I remember when my wood was filled with light, when flowers scattered across all its parts and the trees were warmed with sunlight. They are childhood memories but I remember that.
But now . . . Now there are huge swathes of wood smothered in the dark, where the trees suffocate under the weight of it and all is oppressive and threatening.
It breaks my heart.
We ride—back towards my father's stronghold—out of the dark, dark, south, but today the dying trees do not depress me. The memory of that tangled poisonous forest does not choke my light and leave me gagging as it usually does; for my head is full of Maewen.
Pictures of her flit through my mind. Her hair, her smile, her spirit; she is all I can think of for we have been parted and now, finally, I ride home towards her.
Usually we patrol together but no longer. My father it was who gave me that news in his study the day before we left. He called me to see him which is not unusual. He will always make time for me before I depart to go out into the darkness.
"Legolas." He nodded towards a chair, his tone leaving me in no doubt this was not simply a Father/Son goodbye. Sometimes he is my Father and sometimes he is my King. On this day, at this moment, I knew it was my King who spoke to me.
"Elhadrel has been to see me." He said at last when I had seated myself. Elhadrel is my captain in the south and I was confused as to why she had gone seeking his council. It made no sense.
"She was speaking about Maewen." He spoke slowly then. "Tell me, Legolas . . . How do you feel about her?"
My father knew, of course, that Maewen and I spent time together outside of our patrols, that I was interested in her. But he did not know the whole of it. He did not know how she captured my mind, my thoughts . . . My love; and I did not want to tell him then.
"She is pleasant company, Father."
And he frowned at my reply.
"Elhadrel says it is much more than that. She has concerns about the two of you."
"Concerns?" Instantly I was alarmed. We had been so careful. There was nothing I could think of that had drawn attention to the two of us. "She has nothing to be concerned about."
"Indeed?" He raised his eyebrows in that way he has that let me know he saw right through me and was not fooled for a moment. Unfortunately my Father is very hard to fool. "The gossip is, Legolas, that she has every right to be concerned, that things become serious between you and Maewen. Do not think I do not hear all my people have to say when it pertains to you!"
"It is gossip only, Father. I can hardly control that. I am their prince and they speculate. It does not mean it is true." I could only try to deflect his interest even though I knew it was futile.
"Hmm," He folded his arms into his most kingly pose. I knew that pose well, I have seen it many times in my growing, and I knew then something unpleasant came my way.
"Maewen will be staying behind when you go to the South, tomorrow. I have ordered it. You will not be patrolling together again."
"What?" It took me by surprise, that announcement though I should have anticipated it—it was fear of this that had led us to be protective of our growing closeness after all—but now it finally came I was totally unprepared. I pushed back my chair and leapt to my feet, knocking over a stack of the documents piled on his desk as I did so. "There is no need for that, Father. It is unnecessary! You disrupt the balance of the patrol for no good reason."
I do not usually argue with my father. His temper is legendary . . . And he is usually right. But on this occasion I did—I had to—but it got me nowhere. In fact it was my undoing.
"It is entirely necessary!" His fist slammed into the desk and I jumped. He can make me feel like such a child when he is angry. "Your response has just clarified that for me, Legolas. You will not be travelling to the South with Maewen again. Do you hear me? I will not make that mistake a second time. You care too much for her."
"And will you remove Erynion from the patrol as well? He is my closest friend. I care for him. This is pointless Father!"
"Do not be ridiculous, Legolas. Erynion is not the same and you know that. You know the rules and they are there for good purpose. You of all people should know that! Do you wish to subject yourself to a death such as Laerion's again?"
He spoke of my brother. My brother who died at my feet, my brother whose death we never spoke of, and my blood ran cold. But my father was not done yet.
"You are too close to Maewen, your fea is too entangled with hers. You will not be able to make logical decisions. Elbereth, Legolas, I am not doing this a second time! She does not go with you. That is final."
"Very well!" I spat it at him for I was angry. How dare he . . .how dare he make assumptions about my fitness on the battlefield. "Since you think me so lacking in self control what choice do I have but to obey you. But do not think I am happy about this."
"I think you lacking in nothing, Legolas." He reached across his desk towards me but I would not let him near. "It is simply how it must be."
"It is how you wish it to be!" I turned on my heels then to leave for I felt powerless. Caught up in the beliefs of my Father and my Captain with no voice of my own.
"Legolas . . ." His voice was soft then as I reached the door, soft and filled with sadness. "Elhadrel is not alone in her concerns. I have worries of my own to do with you . . .and Maewen. I would have you be careful." And I turned on him in astonishment.
"Be careful? Be careful of what? She is beyond reproach. She has done no wrong. She is one of your finest warriors. What is there for you to have concerns about, Father?"
"Be careful of your heart. She is Silvan. It will not be easy . . . You are too different. It will not work."
His words knocked the very breath from me, so unexpected were they. Not from him—of all people—had I expected that.
