18. Fight or Flight
Legolas stood motionless, his earlier peace vanished. Thranduil had obviously been upset by whatever Langcyll had said (or by Legolas’s own response to him earlier.) And apparently, he had been drowning his sorrows considerably. Legolas’s mind raced--his father was definitely not in the best state of mind for speaking of the things he wished to. *I must not anger him further. I must speak.* “I could not sleep,” he said quietly.
At least it was not a total lie. Stepping into the moonlight, Thranduil’s eyes were dark with anger and his face was flushed. In a too-casual voice, he replied, “I could not sleep either, Legolas. I have been wondering what cause I have given my own son to despise me.”
“I do not despise you!” Legolas exclaimed.
“Of course you do!” Thranduil snapped, his affected pose gone and replaced now by unleashed rage. “Do you think me a fool, boy? When our parties met on the plains thirty years ago--I had not seen you in two years, and you fled from me like an agent of the Enemy!”
“I--” Legolas faltered.
Thranduil caught it. For an elf who had consumed far too much wine than was wise, his perceptions were remarkably sharp. A cold, humorless laugh came from him, grating on his youngest son’s ears. “Do not try to deny it. You avoided me then and you avoid me still. For what, Legolas?” Now he seemed to be almost pleading. “I may not have been perfect, but I have done nothing to warrant such coldness! Even when you do DEIGN--” his tone suddenly grew bitterly sarcastic--“to speak to me, you treat me as a stranger. I reared you; do you think I failed to see your mind when you came today? You would rather have been locked in that throne room with a hundred orcs!”
“I will no longer stand for it, Legolas, I am your father and your king! Unless you too consider me your jailer, as Langcyll does.”
Legolas froze in surprise, then remembered what Langcyll had told him. *That must be what he meant--* Unfortunately, the recognition showed in his face. Thranduil stared at him for a moment, and his fury palpably increased. His tirade erupted in a near-shout. “So! You could not sleep, you could not bring yourself to speak to your own father after all this time, so you went to Langcyll! I might have known! You have always listened to him before me, sought his counsel before mine, you care more for him than me--perhaps you wish he were your father! It is no wonder you have grown to hate me, with him poisoning your mind against me all these years--”
“That’s not true!” Legolas blurted out, unable to keep silent in the face of such accusations. “Langcyll is not to blame for--”
*I will not lose my temper. I will NOT lose my temper!* Legolas took a deep breath, forcing down the frustrated anger that had begun to boil up inside him. “Langcyll is not to blame for our troubles, Father. It has nothing to do with him.”
Thranduil’s face had gone from enraged to anguished. In a voice suddenly filled with pain, he practically whispered, “Then why?”
*I would rather he had remained angry,* Legolas thought, flinching inwardly from his father’s desperate gaze. The carefully-built walls of duty and honor and protocol had been stripped away by the wine, and bared a mass of pent-up emotion that Legolas feared to see. *This is a dangerous conversation to have when he has been drinking so much, yet…if I continue to put him off, there may never be a peace between us. I must answer him.*
Aloud, he said softly, “I knew not what to say.” *At least that is the truth. I still know not what to say.*
His father stared at him, half-doubtful, half-suspicious. “Years you were gone, without so much as a message, the world has turned, so much has happened, and you could think of nothing to say to me?”
“No,” Legolas thought he detected a note of reason returning and sought it desperately. “It is as you say, so many things had changed. I felt…It was…confusion.”
“Spite,” Thranduil qualified it curtly.
“No! It was not spite!” Legolas protested frantically.
“Then why will you not behave toward me as a son and a prince ought?!” Thranduil snapped, his eyes flashing. “Forget not that I am your lord and king, and I require certain courtesies at the very least!”
*Breathe. Remember to breathe.* “Yes, Father.” Legolas tried not to sound resentful. “As a warrior of Mirkwood, you are my lord and king, and I am at your command.”
Thranduil stared harder, clearly trying to determine if Legolas was in earnest. As it happened, Legolas was, but it was more out of a desire to trigger the king’s commanding instinct and put an end to the father-son aspects of it, for he did not think he could bear much more. All the same, it worked.
The elven king nodded slowly, drawing himself up. “Yes, young prince, you are. And no longer a member of a war party. So listen well. Tomorrow I shall see you in my court, and you shall attend every day at least until the next companies depart in six weeks. It is time you involved yourself in the government of your father’s realm.”
“Yes, Father,” Legolas replied, though inwardly he wanted to groan. Attending the king’s court had never held much interest for him, and many years of travel in the open--*I shall go mad, spending hours on end in that cave!* Yet he was back in Mirkwood, and his duties as the king’s son once again would take precedence. On top of that, a memory suddenly struck him. In his mind, he heard Galadriel’s words of thirty years before, *“There must be a peace between you, or all will be lost.”*
Sighing to himself, Legolas met his father’s intense eyes and nodded, hoping Thranduil would see it as a friendly gesture. He did mean it so, but considering Thranduil’s paranoid (and decidedly befuddled) state, Legolas could not predict how he might interpret what his son did or said.
Apparently, Thranduil was satisfied, for the turmoil left his face and he simply looked weary. “Very well, my son. I shall see you in my court tomorrow.”
Legolas straightened and nodded again, “Good night, Father.” He waited until Thranduil had passed back into the caves before he himself turned back into the outer palace. By some strange reserve of strength he maintained his composure right until he closed his chamber door--then he leaned back against it and released a great shudder that shook his entire body.
His mind still reeled with frantic thoughts and emotions, but he furiously pushed them away. *If I dwell all night on what has passed this day, I shall never find peace. I would do better to get some sleep. The world will look very different in the morning.”
It did. Though Legolas did have a rather sudden, if not unpleasant, awakening. He was jolted from sleep by a squealed command of “Wake up, Uncle Leg’las!” followed by the impact of a small body landing on top of him.
Legolas sat bolt upright with a startled yelp and found himself face-to-face with a giggling Silivren, still in her night tunic with her hair falling unkempt. But that if anything made her more endearing. Legolas shook the last vestiges of sleep from his head and remarked drolly, “Well, my dear niece, you seem to have escaped your chamber.”
