18. Breaking Points
This chapter is dedicated to Meg Thorton, a wonderful reviewer who inspired me to give Rosie a larger part far earlier than I had anticipated doing so.
Loswaia stood before him, as beautiful now as she had been years ago when they first bound themselves one to another. Walking together hand in hand, she had laughingly commented that her swollen belly was hardly conducive to beauty, but Thranduil was quick to reassure her that she had never before been so lovely. And he was quite truthful in this. The queen of Mirkwood had given birth to five sons and two daughters—an unusually large number for the Eldar, but neither parent regretted the decision—and it always seemed to Thranduil that during the month prior to her appointed time, Loswaia glowed as moonlight upon the fair glades of northern Mirkwood.
It was a beautiful day with the sunlight filtering in through leaves as green as the trees could make them. A light breeze stirred the forest canopy and shadows and light played merrily upon the forest floor. The king and queen had walked far this day, venturing into eastern parts of the forest that had recently been freed of the fell spiders and their foul influence. The power of the royal family was now taking hold here, and the trees rejoiced while birds sang songs of praise and happiness. With a smile, Loswaia lifted her voice and joined them, adding her rich alto to the ever-changing song of life. Thranduil could not remember a more perfect day.
But the day’s beauty was swift to fade. A cry from the guards who swept the forest before and behind the royal couple alerted them to coming danger, and though they quickly turned to flee, they were too late. A large group Orcs crashed through the trees as though fleeing danger, and by virtue of both haste and superior numbers, they overwhelmed the elven guards. Howls of accompanying Wargs announced the onslaught of evil just before the first of the enemy came into Thranduil’s view. A sharp ring of steal heralded the appearance of Thranduil’s sword, and he instinctively pulled Loswaia behind him, knowing that she was in no condition to defend herself. But as the Orcs and Wargs crashed into them as waves crashing into the shore, Loswaia was forced away from her husband in the rush. Overcome with a rage that had made Oropher both famous and infamous during the Second Age, Thranduil furiously battled his way through the hordes, sparing none that came within reach of his blade. Beside him fought the remnants of his guards, and together they cut a bloody swath in the attacking forces. Elven horns sounded loudly, their calls ringing frantically in the air, and at their beck, Mirkwood’s army rushed forth to the defense of its rulers. The press of Orcs and Wargs was eventually swept away, and Mirkwood’s king was saved.
But it was too late for Mirkwood’s queen.
Thranduil found her clinging to a tree in a vain effort to stay upright, bright blood staining the bark. He caught her as she fell, her pale hand clutching at the hem of his robe. His shouts for a healer were quickly answered, but the eyes that turned to him after a hasty examination were grave.
"Sire, she has gone into labor."
Thranduil’s breath caught and he stared at Loswaia in disbelief, watching the pain upon her face as agony from grievous sword and arrow wounds was compounded by birthing pains. The hand upon his robe tightened into a fist and she jerked her head back as she attempted to silence the screams that were building in her throat.
The next few moments were little more than a blur to Thranduil. He swept Loswaia into his arms and began to run, heedless of the healer who protested against moving her, for Thranduil was beyond reason. He knew only that Loswaia could not lie among the carcasses of the Orcs and Wargs. He ran for a mile or so before the healer caught up with him and begged him to lie the queen flat upon the ground. By now, she was moaning piteously in pain and had buried her face against Thranduil’s shoulder, seeking his comfort.
"Peace, beloved," the king whispered, pressing his cheek against hers as she began to shake. He laid her down with a gentleness that could rival the southern breeze. "Peace. This will be but a moment. We shall return to the palace and you shall be healed."
Loswaia could not answer vocally as pain had stolen her voice, but her arms wrapped themselves around her husband’s neck and she held him tightly, which was answer enough for Thranduil. Returning the embrace, he murmured soft words and soothed her as her traitorous body shuddered and tore with violent contractions.
It was not long before the wails of a baby were heard in the forests of Mirkwood, but the cries were weak, for the infant was a month too early. The healer’s frantic eyes darted between mother and child, at a loss as to who better warranted his attention. Thranduil was at an equal loss, not truly understanding what was taking place and refusing to acknowledge the possibility that death might not be far away for either of them.
"Thranduil?" Loswaia asked weakly, her voice a mere whisper in the king’s ear.
"A son," he murmured, kissing her brow and smoothing back her dark hair. "A beautiful son, my queen."
Loswaia smiled, but her face was deathly pale. "Legolas," she whispered. "Green leaf. I would name him after the trees under which we walked today. When you think of him, remember that earlier time and not this moment."
"Loswaia?" Thranduil questioned, his arms unconsciously tightening around her weakening form.
"I love you, my king. Never forget that." Her eyes fluttered and her head rested against Thranduil’s shoulder as life began to fade. "Raise him well. Legolas. Green leaf. He will…do much for the elves." And with these final words, she closed her eyes and looked no more upon Arda.
