This was written in response to the Thranduil's Letter Challenge posed by Jay of Lasgalen. Jay wrote the first five sentences of a story. The challenge was to complete the story.
Thranduil looked up from the documents he was studying as there was a knock on the door, and a messenger entered.
"A letter, my Lord. The courier said it was most urgent."
Curiously, for the seal was unfamiliar, Thranduil opened the message and read it swiftly. Then he read it again, more slowly, and looked at the messenger in silence for a moment before responding. "Thank you for delivering this so promptly. There will be no reply." The messenger bowed his head and departed. The king turned to his aide. "Aglargelair, reschedule my appointments for the day. Then use the remaining time as you see fit. I will not need your services until late afternoon at the earliest. I will call for you."
Aglargelair nodded, walked to the door, and then hesitated. "My Lord, if the letter has caused you concern, perhaps I can help?"
Thranduil looked up from reading the missive a third time. "Nay, this is a private matter, but I thank you for the offer." After a quick bow from Aglargelair and a quiet door shut, Thranduil was alone in his study. Thoughtfully, Thranduil folded the parchment along its original creases and then studied the seal on the outside. Although the seal was unknown to him, he knew only one elf who could have -- would have -- sent him such a letter. The king rose slowly from his chair, mindful of his recent wounds. Though they no longer required a healer's attention, they still pained him. He would not permit his people to view his pain; however in private, he could not deny it.
With care, Thranduil walked through the palace seeking the one who sent the parchment he carried. As he passed through the hallways, he noted the signs of mourning throughout. Just as they knew that plants and animals slept through the annual cold to awaken in the spring, so too elves knew their lost loved ones waited for them in the Halls of Mandos to awaken someday in Aman. However, this knowledge did not ease the pain of loss. Grieving elves had transformed the palace into a place of mourning.
Winter seemingly had fallen inside the palace itself. Brightly colored tapestries were covered with cloths the color of a winter sky heavy with the coming snow. Pots normally filled with a rainbow array of flowers now contained dark twigs and branches stripped of their leaves. Most of the elves Thranduil passed were dressed as the tapestries, in somber lifeless colors. The few who had not lost a close friend or family member wore muted colors as well in honor of the many that had fallen. The king greeted all with sober words of concern and support.
A short time later, Thranduil reached his destination, a solitary unadorned door, and entered the room after his knock went unanswered. He knew the room's owner would be inside. She was always inside now. He spotted her immediately. She sat in a chair alongside the empty bed, facing the room's one window. She did not acknowledge Thranduil's presence, but he knew she was aware of him nonetheless.
"Greetings, Naneth," Thranduil said as he crossed the room to sit on the bed beside her. "You look lovely this morning."
Nethwen turned from the window to look at him. "You lie, my son. Have I not taught you better?"
"I do not lie," Thranduil protested. "You always look lovely to me." However, if questioned further, Thranduil would not deny that his mother's appearance worried him. Her hair that always reminded him of full ripe blackberries glistening in the summer's morning dew now seemed wan and flat. Her once starlit eyes were now as perpetually dark as a cloud-covered night sky. She is too thin,
he thought. She is ...
Thranduil dared not continue the thought. Instead he reached for the letter in his pocket and showed it to her. "A messenger brought this to me. I did not recognize the seal. It is not yours." Thranduil paused momentarily to steady his emotions. "Nor is it his. But I cannot guess who sent it to me, if it was not you."
Nethwen smiled faintly for the first time since Thranduil's arrival. She got up and walked to a chest at the far end of the room. Thranduil knew that Nethwen kept her most treasured possessions inside the wooden chest. She returned to the chair carrying a small velvet pouch. Reaching in, she withdrew a seal, clearly the one that had created the waxen imprint on the letter. "Oropher fashioned this seal when we were courting. He made one for me and one for himself. Our most private letters were sealed with this. It was a lovers' game that we never tired of."
Thranduil was surprised to hear this of the two elves he thought he knew so well. "Why have I not seen this before?"
Nethwen's smile grew slightly. "When Meril and you become parents, you will discover some things are best not shared with your children." Surprised by her answer, Thranduil hastily looked at the window to avoid her gaze. His mother did not miss the motion. "My son, please promise me that you two will again consider having children. It is so important that you do. Especially now."
The king looked back, his face reflecting his turmoil. "Naneth, you know we do not wish bring a child into a shadowed world. Elrond said that the young king of Gondor --"
Thranduil blinked. Once again, Nethwen had surprised him. He was not aware that she knew the name of Gondor's new king. "Aye, Isildur," he confirmed. "Elrond said that he had claimed Sauron's ring for his own. Sauron was destroyed at Dagorlad. But I believe that as long as the Ring remains, he can return." Thranduil's agitation increased as Nethwen look unconvinced. "Naneth, children are best raised in peaceful times. You know this. We cannot recklessly bring a child into what remains a troubled world." Nethwen suddenly reached out and clasped Thranduil's hands, crumpling the parchment he held. He was surprised at the strength in her grasp.
"Children are best raised in peaceful times," she repeated. "This is true. But it is not a law, only a wisdom. And sometimes that wisdom must bow to a greater need. The Shadow will rise again, as you say. But if we refuse to surrender to the growing darkness ... if we continue on ... raise a family ... our children will be as candles and then as beacons of light in the dark." Nethwen squeezed Thranduil's hands. "Our people need a promise for the future. Your people need a promise for the future. A child will give them that promise."
