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Reunion in Mirkwood  by Mirkwoodmaiden


A/N:  This first chapter originally appeared in my stories I posted for Father's Day.  I have reworked it and added to it to use it to as the beginning chapter for this story.

Ch. 1 - The Pain of Not Knowing

Mirkwood, April 3019 TA

Thranduil stood amidst ash, partially burnt tree limbs and burnt underbrush.  He looked around and saw wide sections of the forest that held only the burnt-out trunks of trees.  He felt the pain of the forest, the cries of the trees and the lingering memories of trees that been turned to ash.  He felt desolate.  They had lost- no, he stopped himself.  That was not true.  They had won, the free peoples of Middle Earth had vanquished Sauron the Deceiver.  He was unsure how, but he felt it the air.  But at what cost, they had lost so much in the process.   He looked around at the desolation.  The forest was and had always been a part of his soul since the day his father, Oropher had led them down the mountain and into the Greenwood.  His father, Thranduil thought and closed his eyes against the renewed pain of loss.  He had lost his father in a battle that had stripped his very soul.  Another “victory” against Sauron, he could only pray to the Valar that there was never another battle because he would not survive it.  Body and soul would be ripped asunder.  He was faintly amused that he had survived this one.  He stood rooted to the spot feeling the pain of the forest wash through him.  He was alive.  That would be the starting point. He reached out with his essence to touch the trees.  To say goodbye to those trees that lay as ash that would in the fullness of time would become an aid in growth for newborn trees.  He reached out to trees that had been traumatized, their spirits shy, hiding even from him.  In his heart he coaxed them to show themselves that the war was over.  There would no longer be fire.  Slowly he and the Greenwood would rebuild each other.

“Adar?”  He heard his oldest son’s voice; it was a balm upon his soul that his oldest sons, both Celebren and Sadron, had survived the firestorm that had been the battle amid the trees.  He closed his eyes and tried to quell the pain that he knew lived in his eyes at this moment. His child did not need to see that.  He could not burden him with such knowledge.

Celebren waited for his father to acknowledge his presence.  When Thranduil did finally look upon his son the depth of pain he saw in his father’s eyes almost floored him. He as Crown Prince, also held communion with the trees, the entire ruling family of Mirkwood did, but the communion was strongest within Thranduil.  “Celeborn is here.”

Thranduil looked at his son and bent his head in acknowledgement.  Celebren bowed and moved to see to other matters but Thranduil stilled his motion with his nearest hand.  Thranduil looked into the eyes of his eldest son and laced his fingers through Celebren’s silver hair, cradling his eldest son’s head. He gently leaned forward and kissed his son’s forehead and breathed deeply.  Celebren felt somehow renewed in spirit and when he looked for a second time into his father’s eyes he saw a kernel of joy trying to combat despair.  He heard his father whisper, “Celebren, my son.  You give me the strength to carry on, Hannon Le!”

Celebren was stunned.  Thranduil was not generally given to effusive praise and always seemed to him as a tower of strength and resolve.  But this battle under the trees had taken the last of Thranduil’s reserves. He bent, and voiced words from his soul.  “It has been my highest honor to have been of service to you, My King and my Adar.”

Thranduil bent hand on heart and strode towards Celeborn.  He saw the Lord of Light and he seemed changed somehow.  As if a secret sorrow was nestled within his heart.  Thranduil bowed to him, “My Lord Celeborn.” He looked up into ageless grey eyes that had possibly seen even more than he had. 

“Thranduil King, we meet again.”  Celeborn also looked around and viewed the destruction that the battle under the trees had brought.  He closed his eyes to the pain he saw around him.  A silent prayer to the Valar was said in his heart, “Please, I beg of you.  Let this be an end to it.”

The two elven lords just stood still for a moment joined by their silent recognition of the moment and all the sacrifice that had led to this moment of stillness and possibility of lasting peace.

It was Thranduil that broke the silence, “So, how shall we go forward from here.”  His voice devoid of any of the side or posturing that might have occurred in previous meetings.  While he and Celeborn were kinsman by way of Thingol, their relationship had had its share of misgivings and misunderstandings.  Too much had happened of late to give those sorts of grievances any sort of light.  Celeborn looked at him and he could see in the Sindarin Lord’s visage he held much the same opinion of the old injuries to pride and circumstance.  And yet there was more hidden in his eyes.  Thranduil was unsure that he wished to know; he bore too much of his own pain to carry still more from another, even a kinsman.  Thranduil motioned that they move off to a glade near by that was on the borders of devastation but somehow remained more or less untouched.  Thranduil’s attendant, Guildor motioned for his lord’s retinue to join and attend the King, but Thranduil turned to his attendant of long years to belay the standard action, stating, “No, my friend.  I do not wish that.  I need to be alone with my cousin.”

“As you wish, my king,” Guildor stated in all obedience, but with a concerned glint in his eye. He bowed and retreated.

Celeborn was a little taken aback by Thranduil’s use of the word “Cousin.”  Their relationship was a complicated one and for reasons dating back centuries Thranduil very rarely gave voice to their bond of kinship. “Lead the way.” He remarked cordially.

Entering the glade brought mixed emotions to Thranduil.  He could feel the joy of the greenery around but much of the innocence had been lost.  Many portions of Mirkwood for centuries had had their innocence corrupted, but much of the northern forest had been protected by Thranduil’s sheer force of personality and vigilance. But even in and among the northern enclave within Thranduil’s protection destruction had been wrought. The despair brought by the fires of battle still lingered in the collective spirit of these trees even though some, such as the ones ringing the glade, remained outwardly undamaged.  Thranduil closed his eyes and turned his face upwards, communing once again with the wounded spirits of the trees, each trying to heal the other.

Celeborn stood silent, waiting for his kinsman to come back to him.  He could feel a nascent stirring within him as all Elves are bound to Arda but the connection between Thranduil and his forest was a sight to behold.

Thranduil slowly came back to himself and looked on Celeborn, seeming more refreshed than he had when they entered the glade. “Pardon for the delay,” he said to his kinsman.

Celeborn deferred, “None needed.”

Thranduil motioned that they seat themselves on upon the springy grass in the middle of the glade.  Celeborn sat himself down and crossed his legs, refraining from commenting upon the ingrained informal ways of the Silvan elves.

Thranduil, whether he picked up upon Celeborn’s thoughts or he was merely expressing his own thinking, said by way of explanation, “Forgive the lack of formality, cousin.  I find at present I have not the strength for or desire to put up a show.”  He paused briefly, a slash of pain crossing his face.  All pretense gone, he looked at Celeborn, “I ask only as an adar, do you know what has become of my son?”

Celeborn looked at his cousin, his pain and desperation palpable, said with the utmost care, “Cousin, I wish I had an answer for you.  Beyond Lorien I do not know.”

“But you did see him in Lorien.”  Thranduil’s eyes held an almost painful envy, “How was he?  Was he well?” Did he say anything about our parting. Thranduil thought desperately but pride and an ingrained sense of privacy even now precluded him from saying.

Celeborn sought to reassure the father he saw before him, “He was well.” The Elven lord paused, “As well as could be expected.”

Thranduil’s ice blue eyes flashed with fear then anger, “What do you mean ‘as well as could be expected!  Was he injured…and you did nothing!” he menaced.

Celeborn held up his hands, “Peace Cousin!  He was well!” he countered forcefully. “They had entered our borders after leaving Moria, after they had lost Mithrandir to a Balrog.”

Thranduil’s blood ran cold, “A Balrog.” He uttered.  “What did I do? My rash words caused this!”  His thoughts unbidden cast back to when this whole misbegotten episode entered his realm and disturbed his peace and had taken his son.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Ch. 2

In Mirkwood

Late December 3017

Aragorn looked around at the tangle of trees on the southern borders of Thranduil’s realm in Mirkwood.  The feel of menace among these trees gave him pause.  He sorrowed as he noticed how the malice was even beginning to bleed into the contracted realm of the Elven king, reflecting on how dank this portion of the forest had become, even in his lifetime.  He looked at Gandalf, sorrow written on his face.  The wizard returned the look, full of sadness and memory.  When he first walked these woods, the trees sang in his presence.  It was joyful but even then, the shadow had started to grow.

“Gollum!  Gollum!” rasped the creature in their custody.  Gandalf blinked away the sad memories and turned to look the present in the face.  His eyes glinted at the pathetic, gangrel creature now only known as Gollum and sighed.  The creature looked warily back at him.  Gandalf side-glanced his companion and shook his head as if to dispel any thoughts or misgivings, “We forge ahead though to Thranduil’s halls.” He did not finish the sentence aloud because he could not be sure of being overheard.  Even the trees had ears and the malice he felt among the trees did not sit well with him.

Aragorn nodded grimly as he brought up the rear as Gandalf forged his way through the forest in an effort to meet up with the Old Forest Road, then over the Mountains of Mirkwood and then to Thranduil’s halls.  Gollum muttered constantly, sometimes intelligibly, other times not.  It was going to be a long journey indeed, Aragorn inwardly sighed.  It had already been a long and tiring road.  He had captured Gollum in the Dead Marshes and had made as good a time as may, traveling with this tiresome companion.  He had fortuitously met up with Gandalf just outside the foot of Mirkwood forest, Valar be praised, and the two old friends forged forward to Thranduil’s realm.

They found the Old Forest Road after half a day’s worth of hiking and as night fell the decision was made to make camp.  At least in crossing the Old Forest Road they crossed into Thranduil’s realm proper where the trees showed less and less corruption.  Thranduil’s will stretched far and they were on the southern borders.  Both Gandalf and Aragorn breathed a little easier but they did not dare to release Gollum from his binding for fear of escape, but that only meant they were doubly punished having to listen to the creature moan and whine about said bonds and how the very air in this portion of Mirkwood beat down on him oppressively until he blissfully fell asleep.  Aragorn murmured a prayer of thanks to the Valar for the quiet when he looked at Gandalf to express this when he saw the wizard replacing a cork in a flask and trying to look innocent at the same time. Aragorn simply looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “What was all that talk about no harm should come to him and how valuable he is.”

Gandalf stated irritably, “He will not be permanently harmed.  He will merely sleep for a time.”

Aragorn looked the old wizard, “Um-hmm.”

“Perhaps I shall wake him up again!” the wizard offered testily.

Aragorn put his hands up in retreat, “Peace old friend.  It is well. Perhaps better than well.  At least now we can hear ourselves think.”

Gandalf harrumphed as he tried to light his pipe.  After a few beginning puffs he agreed, “My point exactly.”

Aragorn sat and scraped out his pipe as he peered to the north.  “What do you think, Gandalf?  Two days, Three days to Thranduil’s halls.”

“Perhaps four,” The wizard puffed on his pipe thoughtfully, ‘Depending on the passage through the Mountains of Mirkwood.”

Aragorn mused heavily the task ahead, pipe smoke suffuse in the air, as he mused.  He contemplated the sleeping form of the gangrel creature who was their prisoner and what his existence meant.  He was not looking forward to this journey.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Early January 3018

The pass through the Mountains of Mirkwood was blissfully uneventfully, Gandalf, Aragorn and their recalcitrant company slipped along the snowy pathways of the forest, seemingly undetected.  As they neared the Halls of the Woodland Realm the feelings among the trees were no longer ones of malice nor were they friendly or welcoming but rather wary and somehow expectant. 

Aragorn felt many eyes upon him, the near silent pull of many bows, and then, “You are slipping, Mellon nin!” he heard a merry voice call out.  He looked in the direction of the voice and dropping soundlessly to the moss-covered floor was a golden-haired elf looking at him and smirking.

“Legolas!  Mellon nin!   Good it is to see you!” Aragorn called out and more cheer than he had felt in many days filled his heart as he beheld the sight of the youngest Prince of Mirkwood with whom he had been sharing adventures with since they met in an Orc cave when he was fifteen.  Both had been held captive but had escaped with the help of one another and a bond had been formed.

Legolas motioned his archers to stand down and stepped forward to hug his friend. “So good it is to see you, as well.” 

Aragorn motioned to the archers, “What is with the ‘warm’ welcome?”

Legolas shook his head. “Adar’s orders.  More encroachments have been made upon these Northern reaches these past months.  No pass is to be given without strong reason.” He looked at Gandalf, “Mithrandir! Again, Mellon nin! So good it is to see you!” as he hugged the old wizard having known him for most of his life, spanning some two thousand years, young for an elf.  He then saw what Gandalf held on the end of his rope, meeting eyes with the grumbling, bitter creature.  A shadow was cast upon Legolas’ soul that he attempted to shake off as he pulled away from Gandalf.  He threw a questioning look at Gollum, “And what do we have here, Mithrandir?”

Gandalf looked the youngest prince of Mirkwood square in the eye. “It is not to be spoken of in the open here.  But we must speak with your father.  It is of some importance and no little urgency.”

Legolas eyed his old friend; Gandalf never did anything without purpose. He nodded, “It is good that it is I who is leading this scouting party for I am not sure another scouting party could give leave to your request at this time.”  He turned to the elf next to him, “Narthon!  Tell the others!  We will bring Mithrandir, Aragorn and their ‘guest’ to my Adar and we will provide tree and ground cover for them. Tell them.”

“It shall be done my Prince!”  Narthon, an elf with honey brown hair and green eyes.  He placed his hand on his heart, but delayed slightly before leaving Legolas’ side,

Legolas sighed, “Narthon!  I will be fine.  Do as I have ordered.”

Narthon nodded his head and turned to disappear into the trees. Aragorn looked at his friend knowingly.

Legolas sighed as he motioned for them to start moving forward, “Yes, he is one of my body retainers, as per standard.  Adar thinks I don’t know what he does.  He trusts no one and I must never be left alone.” Aragorn eyed his friend, Legolas shook his head. “Fear still guides his heart.  He has never really recovered from when the Orcs took me captive.” He chuckled mirthlessly.  “It is better than it was.  For a long time, you’ll remember, my body retainers were very obvious but I started to chaff under the restraints.  I asked to have them removed and he gave in with remarkable ease.  I should have realised he would never give up entirely. Now I just pretend that I don’t know that Narthon and a host of others are to act as my body retainers and Adar pretends that he doesn’t send them.”

Aragorn smiled ruefully.  Thranduil would seemingly forever think of his youngest as forever too young.  He wondered if that would come back to haunt the proud and stubborn ElvenKing.  He had come to know Thranduil’s youngest.  He was a dutiful son, cheerful and full of laughter, but within him ran the same streak of stubbornness as Thranduil.  He bore the restraint well enough due to the great love he bore his father, but Aragorn did not know what would happen when, rather than if, the proverbial rock and hard place met.  He glanced at his friend, whose golden warrior’s plaits swung gently under the brisk place at which they walked, his laughter sounding at something Gandalf had just mentioned.

Gaining the entrance to ElvenKing’s halls Aragorn once again marveled at the beauty of Thranduil’s stronghold.  At first glance amid the branches and leaves of towering trees the entrance gate went unnoticed and not until the gates were opened by their unseen guardians did one realise there was an opening and even then it merely that seemed that the trees themselves were opening to allow entrance.  Walking over the threshold was as if one was stepping into a hidden realm; the trees without and within creating a canopy over the open spaces, sunlight dappling the ground of a spacious courtyard of immense size.  He looked behind him and the closed gate was barely discernible, nestled among a dense copse of trees.  Aragorn was no stranger to Elven enclaves having grown up in Imladris and having spent time in Lorien but Thranduil’s halls were a tribute to seclusion and to beauty.  These two aspects of his halls reflected its ruler.  Aragorn reflected upon the history of the battle of the Last Alliance that he was taught as a child growing up in Imladris by Glorfindel, who served as his tutor in many things.  Thranduil had lost his father at that battle and nearly two-thirds of his army.  Glorfindel said Thranduil retreated to his forest and withdrew from the rest of the world.  Aragorn always remembered the sadness with which Glorfindel spoke those words.  He remembered asking his tutor about why it made him sad.  By way of explanation Glorfindel said sometimes when the wound is so great all you can do is retreat and hope to heal.   The child that Aragorn was did not fully understand what the Elf Lord was saying, but as he grew older he began to understand.  Beauty and seclusion were the perfect definition for these halls and given what he knew about Thranduil their upcoming conversation concerning Gollum was going to be a challenge.

Aragorn was wrested from his musings by a joyful greeting.  He looked to his side to see an older elf hugging Legolas.

“Muindoreg nin!” said the silver haired elf who was hugging Legolas.

“Celebren!  You have returned from your tour of the Grey Mountains!” Legolas declared.

“We returned yesterday.  I thought Adar said you would be out with one of scouting parties and would be gone for a fortnight or more, at least.”

“That was the plan but sometimes plans change.”  Legolas motioned towards Aragorn and Gandalf.

Celebren then noticed the two travelers, “Mithrandir!  Mae Govannen!  How pleasing to see you!”

Aragorn had belatedly recognized the silver-haired Elf.  Celebren was Crown Prince of Mirkwood and one would have difficulty locating an elf of more differing temperament to his father.  Whereas Thranduil was an Elf of a fiery mien, Celebren was far more cerebral and was slow to rile.  He never acted without thought first.  In fact, he counterbalanced his father quite well in that regard.

Celebren then looked at Aragorn, “Aragorn, once again it is good to have you among us, the Dunedain are always welcome within our realm,” he finishing warmly, his hand on his heart. Then his eyes fell upon Gollum and a shadow not dissimilar to the one that dimmed Legolas’ spirit briefly.  “What is this creature I see before me?”

Gollum returned the look and added a most peculiar noise, “Gollum, Gollum!  We hates this place!” and he proceeded to blow a raspberry and then a sibilant hiss causing silver eyebrows above Celebren’s green eyes to shoot up in curious and yet slightly repulsed manner.  He quickly looked at Legolas for explanation.

Gandalf barked out at the gangrel creature, “Keep your tongue!” simultaneously as Legolas sighed responding to his brother’s inquiry.

“That,” he said pointedly as he nodded in Gollum’s direction, “is why I am back from patrol early.  Mithrandir has asked to speak with Adar, but he has waited until he sees Adar to give the reason for the request.”

Again Celebren’s eyebrows shot up.  “Indeed?” he stated, looking at Gandalf, “Well, Mithrandir has his reasons I’m sure.  Come let us away.  I am sure that our Adar will want to see you straight away.”

Thranduil stood at the balcony of his study on an upper flet, looking out over the sprawling wooded courtyard.  He saw walking towards him, his oldest and youngest sons, which in and of itself was odd because Legolas was supposed to be on patrol of the area nearer to the Mountains of Mirkwood.  He grew even more concerned as he saw who walked with them.  Mithrandir and the Dunedain ranger, Aragorn, for whom he owed a debt these past years for the services he rendered to Legolas when he was only a Mannish stripling.  He had come to have a great deal of respect for this grim man of the forest and beyond. He saw that Mithrandir pulled something or someone behind him and Thranduil felt his heart misgive.  His brow furrowed as he stood stock still pondering what he had seen.  A few minutes passed as he looked out with unseeing eyes and a knock stirred him from his reverie. He turned towards the door and shouted, “Come!”

Thalion entered and bowed, hand on heart. “My liege, your sons ask an audience.”

Thranduil looked at his attendant, “Thalion, you know my sons never need ask for an audience.  They are always allowed to enter my presence at any time.” He ended with puzzlement. 

“They ask for audience in the auxiliary chamber.  They have asked for privacy.”

A thrill of foreboding ripped through Thranduil’s heart.  He pursed his lips and said, “I see!  Very well.  Tell them I shall attend them forthwith.”

“As you will, my liege.” Thalion left to deliver the message.  Thranduil remained at the balcony and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly in an attempt to forestall the flare of anxiety that was attempting to take hold. He brushed at one of his eyebrows as he exhaled, the flare of anxiety unsuccessfully forestalled. He turned away from the balcony and walked the short distance to down to the auxiliary chambers.

He walked in and seated himself feigning calm as he arranged his robes decorously and motioned for Thalion to tell his sons to enter.  His eyes lit with delight and pride as his sons entered.  He nodded to Celebren smiling, and then, “Legolas, Come forward!”

Legolas stepped forward and Thranduil descended the few steps to where Legolas stood, pretense and façade cast aside at the joy of seeing his youngest stride forth.  He placed his hands on his youngest son’s shoulders and kissed his forehead, “Gîl síla erin lû e-govaded vín, Ion nin.  But why are you here? Are not you supposed to be on patrol?” 

“Aye, Adar, but while on patrol I met with Mithrandir and Aragorn and they said that they needed to speak with you urgently.”

Thranduil shifted his gaze to both Gandalf and Aragorn and spun around back to his seat, “Mae Govannen! My good sirs!” lounging with a replaced feigned casualness, “To what do I owe the honor of your company?”

Gandalf came forward, “Thranduil King.  I come forward to ask you a favour.”

Thranduil looked coolly upon the grey wizard, “I am intrigued, and may I ask what form this favour is to take?” he intoned smoothly.

Gandalf pondered how much to tell Thranduil.  He needed to understand the gravity of the situation and the importance of Gollum. “I need you to hold some one for me.  As much for the safety of Middle Earth and for his own safety.”

Thranduil leveled a look at Gandalf, all pretense of languor ending, “Mithrandir, what exactly, am I and more importantly, my people being asked to do?”  Thranduil asked in a deceptively calm voice.  Legolas heard that tone of voice and cringed inwardly, having heard that tone in his father’s voice on a few unfortunate occasions.

Gandalf realized he was going to have to allow Thranduil more knowledge, “What I am about to say must be kept in the strictest confidence.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Gîl síla erin lû e-govaded vín. =  A star shines upon the hour of our meeting.

A/N:  Conquistadora!  I hope you do not mind but I am thinking of some of the history you wrote for Thranduil in your wonderful Trilogy, “We were young once,” when I wrote for Thranduil in this chapter. I’m referring to the idea that Thranduil has had dealings with Sauron in his guise as Annatar in the Second Age and inserting it as a part of my Thranduil’s memories.  I hope you don’t mind. It was so wonderfully and vividly written.  MM  😊  Readers!  If you haven't read "We Were Young Once" You should!  It is long but it is epic in scale and it is so worth the time you will spend with her wonderful characters!

Ch. 3 – Of Shadows and Memories

Thranduil sat very quietly and then looking intently upon Gandalf he nodded slightly for him to continue.  Gandalf began. “You know the story of Isildur and the Ring of Power.”

Thranduil’s eyes flashed impatiently as his voice dripped with irony, “I have heard of it once or twice. It was lost long ago, was it not?”

Gandalf paused and Thranduil felt the air thicken slightly with foreboding, “Yes…and no.”

Thranduil gaze intensified on the old wizard, “Mithrandir, I know of your habit to speak in riddles.  I would have you stop.  Speak plainly.” He said with a leveling stare.

Gandalf wore a chagrinned look upon his face and sighed, “Very well.” He gave the ElvenKing a look that said, ‘you asked for it.’  “The ring was lost, but I believe it has been found.  It is only a matter of time until Sauron realises this and begins to look for it in earnest.”

At the mention of the Deceiver’s name, Thranduil felt a knife blade slash through his heart.  He had felt the Deceiver’s footprint upon his beautiful Greenwood.  So much so it was now known as Mirkwood.  He knew what the Deceiver was capable of.  Thranduil closed his eyes against the pain of memory and then said, “What is it that you wish me to do?”

Gandalf grieved as he saw past sorrows drape themselves around Thranduil’s shoulders. He continued, “There is a gangrel creature who has had the Ring deep in the Misty Mountains lo, these five hundred years.”

“The creature I saw with you as you walked to these chambers?”

Gandalf said only, “Yes.”

“Why?  What importance does he hold? Does he still hold the Ring?”

“No,” Gandalf admitted, “He does not.” Again, he paused with reluctance to tell the next part of the story.

Thranduil looked Gandalf and it was clear that the ElvenKing’s patience was drawing toward a close, “Mithrandir!  You are not telling all.  I cannot risk my people.  I will not risk my people unless you tell me what you are not telling me.” Thranduil spoke forcefully, stressing each word.  “I cannot make a decision on the reasons you have given me.  In fact, you have not given me a reason…yet!”

Gandalf reluctantly continued, “The ring was lost to him and he left his lair in the Misty Mountains to seek it again.  It was in Mordor he was captured and tortured until he revealed what he knew of the Ring’s whereabouts.”

Thranduil sat listening with his eyes closed and reflexively rubbing one eyebrow, almost as if he could ward off these ill tidings with such an action.  Legolas became concerned watching his father receive this news, the strain of which seemed to age him as Gandalf spoke. Thranduil paused at length.  When he opened his eyes again what Legolas saw shocked him. His father’s eyes lightened to an ice blue when he was upset or angry but never had he seen his father’s eyes like this, so full of memory and strain.  Thranduil stated in a constrained voice, “So, I am to understand that the Deceiver knows that the One Ring is out in the world again and this creature in your keeping has told him what he knows.”

Gandalf nodded and replied simply, “Yes.”

Thranduil breathed in, trying to keep his anger at bay.  The anger within that wanted to rage at Gandalf for bringing this evil within his realm, within his very house and among his people.  “And you want me to house this creature within my realm and among my people.  To what purpose, Mithrandir, should I do this?”  he ended softly.

Gandalf admitted more of the story, “He did not escape from Mordor.  He was released.” Holding Thranduil intense gaze, Gandalf soldiered on, “If he wanders Sauron thinks Gollum will lead him to the Ring. It is why I ask that you keep him here so he cannot roam free.” Thranduil remained silent, the war within raging. Gandalf continued, “I would not ask if it was not of greatest necessity.  You would be doing all of Middle Earth a great service.”

At that Thranduil’s eyes flashed, “Do not speak to me of service,” he said with great vehemence, “I know what it is to serve!  And I know what it is to sacrifice!  And so did my Adar!” His eyes revealed the mental and emotional wounds three thousand years old.  The losses taken at the Battle of the Last Alliance had never really healed; Thranduil bore scabs and scars on his heart that he guarded with vicious privacy and now it was all being revisited.  He sat trying to calm his raging blood. “Leave me!  You will have your answer tomorrow.”

Gandalf spoke, “Thranduil King—”

Thranduil cut him off.  His ice blue eyes flashing, “I said I will give you my answer tomorrow! Now I ask that you give me leave! Do not force me to command it!” he finished in clipped tones of restrained anger.

Celebren looked to the visitors, “Please, let us do as my Adar has asked.” As he started to guide them away, “Let me show you to accommodations and a cell shall be provided for our ‘guest’ until Adar has spoken.”  

Legolas stole a look back at his Adar as they left the auxiliary chamber and saw that Thranduil sat completely still staring into nothingness.  It frightened him.  He had never seen his normally fiery father looking so subdued. He looked at his oldest brother and Celebren gave him a chagrinned smile and put a brotherly hand on his shoulder. “Let us go,” he said gently as he guided him away.

Thranduil waited for silence to signal that he was alone.  He stood up and straightened his shoulders and was driven to the only place that could solace his heart, his forest.  He rode Alagos, his white stallion, to a glade near his halls.  He dismounted and felt a beginning calm as his boots touched the ground.  Sparse January growth covered the glade.  He sat on the ground with his eyes closed,

his head bowed, his hands palms down on the ground and allowed the forest to sluice away his sadness and anger and anxiety.  A soft voice reminiscent of his beloved wife inside his mind said gently, “Thranduil, my love.  Why are you troubled?  I could feel your sadness, your anxiety.  What is it?”

Thranduil thought, “Oh my love, my beautiful Lasgalen.  It is beginning again.”  He opened his eyes, or so it seemed, to see his beloved Lasgalen sitting across from him looking at him with concern written in her green eyes.  The green eyes she shared with their eldest son.

“What is beginning again, my love,” she held his gaze lovingly.

“War.” That one word that ripped his world apart. “The Deceiver is back again and this time not hiding who and what he is.”

Lasgalen’s eyes clouded with shadow as she shook her head, “Valar preserve us!  And I cannot be there with you this time.”

“But you are…right where you are now. In my heart.”

Lasgalen smiled, love in her eyes, “You have always been a sweet-talker.”  She sobered and then said, “What is being asked of you this time?” her voice laden with compassion and empathy.

“To hold a captive…and risk the peace and safety of my people in doing so.”  He looked her in the eyes, “it is a small enough ask and I will grant it. But the Valar preserve us all in where this will all lead.” He sighed, “Oh Las, I am so tired of this fight.  We fight it over and over.  I so want to see you again…”

Lasgalen looked at her beloved and saw the marks of exhaustion on his soul, truly the only way an Elf ever aged, “You will, but it is not your time yet.  There is still work to be done.”

Thranduil looked longingly at her, aching to touch her, but somehow, he knew he couldn’t.  He sighed resignedly. “Yes, I know there is.  And I will do my duty, cost what it may.  But Las, I miss you so much.”

Lasgalen smiled and said, “Close your eyes.”

Thranduil did as he was told. Contravening what he perceived could be, he felt a touch of lips on his.  He reached to hold her and…there was nothing there.  Yet the feeling of her lips on his lingered for a few moments longer and he heard within, “I will be waiting for you, my love, in the halls of Mandos.  Do what you must do.”

