The Strength of One Green Leaf

Reliving Nighmares

Chapter 13: Reliving Nightmares

The sun was already rising midway through the sky. Legolas hummed to himself as he ran a hand adoringly down his mare's back. She grunted and lazily cocked her ears back and forth. The elfling giggled, and tiptoed close to her left ear.

"Guess what, Loriel?" he whispered, cupping his mouth with small hands. "We're going far away today! We're going to Rivendell." With a delighted laughter, he fell back onto his heels and pranced around the horse in excitement.

"Rivendell! I get to see elflings! Nana said there are elflings!"

"Calm down, little Greenleaf," called the queen with a smile, adjusting the stirrups for her stallion. "We must be prepared to leave as soon as Ada comes."

Legolas giggled. He stopped and looked wonderingly up at the clear blue sky. He perked up, and turned to his mother with enthusiasm brightening his eyes. His smile vibrated with powdery dusts of golden light, scattering and filling the air, soaring into the sky with his melodious laughter.

"Look, Nana! That squirrel is carrying something!"

Indeed, a squirrel with a bulge in his cheeks scuttled past the elfling and disappeared into the bushes. Legolas ran after it, laughter echoing merrily into the forest.

"Don't get too far, Legolas," called his mother. "We must set out soon."

Don't get too far, Legolas.

The elfling stopped. He looked around, slowly taking in the misty outlines of hushed trees. Where was he?

Why did he hear his mother's voice?

He looked back when he heard a distant laughter. It was approaching him from the mist. Legolas grimaced; everything he had encountered in the mist so far had been unkind to him. He wondered what had happened to his father.

As he watched in grim anticipation, he could make out a faint outline of a running creature. It was an elfling. Laughing, he emerged from the fog, and ran toward Legolas' direction. Golden mane bounced gaily in a single braid.

Legolas stared, instinctively fingering his own hair. There was no elfling as young as himself in all of Mirkwood.

When the elfling came nearer, Legolas froze. He blinked, and rubbed his eyes. The happy laughter echoed in the mist, ringing in the sinister hush of the trees. Legolas' hand trembled as he rubbed his eyes again. But the image was no ghost. It was no trick of the eye.

That elfling was himself.

Dizzying thoughts shot through his mind, clouding it, blurring it. What was the meaning of this? Was it another form of a scheming orc? He watched, dread slowly spreading in his stomach, as the elfling approached.

The elfling continued to run happily, laughing and giggling, as if he had no cares in the world. He did not seem to notice the evil mist. He did not seem to notice the strange silence of the forest, or the gnarled trees entangled into each other in a thickening web. Most importantly, he did not seem to notice Legolas.

Legolas stared, disbelief and dread mingling and polluting his senses, as the elfling ran closer and closer.

And ran right past him.

For a moment, Legolas stood still, shock rendering him speechless. That elfling – that creature who looked just like himself – ran by as if he didn't exist! Was he an apparition? But he could clearly see footsteps in the mud. And, by all means, Legolas reasoned with himself, why would I see a vision of myself?

He shook his head. That could not be a vision. There was no reason for him to see himself like this. He had had many visions of Nana, or Ada even, when he had nightmares – but never had he seen himself this clearly. It was not reasonable.Unless...

A coldness crept through his stomach. His blood slowed, veins slowly contracting in a chill.Unless I am...

He whirled around to see the figure disappear into the fog. His muscles suddenly broke out into convulsive movement; his throat burned from a cry that did not sound. He lurched forward.


He broke into a sprint, following the elfling – who was undoubtedly long gone.

The fog grew thicker and thicker. As he continued onward, determined to learn the truth behind these mysteries from the elfling, Legolas felt his stomach sink heavier and heavier. Something about this path was familiar. What was it? He had been here before...

He stopped, terror freezing his blood. This was the path that he had taken just this morning – or was it dawn? – when that evil orc dragged him to a cliff of some sort. He had said something about Nana...

Legolas frowned. That elfling had run to that clearing. That place was indeed dangerous; he remembered vaguely that there had been a spider. Spiders, cliffs,, that place was dangerous. Legolas moved forward, anxiety gripping his heart. He had to stop that elfling.

He did not run very far when he felt strength leaving his body. Legolas panted, gritting his teeth in frustration. Whatever had befallen him, he could not recall; however, it was apparent that whatever he had gone through did leave him considerably drained. Strangely, it seemed as though he had been running a lot lately – though he could not remember when or where. He clenched his fists tight. He wanted to stop, wanted to go back into the light and rest. But he could not abandon that elfling in the mist. It was too dangerous. Even if the elfling was an apparition of himself...

