Legolas wasn't an elfling anymore. Thranduil was quite aware of that.
Not that the King doubted his son's skills as an archer in the slightest, but Thranduil knew there were threats outside of Mirkwood that Legolas was not able to combat just yet. The young Prince, however, believed different.
"But Ada," Legolas protested, "you promised to allow me to accompany the first patrol of the summer! And they are leaving this afternoon!"
The young archer stood with his arms thrown out to the sides, the King sat comfortably at his desk with his back to his son. He needn't look up; Thranduil was all too familiar with the expression Legolas would be pulling.
"I am aware of what I promised you, Legolas," the King said, his tone blunt, "however I specifically said that you were not permitted to go if they were travelling north…which they are."
Legolas stamped childishly across the room to stand at his father's side, though the latter did not flinch at the sound of the heavy footsteps on the marble flooring.
"Ada, this is not fair!" He shouted, glaring Thranduil in an attempt for him to look up from his papers. "You continue to treat me as if I am but a child!"
Thranduil set his papers down calmly and turned to look at his infuriated son. "Legolas. You must understand the dangers that are found in the north of our realm; dangers that you are not skilled enough to face yet." He stood up and placed a hand on Legolas' shoulder, feeling the tense muscle beneath. "You must trust my judgment, penneth."
Legolas nodded in defeat and slumped out of the room, an expression of pure disappointment painted across his young face.
Thranduil sighed as he watched his young son walk away from him. He knew Legolas would be angry with him, but he knew his son would come to understand his decision. Too many of his finest men had he lost to the dreaded creatures of Mirkwood whilst they patrolled the borders of his realm. His only child would not be added to that list; he would make sure of it.
Legolas stumbled back to his room, dragging his heels and running his finger along the windowsills as he moved. It wasn't fair. Why was Ada treating him like this? His skills as an archer had greatly improved since the last patrol he had accompanied last summer…when things hadn't gone according to plan: when he had to be protected by the other elves who were out with him. Orcs attacked, his weapons were forced from his hand and, before he knew it, he was lying on the cold ground with a bleeding temple.
He'd trained so hard since then. He knew what he was capable of; not Ada. Thranduil had only been present at a small number of his practise sessions and Ada had hardly looked impressed with his son's skills.
More than anything, Legolas wanted to see the proud look on his father's face when he returned from a potentially-dangerous patrol with the most experienced soldiers.
The young elf stepped into his room and closed the door behind him as quietly as he could. His bow and quiver lay on his bed, his twin-knives lying adjacent to them. The calm, Mirkwood wind blew his white, voile curtains inwards as he moved to stand on his balcony. His soft hair swayed in the breeze as he stared over the trees of his father's large realm.
The patrol were due to take their leave within the hour and they were still under the impression the young Prince was attending their outing, so why shouldn't he go? All he had to do was find a way of getting to the patrol's meeting point without his father noticing. Down the balcony and across the gardens, Legolas planned. He stepped back into his room and knelt down to re-fasten his boots, brushing down and straightening his clothing as he stood up to his full height. He strode over to his bed and fastened his quiver around himself, thrusting his bow over his right shoulder and tucking his knives into their place at his hips. He felt strong, a newly-found streak of self-confidence suddenly rushing through him. Whatever creatures lurked at their borders, Legolas now felt he could handle. He would gain his father's approval. He was sure of it.
The Prince glanced out of one of his bedroom windows onto the ground below. No one around. As silently and as agile as his slender figure could manage, he climbed atop of the balcony railing and over it, his boots fitting nicely between the bars on the other side. He slid down gently, taking his time as one bad step meant that he would crash to the ground below. Though it did not seem like a long way down when one was simply looking from behind the safety of the handrail, Legolas now realised that, when one was dangling from it, the drop was rather large. Still, he was more than capable of landing safely without too much of a serious injury. Shifting his weight, the Prince managed to cling on to what was the floor of the balcony, and released his grip, making sure to bend his knees as he impacted upon the ground. With no time to think of his paining ankles, Legolas swiftly took off into a brisk jog towards the stables where he knew the patrol would be waiting for him.
Halther was getting impatient. He'd agreed to allow the young Prince into their scout group once again, the memories of what had transpired just a year before still fresh in his mind. What would he, as the leader of the group, have done if Legolas' life was lost during the ambush?
"He'll be here, don't worry," comforted Amthal, the youngest of the trio but no less experienced, as he placed a hand on his Captain's shoulder.
