Tears Like Rain

Chapter 8: A Young Runaway

by Cassia and Siobhan

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So when I feel like running I have to look inside,
I want to find the answer
I want to break my line.

Take me as I am,
I’m not broken.
Pieces of my life are not tokens.
I want to let you know that I’m still learning,
How to love again and stop hurting.


-||-Twelve years later-||-

    Late summer sunshine beamed down through the thick branches overhead.  A troop of young elves scoured the grassy clearing and bracken-choked pathways intently.
    Legolas pushed his loose hair back behind one ear and dipped his free hand down into a hollow hidden among some tangled roots.  The prince’s searching fingers found what they were looking for as the smooth round surfaces of a cache of Aewlaer eggs made themselves known under his touch.  Aewlaers were rare, summer-nesting birds indigenous to northern Mirkwood and it was a lucky find.  The young elf froze, however, when he felt the warm, feathery brush of the bird sitting on the nest.
    The creature did not retreat from the elf, but shifted questioningly.  Legolas touched her downy feathers, the contact carrying his request.  She had three eggs, would she share one with him?  For his people?  He wouldn’t ask except that so many were going hungry.  Would she help them?  The young elf’s entreaty was earnest.
    He would not take them from her if she refused, the prince’s kind heart couldn’t do that, but he hoped she would understand that he would not ask if the situation were not serious.
    The bird ruffled its feathers and trilled softly.  Legolas felt one smooth egg roll into his hand.
    “Hannon le, thank you,” the prince whispered, pulling the egg out and putting it carefully into the soft leather bag he was carrying.
    “Find something, your highness?” one of the adult hunters looked over.
    Legolas held up the egg before putting it back in his satchel.
    “Are there any more?” the hunter moved closer.  Their findings were slim at best today.
    Legolas shook his head.  “I got what there was to be had, Umdanuë.”  He was careful not to tell a direct untruth, but he knew that the elder hunters would take all the eggs and probably the bird too.  Under normal circumstances, that would not be the case.  The wood-elves were a hunting people and Legolas himself had already felled one or two deer in his time.  Yet even so, they had always had an unspoken law about leaving a mother and her offspring in peace.  They never set their sights on a doe with a fawn or a fowl in her nest.  Now, however...
    Legolas sighed.  He did not hold against the older hunters what necessity laid in their path.  He understood that starving elven children took priority over even the elves’ respectful relationship with nature, but sometimes his tender heart wanted to leave a few things untouched and unchanged.
    The prince watched Umdanuë move off again to oversee some of the other youngsters.  Against all odds, the hunter had recovered from his horrible stay in Doriflen’s clutches and seemed to be slowly returning to normal.
    In some ways, the same could be said of himself, Legolas supposed.  He was trying his hardest to put the past behind him, but it was difficult to do when every day brought another reminder of how much everything in their lives had changed.
    Twelve winters had passed since the fateful night that the Mirkwood that had been was ripped asunder and replaced with the Mirkwood that was now.  Usually a short time for elves, the days had seemed to stretch into eternity and it was difficult sometimes for the younger elflings to remember a time before the terrible strife.
    Civil war was misnamed, the prince thought sadly.  There was nothing civil about it, especially this cold war that they were locked in now.  There was no honor in a war when the casualties were the young and the weak, but they were Doriflen’s favorite victims.
    Doriflen had drawn away all his followers and their families, locating farther to the south.  The unstable elf kept the location of his military headquarters a carefully guarded secret, making it all but impossible for Thranduil’s soldiers to score a decisive military blow against him.
    Thranduil would not stoop to striking against the women and children whom Doriflen had drawn to him, but Doriflen was not nearly so scrupulous in return.  Oh he did not turn a sword against them, no, not even his most hardened followers would have abided that for long, but Doriflen was cleverer than that.  He struck at the innocents in the most devastating of ways: burning crops, stealing stores, harassing and capturing hunting parties.
    Already in uneasy straits, Thranduil found himself in a veritable state of siege, unable to feed his people or even his soldiers as Doriflen worked ceaselessly to keep their supply lines and resources cut.
    The winters had been hard and cruel lately, leaving less and less hope each spring.  What hope there was in the budding fields this year had been burned to ash when Doriflen’s men brutally razed their opponents’ gardens and fields in a devastating midnight raid only two weeks ago.  Food almost ready for the harvest was destroyed and Legolas thought he had never seen his father quite so pale as when that news was brought.  The entire kingdom of Lasgalen was teetering on the brink of oblivion, brought to its knees by the long and bitter struggle.
    Because Thranduil would not return innocent suffering for innocent suffering, things were easier for the rebels in Doriflen’s camp and Doriflen never missed an opportunity to flaunt their relative prosperity before Thranduil’s weary and disheartened followers.  The situation was grim.
    Lost in his dark thoughts, Legolas did not hear the other elf come up behind him as he quietly bid a parting to the bird whose life he had saved.
    “Randomir!” Legolas jumped slightly when his teacher’s hand fell upon his shoulder.  Randomir had been his Saelon for several seasons now, and he had come to learn how a true mentor’s relationship was supposed to work.  “You startled me.”
    “So I noticed,” the older elf smiled slightly and raised a questioning eyebrow, glancing at the thicket behind Legolas that the young elf was unconsciously trying to hide behind him.  “Is the bird safe?”
    Legolas flushed and dropped his gaze, realizing his teacher knew him far too well.  “I-I’m sorry, I know how tight things are, I just...”
    Randomir raised his hand for silence.  “It’s all right, your highness. I understand.  Sometimes one has to remember that there is mercy still somewhere in this world.  I won’t tell anyone.”