"Loswaia? Loswaia!" Thranduil began to shake the limp form of his wife, desperate to raise a response, but a hand upon his arm stopped him and the sad eyes of the healer met his.
"She lost too much blood, and her injuries were torn by the birth. Had I been able to bind them, then perhaps…" The healer trailed off and shook his head, turning his gaze to the whimpering child in his arms. "Sire, we must get the babe to the palace. He is not well."
Thranduil nodded numbly, still unable to comprehend what was taking place. The healer waited for instructions, but when the king remained upon the ground clutching Loswaia, he eventually sighed and took charge himself. Soldiers were dispatched to follow the Orcs while guards were set around Thranduil and the body of the queen. The baby was taken back to Mirkwood’s halls in haste where hopefully something could be done to strengthen his fragile body.
A week later, Thranduil learned that the Orcs and Wargs which had beset them in the forest had originally been making for the Lonely Mountain. An army of dwarves had routed them and driven them into Mirkwood.
Thranduil jerked awake with a start, his breath coming hard.
Trying to get his bearings and recover from a dream that had haunted him many times for many years, Thranduil turned flashing eyes upon the archer who had spoken. "Report," he ordered, his voice somewhat harsh with embarrassment at being caught in such a distraught condition.
"Sire, Elladan has returned from Rivendell. You asked to be informed of this. I apologize, my king, if I—"
"Thank you, Ithildae," Thranduil said, interrupting the elf before he could cross into territory that the king did not wish to walk again. "Did you glimpse any of his party?"
"All who left last night are with us again, sire, including the dwarf," the other elf reported, his voice neither condoning nor condemning this.
The king frowned, the vivid memories from his dream coming to life in his mind and his deep resentment for dwarves rising to the forefront of his thoughts. "I see."
"Also, Lord Elrohir wishes to speak with you are your earliest convenience, my liege."
Thranduil’s brow wrinkled in surprise. " ‘At my earliest convenience’? Those were Elrohir’s words."
A ghost of a smile flickered over Ithildae’s face and he bowed slightly. "Nay, my liege, those words were spoken by Lord Elladan. He seemed to think that his brother was in need of some…tact."
Thranduil snorted. "There are at least some constants left in this world," he muttered to himself.
"Inform Lord Elladan and Lord Elrohir that I will come shortly," Thranduil instructed.
"As you wish, sire," Ithildae said with a quick bow. He then turned and vanished from even elven sight into the thick leaves of the trees, but Thranduil could hear his stealthy movements and knew the archer was on his way.
And it is high time for me to follow, Thranduil sighed, trying to shake the last vestiges of a sleepy haze from his mind and better compose himself. I have spent far too long dwelling on the past. He took a minute more to steady his mind and calm his breathing before setting out through the branches, following the course that Ithildae had taken with the sureness of one who has spent several thousand years hunting in the forests.
He heard the group long before he saw them. The hobbits and dwarf in particular were as charging boars when compared to their silent companions. Even though they were currently motionless, their voices were loud and their breathing could easily rouse a slumbering troll. Thranduil shook his head as he drew nigh and began looking for places to drop out of the branches. It was beyond him how mortals had ever survived past the First Age.
The darkness below him was as a churning sea of shadows, and Thranduil hesitated for a moment. He did not wish to place himself in such evil, yet since the others were enduring it, it would be a sign of weakness if he did not join them. And if there was one thing Thranduil could not abide, it was weakness. Weakness was what had allowed the Necromancer to rule from Dol Guldur uncontested for so many years. Weakness was what had cost the Last Alliance true victory at the end of the Second Age. And weakness was something that Thranduil had sought to purge in his kingdom, subjecting both himself and his children to his rigorous efforts.
He was now situated almost directly above the dwarf, and he paused for a moment to study the creature. Broad shoulders supported the weight of a heavy axe that looked to be so badly balanced it might have been made by hobbits. Of course, the axe had been forged with a dwarf in mind and so the balance would be alien to an elf, yet Thranduil did not consider this. He was too overcome by a surge of hatred as memories of Loswaia returned, summoned by his recent dreams. With a shake of his head, Thranduil shoved such thoughts to the back of his mind, realizing that they had no bearing on their present course. This particular dwarf had nothing to do with his wife and had actually shown a great deal of anxiety about the possible condition of Thranduil’s son. But all the same, a dwarf was still a dwarf, and Gimli would bear careful watching.
Deciding he had delayed long enough, Thranduil shook himself free of memories and prepared to leap down, but at the last minute, he stopped and a sly smile stole over his face. Gauging the position of the dwarf, he moved over slightly until he had better aligned himself, and then he dropped out of the trees, landing only inches away from the stunted creature.
