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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 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.
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