Thranduil opened his eyes and he looked around the glade.  It was a vision or perhaps a waking dream or her portion of their twinned souls speaking within his heart. Regardless of what form she took, whether a dream or a gift from the Valar, once again Lasgalen filled his heart and if it was not filled with hope necessarily, it was at least filled with resilience and resolve.  Her gift to him, to salve his weary and exhausted soul.  He stood and turned his face to the overarching branches above allowing the song of the wind through the leaves to blow through his soul sharing with him their own calm resilience. “Come Alagos! We must return and render our answer!” he said as he mounted his white stallion. He would face whatever came his way with strength and resilience. He did not know what the cost would be, and he was wise enough not to ask.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Legolas sat in his window seat that overlooked the courtyard.  He stared with unseeing eyes.  He heard a knock on the door.  Breaking from his reverie of imponderables he looked to the door and saw Aragorn. 

“Hello, mellon nin!  May I come in?” asked the grim-faced Ranger. 

“Yes, of course, mellon nin!” He started to get up from his window seat.

“No-no, Don’t get up.” Aragorn insisted.  Legolas stilled his motion and turned his attention once again to the scene from the window. 

Aragorn walked to the window and looked out. “You know, every time I come back to Mirkwood, to your father’s halls I am once again overcome by the beauty of the place and how your father keeps it under control.”

“Yes, well he wasn’t keeping anything under control today, was he?”  Legolas looked from the window to his old friend, confusion stamped on his fair face, “Aragorn…I have never seen Adar like that.  He looked almost…defeated.  He is the most strong-willed elf I have ever known.  If I am half the elf that he is then I will account myself well.  But today…”  He shook his head, “It scared me.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

A/N: after researching the idea I could find nothing definitive on whether Thranduil knew about the history of the Ring and the other rings of power.  I have concluded that as he was at the Battle of the Last Alliance and in charge of what remained of his army that he would have known about the One Ring and Isildur had taken it and was killed.  Beyond that he does not know any more about it.  He knows the story of Isildur but not the ring’s fate in the intervening millennia.

Ch. 4 - Journeys Begin and Secrets are Kept

“So, this is who we are to keep safe?” Thranduil eyed the small gangrel creature that Gandalf had named Gollum.  The ElvenKing sat on his throne and looked at the stooped over personage that looked back at him with big watery eyes that held a wary, mistrusting gaze and Thranduil at that moment discovered why he was called Gollum as the odd, spindly personage made a sound roughly akin to the sound the kitchen cats made when spitting up a hairball.  Thranduil’s eyebrows shot up at the sound and he looked dubiously at Gandalf.

“Yes, well.”  Gandalf sputtered out, “It is for his own good, though I doubt he will thank you for it.”

“Indeed,” Thranduil mused, looking at the gangrel creature in a doubtful way.

Gollum looked at the very tall Elf who was looking down upon him, “What’s this place, Precious?”

Thranduil looked down his nose at Gollum, with no intention of telling him anything that he did not need to know, “This is where you are to stay.  You are to visit with us for a time.”

Gollum eyed the tall elf sitting on his throne and regarded him with suspicion, “Must go!  Cannot stay.  Don’t want no visiting!”

“Nevertheless, you shall remain with us.” Thranduil said in a voice that could only be described as steel wrapped in cordiality.

Gollum eyed him again and emitted a sound, “Baaaaaaaaah!!!” and then blew air through his thin lips in what could only be described as a raspberry.

Again, Thranduil raised an eyebrow and looked at one of his guards to come forward, “Raeven, take Gollum to a cell on the first level.  Be sure he has what he needs. Be quick about it!”  He motioned for Gandalf to hand Gollum’s rope that held his hands bound to his guard.

“Yes, My King, it shall be done,” Raeven said, nodding with his hand on heart and then receiving the tether from Gandalf.

“Dravedir!  Go with him!” Thranduil motioned to a second guardsman.

“Yes, My King!”

As they left Gollum could be heard mimicking and mocking, “It shall be done, Yes my king…”

Both Celebren and Legolas exchanged glanced after watching the two guardsmen and Gollum leave the auxiliary chamber.  They then turned their attention back to their father.

Thranduil’s face held a bemused expression as he looked quizzically at Gandalf, “This we will do, Mithrandir, though it remains a most odd request.”

Gandalf harrumphed, “Regardless, it must be done!”

Thranduil returned, “And it shall be. Tell me Mithrandir, for how long we to keep him as our ‘Guest’?”

“For as long as it takes.” The grey wizard stated.

Thranduil gave a sardonic sigh. “I was afraid you were going to say that.”

Gandalf looked at the ElvenKing and Thranduil gave him a pointed look as well.  “Yes, well.  It is as it needs to be.”  He looked in the direction Gollum was taken and sighed musing inwardly.  He turned back to Thranduil. “Use him well.  He may yet reform!” Gandalf ended with somewhat forced optimism. Thranduil tilted his head and his eyes bore amused doubt. “Yes, allright.” Gandalf replied to the look somewhat testily, “But still, use him well.”  He ended hopefully.

“It shall be done, Mithrandir.” Thranduil affirmed yet again.  Gandalf inclined his head, thankfully Thranduil had acceded to his wishes. The ElvenKing then looked at Aragorn and smiled, “Glad you are to be rid of this charge?”

Aragorn smiled ruefully, “It was a duty to be performed.  And a duty I am glad to see discharged.” He admitted freely.

“Can you not take your rest here for a few days?  Your company is always welcome and missed when you are gone.” Thranduil offered to the grim Ranger.  “And of you course, Mithrandir!  You always bring us such ‘entertainment’.” His words dipped lightly in irony when speaking to the old Wizard.

Gandalf gave him a look that appreciated the irony of his words. “Yes, of course.  I look forward to the bounty of your table.”

Aragorn looked at Thranduil and said, “After such an arduous journey, a few days respite would be most welcome, Hannon Le. Thranduil King.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

The few days spent feasting at Thranduil’s table were a much-needed salve for the weary hearted travelers.  After the feast on the second day Legolas sat in his suite of rooms with Aragorn and Gandalf. He prized the time he was able to spend with both the Dunedain Ranger and the old wizard.  He felt a kindred bond with both and neither treated him with undue care and caution, as if he was to be guarded every second of every day.  Legolas understood why his father was the way he was.  He did not fault him for trying to protect him.  And he respected his father like no other.  His strength, his wisdom, his resilience.  As he had said to Aragorn earlier if he were half the elf his father was, he would account himself well.  But he was no longer a child, had not been one for a very long time.  He truthfully did not know if his father realised this in any practicable way.  It was one of the reasons he valued his friendship with Aragorn, who saw him as not as Thranduil’s son or Celebren and Sadron’s little brother but as himself.  He loved his family beyond all but sometimes he did not know if they truly saw him for who he was, rather than who they thought he was. He had even had to fight to lead patrols within Mirkwood but finally he wore his father down until he gave in and even then he had to abide the presence of body retainers, known or unnamed.

“You are looking pensive this evening, mellon nin…” Legolas looked up as Aragorn drank from his goblet of the fine Dorwinion vintage that Thranduil traded for.

He smiled ruefully, “Just pondering things that cannot be changed.” His normally merry blue eyes somber.

Gandalf looked at his young friend as he puffed on his pipe, “Your father loves you very much.  He just cannot see past his own pain at times.”

Legolas closed his eyes and breathed deeply in an effort to control his emotions.  In this he resembled his oldest brother, Celebren.  They both used their words carefully, thoughtfully.  It was his middle brother, Sadron who had inherited the fiery temper of their father, and who more often spoke before he thought.  “I know that, Mithrandir.” He said resignedly, “And for the most part I accept his restrictions because I know to disobey would be to hurt him greatly and this I have not the heart to do.  But at times….” he sighed again, “I wish things could be different.” Then in a mercurial shift that was so much a part of Legolas’ sunny nature, “But enough of dwelling on things that cannot be changed,” the golden-haired Elf said as he walked over to a near table which held the decanter of the fine Dorwinion vintage and began to refill his glass. “What will you two be off to do? Now that you have delivered this ‘sterling personage’ into our care?”

Gandalf looked his young friend and pondered on the concept of things that could not be changed, Thranduil’s blind insistence on keeping Legolas at his side chief among them.  Legolas may not have inherited Thranduil’s quick temper, but he most certainly inherited his stubbornness and resolve.  He hid it well the old wizard mused, but it was there, and something would ignite it, he just did not know what. “Well now,” Gandalf spoke aloud, “That remains to be seen.”

Aragorn drank from his goblet savouring the fine taste of this wine, among the things that he did enjoy that were not often available to him in his travels.  As he allowed the wine to roll around on his tongue  he looked speculatively upon his old friend whom he had known since childhood, “Gandalf,” he said pointedly, “In all the long years that I have known you, I have never known you to not have a plan.”

Gandalf looked at Aragorn, “Yes, allright!” he admitted somewhat testily.  He looked at Legolas, “What you are about to hear I will leave it to your own judgment upon whether or not you shall tell your father.”  Legolas raised his darkish eyebrows but bowed his head in acceptance of responsibility.  “What I told your father was indeed the truth, every word.  I just did not tell him all because this knowledge, the full knowledge, must be kept among the few for whom it is necessary.”

“Should I know?” Legolas inquired, “Should I leave the room?”

Gandalf, “No, I believe that Mirkwood may need this knowledge at some point and I trust your heart to know when the time might be right to tell your father, but now is not necessarily the time.”

“Surely my Adar can be trusted, Mithrandir.” Legolas affirmed, both pleased by the old wizard’s trust in his judgment and a little disturbed by Gandalf’s seeming lack of that same trust in his father.

“Legolas, I trust your father implicitly to act in a way that will protect his own people.  That he will sacrifice everything for their protection.  But this goes beyond Mirkwood, this deals with the very survival of all the Free Peoples of Middle Earth.”  Legolas pursed his lips.  He still was not sure about Gandalf not telling Thranduil straight away, but he did also say that Legolas could decide to tell his father if he deemed it necessary.  It felt good to be trusted to be able to make his own decisions; he nodded his affirmation to Gandalf and the old wizard began his tale.

“Years ago, the dragon Smaug was defeated and Erebor was re-established as a dwarven stronghold—”

“Which had been achieved as a part of your plan—” Knowledge that Aragorn quickly imparted, a smile illuminating and changing his usually grim visage.  He could not resist needling his old friend.  It was one of his few consistent joys.

Gandalf shot him a disgruntled look but soldiered through the interjection.  “As you know, Bilbo Baggins of Hobbiton, was a part of that traveling party of Dwarves.  Legolas, I’m sure you remember.”

Legolas laughed, “I’m not likely to forget.  The dwarves interrupted Adar on what was supposed to be a merry feast outside our halls under the stars.  Three times.  Adar savors every moment he can spend in his forest, under the stars and does not like to be disturbed.”

“Yes, well,” Gandalf said by way of apology, “Dwarves are not the most subtle or best behaved even when they aren’t half mad with hunger.”

Legolas, who had had almost no dealings with dwarves, tended to take his father’s opinion of dwarves. That they were ill-mannered and not to be trusted.  As he remembered the episode that occurred seventy some odd years ago, Thorin’s dwarves had done little to change his opinion of them.  “Adar was less than pleased when Bilbo had helped them to escape.  Although I remember seeing Bilbo within Adar’s pavilion at Dale when he risked the certain wrath of Thorin by delivering the Arkenstone to Adar and to King Bard.  After that Adar always spoke very highly of Bilbo because he risked his life to achieve some kind of peace, naming him Elvellon.  One thing he never knew though was how Bilbo was able to help the Dwarves escape.”

Gandalf sighed portentously, “Well there we come to it.”

Legolas looked quizzically at the wizard, “Why do you say that?”

“Before Bilbo and the dwarves came to Mirkwood, they had been held captive by the Goblin King.  Somehow Bilbo got separated from the Dwarves and he found himself in a cavern and after getting his bearings and poking around a bit, there on the floor of the cavern he found a ring.”

“But who is to say that it is the One Ring?” Legolas questioned.

Gandalf replied, “Nobody at that point but apparently the ring had been Gollum’s prized possession.  Bilbo says he found the ring on the ground and I have no reason to disbelieve him.  They set about a rhyming competition and Bilbo said he was getting the better of Gollum.  A nagging suspicion told Bilbo that Gollum had no intention keeping his promise and would have killed him for the Ring but Bilbo outsmarted him and left with the ring and he re-joined the dwarves.”

“But Mithrandir, that still does not explain how Bilbo was—” Legolas started.

“Yes, Yes. I am coming to that!” Gandalf replied somewhat testily.  Legolas held his tongue and looked at Aragorn.  They were both used to Gandalf’s roundabout way of storytelling and neither could resist baiting the old wizard when he started on one of his long-winded tales.  Gandalf side-glanced the two of them.  “When you are ready to take what I am saying seriously I shall continue.”

Aragorn contritely said, “Pardon us, my friend.”

Legolas bowed his head, “Please continue, mellon nin.”

Gandalf harrumphed but continued with the tale, “Bilbo discovered quite by accident that the Ring caused one to become invisible to the naked eye if the bearer actually placed the ring on his finger.  This was how Bilbo was able to enter into Thranduil’s halls and move about undetected while trying to figure a way to free his friends.”

“That was how he did it.” Legolas exclaimed, “It had seemed like someone with knowledge of our routines, but we could never figure out who or how!”

Gandalf replied, “Yes, that was Bilbo sneaking around like a burglar!  I knew he had a magic ring, though he would not own up to it.  That in and of itself was suspicious, hobbits by-and-large are an honest lot with no real side to them and Bilbo is no different in that regard, but I let the stray thought go by.  I did not  suspect what he had found was the One Ring.  That was not until many, many years later.  You see, throughout the years whenever I would visit him, he never seemed to be any older.”

“Years go now, he had his 111th birthday and he had a large celebration.  Half the Shire was invited and the other half showed up anyway!” Aragorn laughed softly.  He had had dealing with hobbits, mostly in Bree, but they were indeed a hardy folk and very fond of celebrating.  Gandalf smiled at the memory of the celebration, even beyond hobbit standards, it was as Bilbo had wanted it to be, a party of special magnificence.  He continued, “but the most remarkable thing was he looked like he hadn’t aged a day!”

“I convinced him to leave his ring, which he was always confusticating over, to his young cousin Frodo.  Which he did…after a little fuss and bother.”

“That night when Bilbo used the Ring to disappear in front of all gathered on the Party Field.  I had begun to suspect what might be and I told Frodo to hide the ring and never use it like Bilbo did.”

He looked at Aragorn, “Much of what you have heard we have already discussed, but what you haven’t heard and I could not tell while we were leading about the ‘sterling personage’ was that I have been to the archives of lore in Minas Tirith and after wringing permission from Lord Denethor, a difficult task at any time, and I was able to find within the oldest archives an entry by Isildur himself describing the Ring of Power.”

Aragorn looked solemn, “I will go to my Dunedain brothers and have them redouble their efforts in the protection of the Shire.”

Legolas looked at both of them, the mantle of responsibility for what he now knew settling on his shoulders, “I will remain vigilant here and guard Gollum.  Mithrandir, though it pains me to say it perhaps it is well that Adar does not know all in this matter, though it weighs on my heart the fact that for now I must say nothing.” 

Gandalf nodded gravely to his two companions and spoke, “Now that we have given over the charge of Gollum to Thranduil.  I must away to the Shire and confirm that which my heart fears.  That Frodo is in possession of the One Ring.”

Ch. 5 – The Calm before the Storm

February 3018

Winter in Mirkwood lingered on and while what Gandalf had told him in January remained in the back of his head Legolas let the shorter days pass by much as he had done before the arrival of the “sterling personage” of Gollum.  After a couple of weeks Legolas returned to the tour of duty in southern Mirkwood that he had been engaged in when he encountered Gandalf and Aragorn. And in these quiet days he did not feel the urgency necessary to tell his father of the full reason behind Gandalf’s strange request that Mirkwood keep Gollum captive. 

When he returned from his tour, he had been curious to see how Gollum was behaving and irresistibly that was his first order of business after he had stabled his horse. He went down to the first level of cells and was greeted by a curious sight.  Five or six elflings were sitting around his cell and seemed to be enrapt listening to Gollum’s sibilant tones telling a story about his life in the cavern where he lived.  He listened before he rounded the last corner before Gollum’s cell and was alarmed that the gangrel creature was casually telling of the ring that Gandalf spoke of with such secrecy.

“Beautifulest ring it was, bright and shiny.  It was a birthday gift, yes it was!  I would look at it all day until nasty hobbites stole it from me!  Nasty little hobbitests!” He heard the murmur of shock from the elflings and at that Legolas decided it was time to say something.

“So, this is where you all are.  Master Gannedir is looking for his charges.  Run along…” the Elfling boys groaned.

One of the elflings he recognized as Eredhon, said, “Ahh!  But he was just getting to the good part where he was crunching on Goblins and picking his teeth with their splintered bones!”  The other elflings nodded their heads enthusiastically.  

Legolas wondered how many times the elflings had been down in these cells listening to Gollum if they already knew what portion of the story was coming next.  He would speak with his father about this.  Out loud he said, “As exciting as that sounds nevertheless Master Gannedir is expecting you for Archery practice. Go on!” The elflings reluctantly started moving knowing it was disrespectful to disobey even the youngest member of the ruling family.

He looked at Gollum who had been speaking to the elflings in a friendly voice now gave Legolas a watery-eyed stare and then suddenly blew a raspberry at the golden-haired elf. Legolas looked him, raised an eyebrow and doubted Gandalf’s sanity at the suggestion that he might yet reform.  Legolas turned on his heel and left Gollum to inly ruminate upon whatever he was likely to inly ruminate upon.

As Legolas ascended the ramp from the cell level, he saw his brother Sadron walking towards him, “Muindoreg nin!  You have returned from patrol I see!”

Legolas’ face lit up, “Sadron! So good it is to see you!”  His middle brother mostly stayed in the Southern most reaches of their father’s realm.  He was Thranduil’s eyes and ears in the south.  It was a very important posting given the fact it was closest to Dol Guldur and the evil that resided there.  “You are back?”

“Only for a while.  Here to report to Adar, pick up supplies and to make sure Muindoreg nin keeps out of trouble.” Sadron said ruffling the top of Legolas’ head in a time-honored gesture.

“Me?  It is you that always manages to involve me in trouble!”

“Legolas, you wound me, when have I ever gotten you the smallest trouble!” Sadron said with his unique eyes of one green and one light blue twinkling as he fell into step with his youngest brother as they gained the upper levels of Thranduil’s underground sanctuary.

“You’re right. It is the biggest trouble you manage to get me into,” Legolas said remember “I remember when somebody convinced me it was all right to ride Adar’s stallion when apparently it hadn’t been.”

“Convince you?  I could not have convinced you if you hadn’t been already been willing in the first place,” Sadron said with a mischievous glint in his eye.

Legolas barked out incredulous laughter.  How he had missed his brother in recent years.  Sadron was a bright spark ready to create mischief at a moment’s notice.  It was true he was quick to anger, but he was also quick to laugh. He had taught him how to find joy in life again after their mother had died at the hands of Orcs.  Legolas had been very young, by Elven standards, and his father had had a hard time accepting his mother’s death.  It was Sadron who had not been saddled with the responsibility that had befallen their eldest brother.  Celebren, who as Crown Prince, had had to deal with the decisions of the realm when Thranduil for a time had not been able to see beyond his own pain and loss.  It was Sadron who took the time to bring the Elfling out of the shell of grief and reticence he had briefly retreated into by spending time with him and talking with him; making him laugh and helping him to see joy again. Ever after, though he loved his eldest brother as well, whenever he saw Sadron joy came to his heart. 

“Yes, well,” Legolas said, smiling, “A corrupter of youthful enthusiasm, then!”

“Guilty!” Sadron declared, completely unrepentant.

“Where were you off to?” Legolas inquired.

“Well, I was off to get another bottle of wine from the wine cellar.”

Legolas inquired, “You could have the wine steward just bring you one.”  

“I like to visit the wine cellar myself and see which bottle sings to me!”

Legolas rolled his eyes and shook his head in amusement.

Sadron quickly quipped, “None of your eye-rolling, Muindoreg nin! We get precious few comforts in the South.  I like to indulge when I can!” he finished, his eyes snapping with mirth.

Legolas tried to look stern and look down his nose attempting to imitate their father, “It is an acceptable reason.” But he broke the façade by laughing.

“You will get a better resonance of sound if you tilt your head down a bit more as you are speaking.” Legolas looked to his side and saw his father looking at the both of them with a bit of an unexpected twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face as he looked upon his two youngest sons.

“Adar!  I did not realise you were there—”

“Obviously not,” Thranduil said, perfectly executing the look that Legolas had been trying in jest.  His face dissolved into a warm smile, “Do not trouble yourselves!”  Thranduil reached for one of Legolas plaits and laid it near his cheek and placing his hand on his shoulder, “It was a very good attempt!”  In truth Thranduil had been coming to speak to his wine steward and saw his two youngest sons bantering back and forth and it so warmed his soul; happy to see them so carefree.  It had lightened his heart considerably if only for a few precious moments.

Legolas looked into his father’s blue eyes and saw a light reflected.  The careworn look that usually inhabited his eyes had been temporarily banished.  It was good to be home.  Legolas smiled warmly, “Gîl síla erin lû e-govaded vín, Adar nin!”  he intoned the greeting with affection, happy to see the rare carefree light in his father’s eyes.

Thranduil looked at Legolas, “That is it has, my youngest!” he leaned forward and kissed Legolas on the forehead.  At this Legolas felt a rare joy spread through him as gifted by his father.  Thranduil then looked at Sadron and placed an affectionate hand on his second son’s shoulder.  “It gives me joy that all three of my sons are together with me this day.  It is too rare.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They feasted in the Great Hall that day, an impromptu recognition of the fact that all of the King’s sons were home.  As Sadron was ostensibly the Lord over the Southern Marches acting in his father’s name; he provided what assistance he could to the woodsmen who inhabited the southern reaches and kept a watchful though somewhat distant eye over possible stirrings in Dol Guldur.  Celebren frequented the Northern regions of Mirkwood and the Grey Mountains and was designated as Thranduil’s envoy to the newly re-established Kingdoms of Erebor and Dale which often saw him following his duty outside their forest home.  Only Legolas stayed within the forest at his father’s behest.  There were varying thoughts among the inhabitants of Mirkwood as to why Legolas was not, say, the envoy to Erebor and to Dale.  He was certainly capable enough, but these thoughts were never voiced because all knew the reason.  His father could not bear to part with him.  The youngest child between Thranduil and his beloved Lasgalen and given the fact that Legolas was so young when Lasgalen was taken by Orcs, abused and killed; Thranduil had simply not allowed Legolas the same freedom to grow as he did his brothers. They had been given the unquestioned opportunity to stretch their wings.  The youngest prince, well loved by all, was cosseted by his overly protective father.  He was known throughout the realm to have a sunny disposition and seemingly unbothered the restrictions that had been placed upon him. 

Thranduil stood and the hall quieted, “In these times,” he began, for the rumblings from Dol Guldur bespoke of troubled times to come, “is when most we need to acknowledge joy within our midst.  This is such a time.  When I rejoice that I have all three of my beloved sons home now.  Nobody knows what the future holds for us, but we will take joy in this moment.” Thranduil’s face was lit from within as he raised his goblet.  Celebren and Sadron raised their goblets; Legolas paused briefly thinking upon what his father just said, that “Nobody knows what the future holds for us,” A pang hit his heart as Legolas knew something of the future, something imparted by Gandalf, and he was still hesitant to tell his father. Thinking of the joy he saw in his father’s eyes, the joy being celebrated this night he quickly brushed aside the nagging reasons that he had not yet told Thranduil what he knew.  This night was for joy not doubt; he quickly raised his goblet.  He would not take what joy his father had in this moment to only replace it with doubt and frustration.  In a mercurial switch, he drank from the goblet filled with sweet wine and turned to his brother, Sadron and said teasing, “Does this wine sing to you?” 

Sadron laughed but it was his eldest brother Celebren who answered, “I don’t know if the wine sings to him but after many a glass, he will be singing to it!”  Sadron laughed again and tossed a look at his older brother.  “I recall many a night where after much wine both of us would have sang to anyone or thing we thought was listening!”

Legolas laughed but he really could not imagine his serious and somber oldest brother serenading anything that he thought was listening.  But then again, he realised in a flash, much responsibility had been already been placed on Celebren’s shoulders even from when Legolas was a small elfling.  He had always known Celebren to be of a serious mien but there apparently had been a time when he had been less so.

Thranduil raised another goblet and in another mercurial shift he said, “What will happen, will happen, but we must face all with honor, resolve and integrity.  Valar bless us with such strengths.”  And he bowed his head and all others followed his lead.  “Words have been spoken,” Thranduil after the few moments of silence. “Now let us once again be mindful to embrace the moment we have.  Enjoy.”

Legolas looked at his father and he wondered what he knew, what did he sense.  He felt so close to him and yet he still resisted sharing what he knew. It troubled him.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The next day he sought out his father to discuss limiting the young elflings access to Gollum.  He related the story from the day before.  “As I entered the landing for Gollum’s cell, I found Eredhon and four other elflings hanging on his every word, enrapt with the tale he was spinning.”

Thranduil pondered what Legolas had told him. “I hear your words.  Are you saying that you fear his influence on our young or that somehow he will co-opt our young and get them to do his bidding.”

Legolas thought before he spoke, “Not necessarily,” he paused and he realised that the problems he had with Gollum had to do with the information that he had yet to impart to his father.  It just seemed unsafe to have stories of the Ring’s existence bandied about in casual stories that elflings might repeat.  But he could say none of this. He looked up and saw his father’s eyes upon him, “I guess I just don’t trust him.”

“I understand, Legolas, he is an unsettling creature,” Thranduil’s light blue eyes examining his youngest son’s countenance. “But Mithrandir asked that we use him well.  Perhaps the more he interacts with our people he may step away from his dark past.  Also, should I forbid our young to visit with him I fear it will make him an even more attractive figure to their imaginations, forbidden fruit as it were.”

Legolas nodded, “In that I had not thought.  It would be the most likely outcome should such an edict be handed down.”   

Thranduil looked upon the troubled visage of his youngest and most beloved son, “What troubles you, Mellion nin?  I sense you are distressed.”

Legolas looked into his father’s concerned eyes and confided something of what was in his heart, “His presence disturbs me, Adar.  A shadow falls upon my heart when I look on him.  I cannot explain it.”

Thranduil remained quiet for a few moments.  He knew of what Legolas spoke of, for the same shadow  fell upon his own heart when he had encountered the gangrel creature.  He stood from his chair behind the table that served as his desk and walked over to his son.  “I too feel that Shadow on my heart ion nin, but this is the task that was set before us.”  He stood before Legolas and cupped his youngest’s head within his hands. “We can only go forward to see what Fate has in store for us.” He leaned in and kissed his son’s forehead, “Whatever happens, you and I will be equal to the task.  This my heart tells me.”

Legolas looked into the eyes of the father he loved so much, “Thank you.” He bowed, hand on heart and took his leave.  Thranduil looked upon his beloved son’s back as he left his study chamber with a flare of disquiet, a sense of foreboding that he quickly tried to quell.  But he was unable to banish it completely and it sat in a corner of his soul, quietly waiting.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Gîl síla erin lû e-govaded vín. =  A star shines upon the hour of our meeting.

Mellion nin = My dear son

Muindoreg nin = My little brother

Ch. 6 – “It begins”

Mirkwood, Spring 3019

Winter had given way to spring in Mirkwood and with it a new hope and optimism even in the mist of shadow; the shadow that was being cast from Dol Guldur in the southern-most tip of Mirkwood.  Everything in the forest the Woodland realm of Thranduil gave life to its inhabitants.  They found a healing air within the forest, thinking it had restorative powers for their spirit.  The bond between  the Silvan Elves and Arda was strong and even stronger within the ruling family of Thranduil though they were not Silvan but Sindarin Elves whose love for the lands of Middle Earth was so great they did not answer the call of the unseen Valinor and retreated to the forest to find a simpler more natural way of living.  Thus their love and faith in their land so great that they thought and indeed hoped that Gollum who was still being held at the behest of Gandalf could be healed by the forest.  They kept watch over the creature but they did not have the heart to continually keep him underground lest he should revert to his old ways of hate and discontent.  It was this wariness and their own belief in the healing powers of the forest that saw them, with the spring, allow Gollum time among the trees for a few hours every other day. 

Gollum seemed to enjoy these trips.  He grew calmer and did not mutter to himself as often and he started to lose some of his ill-favoured countenance.  Even Legolas noticed the change in him.  The original impression of the shadow that crossed his heart when he first looked upon the gangrel creature never truly went away but given his fair-minded disposition he brushed those feelings aside. 

