"Chief Guard; the sort of position a King might give to his youngest son on a time..."
- Teanna, That Darn Elf a random musing
"How fares the creature?" asked Thranduil as he began to carve another piece of the pheasant he and Legolas were sharing for their weekly noontime meal. It was a long-established tradition, which no matter how hectic or demanding their schedules became, neither was willing to give up. Usually the conversation during these meetings was of personal nature, but for some reason today, they began discussing matters of the realm. Even though the conversation had turned to business, the king's manner remained conversational; this was not an interrogation, he was merely inquisitive.
However, Legolas still grimaced. Gollum had been a sore point in his recent duties and he had so little time with his father as it was, he did not want to spend it discussing their recently acquired detainee and the problems he had been causing. "He is well, but has been quite troublesome." He paused to take a sip of wine. "He bit Tirithel earlier."
The king froze mid-slice. "Bit him?"
"Yes." Legolas smiled at his father's surprised look, and at the fact that he had the very same reaction when he was told. It wasn't often that Thranduil was caught unawares and it always amused Legolas when he was the one to do so. "Tirithel was trying to give him some food, and the creature bit his hand."
"Was the wound serious?" the king asked, still not moving.
Legolas stifled a laugh at the memory of the indignant elf who had come to him, imploring to be taken off guard duty for the creature. Tirithel had complained long and loudly, waving his injured hand around dramatically, and insisted that further exposure to Gollum would be an enormous risk to his bow hand and a danger to his entire company. When he finally showed the wound to Legolas, it turned out to be relatively minor. It seemed the real damage was to Tirithel's dignity. "No," Legolas answered, unable to entirely hide his amusement at the other elf's antics, "but it was irksome for Tirithel."
Thranduil made a noise that resembled a snort and finished cutting the meat. "I can imagine." The king pressed his lips into a thin line Legolas recognized as an expression that he himself often wore when he was frustrated. "I wish we had more information from Mithrandir. Such as how long we are going to be burdened with this fiend."
Legolas quickly swallowed the bread he had just taken a bite of so he could respond to his father. "There seems little chance of that, I would think. From the stories you have told, Mithrandir does things in his own time, and is not inclined to share his intentions with others."
The king made a disagreeable noise in is throat as he speared the meat he had just cut onto his plate. Apparently that was not the answer he was looking for. "He could have at least stayed long enough to give me a proper explanation as to the reason we must detain this creature."
Taking a sip from his glass of wine, Legolas sighed. He was eager to change the subject before hearing that particular tirade again. He decided to broach the idea that he had come up with. "Ada, perhaps I can offer a suggestion that may make the task of guarding Gollum easier." Thranduil, chewing on a piece of meat, indicated with a wave of his hand for his son to continue.
Relieved that he had managed to avoid hearing all the ways in which Mithrandir had slighted his father over the years, Legolas allowed himself a smile before continuing with his idea. "Perhaps if we change our approach to how we handle him, we will have more success."
Thranduil stopped eating and folded his hands on the table, leaning in towards his son. "What do you suggest, ion nín?"
Legolas did not miss the wariness in his father's voice. He knew he was treading on dangerous ground, for the king did not like his policies questioned, not even by his son. He pushed his plate away, needing to focus all his attention on this discussion with his father, wanting to monitor every nuance, lest he overstep his bounds. "Perhaps we should allow him to walk in the forest, heavily guarded of course." He folded his hands and leaned in, subconsciously mirroring the king. "No creature should be bereft of the influence of the trees and the stars for as long as he has been."
The king took a deep breath and tilted his head at his son. "I once felt the desire to be compassionate as you now do," he said softly, leaning back in his chair, "but I have learned through many painful lessons that one should not succumb to such sentiments." He shook his head at his son. "No, you cannot show mercy when fighting the servants of the Enemy, for none shall be shown to you in return."
"Ada," Legolas placed his palms on the table and leaned in even further. "Is he not a victim of the Enemy as much as a servant? Perhaps with mercy he will no longer feel the draw of the Shadow. Perhaps we can rid him of his black thoughts."
Thranduil bent forward again and placed his hands on the table as Legolas just had. Legolas recoiled at the not so subtle assertiveness in that gesture and sat back in his chair. "Perhaps there is risk in this you have not considered." Thranduil paused, seemingly deep in thought and frowned, almost to himself. Legolas sat still, observing his father and waiting for him to continue. After a minute, Thranduil shook his head again. "No, I do not think it wise."
Legolas felt frustration course through him. This had nothing to do with the possible risk. He was sure this was just his father's prejudice and unwavering dislike of all non-elven beings coming into play once again. "No harm will come of it," he said, trying to keep the aggravation out of his voice. "The creature will benefit, and so will his guards."
