Morning seemed to come much too soon. The gradually growing light burned away the fog of sleep, rousing him slowly to wakefulness. Then the brightness was briefly obscured as a shadow passed before the window. Blinking, Legolas came to full awareness, his eyes focusing on his father who had just seated himself in the chair by the bed. He seemed very pleased about something.
“Good morning, elfling,” Thranduil greeted him with a smile. “It is wonderful to see you sleeping normally at long last – I am finally beginning to believe Calmacil when he tells me you are on the mend. Did you sleep well?”
Legolas pushed himself upright, dragging his injured leg further up the bed. He returned his father’s greeting with a grin. “Very well, thank you.” He glanced at the tiny, untouched, bottle of rusth on the table next to the bed. “And without any of Calmacil’s drugs, for once!” he added triumphantly.
“Good – that is excellent news. What about your leg? Does it pain you?”
Grimacing, Legolas shook his head. “No. My leg is fine.”
Concerned, Thranduil glanced at him. “Then what?”
“My arms hurt! They have not ached like this since I first lifted a bow.” He stretched, flexing his arms stiffly and winced, then gave his father a sideways look. “It is not going to stop me going outside today,” he warned.
Thranduil laughed. “I never thought for a moment that it would! It certainly never prevented you from practising. As I said last night, you are stubborn – like your grandfather.”
Legolas grinned. “There are some who believe that I inherited that particular characteristic from someone a little closer,” he suggested.
His father looked indignant for a moment, but then nodded slowly. “They could be right,” he admitted ruefully. He paused, just for a second, then added, “Your mother could be very determined at times.”
As he rose from the bed and groped for his crutches, Legolas chuckled. “Oh, I know!”
When he returned to the bedroom after washing, his father was still there. “Will you join me for breakfast, or do you plan to go down to the hall?” Thranduil asked.
Legolas hesitated as he finished dressing. He was so eager to get outside, into the forest, to be among the trees at last, that he had not intended to have breakfast at all. Thranduil, though, was of the opinion that it was a vital meal. “Neither, really. I just want to get out. Do you mind?”
“Does it make any difference?” Thranduil asked dryly. “You are grown now, it is your decision.” He smiled. “Go, elfling. I know how you have pined for the trees. To walk beneath the leaves now will do you more good than anything I could suggest. But do not venture too far – the ground is still frozen and uneven. Take care.”
With a promise to be careful, Legolas took a warm cloak from a hook near the door and left the room. He moved as swiftly as possible along the hallways and down the stairs – rather more quickly than he had been capable of the day before. He was getting used to this, and was relieved that the stiffness in his arms eased as he moved. In the lower levels of the palace he met several elves who had not been present the previous evening, and they all greeted him affectionately, with varying degrees of formality.
“Good morning, my Lord!”
“Legolas! It’s about time we saw you again!”
“It is a joy to see you well again, your highness!”
“I remember the first time you learned to walk, elfling.”
He returned all the greetings warmly, but did not stop to talk. At the end of the hallway he saw Elladan and Elrohir, who turned back from the dining hall to come to greet him.
“You made it back to your room in one piece, then,” Elladan observed.
Elrohir nodded in agreement. “We wondered last night if you might need a little help, but your father seemed to have matters under control. Where are you off to now?” He eyed Legolas’s cloak. “Outside? Did you know it’s snowing again?”
“Is it? It doesn’t matter, I just need to get out. I have been confined inside the palace for far too long!” Now that he was in sight of the main doors, open to the day, he was impatient to be outside and in the forest once more. He did not even want to stop and talk to the twins.
They seemed to sense this, for they both stepped aside. “Go on, then. I expect you would rather be alone. Go and talk to the trees, or whatever it is you do!” Elladan grinned.
With a laugh, Legolas continued on his way. At the door, the guards gave him a startled salute. “My Lord Legolas! It is good to see you again.”
“Thank you, Glirhuin, Manthor. It is good to be out and about again!” He did not pause, but went out, crossing the bridge and on to the open grassed area between the bridge and the forest. The grass was now covered in a layer of snow two or three inches deep, faintly crisscrossed with very slight imprints of elven feet, and the runic claw marks of mice, birds and such creatures.
