“And just where do you think you have been!”
Legolas jumped at the strident voice and suppressed a sigh. He knew he would be in trouble when he got home, but still, he hadn’t expected Thranduil to start on him before he’d even closed the front door. Steeling himself, he turned to face his father.
Thranduil stood in the middle of the lounge room scowling. Bain, Sigrid and Tilda sat on the lounge, anticipating the reprimand Legolas would get from their step-father.
Thranduil didn’t disappoint them.
“I was called out of an extremely important council meeting this afternoon, one which was vital for me to attend, because once again you…” Thranduil pointed vehemently at Legolas, “…did not bother to show up after school. You left your brother and sisters alone! Anything could have happened to them!”
They glared at each other while Bain muttered to himself, “He’s not my brother.”
Sigrid nodded her head in agreement. Tilda, as usual, was silent, her uneasy gaze flittering between the two elves and her human siblings.
Bain sneered at Legolas with disdain. He was older than Sigrid – by a whole year thank you very much – and refused to believe he needed to be babysat by his stupid elf step-brother. Who cared if Legolas was older than the three of them? Or practically an adult? Or any of the other lame excuses that his father and step-father gave him? It’s not like Legolas actually gave a damn about any of them.
Sigrid gave Legolas similar black looks and nodded her head in agreement. She had been a virtual mother to her family following the death of her mother, and now that her father had remarried, her role had been reduced to that of a dependent child. It wasn’t fair!
Tilda, as usual, was silent, her uneasy gaze flittering between the two elves and her human siblings.
“It was that dwarf, wasn’t it!” Thranduil continued, not giving Legolas a chance to reply. “I have told you over and over, nothing good will come of associating with that wretched creature.”
“His name is Gimli, and this has nothing to do with him,” Legolas burst out, finally getting a word in.
Legolas was fed up of his father always belittling his best friend. His father hated dwarves with a vengeance and believed that, as an elf, Legolas should not lower himself to associate with one. As if his father could talk, Legolas thought bitterly, considering he married a human!
“That miserable dwarf is leading you astray,” Thranduil continued his tirade. “You used to be an excellent student and a mature and responsible son. Now look at you! I hardly recognise you any more! You will get into serious trouble if you keep following him around like a love-sick puppy!”
Legolas shook his head. “I wasn’t even with him this afternoon.”
“Aw, did you and your boyfriend have a lover’s quarrel?” Bain mocked.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Legolas sighed wearily. Bain’s attitude towards Gimli was just as annoying as his father’s.
“Then who were you with?” Thranduil interjected, knowing the boys would explode into a full-scale argument if he didn’t keep control of the conversation.
Legolas looked away from his father before replying. “No one,” he replied, irritation creeping into his voice.
“So, what, you were simply wandering around on your own?” Thranduil asked disbelievingly.
“It doesn’t matter what I was doing,” Legolas replied. “I needed some time to myself.”
“Time to do what?”
“None of your business!”
Thranduil’s eyebrows shot up. “Do not speak to me like that.”
Legolas sighed in frustration but said nothing. There was no point arguing with his father.
“Very well, if you refuse to tell me where you were, go to your room and stay there. Do not come out until dinner is ready,” Thranduil commanded.
Legolas rolled his eyes and, with a brief glance at Sigrid, pushed past Thranduil and stormed up to his room, slamming the door shut behind him.
Once the door closed and he was alone, Legolas let his shoulders slump and he rested his forehead on the door for a moment. When he straightened up, he took his backpack off carefully, wincing when he bumped some bruises on his sides and back. Legolas walked over to the bed and laid down gingerly, trying not to hurt himself further. He closed his eyes, rested an arm across his face and tried to get comfortable. Unfortunately though, no matter how many ways he rearranged himself, he couldn’t find a position that didn’t ache.
A short while later he heard his bedroom door opening. Legolas was about to snap at whoever it was to leave him alone when he recognised the soft footsteps: Tilda. He stayed still, hoping she would think him asleep and leave him be.
“Legolas?” came her gentle voice.
Legolas kept his eyes shut and tried not to show his irritation at being disturbed. Tilda was the only one of his step-father’s children who had made any attempt to be friendly. She deserved better than to be yelled at, regardless of his mood.
