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The coldest of hearts

By Nuredhel

Romance / Drama

Damnation


I saw cold fire burning in thine eyes

Unbound and untamed and true

I longed for love, was yearning

But I didn't know thy heart.

Your soul seemed frozen solid

No joy within to find

I tried to thaw thee, to save thee

I could not let you go

Today I know the truth love and that truth was hard to find

It wasn't you who needed saving

Because

The frozen soul was me.

( Nuredhel 2015)


He could not honestly remember the last time he had been this angry, he was practically seething with rage and only his great ability to control himself kept him from roaring and throwing some inanimate object at the palace walls. The servant who stood there in the doorway was as pale as a ghost and shivering, he looked as if he was about to piss himself and so did the two guards by the door. Their eyes were all that could be seen behind their masks but those eyes were wide and dark with fear.

He turned around, took two deep breaths and managed to avoid yelling at the poor messenger, it wasn't the poor ellon's fault after all. He put the goblet he held down onto a table, it was deformed and looked more like a massive piece of silver than a goblet, he had crushed it without knowing it. This was exactly what he didn't need right now but sometimes fate does what it wants without taking the wishes of the living into consideration. He stared at the messenger again, the poor elf was staring at the floor with shivering legs and Thranduil did regret his initial explosion. He sighed and tried to smile but his face felt terribly stiff and he knew that his anger still was visible in his eyes.

He hadn't faced a situation like this before, that was the main problem. He had no idea of what to do. He had been a king for millennia and he had faced both war and destruction but this was a problem he was unprepared for. Or perhaps not, he had feared that something like this would happen. It had started with the arrival of a whole group of elves of which nobody had been aware up to then. They had first been discovered by his son who for the moment resided in Ithilien and since the group was huge it had split up and half of them were sent to Greenwood.

These elves were the descendants of some which had strayed from the main groups back in the first age right after the first awakenings by the shores of Cuivienen and they had for some reason travelled east and southwards. Now they were travelling back towards the west and the whole group was consisting of at least two thousand elves which couldn't sail yet.

The reason was simple, they had to learn how to interact with other elves. If they arrived in Valinor in their current state they would cause an uproar. Thranduil had never met any elves who acted and lived so differently from their kin as them and they made even the Avari elves seem modest, civilized and highly cultured. When he first saw them the word savage was the first that came to his mind but soon he realized how wrong he was. These elves had lived in hiding for ages, nobody had known of their very existence and they had in fact a very advanced culture. It was just very alien in nature and it had taken some years for the group to be accepted by the more normal elves.

The group sent to Greenwood had consisted of the warrior tribes, there were still orcs and spiders around after the fall of Sauron and Thranduil had been grateful for the help they offered. He soon realized that these elves were the most lethal warriors he had ever encountered. They were fighting with a fury that was frightening and they were born and raised to fight. It was in their blood, in their psyche and culture and to them using violence was natural. It wasn't anything they would ever question.

The weak died, the strong persevered, simple as that and he had been shocked by certain aspects of their culture at first, just as they had been shocked by the cultures they now encountered. If a baby was born weak it would be abandoned, if someone broke a vow or did something which could be considered a crime the punishments were brutal and swift. If a warrior did a mistake during a fight the loss of honor was devastating and even though they never had developed reading or writing they never forgot anything.

The Dha'egin as they called themselves had been there for twenty years now, and they had adapted very well. They were a part of the society now but they stayed in their own villages and didn't mingle that much with the Silvan elves of Greenwood. They showed everybody great respect though and Thranduil had had great problems making them stop throwing themselves at the ground whenever he met one of them. It seemed that to these strange elves he appeared to be close to some sort of deity. It could be that he had ridden the great elk of his when he first met them, the elk was a holy symbol for them and since he was able to ride one it meant that he had to be one of their deities in the flesh.

The strange elves looked different too, that was the greatest difference the way he saw it. They were all dark, and they were very slender and gangly looking but they were far stronger than one could expect and extremely fast and agile. They could fight even though they were gravely injured and they had some sort of immunity to orc poison that was uncanny, it had made the healers really shocked. The black hair and dark skin was a very visible difference between them and the usually rather fair skinned silvan or sindar elves, but these elves usually wore only a loincloth and everybody had either tattoos or body paint or both and they had plenty of piercings and arranged their hair in the most bizarre ways. He had thought it was just fashion to begin with, then he understood that every little detail of their looks indicated something special, it was a code behind it all. The hair and tattoos and drawings and colors and everything told of a person's social status, which clan they were from, if they were regarded as great warriors or not, if they had children, if they were bound to someone.

That aspect of life had caused some rather awkward situations to begin with, these elves didn't believe in monogamy at all. They would of course find their one and become soul bound with that person but that didn't mean that they shared their lives with just that one elf. No, these elves could live in groups of up to ten who were in a way almost married to each other and they often sought partners outside of the group as well. To this tribe of elves sex was just something you did casually to have fun, like drinking and eating, nothing more to it. Yes, sometimes elflings were born and it was of course well and good but in most cases these little ones grew up not knowing for sure who their parents were. The clan would raise the children together and so everybody was seen as a sort of parent.

