Veiling of the Sun: 6. Hope Remains

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6. Hope Remains

Mordor was indeed a black place, filled with scourges not easily imagined from such a quiet hamlet as the Shire. Jagged, sharp rocks tore at Sam’s feet as he walked, but it was but a small discomfort. Great dark mountains stretched infinitely, meshing with dirty, smoky clouds and fiery skies. The air was hot and rank, scorching his lungs each time he inhaled, making breathing a sore trial. No life seemed to survive here, as though the environment was unendurable and impermeable to even the smallest spot of moss. Sam detested this wretched land and longed for the soft, friendly forests and rolling fields of Hobbiton, where the sky always seemed the brightest blue and the air was fresh. He idly wondered how any creature, even those as foul and frightening as Orcs, might find the barren and rocky plains hospitable.

The small Hobbit rounded a hill of gray slate, creeping slowly about the warm, protective rock. As of yet, he believed his presence in the outskirts of this foul land had gone unnoticed, and the thought brought him confidence. He pressed himself against the rock and looked beyond. His heart sank. Here again he had wished that something might break the crushing, evil monotony of his path. Before him lay nothing but a vast wasteland of lifeless rock and acrid smoke, and his hope faded. He supposed it had been only wistful to expect the unlikely, but in the silence of his ever-present doubt and fear, he found that dream a spot of light in the lonely shadows of his heart, and upon crossing every crest and ridge, he let himself imagine again that this step would be the last. Sighing now, his shoulders slumping, Sam continued upon his way.

Time passed slowly for the solitary walker, and his thoughts were poor company for they were riddled with fears, guilt, and skepticism. A few hours before he decided to calculate the amount of time he thought had passed since reaching the eastern shore of Anduin, but a rough estimate of perhaps a week was the best with which his lethargic mind could supply him. It seemed infinitely longer, and he was tired. Before the horrible Ring had shattered the peace of their lives, he had never traveled far from the Shire, and certainly he had never ventured far into the world alone. Ruefully he realized how very much he had changed. Being alone for so long before had been a terrifying prospect to which he had grown accustomed. Upon no one else could he rely, but that undeniable truth brought him strength. Only he could determine the course of his feet. Only his wit and stealth protected him.

Though he was unsure of the way, he knew the slopes of Mount Doom rose far in the east. After passing through the fetid sumps of Emyn Muil and miraculously descending its high and perilous bluffs, he had stood on a great precipice overlooking the barren lands ahead. There in the distance the clouds glowed a bloody red, and he had supposed that was the fires of Mount Doom scorching the sky. Perhaps with a bit of luck, he might happen upon it. Sam narrowed his eyes as he walked then. Nay, luck was not a dependable ally. Fortune turned her favor too easily; she was a cunning and fickle witch that could give and then take, that could bless as effortlessly as curse, and in her wake nothing but regret and pity wallowed. He would make his own destiny. It was his to mold, to shape, and to embrace. Cradling this idea deep inside him as well brought him courage to do what was required of him.

And so he walked. The stone was hard beneath his feet, but thick skin protected his bones, and his gait was steady. He tried to avoid wide, open areas as he remembered the dark forces employed a great many unlikely spies, and being spotted by hawk or beast would do him no good. Strider had taught the Hobbits a great many things about traveling stealthily, and here he put those useful lessons to work. As well, Legolas had once instructed Merry, Pippin, and him in the art of treading lightly to leave faint tracks and conserve energy. Even Boromir’s training with the short sword he kept fresh, running over the various attacks, feints, and counters in his mind, in case the need should arise to fight.

He shuddered at the thought of his comrades. Boromir’s betrayal still burned his heart with anger and his eyes with tears. The man had been such a good friend, and a valiant defender. Sam had had only the deepest respect for him. However, the brutality of what Boromir had done to Legolas before his very eyes had shredded his admiration. He prayed the others would save Legolas. Even though he knew the Elf’s logic had been sound when he had parted company with him, Sam ached inside when he reconsidered it. When the dire depression of his surroundings became overwhelming, his mind inevitably wandered to the plight to which he had left his friends. Guilt compounded his sorrow, and pity begot much the same. It often took all his strength to pull himself from the distressing murk. Even still, he had to concentrate upon the vow he had made to himself to find strength. He knew Frodo would have done the same.

