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Father, Captain, and King  by Thundera Tiger

Author’s Notes: By way of introduction, this story takes place on or around the year 2980 TA. By this time, Nazgűl had taken possession of Dol Guldur and begun their assault on Mirkwood, Saruman had begun to desire the Ring for himself, said Ring was being held by Bilbo Baggins within the Shire, Aragorn was finishing up his long journeys, and Gollum was becoming acquainted with a rather large and hungry spider in the pass of Cirith Ungol. In other words, noteworthy things were happening, but nobody knew it. Anyway, I wrote this fic for Father’s Day as a way of paying tribute to a certain father in Mirkwood who seems to get short-changed once in a while. And with that, I’ll leave you to read and hopefully enjoy!

Father, Captain, and King

It had been said by some that the coming of night was a blessing to the weary. The trials and struggles of the day could be put aside for a time while the comfort of darkness consoled the tired mind, granting a few hours of peace and rest. Night was a time for quiet thought and reflection. The absence of light made things clearer, eliminating garish noise and leaving behind only that which was truly needful. Beneath the soft glow of the moon, the world renewed itself and prepared for the grueling pace of yet another harsh day. Night was something to look forward to. Something to honor. Something to cherish.

Thranduil had an especially harsh glare reserved for fools who believed such nonsense.

Standing just outside the heavy gates that secured the entrance to his underground stronghold, the king of Mirkwood watched the close of the summer day with the tired resignation of a prisoner who has lost all hope of escape. And more often than not, the term "prisoner" was the most appropriate description for the elves beneath Thranduil’s rule. The Wargs and Orcs that roamed the choked forest pressed closer and closer to Mirkwood’s primary stronghold, and no matter how many patrols went forth to push them back, the relentless tide of evil continued to sweep forward. The elves’ endless war was in reality a slow retreat. Every elf knew it, though none dared to speak of it openly. To do so was to invite despair, and despair would hasten their end. So while the sun ruled the sky, Thranduil’s people clung to false hopes, singing when they could, feasting when the opportunity presented itself, and living in denial of the fact that they would someday be pushed so far that they could no longer step back.

But when night came and the forest filled with creatures that hunted and thirsted after elven blood, the truth of their circumstances was harder to ignore.

Night was when the haunting howls of the Wargs echoed through the forest as they hunted down any elf unfortunate enough to be caught alone. Night was when spiders skittered their way through rotting trees, spinning thick webs and stalking the smaller patrols. Night was when all the horrors of life in Mirkwood came crashing down upon Thranduil’s realm, and night was when the elves forgot that they were supposed to be valiant and defiant before the darkness. Night revealed the terrors that truly owned the woodland realm.

Yet physical harm was not the only danger to come with the onset of night. Beneath the oppressive gloom, mental battles were fought with as much ferocity and desperation as battles fought with blade and bow. Elven captains assaulted themselves with blame and recrimination, while novice warriors met with doubt and uncertainty. These things ultimately led to hesitation, indecision, and fear, any one of which could cost the lives of an entire company. Life and death were but moments apart in Mirkwood, and none knew that better than Thranduil. He had watched many a patrol stagger back with half its number missing, and he had waited for many a patrol that never staggered back at all.

Today, Thranduil had seen the former.

In the early afternoon, a bedraggled scouting party had reached the palace stronghold, weary and wounded after a surprise attack by a combined force of Wargs and Orcs. The group had been ill equipped for such a battle. Most of their number had been archers, and their mission had been to observe spider activity beneath the eastern eaves of the forest. The possibility that Wargs and Orcs might cross their path had been considered but ultimately discarded, for a group of men from Dale had passed that way not long ago and taken no harm. Beyond that, the Wargs seemed to be concentrated in the northwest while the Orcs had been gathering primarily in the south. It was not thought that these creatures would split their forces as they had done. The next strategy session would need to address this new development, but at the moment, Thranduil had a more pressing concern. The captain of the unfortunate scouting party was now missing. He was unscathed thanks to the valiant efforts of those serving beneath him, but their sacrifices on his behalf had worn away at him. After giving a somewhat terse report on the attack and visiting the wounded of his party, the captain had left the stronghold with no word of where he was going. That had been hours ago. He had yet to return. And with the onset of night, Thranduil was becoming anxious.

