Thranduil raised a hand as a goodbye and then turned his horse around and left, heading home.
Dazed, Erestor looked over his shoulder. He still couldn’t believe he was actually fleeing Mirkwood.
Eridhren would be raging with fury now that he had escaped his clutches. Sighing tiredly, Erestor patted the mare’s back and urged her on. He had to reach Imladris as quickly as possible. Thranduil wouldn’t tell Eridhren his destination, but what if his father had left as well and was now tracking him down? Shudders traveled down his spine at the thought that his father could be hiding behind the next hill.
“Hurry like the wind,” he said pleadingly, and the mare increased her speed. Holding onto the saddle, desperation overwhelmed him. What if he was turned away in Imladris? What if Elrond Peredhel refused him asylum? What if…?
“Stop it,” he ordered himself. He was only driving himself insane asking these questions. He had to believe he had escaped and that he was free now. Free. Had he ever been free before? No.
He traveled swiftly and only stopped when the mare was growing tired. Building a small fire, he sat down, hugging his knees close and shivering. His eyes scanned his surroundings, scared that his father would unexpectedly pounce on him. Darkness surrounded him when Ithil hid behind heavy clouds, and the branches, which he had thrown in the fire, suddenly snapped, making him jump to his feet.
Gathering his cloak close to him, he forced himself to calm down. Slowly, he lowered himself back onto the damp earth and groaned at the pain the motion caused. Until now he had felt numb, but now the places his father had left bruised were starting to ache. Raising a shaky hand, he touched his black and blue face. His father hadn’t held back and had cruelly back-handed him several times.
Shivering, he stared into the fire. His father had not taken rejection well, but what had he been supposed to do? Let his father rape him? The violation would have killed him eventually. No, he hadn’t had a choice. Fleeing had been his only option. But then his father had caught him, thrown him onto the floor and had started to beat and kick him. Raising his arms, he had tried to protect his head, but his father had managed to grab hold of him and his sharp fingernails had dug into the back of his neck, drawing blood.
In the middle of this mayhem, he had succeeded in freeing himself and he had run into Thranduil’s throne room. The King of Mirkwood and his lady had protected him before and he hoped Thranduil would take pity on him. He had hidden behind the throne, and when he had heard Thranduil’s footsteps, he had flung himself at the King, not caring what the elder Elf might think of him.
He had whimpered softly when Thranduil had caught him, instantly checking him for serious injuries. And what he had found had obviously angered the King, who had shooed him into his private rooms whilst ordering his guards to bring him Eridhren.
Sobbing in Aewithôn’s arms, he had listened to Thranduil rage whilst the King had paced his quarters. Gathering his courage, he had pleaded with the elder Elf, begging him to help him - but how, he did not know. In the end, Thranduil had turned around and had advised him to travel to Imladris where Elrond Half-Elven would hopefully grant him asylum.
When he had mounted the mare, he had heard Eridhren’s voice carrying through the corridor. Petrified, he had stared at Thranduil, who had grabbed the reins of his horse, and together they had headed for the forest.
And now here he was, seated next to a dying fire, shaking himself to pieces, but he preferred the cold and loneliness to his father’s cruelty. Somehow, he would survive, and maybe Elrond would allow him to stay in Imladris. He wasn’t without skills. Thranduil had made sure he’d had a good education, and he had been copying scrolls for the King. Maybe Elrond needed another scribe? He hoped so.
Curling up on the cold earth, he laid down his head to rest and shivered all through the night until Arien finally rose again. The shivers still coursed through his body, telling him just how scared he really was. “Don’t think of him. Don’t think of him.” Every time he thought of his father, the shivers worsened. He had to get this under control before he arrived in Imladris. He didn’t want Elrond to grow suspicious and send him back. By Elbereth, he still hadn’t reached his majority! If Elrond found out, the Peredhel would surely send him back to his father.
Biting his bottom lip, he tiredly climbed onto the mare’s back again. He still had several days of travel ahead of him and wasn’t sure he had the stamina to follow through. He had to take extra care of the mare, making sure she stayed healthy and in shape, for he would never be able to walk the distance to Imladris. “Hartha,” he said, naming her 'hope', for she was his only way to escape his father, “please take me to Imladris. Don’t forsake me.”
