35. Journey to Darkness and Shadow
This chapter contains some slightly graphic content. I felt a little funny upping the rating on account of a forest depiction, but a warning of sorts seemed in order. No blood, no gore, no violence. Just big, scary TREES. *Woooooooo* Okay, okay. But in all seriousness, I would advise skipping over that section if you’re a little squeamish.
Lhûn- Thranduil’s eldest. Heir of Mirkwood. Leaving Middle-earth.
Calengaladh- Thranduil’s second son. Soon-to-be Heir of Mirkwood.
Mallos- Thranduil’s third son
Tuilë- Thranduil’s fourth child. Princess of Mirkwood
Othon- Mirkwood archer. Most likely Legolas’ future brother-in-law
*Orodil- Former Heir of Mirkwood and firstborn child of Thranduil. Ran off to command Falathrim forces (under the Noldor) at Dagorlad. Slain during the Last Alliance
Oropher- Founding Father of the Greenwood, himself. Also slain during Last Alliance. Poor guy.
Ilwë & Nimium- Thranduil’s mother and sister, respectively. Fell during the War of Sauron and the Elves (1697 S.A.).
Gil-galad- “Gil-galad was an Elven-king…” Noldor High King during Last Alliance. Gave his ring of power to Elrond (who was his conscript) before falling in battle.
Thranduil- “Thranduil is an Elven-king…” Yes, well, he should have his own song…
Glorfindel- Slayer of Balrogs. Went to Mandos. Returned from the dead. (And you thought Gandalf was good…) Was The Real Elf who saved Frodo at the Ford. Beleaguered captain of Rivendell and leader of the Eastern Scouting Party.
Legolas- Object of most fangirls’ affection. Rumor has it he’s in the upcoming ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ with Johnny Depp. (Er, wait a minute, that’s not right…)
Gimli- One Dwarf among the masses. Somebody give him a hug.
And, of course, Happy Reading!
Mallos wandered the outer grounds of Mirkwood in pensive moodiness. His restless feet brought him at last to the training grounds. Several groups of novices were under strict supervision at the archery range; first year warriors were running through age-old spear drills. If he listened closely enough, Mallos knew he would be able to discern the bend and rustle of tree branches as off-duty scouts honed their canopy-traversing techniques.
The dark-haired Elf surveyed the grounds as he strode through, acknowledging various weapons masters and former training partners with sharp inclinations of the chin. Knowing Calengaladh’s habits and temper, Mallos decided his brother had retreated to the older and deserted section of the fields. Leaving the carefully groomed training grounds, Mallos headed towards the unkempt and tangled fields of previous years. A solitary figure moving deftly amidst dilapidated sparring bags caught his attention.
As Mallos suspected, he found Calengaladh taking out his frustrations on a weathered, sand-filled sparring bag, which was suspended from a thick tree bough. Spear blade flashing white in the dim Mirkwood sunlight, Calengaladh spun and thrust the spear butt into the bag. Mallos leaned against a tree trunk and observed his brother in quiet appreciation. Calengaladh always had been particularly skilled with the weapon—a source of envy on Mallos’ part during his younger years.
Calengaladh gracefully whirled and ducked an imaginary jab. Twirling the spear in one hand, he deftly halted its spin with the other and delivered a quick one-two strike with alternating shaft ends. The sandbag thudded pleasantly and swung backwards at the force of his blows. Calengaladh dropped the spear to his waist and furiously thrust the blade into the sack. Letting go of the weapon and stepping back, he glared at the skewered bag as it twisted wildly, spear protruding from its midsection.
Mallos wondered whose face Calengaladh was envisioning on the sandbag—Thranduil, Othon, or Lhûn. ‘Most likely Lhûn.’ He plucked a beechnut from the ground and hurled it at the sack. The nut ricocheted smartly off the bag. Calengaladh, still breathing heavily, turned and gave the dark-haired prince a curt nod of approval.
His grey eyes slid past Mallos and narrowed. Following his brother’s gaze, Mallos glanced over his shoulder.
“You still have habit of leaving your left side unguarded.” Lhûn frowned and clasped his hands behind his back as he approached the two.
Calengaladh folded his arms across his chest. “I do not think you are one to give me tips on spear-wielding. Have you not other duties to attend, Lhûn? Or do you abandon them as you would abandon the rest of us?”
“Calengaladh,” Lhûn sharply replied, “I did not come here to trade insults with you!”