One day in spring however gave him cause for doubt.  It had been his turn to lead the protective patrol that always set out to guard Gollum while he had his supervised visits in the forest.  It was coming time for them to return to Thranduil’s halls and Legolas called out to the ill-favoured gangrel.  He thought he overheard some of the guttural mutterings that had lessened the longer Gollum was in their custody.   He called Gollum’s name out again and the mutterings ceased immediately.  A bird took flight suddenly and moments later Gollum came bounding out calling “Sorry! Precious. Gollum did not hear!”

Legolas eyed him suspiciously for a few moments then said, “It is time to return!” and pointed towards the others in the protective guard, “Go on!” Gollum scrambled after the guard and Legolas eyed the darkened area from which Gollum had emerged and the shadow once again darkened his heart.  He mused whether or not he would tell his father what Gandalf had imparted during his winter stay but again he decided it was not the right time.

He did however decide to mention his misgivings about Gollum to his eldest brother, Celebren.  After seeing his charge replaced in his cell, Legolas sought out his older brother.  Knocking on the door Legolas waited and heard a very faint scrambling sound before Celebren opened the door looking a bit more disheveled than Legolas was used to.  Legolas distractedly said, “Can we talk?” He walked right in without waiting for an answer. Sitting on the folds of the green silk coverlet of his brother’s unmade bed, he started, “It is Gollum.  He gives me pause, brother.  I just don’t trust him.”

Celebren looked into his little brother’s blue eyes that were clouded with concern and realised that he did indeed need to talk. He sighed and smoothed back his silver unbraided hair and with a glance to the wardrobe he said, “I doubt there are any that do, little brother, but what can he do?  We keep watch on him in the forest.  Would you have him in the cell all day, every day.”

“No,” Legolas replied quickly, “and I know that Mithrandir did have some hope for his reformation.” He ended doubtfully.

“Exactly.  And if Mithrandir thinks it and Adar has given approval for this course of action then it is the right one for now.” Celebren stated matter-of-factly, “He is our guest as much as he is our captive.”

Legolas sighed, “You are right.” He paused for a few seconds of dawning comprehension, “I will leave you to your joys of your unmade bed.”  He waited a beat, “You can come out now, Teliriel,” he called to Celebren’s wife of many centuries. He cast a knowing look and a half-smile at Celebren, “you may go back to your endeavors that I so inelegantly interrupted.” Teliriel opened the door to the wardrobe and walked out. She just smiled at Legolas, “Little brother,” she nodded her head regally as if she were dressed in a silk gown instead of a silk sheet artfully covering.  Legolas looked at them and smiled as he walked toward the doorway.  The door closed quietly and he continued to smile as he heard a muffled giggle after he had departed. He hoped that whenever he should meet his intended mate that he should know the joy that Celebren and Teliriel had known these many centuries.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Later in the summer…

The Elves of Mirkwood had hoped as Gandalf hoped that Gollum might find some measure of peace among the trees.  Spring had grown into Summer and these forest visits had continued, seemingly having desired effect upon the spindly creature.  Legolas tried as best he may to ignore the warnings in his heart, trusting in his father’s decisions. He was again in charge of the protective guard for Gollum’s forest visit one summer’s day in June.  Only once more had he heard those guttural mutterings that given him so much pause in spring and it was again followed by a frantic flight of a bird and it again made him uneasy but there was no recourse.  But it remained in a corner of his mind, giving him unease. Legolas sighed again as he thought of that first time in the spring.  He drew a deep breath to calm himself when intuition told him something was not right. He looked around the clearing and saw Vivelle looking around suspiciously and silently drawing her bow.  He caught the eye of Erthion and Navedir who were situated on opposite sides of the clearing communicating with a look to draw their bows as well, as a precaution.  He saw the other six elves reacting to their lead and knocking arrows then drawing. The hour for departure back to the Halls was upon them. He called in a casual voice, “Gollum!  Time to come down now!” He did not like the feeling at the base of his neck; the feeling that always presaged danger of some sort. There was no noise.  No bending of branches, no called excuses as to why he should have more time among the trees.  Legolas cast a suspicious eye at the environs surrounding the glade and saw nothing especially untoward.  The feeling of uneasiness had past for the moment.  He motioned his archers to stand down.  He walked to the old tree that Gollum favoured, stood at the trunk and looked up into the branches seeing if he could catch sight of Gollum but the thick cover of leaves upon myriad branches did not allow for a clear view. He sighed, “Well, we cannot go back without him.  So, I guess we shall be staying overnight.  Maethon, Eithediriel!  Stand guard at the foot of the tree.”

“Yes, my prince.” They both said within the cadence of their own voices.

Late afternoon coloring turned to twilight.  Night at last fell and Legolas felt refreshed in soul by the clear, clean light of the stars.  Their light always calmed him. Just after moonset there was a sudden crack of a twig and a scent on the air that was decidedly not elven alerting his senses that danger approached.  He looked at Maethon and Eithediriel still standing guard at the base of the old tree and gave the hand signal for trouble approaching. They signaled back and silently readied their blades. A sound of a craven cawing and in the next few seconds chaos erupted as Orcs stormed through the glade.

Legolas let fly his first arrow and it found its mark.  He whirled around as he pulled from his quiver another arrow and knocked it, pulled and let it fly in swift, artfully honed motion gained through centuries of training. He gazed briefly around the glade turned battlefield and he noticed that Erthion let fly an arrow and in a fluid and graceful motion he stowed his bow and pulled his sword free to bring it down upon an Orc head.

Legolas pulled his bow, let fly and in the same fluid motion as Erthion he then lobbed off an arm with his sword and the spewing Orc blood colored the ground an unsightly red.  It was then that he noticed something odd, that after the initial attack the Orcs themselves were not stopping to continue the fight. They were just running straight through as if to cause a diversion. Legolas looked to the old tree and saw at its base both Maethon and Eithediriel immobile.  Fear flashed through him as he ran to them.  The sight that greeted him harrowed his very soul.  Eithediriel’s throat was slashed. Legolas stared and then shut his eyes, “The Valar speed you to the Halls of Mandos, there to find respite and peace, Mellon nin,” the fervent hope spoken in a broken whisper. He heard a moan, he turned and saw Maethon’s grey eyes full of pain and the knowledge of his own approaching journey to those same halls, “Gollum!” He rasped with the last of his strength.  Legolas was at his side and saw the thick black bolt with marred dark fletchings close to the Silvan elf’s heart.  “Don’t speak Mellon nin! Let me help you!” Legolas spoke, though the look in Maethon’s eyes said he knew his prince was speaking the comforting lie.  “Gollum tried-” The light left grey eyes; words unspoken.  Legolas puzzled briefly as to what his friend had been trying to say and then it came to him in a sickening flash, “Gollum!” He shouted out in the clearing emptied of Orcs that had not been slain or wounded. “Gollum!” He shouted again as he heard a wheezing derisive laugh emerging from an Orc on the ground with one of Erthion’s arrows impaling his left lung.  Legolas reached the filth in two long strides and placed his sword blade at the throat of the wheezing and coughing Orc. “Why do you laugh?” he demanded in a forceful snarl. 

The Orc looked at him, hatred pouring from his eyes, “Lose something did you?” he said in a voice thick with mocking.  Legolas’ eyes widen with fury and contempt, “What do you know. Tell me!”  he hissed viciously, his sword starting to bite into the thick muscled neck of the disgusting creature.

The Orc held the prince’s gaze and said simply, “It begins,” the filth laughed, which turned into a blood letting cough and then he breathed his last.  At those words Legolas had a feeling of great foreboding.  He looked up and saw both Erthion and Navedir at his side.  He asked the two Elves, “Have you seen Gollum?” although he knew in his heart what their answer would be.

“No, My prince,” came the expected answer.  Legolas closed his eyes and uttered a heartfelt curse.

Navedir added “I heard the accursed filth say, “ ‘Lose something, did you?’ What do you suppose that meant?”

Legolas muttered, “I do not know, Navedir.”  Which was true.  He did not know for sure, but he had his suspicions.  He did not elaborate; he wanted to give first voice to his thoughts when he spoke with his father and not before.  “It begins.” The filth had said and for reasons inexplicable he felt a shadowing falling upon the forest of his father’s realm.  “Burn these carcasses before they defile our earth more with their foul blood.” They set to their task with the last words of the Orc ringing though Legolas’ head ominously.  He needed to speak with his father.  The information that Gandalf had imparted over the winter in light of these recent events took on something of an ominous tone.

It was with a heavy heart that Legolas walked back over to the old tree, first looking up into her branches that grew so high that at night they seem to touch the stars themselves. Branches that gave unwitting shelter to malignancy known too late in the form of the gangrel creature of Gollum.  He placed a hand on the tree trunk, feeling the rough bark under his fingers.  He breathed deeply and sought the spirit of the tree, seeking to ask the tree to accept his fallen friends.  With the Fëa gone the Hröa, the physical manifestation of an elf’s body simply dissolved into Arda itself. Returning from where it came.  Legolas spoke in his mind to the old tree, “Humbly I ask that you receive the Hröa of my fallen friends.  That you honor their return to the earth.” He stood completely still many moments and then received within his heart, “The Hröa shall find peace among my roots.  Go now.” Legolas opened his eyes and knelt by Maethon and Eithediriel, a single tear falling for each as he placed a farewell kiss on each forehead.  Maethon, with his somber mien and surprisingly sharp flashes of humour and gentle, beautiful Eithediriel with her cheerful, buoyant nature, always willing to play peacemaker between those in discord and yet always willing to take up a challenge should anyone wish to try against her skill with a bow. Ironic that she should find death at the blade of an Orc.  Legolas stood as he saw that both Erthion and Navedir standing heads bowed in respect to their friends.  Legolas placed a hand on each elf’s shoulder and gently but firmly, “Can the wounded travel?” 

Navedir replied, “Yes, my prince.  We can make the distance at what speed we must.”  Legolas noticed a gash that had cut through the fawn green leather leggings the elf wore.

Legolas smiled ruefully, “Tend to what can be tended.  And then we must be off!” 

“Yes, my prince!” Navedir bowed, hand on heart and headed in Vivelle’s direction for her ministrations as healer that she performed for the patrol on both long and short term tours.

Erthion scrubbed his face with his hand and said, “The king is going to be most displeased with this turn of events.”

Legolas looked at the Elven archer and friend of many, many years and chuckled a near mirthless chuckle, “I see you have been practicing the art of understatement of late.   You also have another great advantage over me, old friend.” Erthion looked quizzically at Legolas, whose face steeled with unpleasant musing. “You will not have to tell the King of this day’s events,” He paused and sighed for effect, “I will…”

Ch. 7 -- That which is spoken

 

Thranduil sat at the table that served him as a desk and he was studying a dispatch sent to him by a courier from the Southern Marches, burying himself in work as he tried to quell his worry about Legolas’ delayed return from patrol the night before.  He told himself not to worry but with little success.  As ever he could not help but worry about his youngest for reasons both apparent and others buried under layers of pain he did not dare acknowledge.  Taking another deep breath, he returned his eye towards Sadron’s sprawling hand as he read a report of observed activity near Dol Guldur that had been increasing in recent months.  They were encountering more brazen Orc incursions on their southern borders.  Skirmishes rather than attacks; almost as if, it was deemed in Sadron’s judgment, that they were testing defenses.   Movements that lead outside Mirkwood were tracked heading north.  Sadron was unsure where that particular small band of Orcs was headed but they did not follow because the pack had left Mirkwood.  Thranduil ran one slender hand over his face rubbing one eyebrow reflexively as he pondered Sadron’s missive.  A knock came at his door. 

“Come!” he said sharply, though he did welcome the interruption to his unpleasant musings.  Thalion entered, “Your son—” Legolas burst forward even before Thalion could finished the announcement.  “Adar!” He strode forward and performed a hasty bow.

Ion nin!” Thranduil’s eyes lit with delight and relief upon seeing his youngest. “Where have you been--.”   He immediately sensed something had indeed gone wrong. Legolas looked him in the eye and Thranduil saw within his eyes and about his person that Legolas had been involved in a conflict of some ferocity.  He told himself that the blood he saw could not have been his son’s.  A father’s sentiment and a King’s need to know colliding as he rose quickly from his chair.  Thranduil gripped his son’s shoulder in a father’s need to assure himself that Legolas was whole and at the same time, the King questioned sternly, “Legolas, what has happened?”

Legolas schooled his expression as he began as slowly as he could, making an official report, warrior to King, not son to worried father, “We were on protective patrol for Gollum’s supervised visit and I sensed something was wrong.  It was time to return and I called him down, but he did not come.  I called again but he still did not come.”  Dread filled Thranduil’s heart as he listened to his son’s recitation, “I decided that we would stay the night and wait him out.  He has done this once or twice before, but he had always come down by morning.  That however was not the case last night.  Shortly after moonset we were attacked by Orcs.”

Thranduil paled at the news of how close Legolas came to harm but he with great effort placed that to one side. “Continue.” The King intoned and made himself return to his seat to receive the rest of the report.

“I had set Maethon and Eithediriel to guard the base of the Old Tree that Gollum had climbed. And as battle commenced, I did lose track of what was happening at the tree.  When the battle was over I ran to the base of the tree and,” Legolas’ voice broke slightly as he continued, “Maethon and Eithediriel had been slain…” Thranduil closed his eyes in an effort to ward off the pain of the sorrowful news. Even in his sorrow though he was thankful that neither had been taken.  Their deaths had been mercifully quick and not the horror that his beloved Lasgalen had been forced to endure.  Legolas paused in his recitation of events as he saw pain shutter through his father’s face.  Thranduil opened his eyes and Legolas was stunned to see the naked pain within the deep blue.  He steeled himself and continued, “I performed the blessing of passing myself.”  Thranduil nodded.  “Gollum is gone,” Legolas pronounced, “but one thing was very odd,” Thranduil looked at him inquiringly, “After the initial attack the Orcs did not stay to fight…It was almost as if they were specifically causing a diversion.”

“A diversion?” Thranduil queried, “To what purpose?”

Legolas continued reluctantly, “To allow Gollum to escape…”

Thranduil just looked at his youngest.  “Do you think this is true?”

“It is an explanation that makes sense.”

Thranduil thought of the missive that Sadron had sent speaking of the Orc pack that had been heading north.  He templed his slender fingers and mused, “Sadron made mention of an Orc pack that left the Southern reaches heading North.  I can only think this was the pack.  This must have been their destination but for what purpose I do not know.”  He shook his head.

Legolas paused for a moment and then spoke, “I think I do.”

Thranduil looked at his son, “What do you mean?” he said curiously.

Legolas sighed, “It was something that Gandalf said when he was here to give Gollum into our care.”

Thranduil looked sternly at his youngest, “What did he say?”

Legolas looked into his father’s eyes, “That he thinks the One Ring has been found. He was leaving here to confirm its presence in the Shire.”

Leaving aside the monumental news that the One Ring had seen the light of day once again, “Why did he not tell me this himself?”

Legolas found it hard to speak. He did not want to repeat the reason that Gandalf did not impart this information, “He knew that you would faithfully act in a way that would protect your people and he said he could not take the chance that you would expel Gollum from your realm if he had the possibility of bringing harm to our people.  He needed your co-operation.”

Thranduil closed his eyes and tried to breathe past his seething emotions in this moment.  “So, I am considered selfish and cannot see beyond my realm, never mind the sacrifices that I have made for the greater good as it were, cost what it may,” he spat out,  “That explains his reasons,” he continued in somewhat clipped tones, “But what remains to be explained are your reasons for keeping this from me.” He looked upon his youngest, stern blue eyes awaiting explanation.  Legolas looked his father speechless in his explanation, not knowing how to voice his opinion or how to voice an opinion that would not cause hurt to them both. “So,” Thranduil spoke into the silence, “You share this opinion.  So say you by your silence.  You side with Gandalf and think me a fool who cannot make the necessary decision.”

“NO!  Adar!  That is not true.  I do not think that!” he avowed, but next in words risen from the bottom of his soul he said softly, “But for once someone trusted my judgment.  Someone trusted me with an important decision.”

Thranduil looked at his son and saw Legolas’ eyes look away lest they should reveal his innermost thoughts. “Legolas, look at me.”  Legolas resisted.  “Legolas, what you did mean by that.”

Legolas turned eyes of hurt borne of centuries of denial upon his father, “You don’t trust me, Adar.  You never have.” His voice tortured with denied pain and doubt built over centuries. 

Thranduil recoiled from the accusation, “How can you say that?  You are my son.  I love you.  I trust you implicitly.”

“How can you say that?”

“Because it is true!”

“You ‘trust’ me so much I can never be allowed outside our woodland.  You ‘trust’ me so much, I wasn’t even considered to be the envoy to Erebor and Dale.  You ‘trust’ me so much I am not allowed out on patrol without two body retainers to follow me at all times.” Legolas shouted centuries of restraint bursting forth passed all desire to control it. “So yes, I kept something from you because somebody finally trusted me enough to make a decision.  I see now that it was the wrong one, but it was mine to make.  And for that I take responsibility.” He ended fervently.

Thranduil looked stricken, unshed tears forming in his eyes, “I only wanted to protect you.  You were my last gift from your mother.  I could not bear to lose you.”  His grip on his emotions so perilously close to failing that he straightened his shoulders and in a desperate bid for control over them he let his kingly façade of cold imperious dignity fall into place, “I am sorry life has been so unbearable for you!  That you cannot understand.  When you have a son maybe you will understand but until then I will not explain myself further!  Leave my sight!  I can no longer trust you.”

Legolas turned shocked eyes upon his father at this abrupt dismissal.  His father whose eyes had turned to ice blue.  Legolas knew that look; he had seen it many times but never had it been turned upon him.  He knew there would no further explanation.  Nevertheless, he opened his mouth as if to say something, anything to bridge the chasm that opened between them, but he closed it again.  There were no words possible in that moment. He bowed, his heart breaking, and took his leave.

Thranduil heard the door shut and with at that slight sound his icy resolve cracked.  Pain flowed through him unabated.  He had done this to his youngest and most beloved son, never intending to cause harm but he also had never suspected how it had affected Legolas. So blinded by his own pain, he never really thought about anything else.  He blindly sought to protect his youngest son from the harsh realities of the world.  He reached for an old goblet that had been set aside for reasons unknown, blew out the dust particles and poured half the contents of a bottle of wine into it and gulped it down.  He could not think; He needed to feel cool air on his face.  He found himself in the stables saddling Alagos, ignoring all else.

He came to his glade, heartsick and weary.  The forest trying to salve the wounds upon his soul they sensed but he gently rebuffed them.  He deserved to feel this pain for he had caused it.  He had not meant to say what he had said.  His eyes burned with unshed tears.  He would not let them fall because they would do no good. 

He dismounted Alagos and immediately fell to his knees amid the moss and soft grass of the glade.  The weight of his mistakes and the grief that caused of them these two thousand years too much to bear.  He was unsure how long he sat there berating himself for his past transgressions.  Against his will the tears fell anyway, and he then felt a gentle light within his heart.

“My beloved…what has caused this pain I feel?” Lasgalen’s voice touched his heart.

Thranduil opened his eyes from within, “My beloved, I …”  he closed his eyes.  “I do not even know how to begin.  I have failed.”

Lasgalen looked at his stricken face with its moistened tear tracts gliding down the face she always held so dear. She wished she could stroke his cheek and give him comfort, but such a transgression would not be allowed again. “How have you failed, my love?” she gently questioned.

He inhaled deeply, so wishing he could catch scent of lavender and rose that was his Lasgalen, “I protected him too much!  I did so because I could not bear to lose him!  But I have lost him anyway.  He believes I do not trust him!  And why should he?  I never let him grow!  Never let him prove himself to show who he had become!  Never let allowed him space even to make mistakes! Never told him how proud I was of him!  And now I have sent him away in anger all because of my own foolish pride and unwillingness to show weakness!”

Lasgalen sat and listened as she pierced together the source of her beloved’s pain. Legolas.  “Oh my love.  Go back to him. Swallow your pride and apologize to him.  He will accept it.  Our youngest has a joyful and forgiving heart.  You know this to be true.”

Thranduil looked upon his beloved, “How can I when I have made such mistakes?”

Lasgalen looked him in the eye, “Everything you did was from loving too much.  Give him the chance to forgive you.  You know his heart.  He will forgive you anything.  Go now.  Heal this rift as soon as can be.”

Thranduil felt his heart lighten and he saw a clear path.  “Thank you, My love.”

Lasgalen smiled and as she departed, she left a smote of light to remain with his senses to light his way back.

Thranduil opened his eyes and felt Alagos nuzzling him.  He smiled, “Come let us return and right what we can…”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Legolas left his father’s study in a daze of hurt and confusion.  He did not know quite what had happened.  He had gone to his father to report the loss of Gollum as would any leader of a patrolling group would, and he left being summarily dismissed having been told he could no longer be trusted.  He corrected himself.  He wasn’t just another patrol leader, he was the King’s youngest son, protected and cossetted against his wishes since he came to his majority.  He had always borne it so well.  He understood why his father was the way he was.  He accepted that and had not rebelled in any meaningful degree because he had no wish to cause his father pain.  That was until this day.  No, if he were honest with himself this had been coming for a while and when Gandalf entrusted him with the knowledge of the One Ring he had not realised the yearning in his soul to be treated as a grown and mature elf. To be trusted to make his own meaningful decisions.  And he had not handled it well.  He had withheld the information for what he now understood to be the wrong reasons.  He knew something that his father did not know and if he were honest with himself that was the reason he did not say anything earlier.  He partially agreed with Gandalf, but had he really examined his thinking his faith in his father would have seen him tell Thranduil what Gandalf had said.

When he had told Aragorn that if he could be half the Elf his father was, he would account himself successful he had spoken truly.  He had always held his father in the highest respect.  He thought of his father’s cold-eyed stare as he dismissed him.  He still did respect his father as much now as ever, though he would not blame his father should he come to a different conclusion after Legolas’ display of disrespect.  Breathing in and out in, he tried to quell his shame at the way he had spoken to his father.   He found himself at Celebren’s door, was about to knock when he realised this was the time of day when he spoke with his father’s advisors about what was going to be the focus of the next council meeting. But Legolas could go no further though and he stepped into his brother’s empty chambers.  Both he and Teliriel were off performing their daily duties and he was alone with his thoughts.  It was not company he welcomed.  He poured himself a goblet of wine from his brother’s decanter and tossed it back hoping it would dull the pain he felt weighing on his heart since his abrupt dismissal.  It did not.  He tried to think of a way he could make amends for his poor decision-making.  He was about to pour himself a second goblet when a voice from behind him said, “You do realise that you have a decanter of wine in your own chambers as well without stealing mine.” 

Legolas turned around and saw his older brother standing in the doorway.  “Celebren, you are done with your meeting?” Legolas said trying to sound casual, but apparently his emotional turmoil was written all over his face.

“Yes,” Celebren walked in and saw the trouble in Legolas’ face. “But that is unimportant right now.  What has happened, Muindoreg nin?”

Legolas was unsure how to begin.  He poured another goblet of wine, sat down and started from the events of the previous day.  “Gollum is missing.  He is gone and because of me Maethon and Eithediriel have been slained in an Orc attack in which he has gone missing.” He took another gulp of wine. “I came back to inform Adar of these happenings.  He mused that an Orc pack that Sadron wrote of in a missive  and was heading north was indeed the same Orc pack that instigated this attack.  It quite possibly was.  I think it was an attack designed to as a diversion to allow Gollum to escape.”

“That is a very concerning turn of events,” Celebren stated. “I can see—”

“That is not all.” Legolas interrupted, “In winter when Gandalf and Aragorn brought Gollum to us, one night we were talking and Gandalf told more of his reasons for wanting us to hold Gollum.”

“And those reasons were…”

“He had read in the ancient archives within Minas Tirith an account of the Ring.  The Ring that Gollum had.  The Ring that he thinks is now residing in the Shire with a certain hobbit.”

Celebren’s brow furrowed, “That is most concerning, but why didn’t he tell this to Adar?”

Legolas stumbled over his words, “He -he did not trust that Adar would keep Gollum within our borders knowing that it could bring harm to our people.  And that would be his only concern.”

Celebren shook his head and sighed, “And Adar bristled over this accusation.”  Legolas nodded.  “But what I do not understand is in knowing this and knowing Adar, why did you not tell him yourself.”

Legolas took a third gulp of wine, “That is where my shame lay.  Gandalf trusted to my judgment when to tell Adar.  I know now that I should have but I did not.  I knew something that he did not.” He shrugged his shoulders, “I had been trusted and he had not been.” Legolas set his goblet down and buried his head in his hands, “It was childish and immature and now Gollum has gone and Maethon and Eithediriel are slain.  Their blood is on my hands.”

“Surely not and I am sure Adar does not see it that way.”

Legolas was silent, and then said somewhat frantically, “I don’t know what he thinks right now, Muindor!  I said I didn’t tell him because he doesn’t trust me.  If he did trust me then why was I never allowed to leave the woodland, why was I never given consideration as the envoy to Erebor.  Why did I still have body retainers out on patrol?  Why because he didn’t trust me.”

“Oh Legolas…why did you say that?”  Celebren was aghast, “You know that isn’t true.  You know why.”

Legolas “I know.  And I am ashamed.  The look of pain in his eyes it will live with me forever.”

“What happened then?”

Painful remembrance crossed Legolas’ face, “He turned cold and imperious and told me I could not understand until I had children of my own.” Legolas paused, “He ordered me to leave his sight, saying he could not trust me.”

Celebren sighed, “He did not mean that.”

Legolas looked his oldest brother, “He did, Celebren.  You did not see the look in his eyes, ice blue.” Legolas paused and calmed himself as he seemed to make an internal decision, “I cannot face him again until I have made amends.  I have to make this right!  It is my responsibility.  I will make this right.  Thank you muindor for your words.”  Legolas tossed back the last of his wine and stood to depart. 

“Legolas, what are you going to do?”  Celebren questioned, alarmed by the look of determination on his little brother’s face.

“I am going to make this right.”

“Good, go to Adar.  Talk to him.  He will listen.”

Legolas looked at his brother, “I will.” He bowed his head and departed.  He would talk to Thranduil -- after he had made amends and took responsibility for his childish behavior.

Ch. 8 – “I am to blame…”

Legolas walked purposefully across the greensward within the walls of Thranduil’s halls. He tried to push to one side the stone-cold look in his father’s eyes as he dismissed him and the resultant pain that sat on his heart.  He would make this right. He would see joy again in his father’s eyes.  He could not disappoint him again.  His first stop was the house of Erthion and Vivelle to inform them of the plan and then to the Healing Houses to see if Navedir would be able to ride with them.  They needed to ride within the hour if they were ever going to be able to pick up Gollum’s trail.  It was growing colder by the hour. 

He reached their dwelling and tapped the onyx stone to metal alerting them to his presence at the door.  Erthion opened the door a bit distractedly and immediately Legolas felt contrite.  “Pardon the intrusion, mellon nin, but I have need of you and Vivelle in urgent business.” 

Vivelle, in a hastily donned flowing wrap, appeared at the door to their bedchamber, her hair down, “Legolas…What is it?”

Legolas colored slightly looking at Vivelle, her attire confirming the activity he had indeed interrupted, “Pray pardon, Vivelle.  But we must leave at once.  We are to track Gollum’s whereabouts and bring him back to here to the Halls.  We must leave at once.  Make ready!”

Erthion combed back his honey blond hair with his fingers and replied, “At once, my prince.  The King commands this?”

Legolas paused and Erthion noted that his eyes flashed pain and confusion for a second before he quickly nodded, “I go to the healing houses to see if Navedir is able to ride with us.  Be quick.  We have need of speed.”

“At once, my prince,” Erthion intoned as he watched Legolas spin on his heel and stride intently towards the healing houses.  He sighed, wondering at such urgency.  As to the stated reason urgency was understandable but Erthion had known his prince and friend for many years and he was sure something was very, very wrong.

Vivelle walked up to him, “What do you think is wrong?”

Erthion looked at her seeing that she had sensed it, too.  “I do not know, my love.  But I do know that we had better make ourselves ready, if only to protect Legolas if and when it goes wrong.” He turned rueful eyes upon his delightfully disheveled wife, “all else shall have to wait,” kissing her on the forehead.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After confirming that Navedir indeed was able to ride with them Legolas returned briefly to his suite of rooms in the main halls.  He quickly gathered up his patrol gear, adding such equipment and provisions needed for a longer tour in the deeper portions of the forest.  Preparations made he sat at his writing desk and pulled forward a piece of parchment. He drew in a large breath trying organized his traumatized thoughts.  He began:

“My dearest adar,

Know that I am deeply ashamed of my actions and words earlier this day.  I behaved towards you with a level of disrespect that I know not how to excuse.  I cannot ask your forgiveness until I have made right my childish and irresponsible actions.  I will not have the right to look you in the eye until I have made amends.  I go forward to seek Gollum with my patrol,”

Leaving off those I know to be my minders, Legolas thought before he continued his letter,

“I will find him and bring him back.  If we should range far enough to the south without having found him, I will join with Sadron and his patrols and we shall together continue seek Gollum until he is found. I have no right to ask but I hope you can find it in your heart to not think quite so ill of me until I return. By which time I hope to have redeemed myself in your eyes.