The fact that this captain also happened to be the king’s youngest son did not help matters.

Sweet Elbereth, Legolas, where are you? Thranduil silently asked, watching as the last of the sun’s light faded from view and Mirkwood’s deep shadows grew deeper still.

"He is yet outside?"

Thranduil showed no sign of surprise, having learned the hard way that appearances were vitally important in Mirkwood. But he had thought himself alone with the exception of the guards, and so he was startled when he flicked a glance to the side and discovered that Celebas, his oldest son, had joined him. "Yes," Thranduil said in answer to the question while at the same time wondering how he had become so engrossed with one son that he had failed to hear another son approach. "I have seen no sign of him."

"He is not safe," Celebas murmured. "Today’s attack revealed that we have once again underestimated the Enemy. His forces are closer than we realize. Legolas in particular should know that."

"He should," Thranduil said slowly. "And I suspect that he does. But at the moment, he is not concerned for his own safety."

Celebas frowned as he stared into the darkness, concern flickering in his eyes, and then he shook his head slightly. "The captains have gathered in council and asked that you join them, sire. They wish to discuss the ramifications of the attack and the possibility of changing our defenses."

Thranduil nodded wordlessly. He’d set the time for the council himself and should have already been with the captains, but Legolas’s disappearance had distracted him. Even now it distracted him. It was imperative that he look to his people’s safety as soon as possible, but he could not go back inside while Legolas was still missing.

"If you wish, father, I will look for him," Celebas offered hesitantly, correctly guessing the king’s thoughts. "I know of several places he might be, and it should not take long to find him. I will send word once we have both returned."

Thranduil opened his mouth to approve of this suggestion, but then he stopped, torn. He was king. It was his duty to prepare his warriors. They lived in a shrinking realm, and he needed to be a ruler first and foremost. Familial needs were important, but in these grim days, they were often usurped by the needs of the kingdom as it fell before the darkness that surrounded it. And yet…

"Taerorn is with the captains?" Thranduil asked.

"Yes, sire, he is."

"Shall you also be attending this meeting?"

Confusion flitted briefly across the younger elf’s face before it was quickly masked. "If you so command it, father, but I had not planned to. I wished to look over the new trade proposals sent from Erebor, and there is also Legolas to consider."

Thranduil pursed his lips, debated the matter a moment more, and then abruptly came to a decision. "The trade proposals can wait," he said. "Dáin does not expect a reply until next week, and I can assist you if we put them off until morning. It is probably best that two examine the proposals in the event that the dwarves have found a way to get more than they give. In the meantime, attend the war council, and advise the captains that you and Taerorn shall be acting in my stead this night. I will search for Legolas."

Celebas studied Thranduil with an unreadable look eerily reminiscent of Oropher. "Shall I find guards to accompany you?"

Thranduil shook his head. "Nay. I believe I know where to find our missing captain, and if he is where I suspect, then guards should not be necessary. Fear not. We will return soon."

A combination of nostalgia, pain, admiration, and relief flared briefly in Celebas’s eyes and then it was gone, disappearing so quickly that Thranduil wondered if he had perhaps imagined it. "Be wary," Celebas cautioned. "I do not wish to send a search party after both of you."

"You will have no cause to do so," Thranduil said somewhat sternly. "Go now. See to your duties."

"As you command, sire," Celebas said with a slight bow. "Shall I meet with you at the council’s conclusion?"

"Yes, and bring Taerorn, as well," Thranduil said, moving away from the doors of his stronghold. "I wish to be told of your decisions as well as any suggestions that did not meet with approval."

Celebas said something to acknowledge these orders, but his words were lost to Thranduil as the king walked away into the darkness. Now that he had decided upon this course, he would delay no longer. A voice in the back of his mind questioned his actions, noting that Thranduil was a king and could not lightly disregard this, even if it meant letting others look after his son. But this voice was silenced swiftly. Experience had taught Thranduil not to question decisions once they had been made but rather to focus upon whatever consequences came because of his actions.

