Over-Kindliness by Erithil|
Summary: Legolas and his father have a little talk about Gollumís escape.
Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings and all characters mentioned are created by J.R.R. Tolkien.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time." He admitted, wincing inwardly at the plaintive note in his voice.
His father sighed deeply, a world of disappointment touched with a hint of exasperation in that single sound. "Iím sure it did, Legolas." He said, in an attempt to be understanding although the reproach was clear in the deep-set blue eyes.
Sorrow rose up in him, sharp and keen as a blade, at his fatherís displeasure.
"Indeed, it was so." The elven prince clasped his hands behind his back as he stood respectfully before the Mirkwood king, shifting a little uncomfortably under the solemn gaze. "Gandalf had hopes the creature Gollum may yet return to the being he once was ere the foulness overcame him and I feared he would slip further into the darkness of his mind, locked up thus in our deep dungeons."
"I thought perhaps the fresh air of the woods and warmth of the sun might aid to stay the shadows from his mind."
His head bowed, as he looked down at his feet, unable to bring himself to meet his fatherís eyes and see the disapproval there any longer. "Forgive me, for only now do I realize the true extent of my foolishness."
"This is ill news." Thranduil shook his head. The rustle of parchment as he leafed through the stack of papers before him sounded loud in the silence of the room. "The reports were most alarming when they came but were hardly enlightening how the escape had come to pass." The Mirkwood king leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers, regarding the younger elf before him gravely. "Were the guards under your command unwatchful?"
"Nay, it was not so. The tree we allowed the creature to climb to amuse himself was set far apart from the rest and the guards around its foot were ever attentive." Legolas answered in a low voice.
The past week held memories he was not keen to revisit. Taking a deep breath to steel himself, he went on bracingly. "Yet, Gollum refused to climb down at dusk, as he was often wont to do. The small creature belied a wiry strength and clung to the high branches with such staunch tenacity, we could do naught to get him down."
"Dusk faded to night, a summer night that was dark with light from neither moon nor stars." A shiver ran down his spine and his mouth went dry as he remembered that fateful night. "Then the Orcs came."
"Hidden by shadows, they came swiftly, both numerous and fierce. We were caught by surprise and when the battle was over, the Orcs had fled but Gollum was gone as well."
The blood, the confusion, the screamsÖ
"We tracked the creature for days, deep into the southern woods but soon had to abandon our efforts as the trail led to Dol Guldur, and great evil lies that way."
His father had been silent through the account but his expression grew so grim and stern, it was frightening to behold. It took years of facing the king as one of his captains that the young elf could keep from flinching. At last, Thranduil spoke, his voice strained. "Was any of your company injured?"
Legolasís breath caught painfully in his throat. "A few." He managed to reply, his voice came soft and shaking, sounding strange even to his own ears. "But Dharenil and Elordain were slain by the Orcs."
The king sagged in his chair and pressed a hand over his eyes. "Ai Elbereth! Not Dharenil and Elordain! I knew them since they were but Elflings." He exclaimed in dismay.
And they were my dearest friendsÖ
Pain pierced his heart like a lance and Legolas closed his eyes against the sorrow that threatened to overwhelm him. This is all my doing, he thought miserably. Had he not acted upon his idea so unwisely, none of this would have come to pass.
If his father noticed his distress, he did not comment on it. Instead, he frowned and went on heavily. "For the Orcs to attack on the same night as Gollumís escape could not be happenstance. It would appear it was contrived for the creatureís rescue."
"Alas! This does not bode well, Legolas." The kingís frown deepened and shook his head in consternation. "Gandalf has bid us to guard the creature well lest he roams free to work some malicious mischief, instructed to carry out some evil task. It would appear the wizardís fears were not unfounded."
"Mirkwood has failed in the trust placed upon us and has thus imperiled all of Middle Earth with this blunder." Thranduil concluded, his eyes grave and sad.
No, it was I who has failedÖI am the one to be blamed for putting all the free people of these lands at riskÖ
The young elven prince bit his lip, deeply ashamed. He had tracked the creature without sleep and little food for days. The wound on his arm where an Orc blade had found its mark was starting to throb and exhaustion was making him feel light-headed. But nothing felt as awful as the black guilt that tore at his heart.
He cast about desperately for something to say, anything to amend this great wrong he had done but found none.
"Iím really sorryÖitÖit was a terribly foolish thing to do." He whispered uselessly anyway.
There was an odd twist to his fatherís mouth as he sighed, resigned. "Ah wellÖI suppose I should not have expected any different from you."
That broke his heart. He could endure it no longer.
"Father!" Legolas cried, looking up abruptly in anguish.
Did his father think so poorly of him and that this folly had destroyed what little faith Thranduil held in him? Or perhaps Gollumís escape was the final proof the Mirkwood king needed to seal his long-held belief that his son was worthless? His mind raced to remember any past transgressions but nothing came to mind.
