A trumpet call from the heights announced the arrival of visitors.
Celeborn had grown accustomed to such calls, for everyday messages or supplies came from Lórien, as well as more personal missives from his wife. Always businesslike even in her most passionate utterances, Galadriel told him that once the borders of their realm were secure, she would join him to oversee the destruction of Dol Guldur. He wrote back to her on whatever scraps of parchment he could find in the ruined fortress, saying that he had begun some of the work himself, yet assured her that he would leave the greater part to her if she wished it.
Yet this call came not from the south but from the north. The realization came to him at the same moment as one of his Galadhrim came down from the walls and informed him that a party of riders was approaching from the direction of Mirkwood.
He rose from his camp stool, nearly upsetting the table where he had been studying a map of the fortress and its surrounding countryside. An aide quickly set the table to rights and asked if he was well. Celeborn started to say that he did not know, but then nodded and, in an unsteady voice, ordered the Galadhrim to admit the riders.
As the six riders came through the broken gate, he saw one of them had golden hair crowned by a rough circlet of oak leaves. He drew a sharp breath and held it in anticipation. They say Thranduil wears red leaves and berries in the autumn and flowers in the spring. Like some unmannered Avari chieftain, Galadriel would say, but Celeborn had long sensed that there was no love lost between her and Oropher, and surely that sentiment extended to Oropher's son.
But surely he would not come so soon, even if he agreed to my request. For never before had Thranduil agreed to meet with him as one ruler to another, never since the days of the Last Alliance when a weeping, angry prince bore his father's body from the battlefield and led the survivors of Oropher's army back to Greenwood had he deigned to have personal dealings with Elves outside his realm.
The golden-haired Elf, if Thranduil he was, stood taller than Celeborn remembered, and was grim of face, but the gray eyes were those of Oropher. He wore the greens and browns of Mirkwood; these were stained with travel, battle and soot, but this was not unexpected. Celeborn's first messenger had returned with tidings of the fire whose smoke the Galadhrim had seen from the Northern Fences, and he knew many lives had been lost.
Thranduil walked up to Celeborn and nodded. "Strange tidings I have had these past few days, gwanur," he said. "It is now for you to tell me which of them is true."
Celeborn found his hands were trembling and quickly thrust them behind his back. It is he, and with the same hard tone as in his letters. He had always thought it strange that Thranduil willingly traded with and gave aid to the Men of Dale and Esgaroth and yet could not be bothered with the concerns of other Elves. And yet, he quickly reminded himself of his words when Galadriel voiced the same contradiction, that Thranduil had no reason to place his trust outside his own realm when his people had been so poorly served by it in the past.
"And he has done much, for all that he rules and holds back the Shadow without one of the Great Rings," Celeborn had added.
"I would not call Taur-nu-Fuin the result of holding back the Shadow," Galadriel answered. "Mirkwood they call it in the mortal tongue. What was once a place of beauty is now a thicket of horrors as terrible as the Black Land itself. Many times have we offered our aid, and always has your cousin refused. I do not deem it such an achievement, but rather the same pride and stubbornness that killed his sire."
But the White Ring that kept Lórien free of the Shadow was one of the works of the Noldor, and Celeborn knew Thranduil did not trust such things. And there were times when Celeborn himself secretly hated Nenya, for it diminished his wife's joy in Middle-earth and made her long for the West where he had no desire to go.
"If my messengers have told you that the Witch King and his wraiths have fallen, that is true," he told Thranduil. "And if they have said that the Dark Lord has also fallen, then that, too, is true."
A moment of silence passed. Thranduil's eyes narrowed as he contemplated this news, perhaps debating with himself whether or not to believe it, and then, slowly, a smile lit his grim face. "Is it even so? Then it is as I have said, gwanur, that many strange tidings have come to me of late."
* * *
The destruction was methodical and it was thorough. As Celeborn escorted him through the fortress, Thranduil could see that the people of Lórien did not intend to leave a single stone standing. The work was new and much remained to be done, particularly in the main keep, but already several buildings had been pulled down.
"Such horrors were here," murmured Celeborn, turning his head to look toward a ruined outbuilding. "After so many ages, one would think I would be beyond surprise or revulsion, yet always the enemy outdoes us."
