Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 26: Son of Mirkwood

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Stories > Series > Previous story: "Siege of Dread" > "Between Darkness and Dawn" > Next story "Never Cold in Your Shadow"

Legolas inhaled deeply, savoring the sent of pine needles and moist earth.  Turning his face towards the sun, he looked up through a canopy of green leaves, painted golden by the morning sunlight streaming through them.  The tree limbs under him and against his back cradled him comfortably, inviting the elf to linger in the sunny upper branches of the tall oak.  Trailing his fingers absently across the rough tree bark, the prince indulged himself in the welcoming embrace for a few moments longer, before regretfully parting with the perch where he had spent the night.

Descending back down to the forest floor of Mirkwood after the beauty of the upper canopy was never a very pleasant experience, but even the dark closeness of the tainted forest did not dampen Legolas’ joy at being home.  He had missed these woods very much.  He had not walked through them and heard their song since he departed for Gondor, what seemed almost a life-age ago.

 The prince kept a swift pace as he followed the winding forest road.  It had taken him several weeks to reach Mirkwood and he intended to make it home by nightfall.  He had been on foot only since he sent back the horse that lord Elrond had leant him.  Elrond would have understood had he kept the animal longer, but Legolas could tell the loyal stallion’s heart yearned for the valleys of its home.  The horse would have followed him anywhere, but clearly did not like the look of Mirkwood.  So the prince turned the animal loose on the borders of the forest and bid it find a safe journey back.

Legolas would just as soon walk anyway.  It wasn’t that he wished to delay his return home, but he did want to savor the trip there.  He had missed these trees.  Plus, it gave him time to consider what he was going to say to his father.

Elrond had asked the prince if he could send word onto Thranduil but Legolas had resisted, wanting to inform his father in person.  He had stayed on in Imladris for two weeks; mostly to make sure Estel was fully healed.  However, when it had come time to leave he had found his heart hesitant, even though he missed his father.  Aragorn would have come with him if he asked, but the elf knew that for once, the ranger did not want to go anywhere.  Aragorn needed to be home with his family now.

Legolas sighed.  So did he.  His life wound in and out of so many other lives now.  It was hard to remember the days when he had made this forest his self-imposed prison, considering it the only place he was safe.  It was ironic really, because in a way he had been right.  Since he had met Aragorn and ventured out into the wide world he had encountered more pain and difficulty than could be comfortably recounted.  Yet he had also found freedom, friendship, forgiveness and trust.

He worried a little about Aragorn.  The prince could see shades of his own former world-wariness in the ranger’s nightmares and his reluctance to even leave the grounds of his father’s house.  He hoped that with time he could help Estel as much as the human had helped him.  For now, the ranger was in the best hands possible, and that was a comfort.

Aragorn was going to need time to heal.  The prince knew, that whether voiced or not, the ranger wondered why what had happened to them had to happen.  Legolas understood the question only too well.  It had eaten away at him for years before he met the ranger.  Finally he had come to accept that there was no answer.  But he had learned that sometimes good did come out of evil times.

The elf fingered a tiny lock of hair in his pocket.  It belonged to a little human girl nearing her third birthday.  A little girl, who would never have been born, had Legolas not been willing to face pain and sacrifice to save her mother and grandmother’s life.

Estelle and Garith had brought their daughter to Rivendell the day before Legolas intended to leave.  The prince was glad he had not missed their visit, although he had been shocked to realize that so much time had passed since he last saw them.  He was still of the opinion that if you blinked too slowly, a human could grow up right in front of your eyes and you would miss the whole thing.  That idea amused Aragorn greatly and the whole situation had lightened what otherwise might have been an even more difficult parting between the two friends.

Little Fairiel resembled both her mother and grandmother.  It had been good, after everything they suffered under the Nazgûl for a second time, to remember that not all hardships were endured in vain.

The sun was setting by the time Legolas finally approached the sealed gates that led to his home.

Legolas glanced up at the gates of the palace with a smile.  It would have been easy to bid the portals open himself, but he had no wish to alarm the gate guards since they were by no means expecting him.  The prince stopped and waited for the sentries to question his presence.

No question came however.  Instead, the gates were summarily thrown open.

“Your Highness!” It was Raniean, on his way out himself, who had seen the prince from the guard station and now opened the palace gates.  He beamed, squeezing his friend’s hand tightly in greeting.  “It’s good to see you, mellon-nín, we worried for you... again,” he added pointedly.

Legolas smiled and shook his head as he greeted his old friend.  “Sorry Ran, it really wasn’t my fault, I swear.”

“Is it ever?  Tell that to your father,” Raniean chuckled, simply glad that his friend had returned well and whole.