I must find him, he thought determinedly, wading through the thickening mesh of branches and thorns.

"Wait!" he called again, hoping the elfling would be nearer. After all, the elfling was slightly smaller than himself, and perhaps Legolas was close to catching up. "That part of the forest is dangerous!" He hoped the elfling had not gone too far.


A panicked cry rang out into the air. Legolas nearly stumbled. Quickly regaining balance, he turned to find a lady running toward him, her azure blue dress flying in the wind. Her deep blue eyes glossed with panic, gold hair rippling out behind her. Legolas' eyes widened. He could no longer feel his nerves; it was as if he was detached from his body, watching himself from afar. A strangled voice caught in his throat.Nana.

His body refused to move, refused to obey the screaming orders to approach the golden lady. He was rooted where he was, as she hurried by him as if oblivious to his presence. He slowly turned and watched on, horror-stricken, as she entered the clearing and whipped out something from her sleeve.

A scream tore through the air.

Legolas' blood chilled. He stared at the obscured clearing, that clearing where he had seen Ada just this morning – or was it this morning? His memory was so fuddled – as gurgled shrieks and a young scream mingled savagely in the blue-gray mist.

It took every ounce of willpower to break out of his rigid numbness, to break into a run. Soon, nimble feet were flying on the dirt, desperation lacing the frantic steps.

Legolas entered the clearing and stopped abruptly, feet skidding on the soil.

In the corner of the clearing lay a dead orc, a long, white-handled knife lodged deep in its throat. Nana stood not too far away, holding another keen dagger that looked exactly like the one buried in the orc. She was poised protectively before a bewildered elfling. The elfling was pale and wide-eyed with fear; a trail of blood oozed down from his back. Facing the queen and child was a band of snickering orcs.

Fingers trembled as Legolas gritted his teeth, forcing a shaky arm to reach behind his back. But he found, to his terror, that he no longer carried the bow and arrow. Panicking, he groped behind his back; still nothing. He didn't remember dropping them anywhere – why did they disappear? He watched, blood lurching in his stomach, as one of the orcs lunged forward.

A cry tore from his throat as the queen threw her remaining dagger at the advancing creature. It neatly embedded itself at his neck. The monster crumpled at the spot.

The queen reached down to clutch at her elfling as the orcs slowly neared her, grinning. She was now weaponless. The elfling was clinging onto her dress, watching with terror-filled eyes. The queen closed her eyes, and then opened them with determined ferocity. Deep blue orbs glittered viciously as she began to whisper an incantation.

The air in the room was heavy. Gandalf was the first to break the silence.

"So that's what you meant by not being able to relieve him of guilt." Leaning back against the door, he began to pull out a pipe from under the lines of his robe. Elrond glanced over his shoulder with disapproval evident in his somber eyes. The wizard grumbled and put the pipe back in its place.

Thranduil, seated before the bed beside Elrond, did not acknowledge the silent exchange between the healer and wizard. He seemed completely removed from this world, hopelessly lost in the dark nadir of the past. His head was hanging low, face buried in tired hands. Stifled whispers silenced by the lines of the sleeves, raging emotions muffled within the thick folds of fabric. He did not move.

Elrond turned back to regard Thranduil, his deep gaze encompassed in silent warmth of gentle ember. The coal black eyes traveled slowly over the figure of the king, deliberate and yet feathery in its distant caress, as if he could wash away the pain reverberating from within the elf with his gaze alone. The king's mighty shoulders were hunched, the strong body throbbing with powerful emotions trapped within, struggling to trap them within. Fiercely swallowing down the surge of emotions that threatened to burst forth. The wounds were reopened, and bitter grief washed over the elf afresh. Five years was too short a time. Elrond gently placed a hand on the king's shoulder.

"I will do my best." The words promised nothing, guaranteed nothing – and yet the stiff shoulders relaxed visibly. Something about the rich, vibrating tone forthcoming from the mighty healer sent a comforting touch to the darkest abyss of the soul. Thranduil let out a weak breath, and straightened his back with effort. He turned when he heard a cough from the doorway.

"A moment, Thranduil, if you will," said the wizard, clearing his throat. He glanced at Elrond, and then at Legolas. He raised an eyebrow meaningfully at Thranduil, whose haunted eyes stared blankly back. The wizard turned and exited the room.

