23. The Counsel of Elrond
They were in no great hurry, so often they made camp before sundown and spent an hour or two at weapons practice. “Glorfindel taught you the sword, did he not?” Legolas asked after an especially rough bout (in which Aragorn spent most of his time being knocked down and disarmed.)
Rubbing a bruised shoulder, the Ranger nodded. “He did. Elladan and Elrohir as well, but they prefer the bow.”
“That explains it. Glorfindel likes to make a stand, whether you are an army or a lone fighter.”
“I would not have considered that a flaw, or at least not until now,” Aragorn remarked wryly.
Legolas smiled. “Most often it is not, especially against men. You would do well against most mortal foes, for the average swordsman advances head-on. In Mirkwood, we are taught differently. We are taught to move.”
“I move!” Aragorn protested.
“Not enough. Swift feet can be as great an advantage as strong arms. Come,” the elf tossed down his sword and beckoned to the man. “Use you hands only, and move!” Aragorn then found himself frantically trying to parry and dodge fist blows from Legolas. The elf almost seemed to flit around him, landing slightly pulled punches to show how easily he could penetrate the Ranger’s defenses. Legolas laughed as Aragorn grunted in his effort to hold his elven opponent off. “Move, human! Treat it as a dance!”
Slowing down a bit, Legolas gave the man more room to adjust to the new method. Sensing Aragorn growing more accustomed to moving his feet, he picked up the pace, only to knock the man flat again. Stifling another laugh, the prince stopped. “Let us try something else. Do not fight. Simply try to face me at all times. You must be able to turn in enough time to block an attack.”
Aragorn grimaced, “I wonder if trying this technique while lacking the speed of an elf is hopeless.”
“I think not,” replied Legolas. “I suspect there are few fighting methods you could not master, Aragorn. Come, let us begin at the beginning.”
Bolstered by the encouragement, Aragorn returned to the game of simply trying to move as quickly as Legolas. The wood elf was so quick that he seemed almost to disappear and reappear at first, but gradually, the Ranger found himself anticipating the maneuvers. “That is better. Shall we spar again?” Legolas offered.
“Bare hands,” said Aragorn, wiping his brow. “So I may concentrate still on the movements.”
“As you wish. Guard!” Legolas moved in, ducking and dodging around the Ranger in an effort to pass his defenses. But Aragorn was definitely improving, and after several minutes, they both noted that the elf was landing far fewer hits. “Now attack! Try to move as I do!”
Aragorn came at him rapidly, dodging from side to side and ducking the elf’s counter-attacks as he tried to outmaneuver Legolas. The elf spun, moving always to keep his eyes on his opponent or parrying on instinct. The human was certainly picking up elvish skill faster than one would expect though he was still no match for L--
POW!!! A fist slipped past the elf’s defending arm and connected with Legolas’s jaw. The next thing he knew, Legolas found himself sitting rather stupefied on the ground, with stars dancing in his vision. For a moment, he could not hear for the ringing in his ears, then he heard a strangled sound. Shaking his head hard, he looked up to see the Ranger standing over him, biting his lip to keep from laughing. “I think I’m getting the hang of it.”
Mustering a rather painful (and sheepish) grin, Legolas answered, “I am hardly in a position to disagree.”
After another week of traveling, Legolas no longer had to handicap himself to give Aragorn an even chance. The Ranger was elated the first time he bested the elven warrior at swords--still more when subsequent victories prevented Legolas from shrugging it off as luck. But all in all, Legolas accepted defeats with surprisingly good grace, far more than even some Imladris elves. This was odd, considering what Aragorn knew of the wood elves’ reputation for intense pride. On one such occasion, he took the opportunity to comment on it, “You accept defeat unusually well, Master Elf.”
Pausing from rubbing a bruised collarbone, Legolas blinked at him. “I hope so. Did you expect me to take it with ill grace?”
Aragorn laughed, raising his hands. “Nay, but I do confess most of your kindred tend to be affronted at being beaten by a mere mortal.”
Legolas laughed in turn, nodding his agreement. “Very likely, I admit. But you had skill to spare when we first met, and you have learned my ways well; I can have no cause to reproach you for using them.”
“No belief that the student shall not defeat the master?” Aragorn jested.
A shadow crossed the elf’s bright eyes, so swiftly that Aragorn almost wondered if he had imagined it. But Legolas’s words said otherwise, and they puzzled the Ranger. “I am no master.” Then the twinkle was back, and Legolas grinned at him, “Nor are you any ‘mere’ mortal Ranger, heir of Isildur.”
“I am but a mere Ranger,” Aragorn told him. “Do not try to make me more than I am.”
The elf’s eyes turned serious. “All Middle Earth is imperiled by the Enemy’s return to power, and the people of Gondor are scattered, leaderless. If Sauron should begin moving, they will be helpless to defend themselves. How long do you mean to hide away in exile? Do you truly fear facing who you are?”
It came to Aragorn then, the chance to unravel some of the mystery of Legolas. He said nothing, merely leveled a silent, searching stare at the elf. Legolas had been whetting one of his knives, but his gray eyes slowly lifted to meet the man’s. They watched each other’s faces for a moment, one aided by elvish perceptions, the other aided by long association with elves. Then Legolas lowered his gaze again, as though he had just lost a battle between them. When he spoke, his tone was soft and resigned. “You are thinking…that before I advise others of their troubles, I should first look to my own.”
The elf was exactly right. Aragorn smiled slightly, and said quietly, “I knew from our first meeting that you carried many secrets, my friend. I cannot help my curiosity. You are a prince of Mirkwood, yet you travel by yourself. All your looks say that you long for home, but you do not return. It is a rare and sad thing, an elf alone.” Not taking his gaze from Legolas’s face, he said earnestly, “We have fought together and become friends, in spite of all that our heritage might place in the way. Do you still distrust me so?”