Silivren simply held out her arms in an unspoken demand to be cuddled…at once! And that was one order Legolas was all too happy to obey as he pulled the little girl into his arms--and began tickling her. Her shrieks and laughter soon alerted the servants who were hunting the fugitive princess, and before long, Golwen (Silivren’s caretaker when Berensul and Eirien were occupied) knocked on the door. “My lord? I am searching for Princess Silivren.”
Silivren squealed and dove beneath Legolas’s blanket as her pursuer entered. Legolas replied playfully, “I have no idea where she might be, Golwen.”
Golwen smiled and put her hands upon her hips, perfectly able to see the small lump at the foot of the bed. “Indeed, Prince Legolas? How odd; I thought I heard her voice!”
“I fear you must have been mistaken.”
“What was that?”
“I thought I heard something.” (Giggle!) “Now, Prince Legolas, I am quite certain I heard something!”
“It must be your imagination.”
(Giggle!) POUNCE! SQUEAL!!! “Leggo! Lemme out!”
Golwen wrestled with a giggling, shrieking bundle wrapped in Legolas’s blanket as she attempted to haul it from the bed. “You are returning to your chambers and getting dressed, young lady! It is almost time for breakfast, now come!”
Struggling to contain his laughter, Legolas rose and helped disentangle Silivren from the blanket. “Peace, little one, behave yourself. Are Berensul and Eirien out of the palace?” he asked Golwen.
“Aye, my lord, they left early. They are expected back this afternoon.”
“Then I shall join Princess Silivren for breakfast.”
“Really?!” the child ceased squirming in her nurse’s arms and turned eagerly to Legolas.
“IF you are good,” Golwen said firmly. Silivren nodded vigorously and allowed herself to be borne away. Legolas watched them depart and grinned to himself. *Perhaps today will indeed be a better day.*
King Thranduil made it a habit to visit his first grandchild every morning before holding court. On this morning, he arrived in the outer palace to find Silivren having breakfast on a balcony with Orthelian and Legolas--and being very entertained by stories of her uncles’ adventures. Legolas’s back was to him, and Silivren exclaimed, “Grandfather!” springing from her chair and running to Thranduil’s arms to be swept up and kissed.
“Ah, good morrow, my little darling,” Thranduil said, for the child charmed him as effortlessly as all others who beheld her since the day she was born. “How are you today?”
“Uncle Leg’las and Uncle Orthelian are telling me stories!”
“So I see, and they must be very exciting,” Thranduil said, his gaze irresistibly sliding past her to his son. Orthelian, looked quickly from father to son and then to Silivren, obviously wondering if he should take her away. Legolas had risen when he saw the king, but was smiling at them now. *That…seems a good sign.* “Good morrow, Orthelian, Legolas.”
“Good morning, my lord.”
“Good morning, Father.”
There was a warmth in Legolas’s tone, but whether directed toward Thranduil or Silivren, his father could not be sure. Still, it was an improvement. He had awakened this morning, remembered the night before, and promptly began cursing himself for his stupidity. *Of all the utterly foolhardy things I have done, drinking to excess and then trying to have a meaningful conversation with my son definitely ranks highly. He is treating me better than I deserve today.* With that in mind, he said, “Eirien and Berensul are not expected to return until this evening, Legolas. I will not require you to come to court today if you wish to keep your niece company.”
Orthelian glanced hastily from Thranduil to Legolas again before erasing the flicker of apprehension from his face. Legolas hesitated only for a moment before shaking his head and replying smoothly, “Nay, Father, I will come. As you s--it is my duty now that I am returned. Orthelian?”
“I will take Silivren for a ride this afternoon,” their kinsman offered quickly and king and prince nodded simultaneously.
*Well, this is a beginning…if awkward. But I suppose I should not expect too much too soon.* “That is well. Off with you now, Silivren.” He shooed his granddaughter back to her breakfast.
“Until later, Orthelian,” Legolas said, and started to follow Thranduil from the room.
“Uncle Leg’las, where are you going?” Silivren demanded, outrage in her little voice at Legolas’s early departure.
Legolas’s eyes met his father’s briefly as Thranduil turned back, and they sparkled with laughter. *That is the Legolas I remember. How I have longed to see a smile from him.* He and his youngest son shared a quick grin before Legolas turned back to his niece, “I have work to do with your grandfather now, Silivren. But Uncle Orthelian has promised to give you a ride after breakfast.”
It successfully distracted her, and she turned eagerly to Orthelian, “Can I drive?”
“Er…” Laughing, Legolas and Thranduil made a hasty retreat from the room.
“She is very much her father’s daughter,” Legolas remarked as they walked through the outer palace.
“True, she is much like Berensul,” Thranduil agreed. “But I have also seen many reminders of Eirien in her. She will grow to have the best of each of them.”
“I rather think she has that now,” Legolas replied and they laughed. “The beauty of her mother and the spirit of her father.”
“Aye, and too much of the latter, to hear Golwen talk,” Thranduil added, and they laughed harder. Golwen had been nurse and nanny to all seven of Thranduil and Minuial’s children, and it had been the wish of them all that she should also care for their own children one day.
Walking easily at the king’s side, Legolas had a distant look in his bright eyes. “They said Limloeth was here for Silivren’s birth?”
“Yea, Berensul and Eirien sent for her in plenty of time. And unnecessarily, as it turned out, for Silivren was late. Like her father,” Thranduil smiled to himself.
Legolas grimaced in response, “That must have made it difficult for Eirien.”
“Not at all; she remained strong in body and spirit throughout the term, and there was no trouble at the birth itself, for which we were very thankful.” Legolas nodded vigorously in agreement with that sentiment. Thranduil went on, “All of Mirkwood was celebrating. Lord Elrond came, and Lady Arwen.”
“Any from Lothlórien other than Limloeth?”
“Orophin and Lady Gaeriel represented the Galadhrim. Lord Celeborn was to attend, but then their warriors feared another attack, so he remained in Lórien and sent Orophin in his stead.”
They were crossing the bridge into the king’s halls. Thranduil discreetly watched his son’s reaction to them, but today Legolas appeared preoccupied by the news he was hearing and seemed not to notice the cave. “They say orcs were trying the borders of Lórien so frequently that Lady Galadriel pulled off the guards.”
Thranduil nodded grimly, “Too many were being lost in direct confrontations. Now fell creatures may manage to enter into Lórien, but the ambushes of her warriors ensure that such marauders never come out. The same tactic is being used now in Imladris.”
