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AU Darkfic: Empire of Dirt

After fifteen years, a 'Courtesan' returns to Mirkwood. Much has changed. Rated PG-13




Disclaimer: I own none of this. Legolas, Thranduil and Mirkwood belong to JRR Tolkien. The premise of Elves keeping collared 'Courtesans,' Legolas's alias while in Lorien, and the names of Thranduil's other children belong to Ertia, from her story, Fifteen Years in Lothlorien. The wangsty poetry belongs to Trent Reznor. What I DO own, is my visceral reaction to the original story, and my abiding certainty that submission to abuse and degradation does NOT build character. I do not believe for one minute that Legolas would return from Lorien as a 'wiser and stronger' elf, nor should you.


A/N This story is a 'what if' based on Fifteen Years in Lothlorien by Ertia and the 'King Ralph' discussion I had with my beta and mentor. What if the Thranduil of 'Fifteen Years' lost all his heirs and had to rely on a Legolas who had been conditioned to submission? The muse arrived this morning in a blinding flash, and the story was not at all what I had been expecting. Forgive me.

The title and the quotes come from the Nine Inch Nails song, 'Hurt:'

You could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt





Empire of Dirt



I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel . . .



Sarnlass, Courtesan of the House of Thranduil, rode through the dark wood. No longer was he at the end of the guarded train, as was proper for a courtesan, beside the collared, dark-haired elf from Imladris who had ridden with him since Lothlorien. He did not know the name, not that it would have mattered, for the names were not true, none of them, and the faces all tended to blur over time. Just one of many he had seen in his fifteen years in the collar.

Lord Glorfindel had come cantering back as the cortege neared the Forest Gate and tugged up Sarnlass's cloak to cover the tarnished silver collar around his neck. The hair remained loose.

"We approach your home now, Courtesan," he had hissed. "It is time to again cover yourself and ride beside me."

Sarnlass had made no answer, merely allowing Glorfindel to do what he wished. If it pleased Glorfindel to have him ride up front, he would do it. He was conditioned to obey without question.

Home? The word meant little to him. Fifteen years in the Golden Wood had ended, and he was traded, was all that mattered, and indeed, the change of scenery from bright Mellyrn to dark and dripping oaks barely registered.

He had family in Mirkwood, he knew, and a life. He supposed he should feel the joy of homecoming, but he felt nothing, and had felt nothing for some time. He clenched his hands, digging carefully buffed and manicured nails into scarred palms. Yes, He felt that. He still lived.

The past years were a blur of faces, names of masters whom he must please, sensations that he preferred to forget -- those that he could remember anyway. And always the smell of fear-sweat and semen. No matter how often and how thoroughly he washed, it hung about him now, in a cloud. His nostrils were never free of it. He hoped it would not displease or offend those around him when he reached the court of King Thranduil.

The path widened, dropping down to a broad river flanked by rows of beeches. A stone bridge spanned the river, and at the other end stood a tall, golden haired elf in regal robes, flanked by nobles of the court. King Thranduil. His new Elven-lord. His father.

"For Elbereth's sake, look alive and smile!" Glorfindel hissed. "You are a prince here!"

Prince? What did Glorfindel mean? Sarnlass knew what he was, whom he was. If that included playing the role of a prince, so be it. The graceful smile came to his face with a practiced ease, learned painfully over the past years.

They dismounted and crossed the bridge. At the foot of the steps before the gate, Glorfindel caught Sarnlass's elbow just in time to keep him from dropping to his knees in front of the king. Instead, he bowed, and took his place, as directed, beside Thranduil, keeping his eyes carefully downcast.

The Imladris courtesan came next, and bent knee, proffering his contract into Thranduil's hand. The king gestured him to the side, impatiently, as Glorfindel took his leave and rode out, with all due haste. The exchange was done.

