34. When the Bough Breaks
A couple keen-eyed souls have pointed out to me that Boromir was not blonde. Visions of Boromir as a blonde had me utterly horrified (something is just so wrong about it), and I wondered where I had made that mistake… It then occurred to me I might have described him as “fair.” (Aha!) I use the term “fair” only in the context of complexion. Hence, Boromir is fair and dark-haired, whereas say, Thranduil is fair and golden-haired. Similarly, Arwen is fair and dark-haired, while Glorfindel is fair and golden-haired. Poor Legolas is just fair (it’s up to your imagination to assign him hair and eye color).
Lhûn- Thranduil’s eldest son, Heir of Mirkwood.
Calengaladh- Thranduil’s second son. Brains behind The Spider And Squirrel operation
Mallos- Thranduil’s third son. Tagged along with Legolas and Calengaladh in said revenge operation, primarily to keep both brothers out of trouble
Tuilë- Thranduil’s fourth child and Princess of Mirkwood.
Othon- Mirkwood archer, most likely Legolas’ future brother-in-law
Silence reigned in the throne room of the Wood-Elf King. Even the morning rays of sun appeared reluctant to shine upon Thranduil’s halls, opting instead to timidly hide behind the trunks of Mirkwood’s massive beech trees.
Thranduil sat tall and straight upon the throne, gripping his oaken staff so tightly his knuckles were white. The King’s mouth was drawn into a thin line, and his grey eyes smoldered with rage. Occasionally his nostrils would flare, prompting his eyes to burn brighter, his lips to press firmer, and his grip on the staff to grow tighter. Rage, apparently, came in fits.
Legolas stood next to Calengaladh and Mallos before the king, their heads slightly bowed and eyes averted in submission.
They had all been as such for three hours now. No one spoke; no one moved. They barely dared to draw breath. A noticeably subdued atmosphere had settled over the palace, and the usual bustle and chorus of morning was strangely absent. The four Elves were not disturbed, though Legolas sensed Lhûn and Tuilë waited anxiously beyond the closed doors.
Legolas had been frightened many times in his life. As an elfling, he had been frightened of the dungeons and that Thranduil would disappear as his mother did. He had been frightened the first time he saw an orc, and again the moments before he first killed one. He had been frightened upon receiving his first serious injury, and the various other occasions some ill befell one of his siblings. To be scared was not something Legolas particularly enjoyed—he found it more annoying if anything—but it was a feeling he understood and knew how to combat.
Now he received his first inkling of terror. ‘I should have made for the trees and given the sack to Calengaladh. Why must I always follow him? Why? His antics only draw the King’s ire, and already am I perfectly capable of doing that on my own.’
With some effort, he managed to push aside the strange and uncontrollable panic that seemed intent on forcing him to flee. Visions of the palace guards dragging him back to Thranduil quickly halted the urge to run. Legolas frowned, disgusted he even entertained such thoughts. He would remain and accept his fate. Besides, the doors were probably locked.
The more time Thranduil spent attempting to control his anger, the greater it grew. His sons remained silent, knowing full well a single word or gesture would unleash the King’s wrath. It was better to patiently await the storm to break of its own accord. Unfortunately, the storm showed no signs of immediate release and merely kept building. And if one of them—be it father or sons—did not take action soon, the King’s fury was likely to obliterate them all.
Calengaladh never had been a patient one. He cast sidelong glances to Legolas and Mallos. Both realized his intentions at once, and sent him equal looks of pleading.
Mallos gave his head a barely perceptible shake. ‘Nay Calengaladh! Do not!’
‘NO!’ Legolas’ eyes widened slightly. ‘You would not dare be so foolish!’
Taking a deep breath, Calengaladh lifted his head. Legolas stiffened and Mallos winced. Mirkwood’s second prince met the gaze of his father, and promptly forgot what he was going to say. Words would have mattered little though, for Thranduil’s roar drowned out all else.
“BY THE GRACE OF ILUVATAR, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?”
Outside the throne room, Tuilë plastered herself against the wall and Lhûn took two full paces backwards. Glorfindel, who was sleepily wandering the Elvenking’s Halls and wondering why everyone was so morose, reacted as any full-blooded warrior would: he reflexively spun and punched whatever it was that followed behind him. Poor Galion never knew what hit him.
