Thranduil put down the patrol report he was reading and looked up. Alfiel, one of the guards, stood at the door, with Legolas held firmly at his side. Although Alfiel looked grave, he seemed to be struggling not to smile.
Thranduil stared at his son. Moss-stained, scratched, with green smears across his face and clothes, and bits of leaf and bark in his hair, he still managed to radiate an air of complete innocence. Thranduil’s heart sank. He knew that look.
In the silence that followed, Legolas dropped his gaze and scuffed one foot against the rug. At last he looked up. “I’m sorry, Ada.”
“Why? What have you done?” Biting his tongue, he managed to avoid adding ‘this time’.
There was silence again, so Thranduil turned to the guard. “Alfiel?”
Alfiel cleared his throat. “I found him in the oak tree by the doors, my lord. He was throwing acorns at the guards there.”
Thranduil stared. “Throwing acorns?” he repeated. “Why, Legolas?”
“I was being a squirrel.”
“A squirrel. Of course. But squirrels do not throw acorns,” Thranduil pointed out.
Legolas looked puzzled. “Don’t they? But they collect acorns all through the autumn – I’ve watched them!”
“Squirrels collect acorns to hoard, and to eat,” Thranduil explained patiently.
“So that they have enough food for the long winter months.” Thranduil paused and frowned. Why were they discussing the habits of squirrels? Was Legolas deliberately drawing him off the subject? “The point is, you should not have been throwing acorns at the guards – nor at anyone else!” he added hastily. Forbidden to throw acorns at the guards, Legolas could well turn his attentions to others, insisting in that wide-eyed, innocent way of his that no-one had told him not to throw acorns at his tutors.
Thranduil sighed. “Thank you, Alfiel. You may go.”
“Yes, my lord.” Alfiel left, now grinning broadly.
Thranduil sighed again, wondering when his quiet, biddable child had changed into this rebellious rapscallion, plunging from one adventure into another. Yet Legolas was not really ever deliberately disobedient – he was simply inquisitive, curious and imaginative, with a lively thirst for knowledge that seemed impossible to sate.
It was at times like this that he most missed having Telparian at his side – so that he could hand Legolas over to her; and so that they could laugh together over their son’s antics late into the night.
However, Legolas’s adventurous impulses still needed to be curbed. Thranduil thought for a moment. “You obviously have a little too much time to spend outside. I think you can spare an afternoon or two to help out in the library.”
Legolas jerked his head up. He looked horrified. “Not with Lanatus?”
Thranduil paused. While Legolas deserved some form of punishment, sentencing him to work with Lanatus would be downright cruelty. Lanatus was dour and grim, with a bleak outlook on life. For him, every silver lining had a cloud. He had no sense of humour at all, and Legolas would be thoroughly miserable. “No,” he relented. “Not with Lanatus. You can work with Tionel instead.”
“Yes. You can help him to tidy the books and catalogue them. Perhaps he will show you how he rebinds them if they are damaged.”
“Tionel?” Legolas repeated. “Very well, Ada,” he added meekly.
He left with a surprising spring in his step, and Thranduil watched him suspiciously. There was something here he did not understand.
Tionel looked up as Legolas burst into the library. “Tionel!” he called. Then, remembering where he was, he repeated more quietly, “Tionel?”
Tionel beckoned him over with a smile. “Greetings. What brings you here today?”
“Ada says I’ve got to help you this afternoon.”
Tionel was surprised by that, and somehow disappointed. “You have got to? I thought you liked helping me?”
Legolas grinned. “I do! This is supposed to be a punishment, but I don’t think Ada realises!”
“A punishment? Why? What have you done now?” He tried not to smile. He loved Legolas dearly, but was profoundly glad he was not the child’s father.
“Well. It was that book you gave me – the story about the naughty little squirrel. The one who sings rude songs and throws acorns at the wise old owl, while the other squirrels gather nuts for autumn?”
Tionel nodded. “I remember.” He feared he could guess most of the rest of the tale.
Legolas joined him at the long table, dragging a chair across the floor with a loud screech. Tionel winced, and tried not to look at the track marks left in the chair’s wake. “Well, I was being a squirrel, and I was in the oak tree by the doors, and …”
“And you were throwing acorns at people?” Tionel guessed. “Do you remember what happened to the squirrel in the story? He lost his tail!”
Legolas giggled. “Yes, I know. But I haven’t got a tail!”
“Which is probably just as well,” Tionel murmured. “So, you are to help me today? You can start by taking all the books off that shelf and dusting them. Then put them back in order – they seem to have become rather muddled.” He smiled. “Then, perhaps, I will see what story we can read today.”<>One without scope for mischief and misbehaviour, he hoped. Maybe a history, rather than a child’s make-believe tale. “Perhaps we will find one you can tell your father. Would you like that?”
The next few days passed peacefully, with no further reports of misbehaviour. Thranduil hoped Legolas had learned his lesson, though he knew better than to be too complacent.
He was not wrong. He was greeted the next afternoon by a white-faced guard backing slowly out of his study.
“My – my lord,” the guard stammered. “Your son. He – he …” His voice died away, and Thranduil strode into the room close to panic.
“Shh, Ada! You’ll frighten him!” Legolas whispered loudly. He knelt by the fireplace, his arms around a huge, shaggy, grey creature. “I’m Beren, and this is Huan – but he doesn’t quite understand that yet.”
‘Huan’ was by far the most enormous wolf Thranduil had ever seen. He stared at it, and the wolf stared back out of suspicious yellow eyes. It lifted its upper lip to expose long sharp teeth, and a low, threatening growl rumbled from its throat.
