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Disclaimer: I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien but they belong to him. I gain no profit from their use other than the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
1. Left Alone
Thranduil felt himself being pulled inexorably away from the paths of his uneasy dreams. His eyes snapped into focus and he lay in the lonely dark, puzzling over what had roused him. It took him only a moment to realize that the source of his wakefulness was not without, but within. The tie that bound him to his youngest son told him that something was wrong with Legolas.
He reached immediately for a night robe and started toward the elfling's sleeping chamber, next door to his own suite. He knew only too well what he was likely to find when he got there, for being awakened at night had become an all too familiar occurrence both for him and for his youngest son. He pushed the door open, and by the light of the dim night lantern that was set high on the wall, he could see Legolas moving restlessly in his sleep.
"Nana," the child moaned in agitation. "Nana!"
"Legolas," Thranduil called, advancing toward the bed and touching his son lightly on the shoulder. "Wake up."
The child's eyes widened, and he turned toward his father with a gasp. "Nana," he said frantically. He focused on Thranduil for a moment, and then he began to cry.
Thranduil gathered Legolas in his arms, wrapped a quilt around him, handed his son the soft blanket that he had again started sleeping with, and settled in the rocking chair with the sobbing child on his lap.
"Orcs," Legolas choked out incoherently. "Orcs came."
Thranduil's chest tightened at the terror in his son's voice and face. "You had a bad dream," he crooned softly, rocking and stroking the elfling's hair. "There are no Orcs here."
Under Thranduil's gentle caresses, Legolas's sobs gradually lessened and he sat quietly for a moment, leaning against his father's chest. Then his eyes met Thranduil's. "Nana died," he said.
"Yes," Thranduil agreed. "She did."
"I want Nana to be here," Legolas told him insistently.
Thranduil kissed the top of his head. "So do I," he said.
Legolas fell silent and the two of them rocked quietly together by the light of the banked fire until the child's breathing slowed and his eyes began to lose focus. Thranduil rose carefully, settled his small son in the bed, and tucked him in.
He stood for a moment looking wearily down at the little figure. Surely these nightmares should stop soon, he thought unhappily. Then, with a sigh, he went back to his own cold bed, knowing that in all likelihood he would lie awake for what remained of the night, for there was no one to comfort him.
Legolas woke slowly, emerging gradually from the fog of sleep into the clarity of a new day. It felt late to him and he wondered why Nana had not yet come to get him up. Then he remembered. Nana was dead. An Orc had eaten her, and she was never going to come and get him up again. He pulled his blanket closer to him and buried his face in its softness. The blanket was starting to smell. Legolas liked the smell, but Nimloth did not, so she would probably take his blanket away and wash it today while he was having his lessons. Perhaps he could hide it under his pillow.
Just then, the door opened and Nimloth came into his chamber. "Time to get up, sleepy head," she said cheerfully and pulled the blankets off him. Legolas rolled toward her and slowly sat up, rubbing his eyes. "We have to hurry or you will be late for morning meal," she told him. "My oldest son is visiting, and I lingered too long at home this morning."
Nimloth took care of him during the day, but she was someone else's nana and went home to them every night. Ada put him to bed unless he was too busy, and then one of the maids did it. Legolas wished that Ada would take care of him during the day too, but he was too busy being king. He slept next door in the big bed that Nana used to share, though, and when Legolas had bad dreams, Ada always came. Legolas frowned and tried to remember if he had had bad dreams last night. He remembered Ada holding him and rocking him, but he could not be sure if that had been last night or the night before.
Nimloth had pulled a tunic and leggings out of a cupboard. She turned back to him. "Come now," she urged. "Get up and wash your hands and face, and I will brush your hair." He slid from the bed and padded into the bathing chamber to do as he had been told. When he came back into the room, Nimloth had already made his bed and had tossed his blanket into a basket with his dirty clothes.
Too late, he thought regretfully. He held his arms up so that Nimloth could take his sleep tunic off.
"You can do that yourself," she chided gently and waited.
"I want you to," he pleaded.
She studied him. "You can dress yourself," she told him. "But you need to hurry because your ada is waiting for you."
Legolas hesitated, tempted to be angry with Nimloth for not taking care of him properly, but he liked having morning meal with Ada, and Ithilden would be there too. He began to struggle out of his sleep tunic. Nimloth caught at it, pulling it off his arms, and then handed him his leggings, turning them the right way round for him. His mind on seeing his ada and brother, he tugged on the leggings and his tunic and then stood impatiently while Nimloth brushed the tangles from his hair and braided the locks at his temples so that they would stay out of his face.
"There you are," she said, lacing up his light shoes and then dropping a kiss on the top of his head. "Run along now." He smiled at her and ran out of the room and along the hall to the royal family's small private dining room.
Nimloth added the discarded night tunic to the laundry in the basket and then picked the basket up. Poor little mite, she thought, as she started from the room. The flash of his smile had been sweet enough to pierce her heart, for she saw it too seldom these days.
