Thranduil strode through the vast hallways, his gown billowing out behind him, full of relief that his endless council meetings were over for another day. Servants moved out of his way as he drew closer, allowing him to pass unhindered. Thranduil did not even spare them a glance; there was something much more important on his mind.
As he approached his family’s living quarters, he slowed to a stop, content just to listen. A faint smile crossed his face as the sound of his son’s high-pitched giggles drifted through the door of the main bedchamber. Thranduil’s smile widened further as Legolas became louder and more uncontrolled, the laughter becoming interspersed with the calming tones of his wife’s voice.
A guard walked by and smiled to himself at the peaceful expression on Thranduil’s face. Despite Thranduil’s reputation as a stern and demanding king, everyone throughout the kingdom knew of his intense and unwavering love for his wife and young son.
His wife, Amdirwen, known for her stunning beauty, kind-heartedness and extraordinary intelligence, had stolen the king’s heart in just a single conversation. From that moment on, their courtship and eventual marriage were never in doubt.
Legolas came along hundreds of years later and their family was complete. The boy, although he had yet to leave the family home, was a happy child. Legolas, being the first elf born in Mirkwood for many centuries, was spoiled and pampered by all his caregivers. Under the watchful eye of his mother though, this treatment did not cause him to act like a spoiled brat. As he grew, those who knew him admired him for his good disposition and the halls of their home often echoed with his laughter and excited chatter.
After the guard had passed, Thranduil eased the door open and stood in the doorway watching his two most important people.
Legolas sat on a stool in front of the mirror while Amdirwen stood behind him, trying to braid his hair. Every time he became restless, she would tell him funny stories to distract him. When Legolas squirmed once again, Amdirwen’s face in the mirror reflected the endless patience both she and Thranduil held for their son.
“Be still, little one, or I will never finish!” This was her fifth attempt at the braid on his left side and she feared it would never be done.
A soft chuckle from the doorway had them both turning to find Thranduil watching them. Amdirwen smothered a sigh as Legolas’ hair slipped from her grasp yet again.
“Ada! Look!” Legolas yelled, forgetting to keep his volume down as he held up one of the completed braids. He slid off his stool and ran over to Thranduil to make sure he could see. “My hair will look like Naneth’s. I’ll be a queen!”
“A queen?” Thranduil smiled and shook his head. “You are a boy Legolas, a prince, and you will be a mighty king one day. You cannot be a queen.”
Legolas pouted. “But you told me it was bad luck for a king to get their hair braided! And I want my hair to look pretty, so that means I have to be a queen,” he stated with the self-confident logic only a young child could manage.
Both adults smiled at that. Thranduil bent over to pick up his son and held him close. Legolas reached out and ran his fingers through Thranduil’s thick blond hair as he settled in place.
“Ada…” Legolas started before trailing off. He carefully tucked a few stray hairs behind Thranduil’s ear to avoid looking at his father.
“Legolas,” Thranduil prompted when it became clear Legolas would not continue.
Legolas gave a frantic shake of his head and buried his face in the side of Thranduil’s neck. Thranduil exchanged an amused smile with Amdirwen and rubbed a hand up and down Legolas’ back to comfort him.
“Come then,” Thranduil said and walked over to the mirror. “Time to get this hair finished.”
He placed Legolas back on the stool and he and Amdirwen worked together to finish Legolas’ final braid. By the time they had finished, whatever had caused Legolas’ uncustomary shyness had passed, and he began fidgeting once more.
“There. All finished,” Amdirwen barely had time to make one last adjustment to Legolas’ hair before he slid off the stool again.
The adults watched on as Legolas preened himself in the mirror, turning his head from side to side to see how his hair looked. Once satisfied with how he looked, Legolas turned back to Thranduil and looked up at him with his blue eyes wide open. Not for the first time, it occurred to Thranduil how similar Legolas and Amdirwen’s eyes were.
“Ada?” he began and stopped again.
“Legolas,” Thranduil repeated, wondering if Legolas would say what was on his mind this time.
Legolas reached up a hand and touched the ends of Thranduil’s hair. “Just once?” he pleaded.
“Just once what?” Thranduil knew what Legolas wanted, but the boy needed to learn to ask for things rather than making people guess. As Prince of the Realm, Legolas had to be confident when making his requests or demands.
Legolas made a vague gesture towards the mirror before staring down at his feet. “Your hair,” he mumbled.
Thranduil frowned as Legolas turned away. It was not that he didn’t want to do this for his son, but tales from his own father remained a vivid picture in his mind. Tales of how Oropher went into battle, his hair braided for the only time in his life. And of how his wife, Thranduil’s mother, fell in that same battle…
Thranduil shook himself out of his reverie to find his wife and child watching him in concern. He realised that one of them had said something and that he had missed it.
