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Leaf Subsides to Leaf

Chapter 1: NA

by IgnobleBard

AN: Written for Jael.

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf's a flower
But only so an hour
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

- Robert Frost

The feast ended, King Thranduil sat in his chambers with a half-empty wineglass in his hand. He felt very weary and very old as he stared at the tapestry on the wall, a tapestry depicting the Greenwood as it had been many centuries ago, and as it would never be again, despite the best efforts of the remaining Wood-elves.

A soft knock sounded upon the door and Thranduil rose to answer it.

"I was not sure you would come," he said.

"How could I not?" said the other, bowing respectfully and then entering as Thranduil stepped aside.

"Indeed? It is difficult to sound you since your return. There was a time I could have spoken your mind before you knew it yourself, but those days are distant now."

Legolas smiled gently and Thranduil's heart broke, for it was this look he remembered so well, this look he would never see again.

"Not so distant, Ada. Only one hundred twenty three years."

"It is not merely years that create distance," Thranduil said, a bit more gruffly than he had intended.

Sadness clouded Legolas's eyes and Thranduil inwardly chastised himself. This was not how he wanted them to part.

"But you have come," Thranduil said heartily, forcing a smile and struggling to make it seem unforced, "and you have indulged me and endured the feast in your honor." His smile became genuine and full of affection. "I know it was. . . grander than we discussed. . . "

Legolas laughed, and for a brief moment their bond was as vital and deep as ever. "You have never been one to do things by half measures, Ada. I like to think it is a trait we share."

Thranduil's smile waned almost imperceptibly and he moved back to his chair, motioning for Legolas to join him. Legolas sat and watched as Thranduil refilled his glass and filled an empty one beside it, handing it to him.

Legolas accepted the wine, not wanting to be ungracious, though his taste now ran more toward Dwarven ale and he had already drunk a great deal at the feast. He sipped politely and the two sat in silence for a long moment, so long that Legolas wondered if they had said all they had to say.

Finally, Thranduil set his glass down, a sign both encouraging and disheartening to his son.

"Why now?" he said bluntly.

Legolas blinked at him for a moment and took another sip of the wine as he contemplated his reply. This was not a trait he and his father shared. While Thranduil was a consummate diplomat when the occasion called for it, it was not his practice to be so with his court - or his son.

"He is fading swiftly, Ada. I may already be too late, but I must go to him."

Thranduil snorted and his eyes flashed with an anger that caught Legolas off guard. "Never will I understand how you can turn from your home, your people, out of loyalty to a mortal man and a Dwarf!"

Legolas colored hotly. "Turned my back on you is what you mean, is it not? You do not understand because you have not sought to. You cannot know what it was like for us, the bonds we formed. . ."

"And all your travels and worldliness have given you understanding your father does not possess? I have tasted battle, I have formed bonds with brothers-in-arms, but never did I let those bonds blind me to my duties."

"Ada, please. Though mortal man he may be, though mortal they both be, they are my friends, my allies. My loyalty to them is no less than theirs to me."

"And what of your fealty to your land and King?"

Legolas went and knelt before his father. He took Thranduil's hand lovingly in his own and kissed the signet ring on his finger then pressed the back of his father's hand to his forehead.

"I thought my fealty to the crown without question, my lord. But I will swear any oath to you that will seal the matter."

Thranduil looked at Legolas's bowed head and was instantly transported back to the last time he had seen his son this way, the night Legolas had accepted his king's commission to travel to Imladris and take part in Elrond's council. He raised a trembling hand and placed it on Legolas's head, overcome with the grief he had tried so hard to conceal.

"Rise, Legolas, my son," he said brokenly. "And forgive a foolish old man. I have never doubted your loyalty to me or this realm. You have proved yourself in ways I never could have, even at the peak of my powers, and I am proud of you, so proud. I only wish. . ."

Legolas looked up at him and clasped the hand he held to his bosom. "I know, Ada. The path I have chosen is not what you would have for me. Though I love the Greenwood, it is not home to me in the way it is to you. This place, as beautiful as it has become since the evil has been routed, holds no sway over me. "

"And Valinor will be home to you? You have not seen it; you know not what awaits you. There is nothing to fight for there, nothing to build, nothing to accomplish. How can you be happier there than here?"

