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Prodigal Sons  by daw the minstrel

6.  Consequences


Ithilden stroked the flank of Legolas’s horse and frowned.  They had traveled hard for the last two days and, thanks to Sondil’s expert tracking, they knew they were on the right trail, despite the fact that rain had fallen in this area since the younglings had passed through.  But according to Sondil, the marks of that trail were almost two days old. So why were Legolas’s and Turgon’s horses both grazing peacefully by the side of the path?  Ithilden signaled to Thrambor, motioning him to climb a tree and see what that vantage point told him.  Thrambor leapt nimbly through the branches and was soon lost to sight overhead.  In a very short time, he was back.


“There is smoke from a campfire about half a league south of here,” he reported softly, “probably further along this path.”


The three of them looked at one another.  “Something is not right,” said Ithilden. “Why have they camped in the same spot for two days?”


“Perhaps one of them is hurt,” suggested Sondil.


The three experienced warriors had no need to speak of the need for extra caution in this puzzling situation. They left their horses with the other two and began to move silently down the path, weapons at the ready.




Aragost leaned back against the tree.  Even the short walks he had been taking around the campsite had tired him, but he was determined to be ready to move tomorrow, and he was much less dizzy than he had been this morning.  He and his companions needed to get the information they sought and return to their people, although he already knew that the news would be bleak.  Evil was astir here in Mirkwood, as it had been in the Misty Mountains.  The only question was how deep and how wide the enemy’s reach had become.


He looked wearily around the camp.  Taking advantage of the delay to cook something time consuming, Sarelad was poking at the stew he was concocting for their evening meal.  Berioger was writing more of the endless letter he was preparing for his family.  Aragost smiled to himself. Berioger would probably carry the letter home and hand it to his wife and son himself.  He looked over at Legolas and Turgon, who in theory were sharpening their various blades, but who actually seemed to be arguing about something. Legolas was urging some point and Turgon was shaking his head vigorously.


What were they going to do with those two, he wondered.  He had hoped they could use them as guides, but their youth and Legolas’s parentage probably made that untenable.  They could part ways with them in the morning, but he was not entirely comfortable with leaving them on their own out here either.  All three of the Men strongly suspected that the two friends had set out on this Orc-hunting trip on their own.  He and his companions should probably return them to their families, but such a course of action would take them well out of their way.  Still, it might be useful to see if they could make an ally of the king of the Woodland Realm.  Perhaps his unfriendly reputation was unwarranted.


A bird sang somewhere off to his right, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up.  The two Elves’ heads snapped up in unison.  Aragost had only a second to glance toward his weapons, lying a good six feet distant, before three dark-haired, stony-faced Elven warriors seemingly materialized from thin air and stood in the campsite with drawn bows trained on the three Men. For a moment, everyone in the camp froze and time stopped.


Then the broad-shouldered Elf in the middle, who was evidently the group’s captain, glanced back over his shoulder at Legolas and Turgon. “Are you both all right?” he asked in Sindarin. They nodded, staring wide-eyed at the precarious situation in front of them.  The Elven captain focused for a second on Legolas’s face and then turned back to the three Men. “Which one of you made the mark on his face?” he asked menacingly in Westron.


Aragost’s blood ran cold.  He had no doubt that this Elf would wreak vengeance on them if he thought they had laid a finger on either of the two youngsters.  He was deeply grateful that Berioger and Sarelad had decided to untie Legolas and Turgon before these three appeared.


Before he could speak, Legolas leapt to their defense in rapid Sindarin that, given his Mirkwood accent, Aragost could only just make out.  Sarelad and Berioger shifted uneasily as the conversation swept away from them.  “It was none of them, Ithilden. It was an Orc.”  Ithilden lowered his weapon and turned to the youngsters while the two other warriors made sure that the Men were still pinned in place.


“An Orc,” he said tonelessly, with no indication at all of the terror he felt over the notion that an Orc had gotten close enough to his little brother to clout him in the face.