Gimli jumped, startled, but it was soon Thranduil’s turn to be startled as the dwarf, without a moment of hesitation, swung at the elf with the haft of his axe, aiming for the king’s knees. Thranduil’s sharp eyes saw it coming at the last minute and he was able to avoid it in time, but this sudden attack sparked his anger and he reached for his short sword even as Elladan and Elrohir sprang between the king and dwarf. Bereft of his brothers’ support, Aragorn was left to sway precariously on his own while the two hobbits stared in shock.
"Stand aside," Thranduil hissed, rage twisting the features of his fair face. "I will not be provoked in such a manner."
"To my mind, the dwarf was not the one doing the provoking," Elrohir returned sharply, his own eyes flashing dangerously.
"I have raised no weapon and made no threatening move," Thranduil shot back. "Until now," he added ominously, glaring at the sons of Elrond.
"I would beg leave to speak ere you take action you might later regret, King Thranduil," Aragorn spoke up from the side where he now leaned against a tree for support. His voice was quiet but there was an edge of authority in it that gave even the king of Mirkwood pause for thought. "Gimli did not mean to attack you."
"Has the dwarf so little control over his reflexes, then?" Thranduil demanded.
"Let him come, Elladan and Elrohir, and then we shall measure his reflexes," Gimli urged, his hands still upon his axe.
"Gimli!" Aragorn snapped, throwing the dwarf a stern glare before turning his attention back to Thranduil. "Your pardon, please. The reaction was purely unintentional, I assure you. Your son and Gimli have made a game of this, and by dropping from the trees as you did, you triggered a reflexive response that has been honed nearly to perfection over the last five years."
"At least now I know where Legolas gets it," Gimli muttered, his eyes still upon the elven king.
"This cannot go unpunished," Thranduil said darkly.
"It can and it will, King Thranduil," Elrohir said, firmly standing his ground with his brother.
"You would dare to—"
"Peace, all of you," Elladan ordered, his voice calm but ringing with command. "We accomplish nothing by this. It was a grievous misunderstanding, but no harm has come of it. Let us put it behind us. Our petty arguments accomplish nothing here."
Thranduil did not like being told what to do, and he especially did not like it when the one giving him the advice was his junior by several thousand years. But regardless of age and experience, Elladan was right, and Thranduil was able to sense that. It rankled his pride and he promised himself that retribution would arrive soon in some form or another, but to his credit, Thranduil lowered his short sword and stepped back, watching the dwarf as closely as the dwarf seemed to be watching him.
"Thank you," Elladan murmured, his voice sounding both relieved and surprised. Apparently he had not expected to be obeyed.
"Has Elrohir told you of my intentions?" Thranduil asked, sparing no time for apologies or pleasantries.
"If I understand him correctly," Elladan said, "you wish to leave off following the trail and start a wider search pattern, splitting into several groups."
"I do not wish to do so," Thranduil corrected. "I shall do so. And you are welcome to join my archers if you so desire. But if you continue much further on this trail, then you shall force the hand of our enemy, and it may be that my son will be killed ere we can even draw close. And know this, son of Elrond. I will put a stop to your movements by whatever means necessary ere your actions put Legolas in danger."
Elladan blinked, as did everyone else gathered, but Thranduil held his ground firmly. He knew well the implications of his words, and he also knew the consequences of his actions should he follow through on his threat. But by all the Valar, he would not allow the children of Elrond to jeopardize his son’s safety in a foolish effort to make certain of their path. The trail might be followed with safety for a while yet, but it could not be followed much further. It was simply too dangerous for the captives.
"Then as my brother did last night, I would beg for more time," Elladan said at length. "I would beg for this day, at least until the afternoon. Estel and Elrohir shall be returning to Rivendell with some of the forces, and it may be wise for you and your elves to join them."
"You presume to dictate the actions of my archers?" Thranduil asked, injecting a note of steel into his voice.
"Nay, I do not," Elladan said, keeping his voice level and reminding Thranduil very much of Elrond in his most patronizing moments. "But I would offer advice and counsel in a situation that seems to have taken your judgement. You are too close to the peril, King Thranduil. Your concern for your son has clouded your mind."
"Watch your words, young one," Thranduil hissed, his hand unconsciously straying to the hilt of his sword, "or you will live to regret them."
"Begging your pardon, sirs and kings, but I don’t see as this is helping us at all," a voice piped up from behind Aragorn. "And I don’t see what staying out here in this shadowy mist is going to accomplish. To my thinking, we’ve more than enough elves here to protect us all from Orcs, and there’s no need for everyone to stay. Why don’t some of you get some rest? I know it did me bit of good."