Thranduil’s face flushed decidedly purple. “Again, I ask: What were you thinking? Look at me when I am speaking to you!” Three lowered heads immediately snapped up. “Do you even begin to fathom how reckless, irresponsible—not to mention purely idiotic—your actions were? Not only did you disregard nighttime safety and protocol, but your behavior was no better than that of spoilt elflings. And for what reason? Because you sought revenge against a Dwarf. A DWARF!”
The three sons of Thranduil cringed. Heads sank even lower as the Elven-king’s voice pounded over them in blow after merciless blow. “I said look at me when I am speaking to you!” Thranduil’s eyes leapt and flared, fury dancing openly across his face. “Never, ever, have I been embarrassed so! You three have shamed this House! I thank the Valar your grandsire was not here to witness such disgrace.” He glowered, foul mood gathering within the room like thick smoke. “Well do you know I do not tolerate such appalling conduct amongst my warriors.” Two fiery grey eyes fell upon the dark-haired prince.
“My Lord,” Mallos managed to quietly voice, guilt and shame written plainly across his fair countenance. Though widely regarded as the most sensible of the royal family, he had propensity to take criticisms—those voiced against him in particular—to heart.
“I know you have a better head on your shoulders than that of which you demonstrated this eve. In the future, it would be wise were you to heed its counsel. Of all my children, I least expect such conduct from you.”
“Forgive me, my liege.” Mallos remained remarkably calm, though his face drained of all color. Although it pained Legolas to see his brother so, he felt a stab of pride that Mallos met Thranduil’s gaze.
“Do not disappoint me again.” Mallos mutely bowed his head. Thranduil stood and crossed his arms over his chest, lining Calengaladh within his sights.
Mirkwood’s second prince stiffened and tilted his chin in slight defiance. “My Lord.”
Mallos, though still shaken, closed his eyes and resisted the urge to sigh in frustration. ‘Do not argue with him, Calengaladh,’ he silently pleaded. ‘Keep your temper in check.’
Thranduil slowly ascended the throne, bearing down upon golden-haired prince. “I take it this idea was of your making, was it not?”
“It was, my Lord.”
Thranduil’s voice carried throughout the room like the cold shiver of unsheathed blades. “I have tolerated your mischief in the past, Calengaladh. I will tolerate it no more. Too often have you put yourself and others in harm’s way.”
“I have not committed a prank in years,” the golden-haired prince protested, a little too heatedly for Thranduil’s liking. “And I endangered no one! It was—“
“You take your younger brothers past our boundaries—,” Thranduil hissed, coming to stand directly in front of his son, “—in the dead of night, no less, and you believe it was out of harm’s way?”
“They came along willingly, I did not force them! And—“
“Do NOT take that tone with me!” Thranduil bellowed. Jaw clenched, Calengaladh dropped his head, though not before Thranduil caught the sullen flash of rebellion in his eyes. “You risked your life and that of your brothers, so that you might dump two sacks of forest creatures upon a Dwarf? Calengaladh, need I remind you of your age? It is long past time you start acting it! Despite the amusement you may find in these ridiculous stunts, I assure you: You succeed at nothing more than making an utter fool of yourself!”
“Such conduct,” Thranduil continued, “is unacceptable and appalling from one of your station. I will not tolerate behavior of the sort from Mirkwood’s Heir. Do I make myself clear?”
Still a pale shade of crimson, Calengaladh mumbled in reply.
“I repeat,” Thranduil snapped, “do I make myself clear?”
Calengaladh straightened and looked past the King’s shoulder. “Yes, My Lord.”
“Good.” Thranduil slowly turned his head so that his gaze fell upon Legolas.
‘Why has he left me for last?’ the youngest prince wondered in alarm. “My Lord?”
“We shall continue our conversation shortly. Alone.”
Legolas swallowed. “As the king wills it.”
Thranduil pivoted gracefully on his heel and stalked back to the throne. He studied the trio several tense moments before again speaking. “Herein,” he stated imperiously, seeming to tower over them from atop the carved chair, “rests my judgment: Henceforth the three of you are stripped of all rank and relieved of any duties not pertaining directly to the title of ‘Prince.’ It will be as such until I see fit to reinstate them.”
Mallos’ eyes widened, Calengaladh’s jaw dropped, and Legolas felt his entire being sink in misery.
“Secondly,” Thranduil continued, “as it is also apparent your diplomatic skills are severely lacking, I shall have Taurmil organize a rotating schedule so that you each may attend court during various treaties and trade agreements. I believe the Woodsmen are set to parley with us in two weeks’ time.”
