Well, everyone, here it is – the prequel to all of the others that I've done...
Summary: Legolas has always held a deep devotion for Aragorn, willing to lay down his life in order to protect him – but why? The answer to that question lies some one hundred and twenty-six years prior to the War of the Ring of the Third Age, before the birth of the heir of Isildur...
Unrest disrupts Legolas' life, strange and frightening dreams upsetting his sleeping patterns. Desperate for some form of solace, he takes himself from his father's palace in search of peace and solutions. What he gets leaves him running for his own life ... and the survival of the Race of Men with the charge of a very small child...
Hold on to what is good
even if it is
a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe
even if it is
a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do
even if it is
a long way from here.
Hold on to life even when
it is easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand even when
I have gone away from you.
Nancy Wood, Many Winters
Chapter One - Tea
A baby cried. A constant wail was more like what it was, actually. But it was an important baby, for some reason, with eyes of liquid grey. And it was up to him to see to the safety of this child, because it was important.
The woman that he had tried so desperately to keep alive was dead, her blood on his hands, and, more to the point, her baby...
A man loomed over him, a knife raised.
A flash of another man, this time on horseback. A proud bay stallion reared under an equally proud master whose sword was brandished high above his head, interestingly with the same grey eyes gleaming with emotion. He headed an army riddled with desperation and wavering courage right before some towering black gates, behind which he knew to be no hope. Just death. Death for the entire force he was somehow a member of. And this man on the horse was highly important, just like the baby was, and he knew without a doubt that he would die for this man a hundred times over. Because he was important.
Parched land dominated by Orcs skipped in front of him, and he knew that it was a great city far to the south that had been carven out of living white stone – but it was now razed to the ground along with the rest of the world; all of its thousands of inhabitants slaughtered with merciless, irrational spite. Unseeing eyes stared up at him from sunken sockets, grisly grins of mortal man's bane stretching beneath tight sickly grey, the mere memory of skin and flesh.
A blaze of steel and a searing pain through his leg – upper right thigh, to be precise – and the original man laughing manically over his spilt blood, raising the knife again and plunging it down right where his heart was-
Legolas gave a cry, sitting bolt upright in his bed, his breath racing from him, his chest feeling incarcerated because the panic was so intense. A cold sweat prickled his forehead, and his eyes darted about the room, searching for the invader that was going to knife him – but there was no-one. He was alone, completely and utterly alone, with only the darkness of his chamber and the shadows in his mind for company - for which he was thankful.
He sighed, running a slightly trembling hand over his brow to wipe the salty beads away, and listened. There was not a sound to be heard in the palace – it was so early that the maids had not even risen yet, so he decided that now was as good a time as any to get up ... at least at this hour – whatever this hour was – he would not be hindered in what he did...
He swung his legs out of bed and crossed to the dresser, splashing scented water over his face. It was cold and sharp, slapping against his skin – the best way to truly rouse his senses.
He dressed quickly, donning the shirt, jerkin, leggings and boots that he preferred to wear rather than his courtly robes. As the Prince of Mirkwood he was obliged to wear such clothing in the palace – but he had absolutely no intention of staying in the palace today, which was the perfect opportunity to wear what he held in his opinion as being 'proper clothes.'
Having run a comb hastily through his hair and braiding it to keep it out of his face, Legolas slipped out of his room and took himself to the palace kitchens. He was in need of something to calm him down a bit after that nightmare. It was not the first one he had had – far from it.
There was an oil lamp going in the kitchens. There always was, especially for the midnight eater –as Legolas tended to be. The kitchen staff knew of his midnight excursions to the larder and always left a light burning for him.
He took the lamp in his hand and progressed to the fire. The embers glowed in a noncommittal manner, soft ambers and oranges arising after a slight prod with the poker. But with an extra fresh log followed by a little encouragement, flames slowly began to eat away at the dry wood with revamped life – perfect for the kettle of water that he placed above it on the grate.
Having rekindled the fire, Legolas set off for the larder, and selected from the shelves the Wolf's-claw root and pot of honey, plucking a couple of leaves from a potted mint plant that grew in the centre of the kitchen work table as he came back, and it was there that he laid down his leaves and Wolf's-claw, taking a knife from the rack and crushing the two until he deemed that he had created a sufficient amount of broken herb to give a suitable flavour, and he pushed it onto the knife, slipping it into the now steaming kettle.
