3. The Power in a Slash of Ink
I did not sleep that night. Father's request tumbled through my head over and over, spinning like a wheel and allowing me no rest. I thought through what he had said, and what my answer had been, and then followed along that path to imagine how this would change my future. And then, when I was come to the end of what I could imagine, I began again. I heard his words echo through my mind, and whispered my reply.
"Listen carefully to what I ask, Legolas," he had said to me, in that moment when my stomach was fallen to the level of my knees and a sickly, warm wave of dizziness crashed through my head. It was come down to me, after all. And I no longer felt the bravery that had armoured me when I stood against Alagil. Tiralaen had to nudge me forward so that I stood facing Father and Mother, hands clenched at my sides and eyes round with shock. I had not thought he would call me. I could never have guessed he would call me. For all my talk, deep inside I had been so sure that Alagil or Ruingol or even Tiralaen would be ordered to duty before my turn came.
I had swallowed hard and managed to choke out the words, "Yes, Father?"
"I am asking you," he had continued, "not demanding, because, debt or no, I will not order you to do anything that will cause you terrible grief. So this is my request. Glorfindel and I have agreed that my debt is to him, not to Elrond, and as such a marriage between my children and Elrond's is out of the question."
Overwhelmed as I was, I had breathed a tiny sigh of relief. I would not be made to marry the formidable Arwen. There was one worry gone.
"Instead, Glorfindel has suggested that you enter his service."
There had been no real choice. I had to agree to it. What else could I do, under Alagil's scrutinising gaze, when I had just looked him straight in the eye and voiced my loyalty to the kingdom? I had vowed to do anything I was asked. If Father asked me to be Glorfindel's servant, I had no choice but to obey. "I accept," I had said.
Father had accepted my acceptance as a preliminary answer only. He asked me to sleep on it, but I knew there would be no sleep coming. All through the night, all I had was the constant whirr and repetition of the scene at the family room door: Father's words, my answer, and the worries that followed. By the time morning came, my head throbbed with a relentless rhythm. After the restless night, it was only when a page knocked at my door to summon me to Father's office that I began to feel my exhaustion. I rolled out of bed with my head in my hands and dressed myself at what seemed like a slug's pace. I combed my hair, but fixed it only into a style of plait that would take the minimum amount of effort. As I did so, the face that stared back at me through the silver mirror looked pale and thin. I had dark shadows beneath my eyes and no colour in my lips.
It was a long way from my bedroom to Father's office, with the page walking before me like some sort of doom-keeper. I lost count of how many curious observers we passed on the way. By that time, everyone in the palace surely knew where I was headed and for what purpose; more than a few servants had overheard Father and Glorfindel's argument and my subsequent agreement to servitude. I looked at none of them directly, but kept my eyes to the front until we reached the office. There, Father, Mother, and Glorfindel had gathered with Father's secretary, a scribe, and two men of the law.
"Legolas," said Father. I made a little bow to him, and he held out his arm to guide me into the office. "Come inside a moment. I need to speak to you alone."
My insides squirmed with uncertainty as he followed me into the office and closed the door, leaving everyone, Mother included, in the corridor. I cannot recall ever having been alone with him before that moment. Always it had been he and I and my archery instructor, when he wanted to see my skills and progress, or he and I and my history tutor, when I had failed to pay attention and required a reprimand, or he and I and the entire family. We had never been alone together simply as father and son. Such little things are lost to a king.
He gestured for me to sit, not in the hard chair across from his desk where I usually went to be reprimanded, but on a cushioned bench along the wall. I settled onto one side, and he took his place beside me. I reflexively stiffened he did so. We had never been alone together, and he had never before sat by my side so casually.
"Have you considered what I asked you last night?" he said.
I nodded. "Yes."
"And what is your answer this morning? Do you still accept?"
He took a deep breath in and held it a moment before slowly exhaling. "Legolas... I want to be certain that you fully understand what this means. For you and your future."
"I understand. I am to be Glorfindel's servant."
