Very few people in the palace – or in Mirkwood itself – were accustomed to being awake so early in the morning. Besides the occasional person who found sleep elusive, the only elves who were conscious at that hour were the diligent but weary guards who'd been assigned night duty and the palace cook who was in the kitchen preparing to make breakfast for the king and prince. On that particular morning, however, the prince himself was not only awake but dressed and out of his bedchamber.
As quietly as he could, the young elfling crept through the corridors. Seeking out concealing shadows and items along the way that he could easily hide behind Legolas made his way closer and closer to the main door that lead outside. That strategy served him well until he heard two sets of approaching footsteps – guards on their regular patrol, he guessed – completely out in the open. With no other option available he pulled open the door to the closest room, shutting it quietly and praying that the guards were too tired to notice whatever noise was made. 'They can't find me yet,' Legolas thought, determined and desperate. 'If I get caught, everyone will just keep a closer eye on me and I'll never have this chance again. I'll have to spend the rest of my life in – here – this stupid throne room.'
He glared disdainfully around the room as he waited for it to be safe to leave again. For the most part it looked just as it always had for as long as he could remember: a lush, green carpet on the floor that led up to his father's ridiculously (in Legolas' opinion) ornate, jewel-encrusted throne. Thranduil's staff lay, as it ever had been when he wasn't holding it, carefully across the throne. A smaller, less adorned – but still too fancy for Legolas' taste – throne sat next to the king's and the elfling knew from unpleasant experience that it wasn't very comfortable. The floor all around was not shiny – few cavern floors were – but it was clean. For years Legolas had resented the room for carrying with it the memories of stuffy, complicated ceremonies that no one particularly liked doing but everyone felt was important; for reminding him of all the times he had to wear fancy and constricting garments with a circlet of mithril that made his forehead itch when he wore it for too long.
If only that was the only way he had to feel about it now! Legolas turned his baneful gaze at the latest and most hateful addition to the throne room: a stool that stood in the corner. It was simple, made of wood and little else, and looked out of place there, as if someone had brought it in there and forgotten it once its use had passed. Under different circumstances, the young prince might have actually liked having it in there just because it looked so unassuming – a touch of simplicity in a room that had precious little of it. He hated it, though, and precisely because it's used hadn't passed.
Oh yes; the only thing that Legolas hated more than that stool was the reason that he was forced to sit on it for long periods of time several days a week. Scowling, he once again sent every curse that he knew and several that he made up to those two messengers from Rivendell for destroying his life. Why did Lord Elrond, who was usually so wise, have to send them to Mirkwood in the first place? Why did they have to see him? Why did they have to think that he was so beautiful that it was worth making idiots out of themselves and embarrassing their home? Most importantly, why did they feel the need to tell others about the supposedly breathtaking princeling of Thranduil's realm?
It was because of them that he'd only gotten a few more months of normalcy, between when his father expelled them from the kingdom and when – they – started coming.
In Thranduil's study, Legolas sat on his father's lap and peered in amazement at the book that was lying open on the desk. "I always knew that my grandsire was brave," he said, sounding awed, "but this! I would have been so scared just to be going to fight before the Black Gates, let alone leading an army!"
"I did not say that my adar was not afraid," Thranduil told his son in a saddened voice. "A person is not courageous simply because he feels no fear – in fact, that is almost the opposite of bravery because it requires nothing of the person. Those who are truly brave may be frightened but they do what they must do anyway."
"You were there as well, weren't you Ada?" asked Legolas, though he already knew the answer. "I hope that I'll be just as brave when my time comes."
Thranduil hoped that the elfling didn't notice the shudder that ran through his body. "I'm sure that you will be as valiant as you need to be," he swallowed. "Now, do you remember what happened during the battle of the Last Alliance?"
"Lots of people died," answered Legolas. He hugged his father tightly, wondering how close he'd been to dying that day alongside his grandsire. "Isildur managed to cut the Ring off of the Enemy's finger and then didn't destroy it."
"And what happened because of it?" prompted the elven king.'
"The Shadow has been allowed to endure and Isildur betrayed the memory of those who died there and those who fought and lived." Legolas frowned. "Ada, are all Men as bad as Isildur was?"
