10. Chapter Nine
'Already off hunting, Legolas?' said Thranduil, glancing up from the map he was poring over. In the close warmth of his underground chamber he had rolled up his shirtsleeves and abandoned his embroidered tunic. 'I thought you would wish to say farewell to the Galadhrim.'
Legolas didn't answer at once, but instead carefully laid his bow against the wall and put down his pack. Thranduil straightened up and looked at him more closely.
'Why do you have so much gear? You'll never catch anything weighted down like that,' he said.
'Ada, I've had an idea,' said Legolas.
'And I won't like it,' said Thranduil. 'Will I, Legolas?'
'I doubt it,' said Legolas, 'but I'll try not to let that dissuade me.'
Thranduil looked at his tall, beautiful son, standing so straight and quiet before him, and his heart quaked within him.
'Go on,' he said, fashioning a calm face to hide his fear.
'I wish to accompany the Galadhrim to Dol Guldur as a sign of goodwill between our lands, and to assist them in their journey.'
Thranduil's face closed down.
'No. You will not go. I forbid it,' he said.
Legolas smiled faintly, remembering the last time he had heard the same words.
'Ada, you can't forbid me, I'm come of age now,' he said gently.
'You're come of age, but still you owe me a duty as your father and your King,' said Thranduil, his voice rising with anger.
'Out of duty I must listen to your words, but I don't owe you unquestioning obedience,' said Legolas. 'And I know you wouldn't have it any other way,' he went on, talking over Thranduil's immediate outraged response, 'unless you had wished to breed a son with neither spine nor heart. Ada, Ada…'
'No, Legolas, you ask too much of me!' cried Thranduil. Again Legolas made to smile at the echo of Haldir's words, but the pain on his father's face withered the smile at the root.
'Last time you came back from Dol Guldur barely alive,' said Thranduil. 'In these last hundred years you have made seven, or is it eight expeditions there, and each time you and those who went with you came back injured or sickened from the foul airs of the place. Now it may be more dangerous still, with the dark tower in the hands of Valar know what evil. Legolas, you don't need to do this again, the Galadhrim have no claim on your honour…'
Legolas looked away, but not before Thranduil saw something in his face.
'But they have some other claim…' said Thranduil, wonderingly. 'What is it, my son? Is there…there is someone…someone in Lorien?...Legolas! Why did you keep this from me?'
'Ada…' began Legolas, but Thranduil spoke across him.
'Legolas, you know it cannot be, not an elf of the Galadhrim…even if you wished to, you couldn't bind, unless she came here, and I couldn't accept a subject of Galadriel and Celeborn as your wife…'
'But it's high time you chose a partner, Legolas, especially if you mean to put yourself so often into danger. I've wished to speak of this to you so many times, but I didn't know how to begin. Who will carry your name after you, my son? If you die without an heir, there will be no-one. Have you thought of that? Or is it some misguided feeling of guilt about Celinn? How would your putting yourself in danger help him now?'
At last Thranduil fell silent, and father and son gazed at one another, bewildered. Once again they were on unknown ground, and their next words could be perilous to them both. Legolas felt his mouth go dry and his fingertips tingle. When he finally spoke, the breath was tight in his throat.
'It is not impossible that one day we will have an alliance with the Galadhrim; that we'll recognise our brotherhood rather than our differences. Then you might be glad that I had made an alliance of a different kind, an alliance of love...'
'Legolas, it's unthinkable!' shouted Thranduil. 'Why, of all those you could choose, must it be one of the Galadhrim? You must have known I couldn't accept such a union.'
'Even you must concede that our hearts will not be led by politics,' said Legolas quietly. 'And I for one am glad that it's so.'
Thranduil turned away so sharply that the map rolled itself up and fell to the floor.
'And because of her you would risk yourself for the sake of this company of Galadhrim?' he shouted. 'You forget your duty, Legolas!'
Legolas sighed heavily. 'No, I do not.'