Thranduil frowned and leaned back wearily in his chair. He had been up in the night with Legolas again, and the news that Ithilden was giving him seemed to weigh on him more heavily than usual.
"The scouts got back last night but waited until this morning to report," Ithilden was saying. "Unfortunately, they confirm what we had heard. Orcs are multiplying in the Misty Mountains."
"Where are they coming from?" Thranduil wondered.
"I do not know," Ithilden answered unhappily, "but I fear that they are spreading westward from the southern part of the forest. We have been unable to defeat them or even contain them and now others are paying the price of our failure."
Thranduil shot his oldest son a sharp glance. Ithilden's face was creased with worry and it seemed to Thranduil that it had been so since he had arrived home two weeks ago. Ithilden commanded the Mirkwood troops. For many years, he had been doing so from the field, leading a small patrol himself and moving about to check on the status of those under his authority. But since the return of the Shadow thirty years ago, the number of warriors under his command had grown and the task of coordinating them had become more demanding. Thranduil thought that Ithilden was soon going to have to give up going into battle himself and begin directing the training and disposition of others from an office at home. He also thought that Ithilden was too likely to take every battle lost as a personal failure. Before he could say so, however, the door opened and Legolas bounded into the room.
" Ada!" he cried. Thranduil opened his arms to his youngest son, and the child ran eagerly into the hug.
"Good morning, little one," Thranduil said. "You should sit down and eat your morning meal before Ithilden takes it all."
"He would not do that," Legolas protested, but he climbed into his chair all the same and then looked unenthusiastically at the bowl of porridge that sat there.
"No, I would not," Ithilden readily agreed.
Thranduil had to repress a smile at the look on Legolas's face. "Would you like some honey in your porridge perhaps?" he asked, and when Legolas nodded vigorously, he spooned some of the sweet stuff into the bowl. "Now eat it all," he admonished. Legolas's appetite had been less than hearty in the last few months, and he was thinner than Thranduil thought he should be.
"Ithilden did not eat all of his," Legolas observed, beginning to take small spoonfuls and raise them slowly to his lips.
"He is going to," Thranduil said and shot an amused glance at his oldest son, who laughed, made a small face, and then began to scrape up the rest of his porridge.
"What are you going to do today, Legolas?" Ithilden asked his little brother.
"I have lessons," the child answered, concentrating on the well he was scooping out in the middle of his bowl. "And then I am going to play at Turgon's house."
Ithilden raised an eyebrow at his father. Legolas most often played with Turgon and another elfling called Annael. Annael was a nice child with sensible parents, but Turgon was endlessly creative at getting into trouble, and Ithilden was well aware of his father's dismay over Legolas's attachment to the mischievous elfling.
Thranduil grimaced. "Finish your porridge, Legolas," he said. "Galeril is probably waiting for you."
"Do I have to go to lessons today?" Legolas asked plaintively.
"Yes, you do," said Thranduil firmly. "Finish your porridge, and I will walk you to the library."
Legolas shoveled three more spoonfuls of the porridge into his mouth and then stood up. "I am ready," he announced.
Thranduil looked at the amount of porridge that was still in the bowl but decided not to force the issue. He would tell the cooks to fix something more likely to tempt his son's appetite, he thought. He stood up and took Legolas's hand. Then he looked at Ithilden. "We will continue our conversation on the other matter later," he said.
Ithilden had stood when Thranduil did. "I need to see if any other scouting reports have come in," he said. "I will come to you in your office once I have all the news there is and some idea of what I want to do about it." Thranduil nodded in response.
Legolas turned to Ithilden. "Are you talking about Orcs?" he asked with unfortunate perceptiveness. Thranduil could not imagine how he made such acute guesses sometimes, but then, he seemed to have Orcs on his mind for reasons that were only too clear. Ithilden glanced at Thranduil, passing the responsibility for answering Legolas's question to his father.
"Yes, we are," said Thranduil, "but the Orcs we are talking about are far away." He did not want to add to whatever fears were causing his youngest son's recurrent nightmares.
"Are they where Eilian is?" Legolas pursued.
"No," answered Thranduil. The answer was only slightly dishonest. That there were Orcs where Eilian was, Thranduil knew only too well, but they were not the ones that he and Ithilden were talking about.
"Good," said Legolas. "I do not want Eilian to be eaten by an Orc." Thranduil and Ithilden both flinched slightly at the vivid image that Legolas's speech called to mind.
"Eilian has a bow and a sword, Legolas," Ithilden put in, "and he is with many other warriors. Any Orc that came near him would be very sorry that it did."
Legolas considered this, nodded solemnly, and allowed his father to lead him off to the library where his tutor waited for him.