The Dha'egin would fight like demons if engaged in battle and they would never back down, their hatred for orcs and other creatures of darkness was second to none, too many of them had fallen prey to the dark hunter in the first age and this they never forgot. But the elves of Greenwood had discovered something else too about this new tribe, they had a joy and a liveliness that was captivating. You never saw a Dha'egin in a bad mood, they usually smiled all the time and they lived in the now like none other. To them each day was a blessing and a joy and their parties and celebrations were wild and untamed and very merry indeed. They found such happiness in the simplest of things and thanks to them the mood of Greenwood had changed a lot since the war of the ring. The doom and gloom was gone and the area had regained its vitality. There were elflings running around everywhere, the halls of the palace was once more filled with laughter and song and there was hope in everyone's eyes.

The warriors were excellent, they had a code of honor which made them obedient and quick to obey orders and the officers were extremely skilled and experienced. Thranduil had quickly added three troops to the royal guards and three more to the troops guarding the forest and its borders. He had never had any reason to regret this, they were perfect fighters. But, there is always that one exception from the rule and now Thranduil walked down the corridor towards the throne room looking like a thundercloud. There was one Dha'egin who caused problems and he had had enough now. This was the last time he would accept her disobedience, and terrible attitude.

She had caused problems before, it wasn't the first time he had reason to react to her behavior. She would start fights with the other warriors, go out on her own to fight orcs or spiders, take weapons from the armory without permission and that was just the start. This elleth had a hatred towards orcs so burning she didn't care at all if she got herself or others killed as long as she could take as many orcs with her as possible. The officers had given up on her a long time ago, nothing seemed to affect her at all. The tribe had some very strict rules and she had broken them all, and she had been both beaten and flogged and dishonored but it didn't change her attitude at all. Nothing seemed to reach her and everybody was in fact a bit scared of her.

Thranduil had been frightened too when he had his first encounter with her, he just knew at first glance that something wasn't right with this elleth. Her eyes didn't reveal anything, no feelings or thoughts. They were like pieces of black obsidian, hard and cold and terrible, and he soon learned like most others did that she was like that through and through. Ice cold.

Even when fighting she never revealed any feelings, her face a stoical mask and even though the officers had to admit that she was the best warrior they had ever come across she was suicidal and dangerous also to her allies. She killed her enemies with ease but she would disobey orders and risk the lives of others gladly and Thranduil was really shocked by her lack of attendance to the safety and survival of her fellow warriors. The only thing that mattered to her was to kill, it was obviously the only thing she knew how to do.

And now this, he was fuming as he stormed into the throne room, two of the warriors from the best troop of the Dha'egin warriors stood there with her between them. She was of the smallest clan within the tribe, only about a hundred members were alive and they were not as tall as the rest of the tribe but perhaps the most beautiful among the them. She was beautiful, there was no denying it. It was an exotic and taunting beauty and he had to think about the few other females of the clan, doe eyed and curvaceous and flirty. This one was the opposite of her clan sisters, yes her body was even more tempting than theirs but her face revealed naught but cold hatred.

She stood there defiantly, her eyes calm as always and sometimes he wondered if she was alive at all and not a wraith of some sorts. Thranduil snarled, he felt his anger threatening to overwhelm him. He was the king damn it, he could not afford to lose control of himself, not like that. He walked straight up the stairs and stared at the elleth, he wished he could smack her right across the face but it wouldn't look good at all. You never hit women even though they deserved it and he had to think now. Using violence was always the last resort and he had to think of some punishment better suited for this defiant fury of an elleth.

After all, they had used physical punishment against this one before and it had had absolutely no effect whatsoever. She didn't fear anything, that was the problem. She had no feelings at all and he was wondering if there ever had existed a more infuriating and obnoxious person anywhere. Not even Morgoth himself would have been able to cope with someone like that. He was dead sure of it. He was regarded as a cold and calculating person, as being someone extremely good at hiding his personal feelings and just as good at reading those of others even without them understanding it. This one person was unreadable, nobody did understand her, not even her own kin. They feared her, stayed clear of her and barely accepted her. He should have been able to feel sorry for her on some level but it was darn hard to. There was very little likeable about her.

He saw that the two warriors who stood there holding her arms were angry, their eyes were dark and their faces stern and he nodded at them and they let go. Both were of the hawk clan, he could see that by their hairdo. Both had extremely long hair but the area around their ears had been shaved and their long complicated braid adorned with feathers and shiny stones. Some clans shaved their heads completely and let just one lock of hair remain while others cut the hair short like the style of humans or braided it into a sort of net. It had shocked the Greenwood elves at first but they had gotten used to it gradually.

"So, what do you have to say to your defense this time?!"