Sam missed Frodo terribly. No matter how he twisted, turned, or tried to rationalize the horrid events that had transpired, he could not lighten the dread in his heart for his lost friend. For so long he and Frodo had been close, inseparable companions in work and play, brothers in laughter and sorrow. To now be apart, and the events that had led to their division had been beyond vicious, troubled him greatly. He could not help but wonder if ever again he would be graced by Frodo’s gentle smile or easing voice and gaze.

He was forced to digress, though, because mourning too deeply for the past distracted him from the present, and he would need all his wits to survive in this wretched place. Once long ago his father had told him that he thought too much. A rare occurrence it was to have his mind blank! Still, he could not change what he was. He was Samwise Gamgee, a meek and shy Hobbit that had never before left his home but had found the will to continue this quest in the face of great adversity. No matter what became of him, he would always be that, and that made him proud. This brought him solace.

Mordor was calling the Ring, even as he walked along its borders. It was a peculiar feeling, carrying this small trinket of great power into the land of its making. To him it spoke not of evil or of power; its tale was a sad story of illogical temptation and immorality. He did not understand why the Ring was so horrible, only that this at least would always be the truth. Wearing it about his neck made his skin crawl with apprehension. It was a constant threat, a silent scream of danger that never ceased its howl, and he wished nothing more than to simply be done with it. Now at least he could understand the burden that Frodo had worn upon his fearful face so many times during their arduous journey. The Ring’s touch was unnerving indeed. It seemed to revel in the stench and heat of the air. He grew more fearful with each step that he would not be able to keep it hidden. After all, how could he? The awesome instrument of domination wanted nothing more than to be found by the eyes of this horrid land that constantly sought it!

Once again he stifled his thoughts. Agonizing himself over events that he could neither control nor predict would accomplish little more than further riling his resolve, and he could not afford to be distressed. Shrugging deeper into his coat, holding his pack tight about his shoulders, he trudged onward.

An hour or so later he came upon a concealing furrow of sorts between two large hills, and he decided to rest for a brief luncheon. Quietly he rummaged through his bag for the apple he knew to be buried within it. Knowing that the vegetation of Mordor would be sparse, he had collected all the food he could before leaving the woods along the Anduin and entering Emyn Muil. Aragorn had explained what fruits and roots were good to eat, and what would upset his stomach. The teachings had seemed frivolous at the time, but now he was eternally grateful. He would have starved by now if not for them.

He sat and munched upon the red fruit, and looked to the sky. The black clouds would not part and let much light through, and he glared angrily at them. How he wished to feel the sun! At least the apple tasted wonderful, its tangy sweetness a welcomed reminder of home. He savored each bite and chewed slowly and gratefully. Even a distressed Hobbit could not deny the pleasure of his palate, after all.

Suddenly came a soft sound, like the brushing of cloth against legs, and he looked to his side. The rock he was nestled beside obscured most of his view, and he could only see the dirt around its corner. The noise came again, this time louder and more pronounced. Footsteps. Sam felt his body wash cold with terror, and the apple fell suddenly from trembling, weak fingers. Somebody was coming!

Sam swallowed heavily and closed his eyes. To regain his composure was a struggle, for his strength had suddenly become fleeting. His entire body shook. What was he to do? How could they have found him? The footsteps grew louder, closer, and Sam winced, forcing his shaking body to still and his rushed breath to quiet. Fear made him dizzy, and his heart was booming.

The approaching menace stopped. It was but a few feet away now. When it continued, it would pass the rock and undoubtedly see him! He must flee!

“I know you hide,” came a low voice.

Panic snapped inside him, and he moved without thinking. With a cry of terror and anger, he ripped around, clumsily pulling his weapon. His thick fingers accidentally caught the sheath, pulling the entire case from his belt, and he charged forward with his eyes squeezed shut. The blunt edge of the sheath met cloth and then bone, and there was a gasp of pain. “Confound it, Samwise Gamgee!”

That voice!

Sam opened his eyes and skittered back, his sword falling from his shaking hands. There before him stood Gandalf. The old wizard’s ancient and wrinkled face was tight in a grimace of discomfort as he hopped unceremoniously, one large hand rubbing his shin where Sam’s attack had hit. His great mane of gray hair was as tangled as ever, and his thick bushy beard seemed more streaked with white than Sam last remembered. His tall stature, which spoke of fierce pride, power, and wisdom, seemed even all the more awe-inspiring, for now he bore robes of the purest white, like freshly laid snow. His garb seemed starkly misplaced in the black of the land that surrounded them.

