The throne room, Legolas decides, is his least favorite place in the Mirkwood stronghold. It is too large and cavernous, and he dislikes how the smallest sounds echo noisily around the chamber. The distance between him and his father has never stretched so far as it feels now, standing before his King.
Legolas cannot bring himself to meet Thranduil's eyes, to see the cold look of disapproval sure to be on his father's face. Instead, he studies the floor and traces the pattern the light makes with his foot. He is fidgeting, a habit which he knows Thranduil despises, yet he cannot help but feel uncomfortable. The pit of his stomach has been uneasy ever since he had returned from patrol and had been informed that his father had requested a private audience with him.
"Soldier, report to your King," Thranduil says with quiet authority.
Legolas drags in a breath and clenches his fists together.
"Four wounded, one dead. The orcs overwhelmed us, and we did not have the forces to do more than hold the attack. Seven escaped and vanished into the trees during the course of the skirmish."
There is silence for a moment, and Legolas wonders how much of his King's wrath he has brought upon himself this time.
"You have disobeyed direct orders from the Commander of the Guard and followed those creatures beyond the borders of our kingdom at the cost of an elven life," Thranduil says in slow, clipped tones. "Henceforth you are to be removed from your patrol for three weeks, during which time you will spend with the Interior Minister, assisting her in preparations for the visiting party from Imladris."
At these words, Legolas raises his head and stares at his father in dismay. "My King, those orcs were well within our region and scarcely leagues away from Dol Goldur," he protests. "I could not stand idly by and allow them to remain, plotting their quest to aid the Darkness."
"Legolas!" Thranduil snaps, and his eyes glitter dangerously. "This is not the first time you have led your patrol awry in a wild chase for those creatures. You forget your duties and your place. I cannot keep making excuses to the council every time you choose to go against your commands."
"At least place me somewhere where I could be more useful," Legolas pleads. "You know I have no great love for court intrigues."
"That is precisely why you are to be assigned there. Legolas, you are Prince of the Woodland Realm and must behave as such. You will learn the rules of diplomacy and the consequences of your actions and how to control yourself."
Legolas takes a step forward and glowers at his father. "I did not ask for this burden," he says hotly. "Everything I do is for our home, yet you upbraid me when I try to do the very most to protect our lands."
The Elvenking passes a hand across his brow in consternation and looks into his son's bright eyes. "We all make sacrifices, Captain. Your burden is perhaps heavy, but you must be adequately able to rule our people," he says sternly. "I was many moons younger than you are now when I assumed the throne and it took me an age before I felt at ease."
"Then I do not wish to be King nor Prince!"
The words burst from his lips without thought and before Thranduil has time to respond, Legolas moves swiftly to leave the room. He does not dare glance at his father as he turns around, too afraid of what his reaction may be. It is the first time he has taken leave of the King without being dismissed, and he knows that he will surely pay for it later but all he can think of is the unfairness with which he has been treated.
He calms a little once he reaches his room, placing his bow and arrow sheath on top of a nearby shelf and removing his boots. It is long past midnight, and the moon is veiled behind a cloud.
Legolas knows that he has acted with rashness, the very trait that he is being chastised for, but the firm rebuke from Thranduil still irks him. He lowers himself onto the bed, with his head between his hands. More and more he cannot reconcile the two images of his father and his King, and neither can he seem to please him whatever his actions.
An image comes to mind suddenly, when he was no more than ten springs and tugging on his father's sleeves, pestering him with questions about the kingdom. Thranduil had answered him patiently and solemnly, but his eyes had been alight and laughing.
They do not speak as such now, for Thranduil is often shut up in meetings with the council or with his advisors and Legolas prefers to be under the trees, more comfortable spending his time with his fellow soldiers than in the halls of the palace, applying himself to his royal duties. Rarely does he seek out his father unless prompted to give a formal report.
A knock on the door interrupts his thoughts. It is Galion, his father's butler, with a tea tray in his hands.
"Did the King send you?"
"Yes and no." Galion regards the dismal form of the Prince. "He was, for lack of a better word, troubled, when I entered into his chambers and bid me to make use of my services elsewhere."
"I have seen that look more than once upon your father's face, Legolas. You are no longer an elfling and still you persist in tormenting him," Galion teases.