He was almost roaring and normally the object of his wrath would be cowering in front of him, she didn't even flinch. Those cold black eyes were staring into the distance and she didn't move a muscle. She didn't answer and he hissed and started walking around her in a circle. "Ten warriors are in the infirmary, because of you! And three more are lightly injured. What were you thinking!"

He had read the message, she had been ordered to watch the back of a troop of warriors destroying some spider's nests but she had abandoned her post to pursue some orcs and by doing that another group of orcs had been able to ambush the troop. It was neglect of the worst kind and he did for a second almost regret the fact that nobody had died because then it would have been an easy solution to it. Causing the death of other warriors by neglect or insubordination was punishable with death and he thought that getting rid of her that way would have been a good solution, then he felt ashamed of his own thoughts. No elf should ever have to die, they weren't kin slayers damn it.

She didn't answer, her eyes didn't reveal any emotions and he sighed inwardly and knew that she wouldn't have protested at all if they killed her, because she had been able to kill those orcs first. What in the name of Eru could have transformed an elf into such a cold heartless killing machine? By the Valar, not even the sons of Fëanor had been that hardened.

He stared down at her, she was rather short and elegantly built with a lovely heart shaped face and the long wavy black hair of her clan, too bad such beauty was wasted on a fëa as cold and black as that of Sauron himself. "What am I to do with you? I could have you flogged once more but it won't change you at all now will it?"

She didn't move at all, she looked like a statue. "Having you exiled is an option of course, even your own officers wants to get rid of you."

She didn't even flinch, to her that wasn't punishment at all, that only meant that she could pursue orcs on her own until her death and Thranduil knew what the orcs would do to her if they caught her alive. They knew of this dark beauty and hated her intensely. She would be a target the moment she left the woods on her own and even a warrior like her has limits. No, that would be a death sentence and he didn't want that on his conscience. He continued to walk around her, her lack of reactions infuriated him, she showed no remorse, no regret. To her others were tools to be used and he wanted a reaction, he wanted to see if she had feelings at all. "They have tried cutting your hair, expelling you from your clan for years, hard labor, training the kids. It is like throwing water at a goose isn't it? It is useless!"

She didn't even look at him, those eyes were like the dark pits of hell and his anger was about to erupt like Orodruin itself. "You endangered the entire troop, oh by Eru, the havoc you have caused. One thing is for sure, you are no longer a member of the guards, never again!"

She didn't move, not even her even breath changed rhythm. "Have you no regret? No compassion? Ten of your fellow warriors are severely wounded because of you and you don't feel anything?"

He was roaring the words at her and his eyes were almost shooting blue lightning from sheer rage. She just stared forward, didn't even blink and he scoffed and turned around, his mind working at a frantic speed. He wanted a reaction, something. He wanted to see that this was an elf and not some monster, that she had a heart and feelings somewhere, that she could be salvaged. If she died and went to Mandos halls even the doomsman would probably declare her a lost case. She would spend eternity in the company of Fëanor and the likes of him. She was too young to suffer such a fate, if he only could break that ice wall around her soul somehow.

He was in awe of her fighting skills, he had to admit it. She was such an awesome sight whilst fighting and many had learned from her methods but sooner or later she would meet her end, it was inevitable. Did she hate herself so much she no longer cared about her own survival? Sometimes they all thought so, the officers had been very worried on more than one occasion and he had been too. Her influence on the other warriors were bad, it had to stop and it had to stop now.

Had she ever showed any sort of fear for anything? Was there anything he could use against her, to crack her façade? It did strike him suddenly, he remembered a very dark winter night when a troop with her in it had run out of torches on the way through the darkest area of the woods, according to the officers she had been petrified and he sneered. There, a weakness, something to use. He was so angry at her he didn't really know what to say or do, she was so reckless and irresponsible he didn't even know where to start. The list of her misdemeanors was as long as the list of wine bottles in the royal cellar and much more grim reading.

He turned towards her and grasped her chin with his hand, forced her to look at him. He was shivering with a mix of rather volatile feelings and then he just stared her right in the eye and spoke. "You will apologize to each and every one of the wounded warriors and I will give you a choice, you may choose between two optional punishments"

She didn't even swallow, the eyes as cold and distant as ever, damn it, how was he to get a reaction out of this elleth of ice? "You will either spend three weeks in the pit or three weeks in my bed!"

Where the last part came from he had no idea, some demon must have possessed his tongue but it did in fact cause a reaction. She gasped, a sound barely audible and for a second her eyes did go wide with disbelief. The pit was the bottom cell of the dungeons, it wasn't small or in any way uncomfortable but without artificial light it was pitch black and completely silent. She lowered her gaze for a second and he did see that her cheeks were turning white. So, there was feelings in her after all, wonderful. He was thinking fast now, towering over her and he did see a slight tremble in her hands, a hint of perspiration on her brow. "You will stay in the pit to think about what you have done with no candles or lamps whatsoever. If you choose the other alternative you are to obey my every order, do whatever I ask of you and show complete submission to my will, do you understand?"