His father stared at him a long time before opening his mouth and sighing. "Isildur was not bad," he said begrudgingly, "not in the way that the Enemy is, at any rate. He just suffered from follies that all Men have – he was so proud that he thought he could tame the Ring, so stubborn that he refused to believe the counsel of those who were wiser than he, and so lustful for power that he chose to only care about himself. Men have their uses, more so than dwarves, but it is best not to depend solely on their strengths for they have none. It is better, my Little Greenleaf, for Men and elves to leave each other to their own fates."
"It's sad that we can't trust them," said Legolas, deep in thought. "But what about Beren? Luthien loved him so much that she was willing to become mortal for him. Was that the wrong choice for her?"
Thranduil closed his eyes momentarily. "Well –"
"Sire!" A pounding on the door, accompanied by Galion's frantic voice interrupted him before he could give a proper answer. "Sire!"
"Come in before you break the door!" admonished the king. Galion obeyed immediately, slamming the door behind him as if an army of balrogs were gathered on the other side of it. "Why are you behaving so strangely? What is this all about?"
"King Thranduil," said the butler in a formal but hasty tone, "I'm afraid that you need to come to the throne room at once. Some…people are awaiting an audience."
"Can this not wait?" demanded Thranduil, perturbed.
Galion shook his head. "I'm afraid that they'll come looking if you don't deal with them soon."
"Very well," growled the king. He bent over and kissed Legolas' temple. "My Little Greenleaf –"
"- Should stay here," insisted Galion nervously, glancing behind him as if he could see through the door. "I already gathered a couple of guards to make sure that he remains safe and sound."
"Is that necessary?" Thranduil asked, growing more and more concerned. When his butler nodded, he bit his lower lip. "I need you to stay here like the good boy that you promised to be forever, my Little Greenleaf. I will be back as soon as possible."
"All right, Ada."
Giving his son one last kiss and long look, Thranduil opened the door and left the study, followed closely by Galion. The other elf closed it securely behind them and two guards immediately moved in place to block any entrance or exit. "Galion, what is going on?" he demanded. "Who is waiting to see me?"
"Elves – from Rivendell, from Lothlorien, from all over," answered Galion, gesturing wildly. "And they have not come to see you; they are insisting on seeing Prince Legolas."
Thranduil barely had the time to sit down on his throne before the crowd of unfamiliar elves swarmed around. "If you do not want me to order my guards to subdue you right now," he warned fiercely, thinking of how scared Legolas might be if he had to deal with all of them behaving like this, "you will take a step back and behave with a little decorum."
After a moment of pause, they obeyed – to the barest minimum. The king guessed that was the most he could hope for until their strange fits had passed. "Now tell me what is so important that you feel as if you have the right to come into my realm uninvited and make demands?"
"We must see for ourselves if the rumors are true," replied one near the front of the crowd, sounding as if he were dying of thirst and begging for a sip of water.
"And what rumors are you referring to?" inquired Thranduil coldly, unused to dealing with so many outsiders at once and unwilling to make them feel at all welcome.
"Two from my dwelling returned from a recent visit to Mirkwood with the most remarkable tale," the spokesperson answered eagerly – 'almost entranced' would be the way that the elven king would describe them many years later in stories that he would tell his grandchildren. "That here lives an elfling whose beauty rivals even that of Luthien."
Thranduil let loose a put-upon groan. "Do those two morons know nothing of diplomacy and discretion?" he complained. Such a complaint in front of that particular audience might have gone unvoiced had it belonged to another person but Thranduil treasured bluntness and felt it was more important to drive his point home than to be as gentle as possible. "They were referring to my child, Prince Legolas Thranduilion. I myself think that he is exceedingly lovely; then again, I am his father and so cannot be trusted to judge such a thing in an unbiased manner. If you feel the need to verify this for yourselves, I will be…tolerant about showing you a portrait of him."
"No! Please, sire, we wish to see him," pleaded the spokesperson.
"What can you accomplish by gawking at my child that you cannot accomplish simply by gawking at his picture?" asked Thranduil irritably. He discreetly sucked in a breath and prepared to call for the guards.
"We've written songs to honor and delight him, ones that we would be most happy to present him with ourselves," the other elf answered. A wistful yet hopeful expression came to his face. "The time of the elves will be over with by the end of this age. To think that the Valar would bless our peoples in these waning years with one that reflects our days of glory…it makes us think that perhaps not all of what we put into this Middle-earth will be forgotten after we are."
