1. Chapter One by UnnamedElement
2. Chapter Two by UnnamedElement
3. Chapter 3 by UnnamedElement
4. Chapter 4 by UnnamedElement
5. Chapter 5 by UnnamedElement
6. Chapter 6 by UnnamedElement
7. Chapter Seven by UnnamedElement
8. Chapter 8 by UnnamedElement
9. Chapter 9 by UnnamedElement
10. Chapter 10 by UnnamedElement
11. Chapter 11 by UnnamedElement
12. Part III: Intently Silent by UnnamedElement
Legolas awoke only a few hours after he had fallen asleep and he slipped out of bed, flattened and straightened the sheets, and took a dry cloth to his face. He changed his clothes and fiddled with the stack of tunics in his cupboard before rinsing out his mouth and tossing yesterday's underclothes and nightshirt into the corner. He slipped into his quiver straps and fastened them and, running a hand through his hair, pushed against the door with his shoulder.
However, before he could push the door fully open, the key and citrine necklace on the bedside table caught his eye, and he stepped back into his room. He swept the key and necklace off of the surface into a cupped palm, and then hurried back to the door and closed it behind him.
He locked it and dropped the key into his pocket. He bent forward to flip his hair over, and secured the necklace. Standing straight again, he tucked the pendant into his shirt and moved down the hall with speed. He passed his siblings' rooms and his parents' rooms, until he twisted eventually past the open entry to a dining hall.
Legolas glanced in as he passed and saw Piniriel trailing her nursemaid, hands wrapped and knotted in her own knee-length shift as she waited and twirled, little fists hiking up the skirt to the top of her leggings on one side. She was just rushing forward to reach toward the bowl of porridge just above her head in her minder's hands, when she saw Legolas hesitating in the doorway.
She dropped her skirt and cried out--hands outstretched, she ran to him. He immediately dropped to his heels in a crouch and opened his arms to her and she wrapped her tiny legs around his waist, and then pulled back to play with his hair.
"I will take you to see the horses later, Piniriel," Legolas told her. "Lumornon says it has been a while and that you were asking before..." he trailed off, conflicted, as he decided what word to use.
Piniriel scratched at an eyebrow with her finger, and Legolas shook his head slightly to disrupt her grooming.
"...He says you were asking recently," he finished lamely.
He moved to set her down but she wrapped her legs around him more tightly so that the soles of her little ghillies were pressed against each other and so that he could not remove her without a little force, which he preferred not to use.
"Come on, Piniriel," he said quietly. "Go. You must eat your porridge or you will have no energy to play, and you will not be quick enough, and the spiders will catch you and eat you themselves!"
It was perhaps a cruel motivator, but it had always been effective for her.
Piniriel immediately jumped out of his arms, and Legolas barely had time to press a chaste kiss to her cheek before she was gone and clambering onto a bench to await her breakfast.
Legolas stood straight and watched her for a moment, and then he felt a brush at his shoulder and turned. It was Saida, one of his closest friends and agemates, dressed in her uniform with an extra cloak wrapped around her.
"Good morning!" she said, surprised.
"Good morning. Are you eating?" Legolas asked.
Saida shook her head. "I have been up for a little while and have already eaten. Have you?"
Legolas shook his head and turned away from the dining hall, flicking his wrist slightly as he began to walk so Saida would not he did not mind her company. "No, I am not hungry."
They walked a few steps in silence before Saida spoke again.
"I did not expect to see you this morning," she said, and she looked at him; Legolas met her eyes warily. "Where are you going, Legolas?"
"I am going to see where they laid Felavel to rest," he said shortly.
Suddenly, he could not look at her.
"Oh," Saida said, and then, more gently: "Shall I come?"
"Please," Legolas sighed; he was relieved.
He was strong, but this was so much, and he was not sure he could do it alone.
"I am meeting Ithildim on the practice fields soon," Saida said. "Perhaps he will come, too."
"I would like that," Legolas said.
And then they turned a corner and fell into comfortable quiet. After a while, Saida started humming a tune, and then Legolas met it with harmony, and they were down the halls. They twisted out out out to the fresh winter air.
"I think there is something wrong with my mother," Legolas mused, as they walked down the path past one of the trainings fields.
"She has just lost her daughter," Saida said. "Of course there is something wrong with your mother, Legolas."
"No," Legolas said; he shook his head minutely. "I mean, more than that. Something in her is different, Saida; something has come loose. It is like she is herself but on a parallel path, barely different but different enough."
Saida looked at Legolas sidelong as he reached a hand to the side, fingers bumping along barren bushes and rough pine, catching at the silvery and curling bark of thin white birches, naked with winter. He would not be pulled back to her, so she spoke:
"It will be well, Legolas. She needs time."
There was a beat, and then his eyes were on the path, watching very carefully the placement of his feet.
"She wants me to go with her, Saida," Legolas said. "Over the Sea."
The sun caught at the unruly strands of hair at Legolas' temples and turned them, momentarily, a ruddy gold and she felt a wave of overwhelming sadness for her friend.
"Oh," she said quietly.
He looked up at her with keenness--his chin still inclined downward but his eyes cast up and pouring out at her as she asked:
"Well, will you sail, Legolas?"
Legolas lifted his chin and his brow furrowed almost unnoticably as he shook his head. The word came out in a stubborn whisper:
Suddenly, Ithildim dropped out of a tree beside the path and his hand was on Legolas' shoulder before his feet had even touched the ground.
"That is good!" said Ithildim. "We could not do without you, however simpler my life would be if I did not have to keep track of you."
Legolas' whole self radiated rapid relief, and he smiled and looked around at Ithildim, who had fallen into step beside them.
"I will let those words go, my friend, because I know you do not mean them."
"I do not, of course. It is a joy to worry over you every day that we are on patrol."
Saida reached across Legolas to pinch Ithildim's arm, and Legolas laughed aloud. He could feel Ithildim grinning beside him.
However, a moment later--Legolas had not noticed how quickly they had walked once Ithildim joined them--they were in the clearing where he knew Felavel lay. There was a cairn in its center, and to the right a hearth where a fire had burned until recently, in her memory.
Legolas stopped midstep and his arms fell to his sides; he drew in a deep breath but did not let it out.
Saida wove fingers into Legolas' limp hand, and Ithildim's hand was wrapped gently around his upper arm. After half a minute of stillness, Ithildim jerked at Legolas and spoke in the voice he used when issuing commands: "Exhale, fool!"
Legolas immediately breathed out and drew in another short breath before taking a step forward; his friends trailed on either side of him like barrels tied to to a raft, keeping him steady and safe until they reached their destination.
Legolas shrugged out of their grip when they reached the cairn; he reached out both hands and placed them on the frigid rocks and closed his eyes. The ground would have been too frozen to build a mound or dig a fire pit, and with their folk suffering such grief over Felavel's death, the Elvenking would have directed the most efficient means of respectful burial.
He opened his eyes after some time when his fingertips began to burn from the cold stone, and he recognized the stones as coming from the garden beside the training fields--they had once been a wall that held back the summer poppies from the archery range, and now they were holding back the world from his sister's rhaw, since it was destroyed and her very self flown--flown, he supposed, out her mouth; he had never thought of that before--was it like a gasp from her lips in final respiration, when she could finally finally no longer breathe?
He closed his eyes against the image his mother had painted for him the night before, but it only became more vivid and stark, purple bruises like plums swelling and ripe, petechiae like a splatter of paint...
He looked up. Ithildim and Saida--who had been standing to either side with heads bowed--looked up, too.
Gwaerain was standing beside the cold hearth with her hands clasped in front of her; her hair was braided back from her face in a net of small braids, and she had a scarf piled up to just below her ears--he could see her breath in the air as she spoke.
"Hello, Saida, Ithildim," she said, nodding, and there was a ghost of a smile on her lips. "Thank you for bringing Legolas home to us, of course."
Ithildim swallowed thickly and nodded, and Saida murmured, low and quiet, "You are welcome, my Queen."
"Have you thought about what we discussed last night?" she asked, turning her eyes against to Legolas; she tucked her hands into her sleeves--they snaked up the sweater's arms and Legolas could tell she gripped at each elbow with her hands, as he often did when anxious.
"Yes," Legolas said simply, and he felt unsure of himself. He took a step closer to Saida and she slipped her arm through his.
His mother took a step toward them.
"Have you thought about what I said, Mother?" Legolas asked.
"Yes," said Gwaerain. "That you cannot leaveā¦ Still," she continued, glancing at Felavel's cairn and then catching his eyes again. "Still, I think you are wrong."
He shifted his weight from one ball of his foot to the other, and Saida squeezed his arm against her side.
"I think," Legolas said quietly, and he could hear Ithildim shift attentively beside him as he watched his mother, "that maybe you should stay."
She shook her head.
"Do not be foolish," she reprimanded.
And that broke Legolas, that short reproof and refusal, and he finally cried out, distraught. His older sister's body was hidden beneath cold rock in front of him, and his mother was cold as ice to the side, and there was no comfort here, no stirring or nurturing warmth that he had come to expect from home.
"But Mother!" he insisted, and Saida's other hand flew to his shoulder as he spoke. "The trees, Mother! Do they not still sing to you? Do you not find yourself too excited at night to sleep, so eager you are to feel the dew in the morning? And the stars from the canopy! That light like liquid silver and the shadows of the moon! You taught me how to love these things. They are in your soul as much as mine."
Gwaerain tilted her head to the side and her eyes flickered to Saida's hands on his arms, Ithildim's body as close to her son's as a bodyguard, and her nostrils flared.
"Yes, Legolas," she said. "We are Wood-elves and we are pulled to such things. But there are Trees in Valinor, my son--much grander than these--and stars aplenty."
Then she threw her arms to the side and exclaimed: "And look! Look at these trees. They are dead, emlineg."
"It is winter! Of course they are!" Legolas protested, but his mother did not listen and continued.
"And the rest are dying. There is no saving this place."
"We are saving this place!" Legolas was angry now; this was his life, his work to which he committed every waking hour.
"No," his mother said, and her arms were across her chest, eyes alighting on her son's flushed cheeks and flashing eyes. "No, Legolas--you are sacrificing yourselves for it; there is a difference. Whether our forest falls in one year or a thousand, it will still fall, and it will be as lost to you as the Southern woods of my childhood are to me. There is no hope against this darkness, child. You must flee it."
Ithildim stepped forward to stand slightly in front of Legolas, extending his hand behind as if to hold him back.
"My queen," Ithildim said. "We are taking our leave. We will give you privacy to mourn your daughter."
"And I am taking Piniriel to see the horses this afternoon, Mother," Legolas said quietly, watching Gwaerain cautiously and leaning out slightly to look past Ithildim's hand; his voice was a plea and a command and a catch of breath. "Please come inside soon--it is cold."
She turned away from them and her shoulders dropped. There was a shift in the tension across the back of her sweater and a moment of silence before a cold wind shook the dead beeches' dangling leaves like the scrape of blade against bone, and Gwaerain spoke: "Thank you."
And then Saida was walking away, Legolas following listlessly behind her, and Ithildim was at his friends' backs. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Gwaerain drop to the ground and lean forward until her forehead was flush against the frozen earth, her hair a dark curtain around her.
He turned back around and put a hand on Legolas and Saida's backs and pushed them forward with a little more urgency.
"There is something wrong with your mother, Legolas," Ithildim whispered to him, when they were well on the path to the training fields and Saida had withdrawn her hand from Legolas' elbow.
Legolas was watching two sparrows chase each other on the breeze, and he did not immediately answer. Ithildim frowned.
Back in the clearing--that was the first time Ithildim had seen Gwaerain since returning from patrol. She was not at all as he had known her, and he had spent as much time in Legolas' rooms growing up as Legolas had in and out of Ithildim's home.
In their childhoods, Gwaerain was the teller of tales when the weather kept them inside; she was a firm yet gentle hand, redirecting uproarious behavior born of boredom.
