It should have been safe. That thought went through his head as he stood and surveyed the carnage around him.
A storm had hit Mirkwood hard and after it had passed, there had been a lot of damage that needed to be assessed and repaired. He had volunteered to inspect part of the forest, to check for damages and to see how much work needed to be done to clear the paths. He had just inspected a fallen tree on a clearing and hadn't paid much attention to his surroundings when suddenly orcs had attacked from the other side of the glade. So far into the territory of the elves they had never encountered orcs before. Maybe they had fled from the storm and lost their way or another dark purpose had led them there. It didn't matter, suddenly he was on his own against more than twenty orcs.
The first ones he felled with his bow, but when they came too near, he had to use his knifes and a desperate battle for survival began. He had fought with the reckless abandon of someone who knew what the orcs would do to him if they managed to capture him and who preferred death over capture by these creatures. The battle was fierce and he was victorious in the end but it cost him dearly. An orc arrow had struck him in the left thigh and he was bleeding from numerous wounds. The worst one was a deep wound in his side, where an orc scimitar had managed to get past his defenses. It bled heavily and he felt himself growing weaker by the minute.
He cut strips from his cloak and did his best to dress the wounds and stop the bleeding. It was agony to rip out the arrow and for a moment his sight faded to black. Panting, he fought to remain conscious. After he had done what he could for his injuries, he considered his next actions. He knew that he was seriously wounded and needed help as soon as possible. He couldn't stay in the clearing, the smell could attract spiders. So his only option was to try to get back to the palace.
He took a deep breath and steeled himself for what he knew wouldn't be pleasant. Each step was agony, as pain ripped through his thigh and his side. Only sheer determination kept him going. It was slow process and he had to rest often to gather some strength so that he could continue on his way. Night fell and as he felt his energy leaving him, he rested for a few hours beneath a tree. It was dangerous, because every moment spiders could turn up, attracted by the smell of his blood.
In the morning he pushed himself forward again, but his mind was so clouded by blood loss, pain and exhaustion that he was barely aware of what went on around him. He didn't notice the small vibrations in the ground that were caused from oncoming hoof beats. He didn't even recognize his name being called.
Only when two hands took hold of his shoulders, stopping his forward movement, did he lift his head and try to see. Even then it took him a moment to recognize the shocked face of his father.
"Ada," he murmured. Then his strength finally gave out, his sight blurred and his legs buckled beneath him.
He felt himself being caught and gently lifted into strong arms, then his consciousness fled and he fell into darkness.
Thranduil was worried. He read the damage reports coming in, but he couldn't concentrate properly. Legolas had left the palace in the morning, intending to inspect the paths in the south of the palace. He wanted to be back in the evening, but it was getting very late and he still hadn't returned. The forest was dangerous at night and even if Legolas was a skilled warrior, Thranduil would have preferred to have his son home for the night.
The hours passed slowly and still there was no sign of Legolas. He hoped that he was only delayed because of some unforeseen event but he felt troubled. A feeling of dread settled in his stomach. Even the forest seemed uneasy, as if something bad had happened. Thranduil didn't find rest during these long hours. As the morning dawned, he called Angon, the captain of the royal guard, to his study.
As the captain entered the study, he bowed to his king.
"Still no sign of Legolas? Thranduil asked.
"No, Sire, he has not returned." Angon could see the worry in Thranduil's eyes. He too, felt uneasy. Legolas was a long time overdue now and he feared that something had happened.
"Take nine warriors and meet me at the stables," the king ordered. "We will follow him."
Angon bowed again, glad that the king had decided to take action. At least now they could do something instead of just sitting there and waiting for news. "Aye, Sire, we'll be there immediately."
Thranduil gathered his weapons and made his way to the stables. Since the paths directly near the palace had already been cleared, they should be able to move relatively fast. As he readied his stallion, Angon and the other warriors arrived.
They quickly were ready to leave and the small group headed off in the direction Legolas had taken.
As they rode on, they found signs of Legolas' passing, where fallen logs had been moved aside or larger trees had been marked for removal. At least they knew now that he had taken the path as planned and that they were heading in the right direction.
It was late in the morning when Tinwion, who was riding a bit ahead, suddenly called out, "My Lord, there is someone on the path."
Thranduil drew near to Tinwion and fixed his gaze ahead. Indeed, there was somebody coming down the path in their direction. The figure moved slowly, more stumbling along than walking. At last Thranduil was near enough to recognize the elf. They had found Legolas.
His son looked dreadful. His hair was matted and dirty, his clothes were torn in various places and he was covered in blood. His head was lowered and he stared at the path in front of him as if it took all of his concentration to keep moving. He was limping heavily and Thranduil could see the blood that stained his left thigh and side.
"Legolas," he called.
His son didn't react in the slightest. Obviously he wasn't even aware of his presence.
Thranduil reined his horse in and dismounted nearly before it had come to a complete stop. He hurried to his son, noting with dismay that Legolas didn't seem to notice his surroundings. He placed his hands on his son's shoulders, halting his forward movement.
"Legolas," he repeated.
His son lifted his head and fixed his gaze on his father. He appeared dazed and his eyes were unfocussed. After a few moments he seemed to focus and Thranduil saw recognition flash in his eyes.
"Ada," Legolas murmured.
Before Thranduil could reply or react in any way, Legolas' eyes lost focus again and his legs buckled. He would have fallen had Thranduil not caught him.
So the king stood there, his unconscious and badly wounded son in his arms.
Thranduil gently lowered Legolas to the ground. By now, Angon was beside him. He undid the strap that held Legolas' weapons in place and removed them. Thranduil hardly noticed that Tinwion had also approached and took them, securing his son's weapons to his horse.
"By the Valar, what happened to him?" Angon exclaimed.
Thranduil noted the black blood that covered Legolas' tunic along with his own. "Looks like orcs. Since when do orcs come that close to the palace?" He examined Legolas, shocked to see his numerous injuries.
"Never before did that happen," Angon stated.
Thranduil and Angon exchanged a gaze. Both of them looked grim. They knew that the situation was serious and that Legolas needed more help than they could give him.
"We need to bring him to the palace," Thranduil said. "Captain, take six warriors with you and follow his tracks. Try to find out what happened, but be careful. We don't know if there are still orcs around."
Angon nodded. "Aye, Sire." He motioned to six other elves to accompany him, then he gave Legolas one last look, before mounting his horse and riding in the direction Legolas had come from.
Thranduil checked that the wounds had stopped bleeding for the moment, then he gathered his son in his arms again.
As he neared his horse, Tinwion came closer. "Sire, let me help you with him."
The king passed his son over to the other elf and mounted his horse. Tinwion carefully handed Legolas up to him.
After Legolas was settled securely in front of his father, Tinwion got on his horse and the small group turned back to the palace.
Thranduil held his unconscious son in his arms, noting how utterly limp and pale he was and praying that they wouldn't be too late, that Legolas wasn't beyond help.
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