    Legolas smiled his gratefulness.  “Thank you.”
    Randomir squeezed his charge’s shoulder.  Legolas had a good heart.  He was young, but there was an oldness creeping into his large eyes these past seasons.  In elven time, the passing of years had little effect on Legolas’ slowly maturing body, but in his soul he seemed to have aged very quickly.
    Trelan scrambled over the hummock next to them and dropped exhaustedly to the ground near the prince.  “Find anything useful, Legolas?” he asked with tired disgust.
    Legolas lifted his partially full catch bag.  “Some.  You?”
    Trelan scowled and dropped his bag between his folded legs, opening the top and showing Legolas the contents.  “Look: berries, berries, berries and... ohhh here’s a nut!  ONE nut, Legolas.”  Trelan dropped his head dejectedly into his palm.  “These woods are stripped clean, there’s nothing to be had here.  They should let us go further out to forage.”
    “Further out from the villages wouldn’t be safe, Trelan,” Randomir shook his head.  “The warriors are spread too thin as it is.”
    “Yes, and they are needed to keep the real hunters safe,” Raniean’s discouraged voice joined them as he stalked over, his own bag only marginally full.  “Not wasted on children like us.”
    Raniean’s father cast a stern look his direction.  “Ran, just because you are young does not mean that you are not important.  All of you are very important.  You are our future, that is why we seek to not place you in unnecessary danger.  You will be going out into the world soon enough, ion-nín.
    Raniean’s head came up quickly at the vague reference.  “Have they set a time?  Do you know yet, Father?  When are we to go?” the boy’s voice was excited.
    Trelan’s attention was captured just as quickly, as was Legolas’.  The three young elves came of age this season and completed the first level of their training.  Another class above them had already passed that landmark the previous summer and everyone below them was now anxious for their own turn to undertake the grueling rite of passage.
    It must not be supposed that a wood-elf coming of age happened at the same stage of maturity as it did in other cultures.  Indeed, in many regions, beings of the same relative age would have been considered children for many more seasons yet, but not here.  As in any culture, however, the elvish children were eager to attain ‘adult’ status.
    The final rite of passage was marked by a fortnight-long survival trial deep in the forest, wherein the young elves went out together in groups of twelve to put all they had learned to practice on their own.  They went out children and came back adults in the thinking of the wood-elves.
    Due to the current times, the practice had been modified since no one was willing to suffer the young ones to be alone in the dangerous woods.  Now, a small contingent of their teachers went with them, although they still left everything up to the students.
    Legolas, Raniean, Trelan and the others were supposed to have gone out earlier in the summer, but the trip was delayed repeatedly as the political and social clime steadily worsened.  The young elves began to fear that they would not be allowed to graduate to the next level this season at all.
    Randomir tried to silence the suddenly clamoring elflings without much effect.  “Yes, yes, a decision has finally been reached, although I did not have it in mind to tell you until I could tell everyone this evening.  So kindly keep it to yourselves until the announcement can be made, all right?”
    All three young elves promised solemnly and then immediately pressed him for the exact timing.
    “When?  When Randomir?” Legolas asked eagerly.  “I promise we won’t tell.”
    “All right, peace all of you,” the elder elf shook his head.  “Is tomorrow soon enough for you?”
    From their cheers, it was.  They could not believe that it was so soon.  Randomir had known it was coming for some time, but for safety's sake it was best to let the community at large know about it as late as possible.  That way there was a lower chance of word leaking out to cause trouble.  He hated to think what Doriflen would do if he thought he could capture a whole troop of elflings at one time.  The unstable elf had a penchant for adding the very young to his fanatical following that did not sit well with Randomir.
    Suddenly the sound of a horn made them all look up.  A column of wood-elf warriors was winding its way across the far edge of the field.
    Legolas watched them disappear into the forest with a proud, but sad feeling in his stomach.  He had seen many such parties departing in his young life... and too many never came back.
    Trelan saw Morifwen and Sarcayul near the rear of the procession.  They had been in the group that came of age last year.  Everyone knew that as soon as the young elves had come of age, they were eligible to join the war parties.  The young elves looked forward eagerly to the honor... their elders looked forward with sorrowful trepidation to the loss of innocence that would follow.
    Trelan waved a greeting as the procession passed away.  Sarcayul did not notice, but Morifwen waved back ever so slightly, not wanting to break formation.  Then they were gone.
    Randomir watched them go with the ghost of a shadow flittering across his face.  They were not part of his command.  That troop was part of the contingent under Traycaul, Sarcayul and Sarcaulien’s father.  Randomir believed that just because the young elves who came of age were eligible for patrol duty, it did not necessarily follow that they should be placed in that position so soon.  Traycaul saw things differently and that was out of Randomir’s control.  The different chieftains worked together, but they did not attempt to overstep their bounds into each other’s realm of authority.  That position of final authority was for the King alone and, right now, Thranduil had far too much on his plate already.  Regulating a dispute between the leaders of his two major contingents was not something he needed to have to worry about at the moment.  So Randomir kept his peace.  However, you were certainly not going to see Raniean out there with his patrols until his son had been seasoned more gradually for what he might be expected to face.  That went for Legolas and Trelan as well if he had any say.
    Another horn sounded, farther away but more urgent this time.  This was a warning horn and all the elves had learned what that meant.
    “Come, children,” Randomir said quickly, glancing about to see that Umdanuë and Tegi were gathering up the other youngsters.  “We should get back to Lasgalen immediately.”


