Thranduil followed, more slowly, as Legolas leapt down the stairs ahead of him. Legolas suddenly shot down a side corridor, and down some narrow back stairs, that led directly to the kitchens.
“Why did you come this way?” Thranduil enquired. He had all but forgotten the existence of these stairs.
“It’s quicker!” Legolas explained, not wanting to waste a second. They stopped in the kitchens just long enough to collect a pair of covered baskets. Thranduil felt the weight disbelievingly.
“Mireth, there are only two of us! How long do you expect us to be gone?” he asked her.
“I just put in a few of the cakes and biscuits I know he likes, as a treat,” she explained. Mireth had been delighted when she had seen Legolas seated at the breakfast table with his friends, his plate piled high, and had not even scolded him for talking with his mouth full. He had done too little eating or talking in the last few days. To his great embarrassment, she had hugged him, in full view of all his companions. When she learned of the outing, she immediately began baking and preparing the picnic.
Thranduil and Legolas continued through the kitchens, and out through the back doors towards the stables. While Legolas lead Dorlath out into the yard, Thranduil settled the baskets over Morel’s neck. As he fastened them in place, Girith approached him.
“When you two get back, I’ve something the lad might like to see.” He jerked a thumb at one of the stalls at the back of the stables. “Come and see me then.” He turned and ambled off. Thranduil watched him go, a little surprised at the exchange. Girith was a man of few words, originally from Esgaroth, but following the deaths of his wife and children from one of the periodic fevers that ravaged the lakeside communities at times, he had shunned the settlement. Somehow, he had ended up working in the stables at Lasgalen, where his uncanny skill with horses, surpassing even that of most elves, had proved invaluable. He spoke very little Sindarin, and rarely communicated with anyone other than his beloved horses. However he seemed to have established a rapport with Legolas, and was apparently teaching him a smattering of Westron. Thranduil wondered idly what the surprise might be. With Girith, it could be anything.
The rains which had delayed Elrond’s departure had ceased a few days before, and the late summer sun had resulted in a new burst of growth everywhere. In places the path was still muddy, and the horses moved slowly here. They came to an area where the trees grew more thinly, and wide, straight tracks had allowed the sun to penetrate to dry the ground.
Legolas drew Dorlath alongside Morel, then glanced at his father. “Race you!” he called suddenly, and took off. By the time he had gone ten yards down the track, Thranduil was gaining on him, then effortlessly passed him. Morel could easily outpace Dorlath, but Thranduil whispered softly into his ear. With a snort, Morel slowed his pace a little, still ahead of Dorlath, but only by a length. Before the path reached a thicker area of the forest and narrowed, Thranduil whispered again to Morel, who gave another snort of disgust, but obediently slowed still further, allowing Dorlath to edge past him just before the path grew too narrow for the race to continue.
Legolas turned in triumph. “I won! I won!”
“You did indeed. Congratulations.” Thranduil gave his son a slight bow. As Legolas moved ahead, Thranduil patted Morel and spoke soothingly to him. The great black stallion did not take kindly to defeat. He knew he was the King’s horse, and seemed to regard it as a matter of pride to always be the best. Losing deliberately was an alien concept to him. Thranduil reached down, groping in one of the baskets, and found an apple. After sniffing at it suspiciously, Morel deigned to accept it.
Their destination, Beech Valley, was a good two-hour ride away, but at the pace Legolas set, they made good time. Most of the forest was mixed woodland, but here beech trees grew thickly on both sides of the valley. One of the many forest streams cascaded down a cliff wall at the far end, and over time the waterfall had hollowed out a wide, deep pool, and a series of caves. The stream overflowed the pool at on side, and flowed beneath the trees through the valley and eventually joined the Forest River. A grassy track led beside the stream, and a set of stepping stones had been laid across the stream near the pool to give access to a flat grassed area that caught the full sun for most of the day.
It was very peaceful and lovely here, and Thranduil could well understand why it was Legolas’ favourite place. They walked the horses through the water to cross the valley, then left them loose to drink and graze. Legolas dropped onto his back on the grass with a sigh of contentment, looking up through the tracery of leaves to the sky. He glanced at his father, sitting beside him. “I love it here. There’s so much to do. I want to swim, and explore the caves, and climb up the waterfall. And have something to eat! I don’t know what to do first!”
