6. Rights and Privileges
“The shadow over this realm grows evermore threatening,” King Thranduil was saying. “We know not from whence it comes, nor how to drive it away. But the evil creatures of Mordor show a sudden attraction to Mirkwood, it cannot be denied.”
Mithrandir, permitted always to attend the Council as an Istar, furrowed his bushy eyebrows, “That this shadow is more powerful than the elves and the creatures of Sauron are attracted to it cannot be a coincidence.”
“You fear the worst, my friend?” Lord Elrond asked.
“I do, my lord. Though the causes are yet uncertain, I fear the Enemy may be returning to strength somehow. Somewhere.” Legolas had never seen the wizard look so troubled. Nor his father, nor any of the other elven lords, for that matter.
But as always, Lady Galadriel bade them not to despair, “Though it is true that the Enemy’s spirit endured, he remains weak at best. For the time of this Gathering, the power of our joy alone forced the shadow back, as it has before when we have gathered here. And we possess other powers the Enemy has not and cannot touch.”
Legolas was uncertain of what she meant by that, but Mithrandir said delicately, “But if the Enemy should find…a source of power of his own, my lady? The elves must be especially on their guard. All care must be taken to prevent the shadow from growing, or all of Middle Earth could be in grave danger.”
“Wise words, as always, elf-friend,” Lord Celeborn said with a smile. “Be sure the elves shall heed them. In somewhat less earth-shattering business, what news of the dwarves, King Thranduil?”
Thranduil gave a wry smile, “The dwarves continue in their search for treasures in the same fashion as ever, my lord. There is little contact between the elves of my realm and them. Many regret the loss of the trade and their craftsmanship, but I for one am pleased not to have dealings with them.”
Looking somewhat uncomfortable, Lord Elrond said slowly, “Being closer to the mountains, Rivendell sees a little more of the dwarves. I…rumors had reached me some time ago concerning…excesses by the lords of Mirkwood in their dealings with the dwarves.”
Legolas stiffened in shock in his seat at hearing his father so affronted. He knew better than to protest (it was Thranduil’s prerogative) but he glanced quickly at his brothers and sister. To his still-greater astonishment, rather than looking at Elrond to explain such an accusation, his elder siblings were also gazing at Thranduil as though waiting for him to defend himself. Nor did Thranduil appear affronted or even surprised by Elrond’s words. The King lifted his chin and said calmly, “It has been some time since I or any of my people dealt with the dwarves. But as to the manner of end of those dealings…attempting to wrangle with a lord of Mirkwood carries just consequences. I am not to blame for the dwarves’ lack of wisdom.”
The Great Council of the Realms had thrown many unexpected and alarming matters into the open…as it always did. Gandalf the Grey could not recall a time when he had left a Council without feeling deeply troubled by some development or another--and today was no exception. Many troubles seemed to have come to rest within Mirkwood’s borders; the mysterious shadow increasingly seemed explainable by only one terrifying cause. And although the elves seemed the race best prepared and qualified to take on such a threat…of all the elven lords, King Thranduil would not be the one Gandalf would choose to have such sensitive matters rest upon his realm.
Another, less catastrophic concern had arisen during the Council that seemed for the moment a matter of curiosity rather than anxiety. Gandalf had been surprised by young Prince Legolas’s reaction to the discussion of King Thranduil’s dealings with the dwarves. What puzzled Gandalf was that Thranduil’s reputation for…how to put it…excess was no secret in any of the elven realms. It was a great pity. Thranduil been a wise leader for a very long time, but the death of Queen Minuial had had both close and far-reaching consequences.
Though it was his first time attending the Council, it did seem odd that Legolas had apparently not expected Elrond’s habitual inquiry into the relations between Thranduil and the dwarves. The young prince had not seemed to know anything of the situation at all. Gandalf was perishing to find an explanation for this ignorance, but Thranduil was most certainly not the one to ask. Perhaps…
It took Gandalf nearly an hour of patient hovering before he managed to catch the Crown Prince Berensul alone. “A word, my lord?” he asked casually.
Berensul smiled, “Certainly, Mithrandir.” They walked some distance into the woods where they could speak in private. “What can I do for you?”
