28. Old Friends, Older Enemies (II)
For he had plenty of questions.
Legolas strode through the doors of the throne room first, with the man just behind him. Thranduil took note of the mortal’s familiarity with elvish ways as he stopped just within the door while Legolas advanced and bowed to the king. “My lord, by your leave, I present Strider, a Ranger of the Dúnedain.”
Thranduil nodded his permission, and the man approached, stopping beside Legolas and dropping to one knee. “Hail, Thranduil, King of Mirkwood.”
Beckoning the man to rise, Thranduil looked from him to his son. There was much that bore explaining. How and when had Legolas made a friend such as this? His youngest son had always been rather naïve where men were concerned, which Thranduil gruffly tolerated, but this…the king had strong misgivings about the choices Legolas had just made. He remained silent for several moments, as his son and the Ranger calmly awaited his pleasure. He fixed the man with a long, searching stare, and noted also how the mortal did not so much as blink. Interesting. VERY interesting.
At length, the elven king spoke, “I understand you have come to beg a favor of the elves of Mirkwood, Strider of the Dúnedain?”
The man inclined his head. “I have, my lord. I seek a secure place to confine the creature Gollum, who is my prisoner, and have great faith in the ability of the elves to hold him.”
“And what interest have you in this creature?”
“He possesses information, my lord, information that is sought by the one the elves call Mithrandir. It was he who bade me seek Gollum out, which I did, traversing much of Middle Earth from the Misty Mountains to Mordor in my search. I found him in the Dead Marshes.”
*And the intrigue deepens,* thought Thranduil even as his heart clenched at the mention of Mordor. *What do you know of this man, Legolas?* He leveled a hard look at his son, who evenly met Thranduil’s eyes. *More than you say, that is certain. I may harbor a dislike of men, but I am not so ignorant of them as you think. I dislike information being kept from me.* To the Ranger, he said, “If you have passed through Mordor and returned alive with your objective, you are no ordinary man.”
“No, my lord. I am a Ranger.”
*A quick and clever answer. But I require more than you will give me.* Letting his gaze come to rest on his son’s face, he said, “If you will leave us, Master Strider, I should like to speak to the prince alone.” Without taking his eyes from Legolas, he sensed the man bowing and departing from the room.
Legolas, for his part, did an admirable job hiding his tension at the words, and spoke not until Thranduil did. The king waited until the doors had closed, then spoke without preamble. “I trust you have a good reason for this deceit, Legolas.”
His son’s eyes flashed, but he said nothing. Thranduil went on blithely, “I may not wish to encourage dealings with men, but I am ignorant neither of them nor of the other realms’ contact with them. And in the Elder days I saw much of them.” At Legolas’s continued silence, he finished, “So did you truly think that I would not recognize the heir of Isildur when I saw him?”
At least it was clear that that had been the only secret. Resignation replaced resistance in his son’s face, and Legolas replied softly, “Aragorn gave me his true name in a confidence which I was not prepared to breach, my lord. Even to you.”
“A confidence indeed? And how does this man merit such faith?” Thranduil asked in a condescending tone.
Legolas was forthright at least. “He is my friend.”
Thranduil chuckled, a little irritated but tolerant overall of his youngest son’s caprices. “Friends with a mortal. Of all my sons. Why am I not surprised? Though I had hoped you would grow a little less naïve--”
His son’s chin shot up. “He saved my life.” That startled Thranduil into pausing, and Legolas went on, “Several times, in fact. I asked not for his aid nor had anything to offer in return, but he risked himself more than once for my sake.”
Thranduil harbored a strong aversion to men, considering them covetous and barbaric, though he had never formed any lasting acquaintance with any one man. He preferred to hold the individuals to the standard he had seen set of the entire race in his various dealings with them throughout his life. So his son’s words were rather discomfiting, not fitting at all with what he persisted in believing of them. “So you brought him here to discharge you debt to him?”
Legolas shook his head. “Nay. I had an opportunity to return the favor of my life. I brought him here because he is my friend. And because Mithrandir wishes the creature kept safe. Aragorn said he sent word of where he was taking Gollum.”