The young elf’s eyes were dark with inner conflict as he stared at the campfire. *And I thought Lórien elves were closemouthed!* thought Aragorn, but he remained silent, waiting. At last, Legolas sighed softly and murmured, “I am not sure that I would be welcomed home if I returned.” His eyes flicked to Aragorn’s briefly, as though unsure of how much to reveal to his companion, friend or no. But then he evidently figured that Aragorn was likely to deduce anything he did not say. “You once asked me if I was widely traveled in Middle Earth. I am not.”
“No?” The revelation did not surprise Aragorn, but he did not allow his tone to show it, nor did he act too surprised. Elves, particularly wood elves, did not reveal the secrets of their hearts very easily. One wrong word would spook Legolas into closing up again.
Legolas shook his head, his eyes still downcast and distant. “I am the youngest son of Thranduil, as you probably have guessed,” he added with a hint of dry humor. “I have only just reached the Warrior’s Coming of Age.”
Aragorn had known this; the elves of Imladris still talked of Legolas’s performance at the Great Gathering Trial thirty-five years ago. Legolas went on, “As a novice, I seldom journeyed far from my father’s halls. He…” the elf hesitated, his eyes smoldering. Then he sighed and continued, “Three of my elder siblings fell in battle before my birth. It is that fate that my father…sought to spare me when he attempted to delay my departure with the war parties.”
The Ranger listened, his heart full. His own coming of age had been the time when Elrond had bestowed upon him the knowledge and rights of his heritage. He had also met Arwen that same day. Though life had hardly been easy since he had left Rivendell, the memories of his coming of age were joyous ones. That for his friend adulthood had brought only grief saddened Aragorn. “What did you do?”
“I left without the king’s permission. Our party was gone for more than thirty years, and--many things transpired abroad and at home. When I returned, we were both changed.” With a faint grimace, Legolas added, “Neither for the better. I had barely been back six weeks before we quarreled again, and I left.” Raising his eyes to meet Aragorn’s, the elf confessed, “We parted on…very ill words. I know not if he wishes me back, and fear to find out.” Then he smiled wryly, “It was the night I departed that you found me.”
*That explains how you managed to run straight into a spider nest.* Aloud, Aragorn asked him, “What do you hope to find in Imladris?”
The humor returned to Legolas’s eyes, “You ask a question to which you already know the answer, son of Arathorn. I know Lord Glorfindel well, and Lord Elrond is one of the wisest elves I have ever encountered.”
“He will find some way to help you solve these troubles,” Aragorn told him sincerely. His faith in his foster-father was great. What Legolas faced could not be fought with sword or even magic, but if anyone could help him, Elrond could.
Aragorn had seen many elves suffering and lost under shadow of sorrow, but never one so young as this. Even if Legolas had not been willing to tell his story, Aragorn could probably have guessed. The elf bore weapons with the skill of much practice, but his reaction to the people and events of the past months bespoke his naïveté. At times, he betrayed an air of utter bewilderment, as one for whom the world was changing too swiftly to make sense. It grieved the Ranger. An ordinary man might view look at Legolas and see an unearthly, dangerous elf warrior, but in Aragorn’s eyes, for all his centuries of life and handling of weapons, the youngest prince of Mirkwood had retained a strange innocence. Perhaps that was from where his troubles truly arose. One such as Legolas would naturally view the world and its people very differently from an elf like Thranduil of Mirkwood.
Six days later, Lord Elrond and Glorfindel happened to be visiting Elladan and Elrohir on watch near the ford of the Bruinen when they saw two riders approaching through the trees. “Who is it?” Glorfindel asked.
Elladan narrowed his eyes, “I cannot tell for the trees, but they come openly. Friends, I would say.” The four waited at the guard post until the two appeared on the banks of the river.
“It’s Estel!” Elrohir cried with delight, and leapt from the post, running at full speed toward the river. Elladan was only a step behind him. “Estel is home!”
Elrond and Glorfindel, though no less glad to see the Lord of Rivendell’s foster-son, remained where they were and identified Aragorn’s companion. “It’s Legolas,” Glorfindel said quietly.
Lord Elrond sighed, “Thank the Valar. After nearly six months with no news, I had begun to worry. I wonder when he fell in with Estel.”
“I know not, but it would explain why we could find no trace of him. Young Aragorn has a knack for disappearing into thin air.”
As the elven lords watched, Elladan and Elrohir sprinted across the riverbank, not even slowing when they plunged in and splashed towards their brother. Aragorn sprang from his horse’s back and sloshed to meet them, leaping into their arms. Legolas also jumped down but stood where he was, watching the sibling reunion with an amused grin. Elrohir tackled Aragorn away from Elladan and dunked him bodily into the water, apparently berating him for being so long away from home. Elladan joined in, and the human was soon shouting to Legolas for aid, while the young warrior laughed and replied that he knew better than to interfere with brotherly brawls. That prompted both twins to release Aragorn and launch themselves at Legolas, who fled for his life and nearly made it to the bank before Elladan caught him and hauled him into the water.
“That is enough, boys, you are frightening the horses!” Glorfindel called with a laugh.
Arm-in-arm, laughing, and thoroughly soaked, the four retrieved Aragorn and Legolas’s mounts and returned to dry ground. Elrond happily embraced his foster-son. “Welcome home, my son,” the Lord of Imladris said. “We have missed you.”
As they walked back toward Rivendell, Glorfindel surreptitiously regarded Legolas, walking with Aragorn and the twins. No sooner had Glorfindel and Faron returned to Imladris from Mirkwood than word had come that Legolas had left after a violent quarrel with King Thranduil. Faron had been stricken, and wished to ride at once in search of his friend, but Glorfindel had not permitted it. “If Legolas wishes your counsel, Faron, he will come here,” the Imladris captain had said. “But if he does not, there is no point in searching, for Legolas knows all too well how to avoid what he does not wish to face.”