Kethor, the oldest of the trio, scoffed. "I don't even see why we're bothering. You know what happened last time. He is a burden…nothing more."
The other two elves merely shook their heads at their friend's persistent negativity about Legolas. They suddenly heard fast footsteps approaching and in jogged the Prince, looking as confident as ever.
"Apologies for my tardiness, gentlemen," Legolas said. "My father kept me behind."
Halther smiled at the young elf. "No apologies necessary, my Prince."
The four of them gathered their belongings together and set out on horseback, Legolas being all too eager to get away from the palace before his father noticed he had disobeyed his orders to stay put. Whenever Thranduil would find out about his son's disappearance, Legolas knew he would be in for it.
The group trotted calmly through the northern part of Mirkwood, being on high alert for any kind of threat.
"How do you fare, my Prince?" Halther asked, glancing over his right shoulder to make eye contact with the younger elf.
"Very well, thank you," Legolas answered, "and please, just call me by my name."
Halther laughed as he turned back to face the woodland path. "As you wish, my Prince."
Kethor snarled. Why his Captain encouraged the elfling in the first place, he did not know. Surely his concentration should be fully focussed on the surrounding area and not on the King's inexperienced son.
The Captain and the Prince were torn from their giggling, however, when Amthal spoke. "Sir," he began in a soft and quite tone, "movement to the west of our position."
The group halted their steeds for a clearer glance of whatever had the young soldier so worried. Silver webbing could be seen in the near-distance as well as cocoons dangling from the trees branches yet no movement or sound could be seen or heard. The group all dismounted and brought their weapons to their hands: arrows ready to be fired.
Suddenly, the group heard a rustling sound coming from above them and Amthal was ripped from his position as a terrified shriek left his mouth and his hands clawed for his friends to aid him. The spider responsible descended from the tree above them and pulled Amthal into its clutches, hastily stabbing him through the chest with its venomous stinger. It proceeded to wrap the young elf in its web before moving away in order to add him to its collection of cocoons in the trees meters away.
Halther cried out for the loss of his friend, whereas Legolas could do nothing but stare. Kethor drew another arrow from his quiver and attempted to shoot two at the spider but it was to no avail. Instead, the beast turned around, dropping the newly-spun cocoon to the forest floor and screeching at them.
"Flee!" Halther yelled as he leapt back onto his horse who needed no encouragement to leave the horrific scene. Kethor copied and the two made haste. However, Legolas' steed had had other ideas. It did not wait for its master to mount and it took off in gallop, leaving the Prince standing alone on the woodland path. He attempted to break into a sprint, but his efforts were futile. He could feel the spider's legs tearing against his clothing as it pulled him closer and closer towards its devilish body.
"HALTHER!" Legolas screamed, as the beast hoisted him up into its claws. The Prince struggled and kicked out as much as he possible could, trying to avoid the spider's deadly pincer. The two elves came about and charged back to where Legolas had been left, only to see the beast stab the young Prince in the stomach. Legolas let out a strangled cry and moaned as he felt his consciousness fade.
"NO!" The pair yelled in unison as they saw the blood beginning to seep from the Prince's stomach. They began to fire trios of arrows at the beast. Luckily, four out of the six fired arrows hit the spider square in the face yet it continued to spin its sinister web around the limp body of the young archer. The spider spun him round and round, encasing him. Slowly, the Prince could no longer be seen. Instead, a thick layer of web suffocated him. In a desperate attempt, Halther grabbed his dagger from his belt and threw it at the spider, the weapon embedding itself into its skull. With a shriek, the beast dropped the body to the floor and scurried off back to its nest.
Breathing quickly and heavily, Halther and Kethor leapt off their horses and flung themselves next to the body of the Prince, the eldest taking his knife from his belt and ripping the webbing away in any place he could hack at.
"Hurry!" Halther begged, who began to use his hands to tear the web away from the Prince's face.
Legolas' eyes were closed, with trickles of blood seeping from the left corner of his mouth, painting a section of his pale lips an unnatural shade of bright red. They proceeded to remove all of the webbing encasing Legolas' body and cast the empty shell aside. His hand lay weakly across his wound, as if the poor soul had attempted to prevent the inevitable. Even in death, the Prince was radiant, if that were possible.
The pair were silent. This couldn't be happening. The Prince couldn't be dead.
Kethor rose to his feet and walked over to where Amthal's encased body lay in the tall grass. He picked it up and walked back to his horse.
