The elf ran into the large throne-room, gaining the attention as if he were a thunderstorm. It took a moment for the gathered Men and Elves, settled around a table, to recognize him. Once they did, they stared, mouth agape.
He was slightly weather-beaten, his hair looked as if he had run through a windy storm, and the Men's first thought was that it was an illusion or another elf disguised. They had searched for many days, the prince's funeral was prepared: but here he was, very much alive – and looking distraught as well.
"I need to speak with Lord Faramir," Legolas said. It was the prince, yes: it was his voice. Only he would speak up like that in front of the council, as well, tone so demanding. "Now!"
The silence was broken by surprised, upset, shocked voices – why had they not been able to find the prince, while he now just broke into the Hall? What had happened and how had he survived? Did he carry news of king Elessar and their son? Did he know about the soldiers fighting alongside the orcs?
"It's not possible, milord, you fell-"
"Is your son alive, m'lord? And Lord Aragorn? The soldiers reported that you…"
"Silence!" Thranduil shouted, entering the hall that moment. The Men sitting nearest to the door flinched at the strong voice. The effect was immediate. The tall elven king stared at his son with mixed relief and disbelief, the anger from his recent encounter with the dwarf Gimli disappearing like water in desert sand.
"Father; my lords; gentlemen," Legolas said respectfully. "I assure you that I am quite real. I need to speak with Lord Faramir immediately. All of you, I need you to stay in this chamber. There is much I have to tell, and I do not have much time."
Unceremoniously Legolas pulled out a chair and sat, by the head of the table. He saw in the eyes of the gathered a myriad of questions, but he raised a hand to hush whoever who began to speak. Then he waited, as a guard who'd stood by the door rushed out to find Faramir. Murmurs rippled through the gathered Men before they fell silent once again, as they waited for the steward to arrive.
Once Faramir did – face shining of surprise - taking seat beside Thranduil, Legolas spoke again: "I had twelve hours from once I stepped on Gondor's soil. That time has been reduced to elven and half an hour now."
"What exactly do you mean, ion?" Thranduil asked. He did not bother to use a title right now, though usually he was rather mannered. Legolas was his own son, and the elven-king had been – and was still – out of worry.
So the wood elf took a deep breath and told them; it was a long tale, even if he excluded many details. He spokes of magical gates, of Carvahall, and their escape; of meeting Aragorn in Narda; reaching Surda by the help of an agent named Jeod. He tried to explain Alagaësia and its races and wars, as simply as possible – he said the elves there were different, but it was hard to tell exactly how. Eyes widened as he spoke of dragons and Dragonriders; and brows knitted in worried frowns as he spoke of king Galbatorix, who sought to rule Alagaësia and Surda and Gondor, eventually spreading his power from there to other lands and kingdoms in Arda, even possibly other worlds if he managed to establish contact through magic. The man was dangerous and extremely powerful.
The men and elves' minds spun with strange names, foreign cities, spell-weavers more common than the wizards in Middle Earth had ever been, with new wars and magic, so much magic and misused power.
"It does explain," Faramir said, "a great deal. But we still do now know about the soldier, Beregond, who fell down the waterfall… He surely is in Alagaësia. Has he been found?"
Legolas shook his head. "No. Until now, I thought no one else beside Aragorn and our family had disappeared…If Beregond has been captured by Galbatorix' men…" He left the words hanging in the air.
"That's not good," captain Tirion reflected, rather unnecessarily.
"We can only hope that the King never finds him, or that he is sharp enough to realize that he must make his way to Surda and find the Varden."
Thranduil rubbed his temples. Of course it was more likely that Beregond had been captured or killed by now, a fact that both irritated and made him uneasy. Why was Mankind so foolish and rash? Why did the man step onto that dangerous ledge to begin with?
"This time difference you mentioned, my prince, do you know how far it is?" Faramir asked Legolas, switching topic.
"King Orrin of Surda helped to calculate it for us. Time in Alagaësia goes twelve times faster than it does for us; at sundown, I need to go back to the place they created the Gate to send me here. Only during the creation of this Gate, time is the same in both worlds. It is my only way back," Legolas explained. "This leads to the next question. Surda and the Empire are not on the brink of War, they are in a war, and the Varden's allied forces desperately needs our help. No – I have not yet promised any soldiers or supplies. However, if we think we can manage to gather our troops before twilight, we should try."
"Milord," Tirion said; "our situation is also urgent – troops are coming, this moment, marching towards the city. We believe there are orcs among them. It's a matter of days before they strike."
Legolas frowned. "Are you sure?"
"We've had several eye accounts, milord," the captain said. "We are sure."