                                                          Your loving son,

                                                                   Legolas Thranduilion

Legolas looked over the letter and then folded it and applied his own seal of a leaf and feather in red wax, he then hefted up his pack and went in search of Guildor, his father’s chief attendant.  At the master attendant’s door Legolas shed his pack and entered unencumbered at least physically; his heart as ever remained weighed by the sorrow he had created.  “Master Guildor,” he proclaimed as pleasantly as he could, “Might you know where my Adar is?”

“He had gone to the stables sometime ago,” Guildor replied, “He did not say when he would be returning.” He looked up briefly in a distracted way from the parchment he was copying out of.

Legolas feigned disappointment for he knew that he could not face his father at this time, “Well then,” he started slowly, “Can I ask that you give him this note,”

“Is it urgent?” Guildor asked politely, still continuing with his copying.

“Um, Not urgent, just a matter that needs seeing to,” Legolas said, trying desperately hard to keep his voice light.

“Set it there with the dispatches, he will read it tomorrow.” He motioned toward a carved wooden tray without looking up.

Hannon le! Guildor.”  Legolas bowed and left, standing outside the master attendant’s door hefting his pack again and making his quick way to the stables.

Something in Legolas’ tone of voice caused Guildor to pause in his copying and pick up the note instead.  He looked at it and then at the door.  Something was not right.  He frowned and set the letter next to his inkwell, to remind him to give the letter into the King’s hand the moment he returned.  He sighed and absentmindedly picked up his goblet of wine took a sip and returned to his copying.

Legolas entered the stables and saw that the other three were waiting.  He took a moment to compose himself then said, as he looked at the three of them, “Hannon le, for the quick response to the summons.”

All three bowed and Erthion, “Always, my prince.  We are here for you.” 

Legolas looked at Erthion wondering at the elf’s thoughts, “Hannon le, Erthion.” He said as calmly and decisively as he could.  “Let us begin our mission.  We are to pick up the trail as best we may and track Gollum and re-capture and bring him back to these halls.  We are a small party to be sure, but the smaller the party the more chance of moving swiftly.”  Legolas swung upon Lhegrin’s back signaling that all should mount and be off on their journey.  Legolas fronted the group and as a result he did not see the look of concern the other three were sharing. The silent communication among the three; they were to protect the prince at all costs, even if that meant protecting him from himself.  They needed no king’s directive; they would each give their lives to see Legolas safe.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Thranduil return to his halls in the late afternoon.  After stabling Alagos he walked as quickly as was seemly back to the main halls to seek out his youngest son to apologize to him and beg his forgiveness as Lasgalen had instructed.  He knew it was the only way to heal the cleft in his heart.  They would begin anew.  At this time of day Legolas was at the shooting range when he was not on patrol.  He would speak to each of his body retainers explain that they duties were to change.   Thranduil gained the shooting range in quick time and on first glance he did not see Legolas’ gleaming blond hair on the line with the rest of the archers.  A reflexive flare of worry and Thranduil smiled ruefully.  He would have to stop such reactions, or at least try to, though he could make no promises.  Change indeed was not a strong suit of his.  He could hear within his mind Celebren intoning that same trope, that he needed to embrace change just a little bit more.  Thranduil saw the master of the range, Gannedir, and flagged him over to ask him about Legolas.

“Good Master Gannedir, Mae Govannen!” Thranduil greeted him cheerfully.

“Mae Govannen, My King!” Gannedir returned, noting the unusually cheerful mien of his normally more reticent liege lord, “Can I be of any service, my liege?”

“Yes! Master Gannedir.  You can.  Has my youngest son finished shooting for the day? I do not see him on the line with the others.”

“No, my liege.  In fact, he did not come and shoot today.  To say true, I thought it rather odd.” The range master added, a bit puzzled that Legolas should miss practice.

“So say you?” Thranduil replied, again dampening down the flare of worry. “Very well.”

Gannedir offered, “Perhaps matters called him away?”

Thranduil smiled a small perfunctory smile, “Yes, I am sure that is it.  Hannon le Master Gannedir, I shall allow you to tend to your duties once again.”  Gannedir bowed to Thranduil and returned to his position overseeing the archers on the line.

Thranduil stood still, trying to quell his worry and decided to see if Celebren had seen his little brother.   He returned to his study and had the young door attendant, Lachon send for the Crown Prince so that Thranduil could speak with him about a few matters.  He tapped his fingers on the desk in an unconscious effort to release nervous energy as he thought that he could just send for Legolas, but given their last encounter he did not want start so important and personal a meeting with an official summons.  He wanted to talk to his son in private where a real conversation could take place and he could begin to make amends as he could.

Guildor announced Celebren’s presence.  “Adar? You wished to speak to me?”

Thranduil stated, “Yes,” he stopped himself and took a far less formal approach than he had been about to embark upon. “My son,” he struggled not to retreat into the cold formality that he always fell into when dealing with emotions that threatened to overflow.  That was the path he had taken with Legolas earlier with disastrous results. “Do you know where Legolas is?” the direct question tumbled out of his mouth.  “I wish to speak to him.”

Celebren noted that his father seemed to be most uncomfortable, most likely owning to the words that had been spoken with his youngest earlier in the day. “He did not come to speak with you?”

“No, he did not,” Thranduil rapped out sharply and then stopped himself again. “Forgive me.” He thought I need to see my son.  Is that so difficult to achieve!

Celebren seeing his father’s discomfiture offered tentatively, “I spoke with Legolas earlier today, Adar.  And if you will forgive me, he told me of your conversation.”

The battle between never showing weakness and the desperate need to see his youngest played out within Thranduil’s breast. Desperation won out.  “I see,” Thranduil paused, “And can I ask what was said?” he said in a voice of strained emotion, his fingers gripping the edge of the table tightly as he strove to maintain a veneer of outward calm.

“He was ashamed of his behavior.  He said he never should have spoken to you in the way that he did.”

Thranduil was speechless. So typical of Legolas to blame himself and absolve his father of his massive mistakes.  A forgiving heart as Lasgalen had said.  All pretense dropped Thranduil merely said, “Where is he, Celebren? Do you know?”  The only thought in his soul was to go to his youngest and salve his wounds and make sure that he knew that he need not be ashamed, that he was not to blame.

Celebren shook his head sorrowfully. “I thought he was coming to talk to you.  He said as much.” He stopped as a thought dawned on him.

An impatient, “What?”  Thranduil prompted his eldest son.

“Legolas said he had to make this right.  It was his responsibility.  He had to make this right BEFORE he spoke to you!”

Thranduil’s blood ran cold, “In Iluvatar’s name what have I done!  If any harm comes to him, I never forgive myself!”

Celebren calmed himself and was about suggest a course of action when Guildor asked leave to enter.  Thranduil was in no fit state to give response so Celebren gave leave.  “My liege I was set to give you a note from Prince Legolas.  He gave it to me earlier this afternoon.”  Guildor proffered the letter and Thranduil all but snatched the letter out of his attendant’s hand.  He noted Legolas’ wax seal seconds before he ripped it opened and scanned the contents of the letter.

His hands shook as he read, his heart breaking as he read the last words, “I have no right to ask but I hope you can find it in your heart to not think quite so ill of me until I return. By which time I hope to have redeemed myself in your eyes. Your loving son, Legolas Thranduilion.”  Thranduil sat back heavily, the letter falling from his hand.  He let the pain of those words course through him.  His last gift.  His son.  “He is gone,” he said in a thin, shallow voice, “I am to blame…”

Ch. 9 – A Path Forward

Legolas sat on Lhelgrin as the bay stallion picked his careful way through the forest. A pensive and intense air hung about the youngest Prince of Mirkwood, something his companions were not used to. He was known by all for his merry disposition and easy way of being. At the current moment Erthion mused that Legolas reminded him greatly of Thranduil. He longed to ask what all of this what about, for he knew instinctually there was an air of incomplete truth to this mission, but Legolas' demeanor had not allowed for such inquiry. Vivelle however had far fewer reservations on that score. After they had arrived at the glade where Gollum had gone missing all bowed their heads for a moment at the foot of the old tree where Maethon and Eithediriel had lost their lives. Vivelle then confronted Legolas. She looked him straight in the eye and said, "Now are you going to tell us what this is all about?"

Legolas looked defiant and looked down his nose at her in a very credible copying of the look Erthion had seen his father deliver thousands of times.

"I have told you what our mission is. I need not explain myself further." Erthion's eyebrows shot up. He had never heard Legolas speak in such a way. Vivelle was having none of it.

"Oh no you don't! I will not let you do this to yourself! I see it in your face!" Legolas just looked at her with cool blue eyes.

"Scan the area!" he decreed. Vivelle just looked at him.

"So like your Adar right now, aren't you?" she said archly. She turned her back to begin the search.

A broken voice stopped her, "I am nothing like my Adar! He would never have behaved so," Vivelle turned back to look at Legolas. What she saw sliced at her heart. Shattered was the thin façade of arrogance, in its place was her friend, whose eyes were filled with shame and unshed tears. Vivelle went to him and immediately cupped his face between her two hands, a gesture borne of years of friendship, bypassing the stilted protocols of both command and blood,

"What is wrong? What has happened? For I know something has."

It was just the four of them, out in the woods, friends bound by service and bonded through misfortune and many tours of duty. Erthion and Navedir waited, silently hoping she would be able to break through and allow Legolas to voice whatever unspoken pain that was causing him to act so unlike himself.

"I have betrayed my Adar's trust!" Legolas whispered in a tortured breath. Erthion and Navedir remained silent, inwardly stunned but they had faith that Vivelle would be able to get at the truth. She was a healer in more ways than one.

Vivelle fervently stated, "I do not for one second believe that! You must tell me what was said." Legolas looked at her with wide blue eyes.

"I don't know how to begin." Vivelle offered him a smile,

"How about at the beginning," she suggested gently as she dropped her hands from his face to place them on her hips.

Legolas took a deep breath and then informed them of Gandalf's warning in a low voice almost a whisper, should unfriendly ears should be listening.

"And then I shouted at Adar that I did not say anything because he did not trust me, if he did why didn't he allow me to patrol without body retainers to follow my every move." Legolas said in a deadened voice. Gentle gasps and sighs were shared among the three. It was the worst kept secret in the Greenwood why the ElvenKing would not allow Legolas the same freedom as his brothers; but it was also an unspoken one. Legolas felt their silence surround him, unwilling to judge him because he was their friend and their prince. "By failing to respect Adar's wisdom and failing to tell all that I knew for no valid reason I have betrayed his trust and allowed Gollum to escape and I caused the deaths of both Maethon and Eithediriel." All three responded to the charge Legolas lay at his own feet.

"That is not so!" Navedir protested, "the King would have still proceeded as he did and it was not your fault that Gollum chose that day to escape."

Legolas looked at his friend and said in a careworn voice, "We do not know that."

Vivelle sensed that Legolas was allowing himself to sink into grief, the kind of grief that was a danger to all elvenkind. She spoke as she once again took his head gently in her hands, but also forcing him to look her in the eye.

"Legolas, listen to me. You did not cost Maethon and Eithediriel their lives. We all know the risks and we accept them every day. Maethon and Eithediriel knew this." Legolas looked at Vivelle,

"I hear your words and know how they are meant," he reached up and clasped her hands bringing them down in between, "but they do not reach my heart, Vivelle. My friend," He paused and brought both her hands in his up to his mouth and gently kissed them, "you cannot heal everyone all the time. Some hurts we simply have to carry and learn a way to live with them. I will find Gollum and I will bring him back to Adar perhaps then I can look him in the eye once again. Until then…" he shrugged. "Knowing this is not the king's will, I cannot as your patrol leader command that you stay and follow my lead. It would not be right. But can I ask…," Legolas continued hesitantly, looking the three, "as a friend that you stay with me and help me find Gollum." Erthion smiled and placed a hand on Legolas' slender shoulder.

"You need never ask. We are yours, if not to command, at least to be companions on this road you have set for yourself."

Vivelle and Navedir solemnly nodded and said, "We are yours."

~*~*~*~*~*~

In the King's Halls…

Celebren reached to retrieve the letter dropped from his father's hand and quickly scanned the contents, his heart in his throat as he read Legolas' last words. He looked at his father and he could not possibly fathom the storms of emotions that were taking place with Thranduil's soul. He looked at Guildor and silently mouthed, "Leave us." He coupled this with a stern look when Guildor hesitated briefly. He observed his father. Thranduil was physically still, save his templed fingers gently rubbing the bridge of his nose. Celebren stood silent sentinel to his father, having dismissed young Lachon along with Guildor. He himself would serve his father's needs. He knew not how else to aid him in this moment.

Thranduil sat, aware that all had vacated save his son Celebren who stood silently by. Such emotions roiled through him. Shame, anger at himself for having been so blind, anger at Legolas for having not enough faith in his judgment but underlying it all was the knowledge that his child was out there, in pain and he could do nothing to assuage it.

He looked over at his son, his eldest, always so calm, so thoughtful, always so ready to aid his father, but also always so ready to speak his mind when he should feel it was necessary. Celebren looked up, his green eyes so reflective of his mother, and met his father's stormy blue eyes. Thranduil held his stare for a few moments.

"Ion nin," he began quietly, eyes looking slightly lost, "I am glad we are alone for I am about to admit to you that which I could never admit to another living soul, but I trust in your goodness that you will not think less of me." Celebren continued to hold his father's gaze but maintained a respectful silence awaiting his father, adding only a faint smile. Thranduil saw Lasgalen's kindness in his son's eyes, "I am at a loss. I do not know how to proceed. My heart says move all of Arda to find Legolas and bring him back into the fold, to protect him from the world. But that would only compound my mistakes and confirm his belief that I do not trust him. But I cannot sit idly by as he walks into danger in the belief that he is responsible." He paused, tormented blue eyes supplicant, "What would your counsel be in this, Ion nin!"

Celebren was shaken to his very core. His father always knew the course of action to be taken and he never admitted weakness. He felt a huge weight of responsibility placed upon his heart, but he stood firm with this clear signal that his father trusted him enough to reveal to him this much.

"I am honoured by the faith you place in me, Adar." He took a deep breath. "I well understand your reticence in this matter. He has gone to seek Gollum to repair what he sees as his responsibility. Objectively, we should send other parties out to look as well. Because that is what the situation needs." Celebren continued cautiously. "As to Legolas, he did say that he would seek out Sadron should he get far enough south and still unable to locate Gollum. A courier could be immediately dispatched to Sadron apprising him of the attack and Gollum's subsequent escape and," Celebren tread carefully through his next words, "Thinking through this, if Legolas finds Gollum before then he will come back and you can speak with each other. If not and if you deem appropriate you could send a letter for Legolas' eyes only which could be given to him when he arrives. If you think that could help." He ended, casting his eyes downward, unsure as to what Thranduil would think of his tender of ideas.

Thranduil sat quietly listening to his son's words. So unlike him, his eldest was the calm after the thunderstorm, quietly assessing what damage had been wrought in such moments of passion. There were times in the past he had not always appreciated Celebren's demeanor hoping for more fire; more action. But at this moment he never appreciated his eldest son's calm and reason more. After Celebren had finished he remained quiet for several moments, his eyes cast downward looking upon the delicate border carvings of the table he sat at. At length he spoke in a low measured voice full of repressed emotion, still staring at the border carvings.

"I want to thank you for reminding me of what I should be considering as King."

Celebren, eyes full of sorrow, exclaimed, "Adar, I did not wish to imply that-."

At that Thranduil looked up quickly and caught his son's eye, saying briskly, "Yes you did, and you were right to do so." He softened almost imperceptibly, "I thank you, Ion nin," he drew breathe and his eyes returned the border carvings, "As to your second point, no letter can convey the depth of my sorrow in this instance. It is cold comfort to both Legolas and myself. I should look upon him myself, castigate myself for my failures and ask his forgiveness, but my heart misgives that I should ever get this chance." Thranduil paused and looked back at his son, "So, I shall take your offer of cold comfort. It will be prepared for the courier that you so rightly reminded me that I should send, along with the other patrols meant recapture this accursed creature. Dark was the day he set foot in my Realm for he has taken my son!" Thranduil had started to grow angry at the words "recapture this accursed creature." And was near to full wroth as he snapped out the words "my son!" He turned to Celebren looking more like the father he had always known, decisive, strong and full of purpose, "See that it is done! I and my bosom must debate a while. The letter, weak instrument that it is, shall be made ready."

Celebren's heart soared to see his father once again with life in his eyes, affirmed, "Yes, My King! It shall be done!"

He turned to set actions in motion, only to be stayed by his father's hand upon his arm. Celebren looked into warm blue eyes lit with gratitude and fire, "Thank you, Ion nin." his father said quietly. Words that filled Celebren's heart.

"As ever, it is my highest honor to be of service to you, my King, Adar nin!" Thranduil stood and kissed his eldest upon the forehead.

"Now go and make such things as needed ready." He said strongly.

Thranduil walked to the door with his son. He noted that Lachon was outside the door just a few feet down the walkway, reluctant to relinquish his responsibilities, even to the Crown Prince. Thranduil smiled at such dedication. "Lachon," he called. the young page's head snapped up.

"Yes, My lord!" Thranduil hid a smile despite the despair sitting on his heart.

"Make sure that I am not disturbed."

"Yes, My lord!" came the enthusiastic response from the young elf just approaching his majority.

"Thank you, Lachon!" Thranduil closed the door as the young elf turned with his back to the shutting door and stood sentinel.

Thranduil stood inside lightly leaning on the closed door looking forward across the floor to his chair and exhaled a breath he had not realised he was holding. He strode forward to the table and chair that served as his desk and pulled forward a piece of parchment. Quill in hand Thranduil paused and then just started writing,

My dearest son,

Allow me to express my deepest sorrow for the pain I have caused you. Please believe it was never my intention,

Thranduil paused and was sorely tempted to rip it and start again but as no written word would ever suffice, he would just have to accept its limitations and press on, however insufficient,

The written word is inadequate to convey the sorrow I feel at the pain I have caused but if this can reach you before I see you again where I can fully express my grief at my actions at least I will know that you have some knowledge of my regret.

Thranduil paused, dipped his quill in the inkpot as he determined how to continue,

First allow me to dispel the notion that I do not trust you. I trust you with my life, but apparently, I do not trust myself. I did not know if I could survive losing you after having lost your naneth and selfishly I was clearly unwillingly to allow for the possibility, denying you your right to try and even to fail and learn from those failures. I can only appeal to your joyful nature in asking your forgiveness for my cowardice.

Second, please can you forgive the words we last spoke. These words tear at my soul. To have spoken so to a son who has never given me a day's grief, to dismiss you from my sight saying I could never trust you, all because in my pride I refused to allow you see how much losing you would pain me, is once again cowardice beyond measure. I am ashamed to have uttered such words.

Thranduil stopped writing and read through what he had already addressed and what more could be expressed in such a vehicle such as a letter.

Concerning Gollum I think back on the many times you tried to warn me about our treatment of him and how this could be a danger. Your words were wise. And while you did not inform me of Mithrandir's full reasoning,

At the thought of Gandalf, Thranduil had fight back a flare of anger at the old wizard for placing Legolas in such a position and for the wizard's doubt in Thranduil's ability to make the right decision. He fought the anger off to the side though, realizing that he had also created that situation with his own actions. Had he ever allowed Legolas to learn to make the kinds of decisions that Celebren and Sadron grew up making Gandalf's actions would have been rendered inconsequential. And regardless of what Legolas' ultimate decision would have been, it would have been made by one experienced in doing so. He dipped his quill and continued,

You were still thinking in terms of what was best for Mirkwood showing a level of responsibility that I gave you no credit for.

I understand that you believe it is your responsibility to find Gollum and I will not gainsay you on this but please do not think that in doing so you will regain favor and respect. You cannot regain what you never lost. And I understand that whatever words I use to absolve you of Maethon and Eithediriel's deaths they will still sit on your heart. That is something you will have to learn to live with.

Thranduil paused thinking of the elves that he had lost under his command. He had learned to deal with it. It was part of command. And it was not something he could cushion for Legolas, though it broke his heart to admit it. He dipped his quill and continued.

I hold your spirit closest in my heart and know that I have the greatest respect and love for you. I only ask your forgiveness if you can find it in your heart. In regards to Gollum and what needs be done, I trust your judgment. I know you will act in the best interests of our realm. I miss you and may the Valar guide your steps back to our home.

Your loving Adar,

Thranduil Oropherion

Thranduil let out an unsteady breath as he read through the letter once more. It was no substitute for seeing his son, but it would have to do. He carefully sprinkled the fine drying dust on the pages, waiting for it to briefly do its work. Then he carefully folded the letter and placed his own personal seal of a tree in full leaf used only in communication amongst the family in the gooey green wax. On the front of the letter he wrote simply "Legolas" knowing that the seal meant it was for Legolas' eyes only.

"Lachon!" he called. And within a second, the young elf appeared.

"Yes, My Lord!" he replied briskly.

"Bring the Crown Prince to me!"

"At once, my lord!" and Thranduil watched Lachon tear down the walkway, heedless of all else but his mission. Thranduil smiled shaking his head. He would have to teach that young elf some restraint sometime soon. But his thoughts quickly returned to the letter; the deed was done. All he could hope for now was that Legolas' kind and giving heart would forgive him and along the way he would learn how to forgive himself. Celebren entered his study.

"You wish to see me, Adar." Thranduil looked up from the wine he had been drinking in an effort to calm his still too jangled nerves.

"Yes," he pursed his lips and then continued, "Is all in readiness?" Celebren nodded.

"The courier and the patrols are just about ready to depart. Daenir is the courier, he is well-suited for the stealth and quickness this mission requires." Thranduil nodded.

"Yes, good choice. He is a fine one for this." He stood and wordlessly placed the letter for Legolas into Celebren's hand. Celebren looked down and saw Thranduil's personal seal affixed upon the letter.

"Daenir will see this done," he replied. At that Celebren put his hand to his heart and took his leave.

Thranduil waited a few minutes and then left the study himself. He needed to feel grass below his feet and the summer breeze blowing through him. He slipped from his halls into the forest; a path that he and Lasgalen often used to spirit away alone together. He was among the trees in his forest. He closed his eyes and let himself become rooted to the spot where he stood and felt connected to the earth. He said in his mind to Arda itself.

"Pray, take care of my youngest, away from me in this moment. Bless him; guide him as I have failed to do. Humbly I ask this." Thranduil breathed deeply and turned his face upwards to the sun and felt the first modicum of peace he had felt since Gollum had entered his realm. He opened his eyes and felt a surety of his youngest son's spirit, strong and bright. He folded his spirit around it and tucked it away in his heart as he returned to his halls.

 

Many thanks to Ellynn for taking on the job as my beta!  ((hugs))


Ch. 10 – A Brother’s Concern

Sadron sat in what served as his study in his forest enclave in the Mountains of Mirkwood looking over reports made by his captains.  They did reconnaissance work south of the mountains traveling in some very dangerous regions.  Sadron had an unusual pang of sadness.  It flared in his soul as he remembered the forest before it became known as Mirkwood.  Before, when his beloved forest was rightly named Greenwood the Great and they ruled from Amon Lanc in the south to the far reaches in the north of the Greenwood.  The woods where his captains tread carefully was once carefree and green. But he learned long ago looking back to the past lead to nothing productive.  His father, who he loved dearly, had never seemed to learn this lesson.  He refused to forget the past and Sadron knew that it tore at him. 

Before he left to take the position of lord of the southern marches, he and his father frequently went around and around about letting go of the past and only looking forward.  His father could see the value of being forward thinking for the good of the realm, but Sadron could never get him to stop dwelling on the past.  Both were quick-tempered and as a result this portion of any conversation usually ended up in a shouting match.  Their “favorite” topic was Legolas.  Sadron saw that Thranduil’s treatment of Legolas was different than he and Celebren had received.  He had long argued for allowing Legolas more freedom and responsibility, arguing that he was ready for more.  Thranduil refused to listen. 

As much as they argued, Sadron, like all who inhabited the Woodland Realm, never mentioned the real reason his father did not allow Legolas the freedom to grow.  The pain of loss, grief unfiltered by time lived in Thranduil, as it did for many Elves.  It had not helped that the one time that Sadron had succeeded in prevailing upon Thranduil to allow Legolas some latitude, a little under a hundred years ago, he had been captured by Orcs and held for ransom.  Legolas had escaped unharmed with the help of Aragorn and the Elves of Imladris, but after that incident Thranduil would hear no word on anything that would jeopardize Legolas’ safety.  Shortly thereafter it was deemed prudent to establish a presence further south and Sadron volunteered to be Thranduil’s eyes and ears in the Mountains of Mirkwood, nearer to Dol Guldur.  It also put a little needed distance between the two volatile personalities of Thranduil and his second son.  Sadron sighed and scrubbed his face with his hands.  It did not do to dwell on what could not be changed.  At that moment Faron, his attendant, made his presence known.

“My lord Sadron, there is a courier from the King wishing to speak with you.” Sadron thought it odd that Faron should address him so formally, but then he surmised that the courier must have been within earshot.

Sadron replied in a puzzled voice, “His bi-weekly courier has already come and gone.  Curious.  Send him in, Faron.”

“As you wish, my lord.” Faron departed and a few words were heard from beyond the heavy green silk curtain that served as a door.  It was a familiar voice he heard.

“My Lord Sadron,” Daenir stated with a knowing smile as he pushed aside heavy silk and entered the study. “Quite formal, I must say!”

Sadron stood and quickly embraced his friend of many, many years.  They had shared patrols and scouting parties too numerous to count in their younger days. 

“Daenir!  Don’t you start. Faron is young yet.  And he is only looking after my dignity.  Wanting to make sure proper form is being observed here on the wild southern reaches in case you should report such things to the King.”

Daenir looked at his old friend.

“I believe you, thousands wouldn’t,” he ended with a smile.

Sadron sobered and asked, “But to be serious, Daenir. What are you doing here?”

“I have come as a special courier.  I was charged with the instruction to get here with the utmost of speed and stealth.”  He then opened his pouch to extract to two letters and handed to them to Sadron.

Sadron looked down at the two envelopes. The first thing he noticed were the two seals.  One was Celebren’s seal-of-duty which was not odd in and of itself.  He received official dispatches from either Celebren or his father.  It was the second that was the curiosity.  He recognized his father’s personal seal which was only ever used in familial letters.  It was the strict understanding than no one other than the addressee was to see what was written therein.  Sadron flipped the letter over before opening and upon seeing the name written it was good that he had because the name that was written on the outer side was not his but Legolas’. 

“What the-?”  Sadron placed the letter on the table next to him and then opened Celebren’s letter hoping for some sort of clarification.

Brother,

I am sure you are full of questions and this letter will attempt to give an explanation.  Some of which I think Adar would not appreciate me relating to you, but I do think that you should know.

Sadron’s eyebrow raised a little in curiosity.  It was unlike Celebren to do something that was against Adar’s wishes unless there was a very good reason for it.  And knowing Celebren he had already thought through all possibilities and decided this course of events was the optimal choice.  He looked up from his letter.

“Daenir, go have some wine after your journey, I will join you shortly and we can talk more then.” 

Daenir looked at his friend with a rueful smile.

“I know when I am being not-so-subtly dismissed. And for that it will be the best wine that you have,” he finished, still smiling.

At least Sadron had the good grace to look apologetic to his old friend.

Hannon le, Mellon nin! Till then.”  As he placed his hand on his heart, Daenir departed and Sadron returned to the letter.

First the larger happenings.  Gollum has escaped.  By the time this reaches you it will have probably been less than two days ago given Daenir’s abilities and we both know those quite well.

Sadron smiled. “That we do, brother.” He continued reading growing concerned over the next passage.

It was under Legolas’ patrol’s watch.  They were attacked by Orcs late at night while they waited for Gollum to come down from the trees.  Two Elves were killed, Maethon and Eithediriel. They had been guarding the tree that Gollum had climbed.

Sadron closed his eyes as the faces of the two Elves he had known since their training days appeared in his mind’s eye.

“May they accept the summons of Mandos and be among us once again,” he murmured. And he thought of how Legolas was handling this loss.  He had not lost many under his service and not for a long time, thinking back to one that was lost and the length it had taken for Legolas to move forward once again.  But he quickly pushed that sad thought aside.  Sadron continued reading searching for more answers than questions.

As you can guess Legolas found this all very hard to accept.  He blames himself.  And apparently Mithrandir told him a few things that he left to Legolas’ judgment as to whether or not he should tell Adar.  Legolas chose not to tell him and he thinks that this lead to the ambush and subsequently Gollum’s escape and the death of his friends.

In reporting back to Adar, it all came out.  All as you thought it might as you argued for more latitude for our youngest brother.  Legolas told me himself that he shouted at Adar that Adar didn’t trust him, and if he did why he still send body retainers to follow Legolas’ every move. All as you said it might happen.

Sadron walked back to his chair, sat down and began rubbing one eyebrow in a way reminiscent of his father.  His heart was heavy as he continued reading, fearing he knew what was going to come next.