The older elf blinked, startled by the stricken look on the young face. Then, comprehension dawned and his expression was filled with remorse.
"Oh my dear child!" He stood swiftly and came around the desk to stand beside Legolas. "You are weary from your journeys and have misunderstood my words." With a warm smile, he reached out and took his sonís hands gently in his own. "Come, dear one, you are swaying with fatigue where you stand. Come sit with me and rest for a while."
Numb with guilt and sorrow, Legolas allowed himself be led outside, guided over to a bench in a sunny corner of Thranduilís private garden and sat down quietly. He stared absently at a fragile frond, glittering with dew, unfurling near his feet. The trees bent close in sympathy, murmuring soft comforts to his mind and he thanked them though there was little they could do to dispel the chill in his heart. He looked up as his father settled down beside him and found the blue eyes studying him carefully.
"Are you well, my child?" The concerned gaze lingered on the blood stains on his tunic that were missed earlier, distraught by the disturbing news.
Legolas managed a half-hearted smile. "Aye, do not worry yourself, Father. By Valarís grace, these are but minor injuries and would heal in time. Nothing compared to Dharenil and-"
He choked, looking away hastily. He had not meant to, but his dead comrades sprang unbidden to his mind and the name was uttered before he could stop himself. The memories were still too fresh and the grief was still too near, rising all too easily. To his horror, his eyes stung with sudden tears and he trembled with the effort to hold them back.
His tears would do naught to undo his foolish mistake. And he would not have his father think any worse of him than he already did.
There was a quiet sigh, followed by a warm hand on his shoulder and he found himself pulled into his fatherís comforting embrace.
He resisted at first, drawing away with a soft protest. "No Father, I am covered in dust and grime of the travels. Iíll ruin your robes."
"Legolas, dear heart!" Thranduil chuckled fondly, cradling his sonís head to his shoulder in the way the Elf prince remembered so well from when he was a child. "You worry about the oddest things!"
The familiarity of this consoling gesture finally undid him.
The efforts to keep the encroaching darkness from covering all of Mirkwood had gone on for more years than he could remember and he had seen his share of deaths, but he had neither the mind nor time to mourn. Now, with this simple gesture from his father, it seemed as though a dam had burst and his grief could no longer be contained.
With a strangled cry, Legolas returned the embrace fiercely, almost desperately, his body shaking with silent sobs. He closed his eyes and buried his face into his fatherís shoulder, ashamed of the tears that were streaming unchecked down his cheeks.
Thranduil did not say a word as his son wept but only held him close, stroking the golden hair reassuringly as though Legolas was a mere Elfling who had woken from a nightmare. He waited until the younger Elf stilled, tears finally spent and remained silent as Legolas pulled away, wiping surreptitiously at his eyes, trying unsuccessfully to hide his tears.
Legolas drew a shaky breath and took a moment to collect himself. Then he gave his father a tentative smile. "I may worry about the oddest things," He said ruefully, picking up where their conversation had left off. "But it appears I never worry about the right things."
"That was not what I meant, dear one." His father smiled, pulling a strand of pale gold hair from where it had plastered to Legolasís tears-damp cheek and brushed it back in place over his shoulder in a rare show of paternal tenderness.
The Elf-king sighed, his smile turning wistful as he regarded his only child. "I was worried, you know. You were barely ten summers old and already you have lost your motherÖ"
He shook his head as Legolas made an attempt to stop the train of the conversation, wishing to spare his father the anguish of recalling that time which was still painful for them both. "It was enough that a child should be made to suffer such grievous loss at such a tender age but as my son, as the Prince, the burdens upon you were even greater." The king turned his gaze away, looking older and more tired than he had ever seemed.
"The evil from Dol Guldur builds and the woods grows dark and treacherous. The need for warriors to protect our lands was dire indeed and mounts steadily each day. How could I justify sending other elves to battle the darkness if I do not send my own son?"
The words had come haltingly and Legolas looked at his father in wonder. He knew the worries of Thranduilís heart, having sensed much from his fatherís mood in their past conversations, but the Elf-king had never given voice to them so plainly before.
A leaf had fallen onto kingís lap, a spot of autumn scarlet against the rich blue robes. His father picked it up, fingering the papery surface pensively. "Yet I feared what sending one as young as you into such dangers would do to you."
Legolas nodded. He had always been more like his mother, both in physique as well as temperament. His eyes were a startling green, with an oft-held spark of mischief that seemed to be the very spirit of the forest itself in spring, rather than the deep endless blue of a calm summerís sky that was his fatherís. In a heated argument, he was more likely to keep silent and avoid quarrel, than to come to blows with the opponent. There were many in his fatherís court, he knew, who thought unfavorably of his carefree, mild nature, choosing to view these characteristics to mean he was immature and unreliable. It did not help that he was fine-boned and slight of built, even for an Elf, instead of broad-shouldered like his father; poor traits for one who has to live life by blade and shield.
