Chapter One

I remember the first time I saw him. He was huge to my young eyes, as tall and broad as the Lonely Mountain that towers over Mirkwood, taller even than Father with his pointed, drooping hat that seemed to scrape the ceiling of our underground corridors, and a great waterfall of a cloak about his shoulders. And he was loud. His step was loud amid our silent footfalls, his boot-heels clattering on the stone as he moved. His clothing rustled as ours did not, and his staff tapped against the stone as he walked. And he laughed, a great, deep rumbling growl of laughter. He was altogether very strange, and quite frightening to me. So of course I had to get closer to see this strange creature that much better.

I had no business being there, and well I knew it; small elves were not to intrude upon the business of their elders, or their fathers, and most certainly not upon the king's. But I stayed anyway, intrigued by this novelty in our otherwise well-ordered, predictable world in Mirkwood.

I sidled through the corridors, small and unnoticed in the shadows yet risking detection as I crept along behind my father and his guest and the others of our household that he seemed to draw to him. It seemed that I was not the only one wishing to see the stranger better, though I was the only one determined to stay hidden. The adults who lived in Mirkwood always moved freely about my father's realm, while I clung to the shadows and hoped to not be noticed, or at least not to gain unwanted notice too soon.

The stranger was even more outlandish on closer inspection than at first glimpse. His clothing was strange too, rough and gray and coarsely woven as it was. I judged that I wasn't tall enough to come much above his boots.

Was this creature a cave troll? I had heard cave trolls spoken of, and it was said that they were large and gray. But this being was clearly welcomed by my fahter, so it must not be a cave troll. Perplexed, I bit my lip and leaned a little closer, hoping to hear something that might enlighten me.

He turned suddenly toward my corner of shadow and looked at me. At *me*. Hidden as I was, he still saw me. My heart pounded over being caught out, but his attention brought the greatest surprise of all: he had hair on his face.

I had never seen such a thing. No elf looks thus, but he wore a great bird's nest tangle of a thing, a briar patch, a… I didn't know what to think of it. This thing was as the moss that grows upon the oldest of trees. And above it were two bright, blue eyes that saw through shadow to uninvited little guests.

Was he an Ent, perhaps? I had heard my father's courtiers sing of Ents as well, tall and old and shaggy. Whatever he may have been, his eyes locked into mine and for a long, silent moment we stared at each other in equal astonishment.

I thought that perhaps it would be safer to leave the gathering then, before my father followed his guest's gaze and discovered me behind the tapestry. Slowly, I sidled away with my back pressed to the wall, hoping to gain the corner to the next corridor before the stranger gave me away.

He was kind enough to remain silent during my retreat, and I dared a glance back over my shoulder as I slipped around the corner. The eyes peering from above the dark thicket were still following me. Those eyes held curiosity, and... and they looked kind, as though they smiled.

~ ~ ~

The little one was small and far too thin, even by little elf standards, and his hair was a massive tangle of dirty brown with long, thin strands falling into his eyes. At first glimpse, I assumed that he was a servant's child, crept up from the kitchen and no doubt eager to set eyes on the Istari, new-come to his world and only just exploring Mirkwood.

I felt his presence before I saw him. Felt a bright, amazed curiosity steadily reaching out toward me from the tapestry. As that is not normally the mood of dead cloth, I focused my own curiosity upon it only to spy a pair of very small, well-worn leather boots peeking out from beneath its edge.

The child was good at sneaking, very good, as if he'd had plenty of practice at it. The tapestry did not so much as tremble as he crept along, step by step, behind it. I followed his progress until he peered around its edge and stared at me.

The moment we locked gazes, I could sense the keen intelligence and inquisitiveness behind those huge eyes, their color muddied by the hair guarding their gaze. He studied me intently -- a unique thing all in itself, as I was finding that even in my rustic, homespun appearance many elves seemed hesitant to meet my gaze. A newcomer to this little one's world, I was certain he'd never seen anything like me before.

His eyes widened suddenly, and I felt rather than heard his breath catch as our gazes locked. A flash of fear crossed his delicate face. He tensed and his dirty fingers clung to the edge of the tapestry.

His gaze flashed briefly from me to the king. Was Thranduil the focus of his fear then? It seemed so to me, as the little elf then abandoned the tapestry to begin skulking back along the cold stone wall. His goal was obviously the corner of the room, where he could easily gain the freedom of the open stone corridor.

Why in the world would a servant's child fear the king?

