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Prodigal Sons  by daw the minstrel

This story is a sequel to a previous story, “See the Stars.”  I think it stands on its own, but readers can learn more about the events that are troubling Legolas in this story’s opening by reading that one.




1. On the Training Fields


The training fields were busy that summer morning, as both young and more experienced warriors of Mirkwood honed their skills with weapons they increasingly needed to keep their people safe from the dangers spreading from the south of the kingdom.


Among those busy on the fields was a group of younglings, not yet old enough to be called warriors but old enough to see their future closing in upon them.  They were still responsible primarily to their parents rather than to Mirkwood’s warrior captains, but those captains were eying them closely to see what the future might hold for them. Today they were engaged in a lesson under the watchful eye of the archery master, Penntalion.  One by one, the students were running across the field while shooting at a row of targets at the other end, with Penntalion calling corrections all the way.  “Do not push your release, Tonduil.  Drop your shoulder, Annael. That is an extremely sloppy draw, Turgon. Where is your anchor point?”


Turgon finished his run and then pulled up into line with the others who had preceded him.  “Penntalion is certainly in a bad mood today,” he complained to Annael, who stood next to him.  He and Annael, along with King Thranduil’s youngest son, Legolas, had been friends for longer than any of them could remember.  Anneal shrugged and grinned.


“Your draw really was sloppy, Turgon,” he teased. “Now I, on the other hand, did not have my shoulder raised, although as it happens, the arrows flew truer after I dropped it.”


Turgon snorted.  “Penntalion is too fussy.  My arrows flew true enough. You will see that my score was as good as that of anyone else here.”


The entire group had now finished its run, and Penntalion sent them off with a shout to retrieve their arrows from the other end of the field and then set up to run the whole drill again from the other direction. Turgon groaned in resignation.


An hour and three more runs later, Penntalion declared himself satisfied for the day and sent them off the field. All but Turgon, that is. He summoned Turgon to him and, having waited until the others were out of earshot, began to scold him.  “What ails you, Turgon?  It is plain to me that you have not made the slightest effort to do what I have told you today.  I expect that all of you will make mistakes, but I also expect that you will make an effort to correct those mistakes when I point them out to you.”  He paused, looking to see if the youngling was contrite, but Turgon kept his eyes firmly on the ground.  Penntalion frowned. “I shall expect better of you tomorrow.”  He turned and went back to the field where a beginners’ class of four very small elflings was waiting for him.


Turgon blew out his breath in frustration.  He was finding the discipline of daily training increasingly burdensome.  He longed to be off doing those things for which his training had prepared him.  Looking around for Annael, he started away from the training fields.  Off to his right, Turgon suddenly became aware of a stir indicating that something unusual was happening.  Never one to ignore something that might prove interesting, he moved off in that direction.  The focus of everyone’s attention seemed to be a training area in which a knife fight was occurring.  With increasing interest, Turgon saw that the student who was sparring with Thelion, the knife master, was Legolas.


For part of the spring, Turgon had been away from Thranduil’s stronghold visiting his family home. He knew that during the time he was away something had happened to Legolas, although he was not sure what that something had been.  Annael said that Legolas had missed almost a month of weapons practice, a fact that Turgon simply would not have believed if Annael had not been the one to tell it.  Legolas never missed weapons training and was extremely serious about the effort he put into it. Annael said that Legolas had spent part of that month working in the armory, evidently as punishment for leaving the palace at night without his father's permission, but that did not account for the whole time. Now there were times when Legolas actually seemed reluctant to participate in the training.  And there were times when he was entirely too quiet, as if he were brooding on something.  Turgon had tried to ask him about the matter, but Legolas brushed all questions aside and, if pressed, would walk away.  So Turgon had ceased asking and tried to signal his support by his silent presence.


It suddenly occurred to Turgon that this was the first time he had seen Legolas engaged in knife training since he had returned.  This insight startled him.  When he had left for his family home early in the spring, Legolas had been spending as much time as the weapons masters would allow training with a set of double knives.  Turgon had not seen him touch those weapons since then.