    Randomir walked Legolas back to the palace and left only once he saw him safely in the protection of Amil-Garil.
    Legolas hated the way they fussed over him like that, but he had grown used to it and paid little mind to the guards who dutifully dogged his footsteps as he slowly ascended the stairs leading into his home.  Quietly however, he resolved that when he was older and had the choice, he was not going to spend every waking moment with a living chain of guards and servants trailing him around all the time.  He would go where he wanted and do what he wanted, and he would be a skilled enough warrior that no one could worry about him.  His mind was made up on that.
    Elvéwen gave her son a hug when she saw him in the hall and asked how his outing had fared, as she always did.  Legolas had already turned over his catch, such as it was, to the kitchens.  He told her about it briefly.  There wasn’t much to say really, but he appreciated that she always asked.  If there ever was anything he wanted to talk about, but was too shy to bring up himself, it afforded him the opportunity to do so.
    Through the half-closed door behind her, Legolas could see his father deep in conversation with Lord Celemir.  He would not interrupt them now.  He knew he would see his father later.  These past few seasons, Thranduil made it a point that no matter how busy he had been during the day, he spent at least a few minutes with Legolas each night before the child went to bed.  It was a pitiful concision of his time sometimes and the King knew it, but it often truly was all he had to give, and Legolas accepted the gift of his father’s time, such as it was, with the love with which it was meant.
    “Is there trouble?” he asked his mother quietly.
    Elvéwen shook her head.  “Not this time at least.  They are discussing what is to be done about the Yén festival.  It is approaching rapidly and is a very important event.  It will be your first, Tyndolhen.” She ran her hand fondly through his hair.  “I would that you could see it the way it should be and has been in the past.  Unfortunately, it cannot be celebrated properly as things stand, but neither can it be ignored.  They will figure out what needs to be kept for tradition and what can be parted with because of necessity.”
    Legolas nodded.  “It will be good for the people to have something to celebrate about.”
    This war was draining everyone.  It was not a terribly bloody conflict by most standards.  It was suspected, or at least hoped, that most of their warriors who disappeared had been taken prisoner rather than killed.  That was certainly the objective of Thranduil’s war parties, although little by little Doriflen had been showing himself willing to up the ante from capture to slaughter if it achieved his ends.  Because the killing of elf by elf was considered despicable by most of the warriors, the actual deaths were thankfully not nearly as bad as they might have been, but it was a cold conflict that drained the spirits of everyone involved.  Hope was the worst casualty.
    “You look tired, Legolas,” Elvéwen said quietly, seeing the dark thoughts flitter across her son’s face.  “Have you eaten yet?  They are keeping your soup warm for you in the kitchen.  You are too drawn, my little leaf.”  She and Thranduil had agreed long ago that the royal family should not be shown any favors in the strict food-rationing that was in place throughout the torn kingdom, but for her growing son’s sake she wished she could provide better than a small mug of soup for supper.
    Legolas shook his head, putting on a smile just for her and banishing the gloom.  “I know, I’m fine, Nana. I was just thinking.”  He didn’t want to tell her that he had already given his dinner to Galion’s wife, Febridë, who was in the final stages of her first pregnancy.  Childbearing took a lot out of elven women and Legolas judged she needed it much more than he did.  Ever since he found the serving lady passed out on the cellar floor two weeks ago, he had been giving up his own supper regularly without anyone knowing what he was doing, including Febridë and his mother.
    Legolas gave Elvéwen a hug and retired to his chambers.  He was tired and hungry, but he pushed those unwelcome feelings away.  Instead he focused on the excitement of finally knowing when their rite of passage would take place.
    The prince opened the large windows near his bed and slid out onto the ledge, sitting on the windowsill and dangling his feet over the outside edge, as he was fond of doing.  The sun was sinking for the western horizon, painting the verdant forest in shades of gold and crimson.
    He kicked his heels lightly against the smooth stones as his legs dangled.  Once he was no longer considered a child, there was so much more he could do.  He would be able to take on more responsibility and better share the load with his father and mother.  Thranduil had already told him that once he was of age the King would start delegating Legolas some of the base level administrative functions that he could trust to no one else.  While keeping records and managing stores was not something Legolas looked forward to, or wished to spend his time engaged in, the fact that in so doing he would be able to free up some of his father’s badly cluttered time made the effort worthwhile.