Adar then dismissed Legolas from his presence saying that he could no longer trust him. Legolas has now left with Erthion, Vivelle and Navedir to seek Gollum to possibly restore himself in Adar’s eyes.

Sadron stopped reading, shaking his head.  He had so wanted to be wrong in this.  He had wanted to his father to make peace with the past before any misunderstandings happened between him and Legolas. He read the last paragraph.

Legolas wrote in a letter he left for Adar that he would search and if his travels south did not yield Gollum he would then seek you out and ask for help. Other patrols have been sent out to scour the northern woods. Expect Legolas soon for he specifically said he was heading south.  All of which brings me to the second letter you have received.  Adar was distraught as you can well imagine.

Sadron allowed a small smile as he murmured, “Ah, I see dear brother that you are engaging in understatement once again.” Because he knew in his very bones that “distraught” did not even begin to describe his father’s emotional state at the departure of his youngest and most beloved son.

I suggested writing a letter to Legolas by way of explanation and to perhaps apologize. Between you and me brother, the fact that he agreed with my advice shows how shaken he was.  It was sobering to see our Adar that low. I don’t mind admitting to you, brother, that I hope to never see him that shaken again.  It struck me to my core. But I digress.  The letter you hold is the letter Adar wrote. Please give it into Legolas’ hand the first moment you see him.  I have written that which Adar would frown upon anyone  knowing, even his own sons.  You know how he is.  Legolas should be coming to you soon.  If he has somehow found Gollum in the interim, I shall send by way of courier that very information.  Till we see each other again.

Your loving brother,

C.

Sadron sat mulling over the letter’s contents.  He had seen this coming.  Legolas was a cheerful and merry-spirited elf and was willing to sacrifice much of himself to give his father peace of mind, but Sadron had feared that unless Thranduil somehow made peace with his past, there was always going to be a reckoning and apparently that reckoning had come.  He picked up the letter from his father to his youngest son and wondered what it said, but he would never know unless Legolas chose to share.

He thought of his little brother.  Legolas was a very capable warrior.  He worked many long hard hours on the training field and on the archery range, honing his skills – to make the most of his considerable abilities. Sadron thought he worked so hard and tried to be so perfect so that through his skills alone he could convince his father to give him more responsibilities, to show that he was worthy.  As result, Legolas’ skills as an archer were among the best he had ever seen.  If truth be told, he was better than either Celebren or himself, though he would never tell Legolas that exactly.  Brotherly vanity needs must be served, Sadron smiled.  His skills with two knives was poetry in motion.  Centuries spent training, driving himself to the perfection of his abilities created fluid and deadly execution on the training field.  And there was the rub. 

Legolas did not have a lot of experience outside Mirkwood and even within the borders of their realm farther away than a day’s ride away from the King’s Halls.  Thranduil simply did not allow it.  Legolas had slipped past his minders on rare occasions while on patrol and had had exposure beyond Mirkwood, but it was very limited.  Sadron awaited his little brother’s arrival with great anticipation.  He opened up a box on his desk and placed what he suspected was a very private letter inside, locking it for safe keeping.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~


A/N: Thanks to Ellynn for patiently sorting through the garden to find the weeds and pluck them out!  ((hugs))

And there is a little battle violence in this chapter. Hope you all enjoy this as much as I enjoy writing it! :-)


Ch. 11 - Following the path where it leads


After more than a week of traveling and following a nearly imperceptible  trail, Legolas crouched down examining what appeared to be half a footprint left by something or someone that was clearly not an Elf. It was not a heavy indenture which meant that it most likely was not an Orc.

“Gollum, I think!” Legolas stated. “What say you?” He looked at Navedir, who was the best tracker among them. Navedir looked at the partially obscured track, examining it closely.

“I think it may be,” he sighed. “But it is an old print. I’m not sure how much we can glean from it.”

Legolas tried to hide his disappointment. He sighed.

“We must try! What can you tell?”

Navedir was about to make reply when Erthion approached very softly making the sign for silence and to fall back. Both immediately fell silent and all three soundlessly moved to where Vivelle was by the horses. She stood holding their reins and softly whispering a song of calming to the horses. Erthion’s eyes and slight nod of his head directed them to the clearing where Legolas saw three Orcs tramping through the wood. The foul creatures suddenly stopped and started to examine the very print that Legolas had found.

They heard disgruntled voices say, “Accursed creature! We help it to escape and then it scarpers on us. Filthy maggot!”

“The master’s gonna be none too pleased about this!”

“It wasn’t my fault,” said the first voice, “Filthy little bastard. We help him to escape. Kill two accursed Elves to do it and he legs it!”

Erthion looked at Legolas after the last words were uttered and he saw the red mist descend upon the young prince. Like his father, rage took the form of a deadly calm stealing across Legolas’ fair features. Blue eyes turned to ice as he looked at his three warriors and silently signaled what the attack plans were. The Orcs, by their very words, had signed their own death warrants.

They advanced silently, bows drawn. On Legolas’ signal, bowstrings sang as arrows found their mark. Orcs screams blunted as the shafts imbedded themselves in throats cutting off any sound save that of gurgling blood. Second flight found the heart. Legolas placed an arrow in the shoulder of one of the Orcs and Vivelle’s scarlet and white fletched arrow sprouted from his stomach like an oddly stemmed flower. This had been done purposefully.

The four Elves stalked out of the woods into the clearing. Erthion and Navedir checked to make certain the orcs were properly dead and then retrieved their arrows, checking them for damage, then cleaning and storing them in their quivers again. They converged on the one Orc that had been left alive. The one that Legolas hovered over, his white knives in hand.

“Who is your Master?” he shouted in a slightly manic voice.

The Orc leveled a look at him.

“Who do you think?” He burbled and coughed more.

“Why did you help Gollum escape?” he demanded in a near unrecognizable voice filled with sorrow and rage. The Orc gave a burbling sound somewhere between a laugh and a cough before saying.

“Because we could. His ‘guards’ died so easil-.”

The sentence was never finished.

“Their names were Maethon and Eithediriel!” At that Legolas took his white knives and with a crisscross action sliced open the Orc’s throat.

“And they are avenged!” Legolas whispered hoarsely as tears he was not even aware he was shedding, tumbled down his cheeks and he fell to his knees.

Vivelle looked at her prince. The healer in her longed to heal his pain, but in her heart, she knew Legolas had been right. Some pain one simply had to learn to live with. So, instead she knelt by the Orc and extracted her arrow from the stomach of the foul creature. She cleaned the arrow on nearby grass and then placed it on the earth, nestling it amid the soil. She closed her eyes and said softly, both open hands hovering over her arrow, almost but not quite touching it:

“Varda of the unseen stars above and the blessed Arda upon which we stand. Please purify my arrow and cleanse my fëa for the life I helped take today.” She repeated the words in a soft chant. As both healer and warrior, Vivelle’s fëa was charged by the two opposite poles, the saving and the taking of life. One diminished the other. At times of need she acted as warrior in the necessary taking of life, but after such necessity had ended, she asked forgiveness of Arda so her abilities as healer were not dimmed. It was a precarious balance within.

Legolas heard the healer’s chant and somehow, he felt refreshed as well, as his battle lust was being sluiced away and his soul was cleansed of its rage, leaving him with only the sorrow. Vivelle finished her chanting and opened her eyes. They were clear and bright. She reached out a comforting hand to her friend touching a hand still clenching one of his knives and she smiled.

“Clean your knives, my prince,” she gently admonished.

Legolas looked down at the knives still clutched in his hands and saw that Orc blood was smeared across the bright and delicately etched blades. He wiped the blood off across the grimy tunic that clothed the Orc. He then wiped the blades across a patch of grass near the Orc carcass to clean them of any residual befoulment. He stood.

“We leave the carcasses to the Forest. It will know how to deal with them. At first light we will make haste to Sadron. We are closer to him than to the King’s Halls. If there are still orcs hunting Gollum, we will need reinforcements and I can tell Sadron what we have learned.” Legolas’ voice was full of grim determination.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Legolas awoke at first light feeling refreshed in spirit. He was perched in a tree where he had bedded down for the night. He had fallen asleep as the tree cradled him, singing softly a song to calm his wounded spirit.

Deep within his heart he spoke to the spirit within the tree, “Thank you, mellon nin, for the peaceful night’s sleep.” Within his mind came the deep resonant voice.

“You are welcome young one. You are loved and you are protected.”

Legolas paused, touched by the sentiment and then he dropped down noiselessly to the forest floor. He looked up and saw Erthion and Vivelle sleeping; she fit perfectly within the crook of Erthion’s arm. Viewing their closeness, a pang of envy heavy with remembrance hit Legolas; he had found that someone that fit within the crook of his arm long ago. But she had been taken from him. Legolas shut down that thought immediately and buried it away where it could not hurt him. He realized with a flash how much that action showed he was his father’s son and with that thought a small seed of understanding unknowingly took root in his heart. Legolas heard an almost noiseless “thwump” behind him.

“Shall we make ready to leave, Legolas?” Navedir inquired and Legolas silently thanked him for pulling him out of his unwanted reverie. Legolas turned around.

“Yes, we should make haste and if we do, we should reach my brother by midday, day after next.” Legolas went to see to the horses.

Navedir stood at the foot of the tree chosen by Erthion.

“Up and meet the morning, you lazy lovebirds!”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Legolas’ heart rose when the entrance of his brother’s stronghold in the Mountains of Mirkwood came into view. It would only look like a clearing in the woods at the foot of the mountains if one did not know what they were looking for. A tributary of the Forbidden River flowed in front of the entrance. If one was to attempt the ford straight on, then the river would work its magic upon the unknowing and all memory would be lost for a time, if not permanently. The ford needed to be crossed at a diagonal and only then did the river give up its power over those that crossed it.

Coming in at the diagonal Legolas guided Lhegrin onto the far riverbank. The guard at the entrance took one look at who was coming across the ford and at first he did not believe it, but he quickly rallied and drop a knee.

“Prince Legolas, it is indeed an honour that you are here! Is the King far behind? We were not notified that he was coming,” Fendir said, then saw Erthion, Vivelle and Navedir coming up. “Such a small entourage…” Legolas pulled Fendir from his knee.

“The King is not coming,” Legolas informed the confused Elf. He paused and then realized the guard’s confusion. Legolas never went anywhere without the King and certainly not without body retainers. He hid his emotions however and said, cheerily placing his hand on Fendir’s shoulder, “And we are not an entourage. Fendir, can you tell me where my brother is? We have need to speak with him.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sadron deftly grabbed an arrow from his quiver and gracefully placed it and pulled the bowstring till the nock of the arrow just grazed his lips. He stilled his breath and let fly the arrow.

“In the black! Big brother, you might just become as good as me with a little more practice.”

Sadron turned around and there stood his little brother with a smug look on his face. “Save me from the arrogance of youth!” He placed his quiver and bow on their pegs and embraced his brother. “Legolas!” He looked to his side and saw Erthion, Vivelle and Navedir, who all quickly bowed.

“Save your bows for Adar nin! They are not necessary here in the southern wilds!”

All three straightened and smiled.

“Let us convene back in my study,” Sadron said, “where we can be more comfortable.”

Legolas interjected, “This isn’t a social call, brother.”

Sadron pinned his little brother with a knowing look.

“I know.” Sadron unstrung his bow and handed his equipment to his waiting squire. “Thank you, Faron. Can you have some wine and bread and cheese sent to my study immediately, please.”

“Yes, my lord. Right away!” Faron placed his hand on his heart, bowed and left to complete his errands.

Sadron turned to his brother. “Shall we?”

Legolas nodded wordlessly though questions whirled in his mind. He looked at his three companions as they looked at him . All followed Sadron; all wondering what had been said and by whom.

As they settled into Sadron’s study, he looked at Legolas as he handed him a goblet of wine.

“I am sorry for having created an air of mystery, but the situation was not for everyone’s ears.”

Legolas held the wine goblet and bit his lower lip at the corner. “Just what do you understand the situation to be?”

Sadron handed Navedir his goblet and then said plainly, “Celebren wrote to tell me what had happened between you and Adar.”

“I see. He should not have done that,” Legolas said somewhat churlishly as he sat down somewhat disconsolately upon a carved wooden chair.

Sadron watched his little brother for a few moments before speaking in a somewhat stern voice.

“In terms of the greater picture, he had every right to inform me of what actions he was taking,” Sadron then spoke a little more softly. “In more personal terms, he was concerned. As you had said in the letter you wrote to Adar, he knew you would probably be headed in my direction. He wanted me to understand the situation. Do you wish to read his letter?” Sadron finished earnestly.

Legolas had a strained look on his face. He shook his head.

 “No. I am sorry, Sadron. I should not have spoken as I did.” He fell silent. Sadron could see the internal battle going on within his younger brother. He gave him time to sort his thoughts. He handed Vivelle and Erthion goblets of wine as he waited for Legolas to collect his thoughts.

“One minute I was giving my report,” Legolas started. He contemplated the red wine in the silver goblet almost as if he could see the scene play itself out in the reflected surface of the liquid. “The next, I was shouting at him that he didn’t trust me and the next he was dismissing me from his presence. The look in his eyes was so cold. I will never forget that look.” He looked up, his blue eyes haunted. He downed the wine as if the action to do away with its reflecting image would do away with his memories as well.

Sadron turned to the others. “I am assuming you have already heard most of this.”

Erthion nodded. “Most of it. Vivelle would not let him get a league distant from the King’s Halls without getting from him the full story.”

Sadron smiled and then said, “Can I ask that you give Legolas and I a moment alone?”

“Of course,” Erthion confirmed. The three bowed to both, hand on heart. Vivelle moved to where Legolas was sitting and touched his hand briefly and then departed with the other two.

Legolas looked questioningly at his brother. “Sadron, what is it? What couldn’t you say in front of them?”

Sadron walked over to his desk and used a key to open a locked box and withdrew something.

“It isn’t what I couldn’t say in front of them. It is what you might want to be alone with.” He handed him a letter. With a flash of recognition Legolas saw his father’s personal seal. He took the letter and as he slowly broke the sealing wax, he heard the gentle but unmistakable swish of the heavy curtain as Sadron took his leave. Legolas’ heart clenched as he saw the first words written in his father’s strong hand.

My dearest son…

~*~*~*~*~

 

A/N:  Again I want to thank Ellynn for traveling through the weeds and plucking out my meaning as my beta!!  ((hugs))


Ch. 12 – Coming of Age

As Legolas read the letter, he could hear his father’s voice in his head. He could see his face and the strain in his eyes for him to have revealed so much of himself. Legolas blinked away tears as he read the words, I can only appeal to your joyful nature in asking your forgiveness for my cowardice. That his father was calling himself a coward cut him to the quick. He continued reading the next passage. His eyes stung as his father wrote of their last words together:

“To have spoken so to a son who has never given me a day's grief, to dismiss you from my sight saying I could never trust you, all because in my pride I refused to allow you see how much losing you would pain me, is once again cowardice beyond measure. I am ashamed to have uttered such words.”

Legolas had grown up with his father’s pain. Everyone had. Every elf in the Greenwood was cautious around the King concerning Legolas’ mother. They avoided the subject out of respect for him, not wishing to cause further him pain. All knew how much he had suffered. Legolas had been so young at the time of his mother’s death. So wrapped up in his own sadness that Sadron had gone through great effort to bring the young elf through his grief and rejoin the world outside. As he read the letter he was taken aback by the rawness of emotion from his reticent and very reserved father. He could feel his pain through the words he chose. The further Legolas read, he could feel his own heart beginning to heal. The pain in his heart from the last words his father had spoken to him now became a pain he felt for his father and now became a pain he felt for his father; now he understood why he had spoken The last paragraph stunned him:

I hold your spirit closest in my heart and know that I have the greatest respect and love for you. I only ask your forgiveness if you can find it in your heart. In regards to Gollum and what needs be done, I trust your judgment. I know you will act in the best interests of our realm. I miss you and may the Valar guide your steps back to our home.

Your loving Adar,

Thranduil Oropherion

After reading the letter, Legolas sat still for many moments, his father’s words circling in his mind. I only ask your forgiveness if you can find it in your heart. How could he not forgive him? The Elf he respected above all others, his father, was abasing himself and asking his forgiveness. Then there were the words he longed to hear. Words he had spent the better of his life trying to earn. I trust your judgment. I know you will act in the best interests of our realm. Legolas’ heart swelled with love for his father. Thranduil was strong and proud and had always been very guarded when it came to his emotions. He was not given to effusive praise for any of his sons or indeed anyone. The idea, indeed the fact of the letter that he held in his hand as proof that Thranduil poured his heart out to his youngest son, overwhelmed Legolas. He thought back to another time when his father had opened his heart to his young son.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1102 TA, Mirkwood

Sadron walked into the King’s reception hall and he saw Celebren receiving a report from Daenir’s patrol. The patrol had been gone for months, surveying what could be seen to the South. There had been report of activity of a less than savory nature coming from the southern-most reaches and Orc activity was stirring in the Misty Mountains. It had been deemed an important long-term reconnaissance by Thranduil. But the report was not what had caught his attention. It was the fact of who was receiving the necessary information. Sadron hung back until Daenir had finished his report, the last of the day. He nodded to his old training partner as he departed. As he heard the door close, he came forward to the King’s throne, currently occupied by his brother.

“Where is Adar?” Sadron asked, sadly already knowing the answer.

“Resting,” Celebren’s eyes said it all. “Resting”had become their watch word for Thranduil’s slow descent into grief that he seemed unable to pull himself out of. It often included consumption of a large amount of his favoured Dorwinian vintage which was not always helpful to Thranduil or to those tasked to serve him, but for very different reasons. The death of their mother threatened to bring about the loss of their father as well. Elves could be lost to grief either through death or a loss of their spirit. Either way spelled only tragedy for the ruling family of Mirkwood. Neither brother knew quite what to do. The light seemed to be leaving their father’s soul. At first, he seemed to be handling her death as well as could be expected, but something had changed. Neither quite knew what had caused it, but the change was slowly siphoning away their father’s spirit.

“Have you seen Legolas today?” Sadron asked referring the young elfling who was the last child of their parents and had been having his own difficulties accepting their mother’s death.

“No, I have not had a chance today. I have either been in council or receiving audiences all day and I have not had a chance to get away.”

Sadron nodded. “I will go.”

Celebren smiled. “Good. I am worried about him. Gannedir says that he did not attend Archery practice today.”

Sadron’s eyebrows shot up, but he just nodded his head in silent and chagrinned affirmation of what Celebren just said. He turned and silently departed, Celebren’s words weighing heavily on his heart.

He arrived at his little brother’s suite of rooms and before he knocked, he thought he heard the sound of someone crying. The door was not quite closed all the way and Sadron saw, through the sliver of space allowed, Legolas sitting on the floor near his bed and wiping tears, trying not to sob.

He opened the door as gently as he could and, predictably, at that sound the snuffling stopped. The elf child, just over twenty years old, looked at his brother and tried desperately yet surreptitiously to wipe away his tears. He shame-facedly turned away.

Sadron’s heart broke seeing the pain and sorrow of his little brother. “Legolas,” he said as gently as he could as he knelt down next to his brother, “it is okay to cry. Never be ashamed of your tears…” He reached out a comforting hand to place it on the thin shoulder of the child. Legolas flinched and moved away, his arms hugging his knees. Sadron’s heart broke a little more at the telling movement. He sighed and tried again. “My love,” he said, this time not making any moves, “can you tell me what pain is in your heart?”

Silence. Then, while looking blindly straight ahead of him, Legolas whispered, “I miss Nana.” He continued in a slightly stronger voice. “I went looking for Ada and as soon as I found him, I couldn’t help myself I just started crying and …” Legolas paused.

Sadron closed his eyes just hoping that Thranduil had been in fit state to properly receive his small son, but his temperament of late had been volatile to say the least. As a result, there had been some effort to shield Legolas from the worst of Thranduil’s excesses. He feared that Legolas somehow found his father in a less desirable state than anybody would have wished.

“What happened, my love?” Sadron asked, gently prompting yet fearing the answer.

“He just looked at me. I’m not even sure he saw me at first and then he just stared at me. Afterwards he had this really sad look on his face and then he barked, ‘Leave me!’ so abruptly. So I left.” Legolas turned big tearful blue eyes toward his older brother. “What did I do wrong, Sadron? Why was he angry at me?”

Sadron looked at his young brother in pained chagrin. His heart ached that he should have encountered his father in such a way, so deep into his cups. He switched from his knees to a sitting position across from his little brother, so close their knees were touching. He reached out a hand and caressed Legolas’ head and making sure the elfling looked him in the eye. “My love, you did not wrong! Adar is not angry with you.”

“He seemed to be!”

Sadron grabbed both of the young elfling’s hands and held them in his own. He spoke firmly but gently holding Legolas’ eyes intently, “Oh my love, he is not angry at you. He is angry at the world, at himself, but,” he squeezed Legolas’ hands, “but never at you. He just misses Nana as much as you do and needs a little extra understanding and love right now.”

Legolas looked at him, his big blue eyes trying hard to understand something that life never should have asked him to comprehend at such a young age. Sadron thought with despair about the unfairness of it all.

Legolas sighed and said, “I think I understand.”

Sadron leaned over and kissed the top of his little brother blond head and then said, “Is that why you didn’t go to Archery practice today?”

Legolas nodded. “I was too upset.”

Sadron’s smile was a sad one. “I see. Well, we can’t have you falling behind in your skills. That would not be proper for a Prince of Mirkwood! What say you to going out and shooting a few rounds right now?!”

“Yes, please!” said the now very excited elfling. The chance to shoot with either of his brothers was a privilege never to be missed.

Sadron laughed. “Let’s go!” They stood up and together they walked to the shooting range.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

That evening Legolas had been thinking about what Sadron had been saying about their father. Thranduil did not appear at evening meal. That worried Legolas. He appeared at breakfast, but seemed withdrawn and did not meet any eye, which worried his young son even more. Legolas noticed that his father ate very little and had the wine steward fill his goblet again and again. Sadron was right. Thranduil seemed very sad, even more than usual. He retired from the table and Legolas watched him go. Thranduil left in a quiet and unassuming way, so unlike his usual radiant energy that lit an entire room. Legolas excused himself from the table and quietly followed his father drawn by forces he did not understand, but Sadron had said that he needed love and understanding. Legolas could give him that.

He saw that Thranduil was not going to his rooms, nor was he going to his study or any of the usual places. He was going outside of his halls. Slipping out quietly, to be amid the trees. Legolas followed him as quietly as he knew how. He had been walking for the better part of an hour. He looked behind him to see if he was being followed. He was not, but when he looked forward again, he could not see his father anymore. Legolas scanned the area, but he saw no trace of him. He did not know what to do. He had come this far; he did not want to turn back and something inside him told him to keep going, but he did not know where his father had gone. Legolas stood still and thought. Instinctively he reached out to the trees.

He stilled his mind and tried to feel the energy that flowed through the trees. He felt something. He was not sure what it was, but he reached out with his mind, spirit and heart. "Hello! I am here again. If you are there. Please can you tell me where my Ada is? Please, he needs me." He paused and waited, hoping that he could connect once again. He felt a rumbling in his soul.

"Little one! He is by the Enchanted River. Go to him! Hurry!"

The river? Legolas was alarmed because all elflings were warned about the dangers of the Forest River and its tributaries. If one even so much as touched the river or even took its water, one would fall into a sleep of forgetfulness, possibly never to wake up or even if one did wake up, one would remember nothing of their life. Oblivion would consume you. It was a main defense that the forest provided its inhabitants, but it had its dangers as well, and the fact that his father was by the river made Legolas inexplicably nervous.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The Enchanted river flowed ever onwards. Thranduil sat on the riverbank peering into the black murkiness, seeing his reflection clear for a few seconds in an eddy close to his hand near the water. It would distort and he was left with his thoughts again. His beloved Lasgalen. Would that the river could work its dark magic upon him so that he could forget the pain in his heart, in his soul. Nothing he did could drown out the pain he felt. He had tried. There was clearly not enough wine in all Arda. The pain in his heart would not stop. He tried to recall Lasgalen’s words that she had spoken into his heart, but he could not hear them. He neared the water, its dark powers of oblivion beckoning. Just a little closer and I will not remember. Thranduil reached out and his hand was hovering just over the water when he heard a small voice.

“Ada? What are you doing?!”

Thranduil stopped his hand and closed his eyes. Legolas? What was he doing here! He turned around and saw his little elfling son, blue eyes wide with fear and confusion. He stumbled out the words. “Legolas? What are you doing here? W-why are you here?”

Legolas walked forward. “I came to see you. You are sad and I want to make you happy.” The elfling child’s lower lip started to tremble. He walked forward so that he stood right next his father’s sitting position near to the riverbank, his troubled blue eyes looking into Thranduil’s. He reached his hand to touch his father’s face. Thranduil closed his eyes and he felt his son’s hand on his face through every strand of his tattered soul. He felt a kiss on his cheek and heard the words.

“It’s okay to be sad, Ada. I miss her, too. I love you. Please don’t go away!”

A lightning bolt of emotion flashed through Thranduil. What had Legolas seen? How did he know? He opened his eyes and looked at his son and knew immediately he had been wrong to give into grief. The look of worry and sadness in his little Elfling’s eyes ripped through his heart. He pulled Legolas into a tight hug. “I will never go away. I will never leave you. My darling boy. I love you, too.” In his heart, Thranduil knew he could not give into grief. He could never again allow Legolas to see that despair which had driven him to this river’s edge. He would somehow learn to live with the pain for he could not fail his son again.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Since that time by the Enchanted River Legolas had sworn within his heart to always see to his father’s happiness so that he would never again contemplate falling into the waters of Oblivion. After finishing the letter his first impulse was to do just that, to ride straight back to his father’s halls to see his father and ease his heart, but Legolas paused and realised that he could not because Gollum was still missing and it had been a point that Gandalf had been very clear upon. He wanted Gollum to stay in Mirkwood and keep out of harm’s way; he had to be found. Legolas took a deep breath. He could not forsake his duty. His father’s written words had taken away a heavy burden. Now he could move forward with confidence, able to make decisions that were not comingled with the pain of grief and disappointment that had sat upon Legolas’ heart since he had left his father’s study that day a little over a week ago. Astonishment nestled in with other emotions swirling in his mind.  Had it truly only been a little over a week? He scrubbed his face with his hands, ending with his fingers templed and pressing on his lower lip.

His heart wanted to go home, but he was not a child anymore. He could not simply run home into his father’s arms, however much he wanted to do. He knew his duty and that was to find Gollum wherever that path would take him. His father would understand. He looked around Sadron’s desk and found parchment and ink in a drawer. He began to write.

Adar nin!

Words cannot express what I am feeling right now. They are inadequate for this moment, but they are all I have to give so they are the vehicle I must use. Your words have brought joy to my soul. I feel your song wrap around my heart and it has begun to heal.

Legolas paused briefly pondering what next to address. His next words were intense.

If I heard anyone name you coward, they would have my blade and bow to contend with for I know they would be speaking falsely. I cannot allow you to call yourself one. It is damaging to my spirit to read these words with which you berate yourself, for I know they are false. I have never known a braver heart or stronger Elf than you.

Thank you for the trust you place in me. I will keep it in my heart and will always strive to bring honour to you and our people with my words and deeds.

You ask forgiveness. How can I not forgive you? I love you. Please know that I hold you in the highest respect. So yes, I forgive you.

He paused briefly to stretch and move his writing hand as he pondered what words to use in the next section. He was unsure how Thranduil was going to accept what he had to say.

I hope that you can forgive me because regardless of any other considerations I accept as my responsibility the fate of Gollum. It was through my actions and decisions that he has escaped, and I will answer to it, if that is what is required.

My beloved Adar, I pray the Valar shall guide our paths to join again as soon as they will. Until then, I will keep your love and your trust wrapped around my heart as I go forth.

Your loving son,

Legolas Thranduilion

Legolas looked over the letter, sprinkled drying dust on the page and carefully folded it. He did not have his personal seal with him as he did not generally carry it with him on patrol. He opened a box and found a common seal and used that. He left Sadron’s study in search of Daenir to give him the letter and to explain to him that it was to be given only into his father’s hand and no one else.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Sadron sat near his study waiting for Legolas to emerge. His heart hurt for him knowing everything that Legolas had grown up with. The limitations placed upon him. The frustrations that he bore stoically. He knew he was behaving like a mother hen with her favorite chick, but it was something that he could not help. Over the centuries a very strong bond had grown between the two brothers.

He had always been there for his little brother and he always would be. He saw the green silk curtain move and the first thing he noticed was the strained look on his brother’s face. Legolas looked at him and noticed he was alone clearly waiting.

“Sadron, I am fine.”

He looked into his younger brother’s eyes. He saw calm resolve and a maturity that in truth he had not expected to see, and he felt his heart slowly starting to beat again. Legolas seemed different somehow, but he could not quite put his finger on what it was. He cupped Legolas’ head in his two hands and searched his blue eyes for a few moments. He then smiled and placed a kiss on his brother’s forehead.

“What is the plan, brother?” Sadron inquired, yielding leadership of this mission to his brother, though he was the Lord of the Southern Marches and Legolas’ older brother.

