Chapter 8 – Girith's Surprise
Legolas walked back to the bank, dripping wet. He was followed by Thranduil, who was still chuckling. Suddenly, Legolas turned to his father. "Ada, you're laughing again!"
"Yes, I am," Thranduil admitted. "I apologise. I should not laugh at you."
Legolas shook his head in frustration. "No! I don't mean that. I don't mind that. I mean you're laughing again. You haven't, not for so long!"
It was true, Thranduil realised. Today was the first time he had felt the weight of grief lift from him. It made him feel slightly guilty, as if he was being somehow disloyal to Telparian's memory. Although he knew she would have been the first to tell him to pull himself together, it was not that easy.
When they were both safely on the bank, Thranduil looked at his son. "We seem to have two choices," he said. "We can either ride back like this, or we can stay here for a while longer and dry off a little. Which would you rather do?"
Legolas glanced at the sky. The sun was still high overhead, there would be hours of daylight left. "Can we stay here to dry off in the sun? If we ride back now, we'll be in shade for most of the time."
"That seems to be a good idea. Shall we see if Mireth thought about some tea?"
Investigating the panniers, Legolas looked up, disappointed. "There's some cake, and cheese, and fruit, but nothing to drink!" He lifted the empty water skin.
'Nothing to drink.' Was the child blind? Thranduil merely raised his arm, pointing towards the waterfall. "Is that enough?"
"Oh. Yes, of course!" Scrambling towards the foot of the waterfall, Legolas carefully held the water skin so that it filled, then drank deeply.
While Legolas splashed and played around the pool and waterfall, Thranduil lay back on the grass wearily. He was still tired. He listened for a while to the chatter as Legolas made various comments on his activities, but slowly the sounds faded, as he slid into sleep.
He dreamed, as he always did now, of Telparian. She stood before him so vividly. But this time, instead of the intense sorrow he usually felt, he smiled at her. She was scolding him, as she had done so many times before.
"You have to be strong. For Lasgalen. For your people. For me. And especially for Legolas. He needs you, now more than ever. So stop wallowing in self pity! What happened cannot be undone. You and Legolas have to go on. You have to go on without me. But I know that you can do it – remember, I know how stubborn you both are! Thranduil, Legolas has already lost his mother. Do not make him lose his father as well."
In his dream, Thranduil smiled and nodded. "Yes. You are right. I did not think it would be possible. But now, after today – yes, I think perhaps we can go on. As long as we have each other. But we will still think of you, often. I will never forget you."
Telparian smiled at him. "I never asked you to. I will think of you and Legolas, as well. Goodbye, my love."
He could feel her love showering all around him, as real as petals falling. "Goodbye," he whispered. "I love you."
"Ada? Ada! Wake up, you were dreaming! Who were you talking to?"
Thranduil blinked, slightly confused, as he awoke. Legolas stood over him. "Who were you talking to?" he asked again. "I heard you say 'goodbye'."
"It was a dream. Just – just a dream." As he sat up, a few petals fell from his clothes and hair, drifting gently to the ground. He gathered them in his hand, looking up at the trees above him. There was the bright green of the beech leaves, but no flowers of any sort. "Where did these come from?" he asked his son.
Legolas shrugged. "I don't know. There was a gust of wind, and they just fluttered down from somewhere, all over you. What are they?"
Thranduil sniffed. The petals held a sweet, delicate scent. "Lissuin," he said softly. "Can you find out where they came from?"
Leaving the grassy bank by the pool, both Thranduil and Legolas walked the short distance to the slope where the trees started, exploring the area. Legolas had only been gone a few minutes when he stopped, calling out in excitement. "Ada! Look at this!"
Thranduil moved through the trees to where Legolas stood at the top of a small dell. He was gazing down at something below him. "Look!" he repeated. At their feet the dell was filled, it seemed, with a carpet of lissuin. The sweet fragrance of the small white flowers filled the air.
Thranduil stared at the blanket of flowers. Their heady scent was overpowering. Memories suddenly swept over him. Both he and Telparian had worn flowers of lissuin and elanor in their wedding garlands: lissuin for its scent, elanor for its beautiful golden petals. The sight and scent of the lissuin was so evocative of that time. He knelt and caressed the petals gently, barely touching them.
