A Legolas backstory / Things are dark in Mirkwood, and the death of the Elvenking's eldest daughter sends the family into a despairing spiral. This is the story of what it took to break their mother's steady Silvan heart, and it culminates in a criminal act of betrayal that may not be forgiven. It creates a seed of doubt in Thranduil's youngest son, and a fear that he is not enough to control his own mind... / Third Age 1872
Categories: Fiction Characters:
Legolas, OFC, OMC, Thranduil
Angst, Drama, Gen
May 05, 2016 Updated:
September 05, 2017
Please see Chapter One for important story notes. Thank you!
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
13. Chapter 13 by UnnamedElement
Chapter One by UnnamedElement
A Long Author
________________________________________________________________________________________________ENOUGH: SO BEAUTIFUL THE LUNGS ARE BREATHLESS
So beautiful the lungs
are breathless. The hand remembers;
I was a wing.
Blue. The peaks in ruddy
Young day, young times, young world.
Birds listen, intently silent.
—excerpt from “Songs of a Wanderer”
by Alexsander Wat (Polish poet, 1900-1967)
Third Age of the Sun, 1872 – Northern Mirkwood
There are moments in one’s life from which it is impossible to recover, Ithildim thought, watching his friend from where he stood—something horrible had happened.
Legolas touched his forehead in confusion. He swayed for a moment and then stumbled forward into Saida’s arms, as if fainting. She lowered him to the ground and he settled there, knees crossed like a diamond in front of him, hands clasped in his lap and head bowed.
Ithildim’s company had been stopped in the middle of the Elf Path, and Ithildim was reviewing a chart from the Western patrol with a soldier when he heard the approaching thrum of a messenger’s horse. When he looked up, their childhood friend Saida—now a trainer for their youngest recruits—leapt from her horse and bowed her head. “Legolas!” she had called softly, with urgency. “I have been looking for your company for days.”
And then she had taken his shoulders in hand and tucked hair behind his ear, leaned in and whispered, and Legolas had fallen to the ground, where he was now.
Ithildim pushed the chart into Elednil’s chest and walked to Legolas and Saida; he crouched at his friends’ side as Legolas stared blankly at the dirt in front of him.
He looked at Saida.
“What news have you brought him?”
“Lieutenant Felavel has been killed. The Halls are in chaos. Prince Lumornon bid me find your party before the King or Queen make a rash decision, and Captain Lostariel said she sent you all west to scout, but the Western Patrol knew not of your whereabouts, and I could not find you until now! I have wasted such time!”
Ithildim placed a hand on her cheek and Saida stopped her frantic report. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and when she opened them again she was calm.
“It is well, Saida,” said Ithildim gently. “You are here now, and we are here with Legolas. You have the only horse. Take him with you back to the Halls.”
“No,” Legolas said, and his friends were startled. “We will take our company back to Captain Lostariel first, and then I would travel back with the both of you, by foot if we must. They will have had rights for my sister by now; there is no need to hurry.”
Ithildim caught Saida’s eyes, and she spoke quietly.
“Legolas, there is rumor among the palace staff that Gwaerain will sail. Your brother fears she will take the baby. The Halls are full of grief.”
Legolas finally looked up and tilted his head to the side, as if considering.
“If the Queen has chosen to leave,” he said slowly, “then she will do so regardless of whether I am with my family in four days or fourteen. I see no reason to hurry.”
Ithildim stood. He was ranked higher in the King’s Army than his friend, son of the Elvenking or not.
“Elednil,” Ithildim said, walking away from Legolas and Saida and toward their fellows. “You will lead our soldiers back to Captains Lostariel and Amonhir. Legolas and I return to the Halls with Saida.”
Elednil nodded and stood from where he had been drawing a diagram on the earth with a stick.
“Something has happened,” Elednil said, narrowing his eyes at Ithildim.
Elednil was a new warrior, but he was the oldest in their company—born in the Emyn Duir before the Battle at Dagorlad—and he was more measured and perceptive than most of them.
Ithildim nodded. “Lieutenant Felavel has been killed. Legolas must return to his family.”
“Ithildim,” Legolas interrupted, standing and placing one hand on Saida’s horse as if exhausted, “you are being ridiculous. My mother will not go to the Havens—she is Silvan! The sea does not hold sway over her heart.”
“The Sea holds sway over all of us, Legolas,” Elednil said softly, “whether we know it or not, especially in these dark times.”
“No,” Legolas protested, “we are children of the woods! She will stay; she would not take Piniriel. We will go back to Captain Lostariel with our company, Ithildim, as we should.”
Saida put a hand on Legolas’ shoulder and Ithildim turned to Legolas. The elves behind them rolled up papers and tucked waybread in pockets, readjusting weapons. They avoided looking at their king’s distressed son, ready to leave the path to find their captains.
Ithildim took a breath and exhaled through his nose to steady his response.
“I command our party, Legolas, when we are apart from our captains. And I say we will go with Saida to the Elvenking’s Halls, and you will follow me because it is your duty, and because I am your friend, and I know better than you right now.”
“Captain Amonhir, too, insisted you were to return with me, Legolas,” Saida said quietly, her voice almost a plea. “You have been commanded, by your superiors as well as your peers.”
“This is absurd,” Legolas insisted. “There is no need to hurry. Felavel is dead. The worst has already happened. This could not be any worse to me. But I will not defy your orders, Ithildim, so let us leave.”
“We will make haste; Elednil can take the horse,” said Saida.
Ithildim issued a series of sharp commands and bid their party farewell, while Legolas stood silently by Saida, head bowed and arms limp at his sides.
When Ithildim returned to them, he placed a hand on each of their shoulders as they began to walk the path.
“My mother will not sail, Ithildim,” Legolas said.
“Legolas,” Ithildim began, “your brother has known your mother much longer than you. If Lumornon fears something, we ought to fear it, too.”
“No,” said Legolas. “I will not believe it.”
“No! I will not! To believe it is to give up—it is to lose hope!”
“Legolas, your sister has died; your mother has lost her eldest daughter—“
“No! No,” Legolas repeated. He shook his head from side to side as Ithildim had not seen him do in years, and he closed his eyes, pressed the heels of his hands into them. “She will stay with us in the woods, where we belong. She will stay here; she is Silvan, and her children are as good as. Felavel would not want her to go; to go is to give in to darkness; she will not go—she cannot.”
“Let me believe that which I need to, Ithildim!”
“I will let you lie to yourself if it is what helps us get you home.”
There was quiet then between the three friends as they continued in the deep gloam; eventually all three lit lights, and a while later they put them out and took to the trees, away from the threat of spiders and toward the lightness of the eastern wood, drawing ever closer to the Elvenking’s Halls.
Legolas, Ithildim, and Saida arrived home two days after departing their company. They flanked Legolas on either side, accepting condolences from their peers and elders for him, as they worked their way further into the hill, to the Elvenking’s quarters. Ithildim and Saida presented Legolas to his parents and then bowed and ducked out of the room. Legolas could feel the ghost of Ithildim’s warm hand on his wrist after they had left, and he raised his eyes to look at Thranduil and Gwaerain, but neither of them spoke. There was silence in the room for a long minute before Thranduil turned to him.
“Felavel’s ritual was two days ago; I am sorry you missed it.”
Legolas clasped his hands in front of him and dropped his eyes to the worn purple rug underfoot.
“I am sorry also,” he said.
“Your mother will need to speak with you later,” Thranduil said, crossing the room and placing a hand on Legolas’ shoulder, looking down into his face and reaching out to wipe a stripe of dried mud off his cheek. “We are making a decision, but we did not want to do so before you returned.”
Legolas looked up at his father and he could not speak.
His older brother Lumornon emerged from the sitting room to the left, carrying a cup of tea.
“I thought I heard you, emlineg,” Lumornon said, walking to him quickly and touching Legolas’ cheek.
“You are not really considering allowing her to leave?” Legolas asked suddenly.
The familiar feel of his brother’s smooth hand on his cheek had grounded him, and he looked away sharply from his father toward Gwaerain, and the fear of it rushed into him.
Neither Lumornon nor Thranduil answered him.
Legolas walked to the pouf on which his mother was sitting, hands folded in her lap and legs crossed in front of her, bare feet tucked beneath her knees.
“Mother!” he said, dropping to the floor and kneeling in front of her.
He took her hands in his. She looked down at his dirty hands, entwining with her long dusky fingers, but did not say a word.
“Mother,” Legolas repeated. “Mother, tell me you are not leaving us.”
Thranduil was beside them in a moment, pulling Legolas to his feet.
“She has barely spoken since the funeral rights, my son. Please, give her time.”
Legolas looked up at his father and he did not know what to say. Over and over, he did not know what to say.
Suddenly, Lumornon was gently taking his arm and pressing the warm mug of tea into his hands, wrapping his fingers around it with his own.
“Come with me, Legolas,” he said. “Come. You need to bathe and change and eat; Mother will come see you later.”
Legolas only nodded and looked one last time at his mother, who was still sitting quite still behind him, head tilted to the side and lips parted; her cheeks had become flushed.
“She will explain later, Legolas,” Lumornon pulled him toward the door, but Gwaerain stopped them with a quiet word.
“Emlineg,” she said, and Legolas whipped around; he felt the hot tea burn at his hands, felt it melt away at the dirt in his calluses, sting at his skin, cracked from the cold.
Lumornon’s hand stayed firm on his arm and seemed for a moment to urgently squeeze, so he could not turn round completely.
“My child, I do not intend to leave you,” Gwaerain said.
Legolas nodded, and then inclined his head to his father, and he allowed Lumornon to lead him into the hall.
A few steps outside the door, Lumornon stopped their progress and faced Legolas, cupping his hands underneath the warm mug and pushing it gently upward, catching Legolas’ eye.
Legolas smiled slightly at his brother and lifted the cup to his lips; chamomile and a hint of cinnamon overwhelmed him, and he took a deep breath and breathed in the warm steam; he closed his eyes and felt his shoulders relax, and then he brought the mug down and held it close to his chest.
When he opened his eyes, Lumornon was a step closer, and his hazel eyes were wide and worried. He reached out to Legolas and gently took his bow from his shoulders and put a hand on his back, pushing him forward, but Legolas would not at first move.
“Where is Piniriel?” Legolas asked suddenly, and his whole body felt rigid again and alert as his brother urged him forward.
“She is napping in your room, Legolas,” Lumornon said gently. “She has been waiting for you. Our parents have been obviously distracted and she is craving attention.”
Legolas smiled and allowed himself to be moved along more easily.
“Do you think mother will leave, Lumornon? Will you really let her go?”
They had reached Legolas’ room at the very end of the hall, and Lumornon pulled a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door, and then tucked it into Legolas’ belt.
“I do not know, emlineg,” he said. “But you know as well as I that we have no control over her—she will make her own choices.”
“Hmm,” Legolas said, dropping his pack onto the bed and beginning to undo his quiver and belt.
“Pull out your tub, Legolas, and I will find someone to bring you a few buckets of warm water.”
Lumornon nodded to a corner of the room where their younger sister Piniriel lay sleeping on her chest, with one arm tucked under her and her legs splayed akimbo.
“She has only just fallen asleep,” Lumornon said to Legolas as he shrugged out of his jacket. “Mother and father could not console her, and she did not understand. She did not understand when they laid Felavel to rest; she asked us when she would come back, and I told her she would not. She did not understand, and I did not know what to say.”
Legolas looked up at his brother, and Lumornon took a step back to see the depth of hurt there, and the sudden age and wisdom in his young eyes.
“How could she understand, Lumornon, when even we do not? When Mother cannot see any way to feel whole again but by sailing over the Sea, though it would sunder our family as Felavel has done her heart? Piniriel is too young to even know injury, let alone death. But she is lucky, in a way, because she will forget this, and she will never know our family is less than it was meant to be, and she will grow whole and happy.”
Legolas looked away from his brother and dropped his jacket to the ground, moving on to his tunic and pulling it over his head. He folded it quickly into a square—fold, fold, press, fold—and let it fall on top of his jacket on the floor.
“I should warn you, Legolas,” Lumornon told him, looking distraught and a little uncomfortable—his dark hair fell in a frame around his face and it brushed at his cheek as he leaned toward his brother. “Mother wants you to leave with her; she intends to take you and Piniriel to the Havens.”
Legolas felt himself freeze as he reached behind his neck to undo the latch at his necklace—
“She what?” he finally managed.
“I know that you heard me,” said Lumornon. “Do not make me say it again. But know, Legolas, that the choice is yours. No one will hold it against you if the hurt is too much.”
