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60. Returning to Eryn Lasgalen
Travelling by boat was comfortable and Thranduil liked it a lot better than riding, even though his shoulder had got rather sore in the beginning from all the paddling. It was Galion’s turn to manage the paddle now, and Thranduil lazily let his hand slip into the river on the side, feeling the cool water caress his fingers. Soon they would reach their next destination, the tree city Caras Galadhon. They had left the Anduin a couple of hours ago and were now travelling up the smaller tributary Celebrant.
Nearby, Legolas steered his boat clear of Nodir’s and Bronedir’s, and Thranduil felt his brow furrow. That stubborn elf! No amount of coaxing had loosened his son’s tongue about his secret, and the closer to home they got, the more disturbing it became. How could Thranduil plan his counteractions, if he did not know what Legolas had in mind?
For several weeks now, Thranduil had tried to figure it out, and he had some guesses but was yet to find out which one was correct. That it was something Legolas thought Thranduil would oppose was clear, both from his silence on the matter, and from the faint anxiety he radiated whenever the subject was brought up.
Thranduil had already ruled out the more obvious ideas; such as that initial elopement plan – it made no sense in splitting up and going separate ways from Minas Tirith if they would run away together. Neither could it be the mother’s idea of an official betrothal and wedding, where she would poison his halls and their marriage with her constant presence.
That left the more unconventional schemes. They could have planned to marry officially like the mother wanted, but then move to live with her in Rohan. Well there, Legolas could protect Wynne from the woman’s violence, and they could also try to counteract her meddling in politics. Maybe expose some of her secrets, gradually weakening her. And when she died, which should happen fairly soon for a middle aged human woman, they would return to Legolas’ home, bringing all their inherited wealth with them. It was a dangerous plan, if this was it; the mother was sly and could easily outsmart such naive, young ones as them. Thranduil did not want his son to live with her – he did not even want Wynne to live with her. And although riches were always welcome – he did live in style after all, which was not cheap – he still hoped that was not what they had in mind.
Another idea could be for Legolas to renounce his birthright, and move somewhere remote to live a secluded life as a commoner. The mother might lose interest in them if they were not royalty. That one was a horrible plan, and he fervently hoped it was not it.
The last idea he had thought of, was to let the mother come with Wynne to the palace, and when she got there somehow frame her into committing a crime. Then Thranduil would imprison her in his dungeons, which meant she could do no harm in his Realm while in the same time unable to rally the Rohan lords against him. That was actually a rather good plan, and he hoped it was the one. He had even tried to talk with Legolas about it, but he had just walked away, giving him the cold shoulder. The nerve of it!
All in all, the last part of their journey had been rather trying, and all Thranduil wanted now was to be home , to be in the stillness of his rooms, sleep in his own bed, have access to his wardrobe, his bathroom, and his wine cellar.
Soon, he told himself. Just one more stop on the way – and a very pleasant location to visit, at that; Lothlórien was a stunningly beautiful forest. And it would be good to see his friend again.
Celeborn came to meet them personally when they dragged their vessels ashore. He was easy to discern among the accompanying elves; standing half a head taller than anyone else. He even beat Thranduil by a few inches, of which he was slightly jealous, but never would admit to anyone.
The Lord of Lothlórien greeted them formally and welcomed them into his city. They were served a tasty supper – along with real wine, thank the Valar! – during which Thranduil recounted most of what had happened on their quest. He also told them about the Emyn Muil orcs and the peace treaty. The Lórien elves took those news better than he had expected – after what orcs had done to Celeborn’s daughter in the past, he would have thought him unwilling to forgive that race. But perhaps he too realized it was time to put aside centuries old grudges.
After their meal, Celeborn turned to Thranduil. “Come, my friend and walk with me; for I much desire to speak with you.” The Lórien lord was even worse than himself when it came to eloquent speaking. Only in public, though, in private he took on a much more informal approach.
“You look well, Tharan!” he said when they were alone, putting his arm around Thranduil’s shoulder to give him a half-hug. “I told you travelling would do you good.”
“Thank you. How did my kingdom fare in my absence?”
“Splendidly, but let us not talk of work now. It is such a fine evening.”
They had come to Galadriel’s garden, and sat on one of the stone benches. Thranduil regarded the smooth, silvery trunks of the surrounding mellyrn, admiring their exquisite beauty and elegance. The air was calm, with only a faint breeze to rustle the leaves above. A small, black bat fluttered between the trees, restlessly darting this way and that in its hunt for moths.
Thranduil removed his circlet and leaned back. The thing chafed rather badly, even worse than his crown back home. Something he also never would admit.
“I was hoping your son would have benefited from the journey as well, but I noticed you two still are not speaking much.” There was concern i Cel’s voice.
