Chapter 1

The reddish autumn leaves reflected the golden rays of the afternoon sun. The Elvenking, leaning lightly on the balustrade of his private balcony, let his gaze wander leisurely over the treetops in the distance. His forest was slowly preparing for its wintery slumber, having already exchanged its summer greens for the autumnal reds, yellows and oranges. But these royal colors would only be donned for a brief time, as the chill fingers of winter would soon descend upon the forest and remove its leafy veils, leaving it naked in their touch.

Thranduil felt in a sense just like his forest. His soul and spirit, his fea, was touched by the deathly chill of winter long ago, but, unlike the turning of seasons, it was eternally marked by the frost, never to truly feel the warmth of spring again. Had he forgotten how it felt to walk under the sunshine and have his skin touched by the welcoming warmth? No, he had not. For elven memory never faded. He could remember all too well the time of his youth, when the world, or rather his world, was still unmarred by the black hand of evil and the death that followed its grasp. He could still see himself, a mere elfling of few decades of age, running merrily in his uncle Thingol's gardens in Doriath, chasing after his friend and later wife Lothrin. He cherished those memories and kept those precious feelings of times gone fondly in his immortal heart. Had it not been for them, the Elvenking was sure he would have long faded.

Oh, how he longed to be able to feel like that again, to unburden his weary self of the pain of thousands of years even for a few brief moments! But it was not to be. For there was in Thranduil's heart a still deeper shadow. He had seen the horror of Mordor and could not forget it. If ever he looked south, its memory dimmed the light of the sun, and though he knew that it was now broken and deserted and under the vigilance of the Kings of men, fear spoke in his heart that it was not conquered forever: it would arise again. The Shadow, which had claimed the lives of his father and wife and countless of his kin, would rise and extend its ravenous claws upon Middle Earth, and upon him, once again. Whose life would it seek to claim this time? He minded not for his own, for he had lived long on this earth, but for the life of his son he feared greatly.

Legolas. His existence had always been like a gentle breeze in Thranduil's life, like the one that was now ever so lightly tousling his hair. He bent his head forward a bit and closed his eyes, inhaling quietly the sweet fragrance of autumn the breeze carried and allowing the creases of worry on his forehead soften a little. His son had always been in his heart and thought, although the young ellon might not know it. For King and Prince had grown quite apart during the last few eons. It was not due to lack of true sentiment, but due to lack of letting this sentiment surface. Thranduil would only seldom show affection to his son, becoming more and more secluded and isolated with the passing of time, a prisoner of his own mind. Legolas perceived this stance mostly as lack of care and interest of his father towards him, or disappointment perhaps? And he in turn turned away from his sire, having no choice but to harden his own heart towards the father who reserved nothing but coldness and formality for him.

And Legolas was gone now. He had been gone for decades, and while a few decades was nothing to the life of an elf, Thranduil secretly harbored a bitter fear in the depths of his heart that his son would never return, that he was not to see him ever again. He could not rationalize this pain he felt deep inside, whenever his thoughts turned to Legolas, but still there it was, and it was akin to the pain of departure, of separation. And so Thranduil feared that Legolas would never again step into the forest of his childhood, for so very disappointed he was with his father that he might never wish to face him again.

It was on Ravenhill, a little over fifty years ago, when Thranduil last saw his son. Struggling out of his mental constraints, there were a few nearly choked words blurted out by him, a quick last glance from the Prince, a hasty extend of good will and goodbye to each other, and then Legolas turned on his heel and marched away from the ruins without a second glance backwards. The Elvenking vividly remembered the taste of bitter bile on his tongue at that moment, a taste he was forced to swallow hard as his vision was turning bleary with tears threatening to spill. On that very moment enormous waves of regret washed over him, regret for the last eons of his life, which had led to this very cold and bitter outcome.

