In this story I will follow Thranduil from a young, rather insecure elf until he becomes a cold and majestic Elvenking. Revolving around how he met his wife – Legolas' mother – and their relationship, I will also describe many of the more important events in Tolkien's book Silmarillion through his eyes, beginning in the First Age and continuing through the history of Middle-earth.
Rated for (tasteful) mature scenes in later chapters.
Translations: Ellon=male elf, ellyn is the plural form. Elleth=female elf, ellith is the plural form. Nana=mum, Ada=dad.
Mirkwood, Third Age 3019
Thranduil's chest swelled with so many emotions they threatened to break his calm mask of indifference; relief, love, white-hot anger. How he had worried! Yet here his son was walking into the palace like nothing had happened; as if he had not left on a dangerous quest to Mordor, risking his life and the succession to the throne, and as if he had not conveniently "forgotten" to send word of his plans to his father before it was too late.
Legolas looked up at him from beneath the throne. Thranduil could read reserve, defiance and a hint of anxiety in those big, expressive eyes; his son's ability to hide his emotions had always been nonexistent. It was a relief that at least that part of his innocence remained. That Legolas' journey had not changed him irrevocably.
Checking his features to make sure he betrayed none of his own feelings, Thranduil sternly met his son's gaze, well knowing the effect his icy stare would have and secretly despising himself for using his father's methods.
The defiance very soon left Legolas eyes and he lowered them, but not before Thranduil saw the hurt that had come in its place. Ignoring the pain ignited in his own chest, he held his prepared speech, revolving around topics such as disobedience, disregard of duty, recklessness and irresponsibility. If he could, he always carefully thought out beforehand what he would say. Spontaneous conversation had never been his strength.
When he had finished, Legolas was silent for a long time, staring at the floor. Thranduil wanted to run down the steps and wrap his arms around him, admitting how much he had missed him and how worried he had been, but his feet would not move.
When was the last time they had hugged? He could not remember. He did remember a much earlier occasion, however, when he had held that wrinkled, ugly little baby in his arms for the first time, his chest painfully contracted, promising his son that he would be a better father than Oropher.
Had he failed? He probably had. Why else would Legolas have left him?
"Ada… I am sorry I caused you pain, but I did consider what was best for our realm," Legolas said at last. "The quest was necessary, and in the end, the destruction of Sauron will benefit us all."
"The Ring had to be destroyed, aye, but you did not have to go!"
"I did not want to cowardly hide behind our walls forever. There is a world outside our realm." He said it without any trace of accusation, but yet the words hit Thranduil like an arrow in his chest. Legolas' mother had said the same thing, many times over the years. Called him weak and a coward.
"Wanting to protect one's people is not cowardice," he said coolly, fighting hard to remain impassive.
"I know that, and I do not blame you!" said Legolas earnestly. "I heard you achieved a lot here at home when I was gone, finally clearing out Dol Guldur and everything. It made me proud to hear."
Thranduil could not get any words out. He wanted to say how proud he was over Legolas too, and how much he loved him. "I did enjoy myself," he admitted instead. "And it was good to meet my old friend Celeborn again after so long. Perhaps, in the future, I shall see him more often." Perhaps his friend could help him become a better father too?
"That sounds great." Legolas smiled and Thranduil cautiously returned it. Thank the Valar, his son was such a sweet, complacent ellon. He did not deserve him.
When Legolas had left and Thranduil was alone in his grand throne room, he finally relaxed his features. His wife had hated his "glass face" as she would call it; nothing could annoy her more than when he hid his emotions from her. And now he had done the same thing to Legolas.
With a pang of grief, he wished, not for the first time, that she could have stayed and helped him raise their son. Everything would have been easier then.
Oh, how much he missed her, especially at times like this! He felt a tear trickle down his cheek. Damn. He should not think about her, or he would cry his eyes out. It was pointless to mope anyway – especially now, when he would soon join her in Aman, after fulfilling his promise to stay with Legolas. Perhaps in only a couple of decades he could sail to her.
He was patient. He could wait.
He grinned through his tears when he thought of what might happen when they finally met, after some hundred years of pent-up longing. Oh yes. It should be fun! The physical part of their marriage had never been wanting. That had been just about the only advantage the first millennia...