He moved closer to his father, laying a hand on his arm.
'There is…no woman, Ada, in Lorien or elsewhere. It is not…'
He paused, uncertain how to continue.
'What do you mean, Legolas?' shouted Thranduil. 'Tell me! If I'm to lose my son, at least let me know the reason!'
'Ada, must you be so dramatic?' said Legolas. 'As you say, I've made this journey many times before and come back safely every time. I'm going to Dol Guldur, not to my execution!'
Quickly Thranduil made the sign against evil.
'May the Valar keep you from your own rashness, my son,' he said softly. Legolas made a gesture of irritation and turned away from him. For a while neither spoke, then Thranduil said,
'So? Am I to hear what you won't tell me?'
Legolas turned back to his father, seeing the mixture of exasperation, affection and anger in his face.
'I'm sorry but…I can't tell you. I've made a promise which I can't break. Please, only trust me, and all will be well.'
Thranduil threw up his hands in despair.
'A promise? To whom? By the Valar, is that all you have to say?' he cried.
'Ada, I must act! I must do something to bring us nearer to our kin, to give us some chance against the darkness that is coming down on us. We can't wait while the shadow spreads to cover all our lands. Let us not quarrel, there's nothing to be gained. You know we won't agree...'
'Then you won't go?' said Thranduil sharply. 'Legolas, do this thing for me; we're so few now who stand alone here with no magic to help us. Lorien is rich in defences, it doesn't need you to give your blood to strengthen it...'
'Ada, would you have me sit at home and learn to spin and weave with the women?' said Legolas, running out of patience. 'Or maybe even that would be too dangerous for me; no doubt you would be fearful I would prick my finger!'
Thranduil stared at him, uncomprehending, for a long time, the colour slowly draining from his face.
'I don't understand you, Legolas,' he said at last. 'What father would not do all he could to keep his son from needless harm? When you have a son of your own, perhaps then you will know what it means to do what I do now: to plead with you. I have no pride, Legolas. My dear son, I beg you, don't go. If you love someone in Lorien, somehow we must encompass it, though I can't yet see a way to do so. But don't risk your life: your lover wouldn't thank you for that.'
Legolas looked down at the floor.
'You speak more truly than you know,' he said ruefully. 'Forgive me for being so harsh. But nevertheless I will go, whatever those who love me fear.'
Thranduil made a strange sound, half-gasp, half-cry.
'They will be waiting, Ada. I can't delay them any longer.'
Thranduil closed his eyes for a moment, aware of his defeat.
'Very well,' he said. Since there is nothing I can say to dissuade you, let us go.'
Legolas took up his bow and his pack and leaving Thranduil's chamber, they walked in silence to the great gate of the palace. As they waited for it to swing open, Thranduil laid his hand gently on his son's shoulder, and Legolas felt the warm current of his father's love flow into him, his eyes prickling with emotion. Then the cool airs of dawn fanned their faces as they stepped out into the forest, where the Galadhrim, including Cerveth, stood waiting beyond the bridge.
'Cerveth will be sorry to see them go,' murmured Thranduil.
'Actually, I've decided to take him with me,' said Legolas.
'Oh, have you, indeed?' shouted Thranduil, angry again. 'He insults your grandfather and all his line, which of course includes you personally, and you take him with you on a holiday away from his duties?'
'So I'm going on holiday now, am I?' said Legolas, one eyebrow raised quizzically.
'No, Legolas, this is not a matter for humour! What possessed you?'
'I thought it would save the Galadhrim coming all the way north to Mirkwood with whatever intelligence they had gathered. Cerveth and I will be companions on the journey back home, and Haldir and the others can return directly to Lorien.'
'Without you, Legolas? You don't plan to visit anyone in Lorien?'
'No, Ada, I don't,' said Legolas quietly.
Thranduil searched his face, but Legolas did not flinch from him. At last Thranduil nodded.