"I fear it is more than that," Legolas sighs. "I spoke unkindly, I all but renounced my claim to the crown."
Galion pauses as he remembers an old memory of the King and his son. "Do you remember your first patrol?" he asks fondly.
Legolas chuckles and shakes his head. "My father told me 'Guren nallatha nalú achenin le,' that his heart should weep until he saw me again. I believe he thought that I would perish on the spot before his very eyes."
The Prince grows somber and tilts his head to observe the passage of the night. "But we have not spoken so openly in years," he says in a low voice.
"Legolas, your father cares for you," his father's butler says kindly. "It will take more than a few words to turn his affection."
Legolas nods in acknowledgement, but remains silent, and Galion bends to set the tray down on the small table by the bed.
"Drink it before it grows cold," he says and quietly departs from the room.
Legolas does not see his father for many days after his outburst, and in his heart, he is relieved and distressed all the same. Tinchel, the Interior Minister, true to Thranduil's word, keeps him busy until the late hours of the night with all of her arrangements. She is a sprightly, energetic elf, and Legolas is glad of the company and of the distraction that it affords him.
The few moments that he is in his father's presence during court, he refuses to lift his head and meet the King's eyes. He can feel Thranduil's keen gaze on him, but Legolas is too ashamed to respond.
The day that the group of men from Laketown come to call, Legolas is still steadfastly ignoring his father, despite the King's request that he begin increasing his time spent in court even though he has been allowed to resume his patrol activities.
A child had been found by the guards, washed upon the shores of the river near the gate from which the Mirkwood elves released the wine barrels from the royal cellar each season. How she had floated upstream was not known, for a heavy rain fall had caused the rushing waters to turn angry and perilous, even for the light-footed elves. The child was nursed back to health, and word was sent to Esgaroth, for it was the most likely area she had drifted from.
The men are huddled close together, as if afraid to approach the Elvenking, for they must have heard the wild and strange rumors of the Wood elves and their mercurial ruler.
At long last, one of the men, whom Legolas surmises to be their leader, breaks away and tentatively steps forward.
"My Lord," the man begins with diffidence, "Forgive our trespassing on your lands, but we seek a child. She fell into the river, but it moved too rapidly for us to follow. We had been tracking her for a fortnight when we received the dispatch. I beg you, O King, to tell us if she lives?" the man asks desperately.
Thranduil inclines his head and gestures for the child to be brought forward. "She is alive. We found her on the river banks and tended to her in good time. She has remained an object of great curiosity and interest among my kin and is anxious, I am sure, to return to you."
At the King's words, the man breaks into a relieved smile and then gasps as the child is brought into view. He opens his arms as she runs towards him with a delighted squeal, clenching her tightly to his chest. Around him, his companions laugh lightly and the elves chuckle in amusement.
"Thank you," the man sobs in between broken breaths, "for returning my daughter to me."
"It is nothing more than we would have done for our own kind," Thranduil says thoughtfully, and Legolas catches his eye, for his father is looking at him with an odd expression. They stare at each other for an uncomfortable beat before the King shakes his head and turns away.
Legolas shifts in his place near the throne with sudden restlessness. He wonders if he will ever dredge the words he does not know from his heart, words which he yearns to tell his King, and he wonders how long a father and son can remain unreachable, remote and far away from one another. If Legolas had been lost, would his father react with such compassion as the man with his child? It bothers him that he does not know the honest answer.
But it is Thranduil who surprises him first by breaking their silence, some days later. He stops him in the corridors as Legolas is on his way to the training fields with a light touch to his arm.
"My King." Legolas gives a bow and looks into his father's grim face. He is startled to see lines of weariness on Thranduil's countenance and dark circles under his eyes.
"It would please me if you would join me in my study tonight," and Legolas shivers inwardly at his father's piercing gaze. "There is much I would say if you are willing to attend to me."
"I am yours to command," Legolas replies almost unconsciously. "Though you must excuse me, Hîr Nín. I am due on the fields at the moment," and he bows again to leave, too preoccupied by his father's fatigued appearance to be apprehensive of Thranduil's words.
His patrol does not return until late that night, when the moon has already passed beyond its zenith, and Legolas is eager to fall into his warm bed and sleep until the world ends. Belatedly, as he reaches his room, he remembers the promise to his father and turns around to retrace his steps to the King's chambers.