Legolas fumbled with the clasp that was caught in his hair and said stiffly, “No amount of hurt is enough to chase me from these woods.”
He could not untangle the necklace and he sighed. Lumornon turned him around with a push at his shoulder and picked out the hair tangled in the clasp. He undid it and held it out by the chain, dropping it into Legolas’ hand when he turned back to him.
“Do not worry, Lumornon,” Legolas said. He slid the necklace—a flash of citrine like muted sunshine—onto his bedside table and sat on the bed to untie his shoes.
Lumornon did not move.
“I am sorry I was not here to steady them,” Legolas said quietly. “This was too much for us. They thought it was safe, for her.”
They both glanced toward Piniriel, who stirred in her sleep and brought a knee to her chest.
“Who knows,” Legolas said musingly, “perhaps she will be better off in Valinor. But my heart will be broken. I will appreciate the hot water, Lumornon. And to see you again later.”
Lumornon suddenly stirred and moved forward in a rush. He grasped Legolas’ shoulders and pressed a kiss to his forehead.
“Rest, emlineg,” he said. “Please rest.”
Legolas dropped a shoe to the floor, and then Lumornon was gone. The door breathed a sigh like an old pine in a breeze as it shut behind him. He pulled off his shirt and undershirt, wiped his hands on his breeches—wet from the tea—and crossed to a cupboard by their washbasin. He pulled out the metal tub and slid it into a corner, and then walked to his sister’s bed. He laid down beside her and draped an arm across her tiny shoulders; her breath was a sigh on the hairs of his arm, barely there—she was so small.
He laid there until there was a knock at the door, and he thanked Galion and his friend profusely for the water, and then, he was so glad to be clean; he had never been more glad to get rid of the dirt of the road.
Thank you for reading this first chapter!
Chapter Two by UnnamedElement
Author's note: Two Sindarin words are used in this chapter: fea and rhaw. These are equivalent to the Quenya words f
Lumornon had come and gone; they had eaten together and built a fire in the hearth, and given Piniriel soup and a few bites of bread; they had changed her shirt because she was not yet very good at eating, and then Legolas had told Piniriel goodnight, and Lumornon lifted her into his arms and took her to their father.
Legolas had begun to take care of Piniriel in the evenings once it had become clear that she refused to sleep. On nights when he only had to work in the Halls the next day, or when he was on leave, she would stay in his room—Felavel had even had her betrothed build the child a second bed in Legolas’ room, and Gwaerain’s lady-in-waiting delivered several changes of clothes to his room every week. Legolas knew his mother was grateful for rest when she could get it, now that Piniriel was no longer breastfeeding and would tolerate anyone besides his mother or father to tend her. And Legolas enjoyed taking care of things, and he did not at all mind the distraction from his duty, something to occupy his thoughts entirely when he was home.
But as Legolas became fully independent in his young adulthood, and as Piniriel moved from infancy to very early childhood, he felt something shift in his mother: while before she had been sprawling and wild but predictable and steady, she was now anxious. She was a sparrow who had not had a crumb in weeks when the ground was frozen, hungry and quick to flight; she was a leaf caught in the wind and vibrating parallel to the ground, a hissing whisper on the air like a whistle through teeth.
Legolas assumed it was because the darkness was oppressing—the more he was in the woods and at war, the more he felt it—and he thereafter only tried harder to bring a smile to her face, to provoke her into jest and wordplay with his tenderness, his wild and obstinate ways that she simultaneously corralled and encouraged. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes he was met with reprimand; sometimes it worked, and sometimes he was faced with silence. It was never easy to predict, but he did not mind. She was mostly tender and loving and, still—after all—his mother.
Less than an hour later—after he had scrubbed their bowls in his leftover bathwater and stacked them by the door, just as he had changed into his nightshirt and was reaching for the buttons—Gwaerain was at the door and quietly calling his name.
Legolas quickly fastened his shirt and strode to the door. He unlatched it and put on a smile for his mother as he stepped back to let her in.
But though she was there in body—long grey dress and wild unbraided hair; thick-knitted sweater caught under fingers like a worrystone; bare feet, cheeks flushed beneath olive skin, hazel eyes wide as the moon—Legolas could not feel her song nor her energy; it did not emanate from her or pulse through the air like a memory of spring.
His face fell when he could not feel it.
His mother pushed past him and settled lightly on the edge of the bed.
“You must believe that I do not mean to hurt you, Legolas,” she said, and she did not look at him as he shut the door, as she leaned slightly forward as if she would spring from her seat at a moment’s notice.
Legolas picked up a leather hair thong from his bedside table and secured his hair from his face, deftly twisting and tying before taking a tentative step toward her. He sat down beside his mother on the bed and crossed his legs at the knees, jiggling one foot slightly in the air as he watched her.
“Lumornon says he told you,” she said. “Told you what it is I want from you.”
Legolas did not speak but continued to jiggle his foot and turned his body toward her so they were no longer seated parallel; he tucked the foot under his thigh and stared at his mother, trying to decide what to say.
Most older elves that Legolas knew—even if they were normally full of energy or highly frenetic—could sit calmly, mind mastering body—fae over rhaw, as Illuvatar intended—and focus fully on the subject before them. His captain Amonhir was one of these elves, and Felavel had been, too.
But a few of their Wood-elf kin, he had noticed, never quit moving, and, despite his mother’s age, she was one of them. She had always had a plan; she was always sweeping them up into an adventure or a song or hurrying them off to tutors and training, and though she was not entirely still now—taught as a bowstring, quivering with the potential energy of that release—it was stillthe most still Legolas had seen her in years.
Finally she continued: “I only wish to keep you whole, emlineg, as I was unable to do for Felavel.”
Legolas stared at his mother for a minute more, and then shook his head, and glanced to the door. His lungs were filled with that same fear of abandonment he had felt in his parents’ room earlier, and he thought, for a moment, that he had forgotten how to breathe.
He raised both hands into the air where they fluttered before clasping behind his neck; he dropped his chin so that it nearly touched his chest and calmed his breath so that his voice was even.
“Mother,” Legolas said finally, and now he could not look at her. “Mother, I cannot leave.”
In a heartbeat, she shifted closer to him and placed a firm hand on his shoulder—he tensed unexplainably at her touch, a corporal reminder of Lumornon’s urgent grip on his arm when he pulled Legolas away from her earlier, as he hurried him to his locked door, as if he knew something that Legolas did not.
Gwaerain put her other hand to Legolas’ chin and lifted his head, and he looked into her eyes—just a thin ring of hazel iris rimmed her pupils, which were wide and dark and imploring.
And there was something in there, Legolas thought, that he had not seen before, and that he did not like…
“You can leave, my son,” his mother said quietly. “You can. You just choose not to. You will either leave with me and go to a peaceful place, or you will stay here, and you will leave another way, in the same manner as your sister maybe. I know you, Legolas, and though you should as this world grows darker, you will not shy from danger. You will die here, in Middle-earth.”
Legolas swallowed and looked away from her; no, he did not like this at all.
“Legolas,” she said.
He did not move, but he felt her grasp his chin more tightly, and her usually gentle fingers pinched him.
He could not look at her. He did not want to die, but neither did he want to leave.
“Do you hear, my son? Or have you already left me?”
Legolas glanced back at her and his eyes grew wide as he was caught—he saw her nostrils flare as his did when he was angry, saw the curve of her lips that was reflected on his own face, the flyaway wisps that fell into her eyes and the tendrils that tangled in the wind, all of which, from her, he had inherited.
All he had wanted was to see his mother, to be reassured as he struggled to breathe through this grief. He had not asked for this threat of abandonment, this unexpected expectation, a promise he did not know he had made and therefore could not keep.
Finally, he shook his head slightly to upset her grip on his chin.
“I am not gone,” he said.
She sighed and ran one long finger down his throat as she spoke: “I am sorry you are so much like me, child.”
Legolas did not understand.
“I just wish you had been here to see your sister, Legolas,” his mother explained, and her finger ghosted down his neck and out along a collarbone as she spoke.
She looked up and caught his eyes so suddenly that his stomach turned.
There was a fervor and light behind her eyes now, and her energy flooded back in: it was green and howling like wild honeysuckle taking over a well-loved glade, pulling down new shoots and drowning their light in its hunger, suffocating; like a wind that caught the spring’s leaves in a never-ending cyclone and would not cease.
She dropped her hand from his chest and leaned forward as she continued; Legolas tried hard not to move, not to flinch, and he held his gaze steady as an anchor.
“How she looked when they brought her back—“ she said in a whisper, and Legolas wanted to cry—he did not want to know this, did not want to remember Felavel this way! “Her eyes so red you could barely see the grey, her strong and lovely neck purpling and spotted—a rib stuck out of her side, my son, because she had not died quickly enough by the choking, the orcs thought!”
Her dark hair was cast over half her face and he almost reached out to brush it aside, but he was frozen, as if she cast a spell.
“You look so much like her, Legolas. It could have been you,” she continued. “Do not let it be you—I will never forgive you if you die as she did, in protection of our home, which maybe the Valar have forsaken. Emlineg, the moment you were each conceived, a fire moved in me, and I vowed to protect you, with all I have. I cannot make you listen to me. I cannot make you help me uphold my oath—you are an adult, after all, and a strong one—but it will break my heart, emlineg, to lose you.”
He could not do this; he could not speak; he could not look at her; could not breathe, could not breathe, could not breathe.
She stood quickly from his bed and was suddenly gentle again: she was the comfort of warm moss under-cheek in the midday sun; she was the gentle tug at his hair as she worked sap from it, washed cut knees and iced broken bones… She bent down and kissed his forehead and he swallowed and dropped his chin to his chest; he felt a sigh move up from his lungs.
“If you decide to travel with me, find me. Choose wisely, my son.”
And then his mother turned softly on the balls of her feet, and took a long step. Legolas almost cried out to his mother to stop her, but then she was out of his room and gone.
He moved swiftly to the door and closed it behind her. He bolted it and sank to the floor.
He could not leave. And if she could not get to him again, to enchant him with her words—the power of a mother—then he would not have to go.
But at such a cost. Such a cost!
He wanted to growl and rage and disappear to the woods.
But instead he scrambled to his feet and took the small knife off his bedside table—he threw it at the wall opposite him. It embedded in his cupboard in the corner and vibrated for a moment.
Legolas watched it and sighed. He pulled back the sheet on his bed and moved around the room, puffing out candles, and then he sunk to the floor by the door in near-darkness—the candle on his bedside table cast shadows that danced against his legs. He pulled his knees close to his body, linked his hands behind his neck, and dropped his head between his knees, temples cradled by his calves’ muscles.
He would live here in this place—he could still hear the trees through all the stone, the quiet steady hum of strong rock and the higher buzz he felt in well-ventilated air. He was meant to live in this place. He would live, and not die, and see his mother, some day, again.
He was confused and grieving and did not know if he could forgive her this betrayal she compelled him to do. But oh, how he hated himself—
He squeezed his head between his legs and tucked his elbows closer to his thighs—
He could not hate her—she was losing everything!—and he had to direct this whirlwind of emotions beating at his lungs… He had to direct it somewhere.
Thank you for reading chapter 2!
Chapter 3 by UnnamedElement
I would like to sincerely thank Cheekybeak for reading this chapter and several others for pacing and continuity. I am grateful for her corralling my impatience and providing a "hold-your-horses" sensibility, and for the honest and helpful suggestions and support! (Please note, however: all spelling and grammar mistakes are mine.)
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...
Thank you for reading Chapter 3 of "Enough." Please consider leaving positive or constructive criticism below!
Chapter 4 by UnnamedElement
Author's note: I just wanted to note a few things that have been pointed out to me and will be addressed as this story progresses. 1) Piniriel, in simple terms, is a "band-aid baby," intentionally created for the good of Mirkwood's spirits, though perhaps not working out as planned... 2) One of the themes in this story is complicated grief and violent bereavement, and the myriad ways people react to that depending on preexisting dispositions, previous loss, and various other factors. 3) Another important theme is attachment theory (child development) and its applications in adulthood and effects on and replication in an insecurely-attached caregiver's child. 4) Aergwen is first introduced as a character--very peripherally--in this chapter. Aergwen is the head "heart healer," per se, in the Elvenking's Halls--think mental health services, therapy. 5) See Chapter One for character/family list.
Now, of course, you can ignore all this theoretical 'baloney' and just enjoy the story for the story!
I want to thank everyone who has reviewed and provided supportive and constructive feedback thus far--it is very useful and inspiring. Thank you, again, to Cheekybeak for catching some major typos and problems in this chapter.