Behind him, Legolas spoke. "Ada? I know we shouldn't pick the flowers we find, or dig them up. But there are so many here! Look, they're choking each other! Would it matter, just this once, if we dug up some of them? I'd like to plant them on – on the grave."
Thranduil looked at Legolas' pleading expression. It was true, the plants grew so closely together they were overwhelmed and crowded. If any were removed, it would allow the others room to breathe and grow. And Legolas' need to do something was more important even than the plants.
"I think you are right. It will not matter, this time, if we do take some plants." Taking his belt knife, Thranduil dug down between the roots of one of the densest clumps. He murmured a brief prayer to Yavanna as he did so, asking her forgiveness for his desecration of Arda. Carefully lifting a clump of the plants, he held the root ball tenderly in his hands, and passed it to Legolas who transferred it to one of the pannier baskets that had held their picnic. Tomorrow, they would plant it on Telparian's grave, beneath the oak sapling and the acorn, which had already sprouted and was showing a few leaves.
Thranduil looked at the sky. He must have slept for longer than he realised, as the sun was far lower in the sky than he had expected.
"Legolas!" he called sharply. "We should leave soon. It will be dark before long." Swiftly they packed up all the debris from their picnic, and loaded it back into Morel's baskets, then began the long ride back home.
They were perhaps halfway back to Lasgalen when full dark fell. Quite suddenly, it seemed, Thranduil had difficulty in seeing more than a few hundred yards in front of him through the trees. He rode on, aware that Legolas was riding more and more closely beside him, casting frequent glances up at the trees.
"Legolas? What is it?"
"Nothing. It's just -"
"The spiders? Legolas, have you been talking to your friends again? Have you been listening to their stories? You know that the spiders do not come this close to Lasgalen. Are you afraid of them?"
Legolas responded indignantly. "No! No, I'm not afraid of anything!" He held his head high, and looked straight ahead.
Thranduil watched him carefully through the gloom. "No, of course not." He waited a few minutes. "Legolas? I think Dorlath looks rather tired. Do you think it would be a good idea if you came on Morel instead? So you could give Dorlath a rest."
"Tired? Do you think so? I don't want to strain him. Perhaps it was our race this morning. It could have tired him out."
Without waiting for a further answer, Thranduil leaned across, wrapped a long arm around Legolas' waist, and pulled him across onto Morel. Legolas gave a faint squeak of surprise as he was pulled off Dorlath's back, but then settled onto Morel, leaning back against his father, relaxing against him.
"Ada? Thank you for today. It's been a happy day. I didn't think there could be any more, not now."
Thranduil tended to agree. It had been a happy day, something which had seemed impossible only the day before. Now, for the first time, he felt that perhaps it would be possible to continue without Telparian. And it was not just because Legolas needed him, either. It was what he wanted to do for himself.
Legolas had not mentioned the misery of the last few days. Neither of them had. It was a matter best put behind them both. Thranduil was about to reply when he became aware of something approaching through the forest. Instinctively he reached out with his senses, but knew immediately that there was no threat.
Within the protective circle of his arms Legolas had tensed. "Ada? I can hear something," he whispered.
"There is nothing to fear. It is just Orionë. He is probably coming to see where we are. We are rather late back, you know."
"Orionë? How can you tell?"
"I just can. Wait and see if I am right."
Some five minutes later, Orionë came into sight, accompanied by a few of the palace guards. He breathed an audible sigh of relief as he caught sight of the King and his son. "My Lord! I am glad to see you! When you did not return by nightfall, we were concerned. Is everything well?"
"All is well. You have my apologies. We would have returned earlier, but seemed to lose track of the time."
Orionë and the guards immediately spread out, riding at the front and rear, and on either side of Thranduil and Legolas. Legolas twisted round to stare at his father, his eyes wide with astonishment. "How did you know?" he asked.
Thranduil did not answer immediately. He had found he had an instinctive awareness of the forest, knowing intuitively when danger threatened, and where. Over the years, he had been able to hone the ability, and when necessary, could tell much of what occurred in Greenwood. It took a conscious effort though, and was not something he did on a daily basis. Legolas had rarely seen him use this awareness, and seemed rather awed.
"It is just something I have learnt to do. One day, I will try to show you," Thranduil explained, aware of the lameness of the answer, and Legolas' dissatisfaction with it. He could give no better answer, as it was something he did not fully understand himself.