“Oh, he did benefit from it, and we are more close now, than we have ever been. But lately we had a… disagreement.“ He twirled the circlet between his fingers.
Thranduil did not reply immediately. Should he tell his friend everything? Celeborn was very wise, his advice could be helpful, but lately he had become somewhat meddlesome. Not with a hidden agenda like Wynne’s horrible mother; Cel did it out of affection, but nevertheless.
He chose to answer with a question of his own, one that had nagged on his mind for a while. “Cel, why did you insist I went on this mission? Anyone could have cleared those lands of orcs. Why me?”
“Because you needed it.” He looked grave. “Ever since you lost your wife, you have been troubled. Shutting yourself up in your dwelling, brooding over the past. It took me ever so long to coax you even to come here.”
Thranduil found it hard to meet the other’s gaze. Instead, he regarded the empty stone basin Galadriel had used as a mirror. “Are you angry with her? For leaving you.”
Thranduil turned back to him, a little surprised he admitted it so readily.
“You are not the only ellon who did not always get along with their spouse.” Celeborn smiled weakly. “Galadriel and I lived apart for long periods, as you know. But she always returned to me, eventually. At least, she would, before she sailed to Aman with the other ring-bearers.”
“Maybe she thought she had to.”
“She did. And I disagreed.”
“Are you going to follow her?” Thranduil remembered the white seagull he had seen on the road to Minas Tirith, and thought of the sea. He had not seen it for many millennia, but it was a sight one did not easily forget.
“Aye, I could never fight with her for long. But I have not quite finished my work in Arda.”
“You have an Elvenking you think needs saving.” Thranduil felt himself smile.
“Indeed. And now, would you tell me what is on your mind? Without changing topic again, if you will.”
Thranduil laughed. “Am I that obvious?”
The other nodded solemnly.
“I hardly know where to begin.” He sighed. “The short story is; my son fell in love with a mortal.” He shook his head. ”With his looks, he could have had anyone, but no, he chooses a homely Rohirric girl who dresses like a man.” He smiled despite himself, seeing her before his inner eye.
“You like her.”
“Maybe. But that is beside the point. She has a horrible mother.” He described the woman at length.
“Hm. Intrigant, meddling, proud, violent… that puts me in mind of someone.”
Thranduil nodded, a chill trickling down his spine. “She is my father reborn.”
“But he must be in Aman, or perhaps lingering in the Halls of Mandos. Surely he would never agree to be reborn as a human?”
“Of course not, I did not mean it literally. But she is so much like him, and frankly it scares me that… I mean, for my son to have a mother-in-law like that? To have her visit my Realm?”
Then he told his friend about the plan his son apparently had thought up, but refused to tell him of, and how he feared it would be something really bad. And that lead him on to how Legolas had refused to listen to his council ever since he met the girl, and even entered a secret relationship with her – strictly against his father’s wish. How he kept going behind Thranduil’s back. “I feel so powerless,” he finished. “He is quite out of hand.”
“Listen to yourself. You speak of Legolas like he was an elfling,” said Celeborn sternly. “You have no power over him, because he is an adult. You are not supposed to order him about.”
Thranduil frowned, a surge of hot anger rushing through him. Celeborn had no right to tell him how to be a parent. He was on the verge to reply something ugly, but managed to desist and control his temper.
“He is still my subject,” he said, keeping his voice calm. “I am his king.”
“That kind of reasoning is what drove him away in the first place – and that is also why I insisted he follow you on the quest. To give you an opportunity to be just a father, probably for the first time.”
The nerve… Thranduil’s jaw hurt from clenching his teeth.
Cel again put his arm around his shoulders, ignoring the stiffness. “It is getting late. Think of what I said, and we can talk more of it in the morrow. Good night, Tharan.”
Thranduil did not return the greeting.
When the other had gone, he paced up and down the garden, drawing deep breaths and telling himself it would not do to assault the Lord of Lórien in his own home.
As his blood slowly cooled, he began to ponder over what the other had said. Did he really think of Legolas as an elfling?
He did, in a way, he had to admit. Had he subconsciously been trying to prevent his son from growing up?
Maybe. Yes. He had confined Legolas, making decisions for him, holding him back just like when he was little and ran away all the time, scaring his father to no end.
Scared. He was afraid to lose his son, like he had lost so many others; his childhood friends, his parents, his wife. It hurt , it tore his heart apart, each time worse than before, each time leaving him lonelier and emptier. That was why, that had always been why.
Thranduil sank back onto the bench, wiping his eyes. All of his reasoning against Legolas’ choice of wife had been excuses; he had tried to convince both himself and his son it could be stopped. Implicating that Legolas did not know his heart. Of course he did! He clearly had loved the girl almost from the beginning, and it was nothing like how Thranduil’s own marriage had begun.
