"Yes, my lord?" Legolas asked.
"Take this to Elrond."
"And return swiftly."
"I want to know the moment you cross the edge of the forest."
"And you should thank Cariel for taking up for you. How did you twist that woman to your side?"
"She likes my weaving." Legolas smiled insincerely at his father. It was just a small push, but his father's humor seemed to have eased over the night, for which he would thank his step-mother before he left.
"Travel quickly, Legolas."
"I will, my lord."
"And do not tarry. Be back before the first snows."
"I will, my lord."
Thranduil did not have anything else to say, but he didn't want his son to leave just yet. He looked out the window at the sky. There was a storm rolling in. "Stay with me a moment, Legolas." Thranduil gestured to the sofa. Legolas curled up on it obediently. He propped his head on his hand and played with the strap of the messenger's pack. Thranduil worked on his letters for awhile. He wasn't surprised when his son's humming moved on to actual song. He listened to the song of storms and found himself smiling.
"My lord? It would be best if we left before the storm reaches the wood's edge."
"Yes, it would. Ride safely, my prince."
"Yes, my lord." Legolas left. He carefully shut the door behind himself and took a breath to keep the tears at bay. Why couldn't every meeting be as free of strife, he wondered.
Elrond smiled down at his children. He included Legolas in that appellation, for to his mind, the boy had no father. His smile faltered at the sadness in their smiles. "What's happened?" he asked after a quick greeting.
"Mother has left for the Gray Havens."
Elrond closed his eyes for a long moment and sighed. "I hoped that she would find the peace in Lorien that she could not find here. I shouldn't be surprised that she couldn't."
Legolas stroked the neck of his horse, trying not to intrude on what he saw as a private matter.
"And how have you managed to smuggle Lord Thranduil's prize out of Mirkwood?" Elrond asked, pushing his grief aside for a moment.
"We stopped at Mirkwood before coming home," Elladan said. Elrond was taken aback by the statement.
"Arwen wished to see Legolas," Elrohir informed his father. "And she looks much better for it," he added studying his sister.
"And how did you get Thranduil's leave to come to Imladris, Legolas?"
"He has papers for you, my lord. And information you need to hear as well." Then, Legolas' mouth quirked into a smile. "And my lady Cariel was instrumental in wearing down his foul mood."
"I shall have to send her a token of thanks. I didn't think anyone was capable of changing his mind."
"There are two that I know of, sir. His youngest and his wife."
"But not his eldest?"
Legolas sighed. "We are too much alike for that, my lord."
"And where are your shadows?" Elrond said as the group led their horses to the stables.
"They are speaking with the border guards of Rivendell. Captain Ravenclaw had messages of her own to send."
"So, you've come as a messenger."
"Yes, sir. And I cannot stay long, much to my regret. I need to be back in Mirkwood before the winter." Legolas seemed to tilt his head into the wind for a moment. "Which is probably sooner than I would have planned." He frowned. "There's something wrong, isn't there? Besides, the Lady of Rivendell going West?" He looked at Elrond. The lord of Rivendell sighed.
"Yes, there is. And I think the messages you carry probably will tell us more. Meet me in my office when you are refreshed from the road."
"Yes, sir," Legolas said, eyes dropping. Elrond looked at his children and they were watching with an odd intensity to the exchange. Elrond raised his brows, but none of them answered his question. He tugged on Legolas' back braid, eliciting a surprised yelp and a swift, defensive tensing. Legolas forced himself to relax and Elrond left them.
"So, you're a scholar under that mop of hair?" Elrohir teased. Legolas made a show of arranging his braid to lay properly.
"I have no idea what you are talking about."
"What do you think is wrong with Father?" Arwen said, attempting to translate.
"There is something important that I don't have access to. I know it's happening. I know this for a fact. There are papers and communications that my lord will not allow me access to, no matter how much flattery I attempt. And his preoccupation with those papers grows every year. I know that it is important enough that it could lead to death. We lost a messenger from Lorien and another from Gondor. It's important and if I cannot wring the information out of one stone, I shall do it from another. I have just enough information to make your father believe I have more. Perhaps it will loosen his tongue a bit."
"And then you shall tell us. We shall form our own alliances apart from the previous generation."
"Unfortunately, I cannot escape all of the previous generation," Legolas said nodding to Deluiel. She looked at the group.
"I will not tell whatever it is you have planned unless it is too dangerous and the four of you need restraining. Make that five," she said glaring at her younger counterpart. Sadorlien looked at her with large eyes. She shook her head. "I'll be on the perimeter. Sadorlien will relieve me in half a day."
"I would rather you both rested for a while," Legolas said softly.
"I have no need for more rest," she stated. She turned her horse over to Sadorlien and left the "children" to their plotting.
"Now, what have you brought me, Legolas?"
"A whole world of troubles and hopefully something to ease your mind a little bit, though not much. This is a letter from Lord Thranduil. This is one from Lady Cariel. My suggestion is to read Thranduil's first, then Cariel's. Then, we will discuss the rest of what I have here." Legolas perched on the windowsill and looked out at Rivendell. He closed his eyes and listened to the wind. He hummed softly to himself. He was surprised to find Elrond looking at him curiously.
