King Thranduil sighed. His kingdom was being invaded from all fronts, and Eryn Galen was no longer the safe haven it once was. No place was safe anymore, save perhaps the Last Homely House presided over by Lord Elrond; and the golden woods of Lorién.
Elves were cheerful and optimistic by nature. Dark things did little to burden their hearts, but this was different,. A whisper of the Evil that threatened Middle Earth was returning. It was not something to be scoffed at. He could still remember the horror of those dark times. He had been amongst the armies and seen it all. Devastation, horror. The feelings that surfaced again threatened to sweep him away.
His people had no idea what they were up against. He had let them continue believing that life was the same. Only his son knew the severity of the situation.
His son. His thoughts turned to the boy. He was still young for an Elf. Born only after the horrific battle, Legolas had never been expected to take his place by his father's side. He had an older brother who would do that. He had been the adventurer, the reckless one. He had never thought of himself as a prince. The boring work was for his father and older brother. He could go wherever he wanted, sometimes disappearing for years on end, and would reappear when everybody least expected it. Thranduil himself never knew where his son went or what he did, but hunting Orcs or taunting Dwarves was his father's guess.
Yet, in spite of his impulsiveness and apparent shortcomings, Legolas had always been better than his brother. Everybody knew that, including the older boy, but no one spoke of it. Right from the start, it was evident that the younger prince was endowed with qualities most Elves did not have. He had the ability to track as well as a Ranger, and his skill with the bow was legendary. The minute he picked up a bow, he knew how to shoot, and was improving on it steadily with the passing of years. His movements were lighter and quicker than ordinary Elves. His greatest asset, however, was his intelligence. The boy could come up with brilliant plans instantly, and pull them off successfully.
He had been born a leader, and there was a fiercely independent streak within him. Once he took up a cause, he would fight to the death to defend it. If he were truly to take his brother's place, this part of him would have to be checked. The wise must know when to follow and when to take the lead. His son still had much to learn in this area.
"My lord, Prince Legolas requests an audience."
Caught up in his private reverie, Thranduil did not realise his Captain enter the room. He sighed and signalled for his son to be shown in.
Legolas watched as Felnor went in to inform the king. He always found it strange that he had to seek permission to confer with his own father - not that It was unexpected. He had never been close to the monarch. He was too different from the king, and they often did not see eye to eye. In recent months, however, Legolas did his very best to keep the differences at bay. Thranduil was proud, and a little too stern for his son's liking, but he had his people's interests at heart.
He often thought over the revelations his father had made to him after his brother left. It was still difficult to digest. One part of him dismissed them as utter nonsense; the other was not so sure.
Not anymore. Seeing the damage inflicted in the clearing seemed to have sparked something off in the prince. The threat in the forest was gaining. If not countered, it would completely overwhelm them. True, they could pass into Aman, but his love for Arda would not allow him to do so. He sensed some unfinished business waiting for him. Abandonment was not an option.
The ivory doors opened. The Captain of the elite Home Guard stepped out and motioned for him to go within. Legolas nodded in acknowledgement before entering.
King Thranduil looked at the lean figure entering the room. There was something new in his poise that reminded the old man of his older son. His heart ached anew.
"Father." Legolas bowed, and kissed the ruler's hand.
Thranduil did not speak, and instead motioned for him to start.
"Evil is closer than we think it is. I came across a trail in the woods. It was fresh, and unlike anything I have ever seen before in Eryn Galen! The air about it felt foul, contaminated, and I could sense its Shadow ahead of me."
Thranduil looked up sharply, and frowned.
"Did you manage to find out what it was?"
Colour crept into the prince's cheeks. "I - failed, Father."
A sigh escaped the King's lips. "No other could have done so when you have failed."
Legolas looked up, surprised. His father rarely consoled him, especially not since he was a young child. He took a deep breath to steady himself.
"Orcs have passed into Eryn Galen. As I was tracking the creature, I came across a clearing in the forest. It was small, but clearly the work of Orcs; their reeking stench was still about when I reached it. The marks of their axes have left a wound in the land that can never be healed."
Silence fell. A heavy blanket of uncertainty hung in the air, threatening to smother both father and son.
"What else could you gather from the site?"
Legolas coloured again. "I thought it wiser to return straight to you, so that a patrol could be organised to scan the site. The signs are complicated; I can't interpret them alone. The enemy is cunning and wise. He serves to cloud the mind deliberately."
Thranduil cast a glance at Legolas; clearly the boy was not telling him everything he knew.
"Father, when should we announce the threat? Our people are growing restless: they will not be kept in the dark for long. Many are already starting to question the peace that we now enjoy."
"In good time; as soon as we find out what is happening. We must proceed with caution. These creatures must not be underestimated. We cannot risk a second darkness; too much is at stake."
Legolas nodded, agreeing. It was best not to alarm their people. A frantic migration to Valinor would be the last thing they needed.
"I do not know if the clearing was the work of passing Orcs, or ones that have decided to make Eryn Galen their home. The dark creature I was trekking led me straight to that clearing. It was as if he wanted me to see it. He was taunting me, daring me to do something about it. I do not pretend to understand the twisted thinking of such a cursed creature."
Anger crept into his voice. Images of the clearing leapt to his mind: the axe marks, the slain trees, the deathly silence.
"We need Healers over there as soon as possible. There may still be a chance of bringing back the trees."
Even then, he knew it was not possible. The attack was vicious, and had been clear to him that there was no way for the trees to be brought back.
"I will send my most trusted Healers, they will know not to speak about what happened. It has been a long day for you."
"Thank you, Father." The reply was strained, awkward. "If my help is ever needed - "
Thranduil nodded heavily; his mind had wandered long before his son left the room.
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.