Once away from the gates, Thranduil turned aside from the main road and plunged into the woods, quickly finding a small, overgrown trail that wound its way north and east. This path was dark as the branches of the trees above knit together so closely that starlight and moonlight both had difficulty finding their way to the ground below. Most of the elves living nearby knew of this trail, but very few walked it. Its use was reserved primarily for the king and his family, but even they rarely took the time to follow it, hampered as they were by the demands of the kingdom. It had been several months since Thranduil had last been down this path, and he did not think that any of his children had used it in years. But he knew that it was always in their hearts, and if one of them needed counsel or comfort, this was the place they were most likely to turn. For at the end of this trail was a small clearing, and in the clearing were the charred remains of a tall beech tree that had been planted as a memorial to Mirkwood’s queen.

Centuries ago, when Legolas had been small enough to carry, Thranduil had gone to the clearing often. The shadow over the forest had not been so great in those days, and there had been time for quiet thought that did not have to do with defenses and patrols. The king would whisper his musings to the beech tree—then only a sapling—while his sons and daughters played countless games with Legolas.

But then the power of Dol Guldur grew and with it came Orcs, Wargs, and spiders. The trees became twisted and knotted as they struggled against the darkness, and the Enemy struck hard against the elves. Thranduil found less time to visit the beech tree, as did his children. The shadow pushed against everything the elves cared for, and this included Thranduil’s cherished memories of his wife. The moments in which he could properly honor her memory became few and far between.

Then lightning struck the beech tree early one spring after a particularly bad winter. Thranduil’s rage was such that none dared to approach him for many days, and his rage seemed to grow when the tree refused to die, clinging to life despite its seared heart. For years it managed to survive, too stubborn to let go but too weak to ever be more than a scarred shell of its former self. The parallel to the elves’ own situation was impossible to ignore.

The tree finally died in a year that was otherwise witness to great celebration. Smaug was killed, the Battle of Five Armies beheld the destruction of many mountain goblins, and the White Council aided the forces of Lothlórien in overcoming the might of Dol Guldur. The tree’s death was a dark omen for so bright a time, and Thranduil never forgot it. Even as other members of the White Council congratulated themselves, a restless unease crept over the hearts of Mirkwood’s elves. Later years would validate their anxiety, and the remnants of the beech tree now stood as a stark reminder of the futility of resistance. It had been a bittersweet memorial before, but now it was a heart-wrenching mockery of their vain attempt at survival.

But in spite of this, Thranduil and his family still came to the clearing from time to time, usually when the dangers and darkness of their stations pressed too close for comfort. Perhaps it was because this clearing was party to none of the pretenses and false hopes that haunted the underground palace. Here, the reality of their situation was laid bare for all to see. Here, the illusion that they could someday prevail against the darkness was stripped away. The clearing and the blackened beech tree within it represented truth, and for all the pain and all the despair it brought, there were moments when the truth needed to be faced.

This was why Thranduil suspected Legolas would be found next to the remains of a tree that had been planted to honor a mother he’d never known. The king was not entirely sure why this particular attack had upset his son, but the youngest prince had never been one to hide from his problems. Whatever was bothering him, it was likely that Legolas had chosen to confront it in a place that did not offer the comforting façade of safety. He would wish to face his fears and worries directly. Thus it was no great surprise when Thranduil eventually came to the end of the trail and discovered the object of his search standing silent and still near the center of the clearing.

For a long moment, Thranduil stood and watched his son, attempting to decipher his mood. Legolas’s rather sketchy report of the attack had included just enough information to give them some ideas for guarding against future incidents but no more than that. At the time, Thranduil had thought to press for greater details, sensing that something significant was being left unsaid, but there had been other things to worry about and he had ultimately decided that further interrogation could wait. He realized now that this had been a mistake, for the longer he watched his son, the less he felt he understood him. Something had happened during the attack that had shaken Legolas badly, but the younger elf was closing himself off, giving Thranduil no opportunity to guess at what had occurred.