There were times that Thranduil really wished that he wasn't a king and this was one of them. Had he been only an ordinary citizen he could have thrown them out of his home without so much as a peep at his son and not received any blame for it. As one of the last few rulers in the world of elves, though, he bore an unpleasant responsibility to offer people – even if they weren't citizens of Mirkwood per say – hope in whatever form possible. Legolas, he knew, had a similar responsibility as a prince and the king refused to teach his son that it was all right to run away from any responsibility that was going to be at all unpleasant. There would have to be rules of course, and several people ensuring Legolas' safety, but as long as all these troubadours wanted was to sing to his son he couldn't find a reason not to let them to; none, at least, that would allow him to sleep at night knowing that he did everything in his power to offer comfort to his kind during their fading years.
And so that afternoon Legolas was subjected to the first of many, many, troubadour sessions. Thranduil ordered that a stool be brought for the prince to sit on; rather than have Legolas sit on a throne where he could possibly be trapped, the king felt better knowing that he could grab his son at a moment's notice from any angle and run. Then, under the watchful eyes of his father and more guards than were necessary, Legolas sat there and listened to twelve complete strangers sing things that were supposedly about him.
Legolas had to clap his hands over his mouth to keep a sarcastic laugh from escaping. About him! As an elfling and the son of the straightforward Thranduil he had little appreciation for metaphors, especially ones that he had to listen to over and over again. Ones that went on seemingly forever when all they really meant to say was that he was pretty. So the elfling had blue eyes – as did the troubadours; he couldn't understand why they were acting as if they'd never seen anything like them before – and sunny blonde hair. Who cared?
Unfortunately they did, and each and every elf that came after them. Many days a week they prattled on about the same things while keeping Legolas cooped up inside when he could have been playing outdoors. Worst of all, though, was the nickname "The Sun Star." One of the slightly more creative troubadours had come up with that one and it stuck. There seemed to be a general consensus that it was only fitting, seeing that Luthien was a "star" herself and he was just like her, blah, blah, blah.
Legolas thought that he'd never heard anything more horrible and silly in his life. The sun that the world already had was beautiful enough and even if the people wanted another one he was sure that he couldn't compare to the original star. But no one ever bothered to ask Legolas what he thought about it.
But that wasn't going to matter in a few minutes. Legolas grinned with naughty glee as he managed to hurry quietly through the rest of the palace and slip unnoticed outside. He had a plan and it was a good one too. His appearance wasn't going to be so sunny after he was through.
'It rained last night,' he noticed with childish satisfaction as he dashed to a cluster of berry bushes that weren't too far away from the main door of the palace. 'That must mean that Elbereth is helping me with my plan.'
"Good morning, sire," greeted Galion as Thranduil descended the stairs that led to and from the royal quarters.
"Good morning, Galion," replied Thranduil. His eyes darted all around, surveying the butler's surroundings, and frowned. "Where is Legolas? Please tell me that you did not leave him in the care of the kitchen staff. You know that they are apparently incapable of saying no to him! He always comes from there full of sugar-induced energy and the last time he 'helped' them prepare the food we ended up with a generous serving of salt in our pancakes –"
"My king," interrupted Galion. Thranduil gave him a censoring look. "I apologize for my breech of decorum, sire, but I haven't seen the prince all morning. In fact, I was about to ask if he was still sleeping."
"No; I just went to his bedchamber to wake him and he was not there!" cried Thranduil, his panic rising. He hadn't been terribly concerned to find his son's bed empty; it wouldn't have been the first time that Legolas had beaten him to breakfast. But he knew that Legolas would either head straight for the kitchen or dining room in that case and if Galion hadn't seen him at all during his normal rounds…. "Where could he have gone?"
"Perhaps he went to the library," suggested Galion hopefully. "Or to the weapons room – it's been a while since he's tried to break in there. Don't worry, your majesty – I'll gather the guards and everyone will scour every nook and cranny in the palace."
Before they could even take one step, however, one of the guards came running to them. He stopped short when he saw Thranduil and bowed quickly. "My king," he said. "There has been a breach in security."
Thranduil's stomach sank. "What sort of breach?"
