Seven Years Earlier
Legolas sat on his bed, knees pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs, trying not to let his tears fall. He was ten years old now and knew he was too big for crying. But as he listened to his parents yelling, even muffled by his closed bedroom door, he couldn’t stop a tear rolling down his cheek.
His parents had told him many times that they still loved each other, but he worried they would do that human thing called a Divorce, and he would never see one or both of them again. He tried so hard to be a good boy, he really did, but it still didn’t seem to be enough. They were so angry all the time.
There was an abrupt silence and moments later his mother, Amdirwen, opened the door and peered in. Her face broke at the sight of her son huddled miserably on the bed. She walked over and pulled him close as she sat down.
“It’s okay baby boy,” Amdirwen said. “We’re finished now.”
It took Legolas a few minutes to calm down but with his mother’s arms around him, things suddenly didn’t seem so bad. Although there was one small thing he had to correct: “I not a baby!”
His mother laughed softly to herself; Legolas sounded so much like his father sometimes. “I know you’re not a baby. Doesn’t mean you’re not still my baby boy though.”
Legolas frowned but let it go. It was nice to have his mother holding him and he didn’t want to be the one to make her leave. All too soon though, her phone rang and she stood up to go.
“I have to take this, it’s Mrs Peredhel,” she pointed to her phone. Amdirwen answered the call, talking to her best friend as she left the room.
Half an hour later Amdirwen came back into Legolas’ room with a backpack slung over her right shoulder. Remembering what she said earlier that she and his father were finished, Legolas misunderstood and cried out. He ran over to her, throwing his arms around her waist.
“Don’t leave! Please don’t leave me! Please, Nana!”
Setting the backpack on the floor, she leant over and picked him up. “Now now, we talked about this yesterday, remember? Mrs Peredhel and I are going away this weekend. I’ll be back tomorrow night.”
Legolas looked at her. “But you said…”
“I meant that we had finished arguing, that’s all. I’m coming back, I promise, you’ll see me tomorrow. And, if you’re a good boy, I might even bring you a present.”
Legolas grinned through his tears. “Will it be a big one?”
“Maybe. But only if you’re really, really good for your father until I come back.”
“I will be, I promise,” Legolas nodded eagerly.
“Good,” his mother replied and kissed him on the cheek.
Legolas screwed up his nose and wiped his cheek in disgust. “Ewww! I’m too big for kisses!”
“Oh really?” his mother said and kissed him on the other cheek.
“I won’t,” his mother declared with a grin and proceeded to slather kisses all over his face. Legolas tried wiping the kisses off, but he couldn’t keep up and ended up simply hiding his face behind his arms. Despite himself, he giggled helplessly as they play-fought.
Amdirwen stopped when she noticed Thranduil in the doorway watching them. She let Legolas slide down to the floor and stared back, uncertain of his mood.
“Your friend has arrived,” he said eventually. “She’s sitting out the front in her car waiting for you.”
Amdirwen nodded. She didn’t bother asking Thranduil if he’d invited Celebrían inside to wait; she already knew he hadn’t. She picked up her bag and walked towards the door but he remained in the doorway, blocking her exit.
They stood looking at each other warily. Thranduil showed no inclination to move and Amdirwen found her gaze sliding down from his eyes to his lips. She remembered how they felt the first time he kissed her, how soft they were. Amdirwen closed her eyes a moment to distract herself from the memories of what had followed. She loved her husband, so very much, but he could also be the most frustrating person she had ever met.
When she opened her eyes again, Thranduil had a faint smirk on his face, almost as if he knew what she had been thinking. Thankfully, Legolas distracted them by moving impatiently beside them. Amdirwen turned towards her son and took his hands in hers.
“Now remember what I said? Be a good boy for your father, and I will bring you back a present.”
Legolas nodded enthusiastically. Amdirwen let go of one of Legolas’ hands and placed the other into Thranduil’s hand. She stood up and faced Thranduil once more.
“And you be a good boy too.”
Thranduil leant forward and whispered in her ear. “I’m always very, very good.”
Amdirwen stepped back and returned his smirk. She touched Thranduil’s cheek gently. “I know you are.”
She led them out of Legolas’ room and through to the front door. As she went out the door, Legolas went to follow her, but Thranduil tightened his grip on his hand and pulled him back.
“But I want to say hello to Mrs Peredhel,” Legolas pouted.
