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We Were Young Once ~ III  by Conquistadora

Chapter 18 ~ The Darkest Night III

The joy had gone out of the wood.  There was no one who did not sincerely mourn the death of their queen, but it devastated the king.  For weeks he was scarcely seen except at her grave, and no one dared approach him there.  Official business came to a near standstill in his absence, and even when he did make an effort to be present it was obvious that he was often relying upon wine to blunt his pain.  More often his neglected duties fell to the prince.

Legolas sat behind the king’s desk, sorting through the mess of papers, feeling slightly out of place.  It was not that he did not understand how to manage their affairs, but he was not accustomed to having the first and final word.  As keenly as he felt the loss of his mother, he understood why it struck his father much harder, and no one begrudged Thranduil his period of solitude.  But it could not go on forever, and it was beginning to have detrimental effects none of them had foreseen.

Alarming reports from the border described a sudden advance by the evils of the Necromancer.  So long as Thranduil grieved, the whole wood grieved with him, and all the while Mirkwood was closing in around them.  The regional governors were mounting the best defense they could, but the shadows rushed into the void where once they had been repelled by the will of the king.  Now it seemed the king struggled to simply find will enough to live.

Legolas buried his face in his hand, the gravity of their situation and his own emotions threatening to overwhelm him.  He was not the king, he could not command the power of the king which was so desperately needed.  He idolized his father, that titan of ages past whom tragedy had forged into royalty, and the world was suddenly a strange and lonely place now that even Thranduil had been brought to his knees.  Where there had once been a potent sense of strength, now there was only pain and a yawning emptiness.  They could all feel it.  Surely the Necromancer had not failed to notice. 

The thought of that faceless demon in the south, the author of all their woes, had long ago begun to kindle the first stirrings of hatred in Legolas’ heart.  It was a dark and intoxicating emotion, and perhaps the only remedy for grief they could expect in such an unforgiving world.

Both Erelas and Gwaelas lingered uneasily at the door, each awaiting an assignment.  They looked to him for direction although between them they had served the Kings of Greenwood for many thousands of years longer than his lifetime.  The apprehension on their faces mirrored the temper of the whole population.

“Gwaelas,” Legolas sighed at last, “where is the king?”

“In the Lady’s Vale, my lord,” Gwaelas replied, confirming his suspicions. 

It was the most obvious place, yet so wholly inaccessible.  No one had yet challenged Thranduil’s dreadful solitude there.

“Will you go after him, my lord?” Gwaelas asked, unable to keep silent any longer.  “Please go after him, Legolas.  He cannot hear us, but he will hear you.”

“I doubt the king is disposed to hear anyone,” Legolas said dismally, though he did intend to try.

“You are all that remains of the voice of the queen,” Erelas reminded him.  “He cannot help but hear you.”

It was a clear autumn day outside.  The trees seemed to be dropping their leaves more quickly that year, perhaps reflecting the pervasive melancholy which gripped the entire realm. 

Legolas hesitated at the edge of the clearing.  His father sat at the foot of the queen’s barrow, weaving a wreath of her yellow roses.  The aching loneliness of the scene was palpable. 

Hearing a soft tread over the grass, Legolas turned to find Lord Galadhmir coming to stand with him, apparently fresh from the hunt.

“Is it true, then?” Legolas asked.  He had not had the opportunity to confirm the reports of the marchwardens for himself.

His uncle nodded grimly.  “They were quite correct,” he said, “and it only grows worse by the day.  We need your father back.”

“You have known him longer than I,” Legolas said.  “Do you believe he will ever be himself again?”

Galadhmir sighed heavily.  “We have seen a great deal of death,” he said, “and he has always managed to rally, but each time it strikes deeper.  Each new grief recalls the last until together they become all but impossible to bear.  I do not doubt that even Thranduil may break if once he is tried too far.”

“Is he near that now?”

“Very near,” Galadhmir admitted.  “But I expect in time he will learn to bear even this, for your sake if nothing else.  I pray it never goes ill with you, Legolas, because that may indeed be the ruin of him.”

“It is a wonder to me that you all have borne as much as you have,” Legolas said, recalling the violence of their past.

“It seems we are all doomed to taste some measure of that sorrow in our lives,” Galadhmir said distantly, “an immortal race in a mortal world.  Death stalks us all, and it leaves wounds which do not heal within the bounds of this earth.  She was my sister, she was your mother, but she was his heart.  Somehow your father must find it within himself to face each day with that emptiness in his soul.  I do not envy him that.”

“It is very cruel,” Legolas agreed bitterly.  “He needs time.  He deserves time, but I cannot give him that.  Were he anyone else, he would be free to mourn in peace.”