At first sight, Legolas knew he did not inspire much confidence as a warrior. His father was not unwarranted in his fears.
"But I feared what the shadows would do to you more." The older elf bowed his head, pain flickering briefly across the regal face. His voice was low and troubled. "You have endured much sorrow and I was afraid the darkness would find their way easily into your weary heart."
"I was of a mind to send you to Lothlorien for fear that you would fall under the shadows, growing bitter with hatred or fading away in despair."
The Mirkwood king fell silent then, and sat staring at the crumpled red leaf in his hand, his eyes dark and distant as if lost in memories.
Legolasís heart constricted. He covered his fatherís hand with his own and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "I would not have gone to Lothlorien even if you have demanded it." He said softly with a smile. "And I feel I have suffered no worse for staying in our woodland realm."
Thranduil looked at him and all at once, warmth filled his eyes. "You speak truly, my son." When he smiled, there was true joy to be found. He grasped the slender fingers in return with his strong ones. "For I look upon you and see the shadows hold no sway over you. The darkness does not taint your mind nor sour your disposition."
The Elf-king nodded. "At times, our constant battles with evil may weigh heavily on your spirits, but these trials have made you stronger instead. And I see that the sweet nature of my little Elfling is unchanged. Your heart bears no malice and kindness fills your thoughts." There was that odd twist to his fatherís mouth from earlier and he now recognized as wry amusement. "Indeed, your mistake with Gollum clearly stemmed from compassion and pity for the poor creature. That was what I meant earlier, for I could not expect anything else given your tender heart!"
"But my bad judgment shall cost us dearly." Legolas bit his lip, turning away as Thranduilís words filled him anew with shame. "My foolish over-kindliness has wrought great dangers and brought further doom to our already dark futures."
"Legolas." There was a deep sigh as his father took his chin and turned his head around so the younger Elf was forced to look into the wise blue eyes. His fatherís face was grave and serious as he regarded him. "Do not be too hard on yourself, my son."
"Certainly, Gollumís escape is regrettable. But this act of mercy is not to be so summarily dismissed." Blue eyes gazed steadily at him, burning bright with a fierce pride. "It speaks of the Elf youíve grown up into, one whose hand must deal out pain and death in a valiant bid to protect others, yet whose heart remains pure and un-subverted by evil."
"If the situation were not so grave, I would not hesitate to claim Iím proud of you." A broad smile curved the Elf-kingís lips as he placed a hand on Legolasís shoulder, fatherly love shining in his eyes. "Truly, my little Greenleaf has grown into a fine warrior, a respected captain and much beloved prince of the people."
Legolas stared at his father, momentarily speechless. Thranduilís words touched him deeply, lifting his spirits like a song, soothing the pain in his heart like a healing balm. But he was also greatly humbled by them.
"Father, IÖIÖ" He stammered, overwhelmed and unsure of what to say. "Öthank you." He said earnestly in the end, trying to project all the gratitude for the faith and love his father had in him with those two simple words.
"However," Thranduil smiled and held up one admonishing finger. "This is still a grave mistake and you must make what amends you can."
The young elf leapt to his feet. "Anything my lord father commands!" He cried.
His father laughed. "Do not be so hasty, my child. When you have heard what task I have in store for you, you might wish you had gone into Dol Guldur for Gollum after all."
Legolas shook his head, his fist clenched and his stance firm. "I am willing to suffer any punishment if it could be of the slightest help to remedy my foolish act." He declared with great determination.
"Then I bade you to rest for now, and recover your strength." His father smiled. There was a twinkle in his eyes even though his voice was serious. "For tomorrow, you will ride for Rivendell."
His smile widened at his sonís dismayed face. "Yes, you would inform Lord Elrond yourself of your blunder."
"Lord ElrondÖ" Legolasís face fell, a picture of abject misery, as he sank back down to sit on the bench. "Aye, tis a severe punishment indeed." He heard a quaver in his own voice. The Elf lord of the fair valley would not have harsh words for him, but he could make one feel like a wayward child with just a quirk of his eyebrow and stern gaze. The elven prince shuddered. It would not be a pleasant task.
"And I believe Estel would be in Rivendell at this time of year." His father continued mildly, with a hint of amusement. "He had spent so many long hard months tracking and capturing Gollum. I do wonder what heíll have to say when he learns of what you have done."
Legolas paled. "AragornÖ" He said faintly.
What would his dearest friend say! He could just imagine the human now, the dark eyes understanding and sympathetic, mouth shaped into a smile of casual dismissal as he reassured the Elf that the error was not an irreparable one. But through their years of long friendship, Legolas would not fail to read the worry and grim disappointment in that rugged face.
He groaned and buried his face in his hands.
Never, had an idea in retrospect, seemed so bad.
Authorís notes: The events leading to Gollumís escape described in this story is based on the report Legolas gave in the chapter ĎThe Council of Elrondí in the book. The title "over-kindliness" was used by Legolas to describe his misadventure in the same chapter.