"Are people warned and the men ready for battle?"
Captain Tirion nodded. "They are, milord, but…"
"Fighting for Gondor is one thing," one of the councillors interrupted, going back to the matter of Alagaësia; "but fighting for a different land in a different world, is entirely another, milord."
"I am aware of that," Legolas said. "But if the Varden with our help can manage to overthrow Galbatorix, or at least reduce much of his forces, it is to our advantage as well. We have no wizards, we cannot conjure or use magic to protect ourselves – it is a fact that Galbatorix will realize soon enough,"
Faramir spoke again. "So the king uses these Gates to send troops in Gondor, leaving no traces of where they have appeared. Cannot the Varden's wizards use this for our advantage? Could they not simply close these Gates?"
Legolas' face darkened, as he shook his head. "I am afraid that is not possible, lord Faramir. Galbatorix' powers are immense; not even by the help of a dozen elves and Eragon, the Dragon rider, could they create a very strong Gate – the link broke the moment I was through. If they overexert themselves while doing magic, they may easily die. The Varden have no one to alone counter Galbatorix' strength. It also seems he uses a natural flow of magic that appears in the Spine, the chain of mountains, and the Varden cannot go close to these mountains without being seen, unless they send their magicians one by one sneaking into enemy territory. And those mountains are feared; not many would go near those mountains at all."
"How come they could open the Gate at an exact place?" a man wanted to know. "Or are they materialized at random? If you believe, milord, that I would send my men through a so unstable thing …"
"Nay, Captain Tirion. The place where the Gate with open in Arda is woven into the spell, while its counterpart is created in front of the sorcerer who forms it. The Varden had to create their own spell for my transportation; that is why they are not sure how come Galbatorix could open that many Gates to send troops through. They do not know which spell heuses – it is probably a stronger one."
The Captain of the Citadel Guard did not look more calmed or pleased than he did before. "Can we be sure to trust these people, milord? Not to offend your responsibilities and trust, my prince, of course - but are we not being too rash?"
Legolas was impatient; he did not let it show in his voice or his face – though his father must be able to notice it. They had lost much time already. He had seen it through the windows, the wandering of the sun. He had just ten hours left before he had to go again. "I have fought with these people in battle. I do have their trust and they have mine as well as my husband and king's. If we do not help the Varden, many innocent people will die."
The elf turned to lord Faramir and gave him the letter composed by lady Nasuada and king Orrin and the other one from Elessar. "Take these, and read them closely." He turned to the rest of the council: "In the meantime I want a party of fifty soldiers alerted – ten archers, ten spearmen and the rest swordsmen. They must pack weapons, supplies and some personal belongings, if they so desire, but they will travel lightly. Tell them that their mission is important, and inform them of what I have said now; make it clear what undertake this is; they might never see anything of Middle Earth again. The soldiers shall meet me by the city gates in three hours; those who have ability should have horses with them. If possible, I would like a healer to come too."
"Yes, milord," Tirion said, nodding. "What about the citizens?"
"The truth must come out and quickly; to know that king Elessar is alive will give them hope. Galbatorix may attack again – I do not doubt that he will, but we cannot be sure when. He can take us by surprise. I want the city ready in case that happens. And, since I fear that someone might have seen and recognized me when I came here, it is better they know the truth. The fact that Aragorn is alive might soothe their worries."
It worried Legolas that the magic of the Spine seemed to shift and move at its own will. Since he knew not of anyone else than Galbatorix that had created the Gate in the waterfall, it was very possible that the gondorian already was in Gil'aed or another city.
The elf was not sure just how these Gates were there at random or why he had appeared by Carvahall while Aragorn had come to Narda, when they fell into the same Gate. A wizard must be controlling the side of it that was in Arda…or said wizard – probably Galbatorix – must have created a permanent opening there. The Varden had speculated about the waterfall being a powerful illusion. The thought was actually frightening. They had just yet tasted the extent of Galbatorix' powers.
But maybe no one controlled its other side, the one in Alagaësia? Maybe it was a natural flow of magic? It was possible, especially since the Gate was constantly there. Someone had opened it in Arda, and then it was connected to the Spine … just different areas of it. Maybe even it sent the traveller near a place or person that he or she wished to see? Maybe if their wish or desire was strong enough, they could control this flow of magic… much like when using telepathic skills?
Legolas did not know. He decided to speculate more on that later. He could ask Eragon and other people with magical knowledge once back in Alagaësia. Oh, how he wished he had known more about the nature of magic and how to use it!