Legolas felt Calengaladh’s shoulders sag. Though Legolas was not overly fond of the political aspects of ruling, Calengaladh loathed the encounters with every ounce of his being. A militant thinker, more accustomed to being obeyed without question, Calengaladh was not one to readily compromise on any front. Attending court would be pure torture.
“Third, you are to aid the innkeeper, whose lodgings you destroyed, in the rebuilding and refurbishing of his inn. Tell him cost is of no consequence, for you shall be more than willing to compensate his losses.”
Quick glances of sympathy were tossed in the direction of Mallos, whose face contorted in visible horror. Woodcraft was not his specialty, and he had yet to recover from the collapse of the birdhouse he built—though the incident occurred well before either Legolas or Tuilë was born. The King and Queen originally told the distraught young elfling that the bird found a bigger home and flew away. Then Calengaladh, who was at the tender and know-it-all age of 40, remarked that if the bird really had escaped in time, it probably would have taken its wing with it. Orodil, the since-fallen Heir of Mirkwood, had not been fast enough in clamping a hand over Calengaladh’s mouth.
Mallos still refused to craft anything but arrows.
“And last, you shall write letters of apology to the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, regarding your assault against one of their kin.” The Elven-king’s face darkened in warning as the three exchanged looks of utter disbelief. “Were these times less dangerous, I would bid you walk to those forsaken hills and personally apologize.”
He sat back down upon the throne and coolly folded his hands across his lap. “That is all, for the time being. Mallos, you are to inform Celebdir he shall be taking over command of your unit. Calengaladh, you are to inform Othon—“
“Othon!” Calengaladh could not contain his outrage. “You cannot possibly be serious! With the exception of the Palace Guards, I hold the entirety of Mirkwood’s forces—Othon can barely command his own bowstring! Of all the possible candidates, Othon is least capable of—“
Thranduil held up a hand. “Enough! That is all,” he repeated in icy tones. “You are dismissed.”
Calengaladh clenched his jaw, lithe frame shaking in fury. Legolas almost expected his teeth to crack. Thankfully, the golden-haired prince held his tongue. The three Elves bowed low before the king and turned to leave.
Legolas froze mid-stride.
“I would speak with you.”
* * *
Tuilë hurried to her brothers’ side they moment the exited the throne room. Lhûn regarded them in disapproval and curiosity, but crossed his arms over his chest and remained leaning against the wall.
“Where is Legolas?” Tuilë asked, smooth brow wrinkling in concern.
“Being devoured by the King, most likely,” Calengaladh muttered in dark reply.
Tuilë put her hands on her hips. “The three of you went too far this time, Calengaladh. Adar had no choice but to react thus. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”
Calengaladh threw up his hands. “‘This time,’ she says, ‘This time’… There has never even been a previous time! If I desired further lecture, dear sister,” he spoke through gritted teeth, flashing her a brittle smile, “I would return to the throne room.”
Mirwood’s princess pointed her noise in the air. “Do not take your anger out on me. Whatever punishment you received, I do not doubt you deserved it.”
Mallos, who had until then been regarding Lhûn in brooding silence, spoke before Calengaladh had chance to retort. “I, for one, wish to know why Adar referred to Calengaladh as Mirkwood’s Heir.”
Calengaladh blinked, frowning as Thranduil’s words came back to him. Further bickering immediately ceased.
* * *
Glorfindel hoped Thranduil would not require the services of Galion that day, though the Elf was a rather important member of the household. The Imladris lord was not sure how to go about explaining to the King that he had accidentally put Thranduil’s chief butler out of commission. Though the old Elf now rested comfortably in the infirmary, doubtless he would be off his feet for the remainder of the day.
Glorfindel grimaced and gave his head a slight shake. Throwing up the hands to deflect a jab came instinctively. How was it Galion lacked that instinct? ‘I suppose that is why he is a butler and not a warrior.’
Continuing his leisurely walk down the airy halls, Glorfindel could not help but admire the skill and craftsmanship apparent throughout the palace. The walls were carved in such a likeness to mimic the sight and texture of tree bark, or depicted various forest creatures and scenes of lore. Protruding chutes and formations were carved to resmble the very trees themselves. Soft light from countless golden lanterns illuminated Thranduil’s halls, and Glorfindel found they lent a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere. Woven and dyed tapestries hung from the ceiling gave the simulation of a forest canopy; slender handrails and stairs were more reminiscent of tree limb than stone.
