4. Evil in the Wood
Darkness poured through the forests west of Rivendell, flowing from shadow to shadow and tainting the fair woods with a foul stain of evil. The free creatures of the forests shuddered and fled before the onslaught that washed through their homes. The air grew still and the trees ceased their whispers as ironclad feet marched across their deep roots. Such evil had not been seen in this part of the world for nearly five years, and all living things trembled at the thought that the shadow of the Enemy had returned. Birds took to the skies, fleeing this new threat. Deer bounded through shaded runways, anxious to outpace the fell creatures that marched behind them. Those not able to run withdrew, hiding from the light of day in the hopes that this would also hide them from the sight of evil. Rumor spread quickly that ill things were abroad upon the land, and fear rippled through the forests as might waves of water ripple in the wake of a thrown stone. All soon knew of the coming shadow, and the woods became silent and still. Nothing dared to move, and nothing dared to breathe. The trees themselves waited with frozen hearts, hoping against hope that the evil would pass on and leave them in peace. And as the creatures of the forest recoiled in terror or fled in fear, a veil of darkness seemed to drop over all.
* * * *
Meriadoc Brandybuck abruptly pulled his pony to a halt. The animal shook its head, irritated at this sudden and seemingly needless interruption of a steady pace, but the hobbit paid it not heed. He sensed…a change in the surrounding forest. Something was different. He felt as though a shadow had been cast over his heart. His skin seemed to be plagued by a crawling cold and his right arm—the arm he had used to stab a Nazgul five years ago—began to throb slightly. A hint of darkness swept through his thoughts, and he shivered, wondering at this sudden change. It was vague enough and subtle enough that he could not say what exactly had happened or was happening, but something…something was not right.
"Merry?" Realizing that his friend was no longer beside him, Pippin looked over his shoulder at the knight of Rohan with confusion and a touch of exasperation. "Merry, did your pony throw a shoe again? I told you we should have stopped by that stream back there to look at his feet, but you insisted that—"
"There’s something out there."
Pippin frowned. "What do you mean? What’s out there?"
"I…I don’t know, but Pippin, something is out there."
Slightly behind the other two hobbits, Sam caught this last remark and frowned. There was a note of fear and concern in Merry’s voice that he didn’t like. "Rosie?" he said, turning back and addressing the hobbit riding a few yards behind him. "Wait here a bit, all right? I need to ask Merry and Pippin something."
Unable to miss the slight alarm in her husband’s tone, Rosie studied Sam a bit and eventually nodded. "Go ahead, then. I’ll wait. And Sam, if possible, ask them to stop soon. Elanor needs a slight break," she said, indicating the four-year-old hobbit sitting in front of her and playing happily with the pony’s mane.
"I’ll see what we can manage," Sam answered, spurring his own pony forward. Seeing his approach, Merry and Pippin both urged their mounts ahead a bit so that Rosie and Elanor were out of hearing. "What’s wrong?" Sam hissed.
"Merry thinks something’s watching us," Pippin answered, casting a curious look at the Brandybuck.
"No, I don’t think something’s watching us," Merry corrected, eyeing the forest distrustfully. "I have no idea if something’s watching us. But I do think that something’s out there. Actually, no," he said with a shake of his head. "I don’t think. I know."
"How? How do you know this?" Sam asked, feeling a shadow of fear clutch at his heart.
Merry sighed, wondering how he could put this into understandable and relatively coherent words. "I don’t know that I can really explain. But I feel cold. Faint, somehow. And something isn’t right. I can sense it. Something has changed and it’s not a change for the best. It’s almost as if…I feel as though…" He trailed off, realizing that he was not making much sense and deciding to give up on the attempt. He turned back to the forest, still sensing the approach of darkness, and he unconsciously began rubbing his right arm.
"Muscle twinge?" Pippin asked, his eyes narrowing slightly.
Merry blinked and looked down. "Well, no, but…it hurts. No, that’s not the right word. It doesn’t really hurt. It’s strange, actually. It almost feels like it did after…you remember, on the Pelennor after…well, after he came and I stabbed him and…and then…" Merry waved his hand, still at a loss for words. "Like that," he finished lamely. "It feels like that."
"Just like that," Pippin repeated slowly, studying his friend carefully.
"You mean after you and Eowyn killed the Witch-king? After that?" Sam pressed, chills of fear beginning to sweep up his spine. He silently thanked the Valar that he had left the year-old Frodo at home with the Gaffer, but the safety of Elanor and Rose now concerned him greatly.
