As expected, Legolas was not alone. Feren found Thranduil watching over his sleeping brother. Even now, with Legolas well on his way to recovery, the King was seldom far from his son's bedside. Death had come too near this time and the ensuing fear was not to be brushed aside easily.
Feren approached the bed with trepidation, his longing to see his brother tempered by overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame. Legolas had nearly died.
"You have come at last to see your brother," Thranduil said in a quiet voice. "He has asked for you. I think he feels abandoned by you."
Feren winced. There was no hint of accusation in his father's voice, but Feren was only too aware of the implication.
"I am sorry. I had wanted to come, many times, but I did not have the courage," Feren admitted as he took the seat that his father gestured to.
"He does not blame you," Thranduil said gently.
"I know, I blame myself."
"Feren, need we go through this again?" Thranduil asked. "Guilt serves no purpose whatsoever. It certainly cannot change the past. I have told Legolas as much."
Feren nodded obediently. "You are right, of course, Adar. I will make an effort."
"Indeed you should, for Legolas' sake as well as your own." Thranduil clasped his son to him briefly. "Stay with him awhile. I am sure he will be glad for your company. I will come back later to relieve you, but I have matters to attend to right now."
"Adar, how is he?"
"He is mending, though there are times that he feels lowly." Thranduil let out a long sigh. "His sleep is often plagued with nightmares. That is to be expected. Hopefully in time, he will mend completely." He gave his sleeping son one last look before making his way to the door.
Left to himself, Feren turned his attention to his youngest brother. Legolas was still far too pale, and buried within the bed sheets, he looked more than ever like the elfling that he once was. But things were no longer as they were. Too much had happened and it pained him to know that the carefree world of his young brother was no more. It did not seem fair. Legolas was so young still, far too young to be thrown so mercilessly into the adult world of pain and grief. He clenched his fists in helpless frustration. He had successfully defended Mirkwood, but he had failed to protect his own brother.
"I am so sorry, Legolas. I have failed you," he whispered as he stroked the golden hair gently.
At the light touch, his brother stirred and slowly opened his eyes. The blue orbs blinked sleepily.
"Feren!" Surprise and joy lit up the young face.
"Hello, Legolas," Feren smiled and helped his brother to sit up. "How are you?"
Legolas shrugged. "Sleeping far too much, I fear. Kala says that I may get out of this bed perhaps tomorrow. I do not know whether I remember how to walk."
An awkward silence fell between them. Then Feren's reserve broke and he moved forward and pulled Legolas into his arms.
"I am sorry, Legolas. I should have come sooner, but I was plagued by too many thoughts," Feren whispered softly, feeling grateful for the living warmth of the body in his arms. It seemed a lifetime ago since he had last held his brother in his arms.
Legolas returned the hug with equal gratification. "I am glad you are here, Feren. I thought you were upset with me."
Feren pulled back. "Upset with you? Why?"
"I disobeyed your orders," Legolas replied, eyeing his brother from under thick lashes. "And I broke my promise."
"I would not be here if you had not disobeyed my orders," Feren said at length. "I can only thank you for my life, though I forbid you to ever do anything so foolish again! I cannot bear the thought that I almost lost you." His voice cracked as he spoke the last words.
"But you did not lose me. I am here and am almost healed."
"Thank the Valar!" Feren breathed. After a pause, he said. "Legolas, I am so sorry about Salque."
The light disappeared from his brother's eyes as they reddened and brimmed with tears. "I miss him, Feren. I miss him so much! I keep hoping that this is a nightmare and that Salque is still alive. Or that he is simply playing a trick on me as I had done so often on him. I keep waiting for him to show himself." He stopped as his breath caught on a half sob. "But he is not coming back and I will not be waking up from this nightmare." He twisted the blanket between his fingers savagely. "Why did he come searching for me? I should have been the one who died out there on the battlefield, not him."
"Oh Legolas!" Feren pulled his brother into his arms again. "Think of the pain that your death would bring to Adar, Aldeon, Tavaro and me. Do you think I could live with myself if you were lost? It pains me beyond measure to see you hurt like this. I would gladly give up my life if you could be spared of all this."
He felt his little brother shuddered. "I do not want anybody to give up their life for me. I just wish things could go back to the way they were." The last words were barely above a whisper but they struck Feren's heart like a physical blow.
"I too wish things could be as they were," Feren said, his arms tightening around his brother.