"The main doors; one of them was just found slightly opened –"
The elven king didn't even bother to listen to the rest. The front door had been opened without the guards' knowledge or his permission – his son had vanished from his bed – and the palace had been crawling with strangers lately, all of whom wanted an audience with Legolas. What if one of them was so dissatisfied with the brief time he'd seen the prince that he'd snatched the prince in his sleep? What if Legolas had gotten so unhappy with being forced to listen to songs when he wanted to play that he'd decided to run away? In either scenario there was a good possibility that the elfling was in grave danger and that Thranduil had lost him forever. 'Just like I lost his mother and my ada…'
"Legolas!" he screamed frantically as soon as he was outside. Maybe he was still in the area, too close to the elvish settlement for the spiders to brave trying to ensnare him in the sunlight. Maybe he could break away from his captors long enough to scream a reply and give Thranduil an idea of which direction they'd gone in. Praying to whoever felt inclined to answer, Thranduil tried again: "Legolas!"
The forest itself seemed to hold its breath for an eternal moment before a cheerful sing-song voice rang out from not too far away: "Ada!"
Thank Elbereth – the Valar – Eru – whoever was responsible. "Legolas!' cried Thranduil once more, choking on his relief as he ran toward the place where that wonderful voice seemed to be coming from. "Ion nin! My sweet, perfect Little Greenleaf! Oh, I was so…"
His voice trailed off when he finally caught sight of Legolas sprawled out on the ground. "Hi Ada," chimed Legolas brightly, smiling widely as he moved his arms and legs. It looked like he was making a snow angel – in a decidedly less white substance. "I did it! I'm not sunny anymore!"
"No – no you are not," Thranduil managed to get out.
"I couldn't do anything about my eyes," Legolas confided merrily, "but this should be enough to make all of those strangers go away, right?"
Thranduil stared wordlessly at his son. Legolas' shining blue eyes seemed to stand out more prominently than usual and his smile appeared stark white, but that was only because every stitch of his garments and most of his skin were brown. Mud brown – what Legolas was wallowing in. Any part of his skin that wasn't brown – namely the upper parts of his fingers and the right along his hairline – weren't flesh-colored either. They were berry red – the same color as his hair.
The scent of berry juice filled the air as Legolas leapt to his feet and did a victory dance. "No more songs," he chirped cheerfully, spinning around. "No more Sun Star!"
"Ada!" shrieked Legolas unhappily about an hour later as Thranduil dumped yet another enormous bowl of water over his head. Forty-five minutes of intensive scrubbing had reduced the red in his hair from bright and blinding to a few shades stronger than strawberry blonde but it was going to take a least another hour of the same thing before the elfling's hair would resemble anything close to normal. "I want to play! I don't want to be in the tub anymore – please, please let me get out!"
"You may get out of the bathtub," permitted Thranduil. Legolas didn't need to be told twice; he scurried out of the water and made a move toward the door. His father grabbed his arm before he could make his escape, though. "I am only allowing you to get out because the water is brown, Legolas; once it has been drained and replace you are going right back in."
"But the mud's all gone!"
"But this is not," countered Thranduil, running a hand over Legolas' reprehensible still-red locks. He was less than pleased that the berry stain was proving to be just as stubborn as the elfling who'd put it there in the first place. Many parents might have given up for the time being but not the elven king; the most powerful kinds of grief and peril hadn't conquered him when they had the chance and he wasn't about to concede defeat to a makeshift hair dye of all things.
"I want it to stay red," protested Legolas with a whine. "So I don't have to be the stupid Sun Star anymore."
Thranduil sighed in a long-suffering tone. "We have spoken about this," he said with as much patience as he could muster at the moment. "I know that there are other things that you would rather be doing. There are times when I have to do something when I would rather be doing something else, but I – and you – have responsibilities to the world of elves that go beyond what others have."
Legolas glowered at him. "You just want me to keep being the Sun Star, don't you?" he accused, feeling quite betrayed. His father was supposed to be on his side! "You want to show me off like I was one of those stupid jewels of yours. That's why you won't let me play – you're mad that I tried to make that go away!"
"I am angry," replied Thranduil through clenched teeth, "because you went outside without letting someone know about it. There are spiders and strangers about – I thought that you had been kidnapped or had run away! Do you know how that made me feel?" He forced himself to relax. "You have a duty, ion nin, and you must do it."
"Why don't you do it?" grumbled Legolas, pouting. Impulsively, he reached down and splashed his father with the muddy bathwater.
He regretted it immediately; not so much because he felt bad about his behavior but because of the look that came to Thranduil's face. The older elf had never looked so angry at Legolas in his entire life. "Legolas," Thranduil practically growled.
A knock on the door probably stopped them both from doing and saying anything more that they would regret. "I'm sorry to intrude," called a jovial voice on the other side. "I was told that this might not be a good time, but you know me: that's never stopped me before."