Thranduil frowned, his eyes straying to Sam’s anxious face, and the king was forced to concede that the hobbit was right on at least one count. This current conversation was doing no one any good, least of all his son. Going back to Rivendell, though, was out of the question, for Thranduil would sooner allow dwarves to raid his treasury than abandon this hunt while his son was still missing. But perhaps Elladan’s proposal of one more day was plausible. It was certainly stretching the limits of safety, but if they could be that much more certain of their direction and destination…
Shifting his eyes back to Elladan’s watchful face, he turned the matter over in his mind. By nature, he was not a very patient elf and he had never been very good at taking the advice of others, but a small voice in the back of his mind was strongly urging unity. Thranduil could sense the attempts by the shadows to divide them, and perhaps it was best to thwart the enemy in this before moving forward. "Very well," he murmured at length, his voice carrying an unmistakable warning about making too much of this concession. "I give you until mid-afternoon. No more! At that time, my elves and I shall no longer follow the trail but take up our own paths. And if you value your own necks, you will join us."
"We would be glad to do so," Elladan said, glancing back at Elrohir and Aragorn as though for confirmation. Something unreadable passed between the three, and then Elladan returned his gaze to Thranduil. "Before we begin this day, though, I have somewhat I would like to discuss with all gathered. Lord Celeborn seems to have discovered something that pertains to this hunt."
"He knows what we face?" Elrohir asked eagerly.
Elladan shook his head. "I am not sure. He was rather elusive when he spoke to me this morning. He told Arwen almost nothing yesterday, though he did give her some rather disturbing tasks."
"Tasks of what nature?" Aragorn asked, perking up slightly at the mention of Arwen’s name.
"She was to prepare sleeping draughts," Elladan answered, his voice a mixture of confusion, frustration, and fear. "And she was also to fashion restraints that might bind one to a bed."
"Restraints?" Thranduil echoed, his mind frozen with shock.
"According to Arwen, Lord Celeborn claimed that the measures were only for the sake of prudence," Elladan added, sounding as though he believed that about as much as he believed in flying hobbits.
"Lord Celeborn does nothing solely for the sake of prudence," Elrohir said quietly, folding his arms across his chest. "There is always a more immediate purpose in his plans, though prudence does contribute somewhat."
"Perhaps his purpose is to occupy Arwen?" Aragorn wondered, his voice carrying overtones of desperate hope. "She has now a sense of the passing years that can be vexing in times of crisis when minutes slow to a crawl. Perhaps Lord Celeborn thought to give her tasks that might distract her."
"Perhaps, but tasks including sleeping draughts and bindings? I find this unlikely. In any event, if his intention was to set her mind at ease then he failed. His vague words and warnings have only heightened the sense of worry in Imladris," Elladan answered.
"You have told us what Celeborn said to Arwen," Thranduil noted, keeping a close watch on Elladan, "and it seems to be of little aid. Would you now tell us what Celeborn said to you this morning?"
"Little enough," Elladan sighed after a moment of hesitation. "But he bade me think on the fall of Númenor. Specifically, he reminded me of the friendship between Ar-Pharazôn and Amandil, both before the capture of Sauron and immediately afterwards."
"Strange," Elrohir murmured, his brow furrowing. "Why should he mention that?"
"It obviously has something to do with our current situation," Pippin interjected, sounding as though he was getting bored. Until this point, Pippin had been silent, but the day was passing and the hobbit looked anxious to start getting underway again.
"True enough, Master Hobbit, but what is the nature of the relationship between what we face here and what they faced there? That is what we must uncover," Elladan answered.
"Mayhap we can uncover it as we march," Gimli said, his voice laced with impatience.
"Did he say aught of Sauron’s hold over Ar-Pharazôn?" Thranduil suddenly asked.
Elladan blinked and his eyes went blank for a moment as he recalled his conversation with Celeborn. "He did, King Thranduil. And he reminded me that Sauron stayed close to Ar-Pharazôn even after his influence had been established."
Thranduil nodded slightly and stepped back, separating himself from the others as they continued their discussion, though a few sent curious glances his direction. But he ignored them all, for an impossible idea had occurred to him. It fit the situation and explained the motives, yet it was so farfetched that Thranduil was loath to trust it. Beyond that, the evidence for its support was circumstantial at best. And in any case, he was reluctant to broach this particular possibility with a dwarf and the heir of Isildur standing about. Valar knew what they would make of it. But even so, the facts fit. It was something he had heard once from Elrond around the beginning of the Third Age, and in turn, Elrond had heard it from Elendil. At the time Thranduil had thought it to be naught but a rumor. An excuse that claimed the fall of man was due to more than their own pride. But now…
Shaken from his thoughts and trying to quickly cover the fact that he had been inattentive, Thranduil looked up and discovered that everyone else was watching him.
"King Thranduil, Aragorn and Elrohir will now be departing for Rivendell. You and your elves are welcome to accompany them since we shall only be following the trail this day. Come night, we may—"
"My elves and I shall be staying here," Thranduil announced, his voice firm and unyielding. "And we shall not be following the trail all day. We shall cease come mid-afternoon."
Elladan frowned slightly. "It may be wise to rest before—"
"We rest in the trees," Thranduil interrupted. "And what rest we take is sufficient for us. We shall be staying. And I will thank you to stay clear of matters over which you have no sovereignty."