There was a shadow over his son’s eyes. “We were in Ithilien, east of the Anduin, when Mount Doom burst into flame again. If there had ever been any doubt of what is happening here…”
“You saw it?”
“Yea. Over the tops of the Ephel Duath. There was a great distance between it and us, but that day…it seemed very close.” Legolas smiled wryly. “Too close.”
“When we heard it had erupted again, knowing you were south, I feared for you.”
Legolas glanced at his father then, and Thranduil noticed his son’s expression had closed somewhat. *So, you are still unready to talk of that. Perhaps unwilling.* Fortunately, their arrival in the throne room forestalled further conversation.
Legolas spent the remainder of the morning seated in the king’s hall while Thranduil granted audiences. Most of the matters were nothing he had not seen before: the expanding of dwellings, requests for more weapons or guards for the outlying villages, the approval of new crafts. That morning at least, Legolas began to feel a respect for his father that he had begun to think was gone. He had always known in his heart that Thranduil was generous with his own people, but the elven king turned out to also be fair and (he had to admit) wise when it came to rule of the realm.
“But if we had a properly-armed force, my lord,” one petitioning elf was saying. “I am certain we could hold the colony against further attacks.”
Thranduil, seated regally upon his throne, listened calmly to the elf’s petition, then sat thoughtfully in consideration. “I daresay it is possible, Thoron. I am aware your village repelled two assaults already.” Thoron nodded eagerly, but the king was not done. “However, twelve guards have been lost defending it in the past two years, as well as three of your villagers. Know you any reason to believe the number or boldness of the fell creatures of the south will diminish?”
Thoron hesitated, “I know not, my lord.”
The king knitted his fingers thoughtfully, and regret tinged his voice, “I see no reason to think the assaults on our outlying settlements will lessen, and many reasons to fear just the opposite. I know how painful it shall be to relocate your people, Thoron, but I fear it must be done. To stay in a small settlement so far south will all but guarantee the loss of more lives, and in no way prevent the eventual overrun of the village. It is not a risk that should be taken. Homes can be rebuilt; lives cannot.”
Legolas felt sorrow at the inevitable displacement of the elves in the outlying villages, but knew his father’s prediction was likely true. It was not worth the dangers of trying to hold the borders indefinitely in times like these. To his credit, Thoron accepted the king’s decision in good grace, if sadly. “I shall prepare my people for evacuation, my lord.”
Thranduil nodded, “A well-armed escort shall be sent when you are ready to depart to bring you safely north.”
“My thanks, my lord.” Thoron bowed and departed.
The next petition was more interesting, and it was not something Legolas recalled having seen before in his attendance at his father’s court. Then again, when he was younger, Legolas had not been required to attend court regularly, and was frequently dismissed during what Thranduil had termed “complicated” matters. But now he was curious. A group of human merchants had been seen leading a caravan of wares to Lake Town. Elves from several of the easternmost villages were requesting permission to trade with them for iron.
“Denied,” Thranduil replied, almost offhandedly.
Legolas blinked. The elves exchanged looks. “My lord,” one of them said hesitantly. “They carry a great store of shaped iron, that we might use to fortify some of our more vulnerable settlements against attack. I am aware of the…difficulties of trading with men, but perhaps an exception might be warranted in this case…”
In a tone of exaggerated patience that made Legolas wince inwardly with memory, Thranduil replied, “To be forced to petition mortals for aid, Gwirith, we shall have to be in far more dire circumstances than these.” He raised a hand to forestall further protests, “Nay, it is true that we might benefit from their iron, but I would sooner do without it than supplication toward men. As merchants, they are as greedy as dwarves; it would probably be inferior metal anyway. If your villages have need of better defenses, we shall deal with that ourselves.”
Clearly discouraged, the eastern elves left. Legolas merely felt a little puzzled. Surely these matters had come up in the past--why had he never heard of such requests before on all the different occasions he had been present in his father’s audience hall throughout his youth? Now that he thought back, he had never been present when his father dealt with matters concerning any race other than elves.
Thranduil apparently noticed, for that afternoon as they were leaving, he mentioned it. “Did my decision regarding the Lake Town merchants trouble you, Legolas?”
Legolas answered honestly, “Nay, Father, it did not trouble me. But it did puzzle me a little. I would consider iron a great asset to the eastern villages’ defenses.”
“Quite true, and a shame we shall not partake of it. But its benefit does not outweigh the drawbacks of too many dealings with mortals. Especially dealings in which we would be forced to admit a weakness.” The king shot a rather hard glance at Legolas, “Do you not agree?”
Legolas hastily adopted a neutral tone and expression. “You know better than I, Father.”
“Surely you have encountered men during the journey south.”
“Very few,” said Legolas. Thranduil looked surprised, and the prince explained, “We spent a good deal of the journey east of the Anduin. Ithilien was all but deserted and even the men west of the great river kept to their strongholds for safety. Mortal or not, I pity the inhabitants of Gondor, so close to Mordor. We passed many abandoned villages that bore the look of having been besieged for decades.”
In a very odd tone, Thranduil said, “Perhaps they are to be pitied, for all it is their own doing.”
“What?” Legolas said in confusion. “How can you say that? The men of Gondor surely had naught to do with Sauron’s return.”
Thranduil’s tone went from dismissive to rather patronizing, and Legolas bristled inwardly. “Nay, not directly, my son, but forget not that it was Isildur, the son of Elendil, whose heart was corrupted by the Ring of Power and allowed it to survive. It is his actions that are visited now upon Gondor, and all of Middle Earth pays the price of his weakness.”
Legolas frowned thoughtfully, “But surely the innocents of a kingdom have done nothing to deserve it, whatever Isildur did thousands of years ago.”
“Forget not that I was there, Legolas,” Thranduil said rather harshly. “I warned Elrond the Last Alliance would be a disaster, but the other realms overruled me.”
Without thinking, Legolas argued, “But had Sauron defeated the forces of men alone, it would have been a still greater disaster. He would have taken the elves and Middle Earth anyway. The Alliance at least was the right choice, whatever ill-fated decision Isildur made.”
“It was an ill-fated decision, and unforgivable. I saw it all.”
