7. The Nudge
Limloeth walked swiftly over to them, anxiety upon her face, “Did you not see his eyes?” Her brothers shook their heads; they had not been facing Legolas as he passed. “He is crying, or is about to be.”
“Now what has he done?” hissed Berensul furiously.
“I did not mean Legolas,” the crown prince said coldly, glaring in the direction of the throne room.
Legolas’s siblings gazed at each other silently, then Limloeth said softly, “I will go to him.”
“Lim, the king will not--”
“I did not mean the king,” before either of her brothers could protest, Limloeth walked in the direction Legolas had gone.
Limloeth had been astonished ninety years before when her reticent youngest brother had bested her in an archery competition, but since then she had come to terms with the fact that Legolas’s senses were superior even to her own. But hers were by no means lacking. She knew that Legolas heard her approach, and smiled wryly to herself as she in turn heard a frantic shuffling from his room. Receiving no answer to her knock, the princess walked in to find the curtains drawn, and Legolas lying upon his bed, facing away from her. “I know you are awake,” she said matter-of-factly.
There was silence, then a small, estranged voice whispered, “Leave me.”
Limloeth paused briefly, “No.”
“I wish to be alone.”
“Then you shall have to rise and put me out,” she taunted him lightly--as the practice of many years of sisterhood had taught her.
“Sister, I am not in the mood.”
With a sigh, Limloeth walked over and sat upon the side of the bed, putting her hand on her brother’s shoulder. She felt him shudder in response and leaning forward slightly, saw tears coursing down his face. “What has our ever-so-wise father done now?” she asked softly.
“I do not want to talk about it.”
“Then you should have locked your door,” she told him, brushing a light hand over his pale hair. After the death of Queen Minuial, Limloeth had made a conscious effort to fill the roll of her mother for her younger brothers. Like Berensul, she was protective of them. Especially Legolas. “You look so like her.”
She had not meant to say so aloud, but Legolas made a sound much like a sob. Limloeth stared at him, “What has our father said to you, Legolas?”
He gave in. Dashing tears from his eyes, Legolas sat up and faced her. “He did not believe I was ready to travel with the war parties, and when I disagreed…he reminded me…” He looked away, unable to continue.
*Curse him! That was needlessly cruel!* Limloeth thought with a surge of rare anger. Forcing herself not to speak so aloud--Legolas disliked hearing ill words about their father--she said mildly, “He should not have done such a thing, my brother. Traveling with the warriors is your right and duty now that you are of age. None can call you reckless.”
“No, he is right. Neither my mother, nor my brother and sisters were reckless, yet they perished. I have many centuries ahead of me to travel about Middle Earth; I should first know my own realm. There will be plenty of time for war parties,” with a defeated sigh, Legolas rose and opened the windows again, not facing his sister.
*Had Berensul been here, he would have charged into the throne room by now,* Limloeth thought ruefully. Though she was less hotheaded than her elder brother, she was no less incensed and frustrated by Thranduil’s treatment of Legolas. *Somehow we must find a way to persuade Father to cease holding Legolas back. This cannot go on forever. Father must let him go.*
Or perhaps the persuasion could be accomplished from the other end. “Father was very much grieved by the loss of our mother, and Tavron, Lalaith, and Meren’s deaths. As were Berensul, Belhador, and I. But I think perhaps he is letting his own fear get the better of him, Legolas.”
Legolas turned and stared at her, clearly astonished that anyone would accuse their father of fearing anything. Limloeth sighed inwardly, *Oh, my brother, how naïve you are, though I blame him rather than you. One day you shall discover his failings, and they shall devastate you. In his desperation to protect you, our father has ensured that the discovery of life’s cruel realities will be still harder for you to bear.*
Aloud, the princess spoke more gently. “Legolas, you must imagine how shattering the death of one’s children and wife must be to any father. Fear of losing one’s family is a reality to any parent, and after losing three--the thought of anything happening to the rest of us is a terror to our father. He wishes to protect you, but you must assert yourself.”
Legolas, she was dismayed to realize, had recovered himself, but was now fully in agreement with Thranduil. “I shall assert myself, Sister. It is just that I think Father’s advice is wise. I shall take on more hazardous duties when the time is right. There is no need for me to hurry.”
*Perhaps I should attempt a little bullying of my own.* Limloeth folded her arms and drew herself up--while Legolas was tall, she was nearly his height. “Perhaps you see no need for yourself, Brother, but for Mirkwood there is a very real need. Have you not heard the rumors of the evil forces rising right here within our borders? Threatening all the elven realms, and men, and all the free peoples of Middle Earth? Whatever our father has tried to convince you of, your prowess with the bow is unequaled, and you are highly-skilled with all other forms of combat. You have spent your life preparing to defend our people, and for every second that you hold back, the shadow grows darker. Mirkwood needs you, Legolas, and your bow, in the places where they are worth most. And those places are not training fields!”