He scooped out as much honey from the pot as he could on the knife blade, having come to the conclusion that using a spoon was too much of a fuss at this time in the morning. The honey was set, as all good honey should be eventually, and he took a kind of mild pleasure in watching it dissolve in the water as he stirred it in with everything else.
The aroma came to his nose and he breathed it in deeply, already feeling his spirit lift a little just by smelling his favourite tea. It amused him considerably that none other than he could stomach it, and he had had practically the entire household taste it. It was not his fault that they were all abnormal...
He poured out the contents into a mug, straining it, and finally went to sit at the table, the mug steaming in front of him. He sat there for a considerable time, swirling the liquid about the sides of the mug and blowing gently to cool the contents, enjoying this simple pleasure as he sipped carefully, mulling over things in his mind that only solitude and a peculiar hour allowed him to mull.
These dreams were really beginning to bother him now. What did the baby mean? Was the man on the horse the baby full-grown, or was he someone completely different? And what of the woman and the other man? Who were they? Where did the connection lie between all of the components of his disjointed visions? He was sure that this was symbolic of something – it had to be, otherwise surely he would not have dreamt of it so many times. He was not gifted with seeing the future, so far as he was aware – at least, he had never known of events prior to when they occurred. That was something he knew Lord Elrond of Imladris was capable of ... but himself...
I fail to understand the workings of my own mind...
The door opened to the kitchen, and Legolas heard the familiar footsteps of his father enter the large room, the slight scuffing that his feet made indicating that he wore his doe-skin slippers.
'Good morning, Adar,' greeted Legolas, turning round to give his father as convincing a smile as he was able to muster.
His father offered his son a smile in greeting rather than words, and he stopped when he came to the table, head cocked to the side as he surveyed his child. Legolas, feeling uncomfortable under the penetrating gaze, turned back to the table, raising his mug again as though through some wish to hide behind it.
'I heard you get up,' the King mentioned in a matter-of-fact voice.
I heard you scream in your sleep, was what he meant.
'I wanted to rise early to go riding,' Legolas lied.
'At two in the morning?' Thranduil asked incredulously, staring in disbelief at the other Elf as he pulled out a chair opposite him and placed himself gracefully into the seat. 'Legolas, no-one goes riding at two in the morning, no matter how enthusiastic they are!'
'Well, Adar, you know that you have always said that I was exceptional...'
'There is exceptional, and there is insane.'
Legolas cocked an amused brow at that comment and took another sip at his tea, offering it to his father when he saw the King's eyes watching the mug as though it was some kind of demon. He chuckled as Thranduil shook his head to the gesture, actually pulling back as if he thought the beverage was going to try and attack him.
Thranduil sighed sadly as he bore witness to the presence of one whom he deemed to be lost: his wife. The Queen had passed some two thousand, six hundred years ago; but she still lived in Legolas. That smile; the mischievous glint that had alighted the eyes a few seconds before; the eyes themselves – they all came from her, as did their son's wonderful nature.
Legolas' brother, Baerahir, had resembled Thranduil the most, yet he had still had some of his mother's quirks... But he was gone now, and so was she. Just Thranduil and Legolas left. Only them...
'Would you like some company on your ride?' the King asked quietly. 'Then we could talk to each other for a time, just we two – we have not done that for a while, have we?' He tried to smile as invitingly as he could, tried so very hard to win his son over. He knew that something troubled Legolas – if he was able to get him to tell him about it, perhaps it would ease his mind...
Legolas smiled at his father's proposal, and Thranduil knew by the apologetic crease in his child's brow what the answer was.
'No thank you, Adar – I would prefer to spend the day alone, if that is alright with you, my Liege.'
'Don't call me that, ion nín – you have no cause to at the moment. If solitude is your wish, then I shall not deny it of you.'
Legolas averted his eyes to the tea, watching the steam and feeling shame colour his cheeks briefly. How could he shun his father like that when he was trying so hard? But as much as he loved his father, time alone was what he was in need of at this moment, so he just had to hope that his father understood that.
'I hope you find the peace you solicit on your ride. When will you return?'