Thranduil sighed, and reluctantly pushed himself off of the chair. His steps faltered, catching onto the carpet wildly. Quickly grabbing the back of the chair, he regained balance, brows furrowing in annoyance – but not before Elrond rose, quick as lightning.

"You are still unwell." His voice was alarmed, eyes scouring the king's pallid body sharply. The king shook his head, and turned toward the door. Elrond grabbed his arm, startling the fair-haired elf.

"You must go to a healer once you finish speaking to him." It was more a command than anything else. Thranduil turned to him impatiently, but heated words died on his lips when his eyes met Elrond's. The air thickened with tension. Wordless emotions swirled in the air, crashing against the motionless bodies and reeling minds with deafening silence. At length, the younger elf looked away.

"When the healers finish tending to my warriors." The words were quiet, almost fading away to be absorbed by the thickened air.

The older elf tightened his grip slightly. His voice was stern. "You know as well as I that there is no healer in this kingdom who is not injured. Come to me."

Thranduil did not answer. Elrond studied the young king's set jaw, and released his arm. Shimmering gold flashed and disappeared around the corner as the king hastened out the door.

Elrond slowly sank back into the chair. Pressing his temple wearily with a finger, he slowly scanned the elfling, taking in the details of his features. His eyes softened upon the sight of the child. What a gem this elfling was.

The child could be described in no words less than beautiful. His soft, babyish features bore a striking resemblance to the famous queen of Mirkwood, whose melodic voice and radiant beauty was renowned in Imladris and Lothlorien alike. Startlingly pale skin and long, dark lashes emitted the breath of the one who had ceased to walk upon the lands. And yet he also bore resemblance to his father; instead of the deep gold color of the queen's hair, the child possessed thin, light strands of pale gold that stood in between the queen's rich color and the king's fair shade. Elrond gently ran a finger down the child's round chin. No doubt these features would chisel out in time. He would have a stubborn jaw – just like his father. Elrond smiled.

"Legolas, son of Thranduil," he murmured, stroking the child's pale forehead rhythmically with gentle fingers. "Your heart is being destroyed by sorrow."

He stopped, taking time to gather his thoughts. Continuing to caress the elfling's forehead, he spoke again.

"But you must remember the grief you would be placing upon your father, young one, should you choose to fade away."

The child was deathly still, the ashen features motionless. Elrond thoughtfully held the elfling's small fingers in between his own, scrutinizing them.

"Open the gates, young one. Open them for me. I am here to help you."

The chamber was silent save his quiet voice. Elrond slowly bowed his head near the elfling's face. He closed his eyes and, pressing gently on the child's heart and forehead, began to whisper softly.

"Return to the light, Legolas. Return to us."

A warm, luminescent white light gently enveloped the elfling in a tender embrace.

Thranduil walked slowly through the corridor, deep in thought. The cavernous halls were dark; torches lined the walls, burning with dank melancholy. This part of the palace seemed to be subdued into an eerie gloom. He smiled wryly. Perhaps the castle walls had read his morose contemplation of the past. Or perhaps the spirit of the queen haunted these halls. He walked deeper and deeper into the lower levels of the castle.

A slight sway was an involuntary movement he had not expected. Frowning, he reached out and placed his hand tentatively on the wall. The walls of this region were not polished and decorated as were the festive sectors of the upper halls; this part of the castle remained dark and damp, the walls rugged and coarse as they had been when first found. A smooth floor and stairway, and a line of torches burning bright, were the only signs of life having touched these regions. Thranduil stopped, and leaned heavily against the jagged wall. The chill of cold stone touched him flat against his back; he shuddered, but remained where he was. It was a welcome chill. The events of late had fevered his mind.

The king let out a breathy sigh. His body was in need of respite, but his soul could find no rest. He was still listless, mind dizzy with the waves of memories crashing in from the past and present. It had happened too fast. And it had been too short a time. Releasing a smaller sigh, Thranduil closed his eyes. How he wanted to forget.

It had been one of the most glorious days of his reign. Mirkwood had hailed the king with reverent joy, as he had decided to end the years of tension between his land and Imladris. The young monarch was the first to take the initiative, having declared his willingness at last to let his forefather's feuds lie at rest. It was to be a day recorded in history, the day when the gulf between the two realms were finally bridged, the feuding lords reconciled, a new friendship and alliance forged. Excitement and euphoria had ascended high above the trees of Mirkwood. Happiness seemed to find no way to rise any higher.Which it didn't.

