-Tears Like Rain-
~An Uncertain Future~
The bright sun shone down through the leafy green canopy overhead, sprinkling diamonds of light onto the dew-covered grass of the glen. Light, merry laughter filled the air.
“Pin him Raniean! Pin him!”
“Come on Legolas! Throw him off!”
Encircled by a ring of encouraging fellow students and under the carefully watchful eye of their instructor, two young elves were grappling on the grass with a considerable amount of skill for their age.
Physically the two boys were very alike. Dressed in the simple green tunics and leggings of their class, with their golden hair was tied back from their faces in knots that were swiftly sliding free in the course of the struggle. They might have been brothers, but they were not. The one currently on the bottom with his back pressed hard against the earth was Legolas, son of Thranduil and prince of the woodland realm. His companion, straddled on top and struggling to find a way to pin his opponent so that the match would be over, was the prince’s friend Raniean, son of Randomir. Randomir was one of Thranduil’s top chieftains and leader of Mirkwood’s largest contingent of warriors. At the moment however, that force was not at all as impressive as it sounded.
The wood-elves were by heritage a pastoral people more concerned with singing in the trees, working with their hands and perfecting the skill of the hunt than the with the bearing of arms.
That was changing. Everything in Mirkwood was changing. What had always been had been suddenly stripped away, revealing an uncertain future. Nearly half the merry folk of the wood that had lived here in peace for countless centuries, were now gone. Killed with their King in one desperate battle on the plains of Dagorlad far to the south. The slain of that war were too many to even bring home, and the survivors too few. Buried where they fell, the departed were not spoken of, but their memory lingered on underneath the trees like a raw wound; a painful lesson in marching out to war with a people unprepared.
It would never happen again. Prince Thranduil, now King Thranduil, returned from burying his father with the firm resolve that his people were never, *ever* going to be caught that unprepared again. From now on Mirkwood would not ignore the need for a standing army. From now on all Mirkwood elves would become trained warriors, from childhood up.
The few truly skilled fighters among them were placed as teachers over classes with pupils ranging from older elves whose memories went back nearly as far as the forests themselves, to these classes, filled with the young wood-elves who were approaching the end of childhood and transitioning towards what humans would have called teenage years.
Training the youth took special importance since they had the best chance to learn new things and learn them well. Therefore, Maethor, or Warrior training as it was called, had become a mandatory part of every young male elfling’s life.
The children took to it readily, accepting the regimes as part of their fun, as well as their schooling. It was a matter of honor to get the most points on their skills in any given week and they practiced outside class as well as inside.
Legolas and Raniean knew each other’s moves too well for this to be a quick match. They often sparred together and were evenly matched for strength, so theirs was a contest of skill and ingenuity; the kind they both liked best.
Legolas feinted that he was going to pull right and attempt a roll, a trick they both knew he often used when in danger of being pinned. Raniean adjusted quickly, throwing his weight to that side and grabbing his friend’s shoulders tightly, his fingers bunching in Legolas’ tunic. Suddenly, Legolas reversed tactics, grabbing Raniean’s left arm with both hands. Trapping the other young elf’s leg with his own the prince arched his back and breached upward, using Raniean’s own weight and momentum against him. Flipping them both over, the prince reversed positions so that Raniean was now on the bottom.
Raniean was surprised by this turn of events for just the fraction of a second that Legolas needed to get inside his guard and put the other young elf into a lock. The prince pinned his friend with his forearm across Raniean’s throat, straddling the other boy’s chest. It was a match-ending move and they both knew it, still, Raniean hesitated a moment, testing his opponent’s strength.
From his position Legolas could easily screw down on his arm and cut off the other boy’s air, but he wouldn’t do that in a sparing match, and not with his friend either. Instead he just waited Raniean out. “Anno?” he questioned, seeking the words that would end this. “Yield?”
Raniean relaxed, accepting his defeat. “Anno,” he sighed, disappointed, but not seriously upset.
Legolas quickly removed his hold, rising off his friend and offering Raniean a hand up, which the other boy accepted.
“Good match Legolas,” Raniean clasped his arm at the elbow to which Legolas responded in kind. “I shall remember that trick of yours from now on.”
Legolas smiled and gave his friend’s arm one more squeeze. “Then I shall have to try to come up with new ones!”
There was a momentary buzz of conversation among the two young elves’ classmates and friends as they rejoined the ranks. Tegi, their teacher, patiently hushed the boys with a glance and summoned the next two partners who moved forward to take the field. “Garilien, Brenyf, pair off.”