“You will find that your father is not like anyone else,” Galadhmir assured him with a hint of pride.  “And you can give him more than you know.”

It was difficult to know what he could do in the face of it all, but certainly he had to try.  The pit they were sunk in seemed too cavernous to climb free of all at once.  They may never succeed if the king were left to struggle alone.

Galadhmir nodded encouragingly in Thranduil’s direction, and then turned and walked away. 

Boldly, Legolas entered the valley and approached the king.  He was not afraid, but it had always seemed heartless to interrupt him.  Heartless it may be, but the needs of the kingdom were becoming too dire to allow the indulgence. 

He slowed a few paces distant.  “Father?” he ventured cautiously.  He must be aware of him, but it was difficult to tell sometimes. 

“Yes?”  Thranduil turned imperceptibly towards him.  There was no impatience in his voice, just a profound weariness.

“You have not slept for days,” Legolas said, crouching beside him, genuinely concerned.  “You have scarcely been home.  Gwaelas is half mad with worry.  I have been worried.”

Thranduil merely looked at him, his eyes so expressive that there was truly no need to speak.  He was not entirely sober, and Legolas knew there would be no reasoning with him in that state.  It was enough to simply sit with him for a few long moments, each deriving some comfort from the other. 

“Will you at least come back for supper?” Legolas asked at last.  “For me, today of all days?”

Thranduil nodded.  “Yes,” he said thickly.  “I promise.”

Satisfied for the moment, Legolas left him in peace for what may be at least another hour.  Nothing catastrophic was likely to happen in that time.

But, as he walked back toward the caverns, the all too familiar call to arms sounded through the forest.  It was appended by a special call which specifically demanded the presence of the king.  Thranduil’s people were calling for him.

Legolas ran the rest of the way.  He did not know whether Thranduil would answer that call, or indeed whether the king was in any fit state to answer it.  He would be riding regardless, either with his father or in his place.

Erelas met him at the gate with his arms and armor.  A company of mounted archers was assembling on the green, and Lord Linhir soon rode out from the stables to meet them with Legolas’ horse.

“What is it this time?” Legolas demanded of the scout when he had mounted.  The last preparations were being made, and they would be gone in a moment.

“Easterlings and Orcs have descended upon the villages of the Woodmen along our borders and are steadily encroaching westward, burning as they go.  The marchwardens have countered their advance, but they are calling for aid.”

“And they shall have it,” Thranduil said, unexpectedly appearing beside them astride his horse, armed for war.  His voice was frighteningly dispassionate all of a sudden, and his eyes were cold as ice.  “There is still a king in Greenwood, and he is not blind.”


They raced south along the eastern edge of the forest.  A raid so near the capital was indeed brazen and merited a royal response, but Legolas was not yet certain whether to be relieved or apprehensive about his father’s sudden aggression.  The king seemed well enough in control as they galloped headlong down the path, yet Legolas suspected something manic lurked just beneath the surface.  He resolved not to be separated from him. 

A full-blown rout was in progress when they thundered onto the scene of burning homes and wanton carnage.  Thranduil directed a third of them to remain and hold the area while the rest joined the pursuit.  The king quickly rode around the whole area, either to take stock of the damage or to satisfy himself the place was secure.  Legolas continued to shadow him.

They both saw him at the same time.  Legolas’ horse collapsed with a scream, and the Orc bolted out from behind the burning house, fitting another arrow to his bow as he ran for the forest.

Regaining his feet, Legolas aimed a shaft of his own, but could not get off a clear shot.  Thranduil ran the Orc down before he could reach the trees, trampling him with his horse.

The Orc was crushed beneath the stallion’s steel-shod hooves, but the Elvenking turned about for another pass, leapt down from his horse and began hacking and slashing at the body with an artless brutality.  Legolas lowered his bow and wisely kept his distance while the bloody drama played itself out.  He could not have stopped it even if he had wanted to.

“Legolas,” Lord Linhir said, suddenly appearing at his side.  “We have a messenger from Imladris.  He arrived at the city, but refused to wait.  Lord Galadhmir directed him here.”

Legolas turned and recognized Elrohir, son of Elrond.  He immediately swallowed whatever bitter and incredulous remarks had sprung to mind.  Elrohir’s eyes darted toward Thranduil, but he seemed understandably reluctant to approach him.  Legolas beckoned him over.

“The king is not in an equitable frame of mind, I am afraid,” he apologized, trying to ignore the grisly sounds behind him.  “You may address yourself to me.”

“A council is convening in Imladris to discuss the growing evils in Middle-earth,” Elrohir advised him, producing a sealed letter bearing Elrond’s stamp, “including the Necromancer of Mirkwood.  Your father, King Thranduil, has been invited to advise them.”