Tilda walked up to the bed and placed a hand on Legolas’ side. “Legolas?”
Unwittingly, Tilda bumped one of his bruises, causing Legolas to flinch in shock. His eyes flew open at the unexpected pain.
Tilda stepped back with a gasp. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you!”
Legolas smiled wanly and nodded. It was easier to let her believe she had frightened him, rather than risk any awkward questions by saying otherwise.
Tilda pointed to the side of the bed. “May I sit down?”
“Sure.” Legolas moved over to give her space to sit without bumping him.
Tilda made herself comfortable, concern crossing her face as she took a closer look at Legolas. “Are you sick? You don’t look well.”
“I’m fine,” Legolas said. After a pause he added, “I’m just tired.”
Tilda reached out a hand and smiled as she ran her fingers through Legolas’ hair. “I love your hair. Do all elves have hair like yours?” Thranduil and Legolas were the only elves Tilda ever remembered seeing, and the differences between elves and humans still fascinated her.
“No, some elves have silver hair, while other elves have brown or black hair. There were a few red-haired elves once, but they haven’t been around for a while.”
“But you all grow your hair long?”
Tilda’s smile fell away as she let go of his hair. “I’m sorry Sigrid and Bain are so nasty to you.”
“It’s all right. I get worse at school.” Legolas took hold of Tilda’s hand and smiled. “At least you are nice to me.”
Tilda smiled again and started digging in her pocket with her other hand. She pulled out a black shiny rock and held it out to Legolas. “Here, I want you have this.”
“But that’s your lucky rock!” Legolas exclaimed. “I can’t take that!”
Tilda took Legolas’ hand and wrapped it around the rock. “Please take it,” she said earnestly. “I know you’re unhappy here, I think you need it more than me. When I can’t sleep, I always hold onto it and it helps me relax.”
Legolas really didn’t want to take her lucky rock from her, but he could see how much it meant to her to give it to him so he didn’t protest any further. He sat up a bit and gave her a gentle hug.
“Thank you, I will take good care of it.”
Tilda’s smile brightened. “Good.” She hopped off the bed and looked guiltily towards the door. “I better go before your Da catches me here, I’ll see you later.” As she exited the room she turned and waved at Legolas. Legolas waved back.
After she had gone, Legolas looked at the rock in his hand and ran his thumb across the surface thoughtfully. The rock was shiny and black with a smooth surface. Tilda found it just before their fathers met and had rarely been parted from it since. He was surprised she had given it away, and to him of all people. He sighed and placed the rock on his bedside table, dismissing the matter.
Legolas lay back down and tried to get comfortable again. As he rearranged himself his gaze kept drifting back to the lucky rock. Feeling slightly silly, he reached over to pick the rock back up and clasped it in his fist. He settled back down on his bed and noticed he felt sleepy. Perhaps I’ll just close my eyes for a bit, he thought to himself.
Two hours later he woke up when his step-father knocked on the door and called him down to dinner.
Tilda gave him a cheerful smile when he sat at the table, a sharp contrast to Sigrid, Bain and even Thranduil who all ignored him. Bard gave him a thoughtful look that he wasn’t sure how to take. I’ve probably done something to upset him too, Legolas sighed to himself.
Throughout dinner, Sigrid and Bain chattered away constantly to Bard and Thranduil. Tilda was mostly quiet, but spoke up a little here and there. Legolas didn’t say a word, but then no one seemed to expect, or even want, him to speak anyway He spent most of the meal looking away from the table, lost in his own world.
“Since everyone else contributed to cooking dinner, you can do the washing up.” Thranduil’s sharp command brought Legolas’ attention back to the table. He looked around to see everyone else had finished eating.
“I can help,” Tilda piped up.
“No Tilda. He must learn to accept his punishments,” Thranduil replied.
Bard ushered the children out of the room, but not before Bain stuck his tongue out at Legolas and laughed. Bard slapped his son lightly on the back of his head, “Out!” Thranduil followed them into the lounge room without another word to Legolas.
Legolas looked around the kitchen and sighed in resignation: it was a disaster zone. It seemed like they had used every single pot and pan in the house to purposely give him more work to do. There were food wrappers everywhere and even splatters of tomato sauce dribbling down the walls! He grabbed a plastic bag and reluctantly began to clean up.