She just nodded, her lower lip had started to tremble and for a second he was shocked by his own suggestions, where had those come from? He had no carnal interest in her or did he? She was attractive and yes, he had to admit to himself that he had thought about her in that way too. She never sought the company of others and shunned the parties and merry making and he had wondered if she was frigid. But now he started to realize that his suggestions really had struck her weak spots and he didn't want to let her off the hook, not until he had unraveled more of the mystery surrounding her.

He leaned closer to her. "So, what do you choose?"

She seemed to shrink in front of him, her hands did in fact tremble and he could smell fear, she was reeking of it. "M…my lord…I…choose the pit!"

He nodded. "Very well then, if you should change your mind just let the guards know."

He waved a hand and two of his guards came walking, he sent them a stiff glance. "Take her to the pit and remove all light. Make sure she is being fed and taken care of otherwise but no lights, understood?"

The guards just bowed and grasped her and for as second she tried to resist, her feet dragging along the floor and she threw a last glance back at him, the black eyes were filled with dark despair and utter dread and he felt bad, he really did. But she had to be punished and if this could teach her the errors of her ways then be it, even if he got a reputation for being a sadistic son of a bitch. After all, being a king sometimes meant taking less than popular decisions.

The guards escorted the elleth down to the pit, it was a rather large cell and it could house ten people with ease, it was both airy and warm and really not a bad place to stay if you had to be in jail for a while. But the guards removed the lamps and candles and they shoved her in through the door after having placed some blankets on the cot and placed a bucket in the corner. She stared at the guards, she had managed to regain her cool appearance but it was cracking fast. The guards almost spat at the floor in front of her, she had done something so bad they had nothing but disgust and despise left for her. "I hope you rot in here Barah, you abandoned your fellow warriors, do not think we will forget."

She just stared at them, her eyes distant and cold as always but there was something about her posture that revealed her fear. The other guard sent her a sly wink. "And if you should change your mind I hope the king manages to break you, I bet he knows how to play it rough."

She didn't answer, the guards just left and took their lamps with them and she stared at the light that disappeared with eyes that got wider and wider. It was gone, there was just darkness and she managed to find the cot, she sat down and pulled the blankets around her, shivering.

Her body felt stiff and rigid and her heart was hammering in her chest, curse him, curse him forever. How could he have known? She could not breathe, her chest felt as though a huge rock lay on top of her. She was seeing sparks and white flashes in front of her eyes and heard a strange keening sound and knew it was made by herself. Cold sweat ran down her back and her hands were clawing at the soft blankets as if they were transformed into talons. She had to get out of there but she couldn't. The door was solid, she knew that too darn well and she knew they wouldn't let her out anytime soon. Three weeks, she would not survive three days like this.

She closed her eyes, tried to pretend as though she was sleeping but it didn't work, she knew it was dark around her, it was like a smothering blanket heavier than the weight of the very world itself. She curled up into a fetal position, tried to control her trembling body but it was impossible. If felt as if the darkness had become something with substance, as if it was trying to seep into her with her every breath and before long she was seizing, laying on the floor in violent spasms.

Images flashed before her eyes, memories she had forgotten whilst awake but now they presented themselves with frightening clarity. She heard screams, felt the scent of blood in the air. She saw things nobody ever should have had to see and her mind had shattered, broken beyond repair. She had remained hidden for days, unable to move. When some other elves found her she no longer remembered anything, not even her name, or how to speak. The clan had adopted her, she was the last of her family and they did pity her. After all, seeing how orcs and evil humans slaughtered everybody you had ever known was way too much for anyone, and for a child barely five years of age it was devastating. They didn't find it weird that she behaved in a very peculiar way, it was understandable after all.

After a while the seizure stopped but she lay there still, unconscious and unresponsive, she had a severe nosebleed and she had bitten her own tongue. If anyone had seen her they would have been terrified. The guards returned the next morning, to leave some food and empty the bucket, they stopped and stared at the scene with huge eyes. The blood that covered the floor was the first thing they noticed, then they felt the stench of urine and saw her sitting in a corner, bloody and empty eyed. She had pissed herself and the body looked abnormal, her position as if something had thrown her at the wall with great force. She was making some mewling sounds and her head was moving from side to side with the rhythm of a steady clock.

The guards looked at each other, then they just shrugged. She had to be punished and for all they knew, she could be faking it. They placed some food on a small table and since the bucket hadn't been used they didn't switch it. She just sat there, didn't react at all to their presence and they saw that the blood was from her nose. No reason to call for the healers just because of a common nose bleed.

Thranduil had a lot on his mind and a week passed before he suddenly remembered the elleth in the dungeon, he hadn't heard anything about her and he felt a need to do a facepalm as he dropped the papers he was going through. Had she really stayed down there that long without complaining? Then he had been wrong in his assumptions and she wouldn't learn a darn thing from this. He could not leave the office at the moment but he did ring a bell and his trusted butler Galion came scurrying. "Galion, would you be so kind and check on the prisoner in the pit? I haven't heard anything from the guards and I am starting to get worried."