A small elf, who looked quite out of place among his fellows, clapped Legolas and Raniean on the back. “Good match mellyn,” he complimented them both in a whisper, his smile bright. “Tegi couldn’t even find anything to correct you on, did you notice?”
Raniean and Legolas smiled. It was true; their teacher had not once interrupted the match to correct either boy’s form. That was rare and it made them both proud, no matter who had won.
An hour later class wound up for the day and the young elves gathered their things. Legolas changed somewhat hurriedly, pushing his class tunic into a bag after pulling on his finer silk shirt and hastily trying to brush the loose hair back from his face. For most, classes were now over, but as Prince, Legolas had additional studies in law, language, policy and lore with a private tutor for an hour more. He did not exactly dislike them, but Maethor training was definitely his preferred pastime.
“Are you going to be at the archery ranges tonight?” Trelan asked his friend as Legolas cleaned up. Trelan was still wearing his practice clothes. He would change when he got home.
“Maybe, I hope so,” Legolas nodded. Archery was part of their normal regimen, but only twice a week, so those who favored it more, as the prince did, could attend optional sessions in their free time in the evenings. “But father might have another meeting and then I’ll have to sit in.”
Trelan nodded. “Raniean can’t go either, so I probably won’t then.” He did not intend to take on the additional class if neither of his best friends were going to be there. “Ran’s got his first meeting with his Saelon tonight!” the young elf said with obvious excitement.
Legolas halted for a moment before slipping the strap of his bag over his shoulder. “Raniean has been assigned a Saelon? He didn’t tell me.”
“I’m sorry Legolas, it happened so fast,” Raniean had heard the last part of the conversation and came over. He also was still in his class clothes; faint darker-green grass stains on the elbows and knees were a reminder of their earlier match. A slight hesitancy to meet his friend’s eyes told that that statement wasn’t quite true.
Legolas ignored what he saw and smiled instead. “Ran, that’s wonderful! Who did your father choose? Are you allowed to tell?”
Raniean looked a little relieved, excitement taking over him again. “Yes, it’s all right, I have been given leave to speak of it. He chose his friend Cirlith, the hunter.”
“Garilien’s father?” Legolas asked and received an answering nod to the affirmative. “That’s wonderful news. Although I regret that we will not have as much free time together anymore.”
Saelon was simply the wood-elves’ term for mentor, and as part of their Maethor training each boy’s father, or mother if the father were no longer living, would eventually choose one for their son. The Saelon took the boy under their wing like family and saw to additional instruction as necessary. It was part of the new plan for the younger elves to gain as much diverse experience in their training as possible. And it was also because with the way things now sat, far too many young elflings had been left entirely without a father to begin with.
One elf might be a Saelon to several different students at a time, but the elflings didn’t usually know it because that part of training was considered a private affair, something special and uniquely tailored for each student. As such it was not discussed much and although Raniean’s mentor had given him permission to tell, that was not always the case.
Trelan laughed a bit at Legolas’ statement. “You never have any free time anyway Legolas, what with all your duties at home. Did I ever tell you I was glad I wasn’t a prince?”
“Yes, Trelan, regularly,” Legolas rolled his eyes in amusement. Trelan exaggerated as usual. The prince may not have had as much spare time as his friends, but he was hardly as encumbered by duty as they sometimes made him out to be.
Raniean was both happy and excited that he was able to move on towards the higher stages of instruction, but he was also still a little hesitant. “Has your father said anything Legolas? Have you asked...?”
Legolas forced a smile and shook his head, cutting his friend off. “Ran, please, don’t feel like you can’t talk about it, it doesn’t bother me, really. I’m happy for you. My father... is very busy. I haven’t wanted to trouble him. If he is going to choose a Saelon for me he will do it when he feels the time is right.” The prince defended a little too quickly and it betrayed the emotions well hidden underneath.
“I know,” Raniean looked away. “So many people depend on your father now Legolas, it’s different than when King Oropher was alive. My Ada says it’s not easy to lead a broken people and try to change a whole way of life overnight.”
“No,” Legolas nodded. “It isn’t, but I know that Adar can make it happen,” he said with a small glow of pride in his voice. He loved and respected his father very much. But he worried about him, and wished he could somehow be of more help in these troubled times. The young prince saw the lines appearing on his father’s smooth brow and the graveness that was stealing the spring from his step. Legolas had lost a grandfather, but Thranduil had lost his father and his King, leaving on his shoulders the weight of an entire kingdom.
