1. Lengths and Measures
Many thanks to Docmon for betaing this revised story. It was originally written for Kifur as part of a gift exchange, but due to the deadline of the exchange, it was written in haste. Hopefully it is now improved.-0-0-0-0-0-
As a general rule, Legolas avoided the deeper rooms of his father's cavernous stronghold. He rarely descended as far as the cellars, and even the bustling lower kitchens—a haven for patrols coming in late at night—were seldom graced with his presence. His father might remember the bejeweled splendor of Menegroth, but Legolas had been born long after the last of the kinslayings and knew only the forest. The woodcraft of the Silvan elves had had more influence in his rearing than the memories of his Sindarin family, and in embracing the Silvan way of life, Legolas had also embraced their distaste for life below the tree roots. Yet even as necessity had forced the woodland elves to delve beneath the ground, necessity now decreed that Legolas journey to one of the dreaded lower chambers. For it was here that the Captains of Greenwood kept the raw materials needed for the crafting of bows and arrows.
All Greenwood archers knew how to make their own arrows, but most employed this knowledge only when fletching the bolts. The shaping of the head and the carving of the shaft were tasks usually left to others, for the growing shadow did not allow the elves much time to fashion their own weapons. The best archers, however, tried to take part in as much of their arrows' construction as possible. It was a point of both pride and need, for these archers relied on their skill in ways that others did not. They made up the patrols that guarded the borders when night itself turned against the realm, and their craft could be nothing less than exact. As such, the supplies for their bolts were kept separate from the rest of the armory so that they might be preserved for those who truly depended upon them.
Legolas agreed with these measures in principle, but he did not agree that separating the archery supplies meant burying them in the deepest reaches of Thranduil's halls. Unfortunately, his efforts to move the storage location elsewhere were constantly foiled by the older archers. Spending time in the small, secluded room beneath the cellars had become something of a rite of passage to them. If one could endure the silent tedium of a meticulous search while fending off the feel of crushing earth above and rising darkness below, then one could be considered a true archer.
Legolas had several choice—and somewhat crass—words for those who perpetuated such ridiculous traditions, but as one of the youngest Captains, he had little say in the matter. So it was that he arrived at the storage chamber with a sigh of resignation and an armful of lanterns. There were lamps aplenty throughout the lower caverns, but Legolas had found that additional light helped drive away the sensation that the walls were too close and the shadows too dark. It was a temporary remedy only, but Legolas had no intention of making his stay a lengthy one. Steeling his will, he entered and quickly lit his own lanterns before moving on to light every lamp he could find. Having completed this, he stepped back and surveyed the room, wondering if one of the lamps was missing as it seemed darker than usual to him. He would have to make inquiries later. For now, he would concentrate on finding what he needed so that he could retreat back to his own quarters and replenish his depleted quiver.
Several days ago, he had staggered through the cavern's front gate at the head of his bedraggled scouting party, all of them reeling from a disastrous wolf encounter. Famine gripped the southern regions of the forest, and the wolves had been ranging further and further abroad in their search for food. But this particular group had been so close as to be within howling distance of the King's stronghold itself. Weary from a long patrol on the western edges of the forest, Legolas had not expected to find an enemy so deep within elven territory and had stumbled upon the main pack completely unawares. The resulting battle had concluded with a retreat by both sides, but the cost had been great. Several elves were grievously wounded, and nearly every quiver had been emptied.
Pursing his lips together, Legolas thought back on the attack and shook his head. He had reviewed the incident many times over the past few days, wondering what he could have done to spare the elves beneath his command. He had already berated himself for relaxing his guard so close to home, but he knew he could not shoulder the blame alone. He had sent runners and forward scouts ahead, and they had reported nothing amiss. The fell wolves had taken great care to hide themselves, and an exhausted returning party could not be expected to also patrol a supposedly safe area.
Grimacing, Legolas opted to set the matter aside for later consideration and turned his attention to the stacks of wood before him. They were organized according to length, width, and weight, and his eyes were first drawn toward the longer shafts. But though they were his preference, he had been using shorter bolts of late and eventually concentrated his search in that area. After an hour's worth of digging, sampling, and testing, he had a promising collection of shafts as well as an overwhelming need for fresh air. Taking that as his cue to leave, Legolas extinguished the lamps, gathered up both wood and lanterns, and turned toward the door.
"I was told that I would find you here."
It was only through a concerted effort of will that Legolas managed to keep from jumping. He flinched violently, though, and as he hastened to compose himself before the unexpected visitor, his quick ears caught the sound of his father's quiet chuckle.
