3. Fire And Mist
Part Three: Fire and Mist
The arrival at Dale was subdued, for Thranduil and Galion were hardly the princely retinue that had set out from Mirkwood days before. He had even stopped for a short time in the hills outside of Dale to let Galion brush him down. He had stood, patient and uncomplaining as his own horse, while his valet fussed over him, removing the debris from his hair and repairing the damage to his clothing as much as possible. It seemed so very pointless, as if he was a thing of straw, a stuffed dummy fit only for show.
It was a glorious summer evening. Girion and his family waited on the steps of the King's House to welcome Dale's most important ally.
"Forgive me, my old friend, for being late," Thranduil said.
Girion's face was grave with concern. "Thranduil, my brother! My heart grieves for your trouble. If I can be of any help, you have but to say the word."
Thranduil shook his head. "All that can be done is being done. I will not darken your heir's festivities with my sorrow.
"And look at you, my lad! No longer a lad -- you are a splendid young man," he exclaimed clapping Girion's oldest son upon his broad shoulder. A splendid young man he was, too, wearing the chain mail armor of triple beaten silver that had cost his father a necklace of emeralds for the dwarves of Erebor to fashion as a coming of age gift. Thranduil's chest caught at the memory of another expensive set of armor, and he fought to rid his mind of the image of it drenched in river mud. He forced himself to smile.
He turned his attention to the queen. He was always good with the women -- it was a gift from the Belair. "As lovely as ever," he murmured, kissing her hand. She WAS as lovely as ever. She had been good friends with his wife. This was another path he did not wish his mind to take, and he forced his thoughts away from it.
The younger boy stood at her side. Nice looking little fellow. About the size of Legolas, maybe a little bigger. They would have gotten along. Smile; don't think about it, he told himself.
There followed a meal where the meat and other fine viands might as well have been straw and where the wine tasted to him like water, although, fearful for once of losing control, he had warned Galion to cut him off after the third goblet. He sleepwalked through the torch lit evening of songs and conversation, not really hearing them, and Galion was ever at his side. He felt oddly grateful for that. At last they were shown to a sleeping chamber, and he tumbled onto the bed, muttering, "I will find no rest," as his exhausted body won the fight with his mind and black oblivion took him.
The next day he went through the motions again, always with his ears peeled toward the west, waiting for the sound of hoof beats on the road and the messenger he knew must inevitably come.
The doom, however, came unexpected from the north the next afternoon. The bells of Dale began to ring, and those in the King's House rushed to the windows to see the forests on the slopes of Erebor ablaze. The crackle of the flames could be heard from that great distance, but Thranduil's ears picked out the more subtle beat of mighty wings. "Sweet Elbereth!" he whispered in horror. "A dragon is come!"
"To horse!" Girion cried. "Thror will be needing our aid!" The soldiers of Dale began to assemble and take up their arms.
"Look to your own defense! "Thranduil cried out amidst the confusion. "The dwarves are in their mountain while Dale lies in the open valley. It is the wealth of the Naugrim that has brought this doom down upon you!" His own horse was brought round with the others, and he mounted along with Galion and the rest of Girion's men. The armed train rode off at a gallop with Girion in the lead.
Before they had gotten very far, there came a mighty hiss and roar from the foot of the mountain. The dragon had breathed his flame upon the river where it flowed forth from Thror's gates and turned it into steam. Thranduil shut his eyes and spared a moment of pity for the poor dwarves caught and boiled alive within that searing fume. The light of the sun disappeared behind the clouds of vapor and ash, and all was suddenly fog and darkness. It became impossible to see for more than a few feet in either direction, and Thranduil lost sight of Girion and his son, along with the other men at arms.
A new sound raised his hackles. The beat of the wings grew closer, and he began to hear screams coming out of the fog. That was joined by the crackle of more flames, this time from the south. The dragon was burning the village of Dale.
There was a sudden rush of wings, and a mighty wind from above almost knocked Thranduil from the saddle. He heard Galion calling weakly and found the valet sitting stunned on the ground. "I think it took my horse," Galion said with a quaver in his voice.
"Quickly, up behind me! We can do nothing here, but there are women and children in Dale. We must get them to the safety of the river." Using only his elvish sense of dead reckoning to guide him, for he was almost as blinded by the fog as the Mortals, Thranduil rode back to the King's House, which he found already in flames. He jumped from his horse and once Galion had dismounted, he gave the beast a slap on the rump to send it away. He hoped the animal would have the wit to run as far as it could.
He found the queen sheltering against a wall, shielding her younger son.
"You must get to the river," he ordered.
"Not without Girion and my eldest," she protested.
His courtly manners worn thin by circumstances, Thranduil picked her up and threw her over his shoulder like a sack. "You'll come with no fuss?" he asked the boy, who stared up with wide eyes and nodded. "Good boy," said Thranduil.