Neither spoke until finally Thranduil sat back, throwing his palms up in a gesture of surrender. "Very well," he said indulgently. "Implement the changes as you see fit."
Legolas trudged slowly through the underground corridors that led to the king's throne room, as well as any elf was able to trudge. Although he struggled to maintain a façade of dignity, he knew his emotions must show visibly in his bright blue eyes. He could imagine the king's reaction. He would not be pleased, and Legolas was loath to convey the news. However, the captain that should have borne it had been slaughtered and his second was severely shaken. The young archer who had spoken to Legolas had all but refused to go before the king. To do so was impudent, but Legolas could not find it in his heart to blame the youngster after all he had been through. This was why Legolas had agreed to make the report, and bear the brunt of the king's displeasure.
It is the least I can do, he thought, considering the part I played in causing all this.
There was a common misconception among the Mirkwood elves that Legolas was spared much in his dealings with the king. Yet being Thranduil's son had not spared Legolas from the storm that had ensued after the incident during archery practice several years earlier involving a stray arrow, his father's chief advisor and several ill-fated barrels of Dorwinion wine. He still cringed when he thought of the very loud, very public lecture he had received on the foolishness of elflings and the importance of accepting the consequences of his actions. Thranduil was only rarely moved to anger, especially when it came to his son, but if he had reacted that strongly over lost wine and an injured advisor, he was sure to be irate over this latest mishap.
However, it was not his father's expected reaction upon hearing the news that was causing Legolas's current mood. He blamed himself for this black mark on the realm's vaunted reputation as an impenetrable stronghold. He also felt responsible for the elves who had lost their lives in the orc attack which allowed the creature's escape. It was his compassion; nay, his weakness; that had caused this. He should have seen the king's advice for what it was: the wise judgement of a ruler long experienced in protecting the welfare of his realm, and not stubborn prejudice as he had originally thought. Had he done so, Gollum would still be captive, the reputation of the realm would not have been sullied and, most importantly, Laiborn and twelve others of his company would not have been slain.
As he drew closer to the throne room, he resolved to persuade the king to hold him alone responsible for the creature's escape. The blame should not fall on the surviving members of the company that had been ambushed. Nay, the fault was his. He had pressed his father to make the decision to allow the creature some freedom. The guards were only following orders. He steeled himself not to flinch from whatever repercussions were to come.
The long walk towards his father's chamber reminded him forcibly of another time, seventy five years earlier, that he had been required to seek a similar audience with the king in order to inform him of the unfortunate, and quite inexplicable, escape of thirteen Dwarves from the dungeons. Legolas could remember it as if it had been yesterday…
"Father, I grow weary of riding out on constant patrols." Legolas hoped his voice did not betray his complete disdain for what he saw to be useless exercises. The companies of elves posted on the borders of the realm as the first line of defense were thorough, leaving the short-range patrol units little in the way of action. It had been weeks since Legolas even had to draw his bow against a spider. "I wish for some better way to serve you, and our realm."
Thranduil pursed his lips and regarded his son for a moment before speaking. "Legolas, your skills with a bow are invaluable to those patrols that you loathe so much."
Legolas sighed, realizing that it was going to be no easy task convincing his father to reassign him. Son or not, it wasn't as if he could blatantly request a new assignment. He decided to try diplomacy. "There are others who are as skilled, who do not mind the patrols; who actually delight in them."
The king frowned at him and Legolas tried to decipher the meaning behind his father's expression. Before he had time to ponder too deeply about it, a slow smile spread across Thranduil's face.
"Perhaps you can do something that would better serve," he mused. "There is a dwarf, who refuses to tell me his business in the wood, in one of the, ah, guest rooms."
"Yes," said Legolas dully, remembering the odious task of bringing the dwarf to the dungeons. "I was in the party that captured him."
Thranduil cleared his throat, and Legolas arranged his features to look property contrite for the interruption. The king's smile returned, broader this time, and Legolas grew apprehensive of how their newest detainee could possibly be related to the current discussion. However, any misgivings were quelled at Thranduil's next words.
"I am in need of a Captain of the Guard, and I believe you are ready for that position. Your first responsibility will be to take care of the detention of the dwarf and see to his well being during what I fear will be a lengthy stay with us." He nodded his head and continued to smile at the young elf. "Yes, I think it will be a good experience for you."
A slow smile began to creep onto Legolas's face as he felt the tingling of excitement begin to work its way through his body. Captain! He bowed respectfully to his father. "It shall be done," he said in the most official sounding voice he could muster in his current state.