Seemingly hours later, Legolas finally finished cleaning the kitchen well enough to meet Thranduil’s exacting standards. As he made his way back to his bedroom he paused at the lounge room door to see what the others were doing.
The girls were on the floor playing a board game with Bain sitting on a recliner near them, alternating between watching TV and egging both girls on in turn. Thranduil and Bard were talking quietly to each other, lying on the lounge, their arms and legs entwined. The way Thranduil would occasionally stroke the side of Bard’s face and run his fingers through his hair made Legolas want to gag.
Legolas turned and looked longingly at the back door. If he snuck out now, no one would notice. No one would care. They all had each other, they didn’t need him.
But where would he go? He couldn’t go to Gimli’s – the dwarf’s parents were just as critical of Legolas as Thranduil was of Gimli. The one time he had gone to Gimli’s house his father, Glóin, had taken great pleasure in showing Legolas his axe collection and all the prizes he and Gimli had won in various axe throwing competitions. He made it quite clear that both of them were quite capable of doing major damage with their axes. Legolas wasn’t stupid; he could take a hint.
Legolas turned back to the lounge room and the movement was enough to catch Thranduil’s eye.
“What are you standing there for? Have you finished cleaning the kitchen?”
“Took you long enough. Get back to your room then.”
Legolas turned away and resignedly made his way back to his room. It wasn’t like he had anywhere else to go.
Later that night, Bard lay on the bed watching Thranduil getting ready for bed. Thranduil was still clearly annoyed by his dealings with Legolas earlier in the evening, but Bard felt he should say something now that they were alone.
“You should cut him some slack, Thranduil,” he said.
“Who?” Thranduil asked.
“What for? The way he has been behaving lately, he deserves to be permanently grounded. Your children do not behave as appallingly as he does!”
“Oh, don’t go comparing him to my kids. Besides, this whole thing is a lot harder on him than it is on my kids.”
“How is it harder on him than them? We both lost our wives, they all lost their mothers and all of us are dealing with a new family. He is going through the exact same thing as everyone else.”
“Except my kids have each other, he has no one.”
“He has me!”
“Really?” Bard raised an eyebrow. “When’s the last time you two had a civil conversation that didn’t end in yelling and the pair of you sulking!”
Thranduil opened his mouth to argue but stopped when he realised he couldn’t remember a time recently where he’d had a positive conversation with his son. Things really hadn’t been the same between him and Legolas since his wife died, and things had become worse since his re-marriage. His mouth tightened in frustration; he didn’t want to admit to Bard that he was correct. He’d never hear the end of it.
“It’s that accursed dwarf, that’s what it is! Elves and dwarves should not be cavorting about like that. It is unnatural.”
“What? Like humans and elves together? It’s not that long ago that our relationship would have been frowned upon.”
Thranduil shook his head. “No, it is not the same. Humans and elves were always allies; dwarves are just greedy little…”
He stopped suddenly as he realised something else Bard had said. His eyes narrowed and a faint smirk graced his lips as he placed his hands on his hips. “I do not sulk!”
Bard laughed, amused by Thranduil’s typical, sudden change of mood. “I wondered how long it would take you to notice!”
Thranduil’s smiled widened to match Bard’s. He lay down on his side next to Bard and reached a hand out. His fingers slid under Bard’s nightshirt. “I’ll show you sulking!” He leant over closer to Bard and, after their lips met, their children – and any troubles they were having – were forgotten for the rest of the night.
The next morning Legolas woke to the loud, repeated beeping of a truck’s reverse signal. Moments later his bedroom door slammed open and Tilda raced in.
“Legolas! Legolas! Come see. Someone’s finally moving in next door!” Tilda tugged at Legolas’ covers. She grabbed his hand and pulled. “Come and look!”
Legolas smiled patiently at her. It was Saturday, the first day of school holidays, and he had intended to enjoy a sleep in, but obviously that was not to be. He got up slowly, ever conscious of his bruises. He pulled a dressing gown over his pyjamas and followed her out to the balcony that overlooked the front garden and the side of the house.