Carefully, Gandalf said, “I noticed Prince Legolas seemed rather…dismayed during the discussion of the failing relations between the elves and the dwarves. Has he a dwarf friend who has suffered?”
While fair Legolas could easily be mistaken for an elf of Lórien, Prince Berensul was every inch his father’s son in appearances, the only difference being his dark hair. And the emotions that flashed across the elf’s face made him resemble Thranduil all the more. Gandalf saw frustration, worry, sorrow, anger, and most alarmingly, a harsh scorn that was directed at neither Legolas nor the dwarves. In a biting tone, the crown prince replied, “Legolas has never seen a dwarf, let alone had the opportunity to develop a friendship with one.”
Gandalf had been prepared to hear that Legolas had been somewhat insulated from the true extent of his father’s shortcomings, but this news brought him up short. “He has never met a dwarf? But dwarves continue to travel around the borders of Mirkwood regularly, and they are often in Imladris and on the roads about Lórien--”
“Mithrandir. Legolas has never left Mirkwood.” Berensul’s tone was utterly flat, telling Gandalf all too clearly what the Crown Prince of Mirkwood thought of this fact. “It is not exactly a restriction…Legolas has never pressed a request to go beyond our borders, or even into the deep woods.”
All the veils were falling away, so Gandalf came straight out with it, “This is the king’s instigation?”
The scorn returned to Berensul’s voice, “Legolas does nothing that is not our father’s instigation.” Then he sighed, sounding repentant, “The king means well. I believe he wishes only to protect my brother, but…” Berensul shook his head, making his disagreement with such upbringing plain.
Gandalf frowned. “Forgive me for asking, my lord. What will happen now that Legolas is of age? He is a trained and highly accomplished warrior. It is generally expected that he will begin to join war parties, patrols, and hunts of his own choosing.”
Berensul looked deeply worried. “I do not know. Legolas has not broached the subject. He rarely asks my father for anything. But you are right; the time is coming, and soon, when my brother will assert himself. When he does…I do not know how the king will react.”
Legolas was cornered. Queen Elenath was coming out onto the balcony where he was standing alone, and his only escape would be to climb over the rail--unfortunately there was a large party of elves milling on the ground who would witness his undignified escape. Desperate as he was, he would not disgrace his father. The queen’s footsteps approached from behind, and taking a deep breath, Legolas turned and bowed to her. “My lady. What may I do for you?”
Queen Elenath’s expression was like that of a predator having trapped her prey and now moved in for the kill. “My lord, you have made yourself scarce today.”
Relieved that the setting sun hid his blush, Legolas lied, “I had much to think about before the Council, my lady. This was the first time I had the honor of attending.”
The queen chuckled. “Ah, to be young and eager again. I scarcely remember my second coming of age. But it is a comfort to see it experienced by my daughter the Princess Lalven.”
Legolas braced himself, *Here it comes…*
King Thranduil was on his way to the banquet hall to see that the preparations for yet another feast were in hand when he noticed Mithrandir, Berensul, Belhador, and Limloeth congregated near the door of one of the large open verandas. They seemed to be watching something transpire out on the balcony. “Whatever are you doing?” he asked in amusement, moving to join them.
Coming to meet him halfway, Mithrandir’s amused reply prevented Thranduil from noticing his children’s alarm and dismay at his arrival. “I fear Queen Elenath has trapped Prince Legolas, my lord. He can no longer evade her offer of Princess Lalven.” Stunned, Thranduil started swiftly past him, but the wizard laughed and caught his arm, “Do not fear, my lord, Legolas will handle it.”
Protesting, Thranduil tried to pull away, “She should not be permitted to pressure him in this manner. He will not know how to refuse her.”
Mithrandir smiled, guiding the king toward the door, “I think, my lord, young as he is, Legolas will surprise you.” He gestured to the silhouettes against the light of the sunset.
“And so, my lord, for those reasons, I think that you and my daughter would be a very fine match. Indeed, your prospects of happiness together seem very great, you must agree,” Queen Elenath concluded, looking very pleased with herself.
