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Middle Ground

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The aftermath of the invasion was mayhem.

The survivors wandered the fields like ghosts. They glowed and warped under the light of the red moon and smoke. Pained cries and distressed howls broke the stillness of the night, either from those mourning the fallen or from those injured, he could not tell. The acrid smell of blood and burnt flesh tarnished the air and hung over him like a heavy fog. So many soldiers and innocents had fallen, including many of his kindred. They had not anticipated another battle so soon—they had only just begun rebuilding Esgaroth and Dale—and they were not prepared for another great cost of life. Not after the Lonely Mountain, not after Smaug, not after the battle of the five armies.

It was said that they—these beast-like creatures, the Oxmen, the Horned Ones—came from the northeast, from lands unknown beyond the Iron Hills and the icy wastes of Forodwaith. They came in armored wagons of metal and wood and invaded the settlements of Rhovanion with yoked, chained sorcerers and canons of blasting-fire, the likes of which he, even in all his immortal life, had ever seen.

They did not pillage, they did not rape, and at first, they didn’t even attack. According to the reports from the Men of Lake-town, before the metal contraptions appeared, they had sent scouts—Ashaad, they called themselves—offering peace and liberation from Man’s own self-inflicted torment to those who surrendered and agreed to be “educated” in way of the “Qun.” Those that willingly surrendered were taken prisoner. Those that fought were struck down.

Once they saw that the remaining free-peoples of Dale, Lake-town, and the surrounding dwarven settlements of Erebor and the Iron Hills would not surrender, the Oxmen left back to the northern wastes and returned with reinforcements. That was when the metal contraptions appeared. The Men of Dale and Esgaroth called for aid from dwarves and elves alike, and after many days of reclaiming overrun settlements and many tireless nights of death and destruction, the battle was won. And as the enemy either retreated back beyond the northern wastes or claimed their own lives, it was then he knew that Middle Earth may never be the same again…

His keen eyes swept restlessly over the battlefield once more, eagerly searching for any wounded free-folk amongst the masses of fallen bodies. “Hîr nín, Legolas!” came a shout from one of the guards. “Come quickly, here!”

“What is it?” The distressed call of his guard had him swiftly rushing across the field, reaching the top of a rocky hill where the elven warrior stood, rigid and stern. “Is it more wounded?”

“No, it is…one of them,” the guard responded hesitantly, pointing beyond the foot of their perch.

He heard them before he saw them. It came from the across the riverbank, where the foliage and brush of the Mirkwood began, a blood-chilling sound. It was the low-snarling of many voices, and as he hastened his descent down the rocky hill, the voices grew louder and louder until they became a booming, muttering roar. Once he reached the base, he froze on sight.

The men and other survivors were armed with torches, and clubs, and maces, and sticks, and stones, and a few even flourished their swords into the air in protest. The crowd was surrounding a large figure that was curled in on itself, each of them taking turns kicking, and punching, and stoning, and beating the horned creature with their large clubs and the pommel of their swords until the riverbank ran red.

He recognized the creature as one of the few Oxmen capable of relentless, destructive magic, a sorceress. The Chained Ones, they had called them, because of the yoke that bound their ankles, wrists, and neck with heavy, inscribed chains. The metallic mask that had once concealed her face was now partially broken, cutting across the right side of her face and revealing chapped lips that were sewn together and a tear-filled eye the color of shimmering, molten gold.

His bloodied hand flew to the hilt of his blade, gripping it tightly. It would be a mercy for him to kill her himself. More merciful than what the race of Men had planned for her. They were dripping with revenge after everything they had endured before this battle, and the creatures that they had captured had all ritually taken their own lives. The torture she would endure if he left the men to their own devices would be indescribable.

Killing her would be a kindness, he thought gravely. But darkness pulled at his heart. A shadow of anger and sadness he had not felt since the five armies only a year before, since he had lost so many trusted friends in battle, since Tauriel had begun to fade. His hand relaxed a fraction. Perhaps the creature deserved it—to die a painful, horrid death. After all, the Oxmen showed no mercy to the free peoples of Middle Earth when they invaded their lands and murdered their loved ones…

His attention was drawn to the creature once more, and he noticed a fresh trail of blood puddling out from the nearby brush to where she now lay still. The grass was uprooted as if clawed at. And her fingernails were broken and bleeding. It was almost as if the creature had been trying to hide before the angry crowd discovered her.