He turned and exited the chamber, using every bit of will he had to keep himself from running down the hall, overcome by his enthusiasm. Captain of the Guard. The thought was enough to make him want to dance in a manner which was most definitely unbecoming for an elven prince. At last, a chance at something other than routing out those horrid spiders. He started to sing a tune to himself as he walked swiftly down the long corridor, his shoulders back, his head held high and his exuberance barely contained. He couldn't wait to tell Galion, who had been his friend and mentor for as long as he could remember. If anyone would share in his enthusiasm for this new position, it would be Galion.
He was startled out of his thoughts by a commotion coming from the cellars. He hurried to see what the matter was; concerned that something had happened to his charge before he even had a chance to take up his new position. When he arrived in the dungeon he was completely unprepared for the chaos that greeted him.
Several elves from one of the border patrols had their hands full attempting to herd what appeared to be dwarves with sacks over their heads into the empty cells. Apparently, dwarves didn't like having sacks over their heads or being escorted into dungeon cells, because they were not cooperating. There was an especially large sack running in frenzied circles and, despite the strength of the three elves trying to contain him, eluding capture.
A smaller sack had hooked its foot onto the bars of one of the cells and would flail uncontrollably whenever any of the elves would try to disentangle it. Legolas jumped in and helped subdue three sacks that were intent on kicking anything within reach of their legs. By the time he managed to close the door on the cell he had forced them into, the rest of what ended up being only twelve dwarves were safely locked into cells, writhing around on the floor, trying to remove the sacks from their heads without use of their bound hands.
Legolas turned to the somewhat dazed leader of the patrol and held up his hands questioningly. "What is this? Are dwarves now multiplying in our wood?"
The elf seemed to just realize who it was that had come to their aid. He straightened up and, holding his fist to his chest, bowed his head in a respectful greeting. Legolas grimaced at the formality but nodded back as the captain spoke. "These twelve more we have found wandering in our wood. How they escaped the spiders is still unexplained." He turned and glared at the dwarves in the cells. "The king will wish to question them, but in the meantime, I must find a guard for them. We must return to our post."
Legolas began to have his first suspicion that his 'promotion' might not be all that he had imagined. He glanced unhappily at the row of cells that were now occupied with the disgruntled dwarves. Taking a deep breath, he tried to resign himself to his new job. He turned back to the captain who was clearly waiting for a dismissal. "Return to your post. I will see to their charge."
The elf smiled kindly at Legolas and clasped his shoulder. Legolas smiled back, knowing he must have sounded quite grim if the captain was willing to extend such an informal gesture towards him. They stood there for a moment, ignoring the complaints, rude noises and occasional banging coming from the dwarves, before the captain handed Legolas the ring of keys and, with a courteous nod, turned and led the other elves down the corridor that lead out of the dungeons.
Legolas stood watching them depart, no doubt heading back to patrol; back to the woods outside. When they were out of sight, he turned to glare once at the large dwarf who was now slapping his sack against the bars of the cell. The dwarf immediately stopped. Legolas shook his head, completely unimpressed with how easy it was to intimidate dwarves. He checked the locks on the cells and left to inform the king of their new guests.
Several weeks had passed with Legolas making his rounds at the allotted time, ring of keys in hand. They were lighter than his bow and quiver, yet to him they were much harder to carry. He could not go back to the king and ask to return to patrols, both out of pride and a sense of responsibility to this new position. Yet he had to admit that hunting spiders was not so bad compared to this. At least during patrol he was out among the trees!
Although Legolas had grown weary of his new position, he performed his duties admirably. The dwarves were well taken care of and, aside from being held captive against their will; there were no complaints that they could have had. But, Legolas reasoned, all they had to do was tell the king their business, display some 'sense and manners' as his father put it, and they would most likely be released, or at least moved to better quarters.
Tonight, his guard duties meant he would miss most of the feast. He wondered if his father hadn't intended this all along, annoyed that his son had been so brazen as to ask for a new job. As he sat outside the row of cells, listening to the dwarf called "Gloin" spew off another round of insults, he grew more and more resentful of the assignment he had been given.
Legolas was pondering whether eliminating one of their "guests" would gain him back his old position when Galion found him. Tired of his bitter musings and of hearing all the ways Gloin found to insult his parentage, Legolas was more than happy to see his friend.
"Now come with me," Galion said, "and taste the new wine that has just come in. I shall be hard at work tonight clearing the cellars of the empty wood, so let us have a drink first to help the labor."
"Very good," Legolas replied laughingly, "I'll taste with you, and see if it is fit for the king's table. There is a feast tonight and it would not do to send up poor stuff!"