Something shattered inside Sam, and he lurched forward in wonderment and overwhelming relief. “Oh, Gandalf!” he cried joyously, tears streaming down his dirty cheeks, as he buried himself into the ancient wizard.

Gandalf smiled fatherly as the small creature tumbled into his embrace, kneeling to catch him. The Istar’s arms were warm and smelled of old books and sweet pipe smoke. The wizard hugged him tightly. “It is a blessing to see you again, little Hobbit,” the old man said, his voice a deep rumble from within his chest.

Great waves of release exited Sam in sobs. Such a blessing to have found a friendly face in this hellish world! No longer now would he struggle alone! His heart quaked in reprieve as he clung to Gandalf. For quite a while he was content in this simple contact, releasing the pain and fear he had bottled inside him for the sake of his newfound duty. When he tired, he pulled back. “But Mister Gandalf,” he said, sniffling, wiping his nose with his sleeve, “we saw you die! The balrog pulled you into shadow!”

The Istar bade him a small grin, his eyes twinkling with characteristic mirth. “I have lived a very long time, my dear Sam, and faced many perils! Alas, the matter of my survival is but a trivial thing now, for great dissonance has apparently come to the Fellowship.”

Sam nodded sadly. “It has,” he said softly, looking to the wizard with imploring eyes, “though it wasn’t any fault of Mister Frodo’s! Boromir turned, I think, and brought strife to us all! When I was last with them, Strider was gone. I don’t know what happened to the Master Dwarf or Merry and Pippin, for I went to find Mister Frodo. I failed in that, but I came upon the camp of the Orcs that had attacked us. They had captured Legolas, but he fought and brought the Ring from Boromir to me. Now I carry it.” Sam’s hand came over his chest, where the small trinket was hidden. “This was the last I saw of them all. Tell me, are they well?”

Gandalf’s face grew solemn, and that was enough to slash the feeble hopes Sam still treasured. “I do not know,” he admitted gravely, “for I came to the borders of Mordor at the behest of logic. This is where the Fellowship would be, had it not split. It worries me that only you remain.” The wizard sighed slowly, the breath long and great. Sam looked to him, wishing that he would hold some comfort to ease his heart. “This is dark news indeed.”

Gandalf seemed greatly troubled, and that only served to distress Sam more. The Hobbit leaned back upon his heels and sighed solemnly. “What are we to do, Gandalf?” he asked gently, tentatively.

The wizard’s eyes were lost in thought and for a long moment he did not speak, leaving Sam to his own anxieties. Then his gaze grew focused. “We cannot turn back,” he stated simply, although he sounded like he despised the finality of his words. “There is but one choice: we must press on.” Sam released a long breath and swallowed the pain in his throat. Gandalf stood slowly. “Yes, this we must do. My heart goes out to the others, and I pray they will find a path to follow us!”

Sam rose to his feet. “I worry, Gandalf, for Mister Frodo, and for Master Legolas.” He looked down to hide his tears. “I broke my promise to you, sir, and I’m sorry,” he admitted shamefully after a moment, guilt plaguing him.

The wizard’s eyes were upon distant horizons. A large, old hand with kind, strong fingers clasped his shoulder reassuringly. “Have faith, my friend. Though separated, the Fellowship remains strong. Bonds forged in peril and danger are not easily broken.” Gandalf gave him a gentle grin and steadied him with a proud gaze. “You have done well, Sam. Even here your heart guards Frodo, and you have neither broken your promise nor my trust. It is your strength now that carries our quest, and for your bravery I am grateful.”

The words gave him solace. This was the truth. The gratitude which with Gandalf obliged him warmed his heart, chasing away the cold grip of despair, and for the first time in a great while he smiled.

The wizard grunted and looked ahead. “Come. The road is long and hard, but no longer shall you walk it alone.” Then he stepped forward.

Sam released a cleansing breath, and then followed.

Mirkwood was a dark place when night came to it, for the dense canopy of the forest hid the light of the moon. As woods grew thick with shadow, often they came alive with fireflies and wisps. It truly was a beautiful sight as the forest made magic of its own accord, and the trees regaled their songs to the stars. Here, where the Silvan Elves made their home, the forest was safe haven, and the creatures lived in a quiet and loving harmony. Many leagues south were the borders of the kingdom of Thranduil, and those forests were quite a different place. There no light penetrated, and a dangerous gloom forever clung to the limbs of the trees. Beasts and terrors that the light of the sun never uncovered roamed those woods, making their murky roads not often traveled. A tenuous peace existed between these forests, the one that basked in the light and the other that dwelled in the darkness, and not often did Elf and beast cross paths.