Legolas shook his finger at it. “No, Huan! That’s Ada. You mustn’t growl at him.”
Thranduil felt weak. Like all elves, he had an innate rapport and affinity with all good beasts – but he was not at all sure that this great brute came into that category. “Legolas. Come here,” he commanded.
Legolas stood and patted the wolf’s head. “Stay there, Huan. Good boy.” He crossed the study to Thranduil’s side and looked up. “Yes, Ada?”
Thranduil pushed Legolas behind him and faced the wolf again, holding out one hand tentatively. “Good wolf,” he suggested.
The wolf growled again.
Thranduil pulled Legolas with him out through the open door and slammed it shut behind them. “Legolas,” he began, wondering where on Arda to start. “That is a wolf. A fully grown wolf. What is it doing in my study?”
“I told you. He’s Huan.”
“Huan was a wolfhound, not a wolf! Surely you realise that?”
Legolas looked insulted. “Yes, of course I realise. And of course I know he’s a wolf. But you said I wasn’t to bring any of the wolfhounds indoors any more, not since you stepped in – ”
“I know what I said!” Thranduil snapped. There was a snort, quickly suppressed, from one of the guards who had assembled in the hallway. He sighed. “But Legolas, a wolf?”
Legolas simply shrugged. Then he looked up. “Are you going to say I can’t keep him?” he asked sadly.
“Of course you cannot keep him! He is a wild creature – he belongs in the forest. He has to go back.” Even as he spoke, Thranduil wondered how they could persuade the wolf to leave through the busy halls and corridors. And how had it even got here in the first place? The guards must have been appallingly negligent. “Legolas, how did you get him up here?”
Legolas shrugged again. “He just followed me when I told him to.”
Thranduil suspected there was more to it than that. “Past the guards?”
“Well … not really. We came up the back stairs.”
“I see. Would he follow you back out again?”
“Yes, if I ask him to.” There was the briefest emphasis on ‘ask’, but Thranduil decided to ignore it.
“Good. Now go down to the kitchens and ask the cook for a small piece of the venison for supper. Then come back up here as fast as you can, and we will see if it will follow you out.” When Legolas had gone, Thranduil turned to the guards. “Keep your arrows ready at all times. I would rather not harm the beast – it is through no fault of its own that it was lured here – but should it look like it is even thinking of harming Legolas …”
They nodded. “Understood, my lord.”
Legolas reappeared with a whole haunch of venison – it looked as if the rest of them would eat light tonight. “Do you think it is big enough?” Thranduil asked dryly.
“I think so. He likes cheese, too, and cold rabbit. He ate all of my picnic!”
Thranduil sighed. “So that is how you enticed the poor creature to follow you? Well, never mind now.” He opened the door again cautiously. Behind him there was a creak of wood as every bow was bent.
He grabbed Legolas’s collar as he tried to spring past. “Wait! Let me go first.” He stepped into the study warily, half-expecting the creature to leap on him.
The wolf lay stretched out in front of the fire, looking quite at home. Legolas pushed past him. “Come on, Huan! It’s time to go.” He sounded subdued. “Come on!” The beast leapt to its feet and Thranduil tensed, dropping one hand to his knife. But it trotted to Legolas’s side and waited, waving its tail gently. “Come on, then.”
Legolas led the way down the hallway, the wolf padding beside him. Thranduil kept close to the other side, his hand still on his knife. The guards followed behind them. Along the hall, down the stairs, and through a narrow, deserted corridor that led to the kitchens. There were gasps and one or two screams as they crossed the kitchen, but Thranduil quelled them with a glance.
They walked through the forest to a clearing some way away from the caves. At last Legolas stopped. “This is where I found him,” he explained. He rested one hand on the wolf’s head and patted him. “Goodbye, Huan. I don’t think you’d better follow me again.” He scowled at Thranduil as he added, “Ada wouldn’t like it.” He patted the wolf one last time, then turned away.
Leaving the wolf gnawing happily on the haunch of venison, they returned home. As Legolas tried to slip away quietly, Thranduil stopped him. “Legolas. It seems you do not even realise what is so wrong and dangerous in what you did. You will spend the rest of the week in the library – and you will find out everything you can about wild wolves and why they can be so savage. Do you understand?”
Legolas sighed. “Yes, Ada.”
“Good. And then you can write an essay on the differences between wolves and wolfhounds.”<>“Yes, Ada.”
Tionel looked up as Legolas dragged himself slowly into the library. He looked utterly miserable. “What is wrong with you?” he asked in surprise. “I thought you were going to tell your father the tale of Beren and Lúthien?”
Legolas scowled. “Well. Lúthien was a girl. So I decided to tell him about Beren and Huan instead, but he didn’t like Huan, so now I have to find out all about wolves.”
Tionel considered this statement, added what he knew of Legolas’s imaginative interpretation of stories, and guessed the rest. “You used a real wolfhound – no, a wolf? No wonder he was displeased! Really, Legolas …”
“But Huan wouldn’t have hurt anyone! It’s not fair.” He sighed. “Anyway, now I have to read about wild wolves.”
Tionel considered. He really should not encourage Legolas, but he felt sorry for the child. It was not his fault his enthusiasm sometimes got the better of him – it was, after all, an inherited trait. He winked. “I know just the place to start. Over there; the diaries of your grandfather Oropher.”
Legolas began to read. Suddenly he gave a shout of laughter, and looked up at Tionel, grinning. “One day Ada tried to take a wolf cub home as a pet as well?”