"My apologies if I caused alarm."
Legolas stared at Thranduil for a moment before shaking his head. "Nay, sire, I was merely…distracted."
"So I noticed."
Legolas kept his face impassive, but inwardly, he groaned. The King had said no word of blame concerning the Warg encounter, but Legolas felt a keen sense of accountability, nonetheless. He had captained the archers. It had been his duty to keep them alert, despite their fatigue. They had trusted in his command, and he had betrayed that trust with distraction. Now it seemed he was distracted yet again and had failed to sense the King's approach—
"You are becoming more selective in your choices."
Legolas glanced down at the wood in his arms. Part of him tried to determine if that had been a compliment, a criticism, or merely an observation—it was always difficult to tell with Thranduil—while another part tried to discern what the King was doing here in the first place. The lower caverns did not unnerve Thranduil as they did his Silvan subjects, but even so, the King seldom entered the lower halls. His childhood in Menegroth had gifted Thranduil with the ability to live comfortably beneath the earth, but it had also gifted him with memories. And memories were painful.
"Your pardon, sire," Legolas said, shaking his head sharply. He was feeling too muddled for this. "I fear my thoughts are elsewhere this day."
"As are mine," Thranduil murmured, using the wall sconce by the door to light a single lamp before moving inside to inspect the stacks of wood. "Rarely have I had such difficulty in keeping my mind upon the matters needing my consideration. Like you, I fear I am also subject to distraction."
That was not the response Legolas had been expecting.
When silence stretched between them, Thranduil glanced back at his youngest son, and the corners of his lips twitched. "Close your mouth, Legolas. I know you were taught better manners than that."
Realizing that he was gaping, Legolas hastily snapped his mouth shut, but the enormity of his father's announcement continued to press down upon him. Thranduil was never distracted. In the face of Dol Guldur's growing reach and power, attentiveness had become a matter of life and death in Greenwood, whether it was in the drafting of Beorning alliances or in the movements of a hazardous patrol. The value of concentration had been drilled into Legolas for as long as he could remember, and though none could truly assume blame for his patrol's skirmish with the Wargs, Legolas had still anticipated something in the way of censure both from his father and from the other Captains. Now, Legolas knew not what to think, and that worried him greatly.
"Why the shorter lengths?"
Aware that he was yet again preoccupied by his thoughts, Legolas forcefully turned his full attention to his father, who was eyeing the shafts of wood in Legolas's arms. "Recent patrols have dictated the use of a smaller bow, and thus my arrows require a shorter shaft."
Thranduil frowned. "It was my understanding that you favored the longer bows. Has this changed?"
The question surprised a sharp laugh out of Legolas, a mirthless sound that sent a flicker of concern across Thranduil's face. "Nay," Legolas answered, shaking his head. "Nay, rather, what has changed is the nature of our enemy's attacks. This past year, I have not had time enough to accommodate the greater draw and pull of my long bow. The enemy is too close and too numerous for that. I still prefer the long bow's strength and range, but of late, I have had more need of haste."
"Your reports indicated increased fighting in close quarters," Thranduil said, his eyes darkening. "But you should have made clear that this had become the routine rather than the exception." The King pursed his lips and studied his son for a long minute before speaking again. "It pleases me that you are making adjustments. Such action demonstrates foresight and cunning."
Legolas inclined his head in silent acceptance of the praise and waited for his father to continue. The day that Thranduil doled out unqualified approval would be the day that dwarves learned to fly.
"However, perhaps you should be reminded that an archer's greatest defense is his distance from his foes."
All could rest assured that Dáin would not be soaring over Erebor in the near future. "I know it well, sire," Legolas said quietly, "but sometimes lessons cannot always be applied. The Enemy grows wise. The orcs no longer announce their presence but conceal themselves until we are nearly upon them. The wolves delay, waiting until their numbers allow them to mount an attack from several directions. Even the spiders have learned new tricks, and they set traps about their dens that alert them to our presence and allow them enough time to craft an ambush. It has become difficult to slay any of these creatures without drawing close to them."
"Others have said as much," Thranduil said slowly, "but I had not realized that it so affected the archers." His brow furrowing, he returned his attention to the stacks of wood lining the walls.
Which brought Legolas back to his original confusion: he still did not understand his father's presence in this buried storage room. Thranduil's weapon was the sword, not the bow. Why did he study arrow shafts? Legolas supposed it was possible that his father had come seeking him, but even then, it was more customary for the King to summon his sons than to look for them himself. Moreover, if Thranduil had been searching for Legolas, he would have had a purpose in mind, yet he had given no hint as to what that purpose might be. It was unlike Thranduil to put off matters, be they good or bad, and the delay was worrisome. At length, Legolas could contain himself no longer. "Father, why are you here?"
