3. Sorrow, Comfort and Desperation
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine.
by Kasmi Kassim
The Strength of One Green Leaf
Chapter 3: Sorrow, Comfort and Desperation
"Ada, where is Nana?"
Thranduil looked down to see his small child clinging onto his leg, one hand reaching up to tug at his tunic. The king's glassy gaze slowly focused onto innocent blue eyes mirroring his own, and his ghostly pale face broke into a faint smile. He bent down and scooped up the elfling with ease, and holding the child against his chest with one arm, Thranduil began to walk slowly through the quiet hallway.
"You should be in bed, Legolas," he chided softly.
The child shook his head vigorously and buried it in his father's broad chest. "Not sleepy," murmured his muffled voice. Thranduil smiled, a bit more clearly this time, and stroked the child's head thoughtfully. It was warm – so soft, and alive under his hardened fingers. A small, breathing life, a blessing bestowed upon him as a gift from Valar...
Thranduil closed his eyes and slowly kissed the golden head.
"You are not well yet, little Greenleaf. You must rest."
"But I want to see Nana before I go back to bed." More muffled murmur.
Thranduil's fingers stopped stroking the elfling's head. He blinked, feeling a lump swell painfully in his throat. Swallowing hard, he focused his eyes on the red carpet stretching before him. It seemed to stretch on forever. The silence of the hall was only broken by quiet footfalls.
"Nana can't see you right now, little one. She is somewhere else."
Reaching out with one hand, Thranduil swung open the doors to Legolas' chamber and walked in. The elfling was idly twirling the father's hair when he was gently settled down upon the bed.
"Why did she go somewhere else, Ada?"
Thranduil smiled. "She had to, my little Greenleaf." Careful not to pull away the handful of hair still clutched unconsciously in the elfling's small hand, Thranduil sank down onto the bed next to Legolas. The elfling continued to look up at him expectantly. So full of questions, as always. Thranduil chuckled, albeit a bit sadly. Legolas frowned slightly in confusion.
"Did she go to Rivendell?"
Thranduil laughed, though a tearful note mingled with his laughter. "No, she didn't go to Rivendell, Legolas."
The child let go of the handful of hair and inched closer to his father. "Then she went to Lothlorien?"
Thranduil shook his head with a smile, eyes shimmering with sadness. "No, little one. She didn't go to Lothlorien."
Legolas tilted his head, trying hard to come up with a location he knew outside of his home. At last he blurted, "Did she go over the mountains?"
Thranduil chuckled, and reached out to stroke the elfling's head. "Yes, she went over the mountains...and over the rivers, and across the plains...." His eyes glazed. He shook his head slightly, trying to clear his hazing vision. Continuing to stroke the soft hair, Thranduil traced the golden strands down to where they hung in a single braid along the child's back. He tugged at the braid gently. "Turn around, little Greenleaf, so that I may loosen your hair."
Legolas obeyed, turning his back to his father. The king shifted into a more comfortable position and, wrapping strong hands around the child's supple waist, lifted him slightly with ease and pulled him closer. Once he was satisfied that Legolas was snuggled close enough, he reached his hand out to the top of the prince's drawers. On the surface of the smooth oak, its reflection glinting in the mirror, was an intricately designed gold comb. The king's fingers hovered for the briefest moment, before grabbing it nonchalantly to turn back to his child. When he placed the comb beside his leg and reached out to the elfling's hair, the lingering light in his eyes was gone.
The king began to unfasten the soft cloth that held the child's braid in place when Legolas voiced his curiosity again.
"But Ada – isn't that very far?"
The king smiled behind his back. "Yes, Legolas. It is very far."
Legolas frowned. Pouting his lips and staring hard at the wooden door across the spacious room, he was drowned in intense contemplation. Finally he lessened the frown, though it still lingered upon his small brows, and tilted his head slightly. "Why didn't she say goodbye to me? She said she would come after me, and we'd go to Rivendell."