He gave them a reassuring grin before reaching out and cupping Legolas’ chin with one hand. Rubbing his thumb against Legolas’ cheek, he gave his answer. “Very well, just this once.”
Legolas’ delighted squeals were almost enough to distract Thranduil from the disbelief on Amdirwen’s face. She opened her mouth to speak but Thranduil interrupted before she spoke.
“Hush you,” Thranduil admonished his wife before taking his place on the stool.
Amdirwen gripped her husband’s shoulder in gratitude. She knew where Thranduil’s thoughts had strayed and she knew the effort it took to grant Legolas’ wish.
Legolas grabbed the brush and stood behind Thranduil. He tried to brush his father’s hair and found he was too short to reach the top of his head. He jumped up and down a few times with the brush, but all he did was bump the brush against the back of Thranduil’s head. Amdirwen took one glance at Legolas, and at Thranduil’s attempts not to wince every time Legolas banged his head, before fetching a footstool.
Once Legolas stood on the footstool, he wasted no more time, eager to get started before his father changed his mind. He brushed Thranduil’s hair and attempted the main braid at the back. His little hands struggled to keep hold of the three strands of hair and he found it impossible to keep the braids tight and even. The ends of the strands were also getting tangled.
After watching him struggle for a few minutes, Amdirwen placed her hand over his. “Little one, I think you better let me do this part.”
“No Nana, I have it!” Legolas pleaded.
“Just this part,” Amdirwen placed a hand on the back of Legolas’ head to show what she meant. “Once I have done that, you can finish the rest.”
Legolas opened his mouth to argue. “But…”
Thranduil raised his head and looked at Legolas in the mirror. “Legolas!” he cautioned with a gentle warning tone.
Legolas stopped straight away and handed the brush over to his mother. He knew he could sometimes get away with arguing with his mother, but defying his father would never be allowed. “Yes, Ada,” came the glum reply. He stood there with his shoulders slumped.
Amdirwen kissed the top of Legolas’ head before thanking him for the brush and re-doing Thranduil’s hair. She made light work of getting the braid started; it was much easier to do for someone who sat still for her. Once the tricky first part had been completed, she let Legolas take his turn.
Thranduil seemed to sit there for hours as Legolas worked away at the main braid. The intense concentration on his face caused many small smiles of pride and amusement to pass between Thranduil and his wife. Amdirwen completed the two side braids and stood back to watch Legolas. Through it all, Thranduil never once moved or showed any signs of impatience at the time it took for Legolas to finish. Time spent with his son was far more enjoyable than any of the duties he had to endure as king.
When he had finished, Legolas almost pushed his father off the stool in his enthusiasm for Thranduil to see how his hair looked. Thranduil turned his head from side to side too, imitating Legolas’ behaviour from earlier.
“Do you like it?” Legolas asked eagerly.
Thranduil glanced at the mirror again; at the patches where Legolas had not kept the tension even, causing lumps in the braid. He also caught sight of Amdirwen glaring at him with one eyebrow arched and knew there was just one answer he could give.
“Yes,” he nodded. “You have done well.”
“Hooray!” Legolas yelled and reached up to wrap his arms around his father’s waist. Thranduil squeezed him back and ran a hand fondly through Legolas’ hair. Amdirwen stood back and smiled at them both.
A knock on the door came a few minutes later, and a servant called out to let them know dinner had been served.
“Come my pretty men,” Amdirwen beckoned with a small smirk for Thranduil. “Let us go eat.”
When the family entered the dining hall, there were a few puzzled glances from around the room. Not just because of the braids in Thranduil’s hair, but also because the braid was so uneven. Everyone knew how particular Thranduil was about his appearance; it was rare to see him looking less than perfect.
Thranduil raised an eye at everyone around him as if daring them to say anything disparaging. Once Legolas entered the room though, and told anyone who would listen that he had braided his father’s hair himself, everyone understood. Many even congratulated him on a job well done.
After dinner, Legolas begged to be allowed outside. There was a tree he had to climb, and he had to climb it that night.
“Legolas,” Thranduil laughed. “I am quite sure there is not a single tree in the entire forest that you have not already climbed a hundred times!”
“And it is nearly dark, little one,” Amdirwen added. “It is just about time to close the gates for the night.”
“But, but, there is this one branch I have never reached and I think I can do it today. It has to be today. Please!”
Thranduil turned slightly and exchanged a glance with Amdirwen. She shrugged; she would leave the decision to her husband.