'The next day at noon, by the latest.'
'Very well.' The King rose from his chair and passed to the door. 'I'm going back to bed: please come back in one piece, leave the Orcs alone, and for goodness sake don't go near those men – we do not need that again.'
Legolas grinned into his mug at the last point, remembering the incident well. 'That was a load of malarkey: I never stole those horses they were mistreating – I simply opened the gate. They ran out on their own accord...'
Thranduil shook his head. 'Always the innocent, are you not, ion nín?'
'Of course,' the King repeated in a mockingly childlike tone, shaking his head to himself as he left the room. 'I simply opened the gate. I'll simply confine you to the dungeons if you do it again...'
Legolas - much to his amusement - could still hear his father rambling on to himself as he made his way down the corridor and up the flight of steps to go back to his bed chamber. His father was the closest person in his life - the one he looked up to and respected the most out of all of the inhabitants of this Middle-earth. The great and mighty King Thranduil the Wise, the most powerful king Mirkwood had ever had. But, more important to Legolas, he was Thranduil the Father, the one supporting column in his life.
But there was also Lord Daerahil, best friend and advisor to the King, and confidant to the Prince; Legolas was prepared to share almost everything with his father, but was prepared to share absolutely everything with Daerahil ... there were some things which occurred in the life of a child that a parent was not always wanted to be knowledgeable of, and that was where Daerahil came in. Since he had been small, Legolas had always used Daerahil to act as a willing conspirator in certain aspects of his life: the first time being when he had accidentally unintentionally deliberately set fire to some parchment on his father's desk. He had not intended to burn that great scorch-mark in the wood, just the parchment. Desperate to stay out of inevitable trouble, he had gone unwillingly to Daerahil for aid. Of course, the Elf Lord was not impressed by the situation by any means, and he still gave the child Prince the scolding of his life about it, but he helped him none the less, telling the King that he had been working at the desk himself and had accidentally upset a candle that toppled onto a scroll which instantly caught, making the black mark in the table before he could put it out.
Legolas smiled at the memory; he had been merely two-hundred and fifty-three at that stage in his life - a small boy - barely reaching his father's hip. But even as he had grown and passed deeper into adulthood he had kept his closest confider...
He left the table, scraping the chair noisily on the stone flags as he rose to dispose of his emptied mug, feeling decidedly better for the tea he had consumed; it always had this affect on his mood, a small comfort in stressful times.
Blazen was a proud animal: seventeen hands high, stunning grey with dark points to him; a magnificent creature with a wonderfully curved, muscled neck and body, a beautiful head with the darkest eyes one could possibly see in a horse. Agile and obliging to his rider – whom was only ever Legolas, as he allowed no other to even touch his back - he was the swiftest of the horses of the entire of the King's Guard. And he knew it, something that loaded the horse with arrogance. It was odd, Legolas always thought, that a horse could be arrogant. But this one certainly was, parading himself before the mares at every chance he got, tail raised and neck arched, and laying his ears flat and lowering his head at the other stallions. Wild stallions usually formed harems of about five mares, but Legolas deemed himself fairly sound in the presumption that – given half the chance – Blazen would create one with the entire of the Mirkwood Guard's stock of females – all nine-hundred of them.
Legolas brushed over his horse's coat before they departed the stables, carefully combing through the mane and tail with loving hands. He adored his horse very much and they had been through many a battle together. An unbreakable bond had been forged between them - a love and respect that came straight from their hearts.
When his task was done, Legolas placed a hand on Blazen's neck and mounted with one smooth action, then whispered to his horse to leave the stables. There were no chains to the stalls in which the horses resided: the Elves of Mirkwood did not believe in restraining their animals against their will, and they used no tack on their beasts, either, preferring to ride bareback – again this was for the freedom of the horse.
And so it was that they departed from Oropher's House, Legolas deciding to head to the southern stretches of the forest – well, as far as he dared, anyway; he would not take them so far as Dol Guldur, not for anything. He harboured no desire to bring about his own demise in such a way...
It had always been a matter of intense unease for the Elves of the Woodland Realm to have the Dark Lord so close to them, a black veil that often blanked out the stars to their eyes. There was absolutely no question of driving him out – if he was not there, then where else would he go? 'No,' the King had concluded, 'it is better to have him here than afflicting the rest of the world with his malice.'