Legolas winced ruefully.  “Is he very upset then?”

Raniean smiled with a mischievous glint in his eye, ushering Legolas inside and shutting the gates behind them.  “Let’s just say that Trelan and I have been placing wagers over whether you’ll end up in the dungeons or just locked in your room...”

The gate guards returned to their normal posts, leaving the prince in Raniean’s care.

Legolas gave the other elf a light shove.  “Oh, thank you so much, my friend.”

Raniean raised his hands, denying any responsibility.  “Well now, Legolas, you did bring this on yourself.  It’s not my fault you insisted on going off alone.  Or that you promised him you’d be home... oh... over half a year ago or so, and didn’t even send word.”  A momentary flicker of hurt darted behind Raniean’s clear blue eyes before he quickly looked away.  A slight bite had slipped into the other elf’s tone, although it was obvious Raniean had not intended for it to be so obvious.

Legolas sighed.  “Things happened, Ran, I couldn’t help it.  Really, I couldn’t.”  He paused, catching the look his friend tried to hide.  Raniean was upset with him and Legolas did not blame him.  They must have all been hideously worried.  Maybe, if he had taken Raniean and Trelan with him, things would have been different.  Maybe... but there was no use going down that road again.  He and Aragorn had survived, that was what mattered.  If he had erred, then he would simply have to live with the consequences of that mistake.  He had certainly paid dearly enough.  Past choices could not be re-made.

The prince’s voice turned soft.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to make you all worry.  It’s a long story, one I should tell father first I’m sure...” Legolas sighed again.  “But honestly, I had no choice Ran, you have to believe me.  If I had hesitated or delayed, Strider would be dead.  I’d do the same for you.”

“I know,” Raniean met his friend’s eyes again.  Legolas was alright.  At the moment, he could forgive him anything else, so long as he had indeed come back to them once more.  “I don’t blame you Legolas, I am sure you had a very good reason and I can’t wait to hear your latest ‘long story’.”  He smiled wryly.  “I just... I was worried, Legolas.  We almost lost you once already.”

Legolas squeezed Raniean’s shoulders tightly.  He knew the other elf was still getting over his prince’s brush with death in the mountains after the warg attack on Rivendell; it had to have been hard to consider losing him again so soon.  “But you didn’t,” he assured quietly.

Raniean nodded and squeezed Legolas back.  “No, we didn’t, Valar be praised.  Now, if only you survive your father, Trelan and I may have our trio for the spring games next moon after all.”

Legolas smiled.  “Isn’t that a rather big ‘if’?”

Raniean clapped him on the back reassuringly as they reached the end of the walk leading up to the palace.  “Miracles can happen.”

Legolas rolled his eyes.  “Well then pray I find one.  I’d better go talk to him.”

The prince entered the palace without fanfare, bounding easily up the steps leading into his home with just a smile and a nod to the guards on duty.  At Raniean’s bidding no one was sent to fetch the King.  It was better for Legolas to go to him himself.

The prince made his way swiftly down the familiar corridors and he smiled to himself.  No matter how Thranduil reacted to his chronic tardiness this time, at the moment Legolas could feel little but joy at being home again.  It seemed forever since he had walked these well-loved halls.  Strange thoughts for an elf, but Legolas had long ago given up trying to reconcile the odd, disparate ways in which he seemed to measure time now.  Aragorn had permanently ruined him, but he didn’t really mind.

Thranduil was in his study, just as Legolas knew he would be.  The prince stood quietly in the doorway for a few moments, watching his father as Thranduil wrote on a long piece of parchment with swift, smooth strokes.

The king had not noticed his approach and the prince took the moment to watch his father and remember the countless times he had stood in this doorway and seen Thranduil sitting at that desk.  It was a comfortable feeling, for it felt like home.  He almost didn’t want to break the spell, didn’t want to spoil the moment by alerting Thranduil to his presence and having to weather whatever response that would garner.  Yet at the same time he wanted his father to look up and see him.  Wanted to be welcomed back...

Legolas sighed inwardly.  He knew he was welcome, whether Thranduil was in a mood to acknowledge that right now or not.  The prince didn’t even think he’d mind a little bit of house arrest for the time being, if only Thranduil wasn’t too hurt or upset with him over his broken promise.  That was the only thing that would spoil his homecoming.  Thranduil could be angry, he could say what he liked and punish him anyway he pleased.  Just as long as he could tell Legolas he forgave him now rather than the prince having to wait for resolution indefinitely, as often happened.  Then everything would be perfect.

Lightly, Legolas rapped his knuckles against the doorframe.

Thranduil looked up from his work.  The distracted look on his face quickly bled away into shock and then joy and he rose swiftly from the chair, parchment forgotten.