Months had passed, with no word or sign of Legolas in any of the elven realms. Glorfindel and Elrond had become concerned, fearing that the young prince, reckless with anger, might have gotten into trouble. But where to look for him? And what to do if they found him? If there was one art Legolas had perfected, it was evasion. It would be difficult to convince him to talk of anything he did not wish to. Still, the fact that he was here…it seemed a good sign. *He knows I am here, and that I will have words for him,* thought Glorfindel. *If he truly did not wish advice, he would have stayed away from Rivendell. Perhaps this is a turning point.*
After returning to the House of Elrond and putting on some dry clothes, Elrohir met Legolas coming outside, also having dried off. “How have you been, Elrohir? It has been too long,” said Legolas.
“Indeed it has,” agreed Elrohir, slapping the younger elf affectionately on the back. “We are all well in Imladris. My sister is in Lothlórien now, and our scouts have had less trouble with orcs in recent months.”
“Really?” Legolas’s eyes widened appreciatively. “What caused that good fortune?”
Elrohir shrugged, “The Battle of the Five Armies killed many of the Misty Mountain orcs. Those who remained foolishly committed themselves to attacking Lórien, and you know how many of those survived. If nowhere else, the Misty Mountains seem to have fewer foul creatures plaguing them.”
“That is a comfort, one I would gladly see in other places as well,” said Legolas. “Where is Faron?” he looked about as though expecting his friend to appear. “Did he not hear I had come?”
The younger son of Elrond shook his head regretfully, “Faron is abroad on a hunt. We expect the party back in ten days.”
“Oh,” replied Legolas, looking somewhat disappointed. Still, ten days was not so long.
Watching his friend, Elrohir asked, “How are things with you?”
With a little chuckle, Legolas answered, “You needn’t dissemble, my friend; you know perfectly well how things have been with me.”
The older elf smiled wryly, “I confess it; we have had many tidings of recent events in Mirkwood. But knowing only what happened does not tell me how you yourself are.”
Legolas looked out at one of Rivendell’s many waterfalls. In a soft voice, he admitted, “I have been better.” Then he looked back at Elrohir and smiled, “All the same, I would have been far worse but for Aragorn.”
Elrohir grinned, “I am perishing with curiosity on that score. However did you two stumble across each other? We expected him back months ago. What have you been up to?”
Laughing, Legolas raised his hands defensively, “It was not I who waylaid him. Did he not tell you?”
“Something about a labor dispute in Haloel and drunken soldiers. It’s true, then? Ha! As if Estel was not good enough at getting into trouble on his own. How did you two get mixed up in that?”
“It is a VERY long story!”
Mirkwood, that night…
Limloeth leaned against the side of the bridge over the Forest River, tossing sticks into the water and watching to see which one came out on the other side of the bridge first. Legolas and Tathar had invented the game when they were little, calling it--for some never-determined reason-- “Poo Sticks.” But every child in Mirkwood had learnt to play it, and Limloeth occasionally saw adult elves giving in to the temptation.
She was waiting for her father. King Thranduil had gone out with several foresters to investigate a blight spreading in the southern edges of the realm. To get back to his chamber, he would have to cross the bridge. To cross the bridge, he would have to pass her. After the disastrous dinnertime attempt at persuading the king to talk about Legolas, Limloeth and Berensul had been thoroughly discouraged. They had talked on the balcony for a long time. “If you want to just give up and go back to Lothlórien, Lim, I do not blame you,” her brother had said.
The thought had certainly been an appealing one. Orthelian had not been home a few months before word reached them of Legolas’s disappearance. Limloeth had left almost at once to try and wring some sense into her father and little brother’s heads. But Thranduil was proving to be the only elf in Middle Earth more stubborn than Legolas. And his temperament had only worsened over recent years. It was unlikely that anything Limloeth said would make him see reason, thus little point in staying, yet…
For some strange reason, she had begun to laugh. “Nay, brother, I will not leave just because Father is being his usual difficult self. One member of this family does enough running away for all of us.”
So now she found herself lying in wait for the king. And if he put her off tonight, she would corner him again. And again. And again. Until he heard her.
*You and Legolas have enough pride and stubbornness between you to stare down Sauron, Father dear,* Limloeth thought. *But now I shall practice a little stubbornness of my own, and I shall wear you down until this conflict is resolved. There is too much at stake for you two to continue quarreling.*
Through the rippling water danced the reflected stars. Limloeth closed her eyes. The reflection of the stars reminded her of the Mirror of Galadriel just before it had shown her what the future held for Middle Earth. And what it held for Legolas. *Until I heard what had passed between Legolas and Father, I wondered why the Lady Galadriel showed those horrors to me. Curse their foolish pride! They cannot imagine what would be lost if Legolas does not play his part in the future!*
She knew not specifically how the rift between king and prince would prevent Legolas from aiding in the coming battle against evil, but it was enough for her that the Lady Galadriel had said that it would. Ever since she had seen the Mirror, a sense of utter dread had filled Limloeth whenever she saw or thought of her youngest brother. It was a hideous paradox, where Legolas would lose either way. If there was not a peace between him and the king, he would not be able to fight in the coming war, and all would come to darkness. But if the feud was resolved, and Legolas did take on the role Galadriel said he must…
*If my little brother had not an essential part, I should be tempted to lock him in a closet until it is over. Ai, Legolas! What horror you shall face! Would that there was another way! So long I shall live in fear for you!* Trying to distract her troubled mind, she tossed two more sticks into the river, gazing absently into the rippling starlight without bothering to chase them.
“The elm stick won.”
Limloeth started, and then looked over at King Thranduil, who was standing at the foot of the ridge and watching the sticks float by. His face was calm, but unreadable. What to say, what to say… “Usually the beech wood floats faster.”
“Interesting.” They leaned side-by-side over the stone railing. Thranduil picked up a twig from Limloeth’s collection and held it over the water, raising his eyebrows at her expectantly. Limloeth took one of her own, and simultaneously they dropped the sticks into the stream. Looking over the other side of the bridge, Limloeth’s floated through first. “Yours wins.”
“Candrochon used to accuse Legolas of cheating,” Limloeth said blandly, without taking her eyes of the twigs as they vanished down the dark river.
There was a long, silent pause. Limloeth held her breath, waiting for Thranduil’s answer. Finally, “How does one cheat at Poo Sticks?”