In their adolescence, she was the first person to explain gossip to him and Legolas and Saida, and how it could work against them--and perhaps already was--in a way that the three very young elves could understand without balking. Ithildim remembered well his shock, and how Gwaerain had laughed and touched each of their faces in turn--with kindness--and put on water for tea. They had not chosen to run about in the woods together half-naked after that, and Gwaerain had been so gentle in her explanation of coming of age and bonding and recreation that he had not been embarrassed at all...
The woman they had left on the ground in the clearing, though? She was hardly the same elf he knew as Legolas' mother: she was cold and cruel, and she did not even look at her child with affection, and Ithildim knew from experience that Legolas was her weakness, that thing around which her whole identity revolved.
When they reached the fields, Legolas had come back from his supposition on sparrows, and he looked at Ithildim. Ithildim noticed that his friend's grey eyes were more silver in the midmorning light, like frost striating a puddle as winter settled, without warning, on the last night of autumn.
"I know," Legolas said, simply. "And there is nothing I can do," he said. "There is nothing I can do to fix her."
Across the field, their company was emerging from the trees and crossing the river to the great gates. Ithildim raised a hand in greeting, and a moment later Legolas and Saida had as well, and there was a shout from their unit from far away, in recognition and relief and acknowledgement.
Ithildim would see Legolas back to Piniriel, and then he would report to their captains--he would report, check in, and find out what else needed to be done...
After Legolas left Lostariel and Ithildim, he delivered himself dutily to Aergwen's study near the healing hall, and—after she opened the door and stepped back to let him in—he spent several long minutes in silence, awkwardly leaning against the doorframe.Aergwen watched him. Eventually, Legolas sat in the chair nearest her desk and shifted uneasily. He crossed and uncrossed his legs at the knee and then at the ankle, and finally, after a time, met her eye. Aergwen prompted him to speak and he spoke; she asked questions, and he answered. She confronted him with his fears and he stoically did not react. He thought maybe soldiers learned too quickly what to say and how to say it, because he wanted nothing more than to be out of the Halls, to such a point that he did not even know if what he said was true at all—he only knew what he needed to say to be approved for duty, and so that was exactly what he said. The first time Legolas ever met Aergwen was many years before... He had been quite young, perhaps ten, and he remembered seeing Felavel come tumbling back in from a skirmish. He realized as an adult that something terrible must have happened that night—that someone Felavel commanded had perhaps been killed—but at the time, he only knew that his sister was in pain, and that there was nothing he could do. He was supposed to have been in bed but the noise called him out of bed, and he pushed open the heavy door with his shoulder and stood in the hall in his ankle-length nightshirt, feet soft and bare and hair mussed and falling into his face—he remembered his unbrushed hair like a curtain of honey in his eyes because he saw the whole scene through a muted yellow sheen, as if watching through weakly-steeped tea. Legolas' feet were cold on the stone floor and Felavel was beside herself and screaming—she was upset, and that was what had initially pulled him from his dreams, for he was attuned to his sibling's voices and energy, and he felt it more immediately than anything. His mother questioned his sister anxiously and flitted from shoulder to shoulder, demanding information and unsuccessfully deescalating her daughter's raging grief. Legolas had wrapped his arms around himself, then, hands on elbows. Clutching tight, he pressed them firmly against his ribs. Gwaerain tried again to comfort Felavel but she only shouted back, and then Lostariel—always had she been Felavel's faithful friend and supporter, Legolas remembered—came rushing down the corridor with the healers Aergwen and Anaron trailing, and then Lumornon was in the hall and Legolas remembered looking up into his face as his brother leaned over him; he remembered the panic he felt at the worry in his older brother's face—he remembered trying to memorize the meaning behind that alarm; and then Lumornon was bundling Legolas off and into his room. Lumornon had whispered comforting words and wrapped a blanket around his thin shoulders. He kissed him on the forehead and promised to come back, and then closed Legolas' door and locked him in from the outside. Legolas would realize later that Lumornon thought he was perhaps safer in his room than in the panic of the Halls, but as a child—with no matches and no oil lamps but the one already lit in the corner by his washbasin—there was only the dark coldness of the walls and his own swirling thoughts, and for one as young as he, that had been horrifying. But it was not Lumornon who came back to check on him several hours later. It had been Aergwen. She entered the room with Galion's key in the early morning and found Legolas in the corner by his cupboard, wrapped still in the blanket Lumornon had draped earlier around his shoulders. Legolas was nervously cutting shapes from parchment and scraps of paper lay scattered around him like a bizarre snow. Aergwen had come to him, then, and quickly knelt. She did not at first speak, but when she finally did, Legolas laid down his small knife and caught up his knees in his arms and dissolved with the tears of a scared child. She had let him cry and touched his brow and quietly soothed him, and while Thranduil and Lumornon did come to see him later, they never again spoke of the scene between his mother and sister, not ever ever again. It was one of the most vibrant memories Legolas could easily recall, at least from before his training began; nothing had really seemed real until he was in the field, straddling that line between life and death. But now—in the present of his adulthood—he had started to doubt his choices and his path, and there was a new, but related, sorrow unstymied within him. And when he finally returned to his room after his evaluation, his mother was there. He had left his door unlocked so Piniriel could retrieve her toys while he was out, but he did not expect to find Gwaerain hovering at his table, running a long finger down the stack of books and folded maps at one corner. His breath hitched and he thought longingly of turning round and dashing past her, finding a bottle of mead and dragging Ithildim and Saida to a clearing with a pile of blankets and a loaf of bread, spending hours and hours away from the commands of their elders, the expectations of their peers, the things they demanded from each other when they were superior and subordinate, or archer and trainer. He wanted the cutting inhalation of winter air and the sparkle of stars and that warmth in his lungs like a fiery blossom as they giggled and teased and told tales shoulder to shoulder… But he did not move. He simply let the door swing shut behind him with a gasp of displaced air, and his hands fell limply to his sides and swung for a moment like wind-chimes caught in the tiniest breeze. "Mother," Legolas said evenly, and though Legolas knew she already sensed him standing in the doorway and that she had already heard him enter, she did not turn, and for a moment she was very silent. Legolas closed his eyes briefly at her nonresponse and sucked in a deep breath, breathing out slowly and evenly to fill up his lungs and slow his thoughts, which were suddenly flailing like a spider caught in the drain, a torrential downpour of dishwater around a hapless creature. Eventually he could breathe again, and when he opened his eyes, Gwaerain had turned, and stared at him until he flushed and dropped his eyes to his shoes. "I am not pleased that you are leaving, child," Gwaerain finally said, and Legolas inclined his head to her further, but did not raise his eyes at the reprimand. "How do you know I am leaving? I have spoken of it yet to no one." "A mother knows," Gwaerain said, and Legolas glanced up at her. "I felt it in the last time I saw you, and there was a shift in the air when I breathed in the corridor recently, so I came here, to wait." "Oh," Legolas said. "Go tell your father," Gwaerain directed, and Legolas was relieved to sweep past her out of the room and down the corridor, and he rapped on his parents' door with purpose. His father answered the door and Legolas glanced down the hall to his mother, who stood outside his room now with her hands on her hips, shawl falling from her shoulders and spread over her elbows so she looked like a finch ready for flight, or as one with their wings pinned back, prepared to challenge another for the rights to her territory. He looked away from his mother and leaned toward his father and told him he had been approved for duty. Thranduil reached out and touched his cheek and gently kissed his brow and then took both shoulders in his hands and smiled sadly. Then he shooed Legolas away with a command for him to see his friends, and Legolas went—he felt the air behind him stir as his mother swept down the hall and met his father like a cold front—he heard her raging, and the door heavily shut as he rounded the corner and he purposefully sped along, to put more distance between himself and that tension he did not fully understand.
The next evening
They stood in his parents' sitting room. He was dressed fully in leggings and breeches and shirts and winter tunic, quiver and knife and bracers, hair neatly braided and tucked into his collar, and his hands clasped in front of them, eyes downcast and deferent to his mother as a Queen. He did some form of this every day—bade his mother farewell once every few weeks and then again and again and again on the moon's cycles like the tides. It had been their pattern for a hundred years, but now it was suddenly and confusingly different…This time, would she be here to come home to? Would Piniriel be here to run to his door and forget to knock? To show him what she had found that day in the forest; for him to tease her and chase her about the room in a renewed childishness, pretending to be a spider? Would Piniriel still be here when he returned, to come to him for comfort when she could find it nowhere else; to make rhymes and songs together behind the closed door, a family unto themselves? Or would it be different? Would he return as had happened the last time to a disappeared sister (nothing left but a pile of rocks and an empty room, a mourning people and bereft army) and a gaping hole: a horrifically ripped and magnificently sundered family, clinging to the edges of their resilience and sanity as a sapling at the edge of a river that flooded its banks, enduring the onslaught precariously because it had no other choice? But, Legolas knew, no matter what happened and who was here when he returned, right now he could not stay. So whatever happened was perhaps simply meant to. Legolas watched his feet and Gwaerain watched him and then she spoke suddenly and drew him from his angst: "Tighten your straps more so you do not get caught in a tree." There was a light note dancing above her voice and Legolas looked up—surprised—and met her mood immediately, but with caution. "I do not get caught in trees, mother!" Legolas said, and he laughed lightly, but drew it back a little like a butterfly unsure of a bee's claim to a flower. But she smiled broadly at him and it filled him with a sudden warmth he could not deny, and he smiled, too, at his mother. "Not anymore, you do not, emlineg," she said. "Do you not remember that equinox in your childhood? When I cut you from the dogwood at the path to Ithildim's because you were too eager for its blossoms? Oh, my son, you have not always been so graceful." "None of us are always, I think." He grinned and she laughed, but then she was suddenly and coldly sober, such that he felt as if his chair had been pulled out from beneath him, as Felavel used to do when he was young, to teach him to pay better attention. He felt the breath knocked out of him in his surprise as his mother spoke, and he willed his lungs to fully fill. "It is like living underwater, Legolas," Gwaerain said urgently and quiet. "I cannot see you and sometimes I cannot even feel the brush of the breeze, the song of your soul and Lumornon's, and Piniriel. I am so far away from you and will only become farther. Every night you are gone, I worry. Every night you are at work in the woods, I wonder if I have told you goodbye for the very last time and not even known it. It has become so dark here that it suffocates and I cannot bear that you might be taken away from us as Felavel was—ever, I have ever worried for the two of you—and I cannot bear the thought that you might, now, fear me." Her last words caught him by surprise and he tripped over his own tongue in his hurried answer. "I do not fear you," he murmured, but he dropped his eyes as he said it. He had never been good at lying, and his mother definitely knew it. "It is why you return to patrol so soon, I think," his mother mused quietly, lifting her eyes to catch at his, probing for reassurance that her assessment was wrong; Legolas was not sure whether or not he felt manipulated. But he was not sure of the truth of it himself—he did not know what he felt gripping at his spine like a vise. He only knew the doubt Ithildim had planted in him—of his mother's motivations—because Ithildim saw things about Legolas that he himself did not; he always had. Gwaerain's eyes unfocused and she seemed a hundred miles away, though they stood so very close. He could not give his mother that truthful reassurance—that he was not scared of her—but he could try to bring her back to reason, to tie her to the ground until her own storm calmed enough that she could stay abreast of the wind, or at least alight somewhere to catch her breath. But he had never had to do that for her, as it had always been she—as his parent—who was his wild and gently wandering anchor. Even when she began to drift away from Piniriel and became suddenly distant and cold; even when Legolas had taken his little sister into his life as if he were yet a father, Gwaerain was steady for him, wherever Piniriel was not involved. So he was distinctly uncomfortable as he rattled through his mind for the right words. "Mother," he tried, working very hard to keep his voice measured and not to plea; he tapped her cheek. "Remember where you are. Remember who you are, to our family and to me. Remember why you moved here in the first place, and why you love us." She was quiet and Legolas blinked, willing away tears; he could see her fighting it, a resistance to the world to which he called her. "Think back," Legolas continued softly, and he lifted her chin. "Do you remember when I came of age? And how