Pausing to dip his fingers in the silver waters of one of many fountains, Glorfindel was surprised to hear birdsong echoing throughout the strange forest. ‘Cavern,’ he corrected himself. Were it not for the barely-perceptible echo and murmur of stone, he would be able to forget he was within the mountain entirely.
He wandered in quiet marvel until the scenery took on more regal tones. ‘I must near the throne room,’ he thought, and hoped Thranduil was in the mood to be bothered. Intuition, however, told him otherwise.
Trotting lightly up a wide stair, Glorfindel was not surprised to find the palace virtually abandoned. Two guards exchanged a glance of pity as he passed them, and had he missed that, there was the omnipotent wrath that seemed to flow down the main walkway in waves.
Glorfindel idly wondered whether Legolas would be traveling back to Rivendell in one piece or two. He paused at the top of the stair. ‘Mayhap it would be wise were I not to interupt. At least, not for the time being.’ He would wait outside the throne room, requesting an audience with the King as would any other.
He had nearly reached the end of the large hallway, when the pervading silence was broken by an accusatory shout.
“You are a coward, Lhûn!”
With a resigned sigh, Glorfindel came to a halt. He would most likely be heard if he retreated, unless he tiptoed (and he had never been one to sneak around). Should he continue on, he would interrupt a private argument and cause embarrassment for all parties involved. And from what little experience he had with the House of Oropher, it did not deal well with embarrassment. Attempting to ignore the raised voices, Glorfindel turned and began a thorough study of the wall carvings. ‘At least,’ he thought, forcefully willing himself to be optimistic, ‘these walls are of some interest.’
* * *
Lhûn whirled on his heel, eyes blazing, and stalked towards Calengaladh.
“Cease this, both of you!” Mallos immediately jumped between the two, one hand pressed against Calengaladh’s chest while the other held off Lhûn.
“Speak naught which you know nothing of,” Lhûn spat, eyes locking with Calengaladh. Calengladh met the challenge and glared back.
Mallos gripped Calengaladh’s tunic and unsuccessfully tried to angle himself between the dueling stares.
“You are a coward,” Calengaladh repeated. “You would abandon Mirkwood, leaving the rest of us to fight for you. Well, fine, I say. FINE. Cowards and traitors have no place within this realm.”
Lhûn tightened and almost looked as though he would lunge. Holding off one brother, Mallos realized, would be difficult but manageable; two was out of the question.
“I thought you would be much pleased by the news,” Lhûn coldly replied. “For is this not what you have always wanted—to be Crown Prince of Mirkwood?”
“Lhûn!” Mallos hissed.
Calengaladh balled his fists. “Not like this! I did not wish for it this way.”
Lhûn’s eyes narrowed, words tempered by hot anger spilling from his mouth before he could stop them. “Then perhaps you wished to find me dead on the battlefield, as befell Orodil? I am sure luck sides with you in the matter; Mirkwood seems to lose an Heir as price for nearly all great battles.”
Calengaladh blanched. All turned to stare at the Crown Prince and sickening silence ensued.
Lhûn’s eyes flickered in horror and regret upon realizing his words. “Calengaladh, I—“
Shoving aside Mallos’ hand, Calengladh turned stiffly and departed without a backwards glance. The silence in the room remained unbroken, save the occasional thunder of Thranduil’s voice beyond the throne room doors.
Lhûn washed a hand over his face and released an uneven breath. He had not meant to be so cruel, but Calengaladh’s comment had cut deeply and he lashed out accordingly. It was particularly painful because he constantly asked himself the same question. Was he a coward? “I am sorry,” he softly began, looking pleadingly to his remaining siblings.
Mallos, face white with anger, slowly backed away. “You bitter, self-absorbing cad,” he spat, voice shaking slightly. “I hope your ship sinks on the way to Valinor.” Spinning on his heel, the dark-haired prince departed in the direction Calengaladh had taken.
Lhûn sighed wearily. “Will you leave me now too, my sister?”
Thranduil’s fair daughter managed a strained smile. “It is you who are leaving, Lhûn, not I.” She gave his arm a gentle pat as she brushed by him, skirts rustling softly. Lhûn almost wished she had slapped him instead.
Resting his forehead against the cold stone of the wall, Lhûn closed his eyes and clenched his fists. ‘Why did I not depart ages ago? Why did I not journey with Nimlasse? I should have remained by her side, I should have left ere the forest grew so dark. I should have…”
Glorfindel cleared his throat somewhat awkwardly. Some conversations were not meant to be overheard, and that had been one of them.