     Elvéwen was out in the darkening gardens, overseeing the efforts to coax the vegetable gardens that had taken over the sculptured lawns to produce more at a quicker rate.  The plants responded well to the elves’ gentle ministrations, but there was still only so much they could do.
    The Queen halted by one of the female workers.  “Stop, Febridë. I told you not to work out here.  We can manage.  You need to save your strength for the child,” Elvéwen remonstrated, glancing with concern at the other woman’s huge belly.
    Febridë was nearly full term and having a difficult time with the pregnancy.  However, when she looked up at the Queen, the woman’s eyes appeared less shadowed than they had been in some time.
    “Oh no, your Majesty, I will be all right, thank you.  I am feeling much better.”
    Elvéwen smiled, gratified at the change.  “Very well, but be careful, all right?”
    “Yes, your Highness,” Febridë nodded with a small smile.  “And... your Highness?  Please tell Prince Legolas thank you again.  I don’t know how he managed to arrange the extra rations for me, but I truly appreciate it, and I thank you for your kindness in allowing it.”
    Elvéwen was taken aback for only a moment, before she quickly nodded and accepted the thanks graciously before moving on.  It would do no good to let Febridë know that she had no idea what the other woman was talking about.  Besides... as soon as Elvéwen stopped to consider it, she knew exactly what had been taking place.  No wonder Legolas seemed to be growing thinner before her eyes.  He was not eating.  That sweet, foolish child was giving his food away.  Silently, Elvéwen determined to make sure she watched Legolas eat next time.  She appreciated what he was doing, and could see the good it had done for Febridë, but she would find a way to arrange extra allowance for Febridë that would allow Legolas to keep his own meals.  The young elf was growing and could not afford to deny himself so stringently. 