"After that," Merry murmured, his eyes clouding.
"The woods are very quiet," Pippin allowed, glancing into the forests that surrounded the Road. "But the horses aren’t spooked and I don’t sense anything unusual."
"Don’t you?" Merry shook his head and blinked, seeming to come back to himself. "Maybe it’s nothing, then. But I still feel…I feel we should travel faster. I’ll feel safer if we get to Rivendell." He stopped and frowned, going back over what he’d just said. "I’ll feel safer when we get to Rivendell," he said firmly, hoping he could convince not only Pippin and Sam but also himself.
"Actually, Rosie was wondering if we could stop and let Elanor wander around a bit," Sam confessed. "But if you feel that—"
"No," Merry said with a shake of his head. "No, it’s probably just my imagination. I can never travel east and feel truly safe, I guess. Memories and all that. I’m sure you understand."
"What about just a quick break?" Pippin suggested, beginning to feel slightly edgy himself but hesitant to spread further alarm. "The ponies would probably appreciate it and I wouldn’t mind the chance to stretch my legs. If I remember rightly, there’s a clearing about half a mile down the road if Elanor can last that long."
"That would be fine," Sam assured him. "Merry, does that sound all right with you?"
"Yes, of course," Merry answered a little too quickly. Sam couldn’t help but notice how closely his friend continued to watch the forest. Still, it was only Merry who seemed to sense that something was wrong. Perhaps it was just the resurfacing of old memories. And I’ve enough of those to send us all scurrying for cover, Sam thought bitterly to himself. With a shake of his head, he turned his pony and beckoned to Rosie.
"We’re going to stop after about half a mile where there’s a nice clearing," he told her when she drew near. "How does that sound?"
"Wonderful, Sam," Rosie answered, fixing her husband with a rather disconcerting and strangely piercing gaze. "And when we get there, maybe we can all speak together without worrying about what Elanor might hear."
"There yet?" Elanor asked hopefully, looking up at the mention of her name.
"Not yet, dear," Rosie soothed. "A little longer. After a while, we can stop and you can run about." Elanor seemed satisfied with this and went back to playing with the pony’s mane, babbling happy nonsense as she did so. Rosie smiled at her and then looked up at Sam. "Let us continue."
Sam nodded, turned his pony, and started off at a quick trot, following Merry and Pippin who were beginning to draw ahead. But he couldn’t seem to help darting quick, furtive glances into the woods. And now that he considered the idea a bit more, the forests did seem a little too quiet. Perhaps Merry was right. He shivered and fingered Sting, which was strapped to his belt and lay hidden beneath his cloak. Rosie had frowned when he’d put it on at the beginning of their journey, but he would not leave it aside and he was glad now that he had it. If anything sought to harm his family, they would have Samwise Gamgee to deal with.
Under Rosie’s questioning gaze, Sam shook himself and smiled reassuringly, hoping to allay any fears she might be developing, though he knew it was probably too late for that. Rosie was a sharp lass, and she could plainly see that something troubled her husband. Nor did Sam think that he could hide this from her, for he was now quickly reaching the conclusion that Merry’s instincts were right. One did not travel through Mordor without developing a sense of its darkness and influence, and Sam was beginning to feel what Merry had felt earlier. There was something wrong in the forest. There was something there that should not have been there.
Keeping a sharp eye out for anything that might assail them, Sam quickened the pace of his horse and loosened Sting in its scabbard. In any case, it never hurt to be prepared.
* * * *
Elladan pulled his horse to a stop and sighed, glancing back once at Rivendell and then turning his gaze to the south, following the line of the Misty Mountains. The atmosphere back in Imladris was one of tension and brooding, and Elladan had finally consented to follow Elrohir’s counsel. Actually, it was not so much counsel but a command in one of those rare instances where Elladan was reminded that although he was the firstborn twin, Elrohir was the military commander of Rivendell and not at all hesitant of using his authority as such. Shortly after the early morning argument between Legolas and Thranduil, Elrohir had found his brother agonizing over how to bring peace again to Rivendell and had bluntly ordered him in no uncertain terms to take a ride and clear his mind.
Elladan gave a short, mirthless laugh, for it seemed to him that he could only follow part of his brother’s orders. It had been easy enough to delegate his duties for the day and ride south on his favorite horse, but as for clearing his mind…well, that was a different matter.