Today Legolas was working with a single dagger.  Both he and Thelion were wearing light leather armor and using blunted training blades.  Legolas was moving on the balls of his feet, sweeping the dagger in a defensive pattern from high on the right across his body and down to the left, and then from high on the left, down to the right.  He never looked at the dagger in the trainer’s hand, concentrating instead on reading his opponent’s intent in his face and in small shifts of weight and momentum. They circled around one another, each looking for an opening the other’s defense. Suddenly, Thelion lunged forward, stabbing toward Legolas’s left side.  In instant countermove, Legolas closed in and brought his dagger into the leather guarding the trainer’s diaphragm.  The weapon master immediately raised his arms in surrender, evidently pleased with his student’s alert moves.  In response, Legolas stood still for a moment and then dropped the dagger, turned, and walked hurriedly off the training field.


After a second’s startled silence, a murmur rose from the onlookers.  “Legolas!” called Thelion.  “We are not finished.” Hearing Thelion’s call him, Legolas stopped but did not turn around.  The blade master strode to his side, put one hand on Legolas’s shoulder, and bent his head to speak to him privately.  Then Thelion released him, and he began walking steadily toward the trees that grew down to the edge of the field.  Thelion returned to the training area, picked up his gear, and started wordlessly toward the area at one side of the field where the masters had their private space.


Turgon stared after Thelion and then started after Legolas at a trot, just as his friend disappeared into the forest.  It was no surprise to Turgon to find that even after he himself had entered the trees, his friend was still invisible.  All Wood-Elves could conceal themselves from outsiders in the trees if they so chose, but like all of his kin, Legolas could merge into the forest of Mirkwood without leaving a trace for even other Elves to find.  Legolas’s oldest brother Ithilden commanded the Mirkwood forces and occasionally took part in a training exercise so that he could get a sense of the skills of the warriors in training. During one such exercise, Turgon had been looking straight at him when he had seemed to vanish into thin air.


“Legolas!” he called. “I know that you are here somewhere. Talk to me.”  Silence answered him.  He ventured forward and called again.  “Legolas!”  Knowing that his efforts were probably useless, he nonetheless kept going, calling as he walked.


Legolas sat in the oak tree watching Turgon pass below him and disappear further up the path.  He leaned his head back against the tree and closed his eyes. His stomach was tied in knots and his hands trembled slightly.  The tree sensed his distress and murmured soothingly with a sound like the fluttering of spring leaves.  “Why is this still happening?” he wondered despairingly.  “What is wrong with me?”  He settled into the embrace of the tree and endeavored to order his mind into the meditative state the healers had taught him. Gradually, he calmed himself.  He could hear the distant shouts from the training field, but they seemed like the buzzing of insects on a warm day.


At last he roused himself and realized that the sounds on the training field had died away and the sun was high overhead. It was time for mid-day meal.  He should climb down and go home. Already his family would have heard of his leaving the field, and his father and brother would be “concerned.”  Legolas grimaced at the word. He wanted nothing more than to be left alone to brood in peace.  With a sigh, he swung down from his perch and started back along the path.


Turgon stepped out in front of him so abruptly that he started. “You have certainly kept me waiting long enough,” complained Turgon.  “And you know that I do not like waiting.”


“Turgon, what are you doing here?” Legolas asked irritably.  “You are missing mid-day meal.”


“So are you.  Come with me,” Turgon offered. “My mother always has something good stowed away in the kitchen.  We can help ourselves and take it into the woods for the afternoon.”


“I cannot.  I have lessons this afternoon.”


Turgon grimaced.  They had companions whose chosen life path was that of the scholar, and Elves respect that choice.  But Legolas was the only person their age he knew who was destined to become a warrior and still had lessons.  Thranduil insisted that Legolas study history and languages to a degree that seemed completely irrational to Turgon.  “Do not go,” he advised simply.


Legolas looked at his friend and suddenly his mood lifted.  He laughed and slapped Turgon on the shoulder.  “Sound advice.  Let us go and see what your mother has in her kitchen.”


The two of them made short work of the raid on the kitchen in Turgon’s family’s cottage.  They found bread, cheese, and a flask of cider that they carted off with them into the forest, heading for a spot near a stream where they had frequently fished.  They settled down and for a while concentrated on slaking the hunger that is always great in the young.  Finally, Turgon broke the silence.


“Legolas, are you ever going to tell me what is bothering you?”


