10. Of Places Left Behind
** Denotes flashbacks
They buried him beneath the apple tree.
It was all that Langcyll could do not to sob with despair himself at the sight of his warriors’ grief. *Curse the Valar! How could these foul beasts of Sauron have claimed one of the youngest of our number?! How vicious is fate!*
After the battle, Langcyll had returned from chasing down and shooting the last remaining orcs to find all the other warriors crowded around the apple tree, and the sound of their desperate weeping that could mean only one thing. Frantic with horror, the company’s captain had rushed through them, to find Legolas kneeling beside Tathar’s body, and Tuilinn clutching the base of the tree, sobbing helplessly, oblivious to the arrow in her side.
For several moments, Langcyll had been unable to move or think, so shocked and grieved was he. He had also forgotten to breathe, and it was only when his body forced him to take a gulp of air that he remembered who he was. And what he must do. He had set some of the warriors on watch, ordered others to care for the wounded, and they had done so, but still they wept. Langcyll himself had gone to Legolas.
The warrior captain of Mirkwood had known, even as he shook Legolas out of his stupor and then dragged him out of the distraught anguish that inevitably followed, that there was nothing he could do to ease this moment for the youngest of his warriors. *His best and oldest friend.* Langcyll cursed fate again. The young elf had learned of the reality of death among warriors when Gaerongil had been slain, but to lose one of his own companions, and his dearest friend, so soon--now, as then, Langcyll feared for Legolas. For an elf, physical wounds were not the only mortal blow.
The last of the earth had been placed back over the grave, and a stone bearing Tathar’s name (Gwilwileth and Glanaur had spent six hours carving it.) Tuilinn, trying valiantly but unsuccessfully to contain her sobs, had laid a branch of apple blossoms before the stone. The warriors had prayed and sung laments for the brave young warrior who had proven himself with such promise, and perished so early. But now the courage and merriment of his youth would live forever.
Legolas did not sing. Langcyll was not surprised; the friendship between the two had been so great that it would be a very long time before Legolas could sing, speak, or even think of it without being overcome by grief. As it was, Legolas stood completely motionless beside the tree where Tathar was buried. Throughout their funeral, he had looked nowhere except down. He did weep aloud like many of the others, but tears streamed continuously down his face. Since the previous night, between preparing for the funeral and watching for orcs, Langcyll had kept an eye on Legolas as often as he could, and from what he had seen and the others had said--in the past sixteen hours, Legolas had not stopped crying.
But now the burial was done, and the company had to press on. “Ready the horses,” Langcyll told his warriors quietly. “We must ride for Imladris.”
Wiping tears from their eyes and forcing their grief back down, the war party did as he had bidden. Not surprisingly, Legolas tarried beside Tathar’s grave, and Langcyll left him alone for a few moments. But when the horses were nearly ready, he turned back in time to see Legolas kneel and push something into the soft earth beneath the apple blossoms. Langcyll caught a glint of silver. With a deep, shuddering breath, the prince of Mirkwood rose, and seeing Langcyll watching him, came to join the others. Langcyll put a hand on the young elf’s arm as he passed, and Legolas looked at him. The prince’s dark grey eyes were so clouded by bewilderment and pain that it all but broke the captain’s heart. In a quiet voice, Legolas said, “He was nobler than I shall ever be.”
Langcyll watched him closely as Legolas finished packing Lanthir, then abruptly turned to Sadron. Tathar’s mount hung his head, knowing in the mysterious way of elven horses that his rider would never return. Stroking Sadron’s neck, Legolas slipped the lead from him. “Farewell, Faithful One. Return to us when you are ready, and roam free until then. See the world as he was not able to.” He let go, and Sadron galloped away down the mountainside.
“It is time, Legolas,” Langcyll said.
With an absent nod, Legolas mounted Lanthir and joined the company. None of the other warriors had noticed the missing crown of Mirkwood. Langcyll doubted he himself would have noticed, had he not seen what Legolas had done with it. But he had no intention of mentioning it now. Or ever. *By the sixth week of our journey, only Tathar still called him “my lord.” Even when we return to Mirkwood, though I may dare the king’s displeasure, I shall never address him so again. Only Tathar had that right.*
Riding to the front of the formation, Langcyll raised his hand and gave the order to move out. Thirty-six hours after riding into this sunlit glade that had brought them such joy on its discovery, the war party of Mirkwood rode forth from it, having found there only death and grief.
Legolas allowed Lanthir to follow the other horses and twisted around on his mount’s back, staring at the flowering apple tree, and the grave beneath it, until they were lost from view when the party rounded a bend. Turning forward again, he felt fresh new tears sliding down his face. Since the previous night, he did not think he had managed to stop weeping for more than five minutes at any given time.
*How could he leave me? Would that I had died myself rather than be forced to journey on without him! I cannot go on without him!* Outwardly, Legolas was expressionless other than the telltale tear streaks, but inside raged a frenzied tempest of grief, anger, hopelessness. Never in his existence, long to men but short by elven standards, had Legolas felt so utterly lost.
Langcyll had told him the night before, even as he clung hysterically to Tathar, that he still owed his allegiance to the company. “We must move on and reach Rivendell,” the captain had said as Legolas wept. “Then there will be time. Now, your companions need you. When we are safely in Imladris, you must give yourself time.”
*Time for what, without Tathar?* Legolas thought numbly. Somehow, that black night, he had risen and gone to help his wounded--but still living--comrades. Somehow, he had managed to carry on, for their sake, because he did not wish for them to lose hope. *For myself, if there is any hope, then I cannot see it.*
The party rode very hard on that last leg of the journey to Rivendell, and encountered wargs thrice and orcs six times during those three weeks. There were more wounds, but no deaths, and one might almost pity any orc that happened into the company’s path, so fiercely did they fight under the new banner of vengeance. During the first skirmish with a small party of orcs, nine days after the battle by the apple tree, Legolas fought the creatures of Mordor with a savagery that was frightening to watch, and killed seven of the ten himself. He might well have raced off looking for more had one of his comrades not seized him.
On the night following the ninth battle after Tathar of Mirkwood’s death, the war party of Langcyll were met by a patrol of elves scouting the lands of Imladris. They were escorted by the Imladris warriors back to Rivendell, and many of the company wept at the sight of its handsome dwellings. Two years was not a terribly long time by elven standards, but the last three weeks had seemed far too long to bear, with every second a stab of grief. Elves, being immortal, place a very great value upon all life, but like all races, the lives of the young of their own are the most precious, for they have not yet had the chance to see and explore the world. A death like Tathar’s was an unimaginable tragedy.
Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Lord Elrond of Imladris, happened to be on the outskirts of Imladris on the day that the war party of Langcyll arrived. From where they stood speaking to the sentries about some other matter altogether, Elladan glanced out down the road. “A party of horses comes,” he remarked, seeing no reason for alarm, as they came openly.
“One of our patrols?” Elrohir asked, and he and the sentry leaned out of the pavilion to look.
“Nay, it is too large. Perhaps a war party,” the sentry said. “There! The flag of Thranduil of Mirkwood. And many wood elves. It is the war party of Langcyll.”
“They are very late,” Elladan said grimly. “I fear they shall have much news for us, and most of it ill. Nor shall we have good tidings for them of the past two years.”
Elrohir did not speak. He was counting the riders. “They come with our patrol of six riders. Do you remember, how many were there to be in Langcyll’s company, brother?”
“Fifteen,” Elladan frowned. “How many warriors of Mirkwood do you see?”
With a terrible expression, Elrohir leaned back into the pavilion and turned to face his brother. “Only fourteen. And the faces of all are shadowed with sorrow. One of the warriors of Mirkwood is fallen.”
It was not a great surprise; one had to be prepared for large mountain parties to lose warriors. But the news was always grievous nonetheless. Tense in anticipation of the grief they would feel on hearing the name of the elf lost, the sons of Elrond rode to meet the party of Langcyll.
Langcyll rode up in front of the company, beside the lead patrolman of Imladris. “Welcome, Langcyll of Mirkwood,” Elladan said, forcing some semblance of cheer into his voice.
“Well met, Elladan of Imladris,” the warrior captain replied.
“I have sent my brother to inform our father Lord Elrond that you are come,” Elladan said, delaying the inevitable bad news. “I assume you shall wish to see him right away?”
“I fear I must, my lord,” Langcyll said sadly. “We bear ill news from the mountains. And we must also beg that a messenger be sent to bring sad tidings to Mirkwood.” Elladan held his breath, as Langcyll went on, “Three weeks ago, Tathar, son of Alagos, was slain in battle. His people must be told.”
Tathar…the name struck Elladan’s memory, and he wanted to weep. *Barely two years since the Great Gathering, and already two of the Trial delegates have perished. What cruel times we live in!* Aloud, he said quietly, “I am grieved indeed, my friend. Tathar was one of the champions of Mirkwood, was he not?”
Langcyll nodded. *And there is another of Faron’s friends, slain. Gaerongil’s death nearly destroyed him, and still he grieves. I dread his reaction to these ill tidings,* thought Elladan. He sent one of the patrol riders to bear the message back to Rivendell ahead of the party, so the house of Elrond and all Rivendell might be set into mourning as was proper for the death of any elven warrior. And Elladan himself rode at Langcyll’s side into Imladris.
Lord Elrond was deeply sorrowed when his son Elrohir arrived to tell him that the war party of Mirkwood had arrived, many months later than expected--and that one of its youngest warriors had been slain. The Lord of Imladris swiftly ordered that the news be sent at once to all Rivendell, and long before the party arrived, tears and grief upon many faces showed that all had heard of the disaster.
*It seems there is no good news to be had anywhere,* Elrond thought, wearily leaving the room where he had discovered Arwen weeping upon a couch. *The shadow over Mirkwood grows darker by the day, and Thranduil cannot be reasoned with on any subject anymore. Two warriors of this generation slain within two years of each other, and foul creatures plague every road and hill. Even the power of the elves seems helpless against this onslaught of darkness.*
Elrond waited by the window until he saw the flags of Mirkwood and Imladris rounding the last bend into Rivendell. Tapping gently on the doorway of the room he had just left, he said softly, “The party of Langcyll is arriving, Arwen. Your presence is needed.”
Raising her face from the cushion, Arwen nodded, drying her tears, and rose. Elrohir, his eyes also red, came to join them and took his younger sister’s arm. “Prince Legolas is among the company,” Elrohir told her softly.
Arwen nodded, blotting at her face with a handkerchief, “I recall having heard that he had joined the party. It did not surprise me; Legolas and Tathar were seldom far apar--” she was forced to cease and pressed the handkerchief to her face, closing her eyes. At last, she took a deep breath, regaining control. “How grieved he must be.” She sighed deeply again and straightened her shoulders, “So we must not burden him with our own sorrow as well. He bears enough.”
Elrohir and Arwen followed Lord Elrond out onto the steps of the house, to greet the riders as they dismounted. Langcyll came up beside Elladan. “Welcome, Langcyll of Mirkwood,” Elrond said. As he exchanged pleasantries with the group, his eyes were drawn unavoidably to the fair-haired prince in the midst of the warriors, and he felt a renewed sorrow. Legolas looked very pale, and his face was deeply shadowed with grief and exhaustion. The tragedy of Tathar’s death had taken a deep toll.
Returning his attention to the warrior captain, Elrond went on, “You have had a long and wearying journey. Your party shall rest here for some weeks, then our warriors of Imladris will join you for the drive south to Lórien. But first, we must all take the time to assuage our grief for the fallen Tathar of Mirkwood. Come,” he led the way back into the house. “Your chambers are being made ready.”
Later that afternoon, Elrond had the opportunity to speak to Langcyll alone. “How badly has your party been affected?”
The stoic archer always seemed in firm control, but Elrond could see past the stern exterior to the deep grief within. “Most of my warriors have faced the death of one of their own before. We have all lost friends.” Langcyll broke off and gazed out the window. “All, save Legolas. Gaerongil was a fellow archer and friend, but Tathar…” shaking his head, the captain turned to Elrond with a bleak expression. “I am worried. He has been listless for the past three weeks, unless we are battling orcs, in which case he turns into a possessed madman the minute he sees one of those foul beasts. He does not eat or sleep unless I order him to do so. Now here, I fear he shall neglect himself further where I cannot keep watch on him. Never have I lost one of my warriors to grief, and I do not wish Legolas to be the first.”