Lhûn started and immediately straightened, regaining composure honed from years of court life. His eyes narrowed in annoyance upon recognizing Glorfindel. “My Lord Glorfindel.”
Glorfindel bowed. “Prince Lhûn.”
“Let us skip pleasantries,” Lhûn said with frown. His eyes strayed towards the throne room doors. “The King is… indisposed… at present. I know naught what it is you would speak to him about, and to be honest I do not quite care.”
Glorfindel raised an eyebrow. Lhûn ignored him.
“If I were you,” the prince continued, “that little Dwarf would be my primary concern.”
Lhûn waved a hand dismissively. “I do not know what it is called. Nevertheless, there was an incident last eve involving my younger brothers and the Naugrim. They unleashed squirrels and spiders upon your Dwarf, and apparently Legolas managed to engage it in fisticuffs.”
Glorfindel lifted his eyes towards the ceiling. Why, oh why, must he travel back to Rivendell with them? Lhûn grimaced: he would depart Mirkwood for the Grey Havens at Glorfindel’s departure, and would be traveling over the Misty Mountains with the remaining eastern scouting party.
“The Naugrim was left by itself in the inn. It was not our concern, and we know naught what became of it.”
Glorfindel dashed off towards the stables with a groan.
* * *
The throne room doors closed with a reverberating bang. Legolas suddenly found himself feeling extremely claustrophobic. Had the room always looked so dungeon-esque, or was he merely imagining things?
Torchlight gleamed off the Elven-king’s golden hair and gem-studded collar. Thranduil’s face remained hard and impassive, and Legolas was unable to discern whether the ensuing tongue-lashing would be courtesy Thranduil his Father or Thranduil King of Mirkwood. That Thranduil remained seated upon his throne suggested the latter.
“Approach.” The Elven-king held forth a hand and beckoned him closer. A bone-snapping chill permeated the room; the lanterns dimmed.
Thranduil’s lips quirked in anger. “Legolas, I do not even know where to begin.” His eyes swept over the Elf prince and narrowed in disgust. “Look at yourself. Just look at yourself!”
Legolas was suddenly painfully aware of his re-growing eyebrows, as well as the split lip and bruised jaw—courtesy of Gimli. He unconsciously licked the lip and clasped his hands behind his back, running a thumb over the bruised and swollen knuckles.
“There is no excuse for such behavior—NONE. And what is more,” Thranduil’s voice raised several notches of fury, “You know this. We should not even be having this conversation! Well do you know the proper conduct demanded of you. I will not waste my breath lecturing—I am not your nursemaid, though I now have ample cause to believe you are still in need of one!”
Thranduil took a moment to compose himself. When he again spoke, his voice carried the sharp commanding notes of a king. “You are to report to Captain Daelir for re-assignment by noon tomorrow. The deaths of Finalor and Ingolo have left us short two guards; I expect you will fill one of their positions.”
Legolas took a deep breath and steeled himself for the oncoming battle. “I cannot, My Lord. We depart for Imladris tomorrow morning.”
“Nay Legolas. Glorfindel departs for Imladris. You do not.”
“I am obligated to journey with him.”
“And what,” Thranduil demanded imperiously, “of your duties to Mirkwood? You have more pressing duties to fulfill beneath these leaves. You are a prince of this realm, Legolas. By blood and birthright are you bound to this land. I will not allow you to forsake your duties, simply because you have taken a fancy to foolish adventure!”
Legolas’ eyes flashed with indignation. “It is not a foolish adventure!” He winced inwardly at the childish sound of his protest.
Thranduil ignored the remark. “It was your charge to inform Lord Elrond of Gollum’s escape, and then return to Mirkwood. At no time were you granted leave to pursue ludicrous side endeavors.”
“It is significantly more than a ‘ludicrous side endeavor,’ and I will not be sorely missed,” argued Legolas. “I am but the youngest prince—my presence is not required to continue running the kingdom.”
“This is not a question of whether or not you shall be missed! This is of your negligence to your land and kin. I will not allow such irresponsible action, Legolas. It is disgraceful, especially coming from a son of mine.”
Legolas balled his fists. “Adar!” he exploded, throwing up his hands, “Have you any idea how humiliating it was to announce to all—EVERY RACE—of Gollum’s escape? And, even worse, that we were unable to recapture him? In our own forest, Father! Beneath our very own trees!” He released a sigh of frustration. “Gollum’s safekeeping was so much more important than we even dared believe. But I was offered chance to redeem us; a chance to prove myself and the strength of our kin. I can make a difference! Perhaps this does not amend our loss of Gollum, but mayhap it begins to make some reparation.”