Legolas hesitated, then thought, *What am I afraid of? He wanted me to speak to him, after all.* “I know you were there, Father, and that it was under bitter circumstances that you became King of Mirkwood.”
“The day your grandfather perished along with more than half of Mirkwood’s warriors! I could not find Berensul for nearly two days, and Limloeth nearly died of her wounds. Our people paid dearly that day.”
“So did Isildur’s,” Legolas countered. “His own people were just as wronged as the elves by his choice. They are not all to blame for his mistake--”
Thranduil dismissed the argument with an annoyed wave of his hand, “You know nothing of which you speak, young prince. Have done.”
Legolas started to protest, then sighed and let it drop. Whatever he said, Thranduil would still dismiss it as childish ignorance, or worse, be angered by what he perceived as a challenge of his authority. *Yea, Father, you wish to hear me speak--as long as it is merely my agreeing with you.*
Such was the routine of Legolas’s life for several weeks. All in all, he had few disputes with his father, because it soon became painfully clear to him how futile it was to debate with Thranduil on any subject. But other than that irritating detail of spending so much time nodding and smiling in his father’s company, Legolas was glad to be home.
Much of his free time was spent coming up with ways to amuse his little niece--one pursuit Thranduil was always willing to grant leave for. He and Orthelian regularly took her on their horses through the forest, or in a boat on the river. She was soon begging to be taught how to ride herself.
“You are too small,” laughed Orthelian on one such occasion. “Your legs are not long enough to sit a horse, Sili.”
Silivren pouted and Legolas added, “He is right, Sili, you would fall right off a tall horse. Perhaps we might find her a pony,” he murmured in an aside to Orthelian.
Orthelian nodded thoughtfully, “There are no ponies in Mirkwood, but maybe Lake Town--men use them as pack animals.”
Legolas grimaced to himself, “A good idea, but Father would never approve buying a pony for Silivren when he would not give leave even to trade for iron.”
The warriors of Imladris and Lórien departed together six weeks after the company arrived in Mirkwood--on the same day as the Mirkwood war parties also rode out. Legolas, along with Galithil and Elunen, did not join any of the spring companies, choosing to remain home as part of the king’s guard rather than travel again so soon. But the day their friends from the neighboring realms left was a painful one.
“It has been an honor traveling with you, Glorfindel,” Legolas told the Imladris lord as he prepared to mount his horse.
Glorfindel smiled, clapping a hand on the prince’s shoulder. “I shall miss you, Legolas.” He and the prince clasped arms, “Be well, young warrior. We shall meet again.”
“Most definitely,” Legolas promised.
“Now that you’re done paying homage, are you going to say farewell to me?” Faron demanded in a miffed tone.
Legolas grinned at Glorfindel before turning and attacking Faron in a wild embrace, “Try not to get yourself killed on the journey home, Faron of Imladris.”
“You are the one I am worried about, without me to keep an eye on you!”
“All right, boys, cease your games!” Galithil unceremoniously shoved Legolas out of the way so she could embrace Faron. “Others have farewells to make, you know.”
“Ah, Galithil, you are so much more interesting than him.”
“I am only being polite.”
“Ha, do not believe her, Faron; she cannot keep her hands off you--ow!”
“Better hurry, Legolas, Galithil,” Elunen warned. “You are running out of time.”
Berensul and Eirien came out then with Silivren to say farewell to Orthelian. Legolas hurried to his brother-in-law. “Until we meet again, my friend, take care of my sister.”
“I rather suspect she would consider it the other way around.”
“When are you coming back, Uncle Orthelian?”
“Ah, Silivren, I could not bear to be separated from you for long. Fear not, your Aunt Limloeth and I shall come visiting in good time.”
“We shall see. Farewell, Berensul.”
“Farewell, my brother.”
“Try not to abuse Legolas too much.”
“Forgive me, friend, but I cannot shirk my duties as elder brother.”
“Of course not. So sorry, Legolas.”
“Well, thank you for trying, Orthelian.”
The warriors mounted up, and Legolas found himself forcing a smile over a rapidly growing hole in his heart. *Thirty years, I lived, ate, slept, and rode with these warriors. How empty life is about to become without them. Ah, Elbereth, when will I see them all again? Never, not in a time like we had on that journey. In some ways, I wish that it had never ended.*
Faron looked over his shoulder at Legolas as Glorfindel and Haldir gave the signal to ride, then waved vigorously at the prince and Galithil as the warriors galloped away. Legolas and his family waved back until the warriors were out of sight. Legolas sighed. *Another change. I grow tired of hearing the word.*
The elves of Mirkwood who had come to see the warriors off returned to the palace, and Legolas desperately searched for a distraction from the emptiness that growing inside him. He already missed them. Fortunately, he found one. Silivren scampered up, having escaped again from the frazzled-looking Golwen, and demanded to be played with immediately. Legolas glanced at the king, who nodded with a faint smile, then scooped up Silivren and aided her in fleeing from a vigorously-scolding Golwen.
“Prince Legolas, HOW am I to teach her discipline when you keep encouraging her--come back here! My lord, this really is too much! Silivren! Behave yourself!”
Legolas evaded Golwen all the way back to Silivren’s play room, and there the king discovered him lifting Silivren above his head and spinning her around and around until he was too dizzy to continue (though she shrieked for more.) “Enough, Sili,” he laughed, staggering slightly to sit down on a couch. “It is quite shameful for an elf to lose his balance.”
“Then tell me a story?” Silivren said eagerly, hopping up next to him.
“What story shall I tell you?”
“Tell me about Mount Doom and the fire,” said the child. So he told her, laughing as Silivren declared, “I want to be a warrior and have adventures!” Still laughing, Legolas pulled her into his lap, but noticed Thranduil watching from the doorway with a very odd expression.
*I must speak with Legolas, and soon, about these stories to my granddaughter,* Thranduil thought as he left the outer palace. *It is unwise to tantalize a child with stories of adventure, with the world so dangerous as it is now.*
He seized the opportunity as soon as Golwen finally apprehended Silivren and took her to her bath. As his son came out of the play room, Thranduil approached him in the hall, “I wish you would not tell her those things.”
Legolas blinked, looking defensive, “What things?”
“Do not be contrary, Legolas, you know of what I speak.”