Elrond looked away from the other’s anxious face, troubled still more. Glorfindel had feared the same thing, rightly so, after Gaerongil’s death; Faron, too, had nearly perished from grief. “These are black times, my friend, that our youngest warriors should lose their dearest friends so early. But we in Imladris were able to pull Faron through his sorrow. We must do the same for Legolas. For now, give him some time to overcome his grief on his own. Then, if he does not improve, we shall endeavor to aid him.”
Two weeks later…
The object of Elrond and Langcyll’s concern stood alone on the balcony of his chamber, overlooking a waterfall. He no longer cried uncontrollably, but whenever he managed to escape the company of other elves, tears still fell just as easily and helplessly as they had the day Tathar had been buried.
The journey to Rivendell had been worse than Legolas had ever imagined, and the time since their arrival had shown no improvement. Every breath was an effort in itself, every moment of the ride, he imagined he could hear Sadron galloping just beside him, and see Tathar’s dark head in the corner of his eye. Every night, he lay down beneath his blankets and wept silently, unable to sleep for the lack of the one who had spread his own blankets next to Legolas for the past two years, and trained by his side for centuries before. There no longer remained even the tiniest detail of life that held any joy for Legolas.
Two weeks had passed since the company’s arrival in Rivendell, and Legolas only showed himself when his presence was ordered by Langcyll. But the archer captain of Mirkwood had much to deal with now that they had arrived in Mirkwood, and Legolas knew Langcyll could not spend his time watching over an overwrought warrior. For which Legolas was very thankful, otherwise Langcyll would surely hound him endlessly. So Legolas was able to hide himself from the others, unable to face his own feelings, let alone them. He had little interest in sleep, and still less in food. He remained inside most of the time, but this afternoon, he had walked out onto the balcony to escape the laughter of some elven children passing the chamber, but now his gaze was drawn across the river to a large apple tree, its branches laden with tiny new fruit. Legolas retreated and drew the curtains, so painful was the sight.
A knock upon the door made him jump. It was Elrohir and Elladan, bearing a bottle of wine. “Well, Legolas, two years have told on you. We have not yet had the chance to talk. Shall we now?”
Unable to think of an excuse, Legolas nodded, and let them in, reopening the curtains. Very little moved him to words these days. He supposed he must learn how to speak again sooner or later. The trio sat upon the chairs of the balcony and Legolas accepted a goblet from Elrohir, avoiding their faces. Sipping the wine gave him the excuse not to speak. “Much has happened since we last met,” Elladan remarked quietly.
Legolas found that his voice failed him on the first try, but he managed to respond at last, “Yes, it has.” Not the wittiest thing he had ever said, but he cared not.
“Our warriors too encountered the creatures of Mordor in far greater numbers than anticipated. They have infested all the mountains, and the southern regions of Mirkwood, we are told.” Elrohir paused, apparently expecting a response, but Legolas simply nodded. The older elf said slowly, “We are very sorry for the death of Tathar, Legolas. I know the wound is fresh yet, but it must be said.”
Legolas looked frantically away, unwilling to share such thoughts with anyone. He could not even bare to think of it himself, and blood began roaring in his ears. “Forgive me,” he said weakly. “I cannot…” His throat closed, cutting off his voice again.
Hastily, Elladan reached past Elrohir and took Legolas’s glass and refilled it, handing it back to him. Legolas took a rather large gulp and after a moment, he could hear the waterfall again. With an effort, he was able to look back at them. Elrohir mercifully did not pursue the subject, “Ah…Arwen is only just returned from Lórien. Fortunately, the beasts of Mordor have yet to penetrate Lady Galadriel’s land.”
The weight of many sleepless days and nights was beginning to grow greater upon Legolas, and he found it difficult to concentrate. He answered wearily, “I am glad of that.”
“After all,” Elladan added, “we cannot believe that the shadow of Sauron has overpowered the strength of the elves while Lothlórien remains free of it. Our Lady’s power still holds sway, so we need not despair.”
Legolas’s head felt heavy, and the drowsiness was really becoming too much. A soft blackness was creeping onto the edges of his vision. Faintly, he replied, “I suppose…it must be true. As long as the Golden Wood still lives free…we must not…abandon hope…” The dark cloud rose up and wrapped itself around him, and he knew nothing more.
Legolas was not the only elf with mischievous elder siblings. Arwen happened to be in the hall when she saw her brothers coming from the direction of the chamber where the prince was staying. Both hesitated upon seeing her, and she paused herself. Staring at them, Arwen said, “I fear for all concerned when I see the two of you looking so pleased with yourselves. What are you up to?”
The twins exchanged a glance, not smiling, but it was still enough for Arwen to place her hands upon her hips and glare at them. “Where is Legolas?” she asked, noting the room they had just come from.
With the faintest of smiles, Elladan replied innocently, “He is asleep.”
Seeing the nearly empty bottle of wine in Elrohir’s hand, Arwen took two outraged steps forward and hissed, “You did NOT get him drunk!”
With a wounded expression, Elrohir said softly, “Sister, have you no faith in our subtlety? Langcyll told Father that Legolas has scarcely slept or eaten since…” he cocked his head slightly, then pushed ruthlessly past the painful subject. “His heart will not be well if his body is not,” he went on, speaking quickly. “Father thought it would be…for the best if Legolas did not weary himself further.” From his pocket, he displayed a small handful of dried herb that crumbled easily in his fingers.
“Olgalas,” Arwen said. Then she folded her arms and asked skeptically, “Father told you to drug the prince of Mirkwood?”
The twins exchanged glances again, and this time, they smiled. With a shrug, Elladan said, “Perhaps not in so many words.”
With a disgusted shake of her head, Arwen walked past them. Passing Legolas’s room, she opened his door a crack and peered in to see that he was indeed sound asleep in his bed, so deeply that his eyes were nearly closed. She shut the door and continued on her way, thinking perhaps a pinch of olgalas in his wine was an easier way to get Legolas to rest. Though, she assured herself, she would never encourage her brothers by saying such a thing.
The following morning, Legolas could not recall the remainder of his conversation with Elladan and Elrohir--nor could he recall having gone to bed--but he was too distracted to care. Still, having slept so deeply, he felt more alert than he had in the past few weeks, and for the first time, hunger was making itself hard for him to ignore.
Shortly after he rose, he heard a knock upon his door. It was Elunen. “Legolas, we are to join the warriors of Imladris to discuss the journey, and our encounters with the orcs.”