It was all she could do not to gasp with relief. “I haven’t the faintest idea. But Legolas was uncommonly good at it.”
“He and Tathar invented it. I suppose it is not surprising.”
“I should teach it to Silivren.”
“That is a fine idea.” There was another pause. “It used to keep Legolas and his friends amused for hours.”
“I remember well. If they were not on the bridge, we knew they were getting into trouble.” She smiled at the reflections in the water.
A very quiet and wrenchingly sad chuckle came from the king. Then he murmured, “I used to worry about them falling in.”
“I am surprised none of them did.”
“At least none that we know of.”
“We would have heard. Those four imps never could keep secrets.”
“True.” He gave a slow intake of breath. “Legolas least of all.”
Thranduil was silent again. Limloeth still kept her eyes on the stars in the water. A moment later, his hand found hers. She turned her face and met his eyes. The elven king squeezed his daughter’s hand. “I’ve a busy day tomorrow. I must retire.”
Limloeth kissed his cheek. “Good night, Father.”
Then she let him go.
King Thranduil could not sleep. At last, he went to his study and pulled out a scroll. Feeling a great tension inside, he composed a message.
“‘To my son Legolas. I…hope that this letter finds you safe and well. It is the third of November. The last war parties have returned, and if you had not heard, you will be pleased to know that no warriors fell in battle this autumn from any of the elven realms.
“‘Your niece grows more inquisitive and endearing with each passing day. She begs to be taught to ride, even though she is not yet tall enough to sit a horse. But your brother has promised to teach her as soon as she grows enough for it. Limloeth arrived from Lothlórien a few weeks ago, and spends much of her time keeping Silivren amused.
“‘I…‘I hope that you are well’--nay, I said that already. ‘You have been long away from Mirkwood’…too accusatory.” Thranduil sighed, resting his forehead in his hands. After a moment, he took up his pen again. He knew what he wished to say, why beat about it so much? “‘I wish’…nay, ‘I ask…that you come home. Wherever you are when this letter reaches you, I pray that your travels are safe. Until we meet again.
With a still-deeper sigh, he rewrote the letter on several other scrolls. Then he wrote a message to each of the lords of the other elven realms, requesting that they deliver the letter to his son if he should pass through. Fixing his seal upon them, he set them with his other messages, to be sent from Mirkwood at first light. Then he returned to his chamber.
That night, for the first time in months, no foul dreams disturbed his sleep.
Imladris, the next day…
Legolas leaned against a rail, watching Aragorn and Elladan sparring with swords in a courtyard just below him. It was easy to tell that Aragorn had been raised with and trained by the sons of Elrond. They anticipated each other’s moves, reacting to strokes that had not yet been delivered. On the other hand, Aragorn had learnt a few new tricks, and Elladan was finding out the hard way. As they attacked and parried, swung and dodged, Aragorn suddenly ducked under Elladan’s sword, came up behind him, and delivered a disarming blow to his foster-brother’s sword arm. Before the elf could react, the man’s sword blade was resting lightly against his neck.
“Never thought I’d see the day when I could best you that well,” the Ranger said gleefully.
His lips pursed in mock-anger, Elladan said, “You seem to have picked up a few wood elf tricks--all right, Legolas, where are you?!”
Bursting into laughter, Legolas waved jauntily at the elven warrior from where he stood, then ducked to escape a thrown rock. “Poor Elladan seems to be losing his touch if he can be beaten so well by a mere mortal--ow!” (That time, Elladan had not missed.)
Aragorn was now doing a mocking imitation behind his foster-brother’s back as Elladan was busy shaking his fist at Legolas. Then the older elf caught on, whirled around, and tackled Aragorn to the ground, while Legolas shouted taunts at them. Both sprang to their feet and charged the wood elf, who took off over the nearest bridge.
After successfully evading his pursuers (both Elladan and Aragorn against him were NOT fair odds!) Legolas wandered aimlessly through Rivendell. The village itself seemed to give him more peace of mind than he had found in a long while. The autumn breeze coming from the mountains carried a brisk but pleasant chill, though the sun was noon high. Still, *I wish Faron had been here.* Plucking a fat apple from a laden tree, he got it halfway to his mouth before he remembered. *I wish Tathar were here.* But he ate the apple.
“One can avoid people, but not memories.”
Startled, Legolas turned to see Lord Elrond standing under an archway entering the House. The prince bowed, and Elrond smiled. For some reason, knowing that Aragorn was Elrond’s foster-son made the elven lord less intimidating. Legolas stood where he was as Elrond came to join him on the stone terrace overlooking the canyon. “Even after thirty-five years, the hardest memories have faded little, have they, Legolas?”
Finding it hard to meet the elven lord’s eyes, Legolas murmured, “No, my lord. They’ve not faded at all.”
Lord Elrond nodded sadly, “They cannot be avoided, though that does not stop us from trying. Nor can we avoid our troubles forever.”
The words might have seemed vague to an outside observer, but to Legolas, they struck with deadly accuracy, and raked up a mass of painful thoughts he had tried for months to repress. Of course, Lord Elrond knew what had happened in Mirkwood; it went without saying. Now the Lord of Imladris stood watching the younger elf with eyes that seemed to pierce all Legolas’s pretenses. It went against the son of Thranduil’s nature to confide in strangers, which Elrond essentially was. It had been hard enough to let his guard down with Aragorn (indeed, it had astonished Legolas even as he had done it!)
But whatever Aragorn had done to disarm Legolas, he had probably learnt from his foster-father, for Legolas now found himself baring his thoughts yet again. “I worry that returning to Mirkwood might only make matters worse. My father is unlikely to forgive the manner of our parting easily.”
“Would you?” the elven lord asked.
Legolas looked away. “My own words to him were unkind and out of place. I do not know if I can return after leaving in such a manner. If I should return…”
“Then it is yourself you doubt, not his willingness to see you.”