However, the Woodland Realm suffered greatly for her sacrifice: Orc attacks were a weekly occurrence, patrols rarely coming back with nothing to report to their Prince. Legolas was Captain of the Mirkwood forces, and so it was onto his shoulders that the responsibility of commanding fell.
He had lead an offensive once against the Black Tower after one particular attack that had razed an entire province of the kingdom, slaughtering some one-thousand Elves. This was something that he could not ignore, the grief and sheer ire too powerful to cast aside this insufferable cruelty – but the mission was ill-fated, resulting in the highest fatalities the army had ever seen, and the near-death of the Prince himself. No: it was most unwise to venture too close to the south of Mirkwood during these times...
The sun ascended her invisible staircase to the skies, reddening the abyss above the naked treetops – half-seven in the morning, he guessed. Now he could see his breath properly as it smoked from his nose, though the winter chill did not affect him in the slightest. The cloak about his throat was there more for the comfort of the weight and its ability to permit him to melt into the background better rather than warmth. Equally, the gloves on his hands were light and thin, for show more than anything else. Show for whom, exactly, he knew not, but he liked the feel of the doe-skin on his hands. Just a small comfort. The privileges and joys of being of royal blood. He grinned mirthlessly at the thought.
Being a prince had its highs, and, inevitably, its lows. He enjoyed the commanding position he held over the army – he was exceedingly respected by the men as an experienced warrior, never afraid of getting in and fighting alongside the soldiers, and also for having a brilliant mind for tactics and strategic command in the field. But he loathed the way he was always expected to be present during his father's councils - endless talks over nothing that interested him. And he had to pay attention during such congregations, as his father always sought his opinion on whatever matter they stretched out in such interminable, garrulous sessions. If he could have his way, a topic would be raised and dismissed with a sharpness that permitted it no time to become so boring...
"Trade with the Lake Men: I propose that we increase the amount of grape intake to Mirkwood and in turn supply them with endless quantities of preserved cherries from the past season – all those in favour say 'Aye!'"
His lips tipped upwards at the edges at his foolish thoughts. Of course, Council was held about matters like that: how large a quantity of this should be traded for how large a quantity of that, how was it going to get from one point to the other with the river frozen, whether the ice was thick enough to permit the sledges to be put into use yet...
But as well as that, there lay the deadly serious responsibility, the one he felt constantly uneasy about having: the responsibility for the safety and protection of his people. Patrols were an easy thing to arrange, and of late the sentinels had been upped vastly due to the resent attacks ... but to have lives laid into his hands for unwavering shelter during the storm was something he could never accept as a requirement of his duties. People were precious to him, every last one of them in the Mirkwoodian Realm meant everything to him, which made it all the more heart-breaking when one of them died in an attack. One person responsible for one hundred thousand.
He sighed, choosing to abolish such thoughts from his mind for the time being. He had left the Guard in the capable hands of his lieutenant, Fellren, for the short duration of his absence. The Elf was highly capable, and Legolas trusted him with his life. They had fought side-by-side in many a battle, proving his invaluable worth the world over...
Blazen's hooves thudded dully on the forest path, the one specifically designed by the Elves for easy passage through to the east. He would turn from it in a couple of hours, taking himself into the depths of the trees. He knew the lay of the land better than any mortal or Orc – this was his home, and nothing happened in it without his knowing of its occurrence.
I think I shall pass down that trench to the south-west of the bear cave, he mused to himself. If I meet anything it should be interesting... That particular trench was well reputed for being the favourite haunt of a certain colony of Spiders. They were smaller than the average monsters that inhabited the forest, but they were still of a considerably formidable size, well capable of dragging off a horse into the tree canopy.
His quiver was full, the bolts tightly compacted, yet not so much so that he was unable to draw with his usual speed. The white long-knives sat safely in their sheaths, the bone hilts a wonderfully rich cream in colour, gold filigree playing across them in intricate flurries of fine leaves and extravagantly curved tendrils, the blades wonderfully crafted, eagle talon sharp, a gentle curvature bringing the weapons to their full deadly elegance. Not that any enemy unfortunate enough to be on the sharp edge of either of the knives had the chance to admire the treacherous beauty before their throat was slit. They had been presented to him when he had reached his first millennia, gifted to him by his Adar – but before they had been laid into his possession, they had belonged to Baerahir...