Thranduil shook his head. “I have told you before you are not to talk to any elf from Imladris. They are all beneath you.”
“Nana!” Legolas looked to his mother for support, not seeing the glare Thranduil sent her as he did so.
Amdirwen sighed to herself. She had thought that Thranduil would try to be civil and part on friendly terms given Legolas was there but, as usual, he had to get one last dig in at the Peredhels.
Kneeling before Legolas, she placed her hands on his shoulders. “Maybe next time.”
“No buts, Legolas. Remember what I said about being good for your father?”
Legolas’ mouth closed with a snap and he nodded.
Amdirwen stood up again and glared back at Thranduil. She opened her mouth but closed it again. There were many, many things she wanted to say to her arrogant husband, but not in front of Legolas. He was already too sensitive to their arguments and too likely to misinterpret anything she said. All she wanted now was to get away from the house and its oppressive atmosphere. She turned around without another word and got in the car.
After Amdirwen had left, Thranduil closed the front door and took Legolas through to the lounge room. Legolas pulled his hand out of Thranduil’s and flopped onto the sofa. He reached out a hand to the remote control but pulled his hand back at the last moment. Legolas sat up straighter as he noticed his father watching him; he didn’t want yet another lecture about posture and how he needed to look presentable at all times.
Thranduil smiled tentatively at his son. It had been a while since the two of them had spent any quality time together, just the two of them. Nowadays, he spent most of his time debating with the Council about the transfer of the newly retitled Mirkwood Estate, all while trying to save something of his father’s legacy for Legolas.
Legolas had never met Oropher, who had died two years before Legolas’ birth, and Thranduil wanted desperately to hang on to everything he could. It was the only way Legolas would ever see how much Oropher had achieved. Well, before the Council and those damned Peredhels had ruined everything anyway.
“What do you want to do today?” he asked his son.
“Hmm,” Thranduil mused. “Go put some shoes on then and I’ll take you somewhere special.”
Legolas grinned. “In the car?” It had been forever since his father had taken him on a car ride.
Thranduil grinned back. “Yes, in the car. Go on.” He waved Legolas out of the room. “Grab a jacket too,” Thranduil called after him.
When Legolas returned, Thranduil was relieved to see Legolas wearing decent shoes, not the tatty old runners he usually wore, and carrying a jacket coloured in traditional Mirkwood-style greens and browns, rather than the garish purple and bright blue monstrosity his mother gave him, something Thranduil suspected came from the Peredhel woman.
“Where are we going?” Legolas asked.
Thranduil winked at him. “It’s a secret! Let’s go.”
The two of them walked to the garage and got in the car. Legolas was excited to sit in the front seat for once, instead of being relegated to the back seat in favour of his mother.
After half an hour or so, Thranduil pulled into a café.
“Stay in the car, I won’t be long.”
True to his word, Thranduil was back in no time, carrying a large box which he placed on the back seat.
Legolas twisted in his seat, trying to see what was in the box. “What’s in the box Ada? Can I see?”
As Thranduil got back in the car and fastened his seatbelt, he handed Legolas a piece of paper. “We’re having a picnic lunch by the river.”
Legolas looked at the paper, it was a receipt for the things Thranduil had pre-ordered earlier. Legolas’ smile grew and grew as he discovered what his father had bought for their picnic. “Are we going to our secret place?”
Their “secret place” was located on the Celduin, a river which flowed through the eastern side of the Mirkwood Forest. There was a section of the river where the bank was wider than the rest, leaving a nice sized patch of sand to play in. It was almost as good as being at a beach according to Legolas. Being located in the forest, there were plenty of trees for a young wood elf to climb. The Mountains of Mirkwood were also nearby, giving the area an endless variety of scenery and colours.
Oropher had discovered the place when he was a teenager and throughout the years had kept the place private. Thranduil knew this would all change once the Council finished taking over Mirkwood, and he wanted to give Legolas as many memories of the place as he could.
As they got closer to their destination, Thranduil’s jaw clenched at the sight of a newly erected sign showing the distance to River Running.
Legolas spotted the sign too. “Ada, what is River Running?”
Thranduil took a deep breath, trying not to let his irritation show. “It’s the Westron name for the Celduin.”
Legolas screwed up his nose. “That’s a silly name. Why do they say it’s running, of course it’s running, it’s a river!”