"Come with me now," Thranduil said urgently. "There is much to say and do." It took the king's hand upon his shoulder to make Sarnlass realize that Thranduil was speaking to him. He nodded and followed, compliantly.

Instead of being led to the privy chamber, or the bedchamber, as expected, Sarnlass found himself at the smithy. Obediently, he seated himself on a low stool and lifted his hair as directed. There was a burning agony as a hot iron was laid to the back of his collar, melting the seam.

"Pain," he thought. "I feel it. I still live." The collar fell away.



* * *


What have I become? . . .
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair


As the collar fell away, Thranduil heaved a sigh. These were the memories that would never leave him -- the roaring of the forge, the smell of seared flesh, and the knowledge that he had done this to his own child.

Although the collar was gone, there remained around Legolas's neck a dark stain from the tarnish of the silver, a tattoo that would fade slowly, if ever. He saw his son put a hesitant hand to his throat, gently feeling the lack of the weight and the sensation that had been with him for so long.

"Come, there is no time to waste," he said. "I have news." Sad news, he continued silently, and he was loath to tell it.

He went to his privy chamber, Legolas following silently behind him. He took a seat behind his desk, noticing that Legolas remained standing, legs apart, eyes downcast, with his hands clasped behind his back. The curtain of pale hair -- hair that reminded Thranduil so much of his own father, Oropher, hid his son's face.

"Sit down. You will need to be sitting to hear this." Legolas sat without a word. Is he so angry with me then that he will not look me in the eye or speak? Thranduil wondered. What had he been through in Lorien?

"Legolas? Have you not even a greeting for your father? Legolas -- speak to me, son!"

"Legolas -- yes, that was my name, once," his son said, raising dull eyes. "Is it your pleasure to call me that again, my lord?"

Thranduil took in a deep breath, suddenly chilled. "Legolas, brace yourself. I have ill news to tell you." He paused, for the wound was still very fresh in him. "It happened at the spring festival, not three weeks past. The feast was set up in the forest, and all had arrived save myself, delayed by a council meeting that ran late. Orcs from Dol Guldur attacked without warning. We were unprepared and . . . there were no survivors." Thranduil covered his face with his hands, remembering another day, fifteen years earlier when he had half jokingly told his youngest son that he had enough grandchildren that he might threaten him with castration. And now . . .

"Your brothers and sister are dead, Legolas. All of them." He paused, while his son stared back at him in what must be shock to great to register emotion. "Have you nothing to say? You may speak, son."

"Maeldor? Lameldor? Not Laiamel?" Legolas said slowly in rusty tones as if the names were unfamiliar to him but returning slowly from out of a mist of forgetfulness. "Maeldor was your crown prince . . ."

"Aye, all gone. And Lameldor's wife and . . . the child who was not yet born when you left. She was a girl. Her name was Lalie. She was so lovely and so merry . . ." Thranduil had to stop, for tears were threatening to take his voice from him. "You are my only heir, my son."

Legolas stared at him blankly. He does not yet comprehend, Thranduil thought. No more than I did at the moment my father fell before the Black Gates and left it all to me. He does not yet realize that the duties of leadership are upon him -- my gentle, self-sacrificing son, at the one hand merry and feckless, and on the other a warrior to be reckoned with. One of the best that Mirkwood ever produced, although I never told him.

"Ai, Legolas, I thank Elbereth that you are home again! The train had already set out from Lorien when your siblings died, else I would have dealt immediately to bring you home and paid any amount of gold to Celeborn to accomplish it. In one fell swoop, I have lost my heirs and my two best captains, and I find myself assailed anew by the evil of Dol Guldur." Thranduil again paused and sighed. "I need you, Legolas!"

"Aye, My Lord," his son replied, bowing his head. And to Thranduil's horror, he rose, stripped off his tunic, unlaced and dropped his leggings to the floor. He knelt, stark naked. "Whatever may be your will, take it of me."