Mallos absently rolled his boot back and forth over a fallen beechnut. “And yet that is all you have done thus far.”
“It is hardly possible to do otherwise when the two of you are concerned!”
“Then perhaps,” said Calengaladh, “you should not waste your remaining hours with such poor company as us.”
Lhûn’s eyes flashed furiously. “Perhaps not.” He threw up his hands in disgust. “I had hoped you might—nay, never mind. My words are wasted upon your deaf ears and wooden heads.” He turned abruptly on his heel and stalked angrily towards the palace.
Calengaladh watched his retreating form in disdain. “Lhûn!” he called, extending a slender arm in the direction opposite the Crown Prince, “Valinor is that way!”
Lhûn stopped walking. ‘Ai.’ Calengaladh instantly regretted his words. ‘I should not have said that.’
“You should not have said that,” Mallos murmured at his side. Calengaladh frowned and shot the other a look of irritation.
Lhûn’s long strides quickly covered the distance between them. “You think this any easier for me? You think I have not lain awake countless nights, agonizing over my decision?”
Witnessing the Crown Prince lose his head was a memorable sight.
“You think I willingly succumb to the Sea’s Call? That I would willingly admit defeat? Have you any idea how long I have fought this battle, and what damage it has wrecked upon my sanity and my soul? This land is dead to me! It is nothing but darkness and shadow and decay! It is all around—consuming me with every breath of foul air I take. I cannot bear it any longer. I CANNOT!”
Mallos found himself plastered against a tree trunk, rough bark biting into his back. Calengaladh’s position mirrored his own. Lhûn’s final shout echoed painfully throughout the forest. Eyes flashing wildly, the Crown Prince stood before them pale and trembling. It took Mallos a moment to realize he and Calengaladh were shaking just as badly.
With a violent shudder, Lhûn sank to his knees. Mallos and Calengaladh reflexively followed suit, sliding down the tree trunk on strangely weakened legs. Shoulders sagging in defeat, Lhûn bowed his head and allowed his hair to fall across his face.
Deafening silence settled beneath the autumn eaves of Mirkwood. Three erratic and pounding heartbeats offered small reprieve. Mallos opened his mouth to speak, but could find no appropriate words.
He stiffened in surprise, though did not resist, when Calengaladh looped one arm around his shoulders and the other over Lhûn’s, drawing them both into firm embrace.
Lhûn’s frame trembled as he emitted a shaky laugh. “You two are rotten,” he murmured, though without malice. “Absolutely rotten.”
Calengaladh squeezed him tightly and grinned crookedly.
Mallos smiled. “We shall miss you too, Miserable Wretch.”
* * *
After what seemed (to Gimli) an eternity of foliage and tree roots, Thranduil’s party came at last to a small dell. The Elven-king called them to a halt. “We draw near the Mountains of Mirkwood,” spoke Legolas in hushed tones. He lifted himself slightly from the saddle and peered into the gloom, bright eyes widening inquisitively.
Gimli, who was supposed to be clutching the mane of his pony, opted instead for the more comforting feel of the axe handle. Though no trees grew directly within the tiny clearing, protruding branches extended to weave a dark ceiling above it. Sickly yellow sunspecks pierced the closely-knit canopy, illuminating small sections of fallen leaves and twigs. Little else carpeted the forest floor, for the dark and solemn trees of Mirkwood permitted only miniscule amounts of light to touch the earth. Gimli sat motionless, gripping the axe handle as though it were a lifeline. Glorfindel shifted restlessly and placed one hand over his sword pommel.
Reaching into a skillfully embroidered saddlebag, Thranduil drew forth a small tinder lantern and lit it. The tiny flame flickered and cast an orange pall within the dell. Handing the lantern to Legolas, he pointed towards the shadowed eaves waiting silently before them. “Cross this dell and crest the following hill. Take the Dwarf with you.”
Legolas frowned. “And then what am I to do?”
“You are to look,” Thranduil replied.
“Look? That is all?”
“As my liege commands.” Legolas swung himself down with nonchalant ease. “Come, Dwa—,” he scowled in annoyance as Glorfindel cleared his throat, “—Gimli.”