The mare snorted softly and Erestor bent down, resting his upper body against her warm neck. “Please take me away from my father…”
Three days later, he raised his weary eyes to look upon Imladris for the first time in his life. The sight was breathtaking, and so very different from Mirkwood that tears appeared in his eyes. Imladris rested in Arien’s warm sunbeams, and a soft breeze rustled the leaves. His heart contracted painfully, praying to Elbereth that he would be allowed to stay here. But could he be that lucky?
Reaching for the water flask, he allowed the last droplet to drip into his mouth. Now that they had finally arrived, he felt drained. His stomach had long stopped growling and his throat felt awfully dry. Maybe he could drink of the river Bruinen and quench his thirst. “We are almost there, mellon-nîn,” he said, urging Hartha on.
When they finally reached the Bruinen, Hartha immediately began to drink. Weakened by the lack of food and sufficient water, Erestor lowered himself onto the ground and promptly collapsed near the river. Reaching for the water, he cupped his hands and drank greedily.
A branch snapped behind him and, spooked, he looked over his shoulder. He was terrified when the sentries appeared. A sword was aimed at his throat and his entire body shook.
“Get to your feet.”
Erestor tried to obey, but his legs refused to carry him. “I cannot…” Would they have mercy on him and help him? “Please… Take me to Lord Elrond…”
“Why do you wish to speak to him?” One sentry stared suspiciously at him. “You are from Mirkwood.” He had instantly recognized the colors and braids Erestor was wearing. “Why should we allow one of Thranduil’s spies to speak to our Lord?”
Erestor flinched. “I am no spy! I seek refuge here. Please…” Exhausted, his eyes closed momentarily. “I beseech you… Let me speak to your master.” He didn’t know what he would do if they turned him away. Die in the wilderness, probably. He didn’t possess the necessary skills to survive in the wild. Or maybe he would fade?
The three sentries discussed the matter privately and then turned to face him. “We will take you to our master.”
“Thank you,” whispered Erestor, relieved. “But I am afraid I cannot get to my feet any more. I am so tired…” His voice faltered when exhaustion overwhelmed him. Hartha nudged against him and he grabbed hold of her neck, feeling thankful when the mare helped him back to his feet. “I will try to walk…”
Suddenly a pair of strong hands encircled his waist, steadying him. The next moment, his knees buckled beneath him, and he released a strangled yelp when darkness descended over him as he lost consciousness.
Elrond studied the unconscious Elfling, lying in a warm bed and tucked safely beneath soft blankets. When his sentries had told him they had found a Mirkwood Elf, he had grown suspicious. He hadn’t seen one of Thranduil’s subjects for centuries, so what was this particular Elf doing here?
When the sentries had delivered the unconscious Elf to the healing house, he had told them to take him to one of the rooms, where the healers could tend to the dark-haired Elf. He had been shocked, seeing how young the Elf was, and doubted he had reached majority yet. What was an Elfling doing this far away from home?
Seating himself on a comfortable chair next to the bed, he continued to search the Elfling’s features. His face was heavily bruised, and the healers had told him that they had discovered several other bruises on the Elf’s arms, back and chest. He had quickly reached the conclusion that the Elfling had received a particularly brutal beating, and had felt somewhat protective, considering the dark-haired Elf’s age.
Using a cool, wet cloth, he wiped away the beads of sweat that had formed on the Elfling’s brow. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” He couldn’t dismiss the notion that he was one of Thranduil’s spies, but his young age and injuries didn’t support that theory. A soft groan attracted his attention, and he tensed when the dark eyes filled with awareness.
Erestor blinked once, twice, trying to establish where he was. This room was alien to him; he had never been in here before. As his eyes scanned the room, his breath caught, finding an elder Elf staring at him. The dark-haired Elf’s sharp glance quickly warned him that this was someone to reckon with, and the dignity and pride that clung to him made Erestor lower his eyes respectfully.
