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The Call Of Duty: Legolas At Erebor: 2. A Gentle-elf And A Scholar
"Beloved books that famous hands have bound, . . .
Great rooms where traveled men and children found
Content or joy; a last inheritor . . ."
W.B. Yeats, from Coole and Ballylee (1931)
Back to normal, Legolas thought, as he readied his inkpot and brushes. It had been three years since Thranduil had assigned him the duty, and the library at Mirkwood was a marvel of organization. Legolas would not have given his father the satisfaction by admitting it, but he had found he actually enjoyed working with books. He had been quite surprised to discover the extent of Thranduil's library, and since he had all the time in the world to complete his task, he had often sat down to read one or another of the ancient scrolls and books he had been appointed to organise. There were treatises on military strategy and history, which he had made good use of, but more important were the many books about the handcrafting of everything from cloth to armor. Clearly, his father had wished to make his realm self-sufficient, with no need to rely on the outside need for dwarvish craftsmen for their necessities.
The true gems of the collection were the oldest scrolls, which the royal family had brought from the west at the founding of the Woodland Realm. Legolas had found them all together in a chest that had probably remained unopened since being carried north at the time Thranduil had delved the palace cave. Some of these were in bad repair, the parchment crumbling and worn, and the ink faded almost to invisibility. Legolas had one on his copy table now -- a map of a land now drowned beneath the sea. Such a thing was of no use save the pure knowledge it preserved, and as a link to the past. At the lower left corner, Legolas could still make out the faint inscription: "I, Oropher of Lindon, drew this map."
Once Legolas had finished copying the map, he intended to place his own name in the lower left corner of the new document, giving credit for the original to his long dead grandsire.
The library was a pleasant place. It was underground to be sure, but a fireplace banished the damp of the cave. A light shaft with a refracting crystal cast illumination during the daylight hours, and wall sconces burned with candles constantly. Legolas had set himself up a work area in an alcove off the main room. It was here that he spent his days and took his meals while he worked. It had become his own place, in the way that the private chamber behind the throne room had become his father's sanctuary.
Thranduil would have preferred the quiet life of a librarian for his son, safe and sound, away from the risk of battle. As much as Legolas loved books and what he could learn from them, he knew this was not to be his fate. Always, since he first came to awareness, there had been a fleeting sense of a greater purpose that would eventually reveal itself. His warrior skills, so single-mindedly honed, had been for that elusive, undefined goal rather than a love for blood and killing. His need to serve, in whatever capacity, had been for that same end. But for now, he was content to sit and copy maps, and perhaps this patience had been what Thranduil had meant to teach him.
Legolas dipped his brush and began to copy the geographical features and cirth runes from the original map to his own. He took especial pains to be careful and precise this day, for he felt unusually tired and he knew his control was not at its best. For the past few days, ever since the dwarves had been brought into the palace, he had been sleeping with his eyes open, an unusual thing for the security of his own bedchamber, and his dreams and sleep visions had been troubled.
Without turning his head, he heard muffled footsteps on the carpet behind him and felt the air move.
"Your noon meal, my lord." A footman set a tray of bread, fruit, and herbal tea at his elbow. Legolas thanked him and began to nibble absentmindedly on the crust of bread while he worked.
He had reached a point where the original map was so badly worn that he was unsure of how to proceed. Fortunately, he recalled another map of the area that might provide a clue. He rose from his drawing table and left the alcove, going to a spot on the shelves where the maps were kept, thanks to him, in good order. He refreshed his memory - the area in question proved to be a bend in a river detouring around a mountain - and returned the map to the shelf. As he did so, Legolas felt a chill in the air, and the back of his neck prickled as if he were being watched.
He whirled to see an empty room. He listened carefully, but heard nothing other than the usual background noises of an echoing cave filled with hundreds of elves. The air, however, held just the slightest scent of pipeweed. Legolas wondered if the footman had been at the dwarves' supply and carried the smell of it in on his clothing. If so, he found it strange that he had not noticed it immediately.
He shrugged the feeling off and returned to his drawing table. The tea remained untouched, just as he had left it, but the crust of bread had disappeared entirely and one of the pieces of fruit was missing. Legolas knew for a certainty that he had not eaten any of the fruit. He strode to the doorway and looked up and down the empty corridor. Enough was enough. He abandoned his work for the day and went outside for a breath of fresh air and a long walk. He finished out the afternoon by staring down into the waters of the Forest River as they rushed beneath the stone bridge. He could not explain his reluctance to re-enter the palace, but the waking trance he fell into while watching the red and gold leaves flow past on the current proved to be more restful than the fitful sleep he got that night in his own bed.
