The Secret of the Forest - A Thranduil Romance

Helping Hands

“I have been searching for you!”

“So have I,” Legolas mumbled into his father’s shoulder as he allowed himself to sink back into the blissfulness of his childhood, even if it was to last only a moment in time. The warmth of his father’s embrace took him back to those happier days that were now all but a long lost memory.

How much he had enjoyed the tenderness he used the receive from his parents, the strolls in the forest with his father and the cuddles with his mother in their cosy hideaway. His father would entertain him with endless stories of his youth in Doriath and Legolas would sit and listen quietly in awe, soaking up all the wonders of a city that was beautiful beyond his own imagination and places turned to legend through the ages. In the mild evenings of spring they used to sit by the fireside, the three of them, in a clearing so full of daisies that the grass seemed dotted with freshly fallen snow. He loved staring into the flickering flames as they danced before his eyes like tiny speckles of pure light and when his drowsiness finally turned to sleepiness he curled up in his mother’s lap, the melodious voices of his parents carrying him to sweet slumber as they sang of starlight and the secret of the forest. And the buzzing of fireflies in the warm nights of summer with the balmy scent of wild flowers filled his childish heart with innocent joy. He inhaled the crisp air of late autumn, when the skies were a clear blue in scattered patches high above the spindly canopy of trees, oblivious to how fragile his happiness might actually be.

But then the change of seasons melted into one dreary cloud of muddled grey when his father returned from Gundabad, struck down by both dragon fire and grief. He was only able to catch a small glimpse of his father when he rode back into the palace, slumped onto his elk, which knew its path and carried its master back into the safety of his halls. But what he saw was enough to terrify him, never had he seen his father so gravely injured before, his armour broken and torn, his left side burned almost to the bone and the pungent smell of burnt flesh etched forever in his memory. The lengths of the Elvenking’s usually impeccable hair singed and blackened waves of silvery gold cascading over his face. A face which he barely recognised after the dragon’s wrath had left its merciless imprint on those graceful features. Clots of dried up blood clung to charred skin where it had not been completely melted away, laying bare sinews and white bones beneath. And his eyes! Never would he forget the harrowing emptiness of the ghostly white one staring at him and the overflowing sorrow within the crystal blue, the brilliant starlight inside only flickering weakly, like a smothered flame choking slowly, until it would be forever dimmed.

Beneath all the horror the worst part of it all just began dawning on him. His mother was nowhere to be seen. This could only mean one thing. She would not come back to him ever again.

Panic surged inside him and he shrank against the column as his father passed by him and guards, servants and a whole array of officials swarmed to the king’s side. They pushed the small elfling ever further away and the bustle of voices drowned out his childish attempts at getting close to his father.

Suddenly there was the soft touch of a hand on his shoulder and a familiar voice whispering to him from behind.

“There is nothing you can do for him now. Let us not linger here.”

He did not need to turn around to know that the voice belonged to Tauriel and the warmth of her hand alone was like a homely hearth when his whole life seemed to fall apart in front of his eyes. She then searched for his hand and with a gentle squeeze she said: “I am sure the healers will take good care of your father.”

The tight knot in Legolas’ heart threatened to burst in his chest if he so much as opened his mouth so he only managed a silent nod and squeezed her hand in return.

“I am so sorry for your loss,” she said quietly.

He finally turned to face her, his lips trembling in the effort to hold back tears that were burning hot in his eyes. “But, my mother —,” he croaked.

“I know how you must feel,” she said, trying to remain calm in the face of her friend’s emotional distress. “Come with me and let them do what they must. We can go to your favourite tree and wait for the stars,” she suggested, hoping to lift his spirits. “I will stay with you, I promise.”

He hesitated for a moment but then allowed her to pull him along through the rising scuffle as more and more elves streamed in, fearful as to what might have been the outcome of their king’s quest. The atmosphere was laden with anxious commotion as it became clear that this was not a victorious return and they made way for the prince, pity on their faces as he passed them.

On their way out his eyes were drawn to an intimate scene in the shade of a nearby archway, slightly removed from the clamour around the king. It was a pair of brothers standing with their mother, a noble lady with an aura of pearlescent elegance. Silky waves of chestnut brown hair framed her delicately chiselled features. With her near translucent skin, high cheekbones and sea green eyes Idhriel was truly an exquisite beauty. But there was a distinct air of frailty about her that made her appear almost removed from this world, as if her spirit only lingered reluctantly.

