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.
Author's note: Two Sindarin words are used in this chapter: fea and rhaw. These are equivalent to the Quenya words f
Chapter end notes:
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