The Strength of One Green Leaf

The Strength of One Green Leaf

Chapter 17: The Strength of One Green Leaf

The shy sunlight streamed into the room, touching its inhabitants with feathery caresses of a newborn chick of soft golden hue. Engulfed in the gentle bliss of early morning was a tall, fair-haired elf, bent over a great white bed. One hand tenderly locked with a weak hand resting atop the white blankets, the other fingering a small bundle resting at the side of the pale arm – his eyes sparkled as radiant hair cascaded carelessly down his shoulders, tickling the soft flesh squirming below him.

"He is beautiful," whispered the elf, touching the tender skin of the newborn with reverent awe. Lightly, slowly – his fingers explored the contours of the child, the pouting lips, the curled fists.

Weakly squeezing the strong fingers intertwined with her own, the new mother smiled. She feebly turned her head, shifting the deep golden tresses that tumbled down the pillow about her.

"I wanted him to look more like you," she whispered softly.

With a smile, the king turned toward the exhausted queen and bent closer to her face. Pale gold met deep gold, and light blue danced with dark blue. The queen closed her eyes as her husband's lips brushed against her own, a tender and feathery caress. Her dark lashes slowly lifted as she felt a breathy whisper upon her eyelids. "No, my love, he looks just like you – and that's what makes him all the more beautiful."

With a soft laugh, the queen reached up with her weary hand and traced the smiling lips of her beloved. Despite the weariness resting upon her hollow cheeks, the stars in her midnight eyes twinkled bright with joy. "Have you thought of a name, Thranduil?"

The young king tilted his head and eyed the queen humorously. "Have you?"

Withdrawing her hand, the queen scowled. Her face returned to the youthful face of a naïve, carefree maiden. "I have been laboring to give birth all this time, and you didn't even think of a name?"

With an expression of complete innocence, the king held up his hands. "But you were screaming and cursing me the whole night – I was too distraught by your pain to think."

The queen eyed him with a pout, apparently unconvinced, though significantly softened. Thranduil laughed and bent down to kiss her lips once more. "Besides," he whispered as their lips parted, "it would be unfair for me to name the child – you experienced all the pain."

With a contented smile, the queen reached out for the small bundle at her side. "Very well, then. I shall name him."

Thranduil quickly reached around her back as she began to pull herself up, and arranged layers of pillows behind her as she leaned against the backboard of the bed. He then scooped up the squirming infant and placed him gently in his wife's arms. She looked down with a warm smile, a brilliant sparkle in her eyes. Her tired mouth moved softly in a whisper.

"The first green shoots of life are blooming." She lifted her weary eyes and looked out the window. Thranduil tilted his head in askance. When she nodded toward him, he turned around and opened the glass, allowing the fresh morning breeze of early spring to enter the room. The queen turned back to her child and fingered his tender baby hair – fair threads of silky gold, darker than his father's and lighter than his mother's. "You breathe your first with the glorious rising of the sun."

Eyes transfixed upon her elfling, she reached out with one hand and picked up a brooch lying atop her dark wooden drawers. It was an elegant carving of a green leaf, dark and pure, enchanted with the breath of life under the sun of summer – entwined with an eloquent stream of mithril. She began to clasp the brooch onto the blanket securing her child.

With a wondering expression, her husband approached her, and studied the complex weaving of mithril being worked by her pale hand. "The leaf of Lorien," he stated softly. He then looked up into her eyes with a questioning gaze. "Was this not the present of The Lady when you left?"

Eyes locked on the brooch, the queen nodded. A faint smile lingered upon her lips as determined fingers fastened the brooch securely onto the center of the blanket covering her babe. "Our child is Legolas." She fingered the small nose, and smiled when the babe squirmed.

She raised her eyes and met the gaze of her beloved. "The attacks come relentlessly, and our hearts grow weary – our beautiful forest is being consumed by evil, the trees poisoned to deformity and death." She lowered her lids. The sunlight rested gently atop her brows, the delicate golden strands of light entwining with the long blades of eyelashes.

"But as long as there is a single green leaf remaining in our realm, our people shall not despair." She closed her eyes, the long delicate fingers circling and hovering above the babe's small body. Her whisper, soft and voiceless, dissolved into the air with a self-reflective echo. She smiled. Looking up suddenly into her husband's eyes, she reached out with her right hand, and clasped her husband's ready fingers with weary strength. "Until the fading of the last green leaf, our hope shall live."