"He would have wanted you to have them, ion nín – may they defend you as they did him, and may wielder and blades respect and honour each other."
Legolas smiled grimly at the memory, remembering well how the tears had stung his eyes at the gift, the small prayer he had begged of the Valar still strong in his mind – "Ai, Eru, please let me be worthy of his weapons." He had been terrified that he would somehow sully the memory of his brethren with these glorious blades in his hands. Baerahir had been so very proud of his knives, and Legolas held a plain vision in his mind of the Elf sitting under the cherry trees in late Spring, pink blossoms shedding their petals at the slightest breeze. He had been polishing the white steel with a doe skin cloth, lovingly labouring over getting every mark from their gleaming surfaces. And now they belonged to Legolas, and he took just as much care, treasuring them greatly. They had belonged to his brother, and so they were sacred to him, the only thing he had left of Baerahir save the ghostly wisps of memory. He had been a mere child when Baerahir died in the War of the Last Alliance, his demise coming with the fall of Sauron, yet another victim of the Dark Lord's brutality. Legolas still could not understand how the King could stand to have the murderer of his eldest so close by: he was certainly aware that he himself had great difficulty with the fact...
The day wore on with little happening worth taking into account. Robins exchanged their threats into the bitter air, constantly warning each other to stay over their own patch of land. He saw a white hart, tall and proud with marvellous prongs to his mighty antlers. The creature had watched Legolas approach, large brown eyes fixed upon him for a time, no fear passing over them. The Elves all held a deep respect for animals such as this: a beast that had clearly outstood the throws of time and trials of life deserved not to be shot. He had sauntered away in the end when Blazen had come too near, cleft hooves picking nimbly through the litter of the forest floor, the very picture of elegance and grace. It was a white hart that adorned the King's banners, the representation of Mirkwood from the days of Legolas' grandfather, Oropher.
The exact information concerning the death of his brother had never been disclosed to him. True, he had merely been a small child at the time; but he had grown now, adulthood having claimed him many, many centuries ago, bringing him away from the tight security that had been laid about him to shield his young form from further harm – King Thranduil deemed that his son had gone through enough losing his grandfather and brother, and, a few months later, his mother, all in the space of less than a year and at such a very youthful age. He had come across death far too many times in the eyes of his father, so wrapping his youngest in lessons, nursemaids and peaceful skills such as horse riding and diplomacy was his Adar's solution to the problem: a sheltered life locked the doors to pain.
But, from the time Legolas reached five hundred, his contentment in the learning of pacifying dexterities began to wane, soon to become non-existent. He had never shown any real interest in politics – yes, he wanted to defend his people as their prince, but not in the way his father wished him to. The only ability he had obtained that he reasoned to be of any use was his horse riding, and he thought that was done; he had learned – in his view – all there was to know about the animals and submitting them to his whims.
He had been seen one night on the archery fields with a bow in his hands. The guard whom had witnessed the young Prince had rushed to find the King and alert him to the activities of his child. Thranduil had been joined by Daerahil, concealed in shadow behind the young, unsuspecting Elf, and the King had been about to interfere when his best friend held him back...
'Just watch him, first,' he had advised. 'Observe and see if the fledgling can fly...'
It had been the first time Legolas had held a bow, but he somehow knew how to wield it – his poise needed a little adjustment, but he was hitting the targets, even though his frame trembled slightly with the muscle strain he was not used to administering to his arms and shoulders. It was at that point that Thranduil relented, though grudgingly. This was clearly the fate the Valar had designed for his son, so who was he to resist it?
Diplomacy was replaced with weapons training, and Thranduil had delighted to see Legolas bloom with such fabulous gusto at what he did. Archery, the King decided, was not enough, so sword and dagger work was instructed. For some reason, Legolas had not been overly fond of this, coming back to the palace covered in cuts for the first few months of his tutoring, not even a millennia old yet and complaining loudly about his fervent dislike of knives and other blades. The King presented his son with two options: continue with full weapons training – or stop sword work and archery to go back to diplomacy and never touch a weapon again.