"I've not heard that strain before. What is it?"
"A song I've known all my life. I don't know where it came from really. I'll sing it for you later, if you'd like."
"I think I would. And what news do you bring me of the Dark Lord?"
Legolas unrolled a map from the bag. He talked the Lord of Rivendell through the latest orc activity and showed him where the latest rumors were. Then, he added a plea. "When the time come, when this turns to full war, which I can feel somewhere in my gut, will you send people to fight?"
"We will do what we can."
"That was far less than I hoped, but close to what I expected." Legolas shrugged.
"And I'm surprised that you still have a sharp tongue."
"There are some things that time can never cure." Legolas allowed a smile to curl up his lips. "And if I recall correctly, you have a rather tart tongue yourself on occasion."
"I swear that the grass incident was merely an aberration. My daughter will tell you that I am normally very even tempered."
"I have been informed that I bring out the worst in people."
"Cariel, after she found Gailduil covering himself in mud for camoflague."
"Oh, what I wouldn't have paid to see Thranduil's face about that."
"I never said that he knew."
"So Cariel has fallen to your charms?"
"She was my friend before the wedding, my lord." Legolas tapped at the map. "Is it true that the Dark Lord lives in Mirkwood?"
"I have not heard such a thing, yet I will not deny it."
"Very enlightening. Thank you."
"Is there anything more you have to deliver to me?"
"Then, you may leave if you like. Or stay and peruse the library. I will have letters for you to take back with you, in two days time?" Elrond raised his brows.
"As you wish, my lord." Legolas lifted his eyes to the bookshelves. "If you really don't mind my presence, I would like to see how the histories here differ from the ones in Mirkwood." Elrond chuckled and waved the prince to the shelves.
"As you will, Prince Legolas."
"Thank you, sir."
"Arwen, my braids are fine."
"The one on the left is crooked again."
"Sit down," she commanded. Legolas looked to her brothers for protection, but they looked away carefully.
"YYou are of no help." Legolas sighed. He let Arwen neaten his braid for him. "I am perfectly capable of dressing myself."
"Yes, and you always braid the left of your hair crooked because it's on the far side of your head. Now, didn't you have things to tell us?"
Legolas sighed and carefully edited a report for the children of Elrond.
"I can't believe you're leaving so soon," Arwen said as Legolas settled his bag over his horse's back.
"I have to be back before the snows, Arwen. And can't you smell the storm on the winds? I think it's best I get on the road before the snow starts. I'd rather stay, you know that, but I cannot."
"I know. Just, be careful, Legolas. The last time I saw your father. . ."
"He was over the anger before I left, Evenstar."
"Legolas, he threatened to lock you up in the castle!"
"Which he threatens every time I show up at the palace. It won't keep me and he does not dare to put me in the dungeon. I'll be fine."
"I don't want to lose you because of the orcs."
"You won't. To other things, perhaps. But not to orcs. I know how to fight them. And I have rage enough to destroy them without pain. It is war, Arwen."
"It has not been declared."
"Not in Rivendell. Not in Lorien. But there are those of us not protected by such powers as watch over your father and your grandmother's lands."
Arwen looked at him in confusion. "But I thought," her voice dropped, "I thought Thranduil had the last ring."
"No. That I can tell you assuredly. Mirkwood has been at war since I was a child. I grew up learning to fight the Enemy. It was assumed that I would ride to war with my people. Now, I have a funny feeling that I'll be left behind to nursemaid Gailduil. Thranduil doesn't trust any of the guards to watch him as closely as I would. He is a fool."
"Ride like the wind, Legolas."
"I will. Watch them for me, sister? They are reckless."
"Always, brother." He kissed her gently on the cheek.
"You know where to find me."
Legolas wasn't looking for anything except a walk up the mountain. Sadorlien had elected to trail behind a little ways, in case there was a rock slide. So, when he slipped and fell, Legolas assumed there would be nothing to it except a little bit of embarrassment. Then, he opened his eyes and found he was lying on a bed of gold, staring up at the sun. He couldn't think of anything to sum up the situation, so he remained quiet. He turned his head to look around the chamber. Then, he closed his eyes to take an assessment of his body. No, he wasnít hurt, it hadn't been a long fall. He should be able to just get up and crawl up that perfectly smooth wall there to the hole he'd come in through. He sighed. He looked up and saw Sadorlien looking down at him. The guard assessed the situation and reached for the rope that he didn't have with him. Legolas started to snicker softly. Sadorlien shrugged.
"Who is there?" a voice growled. Legolas motioned quickly for Sadorlien to leave the hole.
"Just a rather lost elf, master," Legolas said. He drew every ounce of innocence he could to the surface. "I was just walking over the mountain to look at the Dale. I didn't know it was your home. I would leave, but I'm afraid I don't know the way." The dragon moved towards him and peered closely at him.
"Your name, fair one?" He nudged the elf's side with his nose. "Are you hurt?"
"No, master dragon. I am not hurt. My name is Legolas."