“I don’t mind that it takes a lot of his time, I just wish I could help more,” Legolas sighed slightly.
“What about your Uncle?” Trelan tilted his head to the side questioningly. “Surely Lord Doriflen could help ease his burden a little, he *is* his brother.”
Legolas shrugged. His family was confusing sometimes, how could he try to explain it? “He does, but he doesn’t always seem happy about what he’s doing. And sometimes Adar doesn’t seem to want to let him help either... Naneth says they’re both still trying to deal with losing Grandfather and I should give them time and not worry about it. So I think picking a Saelon for me is the least of Ada’s worries.” Legolas shrugged, trying to pretend that it didn’t matter, that he didn’t care. He felt that was the grown-up way to handle his disappointment.
The truth was that they suspected most of their class had been assigned individual Saelons by now. Although the semi-secrecy surrounding it was intended to keep the boys who had moved on to that stage of training from picking on the ones who had not, some of the less considerate were not above voicing random, general comments meant to let the others know what they thought. There was a certain personal stigma attached to the idea of not being thought ready enough by ones own parents, whether the world at large knew about it or not.
Trelan gave Legolas a small, sad smile of understanding and squeezed his arm. “I know,” he said softly. “My Ada doesn’t think I’m ready yet either.” He sighed. “At least you *can* move on when your father gets around to it. I can’t even get enough points to pass muster.”
Legolas let the shadow of disappointment slip away from him and focused his thoughts on helping his friends.
Raniean was shaking his head. “There’s nothing wrong with your skills Trelan, you haven’t passed only because Tegi won’t give you enough sparing time for you to have a chance to qualify. He’s afraid some of the others would try to take advantage of you. You know how vicious a few of them can be when they want to win.”
Trelan resisted a momentary flare of temper, balling his fists and looking down. “I know. I’m small but I’m not helpless!”
“Of course not!” Legolas soothed his friend quickly. “We’ll just have to keep working amongst the three of us so that you can convince Tegi to give you a shot at the bigger boys. They will seriously underestimate you and that will give you quite an advantage.”
Raniean laughed. “Just don’t beat them up too bad.”
Trelan smiled, his anger forgotten, or at least, put aside for now. “Well I’ll try, but I’m not promising anything.”
Legolas glanced up at the sun, suddenly realizing how much time they had spent talking. Most of the others had already left and the glen was empty. “Oh dear, I’m going to be late! I’ll see you both tomorrow!” he called as he hurried back towards home, his soft leather boots slapping soundlessly against the glistening grass.
King Thranduil sat with his head bowed studiously over his desk, scribbling swiftly away on a piece of parchment. He wrote several lines only to pause, strike out half the letters, and begin all over again. He did not react when a slender set of hands dropped down onto his tense shoulders, rubbing small circles into the stiff muscles. He knew that his wife had entered the room, even though she had not made a sound. He could sense her presence and it lent a certain measure of calm to his fraying nerves.
“Trouble?” Elvéwen let her chin rest lightly on the top of her husband’s head as she stood behind his chair, eyeing the marked up parchment on the desk. Her dark hair slid over her shoulders and brushed lightly against the Elvenking’s cheek, mingling with his own golden locks and carrying with it the soft smell of woodland flowers.
“Always,” Thranduil sighed, leaning back in his chair and pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers, trying to stem a headache. “Esgaroth is having a bad year, there’s a famine. They’re sending to us for aid and I have none to give them. Indeed, we almost need *their* aid as much as they are now saying they need ours. I can’t break trust with them, but what am I supposed to do? Our store houses, our treasuries, everything is empty. I don’t even know how we’re going to get *our* people through the winter. How do I squeeze anymore blood from this turnip?”
The elven King let his head drop down onto his hands. He wished he knew how his father would have handled this. Oropher was a good elf, a good father and a good King, but while publicly outgoing with his subjects, in his personal life he had always been a very private individual. Thranduil stood by his father’s side for many years, but the King’s councils were always his own and he did not share them with his sons. Oropher had carried all his wisdom and insight into ruling this land to his grave with him, and Thranduil felt uncomfortably like he was floundering in a job that he knew far too little about.
His brother’s caustic opinion of him and his abilities did not help much. Since Thranduil had returned from Dagorlad a handful of decades ago, Doriflen had done nothing but fault-find with the way he handled everything. Thranduil supposed that his brother’s jealousy came as no great surprise; he had not been able to look to his older sibling for friendship or support since they were young and Doriflen had started changing. Thranduil made Doriflen a vice-regent in an attempt to stem some of the ill will between them that Oropher’s leaving the throne to the younger of the two brothers had caused. Unfortunately it seemed to be but a small bandage on a festering wound.