Elrond smiled, seeing the respect in the dark eyes, before the younger Elf averted them. “You are in Imladris, in the Last Homely House, and I am a healer.” There was no reason to reveal his identity just yet.
Erestor shyly peeked at the elder Elf.
Elrond leaned forward in the chair, his eyes searching the younger Elf’s face. “What is your name, Elfling?” Seeing the hesitation in the dark eyes, he added, “And tell me the truth.”
Erestor sighed; indeed, he had briefly considered giving a false name, but he seriously doubted he would get away with lying. Even Thranduil had been able to tell when he was lying. “It is Erestor.”
“Erestor,” said Elrond, thoughtfully, leaning back in his chair. “And have you reached your majority yet, Erestor?”
Now he truly panicked. “Aye, I have, only a few days ago. Please, you must believe me!” Growing hysterical, he threw off the blankets, but he froze as waves of pain coursed through his battered body. The wounds Eridhren had inflicted were still healing.
Elrond could easily tell Erestor was lying, but why? “You hail from Mirkwood?”
“I am no spy! I do not know why the sentries thought I was one, but I am not! I am a scribe!” Erestor shook like a leaf and bit his bottom lip nervously, not even realizing that it had begun to bleed.
“Calm yourself,” said Elrond, finally realizing he was dealing with a severely frightened Elfling. Following his instincts, he decided to give Erestor the benefit of the doubt. “Why did you leave Mirkwood?”
Erestor was at a loss for words. What would satisfy the elder Elf’s curiosity? When he had fled from Mirkwood he hadn’t been thinking straight, and now he had to come up with a believable explanation. Recalling that Thranduil wasn’t loved by the Rivendell Elves, he hoped for the best when he said, “I defied the King and was banished.”
/Another lie,/ registered Elrond, who was growing interested in the younger Elf. Seeing Erestor shake himself to pieces, he asked, “Why did you come to Imladris?”
“I want to beg Lord Elrond to allow me sanctuary here. I am a hard worker and I will do whatever it takes to be allowed to stay. Just do not send me back!”
Elrond rubbed the bridge of his nose, whilst still studying the younger Elf, who was clearly panicking. “Be truthful,” he said eventually. “Have you reached your majority yet?”
Erestor averted his eyes, realizing he had failed to mislead the elder Elf. “Not yet.”
“How many years before you reach your majority?”
“Ten more years,” whispered Erestor, shakily.
“Then you should still be with your parents.” Elrond never expected Erestor to start to sob, but when the younger Elf did, he reached out instinctively, trying to comfort him. His eyes widened, seeing Erestor violently flinch away from him. The younger Elf didn’t want to be touched. Why?
“Please do not send me back! I work hard and require little.” Erestor pleadingly locked eyes with the elder Elf. Maybe if he could convince this Elf then he would also be able to convince Elrond, should he be allowed to meet the half-Elf.
Elrond leaned back into the comfort of his chair and noticed how Erestor relaxed once he was no longer in his immediate proximity. /He was beaten, brutally at that, and fled from Mirkwood. I should not trust him, but I do. There is innocence in his eyes and he is obviously terrified of being sent back. Who scared and beat him like that?/
“Please, give me a chance to plead my case with Lord Elrond. If you send me back now, I… I will die, somehow…” Desperation overwhelmed him and he bowed his head in defeat. “Please do not send me back.”
Elrond finally reached a decision, hoping he would eventually find out what had driven the Elfling to seek refuge in Imladris. “You will rest for the new few days. Stay in bed, eat and drink.”
Erestor’s eyes widened in disbelief. “I can stay?” Had he really convinced the healer to let him stay until Lord Elrond would decide over his fate?
“Aye,” said Elrond, rising to his feet, “You may stay.”
“Thank you,” whispered Erestor from the bottom of his heart.
Elrond walked over to the doorway, still studying the frightened Elfling. Something about Erestor made him feel protective, though he couldn’t explain why. “Rest. You are safe now.” He was surprised, seeing the impact his words had. Erestor seemed to collapse into himself, finally showing his physical and emotional exhaustion. Stepping into the corridor, he recalled that his chief librarian still needed another scribe.