"I am Smaug."
"A pleasure, master Smaug." The dragon's tongue flicked out to taste his skin. Legolas was startled.
"Hm. Not to my taste." He peered closely. "And you have nothing of gold on you."
"No," Legolas agreed. "I don't care for gold."
"That is good. Come, Master Legolas. This is the way out. You should not wander the mountain."
"I will not do so again, sir."
"Good." Legolas climbed up and out of the dragon's door. He jumped lightly to the path he had been on before. He was surprised when he was hit on the head by something small and hard. He looked to see what it was and found an emerald on the path. He picked it up and looked up at the dragon.
"You've dropped something, Master Smaug."
"Keep it in good health, Master Legolas. If my memory does not serve me well, show me. I always remember my jewels. Especially the carved ones."
"Carved?" Legolas looked more closely and saw that the emerald was indeed carved into a green leaf. "Thank you, Master dragon."
"Now, be gone and do not return."
Legolas waved and hurried around the mountain, collecting Sadorlien on his way. "We'll not be coming up here again."
"Very good, my prince. I'm glad to hear it. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Next time we go up a mountain, remind me to bring a rope."
"Yes, sir." Sadorlien grinned. "And you've made yourself a new friend. As cranky as Lord Thranduil?"
For over two hundred turnings of the leaves, things continued as they always had in Mirkwood. There were more orcs and more dangers to be seen from every side. There were dragons terrorizing the dwarves to the north, not that Legolas minded. He tended to cheer for Smaug. One dragon to so many dwarves, it seemed unfair. The fights were getting more bloody though and there were days when there was no rest to be had except in the arcing of black blood into the air. It was one of the more quiet days that Legolas found himself within spying distance of Dol Goldur. He glanced over his shoulder, but saw no sign of Sadorlien behind him. He settled in the tree-tops to watch. He was startled when a figure in grey robes with a grey pointed hat and a long staff came walking directly towards him. The man looked up, tugged at his beard, then took a pipe from the top of his staff. "Come down from there and walk with me," he commanded.
Surprised, the elf did as he was told. They moved through the forest on silent feet. Legolas was impressed. He'd thought the wizard would make more sound as they moved. "Your people call me Mithrandir."
"I have heard of you."
"And who would you be, Elf?"
"There are too many eyes in the trees for that, good sir. Let us walk a bit further from the Necromancer's lands and I might be more willing to talk." Legolas' eyes searched the darkness created by the canopy of leaves. Mithrandir smiled.
"Ah, caution. I didn't think any of your kin knew of such things."
"We are more cautious than most. There has been trouble in these woods and they have grown darker, despite our touch." Legolas sighed. Suddenly, his bow was out and he was firing. He stalked through the woods to gather up what arrows he could. He left two in the bodies.
"Orc arrows for orcs. Very clever. Are you trying to sow confusion?" Grey-blue eyes twinkled merrily at the elf.
"I am merely saving myself the trouble of making more arrows. These never seem to care what becomes of their arrows, so I make use of them. That they think of it as inside attacks is only a side benefit."
"And who do you look for?"
"Someone I've not seen in too long for my comfort. I would urge you to move more quickly if you wish to walk with me. If not, thank you for rousing me from my roost. I have been lost in dream-paths for too long." Mithrandir nodded and followed the elf. His walk was not quite as quick and not quite as quiet, but he managed to keep the light blond hair in sight despite the deepening gloom. He was pleased when they came upon two other elves. Legolas dropped immediately to one knee to see to the female elf with red-brown hair that was laying on the bed of fallen leaves and moss. Sadorlien looked up at him with worried eyes.
"She's hit her head on something."
"A rock it would appear," Legolas said. "And here I thought she was too hard headed to be hurt by banging into a mountain." He checked for blood and for broken bones. He sat back with a snarl of frustration. "I'm not a healer."
"Don't look at me, sir."
"Perhaps I could help?"
Sadorlien glared at the wizard.
"Mithrandir, what would you do for her?" Legolas asked.
"I am one of the Wise."
"But what would you do for her?"
"You are suspicious for an elf."
"And I know where you have been recently, Mithrandir. And you walked out unscathed and unnoticed."
"Because when I went in I was unnoticed. Let me see her." The wizard knelt down. He closed his eyes for a moment. Then, he placed his hand on her forehead. She groaned and her eyes fluttered. Legolas glared at the wizard who ignored him. Her eyes flickered open and she started cursing. Mithrandir raised his brows.
"She'll be fine. She always like this when you wake her," Sadorlien stated. "Hey, old lady, wake up."
"I'll old lady you with a switch if you don't leave me alone, boy." Legolas covered his grin with a hand. Deluiel sat up and touched the soreness at the back of her head. "Thrice cursed goblins."
"They're gone for the moment. I think we should get you back home for one of the healers to check though."
"That's an awfully long way for a bump. Who's the wizard?"
"Ah. Bearer of bad news. Fine, we'll take him up. Hand." Legolas offered her his hand and she got to her feet. "Where's my bow?"
"I've got it," Sadorlien stated. "And your sword, and daggers and rope."