The smaller boy clung to the folds of her flowing gown of indigo blue and the older one stood silently beside his mother, one arm slung around her shoulder in comfort, while he sought to uphold an aura of dignity.

“But where is Ada? Why is he not here?” the little elfling whined, tugging impatiently at the rustling folds, his eyes wide and his rounded cheeks blushing in agitation. The older one answered in their mother’s stead as she seemed too pained to take notice of her son’s insistent questioning.

“You know why,” he hissed in his brother’s direction, but deliberately loud enough for Legolas and Tauriel to hear him, as they passed by. “He had to embark on this unfortunate mission and contrary to the king he was not lucky enough to come back alive.” The spite in his words was unmistakable.

Tauriel stopped in her tracks, letting go of Legolas’ hand and taking up a stance in front of the tall dark-haired elf, arms akimbo and her chin resolutely pushed forward. She barely reached his shoulders, but what she lacked in size, she made up with fervour.

“How do you dare speak like that about the king, Amardir! And even more so in the presence of his son!” She was positively fuming as she pointed with her head towards Legolas, who stood silently by her side, pale as a sheet. “Has he not also lost a parent? And yes, the king came back, but at what cost! Did you even see him?” She narrowed her eyes and glowered at Amardir, ready to talk back should he try to challenge her.

“Well, of course, if it isn’t the king’s most precious protégée, coming to the prince’s rescue!” He bowed mockingly in front of Tauriel, assessing her with a belligerent glance and only because his mother beckoned him to be silent he reluctantly swallowed the perfect answer he had prepared should Tauriel pick up the gauntlet.

“Don’t, please,” Idhriel said, sensing that that was exactly what Tauriel had in mind and a verbal thunderstorm was the last thing her nerves needed right now. Though her voice was gentle as a breeze in spring, her words were firm: “Tauriel is right. The prince has enough hardship placed on his young shoulders already as it is. There is no need to add more to his suffering with your hateful words.”

“Better listen to your mother, her wisdom might be good for you,” Tauriel snapped at him, standing as tall as she could and fixing Amardir with a dangerous spark in her eyes. The smug look of satisfaction on her face suddenly brought Legolas into the arena, waking him from his paralysing silence.

“Tauriel, please, let us simply move on.”

He knew his friend’s capability for heated arguments all too well, especially with Amardir, it seemed to be a sport of sorts for the two of them, but he did not have neither the heart nor the energy for this; not today. All he wanted to do was hide forever in the darkest corner of the forest until the world had come to an end; get away from this place that suddenly had lost the touch of home.

Amardir clenched his jaw, his grey eyes slowly pulling away from Tauriel and then boring into Legolas’ reddened ones as he bit back another answer and reached out for his little brother instead.

“Come Faeldir, we should leave. There is nothing here for us to do.”

The little boy was reluctant to let go of the folds he had clenched so tightly in between his small fingers, something that provided him with a meagre sense of security when the black pit of the unknown seemed to open up before him.

“But I don’t want to go! I want Ada,” he sobbed, “he promised to come back! And with a story about the dragon!” He was on the verge of tears and it took Amardir a great deal of patience to convince him to move one single inch.

“I can tell you a story about a dragon if you promise to come with me now,” he said, leaning closer to his brother and adding in a mysterious tone “a new one with a really dangerous one. And there is a troll too in the story!”

Faeldir looked up to his brother, the prospect of a new story making him forget for a moment that he was about to cry. “Really, a troll?” He wiped his nose on the back of his hand. “Promise?”

“Promise,” said Amardir, offering him his outstretched hand and after an approving nod from their mother Faeldir finally took it, clinging now to his brother instead and allowing himself to be led away slowly.

Idhriel remained behind, her gaze now drawn to Tauriel, who had fallen silent as she watched the brothers walk away in their shared sorrow.

“I am sorry if my son’s words must have sounded uncalled for. But as you well know, he does not mean any harm. We all bemoan our losses in one way or another and it is not up to anyone to judge their way of grieving.”