*Mithrandir, at least that is something. But accepting the heir of Isildur as a friend, when will you ever learn, boy?* Still, what was done was done. And Legolas’s ill taste in friends aside, a request on behalf of Mithrandir to keep Gollum was not so unreasonable. After all, if the matter was attended to swiftly, the Ranger would be on his way all the sooner, away from Thranduil’s people…and his son.
Legolas was still awaiting an answer, so Thranduil said, “Very well, we shall grant his request. Gollum is being held in the dungeons; he will remain there.”
“The dungeons?” Legolas asked, his eyes showing dismay.
Thranduil replied absently, “Yes.” Then he caught his son’s expression and sighed, “Legolas, we have more refugees from the outlying villages arriving every day. There is no room in the trees for a prisoner, certainly not one so…risky as this Gollum. He will be fed and well cared-for in the dungeons. By the look of him, he spent much of his life out of the sun. The dungeons will do him no further harm.”
The thought of any creature imprisoned in the dungeons clearly distressed Legolas, but Thranduil saw no alternative. He was not troubled by his son’s reaction, given Legolas’s childhood mishap in the dungeons and the incidents during his journeys abroad. From what the warriors said, Legolas seemed to have a knack for getting himself buried.
Outside the throne room, Aragorn noticed Princess Silivren and Lady Merilin talking among a clutch of other she-elves--and making little effort to hide their interest in Aragorn. Either they cared not that he could hear their words, or the strength of human hearing had been grossly underestimated by the Silvan elves. “Men are so much more bulky than elves,” murmured Tuilinn, the redhead.
“But I find that rather appealing,” added Edlothia. “His body appears so…powerful.”
“I did not expect him to be so tall,” whispered Merilin. “Nor so graceful. I should enjoy watching him fight.”
“Perhaps we might persuade him to a friendly bout with some of our warriors?”
“There is an idea. I suspect Candrochon might be persuaded.” (Giggle!)
“I’ve never seen a man, so I’ve naught to compare him to,” Silivren replied. “Do you suppose he bears any resemblance to Beren?”
“If so, I understand Luthien far better now!” The was a flurry of muted giggling.
“But he is quite well-favored, is he not, Galithil?”
“I think so. Here, Elunen, you’ve seen many men, what do you think?”
“I fought in the Last Alliance beside many men, and met my share since. There were some quite handsome, and yet…this one is different. He seems almost familiar.”
Aragorn tensed at those words, but at that moment, Legolas emerged from the Great Hall. “My father has agreed to keep Gollum here.” With a knowing grin, he added, “So take heart. He is off your hands.”
“Thank the Valar!” Aragorn declared, and his friend laughed aloud.
Legolas noticed the small clutch of admirers and grinned more broadly. “I fear you shall find the hospitality of my kinswomen somewhat smothering while my kinsmen slightly lacking. I hope you enjoy your stay as much as I will.” His eyes sparkled with amusement at his friend’s expense.
Aragorn raised his eyebrows. “Oh I shall, particularly when I seize the opportunity to flirt with your niece. Lovely even by elven standards, that niece of yours.”
“I did not know you desired to become spider fodder!” Elf and man walked back out of the elven king’s halls. Legolas glanced fondly at Silivren. “She is a novice warrioress; her first coming of age was only twenty-two years ago.”
“She carries herself well for so young an elf.”
“She is her father’s daughter.” Legolas led him out of the cave and took an unconscious deep breath. Gazing about as though relieved to be out of doors, the elven king’s son said, “Come. You have not been here before. I will show you my father’s realm.”
“I would like to see it.”
For the next few days, Legolas led Aragorn threw the beeches and elms and dwellings of northern Mirkwood. His friend was a most gracious guest and expresses much admiration for the achievements of his people, but at the same time, Legolas knew that one who had already seen the lands and cities of Imladris and Lothlórien would probably find Mirkwood lacking. It was a frustrating notion. Legolas loved his home with all his heart, and though its dwellings were as fair as anything of elven make, the oppressive nearness of shadow marred its beauty. *Will any ever see the Greenwood as it once was? As my mother knew it, beautiful enough to rival even Rivendell and Caras Galadhon.*
They were walking by the archery fields watching several of the novices warriors practice when Candrochon came riding up. “Legolas, Mithrandir has come.”
