King Thranduil looked up from particularly vexing paragraph in Elrond's latest letter with a sudden alarming thought: Legolas is very quiet…
The Elvenking rose from his desk, stepped over the sea of papers that always seemed to accumulate when he was working, and prowled around his study in search of his small son.
Legolas was not—as Thranduil had feared—'being a spider' on top of one of the bookcases.
Nor, this time, was he—Eru be praised—attempting to light a fire in his 'goblin cave' beneath the map table.
No—this time, Thranduil found him in the garden cavern, kneeling by the low stone bench that ran the full length of one of the walls, drawing on a piece of parchment.
A red sausage.
Thranduil paused to brush a few crumbs of colour from the seat before sitting down. "Where did the chalks come from, Legolas?"
"Lord Astaldo gave them to me, Ada," said the elfling, looking up from his picture and beaming—giving Thranduil the opportunity to note that his hands, his nose and, for some reason, his teeth and tongue, needed a good scrub. "And these as well." He patted a pile of parchment trimmings—odd-shaped fragments cut from the edges of the skins—and left a smudge of small, greenish fingerprints on the top piece.
I must repay the Counsellor's kindness, thought Thranduil, watching his son wipe a chalky hand down the front of his velvet tunic. Perhaps his daughter would like a lump of clay to play with. Or a pail of whitewash… "And what are you drawing?"
"A snake," said the elfling, seriously.
"A snake. May I see it?"
The child leaned back; Thranduil leaned forward and, looking more closely, saw that the red sausage did, in fact, have two small yellow eyes.
"Have you drawn anything else?"
"May I see what?"
His son laid down his piece of chalk—"No, put it in the box, Legolas,"—gathered up several drawings from the floor, and handed them over.
"Thank you." Thranduil looked at the first picture—a bright orange creature with a big sunflower of a head, two short, sturdy legs and a long, wavy tail.
Legolas had never actually seen a lion—nor, for that matter, had his father—but a passing Haradin merchant, telling him tales of 'the king of beasts', had so captivated the child that the Elvenking had spent an entire morning searching his library for a woodcut, which father and son had then studied in detail.
The elfling had, Thranduil thought, made a reasonable job of putting the image and the description together; though, with its round eyes and lopsided grin, the creature was not, perhaps, as fierce as it might have been. He glanced at his son as he laid the picture down. Legolas had taken up a stick of green and, biting his little tongue in concentration, was carefully adding spots to the sausage-snake.
Thranduil took up the next picture—a drawing of a short, round-bodied, yellow-haired fellow with strong dark brows and piercing blue eyes (arranged in a strangely familiar scowl). "Who is this?"
Legolas peered at the parchment in his father's hands. "That is you, Ada!"
Me… The Elvenking looked again. Yes, the little figure was wearing a crown—wide and white and balanced upon the tips of his ears. Thranduil considered his expression. Am I really more ferocious than a lion?
He laid down his portrait and picked up his son's final drawing. "Legolas…?"
The elfling added some finishing touches to the sausage-snake's forked tongue before looking up.
"Did you come into my bedchamber this morning?"
"I wanted us to go to the stables, Ada—to see the baby horse."
Thranduil took another long look at his son's drawing. Elrond's letter can wait, he thought. "Would you like to see the baby horse now?"
Legolas' smile was like the sun emerging from the clouds.
"Go and wash your hands and face first," said Thranduil. "There is a good boy."
The Elvenking waited until his son had left the garden, then gathered up the child's drawings and returned to his study. His own portrait, the smiling lion and the jolly sausage-snake he carefully pinned to the carved wooden screen beside his desk. The other picture he studied for a few moments more; then—with a sigh of regret—he crossed to the fireplace, laid the parchment in the grate and, taking up his tinderbox and striking a spark, he quickly burned the evidence.
"Hello, baby horse…"
All elves had an affinity with horses—But Legolas, thought Thranduil proudly, is exceptionally gifted.
The Elvenking watched his small son approach the little grey foal, slowly and calmly, murmuring reassuring words. It will do the boy good to help raise it, he thought, —to have a few small responsibilities of his own. "What will you call him, Lasdithen?"
Legolas patted the foal's neck, laughing happily when the horse nuzzled his shoulder, and pushed unexpectedly hard. "Silverwings," he said.
"Silverwings." Thranduil smiled. Then, as if suddenly making up his mind—though, in reality, the decision had been made the moment he had seen Legolas' drawing—"Maeglin," he said, "see that my son gets back to my study. Legolas, when you have finished making friends with Silverwings, go with Maeglin. I will be there soon."
"May I come in?"
"Of course." The beautiful elleth stepped aside and—clearly uncertain how she should behave, given their recent intimacy—bent in a half-curtsey before closing the door.
"You left these." Thranduil handed her a pair white silk drawers.
She already knows why I am here, he thought. "I do not regret last night," he said, "it was an unexpected joy—but there is my son to think of."
The elleth frowned up at him, uncomprehending.
"My son came to my bedchamber this morning. Fortunately, you had already left and when he saw these,"—he pointed to the drawers—"lying on my bed he assumed that they were mine. But, had he come in just a half hour earlier, he would have seen us."
"We can be more careful—you can come here—your Majesty—" She suddenly remembered her place, and curtsied again, awkwardly.
"I will not hide from my son," said Thranduil, shaking his head. "Legolas must always know that he can come to me whenever he needs me. When he is older, perhaps—when he can understand—it will be different. But he will always come first."
"I love you," said the elleth, forlornly.
"No," said Thranduil, gently. "But I thank you for saying so."
Back in his study, the Elvenking found Legolas on his hands and knees, beside his father's desk, vigorously colouring another drawing. "What is it this time, ion nín?"
"The baby horse."
"Let me see."
Legolas held up his picture.
He had drawn the foal—for some reason in pale green—with a large triangular head and a big round body. But there was something about the way he had tried to convey the animal's long, gangly legs, with their overlarge knees and awkward feet, and—especially—about the way he had added a pair of feathered wings to the horse's back, that made Thranduil think: If he is still enthusiastic in a year or so's time, I will find him a drawing teacher…
"When you have finished," he said, "write his name at the bottom, and I will pin him up with your other pictures." He gave his son a hug. "But do try not to get any more chalk on your tunic, Legolas."
Seated at his desk, the Elvenking looked, over his son's head, at the ashes in the grate.
Legolas seemed to have forgotten his other drawing.
But Thranduil did not believe that he would ever recover from the shock of seeing his son's picture—of a small, round-bodied Elvenking wearing nothing—besides his huge crown—but a knee-length pair of lacy, beribboned white silk drawers.