Killing her swiftly would be a kindness. His fingers twitched as she tensed with each blow, silent and shaking and curling in further, but even with all her destructive power, she didn’t fight back.

She didn’t even try to protect herself.

A loud howl caught his attention, followed by the singing of a blade. Then, a loud crack rang through the air as the blade of one of the warriors made contact with one of the creature’s large, curved horns and clipped it in half. The creature let out a quiet whimper, like a whisper in the wind, and flinched, pressing herself deeper into the soil.

It was a haunting sound that seeped deep into his soul. It rattled his heart and spurred him into action. He released his hold on the hilt of his sword, causing his guard to do the same and stepped between the creature and the mob. “Daro! Halt! Haven’t you seen enough torment?” he thundered.

“But, my lord, look at ‘em. They’re abominations!” one of the townsfolk hissed. “One of ‘em… things killed Winfred…my little Winny… It’s a witch! A witch, I tell you!”

The crowd roared their agreement and a few were even so bold as to press forward toward the Oxman, their weapons drawn and hungry for blood.

In one swift motion, Legolas drew his own sword. “One step forward and I will not hesitate,” he warned, standing firm.

As if sensing the danger surrounding their prince, a handful of elven soldiers appeared at his side, with their hands hovering over their scabbards. The harsh gleam of his blade gave the crowd pause, and the men dropped their weapons with quivering hands. They knew better than to test their fortune against the dangerous elves of the woodland realm.

“Have you not had your fill of death and destruction? You have won this battle, as you have the others, and with a great cost. Do not spoil your victory with more needless bloodshed,” he reasoned, making an example of lowering his weapon.

The crowd murmured amongst each other until one man asked gruffly, “What’ll you do with the creature then, eh? It’s as the lady said. It’s a witch, an abomination.”

He peered over his shoulder, careful not to lower his guard around the mob. The Chained One remained curled and still. The only indication of life was the slow, stuttering rise and fall of her shoulders after she breathed deeply. Her rich umber skin was marred with deep lacerations and gashes from the villager’s weapons. Her midnight, corkscrew coils sprang partially free from her tight, long warrior’s braid and were matted with blood that dripped down her rich brown skin like a veil until it tainted her clothes deep scarlet. Whether it was her blood or some poor innocent souls, he could not tell. And he dared not think about it too hard.

A witch…an abomination. Killing her would be a great kindness… one in which she does not deserve. None of them did. They reigned their blasting-fire upon unsuspecting villages in the night; They snuffed out the light of children with their bare hands; They unleashed their sorcerers on the unarmed and weak. There was no love in creatures capable of such atrocities, and they deserved none in return…

But she did not attack.

His knuckles went white from the force in which he held his blade. “We will take her to the Woodland Realm.” He fixed his glare on the crowd. “What we do with her in regards to her fate is none of your concern. Now, go. Be with your loved ones and find peace.”

“But—”

“I said, go.” His stance was resolute and sure. And after a few tense moments, the crowds grudgingly dispersed and went on their way.

His sword found its way into its scabbard, and he ran a weary hand down his face. With a sigh, he paced for a few moments and waited for the remainder of the crowd to move a safe distance away. Just what had he done? What could he have possibly hoped to accomplish by stepping in to protect the creature? It’s what Tauriel would have done, a part of him whispered. But he wasn’t Tauriel, nor did he live by her principles. He had to do what was expected of a prince. What was expected to be done to ensure the safety of his kingdom.

“Prince Legolas,” a captain of the royal guard, a dark-haired silvan elf by the name of Feren, asked, “…What shall we do with the creature once we return?”

What would they do, indeed? Even as he crouched down in front of her, she remained still and silent. His sharp hearing was able to pick up the undeniable, strained wheeze in her breath. She likely would have been killed if he had let the survivors continue their assault for a few moments longer.

Absentmindedly, he took the time to observe the chains binding her. She had iron cuffs around her wrists that were thick and weighty, with runes carved on them of a magical nature. Equally thick chains looped across each wrist, only allowing enough movement for her to raise them shoulder-width apart. The chains wrapped around her arms and up across her chest to an enormous metal collar that rested on her shoulders. Her burnt umber skin had been rubbed raw and scared over in those areas, most likely from constant wear. Even through the pain and heavy chains and blood loss, her keen golden eyes were open, watching him, tired and pleading. Pleading for what? He did not know. Was she a prisoner of some kind? Forced to be a weapon in war? Were her actions not her own? Was she just as much a victim in this battle as the rest of them?

