On a breathlessly hot, still afternoon in high summer, all of Lasgalen seemed to be in suspense, waiting for the heralds to announce the birth of a new princess. The whole population had rejoiced with the king and queen at their happy news, and now messengers were ready, eager to be the first to carry news of the birth to the villages of men, and the neighbouring Elven realms.
Inside the palace, too, there was anticipation, but mixed with boredom. Listlessly, Legolas waited outside his mother’s room. How long did it take for a baby to be born? He seemed to have been here for a long time. And they wouldn’t let him in to see his mother, or his father, who was also there.
“Wait a moment.”
“You can see her later.”
Every time he had opened the door, he had been pushed back, each time with a different refusal. With a sigh, he went back to his perch on the window sill in the hallway, resigned to waiting. It was very different to what he had expected. He had not anticipated the delay, the tedium of it all. He had looked forward to this day for so long, for very nearly a year, ever since Naneth and Adar had told him there would be a new baby. Later they had explained that he would have a sister, and he had helped to pick her name, finally choosing ‘Lissuin’ after a tiny, fragrant flower that bloomed throughout the forest.
Thinking of the preparations reminded him of something he had made for this day, and he returned to his rooms. He went to a large cupboard, where all his clothing was kept. Pushing things to one side, he found it, protectively wrapped, carefully stowed at the back of the cupboard where it was out of sight and out of harm’s way. With great care he drew it out, looking at it critically.
His first bow, now far too small, but still a treasured possession. Made of seasoned ash, the ends were carved with a pattern of leaves. His name had been engraved, in gold lettering, at one end.
Over the last few weeks, he had carefully cleaned it, removing the marks of grease, sweat - and tears - that stained it. Then he had polished it, using a mixture given to him by Mireth, one of the maids, which was used on his father’s throne, together with a special cloth. Next he had oiled the wood, and re-strung the bow. Then he had used a fine sandpaper to remove his own name, laboriously carving Lissuin’s instead. Finally he had ‘borrowed’ some gold leaf from Tionel, to pick out the writing, and then meticulously polished it again.
It would be a fine present to give his new sister. Legolas knew it would be a long time before she would be able to use it, but it would be there, ready and waiting, for when she was old enough.
Carrying the bow, he went back to his parent’s room, prepared to wait again. The long, golden afternoon faded into a glorious evening. Normally he would have been outside, splashing in the pool or river, climbing trees, or stalking squirrels. But not today. Today he was - more or less - content to wait indoors. He returned to the windowsill, his attention divided between the setting sun and slowly darkening forest, and the door to his parent’s room.
There was more activity now, and he hoped it might not be much longer. One of the healers brushed past him, hurrying off somewhere. The door opened and closed again, and two more came out, and began to whisper urgently. Noticing him watching, they stopped abruptly, and retreated to the far end of the corridor, where they resumed their discussion. At times they glanced in his direction, as if to make sure he wasn’t listening.
The ebb and flow of hurrying footsteps continued long into the night. Cold, tired, and beginning to be troubled by some nameless fear, Legolas dozed in his corner. His stomach rumbled. No one had mentioned supper. He realised that no one had come to tell him to go to bed, either. He appeared to have been forgotten. But that didn’t matter. He would stay here as long as he could.
Around midnight, Legolas awoke with a start, as suddenly as if he had been kicked. He looked round frantically, eyes blurred and sleep fogged. He felt as though he had awoken from a bad dream, his heart was beating fast, and he was shivering, but he could not recall anything of the dream.
Miserably, he sat huddled on the window sill, arms wrapped around his knees.
The frantic activity had stopped. The hallway was empty now, and quiet but for the muffled sound of sobbing. Legolas was puzzled. He’d been told that a new baby cried, but it didn’t sound like that sort of crying.
The door to his parent’s room opened again, and this time Calmacil, his father’s most senior healer, came out. But he did not rush off anywhere, instead he just leaned against the wall, his face in his hands. Then two more healers emerged, arms around each other. One was indeed crying, racking sobs shaking her.