The young prince lifted his chin in a manner he had adopted since returning--and that had a way of greatly irritating Thranduil whenever he did it. “Father, there can be no harm in telling Silivren stories of the outside world. To isolate her will only make reality harder to bear when she is older.”
*And when precisely did you become an expert on fatherhood, young upstart? I’ll not have you trying to influence Silivren with your impetuous nature!* Thranduil gave his son a warning stare--and growing more aggravated at the way Legolas folded his arms. Sternly, as a reminder of his own authority, he told his son, “You are not her father, Legolas.”
The prince clearly bristled, but seemed to bite back what would likely have been a tart rejoinder. Instead, he gave a curt nod that in no way signaled his acquiescence in Thranduil’s opinion, and walked away. Standing in the hall where he was, Thranduil folded his arms and pondered. *He cannot possibly think that having been away for thirty-four years permits him to defy me.* Perhaps the situation with Silivren was not worth quarreling over and yet…*Whatever their age, I do not suffer my sons to show lack of respect for me, as their king or their father. Legolas shall listen and obey me in this, and do so with good grace.* Pursing his lips, Thranduil started after his wayward son.
Hearing his father call his name, Legolas cursed under his breath. *What does he want from me? Is it not enough that I attend his court and spend the better part of every day biting my tongue, that now he must dominate my every thought and word?* “Legolas!” his father said sharply from behind him. “You will turn and answer me.”
Sighing heavily, Legolas turned and asked with rather bare civility, “Yes, Father?”
“Young prince, I find your behavior unacceptable.”
*How is it that I never saw before how pompous he can be? Nay, why am I surprised? He hid the world away from me just as he seeks to from Silivren!* “Father, I think Silivren has a right to know that a world does exist beyond Mirkwood. It is wrong to shelter her--”
“She is twenty-nine years old, far too young to be exposed to all the horrors that exist--”
Legolas threw up his hands in exasperation, startling the king into stepping back, “I do not seek to expose her to anything! But she shall hear of such things some way or another, and better from her family, whom she can ask questions of and trust us to tell her the truth!”
“She is not your daughter, Legolas!” Thranduil snapped, and this time the prince did not bother to hold back what he had desired to say before.
“Nor is she yours! And Berensul would not approve of sheltering her either! He tells her stories and encourages her to learn of the world--”
Thranduil’s eyes were beginning to flash angrily, and he cut his son off with a very sharp wave of his hand. “For the last time, Legolas, you will NOT speak to her of such things!”
Legolas started to turn away, intending to get out of the palace and wander the trees until he calmed down, then he thought, *Fah, must I always be hiding from him? Nay, he wished me home, he wished me to speak to him. And now he is angered because I speak with my own mind!* Aloud, he said in a cold voice, “I will pay a close mind to what I say, Father.” With a deep breath, aware how Thranduil was likely to take this qualification, he went on, “But I will not cease the tales altogether. Silivren enjoys them.”
His expectations were met. Thranduil advanced slowly, daggers in his black eyes as he glared furiously at his youngest son. In a voice that was almost a hoarse whisper of rage, he said, “You dare defy me?”
Lowering his own voice, Legolas lifted his chin and leaned into the gale of his father’s wrath. “It is not your decision. Berensul is her father, Eirien is her mother. Neither of them have expressed any worry for her well-being.”
“You do this to spite me!”
“This is not about you!” Legolas fired back, raising his voice in spite of himself. “Nor about me!”
“No? You seek to infect your niece with the same impulsive foolishness that seems to have taken over you, you arrogant boy!”
“Do not patronize me, Father, I am a child no longer! You cannot expect me to mindlessly cater to your every whim. And if you do, you shall find a sorry result!”
Thranduil started forward with more rage in his bearing than Legolas had ever seen. “You--”
Both elves froze. Thranduil turned and Legolas looked past him, both trembling slightly, to see a small golden head peering out of an empty chamber, and two very large blue eyes staring at them. Legolas took an involuntary step backward, struck dumb with horror and dismay, and Thranduil said in a slightly choked voice, “Yes, Silivren?”
“What’s going on, Grandfather?”
The elven king went to her and picked her up, smiling reassuringly at her. “Nothing, little one. Nothing.” Legolas looked hastily away until he could regain his composure. Then he forced a smile as he walked past into the royal chambers.
Closing his door, Legolas leaned his forehead against it. By the Valar, had they both lost all sense, quarreling when Silivren was about? “And Father will not let this go, either,” he murmured to himself. “As soon as she is safely out of the way, he will be at me again.”
He did not even realize he was pacing. *I thought things were getting better. Why are we still quarreling?* He scowled as a rather chilly wind brought the smell of approaching rain into his room, and closed the window, cutting off the fresh, relaxing breeze. *He would raise Silivren just as he raised me--sheltered, ignorant, naïve. Never knowing all there is to be known, never seeing all there is to see, forced to hear of it from others her own age, trapped within the same few miles of forest all her youth when there is the whole world to explore*-- “No!” he hissed to himself. “I will not allow him to imprison her that way! Berensul will not allow it. He has another thing coming if he believes my brother will permit him to interfere with Sili’s upbringing.”
There was a rumble of thunder outside, and the first sheets of rain lashed against the glass of the balcony window. Legolas sighed. He would have liked a walk in the trees to collect himself, but not in this weather. *It will not do to get myself struck by lightning.* All the same, he should not stay in his room fuming and allowing his anger to smolder until Thranduil arrived. *That is a guarantee for our tempers to get out of hand.*
With that in mind, he left his quarters and began wandering the palace, hoping for time for his temper to cool. Too much had happened today already, with Faron and Orthelian and the others leaving and war parties going as well. He was weary, he was sad, and all he needed was time to himself, to sort out his jumbled thoughts and feelings. Perhaps if it had been so, things would not have gone as ill as they did.
King Thranduil had the good sense to guard his responses to Silivren, and soon reassured the child that nothing was wrong between himself and her uncle Legolas. But no sooner had he handed the child off to Golwen and bidden her take Silivren to her mother than he went in search of his erring son.
He found Legolas not far from his chamber, walking away from it. *Trying to evade me again,* he thought, his half-forgotten anger bursting back into heat. “Legolas. We are not done.”
Stopping and heaving a great, reluctant sigh that served only to infuriate his father, Legolas turned, “Sire, I think if we continue to speak thus, we shall only lose our tempers.”