Legolas shook his head free of the questions that plagued his mind and tried to think of what King Thranduil would do to a creature such as the Chained One. Kill her before she even stepped foot into his halls, of course. He worked his jaw. He had a to do what was expected of a prince…to ensure the safety of his kingdom. “We will do nothing. She is my burden to bear, and I will see the matter through to the end. You must return to the wood with a few of the other warriors. We cannot leave our borders defenseless for long. The rest will remain here until the healers of Imladris and the Galadhrim arrive with aid.”

With one final salute, Feren went on his way, barking orders into the pandemonium of the battlefield and leaving Legolas to deal with the Chained One on his own. As he turned his attention back to the horned creature, he was surprised to find that her eyes were now wide open, no longer fighting off fatigue. Yet she remained staring at him silently, eyes rivaling the richest gold in Erebor’s halls. At an earlier time in his life, he would have thought them striking, and he’d dare say beautiful, even. But now, the very thought of Erebor simply reminded him of what he had lost on that fateful day nearly one year ago. Of an elleth with hair as fiery as the sunset, of treasured friend that he couldn’t help heal…

Clenching his jaw, he frowned down at the woman. “I’m granting you a merciful death that many others here would not allow. Do you understand?” he asked. She simply stared and blinked owlishly. Perhaps she did not understand the languages of this land? Or maybe her mouth was sewn too tightly for her to even speak? Whatever the case, she had made no indication of understanding anything that was being said around her. But after several moments of silence, she relented and bowed her head as if thanking him.

Reaching out carefully, he grabbed her forearm, avoiding the chains that wrapped around them, and tugged her up. “Now is not the time to rest,” he said more softly this time. “I do not wish to make a spectacle out of your death. Come now.”

With surprising strength, he guided the creature up with ease as he stood. The creature struggled to her feet, silently wincing with every weary creak of her joints. After what seemed like an age, she stood at full-height in front of him, well over a head taller, and towered over him with those piercing eyes set on high, bronze cheekbones. She slowly blinked away the blood pouring down her forehead, and Legolas resisted the urge to reach out and wipe her brow clean.

You are bringing her to her death. Spare her the useless pleasantries, he chided to himself, curling his hand that was mere inches from her face into a fist and lowering it to his side. He whirled around on his heel and determinedly made his way along the great rocks of the riverbank to the entrance of the forest path, which was distinguishable by an arch made by two old trees that leaned together.

Much to his surprise, she toddled a safe distance behind him obediently and soundlessly. He wondered if she was following him out of blind trust, or if this was the norm for her kind, with her bound and forced to follow without protest. The thought disgusted him and made bile rise in the back of his throat. What kind of barbaric race binds another in chains and stitches their mouth so that they may never speak? The same kind that is right behind you. The kind that kills innocence with magic. The kind that murdered your kith. Witch, abomination, his mind yelled back at him, and he stuttered in his steps. He peered over his shoulder at the “abomination” and found her cowering at the weight of the dark magic in the forest. She shuffled closer to him unconsciously, her index finger curling around a loose tassel from his quiver. Like a frightened child, he thought.

Once the light of the entrance behind him was nothing more than a speck of a bright hole and the shadow of the forest began to weigh on his mind, he took a breath and steeled himself. Keeping a cautious eye out for danger, he veered off the trodden path and delved deep into the thickets of the forest until they reached a small clearing where the air wasn’t so foul and a slender beam of moonlight managed to peak through the trees. “Here,” he commanded grimly. “You will need to kneel.”

He turned to the creature and pointed at a spot on the grass, but she didn’t move. She just continued staring at him with tired eyes. He scowled and, kinder than he would care to admit, nudged her down to her knees with a gentle hand on her forearm. “May you find peace,came his soothing murmur. And though she did not understand, it was more for his assurance rather than hers. “I will make it swift. It will be painless.”

With a reluctant hand, he unsheathed the sword on his waist, took a grand step back, and hovered the ridge over her throat. There was no noticeable change in her expression for someone about to be executed. No panic, no pleading, no sorrow. Just one last glimpse at golden eyes as lifeless as the fallen leaves that drifted around him before they were hidden by lush lashes. When her head fell back and she bared her neck for his blade, Legolas released a shaky breath that he wasn’t aware he had been holding as it all clicked into place.