Ithilden left the palace and walked toward the warrior training grounds where he was using an office in the headquarters of the Home Guard as a place to receive reports and meet with his captains. As he walked along through the autumn morning, he thought about what he had told Legolas about Eilian's ability to defend himself from Orcs. He only hoped that he had been right. In truth, like his little brother, Ithilden worried about Eilian. Indeed he worried about all the warriors now under his command.
Ithilden had come to adulthood in a time of great peril for the Woodland Realm. He had battled the evil things in the southern part of the Realm and then, in what seemed an almost unbelievable reversal of fortune, Sauron had been driven out of Dol Guldur and the Realm had been at peace for four hundred years. It had still been at peace thirty years ago when Eilian first became a novice and started to train for the routine guard duties that the warriors under Ithilden's command had then been accustomed to. But that had been the last year of tranquility, and by the time Eilian had pledged his faith as a warrior, the peace had well and truly ended and Shadow had begun to flow forth again from Dol Guldur. The trees had twisted, giant spiders had spread ever northwards, and Orcs had multiplied and begun to attack Thranduil's people. Six months ago, they had killed Ithilden's mother.
The thought of that event sent such pain through him that he all but stopped in his tracks. Lorellin had been visiting a cousin an easy two-day ride west of the palace. On the day of her death, she had waited for a group of his warriors who were to come to escort her home and had grown impatient when they were later than she had anticipated. So she had decided to ride out to meet them, accompanied only by the two warriors who had remained with her throughout the visit. They had been set upon by Orcs against whose numbers they could not hope to defend themselves, and they had all been dead by the time the escort reached them. For the thousandth time, Ithilden wished that he had sent the escort earlier, that he had insisted that more warriors stay with her during the visit, that he had led the escort himself, that he had managed to succeed in confining the Orcs in the southern part of the woods. There were times when he was unable to understand how his father could bear to be in the same room with him.
He shoved the unproductive thoughts into the dark spaces at the back of his mind and entered his office, returning the salutes and greetings of his aides. "Another scout has returned, my lord," one of them told him.
"Good," he replied, settling down behind the desk. "Send him to me." And he turned his attention to the business of learning everything he could about the enemy so that he might never again have such cause for regret.
His head resting in his hand, Legolas stared dreamily at the rows of books and scrolls on the shelves in Ada's library. The different colors of the book bindings looked pretty, like a jumbled up rainbow, and the visible ends of the scrolls made a nice design along the bottom.
"Have you finished the addition problems, Legolas?" Galeril asked, interrupting his reverie.
Legolas lifted his head from his hand and looked down at the numbers on the paper in front of him. He shook his head. He had not added the boring numbers, and he had very little interest in doing so.
Galeril was bending over him now. "What is this?" he asked gently, pointing to the heavily inked drawing that Legolas had scribbled along one edge of the paper.
Legolas considered the drawing and tried to decide what it was. "I think it is a hole," he said, "and it is very dark there."
There was a moment's silence, and then Galeril said, "I wonder if you would like to show the picture of the hole to your ada and tell him about it?"
Legolas pondered that idea for a moment. He did not want to try to show the picture of the hole to Ada, he thought. Ada was busy, and Legolas was not sure that he would understand about things like dark holes. What he wanted was to show the picture to Nana.
After a moment in which no answer came, Galeril sighed, pulled a chair up next to him, and sat down. "Come," he said, "we will add the numbers together."
Thranduil tried to concentrate on what Ithilden was telling him but found that his attention kept wandering. What was the matter with him, he wondered irritably. He was far more tired than he should have been, even allowing for the fact that he was up with Legolas two or three nights a week, for he was not sleeping well even when Legolas did not wake him. His bed seemed huge and empty, and he was constantly aware of the absence of his wife, of the part of himself that had gone missing with her.
"Adar?" Ithilden prodded, apparently having asked something.
"I am sorry, iôn-nín," admitted Thranduil. "My attention was wandering. What is it you asked?"
Ithilden's gaze was unreadable, and very briefly, Thranduil wondered what was behind his oldest son's stoic face. Over the years, he had come to value Ithilden's judgment and skills, and Thranduil knew that the two of them shared a passionate desire to serve the Woodland Realm well. But of late, they seemed barely able to make themselves mutually understood.
"I think that I need to go south toward Dol Guldur and see the situation for myself," Ithilden repeated. "With your permission, I will take a patrol and leave in the morning."
Thranduil hesitated. He hated the idea of Ithilden going toward center of Shadow, but he had to admit the validity of his son's need to understand what was happening if he was to arrange the best defense against it. "Very well," he agreed, and Ithilden stood, bowed with his right hand over his heart, and departed.
Thranduil's attention wandered to the paper on his desk where, next to some all but illegible addition problems, he could see the scribble that Galeril had told him Legolas said was a dark hole. What could Legolas be thinking, he wondered. Thranduil worried about the fears that haunted the elfling's sleep, of course, but at least during the day, Legolas had seemed to be functioning not well exactly, but as well as could be expected. He rubbed his temples. Lorellin, he begged silently, what am I to do without you?
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