It was not lost on Legolas that Sadron had said "brother" instead of "little brother". He held his brother’s gaze and gave a slight nod of acceptance and gratitude. “Daenir returns to Adar’s halls and we continue to search for Gollum and we do not stop until we find him!”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~


A/N:  Many thanks to Ellynn for being my word wrangler and sorting out my meaning!  ((hugs))


Ch. 13 -- The Courage to Ask

Daenir arrived at Thranduil’s halls late and saw Raeven guarding the gate. He smiled. “Guard duty, old friend?” he queried in a teasing, yet inquiring way.

“Yes,” Raeven replied. “That is the absolute last time I abscond with a bottle of wine before I confirm where it was heading!”

Daenir simply shook his head chuckling softly, thinking of Raeven’s penchant for fine wines. “Who was it bound for this time?”

“The King.” Raeven murmured.

Daenir sucked in quick air. “Raeven! It wasn’t the King who discovered this, I take it?”

Raeven looked at him pointedly. “I’m still here, aren’t I?”

“True, true!” Daenir said thinking loudly that Raeven’s love of fine wine was going to catch up to him. “Who, then?”

“Amlach,” Raeven admitted in a low voice, naming the King’s wine steward.

Daenir simply shook his head chuckling and said, “This is going to be the death of you, you know.”

“I know, I know, but it would be a fine way to die!”

Daenir shook his head and rolled his eyes at his friend. “It is good to be back, my friend. We shall crush a cup of wine together soon!” He touched his horse’s flank and they walked on to the stables. He thought briefly about waiting until the morning to bring Thranduil the letter from Legolas, but he decided that it was best not to wait.

After stabling his horse, Daenir made his quick way to Thranduil’s private rooms as it was after hours, past evening meal, and he knew of no hall gatherings that were happening. He neared the suite and saw Lachon on door duty. “Master Lachon! Good it is to see you! Is the King still awake?”

Lachon was about to answer when Guildor, Thranduil’s main councilor, opened the door and stepped through. His worried face lightened considerably when he saw who stood at the King’s door. “Daenir! You have returned!” A streak of worry flashed across his face. “You bring glad tidings, I do so hope!”

Daenir nodded. “Yes, I do! If I may be permitted to see the King?”

Guildor replied fervently, “Yes! But be prepared. It has not gone easy with the King since you departed.” He said no more, but from his expression, a sense of foreboding struck Daenir’s heart. He nodded and stepped through the open doors.

He saw his King sitting as still as stone in the carved out and cushioned window seat. He was dressed in robes and sleeping attire, his blond hair unbound and falling haphazardly across his shoulders and back. He sat with his head leaning back against the windowsill, staring out of the window into the black night. He did not seem to notice Daenir’s presence. Even from distance, Daenir sensed a quietude that had settled upon Thranduil, a stillness that was most unlike him. He always gave off an air of energy, even while still, the impression of a barely leashed hurricane straining to be released. Now Daenir felt nothing. It was as if he was looking at a picture of his King and not a living, breathing soul. Grief was taking hold. He waited respectfully to be acknowledged as was proper, but after a few moments he realised that Thranduil did not even realize he was there. It was then that he moved in a few steps and spoke.

“My King! I have returned from the South.”

Thranduil at first seemed not to have heard him, remaining motionless staring into the blackness. But after a few moments he turned to look at Daenir and the maelstrom of emotions swirling in deep blue eyes shocked him. Never had he seen such torment playing across eyes in quite that way. Daenir’s voice forced its way through the torrent of his own emotions upon seeing such despair. “My Lord, I bear a letter from Legolas! Please, will you read it?” Daenir pulled the sealed letter from safe inside his tunic. He kneeled, his head bowed and held the letter up for his King to receive.

Thranduil looked at the letter in Daenir’s hand and saw clearly written in his son’s scrawling hand one word “Adar.” That word broke through the fog of grief that had surrounded Thranduil these past weeks. He got up from his window seat to receive the letter from Daenir’s outstretched hand. His hands trembled as he viewed the unfamiliar seal.

“This did come from Legolas?” Thranduil asked of Daenir in a voice that sounded as if it had been in disuse for days, weak and a little raspy. The sound of it startled Daenir, so used to the King speaking in tones of strength and command. He looked up into questioning and tired eyes.

“Yes, My lord. He handed it to me himself and I was to hand it only into your hands, My King.”

Thranduil looked at him, desperate longing in his eyes. “You saw Legolas?” There was a slight trembling in his voice as he said, “Is he well?” Does he hate me? Words that Thranduil could not form into audible sounds lest his heart should break.

Daenir answered, “Yes. He is doing very well, my liege.” Thranduil stood mute. He wanted to ask so much more. Daenir continued gently, “Pardon my liege. But I think many of your questions will be answered within the letter itself.”

Thranduil looked down at the letter in his hand almost as if he had forgotten its existence. He then looked at it as if it were a thing alive and bent on striking him down. He did not have the strength to open the letter and read its judgment. He simply continued stare at it.

Daenir was uncomfortable seeing his King in pain and he was unsure what to do. He did not know what the letter contained, but having seen and spoken with Legolas, he was certain that whatever was written would not cause harm. He drew a breath and ventured into a place he would have never normally gone, into the private world of his King. It was simply not done; all within the realm of Mirkwood knew that the King jealously guarded his privacy. But also, he saw pain and he meant always to be of service to his king. Remaining on his knee, he began hesitantly. “If by your leave, my liege, might I ask a question?”

Thranduil shifted his gaze from the letter to the kneeling elf almost as if he had forgotten he was present, but he nodded his leave. “You may.” The raspy voice granted.

Emboldened, Daenir asked, “In an effort only meant to be of service to you, may I ask to read the letter to you?” Daenir bowed his head, fully expecting to be tossed from the room for his impudence.

Silence. And then the same words repeated. “You may.” There was a pause. “Rise.” The words were spoken quietly with defeat as an underlying current.

Daenir’s heart broke at hearing such acquiescence, but he carefully schooled his expression to not show the shock he felt at his King’s acceptance of his request, which to his mind only showed how far into despair Thranduil had fallen. He rose from his knee and gently took the letter from his king’s hand. He broke the seal and, taking a deep breath, he scanned the letter quickly. He smiled inwardly and began:

Adar nin!

Words cannot express what I am feeling right now. They are inadequate to this moment, but they are all I have to give so they are the vehicle I must use. Your words have brought joy to my soul. I feel your song wrap around my heart and it has begun to heal.

Daenir looked at his King after he read the first passage. He saw strain begin to fall away from Thranduil’s face.

“Continue,” whispered the voice of the King.

Daenir did as he was bidden.

If I heard anyone name you coward, they would have my blade and bow to contend with for I know they would be speaking falsely. I cannot allow you to call yourself one. It is damaging to my spirit to read these words with which you berate yourself, for I know they are false

As Thranduil listened he felt the heaviness easing in his heart, healing the self-inflicted wounds. A light began to shine upon his inner senses again. When Daenir spoke the next passage, Thranduil’s heart began to sing.

You ask forgiveness. How can I not forgive you? I love you. Please know that I hold you in the highest respect. So yes, I forgive you.

Thranduil thought back to what Lasgalen had told him in the glade, that Legolas had a kind and forgiving heart and that he would forgive him anything if he asked. It seems that you were right my love, he thought.Thranduil opened his eyes. “You may stop, Daenir.”

Daenir immediately halted and looked into his King’s eyes. Gone was the defeated, sad look and in its place a dawning look of calm. Thranduil reached his hand out for the letter and Daenir placed it in his liege’s hand, and immediately cast his eyes downward respectfully. He felt Thranduil’s fingers lifting his chin up to meet his own blue gaze which was slowly regaining its more accustomed look of calm and command.

“Daenir.” Thranduil’s eyes warmed with gratitude. “I thank you. I owe you a debt I do not believe I will ever be able to repay.”

Daenir looked into the eyes of his King. “My Liege. There is no debt. I have only ever wished to be of service to you. I am honoured that you allowed me to be.”

Thranduil looked at him gravely. “There is great debt, and I am honoured to owe it. Ask and it shall be yours.” Thranduil leaned forward and kissed Daenir’s forehead. “You are as a son to me now for what you have risked and for what you have given. At present I wish to be alone to read the rest of the letter. Thank you,” he ended graciously.

Daenir had felt a joy of a kind he had never known flow into him as his King had bent to kiss his forehead.  He quickly bowed and left the bedchamber in wonder. Thranduil read the rest of the letter.

I hope that you can forgive me because regardless of any other considerations I accept as my responsibility the fate of Gollum. It was through my actions and decisions that he has escaped, and I will answer to it, if that is what is required.

Thranduil, after reading that passage, began to realize that Legolas had indeed grown into the elf that he had wished him to be. Honorable and responsible. His heart still hurt for the burden his youngest son was taking upon himself and he wished that he could lessen the load for him, but he knew that he could no longer make the way through life easier for Legolas. He was going to have find his own way.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Sadron stopped his horse at the stream that came from the River Running so that Luindaer could drink from the safe waters of this southern stream. He uncorked his wineskin and poured some wine into his mouth. He corked the wineskin sighing as he did and looked around. He peered toward the south with a sense of foreboding. He looked to the side and saw both Legolas and Erthion join him to water their horses as well.

Legolas looked to the south and then leaned forward on his saddle gently petting Lhegrin’s neck as the horse drank deep of the fresh stream water. “What do you think, brother?” he inquired of Sadron. “Do we go further south?”

It had been five weeks since they had left Sadron’s holding. They had first searched along the Enchanted River eastwards to the easternmost borders of Mirkwood and then the southern section of the forest under Thranduil’s influence where the Enchanted River and the River Running met, and they had found no trace of Gollum. They had however found much evidence of an Orc presence though they had not encountered any Orcs as such. They had forded the river at the convergence of the two waterways where it was safe from enchantment. Legolas peered in the same southerly direction as his brother.

Sadron sighed. “Legolas, I do not know. We have traveled along the river to the edge of the forest and have found no hint of Gollum!” He ended in a somewhat exasperated tone, scrubbing his face with both hands as if such an action could clear his frustration. “Do we go South? My heart says ‘No’, but I do not know if that is foreboding, sound judgment or weariness speaking.”

Legolas looked at his brother and could well understand the sentiment. He felt the same weariness of soul. He had heard his father speak of the south of Mirkwood, a lost portion of his realm, in those rare times when he was feeling melancholic or nostalgic. Indeed, he had heard stories of the fabled beauty of Amon Lanc, their home in the south, which over time had been tragically degraded to become Dol Guldur, where Thranduil knew Sauron had resided for centuries, though none of the wise would listen to his counsel. It was through Sauron and his evil influence that large portions of the southern forest had turned for the worse. Greenwood the Great had become Mirkwood. It could be that influence with which his father had fought mentally for centuries that was causing the weariness of spirit that dragged upon Legolas’ heart. “I say we head in a more southerly direction towards the Old Forest Road. We will see what we can see and then decide upon our course of action.”

Legolas was reluctant to admit, even to himself, that Gollum was indeed gone. It still weighed upon his soul that he was responsible for Gollum’s escape, which had also directly caused the deaths of his friends who had been under his command. He thought about what his father had said in his letter that Legolas kept inside his tunic close to his heart. I understand that whatever words I use to absolve you of Maethon and Eithediriel's deaths, they will still sit on your heart. That is something you will have to learn to live with. His father understood what Legolas was feeling and that salved his heart, to have his father’s understanding. But bearing the burden of his friends’ fates was a spur to finding Gollum, to make amends in some way. What path to redemption did he follow if Gollum was indeed lost? It was a question Legolas was unable to face just yet, so the search would continue for a while longer in the vain hope that any trail could be found and then followed. He looked up and saw Sadron’s unnerving gaze of one blue eye and one green eye resting upon him, sympathy evident on his face. Legolas held his gaze for a few moments but refused to divulge what doubts lay in his heart. He suspected Sadron knew anyway. He could always read his little brother like an open book.

“We ride to the Old Forest Road!” He looked at Sadron and then past him to Erthion and Navedir. He carefully avoided Vivelle’s eyes, not wishing for another gentle battle of wills from another that he held dear. The company of ten elven warriors from Sadron’s command in the south placed their hands on their hearts and began to form up loose ranks atop their horses.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Traveling towards the Old Forest Road meant traveling into a part of the forest that felt less of his father’s influence and more of the undue and tragic hold of Dol Guldur. The spirit of the trees was more muted, as if their joy was slowly being siphoned away only to be replaced by sadness, despair, and in the end, malevolence. It saddened Legolas’ heart. Traces of malevolence hung intermittently from the trees in the form of spiderwebs even on the northside of the Old Forest Road, though it was much more in evidence south of the road. After slowly moving through the forested areas for hours, the retinue paused in a small glade and dismounted their horses. A quick scan around the fringes of the forest was undertaken more in hopefulness rather than in expectation to see if any trail of Gollum could be detected. Legolas accepted the soldiers’ findings with a quiet nod to their failure.

“Galdor, Gwineith, Naldor watch the perimeter,” he requested this from three of Sadron’s command. “This is too close to the influence coming from the South, we cannot be too careful what may be about in the woods.”

They sat in the glade in pairs back to back watchful in this portion of the forest that was ever falling into desolation; their weapons, bow and blade, at their sides, lying in wait. Legolas sat with his back against his brother, his hand on the ground.

“Can you feel it?” Sadron’s voice broke into his thoughts. “I remember these trees from long ago. They were as green and as joyful as the trees near home.” Legolas heard the sad tenor in his voice and answered with shared understanding.

“It is a feeling of sadness. I touch the ground and I feel it. I hear it in the rustling leaves, the despair.” He could feel the spirit of the trees speak in his soul. He remained silent. He had no words, no joy to share with them. Then the two words. I’m sorry. Just then a scream ripped through his senses. Opening his eyes, he grabbed his bow and sword. “Spiders! Make ready!”

Sadron leapt up as did the rest of the retinue and grabbed his weapons.

Galdor came running from the tree line. “Spiders! My lords!”

Sadron spared a quick look at his younger brother, wondering how he knew before the watch. The next moment he could spare no thought for anything other than pulling his bow and aiming at the spider breaking the tree line. There were four spiders that they could see. Both Erthion and Sadron had arrows hit one dead center in the head. It stumbled forward and Naldor sliced its legs off from one side of its hideous body, rendering it immobile as black blood splattered on his arms, stinging slightly.

As his arrows found their targets Legolas dropped his bow and pulled his blade from his scabbard in a single swift motion. He stood waiting for the spider to charge him and then at the last moment he sidestepped the foul creature and took its legs out from under it. Then Gwineith on one side and he on the other both spun and drove home their swords into the spider’s head. Black blood speckled both elves and where it landed it burned Legolas’ skin slightly. He looked around to view the battle quickly and saw that the last spider was being dealt with handily by two of Sadron’s elves.

Legolas looked around the edge of the glade. All seemed quiet. He knelt and placed his hands in the sparse grass and felt the warm soil. He closed his eyes and reached out with his soul. "Forgive us for the blood we have spilled and now soaks into your soil. I am sorry. But those foul creatures will trouble you no more." He waited patiently and then received, "Thank you for that, but there are others who will dare. Can you not help us? They poison our spirit, we are weakening." Legolas felt a wellspring of pain and sadness. "I do not know what to do. But I will try. This I promise." He felt rather than heard a rustle of leaves through the trees. "That is all we ask. We are fading."

Legolas opened his eyes and saw his own pain reflected in his brother’s eyes; he, too, had felt the communion between Legolas and the spirits of the woods. The bond between the forest and the ruling family of Mirkwood was a very strong one. Normally it held joy, but on this day, it held only regret and sadness. Sadron placed a commiserating hand on his brother’s heart and left it there for a few moments. Moments that were filled only with Vivelle’s voice quietly intoning the healing chant.

A gentle voice broken the moment. “My Lords, I do beg pardon, but it is best we move now.” Legolas looked Erthion and saw the slightly awed look on his friend’s face.

Seeking to allay his friend’s somewhat discomfiture, Legolas said, “No pardon needed, my friend. You are right. We shall heal our wounds as best as we can and then it is time we move on.” Legolas paused and sighed. “It is time we admit that Gollum is lost.” Where was the next step going to lead? And just what was the next step going to be? Questions that circled in Legolas’ mind; questions that he had no answer for, but at least now he felt he had the courage to ask.

A/N:  Once again many thanks to Ellynn, for sorting out my meaning!  ((hugs))


Ch. 14 - “If it is what I must do…”

Legolas was quiet as they neared the Enchanted River close to Sadron’s holding. They had been riding for three days since his reluctant decision to turn back towards Sadron’s home. Responsibility began to hang more firmly about his shoulders the closer they drew towards his brother’s holding; he felt it keenly as the horses drew ever closer. Ever closer to facing truths he had been able to avoid up until this point.

“Legolas!” the shout rent the air.

He shook himself from his thoughts at his brother’s voice. “Yes! Sadron. What is it?” he said more crossly than he had meant.

“Pardon me,” Sadron began, somewhat sardonically, “next time, I should let you ford the stream straightaway instead slanted, and especially when we are already on the side where my holding lay.”

Legolas colored immediately, realizing with no small amount of horror that he had approached the Enchanted River from the trail that emerged from heavy forest.  Embarrassed that he had shown temper where it had not been necessary, he quickly apologised, “I’m sorry, brother. My mind was elsewhere.”

“Obviously,” Sadron snapped and then his eyes softened with compassion. “Soon we shall bathe to remove the travel dust and then drink deep!” He stopped. “Perhaps not in that order.” And he grinned and waited until he saw Legolas return the same, “Good, you can smile. That is reassuring! I was beginning to think you had forgotten how.” He turned to his riders. “Soon, we will be able to sleep soundly in our own beds!” A cheer rose up at the prospect of the missed comfort. It had been a longish tour. It would be good to be home.

Within fifteen minutes they crossed through the protected forested archway and into Sadron’s holding. Fendir greeted them, “Welcome home my lord!  Was the hunting good?”

“Alas, Fendir,” Sadron sighed, “it was not. But we shall re-group,” he said with a somewhat forced positivity. “Send word to Faron to have baths made ready for my brother and I while we stable our horses!”

“At once, my lord!” Fendir called to the young elf that was stationed with him at the gate. “Thilion, make haste! You heard his lordship!” The young honey-haired elf placed his hand over his heart and scurried off to fulfill his task.

Legolas breathed in deeply as the peace of Sadron’s hidden stronghold stole through his soul. “Ah, it is good to return to friendly confines.”

“Yes it is!” Sadron affirmed, “We shall crush a cup of wine and find a way forward!” Legolas smiled, though the emotion did not quite reach his eyes, Sadron noticed. Something inside his heart cried warning, but he quickly stifled that emotion wanting only to revel in the joy of being home after a long journey.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Upon entering his bedchamber Legolas saw Faron, Sadron’s attendant, filling the brass shoe-tub up the soaking line with an ewer of steaming water. He smiled genuinely, thinking of the bliss it would be to soak his weary body in the scented steamy water. He looked at Sadron’s attendant, still smiling. “Thank you, Faron. This looks divine after so many weeks on the trail. You best get back to my brother though, before he starts squawking!”

Faron returned the smile. “Granted. He does like his comfort when he can get it, but he told me to see to your needs first.”

Legolas grew thoughtful. “Did he now? Well I must remember to thank him for this unforeseen courtesy.  Off you go now, though.  I will be fine, and we would not want to strain my brother’s courtesy further.”

Faron nodded his head sagely before his retreat. “As you say, my lord. Good evening.” Legolas nodded his thanks the young yet seemingly wise squire to his brother’s needs.

In truth, though he could have done with a bit of squiring, he was glad to send Faron off. He needed to be alone. There was much he needed to think through, and he could not have pondered so deeply with an attendant close. He distractedly peeled off the travel worn layers and stepped into the soaking tub. It was indeed bliss as the lavender scented water began to soothe his tired muscles and unwind the many thoughts he had desperately tried to hide from both Sadron and Vivelle, both whom could so easily read his thoughts and emotions. He was at a loss concerning Gollum. The accursed gangrel creature was gone, and with that realization, Legolas struggled with how to make amends for his actions. It weighed upon his soul and depressed his spirit, this necessary yet elusive charge he had placed upon himself.

After scrubbing and washing down, Legolas allowed the warm water to lull him into contemplation. He remained motionless as he became mesmerized by an area of water ringed by suds. He noticed the everchanging colors as they shifted and melded into one another. An image slowly began to coalesce before his eyes and within a few moments, he saw himself riding through an archway on a horse with Vivelle to one side, Erthion and Navedir on the other. He saw himself dismount Lhegrin and look around in wonder. His view shifted and he beheld stonework buildings soaring airily above his head and all around him, reaching back into the mountain for as far as he could see. It was an enclave nestled within what seemed to be a ravine. An feeling of urgency permeated the vision and then it was gone, and he was left merely gazing upon the coalescing colors dancing across the surface of the cooling water. Legolas shook himself from his reverie but sat still for a moment as the vision played itself out again in his mind’s eye.

He rose from the tub and began drying himself with one of the large drying cloths left by Faron for his use. He donned a russet colored robe and stared into the full-length mirror in one corner of the room, wondering what the vision had meant. He did not recognize the airy enclave, yet he clearly was there with his companions which spoke to it being a vision of a possible future. He pondered his reflection until the more mundane grumblings of his stomach caused his mind to return to the here and now and the importance of the evening meal. He would talk to Sadron to see what his brother could make of such visions.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Sadron sat at table with a goblet of wine in his hand looking at his little brother eating. Something had happened to him; he knew it in his heart. Ever since Legolas was a little elfling, their bond had been a close one, probably owning to the traumatic loss of their mother and their father’s inability to accept what had happened to Lasgalen, which had caused him to withdraw from the world for a time. He would just have to be patient and wait for Legolas to come to him. He always did.

After the meal, Legolas did exactly that. He asked to meet with his brother in Sadron’s chambers. Sadron had Faron replace the wine decanter with another wine that his little brother had a particular fondness for. He then dismissed Faron for the night and asked not to be disturbed. The attendant was instructed that only Legolas was to be allowed admittance to his chambers for the rest of the night. The younger elf departed, leaving Sadron with his own thoughts as he waited for Legolas’ arrival. A strange foreboding once again began to color his heart. He was sensing that irreversible events were coalescing and instinctively he knew that Legolas was the focal point of this change. As he waited for his younger brother, he tossed back a goblet of wine in an effort to calm his nerves though it availed him little. A knock on the doorframe interrupted his thoughts. “Come!” he voiced with anticipation clear in his tone and anxiety a subtle undercurrent.

Legolas stepped across the threshold pushing aside the thick deep red velvet curtain that served as a door, took one look at Sadron and then sighed. “You know, I really wish that neither you nor Vivelle could read me like a book!”

Sadron smiled, some of the tension in his posture melting away with the evidence of Legolas’ discomfiture. “Well little brother, what can I say? It’s a gift!” he said, some of the lightness with which he spoke a bit forced, but Legolas did not seem to notice as he made his way over to the side table that held the decanter and goblets, and poured himself a generous portion of the dark wine. He sipped the wine tentatively.

“The ’85? You spoil me, brother!”

Sadron smiled and thought, That is because I sense something is coming to an end and I want to savour these moments! Aloud, however, he merely stated grandly, “And why not, I only have one little brother!” He sobered with his next words though. “What is it that you wanted to speak about?

Legolas sat in the padded wooden chair opposite Sadron and swirled his wine around in his goblet for several moments before speaking. “You know how you said that Naneth had the Sight?” as he drank from his goblet.

“Yes,” Sadron said cautiously.

“Well, I think something of it must have passed on to me,” Legolas stated looking straight ahead and downing the remaining contents before getting up to refill his goblet.

Anxiety filled Sadron’s soul, but he fought to keep it under control. “Legolas, what are you talking about…?” His eyes following his brother’s movements from chair to table and back again.

Sitting down, Legolas looked Sadron in the eye. “I had a vision.” He smiled wryly. “While taking my bath.”

Sadron said nothing, but merely eyed his little brother, awaiting explanation.

Legolas continued somewhat alarmed that his brother, always the one to respond to humor when cued, said nothing. “On the surface of the water I saw myself riding under an archway that looked unlike the stone it was made of – more like spun sugar than stone or wood. I have never seen its like before. And I was with Erthion, Vivelle and Navedir. I dismounted Lhegrin and looked around and saw a settlement of soaring stone and archways and waterfalls.”

Until Sadron heard the word “waterfalls” he had held out hope that the vision did not mean what he feared it meant. At that word however, he knew that his hopes had been in vain. It was Imladris that Legolas spoke of, the enclave of Elrond, Half-elven as he was called. The Herald of Ereinion Gil-galad, the last High King of the Elves, East of the Sea. Elrond had retreated in the Second Age after the fall of Eregion to the Misty Mountains to create Imladris as a refuge from the Deceiver. This he had heard from his father in those rare moments when he was expansive upon the past, usually when he was too deep in his cups to care about an unguarded memory or two.

Sadron had attended a council there with his father before Legolas had been born. His father had gone to the council of Imladris to inform the remaining Noldorin and Sindarin Lords that the Deceiver had taken residence in what had been known as Amon Lanc in the south of Mirkwood. His information had not been received well. It was a thorn in Thranduil’s side to this day that his word had been doubted and he bore a grudge against the other elves since then.  He felt he had been disregarded as a Moriquendi elf and son of his rash father, Oropher, who had not waited upon High King Gil-galad’s word and rushed into the fight at the Battle of the Last Alliance where a large portion of their army met with a tragic fate to Thranduil’s everlasting grief. But he was judged as his father’s son and therefore his word had not been looked upon as authoritative. Also, Sadron knew that it held a dark place in Thranduil’s soul because it was the place that his beloved Lasgalen was journeying to when she was taken by Orcs.

“What do you think it means, brother?” Legolas interrupted Sadron’s thoughts.

Sadron took a deep breath. “Brother, I honestly do not know for sure. But I can tell that it is Imladris you saw in your vision.”

“Imladris!” Legolas remembered Thranduil using the name in unguarded moments as one would speak an epithet. For Legolas it always conjured the emotion of sadness and loss being the place that his mother was traveling to when she was killed. “How do you know?”

“Because I have been there. I was with Adar. We attended a council of Elves there before you were born. Adar had wise words for the Council, which they unfortunately did not heed. He rarely speaks of that time.”

Legolas pursed his lips. The more he heard, the less inclined he was to think favorably upon this admittedly beautiful but sad place, that apparently did not recognize his father’s words to be of any value. “I already hear the name with sadness, and now you tell me they disregard Adar’s wisdom.” He ended incredulously, sitting back in his chair.

Sadron inwardly sighed. Legolas was so his father’s son. Both Celebren and Sadron loved their father, but each knew that Thranduil did have shortcomings, that he was not perfect. Legolas, however, held no such views. He idolized his father, who could do no wrong in his eyes. And to this day, Imladris was always a place that brought sadness to all his family mixed as it was with remembrances of their mother. “Nevertheless, it is considered to be a place of knowledge and a place of influence among Elves.” Sadron paused as events within his mind’s eye moved closer to fruition.  He ventured the opinion. “In thinking about it, it may be the next step in your journey.” He eyed his little brother unsure of the reception the idea would receive.

Legolas stared at his brother, “How do you mean? Why should I go to this place of sadness?”

Sadron saw a shuttered look begin to fall across his brother’s normally open and cheerful face. “Hear me out.” He continued hesitantly, “I know you are at a loss for what to do, now that Gollum has been deemed gone.”

Legolas peered at him intently, almost angrily, at his brother’s attempt to speak to the responsibility he felt for Gollum and the consequences of those actions. Sadron noticed the same look growing in Legolas’ eyes that he had always known in his father’s. That private pain that would bear no eyes upon it. He inwardly sighed again. Legolas was so his father’s son. “Mithrandir said that it was important that Gollum remain within Mirkwood.”

“Yes, thank you! Sadron, I am well aware of what Mithrandir had asked! I am well aware of how much I have failed him!” Legolas’ eyes flashed with shame and indignation.

“Brother, hear me out, please!”

“You keep saying that! But you have yet to say why!” Legolas fervently cried out as he jumped up from his chair.

“This is why!” Sadron exclaimed standing up. “I think you were given that vision to show you the next step. Perhaps you need to go to Imladris and inform Lord Elrond what has happened and see if he can somehow convey the message to Mithrandir so he can perhaps devise a new course of action.”

Legolas stood there fuming, shame and anger comingling within his expression. He was desperately trying to quell his emotions. All the emotions that he had kept bottled up while the search of Gollum continued and had given him a focus, a goal that kept his emotions of anger, grief, shame and recrimination at bay while he was actively trying to make amends for his mistakes. With the realization that Gollum was gone Legolas had been at a loss, not knowing how to deal with the magnitude of his mistakes.

Sadron saw the painful emotions playing across his younger brother’s face. It broke his heart. He took a step closer and said gently, “I am sorry. I should not presume to tell you what to do, nor would I claim to know the pain you feel. But I can tell you this. The only way through the pain is to move forward through it, even if the path forward is fraught with difficulties.”