Legolas had remained politely attentive--in appearance at least. Inwardly, his mind cried, *How shall I get out of this?!* He knew he must; marrying Lalven was entirely out of the question, but for reasons Legolas would never dream of telling her mother. *Your daughter bores me to tears? No, that will never do. I could lie and say I love another, but that would give rise to more speculation. By Iluvatar--I do not WANT to marry!*
He must give an answer, he knew. And now. Collecting his scattered thoughts, he lifted his chin and met Queen Elenath’s expectant eyes. “You do me a great honor with your offer, my lady, and I thank you. And although I--have a high regard for Princess Lalven, I fear I must decline.” Without giving Elenath a chance to react, he hurried on, “I have decided that I am not prepared to consider marriage just yet, no matter how…respectable the lady. Please do not take my refusal as a slight to your most honorable daughter, my lady. I am simply not inclined to marry at this time.”
Elenath had faltered while digesting this. *Quickly! Escape now!* Legolas bowed a bit stiffly, then walked back into the palace, feeling a slight hysterical urge to giggle. *I cannot believe I managed such a thing. At least there is one down, only a few dozen remaining who must be discouraged.*
Legolas’s family managed to step out of sight as he passed back through the doors and went back to his room. When he had gone, and Queen Elenath had followed--scratching her head as though she could not fathom why Prince Legolas had not found her daughter irresistible--they all began to speak at once.
“There, Father!” Princess Limloeth cried, clapping her hands. “Was he not the soul of dignity? Let none claim our brother has not come gracefully of age!”
Berensul and Belhador were grinning like fools, “I could not have handled her better myself. Quiet our brother may be, but he has a quick mind.”
“And none can claim that mind is not his own,” Gandalf agreed, smiling at the king.
Thranduil looked thoughtful, somber, but rather apprehensive. “Legolas did manage the situation far better than I had expected.” Gandalf noted with apprehension of his own that the king did not seem entirely pleased by this. With his jaw set tightly, the king of Mirkwood nodded to Gandalf and his other children, and departed, walking rather stiffly.
Gandalf turned to see anxiety vivid on the faces of Legolas’s siblings. “How could he not be pleased at how fine Legolas is turning out?” Limloeth asked in dismay.
Berensul all but threw up his hands, “Because, Sister, he does not WANT Legolas to turn out in any fashion. Every time Legolas acts for himself, he comes closer to the day that Father knows will come--when he will demand his freedom. And then--” the crown prince suddenly remembered Gandalf and broke off.
Gandalf said gravely, “The king seems loathe to part with the last of his children.”
With a sigh, Belhador nodded. “Our father will do all that he can to delay our brother’s departure. But it will come. Sooner perhaps than even we had thought. Legolas will desire to explore the world of which he has only heard stories until now. Even as a warrior, I believe he will not remain in Mirkwood. And I dread the day our father is forced to face it.”
Legolas was standing on the balcony of his chambers as the last rays of light faded into darkness. If he looked directly above his head, he could just see the stars appearing through the thick leaves and branches of the forest. A soft, warm breeze blew over his face and he closed his eyes, smiling to himself. He had no idea why he still felt this ridiculous desire to laugh.
“I loathe interrupting one who seems so contented.”
Legolas jumped. Turning, he saw his brother Belhador standing on his own balcony, smiling at him. Unable to contain himself, Legolas grinned foolishly and jumped to his brother’s balcony. “I did it, Belhador. I refused Queen Elenath’s offer of Lalven. I said no to her face!” Seeing his brother’s knowing expression, he laughed, “I suppose the entire Gathering has already heard.”
“One could sense the princess’s broken heart a league away,” Belhador declared dramatically. “Kindly do not snort, Legolas, it is an unbecoming sound.”
“Lalven never cared for me. Like Emlin, Lendael, Hatholiel, and Himiel, she was desperately in love with my newfound rank and glory. Did I forget to name any?”
“Lady Merilin,” Belhador remarked.
“That offer was Lady Narmeril’s, not Merilin’s. I do not count her among those treasure-seeking dwarf-ladies,” Legolas said dismissively.
“This triumph has emboldened you,” observed Belhador, but there was pleasure rather than censure in his voice.