Silent, Thranduil looked down upon his child. A tender smile broke out from his lips as he took the child gently into his arms. "Legolas," he whispered, rising and slowly walking toward the window. He stood by the glass, narrowing his eyes in the soft morning sunlight as the gentle spring breeze brushed his hair. He bent to plant a kiss atop the infant's forehead. "Legolas."

He slowly raised his eyes toward the sunrise, the pale blue eyes dancing with the dazzling shimmer of the golden rays. The queen smiled. Holding the newborn in his arms, bathed in the enchanted light of gold, the young father glowed with the luminescence of a marble sculpture, a pastel painting. She closed her eyes and leaned back, breathing deeply and willing the image to imprint itself in her memory. The soft tenor gently caressed her with the kiss of the spring breeze.

"Welcome to our world, Legolas. My dearest little jewel."


To Elrond's surprise, the king was in his chamber when the lord of Rivendell found him. Seated behind a large desk in the study adjacent to the bedroom, he was tenaciously pressing his temple with his fingers. The hollow cheeks looked pale and tired.

Elrond stepped inside when the king bid him to enter, and upon seeing the pallor of his face, slightly creased his eyebrow. "Perhaps I should have waited to schedule an attendance with the king," he said softly.

With brusque wave of a hand, Thranduil got to his feet and moved around his desk to face the elven lord. "Such formalities," he said dismissively with a frown, and motioned for him to sit. He seated himself on a settee facing the dark-haired elf, the ever-present energy and grace emanating from beneath the weary appearance.

Elrond lowered himself onto the sofa facing the king. Thranduil relaxed his body with a great sigh, and draped his arm over the armrest, gazing out the large glass window. And remained thus while Elrond searched for words.

"Thranduil." Elrond let out a quiet breath. It had been long indeed since they had talked thus. As a matter of fact, they had not talked like this – alone, and peaceably – for many ages. Time really was a strange thing. It dulled pain, it made one forget biting insults, it tempered anger. And it had rekindled an old friendship in the hearts of two stubborn elves estranged by long years of pride and fear.

The king turned his head and watched Elrond, eyes hollow with luminescent light. Elrond knew that gaze. He smiled faintly and returned the gaze, and the two lords stared at each other in silence. Until Elrond broke into a soft laughter.

Thranduil knew well that Elrond came here with nothing particular in his mind. And Elrond knew that Thranduil did not expect any coherence out of him. The two had always been thus; though the war never permitted much time to be spent in companionship, they were always readily able to read each other's thoughts. It really was quite strange that they had allowed the wounds of war to drive them apart, when they had been so close to becoming friends. The king smiled in amusement as Elrond leaned back comfortably in his seat.

"It has indeed been long."

The king nodded. He turned his head, once again resting his gaze outside of the window. "Too long." He narrowed his eyes, a faraway look settling in. "But never too late."

The lore master nodded, following his gaze outside the window and into the garden. On a stone bench sat an elfling, lips moving in a soft song as he watched a bee crawl into a flower. He turned abruptly, and jumped to his feet. From behind the bushes appeared the gray-clad wizard, chuckling as he bent down to embrace the child who threw himself into outstretched arms.

Eyes rooted upon his elfling, the king smiled. It was a haunting smile, singing a melody lost. His voice was quiet. "My father never did give me an answer when I asked him to make a promise."

Elrond shifted his gaze onto Thranduil. The young king had never spoken of his father in his presence. Along with Oropher's memory came the memory of the war, and with the war came the bitter scar of the two young lords of powerful elven realms. The subject had been left untouched, carefully avoided – left to gather dust in the aging book of memory.

With a soft chuckle, the king turned his head and smiled at Elrond. "My little one asked me to promise the same thing."

Not surprising, coming from such a young elfling. But alas, times were growing dark. Elrond raised an eyebrow. "Did you promise him?"

Chuckling again, Thranduil raised his hand and wearily ran it over his face. "Aye, I did." His eyes returned to the garden, where the wizard and child were seated next to each other on the stone bench. "And I intend to keep my word."

"I know you will."

The king turned his head, slightly surprised at the words spoken by his companion. Elrond's eyes were calm, holding his gaze with surety. Thranduil watched him for a moment, and then rose to his feet and slowly approached the window, eyes rooted on the stone bench where the elfling was giggling by an amused wizard.

