The world was green.
He liked it that way. It was best and safest.
The sun shone through the leaves which curled themselves above him, turning all it touched shades of gold and green. It washed away the dark. It banished the fear.
And there was so much fear.
Hidden away beneath the trees he could pretend it did not exist . . . The dark world beyond the walls that kept him safe. The world his brother lived in. It was that thought that terrified him most of all.
His brother would find him, he knew that. When they noticed his absence and began to worry, when his mother took to the trees in search of him and his father sent out the sentries to locate him, it would be his brother who would find him here.
He knew all the hiding places.
Father was too busy to know, and Mother too distracted, but Laerion . . . Only he knew all the secrets.
He did not have to wait long to be discovered.
He had heard the footsteps approaching. He knew who it was—he could feel him—long before his brother's voice called to him and the hands reached in to part the leaves.
His brother's hair was golden. He was tall, he was majestic, he was strong. He was a warrior who went out to fight to keep them all safe.
Now he was gentle softness and love. Now he was not a warrior at all.
"Legolas, we are all looking for you, little one. Why are you buried here beneath the trees?"
And he did not wait to answer before he tumbled into his brother's arms. They were safer than his hiding place even if they were not a part of his small green world. His brother stood astride both worlds, one foot in the trees, one foot in the dark as he fought to save them.
"Iruion is gone!" He cried as he barrelled in to his brother's chest. It had suffocated him—the ache from that loss—since the moment the warriors returned and Iruion, his brother's friend, Iruion who carried him upon his shoulders and played games with him while Laerion wrote up reports and duty lists for their father, was not riding amongst them.
"I know, I know." The rocking in his brother's arms soothed him, and he could feel it . . The ache in Laerion's heart—that echoed his—at the loss of his friend. "I know you will miss him, Legolas, we all will," his brother whispered as softly, softly, he stoked his hair. "Do not hide because of him. He would want you to climb to the very tops of the trees and shine your light, for that was what he fought for."
He sat back then and looked up, through the tears, in confusion. He did not understand that.
"He fought so I could climb the trees? That is not right, Laerion." He might be small but he was not foolish. He knew why the warriors went south. He had seen the monsters outside the wall.
"Oh it is right, small one. He fought so you could climb all the trees. Every tree in the forest should be yours." His brother threw his arms wide. "He fought so you could climb to the top of them all, could shine your light wherever you wished!"
But Legolas could not imagine that even though he tried. Only a small part of the forest was his. The whole of it never would be.
"Do not hide here where none of us can see you." Laerion held him tight once again and he did not mind it. Often he would fight and struggle to get free but not today. "It would make Iruion sad to think of you here, under the leaves. Let us see your light. Fetch your brother, he would tell me when he was weary. Fetch Legolas and let his light lift us. He makes me happy. Come out Legolas and shine where Iruion can see."
"But he will never see me!" He cried. "He will never see me again! And next time it might be you who does not come back and you will not see me either . . . And I will not see you . . .I will never see you." For that was what he ran from really: the fear. The fear Laerion would go and not return, and never return. Every time his brother marched through those gates and away from him, he feared it.
"I wish I could promise that will not happen, Legolas. With all my heart I wish it."
But he could not promise it, because it did happen. It happened to others they loved, it had happened to Iruion and it could happen to Laerion. They all knew that.
"I will hide forever if you do not come back, Laerion. They will never find me." He knew this was true because Laerion would not be there to find him and no one else would know where to look.
"Do not say that my little one for it pains my heart." He could hear his brother's heart beating as his head rested upon his chest. It did not sound pained and he did not want it to be so. What did a pained heart sound like?
"Outside . . ." his brother sighed, "Beyond these gates, the world is dark, and getting darker. It is drenched in shadow—everywhere we look is shadow. It creeps across our skin. It winds its way through our fea. But when I am out there . . . In the midst of it is you, Legolas . . . My tiniest ray of the sun. You are the green seedling that sprouts amongst the cold stone that surrounds me.
"I fight for you. I fight to keep you safe, I fight so that all the world will one day see your light for you are special." His brother's hands clasped his face, his lips kissed his brow. "If you were to hide your light away when I am gone, oh I would grieve if I knew, for I would have failed and not have kept you safe at all."
He did not want his brother to grieve and he knew he would never fail. Laerion did not fail.
And Laerion sat back on his heels and smiled, the glorious golden smile he had for Legolas alone that made him feel ten feet tall when he was, in fact, only small.
"One day, Legolas, you will take your light to the world. I know it. You will leave our lands, you will march out and shine beyond our borders. When you do it, do it for me. Elves, Men, even the dwarves will know you and love you, as I do!"
It was nonsense of course. He would never leave his father, or his mother. He would never leave his people. He would never leave his forest.
But Laerion could always make him laugh.
"The dwarves? Laerion, the dwarves will not love me!"
"Even the dwarves!" his brother grinned. " Even them! Who could see this beautiful face and not love it?"
"Dwarves could, Laerion!"
And he laughed. They laughed together. They wrestled amongst the leaves as Laerion chased away his fear.
He paused when he came to that particular tree, on the edges of the compound near the walls. It had a hollow in its trunk near the ground, covered with leaves. You could only see it if you already knew it was there.
And he did know.
He had used to hide in this hollow long ago, when he was small enough to fit there. Even his Silvan mother had not known he hid there.
But he could hide away no longer.
He was not allowed. He was a warrior—or supposed to be one. A prince, a leader, young as he still was. He had to face the pain, not run from it, they told him. The days when he could hide from his troubles in a tree trunk were long gone.
He wished they were not. He wished he could squeeze himself under those leaves and have Laerion come to find him.
But Laerion would never come.
Shine your light, Legolas. His brother had told him. You are special. Show it to the world
I fight to keep you safe.
But I wanted you to keep yourself safe, Laerion, he thought. Who was doing that? Who was keeping you safe for me?
Shine so I can see it. Shine so Iruion can see it.
He tried to. He wanted to. But how did you shine beyond the grave?
Legolas did not know.
And his brother was no longer there to chase away his fear.