“No,” Legolas said hastily. “I hesitate to return because I…” he trailed off, confused. Why was he so unwilling to go back? The quarrel with Thranduil was unlikely to be solved out here, the only way to get anywhere at all was to go home and face the king. So why…Lord Elrond’s hand rested lightly upon his shoulder. In a near-whisper, Legolas confessed, “I am afraid.” Then he winced inwardly and bowed his head in shame, unable to believe he had just admitted such a thing to the Lord of Imladris. He could never admit such a thing to his father.
Elrond’s quiet laughter startled him into looking up again. Smiling at Legolas, the older elf asked, “Do you truly think fear is a shameful thing, young warrior? It is an emotion like any other, and cannot be denied, or we shall never be able to overcome it. Trust me, Legolas, I fear many things.”
That comment made Legolas smile in spite of himself. Then he went on, “My father told me when I left that he would not have me back. He has never been inclined to changing his mind easily.”
“Very true,” Lord Elrond replied with a hint of humor. Being one who had dealt with Thranduil as one elven lord to another, Legolas could imagine that Elrond had seen his father at his most intractable. But his next words surprised the younger elf. “You said things that night that you did not mean. Are you so certain King Thranduil meant all that he said in the heat of anger?”
“I…” Legolas faltered, thinking. *He did not mean what he said about Tathar. I did not mean what I said about Langcyll. Perhaps he did not…*
Lord Elrond was watching his face. “Glorfindel once told me he wondered why you avoided speaking of your troubles.”
Legolas smiled wryly, “It is because I do not know what to do.”
“Really?” Legolas looked up at the elven lord’s penetrating gaze. “Then why would you fear the advice of others?” He smiled. “Nay, Legolas, you are not so incapable of finding answers. If you had none, you would seek out the counsel of your friends.”
“I do not understand.”
Elrond held the younger elf’s eyes, and Legolas could not look away. “You know what you must do, Legolas. You have known it all along. You avoid speaking of it because others would only confirm what you already know, thus preventing you from denying it. Truth is the most inevitable thing of all.”
Legolas briefly closed his eyes, acknowledging that Lord Elrond was right. “I know I must return to Mirkwood. I shall find no end to this anywhere else, nor any other way. I must face my father.” But inside, a part of his mind cried, *But what if he will not have me? What then?*
The doubts must have showed in his face. “You cannot win a war without fighting the first battle. You cannot solve a problem without first facing it, warrior of Mirkwood. Return home first. Then resolve you troubles with your father.”
With a little laugh, Legolas shook his head. “You make it sound so easy, my lord.”
The Lord of Imladris smiled knowingly. As if he were letting the younger elf in on a secret, he said, “Forget not that I am a father, Legolas. I think perhaps it shall end better than you expect.”
“You are a wise counsel, Lord Elrond. Thank you,” said Legolas earnestly.
Elrond shook his head. “You must have more faith in yourself. I told you nothing you did not already know.” Then he smiled and walked back to the House, leaving Legolas alone with his thoughts.
Glorfindel had intended to talk to Legolas earlier, but Lord Elrond had seen him following the young warrior outside and had told Glorfindel to leave off for now. Glorfindel had been surprised, but let Legolas escape. Later, he had seen Elrond walking in the direction Legolas had gone. That had been a relief, though Glorfindel had wondered for a time why the Lord of Imladris would want to speak to Legolas. Then he supposed that Elrond correctly considered the matter serious enough to warrant his own attention.
Several hours later, the captain of Imladris happened upon the son of Thranduil on a path beyond the House. Legolas was leaning against the trunk of an apple tree, apparently deep in thought, gazing at the mist from the waterfalls that drifted into the air and created rainbows in the late afternoon sun. Glorfindel was startled, because Legolas usually could not even bring himself to look at apple trees.
“Hello, Glorfindel.” Legolas did not take his eyes off the misty canyon.
Glorfindel smiled. “Hello, Legolas. It is good to see you.”
The younger elf turned and smiled, amusement twinkling in his gray eyes. He looked surprisingly light of heart for one who faced a precarious future abroad or at home. Not to mention his uncharacteristically bold words to Glorfindel. “What took you so long?”
In a sly tone, the younger warrior said, “I would have expected you to chase me down and lecture me long before now.”
“And I would have expected you to avoid me far longer than this.” *Two can play at this game, young one!*
Odder still, Legolas did not persist in a contest of wits (odd because he was quite good at that!) Instead, his face turned honest and serious, acknowledging the reasons Glorfindel wanted to talk to him. “If I sought to avoid you, I would not have come to Rivendell.”
“Now you are truly confusing me, Legolas.”
“This is a first; the ever-wise Lord Glorfindel, confused? The world is coming to an end!”
“It has been coming to an end for some time, and you’re a brash one this afternoon. What did Lord Elrond say to raise your spirits so?”
Legolas gave a little chuckle. After a moment, in a thoughtful voice, he replied, “Naught that I did not already know.”
*Something about your bearing has changed. You seem older. I wonder.* “There is a feast being laid out in Lord Elrond’s House to honor Estel’s return. Will you accompany me back?”
Blinking himself out of whatever reverie was occupying his mind, Legolas nodded amiably, “Of course.” Glorfindel clapped a friendly hand on his fellow warrior’s shoulder as they walked back. They talked of the son of Thranduil’s travels with Aragorn, and the weapons instruction each had received from the other. They talked of Faron in Imladris and Galithil in Mirkwood--and all the trouble that each had gotten into since they last met. However, they did not talk of Legolas and his father. As Glorfindel looked at Legolas, he noticed a clarity in the young elf’s eyes, as though he had at last answered a hard question. And the warrior captain of Imladris suspected that Legolas no longer needed anyone’s help solving his problems.
Mirkwood, that same time…
The Crown Prince of Mirkwood was incredibly frustrated. “You say he was in a better mood, but you did not talk to him about sending for Legolas?!” he asked his sister in dismay. “Then what by the Valar did you talk about?”
“Many things,” Limloeth said in a patient voice that never failed to irritate him. “Peace, Beren, I think it helped a great deal.”