"No," said Father, after a brief pause, "you are to be in his service. There is a difference." Pressing his lips together, he looked down at his hands, clasped in his lap. "Son, Master Glorfindel is not married."
"I didn't think he was," I said. "And Tiralaen took a fancy to him right away. Perhaps you should have suggested she marry him. That would create an alliance, and she would be happy, besides."
"I did suggest that. I suggested that Tiralaen might be an ideal bride for him, but he had little interest in that idea. He... ah... thought someone else might be a better choice for his household. And inquired after you."
All I could say to that was, "Oh." The realisation of what this meant, and what Father was trying to tell me without speaking of it directly, trickled through my body like ice-water.
"Do you understand, now? Do you understand what this will mean once you leave the forest, and what will be expected of you?" His lips scarcely moved; his voice was little more than a whisper.
"Yes." The word stuck and cracked in my suddenly dry throat.
"And do you still wish to accept, Legolas?"
"Yes," I said, quickly, before I could think of saying no.
"Very well," Father sighed. "Glorfindel has ordered a contract made. All you need do is sign it."
I gave a weak nod, but remained sitting; I was by no means ready to stand as I pressed my feet hard against the floor to keep my legs from shaking. Beside me, Father also kept his place. He looked at the wall, at the ceiling, at the floor, and at his hands, as if the words he wanted to say were hiding from him somewhere in the room.
"This is awkward, isn't it?" he said softly, after a breath and a sigh.
It was. But I could think of nothing to say to this, and so bit my lip and remained silent. My acknowledgement of his awkwardness was itself awkward.
"I'm sorry, Legolas."
Blinking, I turned to look at him. He had faced towards me, jaw tense and eyes full of regret. "Sorry, Father?"
"We've spent very little time together, haven't we? I hardly know you at all."
I tried to give him a reassuring smile, to tell him that he need not worry about me, but I knew I lacked the confidence and my mouth wavered.
"When Alagil was young, I would always make time to spend with him. Every day, I would find time to sit with him and make little pyramids out of stones, or help him swim in the river, or watch him climb a tree. I spent less time with Ruingol, but still tried to do my part in helping him learn and grow. Then when Tiralaen was young I had to pull myself away from my duties as a king and remind myself of my duties as a father. All I remember of time spent with her is a handful of walks through the forest to look for animals. But you... Somehow, everything has seemed so much busier these past years. I always put off doing things with you, certain that you could wait until my workload diminished. Of course it never did. So now here we are, forty-seven years later, and suddenly you are leaving. I missed all of your childhood, and will miss all of your adult life, as well. How fair is that?"
"Not very fair," I mumbled.
"No," he agreed, "not fair at all." He wrapped his arm around my shoulder, and for a long while we sat in easy silence for the first time as father and son. His body felt warm and solid next to mine. A smell of something freshly green hung about him. It made me wish I were a small child again, able to crawl into his lap and rest my head on his shoulder, safe in the strength of his protective embrace. I wished to the stars I could have turned time around and become six years old again.
Then he spoke, and his words jarred me out of my hazy dreams. "I think we've kept the others waiting long enough. Are you ready to sign the contract?"
"Yes," I said, in a voice weaker than I would have liked.
With a final squeeze to my shoulder, Father stood and crossed to the door, which he opened to an irritated-looking Glorfindel. "Come to my desk," he said. "I have pens and ink."
Glorfindel afforded me only one quick glance as he led the secretary, scribe, and lawmen inside. The secretary rolled out the contract across the surface of the desk, and I forced myself to join their little group in admiring it. The contract was not as finely written as some I had seen, as it had been drawn up in haste overnight, but the scribe's penmanship was good enough. The text was written out twice, in two long columns down the parchment roll: in brown cirth on the left side, and in black tengwar using the dialect of Imladris down the right. Neither Glorfindel nor I had any chance at misinterpreting our agreement.