Elladan sighed and glanced at Elrohir and Aragorn, both of whom shrugged. About then, Thranduil realized just how weary the other two looked. Elrohir was weaving slightly on his feet and Aragorn’s eyes were foggy and glazed.
"Then if we are set on who stays and who goes, let us continue!" Gimli said, his gruff voice breaking through the silence that had descended upon them. "If we must stand in this darkness, let us make it worth our while."
"You will watch yourself?" Elrohir asked, fixing a pointed gaze at Elladan.
"Yes, if you return to Rivendell," Elladan answered. "And I have the hobbits and Gimli to aid me, for they shall also stay upon the ground. We have discussed this already while journeying here."
Elrohir nodded reluctantly and then turned to Aragorn. "Well, brother, I think we must be off, for you look as though you need to rest."
"No more so than you," Aragorn said, finally giving in to his body’s demands and allowing a large yawn. "We shall think on this matter of Ar-Pharazôn, and hopefully we shall discover some answers in Rivendell."
"Then fare you well," Elladan said. "Valar willing, we shall progress far this day, and come night we shall progress even further."
With this, the group separated, but Thranduil was now deeply troubled. He retreated back into the trees, gave orders for his elves to follow Elladan and the others from Lothlórien and Imladris, but he himself stayed behind for a while. He had not thought upon the events of Númenor for quite some time, yet now the rumors and whispers regarding its fall came foremost to his mind. While he was wont to blame it entirely upon the arrogance and failings of man, Thranduil knew in his heart that the truth of the matter went much deeper than that. It was the hidden intricacies and weavings of Sauron that now filled his thoughts, and if what he suspected was true, then his son and the hobbit were in far more danger than any of them had ever suspected.
* * * *
To say that Arwen was embarrassed would be something of an understatement. Arwen was actually quite mortified. For centuries upon centuries, she had risen with the sun and thought nothing of it. Sometimes she had not slept at all during the night, and not once did it occur to her that mortals would look upon this with both wonder and envy. It was simply the way she was. It was the way every elf was. Even after meeting Aragorn and learning more of the ways of mortal sleep, Arwen had never really made the connection between her own habits and the habits of her betrothed. She did sometimes shake her head in astonishment at just how much rest mortals seemed to need, but she never thought any more of it than that. Part of the reason for this was the fact that Aragorn was also an early riser. She could remember very few times when her husband had not been up with the sun. And since his habits were so similar to her own as an elf—with the exception that he usually found some sleep during the night while she would at times take none—Arwen never thought to compare further.
Unfortunately, this had proven to be something of a failing now that her mortal body demanded more and more rest. During one of her first days as queen of Gondor, she woke to find that the sun was several hours past rising and that the last of the breakfast had already been served. Furious and enraged, Arwen had lashed out unwittingly at Aragorn for this. In turn, Aragorn had been understanding to the umpteenth degree, not flinching once at Arwen’s harshly thrown words and waiting until she had calmed enough to discuss the matter. Eventually, Arwen had apologized rather profusely, but Aragorn had shrugged it all off, unintentionally making Arwen feel even worse. From that time forth, she had tried to ensure that she retired to bed in time for her mortal body to get as much rest as it required. This was not always possible, of course, for as queen, her presence and her mind was often needed late at night. More than once she had worked with Aragorn over the drafting of a treaty until the stars began to dim and morning dawned over all. But as a general rule, she tried to ensure that when Aragorn rose from bed, she rose with him.
That had not been the case this morning, hence Arwen’s extreme embarrassment. She rose late and discovered that she had missed the departure of Elladan and his company by almost three hours. Given the amount of stress and frustration she had labored under, it should have come as no great surprise that her body needed the extra rest. Beyond that, the night had been a late one, and she really wasn’t sure when she had retired for bed. But Arwen was still fairly new at this mortal game, having only had five years of practice now, and her sense of embarrassment was unusually keen because she was again in Rivendell where everyone else was very prompt in rising with the sun.
Beyond being embarrassed, Arwen was also somewhat annoyed. Celeborn seemed to have disappeared on her, and she had been promised answers. She had never known the Lord of Lothlórien to renege on his word, but there was always a first time for everything and these circumstances seemed to be replete with firsts. But I swear as queen of Gondor and daughter of Elrond, I will find my grandfather and force answers from him, she vowed mentally. He will not escape me again.
A cautious voice from behind caught her musing mind and pulled it back into reality, reminding her that others were about. Fixing a smile upon her fair face, Arwen turned and bowed slightly. "Good morning, Rose Gamgee," she said. "How do you fare this day?"
"Better than some, I dare say, my lady," Rosie said as she shifted her feet, apparently uneasy with Arwen’s presence.
Now looking upon the hobbit with a genuine smile of amusement, Arwen stifled a laugh and gestured to a pathway that led into one of Rivendell’s many gardens. "Will you accompany me? I sense you have somewhat to say, and mayhap it can be said as we walk."
"Yes, that will be fine," Rosie answered hurriedly.