What is wrong with me?! Elladan shook his head fiercely and dismounted, allowing his horse to wander in search of tender greens. He wondered if he was upset only by the morning’s argument that had unfortunately been witnessed by many elves. Disagreements and differences of opinion were common enough among the Eldar, for centuries of life will give rise to different ways of thinking. But contentious arguments, particularly between two of royal blood, were rare, and when they did happen, it was usually behind closed doors.
But Elladan sensed that the fight between Thranduil and Legolas was not the main cause of his unease, though it certainly contributed to his overall anxiety. No, the primary source was something different. It was something far more illusive, and he wondered if it might be related to the same feeling of foreboding he had experienced the night before Arwen and Aragorn arrived with their company. Experience told him there was no such thing as coincidence, but if that was true, then where was the relation? What evil went forth in the mountains and how did it affect Rivendell? And why did his feeling of darkness and shadow seem stronger today?
It made no sense! He had felt this way when the White Council had driven Sauron from Dol Guldur, which also happened to be the same year that Bilbo had found the Ring. And he’d felt this way when the Nine rose again and cross the Fords of Isen and later the Sarn Ford, driving the Rangers before them. And he’d also had great feelings of unease the morning before Glorfindel and Aragorn—along with three hobbits, Asfaloth, and an unkempt pony—raced into Rivendell bearing a wounded Frodo and the One Ring. So if the impetus behind my feelings is primarily Mordor and specifically the One Ring and the Nazgul, what is the source of my unease now? Elladan wondered, trying to quell his growing frustration. Mordor had been defeated. The One Ring had been destroyed. The Nazgul had perished with their master. What evil stirred in the Misty Mountains that could raise such feelings of foreboding and apprehension in the son of Elrond?
He was pulled from his thoughts rather abruptly when sharp elven hearing alerted him to something approaching with stealthy movements. Reacting completely by instinct, he loosened his sword in its scabbard—thankful for the ingrained warrior’s habit of wearing his baldric outside of Rivendell—and leaped into the nearest tree. Climbing quickly, his sharp eyes scoured the area and soon found the disturbance. Even with elven sight, it was difficult to make out exactly what was creeping ever closer to Imladris’s borders, but a sudden rush of evil and malice left no doubt in Elladan’s mind as to what this creature was.
An Orc! And so close to Rivendell. Yet…why? Orcs are not the greatest of military strategists, but neither are they so foolish as to brave an elven stronghold when it is known that many elves guard it. Elladan had no ready answers to his questions, but he did know of a way to obtain answers. Scanning the area before the hated creature and pushing aside—for the moment, anyway—his very personal loathing of Orcs, Elladan traced out its most probable path through the heavy forests and hurried forward on an intercept course.
If the Orc was quiet, then Elladan was as the shadow of death. Without so much as a hint of noise, the half-elf crept through the trees with no more disturbance than what a slight breeze might make. With his brother Elrohir, Elladan had been scouting the borders of Imladris since he’d been old enough to draw a bow, and he knew every tree and every stone. He knew where to place his feet and where to tread. He knew the moods of the forest and he knew how to blend his presence with the whispers of the plants, disappearing to all but the sharpest eyes. Another elf casually glancing his way would have been hard-pressed to mark his fleeting movements. Certainly the foul creature that Elladan stalked had no awareness of its own peril. Heedless of the hunter that moved swiftly toward him, the hulking beast continued unerringly toward Rivendell.
Elladan had now drawn quite close to the Orc, and he paused to consider his foe. Normally, he would not have waited a single moment to hurl a knife into the evil demon’s back, but the current conditions were rather unusual. First of all, this was no mountain goblin, and neither was it one of the Uruk-hai that occasionally escaped the vigilance of the Ents and wandered up from Isengard. This Orc wore a collection of mismatched armor that bore the ominous symbol of the Red Eye. But what is an Orc of Mordor doing west of the Misty Mountains? Elladan shook his head, attempting to decipher this unlikely turn of events. Perhaps the Orc itself was not from Mordor and had taken the armor from another Orc. But then how had the armor made its way here? Someone or something had to have carried it. Which meant that somehow, an Orc in the direct service of Sauron had left the ruin of Mordor and made its way to the Misty Mountains.