Privately Thranduil agreed with him, “Celduin” was a much more noble word. Unfortunately, these name changes were just one of the many things he was obliged to endorse in this brave new world. “It’s what the humans have always called the river, and since we speak Westron now, we have to call it that too.”
“Well, I still think it’s silly!” Legolas declared before falling silent again.
Thranduil patted Legolas sympathetically on the knee and concentrated on the drive. They were nearly at the unpopulated section of the forest, and would soon be driving on dirt roads. It had been a while since their last visit, so Thranduil was wary of the road conditions. Hopefully no one had discovered their secret place in the meantime, he thought to himself.
Upon arrival they were delighted to see no one else had been there and everything was how they had left it. Thranduil gave Legolas the keys to the log cabin that Oropher had built, while he grabbed the box of supplies. Legolas ran and unlocked the door. By the time Thranduil had shut the car and gone inside, Legolas had all the curtains and windows open, letting a fresh breeze flow through the cabin.
Legolas ran out the door again. “Ada, can I go swimming now?”
Thranduil came to the doorway to see Legolas was already stripping off his clothes as he ran towards the river. “Sure,” he said to himself with a wry smile. “Go ahead.”
Legolas had removed the last of his clothing and appeared to be about to jump straight in when Thranduil called out to him.
“Don’t forget to…”
“I know!” Legolas interrupted. “Check there’s no strong current. Make sure there’s no big rocks or anything sharp on the bottom. I know Ada, I know!”
Thranduil’s smile widened. “OK then.” He stood and watched Legolas splash about for a bit before going back inside, leaving the door open so he could hear his son if he needed anything. After sorting out his purchases and getting food ready for lunch, Thranduil grabbed a towel from the cupboard and went outside.
Just outside the door was one of Legolas’ shoes. Thranduil picked it up and cast about for the other one. He found it in a bush a couple of metres away; Legolas having kicked it off indiscriminately as he ran. Thranduil continued down to the river, picking up Legolas’ clothes as he went. When he got to the river bank, he hung the towel over a low-hanging branch and watched Legolas play.
“Are you coming in too Ada?” Legolas eventually asked.
Thranduil hesitated. He hadn’t brought his swimwear with him, and even though he hadn’t thought twice about swimming naked in Legolas’ younger years, now, he wasn’t so sure.
Nodding, Thranduil held up the pile of clothes in his hand. “I’ll just put these inside first.” Thranduil came back, wearing only his boxers and carrying a second towel, and waded over. Legolas appeared to have tired of playing and was instead floating calmly on his back, gazing up into the branches of the trees above him.
Legolas turned his head when Thranduil took hold of his ankle. “What are you doing?”
Thranduil gestured to the clearing where they entered the river. “You were floating away.”
Legolas looked at the clearing and realised he had indeed floated a way downstream. He watched the branches above him sway in the breeze as his father gently towed him back to shore. “I’m listening to the trees.”
Thranduil smiled indulgently. “What do they tell you?”
When Legolas was younger, his father used to tell him stories of the ancient elves and of how it was believed they could talk to the trees. Legolas had been fascinated by these stories, and nearly every time they were in the forest he would pretend he could understand what the trees said to him.
Legolas stayed silent a moment, a slightly confused expression crossing his face. “They are sad.” Legolas paused a moment longer. “It’s like everything is ending, and they don’t know why,” he added before lapsing into silence.
Thranduil watched his son thoughtfully. Legolas always had a close connection with the forest and the trees, and for a long time Thranduil had been concerned Legolas truly believed it when he said he could talk to the trees. Amdirwen had dismissed his fears, saying Legolas was simply “going through a phase”. And indeed, the last time they came, Legolas mentioned nothing about talking or listening to the trees. This time however, he seemed to have regressed back to his younger childhood ways.
Thranduil took a deep breath; he wondered if this was Legolas’ way of expressing his own fears about the changes happening in their lives. He paused a moment but decided not to say anything. Thranduil knew he and his wife hadn’t made things easy for Legolas, with their constant arguments and the ongoing tension in the house. If his son needed an outlet to express himself, he wouldn’t restrict him.
The silence was shattered when Legolas’ stomach grumbled loudly. Legolas giggled in embarrassment at his father’s gasp of mock surprise.
“I think that’s a hint it’s lunch time,” Thranduil said.
