Chapter 51: Truly
Third Age 1247
The last thing Thranduil recalled before darkness took him was a blood-curdling scream. He knew it now to be his own.
Thranduil woke to his wife's hand gently stroking his hair. Were it not for her soothing caress he would have woke screaming. He forced himself not to cry out as the agony that was his leg ripped through his waking form. He gritted his teeth to steel himself and as his body tensed Caladhel's right hand stilled upon his forehead while the other gripped tight his hand in support. When at last he had willed the pain to the back of his mind, Thranduil opened his eyes to find his wife peering down upon him, concern etched in the lines of her face. She squeezed his hand tighter and recommenced stroking his hair.
"Legolas?" Thranduil's voice cracked from misuse.
"He is safe… with Beleth."
"He will be well. Daerel says he will be back to his usual self after a few days rest."
Thranduil closed his eyes once more and gave silent thanks that he had not been too late to save him. Thranduil lifted his wife's hand to his lips, and upon opening his eyes, spied his own ruined flesh. He gazed at his hand a moment in mild confusion, but understanding followed quickly.
"Did they see?"
"Only those whom you have told."
"Iordor and Haldor were called upon to hold you down while Daerel reset the bones. Faentôr and Roewen were near as well, tending Aurel, but I cannot say how much attention they paid to you."
Thranduil felt oddly relieved by this news, as if some unseen burden was lifted from his soul. He had told Daerel first, a long time ago, at his uncle's behest. Túven believed it unwise to leave the healer in the dark once all the old healers who knew his secret were departed. At Caladhel's request, Thranduil told several more of his captains and lords about his injuries. He had told them, but they had never seen. The hard part was over and Thranduil felt relieved for it. In truth, there was only one elf Thranduil worried to see.
"Did Legolas see me?"
"No," said Caladhel.
That was a relief. Thranduil was not ready for his son to see him like this. "Have you spoken with him since our return?"
"I did not want you to wake alone," said Caladhel. "I shall go to him now."
"Tell him… Tell him I will see him in a few days."
Caladhel slipped quietly from her husband's room. She paused halfway down the hall and peered into a smaller room where Aurel lie abed with his mother seated beside him. Roewen rose at the sight of her queen and came to meet her at the door.
"How is Aurel?" Caladhel asked.
"He breathes easier…" It was all Roewen could say before tears overwhelmed her.
Caladhel could not recall when she last witnessed Roewen overcome by emotion. Not since the day young Aurel was born, to be sure. Caladhel wrapped her arms around Roewen, offering what comfort she could to her dearest friend and most loyal servant.
"On my life," said Roewen, "I never imagined a day when I would praise the Valar for giving us Daerel. A few of her potions and spells, and he is healed. He is sleeping now."
"We should be sure to thank Lady Gwendeth, as well, for allowing her to study in Imladris all those years."
"I will be sure to do so," Roewen declared in earnest. "And my king… I suppose I can never disobey him again."
Caladhel smiled at that. "Do not be silly. Who else will make mischief with me once Beleth has departed?"
"How shall I ever repay him?"
Caladhel knew Roewen's question to be in earnest, but she was equally certain no debt existed. "You owe him no debt. You know that."
"But the Prince... he could have died as well. Little Tinnuves saw Legolas jump into the water after Aurel fell in."
"Why does that not surprise me?" said Caladhel. She had been close enough to witness her husband's mad leap into the river after Legolas.
Like father, like son.
Roewen clasped Caladhel's hands drawing her queen's attention back to her. "I am grateful my son has so true a friend in Legolas and so faithful a prince. Now go and admonish him for leaping into danger, or I shall do it for you. That child has too much of you in him for his own good! On any other day, I would be angry for it."
"I, too," said Caladhel, for she agreed that her son has been reckless, though she might disagree that the trait was inherited from her.
"Is the king awake?" Roewen asked.
"He was when I departed."
"Shall I visit him?" Roewen asked.
"If you wish," said Caladhel, "but know he is nervous for others to look upon him."
"I wish to thank him, but if you think I should wait..."
"No," said Caladhel. "I think it good to have those closest to him know him truly. It will lighten the burden on his soul, though it might be a discomfort to him at first. Now I must see to Legolas. I will return as soon as I can."
Roewen checked once more on her son, and finding him in a deep sleep, tucked the edges of his blankets snug around him. She gazed upon his pale face, his eyes closed tight. He breathed easier now than he had only an hour before, and an hour before that. All would be well. She grew more certain of it with each passing breath.