“Thank you,” Legolas said, accepting the letter and turning the idea over in his mind.  “I shall inform the king and see that you have an answer as soon as possible.  You are, of course, more than welcome to stay with us here, but doubtless you will be more comfortable in the city.”

Thranduil was striding back across the green now, and he tossed the severed head into a burning house as he passed.

Elrohir gladly took his leave.

“The king is in no condition to attend a council in Imladris,” Linhir hissed.  “He is barely in his right mind.”

“He will attend,” Legolas promised him, “and I suspect it will do him a great deal of good. 


The wives, widows and children of the Woodmen were granted leave to accompany the Elves back to their city where they would shelter until their homes were rebuilt.  They were led away by the king, mounted two and three at a time on Elvish horses.

Thranduil could not help marveling at the number of children in their company.  There were always an astounding number of children among mortal kind, though they were born to short and painful lives.  How could a race so weak be so prolific?  He would have adopted those frightened and dirty faces with open arms if he could.

They arrived back at his own halls long after dark.  Leaving all the other arrangements in very capable hands, Thranduil retreated to his study, in no mood to maintain a respectable facade.  Gwaelas disarmed him without a word, leaving him with a hot bath.

Clean again and alone in the oppressive silence, the bittersweet memories came flooding back.  Thranduil sat behind his desk with a bottle of the queen’s favorite wine, just as he once had almost every evening.  He still poured two glasses, though there was no one to share it with.

He had never imagined life without her.  It was unreal, and yet so completely inescapable.  If either of them were to be killed in battle, they had expected it to be him.  Indeed, it would have been him had she had not foiled the Necromancer’s assassin at the last moment.  She would have done it again, she had told him, even knowing what it would cost her.  

He wanted to follow her, consumed by the desire to be near her again.  That was where he belonged, where the vows that bound them dictated he should be.  But even if he could reconcile himself to leaving all else behind, he could not forget that she had forbidden it.  She had been a queen to the end.  He deliberately tortured himself each night with thoughts of her until he felt his heart would break.  He wanted to remember everything.  The untold years he must now face alone were too terrible to contemplate.

He was haunted by the memory of her last gasping breaths, tormented by the senseless conviction that somehow he had failed her, the one he loved most in all the world.

He hurled his glass to the floor, broken shards flying in all directions.

“I am trying to convince Linhir you need no looking after,” Legolas complained gently, bending over to pick up three of the largest pieces before taking his customary seat opposite the desk.  “You are not helping.”

As always, Thranduil was struck by Legolas’ resemblance to his mother, in more than just appearance.  “You have always had an unreasonable amount of faith in me,” he said.

Legolas smiled.  If one did not smile, one had to weep.  “You have never disappointed me,” he insisted. 

Thranduil realized his son must be enduring silent trials of his own.  His prospects of marriage had crumbled long ago.  Now he had lost his mother, and his father was too sunk in his own misery to give him the consideration he deserved.  He must remedy that.  They would weather this together or not at all.

Thranduil pushed the queen’s glass across the desk toward him.  “Do you want some?” he asked sympathetically.

Legolas hesitated, perhaps reconciling a conflict with his better judgment.  “Yes,” he admitted, accepting it without a second thought.

Thranduil sighed deeply, collecting his thoughts.  It would be a daily struggle, certainly, but reminded of all he had yet to live for, he began to believe he could learn to bear it.  He could never abandon their son, the most precious thing left to him.  “Bear with me, Legolas,” he asked.  “Somehow we will find ourselves again on the other side of all this.  That is, if I do not first instill in you all my bad habits.”

Legolas drained his glass with practiced ease.  “You have not managed to spoil me yet, Father,” he said.  “Besides, I deserve at least one indulgence today.”

 “That is true,” Thranduil agreed.  “It is still your day, is it not?  Forgive me if I cannot remember how old you are.  Many happy returns—happier than this year, anyway.  What shame we did not send invitations,” he said ironically.  “Misery does love company.”

“You are the one receiving invitations,” Legolas told him, producing a sealed letter.  “As I understand it, your presence is requested at a council in Imladris in a few weeks’ time, in a strictly advisory capacity.”

“How flattering,” Thranduil said dryly, turning it over and recognizing Elrond’s hand at once.  “Good of them to include us in their counsel at last, let alone to ask our advice.”

“May I trust you to be civil?” Legolas demanded.

For the first time in too long, Thranduil felt a hint of a smile tug at his mouth.  Legolas was awaiting a satisfactory answer with a dour expression on his face which said he would find a way to prevent him from attending if he were not convinced.  Never mind that he had neither the ability or the authority to do any such thing.

“Rest assured,” Thranduil promised, “I shall not disgrace you in the face of all Elvendom.”

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