Author's Note: Hi everyone! :) I'm finally back with another story after spending a ridiculously long time without internet (due to moving and a crashed computer).
This story was written for Mother's Day, though I guess it could as well be used for Father's Day. :) "Like a Bird in the Sky" was inspired by a childhood memory Legolas shared with Aragorn in my story "Hunted", so it may sound familiar to those of you who have read that story. Both stories belong to my second series, the "Mirkwood Tales", but you do not need to have read any of them in order to understand this story.
I hope you enjoy my little tale! Feedback is, as always, very appreciated. :)
Title: Like a Bird in the Sky
Author: Silivren Tinu
Beta: the one and only Imbecamiel (((hugs)))
Summary: When his young son goes missing, a worried king has to face both a violent storm and painful memories to prevent his worst fear from coming true. A Thranduil-Legolas story, written for Mother's Day.
Disclaimer: I own Tawariël, Nestadren, and the plot. Everything else still belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien. (sigh)
Dedication: For my mother and the grandmother I never knew.
- Like a Bird in the Sky -
Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm, rose right in the middle of a rather pompous speech from one of the visiting delegates from Esgaroth. The man abruptly fell silent, staring at the elven king with confusion in his eyes and a frown on his face. Thranduil had no idea what the human had been talking about, and frankly, he did not really care right now.
The negotiations with the delegates and merchants from Lake-town had already lasted much longer than he had anticipated, and the storm that had been brewing all day was about to break loose. The elf could hear the wild song of the wind and the trees outside and he knew his time was running out.
He smiled apologetically at the delegate whose speech he had so rudely interrupted. "I am sorry, but I will have to leave now. There are… urgent matters I must attend to. I will join you again later on. Lord Cùthin will take over the negotiations during my absence."
Without further delay, the king turned around with swirling robes and headed towards the door as fast as was possible while still maintaining a somewhat dignified and composed appearance. The two guards at the entrance moved quickly to open the wings of the door. Thranduil acknowledged them with a curt nod, walking out of the room without once slowing his pace.
Only moments later, the men in the room found themselves staring at a firmly closed door and an empty chair, dumbfounded. Finally, the delegate who had been speaking turned to the lone elf at the top of the table, who had been left in charge of the trade negotiations.
"Did I say something wrong?" he asked, concerned. "Or was there something wrong with the Dorwinion we delivered last time?"
Cùthin blinked, tearing his gaze from the door. "Nothing at all," he hastened to answer, referring to both parts of the question. "King Thranduil merely has to take care of… a family matter."
Noticing the confused looks he was receiving, he added a bit cryptically, "I'm afraid this is something only an elf can understand. It is a specific problem that only occurs during storms."
The humans at the table exchanged puzzled glances. After some moments of uneasy silence, their spokesman shrugged and shot the others a warning glance. However peculiar the behaviour of their hosts might appear, they had business to do. Elves might be strange folk, but money was money, wherever it came from.
He cleared his throat loudly enough to gain everyone's attention, and then resumed his speech at exactly the point where he had broken off before.
In the meantime, Thranduil was rushing through a maze of corridors and halls towards the royal chambers, gathering up his robes and changing his measured strides to a near-run when no one was looking. He reached the door to his chambers only minutes later. The guard posted in front of the door snapped to attention, but before his hand could even touch the doorknob Thranduil had already passed him and flung the door open, marching into the room beyond.
"Where is he?" the king demanded, his eyes fixing on the sole occupant of the spacious room in front of him.
The young warrior, who had been chosen to guard the prince today, jumped to his feet. Thranduil had long since decided to have warriors instead of nursemaids watch over his son whenever there were strangers in the Palace, and since he had found out that his stubborn son was more likely to follow the warriors' orders than those of anyone else, the king was sorely tempted to make the arrangement permanent.
"Your son is in his room, my lord," the warrior answered, bravely meeting the king's piercing gaze. "He was tired."