Legolas looked up and Sadron saw such pain and confusion. Sadron said, again gently yet with some urgency, “I believe this is your way forward. I know it is a place of sadness in your heart as it is in mine, and you resist going there, but sometimes those places and the emotions they stir have to be dealt with. I do believe this is such a time.”

Legolas looked into his brother’s eyes, still trying to martial his emotions. He saw the wisdom of his words and realized that there was not only courage in the asking, but there was also courage in the accepting of the answer. His heart was heavy with sadness as he said, “If it is what I must do, then it is what I shall do.”

With those words, Sadron felt within his heart a series of events that had irrevocably clicked into place and that their lives would be forever changed. He leaned forward and kissed his little brother on the forehead and then looked into his blue depths and smiled.

A/N:  Many, many thanks to Ellynn, my lovely word wrangler! Thanks for all that you do! :-))

Ch. 15 – “May the Valar keep you!”

Dearest Adar,

By the time this letter reaches you, I will be well on my way to Imladris to seek Lord Elrond and to explain what happened to Gollum; perhaps he can get word to Mithrandir or perhaps suggest a course of action for the accursed creature’s recovery. Even as I write the word “Imladris” I know it pierces your heart as it does mine, but this is the course my penance must take.

Legolas pondered whether or not to tell his father of his vision. Having decided, he dipped his quill again in the inkwell.

I do not lightly take this action, but I remember at one time Sadron telling me that Naneth had the Sight. I may have not believed it then, but I fully believe it now because I have been given a vision in still waters that says my path takes me to Imladris. I may not find answers there. I may only find more questions, but my heart tells me this is my path. I long to see you again, dearest Adar, but this I must do now. There is no time for journeys that will only salve my own heart. I cannot allow my own wishes to determine my path. Regardless of what I want, I must make amends as I can. But I do not go alone. Erthion, Vivelle and Navedir have chosen to travel with me as my companions. They know all as has happened and wish to accompany me.

Legolas thought of his father. The strong, proud Elf who guarded his kingdom with the whole of his body and soul. There was resultant pain in his heart. A pain that recognized he would not see his father for a long while. He dipped his quill again and wrote,

I know you understand that I must do this. I hope to honor you and our woodland realm with my actions. There is nothing I want more than to come home and walk among the trees near the Halls and listen to them sing their joyous song of life. To climb among them and sit in their branches. To look up through empty patches in the tree’s branches and see the stars of Varda’s beauty, and fall asleep lulled by the song of leaf and branch. To see our people dance beneath their branches delighting in their beauty. But I cannot. My heart says this is my path and I must see it through.

Much love,

Your son,

Legolas Thranduilion     

Legolas sprinkled drying dust upon the letter, held it there for a few moments and blew it away as he carefully folded the letter. He dribbled sealing wax in the middle where edge and flat met and placed the borrowed seal upon it. He wrote “For the hand of the King only” in lieu of his own personal seal that would denote the same meaning without word. Sighing, he stood to seek Sadron so his brother could pick a courier to deliver the precious missive.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Legolas stood in his borrowed chambers looking intently at the bed upon which the soon-to-be contents of his saddle bags lay. He was trying to determine how much was necessary for a journey of this distance.

“You know, if you stare at them hard enough, they will simply leap into your saddlebags to avoid your piercing gaze!” an amused voice said.

Legolas shook himself from his ponderings to look to the doorframe where Sadron leaned pinning the heavy green silk curtain against the frame. He laughed ruefully. “Would that were true. Then my decisions would be made!” Legolas sat at the edge of the mattress amid his choices-to-be-made in a somewhat disconsolate way. Sadron pushed his shoulder off the doorframe and entered the room to seat himself next to his younger brother.

He reached out a hand and brushed Legolas’ golden hair back over his shoulder. He stared for a beat or two and then said, “What is wrong, Legolas? There is something amiss, and it is not the contents of your saddlebags.”

Legolas sat silently for a few moments before he said, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I called to do this thing? Or is this vanity dressed up as purpose?” He placed his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. “I want so much to have a purpose, to be allowed to have purpose and to endure whatever risk that might entail. You are the Lord of the Southern Marches. Celebren is the heir. I have been ‘Adar’s youngest child’. Protected and cossetted. Am I simply grasping at this and forcing meaning into it?” He looked at Sadron, a searching and distressed look in his eyes. “What say you, brother?”

Sadron stared at Legolas, thinking of the small elfling who had to be coaxed out of his grief after their mother had died and departed for the Halls of Waiting. Of the young elf learning to shoot and hold a sword. Of the young elf prince taking his first command of a patrol group shining with pride, not realizing at the time the measures of inordinate care that Thranduil was taking so that no harm should come to his youngest.

His heart broke to realise that no one could protect Legolas anymore. He was being chosen. This his heart told him, for what destiny he still did not clearly see. “It does not matter what I think. Given my choice, I would have you stay here, safe and away from harm. Because I am your older brother and cannot bear to see you come to harm. I love you too much. But I know that is the selfish way of looking at this. Are you imbuing this with more meaning than it intrinsically has? Perhaps, but we all make our own meaning. What does your heart tell you?”

Sitting quietly, looking into his brother’s eyes, Legolas said, “That this is something I have to do.”

Sadron smiled, hiding the sadness in his heart for the loss of the little brother he knew. He sensed that Legolas would come back, but that he would be changed. He could only pray to the Valar that the change would be for the better. He took that small kernel of hope and placed it in a corner of his heart for safekeeping. “Then there’s your answer. You will go and you will come back. That is the long and the short of it.” Then in a mercurial shirt, Sadron exclaimed, “Now, little brother, get those saddle bags packed. You leave on the morrow.”

Legolas smiled. “Yes, sir! At once! Sir!” He gave a mock salute.

“That’s right! And don’t you forget it! Cheeky Sod!” Sadron said, the pain of loss buried under expedient cheerfulness.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Later that afternoon Erthion walked with Vivelle towards Sadron’s study. He saw Navedir approaching from the opposite landing holding a telltale piece of parchment in his hand. As they met, Erthion gestured to the bit of parchment his friend was holding. “So, you got one as well?”

“Yes! Did Legolas?”

Erthion looked around for the blond head of Legolas and seeing no gleam that would signal their friend’s approach he stated, “Something tells me, no.”

Navedir asked, “Curious that he should not have been asked as well.”

Vivelle cut through the faffing about that her menfolk were so prone to. “Why don’t we enter and find out?”

“And this is why I married you, keeping me on the straight and narrow!”

“Enough! You silly elf!” Vivelle stated with mock derisiveness and tapped on the doorframe to signal their presence.

“Come!” came from inside the chamber.

Vivelle pulled aside the curtain and all three entered the study. Legolas was nowhere to be found, but Sadron was standing at the drinks table pouring only four goblets of wine. Apparently, Legolas would not be joining them.

“Sit, please,” Sadron requested with a tinge of strained emotion to color the request. They all sat in the cushioned chairs placed in an irregular oval casting each other looks of questioning. Sadron handed Vivelle her goblet, then Erthion and finally Navedir. Vivelle took a sip and a fine quality vintage passed over her palate causing her curiosity to intensify. They did not usually sit and drink fine wine with the second eldest of the King’s sons.

“Will Legolas be joining us?” she inquired in order to confirm her suspicions.

“Not just yet,” came the quizzical answer.

She glanced at Erthion who looked as mystified as she did.

Sadron looked at the three Elves and saw a puzzled concern resting on their faces. He sat down with his own goblet and smiled. “Sorry to seem so enigmatic. I guess some of my Adar’s flair for creating dramatic tension was not entirely lost on me!” he finished with a self-deprecating laugh and some of the tension managed to leave the room. “I just wanted to thank you all for the service and friendship you have shown my brother. You cannot know how it comforts me that you are here for him.”

Erthion quickly responded, “It is our duty to serve,” in the manner that was expected.

Sadron looked at him questioningly. “Is it only duty?” A restrained sincerity showed in his strangely colored eyes.

Erthion really looked into Sadron’s eyes and beyond the regal façade saw the worry and caring of a brother. Much like he felt for his own younger brother. He smiled and relaxed. “No, it is not, my lord. He is our brother, too. If not by blood, then by service and affection.”

Sadron looked from Erthion to Vivelle and Navedir, who nodded their affirmation of what Erthion had just said. He smiled and relaxed visibly. “Good, that is good to hear! Because he may need you even more on this journey.” He placed special emphasis on the word “this.”  Sadron paused. “As you know, Legolas has never really been too far beyond our forest boundaries. We all know the reason for that.” The three others nodded knowingly, but did not comment. “I wanted to speak with you three separately from my brother to impress upon you how much he will need you even if he does not—”

Erthion stated quickly, interrupting Sadron, “My Lord, let me stop you right there. I know I speak for all three of us when I say you should have no worries. We would give our lives to see Legolas safe from harm. We would never forsake him. And we would keep him from all harm and protect him, even from himself if need be.”

Navedir said, “He is dear to us. It is a pact we made between ourselves when we set out from the King’s Halls.”

Vivelle chimed in, “Though Legolas does not know. You know how hard-headed he can be!”

Sadron laughed and stated, “He gets that from his Adar! Though Legolas is of a cheerier disposition, he most definitely shares certain traits with our Adar!” The others laughed in agreement. Sadron quickly sobered, though, and looked at the three. Hand on his heart, Sadron bowed his head saying, “Hannon le, you cannot know how this lightens my heart. Because I feel there is more to this journey than we know at this point.”

Vivelle looked quizzically at Sadron. “How do you mean, My Lord?”

“That is the rub. I cannot tell you how. It is simply a feeling I have deep in my heart of hearts. Stay with him.”

“Always, my Lord, always,” Erthion stated.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The following morning saw the three sitting atop their horses. All was in readiness. Sadron stood among them bidding each farewell. Lastly, he came to Legolas who had yet to mount. Unshed tears resided in Sadron’s blue and green eyes. Legolas noticed and gently teased his older brother. “Tears? You are so happy to be rid of us it has brought you to tears, brother?”

Sadron sought to banter, “Yes, now my wine stores may last the winter without you to deplete them.” He wore a forced smile. His voice dropped to a whisper as he hugged Legolas. Sadron said into his brother’s ear, “Na lû e-govaded 'wîn!* May the Valar keep you!”

He closed his stinging eyes and one tear escaped. Quickly he dashed it away. “Now get out of here. Tis time.” Legolas looked his brother in the eye, suddenly wishing he could stay, suddenly wondering what Sadron knew that he did not. Sadron smiled. “It is as it should be,” he said and kissed Legolas on the forehead. “Now go before I say something really maudlin. And neither of us wants that!”

Legolas smiled and mounted his horse. Sadron cast a knowing look at the other three as Legolas mounted his horse. Hands on heart, they nodded, united in the desire to keep safe the youngest Prince of Mirkwood from whatever this journey brought.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

* Na lû e-govaded 'wîn! = Until we meet again

 

A/N: Thanks again to Ellynn for putting up with me and being my word wrangler!  :-))

Ch. 16 – “This I Ask of You!”

After three days they found themselves at the confluence of the Enchanted River and the River Running. It was not the straight-forward path, but it did not take them too far out of the way and Legolas still held a shred of hope that they might happen upon Gollum along this trail. He knew it was a vain hope, but nevertheless it was the route they had taken. He placed a hand on his chest and felt the slight crinkle of the letter his father had delivered to Sadron's holding. He took a deep breath and he felt warmed by the letter's presence. He thought of his father’s words contained within the missive. They had brought a measure of healing to his spirit, but as his father said, they did not absolve him of the responsibility for his actions. For the deaths of his two friends. For the loss of Gollum. But his father’s words had also had the effect of galvanizing his spirit. He moved forward into the unknown with purpose. From this moment forward the decisions he made would not be made out of guilt or regret, but through an acceptance of responsibility. This was the gift his father had given him. At long last he was being given the chance to take responsibility for his actions and he would not fail his father again.

“Legolas?”

Legolas shook himself from his thoughts to see Erthion ride up alongside him. “What is it, my friend?”

“Shall we make camp here tonight?”

Legolas surveyed the area with a keen eye. He then closed his eyes and reached out to the spirit of the trees that surrounded them. Hello my friends. Is it safe? Can we stay the night here? Are we welcome? Within his soul he felt the answering spirit. Son of the Forest king. Thank you for the respect shown in your questioning. You are welcome to stay, but it is not safe and has not been so for many of your years. But we will keep watch as best we can. Legolas could feel the weariness within the spirit of the trees. This southerly portion of his father’s realm had been under attack by the evil onslaught brought by the inhabitant of Dol Guldur for centuries now, since the end of the Watchful Peace. They were strong of heart, but they were weary and he was unsure just how much more they could withstand. Within his soul Legolas bowed to the trees. I thank you and my adar thanks you for all you have withstood. And I thank you for this night.

Legolas opened his eyes as a quick wind rifled through the leaves of late summer. He breathed in deeply as that same wind blew through his heart in welcome. He turned to Erthion, who sat upon his silver stallion that was stamping slightly in place as he awaited his master’s next command. Erthion held a similar stance, his face still awash in wonder as he had watched his friend commune with the trees. Erthion could also feel the communion with the trees, but not to the extent of Legolas and the rest of the ruling family of Mirkwood. It was one of the traits that marked them as special.

Legolas answered his friend with a simple, “Yes. And then we shall discuss how we plan to proceed from here.”

It was Navedir’s turn at the cookfire. While on deep patrol it was customary for camp duties to rotate daily so that no one elf was stuck with an onerous task for long. This was the pattern the traveling party adhered to after centuries of practice, though all knew this was something much more than a standard long tour. But in the face of uncertainty, one takes refuge in familiar patterns of being.

After having secured the camp tents Erthion sat swirling a small amount of wine in his silver travel goblet and sniffing the comforting cooking aroma. “Navedir! You do make a fine Hunter’s stew! Best I’ve ever had.”

Vivelle eyed him casually. “Better than mine?”

With a mischievous glint in his eyes, Erthion tossed back the rest of his wine and said, “My love, you are many wonderful things. It is a shame that being blessed in the cooking arts is not one of them.” Erthion ducked as an acorn came flying at his head.

“You don’t seem too bothered when it comes to the actual eating of my stew,” Vivelle countered.

“Well…I am your husband, bound to support you in all things even if at times it is… difficult.”

Vivelle’s green eyes widened. “Difficult?” she said, bristling. “Next time….you will get…” she paused ominously, “double helpings!” Letting fly with another acorn she had to hand.

Legolas laughed as he watched the two begin the pattern of their good-natured bickering. It was partially true. Vivelle’s talents with a cooking fire lay not with the cooking of comestibles, but with the concocting of potions and decoctions for healing. It was the true expression of her gifts. But that sure knowledge did not stop Erthion from teasing his beloved wife of centuries.

“Children!” Navedir announced amid the chaos, “dinner is served!”

~*~*~*~*~*~

At the King’s Halls

Celebren saw the courier wearing the livery of his brother Sadron enter through the gates. It was not the normal bi-weekly courier. He was not due until the next week. His heart dropped; he instinctively knew that it had to do with Legolas. Dropping his worry behind the façade of cheerful leadership, he approached the courier. “Liriion! So good it is to see you again! Come you from our brother?” He clasped hands with the courier as a stable attendant lead away his horse.

“Yes, my lord! And good it is to see you as well!” Liriion said smiling to his prince. “Is the King in his chambers?”

“Yes, Liriion. He is.” Celebren dropped his façade and said bluntly, “Is the missive from Legolas?”

“Yes, my lord. It is. But I am only to give it straight into the King’s hand,” he said apologetically to his prince.

“Of course, Liriion. Of course. Let me take you to him now.”

Liriion bowed his thanks and followed the Crown Prince to his father’s study.

Arriving at the entrance to his father’s study Celebren saw that Thranduil was bent over some maps with Guildor in a corner by a window that overlooked the courtyard. Performing the duty of squire he announced, “Forgive me Adar for interrupting, but a courier from Sadron’s holding has just arrived and wishes to speak with you.”

Thranduil immediately went still and then stood to his full height. He eyed his eldest and Celebren could see a flare of worry within his father’s eyes before it was hidden quickly behind a calm and regal mask. “Let him approach.”

Liriion approached and bent a low obeisance. “My King!”

“You may rise!” Thranduil voiced, a hint of irritation at the formality that delayed news by even a second. “What is the urgency of this message that has my son playing squire?”

Liriion unbent and extracted Legolas’ missive from his pouch, and extended his hand to his king. Thranduil took the letter and managed to hold his emotions at bay as he spoke calmly and with restrained dignity, “Thank you --” he paused meaningfully looking at Liriion.

“Liriion, my King,” he stated bowing his head.

“Liriion,” Thranduil completed his sentence. “Please allow my squire to provide you with wine to refresh you after your journey. Lachon!” The young squire appeared instantly.

“Yes, my lord?”

“Please provide Master Liriion with wine and a light repast and bedding for the night. He will return to my son’s holdings in the morning.” Thranduil spoke with calm dignity, but Celebren’s eyes then fell down to his father’s hand clutching Legolas’ letter in a grip that cause his knuckles to turn white.

“At once, my lord! If you will this way, Master Liriion.” The squire indicated with his arm.

Liriion nodded his head and departed with Lachon. Thranduil quickly turned to Guildor. “If you could leave me, my friend. For the moment.”

Guildor bowed and followed Liriion and the squire.

Celebren stated quickly, “Please adar, may I stay?”

Thranduil nodded and quickly seated himself at his desk. With hands that trembled slightly he broke the seal on his youngest son’s letter. For his eldest son’s benefit he began to read the letter aloud.

Dearest Adar,

By the time this letter reaches you, I will be well on my way to Imladris...

Pain slashed across Thranduil’s heart upon reading the last word of the sentence as he heard his voice break and he fell silent. Imladris. He felt tears mist upon reading the word. But taking a deep breath he continued, albeit in a shakier voice.

…to seek Lord Elrond and to explain what happened to Gollum; perhaps he can get word to Mithrandir or perhaps suggest a course of action for the accursed creature’s recovery.

“Damn Mithrandir for bringing that accursed creature here!” Thranduil swore fervently as he sat back heavily in his padded wooden chair and rubbed his temple with one hand as his arm leaned on the armrest. The other arm, still holding the letter, fell to his side as he reflexively rubbed the page between his first fingers and thumb as he tried to bring his emotions back into balance in order to finish reading Legolas’ thoughts on the matter.

“May I?” Celebren inquired. Thranduil sighed heavily as he handed to the letter to his eldest son and began rubbing one eyebrow repeatedly in a gesture that always denoted his unsettled state of mind.

Celebren quickly scanned the next portion of the letter and in a chagrinned but strong voice he read:

Even as I write the word “Imladris”, I know it pierces your heart as it does mine, but this is the course my penance must take.

Celebren looked at his father, whose face now carried a pinched look of pain. He continued:

I do not lightly take this action, but I remember at one time Sadron telling me that Naneth had the Sight. I may have not believed it then, but I fully believe it now because I have been given a vision in still waters that says my path takes me to Imladris.

Thranduil murmured, “I always wondered which of my sons would be cursed with your Naneth’s ‘gift’ of the Sight.” He looked at Celebren quickly to see a shocked look on his face.

“I never knew that Naneth had the Sight.”

“Yes, well. I did not realize that Sadron knew,” Thranduil continued in a chagrinned voice. “It was never something she was comfortable with. She did not speak of it often and hoped it would not pass to any of you. But apparently it did. Please continue.”

Celebren looked down at the letter and began again.

I may not find answers there. I may only find more questions, but my heart tells me this is my path. I long to see you again, dearest Adar, but this I must do now. There is no time for journeys that will only salve my own heart.

As Celebren read the letter aloud, Thranduil’s heart was both bursting with pride and breaking apart at the same time. He could hear Legolas’ young voice in the letter. Proud and strong and ready to take on this task he had set for himself. Thranduil was proud of his son. More than Legolas could ever know. He was just what Thranduil had wanted in his youngest son. Despite him trying to protect him every step of the way, Legolas somehow learned to be a mature thoughtful elf. He smiled at the phrase But I do not go alone. Erthion, Vivelle and Navedir have chosen to travel with me as my companions. Legolas had the ability to inspire to those around him to follow him out of loyalty and love just as he did. He was his father’s son, though as he heard Legolas’ voice through the words he chose, Thranduil realized he was changing as well.

There is nothing I want more than to come home and walk among the trees near the Halls and listen to them sing their joyous song of life. To climb among them and sit in their branches. To look up through empty patches in the tree’s branches and see the stars of Varda’s beauty, and fall asleep lulled by the song of leaf and branch. To see our people dance beneath their branches delighting in their beauty. But I cannot. My heart says this is my path and I must see it through.

Thranduil knew in the core of his being that when next he saw his son, gone would be the untested yet earnest young prince who delighted in the beauty of his woodland home and in his place would be a Legolas he may not completely recognize. Thranduil’s heart was breaking at the thought of it and as Celebren read the last of the letter a tear broke the brimming boundary of his eyes and fell onto his cheek. Thranduil took a deep steadying breathe.

Celebren was still for many moments before saying in a voice thick with restrained emotion, “There is much wisdom in this letter.”

The sound of a chair pushing away from the desk caused him to look up from the page. Thranduil had risen wordlessly from his desk and walked to the window. Celebren could not be sure, but he thought he saw a tear track running down his father’s pale cheek as he passed by him to stand at the window. He let the observance go without comment. His father was an intensely private elf and Celebren knew enough to honor that privacy. Thranduil was quiet for several moments, his eyes upturned to the skies visible from the window. Celebren saw another tear drop in silent testament to his father’s inner pain. He heard the faint whisper, “I ask the protection of the Valar for my son. For clearly, I can no longer. This I ask of you.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Legolas awoke the next morning amid bird calls and early morning mists. He looked around and saw that his companions were still sleeping lightly. Not feeling sleep’s hold upon him any longer, he rose silently and walked to the edge of the River Running. He sat down upon an obliging stone near the riverbank and simply listened to his surroundings, absorbing its beauty and tragically its weariness. In the southern environs of his father’s realm rarely were the two ever divorced from one another.

He opened his eyes and looked down at a small pool of river water near his booted foot. He noticed how it reflected the morning sky and the tall trees that rimmed the circle of the pool. He became mesmerized and slowly an image coalesced into what seemed to be a sea of people, of men on something that resembled the prow of a stone ship. The image confused him; it did not make sense. Then he heard on the air a sad and yet joyful voice flow through his consciousness. He looked up the steps of this stone ship and saw the one who was singing. He thought he recognized him but he was far away and the vision was becoming cloudy and soon disappeared altogether. He continued staring into the still pool of water and within his soul came the words of a soft feminine voice. “Bring your entire self to what is to come, and you will not fail. Remember my love. It will give you strength. Give completely of yourself and you will not lose yourself.” A gentle kiss was placed upon his inner senses and then it faded away.

He looked up from the small pool and across the water and for a blink he saw a shape, a bright beautiful shape and then it was gone. Left in its place a sense of hope and a sense of possibility that flared within his heart, and then calming to a steady but brilliant flame of purpose. He stood up from the stone and rejoined his friends to begin the journey once again.

A/N:  Many, many thanks to Ellynn, my wonderful word wrangler.  Untangling that which defies my abilities to untangle! ((hugs))

A/N: I have renamed this chapter and moved the last few paragraphs to the beginning of Chapter 18.  It seemed to flow better.

Ch. 17 – A Silent Joy…

A little over a week later they were in the heart of the forest.  It was apparent that Thranduil’s force of will that kept malignant forces from the south at bay, was stronger in the more northern portions of his realm, and was simply by dint of sheer distance lessened here in the southerly regions. That was evident in the look and the feel of this measure of the forest. The trees had a more gnarled and unhealthy look to them. Split or missing bark was obvious; many branches littered the road. Upon closer inspection, there were holes in the bark of many trees. Moreover, while the trees by the convergence of the Enchanted River and the River Running had had a weary and sad feel to them, these trees had an air of malevolence or at least a sense of ill-wish about them. Legolas could feel this most strongly. It was oppressive.

As they made camp, all four elves were more somber and wary here in the blighted heart of the Mirkwood. They ate a joyless and nearly silent evening meal as night fell upon them. They set watch and all was quiet as Navedir relieved Vivelle and took the last watch of three hours. After much time had passed, he sat tending the small, shielded fire and he pulled his cloak tighter as the night chill and oppressiveness stole around him. As he replaced the stopper in his wineskin after swallowing a bit of its contents in an effort to ward off the chill from both inside and out, he heard a snap of a twig and then another. His senses instantly shook off the enervating effects of the night and he was alert to all that what was around him. He woke Erthion and then Legolas, while Erthion quickly roused Vivelle. All were armed, ready and aware in mere moments in the way honed over centuries of patrol had taught them to be. Navedir took to the branches of the nearest tree and waited. Vivelle placed herself by the horses to be their protector as was custom, entering into any possible fray only when absolutely needed. As healer first, she fought only at necessity.

Another snap of a twig, and three spiders broke the tree cover. Legolas and Erthion stood back-to-back in the center of the small clearing firing arrows into the kill spot, a soft section just between the head and body of each spider. Legolas quickly dispatched one with a shot hitting the kill spot but the arrow for the second one was slightly amiss. “Damn!” he spat out as he stowed his bow and drew his sword in one fluid motion honed over his long life of service, and with an upward swing at the head, he decapitated it.

Erthion shot the spider charging him, striking the foul creature just below the kill spot. With the same fluidity of motion, he drew his knives to dispatch the spider swiftly as he plunged the twin blades into the space near the head, with downward thrust as he sidestepped it. He hissed as spider ooze singed his gloveless hand.

From his vantage in the tree Navedir saw a fourth and quickly delivered two arrows in the head and thorax, stopping it cold. He saw a fifth heading towards Vivelle and the horses. He left fly another arrow and then shouted: “Vivelle!” to warn her. He dropped from the tree next to the spider he had felled, careful not to drop into pooling ooze from the arrow protruding from the still convulsing carcass and ran to help Vivelle. He need not have bothered, as Vivelle’s long throwing knife imbedded itself into one of the eye sockets of the spider.

After the noise and calamity of the battle, there fell an eerie quietude for a few beats. All stood silent, waiting. Navedir, the tracker in the group, whispered, “I sense no more…for now.” With the silence broken Vivelle ran to Erthion who was clutching his sword hand as a visible splotch of spider ooze burned his skin.

Vivelle saw that Legolas stood near her pack of healing. “Legolas, my pack. Bring it to me please.”

She looked at her husband, “What do I always tell you, sleep with your gloves when on patrol!” she admonished him in a slightly frenzied manner. “And yet you do not listen.” She looked down into her pack for the jar of healing salve needed to take the sting away, rummaging for a few seconds longer, trying calm the fear she knew was lit in her eyes. Pulling the salve from the pack, she did not meet Erthion’s eyes as she rubbed the salve on his injured hand a little more vigorously than was necessary. Erthion lifted her chin with his uninjured hand and met a gaze that was defiant and more than a little frenzied. He reassured her, “I am fine, my love. It is all right.”

In answer Vivelle straightened her shoulders and started to repack her healing bag haphazardly and said brusquely, “I must intone the ritual.” She got up and walked over the spider she had killed with her long dagger. Withdrawing it from the eye of the dead spider she knelt a few paces away and cleaned the knife in the sparse moss cover and began intoning softly, “Varda of the unseen stars above and the blessed Arda upon which we stand. Please purify my knife and cleanse my fëa for the life I took today.”

As the words of the healing chant circled through the air, Erthion looked at Legolas bewildered at what he had seen in Vivelle’s eyes. “I’ve never seen her quite like that.”

Legolas said as he watched Vivelle chant, “I think it is this part of the forest. I can feel its despair and its anger. I think we all are sensing that and it is affecting our spirit. Vivelle is especially susceptible after a battle, maybe that accounts for it.”

Erthion sighed. “Perhaps.”

Legolas stated, “It is almost first light, we should break camp and depart. When we return I must tell Sadron the ill news that the Spiders have taken to crossing the Old Forest Road. Before they had not, but now…This is most worrying.”

Erthion breathed out thoughtfully. “A most disturbing turn of events,” and went to ready his belongings for repacking into saddlebags, leaving Legolas standing and surveying the carnage of spiders. The youngest prince of Mirkwood then breathed in and reached out to the trees. They were angry. He could feel it, but at what, he was less sure. He offered his apology. I am sorry for the blood spilt into the earth here in this glade. He could feel their presence, but it was as if they were ignoring him; he could feel resentment toward him. Legolas tried again. I can feel your pain, your anger. I will help however I can. Please believe me.He heard what struck his heart as an impatient rustling of leaves on what was a windless day then silence. He did not intrude upon their spirits any further after that.

After the cleansing ritual was finished Vivelle looked more at peace, but Erthion could sense that her fëa was still somewhat subdued. He tried to say something, but Vivelle stilled his lips with her finger and a caress of his cheek. “I will be fine,” she said with a small smile. “I am just a little tired. Come, let us leave this place of sadness!” Her voice was filled with a little more of her usual energy as she mounted her horse.