Galion cocked his head, the king was as always working a bit too hard, a lot of the work could easily have been done by his counsellors but he wanted to do as much as possible on his own. He felt that he kept everything in perfect order that way. "Of course, I will be right back."

Galion bowed his head and wandered down through the winding corridors and halls of the huge palace and he finally made it down to the dungeons. It wasn't his favorite part of the palace, he still remembered the incident with the dwarves and the hobbit and a set of keys he had managed to lose. The guards were nowhere to be seen and he frowned, they were not allowed to leave the area if permission hadn't been granted, and he had heard nothing of anything that would suggest that they were dismissed.

He grasped a lamp and went down to the pit, opened the doors and walked into the corridor which lead to the only cell down there. He stopped, frowned again, he felt an uneasy sensation rise within his gut. The place stank, and he thought he heard something. He walked forth with wary steps, swallowed and lifted the lamp. What he saw almost made him drop the lamp with a shriek, he tumbled back towards the wall covering his mouth with his hand then he let out a yelp and ran.

Thranduil was going through some reports regarding the trade with Erebor and Dale when Galion rushed into the room, he didn't even knock and just one look at the butlers green face told him something was very wrong indeed. Galion stumbled and his eyes were wide and he grasped onto the table with both hands, as if he was unable to stand. "My lord…I…"

The king grasped onto his butler and placed him in a chair, a terrible scent followed him and Thranduil feared the worst. "What is wrong?"

Galion just gaped and the king poured a generous amount of dorwinion into a goblet and handed it to the butler who grasped it with both hands and drank it as if it was water. He coughed and wheezed and his eyes rolled, not even Galion was accustomed to the extremely strong wine the king favored. "The prisoner, I think she is dying."

Thranduil stared at the butler in disbelief. "What? Why haven't the guards told me of this?"

Galion just gasped and put the goblet down. "I don't think they care about her at all."

Thranduil helped Galion up. "Go get the healers and meet me by the dungeons."

The butler staggered out of the room and Thranduil threw his crown onto a stand and disposed of his long robes. He felt that he needed to be ready for anything so he also grasped a long blade and attached it to his belt. He ran to the dungeons and there was nobody there, not even a single guard. He bit his teeth together and walked towards the pit, he felt the stench and his stomach lurched and he had to fight the nausea. He stared into the cell, she lay on her back in a pool of old blood, feces and urine and he could barely see her chest moving. Her clothes were torn into shreds and the face was gaunt and lifeless, the eyes fixed at the ceiling and she made a wheezing sound with every breath.

Thranduil grasped onto the bars, he felt a terrible surge of pure guilt rush through him, he had done this. He hadn't known she would react thus, why hadn't anyone told him? He felt anger boiling within again, someone was to blame for this misery and he was going to make sure that it didn't pass unpunished. He heard running feet and turned his head, it was Galion and the healers and they all gasped and turned more or less green. He found the keys and opened the cell door and the healers rushed in, they stared in shock at her. She had obviously torn her own clothes, there were nothing left of her finger nails and her fingers were bloody and torn. She had been clawing at the very walls themselves, blood had been running down the rock where she had attempted to dig her way out. Thranduil felt dizzy, Eru's mercy, he was guilty of this, he shouldn't have punished her like this.

The head healer shook her head in disbelief. "She has tried to gnaw through her own wrists, she has lost much blood."

Thranduil almost growled, he stared at her. She looked terrible and he knew that nothing she ever had done justified this. He turned to Galion. "Find the guards and bring them to my office, I will have a word with them!"

Galion just nodded and was gone in a flash and Thranduil stared at the healers who lifted the elleth gently and carried her out of the soiled filthy cell. "Will she live?"

The healers shrugged. "It is too early to say my lord, we have to examine her properly first."

He followed them to the infirmary and they went to work. They cut away the last remnants of her clothes, washed her and cleaned the wounds they found everywhere. She had clawed at her own flesh it seemed. The wounded wrists were bandaged and stitched and when the healers were done it was very apparent that she hadn't been eating at all. She was gaunt looking and had lost weight and she hadn't awakened at all. The head healer washed her hands and shook her head in disbelief. "She is severely traumatized, I am not so sure that she will wake up again ever. "

Thranduil moaned, he felt a need to hide, to do anything to justify this, but what could he do? He was so ashamed, and so filled with dread. The healer looked at him. "Sire? It is not your fault, you didn't know of this. The ones who are to blame are the guards, they have neglected their duty, in an even more cruel way than she did."

Thranduil nodded sternly. "I know, and doubt me not, they will be punished!"

He saw that they placed her in a bed and his heart wept for her. She had to have been desperate, yes, more than that too. It was awful, he still felt guilty and ashamed and he turned to the healer once more. "Does she need special care"

The healer sighed. "Physically no, the wounds are clean, there is no infection strangely enough. Her mental state on the other hand? That is a whole different story."

