8. Northward and Homeward
CHAPTER 8 - NORTHWARD AND HOMEWARD
Mithryn spent seventy-eight years in virtual seclusion. When the time for leaving had finally arrived, she found it considerably distressing. Her few long cherished possessions were carefully wrapped and stowed on the back of Anfalas. The cottage she would leave full with the furniture, bedding, and pottery which were of no need to her now. Her carefully nurtured gardens would have to survive on their own. Legolas waited patiently outside with Anfalas, not wishing to intrude on her goodbyes.
Mithryn stood in her bedchamber doorway gazing one last time on her past life knowing she would never look upon the room again. Before walking out, she placed a short note on the kitchen table for the next inhabitant the cottage may possess.
Legolas could see her pain. "Is there naught I can do?" he inquired, wishing to somehow lessen her remorse.
"Nay, time will heal all. We should depart, I think."
Thus, the journey began. Mithryn rode Anfalas while Legolas led on foot. The sun shone merrily, however, all the forested hills fell into despair. The trees shook and rustled, straining to beg and plead with all their rigid might; birds flooded the trees and chirped in a loud cacophony; woodland creatures peeped out of shrubs and holes, yet, Mithryn still rode on. Not that she couldn't feel their despondency. She wept silently with lowered head. As a Wood-elf, Legolas could sense all of nature's moods; he felt their love for Mithryn and how they lamented her departure. His heart wept as well, and continued to do so, until at last, the boundary was crossed.
Mithryn had neither strength of heart nor spirit to turn for one last glance. The light in her wood had gone out; her heart and love now lay elsewhere, thus, the spell was broken. It would never again be rekindled unless Mithryn returned, which the sad denizens now waited for with longing, but alas, she would never come again.
They followed the same route that Legolas had been taking ere the attack. The day passed quietly, yet, the pair was cautious. After some hours, Legolas and Mithryn rode together; the added weight was not burdensome for the strong horse. Mithryn wrapped her arms tenderly around his waist, anxious to be close and to shed off her heartache. Their spirits rose and felt free as Anfalas rode east. As the sun set, the forest again grew dark and gloomy. They halted for rest and fare; refreshing themselves with rosemary herb bread, cheese, and wine. Legolas felt Mithryn's fatigue. The breaking of the spell had drained her and her heart suffered greatly.
"Shall we tarry here for a night's rest, or do you wish to go on?" asked Legolas.
Mithryn was weary but reluctant to stop as savage orcs weighed heavily on her mind. Weeks had passed since Legolas's attack, and most likely the orcs had moved on to other sinister deeds. And yet, she felt uneasy. "Nay, we should not linger," and thus they continued their journey.
All soon grew black as pitch. Mithryn's head bobbed sleepily until eventually finding rest on Legolas's shoulder; he felt strangely honored and lovingly protective as Mithryn slept close, trusting him with her life. Though remaining alert and watchful during the night ride, no danger did he sense or see.
Mithryn's eyes opened to fresh air and sunshine warmth. She looked about and found herself laying in a large, grassy field with Anfalas grazing nearby. "Anfalas, where is Legolas?"
"I am here," said he.
Mithryn turned to see him standing in the sun; his hair, lit with golden fire, blowing gracefully in the wind. She smiled. "We have left the wood behind?"
"Aye, we have."
"When did we arrive here?"
"Dawn. I had not the heart to wake you, my love, knowing you to be forlorn upon leaving your home. I believed rest would help."
"It did, indeed," Mithryn confessed. "Yet, I would not have you believe that I am not pleased upon going to your home." Legolas smiled and grasped her tiny hand, helping her rise.
"There is no need to fret. Change, I find, is always bittersweet. The end of one thing, and the beginning of another. I share your woe, but hope to be part of your happiness."
"You are my happiness," she said adoringly, and he kissed her tenderly on her forehead. It struck her wondrous how life, so filled with uncertainty and pain, could produce at times such perfect happy moments.
The eastern border of Mirkwood had finally been crossed and they were now in the fields nearly fifty miles west of the Celduin River. Legolas knew that not all evil had been entirely put behind them merely by escaping the forest. After they had partaken of breakfast, they set out and rode onwards following the woodland skirt until the Celduin had at last been reached. The swift river splashed, flowing along merrily, and with it brought the flavoured scent of Thranduil's kingdom on a refreshing zephyr. Legolas's spirits strengthened; at last, home felt near!