"Good. How about provisions for the wizard?"
"We can find something to eat out here. It would appear that a decision has been reached. You're here so you get to go to the palace," Legolas said as Deluiel turned to get her weapons strapped on appropriately. "As if that's a good idea these days. He'll be shot on sight. The king doesn't want any more bad news."
"And how do you know that is what I'm carrying? I might be carrying something of great importance."
"Important and good do not always equate."
"You know damn well that the wizard will have his way and go to the palace with or without us. Do you want to explain to the king how he got there?"
"Do I want to explain anything to him?" Legolas shot back. "And you're still hurting because your tongue is as sharp as honeybee's stinger."
"It can get sharper," she said with an evil smile. "Don't upset me."
Legolas rolled his eyes at her. "Do you want to go scrounging before we're off?" he asked. "Your quiver is empty."
"That's why I've got blades. Let's just go." Legolas absently adjusted her quiver with one hand as she pulled the straps tight.
"Well? Will you travel with us or alone?" he asked Mithrandir.
"I will travel with you. I think it will be more interesting."
"You're a madman or a fool then," Deluiel stated. "But thank you for sparking off the healing. These two wouldn't know how to heal a pinprick."
"It's not my fault that I can't remember herbs," Legolas said.
"It is your fault that you never studied them long enough to learn them." Legolas ignored her in favor of listening to the trees. "Children," Deluiel snorted and glanced at the wizard. "They call you Gandalf too, do they not?"
She nodded. "Trouble-maker."
"I only bear the news, I do not make it."
She snorted and rubbed at the sore spot on the back of her head. "Fine. As you will, then, wizard. Keep close and don't go wandering off."
Gandalf's smile was hidden by his beard. It wasn't until they were near the lighter trees of the elven holdings that they fell to serious talk once more. "Will you tell us your business, Mithrandir?" Legolas asked.
"No, I will not. I will speak only to the lord of this land."
"More the fool you," Deluiel stated.
"And you shall go to the healers before you drive me to kill you for the sheer relief from your words," Legolas said. "I swear that you never cursed that badly before you were knocked on the head."
Sadorlien snorted. "That's because she thinks you've got sensitive ears."
"Funny, I always assumed it was you she was cursing at."
"Boys! Ai!" She threw her hands up. "You, come with me," she said to Sadorlien. "You, take the trouble-maker to talk to the king." Mithrandir looked at Legolas in amusement when the other two had left them for the healer's grove.
"Is she always so abrasive?"
"For as long as I can remember, sir. Come along and I'll take you into the palace."
"An elf that lives below ground like a dwarf? What will happen next?"
"A halfling will appear in front of you," Legolas laughed. "Or rather, we'll be attacked by a youngling."
"Legolas!" Gailduil looked up from his arrow-making. He put down his tools carefully and ran to meet his brother. Legolas embraced him. "You've chosen just the wrong time to come home you know. He won't be glad to see you."
"He'll be even less glad when he sees his visitor, so I may be able to slip out without him noticing me. Is that why you're here making your arrows instead of your room?"
"No, Mother Ravenclaw insisted that if she was going to teach me to shoot properly I had to get to know the woods. Father won't let me out any farther without half a company."
"Good. It's not getting any nicer out there and the spiders would love to suck you dry." Legolas pulled on the single braid that the younger elf wore mostly to hold up his silver and diamond circlet.
"You'd better go in before he sends someone out after you."
"Why would he send someone after me? He doesn't want me in his sight."
"Unless you are out of it. Mother has not been able to break his mood for months. They had a screaming fight yesterday."
"Cariel screamed at him?"
"Then Mithrandir can go on by himself. I'll just go. . ." Cariel looked out from the doors with a frown on her face. She gestured Legolas inside. "do what Lady Cariel tells me. Come, Gandalf, make yourself helpful and distract Lord Thranduil long enough for me to slip out the window."
Cariel kissed Legolas' cheek. "He's in his study. He doesn't want to be disturbed. Perhaps you will lighten his mood."
Legolas stared at her. "What a sickening joke, my lady."
She smiled at him and welcomed Mithrandir. "Take the wizard to your father."
"Cariel, you didn't?"
"Yes, we were fighting over something like that."
"You will find him more than willing to keep you around so that I do not lose my temper again."
"And he thinks I guard against your temper?"
"He knows you do. Go, sing for him. Make him calm, then make sure his guest is well tended."
"Now, Legolas." Legolas led Gandalf into the structure and to his father's study, which was high inside the mountain. Legolas peered into the study, then stepped in boldly.
"My lord? There is a messenger for you," he said without saying hello. Thranduil spun from his position at the window.
"Legolas. Who have you brought?"
"Then you must stay."
"I don't know, sir. Perhaps I should call Gailduil."
"He has no concept of the war. Come in Mithrandir. Can I get you some wine?"
"That would be most kind."