"You, Father?" I sneered, "You would say such things? Mother is Silvan, or have you forgotten that? And I am no Sindar. That was Laerion. He was your perfect Sindar son. I am the wild one who runs in the trees. Maewen and I are not too different, we are not different at all. We are the same!" The slamming of the door behind me as I left was very satisfying indeed.
I saw him once again before we left. In the early dawn as we lined up to depart the stronghold he was there to watch us go as he always is. Silent, stern, he spoke to Elhadrel before he approached me but I would have none of it. Anger at his words the night before and the feeling of injustice at the loss of my cherished one from my side made me bitter. I spurned his words of farewell, shrugged off his arm on my shoulder, and for the first time since Laerion . . . For the first time ever, I left for the South without my Father's love—because I would not allow him to give it. It was foolish, cruel and petty, and I regretted it the moment we stepped foot through the gate . . . But there was nothing I could do about it then—
"Legolas?" The voice cuts through my thoughts of my father and home. "Are you well?" A leg brushes against me as I ride and I blink my memories free. I am no longer in my father's study or the stronghold. I am back in the woods where darkness lightens and home is near. It is Erynion who speaks to me and when I turn towards him he looks at me with concern etched across his face. He is right to be concerned I suppose for I am injured. Nothing serious, nothing that prevents me from riding home under my own volition but injured all the same and they always worry so endlessly.
My arm has been slashed by a spiders stinger. A glancing blow, not as bad as a sting but still, spider venom seeps through my veins making me sluggish, my hands numb, my head throbs. It is most annoying.
"I am well." I frown at him for he has draw the attention of Elhadrel now. I feel her gaze wander over me searching, watching for any sign of weakness. I hate it. I am such a drain on her, a burden to have on patrol. Being responsible for the wellbeing of the prince weighs her down. It frustrates me so badly. I cannot wait until I am the captain myself and responsible for my own safety.
"You were miles away," Erynion says half-heartedly.
"Am I not even allowed to daydream now, on the safety of the Elven path?"
"I was concerned about the venom," he replies defensively, "You were not your best this morning." He is right. I was terribly unwell this morning but that has eased and now all I feel is resentment at being reminded of it.
Crowds line the way as we enter the stronghold. They are eager to see us but their cheers are muted. There is an eerie wrongness in the air that I cannot pinpoint and they all stare at me. They always stare at me but this is somehow different. Elhadrel will of course have sent word of my injury and we have lingered in the South longer than we meant to allow the venom to ease, so I could sit upon a horse at least....perhaps it is just that?
I am relieved when we reach the courtyard. The scrutiny is wearying and tiresome and I am eager to see Maewen —where is she? And my Father. I want to right the wrong of my departure. Thank goodness my injury was relatively minor. The thought of us being separated by Mandos' Halls with bad feeling between us is sickening.
He is there of course. Standing in the centre, magnificent as always, but the wrongness continues . . . my mother is not there. She always welcomes me home, standing by his side—where is she?
My home is so discordant today. My father, regal and majestic as always seems burdened, tired, weary—he is never weary—and I am not the only one to sense it it seems.
"Something is wrong here," Elhadrel murmers as she disembarks beside me. "Do you feel it, Legolas?"
"Yes," The fact she too notices does not reassure me.
"Let us see then," she says, "what our King has to say," and she moves to approach him.
I slide off my horse and thank goodness Erynion is there to steady me for as my feet hit the ground I discover the venom makes them wobbly. I am not sure they will even hold me up and I lean quickly against my horse, it is a convenient support. Falling face first into the dust in front of crowds like these will be embarrassing to say the least. Where is Maewen? I scan the crowds anxiously for a glimpse of her, heart pounding strangly in my chest as I look. Suddenly it is the most important thing in the world for me to find her. Surely Father has not kept her away? Surely he will not meddle in my life to that extent, no matter what concerns he may have.
There is a moment when time freezes, when it seems as if my heart ceases to beat, when I catch my breath, as I find her. Beautiful, her light eclipses all others. She is here! But she does not smile, there is no dancing welcome in her eyes. Instead she watches me with the same worried eyes as the rest of the crowd. A wary, sadness flows over me as her fea surges towards me. What news did Elhadrel send them of me? Did she overstate my injury? Is that what is wrong here, that they all thought me lost?
I have no time to dwell on it, no time at all to bask in the sight of Maewen for my Father is there then, at my side.
"My Son." I am in his arms, and it is strange, so strange for him to embrace me like this in front of others. It is not his usual greeting at all.
"I am well, Father." I pull back to see his face and am startled to see the sadness in his eyes. "Whatever the messenger told you must have been seriously exaggerated. I am quite well. Just some lingering spider venom."
"Good," he says quietly, "for I would not lose you."
"You will not lose me." I know I cannot promise that but at the moment I am driven by this need to reassure, to banish that sadness and remove this unhappiness that clings to them all.
Then his arm is around my shoulders and he steers me away from Erynion, away from the eyes of the crowd, and past Maewen, as she stands watching me. So close I could almost touch her—how I want to touch her . . . And then she is gone.