“Legolas!” the Elvenking just stood there for a moment, trying to decide if what he saw was real.  “When did you get back?  Why wasn’t I told?”

Legolas shifted slightly, smiling a little hesitantly at his father.  “Just now.  I wanted to tell you myself.”

To the prince’s utter surprise, he saw his father’s strong eyes gloss over with unshed tears.  “You didn’t come back.  When the news came from Rivendell that you had not returned there either... I feared...”  The king was uncharacteristically lost for words.  “You promised.”

Legolas could have choked on the lump in his throat.  Of all the reactions he had imagined, this was not one of them.  He saw for a moment in Thranduil’s eyes the familiar sense of abandonment he had felt when Aragorn had left him behind outside Angmar.  “Ada... you have to believe me, I’m so sorry.  I tried to come back as soon as I could.  Honestly I did.  I would never have broken a promise to you like that if lives had not depended on it...”

Thranduil crossed the distance between them quickly and surprised Legolas for the second time.  The king pulled his son into a hug.

“I don’t care.  I don’t care, Legolas, just so you’re all right.  Just so you’re really here,” he murmured.

The prince was stunned speechless for a moment, but readily melted into his father’s strong embrace.  Thranduil almost never held him unless something was wrong, or when he was hurt.  For the Elvenking to not want an exact accounting of his son’s reasons right up front was almost even more shocking.  Maybe sometimes, some things could change, even if only a little. 

Legolas hugged his father back tightly, resting his chin on Thranduil’s shoulder.  He realized that tears were sliding down his cheeks, but he wasn’t ashamed of them.  “I’m here, Ada.  I’m here.”

Thranduil nodded, slowly bringing his emotions back under control.  “Good, because you’re going to stay here for a good long time now young one, is that understood?” his soft, almost pleading tone belied any harsh cast of the phrasing.

Legolas nodded against his shoulder.  “Yes, Father.  I would like nothing better.”

“Legolas, I’m serious,” Thranduil whispered into his son’s hair as he held him a moment longer, before finally releasing the younger elf.  “I need you here with me.”

Legolas hesitantly squeezed his father’s hand.  “Then here I will be.”

Thranduil caught and held his son’s slimmer hand in his own.  “Good,” he said softly, before a slight glint came back into his eyes.  “Then I will tell Elrynd to take the locks off the outsides of your doors.”

Legolas wasn’t sure if his father was joking or serious.  “Father, you didn’t...”

Thranduil just smiled and changed the subject.  “It’s good to have you home, Legolas.  Very good.  I’m afraid dinner was a long time ago, it’s late... are you hungry?  Shall I send for someone?”

Legolas shook his head.  “No, thank you, I’ll be all right.  Right now I just want to rest, if... if you’ve really forgiven me.”  He knew he shouldn’t push things, but he really couldn’t help asking.  It all seemed too easy for what he was accustomed to expecting.

“Legolas,” Thranduil pushed his son’s hair back behind his ear gently, letting his hand brush the younger elf’s cheek.  “I forgave you before you ever came back.  Just so long as you did come back.  Although, you can expect that I will want the full tale once you’ve rested.  And don’t you think to start leaving things out either.  I know how you are.  If I think you’re holding out on me I will make Lord Elrond send Strider out here to tell me the truth.  Don’t think I won’t,” Thranduil remonstrated with good humor.

Legolas laughed.  “I promise I will tell you everything tomorrow, Father.”

Thranduil accepted that.  “All right then.  I have kept your rooms prepared in readiness for you.  Rest well, ion-nín.  I will see you at breakfast?”

The prince smiled.  “I wouldn’t miss it.”

Thranduil had indeed kept the prince’s rooms ready and waiting for his return, and Legolas settled gratefully into his favorite chair in the corner by the window.  The shutters were open and Legolas could see the starry night sky outside.

Soft scurrying sounds and small, bright eyes that reflected the moonlight alerted Legolas to the fact that he was not alone in his chambers.

Two, small, slender creatures slid from the shadows in the corner of the room.  Shiny brown, fur-covered, wiry bodies moved gracefully across the floor towards Legolas’ chair, almost gliding rather than walking.  Smaller and thinner than a cat, but more comely than a ferret, the little creatures approached warily.

Legolas smiled.  He was surprised that his father was letting his pets have the run of his rooms while he was away.  He knew just how little Thranduil cared for his ketrals... and the feeling seemed to be reciprocal.

“Trasta, Lalaith... did you miss me?” the prince asked softly as the two ketrals sniffed cautiously at his boots.  He had been away a long time for their limited lives.  Would they remember him?

