"You expect too much of yourself."
The quiet voice rang into the tranquil air. The evening was a pale blue, the early light of the stars above seeping into the cool embrace.
Darkness was falling. And yet, pale stars twinkled gently from afar.
Legolas stood still, head bowed, eyes stubbornly digging into the carpeted floor. His hand still clutched his bow, whitened knuckles soiled with black blood. Flaxen hair, now tinged with black, was carelessly thrown behind his stiff shoulders in a tangled mess. Brows furrowed, his jaw was set, the tired skin taut with grim anticipation.
A soft sigh gently spread against the clear air once more. His father turned away from the window, regarding him sternly. His crown was haphazardly thrown aside, the intricate lacings of his robes open and loose. Blond warrior plaits followed the untidy fashion, as they hung woven between cascades of hair, bearing marks of having been brushed back with impatience over and over again. The king's countenance was somber.
"Look at me."
Biting his lip, Legolas raised his head reluctantly. Azure blue eyes rose to meet the pale blue of the father, and Legolas dropped his gaze once more. He could not look into those piercing eyes. His guilt was gnawing at his insides painfully already, and facing the famous gaze of the king his father was, at the moment, more impossible than infiltrating Dol Guldur alone to demand tea with the Necromancer.
"Do you feel insecure about yourself, Legolas?"
The figure of his son remained stiff and unmoving, and Thranduil rubbed his eyes. He tiredly moved from the window toward the wall, and began to straighten out the tapestry that hung against it.
"Has anyone, including myself, given you cause to doubt your self-worth?"
Mutely, his son shook his head. Thranduil sighed again. He approached his motionless child.
"I find it difficult to criticize you, Legolas. When you make a mistake, you take criticism to a spectacular level and begin to loathe yourself." With a finger, he tilted up his son's stubborn chin, forcing him to meet his eyes. "You cannot be perfect, Legolas. It is unwise to continue this cycle of conscious effort and fear of mistakes that turn into self-disappointment and self-contempt. You must learn to forgive yourself of your mistakes, and learn from them."
Legolas bowed his head. "Yes, Father." The voice was obedient, almost mechanical. The brow of the king furrowed.
With a sigh, he rested his hands on his son's shoulders and squeezed them with enough force to make the child flinch.
"You are still learning, Legolas. You must learn to move on. You still have a long path ahead."
Ah, how long that path seemed now. Legolas bit his lip. When he envisioned it, all he could see was a path of never-ending pain. How much more of this was he to endure? Continual failure, disappointed reproaches, a new resolve that would eventually break after a complacence of two moons? It was endless. It would go on for a very long time. And he would never be able to raise his eyes to meet the people around him, for he would never be able to face himself without shame.
It was always the same. Periodic reproaches, new resolve and determination, a good two moons of conscious effort and struggle to please, constant uncertainty. And he would eventually grow accustomed, complacent, and the reproach would come again. And he would crumble in realization and disappointment, and all hopes would vanish.
He wanted to cry.
He bowed again, and turned to leave.
"Legolas, I am not finished."
Knuckled whitened. But the child calmly turned back around, and faced his father. Any sign of resentment or inattention would result in another round of lectures and probing questions, and he would not be able to escape the suffocation of entrapment that he would feel then. He trained his gaze on his father, schooling his expression into an acquiescent face of an accepting son.
Gaze fixed evenly upon the youth, Thranduil approached. Before Legolas could prepare himself for another speech, he was startled to find himself pulled into an abrupt embrace. His body stiffened.
"Give it time," murmured his father, stroking his hair. "Give yourself time."
Time. But how much time would he waste in the process? How many long years of endless reproaches, tiring resolutions, the agonizing disappointments that cut him like a betrayal? How much time until he finally became the loving, selfless elf that he couldn't seem to be?
Unsteady fingers rose to clutch at his father's robes, but faltered. He wanted to cry, but then his father would ask why. And he would have no answers. He bit his lip. The trembling hands dropped limply at his sides.