“Ah,” said the elf, turning at once with Aragorn beside him. “Now perhaps we shall get some answers.”
They arrived at the palace to find Berensul greeting the Maia. Mithrandir turned and smiled at Aragorn. “Success at last, my friend. I am in your debt such efforts.”
“They paid off in the end.”
Mithrandir bowed to Legolas. “Well met, son of Thranduil. I understand I’ve you to thank for giving…Strider and his guest entrance into Mirkwood.”
The elf bowed back. “Both my people and I would gladly do any service you requested, Mithrandir. If you believe this Gollum must be kept safe within our borders, then we trust your judgment.”
“I am glad to hear it. Speaking of Gollum, where have you stashed him?”
Legolas felt a twinge of discomfort. “He is…being held in the dungeons.”
But the Maia’s face showed no sign of surprise or even disapproval. He simply nodded, “I should like to speak to him, if I may.”
“Of course,” Legolas smiled. “I daresay my father will have no objection. Candrochon, escort Mithrandir to Gollum’s cell, if you would be so kind.” He grinned as his friend shot him a fierce glare at being assigned such an unsavory task. Not that any elf objected to Mithrandir’s company, but Gollum’s cell was deep within the dungeons. Legolas would gladly have taken the wizard to see the prisoner himself, but for that fact. And this was one instance where rank had real privileges.
Which Candrochon’s wife noticed. “Well-executed,” Merilin murmured in Legolas’s ear. Although the youngest prince of Mirkwood was by no means in disfavor among the ladies of Mirkwood, their attentions toward him (and vice versa) went no further than easy camaraderie and friendship. But in the week since Aragorn had arrived, the elf had noticed a marked increase of she-elves in his company--whenever he and Aragorn happened to be together. The long memory of elves let Legolas recall easily the time when he had been the object of interest of many fawning ladies, as well as his extreme embarrassment at the time. Still…seeing Aragorn’s discomfort at the attentions of his friends, he had to admit…it was highly amusing.
He caught Salma and Silivren peering at the Ranger from behind a tree and was forced to bite his lip to avoid sniggering. Even the elder ladies, like Edlothia, Elunen, and Gwilwileth, found Aragorn an object of interest and curiosity, and so wherever the prince and the heir of Isildur went, a small fleet of she-elves was certain to follow. The kinsmen, husbands, and suitors of said she-elves, on the other hand, were highly UN-amused, and although Legolas suspected they were equally curious about the rare appearance of a mortal in their midst, they avoided Aragorn like the plague. When it came right down to it, the whole thing was incredibly funny.
The elven king, as one would expect, invited Gandalf to dine with his family as a welcome and honored guest. He also invited Aragorn, as--the Ranger suspected--a reluctantly-tolerated guest.
Present at the meal were the Crown Prince Berensul, whom Aragorn had been introduced to only in passing, but seemed willing enough to accept his youngest brother’s word concerning the mortal stranger’s merits. He looked hardly anything like Legolas; the only trait they had in common was the dark gray eyes. And in contrast, the only trait Berensul did not have in common with his father was that the prince’s hair was dark. Aragorn had met Berensul’s wife, the Crown Princess Eirien, before when she came to Imladris for healing instruction from Lord Elrond. Even if she had not, Aragorn would recognize her as Rivendell-bred by her looks alone: the golden-brown hair, not as dark as a wood elf’s, fair skin, and deep blue eyes. And like most elves who had spent centuries under the tutelage of Lord Elrond, she was both wise and firm. Though gentle, mild, and soft-spoken, Aragorn had seen enough of her to know that beneath the sweet exterior lay a will as strong as mithril.