Sadly, Doriflen was not the only one voicing rising doubts about Thranduil’s ability to rule. More and more often the Elvenking was beginning to hear whispers of it from his subjects and he was hard pressed to understand where the dissatisfaction was coming from and what exactly he was doing wrong, besides perhaps *everything* which at the moment seemed entirely possible.
He swore to himself that he was never going to leave his son in a position like this. He was going to make sure that Legolas was prepared to take the throne should he ever be called upon to do so. Even immortals it seemed could not afford to take life for granted.
Thinking of Legolas made Thranduil glance towards the angle of the sunlight filtering in through the window. He sighed again. “Legolas will be finishing with his tutor soon. I had wanted to take him to archery tonight, but now it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to do so.”
Elvéwen nodded slowly, wishing she could ease all the burdens behind her husband’s tired gaze. “I will take him, but he is old enough to go alone.”
Thranduil snorted softly. “Of course he is, but that doesn’t make it any easier for him when all the other boys’ fathers are there to watch them,” he murmured with regret. The King wondered bleakly if everyone promised themselves they were going to be different with their children than their parents were with them, only to end up passing on all the same little heartaches. Yet he knew his son would understand. Legolas always did.
Elvéwen sat down in the chair beside Thranduil, seeking his eyes. “If you appointed Legolas a Saelon...”
Thranduil’s gaze clouded. “I don’t need someone to pay attention to my son because I cannot!” he snapped slightly before he caught himself and let his frustration slip away before speaking again. “He’s not ready yet. He’s just a boy.” After Legolas had a Saelon, the next step forward, when the Saelon deemed it time, was for the young elf to take part in the border patrols with the regular warriors. Thranduil couldn’t think of letting go of Legolas like that just yet... not when other losses were still far too near his heart.
“He’s not ready, or you’re not?” Elvéwen questioned softly. Her voice held no accusations, only gentle questioning.
“Both,” Thranduil turned his attention back to his parchment. He had to get this finished. “Besides, who would I trust? Lately it seems that even those I thought my friends doubt me, how could I expect them to mentor my son? Who do you entrust with the future of a kingdom...?”
A soft sigh and shake of his head signaled that their conversation was drawing to a close. Elvéwen knew her husband’s body language well.
“No, Véa, I will not assign Legolas a Saelon yet. It is a good plan, but I fear some of the others rush their sons forward too fast. Maethor training is important, but I did not implement it to steal our children’s childhood from them.”
Elvéwen nodded. That she understood. Even in these difficult times children still needed to be children. She just wished sometimes that Thranduil would tell Legolas the reasons for which he did things. She feared that although their son loved his father, he did not understand him or his actions. Glancing at Thranduil, whose head was now bent over his work again, his attention focused, she feared the same was true of his understanding of his son.
Unheard and unseen outside the closed door, a shadowed figure slipped away. He had heard enough. Thranduil was a fool, and was playing right into his hands.
Elvéwen was not able to take Legolas to archery practice that evening after all. Several of the elven lords who sat on the council with Thranduil had cornered the Elvenking into an emergency meeting on the situation in Esgaroth. Most were opposed to trying to lend any aid when they themselves were in such dire straits and a few were hinting not so gently that Mirkwood needed to look to its own concerns. After all, look what had happened *last* time they put their lot in with outsiders and humans.
Thranduil however, knew that their survival was going to still depend on their friendship and old ties with their neighbors, but trying to make anyone else see that was painfully difficult.
Elvéwen could not leave him to face them alone, but neither did she wish to make Legolas sit in on another council meeting which she knew her son silently abhorred. So she suggested he go with Raniean’s family.
Legolas did not tell her that Raniean was not going tonight because he knew it would only make her feel bad. He could already see the apology behind her eyes and he didn’t want that. It was no hardship for him to go alone; he had become used to doing things by himself. He was simply relieved to not have to sit indoors all evening and listen to the older elves bicker. He didn’t understand why they couldn’t see his father was right. In his young mind, his father was always right.
Strapping on his quiver and slinging his bow over his shoulder, Legolas made his way towards the archery ranges where the classes were held. They were a little over a mile away from the palace and he could cover that quickly.
His brisk trot out through the gates halted slightly when he saw a familiar figure waiting just outside.
“Vede,” he smiled and greeted his father’s brother with the elvish term for uncle. “You aren’t in the council with Ada?”
