The early glow of morning sunlight peeked though the council chamber window, bathing the room in a muted glow. Thranduil paused, his brow creased in thought. There had been many troubles to cloud his mind lately – troubles that only seemed to increase as each year passed by. He sighed, setting aside one warden’s report and taking up another. If the many sheaves of paper on his desk were any indication, his day was going to be filled with such dark matters.
The king of Mirkwood glanced up at the soft rapping of knuckles on the door.
“Yes?” he sighed, irritation coloring his voice.
The portal whispered open and only Thranduil’s many years as ruler of his woodland realm allowed him to face the steward of his household without dissolving into very unkingly laughter. The rather austere elf stood before him like a ruffled rooster, his generally immaculate dark hair sticking to his forehead in wet tendrils. The tooled leather doublet he wore showed darkly where it was covered from shoulder to mid chest with a liquid stain. Since it lacked both smell or color, the elf lord assumed the offending substance was only water.
Thranduil raised one arched brow allowing mirth to hint at the corners of his mouth as it sought to drive the irritation from his heart. “Is it raining, Altariel?”
“Begging your pardon my king, but no. It is not.”
“I see.” Hiding a smirk with his hand he cleared the laughter from his throat with a small cough. “Yes go on…”
“It’s the young prince again, my lord,” the steward admitted with a disapproving scowl. He hesitated trying to gauge the king’s strange mood before he continued.
Frowning, Thranduil shuffled the parchment pages on his desk into an untidy pile before responding. “So what has my son done this time?”
The steward sighed moving a damp strand from his cheek to tuck it behind his ear. “Water bladders, my lord.”
Thranduil gazed at him quizzically. “Water bladders?”
“Yes, King Thranduil. He’s ah…pitching them from the balconies,” the steward admitted. “I am, as you may have guessed, only one of his victims. There are seven all totaled…or at least those are the ones I’ve heard of. There may be more.”
“Yes. Erugalathon was the first, caught unsuspecting as he exited the pantry with this morning’s repast. Then there was…”
Thranduil waved his hand, bidding silence, and shook a head crowned with golden hair. “Please, I do not need the whole litany. So where is the culprit now?”
“He was last sighted on the third tier, near the armory. Shall I have someone collect him for you my lord?”
“No,” the king of Mirkwood muttered standing and moving away from his desk. He was silent a long moment, lost in thought.
Altariel hesitated, unsure if he should speak or depart. He was finding it harder every day to interpret his king’s mood. He dreaded the thought of sparking a dark tirade from his beloved sovereign.
“I’ll handle it myself,” Thranduil spoke at last, a hard edge to his voice. With effort, he gentled the tone and turned to clasp Altariel on the shoulder before continuing. “Please go dry yourself off Lord Steward. I hope you will accept my apology for the prince’s errant behavior.”
“Of course, you highness. Boys will be boys after all.” Respectfully inclining his head, the Steward turned crisply and strode from the room.
As the door clicked shut on the retreating form, Thranduil rubbed his throbbing temples. His young son had been testing the wings of independence recently, along with his father’s thin patience. Thranduil loved his son with all the strength of his heart, but there were days when both dark moods and dark times made words and actions harsher than they should be. Legolas was a child, with a child’s faults and foibles. He was young still and Thranduil couldn’t expect him to behave like an adult or to be harnessed with adult culpability. Yet, in spite of Legolas’s age, Thranduil couldn’t accept such a blatant lack of disrespect from him either. This time, he’d have to do something about it. As much as Thranduil hated the idea, the young prince of Mirkwood would have to be punished.
Shaking his golden head, Thranduil followed the steward from the council chamber, and went in search of his son.
As it turned out, Legolas proved harder to find than Thranduil had anticipated.
Each time he traced the angry mutters of some wet member of his court back to the source, he would find that he had just missed the princeling – discovering the boy had moved with admirable stealth after each lightening attack. In spite of his pique, Thanduil couldn’t help but admire his young son’s skills.
He’s learning so much, so quickly, the elf king mused, stalking a darkened hallway, peering into empty rooms and corners. He’s growing so fast, I can’t keep up. I’m missing so much of his life.
The blossom of a soft giggle stopped Thranduil’s reverie and he smiled at the music of his small son’s laugh. The child scurried past his father’s path in the dark and settled with his bag on the courtyard balcony, waiting with barely contained enthusiasm for a new victim. In the heat of excitement, Legolas had not seen his father, hidden in the shadows of the hall.
The elf lord could see him crouched against the short wall and the warmth of a father’s love filled his aching heart.
How lucky I am for this golden joy, he thought, slipping forward. On silent feet, he moved to within easy reach of the errant child.
For a moment he hesitated, caught up in the simple delight which lit his son’s face. Intent – focused – the youth peered through the wall’s latticework, seeking his next victim. A projectile was held at ready, pressed against a chest that heaved with excited breaths.
In that instant, Thranduil contemplated retreat, torn between what he knew was right and the sheer pleasure of indulgence. Certainly there was no lasting harm in his son’s actions.
I cannot, he pondered, inching forward with all the stealth of a prowling cat. I cannot allow this to continue…can I?
He knew the answer, of course, as surely as he had when he’d left his council chambers. Even if he chose not to punish, he would at least have to halt his son’s mischief.
Throaty laughter rumbled from underneath the balcony. Below him, the young princeling could hear the click of a staff on the tile and see the telltale sign of a blue pointy hat coming into view.
Ooohhh, it’s Mithrandir…perfect!
Legolas carefully gripped the filled water bladder in his small hands. A determined smile lit his bright face. Raising on tiptoes with arms uplifted, he awaited his quarry, tongue pressed between his lips.
A moment away from certain, irrevocable mischief a strong hand circled his wrist. Glancing up he looked into stern eyes – a stern face.
Silence flowed like a living thing between the two of them. The child swallowed hard, his lower lip trembling. His eyes spoke volumes as they stared unblinking.
Uh oh, now I’m really in trouble.
Gently the Mirkwood King took the ersatz weapon from his son. For a moment he hesitated, gazing into trusting eyes and seeing the touch of a mother who had long since gone. He has her joy, her love of life, her impishness. Oh, how she loved to tease.
Suddenly breaking into a mischievous smile, he winked conspiratorially and pitched the bladder with due force towards the intended mark.
Ducking below the railing Thranduil chuckled as the projectile struck its victim with a soggy thwack, splattering across the wizard’s grey robes. A chorus of hearty curses and the scurrying of feet followed the attack as both the wizard and his austere elven companion sought cover.
Laughing with genuine delight, the Mirkwood king held out a palm to the young son who gaped at his side. With mirth twinkling in his eyes he whispered, “Hand me another one ion-nin. I think I can still get Lord Elrond.”