angry you were that Felavel would not request a change of rotation to be at the celebration? It was so funny, I thought. I did not understand then why it mattered so much to you but I do now. You wanted us to all be together at once, away from the shadow, away from duties, caught up together in a moment of joy—I understand that now, and I am sorry we did not know it then, and that I laughed—" At the mention of Felavel, she came back into herself like a taught bowstring to its resting place after release, and she seemed to vibrate for a moment—he was startled into silence. Her energy grew and swept around him like a storm, but they were both so much like the wind that he felt as if his very existence were pushing and tempting her, but that he too was severely buffeted, and he was not sure what she expected of him, or how to slow their tempest… He dropped his hand from her chin and stood quietly. He caught one wrist up in his hand behind his back and stood more formally, praying for a shift in roles, some kind of escape from this confusion. He lifted his eyes to his mother and cocked his head to the side, waiting. Gwaerain was entirely focused on him again, and she spoke a little louder than necessary. "Do you remember who gave you your quiver?" his mother asked suddenly. Legolas furrowed his brows; he was confused, and did not know where she was going with this question, but he prepared himself to keep up. "Of course, I remember. You did." "I did," Gwaerain confirmed. "And whose was it before?" "Yours, Mother," Legolas said simply. "Indeed. And where did I get it? Who was it who gave it to me?" "Your father, Mother;" he answered and he crossed his arms across him in a subconscious ward, "my grandfather. Why are you asking these things?" She ignored his inquiry. "And how did your grandfather die?" "At Dagorlad, following Oropher. I know the story." "Do you now?" she asked. Her eyebrows twitched downward momentarily and Legolas felt his face mirroring her before he even knew what he was doing. He answered her rhetorical question warily, unsure of what else to say: "I do." There was a long silence in which Gwaerain stared at Legolas, and Legolas stared back, because he still did not know what to do, and he waited for a prompt to indicate what exactly she expected of him. Eventually, she straightened a lopsided stack of his father's ledgers and journals stacked on the table beside the hearth, and nodded over Legolas' shoulder toward his bow, which leaned unobtrusively against a stuffed chair just inside the door. "And who taught you how to shoot, Legolas?" At first, he followed neither her gaze nor her meaning. "Oh," he said after a moment, catching up with her. "Thelion." "No, before your father's advisor, before your training. Before all that," his mother said, and she narrowed her eyes at Legolas as she waited for an answer. "Well…" Legolas replied quietly, working backwards through time in his mind and carefully considering. "You. You taught me, Mother." Gwaerain was silent for a moment, watching him, and Legolas watched back, but when she did not break the silence, he let his mind wander to brighter times as he waited for her to settle. Certainly, it was true that his mother had taught him how to shoot and inspired him to become better, but she also taught him many other—and perhaps more important—things… She taught him how to tie clover chains, to sew oak leaves together in fall and summer with silver thread; how to weave vines into circlets and braid hair back around crowns; how to entwine flowers with unruly locks; how to turn undyed yarn into snowdrops and irises and daisies that fell from his crochet hook like unsullied rain, or the purest tear drops. His mother taught him how to pin those blooms to his collar or sew them onto leather hair thongs for his sister or for Saida, how to loop them together with vines to make trailing bracelets for Ithildim and for his father and his tutors. She had taught him so much besides skills for battle or the hunt, so much of gentleness and of wild beauty, of well-managed impatience—she had taught him, also, how to harness his fey energy and transform it into something breathtaking. "Yes, I taught you," Gwaerain finally agreed, and Legolas was wrenched back to the room with a discordant cognitive jolt. The last slip of a memory tugged at his consciousness and he chased after it, avoiding for a moment the final return to his mother. He saw in his mind vividly an image from just a few years before: how they had sat together, thigh to thigh, while weaving garlands for the Midsummer celebration, and he bounced his heels against the low wall on which they sat… He told his mother a joke he had learned recently from Elednil, and she laughed like the sudden murmuring flight to the sky of a hundred siskins at the woods' edge, and he startled and smiled and looked up into her sparking eyes that were more green that day than brown, as if she were a reflection of the summer wood herself. She took his garland, then, from his fingers and wound it around his shoulders before reaching gracefully to her feet and handing him another roll of twine and fistfuls of daisies, looping vines of wild honeysuckle and blushing pimpernel. That day… It was the perfect encapsulation of his mother—the whip of the wind and her surprising shifts, the scent of earth and honey, her loving attention—that was the only mother he had, until these past few years, ever known. But now that memory evaporated like morning mist, and he focused reluctantly instead on the flush he noted in his mother's cheeks, the way her hair rose like a dark halo from her temples but she did not use her fingers to comb it back, did not tuck the flyaways behind her ears. She continued: "I gave you your first taste, Legolas. And I have regretted, sometimes, doing that." Legolas did not for a moment speak or even at all respond, but his mother's gaze had gone from soft to hard as granite in less than a minute, and it startled him into asking for clarification. He was taken aback; it defeated his guard. "Why do you regret it? Have I not proven my dedication to the skill?" "Oh, you have," Gwaerain said, and a small grin pulled at her lips. "That and more, Legolas. But it is not enough." Legolas frowned and he felt, again, that crushing weight in his chest—it was like a pit dug in the silt at the edge of a slow-moving pool. With each movement, a grain of sand fell into its depth, making the hole deeper, yet simultaneously shallower and more viscous—and thus entirely inescapable—at the same time. Dread. Each breath felt cold. "Enough for what?" Legolas asked in a whisper. He breathed round a swell when he saw a glint in his mother's eyes as she cocked her head at him. "Oh, to keep you alive, Legolas," she said matter-of-factly, and she reached out a hand as she had the day before to sweep at his chin and ghost down the length of his throat; he swallowed nervously. "No one can ever teach you enough, in this darkness, for that..." Legolas looked down and took a small step away from her and her fingers fell away. He felt anger choke him but at the same time a flush of cold stole into his cheeks, that biting coolness that came on him when he was suddenly ill, or apprehensive, or terrified. But he was not scared of his mother. He had never been scared of her—she was steady and constant and a guide. But, then, what was he scared of? What wrapped round his heart like a tree's frozen roots in deepest winter? What was it then that tingled every nerve in his body like a primal warning, the corruption of Arda's song that begged him to listen, to pay attention, to move or fight or flee? But from what? Surely not Middle-earth, as his mother had recently suggested; and his heart would not ask him to flee from his mother… Legolas frowned and rubbed a hand over his face, and when he looked back up, Gwaerain was still watching him, nostrils flared and lips turned down slightly at the corners as she assessed his reaction. He eventually stepped back toward her, and put a hand on her shoulder, and she leaned into it, like a tree on a cliff into the comforting support of an opposing wind. He felt his soul stand up inside him and expand rapidly, as if he were doing the right thing—coming to her and protecting her, as his mother had always done for him. "Come, Mother," Legolas finally said. "Come. It has been so long since you saw Piniriel. Lumornon has her, and I need to see Captain Amonhir before we leave tonight. I will take you to your little one before I go." Gwaerain nodded, but then said—after a moment of staring at him again in such a way that he felt his diaphragm quake involuntarily—"You should not be going." Legolas met her gaze and placated noncommittally: "There are a lot of things we do, that perhaps we should not…. Yet we do them still." "Your father should not be letting you go, emlineg." Legolas felt his nostrils flare and he met her eyes challengingly and spoke with as much evenness as he could manage. "My father commands me as a civilian; but as a soldier, he commands our captains, and our captains and our healers say I can go," Legolas said, "and it is his duty—as the king—to respect that desire, Mother, for the good of our people. You… You know this." Legolas then took his mother by the hand and shouldered his bow before she had time to reply. He pulled her gently from his parents' room into the corridor. He glanced behind them to his own room and was relieved to remember he had closed and locked the door already on his way to see his mother—he had had enough surprises recently. But then Gwaerain surprised him one more time. "The good of our people…" she said quietly, trailing slightly behind Legolas as he hurried down the hall, looking for Lumornon and Piniriel. "Does that not include a mother's heart?" He could not think of what to say, and he did not let his feet slow as he considered it. But then his mind blurred for a moment with frustration at his mother's increasingly outlandish reasoning, so he said nothing at all, and swallowed the guilt that rose in his throat and threatened to choke him. He shook his head subtly and led his mother on. He needed quiet when he returned from his captains. A moment for contemplation and space, to reach out his mind and expand his tired lungs, to draw the world back into his body and into himself, and thus—in his silence—build back his strength. A moment alone, and on his own.
The story Lumornon paraphrases in part in this chapter is about Turin and Sador (Labadal). The full text can be found by searching "full text Children of Hurin Tolkien archive," or you can poke around in the Silm and Unfinished Tales, Lays of Beleriand, etc for bits and pieces of that sprawling angst-fest later published by Christopher Tolkien.
Thank you to Cheekybeak for advising on medical believability in this chapter. (I am definitely a social worker for a reason...)
Please see Chapter One for reminders about family, age, and more.
Legolas looked dead from afar and, for a moment, Lumornon could not breathe.
Taking a step closer, however, he could see that his younger brother was somewhere between consciousness and sleep, and that he breathed evenly, if raggedly, and with that realization Lumornon allowed the breath to come rushing back into his lungs. There was a long red line on Legolas' throat and two tiny circular marks where thumbs had dug at his flesh. On his chin was a small abrasion like a raspberry, and as Lumornon came closer he was hit with the scent of urine, that warm stench that permeated the air when trapped against the skin or soaking in wool.
Lumornon was not the Crown Prince for nothing, but it did not take his training and educational pedigree to deduce that their mother had experienced some kind of break.
Except her episode might have ended poorly, for he knew Legolas would not fight against their mother, the one who had loved him and raised him for as long as he could remember.
But it had ended badly enough.
If Legolas had urinated on himself, then their mother had been strangling him effectively for long seconds, the blood and air to his brain disrupted. A second later and his bowels might have gone, or his lungs decide to shut down altogether; a minute more, and the brain would give up, unable to command with the blood kept at bay by strong and angry hands.
Or Legolas had just been terrified by the change in his mother. That was just as valid, for Gwaerain had done nothing like this before… She was a bird caught in the storm, a song on the breeze, five hundred thoughts all at once—certainly—but she was never, ever violent with them, not even in training. Especially with Legolas, Gwaerain was the first green breath of Spring, dandelions at the edge of the wood spinning wishes to the wind.
Lumornon sat gently on the side of Legolas' bed and watched his chest rise and fall shallowly. He laid a hand on his brother's shoulder and counted the length of time between inhalation and exhalation to calm himself. But his mind was racing and he could not reason himself into detached calmness—that had not worked for him so far, and their family could not take much more of this.
In his distraction, Lumornon had stopped counting the seconds that passed with each of Legolas' breaths, and so he did not at first notice that they had become deeper and shorter, like soft staccato notes in a festival chant. It was not until his hand vibrated from the tensing muscles' of his younger brother's shoulder and there was a deep croaking sound building with each inhalation that Lumornon realized something was wrong.
He startled and pulled his hand away, standing and shaking out his hands to ground himself. Legolas' eyes had focused, and Lumornon was pleased to see him back from that place between sleep and consciousness, but that renewed wakefulness brought with it a wave of panic. Lumornon bent back over the bed as his brother struggled to sit up. Legolas lashed out at Lumornon and his eyes darted around the room as his chest heaved more emphatically. Lumornon let Legolas strike his arm, and then caught up the hand and grasped his upper arms firmly.
Lumornon blew a puff of air in his brother's face, and Legolas stopped struggling and lay back down.
Lumornon did not know what made him resort to a calming technique he had not used on his brother in well over one-hundred years, but it was still effective. And as Legolas turned his face up to his older brother with eyes wide, lips parted, and nostrils flared, he reminded Lumornon of the infant he had first met all those years ago, and he had to bite his lower lip to stop the utterance of surprise that seized him when he saw the red stain on the white of his brother's eye.
Lumornon felt a swell of fear again in his chest: this was the child he had comforted on long winter nights when Legolas was too old to be allowed into his parents' rooms over fear of the dark; he was the toddler whose tears were eased only by distraction and surprise—he looked like the youth Lumornon had intercepted and half-carried to the healing ward after his first unsuccessful mission, helpless and young, sixty winters before.