Legolas had only just managed to trick Piniriel into allowing him to take off her sweater and change her dress when there was a knock at his door. He held her with a firm hand for a moment on the bed as he glanced over his shoulder, and then sighed when she reached out to grab the citrine pendant that dangled from his neck. He bit his lip and, in her distraction, caught up her dark hair and gathered it loosely at the base of her neck with a wide clasp.
"Stay here. Please, Piniriel," he said. "Do not undo anything."
He pulled the necklace out of her hands and tucked it into his shirt, and she stared up at him with grey eyes wide.
"Have you decided to quit with talking, then?"
She only stared at him a moment longer and then started to fiddle with the buttons Legolas had just fastened at her wrists. He rolled his eyes but crossed to the door—she was smart, but not yet coordinated enough to make quick work of the fastenings.
When he opened the door, it was Lumornon. Legolas held the door open and his brother stepped inside. He closed the door firmly behind them and turned round as Lumornon sat down beside their sister on his bed.
"Hello, little one," Lumornon was saying gently.
"I only just convinced her to allow me to change her," Legolas said, as he sank into a crouch a few feet from his siblings. "She fell in the snow and then in a horse's patty, and it was like teasing a burr to get her out of her clothes."
"It is divine retribution, I think, Legolas… For now you are learning what it is like to have someone like you for a younger brother!"
"Yes, well," he murmured, crossing his arms as Piniriel clambered from her low bed and crawled beneath into its darkness to reach for the bin, where she knew Legolas stowed her toys.
Lumornon smiled at his younger siblings fondly for a moment and then touched Legolas on the shoulder to draw the younger elf back to him. He tilted his head to the side.
"It is time for supper."
"Supper," Legolas said, surprised. "Already? The sun has only just set and father will just be back from his meetings."
"Mother is tired," Lumornon said easily, and Legolas narrowed his eyes slightly as he considered his brother's statement.
"I saw her today."
Lumornon raised an eyebrow.
"I imagine you did, Legolas."
"At Felavel's grave," Legolas clarified.
"Are you surprised?" Lumornon asked him.
Legolas frowned and felt something nag at him, something that told him to tell his brother how his mother's words burned something out deep within his chest. But he said instead:
"No," because it was true; he was not at all surprised.
Seeing her there was not something that surprised him—it was how she had compelled him to step into Saida's shadow like a wraith, how he wanted to shrink behind Ithildim like a child, and felt, for a moment, even scared.
That was the surprising thing.
But then he smiled and shrugged and tugged gently at Piniriel's feet. She emerged from under the bed with a wooden horse and stuffed dove clutched to her chest, and she looked up at her brothers adoringly, and then scowled.
Lumornon laughed and took Legolas by the arm, who took Piniriel's hands in his— she stumbled like a tripping brook at the first rain of spring to her feet, young and effervescent and new.
"Come, then. It is stew from this morning's hunt—your favorite."
And then Piniriel was in Legolas' arms, and they were gone.
Legolas awoke early again the next day and roused Piniriel. He wiped a cloth over her face as he sung to her quietly of setting stars and a rising sun and birdsong on the breeze, and slowly stirred her from dreams. By the time Legolas had combed her hair and braided it back from her face, she was fully awake and smiling, and she hummed her own tuneless ditty as Legolas changed and dressed and strapped on his weapons. He swept her into his arms and spun her around, and she was laughing and wild, and then they were down the wall and stopped outside their parents' door.
He tried the handle, but it was locked, so he turned with her to Lumornon's room. His door was unlatched and he still slept, so Legolas whispered in his sister's ear a repetitive plea and imploring directive to please stay with Lumornon, and then he pulled back the covers and pushed aside his brother's unbound hair, and laid her into the bed. She wriggled and sighed and finally tucked herself beneath Lumornon's chin, and Lumornon stirred.
Legolas turned and was away before he could change his mind.
It was cold in the officers' barracks, and he joined the elves standing in the corner by the kettle of hot water and dried fruits and meat. He took a few pieces of food and tucked them into a pocket and then took the heavy ceramic mug that someone pushed into his grasp.
He looked up as the person's hands brushed his own and saw that it was Elednil, the oldest in their company who had reminded him of every elf's draw to the sea, when Saida had brought that devastating news so few days ago.
Legolas inclined his head to Elednil and smiled, reaching for the teakettle.
"Wait," Elednil said, intercepting, and he plucked a metal net from the table and dipped it into a basket of dried herbs by the stack of mugs; he dropped the net into Legolas' mug and smiled at him. "Put the herbs in first and pour the water over them. Did your mother teach you nothing? I never noticed before that you were such a fool."
"Oh, I am sure you noticed that," Legolas said, grinning. "But thank you for saving me from a poorly-steeped drink.
Elednil dropped his hands to his sides and nodded almost imperceptibly, before speaking again.
"I did not expect you here today, Legolas; none of us—we did not expect you back to the woods so quickly."
"It is not a patrol, and my duty is first to our folk, besides," he shrugged. "If I neglect that and ponder my own misery, I disrespect my sister's memory."
Elednil picked up the kettle from the table and filled Legolas' mug halfway. "For one so young, you are wise."
"For one so old," Legolas countered, "you are not as dull as I would expect."
"And you are cheeky, young one!"
"So I have been told."
There was a hush as their patrol's captains came into the room, and Ithildim slipped out of a closet to the right where he had been organizing the novices' returned weapons, but he fumbled two practice spears in the process. Legolas turned around and caught one before it hit the stone, and they both laid down the spears gently as Captain Amonhir and Captain Lostariel stared—Amonhir raised his eyebrows, judgmentally—and waited for them to quiet.
Ithildim cleared his throat and nodded his head and then Lostariel began—today was for clearing the paths to the near settlements, checking common spider haunts for new nests, documenting any signs of incursion on the Elvenking's nearest woods.
Legolas held the tea in both hands, fingers overlapping, with the mug pressed against his sternum and the diminishing steam condensing on his chin and running down his neck like warm rain. Ithildim had stepped closer as their captains spoke, and he dropped his chin to Legolas' shoulder to stare back out at them while he listened.
"Tea, Legolas," Ithildim whispered in his ear at one point. "Let me have some."
Legolas fought to suppress a grin and shifted the weight of his mug into his left hand, raising it slightly toward his shoulder and Ithildim's face, when they were interrupted—
"Ithildim!" Amonhir reprimanded. "You are not a child anymore; get your own mug and quit corrupting your soldiers. Legolas, pay attention and if you cannot manage to protect your own tea from incursion, then I do not have faith in your abilities to guard your peers in the field."
It was harsh, Legolas thought, but clever.
"Elednil, you will lead Ithildim's group today," Lostariel directed. "Ithildim needs time to remember the behavior expected of him as a leader-in-training."
"Yes, Captain," Elednil said, and Legolas looked sidelong at him to catch his eye, and he winked.
"In fact, Ithildim," Amonhir said, "come here. Stand by me while we give the rest of the directives for this morning."
Legolas held out his tea to Ithildim as he detached from his hovering at Legolas' side and Ithildim took it, sipping at it as he walked to the front of the room.
Lostariel held out her hands and he passed the mug to her.
She looked peeved, but Legolas knew she was not—she was amused. Nevertheless, Lostariel was always consistent in her expectations, never yielding or unpredictably shifting, and that was why both her most ambitious recruits and her recalcitrant soldiers jumped at any chance to serve her.
"Now that that is addressed," Lostariel said evenly, and there was a quiet hum and a collective chuckle amongst the dozen elves before her, "we can begin."
With a wave of her hand, Elednil and Lostariel and Amonhir were dividing the remaining soldiers into groups, packing papers for tracking, dividing weapons among each by skill and for effectiveness, and handing out gloves and picks to clear ice from the paths.
Legolas slipped again to the edge-table to make more tea, gulped it down, and then slipped a piece of dried meat from his pocket into his mouth before shouldering his supplies and falling into step beside Elednil.
They were out of the barracks and into the woods, weaving out and away from the Halls and toward the homes, checking the ice and the trees and pockets of cold darkness as they went, and Legolas let his body slip into the rhythm of duty, let his muscles take on the memory and security of work and action. He let himself forget for a few hours, let his mind fly from him—he was tethered by the smallest string, a thread of conscious memory, and the corporeal sting of wind in the canopy, the bite of the cold into calluses as the pick swung and cracked swung and thumped over and over and over again.
It was dark when their company returned. The supplies were packed back into closets and cabinets, and collegial words exchanged between their unit and a Western patrol as they filed in with their captains to hear their next assignments.
Legolas was just bidding Ithildim goodnight when Ithildim stopped him by placing a firm hand on his shoulder.
"Wait," he said. "If you really do want to join patrol again, already, you need to tell Lostariel, so she can revisit the assignments."
Legolas looked at him and Ithildim said simply: "Now."
"All right," Legolas conceded, and he scratched at his neck absently, then rubbed his hands together as Ithildim disappeared between the chattering Western soldiers and returned a moment later with Captain Lostariel.
She looked at Legolas but did not speak as she began to walk again, jerking her head toward the corridor. Ithildim and Legolas followed her to her study, and she pulled up two oak chairs beside her desk and perched herself on the edge of it. Neither Ithildim nor Legolas sat. And there was, for a moment, silence.
Ithildim glanced at Legolas when it finally seemed he would not be the first to speak, so he clasped his hands in front of him and turned his attention to Lostariel. Her legs were crossed lightly at the ankles and her shoulders slumped forward slightly as she leaned an elbow on her thigh—she was toeing the line between elder and captain, mentor and friend, and waiting for a clue from either of them to indicate what role it was they needed her to fill.
Ithildim cleared his throat. "Lostariel, the Queen has been…expressing her grief to Legolas recently."
Lostariel raised an eyebrow and tilted her head toward Legolas as she replied.
"That is not surprising," she said. "Legolas is gentle and easy to confide in, many say."
She cut her eyes back to Ithildim and furrowed her brows, and Legolas blushed.
"I do not think she is thinking of him when she does this, Captain," said Ithildim. "or of their family. Gwaerain wants him to listen to her."
"And I do listen to her," Legolas interjected.
"I do not mean counsel her, Legolas; you know what I mean!" Ithildim snapped.
Lostariel frowned and asked a simple question:
"What do you mean, then, Ithildim?"
"She wants Legolas to do what she wants," he clarified, and Legolas heard a catch of a plea in his voice that he had not heard since they were small and Legolas had accidentally stranded him on his roof in a rainstorm.
Legolas glanced at Ithildim.
"And what is it she wants?" Losariel asked him.
But Legolas spoke now, and he looked away from Ithildim to Lostariel, to meet her gaze steadily, though he was tired and his mind felt like water running through a sieve and he just wanted to eat and to lie down.
"She wants me to sail with her," he said evenly. "She does not want to be here anymore, but she wants me with her."
Lostariel watched Legolas in silence for a very long minute, and Legolas did not look away. Ithildim did not move any closer to offer comfort, and Legolas felt very much like an abandoned fawn left for the wolves, but he would not let his fear show.
Lostariel finally uncrossed her legs and recrossed them, with the other on top. She spoke:
"And will you go then, Legolas? Is that what you want?"
"No," Legolas said quickly, and his voice rose with a tremble as he continued, "No! I have told her I will not go with her. I do not want to leave here, Captain Lostariel. It is not my time."
"No, it is, I think, not…" she said vaguely, looking from Legolas to Ithildim and back and crossing her arms over her chest.
"Captain Lostariel," Legolas said with his hands clasped in front of him and his eyes downcast, "What I want is… I need to leave this place for a while. Will you let me go again with the patrol, two days from now? That is what I meant to ask this whole time."
Ithildim did not give Lostariel time to reply before latching onto the end of Legolas' sentence with his own rationalization.
"I think it is best Gwaerain be away from Legolas for a time. And, I will admit, I want him at my side when we go back toward the South."
Legolas looked back down at the office floor and wove his fingers loosely in front of his body; they were a shallow basket that followed the curve of his hips, and he felt his shoulders roll forward as he tensed and pressed his hands into his abdomen—this was an unfamiliar apprehension, a control he was not entirely accustomed to surrendering…
"Very well, Ithildim," Lostariel finally said. "Legolas, you may go, but you must meet with Healer Aergwen first and be cleared by her to return to the field. And, after that, I will not be the one to tell your father. Do that yourself."
Legolas and Ithildim both nodded deeply and Legolas looked up with gratefulness and murmured: "Thank you, Captain."