Thranduil's eyes narrowed. The word 'tired' and his son did not fit together at all. Since he was reasonably sure that no one had had an opportunity to poison Legolas, that left only one possibility. He crossed the room quickly and opened the door to his son's room. The bed had obviously not been used since it had been made that morning, and there was no trace of the little boy, who would normally have been hugging his legs and beaming up at him before he had even opened the door all the way. The door to the balcony was ajar and the curtains billowed in the wind.
Thranduil closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. He should have known that Legolas would find a way to escape – again. He should have been here sooner. The balcony door hit the wall with a crash, blown open by a gust of wind. The king's eyes opened again and his features hardened with determination.
After one last look at the storm and the deepening shadows outside, he turned and began to shed his state robes, tossing the precious and beautifully embroidered garments carelessly on his son's bed, where they landed in a crumpled heap. Once he was only dressed in a simple tunic and leggings, Thranduil strode back into his suite and armed himself with a hunting dagger, more out of habit than because he expected any kind of threat.
Finally, he turned to the warrior who had been following his king around with a mixture of guilt, confusion, and growing alarm on his young face. "I am sorry," the elf spoke up nervously. "I should have-"
"It is alright," Thranduil interrupted him, having neither time nor patience to deal with misplaced feelings of guilt now. "I do not hold you responsible. Someone who knows the prince better than you should have been assigned to watch over him." He paused a moment, and then went on, "I want you to get some guards and search the Queen's Garden. Prince Legolas is out there, somewhere, likely high up in the branches of a tree by now."
The warrior looked out at the storm-tossed, creaking trees in the garden and swallowed. As a wood-elf, Legolas was safer outside in the storm than any other being could be, but the warrior still did not like the thought of the little prince attempting to climb trees in that weather, and he could not help feeling responsible. He had heard rumours that Legolas had gone missing during storms before, but until today he had not been sure whether to believe them or not.
"It will be done, my king," he answered, quiet determination in his eyes. As everyone else he knew, he had grown quite fond of the elfling he had sworn to protect and he was eager to remedy his mistake.
Thranduil nodded. Without further delay, the king walked back into his son's room and out of the balcony door. After looking around for a moment, he gracefully swung first one and then the other leg over the balcony rail and began climbing down. Unable to believe that he had just seen his stern, dignified king climb down a balcony, the warrior shook his head and hurried out of the door to carry out his orders.
Reaching the ground safely, Thranduil did not have to waste any time considering where his son might have gone. This was a time to rely on instinct, not on reason, and the strong bond he had with his son seemed to be tugging at his heart. Without hesitating, the king chose a garden path and set off, ignoring the howling wind pulling at his clothes and hair and the leaves and small branches that were raining down from above whenever there was an especially strong gust of wind.
Single-mindedly he strode forward, taking shortcuts through rose bushes and flowerbeds whenever possible. Thranduil could now hear fragments of voices calling out to each other somewhere behind him and knew that the young warrior had already succeeded in initiating the search. He made a note to himself to give the young elf another chance to prove himself once they had all sufficiently recovered from today's fright. One moment later, the worried father forgot all about the warrior and the voices, needing all his concentration to find his way in the growing darkness and shadows and to follow the vague feeling that had led him so far.
Only a short time later, he spotted a small group of old trees before him, whose trunks rose like mighty columns into the darkening sky above. Thranduil slowed his pace, sadness and bittersweet memories welling up inside him at the sight of the majestic oak trees. His wife, Queen Tawariël, had planted them a long time ago, and they never failed to remind him of both his loss and the happiness he had once known. For a while, he had been unable to even come near this place, when the pain had still been too close to his heart.
Thranduil forced himself to shove both the memories and the feelings they evoked aside. He had no time for them now. Unlike him, Legolas had sought the presence of the trees instead of avoiding them after his mother's death. The king could only hope that the elfling had done so today as well, though the thought that Legolas might have chosen the tallest trees in the garden to climb during a storm like this did nothing to put his mind at ease.