Gimli managed to get his heel tangled in the stirrup and landed rather heavily on the ground. Thankfully, both Glorfindel and Thranduil had tact enough not to laugh, and Thranduil’s glare cut short Legolas’ snort of mirth. Gimli picked himself up with a grunt and brushed leaf litter from his beard, mumbling all the while about poorly fashioned stirrups. Glorfindel was positive Thranduil’s scratching of the nose was merely pretense to hide his own smile. Grumbling and making certain his axe was readily accessible, the Dwarf hastened after Legolas and into the foreboding woods.
The two crossed the dell rapidly and began hiking up the rugged hill.
“Quit swinging the lantern, Elf.”
“How I carry the lantern is of no concern to you, Dwarf.” The pale orange light continued its jaunty bounce, leaping haphazardly against the surrounding tree trunks.
“It is my concern,” Gimli hissed in reply, “if I trip and fall over one of these confounded tree roots!”
Legolas was far too cheerful as far as Gimli was concerned. It would do the Elf good, decided the Dwarf, were he to have some fear instilled in him. Gimli squinted into the gloom. Mayhap something would pop out of the shadows and eat the addle-brained tree coddler.
Snapping branches shattered the forest’s unnatural stillness. Gimli spun, axe aloft. “What was that?” Sweat beaded on his brow despite the chill of the moist air.
Legolas raised the lantern. Its muted orange flame glowed eerily against the tree trunks. Gimli held his breath. “That,” said the Elf with infuriating calmness, “was a spider. At least, I am inclined to believe so.” He held the lantern forth and proceeded to walk in the direction of the sound.
“What are you doing?” Gimli dared not shout in the sinisterly hushed woods. “Are you mad? Come back here!”
Legolas turned with an exasperated sigh. “I merely seek to—“
“There will be no seeking—NONE—of any kind! What kind of fool ‘seeks’ to set the enemy upon him?”
“The beast was small, and it was fleeing. We had no reason to fear. It was more frightened of you than you were of it.”
Gimli lowered his axe with a snarl and peered warily into the shadows. “Do not mistake common sense for fear, Elf. You would be wise to remember that.”
“And you would be wise not to mistake fear for common sense, lest you be rendered frightened of even a your own shadow.”
Gimli scowled. “Give me the lantern. All that swinging is making your precious trees ill.”
“Nay,” Legolas smoothly replied, “it is merely your presence that disgusts them so.” Nonetheless, he handed the lantern to Gimli. “I need it not,” the Elf announced, “for my eyes can see well enough in this darkness.”
“Braggart,” Gimli muttered, knowing in all likelihood the Elf heard him. Legolas, however, apparently considered himself above responding.
They reached the hillcrest, Legolas in the lead. Below them, a thick grey fog had begun to collect, swallowing up the hill foot and continuing woods below. Staring intently into the murk, Legolas paused and adjusted his quiver before striding determinedly down the hill. Gimli followed with a bit more trepidation, carefully monitoring the ground for roots that seemed intent on tripping him.
Legolas stopped so abruptly that Gimli, eyes still trained on the forest floor, ran straight into the Elf’s backside.
“What—?” The Dwarf sputtered angrily and balled his thick fists. Oddly enough, Legolas gave no sign of having even noticed the collision. Gimli gave his beard a tug of annoyance and glanced at the Elf.
Legolas remained motionless. Gimli studied his face, deciding the Elf had gone unnaturally pale, even for an Elf. A barrage of emotions flashed across Legolas’ face, each so fleeting Gimli barely had time to discern them. Curious as to what disturbed the Elf so, Gimli raised the lantern and turned his attention to the forest tract before them. Shrouds of grey mist drew back and parted in thick curtains, proudly displaying the horrors they concealed.
The lantern fell from his nerveless hands and lay flickering upon the leaf-strewn ground. Several large black moths took to throwing themselves against its doors; rapidly beating wings casting grotesque shadows in the light.
Gimli had never seen a sight more terrible than that which stretched before him. At his side, he heard Legolas’ breath catch raggedly.
The trees were black—horribly misshapen and twisted. Amber-colored sap oozed and dribbled from the gouged trunks, glittering perversely in the lantern light. Gnarled roots clenched the ashen soil in agony. Even rock and stone were crushed within their grasp. Strange dark vines wound up, around, and over the trees. Ring-shaped blotches and streaks of molted brown covered their jagged leaves. Shriveled black leaflets curled or lie limply upon the forest floor. The ashen soil lie barren, save flowers colored in the pale and whitened pink of exposed flesh, or the dark crimson of rotting meat. The blossoms gave off an overpowering and putrid stench.