“And he did not listen to you?” Prince Belhador was asking his elder sister as Gandalf passed the flet where they had gone to talk.
The Maia had not intended to eavesdrop, or join the conversation, but the outrage in the normally-serene Limloeth’s voice stopped him in his tracks. “I do not think he grasped a word of what I was saying, so convinced was he of our father’s rightness! It will never end, Belhador, the king has complete control of him! And if there is an end, it shall be very bad.”
Gandalf’s eminence among the elves allowed him to take liberties that would never have been dared by one who was neither royal, nor an elf, nor included in the conversation. “My lady?”
Belhador and Limloeth glanced down at him, startled, then chagrinned that they had not heard him come. “Mithrandir,” she said, but rather than embarrassment or anger at his intrusion, Gandalf heard a note of plea in her voice.
He took that as permission to come up. “Forgive my interference, Princess. But I fear I could not help but overhear what you said just now.”
With a sigh, the elf princess replied, “I should have taken care to prevent any from hearing me. But now it is done, and I confess I would be glad of your counsel.”
“What troubles you so, my lady?” Gandalf asked gently.
It was Belhador who answered, “I think, Mithrandir, you know more than your dissembling would suggests. I know my brother Berensul has spoken with you about our youngest brother’s…situation.”
Gandalf nodded. There were few secrets between elf siblings, royals or otherwise. “I understand that Legolas has been rather…insulated…from the troubles of the world, and of his family, it would appear. Has some new problem arisen?”
Limloeth was highly agitated, wringing her hands. “My friend, you are aware that Legolas’s coming of age entitles him to take up the full responsibilities as a warrior. It is his right to begin joining the war parties--and at such times as these, it is his duty to his realm.” With a helpless expression, she told him, “My father has prevented Legolas from doing so, instead confining him to the training of other novices when he can teach them none of the lessons that he himself learned from warriors seasoned in battle. He has not forbidden Legolas directly, but as good as, for all the pressure he has exerted.”
Gandalf listened gravely. He had feared just such a development. “And Legolas yielded?”
Belhador spoke in a low, grim voice, “Legolas has NEVER challenged the king, Mithrandir. Never. Alas, though our father is overbearing in other ways, he has retained his subtlety where my brother is concerned. He usually needs little effort to convince Legolas of his wisdom. Indeed, the fact that he resorted to such browbeating suggests that Legolas protested far more than he normally does.”
“Browbeating?” Gandalf raised his eyebrows.
Belhador and Limloeth exchanged an uncomfortable glance, before Limloeth admitted, “I happened upon my brother just after he spoke to the king this afternoon. He was very upset. But,” her irritation returned, “he was also completely under our father’s sway in the matter. I could not dissuade him. His skills shall be wasted here!” She turned away sharply, her normally soft brown eyes snapping with anger.
“What would you have me do, Lady?” Gandalf laid a light hand upon the distressed elf’s shoulder.
Limloeth turned back to him, the appeal once again visible in her eyes. “Perhaps you might speak to him, elf-friend. I do not doubt Langcyll has tried to persuade him to use his skills where they are worth most, to set aside his tentativeness. I suspect it was this that drove him to petition our father today. And he values your advice as well, I am certain of it. With you also speaking in favor of it, perhaps he will reconsider his plans. If he cannot be prevailed upon, I fear the results could be injurious to all--Legolas more than any.”
Gandalf had not expected to be quite so directly involved, but it was difficult to refuse the direct request from an elf--and all but impossible to refuse so fair a lady with such desperation in her fair voice. “I will do what I can.”
Though Gandalf prided himself in his ability to persuade even the elves to act upon his advice, even he had not counted upon the power of King Thranduil’s sway over his youngest son. Gandalf met young Legolas as he was returning from training exercises with a group of novices. The young warrior looked rather bored. *This task will be less difficult if he is already chafing at this routine.*
“Good morning, my lord,” he said cheerfully.
Legolas smiled politely, “Good day, Mithrandir.”
“The training of your charges goes well, I hope.”
“They are not my charges,” Legolas answered quickly, then looked as though he had not intended to say so aloud.
It provided Gandalf with an opening. “The training is a temporary arrangement, then? I had hoped it was.” Seeing Legolas’s startled expression, he pressed, “For I had thought your skills would be more valuable to Mirkwood if you were aiding in its defense from the shadow of Mordor and its evil creatures.”