The following week, the dwarves were gone, disappearing mysteriously from their locked cells overnight. This caused great consternation at first, for the only set of keys had been in the possession of Heledir, the guard captain. The raft elves brought the news back several days later that Thorin and his dwarves, along with a strange furry-footed companion who called himself a hobbit, had reached Esgaroth and were being feted by the townsfolk as the returned kings under the mountain. This happened about the same time that Thranduil finally ferreted out the story about an incident concerning Heledir, the butler Galion, and a large flask of Dorwinion wine.
Legolas would have been silently gratified at the disgrace of Heledir, the tattler tattled upon, had he not felt sympathy for Galion and a fair amount of worry for himself, since he had been the one to bring the dwarves in, with no detection of any silent, furry footed companion along with them. He stuck to his library and avoided his father's quite understandable bad temper.
So, it was with trepidation that he answered his father's summons a day later. He found Thranduil in his private chamber, seated not at his desk, but at his gaming table, with the pieces laid out ready for an Easterling game of battle strategy.
"Come in, Legolas. Have a seat and indulge your ada in a game." Thranduil's affable manner served only to make Legolas more wary.
Thranduil held out two closed fists and Legolas pointed at the left. Thranduil opened out his palm to reveal a tiny soldier piece carved out of black wood. Having chosen the black, Legolas would go second. Thranduil reversed the board and moved one of his own little ivory soldiers out two spaces. "I suppose you have heard that I have removed Heledir from his post."
Legolas grunted noncommittally and moved his own black pawn out a space.
"I am most disappointed about what happened recently," Thranduil continued. "The security in and around the palace has become far too lax, and there will have to be some changes made."
Legolas bit down on his tongue to keep the 'I told you so' from escaping. He merely nodded in agreement as he countered his father's second move.
The way was now cleared for the piece directly to the right of Thranduil's king to move out along the diagonal. "I do not know what the Easterlings call these pieces, " Thranduil said, "but I like to call them the wizards. They are so much more mobile and deadly than the king." He paused, as if considering his next move. "I am thinking of placing you in charge of the palace guard, Legolas."
Legolas looked at his father in surprise.
"Magorion concurs with me fully, "Thranduil said. "The library is well organized. I am sure you can work the same wonders with the guard. And I will still have the pleasure of your company here at home. But first, I have a small favor I wish you to perform for me. If your are willing, that is."
Legolas moved out one of his horsemen to threaten the wizard. "What would you have me do, Father?"
"Something that requires stealth. If I might say so, you have shown a great talent, nay, a genius, for stealth. I am told that Thorin and his party plan to travel up the river to Erebor within the week. I want you to go to within sight of the western slope of the mountain and report back to me whatever happens." Thranduil moved out his other wizard, leaving his queen in jeopardy.
"You wish to send me to Erebor?" Legolas asked in disbelief.
Thranduil nodded. "I have sent out many scouts to Esgaroth and farther north, but most of them seem strangely protective of their immortal lives. I have told them to go as close as they dare, but it will not be close enough. It would require someone insane . . . nay, let me rephrase that, courageous enough to have crept within the very sight of Dol Guldur without being detected. So naturally I thought of you."
Legolas sighed. "Am I never to live that down? Why are you suddenly willing to send me into a hazardous situation?"
"I have always trusted your courage, Legolas," Thranduil said. "It was your judgment that gave me pause. This needs to be done, and you are willing and able to do it. I also trust you not to go any closer to that dragon than you need to. You and I have both seen Smaug up close, and I do not need to tell you what he can do."
Legolas shuddered. It had been centuries, but he still could recall the feel of a great claw pressing into the back of his neck. "I will go no closer to that accursed mountain than I need to. That you can believe." With the way clear, he advanced one of his corner pieces, a mumak. This piece moved straight along the rows of squares, and it depicted a strange beast with a tiny house upon its back, filled with tiny men. This always amused Legolas no end, for surely no animal could be as large as the fanciful Easterlings had carved it.
"Good," Thranduil said. "No heroics. If Smaug means to kill those dwarves, which I am certain he will, there will be nothing you can do to stop him. Just keep to the western foothills and bring us a warning if anything happens."
"When do you want me to leave?"
"Right away. We can finish this game when you return." He looked down at the game board. "Oh dear, you seem to have my queen under some concerted attack. I shall have to think long and hard to find my way out of this."
Legolas laughed. "The queen is even more deadly and mobile than the wizards. How unlike real life."
Thranduil made a wry face and chuckled knowingly. "Spoken like one who has never been married, my son."
* * * * * * *
To be continued . . .
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