"The hour grows dark, and the shadows are ever increasing. We continue to fight the evil, but sometimes I wonder if we are to ever see the light of peace again." The king's silhouette remained still as shadow as he breathed the words.

Elrond watched him from where he was, his eyes taking in the forlorn back, the steady shoulders. Pale fingers slowly rose to gently touch the glass, as the dim light in the eyes softened upon the figure of his elfling.

"Much has been sacrificed, and I fear that much more will need to be still." The fingers slowly curled against the glass. A merry laughter broke through the transparent wall.

"You are strong, Thranduil." Elrond's voice was low, reverberating in the room with a gentle strength. "In the dark hours, remember your allies. Your friends."

Halting midway through trailing a pattern on the glass with his fingers, the king slowly turned toward the elven lord. Silence encompassed the indiscernible light in the steadfast blue eyes.

Elrond's gaze remained on Thranduil's as the king broke into a light smile. He turned fully toward the dark-haired elf. "You have my gratitude," he said softly, "for coming to my realm."

Elrond shook his head. "I only finished what you were prevented from continuing."

A soft laughter broke from the king. This time, however, it was genuine and light. "It is strange, is it not?" he mused, eyes trailing back to where his elfling was jumping off the bench to flee from an indignant-looking wizard. "To remember what has come to pass, and to feel young and foolish – wanting to erase all back to nothingness."

The dark-haired lord smiled. He rested his chin upon clasped hands. "We were young fools, the both of us." He closed his eyes and chuckled.

"Aye." The distant look returned to the eyes of the king as he watched a stomping wizard storming after a wide-eyed elfling in flight. "Aye, we were."

Turning toward the window, Elrond smiled mirthfully at the sight of a triumphant Istar swooping up the scrambling elfling and preparing retribution. The afternoon sun shifted and cast a long shadow of the king across the room, motionless and silent. The golden rays danced in soft, inextricable patterns about the room, caressing the solitary elf as he watched his elfling shriek with laughter upon the merciless tickling of the wizard.

Elrond rose gracefully and joined the fair-haired elf at the window. Thranduil wordlessly moved to the side, but Elrond's hand upon his shoulder stopped him. The young king's eyes glittered once again with alertness, but the icy blue melted into something softer, a hazy swirl of iridescent light. Together they watched as the elfling turned and tackled the old wizard onto the ground before being helplessly assaulted by tickling once again. Elrond smiled.

"Your child will shine brighter than any beacon in the hearts of your people, my friend."

A smile formed readily at the king's lips. His eyes were fixed upon the laughing elfling.

"Aye."


The morning sun was rising steadily above the hushed peace of the woodland realm. Flowers, laden with heavy dew, were beginning to shyly peek out of their covers, as damp grass shifted under quiet footsteps. Gandalf's gray robe tapped soundlessly against his staff as he strolled beside the king. He turned his head to acknowledge his companion's voice, which drifted softly among the silver wetness of morning.

"Thank you, Mithrandir – for everything."

Birds were singing full-voice nearby. Gandalf raised his head to look among the trees.

"I had been weak – and afraid. But I now bid my grief farewell." The king was bent over a delicate flower of a lavender hue. Gandalf could not see his eyes, for long tresses of gold hung over his shoulders and spilled onto the moist green leaves below the petals. But he did not need to.

"Many leaves will fall," uttered the wizard absentmindedly. "But the life of Greenwood shall not wane when the darkest storm will blow."

Chuckling softly, Thranduil straightened his back and looked up at the pale blue sky. His deep green robe wavered in the gentle breeze. "Cryptic words again, my friend."

"Ah." Gandalf smiled, and reached out to touch a blue flower. "I know you are no fool."

With a long sigh, Thranduil brought his head down again, and adjusted them to the visage down beneath the sky. "And despite your wise words, how I wish I could keep him from all sorrow."

"Yet you know you cannot." The wizard's smile was fleeting. "Someday the bird will rise above its nest, with much strength to weather the pains of the world."

The father did not answer. He raised his head to watch a bird fly by. It flew straight to its nest atop a tall tree, where feeble squeaks could be heard. Soon, the bird was out of the green canopy once again, flying determinedly toward the forest in search of more food for its young. The wizard and king stood in companionable silence, side by side, watching the bird fly away.

It was Thranduil who broke the silence.

"I have asked Elrond to take Legolas with him."

Surprised, Gandalf turned and stared at the king. Thranduil's eyes were closed as strands of flaxen hair brushed his forehead.