Galion had meanwhile gathered a group of maidservants and younger footmen, and the group set off toward the bend in the river. The water was as hot as a bath, but it provided sanctuary from the flames, which were now almost everywhere. High above their heads, the dragon could be heard swooping back and forth.
"Galion, stay here and keep the queen and her son safe. I am going back for more, if there are any to be found. I will direct them to the river. When enough have gathered, I want you to lead them south to Esgaroth."
"Sire . . ."
"This is my order, Galion. I expect you to obey it." Thranduil waited for his valet's reluctant nod before turning and heading back into the chaos.
In moments of profanity, he had often spoken of the pits of Thangorodrim, yet during that long afternoon and night he felt he was experiencing them for real. Amid the smell of smoke and burning flesh, listening to the screams around him, he helped to pull old people from burning houses and carried weeping children to the riverbanks. He lost count of how many times he told some Dalesman or woman to follow the river south to safety. Many, he feared were too shocked by the sudden carnage or the worry over their lost loved ones to pay him any heed.
Always above them was the sound of the dragon's wings and the roar of his flaming breath. At any moment he expected to be snatched up or burnt to a cinder himself, yet the merciful end never seemed to happen. As the night ended and the fog began to glow with dawn's pale light, things grew more quiet. There was still scattered weeping and the hiss of the fog on charred timbers, but the sound of the dragon's wings was heard no more. Thranduil deduced it had flown back north to deal with the remaining dwarves inside the mountain, poor beggars. Throughout the night, he had seen soldiers of Dale but never a sign of Girion or his guard.
Thranduil made his way back on foot to the spot where the fog had sprung up and he had been separated from the king of Dale. Rounding a corner of the trail in the drifting fog, ever alert for the sounds of attack, Thranduil spied a pile of dark objects upon the ground. The smell told him before his eyes did. The bodies of men and horses lay together, all charred beyond recognition. One, at the forefront of the group, lay atop another as if trying to shield it from the flames. This second body wore an expensive coat of chain armor that had melted partially into a puddle of silver in the dirt around it.
Thranduil heard a moan of horror and realised it had come from his own throat. He turned and stumbled back down the path until the sight was lost to him. He sank down onto a rock and looked around carefully. He was utterly alone in the shifting fog.
Mighty Thranduil Oropherion lowered his face into his hands and sobbed.
* * *
Tamin had returned from the marshes three days after his departure, carrying a brace of herons at his side. He was most surprised to hear the sound of childish laughter as he walked up the path to his cottage. He recognized two of the children as belonging to Tulie's youngest sister. The other was the elf child. The two boys were kneeling in the dirt of the front yard, playing a game that involved throwing stones into a circle in the dust. The elfling's silvery laugh was mixing with the throaty chuckle of Tamin's brown haired nephew, while his niece, a curly headed little thing of six years looked on with frank adoration. Not for her brother either, Tamin noted with some amusement. Well, the elf was a pretty little fellow with all that yellow hair and those pale blue eyes. This, no doubt, would be the first of many admiring females in his life. Tamin sighed, for his heart was heavy with the information he would soon have to impart to his wife.
Inside, he found Tulie talking to her sister. This was disturbing, for while he liked his sister-in-law well enough, the man she had married was a different story entirely. Ottan was a man ever on the lookout for wealth but always through guile rather than from any honest effort of his own. He frankly did not trust the man. The young woman had a toddler on her hip and from the swelling of her waist, it seemed there would soon be another. That was one thing, at least, that his useless brother-in-law seemed able to accomplish.
"I would like to have a word with you in private, dearest," he said, with a cordial nod to his sister-in-law. He took Tulie by the arm and led her into the bedroom. "I have found out who the child is, my love, and the time has come when we must return him to his father. It is the son of the Woodland king, and they have almost given him up for dead. The village was full of talk about the Wood-elves searching the marshes for a child and enquiring at folks' doors. I am surprised they did not come here already."
Tulie became suddenly very quiet and would not meet his eye.
"Tulie? What have you done?"
"Forgive me, Tamin. A Wood-elf came, and I lied. I told him I had seen no sign of an elf-child. I knew it was wrong even as I did it, but I could not help myself. I don't know why I did such a foolish, wicked thing."
Tamin sighed and embraced his wife. "I know why you did it, beloved, but that does not make things better for us. Oh, Tulie, this is Thranduil of Mirkwood we are talking about! You have heard the stories about him. They say that he has been half mad with grief and worry, and his anger will be terrible when he finds out one of his elves was lied to."
"What will you do?" she asked timidly.
"We must let the Elvenking know his son lives, and we must do it with all haste."