Legolas laughed. “I suspect it has. I was terrified,” he and Belhador laughed harder still, “but I had no choice but to face the queen. Had I not been firm in my refusal, the matter would not have been closed. At least I shall not be forced to deal with Lalven again, though I may still have to refuse Emlin’s father. Perhaps then the others will see that I mean not to marry anyone in the near future.”
Belhador said thoughtfully, “I thought Father intended to speak to the rest on the matter of your marriage--”
Legolas shook his head. “I managed it myself once, I can do it again. I should learn to stand up for my feelings rather than spend my time hiding from flirtatious maidens.” Still grinning, he gazed into the darkness of the forest.
He noticed Belhador staring at him rather strangely, and a part of him thought objectively that he should be worried. Legolas disliked being a cause of trouble to any of his family, yet…he could not seem to rid himself of this odd glee at having faced down Queen Elenath. It was a strange sensation. Though elves by nature do not tend toward excesses of emotion--and excesses of behavior still less--Legolas was unusually reserved and serious even by elven standards. He was not easily excitable--his friends often accused him of being blasé.
So what could it mean, this strange elation that he felt? It was almost alarming. With a parting grin at his equally-baffled brother, Legolas sprang to a nearby tree limb and darted off into the woods. When he was a safe distance from the palace, he dropped unseen to the ground. It was as he had hoped; there was no one about. Grinning like a fool, he began running, with no destination in mind, simply running for pure exhilaration. Over roots, ducking branches, his arms sweeping wildly about (terrible form, but Legolas was not in the mood to think as a warrior) he ran with his eyes closed, relying on his ears and the feel of the air to warn him of obstacles. The entire forest seemed to be singing as joyously as his heart, and he felt he could have run all the way to the Misty Mountains and back.
At last he stopped and cast himself to the ground upon his back, his arms stretched out, still puzzled by this joy and yet not wanting it to leave him. *Langcyll and the other warriors said the second coming of age brings freedom. Perhaps that is what I feel. I need no longer rely on anyone’s protection or permission.* Smiling up at the stars that peered down at him through the leaves, he sighed and closed his eyes, listening to the whisper of the wind. *I think perhaps I will enjoy adulthood after all.*
The following day was the last for the Gathering of the Realms. From dawn until dusk, parties of elves made their farewells to friends and kin from the other realms and departed Mirkwood. As host, King Thranduil was occupied nearly every moment of the day, but looked endlessly for an opportunity to speak to Legolas that morning. Sentiment had warred with common sense nearly all night long as the king had grappled with what he had witnessed between his son and Queen Elenath. *I have every cause for pride. Legolas dealt with the situation, awkward as it was, with great dignity. And it was his prerogative to refuse the match. I should not seek to deprive him.*
From where he stood, the King could see Legolas standing among a group of young nobles preparing to depart with the party of Lord Elrond. Elladan had begun to pantomime some scene from the Trial, causing Legolas and Elrohir to burst into laughter. The Lady Arwen and Limloeth watched with expressions of aloof amusement at the antics of the boys. Tathar and Candrochon of Mirkwood, along with Faron and Gaerongil, the two delegates from Imladris, ran to join the rest of the group, hustling and shoving each other like first-century novices. In spite of his brooding thoughts, Thranduil smiled.
The idyllic scene was shattered when young Gaerongil of Imladris exclaimed, “We needn’t grieve; we shall soon see each other with the war parties.”
“Or perhaps you shall ride together,” Glorfindel of Imladris spoke up from where he had been watching them. “During these perilous times, war parties from many of the elven realms shall join to fight the foul creatures of Mordor and drive them from our lands. Already there is talk of Mirkwood and Imladris joining forces to scour the Misty Mountains south to Lórien.”
