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A Question of Duty  by daw the minstrel

AN: I've been busy writing original fic and finally have a book due out in September called FINDERS KEEPERS. So I'm celebrating that and also meckinock's birthday by writing another missing scene. I miss Thranduil's boys like crazy sometimes. I hope there's still someone around to enjoy another glimpse of them along with me.


Returns (January 3019 TA)

His gaze on the treetops, Thranduil listened to the Greenwood's song. It quivered with uneasy notes and echoed with lost voices. His warriors had been driven back again. Bit by bit, the Elves were losing their long battle.

His horse shied as he tightened his thighs around it. He'd be hanged if he'd lose this fight.

He wheeled his mount and headed back toward the stronghold, his guards' horses having to gallop to keep up. The guards were a nuisance, but with things going from bad to worse, Ithilden was unlikely to take back his insistence Thranduil not walk away from his own front door without them.

When Thranduil led his horse into the stable, he did the same thing he'd been doing for months now, looking first at the stall where Legolas's horse should be happily munching oats. He turned away from its emptiness, controlling his breathing and pushing fear back into the hole where it lived most of the time. He surrendered his gelding to the stable master and strode across the bridge and into his office, where he sank into the chair behind his desk. He looked without seeing at the small stack of notes his chief counselor had left him. He should send for Ithilden and tell him what he'd sensed in the woods. In a moment. He just needed a moment.

The office door burst open, revealing a white-faced guard. "My lord—"

Without waiting to be announced, much less given permission to enter, Beliond shoved his way into the room. What Thranduil saw was the empty space around him.

Thranduil jumped to his feet. "Where is Legolas?" In four long strides, he came around his desk and had the neck of Beliond's tunic in his hand.

"He is unharmed," Beliond said, answering Thranduil's real question rather than the one he'd asked. "At least, he was the last time I saw him."

Thranduil forced his fist to open, but found himself still speaking through gritted teeth. "Where and when was that?"

Running steps sounded in the hallway, and Ithilden ran into the office, his flushed face speaking of his hurry. "They said Beliond returned without Legolas," he gasped, then halted, staring at Legolas's bodyguard with wide, fearful eyes.

"Legolas is unharmed," Thranduil said. "Beliond was just explaining to me how he came to abandon the charge I laid on him."

Beliond looked from his king to his commander, and even he took a step back. Thranduil had known Beliond since they were both young. Beliond had seen him do things he'd never want his sons to hear about, and he'd never been in awe of any authority, including Thranduil's own. If Beliond was intimidated, Thranduil must look as fierce as Ithilden did.

"Legolas has gone on a mission set by Mithrandir and Elrond Halfelven," Beliond said, obvious pain in his voice. "I couldn't stop him, and he wouldn't have me along."

"You allowed yourself to be dismissed?" Ithilden asked. He took a step toward Beliond, as if intending to dress him down.

But Thranduil's attention had been caught by something else. "Mithrandir? What mission? What did he want with Legolas?" Into Thranduil's mind popped scenes from over the years—Mithrandir studying an elfling Legolas with thoughtful eyes, Mithrandir visiting after years away and asking if Legolas was a warrior yet, Mithrandir bidding Legolas farewell after the Battle of Five Armies, saying "Until we meet again." Fury flooded Thranduil's chest. Curse the wizard and his plots and plans.

Ignoring Ithilden, Beliond locked eyes with Thranduil and told his tale of hobbits, Nazgul, a man who would be king, and Sauron's long-lost Ring of Power.

Breath coming hard, Thranduil staggered to his chair. "Legolas travels in the company of the One Ring, with all Sauron's creatures in pursuit," he managed to squeeze out. But the bare statement of fact was not what he wanted to say. What he wanted to say pounded through his body. The Ring had to be destroyed. He saw that. But not by Legolas, not by the son he'd raised on his own and still secretly though of as his baby.

Beliond came closer, hands raised in a gesture of helplessness. "He made this choice himself because he thought it was the only way to save Middle-earth. I swear even you could not have stopped him."

Thranduil saw the look in Beliond's eyes. He'd seen that pain there before, after Beliond's son threw his life away at Dagorlad.

"Old friend," Beliond said softly, "I am so sorry."

Eilian hurtled himself into the office. At the sight of Beliond, he skidded to a halt. "Is it true?" he gasped.

Thranduil rose. "Here is what is true. Legolas has undertaken a brave task." He looked from Beliond to Ithilden to Eilian. "We will trust in his skills as a warrior and be proud of him."

Oh, Legolas, Thranduil thought. Oh, my heart.


(November, 3019 TA)

Thranduil examined the map his head forester had left spread on the desk. Wide areas had been grayed out, showing where trees had burned. Replanted areas were marked in light green. They were still sparse but spreading by the day.

"May I take this?" Eilian asked from across the desk. "It will help us plan our search for any straggling Orcs or spiders."

"Of course." Thranduil rolled the map up and handed it to Eilian. "I'll have the foresters make a copy. You keep this one in your office."

"Ithilden's office," Eilian said.