Thranduil was silent. His fingers were slowly uncoiling the braid, making their way up higher and higher into the child's soft hair. The silence was deafening in his ears. He swallowed hard, and cleared his throat. Steady voice, Thranduil, he commanded to himself. Steady, speak slowly. "She didn't want to leave, Legolas. She also wanted to see you. But she could not. She had to go."
Legolas tilted his head further in deeper confusion and contemplation, causing Thranduil's fingers to brush against the nape of his neck. Large hands gently wrapped around both sides of his head, and straightened it. "Stay still, Legolas, or your head would hurt from tugging."
"Was she in a hurry?"
Not even a hint of accusation, mused Thranduil. Such a little child, and not even a hint. He shut his eyes tightly and held back the tears that threatened to fall. He combed through the soft hair with slow, deliberate fingers. "Yes," he whispered, daring to let out a quivering sigh. "She had to go quickly." Letting the hair loose, he picked up the comb and began to brush the hair with the same slow deliberateness.
Legolas began to play idly with the folds of the blanket around him. "When will she be back?" His voice was light, like the jingle of a golden bell.
Thranduil froze. What was he to say to this? Would he have to continue the charade, and tell him the truth when the child was older? But how old would he be, before he tired of fruitless waiting?
He sank into a deep thought. Perhaps he had no choice but to tell the truth. But would Legolas understand? Yes, he had heard that word before – Death – but he had never looked at it in the eye. All he had been told about death was that elves sometimes died during brave battles, and went to the Hall of Mandos. Orcs and spiders died by elven swords and arrows, he knew – but those creatures were bad. Only bad creatures were killed. How would he explain to his innocent sundrop that his Nana was dead? Killed, furthermore, by the very creatures who had to be slain by elven warriors?
Thranduil found himself searching frantically for words. Words he wanted to say, words he didn't want to say, words he had to say – jumbled words that threatened to tumble out, confused words that even he himself could not understand. They were caught in his throat, making it painful to breathe.
The child turned around, curious at his father's silence. The loose hair fell away from Thranduil's still fingers and streamed down the small shoulders. Legolas looked up at his father, confused. He seemed to not see him. The sharp blue eyes were raging with a maelstrom of unexpressed emotions, an unfamiliar and chaotic storm. Legolas could hear him swallow hard several times. Yet the king made no sound.
Concerned, Legolas tugged at his father's sleeve. "Ada."
"Legolas..." The voice was choked. Thranduil finally focused his gaze on the child's clear blue orbs. Reaching out, he slowly wrapped his arms around the elfling and pulled him close. His lips let out an inaudible sigh as he buried his face in the child's fragrant hair. Captured in the warmth of his father's strong arms, a puzzled Legolas blinked as he felt slow heartbeats pressed against his ears. His curious acuteness also felt his father's painstakingly slow squeeze, as the father breathed a silent, heart-wrenching whisper.
"She is not coming back."
Gandalf tried to stifle the sound of his footfall as he walked through the long hallway. The palace was eerily quiet. He paused to listen. All he could hear was the heavy downpour of incessant rain, hitting the castle walls mercilessly. He sighed. Valar, when will this stop? He did not enjoy the thought of being confined in these dark halls much longer. But the more frustrating fact was that he could not complain; after all, elves, of all creatures, survived within these suffocating stone walls. The wizard sighed once more and picked up his pace. Where is that child?
He had woken up to raindrops beating at the walls of his chamber. The sound was so loud that he finally decided, after many hours of valiant – but futile – efforts, that he would be unable to go back to sleep. He then wandered over to the prince's chambers, smiling to himself at the thought of the sleeping elfling sprawled on his bed. But the room had greeted him with a hush of cold, empty air.
The wizard had since wandered the halls on barefoot, determined the find the elfling.
Looking into this corridor and that, Gandalf realized that the night was strangely unsettled. The guards were tense, the lights were bright, and elven lances gleamed expectantly at every doorstep. Gandalf wondered if the elves were sensing some kind of danger. It was sometimes quite unnerving to be around a race of people who could sense oncoming evil by instinct. It made him feel utterly useless.
