5. The Fallen Trees
'Give me a land of boughs in leaf,
A land of trees that stand;
Where trees are fallen, there is grief;
I love no leafless land.'
Thranduil's elves laid their fallen warriors beneath a great cairn of stones. The Evyr carried off their dead for secret burial in the forest, as was their custom. The bodies of the orcs they threw onto a pyre set on the edge of the burnt area, using what logs remained and dousing them in the evil inflammable substance taken from the bodies of the orc-captains. Legolas now stood beside the pyre, torch in hand, ready to set it aflame.
"A waste of good wood, my lord. I would leave them for the carrion birds." The voice from his left belonged to Heledir, former captain of the palace guard eighty-some years before, and more recently a fellow soldier in the forest patrols.
"Save that we need to rid the forest of their foul taint, brother," said the soldier to his right: Glavras, perhaps the best friend Legolas had among his father's people. "We don't want to be smelling the stench for months."
"Bah!" said Heledir, "they deserve no such honor!" He drew back to spit.
Legolas looked on the dead orcs' sad twisted faces and recalled what Nestalinde had told him on the night they wed. These pitiful creatures had been Elf-kind once. They had not chosen this fate. Save for the happy chance of having a more fortunate ancestor back at Cuiviénen, Legolas might be lying on this same pile of corpses himself.
He held up a hand. "No, Heledir. They are our brothers. I take no joy in this."
Solemnly, he laid his hand to his heart and bowed his head. "Hiro hyn hîdh ab 'wanath," he whispered, sending a silent prayer to the One that these lost children of the First Born might find mercy and healing in the Halls of Mandos.
Legolas tossed his torch onto the pile. Glavras and Heledir did the same, and the flames sprang up. Black smoke from the burning bodies and the evil substance that soaked them drifted back, forcing its way into his nostrils. He swayed, feeling sick and dizzy, fancying that he saw shifting shapes among the dancing flames.
It seemed to him then that he stood on a wide plain, with the clangor of battle surrounding him. To the west rose a city of white stone, set in ascending levels upon the side of a mountain. Within the city, many fires burned. It was their smoke he smelled now.
Off to the south, he heard the braying of battle horns, and he saw creatures moving like living mountains across the field of battle. They had long noses like the tails of giant serpents and huge gleaming tusks the diameter of tree trunks. They stood so vast that many men rode upon their backs in tiny houses. Legolas would have laughed were it not for the horror of the things. His father's chessboard had come to life; the pieces had been no mere fancy.
The scene before his eyes held him now. A white horse writhed upon its side in death throes, its rider, an old man and a mighty leader by his insignia, lay pinned beneath. A slender warrior, little more than a boy, stood beside him, brandishing a sword in defiance.
A shadow fell over the field, and Legolas heard the same soul-curdling scream that had pierced his heart in his dream of the banks of the Anduin. From the sky settled a creature out of nightmare, with huge webbed fingers for wings, a tiny head upon a long neck and a tail like a lizard. Upon its back rode a black figure whose very being sucked the light and life from the living world. "Come not between the Nazgûl and his prey! No living man may hinder me!"
The young warrior whipped away the helm, revealing not the face of a youth but that of a woman, beautiful in her determination. "Begone! I will smite you if you touch him."
The Ringwraith merely laughed. The fell beast on which he rode flapped its leathery wings and poised to strike. The woman swung her sword, as the beast, with the sinuous skill of a seasoned war mount, dove beneath her stroke and took off her head with one quick snap of its jaws.
The creature settled on the body of the dying king and his would-be protectress, rending their flesh. Once the steed's hunger for blood had been sated, its master took it in hand. Pausing only to dispatch a small weeping figure in child-sized armor with a careless blow of his mace, he spurred the beast to the sky.
They swooped and flew over the battlefield, scattering the mounted fighters and giving strength to the forces of the Dark Lord. The defenders of the white city scattered, fell and died before the onslaught, and soon every level of the city was ablaze. Legolas could feel the heat of it on his cheeks and hear the screams of the dying. As black specks massed in the corners of his vision, he saw, far off to the south, a fleet of ships with black sails come drifting up the Anduin. On the lead ship a black and white banner began to unfurl, revealing three stars and the tips of a tree. It stopped in mid-drop, as the Nazgûl flew over a scene of death and devastation. The unearthly screech echoed in Legolas's ears as the light failed and darkness took him.
He felt cold on his face, and wetness, and his eyes fluttered open to see the worried face of his father's valet, Galion, staring down at him. "You almost fell into the fire, Prince, when you swooned."
Legolas shook his head, trying to rid it of the lingering vision of the great battle and the burning city. "What happened?"
Heledir snickered, somewhere off to the side. "His wife is with child and he is the one who faints."
Legolas groaned and coughed. It seemed his lot in life to have everyone know his business almost before he himself knew it.