Thranduil sighed and paced away from the balustrade, turning his gaze to the west, where the sun was setting behind the treetops, never faltering in its course. The West. Valinor waited there to receive the elves who still lingered on Middle Earth, when their time to sail would come. There was a time, very long ago, when Thranduil himself pondered on how these western Undying Lands might be. But no more. Since Lothrin's tragic death, he gradually abandoned every thought of sailing. For it was in the Undying Lands that the elves were reunited with their beloved ones, deceased or departed, forever on to live in unity. But Thranduil knew there was no mate awaiting his arrival on those golden shores, for Lothrin's fea was cruelly destroyed by dragonfire, rendering it unable to be housed in a corporeal form. The King's own fea was brutally mutilated, tainted by the same fire that claimed his wife's life. It was not only his body that was scarred, but his spirit as well. For a time he wondered if he would even be fit to step on the Undying Lands, for his fea was robbed of his immaculacy and purity of the firstborn, and it was tainted with malicious attributes. Greed, power-mongering, cruelty, indifference and lust were to be counted among them, qualities that were not meant for the Eldar, but for Men.

And so, Thranduil, consumed by his ever-darkening self, soon abandoned all thought of sailing into the West some day, and with that he abandoned all hope of feeling whole and happy again. Happy? It sounded as a cruel joke to his ears. He could not even define this word anymore. He had at last come to terms with the misery of his life, he had accepted it as the only possible reality, and did not seek to change anything anymore. Once, when he felt that fading was at hand, he anchored himself on his only son and clang to life. But now, what would keep him from fading? And, in the depths of his weary heart, Thranduil did not truly care anymore.

As twilight fell over Mirkwood, the Elvenking retreated from his balcony into his chambers. He glanced over to the small table in the corner, upon which a jug of wine waited for his familiar touch. It was with utter shame that he admitted wine had become his one and only friend. He stepped close and filled himself a glass. Its crimson content swirled as the King held the glass in his fingers, the gentle motion making the wine give out its fragrant aromas that made Dorwinion the best of its kind. He took a sip, relishing the exquisite taste, and then another, and another. Before long the glass was being refilled, as Thranduil fruitlessly attempted to drink away his thoughts, sip by sip.

Jug and glass accompanied him in his bed when he chose to at last lie down. Supple mattress, fluffy pillows and silken covers did little to provide him with comfort, though. His mind would not rest. This time his thoughts turned to Tauriel. He wondered where she might be, what she might be doing. And he wondered that every single night of the many in her fifty years of self-imposed exile. The King had forgiven her, but she chose to leave. With bitter irony he thought that it was her turning away this time, and not him. Thranduil could clearly remember the scorn and disdain in her eyes when he lifted her banishment, absolved her of her crime of threatening his life, and welcomed her back to his forest and her station. But the insolent Captain, with a tight smile had simply turned down his "most gracious offer", as she had aptly worded it, and then exited the throne room after mocking him with a low bow and a leer of disrespect. He did remember himself frozen as a pillar at that moment, unable to react or utter anything. He never expected that, he never saw that coming. He had been fairly certain that Tauriel would be most grateful for being offered back open-handedly everything she decided to gamble on with her rash actions. He had expected her to bow down in shame and regret, and mentally kiss his boot in gratitude for his magnanimity. But no. She chose to spit back in his face all his good will and grace and turn away from him, her people, the place she had called home for more than six hundred years, and chase her fortune in who-knows-where. Tauriel never showed her face in Mirkwood ever since.

It was with pain and regret that Thranduil reminisced upon those very unfortunate events. If he were to be sincere with himself, he did feel hurt. Hurt? He inwardly smiled bitterly at the word. As cold, aloof and isolated that he had become, he never believed he would be able to feel such things again. He feared the façade of indifference we chose to wear in every social interaction had slowly woven its path into his very soul, turning him into a statue of ice. And perhaps he preferred it that way. A King could never afford to show weakness or any kind of emotion openly, Thranduil thought. He felt well protected behind his cold unfeeling mask. He felt safe and intangible there. Nothing could reach him.