“How can we help anything without making him address the problem, Lim? We must force him to bring Legolas back--”
Limloeth grabbed his arm, “Listen to yourself! Do not be foolish! No one ever ‘forced’ Father to do anything in his life! You will accomplish nothing by getting into a battle of wills! You are strong, Brother, but he is still stronger when it comes to Legolas.”
“But you said yourself, there must be a peace between them--”
“Yes.” Firmly, Limloeth pressed her brother into a chair on the flet where they had gone to talk. She could be so inscrutable at times! Berensul glared at her, but she spoke again. “Father will not be won over by fighting. You must trust me in this. I saw his mind last night; he is more reasonable than he has been in years. If you challenge him again, you will only harden his heart again against us all, including Legolas.”
“I did not challenge him!”
“That is how he sees it, Berensul, so it matters not. You know him. Have faith again. I think Legolas shall be home.”
His anxiety still great, Berensul gazed up at the stars through the treetops. “I wish I could still believe in him as you do, Lim. But it is a gamble, and I fear gambling on our brother’s future.”
His sister narrowed her brown eyes at him. “Think what you wish. But I say to you, Beren, if you try to confront him, you shall only make matters worse.”
The eldest son of Thranduil was known for having a will and temper to match the king’s, and it was true; few could contend with Berensul and win. Except his nearest sibling. Now Limloeth held his scowl with an equally-unyielding stare of her own, and at last he dropped his eyes. “Very well, Sister. I’ll not bring up the subject with Father.”
“That is wise, Brother.”
When he returned to the palace, Berensul found he could not so easily place all his faith in Limloeth’s words, no matter how much he trusted her. Too much was at stake. But nor could he violate his promise by confronting the king. The Crown Prince was very much like his father in that he did NOT like the insidious twist of fear within him. One brother and two sisters were already dead. Another brother had passed over the sea, never to be seen again. He could not simply leave the future of his last remaining brother up to fate and the machinations of others. He had to do something. Perhaps there was another way…grabbing a scroll, he hastily wrote a message to one person trusted enough by all, who might be able to help.
“My sister has advised me to cease broaching the subject of Legolas. She believes that when the time comes, the king will accept Legolas again without our persuasion. But I fear I cannot be so sure that wisdom shall prevail. You know of the events that led to my brother’s departure from Mirkwood six months ago. I worry that my father’s heart is frozen beyond all hope, and that even if Legolas should return himself, the king would not have him back. You are a wise and trusted counsel to us all, and your help in this matter would greatly ease my mind. Please come to Mirkwood as soon as you are able.”
Despite the late hour, the Crown Prince sent for a messanger. “I have a potentially lengthy trip for you, Thorod. You are to leave at once; it is a matter of great urgency. Search all Middle Earth if you must, but get this letter to Mithrandir.”
The feast that same evening in the Last Homely House was especially merry. The sons of Elrond delighted in the chance to talk and laugh with their human foster-brother, and their fellow warrior and friend, Legolas. Especially since the two had enough stories between them to keep everyone entertained. “Do not gloat over that sparring victory too much, son of Thranduil, or I shall be forced to remind you of how you managed to get yourself captured!”
“Captured by a mob of drunken Haloel guards?” exclaimed Elrohir. “I must hear this!”
“It was not my fault; Aragorn distracted me!”
“I was too busy keeping that spy’s sword from your throat to fight off a mob determined to push me over the wall!”
“Untrue, you were merely sloppy!”
Watching the verbal swordplay with great amusement, Glorfindel remarked, “I suspect you both have an inborn ability to attract trouble straight to your doors.”
“I agree with Glorfindel,” said Elladan. “You are both such hooligans I could not pronounce either one more likely to get into peril.” The rest of the table laughed in acquiescence, and Aragorn and Legolas mock-glared at each other. It interested Elladan no end to see how the Sindarin prince and the heir of Isildur seemed to have bonded. It was true that in many ways they were alike, but still…Legolas, son of Thranduil, was definitely not one to give his trust or friendship easily, and certainly not to a mortal. Aragorn was a naturally cautious man, and with his lineage, it was doubtful he would be very forthcoming with a strange elf. It was strange circumstances indeed that would bring such an unlikely pair together.
And judging by what they were saying, the revolt in Haloel had been rather strange circumstances. “So,” Aragorn was laughing. “First he handed out wine skins right before the charge--”
“What?!” Elrohir exclaimed, bursting into laughter. “Oh be off, you’re spinning tales!”
Raising a hand, Legolas laughed, “He speaks the truth, friend, I was there. But you’ve not heard the best part.”
Aragorn nodded, grinning helplessly, “Once his men were all wined up--and some of them were so drunk that they could barely put on their mail--he stood out there in front of them while his attendants put armor all over him!”
Elladan forgot his musings in his astonished delight. “What? You mean he…”
The two nodded gleefully. “I wish you’d seen it; he looked like some kind of misshapen child’s toy.”
“I still say he looked like a beet. His riding robes were bright red,” Legolas explained. That prompted a renewed explosion of laughter. “Then he toasted their victory.” Elrohir nearly fell across the table, helpless with laughter. “That was our reaction as well.”
“I would not have been able to fight for laughing! How did you manage--ah, why are you scowling, Aragorn?”
“I did tell you about the horses, did I not, Elrohir?”
“Ai. So that was when you marked that guard captain out for death, eh, Legolas?”
Pausing before taking a bite of bread, Legolas said in a level voice, “No one touches my horse.” The others grinned and nudged each other.
Elrohir leaned forward and remarked, “Speaking of horses…”
“Ahhh, Elrohir, it has been thirty years! Are you still agitating for a race?” exclaimed Glorfindel, laughing.
“I still say Ethuil could outrun Lanthir.”
“Isn’t Ethuil getting rather old?” Legolas asked.
“She’s only a year older than Lanthir. Was not he a gift from Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn? Ethuil was.”
“Yea, he was. For the coming of age.”
“Now I remember,” Elrohir grinned in challenge. “What about it, Legolas. Shall we test our mounts at last?”
Legolas smiled and said, “I would not hesitate, but I fear there shall not be time. I’m leaving tomorrow.”