He followed Galion to a small cellar and sat at the table in the middle of the room. Galion placed two flagons on the table, one for Legolas and one for himself. He walked across the room and pulled out a barrel of Dorwinion which he hefted up onto a trestle. He found a clean jug and, filling it from the barrel, brought it back to the table where he poured until the cups were full.
Galion sat down and lifted his mug in a toast. "May our wine be ever plentiful and our feasts be ever merry!" He took a large swig of the wine.
Legolas lifted his mug in the same manner. "May we be ever fortunate to bear the burden of taste testing his majesty's wine." He took a swig to rival Galion's and placed his cup back down on the table.
Not to be outdone, Galion lifted his own cup again. "May the dwarves only remain prisoners long enough for you to come to your senses and desire to return to patrols." He took another large gulp and it was a miracle that he was able to swallow it, laughing as he was at the dismayed look on Legolas's face.
Legolas raised his flagon but feeling both the effects of the wine and the well-aimed barb his friend had just thrown, could not immediately come up with a suitable retort. While he was thinking, he took several more gulps. Finally, he hoisted his cup. "May you…" But what ever he was going to say was interrupted by a large hiccup. Galion doubled over in laughter. It seemed the wine was taking its toll on him as well.
Legolas did not take offence at his friend's laughter. Galion, though always mindful that Legolas was the king's son, had handled the young prince with a certain amount of cheek ever since he was an elfling. It was a refreshing change from the formal way most other elves in the realm treated Legolas, even before he had come of age. The other elves didn't even feel comfortable enough with Legolas to joke around, let alone tease him. Galion's irreverence allowed for the close bond that had developed between them over the years.
Still, he could not allow the older elf to get away with an unanswered taunt. Legolas made a valiant attempt to fix Galion with an intimidating glare, but before he could think up a proper comeback, he dissolved into laughter himself, although he was not sure why. He looked mournfully at his empty glass, until Galion caught the hint and refilled both cups. They continued to drink and laugh and attempt toasts, but as time went on the laughter increased and the lucidity of the toasts decreased. At last they could do little more than throw good-natured digs at each other, disguised as toasts, regarding Galion's inability to tell Dorwinion from vinegar and Legolas's various archery mishaps. After a while, Legolas found his eyes getting heavy. He tried to fight the feeling, knowing that he was expected to respond in some way to this latest jibe at his competence, but it was a losing battle. He never heard the end of his friend's sentiment as he laid his head on the table and was swiftly brought into the pleasant world of Dorwinion-inspired dreams.
He did not wake when a small Hobbit swiped the keys off his belt, or put them back on for that matter. He continued to sleep while thirteen dwarves were sprung from their cells and packed, quite noisily, into barrels. Nor did he stir when a number of elves came in and roused Galion to help with the empty wine barrels.
No, he did not wake until the king himself came down to the cellar to find out what it was that had prevented his son from joining the feast after his shift of guard duty was over...
Reaching the door of the king's throne room brought Legolas back to the present. He did not doubt that Thranduil's mood upon hearing of the empty cells of the dwarves all those years ago would provide a good guide to his temper when he heard the current news. Legolas wished he had more time to prepare. He took a deep breath and entered the room with slow steps.
Thranduil was sitting on his throne conversing with two of his advisors. As Legolas entered the room, the king dismissed the other elves and got up to walk towards the door.
"Legolas!" The king reached him and grasped his shoulder affectionately, smiling at his son. "I did not expect to see you until the Harvest Festival this evening. But now that you are here, perhaps together we may sample the wine."
At the mention of wine, and the inevitable reminder it held of past failings, Legolas grimaced and dropped his head. "Nay, my lord."
"Nay, Legolas?" Thranduil took a step back. When Legolas looked up at his father's face, he saw shock and indignation, but there was a smile playing at the corner of his mouth, betraying his jovial mood. "Would you deny your father his request? Perhaps I should order it as your king?"
Legolas felt a brief pang of regret that he had to burden his father with this problem, at this time, when Thranduil was for once obviously granted a respite from the worries and difficulties that came with ruling a realm so close to the Shadow. He took a deep breath and answered his father.
"Ada, there is something I must speak of with you."
Thranduil must then have noticed the worried expression on his son's fair face. He creased his brow. "What troubles you, ion nín?" he asked in a more sober tone.
Legolas steeled himself to look into the kings eyes and took a breath, strengthening his nerve. "It is the creature, Gollum, which troubles me." He paused, thinking how best to convey the message.
During the slight delay, Thranduil walked back towards his throne and motioned for Legolas to follow him. He sat back down and indicated for Legolas to take the chair next to him. "Has he attacked another patrol member? I am running out of patrols to assign to his watch, Legolas."
