Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters of J. R. R. Tolkien, nor any of the various dramatic incarnations thereof. No profit is being made from this work.
Hello, and welcome to this story. To be honest, I'm not entirely certain where the idea for this one came from. Bits and pieces of it kept threading themselves into my mind. In order to connect those bits and pieces into a coherent story, other bits and pieces had to be added, and then those bits and pieces had to be filled in with supporting details, and hey presto! A story began to form.
The few details that Tolkien gives concerning how the War of the Rings played out in Mirkwood can be found in Appendix B of The Return Of The King. It's a couple of paragraphs of teensy little type wedged into the main timeline. Following the timeline, this story is set between the end of March and about mid-October of the year 3019 of the Third Age. We don't really know exactly how Thranduil of Mirkwood and Celeborn of Lothlórien are related; best guess is that they are cousins of some variety with roughly one generation of remove.
We know very little of the culture of the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood save that they are a rather more rough-and-tumble lot than the High Elves of Lothlórien or Rivendell. I have tried to make my characters reflect this a little. It shows mainly in the description of their music at one point. I imagine that the music of the Wood Elves shares the complex melody and driving rhythm of the Celtic reels that are still played in Ireland, Scotland, France and Quebec. On the other hand, they are still Elves, and they accomplish little without talking things over quite a bit.
That's all from this end. Have fun, and I will come back at the end of the story.
1. What Price Victory?
It was over. Thranduil of Mirkwood was not certain of much in life, but he was certain of this. He had seen the pain and terror on the horrible faces of the orcs as dawn had broken suddenly, rays of pale sunshine stabbing through the gaps in the trees and paralyzing the orcs with fear. The Elves had made their rally then, fighting with all they had left, and the foe had been destroyed. And then, for the first time in a month, no more came. It was over.
Thranduil and the Wood Elves moved quickly through the ruins of the settlement, picking up the wounded, marking the dead, and quenching the small fires that still flickered here and there among the trees. The orcs had set fire to the settlement, destroying over half of the little wooden houses and killing many fine old trees. Thranduil could only be thankful that it was winter and that the forest was cold and wet, rather than tinder-dry from summer's heat. The houses, of cured and seasoned wood, had gone quickly, and many individual trees had burned, but the fire had not crowned, and the forest as a whole had been spared.
All around him, he could hear the wailing of his people as they discovered a dwelling burnt, or a loved one impaled on a black spear. Thranduil's heart turned over as he pulled the body of the captain of his guards from beneath a pile of orc corpses. The captain had fought bravely, taking down several foes before succumbing himself. Thranduil squatted down next to him, drew his eyes shut, and then buried his own face in his hands.
A hand on his shoulder pulled him from his immediate grief. He knew who it was. Very few Elves in Mirkwood would have approached their King so familiarly at such a time. Thranduil turned around to see his old seneschal, Luindil. Luindil had been seneschal to Oropher in his time, and had gradually come to love Oropher's young son as the child he had never had. Although he had a full council of advisors, it was always to Luindil that Thranduil had turned for aid in the most important events of his life. He was cheered beyond words to see that Luindil had survived this battle.
"Luindil . . . " he began, but then his throat closed, and he could say no more.
"It was a hard victory," Luindil said, "and we will not forget it quickly, but victory it was, nonetheless."
"So many are dead. So many of my people. And so much is ruined. Almost it seems that the battle is not yet won."
Luindil looked around at the devastation. "The battle is won, King Thranduil," he said. "You have led your people to victory. You cannot see it now, through the smoke and the tears, but the battle is yours."
Thranduil surveyed the ruins of the settlement and heaved a sigh. "I hope you are right, Luindil," he said. "I will trust your judgement for now. You could always see farther than I, in any case."
Luindil smiled. "That is a wise decision, oh King," he said. "Now we must continue our work. The sooner we have cleared the battlefield, the sooner we can begin to turn our tears into song." He turned and strode off to quench another small fire.
Thranduil lingered behind for a moment, gazing at the captain of the guard. For a moment he wondered, as he had done many times over the course of the winter, if a similar fate had befallen Legolas. With an effort, he shook off that worry once again. It was no use fretting, he told himself. Whatever had become of Legolas, it was not in his power to change. He would wait patiently for news. In the meantime, there was work to be done at home.
As the reports trickled in, it became apparent that there was even more work than Thranduil had anticipated. While the major part of the Wood Elves had survived, their homes had not. Even though the winter was mostly over, the nights were still cold and damp, and the homeless Elves would need some place to live. Thranduil directed his staff to open the emergency halls deep in the Wood Elves' cave system. Oropher had designed the residence to be as much fortress as dwelling, and it was capable of housing the entire settlement in an emergency. Quarters would be tight and privacy would be at a minimum, but Thranduil intended for every Elf in Mirkwood to have a safe place to sleep that night. The fortunate few whose houses had not burned also opened their doors to the homeless, for which their King was profoundly grateful.
After shelter, Thranduil's next worry was food. The Wood Elves had never had especially bountiful stores of food to begin with, and the winter had been a hard one. He was cheered to note that most of the royal storerooms had been spared, although one or two had been raided by orcs. There was just enough jerky, preserved fish and dried fruits and vegetables to keep the Elves until summer, when the forest would once again offer up such bounty as she had to give. The food would have to be rationed sparingly, but Thranduil was reasonably sure that no one would starve. He could only hope that, despite the damage to the forest, there would be new food when the stores ran out.