The door to Thranduil's study is closed, but Legolas can see the light streaming underneath. His father must still be awake, for he is well known among his advisors to pass many a night pouring over missives.
Legolas straightens and readies himself for a conversation which he knows may be unpleasant and likely embarrassing on his part. He gives a low knock, before quietly stepping inside when there is no answer.
His father is slumped on the floor, his pale hair sprawled around him and flickering in the fire light. A goblet of rich red wine is on its side, its contents dripping into the rug.
Legolas rushes over and gently turns Thranduil onto his back. His fingers shake as he reaches for his father's wrist to feel for a pulse, and his vision narrows into a single line of focus, the sound of his own rapid breathing fading into the background.
Valar please do not be dead.
When he feels the pulse, faint and slow, Legolas releases his breath and sits back on his heels.
He presses a hand to his father's cheek and is alarmed to find him cool and clammy.
"Adar, can you hear me?"
His father stirs at the sound of his voice. "Legolas, ion nín," Thranduil murmurs, and Legolas grasps his hand.
"I am here, Adar."
Thranduil's gaze drifts past his son and his eyes remain half lidded as he struggles to retain his awareness.
"Stay," he whispers.
Legolas tightens his grip and smoothes away a stray strand of hair from the King's face.
"I will not leave you."
"What ails him?"
Legolas is pacing impatiently in the Halls of Healing as he waits for the healers to finish their examination of the king.
"He is exhausted, Hîr Nín," says Lachion, the head healer, who had bent to inspect the King and now looks up at the Prince. "There is some mild bruising that he sustained from the collapse, but his illness arises chiefly from the damage to his fea."
Legolas abruptly comes to a halt near the foot of his father's bed and stares at the healer. "His fea? Of what do you speak?" he asks sharply.
The group of healers glance at each other and then at the Prince, who stands rigid and taut as if ready for a fight. "Do you not know, Hîr Nín?" one of the healers asks uncertainly.
The crisp look that Lachion gives the other healer heightens Legolas's confusion even further.
Lachion raises his eyes upward and says a quick prayer to Elbereth for the Prince's ire that he is about to incur, as well as the King's for informing his son.
"You know of the magic that your father wields to veil his scars from those he does not wish to perceive them," Lachion begins, and Legolas nods quickly and gestures for him to go on.
"He uses that same power to protect our lands. The forest draws its strength from him, and when it weakens under the forces of Darkness, so does the King. Your father can sense the movement and actions of the foulness that ravages our home as intensely as the very spirit of the forest. He has suffered these episodes before, but not as acutely as this."
"I did not know," Legolas says in a strained voice.
"It was long before your birth, Hîr Nín. There was a large orc uprising along our Northern borders and we did not anticipate the attack before it was too late. Our soldiers were being slaughtered, and we were being pushed back towards the palace. Our defenses were falling."
Lachion spares a tender glance of concern at the wan and still form of the King. "We were losing hope when your father gave himself to the woods, a part of his fea. He shared his strength and his life song, and we rejoiced. The trees sang, the forest came to our aid, and we were able to drive them out. Our losses were great, but we had been saved."
"But surely he cannot maintain this, every day the orcs grow in number," Legolas exclaims. "There is an evil in Dol Goldur that our soldiers cannot penetrate, and we are losing ground to those vile creatures."
"Yes," Lachion admits, and looks away from the burning, beseeching eyes of the Prince.
"What can we do?" Legolas asks bleakly.
"Let him rest. I will mix a draught for him to take once he wakes that will restore some of his strength."
"That is what you propose?" Legolas says incredulously. "You confess to me that this has gone on for years, that these attacks have been increasing in severity, and you tell me to sit by his side and do nothing? You cannot ask me to bear witness to the slow decline of my father!"
Lachion places a firm hand on the Prince's shoulder. "He will not fade, Legolas, the King has a stubborn heart. His fea is stronger than you know."
"There must be something!"
The healers share a nervous look as Lachion utters another soundless prayer to escape from Legolas's furious gaze.
"There is perhaps an idea that we have never tried, but I am not sure if the King would approve of it," the head healer hesitates. "The bond between you and your father is strong, a strength of its own beyond what healers can provide. It would involve invoking ancient magic, and it would allow some of the power that flows into the forest to be transferred to you. But Legolas, you must understand that this is no light matter, the King would have to be told."
