"Sit, Legolas." My father presses me into a chair in front of the fire, giving me no time to protest, no time to ask questions. "You must be fatigued after the ride." He peers at my face, eyes searching my features for signs of tiredness and I am sure he finds some for the day catches up with me and I feel wretched.
"How are the effects of the venom?" He asks, turning his back to me eventually as he pours liquid into a glass while I watch. "It can be most uncomfortable . . . I know." And that is the thing with my father—he does know. He has walked in my footsteps himself. He too has returned from patrol, tired, injured, weary and suffering from poison. My mother flusters around me in situations like this, anxious and agitated, full of advice and commands but she is no warrior. She has never been in battle. My father, on the otherhand . . . He knows it all. There is nothing he asks of me he has not done himself.
Thinking of that, thinking of my parents, reminds me my mother is not there.
"Where is Mother?" I ask him, wincing as I do for my head throbs incessantly. "Why was she not with you at the gate as usual?"
And he turns to me and frowns.
"Does your head pain you? The headache is the worst of it I think. It is as well I got this from the healers for you." He places the glass into my hands, clear, sweet medicine glistening within it and I swallow it gratefully. It is not until the herbs have begun to do their work and the sharp edges of my pain begin to blur that I realise—he has ignored my question.
"Where is Mother?" I ask it again, more forcefully, the beginnings of worry flickering at the back of my mind. "You did not answer, Father . . . Where is she?"
He stops. He freezes, mid movement and I see the clench of his jaw, the tenseness in his shoulders, the agony in his soul. My intuition on my arrival did not lead me astray. Something is wrong.
"Father?" The question hovers unanswered in the air.
"Legolas," he is on his knees then, in front of me, he clasps my hands between his, my hands that at that moment are shaking and it is not simply from the weakness the poison has left me with."Believe me when I say, I wish I did not have to tell you this—Your Mother is gone."
"Gone?" The word echoes round my head as I say it. It makes no sense. What can he mean? "Gone? Does she visit my Grandfather?"
My Mother will often do that, when she grows bored with the stronghold or frustrated with her life as queen. She flits off, back to the forest that grew her, the trees that she loves. She will retreat to her village and her family to recharge her soul and avoid her problems. When I was smaller she would take me with her and I loved it. It is not unheard of she would run to hide there but I am surprised she goes there now. The forest near her village is dark and she has not ventured there for some time. It is too dangerous for her now. My Grandfather comes to the palace instead. Why on earth has Father let her go?
"That is not wise, Father," I tell him. "Not now. The darkness draws too close there."
"She has not gone to the village, Legolas. Not this time." His voice is laden with sadness and grief. It frightens me. I cannot breathe. I do not want to. I do not want time to move forward from this moment. Suddenly I do not want him to tell me.
He does anyway.
"She has gone to the Elvenland." He says softly, "To Valinor." And just like that I am motherless.
It is nonsense of course. It cannot be true and it is a cruel joke. I wonder why he does this, so I shake my head.
"Father," I say and I rub my forehead. Perhaps the herbs affect me? I have always been susceptibile to wild delusions when I take them. The healers are very careful what they give me. Was there too much in that glass? It is strange, though for I feel quite rational. "Those herbs affect me. I am hearing things. You did not say Mother has gone to Valinor, did you?"
"Oh my boy," he has not yet let go of my hands, "I said that, Legolas. She has sailed. It is not a lie. It is not a delusion." And suddenly I realise, this is real.
I pull my hands away and look at him in horror.
"Sailed? No! Mother loves the land. She is Silvan, why would she chose to go there?"
"To wait for Laerion." I do not know what is worse. The wave of grief that threatens to drown me or the sadness in his eyes. And of course it comes down to Laerion. Everything in my life always does.
"She has not said goodbye," I say numbly. "She has not said goodbye."
I search my mind, trace my thoughts through our last meeting for a hint, anything, anything, that might, in retrospect, be my mother's way of wishing me farewell. There is nothing.
I spent my last evening with her, before I left for the South, as I always did. My leaving made her anxious always and so I put aside that time for her—for us—because she did not understand my warrior life as my father does. It was a mystery to her what happened when we were gone and I think that made it all the more worrying for her. That, and Laerion . . . Always Laerion.
