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The Origin of the Swag Stag

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Legolas planted his hands on his hips and cursed.

Quiet though it may have been, it was completely unbecoming of a Prince of Mirkwood, and had his brothers or father heard he would now be enduring a lecture. Of course, the fact that he was not now receiving a lecture for foul language was exactly what brought about said cursing in the first place. There was no one around to lecture him.

Legolas sighed, dropped his arms and looked around. He was going to be in so much trouble. Worse. His brothers were going to be in trouble. His father hadn’t wanted Legolas to go. Eighty-three was too young, he’d said.

“He’ll be safe, father.”

“We’ll look after him.”

“I’ll only use my bow,” Legolas had added his voice to his brother’s. “I’ll stay on my horse. I’ll be safe.”

Thranduil had reluctantly given in, but only after more assurances from his two older sons that Legolas would be perfectly safe at all times. They would return him without even a single hair mussed. Legolas had eagerly nodded along because he certainly was old enough, could shoot, even had some training with the long knife. If he weren’t the king’s youngest son he would probably already be training seriously for their army.

Legolas heaved another sigh, looking down at his dirty clothes. He had also failed to stay on his horse, but the normally obedient animal had been prancing about, making it impossible for Legolas to aim his shots. He could hardly blame him for bolting when that spider had appeared from seeming nowhere, knocking Legolas to the ground, and sending the other horses into a panic as well. He hadn’t been able to fight back against the spiders. Getting away from stamping hooves and bucking, squealing horses had taken precedence over everything else.

Including keeping his eyes open and looking for other spiders.

Before he could even shout, Legolas was falling, tumbling, knocking into tree roots, hair and clothing caught and tugged by twigs and undergrowth. Something cut across the back of his hand, a thin, beaded line of blood welling up.

At least he managed to kill the spider.

Legolas frowned, thinking how it had been more luck than skill, and only contributed to how lost he was now. The sounds of battle had faded, and even though he had risked shouting, he had not been able to find his brothers or the warriors riding with them on the hunt. That left making his way home on his own. He could. He just had to get back to the trail.

Hopefully this little incident wouldn’t mean Legolas’ next outing from the palace wasn’t until after he reached his majority.

With a last look around, both long knives in his hands and eyes moving constantly in the search for any further threats, Legolas set out in the direction he was fairly sure would take him back to the road.

After a couple hours weaving around the trees he had to admit that he had accidentally gone the wrong way. And here Legolas had thought he had a good sense of direction. He was just turning around when a soft bleat of sound reached his ears. Legolas paused, listening hard.

There. Again.

That wasn’t the sound of any spider. It wasn’t a horse either unless it was a colt, but that didn’t seem right either. Besides, how would a colt get out here?

Legolas debated. It was late afternoon. The woods were already dim and would be getting darker very soon. Another cry sounded, deciding him. Adjusting his grip on his knives, heart beginning to beat a little harder, he moved slowly forward, being as silent as possible.

Not even two dozen steps farther and Legolas slowed even more. Anchoring lines for the spiders’ webs were here and there, and getting thicker, more numerous. The bleating continued in sporadic calls, and Legolas could no more turn his back now than he could when he first heard it. His eyes roamed constantly, breathing deep and consciously even, his muscles tense and ready for battle.

Then he saw it. A fawn had tangled itself in one of the low-lying webs. It was very lucky they weren’t even deeper into the spiders’ nest, Legolas thought.

He wanted to rush forward, cut the young animal free and get them both out of there, but forced himself to be cautious. The cries and thrashing could have drawn the spiders’ attention by now. In fact, the fawn was probably only alive thanks to that battle. The noise would have drawn the spiders away.

Ready for anything, heart now pounding in his chest, Legolas inched out into the open. Nothing moved except the fawn, and he tried whispering softly to calm it, not daring to raise his own voice.

Father is going to have my head for this, Legolas thought, finally reaching the fawn. He took another careful look around, but nothing was moving. Unfortunately, the terrified fawn only struggled harder as he tried to cut it free, making holding on to both knives dangerous for them.

“I’m trying to help you,” Legolas whispered, sheathing one knife to pet the fawn’s head.

The webbing was sticky and thick, difficult to cut with even Legolas’ sharp, finely-crafted blade, and for each bit he freed the fawn, its struggles only twisted it up more.