“Well, if we eat first, you will not be able to swim for a while. You know that.”
“All right, I’ll go swimming first. Then we can have lunch.” Legolas immediately began to strip off, then dived into the pool. Thranduil, feeling somewhat sticky after the ride, decided that the pool looked too inviting to resist. He stripped off down to his breeches, and found a leather thong so he could tie his hair back. Diving into the deepest part of the pool, near the waterfall, he surfaced, and swam silently towards Legolas. He was looking back at the area where they had been sitting. “Ada? Where are you?”
Legolas nearly jumped out of his skin, and turned in the water. “Ada, you startled me! I was wondering where you were.”
They swam for a while, simply enjoying the pool. Thranduil relished the feel of the cool, silky water against his skin. Before long, Legolas’ natural competitiveness resurfaced, and they raced, swimming one, two, three or more lengths of the pool. Thranduil again allowed Legolas to win most of their races, but he was startled to find that for the longer races, he did not have to try very hard to lose. Legolas was developing into an agile swimmer, and could turn very quickly.
“Ada? Why have you still got your breeches on? You always wear them when we swim!”
Thranduil frowned. “Never you mind. That is a story for another time. I may tell you later!”
Legolas shrugged, then peered down to the bottom of the pool, where the gravel and stones could be seen through the crystal clear water. “Ada? I’ve got another idea. Who can dive down and collect the most stones in one go?”
“Very well. But one at a time. The other keeps watch.” Legolas, needless to say, wanted to go first. Thranduil took the opportunity to regain his breath, finding keeping up with his son rather exhausting. He watched carefully as Legolas dived deeply, searching the pool bed for stones. This competitiveness and love of games was exactly like Oropher had been. *If he becomes a warrior, he will make a game of that. Probably who can kill the most orcs, I would warrant.*
After what seemed like far too long, Legolas surfaced, gasping for breath. He had both hands full of stones. “Now it’s your turn!”
While Legolas swam rather awkwardly to the side of the pool, Thranduil drew a deep breath, and dived. Rather than competing for quantity, he chose quality, selecting just a few attractively coloured stones and pebbles. Resurfacing at last, he joined Legolas on the grass, where they compared their haul.
“All right, you win,” Legolas conceded. “Yours look nicer.” He sorted through the stones again, selecting a few flat slatey stones. Turning towards the pool he threw one, skimming it low over the water, counting the splashes as it skipped across the pool.
“Five!” He gave his father a sideways glance. “Can you beat that?” he asked mischievously.
“Let me try.” Thranduil could equal the throw, but was unable to beat it. They both tried again, but soon ran out of suitable stones. Legolas examined the remaining stones.
“Look at this one - it’s got a hole through it!” He held it up, a smooth, flattish pebble of granite, one or two inches in width. Some action of the waterfall had scoured a hole in the centre, and Legolas peered through it.
“I have an idea. Let me have it.” Thranduil took the stone, and removed the leather strip which held his hair back. He looped it through the stone, and tied the ends together before placing it over Legolas’ head. “There. A memento of today.”
Legolas looked down at it. “Thank you, Ada. Can we have something to eat? I’m hungry!”
“Well, dress first, while I see what Mireth has for us.” Thranduil investigated the contents of the baskets while Legolas quickly dressed. The flow of words suddenly ceased, and Thranduil looked up. Legolas was gazing at him with a stricken expression. “What is it?”
“I was thinking about the all other times we’ve come here. That was always Mother’s job,” Legolas said quietly, indicating the picnic baskets.
The memory caught at Thranduil savagely, and he blinked. Even now, the smallest action or word could trigger such vivid reminiscences. He could see Telparian now, as clearly as if she stood before him, laughing at something he or Legolas had said, suggesting that he make himself useful by catching some fish for their picnic. He smiled. “Yes. Yes, it was. She always said it was the nearest she ever came to making a meal for us. Do you remember?”
Legolas nodded, remembering, feeling the familiar sadness. Then he smiled bravely. “I don’t want to be sad today. We should be happy!”
Thranduil agreed. “Would you like me to tell you a story?” Legolas nodded enthusiastically.
With a very serious expression, Thranduil began his tale. “Once upon a time, there was a King of the Elves. He was very proud, and hated to think that anyone might be laughing at him. One day, he went out with his Queen, and someone who he thought was one of his best friends, for a ride. They were people who he thought loved him dearly. But they had hatched a wicked plot against him; a conspiracy!”