"Leave him alone. It happens," Galion said, casting Heledir a look of annoyance. "I threw up every morning for four months with our first, while my wife stayed well. You're in no position to mock." He turned his attention back, whispering, "Are you all right, Legolas?"
"Yes," added Glavras, "you'd better snap out of it, because here comes the King."
"What is going on?" Thranduil bellowed, his voice harsh with concern.
"Just the smoke," Legolas mumbled, letting Galion and Glavras help him to his feet. He still felt weak and sick but he managed a smile to greet his father. "I breathed in too much, that's all."
Thranduil furrowed his brow.
Legolas took a deep breath and swallowed his fear. "Truly, Father, all is well."
No sooner had he spoken, than they felt the ground groan and shudder beneath their feet in a series of shocks that seemed to emanate from the south. A wave of darkness passed over them, a blackness more of the spirit than any lack of light, and the air turned cold. Although the day was windless, the trees began to writhe and lash their branches as if in anguish at the passing of an Age.
Legolas saw his father wince and clap his hands to his temples, as Galion bent his head and swayed upon his feet. Legolas spared them little attention, for in his mind he felt, rather than heard, an eldritch scream of triumphant malice. He doubled over and put his hands on his thighs to keep from falling over again. "What was that?" he heard Glavras mutter.
Legolas straightened up to see Thranduil's face, pale and stricken. "It is done," his father said. "He has put the Ring back on his finger. Woe to all who live in these times!"
Three days later, as Thranduil's army tended to their wounded and stood watch against a renewed attack from Dol Guldur, a group of battered elves, mostly women and children, straggled into the camp. Their leader, one of the few men among them, knelt stiffly, for he had suffered wounds. "I am Rúmil of Lórien, my lord Thranduil. I and the remnant of my folk request sanctuary within your realm. We offer you fealty in return."
"Lórien?" Thranduil asked. "What of your lord and your lady?"
"Dead, my lord. Lord Celeborn was slain on the hill of Cerin Amroth during the last onslaught."
"Alas, my cousin," Thranduil whispered. "And his wife?"
"The Lady Galadriel fought by his side until the end, my lord, wielding her sword with the valor of a man. They fell together."
Legolas heard his father sigh. He laid his hand on his heart and bowed his head. "Aiy' ar namárie, Nerwende Aranel."
Rúmil seemed to be fighting tears. "The orcs were so many. So many of them, they kept coming and coming. I wanted to stay and fight with my Lord and Lady, but I had my orders to save those whom I could. Ai, my brother! Orophin stayed behind to hold off a pack of them while our group fled Caras Galadhon. I wanted to be with him too."
"There; calm yourself. You did the right thing," Thranduil said, placing a steadying hand upon Rúmil's shoulder, which had begun to tremble. "How many are there?"
"Threescore, no more than that," said a fellow in brown who stepped out of the crowd. "Lothlórien is finished, King Thranduil, and so is my order."
"Radagast!" Thranduil exclaimed. "I rejoice to see you well. But what do you mean, your order is finished?"
"My brother Olórin is no more. I felt him pass and return again, but three days ago his spirit left the Middle Lands forever. He is gone." The brown wizard's face, usually so open and kindly, looked pinched and lined with grief.
"And what of Curunír? He stood high in the esteem of the White Council, or so I am told." As his father spoke, Legolas detected a note of bitterness. Deemed too backward, a woodland king of a rustic people, Thranduil had not been included in the counsel of the Wise. Nor had the brown wizard, for that matter.
Radagast shook his head. "His heart grew too proud and it fell to the Enemy long since, did we but know it. He used me, unwitting, in treachery against Olórin not a year past. Isengard is a place of evil now. And I, my lord Thranduil, have failed in my task."
"Perhaps not," Thranduil replied, his face brightening with a grim hope. "I am not so ignorant as some think me. I have long known what manner of beings you and your brother Ithrynn are, my friend. Tell me, Radagast, can you place a girdle of enchantment about my forest, as Melian did of old in Doriath to confound evil and keep it out?"
The brown wizard nodded. "I believe I can, my lord. It will mean the cessation of commerce with the world of Men, though."
Thranduil frowned and shook his head. "There's no avoiding it, I'm afraid. But in days to come, the world of Men will have little to offer us anyway. It will become a dark place, filled with Sauron's oppression. We are on our own."
"Very well, King Thranduil. I will set up the borders."
"Radagast, wait -- have you enough strength to extend the girdle to these mountains?" Thranduil asked, and Legolas knew his father was remembering the Evyr, whose arrival had turned the tide of battle and saved them all. "We must -- I must preserve these lands."
Radagast nodded. "Yes, my lord Thranduil. I can do that."
"Then see to it. And, Radagast, I am grateful"
They arrived back at the caverns on the Forest River to find those they had left still safe behind the spell-guarded gates. The other news, however, was not as good. Thranduil pieced the story together from the twitterings of birds and the reports of scouts sent to the forest edge to spy out the land to the east. Dale had fallen to the Easterling armies; the town lay burnt and deserted as it had been two hundred years earlier after the coming of Smaug. Of the battle, there was little description save for vague murmurings of the two kings, Dain and Brand, falling together. Erebor belched a foul smoke that no Dwarven forges could produce. Thranduil's prediction of rich orcs for neighbors had come true.