Legolas was his little brother—grown now, yes, but still so young and frighteningly ingenuous—and while Lumornon did not know yet exactly what was happening, he would not suffer to lose him.
"Legolas," Lumornon said urgently, squeezing his brother's arms as he spoke firmly and inches from his face. "It is your older brother, Lumornon. You are in your room and it is nighttime. You have been hurt and that is why you are confused, but I need you to stay calm for me."
For all of them.
"Can you stay calm for me, Legolas?"
Lumornon patted his brother's face emphatically and Legolas was suddenly back in himself, eyes diminishing from their original fervor as he whispered: "Lumornon, I cannot breathe. Mother…"
"I know, emlineg. Sit here; sit up, all right?"
Lumornon could feel Legolas' energy heightening again, as if he stood on the edge of a cyclone—his panic was building and converging as his gasping resumed now with a syncopated beat.
"Let me help you lean against the wall, all right, Legolas?" Lumornon offered, but Legolas was staring dazed at the wall and did not answer. "Do you hear me, young one?"
Suddenly, Legolas took in a shuddering breath and then there was a gasp and a short inhalation, and his hands went to his throat and his eyes were wide once more. Lumornon quickly grabbed at him and pushed down his worrying hands. He hauled Legolas against the headboard so his head was leaning against it, and moved a pillow so it was parallel to his little brother's body.
"Legolas, Legolas, emlineg, Legolas," Lumornon murmured as he worked, and Lumornon pressed Legolas' head against the pillow to support his neck, before rocking back off the mattress and hovering, muttering.
Eventually, the rhythmic pattern of his own name lulled Legolas back into unconsciousness, and that worried Lumornon, too, so he began again louder, this time changing the tone and pacing of his seeming incantation to wake Legolas and keep him conscious.
"Legolas, Legolas, Legolas," Lumornon said and he leaned forward over his brother and ran the back of his hand down his cheek over and over, until Legolas abruptly opened his eyes and focused blurrily on Lumornon.
Lumornon did not know what to say to his brother in a situation like this, so he just kept repeating his name as Legolas blinked at him and then finally spoke again.
"I cannot breathe, Lumornon," he repeated wearily, "I cannot…"
Legolas' eyes were darting from Lumornon to the door to their right repeatedly and they wavered as they tracked. Lumornon felt another wave of panic rise in him because his brother's voice was warped like he was hearing it under water, and Legolas' chest rose and fell rapidly as a strained wheeze pushed past his lips and teeth. A drop of blood fell from his brother's nostril as he struggled, and Lumornon felt he might pass out himself.
He pressed one hand fully to Legolas' cheek and tapped the other side of his face firmly with his other hand, to bring his brother's attention back to him.
"Hello, Legolas," Lumornon whispered, and Legolas' eyes alighted on him again, now half-lidded as he wheezed; his hands were clenching and unclenching weakly in his lap as he looked at Lumornon, so Lumornon caught them up in his and squeezed. "Hello there, emlineg," he continued as Legolas blinked again and looked once more at the door. "I need you to breathe for me, Legolas, until Healer Anaron arrives. Help is coming, all right? Legolas—Legolas, do you understand?"
Legolas looked up into his older brother's eyes again and nodded, but then he was glancing around the room and trying to pull his hands out of Lumornon's grip and Lumornon could tell his was confused and terrified, like an injured bird cornered by a fox, desperate for—
"Ithildim," Legolas said in a sigh.
"He is coming, Legolas; Ithildim is coming. Someone is bringing Ithildim and a healer to you, but until then you must breathe."
But Legolas did not calm this time and he extricated his hands from Lumornon; they flew to his chest and then one trailed his throat until it was hovering under his chin, pushing it up as he tried to find a way to get more air.
Lumornon looked away for a moment because there was nothing nothing he could do. He was anxious and where were those he had sent for, for help? Where was Anaron? How long could it take the pages to find one elf? What had Lostariel said to them? Had his own calm demeanor fooled the pages into thinking this was not urgent; had he not been enough explicit? Because it was urgent, and only becoming more so.
Lumornon stepped back from the bed and turned to go to the door to begin shouting again but Legolas stopped him with a quiet and rasping plea, a question:
Lumornon froze and then turned, and at that innocent and sad and wavering question—and at the sight of his ruined little brother, beautiful in his single-minded dedication—his heart finally broke.
Legolas had allowed his head to fall to the side so he could watch Lumornon leave. The side of his hand was pressed just under his chin and supported there by his elbow, anchored between two pillows; a thumb near his ear and his fingers curled limply under his chin. He pushed his head up to elongate his airway, and he was shaking like a leaf in the wind from the effort.
Lumornon stepped back toward him and took his chin in hand himself, and Legolas dropped his hand from his neck and allowed Lumornon to support him—his arms felt suddenly like the deadweight of mighty tree limbs encased after an ice storm, heavy and cold and immovable…
Lumornon kissed the space between his brother's eyebrows and ran one finger along them as he answered:
"I have left her with her nursemaid for the night, Legolas. She is safe. Do not worry. I only want you to worry about yourself right now, and about staying calm for me, emlineg. Do you understand?"
Lumornon felt Legolas nod against his hand and he sat down on the side of the bed.
With that assurance of Piniriel's safety, Legolas closed his eyes and whispered out in a sigh, abruptly interrupting his jagged breathing and alarming Lumornon: "Please. Stay, brother. Please. Soon, they will be here soon enough."
Lumornon did not know if that was true, but he knew he could not leave his little brother who had followed him first like a shadow, who he had taught his letters and his first words of Westron, who he had tutored in war and politics and forestry before Legolas latched onto Felavel that very first moment he had been allowed to hold a weapon. He could not leave his tender little brother if it meant he might struggle alone, might feel as if his world were crashing down around him like an avalanche or a late spring flood or an asphyxiating cave-in…
So Lumornon scooted closer and stroked his brother's arm from shoulder to elbow and out over his fingertips over and over again.
"Tell me a story," Legolas whispered, closing his eyes as Lumornon soothed him. "It will help me focus."
"Of course, emlineg," Lumornon said, and he began to recount one of his brother's favorite tales, of the gifted knife of young Turin and his friend Labadal, but Legolas shook his head weakly, and Lumornon frowned. "What? Not this story?"
Legolas turned his face toward the pillow that lay the length of his torso, and he looked up at his brother with grey eyes young and desperate and pleading. Not quite able to hold his brother's gaze, his eyes wavered and his neck relaxed and he said simply and almost inaudibly: "My name, Lumornon. Please. Call me only my name."
Lumornon frowned but nodded his assent as Legolas heaved a long but thin breath, as if his lungs were an insubstantial youth tasked with hauling up a fishing net, caught between rocks and buffeted in a river's unexpected rapids so it was all the child could do to avoid being swept away.
It seemed as though his brother fought a force of nature within his very own body.
So Lumornon swallowed nervously and began again: "'What have you done with the knife I gave you?' Turin's father asked him one day," he recounted quietly, rubbing his fingers over the back of Legolas' hand. "'I have given it to Labadal, for he has more need than I and I love him,' said the boy. Turin's mother was confused, but his father said, 'That is well—all are your gifts to give: love, pity, and the knife, least of all.'"
As Lumornon spoke, he stared at a hook on the wall by the door and noted with relief that Legolas was forcefully regulating his breathing with more success, pulling in long measured breaths and eventually curling and uncurling his fists with less frequency.
But then Legolas coughed once and his breath caught in his throat and he was thrown off rhythm. He was fighting and wheezing again, and the panic was back in his eyes, as if drowning.
"Lumornon, brother," Legolas pled quietly, in the relative silence between the noise that had grown to a whistle in the back of his throat—no breath was enough.
But it was all Lumornon could do to steady his little brother's face with his hands, and look in his eyes, and tell the tale as steadily as he could, so that Legolas could match his breath to the rhythm of his words.
"I am here, Legolas," Lumornon reminded him, purposefully using his name. "I am here and you will be well again as long as you keep calm. Legolas, do you understand?"
Legolas nodded and closed his eyes and fought on.
"Where were we? Oh, yes. Morwen wants to send Turin away so he has sought out Labadal in the throne room. 'False hopes are more dangerous than fears,' said Labadal to the child, 'and they will not keep us warm this winter.' Turin touched the carvings and followed them down the swoop of the great wooden chair, and…"
Lumornon watched his brother's chest intently as he wove the tale, and he hoped Legolas' instinct was right, and that Anaron would be there with time enough.
Thank you for reading!
I have finally quit with editing this chapter and am just posting it instead of ruminating on it!
I apologize for the tremendous delay in updating. The end of this story is written, and large chunks of the middle (and they have been written for quite a while), so I have not by any means given up on this story! I promise! I have had a lot of considerable life changes since June of this year… Furthermore, I work in the child abuse and kid crime field, and sometimes I work cases that are too similar to this story for me to be able to engage with it in a healthy way at the end of a long day.
I have also had a lot of angst about certain decisions in this story. Because I am a perfectionist, such second-guessing can be absolutely paralyzing.
So thank you to Cheekybeak for being my "Writing Therapist" over these past few months. She is endlessly patient and supportive.
And thank you for everyone who stuck with me through this hiatus!
(And that is the longest Author's Note I have ever written and will hopefully ever have to write. Phew!)
Lumornon sat anxiously at Legolas' side and waited for Ithildim and his father Anaron to arrive. It had only been a few minutes but those minutes felt like hours to Lumornon as he finished Sabadal and Turin's tale, which was interrupted twice to grasp his brother's hands and push him back into the headboard, to remind him he could breathe, to focus him, and to sooth—this was his job as the eldest sibling, and he did not begrudge Legolas the care, but he felt utterly helpless, armed with nothing but stories and distractions…
Lumornon's hands were looped now loosely around Legolas' wrists and he had one knee pulled to his chest so he could sit close to his brother; his thigh pressed against Legolas' side, and he gripped his forearms to keep him still. He occasionally asked Legolas questions about his work and his friends (though they went largely unanswered), made idle commentary about their sister's growth, and pressed Legolas for his awareness by tapping his cheeks or chastising him for his inattention when he began to drift or become agitated—Lumornon could feel Legolas' wrists strain nervously under his long fingers whenever his own narration faltered, or when Legolas' breath hitched in his throat or a cough caught him by surprise and interrupted the even pattern of his ragged breathing.
Lumornon forced himself to be calm as he provided this support and redirection, but, inside, his mind was reeling—Legolas was not as desperate in his gasping now, but he had become markedly less cogent, and that worried Lumornon more than anything. He was not a healer! And he could not lose his brother through such idleness!
Just when Lumornon was nearly ready to attempt again to extract himself from his brother's grip and seek out help himself, Anaron and Ithildim finally arrived. Lumornon fought to keep his face calm and even so as not to alarm Legolas, but it was all he could do to not shout his relief or fall limply at Anaron's feet. Saida, too, trailed behind Anaron and Ithildim, and her hands were clasped behind her and then pressed to her mouth when she saw Legolas held against the headboard, Lumornon leaned close and whispering. She immediately dragged Legolas' table across the room and frantically brushed his papers and notes and maps off of it so Ithildim could lay out Healer Anaron's supplies.
Legolas started when he heard the commotion closer to his bed, and Lumornon dropped Legolas' wrists and caught up his cheeks between his hands.
"Legolas, it is only your friends," he reassured his younger brother. "Your friends and Anaron. They are here to help you."
Legolas leaned back into the pillows on either side of him and drew in a great breath, then shakily released it, closing his eyes briefly.
"All right?" Lumornon asked, more firmly grasping Legolas' face until he opened his eyes again and spoke.
"I told you a healer would come," he answered in a whisper, and he tried to smile at his brother to reassure him, but to Lumornon it looked instead ominous; the blood from Legolas' nostril quivered with surface tension on his upper lip, and, when he smiled, it broke.