He had reckoned a small victory feast into his estimation of the food supply, feeling that his folk deserved at least one night of celebration before buckling down to the long, grueling task of rebuilding. So it was that a few days after the final battle in Mirkwood, King Thranduil stood in his largest hall, a cup of Dorwinion wine in his hand, and looked out over the entire remaining Elf population of Mirkwood. So many were to attend this feast that Luindil and the cooks had decided to do away with dining tables and benches. They had arranged the long tables around the outside of the room and set the food and decorations there, so that the celebrants could choose what they wished.
There were more decorations than food on the tables, and the absences of the dead hung heavily in the atmosphere, but it was a celebration all the same. The drums pounded out their irresistible dancing rhythms, the flutes wailed and the fiddles cried, and Thranduil led the Wood Elves in songs of victory even as tears of loss rolled down their faces.
As was his wont, Thranduil drank little, preferring instead to sit and enjoy the sight of his people at their merrymaking. Many Elves approached him over the course of the evening, wishing to congratulate him on the victory and thank him for his leadership. Thranduil accepted their praise graciously and extended his condolences to those who had lost loved ones. Hour after hour he presided over the celebration, as outside the stars wheeled overhead, sparkling down through the new gaps in the forest cover.
Finally, the last victory song had been sung, the last loss mourned. The Elves made their way to various resting places. A fortunate few went home. The rest bedded down in the King's halls, which had been turned into dormitories. Thranduil stayed behind in the Great Hall for a while, listening to the soft noises of the night. Luindil sat with him in friendly silence.
"I am glad the celebration is over," Thranduil said.
"It was good to have it, though," Luindil replied. "There will be much labor and toil ahead, and release was needed."
"Still, I am glad it is over. I do not think I could have consoled one more grieving widow, orphan or parent."
"You did well. They will take courage from your compassion, and they will need what comfort they can find in the days ahead."
"Perhaps," Thranduil sighed. "But the bereaved here tonight have a comfort which even their King cannot share."
"What is that?" Luindil asked.
"Whether dead or alive, they know where their loved ones are."
Luindil nodded compassionately. He remembered well the arrival of the messenger from Rivendell and the look of mingled pride and terror on Thranduil's face when he learned why his beloved son would not be returning home from his errand.
"Do not lose faith, Thranduil," he said at last. "He will come home, one way or another."
"Let us hope it is in a good way," Thranduil said.
The next morning, Thranduil and some of his senior staff began to make plans for the rebuilding of their settlement. Most of the houses destroyed had been the wooden ones at ground level, and Thranduil did not want to place his people in similar danger again. King and staff toured through the forest, counting undamaged trees of likely height and good growth.
"I do believe that there are sufficient trees that none of us ever need live on the ground again," Galion declared.
"That is good," Thranduil replied. "We will take to the trees, and deliver ourselves wholly into the care of the forest."
"What of the delvings?" Luindil asked.
"Of course we will keep the delvings," Thranduil said. "Currently, they are what sustains our people. I would never abandon such a resource." Luindil nodded, satisfied.
Thranduil walked a few paces away from the group and stopped under a large beech tree. The sturdiest of its branches appeared to extend a fair distance up the trunk. Thranduil decided to examine it more closely. With a powerful leap, he caught the lowest branch and swung himself up among the leaves.
He climbed swiftly, feeling the tree quiver with life beneath his grasping hands and feet. The sap was flowing swiftly, bringing life back to the forest. As he climbed, Thranduil breathed in the rich, heady odor of the new leaves rustling in the wind. He could feel a contented smile spreading over his face. Next to the distinctive scents of his family, his favorite smell in the world was that of new leaves in the springtime. He loved that scent so much that he had named his son for it, and as he breathed it in, he could almost imagine that Legolas was climbing next to him.
Presently, Thranduil came to a slender branch just at the level of a new gap in the forest cover. He paused for a moment to look around. His keen eyes could just distinguish small figures running to and fro by the lake. He squinted and peered a little further. The small figures did not seem to be orcs. Lake Town, too, had survived the war. The thought that the Wood Elves were not alone in the world cheered Thranduil immensely even as it reminded him of yet another task that must be done. He remained in the tree for a few minutes, smelling the leaves and breathing the fresh, free air, before reluctantly beginning the climb downward.
"What news from the heights, my Lord?" Galion asked as soon as Thranduil's feet hit the ground.
"It seems," Thranduil said, "that we are not alone in our victory. The Men of Lake Town are alive, although I could not make out their fortunes. I must send a messenger to them without delay."
Luindil frowned. "We cannot offer them our aid this time," he cautioned. "We have barely enough resources to support ourselves. You have always been generous to our neighbors, Thranduil, but in this instance you must restrain yourself."
Thranduil sighed. "I am aware of that, Luindil," he said. "Much as I wish it were otherwise, the messenger will not bring offers of food and tools. I think, though, that the news that they are not alone in their survival will cheer their hearts, even as the sight of them cheered mine."
"Perhaps the men of Lake Town may have news of the other folk in the area," Galion suggested.
"Perhaps," Thranduil agreed. "For that reason, I will send out messengers to the west, north and south as well. I wish to know how the Beornings fare, and if Dol Guldur is well and truly overthrown."
"Small armed parties would be wise," offered Inglor, the new captain of the guard. "The survival of Lake Town is cheering indeed, but other dangers may yet remain in the forest. I do not think that the spiders have been destroyed."
"No, the spiders threaten us still," Luindil said. "I would advise small parties of three to five Elves, well armed, for such errands."
Thranduil nodded. "That is wise," he said. "Inglor, will you see to the formation of these search parties?"
Inglor nodded and turned to head back to the delvings, but at that moment, a whisper from the trees stopped all four Elves dead in their tracks.
"Someone comes!" hissed Galion.
Thranduil made a short, sharp gesture, and the Elves swiftly camouflaged themselves, waiting to see who or what was approaching their battered settlement.