The one thing he was fairly sure of was that he would find his son high up in a tree somewhere. It had happened three times before, during the last three storms that had hit the great forest in the months before. Each time, he had managed to find Legolas before the storm had reached its peak, but he knew it might be too late for that this time. Once he had been found, his son had always come down instantly and willingly, but he had refused to tell his father or anyone else what he was doing up there in the windswept branches.
By now, Thranduil was surrounded by a darkness so complete it was as if night had already fallen. As he stared up at the trees before him, the wind drove the first drops of cold rain into his face, which quickly multiplied and turned into a downpour. Shielding his eyes, the king tried to penetrate the darkness and the rain with his gaze, blinking against the stinging wind to make out any form that might be hidden amongst the swaying branches high above. When he finally spotted a speck of gold on one of the gnarled branches of the tallest oak, his momentary relief quickly turned into cold fear as he realized how high up the tiny golden-haired figure already was, and that it was moving slowly, but steadily, higher.
Thranduil's first impulse was to call out to his son to stop Legolas from climbing even higher, but he realized at almost the same moment that the elfling would not be able to hear him over the howling of the storm and the creaking and rustling of the trees. Besides, knowing his son the way he did, the king was quite sure that the young elf was no longer listening to anything but the wild, joyous song of the trees all around him.
Tearing his gaze from the golden speck clinging to a branch at a dizzying height, Thranduil hurriedly closed the distance between him and the trunk of the large oak tree. Reaching it, he immediately grabbed the nearest branch and began to climb. The tree welcomed him, its branches moving closer to help him, its voice brushing his mind like the familiar touch of an old friend. The king had known the old oak for long years, and he could feel the happiness of the tree at having the two wood-elves in its embrace.
Thanks to long experience, which he owed mostly to his wife and son, Thranduil moved effortlessly and gracefully through the swaying branches, but he was still grateful for the tree's support, since the ferocious wind made climbing much more difficult and dangerous than usual, and the pouring rain made the bark slippery and treacherous.
His worry mounting, the king silently asked the oak to keep Legolas safe, and he was relieved to hear the tree's reassuring murmuring in response. Feeling slightly calmer, Thranduil allowed himself to pause and look up for the first time since he had reached the oak. He was much closer to Legolas now, and could make his son out clearly in spite of the branches and the leaves and the darkness surrounding them.
The elfling was smiling, obviously enjoying the storm and the movement of the branch below him, as if he did not even know the meaning of the word 'fear'. His golden hair was tousled and wet and the light tunic he wore was soaked with rain and had certainly long since stopped providing any warmth or protection, but Legolas did not seem to mind or even notice. His gaze was fixed on the sky and the towering dark clouds above, and there was wonder and excitement in his eyes.
Thranduil smiled in spite of himself, watching the wood sprite that had somehow chosen to become his child. There was something wild and free in Legolas' spirit, something that could not be tamed and could not suffer being enclosed or caged, and reminded the king very much of his wife. Her free spirit had been one of the things he had loved most about the Silvan elf he had married, though it also made her entirely unpredictable and more stubborn than any she-elf Thranduil had met before. He had fallen in love with her instantly.
The king's smile turned wistful and then the fear was back, threatening to smother him. Suddenly Legolas seemed very frail and alone to his father's worried gaze. Thranduil started climbing again, but found himself unable to look away for long, not wanting to risk losing sight of his son for more than a moment.
When the king was only about three yards below him, Legolas turned his head, as if feeling his father's presence. Looking at the older elf, he smiled the special smile that always took Thranduil's breath away. It was a smile that seemed to light up the child's entire being and radiate from him like a tangible warmth, a smile that was reserved for those who were closest to his son's heart.
The king had never understood why Legolas was still able to smile like that, though he had always considered it a special gift. His child's life had already been harder than Thranduil had ever wanted it to be, but somehow his son's soul had not been marred. For a moment, the king was unable to speak, though he wanted nothing more than to call out to Legolas and make him turn back.