Thranduil had never told Legolas what a disastrous marriage it had been at first; that was way too humiliating. Yet, it had been worth it in the end. Those last, sweet years of true happiness had made all the preceding heartache worthwhile.
How long was it since they met, now? It had been late in the First Age, he recalled, so it must be over sixty centuries ago.
Thranduil chuckled when the memories flooded him, and for once, he allowed himself to wallow in them.
She had been so cute. And annoying! Quite the little shadow…
Around 6500 years earlier...
Menegroth, Doriath, First Age 412
"Here comes Tharan's shadow." Beleg sighed theatrically. He was a couple of decades older than everyone else and informal leader of the group. "She is like a bee around a honeypot."
"Look, it is your girlfriend," said Amroth, nudging Thranduil.
Thranduil ignored them and the elleth they talked about, calmly focusing on the target, adjusting his stance, feeling the wind. He released the arrow he had nocked and was gratified with a satisfying thud when it hit bull's eye.
"Good one." Beleg gave his shoulder a friendly punch. Then he almost nonchalantly shot an arrow of his own, which planted itself so close to Thranduil's that his fell off. It was unfair; the other was a natural with his bow. He made it seem so easy.
The elleth meanwhile had seated herself on the stone wall surrounding the water well, her scrawny legs peeking out from under her plain apprentice's dress. She was in that age when an elf is more or less a tangle of feet, knees and elbows; soon fully grown but still an elfling.
"You will fall down," warned Beleg, frowning. For some reason he had taken an early dislike to the kid.
"Just ignore her."
"Nay. She should leave Tharan alone. He doesn't like her." Beleg took a threatening step towards her.
"You mean you do not like me." The elleth's voice was clear and melodical. Then she sang a few notes, and suddenly a splash of water jumped out of the well to land straight in Beleg's face.
Thranduil could not hold back his laughter as his friend, spluttering and cursing, chased after the fleeing elfling.
"One point to the elleth," snickered Amroth.
Thranduil returned his focus to the target and released another handful of arrows, until his quiver was empty. It was getting late, and one by one the others dropped off until he was alone, squinting in the meager light as he fired a few more times.
"Were you impressed?" The elleth had come back. "I bet you didn't know I can work water magic?" Her blonde hair was dirty and full of leaves, and there was a bruise on her arm where Beleg probably had hit her. Thranduil felt a little sorry for her, even though she should have known better than to attack an ellon twice her age.
"Nay." He fired another arrow, and frowned when it missed the mark by several inches. Just when she was watching too. Not that he cared what she thought, really, but still…
"I like to watch when you shoot. Your arms are so strong."
"Hm." He was secretly pleased someone had noticed, even if it was just a kid. All those pushups were slowly beginning to pay off.
"So, today I finished my first batch of lembas without any aid at all. Queen Melian said they tasted just like her own."
He nocked his last arrow, but then lowered the bow. It was too dark; he would only miss again. Instead he went to collect the other arrows.
"Now that I learned the recipe I shall probably be going home very soon," she said when he came back. She was rubbing her arm absentmindedly. "Will you miss me?"
Thranduil did not know what to say, and unstringed his bow in silence. What time was it? The training grounds were outside the city; it would take him at least half an hour to get back and Father would not accept tardiness.
"Will you?" she repeated stubbornly.
"I shall not miss you talking my ears off." He had meant it as a joke, but the elleth looked hurt and her large eyes filled with tears.
Thranduil hated when ellith cried; it made him feel like the worst kind of scoundrel. He tried to think of something nice to say to smooth it over, but could not come up with anything, so he just left. He could hear her sad sniffles behind him as he walked home.
The dining room was already full of people when Thranduil hurried inside, his hair moist after a quick freshening up and change of clothes before coming downstairs.
"I am glad you finally cared to join us." Oropher's furious whisper was barely audible, and Thranduil winced inwardly.
The supper was extravagant tonight, and the guests were served wine of the finest quality. Oropher and his family members had their usual apple juice, of course. His father despised alcoholic beverages as they corrupted one's mind and was the foundation of mischief and foolish behaviour.
"The quails are delicious," complimented the king, and his wife nodded heartily in agreement, her mouth too full to speak.