Legolas shook his head quickly, “I do not consider myself ready for such responsibilities just yet. My f--I have decided I shall remain within the borders of Mirkwood and aid in its defense by training its defenders. For they shall be needed as well.”
“But surely it would be wise to learn to exercise your skills in action before attempting to teach them to others,” Gandalf said. “Will you not regret being the only one left behind when the next war parties depart in a few weeks?”
“I shall miss my companions, yes,” Legolas replied, looking quite uncomfortable. “But what I want and what is wise are not always the same thing.”
“Indeed? What do you want, then, my lord?” Gandalf asked, feigning puzzlement.
Legolas looked away. “There is no need to concern yourself, Mithrandir. I am doing what I consider to be prudent, and I believe it to be for the best. All is well with me.”
Gandalf protested, “But surely you have the right to consider your own desires as well as the advice of…others. Your elders are not infallible, young prince. Not even myself.” He chuckled and saw that Legolas had to force a smile. Returning to seriousness, he went on, “You have shown yourself to be a very sensible elf, Legolas, and a promising warrior for all your youth. Perhaps you should give a little more weight to what you want now that you are of age. It is your right.”
Legolas did not meet his eyes, but said simply, “Just because I have come of age does not mean that I am entitled to have my own way in everything. It is sensible of me to see that, Mithrandir. What I want is unimportant.” With that, he nodded to the Maia and walked swiftly away.
Gandalf looked grimly after him. *What he wants is unimportant…convinced him of that quite thoroughly, haven’t you, Thranduil? And it seems your son inherited your stubbornness. Already this confinement begins to stifle him. I only hope one of you comes to your senses before it is too late.*
Nearly a month later, Legolas still insisted that both he and Mirkwood were better served by him assisting in the training of the novices, to the intense frustration of all save his father. This morning found Candrochon, Tathar, and Merilin among the other young warriors in the training rooms preparing for the day’s exercises when Legolas joined them.
“Good morning, my lord,” came the chorused, half-teasing greeting from the group.
Legolas responded with a half-smile, half-glare to the general assembly, and pulled on his cote. The other elves looked at each other, then Merilin said casually, “The call for the next war parties is at dawn tomorrow morning. I assume we shall all be present?” There was no mistaking the plea in her voice.
Seeing the aggravation growing in Legolas’s eyes, Tathar said quickly, “Of course, we shall. Every party, for novices, hunts, and long expeditions shall be organized on the morrow. It is expected that all the warriors shall be present.” *Legolas owes me one,* he thought wearily. Unlike the others, Tathar did not believe anything would be accomplished by nagging at his best friend to change his mind. Passive resistance was the only kind of resistance Legolas practiced--consequently he had perfected the art of stubbornness. Pressuring him would be pointless.
Unfortunately, even Merilin and Candrochon did not seem to grasp this. Nor did the other young warriors. Almost all at once, a torrent of words erupted from the elves, pleading with Legolas to reconsider.
“Legolas, this is madness!” “You are the finest warrior of us all, your skills are needed!” “Langcyll truly believes you belong in the war parties, my lord, why do you refuse even him?” “Whoever put you up to such stalling clearly knows nothing of you or your skills!” “You will rue the day you remained behind!” “We are taught that we travel as well as train together--”
The entire company was stunned into silence when Legolas threw up his hands in a VERY uncharacteristic display of anger. “MUST I have this conversation with every single one of you? You know my reasons, for if you’ve not heard them from me, you’ve had them from one of your friends when I am not about. I tire of repeating myself and hearing the same protests daily. Enough. The decision is made. At least accept it with some respect.”
The other warriors were shocked, and many looked hurt. Legolas had turned away from them again. But as he went towards the door, Merilin said in a low, curt voice, “Yes…my lord.” Legolas faltered at the doorway, but stiffened his shoulders and went on.
Tathar sighed, looking bleakly at his and Legolas’s friends. The situation seemed utterly hopeless.
The day’s exercises were nearly complete when a messenger rode to the training fields bearing the flag of the king. Langcyll called a halt to the practicing and accepted the scroll bearing the king’s seal. The warriors, novices, and masters had gathered into a loose assembly to hear if the message concerned them. When Langcyll read the words, it was all he could do not to wince. This was the message he most dreaded imparting to his warriors.
So with his usual bland expression, but a terrible knot in his insides, he turned to the group and motioned them forward. “A message has arrived from Imladris, bringing bad tidings.”