Roewen did not believe in miracles. Only once had she come close to the feeling, the day she first held Aurel in her arms. How many children had she held before that day? How many after? Such an ordinary thing, a child, and yet Aurel had felt different somehow. Profoundly so.
Roewen rested a hand on her stomach. She felt nothing yet but a mild queasiness. And yet, there, beneath her hand... another miracle, for lack of a better word. That same hand reached out to brush a few wayward strands from Aurel's forehead.
"Rest up," Roewen whispered, "your little brother will need you."
Roewen asked one of the nurses to sit by Aurel's bedside before she sought to visit the king. She knocked once on his door. It was her usual knock, only a mite quieter so as not to disturb him should he be in a deep slumber.
"Come," Thranduil called.
Roewen slipped inside the room and shut the door behind her, conscious of her king's need for privacy.
Roewen had offered Thranduil a formal greeting and bow. So swift and reflexive were her movements that she did not take in his full appearance until after she righted herself again. She stood inside the door and stared at him a few moments wide-eyed, her mouth agape. Slowly her expression transformed from one of surprise to unlooked for amusement.
It was not exactly the response Thranduil had been expecting, but then, he should know better than to expect the expected from Roewen. "Say it. Whatever you are thinking to cause that smirk."
"If ever one doubted her love for you…"
"I am not so easy to look upon, am I?"
Roewen came to her king's bedside and he gestured for her to take the seat at his left. "I have seen worse," she said, "but none of them lived."
It was not the first time Thranduil had heard it said. "How is Aurel?" he asked, but no sooner were the words spoken then Roewen's eyes welled with tears.
Thranduil reached out his hand to hers. "Please don't. I can abide tears from anyone but you."
"I would have died with him," Roewen declared, "right there by the river. I know it."
"Do not speak of death today. Caladhel said Aurel will be well. Our children our safe, we must be joyous."
"You are right," said Roewen, who with haste, wiped the tears from her cheeks.
"Of course I am," said Thranduil.
Roewen smiled at that and squeezed his scarred hand a little tighter. "I have already pledged you my life, as has Faentôr, we have nothing greater to give in thanks."
"I ask for nothing, but that you continue to be a loyal and trusted friend."
"Not even my solemn oath never to disobey you again?"
"You have yet to go two centuries."
"I can try for three this time," she offered.
Thranduil laughed, but his good humor was short lived. He flinched in pain, his leg reminding the rest of his body once more of his injury.
"How is your leg?" she asked when Thranduil moved to brace it.
"It will be a time recovering."
"Whatever duties require assistance, we are ready to aid you."
"I thank you," said Thranduil, "but please, look after yourself first."
Roewen knew by his gaze that Thranduil saw more than he should. Her hand came to rest once more on her stomach. "Did Faentôr tell you?"
"Of course not. He is not suicidal. I merely noted your lack of appetite. It has only happened once before."
Roewen nodded. "I must return to Aurel. I do not wish for him to wake without me."
Roewen rose from her seat, but hesitated upon reaching the door. She turned back to address Thranduil once more. "If I may?"
Thranduil nodded, giving her leave to speak, though permission was hardly necessary between them.
"I have known you long," said Roewen, "and well, but I am glad now to know you truly."
"As I am glad to be known."
Roewen bowed her head, and laid her hand on her heart before departing.
Caladhel heard soft voices whispering as she drew near to Legolas' room. She could not make out their words, but the voices were those of Beleth and her son. She knocked lightly on the door before opening it.
"Nana!" Legolas cried in a voice that shattered the aforementioned calm. He flew from the bed and launched himself into her arms.
Caladhel carried her son to his bed while he clung to her, weeping in her arms. She instantly regretted having left him in the care of others. "Legolas, I am here. I am here." She rocked him back and forth, humming a little tune she had not sung since he was very small.
Beleth sat on the bed beside her. "I tried to convince him to sleep awhile, but he is inconsolable."
"Thank you for trying," said Caladhel.
"I will go see Thranduil now," said Beleth.
Caladhel nodded once before returning attention to her son. His breathing calmed as his tears were spent, and while he did not loosen his grip on her dress he did come to rest more comfortably in her arms, his head tucked in the crook of her neck. She stroked his back in small circles.
"Oh, my sweet child. All will be well. I promise."