Perhaps reading the worry in his father's eyes, the elfling's bright smile turned into a reassuring one. "Don't worry, Ada, the wind will carry me!" he called, his young voice straining to be heard over the noise of the storm raging around them.
The words entirely failed to have the intended effect. The worry in Thranduil's face turned into alarm. Noticing that Legolas had spread his arms like wings at his sides and was not even holding on to the swaying branch anymore, the king suddenly felt cold all over. He wanted nothing more than to get a hold on his son, but he did not dare climb any higher. They were so high up now that the branch had already become dangerously thin, and Thranduil was not sure if it would carry the weight of a grown elf on top of Legolas'.
"Legolas, no!" he cried, unable to reach his son with anything but his voice. "Come to me, my son!"
Legolas, who had been facing the sky once more, turned around to look at his father again. There was a puzzled expression in his blue eyes. "But I can't come down now," he said. "This storm is strong, and I don't know if there'll be another one. I have to use it!"
"What for?" Thranduil asked, trying to keep traces of despair and impatience out of his voice and hoping that he did not already know the answer.
A sudden gust of wind whipped long strands of golden hair into Legolas' face, and the young elf raised a hand to push them out of his eyes. Thranduil wished his son would have kept a grip on the branch instead. He wished even more that he was close enough already to keep a grip on his son and the branch.
The young elf seemed to be hesitating, looking first at the clouds again and then back at his father. Finally, determination replaced the indecision in his suddenly serious face. "I have to go and find Nana," he said quickly. "You said she has gone to a faraway place, but I am sure the wind can carry me there if it's only strong enough. I'm going to fly where she is and bring her back. I know how much you miss her. I wanted it to be a surprise."
Legolas was talking so fast that Thranduil had trouble catching all of the words, and the last two sentences were a bare whisper. The king had to read the words from his son's lips in order to understand them. When the meaning of the words had finally sunk in, Thranduil stared at the elfling in front of him. He did not have to ask himself where such an idea might have come from.
When his wife had still been alive, the little family had often been out in the forest during storms, and Tawariël had told Legolas wild stories about ancient creatures travelling the world by riding on the wings of the raging wind. She had been such a gifted narrator that even Thranduil found himself close to believing her, once or twice. Tawariël had never feared any storm, but had loved them as one of the strongest expressions of nature's song. Legolas had always been like her in that respect. One of his wife's favourite nicknames for her son had been 'tithen aew' (little bird).
It seemed so long ago now, as if it had happened in another lifetime. Since the fateful day when he had lost his wife, Thranduil had mostly avoided thinking about the days when Tawariël had still been with them, fearing the pain the memories brought. Obviously, Legolas had clung to those memories instead. There was wetness in the king's eyes, but he knew it wasn't caused by the wind nor the rain.
He had tried his best to explain to Legolas, in words the child would understand, why his mother would never come back, but it seemed he had failed. He suddenly found himself missing Tawariël so much that it hurt. She would have known what to say. She always knew exactly the right words to reach someone's heart. He swallowed, wrestling with the grief he had tried so hard to bury for all the endless years since she had been taken from them. It was clear now that he had not been able to hide his feelings from his son. Perhaps it had been wrong to try.
"Legolas-" he began, and broke off, for the second time this day at a loss for words. Legolas watched him, and the gnawing fear that his son might decide to turn away from him and carry out his plan if he stayed silent for too long suddenly enabled Thranduil to find the words he needed.
"Your mother is very, very far away, my son," he began again, wishing that the storm would subside so he would be able to make himself heard without calling at the top of his lungs. "If you go there… if you go there you would not be able to come back. It is a place you can find, but not leave." Thranduil made a short pause. He was only too aware that he had been perilously close to 'finding' that place himself, and would probably have, if it had not been for the young son who needed him and whom he loved dearly.
"You know I miss your mother," he went on, trying to keep his voice steady, "but do you think I would miss you any less? How could I go on after losing both of you? I know you miss her, too… but please, stay!"