A week after the encounter with the spiders, the trees on either side of the Old Forest Road had begun to thin out gradually. The oppressive weight felt in the middle of the blighted forest had lifted. The spirits of these trees were much more akin to the trees at the convergence of the two rivers and the difference was felt by all in the traveling party. As they traveled a not so well kept portion of the Old Forest Road, Erthion stated, “So we will soon be leaving the forest and be traveling along open ground. I would suggest taking the route to the Old Ford, and then up through the Carrock that will lead to the High Pass near to the Golden Eyrie of the Eagles. It will lead straight into Imladris.”

Legolas breathed in deeply to quell the feelings of sadness and foreboding at Erthion’s mention of the Elven enclave. He thought of his vision and what it would bring forth. He thought of his mother and her bright light that had been taken from them too soon.

“Legolas? Is that agreeable to you?”

Legolas shook himself and looked at his friend. “I’m sorry, Erthion. Yes, if you deem that to be the most prudent course, then that is the one we shall take.” He gave his friend a small smile. “I am guided by your wise words and experience, hannon le.”

Erthion looked inquiringly at his friend. “Is there anything amiss, my friend?”

Legolas looked at his friend and suddenly the weight of all that had taken place pressed in on him. He gave Erthion a chagrinned smile. “Nothing I can put into words, dear friend. Suffice to say, though, I am glad you are with me.” They traveled onwards for the next two days until they finally left the last of the trees and headed into open country.

As he passed beyond the boundaries of the forest, Legolas felt a growing silence, one that he had never felt before. It was as if joy itself was diminishing the further away from the forest they rode.  He was at a loss until realization struck. It was what Sadron had been trying to explain the night before Legolas and his companions left his enclave to set out for Imladris. His brother had been right. This feeling was quite different from when he had been captured by Orcs. Legolas remembered that Sadron had said it would be unlike anything he had ever felt before…

~*~*~*~*~*~

A few weeks earlier…

Sadron sat swirling the fine Dorwinion vintage in his silver goblet. Legolas sat patiently waiting for his brother to speak. For all of Sadron’s renown volatility and volubility, there were times when he struggled for words, often when he was fighting off strong emotion. His known loquacity having temporarily deserted him, Legolas began to worry about what his elder brother had to say to him. He watched as Sadron downed his goblet and stood to get some more himself, having dismissed Faron for the night – another sign he had wanted to be alone with his youngest brother. Sadron motioned to ask if Legolas would like some more as well, but he declined. As much as Legolas loved this particular vintage, he felt he should keep his wits about him as he was leaving in the morning and, possibly more importantly, he wanted to remain sober to receive anything Sadron needed to be alone to tell him.

Sadron sat after refilling his goblet, returned to his chair and sat his goblet down untasted. He rubbed his face and let looked at his younger brother. “You are probably wondering why I’ve asked the others to leave.”

Legolas looked him with his clear blue eyes filled with questions. “The thought had crossed my mind.”

Sadron fought his inner instincts to demand that Legolas stay in Mirkwood and leave the questing to Mithrandir. He could not though.  He knew staying was not the right path for Legolas, that destiny had marked him out for something other than what Sadron wished for him. However the older brother in him wanted to resist, to protect Legolas, but he knew it to be a futile desire. Fate would have its way. “I just wanted to have this night with you before you are off on the morrow.”

“Brother!” Legolas scoffed, “I will return as quickly as I may. I will go to Imladris and inform Lord Elrond of what has happened and then return just as quickly. There will be perils, but I know I will be able to handle whatever comes my way,” Legolas spoke with all the innocent fervor of the young and sheltered.

Sadron pursed his lips and then said, “I have great faith in your abilities, brother! That is beyond question. But fate has a way about her. We cannot know her plans.”

Legolas demurred, “The vision has said that I am to go to Imladris. I accept this. I will go and come back.” He paused. “Why? Have you seen differently?” The blue eyes were shaded with concern.

Sadron quickly countered that look with the assertion. “No I have not. I just wish to you to understand that this is no simple patrol that you are going on. There are dangers out there—” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew he had seriously mis-spoke.

“Sadron!” Legolas bit off his brother’s name with force. “I am well aware of the ‘dangers’ out there. If you will remember, I was captured by Orcs, an experience I am not likely to forget.” Legolas’ voice was colored with anger.

Sadron closed his eyes against the pain of that memory. “None of us will ever forget that, my brother!”

Seeing his brother’s pain written across his face, Legolas relented a bit. “Sadron,” he spoke more calmly, “what it is that you are trying not to tell me? What you have to say, say. Please. Will I not come back? Is this what you are avoiding?”

Sadron paused and buried his misgivings and doubts deep within his heart because he could not trust that they were not based on anything other than his strong affection and worry for his little brother. “You will come back, I know this in my heart.” But what changes will have been wrought on you, my dear little brother?, the voice said inside his head. Sadron paused, “I have muddled what I meant to say quite badly. I wished to give you advice and instead I sound as if I am questioning your abilities. That is not my intention at all. I remember my first tour outside of our forest. I was very excited—”

“Brother, I don’t—” Legolas tried to interrupt.

“Please, let me finish,” Sadron countered and Legolas fell silent. “I was excited, ready for anything, but when we reached the borders of our forest and rode beyond them, I felt what can only be described as silence, or a silencing of joy. Adar had warned me of this, but I did not understand, not until I experienced it for myself. I could no longer hear the trees. I could not feel their spirits anymore. My heart was bereft of their joy.”

“I have felt this, when I was captured by the Orcs. But I have always assumed it was because I was being held captive.”

Sadron stated, “I am sure that the fear overrode any other emotion. You had been very close to our borders when you were taken and may not have noticed the gradual silence. Trust me. You will know the difference.”

Legolas nodded and could not help but recall the memory and the fear of his capture. He then asked, “How did you bear this silence?” In part, he asked because he was trying to distract from those memories that he would rather not recall in any greater detail.

Instead of answering, Sadron got up from his seat and walked over to a chest of drawer to retrieve a small carved box.  He returned to sit down and then handed the box to Legolas. “Open it,” he said softly.

Legolas opened the box; sitting on a bit of white silk was an amber pendant hanging on a leather cord. It was a translucent golden oval, a little bit larger than his thumb pad. He touched it and it felt warm and comforting in his hand.

Sadron took the pendant from his hand and placed it around Legolas’ neck. “It is yours. Adar gave it to me on my first tour beyond Mirkwood. He said that when the silence came upon me, I was to hold the pendant in my hand and it would remind me of the joy of our forest.  It would restore joy to my heart and speak to me about the promise of joy upon returning. Adar gave it to me, and now I am gifting it to you. In essence it is from both of us, so you can carry a bit of our forest with you.”

Legolas was touched by belief. “Thank you, my brother.” He paused and then asked, “Why was I never given my own when I left for that tour?”

Sadron looked at him. “Remember, you left before I had finally convinced Adar to allow you to go! Both Celebren and I were given ours the night before departure. After your capture Adar was not about to let you go anywhere beyond our realm. So it was rendered unnecessary.”

Legolas grew quiet at the memory and of the pain and worry he had caused his family.*

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

With Sadron’s words taking root in his heart, Legolas reached into his tunic and pulled out the pendant. He held it in his hand and, while he could not quite hear the spirits of the trees, he could at least feel some joy returning to his heart.

Vivelle noticed his motion and saw the pendant. “What is that?” she asked softly.

“Something Sadron gifted me with the night before we left.”

Vivelle pulled her horse a little closer to see what Legolas held up from a cord around his neck. “Pure amber. It is beautiful, Legolas.”

“Yes it is. It was given by my Adar to Sadron and he gave it to me. It is a little of bit of home.” Legolas’ voice broke a little. Vivelle noticed, but did not say anything. Legolas may not have shared many traits with his father, but one he did share was the desire for privacy. He did not take well to others trying to peer into his thoughts.

She smiled. “It is good to carry a little piece of home with you wherever you go. It keeps you grounded.”

Legolas looked at her and they shared a smile. Legolas then sighed. “Why is that you always seem to know what I am thinking?”

Before Vivelle could reply, Erthion’s voice chirped in, “Annoying, is it not? It makes lying very difficult!”

Vivelle turned her attention to her husband giving him the gimlet eye. “Oh really? And when have you lied successfully, dare I ask?”

Erthion asked with a face of mock seriousness, “Do you really expect me to own up? I do have some self-preservation instincts!”

Vivelle eyed him dangerously. “Um-hmm! I know where you sleep!”

“Yes, right next to my lovely, forbearing and forgiving wife!”

Erthion smiled until Vivelle broke her stare and smiled at him. “You are incorrigible!”

“Yes, and you like a challenge or you never would have married me!”

“All right you two!” Navedir exclaimed as he rode between them. “Enough with the love in the afternoon talk!”

Legolas laughed. “Let us make camp here for the night and then press on tomorrow. Erthion! If,” Legolas emphasized the word, “you are done with love banter, can you tell me how many leagues do you make it to the Old Ford?”

Erthion shook his head as he dismounted. “One is never done with love banter when one is married to one as beautiful as she!”

Vivelle, yet to dismount, rode up by her husband and playfully slapped him upside the head. “Silly Elf! Answer Legolas’ question.”

“Ow!” Erthion flung out the exclamation.

“Oh! Like that hurt!” Vivelle riposted.

“Wench!” He flung back lovingly and then turned to Legolas. “I make it about eight leagues. If we leave at first light, we should make it to the Ford by fall of night if not a little before.”

“Good! Then that is our plan!” Legolas decided.

Once he grew at least partially accustomed to the silencing of joy in his heart that the trees of his forest had always provided, the wide-open spaces beyond Mirkwood had something of a wild open beauty to them. Other than when he had been captured and taken to an orc cave in the Misty Mountains Legolas had never been this far from the border of the forest. He saw rolling hills and small groves of trees and the mountains in the middle distance.

They reached the Old Ford just after sundown and Erthion advised that it would be a good idea to wait until morning to attempt the crossing. Legolas agreed and they made camp on the banks of the river near to a small grove of trees. After camp had been made Legolas simply sat and let the sound of the water flowing in the river soothe him.  It partially filled the silence of his heart with its own never-ending sound of water over rock and silt. He looked up into the clear night and the vastness of the dark blue sky was filled with Varda’s stars shining their pinpoints of light into his heart, and he began to understand a joy of a different sort.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” A voice said behind him.  Legolas looked to his side to see Vivelle sitting herself down on the grass next to him, wrapping her arms around her knees. Her upturned eyes reflected the stars in the dark moonless sky.

“Yes it is,” Legolas said, his eyes filled with wonder as his eyes turned again to the dark sky illuminated with Varda’s stars from horizon to horizon. A new world of possibilities was opening in his mind and he drank it all in with the curiosity of a child, the nighttime sky filling his heart with a silent joy.

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

A/N: The first paragraphs up until the ~*~*~*~ were previously the last paragraphs of Ch. 17 but I re-read it and felt they worked better as an opening section for this chapter.

A/N: I hint at what caused Lasgalen's death but I do not describe it.

A/N:  Many, many thanks to my wonderful word wrangler, Ellynn!  (((hugs)))

Ch. 18 – Even Painful memories can bring strength

As they came to the foot of the Misty Mountains memories that Legolas had been firmly keeping to one side forced their way forward. It was to these mountains that he had been brought when he had been brutally taken captive seventy odd years ago. He had escaped with the help of a very young Aragorn, so young he still only knew himself as Estel and was unaware of the destiny that was to befall him. It was where they had first met. Legolas smiled to himself as the thought of his father’s reaction to Aragorn after the story of his rescue was related to him. It was the only time he had ever seen his father speechless, and it had forged a sense of gratitude within Thranduil for the Ranger, young though he had been at the time.

Another darker memory forced its way into Legolas’ thoughts. His mother had been taken in these mountains. The bright shining beautiful light that was Lasgalen was shattered and cruelly snuffed out. All their lives had been tinged with sadness ever since that time. Legolas thought of his father. Though he had only been an elfling at the time, he remembered how an eternal sadness seemed to cling to his father whenever Legolas was allowed in his presence, which in those early years had not been often. One such time had been when he was only a twenty-year old elfling and found his father at the Enchanted River, just as he was to dip his hand into the waters that gave Oblivion. He had never told anyone of what he saw, and he and his father had never spoken of it since, but it had left a streak of indelible sadness upon his soul. It became a driving force in his life to always please his father – to make him happy so that he should never seek the river’s call ever again. The sight of these mountains had brought to the fore all these memories of fear and sadness that had changed his life forever. And yet, Legolas knew he had to forge his way through these emotions to continue along with what he knew to be his destiny.

Vivelle rode up next him. “Legolas?”

He glanced to his side and saw a look of concern written on her fair face. He then realized he had come to a full stop.

“Are you all right?

“Yes, I am well. And ready to go forward.” Valar, give me strength to have spoken truly! The prayer formed in his heart as he urged Lhegrin toward the mountains. They passed through forested land and mountain valleys filled with bluebells and waving green grass on their climb upwards. But even surrounded by this beauty that should have sung in his soul, Legolas could not shake the feeling of panic and dread as they travelled further and further into the mountains, as his memories threatened to overwhelm him, but still he said nothing. He would find his own way through.

As they approached the last flower strewn valley before they approached the High Pass, men of rough bearing appeared almost instantly in front of them, impeding their progress. They held what looked to be yew longbows and had arrows nocked to bowstring ready to be pulled the instant it should become necessary.

A man taller than the others and of a very stocky build stood in the middle of the path with his feet shoulder length apart and his hand on a big wooden staff. “We guard this pass as we have done since Beorn became our leader. We keep it clear of those filth who have no other thought than to murder and maim,” he stated aggressively, his demeanor tense and wary.

Erthion declared firmly, “Well, surely you can see that we are none of that kind. We travel to Imladris on business.”

The man did not seem to hear him for at that moment Legolas slipped his hood off his head and onto his shoulders revealing his almost white-blond hair. The burly man stopped and stared at Legolas as if he were somehow familiar. A question quickly followed.

“Are you kin to the Elven King, Thranduil?” His tone went from aggressive and tense to one of inquiry and respect.

Legolas was somewhat shocked to be known to this man, if only after a fashion. Others had often said he bore a great resemblance to his father, but he had never really seen it. Clearly, this man did. He answered in a sure, strong voice, “Aye, I am Legolas Thranduilion. I am his youngest son.”

“Ahhh! I see!” the man growled, evidently pleased. “It is an honor to be in the presence of the great warrior’s youngest! I am Grimbeorn, son of Beorn and leader to my people. I have fought alongside Thranduil defending what is ours.”

Legolas paused briefly and then remembered. “You are the skin-changers! Adar has spoken of your prowess in battle. He said you were fierce, and he was proud to have stood with you!”

“Hah Hah Hah!” Grimbeorn laughed a hearty, booming laugh. “It is good! It is good! Come! Night begins to fall. Come and break bread with me and mine! Proud I am to share what is mine with Thranduil’s youngest. This way!” He motioned as the rest un-nocked their arrows, returning them to their quivers, leaving only a few to continue to stand in guard of the pass and collect the necessary tolls from travelers.

Legolas looked at Erthion as if to say, “Seemingly, we have made a friend!”

Erthion looked back with a look that said, “Apparently so!” as he touched his horse’s flank to move off the main path and follow Grimbeorn at a walk.

After about a five-minute ride over undulating landscape with flowers waving amid rocky outcroppings, they came to a ravine where they saw a tidy encampment. Legolas saw a low-slung longhouse just beyond the spray of a waterfall and a few little children out playing amid the foliage. The children scampered out of the way as the horses approached. They had been playing happily and seemed clean and well-fed, their clothing simple but in good repair. They stopped and stared as the four elves rode by. Legolas guessed they did not see many elves riding into their encampment and smiled at a little girl nearest to the road and was rewarded with a shy smile from the dark blond child who followed him with her eyes before running into a side opening in the longhouse wall.

“Enter my home!” Grimbeorn declared. “Tonight we shall feast upon mead and cakes. You will like.”

The four elves dismounted and handed off their reins to a Beorning man with an outstretched hand and entered the longhouse behind Grimbeorn. As Legolas entered, he viewed a scene of homeliness and family. The longhouse was clearly home to many families. He smiled as he saw the little girl with dark blond hair run up to Grimbeorn, who quickly encased her in a suitable bearhug.

“Papa!”

“Daria! My little honeyflower!” Grimbeorn growled affectionately.

Daria then looked at Legolas. “You were on that horse!”

“I was, my little lady.” Legolas bowed elegantly. “Legolas Thranduilion, at your service.”

“Do you remember, Daria, I was telling the story around the fire outside about us bears joining forces with the bright and beautiful Elves? And the Great Warrior Thranduil, King of the Elves!”

Daria nodded most fervently.

“Well, this is the Great King’s son.”

Daria bit her lip and looked at Legolas with round blue eyes. “You are Elves? The ones who helped Papa beat the monsters!”

“Well, I was not there, but I remember my Papa telling me about how bravely your Papa fought!”

“Papa is the best fighter in the Mountains!”

Grimbeorn rumbled with laughter. “Thank you, my honeyflower.” He set her down. “Run back to Mama now.” The little girl scampered away.

Legolas watched her run back to her mother and he was struck by how much she reminded him of himself in how she talked of her papa, when he was but an elfling. The infallibility of a father who was perfect in the eyes of his child. He pushed away memories of his own father because so much distance stood between them. He wanted to run into his father’s arms as Daria had. But it was not possible, not for a long while. He knew some absolution, written in a letter kept close to his heart, but his spirit would not truly heal until he was finally able to look his father in the eye and know he was forgiven. Until such time he would forge a path and try not to think. It was all he could do. And conduct himself as Thranduil would want him to. He was his father’s son. He heard himself say in time-honored fashion.

“Grimbeorn, you honor me and my Adar. I thank you.”

Grimbeorn nodded his head and called out, “Mead and cakes for our honored guests! And make bedspace available for them as well."

Legolas tried to protest saying that they would sleep under the stars and that the stars would be all the blanket they needed. But Grimbeorn would not hear of it. Legolas acquiesced graciously. The man was a gruff but welcoming host, and he did not lie when speaking about the excellence of his table. It was simple fare, but good and filling. The mead and the honeycakes made from their own bee fields was beyond anything the four elves had ever tasted. And for the first time in weeks the four elves were able to let their wary guards down in the midst of good company and a welcoming hearth.

They sat at that hearth and Grimbeorn puffed on a long pipe and a strong honey scent drifted from it. Legolas sat inhaling the scent and allowed his mind to wander. After a few peaceful moments, emotions began to crowd in around him. Emotions that he had been avoiding or setting to one side simply rammed into his consciousness. He did not know what was the matter with him.  A young woman bowed and served him a cup of spiced mead.  He took one sip of the sweet liquid and tried to re-gather the balance that had served him at least functionally. He found his thoughts increasingly oppressive. Legolas pondered if removing himself from company might help him sort through his emotions. He stood and bowed his head respectfully. “Master Grimbeorn, I believe I must take my leave for the night.”

“As you wish, son of Thranduil. Dalaria!” He called for his wife. “Please see the Prince to his bedspace.”

Dalaria smiled. “If you will come this way, son of Thranduil.”

Legolas bent his head and Erthion noticed he looked a little peaked around the eyes.

“Legolas. Are you well? Should I accompany you?”

Legolas shook his head. “No, my friend. I am well. A little quiet is all I require.”

Erthion eyed his friend. “If you are sure?”

“Quite sure,” the Prince affirmed. “Enjoy!”

Erthion watched with foreboding in his heart as he saw his Prince slip away.

Dalaria lead Legolas along the far side of the longhouse to a partitioned enclosure with a large square bed. “Your bed for the night.” She nodded and smiled.

“Thank you, Dalaria. You have all been most kind.”

She held his gaze for a minute longer and said, “Rest now.”

Moments later Legolas closed his eyes and allowed sleep to claim him.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Legolas awoke to a smell of dampness, a dank smell of a bare cave. It was very dim, only a crack of light fell from a small, jagged hole in the uppermost reaches of the cave giving scant illumination to the enclosure. He felt cold rock beneath his fingertips and amid the dankness he caught a faint scent of lilac and rose. A flash of recognition and fear ripped through his heart. “Nana?”

“Shh-shh! Ion nin! I am here.”

“Where Nana? I cannot see you.”

“Follow my voice, little one.”

Legolas crawled towards the voice. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he could just see a shape resting against a wall. “Nana!” He crawled faster and even in the dim light he could see the warmth and smile in her eyes.

Lasgalen stroked his cheek. “You have grown so fine and strong, my little leaf. I am so proud of you!”

Legolas paused to savour the touch of her hand. But then he also noticed the dirt smeared across her face and a cut above her eye. Her gown had a tear at the shoulder. “Nana! What has happened? Where are we?”

“Shh! Legolas! They are coming again!” Suddenly his mother’s eyes filled with pain and fear.

“Nana!” Legolas cried frantically. “We must go!”

“Alas, my little leaf. I cannot.” She moved the fabric of her torn and dirty skirt to reveal a crude leg iron around her slender ankle.

“No!!” Legolas shouted as rough orc arms pulled him away from his mother…

~*~*~*~*~*~

The peace of the Longhouse had been rent by a scream in the night. Vivelle awoke and saw Legolas thrashing about upon the bed and Erthion and Navedir trying to hold him and keep him from injuring himself. She saw that Legolas was not awake but caught in the throes of some terrible night vison. Vivelle moved quickly to his side. She calmed her racing heart and placed one hand on the side of his face at the temple and the other inside his shirt on his heart and began the Chant of Calm. She sought to soothe him. Sensing he was becoming calmer, she breathed in and began the Chant of Knowing slipping deep into a trance that allowed her to join with his feä to sense what – if anything – might be dampening it or harming its joy. It glowed within her mind’s eye; a beauty to behold, but it was dimmed somehow. She allowed it to flow through her consciousness and she sensed his deep sadness. Bringing the light of her feä she tried to envelope his sadness and cleanse his light. Sensing she had done all she could this night, she slowly unwound her feä from his and came back into herself. She opened her eyes to gaze upon all who now surrounded Legolas and her in expectant silence. She saw Grimbeorn and his people gaze upon her in awe.

Erthion looked at Vivelle and spoke gently because he knew that she was always overly sensitive to strong emotions after communing with another’s feä “What did you see?”

Vivelle looked upon her husband and instinctively knew that the dimming she had sensed was deeply personal and not to be shared. She said in a soft voice, “I cannot explain it. But he is calm for now and will sleep the rest of the night.”

Erthion and Navedir visibly relaxed and Erthion turned to Grimbeorn. “We pray your pardon for such a disturbance.”

Grimbeorn nodded, placing his hand on his heart. “Well, we can understand this and there is no pardon needed.” He spoke to the assembled awakened, “Come, let us return to sleep.” He turned to Vivelle. “We shall leave so that you can tend to the son of Thranduil. Should you need anything, please ask.” He looked upon Vivelle with great reverence. He had heard of the mythical elven healing, but had never been within its presence before.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Nana!” Legolas awoke in a cold sweat. Vivelle smoothed a cold cloth on his forehead.

“Shh-sh! Rest.” Her eyes were filled with pain. “You are safe now!”

Legolas’ eyes filled with shame. “I could do nothing,” he whispered, though if it were to her or to himself, Vivelle could not say.

Though she did not have to guess at the subject of his nightmare, the pain laced through that one screamed word told her more than her heart could bear in any event. Vivelle smiled through tears that threatened to spill over. “Shh-sh! It was a bad dream. That was all it was. You are here and you are safe.” She stroked his cheek comfortingly. From behind she heard a stutter of footsteps.

“He is awake now!” she called over her shoulder. “Tell Master Grimbeorn that he is awake.”

Legolas struggled to get up but found he was incredibly weak and had no real choice but remain in bed.  He fought to recall what had happened. He remembered good cheer and then feeling light-headed departing company and then awaking up here. “What happened? How long have I been here?”

Vivelle looked at him. “Apparently, you were caught in a nightmare. You called out and we could not wake you.  And in answer to your second question – since last night."

“I what?!”

“You were having a nightmare. At first, we were not sure what was happening and there were a few very tense moments while Erthion and Navedir held you down until I performed the Chant of Calm and then the Chant of Knowing upon you.”

“You what? Vivelle you had no right—” Legolas was suddenly apprehensive.

Vivelle looked at him incredulously. “As healer, I had every right. You were not waking up and Erthion and Navedir could not calm you. I did what I needed to do.”

Legolas had calmed down somewhat, but he still had an apprehensive look on his face. “Yes, of course. Forgive the outburst, please.” His eyes told her to not mention the nightmare to anyone.

Vivelle nodded, affirming the silent communication and was about to say so when Grimbeorn drew back the skins that served as separators. He was flanked by Erthion and Navedir, both wearing looks of concern and relief in equal measure. She gave Legolas a quick glance that said, “We will talk more.” and then pasted a quick smile on her face so that the two other elves would not know that something was amiss. Whatever she saw in Legolas’ feä was only between healer and the healed. Whatever she had witnessed no other would know.

Grimbeorn growled out his relief. “Son of Thranduil. You are well. My spirit sings that you are whole.” He bent his head, with his hand on his chest.

Legolas had by this time levered himself into a sitting position. “Hannon Le, Grimbeorn.” He bowed his head in like fashion, but could not help but think Am I whole? He assiduously avoided Vivelle’s gaze because he could not answer the questions he knew burned in her healer’s heart to ask. Instead, he looked at Grimbeorn. “I am sorry that we have stayed longer than was asked. We shall leave as soon as we can.”

“You will stay until you are fit. The Elven King would do no less.”

Legolas smiled and wondered if Thranduil realized what loyalty and respect he had in this man. If he did not, Legolas would be sure to tell him when he returned from this errand.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Days passed and Legolas regained his strength. Several times Vivelle tried to bring up what she saw when they were alone, but Legolas would not speak of it. He was no closer to having any answers than when he woke up the afternoon after he disturbed the peace of the house that first night.

Legolas was outside the longhouse enjoying the autumn morning breeze when Grimbeorn’s little daughter walked over and gave him a flower, one of the many, many bluebells that were strewn across the ravine in which the longhouse was nestled.

Hannon Le, sweetling. It is beautiful.”

The child smiled and said, “Mama said you were sad and that we were to make you happy!”

Legolas hugged the child. “Did she now? Well, sweetling. You have succeeded. I am very happy.”

“Daria,” a voice came from behind, “run along now! Vesta has just made muffins and you know that you love them warm right out of the oven.”

“Yes, Mama.” She stood up and kissed Legolas on the cheek and scampered inside.

Legolas looked up and saw Grimbeorn’s wife, Dalaria. He immediately moved to rise, but she stayed him with a hand.

“No, no please.” She sat next to him and simply looked for a few moments. “You are sad.” Which might have sounded a bit abrupt had he heard such a thing on their first night, but the Elves were learning that the Beornings were a very direct people. That being said, Legolas was still his father’s son and did not take readily to people becoming too close too fast.

He immediately demurred, “I am fine, Dalaria. Truly.”

“It is okay to be sad.”

Legolas said nothing.

“Give me your hands,” Dalaria requested as she moved to touch knees with the elf.

Legolas was reluctant, but Beorn’s people had been so good to them and he did not want to cause offense, so he extended them tentatively.

Dalaria clasped them gently and she looked into his eyes. “You have lost someone in these mountains…”

Legolas withdrew his hands and eyed her warily. “I do not wish to talk about it.”

“No…” she insisted gently, looking into his deep blue eyes. “You do not wish to burden your friends. There is a difference. There is much love there and sometimes we do not speak because of that love. But you cannot burden me. I ask freely.” She coaxed gently as she continued to mesmerize him with her deep tranquil blue eyes. “Please.” She gestured towards his hands once again. Part of him was wary, but a large part of him wanted to reach out, to bask in the peacefulness of those dark blue depths. Looking into her eyes, he realized that he was so tired of pretending that nothing was wrong.

He extended his hands once again. Dalaria smiled, clasping them. “These mountains, they are my home, but well I know how they can take.”

“Orcs!” That word slipped unbidden from Legolas’ wounded soul.

“I see.”

“My Nanath.” Two words filled with pain and meaning, finding their way to the surface before Legolas’ defenses could stop them.

Dalaria mouthed, “Oh…” Empathy lit her eyes as she caressed his hand. “Tragedy is hard to bear. But you cannot let it wear on your soul. You are strong. I feel it. But do not let the mountains bear down on you. Let it flow through you. You go to Imladris, yes?”

“We do.”

“It is a good place for healing.”

“Not for me.”

Dalaria looked deep into his eyes for many moments and then smiled softly. “It will be. If you allow your heart to learn.” At that she turned his palms up and kissed the inside of his hands. “Even the most painful memories can give us strength when we stop fighting them and allow them to become part of who we are.” She smiled at him and said briskly, “Now to follow that child and make sure that she leaves enough muffins for the rest of us to eat!”

Legolas laughed. And as he did, his heart felt far lighter than it had been in months.





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