The large oaken door which concealed a young Elf's destination was ajar, but he raised one hand nonetheless to knock and announce his presence. Although just a small child in the eyes of the Firstborn, he had already perfected the art of impeccable manners and a polite nature, thanks to the instillation of such traits at an early age by his parents. It was rude to walk in on someone else without their permission, even if the door had been left slightly open. Smiling at the inevitable praise for his consideration, the lastborn Prince of Mirkwood rested his knuckles upon one of the wooden panels, but noise from the other side flitted to his ears and held him still. He listened in silence for a few moments, before realisation hit and his eyes widened in horror. He wanted to cry, but he blinked the tears away and turned sharply to run a short way down the corridor and sit behind a tall statue, his presence concealed by alabaster marble.
Minutes passed, and Legolas pulled his knees close. He tried not to notice for how long he sat there on the floor, because every moment that went by was another moment of sadness for the one who had made the noise and alerted him to what was happening behind the ajar door. There was a part of him that wanted to try and stop proceedings, but the instinctive part of his mind warned him not to get involved. He was better off staying hidden by the statue until it was all over and he could safely reveal himself without getting into trouble for eavesdropping. That was impolite too. His parents had taught him not to listen to conversations that did not involve him. Although, what he had heard was not exactly a verbal discussion.
There came the sound of light footsteps from further up the hallway, and the Elfling turned his head to surreptitiously peer at the one who was advancing closer and closer. The sight that greeted him evoked a rush of sympathy within his sensitive soul. He wished he could step out and wrap his arms around the waist of his brother - for that was the highest point he could reach - in an attempt to comfort the older child and banish his tears. Ilfirin always tried so hard not to cry. He proclaimed that was Legolas' job as the youngest of the family, but now his bright blue eyes were red and wet with grief, and strands of silver hair clung to his damp cheeks. He looked a pitiful figure, and Legolas found himself experiencing the sudden desire to weep once more.
He waited until the third Prince had disappeared around the corner before slipping out from his hiding place. Taking a brief moment to brush the dust from his leggings, he tightened his hold around the item which had been the initial reason for his visit to the King's office, and went back to the door. Ilfirin had left it ajar again, but Legolas remembered his manners and knocked three times. A voice that was both strong and gentle enough to banish the irrational childhood fears such as darkness and thunderstorms called out permission to enter, and the little boy crept around the door with his eyes lowered.
"Good afternoon, Legolas," King Thranduil nodded with a flash of a smile that did not quite reach his eyes. He paused, and leaned forwards to study his youngest son's downturned face. "Is everything all right?"
"I...I don’t know.”
Legolas’ small feet kicked gently at the floor. “I made you a present. Can I show you, or are you very busy?”
“Not at the moment. Come here.” Pushing his chair away from the desk, Thranduil rose and took a seat instead by the fireplace, holding out one hand to help the Elfling onto his lap. “What is this present, then?”
“Drawing,” Legolas muttered. “Of us.”
Only a loving parent could unroll the child’s piece of parchment and consider his immature scribbling and unidentifiable artwork to be something of great beauty. Thranduil smiled, running his fingers through his son’s silken locks. “You are talented indeed, my little one. This will take pride of place on my desk until your next masterpiece.”
“Thank you, Ada. I drew Feladhil with his bow, Tiryn reading a book and Ilfirin on a horse,” Legolas explained shyly, pointing at each of his brothers. “Me and you are playing with my soldiers.”
“You and I,” Thranduil corrected absently.
Nodding, the Prince waited for his father to lay down the piece of parchment before curling in on himself and resting his cheek against the older Elf’s strong chest. Ada always made him smile, always wiped away his tears when others failed, always comforted and elicited a laugh. His ada was special, and not just because he ruled Mirkwood and kept the evil creatures at bay. He was a hero to all four of his sons, but the smallest one especially. That was why it had come as such a shock to Legolas, when he had looked through the door and seen-
“Ada, can I ask you something?”
“You may,” Thranduil allowed, silently noting the incorrect use of language. It would have to be amended before the child fell into a bad habit. “What would you ask of me?”
“Well... I drew you the picture and I wanted to give it to you now because otherwise it would have to wait until dinner, so I asked the guards if you were in a meeting or too busy to see me and they said no, so I asked if they could let me by and they did,” Legolas said in a rush. “And even though they let me pass, I was going to knock on the door because it is impolite to walk into a room without knocking and I wanted you to be pleased with me but...” Here he paused for breath. “But Ilfirin was with you and he hadn’t shut the door properly, so I could see in. I didn’t mean to look, Ada. I really didn’t. But I saw what was happening, and... I saw.”
Thranduil almost smiled knowingly, but he held it back and regarded the innocent face staring up at him. “You have not yet asked any questions, Legolas.”
“You were...hitting him.”
“Legolas,” the King sighed. “Your brother was being punished for something that he did. Unfortunately for him, Ilfirin has a mischievous streak that often comes into play. It did this morning.”
“What did he do?” Legolas enquired softly.
“That is for me to know. If he wishes to speak of the incident that led to his correction, he will do so through his own choice,” Thranduil replied. “All you need to be aware of is the fact that Ilfirin was badly behaved today, and badly behaved Elflings will find themselves over an elder’s knee and falling asleep at night with a sore reminder of the consequences for their actions. Do you understand that?”
The golden head of the little boy nodded vigorously, and he pulled himself back to look up into his father’s silver-blue eyes. “Yes. Ada, would you smack me too if I was naughty?”
“If you were naughty enough,” Thranduil said gently, a small smile upon his lips. “But there has never been worry about that, has there? I do not expect you to reach adulthood without suffering somewhat for childish misdeeds, for even your eldest brothers have been in Ilfirin’s position a number of times. You too will receive chastisement during your childhood years, but it does not have to come soon. If you continue with your good behaviour, you will be just fine.”
“I will do that,” Legolas murmured. “I don’t want to be sore like ‘Firin.”
“You also need to understand, more so than anything else, that it does not matter what Ilfirin does to anger me. The love of a parent is unconditional.” Recognising the look of confusion on his lastborn child’s face, Thranduil smiled and raised the Elfling’s chin so that their eyes met once more. “That means he can break any rules, pull all manner of pranks, lose his temper and fail in his lessons. Of course he would be punished for those crimes, but I would never stop loving him. When you saw him with me this afternoon, how did that make you feel?”
Legolas tried to look down, but the strong fingers upon his face held him still. “Nervous and upset,” he whispered. “You always do it with the door shut so that Ilfirin or the others aren’t being watched, so I have never seen... I thought you might hate Ilfirin.”
“Ai, my sensitive little leaf. Your brother’s punishment was finished in no longer than a minute, and not a second went by that I stopped loving him. He knows that too. You must not worry,” Thranduil sighed. Pulling his son close, he inhaled the babyish scent pressed against him and placed a gentle kiss upon Legolas’ golden head. That he was a strict father and disciplinarian when he needed to be meant nothing. He hated that aspect of parenthood no less than his children did, but it was not something he could neglect on the basis that he disliked it. Three of his boys had become used to the corrective measures taken to ensure improved behaviour; whilst Legolas had thus far been lucky, the King had no doubt that his littlest Elfling would experience the sadness of a chastised child sooner than either of them wanted.