Legolas nodded. He followed Elunen to the porch where Lord Elrond was holding council with the other warriors of Mirkwood and Imladris. There he met the rest of his company--it had been the first time in two years that he had gone more than an hour or two without seeing them--and many warriors of Imladris, most of whom Legolas knew, at least by reputation. But one drew his attention immediately, for they both entered the porch where the council was to be held at the same time, from opposite sides.
It was Faron, the champion archer of Imladris, who had placed third in the Great Gathering Trial. When they first came upon each other, their initial reaction was pleasure, and they hurried forward to meet. Then, Legolas absently glanced about for the other warrior who had always appeared at Faron’s side: Gaerongil. And then he remembered. At the same time, he caught Faron glancing about, seeking the friend he was used to seeing beside Legolas. When their gazes met again, both knew that their worlds had changed forever.
But the Council was to convene, and there was no time for grief now. Legolas and Faron settled for gripping each other’s arms tightly in their mutual loss, and they went to sit with their comrades.
“Within a week of departing Mirkwood, we encountered a party of orcs,” Langcyll told the Council. “Not moving towards Mirkwood but rather coming from it.” A murmur went through the Imladris side of the Council at this news, and Langcyll went on, “I believed then that our patrols and hunts within Mirkwood would be successful, and that we might purge our lands of their filth entirely. But none had anticipated how strong a foothold the foul creatures of Mordor had gained in the mountains. Not since the Second Age have I encountered so many in such a short span of time.”
The warriors of Imladris had only more of the same to report. And none, not even Elrond, could offer an explanation this rising darkness. But his time and conversations with the longer-lived of the company had taught Legolas much in the past two years. And perhaps it was these discussions that lessened his usual timidity in such company, or perhaps the pain of the past weeks drove him to frankness.
Every elf in the Council fell quiet and stared at Legolas, but he disregarded their trepidation. He spoke quietly, but what he suspected had to be said, and he no longer cared to mince words. He had seen too much in the mountains for such a simple thing as speech to hold any fear for him.
He went on, “We have known for many centuries that it was the spirit of Sauron that prevented men and elves from destroying the orcs once and for all. Had he been completely destroyed, the orcs would have died out entirely. But they did not, and the survival of the Ring of Power proved that the spirit of the Dark Lord endured. Nearly three thousand years have passed, and a shadow grows over my father’s realm greater than the power of the elves--or we should have dispelled it long ago. And with it, the orcs and spiders also multiply.” Gazing somewhat impatiently at the others, he said forcefully, “There can be only one explanation. It does no good to evade it.”
Slowly, Lord Elrond nodded. “I fear you are right, son of Thranduil. Mithrandir said as much during the Council of Realms two years ago.”
The prince of Mirkwood’s bluntness seemed to have loosened the nervous tongues of the other elves. Glorfindel of Imladris said, “But from whence, then, does the spirit of the enemy draw its power?”
“I know not,” Elrond said grimly. “For all we can learn, the enemy must have the power of the ring to recover his full strength. But his strength grows.”
“But the One Ring is lost to all, including Sauron,” Langcyll said.
“Is it?” At Elrond’s quiet question, none in the Council seemed to draw breath. The lord of Imladris went on, “If the whereabouts of the One Ring remain unknown to the elves, how can we be sure that it is unknown to all?”
Legolas began to think that frank words were not so useful after all. For what Lord Elrond said frightened him as well as all the others in the Council.
After the Council, the warriors were invited to the noon meal with Lord Elrond and the other elves of Imladris. Legolas had begged off nearly every meal during the past two weeks, but now he seemed in a hurry to see Faron. Langcyll and Lord Elrond watched discreetly as the two young warriors met and entered the hall together.
Elladan and Elrohir were sitting at the far end of the room at a smaller table with Arwen, and no sooner had Legolas and Faron entered than Elrond’s sons called on them to join that table. Legolas turned questioningly to Langcyll, who gestured briskly for him to join his friends. “Perhaps things shall begin to improve now,” he murmured to Elrond.
For the sake of all concerned, Elrond shared Langcyll’s hope. Faron and Legolas sat side by side at the table and were soon in conversation with Elrond’s children. The two young warriors smiled and spoke with friendliness to the others, but the shadow of grief still darkened their faces. For a moment, Elrond was struck with a painful memory of the shenanigans of five friends…
“You sing like a lovesick dwarf, Gaerongil!”
“This coming from one who has the voice of a cave troll? My singing is far superior to yours, Candrochon!”
“Untrue, my voice has been complimented by many a maiden!”
“Of what species?”
“Why you great--”
“Oh, cease this, you both sing equally ill!”
“You could not hold a note in a bucket, Tathar, and I do not recall asking for you opinion!”
“I agree with Tathar, both of your voices would frighten a spider away!”
“Hah! And will His Royal Fastidiousness deign to grace us with a demonstration of his own talents?”
“I shall not lower myself to such immature behavior, Gaerongil of the Goblins, but you are welcome to try!”
“‘The road goes ever on and on--’”
“‘An Elven-maid there was of old--’”
“‘Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear--’”
“Ai, how that orc chorus grates upon my ears.”
“Peace, Limloeth, I think I must declare Candrochon the winner.”
*Five inseparable friends there were, that day we left the Great Gathering in Mirkwood,* Elrond thought, his heart twisting with grief. *Now two are gone. So young. And the ones who remain shall never be young again.*
Legolas knew all was not well when he asked his friends for news of Mirkwood. The way that they stiffened and avoided his eyes told him that what tidings they had were ill. Absently, he accepted the slice of bread Elladan handed him and ate to ease his anxiety while Faron spoke, not noticing that one of his tablemates pressed more food into his hand every time he swallowed.
“I am sorry you must hear this from us, Legolas,” Faron said.
“I cannot avoid hearing tidings of my father forever, even if they are ill. Speak, Faron,” Legolas said.
With a sigh, Faron told him, “After the departure of the first war parties, a party of healers arrived here from Mirkwood to study with Lord Elrond. The Crown Princess Eirien was among them. I heard from them that you had gone without permission…and King Thranduil had taken your departure very badly.”
Faron wavered, and Legolas suddenly found it difficult to swallow. Taking a hasty sip of wine to loosen the knot in his throat, he said softly, “Go on.”
Faron went on, “They said that the King had moved from his regular tree chambers into the deep ones within the caves in the hillside, and that he moved his throne to the great stone hall under the hill. Other than to lead hunting parties, I have heard since that he rarely goes out into the trees at all.”