This continued defiance was insupportable. Thranduil raised his voice, “I will NOT put up with this insubordination, Legolas! You WILL hold your tongue!”
“And I say to you again that the decision is not yours to make!” Legolas shot back without hesitation, his black eyes flashing with anger.
Thranduil advanced purposefully, fully intending to put this rebellious boy in his place. Legolas backed up, but did not back down. “Do not think that all your time with a war party gives you the right to disobey me, young prince! I am still your king! You owe me respect and still more after all you have done to me--”
Legolas cut him off with a bark of laughter, half-astonished, half-contemptuous, “After all I have done to YOU?! Just how did your narrow mind manage to twist that from the truth?”
Thranduil was shaking with fury. In a voice lowered again, but no less enraged, he hissed, “I have admitted before that I made mistakes, Legolas; it is you who spitefully persist in punishing me! Perhaps I brought your initial departure on myself, but all that time, all those years,” his voice was rising in anger, and something more, “with nary a message other than to say where your company was going. Do you STILL seek revenge after all that time?!” In a frantic manner bordering on hysteria, he grabbed his son by the shoulders, “Thirty-four YEARS?!”
Legolas jerked sharply away, looking shaken but still angry. “Why do you persist in believing that my every action is intended to spite you? Open your eyes, O King, my contention has nothing to do with you! I seek to spare Silivren from the frustrated boredom that drove me from Mirkwood in the first place! Yea, our quarrel was partly the reason that I left, but not all!” Now his voice in turn seemed anguished, “All those centuries, I let you convince me that I was not ready to travel, not ready to explore the world, when all my companions had been beyond Mirkwood to some elven realm or another! Know you the agony of hearing others talking of wonders you yourself have yet to see? But I was unable to see them because you would not let me go! If our troubles are in any way behind this dispute over Silivren, it is only that I seek to spare her the same fate when she comes of age!”
Anger and remembered pain swept through Thranduil like great waves, and he could not seem to slow down his words enough to control them. “I would prefer her bored when she comes of age to dead because she recklessly tried to do more than she should! Do not think it cannot happen, Legolas, it has before! Must I remind you--”
“--Do not start that again!” Legolas shouted, his own self-control having deserted him. “You know me so little, you seek to quell and control me with the very same vicious manipulation that you used before! It failed then and I will not let you use it now! I grieve for my brother and my sisters, Father, and wish with all my being that I might have known them! But evil comes whether we hide from it or go to meet it, and all the precautions in the world cannot stop it!”
Thranduil also no longer bothered to control his rage, “Ah, Legolas, you have grown into such a fool! You would teach Silivren to grow up as reckless as you have become--”
“I am not reckless, Father; I am a warrior!”
“Your decision all those years ago was most certainly reckless--”
“I had to join a war party sooner or later; there was no point in delaying it forever--”
“But Langcyll’s party, the longest and most perilous of them all, that was recklessness and folly at its worst--”
“Whatever you think of it, I’ve no regrets at having chosen them--”
Legolas had never been so openly challenging to Thranduil before, and the elven king was reeling amid the frantic verbal sparring. So enraged was he, and determined to get the better of his son, that the next words flew from his mouth, even as something in his mind and heart screamed for him to stop… “Did Tathar, do you suppose?!”
Then there was silence.
Legolas jerked backward as though Thranduil had physically struck him in the chest. The king was frozen, unable to move, as the words echoed in his mind, irreversibly released, stabbing both him and his son again and again. He could only stare. Legolas’s eyes were locked on his, wide with shock and pain, his mouth open, trembling with the devastating hurt his father’s words had done him. The young prince did not seem able to find his voice, but he found some movement, and took a rather staggered step backward. The disbelief in his face slowly gave way to an anger deeper and more intense than his father had ever seen.
Thranduil desperately tried to rouse himself to speak. *By the Valar…what have I…did I truly just speak so…Ai! How could I be so cruel?! I did not mean it! Legolas! I did not--I must speak--I must say SOMETHING--* “L-Legolas--”
His son gave only a ragged gasp as he turned and started swiftly away. “No--” Thranduil rushed forward and attempted to catch his arm, but Legolas shook him off so hard that the larger elf stumbled. “Legolas, please--”
Legolas whirled, his eyes blazing with a fury that made Thranduil recoil. In a low, trembling voice, he said icily, “Stay away from me.” Then he fled down the corridor only just short of all-out running. Standing helplessly in the corridor, the elven king could only watch him go. Had he truly spoken thus to his son? How could he have done such a thing? He had chosen the most utterly vicious and painful sword with which to stab Legolas, and this time he could not even begin to blame his actions on too much wine. *What have I done? What have I done?*
*“Did Tathar? Did Tathar? Did Tathar Did Tathar Did Tathar didTathardidTatharTathartathartathar…”*
Legolas had no idea how he reached his own chamber, but suddenly found himself standing in the center of his room, his hands clapped over his ears as though trying to drown out an endless echo that was trapped within his head. Was King Thranduil truly so bent on dominating him that he would resort to the most vicious and painful words that could be found in order to ensure Legolas’s submission?
*I already have heard what he is capable of when he is set on having his way. What will be next, will he lock ME in the dungeons?* the young elf thought bitterly.
It was not as if the question itself had been what shocked Legolas--such thoughts and questions had dogged him every moment since that accursed night under the apple tree. He had thought himself to be making progress--now, he only thought of Tathar once or twice a minute instead of every waking second. Legolas had considered it a vast improvement.
Thranduil had been fond of Tathar as well, and when the two had been young, the king often referred to Tathar as “his eighth son,” for he and Legolas had been so inseparable. It was not only Legolas who had been wronged by his words. *How could he say such a thing? How could he? Is there nothing he will not stoop to?*
He had fallen to his knees on the floor. How he had gotten here, he did not know, his mind was in such turmoil. He had no idea how long he remained there, still shaking and unable to move or rouse himself to any coherent thought beyond the last few devastating minutes.
But he was roused by a click at the door. Before he could deny entrance, it opened to reveal the timid face of his niece, gazing at him with worried eyes. “Uncle Leg’las?”