The presence of a second voice causes Legolas to whip his head around to find his father awake and aware, and he swiftly goes to his side.
"Adar! How do you feel?"
Thranduil bats away his son's attention with shaking hands. "You cannot do this, Legolas," he insists.
"Adar, you must let me help you."
"I will not permit my son to bind himself to a dying homeland," and Thranduil's tone increases in displeasure as he continues to address the healer. "How dare you plant such foolish thoughts in his head?"
Legolas rolls his eyes, "Do not blame the healer, Adar. The fault does not lie with him." He turns towards Lachion and the others and motions with one hand. "Give me a moment with my father."
Legolas waits for the room to empty before he fixes a long and probing look upon his father. "It seems the King has secrets which he has neglected to share with his own son."
"Legolas," Thranduil warns.
"You never told me."
"It was not for you to know," says the King faintly and his eyes wander away from his son.
"You are my King and father!" Legolas cries. "If it is not my right to know of so grave a matter, then whose will it be?"
Thranduil regards Legolas with mild irritation. "There are some things that I cannot tell you, and I do so for your own protection."
"Protection?" Legolas gives a mirthless laugh and draws back from the King. "Is it for my protection that you order me to defend our lands? I face danger on every patrol, and yet you cannot tell me of something that you have hidden from me all my life that concerns your own health?"
"No," Thranduil says fiercely. "I regret that you must see me weakened as such, but I do not regret your omission from the truth. You will not go through with this," and his father leans forward with as much austerity and control with which he can project. "That is a command from your King."
"If this is indeed the King's wish, then of course I must obey his will," Legolas replies stiffly, and as both he and his father refuse to back down from their words, they sit in tense silence until the healers return.
Legolas, to his great shock, finds that he is skilled enough at handling the King's administrative responsibilities to win the approval of his father's advisors, who alleviate some of the stress and guide his diplomatic decisions with efficiency, and while he listens to petitions and holds court, he waits for news of his father to change.
Days begin to pass in a sluggish, dismal march, and make him lament that he had acquiesced to Thranduil's orders so easily. For his father's condition does not worsen or improve, and though he pulls Lachion aside after another visit to the King once he has fallen into weary sleep, the healer's answer is vague and frustrating in his affirmation that all they can do is bide their time and hope.
He is in another meeting, longing for fresh air and for the tiresome drag to be over when he sees his father's butler slip into the room. Legolas watches Galion cross the floor to reach him wearing an expression of apprehension and fear.
"Hîr Nín, you must come," Galion says in a low voice in his ear. We cannot wake the King."
Legolas barely remembers to stammer an apology to the council before he is on his feet and flying through the halls towards the healing wing. His heart is pounding loudly in his ears, for his father, ever enduring and a constant force in the life of his son, cannot die now, not before Legolas has had a chance to set things right between them.
When he pushes the doors to the ward open, heaving on his knees, the healers start at the sudden noise and commotion, but he scarcely registers them, scanning the room for his father's form.
Thranduil is ashen upon the bed, and he watches in horror the shallow rise and fall of his father's chest. Lachion is beside him surrounded in a faint glow, his hand on the King's temple, muttering healing spells under his breath.
Legolas hurries over and draws his father to him. "Ada!" he shouts and restrains himself from violently shaking his father in his desperate attempt to make him rise.
"You cannot forsake me! Wake and heed my voice!"
But Thranduil does not respond to his son, moaning and rolling his head away from the Prince.
Legolas raises his eyes to look at the healer. "If it will save him, will you help me invoke our bond?" he implores.
"But the King—"
"—is on his way to the Halls as we speak," Legolas finishes harshly. "If he dies, I am your King and you will not disobey your sovereign. Tell me what I must do."
"Hîr Nín," Lachion nods his consent in wary agreement and turns away, rummaging in a drawer before pulling out a bottle of athelas leaves. He tips them into his hand and crushes them, motioning for Legolas to approach so that he may tell the Prince the words that he will need to say.
The Prince positions himself on the bed and raises Thranduil's limp body against his breast. He rests his brow against his father's, takes a deep breath to steady himself, and closes his eyes, seeking the touch of the King's fea.