* * *



Beneath the stain of time
The feeling disappears
You are someone else
I am still right here



Thranduil Oropherion sat alone in his privy chamber, a glass of red wine untouched before him on his desk.

His favorite, Ferdal had come to him to provide comfort, and he had said, "Go to the smithy, mellon, and have that collar off. And then you may go or stay; but henceforth, you are free."

His chief advisor had come to him, and he had said, "Send the new courtesan back to Imladris, and send along with him a missive to Elrond telling him that Thranduil Oropherion will no longer participate in the Exchange. Take the other courtesans to the forge and remove their collars, and while doing so, throw their contracts into the flames. Give them their gold, but from this day, I will have no slaves in my realm."

The words of his Healer rang in his head: "Were you not warned, Sire? Legolas was, of all your children, the most like you. For a proud nature such as yours and your son's, there is no surrender -- he either fights and dies, or he breaks . The little courtesan did Legolas ill when she cozened him to the collar and named him Sarnlass, for stone shatters under the blow, while a leaf might have bent in the wind. And shattered he is. But at least he lives."

"Can he be healed?" he had asked.

"In time, perhaps," she had said with guarded eyes. "He put aside his true self; laid the prince to sleep in order to survive. He may be found and awakened, with careful handling. And then you will have to turn him over to your captains to be taught to fight again, for now, he will not even speak without permission. I hesitate to think what might happen to him now if he were confronted with an orc or a spider, as he is incapable of even drawing his own bow without someone's order. It will be many years, if ever, before he can lead troops again."

In her eyes, Thranduil has seen the silent accusation; Fool, for he had thought himself so rich in heirs that he could sacrifice one to suit his own pleasure. "And if he cannot be healed?"

She had sighed. "If not, there are always the Havens."

Now, Thranduil looked at the pile of gold laid out on his desk -- the gold he had made ready to present to his youngest son in return for his service to the realm, so carelessly ordered and so carelessly entered into. He swept it to the floor with an angry pass of his arm. He had thought himself a rich man -- with heirs aplenty and gold and gems -- and he had been profligate with that which mattered most. Now, he was poor, for not all the gold in his vaults could ease his heart or aid him in his lonely battle against the Enemy.

Even the cold comfort of vengeance was denied him. This had been done to weaken him, he knew it, although at whose behest he knew not. For a time he had considered sending one of his elves in stealth to Lothlorien, to settle a score with a certain little courtesan, for he had racked his brain without result to discover any reason why she might have had reason to hate him, his son, or the House of Oropher so much to have set this hurtful scheme in motion. In the end, pity had stayed his hand. Living with herself would be the worse punishment.

And in truth, he was the most to blame, For he had let evil into his realm and held it to his own bosom. Now came the time for payment.

Leaving the full glass of wine on his desk, Thranduil rose and went up to the private family quarters. They were empty now, save for one room, newly re-tenanted. He knocked on the door and entered, stifling a pang at the flash of raw fear in his son's eyes when he entered.

"No. Remain seated. You need not rise to me -- I am your father." What had they done to him in Lorien that he felt vulnerable, even in his own chamber? It was only the first of many such questions Thranduil would be asking himself in the upcoming years.

Legolas was dressed in a dark green tunic (or he had been dressed -- Thranduil did not know) and he was sitting in a chair in front of the fire, staring. "Your hair is loose," Thranduil said, at a loss for conversation.

"Aye, as is proper," Legolas replied. "What is your pleasure for tonight, my lord?"

"My pleasure would be to see my son in his warrior braids again," Thranduil said quietly.

"Forgive me, Sire. My fingers no longer have the skill or the memory."

'Call me Adar,' Thranduil almost corrected but then checked himself. At least Legolas had spoken to him without leave, and on the day his son thought again to call him 'Father' Thranduil would know that they were on the road to recovery.

"Here, Legolas. Let me do it. My fingers will remember for us both," said Thranduil. He sat beside his son and took the pale hair in his hands, gently plaiting the silken strands, slowly setting his child to rights.