Legolas leaned his head back against a tree trunk.  Perhaps he would feel better if he told Turgon.  “While you were at your family home,” he began slowly, “my father discovered that there was an agent of the enemy in the palace.” He groped for the words that would allow him to tell his story and finally simply blurted it out. “She was threatening someone else, and I killed her.”


Turgon’s eyes were huge.  “You killed this enemy yourself?”


“I stabbed her,” Legolas choked over the words.


Turgon tried to process what Legolas was telling him.  Legolas had been in an armed fight.  He had killed his adversary.  For an unworthy moment, Turgon was overwhelmed with jealousy. “Why did you not tell me before?” he cried.  “And I still do not understand what is disturbing you at weapons practice.” An explanation that made sense suddenly occurred to him. “Wait.  I see.  The tediousness of the weapons masters has been bothering me increasingly too. It must be doubly so for you who have already acted as a warrior.”


Legolas groaned.  He should have known that Turgon would not understand.  He would not have understood himself before he had grappled the young Elven woman to him and driven a dagger into her, using much the same movement he had used on the weapons master today.  The action had upset him more than he would have thought possible.  He had gradually been recovering his former equilibrium, but the knife bout today had brought all his worries to the fore again.  He wondered if he were cut out to be a warrior after all.


“There is no point in talking about it, Turgon,” he said finally.  “Let us go toward the great oak stand and see if the owl’s eggs have hatched yet.”  Turgon plainly wanted to talk further about his friend’s startling revelation, but he had known Legolas long enough to recognize when no more information was likely to be forthcoming.  He shoved his leftovers into his pack, slung it over his shoulder, and set out after his friend.


It was late by the time Legolas returned home.  As he entered the palace hall containing the family’s private quarters, the guard on duty spoke to him.  “The king left word that he wished to speak with you as soon as you came in, Legolas.  He is in his office.”


Legolas had expected nothing else and made his way to his father’s office. He knocked on the door, and his father’s voice bade him enter.


When Thranduil motioned him to a chair, Legolas was relieved.  If his father was inviting him to sit, then he was not angry.  That probably meant that this was a talk about Thranduil’s “concern” over him, which was not welcome but was better than anger. At least, Legolas thought that it was.  Thranduil regarded him for a moment and then said, “You left the training fields this morning and disappeared for the rest of the day.”


Legolas nodded.


“May I ask why?”


Legolas hesitated.  His father knew about the difficulty he was having and had been very patient.  But Legolas had been getting better, and now he did not like to reveal the recurrence of his weakness to Thranduil.  Still, truth was always better when talking to his father. “Thelion had been pressing me to resume knife training, and I thought that I was ready. I did well enough during the bout, but as soon as it was over, my hands began to tremble.  I did not want anyone to see, so I left the field.”


Thranduil frowned slightly.  “The weapons masters already know about this, Legolas.”  Ithilden had insisted that the masters be told.  No student could be allowed to miss so many classes without some excuse, including the king’s son.  Moreover, the weapons masters needed to know what they were dealing with if they were to help their students.


“Yes, Adar. But I still did not want anyone to see.”


Thranduil rubbed his right temple and sighed.  “These things take time.  That you did well during the bout is encouraging.  It will be easier the next time.”


Legolas nodded.  “I am going to try again tomorrow.”  Thranduil smiled at him.  Legolas seemed to doubt his own courage, but Thranduil knew how much bravery it took to confront a demon that was within.


“That is well.  You will have to apologize to Thelion for leaving the lesson.”


Legolas made a face, but nodded again.  He knew what was expected of him.


“And Legolas,” Thranduil’s voice was steelier now.  “You missed lessons today and spent the afternoon wandering the woods with Turgon. That will not happen again.”


Legolas sighed.  Very little went on in Mirkwood that Thranduil did not know about. “No, Adar.”


Thranduil contemplated him.  “Do I really need to give you the lecture on responsibility?” he asked wryly.


“No, Adar.” Legolas could not repress a grin.  “I will recite it to myself as I dress for evening meal.”


One corner of Thranduil’s mouth quirked in answer, but there was an underlying note of seriousness in his voice when he responded.  “See that you do,” he said and sent the impudent youngling on his way.


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