Nothing could dispel the dismay Legolas felt at this news, and he could not speak for several moments. Legolas and all his siblings had disliked the cave portion of the palace, preferring to live and work in the outer rooms built in the trees. Some of the elder warriors in Mirkwood could remember the days when King Thranduil had built the caverns in the northern mountainside as a secure fortress against an attack from Dol Guldur, but Lórien-bred Queen Minuial had so disliked being underground that all additions to the palace were built outward. At her insistence, the King and Queen of Mirkwood had lived exclusively in the outer rooms, using the cave only for store rooms and a place of potential retreat.
Legolas had inherited his mother’s opinion of caves. He suppressed a shudder and looked at his friends’ eyes. “There is more,” he observed.
This time, it was Arwen who spoke. “Early last autumn, there was an…incident…in Mirkwood that caused the other elven lords great worry. A party of thirteen dwarves had passed through Imladris some months before the Great Gathering and stayed at my father’s house. Mithrandir was with them, along with a very singular hobbit.”
Legolas raised his eyebrows in surprise; he had never seen a hobbit, and they were not known for making journeys away from their western homes. “What could be the purpose of such an odd party?”
“We did not yet know,” Arwen said. “They departed the very next day, to go over the mountains, and we later learned they had been waylaid by many misadventures.”
“Mithrandir, hobbits, and dwarves together; I am not surprised,” Legolas mused, his fascination with such a tale momentarily overcoming the gloom of the past weeks.
“Early last autumn, the company was discovered deep in Mirkwood during the feast time,” Arwen went on.
Legolas blinked. “In Mirkwood?” His insides grew cold when he began to guess what sort of incident might have occurred. *If Father was still in such an embittered state of mind, given the feelings he has always had for the dwarves…such a meeting would not have gone well.* He took a hasty sip of wine.
Arwen read his face like an open book, and nodded in answer to his thoughts. “Mithrandir was no longer with them--and it is a pity, for perhaps his presence could have prevented the…misunderstanding that followed.” Legolas winced involuntarily, but she continued, “The dwarves had had an encounter with spiders to the south of the palace, and…King Thranduil ordered them taken and imprisoned. They…they were put in the dungeons within the caves.”
It was very fortunate that Legolas had swallowed already, or he would have choked. As it was, he was so shocked he could not speak. When he had still been a child, in only his second decade, he and several of his friends had snuck down into the caves in search of the store rooms of treasure that rumors spoke of. Instead, they had gotten lost in the deep passages for many hours, and finally found themselves in the dungeons. They had been well past hysterical terror by the time the king’s searchers found them, and Legolas had had nightmares for weeks.
*How could my father have actually locked someone IN that dreadful place?!*
Finding his voice at last, Legolas asked, “Were they soon released?”
Elladan and Elrohir shook their heads. “They escaped after some time. The hobbit had not been captured along with them and he somehow orchestrated their escape.”
Desperately seeking some rational explanation, Legolas asked, “Even elves who commit great crimes are not imprisoned in the dungeons. There are tree cells for that purpose. What had the dwarves done to enrage my father so?”
Not meeting Legolas’s eyes, Faron said quietly, “King Thranduil…he asked them where they were going. They refused to tell him.”
Legolas stared at him. Rather weakly, he said, “What?”
Nodding to confirm Faron’s words, Elrohir said, “The king wished to know what the purpose of their journey was, that they would dare the perils of Mirkwood. When they would not say, he…confined them to separate cells in the dungeons until one of them chose to tell him.”
“My fa--the king did this?” Legolas felt as though his brain itself had been wrapped up in spider silk. He could not fathom any elf, let alone his father, descending to such cruelty. For several moments, his shock enveloped him like fog, then at last he blinked and saw his companions again. They exchanged glances, and with a sense of utter despair, he realized, “You have still more to impart.”
With a sigh, Faron told him, “It turned out that the dwarves and the hobbit were going to the Lonely Mountain, to slay the dragon Smaug and take his treasure.”
Had Legolas not been so distressed by the earlier news, he would have laughed out loud. As it was, he all but gaped at Faron when he realized the tale of that strange company had not been ended by such folly. “And they are not dead?” he exclaimed.
Faron shook his head, “They succeeded. And the treasure was even greater than the legends told it to be.” Legolas winced on hearing the word “treasure,” for again, he could guess his father’s involvement. “King Thranduil led a large march of elves to the Lonely Mountain, and demanded a share of the treasure with another who claimed to have slain the dragon himself. I know not all the particulars, but the army laid siege to the mountain and the dwarves within.”
It was all Legolas could do not to groan, remembering suddenly his own first encounter with the dwarves…
“Hmph! The crown of Mirkwood. He must be that greedy tyrant Thranduil’s spawn…”
*“Greedy tyrant,” they called him. Rightly so, it would seem. To think that I once feared my father might be disappointed in me.*
Legolas asked reluctantly, “What happened then?” and took a sip of wine, dreading the reply.
“Having immured yourself inside since your arrival, I would not wonder that you had not yet heard of the Battle of the Five Armies, though it is swiftly becoming legend,” Elrohir said.
This time, Legolas did choke. Stifling his coughs, he managed to say, “I have--” but his mind reeled. *I cannot avoid hearing of it, for the elves in Imladris have talked of nothing else since we first met them in the mountains. My father instigated THAT?!* Aloud, he asked in a reasonably level tone, “The king was involved?”
For once, his friends did not seem embarrassed to tell him. Arwen admitted, “Never have I been so relieved to hear that the goblins and wolves had attacked our kindred, for I fear things would have gone ill had they not at last been reminded who their true enemies are. They were at a stalemate that threatened to become a true battle when the creatures of Mordor also came to strike the mountain, and elves, dwarves, and men, for a time at least, fought together. When it was ended, the treasure was shared by many, and men and elves left the mountain to the dwarves again.”
Legolas sighed, “And the king took a share of the wealth as well, I suppose?” The others nodded. *And how many elves of Mirkwood perished in the battle so you could have your trinkets, Father?* he thought, feeling a rush of intense anger. *I am glad to have given Tathar the crown of Mirkwood. He was one who truly deserved to be called noble, while I am truly ashamed to call myself Thranduil’s son.* His rage was so great that for the moment at least, it drowned out all other emotion, and for once he was able to think of Tathar without sorrow.