And yet something did. Tauriel's audacious words and impudent smirk had cracked his thick layers of ice, allowing a hint of hurt to creep in and touch him. The elleth he had saved from certain death all those many years ago and raised close to his own son had in the end turned against him, pointed an arrow to his head and then abandoned him without a second thought. And for what? For a dwarf! And a dead dwarf at that. Thranduil's heart rebelled in protest. How could she ever choose a dwarf over her own people? Was she so feeble-minded? So weak of heart? He did not want to believe these accusations his mind produced as true. He had known the young elleth since her childhood. There were no traces of a treacherous character to be found in her. But… she had loved. Could not love be the greatest treachery of all?

Still, but for his feelings of desertion and desolation, there was a small voice inside Thranduil's head that meekly suggested Tauriel might be right in her way. Perhaps it was her that should harbor feelings of desertion and betrayal, when her King unabashedly proclaimed his indifference considering the fate of the dwarves, and refused to lend even the slightest portion of aid. The young Captain had seen a cold and cruel King, and it was not the King she remembered. Perhaps, Thranduil now thought, Tauriel felt equally hurt as him, if not more.

But he had tried to make it up to her in the end, when he found her crying over the corpse of the dwarf on Ravenhill, seconds only after he had bid farewell to his son. And his attempt was not a pretense. He stepped out of the shadows and took in the sight of her grief, realizing at last his cruel demeanor towards her for thoughtlessly dismissing her love as not real. And she had raised her face and looked into his watery eyes that in that very moment were the clearest mirror of his tormented soul. When she asked him why it hurt so much, clearly not awaiting an answer from his part, he did offer her probably the most sincere words he had uttered in a long time: because it was real. There it was, the King's apology out in the air. His voice calling her love real, attempting to convey the real message of the voice in his heart, which simply said "forgive me, Tauriel". Her expression had changed then, betraying her startle. Thranduil had seen recognition there, he saw the lines on her face soften, her lips parting slightly and her brow giving the slightest twitch, and he felt that she understood the pain he carried inside for all these years. He felt that they understood each other in the face of heartbreak.

And he had hoped this was a sign of reconciliation. He had admitted the error of his ways, albeit indirectly, but Tauriel had understood. Of that he was certain. And he had hoped that she would at least offer him an apology for her disobedience. He had forgiven her for pointing an arrow to his face, because he never truly believed Tauriel meant him any harm; he read it as an act forced by despair over the very real prospect of loss of her love. She had expected him to be there for her, as he had ever been, and he had disappointed her. But had she not understood his motive? Had she not seen the dead of their kin that lay on the streets of Dale? How could she place the lives of a few dwarves, nay, one certain dwarf, over the lives of elves? That he could not come to terms with, but he did choose to leave it aside, for the sake of reconciliation. He would not hold it against her, had she only shown regret and remorse for her actions. But Tauriel showed neither. Instead, she stated that she regretted nothing, and, if she was given a second chance, she would have done the same. There went his hopes of reconciliation, marching out of the door together with the rebellious Captain.

Instead of what he was looking for in her eyes then, he received cold hatred and disdain. The realization that Tauriel must have felt the same right before drawing her bow and arrow against him stung him bitterly. His cold eyes bearing hard at her, his mouth uttering words of cruelty and indifference. Oh, how they had failed each other so much!

Thranduil sighed and turned in the bed, pushing the now empty jug and glass aside. He stared at those two objects for a time. In a way, he saw his own self reflected on them. Ornate and beautiful on the outside, and yet cold and hard. And there was only emptiness to be found inside, a vast void that yearned to be filled with precious content. A sudden wave of anger surged through him and he tossed jug and glass on the marble floor. They crashed on the hard surface and shattered in countless pieces.

Perhaps that was what he also needed. A strike forceful enough and he would break.