But this last time was not the same. We were awkward, our conversation stilted as it never was previously. She was introverted and distracted which was not like my mother at all. My mother has a wildness about her, a light brightness that invigorates, but not that evening. That evening she was quiet and sombre as I had never seen her.
"I would do anything to change things, Legolas," she said at last after a long period of silence while we ate and I looked up in surprise.
"Change what, Mother? What needs changing?" I could not think what she meant . . . Unless she spoke of the neverending dark that forced me to go south in the first place.
"I would have you not hate me."
"I do not hate you!" I was horrified. Why did she say that? Why would she think that?
"I should have left well enough alone." She said sadly, "I should not have forced you out into the light . . . After Laerion. We should have sent you across the sea, to healing in Valinor instead of keeping you here for ourselves. It was selfish. No wonder you raged at me. What have I bought you back to after all?"
She spoke of the soft, safe, dark in my mind I retreated to after my brothers death. A dark that blanketed my bleeding soul, that I could hide in from the world outside. The world without Laerion I did not want to see. I do not know how long I hid there until she reached in and dragged me out, screaming and thrashing. I did rage at her then. I did tell her I hated, but I did not mean it. She made the right choice, it was the right thing to do.
"You saved me. I did not mean it, what I said then." I could not believe she still dwelt on this and a part of me resented her speaking of it at all. Why bring up Laerion when I am about to return to the place of his death? Why do that? Did she want to make it harder for me to go there? Did she try to prevent me going by weakening my nerve? Suddenly it seemed manipulative and I terminated the conversation before she could go on.
"I do not want to talk of this now, Mother, before I ride south. It is not the time. Later, perhaps, when I return." I did not wish to speak of it then either if I was honest. I did not want to speak of it ever.
"Of course, my little wild one." She dropped her gaze, eyes focused on the plate in front of her, using the name she had called me since my childhood. I felt there was more—a lot more—she wished to say but she accepted my request and said none of it.
And that was it. We finished our meal, she braided warrior braids tight into my hair as she always did, she told me she was proud of me. . .
And she did not say goodbye.
"She left you a letter." My father jolts me from my thoughts, pushing a letter in to my numb, shaking hands and I stare at it.
"A letter?" I gasp, "She left me a letter? That is all I am worth . . . A letter?"
"You are worth much more than that, Legolas, so much more. She cherished you." He begs me to believe him but how can I?
"It does not seem that way, Father." I feel the beginnings of anger creeping around the edges of my grief and my voice is no longer shattered, it is cold. "I understand why you would wish me to believe that but—" I hold the letter out for him to see, "This suggests otherwise."
"Do not judge her by this," he pleads. "She is better than this. I do not agree with what she has done but she has never been good with confrontation. She did not wish to hurt you. She loves you so much more than this."
"She did not wish to hurt me?" And suddenly the anger breaks forth, smashing down the wall of sadness that held it at bay, launching itself at my Father who has done nothing to deserve it. "She did not wish to hurt me so she leaves without a word? How did she think that would not hurt? This could be forever Father, this goodbye!"
He grasps my hand as I wave it in my fury.
"It is not forever, Legolas! You will see her again."
"I do not want to see her again!" It is not true but in that moment I mean it. "I will choose the land if it ever comes to that. I will not go to Valinor!" In truth that is what I have always imagined I would do. I cannot see myself ever wanting to go to Valinor. It is not me.
But the colour drains from my father's face at my words until he is a deathly pale.
"Do not say that, Legolas. Do not tell me that when I still have to send you south into the dark."
"Not telling you does not make it not the truth!" I stumble to my feet then, legs disobeying me as they struggle against the spider venom that surges within my veins as if it consumes my very anger.
"I do not want her letter!" I throw it at him, clumsy as I am and it floats to the floor. "I do not want it. If she could not discuss this with me then I do not wish to read any platitudes she has written me. I do judge her, Father!"
And I turn around, reaching for the chair to steady me as I do before I stumble towards the door. I do not want to be here. I do not want to be having this conversation, I do not want his pity or his love. I do not want to see his sadness.
"Legolas!" He speaks to me as my King then, commanding not asking. "Stay here. You will not run from this!"
And for the first time ever I disobey him. Oh I have disobeyed my Father many times, but never my King.
I leave, I run, for in that moment it is Maewen I want, not my father. Her soft arms, her sweet voice, her gentle touch, her love.
I slam the door in his face and I flee to her.