Laying a hand to his sword hilt, Elladan’s jaw tightened as he considered the implications. He and Elrohir had kept a close watch upon the mountains since Elrond’s departure, and they knew very well that the remaining Orcs were rallying together. But they had not imagined that Orcs of Mordor would find their way into this land without perishing in Gondor, Rohan, or Greenwood the Great. Such a thing should not have happened, yet it now seemed clear that such a thing had indeed happened. And Elladan was going to find out why. This grotesque spawn of evil might possess the key to unraveling the half-elf’s strange sense of foreboding.
Without a hint of warning, Elladan sprang from the trees and slammed into the Orc’s back. The creature tumbled forward, crying loudly and cursing in its foul tongue, but the half-elf gave it no time to mount a counterattack or to even roll over. His sword swept outward and before the Orc had even completely realized what had attacked it, the tip of a blade was pressing against its throat and a foot was pressing into the Orc’s back, keeping it pinned to the ground.
"You were unwise to come so close to Rivendell," Elladan hissed, struggling to control his emotions. The idea of vengeance for his mother’s torture in the hands of the Orcs was rising to the forefront of his mind, but he pushed those thoughts away, knowing that above all else he must stay focused. "What was your purpose here, foul creature?" the half-elf demanded. "What did you hope to accomplish?"
The Orc spat an oath in the grating language of Mordor and Elladan pressed his sword down, forcing the tip into the thick, leathery skin of the neck. The Orc quieted and Elladan quickly realized two rather important things. First, this Orc was not a leader or even a particularly well-trained warrior as he was not struggling and was opting for an interrogation rather than death. Second, because he was a subordinate and a weakling, he was probably not alone in the forest. No Orc would have made it so close to Rivendell unaided if he lacked sufficient survival skills, and there seemed to be a rather pathetic dearth of those skills in this particular Orc.
"Where is your company," Elladan pressed, twisting his sword a bit for emphasis. "Where have they gone and why are you no longer with them?"
"Elf," the creature snarled, turning his head to the side so that he could see Elladan’s face. "Cursed, evil elf!"
"Answer!" Elladan commanded, driving his sword even deeper.
The Orc cried out and stiffened with pain. "West," he sniffled. "They went west."
"Where? What was their destination?"
"The Road," the wretched creature whined, feeling the tip of the blade press further into his neck. "They make for the Road. Master wants prisoners. Fellowship," he hissed, his eyes darkening in anger. "The Fellowship must perish."
Several thoughts flashed rapidly through Elladan’s mind, none of them very pleasant or comforting, but he pushed them aside and concentrated on finishing the interrogation. "Who is your master? Why does he want prisoners? What does he intend?"
The Orc snarled and began to tremble, but he squeezed his eyes shut and refused to answer. It seemed a shadow passed over his face and he moaned within himself. "Master," he murmured, almost seeming to chant the word. "Master."
"Who is your master?!" Elladan demanded.
"No!" the Orc screamed, and he surged upward in a sudden and startling frenzy of fear and anger. Unprepared for this action, Elladan had no time to react or adjust his position and the Orc impaled himself upon the half-elf’s sword. For a long moment, time seemed to freeze, and then the Orc went limp. His black blood dripped onto the lush grass below him, staining and soiling the dark earth.
With a grimace of disgust, Elladan pushed the creature off his sword and hastily wiped the blade across the Orc’s armor before returning it to its scabbard. The sword was in need of far more thorough cleaning, but at the moment, there was no time. Whistling shrilly for his horse, Elladan was soon mounted and galloping madly toward Rivendell. His feelings had been right. Something dark had been stirring and it was now headed for the hobbits. And what’s more, it seemed to be something out of Mordor. Forces had to be sent out at once to counter this threat.
Hunching low over his stallion’s neck, Elladan whispered encouraging words and urged the horse to even greater speeds. But a sinking feeling was already creeping over his elven heart. They had waited too long to act against the growing darkness in the mountains much as the White Council had waited too long to attack Sauron in Dol Guldur. It was doubtful that anyone in Rivendell would be able to reach the hobbits in time to warn or protect them. Elladan could only hope that Aragorn had already sent the planned honor guard and that they would be able to find the hobbits in time and hold off the attacking forces long enough for reinforcements to arrive. It was the only chance they had.
* * * *
"How did you know that we were to escort the hobbits?"
Startled by the sudden break in what had become a rather uneasy silence, Gimli jumped slightly and looked up at his companion. "My apologies, I was not paying attention. What did you say?"
"I asked how you knew we were to escort the hobbits," Legolas repeated, guiding Arod skillfully as the fiery horse cantered down the Road.