"You are welcome. Now go."
Ithildim put a hand on Legolas' shoulder and they walked together out of Lostariel's study and toward the Elvenking's halls, and Ithildim heaved such a great sigh beside him that Legolas felt himself wrapped up in its breeze, tossed in the wind like a hummingbird, caught in the storm like a swift, but it was a renewing storm—vigorous and fresh as spring—and so he let it take him and guide him home, no matter the discomfort that had suddenly and inconceivably—and perhaps, even, irreconcilably—found him there…
He felt guilty for his relief and thankful for Ithildim's advocacy—a week away from home, in this never-ending moment of tension and grief and conflict?
He did not know that he had ever been more relieved.
Thank you for reading this installment (we are about one-third of the way into the story)! Please consider taking the time to write a review on your way out. Happy weekend (to those still on it)!
Chapter 5 by UnnamedElement
This long chapter is the last chapter of "Part One: The Hand Remembers." The next chapter will be a rather short prologue, of sorts, for "Part Two: Breathless," and then we barrel into the meat of things.
Thank you to Nimruzir for being willing to engage with me in some fantastic crit on Chapters One and Two; there will be some edits to those chapters going up next week. And thanks again to Cheekybeak for continuing to allow me to bounce ideas off her like a backboard and catch inconsistencies I would never have noticed.
This chapter involves lots of memory and backstory. I have tried to differentiate between these shifts using verb tense without breaking up the flow; I hope it is effective.
This chapter is not exactly "beta-ed;" all mistakes are mine.
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,
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
"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:
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.
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.
Legolas had just one moment for silence, that night, before he left on patrol with his friends and comrades. But then he, gratefully, spent a week with them in the wilds. Six days later, he returned home unscathed, eager for good food and a hot bath and rest under blankets instead of cloaks.
When he returned, he did not get another breath of quiet.
It was not in the stars, it seemed, and—much to his chagrin—he shortly found he would not be alone again for a very very
Thank you for reading the end of Part One, and please consider leaving a review. Have a lovely Monday/Tuesday!
Chapter 6 by UnnamedElement
Enough: So Beautiful the Lungs are Breathless
A note to clarify based on reader comment: Yes, Legolas is quite young in this story. I follow the "come of age at 50, mature by 100" guidelines from Laws & Customs of the Eldar (a controversial text, I know). For this story, Legolas' date of birth is in Third Age 1744, so he is approximately 128 years old during the events in this story--a very very young adult.
Part Two: Breathless
Elvenking's Halls - Family quarters
Directly after returning from patrol
"You are home!"
Legolas startled and lowered Piniriel, who he had just swung in the air above his head as she laughed down at him. He let gravity pull her back down and then landed her gently on the ground like a little bird. He turned to face his mother.
"What has happened?" his mother asked him, suddenly, when she saw his face.
At first Legolas was confused by her question because nothing had happened yet; he had just gotten home! But then he felt the itch of drying blood on his cheek and knew that his mother saw in her mind's eye every time he and Felavel had come home injured on routine patrols and, most recently, when Felavel had not returned at all—just her body, irreparably broken.
But this was a shallow cut.
Surprised by spiders, Legolas had been inattentive and the branch of a young beech pulled back as Elednil leapt forward and Legolas raised his knife above him to strike a spider's belly. In his distraction, the thin little branch had cracked across his skull like a whip. He had been momentarily dazed and was more than glad his knife had dispatched of the spider before he stumbled, but then he was well and back to the action (though it bled rather a lot, because that was the nature of head wounds).
It was truly nothing.
"What?" Legolas answered her warily. "Nothing happened."
But in his voice and in every word there was a question; his mother had unsettled his hard-earned self-assuredness.
Gwaerain crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes, and Legolas placed a hand protectively on Piniriel's head.
"I suppose you think it does not matter, because you are alive. But do you really want your sister to grow up here, where she may get hurt, as you do?
"She is not in the King's Army and she does not have to be… She is three years old," Legolas murmured, tucking Piniriel behind his legs as his mother stepped toward him; he took a tiny step back and felt Piniriel bob at his back.
"To keep her here is selfish, Legolas."
"I do not seek to keep her here," he said evenly. "I only wish to protect her so she can grow whole."
"And how will you do that, gone as you so often are in the woods, risking your life every single day? What will she do if, one week, you do not come home?"
Legolas did not answer
"And what exactly are you protecting her from?" Gwaerain pressed as Legolas stood silently and Piniriel's hands reached round his front to tug at the buckle of his belt.
He did not know what to say and could not speak.
Piniriel reached higher toward his shoulder and he bent down, thinking she wanted to whisper in his ear, but she did not. She only reached her arms up, and so he picked her up, hiking her onto his waist.
"From what do you intend to protect her?"
Legolas was silent and his eyes flitted down the hall; Piniriel laid her head on his chest.
"Or from whom?" Gwaerain continued.
Legolas did not answer again and this time looked to the floor. He saw his mother's feet move toward him. Off to his right, he heard the door to his parents' sitting room swing open.
"Our family comes first, Legolas. And anyone who is threatening that—or my children—I must know it. I will do anything to protect us. So, emlineg, from whom do you protect her?"
When he did not answer again, Gwaerain's hands were suddenly on Legolas' shoulders and then gently tugging—imploring—at Piniriel, whose chest heaved against Legolas' and she clutched round the back of his neck suddenly.
"Piniriel, come to me please," Gwaerain said quietly, pulling at the tiny fingers wrapped now in Legolas' messy hair.
Legolas looked up at his mother and saw again that wildness in her, and he felt a sigh build like a sudden gale in his chest. He took a step to the side because Piniriel had begun to cry, and then Thranduil's voice caught his attention and he looked up sharply at his father. Piniriel's grip on his neck loosened as Thranduil pulled Gwaerain away.
"Gwaerain, come now," Thranduil was saying. "Legolas can take care of Piniriel. We need to speak."
"Legolas needs to go to the healing halls, Thranduil," Gwaerain said, and she sounded collected and cool. "He is hurt"
"Mother, I am not hurt," he said quickly. "It is a scratch."
"That is not a scratch!" she protested.
Piniriel had pulled back from Legolas' chest and was running a hand down the side of his face near the dried blood and he shook his head slightly so she would stop, and then she laid her head back down.
Legolas' father pulled his mother close to him and leaned down toward her ear to speak low: "It is a scratch, Gwaerain. It is only blood, only a skirmish. He is safe and unscathed."
"This is not unscathed!"
"Mother!" Legolas protested in frustration, and at the sharp edge in her brother's voice, Piniriel finally burst into tears.
Thranduil met his eyes and Legolas swallowed dryly; placing a hand on the back of Piniriel's dark crown, he whispered her an apology.
"Legolas, stay with your sister. Your mother and I—" Thranduil said with authority, and then he turned his head to look at his wife who stood close beside him. "We need to talk."
"Thranduil!" Gwaerain cried in protest as Legolas nodded, and Thranduil pulled her into their room, shutting the door heavily behind him.
Legolas gave himself a moment to breathe and counted in his head to ten before turning his attention to Piniriel. She relaxed as Legolas began to sing to her, a song he had made up for her one night after a weeks-long mission—weary and not thinking straight—but she was crying then and needy and he had hurriedly sung, and the song had stuck:
Hey ho little one,
let fly your fears.
For here now you are safe,
no need for tears.
La dee la, la dee lei, la lie.
Even the trees whisper now
As he sang, she quieted and began to play with his hair, and he let the words fall out and the tune rise instead in a hum under his breath. He stepped across the hall to lean against the wall nearest his parents' door. Piniriel lifted a hand to his throat to feel the vibrations from his humming, and then she hummed, too, and put her other hand on her own throat, to feel her own music's movement also.
Legolas quit humming but let Piniriel continue as he held her close and listened intently for sounds beyond his parents' door—he desperately needed to know what would happen.
After a moment of relative silence, however, he slid to the floor. Piniriel's fingers closed around his pendant's chain at his neck and pulled it out of his collar; she leaned back to fully extract it. She played with the citrine in the low light, and Legolas closed his eyes to wait.
But then suddenly there was a thud as if a mug were slammed onto a desk. But, still, Legolas did not open his eyes, and after a time he unlatched the necklace and slipped it into Piniriel's fiddling hands so she would quit pulling at his neck.
Legolas could not hear the murmur of his parents' lowered voices at all until his mother's voice exploded suddenly very close, very near the door, and he straightened his back against the wall.
"I love them," he heard his mother yell. "And that is why I must make these hard decisions! For them, Thranduil, and for you, if you cannot do it...! This is my family!"
"And it is also mine," Legolas heard his father say, and Thranduil's voice was low but carrying, and his skin prickled to hear them meet in conflict.
The handle of the door begin to turn and Legolas tried to propel himself and Piniriel to his feet with haste, but his thighs were too tired and he could not quickly stand.
But then the door handle stopped turning and jerked back into place with a vibrating crunch, and his mother cried out again.
"Thranduil, let me go!"
"I cannot let you go see your children right now. You are not yourself, Gwaerain. What has changed in you?" he whispered urgently.
"Our daughter has died, Thranduil!"
Gwaerain was screaming now, voice vacillating in volume like wind round the eaves.
"She was killed on our watch, in your woods," Gwaerain continued, "and you ask me what has changed? My love, I cannot keep Legolas and Piniriel safe in this place—not at all! I cannot control anything. Thranduil, they are too young..."
There was a scuffle against the wood and the door handle twitched again as if grabbed at from the other side. Legolas heard his mother make a sound, and it was almost as if she were crying.
"Gwaerain," he heard Thranduil say, right up against the door, a breath away. "Gwaerain, my love. You have not lost them yet. They are here and they are whole."
"He is whole, Gwaerain. He comes back always with scratches; he always has, my love."
"He has, I know," Gwaerain agreed quietly.
"And he is over his majority now, and he does not have to listen to us, as parents"
"But he is my child," Gwaerain argued.
"Your grown child," Thranduil corrected kindly. "You must let him go."
Legolas heard fabric scratch against wood as his mother frantically spoke.
"He seeks to keep Piniriel from me," he heard his mother say, and her voice began to rise again in a slight panic.
"No" Thranduil said sternly. "Legolas cares for Piniriel, Gwaerain. It is how he steadies himself when away from duty, and you have always let him take her—you have even encouraged it. He does not nefariously intend to separate you!"
"He does, Thranduil!" Gwaerain insisted, and her voice had taken on a tone like a waking hive of yellow-jackets. "You do not see it, Thranduil; you never see. You are always busy!"
"Where do these words come from so suddenly, Gwaerain?"
"Oh, these words are not sudden, Thranduil. Long have we had our disagreements and you do not listen," she said. And then she spoke with more emphasis and her voice jumped an octave as she demanded: "Let me go!"
Legolas' breath caught in his throat and he swallowed it back down, at the pain he heard in his father's voice as he next spoke:
"I cannot, Gwaerain. I cannot right now let you go. I cannot; I am so sorry, my love. Come on."
"What is happening?"
It was a new voice—Lumornon's—and it cut through the noise. Legolas guessed he had been in one of the family's siderooms, doing paperwork for his father with the door shut.
Their parents fell suddenly silent.
"You argue about Legolas as if he is home. Is he here?" Lumornon continued.
There was a shift in the sounds behind the door, and Legolas glanced down to see that Piniriel had woven the pendant's chain between her fingers and was now tugging at it to release, but her efforts only made the tips of her tiny fingers bloom redder.
Legolas glanced at the door, uneasily, and set to untangling her fingers.
The door beside him breathed open and there was stillness.
Then, Legolas felt his brother hovering above him; he glanced to his right and saw Lumornon's shoes neatly tied and he looked up at him. He dropped the pendant from Piniriel's fingers and tucked it into his pocket, away from their sister.
Then suddenly Gwaerain was screaming again—vibrating through the wood—and Piniriel latched her arms again around his neck, and Legolas sighed.
"I cannot understand her. I cannot keep hearing this. It is too wild and I am confused," Legolas whispered at his brother, eyes downcast.
Legolas heard the door latch as his father locked it behind Lumornon, and then his mother and father's voices faded as Thranduil pulled Gwaerain from the door and into the sitting room. Eventually, Legolas could not hear them at all.
Lumornon reached out a hand toward his brother and Legolas hesitated.
Lumornon was surprised by the reaction. His little brother was still dressed in his scouting clothes and his knife was pushed around to hang from his back as Piniriel clung to him, straddling his lap. There was a dried stream of blood from temple to chin, and their little sister rubbed at its texture absently with one hand; the other was fisting Legolas' collar. Lumornon suddenly noticed that Legolas had one hand pressed over Piniriel's ear, and he was pressing the other into his chest as he sat stock-still and listened.