Then of course, there was their young daughter, Silivren. Though comparable to Aragorn in actual years, the elven princess looked no older than a mortal teenager. Now that she sat among her closest kind, Aragorn could see some resemblance to all of them. She had her mother’s deep eyes and her father’s face, but her golden hair was closer to Thranduil’s than Legolas. In fact, Legolas was the only one of her kindred whom Silivren did not seem to share any physical traits with. On the other hand, Aragorn had seen enough of her merry spirit in the past few days to suspect that it was personality in which novice warrioress most closely resembled her uncle.
Aragorn had no doubt that Thranduil had serious misgivings about his friendship with the king’s youngest son, the depth of which had been shown by the amount of time Legolas and Aragorn had spent together in the past week. This was the first time since Aragorn’s arrival that he or Legolas had supped formally with the elven king, and there was no mistaking the daggers Thranduil’s eyes shot at the Ranger when Legolas indicated for him to be seated at the prince’s side. Gandalf certainly did not miss it.
Gandalf had spent several hours in the dungeons with Gollum, and after the necessary small talk, conversation turned inevitably to the matter that had brought him. “Did you learn anything useful from him?” Thranduil inquired.
Undiscouraged, the wizard shook his head. “I fear not, but I expected not to draw anything from him so soon; it has only been one day. We shall talk again on the morrow, and again and again, if necessary until Gollum wearies so of my presence that he tells me his tale merely to be rid of me.” The company laughed.
The Lady Eirien wrinkled her nose slightly. “I visited him in the dungeons shortly after he came to make certain his health was well. He is a loathsome creature.”
“Nay, my lady, I would not despair of him yet. There may still be hope for his cure,” replied Gandalf.
“But you said he has… lived long beyond the years of his kind,” spoke up Legolas, choosing his words carefully due to the fact that it had been decided that knowledge of the One Ring should not go beyond Legolas, Thranduil, Gandalf, and Aragorn. “Surely…now he must die soon.”
“Soon by elven standards, perhaps, but not his,” the wizard said. “It is possible that before the end of his life he will at least find peace.”
The elves and Ranger digested Gandalf’s words. In a soft voice, Legolas said, “Then we should not keep him ever in the dungeons under the earth, for none will find peace there. Surely he can be guarded elsewhere.”
None missed the sharp, quelling look Thranduil shot his youngest son before turning instead to address Gandalf. “As I told my son already, Mithrandir, the encroachment of shadow upon my realm has forced many of my people to take shelter close to the palace, and within it. We once did use cells in the trees as places to hold prisoners, but necessity has forced us to convert them into dwellings. There is no room for Gollum in the outer palace where he would not be too close to the elves.”
The wizard narrowed his eyes, but nodded. “I have seen how dark and close the Enemy’s creatures draw, and the number of refugees here. Your task is a hard one, Lord Thranduil, I recognize.”
“Then perhaps we might find a medium,” offered Silivren suddenly. “Surely if we cannot let Gollum dwell above the earth all the time, it would not be beyond the scope of his guards to lead him out of the dungeons during the day. After all, he must be guarded in any case, whether in the cave or without.”
This time, Thranduil and Gandalf both nodded. “A wise suggestion, young princess,” said the wizard, inclining his head to her. Aragorn hid a smile at the way Eirien’s chin lifted proudly. *Mothers. Elf or mortal, they are all the same.*
“Then we are agreed,” said Thranduil. A twinkle came then into the elven king’s bright eyes as he turned his gaze to his youngest son. “Since Legolas is so keen to bestow kindness upon Gollum, I shall place him in command of the creature’s guards.”
Hardly an appetizing assignment, but Legolas took it with good humor. “As you wish, Father,” he replied mildly, with a little nod. Then he glared at Aragorn as the Ranger stifled a snigger. Silivren caught it and was not so successful in hiding a giggle. As Aragorn was a guest, Legolas had to bear his taunts, but now the prince fixed a mock-scowl at his young niece, and said in a near-drawl, “Guarding Gollum seems a suitable task for a few novice warriors. I think this would be an excellent training exercise for Silivren, do you not agree, Berensul?”
The crown prince grinned. “Most definitely. I’m sure Eregdos can be persuaded to release her to your command, Brother.”