If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way



Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
crowdaughter
Jun. 9th, 2006 09:05 pm (UTC)
Hi!

First, thank you fo sharing. This is sad, painful, and chilling to the bone. And it is a truly horrifying vision, since there is no hope here to be seen there anywhere.
(I fear the hopeful note at the end is self-deception on the part of Thranduil - if that Legolas ever truly recovers, I still cannot see his relationship to his father ever being fully healed... still, with time, he might relearn to be a capable warrior. But utterly unfit - or unwilling - to lead. As he was in the Ringquest, at least Bookverse... even Legolas' hesitation to speak of Thranduil as his father and his diligent way of speaking of himonly as 'my Elven-Lord' would sadly somewhat fit into such a setting). If he ever can come so far again.

Your Legolas is chilling in his inability to feel and the utter destruction of his personality. The hints you give - the need for pain simply to know he is alive, as well as the complete loss of meaning for names, or roles, the complete acceptance of the existence of a courtesan (and nothing else any more) - all this is utterly chilling and heartbreaking (and besides masterfully shown and written).

But while I can apreciate the utter horror of this vision, and of this Thranduil's complete demoralization at the outcome of his little ploy (talk about punishment by the Valar, indeed!)- I do not see it happen.

I think that Legolas is much too strong to end that way. In my opinion, he would not break. Not from *this*. Playing prostitute for an uncount number of elves, in a universe were nothing but his own oath binds him to do so? I think he would not break, but he would learn to hate. And to deceive. To distrust rank and position. Even to secretly despite it. Also I don't think the warrior could be conditioned out of him. He would learn to play docile, but I do not think he would truly ever accept that mindset. Celeborn in that story, IMHO, simply has not the means to force him into true submission.

Now, Elrond and the twins in mine, that is another story. But even there, and with the help of Glorfindel and Estel, remains enough warrior in that well-conditioned slave. (Without Glorfindel and Estel, however, I fear that Legolas would indeed have been broken completely and a long time ago).

I think what Thranduil - the Thranduil of the universe of 'Fifteen Years', mind - would get back would be a son who still remembers who he was before the collar, and who would be glad to shed that collar - and who would thoroughly hate him. Him, and Celeborn, and everyone who helped to put him into that situation, including Glorfindel. A rebellious, bitter son who would rather shed his heritage and clothe himself in hatred and cynism than ever giving in or try to please his father in any way, ever again. With time, and the certainty that the time in Lothlorien is over and will not come again, and with regaining certainty and self-confidence as a free warrior, that Legolas might get on a better standing with his father again - but I think he would never again trust him.

But I agree that the Legolas of the beginning of the tale, the sweet, reckless, self-sacrificing prince, would be gone. And I also think that Thranduiil would hardly be better off with a son that would prefer no relationship or contact with him whatsoever. Although I admit such an outcome might be much more preferable to him than yours.

Anyway. Thank you for that utterly chilling tale, and for letting me read it. A pity that this is written without Ertias permission, for it is a chilling and horryfying worst-case-scenario to her tale (and I will be glad to see how her original vision will contrast to it.

Aislynn
randy_o
Jun. 9th, 2006 10:12 pm (UTC)
Le hannon!
Why thank you for the thoughtful and insightful comment, and for taking the time to read in the first place!

A pity that this is written without Ertias permission, for it is a chilling and horryfying worst-case-scenario to her tale

Indeed, which is why it will be seen only on a locked to friends LiveJournal. My beta pointed out that this would hardly be necessary, since none of us asks the Tolkien estate for permission before using their situations and characters, but since I used character names and a specific plot history, even while giving credit, under circumstances that are not covered by fair use, my hands are tied by courtesy, if not law.

I think that Legolas is much too strong to end that way. In my opinion, he would not break. Not from *this*. Playing prostitute for an uncount number of elves, in a universe were nothing but his own oath binds him to do so? I think he would not break, but he would learn to hate. And to deceive.