The boy's gaze found mine one last time before he slipped entirely out of sight around that corner. I frowned at the empty space where he'd been standing, my curiosity fully aroused, before returning my attention to the king's commentary.


I should have stayed away. Far away. Father had important guests in the hall that afternoon, and the place was abuzz like a bothered hive. It was definitely no place for small elves.

When Father had guests, his temper was ever uncertain, and it was best to be elsewhere. But my curiosity would lead me down paths best avoided then, even when I knew what the price for my curiosity would likely be. Today was no exception, for I wanted to see the guest creature again. I wanted to look at those eyes again, eyes that seemed old and wise and that dared to smile at unwelcome little elves. So I crept up through my shadow paths once more, edging toward the hall where my father and the guest and the others of our household sat at table.

A fire had been lit in the Great Hall, and low voices blended in conversation. I felt a thrill of excitement when I heard the unfamiliar rumble of *his* voice amid the lighter voices of those of the house. I even heard the great growl of his laughter echoing with my father's laugh. It was altogether too tempting.

I dared to sneak closer and yet closer still, to peer around the doorframe with one eye at the crack between hinge and wall.

He sat next to my father and Lhunil. The pointy hat apparently came off, and its absence revealed grey-washed hair as long and wild atop his head as that which covered his cheeks. But for all of his strange looks, he smiled and he drank and he spoke with the elves just as they did.

Man, I finally decided.

I drew back to consider this thought. This must be a man, though I had never heard of my father inviting one of the lake village into our home. Men were tradesmen and servants, not equals. So maybe he was not a man. But if not a man, then what was he?

"And who is this?"

I gasped and felt the rush of adrenaline as a blow to my stomach. To my embarrassment, I fell over backward and landed sitting on the hard, cold stone to stare up at him. I had been so absorbed with pondering the question of his existence that I had failed to notice him move.

He was huge. He towered over me, as tall as the ceiling. Truly, he was the biggest creature I had ever encountered in my short years.

"Hello, little one," he said softly, his voice somehow less rumbly as he addressed me.

I couldn't speak, couldn't make my tongue work, couldn't make anything move in my sudden surge of fear. I could only stare.

Slowly, this great creature stooped down and lowered himself to one knee so that the great hairy mass on his face was down on a level with my eyes. His movement released me somehow and I scrambled to my feet, only to find myself trapped against the corner where the wall bent in to the great hall doors.


I could hear movement within the hall. My father's voice was sharp behind the creature as he questioned those about him.

"I don't believe we've met," the creature rumbled softly. "They call me Mithrandir. What do they call you?"

Kind as his eyes were, I had no wish to further this conversation and tried to slide past him. Eyes could lie. Voices could lie. Moods could change with a heartbeat, as I knew very well, and I was unsure of this stranger's intent. I needed to leave. Coming here had been a grievous error.


My father's voice was sharp and angry, and I gasped at the sound. His delivery left no doubt what his mood was, and it heralded an unpleasant evening to come. A new fear touched me, and my eyes turned toward that sharp voice through the habit of many years learning. My father stood within the doorway to the hall, his expression dark, his stormy eyes fixed on me.

A slight movement caught my attention, and my gaze whipped back to the creature still kneeling in front of me. The creature whose hand was in motion toward me.

I shied away from it on reflex. Hands reaching for me could sometimes be kind, but more often they were not. My body had learned to evade being touched whenever possible. This hand moved swiftly and it was huge, easily the size of my face. My reflexes took no chances. His hand missed me, grazing past my shoulder as I twisted back and away.

But that hand did not retreat. It hovered there between us, and the eyes above it were startled, and then... almost sad, I should say, if I'd had more time to study them.

But time I did not have.

"LEGOLAS!" My father's command: louder now, harsher and definitely angry.

My stomach knotted in panic. I took the only road open to me. I abandoned stealth and shadow for speed. I fled, ducking under the stranger's arm and leaving the huge hand reaching after me as though to protest to my departure, though seemingly not to stay it as he allowed my escape.

I knew that my bolting would not end the confrontation; in fact, it would only worsen it once I was found and brought before my father. Running was a crime to be added to the others that would no doubt be presented to me in his chambers tonight.

In my blind flight and consideration of the disastrous encounters I'd just left, as well as the evening encounters to come, I collided roughly with another in the corridor and staggered back a pace before I could restrain my stride. A startled cry and a complaint came from the owner of the legs I had run into, full tilt.