It took so much of his strength not to fall apart that Legolas could not speak. Silivren shuffled into the room and walked to where Legolas still knelt on the floor, dumb and motionless. *I cannot let her see…* But elf children are perceptive in their own right, and when Silivren held out her arms to him, it was clearly not a request for herself, but an offer to him. Squeezing his eyes closed and biting his lip, Legolas swept his niece into a fierce embrace, holding onto her small, innocent form as a rudder for his sanity.
At last, he felt he could look at Sili without frightening her by bursting into tears, and pulled back to give her a rather forced smile. She saw through it, of course. “What’s wrong, Uncle Leg’las?”
“Nothing--” he began, and she pulled back and put her hands on her hips in a manner so much like Golwen that he had to laugh. Taking a deep breath, he embraced her again and whispered, “You are too young to understand, Silivren. But I promise I shall tell you some day.”
“I heard you and Grandfather shouting,” she murmured, her little voice troubled.
Legolas winced and shut his eyes again. *And now our quarrel hurts more than just us. When will this end? How can it end? How can I prevent Silivren from being wounded by our troubles?* He could think of one way, and it nearly caused him to lose control again. But what other choice did he have? *I cannot let my father walk all over me, and I cannot continue to fight him when Silivren might hear us. By the Valar, I do not want to leave again…but how else will this cease? He will not give in, nor will I, and the tension shall harm us all if it continues.*
The bitter truth of the situation struck him as he brought his niece back to Golwen and returned to his quarters. Staring about them with a heavy sigh, Legolas snatched out his saddlebags and began shoving his travel gear back into them. *Only six weeks, I had at home before being driven forth again. Curse the Valar, and curse my father for his hard-headedness!*
Footsteps of another elf came down the hall, and his chamber door opened. Legolas spun around, intending to explode at his father to leave him be, but caught himself--it was Berensul. The Crown Prince gazed at the saddlebags, then at Legolas. “So, running away again?”
“I am not running away,” Legolas snapped, but quietly for fear of being overheard.
Berensul walked over and attempted to put a hand on his shoulder, but Legolas jerked away. “Brother, listen to me, you cannot run from him every time you have a quarrel!”
Shoving the bags aside, Legolas stood to face his elder brother. He knew he was directing his anger where it was undeserved, but he could not stop himself, “You know naught of which you speak, Berensul. If I stay, this quarrel will not end, it will only continue, and Silivren has already overheard us twice! Do you want your daughter to be a witness to this madness?”
Breathing heavily in an obvious effort to control himself, Berensul said softly, “No. But there is another way, you and Father can resolve your differences--”
Legolas snorted. “Would that it were possible. Believe me, Beren, I’ve no desire to leave my home again so soon, and certainly not Silivren. But you know Father as well as I--he will not cease pursuing this until he has brought me to heel, and I will not, Berensul! I will not! He would try to bring up my niece to be under his thumb, just as I was for all that time! And still he seeks to put me there again!”
Berensul caught his shoulders. “I do not want you to go again so soon.”
Closing his eyes against the sting of tears, Legolas looked down. “Nor do I, brother.” He forced himself to look up and meet his brother’s gaze. “But I must. I will not spend my days endlessly doing battle--as long as Father acts in this fashion, I may as well be in a war party! No,” he snatched up his gear. “I am going.”
“But where?” Berensul asked anxiously. “For how long?”
Legolas stopped, taking a deep breath. Turning back, he replied, “Lórien, to Limloeth and Orthelian. For how long I do not know, but they will have me.”
His eyes sad and reluctant, Berensul slowly nodded. “Silivren will be heartbroken.”
The younger prince had to look quickly away. “Almost as much as I,” he managed to say.
“You will say goodbye to her? Come, Legolas, you cannot go without a word to her.”
Silivren, daughter of Berensul, was more confused than ever when her Uncle Legolas suddenly came to tell her that he had to leave. “But where are you going? For how long?” she cried in dismay.
“I am going to stay with your aunt and uncle, Limloeth and Orthelian, in Lothlórien,” Uncle Legolas told her, with a smile on his face that looked rather strange, since his eyes still looked sad.
“Why?” she asked unhappily. “Is this because of the shouting? Grandfather wouldn’t tell me either!” she added resentfully.
Uncle Legolas chuckled--another odd thing, because he obviously didn’t think it was funny--and he said, “One day you will be old enough to understand.” He hugged and kissed her, and left, his face turned away so she couldn’t see it. His shoulders shook a little.
Folding her arms, Silivren muttered, “I wish people would stop saying that! Nobody tells me ANYTHING!”
Thranduil had known better than to try to follow Legolas to his chamber, but after a time of trying to collect himself, a desperate terror had come over the elven king. After a hurt like that, he had realized what his youngest son might be inclined to do. In a panic, he had run to the stables, and found Lanthir still there, to his immense relief. All the same, he could not shake the dread in his heart, and sat there instead of going back inside, despite the rain coming in through every opening in the building.
When Thranduil heard light steps coming quickly--and rather stealthily--toward the stables, his heart leapt with anguished terror, for he knew who it was. Legolas came through the door and stopped in his tracks when he saw his father. It made Thranduil want to sob with despair at the way his youngest son’s face hardened with bitterness and rage at the sight of him. Legolas went to Lanthir without a word.
Thranduil frantically made his way to his son’s side, “Do not do this, Legolas, not again.”
Loading Lanthir, Legolas kept his eyes fixedly on the puzzled stallion and did not answer. Thranduil grabbed his shoulders, “By the Valar, Legolas, LOOK at me! I said a terrible thing to you, and it grieves me more than you know--”
“It grieves YOU?!” Legolas cried incredulously and wrenched away from him. His eyes blazing, he demanded, “Even now, you still can only think of yourself?! You respond to everything in this fashion, concerned only for how you are affected, caring nothing for the hurts you do to others. Do not expect me to believe your sorrow is for me as much as it is for your selfish need to assuage your own guilt! Be off, Father, and let me alone!”
“I will not let you go again!” Thranduil shouted, more out of desperation than anger, and imposed his body before the stable door.
Legolas laughed bitterly, “Langcyll called you my jailer, did he? Harsh words to your mind, perhaps, but in my opinion he underestimated the case!”
The words stung Thranduil just as they had when Langcyll had spoken them weeks before. “I am trying to bring an end to this, son.”
