looked at the Prince. "Erestor needs to know what happened and the border patrols need to be coordinated. Will you talk to Erestor and help him?"
Legolas nodded. "I will."
Elrohir then turned to Lurtz. "Will you take Hynduil to the guest rooms? I am sure he would like to take a bath and rest."
Lurtz didn't like being separated from Legolas, but agreed. "Follow me, I will show you to the guest house."
Thranduil was delighted to have an opportunity to talk to Lurtz without Legolas or the others present. Maybe now he would get his answers. "Lead on."
Legolas walked up to Lurtz, stole a kiss and smiled, saddened, leaving his love behind.
Lurtz cleared his throat, slightly uncomfortable at being kissed in public. All, expect for Hynduil, knew Legolas and he were mated, but he still wondered if he had their approval. For some reason it mattered a lot to him.
Thranduil watched Lurtz with amusement. The Uruk-Hai seemed oddly shy, almost thoughtful, and was nothing like the Uruk-Hai he had previously encountered. He fell into step beside Lurtz, studying him closely. Once more he noticed the braids and he couldn't help let something slip. "An Elf braided your hair."
Lurtz's eyes revealed his surprise at hearing that remark. "That's true. Legolas did."
Thranduil carefully plotted his next move. "Legolas?"
Lurtz nodded. "Yes, Legolas..." he hesitated, but then added, "He is my mate..."
Lurtz's answer pleased Thranduil, but also piqued his interest. "I never encountered an Elf who took an Uruk-Hai for a mate."
Lurtz's eyes darkened, feeling unfairly judged. "I tried to run, but he caught me. I told him not to pursue me, but he is stubborn. Life will never be easy for us, but he accepted that and refused to let me go. I will defend him until my last breath."
Thranduil smiled brightly beneath his hood. /He is protective of Legolas and I begin to believe that he really loves my son. Legolas, you really did hunt him down, did you not?/
Lurtz halted in his tracks, arriving at the guest quarters. "I will check for spare rooms. Please wait here."
Thranduil waited patiently for Lurtz to return, mentally reviewing everything he had learned these last few hours. Elrond was bedridden due to his injuries and Elladan and Elrohir were trying to perform their father's duties, but they were inexperienced and bound to make mistakes. And what about Glorfindel? Why had Elrond's seneschal allowed Elladan to inspect the borders alone?
"Hynduil?" Lurtz walked up to the Elf, feeling sympathy for Hynduil who was forced to hide his features because he was maimed for life. He felt like hiding himself, but Legolas wouldn't let him. "I will take you to your room."
"Aye, I will follow," said Thranduil. The warm expression in Lurtz's eyes made him wonder. /I never met anyone like him. I can understand why Legolas is attracted to him./
Lurtz opened a door and signaled for Hynduil to step inside. "I can show you to the kitchen later, if you are hungry."
Thranduil nodded once. "Thank you for your help, Lurtz. Maybe we can share dinner later?"
Surprised, Lurtz whispered a 'yes', wondering why Hynduil seemed to accept him when others stared at him in distrust.
Thranduil closed the door, walked over to the window and pushed back his hood. /My time here is limited. Elladan saw my face and I fear he will tell Elrond what he saw. Elrond will then realize I lied to him and summon me. I must make the most of the time I have left, and I will spend that time with Lurtz... and Legolas. Ah, seeing my son warmed my heart. He did look happy./
Thranduil stared at the trees and listened to their whispers for hours, letting them tell him about Imladris' beauty.
"Thank you for giving me back my son," whispered Elrond, in tears. Now that it was just the four of them, he finally let go and cried softly. The healer had cleaned Elladan's injuries and bandaged them again, declaring that Elladan would make a full recovery. Elrond clung to those words, hoping to never face such loss again.
Glorfindel and Elrohir exchanged a glance, knowing how important it was that Elrond realized his son had safely returned to him.
Elladan released a groan; his eyes lost their distant expression and came alive again. His head still throbbed, but it no longer resembled the agony he had been in earlier. He blinked, trying to focus on the face hovering above him. "Ada?" he stuttered in surprise. "Ada?"
"Ai, Elladan, you scared me..." Elrond pulled Elladan to his chest, ignoring the pain his broken ribs caused him. "Be more careful in the future, Elladan for I do not wish to lose you."
Elrond loosened his embrace and Elladan finally got the chance to look at his father. "I am sorry I made you worry about me, Ada..." Cocking his head, he smiled at finding his twin brother close. "Elrohir... You sent out the search party? I knew you would sense my pain."