Thranduil was silent for a moment, and then he turned slowly, his face impassive but his eyes dark. "Shortly before you returned, a large number of our southern patrols were attacked by orcs issuing from Dol Guldur. Many were injured. Some were killed."
Legolas frowned. "I have heard nothing of this."
"The parties affected have not yet returned. They are being housed in shelters to the south while they wait for the injured to gain strength enough for the journey home," Thranduil said. "Messages were sent informing us of the incident, but I have shared these messages with only a few."
Legolas's frown deepened. "Might I inquire after the need for such discretion?"
"The attacks were not chance encounters. They were coordinated. The location of our patrols was known, the strength of those patrols was accounted for, and it was only through a combination of fortune and skill that any escaped. Our movements in the south are watched, but our spies can discern nothing of who or what the watchers may be. And I fear that this first attack was only a test, but until we know more, I am reluctant to alarm our people with these tidings." Thranduil paused, and his deep gray eyes fixed themselves upon Legolas in an unnerving stare. "We are sending a small patrol south to learn what the spies cannot. They will be given leave to draw within an arrow's flight of Dol Guldur if their leader deems such a peril to be necessary. All other patrols will withdraw to the southern fences until more is known."
"A dangerous task," Legolas said slowly. He could now guess his father's reasons for seeking him out as well as a part of his reticence. "I assume that you wish to send my more experienced scouts with this patrol."
"That is indeed my intention."
Legolas nodded, trying to gracefully accept this added reduction to his own forces. "Then I release my hale archers to your command."
"There is no need for that."
Legolas blinked. "There is not?"
"Nay, for those of your patrol undertaking this mission will do so beneath their current Captain."
It required a moment or two before Legolas grasped what Thranduil meant. "You wish me to lead the party?"
"You are more than qualified," Thranduil said, his eyes never leaving Legolas's. "You lack experience and at times you are overly bold, but on balance, you have proven to be a capable leader. You are gifted in drawing close to an enemy, you are adept at assessing that enemy's strength, and you are not too proud to abandon your plans when need dictates a different approach." A ghost of a smile played across his mouth. "Even if you are currently prone to distraction."
Legolas offered a faint smile in return. "So noted, sire," he said. "When am I to depart?"
"One week from now," Thranduil said, his humor disappearing. "The Captains currently not on patrol are summoned to a council this afternoon where we will announce this mission as well as the withdrawal of the southern patrols. Over the next few days, we shall hold additional meetings with the scouts and spies most familiar with the areas you will search, and together we shall plan the particulars of your journey. After this afternoon's council, you are given leave to inform those beneath your command so that they may make whatever preparations are needful."
"Then I will hasten my own preparations with these," Legolas said, lifting his arms slightly to indicate the wood he still carried. "By your leave, sire," he said, offering up a quick bow before turning away.
Legolas turned back, his eyes questioning, as Thranduil stepped forward and added several longer pieces of wood to the top of his stack.
"Take two bows," Thranduil said, his voice firm. "And when possible, employ the larger. You are talented with many weapons, but the bow is by far your best. Use it as it was meant to be used."
"I will heed your counsel to the best of my ability, father," Legolas said.
"See that you do," Thranduil said, his voice dropping to a whisper. A large hand fell upon Legolas's shoulder and gave it a quick squeeze. "You are needed here, child. Return safely to me."
Legolas stared up into the King's eyes, seeing emotions in the stern gaze that were rarely allowed to surface. Fear seemed to hold sway over all, but beneath that was an unmistakable swell of both pride and love. Then Thranduil blinked and the moment was gone, replaced by the wall that locked fatherly concerns deep within.
"I will," Legolas promised softly, overcome by a wave of affection for this strict, demanding, impossible elf who was both his father and his King.
Thranduil nodded shortly, once again shouldering the mantle of Mirkwood's stern ruler. "Go, then, and make ready. The council will begin immediately after the noon meal."
"As you command, father," Legolas said, speaking of more than the implied order to attend the council. A twinkle in Thranduil's eyes revealed that the King understood the unspoken message, and for a moment they were not lords and protectors of a darkening land but rather a father and son whose familial ties had been superseded by need.
Then the moment was gone. The King inclined his head, the loyal Captain bowed, the last lamp went out, and the two departed, separating quickly as duty and obligation pulled them apart once more.
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.