"I wish him to further explore the path of healing, before he decides his path."

Gandalf creased his brow. "Why such haste, my friend? Surely delaying his ceremony was enough to keep him in a middle path for a time?"

With a sad smile, the king opened his eyes. Slowly lowering his gaze, he began to move past Gandalf, idly approaching another batch of flowers.

"I told him that I must fight at the forefront because I am king – I told him about cowardice and shame, about being strong of heart."

Bending down, he gently caressed a white morning glory. The trumpet-like petal, tightly curled into a twisted cocoon, was beginning to slowly unfold its pure white beauty, breathing in sync with the slowly rising sun.

"And alas, I should have foreseen it. My little one comes to me the next day, with that determined look, and gazes up at me with wide eyes-" he turned, smiling at the wizard. "Says he, 'Give me my warrior plaits, Ada. I shall be the strongest of Mirkwood, just like you, and fight with you to protect everyone.'" He chuckled.

Tapping the soft earth with his staff, the wizard let out a smile. He shook his head. "Fool of a Leaf."

Thranduil turned toward the garden path again and resumed his leisurely gait. "Elrond has already agreed. I also do not wish him to see the commotion of restoration in the palace, and be reminded of what he has been through-" his voice faltered slightly. Gandalf studied this inconspicuous change with a scrutinizing eye.

"Might I inquire the biggest reason, o mighty king?"

With a sigh, the king cast him an annoyed glance. The wizard stared back with an innocent expression. Thranduil smiled faintly and lowered his gaze thoughtfully.

"I wish to lose not a day more to this ghost of the past."

The king deliberately resumed his gait, strong and full of resolve, as he moved on ahead of the wizard. He then stopped, and held out his arm. Gandalf watched in silence.

"Legolas is a wise little elfling, but I wish him to remain an elfling."

He turned back toward Gandalf. In his hand rested a small bird, peering at the wizard curiously.

Thranduil dropped his gaze and gently stroked the bird's small head. "I cannot give him back the time lost – but I can capture it from slipping through his fingers, and give him the time he has now." He raised his eyes, and smiled sadly at the wizard.

Gandalf stepped closer to the king. The bird flew away, frightened at the approaching gray figure.

"Ease your fears, my friend. Legolas may choose the path of a warrior, but whatever his destiny may be, he will remain a healer at heart."

The king bowed his head, looking as young and tender as he had in his adolescent years. Gandalf tapped his shoulder, a hint of a smile spreading in his old gray eyes. The two resumed their stroll, slowly and contemplatively, listening to the awakening of life surrounding them.

Thranduil let out a soft breath, and his eyes drifted toward a large tree. He slowly approached it, his unfathomable gaze transfixed upon the dark bark. The green leaves were broad and darkest of green, the soft sunlight touching it barely enough to breathe a bright golden fire of life through its darkness. The king reached out his hand and rested it tentatively against the dark trunk. The white fingers seemed so very fragile against the enormous sturdiness of the tree.

"Gandalf." The voice was soft, barely audible over the singing of the birds. The wizard watched the uncertain shoulders from where he stood. The king's voice was a hesitant whisper. "Do you think she would be disappointed with me?"

Gandalf sputtered indignantly. "Disappointed! No, Thranduil." He strode resolutely toward the elf, and clasped his shoulder. The elf did not lift his gaze.

The wizard gently turned the still body around, and probed into his forlorn eyes. The king gazed back, a childlike glimmer in his soft blue orbs. Searching the helpless pools of light, the wizard smiled faintly. "She would be proud that you are her son's father."

Thranduil lowered his gaze. A delicate breeze caressed him in a loving touch.

Smiling, the wizard slowly led him away from the tree and back toward the castle. "They must be waiting," he urged. The king nodded, but his steps were reluctant.

"I do wish you would stay longer." The voice was soft. Gandalf squinted his eyes as a company of elven warriors and his horse came into view.

"Well-" Gandalf opened his mouth to speak when he was interrupted by a piercing cry from the far side of the garden.

"Gandaaaaaaalf!"

Startled, the wizard whirled around. Thranduil smiled as his elfling bounded across the garden in a panicked rush and threw himself into the wizard's arms.

"Gandaaaaalf," he wailed, clutching the wizard's robe, "don't go, don't leave so soon!"

With a helpless chuckle, the wizard scooped up the child and held him close as he walked toward his awaiting train. "Legolas, I wish I could stay longer but-"

"Then stay longer!" The elfling was attached to the wizard's chest as if locked to a magnet. "I promise I won't make fun of you anymore!"