    Darkness had fallen, but Legolas remained on the windowsill, looking up at the stars.  He felt a little too tired to do anything else.  If he had been older he might have realized his fatigue had to do with his small and infrequent meals, but all the child knew was that he felt a little weary.
    The moon was already high in the sky when Legolas heard the quiet sound of the door to his room being pushed open.
    Candles and lamp oil were rationed just like food these days, and Legolas had not bothered to waste any lighting his rooms, so when Thranduil first entered, he thought his son was already asleep.
    Upon seeing the empty bed however, his gaze went immediately to the dark shape in the window, framed by the pale starlight streaming into the darkened room.
    “Legolas?  Come down from there child, you could fall,” Thranduil chided gently, lifting Legolas down from the high sill.
    Legolas laughed and shook his head at being treated like such a child.  “Ada!  I’m not a baby.”
    “I know Legolas, I know.  But it is still time for bed, even for big, grown-up elves...” the King’s voice held a softly teasing tone.
    Legolas rolled his eyes but obligingly changed into his sleep tunic.  As he was fastening up the row of ties that held the soft fabric closed at the neck, the young elf’s knees buckled without warning and he slid to the floor.
    Thranduil thought Legolas was playing at some kind of a game until the boy didn’t rise.
    Legolas did not remember falling.  All he remembered was his father’s worried face bending over him, bathed in moonlight.  Thranduil was shaking him and calling his name.
    “Ada?” Legolas blinked in confusion as he sat up.  “What happened?”
    Thranduil looked extremely consternated and scooped the young elf up in his arms, carrying him to the bed despite the other’s protests.
    “What happened, Legolas, is that you are not taking care of yourself.  Your mother told me what’s been going on with Febridë and while I appreciate your heart, my son, it has got to stop.  We’ll find another way to take care of her, all right?  You need your strength too,” Thranduil said seriously, feeling how light Legolas was in his arms.
    The fact that his son was practically starving in his own palace made Thranduil’s heart ache with sorrow and shame.
    “Yes, Adar,” Legolas nodded compliantly.  He was too tired to wonder how he had been found out and didn’t bother arguing with his father because he knew he always lost.
    “You were discussing the Yén festival with Lord Celemir?” Legolas hesitantly broke the silence after a few minutes, wishing to lighten the oppressive mood that had descended upon them.  “Will it have to be canceled?”
    “No,” Thranduil shook his head, absently letting his fingers toy with the fringes on Legolas’ quilt as he sat next to the boy on his bed.  “There is little enough to celebrate with, but I believe we have a workable plan now.  We cannot simply ‘cancel’ the Yén.  It is our most revered holiday here in Mirkwood, ion-nín.  To shun it now would be to admit that we have fallen so far we never hope to rise again.”
    Legolas nodded as if he understood, although he didn’t completely.
    “I will have to teach you what must be done, for we will both have an important role to play in blessing the forest for the coming Yén.  ‘tis rather short notice, but I’m sure we will have it all worked out by then.  We can begin tomorrow..."
    “Tomorrow?” Legolas sat up, his brows furrowing.  “I thought that the Yén was not for a fortnight yet.  Ada, I have to leave tomorrow.”
    “Leave?” Thranduil mirrored his son’s confused expression for a moment.
    “The rite of passage, for our maethor training.  Randomir said he and the others have finally set a date.  We are to leave tomorrow,” Legolas explained, but as he did so he suddenly had the creeping suspicion that his father already knew.
    Thranduil sighed deeply and Legolas did not like the way his father was acting.  It did not bode well.
    “Legolas... I don’t want you to go with them.  You’re not ready yet, my son, and I need you here.”
    Legolas took the words like a blow to the chest.  He shook his head, trying to refuse tears.  “I am ready, Ada!  I am!  I can do this, I know I can!”
    Thranduil was unmovable on the subject.  “No, you are not, Legolas.  You’re fainting in your own chambers, and I am supposed to allow you to go out there into the wilds with little or no protection?  No, Legolas.  I’m sorry.  Perhaps next year will be better.”
    Legolas felt stricken, he couldn’t believe his father thought so little of his abilities.  “Next year...” he echoed hollowly.  Raniean, Trelan, Sarcaulien, Brenyf... all his friends would move on and he would remain left behind with next year’s candidates, cut out of his age-mate’s lives and their continuing training.  The shame was overwhelming.