"Where is fair Elanor this morning?" Arwen asked as they started off.
"Sam didn’t put her down when he ought to have, and so she had something of a late night," Rosie said with a weary sigh. "I hope she doesn’t become cross this afternoon because of it, or I’ll have words for that husband of mind. Elanor’s sleeping in our quarters right now, but an elf offered to fetch me when she began to wake and I had to accept because I couldn’t just stay in my room. Not with everything that’s happened."
"I understand," Arwen said quietly. "I remember well the day I beheld my first Orc. Such hideous evil is not easy to comprehend, and I would that you had never been faced with it."
"I’m all right," Rosie hastened to reassure her. "I dealt with it, and I did have some help. I might have a few unpleasant dreams still, but I’m feeling much better about everything. And that’s part of why I came to see you. My lady," she quickly added, suddenly horrified at the prospect that she had been speaking in such a familiar fashion.
"As I told you before, dear Rose, I am but Arwen to you and your husband," the daughter of Elrond said with a gentle smile. "All of Middle-earth owes Sam a great debt, and I am humbled to be in the presence of his chosen one. You are bound to a very brave hobbit, Rose."
"Oh, I know," Rosie said. "I knew that before he went off, though he never did believe me when I told him so. And come to think of it, he still doesn’t believe me. But that’s not what I wanted to speak to you about. I came to find out if there was anything I could do in this place. To help, I mean. I know I shouldn’t be out with Sam and the others. I’m not made for that sort of thing. But I can do other chores here that might help them there."
Arwen blinked and studied this simple, country hobbit standing before her. Gandalf had indeed spoken truly when he claimed that hobbits were amazing creatures. "Rose Cotton Gamgee, we of Imladris would be honored to receive your assistance," Arwen said. "Come, and we shall find you things to do." And so taking the hobbit by the hand, Arwen passed into the vast mansions of Rivendell, her previous embarrassments and anxieties forgotten and her fears for the future left in the past for now.
* * * *
Merry would be the first to admit that he didn’t know much about the world beyond the Shire. He knew far more than did most of his fellow hobbits, but he knew far less than did Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and many others that he could name. Merry knew that different cultures and customs prevailed in many parts of Middle-earth, and he knew that some of these cultures and customs were vastly different from what he was familiar with in the Shire. He had learned about some of them, particular those customs associated with Gondor and Rohan, but he knew that there was still much to learn about the various peoples of Middle-earth. Yet despite his ignorance, Merry was fairly certain that at least one particular custom held true no matter the culture—If person number one wanted to lead person number two to a particular destination, then person number one usually walked slightly ahead of person number two.
Having convinced himself that this was a solid principle cutting across most social and cultural differences, Merry turned to his current situation and decided that he had a dilemma of sorts. Legolas was supposed to be leading the way, but instead, the elf was constantly falling behind.
This was something of a major problem for Merry because the hobbit had no idea of where he was going. He’d been counting on the elf to find the main entrance again, but this wasn’t going to happen if Merry had to keep choosing which way to turn. Legolas didn’t seem at all inclined to aid him in this, and whenever they came to a juncture of any kind, the elf’s feet would begin to drag and Merry would be forced to decide upon their next path. The hobbit was now of the opinion that they were starting to wander in circles.
But the problems didn’t stop there. Upon occasion, Legolas would come to a complete halt for absolutely no reason. And because the elf was usually behind the hobbit, sometimes it took a minute or so for Merry to realize that he was no longer being followed. Once he did realize that Legolas had stopped, it took even longer to backtrack and find the elf. And when Legolas was found, he was usually staring off into space and whispering in a tongue that Merry didn’t recognize. The hobbit had asked Legolas if he was stopping to listen for Orcs, but each time, the elf had shaken his head. When pressed for an explanation, Legolas had shrugged slightly and murmured that he didn’t know what had prompted him to stop. Merry was seriously concerned by this vague answer, and as their hapless journey continued, his concern grew. Legolas did not look well. His color was off, his eyes were glossing over, and he was becoming more distant and distracted with each step they took.
Abruptly startled out of his thoughts, Merry jumped in surprise and let out a small yelp. Since leaving their cell, Legolas had not initiated conversation. He would respond if questioned, but even then, his answers had been short, glib, and fairly useless. Turning around curiously, Merry discovered that Legolas had once again stopped, but this time, he was leaning back against a cave wall as though looking to brace himself.
"Are you all right?" Merry asked, moving to the elf’s side and tentatively touching his arm.
"They have returned," Legolas hissed, sinking down and pulling his knees up to his chest. "They are here again. There are too many!"
That was not exactly what Merry had been expecting to hear. It was certainly not what he desired to hear. "The Orcs?" he asked fearfully, glancing up and down the dark tunnel.
"Nay," Legolas murmured with a violent shake of his head. "Nay, it is the voices. I thought myself rid of them, for they grew quiet after a bit, but now they have returned. They are here. And there are more of them."