A pale, languid moon rose in the sky as they rode along, darkness engulfing them. They were but a mile from the Old Forest Road and Legolas knew that they should not pass that way after nightfall. Camp was, therefore, set on the forest boundary under the veil of low hanging weeping willows laden with drooping leaves. A fire dared not be lit, yet, the night was unseasonably cool for the spring months. Legolas saw Mithryn shivering, each breath creating a hazy mist. After unstrapping the quilt from Anfalas, he cloaked it around him. "Come. We shall keep warm together," he said. She went to him, and they sat neath the swaying limbs of the mighty willow; he enveloped her in the soft blanket.
Mithryn snuggled in closely to his warm body. He smelt of fresh leaves and spring rainwater. She placed a gentle hand on his strong chest which rose and fell with every breath. Turning his head, he tenderly kissed her forehead while wrapping his powerful arms around her. Eyes closed, Mithryn slowly drifted away into blissful sleep, whilst Legolas's eyes and ears maintained guard throughout the night.
As the night grew quiet and still, he watched her in peaceful slumber. Her breathing grew long and slow, and arms rested gracefully around him. Her vermilion curls sprawled across his chest resting beside his own golden hair. With a curious hand, he picked up a curly strand, examining its spiraling nature and fiery colour. He marveled at how radiant and wondrous it was, even in the darkness of night. He gently replaced the lock and, with tender arms, held her lovingly close.
Before that night, he had never imagined such happiness existed. He never dreamed that the touch of another, a smile, a word, nay, a look, could bring the stars and the moon straight to his heart. And here she lay, wanting to be with him and no other, and all he could wish for was to be by her side for all eternity.
The loss of Northern Mirkwood's beloved prince and heir was felt intensely by its people. The return of King Thranduil's three sons brought some ease to their aching hearts but nothing could fill the void all felt. In the attempt to relieve their tortured minds of the loss of Legolas, Tarnil and Galamed turned their attention toward Haldof who suffered greatly.
"He punishes himself for Father will not," Tarnil said as he and Galamed spoke privately under branch and leaf deep in their forest realm.
"You feel he ought to be punished?" replied Galamed, astonished.
"Nay, I said not so. Yet, Haldof does. He will never forgive himself."
"I have tried speaking with him, yet, he would not let me near." Galamed sat on a large boulder covered in soft moss. A stream flowed beside it which fell in tiny waterfalls. Tarnil joined him.
"I know your worries, Brother, for I share them with you. You too feel Haldof falling into darkness and despair. He is much altered, as are we all. And yet, it is remorse that is Haldof's enemy. He withers like an ailing sapling and...I know not what is to be done."
"Father must speak to him," Galamed said, staring at the green forest floor. "Haldof has been avoiding his presence since our return and Father has done nothing. That is an error in judgment on Father's part, I believe."
Suddenly, a voice from behind the pair spoke and caught them both unaware. "I fear you are right."
Tarnil and Galamed promptly turned to see Thranduil regally dressed in long, emerald, velvet robes. Galamed's face quickly flushed as he recalled his last words.
Thranduil, however, was not vexed. "Do not regret your words, my son. They were spoken from the heart and for the love of your brother. Your concern is honorable."
The two sons gazed up, grateful for the guidance and solace from their father.
"It is true that I have neglected Haldof," the king continued. "I know this, and hearing your words put me in mind that enough time has been spent in isolation for us both. The heart does not grieve any less when friends and family are near, but the pain does seem easier to bear. He has been waiting for me and has fallen into shadow while anticipating my arrival. This was my fault, but he shall wait no longer. Are you comforted?"
Galamed and Tarnil rose and approached Thranduil. Their faces spoke of minds and hearts that were now eased as though a great weight had been lifted.
Upon his return from the search for Legolas, Haldof retreated to the only place that offered him any comfort. The eldest and most beloved tree in all of Mirkwood grew in the Elven realm, and they treasured it as they would an old, and dear friend. Belegaladh, they called it. For more than two thousand years Belegaladh grew with them, and many could recall the days of it being but a seed. Now the ancient tree stood; its massive bole and gnarled, tangled boughs displaying the time that had gone by, while all surrounding it retained the look of youth.
The four princes had not been boys when Belegaladh was a sapling. They were fully grown Elves and fierce warriors before the tree was sturdy enough to be climbed. Yet, as time passed and other trees gave birth and fell, Belegaladh remained and became cherished as only a tree could to the Elves. It was to this refuge that Haldof escaped. Many memories of Legolas and his brothers in Belegaladh's mighty, ancient boughs he carried with him.