Legolas, eyes squeezed shut and hands over his ears, slowly sank to his knees. Gimli wondered what it was the Elf heard—his ears could distinguish only the sinister creaking of dead branches. Kneeling awkwardly in the ashen soil and fighting the urge to gag, the Dwarf picked up a pallid beige stone. It crumbled in his hand like dust. Brushing his palms together in disgust, Gimli stood and backed away. Was this the fate awaiting Middle-earth? Would the sculpted caverns and solid stone of his kindred be reduced to nothing but powder and dust as well?
Legolas reached tentatively for a fallen tree limb. The trees were screaming—he could hear them. Some cried as the sap slowly leaked from their mortally wounded trunks. Others wept and begged in gasps, slowly choking as the foul vines constricted tighter and tighter. And still others were cursing the darkness as well as the sun; only bitterness flowed from stem to root. They cursed because it was the only thing they remembered.
Legolas wrapped one hand around the tree limb and then quickly withdrew it. The limb was soft and spongy, like wet, rotting wood. The dark vine coiled around it felt oily, and its molted leaves burned his skin like stinging nettles. The Elf unconsciously wiped his hand on his cloak and shuddered in revulsion. It was too much: the death throes of the trees, the ashen nothingness of the soil, the fetid scent of carrion flowers, the wet chill of the mist, and the impenetrable darkness… Legolas felt sick. Head bowed, he lurched to his feet and murmured thick words of prayer.
The trees took his words and twisted them; throwing back the delicate Elvish phrases with such mocking discord even Gimli was unsettled.
Elf and Dwarf stood silently before the perverse eaves, in the forest that was neither living nor dead. “I believe,” Legolas whispered quietly after a time, “we ought to return to the King and Lord Glorfindel.”
Gimli nodded in wordless agreement, unable to tear his eyes from the macabre scene that would haunt his dreams for weeks to come.
* * *
Glorfindel’s hand strayed to his sword for the umpteenth time as some beast went crashing through the undergrowth.
“A Warg,” Thranduil absently remarked, gaze trained in the direction Legolas and Gimli had departed. “They pose only serious threat when stalking or in packs.”
“Mm.” Glorfindel wrapped his palm around the sword pommel and attempted to follow the Warg’s path with his ears. It was small wonder the Silvan folk were all nearly mad—anyone would be so after living in such a forest. The golden-haired Elf lord shook his head when the sound of the retreating Warg no longer reached his ear. “They have been gone a while, should we not go in search of them?”
Thranduil shook his head. “Nay. Well is Legolas accustomed to reading the signs and warnings of the forest.”
Glorfindel furrowed his brow. “Then humor me, my Lord. I would ride in search of them, by your leave.”
Thranduil again shook his golden head. “That is unnecessary, and if any were to go, it would be me.”
“Thranduil,” said Glorfindel in uncharacteristic vexation, “then let us merely say I worry for their safety. Please, allow me to seek them out, if only to rest my own fears.”
“I would rather you did not.”
The captain of Imladris fought down the urge to throw back his head and bellow in frustration. Instead, he turned and studied the Elven-king with a level stare. Thranduil remained cool and unruffled as ever. “What did you send them to see?”
Thranduil stiffened slightly, remaining silent for several moments. “The outer fringe of the forest,” he spoke after a time, just when Glorfindel decided he would get no answer, “lies at the base of the Mountains of Mirkwood.” He again paused. “The Enemy assaulted the land but a short time ago. It is—,” the king grimaced angrily, “—it is ruined. Completely destroyed.”
Glorfindel thoughtfully bowed his head, at last understanding the other’s resentment at his presence. “Thranduil, there was naught you could do. It is no cause for embarrassment.”
Thranduil bristled. “You think me embarrassed? I assure you, embarrassment is the least of my concerns!” Grey eyes flashing, the Elven-king gestured angrily to the darkened forest surrounding them. “With each sunset I lose more ground—it is slipping between my fingers faster than river water.”
Glorfindel said nothing. ‘I wonder how long this has plagued him?’
“And you, nestled safely within Elrond’s realm, presume to think embarrassment is Mirkwood’s most pressing dilemma?”
“The Silvan folk are blessed to have your leadership,” Glorfindel quietly replied, knowing full well Thranduil was embarrassed. “And they know this.”