And the mother issue, too. Aye, she was an appalling harridan, but he was a king, for Eru’s sake, he could handle her if he really put his mind to it.
Afraid… Afraid to let go. He rested his face in his hands, rubbed his pounding temples.
Legolas would leave him, it all came back to that. He would lose his only son, and he had known it, feared it ever since the Fellowship. When Legolas finally returned, Thranduil had read sea-longing in his eyes, and realized he would leave. He had reacted as he always did; with anger. Stupid, stupid. He had not learned anything from his many past mistakes.
Cel was right, as usual. Even Wynne had told him he drove his son away, it had apparently been obvious to everyone but himself.
He had to let go.
As terrifying as that was, he had to let go.
“Father? Are you all right?”
Thranduil nearly jumped. He had been so engrossed in his thoughts, that he had not heard his son coming. He turned away, trying to hide his tears.
“What is wrong?” Legolas’ voice was concerned, and Thranduil felt a cautious hand touch his back.
“I have been thinking,” he mumbled. Then he decided to quit hiding and turned toward his son, knowing he probably looked a terrible mess with red eyes and a runny nose. “I have been so stupid.”
Legolas frowned. “Will you tell me what happened? Was it something Lord Celeborn said?”
“He only said truths I needed to hear.” He pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed his eyes with it. “Legolas, I am sorry for not trusting your judgement. Whatever your plan regarding Wynne is, I approve of it.”
Legolas eyes widened slightly, and then narrowed again. “If this is some trick to make me reveal the plan, I–”
“Do not be ridiculous,” Thranduil snapped. “You think I could pretend this?” He indicated his dishevelled appearance. Suddenly he found himself laughing despite everything.
“Nay.” Legolas grinned rather foolishly.
“However, if you want to tell me about your plan, I would not mind hearing it.”
“Sorry. I just thought I should ask.” He pulled his son into an embrace. “I love you, Legolas. I hate surprises and you are cruel but I still love you.”
“I love you too. It is not a bad plan. It will work out, trust me.”
“I trust you.”
Some days later...
Even the comforting feeling of the full glass of fine Dorwinion he was holding, could not stop Thranduil from cringing on his throne. Valar, what was Legolas doing? He leaned his face into his free hand, trying not to wince a second and a third time. I trust you . His words came back to mock him. Sauron’s eye!
“... and therefore I hereby resign my claim to the throne of the Woodland Realm. I shall be leaving for my new position in Ithilien shortly. But have courage, wood-elves! My father, despite his immense age, is still in his prime and has no need for an heir. Together with Lord Celeborn he shall continue the work to restore Eryn Lasgalen to its former glory.”
Some hours later...
“Shall I get someone to clean up in here?” Legolas gingerly stepped over the shards of broken glass on Thranduil’s sitting room floor. He looked a bit like that hobbit probably had, when approaching the dragon Smaug.
“Don’t bother.” Thranduil felt numb. “Legolas, why?”
“It is what I want to do. Planting trees, living close to nature. Politics is not for me, it never was.” Legolas had that stubborn set to his jaw, which he had honed to perfection on the boat journey from Minas Tirith.
Let him go.
“Why such a hurry? You could be betrothed a year first, and–”
“I do not want to wait a year. We do not have much time, you know.”
Thranduil’s chest constricted painfully. Legolas would die. Or sail. So soon... too soon. But he would be happy before that, and he was right, he did not belong in an underground palace.
He sighed and slumped down into his soft armchair, pouring himself a new glass of wine. “It is not right. The Wood of Greenleaves would be without my green leaf, my Legolas.”
“We will visit you often, and you can visit us too. It will not be so bad,” he reasoned. “Besides, you said you approved,” he added, and had the nerve to sound accusing.
“I had temporarily lost my mind.”
“I cannot bear to lose you, Ada. Do not make me choose between the two persons I love most.”
Thranduil put down his glass to give his son a long, hard hug. He wished he would never have to release him from it.
“You do not have to choose. Of course not, Legolas. I will never abandon you. Never. I am your father and will always be, nothing can change that.”
Legolas pulled back to meet his gaze with blank eyes. Then he kissed him on both cheeks. “Thank you,” he said simply.
Not long after, he was gone.
“Right,” Thranduil said to his glass, tilting it with shaking fingers. “I guess it’s just you and I, now.” He slowly swirled its ruby content, before downing it in one gulp. “Cheers, then.”
Never drink alone, or when you're sad. Thranduil is not setting a good example... ;)
This story is nearing its end. Thanks a lot to all who read and commented.
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