"Ah." The dwarf paused to collect his scattered thoughts. "Celeborn found me having a late breakfast and told me of your request before Aragorn. Since it seemed that I was included, I thought it best if I get ready to go. At that point, Celeborn mentioned that you had already stormed outside and that your father seemed to be following you. So I thought it best that I make haste and meet you before you did anything you might regret." Gimli looked up at Legolas, wishing he could see the elf’s face. "I almost arrived too late."
Legolas sighed, and it seemed to the dwarf that his friend was making a point of not looking back at him. "Your timing was good, elvellon," the prince murmured.
"My timing was exceptional," Gimli corrected. "You were threatening to attack the forces of Mirkwood with the forces of Gondor, and I arrived in time to prevent a bloodbath."
"There would have been no bloodbath; I was merely testing his resolve," Legolas protested. "I have no doubt but that he would have summoned guards to restrain me, but he would have stopped short of an armed conflict."
"So you say now, but what proof had you then?"
"He is my father," the elf murmured quietly, his voice almost lost beneath the sound of lightly falling hooves. "I learned from him, followed him, honored him, loved him, and I still love him. I know him well, and my instincts said that he would not act if such action would be the cause of bloodshed."
"What of yourself, then?" Gimli asked. "Was your resolve such that you would have called down Gondor’s guards in your defense?"
Legolas laughed quietly. "No, I do not think I would have. We are very similar, my father and I. Very similar in many ways." The elf sighed and shook his head. "My apologies, Gimli, for not consulting you ahead of time."
"Consulting me?" Gimli echoed, attempting to follow the elf’s flitting mind.
"Concerning the hobbits and the task of escorting them to Rivendell," Legolas clarified. "I spoke to Aragorn without your knowledge and volunteered your services without your consent."
"If it sets your mind at ease, you had no need to seek for my consent. I was thinking of asking to escort them myself," the dwarf said, dismissing the need for an apology. "It will be good to see them again."
"Still, I should have sought your opinion on the matter before acting," Legolas said.
"Perhaps," Gimli allowed. "But as upset as you were, I would have been surprised had you done nothing. In truth, I was worried because you had not acted earlier. I would much rather be told to escort hobbits than told to clean up your remains after you challenged your father."
"You think I would lose?"
"As adept as you are with a sword, your father is many times your senior and has far more experience. Perhaps you could best him in archery but not with the sword."
Legolas smiled slightly and shook his head. "I shall have to work on that, then. I fear I will have other encounters with my father ere our stay here is done."
"We could leave early," Gimli pointed out.
"We could," Legolas acknowledged, "but such a departure could be taken for defeat. And by the Valar, I will not have my father thinking he still holds sway over me! I am an elf, a prince, and I have more than earned the right to govern a portion of my people without answering to a higher authority. He trained me for such a task! Why should he doubt me when I choose to put his training to the test?"
"You are the youngest of your brothers," Gimli said gently, hoping he would not incur his friend’s wrath with his words. "And as the youngest, I think he will always see you as…well, as a child. Did you not tell me that your two oldest brothers fought with Gil-galad? And that was many years before you were born, was it not?"
"What of it?" Legolas asked warily.
"You do not see it yet? Think, Legolas! I know you are not as stupid as you appear to be."
"I take issue with that remark, stunted one," the elf said sternly with a sharp glance backwards, but a twinkle of mirth had entered his eyes.
"Take issue with what you may, it is true enough," Gimli said, smiling slightly. "You were born after some of your siblings had already proven themselves as warriors. You were always learning from them, always looking up to them. You were always the youngest and always the least experienced. You had the lesser skills and though you can now best your three remaining brothers in archery, it is still something that you feel must be proven. Is that not true?"
"To an extent," Legolas agreed, nodding slowly.
"But why should that be? You have proven it before, yet it is still something you doubt occasionally. You view yourself as young and inexperienced when compared to your brothers. Why should it strike you as odd, then, that Thranduil feels the same?"
"You speak wisely, Gimli," the elf said quietly after a moment of hesitation. "I feel I must overcome the shock of this first before I consider what you have said."
Gimli snorted and shook his head. "You wound me, Legolas," he said, striving to sound sorrowful. "I had thought my words of advice would be well received, but you treat them as though they are nothing to you."
"Should they be something to me?"