Thranduil blinked, taken back by the other’s words. He had expected an argument to ensue. A deep sigh escaped his lips. “I apologize—I fear I have overstepped my boundaries. Mirkwood’s troubles are not of your doing, nor do they merit your concern.”
Following instinct, Glorfindel placed a reassuring hand on the other’s shoulder. He felt Thranduil stiffen in surprise. “It is no trouble to lend an open ear, Thranduil. You do not blanch in the face of danger, and you refuse to be subdued. That, my good King, is all that could be asked of you. Mirkwood is strong; she will not falter.”
“Yes,” Thranduil replied, face darkening, “but at what cost?” He quickly brushed aside his bleak thoughts with a sigh and slight shake of his frame. Glorfindel raised an eyebrow in curiosity as he discerned a ghost of a smile playing upon Thranduil’s lips.
“Elrond is fortunate to have such a steadfast warrior as yourself,” said the King, lips quirking. “With compliments such as those you have given me, it is small wonder he thinks so highly of himself. Ah,” he indicated to the two figures emerging from the undergrowth before Glorfindel had chance to reply, “they return.”
The return journey to the Elven-king’s Halls was a sober affair. Legolas and Gimli were, ‘For once,’ Glorfindel noted, not intent on driving each other and everyone else to madness. Legolas rode next to Thranduil in silence, attention focused inward and seemingly to have taken personal offense to whatever it was he saw. Thranduil’s grave demeanor did not waver, though his expert eye flickered alertly over the surrounding forest. His brief glances towards his son did not go unnoticed by Glorfindel.
Gimli rode beside the Imladris Elf, pony tethered to the tack of Glorfindel’s steed as usual. The Dwarf’s face was sunken into profound frown, and the muted glow in his eyes reminded Glorfindel of the fires of a forge: slow to heat, yet steadfast and searing when lit. ‘I regret you shall know far greater suffering before your time ends, son of Glóin.’
Glorfindel had seen much in his two lives, and did not need to personally view the forest’s destruction to fully comprehend the Enemy’s power. He broke into a gentle song of lament as the tangled forest canopy gradually gave way to the lighter and more open tracts of beech. The trees’ golden leaves rustled tentatively at first, unused to the solid tones of the Noldo lord. Nevertheless, they soon settled and responded with warmth. Thranduil and Legolas both sent Glorfindel looks of quiet appreciation, and Legolas’ clear voice soon joined the melody of the Imladris Elf. Gimli, though he dare not admit to enjoying the song, relaxed visibly.
Thranduil listened quietly but did not sing. He did not purge himself of grief—he used it. Grief, the Elven-king had learned, could be put towards anger. And anger, when properly controlled, was a powerful fuel.
As Gimli was still not a welcomed guest to the Halls of Thranduil, and had no desire to be, he and Glorfindel set up small camp beneath a guards’ flet. Thranduil ordered two of his archers to watch over them during the night, and warned against “mistaking the Naugrim for a beast worthy of shooting.” Despite reassurances from Glorfindel, and cheeky vows of protection from the two archers, Gimli slept in full battle gear.
“I shall return at dawn with Orimhedil and Lhûn, and bid you and the Dwarf on your way.” Thranduil glared challengingly at Glorfindel, daring him to mention his omission of Legolas.
Glorfindel bowed politely. If Thranduil wished to render himself blind, then so be it. “There are some events even you cannot forestall, Thranduil Oropherion.”
Thranduil’s face darkened, but rather than offer reply, he instead turned to Gimli. “Pleasant dreams, Dwarf of the Lonely Mountain.”
Gimli thought the comment far too suspicious. The wide grins of Thranduil’s archers did not help to convince him otherwise.
Returning to the palace, Legolas followed his father in grim weariness. He sensed the king still wished to speak with him, though Thranduil did not openly demand an audience. The two stopped briefly in the Main Hall, which served as the primary aid center for forest refugees. Thranduil’s four elder children were seated together and snacking on dried fruit, jovially discussing the likelihood of an Elven vessel capsizing in the harbors of Valinor. Mallos and Tuilë maintained such an event was possible, whereas Lhûn and Calengaladh deemed it folly. “Unless,” Calengaladh thoughtfully remarked, “the ship were built by Mallos’ hands.” Mallos glared at him as Lhûn and Tuilë dissolved into fits of laughter.