“Yes, of course,” Tauriel said with an abashed nod and then Idhriel turned to Legolas, who was lost in his own purgatory of dread.

“May the light of the Valar guide you through the darkness that lies ahead of you and give your father the strength to heal his broken heart.”

And then in the blink of an eye she turned around and was gone, floating behind the silhouettes of her sons into the amber glow of the ever winding hallways of Mirkwood.

The days after his father’s return were the hardest in Legolas’ young life. The king had been rushed to his chambers by his servants and the healers would not leave his side in the weeks to come. Things he did not understand were happening and people he did not know were coming and going. Hours beyond count he had spent waiting in front of his father’s heavy oaken doors, reaching out and then retreating his hand again from the golden brass knob when he heard his father groan in agony inside. He did not know if it were these unfamiliar sounds or rather the nervous voices and busy shuffling of feet that worried him the most. It all melted into one frightful image in his mind of his father slowly dying a horrible death and him being left with no parent at all.

People in the palace would mutter in hushed voices, the words dragon and fire being the most prominent of them all and when he timidly asked if he could please see his father the answer was always the same: “Don’t bother your father, he needs his rest.”

He was scared and alone and so he took to run away and hide in the forest, sometimes without returning home for days. And if it hadn’t been for Tauriel and her comforting presence he would have probably ran away for good.

What he did not know were the endless nights his father spent alone, blaming himself for all that had happened. He knew nothing of the feeling of guilt that made his father close his heart to the one that would have needed his love the most. And nothing of the pain it caused Thranduil to not only have lost his wife but also robbed his son of his mother. It broke the king’s heart to know that his son was suffering, but he was afraid to see the look of disappointment and disgust on his son’s face, so he locked himself away even more.

When even after months no improvement was noticeable, his advisors, now seriously preoccupied with the convalescence of their king, sent word to Elrond of Rivendell for help.

And help came promptly in the form of a healer and the whispering voices in Thranduil’s halls were astir about the new addition to their court. She is too young some said, but she comes with the highest recommendations others retorted. She is not what anyone had expected, all would agree.

Of obscure parentage, this elleth had worked for most of her young life as simple servant in Rivendell until one day Master Elrond himself decided to take her under his wings. She had displayed such remarkable ability in the art of healing and herb lore that he had wished to expand her knowledge and improve her skills. So great were her powers that he considered her beyond anyone else able to heal Thranduil’s wounds that were not just wounds of the body but also the soul and would need to be addressed with a considerable amount of delicacy.

And so it came to pass that Brethilwen began her services in the halls of Mirkwood and soon no one could imagine the palace without her, least of all the king himself. What had seemed impossible was not without hope at last. But the healing came with a high price and it was yet another layer of ice encaging his heart to keep at bay the flames that threatened to consume him. And when the king grew cold over time, his son mistook his broken heart for indifference.

“Legolas, I want you to look at me.”

His father’s strained voice called him back to the present and when he looked up into the familiar face that was now so different from its usual pristine appearance it revealed to him a truth he had been searching for since those days long past. He wanted to memorise every little detail of those imperfections before the meticulous veil of flawlessness would once again descend on them. The ghostly whiteness of his eye, the skeletal outline of his cheekbone, the melted skin in its roughness running over his neck and most likely down the entire left half of his body. The gaping wounds and charred flesh, he wanted to remember all of it.

“This is who I really am,” Thranduil said, each word leaving his mouth with great pain, “what I have been hiding from you.” He searched anxiously for a sign of resentment in his son’s eyes, but when he only found a wordless gleam of empathy instead he continued.

“I never wanted you to see me like this. I saw the horror in your face when I returned, you must have thought me more a monstrosity than the father you had known.”

Legolas vigorously shook his head in disagreement. “The horror that you saw was because I was terrified to lose you. All I ever wanted is to be close to you, try to heal you in my own childish way. But you would not let me. All I ever saw were closed doors and people shooing me away.” With bitterness in his voice he added: “That day you returned from Gundabad I did not only lose my mother but my father too.”

For a moment Thranduil said nothing, the truth of his son’s accusations slowly sinking in. There were too few words for the many things he wished to tell him. The regret of having pushed his son away when he needed him most was choking him like poison. But maybe there was still a chance to make it up to him, maybe he could do the right thing for once. If his son had found the courage to speak his heart, he might be able to do the same. Still he was not good at following the lead of his emotions, having reined them in for far too long.