Gimli laughed quietly but did not respond. He was not truly in the mood for banter, in any case. The two confrontations between Legolas and his father had disturbed him, for he knew his friend looked up to Thranduil and it was not easy to see the elf at odds with the king.
"Do not trouble yourself on my behalf," Legolas said quietly, easily discerning the reason behind Gimli’s silence. "This morning’s confrontation has been long in coming. I have agreed with few of his recent actions, but until recently, I lacked the strength of will to make my opinion known. For better or for worse, that has now changed."
"Yet he is still your father," Gimli observed.
"He is, and I will always respect him, though he has not been the best of fathers," Legolas sighed. He shook his head and grimaced. "Must we continue to speak of this?"
"I think you need to speak of this, Legolas," Gimli said pointedly. "If, as you say, this confrontation has been long in coming, then you have carried your grudges about with you for many years. Two arguments with your father will not suffice."
"You think I should seek him out and argue with him again?" Legolas asked with a humorless laugh.
"If not with him, then at least with me."
Legolas smiled but shook his head. "As generous as your offer is, my friend, I fear to burden you with my grief lest all the accusations of the dwarves against the elves are proven true. Do not worry, for it is no great matter. Rest assured that elves have carried grudges far longer than I have carried mine."
"If you are certain," Gimli said hesitantly.
"So long as you warn me before you lash out," Gimli said, shifting his weight as Arod turned a sharp corner beneath them. "I am familiar with elven speed and have no wish to be caught unawares."
"When I strike, you will be the first to know," Legolas promised with a mischievous smile.
Gimli sighed, shook his head, and the two then turned to talk of other things. Gimli still felt that Legolas was upset, but knowing firsthand how stubborn his friend could be when he did not wish to speak of something, the dwarf saw no point in pursuing the subject. Looking back later, he regretted this decision. Legolas’s latent anger was such that the elf was not giving heed to his senses. Had he done so, he might have realized that they were being watched. He might have realized that evil lurked close by. He might have realized that darkness was closing behind them, cutting off their path back to Rivendell. But he didn’t, and elf and dwarf continued to ride along the road, oblivious to the danger that observed them from the shadows.
* * * *
Thranduil was not a happy elf. A single glance at the king of Mirkwood was enough to reveal that fact, and even an Ent would not consider such a pronouncement to be a hasty conclusion. Anger seemed to pulse from the king, and he was filled with an intense rage that was comparable only to the rage he had felt shortly after Isildur’s failure to destroy the Ring. And for a life that now spanned four separate ages, that was saying quite a bit.
"Nogoth," Thranduil murmured, shaking his head in disbelief. He’d credited his son with more intelligence than to risk a friendship with a dwarf. Legolas knew of the long feud between their two Races, and while the prince had never said much on the subject, he’d clearly supported the elven cause whenever he had spoken. Dwarves were ultimately untrustworthy, and Thranduil shuddered to think of the consequences when Gimli eventually betrayed Legolas. Legolas was not an elf of degrees or partial efforts. When he gave his attention to a task, that task would occupy his mind until it was finished. When he gave his friendship, he gave it with all the long ages of Arda in mind. The breaking of such a trust might well break Legolas.
Beyond that, this was a mortal friendship. In fact, most of Legolas’s close friends were now mortals, and that was also a matter of deep concern for Thranduil. He had witnessed the effects of such bonds when an elf-friend died and left the elf behind to grieve. Such elves rarely stayed in Middle Earth but instead took to the sea, hoping against hope that they would find healing in the Undying Lands. But the sadness he had seen in their eyes ere they left…it was enough to cause even the king of Mirkwood to cringe and turn away. Mortal friendships always ended in heartache. There was no other way around it. And to watch helplessly as Legolas became encumbered by so many mortal friends…it was almost more than the king could take. The prince was a grown elf and a proven warrior and he did rule his own people, but a father’s love and concern were everlasting. Thranduil could not sit quietly by and watch as Legolas locked himself into a path of self-destruction.
With a deep sigh that bespoke countless ages and a great weariness, Thranduil sunk onto a stone bench near one of Rivendell’s many archways. After Legolas had left this morning in the company of that dwarf, the king of Mirkwood had come here in the hope of finding solace. This particular area reminded him very much of a glade in Mirkwood where a mound stood in memory of his departed wife. She had died in childbirth shortly following a surprise attack of Orcs and Wargs. The healer had been hard-pressed to save Legolas, and there had been no hope for Thranduil’s beloved Loswaia. She had died in his arms, sheltered beneath the trees she had loved and protected in the king’s firm embrace. Her last words had named their son, and Thranduil had promised to see that Legolas grew to be a son that did justice to her name. Perhaps the king had been hard on the youngest prince, but it was only to ensure that Loswaia’s sacrifice did not prove to be a vain one. She gave her life to bring Legolas into the world. Legolas would not disappoint her.