Thranduil took a deep breath. "As soon as you are sure she hasn't suffered any severe physical injuries send her to my chambers, they are the most comfortable ones in the palace. I will look after her."

The healer stared at him, incredulously. "My lord? You know you don't have to do this?"

He nodded. "I know, but I feel that I have to. What was done to her was cruelty, I have to make it up to her somehow."

The healer smiled, her eyes soft and gentle. "Alright then, I will arrange for her transfer in a day or two. "

Thranduil bowed his head in gratitude and left the infirmary, now he wanted a word with the guards and he felt his anger return with a vengeance. Why had they failed to see how desperate she had become? Why had they ignored her and allowed this to happen? He raced through the palace and elves scattered in front of him. He was pissed off and everybody could see that too. He rushed into the office and saw that Galion was there already and beside him the two guards responsible for the pit. They were a bit pale and they went completely rigid when they saw him and the expression on his face. Thranduil walked towards his desk, slowly. He didn't let his gaze stray from them even once and Galion was a bit nervous, he saw the blade the king carried and he didn't want to see an execution, not this close. He had seen his king take orc heads on more than one occasion and knew what Thranduil was capable of. There were few warriors more lethal than him.

The king didn't exactly hold anything back this time, he let his anger run free and when he was done the two guards were shivering with fear, stripped of rank and degraded to washing the privies for a century after having washed the pit and being forced to stay there for a month. Both looked relieved, the way the king seethed they feared that they would explain themselves to the doomsman before the day was over. Thranduil sat down and sighed, Galion gave him a glass of wine and he accepted it gratefully, Galion always knew what he needed and he closed his eyes and felt the weight of his responsibility heavier than usually. Galion sat down and stared at him. "They thought that it didn't matter if they just left her down there without supervision, that she deserved it. "

Thranduil nodded. "Yes, and it frightens me, it is a very unelven way of thinking. It is wrong in every way. No matter what she had done, they shouldn't have questioned my judgment thus, I am aghast."

Galion sighed and leaned his chin on his hand. "So am I, the guards need a change of attitude. I know they all dislike her but there has to be a reason behind her behavior?"

Thranduil nodded. "There is, I am sure of it. And I intend to find it too."

Galion got back up again. "I wish you luck with that my lord, I fear that it may be a task not even you can accomplish."

Thranduil sent his old friend a wry grin. "Oh you know me, if there is something I am, it is stubborn."

Galion nodded. "I agree with that, completely."

Two days later Barah was placed into the care of the king himself, and of course his personal servants. The chambers he inhabited were warm and beautiful and there were always someone there who could look after the still unconscious elleth. Thranduil had to leave every now and then due to his duties but he made sure that every little change was being reported to him and he had placed her in a room adjacent to his own bedroom, it had been the room of the queens chamber maid when she was alive and it had been empty for ages. Now a huge comfortable bed had been placed in there and the hearth was cleaned and made useable once more. Thranduil had asked the officers if they knew anything about her background at all, apparently she was rather young but nobody knew much for sure. She was an orphan and had been a very timid child and that had not changed at all. She still shunned contact with others and they believed that she had seen the death of her family. Since these elves often lived with as much as ten people in a group and regarded that as a normal thing she could have seen more death than any child ought to, no wonder she had become mentally damaged.

Thranduil did pity her, he would sit by the bed and stare at the pale face upon the pillow and wonder what she had thought whilst alone there in the darkness and he could only hope that she would wake up again. But he feared that her mind would be gone and he had no idea of what they were to do if that was the case. Who had ever heard of a mentally ill elf? Well, some believed that a certain noldorin family in the first age had had a tendency to flip out and move towards insanity but that was ages ago. And she was not a noldo and strong as a lion normally. He could just hope and pray that it would turn out to be alright, that she wasn't reduced to some drooling thing barely capable of taking care of herself,

Thranduil wasn't there when Barah awakened, it happened very suddenly and there was a young servant maid sitting by the bed at the time and also Galion who was busy making plans for a traditional celebration of the autumn's harvest. It showed signs of becoming very abundant this year and everybody was happy. Last autumn had been a bad one and they had barely had enough food to make it through the winter. She just lay there in the bed, pale and with the huge mass of dark hair carefully braided and then suddenly she sat up in bed with a scream that made the maiden drop her embroidery and sting herself on the needle. Galion dropped a book and a bottle of ink and he didn't even pick it up, he ran to get the king. The maiden was a smart one, she didn't really move but just sat there and Barah blinked and fell back onto the pillow, her face contorted by pain and her eyes ablaze with fear.