Fury brought Thranduil to his feet. “And you thought,” he roared, causing the lantern light to shiver and quake, “your life a worthy trade for the loss of Gollum? Legolas, when will you learn you do not need to prove yourself? What more would you strive to achieve?”
“I—“ Legolas began heatedly. “What?” Had Thranduil just complimented him? Completely caught off-guard, the young Elf faltered.
“You will not leave this realm,” Thranduil concluded, taking full advantage of the other’s confusion and seizing control of the conversation. “I forbid it.”
Legolas quickly regained balance. “Already have I pledged myself. To retract would only further damage Mirkwood’s honor. I cannot go back on my word. I will not.”
Thranduil glowered, face growing pinched and white save two spots of crimson upon his cheeks. He swiftly ascended the throne. The Elven-king’s wrath hit Legolas like an icy fist, and he unconsciously stepped backwards before realizing his retreat. It took every ounce of willpower to stand his ground.
Thranduil stood, tall and straight before him, grey eyes ablaze. “Do you have ANY idea what you have done?”
Legolas, with great effort, lifted his chin. “Yes.” He was silently grateful his voice remained steady. Though as tall as his father, he felt extremely small.
Thranduil’s eyes narrowed dangerously and locked with his son’s. “And do you have any idea,” he vehemently hissed, “what you are about to embark upon?”
Legolas felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. Unable to break eye contact, his defiance wavered. “It will… It will be a dark and shadowed journey.”
Thranduil released a bitter snort. “Is that how Elrond termed it? Then let us give the Noldo Lord credit, my son, for in this at least he does not deceive.”
Legolas froze in alarm. To the best of his knowledge, Thranduil had never shown open disdain for the Lord of Imladris—at least, not in front of him. This was uncharted territory, and, Legolas sensed, exceedingly dangerous.
He tensed as Thranduil brushed past him and headed towards the doors. “Come,” the golden-haired king curtly instructed, not bothering to see whether Legolas followed. He could sense Legolas warily gauging his movements, as though he were some strange beast stumbled upon while patrolling the denser tracts of Mirkwood. “I would have you view a piece of this… ‘darkness and shadow.’”
Lhûn immediately drew himself upright as the throne room doors opened. “Where are your brothers?” Thranduil asked, eyes sweeping about the room.
Lhûn could not fully disguise his flinch. “They took their leave some time ago,” he said quietly. “I know naught of their whereabouts.”
Thranduil regarded him sharply, but knew better than to interfere with the private squabbles of his sons. Lhûn, in particular, resented such intrusions. “Attend to my duties until we return. I shall not be long. Taurmil and Belegir will provide ample assistance if necessary, and if you are not kept too busy assisting the refugees with their lodgings, please review the new Dorwinian contracts. They are on my desk in the study.”
Lhûn bobbed his head in acquiescence.
“And Lhûn, I trust you shall resolve whatever crossed between you and your siblings before my return?”
Lhûn stiffened, a pained expression momentarily clouding his fair features, and then collected himself. “Of course,” he replied with indifference. Ignoring Legolas’ questioning gaze, he bowed low and departed into the throne room.
A chilly silence followed Thranduil as he and Legolas marched though the caverns. Inhabitants of the palace instinctively gave them wide berth. The Elven-king glanced at Legolas, whose brow was furrowed in agitation and concern.
His son’s inquisitive nature would outweigh fear of angering Thranduil, ‘Any minute,’ Thranduil decided.
Legolas’ frown deepened. He opened his mouth to speak. “It is for Lhûn to tell,” Thranduil stated firmly, “and Lhûn alone.”
* * *
Gimli’s diminutive fire lent small warmth to his otherwise frigid morning. The Elves had managed to disappear before the enraged innkeeper pounded down the door. While Thranduil and his sons exited the window, Gimli pointedly asked just what, exactly, was he to tell the innkeeper? Thranduil had turned, glared, and sarcastically suggested the Dwarf, “Tell him you were attacked by orcs.” It was purely coincidental, Gimli decided, that his knees gave way under the Elf’s gaze and the retort, “Elves might be so stupid as to believe that, but he will not,” froze on his tongue.
Thus the innkeeper discovered him: utterly alone amidst an entire room of wreckage. There had been a lot of shouting, and then Gimli was promptly thrown out.
He took refuge at the very fringe of the forest. The inn was still within sight, and he dared not venture further into the unsettling eaves of Mirkwood.