    Thranduil ached for the sorrow he saw in his child’s eyes, but he truly felt this was for the best.  The Yén festival was not the only thing he and Celemir had discussed.  Spies had brought word.  There was unrest in Doriflen’s camp.  Despite the fact that their fields were not being burned or their crops trampled, mismanagement was driving them to nearly as desperate straits as Thranduil’s kingdom.  Doriflen ruled them with a heavy hand and some of his followers were beginning to chafe under the treatment.
    Doriflen was getting more desperate than he wanted to let on.  He would be looking for an advantage, ready to take drastic measures.  Under such circumstances, Thranduil was not willing to let Legolas out of the protective watchfulness of his home.  The Elvenking hesitated to tell Legolas his concerns for fear of re-awakening those old scars that he knew were still far too near the surface for Legolas.
    “Legolas, I understand how you must feel, but...”
    “No, you don’t understand!” Legolas flared uncharacteristically.  His weakened state made him more vulnerable to the emotional impact of what was happening.
    “Legolas!” Thranduil was taken aback by the interruption.  “Do not take that tone with me.  I know what is best for you whether it seems like it now or not.  You are just going to have to accept that.  I need you here.  If you go you may not be back in time for the Yén festival and that is not acceptable.”
    Legolas dropped his head into his hands.  “I don’t want to be part of any stupid...”
    “Legolas,” Thranduil’s voice was warning.  The prince was pushing the line here.  He understood his son’s disappointment, but he expected him to deal with it and move on, not wallow in self-pity.  “There will be other chances, when you are ready.”
    “And when will that be?” Legolas murmured bitterly.  “How can I ever be ready if you do not allow me to be!”  //What more must I do to prove myself to you?// the elfling’s heart cried.
    Thranduil’s lips pressed into a tight line.  This was not going well and he was in no better mood than the prince was right now.  “The childish way you are acting now only proves the point that you are not ready, Legolas.  I will not let you go out there and endanger yourself or those with you.  Don’t you realize what kind of a target you would be, Legolas?  Doriflen used you once; he’ll use you again if he can.”  He opted to be truthful with his son.
    Legolas sucked his breath in sharply at the mention of his uncle’s name.  Unfortunately in his disturbed state, he took Thranduil’s words in a way they were not intended.
    “U-Use me?” he stammered around the swelling lump in his throat.  Oh Valar, did his father really still think that he had had any kind of conscious role in his uncle’s treachery?  Did Thranduil think he could be so easily swayed that his Uncle could ever fool him into compliance again?  Did his father truly think that little of him?
    “Yes, Legolas, use you,” Thranduil said shortly.  He did not realize what was going on in his son’s head or the undesired impact his words were having.  “You know he would do it too.”  Thranduil had come to the sad realization that his brother was nothing if not ultimately ruthless.
    Legolas was trying hard not to let his hurt, angry tears spill over, but he was not succeeding.
    “You don’t trust me,” Legolas whispered, balling his fists in the bedclothes at his side.  “That’s it, isn’t it?  You still don’t trust me!”  That hurt worse than simply not being allowed to go.  His father thought he would betray him again.  If he thought that... then had he ever really forgiven him for before?  Was Thranduil keeping him close to protect him, or because he feared the boy would turn against him?  The terrible thoughts made Legolas’ head swim.
    Thranduil had no idea where Legolas’ accusations were coming from.  “Don’t be ridiculous, Legolas.  My trust of you has nothing to do with this.  I said you’re not going and you’re not going.  I’m sorry, but my decision is final, do you understand me?” the King said firmly.
    Legolas turned his face into his pillow.  His father’s words fell on deaf ears.  Empty verbal assurances meant nothing when faced with actions that seemed to the contrary.  His father thought he would betray him...
    “I understand,” Legolas murmured into his pillow, refusing to look up.
    Thranduil sighed in frustration.  This was not at all how he had wished for things to end tonight.  “Do you want to talk, Legolas?” he inquired softly, letting his hand rest lightly on the boy’s tense shoulder.
    Legolas swallowed and shook his head.  “No.  I-I’m sorry, Ada.  I’m-I’m just very tired.  I’ll be all right.”
    Thranduil nodded.  He didn’t doubt that the child was tired.  “All right then, Legolas.  Good night, my son.”  The king brushed his hand over Legolas’ forehead in a bedtime blessing before rising and moving away.
    “Goodnight, Ada,” Legolas whispered quietly, trying to keep the tight, choking feeling in his throat out of his voice.
    The door clicked shut.