But Ada, you don't understand.
With a shimmering glaze in his eyes, Legolas pulled back. The tension in the air suddenly cracked as he broke forth a tearful smile. "I will try, Ada."
I really do try. I do.
A dazzling smile blossomed on his father's lips. Thranduil stroked Legolas' hair tenderly. "That is more like my little Greenleaf."
Wiping his eyes, Legolas smiled brightly again. With a lingering gaze upon his father, he stepped back, and disappeared from the doorway.
Thranduil sighed. Turning back toward the window, he slowly approached the fading blue of the evening that colored the glass. He tentatively rested a hand on the smooth surface, eyes longingly lingering on a stone bench in the middle of the garden overlooked by the study.
"I grow weary," he whispered, eyes distant. "He is in a turbulent age, and I grow weary with him." Pale fingers traced invisible patterns on the glass, outlining the shimmer of the distant stars. "When I speak to him, he does not hear me. When I look for him, he is distant. When I embrace him, he no longer wraps his arms around me." Dropping his hand, he stared down at both of his hands.
Turning around toward the wall, he slowly gazed up at the large tapestry. In it smiled a small family of three, the mother and father holding a beaming infant between them. The mother's arms were wrapped around the child, who was happily plucking at the grass on which they were seated, as the father's arm encircled his wife's shoulder. He closed his eyes.
"What would you do, if you were here?"
The sunny smile of the queen gave him no answers.
With heavy steps, Legolas treaded the dark forest path. His bow hung loosely in his hand, still covered in grime; his tunic was still soiled with black blood. A disheveled mess of hair hung down his back, and his eyes were vacant, unseeing.
He knew he should not be out alone in his weary state. But he was too tired. Too tired to worry about safety.
If he could continue to walk forever and ever – in this direction, in any direction, listening to the silent beckoning of the winds and the trees that no one else bothered to hear – perhaps his mind would slowly let go of the memories of the blood and the screams, release the tearing guilt and the pain. If only he could become lost in the silent maelstrom of sounds and songs of the forest, if only he could forget all else, and concentrate and keep listening and following –
"We meet again, child."
Startled, he raised his bow. The fingers worked automatically around the wood, sliding the arrow in place. The old man before him lifted his arms in a gesture of surrender, raising his eyebrows. Legolas hurriedly lowered his bow. It was simply an old mortal man.
"How did you get into the forest?" he inquired, forgetting his lessons in courtesy. Something about this man was amiss. His long white robes were pure and radiant, unstained by the dark of the forest. His ancient eyes regarded him with an unreadable depth in them, and his tall form was erect, more so than a normal human would be at that age. His hair and beard were enough to tell that he was old. But he did not look old at all.
The old man chuckled. "Why, young elf, I came to see you."
Legolas stepped back. Something strange was emanating from this man. Why had he not sensed this before? Something misty…not dark, necessarily, but something vague, mysterious – as if he were wading in a dream, a foggy landscape from which he feared to escape, lest the fog clear to reveal something he did not wish to see…
"You did no wrong," said the old man, almost to himself. He began to walk. Without thinking, Legolas began to follow.
"Your sympathetic nature and kind heart led to your pity, and your pity did lead to the injuries of your people-" He turned, and smiled knowingly. Legolas swallowed. "-but one as kind as yourself could not be heartless when forced to fight kin."
Legolas frowned. "Kin?" he repeated, tightening his hold on the bow. He did not want to remember the events of earlier that day. "They were orcs. I simply made a mistake. How do you know-"
With an unfathomable twinkle in his eyes, the tall man bent down. Legolas stepped back.
"Why, young one, I thought you knew." The voice snaked around his ears sensually, causing him to shudder. He did not understand this new sensation, this strange tone. The fog was thickening, and the darkness was looming, and he feared to step out to face it. He took another step back. "I suppose your father did not tell you who your enemies actually are."
The dark forest did not sing that evening; it was enveloped in a hushed shadow, a haunted silence.