He looked like the child Felavel let out on his first patrol not half a century before, not the young warrior Lumornon had seen him become. He looked unsure of himself and underneath his coolness Lumornon could see an unbridled anger—his little brother pulsed with worry and frustration as he stared at the ground.
Lumornon glanced at the blood Piniriel picked at and, at that moment, Legolas looked up to catch Lumornon's eyes. He shrugged absentmindedly before glancing again to the door.
"A tree," he said as way of explanation. "Funny, I know. I was not paying attention. It is fine."
"I know," said Lumornon. "You are always fine, cut and bruised and weary as you return.
Lumornon bent down now and held out both hands, eventually simply grabbing his brother under the armpits to tug him to his feet. Legolas rocked unsteadily with Piniriel's weight in his arms, and Lumornon frowned at the look on his brother's face.
"They are fighting about me. About me and Piniriel."
"Yes," said Lumornon.
"I think he should call Aergwen. I think there is something wrong, Lumornon, but I do not know what it is," Legolas said quietly.
"Oh, emlineg," Lumornon sighed and Piniriel leaned back from Legolas now, clinging to his collar as she hung from his chest and twisted round to look at Lumornon from her perch.
Lumornon reached out a hand to pat her head before continuing: "I will take care of it. Just go, Legolas. Wherever you are going."
"I need to change and visit Elednil in the healing ward. Piniriel was crying, though. Will you keep her or take her to her nursemaid, perhaps?"
"Yes, go," Lumornon said distractedly, with a hand now on their parents' door; he nodded briefly down the hall at Legolas' room.
Legolas hesitated for a moment; he caught up Piniriel's hand that had returned to scratching at the dried blood on his cheek, and he brought it to his chest. He stroked the back of Piniriel's hand soothingly and stared at Lumornon until his brother acknowledged his gaze.
"Do not let her hear them argue," Legolas finally said. "It is not good for her."
"Legolas," Lumornon said shortly, "I have walked this world a millennia longer than you. I handled you; I can handle our sister. I do not need your advice. Go," he repeated more firmly.
Legolas hiked Piniriel up onto his waist and finally relinquished her to Lumornon with both hands.
Lumornon smiled tightly and nodded at his brother, and then took Piniriel into his arms.
"Go on, emlineg," he said now, more gently. "It will be well. You have a duty to do—shoo!"
Legolas heard his parents voices rise again behind the door, and then the sound of a book hitting the wall; there was a curse and silence. He met Lumornon's eyes fleetingly once more and Piniriel had her arms looped now around Lumornon's shoulder.
"Do not take her in there," Legolas reiterated, and he suddenly sounded much older, as if he were giving a command that he knew, absolutely, was right.
It was not something Lumornon had ever heard before, from his spritely little brother.
His brow furrowed as Legolas pressed his lips together and ran a hand over his face, as if to calm himself. Lumornon almost reached out to grab at his brother's arm—concerned—to keep him close, but Piniriel shifted in his grip as she too turned to look at Legolas.
"I will not let her hear," Lumornon instead said stiffly, and he placed a hand on Piniriel's arching back to steady her.
Legolas looked down at the floor and nodded curtly. He turned on his heel and walked down the hall, unlocked his door, and disappeared behind its ancient creaking pine.
Lumornon stared at the closed door until Piniriel wriggled out of his arms and to the floor; she took off at a tripping trot to the end of the corridor, and Lumornon followed at a slower pace.
Was there something wrong? Had he missed something?
Lumornon sighed and ran a his hands down his shirt to smooth a crease as he thought and walked.
They were only grieving. This would end. It had to.
Piniriel barrelled into a dining hall ahead of him and then straight into the skirts of her nursemaid; she tumbled back and giggled.
Lumornon smiled appreciatively at her minder and felt relief wash over him like a bucket of cool water from a mountain spring on a humid summer afternoon—Felavel had dumped a bucket of water on him once. He had been sitting on a rock by the river and complaining that he could not read his study notes for the glare of the sun, and Legolas and Felavel were wrestling in the river and, he thought, ignoring him. A few moments later, however, and the ink of his notes was runny and ruined, and then his little brother tackled him around the thighs and dragged him into the river with the both of them.
Felavel's laugh had been like delicate glass shattering.
Lumornon shook his head slightly and looked around.
Earlier, Lostariel had asked him to meet her for dinner that evening, so once the nursemaid had picked Piniriel up and he did not see Lostariel anywhere in this hall, he turned from his sister and left for his friend's study.
Lumornon needed someone who understood his loss, but was not his sibling. He desperately needed the wild yet comforting predictability he found in Lostariel: a distraction from this strife that had engulfed him.
Thank you for reading!
Chapter Seven by UnnamedElement
Part Two: Chapter Seven (A Prologue of Sorts)
Later that night—after he had bathed and visited his comrades, stolen into the kitchen for cheese and bread and soup—Legolas was back in his room and singing to himself. He sorted out his clean clothes from the dirty ones, that were all balled together in a pile near his cupboard.
But there was a knock at the door and Legolas dropped the clothes he was folding and strode across quickly to unlatch it. A messenger stood outside silently, and he did not meet Legolas' eyes—Legolas stopped himself from frowning; was the look on the page's face pity?—but then pressed a roll of parchment into Legolas' hands. Legolas stared at him a moment, then thanked him, and the messenger left again without a word.
He unrolled the parchment and quickly read the missive.
Ithildim and I have something to discuss with you. Please meet us tomorrow outside our usual dining hall, after you break fast. It is important, and Ithildim frets.
Please come. Alone.
Your loving friend,
He rummaged around in a dish of sundry items on his table for a map pin, and he tacked the note into his door's soft pine so he would be reminded to meet them in the morning. He was vaguely concerned about the message for it was unlike Saida to not just arrive at his door unannounced, but he felt, really, too exhausted to truly care.
Legolas rubbed at the back of his neck as he thought and then turned back to the mess of his things and cleared his mind.
He unpacked his small bag from patrol and laid out his tin of beeswax, his whetting stone, his water skin, and his dirty socks in a line on the bed.
But suddenly there was another knock at his door and he sighed and bit his lower lip—he could not deal with any more people's emotions today. He hurriedly swept the things from his bed into his arms and then shoved them and his pack into the cupboard and closed it; he walked lightly to the door and thoughtlessly unlatched it.
His mother stood there and his eyes widened, and for a moment they stared at each other like a mirror—olive skin and dark hair and dark wide eyes, lighter skin and dark honey hair, eyes like glass and wider still. Then he let her in as he always did—as he had always done—and she came in and hovered at his shoulder like the touch of an early summer dervish caught between the trunks of two trees, spiraling between them infinitely, a breath of sweetness and fervor as she watched over him and he gave way, let her break upon him.
His lungs felt full when he felt her heart for a moment singing, but then she slammed shut like an enchanted stone gate.
She took him by the arm, and he was cold—so cold.
His lungs burned, and he swallowed and wished for Lumornon, and she began to scold, and he was lost—this was not his mother; it was not, it was not, it was not—but he pled silently and let the waves of her words wash over him, and, still, his brother did not come…
Thank you for reading this preparatory chapter. Please feel free to give positive or constructive criticism. Happy weekend!
Chapter 8 by UnnamedElement
Part Two: Breathless
Author's note: This chapter has gone through several several rewrites. Thank you to Cheekybeak for her critical honesty in reading the first draft of this many weeks ago.
Gwaerain's worrying behavior becomes clearly pathological in this chapter; I would like to note, however, that most people with traits of personality disorders do not externalize violence, and it is not my intention to perpetuate the misconception that folks with mental illness are dangerous. It is only my intention to showcase the deep-seated effects of trauma and complicated grief/bereavement on already volatile individuals (shoutout to the Sons of Feanor, am I right?) and, after all, this is just a story.
Reminder: Emlineg versus emelin i nin. By my understanding, these are distinct gramatic structures in Sindarin. The first denotes affection without ownership-"my little bird," roughly, as a pet name-and the second very literally translates to "my bird (yellowhammer)." The distinction between the two is most importantly about ownership, personhood and affection in the first (the diminutive) vs ownership of an object in the second (the possessive). (Please see chapters 1 and 6 for reminders about Legolas' age in this story.)
Warning: Description of one incident of intrafamilial violence
Words continued to pour from his mother. Legolas reached blindly for the door but it was locked—he had locked it out of habit—and his fingers could not find the bolt fast enough. She had been talking at him for a minute, now, in loops and spirals and repetition, and when she leaned toward him he felt a pull like rapids round a boulder fill his lungs.
But in his panic he thought that maybe he was overreacting to this perceived threat—Gwaerain was grieving, yes, and not herself, but she would not hurt him physically; she would never hurt him.
He calmed himself with a deep breath.
He dropped his fingers from the latch and closed his eyes and allowed her again to wash over him. He turned to face his mother, and when he opened his eyes again he was calm and grounded, but then Gwaerain was upon him like a storm, and he felt himself swept away.
It was horrifying.
"Do I need to show you what it means to stay behind?" his mother was saying, hands clasped in front of her as if pleading. "Must I make you feel what your sister felt in her last moments, to make you know that you must leave?"
"You are not considering this clearly, I think," Legolas said, looking at his mother warily. "You would never hurt me—you would never hurt one of your children; you never have."
"No, I have not," she agreed, calmly.
She took a step closer to him and Legolas glanced toward his sister's bed in the corner, grateful she had gone to spend the night with her nursemaid. He did not want her to see their mother losing herself to grief, hurting herself or her own flesh and blood, hurling hurtful words in a last attempt to control the hopeless farce their lives had become.
Piniriel was not here; he did not have to worry.
Suddenly, his mother moved with such quickness that he almost did not see her, and then her hands were on his chest and pushing him toward the wall, and he cried out, surprised.
"What are you doing?"
One hand had found his throat and wrapped around it gently; she pressed her other hand into his chest and Legolas could feel his lower back's arch flatten into the stone as he tried to pull himself further away from her.
"You do not strike me," she observed, leaning close to whisper into his ear. "I could kill you, with just a minute of pressure on your throat, Legolas. If I were an orc, would you strike? If I were the enemy, could you kill me? Will you protect yourself?"
"I do not need to protect myself from you," Legolas whispered. "Mother, I do not need to protect myself from you,"he repeated, and the low-level fear that had dogged him since Felavel's death was now illuminated and stark, so real and embodied in his mother's words in that moment that he almost felt he could reach out and touch it, roll it around in his hands to learn its curves and edges intimately—he knew now, with certainty, that some part of him—his basal self—was afraid of her.
"The threat is outside our walls, Mother;" he continued, "the threat is not our family or our folk. Do not let the darkness find its way into your heart. Do not let it defeat you."
She pressed a knee into his thigh to pin him to the wall and then reached both hands to her son's neck, gently wrapping it with her long fingers, her strong hands that had loved and tended and taught her children how to defend.
"The darkness found my heart first when we moved north," his mother said, and Legolas could feel the fingers of her left hand catch at the hair behind his ear. "It found my heart second when I realized we had not timed your birth properly, when I realized you were doomed to grow up under shadow. And the darkness found my heart a third time when it took your sister from us. It is already inside of me, Legolas, and it will take me away from you, too, unless you will come with me."
Legolas drew in a deep breath, capitalizing on the moments he had to fill his lungs should this threat of danger turn into something more.
"You know, Mother," Legolas breathed out quietly. "You know I cannot leave this place. These woods are the only place I have ever known, and I am yet young—I want to truly know them, like they are part of me, Mother. I cannot learn them in Valinor. It is not the end for middle-earth, Mother, Gwaerain. I will protect myself."
"That is what Felavel said also!" she exclaimed. "As you are well aware."
They stared at one another for a moment in silence and Legolas shifted from one foot to the other under his mother's hands. The hair caught between his back and the wall tugged at his scalp and Gwaerain's hands were still looped loosely around his neck.
Legolas swallowed and closed his eyes to shield himself for a moment from this bizarre reality, but when he opened them again his mother was still staring at him out of narrowed hazel eyes. Legolas met her gaze evenly with a steadying breath, his own eyes wide and receiving.
"It is how they are, now, in the King's Army, under shadow," his mother continued finally, and she stepped a little closer to him so that her arms were almost limp against her chest while still she cradled his neck. She tilted her head to the side and continued: "Protection, knowing the risks, unfortunate duties… It is another language that I do not know, and it is a language that makes the speaker lose all their other tongues, until only do they speak the language of the army, only do they see as a scout, a warrior—never anything else."