Looking utterly disgusted, Legolas mounted Lanthir, “But I shall never consent to the kind of ending you desire, Father. My submission is all that will do for a greedy tyrant such as you. No,” his face seemed to twist with rage. “I will not allow you to stand in my way anymore. Test me if you will, but I do not think even an immovable wall such as you will stand against my horse.”
Rage at the vicious words burst within Thranduil. “As you will,” he hissed, stepping aside. Legolas coldly began urging his horse forward. “But know this, Legolas of Mirkwood,” he growled. “If you depart from here in this fashion yet again, the doors of the palace shall never again open for you! So if you go, do not bother returning, for I will not have you back!”
“That would be a heavy misfortune indeed,” mocked Legolas, and sharply kicked Lanthir into a gallop from the stables, out into the pouring rain.
“Go then, you impudent child! Go! Be gone and may I never see you here again!” Even those words did not cause Legolas to look back. Thranduil ran to the door and watched his son ride away, his hands clenched in rage that suddenly gave way to anguish. Standing with the rain blowing upon his face, the elven king leaned against the doorway of the stables as the first of many great sobs overcame him.
As rain pelted down on him with the fury of one who seeks revenge, Legolas urged Lanthir out the gates and into the forest, paying little heed to where he was going. At first it was anger that drove him on and lent him energy, but soon the realization of what had happened sank into the elf, and the cold rain mingled with hot tears upon his face. He did not know how long he rode in this fashion, blinded by grief and anger, until he felt Lanthir tiring of the pace and allowed the horse to slow.
Sighing against a horrible inner emptiness, he murmured, “Forgive me, my friend, I did not mean to abuse you in this fashion for my mad fancy.” He dismounted and the horse looked reproachfully at him, less than pleased by the rain soaking his fur.
Smiling mirthlessly, Legolas led Lanthir through the rain, feeling a need to walk his jumbled thoughts away. His mind rang with the many bitter words that had passed between his father and himself, and he now winced with the memory. But there was no erasing the damage that had been done, and his father’s sincerity at their parting had been clear. *If I go back now, admitting my own fault, even if he did not refuse me entry he would grind my folly at me forever. Nay, the words are spoken, now we must both partake of the consequences. There is no going back.*
He stopped, rubbing Lanthir’s neck, and felt the horse tense suddenly. At last, he bothered to get his bearings. Which presented a new problem: “Where in Middle Earth am I?”
For all his hysterical race into the forest, he had not once thought to watch where he was going, and now, in a rush of combined chagrin and alarm, it dawned upon Legolas: he was lost. Struggling to push down the surge of panic within him (more difficult than usual, for his emotions were far more volatile than normal) he closed his eyes and tried to recall the direction he had taken upon departing the gates. His eyes flew open. He had desired to be out of sight as soon as possible, so he had borne in the direction of the heaviest undergrowth--the least-traveled.
South. He had gone south. And he had ridden hard and for hours in this direction, thoughtlessly. *Ai, what a fool I am! I have never been this far south before, alone or with others, and there are perils within Mirkwood as well--* He leapt to Lanthir’s back, “Fly, my friend, we must get to the edge of the forest, and soon.”
It was already growing dark, but he dared not stop to sleep in this unfamiliar area. His mind was racing as fast as his horse, for he knew many tales of the things that lurked in the deepest, darkest regions of the forest. But Lanthir too, was growing frightened, and needed little urging to ride on.
Though he had grown accustomed to watching for many threats during his years with Langcyll’s war party, one he had yet to encounter, and thus it took him by surprise, unfortunately. He was concentrating on watching for things leaping upon him from the trees, and had only time to shout in alarm and raise a defensive hand when his horse suddenly carried him into what appeared to be strands of great rope stretched between the trees, that unseated him as easily as a blow from a club.
Lanthir whinnied in surprise as Legolas fell to the ground, and the young prince felt his heart leap in terror as the thick strands stuck to him. Spiderweb. “Ride on, Lanthir!” he cried. “Reach the edge of the forest; do not wait for me!” The horse whickered plaintively, but Legolas again shouted for him to run, and at last, Lanthir heeded his rider’s advice and fled.
Legolas looked about him; the rain had lessened, but its soft pattering on the leaves and ground still obscured other sounds. Swallowing hard, he made his way into a clearing and stared in the dimming light, trying to determine the best course of action.
All at once, he heard a crack that was not the sound of water striking a tree, and whirled to see a huge, hideous dark creature vanishing into the trees, as terrible and deadly as he had been told. The spider was on the ground, so Legolas wasted no time but sprang to the branches of the nearest tree and raced west for the edge of the wood. He heard other branches rustling around him and knew at once he was in grave danger.
*Their stings paralyze, and I am alone. If they catch me, I am done for.* Terror at his predicament made it hard to concentrate on the frantic act of climbing and running from branch to branch, tree to tree. Branches rustled to his right and he pivoted left, leaping to another tree only to find another spider directly before him. He dropped lower to the ground and sprang to the next tree, trying to climb up again. The moon was beginning to break through the clouds, and just as he had climbed high enough to where its light might aid him, a great dark body descended upon him and sank sharp fangs into the elf’s back.
With a cry of panic, Legolas simply let go of the branch and fell with a great crash, all the way to the ground. He landed directly upon his right arm with a sickening crack and felt the impact shoot through his whole body, nauseating him. It was a miracle he remained conscious at all. Gasping in fear and pain, disoriented by the poison coursing into his body, he staggered to his feet and began a stumbling run, fighting the urge to scream. The world was spinning wildly and he was uncertain if he was even going in the proper direction toward the edge of the forest. If he could just get out, the spiders might hesitate to expose themselves on the plains.
He was so woozy, and his right arm was useless. It was no wonder he could do little more to defend himself when two more spiders jumped from a tree towards their wounded prey, and one stung him again in the right shoulder. But still he fought, swinging at one and taking out its eye with his knife. *One good thing,* he thought hazily. *At least the poison is numbing.* He could no longer feel his wounded arm.
The sound of cracking, hard spider bodies was all around, and he was barely walking, his head swimming as the poison took hold of him. *No, I must go on…ah, so here my folly has brought me. Perhaps I deserve it.* At last, his body failed altogether and his legs gave way beneath him. As the elf tumbled limply to the ground and lay motionless, the spiders moved in, eager to partake of their now-helpless prey.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.