The dismal lethargy that had followed Tathar’s death had been replaced by a restlessness born of anger. Legolas wandered through Rivendell all afternoon and late into the evening, and still could not slow the rush of ire in his veins. *I am glad we are yet barely halfway through this expedition. I have no desire to return home to face these changes in my father.* He paced fiercely down the path and over a bridge crossing the river, *I must not think that I am somehow to blame for the missteps of the king. Though I may have been sheltered at times--and turned a blind eye at other times--I knew of his love of baubles long before I came of age. The flaws in his character are of his own make, not mine.*
So absorbed was he in these harsh thoughts, that Legolas did not see Langcyll coming and all but blundered into him. But Langcyll did not seem irritated--in fact, he appeared almost relieved by the sight of the fury flashing in the young elf’s dark eyes. Perhaps any emotion other than the bitter hopelessness of recent days was to be welcomed. The captain told him, “Be sure to get some rest tonight, Legolas. The new war parties of Imladris and Mirkwood shall convene tomorrow morning.”
Legolas frowned, “‘Parties?’ I thought we merely intended to form a joint party to ride south.”
Langcyll shook his head. “The events in the mountains, and those in Mirkwood of which you’ve doubtlessly been told,” Legolas nodded, “require that some of our number return to our realm.” He paused, apparently expecting Legolas to say something. When Legolas did not, Langcyll went on, “We gather at dawn. You have tonight, then, to decide whether you wish to continue with the new party or return home.”
As the captain turned to walk away, Legolas considered his two options for a moment. A very short moment. “Langcyll.”
Langcyll turned, and his youngest warrior said evenly, “I will not return to Mirkwood before the mission is done.”
The captain nodded, and walked on, but as he turned back, Legolas saw him smile. *At least I cannot claim that I’ve not known the guidance of elves with integrity. Tuilinn was right. We are fortunate in Langcyll. None more than I.*
With the dawn, many elves of Rivendell were about as the warriors of Imladris and Mirkwood gathered to ride. Lord Elrond, his daughter Arwen beside him, bade an anxious farewell to his sons Elladan and Elrohir, who had chosen to travel with the warriors of Mirkwood. Also among the warriors of Imladris was Faron.
The new war party had been formed, smaller than the one that had left Mirkwood. From Imladris, Faron, Elladan, Elrohir, and Glorfindel were joining the mission south through the mountains towards Moria. From the original Mirkwood party, Langcyll, Legolas, Elunen, Glanaur, Galithil, Nathron, and Fanfirith would continue the journey. The seven remaining warriors of Mirkwood would ride back across the mountains to Mirkwood.
Elrond stood upon the porch of the Last Homely House and listened to the talk of the warriors. Legolas seemed over the worst of the grief for his friend Tathar--or at least, the grief was no longer life-threatening. But he was upset for another reason now, and arguing vigorously with Tuilinn, one of the young warriors of Mirkwood, who had elected to return home.
“We should not be separated now after all this!” the young prince was pleading with his friend to change her mind.
The redheaded maiden looked down, “The rest of this journey would be a torment, Legolas. I shall ride again, but not this mission. We each of us face our sorrow in different ways; you with great courage, but I shall find my comfort at home.”
Legolas turned away, looking distressed. “Of them all, you…you understand…”
Tuilinn put her hand on his shoulder, “I did. And I shall miss you as much as I shall miss…in any case, Mirkwood also calls its defenders home. I shall return, defend our realm against the shadow, and seek the solace of the trees.” The warrioress smiled at him, “Do not despair, Legolas, you live and you are young. As am I. We shall ride together again. Come, my dear friend, let us not have a bitter parting.”
The warriors were being ordered to mount up, and Legolas and Tuilinn swiftly embraced. Sad farewells also followed between the other warriors of Mirkwood who would be returning to their realm. All too soon, it seemed to Elrond, the command to ride was given, and the two parties set off down the road, his sons among them.
*Suddenly I understand all too well Thranduil’s behavior, though I may have thought it irrational at the time. For I too am without a wife, with only my children to give me hope for the future. Fifteen rode from Mirkwood, and already one of their youngest shall never return home. Would that I had been able to find a reason to prevent Elladan and Elrohir from departing. May the Valar protect all our children during these perilous times*
The parties divided in the Misty Mountains; seven warriors continuing east for Mirkwood, and ten turning south, toward the ancient dwarf realm of Moria. Legolas found himself looking back in the directions his companions had gone. How strange this party felt now, without Gwilwileth’s advice, Fandoll’s observations on their surroundings, and Tuilinn’s laughter, not that she had laughed at all since Tath--he forced his mind from the knowledge that life would forever be strange without the presence by his side of the one who would never return.
He sighed; it had been inevitable that the company should eventually be separated, but it sorrowed him nonetheless. On the other hand, he had been reunited with many old friends. Glorfindel rode beside Langcyll at the front of the company, Elladan and Elrohir were riding side-by-side (as always) just behind, and Faron’s horse had fallen in next to Legolas.
Neither of them spoke. During the last few days of the stay in Imladris, Legolas had found sufficient news to distract him from the thoughts of Tath--from unpleasant thoughts. But now as the company began the first of many days and nights of long, quiet riding, the pain that he had forced into the deepest corners of his mind threatened to surge forth again and overwhelm him. *I must not think of it I must not think of it I must not think of it I must not--*
“So we are off,” Faron said quietly. Feeling an explosive surge of relief, Legolas nodded. The silence grew heavy with the weight of the subject that both of them found too painful to speak of. “How did you like Rivendell?” his friend blurted.
“Very well,” Legolas said quickly, eager to veer into any other topic of discussion. “I’ve heard much about it, but never seen it before now. I see now why men call it the paradise village. There is no shadow there, nor do I think there ever could be.”
Faron nodded, then there was more silence. The Imladris warrior said desperately, “Have you met any dwarves yet? I know there were not as many to the east of Mirkwood when you passed from its borders, but there are many now.”
“Just a few days out of Mirkwood, we met a small dwarf party. I found them…disagreeable.”
Faron laughed weakly. “So did I when I first encountered them. But the party that came through Rivendell before the Gathering rather changed my opinion, or perhaps they were simply a rarity.”