"Legolas, tell the steward I want the best wine that came in today." Legolas nodded and called the steward. Thranduil gestured Gandalf to the sofa. Legolas took the wine from the steward and firmly shut the door. The steward shook his head. He should tell the guard to be prepared, there was trouble brewing. Legolas served the wine carefully and retreated to the window. He leaned against the wall and looked out into the daylight. He watched the birds dipping and gliding in the sky. "You will want a glass of your own," Thranduil said pouring one more glass. "Come, sit with us." The lord of Mirkwood said. Legolas settled in the visitor's chair and watched with careful eyes.
"The Dark Lord is in Dol Goldur as I suspected." Legolas sipped at his wine so that he would have an excuse not to say anything. "He has all seven of the Dwarf rings. He needs only the one ring to become powerful enough to rule this land once more."
"That will not happen on our watch. You know that, Mithrandir."
"There are things beyond your control, Thranduil. The ring has a will of its own."
"And what do you plan to do about Sauron?"
"I will bring up my suggestions to the Council. And will you introduce me to this new counselor of yours?"
"This is Prince Legolas."
"Your son? And why haven't I. . . Thranduil, what is wrong?"
"He is the queen's son."
"No, wizard," Legolas said softly. "Leave it be. I am heir here. That is all. And I would like to know what Council you are speaking about."
"In time," Gandalf said with a smile. "For the moment, I think you are as weary as your companions. I would speak with Thranduil in private."
"Legolas." Thranduil's voice stopped the prince from leaving the room. "Your room is prepared. Do not go hiding in the barracks."
"And why haven't you told him of the Council if he is your heir?"
"That is a story we will not approach tonight."
Legolas leaned back in his chair and sighed. "I donít understand this, my lord. First you tell me to get out of your sight, then you call me back. Once I return, you ignore me. How am I supposed to react? I'm not a pet that will jump up and down for your affections. I have long since learned to live without them."
"When did you turn so cold, Legolas?" Thranduil asked.
"When did you? If you have need of me, I will be in the forest. I cannot take this place any longer. When you finally decide what you want of me, I shall return."
"Don't you dare walk out on me, boy," Thranduil snapped.
"Then give me reason to stay."
"You are my heir, but also my subject. When I give you an order you will obey it."
"Yes, my lord." Legolas remained standing near the door, still as a cat ready to pounce.
"You will remain in the palace. If you are found wandering the woods, even with your guards, I will lock you in the dungeon."
Legolas looked at his father, eyes as still as the rest of his body. "As you wish, my lord. Shall I see to your correspondence?"
"Very well, my lord."
"Legolas, can I talk to you for a moment?" Cariel asked.
"Of course, my lady. Where shall we hide ourselves away?" Legolas responded. He gestured to the doors. "Not that way, since that would lead to the outdoors and it wouldn't do to have me smell fresh air and see stars. Nor shall we go up the stairs towards my lord's chambers. Yet, I don't think you would like the cramped chair of my room."
"My study." Cariel smirked and shook her head. "Perhaps you should consider writing a history of your father's line."
"It would be quite short, as I know no one from my father's line." They settled in Cariel's study. Legolas curled up on her sofa. She sat down on the opposite end of it, and pulled her feet up under her skirt.
"I want to talk to you about the book you left for Gailduil all those years ago."
"Because the light is fading from your eyes and you seem to be harsher now, colder. It wasn't so when you left. Your heart was bleeding. You were sad, but you weren't colder than a winter's snow."
"I hear there is a cruel frost on the ground now, lady. And there are many men and dwarves suffering because of it. Yet, I am trapped here and unable to help even the woodsmen that I spoke with at length. There are children and trees and flowers and birds and many other creatures dying right now and every death pierces my heart. I cannot stand it, therefore, I must be colder than the winter frost."
"And Thranduil hardens your heart as well," she said. He glared at her, but there was no heat in it.
"Yes. Yes, he does. I cannot bear to hold his pain any longer. It is better that I stay cold, then I cannot be hurt."
"Sweet Legolas, you are so full of shit that I can barely stand it."
Cariel was rewarded by a look of utter shock on her step-son's face. "Cariel!"
"You are hurt every time he treats you coldly and your spirit sings when he treats you kindly. But this is off of the point I wanted to make. I would like to know about your mother. Not the facts that you put down, or even the scraps of poetry. I want to know the woman that once held your father's heart. I want to know what made her stay in the palace when she loved the woods so much."
"She loved my lord more," Legolas whispered. "As I do."
"You're going to see whether your prisoners, which you never told me existed I should add, have gone and pissed off the dragon. Fine. Have fun. You are not going to stick me in my room for the duration of this. I just want to see the stars for once."
"Legolas, you will rule in my stead. And you will *not* go running around the forest like a common hunter. You will stay in the palace. You will take care of the papers I have left you and you will not issue any edicts to contradict my rulings. Am I understood?"
"My lord?" Legolas said as his father turned away.
"Yes?" Thranduil snapped.
"You've taken all the fun out of the job."
"I should like to have seen the dwarves. Too late now, I suppose. How did they manage to slip away?"
"We will find that out in time, I think." Thranduil rode off to battle. Legolas looked up to the sparrow on ledge.
"And what can you tell me of what is happening, little one?" he asked. The bird settled on his shoulder and whispered into his ear. Legolas listened carefully, then went into the palace. Gailduil followed him.