He forced himself not to see the way the elves tensed. The seasoned warriors immediately closed their eyes, having heard such news before and far too many times. The novices and younger warriors looked puzzled, hoping the report would not be too grievous. He took a deep breath, “A war party from Imladris was attacked near the Bruinen ford four days ago.” Again, he fought to ignore the intakes of breath. “Four warriors of Imladris were slain. Daron, son of Laegnan, Narwain, son of Lalorn, Glamren, daughter of Falas, and…Gaerongil, son of Feredir.”
With a strangled gasp, Merilin clapped her hands over her mouth, staggered by shock and grief. Sounds of weeping soon filled the clearing and surrounding trees as the warriors of Mirkwood mourned the loss of their comrades-in-arms. The delegates to the Gathering Trial took the news of Gaerongil’s death worst of all, as Langcyll had known they would. Tathar sat on the soft grass, tears streaming shamelessly down his face, with his arm around Candrochon, who all but prostrate with sobs. Legolas held Merilin, her face buried in his shoulder as she wept. The prince himself did not cry--he did not yet appear to have moved past the shock. There was no color in his face, his eyes were focused upon nothing, and he trembled violently.
The news of an elf warrior’s death was always greeted by terrible grief from warriors of all the realms, for they were all comrades as well as kindred. Narwain had been captain of a war party with which Langcyll had once traveled for more than thirty years. Though his outward response might be controlled, the archer captain’s grief was no less. Yet in his eyes, the greatest tragedies were always the deaths of the young elves. It was true that many elves died young, for in the ranks of warriors, a youthful misstep could be fatal. But to Langcyll, the tragedy was seeing the grief on the faces of their equally-young friends when they first faced that wrenching emotion of loss.
Langcyll went to join the former Trial delegates of Mirkwood, to offer words he knew would bring little comfort. “Why?” cried Merilin as he placed his hand on her shoulder. She pulled away from Legolas to face Langcyll, and Legolas sat limply against a tree, still numb. “How could such a thing happen to Gaerongil and the others so close to Rivendell?!”
“It is a hard lesson to learn, my young warrioress, but it is true. There is no place in Middle Earth, nor anywhere else that is entirely free of danger. All that can be done is to protect yourself and your companions as best you can, without forgetting there are more important considerations than your own well-being. As close to the ford as they were, there were other elves about. The orc marauders might have taken many innocent lives had the Rivendell party not engaged them when they did, in spite of the fact that they were left with their backs to the river.”
Langcyll reached out and squeezed the shoulder of each of the four in turn. “They fought bravely and slew all the orc raiders before they could harm any others. Your friend Gaerongil died very young, but he shall never be forgotten by those he defended. It is the way of warriors, as each of you knew full well when you chose to become one.”
In spite of the fact that the morning’s exercises had not been strenuous and had been cut short, Legolas felt an incredible leadenness in his limbs. After being dismissed by Langcyll, all the warriors had departed in different directions, each one alone, to face his or her individual grief.
He had hoped to reach his chambers--and lock the door this time--without encountering anyone, but no sooner had he entered the palace than one of the stewards called, “The king wishes to see you upon your return, my lord.”
Legolas was tired in body and heart, and the effort of holding back the tears was becoming very great. Not bothering to contain a heavy sigh, he nodded and turned towards the throne room. When the elf herald announced him, Legolas entered, and King Thranduil immediately rose, motioning for the attendants to leave them. When the doors closed, Thranduil looked Legolas over. There was genuine concern and sorrow in the king’s eyes, but the intensity of Legolas’s own emotions was so great that he felt no desire to share them.
“Imladris lost four very fine warriors,” Thranduil said quietly, coming to stand close to Legolas. “Young Gaerongil one of their finest. I am so very sorry, my son.”
The part of Legolas which always thought objectively could not fathom why he did not welcome his father’s attentions as he usually did, or why he felt almost resentful of Thranduil’s words of sympathy. “I wish I could ease this pain for you,” the king was saying. “I do understand how deeply you are grieving.”
*I sincerely doubt that, Father! Spare me your pity!* the bitter thoughts would not be repressed. Nor would his tears for much longer. He wished he could escape, but Thranduil was not done.
“What befell Gaerongil was exactly what I had feared for you, my son, and I hope you see now why I spoke against your taking on dangerous duties immediately after your coming of age. If Gaerongil had not been so eager to race across Middle Earth, perhaps--”
Legolas burst out, “Could you not be troubled to read the message, Father?! Gaerongil and his party were within ten miles of Rivendell when they engaged the orcs! There were other elves in danger and they were left with no choice but to challenge them when and where they did. Do not call him foolish!”