By the time they reached Lasgalen, it was very dark, especially beneath the trees. There was no moon, and the stars showed brightly in the black sky. As they approached the stable area, Orionë turned to the King. "Would you like the guards to take Morel and Dorlath to the stables and have the grooms see to them? Then you could go straight in."
"Thank you, but no," Thranduil replied. "I prefer to care for Morel myself, and it is good for Legolas to have the responsibility. Besides, I want to see Girith. He said he had something for Legolas."
Ignoring Orionë's look of surprise, Thranduil turned towards the stables. After tending to Morel, he caught sight of Girith hovering in the shadows.
"Back, are you? 'Tis a bit late. Get lost, did you? Come on." Without waiting for an answer, Girith wandered off to the back of the stables. Intrigued, Thranduil followed him, accompanied by Legolas. They reached a stall in a dark corner, and Girith turned around. "Shh! Don't disturb 'em!"
Peering over the wooden partition, Thranduil saw one of the wolfhound bitches lying in the straw, nursing several puppies. So that was Girith's great secret. He smiled at the sight, listening to the contented squeaking and snuffling of the puppies, who appeared to be about ten weeks old.
Legolas was absolutely entranced. "Oh, they're lovely! Ada, can I have one? When they're old enough to leave their mother? Please?"
Thranduil hardened his heart, rehearsing all the reasons why it was not a good idea. They were the very same reasons his own parents had used when he had taken home a pet, pleading that he would look after it. In his case, though, it had not been a wolfhound puppy, but a wolf cub, found orphaned in the forests of Doriath.
"But Legolas ..."
"I'd look after him, and feed him, and take him for walks, and clean up after him - or her - and please, Ada, can I have one?" By this time, Legolas was inside the stall, kneeling in the straw next to the puppies, stroking them gently. Amazingly, the bitch did not so much as twitch an ear at this invasion.
"Legolas, no," said Thranduil firmly. "These are working animals. They help us in the hunts, you know that. They are not pets."
One of the puppies had staggered over to Legolas, placed its front paws on his leg, and wagged its stumpy tail. "Look, he likes me! He's so small, he could sleep on my bed, he'd be no trouble!"
"He would not stay that size for long. Look over there!" Thranduil indicated a huge, shaggy, grey shape in the shadows. "That must be his father. Would you really want a creature that size on your bed? There would be no room for you!"
By now the puppy had clambered onto Legolas' lap, and was licking his face. Legolas laughed, stroking the tiny creature. "I want to call him Huan!" He had clearly not heard a word of Thranduil's protestations.
Thranduil sensed he was losing the battle. He tried again. "Legolas, he would not be happy in the palace with us. He needs to be with his moth – with his friends," he amended hastily. He hated being so heartless, but the wolfhounds were most unsuitable as pets - nearly as unsuitable as his wolf cub had been. If Legolas ever found out about that, he would never be talked out of keeping Huan! Instead, he tried to negotiate a compromise.
"I am sure Girith would let you come and see Huan whenever you want to. That way, you can still see him, and Huan can stay with his friends, and can learn how to be a proper wolfhound. Do you think that is a good idea?"
Instead of replying, Legolas turned to Girith. "Could I? Come to see him, I mean. Whenever I want?"
"Aye, I suppose you could. And maybe you could help me train 'em, too. Do you think you could do that?"
"Oh, yes! Girith, thank you!" Legolas scrambled to his feet, picked Huan up in one hand, and flung the other arm around Girith. Over his head, Thranduil caught Girith's eye.
"Thank you," he said silently. This – gift – would give Legolas something to care for, something to think about other than his loss. Thranduil realised he owed Girith a great deal.
Once the puppy was settled again with his mother, Thranduil and Legolas left the stables, and crossed the field to the rear of Lasgalen. They entered through the kitchen, where the cooks were finishing preparations for their meal. Work stopped momentarily as they came in, and Legolas' clear voice carried throughout the room. "Ada, that story you told me last night about the wolf cub. What did you call him?"
A sound that had not been heard for a long time caused all the staff to turn and stare, as Thranduil's laughter echoed through the great kitchen. It seemed this day had been a day of healing for the King as well as the prince.