'You are much like your grandfather, Legolas. Once he was sure of his mind, he was implacable. I honour you for your strength, although...' His voice broke and he turned away, his fist pressed against his lips. 'Although it breaks my heart,' he whispered.
Legolas pulled his father into his arms and held him tightly.
'Legolas, not here,' mumbled Thranduil, but his son did not release him. Thranduil sagged suddenly against him and for a moment they clung together, and then the Elvenking moved away and reclothed himself in his dignity. Side by side, most like in face and movement, they crossed the bridge to where the Galadhrim waited.
'Well, Haldir, I hope you have everything you need for your journey,' said Thranduil.
'Yes, Sir. We thank you for your generosity,' said Haldir. 'We hope to repay it with news from the south.'
'I wish you good fortune and good hunting,' said Thranduil, and the Galadhrim murmured an acknowledgment.
'And I hear my son is to accompany you,' he continued, casually. 'This is something of a surprise to me. Perhaps you can explain his change of heart?'
'I, Sir?' said Haldir, paling a little.
'Yes, Haldir.' Thranduil's voice was quiet but something wild sparked deep in his eyes. 'It must have been you, for it was none of these, noble though they are.' He glanced one by one at the other Galadhrim who stood by. 'You've caused trouble from the moment you arrived here, Guardian. Who else but you would have the skill to persuade my son to forget his duty to Mirkwood?'
'Adar!' said Legolas angrily. Haldir went white, then flushed to the roots of his hair.
'I, Sir?' he repeated, his voice steady but his eyes flashing with anger.
'How did you do it?' demanded Thranduil, the pretence of casualness falling away. 'What message did you bring him in secret from the Lord and Lady of the Wood? No doubt that's why they sent you here in person to plead their cause. I thought your friendship with my son had faded these last years, but it seems I was mistaken.'
'Sir, I've brought no message from Galadriel and Celeborn that you haven't already heard from me directly, and which was not for the good of both our realms,' insisted Haldir.
'Then what is it you're keeping from me, Haldir? Tell me!' commanded Thranduil. 'My son had submitted to my wish that he should not accompany you to Dol Guldur. And yet now he would go, and can't tell me why. What in the name of the Valar could have happened between last night and this morning to change his mind?'
The silence that followed the Elvenking's words was heavy and disturbing. Behind Haldir, Celinn shifted suddenly, glancing across at Legolas, then immediately became still again. Haldir looked down at the ground, avoiding Legolas' speaking eyes.
'Sir,' said Haldir at last. 'I have nothing to say to you.'
'And yet there is something here unspoken,' insisted Thranduil. 'And I would know it.'
'Adar, this is pure foolishness; we can't delay any longer,' said Legolas, coming round to stand beside Haldir. 'He has told you there was no message. Leave him be.'
Thranduil looked at him, his face sharpened with the pain of his son's going.
'Legolas...' he whispered, and then stopped. Slowly he turned his gaze on Haldir, then back to Legolas. Carefully he stepped back a pace or two, so that he could see them both together within his sights. They stood near to one another, shoulders almost but not quite touching.
'Wait, my son,' said Thranduil softly. 'Wait awhile. It comes to me. I see now what has happened. And you couldn't tell me, I understand that now. I didn't know that my cousin Celeborn and his wife would stoop so low.'
'Adar, what are you talking about...' began Legolas.
'I see now, Haldir. You spoke truly. It wasn't a message they sent you with. I have indeed heard all the words they bade you speak. It was something else, something which would bind Mirkwood to Lorien as surely as the poisonous webs of the spiders which infest our forest. And you dared to do it, Haldir. Is it not so, my son?'
'What, Adar?' said Legolas, bewildered.
Thranduil turned away. 'I cannot speak it. Let these others go apart somewhere. Then I will name what he has done.'
'He has done nothing! Of what do you accuse him?'
'Let them go apart!' shouted Thranduil, waving his arm wildly at the Galadhrim. 'I will speak to Haldir alone!'