“What did they do?” Legolas asked, his attention caught. His imagination was building vivid pictures of treachery and treason.
“While the King was swimming, they stole his clothes! All of them! They took them, and refused to give them back. So the poor King had to ride back to Las - to his palace, wearing nothing but a smile!”
Legolas was giggling helplessly now, his melancholy forgotten as swiftly as it had come. “What happened then?”
“The King of the Elves swore vengeance and retribution on anyone who dared to laugh at him. But in the end, the Queen and his friend took pity on the poor King, and gave him back his clothes.” No one but Telparian, Thranduil reflected, would have dared to do what she had done. No one but Telparian could have defused his anger.
“So that’s why -”
“And that is why the King of the Elves always wears breeches when he swims!”
Legolas laughed again. “I can’t believe Mother would do something like that! But Father, who was the friend?”
Legolas gaped at his father, his mouth hanging open. “Tionel? He and Mother both stole your clothes?”
“Legolas, close your mouth,” Thranduil reprimanded. “You look like a stranded fish! Surely you are not laughing at the poor King’s misfortune? Besides, what makes you think this sorry tale has anything to do with me?”
“Nothing! Nothing at all.” But his eyes were bright, and he giggled again. “Did anyone laugh at you - I mean, at the King of the Elves?”
“Only one,” said Thranduil absently. “I believe he is still in the dungeons somewhere. I forget where, exactly. Now, I thought you were hungry?”
They both ate with relish, deciding that Mireth had excelled herself. She had even baked some of Thranduil’s favourite spiced biscuits, as well as the sweet cakes that Legolas loved. At last Thranduil lay back on the grass, closing his eyes against the glare of the sun above him. With his concerns over Legolas, he had slept only fitfully for the last few nights.
A slightly worried voice disturbed his rest. “Father? Are there really dungeons?”
Thranduil opened one eye, then propped himself on one elbow to look at Legolas. “Dungeons? No, not really, although I expect I could find some if I needed to. I could always use the caves below Lasgalen. Have no fear, I have not imprisoned anyone anywhere yet!”
With a smile of relief, Legolas scrambled to his feet. “Talking of caves, can we go and explore them? We always do!”
Behind the waterfall a network of caves led back into the cliff. Edging between the curtain of water and the rock face, they found the narrow entrance and squeezed through. Their voices echoed oddly in the dank, chilly dimness.
“We cannot go very far, I forgot to bring anything to make light with.” Thranduil apologised. They went as far as the second of the caves, but then the darkness became absolute, and neither could see anything at all.
“Father, can’t we go just a little further?” Legolas pleaded.
“Not without light. It becomes too dangerous if we cannot see where we are going. Remind me next time to bring a torch, or a candle.” They retraced their steps to the entrance to the caves, and stepped back into the light, blinking at the sudden brightness.
Back outside, Legolas crossed over the stepping stones to the far side of the valley. Halfway across, he discovered to his delight that one of the stones wobbled. “Father, look!” he called.
Thranduil looked. Legolas stood astride the stone, his feet balanced on the outer edges, rocking it back and forth. “Legolas, be careful!” he called automatically. “That stone is loose.”
“It’s all right, Ada, I won’t fall in. Watch this!”
Thranduil watched, with a sense of resignation and premonition. He knew only too well how loose that particular stone was, having found out for himself, the hard way, long ago. He had been much older than Legolas, too, old enough to know better, but had been showing off for Telparian, in the early days of their marriage. He waited for the inevitable.
It was not long in coming. Legolas tilted the stone too far to one side and unbalanced it. The stone upended, and although he tried to jump clear, he was too late. With a splash and a curse - where had he learnt that expression? - Legolas was thrown into the water.
He sat there, laughing, an expression of utter surprise on his face. “How did that happen? Ada, you’re laughing at me!” he added indignantly.
Thranduil waded, knee deep, into the water, and hauled Legolas to his feet. “Yes, I am. You looked very funny, elfling. Look how wet you are!”
Legolas looked up at his father, and giggled again. “So are you, Ada! You’re soaked!”
Thranduil looked down. His boots, leggings, and the edge of his cloak, were wet through. Legolas was soaked to the skin. And neither one of them had a change of clothes. It would be a long, wet, ride home.Stories> First > Previous > Next