Legolas and Turgon began quickly telling the story of their encounter with the Orcs and the entry of the Men into their camp.  Aragost noted with relief that neither of them mentioned being tied up. They had apparently decided not to direct the Elven warrior’s wrath toward the Men. They finished by telling what they knew of Aragost and his companions.


“They are from the other side of the Misty Mountains,” said Turgon in awe.  He pointed to Aragost with his chin.  “The one named Aragost speaks Sindarin.”


Ithilden turned back to regard Aragost.  Legolas began to make polite introductions, as if he were in a reception chamber and there were not arrows pointed at some of those present. “This is Aragost, son of Arahad, and these are Sarelad and Berioger.  Aragost, these are Sondil and Thrambor, and this is Ithilden.”


“Be quiet, Legolas,” Ithilden said without raising his voice.


Aragost was surprised and a little amused to see Legolas subside immediately at the Elf’s bidding. Turgon too looked decidedly subdued.  He would not have thought that these youngsters would be easy to intimidate, but perhaps their behavior had left them on shaky enough ground that they had no wish to cross the Elven captain.


“It is unusual for a Man to speak Sindarin,” the captain observed mildly, evidently trying to decide if this was a suspicious circumstance or a reassuring one.


“It is,” Aragost agreed.  “But I lived for six years in Rivendell when I was a lad.”  During the time that Legolas and Turgon had been telling their tale, he had reached a decision.  He would trust these Elven warriors as he and his two companions had trusted their younger counterparts.  Assuming he could get them to return that trust, friends in Mirkwood would be valuable.  He knew he was taking a risk in revealing his connection with Rivendell, for he had been told that Thranduil clung to his resentment of Elrond’s command at the Battle of Dagorlad.  But perhaps these younger Elves were more open.


Ithilden regarded him steadily, weighing what the man’s name and his history might signify. Mirkwood Elves were not quite so ignorant of history or the world outside Mirkwood as the supercilious Elves of Rivendell might have told this Man, he thought.  He wished that his brother Eilian were here; Eilian was very good at judging people.  He considered the fact that Legolas and Turgon had spent the last two days with these Men and evidently trusted them.  Then he made a decision and signaled almost imperceptibly to the other two Elven warriors.  They kept their arrows notched, but they lowered their bows and released their draws.  All three Men breathed sighs of relief.


“I would talk to you further,” Ithilden told him, “but I have something that I must do first.”  He turned and walked slowly toward Legolas and Turgon.  The two of them visibly braced themselves as he approached.


Aragost assumed that the day of reckoning had come for these two. If they had been Men, he would have believed that the captain intended to take a belt to the youngsters’ backsides.  If they had been Elves of Rivendell, he would have anticipated that a reasoned lecture was about to be delivered. But these were Wood-Elves, regarded in Rivendell as rustic and rash.  For all Aragost knew, Ithilden intended to tie them to a tree stump by their hair or, alternatively, ply them with milk and honey.


Legolas spoke first, “Is Adar very angry?” he asked anxiously.


Ithilden blew out a sharp breath.  “Of course he is.  But at the moment, what you should be worried about is that I am very angry.”


No, thought Aragost.  Milk and honey were not in the offing.


“You have behaved stupidly,” Ithilden went on, his voice tight with fury, “and placed yourselves and others at risk. You engaged in a deception that was completely dishonorable. Adar asked Eilian to search for you as well as us. Do you not think that the southern patrol might have better things to do than look for two self-indulgent younglings who want to play at being warriors?”  He paused and then went on in a low-voiced, angry rebuke, “If you were old enough to be Mirkwood warriors, I would not allow you to join a patrol, no matter what your skill with weapons because I would not be certain that you could be trusted.  And after this escapade, you will have to prove yourselves to me thoroughly before I will change my mind.”


Evidently finished with them, Ithilden turned his back on them and started toward Aragost.  It was suddenly very clear to Aragost why Turgon and Legolas had not wanted to cross the Elven captain.  He glanced at the other two Elven warriors.  Their faces were utterly impassive.  But both youngsters looked stricken.  Turgon’s lips were set in a tight line and he looked away.  Legolas had flushed and then gone white, making the fading bruise on his face stand out in stark contrast.  He could not have looked more stunned if Ithilden had struck him.  Abruptly, he turned and left the campsite. 