Celinn glanced questioningly at Haldir, who nodded slowly, and the Galadhrim gathered up their gear and led the horses a little distance away.
'Well?' said Legolas.
'I said I would speak to him alone,' muttered Thranduil, his eyes still on Haldir's face.
'Adar…' began Legolas, but Haldir said,
'Go,' in a tight, harsh voice, and Legolas turned and followed the Galadhrim.
For a long time Thranduil regarded Haldir in bitter silence.
'I would not have believed it of you,' he said at last. 'You, who speak so eloquently of the brotherhood of our realms, never did I think you would use such vile methods to achieve your alliance. And in fact you have not achieved it. No elf of the Galadhrim will ever be welcome in my Kingdom again.'
'Sir!' said Haldir, horrified, 'Whatever it is you think I've done, I beg you, don't take out your anger on Lorien! If I've transgressed against your laws, I and only I should pay the price!'
'Oh, that you will,' said Thranduil. 'But those who sent you will see the consequences of their treachery.'
'Thranduil, of what do you accuse me?' demanded Haldir, exasperated. 'I know I've been less than courteous to you, but I've done all I can to make amends.'
'Even now you play the innocent! And so convincingly, Haldir,' said Thranduil softly. 'Well, since it seems to have slipped your mind, I will tell you what you've done. You've dishonoured my son. They sent you, knowing he is gentle, knowing he would be undone by tenderness more easily than by strength. They knew I would never agree to an alliance, but if he could be ensnared, Mirkwood would fall into Lorien's hands. They sent you to play the whore, Haldir, and so you have.'
Haldir's face blazed with anger.
'How dare you accuse me of such a thing! It is you who dishonours your son by thinking him so foolish!' he cried out. 'Withdraw your words!'
'I saw his face when he came to stand beside you,' said Thranduil. 'You have bewitched him, with whatever spells or potions the Lady has furnished you. The only light he sees is in your eyes.'
'Thranduil, you challenge my honour and the honour of Lorien,' said Haldir. 'Your accusations are wholly false. I say to you again, withdraw your words!'
'I will not,' said Thranduil. 'You came here with treacherous intent, and you will pay for your masters' subterfuge.'
He began to turn to summon the guards, but out of the corner of his eye he saw Haldir reaching for his sword. Thranduil moved very quickly, and in an instant his hands were round Haldir's throat, choking him. They struggled together for a few moments before the others saw what was happening and made to restrain him, but before they could do so, Haldir's body jerked convulsively and he threw Thranduil off him. Steel grated and light flashed off the blade of Haldir's sword as its point came to rest at the base of the Elvenking's throat.
Very slowly Thranduil stretched out his arms by his sides, signing to his archers, whose arrows were already trained on Haldir's heart, to be still. Everyone else had already stepped back carefully, and in the silence Haldir's laboured breathing was very loud.
'Thranduil,' gasped Haldir, his throat bruised by Thranduil's assault. 'You have insulted my personal honour. You have...' Here he stopped, choking and coughing, but he did not take his eyes off Thranduil. At last he forced himself to go on. 'You have insulted Lorien and...its rulers. And...you have insulted your own son. Withdraw your words, or your life is forfeit to me.'
A gasp of shock ran round the small group.
'By the Valar...' said Legolas helplessly, but the ritual and the challenge were ancient and could not be turned aside.
'You dare to deny it?' roared Thranduil.
'I deny the vile crime of which you have accused me,' said Haldir hoarsely, his left hand stroking his neck where dark bruises were already beginning to appear. 'And I refute the slander you have made on the Lord and Lady of Lorien. How dare you, Thranduil? How could you think such evil of your own kin?' Again he choked and coughed, dragging air into his damaged throat. 'Withdraw your words, Thranduil! Do it now, or I claim your life in return.'
'Adar, do as he asks!' demanded Legolas.