Aragorn stopped with a forkful of meat halfway to his mouth. “What?”
“Where are you going?” asked Glorfindel.
Holding the Imladris captain’s eyes, Legolas said calmly, “Back to Mirkwood.”
The table quieted considerably, and the prince returned the startled expressions of all with a level gaze of his own. Elladan was impressed. *Legolas has always despised being the center of attention. He usually drops his eyes. Now he does not.* Judging by the respect in the eyes of Glorfindel, Elrond, and Elrohir, Elladan knew he was not the only one who noticed.
Early the next morning…
The mist from their well-named mountains filled all Imladris with a crisp, silvery cloud that gradually turned shades of red and gold as the light of the rising sun crept into the canyon. Other than the elves on watch, few creatures stirred in the early November chill. Indeed, Lanthir was quite put out when his rider called him from the warmth of the stables. “Forgive me, my friend, but I wish to make an early start of it,” said Legolas as the horse focused reproachful black eyes upon him.
Legolas turned at the sound of hoof beats approaching from the stables. It was Elrohir, riding Ethuil. “What about that race, Legolas?”
“Oh, have done, Elrohir, I must be going!” Legolas laughed.
“Just back to the House then so you may say goodbye. Then we’ll have you on your way even faster,” Elrohir urged, a wicked smile on his face.
With a disgusted shake of his head, Legolas mounted. “It seems he’ll not be placated, my friend. May I persuade you?” The horse whinnied and tossed his head at Elrohir’s mare. “Very well. First one under the last arch wins.”
“Done! Ready?” Elrohir leaned forward challengingly. “Ride!”
Lanthir and Ethuil needed no urging to break into a run, down the path back toward Lord Elrond’s House. The horses were close, neither with an obvious edge as they sprinted, but all at once, the riders heard another horse approaching. Pulling up beside them, they saw that it was Aragorn, on Pariedor. “Is this a private contest, or may anyone join?” He laughed as the two elves urged their horses faster, and leaned forward, whispering to Pariedor.
Lanthir and Ethuil were neck-and-neck as they raced down the path under the first arch, with Pariedor just behind them. From the House, the riders could hear shouts of playful encouragement as the other elves spotted the race in progress. Under the second arch, Lanthir began sprinting with all his might, and pulled slightly ahead of Ethuil, to the excited shouts of the witnesses. Then, as the veranda of the Last Homely House came into view, a dark figure came into view on the other side of Legolas, and before he or Lanthir could react, Aragorn and Pariedor surged up, first level with them, then ahead of them. Lanthir charged with all his might, but Pariedor passed under the last arch ahead of them, to the triumphant cries of the watchers.
The three riders pulled up to the laughter of the others. Aragorn grinned wickedly back at the two elves, who mock-glared at him. “Now that score is settled.”
Lord Elrond was watching the three with what might appear to be mild tolerance for the antics, but Legolas had seen enough of the elven lord to know that he was highly amused. (Probably still more to see that the bragging contest that Legolas and his second son had been carrying on for more than thirty years had finally been brought to an end with both of them losing to Aragorn.) *Curse that Ranger anyway!* he thought, but without malice. Instead, he settled for nodding appreciatively as Elrohir fetched Aragorn a thorough clout on the back of the head. Turning to face Elrond, the prince bowed, “I thank you for your hospitality, my lord.”
Lord Elrond nodded, smiling faintly. “I hope we shall see you in Rivendell again, Legolas.”
“I daresay you shall, my lord.”
The Lord of Imladris clasped the son of Thranduil arm firmly. “Until then. Safe journey.”
Then Elladan, Elrohir, and Aragorn came up to say their farewells. “Take care of yourself, Legolas,” said Elladan. Legolas grinned as he embraced his friends. It was rather amusing to see the three of them together; they acted so alike that Legolas was amazed he had not guessed who Aragorn was at their first meeting. “Farewell, my friend.”
“Until we meet again,” Legolas said, clasping arms with each of them. “Give my apologies to Faron.”
“Certainly,” said Elrohir. “Glorfindel asked us to give you his greetings as well; he left on a patrol before dawn.”
Legolas was sorry not to see Glorfindel again before leaving, but he needed to be on his way. He hoped to be home within a week. Whatever that homecoming held in store for him, it was high time for him to face it. *I will not be frightened away anymore.* To his fellow warriors, and the Lord of Imladris, he said, “Farewell, my friends.” Then he mounted Lanthir and rode toward the eastern border of Imladris.
Just as he reached the border, Legolas spotted an Imladris patrol coming in. At the head of the group was Glorfindel. Legolas waved at them, and as the group pulled up to him, Glorfindel waved the rest on. “Are you off, then, Legolas?”
“I am,” the younger warrior answered. “But I am glad of this chance meeting, for I know not how long it will be until I return. I may remain in Mirkwood for some time.”
Glorfindel fixed Legolas with a gaze that seemed to measure him, and though Legolas was puzzled, he did not avoid the elven lord’s eyes. A slow smile crossed Glorfindel’s face. “One last word of advice, young prince.” At Legolas’s raised eyebrows, he said, “I’ve noticed recently that you appear much older when you hold your head up.” He reached out and clasped the son of Thranduil’s arm. “I think others of our kindred shall be equally impressed.” Giving the younger elf’s arm a last squeeze, he let go, “Farewell, Legolas.”
Legolas smiled. “Goodbye, Glorfindel. And thank you.” Then Glorfindel turned and urged his horse on. Legolas watched him, smiling to himself. Then he patted his horse’s neck. “Come, Lanthir. Let’s go home.”
The next day…
Under normal circumstances, Thorod, the messanger from Mirkwood, would have had to ride all around Middle Earth to actually find Gandalf the Grey, for one could never predict where the wizard might be at any given time. Many places and many people were visited by Gandalf. But by some happy chance, the elf encountered the wizard only a two days’ ride from Mirkwood, though Mithrandir was on foot. “Good day, young Thorod of Mirkwood,” said the Maia cheerfully.