Blowing onto his hands, Gimli held them before the flames. He was cold, hungry, and bone-tired. Furthermore, he was being blamed for something not even his fault. Not entirely his fault.
He fished around in his provision pack until he found a strip of dried venison. That it tasted slightly of pipeweed only added to his irritation. The Dwarf gnawed at the strip, foul mood growing all the while.
He noticed the innkeeper walking to a large woodpile stacked near the inn’s side, axe in hand. The innkeeper scowled at him. Gimli scowled back. Reaching for his own axe, the Dwarf made a show of effortlessly hoisting it over his shoulder.
His axe was bigger.
The innkeeper’s scowl deepened, and he hurriedly finished his task without casting Gimli another glance. A smug wave of victory surged through the Dwarf.
Gimli settled back down beside his meager fire and again tackled the venison. Dawn broke at last, pink and purple streaks contrasting deeply with the forest’s dusky tree trunks. He had nearly slipped into a doze when the distinct cadence of hoof beats reached his ears. Scrambling to his feet, the Dwarf immediately went for his axe and peered down the dimly lit path winding towards the inn.
The last thing he wanted to see was another Elf, which, of course, was exactly what he did see. The rider waved to him. Gimli did not feel inclined to wave back.
“A fair dawn to you, Gimli son of Glóin!” Glowing with the exuberance of his ride, Glorfindel brought his steed to a halt and gracefully dismounted. The golden-haired Elf smiled brightly, appearing greatly relieved to see the son of Glóin. Gimli could not say the same.
“What do you want?” came the Dwarf’s surly response. He was in no mood for polite formalities. And if Glorfindel made further ornate comments regarding morning or weather, Gimli had more than a few creative suggestions as to where the Elf lord might put them.
Glorfindel stood at a safe distance, smile wavering slightly. “Master Dwarf, if you would be so kind as to put down your axe…”
Gimli glanced at the axe blade, noticing his reflection in its silvery surface. Dried blood was ringed around his nose and small bits clung to his beard. There was a distinctly fist-shaped bruise on his temple. No, he did not feel inclined to put down the axe.
“Gimli.” Glorfindel’s face belied genuine regret. “I heard some of what occurred last night from Prince Lhûn.”
The Dwarf growled and muttered unintelligibly in Dwarven.
“I was told there was a tavern near this inn, though it is closer to the Lake-town settlement. By your leave, Master Dwarf, I would purchase you a warm meal and perhaps some mead—if you were to find it agreeable.”
Gimli considered the Elf lord’s offer and lowered his axe. What harm could come of it? After all, a meal was a meal, and nothing smoothed over past discrepancies quite like a mug of ale. “Very well, Glorfindel of Imladris.”
Glorfindel’s countenance brightened considerably. “Come then, son of Glóin. We shall fetch your pony and—“
“I will walk,” Gimli flatly declared. The morning was proving bad enough; he didn’t need to make it worse by clambering atop a horse.
Glorfindel knew better than to argue.
Turning to gather his things, Gimli found himself under the shrewd gaze of a second golden-haired Elf. “Great Smiths!” he swore, nearly stumbling backwards into the tiny campfire. Thranduil coolly nudged his steed forward. Much to Gimli’s displeasure, Legolas also emerged from the trees.
“Lord Glorfindel, Master Dwarf.” Thranduil acknowledged each of them. Neither said anything in reply, and Gimli thought Glorfindel appeared mildly apprehensive. A cold and stony silence ensued, broken only by dry leaves skipping over the trail. Gimli fumed inwardly at the Wood-Elf King. Not only was Thranduil the monster that had thrown Gimli’s father into the dungeons, but he was also responsible for the creation of Legolas as well.
“Mount your pony, Master Dwarf.”
It took Gimli a fair amount of effort not to automatically obey the Sindar lord’s command. The desire to comply sprang up almost reflexively. Gimli wondered how the Elven-king did it.
Thranduil’s fair face darkened. “Did you not hear me?”
“I did,” Gimli replied. He looped his thumbs through his belt. “But I do not find that reason enough to do so.”
Legolas, who had been pointedly gazing off into the forest so as to avoid acknowledging anyone, turned to watch the unfolding scene with curiosity. This was going to be interesting. ‘Let the Dwarf try and worm its way out of this one.’