"Naneth, --" Thranduil objected.
"Hush, say nothing more. I only ask that Meril and you consider my words. Will you promise me that much?"
Thranduil could not deny her. "Of course. I will tell Meril what you said. We will talk about it," he vowed.
With a sigh that sounded like a candle being extinguished, Nethwen released her son's hands and leaned back limply against her chair, her eyes closed. Thranduil looked at her in alarm. She is too pale, too weak
. "Naneth!" he cried reaching out to touch her shoulder.
Nethwen opened her eyes and spotted the letter Thranduil clutched tightly in his left hand. "You have crushed your father's letter," she said irrelevantly. Thranduil understood her desire not to discuss her health and consented to her wish, so similar to his own.
"It does not matter. Do you know what he wrote?"
"Nay, I do not." Nethwen smiled again. "Oropher forbid me to read it. He even sealed it to ensure I did not." She laughed and then grew solemn. "I promised to give it to you if he did not return." Wordlessly, Thranduil held the letter out to her so she could take it if she wished. With a shaking hesitant hand, Nethwen took the letter and opened it. Thranduil sat silent as he watched his mother read. Tears welled in her eyes as she read what her husband had written before departing on what would become his death journey. When Nethwen looked up, the tears spilled out and down her cheeks. Thranduil sadly noted that only his mother's tears sparkled now where once all of her had shone and bowed his head in sorrow.
"Your father is ... was right," Nethwen whispered. "You are a most wonderful son. You will become a great king for our people. And Meril will be a good queen, as well." Nethwen reached out and stroked her son's face as she had done when he was small. "Your father loved you very much. Just as I do, even now."
"I know." Thranduil locked his eyes on the frail elf before him. "Did you read where Adar said he will meet us again?" Nethwen nodded. Thranduil's throat tightened as he contemplated the question he did not want to ask. His breath caught. Never before, not in battle or in hunt, had Thranduil felt such fear. She is fading. She will join Adar in death.
"Where will you be when you meet him again, Naneth?" She is fading. She will join Adar in death.
Like clashing swords, the words rang through his head. She is fading. She will join Adar in death.
"Where will you be?" he whispered a second time.
"I am fading, my Little Tree," Nethwen said softly. "I know this. You know this." Thranduil swallowed his protest at the truth that he had wanted desperately to deny. "I must either sail West to be made whole or die as your father did." Nethwen surprised her son with a light laugh. "Oropher would be most upset if I died. He would probably deny me entry into the Halls of Mandos, if I know him."
Thranduil's felt his eyes sting. Sitting before him, Nethwen shimmered like a reflection in a pond. "You will sail West?" he whispered.
"I will sail. I have waited in order to help you become the king you must become. And for you to realize that I must go. You have done both now. I am free to leave. I will wait for your father and you in Aman." Tears fell from Thranduil's eyes. Angrily, he reached to wipe them away, but Nethwen caught his hand and lowered it to her lap. "No tears are shameful," she admonished gently.
"For they are how the heart speaks," he said finishing the adage his beloved mother had taught him when he was a child.
Preparations for Nethwen's departure were completed by the next full moon. She would travel in safety with others from the Greenwood who sought comfort in the lands beyond the sea. During the preparation time, gifts had been given; songs had been sung; tears had been shed. All that remained were the final farewells between those who must go and those who chose to stay.
Thranduil and Meril watched as the travelers prepared their horses for departure. Meril glanced at her husband and squeezed his arm in silent support. A silent word of gratitude passed from the king and to his queen. Then Thranduil walked to where his mother waited to mount her horse. "I should travel with you. At least as far as the forest's edge," he began.
"Nay, it is not necessary. Do you not trust your warriors to keep me safe?" Nethwen teased. She continued more solemnly. "If you came, my son, it would not ease the pain of our separation. I would rather our parting took place here, among the trees where I raised you. Here, where you belong. This is the memory of you I wish to take with me." Nethwen stood on tiptoe to kiss her son lightly on the cheek. "I will miss you, my son. But we will meet again someday in the West if you wish it."
"If I wish it?" Thranduil repeated questioningly.
"Aye. You are too stubborn not to achieve all that you wish," Nethwen said with an impish smile.
Thranduil laughed loudly startling the elves around them. The king understood his mother's intent. Their last moment together should be a happy one for it would be this last time between them that would be remembered most often. In loving gratitude, Thranduil kissed the dark head below him. Then grasping her waist, Thranduil easily lifted Nethwen and placed her securely on her horse. "I wish that we meet again," he told her.
"Then we shall." Nethwen's voice broke, and she turned away from her son, unable to look at him longer. Thranduil closed his eyes briefly against the pain, patted his mother's hand one last time, then solemnly returned to his wife. With no further words, the departing elves began their long journey westward.
Like the other elves who remained in the Greenwood, Thranduil watched until all were gone from sight. Meril's hand was nestled within his elbow, offering him her quiet strength. Tears streamed down Thranduil's face. Yet this time, the king felt no shame in his display of tears. For this time, the king wished his people to hear what his heart spoke.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.