Legolas sighed, stepping back a moment to survey his task. There had to be a way. And there it is, he thought, looking at the lines leading into the web the fawn was caught in. He would cut the web away from the trees, carry the fawn away, and could… Well, he’d figure out something to do with the fawn later. Now he just needed to free it.

Pleased that his idea was working, Legolas almost didn’t hear it. Then the odd clicking was drowned out by the frantic, plaintive cries of the fawn. Legolas slashed behind him without even trying to look first. He twisted, swinging again with one knife, and hurried to draw the other. There was only one spider, but it was nearly as tall as he was, and pretty angry about its meal fighting back in such a painful way.

Legolas moved to the side, aware that the spider was between him and his retreat, but also looking for an opening and trying to distract the thing from the trapped fawn. The spider tracked him, turning in place as he circled it. Front limbs waved in the air threateningly, but when one came within reach, Legolas lunged inward too, landing a solid strike that nearly severed the leg. The spider hissed, chittering and backing away. Legolas angled back toward the fawn, herding the spider to the side so it wouldn’t crawl right over the little animal.

Ever mindful of those poisonous fangs, Legolas managed a few more good cuts, and even though he had only been hoping to drive the spider off, he saw his chance and plunged the knife in. The spider crumpled, dead, and Legolas hurried to free his blade.

The fawn seemed to have exhausted itself, and Legolas hoped the fear had not harmed it permanently as he made the final cuts to the web. He lifted the fawn, the sticky lines still wound around it grabbing at his clothing, and hurried back the way he had come.

It was a long, exhausting walk, and well into the night before Legolas spotted the lights of home. He stopped only long enough to pull the worst of the web off the fawn, then lifted it back into his aching arms. His father would know what to do.

And if Legolas hoped to distract some of Thranduil’s ire at his youngest getting lost, fighting spiders alone, and coming in late and dirty with the fawn, well, who could blame him?

~

Thranduil was standing as the doors to his throne room opened. He was striding forward, kingly poise be damned, the moment he recognized Legolas.

“Father! I found this fawn. I think he is hurt.”

Thranduil stopped mid-stride, only a few paces from his youngest son, and took in the sight. And what a sight it was! Legolas did indeed carry a fawn, one of the Great Elk, he thought. They both had spider web clinging to them. Legolas’ clothing was filthy, ichor staining it, his hair in disarray, grime on his face…

“Where have you been?”

“Can’t we get the healers to look at him, father? Please?” Legolas begged, taking another step closer. “He was so frightened. I’m afraid his heart has suffered.”

Thranduil could only stare for a moment. He had been beside himself. His elder sons had come back only long enough to charge back out with more armed fighters to search for Legolas, leaving Thranduil with a despairing lack of information and unable to even follow. And all his wayward child could say upon his return was to beg care for an animal?

“You are your mother’s child,” Thranduil sighed, having to lock his knees against the sudden weakness in them. He motioned to a servant to bring the healer, then closed the distance to pull Legolas into an embrace not nearly as tight as he wanted to thanks to the fawn. “Are you hurt?” he asked, gripping his son’s shoulders and stepping back to look him over again.

Legolas shook his head. “I’m fine. It’s this one that’s had a bad day.”

A short laugh was surprised out of Thranduil. Definitely his mother’s son. The healer rushed in just then, so the next few minutes were taken up with her looking over the fawn, the servant sent to fetch her gently taking the animal from Legolas, and many assurances to the young prince that they would take very good care of him, and he was welcome to come see how the creature fared in the morning.

That suited Thranduil who had sent for riders to go out after the search parties, then hauled his son close. “Never again.”

“Father!”

“No, do not protest now! I won’t hear it. Come, you’re filthy, though perhaps I should make you stay this way to make a point.” Thranduil sighed, shaking his head. “However, given how frantic your brothers were, that might be needlessly cruel to them.” He pushed Legolas at his door. “When you are clean, come to the library. Hopefully your brothers will be back by then, and I can speak to all three of you at once.”

Legolas’ lower lip protruded just a bit, shoulders drooping at the hard edge in his father’s tone. “Yes, sire.”

The door shut softly behind Legolas, and Thranduil slumped against the wall, uncaring if anyone saw him in that moment. He was too relieved to be concerned over decorum.

And just what in the name of the Valar was he going to do with a Great Elk fawn?