The council broke up, after some more orders had been given. Legolas told them to alert all officers that had not been there of their situation. Men needed to pack and be ready to leave; maybe even a healer could be persuaded to follow them to the Varden. Shelter needed to be prepared for the children of Carvahall. And most importantly, the nearing attack of Galbatorix' soldiers was coming closer by ever hour; defences needed to be strengthened, warriors given weapons, civilians warned to taken to cover.
Legolas stayed in the hall; wine and food was brought forth, as well as new clothing. The elf told the servant to go to his chambers and pack some clothing for him, Aragorn and Eldarion. Without a word, the servant nodded and left.
Thranduil was also there. "Oh ion nîn! I have been so worried," the elven king said, becoming a father again as he enveloped his son in an almost bone-crushing embrace. Legolas relaxed in the hug, feeling his father's familiar scent and hearing a warm voice just above him. It made him feel secure and at home again.
"I've missed you, Ada," he murmured, feeling slightly trampled in the hard embrace. "I am fine; and I mean it. I know you're looking at me that way - but I am all right and Eldarion is safe, Aragorn is looking after him. They're both unhurt. Actually, Eldarion has even begun learning how to walk and talk …" He looked up at his father's face, smiling in pride.
"I'm very proud of you, ion," Thranduil said earnestly and kissed him on both cheeks. "I cannot wait till I meet your darling again."
Legolas' smile fell a little. "Actually … Aragorn and I have talked about sending him back here. A military camp is no place for a child … We don't want to part from him, but he's safer here. At least I hope so."
"Do you fear the impending attack of Minas Tirith?"
He nodded. "Here or anywhere else in Arda, when Galbatorix realizes how vast our world is." Legolas bit his lip and looked hopefully at his father. "Could you look after Eldarion?"
"Of course, but I'd rather follow you to Alagaësia and-"
"Please, father, stay here and look after him," Legolas pleaded, pulling back a little from the embrace. "I want him to be with someone familiar to him, and someone I trust – and I trust you most of all. With you, I know he is safe, even if Minas Tirith is attacked. Ada, saes."
Thranduil's eyes and voice were full of concern, maybe disagreement, but he nodded quietly. "I will protect him with my life."
Legolas had a sudden urge to cry, because he didn't want to part from his only child, no matter how safe Eldarion would be. But he forced back the tears, thanked his father and tried to focus on something else than the upcoming parting. It was then he realized that something vital was missing.
"Ada, where is Gimli?"
The older elf frowned in displeasure. "Do you mean the brawny, loud, unmannered, so-called lord of a dwarf? He is somewhere else in the lower city. However as soon as he find out you are here, he will surely storm in here in a fashion alike to yours. Louder, of course; he is after all a dwarf."
A smile tugged at Legolas lips. "I do not doubt he will."
Then Thranduil retold everything that had happened during the days that he had been gone, to the slightest detail that the councillors had not including in their tale of the events.
Legolas ate in silence and in deep thought; there were fresh fruits and bread and meat, and the wine was sweet and delicious. The food was a welcome change from their military-like rations from the Varden's camp.
"There has been a message," the elven king said suddenly, "from the Shire. It arrived yesterday evening by a ranger in full haste."
Legolas' eyebrows rose in surprise, both happy and then worried at his father's words. What if the hobbits were being attacked or threatened by Galbatorix' troops, asking for help? A shadow fell over his face, his smile faded.
Seeing his expression, Thranduil shook his head. "No, nothing of the sort. They have no troubles. They are concerned, though; it takes quite a long time for news to travel, even if the Gap of Rohan is now open, so they have just heard of the siege of Minas Tirith. The messenger left this morning, with a reply, carrying the word that the battle was won and there was not been an enemy sighted for several days – but that the King and his family are gone, and the now inaccurate assumption that we do not know where you are."
Legolas sighed in relief. "Thank the Valar they are all right. I know the hobbits are tough and have fought in battle, defending their homeland from Saruman; but I do not know if they could fight Galbatorix' soldiers and win." He took a sip of the wine. "Otherwise, is everything well with them?"
"Oh yes. It has been a wonderfully well season, especially of their 'leafs'. I have the letter here." The elven king put a brown envelope on the table, next to a goblet of wine. He snorted. "I had always wondered where Mithrandir had picked up his foul habit of smoking; even if hobbits share their custom of that, they aren't as loud or uncivilized as the dwarves."
Legolas smirked at his father's comment, but he didn't reply. Instead he put down knife and fork and pulled out the letter from the envelope. He scanned it through, and when there were no ill news, he nodded with a smile. Samwise had married a few months back – this he already knew – but now he had become father to a little girl, Elanor. Obviously Meriadoc had set his eyes on a hobbit lass and they had just announced their upcoming marriage. Everything was peaceful in the Shire, and even Peregrin was up to a bit less of mischief, much to the relief of the neighbouring farmers, stated the letter.