Thranduil's eyes were black with rage, his hands clenched into fists. For a long time he stared at Haldir, the point of the sword steady at his neck. It was clear he was giving his predicament careful thought. At last he gave a deep sigh.
'Legolas, dismiss the archers,' he said.
'Dismiss them? But…'
'Dismiss them! This is not for their ears!'
For a moment Legolas hesitated, but then he did as his father asked. Thranduil's astonished archers lowered their bows, then turned and ran back towards the palace. When they had reached the gates and taken up their usual posts, Thranduil began to speak.
'I am in a trap,' he said. 'To save my life, I must say what my reason forbids me. I must say there is nothing between you and my son, although my eyes now see it as clearly as daylight. Or else I must say that it is natural that you have sought to win my son's affections, even though it's impossible for you ever to be together, since you are both bound to your duties, hundreds of leagues apart. But if I say what I believe, that since I know you're not such a fool, it follows that you must be a traitor who sought him out for your own ends and those of your masters, then you will kill me, Haldir.'
Thranduil took a long shuddering breath.
'So I must stay mute, even though this will not save me. Unless you can give me some other explanation which will convince me, Guardian of Lorien?'
Haldir's hand shook suddenly but he mastered it at once. For the time it took to take in a breath, he gazed at Legolas, but found nothing but acceptance in his eyes.
'You have no right to ask me for an explanation,' said Haldir, his voice not much more than a whisper. 'And I am under no obligation to give you one. But for the sake of your son I would not take your life, and so I will answer you.'
Haldir gave a deep sigh, and it was clear that he was gathering his strength. At last he spoke again.
'Is it really so difficult to understand?' he said. 'It is love, Thranduil. I have loved him for years, ever since the Watchful Peace, maybe even before then.'
There was a murmur of surprise around him, quickly stilled.
'I tried to put this love away from me, and I would have succeeded, but your son has been more loyal than I, never faltering even when I rejected him with terrible cruelty...' Again he was forced to stop, gasping for breath.
'But...it's impossible,' said Thranduil, incredulous.
Haldir looked at him, and his eyes were suddenly full of tears. 'I know it,' he whispered. His hand shook again, and the edge of the blade grazed Thranduil's skin. A trickle of blood ran down his neck and he made to wipe it away, but seeing Haldir's face, he refrained from doing so.
'Legolas, come close to me,' said Thranduil, and his son came to his side.
'Is this true?' said Thranduil.
'Yes,' said Legolas quietly.
'But…it's impossible,' repeated Thranduil.
'And yet it has happened,' said Legolas.
'So…he didn't…it isn't the first time…'
Legolas shook his head.
Slowly Thranduil turned to face Haldir, and he put out his hand and laid it flat on the blade that pricked into the skin of his neck, sinking down on one knee on the grass.
'I withdraw my dishonourable words. I regret the insult to you and to Lorien's rulers,' he said formally. 'I will make what amends I can.'
Carefully Haldir lowered his sword and slid it back into its sheath.
'I accept. The challenge is completed,' said Haldir, almost inaudible.
The sigh of relief that followed seemed to come from all of them together. At once Thranduil got to his feet and walked away, pulling out a linen handkerchief to mop the small cut on his neck. Glancing once over his shoulder at Haldir, Legolas followed him. When they had crossed the bridge, the Elvenking dismissed the guards so that they could talk privately.
'So you love him?' Thranduil said, white-faced.
'Yes, Ada. I wish us to bind for life.'
'And you never spoke to me of this, a love you have known for so long.'
'I couldn't. If you knew how much I've wanted to tell you…'
'So that is why you wished for the alliance?'
'Not so. I believe in the alliance, Haldir or no.'
'But...Legolas, even with an alliance, our lands will never be united. You'll always be apart. It's unlawful to bind when there is no chance of a life together.'
'I have hope,' said Legolas, but his voice shook dangerously.
Thranduil sighed deeply.