Galion had rushed through the palace as if his hair was on fire and he stopped in front of the throne gasping for air. The king stared at him with wide eyes and Galion managed to wheeze a few words. "She is awake"

Thranduil got onto his feet and followed the butler back, he could not be seen running but he wanted to. He entered the room and he did immediately saw that the elleth was terribly confused and barely able to move. Her body had been so stiff every muscle had to ache like crazy. He carefully sat down next to her and she turned her head and saw him, he saw that she did recognize him. He didn't know what to say but she spoke first, her eyes were not hard and cold anymore, they were terrified and she was shaking like a leaf in a storm. "Please…I beg you, don't send me back."

He was going to answer when she turned around and grasped onto his robes, her face turned down towards the bed and tears streaming down her face. She was speaking in a slightly slurred way and he suspected that the healers had drugged her and that it still was some remnants of it in her system. Her people had a very strange language consisting of most vowels and it did sound a bit like cats talking, she did speak both Sindarin and Silvan very well but now her accent had become rather thick. "Let me stay here, I choose the other option. I swear I will obey, I will please you in every way you wish, just don't send me back to the darkness."

He felt how his compassion with her reached an almost unbearable level and he put a hand on her shoulder. "I will not send you back to the pit Barah, fear not."

She gasped and broke onto weeping, it appeared as though her ice armor had been utterly destroyed and he stared at Galion who just shrugged. There was no way of telling what was going on in that pretty head of hers. She was shivering still and he nodded to the maiden and Galion and silently dismissed them both. She sat there staring down into the blankets covering her and he wished that he could comfort her somehow. He had no idea of what to do next, she could not be put back into duty, not with her past. And nobody would think that a week in the pit was nowhere near punishment enough. She had to stay there, until further notice and he tried to smile at her. "How do you feel?"

She didn't look at him, her eyes cast down and she looked so small and fragile. He was afraid that she had become broken, that the very spirit in her had been extinguished. She acted like a horse that has been broken with brutality and he hoped that wasn't the case at all. "Terrible."

The word was trembling and he realized that she had to be both hungry and thirsty. He got back up and sent her a rather stiff smile. "I will get you some food and drink."

She just nodded, looked so very sad. The defiance was gone, completely. And he found that he mourned that fact. He got out of the room and told a servant to bring food and drink and then he told his counsellors that he would be unavailable for the rest of the day. The servant brought some soup and stew and a jug of mild ale. He placed it on the table next to the bed and she stared at the bowls with a nervous stare. "It is for you. All of it is for you. You need to regain your strength."

She shuddered and then she slowly slid closer, got the tray and a spoon and started eating very slowly. She was obviously very hungry but sensible enough to not eat too fast. He sat there watching her and he still felt as though he ought to do something, apologize somehow. He hawked and she almost jumped, so nervous, so very on edge. "Barah, you should not have been left in the pit for that long, the guards just left you there. I am very sorry that happened."

She just stared at him, her dark eyes wide and he realized that she didn't understand what he was talking about. She swallowed. "I wasn't there for very long was I? a few hours? But I am glad I am here now, I wish to serve you my lord, I choose the second option instead."

Thranduil moaned inwardly, what now? He tried to smile but it became a grimace. "I accept that Barah, but do eat, you have been unwell and need your strength."

She just nodded and continued eating and he had to sit there and think about what she had said meant. Well, at least it wouldn't be that hard keeping her there, she would be unwelcome among the others and he didn't want anyone to hurt her further. He had to think of something to justify her presence there.

He made sure that she finished her food and she got sleepy afterwards and fell asleep rather quickly, curled up in the soft blankets like a kitten and he had to admit to himself that she was attractive. But he wasn't going to take advantage of her, no way. That wasn't the way it was supposed to be. He went to take care of some of the preparations for the feast to come and when he returned she still lay there curled up and she was moaning in her sleep. It was obvious that she was having a very bad nightmare and he didn't know whether or not to wake her up. She groaned and kicked and there were tears on her face and he had to wake her up, he could not let her remain in that state. He shook her gently and she jerked and was awake in a flash, she shrieked and her eyes were desperate and frightened.

She saw him and yelped and pulled the blankets tighter around herself, her face told of dread and confusion and he did pity her again. What was her problem really? There was more to it than just a fear of the dark, he just knew it now. She shivered and bit her lower lip and he tried to look calm and worthy of trust. Then she just let the blankets drop and she shivered again and stared down. "Do…do what you wish with me my lord…but I beg you, be gentle…I have never…"

She had felt so strange when she opened her eyes, she didn't recognize anything and her body felt sore and stiff and she had bandages everywhere? Had there been an accident? Then she remembered and knew that they had taken her to the pit, she remembered entering it but then everything was just gone and she had no idea of how long she had been there. She did remember feeling terribly frightened though, and something had to have happened since she now was somewhere else.

She saw the king and she knew that her decision was the best one, she could not return to that darkness, it was beyond terrible. Whatever he was to do with her was probably not that awful, she could endure, she was sure of it even though she hated being touched by anyone. He could not be that bad now could he? He brought her food and his eyes were rather gentle and she felt very strange indeed. She tried to protect herself as she usually did but she found that she couldn't, she didn't know how to. Her completely ice cold control was gone, vanished like frost for the sun. He stared at her, he had heard what she said and his eyes didn't reveal anything of what he thought. She was so afraid, she had never allowed anyone near and she had never been touched by any man, she had loathed being near others. But there were no way out now was there? She had to be punished and this was better than being locked up in the darkness.