“I should think so, if Mithrandir and an adventurous hobbit were traveling with them,” Legolas knew they were both babbling, but he cared not. Any distraction was welcome. “After all, ‘adventurous hobbit’ is practically like a contradiction in terms--”
“Any sensible orc will hole himself up in a cave until warmer weather.”
“‘Sensible orc’ is a contradiction in terms, Tathar!”
Legolas jumped and saw Faron looking apprehensively at him. He had no idea what he had been saying. “I…”
“You were saying that the dwarves in that party most likely were unusual, traveling with Mithrandir and a hobbit, and now that you mention it, I believe you are right, for normal dwarves do not welcome the presence of any who might desire a share in their treasure.” Faron said all of this very fast.
As darkness descended (the party was still too close to Imladris for an effective orc hunt) the company made camp. Legolas tossed down his bedroll while trying not to look at it, or Faron’s, and paced quickly away. Langcyll and Glorfindel were conferring near the horses and Glorfindel turned to call for watchers. Even before Legolas had the chance to open his mouth, Langcyll turned to him and said simply, “No.”
Legolas blinked. “That goes for you as well, Faron,” added Glorfindel. Faron blinked.
Fanfirith and Nathron took first watch, and Legolas desperately searched for a means of escape. Waiting until Langcyll’s back was turned, the young elf scrambled down an embankment at the edge of the camp to a mountain creek not far away. It was not so far from the camp as to be dangerous, but Legolas could not bear the sight of others for one moment longer.
He sat down next to the rippling water and drew his knees up under his chin. *I cannot do this. I have only just managed to bring it under control. If I allow it to escape again, it will take me, and I will be as lost as before!* But even these thoughts threatened to lead into the memories where Legolas dared not go, lest he lose all control. *NO! I must not think of it I must not think of it I must not think of it--*
“Legolas.” Legolas gasped and leapt to his feet, so startled was he. Then he flushed and looked down in embarrassment. It was Langcyll. Leaving the camp without permission or bothering to tell anyone where he had gone was irresponsible, and Langcyll would probably have harsh words for him. But Legolas was secretly relieved--he would rather face Langcyll’s censure than the thoughts that had been threatening to spill into his mind a moment before.
So he stood as though bracing himself for a thorough tongue-lashing, like novices always did after being caught playing pranks, and hoped that would trigger a scolding. But there was silence. Legolas dared a glance at the captain’s face, and saw no disapproval at all. Desperate to drive Langcyll into a more domineering response, Legolas tried folding his arms sullenly, as Candrochon always had whenever he got into trouble. That earned him a rather exasperated sigh, and Legolas nearly sighed himself with relief. *Thank the Valar, it worked.*
At least it seemed so at first. “Legolas, I have been your novice master from the time you were sixty years old, and your captain since your coming of age, so I think I may claim to know you fairly well,” Langcyll said mildly. Legolas attempted to look insolent by pursing his lips, and Langcyll went on, “So attempting to pull off that famous Candrochon sulk does not fool me.”
Legolas forgot himself and looked up, and saw the fullness in Langcyll’s eyes. It came upon him then, sweeping over him like a great wave, and he was as helpless to stop it as he had been to stop the avalanche in the mountains. As Langcyll’s face blurred, Legolas frantically tried to whirl away, but the captain grabbed his shoulder. He did not pull Legolas back, but he did not let him go.
“You cannot run, Legolas. There is no escape in distraction. You must face your grief. It will never lessen until you do.”
The dam broke again with a single choked sob, and Legolas covered his face with his hands as great tearing sobs forced themselves free. He felt helpless to control his own body.
Over the sound of his own weeping, he heard Langcyll say quietly, “I have lost many close friends in my lifetime, young Legolas. It is a journey in itself, harder than any mission you shall ever travel. But you cannot escape by not thinking of it. I know how you grieve, Legolas. I share it. I, too, miss Tathar, his merriment, and his jests, even that irritating, childish snort--”
“Stop it!” Legolas cried, jerking away. “Do you seek to torment me?!”
He would have run, but Langcyll seized his arm and demanded, “Do you seek to dishonor his memory by forgetting him?”
“Then why will you not speak of him?” the captain snapped.
“Because I cannot,” Legolas cried. He could not see, for stinging tears had blinded him. Struggling with limited success to push back the sobs once more, he said, “I have a duty to the rest of the company; you said so yourself. I cannot fall back into such hopelessness again, and when I think of--when the thought of--” he could scarcely speak for sobbing, “--I find nothing but despair. I had begun to get over it in Rivendell, and I must not fall back into it again--”
“No, Legolas.” Langcyll’s voice was quiet, understanding. “You were only distracted by tidings more pressing. You were only entering the stage of grief that follows shock and despair. You cannot deny all thought of him. You have far to come yet.”
Legolas felt his legs giving way and fell to his knees, despair surging through him. “I cannot do it. It will destroy me--”
“It will not. We will not let that happen. Tathar would not wish that to happen. You must allow yourself to think of Tathar, Legolas, and remember him. He would never permit you to give up.”
Angry now, Legolas turned on Langcyll. “You know nothing of which you speak. Were it not for me, Tathar would not have been on this accursed mission. Were it not for my foolish, reckless choice, he would never have joined such a dangerous expedition. He only came because he wished to be beside me.” Sobs overtook him again, “He wanted to join the mission to explore Fangorn. He had always wanted to see Fangorn, and we always used to plan to visit it together. So many places he wanted to see--”
Legolas was crying so hard that he had lost the ability to form words. He could see and hear nothing, and his sobs gave him little space to draw breath. Desperately, he focused on the hard grip of Langcyll’s hand upon his shoulder as a rudder for his sanity, and managed to pull himself from the maelstrom of hysterical grief. At last, he was back on the bank again, gasping for breath, feeling the hard stones beneath his knees, and Langcyll still gripped his shoulder.
“Denying yourself a future will not bestow one upon him, Legolas,” the captain said. “Had you been the one slain, your last desire would have been for Tathar to carry on, and follow his dreams, as you were unable to. I knew him from a child as well, and his last thoughts were of you, for your future. You have not lost him; he lives on in the power of your friendship. Do not deny that by denying his memory.”
At last, the sobs had all forced themselves from within him, leaving him feeling empty, weak, and slightly sick--the physical result of such emotional excess. He actually felt chilled in the soft evening breeze. With a deep, shuddering sigh, Legolas accepted Langcyll’s help getting to his feet, and they returned to the camp. Langcyll did allow him to sleep on the outside of the group so that he might be alone with his thoughts for this night at least. It also probably had something to do with the fact that one of the campfires was on the outskirts of the camp, so Legolas laid his blankets there while Langcyll built the blaze up again.