This stirred Thranduil's interest, for over the centuries many of his people had disappeared into the thickets of darkness and death that surrounded his halls, and whose lifeless, cocooned husks were not found later. "Were prisoners kept here in torment, then?" he asked.
"They may have been," answered Celeborn, "for in the depths of the keep we have found bones tossed into cisterns, yet whether these belonged to mortals or Quendi we know not. No living prisoners have we discovered." Once again his eyes strayed to the ruins, and Thranduil wondered what was so compelling about them. "There was one, I think, but we came too late."
Without a word to his cousin, Thranduil ventured toward the ruin. There was no clue as to what the function of this particular building had, nor did the Galadhrim with their hammers and mallets intend to leave him any idea. Already Celeborn had spoken of asking Gondor for some of its catapults and other siege engines to assist in the destruction of the keep.
On a table in the center of a small, ruined courtyard lay a long object covered by a tarpaulin. The smell that emanated from it was enough to make Thranduil gag and clamp his hand over his mouth. He retreated half a pace, into Celeborn's shoulder.
"Aye, it is a body," said Celeborn. "A message I had from Galadriel two days ago urging me to pull down the stones of this building. I did not know why she was so intent on my destroying this particular structure, for it is small and does not seem to have served much purpose save as a storage room. She must have seen something after my departure."
"In her mirror?" This time the question was phrased without its usual undercurrent of scorn.
"Not all things she sees come from the mirror. I know not what she saw or how, for her message did not say," answered Celeborn. "I have some inkling of what she might have seen, and why she did not speak of it." He waited a moment to let Thranduil think on those last words.
"That is not a vision I would wish to have, gwanur."
"Nor I," said Celeborn. "He is only recently dead, and yet the building is very old. Even the mortar that sealed his tomb was old and crumbling. Some sorcery was involved here, I have no doubt. Do you desire to see his body before we leave here? I realize I have been a poor host and offered you neither rest nor refreshment. I would not keep you any longer."
Thranduil shook his head; the smell alone would kill any appetite he had. "I have seen the corpses of people who have suffocated and have no desire to look upon another."
"Aye, he is terrible to look upon."
"I would know only if he is one of our kind."
"Nay," said Celeborn. "Much twisted and shrunken he was, but enough remained that we could see he was mortal. Galadriel bids me return the body to Gondor, to the new king. She says not why, only that it is time this poor soul rests among his fathers. But it does not always require words to understand her meaning, so long have we been together and know each other's minds."
"I would not desire to dwell under the same roof with a spouse who could perceive my thoughts so clearly."
Celeborn smiled. "It is not everyone who can bear her gifts. I learned to accept them when we were bound, and now we are of such like mind that I find no strangeness in it. There is no shadow in her sight, save only in what she may perceive. This Man's death has shaken her deeply, for long have we all wondered what became of the last king of Gondor after he challenged the Witch King and was taken at the gates of Minas Morgul. The new king will wish to know, I am sure, and give him the honor so long denied him."
Of the politics of Men in distant lands, Thranduil had little interest. "Of this new king, I have heard him called Elessar and Aragorn in the same breath. If it is that one who at times came into my realm bearing the name Strider, then he owes me much for the sake of that wretched creature he left in my keeping. Kindness we showed that creature, which he repaid with treachery and death."
"I am told that creature did much good before he died," said Celeborn.
"Let this new king return my son to me whole and hale and I shall forget the matter."
"Legolas and his companions passed through Lórien some three months ago, in Narwain." Celeborn took Thranduil's arm and gently steered him out of the courtyard, to a place where the air was fresher. "He was well, for all that the road they traveled was hard and fraught with much danger and grief."
Thranduil stopped his cousin on the path. "He was not injured in any way?"
"As I said, a hard road they had taken," answered Celeborn. "Some cuts and bruises he had, as must be expected, but we healed him of all such hurts. He and his company left Lórien much refreshed, with many gifts. We clothed them in the garb of our own people and gave them the gift of lembas to sustain them, and to your son I gave the gift of a great bow and arrows."
"Famed are the bows of Lórien," murmured Thranduil.
Celeborn nodded. "This one was of my making, and the arrows that went with it also were made by me. Gladly Legolas received the gift and offered his own bow and quiver to me in return, for nothing finer had he to give, he said."