She abruptly leaned in so she was speaking directly into Legolas' ear; he could feel the puffs of air against his hair and in his ear like a vibration with each word.
"And when that language fails you, Legolas? Then what?" she whispered in a hiss, and he closed his eyes against her questions. "When you are protecting yourself, but your training fails, what are you supposed to do?"
She pulled back from him suddenly and her absence was like a cold wind on his ear, but her hands shifted around his neck as she continued, and her brows were scrunched as she answered her own question: "I will tell you, my son: there is nothing you can do when your training fails you. You will die."
Suddenly, her fingers were tight around Legolas' neck and he was being pushed into the wall with force. His neck bent forward when the back of his skull found the wall, and he leaned over his mother's hands; he felt his breath catch round a shifting crunch in his throat. At first, though, she did not squeeze so tightly that he could not breathe—it was merely excruciating.
"See how thin the line is, Legolas, between life and death!" Gwaerain reprimanded, and she punctuated her statement by quickly and firmly squeezing Legolas' neck and then just as suddenly letting go.
Legolas saw a burst of white and was gasping as his mother spoke. His hands flew to his throat and he rubbed at it as he stared at his mother, who had again become a storm.
"How will it be out there, Legolas?" Gwaerain demanded, crossing her arms, and he sagged against the wall, confused as how to react. "The line between life and death when you are on the Southern Defense, or the Northern toward Angband—how thin is the line there? Is it a sneeze; is it the finest spun mithril thread you have ever known; is it a hair's breadth too close to your veins to allow you the chance to live at all, an arrow meant for an orc, finding you instead. There is no line between life and death when you are in the field, doing what you do and what you must to protect our people. The Greenwood elves are now elves of the gloam, because to stay alive, we must kill. There is no line between life and death. We are death, Legolas. We bring death with us like mercy."
Her hands reached out toward Legolas again and he took an instinctual step to the side.
"Mother," he said, raising his hands placatingly to catch her attention, bring her back to him. "I do not need death today, for I go out on patrol again very soon. I do not need that mercy, Mother."
The wildness in her eyes had eclipsed the tenderness he had always known, and finally finally Legolas felt all his own rationality fly, and he cried out as she vibrated in her feyness before him.
"Mother, do you understand me? I do not need that mercy."
She cocked her head at him, and, when she did, she did not look like herself at all, but instead a creature of the wood—it startled him. Legolas felt his arms ripple with goose pimples, and he shifted one step more away from her and lifted his hands again in front of him—this time in wary defense— as he continued, now a plea:
"Do not hurt me because of mercy, Mother. I do not want mercy!"
But then Gwaerain seemed to awaken, and she ran at him and threw her arms about his chest. They scraped together along the wall and Legolas closed his eyes before they fell resoundingly to the ground.
When they had settled he opened his eyes and saw his mother sitting on his chest and leaning over him, framed by the darkness of the ceiling. Her long dark hair fell from her head like a blackwater cascade, obscuring half her fair features.
"You are my son, my little finch," she said through clenched teeth, and Legolas gasped again to watch the wildness overwhelm their muted green, "and I will not be parted. I will take what is mine with me to the Undying Lands. You are too young and it is too soon, emlineg, i emelin nīn; I will not lose you, too. You are a breath of spring and a new storm every day; you are my hope, i emelin nīn; you are mine. You are what I have left, and I will not leave you in this forsaken place!"
"Mother!" Legolas cried softly, and all the emotion of all their years together warped his voice; he reached a hand toward her face to steady her, calm her, and the weight of her body kept his back flush with the floor.
"Will you come, then?"
His mother's head was cocked above him as she asked and her hair brushed at his cheek. Her face was suddenly slack and gentle and her voice was a soft song as Legolas had always known it.
That glimpse of gentleness precipitated a memory from his childhood: Once, his spirit seemed to fly from his body like a dandelion seed on the breeze, and he had taken to the trees at a run, chasing himself and the song of the trees with abandon. His mother had chased him through woods on sunlit paths of golden beech; she had followed him down spider-darkened trails of rotten old oaks; she had wandered the paths of his mind to pull him back from the edges of cliffs he did not even know he skirted. And eventually he came resoundingly back into himself—unsure of where he had even gone—and he awoke in her arms in his room, with a mug of tea pressed against his lips and a song on his ears.
Legolas sighed shakily and looked back at her; he shook his head to clear himself of the memory and return himself fully to the here and now, and he felt empty, and so very sad.
She had been a good mother.
Once, she had been the best person he ever could have asked for.
And, so, he desperately wanted to say yes to please her—yes, yes I will come!—to give her the joy he knew she deserved… But he could not.
Instead he dropped his hand to his chest and answered in a sigh: "Mother, I cannot go—you know I cannot."
She was hard again and her eyes were sharp and fierce, and his breath fluttered in his chest at the shift.
"I want you to know, Legolas, what it feels like to die by the hands of an orc, so you are prepared," Gwaerain hissed. "I want you to know the consequences of these choices you are making."
Legolas began to pull away from his mother, but then he decided he would not, because she was his mother and he wanted to trust her as ever—trust she was whole and good and well—and he had always abided her, and he could not hurt her, even in his own defense.
But he would fight with his words.
"I am a child of the wood, Mother! I cannot leave!" he cried, and every part of him quivered in restraint as his mind told him to fight and flail and disable, though he did not.
"And that is why you will be leaving, emlineg," his mother emphasized. "Eventually, there will be one orc for whom you were unable to provide release, and that orc will find you and that one orc will kill you, because all orcs have no mercy."
Legolas nodded. His mother was right about that.
"So I am doing you a favor, Legolas," she continued. "I give you experience for the field, as well as mercy, a thing which you do not seem to want to give to me."
"Mother," Legolas started, and this time he did push her away gently, pressing against her sternum. "Mother! I do not want this mercy!"
But then both her hands were on Legolas' throat and he was so surprised that at first he froze and did not move. His mother was strong and kept her hands tight—thought not tight enough to instantly or mortally damage—and she pushed Legolas' neck toward the floor.
A flash of pain like lightning shot through him, and he instinctivly twisted his head to get her off—he was still shocked and did not really know yet what was happening—but his twisting was not enough to slip free, to deter. His chin began to smart as it hit repeatedly against her wrists, and a ringing like late summer cicadas filled his ears.
He could not breathe as the world around him went silent, so that he could not even hear his own struggling.
He began to pull at her hands with his own, to grab wildly at her arms as he struggled to breathe and panic took him—he could feel his fingernails break the skin on his mother's lower arm, and he gripped her hard and pushed.
But his mother pressed harder—so hard—so hard that his vision was painted red and then black and he could see no more. He could not speak for the hands that hated his throat, could not think for the pain, could not move his legs to fight back for the weakness that had overcome him.
It hurt to even try to draw breath, and his mother pulsed her hands once more, and she shook his neck gently under her long fingers, and then released and pulsed a final time.
Legolas did not often feel terror, but in that moment when his mother's hands tightened and released for the final time—while he was blind and deaf and mute to his surroundings—he was suddenly and horrifyingly terrified, far beyond fear and panic, because she did not seem to know him, and the threat to his life felt very very real.
When her hands finally loosened, there was a warm bloom of wet between his legs, and then—as he continued to will his body not to fight against his mother, not that he could have at that point—his mind flew him, and he fainted.
A flutter of hair fell over his face as his head dropped back with a muffled thump.
Gwaerain removed her hands as if burned and looked down at her son on the ground. Suddenly, there was distant and vague realization of what she had done.
She stood up and shook out her limbs; she wiped one arm across her forehead anxiously and her brow was then painted with a streak of her own blood, from where Legolas had scratched at her, and she felt now as the adrenaline drained away pinpricks of pain at the tendons around her wrist, where he had tried to press to force her hands to release, but she had not even felt it.
Gwaerain walked a very tight circle near the door, and put her hands on her head, and then she dropped again to the floor beside her son and put a hand in front of his mouth—a gentle and even breath brushed against her fingers, and a piece of hair that had fallen across his cheek danced in exhalation between his upper lip and nostrils.
Gwaerain checked his cheeks for bruising and then his neck. There was only redness, so she slid open his eyelids. One of them was bloodshot and the other had tiny pinprick-bruises all around it, but she had not hurt him badly.
She had not meant to hurt him at all.
Gwaerain put her arms under Legolas to pick him up and put him on his bed. As she moved him, however, she noticed a wet spot on the floor, as well as on her son's breeches. She dropped him in shock and heard his body fall back to the ground with a soft thud.
While she had been choking her son—she did not mean for it to be so bad, it was only supposed to scare, only a lesson!—he had urinated.
She was Queen of Mirkwood, and she was realizing that she had—perhaps?—almost murdered her youngest son.
And she knew if Legolas had died from it he would have thought himself, in his final momens, a shame or adisappointment, for having not fought back, for giving up control to the 'enemy,' for losing control of his bodyand his mind, because he was strong-willed and proud.
But none of this could be right; this was not her.
She was ashamed.
Gwaerain dropped her face into her hands and then wrapped them around her ribs; she leaned into the wall so her forehead was cooled by the stone.
Had she lost herself so much in her desire for her remaining children, that she was a barrier to their safety? How could she have become like this so quickly? She had only wanted to protect protect protect; only to protect her dangerous and strong children from coming to harm, as she had not been able to do for her very first daughter, the strongest and fiercest of all her progeny.
Gwaerain heard her son shift behind her on the floor and when she turned she saw his head turned toward her, eyes squinting at her as if not fully conscious.
She shuddered and gripped her ribs harder.
She would have to call for a healer. She would call for her son Lumornon. Lumornon would go to find Legolas' best friend Ithildim, to have him bring his father, Anaron, who was the younger elves' favorite healer.
She would be gone from here. Far away, perhaps, for a while. Everything was dark and unfair and recently even the moon seemed upside down when it rose, as if its world, too, had been set askew.
She hauled her son onto his bed and checked again that he was breathing—his eyes were glassy and unfocussed once more and he looked asleep; they were no longer watching her—squinting, pleaing, accusing. Gwaerain tucked his hair behind his ears, pulled his tunic down over his breeches so it covered the shame she had made of him, and then wiped her hands on her dress. She hesitated for a moment as she looked down at him and then moved like the wind to place a fleeting kiss on his brow, before hurrying to the door.
She pushed it open with her shoulder, calling out as she went: "Lumornon! Lumornon! Ithildim!"
At first there was no answer and only the silence of the long hall. Legolas' door breathed shut behind her and she began to run, until she came to Lumornon's room, where she did not pause to knock but instead twisted the handle and pushed it forcefully inward.
"Lumornon!" Gwaerain cried.
Lumornon and Lostariel were bent side-by-side over a desk in the corner of the bedroom—arguing over a map—but they fell silent and both spun around when Gwaerain spoke. She rushed to them and took Lumornon's forearms in her hands and pled: "Lumornon, send a healer to Legolas, Lumornon. We had an argument. Please have Ithildim find Anaron. Please."
Lostariel put a hand between mother and son and stepped forward, assuming her roll as a captain.
"My Queen," said Lostariel calmly. "There is blood on your face."
Gwaerain turned to stare at Lostariel for a moment before reaching a hand up to touch her forehead. As she did so, she saw the blood on her arm and she looked back at Lostariel and shook her head: "This is nothing. It is superficial. He did not mean it."
Lostariel stiffened and she unconsciously felt for the knife on her belt as Gwaerain turned her attention back to Lumornon.
"Lumornon," Gwaerain said, more urgently now, her hair falling into her face as she shook Lumornon's arms in time with her words. "I said to send Ithildim for Anaron. I cannot watch what I have done. Sit with Legolas until Ithildim is back. Anaron is so compassionate and Legolas likes him. Please, Lumornon, please."
And then she had dropped his arms and her hands began to tremble and she shrank into the darkness of her thick sweater like a ghost into the night.
Lumornon crossed to the door without a word to his mother and pulled it open so vehemently that it bounced off the wall and squealed slowly shut behind him—he was calling for guards and pages before it was even fully opened. He disappeared down the hall for a minute and then returned.
"Lostariel, take our Queen to her rooms. Summon Aergwen to meet the two of you there; ask her to make something to help my mother sleep."
Lostariel nodded and placed a hand on Lumornon's shoulder.
Gwaerain now shrunk fully into her sweater as if she were a slip or shadow, and she was quivering now in every limb and crying.