Peace, old fool, he reminded himself. The place is safe; on to find the elfling. He had promised the king the day before that he would do all in his power to help the young prince, and he intended to hold true to his word.
Gandalf sighed audibly. It seemed to him that it was Thranduil, not Legolas, who was more in dire need of help.
Having heard about the queen's death five years too late, Gandalf had hurried to his friend to find a greatly changed king. Grief had consumed the proud and mighty king and transformed him into a weary, sad-eyed ruler. He could still remember the days when a young Thranduil would stand for hours in Oropher's study, being chastised for overt pride and recklessness. The bright and merry lad had had a fire about him, a fire that burned with robust energy of youth.
Gandalf chuckled at the memory. Yes, young Thranduil had been a handful. His mind was strong; even Oropher's sharp – and quite frequent – admonitions did not deter the youth's pride and confidence. As a warrior, his strength and skills were unmatched; and he never failed to be courteous to ladies and elders. After succeeding his fallen father's throne, Thranduil had rekindled life and vigor in the weary hearts of a war-torn Mirkwood. Under his charismatic and tireless leadership, the fast-dwindling forest realm had survived, its life energy maintained by a thread. Every day was a battle for survival, but the determined king had steeled the kingdom to fight for life, to protect their beloved trees. No one had expected to see the day when the mighty king succumbed to grief.
Well, at least he is not fading. Gandalf looked straight ahead, squinting his eyes. Truth be told, the wizard had hurried to his friend in reckless haste, half expecting to find a fading elf. He knew how much Thranduil had loved his queen; the grief of losing her after centuries of courtship and meager decades of marriage was sure to be crushing for an elven soul. However, the sight that had greeted the wizard's eyes was a relatively relieving one. An air of sorrow and quietude hung about the once vibrant court, but the sad king was still strong and firm in his grip upon this world. Gandalf knew that the only link that bound the elf to this life was his child.
Legolas does not understand death, Thranduil had told Gandalf quietly. He is, however, beginning to understand – that there is no return from it.
Gandalf strode faster, his gray robe flapping vigorously.
Does he feel abandoned?
The relentless patter of rain vibrated through the stone walls. The wizard stopped and listened. The sound was lighter than before. The clouds were clearing.
Children often feel that way – and blame themselves for the departure of loved ones. Gandalf had tried to be reassuring. But to no avail.
Ai, Mithrandir, the king had sighed, looking at him with sad eyes. Legolas does not believe me when I say the fault lies not in him. But I cannot claim his guilt wholly unfounded – that is the worst of it.
It matters not, thought the wizard resolutely. Well-founded or unfounded, I will not have the innocent seedling shrivel with guilt before even sprouting. He tightened his grip on his staff. I will not.
If the young father could not ease the elfling's self-afflicted pain, Gandalf knew there was little else to do. Knowing Thranduil, Legolas was sure to have inherited his father's stubbornness. Gandalf humphed as he began to walk again. If those young eyes beheld a forbidden realm too soon, it is probably too late for return. He quickened his pace. One must proceed forward with courage.
The wizard turned a corner, and bumped straight into an elf. A strong, muscular elf. The elf remained standing where he was, while the wizard stumbled backwards in surprise.
"Mithrandir! What are you doing up so early?" It was the clear, strong voice belonging to none other than Thranduil. Gandalf chuckled, absent-mindedly wiping his brow and gathering his robe folds. He looked up to see the concerned expression of the king, accompanied by several court advisors. Gandalf raised his eyebrow when he saw two fully-armed elves flanking the party. He turned to the king with a smile.
"I was looking for your son, Thranduil. He is not in bed."
Thranduil's eyes came alive at the mention of his son. Gandalf noted with acute awareness how joy, sadness and concern mingled in the brief flash of emotions that crossed the king's fair features.
"Legolas wakes very early these days," said the king, a bit more gently than before. "Would you like me to send for him?"