Haldof had grown thin, for no sustenance would he take. He grew lonely, yet, none would he allow to come near. Exhausting grief haunted him. However, no solace could he find. He longed for release; he longed for death.
The king drew close, yet Haldof, consumed by inner turmoil, did not take notice. "How are you, my son?" asked Thranduil.
Haldof started and was torn from anguished thought. Seeing his father standing neath him, eyes grieved, Haldof turned away. "Leave me, Father. Just leave me."
"Nay, my son. I have, thus far, but neither you nor I shall be in solitude any longer." Thranduil waited for a reply, but none came. "Will you not speak to me?"
"I wish to be alone, Father. That is all that I ask."
"But I do not grant it."
Haldof let out an anguished sigh; his chin quivered. He did not know if he could bear what he knew his father was going to say.
"May I climb up?"
Haldof looked down, surprised. "You are king, Father. I cannot prevent you."
"Thank you," Thranduil said. He slightly lifted his robes and ascended higher and higher until at last he sat on a bough next to his son. "I have not been in Belegaladh's branches for some time. A few hundred years, I should think. I fear my robes are not meant for climbing."
Haldof said naught and would not look at him.
Thranduil shook his head thoughtfully. A serious veil covered his face once more. "My son, I must apologize. I should have come to you sooner. That was a misjudgment. I know how you must feel for the loss of Legolas. You are not alone in your feelings."
Haldof turned to his father, eyes burning with pain and torment. "If you mean to say that there are others who share in my guilt, you are mistaken! Tarnil and Galamed are blameless," he exclaimed, lashing out.
Thranduil sat aghast. "Guilt? What guilt is there to be felt? You searched long and wearily with no success. I do not blame you, my son, because your search was fruitless. How could I do so?"
Haldof's lips trembled. A tear escaped his eye. "It was I who ordered the attack on the camp. We were greatly outnumbered - Legolas knew it ought not be attempted, yet, I insisted I knew rightly! Cannot you see that it is my fault he is lost? Indeed, there is contrition to be felt, and I acknowledge it. There is blame, and my decision is the cause. It is because of me he is gone." Haldof dared not look at him. He prepared himself for the words that were to follow, now that his father knew all.
Thranduil sat grieved, his face growing weak. How very weary he felt. It was as if all the ages had come upon him in that very moment. How was he to bear the loss of a treasured son, and how was he to comfort another?
Haldof, desperately trying to contain the brokenhearted emotion swelling within him, had not prepared himself for silence. "Say something," he commanded.
"What is there to say? You knew not how the battle would end. Many of our greatest generals have made errors of strategy." He shook his bowed head. "Nay, my heart cannot blame you, son."
Haldof was not satisfied. He knew it to be his fault and none would change his mind. "How can you speak so? Legolas is dead, due to me, and yet you do not condemn me?! Whom do you blame, then?!" he said in exasperated rage.
Thranduil remained calm and took no heed of his son's truculent words. He knew Haldof had spoken out of excruciating woe. "It would be unwise to blame any but the cause for the battle. It is to them, I place the blame. None other."
Haldof shook his head; his heart screamed and would not be silenced. The guilt was a flame that could not be quenched. After some time in silence, he spoke, his voice eerily calm. "Father, I wish to leave. There is no comfort for me here now."
Thranduil's face turned, horrified. His own heart cried out. How could he bear the loss of another son? "Leave? But where would you go? To Rivendell?"
"Nay," Haldof replied, unemotionally. "I think not."
"The Grey Havens? Do you feel the call to Valinor?"
"Nay. I wish to travel, I think. I know not where." It was, of course, a lie. His mission was now clear. He would hunt down the Orcs who had slain his brother and kill them all. He cared not if his quest took him to Dol Guldur, or the Halls of Mandos. He quite deserved death, he thought.
Thranduil's mind was filled with panic. His next words came harsh and were spoken with the force of his supreme authority. "I do not grant you leave. This is an ill time for you to forsake us all. Our people look to us. They look to you. You cannot abandon them regardless of your grief."
"Father..." Haldof started, eerily calm.
"I forbid it!" Thranduil interrupted, voice resolute. After an uncomfortable moment, he softened, and grew regretful of his abrupt words. "I am sorry, Haldof. I know I cannot stop you. The decision is yours." He then rose, descended the tree, and strode off hastily to the now comfortless walls of his palace.
Author's Note: Please review! I don't mean to beg, but it's nice to know if people are actually reading this...
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