"And what are you doing, brother? My goodness, you're wearing your crown."
"Don't get used to it. This thing is bothersome." The eldest pushed it further back on his head and opened the carefully bound set of parchments he was not to look at. Gailduil's eyes widened.
"I want to see too."
"Fine." Legolas gathered the papers and settled them on the table his father kept in the room for late dinners. They read the papers with silent fascination. After an hour, Gailduil swallowed hard.
"I need wine."
"That sounds very good."
Thranduil returned to find Legolas in his office. He was chewing on what appeared to be a piece of summer grass. He was studying a book intently and taking notes from it. His crown had slipped down to settle properly over his brow where he had always hated it. The prince didn't look up until there was a clattering of stones on the desk. He jerked upright and blinked. "Ai!"
Thranduil looked over his son's shoulder at the book and frowned. "You will not be riding to Fangorn or Gondor or Mordor, so put such fancies out of your head."
"Into the grey mountains then?"
"Or to the Dales?"
"The rooks tell us that the dragon is dead and that the Men mean to resettle the Dale."
"They may. I do not care, so long as they continue to press such wonderful wine. What are you working on here?"
"I am trying to figure out where the old battles took place. Lord Elrond told me some stories and I want to see if the battle plans would work. But the maps of Mordor are too simple. They don't show anything of the land. I don't know how one is to plan anything with no knowledge."
"There are some things that cannot be planned."
"Are these your part of the dragon's treasure?" Legolas prodded the emeralds with a finger.
"They're pretty. Will you wear them or give them to Cariel?"
"I don't know. I haven't decided what to do with them. We are celebrating downstairs. Perhaps you would have noticed if you hadn't closed your ears."
"I was merely involved."
"I notice that my welcome from Gailduil was more enthusiastic."
"Gailduil is a brat and will always be so."
"Legolas, come down to the celebration."
"I would rather not."
"That was not a suggestion."
"Yes, sir." Legolas sighed and filed his notes away.
Legolas was vaguely bored. The orcs seemed to be drawn further south. His attention was caught by a human walking along the river. He was some five miles off and wandering as if he didn't know where he was headed. Legolas shook his head. He was fond of the woodsman in the forest. This wasn't one of them, or one of their sons. None of the woodsman wore black. Legolas frowned. He stepped further out on the branch and leaned forward a bit. Deluiel's back straightened and she followed his gaze. "Are you going to play or be nice?" she asked.
"I'm sweet. Just ask Cariel."
Deluiel snorted. "Where's the wretch?"
"I was sleeping," Sadorlien said from the branch above her. "Who's that?"
"We don't know. I don't think he's one of the woodsmen," Deluiel said. "Could he be from Gondor?"
"He could be a ranger. Let's find out, shall we?"
"Legolas!" The prince ignored his guard and jumped down. He leaned against the tree, letting the human get closer. Then, he darted along the edge of the woods until he was along side the man. The man had his hand on his sword and his eyes were scanning the woods. Oh, he was good. He'd managed to pick up an elf moving. Legolas stepped past the edge of the woods. His ears picked up an angry hiss from Deluiel. He'd apologize later. Maybe.
Aragorn had grown up with elves. He didn't know who had stepped out of the forest, but there was no question that he was an elf. The disconcerting light coalesced into nothing more than sunlight on his hair and fair skin. He was dressed in brown and green with a bow poking up behind his head. Aragorn released his sword. He let his hand fall to his side and stood still, allowing the elf to look him over.
Legolas hid the amused smile when he realized he was being allowed to study the human however long he wished. He stepped forward and his eye was caught by a movement down river. His bow was in his hands and he was tracking it instantly. He kept the human in his range of vision, but tracked the creature. It was an orc, he decided a second later. He waited as calm as any predator. Then, the orc stepped close enough to ensure the shot would kill it. He was aware of the human pulling his own bow. Legolas loosed his first arrow and was ready when the rest of the unit came seemingly out of nowhere. He noted with one part of his mind that the human was firing in concert with the rest of them. He was a good shot for a human. The unit was disposed of. Legolas met Deluiel's eyes. She sent Sadorlien after arrows and remained watching carefully.
Aragorn looked between the three elves as they exchanged glances. He knew it was possible to tell an elf's age by looking at them, but he'd never had the skill. They could be the same age or not. No, the woman was older, simply by the force of her gaze. He didn't like being pinned down by it. It was disconcerting to be judged by someone he didn't know. He was surprised when she wasn't the one who took charge of things from then on. "You shoot well," the first elf said.
"And what are you doing here? It is dangerous to be on your own. The orcs could have taken you."
"I can take care of myself."
"Truly? But then, they tend to ignore the humans of these woods unless they need food."
"But not the elves?" Aragorn asked, frowning in concern. "I wasn't aware that there was an open war."
"It is not exactly open, but we do not allow them to trespass on our lands."
"It would depend on the human."
"And would I be allowed to pass?"
"Perhaps," Legolas said with a smile. "And who are you then, human?"
"I am Strider. A ranger."