Legolas noticed Lhûn seemed more at ease than ever before. He wondered at the change in his eldest brother, yet could think of no reason that would make him so content. Othon, usually hard-pressed to stray from Tuilë’s side, was nowhere to be found. Legolas suspected the royal family would not be seeing their sister’s beloved archer for days—particularly if Calengaladh was present. Mirkwood’s second prince was still none-too-happy Thranduil had turned his command over to the love interest of his sister. Legolas smiled to himself. Othon was a good archer, but by no means a leader. He suspected Thranduil would enforce some sort of dual captaincy, promoting Mirkwood’s current captain Daelir to Calengaladh’s former duties.
Exchanging a glance of satisfaction with Lhûn, Thranduil left his four eldest children to their merriment. He and Legolas made for the study, conveniently located just beyond the throne room.
The smell of parchment, ink, and dried tealeaves greeted the two as they entered the chamber. A deceptively cheerful fire danced in the hearth. Legolas inhaled deeply; he had always been fond of the room and its peculiar scent. He quietly seated himself in the chair of carved walnut opposite his father’s desk, thoughts returning to the blackened forest beneath the mountains.
Thranduil cleared various scrolls from his chair—Lhûn, apparently, had made use of the room. Suppressing a sigh, he settled into the chair and allowed the silence to bring forth memories long-since pushed aside.
* * *
Thranduil stormed into the commander’s tent, canvas flap slapping angrily behind him. “I cannot believe him!” he exploded, balling the parchment he carried and throwing it viciously to the ground. Lhûn, who had been quietly dozing in the corner, awoke with a start.
Oropher, mug of spiced wine in his hand, glanced up from the map stretched in front of him. “Calm yourself,” he sternly ordered.
“Calm myself? CALM MYSELF?” Thranduil whirled on his heel and began pacing the tent furiously. “I specifically bade him return upon conference with Lords Curulan and Elendil. I did not, at any time, give him permission to accept command of the Falathrim* armies!”
Lhûn straightened and shook away remnants of sleep. “Orodil has joined Alliance forces at Anórien?”
“Indeed,” replied Oropher. “He now commands the Falathrim forces serving under the Noldor.”
Lhûn’s eyes widened in awe. “He has severed himself from Greenwood,” Thranduil snapped in warning. He made a mental note to find armor better fitted to Lhûn’s slender young frame. The child looked ridiculous.
Oropher leaned back in his chair and eyed his irate son. “You knew it would occur were you to send him. Inglor fell but two weeks ago; the Falathrim were in need of a commander. Our ranks are already swelled. Orodil’s talents would have gone to waste had he remained here—and he would have held much resentment towards you.”
“And you support his actions?” Thranduil growled angrily. “He consciously disobeyed me—a superior officer and his father, at that! Have you any idea what it is like?”
Oropher raised a silvered eyebrow. Thranduil, with rising irritation, received the distinct impression his father was enjoying this.
“I do not support insubordination, Thranduil. However, as I previously stated: You knew what would occur were you to send him.”
“I had hoped,” came Thranduil’s icy response, “his sense of duty would outweigh his childish whims. Obviously, I was mistaken.”
“He serves where more needed.”
Thranduil glowered, continuing to pace angrily about the tent. “That is no excuse!”
Oropher nodded. “No, it is not.”
“Never has he disobeyed my wishes—nay, my very orders!”
Oropher drummed his fingers on the carved tabletop in front of him. “You did not give him permission, but I did.”
Thranduil froze mid-stride and turned to stare. “Excuse me?”
Oropher took a delicate sip of wine. “Lhûn,” he calmly ordered, eyes never leaving Thranduil, “Perhaps your mother and younger brothers would enjoy a letter from you.”
“I wrote two days ago,” Lhûn quickly replied. There was a heavy pause, in which both Thranduil and Oropher turned to the young Elf. “I shall write them again,” came Lhûn’s hasty amendment. He arose swiftly and exited the tent.
Oropher frowned. “Where on Arda did you find him that armor? I fear we shall lose him in it.”
Thranduil exhaled angrily and crossed his arms over his chest. “Do not ever undermine my authority again, Adar. You had no right. No right! They are my sons, not yours. You will not interfere with their upbringing!”
“And you are my son, as they are my grandsons,” Oropher replied. “But this was a matter of State, not of Family.” He sighed. “Why do you so adamantly attempt to defy Fate, Thranduil? It is a battle you cannot win, and you know this.” The King of the Greenwood studied his son and frowned. “Yet constantly do you try, as though you might conquer it out of mere spite.”