He nodded slowly, trying to ignore the lingering tremble in his fingers, as he searched for his son’s eyes, his own vision still slightly blurred.

“I know that you must have thought of my appearance as cold and my words as harsh, but you have to believe me that I did not want to hurt you in any way.”

His son’s face remained motionless like a frozen lake, a perfect mirror of his father’s usual self, which now resembled more a churning sea of emotional turmoil.

“I was afraid that you would reject me, for what I was, but also for not having been able to save your mother. So I decided to shut myself in and keep you away from me. I was wrong in doing so, in not allowing you to be close to me when you needed me most. And when I would have needed you too.” He paused, still struggling to let his heart guide his tongue. “Ages ago I buried my father and when your mother was taken from us, I felt that I had failed not only them but also you. If I could not protect them how could I be a good father to you?”

This was so much harder than what he had thought. Wielding a sword was easier than breaking the chains around his heart and yet if he was ever going to claim victory over the demons of his past he needed to face them with the same bravery he showed in battle.

“So you decided to rather not be a father at all?” Legolas countered with a fair amount of truculence in his voice. It would take a bit more to undo the damage of centuries of indifference from his father.

Thranduil shook his head as he searched for the right words. “No, this was not my intention. And you know that. I always only wanted what was best for you. Even if it meant keeping you away from me. I was not myself in those days and I could not afford you pitying me. After all I was still the king, so my pride would not allow it.”

“Yes, your pride has not been doing you much good,” Legolas said sulkily and all the ice that Thranduil had built around his own heart suddenly stared back at him through his son’s eyes.

He needed to break that ice that held them both captive so he reached out for his son’s hands and said: “Forgive me. I was only thinking as a king and not as a father as I should have.” He had to force himself to steady his voice when the pressure in his chest threatened to drown his words. “Please don’t go away. You are the only family I have and if you go then I am left with nothing.”

Legolas looked startled for a moment. “How do you know that I was indeed thinking of leaving Mirkwood?”

“I might not be the best father, but I am still your father and I know you quite well, despite what you may think,” Thranduil said, the scars on his face now only a faint shadow as he gradually regained his poise. “I suspected it the moment you followed Tauriel and then when you refused to come back, defying my orders, I was quite certain of it.”

Legolas averted his gaze, suddenly embarrassed that his father would see through him so easily.

“You threatened to banish Tauriel,” he said reproachfully, looking up to his father again, “even though you must have known that she was acting under the influence of her,” he paused to search for the most innocuous word possible, “feelings she had for the dwarf.”

“You mean her infatuation,” Thranduil countered with a frown, retreating his hands from his son’s as he felt his anger surging again. “Her apparent obsession with this dwarf is still no excuse for her defiant behaviour.”

“I know that she has disrespected your orders and her actions seem to speak against her.” Legolas sought to appease his father, “but please, you must forgive her. She is truly heartbroken.”

The doubtful look in Thranduil’s eyes gave Legolas the courage to elaborate further. “Kili, the dwarf, was killed alongside his elder brother as well as their uncle. Tauriel fought bravely, facing Bolg on her own, a task not many would be willing to take up, but he was too strong and he slaughtered the dwarf in front of her eyes and Tauriel would have been next if I had not gone together with her to Ravenhill.”

A sudden chill crept into the king’s heart, being presented once again with the all too familiar sensation of loss.

“You cannot expect me to simply abandon her,” Legolas said with ardor, “she has always been loyal to us and the Woodland Realm and if it had not been for her, I might have left Mirkwood a long time ago.”

A silent nod was all Thranduil could manage, but Legolas was not finished yet.

“If she does not have a place at your palace then neither do I.”

The words hung like a thick black cloud in between father and son as they stood in a wordless gaze.

Never had Thranduil heard his son speak his mind so openly, but then again he had never really given him a chance to do so. He had always taken Tauriel’s presence for granted and her closeness to his son was something he had come to accept, albeit unwillingly at first, considering her Silvan parentage. But when he had seen his son slowly finding joy again through her company, it had taken a weight off his own heart and he had silently favoured Tauriel and made sure that she would eventually fill the respectable position as head of the king’s guard.