Thranduil didn't doubt her words, she was obviously a virgin and he didn't know what to say or do. If he told her that this was just something he had said to see if he could make her react she would probably become even more confused and he could not send her back to the pit. That would be murder. So what was he to do? He swallowed and reached out, touched her hand and she flinched and a whimper escaped her lips but she didn't pull it back. "So, you are willing to surrender yourself to me, to let me have you completely? To let me have what nobody else have touched?"

She nodded, her eyes so frightened again and he sighed and wished that he could comfort her somehow, show her that her punishment was over with already. "I will my lord, I need to be punished for my sin doesn't I? I abandoned my fellow warriors, I am guilty of insubordination. "

He took a deep breath, she was able to see the errors of her ways now, that was quite a relief and he started to hope that she perhaps could become normal now, that there was hope for her soul after all.

He sighed. "Yes, you are, there is no denying it. You have crossed the line one time too many."

She shuddered and looked away, tears visible in those dark eyes once more. "I know my lord, I am a monster."

He took a deep breath, it sounded like a gasp. "Oh Eru's mercy, no, don't say that. You are no monster Barah."

She sobbed. "I am, they are right you know, I know only hatred, only fear. They say I cannot feel anything but that is a lie because I feel fear, all the time. I fear everything, even life itself."

He stared at her, stunned by this moment of insight. She let out a wailing sound, threw herself forward and laid there in front of him, shivering. "Please, save me. Teach me to feel something else than fear, free me from who I am and show me who to be instead."

He was in shock, the stay in the dungeon had apparently pushed her a bit too far, made her cross a threshold she otherwise never would have reached. She was able to see the errors of her ways now and still she was afraid she would return to her old habits, he did understand her rather well. He caressed her hand. "Alright, if that is what you truly wish for?"

She whimpered. "Yes my lord, I am yours to command."

He did in that moment realize that what she needed was to be dominated, to be told what to do with no other option than to obey. She had been like a horse with the bit between its teeth running wild and she had run herself straight into danger without thinking about it at all. She needed a strong leader, someone she could trust and who allowed her to drop her guard and surrender. He knew she had been like a spoilt child in some ways, constantly pushing the boundaries in an attempt to create a reaction, to find the safety of someone strong enough to control her. She never had, they had looked at the problem from the wrong direction the whole time. She needed safety first and foremost, not challenges and danger.

He got up and smiled to her. "I am glad you finally have realized where you erred. Yes, you shall serve me but the way I decide and when I decide. First of all, you need to get well again, until then my order is for you to rest and for your wounds to heal."

She stared at her wrists and hands, frowned. "When did I get those?"

He sighed. "You bit yourself and tried to dig your way out of the cell, that's how you got them. Now, rest for a few days, when I think you are ready we can finish your punishment."

She stared at her wrist with a shivering chin and she slowly wrapped her blankets around herself again, her eyes distant and scared. She did not remember, why didn't she remember? Her fingernails were worn completely down, the tips of her fingers torn and aching and her wrists hurt too. Had she really done that to herself? Tried to kill herself by biting over her wrists, like an animal caught in a foot snare? She sighed and leaned back against the pillows, her mind a maelstrom of emotions, it was as though a huge dam had been ripped open and now the feelings it had contained were running free. She could no longer control them and she remembered her previous state of mind, of being in constant fear. She had not been alive, that was the grim truth. She had been caught in a never ending nightmare and she had been unable to find the strength to break out of it. Hatred and fear is two sides of the same thing and the fury with which she had been fighting had been her desperate attempt to escape both.

She had been so wrong, had done so many bad things she was shocked that she still was alive. Her own kin would have rid themselves of her had she been a little older, it was no doubt about it. You didn't disobey your officers without consequences. She deserved to be punished, severely. She could never be free from her guilt until she was. She sat there, staring down at the blankets and she felt that this luxury was something she didn't deserve at all. They were too kind to her. It made her even more ashamed of herself.

Thranduil nodded at her. "Rest now, I will make sure that you have all the food you need and the healers will check in on you every now and then. When you are well we can discuss what to do with you."

He saw her nod, the sad expression on her face didn't disappear at all and he gestured towards a servant. "Make sure she has food and keep the room warm. Also, arrange for her to get a bath as soon as the healers say it's okay. She needs it."

The healers had washed her but it had only removed the worst of the grime and she did still smell rather bad. He hadn't thought of that until now and had to grin, she did distract him. But there would be some days before she got completely healed and that gave him time to decide what to do with her. She probably expected him to take advantage of her will to surrender to him but he didn't want to use her thus. He was starting to get an idea of what to do but it was too early yet to be sure if it would work or not.

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1. Damnation
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