Getting out of the water, they wrapped the towels around themselves and raced each other back to the cabin with Thranduil letting Legolas win. Thranduil had already prepared most of the food, so they just needed to carry everything outside and set up the picnic.
As they settled on the blanket and started to eat, Legolas began chattering excitedly about everything he could think of. Thranduil listened indulgently, happy to spend some tension-free time with a family member.
They spent many hours more by the river, talking (or listening in Thranduil’s case), playing and swimming. As the sun began to go down, Thranduil reluctantly stirred himself and started packing. He went back into the cabin and started clearing out the contents of the cupboards the family left there in between visits.
Legolas wandered in and watched what he was doing. “Why are you emptying out the cupboards, Ada?”
Thranduil paused, considering what he would say. “We need to clear out all of our belongings, just in case we don’t come back.”
“Why wouldn’t we be coming back?”
“This cabin is part of the Mirkwood Estate, so when we leave our house, we will have to leave the cabin behind as well.”
Legolas eye’s filled with tears. “But I don’t want to leave it behind! It’s ours, not the Council’s! Why are they taking everything from us?”
Thranduil pulled Legolas close and hugged him tight. “I know, I don’t want to leave it for them either, but I don’t have a choice.” He rubbed his hand up and down his son’s back, silently cursing the White Council anew for tearing his family’s life apart.
Legolas pulled away, he turned his face away from Thranduil and wiped his face. He muttered something under his breath about something not being fair, but Thranduil knew better than to say anything. Legolas needed to work through his feelings, and pushing him would not achieve anything.
After they packed everything, Thranduil sent Legolas off for one last wander around while he loaded the car.
Thranduil stood in the doorway of the cabin and gazed around, soon lost in memory. He first came to the cabin as a child with his parents, and later as he grew he had brought Amdirwen. Looking into the lounge area, he remembered kneeling on the floor to propose, and the look of joy on Amdirwen’s face as she accepted. Later, after they married, they kept coming back and Thranduil knew in his heart Legolas had been conceived in the cabin. Legolas in turn, always felt at home there, and Thranduil understood only too well how upsetting losing this place would be.
Thranduil gave a deep sigh and took the keys out of his pocket. With a final glance around the cabin, he switched the lights off, locked the door and turned to search for his son. He found him in the branches of one of the trees by the river.
“You coming up, Ada?” Legolas called down.
Thranduil looked up into the tree and saw his son smiling down at him. It was a relief to see the smile back on his face. Thranduil hadn’t climbed a tree for years and his ascent felt, and no doubt looked, exceedingly inelegant. Legolas didn’t care and moved over on his branch to make room and, as Thranduil settled on the branch, Legolas snuggled into his side. Thranduil wrapped an arm around him and they both watched the last of the sunset.
As the dark settled in, Thranduil started the climb back down. “Be careful,” he called back up to Legolas as he started descending after him.
Once on the ground, Legolas turned back to gaze at the tree. It was the first tree he ever climbed and was his favourite. He had told many secrets to this tree and the thought of never seeing it again was devastating. “Goodbye tree!” he called softly.
Thranduil frowned – it seemed like the tree had responded, as its branches appeared to sway in the breeze more than they were already doing. “Come, Legolas, it’s time for dinner.”
Legolas followed slowly, saying goodbye to everything as he walked past, the other trees, the bushes, the river, the cabin and even the patch of dirt where they parked the car. As he approached the car, tears threatened again and he hurriedly got in the car, slamming the door behind him.
“What do you want to eat?” Thranduil asked, deliberately ignoring the slammed door.
Legolas took a long time to reply. “Can we go to Galion’s?”
Thranduil smiled brightly. “Sounds like a good idea.” He started the car and they headed off.
To outsiders, Galion’s Restaurant appeared to be an old-fashioned restaurant. To its patrons, it represented a touch of home, a touch of the rapidly disappearing Mirkwood.
Legolas loved going there because the staff made his family feel so welcome every time they went. The staff addressed his parents as “my Lord” and “my Lady” and called Legolas “their little prince”. The family had a table permanently reserved for them, so they never needed to make a booking. Best of all, according to Legolas, their table had special chairs decorated with huge antlers that he thought made the chairs look like thrones.
Once inside, Legolas was delighted to see that Himelnith was working that night. That meant her son Feren would be about too. Feren was about Legolas’ age and they had spent many nights playing together while the adults talked about boring grown up stuff.