'If one fails you in the battlefield, Legolas, then what will you have to fall back on? The answer is nothing, and you will meet your doom, all due to your stubborn stupidity as a youth!'
Legolas smiled at the reflection. The words had been harsh, but they had had the desired effect, pushing him to continue with knife work and swordplay until he was able to hold his position even against his tutor ... whom happened to be Daerahil, lending his expertise in the art of blades to his young prince...
He smelt the wind with a deep breath, analysing the scent and playing it against his memories. Snow, he finally concluded, eyeing the ominous grey clouds as they swirled above the forest, congregating over the mass of bark and wood as though gathering as an army to assail the great forest.
The trees began to condense about the horse and rider, the sky becoming more and more obscured as they made their passage between the mighty boughs. It was here that Legolas chose to leave the road, and he quietly urged Blazen from the track right into the midst of the forest. Blazen picked his way between the jutting roots and occasional rocks in their path – he knew this stretch of the forest well, as his master lead frequent patrols into its depths to deal with the Spider situation, keeping their numbers down to protect both the Elven settlements and the unwitting traveller on the roads.
Sure enough, long threads of web were soon to be seen, dangling with little enthusiasm from the branches, the abandoned mess left by Spiders that decided to go and do something else. But the desolation did not last for long, and the canopy became thick with dense nets of sticky web. The thread of these Spiders was incomparable with that of a normal spider: normal spider webs were beautiful, glistening with dew on the mornings, created by the best seamstresses of the animal world. Indeed, they were even of help to the injured – Legolas had bound many a wound with freshly-spun web for its antiseptic qualities before laying some material over them. However, were he to do this with Spider netting, he would, by now, be dead. It was fine to touch – not that any ever wanted to do such a thing – but if it got into the bloodstream, it was as bad as the Spider venom itself.
The thick grey drapes wafted heavily as the wind stirred – the only thing they glistened with as they shifted in the light was the evil sticky residue used to ensnare the unsuspecting. Legolas distinctly saw a black leg reallocate slightly above his head. The beasts were sluggish during the winter, the cold doing nothing for their energy levels. And with today being so cloudy, they had not a chance of bathing in the weak rays of sunlight, for all that was worth.
Blazen tossed his head, ears flicking in worry, a snort smoking briefly in the air.
'Stille, mellon nín,' Legolas soothed quietly. 'Nothing will happen that we are unable to handle, do not fear.' But Blazen was not at all heartened by these words, and he released a frightened whinny, stopping and pawing nervously at the ground.
Then Legolas tensed.
Awareness and his acute senses flared into life, screaming to him that something was indefinably wrong, and he feared the fact that he knew not exactly what it was. They were surrounded by Spiders, that was true, but the monsters were too dull-witted at the moment to care about what tread the tracks below them.
The odour of warg and Orc struck his nose, blown from behind by the wind.
The creak of a bow.
Blazen flew forward, great hooves pounding the earth as they fled. Legolas chanced a glance behind, and his eyes widened with horror at the eight wargs and their riders that pursued so very closely. Why did I not know they were there? How could they have come so close without my realising? FOOL!
Bolts were loosed from behind, one of which came so close to Legolas' face that the fletching sliced the skin of his cheek, sending a flaring sting through the flesh of his face. But he paid it no heed, retrieving his bow from his back, notching an arrow to the string. He twisted his lithe form, aiming at one of the archers behind. His aim was true, and the warg now ran riderless. The beast continued, emitting hunting cries to the others, who returned it with chilling howls, teeth bared.
Legolas plucked another shaft and fitted it...
Blazen stopped abruptly, rearing and neighing fiercely as his way was barred. Legolas, caught completely by surprise, was unable to avoid falling from his horses' back, tumbling over the animal's neck and striking the ground with painful force. And all he could see above him was a heaving mass of black and grey, his hearing dominated by the snapping and vicious barks of wargs and Blazen's frantic, terrified neighs into the cold, cold winter air.
The world blackened as he sunk into the clinging arms of unconsciousness, unable to move as something grabbed his limbs and closed about his throat, his body weighed down, freedom stolen. An Orc sneered at his face, laughing in its own guttural fashion.
Adar will kill me for this...
He knew no more.