"What about Ada and Aurel?" Legolas asked when words finally returned to him.
"Did Daerel not tell you of them when she came to visit?" Caladhel was certain Daerel told her she had.
"She said they were hurt and need to rest."
"That, they do," said Caladhel. "Aurel had a serious knock to the head and your ada's leg was caught between stones. It is broken and it will take some time to mend."
"It hurt him. He screamed when it broke."
"I know. It must have been frightening for you. It frightened me, too."
"Are you mad?" Legolas asked.
"Mad at who?"
Caladhel tipped Legolas' head back so she could look him in the eye. Her son sat up straighter, but his grip on her dress merely tightened. "Why would you think that?" she asked.
"You sent me away," he said.
"I am not mad," said Caladhel. "I merely wanted you to be safe, at home, with Aunt Beleth. That is why I sent you away."
"I think Feren is mad," Legolas said.
"Why would he be?"
"I kicked him and hit him, but he would not put me down until Aunt Beleth arrived."
"Well, then, you will need to apologize. I am certain he will forgive you, given the circumstance."
"I will. I promise." Legolas used his sleeve to wipe the tears from his eyes. "Can we go see Ada now? And Aurel?"
"They are both asleep," said Caladhel, "as you should be."
"What about tomorrow?" he pressed.
"If Daerel permits it, we can visit Aurel."
"But I want to see Ada."
"He needs to rest," said Caladhel. "He said he will see you in a few days."
"But I want to see him now." Tears returned to Legolas' eyes with his pleading and his breathing became unsteady once more.
"You are so tired," said Caladhel. "Lie down with me. You must rest."
Caladhel readjusted them so they lay beneath her son's blankets, his back pressed against her chest. She held him tight to her as she had on so many previous nights. Legolas did not protest the new arrangement but nor did he cease his whimpering.
"Is Ada mad?"
"No. He is not mad."
"He said the water could hurt us. I didn't listen."
"He is not mad. I promise you."
"Then why can't I see him? I want to see him."
Their argument went around in circles. Try as she might, Caladhel could not convince Legolas that his father was not angry and she knew no way to reassure him. Eventually he tired himself out, drifting at last to sleep while murmuring quietly to himself.
"Hush now, and rest," whispered Caladhel. "I will speak with your ada on the morrow and tell him you wish to see him. Sleep now. Worry not till morning."
Beleth slipped into Legolas' room several hours later with a breakfast tray brimming with all of her grandnephew's favorite foods. Caladhel rose from the bed, careful not to disturb her son. He had had a fitful night and was only now sleeping soundly.
"I must go see Thranduil," said Caladhel. "Will you stay with him? He should not be alone upon waking."
"Of course," said Beleth.
Caladhel hurried through the corridors to the healing ward as fast as her feet could carry her. She did not know what state Legolas would be in when he woke and wished to return to his side with speed. She arrived at Thranduil's bedside just as Daerel was finishing her work.
Caladhel waited for the healer to complete her tasks and closed the door behind her before moving to her husband's bedside.
"How are you feeling this morning?" she asked.
"Better," Thranduil replied, but he could tell by his wife's tired eyes and the rumpled dress she still wore from the day before that the same could not be said of her. "What is wrong?"
"I think you should speak to your son."
This was not an argument Thranduil wished to have. Not now. Not with Caladhel. "In a few days."
"He believes you are angry with him."
"And you corrected him."
"I did, but he does not believe me. He cried himself to sleep."
"He is too young."
"He is old enough to know when a secret is kept from him, and he chooses now to imagine the worst."
"I do not want him to see me like this."
"You do not want him to see how strong and brave his father is?"
"That is not what he will see."
"What then do you imagine?"
Thranduil stared down at the scorched flesh of his arm and hand. The same hand, the same face, unchanged after so many millenia. He knew how his face appeared even without a mirror. How could he subject his son to such a sight? How could he rob Legolas of his innocence at so young an age? How could Caladhel ask it of him?
"You would have me rob our son of his innocence, as I did yours?"
Caladhel shook her head. She knew he thought of the battle for the farm and the death she first witnessed there. It was not the same. Not nearly. "I would have him know his father truly."
"I fear he will fear me," said Thranduil.
"I know it," said Caladhel. "But he is already afraid, afraid you will not love him as you once did." Caladhel took her husband's hand in hers and Thranduil knew the firmness of her grip mirrored her resolve. "The task will not be made easier as he ages. This fear you feel now will only grow with time."