This night, though, the wisps did not shed their ethereal light and creatures of the forest were silent. It was still, forlorn, and fearful. The silence was disheartening and melancholic. A dramatic mourning had come over it, and the serenity of the emptiness was false, for the trees were tense in despair and anger for the turmoil of a child lost to them.

The palace of the royal family was dark this night as well. Great corridors and rooms were blackened, candles left unlit, and were idle and vacant. The huge home was still in the dark. There was no talk, no song. Servants tread on silent feet, milling about chores and tasks lethargically. They did not speak of the ominous shadow that had descended upon the House of Thranduil.

In the great dining hall sat the middle sons of Mirkwood. Upon a long, polished oak table rested two candles. Their light was meager, doing little to chase back the blackness, and their wicks were all but depleted. The great table had many times in the past seen joyous feasts and celebrations. Many Elves had sat around it during times of war and times of peace, chatting, debating, eating. It seemed frustrated and lonely now, as if in these dark times a history of use and care meant nothing.

A dinner had been left to cool, wine left untouched in goblets. The two Elf princes sat opposite each other near the table’s head, their king’s great chair vacant. Outside the servants murmured their concern, for the twins of Thranduil, Aratadarion and Astaldogald, had spent nearly an hour in a tense silence, waiting for their father to descend from his private chambers and their older brother to return from his rounds.

Around them a thick void had festered for quite some time. Words seemed misplaced in the emptiness. The two often engaged in light-hearted banter, for closeness in the womb had extended for thousands of years. They were quite a bit younger than the first born, Vardaithil, and also nearly two millennium older the youngest brother, Legolas. This great difference in ages of Thranduil’s children had served more to naturally divide them than unite them. Only the twins remained inseparable. They were each other’s compliment, as many a visitor had noted. Astaldogald was of a lighter coloring than Aratadarion, his hair a light brown or a dirty blonde depending on the state of the sun. This he had inherited from their late mother, but the resemblance truly ended there. He bore the fiery features of his father and older brother, a square chin, high cheekbones, and finely etched eyes and brow bringing power and arrogance to his face. Aratadarion was truly a blend of both parents, for he was raven-haired and his skin of dark tones, yet his face was softer, with gentle, wide, inquisitive eyes and full lips. This he bore in similarity to Legolas, though he lacked the innocent glow and fair beauty that so graced his little brother.

In mind as well they contradicted. They were almost like two halves of the same heart. Astaldogald was a spitfire, stubborn and a bit conceited. Both Thranduil and Vardaithil were the same, though their temper had been cooled by centuries of experience in both court and battle. This twin was quick to anger and slow to cool. He had little patience or tolerance for foolery or stupidity. Though his heart was noble, his tongue could be harsh. When the little Legolas had incurred his older brother’s wrath, the child had often been left in tears by Astaldogald’s sarcastic insults. Opinionated and vociferous, he was seldom silent when occasion bade him to be. His twin, however, was meek and timid. Aratadarion rarely spoke his mind or concerned himself with the world beyond studying and singing. His beauty was soft and silent. He went where his twin led him, content to let Astaldogald deal with matters of state and war. He was not as skilled as his brother in the art of fighting, and knew little about ruling a kingdom. As quiet and compassionate as their mother had been, he was rarely angered.

So they sat in silence, one restless and the other melancholy. The unspoken thought hung over them like a plume of tension. They had both felt their brother’s anguish as acutely as their father had. The horrible tiding draped over the entire kingdom, stamping out merriment, and for the first time since the death of their mother, the House of Thranduil was void of the song of the trees.

“Vardaithil must have been detained,” Astaldogald grumbled finally. His tight voice seemed so loud, shattering the precarious silence. “How long has it been?”

Aratadarion released a long breath, his great, thick locks of dark hair still as it cascaded down his narrow shoulders. “Perhaps an hour. I know not.”

“Father would do well to ease his heart and take his supper,” the other remarked ruefully.

“He is sick with worry. We all are. Do not fault him for loving his son,” Aratadarion commented quietly, seeing the fire smolder in his brother’s gray eyes.

