2. The Elvenking
"Not two out of three! We cannot have lost so many!"
Thranduil sat hunched and miserable, listening to the reports of his captains, and it tore at Galion's heart to see him in such a state.
"I am afraid it is true, my lord. Lothlórien took heavy losses too. Their army was cut off and driven into the marshes. They say King Malgalad himself is among the dead."
"Ai, I can scarce believe such news until I hear it from the lips of my chief general."
The captain, Magorion, one of the youngest among the Iathrim who had accompanied Oropher east from Lindon, sighed. "My Lord Thranduil, I am your chief general. The other nobles of your father's household, who stood with him before the Black Gate, they . . . They did not survive."
Oropher's charge against the gate had been a disaster. The archers and pikemen of the Woodland Realms had fought bravely, but their light leather armor had proved no defense against the heavy steel arrows of Mordor, and the orcs were too many. Their numbers had been beyond belief, as Galion could remember the hordes of them pouring out of the gate to meet Oropher's advancing forces, and the surprise rush of orcish fighters down from the ridges on either side.
The flank attack had divided the armies, forcing Malgalad's Lothlórien troops back. Galion could remember his feeling of horror when he realized that Oropher and the nobles of his household had been surrounded and cut off. He and Thranduil had been in the king's bodyguard, Thranduil sticking close to his father and Galion staying close to his master's side as the orcs swarmed them and the arrows began to fall.
All changed, with a heart stopping suddenness. One moment, Oropher stood, swinging his sword like one possessed; the next, he fell forward with an arrow through his throat. Thranduil had run to his father's side, turning him over and staring in blank horror as Oropher gasped helplessly, drowning in his own blood. In the king's eyes had been a mute plea for a quick release, a swift sword to the heart to end the torture.
Galion had seen the paralysis of will in his prince's eyes. Thranduil could not do it, and Galion dared not. Memory became dreamlike at that point. Galion dimly remembered Thranduil screaming, "Retreat!" and gathering the body of his dying father into his arms.
"No, Thran!" Galion had shouted above the fray. "You're the better swordsman! Let me bear him."
Screaming an Elvish battle cry, and whirling his sword about him in a great arc, Thranduil had cut through the surrounding orcs like an unstoppable whirlwind, with Galion in his wake. The remaining nobles of the household had followed too, but they fell along the way like wheat beneath the scythe. Galion would never know why Námo had spared Thranduil and himself while claiming so many others. Only one other remained with them when they reached safe ground -- Séregon, another of the very youngest Iathrim. When Galion had finally laid down his burden, they discovered that Oropher, too, had ceased his tortured breathing some time during the mad flight.
Now, in the king's pavilion, Thranduil still retained some of the stunned, blank look that he had carried since that moment.
"Prince Amroth -- is there news of him?"
"Wounded, they say, my lord. I am told Lord Celeborn speaks for Lórien in his stead."
Thranduil covered his face with a weary hand. "And the body of my father? Has it been shown due honor?"
"Aye, my lord," said Magorion. "The healers have removed the arrow and composed him as best they can."
"Then let us bury him and the other fallen as far from this foul place as we might. Dig graves near the edge of the marsh. He will lie with his men, and with his friend Malgalad. It is fitting."
"My lord, there is one who would have an interview with you." Séregon entered the pavilion and bowed. He was fresh from the Healers' tent and had his bandaged arm in a sling. "It is the Herald of Gil-galad."
"Nae, not tonight," Galion heard Thranduil whisper. "I have not the heart for it." He drew a deep breath and sat a little straighter. "But I must. Bid him enter."
Galion looked with discreet curiosity as the herald of the High Elven King entered. So this was the Peredhel, Elrond. He looked much as any other elf, with the dark hair of the Golodrhrim. He was a handsome fellow, and Galion briefly wondered if the whispered tales about Elrond and his mentor, Ereinion were true.
"My High Elven-lord sends his condolences to our woodland brother, Thranduil, upon the loss of his father, Oropher," said Elrond with all courtesy.
"And I accept them, Elrond, in the spirit with which they are given."
"And my Lord Gil-galad further wishes to know --"
"If I'm staying," Thranduil cut in. "I am staying. But you may tell your High King that I do not put myself under his authority, nor will I ever allow my soldiers to be placed in harm's way such as they were today. I have one in three left, and if I wish to have a realm at all, their lives will be husbanded wisely."
"Thranduil," said Elrond evenly, "we can hardly be blamed for the decisions of Malgalad and your father."
"Oh, aye. Gil-galad can hardly be blamed. And yet, the plan to charge the gate was no secret from the forces of Gil-galad and Elendil. And never did I hear any of you counseling us differently during these past days. Nor did I see any of you coming to our aid this day while so many Silvan warriors fell as leaves in Narbelleth before a wintry blast down off the Hithlaeglir. You may go tell your lord that he has my support and my troops, Elrond. Those that remain, at least. But you may also tell him that, while I have not your age or your wisdom as yet, my memory is very long."
Elrond inclined his head and left.
"And you, too, leave me," said Thranduil. "All but my esquire."
Séregon and Magorion bowed and left, and as they did so, Thranduil seemed to sag in his chair.
"What do we see out on that battlefield, Galion?" he asked. "That is, beyond the absolute end to any significant Grey-elven influence in Ennor for the next age?"
"I see dead elves. Too many of them. And most of them are Tawarren." Galion saw Thranduil wince, and immediately, he was sorry. His prince -- no, his king -- should not hear such bitter words in a moment filled with enough grief already.
"We see dead elves, but we see many more dead orcs." Thranduil pulled himself a little straighter and there was one last spark of fire in his eye. "We softened them up, Galion. Don't ever let them tell you differently. Gil-galad and Elendil will take that gate in the coming days, and it will be because of us."
'What a ruler he will make!' Galion thought. There would be no putting off what must come next. He knelt and bowed his head. "Sire," he said, letting his lord know what it meant to be a king.
He heard the pained gasp. "Ai! Galion . . ."
Galion raised his head to see Thranduil staring down into his hands. 'He begins to understand it now,' he told himself. 'To be a king is to never show pain or doubt or fear, no matter how much it is felt. To be a king is to be alone.'
He rose from his knees and went to a side chest where there stood a flask of wine. He took a glass, poured, and brought it to Thranduil. He handed it to him without a word.
"Have one for yourself, Galion," Thranduil said dully.
Galion complied and stood behind his king, staring down at the bent golden head. He felt a wetness on his cheeks and wondered briefly why, before realizing that for himself, too, life had changed beyond recall.
'He is Thranduil Oropherion, our king,' he thought. 'He cannot cry, so I will cry for him.'
Wearily, he wiped his face with the heel of his hand. A sea of tears would not wash away the horrors of this day, nor would they drown the sorrow of what he and Thranduil had just lost. Perhaps the wine would.
He raised his glass to his lips and drank.
* * * * * * *
Author's Notes: The title of this story is from the Crosby, Stills and Nash song, 'Love the One You're With:'
And there's a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can't be with the one
You love, honey
Love the one you're with
The remark about elves growing beards might seem to be strange, but I am told that it was believed that an elf would grow a beard in his extreme old age, as evidenced by Cirdan's beard. Oropher was grumbling that Gil-galad and Elendil were taking forever, hence his fatal impatience.
Iathrim: Sindarin folk of Doriath. Thingol's people
Golodrhrim: The Noldor
Tawarren: Wood-elves, Silvan
My thanks to my two beta readers for this story, Lexin and IgnobleBard. Thank you also to Getty for plot feedback and to Claudio for crucial language advice. All of you have made this story everything it could be, and I am sincerely grateful.
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.