Galion. It had to be Galion, my father's personal aide. His voice followed me, raised in shrill annoyance and rebuke. My hitting him would be yet another crime set before my father, I had no doubt. But that was later, and later was always preferable to now where my father was concerned. His temper was well-known among the elves of Mirkwood, and I had heard guests from Rivendell and Lorien remark upon it as well. But they were not as well-acquainted with it as was I.

Later was always preferable.

If I could reach the lower levels, I could slip out past the east gate because I was still small enough to squeeze through the palings, and then I could gain the trees. If I could reach the trees, then I could spend the rest of the evening hiding in their leaves, in the quiet and cool and green of the forest. At least until they found me.

They always found me, sooner or later.

Fortune favored me this day, and I reached the gate. And the sunlight. And the forest.

The leaves were welcoming as the stone below was not. The stone was my father's world, but the trees seemed to be mine. I sat cradled in the arms of my friendly old oak tree and dreading the night, but my thoughts were always dragged back to the quiet, smiling eyes of the giant in my father's hall. He had been so different from Father.

I wished that I'd had the chance to speak to him. I wondered what he would have said, if Father hadn't come just then. He said his name was Mithrandir. I wonder if he likes little elves?



The king's angry roar startled the child, making him jump. Only his eyes turned toward the sound of that voice. The rest of his body tensed and drew back as if to ward off some blow he knew was coming.

But why? I wondered. No offense had been committed. The child had been merely standing in the corner behind the door when I knelt at its edge to begin a quiet conversation. He'd not intruded, not disturbed us in any way. In fact, he'd not yet made a sound. Yet Thranduil bellowed, and the boy looked terrified. Was this a child of the staff? Was he out of bounds coming to this level of the hall?

No, Thranduil had called the boy Legolas. I knew that to be the name of the king's youngest son, mentioned in passing and brushed over as inconsequential, too young to be of any importance. Thranduil's firstborn son, I knew, had died alongside Orophir on the slopes of Mount Doom. I had met his remaining older brother earlier in the day: Luinil, heir to all that was Mirkwood, its problems as well as its beauty. He seemed a copy of his father.

Here before me now was the third prince, Legolas, which in his native tongue meant 'greenleaf': strong new life and a new hope, I thought. Born not long after the battle on the slopes of Mount Orodruin, in which the king's first heir had fallen. Did this new little life mean so little now to the father who had named him? And what of his mother? No one had mentioned her, and she clearly was not here. Had she died, or had she sailed over sea, in grief for her lost son or away from this strange elf her mate had become?

The boy was small for his age, with skinny limbs and a pinched face. His eyes seemed far too big for that face, and while his father and his brother cast the golden light so common in this branch of the Elven race, this child was dark. His light seemed almost muddied, even as his clothing was. Perhaps he'd taken after his mother.

Casting a glance over my shoulder, I saw Thranduil standing in the doorway. His expression was stormy, his fingers bunched into fists. His blue eyes had turned to ice, and it seemed that all of his loathing was focused on the little elf before me.

"LEGOLAS!" came the second snarl.

The boy whimpered softly. I reached for him, thinking only to reassure him, but he shied away from my hands. If anything, the terror in his eyes increased tenfold.

My fingers grazed his shoulder as he twisted back and away. With my hand still hovering between us, I locked gazes with him once more and sensed the clawing panic within him. Panic to escape whatever punishment awaited him beyond his father's voice. He evaded my touch with an ease borne of long experience, and I was heartsick to realize that much more than a voice had probably been raised against this child.

/Run!/ I commanded, directing his senses to the opening beneath my arm.

His gaze shifted to my robe, and he needed no further encouragement. Legolas ducked beneath my arm and I rose to my feet, effectively blocking Thranduil's way while the boy fled down the narrow corridor.

"So that is your youngest son," I said with forced ease.

"It is." His reply dripped contempt.

Behind us, Galion's voice was raised in startled outcry, followed by shrill rage. Small footsteps pelted onward, as did the stream of Elvish invective from Thranduil's personal aide.

Galion joined us, moving silently to his king's side and fussing with his robes. His narrow face was even more sour-looking than usual when he pursed his lips.

"I apologize, my king, that he has escaped his minders once again. I will deal with them shortly, but really, something must be done about that child!"

"Something will be done with him," growled the king. "Bring him to me tonight before supper." Thranduil turned away from his aide, taking several deep breaths in an attempt to slow his anger before gesturing me to return to the hall with him. "For now, Mithrandir, you will join me at luncheon. We have much to discuss."