Gandalf waved his hand dismissively. "No need, kind Thranduil. I was simply seeking company. Besides, I would like to see how a child of the woodland realm occupies himself in such unbecoming weather, trapped within stone walls."
The king smiled at the comment, and glanced back over his shoulder. His gaze was met by a healer, a dark-haired elf dressed in deep green robes. She was among the most powerful healers in the woodland realm, and had always been Legolas' favorite; it was she who had seated the prince on her lap every day and told him about the wonders of the healing arts.
Meeting the gaze of the king, the healer shook her head and bowed. "The prince no longer visits the House of Healing, my lord," she said softly. Thranduil turned back to Gandalf with an indiscernible expression on his face.
"I suggest you try the archery fields, my friend."
The wizard's puzzled expression was met with a sad smile as the king and his advisors bowed and made their way past him. When Gandalf turned around to watch the elves disappear down the long hallway, he thought he caught a glimpse of an elven blade on the king's side.
Blue eyes narrowed as small hands pulled the string.
Even heartbeat. Calm breathing. Focus.
Slowly. Speed will come in its own time. Aim.
Deft fingers released the arrow, letting it fly into the silent air.
Legolas flinched, as he had been too focused on the bow and arrow to hear the approach of the wizard. When he turned he saw that Gandalf stood not far from him, his head dark under the gloomy skies. The rain had ceased at last, and an eerie fog had begun to cloud the night.
Gandalf smiled as he began to walk toward Legolas, his staff wading through the wet grass. The prince greeted him with a respectful bow.
"When did you start learning archery, Legolas? It is indeed a fine skill you demonstrate with those small hands." The wizard chuckled as he looked over the elfling's head. On the target were all of the prince's arrows, neatly embedded on the board. They were all quite close to the center.
"I am still very much lacking in skill," was the elfling's modest reply. His quiet voice held a quality of stillness, hanging in the hushed black air.
Gandalf smiled in spite of himself. He could see that the child's fingers were familiar with the bowstring, and that his bright blue eyes glittered in the darkness when aiming his arrow. He studied the elfling again, watching the expressionless blue eyes scan the far trees of the forest.
"Your father told me that you wished to be a healer," Gandalf said abruptly, beginning to move deliberately among the wetness of the grass. The prince looked up at him, his expression shifting to a strange, void mask, as he followed the wizard to the target. Gandalf stole a glance downward and almost frowned at the prince's unfocused gaze. Perhaps Thranduil had been right in his worries. Something was amiss. A piece of innocence, a large part of his youth, had been overwhelmed by the gray shadows of something else. Guilt, anger, sadness, he did not know. But it was suppressing the child in Legolas.
"I don't wish to be a healer anymore."
No emotion laced the quiet reply, but it was not empty either. It was just a simple statement of a child. But that was precisely what bothered Gandalf.
Feigning disinterestedness, he slowed to a stop when they reached the target and watched the elfling pull out the arrows expertly.
"And why, my dear Legolas, have your wishes changed?" A light, casual question.
Legolas stopped inspecting an arrow, and tilted his head in contemplation. His brow furrowed, eyes softening conspicuously. The porcelain mask of unreadable expression melted into that of a lost, helpless child. Gandalf dared a sharp intake of breath. Perhaps this was the expression the elfling had worn when he encountered Death...
"The bow and arrow sing to me in a way herbs do not," said the elfling at last, words slipping out slowly. "I feel no such affinity with medicine."
The wizard smiled. "I see," he mused, stroking the elfling's golden head. The thickening mist was making it hard to see the child's glimmering blue eyes. "Do you then wish to become an archer, Legolas?"
The elfling fell into contemplation again. Then he shook his head. "No, I had not thought about that."
"You simply find solace in the bow and arrow, then," observed the wizard. He pulled out the rest of the arrows from the target and handed them to Legolas. "Your soul is troubled, young one, but I am afraid archery alone will not heal you."