"What have you done to Legolas, Mother?" Lumornon finally demanded, pulling away from Lostariel and taking a step toward her. "Is our grief for Felavel not enough for you, that now you come to me bleeding and asking me to send a healer to my younger brother? What is this? What did you do?"
His voice had grown as he questioned until it was a shout and suddenly Lostariel was at his side and whispering in his ear:
"Go, Lumornon. Go to Legolas. I am taking your mother to her rooms. Come," she said, taking Gwaerain firmly by the arm and leading her to the door as still the queen cried.
"I told you, Lumornon," Gwaerain whispered over her shoulder, her voice muffled with tears. "He needs help, Lumornon. Go to him; go to him now."
And then Lumornon went without a second thought.
He brushed past his mother and Lostariel and called over his shoulder for Lostariel to send for Ithildim and Healer Anaron. As he wisped away, he could hear Lostariel become a captain behind him, gently ordering his mother to follow her while simultaneously commanding the Hall staff to send out additional pages and runners.
But all that was behind him now, and Lumornon was down the hall like morning mist on water driven by the smallest zephyr, spiraling forward until it crashed upon rocks or the tree-line, breaking and swirling and dividing until there was nothing left but the memory of water, of mist and of air—
That was how he felt now, bereft and confused and anxious and too fast, all too fast. He gripped Legolas' door handle and was momentarily frozen with a wave of memories:
Legolas shrinking recently from their mother.
Legolas telling him there was something wrong with their mother, requesting help for her.
Legolas keeping Piniriel from Gwaerain for days at a time.
Legolas going back on patrol long before he was ready, without a word to him, without a reason, it seemed, at all.
Lumornon felt sick, and he almost bent forward to heave into the floor but instead pressed one hand against his stomach and swallowed forcibly—
His brother had asked for help—as Lumornon had always told him to do—and he had not listened. And now Legolas was on the other side of the pine door with some dreadful hurt their very own mother had inflicted.
Lumornon shook the fear from his head and dropped the arm that had clutched his stomach to his side—
He would see his brother. See what his mother meant when she said she had done something to him. He almost did not want to know, almost did not want to see. Seeing his mother so ephemeral and fragile was already so much.
But Lumornon turned the handle and pushed open the door to his brother's room and he rushed inside.
He jerked to a stop like a fishing line caught on the bottom of the river and a tremor chased from head to toes as he stood there for a moment, processing.
And then he almost fell to the floor in despair as he understood the sight that greeted him.
As always, constructive criticism (with specifics to make me better) as well as positive reviews are both appreciated. Thank you for reading this chapter! Happy June, readers and writers!
Chapter 9 by UnnamedElement
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.
Chapter 10 by UnnamedElement
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.
Chapter 11 by UnnamedElement
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!
Part III: Intently Silent by UnnamedElement
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!
Chapter 13 by UnnamedElement
Please see Chapter 12 for summary and character list. This chapter sets up the family for lots of unfortunate angst to come… It's all a bit dramatic, to be honest, and a little silly (may I remind you that Legolas and Ithildim are, comparatively, very young...). This chapter takes place—in part—two days after Legolas has awoken from Anaron's medication, and—in another part—just over a day after he has awoken, so there's a little bit of a flashback there.
PSA: Please read about the effects of strangulation on the body, and always seek medical help if someone cuts off your air supply, even if it does not seem like an emergency at the time. Also, please know that attempted strangulation by a partner is associated with a higher rate of eventual successful murder; it is considered a "lethality indicator." (There is also an aspect of whiplash and concussion to Legolas' reactions in this chapter.)
Part Three: Intently Silent
Nearly three days later
Almost two full days had passed since Legolas had awoken, and not much had changed in how he felt about the situation. His father was in and out of his room, though largely absent, and Lumornon was equal parts hovering and avoidant. His mother was not allowed to see him, and, in the daytime, one guard trailed in and out of rooms in the family's wing, besides his own, because it was locked. Piniriel was brought to see him before each meal and before her bedtime, and Ithildim and Saida were permitted entry whenever they requested it (at Anaron and Aergwen's recommendation, for they were the only people around whom Legolas had shown any inclination to relax).
Now—sitting cross-legged on the floor beside his bed, with his hands cradled loosely in his lap and fingers twisting occasionally in the hem of his nightshirt—Legolas could hear healers and captains and those in his father's council traversing the halls of the family quarters. They whisped in and out of doors with more and more frequency, as if something was about to happen, though he was not particularly inclined to find out what anymore.
His foot twitched at the thought, and it bumped up against the cool glass of the water jar Ithildim had refilled before leaving him that morning. It had been a long evening, and one in which Legolas had already learned more about the "something" than he was yet ready for.
The night before, evening
Legolas sat on the ground beside his locked door after Saida left with the bowl of broth she wanted him to eat, but that he pardoned his way out of. He was leaned against the door jamb with his eyes closed, listening to the hum of a one-sided conversation down the hall, the bustling at his sister's room as her maid prepared her for her evening walk. He let his head rest fully on the jamb, as he had not supported his neck with thick cloths as Anaron had suggested before getting up to bid Saida goodnight, and it hurt—he was exhausted, and his bed and pillows seemed too far away.
With closed eyes and so close to the door, he could hear through the tinny ring that still swelled in and out of his ears like sophomoric cicadas: his sister and her keeper had left the wing and the family's heavy oak door creaked shut behind them. His father's closest counselor's voice—Thelion—grew loud as the door to his parents' rooms swung open, and he heard Galion thanking Aergwen for her assistance in something or another. Then his father's low voice and the rustle of cloth as, Legolas guessed, he held open the door for them all, and a minute later the heavy oak door at the end of the corridor was opened and shut again, and the hallway was utterly silent.
Legolas listened hard through the quiet, and then he heard the gentle altos of his mother like a tripping brook—swollen with sorrow—and then his father acquiesced to something, and he heard the scrape of iron on the floor as a door weight was scooted into place.
The door to his parents' room was propped open now, and Legolas found himself opening his eyes to lean back just far enough to peer up the wall and remind himself that the lock on his door was latched, before leaning back into place.
"Fresher air," he heard his mother say, more loudly, with a sigh that sounded like it had taken all her lungs to heave. "I have missed it!"
With closed eyes, he could imagine the rising energy his mother had when out of doors in a growing wind—hair whipped up around her face like a halo—the way his father would smile when looking at her and put a hand on her back to keep her on the ground; how they would both laugh to see Legolas veritably glow as he leapt straight up and into a tree, chasing the wind until he burst into the canopy—his mother's dark eyes were large and loving as she looked up, leant straight back, to watch him, and his father's face was like the sky, even when Legolas was looking down from above, and Thranduil was rooted to the ground. Their voices were air and water, fire and earth, and they loved him.
It was not until he heard a grating sob and a separate hushing that he came back from his memory. He opened his eyes and squinted, and turned his head so his ear was flush with the crack in the door.
His mother was crying, and his father was soothing.
Legolas closed his eyes and cupped a hand on the back of his neck; he massaged a knot and listened.
"I know what I have done!" he heard the cry, muffled through the door and through, he guessed, his father's shoulder; her face would be pressed there below the collarbone, where he had pressed his face, too, many times before. "I know what I have done; I saw it, and I could not stop myself! I thought it would—"
Her voice was a brook again and it drowned her words, and it was not swollen and slow for its heavy deepness, but had overflowed now, and was roiling.
Legolas heard her sob again, and it came out of her like a gale, like water rushing into a new trough and pressing down greenery in its wake—it destroyed, and yet was deeply hurt. It could not stop itself.
"I could not stop!" she cried again.
And neither, he realized, could he.
Legolas found himself on his feet with one hand pressed against the wall, scanning his room for a blanket. Hs head ached, and he found the cotton shawl he had been using to pillow his neck crumpled at the foot of his bed. He wrapped it around himself all the way to his chin to hide the fading marks from the rest of the house.
Wrapped in such flimsy armor, he strode back to the door, unlatched it, and froze with a hand on the cold metal handle.
The noise in the hallway fell abruptly away, as well, as if they had somehow heard him. The tension from down the hall melted along it like low morning mist; it rose through the lock to startle him.
After a moment, he heard his father move again, probably shifting away from his mother to hold her shoulders in his hands, and he heard his father's voice so low it scraped the stone.
"I know you could not stop, Gwaerain," he said very quietly. "I know, my love."
"I do not remember the whole. I do not want—" she interrupted him with a confessional urgency.
"And you do not yet need to, Gwaerain," his father comforted quietly. "Let us come back into the room. I would discuss your choices with you while we are able to talk calmly..."
Legolas tightened his grip on the door handle and stared at the latch, listening, as if he listened hard enough he would be able to see them illustrated before him, and watch her sorrow and regret, and forgive her.
There was a quiet scuffle down the hall, and Legolas' hand fell from the handle as if burnt.
"Do not close me in, Thranduil!" Gwaerain exclaimed, and she was crying again, and probably twisting away from his father. Legolas could hear the tears bubbling from the back of her throat.
He reached back out to the door and turned the handle to the left without pulling, waiting.
"Do not," she said again, "please. No one else is here and Legolas is asleep—I will hurt no one, my love, I promise."
Legolas heard their footsteps fade into their rooms, and his father's voice was quieter, farther in—he had not shut the door, after all. Legolas pulled at the handle so that it opened less than a foot, slipped one leg and shoulder through it and then the other, and then pressed himself to the wall outside his door—the pine breathed shut quietly and did not creak.
"I was not going to pin you in, Gwaerain," his father was saying. "You need space for this, and I will not trap you here to talk with me."
Legolas took a few more steps down the hall—until he could just see the open door and the sitting room beyond, but not his parents—and then he was suddenly very tired, and his neck heavy; his brain felt dizzy and the world looked like he was seeing it suddenly through strange, translucent felt—a bizarre caul. He let his knees fold so he sat with bare buttocks pressed to the cold floor, his nightshirt tucked between his legs, his knees up in front of him, and his lower back barely against the wall. The stone's cold steeped through the stitches in his marled socks as he settled in, and he curled his toes under, rested his head on his knees, and closed his eyes to listen.
He could tell his parents were in their dressing room, now, for they sounded so far away, comparatively.
By the time his mother quit crying and they were talking again, Legolas had woven in and out of reverie several times, and his head pulsed with his heartbeat as he woke. He opened his eyes to concentrate on being awake, and then shut them again for the pain.
"What has happened while you were convalescing, Gwaerain," Thranduil was saying quietly now, and he paused here and there in a way that made Legolas think they sat side by side on the couch, one curled into the other as they spoke, "is that the Council and the captains and I have been...discussing. And while everyone agrees that you violated the law of our land—"
At this there was another sob from his mother, and Legolas found himself clenching his eyes tighter and holding his breath.
"They do not all agree on how to address it."
He heard his heart beat in his ears, and he clenched his knees together and waited for his father—who was waiting for his mother to calm—to continue.
"We have some options, Gwaerain," Thranduil said finally.
There was silence, and Legolas unclenched his knees. He let out the breath he had been holding and ran a hand up and down the ridge between his left leg's shinbone and calf, to sooth himself.
When she spoke, his mother's voice was louder again, a step higher, too, like the dancing wind that he had seen from her that night in his room—her eyes overpowered by a memory of the Wood's virulent spring, her rationality flown and her soul caught in the eddying winds of a maelstrom so that she barely knew him…
"I will leave!" she was cutting in and explaining, before Thranduil could begin to list the options, and Legolas slammed back into the moment. "I will leave as I originally intended, but without Legolas."
There was a beat in which he kneaded at his calves and ground his teeth. And then his father:
Legolas bit his lip—his last sister...
"I will take her, as I originally intended," Gwaerain answered with surety, "and I will leave it at that, just her, Thranduil. Only her."
Legolas felt his heart beat so strongly that his ears vibrated—great bass drums that crushed the tinny ringing in his ears, the paper-scratch of his fingernails on legs' winter skin. He felt the vein in his neck pulsate, felt the shawl about his neck move with it. Each beat of his heart sent it scraping at the stone behind him, and it bumped up against the still raw mark on his chin— the sound was overwhelming.
The door at the end of the hall began to open, and Legolas opened his eyes, and turned his head, and bit his lip to suppress the grunt of pain that came at the movement—his parents voices dropped away for a moment. But when the door opened quite slowly instead of flying inward in a panicked rush, his father spoke again in a voice like the one he had used when Legolas was young and did not understand. It was like balm spread on a child's scraped knees when they had run too fast and fallen, sweet but stinging, necessary but abhorred...