The king had stepped back in complete shock. Legolas had never interrupted his father in his life. “Legolas! How--how dare--”
His son said fiercely, “My friend is dead, Father, I am in not in the mood to be lectured. And if I were, I should go to Langcyll. He at least would say something of substance.” The words were shocking Legolas even as he spoke them, but he could not stop, so great was his grief and anger. “I will not have you call Gaerongil rash or foolish. If he could be slain right before the ford of the Bruinen, then I could just as easily be slain five feet outside the palace walls. I cannot believe it is foolishness that is always to blame for one’s death. And at the moment, I care not what the reasons were for his death.” His voice was cracking ominously, and he knew he must get out of there at once. “You can do nothing and say nothing to ease my pain, Father. At least do me the courtesy of leaving me in peace.”
Legolas turned on his heel and stalked toward the door, tears all but blinding him. Thranduil had been nearly as stunned as he by the outburst. As he shoved open the door, from behind him, he heard his father call, “Legolas?” but it seemed more tentative than a command. Legolas ignored it.
*For once I have got the better of him,* Legolas thought bitterly. Ignoring all he passed, he fled to his chambers, bolted the door and the windows, then flung himself upon his bed and wept desperately into his pillow until he had no strength left.
King Thranduil did not follow Legolas from the throne room, so shocked was he by his normally mild son’s explosion. He did not know how long he had been standing in the center of the room when the herald timidly peered in. “My lord, are you receiving visitors?”
“Who is it?” Thranduil asked absently.
“The Crown Princess Eirien, my lord.”
Shaking the fog from his brain, Thranduil nodded, “Let her come in.” A moment later, the Princess Eirien, wife of the king’s eldest son, Berensul, entered the throne room. Eirien, beautiful in her pale, off-white gown, her golden-brown hair long and flowing, bowed to the king with a mildness that did not fool him for a second. Gentle and soft-spoken as Eirien was, Thranduil knew his eldest son had chosen a wife with strength and will to match his. “Pray, sit down, my child,” he said calmly and indicated the handsomely carved chair nearest his throne. Eirien walked over and sat, facing him placidly. “What can I do for you?”
“My lord, a party departs for Rivendell next week to study the healing arts with Lord Elrond. I beg leave to accompany them,” Eirien said with a calm face.
Eirien had long been traveled about Middle Earth learning the healing arts, and knew that she did not need Thranduil’s formal permission any more than she needed Berensul’s. The king knew traveling rights had been the last thing on Eirien’s mind when she came to see him. “Of course, Eirien. Will my son Berensul be accompanying you?”
“He is not yet certain, my lord. Business here in Mirkwood may require his attention, but I do not expect to be gone more than two months.”
“Even for such a short stay, my son would regret the separation,” Thranduil replied.
There was a definite hardness in Eirien’s large, blue-gray eyes. “And you, my lord? Will you regret the separation?”
Thranduil allowed a note of sternness to enter his voice, “Of course, my lady. Was there anything else?”
The crown princess looked away from him for a moment, then remarked softly, “Legolas passed me in the hall a few moments ago. The death of his friend Gaerongil seems to have grieved him deeply.”
*And you along with every other elf in the palace doubtlessly heard him shouting,* Thranduil thought ruefully. Considering how utterly unlike Legolas that had been, it would not be surprising if all palace activity had come to a screeching halt. “I fear he was, my lady. Gaerongil is the first warrior of his generation to perish. Such tragedies cannot be avoided in times like these, but all the elven realms are grieving today.”
Eirien nodded sadly, then got to the point the king knew she was heading towards. “Gaerongil was neither foolish, nor reckless, my lord. And nor is Legolas. He is a most cautious and sensible elf far beyond his years.”
“Indeed, my lady, do you think so?” Thranduil asked formally.
“I do, my lord. He will not be fully of age for nearly four more decades. Until now, he has lived a sheltered life, where even the dangers of the greenwood are carefully controlled in his presence. He has never shed the blood of any living thing, even an orc or a spider, and he has never fought a battle where his life was the only stake.” Looking away from Thranduil as though she were simply making small talk, Eirien remarked delicately, “But he cannot be expected to live under such restrictions forever.”
“I have never denied Legolas permission to travel, my lady.”
Eirien’s knowing eyes pierced Thranduil, and in her gaze he saw himself. *Perhaps I have been holding him back. He is young yet, but…he is a fine and skilled warrior. And Langcyll is right; such skills are needed by all elves right now. Perhaps Gaerongil’s death will demonstrate the need for caution far better than anything I might say. *
Aloud, Thranduil said, “Eirien, I do not…doubt Legolas’s skill or his courage. But you yourself have seen his inexperience. I am…concerned that he will be overwhelmed by the dangers and horrors of life in the war parties during these times. These will be his most perilous years, and I do not wish him to take on tasks beyond his abilities.”