The creature wanted death.

So, give it to her, the darkness in him all but screamed. The evil fog of the forest attempted to cloud his mind. And he was tempted to listen. The Oxmen mercilessly and savagely murdered hundreds of his kith. But did she? What atrocities had she committed in battle? Why had she been hiding? Why had she not used her magic on the townsfolk? It matters little, part of him argued, but his sword remained still for a long moment. He could hear the sharp, fast beating of a heart and was surprised to discover that it was not hers, but his own. The grip on his hilt turned deathly. He had to do this. It was not a matter up for debate. He was a prince. He had to put his people before his own selfish desires. He had a duty.

To ensure the safety of his kingdom.

With a cry full of conviction, he threw down his sword onto the grass where the creature knelt.  For the safety of his kingdom, be damned! Twice did a dragon demolish an entire city of innocents in the mountains and lakes bordering his forest; Twice in no less than a year did a war ravage his riverbanks and taint the waters crimson; For far too long had darkness and shadow grown from Dol Guldur and caused the light and wonder of his forest to diminish. No, his kingdom had not been safe for a long time. How was ending the life of one tired, injured woman, who refused to defend herself and wanted death, going to change that?

The clatter of the blade caused the woman’s brow to furrow. She blinked her eyes open. Her expression no longer stoic but flashed a series of emotions ranging from confusion, to disbelief, to fear, and finally anger. Her glare was discomforting as if he had interfered in a private matter by denying her death. Where her eyes held surety when facing a blade, they only held bewilderment and betrayal as they fell upon him. It was suffocating as if the world was closing in on him and he suddenly felt as if he was on the receiving end of the point of a blade.

He did the only thing he could think of. He left her there in the clearing. In the dark and the dead grass and the fallen leaves, he left her very, very much alive. He rushed through the thickets and the great oaks and the silence of the forest for what seemed like an age, trying to escape. Escape what? He did not know. He just knew he needed something to ground him. To guide him. To remind him of what his duty was, beyond his people and his realm. At another time in his life, that something or someone was his most precious friend, Tauriel. But she was far, far away from him, lost in the torment of her own broken heart.

After a while of running wildly through the foliage, he was able to pick up the faint, undeniable sound of voices from the royal guard in the distance, the creaking wheels of wagons carrying the injured, the clomping of hooves, and Feren’s sturdy voice every so often giving an order to some eager recruit. When he broke into the path clearing, he did so unsuspectedly, causing the horses to whine and rear back in fright. “Steady!” Feren cried, soothing his horse with a slur of his native tongue.

He threw the prince a glare. He was about to scold him on his sudden appearance until he glanced around and saw that the creature was not with him…and that his blade was gone. “She attacked you and fled?” he surmised.

It was only then that his actions dawned on him. He snapped his head toward the forest, vigilantly looking into the distance but saw nothing beyond the thick trees. She did not make to follow him. Of course not, she could hardly walk, you fool. With a sigh, he pinched the bridge of his nose. He had left her there in the forest, heavily injured and beaten and exposed to the creatures that lurked in the shadows. If the blood loss didn’t kill her soon, the forest surely would.

He looked up, startled when he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. Feren had dismounted from his horse and was now standing in front of him, eyebrows subtly raised. “I haven’t ever been able to sneak up on you before, Your Highness,” his mouth curved for a moment before a seriousness took over. “What ails you? What happened with the creature?”

It crossed his mind that he could lie. He could say she attacked him and fled and leave her to die. The forest would take care of the rest and the problem would be gone. His father would be pleased, and his people would be safe.

He could do it—

“She still lives,” he said quickly, paused, and threw up his hand toward the forest, “Or so I believe. I left her in the forest…though that was not my intention.”

Left her in the forest?” Feren repeated slowly, following Legolas’ pointed finger. Realization dawned on the captain’s face. “You meant to kill her…” He stared at his prince in disbelief. “But you stayed your hand…and fled.”

Legolas felt his shoulders tense at the accusation before he sagged them with a sigh. “Yes. I…could not do it.”

Feren’s expression softened, concerned for his young prince. “If I may be so bold, Your Highness,” he said sternly, with an authoritative tone that held no room for argument. “You did do something, even if it was not what you originally set out to achieve. The question remains: What will you have us do now?”