The king broke out of his reverie, and pulled himself off of the wall. Letting the quiet darkness of the unused passage overwhelm him once again, he resumed his steady gait. Gandalf was waiting.

He wondered what the wizard wished to speak to him about. Perhaps it concerned Legolas. After all, he had asked Gandalf to help him...

Thranduil's pace increased slightly. I must thank Mithrandir when I see him, he reminded himself, looking straight ahead at the looming darkness only broken by torches lighting the way. He knew Gandalf was regularly spending time with the prince, but was not aware that he had managed to lift such a heavy weight of guilt from the elfling's shoulders. Legolas' burden had been great, he knew, but the king had not found the strength or courage to confront it himself, for he was plagued by demons of his own. The young father sighed as he trudged forward.

There was always death. There were always questions, cries of anguish. They lingered among the haunted whispers of the trees, deepening the sorrow of the ones left behind. Thranduil had seen more than his share of those.

No one had thought that the glory of the day would be broken by the unexpected oncoming of the mist. Even Thranduil himself hadn't realized the danger until it was too late.

If only he had ordered the guards to investigate sooner, they would have been aware earlier.

If only he had given orders not to bring out the horses so soon, the queen and prince would not have gone out ahead.

If only he had made the queen and prince wait for him to attend to his advisors, he would not have had to run out too late.

If only the queen had been armed properly, she may have had a chance.

If only they had not been cornered, if only the elfling had not been wounded, if only the queen had not fallen over the ravine...

...If only he had gotten there in time.

Thranduil shut his eyes tight, stopping in his tracks as his world swirled in a darkening blur. His body swayed. He clenched his fists, knuckles tensing as veins protruded tightly from beneath the pallid skin. No more, Thranduil, he whispered fiercely to the darkness. No more.

The king shook his head, and resumed his gait with steely resolve. He was a warrior, a leader who made life-altering decisions in split seconds. And never looked back. He had done his share of what-if's over the years, had his share of guilt and pain. But no more. He had to move on, for the sake of his little Greenleaf.

When he entered the wine storage chamber, he had to halt in his steps and squint, for torches were blazing brightly on the walls. The entire room was bathed in a warm glow of gold. When his eyes adjusted to the luminance, he spotted the gray-clad wizard standing among the wooden crates of wine in the far corner of the room. Back turned toward the door, his head was bowed, keen on inspecting something in his hands. Thranduil tilted his head and remained standing where he was. He waited patiently.

Finally, Gandalf turned his head to face him. Thranduil's heart sank when he saw the wizard scowling. What could possibly go worse now?

The wizard turned fully, and the king noticed a bottle of wine in his hand. It was a rare vintage wine, a Mirkwood traditional, unusually dark of color and sweet in taste. Gandalf was scowling darkly at him. "All these years you have known me," he said menacingly, "and you never told me you had this?"

Anxiety lifted, the king could not help but let out a soft laughter. He approached the wizard and took the bottle. Turning it over in his hand, he studied it carefully. "Mithrandir, if only you had asked-"

"Hmph," grunted the wizard, grumpily moving onto the opposite side of the room. Thranduil turned to face him, a light smile playing upon his lips.

"I believe some rest is what you need more as of now, Gandalf. We can always drink later."

The wizard grunted again, and tapped his staff on the floor. Then he turned, eying Thranduil with narrowed eyes. The king raised his eyebrows. The wizard turned and exited the room. Sighing, the king followed.

The walk in the torch-lit corridor was a quiet one. Only steady footfalls broke the silence surrounding the king and wizard. When Gandalf spoke at last, Thranduil was jolted out of his deep thoughts by surprise.

"You told me," said the wizard slowly, "that you want your child back."

Thranduil watched the wizard in silence. The wizard did not face him. His eyes were only upon the dimly lit hallway, which seemed to stretch on without end.

"He was a singing, merry child. Yes?"

Thranduil nodded, dropping his gaze to his feet as damp silence reigned in the passageway once again.

Gandalf stopped when the brighter-lit halls came into view. He turned and faced Thranduil. Unfathomable gray probed deeply into forlorn crystal pools of blue.

"How is a hatchling to learn to sing again, if the birds in his nest no longer do?"

Gray fabric fluttered gently. Leaving the silent elf rooted motionless in his place, the wizard turned away and disappeared down the hall.

To Be Continued

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