"Mithrandir," called Thranduil in a tense voice, his hand fisted tightly in his lap in order to control the shaking.
The door opened and indeed it was the wandering grey wizard. "I've been hearing all sorts of talk about young Legolas causing quite a stir," he explained with a smile. "I decided to see for myself what was going on." He took a long pause to give the elfling an appraising look. "My lad, you look just like a dwarf."
"I wouldn't go that far," bristled Thranduil.
The old wizard's eyes twinkled. "You might some day."
"I doubt that highly," replied Thranduil tightly. He glanced down at his damp robe and sighed. "Mithrandir, would you mind keeping an eye on Legolas for a few minutes? I find that I am in the need to change into some drier garments."
"Of course, of course," agreed Mithrandir amiably. After silently watching the king leave without so much as looking at his beloved son, the old wizard turned to Legolas. "And what was that all about, young Greenleaf?"
"Ada hates me now," Legolas told him, sounding truly devastated. "I snuck out, got all dirty and stained my hair, and didn't do what princes are supposed to do. Oh Mithrandir, we argued and I got mad and I splashed him and now he hates me!"
"Now that's just the silliest thing that I've ever heard, and believe me I've heard many silly things," chided Mithrandir gently, sitting down next to the distraught elfling and resting a comforting arm around his shoulders. "You must apologize, of course, but only because he is angry at you for doing something you shouldn't have done. Your father may not like every decision you make; you may do things that make him extremely unhappy; but he will never stop loving you. An argument and a little bit of muddy water isn't nearly enough to change that."
"This is all those troubadours' fault!" lamented Legolas angrily, relieved to finally have someone to let all of his frustrations out to. "Ada and I were just fine before they came. I don't want to be their Sun Star, Mithrandir! Can't you make them leave us alone?"
Mithrandir smoothed the prince's red hair. "My lad, do you remember when you just started training with your bow?"
"It hurt, didn't it? It made your arms and chest terribly sore and you couldn't even hit the bulls-eyes back then."
Legolas wrinkled his brow. "What does that have to do with this?"
"Well, you had to go through a lot of unpleasantness then, but would you really rather have not experienced that if it meant that you wouldn't have become quite a good archer?" Mithrandir didn't need a response to know the answer. "I cannot yet see how this will affect your future, but I do have the feeling that something good will come out of it all if you have the patience to endure this bad time.
"What good could possibly come from this?" demanded Legolas
"Perhaps you will find love with one of your troubadours," the wizard suggested. "One day one of them might sing a song or read a poem that will inspire you to give them your heart."
"My heart already belongs to my ada!" responded Legolas. "And even if someone else was going to get it, it wouldn't be one of them. They're all so long-winded! I'll never fall in love with anyone like them – in fact, it would have to be someone complete unlike the whole lot of them! A person who knows that a simple 'you're pretty' is better than any of those songs."
A strange feeling passed over feeling passed over Mithrandir; but before he had time to grasp and examine it Thranduil returned. Legolas wasted no time running to his father. "I'm sorry I was bad, Ada," he apologized profusely. A few tears escaped from his eyes. "It's just that I don't like this."
"Oh, my Little Greenleaf," Thranduil crooned as his anger diminished. He scooped up his son and hugged him tightly. "I know that; and I do not like it either. Believe me, if I thought that turning your hair red would make them go away I would have done it months ago! But you give the people who come here hope for the future and I am afraid that as a prince - and a Star - you have the responsibility to keep doing that."
He smiled compassionately at his son. "It will take a while for the bathwater to be replaced," he said. "I have time to eat some breakfast as we wait. Do you care to join us, Mithrandir?"
"Certainly," replied Mithrandir. As he followed father and son to the dining room, the wizard stared thoughtfully at Legolas. Whatever the elfling's future might hold, he couldn't shake the feeling that the newly anointed Sun Star would have something to do with his grand task before it was over. A strange shudder went through him as they passed by some displayed relics of the Last Alliance and Mithrandir vowed to keep an unobtrusive but close watch on Legolas Thranduilion of Mirkwood.
A/N: Thank you so much to everyone who read this, especially to those of you who took the time (or are about to take the time) to review.
A/N, part 2: I don't know how canonically correct it is to have Mithrandir there during that point in Legolas' life, but this is an AU series and I don't care. :)