Astaldogald released a curt breath and leaned forward, bracing his elbows on the table. Slender fingers reached forward and snatched a bit of bread from the platter long ago set before him. “I fault no one,” he said simply, biting into what he had taken, “save Legolas. He has brought great sadness upon our family and our kingdom for his selfish insolence.”

Aratadarion was silent a moment, lowering his eyes to the table. He did not share his twin’s contempt for their brother. Since Legolas’ birth, Thranduil had taken special interest in the babe their mother had named for the trees of Mirkwood. Astaldogald had for centuries before basked in their father’s attention, for he was a needy child and Thranduil was happy to oblige his son. When the twins had come of age, it had no longer been proper for Thranduil to dote upon them, and Astaldogald had suffered hard in the years after, for he was neither the first-born heir nor the favored son. Their younger brother’s glowing beauty and innocence angered Astaldogald, who had neither and wanted both. Moreover, Legolas was a strange Elf. He could within a breath be calm and serious then suddenly impulsive and brash. He loved Middle Earth with a passion that Aratadarion could hardly begin to understand. The Elf child’s name had indeed shaped him. The strange naivetéwith which Legolas viewed all things seemed out of place in the experienced House of Thranduil. When their beloved mother had passed, the sons had begun to divide, differences becoming irreconcilable. Legolas sudden interest in places and people beyond Mirkwood had served to make matters worse. Astaldogald’s distaste had reached its pinnacle maybe ten years prior, when Legolas had become close to the man of the House of Elrond, Estel. Even now his twin’s harsh and vicious condemnation of Legolas rang in Aratadarion’s ears. He was a perceptive Elf, a gift from his mother, and he knew why their fair little brother had taken so easily to the king of men. They were both different from their people. They were both in an exile of sorts. But Astaldogald could not understand this, and the peace between Legolas and his brothers had shattered. Thranduil had done nothing, particularly taken with his wine and wealth at the time. And the tension had festered like an open wound.

Aratadarion could not fault his twin though. Astaldogald loved all things Elvish. Traditions he kept dear to his heart, and with such a mindset came heavy prejudices. These Thranduil and Vardaithil had encouraged, but they had become too engrossed with higher matters to see the bigotry they had instilled in Astaldogald. His twin cherished Elvish song, Elvish literature, and Elvish thought. The Calling to the Grey Havens was a beautiful gift. Men and Dwarves and Hobbits were lesser beasts, with silly and trite problems that could plague only foolish mortals. He frowned upon them as he frowned upon Legolas’ compassion for them.

Aratadarion did not want to anger his brother, so he said nothing, only frowned as Astaldogald chewed darkly upon his bread. Enough derision existed between the sons of Thranduil; he had no wish to create more.

The great, oak doors of the dining chamber suddenly opened with a heavy moan and a creak. Through the portal, held ajar by a maid, stepped Vardaithil. Both the twins rose at his entrance. Their brother looked weary, his face long with shadow and exhaustion, as he nodded to them each. His hair was dark, held in place by braids, and its deep brown served to make his face whiter. He was a regal Elf, his stature forever tall with pride and elegance. Never did he misplace a word or movement, and his face was at once ageless and wise. He had received the lion’s share of their father’s dark handsome strength. He would one day be king, and it showed his confident speech and powerful gait. “He has not yet come down?” Vardaithil inquired, glancing between his siblings.

“Nay, Vardaithil, and the hour grows late,” Astaldogald declared, settling his hard gaze upon his brother.

Vardaithil hesitated a moment, his blue eyes distant in thought. Aratadarion watched him contemplate, and felt his brother’s exhaustion. In the months before Legolas had left, the youngest and oldest of Thranduil’s sons had together spent many an hour guarding the southern borders against the suddenly revived anger of roaming Orcs. It was a job with which they were all well acquainted. As princes, it was their sworn duty to protect the kingdom at all costs, and when the dark forces beyond their borders rallied, they were often called to lead their army into a skirmish. Since Legolas’ departure, this responsibility had fallen to Vardaithil alone, and this added stress had worn the energy from his face and hands. Aratadarion was glad, though, for his brother’s silent endurance brought them all strength in these dark times.

Finally Vardaithil moved to his seat. “We shall wait then,” he said simply, sitting gracefully. At Astaldogald’s tiring eyes, his expression hardened. “Mind yourself, my brother.” Astaldogald scowled at the reprimand but said nothing, instead lowering his eyes shamefully to the last bit of crust in his hands.