No sooner had he laid down than deep weariness overtook him, and dreams swept up to claim his drained and exhausted mind. He was dimly aware of Langcyll saying something to him, but he made no sense of the words, or they surely would have startled him. “Sleep now, my s--good night, Legolas.”
Glorfindel of Imladris had been forced to have a similar conversation with Faron that evening, though he had not been half as worried about his own warrior as Langcyll had been about Legolas. But Faron, too, had begun to flee from anything that reminded him of either of his lost friends, and Glorfindel had had to convince him that such flight would help neither him nor Legolas.
*It is Legolas that Langcyll worries about. Faron worries for him as well, that is why he shut out his own pain. Their worries are still justified.* But with the morning had come another day, and as the company prepared to ride, Glorfindel stood next to Langcyll, watching their youngest warriors.
Legolas and Faron had risen, both with red eyes, but less withdrawn than yesterday. When Glanaur walked by and clapped each of them on the back in passing, both smiled at him. Now, they were packing the horses for a day of hard riding that would take them out of the borders of Imladris, where the hunting would begin. Galithil, a younger warrioress from Mirkwood, had come up and was chatting with the two as they helped to break camp. A rather tense moment came when Elladan threw an apple to each of them. Faron began munching on his at once, but Legolas stiffened and stared at his as though it were a dragon‘s egg.
Glorfindel noticed Langcyll stiffen as well, from the corner of his eye. The two warriors watched tensely as Faron shot Legolas a questioning glance. Legolas met his friend’s eye, smiled sadly, and bit into the apple. Langcyll breathed a sigh of relief.
“Today is a better day, I think,” Glorfindel remarked, watching as Faron and Legolas joined a group of the other warriors.
“I hope you are right,” Langcyll said. “He has been trapped in the shadows for many weeks. It will still be a long time until he can leave that place behind.”
“Elves can survive many things, my friend,” Glorfindel replied firmly. “Faron survived such a loss two years ago. So will Legolas.”
What the warrior captains saw next seemed to confirm Glorfindel’s confidence. As they continued breaking camp, Faron suddenly put out a hand and stopped Legolas from returning to the group. He reached inside his tunic and pulled out a small pouch, the sort of thing a traveler might carry valuables in. From the pouch, Faron brought out a pearl--a black pearl--and handed it to Legolas. Then he walked on, and Legolas stood motionless as though he had grown roots.
Holding Faron’s gift in his hand, Legolas managed to walk a few paces away and sat down upon a rock, gazing at the pearl in the early morning sun. It sat in the palm of his hand, perfectly round and darkly lustrous, the size of a large blueberry. And he could not help it; his mind was drawn back…
“The wager was over whom Lalven would be matched to, Tathar, not who she would ask for. You declared victory too soon!”
“There, now, even your own comrade, the prince of Mirkwood agrees that the prize falls to me! Come, hand over my pearl, and you owe me yet another one!”
“Hold out for the black pearl, Faron, to the victor go the spoils!”
“Ah, now here’s a pretty thing! See, Gaerongil?”
“Indeed! So rare, pearls of such color!”
“Curse you Imladris gamblers, and you, Legolas, for taking their side!”
“Do not blame me, Tathar, it is not my fault they play odds better than you!”
Rolling the smooth, dark pearl in the palm of his hand, few tears spilled from Legolas’s eyes, but he felt no need to fall apart like before. Tathar had been one of the friends who got lost with Legolas while searching for treasures in the caves when they were children, but for a time, Tathar had been separated from the rest. He had not seemed nearly so hysterical when the searchers found him, and insisted he had simply been lost like the rest of them in another part of the dungeons. But pearls did not grow in the forests of Mirkwood.
For some reason, Legolas smiled. *At least I did not tell Faron and Gaerongil your secret, Tathar. The black pearl was never your favorite, though it was the most valuable. Yours was the white one shaped like a teardrop. Faron would never think to ask for it when tantalized with this. You and I had the last laugh.*
Footsteps jolted him back to the present. It was Langcyll again. Seeing the captain’s curious expression, Legolas held the pearl up and explained, “Faron won it from Tathar in a wager during the Gathering.”
Langcyll smiled slightly, “Generous of him to give it up.”
Legolas looked down, “He knows I will treasure it.”
The novice master of Mirkwood said, “It is time to be moving on now.”
Legolas nodded quickly and put the pearl in his own pouch. “I am ready.” He knew Langcyll caught his meaning.
With the warriors assembled, the company mounted their horses and formed up behind Langcyll and Glorfindel. Legolas smiled gratefully at Faron as they prepared to ride together.
At the front of the group, Langcyll glanced back over all his warriors out of habit, his gaze lingering only for a second on Legolas. Then he raised his hand and ordered, “Forward!”
The company rode out and down along the creek that rolled through the mountains, swiftly here and lazily there. At one bend, they passed beneath a willow tree, its branches drooping into the water, and Legolas closed his eyes and held on, letting the leaves brush over him…
“I shall not try out for the Gathering Trial unless you do also. It is your destiny, Legolas.”
“My destiny? To compete in an archery game?”
“To be great. And of course, you shall win, but the Trial will be only the beginning. You were not blessed with so many gifts without a reason. I think in the fullness of time, your name shall be legend.*
“I think you are mad, Tathar. In any case, I do not want to compete against you. You and I have never been on opposite sides. If you were not at my side, I would be nervous.”
“Pfft, when are you ever not nervous? The time will come when you must move beyond me, otherwise you would hold yourself back. But why do you sorrow at that? You know that whenever circumstances separate us, I shall be with you, at your side and at your back. As always.”
CHARACTER GUIDE: The Warriors of Imladris and Mirkwood
Langcyll and Glorfindel: joint leaders of the party
Elunen and Glanaur: their lieutenants
Fanfirith and Nathron: senior warriors
Elladan, Elrohir, Galithil: younger but experienced warriors
Legolas, Faron: the youngest of the group, both from the same generation that just came of age
Lanthir: Legolas’s horse
Tuilinn: warrioress that Tathar had paired off with, went back to Mirkwood with the other half of Langcyll’s war party
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.