And now his son had come to the rescue of his childhood friend, even if it meant standing up to his own father and risking an even deeper rift in between them. But he could not let that happen. He needed his son, now more than ever, and if he had to reconsider his decision about Tauriel’s banishment he would do so. After all he was the king and it was within his power to show mercy if he felt inclined to do so.

“Very well.” Thranduil finally broke the silence, his voice determined and his appearance nearly back to its usual flawlessness, “I shall reconsider my decision regarding Tauriel, but you cannot expect me to be overly lenient.”

Legolas nodded obediently, an obvious sigh of relief escaping him. “Yes, of course, I understand.”

“And I also want you to know that I am doing this for you. I see how much her presence means to you and I do not want you to turn your back on me. There will be a moment for you to leave Mirkwood but it is not now. You are the prince and the kingdom needs you.” He looked into his son’s eyes, blue and clear like the autumn sky and he added with sincerity “I need you.”

A smile tugged at the corners of Legolas’ mouth as this was much more than he could have ever hoped to hear from his father.

“I am glad that you want me to be by your side, but I guess you forget that you are not quite as alone as you might think.” With a whimsical glint in his eyes he said: “You are all but forgetting your dear guest. She seemed to me more than delighted to be close to you, if you would only allow her to do so.”

An awkward moment of silence from his father told Legolas that something was not quite right about her.

“What is it father? Is there a problem? Did something happen to her?” A sudden pang of worry cast a shadow on his face.

“Well, I guess one could say so. Or at least I fear that it could come to that.”

When Thranduil had briefly outlined whatever he thought he knew about her possible plans, Legolas only sighed and rolled his eyes in silent aggravation. His father might be a wise king and an able warrior, but in matters of the heart he was not the most skilled. Too long had he spent like a recluse trying to shield himself from more damage.

“So, you are telling me you left her behind in the palace even though she begged you to come along? And now you fear that she might be running away because she is getting desperate?”

Thranduil nodded, a pleading look on his face „What should I have done instead?“

“Well, allow her to come with you of course. Where is she most likely to disappear? By your side or far away from you?”

Thranduil had to admit that his son had a point there, he had not thought about it that way. “I guess you might be possibly right.”

“Of course I am right.” Legolas had to suppress the urge to throw his arms in the air in exasperation. His father would indeed need a helping hand; more than one maybe. And it was not going to be an easy task.

“So what do you advice me to do? I cannot just leave though, as the battle is not quite over yet and the jewels —“

“Would you please forget about the necklace for once father?” his son interrupted him quite gruffly. “Those gems have brought you nothing but trouble and mother will not come back even if you reclaim your gift for her.”

Under different circumstances this would have gotten his son into serious trouble, but today was not like other times. His son only said frankly what others hat told him more cautiously before and now he finally seemed willing to accept the truth behind those words.

“Fine, I might consider putting the gems aside or leave them for a later moment —,” Thranduil’s voice trailed off when his son raised his eyebrows in disapproval.

“No, not for a later moment, not even a thousand years from now.” Legolas stood with his arms crossed in front of his body. “If you indeed want my help then I think you should set your mind now on returning home as soon as possible, and if there is a way to prevent her from leaving the palace, then by all means, do so.”

Thranduil nodded, still somewhat reluctant to have to give up on his coveted treasure, but the prospect of being reunited with her sooner than what he had dared to hope considerably lifted his spirit. He straightened himself, his mind drifting through the haze of time. He saw her lonely figure and the aura of sadness that enveloped her when he had left her behind and the pain in her eyes when he had shown himself to her as his spirit animal. All this would now finally come to an end and an air of relief filled his heart like a fresh breeze of unexplored possibilities.

“As soon as we are back in Dale I shall send a messenger to the palace, informing everyone about my imminent return. If luck is on my side this will reach her still on time, before she might put her plans into action.” There was a spark in Thranduil’s eyes as the sudden thrill of anticipation rushed through his veins. “As you can see, my son, I do rely on your help in this.”

Legolas nodded happily, after all it was a rare sight to see his father so unusually at ease.

“I can take care of whatever needs to be arranged in Dale,” he offered, “so you are free to go whenever you see fit.”