"Here where? Do you mean here in this tunnel or here in your head?" Merry pressed, wishing he could help the elf but having no idea as to what might be done for him.
"By the Valar, I no longer know!" Legolas’s head arced back and he stiffened as he squeezed his eyes shut. "But their voices…they speak of…nay, I cannot say it! I will not listen!"
"Legolas!" Merry hissed, struggling to keep his voice down. "Legolas, we’re alone. There’s no one here."
Legolas’s only answer was a groan as he fell over onto his side and curled into a tight ball, his hands pressed against his temples. He began whispering, but the language was unknown to Merry and he could not understand what the elf was saying. Hesitantly, not knowing what it was that Legolas faced, the hobbit put a hand on the elf’s shoulder and shook him gently in the hopes that he would get some kind of a response.
"Legolas?" he queried softly. "Legolas, we have to keep going. Legolas? Can you hear me?"
The elf groaned again and shook his head. "Run, Merry," Legolas whispered at length, his voice strained. "Run. Flee this place."
Merry frowned and tightened his grip on the elf’s shoulder. "I’ll not leave you!" he said forcefully. "I wouldn’t leave you on the Road and I certainly won’t leave you here."
"You must," Legolas insisted as he started to shake. "One of must escape."
"We’ll escape together or not at all! I won’t abandon you, Legolas."
"Then leave and come back with help," Legolas pleaded, opening his eyes and fixing Merry with a gaze that sent shivers down the hobbit’s back. "I can go no further in this place, Merry. The darkness holds me back and bids me wait here. I cannot disobey it. It is too strong. He was right. He was right about everything."
"Who?!" The hobbit had now forgotten the dangers of raising his voice and was very tempted to shake the elf who huddled pitifully before him. "Who was right about what? You’re not making any sense, Legolas!"
"The Mouth of Sauron," the elf whispered. "The darkness is within me. I can feel it twisting my mind. I have no will. The decision to leave is no longer mine to make."
"You don’t believe that!" Merry shouted. "I know you don’t believe that. Of all of us in the Fellowship, you were the one who never let things bother you. Gimli was the only one who could get under your skin, and the Mouth of Sauron is no dwarf! You can’t let him do this to you. You’re stronger than that; I know you are!"
"Leave, Merry," Legolas murmured, hugging his knees into his chest as his trembling increased. "Leave while you still can."
"Not while you’re still here," the hobbit answered stubbornly. "You can break through this. You’re an elf! This should be easy!"
Legolas gave a wordless cry and hissed as if in pain. Despite the chill of the underground caverns, a warm flush was creeping into the elf’s cheeks as though he was fevered, and his shaking form was almost nearing the point of convulsions. "Merry, I know not how much longer I can resist. But I cannot leave this place under my own power. We need aid and you shall have to bring it, for I cannot. Please, Merry. Do not force me to beg!"
Merry seized Legolas by the shoulders, hoping to still the elf’s shuddering while at the same time informing Legolas that the hobbit was not going anywhere without company. "Don’t waste your breath by begging," Merry told him firmly, pressing him against the wall and pinning him with his own bodyweight. "We’ll ride this out and then we’ll be on our way. I know we will. Just hold on a bit longer. Try to fight back. Are you listening to me, Legolas? Legolas?" The hobbit tried to make out the elf’s face in the dark torchlight, and he shivered at what he saw. Legolas’s eyes were closed again, his face was twisted in pain, and his hands were clenching into fists. "Legolas!" Merry shouted, trying desperately to get through to the elf. "Legolas, you have to fight this! I won’t abandon you, so don’t you abandon me!"
Legolas suddenly let out a cry so shrill that it hurt Merry’s ears, and then the elf went limp. His entire body relaxed, his head dropped to the dank floor, and his breathing quieted. So sudden was the change that Merry jumped away as though fearful of touching Legolas. Shaking his head and furiously berating himself, the hobbit crept back and once again took hold of the elf’s shoulder.
"Legolas?" he called, lowering his voice once more. "Legolas?"
There was no answer and the elf was disturbingly still. It was especially unnerving considering that he had been convulsing and writhing only moments before while trying to block out voices that only he could hear. Becoming even more anxious, Merry hastily sought a pulse and watched the elf’s chest. He found the heartbeat to be rapid and erratic while Legolas’s breathing was swift and shallow, but the elf was still alive. That was important. As Bilbo had been fond of saying, if there was life, there was hope.
But there would be far more hope if he was awake, Merry sighed to himself, glancing about the halls and wondering why none of their captors had descended upon them. They had made enough noise to give away their presence to all of Eriador. But the caverns were silent and empty. Hobbit and elf were still alone.
Alone is great, but even if we’re safe for now, we won’t be safe for long, Merry thought despairingly. But I can’t do anything for Legolas on my own. He stared at the elf and ran a number of jumbled ideas through his head, yet none were plausible. The hobbit just didn’t know enough to form anything remotely resembling a coherent plan or a possible solution.