"I am glad to hear that. It is a new recipe." Mother smiled shyly.
It was not the first time Oropher and his wife had the king and queen as guests at their table, but it was also no everyday occurrence. King Thingol had a busy schedule, and many in his court seeked the honour of his presence, as well as the other notable elves who usually followed him on these social visits. Elves that Oropher also wished to establish good relations with; particularly Princess Lúthien, the king's beautiful daughter. He hoped his son would catch the eye of the princess, seeing as he was considered a very handsome young ellon and she was unwed.
At the table, Thranduil was seated between Galadriel, Queen Melian's golden-haired friend, and Daeron, the king's minstrel. The latter instantly entered into deep conversation with Galadriel's husband Celeborn across the table, so Thranduil found himself obliged to speak with the lady. He would have prefered to remain silent, of course, but that would not have sat well with Oropher, whose hawk eyes never missed a thing.
Thranduil's mind went blank at the prospect of talking with someone he did not know well, so he took to his old trick, and thought up a sentence beforehand.
"I hope you and your husband like it here in Menegroth. Is it not a very beautiful city?" He discreetly wiped his moist palms on his trousers, hoping they would not leave a stain.
"It is beautiful. One can hardly believe one is underground, here is so light and airy, and the pillars look like real trees." Galadriel smiled politely, probably not very enthusiastic about her dinner partner's nonexistent social skills.
"The dwarves helped the king build it." Why had he said that? What a stupid thing to say to someone who had lived here several centuries.
Thankfully Daeron took over then, and soon he and Galadriel were engaged in the interesting topic of architecture. Thranduil could safely listen, and supply a small remark here and there. He loved architecture, really, and would probably have said more if he had had the gift of speech.
After they finished the dessert, Oropher cleared his throat to gain the other's attention.
"Let us have some music next. Thranduil, will you fetch your lyre and entertain us?"
Thranduil's mouth went dry and his heartbeat increased. No, please no! He mutely conveyed the plea to his father, shaking his head very slightly. Oropher's dark eyebrows furrowed and his gaze grew flinty. "Do not let the guests wait, my son."
Weak at the knees, Thranduil brought the instrument and sat on a padded stool by the window. The feeling of the strings against his fingers was somewhat reassuring, it reminded him of his bow, but then he noticed the others' gaze at him and knew he had to begin. Sending a silent prayer to the Valar that he would not make a fool of himself, he began the Lament over the Two Trees which was the king's favourite.
"A! the Trees of Light, tall and shapely, gold and silver, more glorious than the sun."
It was a sad song about the time before the sun and moon, when all light except for the starlight came from those two trees. Over four hundred years had passed since the Dark Lord Morgoth killed them, and only a few of the guests had seen them, the king being one of those. Galadriel and her brother must have seen them too; they were Noldor elves who had once lived in Aman where the trees had stood.
Thranduil knew his singing voice was not bad, but he could feel his trembling fingers stumble over the strings, producing one or two false notes, and there was a nervous tremor in his voice as well. Nevertheless, the ambience in the room was emotional when he had finished, and the king's eyes were moist.
"Can you sing of the Silmarils too?" he asked as the last note had died out.
"I-I do not know any songs about them, My Grace, I am sorry."
"I do." Daeron stepped forward, carrying a beautiful lute. "If I may take over?" He had turned to Oropher, who nodded his consent.
Thranduil almost ran back to his seat, glad to have been let off so easily. He understood why Thingol had wished to hear about the Silmarils; the king had long craved to own one of those gemstones, because they contained some of the light of the lost Trees. Morgoth had stolen them after he killed the Trees and put them into his crown, and was now hiding deep inside his fortress Angband. The Noldor had been laying siege to the fortress for several hundred years without success.
The minstrel tuned his lute and began a smoldering tribute to the three gems. He looked almost exclusively at Lúthien as he sang, probably wishing to impress the beautiful princess. She, however, was engulfed by his music only. Her bright eyes were distant as she absentmindedly toyed with the hem of her long sleeve.
It was late when the guests had left, and the cheerful sound of merry, slightly drunk elves ceased. Oropher slowly closed the door and turned to face Thranduil, who braced himself to stand straight and meet his father's gaze. He knew what would come.