Legolas' smile widened. "I am Legolas. May I walk with you awhile?"
"It has been several years since I had the company of an elf. I would be pleased to have you at my side."
Deluiel glared at the prince. "I would suggest you wait for Sadorlien to return with arrows."
"I should help him."
"Don't be foolish. Deluiel is keeping good watch over him. But we will wait for him, if for no other reason than it will save time." Legolas tilted his head to the side as he looked at the older elf. She shook her head.
"Unlike some, I learn my lessons."
Sadorlien returned with an armful of arrows. "These are all of the unbroken ones I could salvage. These are yours I think," he said pulling off a handful to hand to Strider. "You two get to sort through the rest on your own."
"No. For the amount of trouble you're going to get us into in about five minutes, you can do the sorting," Deluiel informed Legolas.
"It won't be that bad. Thranduil need never know."
"Lord Thranduil? The king of the Wood-elves?"
"That would be the Thranduil we are discussing," Legolas grinned. "Don't worry. His anger isn't going to be directed at you. Or even these two. He knows they just follow my lead. And he can't manage to get me to follow orders." He settled the arrows in his quiver after shaking off the last of the blood.
Aragorn looked disbelievingly at the elf.
"Shall we go on then? You can tell me where you've been and where you're going and everything before and some of what you plan for the future."
Arwen looked in on her father as he relaxed in the evening. She knew what she wanted to confront him about, but she didn't want to change the peace that was on his face. In a moment, the solution came to her. "Father?"
"I'm leaving for Mirkwood in the morning."
"You could send a request and have Legolas come here, you know."
"You know his father won't let him beyond the borders unless there is need for his silver tongue to soothe you over some slight or other."
"And I would prefer you go with more than one attendant."
"I am a fast rider, Father. I will be fine."
"That is what your mother told me." Arwen sighed and caved.
"I will take a guard with me."
Elrond sighed deeply. He couldn't order her to stay in Rivendell. He'd prefer it that she was safe where he could watch her, but she was capable of making her own decisions. "Remember to tell him he's welcome to come to Rivendell at any time."
"I will. Don't worry so much, Father." She kissed his cheek. "Everything will work out in the end."
"I wish I shared your faith."
"Legolas, you have a guest. Try to be civil," Thranduil said. The prince looked up at him from his book.
"Guest?" He was confused. No one ever came to visit him at the palace. His eyes cleared. "One of Lord Elrond's children?"
"Yes. The Evenstar has come to call. Is there something you want to tell me?"
"No, my lord."
Thranduil sighed. He was tired of trying to bridge the gap between them. He had created it, but he didn't know how to close it without causing more harm. "Legolas, you can tell me anything. You do know that?"
"You have said it often enough, sir. I'll go greet Arwen now, sir." Legolas set his book aside and stood. He waited for his father to move out of the way. Thranduil stepped to the side. His son left the room and he looked around it. The bow and cup were the only memories of his first wife left. He let his chin drop to his chest.
"I'm sorry, Aewlos. I'm so sorry."
Deluiel stepped in from the hallway. "Perhaps you should tell your son that." Thranduil whirled angrily to face her. "You can't hide your pain from me, Thranduil. You never could. I stood for Aewlos at your wedding. Do you remember that day?"
"Yes. I couldn't forget it. She was so happy that day. It was the first time I'd seen her in a skirt." He smiled wryly.
"We were fighting a war, Thranduil. Skirts are a hazard in battle. She was my captain. Ravenclaw's as well. We were so happy when she finally found you. And the two of you in battle was like watching the gods fight. You were so beautiful in your wrath. What happened?"
"I settled down. I have responsibilities beyond the battlefield now. I have since we came here. You know that well."
"And yet you insist on punishing Legolas for your pain."
"I do not!"
"Thranduil." The one word caught him up short. "Tell him. Let him see that you have finally found a way to leave your pain behind you. And perhaps you could loose his leash a bit more?"
"No. I will not lose him, Deluiel. I will not do that."
"If you don't let him free he will find a way to die. His heart is so cold, Thranduil. I have been watching him die day by day. Every day that you look away from him, every day that you have yelled at him, every day he is forced to forget his mother's name, I have watched him die bit by bit. There is only one person left to reach him, Thranduil."
"I don't know how any longer. He won't talk to me. He won't even tell me of Arwen. Or even that human ranger he's decided to protect when he can."
"He loves Arwen as a sister, but you loved Aewlos as a friend first as well, so I will not discount the possibility of more developing there. And Aragorn is also one of Elrond's children. He was called Estel. He is known as Strider and you should remember that. I think it will be important. I would not close these doors to Strider or you will lose your son completely."
Thranduil sighed. He ran his fingers over the jeweled weaving that Legolas used to cover his window. "I miss him."
"I do not know how."
"Ask Lady Cariel to help you. Ask Prince Gailduil. I am not here as one of your guards. I am not as the prince's guard. I am here as an old friend, Thranduil. You have never been able to hide from me and you never will be able to hide from me. You were a brave warrior once. Where is your courage now?" Her voice was as harsh as the North wind.