Legolas watched all this with a growing sense of dread. Something was wrong, badly wrong. But what? Realising there was no one around to stop him now, he slid off the window sill and went to the door. He felt strangely reluctant to open it, but then gripped the handle and pushed.
The room was very dark inside, and he didn’t have time to see anything apart from a flurry of movement. Then his father was in front of him, and guiding him out of the door. To Legolas’ intense surprise and distress, his father, too, was crying. He dropped to one knee, more at his son’s level.
“Ada? What’s wrong?” Legolas’ voice was a mere whisper, and his heart was pounding. He was beginning to feel badly frightened. His father never cried, never!
Thranduil put both hands on his son’s shoulders, and met his eyes.
“Legolas, there is something - something has happened. Something terrible. Your mother - your mother died. She is dead.”
Thranduil had expected sobs, screams, collapse, even hysteria; anything but what did happen. Legolas laughed.
“Don’t be silly, Ada! Of course she’s not dead. She had a baby, that’s all. Can I go and see her yet?”
“No! No, not yet. Legolas, it is true. I am sorry. I wish it was not. But Nana is dead.”
The tears he had expected came now, along with an unanticipated anger.
“No! I don’t believe you! Why would you say such a horrible thing? It’s not true! Nana!”
Legolas pounded his fists against Thranduil’s chest, sobbing. “It isn’t true. I don’t believe you. No!”
His father wrapped both arms around him tightly, holding him close, rocking him gently as he gave in to his own grief again.
“Oh, Legolas. I am sorry.”
At last Legolas lifted his head from his father’s shoulder and looked up at him. His eyes were still full of tears. “Why?” he asked simply.
Thranduil was at a loss. How could he explain the mechanics and complications of childbirth to a child? “She was having a baby. Sometimes, something - goes wrong. The healers tried very hard, but they couldn’t do anything. So she died.”
“What about Lissuin?”
“Lissuin died too.”
“Legolas, do you want to come and see Nana? Come and say goodbye to her, and to Lissuin.”
Legolas looked up at his father, unsure.
“Come with me.”
As Thranduil straightened, his foot brushed against something on the floor. He looked down. “What is this?” he asked.
Legolas looked at the object. He had completely forgotten about the bow.
“It’s my old bow. I cleaned it, I want - wanted - to give it to Lissuin. For when she’s older. I thought she would like it,” he finished, his voice a mere whisper.
“Then shall we give it to her now? Come with me.”
Hand in hand, they walked slowly to the large bed. The room was not dark, as Legolas had thought, for candles burned at the four corners of the bed. The window was wide open, the filmy curtains drifting on a breath of breeze.
His mother lay in the centre of their bed, little Lissuin cradled in one arm. Suddenly frightened, Legolas hung back, not wanting to go further.
“There is nothing to fear. Come.”
Finally he looked down at his mother. She could have been asleep, but for the fact that her eyes were closed. He had never seen her like that before. Somehow, she didn’t look like his mother anymore. And Lissuin, his little sister. She was cuddled against their mother, warmly wrapped in a blanket, a fluff of pale golden hair showing.
Still clutching the bow with the hand that did not cling to his father’s, he looked up at Thranduil for reassurance. Then he stepped forward and carefully placed the bow next to Lissuin. Moving a little closer, and glancing at his father again, he kissed Lissuin, and then his mother’s cheek.
“Goodnight, Nana. Goodnight, Lissuin. Goodbye.”
He shivered, feeling tears well up in his eyes again. Then Thranduil bent down, and picked him up as he had when Legolas was very little, sitting astride his hip. Legolas, his arms wrapped around his father’s neck, whispered: “Ada? I don’t want you to go. Stay with me.”
“I will,” he promised. “You need to go to bed. But I will stay with you tonight. If you wake, I will be there.” In truth, Thranduil felt torn. Custom and tradition - and his own grief - demanded that he stay with his wife and daughter tonight. But equally, Legolas needed him - and he needed to be with his son, too. Legolas was all he had left now.
To be continued