Legolas’ head snapped up, surprised. He gave his captain a slow smile, the tension in his limbs easing. With renewed confidence, he gave the order, not for his people but for himself, for the young elf that still believed there was good in this world and for Tauriel. “Retrieve her from the forest and take her to the dungeons. She is not a prisoner—we will provide for her— but we cannot allow her to roam freely just yet. We don’t know how she will react once in my father’s halls. Her fate has yet to be decided, and it is not up to me to choose.” With the quirk of his mouth, Feren bowed his head and made his way around the prince. Legolas reached for his arm before he was out of reach and spoke low, “Please, ensure that she is treated kindly.”

Feren nodded and after a quick order, delved into the forest with a group of men to retrieve the woman while Legolas stayed with the horses, absentmindedly stroking their manes, and staring off into the distance at the huge stone doors that marked the entrance to the Elvenking’s halls…

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Killing her would have undoubtedly been a kindness…

He thought for the umpteenth time as they made their way through the winding paths of the forest. He glanced behind him to see the woman hunched in on herself above Feren’s horse as he guided it along to a slow trot. For a woman nearly twice his size, she appeared so small against her surroundings. A few of the elves had gone ahead to ensure that the heavily injured were seen to the healing halls while Legolas stayed with the chained one and the other tired warriors. Although he knew she needed attention for her injuries—and quick—he still did not trust her around his people. Thus, she remained with him, fighting off fatigue and blood loss and being lulled in and out of sleep by the clomping of hooves and the murmuring of foreign tongues.

The entire journey back along the forest river, he told himself that it would have been a mercy if he had just left her back in that clearing. Perhaps she could have made it out of the forest safely. She was a sorceress, after all. But it was a feeble argument, for not even his own men could trek the forest alone. And he knew that the creatures that lurked within the forest would give little thought to sparing her life or ending it painlessly.

Who is to say that his father would do the same?

Why did it even matter? He is only my King.he reminded himself firmly. With the air of a prince and a determined set in his jaw, he stood up tall as they approached the cobblestone bridge that arched over a singing river and commanded the large, intricate stone doors to open.

The remaining guards greeted him with a bow, and the stablemen relieved the rest of the warriors of their horses. They momentarily paused in their flurry of movement when they saw the large horned woman mounted on the captain’s horse and gave the captain a curious glance. He remained unaffected by their judgment and gave his horse a soft command. The horse lowered itself onto the ground, which made dismounting the injured woman easier. With one last nod to the prince, and with gentle hands and soothing words in which he knew she did not understand, Feren guided her off the horse and waved off any eager recruits that attempted to help as he escorted the creature to the dungeons.

Satisfied that his captain would not be harassed, Legolas made his way his father’s study, where he knew his father to be. “I heard it was a great beast that killed many…”, “…a disfigured abomination sent by Sauron himself…”, “…should have handed her to the Men. What was he thinking bringing her…” Legolas’ ears were filled with parts of conversations between servants, civilians, and guards alike as he swiftly made his way through the carved halls to the study. Despite his orders to the men he sent ahead to keep the situation to minimal details, it would appear that news of his untimely mercy spread fast amongst his people. Unfortunately, this also meant that the news must have reached his father.

Prince Legolas was very much an elf well into his adulthood by any sort of definition of the word, but even so, the long, arching pathways leading up to the father’s study still filled him with an instinctive feeling of wanting to disappear. It perhaps had to do with the fact that he deeply associated the study as the site of numerous admonishments as an elfling. Even though it had been many, many centuries since he’d last been ordered to his chambers for stepping out of line or losing his privileges to attend certain festivals, still the memories of his long list of punishments in that dreadful study remained at the forefront of his mind. He could already imagine the inevitable, disapproving scowl that would be on his father’s ageless face and had half a mind to simply turn around and let Captain Feren take the brunt of his father’s foul mood.

He had barely even stepped foot into the threshold of the study when he saw his father, King Thranduil, rising from his desk covered with maps, as if preparing to leave the room. Most likely to hunt me down, he thought bitterly. His father’s expression was decidedly neutral and guarded—regal, would have been more precise, though not unkind. In that moment, he was not father, but King Thranduil, the King of the Woodland Realm.

With a dismissive wave of his hand, his servant, who had been preparing his wine filed out of the room, leaving them alone in the vast, eerily silent platform. “My son, what news do you bring from the battlefield?” he asked, whether out of genuine concern or patronization, Legolas could not tell.