The prince looked up with a puzzled expression. For the first time, Gandalf realized just how young this creature was. His quiet and thoughtful demeanor did make him appear older than he really was – but no, this was just a child. A babe, just beginning to dawn on the fact that his mother was somewhere far away, never to return. Gandalf reached out and tenderly touched his pale cheek. "You need not suffer alone."
A wild array of mixed emotions tumbled across the child's features, as he widened his eyes and looked up into the wizard's kind gray eyes. Then he slowly shook his head, taking a step back. "I don't understand what you speak of," he whispered.
Gandalf raised his eyebrow, and then tilted his head thoughtfully. "Truly, perhaps you do not."
The prince looked around uneasily. But he did not step further away from the wizard; that was not how he had been taught. He tightened his grip on the small bow in his hands, and stood still. Waiting.
He heard the wizard's heavy robe shifting in the grass. Legolas tensed.
The wizard stepped closer, and knelt upon the grass, leveling his eyes with the prince. Unable to meet the penetrating gaze of the wizard, Legolas looked about with apprehension almost akin to panic.
With a sympathetic smile, Gandalf held the elfling's golden head between his wrinkled palms. "Speak to me, child. Your father grieves at your silence." A flinch, and added tension in the small shoulders. Gandalf gently raised the elfling's slowly bowing head, looking straight into the child's wildly forlorn eyes.
Legolas avoided his gaze, the young and vulnerable barrier tumbling down under the wizard's scrutiny. His voice was a lost whisper. "I know not what you want me to say."
"It is painful to hide in darkness, if you are an elf," said the wizard gently, probing the elfling's eyes with his own. "Especially if you are an elfling."
The elfling swallowed. Gandalf smiled sadly.
"What is it that ails you, my friend?"
The elfling looked away. There was a prolonged silence. At last he whispered, "I do not know."
Gandalf followed the prince's gaze. It was resting on the garden. He turned back to look at Legolas.
"Your demons are but fleeting phantoms of the night, Legolas. Believe it, and ease your fear."
The child looked at him in a flash, his eyes once again turbulent with flying emotions. Gandalf sighed and rested his hands on the child's small shoulders. Gray eyes looked searchingly into the pair of blue. He squeezed the elfling's shoulders.
"I don't know what to believe," whispered the child, his eyes quivering, wanting to look away once more. Yet he did not.
"Believe in your father, young friend," murmured the wizard, gently touching the child's cheek once again. "The love he holds for you, the love your mother held for you." He soothingly tucked away a tuft of baby hair behind a small pointed ear. "They will grieve to see you thus, little one."
At those words, the rigid tension in the child cracked. Tears slowly filled large young eyes. The air suddenly seemed bitingly cold, as the icy mist embraced the sparkle in the bright blue depths.
Looking searchingly into those eyes, Gandalf smiled. His voice was barely above a whisper as leathery fingers caressed the elfling's cold cheeks. "My dear Legolas, shed this burden that you do not deserve. Your young heart has carried it long enough."
"But-" The elfling's lips trembled. He was clearly crumbling, hit by wave after wave of fresh agony. "Nana....I..."
The wizard shook his head. Legolas bit his quivering lip hard; heavy tears finally fell from hazy blue orbs, leaving a shimmering trail along the round, porcelain cheeks.
"You poor, sweet child," whispered Gandalf, his gray eyes full of emotion. Pulling the elfling close, he enveloped the shaking body in his arms. "Do not bear guilt for loss of loved ones. They would not wish it."
"But-" The muffled voice was broken, trembling in the folds of the old wizard's robe. Gandalf tenderly stroked the head buried in his chest. How strong you are, sweet Legolas.
"Give them instead," he whispered, "a loving farewell. Carry with you not guilt nor grief, but fond memories. Then they continue to live in you, dear little one. They live in you."
A mournful wail of a child could be heard in the tranquil morning air.