Perhaps I should leave. If I left, I could find help and bring it back.
Merry abruptly froze while his fear rose exponentially. That last thought had not been his own; he was sure of it. He was absolutely steadfast in his decision to stay with the elf. Why, then, should the idea of leaving cross his mind?
But Legolas was right. I can do nothing for him. It would be best if I found our friends and brought them here.
The hobbit decided that he had finally snapped. Captivity had gotten the better of him and his mind was shattering before his very eyes. "No," he told himself aloud. "No, I’m staying right here with Legolas. I’m not about to leave him."
It was then that Merry noticed the growing chill in the air. Gimli insisted that underground caverns were very consistent in temperature, but apparently that didn’t hold true here. The tunnel was becoming steadily colder and the flickering torchlight was dimming rapidly. Legolas had faded into a mere shadow against the wall, and he would soon be lost completely in the darkness.
I must leave! Legolas needs help that I can’t give.
"Who are you?!" Merry demanded, somehow managing to keep his voice quiet.
There seemed to be a pause, though Merry could not say how he knew that, and then the voice was back, dropping its masquerade and speaking to the hobbit directly. You must flee. It is your only means of salvation!
"I don’t know who you are and I’m not listening to you!" Merry said firmly, covering his ears and shutting his eyes. "And I’m not leaving, either."
The elf asked you to leave. You dishonor his wishes.
"He just doesn’t want me to be in danger," Merry answered, backing against a wall in spite of himself.
He is more knowledgeable than you are. He knows you can do nothing on your own. He knows you are weak. Are you now also a coward? A traitor? The elf knows that there must be help from other sources, and he knows that you are the only one capable of bringing that help to him. Yet you refuse to go. You doom him. You condemn him to an eternal life of shadows. In every way that counts, you have betrayed him!
"I haven’t betrayed him!" Merry shouted, forgetting the need for silence. Yet even as he said this, he doubted. Was this voice right? The hobbit was all too aware of his own failings. In fact, one of his darkest fears centered around a nightmare in which he was powerless to help his friends. This feeling of helplessness was becoming very strong, for Merry knew that he could not take Legolas from the cave by himself. But to leave the elf here in the clutches of the Orcs…alone…
If you do not go, there is no hope. There is no chance for freedom. At least by leaving you ensure the possibility that there might someday be an escape for him.
"I’m his friend and I choose to stay by his side," Merry said, but his voice was no longer firm and confident. A sense of shame and guilt was creeping upon him and he shivered as the caves grew even colder. Was it true? Did he really sentence Legolas to death in the darkness? Had he betrayed him?
You are afraid. You fear to face the shadows on your own. You cannot save Legolas because you are afraid! You are too weak to help him yourself, and you are too frightened to find others that might aid him. He shall die because of you!
"That’s not true!" Merry hissed, sliding down the wall and pulling his knees into his chest. "That’s not true! I’m not afraid. I can save him!"
If you were brave enough, then you could save both yourself and Legolas!
"I will save us!" Merry cried. "I will!"
You will save no one because you are afraid! He will die in torment, and he will die knowing that you could have saved him but chose not to because you were afraid!
"That’s not true!" the hobbit screamed.
"I’m not afraid!" Merry sobbed to himself, oblivious to the dark figures that began to creep toward them. "I didn’t betray him!"
If you had left when given the chance, you would be on your way to freedom. And you would then bring back an elven army to liberate your friend. But you are a coward, Meriadoc Brandybuck. You are but a coward who can not face the darkness.
"I haven’t betrayed him," Merry mumbled to himself, shaking violently and completely unaware of the Orc the now loomed above his shaking form.
Because of you he shall be lost!
Sharp claws dug into Merry’s shoulders, and even as he fought the whisperings within his mind, he looked up in shock and beheld the sneering face of an Uruk-hai. The voice in his head cried out with undisguised contempt, screaming that Merry had been the elf’s only hope, and the monstrosity kneeling before him laughed, its horrible voice grating upon his ears.
It was too much for the hobbit. A physical horror stood before him. A mental nightmare sifted through his deepest fears. The paralyzing feelings of guilt and shame left him unable to comprehend anything other than his own inadequacies. And caught between inner demons and outer monstrosities, Merry’s mind mercifully shut down, blowing out the lantern as it left and plunging his world into darkness.
Regarding the history for Thranduil, it’s completely out of my own head. We have almost no information on Thranduil’s wife in any of Tolkien’s work, but since the queen of Mirkwood is never mentioned, many have assumed that she is either dead or has passed over the sea. I’ve jumped on the bandwagon (conformity is occasionally a good thing) and decided that she perished. In my mind, it better explains the differences and the personality extremes that we see in Thranduil in The Hobbit. Tragedy can do that to a person. Or an elf. Anyway, take it for what you will, this is my explanation.
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.