The young warriors exchanged interested and eager glances. Thranduil immediately glanced at Legolas, and while he did not appear itching like the others to test his bow against living enemies, the speculation in his eyes alarmed his father. *But he is too young! He is not ready!* the thoughts struck the king like physical blows, and he had no desire to restrain them. *It cannot be permitted. Legolas has never left Mirkwood, let alone traveled on a long hunting expedition. He must begin his journey into adulthood slowly and carefully.*
It was all Thranduil could do to bid the proper farewells to his departing guests, for he could scarcely keep his eyes from Legolas, so intent was he on sensing any signs that Legolas had been tempted by Glorfindel’s careless remarks. *Glorfindel should have known better than to tantalize these young ones with talk of adventure. The first decades after the second coming of age are a warrior’s most perilous years. In their eagerness, they can put themselves in great danger. I will not allow my last child to risk himself carelessly.*
It was difficult to tell exactly how Legolas had reacted to the suggestion. At the moment, he was laughing quite helplessly as Gaerongil sang a mocking (and somewhat profane) rendition of one of the ballads invented to praise Legolas at the banquet. The Imladris archer was forced to desist when Candrochon decided he had had enough and promptly elbowed the wind from Gaerongil’s stomach. Lord Elrond caught Thranduil’s eye, and the elf lords exchanged tolerant smiles for the horseplay. After all, it might be years before these young friends were all together again.
Candrochon and Gaerongil were now arguing about which of them had the finer singing voice, punctuated by remarks from Legolas and Tathar that they both sang equally ill. This prompted all of them to burst into song, though Legolas simply laughed and declined to join in the contest. Thranduil had always been pleased by his youngest son’s sense of dignity, though he would not have been terribly bothered had Legolas chosen to participate (for he would have won.)
“You shall be the judge, then, Legolas,” Candrochon ordered, and the singing began anew, with each young elf singing (and over-dramatizing) a different song while gesticulating with great gusto.
When they had finished, Princess Limloeth murmured something to the Ladies Merilin and Arwen about choruses of orcs and all the she-elves nearby laughed. “Peace, Sister,” Legolas laughed. “I think I must declare Candrochon the winner.”
Candrochon bowed dramatically, but Gaerongil exclaimed, “I must protest, for surely an elf of Mirkwood is biased when he judges his own kindred. I demand that Faron of Imladris settle this!”
Faron rejoined them and said, “I agreed with Legolas and Tathar’s initial judgment that you both sing equally ill. However, after hearing the three of you, I believe Tathar’s voice is still fouler.”
All the elves of Mirkwood and Imladris shared a hearty laugh over Tathar’s cry of “Unfair!”
“Ah, the singers of Imladris may be poor, but those of Mirkwood are poorer still,” Gaerongil declared.
“We surpass you in other ways, my friend, such as archery,” Legolas said in a light, innocent voice.
Several watching elves exclaimed eagerly at this playful taunt (very unlike Legolas) and Faron folded his arms challengingly, “There is yet time, my lord, if you would care to test your prowess shooting apples from trees.”
Realizing that this boyish bragging contest threatened to delay the Imladris party’s departure, Thranduil decided to forestall what might become a second Trial. “No arrows, Legolas.”
“Yes, Father,” Legolas replied and shrugged at his friends’ disappointed glances.
Lord Elrond had joined Thranduil to watch the carousal and remarked softly, “I should have liked to see such a contest. I suspect in this instance Imladris would have come out ahead.”
“Do not work against me, Elrond,” Thranduil murmured, chuckling. Then he paused before adding slyly, “But you are wrong. Mirkwood would have won.”
“My archers bested all but one of yours. The results of the Trial speak for themselves.”
“Shall we bid them try again?”
“Do not tempt me.”
Just as the party from Imladris was preparing to depart, happy shouts from elves still within the palace made them pause. “What is it?” Elladan exclaimed, as the others turned to see what had given rise to all the excitement.
Berensul, grinning slyly, emerged from the palace and declared, “My lords and ladies, I am pleased to inform you that Eregolf of Lórien has announced his betrothal to the Princess Lalven of Lindon. The date of their wedding feast has not yet been determined, but invitations shall be sent to all.”
With pleased nods and comments of approval, the elves outside began to applaud, and there were a great many winks in the direction of Legolas. Faron turned to Tathar and whispered, “I want my pearl back.”
“She asked for Legolas first,” Tathar hissed in protest, placing a hand over his belt pouch defensively.
Legolas apparently saw an opportunity to avenge himself for the endless teasing he had received at the hands of his friend. “The wager was on whom she would be matched to, Tathar, not whom she would offer for first. You declared victory too soon.”