'Legolas, this is madness,' he said desperately, 'My son, I beg you, give him up! This will destroy you! And for what?'
Legolas closed his eyes tightly for a moment, his brow creasing with pain.
'Ada,' he whispered, 'you ask the impossible. I can no more give up this love than I can give up breathing or…or…being your son! It's a part of me, and it is denying it that would destroy me! I would not have had you learn of it in this way, but…now you have, I beg you to accept it.'
Thranduil hunched his shoulders like someone squaring up for a fight.
'How can I accept it? He is Guardian of Lorien! Since your grandfather's time we have had to defend ourselves against Galadriel's ambitions, and now you would take as your companion her most valued servant? Legolas, all my life I have been scrupulous about my loyalties, and there have been times when it has cost me something to maintain them. And yet you cast away your loyalty to me as if it mattered not at all…'
'Adar, this isn't a question of loyalty…'
'It is always a question of loyalty, Legolas, and if you don't know that yet then I've failed to teach you anything at all.'
Legolas looked away, white and stricken.
'Don't ask me to choose between you,' he said, his voice vibrating with pain, 'for I love you both, and I will always do so.'
There was a long silence. At last Thranduil said bitterly,
'So there will be no sons for you, Legolas. Surindel is gone; after you it will be the end.'
'The wood elves can choose one of their own if they wish for a King. And surely we don't need to yearn for sons like Men do?'
'You say this because you've never had a son, Legolas,' said Thranduil heavily. 'You'll never know the joy I have had in you. Nor will you know the pain I feel now…the pain of a father disappointed in his child.'
Legolas flinched sharply, but he didn't look away.
'I can't stop you,' said Thranduil, 'either to prevent you from going into danger needlessly, or from taking up a hopeless love which will bring you nothing but pain. I regret that I implied you could be so easily influenced by Haldir, but I never dreamt that you and he…well, there is no more to say, my son.' Gently he took Legolas in his arms and embraced him.
'If I never see you again in this life, know that I've loved you as well as I know how,' he said, his voice breaking on the words, and he turned and began to walk away.
'Ada...' Legolas cried out, his voice full of pain, but Thranduil did not turn back, passing quickly through the gates into the palace. For a moment Legolas stood rooted to the spot, then he ran after him, entering a moment before the gates closed.
Several minutes passed, and then the gates opened again and Legolas came out, followed by the guards who took up their posts in front of the palace. Legolas crossed the bridge and came to where the Galadhrim stood waiting, gathered round Haldir.
'My brothers, I'm sorry for the insult to Lorien. My father is even now considering how he may make amends. I hope we haven't delayed you too much.'
'You're not coming with us?' said Celinn sharply.
'Oh, yes, I'm coming with you,' said Legolas. He turned to Haldir, putting out a hand to tilt his head so that he could better see his injured neck. From within his own tunic he took out a pot of salve and gave it to him.
'This is from my father,' he said, 'How fare you, Haldir?'
'Well enough,' said Haldir, his damaged voice a thready whisper. Legolas drew him into his arms and held him briefly, and something in his touch told Haldir what he had just endured from Thranduil.
'I'm sorry you must leave your father at such an inopportune moment,' he whispered so that only Legolas could hear.
Legolas shook his head dismissively, but Haldir could see what it was costing him to maintain an impassive face.
'You shouldn't have waited so long to tell us, Guardian,' said Celinn.
'No wonder he's been unbearable all the way from Lorien,' said Gwirith. 'So would I be if I were deprived of you.'
'And so you should be,' said Celinn, laughing at him.
'Well, he won't be able to talk for a while,' said Aiglin. 'We'll have a bit of peace and quiet at least.'
Haldir turned to rebuke him, but had no voice with which to do so.
'Gwirith, when we stop later on, you must help to heal the injury,' said Celinn, laying a hand gently on Haldir's arm.
'Certainly,' said Gwirith, mounting his horse. 'Are we going now? It's already an hour since sunrise.'
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.