“We haven’t an exact number, but many have fallen,” he began, hoping his discomfort didn’t show. “Feren and the others have established temporary healing tents for the injured free-folk along the lake, though we have returned with the troops who sustained life threatening injuries. Lord Elrond of Imladris has sent word to Dale that they will be arriving swiftly with provisions and their own established healers. On the marrow, we will send out the guard to clear the forest of any spider nests before they arrive, but I’m afraid our men are few. The invasion was strategic and organized. Perhaps the Horned Ones had been observing Dale and Esgaroth for months. They had weapons the likes of which I had never seen—”

“One weapon, in particular, I hear you have brought into my halls,” Thranduil interrupted with a sharp calmness as he turned his back to Legolas and leisurely walked up to the podium containing his drink. “…very much alive, so I have been told?”

Legolas clamped his mouth shut and straightened his shoulders. A weapon, he had called her. As in, something that could easily be disposed of when no longer of use. As in, something evil and vile that should be locked away or discarded. He knew bringing her here was a mistake. He should have left her to die in that forest. He should have killed her. Killing her would have been a— “…Yes,” he bit out. “She was being beaten by Men while bound and defenseless. I could not leave her.”

Thranduil hummed, pacing the open chamber with his wine in hand and stopping at the edge to stare out over his dominion. There was a pregnant pause. He pursed his lips ever so slightly. “Sparing her life was not your decision to make.”

“Neither was taking her life,” Legolas argued. He was extremely proud of how steady and calm his voice was.  

King Thranduil huffed out a breath that he thought was probably amusement and drank from his cup. He thrummed his fingers on the goblet as he lowered it from his lips—a habit that suggested he was thinking on Legolas’ words. “The people have suffered a great loss,” Thranduil began patiently, and Legolas suddenly felt like he was an elfling all over again, being given a lecture, “The people want their revenge. They will not be pleased that you have laid claim to the creature and are intent on her survival. Although… I’m curious as to why you thought that sparing her life was the wisest course of action?”

Legolas turned that over in his mind and paced about the room. “The death of one warrior will do little to satisfy the populace or the free-folk. They will return demanding more bloodshed. And if we hand her over to them to endure torture or execute her ourselves, how does that make us any better than the enemy? Have we learned nothing from the Lonely Mountain? Or Smaug? Or Azog the Defiler?” He threw his hands up in a wide gesture. “I didn’t spare her life because I knew it to be wise. Only time will tell. I spared her life because I am not the one to deny her that chance, and I will not lose myself seeking vengeance. We, as a people, have lost much. Or have you forgotten?”

Thranduil turned swiftly, surprised at his son’s passionate declaration and fierce protection of the creature. He furrowed his brow for a long moment and sighed. “I have never forgotten,” he said softly.

They lapsed into a sorrowful silence. A thousand words between them left unsaid. The beautiful memories of things that once were, cutting painfully into them like glass. There they stood, just two immortal men who had lived too many lifetimes, who had lost too much, and who had begun to hurt too deeply. Despite their attempts to fight off the darkness of Dol Guldur, the shadow had already invaded their halls and crept into their hearts. It was in every harsh word, in ever cynical gesture, in every call for revenge…

“The populace will want justice,” Thranduil broke the silence with a gentleness that Legolas had almost forgotten.

“Then we give it to them,” Legolas persisted, calmer. “If we care for the woman and earn her trust, we may be able to question her. We can find out why these Horned Ones invaded our lands. We can prevent such a battle from happening again, and we can give the people a different kind of peace—one without more bloodshed. Revenge will not solve anything.”

With a considering nod, Thranduil raised his shoulders back. “Very well. Let it be clear to the guard and everyone in this realm that the creature is to be protected and questioned. For the time being, she will remain here in the Woodland Realm, and we will get information on this new foe and the type of threat that they pose,” he ordered. “We will find out why they chose to invade these lands, and we will be prepared so that this tragedy will not befall us again. Then and only then, we shall let Middle Earth decide her fate.” He an arched a brow, eyes unreadable. “Will that suffice, my young prince?”

Legolas felt nothing but pride and adoration thrum through his veins at his father’s words. He felt a smile pull at the corner of his lips as he bowed more deeply than he would have cared to admit. “Of course, My King,” he said with conviction, leaving the hall more certain of himself than ever and allowing his mind to be flooded with thoughts of a beautiful elleth with fiery hair and a curious woman with wondrously golden eyes.