Thranduil absently traced over the winding pattern of vines adorning his bracers and frowned in turn. “I would believe we have the power to choose our own paths; that we control our own decisions and destinies.” He met his father’s eyes. “Otherwise, what purpose is there to even try? I refuse to believe my mother and sister perished because Fate preordained it so!”
“Meaning we were helpless to prevent it, no matter what our efforts,” said Oropher, finishing his son’s unspoken thought. He shook his head and smiled tightly. “I know naught whether Ilwë and Nimium were destined to pass on. But this, my son, I do know: there are moments when the pieces fit so perfectly, when chance is too exact, that it can only be attributed to Fate.” He filled a second goblet with spiced wine and beckoned Thranduil to join him. The Crown Prince of Greenwood did so, albeit moodily.
“You circumvented my authority.”
Oropher pursed his lips. “You were taunting Fate.” He held up a hand in warning. “Do not argue otherwise. Orodil has proven himself a brilliant field commander, yet we have the luxury of housing an abundance of capable veteran leadership. The Falathrim, by chance, lose their most competent captain and are in desperate need of a new one. A conference is called between the Alliance to discuss further moves. You—,” he eyed Thranduil in disapproval, “—send Orodil as our representative, knowing full well the Falathrim would seek his services.” Oropher lifted his goblet. “Fate, Thranduil. Fate.”
“You are more meddlesome than that troublesome Istari Mithrandir.”
The golden-haired prince twisted the goblet stem in his hand and stared pensively at the ruby-colored liquid within. “Orodil goes to the very heart of the battle,” he said softly, brow furrowing in concern. “I would rather he not.”
Oropher placed a reassuring hand on Thranduil’s shoulder. His grey eyes twinkled mischievously; Thranduil was mildly alarmed. “And I would rather you remain locked safe within the palace,” the Elven-king said dryly. “Or better yet—were you still a babe in changing rags.”
Oropher smiled fondly to himself. “Ai, but sometimes I do long for those days. Aside from your constant wailing,” he stared pointedly at Thranduil, who found himself flushing, “you were quite delightful. Rather chubby, though I—“
Oropher chuckled smugly and reached out a hand to affectionately ruffle his son’s hair. Thranduil ducked and batted the hand away with a scowl. “Truly, my liege. This is most undignified.”
Oropher’s strong clear laugh floated through the tent. Despite his best efforts, Thranduil could not help but smile.
“Thranduil,” said Oropher, tone growing somber, “I am sure Orodil would wish nothing more than to know you support him.”
Thranduil frowned and slowly shook his head. “He disobeyed my orders. Nay, I shall give him no token. He has made his choice and now must face the consequences of that action.”
Oropher sighed. “I would ask you reconsider, my son—though I know it futile of me. I only hope you do not regret such decision.”
“If there are any regrets,” Thranduil firmly replied, “they shall be only on Orodil’s part.” He drained the remaining contents of his goblet. “But tell me,” he said, deftly switching topics, “there is rumor of a letter you received from the Noldor High King…”
Oropher’s face darkened. “Yes, apparently his lordship Gil-galad believes himself in command of all Elves and Men.” Pushing back his chair, the silver-haired king stood and walked over to a large pile of papers atop a weathered chest. He spent a few moments shuffling through the documents before finding the letter of interest. Turning, he handed the letter to Thranduil. The Elven prince immediately recognized the royal blue crest of the house of Gil-galad, though half the wax seal was missing. Oropher had apparently not given much thought to preserving Gil-galad’s message.
“It seems,” Oropher mused aloud while Thranduil scanned the parchment, “he has named that bookish little peredhil his Second.”
Thranduil glanced up in surprise. “Elrond?” He laughed. “Elrond is Gil-galad’s Second? I suppose I shall have to call him ‘lord’ now. ‘Lord’ Elrond…”
“It matters not.” Oropher’s eyes narrowed in distaste. “They all think themselves ‘lords’ as it is.”
Thranduil decided not to point out Oropher had declared himself a king. “I find Elrond Peredhil is most agreeable.”
Oropher harrumphed. “Wait until we have been at war for a longer period of time. The Noldor tend to…” he searched for the appropriate words, “…find their ‘lesser’ brethren most disposable in battle. Already have the Falathrim come to know this.”