Hearing footsteps startled Erestor and he quickly sat upright in bed. He had been resting for two days now. A different healer to the one he had talked to had looked after him, making sure he ate and rested. The bruises were finally fading, and this healer had also tended to the wounds at the back of his neck. Staring at the doorway, he wondered what would happen next.
Elrond stepped into the room, inclined his head in greeting, and sat down next to the bed. “How do you fare today?”
“I am feeling much better, thank you.” He tried to control his curiosity, but in the end, he blurted out, “Do you know what will happen to me? Will Lord Elrond allow me to stay?”
Elrond watched Erestor closely whilst saying, “I have spoken to him, and he feels strongly that you should return to your family, Elfling.” Erestor’s reaction startled him. The younger Elf became deadly pale and his entire body began to shake. The fingernails dug into the sheets, clawing at them. Terrified eyes met his, and then the pleading began again.
“Please, do not send me back! I cannot go home, never! Please do not condemn me to death!” Panicking, Erestor left the bed and dropped onto his knees in front of the healer, who seemed to have some influence since he was allowed to talk to Lord Elrond. “Please, I will do whatever you want!”
Elrond regretted upsetting this fragile mind and quickly gathered Erestor’s hands in his. “Calm down, Elfling. There is no reason to panic. You may stay here in Imladris.” Erestor seemed to choke, hearing those words, and Elrond reacted by soothingly rubbing the Elfling’s back. “Calm down and breathe slowly.” Erestor was now panting hard and his eyes nearly bulged from their sockets. “There is no reason to panic, pen-neth, and calm yourself.” Elrond now knelt next to Erestor, holding him whilst the anxiety attack continued. He grew worried, realizing that the mere notion of being sent back to his family had driven Erestor straight into a panic attack. “Be calm, be at peace. You can stay here. You do not have to go back to Mirkwood.”
The words finally registered in Erestor’s troubled mind and he clung to them, slowly regaining his calm. “How can you say… such a thing?” he said, still panting softly. “Only Lord Elrond...can make such a… decision.” His shoulders slumped in defeat. “I want to stay...so badly. I want to remain alive... I am too young to die, please…”
Elrond wasn’t able to make much sense of the Elfling’s ramblings, but when he felt Erestor move away from him, he allowed it. “Worry no longer, pen-neth. You may stay.” Erestor raised his tearstreaked face and their eyes met. Elrond slowly lifted his hand and pretended to not notice Erestor’s flinch when he gently stroked the long, tangled hair. “You never asked me what my name was… Do you want to know?”
“Your name?” Erestor frowned through the tears that were rolling down his face.
“My name is Elrond Half-Elven—“ He was forced to stop talking when Erestor stared at him in shock. Nodding his head, he waited for the Elfling to calm himself and then continued, “I regret not telling you earlier, but I wanted to know why you came here, and I was afraid you would not tell me if you knew who I was.”
Erestor couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You… are… Lord… Elrond?” he stuttered in disbelief. At once, he pulled back, feeling uncomfortable being this close to the fabled Elf-lord. “I apologize for… for taking up this much of your precious time.”
His curiosity piqued, Elrond rose from the floor, followed by Erestor, who swayed on his feet. “Sit down, Elfling.”
Erestor obeyed at once, trembling nervously. “I was serious, my lord. I am no spy and I will work hard.” His eyes downcast, he tried to control his growing fear. “Will you truly let me stay?” Peeking through his eyelids at the Elf-lord, he wondered how low Elrond’s opinion was of him. “You won’t even know I am here.” He planned to make himself invisible, and hopefully Elrond would forget his very existence. All he wanted was a quite and peaceful life.
“My wife, Celebrian, will assign quarters to you where you may stay as long as you wish. If you desire to work for me, you may ask my chief librarian, Collneled, if he requires your services. You mentioned you were trained as scribe?”
Erestor nodded shyly. “I will work to repay you for your kindness. Thank you for letting me stay.”
Elrond smiled reassuringly. He still didn’t know why Erestor had sought refuge here, but he hoped to find out in time.
Beta read by Ilye, thank you!
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