At length, Thranduil elected to take a somewhat direct approach, and he walked into the clearing, allowing his robes to drag through the tall grass so that his son would know of his presence. "Legolas?" he called gently.

Upon hearing his name, Legolas turned slightly and dipped his head in greeting, but his eyes remained blank, allowing no emotions to show through them. "Sire."

"The captains are meeting to discuss today’s attack," Thranduil said, feeling slightly unnerved that he could not read his son’s face. "Did you plan to join them?"

"You gave me leave to forego this council."

"I did, but I had thought you would use the time for rest and recovery."

"I was unaware that my absence came with conditions, sire. If you wish it, I shall join the other captains."

Fighting down a rising surge of frustration, Thranduil studied Legolas carefully but could still find nothing to indicate his son’s state of mind. "You are not required to attend the council, Legolas," he said, "but I wish to know why you have chosen to come here. Night has fallen, and it is no longer safe to remain outside."

"If it concerns you, then I will go to my rooms," Legolas said, turning as though preparing to walk away.

"I did not give you leave to go," Thranduil said, trying to keep the sharpness from his voice.

"You order me to stay, then?" Legolas asked, a hint of a challenge entering his eyes. "It was my understanding that this was not safe."

But Thranduil recognized easily enough what Legolas was attempting to do, and he refused to be baited. "I order you to stay until you satisfy my curiosity," the king said. It had been clear from the beginning that Legolas did not desire conversation, but Thranduil was now certain that conversation was desperately needed. "Why have you come here, Legolas? And why do you tarry?"

The challenge faded from his eyes and Legolas looked away. "I wished to think," he eventually said.

"This is a good place for it," Thranduil offered, hoping to continue the conversation.

"Yes, it is."

An awkward silence descended between the two elves, and Thranduil once again pushed back his frustration. Direct questioning was not working. It was time for a more subtle approach. Walking toward the charred wood of the beech tree, the king kept his face turned away from his son and began to speak. "You are not to blame, if that is your thought. There was no reason to expect Orcs and Wargs upon the road."


"Your companions tell me that you reacted quickly and led them well. One went so far as to say that your actions prevented the destruction of the entire scouting party."

More silence.

"The dead should be mourned, of course, but you must not let your grief overpower you."

Still more silence.

"Those that died defending you did so in the hopes that you would lead others to safety. Do not dismiss their sacrifice by denying your own worth."

The silence persisted.

Thranduil sneaked a glance back at his son, surprised and concerned that he had yet to meet with protest or interruption. He was saying nothing that Legolas did not already know, and the younger elf usually objected to such obvious platitudes. Legolas was very aware of the fact that he was the youngest captain in Thranduil’s service, and if he suspected anyone of giving him special treatment or advice because of his youth, he was quick to inform them that he had earned his position and did not need to be coddled. Perhaps I am being too subtle, Thranduil thought, deciding to resort to condescension. "If you need some time to yourself in order to recover, I can reassign your patrol to—"

"That will not be necessary," Legolas said sharply.

In many ways, his son was still very predictable. Relieved at the response, Thranduil continued in this vein, hoping to further provoke him. Legolas was not as careful with his words when he was angry. "It would not tax our resources too greatly," he said, adopting a somewhat patronizing tone. "You could journey northward and spend a week or two among our safer settlements until—"

"That will not be necessary," Legolas repeated, his eyes growing hard.

Thranduil frowned and allowed a measure of concern to show upon his face. "You are certain? It would be easy enough to have Narsigil lead—"

"I neither need nor desire your pity, father," Legolas said, his voice clipped and abrupt. "I know well my duty to this realm and to those that serve beneath me. I know what is expected of me, and I will not allow another to take my place when I am perfectly capable of fulfilling what obligations I have!"

"But it seems that today’s attack has weakened you."

"I am not weakened," Legolas snapped, spitting out the words as though they had an unsavory taste. "I am whole and uninjured. I need nothing in the way of rest."