"Will you go to the elves?"
Tamin shook his head. "The elves have moved back to the south channel. At the village, they said the king had ridden on to Dale. If I take the north road across the heath, I can get to Dale faster than I can reach the south of the marsh. I will carry the news myself. I would not have him think his son dead one moment longer than necessary. If he is angry with me, so be it. You keep the boy here safe until we return." He kissed her fondly on the top of her head. "He is truly a beautiful child. You will have him for a few more days at least. Take care, though. The entire village will know he is here five minutes after Serka returns home."
He passed through the front room under the startled eyes of his sister-in-law, paused to grab another packet of cram from the kitchen area, and left the cottage. Outside, the elf-child was three quarters of the way up a tree, with his nephew not far behind. The young elf was encouraging Tamin's niece to join them, much to the little girl's delight. As he headed north toward the path across the heath, their happy voices followed him. It was such a homely sound, the simple joy of children at play. How he wished . . .
Afoot, it took him a day and a half to reach the foothills around Dale. He was tired, but he stopped only for brief rests, pushing on through the night, for he knew that somewhere ahead, a father lay, sick with worry over a lost child. On the last night, he saw a red glow coming from the slopes of the Lonely Mountain and behind the hills, and he began to smell a queer reek of smoke and ash on the wind. The morning dawned with fog and an eerie quiet, as Tamin walked down into the valley of Dale.
* * *
Ottan rode into the front yard late the next morning after Tamin's departure. Tulie saw her brother-in-law from her window and frowned. It was so very like him to ride when he left his wife and children to walk. In the marshes, a horse was a useless affectation at best, but Ottan told one and all he kept it for his 'business' trips to Esgaroth. She noted with disgust that the lack of exercise was making Ottan fat.
Ottan barged through the door without knocking, and the first thing his eyes fell upon was Legolas, who was eating a bowl of porridge at the table. The second thing he spied was the mithril shirt, which was still draped, half forgotten, over a chair in the corner. This seemed to delight him the most and he went over and picked it up, running the liquid silver through his stubby hands.
"Serka told me right," he smirked. "This has to be old King Thranduil's son. This rich little shirt proves it, even if wayward elflings were a copper to the dozen."
"What do you want, Ottan?' Tulie said coldly.
"What do you think? I want a part of the king's generous gratitude for the return of his brat -- I mean his dear lost son," he said, with a quick glance at Legolas, who was now eyeing this strange man with a quiet wariness. "I never figured you or Tamin to be so clever. Keeping this one secret, and Tamin going off to take all the reward for himself."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't I? Didn't Tamin leave yesterday afternoon for Dale? Well, sister, first to Dale gets the prize and the gold from the happy father. I have the horse, and I'll have the little prince along with me for the joyous reunion. I'll pass your husband on the North road and leave him in the dust." He tossed the chain mail onto the table next to Legolas. "Here, put this on. Your Dada will be more impressed if his little elfling is all dressed and pretty when we show up. I wouldn't want him to think I was tempted to make off with it."
"What did you say?"
"I said no, I will not put on the mail shirt and I will not come with you," Legolas replied. "Tulie wants me to stay here. So did the man, Tamin."
"Well, aren't we the little lordling?" Ottan sneered. "Put the blasted thing on," he said, grabbing hold of Legolas and attempting to force his arms into the silver sleeves. Legolas promptly sank his teeth into the man's fleshy forearm. "Ow, you little bastard!"
He drew back his hand to hit the boy, only to have Tulie rush in between them. "Leave him alone. Is this the way you treat my sister and your own children?"
He caught her by the arm, brought it behind her back and began to twist. "Maybe it is. What business is it of yours? I'm a husband to her, and she likes it well enough. At least I have two coins to rub together and I don't shoot blunt arrows like some I could name."
"You're disgusting," she spat. Her anger turned into a gasp of pain as he twisted her arm further.
"Stop it!" Legolas cried. "Stop hurting her and I will do what you say." He began to ease into the mail shirt, keeping an eye on Ottan.
"Will you come with me on my horse without a fight?"
Legolas nodded reluctantly.
"How do I know you won't struggle and bite me once we are out on the trail?" He kept a painful pressure on Tulie's arm.
"I will give you my word. I swear I will not fight you. Stop hurting Tulie."
"Your word," the man said derisively. "Elves!" He stopped to think for a moment. "And what will we tell our Dada about the nice man who brought us to him? Nothing bad, I trust." He gave Tulie's arm another painful jerk. "Swear it."
Legolas glared. "I promise."
Ottan laughed and let her go. He held out his hand to the child, who took it stiffly. Tulie watched as he led Legolas out to the yard and lifted him onto the horse. He mounted up, and the horse cantered off to the east.
To be continued . . .
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.