Legolas shook his head, feeling even more apprehensive than he had when the conversation started. "Nay." He stood nervously and dropped his eyes. "He will no longer be a trouble to patrols."
Thranduil stood as well, reaching out to tilt his son's face up to meet his gaze. "Has the creature been slain?" He had no pity in his voice, only curiosity.
"No." Legolas took a step back and looked again at the floor. "The creature has escaped," he said quietly, waiting for the hammer to fall.
Thranduil did not speak and Legolas looked back up at him. The king stood rooted to the spot and suddenly looked very weary. Slowly he sat back down into his throne. "Escaped?" he asked in a quiet voice. "How?"
Legolas recoiled at the dangerously low voice the king had just used. He retold the events as they had been conveyed to him and saw the king's features turn from shock, to anger, to what could only be described as a seething fury. As he finished his account, Legolas braced himself for the wrath that would surely now descend upon him.
Thranduil did not speak, but sat with his hands folded, looking at his son with an all-too-calm expression. After a moment he sighed and dropped his head into one of his hands. After sitting silently for what seemed to Legolas like an eternity, the king spoke without looking at his son. "We must tighten our border guard to ensure that no more of our kin are killed at the hands of these fell creatures."
Legolas winced; feeling the weight of responsibility for any of their kin to have been killed in the first place, despite the fact that he had been spared the strike of his father's temper. He stood in silence, unsure of how to proceed.
After several moments the king spoke again without looking up. "Mithrandir must be notified. I know not where he is, but a missive sent to Lord Elrond in Imladris will find its way to Mithrandir." Quite obviously agitated, he looked off into the distance and spoke quietly to himself. "I must send a messenger at once to inform them of this."
Legolas was sure his own feeling of guilt was worse than any censure the king could have turned on him. "Forgive me father," he said, a pained expression on his face. Thranduil focused back on him. "Twice I have failed you in my duty as Captain."
"Twice?" Thranduil interrupted his son. "Only once were we charged with the custody of this creature. How do you think it twice? I would hold the count of your failure at none."
Legolas stared incredulously at his father. He was surprised at Thranduil's reaction, for he had been sure the infamous temper of the king of Mirkwood would have been incited at this news.
Legolas bowed his head. "I count the escape of this creature as my failure. As for the other, I have not forgotten the escape of a party of dwarves some seventy-five years ago." He pressed his lips into a thin line as he made a quick decision, his resolve and determination being borne of that moment. "Twice I have failed you. As such, I shall travel to Imladris to alert Lord Elrond and Mithrandir of the foul creature's escape."
Thranduil rose from his throne. "No. I will not allow it." His expression turned from surprise to concern. "It is too dangerous and I will not risk you on the journey."
The young elf's expression soured. "What do you risk, sire? I have failed in my position. It would be no loss to the realm should I not return."
The king crossed to Legolas, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You are my son. It would be a great loss to the realm." His eyes were brimming with parental concern and affection. "And to me."
His words would have softened Legolas's resolve, had he not been so determined to right this wrong that he felt he was responsible for. Instead he merely clasped his father's shoulder.
"I assure you, no harm will come to me. If it comforts you, I shall bring a party of warriors with me, and should anything befall us, we will overcome it."
Thranduil saw the resolution in his son's eyes and, with an imperceptible sigh, gave in. "If that is your wish. But know that I will not rest easy until your return."
Legolas smiled, grateful and determined. "I know, ada." Thranduil grasped his shoulder more firmly for one moment before releasing it.
"Go now, assemble your company and make all haste to Imladris."
Legolas gave him a sharp nod and turned to leave the room. As he passed the door, he heard his father whisper almost inaudibly to himself, "May the Valar protect you on this journey, ion nín. I fear you will need it, more than either of us can foresee."
When the party of warriors returned to the Woodland Realm without the prince, Thranduil feared the worst. His heart was eased on hearing his son had not been slain, yet his anxiety was renewed tenfold when they spoke of the new quest.
He silently cursed the dwarves who had escaped all those years ago, and all dwarves in general, and the foul creature that should have been killed the moment they had laid eyes on him. He cursed himself for relenting and letting Legolas travel to Imladris. He cursed Mithrandir for giving the foul creature over to their keeping in the first place, and for his involvement in this new quest.
"Alas," he said at last, "There was naught I could have done to prevent this." Yet his worries were accompanied by another feeling that swelled within him: a deep pride for his impulsive son.
Legolas's words echoed in his mind. "…and should anything befall us, we will overcome it."
"May the Valar let you have spoken true." With that thought he retired to his throne room to await any word of his son's return.