Hearing those words, Thranduil's heart swelled with pride, for both Celeborn's generosity and his son's humility in accepting it. "Many thanks you have from me for your kind treatment of him and for your gifts. Gifts I will send to you and your Lady on my return home."
"Gwanur, Galadriel and I have no need for material goods," said Celeborn. "We only desire your friendship, for it has been long centuries since words last passed between us. Too many centuries, I would say. Having your son as our guest in Caras Galadon was gift enough. There is much of you in him, as I remember you from your youth."
"You may not wish my gifts but nevertheless, you will receive them as I see fit to send them. My children are precious to me, and those who treasure them as I do have both my love and my generosity. I do not give either lightly."
Celeborn allowed himself a small smile. "You have grown as stubborn as your father. Very well then, gwanur, we shall accept your gifts."
Thranduil offered no comment as to the comparison between him and Oropher; he had heard it said many times before. "As for Elrond, next time let him send another, perhaps that precious Balrog-slayer of his, or go himself."
"Do not be too wroth with him," said Celeborn, "for there was wisdom in his choice."
Elrond had already offered that wisdom in his letter, pithy as his explanation was. There was, however, truth in his words, and that was the only reason Thranduil did not call up his warriors and ride personally to Imladris for the peredhel's head. But if anything had happened to Legolas, I would have hunted down those responsible, and then gone to Imladris. "When my son is safely home, I will perhaps find it in my heart to forgive the half-Elf."
* * *
The next day Thranduil departed Dol Guldur to return home. He was more than glad to be quit of the black fortress with its foul stones and sad ghosts, the latest of which would be returned to Gondor.
"Should you find other dead hidden in this place of torment," he told his kinsman, "and find they are Quendi, send word to me and I will bring them home to my halls for burial."
"In Lórien, too, some of our people went missing," answered Celeborn. "But I will not argue with you over those whose fëar have since passed to Mandos. I pray that no more dead are found here, but I know the Shadow and I expect we will find more such victims before we are done with this place. Half the dead I shall send you and half send to be buried under the mallorn trees in Lórien. Even if they are not Quendi, I would have them rest in some better, greener place than this."
Celeborn rode with Thranduil part of the way, as far north as the burnt eaves of Mirkwood where the spring breeze stirred the ashes.
"Some good may come out of this destruction," he commented. "The shadows in this part of the forest are gone."
Thranduil was not so optimistic. "This is not the first time a forest fire has swept through here, and always the darkness has returned."
"Aye, but now that the Shadow that sustains the darkness and its creatures has fallen, I think we may at last defeat it."
That gave Thranduil pause. "We, cousin? Are you not going into the West with your wife?"
Celeborn shook his head and for a moment his face was clouded with sorrow. "Valinor does not call to me as it calls to her, gwanur. I will abide in Middle-earth a while yet, until I am weary of it. In that time, we should renew our friendship as it was of old, and finish the work of pushing back the shadows. This was a beautiful realm once."
"There is still beauty here," Thranduil said tightly, "if one knows where to look."
"Indeed, though never have I seen your halls or the parts of the forest you have reclaimed from the Shadow. In time, we shall reclaim it all and the name Eryn Galen, Greenwood the Great, shall be spoken again."
Thranduil thought on this a moment. "My sons have never seen the wood as it was before the Shadow came, and always I have rued that," he murmured. "But Greenwood belongs to another age, and I would not give them the gift of the past. Rather I would give them the gift of a green future, and the beauty of sunlight falling through green leaves. Eryn Lasgalen it shall be called instead, the Wood of Green Leaves, should that day come."
* * *
Celeborn crossed the Anduin and assailed Dol Guldur on March 27. He and Thranduil met on April 6. Although in the Appendices of The Return of the King it states the meeting took place in Mirkwood, for the purposes of this story the initial meeting occurs in the ruins of Dol Guldur, then moves to Mirkwood in keeping with the canon.
gwanur: (Sindarin) cousin, kinsman
Gollum was captured by Aragorn, then given into the custody of the Elves of Mirkwood. By treachery means he arranged his escape and slew many of his Elven guards in the process.
Narwain: (Sindarin) January. The Fellowship reached Caras Galadon on January 17.