A large truck had parked in front of the neighbouring driveway. The truck’s back doors stood open and removalists were moving things into the house. A tall dark-haired man stood on the front lawn, directing the removalists. Legolas’ eyes widened in excitement when he realised it was not a man they were watching, but an elf. Was a family of elves moving in, Legolas wondered. It would be so good to have some other elves around.
The elf went inside and moments later an old, battered car pulled into the driveway. A dark-haired girl a few years younger than Legolas exited the passenger side. Another elf!
“She’s so pretty!” Tilda thought she spoke quietly, but she hadn’t counted on the superior hearing of an elf.
The girl looked up at the group of them before looking straight at Tilda. “Thank you very much young lady. My name is Arwen, what is yours?”
“I am Tilda,” she replied shyly.
“And that is a very pretty name!” Arwen said back.
Two more dark-haired elves got out the back of the car and stood on either side of Arwen. They were clearly twins.
“And we are…”
“…and Elrohir.” Each twin pointed as they spoke the other’s name.
Sigrid’s eyes widened as she looked between the two boys, trying to find any differences between them. The twins saw her looking at them and they bowed at her. “My lady!” they said together. Sigrid blushed.
“This is my sister Sigrid,” Tilda piped up since Sigrid seemed incapable of speech.
Bain looked at her in disgust. “More elves!” After levelling a glare at Legolas he stormed off, no longer interested in their new neighbours.
The twins ignored him. The one who spoke second, Elrohir, winked at Sigrid, then all three elves turned as one and walked to the truck to help unload.
Legolas’ attention was drawn by the driver of the car as he opened his door. He was surprised to see the driver had a smattering of facial hair. The wind blew his hair slightly and his ears showed that he was not an elf, but a human. Something nagged at the back of Legolas’ mind with the appearance of a human, but that washed away the instant they looked at each other.
The human came and stood where the three elves had been, and he too bowed. He straightened up and looked at the group on the balcony. “I am…” he paused when his gaze fell on Legolas.
As he looked back at the human, Legolas found he couldn’t breathe. His mouth went dry and his lungs suddenly refused to work.
The human looked away and he spoke to Sigrid and Tilda instead.
“I am Aragorn,” he said, his eyes sliding straight back to Legolas. Sigrid and Tilda both said hello to Aragorn, but neither he nor Legolas noticed. Eventually the twins came over with a couple of boxes and bundled them into Aragorn’s arms.
Aragorn blinked rapidly and looked at the twins in surprise. He nodded in acknowledgement and turned back to Legolas. “I have to go. I’ll see you later?” he asked.
Legolas nodded. He couldn’t stop a stupid grin appearing on his face at the thought.
“Come on brother,” a twin said to Aragorn. “Let’s get this stuff inside.” They made their way to the front door and just as they entered the house, Legolas heard one of them speak in a low voice.
“He’s just your type. Blond and pretty.” Both twins laughed.
Aragorn pushed at them playfully. “Shut up!” They went inside and that was the last Legolas heard.
By this time, Thranduil and Bard had joined them on the balcony to see who was moving in. Legolas heard a sharp intake of breath from his father when their adult neighbour came back outside.
“Peredhel!” Thranduil muttered in disgust.
The other elf stopped instantly and looked up at them. Legolas stared at his father in shock. This was Elrond Peredhel?
Legolas felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. Aragorn had a very inviting smile, even for a human, and Legolas had looked forward to getting to know him better. But if this was Elrond Peredhel, that meant Aragorn was formerly known as Estel and was the human foster-child of the Peredhil clan of Imladris. Thranduil would never allow a friendship between them, much less anything more.
Legolas saw Bard place a comforting hand on Thranduil’s arm as the elf continued to glare at Elrond. Bard knew the role the Peredhil clan had played in having Thranduil’s father Oropher stripped of his kingship when the White Council decided to unite the races. Thranduil and Legolas should rightly be the King and Prince of the Mirkwood Elves, not merely common elves, and for that, Thranduil had never forgiven the Peredhels.
It went deeper than that though, Legolas knew. For Thranduil blamed Elrond, and his now-estranged wife Celebrían, for the murder of his wife – of Legolas’ mother.