Legolas shook his head and swallowed as the blood fell between his parted lips and into his mouth, but that unconscious response startled his breathing, and his eyes went wide and his hands went again to his throat as he struggled. Lumornon grabbed his hands as Legolas began to gasp and tears came to his own eyes as he watched his brother's frustration build.
"You must calm, emlineg. Calm, Legolas," Lumornon said firmly.
He saw Anaron dry his hands on a cloth by the washbasin that Saida had placed on the table after clearing Legolas' things away, and he nodded at Lumornon, who stood from the bed as if to leave, but kept hold of Legolas' hands firmly as he spoke:
"Anaron is going to help you and you must listen to him and do what he says, no matter what. You will be all right and you will be able to breathe, even though I know it does not yet feel like it. I promise."
He knew he should not have promised it, but he could not help himself, and he refused to believe otherwise. And, indeed, some of the fight went out of Legolas with the promise, and his shoulders relaxed and he allowed himself to be pushed back into the headboard as Lumornon finally backed away and Anaron swept in with practiced surety and knelt by the bed.
"I am going to ask you some questions, Legolas, and I need you to answer to the best of your abilities. I cannot help you if I do not understand what happened. Is that clear?"
"Yes," Legolas said, but between his breaths there was a whistle and a hitch.
But Anaron ignored it and simply nodded at him."Good," he said simply.
Lumornon stood back as Anaron took his place on the edge of the bed; he watched helplessly as Legolas' hands twisted together in his lap and tugged at his own sleeves to distract himself. There was blood on his fingers that he had not seen before—from his own nose or from their mother's arms when he struggled to get away, he did not know. Saida hovered by the table, and Ithildim stood with a bowl in his hands—unmoving—but with eyes wide and lips slightly parted, waiting.
"What happened?" Anaron asked Legolas gently.
Legolas looked away, and as he did so Lumornon saw his chest rise and fall more rapidly, and he put a hand to his throat as his anxiety mounted.
"Mother," Legolas said simply, and closed his eyes, trying to sit himself up further.
"What about her, Legolas?" Anaron asked.
But Legolas would not look at him and instead a gasping cough came through his lips, and he leaned forward and put his head in his hands.
Lumornon stepped forward and brushed past Anaron and he felt all of his control and practiced patience fall away from him like water down a duck's back.
"Are you a fool, Anaron? Can you not tell what happened? He lays here with redness on his neck and blood on his face, disoriented and gasping and in pain; he smells of urine and sweat… And you ask him what happened? Is it not clear?" Lumornon could feel his hands clenching and unclenching at his side, and he saw Ithildim shifting nervously out of the corner of his eye, but he continued fearfully: "Treat him, Anaron! Do not interview him. That can wait!"
Legolas was truly heaving now as he struggled to breathe, from fear or embarrassment or something else altogether, Lumornon did not know.
"I cannot treat what I do not understand and I fear to make it worse in my ignorance. Do you know what happened, Lumornon?" Anaron asked with a directness that made him sound curt.
Lumornon sighed and rubbed a hand across his face. "Yes. Mother took him by the neck, I think. I do not know the details of it. But she is frantic and Legolas has been holding his throat and struggling since I came upon him. He is nervous, I think, and sometimes. . .not all here."
Anaron glanced over at Legolas who had not lifted his head from his hands and still wheezed, and he watched as his son Ithildim came close and sat beside Legolas on the bed, slipping an arm around his shoulders and whispering to ground him. Legolas' arms relaxed until he dropped his hands from his face and turned to Ithildim, who smiled at him and leaned him back against the headboard. He pulled hair off of his friend's wet forehead and tucked it behind his ears. Ithildim wove his fingers between Legolas' and spoke to him in a low, stern whisper as Lumornon and Anaron watched.
"Who can command the Queen's movements?" Anaron finally bit out, turning to Lumornon, for the whistling sound from Legolas' lips had become more strident. Saida shifted nervously from foot to foot, before finally walking forward so she stood behind Ithildim—her fingers ghosted over Ithildim's arm, Legolas' hair, and then she rocked like a tree in the wind behind them.
"I can," Lumornon said quietly.
"Then find your father and bring him here. Close the door to your mother's room, and take the key. I will take care of your brother, Lumornon. It is my responsibility. But your responsibility is to your family, and to this kingdom—I beg you, please, to do it, and leave me too to my task."
And this time Lumornon did not question Anaron, for Anaron was ever wise and kind and never asked without reason, so he simply nodded.
But he could not at first get his feet to move.
Saida was at his side in a flash, hovering again, but then crossing her arms and looking up at Lumornon defiantly.
"Go," she said quietly—earnest, but strong—her eyes so like a cloudy sky, the palest blue they were almost silver, depthless against her dark hair, darker than Lumornon's—black maple under shadow.
And he trusted her; and so he went, and he made his parents room in barely a dozen bounds.
When Thranduil entered their rooms, he found their lead heart-healer kneeling at his wife's side. Gwaerain was silent by the fire, unmoving and sipping at a medicine in her hands—Thranduil could smell chamomile and vervain, a leaf of St. John's Wort and a half a drop—not even that—of hemlock.
"She was violent, my king, Thranduil," Aergwen said, looking up and bowing her head as he entered. "I am sorry—I had to give her something to calm her. I am not trained in combat; I could not contain her and Lumornon is not here."
"Where is he?" Thranduil demanded suddenly, fear cutting through the mist of confusion in his mind like sun after a midday shower. "Aergwen, what has happened?"
"Lumornon is with Legolas," she said, "and Anaron with him. Gwaerain…" Aergwen trailed off. "King Thranduil—"
The queen suddenly looked up with eyelids heavy above eyes full of sorrow, and her pupils were massive and dark; her face seemed to have diminished, as if all joy she had ever known was leached from her.
"I will tell him, Aergwen," said Gwaerain. "Thank you for your help."
Aergwen nodded and looked away.
"Legolas would not come with me," Gwaerain said. "He is too strong, beloved, like us, strong as heartwood; he is the very heart of this place. And I think I always knew he would not come. But after all this, I could not bear it… I thought to take him with me by force—"
"Gwaerain!" Thranduil interrupted, but she did not stop speaking; she barely glanced at him.
"And in doing so, I did not know what I was doing; I forgot the power of myself and the love he bears for his parents, that he could not hurt me, that he never would. So, Thranduil, my love, I hurt him. I hurt our youngest son and I do not know what is going to happen."
Thranduil did not at first speak or move. He was still and silent as a tree, a face of imperious stone, and then it all fell from him in a descendo. He rushed forward and wrapped Gwaerain in his arms. He did not know what else to do; he did not know what to say.
"Is he—" he eventually managed.
"The healers are with him. Anaron is with him, his friends. He cannot breathe, I think."
Thranduil's hands fell from her suddenly, and Gwaerain shivered and bent into herself. Aergwen lifted the tea to her queen's mouth and brushed gently across her lips with a fingertip; Gwaerain obliged and allowed Aergwen to tip back the last of the herbs.
"Gwaerain," Thranduil said, voice quiet but trembling with apprehension and fear, "what have you done to him?"
"I do not know," Gwaerain replied, and she was suddenly crying. "My love, my king, my star—I do not know. He has broken me. He has broken my heart."
"No, I do not think that is quite right," Thranduil said distractedly, and then his voice was again an order. "Stay here, Gwaerain. Aergwen, stay with her."
And then Thranduil put a hand on the door just as Lumornon opened it, and Lumornon was explaining in a roiling breath, and Thranduil was again adrift—he was not enough to keep his wife in their kingdom, not enough to protect his daughter from death, not enough to protect his son from injury at the hands of their family's most beloved, and his eldest from suffering the pain of a sundered family.
He was sufficient to be a king—but he could not do it and be a father, or a husband.
And now, perhaps, it seemed he would only have to be two of the three, though he was not sure yet just which…
It broke Lumornon's heart to find his father already at the door and pull him away from his mother, to see his mother on her chair with her knees to her chest and her head rested on them, eyes wide and unblinking, watching the fire motionless with salt crusting on her cheeks, still as living death, as if under an enchantment.
Lumornon bumbled through an explanation and a plea, and then with sudden gentleness, Thranduil kissed his wife on the cheek, and then swept out of the room for Legolas' chambers.
It was all Lumornon could do to shut the door behind him and fumble the keys into the lock, and latch it, his mother trapped on the other side. He bounded after Thranduil and caught him at the shoulder, and, when he did not stop, he pulled him around the chest.
"Please, father; please, Thranduil," he said, dipping his head so that he could cut into his king and father's determined, downturned gaze and ground him. "You must not burst in. I do not know what concentration they need to treat him—he is not well."
Thranduil's shoulders rose almost to his ears and his hands clenched at his side and then he exhaled, low and slow. There were several long seconds of silence.
"I will give them time," his father finally said. "A little time. But do not keep your brother from me, Lumornon; do not trick me. I would rather say goodbye than not."
Lumornon nodded and settled his father onto the ground beside his brother's door.
Lumornon had been there with Thranduil when they brought Felavel in and laid her down—without haste—in the healing wing. Legolas looked rather like her now… And if Thranduil saw him like this, such a mirror image of their sister, in this near death (as he always had been a mirror of her—in his features and his body language, his interests and his humor), their father could not bear it. And Lumornon thought if Thranduil saw his youngest son before his breathing had been fully restored, that Thranduil might fly from them and rage at Gwaerain, and Lumornon did not know what would happen then, and if he would blame Thranduil for it at all.
But if both leaders of Mirkwood had been compromised under the land's very own law, that left him to rule, and Lumornon did not think—if there were that much loss—he could take. And Legolas would not rule in his stead, because his younger brother was an extension of the trees and belonged in the woods, like a hummingbird weaving all through wild honeysuckle looking for somewhere to alight, and he would not be still enough to sign paper, let alone mediate trade conflict…
No, Thranduil could not see Legolas. Not yet.
Lumornon shook his hands out and closed his eyes and forced his attention again to his father: "Galion should be back soon to sit with mother and Aergwen. Lostariel is on her way to supervise, as Legolas' captain, and as...commanding officer for the crime."
Thranduil shook his head and all natural royal raiment fell from his features.
"What has happened to us? How has this happened?"
"The darkness, Father. We could not have prevented it, mostly, I think. I have to go now. I need to—Legolas needs me."
Thranduil closed his eyes and leaned his head back; he crossed his long legs in front of him at the ankles and folded his hands in his lap.
"Tell me, Lumornon, my son; you must keep me apprised of how he is."
Lumornon opened the door and slipped inside, and a gasp from Saida and the rustling shift of bedsheets and a hushed healer's command found Thranduil's ears before Lumornon was able to fully close the door.
Lumornon looked at his brother and then swept to the foot of his bed. Saida stood now at Legolas' side, struggling not to touch Ithildim's arm, whose face was bent in a concentrated frown. He gripped Legolas to himself tightly—his father Anaron held Legolas' jaw open to slip a finger inside; he swept it along his lips, the roof of his mouth, back towards his throat to feel for swelling.
Legolas gagged and coughed and Anaron removed his hand. He reached for a bottle on the table as Legolas tracked his movements, clearly dazed, confused, and pained, and no longer caring enough to try to speak.
Saida looked at Anaron and then tapped Legolas' cheek to divert his attention. His lips were slightly parted and Anaron coated his finger in the acidic tincture and slipped it into Legolas' mouth. He rubbed it along his gums and then handed Saida a glass of cool water, which she raised to her friend's lips.
Anaron handed Ithildim a block of ice wrapped in a canvas cloth and he used one hand to gently hold it to Legolas' throat, cradle the back of his neck.
Lumornon stepped away from the bed, for Legolas was too distracted to even notice him, and he could watch no more—leaned against the wall, he cried. For Felavel, for his mother, for Legolas, for this impossibility for his father, for their sister who had become a pawn in the mess their family had become…
Piniriel was too young; Legolas was too young—what was this place they had made their home? What rationality had they lost in its defense?
There was a sharp and pained cry like a bird ripped from flight at the other side of the room, partnered with a simultaneous knocking at the door—his father's voice, and Lostariel's, but Lumornon could not move, he could not do this—he could only watch from afar, and barely—barely—breathe.