Sam had written and signed it. The elf wondered when they'd see each other again; he and Aragorn had visited the Shire just a few months before Eldarion's birth and met the hobbits and Sam's wife, but that was it, and the hobbits had not been in Minas Tirith since the ending of the War. Maybe one day, if this new war had an end, they could invite the hobbits here, so they could see the wonderful White City had been restored. Now it looked much more near its former glory. And Legolas much wanted to meet little Elanor.
"What are you thinking about?" his father asked.
"I thought that maybe one day, Aragorn and I should invite the hobbits. Or we should visit them, for I have never been there and their land is supposed to be very beautiful … And then Samwise the Brave has become father of a little girl; I would love to see her."
"One day," Thranduil agreed, "but we should find a way to stop Galbatorix before that."
Thranduil's prediction had been quite accurate: merely half a candle-mark after Legolas' meal, Gimli arrived through the open doors to the hall. A servant jumped out of his way.
"Where is the flighty pointy-ear?" the dwarf demanded. "After all this trouble he's led us through, I'm going to skin him alive!"
"Right over here, my friend," Legolas smirked. Thranduil had left after the meal, to find his elves; he probably wanted to bring a handful with Legolas, to guard him. For once he didn't argue about it, because his father was so stubborn and now was not the time.
The elf-prince quickly found himself with a dwarf tied around his waist.
"You're too flighty for the good lad. Yes, yes, I've been told what's happened by lord Faramir. Magic and war and other worlds – what were you thinking?"
Legolas snorted wryly. "I might have to remind you that at first I did not come willingly, and did not have any time to think about what I was doing besides saving mine and Eldarion's lives."
"You should listen to someone more sensible sometimes," the dwarf said with a shake of his head. "Running off like that at nightfall … You should have stayed here, and nothing would have happened. Even with a husband as yours, you ought to know better! Elves, immortal and wise, hmpf."
"Galbatorix' troops would continue coming and the Gates would open maybe anywhere, and we would have no idea why," Legolas argued. "And he might have won a battle against us before the Varden could overthrow him, and in the end he'd rule over Alagaësia and Gondor alike, and been trying to take over the rest of Arda."
Gimli snorted but did not argument. It was not until then the elf noticed the pack over his friend's shoulder. The axe was present as usual, and the armour, especially concerning the battle not long ago; but a pack? "Gimli, if you are thinking you are to come with me …" he began, but Gimli cut him off gruffly.
"Of course. You need some strong and sensible company to look after you through all this mess." Then he glanced at the door, as if making sure that Thranduil was not there, somewhat to the elf's amusement: "Besides, I would rather handle only one elf at the time."
Legolas could have felt offended by that, but he wasn't. Instead he laughed warmly. "Gimli, Gimli! I might have to disappoint you, but there are elves in Alagaësia. Twelve of them are in the Varden's camp. But you might find them rather ... peculiar."
Gimli grinned. "More so than the Peredhel twins? I doubt that."
"Oh yes, very more than the twins," the elf replied, thinking of the other elves, with their unfamiliar language and customs and magical abilities, especially Blödhgarn with his blue fur; then he sighed. He decided not to comment Gimli's last statement – the dwarf and his father never had gotten along well, because of what had happened all those years ago when Thorin, his dwarves and Bilbo Baggins had crossed Mirkwood. Elves and Dwarves had not gotten along well for many long years even beofre that event. And since Glóin, Gimli's father, had been among the company of Thorin Oakenshield, it helped none. Thranduil was proud and stubborn, and Gimli was … well, he was Gimli; sturdy and hard as a rock, always ready to argument when he disagreed.
"More to the point is that I do not have anything against elves, and not elves from Alagaësia either."
Legolas raised a delicate eyebrow at that statement. "All right; I know it is nigh impossible to convince you otherwise, so you are allowed to come with me, dear friend. When I think of it, it might be for the best. I was relieved to find both my father and you whole."
Gimli glared at him and humpfhed, but was in good humour. "Oh, you think me unable to handle him in this large city for a few days?" he asked. "You underestimate me, lad. And your father. Here there are a lot of rooms, so we are easily avoiding each other. Besides, would I not be impolite if I wasn't well-mannered to him in a good friend's home?" He refrained to mention of his recent encounter with said elf, because at that time they had both grieved Legolas' death.
Legolas was struck by how much he had missed the dwarf and smiled. "I am glad you are with me, Elvellon."