“You would do that for me?” Thranduil began to look at his son in a whole different light. Maybe it was finally time to loosen the reins, grant him more freedom as well as involve him in matters that he had kept to himself for fear of losing control. Seeing his son before him he had to admit that he had grown into a responsible albeit still slightly inexperienced prince and his unforeseen disposition to share in his father’s obligations seemed to open a set of new doors for Thranduil.

“Yes, if you put your trust in me then I shall be glad to give proof that I am indeed worthy of it.” Legolas underlined his words with a slight inclination of his head.

“Very well.” Thranduil accommodated his swords and turned to face the exit of the tunnel, preparing himself to head back to Dale with his son. “We should then not tarry any longer as there might still be skirmishes expecting us on the way.”

Legolas nodded in agreement but when they had almost reached the last bend, he stopped in his tracks, a look of preoccupation on his face.

“Ada, could I ask one more favour of you?”

“Of course, what is it my son?”

“Would you speak to Tauriel before we leave Ravenhill? I have tried to persuade her to come with me, but she won’t listen. She will not be parted from Kili and I don’t know what else to do.” There was an imploring look of helplessness in his eyes, knowing that this was not a small favour he asked of his father.

“Are you quite sure you want me to do that?” Thranduil furrowed his brows. “If she does not listen to you, I very much doubt that she will want to hear what I have to say. I do not think that this is a good idea.” The crease on his forehead deepened as he considered his son’s proposal.

“No, Ada, I beg to differ.” Legolas took heart. “It is you she will listen to and no one else, I am sure of it. So please, will you do this for me?”

How could he deny his son this wish after all they had just revealed to each other? Well, he simply could not, so he would need to face yet another broken heart with little hope in being able to mend it.

Thranduil left Legolas behind, exiting the tunnel alone and soon there was no mistaking her slender form on the far end of the plateau clearly outlined against the sky. The clouds had begun to lift as the evening descended and a warm orange glow illuminated her as she was bent over the limp form of Kili. He approached her slowly, but she seemed to remain oblivious of her surroundings, silently weeping and rocking back and forth in a vain attempt to make sense of what she could not put into words.

And for a moment he did not see the head of the king’s guard in front of him, but the little orphan, whose cruel fate had softened his heart so many centuries ago.

There had been an orc raid in a remote area of Mirkwood which had turned into a terrible massacre and when Thranduil had arrived with his warriors he had feared to have come too late.

But amidst the dead there was a small girl, hardly much older than his own son, with a shock of flaming red hair, desperately clinging to her parent’s bodies and stubbornly refusing to let go. She would not answer to anyone nor could she be persuaded to move from her pitiful place in between her father and her mother. Thranduil beckoned his soldiers to leave her alone and then he himself stepped closer, kneeling down beside her and from her reddened eyes a bundle of unspoken accusations stared him directly in the face. He spoke to her soothingly and the calming effect of his words finally broke the barrier bringing forth an outbreak of relieving tears as she sank into the Elvenking’s welcoming arms. In between sobs he learned that her name was Tauriel and that she was the only one of her family to have survived. He did not think twice about taking her to the palace and offering her a new home and from that day on the strong-minded redhead would curiously roam the king’s halls and try Thranduil’s patience more than once.

A small smile escaped him at the thought of the countless times Brethilwen had to chase after his son and Tauriel when they refused to come back to the palace pretending that they had been embarking on an important quest and could not be bothered with something as mundane as food or bedtime.

“Tauriel,” he called softly, not wanting to scare her and when she finally looked up, guilt and pain spoke to him in a silent gaze and her rebellious spirit lay crushed beneath her broken heart. She had her hands tightly slung around Kili’s as if that might somehow bring him back to life and tears streamed down her cheeks.

“We came here as fast as we could, but we were too late,” her voice was choked by tears, “I could not save him. I tried, but —.”

“Legolas said that you have fought well today, even standing up to Bolg on your own.”

“But it was not enough, it did not make any difference in the end.” She shook her head in disappointment, biting her lower lip in a futile attempt to stall the flow of tears.

“You and I are quite alike in some ways.” For a moment Thranduil decided to put the king aside, addressing her like his equal. “We both do not easily surrender, it is against our nature as fighters. But sometimes accepting defeat is the only victory we can claim.”