Thranduil sighed again and reached out to caress a trailing vine that snaked down from an overhanging branch and had wrapped itself upon part of the bench. He had come looking for solace, but he had found only empty memories of past years. Memories that clung to him much as the vine clung to the bench. Memories long past even to one of the Eldar, he thought bitterly.
"Your thoughts run deep today."
Thranduil was not used to being surprised. He was a veteran warrior of many battles and had lived through more ambushes and sieges than even he cared to admit. But at the moment, with his mind so firmly caught in the past and his fears so concerned with the future, he had failed to track the present, and quiet footsteps had gone unheeded. With a glare that had never failed to send his guards scrambling for cover, Thranduil looked up and found himself face to face with Celeborn. The anger swiftly vanished from his face to be replaced by a look of caution.
"The spirit of Rivendell lends itself to contemplation," Thranduil answered with an arching eyebrow, daring the other to pursue this conversation.
Having fielded such looks from Galadriel for several millennia, Celeborn smiled and happily took up the challenge. It had been a while since he’d encountered someone as closemouthed as his wife, and he was eager to see if his skills of prodding and prying were still up to par.
"You were not particularly contemplative this morning," the leader of Lothlórien remarked, choosing a rather bold statement for his opening gambit.
Thranduil’s eyes narrowed and he rose from his bench so that he might be at eye level with Celeborn. "There are matters into which even you might fear to look, Lord Celeborn. I advise you to turn aside and seek no more for answers."
"You advise me to turn aside?" Celeborn said softly, and in his voice was a veiled warning to the king of Mirkwood that he would do well to remember his place in elven hierarchy. They were both Sindarin princes, but Celeborn’s marriage to Galadriel had lifted him above Thranduil’s station and he intended to use that advantage to its fullest.
"By your leave," Thranduil answered, and in his own voice was a returned threat of sorts. He was not an elf to back away and he did not obey orders well.
"I deny you my leave, then," Celeborn said. "You and your son were quite vocal this morning concerning many issues. There was discussion of men, dwarves, Isildur, your wife Loswaia, elf-friends…have I missed aught?"
"If you have a point, I suggest that you arrive at it quickly," Thranduil said, fighting down a rising feeling of impatience. "The methods I use for training my son are not open to discussion, and they are beyond your jurisdiction, Celeborn. Do not seek to involve yourself."
"I would not even think to involve myself were it not for the incident this morning. Your argument has cast a shadow upon Imladris, and you insulted friends that are here at my request. As their host, it is my duty to see that they are treated with respect and enjoy their stay. Elladan and Elrohir were responsible for inviting Aragorn and Arwen, but it was I who invited Legolas and Gimli."
"Then I question your choice in guests," Thranduil said bluntly. "Or rather, one guest in particular. Dwarves were not made for Rivendell, nor Rivendell for dwarves."
"Whence comes your hatred, Thranduil?" Celeborn demanded, pinning the king of Mirkwood beneath a gaze that had always managed to capture even Galadriel’s attention. "This loathing of men I can at least understand though not condone, but the dwarves…what great loss have you taken at their hands?"
"You surprise me," Thranduil answered. "Moria stands at your borders, and it was the dwarves who woke the Balrog."
"That may be so, but it does not explain your own hatred. Your realm is far to the north and untroubled by the creatures of Moria. Why this grief with the dwarves?"
Thranduil’s eyes smoldered with anger and he opened his mouth to answer, but the words never had an opportunity to emerge. Horns began ringing in the air, warning the valley of Rivendell and summoning the elves to arms. Frozen for only an instant, Celeborn and Thranduil leaped into action and began racing toward the main clearing along with other elves who now poured from the house and the forest. Such horns had not been heard in Rivendell since the destruction of Sauron, and all felt that a peace they had worked so long to preserve was now shattered. The darkness that had been skirting the boundaries of Rivendell was no longer a nightmare that lingered on the edge of elven senses. It was a reality.
Nogoth—A dwarf (This particular word also carries the connotation of being "stunted," so it’s something of an insult.)
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.