“Very well then,” he decided. “But you must be quick. Do not get locked when the gates are shut. It would be a very cold night for you if you got stuck outside and had to sleep in a tree.”
Legolas’ eyebrows shot up at that. “I could do it, Ada,” he declared. “I could sleep in a tree.”
Thranduil laughed. “Go now, quickly, before you do get locked out!”
Legolas ran out of the room. Thranduil glanced over at Maethon, Legolas’ favourite guard, who nodded once and turned to follow Legolas into the forest.
The smile remained on Thranduil’s face as Legolas ran along one of the downhill pathways and spread his arms out wide.
“Look, Maethon! I’m an eagle!” they heard him call.
After Legolas’ footsteps faded away, Thranduil and Amdirwen retired to one of the living areas. Thranduil took a book and settled into a huge armchair while Amdirwen resumed her leatherwork on a new quiver she was making for Legolas. He would soon begin archery lessons.
They sat in a peaceful silence for a while, with Amdirwen sending Thranduil loving glances from time to time. It was nice to see him so relaxed and comfortable for once. She put down her tools and ran a hand over her stomach, a smile appearing on her face.
“Thranduil,” she began. She waited until he looked up before continuing. “How do you think Legolas would like being a big brother?”
Thranduil let his gaze wander as he considered her words. “I think he would love it. Can you not see it, Legolas leading them both into all sorts of trouble while trying to protect his brother or sister from the world at the same time? I think…” Thranduil trailed off and his eyes widened as he looked back at his wife and at her hand, still resting on her stomach.
Amdirwen smiled brightly at him.
Thranduil put his book aside and knelt before Amdirwen. His placed his hand over hers, his eyes shining. “Is it true?”
Thranduil lifted her hand off her stomach and tenderly kissed the palm of her hand. He smiled up at her before leaning forward and placing a kiss on her stomach in the place her hand had been.
“I take it you are pleased?”
Thranduil was about to answer but stopped at the sound of battle horns blowing in the distance. Thranduil stood up in one swift movement and turned towards the door. Amdirwen sat up straight. She saw the change in her husband as they heard footsteps approaching. He looked every part the King of the Woodland Realm, in control and ready to command.
One of the guards slammed the door open, supporting a battered and bleeding Maethon with his other arm. Thranduil’s mouth opened as he saw Maethon’s condition. Then his body went numb and his ears started to ring as he saw who wasn’t with them.
“Sire! Gundabad Orcs! They have breached the lower gates and are swarming in the forest.”
Through the thickening haze, Thranduil thought he heard his wife cry out “Legolas!” He turned around slowly – too slow! – as she stood up and started to run.
“Amdirwen! Come back here!” Thranduil screamed at her so loud it hurt his throat, but it was no good. She had gone. Nothing would stop her from getting to her baby boy.
Thranduil wanted to go with her, he wanted to find Legolas too, but he had to do his duty, had to be king. He looked at the group of guards hovering in the doorway.
“Go!” he gestured at their captain. The group turned as one and followed their queen. Thranduil closed his eyes, offering a quick prayer that Legolas would be found safe and his family would be returned to him.
He instructed the remaining guard to take Maethon to the healers before heading to the armoury to suit up and to get his weapons.
Thranduil rode out to the area where there were the most Orcs. He wasted no time getting involved with the fighting, his two swords swinging non-stop at any Orc careless enough to come near him. As the fight went on, the Orcs were cut down one by one. There were more casualties for the Orcs than there were the Elves and soon the battle swung to favour the Elves. When the last Orc was dead, Thranduil and his battalion moved on to the nearest battle.
There seemed to be Orcs everywhere. Thranduil wondered why so many had come so far, and why to Mirkwood. There were other Elven realms between here and Gundabad, so why here?
A chill ran through Thranduil as he realised they were heading towards the area where Legolas had wanted to climb his tree. He had managed to put Legolas and Amdirwen out of his mind while he was fighting the Orcs, but now all his fears returned. Where was Amdirwen? Had she found Legolas and returned home with him? Were they safe?
As they reached the area, the sound of fighting seemed to have lessened. Thranduil had begun to hope that the fighting would be over when he heard a sound that chilled him to the bone.
Legolas screamed. And screamed and screamed.
With no need of instructions, the entire battalion rode harder. No one wanted Legolas to come to any harm any more than Thranduil did.
A handful of Orcs turned around to face Thranduil and his warriors as they approached. Two Orcs held onto Amdirwen’s arms, preventing her from moving. Another Orc had Legolas by his hair, a sword pressed to his throat. Legolas was crying and had soiled himself but did not seem to be injured apart from a few bruises. The largest Orc there growled at Thranduil.