Legolas rose and, giving his father's hand a final squeeze, released it and took his chair. For the first time since coming in he could not hold his father's gaze and he looked askance as he spoke.

"I am drawn there, just as the Lady Galadriel prophesied many years ago. Since I heard the calling of the gulls, my spirit has been rootless. I have seen what this world has to offer, its joys, its sorrows, its wonders, and it is time for a new journey, time to discover what lies beyond."

"The Lady's prophesy? The Lady's curse!" Thranduil said bitterly. "Whatever your spirit may feel, you go because of the Dwarf. It is not what you truly want."

Legolas gave his father a wan smile. "Your power to read me is not as diminished as you thought. Yet the truth lies somewhere between. I must go, and I want to go. Gimli is failing and he will find peace and healing there until his days end. You spoke of duty. Mine is to honor a dying king and heal a failing friend. If there is a greater duty than this then I have learned nothing of this world, for all my years in it."

"So, your time in Middle Earth ends with the death of a king," Thranduil said thoughtfully, "just as my own truly began with the death of a king." He looked at Legolas, his green eyes once emerald sharp and clear now faded and misty as jade. "The Belair offer hope, but only to cruelly take it away when it is within our grasp. I had hoped to see you take up the mantle of Prince upon your return and lend your strength to the new Greenwood, to make Eryn Lasgalen a garden for our people as you made Ithilien a garden for Men."

"Their need was the greater, Ada. Not in the lives of men had Ithilien been more than an outland of Mordor, a dangerous wilderness replete with Sauron's minions. The Greenwood has always had your strength to protect it, the strength of oak and stone, the surety of your wisdom and your will. It is you who saw the Greenwood through the darkness and it will be you who will make it a place of refuge and hope for all Elfkind."

"When you were born I saw this hope in you," Thranduil said, gripping the arm of his chair as he spoke, "the strength and suppleness of young foliage. You were meant to bend through the storm and not break, and so you have, but to what purpose if you are driven from these shores?"

"I have served my purpose here," Legolas said calmly. "And I need to see it, Ada. I need to see for myself the place of our ancestors, to answer the call of the Belair to return home."

Thranduil shook his head. "Nay! What are we to the Belair, children who must be kept under our parents' watch? Bah! Not all Elves must succumb to their call. I have not heeded it, nor will I ever set foot on Valinor!" He looked at Legolas, his eyes revealing the pain behind his defiance. "Not even for you."

"Of course, Ada. It is why I have come tonight," Legolas said quietly, "to say good bye."

"And nothing I can say will stay you?"

"I did not think you intended to stay me, but no, it is finished. My time has come."

"You know your own heart, Legolas. I held it for a time and it was the greatest joy I have known, but now I return it to you freely. I truly hope you find what you seek."

"You will always hold my heart, Ada, though you must now share it."

Legolas rose and Thranduil nodded and rose as well. The king lifted his glass to Legolas. "To you, my son. May the shores of Valinor give your restless spirit peace."

They drank at the same time, and then Legolas, with a mischievous gleam in his eye, raised his glass. "To you, my father. I will take with me the lessons you have taught, and perhaps Valinor will not be as peaceful a place with my arrival."

Thranduil chuckled and set his glass down. He and Legolas embraced tightly, robustly, their far absorbing the love that passed between them. Their bond was such that time or distance could not diminish and would never sever. They held on for a long moment, each loath to be the first to pull away, but at last Thranduil let go. He ushered his beautiful, golden child to the door, his hand upon Legolas's shoulder.

"My blessings and those of Elbereth go with you, my child," he said.

"They are with me always, Ada."

Legolas paused and the two faced each other for the last time, their steadfast deportments mirror images of Elven nobility. No more words were exchanged between them, none were needed. Opening the door, Legolas departed without a backward glance. Thranduil lowered his head and leaned one hand upon the closed the door, a single tear spilling from his eye. On the other side, Legolas rested his back against the sturdy wood and wiped the moisture from his cheek.