“Good day, Mithrandir,” said Thorod, dismounting. “I bear an urgent message from Berensul, Crown Prince of Mirkwood.”
“Hmm,” his bushy eyebrows furrowed curiously, Mithrandir accepted the proffered scroll. A slow frown darkened his features as he read the message. After a moment, he looked up at Thorod, “Say to the Crown Prince that I shall start at once, and expect to be in Mirkwood by the end of the week.”
“My thanks, Mithrandir. Good morning,” the messenger rode away.
Gandalf started walking again, this time towards Mirkwood. “The king’s heart has frozen, has it? I feared such an event after Legolas went away. I hope I am not too late to help salvage matters.”
Three days later…
Lord Elrond felt a pit of dread form inside him as the messenger rode up to the House, bearing the flag of King Thranduil. “A message from the king of Mirkwood, my lord!”
“Thank you.” Elrond counted back in his head. It had only been four days since Legolas had gone. In the winter, it was highly unlikely that he had made it all the way to the elven king’s halls yet, even on a steed as fast as Lanthir. He had probably not even crossed the mountains yet. So what could this message entail? He returned to his study and opened it there.
[ My greetings, Lord Elrond.
I write to ask that you and your people keep watch for my son, Prince Legolas, who is currently abroad in Middle Earth. If he should happen to pass through your realm, I beg that you give to him the message I have enclosed. Please make certain that it is placed in no hands save his.
My thanks and regards,
Thranduil of Mirkwood.]
Elrond leaned back in his chair, staring out the window, where two elf children were picking the last apples from a tree outside. Legolas was four days out of Rivendell, on his way home. Surely it was more important that he actually see his father face to face, and yet…something told the elven lord that this message would go a long way toward easing the prince’s doubts about the upcoming meeting. *Whatever Thranduil’s other failings, he is a father. I think I can guess what his letter says. It would do Legolas good to see it.*
He made up his mind. Rising swiftly from his chair, the Lord of Imladris hurried to Glorfindel. “An urgent message has arrived for Legolas. Order an escort of guards; I shall ride after him and deliver it.”
“Yes, my lord.”
It was not surprising that Glorfindel sounded a little puzzled; this was a rather rash action on Elrond’s part. But, between his Ring and his elvish intuition, the half-elven lord had learnt to trust his inner voice. And for whatever reason, it was telling him very emphatically that he must follow Legolas, all the way to Mirkwood if necessary. A premonition this strong was next to impossible for Lord Elrond to ignore.
That same day, in the Misty Mountains…
The orc captain glowered down from his hidden cave entrance in the mountainside, watching the lone elf on horseback riding swiftly down the trail. “An elf alone. Don’t see that every day.”
Several of the others shook their heads, grinning in malicious agreement. “Fair game, I say. Let’s take him!”
The captain narrowed his eyes at the rider, then looked ahead of him, trying to figure his destination. “Must be heading for the plains.”
“Yes, look, he’s wearing Mirkwood colors. On his way home.”
“Won’t ever get there!” Laughing, the orcs nudged each other.
“What say you, boss? Can we have him?”
The captain pointed ahead of the golden-haired elf, “He’s heading for that pass. If we beat him there, we can take him down without having to dodge arrows every step. C’mon!”
The orc company hastened to a place on the trail that passed between two high cliffs. There they set up an ambush guaranteed to bring the elf down without risking serious hurt to their numbers. It was still light, but they could keep to the caves; this type of ambush did not need them in the open. Waiting from the caves that pockmarked the mountains, the orcs grinned at each other as their quarry approached, riding as though in haste and unaware of his peril.
Legolas could feel Lanthir tiring beneath him, but the horse could sense his rider’s urgency. Whatever awaited him at home, Legolas was so tense that he simply wanted the trip over with, so it could be faced and dealt with. Lord Elrond had been confident the meeting would not go ill, but Legolas could not be so sure. Many “what ifs” played about in his mind, distracting him from the trail as he approached one of the last passes. “Just get us to the plains, Lanthir, and then we’ll rest for the night,” he told the horse.
Lanthir whinnied in response and picked up the pace. Up ahead of them, the trail narrowed, and the ground grew rocky. Cursing to himself in irritation at the delay, Legolas dismounted, leading Lanthir over the rough, pebbly part of the path. It wouldn’t do to injure the horse in his haste. His mind still whirled with anxiety, and he knew he should pay attention, but his heart and eyes strained for sight of the trees beyond the plains.
Suddenly, a familiar, deadly sound jerked Legolas out of his thoughts. An orc shriek. From the cliffs above, but it was not yet dark, so why a challenge? Legolas snatched out his bow and an arrow, and kept walking, feeling a sudden desire to get out of this pass. There were caves all through the steep upgrade, but surely orcs would not come out in the sun for one elf. “Hurry, Lanthir,” he whispered, breaking into a jog ahead of the horse.
All at once, there came a grinding sound that was not made by any animal’s throat. It started low, distant over the tops of the mountains, then grew. Legolas had not heard such a sound before. Looking up, he saw dust on the hillside, and a sight that nearly made him collapse with terror.
Rocks, boulders, stone, and dirt were rolling down the steep hills, gathering more debris and momentum with every second. The orcs had triggered a rockslide. Panic nearly rooted Legolas to the ground, then Lanthir screamed. *Ai Elbereth! No! Help me!* Leaping instinctively to Lanthir’s back, Legolas cried, “Fly!” The horse did not have to be told twice.
The end of the pass seemed so far away, and the avalanche came raining down, faster and faster in its cloud of terrible dust. The elf’s heart was in his throat, as memory of stories and the past of his own family whirled inside him. Never before had he known such terror. If he did not make it out of here, he would be crushed, or buried alive and taken by the orcs. Thoughts and questions whirled still faster within him, and he knew even as he chanted desperately at Lanthir to speed up, there was no way he would make it.
The last thing he saw was a massive cloud of dust blocking all view, the last thing he heard was the roar of the stone and the scream of his horse, and the last thing he felt was a colossal force slamming him into oblivion.
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.