“Elf-scum!” it thundered. “I thought your spawn’s pathetic screams would bring you here. You are just in time to witness the end of your line. Look at this snivelling wretch,” the Orc gestured towards Legolas. “You must be relieved we will rid the world of this weakling.”
“You leave him alone. He is just a child,” Amdirwen screamed, struggling against the two Orcs holding her. The Orc spun around and backhanded her, causing her bottom lip to split open.
Thranduil closed his eyes. He needed to think, he needed to concentrate on how to get them out of this. He could not afford to be caught up in his fears for his family. Thranduil opened his eyes again, letting the customary smirk he kept for his enemies spread across his face.
Not liking that look, the Orc took out a hunting knife and approached Legolas. Legolas cried louder causing the Orc to laugh. “I will make you scream like a stuck pig, elf-spawn!”
Thranduil looked at his wife. She nodded. Thranduil slowly made a gesture behind his back where his warriors could but the Orcs could not see. For whatever reason the Orcs had not seen fit to remove any of their weapons and Thranduil would make them pay. One of the warriors silently placed the hilt of a sword in Thranduil’s hidden hand.
In a sudden burst of movement, Thranduil took out the nearest of the two Orcs holding Amdirwen. He threw the spare sword to Amdirwen who caught it and in the same movement swung around and severed the arm of the other Orc holding her. She made straight for the Orc holding Legolas, swinging the sword around her, showing off the sword skills that Thranduil himself had trained into her.
The Orc saw her coming and yanked Legolas off his feet, bringing him crashing to the ground. It placed a foot on his chest, preventing him from standing up again. “I’ll break his ribs if you come any closer she-elf!”
Legolas groaned in agony as the Orc pressed down hard with its foot. He tried prying at the Orc’s toes but lacked the strength to be effective.
Amdirwen stopped instantly. She looked for her husband to find him fighting against the large Orc. The rest of the battalion were busy with the other Orcs. They could not help her. It would be up to her to save Legolas from this foul Orc.
She tightened her grip on the sword and held it upright in front of her face. Taking a deep breath, she pushed all her concentration and energy into her next move and rushed at the Orc.
Taken by surprise at the she-elf’s speed and ferocity, the Orc lost its balance and took its foot off Legolas in an effort to stay upright. This gave Legolas the chance to scurry away and hide behind a large rock. The Orc turned back towards Amdirwen only to see her sword flying. Before it could react, the sword buried itself in the Orc’s neck, killing it instantly.
Amdirwen walked over to the Orc cautiously, kicking it in the foot to check it was dead. When there was no response, she retrieved her sword and cleaned off the Orc blood. “Threaten my child,” she muttered under her breath.
Legolas stood up, his head appearing over the top of the rock. Amdirwen smiled grimly at him. “Stay there little one.”
“But Nana…” Legolas reached his arms out towards her.
“Stay. There,” she repeated firmly. “We need to take care of these Orcs first. Do not move until your father or I tell you.”
Fresh tears welled in his eyes but he did not argue. Amdirwen turned back to the fighting.
Thranduil finally killed the Orc in charge but there were still a few other Orcs fighting against the Elves. Now free of the lead Orc, Thranduil could join his Elves and he made light work of the remaining Orcs. In no time at all, all the Orcs were on the ground, dead or dying.
Amdirwen looked at her husband in relief. Now that the danger had passed, she wanted Legolas in her arms and to never let him go.
“Legolas!” she called. “You can come out now.”
Legolas appeared from behind the rock. His was face full of horror as he saw the dead Orcs and a few Elves lying on the ground. Amdirwen cursed the Orcs for putting that look on his face. Legolas had never seen death before, no Elf that young should have to face death on such a scale. She hoped it would not change him.
Thranduil looked him over to make sure he was not injured and then, with a hesitant smile for them, walked over to the remaining Elves to discuss what to do next. Just before he reached them though, they started to yell and point at something behind him.
He turned and to his horror saw that one of the dying Orcs had raised itself onto one arm. Its other arm held a giant axe. With its last remaining strength, it hurled the axe towards Legolas.
“NO!” Thranduil screamed with everything he had, but he was too far away to do anything.
Legolas was frozen in shock and could not move. He watched helplessly as the axe spun closer and closer.
Amdirwen was the closest to him but there were too many dead Orcs in the way. She would not get to Legolas in time to push him out of the way. There was only one thing she could do.
“Forgive me,” she called in Thranduil’s direction.
Thranduil shook his head. “Amdirwen no!”
Before anyone else could say anything, Amdirwen made her move. She leapt in between the Orc and Legolas, into the path of the axe.
“Close your eyes baby,” she pleaded with Legolas. She did not want him to witness her death.