Faron laughed, “There now, even one of your own comrades of Mirkwood agrees that the prize falls to me. Come, Tathar, hand over my pearl. And you owe me yet another one.”
“Traitor,” Tathar accused Legolas.
Legolas innocently suggested to Faron, “Hold out for the black pearl, my friend. To the victor go the spoils.” Then he winked and went to bid farewell to Lord Elrond and Lady Arwen.
Faron looked quizzically after the champion of Mirkwood. “Adulthood seems to agree with him. I do not claim to know Legolas as well as you, but I have never seen him so lively.”
“Nor I, my friend, and I may claim to know him well. Though it may have a great deal to do with the fact that the party from the Grey Havens left this morning,” Tathar replied.
“And with it Lady Emlin!” laughed Faron. “Ah, now here’s a pretty thing,” he held up Tathar’s black pearl in the light for all to behold.
“So rare, pearls of such color,” Gaerongil declared loudly. The nearest elves laughed, and Tathar made an uncomplimentary remark about Imladris elves and their gambling, which merely succeeded in making them laugh harder still. It was a merry party that left Mirkwood for Rivendell.
By sundown, the population of Mirkwood had been reduced to its usual size. As much as Legolas had enjoyed seeing his friends from the other realms, he was very much relieved to no longer be bumping into people every time he turned a corner.
Legolas was seated--or rather, sprawling--upon a chair in an empty pavilion in the trees beyond the palace reading as the first stars came out. He had had little time to himself during the two weeks of the Gathering, and certainly no time to sit and study. As a result, so engrossed was he in his book that he did not hear King Thranduil’s ascent up the tree stairs.
“Legolas?” The prince started, then grinned unashamedly at his father. Thranduil asked wryly, “You seem in a jovial mood. Was the Gathering so painful that you are delighted to have seen its end?”
It seemed that whatever word one used to describe Legolas’s mood, it would not be soured. Legolas laughed and shook his head, “No indeed, Father, I assure you. I did enjoy the Gathering…” he paused, then with a knowing smile, admitted, “most of it.”
The King smiled and seated himself in another chair, gazing at his youngest son with a thoughtful expression. Legolas was feeling too contented to notice the manner in which his father groped for words. “I received a great deal of praise for you and the grace with which you have come of age, my son. I am told I have every reason for pride.”
Legolas blushed. “I hope I shall live up to it. I intend living up to it,” he added with more resolve. The king looked somewhat disconcerted by the unusual vehemence in his voice, but Legolas went on eagerly, “The warrior exercises resume their normal routine tomorrow. I mean to train now more than ever so that I may join the next war parties when they depart.”
It had been a given that Thranduil would have words of caution for his son; he always did. But Legolas had been entirely unprepared for the king’s response to his intentions. “Now hold, Legolas,” he said sharply, raising a hand to forestall further plans. Legolas fell silent instinctively. “I’ve no doubt you are eager to partake of the privileges of adulthood, but you get ahead of yourself. You do not truly reach your majority for more than a third of a century. It is too soon for you to be thinking of war parties.”
Legolas was startled, and the bliss he had been enjoying vanished like the sun behind a cloud. “But…I…we have all been taught that it is our right after coming of age to join the warriors as equals. What shall I…”
“I do not deny you the privilege of taking part in the protection of Mirkwood, my son,” Thranduil said mildly. “I merely feel that you are yet too young to be gallivanting about Middle Earth when you scarcely know Mirkwood.”
Puzzled, Legolas answered, “But, Father, it was you who advised me to remain close to home throughout my training as a novice. You told me that I would be better prepared for journeys when I had come of age.”
“And indeed you have,” his father told him. “But my son, having your coming of age recognized does not mean that you are entitled to have your own way in everything.” Legolas desired to protest that he had never believed such a thing, but did not dare interrupt the king. “With adulthood comes maturity, one hopes, and the wisdom to think beyond your immediate desires and choose a prudent path,” Thranduil went on. “Langcyll praised you greatly at the banquet for your caution, Legolas, and called upon all other novices and warriors to emulate you. High acknowledgement indeed, and that you must also live up to.”