They sat in silence once more, thoughts elsewhere, each alone in private reverie of their own creation. Most painful was the absence of Legolas. Even when he had been traveling, the ghost of his presence lurked about their home, bringing light and joy. Now its disappearance was acutely painful, the chair where he often sat during their meals beside Aratadarion powerfully empty. For the silence of their home! What had become of their little brother?

After a long moment, Astaldogald’s eyes regained a hard glint. “Father should have never sent him to Rivendell,” he declared. His voice held a great many things: anger, concern, spite. A painful scene reentered Aratadarion’s over-active mind. The boom of his twin’s voice in this very room had been sharp when word had returned via messenger from Rivendell that Legolas had left with his man friend, a Dwarf, a soldier from Gondor, and four Hobbits on a crazy quest to destroy the One Ring. To Astaldogald this action on the part of their brother had been the ultimate folly. Neither his father nor Vardaithil seemed willing to defend Legolas’ decision against Astaldogald’s vicious contempt, sufficing it only to refuse to send riders to recall the young, rebellious prince. In Astaldogald’s critical eyes, Legolas’ choice had been selfish. The Fellowship had been only an opportunity to escape this house, which he so haughtily disliked. To venture out with men and a filthy Dwarf, even after their father’s repeated warnings concerning the vile mining race, on a futile journey to destroy the bane of Isildur, to correct a wrong made even before his birth, seemed a foul decision made in a heated moment of egotistical anger. Aratadarion had to admit that even he did not completely see the nobility in the actions of Legolas. His brother’s mind, so swept by loyalty to lesser creatures, worked in ways he could not fathom.

Still, he sensed what was coming and cringed inwardly. The disaster that had come of Legolas’ rash departure would be an ideal way for his twin to renew his argument and restore his beaten pride. Aratadarion detested the way his brothers bickered!

“The ways of men have corrupted the House of Thranduil,” Astaldogald murmured, shaking his head disdainfully.

Vardaithil released a slow breath. The tension crackled like lightning. “Do not broach this subject again, Astaldogald,” he warned quietly. “I have not the strength for it now. Impetuous as he may be, Legolas is of age to make decisions for himself.”

But Astaldogald would not be so easily appeased. “Nay, brother, he is too easily swayed by his love for the lesser kinds! He has disgraced our father, our kingdom, and abandoned us now in a time of need! And now his brash actions have left him peril! This I will not overlook!”

Vardaithil’s eyes flashed threateningly. “You will because I demand it,” he ordered lowly, an unspoken warning in his tight tone. “What has happened to our brother is no more his fault than it was Father’s for laying upon him the task of bearing the message of Sméagol’s escape to Rivendell. I trust you do not seek to judge the wise ways of our King!”

“I seek only to express my anger,” Astaldogald shouted, rising from his chair with the scrape of wooden legs against a stone floor, “that Legolas has caused such toil in our home! Had Father reprimanded him in the error of his ways long ago, we might have prevented this disgrace!”

Vardaithil now rose as well, and his voice echoed through the dining chamber. “Step down, brother, and I will dismiss your insubordination as nothing more than thoughtless words spoken in distress!”

Aratadarion winced as he observed his siblings stare each other down. Oh, but for the pain inside him! How very many times before had this same conflict arise between kin! He could see the jealousy burn in his twin’s gaze, and great war was raged behind the heat of his eyes: a battle of decorum and pride. As it often did, his own arrogance seemingly tainted his logic. “Legolas deserves what has befallen him. At least now his fear and humiliation will teach him to hold his wanton desires!”

Anger blazed in the oldest son’s glare as he opened his mouth to counter, but he was interrupted before he could speak. “Stop this at once!” came a disgusted and irritated order. Aratadarion rose immediately in reverence.

There in the doorway stood Thranduil. The great king, older than ages, glared upon his children with disappointed scorn. He was a mighty creature, his shoulders broad and his form tall. His face was lined, betraying all he had experienced in his expansive life. His long dark hair was held back from his high, flawless brow by an ornate crown. Expensive leggings composed of the richest thread hugged his body, and his tunic was as well lavish, beset with gold and the bright colors of his kingdom. He was an imposing force, demanding respect and admiration. Few Elves dared to stand in opposition to him, for his wealth, stature, and power was greatly intimidating. Though his influence had waned a bit in the last few centuries in the wake of his recent love of wine and wealth, Thranduil still struck fear into many, and demanded the highest regard.