"Come, Halther," he said. "They deserve to be laid to rest at home."
To say Thranduil was livid was an understatement. That boy would be in for the punishment of his life when he returned from the forbidden patrol.
If he returns, Thranduil's mind teased. No. I cannot afford to think like that. Legolas is skilled…confident…knows his own mind. He will return safely to me.
The King, in the midst of his panic, had sent a group of soldiers after them in a desperate attempt to prevent the patrol from reaching their northern borders.
They had yet to return.
Suddenly, gasps could be heard from the elves below Thranduil's study window. He looked out and saw the soldiers he had sent entering the palace gates. Two rider- less horses came in next. Finally, Halther and Kethor entered, Thranduil's heart stopping in his chest at what he saw.
His son, his only son, was being held upright by Halther, the Prince's head resting on the Captain's right shoulder whilst, on the adjacent horse, Kethor gripped some sort of webbing.
Oh, poor Amthal!
The King raced from his study into the palace gardens, just in time to see Halther struggle to dismount his horse with the lifeless body cradled in his arms. Thranduil was by the Captain's side in a matter of seconds, taking his son off him.
"No. No. No!" The King wept, as he sunk to his knees with his forehead pressed against that of Legolas'. His little Greenleaf, gone…cruelly taken from him when the Prince still had such full life ahead of him. To see such a peaceful expression on his child's pale face chilled him to the core.
Thranduil felt his spirit shatter. Legolas was but the only light he had left in his life. He grasped the cold body of the Prince tighter as he saw a hand touching his son's neck. He felt a hand on his shoulder, someone calling him. Eldeth, the palace healer, no doubt. "My Lord, we must get him inside."
Too late. No. Leave us be. No.
Suddenly, Thranduil's ears fixated on two small words that came from Eldeth's mouth.
Without a moment's haste, the King stood to his full height, shifting Legolas' into a more comfortable position in his strong arms and carried him back inside, following Eldeth to the healing room.
He gently placed Legolas down onto one of the soft beds, the Prince's head rolling to one side and his blood staining the white sheets.
"There is still a pulse, my Lord. Weak, yes. But your young Prince is strong…he is not giving up without a fight."
Thranduil sat next to his son's bed, grasping his bloodied hand tightly, whispering words of comfort.
Cormlle naa tanya tel'raa, ion-nin. /Your heart is that of a lion, my son/
N'alaquel a' amin, Legolas. /Come back to me, Legolas/
Eldeth cleaned and dressed the Prince's wound as best as he could, with reassuring moans of discomfort escaping the Prince's lips every now and again, signalling that the young elf was indeed alive.
"How…how did he not perish from the spider's venom?" Thranduil had asked with teary eyes as he held his son's hand to his lips.
"From what I can tell, the spider did not have a deadly sting…only one which paralyses its victims so it can feed on fresh-"
The King waved his free hand in the air. "Yes, yes. Okay. Thank you, Eldeth."
The elder smiled and bowed out of the room, confident that the Prince would pull through.
It wasn't until the sun had set behind the mountains that Legolas stirred in his sleep. He made noises of pain and discomfort, with his eyes scrunching tightly together.
Thranduil sat bold-upright after hearing the pained moans. He began caressing his son's cold cheek. "You are safe, little Greenleaf. No harm shall come to you whilst I watch over you."
The Prince exhaled as his eyelids opened slowly, revealing crystal-blue irises that Thranduil feared he may never see again.
"…Ada?" Legolas coughed as he attempted to shift in the bed.
"Try not to move, ion-nín. Your wound is still healing."
Wound? Legolas thought, his hand subconsciously moving towards his bandaged stomach. He gasped as he pressed down on the stab-wound, his father hastily moving his son's prying hand away.
"Amthal!" Legolas suddenly shouted as he lifted his head up from the softness of the pillows and attempted to look around the room.
"Shh, it's alright, penneth," Thranduil soothed, pressing a hand against the young one's shoulder, "Amthal lives. As does Halther and Kethor. You are all safe."
The young Prince sighed contently and sank back into the warmness of the bed, his eyelids closing.
"I'm sorry I disobeyed you. I just wanted to make feel proud to call me your son."
Thranduil laughed quietly as he leant over the bed to kiss Legolas lightly on the forehead, stroking stray pieces of blond hair away from his Prince's pale face.
"My young Greenleaf….I could not be any prouder."