    Legolas settled himself on his back, but he couldn’t sleep.  His thoughts were in turmoil and his emotions swirled even more violently.  Thranduil loved him, but he didn’t trust him, that much was clear.  He thought Legolas wasn’t ready to be an adult, to help him share the load of the kingdom.
    Legolas balled his hand so hard that his fingernails hurt his palms as hot indignation and betrayal burned in his chest, choking him.  He was ready, he was!  But if Thranduil didn’t think so now, when would he?  Legolas was at the top of his class in every skill the young elves had been trained in, he had the highest marks of any of them and he knew it.  If that was not enough, what would be?  Would Thranduil even let Legolas go next year, or would he continue to doubt him?  What more could the prince possibly do that he hadn’t already done to make his father see him as a person and not a baby to be protected and coddled?
    The first time the thought entered his head Legolas dismissed it offhand.  Thranduil would kill him for such outright disobedience.  Yet the longer he lay there, the more plausible the idea seemed to become.  He could go anyway.  Not with the others; if he did that, his father would simply send the guards to bring him back.  No, Legolas could go by himself.  That way he would not be endangering anyone else either.  He knew what the rite consisted of and it was nothing he could not survive on his own.  He heard stories that in the old days the young ones had always gone alone anyway... and if he succeeded, then Thranduil would have to accept that he was not a child anymore.  More importantly, his father would see once and for all that he was not and had never been a traitor by choice.  He could be trusted to be alone.
    It took Legolas over an hour, but he finally talked himself into the idea.
    Silently, he pushed aside the covers and slid out of bed.  Changing into his woodland garments, the young prince strapped his quiver on his back and pushed his knife into his belt.  His fingers fumbled slightly with the quiver clasp on his chest.  He was nervous.  He had never gone so contrary to his parents’ wishes before and he knew his father would be furious.  Yet he hoped that he could be worthy enough through his trials that he would not shame them, and they could be proud of him upon his return.
    Pulling a quill and parchment from his desk, Legolas scribbled a quick note so they would not worry... he gripped the quill tightly.  Who was he trying to fool?  They would worry anyway, but at least they would know what he had done.  The prince signed the note with an apprehensive, but resolute stroke.
    Besides a blanket, his arrows, extra arrowheads and fletching to make more, Legolas really had nothing to pack that was not already strapped to his belt in readiness.  Food and drink were things he was going to have to find for himself in the woods.  Slipping to his window, Legolas pushed the curtains open and pulled himself up onto the moonlit sill once more.  With one foot in and one foot out of the window, Legolas paused one last time.
    This was his last chance to turn back and give up the whole idea.  The prince struggled with himself.  Part of him wanted to jump back into bed and cling to the safety of doing what was expected, but another part of him rebelled sharply at always giving in and never standing up.  If he had stood up to Doriflen in the beginning, so much pain might have been averted.
    Making his final decision and knowing that, good or ill, he was going to have to live with it; Legolas swung his other leg over the sill and dropped lightly down to a thin ledge directly below.  The prince ran easily along the narrow edge until he was within reach of one of the tall, garden trees.  Jumping like a squirrel into its branches, the prince traversed easily from tree to tree.  He knew the gates would already be sealed, but he also knew that the gardeners had not been able to keep the palace grounds as neatly kept since the start of the war as they had been previously.  An entire section in the neglected northwest corner of the grounds had become overgrown, allowing the tree branches to begin overhanging the palace walls.  That was all that Legolas needed.
    In a matter of minutes the prince had dropped down on the other side of the wall and was running swiftly and silently into the woods in the moonlight.  He left the palace and all of Lasgalen behind him as fast as he could.  He was apprehensive about what he was going to face, but the adrenaline that had carried him thus far was still pumping powerfully through his veins and he pushed aside his cares, preferring to feel the invigorating zing of knowing he was finally doing something by his choice.
    He knew he would be in incredible trouble when he went back, but Legolas was determined to make it worthwhile.  He would not fail. 


    Thranduil looked ready to put his fist through the wall as he crumpled the prince’s note.  Elvéwen was silent and shaken.  Neither of them could believe that Legolas had been so incredibly rash.
    “Find him!” Thranduil ordered Amil-Garil tersely.  “Find him immediately!  Have Randomir and the others left yet?  Check and see if he is with them.  If not, begin searching the woods at once!” 


    Legolas ran all night, pushing aside his weariness and fatigue.  He did not stop when pale dawn lightened the sky in the east, but kept going for as long as he could.  He knew his father would send searchers, but he could not allow himself to be taken back in disgrace.  He would return under his own terms, after completing what he had set out to do.  He would lay the tokens of the completed rite out before his father’s feet and Thranduil would have to see that he was not a child, and not a traitor.
    Legolas hoped that somehow his parents could forgive him.

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