"This is for being late." Oropher struck his son across the cheek hard enough for him to stumble. Biting down the pain, Thranduil straightened his back and willed himself to again meet those cold, grey eyes. "And this is for hesitating when I asked you to entertain." Another slap. He could feel his cheek begin to swell up. "And this..." smack "...is for not learning to play right, and embarrassing your mother and I! Only to think, that stuck up minstrel had to take over!" Oropher was shaking him now, his self-control lost.
Thranduil clenched his teeth to avoid involuntarily biting his tongue. A tiny part of him wished to tore himself free of Oropher's hard grasp and strike back. His father was still stronger than he, but not much, and they were the same height. But his father was right, he had made a fool of himself as usual. He deserved to be punished. Why could he never learn?
Oropher released him and turned away, visibly shaking and breathing heavily. Thranduil cautiously touched his cheek. The skin seemed intact. He was too agitated to feel the pain now; that would come later. Seeing his father lose his temper like this was disconcerting, and knowing he was the cause of that distress filled him with self-loathing.
Thranduil lay down on his bed in the darkness, not bothering to light the lantern or even undress. He heard his mother's light steps, and then she was beside him, handing him a cool, wet towel.
"I wish you would learn to behave better when we have guests." She sighed. "In only a little over a decade you turn a hundred. You are no elfling anymore."
"I know," he mumbled. "I try." He gingerly pressed the cool fabric to his cheek, wincing at the throbbing ache.
"Try harder." She left as silently as she had come.
"Thranduil?" Oropher spoke in a subdued voice, as if he was afraid to wake him up.
He came inside and sat on the bedside, reaching out to stroke his son's long hair.
"I am very proud of you, son. I see greatness and fame in your future." He bent down to plant a kiss on Thranduil's forehead. "I know you will not disappoint me."
"I will work harder, Father." His heart swelled with love.
"Splendid. Splendid. Well, good night then."
The training grounds were empty when Thranduil arrived, shortly after sunrise. A blackbird in a nearby tree greeted him with its warbling song, and the surrounding forest smelled of earth and fallen leaves.
He had brought his waster, a wooden replica of his sword. It had the same shape and balance, but was slightly heavier to help build up his muscle strength and make his real sword seem weightless. He began a few routines, slicing air with his waster while trying to vary the angle and force of his thrusts, never allowing his imaginary foe to relax. The trick was not to be predictable.
Then he switched swordhand to his right and repeated the action, keeping it up slightly longer because it was his weak hand.
Thranduil felt a presence and paused. Someone was watching. He peered about him, and tried to see them through the yellowing leaves of the surrounding trees.
"I know you are there. Come out!" he called.
No answer, but now he heard the slightest rustle. That oak, there… on the lowest branch.
He walked slowly towards it, realising who it was. He ought to say sorry, but somehow that little word was one of the hardest to utter.
"Aerneth… I will miss you." He realised it was true as soon as he had said it; the open adoration in the young elleth's eyes was very flattering. And he had not minded listening to her chattering on about baking lembas, learning healing, or all the fascinating animals that lived in the sea by her hometown.
The oak rustled again and two bare feet emerged, followed by a thin body and a bush of blonde strands. She flopped to the ground rather clumsily.
"What happened to your face?" she wondered.
"Training accident." That was always a legit excuse for a warrior.
"I shall leave for Eglarest tomorrow." Her gaze grew wistful. "I have missed my parents. And the sea. Have you ever been to the sea?"
"You should come there sometime. I can ask Ada to invite you."
"And what should I do there? Build a ship?" He smiled.
"Yes, you could help my father." She looked so adorably hopeful. Did she believe he was really considering it?
"I am sure Lord Círdan manages quite well without my messing things up." How he wished he could talk this easily with older elves! The words were just coming naturally without any preparation.
"You are only teasing me. You do not want to go." She pouted, looking ever so much like an elfling.
"Nay, not now. Maybe some other time." He ruffled her hair, and was rewarded with a dark glare. "You are a sweet elleth, Aerneth."
That made her face light up.
"I love when you say my name… Thranduil," she breathed, eyes brimming with worship.
"I have to continue my training." Her stare made him uncomfortable.
"And I shall go pack my things. Farewell, Thranduil!"
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