“Assuming you’ve no objections, Sili?” Legolas asked wickedly.
But Silivren came back with a weapon of her own. “None at all, Uncle Leg’las.”
Gandalf nearly choked on a piece of meat, Eirien hastily covered her mouth, and even Thranduil’s lips quirked. Aragorn raised a mocking eyebrow at his friend and said, “Leg’las?”
“She’ll pay for that.”
A few days later…
Legolas met Gandalf at the entrance to the inner palace as the Maia came out. “You were within the dungeons long,” said the prince. “Was he more cooperative?”
Gandalf nodded thoughtfully, his mind still partly occupied by his own thoughts on what Gollum had told him. Then he noticed Legolas’s anxious expression, and smiled. “Forgive me, my lord, I fear my own musings on his tale are distracting me. It seems his true name, or perhaps it would be better to say, the name of the person he once was, is Sméagol. For one thing, it confirms accounts given me by other sources. And fortunately, it seems that his desire to possess the Ring kept it out of reach or knowledge of others for most of the time that he had it.”
“Thank the Valar,” sighed Legolas.
“Be not so hasty, son of Thranduil,” said Gandalf gravely. “I have learned that Gollum was taken in Mordor by the Enemy’s forces.” The elf turned pale. “How he escaped the Dark Lord’s dungeons, I know not, but it is beyond all doubt that there all he knew was forced from him.”
“Then the Enemy knows now that the One is found.” Gandalf knew that Thranduil, the crown prince, the captain of Mirkwood’s guard, and indeed half of the Silvan elves between here and Rivendell would have questions for him on the subject of Gollum, but only to Legolas did he impart these facts. For it was Legolas who most needed to be aware of what he held, here in his father’s halls. It was vital that Gollum be kept safe. “Knowing these things, I must depart with all speed. Forgive me if I say not where I go, but swift action is of the essence. Legolas,” the Maia placed a firm hand on the elven archer’s shoulder. “Be wary. Underestimate not the malice of Gollum, for long was he exposed to the corruption of the One. He would wreak much mischief if he were free now even as I seek to keep the One from the Enemy’s reach. He cannot be allowed to escape.”
To any other elven warrior, such words might almost be insulting, as though Gandalf did not trust them to do their duty well. But Legolas was unlike other elves in many ways, some subtle, others strangely fundamental, which Gandalf knew even as he spoke. So it surprised him not at all that Legolas merely nodded gravely and took the words in the spirit that they were intended, as a well-meant and well-deserved warning of the danger of the situation in which the keepers of Gollum now found themselves.
“Sméagol will be safe here, Mithrandir.”
Gandalf smiled. “Knowing that his protection is in your charge eases my mind greatly, Legolas of Mirkwood. But remember also what I told you, and hope still for his recovery. Given time and kind treatment away from the corruption of the Ring, he may yet be cured of his malice.”
With that, Gandalf went to the outer palace and bade farewell to the elven king and his elder children, giving them a brief description of what he had learned from Gollum. Thranduil was more inclined to accept sketchy explanations from the wizard than he would from most other visitors to his realm, and let Gandalf go without prying too heavily. Gandalf suspected Thranduil’s easy acceptance of his words had much to do with the fact that he was taking Aragorn with him when he departed. So the Maia counted his blessings when the elven king released them, and wasted no time collecting the Ranger. There was much still to be done.
Legolas escorted Gandalf and Aragorn from the palace to the gates, followed by a small crowd of elves bidding farewell to the wizard and taking a last look at the strange mortal who had spent so much time in their midst. The elven men were casual enough in their goodbyes. Among the ladies, on the other hand, could be heard many sighs of regret.
Turning on their horses outside the gates, Gandalf and Aragorn each raised a hand in farewell to the elven prince. “Guard him well, son of Thranduil.”
Legolas raised his hand in a salute of his own. “We shall not fail, Mithrandir!”
That final reassurance given, the man and the Maia turned their mounts and rode away at a gallop, eager to reach the Shire as soon as possible, and leaving Legolas standing at the gate, with Gollum now in his charge.
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.