As I quickly scanned the contract's formal wording, Glorfindel signed his name at the bottom of the tengwar side and pressed his ring into red wax. I hastily signed my own name beneath the cirth. But because I was only forty-seven and not yet a legal adult under Imladren law, Father and Mother both signed beside me and the secretary stamped the seal of the King of Eryn Galen into green wax. Then, just as I was certain the whole ordeal was finished and I could return to my bedroom to hide alone, the secretary produced a second contract and had us sign all over again. This was so Father and Glorfindel could both keep a copy, he explained to me.
"Good," said Glorfindel. He gave his copy of the contract one last look before blowing on the ink of the signatures and tapping the wax to test for hardness. Satisfied, he folded it carefully into a large square. "Now I am sorry to leave you so suddenly, but I have duties to fulfil in Lórien and I must return to Imladris before midsummer, so time is short. My things are packed and I have ordered my horse to be made ready. I will be leaving within the hour."
"Within the hour!" Father repeated. "Impossible! Even with an army of servants, Legolas could never be-"
Glorfindel interrupted him with a raised hand and a shake of the head. "I don't expect Legolas to come with me."
Confused, Father's eyes darted between Glorfindel and the contract, unsure of what this meant. I, too, wondered what Glorfindel intended.
"He should join me later," Glorfindel explained. "I will not demand his attendance now. My household in Imladris is unprepared, but, more importantly, he is only forty-seven. I shan't expect anything of him until he is fifty years old at the very least. You may send him along after some years, when he is ready. Now, Your Highnesses, by your leave?"
He bowed to Father, who waved him away with an expression bordering on bewilderment, and kissed Mother's hand. He clasped my shoulder in a gesture of friendly farewell. Then, quick as a bird, he was gone. The suddenness of his departure left me feeling light-headed, as if he had never been there in the first place. Without the reminder of his presence, the entire agreement might have been no more than a fanciful notion. I shook my head to clear the fuzziness. My eyes fell upon the contract, its edges curling up from Father's desk. Glorfindel's bold signature lay in a splash of ink at the bottom. Somehow, the sight of his name there only made everything seem more unreal. It was too absurd to be true. I was surely dreaming.
I did not notice that Mother was weeping until I felt her arms around my neck and her teary eyelashes on my cheek. "Oh, my son..." she whispered. "My Legolas..."
"I'm fine, mother," I assured her. "Everything will be fine."
It seemed like the right thing to say at the time.
For the next eight years, it was as if our entire family dynamic had changed. We had been given a second chance to make things right, and we seized it fully. The grand royal banquets in the great hall grew fewer, while quiet suppers with only family present in Father's private sitting room became the standard. Mother fussed over me as she had not done since I was small. And while Father's kingly duties could not be entirely brushed aside, he found he could delegate some of the more mundane tasks to his stewards or secretaries, which left him with at least some free time each day. He started to insist that some activities that had previously been open to the entire court now be left to family only. One weekly hunt became the exclusive property of him and his chosen attendants. He only ever named my brothers and me to those positions.
And we became friends. Father and I developed a new, companionable bond. He was no longer some awe-inspiring, legendary figure up on a pedestal, existing on a golden plane high above us ordinary ground-dwellers. While my admiration for him never faltered, he was suddenly come within reach. Alagil and Ruingol, too, drew closer. As if the news of my inevitable departure had shocked them into action, they finally began to treat me as worthy of being their brother. They no longer called me a child or drew attention to our age differences. My relationship with Tiralaen suffered somewhat, since our previous closeness had been knit as a result of our siding together against Alagil and Ruingol, but if this loss hurt her, she did not show it. In fact, she often came along with us brothers, as far as she would be allowed. She rode with some hunts, acted as a judge in our pointless contests of masculine bravado, and sat at the side of the arena to cheer as we sparred with other youths.
These were the best years of my life: the most complete. Nothing here was lacking, and thought I knew I would soon be obliged to depart for Imladris, even the cloud of that knowledge could not mar my happiness. Over eight years, I readied myself to pay my debt. I knew what awaited me, and I taught myself not to fear it, until, on the day I chose to leave, it was not unwillingly. I knew the time was come. I had accepted it. I was prepared.
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.