Thranduil couldn't suppress a smile. Eilian had never been the sort to admit to having an office. "Ithilden's, when he is better," Thranduil conceded.

Ithilden still lay in bed recovering from the wounds he'd taken during the last savage battle, but at least the healers now said he would recover, and he was home rather than in the infirmary.

When Eilian rose, Thranduil did too. He was restless today, itching with an almost overpowering need to plunge into the remaining forest and see what it might hold.

A knock sounded at the door, but before Thranduil could answer, it opened, as if whoever was knocking couldn't wait. The door swung open, and Legolas came striding in, grinning widely. "Mae govannen, Adar."

With a wordless exclamation, Thranduil rounded his desk and beat Eilian to seize Legolas in an embrace. His son smelled of sunshine, and fresh air, and pure delight.

Legolas laughed and freed himself to hug Eilian too.

"The Valar help us, brat," Eilian said. "I was beginning to think I was going to have to fetch you home myself."

Thranduil crowded close enough to lay a hand on Legolas's back. The touch made his son's safe return feel more real. He felt the warmth of life, and through the bond he shared with each of his sons, he sensed happiness flooding over a sunken landscape of remembered terror and determination and hopeless courage. Thranduil had known those things too. He'd have given anything to change the world so his children and grandchildren had never had to. But he couldn't change the past, only vow to make a better future.

He was lifting his hand away when he sensed something he didn't recognize.

At that moment, someone cleared a husky throat, and Legolas slipped from under Thranduil's touch to turn toward the doorway. A dwarf stood there, obviously awaiting an invitation to enter. A little uncertain of getting it, judging by the way his hands clutched his belt.

"Adar, Eilian, this is Gimli, son of Gloin, my comrade-in-arms and my friend," Legolas said.

Friend? Thranduil had to brace himself to keep from stepping back. In the fight for Middle-earth's survival, the Dwarves of Erebor had proved themselves to be allies worth having. A new future was being born in Middle-earth, and Thranduil had decided that friendship between Elves and Dwarves would be part of it, at least in his realm. But friend with his son?

In his head, he heard the other thing Legolas had just said. "My comrade-in-arms." Thranduil had been in battle. He knew what that meant, and his son had survived to come home.

The dwarf bowed. "At your service."

"At yours and your family's," Thranduil said. 'You are welcome in Eryn Lasgalen."

The tension in Legolas's shoulders eased, and he gave Thranduil a grateful look. Eilian concealed his mouth behind his hand, but his gleaming eyes gave his amusement away. Over the years, he and Legolas has both heard Thranduil say much less friendly things about dwarves.

"You are from Erebor?" Thranduil went on. "Your people showed great courage and valor in this war. I grieve with them for the loss of Dain Ironfoot." Thranduil spoke no more than the truth. Like the Elves, the Dwarves had been driven back to their very doorstep.

Gimli looked gratified. "Thank you, Lord Thranduil."

"You are unhurt," Eilian burbled happily, pounding on Legolas's back. "You walked into Mordor to face Sauron himself and you are unhurt. I can scarcely believe it even yet."

Thranduil's gaze was still on Gimli, so he saw the guarded look that danced across the dwarf's face as he flicked his gaze toward Legolas. Thranduil turned in time to see the same look vanishing from Legolas's mouth and eyes.

Something lurched and came loose in Thranduil's heart.

"Eilian," he said, "tell Alfirin Legolas is here with a guest. Or perhaps you can show Gimli to a room, since she's busy with Ithilden."

"What's wrong with Ithilden?" Legolas demanded.

"He will be fine," Thranduil said.

"I'll take care of it." Eilian embraced Legolas one more time. "It's good to have you home, brat." He started toward the door but paused. "Beliond is in the infirmary. At least he's supposed to be, though if he's heard you're home, he's probably running across the Green in his nightshirt."

Legolas laughed. '"I'll visit him soon."

"Come, sir dwarf." Eilian left with Gimli in tow, closing the door behind them.

Alone with his son, Thranduil put a gentle hand on the back of Legolas's head and kissed his brow. Legolas moved as if to take the chair, but Thranduil kept hold of him.

After a moment's silence, Legolas said, "The woods we came through were damaged beyond what I expected."

"The trees will grow again," Thranduil said. "And we will all be here to breathe in the green scent and live in a great forest, this time in peace."

Legolas's eyes met his.

"Ah," Thranduil said.

"I am so sorry," Legolas said. "We were at Pelargir. I heard the gulls call, and I was done, Adar. I couldn't help myself."

Thranduil drew him close again. He said nothing, because there was nothing to say. The world went on, and time never ran backward. For a wild moment, he though of leaving when Legolas did. After all, the time of the Elves was drawing to a close. But he knew he couldn't. Not yet. The woods needed him, and more than that, the thought of leaving Middle-earth tore his heart out.

"I will be there, Adar," Legolas said in a muffled voice. "Whenever you are ready."

"I know." Thranduil stepped back and let his brave, broken son slip from his hold. He had wanted Legolas home, but where was home for any Elf now? In the back of Thranduil's head, something quietly began to change.     

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