* * *
Legolas shifted noiselessly. Thranduil blinked. Never again had he spoken to Orodil—the Crown Prince had fallen at Dagorlad not long after his departure. He was buried on the battlefield with the remnants of his company, but the land sank into swamp before Thranduil had chance to visit his son’s resting spot.
The Elven-king stared blankly at his youngest child. “Will you go, I wonder, though I forbade it?”
Legolas started. “My Lord?”
Thranduil tonelessly repeated himself. He watched Legolas’ shoulders as they squared in resolve.
“I have given my word,” the youngest prince replied, eyes meeting Thranduil not in defiance, but firm resolution.
Thranduil leaned back in the chair and gingerly steepled his fingers. “I wished to spare you from the forest blight, Legolas. I am sorry you had to witness it.”
Legolas flinched, nearly causing Thranduil to do so as well. “Nay, my Lord. I do not fault you. It was necessary that I view it, that I know the Enemy’s threat.” His fair face grew shadowed by the memory. “Father,” he tentatively began, “can that… will it… will that spread?”
The Elven-king closed his eyes and sighed heavily. “If we do not combat it, the Shadow will reach into our very gates and beyond. It will cover all of Middle-earth, Legolas—not only Mirkwood.”
“I know you hoped that in by showing me the forest, I would remain.” Legolas clenched his fists and stared unseeing at them, mind still wandering the hideous woods. Lifting his eyes, he searched Thranduil’s face intently. “But now I feel all the more strongly that I must go.” Sliding from the chair, he lowered himself to one knee and bowed his head. “Please, Adar. Please understand—I do not wish to disobey you, but I must do this. Something calls to me, and tells me only that I must.”
Thranduil suddenly glimpsed what it was Elrond saw in his son. His son was a warrior—skilled, loyal, and true of heart. His son was young and strong, naïve but not wholly unwise. ‘For he seeks reassurance, knowing only that his path will be long and dark.’
It occurred to Thranduil that perhaps he, himself, was just as frightened.
Rising from his chair, he stood silently in front of the kneeling figure before him. The Elven-king’s pride was a bittersweet one. He gently rested one hand atop his son’s head, fingers tightening in the fine hair, and shut his eyes.
“Fate, Legolas,” came his quiet words, though Legolas sensed they were intended for Thranduil’s ears as well as his own. “Fate.”
Falathrim- Descendents of Teleri Elves (as were the Sindar). Went from Falas, to the Isle of Balas, and finally settled in the Grey Havens and Lindon. There is no record of them being at Dagorlad. (Creative license on my part.) However, as some Falathrim most likely resided in Lindon (though the majority dwelt in the Grey Havens), it is not entirely impossible they fought under Noldor command at Dagorlad.
Dagorlad- Very big battle between Alliance forces (Noldor and Men of Gondor) and the forces of Sauron. The land eventually sank into swamp and became the Dead Marshes (all those creepy floating faces).
Other Canon Notes: I have NO idea how old Thranduil is. It is mentioned that he “came out of Lindon to the Greenwood,” so he was either born in Lindon (which was Noldor-run), or much earlier in Doriath. I am inclined to believe the former, and that his father was from Doriath, as Thranduil doesn’t appear to have participated in the War of the Jewels. Perhaps Thranduil’s mother was of Noldor heritage, which would explain why he was in Lindon (as well as his blonde hair coloration)—though I can only speculate. *sigh* It’s all very muddling and I’ve spent waaaaaay too much time going over it.
It is also mentioned that Thranduil fashioned the caverns of Mirkwood after those of Menegroth (he moved the kingdom further north after his father’s death; I suppose the old kingdom of Greenwood is probably rotting beneath the eaves of Mirkwood somewhere in all the gloom). I have no idea how he knew what Menegroth looked like; perhaps he somehow managed to visit or several of his subjects were survivors of the city and gave him its layout. My research on the subject left me somewhat confused.
I’m assuming Thranduil’s mother and sister perished during the War of Sauron and the Elves (1697 S.A.). Oropher’s Greenwood was founded in 750 S.A., and the Last Alliance occurred in 3441 S.A. Let us assume that Oropher and Thranduil have a close relationship. Oropher, unlike Thranduil, does not have to deal with the direct influence of Sauron over his realm, so he’s probably going to feel a great deal less strain than does his son. Remember, the forest became known as ‘Mirkwood’ during the time of Thranduil’s reign, not Oropher’s. *Whew!* Kudos if you just read all that!
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