Elrohir sat down on the side of the bed and clasped his fingers around Elladan's. "Elladan, did you know that Ada can sense our pain as well?" He caught Elrond's distraught look, but proceeded anyway. Elladan deserved to know the truth. "We both sensed you were in pain."
Elladan's eyes widened as his gaze shifted from Elrohir to Elrond. "Is that true?"
Elrond bit his bottom lip before answering. "Aye..."
Elrohir cringed, seeing Elrond's disapproval, but shook his head. They shouldn't keep this from Elladan.
Elladan raised his right hand, which was remarkably steady and touched his father's face. "I feel better now, Ada, do you feel better too?" One look at Elrohir had told him that his twin had fully recovered, but had Elrond? Their father had been through some very rough times, and shouldn't be going through this because he had been so stupid to venture out alone.
"Now that I know you are safe I feel better, aye," smiled Ada relieved. "But you should rest, Elladan, not talk. Do you want Elrohir to take you to your room or would you like to rest here?"
Elladan searched Elrond's pleading eyes. "I will stay here with you, Ada."
Elrohir smiled, seeing the relief in their father's eyes. "I will join Erestor and Legolas then... And I must look after Elladan's savior, but I will join you for dinner."
Elladan watched his brother leave, smiling contentedly. "Maybe I should rest..." He did feel a little sleepy. "Hynduil refused to let me sleep... He was scared I had a head injury..." explained Elladan. "He has an extraordinary voice, Ada and his eyes..." He drifted off into sleep mid-sentence.
Elrond smiled fondly at his son. "Aye, sleep and grow strong again..."
Glorfindel chose that moment to retreat to the door, wanting to give father and son some privacy. He was about to open the door when Elrond said his name.
Glorfindel turned to face Elrond. "No matter how much I want to belong with you and your family, I realize I cannot be included in all situations."
"You are wrong. Come here, melme." Elrond raised a hand, once more regretting he couldn't leave his bed. "You are a part of this family, Glorfindel, and you always will be. Never doubt that my sons love you dearly, and I can no longer live without you." He looked at the blond pleadingly. "Do not leave me now when I need you the most."
Glorfindel sighed, unable to deny Elrond. He walked over to the bed and sat down when Elrond pulled him close. Looking into Elrond's eyes he saw they had turned grey; they always did when Elrond felt distressed. The misty blue had faded when Elladan had been placed in Elrond's arms. Glorfindel shivered, admitting his worst fears. "I dreaded bringing Elladan's dead body back to you."
Elrond used his remaining strength to coax Glorfindel into lying down at his other side. One arm remained slung around Elladan's waist, keeping him warm and close; the other wrapped itself around Glorfindel, holding him tight. "You brought my son back to me, melethron... Now rest, knowing Elladan is safe."
Glorfindel rested his head on Elrond's shoulder, looking at Elladan as the younger half-Elf slept safely in his father's arms. /We could have lost him. I must be more careful./
Thranduil left his room, walked down the corridor and halted at hearing his son's voice. Eavesdropping, he stood silent, listening closely.
"Lurtz, I need your strength tonight..."
"Legolas? What is wrong? You seem upset..."
"Ai, the messenger returned from Mirkwood today, but carried no reply. I fear my father is displeased... I do not know what to expect."
Thranduil regretted upsetting his son like that, but he had left without writing a letter in response.
"What is the worst thing your father can do?"
"Disown me and banish me from my home. And Lurtz, my heart despairs at the thought of never seeing my father and brother again."
Thranduil shook his head. "Do you have so little faith in me?" he whispered, barely audible, not ready to reveal his presence yet.
"Legolas, you knew this could happen when you chose me as your mate. I tried to tell you, to stop you, but..."
"I would not let you," finished Legolas. "Ai, Lurtz, I love you. How could I betray my own feelings? But I hoped he would understand... He always told me to love unconditionally and not to be prejudiced and I hoped... hoped..."
Thranduil's hands turned into fists, hearing Legolas release a soft sob. He wanted to march in there and reveal himself to his son, and take Legolas in his arms. He wanted to assure Legolas that he was loved and that he was always welcome in Mirkwood, but had he gathered enough information? Was he absolutely convinced that Lurtz was the right mate for Legolas? Was he ready to reveal himself?
Beta read by Ilye, thank you!
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