He did not know what Anaron had done, but, after that pained cry, Legolas' breathing evened, and after a minute more, all things were still and calm. He watched his father rush to Legolas' side where Ithildim cradled him still; Thranduil stroked Legolas' cheek, pressed a hand to his chest, leaned over his face to listen to his breathing, and then gathered the wild wisps of hair around his face to tuck behind his ears. He bowed his head and clasped his hands—Lumornon knew he composed himself—and then leaned forward again and pressed a slow, grateful kiss to Legolas' wet brow.
Lumornon looked away and watched Anaron wash his hands and then organize his medicines as Lostariel begin to trail him around the room, with a bevy of whispered questions, and he lost sight of Thranduil as his mind drifted in its relief…
But then Lumornon suddenly felt Thranduil's energy at his shoulder and his hand's weight on his shoulder.
"Keep on the ice; support his neck and hold this, just so—do not lay him down," Anaron was saying in a hush to his son, having waved Lostariel off for the time being. "I will go find Aergwen and see to our Queen. Make sure she is well…"
And then Anaron was gone and Lostariel was firing question after question at Ithildim instead, and he could hear Saida rubbing her hands together nervously as he had known her to do since she was a child. Ithildim wriggled his body out from beneath Legolas and propped him instead against the headboard, head and neck supported by a parallel pillow, and handed the wrapped ice to Lostariel for her instead to hold.
There was warm breath on Lumornon's ear as Thranduil moved closer and whispered.
"My son," he said. "Lumornon. Go to bed. I will watch Legolas; you need to rest."
"No," Lumornon choked out.
"Then lay here; lay here on Piniriel's bed, and I will tuck you in. He will be right there, across the room from you, in his bed, and his friends are here and his captain, and there are no better watchers than they, you know this. Sleep, Lumornon."
Lumornon finally looked up at his father and an unsteady sigh slipped past his lips.
"I will need you these next few days, my son," Thranduil said, and it hurt Lumornon to see the pain in his father's eyes, the desperation and terror that lapped at the edge's of his pupils and his deep, steady soul as he implored. "I need you to be responsible in this. I need you to rest, to sleep. There is no shame in that."
Thranduil needed Lumornon to rest, so he could be strong when Thranduil could not. So that once he was assured Legolas would heal, he could hand off his duty for a moment to grieve, for his daughter, for his son, and for the complexities in his wife he could neither understand nor excuse.
Even as his heartbeat sped and his mind reeled in the wake of such crisis, Lumornon knew this to be true.
Anaron opened the door with a soft whoosh of air, and set again to issuing directions to his son and avoiding Lostariel's questions. There was the tinkle of glass against metal, stone and pestle, whispers and commands.
Lumornon nodded at his father, and allowed Thranduil to grasp him by the upper arm, begin to guide him toward Piniriel's low bed in the corner—
But then in the bustle of care and organizing, a strange silence fell inexplicably in one corner of the room.
"Listen," Saida hissed, and all movement ceased—
No sound now came from Legolas' throat, and his chest had quit heaving. There was a strained and barely visible, minimal movement of his sternum that did not pass his lips—there was a slight inward pull at the flesh above his collarbones, and then it ceased.
It seemed to Lumornon in his increasingly confused state as his adrenaline plummeted that, in that moment, the room exploded.
Lostariel had begun to instinctually shout commands to call for action; Saida jumped and ran to Anaron who had begun to rush forward but tripped over Saida's misplaced assistance. Anaron put a hand on her shoulder and touched her cheek gently as he firmly guided her away and leaned over Legolas with a hand on his chest.
"It is not an internal obstruction," he said curtly, as he assessed; he had pinched his jaw so that it opened and peered into his mouth. "His swelling is down. He sleeps and his muscles are too tired; he does not think to try, and I did give him something for his pain." He paused as he turned to Saida and Ithildim. "Saida, I need the bottle—"
But Ithildim did not even stop to think before clambering onto the bed, straddling his Legolas' hips, and slapping him hard across the face.
The crack echoed around the room and there were several gasps.
Lumornon lunged forward but Thranduil held him back, and Lostariel moved in to stand at Ithildim's shoulder as he hovered still over his friend's body.
In his shock, Legolas' eyes flew open and he breathed in a deep and startling, hoarse and horrifying gasp—
His lungs kicked back into their pattern.
"You fool," Ithildim hissed, and he pressed a kiss to Legolas' forehead. "You must breathe."
"Go for Piniriel, my king," Anaron said; he carefully watched Legolas nod up at Ithildim as he crawled off of him; Ithildim then propped Legolas up straighter against the headboard and slipped himself again behind him.
"Just match my breaths, Legolas," Ithildim was whispering. "I refuse to take my first-rank exams alone next year. Besides, you know I will not study and thus will not pass, unless I have you to harry about your own practice."
Legolas smiled and closed his eyes and something like a chuckle caught at his chest and then Ithildim was tapping his cheek again and reprimanding. "Ai Elbereth Githoniel! Legolas. Do not laugh right now—breathe." He looked away from Legolas and nodded at Lostariel. "The ice, captain, please."
Thranduil still had one arm pressed across Lumornon's chest—pulled against him—and he stared at his youngest son and his childhood best friend together on the bed with wide eyes, utterly frozen and reeling, as if he had just understood what was really happening.
"My king," Lostariel said softly, handing Ithildim the ice and walking forward, pulling Lumornon from Thranduil's grasp and linking his arm instead with hers. "Anaron is speaking to you."
Thranduil shook his head and turned his attention to Anaron. "Yes?" he said, and his voice was regal again and even.
"Bring Piniriel," Anaron said.
"Bring her. She calms him, does she not? We have done all we can for the swelling and I do not dare give him more sedative for the concentration it is taking him to breathe, and I would rather not cut a hole in your son's throat unless absolutely necessary."
It was sound logic, so Thranduil nodded.
"But she will be scared!" Lumornon finally spoke, and he let his hand drift to Lostariel's upper arm and he gripped her loosely for the paltry comfort such touch provided.
"No," Lostariel said quietly, turning her head toward him and imploring. "She is too young to understand that Legolas is hurt. Piniriel will be the least scared of us all."
Lumornon nodded and allowed Lostariel to guide him to Piniriel's bed in the corner, and Thranduil left the room to seek his daughter.
Then there was a soft blanket around Lumornon's shoulder, and a susurration of words from Lostariel's lips; the fight went out of him and he allowed himself to breathe, and he was finally and blissfully asleep.
Thank you for reading!
Author's note: This chapter did not come easily, and I am not entirely pleased with it still, but I wanted it done. Thank you to Cheekybeak, again, for reading this for content. The next chapter will start Part III, which is a bit confrontational and angst-heavy! Thank you to all who are still reviewing--your words encourage me to work through the tough connective sections to tell this story.
Gwaerain - Thranduil's wife
Lumornon - eldest of their children
Felavel - second oldest, daughter who recently died
Piniriel - youngest of the four siblings and still quite wee
Anaron - a lead healer, and Ithildim's father
Ithildim - Legolas' dear childhood friend and fellow warrior
Saida - Legolas and Saida's childhood friend
Lostariel - Captain of Legolas' unit and good friend to Lumornon
Amonhir - Lostariel's second
Interlude I: Thranduil
Thranduil sat in a chair by his son's bed as Anaron ground and measured doses of medicine at the repurposed table nearby. He considered what exactly he should do about this-politically and personally. He felt dead and cold and detached, as if the life he had lead the past thousand years were just a vaguely pleasant dream, and he had woken up now—rudely—to this nightmare.
His eyes ran up the quilt folded over the bed, otherwise stripped bare. It piled in a heavy ribbon on Legolas' thighs, for he had shaken for a time after he had finally calmed—from anxiety, most likely, Anaron had explained—before Piniriel fell asleep at his side. Thranduil had wrapped his daughter in the throw Legolas kept on the back of his desk chair and tucked her beneath Lumornon's chin, where he still rested on her tiny bed across the room.
Above the quilt, Legolas' chest was bare, for Ithildim had stripped his shirt from him an hour before, when he had again become frantic, trying to clear his neck from any perceived obstructions. His son's clawing at nothing had broken his heart, especially after Anaron had explained it was not the swelling, which had, by that time, been resolved, but rather his son's lingering confusion causing the panic—there was, therefore, nothing they could do to ease his fear, besides soothing and waiting for the medicine to encourage his body into healing.
But Legolas' soiled wool pants still peeked out from beneath the quilt, for they were to be left on until everything was documented. And so Thranduil found himself looking away again, this time to his son's face and to the finally darkening thumb marks on his throat. There, he could not linger either; he dropped his head into his hands and breathed through them to root himself.
What would he do with his son? How could they recover from this?
What would he do with his wife, to whom he owed so much?
Some days, Thranduil felt he truly owed her everything. . .
He and Gwaerain had bonded in the wake of their losses in the Last Alliance. Having lost their fathers to war and their mothers to the grief of it, they became one another's constants in a time of unsurity and began, together, to heal. In that healing, they fell in love, and it was real and true and pure, or seemed it, and yet... Healing together can confuse souls—especially in two so intertwined as they—and Thranduil, cast in such a new leadership role, became a collection of problems while Gwaerain, in her own grief, became one who reveled in solving them. . . Eventually, they both became two self-contained problems running on parallel tracks, with their children strung like laundry between them.
With the birth of their third child, the stress of their new hardships was not much eased—though happy they were in the rearing of him—so when the woods lightened for a moment like sun breaking through clouds in the storm—preemptimg a sun-shower before the descending whirlwind—they decided to have their fourth.
And that was their last child, and they were not stronger for her. . .
After Piniriel, Thranduil could only watch as Gwaerain withdrew, as she began to wean their daughter from her breast milk too early to pass her to the nursemaids and, eventually, to their own fierce and tender Legolas, for he too was an eager solver of problems. Thranduil could only watch as Gwaerain took to pacing the halls and standing at the gate for Felavel and Legolas' returns, any time they left their home. He could do nothing when Gwaerain took to the trees and sat in the canopy to watch the stars from sunset to dawn, night after night after never-ending night.
Thranduil had thought his children did not notice. . .he had desperately hoped not, for they were each already too occupied with worry. He never could control Gwaerain, and though he was usually glad for that, she had, by that point, become one more uncertainty in a whole world of them.
But Thranduil knew, regrettably, that they must have noticed, after all. . .
He remembered sometimes, sat around the breakfast table, how we would watch Legolas goad his mother into joking, for Gwaerain's laugh lifted all their spirits, and Legolas particularly had met it with joy from the moment he was born. Recently, he had seen Legolas work harder and harder to catch his mother's eye after each jest. Looking back, Thranduil would have sworn he saw Legolas hold his breath in the moments after each attempt—eyes simultaneously wide and wary and hopeful—until Gwaerain eventually spoke and smiled, and he would breathe out a soft and evening sigh, and laugh his bright laugh, hands flitting into the air with Gwaerain's permission to tell his joke or story.
Now, Thranduil knew he should have seen that hesitation as a sort of fear, a predictor of this action. After Felavel's passing, he should not have underestimated his wife's love for their youngest son, nor her desperation to cling to a normal and a past that was no longer theirs to own. . .
But he had underestimated her, and in the very worst of ways.
For his youngest son slept now on his bed—sheets stripped, balled into a pile in the corner—drugged into healing with his stoic and calm older brother a mess on Piniriel's bed across from them.
Suddenly, there was a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up to see Anaron standing silent with a marinating tincture gripped loosely in one hand.
"You should clean him now. Lostariel has finished, and Legolas would feel better knowing it was you," Anaron offered quietly. He stretched out his empty hand toward the Elvenking, but Thranduil could not yet move.
He finally looked away from Anaron's open, tired face and back to his son. Nodding vaguely, he took Anaron's hand and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.
What would he do with Gwaerain? What could he do?
Thranduil did not know.
He should have said something before, perhaps, should have inquired, spoken, intervened. . . But he had not.
So he leaned forward to roll down the quilt about his son's hips. He undid the buttons of his son's trousers, took the proffered rag from Anaron, and set numbly to his task.