His obstinate jaw was firmly set in anger, and the harsh hardness of his eyes caused his sons to bow their heads. “I will not tolerate such insolence!” The bite of the words caused Astaldogald to stiffen and look away in shame. For a moment, no one spoke. Thranduil stepped inside and headed to his ornate chair at the head of the dinner table. He closed his eyes and released a long breath. “My meditations are wrought with fear. I cannot find peace, and I will not have you bring more discord into my House.” The admittance disheartened his sons.

Vardaithil regarded his father with concern. In this, the plight of his youngest, Thranduil’s toil and exhaustion were evident upon his narrow face in a rare show of weakness. “Father, what would you have us do?” he asked, reaching forward to grasp the king’s arm.

Thranduil closed his eyes a moment, as if searching for inner strength. Seldom had his children seen him so shaken. Finally the king looked upon them again. “Legolas’ distress is great,” he declared quietly, and the worry dripped from his weary tone. “I fear for him.”

“Father, I-”

“Shush!” Thranduil bellowed at Astaldogald, startling Aratadarion and causing the young Elf to jump in his seat. Venom burned like bright flames in the king’s glare. “Remember yourself, child! You will not speak ill of Legolas, for he is your brother, and my son! In this House, kin protects kin! You betray him with your hatred!”

Astaldogald trembled, but this time would not relent to his twin’s dismay. “I only ache for you, my Lord!” he declared, hurt glistening in his eyes.

“That may be so, my son, but it is not your place to judge the wisdom of your elders. Lord Elrond bereft Legolas to aid the Fellowship of the Ring. This is not yours to question, so hold your contempt,” his father admonished. Slowly the king regained himself, his words echoing in the hallow chamber. For a long moment, no one spoke, shaken with strong emotion. Then again the king spoke to his princes. “I have made a decision,” he announced slowly. He raised his eyes and gazed upon the twins, their strength imploring his children. “My youngest son writhes in agony, and this we cannot ignore.” He turned to his heir. “Vardaithil, I cannot afford to lose your command at my borders, though Legolas would most benefit from your strength.” Astaldogald grew tense, and the crust broke into crumbs in his fist. Aratadarion looked to his twin, but his gaze was not acknowledged. “Thus I dispatch this task to you, my twins. Ride hard to the south, to Lothlórien. Our kin of the Golden Wood will undoubtedly aid you. Deliver your brother from the darkness that now imprisons him and bring him home.”

Spite burned in Astaldogald’s gaze. “You would sacrifice two for the sake of one?” he hissed, his voice seething.

Thranduil’s own anger rivaled his rash son’s. “Nay,” he declared lowly, “but neither would I sacrifice one for the sake of your pride. Hold your tongue, Astaldogald, for you make yourself into a jealous wretch with your words.” The Elf grimaced then, ashen, and grew silent with quivering shame and rage. Aratadarion felt his father’s piercing gaze upon him. “Let your love for him be your strength. A black shadow steals his light and his will; you will fight for him.” The orders were clear. Thranduil’s face relaxed, and he sighed gently in fear and worry. “I will not have any of my sons pass into the cold night. Now, go. Do not disobey your king, and do not disappoint your father.”

A long empty minute stretched on, and all were still with pain. Aratadarion felt his heart grow heavy and afraid. This would be a great task for him. Never before had he surmounted such a quest. He was weak with sword and knife. His eyes were not quick and his reflexes betrayed his slovenly fighting prowess. He on no account had traveled far from the safety of Mirkwood. He quaked in doubt, though he could never deny this duty. How would he do this?

He glanced to Vardaithil, wishing his fair protector to bless him with a reassuring smile. His hope was granted. Relieved, he turned to his twin.

Astaldogald grunted in fury and stalked away. Angry shouting filled the corridors beyond, and the scurrying of terrified footsteps echoed as servants rushed to fulfill the vicious commands of their lord. Aratadarion winced. His father’s voice drew his attention. “My fair Aratadarion,” he said gently, lovingly. Aratadarion looked to his king, and was heartened by the fatherly affection clear on the ancient Elf’s face. “Be well, and care for your brothers. The metal of your heart is your greatest virtue.” He drew a breath to steady himself before taking his leave as well. As he did, he felt a resolution that not often graced him fill his heart. Be strong, Legolas, he thought. We are coming for you.

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.

Story Information

Author: maggie

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 11/12/02

Original Post: 07/14/02

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