The mere thought of losing Legolas terrified the king more than words could ever express, and he suddenly wondered if, in his grief for his wife, he had made it clear enough to his son how much he loved him. Legolas looked at him, but Thranduil was unable to read the feelings he saw in those thoughtful blue eyes. Then the young elf lowered his head, breaking the eye contact. The king felt as if a heavy weight had suddenly been taken from his heart when he saw that, for the first time, his son's hands were back on the branch and gripping it firmly. Slowly and carefully, Legolas began to climb down.
When Thranduil was only an arm's length away from him, the young elf turned around to be able to look at him. "I'm sorry, Ada," he said. "I did not want to hurt you. I thought I could go and get Nana and come back with her and all would be well again."
The king reached out for his son, and Legolas immediately moved into the safe circle of his father's open arms. Thranduil drew the young elf close to him, wrapping him in a tight embrace. After a moment, he felt small arms encircling his neck, clinging to him in return. "I miss Nana," the child whispered into his ear. "But I really don't want to leave you."
"I really don't want you to leave me, too," Thranduil responded in a hoarse voice, enjoying the reassuring, solid presence of his son in his arms.
For a while, it did not matter that they were still sitting high up on a swaying branch during one of the worst storms the forest had seen for years, and that neither of them had a hand free to keep a grip on the branch now. Unnoticed, all around them nearby branches of the tree began to move against the wind, drawing closer to the two elves, sheltering them securely from the storm above and the gaping emptiness beneath.
"I still wish I could fly," Legolas breathed after a period of time that could as easily have been a few minutes or several hours. "Nana must miss us so much. I do not want her to be all alone."
Thranduil closed his eyes, inhaling the familiar scent of his son's hair and trying not to think of a face and voice that were lost to him, perhaps forever. "She would not want us to join her now," he answered softly, unconsciously holding Legolas even closer. "Not yet. Your mother loved this forest with all her heart. She would want you to live here for a long time. Worry not, little one, she is not alone. Many of her family have left before and were waiting for her."
"I see," Legolas said, his voice muffled because he had buried his head in his father's broad shoulder. Then there was another long silence.
"Ada?" Legolas piped up finally and Thranduil could feel him move slightly in his arms.
"What are all the people doing down there?"
Surprised by the question, Thranduil opened his eyes and straightened, turning around to get a glimpse of what his son was looking at. What he saw was a crowd of elves standing around the trunk of the tree far below staring up at them. They all looked rather disshevelled, obviously having searched the gardens thoroughly before they had finally spotted their king and their prince high up in the oak tree. Nestadren, the head healer of the palace, was prowling around the trunk trying to get a better view, only hindered from climbing the tree by his bad leg, while the other elves were clearly undecided as to whether their presence was needed and wanted or not.
The sight made the king smile, though he hoped Nestadren would not be able to see it. The healer would undoubtedly already have a lot to say to him once Thranduil reached solid ground again. Nestadren had always advised his king to share his grief over Tawariël's loss with his son and not try to keep it to himself. Legolas is not stupid, Nestadren had told the king bluntly. He always knows when you are trying to hide something from him, and he is usually quite good at sensing what it is, so it would be better if you told him right away. Of course the healer had been right all along, and he would undoubtedly enjoy telling his king so. Thranduil sighed.
"They are searching for you," he finally answered his son's question. "They are afraid to lose you, just as I was."
Legolas looked at his father, and then back at the elves below them, seeming a bit overwhelmed at the thought that all those people had been searching for and worrying about him. "Perhaps we should go down and tell them I've decided to stay," he suggested softly.
"Yes," Thranduil agreed. "Perhaps we should." Being in a warm, dry place that wasn't moving around quite so much suddenly sounded like a very good idea. After all, he had never been quite as fond of storms and swaying branches as Tawariël and Legolas, anyway. Eying the palace healer, who seemed to be scowling right at him now, he added as an afterthought, "I think you should go first."
- The End -