"My courage fails me in the face of my heart. I cannot let him go and I cannot draw him closer. I will have to be satisfied with this arrangement."
"You could lift the ban on Aewlos' name as a start."
Thranduil winced, but the pain was not as sharp as he had remembered it.
"And you could let him call you 'father' once more."
"Perhaps. It will be strange in his mouth and on my ears."
Deluiel shrugged. "I am going to help Sadorlien watch over the prince and the Evenstar."
"Deluiel, I have never told you, but having you with him eases my heart."
"I know, my lord." He looked up in shock. She hadn't used his title in years. She smiled. "Welcome back, Thranduil. My first duty and loyalty will always be to my prince, but you are still my king."
Arwen hugged Legolas tightly. Her smile was bright and his eyes started to shine more under its influence, until he was smiling as well. "Shall we take a walk, Arwen?"
"Yes, my friend. I have something wonderful to tell you."
"Let's see, your brother fell from his horse and into a mud puddle?"
She laughed. "No, not at all." They stepped into the village and waved cheerfully to anyone who greeted them. It wasn't until they were alone at what Arwen considered their clearing that she spoke. "I've found my Chosen." Legolas spun her to stand in front of him. He searched her eyes, then a full smile bloomed on his face. He pulled her close.
"I am so happy for you. Will you tell me who it is?" She tugged on his braid.
"Of course, silly. Sit down." She dropped to lay in the grass and he joined her. A black squirrel chattered angrily at them and they both laughed. "His name is Aragorn. He is the son of Arathorn. And will be the king of the men one day. He is. . . he is everything. He is a warrior. He has a sense of humor. He has a spark of power and he has an overwhelming amount of fear. I love him with all of my heart. And Father has sent him away until he finds his way as a man. I don't know how I will bear to be without him for long. But he makes my heart leap with joy."
"Then you would like to hear that he is a ranger known as Strider." She turned to look at his profile, hearing the teasing in his voice.
"You've seen him?"
"Yes, Evenstar. I've met him. He kills orcs on occasion. He is making a very good ranger. The birds watch him for me when they can. He has lamentably met Mithrandir, but that may be all for his benefit."
Arwen rolled over and propped herself up on his chest with her arm. "You will watch him for me? Make sure nothing happens to him? I don't know if I could bear it."
"You know that you will outlive him."
"I have chosen already to give up my immortality for him, Legolas." He looked at her, stunned. Then, he closed his eyes. He nodded.
"I can see you doing that for him. I will watch him for you, when I can. I will protect him when I can." He opened his eyes and grinned. "It is not a hardship."
She wrinkled her nose at him. "So, what have you been doing with yourself?"
"Besides tormenting humans and killing orcs? Correspondence mostly. Cariel wants me to write a history of Mirkwood. Thranduil wants me to take over his letters. And Deluiel wants me to go hunting orcs because she's getting bored being stuck in the same house as Thranduil. Sadorlien has extracted a promise that I won't walk him into the spider's area again since we only managed to kill the last ten because of luck. Gailduil is pestering me to teach him songs when I can drag him out of the forge. And Mother Ravenclaw is attempting to find me a mate." Legolas rolled his eyes. "She thinks I need a keeper."
"She's right." Arwen smiled. "Sounds like you're having fun."
"Not really." Legolas sighed. "Thranduil won't let me wander far from the palace. He's gotten protective again."
"And what did you do to provoke that response?"
"Spent a year away. I don't understand it. I've spent decades in the woods and he didn't blink. I spend a year with a ranger and he's decided that I'm not to leave the house. I will never understand him. I've given up trying. I just try to stay out of the way."
"Father wants me to remind you that you're welcome at Rivendell any time you like."
"Where are you going?"
"No, you are not."
"Why, sir? What's the harm in taking a look?"
"There's been trouble."
"There's always been trouble and I'm not going to stay hidden in this hole until it's gone, sir. I'm sorry." Legolas turned and walked towards the door.
"You are my son. You will do as I say."
"You have not called me son in thousands of turnings."
"The fact remains that you will do as I say. I am your king."
"Why are you doing this now, my lord?"
"Legolas, I want you to stay."
"Why? Why do you want me here when you won't even look at me? I can be standing in the same room and not exist for you!" Legolas closed his eyes and calmed himself. "I'm sorry, sir."
"No, you are right. It pains me to see Aewlos in your face."
Legolas whipped around to face his father once more. His eyes were wide with shock. "It has been many years since I have heard that name pass your lips, my lord," he said quietly.
Thranduil nodded. "Legolas, it pains me to see you here, but it hurts me more when you are away. At least when I can see you, I know that you are safe, that I will not lose you."
Legolas straightened and lifted his chin. "I am not a pet, my lord. Nor am I a possession. I will not be treated as one. I am part of the forest. These walls are nothing but a prison to my soul. I cannot remain here and remain sane. I need fresh air. I need stars. I cannot do this."
"Then spend your days in the forest, but come home for your nights."
"Yes, my lord." Legolas looked down.
"Thank you. I will see you for dinner then."
Child's Play Part 3