That question was rendered moot when the small creatures quickly scurried up the prince’s legs and into his lap.  Running in excited circles around each other for a moment, they quickly nuzzled their way under Legolas’ arms.

Trasta licked the fingers of Legolas’ right hand affectionately, reassured by the familiar taste of the light salt on the elf’s fingers.  His small body thrummed and rumbled where it was coiled against Legolas’ side as the ketral purred contentedly.

Lalaith was less complacent than her mate and she stood on her back legs in the young elf’s lap, her nose quivering as she looked at Legolas, remonstrating him for leaving them alone so long with that grumpy older elf.  Dropping back down onto all fours, she bit his left thumb lightly, as if to make her point.

Legolas pulled his hand away quickly, but chuckled and stroked her velvety fur in a placating manner.  “All right, you made your point.  I guess you did miss me.”  The elf smiled, rubbing the creature’s small ears until Lalaith too purred in happiness.

Presently Lalaith jumped down from Legolas’ lap, only to return a few minutes later.  This time, when she scrambled up into the chair she had something with her... three somethings.  Small, hand-sized balls of fur rolled into Legolas’ lap.  After a moment the small balls stretched themselves out into tiny, slow moving versions of their parents.

Legolas stroked the baby ketrals gently, smiling like a proud papa.  Ketrals grew very slowly until they reached their adult size, much like elves in some ways.  The babies were more than a few months old, but they were still very small and needed their parents’ protection.  They would need it for another year yet as they aged very slowly for the animal kingdom.  Maybe that’s why Legolas liked them; they weren’t quite as ephemeral as many of Arda’s creatures.

The little Ketral kits wobbled uncertainly in the strange elf’s lap, looking up with big, trusting eyes at the prince while their mama fussed around them, cleaning them with her tongue as if trying to make them more presentable.  She nudged them forward, allowing Legolas to pick them up and marvel at their soft, tiny perfection as they rested safe in the bowl of his palm.  Ketrals were fiercely protective of their young, but Trasta and Lalaith, like their parents before them, had taken Legolas as one of their kin, their keeper.  He was family.

“They’re beautiful,” Legolas murmured as the small family of ketrals settled down in his lap.  “And tomorrow, I will give them all names.  You should be very proud.”

The two adult ketrals looked as if they were.

With one hand resting on Trasta, and Lalaith and her babies sheltered securely under his other arm, Legolas smiled happily as his eyes drifted towards the open window.

The stars shone brightly in the night sky and a slight wind stirred the curtains framing the windowsill.

It was good to be home, so good.  But he did not forget his friend and he wondered if across the mountains and miles that separated them Aragorn was also getting ready for bed.

He hoped the ranger was sleeping easier.  It had been hard to leave with Aragorn still suffering the ill effects of the Nazgûl’s abuse.  He missed the ranger acutely, but he knew that they would see one another again.

“Sleep well, mellon-nín,” the elf prince whispered into the darkness of the starlit night, as the sleeping ketrals on his lap created a comforting hum that made him feel sleepy too.  “Know that I am thinking of you, that we are looking at the same sky, no matter how many miles separate us.  We shall be together again soon, I think.  Until then, you are right here, in my heart, always.  Rest well, brother.  Rest well.”


The night was peaceful in Rivendell.  Gentle breezes caressed the waving tree branches, creating a murmuring rustle.  Here and there a few night birds sang.

Aragorn lay in bed.  The house was asleep.  His brothers and father had already retired for the night.  Save for the faint flicker of the small candle in the shell holder on his dresser, the room was bathed in darkened moonlight.

It was heavenly to be here, ‘good’ just did not describe the sensation well enough.  In Angmar, there had been several times when he honestly did not think he would ever be home again, ever lie in his bed again and listen to the peaceful sounds of a night in Rivendell.  But here he was.  He was blessed, very blessed.

Sometimes, one could hear elven voices mingled with the soft song of the trees outside the window... although whether they were real or imagined, Aragorn had never quite known.  Turning over so he faced the large open window, Aragorn watched the stars dancing in the night sky and let the sounds of Rivendell ease his weary mind.

Just as he was drifting off to sleep, the ranger swore he heard a very familiar voice whispering in the wind.  It sounded like Legolas, bidding him goodnight.  Half asleep, Aragorn smiled.  “Yes, Legolas,” he murmured.  “The same sky.  May Eärendil shine brightly on you, dear friend.  Rest well, Legolas, until we meet again.”

A soft, errant gust of wind stirred the curtains, again seeming to carry Legolas’ soft whisper to his friend’s ears and Aragorn fell asleep with the return promise echoing in his heart.

“Yes, mellon-nín. Until we meet again.”

The End

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