Thranduil’s grey eyes narrowed and took a steel-colored hue. Trees stopped rustling. The morning sun slipped behind a low-lying cloud and refused to come out. Even Glorfindel was impressed. “We are going for a ride,” the Elven-king said with deliberate slowness. “Mount your pony.” An unnatural gust of wind sprang up from nowhere Gimli could discern, and the flames of his campfire suddenly extinguished. Upon its passing, wispy tendrils of blue smoke slithered and curled delicately into the air.
Gimli half-suppressed a shiver. Dawn ought to make the forest lighter—not darker. And where had his fire gone? Had he been better acquainted with Elves, he would have noticed Legolas’ eyes widen and glimmer with grudging awe and admiration, or Glorfindel’s grim appreciation of the Sindar lord’s power. These Gimli missed, but he was not so foolish as to disregard powerful displays of authority when he saw them. He was acutely aware of whose realm he resided in. ‘I suppose,’ Gimli decided, ‘he could demand far worse of me.’ Getting on a horse suddenly seemed a trivial matter.
Gimli secured his axe into his belt and with help of Glorfindel, began gathering his things. Thranduil was content to sit imperiously atop his bay-colored steed, eyeing the Dwarf’s progress in that unnerving Elvish way Gimli loathed.
The atmosphere over the company began shifting so drastically Gimli found himself emotionally drained and at nerves’ end. One moment, the sun would shine and the trees would sway pleasantly in the autumn wind. The next, it would grow unexpectedly dark and bitter, in imitation of Thranduil’s earlier mood—though not quite as powerful. Then a leaf would move, or a squirrel would emit some chatter, and the shadows would flicker and dissolve into brightness. This went on for several minutes—bright to dark, ice to sun, until Gimli very nearly felt insane.
The strange shifting continued until Thranduil shot the youngest prince an irritated look, which clearly said, ‘Stop it.’
Legolas managed to look more indignant than sheepish, though the drastic shifting immediately ceased.
Gimli mounted his fat pony with deliberate nonchalance, determined to make it look as though the ride was completely his choice. Glorfindel almost mistook Thranduil’s muted sigh of exasperation for his own. “They are each of them bad as the other,” the Elven-king hissed under his breath. As Thranduil was not in the habit of muttering, and spoke only what he wished to be heard, Glorfindel could not help but wonder for whom the words were intended.
Thranduil tightened his grip on the reins. “Master Dwarf, are you ready to proceed?” Gimli nodded, knowing full well he would be going whether prepared or not. Thranduil merely humored him. Gimli noticed all three Elven steeds bore reins, furthering his growing suspicion that Legolas had been showing off during the scouting party’s journey.
Glorfindel knotted the final rein, securely tethering Gimli’s pony to his own steed, and looked to Thranduil.
“May I ask what you are doing?”
“Ensuring Gimli’s mount does not escape should she decide to bolt,” Glorfindel replied.
“The Dwarf,” Legolas cheerily remarked, “cannot ride.”
Gimli took satisfaction in knowing he was responsible for the Elf’s split lip and bruised jaw. Thranduil snapped something to his son in Elvish, and though Legolas’ eyes flashed, he made no further comments.
“Lord Glorfindel,” Thranduil again addressed the Imladris Elf, “your presence is not required upon this journey. I would ask that you return to my Halls.”
Glorfindel firmly shook his head. “Gimli is my charge, and I do not think you wish to have him tied to your horse.”
Thranduil’s eyes flicked to Legolas, and for one horrifying moment, the thoughts of both Dwarf and Elven prince were one and the same: ‘He would not dare.’
Thankfully, Thranduil was wise enough to recognize a bad idea when he saw one. “I shall tie him to my tack if necessary.”
Glorfindel blinked. What was Thranduil up to? “My Lord, I must protest. Gimli is my charge and I will see to his welfare.”
Under normal circumstances, Gimli would have promptly informed Glorfindel the Elf was not, in any way, “in charge” of him. However, when the alternative was to ride with the Elven-king, Gimli preferred Glorfindel’s claims any day.
Thranduil eyed the Noldor lord in chilly disapproval. “Very well,” he said at last, upon realizing the Elf of Rivendell would not be dissuaded. “Follow me.”
Glorfindel sensed the other’s displeasure but could make neither heads nor tails of it. He shook his head and tugged gently on the reins, wishing he were better acquainted with the mind of Thranduil.
They fell into a swift and silent pace, traveling invisible paths known only to the Elves of Mirkwood. Thranduil led, and as the forest grew darker and less hospitable, Legolas dropped back to the rearguard position. From what Glorfindel could discern, they headed south and slightly to the west, but to what destination he could not say.
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.