Thranduil battled a frustrated anger at the unfairness of it all. It was not supposed to happen this way. Since before Legolas was born Thranduil had imagined the proper time, the perfect place, the right moment. He imagined how the conversation would start and how it would end. In none of his musings was Legolas a child. A young warden, perhaps, a tournament champion, a full grown ellon, to be sure, but not a child.
This fear you feel now will only grow with time.
But Caladhel's words had the weight of truth to them. Thranduil knew she was right. It would not grow easier, it would grow more difficult with each passing year.
Thranduil took a deep, bracing breath and released it. He trusted Caladhel, and she trusted him, but they could not be proper parents to their son unless Legolas trusted them both. Caladhel knew it to be so, and Thranduil knew it, too. He agreed with a nod.
Caladhel kissed the hand she had come close to crushing. "I will talk to him first."
Caladhel had hoped to return to her son before he rose, but instead found him tucked in to breakfast. He was much calmer after a few hour's rest and an apple tart. He abandoned seconds in favor of his mother when she entered, but his hug was not so desperate as before.
"How are you feeling this morning, Legolas."
"Better. Can I see Ada today?"
"Yes. Your father will see you now."
"Let's go!" Legolas grabbed his mother's hand and practically dragged her to the door.
"A moment, first! There are some matters we must discuss."
"What matters?" Legolas asked.
"Come sit with me." Caladhel took a seat on Legolas' bed and patted the space at her side. Legolas climbed up beside her. He was clearly impatient to be on their way but did not wish to misbehave and be told he could not see his ada.
"First, your father's injury is painful right now. It requires time to heal, so you must be careful of his leg."
"I will be." Legolas, believing that to be all, would have sprung from the bed, but for Caladhel who held him firmly in place.
"There is one thing more. A serious matter."
"What?" Legolas asked and this time his mother had his full attention. It was not often adults spoke to him of serious matters.
"I know you have heard stories about the great battles fought by our people long ago."
"We defeated evil," Legolas said.
"Yes, we did. But many of our people were injured before evil could be defeated."
"And some of their spirits went the Halls of Waiting…like Ada's ada."
Caladhel was surprised by her son's mention of the Halls and his grandfather. She could not imagine where he would come by such a notion. "Who...Who told you that?"
"Ada…when we went on our adventure."
Caladhel knew where her husband and son had ventured to, but she had no idea their discussion had been so serious. It surprised her, too, that Thranduil had told their son of the Halls. He had claimed long ago not to believe they existed. Perhaps he still did not, or perhaps he merely feared to.
"Yes, some of them went to the Halls, but many who were injured lived on. And so, a very long time ago, your ada was injured in a great battle."
"How long ago is a very long time?"
"He was a grown ellon, but not yet a century old."
"That is a long time ago. Isn't it?"
"It is, but despite the passage of time, many of your ada's injuries remain."
"I have never seen any injuries."
"That is because when your ada is strong, he can conceal his wounds from others' sight, but if he is injured, as he is now, they can be seen again."
"Is that why Ada did not want me to visit him?"
"He did not want to frighten you."
"I am not afraid," said Legolas.
"I know it. You are strong and brave, like your father."
Caladhel had often thought Legolas to be a perceptive child and she was thankful for it now. Despite Thranduil's concerns, Caladhel had been certain their son would understand and would not fear. She felt a swell of pride as he bounded from the bed to the door, determined to meet his father.
"Can we go see him now?"
"Yes. Yes, we can."
Legolas' nervousness returned by the time they reached his father's door. Caladhel knew her son's fear was not born from tales of monsters and war wounds, but from the fear of his father's anger. She reassured him once more that his father was not angry before she knocked on the door and the pair of them entered.
Caladhel ushered Legolas closer to the bed where Thranduil sat with his injured leg slightly raised. She could see he did his best to smile so that at least the good side of his face appeared welcoming. Legolas, however, kept his eyes downcast, fiddling nervously with his hands and only glancing up at his father now and then.
"Are you very mad?" Legolas asked.
"No, my son. I am not mad."
Legolas looked up then and stared at his father for a time.
Thranduil reached out his good hand to him. "Come," he said.
Legolas went to his father and Thranduil helped him to climb up onto the bed. Legolas was careful not to bump his father's leg as his mother instructed, but otherwise he paid it little mind. It was not nearly as interesting as his father's face.