Her eyes troubled, Eirien faced him directly again, “Forgive me. I think perhaps you are wrong.”
She hesitated. One did not contradict the king of Mirkwood lightly, but Thranduil merely raised his eyebrows, so she went on, “Legolas does not fear the unknown, it is true. And once he faces living foes, he shall know fear and doubt. But that is a journey all elves must travel, and to attempt to shelter him from the realities of fear and death will be pointless. I believe Legolas will do what is sensible to protect himself, and when he does discover fear, he will overcome it. As you did, my lord, and your elder sons and daughters.” Gazing at him sadly, she said, “Legolas cannot make up for the lives of his brother and sisters by simply being protected, my lord. He must be allowed to protect himself, and his people. I think perhaps he will do better than you think.”
*Berensul always admires perceptiveness. I can see why he married you, dear girl. Of all of them, you have seen through me. Perhaps in my grief for my own loss, I have tried to hard to protect him and not allowed him to determine his own destiny. Perhaps it is time to let him go. Loathe though I am to part with him.* The thought throbbed in Thranduil’s heart, then he remembered Eirien was still there. He said nothing, merely smiled at her.
With an answering smile, she rose. “Good night, my lord.”
Thranduil rose and bowed deeply to her, “Good night, my daughter.” Eirien bowed in response and departed.
Thranduil summoned an attendant. His first thought was to send for Legolas, then he decided against it. *I should allow him this night to himself, to grieve alone. I was wrong to attempt to force him to share his grief with anyone so soon. It is too late for him to join these war parties, but I will give my permission tomorrow for him to depart with the ones that follow next month. He will be glad of the news, and still take the time to prepare himself.*
To the attendant, he ordered, “I wish to see Prince Legolas after the warrior exercises tomorrow afternoon. Send for him when he returns from training the novices.” Sleep and tomorrow’s exercises would give Legolas time to recover himself. Then Thranduil would talk with him…and ask his forgiveness.
Elves require little sleep in the fashion that men know, but even elven rest eluded Legolas that night. Past midnight, he gave up and left his chambers, counting on the late hour to keep all abed but the palace guards. He wandered aimlessly through the dimly-lit palace corridors, his mind too troubled for sleep. He thought of the Trial, of Langcyll’s praises, of Mithrandir’s advice, of his friends and their plans for today, of his siblings and their own comings of age, and of his father’s words against all of the former. Throughout these thoughts, he tried unsuccessfully to keep his mind from Gaerongil.
*What cruel fate would allow him to die when he’d barely had the chance to know life?* Legolas thought, feeling a surge of bitter anger towards the world. He sighed to himself. *I should not have vented my anger to my father so yesterday. He was only speaking as he always does; it is only that I was more upset than I have ever been.*
“Trouble sleeping, my lord?”
Legolas actually yelped and jumped backwards. It was Mithrandir. He steadied himself, “Forgive me, Mithrandir, you startled me.”
The wizard smiled, and Legolas felt a flash of irritation at the sympathy he saw in the Maia’s eyes. “May I offer my condolences, my lord, for the loss of your friend, and the other warriors of Imladris.”
Legolas told himself firmly, *I shall NOT lose my temper again. He is only saying what he can.* Aloud, he replied, “My thanks, elf-friend. All the…warriors of Mirkwood are deeply grieved by the news.”
Mithrandir nodded, and to Legolas’s intense relief, did not continue discussion of the painful subject. But the one he chose instead was not much of an improvement, “I understand the warriors of Mirkwood convene at dawn to form new parties.”
“Yes.” Legolas hoped the short answer would close the matter.
The Maia said calmly, “You still intend using your skills as a trainer then, my lord?”
Legolas could not answer. The thought of remaining here in Mirkwood, leading first-century novices on exercise romps in the trees outside the palace was enough to nauseate him, yet…he would be practically defying his father to join one of the war parties. Seeing Mithrandir’s all-too-knowing expression, he admitted, “I do not know. I have had…second thoughts.”
Mithrandir smiled, “I suspect you know the opinions of half the elves in Mirkwood on the subject of where your skills would be put to the best use, young prince. And you also know mine, so I will not burden you with a repetition of them. The decision now belongs to you. Choose well.” With that, the Maia bowed to him. “In any case, my lord, I depart tonight for the Shire. It is possible I will not see you before then, so I take my leave now.”
Legolas impulsively reached out and gripped the wizard’s hand, “You have been a wise advisor to us as always, Mithrandir. I hope we shall meet again.”