Thranduil was not used to not knowing. . . He did not like it.
Interlude II: Lumornon
Lostariel felt a brush of fabric at her shoulder and a barely-there breath at the tip of her ear and knew Lumornon had risen from his spot on the floor to hover behind her.
"Lumornon." She did not yet turn. "It is the healers' and my responsibility to document the injuries and actions of these past hours. I do not need you compromising your health or the integrity of the record by involving yourself."
Lumornon leaned back from where he had been peering over her shoulder, reading over her notes as she worked. He sighed heavily and then threw his hands into the air. Lostariel finally twisted in her chair to see him.
"I need something to do, Lostariel," Lumornon admitted emphatically. "I cannot just sit here and ponder-I am losing my mind."
Lostariel looked up into his face and considered him carefully—he had unbraided his hair and it was mussed on one side from sleep. He had layered a thick sweater over his neat silk shirt and it listed, exposing a collarbone so that he looked more like a child roused in the night, seeking out his parent at the howling of the wind, than the much-respected Crown Prince of Mirkwood.
He was undone and tired and, she reasoned, he probably needed this. . .
"Then find me Saida," Lostariel finally said firmly, coming to a decision, tucking her pen behind her ear and crossing her arms, as Lumornon swayed indecisively. "She left Legolas a note earlier this evening and I would know what she intended with it."
Lumornon nodded and Lostariel stood from her seat then, stepping to the side and straightening her papers.
"But you must not question her, Lumornon. Bring Saida straight to me, and when she is gone and all of this is quiet for a time, I will pour you a glass of wine and distract you. You worry me when you are like this." She pushed up her sleeves distractedly. "You think too much—you are like your father."
Lumornon huffed and shook out his hands before pulling the sweater over his head and dropping it to the floor. He exchanged it for the finer jacket he had earlier draped on the back of Lostariel's chair; he turned up the cuffs. "Someone must be, Lostariel."
"And if you want tea, pick some up from the lauder," she said, ignoring him. "Send for a messenger or bring me Captain Amonhir, as well."
"And when Anaron is finished with Ithildim, I will want him, too," she instructed, seemingly nonchalant.
"I do not know that Ithildim is actually with his father at this point. When I left, Anaron was trying to force him back to their home—"
"That is not the point, Lumornon," Lostariel intrerrupted, raising her eyebrows.
Lumornon ran a hand over his face and was suprised to find himself smiling slightly when he looked back at her.
"I see. . . Well, thank you, Lostariel, for the tasks."
"You are welcome, my foolish friend." She took a step forward and grasped his shoulders; she pressed a kiss to his forehead before shooing him toward the door. "This House of Oropher. . ." she murmered with insincere annoyance."You are all the same!"
Lumornon laughed despite his exhaustion and pushed his way out the door, waving a hand goodbye as it swung shut behind him. He headed down the hall and through the winding corridors, searching for the the echoes of his brother's stalwart friends, set on completing this task of busying himself.
As Lumornon began his search, Lostariel sighed and rubbed her eyes; she sank back into her chair. Pulling the pen from behind her ear, she propped an elbow on the table and set back to the documents. Until the reports were written, her night could not even begin to end, and it had been such a very long one already.
Interlude III: Legolas
When Legolas finally found himself again, he was laid in his bed under a heavy quilt. At first he could not hear and thought to panic, but then he allowed himself to awaken more and the world came rushing in, and his ears opened, and his sight focused.
Peripherally, he saw Anaron sat at his table, which was not where it was supposed to be, and he wrote. Legolas could hear a pen scratching further to his left, punctuated with the soft brush of a charcoal stick, but he did not turn to see the source.
He kept his eyes fixed on the ceiling as if still sleeping to give him a moment to orient himself, because the last thing he remembered was chaos, and he did not want to bring that back upon himself so quickly by letting them know he was awake.
He heard a key in the door and felt every part of him freeze, but after the click and the soft whoosh of air there was a shadow on the bed and a familiar voice nearby: "How is he, Captain?"
"He has not stirred since he woke to you." Captain Amonhir's voice now. "Anaron says it is likely the sedative. Now that he is clear again, Anaron has been easing it in."
"Hm," his father said thoughtfully, and Legolas could not let his father worry—his father had been doing too much of that, for long centuries before Legolas was even born.
He turned his head and opened his mouth to speak. "I am here father," he meant to say, but instead, as a breath of air hit the back of his throat, he gasped and could not suppress the pain, like breathing too fast on a winter morning after running too long—a cold burn.
And then his father was above him, hands clasping either side of his face, and his vision was cut through with two swinging curtains of gold that fell about his own shoulders, so that when he looked up he looked up into a tunnel of gold, and at the end of that tunnel was his father and his silver eyes, cold as ice and hot as molten steel all at once, and all Legolas saw in them was pain—he closed his eyes against them, and felt his father kiss his head and cry.
Legolas swallowed and coughed and he could not stop it. His throat hurt like there were jarring needles in it and his lungs felt heavy and half a step behind—if the world were a tune then his lungs were a badly trained dancer, and he could not keep up.
Everything is too hard, he thought, and he did not understand.
It felt wrong and his mind was so foggy, like his whole world was a dream, as if he felt it all from far away.
He remembered once watching the campfire—on the sixth night without rest during a mission gone wrong—and seeing it as if through frosted glass, like it was a description of fire he had read once in a book and vaguely recalled, instead of a physical thing, laid out before him in real life, warming his skin as he numbly checked their arrows.
This was like that: not quite real, but real enough that he remembered his mother and why she was not with him now, as so often she was when he was unwell. His mind was tired, yes, but his body still felt. He felt the quilt on his chest and how his right hand laid out on top of it, curled on its side. He felt a seam's slight pressure on his littlest finger and shifted his hand to pick at it as he waited to open his eyes again, when the burning was less and the coughing quit riding his chest.
He wanted warmth near him, reassurance and normalcy, anything that made this unfortunate reality slightly more palatable. So when his coughs were through, he opened his eyes slightly and lifted his hand to that of his father, where it rested on his right cheek, and squeezed it.
It had been so long since his father had needed to give him strength, and he relaxed in the warmth of that gift—freely given— clouded by memories of moments before the storm, before his mother's darkness eclipsed it all.
Anaron hovered at the side of his bed, his father clutched his hand back tightly. He heard the door breathe open again—Ithildim coming or Amonhir going? He did not know—but his father was here now, and, so, he would be fine.
The room blurred further into mist and memory—golden light and the scent of marshmallow, his father's thumb stroking his cheek.
That was all he knew before he fell back asleep.
Thank you for reading the last chapter of Part II!
Author's note: Ziggy suggested I provide a summary of the story thus far at the beginning of this section, which I thought was a grand idea. I have also included a few of the previous chapter notes, as well as a list of characters and relationships. Thank you for your continued interest in this story! Knowing that there are folks out there still reading and discovering it keeps me writing the missing bits and brainstorming on the sequel. Can hardly believe this story turned One last month!
Summary: Legolas' sister, Felavel, is killed horrifically by orcs while Legolas and Ithildim are on a mission. Saida rides out to find their patrol and returns Legolas home. By the time Legolas arrives, his sister has already been "buried," and he finds his family in shambles. His mother, Gwaerain, is distant and plans on sailing, and she wants Legolas and his younger sister Piniriel to come with her. Over the next few days, Legolas' mother displays continuedly worrying behavior, trying to guilt Legolas into leaving with her, shaming him for returning to work, telling him that he will die if he continues to serve the wood. Legolas is not sure whether the change in his mother's behavior is real or whether his perception is warped by stress. However, Ithildim and Saida notice and plan to bring up their concerns with him. However, after returning from his first mission after Felavel's death, he has a confrontation with his mother. It spirals out of control and Gwaerain chokes Legolas in a fit and leaves him unconscious in his room, desperate for help and searching out her son Lumornon. Healer Anaron arrives and takes care of Legolas, and Gwaerain is whisked away to her rooms. Legolas has one instance of serious trouble with his breathing as a result of the swelling to his airways, and then all is resolved, healthwise. We leave off with his family doubting how they will move forward, but not yet dealing with it. Now we barrel into his recovery, and how his family will ever come to terms with what has happened...
Previous notes: Please see chapter one for notes on age.
Current character list:
Thranduil- Legolas' father and Elvenking
Gwaerain- Legolas' mother and the queen
Lumornon- eldest child and Legolas' older brother
Felavel- Legolas' older sister; deceased
Piniriel- youngest of the four siblings and still quite wee
Lostariel- Legolas' captain and dear friend to Lumornon
Amonhir- Lostariel's second and Legolas' captain
Ithildim- Legolas' best friend and agemate
Saida- Legolas' dear friend and agemate
Elednil- older elf in Legolas Ithildim's unit
Anaron- Lead healer and Ithildim's father
Orodiel- Anaron's husband and Ithildim's mother
Aergwen- Lead heart healer (mental health)
Angst city ahead. Legolas returns next chapter. Enjoy!
ENOUGH: SO BEAUTIFUL THE LUNGS ARE BREATHLESS
Part Three: Intently Silent
Legolas' quarters, the afternoon after
Lumornon had wanted healer Anaron to be present when Legolas properly woke, for Legolas had been stirring in his sleep in what Lumornon could only imagine was pain, and he did not know how to manage that. Anaron's wife Orodiel, however, had forced Anaron home earlier in the day (for he had not slept since the previous morning), and Anaron had been unable to be there after all, and neither had Lumornon himself, much to his horror. Saida and Ithildim had sent a page to let him know, and he had arrived from his meeting as soon as he could, but Legolas had already been coaxed back into sleeping by the time he arrived.
When he had first arrived at their summons, he found the two of them at Legolas' bedside, well into what appeared to be a heated, whispered argument. Their voices had dropped and Saida's hand gone immediately and protectively to Legolas' forehead when he pushed the door in with his shoulder, and Ithildim turned to face around shoulders squared. Neither of them relaxed until they laid eyes on him, and Ithildim breathed out his name in a relieved sigh as Saida brushed back the flyaways from Legolas' forehead, and then stepped aside to allow Lumornon passage.
As he gazed at his brother, Ithildim had instructed Lumornon on the medications neatly organized on the nightstand, and clearly communicated that Legolas was still somewhat confused when awake—due to the herbs and trauma—and that Healer Anaron had advised no one speak to him about his mother until he had finished with the more disorienting medications. Lumornon promised them both his obeisance and then watched distantly as Ithildim leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the bridge of Legolas' nose; Saida then took Ithildim by the elbow and led them quickly out of the room.
And so it had been two hours. Lumornon now sat in the eery silence beside Legolas' bed, with a trade report in his lap, scanning the pages with which he had escaped a long-scheduled afternoon meeting by promising to read.
But his mind was not truly comprehending.
He had rested little since the night before, in the aftermath of his mother's assault on his brother. First he had slept, and then he had spent long hours at his father's side (and one at his mother's), and many hours more sequestered away with Lostariel in an attempt to make sense of it all. And then since his early morning meeting with Legolas' captains and his father's council, he had not been able to rest at all.
Still—to him—the most disturbing of it all was Ithildim and Saida's explanation of the note Legolas had left tacked to his door. Their reasoning for leaving the note was disturbing in and of itself, but what he had missed himself as Legolas and Piniriel's older brother would cause him guilt for years to come. Even now, a chill ran up one arm and he felt the hair on his right arm prickle as it rose with the weight of his sweater.
And now, what would they do with Piniriel? It had been less than a day since Legolas' injury and already she had begun to feel like an object to be shuffled, which was hardly fair for a child, especially one whose favorite caregiver was incapacitated and who currently refused to speak.
Lumornon tossed the report to the ground with a deep huff, and leaned back into the heavy desk chair, tipping the front two legs off the ground and folding his hands in his lap distractedly. He gritted his teeth as he watched Legolas' now even breathing and studied—for what felt like the thousandth time—the deep purple marks and fainter red line on his brother's neck, the darkest of them on either side of his throat.
He huffed again and stood abruptly from the chair, looking around the room for a way to distract himself from such an uncontrollable situation.