Thranduil paused, sensing that he was on the brink of something. But on the brink of what? This was not the first time Legolas had returned bearing dead companions, nor was this the first time that Legolas had returned unscathed while others of his party suffered greatly. Such events were sorrowing, certainly, but Legolas had dealt with them before. What could have happened this time to make such a difference?

"Your body may be whole and uninjured, but your mind is another matter," Thranduil said, now watching his son’s face closely. "A mistake or hesitation can choose your fate for you if…" He broke off when he caught a flash of grief in Legolas’s eyes. Was that what had brought this on? A mistake on Legolas’s part? Thranduil frowned, unsatisfied with this theory. Legolas had made mistakes before. He learned from the consequences and he moved on. It was unlike him to brood over a single moment of error.

"My mind is hale, sire," Legolas said coolly as the king searched for answers. "Your concern here is unwarranted and—"

"You had to choose," Thranduil realized, his eyes narrow as he studied Legolas. "You were forced into a choice of some kind." Knowing he was right when his son stepped back, Thranduil reached out and caught Legolas by the shoulders. "What happened?" he asked, his voice low but gentle. "What choice did you have to make?"

Anger was fading from Legolas’s face, replaced by a combination of fear and uncertainty. "It does not matter. It is done and cannot be taken back."

"It matters if it haunts you still."

Legolas shook his head. "It is finished, father, and—"

"Speak or we shall stand here for the rest of the night waiting for you to speak." Thranduil squeezed his son’s shoulders and softened his tone. "Tell me what happened, Legolas. Tell me choice you had to make."


"Now, Legolas."

The prince dropped his eyes, unable to meet the king’s gaze, and for a moment, Thranduil thought that he would refuse to answer. But then Legolas began to speak, his voice so soft that his words were barely audible. "We were on our way back," he whispered. "We had passed sentries on the borders of our territory and thought ourselves safe. The scouts had seen nothing to worry them. We thought the area was secure." He paused, his jaw clenching.

"Go on," Thranduil encouraged.

"There was a new elf assigned to our patrol. Talagan. It was his first mission. He wished to learn more of scouting. I agreed to take him forward and teach him somewhat."

Thranduil nodded slowly. Legolas had spent many years as a forward scout for his brother Taerorn before earning the right to captain his own patrol. It was not uncommon for Legolas to take up that role again when the main party did not require his presence, and it was not uncommon for him to take less experienced elves with him. "Am I correct in assuming that the two of you were the first to find the Orcs?"

"It would be more accurate to say that we were the first to be found," Legolas said bitterly, shaking his head. "I have gone over the situation time and again since returning, but I still cannot say how we failed to note their presence until they revealed themselves."

"We will look into that matter," Thranduil assured him. "But continue. What happened after you were found?"

"We fought," Legolas said, and Thranduil felt his son’s shoulders growing tense beneath his hands. "We fought, and I broke free. I was about to send a signal to the main body of the patrol, but ere I could act, the Orcs subdued Talagan and ordered me to stand down, else they would kill him." Legolas closed his eyes. "I gave the signal anyway."

"And they killed him," Thranduil guessed.

Legolas nodded wearily. "They cut his throat and threw him aside."

Thranduil sighed, his brow furrowing. "They would have killed him regardless. You were correct to warn your patrol or you might have suffered greater casualties."

Legolas’s head dropped lower. "I know, sire."

Thranduil studied his son. "But that is not what drove you here. Talagan’s passing, grievous thought it was, is not what weighs upon you."

Legolas was suddenly very still. "No. No, it is not."

"Then speak further, my son. What is it that darkens your mind?"

The prince paused. "A thought I had. Nothing more."

"And nothing less, presumably. Will you speak of it?"

A trace of a smile curved the corners of Legolas’s mouth, and he opened his eyes as he raised his head. "Will you allow me to do otherwise?"

"No," Thranduil told him shortly.

Legolas nodded slightly and looked down again. "I…when I saw that the Orcs intended to kill Talagan, I knew I had no other choice. I had to alert the patrol. I could not trade one life for many. But…" The younger elf’s brow creased. "I had a thought even as I whistled to the others. A possibility. For one brief moment, I imagined that it was you or one of my brothers in the hands of the Orcs. And I knew that had it been so, I would not risk alerting the patrol."