"Suil Annui, erio thûl lin í faer hen. Ceven dhaer, anno vellas lín enin 'raw hen. A si i-Dhúath ú-orthor. Tolo dan nan galad."
Western Winds, may your breath lift this spirit. Great earth, may you give your strength to this body. The Shadow does not hold sway yet. Come back to the light.
Thranduil is adrift in darkness. He can feel the tired ache of his body, crying out for mercy, and thinks of how easy it would be to let go. But something anchors him in the dark, and he cannot understand what is pulling him away from the peacefulness of nothing until he hears a familiar voice, strong and clear against his own pain, and sees the figure walking towards him. His son is haloed in golden light and is alight with the song of the forest, power pulsing and thrumming through his body.
"Adar, come back to me. Come back to your son."
The incantation does not seem to work for long moments, and Legolas stays silent, supporting his father and listening to his feeble breaths in anguish. We are too late, he thinks.
Lachion is shaking his head hopelessly and Legolas is beginning to despair, an image of the King upon a pyre flashing though his mind, when Thranduil takes a shuddering gasp, his eyes fluttering open and his blue gaze slowly focusing and searching for Legolas.
"Iston í nîf gîn. Ion nín."
I know your face. My son.
"I heard you," Thranduil says weakly and reaches up towards Legolas.
"Yes," Legolas whispers, and he holds his father's trembling hand in his own. He cannot bring himself to stop the tears now that slide down his nose, silver and silent as the stars. "I called to you, and you answered me."
"They tell me that the kingdom is in capable hands."
Legolas looks up from his sheafs of parchment, where he has been sitting next to the King's bed. He rubs his eyes and elects that it is too early to read the trade agreements his father's advisors had left piled on his desk this morning.
Thranduil, though he had protested that he could handle the lighter, nonessential work, had been refused by his son, who had stated that the King was to rest until he was fully recuperated.
"You taught me well," Legolas replies evenly. "But I cannot deny that I will be relieved to be free of the demands of the King's duties once you have recovered." He looks down at the floor, the recent events flooding back with clarity.
His father, pale and prone and insensate, struggling to breathe. Dying beneath his hands, and Legolas, powerless, unable to reach him.
Thranduil notices his son's sudden shift in mood and beckons him nearer until Legolas moves to sit upon the bed, resting his head against his father's shoulder. The King clasps his son's hand, as if urging him to speak his mind.
"Tell me, Greenleaf."
"When they called for me," Legolas begins with reluctance, "When I thought that I might lose you, I felt helpless, and I did not think that I could endure, as you once did, when you were made King. Forgive me, but I am not as strong as you, Adar," he says bitterly, "I am selfish, and I would not have been able to have borne your loss."
"Legolas, it is I who must beg your forgiveness," Thranduil says fervently. "I was the one who was weak and afraid. I knew that if I unburdened my cares, you would seek any means to ease my suffering," he sighs. "I feared to bring you any closer to the Darkness that festers in our lands, to see the same pain and exhaustion reflected in my son. And yet you have done so anyways."
Thranduil looks away from Legolas. "I have brought this grief upon you," he says sorrowfully.
"No, Adar." Gently, Legolas turns his father's face toward him with a smile. "It was my choice, and I would do so once more if it would have healed you. I am strong enough to share this burden with you, and I will always fight to rid our home of evil until my last breath, does that not tell you of the extent of my devotion to the King?
"Yes," Thranduil says, leaning into his son's touch. "I am proud of my son and of his courage." He raises an eyebrow, "You have your mother's strength and your father's obstinacy."
Legolas grins, "And now, I hope, your confidence and council?"
"You have always had it, ion nín, you must excuse my poor show of cowardness."
"There is nothing to forgive, Adar," Legolas shrugs. "Nevertheless, I am glad to hear your words."
Thranduil presses Legolas's hand with warmth. "It would bring me great comfort to hear how our people fare."
Legolas gives an exasperated shake of his head. "For your sake, I will indulge you," he says as he begins a lighthearted account of the recent activity within the palace.
The King settles into Legolas's embrace. He is not quite listening, but merely takes in the sight of his son, whose fair features soften in the rising sun. Outside, the woods hums in pleasure against the deep blue of the sky.
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