Thranduil furrowed his brow and listened intently. The splatter of rain had long disappeared beyond his senses. Had the rain finally stopped? He gave a mental sigh of relief. Finally, some serious patrolling could begin. The encroaching evil was dangerously close to the elves' home grounds. Orcs and spiders and whatnot have expanded their territories during the weeks of rain, aided by the diminished patrolling and hunting in the forest. The king and his advisors, awakened by the fell voices in the air, had ended their discussion with the decision to strike as soon as possible. If rain does not return by morn, thought Thranduil, I will dispatch a scouting party. Then the real hunting will begin.
He fingered his sword, nerves alert as the night air tensed. The court advisors were standing around him, eyes glittering, bodies rigid with attention. The whole elven realm was aware of the fast-approaching danger. Thranduil was mapping out a battle strategy in his mind's eye when the doors to the great hall burst open and an elven sentinel came running in. The king and his court looked up in anticipation and dread.
"Sire! Orcs attack from the south!" the warrior panted, before bending over to gasp for breath. A smudge of red was slowly surfacing on his elven armor.
Thranduil stood. The hall buzzed with commotion; the attack was sooner than expected. The king looked down at the weary warrior, swiftly estimating the number of elves who would be immediately needed in the forefront. "How many?" he demanded.
"Two hundred at least," panted the sentinel. He looked around wearily. "I heard spiders too, my lord."
Thranduil frowned. Orcs alone could be destroyed easily. However, teamed with spiders...that was a different matter. He cursed under his breath. If only the rain had stopped sooner! Well, at least the rain did stop. He ordered a servant nearby to escort the warrior to the House of Healing, and turned to the elven commander of arms, who stood ready for orders. "Pool the tree archers from the northern towers," he ordered. "Do not engage in close range combat unless our home is endangered."
The commander bowed curtly and left. The hall filled with a tense silence.
Then a meek voice spoke. It was the healer. "Are you sure we need that many, my lord? Surely spiders present an additional challenge, but so many elves against the given number of orcs...."
Thranduil turned sharply. "I will not risk lives of our warriors," he hissed. "No – not one!"
The court became silent again. The healer bowed her head, and the king moved down from the throne, briskly making his way to the door. "Send guards to Mithrandir as well. He is a guest and must be protected. And find my son."
More elves hurried off to numerous directions as Thranduil strode to stand on a stone balcony, scanning the woods below. Far away he could see a swarming mass of black. Orcs. He narrowed his eyes. Spiders as well. He fingered the scabbard of the blade at his side. Well, they will pay – for everything.
He whirled around at the panicked tone that intruded his lookout. A dark-haired elf, pale as sheet, stood at the doorway. In his hand he held a small basket, which Thranduil immediately recognized to be an arrow container used in archery practice. Thranduil's pupils dilated.
"Legolas..." the voice was a hoarse whisper as the father stumbled toward the shaking elf.
"He has disappeared, my lord."
The king's vision blurred as his feet carried him down the hallway leading to his room. His steps became faster and faster, until he was flying down the corridor, the royal garb slashing the air. Voices called after him, and footsteps followed as well; yet the king heard nothing. He burst into the room, his long fingers trembling as they unfastened the rich robes around his waist. He moved quickly to the far side of the chamber, discarding his robes along the way, and grabbed the gleaming black bow that hung on the wall. He swung up a quiver of arrows that leaned against the corner of the wall, and quickly strapped it onto his back.
When armed elves rushed to the doorway of Thranduil's chambers, they found their king wearing only a thin tunic and a cloak under a bow and quiver of arrows. His blue eyes were bright with cold fire as he unsheathed and studied his long elven blade. Then he whirled around and swept out of the room.
"Your horse is ready, sire," said a low voice from his right. "Mithrandir has gone after him, and left a trail for us to follow. It starts from the archery fields and enters the forest."
The king nodded as he quickened his pace. He clenched his sword, setting his jaw. Ah Valar, he uttered silently, glancing at a portrait hanging on the wall. It was a portrait of a beautiful elven maiden, with deep blue eyes sparkling with laughter and golden hair streaming down in ethereal glory. Don't take him away from me....
To Be Continued
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.