Thranduil blinked, uncertain what to make of this. "Legolas—"

"I placed value upon their lives," Legolas interrupted, and in a sudden burst of movement, he broke away from his father’s hold and began to pace. "I cared for the patrol more than I cared for Talagan, and I cared for those above me more than I cared for the patrol."

"You are required to place values, Legolas," Thranduil said, feeling as though he was still missing the root of the problem. "Each time you send scouts ahead, you send those beneath you into danger. And you do not go yourself because you are required to lead the main party. You are the captain."

"But because I am the captain, I choose those I send based on skill and ability. I do not make choices based on friendship and family," Legolas shot back. "Talagan possessed good instincts. He learned quickly, and his skill with weapons was not to be questioned. Had he survived, I do not doubt but what he would have become a captain himself many years from now. But circumstances being what they were, I chose to let him die so that a patrol of experienced archers could be warned. Father, I would not have done that had it been you or my brothers in Talagan’s place. And I would not have made that choice because of skills or potential. I would have acted on emotion." Legolas rubbed his brow, his face contorting in grief and anger. "I would have chosen life and death for countless others based on the promptings of my heart. Not my mind."

Thranduil watched his son in silence for a long time. He now understood Legolas’s dilemma, but he was not confident of his ability to provide a clear answer. Nor was he confident of his ability to sympathize, for he had never faced such a situation. He sent his sons into danger on a daily basis, but he did not send them into certain death. He had watched them train, had tested their skills, and was assured of their ability to deal with whatever came their way. He also knew that should one of his sons be taken prisoner, he would be powerless to ransom that son, as the Enemy would demand no less than the surrender of Mirkwood. It was a reality he had come to reluctantly accept. But would Thranduil be able to trade the life of a son for the lives of a patrol? The number of elves should not make the difference, for they were still subjects of the kingdom and Thranduil was duty bound to look after them. But then again, his children were also subjects of the kingdom. Yet could he in good conscience elevate the life of a single elf above the lives of many warriors, even if that one elf was kin? The king pursed his lips. This particular scenario had not occurred to him before. But apparently it had occurred to Legolas and was causing him to question his abilities as a captain. And rightly so, Thranduil thought as he considered the matter further. For in such a situation, he would not make his decision as a captain but as a son or a brother. In another kingdom, this would be honorable, but here in Mirkwood…

"Forgive me, sire," Legolas murmured after the silence had stretched into minutes. "You have raised me to be a warrior first, but I am afraid that, in some instances, I cannot be."

Thranduil continued to say nothing, torn between conflicting obligations. He had told his children many times that they were captains above all else. For Mirkwood’s royal family, there was no alternative. The kingdom depended on their ability to sacrifice anything and everything if such a sacrifice was required. Legolas’s feelings were not things to be condemned, but in Mirkwood, such feelings could be turned into weaknesses and weaknesses could be exploited. But could Thranduil tell his own son that family was not to be considered?

"You cannot help what you feel, Legolas," the king finally said, choosing his words with care. "And what you feel is not wrong. It is a sign that the darkness has not yet stripped you of what is to be cherished above all else. But I would caution you to examine your feelings closely. I accept your loyalty and your love gladly, but I would not have you sacrifice the kingdom for my sake or for the sake of your brothers and sisters."

"Then what would you have me do?" Legolas pressed, clearly unsatisfied with this response. "Would you have me follow my training or my instincts?"

Thranduil hesitated. "I would have you do what you think best," he said after a brief pause. "Each situation is different. I can give no response that will cover every possibility."

It was not a real answer, and Legolas knew it. His eyes narrowed, and Thranduil felt his son closing himself off again. "Then if you will not command my actions, sire, what of your own?" Legolas asked, and the spark of challenge had returned to his eyes. "Would you summon the patrol?"