“You should not speak to him like that, Ithilden,” said Turgon in a low voice.  “He would not have done this if it were not for me.”


Ithilden did not even turn around.  “Be quiet, Turgon.  Legolas is responsible for his own actions as you are for yours.  I have been told to leave you to your father’s retribution, but I am tempted to take you in hand myself. Do not provoke me.”


Turgon paused for a moment and then followed Legolas.  Ithilden glanced at Sondil, who was already drifting off in the direction the two had taken, disappearing like smoke fading into mist as soon as he had stepped into the trees.  Thrambor continued to stand at alert watching the woods around them. Unable to follow the conversation, Sarelad and Berioger kept one eye on him and the other on their chief, judging the situation from his reactions.


Aragost thought of what he had just heard and one part of the exchange stood out in his mind: Legolas and Ithilden had shared a mutual understanding of who “Adar” was. Moreover, “Adar” had been ordering Mirkwood troops about.  So this was another of Thranduil’s sons, this one an adult apparently in a position of some authority. There would never be a better opportunity to begin to build trust between his people and the Elves of Mirkwood.


Ithilden settled to the ground beside Aragost, as if to speak with him, but he held his peace, evidently waiting for something.  A bird trilled softly, and he relaxed and turned to Aragost.  “Tell me of your business here,” he said.


“As Turgon told you,” Aragost began, “we are from west of the Misty Mountains.  We are Dúnedain.”  He looked to see if Ithilden knew the word and went on when Ithilden nodded.  “We had heard that Orcs were multiplying in the mountains and that the shadow had returned to Mirkwood.  My father, our chieftain, sent us to learn what we could of the truth of these reports.”


“And what have you learned?” Ithilden asked.


“That the truth is even worse than we had feared,” Aragost answered simply. “The Orcs swarmed like insects in the mountains.  I fear our trip home will be a difficult one.  Can you tell me aught of Mirkwood?”


Ithilden sighed.  “The shadow falls ever more heavily upon these woods,” he said. “It comes from the south, from around Dol Guldur.  My brother Eilian leads a patrol of warriors south of here but their efforts are puny compared to the force they face.”


“Can you tell me how to get closer to Dol Guldur to see the situation for myself?” Aragost asked. “We should be underway by tomorrow morning. We have already delayed too long.”


Ithilden nodded, although he privately thought that these three were greater fools than he had taken them for if they intended to venture closer to Dol Guldur on their own.


They sat in silence, contemplating the evil times in which they lived.  Then Aragost ventured, “I would not interfere in family matters, but your brother and his friend saved my life, so I cannot regret their presence in the woods too much.”


Ithliden raised an eyebrow.  “You are not the one who needs to learn regret,” he said and then rose to his feet. “I do not wish to set out for home with night so near, and thus I ask permission to trespass on your hospitality.  We will take Legolas and Turgon and go in the morning.”  Aragost nodded.  The Men too intended to be underway the next day.


Ithilden sent Thrambor to fetch all of their horses, and the two of them tended to the animals and then removed dried fruit and nuts from their packs to contribute to the food that Sarelad was organizing for the evening meal.  Turgon came back into the camp as the meal was being served, accepted his portion, and withdrew from the others to eat it in silence.  Ithilden portioned out two more servings of the food and set one, evidently intended for Legolas, next to Turgon, who turned his back on him.  He put the other near the Elven warriors’ gear for the still-absent Sondil. 


Legolas slipped back into camp only as they were settling in for the night.  He ignored the food, wrapped himself in his blanket, and lay down with his face turned away from the others.  Ithilden was tempted to order him to eat something but decided to leave well enough alone.  Sondil was suddenly sitting beside him with his evening meal in hand.  The warriors of both races insisted that Aragost sleep so that he might be more ready to travel the next day.  The other two Men and three Elves drew lots for the watches and then lay down to sleep.

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