The snow still fell, swirling softly and silently downward in large, thick flakes. On the fringes of the forest he stopped, lifting his face to the sky, tasting the snow on his tongue and feeling the soft touch of coldness on his skin. Looking up, the whirling flakes danced dizzily against the grey cloud ceiling, confusing his senses. He took a deep breath of the cold, ice-tainted air, and another. It was only now, finally free of the confines of the stone rooms and hallways of the palace, that he realised how oppressive he had found it. He had been ill and bedridden for what seemed like many long weeks, but he was now well, and the day was again full of promise.
Aware of the curious eyes of the guards on him he did not linger, but moved deeper into the forest, away from the main paths and the river. Here the trees grew undisturbed. The ground looked patchy, in places dusted with snow, but here and there bare earth and the last of the autumn’s leaves remained. He found a low branch, waist-high, and after brushing the snow off eased himself onto it, leaning back against the trunk with his eyes closed. Stillness and silence surrounded him, and all around he could feel the deep, thoughtful quiet of winter. It had been so long since he had felt the clean air, had sensed the murmur of the trees or heard the soft susurration of their leaves and branches. The song of welcome he heard now gladdened his heart. The trees had missed him, just as he had missed them.
It was peaceful here, and Legolas found his thoughts drifting aimlessly for a while as he considered all that had happened during the last few weeks. He supposed he had been lucky in a way. True, if he had kept his head and jumped clear when he thought Elrohir was about to fall, his injuries would have been avoided completely, but matters could have been so much more serious. He could have been killed, he knew – either in the initial rock fall, or as a result of the severity of his injuries. It was an odd thing to consider. Yet again, his mind wandered back to the time in the cave and he tried to piece everything together. It was hard, for his memories were muddled. Some, like what Arwen had said to him, were vague and hazy, veiled by pain and confusion. He could recall hearing her voice, soothing and reassuring, but not what she had said. Other memories – the cold grittiness of the ground, hard and unyielding; the stale smell of the damp, musty air – seemed sharp and vivid.
What was still unclear was what, if anything, he had seen. Had there really been some unseen creature lurking there? Or had he just seen reflections of the torchlight glinting off wet stone and embroidered on that? Or had he seen nothing at all, and it was entirely in his imagination? He wanted to know which it was, but felt deeply uneasy at the prospect for some reason. With a sigh, he pushed the memories aside again, and concentrated instead on the song of the forest.
Clearest of all he could hear the deep, distinct voice of the pine he leaned against, its tones sharp and green. A little fainter was a light, silvery tone from a beech. Further away, but just as clear, was the slow, deep, ponderous note from one of the oldest oaks, sounding sleepy now in the dormancy of late winter. The tree cradled him, and tranquil at last, his thoughts merged with the song of the trees as he lost himself in the silent voices of the forest, and the tiny creatures it sheltered.
At length he stirred, rousing himself from contemplation and finding himself cold and stiff. Someone was approaching, and he carefully dropped the foot or so from his branch to the ground, then turned to look towards the path. Through the trees he could see one of the twins, who waved and made his way towards Legolas. “I found him, El!” Elladan called as he ducked beneath a branch and stopped by the pine. “Your father was getting worried – it’s getting late. We came to find you before he sent out search parties. The snow’s really thick now.” He shook himself, sending a flurry of snow drifting to the ground from his cloak.
Legolas glanced at the sky, surprised to see that it was darkening towards evening, and still heavy with thickly falling snow. “I had no idea – I lost track of the time. I came out before breakfast.”
“Have you been here all this time, talking to the trees?” Elrohir asked in amazement as he joined them, equally snow-covered.
Elladan laughed. “Wood-elf!”
“Noldor snob!” Legolas retaliated. He rested one hand against the tree trunk. “Goodbye, my friends – I will come again. Soon.”
“Legolas, they are just trees!” Elladan protested. The branch above his head quivered slightly and gently deposited a fresh layer of snow on him, the flakes shining like crystal against his hair.
Elrohir gave a shout of laughter at Elladan’s dumbfounded expression, but backed hastily away from his twin, out of range of the tree. “Did you do that?” he asked Legolas curiously. “I would be careful, El – they may just be trees, but they seem very protective of their wood-elf!”
