Thranduil wrapped his arms about his knees as he perched on a large boulder that overlooked the Forest River, his eyes fixed on the stars visible in the gap between the trees on either side of the river. The sky spread itself above him, as clear as crystal. Ithil had risen and sat in silvery splendor above the distant shadow of the Lonely Mountain. Half a sky away, Vingilot sailed serenely above the broad and dark expanse that was the Greenwood itself. A warm breeze lifted the Elvenking's golden hair and draped it across his face in gentle remonstrance.
It was late summer – the crickets and frogs were a midnight chorus to keep him company. The trees of the forest below him – his forest – were growing strong and healthy again, free from the taint of spiders and ravening wolves that had haunted them all for so very long. All about him, the smells and sounds of that which no longer deserved to be called Taur-nu-Fuin should have gladdened his heart beyond all measure. Even his son was home after taking part in the most perilous quest of the Third Age – after surviving a quest that had ultimately saved not only the world of Men, but all of Arda – and that should have raised his spirits more than anything else.
But no. Home his son might be, but Legolas was now torn from the life of a simple wood-elf. He'd heard the gulls – and he now continually longed for a distant shore that Thranduil knew that he himself would never see.
Movement beside and below him drew his gaze – it was Legolas, garbed in the same simple green and brown as was he. Brilliant blue eyes caught the light of the moon and stars and sparkled back at him. Thranduil didn't need to say a word – he could see that his son knew all too well what had driven him to the one spot where, when all was bedlam around him, he could find a whisper of peace. He also knew why his son sought him here.
All the words had already been said – words of anger, words overflowing with reproach, disappointment and grief. How could it be that the Valar had chosen to gift him with such a beautiful, talented, compassionate son with the one hand; and first steal away the wife with whom he'd conceived such a marvel and now show that they intended to steal away the son as well? Why reward one whose efforts had been essential to wrest all of Arda Twisted away from the residual darkness left behind by Morgoth with a longing for a land which that one had never seen before and would otherwise have never known to wish for?
And what had he done to deserve such a fate as losing everyone he had ever held dear in this life?
Was it because he, Thranduil of the Greenwood, refused to bow to the wishes of those far-away powers and desert the forest that had sheltered him for Ages of the world for the unfamiliar and distant shore? Was it because he was too vain? Too avaricious? Too selfish? Too hard-headed?
Too easily diminished yet again?
All of the anguish and anger and frustration and resentment at the changes the quest had wrought in his son over the course of a single sun-round had poured from him less than an hour earlier – vomited into the ear of one who had the least control over his own circumstances now. Thranduil had seen how his words had wounded his son and yet done nothing to prevent further injury – and even now, he could see Legolas struggling to find a way to comfort a father long past the ability to be given comfort.
And Thranduil knew, then, what he had to do.
He leaned forward, stretched out a hand, and drew his son up next to him on the boulder that had been his favorite refuge for millenia. The moment he knew his son secure in his seat, he put an arm about his shoulder and held him close. He knew he would have to repeat his gesture as many times as time would allow against the day when he would no longer have that chance again – when all that would be left was to hold the memories of all those opportunities close like the treasures they would become. He could squander each moment with his son no longer.
Because will he or nil he, he had lost his son the day the Fellowship had been formed in Imladris – and all the raging against the Valar would not return that which had been taken.
On the strength of a promise, Legolas would rule a new elven colony in the southlands – in Ithilien where, evidently, there was great need of the elves and their way with all things green and growing to heal that which Mordor had done its best to blight. Now, when time was short and measured in terms of a single mortal's lifetime, his son would remove to a land far from his homeland and take any number of Greenwood elves with him in the bargain. And Thranduil would have to let him go.
But not this night.
This night, a father and a son would enjoy the stars together in silence, serenaded by the eternally whispering waters of the Forest River. And somehow, within that silence, each would find the strength to go on.