And so do I, frankly, which is why I thought that the Legolas of the source tale was wildly out of character. I felt that subterfuge and resentment would be a much more psychologically healthy response to such a situation. However, this was my reaction to seeing that Legolas attempt to convince himself of the justice of his treatment and his sincere attempt to conform and submit to it -- to 'please' his master, Celeborn, if you will.

Worst case scenario, a very strong person who attempts to suppress his natural emotions may do too good a job of it and end up going on permanent mental vacation.

Celeborn in that story, IMHO, simply has not the means to force him into true submission.

No, Celeborn does not. But the 'authorial voice' had the means, for it was Legolas himself talking himself into the submission and thinking it virtuous.

Now, Elrond and the twins in mine, that is another story. But even there, and with the help of Glorfindel and Estel, remains enough warrior in that well-conditioned slave. (Without Glorfindel and Estel, however, I fear that Legolas would indeed have been broken completely and a long time ago).

Indeed, which is why I have no moral problem with your masterful tale, Mael Gul, for all of it's hair-raising detail. No matter what Legolas is subjected to, he is still allowed to feel the injustice of it and retain his soul. He may be slowly going under, but he is fighting on the inside while submitting outwardly. And we, the readers, are encouraged by you to feel the same.

I think what Thranduil - the Thranduil of the universe of 'Fifteen Years', mind - would get back would be a son who still remembers who he was before the collar, and who would be glad to shed that collar - and who would thoroughly hate him.

Indeed. That Thranduil deserved . . . ah, I may not say what he deserved because I realize I am conversing with a lady. And Celeborn deserved to have Legolas spit in his Miruvor once or twice, as real life slaves have been known to do.

I simply cannot see the Legolas of the Fifteen Years universe ever being the elf who took part in the Ring Quest. (Other than his lifelong unmarried state and his eagerness to quit Mirkwood for Ithilien and then Valinor.) That might be another interesting outcome of this AU tale -- how would a changed Legolas affect the Quest?

Legolas might get on a better standing with his father again - but I think he would never again trust him.

I do not think slaves or former slaves ever truly trust again.

(and I will be glad to see how her original vision will contrast to it.

So will I, from my secret vantage point. I hold out hope that Legolas and Haldir will eventually hook up and be able to compare notes on how it feels to have been sold out by a courtesan who had appeared to be fond of them -- in between bouts of robust sodomy, that is. LOL Perhaps *Legolas* will regain some of his 'attitude.'

jastaelf
Jul. 11th, 2007 12:23 pm (UTC)
Absolutely chillingly brilliant...

I'm sorry Ertia doesn't approve, or doesn't know, for it might inform her writing; she seems to have stopped working on that tale.

Thanks for letting me read! And I'm dying to see the outcome of Aislynn's tale as well... *shivers*
randy_o
Jul. 12th, 2007 07:30 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry Ertia doesn't approve, or doesn't know, for it might inform her writing; she seems to have stopped working on that tale.

As much as that story gave me the willies, I am sorry that happened. I fear I overreacted in my criticism of it, but this was the first time in LOTR fanfiction that I had even seen the abuse and humiliation of others presented as a 'good' thing, or as wisdom. For the record, I had read Pauline Reage's Sotry of O and had much the same reaction to it.

Alas, I have since read other tales in this genre, and all I ask is that the author warn of D/s so that I may avoid it like the plague or at least read it with my defenses up.

I'm dying to see the outcome of Aislynn's tale as well... *shivers*

I think we are all reading through parted fingers and dreading those Lothlorien chapters. I have laid in a great supply of Dorwinion to fortify myself. LOL

I thank you for your very kind comment!

I do owe a debt of gratitude to Ertia, for it was she who, in effect, told me to go pick on Mistress Crowdaughter if I thought her story was bad. The rest, as they say, is history.
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