Feeling confused and more than a little disappointed, Legolas asked, “What would you have me do, then?”
Thoughtfully, Thranduil replied, “Langcyll said you were a fine example to the other novices. I think your skills and good habits would be best displayed to them if you joined the novice masters on their training journeys. I am aware that it was on my advice that you did not travel far from the palace during your early training, and now would be an opportunity to do so. Acquaint yourself with your home, my son, before attempting to explore the world beyond. There are perils enough in Mirkwood to endanger a careless youth. Time, Legolas, there is plenty of time in your life to see and do all that you desire. I only counsel you to have patience.”
Legolas slowly nodded, “Yes, Father.” With that, Thranduil evidently decided the discussion was concluded, and rose, making his way back to the forest floor.
Legolas sat in his chair for a great while, mulling over what his father had said. Of course, it was true; Legolas was younger than all the other new warriors in Mirkwood. Such words of caution were wise--then again, his father’s counsel was always wise. It made sense for him to move slowly into the life of a warrior, rather than attempt to take on all the responsibilities--and dangers--at once.
He had always been reminded by his father that the first centuries after the second coming of age were an elven warrior’s most perilous years. Indeed, his father knew that painful fact more than most; two of Legolas’s elder siblings had perished within decades of coming of age. Legolas sighed; his father’s advice--in truth he had left little room for argument--was sensible. As unexciting as joining some of the smaller parties would be, that was clearly what Thranduil desired. But just the same, the exultation Legolas had felt since yesterday had been replaced by gloom. *Must my life be utterly without excitement?*
Because Gandalf had no pressing business elsewhere immediately following the Gathering, he accepted the Crown Prince Berensul’s invitation to stay in Mirkwood awhile longer. The Maia was uncertain of what Berensul wanted of him, but the answer became clear on the very first morning.
Prince Legolas had appeared positively frisky when the last of the guests had departed the night before. Gandalf had seen the young archer vanishing into the trees as soon as etiquette would permit it. He had also seen King Thranduil leave the palace not long afterward, and it had not taken the wisdom of ages to see the elven king’s intentions. Whatever had transpired between them, this morning Legolas had not only returned to his normal reticent self, he seemed decidedly worse. Only Gandalf’s trained eye could detect the lack of spring in the son of Thranduil’s step and the ever-so-slight droop of his shoulders, as though coming of age had become a burden. *I should very much like to know what the king said to lower his spirits so.*
Later that morning, Gandalf watched Mirkwood’s newest warriors training with the masters, captains, and novices on one of the practice fields. “Come, Legolas, you shall practice with the sword today,” Langcyll was saying. “For we all have seen your skill with the bow.”
As the others laughed, Legolas smiled somewhat weakly but took up the proffered sword and began to spar with one of the other young warriors. *His skill with the blade is nearly as fine as the bow,* Gandalf thought. *I suspect there are few weapons in existence that this elf could not master.*
“Move your feet, Thorod!” one of the master’s urged the young warrior’s opponent.
Legolas knocked the sword from Thorod’s hand in spite of the other elf’s valiant defense, and returned the weapons to Langcyll. They were close enough to Gandalf that the wizard could hear what passed between them next. “In a few weeks time, you shall make a worthy addition to our war parties, Legolas.”
The young elf cleared his throat awkwardly and said, “I think, perhaps, I should join one of the training expeditions before traveling with the war parties.” Langcyll appeared baffled, and Legolas explained, “I think I am yet too young to be entirely…valuable, to the warriors of Mirkwood. I may be more useful training the younger novices.”
“Training?! Legolas, did you not hear a word I said at the banquet? You are more prepared to fight as a warrior than any novice I have ever trained,” there was a hint of frustration in the older elf’s voice. “You are not only valuable to my warriors, your skills are needed. Soon they will be badly needed. A shadow grows here, young prince, and all our warriors are needed.”
Legolas did not meet his captain’s eyes. Gandalf frowned to himself as the exercises were ended for the afternoon and the prince hastily took his leave.