Legolas tried, but at the moment of impact, when the axe crunched into Amdirwen’s back, his eyes flew open again.
He saw Amdirwen fall to her knees; he saw rivers of blood bubble out of her mouth; he saw her collapse onto her side and fall to the ground; he saw her eyes close as her last breath faded away.
But what he remembered afterwards, what he remembered most, was the love in her eyes, the sound of her voice as she whispered “I love you”, and the smile, her beloved smile that she kept only for him.
“Nana!” he called out in despair but she could no longer answer. The shock was too much for him and he found himself falling as the world around him went black.
It was nearly dawn before Thranduil stumbled into his room. He closed the doorway and just stood there, suddenly lost. What was he supposed to do next? He looked around the room and his eyes fell on the brush they had used earlier. He walked over to the mirror and looked at his reflection.
His face was covered in dirt and dried blood. He looked down at his hands and saw they too were covered in dirt and blood. His hands started to shake as he realised some of that blood was Amdirwen’s.
Thranduil looked back up at the mirror and saw his braided hair. He raised a hand and pushed some hair that had come loose away off his face. In his mind he could hear his father’s voice, full of disgust the time he found Thranduil as a child, tying back his hair.
“Boy! No son of mine will doll up his hair. You will curse us. Take it out immediately.” A loud thwack accompanied Oropher’s voice as he slapped Thranduil across the face.
With a loud growl, Thranduil slammed his fist into the mirror before picking up the brush and smashing it into the mirror too. The sound of the glass shattering barely drowned out his father’s voice. He picked the stool up next and smashed it into the remaining glass and once that was gone he moved onto the dressing table. Thranduil dropped the shattered stool and with one sweep of his arm swiped everything onto the floor. He kicked and stomped at the vials that had not yet broken, all the while yelling and cursing all Orcs.
The noise brought several guards running. While they hesitated at first to enter the King’s chambers uninvited, they knew they had no choice. They swarmed in and grabbed hold of Thranduil to stop him doing any more harm to himself. In his rage it took five of them to subdue him. When he had calmed down they led him over to the bed and gently sat him down.
One of the guards left to fetch a healer and a few servants who immediately started to clean up the mess.
Thranduil sat on the edge of his bed, staring into space. The healer tended to the cuts on his hands and removed the small slivers of glass that had embedded in his skin. His shoulders had slumped and it looked like he could barely hold up his head. He looked to the side once as one of the cleaners swept up the broken glass and the remnants of the stool before resuming his empty stare. As the healer worked, Thranduil withdrew inside himself, getting himself lost in memories of Amdirwen.
The sounds of the remains of the shattered stool being dumped into a bucket brought Thranduil back to the present.
“Where is Legolas?” he asked one of the servants.
“Sire, we bathed him and sent him to bed. He asked to see you but for now I have left my Tauriel with him,” she replied.
Thranduil frowned as he tried to remember who this Tauriel was. The servant who had spoken was a Silvan Elf who had moved to Mirkwood with her young daughter after the recent death of her husband. The daughter, that must be who Tauriel was, Thranduil thought.
“You have left him with a child?” he questioned.
“Sire, she may only be a child, but she too has just lost a parent. She will know how he feels. And sadly, she is well used to dealing with nightmares, both mine and her own. I think that having someone around of a similar age will do him a lot of good.”
One of the guards spoke next. “My lord, we have also stationed two guards outside his door for the night, in case he needs anything.”
Thranduil looked at the servant a few minutes longer before sighing and nodding his head once, dismissing the matter. He let his head sink down again, looking at his now clean but bandaged hands. One of his braids slipped from behind his shoulder and dangled in front of him. His father’s voice crept back again.
Thranduil tried to undo the braid in front of him, but it was one that Amdirwen had done and she had wound the tie too tight for him to undo with his hands covered.
“My lord?” One of the servants stepped closer.
“Get this off,” Thranduil snarled, suddenly angry.
Unfazed, the servant nodded.
“All of it,” he added, gesturing to the other braids. Two other servants moved around him, one of them kneeling on the bed behind him, to remove all the braids as quick as they could.
They removed the braids as fast as they could. The other servants had prepared a hot bath for the king, so he could be rid of the muck covering him.
When they were finished, they escorted him to the baths to help him get clean without getting his bandages wet.
Thranduil looked in the mirror in the bath chamber and looked at his un-braided hair and at the waves the braids had left behind. He pictured Legolas from earlier in the day and recalled the joy the boy had felt at Thranduil allowing his hair to be braided. Thranduil apologised silently to Legolas, but he could not do that again. No matter how much Legolas wanted it, it would never happen again.