Ithildim slipped into the hall and shut the door quietly behind him—a bowl of soup clutched firmly in his hands—but Legolas barely saw his friend at all, so intently was he listening to his parents' battle.
"Some people will not see it that way," Thranduil was saying in that voice, the same voice Legolas used when he was sad and tired, but Piniriel was acting young and inconsolable... "They will not let you leave without some measurable consequence for your actions."
"I am not enough to protect myself," Gwaerain interjected, as if she had barely heard her husband—her voice again was choked and quiet. "I am not even enough to protect my children from this place, Thranduil! And now you tell me, I cannot leave! To stop everyone hurting from the pain of what I have done?" Her voice was building. "A mother's oath...It is a curse!" she spat.
"A parent's oath is to protect, Gwaerain, whether they are a child, or they are barely—just barely—of age."
Legolas saw Ithildim's eyes widen, and Ithildim stood very still just inside the main door, as if he would not be seen if he did not move. Legolas pulled his head away from his knees and leaned back against the wall, because he did see him. Ithildim raised his eyebrows and pointedly cut his eyes toward the open door. Legolas shrugged and looked down, and continued to listen.
"It is more than a matter of state, Gwaerain," Thranduil was saying, and his mother's cries now were not just sad—they ripped angrily forth. "What you did...It was not a mother's decision, my love," he continued quietly, and Legolas knew his voice was muffled even more by his mother's unruly hair, and that it probably caught at his lips as he whispered. "Oh, Gwaerain, you have lost the right to call him your son."
Down the hall—in that room that felt a hundred leagues away—Gwaerain was utterly silent. Ithildim was moving forward at speed now, toward him, in the midst of it all.
His father was quiet, too, for a very long moment, until Legolas heard him say reluctantly, as if a hook had dug down inside him and worked the next uncomfortably out: "And you have maybe even lost it to Piniriel…"
Legolas' eyes barely left the ground outside his parents' door as Ithildim skimmed across the floor and down the hall, his dark hair blowing out behind him such that—Legolas thought distractedly and with a very distant spark of muted amusement—it looked as frantic as he.
"That is impossible," Gwaerain retorted with a stubbornness Legolas knew well.
Ithildim had dropped to his heels beside him. He was putting the bowl of soup on the ground, and Legolas watched it all as if in slow motion. Ithildim had a hand on his cheek as he stared dazedly down the hall, all senses latched still on the conversation.
"It is not impossible," his father said. "Under my father's law, Gwaerain, and ours: we do not hurt our kin, and, most especially, not our children."
"Gwaerain," he replied evenly. "I love you, but my duty is to this kingdom. I am arming you with knowledge so that you might be prepared for whatever is to come." His father's voice broke for a moment and quivered like a leaf in the wind, before it was torn off and swept downstream in a river: lost. "It is the least, and the most, I can do—please. Please be grateful."
And then there was utter silence—the drum and the ringing had gone from Legolas' ears, such that he heard now only soft footsteps inside his parents' room and hollow sound of water being poured. He heard his name from Ithildim, and looked up, and put his hand on the one Ithildim was using to cup his cheek. He allowed himself to be lifted under the armpits so that he stood; the skin on his buttocks was numb, and he felt taller than he should be as he looked up at Ithildim.
There was the patter of deliberate footsteps from his parents' room, and then Ithildim turned just as Legolas heard the sound and drew in a deep breath.
His father stood just outside their door down the corridor, his long scarlet shirt unbelted and untucked, grey eyes cold as the slate beneath his bare feet as they flashed in surprise and then worry.
Legolas did not move.
"Ithildim," Thranduil nodded at him, and used his foot to push the iron door weight aside; the door fell shut behind him with a gasp.
Legolas felt Ithildim's grip on his arm tighten, and he watched the expression that flashed across his friend's face as he replied: "My king." He bowed as far as his hold on Legolas would allow.
Thranduil turned his attention back to Legolas and started forward. "My son," he said.
"Father," Legolas answered very quietly—his throat stung and his head hurt more than before.
His father took his shoulders in his hands, even as Legolas' body was pulled up against Ithildim—he could feel Ithildim's grip on his arm and his father's hands on his shoulders; both their breaths tickled his cheek.
"What have you heard, emlineg?" Thranduil asked him, and his voice was gentle, but he sounded very old.
Legolas did not answer for such a long moment that Thranduil dropped his hold on Legolas' shoulders and bent his knees to stare directly into his eyes.
Legolas felt himself come back to life as Ithildim jostled him purposefully, and his father placed a hand to his cheek.
"Enough," Legolas managed then. He coughed and turned his head away from his father's touch. He felt his father's energy dip at that, and he felt such guilt that he could not offer any reassurance with the truth of it his answer, for none of it pleased him. "I heard enough."
Ithildim dropped Legolas' arm and allowed Thranduil to pull Legolas into an unrestricting hug. He felt its warmth, and his body began to relax into it, but his mind would not stop its reeling, and he could think of nothing to say—over and over, he did not know the right thing to say to his parents.
His father let him go. He rocked back into Ithildim as his father told him: "We will talk soon, my son."
Legolas nodded. "Right now," he said, "I am going to bed."
His father watched him quietly, and reached forward to readjust his shawl so it was tucked neatly beneath his ears and gently curved round his chin. "Do you need—"
"I will help him," Ithildim said shortly, surprising Legolas with a defensiveness he did not realize he was craving. "He sent his last food back with Saida. He needs to—"
But that he did not want—he did not want cosseting. So he interrupted—his mind felt a step behind his mouth—and surprised himself again. "I think I will decide what I do and do not need, Ithildim." His father narrowed his eyes at his interjection, and Legolas felt his cheeks redden as if he were being chastised.
Ithildim laughed at him then, and he frowned—every single thing about this was confusing.
"Oh, you will not!" he said, and he picked up the bowl from the floor. He began to push the door open behind them. "You are not a healer, and I am here on my father's orders."
Legolas looked at his father again, and saw him standing with his arms loose at his sides, his brow low as if he too were confused, and had been for a very long time.
Ithildim held open the door for Legolas and then tapped him on the shoulder when he did not move. "And you too know all about father's orders, Legolas, do you not?"
Legolas looked from his father to his friend questiongly, before realizing that Ithildim was trying to lighten the mood, and a distant part of him—again, very distant—was amused. He felt a small smile dimple his cheek, and he raised a hand toward his father.
"Goodnight then, father."
Ithildim nodded his head in Thranduil's direction.
"Good night, Legolas," Thranduil said.
And then Legolas was behind the door with Ithildim, and the latch was slid shut, and he heard nothing from the other side until there was a slight shuffling, and his father walked away.
The rest of the evening was better. Ithildim had prompted him to relieve himself and then they had settled in the corner near his washbin, and Ithildim brushed his hair as Legolas worked dutifully at his soup, which he did not really taste (but that was just as well because he could tell it was rather dull).
They did not speak for a long time.
Finally, Ithildim got up from his seat behind Legolas and sat down with his legs spread out in a V on the floor across from him.
"You are going to have to talk to someone, Legolas," he said finally. Legolas was dropping the spoon repeatedly on the surface of his soup and did not meet Ithildim's eyes. "If what we have just heard means anything at all, you are going to have to tell someone. And I have heard the same. Who would you rather it be?"
Legolas pushed his bowl aside and stood. He sat on his bed and dropped his head into his hands.
He felt Ithildim standing beside him and let himself relax as Ithildim began to unwind the shawl. When done, he pushed Legolas back onto his headboard and pried away his hands, in much the same manner his brother had done days before, but, this time, he did not feel panicked, because, this time, he could breathe. . .
Legolas watched Ithildim read through the instructions on the bedside table to remind himself, and then set to work. He pulled a jar of chilled medicine from the ice bucket under Legolas' bed and poured him a serving.
"I already had that tonight," Legolas said quietly, lifting a hand to his face and massaging his temple. Ithildim sat the jar back down on the table and pulled Legolas' hand away from his face; he pressed it flat between his.
"All right," Ithildim said, dropping his hand. "We will save it for when you wake up in the night, then."
"How do you know I will wake up?" Legolas asked, and then before Ithildim could answer:
"Do you intend to be here?"
"Do you want me to be here?" Ithildim replied casually; he checked the labels on several bottles and glanced up at him assessingly.
Legolas leaned his head back with a thud onto the headboard, and then hissed through his teeth.
"Ithildim," he said, and he coughed. "I do not know what I want anymore. Make this decision for me."
"Hm," Ithildim replied, and Legolas watched him run his finger down the list his father had left, and then select a tiny bottle. "Well, I will stay here until you decide what you want, whenever that is."
Legolas felt himself smile again turned his head toward Ithildim: "Why must you be so difficult?"
Ithildim caught Legolas' eyes with his own and held him still with the force of them. "Your family is unraveling," he answered flatly. "You are my peer and my dearest friend, and it is the least I can do."
Legolas flushed again, breathed out a thready sigh, and nodded.
Ithildim gestured with the vile then, and Legolas crossed his legs in front of him. "So do you hurt, then?" he asked quietly.
"Yes. My head. And my neck, inside and out. I feel…lopsided." Something in his throat caught, and the air burned, and he bit his lip and looked away. "Can we stop talking now? I do not feel well."
"Of course," Ithildim said, and he dipped his pinky finger into the tonic and shook a drop into Legolas' mouth. "For now, at least," he finished.
Legolas swallowed and sipped the water Ithildim handed him.
"Primrose," Ithildim explained. He took the water back from Legolas and sipped it himself, before taking two pre-cut pieces of stringy root and offering one to Legolas while he put the other in his own mouth. "Valerian," he said. "For your muscles."
Legolas raised his eyebrows as Ithildim chewed determinedly, and he took the root from him, and chewed.
"All right," Ithildim admitted. "And for anxiety. At least for me. These past few days I have been unable to shake it."
Legolas nearly laughed, and spat out the stripped root in his hand, and then Ithildim leaned forward and spat out his own in Legolas' hand, too. Legolas jumped.
"That is repulsive!" he exclaimed, and tossed them both onto the bedside table, before wiping his hands on his nightshirt and touching his throat—but he felt himself smiling widely, and there was a warmness in his chest that was not from the medicines.
"I thought we had decided we were done with talking for tonight," Ithildim teased.
Legolas rolled his eyes and watched him toe off his shoes and then pick up the shawl from where he had laid it on the chair beside his bed.
"Come on, now," Ithildim said. "Lay down."
And so Legolas slid down the headboard and let himself relax into the mattress. He watched Ithildim fold the shawl into fourths until it was long and thick. Ithildim leant forward and lifted his head so that he could wrap it about his neck twice and then tie it, to keep his strains and sprains from cramping in the night.
But with the tug to tie the knot, Legolas felt his whole body clench, and his chin drove down toward his chest, and caught Ithildim's hands as they tucked the edges of the shawl in on itself.
Ithildim tapped his cheek, and breathed a puff of air on his face, and Legolas let his body relax. Ithildim handed him another root and then pressed a kiss to his forehead.
"Know this," he said, stepping back. "It is only me, and your door is locked; I will not tell anyone but my father how nervous you are, and you have only to talk when you are ready. Saida and I—we will ensure that."
Legolas finished chewing the root, pulled the untucked sheets up his chest, and nodded as much as the shawl would allow. He heard Ithildim pull a blanket from the foot of the bed and wrap it around himself, and then there was the dip of a body on the mattress as Ithildim lay down, with his head at the foot of the bed, and his long feet tucked under the pillows by Legolas' head at the top.
"You are repulsive," Legolas murmured this time, and, and, while he hated himself for it, he felt a tear burn down his cheek. Pressure burbled up from his chest to knock at the backs of his teeth until he bore forth a laugh that was not quite a laugh, and was mostly a masquerading sob.
"Perhaps," Ithildim said. "But I am here."
And he had looped one hand loosely about Legolas' knee, and Legolas felt himself drift away, and he did not wake up until morning.
And that was the last time he had spoken to anyone besides Ithildim, apart from his sister and her nursemaid, for he did not have the patience for the niceties, and he knew what his father was about to ask of him, and he was not pleased. Lumornon had sent word he would be coming by, too, and Legolas expected he was coming to warn him, just as he had those weeks before, right before their mother had asked him to accompany her into the West.
He closed his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck. He drank the glass of water and lay back onto the floor, and then stared at the ceiling. It was the same spot he had been staring at it when his mother had held him there, several days before.
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply through his nose.
It had been a long two days, and he was ashamed.
He laid an arm across his face, sighed deeply, and allowed himself to dream.
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