Tauriel looked at him with disbelief in her eyes.

“We cannot always save the ones we love. Letting go is the most difficult part of loving someone and it is the most important one to learn.”

“I remember those words,” Tauriel said, her voice barely more than a whisper as she ran her hands gently through Kili’s hair.

“I am glad you do. I know it was a long time ago, but it is still valid nonetheless, although you are not a little girl anymore. You have grown to be a fierce warrior with an incredible amount of hot-headedness that is getting you into trouble more than what is good for you.”

A fatherly smile dawned on the Elvenking’s face and then Tauriel could hold back no longer and the words just poured from her mouth:

“I am sorry that my behaviour has caused you such unrest and trouble, I did not mean to be unruly and never was it my intention to purposefully defy your orders.” The remorse in her voice was palpable. “I am still forever grateful that you took me in when I had nowhere else to go and I am willing to accept whatever punishment you deem appropriate for my disobedience.”

Thranduil gave her a benevolent nod and offered her his outstretched hand, which Tauriel took with a thankful gleam in her eyes.

“I do accept your apology and surely a disciplinary conversation will be in order in due time, but for now it shall suffice to say that I am glad to have found you alive.”

Without further delay Thranduil now sought to put his plan of returning to Mirkwood into action and he urged Legolas and Tauriel to make haste in their descent. Their march from Ravenhill into Dale was accompanied by a flock of eagles, the majestic birds one by one diving into the sea of hostile beasts and plowing through the ranks of the enemies with relentless determination. The skies overhead darkened with specks of black, a myriad of swooping wings descending on the valley, sharp cries announcing the arrival of the allies Gandalf must have called for. Beorn the skin-changer was also among them, and in the shape of a giant bear he took on more orcs than anyone else.

This was the turning of the tide, Thranduil thought to himself with relief, defeat was now surely upon the enemy and his miserable servants of evil.

“My lord,” Feren received Thranduil at the gate to the city, “we did as you ordered and I can assure you that Dale has been held securely.”

“Very well,” said Thranduil with an appreciative nod. He had expected no less from his commander.

“I do wish to depart to Mirkwood without delay. There are personal matters that require my immediate attention. Send a messenger to the palace to prepare for my return.”

“Yes, of course my lord.” Feren’s dutiful response could not hide the fact that he was in a state of utter confusion as to what was going on, his eyes darting from Legolas to Tauriel and back to the king.

Purposefully ignoring his commander’s obvious hunger for answers Thranduil strode swiftly ahead, Legolas and Tauriel by his side with Feren following closely behind.

“My son will take full charge in my absence and he shall have free rein to settle all matters concerning the Woodland Realm.”

“As you wish my lord,” he said, hardly managing to keep up with Thranduil’s energetic strides, and even less with the quick succession of unforeseen turns the events suddenly seemed to take.

“There is one more thing though that might require your attention my lord before you leave,” he said, his thin face a bit more strained than the usual.

“Yes?” Thranduil inquired whilst keeping up his brisk pace, hoping it might not be something to delay his departure for long.

“It is Faeldir. He has been gravely injured and there is little hope for him.”

Thranduil stopped dead in his tracks and closed his eyes just for an instant, his heart suddenly submerged in a bucket of ice. Not Faeldir, not after he had fought so bravely by his side. There could be no doubt as to what his duty commanded him to do. He would not leave his young soldier to die. Not if he could help it.

“Where is he?” He turned to face Feren, who had come to a halt beside the king.

“He is with his brother. Apparently he has attempted to take on a troll all by himself. At least that is what a man named Odmund has reported. Amardir found him in one of the upper alleys and has not left his side ever since.”

“Have him brought to my tent immediately and be quick about it. Every minute wasted is precious time lost.”

“Yes, of course my lord, I will see to it.” Feren bowed and strode away hastily, leaving Thranduil behind with Tauriel and Legolas.

“But what about your departure to Mirkwood?” Legolas inquired.

“It will have to wait,” Thranduil said with a deep sigh, the only thing revealing how much this decision actually cost him. “A king’s duty comes before a king’s desire. This is just one of the many lessons you also will have to learn.”

And with those words he turned away and made for the tent, not knowing for how much longer he would be able to put aside the insistent whispers of his aching heart.

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