And as Thranduil considered what he should say, it dawned on him that Legolas was asking for more than just advice on a possible situation. Legolas was asking for permission to love his family and to favor them above others. He was asking whether or not Thranduil would do the same. It was also possible that Legolas was asking whether or not there even was a family, and thinking back on all that their dark home demanded of them, Thranduil realized that he did not know. He did not know if the bonds between siblings still stood or if they had been replaced by the hierarchy of command. . His children had become accustomed to looking at one another through the eyes of warriors, assessing strengths and weaknesses based upon performance in battle. Other talents had been forgotten, and their conversations focused upon defenses and patrols. It had been centuries since they had operated as a true family, and Thranduil did not know if they could ever function as one again.

Ai Elbereth, Thranduil thought as he looked into the stormy eyes of his youngest. How did we ever fall so far? By striving to hold the darkness back, we let it sunder us with the very methods that kept it at bay. Thranduil had known this, of course. He had seen it happening, and he had grieved over the distance that separated him from his children. He had comforted himself by reasoning that at least they were still alive, but Legolas’s anger and confusion reminded Thranduil that this was not always adequate recompense.

"No," Thranduil finally said, keeping his eyes focused on his son.

Legolas blinked. "No?"

"No," Thranduil said again, reaffirming for himself a simple truth that seemed to always be buried beneath the trappings of his office. His family might be broken and divided, but that would never take away the role that he cherished most: the role of a father. No matter how hard the darkness pressed against his realm, he would never cease to be a father. And though the mantle of king lay heavy upon his shoulders and his children became distant with formality and war, Thranduil would always look to their safety first. He could not deny that, no matter what others might tell him. And if Legolas retained enough innocence to also look after his family first in such situations—something that Taerorn, Narsigil, and probably even Celebas would no longer do—then Thranduil would not discourage him. "If you were in Talagan’s position and I in yours, then no," he continued. "I would not summon the patrol. And I would wish with all my heart that our places were exchanged."

Thranduil did not know what Legolas had expected him to say—or if he had expected any particular answer at all—but his response apparently surprised the younger elf. "But…the duties of a scout and of a captain—"

"Would count as nothing to me," Thranduil interrupted firmly. He stepped forward and took his son’s face in his hands. "Your mother died to bring you into this world, Legolas. I would die to keep you in it. And though I would grieve their deaths, I would sacrifice a patrol for your sake without hesitation. Along with your brothers and sisters, you are my greatest weakness, and I have no intention of overcoming this particular weakness, though it is a dangerous one." The king smiled slightly. "You would do well to keep that in mind when you venture into danger."

Legolas stared at his father for a moment and then his eyes closed, his hands coming up to hold his father’s wrists. "I…I had not thought that…"

"I rarely give you reason to think otherwise," Thranduil interrupted. "Legolas, I would rather that you forget your family and live than remember us and die. You were born in unfortunate times, and necessity has driven us to extremes. But you and I have not forgotten that which we protect, and if you cling to it still, I will not deny you, for I cling to it as well. I will only tell you to heed your own judgement. You are a good son, Legolas, and a good leader. One of the best. Listen to your heart. But listen to your head as well."

Eyes still shut, Legolas nodded mutely, and Thranduil smiled and released his hold, moving one hand to his son’s shoulder and turning him gently. "Good. Now come. The hour is late, and despite your earlier objections, you are in need of rest."

With a quiet sigh, Legolas seemed to gather himself together and he nodded again. "My thanks, father," he said.

"Retire to your quarters and sleep," Thranduil instructed gently as he began walking. "That will be thanks enough for me."

They said no more after that, and even as they approached the great gates, Thranduil could feel the distance grow between them. With almost no conscious thought, they slipped back into their roles of king and prince as they passed the guards at the entrance, and soon after entering the palace, Legolas left to seek out his own quarters. The moment was gone, and the demands of Thranduil’s office now called to him. But he would remember this night for years to come. He did not wish pain upon his sons, and Legolas’s confusion had been difficult to bear. Yet even so, this night had given him something rare and treasured, and in the dark days that followed, he would often think of the gift he’d been given. For a brief stretch of time, Thranduil had been more than a king. He’d been a father. And in return, Legolas had been more than a prince. He’d been a son.

Together, for one small, wonderful moment, they’d been a family.

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