Legolas had been certain that the opinion of Langcyll would hold weight when he approached King Thranduil in the throne room. That in itself took him nearly an hour to work up the courage. He could not recall the last time he had made a real request of his father, and thought all those factors might incline the king to grant it. How wrong he was.
“I thought we had finished this discussion last night, my son,” Thranduil said with a hint of carefully controlled impatience in his voice.
“Yes, Father,” Legolas said, managing not to stutter. “However, I spoke to Langcyll this morning during the exercises. And…he feels that my skills are needed--”
The king silenced him with an irritable wave of his hand, “Shooting toys tossed by trainers hardly qualifies as skill, Legolas, as you will soon learn. You’ve yet to fight a battle, but already you talk of going to war. Such rashness will be the death of you.”
In his frustration, Legolas blurted without thinking, “I’m not being rash, Father!” He faltered at the sight of the anger growing on Thranduil’s face, but forced himself to go on saying what he had rehearsed in his mind. “I do not ask to ride out and face perils alone. I ask to be allowed to travel among my fellow warriors as I have trained to do for hundreds of years. To protect them and be protected by them, so that we may all defend our home. Langcyll and the others would not allow me to come to harm any more than I would allow them.”
Taking a deep breath, King Thranduil rose from his throne and moved forward to where his son was standing. It took every ounce of willpower Legolas had not to step backward. He had never angered his father so before. His black eyes boring into his son’s, Thranduil spoke in a low, harsh voice, “That is just what your brother Tavron and your sisters Meren and Lalaith thought when they left on their first expedition. Must I remind you of that?”
Legolas flinched involuntarily, and Thranduil pressed his advantage. “Your brother and sisters were among a large war party, Legolas, under the command of one of Mirkwood’s finest captains. It had been less than ten years since Meren and Lalaith had come of age, but your brother Tavron had been a warrior for more than a century. Must I remind you of how they perished, more than half of their party slain in an ambush after being trapped in an orc-loosed avalanche in the mountains?”
Legolas closed his eyes and turned his head away. The king was not shouting, but to face the force in his voice was like leaning into a gale. “Must I remind you how your mother nearly died of grief? To say nothing of how I myself felt; it was only for her sake that I managed to carry on. When you were born, at last I did not fear for Minuial’s future, only to lose her to that accursed demon in Moria. I had been against her going to that forsaken place in the beginning. Do you not see, Legolas? Two sisters and a brother whom you never knew, and your mother slain when you were a child, forcing me to raise you alone in spite of my grief, all because foolish and unnecessary risks were taken.
Thranduil gripped his son’s shoulders and said in a low, tight voice, “I will not lose you as well, Legolas. Do you understand me?”
Legolas could not have answered the king if he had wished to; the tightness of his throat made it impossible. He dared not open his stinging eyes. Instead, he nodded, not looking up, and felt Thranduil release his shoulders. “I hope this has clarified the matter for you, my son.”
He still could not speak. Opening his eyes at last, but staring fixedly at the floor, Legolas fled the throne room.
UPDATED ORIGINAL CHARACTER GUIDE: LEGOLAS’S FAMILY AND FRIENDS:
Crown Prince Berensul--Legolas’s eldest brother, heir to the throne,
Crown Princess Eirien--Berensul’s wife, (formerly from Imladris)
Princess Limloeth--second child of King Thranduil
Prince Tavron--third child of King Thranduil, died in battle before Legolas was born (in my universe)
Princesses Meren and Lalaith--twins, fourth and fifth children of King Thranduil, died in battle before Legolas was born (in my universe)
Prince Belhador--sixth child of King Thranduil
Queen Minuial--Legolas’s mother, died when he was twenty-two (in my universe. I made up her name)
Langcyll--warrior captain and head novice master of Mirkwood, trained Legolas and other novices
Lady Merilin--archer of Mirkwood, trained beside Legolas
Tathar--Legolas’s best friend, fellow archer and training companion
Candrochon--fellow archer of Mirkwood and training companion
Faron of Imladris--archer champion of Imladris, friend of the Mirkwood archers
Gaerongil of Imladris--archer delegate of Imladris, friend of the Mirkwood archers
Eregolf of Lórien--archer champion of Lórien
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.