“Just the two of you tonight, my Lord?” Himelnith asked as she escorted them to their table.
“Yes, it is. Amdirwen is having a weekend away with one of her… friends,” he replied, the slight pause in his sentence making it obvious who she was with.
Himelnith suppressed a frown, knowing that Legolas was watching and listening. None of Thranduil’s friends understood why Amdirwen continued to associate with Celebrían Peredhel, given her husband’s actions in the Council. As far as the restaurant staff were concerned, Oropher had been their king until his death, and now that he was gone, the role belonged to Thranduil. They refused to treat him as anything less.
“Excuse me, is Feren here?” Legolas asked her eagerly.
Himelnith smiled at him and nodded.
“Has he eaten yet?” Thranduil asked.
“No, not yet.”
“Then tell him he is invited to dine with us tonight.”
Himelnith bowed. “Thank you my Lord, that is very gracious of you.”
“No, not at all.” Thranduil knew the restaurant always discounted their bill, so it all worked out even in the end. He also knew Himelnith’s family had been struggling since the changes wrought by the Council left her husband unemployed, and he wanted to do something, no matter how small, to ease their burden.
Feren and Legolas were thrilled to be together and there seemed to be more talking, laughing and yelling than eating. No one at the surrounding tables seemed to mind the noise though, so Thranduil let them be. Once they moved out of Mirkwood, it could well be a long time before the children saw each other again, so Thranduil was content to let them enjoy themselves.
Thranduil was not left out altogether. As he sat there, many people drifted over to the table to talk to him; people who, in another life, would have been the King’s advisors and generals. They all wanted updates on the Council’s actions and commiserated with him on everything the family was being forced to give up. There was good news too, as people had married, babies had been born and children had grown up and were making something of themselves.
At one point Thranduil leant back in his chair, letting the hustle and bustle of the restaurant wash over him while he watched the staff and other patrons. Although he had never formally been king, he felt protective towards them all. Despite what the Council said, these were still his people and he wanted the best for them. A smile came to his face for he was proud of them as well. It was not only his family’s life being torn apart, but his people’s lives too, and they were all doing their best to adapt to the new world.
This restaurant reflected that disruption – once there had been many such Mirkwood restaurants around, now, this was the last of its kind and once the Council finished its takeover of the area, it would most likely disappear too. Despite this, Galion, the owner of the restaurant and Oropher’s former butler, never let himself get worn down. If the restaurant closed, he would simply retire and live out his days somewhere far away.
As Thranduil’s gaze continued to wander, he noticed a family of humans sitting on the opposite side of the restaurant. He watched them for a while, curious about why they chose this particular venue. The restaurant was not in an area normally frequented by humans. There were two adults and three children, two looked to be a few years younger than Legolas and the third was just a baby; she could barely have been a year old. The family looked extremely happy with a lot of laughing and care being shown to each other.
Yet there was sadness there too: he could clearly see the advanced stages of some illness in the mother, and the father would occasionally stop to stare wistfully at his wife. Thranduil wasn’t sure but assumed it was cancer or one of those other fatal diseases that mostly seemed to affect humans.
His attention was drawn back to his own table as the first of the desserts was served. There was a blessed silence as the boys got stuck into their desserts, scoffing them down so quickly one would think they hadn’t eaten in months.
Galion came out and joined Thranduil at the table when the last of the desserts had been brought out, and the two of them reminisced about old times. After the restaurant officially closed, Himelnith joined them too. A series of yawns from Legolas and Feren drew smiles from the adults and Thranduil excused himself saying he should get Legolas home.
As they left the restaurant, Thranduil saw the human family were the only other people still there. He inadvertently caught the gaze of the husband as they walked past the humans’ table. Thranduil frowned. The man’s face looked familiar for some reason. He searched his memory but couldn’t think of who the man was. Thranduil shrugged and concentrated on getting his sleepy son home.
Legolas went to bed that night feeling happy and content. He’d had a great day with his father, and the next day promised to be just as great. The next morning, he got up early, knowing his mother would come home later with a big present for him. Thranduil took him out again for the morning and they returned after lunch. Legolas entertained himself in the lounge room so he could be there when his mother returned. As he waited, he thought to himself it had been one of the best weekends ever.
That was at least until the police turned up.