"I cannot help but feel that if it were not for me, Salque would still be alive," Legolas said miserably. "That thought eats at me constantly."
"Oh Legolas, you cannot blame yourself for Salque's death. If anyone is to be blamed, it is I," Feren said.
This time it was Legolas who pulled back. "I do not understand. Why should you be blamed?"
"You were injured because of me. Had you not been injured, you may have been able to help Salque against the orcs. The outcome may have been completely different."
"But it was my choice to jump into the path of the arrow. You cannot blame yourself for something that I did, something that you have no control over," Legolas protested.
"Then you should not feel guilt for Salque's death. It was his choice to protect you from harm."
"It is not the same. I am alive, but Salque is dead."
"And I am alive because of you. Had that arrow killed you, would you have wished me to feel the same guilt that you do now over Salque's death?
Legolas shook his head miserably. "No, of course not. I do not wish that on anyone."
Feren let out a long shaky breath and looked at the young face that was now marred by premature pain and guilt. "It is not easy for me either, Legolas. I too am plagued with guilt. Each time I see you, I feel responsible for all the pain and suffering that you have gone through. I am your older brother. I should be protecting you, but instead, I am the cause of your pain."
"Feren, you should not feel this way," Legolas said with surprising severity. "I do not blame you at all."
Feren smiled sadly at his younger brother. "I know you do not and I am grateful. But guilt eats at me nevertheless. So what shall we do, little brother?"
The two brothers shared a long look of misery, neither finding the words to comfort the other. In the end, it was Feren who broke the heavy silence, speaking with a resolve that he did not quite feel. "Adar is right. Guilt serves no purpose and it certainly cannot undo what has been done. We cannot let it take over our lives. Let us make a pact between us, Legolas. Let us both put this guilt behind us and go on with the life that the Valar has seen fit to grace us with. Other are not as fortunate as us."
Legolas looked at his older brother helplessly. "I do not know whether I can, Feren."
"I do not know whether I can either, little brother, but I intend to make the effort. Will you do the same?"
Slowly, Legolas nodded. "I will try."
Feren embraced his brother again. Things could never be the same again, he knew, but perhaps it was not so impossible to return to some form of normalcy that they could both live with.
Thranduil sat back in his chair and took a sip from his goblet, feeling for the moment a contentment that he had not felt for far too long. Mirkwood had withstood the enemy's attack and his sons were safely by his side again. For the moment, that was enough for the King. This evening was the first time in a long while that the entire family was together for a meal and Thranduil was determined to savour each moment of it.
Feren and Tavaro were carrying on a light banter regarding battle tactics with Aldeon adding his advice and thoughts now and again, while Legolas looked on with quiet thoughtfulness. Despite his brothers' repeated efforts to draw him into their conversation, he remained, for the most part, uncharacteristically sullen and withdrawn.
Thranduil studied his youngest in discrete silence. Since his injury, this was the first time that Legolas had joined the rest of the family for the evening meal. He had, for all intents and purposes, fully recovered from his wounds, but to the king's paternal eyes, his son was still too pale and thin. And even more distressing was the absence of the buoyant enthusiasm that had so marked his youngest son's demeanor in the past. With an inward sigh, Thranduil reminded himself to be patient. His son may have recovered from the physical ailments, but the wounds invisible to the eyes were still healing, and would be healing for some time to come yet.
It was only when Tavaro spoke of the patrol that he and Feren were to embark upon the next day that Legolas at last spoke up.
"You and Feren are leaving tomorrow on patrol?" Legolas asked, a look of anticipation, mixed with a hint of fear, crossing his face.
"Yes, now that the orcs have been dispersed for the time being, spiders have sprung up to take their place. We just want to ensure that none come too close to hinder the rebuilding of the cottages. We should be back within days," Tavaro said as he poured himself some more wine. "It would be a good expedition for you to join were you not still recovering."
"I am recovered," Legolas protested, a little half-heartedly.
"No, you are not, Legolas," Thranduil said firmly while at the same time threw Tavaro a stern look for even broaching such an outlandish idea. The latter shrugged and hid his face behind his goblet. Thranduil turned to his youngest. "And I have not yet recovered from the fright that you have so recently dealt me and until I have, you will stay put. My heart is far too frail right now for any more fear and worry."