“As do I, young Prince Legolas. Farewell,” Mithrandir turned and went back the way he had come.
When he returned to his chambers, Legolas found that his mind was clear. As was his resolve. It was also time to meet the other warriors. He dressed and went to the training fields. Along the way, he met many other warriors preparing to depart, including his sister Limloeth. She said nothing about Gaerongil, merely squeezed his hand and dropped it. He smiled gratefully.
They joined a large assembly of elf warriors in the meadow just beyond the fortress. Langcyll oversaw the organization of the warriors. “In spite of our grief for the deaths of our kindred, we must not relax our vigilance. Orc activity along the western border has increased dramatically. Their bands have even been sighted at the edges of Lórien. They must be driven south again. We wish to send several parties on long expeditions along the Anduin to scour the land clean of the orc pestilence. Lórien and Imladris also prepare their parties of warriors. We shall increase our hunts and patrols within our borders as well, to drive the evil creatures of Mordor from whence they came. When our forces meet the other realms, we shall drive south as one and wipe out as many as we can. The service of all of our warriors is needed. More missions will be called over the next two days.”
With that, the warriors organized themselves according to their rank and skill. Legolas caught the eyes of Candrochon, Tathar, and Merilin, and all worries for the moment were forgotten in his joy at taking his place among the fully-trained warriors of Mirkwood. To their left were the most advanced novices, and at the far left were those young elves just beginning their training at arms. Only the captains and novice masters stood at Legolas’s right, and he felt immensely proud.
One by one, Langcyll began declaring the various expeditions and asking for volunteers. There was no shortage of elves to carry out the missions. The first were the smallest and simplest--patrols in the central parts of Mirkwood to drive the orcs and spiders forth towards the outskirts. These tasks were taken up by the trainees and young novices under the guidance of a few masters. As Langcyll’s recruitment went on, the missions went further from the safest parts of the green wood, and grew in danger. But Legolas did not yet step forward to volunteer, though he noticed Langcyll and several of the captains glancing at him more and more frequently. Limloeth in particular stared at him, and when he did not volunteer for the last novice mission, a murmur rippled through the warriors. Limloeth shot him an unabashed grin. His mind was made up.
Merilin joined a five month long expedition to follow the Anduin north almost to its source. Candrochon also joined a northern party that would scour the Lonely Mountain. Legolas knew the last remaining missions would be the ones taking him furthest and longest from Mirkwood--which was the reason for his delay. Eregdos, one of the other captains, shot him a genuinely anxious glance as he finally understood the young prince’s intentions. It was true that all the warriors had hoped Legolas would join one of the war parties, but they had not anticipated this.
“The last of today’s missions will take many months, perhaps years,” Langcyll announced with a worried glance at Legolas. “We will require fifteen warriors to travel north to Withered Heath and follow the Grey Mountains west to Langwell. They will then turn south and travel through the Misty Mountains to engage the enemy in their hiding places. They shall meet a force from Rivendell of similar size, and drive south all the way to Moria. There they shall meet the forces of Lórien, and push back east to cut off the enemy fleeing south. That is the mission,” he declared. “I shall lead it, and require fourteen fully-trained warriors.”
“I will join the party.” Later, the novices swore that the stern archery captain and novice master flinched when Prince Legolas, the champion archer of Mirkwood, was the first to step forward.
“My lord?” It was expected that the most skilled and seasoned warriors would make up this mission, and although Legolas was very skilled, he lacked battle experience. Yet the captain did not intend to question Legolas‘s readiness after spending so many weeks trying to convince him of it. When Legolas did not recant his offer, Langcyll slowly nodded.
Tathar was equally surprised at his reserved friend’s sudden about-face, but once it was done, he had no intention of letting Legolas make the trip without him. “I, too, shall join.”
Twelve other warriors soon stepped forward, and the party was complete. “We will depart in one hour time,” Langcyll told them, “from the North gate of the fortress.” In his heart, Langcyll hoped that one of Legolas’s friends or siblings might persuade him to join a less dangerous mission. Though he had no doubts about the prince’s skill or courage--or that of Tathar--this expedition would be dangerous. The only thing that grieved Langcyll more than informing his youngest warriors of the loss of their friends, was losing one of the young ones in his own ranks.