His eyes sighted a small tin of unguent on the bedside table with a hastily-scrawled note from Anaron pinned beneath it. He pulled out the note and read it quickly, then picked up the tin. Leaning over Legolas' bed, he scooped some of it out with a finger; he could feel the grit of ground yarrow as he scraped at the bottom.
He paused for a moment and then used his thumb to rub the concoction across his fingers—it smelled piny as he finished and stared at his fingertips. Lumornon reached out to his brother and tenderly touched his skin, smoothing the unguent on his throat and the sides of his neck where the marks were visible. He wiped his hands on the cloth Ithildim had left on the table, and then tried to think of what else Ithildim had instructed him to do.
As Lumornon hovered, Legolas turned his head toward him in his sleep, and his slightly parted lips pursed and his nostrils flared as his throat was jostled. Lumornon forced himself to pause and watch the rhythm of his brother's breathing for a moment before he sat back down—defeated—and put an elbow on the bedside table. He propped his head on his hand and stared at the medicines and leaves laid out beside him, and sighed again.
The exhalation fluttered a dried leaf of comfrey as the door opened quietly behind him. Lumornon dropped his hands into his lap and turned around.
Anaron stood just inside the door and inclined his head slightly to Lumornon, who hastily stood. Lumornon gestured to the bed and Anaron started forward. He brushed past him, noting the gouge in the tin of unguent and the heavy scent of arnica as he reached Legolas.
"Ithildim told me he woke," Anaron said quietly with a hand on Legolas' chest. He turned partway around to catch Lumornon's eye and Lumornon quickly responded.
"Yes, Saida and Ithildim were here, but he was asleep again by the time I arrived."
"Mm, that is well," Anaron murmured, wiping his hands on his trousers and turning fully back to Legolas, whose head had shifted so his cheek rested now on his shoulder.
Anaron lifted Legolas' head with a gentle hand grasped firmly at the base of his neck, thumb pressed against the space in front of Legolas' ear; he cradled his head from behind as he rearranged the pillows to support his neck, and then ghosted hands over the skin of his throat.
Legolas stirred again at the touches. Half-aware, he reached a hand toward his face and took a deep breath, before trying to roll onto his side, but Anaron caught up his hand and guided it back to the quilt—he held it down until Legolas quit shifting and settled back into unconsciousness.
Anaron released his wrist and settled himself into the chair beside the bed. He looked up at Lumornon.
"I will wake him when it is time for his medicines, to see how he is doing. Conscious patients are far easier to assess than sleeping ones," Anaron said frankly as he crossed his legs. "Your father wants you in his study, but I can call for you when I wake him, of course."
Lumornon shifted his weight slightly and then nodded. Anaron reached out and brushed Lumornon's arm to truly garner his attention. When Lumornoon had focused on him fully he continued:
"He will be all right, Lumornon," Anaron told him. His eyebrows lowered as he crossed his arms upon his chest and shrugged in much the same way Ithildim had when explaining something away as a child. "I cannot make promises, of course, and while strangulation is deadly serious—"
Lumornon felt his whole body tense when Anaron said that word, and his eyes snapped back to his brother's neck.
Anaron saw this and cleared his throat. Lumornon looked back to him and Anaron continued.
"While strangulation is very serious, he has done very well since the scare early this morning, and he tolerates the pain suppressants well, which—as you saw—can be of significant concern..."
Lumornon lifted a hand to his shoulder and rubbed beneath his sweater as he considered Anaron. He finally nodded again.
"Thank you, Anaron," he said after a moment more, and then turned to leave.
But Anaron stopped him with a final request, and he found himself turning to face him again before he could even slow himself.
"And rest soon, Lumornon," Anaron directed. "Your father will soon need you, dearly."
Lumornon nodded again but did not move—could he even rest while his family was in such a state?
Anaron appeared to read his mind and offered quietly as he turned back to Legolas, running a hand over the creased quilt and tracing its fold down the side of the bed: "And if you cannot sleep..."
"And if I cannot sleep," Lumornon continued when Anaron trailed off didactically, "I will find you, Healer Anaron. Thank you."
It was too much kindness after a long two hours of silence.
Lumornon hurriedly turned away from Anaron and toward the door; he pushed it open with a shoulder. He shook the anxiety from his hand's and hurried down the hall to his father's quarters.
Officers' Barracks, an hour or so later
Ithildim and Saida had both laid down on the cots in the corner of the officers' mess hall after leaving Legolas that afternoon, instead of making the winding trip home to their respective families. Saida's sister-in-law had heard what happened from her husband, who was captain of the Eastern Patrol, and she had come to check on her and offer to walk both of them home, but she left again at Saida's gentle refusal. After that, they had quickly fallen asleep, Saida on her side with an arm tucked beneath her head, and Ithildim on his back with his arms folded across his face.
They had been resting for less than an hour, however, when the door opened again. It was Lostariel and Amonhir, and Lostariel knelt down beside the cots while Amonhir stood back with his hands held loosely behind him.
"Hey-o, young ones," Lostariel said gently. All raiment of a captain fell from her voice when she saw Legolas' dearest friends so near—neither had changed clothes from the night before and both looked utterly exhausted.
At first neither woke, but then Lostariel touched a hand to either of their foreheads.
Immediately, Saida sat bolt upright and gasped, but Ithildim blinked for a moment, before registering his captain's face and swinging his legs around so he sat on the edge of the cot. He dropped his elbows to his wide-planted knees and lowered his head into his hands.
"I apologize, Captain," Ithildim murmured quietly through his fingers. "I have not been taken by surprise at rest for quite a while."
He ran his hands down his face and looked up. Saida was leant now over her own crossed arms, her light irises almost eclipsed by her pupils as she blinked in the darkened room, and her hair fell about her face when she shook the dreams from her and glanced at Ithildim.
Amonhir spoke from his place far behind Lostariel, and both Ithildim and Saida looked up sharply at his voice.
"It is all right," he said. "It has been a trying day."
Ithildim blinked as Amonhir strode across the room and selected a chair. Lostariel had sunk to the floor and crossed her legs in front of her by the time Amonhir returned with his chair and sat down beside them.
"You can rest again as soon as we are done speaking," Lostariel said quietly, and while it was the same tone she had used when she had first come upon the two, Ithildim did not know it, of course, because he had been asleep.
He started at the tone and sat up from his perch, for Lostariel did not use such a gentle tone—ever—even when checking on a wounded soldier, or when reporting a spider attack, or—
"Has something happened to Legolas?" he asked suddenly, and Lostariel now blinked—unaware—as she considered him.
Saida dropped her head, and from her position on the floor, Lostariel could see her shoulders rise and disappear into her hair as if preparing herself to weather something terrible.
Then she realized.
"No," Lostariel reassured quickly. "No—nothing like that. In fact, your father says there is every indication he will recover quickly, Ithildim." Amonhir cleared his throat from his chair beside them, and Lostariel corrected herself. "Quickly in body, at least. He will need your support for the rest."
"Yes..." Saida agreed quietly.
"We should have been more direct in expressing our worries about the effect of Felavel's death on the Queen," Ithildim said, and he looked evenly at Lostariel; in his peripheral vision, he could see Saida nod slowly from the cot beside him.
Lostariel had never seen either of them look so vulnerable, and she had trained them both some time before. Her heart felt too full for a moment to breathe—they were yet young, and she had so much to ask of them.
"No, Ithildim, Saida," she said firmly, and she swallowed. "One often does not know how important a thing is until it has already passed."
"Mm," Ithildim said quietly.
"But I do have something to ask of you," Lostariel continued, and Saida looked up. Ithildim tilted his head to the side, and Amonhir crossed and uncrossed his legs as if uncomfortable.
"What is it?" Ithildim asked.
"I have just come from the King's study," Lostariel said, and she cleared her throat and took a small breath before explaining, but Ithildim interrupted her, forgetting decorum in his concern.
"And?" he cut in quickly.
Amonhir looked at him sharply. "Ithildim," Amonhir reprimanded. "She is telling you."
"Yes, sir." Ithildim dropped his eyes and nodded deferentially to his captains.
"I have just come from the King's study," Lostariel continued, "and I have some developments to share. I will need your help preparing Legolas should it...come to this."
"To what?" Saida asked. She had pulled her legs up onto the cot and crossed them beneath her as she listened.
"The queen still intends to leave," Lostariel said. "But the council is concerned about her health in making that decision now, and concerned also that she might leave the wood without punishment for what may very well be an aggravated crime."
"Oh," Saida said quietly.
"Depending on the Queen's ability to efficiently prepare herself and her retinue for travel in her condition and to convince Thranduil that it is best for Piniriel to sail with her, it is very likely that the Council may choose to charge her before she leaves, after all."
Ithildim held his breath, and he looked over to see Saida biting her lip.
"Most likely privately, of course," Amonhir clarified, "but charge her still."
"And in that event," Lostariel continued, "Legolas may be asked to recount to the council what happened yesterday evening. And while Legolas is resilient, I doubt anyone's ability to easily do so."
Ithildim breathed out slowly through his teeth as Saida breathed in deeply through her nose; she flipped her hands over in her lap and suddenly studied them. There was silence for a few moments.
"Surely his father will not require such a thing," Ithildim finally said.
"Ideally," Amonhir said without inflection, "he would not."
"Which is why I would like you both to be aware of such a possibility," said Lostariel. "If the Queen does not sail quickly but Legolas has made a report to a Captain instead, the Council is likely to take the captain's word instead of his, and he would be spared recounting such a thing before his own loved ones, and to his father's peers."
Ithildim glanced down. "I see." He looked back up at Lostariel and held her gaze. He spoke curtly: "He should not have to do this."
"Oh, he should not," Lostariel agreed. "But," she continued, "Felavel is dead; Lumornon will soon be occupied with the Kingdom; his mother is...insensate; his father torn by too many griefs; Piniriel is effectively parentless..." Her voice was quiet and sincere, but intense, imploring them to see that this suggestion was truly the lesser of two evils.
Ithildim and Saida sat once more in silence; Saida bit her lip again, and they glanced at one another. Ithildim shifted.
"I suppose we do not have much of a choice, then," he said. He lifted his hand and ran it up and down the back of his neck once, before rubbing across his cheek, squeezing his mouth, and letting it fall tiredly from the point of his chin. He looked at Lostariel and Amonhir both. "Once he is awake and conversing—and it has become clear it may yet come to this—I will see what I can do."
"And I will ensure Ithildim does not ask too much of him, too quickly," Saida offered immediately.
"I would not—" Ithildim started.
"Of course you would not," Lostariel said.
"Mm," Ithildim said again.
Amonhir stood. "Rest," he said. "In the barracks. Legolas will be properly awake soon and in need of some level heads."
Lostariel placed a hand on each of their shoulders. Ithildim bowed his head to her.
"Thank you for the notice, Captains," he said.
They nodded and walked past them to the door that led down a hallway to their offices.
Ithildim and Saida stared at each other dumbly after they left. For a minute, neither could even think to speak.
"So... What are we supposed to do?" Saida finally asked, her voice unsteady. Ithildim closed his eyes and dropped his head into his hands once more. "We already tried to help, Ithildim, and it was not enough."
Ithildim could not speak. Finally, Saida rose and sat down beside him on his cot. She laid her head on his shoulder, and Ithildim stiffened, and then relaxed, and he thought suddenly of their childhood spent under tree with Legolas, their early years camping in the roots and the canopy and under the stars; the years spent running the halls on rainy days, falling asleep on the floor under blanketed tables; crushing ochre for paint and tigerlilies for dye; using apples for target practice when their slings were taken away; falling asleep head-to-head-to-head on the training fields after a long day's work, before Saida quit the army and Ithildim took up a leadership track...
They had left childhood so fast, then, and careened into adulthood, and come—here—to a bone-shattering stop.
He did not know what this was, this stage where they were currently suspended.
But Saida was crying now, and leant into his shoulder, and he was so tired... It felt neverending, and he could not breathe.
And so they laid down, and slept.
Thank you for reading! Happy July!