Slowly, they returned to the palace, both Elladan and Elrohir casting wary glances upward at the trees and back to Legolas, more awed than they wanted to admit. Thranduil hovered inside the hall as they entered, not quite pacing. “There you are!!" he exclaimed. “I wondered what had happened, especially as the weather worsened.”
“Forgive me, Father,” Legolas apologised. “I did not realise how late it was, nor how bad the snow was. It seemed sheltered where I was. Were you worried? Elladan and Elrohir said you were about to send out search parties!”
“It was not quite that bad, but I was growing concerned.” Thranduil looked at Legolas closely. “You look better, elfling. Much better. You seem more at ease than I have seen you for weeks.”
Legolas nodded. “I feel better. I feel more relaxed and peaceful than I have for a long time. I hadn’t realised how much I needed to be outside – and alone. Thank you for not setting any guards on me!”
“I told you before, I trust you.” Thranduil glanced at the twins. “Thank you for retrieving him for me. Will you join us for tea?”
Elladan shook his head. “Thank you, but no. I promised to play chess with Arwen. El?”
Elrohir also declined. “I was planning to meet Taniquel,” he explained.
Thranduil’s study was only partly furnished for work. In addition, there were deep chairs facing the flickering fire, a couch, low tables and stools, and a small cabinet with glasses and flagons of wine.
Legolas took the steaming cup his father gave him, only now realising that his hands were stiff with the cold. The tea was hot and fragrant, the berry flavour reminding him of summer.
“I asked Tionel to send up something for you to eat. You missed breakfast and lunch,” Thranduil scolded.
Legolas settled against the cushioned chair by the fire. “Father, I am not an elfling! I can last until dinner tonight.”
Thranduil raised one eyebrow. “Then you will not want any of the cakes Mireth makes with honey, I take it?”
“I told you, I –” Legolas hesitated. “Honey cakes?” he repeated hopefully. “Mireth’s honey cakes? Well, I would hate to disappoint her!”
“Of course not – elfling!”
The next day dawned bright and clear. The previous day’s snow still lay thickly on the ground, but thawed rapidly in the bright sunlight. The air was soft with the hint of spring. Thranduil knew that winter was not yet over, and bitter weather could well return, but the worst was past. There was beauty in all seasons and phases of the forest, but hunting was scarce in the depths of winter, and many of the smaller creatures suffered.
He walked now through the grounds of Lasgalen with Elrond and Celebrían. Apart from a few firs and pines, most of the trees here were bare, branches showing starkly dark against the pale sky. Beside the path the first glimpses of spring could be seen – green-fringed snowdrops pushed through the white coverlet, pale yellow aconites gleamed beneath the trees. Some distance away, by the river, they could see Legolas and Arwen seated on a fallen tree that had not survived the winter’s storms. She was explaining something to him, her hands moving expressively as Legolas listened.
“They have become good friends recently,” Thranduil observed. “I think the experience in the cave has brought them closer together. I am sorry that Arwen too was injured, yet if she had not been there …” he paused. “On the whole, I think we were lucky. Things could have been a great deal worse. Legolas could so easily have been killed.”
“Yes. We all were,” Celebrían agreed softly. “Legolas, Arwen, Elrohir – any one of them, or even all three, could have died. And Elladan – if anything had happened to the others, especially Elrohir, I fear we would have lost him too. He would have been inconsolable. I think his grief and guilt would have overwhelmed him.” She shivered at the possibility.
Elrond placed an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. “We do not have to dwell on such might-have-beens. They are safe, all of them. And Legolas is well now. Have no fears.” He kissed her brow gently. “Have no fears,” he repeated in a whisper.
Thranduil had been considering Celebrían’s words. “Elladan as well? I know he and Elrohir are close, but I confess I do not really understand their bond.”
She smiled. “Few do. They cannot really explain it themselves – they simply accept it. When they were very young, they could nor bear to be parted, and had to sleep in a specially-constructed double cot.” Her smile deepened. “They do not care to be reminded of the fact now.”
The Elven-king returned her smile. “Then I will not mention it. Not to them; nor to Legolas. I know how sensitive the young can be.” His gaze strayed again to Arwen and Legolas, now walking slowly beside the river. “Although they are not so young now – they are growing fast, all of them.”Stories > First > Previous > Next