Upon receiving the reports, Thranduil had covered his face with his hands. "Ah, Dain -- he was a decent sort for a Dwarf. I am grieved that he and his folk met such an end. And Brand. I knew his forefathers back since before . . ." Thranduil trailed off with a haunted look.
Legolas recalled a day, long ago, when he had set out to meet the younger son of King Girion. His father had promised him a trip to the fabled toyshops of Dale. It had never happened. "Father, what of Laketown?"
Thranduil shook his head. "Either its defenses held, or they did not. We can do no more for them. Radagast, shut the borders. Shut them tightly."
No longer did the rafts come up the Forest River bearing food and trade-goods. No longer did the barrels go downriver empty. Other than that, life in Mirkwood changed little as spring turned into summer, summer turned into autumn, and the first snows fell. Legolas, busy with the hunting and the food gathering and the strengthening of the realm's border patrols -- still maintained conscientiously despite Radagast's Girdle -- had little free time, and that was used in the company of Nestalinde as the new life grew within her. He could not afford to wonder what had happened to his friend Aragorn. And to the rest of them.
When the Solstice rolled around, they held a feast and drank the last of the Dorwinion. Legolas stayed up late that night with his father, enjoying the camaraderie of his fellow soldiers and the shared joy that the kingdom had endured for another year. At last, quite merry, and more than a little tipsy, he stumbled up to his chambers.
Nestalinde, who had excused herself early in the evening, lay in their bed breathing evenly. Legolas stripped off his clothing and slipped in naked between the covers. "Come closer," she muttered, as he settled himself gingerly on the mattress.
"Are you sure? I must feel like a block of ice."
"Yes, and you smell like wine, too. But come, warm yourself."
Obediently, he moved in closer and spooned himself around her, throwing an arm over her side to stroke her taut belly. She was naked too, and her warm skin felt soft and soothing against him, the gentle swell of her buttocks pressing into the front of his thighs. Before long his body reacted predictably. "Sorry," he muttered and started to pull back,
She caught his wrist, holding him firm and keeping him from rolling away. "No. It's all right. Stay. Give your strength to the child."
He laughed in the darkness. "I think that's an old wives tale the women of Mirkwood tell to fool us fathers into feeling as if we're actually of some use at times like these."
"I can assure you, my love, the very same tale was told back at Cuiviénen, and do you think we wives would continue to tell it to you husbands if there were not some reward in it for us?"
Legolas needed no further prodding. An arch of her back, a curl of his hips, and he found himself sliding into slick warmth. "I love you. I love you both so much," he murmured as he moved his hand lower to bring her along with him.
When the moment of his crisis came upon him, Legolas froze and held his hips rigid, fearful that otherwise he might thrust too hard and injure either of them. The effort intensified the force of his climax, and, after clenching his back teeth and groaning, he collapsed panting against her hair.
"Are you warm now?" she laughed.
He nuzzled, parting the dark strands with his nose. "I think," he said, kissing the damp skin on the back of her neck and tasting salt, "I think this is the very best Solstice I have ever had."
He held his wife close, and beneath his hand, their child did its slow dance in the womb.
Three weeks later, on his Begetting Day, Legolas did not wear the circlet or his festive finery. While Thranduil and the elves made merry without him and a gentle snow fell in the forest outside the caves, Legolas spent the evening in his bedchamber, holding Nestalinde's hand while their child came into the world.
"You have a son, my lord," cried Sarniel, the healer doing the honors that night.
"Give him to me," Nestalinde demanded. In her voice Legolas heard a hint of jealousy that, for the first time in three Ages, a scion of the House of Oropher had not been born into her hands. He felt her position as mother of the new prince to be a promotion. True, she had not cried out during the course of her labor that she hated him and proposed to do him some violence as Galion had warned she might, but he decided that discretion was the better part of valor and wisely forbore to say so.
Sarniel placed the hastily wrapped bundle into Nestalinde's waiting arms. Legolas watched as she unwrapped and examined the infant, still streaked faintly with blood and his pale hair damp from the birth, carefully counting his fingers and toes before placing him to her breast. "Calen," she whispered. "I name you Calen, after your father."
As the new baby began to suckle, Legolas felt a sudden rush of love for this tiny being that he and his wife had made. He would nurture and teach the tender faer given into his keeping. He would live for him and die for him, should it come down to it.
"Nestarion," he said, and both Sarniel and Nestalinde turned questioning faces to him. "After his mother. Calen Nestarion -- my son."
Aiy' ar namárie, Nerwende Aranel: Hail and farewell, Princess Nerwen. Thank you, Darth Fingon!
Hiro hyn hîdh ab 'wanath: May you find peace beyond death
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.