Thranduil burst into laughter. Gandalf shot him a helpless glance, but the king shrugged and offered no assistance. The wizard grunted and strode toward his horse, and hopped resolutely onto the grunting animal. The elfling remained stubbornly latched onto his robe.

Sighing, Gandalf turned to look down at the large, drooping eyes. "Now, little elf, you know that a wizard is a very busy person-"

"But must you go so soon?"

The elfling was pouting as he looked up with glazed eyes. He looked as if he would burst into tears. Bewildered and near panic, the wizard looked toward the king's direction once again. This time, the smiling king seemed to take pity. He approached the wizard's horse and gently pried the child off of Gandalf's robe. The wizard seemed very close to falling off his horse at this rate.

Gathering the folds of his robe about him, Gandalf looked around. The court was all there, watching in respectful silence, as a party of border patrols – many of them were quite thoroughly healed by this time – waited atop their mounts, prepared to guide the wizard to the borders of the forest. Elrond stood at the head of his Rivendell party, wearing a smile that looked strangely akin to a smirk. Gandalf grunted indignantly and managed to issue forth a somber tone.

"A wizard is never late, nor early. He comes and goes precisely when he means to-" he stopped short when he saw Legolas looking up at him with bulging eyes. He creased his brows. "What?"

"So you intentionally waited while the orcs were hurting me?" The utter betrayal and shock imprinted on the innocent face sent the two elven lords into a howl of laughter. Additional giggling and snickering could be heard here and there among the court advisors and patrols.

The wizard scowled, evidently at a loss for words.

"You lose, my friend," smirked the king, barely containing his laughter as he lifted the elfling up onto his shoulder. Gandalf humphed and tapped the ground with his staff.

"I will come again," he said to the elfling, who was now eye-level with him. Legolas reached out his small arms, and Gandalf embraced him warmly. "Now you stay out of trouble, little elf," he muttered into his hair. Legolas nodded with a sniffle.

The morning sun, having gained strength through its upward course in the sky, shone upon them brightly as the wizard proceeded to bid farewell to the elven company. Having exchanged wordless – but with meaningful gazes – bows with the lord of Rivendell as well, he at last turned to Thranduil.

The wizard silently clasped the elven king's shoulder and looked deep into his eyes. The king gazed back at the wizard, a deep shimmer in his young blue eyes, as he lightly tilted his head. A serene smile surfaced slowly onto the tranquil face. His face shone bright and fair, a mirror of the beauty borne of peaceful victory and affection that the wizard would later see bloom in the prince after a great war. He stepped back and bowed, deeply and slowly. The wizard touched his heart with a bow in farewell.

Gandalf sat upright atop his horse, taking the reins into his hands. He turned to look at the sad stare of large blue eyes. With a sympathetic drawl, the wizard reached out and patted the elfling's round cheek with his finger. "Remember, little one," he whispered, tapping the small chest. "She is right here." He smiled as the elfling nodded solemnly. He turned his head toward Thranduil as his horse shifted under him. "Have heart, be proud-" he glanced at the elfling – "There may come a day when the world calls upon the strength of this one elf."

Thranduil nodded. He stepped back as the horse bucked, and broke into a gallop. The band of warriors who had been waiting dashed off into the forest. The multitude of elves at the gate burst into cries of farewell.

"Farewell, Gandalf!" cried the king, the clear tenor vibrating among the trees. "May the Valar look down kindly upon your path!"

"Good bye, Gandalf!" The elfling raised his voice as well. "Come back soon!" His voice was quickly buried among the cries of other elves.

The figures disappeared among the trees, and the galloping of the hooves gradually faded away. The elves, standing still and looking out into the forest, slowly began to disperse. With a wistful smile, the king turned away from the path and faced the elven lord standing behind him. "Think you he spoke true?" he asked in a low voice, smiling at his chirping child.

Elrond smiled broader, and looked up at the sky. Moving slowly about the trees, the elves were beginning to sing a farewell for the wizard.

"I need no gift of foresight to tell you what he said." He narrowed his eyes at the golden sun. "Someday, the strength of one green leaf may change the world."

The music of the elves rose above the trees, spreading its wings to soar into the vast sky.

A tinkling golden bell of a laughter echoed in the embrace of azure blue.

The End (followed by Epilogue)

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