Langcyll would have been dismayed to discover that Legolas had no intention of giving his father or siblings the chance to dissuade him from this journey. *I love my home and my family,* he told himself as he swiftly packed his saddlebags, weapons, and travel gear. *But I cannot allow either to become my shackles. I see now what Limloeth was trying to tell me. I must be free of my father’s influence for some time until I learn to make my own way. I am a prince and a warrior of Mirkwood, and their champion archer. I must use the skills I’ve learned to protect my people.*
As he prepared to leave his tidied chamber to join the war party, his gaze fell upon the handsomely crafted silver circlet worn by the noble elves. Technically speaking, he should take it and wear it; it was an important symbol to the elves of Mirkwood that their princes rode with the warriors, but Legolas’s involvement with this mission was neither blessed nor even known to his father the king. *I fear they shall have to accept me as merely their equal. For myself, I will not regret the arrangement.*
It was a blessing that this day was a rest day for most elves, so that King Thranduil was most likely taking the opportunity to sleep later than usual. More than likely, Langcyll’s party would be well onto the trail by the time anyone missed Legolas. He sat at his desk for some time with a blank scroll in front of him, trying to think of a message to leave for his father, but no words would grow under his pen, and it was time to depart. With a final look around his rooms, the elf warrior departed.
He met Limloeth in the stables. His sister’s eyes were very full as she watched him packing Lanthir. Desperate to break the silence, he remarked, “You did not volunteer?”
Limloeth shook her head, “I am waiting. A mission leaves to form a joint party with Lórien tomorrow. I wish to see the Golden Wood again.”
“And Orthelian of Lórien?” Legolas asked slyly. (Orthelian was a renowned archer captain of Lórien who had been a friend of Limloeth’s for many years, and who Legolas suspected would soon become something more.)
Limloeth blushed, smiling. Then she abruptly stepped forward and flung her arms around her youngest brother. “I know I urged you to take this course. But I cannot deny my heart aches at this parting. How I shall miss you, little brother.”
Despite the stinging of tears in his eyes, Legolas managed to laugh, “You have not called me that since my first coming of age.”
Limloeth pulled back and held him at arm’s length as though committing him to memory, “I suppose I have not. How you have grown. Let none declare you unready to face the world. How proud our mother would be to see you now.”
Looking down, Legolas murmured, “Limloeth, I shall be gone before the rest of our family have risen. Will you…will you tell them…”
His sister nodded, dashing tears from her own eyes, “I know what it is you wish to say, Legolas. Of course I shall tell them. I know Berensul and Belhador at least will be very proud.” Neither of them spoke again of the king.
Legolas could hear other warriors packing their horses and leading them to the North Gate. He embraced his sister tightly. Gaerongil’s death had burned the painful truth into both their minds of the possibility that they might never see each other again. “Farewell, my sister.”
“My heart goes with you, Legolas. But I know beyond any doubt that you shall fare well. And you shall be a great warrior and credit to all elves.” Limloeth squeezed his hands, “I do believe we shall meet again.” Gesturing to Lanthir to follow him, Legolas left his sister standing in the stables.
He met Tathar coming out of the fortress. “This is all your fault, you know. I was intending to join the mission to Fangorn tomorrow.”
Blandly, Legolas replied, “I did not stop you.”
“Of course, you did. I could scarcely let our archery champion and prince dart off on such a dangerous mission through the mountains without one of his comrades to watch his back,” Tathar retorted.
“We have thirteen other comrades, my friend,” Legolas pointed out, relieved that Tathar did not refer to him as “my lord.” The title made him think of his father. *He will be so angry…*
“But you and I were comrades in training,” the irrepressible Tathar answered smoothly. “We know each other’s skills and weaknesses well.”
“Seeing as how neither of us has ever been tested in battle, I should say we knew neither skill nor weakness,” Legolas said, then fell silent as they came out of the gates to where the horses were being organized.
Langcyll looked dismayed to see Legolas still among the company, but he could say nothing against it; it was the prince’s right now. *It is my right…*
Legolas was more amused than resentful to note that his and Tathar’s horses had been placed in the center of the formation, with other warriors flanking them on all sides. *Langcyll shall soon have to shed any thought of protecting me if he wishes to use the skills of the party efficiently.* Tathar, on the other hand, was quite disgusted.
There was little fanfare as the party of fifteen prepared to ride the gates of the fortress; scarcely any of Mirkwood’s people knew that their Prince Legolas, last child of King Thranduil and Queen Minuial, champion archer of the Elven Realms, was departing the world of training games and competitions to test his skills against living foes. The relatives of most of the warriors stood a discreet distance away, having made their personal farewells in private, like Legolas and Limloeth. Legolas glanced up absently and saw his sister watching him from an empty balcony. She raised a silent hand in a farewell salute.
At the front of the party, Langcyll mounted his horse, looked to make sure the group was ready to ride, and gave the signal to move out. The few elves present looked on as the party moved forward, out of the North Gate of King Thranduil’s fortress, and rode swiftly out of sight.
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.