Legolas stared a long while at his father's scars, coming so close to inspect the injury as to nearly cause Thranduil to laugh.
"Does it hurt?" Legolas asked.
"No, not for a very long time."
Legolas reached out and touched his father's cheek with his fingers. "It feels strange."
"Yes, it does." He could feel his son's hand as he had Caladhel's. Thranduil held back those remembered tears, for they would only serve to confuse his son.
Without warning, Legolas covered Thranduil's good eye with his hand.
"Can you see me now?" he asked.
"Not with that eye."
Legolas removed his hand. His gaze flitted from his father's good eye to the clouded one. "Maybe that is why Nana is the better archer."
Thranduil looked to his wife, who gazed upon her son, smiling. "You might be right," Thranduil said.
"How do you fight with a sword if you can't see anyone on this side?"
"I use my right eye and all my other senses."
"But you can't see anyone over here." Legolas waved his hand on the left side of his father's head for emphasis.
"No," Thranduil agreed. "But I can feel them."
"Feel them how?"
"Close your eyes," Thranduil instructed. "Good. Now stretch out your other senses. Can you hear my voice? Can you feel your mother moving across the room?"
Legolas squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated hard. "I can feel her," he said, then opened his eyes, "but it is much easier to see her."
"That is true, but a warrior must be prepared to defend himself and his loved ones, even if blinded. It does take practice to master the art."
"Will you teach me?"
"Of course," said Thranduil. "But you have much more to learn before we reach that lesson. Until then, sit quietly sometimes with your eyes shut and see what you can see without seeing."
An unexpected pang in his leg caused Thranduil a moment's pain and he adjusted the pillows behind his back slightly to compensate.
"Does your leg hurt?" Legolas asked.
"It does, but it will heal, given time."
"Why doesn't your face heal?"
"Because dragon-fire is born of dark magic. It cannot be healed on this shore."
"You fought dragons?" Legolas could not contain his shock and awe, his eyes grew wide, his jaw descended. He looked upon his father as if he saw him now, once again, for the first time.
"Yes. A very long time ago."
"Did you kill one?"
"No. Others accomplished that task, and many more died trying."
Legolas thought on this revelation for a time, all the while his eyes examining his father's scars. At last, he came to a conclusion. "I am glad you didn't die."
"So am I."
Legolas wrapped his arms around his father. He did so carefully so as not to trouble his leg. It was a slightly awkward embrace given Thranduil's position, but he was certain it would remain one of the more memorable of his lifetime. Thranduil stroked his son's hair. It reminded him much of his father's. It pained Thranduil to recall how long it had been since his own father held him like this.
"I am sorry, Ada."
"You said the water could hurt us. But I jumped in. I didn't want to, but I did. I had to help Aurel. He tried to reach a snail for me, but he fell and hit his head and the water took him away."
"I am proud of you for trying to help a friend, though I do wish you had called for help instead of jumping in."
"I didn't think."
No. He did not. He jumped in, heedlessly, just as Thranduil had. Perhaps there was more of himself in Legolas than Thranduil imagined.
"I have suffered from the same malady from time to time," Thranduil admitted. "But we must try to think wisely, you and I. How else will we keep our people and our kingdom safe?"
Caladhel laid a hand on her son's shoulder, drawing his attention to her. "Come along now, Legolas. Your father needs to rest."
"But I want to stay." Legolas turned to his father, pleading. "I can read to you, like Nana reads to me before bed. Then you can sleep and I can keep you safe."
"Safe from what?" Caladhel asked.
"From bad dreams," said Legolas.
Thranduil nodded to his wife. "I think that is an excellent idea."
"Very well," said Caladhel. "I will collect a few books from your room. And you should move to the other side of the bed, away from your ada's injured leg, just in case you fall asleep."
Legolas hurtled across Thranduil's lap and landed on his father's left side before Caladhel could warn him not to. Legolas giggled at his own antics and Thranduil was clearly unconcerned, so she could not bring herself to scold him. She left them to each other and made a quick detour to the kitchens to inform them that she and Legolas would take lunch with the king in the healing ward. She returned to Legolas' room and found a few books likely to entertain both father and son. By the time she returned to them, neither ellon was in need of a book. They slept soundly, Thranduil reclining against a sea of pillows and Legolas curled up at his father's side, clutching his scarred left hand.