Tavaro burst out laughing, nearly choking on his last sip of wine. "If only Mirkwood's subjects can hear their king lament about his frail heart. Adar, should this leak out, your reputation will be forever ruined."
"It may have failed to come to your notice, but it is a well established fact that if one is a parent, then he or she suffers invariably from a frail heart. It is an ailment that comes with parenthood." Thranduil eyed his youngest in particular as he declared these words. He noted with satisfaction that Legolas had the grace to squirm under his steady gaze.
"Well, Legolas, you heard Adar. I do not think you will be joining any patrols soon," Tavaro said.
"On the contrary, it may be sooner than you think," Thranduil said slowly, surprising them all. Legolas looked at his father expectantly, scarcely believing his ears.
Thranduil laid a gentle hand on his youngest son's shoulder. "You know you did a very foolish and dangerous thing by going out there on you own, do you not? We nearly lost you, Legolas. I am half tempted to you throw you into the dungeons for the balance of your immortal life, if only to save myself from ever going through the fear and despair that I suffered in the past weeks."
Legolas stared down at his hands. "I am sorry, Adar. I never meant to cause you worry and despair. I just thought it was the right thing to do at the time."
Thranduil studied the young face and decided that he could not bring himself to reprimand his son any further. What Legolas was going through was more punishment than the young one ever deserved. He patted his son's shoulder gently. "I know you had the best of intentions, but what you did was wrong, Legolas. A good warrior does not put himself into danger with such recklessness. However, your action also saved Mirkwood from certain annihilation. You have shown that you are capable of being a very skilled fighter, one that can rival any one of Mirkwood's warriors. I am very proud of you, Legolas, as I am sure, are your brothers." Thranduil watched with mixed emotions as his son's once pale cheeks flushed with newfound pride and light danced anew in the blue orbs. The King knew then in his heart that he could no longer hold back this last child. With an effort, he forced himself to continue, "However, you still lack the experience. Perhaps, when you have fully recovered your strength and if your training masters concur, you may join Feren and Tavaro on one of their shorter patrols."
Legolas looked at his father in wide-eyed disbelief. "Do you really mean that, Adar?"
Thranduil smiled and nodded.
"Thank you, Adar!" And in that one moment of joy and excitement of being acknowledged at last as an equal by his elders, the dark memory of death and destruction of the recent battle was pushed aside and briefly forgotten.
Thranduil watched the youthful exuberance that once more filled the face of his youngest and a sense of bittersweet joy filled his heart. He breathed a silent prayer to his beloved queen.
"My love, our last child is a child no longer. He is on the cusp of becoming a formidable warrior, like his brothers. I shall miss that innocent golden elfling with all my heart, but I cannot change the path of destiny. Watch over him, my love, and guide him, as shall I."
Well, that's it for my first story. I want to thank all of you who followed this story and particularly to those who sent me such encouraging reviews. I really hope that you have enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Again, thank you all for sharing this experience with me.
Daw: Thank you for the tip on changing my settings. It's now fixed. Legolas is lucky to have brothers like that. After the last few chapters, I thought we need some cheering up, or at least Legolas does and who better to do that than Tavaro? Thank you for your reviews throughout this story.
Feanen: I tried to make Tavaro funny, for Legolas' sake. Did it work? Thanks for reviewing.
Deana: I'm glad you liked the last chapter. So here's ch. 15 and the end. I hope you like it. It's kind of sad that I won't be posting any more chapters to this story, but it has been a very nice experience.
Miss Attitude: I thought we all needed a little humour, especially Legolas. Yes, the story is at an end now, as you can see. When I first started this story, I had meant it to be one time thing and hadn't really thought of doing anything further. But I've enjoyed the experience so much that I am tempted to write some more. Now I'll just have to see whether I have any creative juices left to write a sequel, or a prequel.
Leggaly4me: Thank you for your kind review. Poor Legolas is getting a bit better with the help of his family. He still knows how to smile.
Farflung: I really must thank you again for reviewing so consistently throughout this story. Well, I think I've put Legolas on the road to recovery with this last chapter. And it was quite fun writing the last chapter with the bantering between the brothers. Hopefully with his family's help, Legolas mend completely soon.
Jebb: Legolas is lucky to have a brother like Tavaro. Actually, he's lucky to have all his brothers and Thranduil. Thank you for your encouraging reviews throughout.
Kitsune: Yes, he's finally smiling so I guess he's on the road to recovery. Thanks for the review.