Doriflen smiled somewhat ruefully and shook his head. He wore his darker, chestnut-hued golden hair loose around his face, unlike the braided hairstyles favored by his brother and nephew. “No, they don’t want me around. I just get in the way. But then, perhaps that’s not so bad, more interesting things to do out here, right? Where are you off to?”
Legolas chuckled. “Well I think so. I’m on my way to archery practice,” he gestured to his bow.
“So I see,” the elder elf nodded, looking around. “All alone?” he acted slightly disturbed. “When was the last time your father made it with you?”
Legolas shrugged. He knew exactly how many months it had been, but didn’t want to talk about it. “A while. You know how hard it is on Ada right now.”
“True enough, true enough,” Doriflen agreed. “Well do you mind if I go with you? I hear you’ve got some real skill with a bow, I should like to see that.”
Legolas flushed somewhat pleasantly. “Of course you can come if you want to Vede, but I’m not really that good, not yet.”
“Ah, but I’m sure you are,” Doriflen shook his head, putting his arm around the boy’s shoulders as they walked off together.
Despite the sham of a title Thranduil had given him, Doriflen was not usually welcome at important meetings of state. Thranduil said he tended to say things he ought not, but Doriflen knew he was just being spiteful, flaunting the fact that his younger brother had somehow weaseled their father into thinking he would make the better King.
Well, if the state of the kingdom right now was any indication, that was a pretty poor assumption. Doriflen knew he should be King, it was his right... and soon enough, it would be a reality. He was going to break his brother for the wrongs done him and take back what was his. But for the present, the elder elf put to good use the extra time he had on his hands right now to watch and observe.
Tension was high in Mirkwood. Things were ill and people wanted someone to blame. It was the perfect climate for him. It was all too easy to stir the flames of discontent. The common people could be so easily swayed by the simplest of suggestions... But to truly break Thranduil, Doriflen knew he had to get much closer to home than just the people.
His brother’s family was a tight little unit, but he saw where the cracks lay. It wasn’t hard to single out Legolas as his way inside. The boy was young, naïve and trusting. He was at an age where he silently craved the adult attention he was not receiving. When he was at home Legolas was almost always alone. It was perfect really.
Legolas knew none of the dark thoughts going through his uncle’s mind. He could only see the bright smiles he was given and the appreciative way in which Doriflen watched him at practice. Neither Raniean or Trelan were there of course, but Legolas loved the sport for itself and did not miss them too much.
After practice on the way home, Doriflen was full of praise and questions, letting the young elf talk on and on about the intricacies of his favorite subject in a way that usually made people’s eyes glaze over pretty quickly. Doriflen never seemed to lose interest and Legolas ended up talking much more than he usually did until he caught himself and apologized.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to chatter at you so Vede.”
Doriflen smiled amiably. “But I enjoy it nephew. I am glad you feel so free with me. It is good because...” he stopped walking and turned to face Legolas, who obligingly did the same. “Because I have something important to tell you.”
Legolas raised his eyebrows lightly in question. “Oh?”
Doriflen nodded. “Your father has asked me to be your Saelon Legolas.”
Legolas smile brightened. His father hadn’t forgotten! He *had* chosen a mentor for him after all. The young prince really didn’t know his uncle very well. Until this point the elder elf hadn’t had much to do with him, but Legolas had no reason to dislike his uncle and after tonight it seemed rather a pleasant arrangement.
“Then I am very honored Vede, I will do my best to make you both proud.” Legolas bowed slightly in the fashion of the elves.
“I know you will Legolas,” Doriflen smiled. A flicker of something deep and dark skittered just under the surface of his friendly gaze, but if Legolas even saw it he would not have understood its meaning.
“Am I permitted to speak of it?” Legolas wanted to know if he could tell his friends or not. Either way was all right with him, he was just glad his father really did think he was ready.
“No, Legolas, I would rather not. Let’s keep this between us for the present. Mirkwood is going through some difficult times, and your father is not sure whom to trust. He doesn’t wish there to be any ill feelings stirred up because he chose his brother for you rather than one of the other elves. We wouldn’t want to cause him anymore headaches, would we?” Doriflen’s beguiling smile masked his true motives far too well.
Legolas nodded easily, he understood. He would never want to cause his father more problems. “Very well then Vede, it shall remain between us. But... thank you. For accepting.” The boy smiled shyly.
Doriflen laughed softly, shaking his head as they started walking again. “Oh the pleasure is all mine Legolas, believe me.”