Here it is--The final chapter. Sorry it took so long. I thought it was all done, but I have a tendency to revise the hell out of everything and even then I'm seldom happy.
Disclaimer: I make no claim to anything beyond the specific plot and the few original characters that managed to survive the story.
From the West They Came
Weeks had passed with aching slowness. The shadow that engulfed them so readily receded and vanished into the south, a faded, distant thing. Its memory lingered, as tangible as the hail that pounded them and the trees that cradled them.
Their new home proved everything the king had promised and more. The secure halls were light where the caves in Emyn Duir had been dark. Columns and pillars adorned the great halls, fanciful designs etched into the rock where upon lamps and torches were placed. The doors to the new throne room were wooden, as the old ones, though these were far grander with their intertwining engraved vines and flowers. Wherever life could flourish, there was it placed, and the halls smelled of blossoms and foliage where the mountains had ever been damp.
Thalgaladh had known of the plans, had even overseen some of the more delicate designs. Yet he still found his breath hitch at the beauty that Thranduil had managed to create out of a mere hunk of rock. It was not Menegroth, for a certainty. None expected to ever reclaim the glory of those years, nor he thought, should they. That time was past and it was always best to leave the past behind. Take what you can and move on. Nay, it was not Menegroth, but still it was beautiful. And it was theirs.
The thought brought very little satisfaction, for their new freedom had come at an awful price. The halls that Thranduil had so painstakingly beautified and aerated for his family were hollow. The Queen and Prince lay dead along with countless others. The Necromancer of Dol Guldur had dealt the decimated peoples of Greenwood a severe blow, and recovery would take much time.
Thalgaladh strolled through the white halls, purposeless and aching. His feet slowed as he approached the door to the Royal Chambers, and he placed a pale palm upon the cool wood door. The grief radiated from the room as heat from the sun, and he was a mere satellite caught in its gravity. His heart festered and he longed to leave the halls and seek the solace that the forest and his people might offer him. They were weary, they were all so weary, so everyone reminded him. They longed to bury their dead, to mourn and lament, and he'd encouraged them to do so. Each time one would come to him with the question he would tell them to bury, grieve and heal. Everyone would smile their softest smile and ask him, "What of the King?"
He had not left his son's sickbed, and each day seemed to leach a little more life from the prince. Legolas's wounds were as fresh as the day he'd received them, each seeping his life blood onto the continually refreshed linen sheets. The best healers in the realm had attended the prince under the weary, watchful blue eyes of his father. Thus far, none could divine what ailed him. They each offered panaceas and apologies, whispered words of strength and hope to the aggrieved King, and words of imminent death when out of earshot. Thalgaladh had braced and resigned himself.
Legolas was dying. And the General knew that it would only be a matter of time before his father followed.
A heavy sigh and he was pacing again. "Go and see him." The hushed voice caught a thin cord of his severely divided attention, drew it in.
"I cannot," another whispered brokenly.
"You must." The first insisted.
"I failed him. I cannot go and see."
"Verenaur, what if….?" The pregnant question remained unfinished at the other elf's sharp retort.
"Do not say it! I cannot think on it."
Luinaur exhaled through his nose, a clear sign of irritation. Thalgaladh smiled a secret smile. During the first few days of marching through the dark woods, the General had believed Verenaur would die. High fever and delirium had taken strong hold over him, and the blood he hacked up could only be a sign of internal rupture. Each time they rested, Luinaur poured water into his brother, bathed his heated forehead, and whispered secret words to him. When the procession would continue, singing and weeping alternately, Luinaur would heft his brother into his burned hands and carry him forward. Out of respect for the younger brother, Thalgaladh kept silent about his suspicions. When others would express their fears to him he would hiss at them to hold their tongues. With silent tongues and grave eyes, each member of their rogue, royal procession watched for the final breath of Verenaur.
But the young elf was stronger than any had foreseen. On the fourth day the sun rose bright and beautiful in the sky and with it, Verenaur. While everyone basked and marveled in the blessings of Anar, Verenaur blinked his bleary teal eyes and smiled at his brother. His first words to his weary and heartsick brother had been something along the vein of a reprimand for his 'ever foolish actions.' Luinaur quickly quipped that of the two, only one of them was standing upright, and then muttered something about knowing he should have left him where he'd fallen so he'd not have to listen to the constant insipid lectures. Thalgaladh had smiled, his first since entering that gore strewn valley, greatly relieved to see the young one awaken. Hope had taken root once more and he prayed silently that the young prince would prove as hearty as his friend.
His prayer remained unanswered.
Soft footsteps approached from behind him and Thalgaladh ceased his pacing. Possibly another healer come to humor the King with false hope, possibly another message of the peoples' need for their King in their time of grief. Either way, he would be forced to send them away for he would not allow another to enter and destroy what little was left of his friend, nor would he drag him from his son's side for matters of diplomacy. He turned as the elf approached and dropped to one knee. "My lord."
"What is it Galion?" He asked the butler, trying to stem his irritation. In the wake of all the horror, Galion had done an excellent job at intercepting and deterring all those who sought the King. Where the General's first instinct was to growl, Galion would offer a smile and some diplomatic platitude that would somehow dazzle the listener into leaving with a sense of fulfillment. And if the uncanny ability had impressed Thalgaladh (as much as such traits could impress a battle wearied veteran) in the case of Thranduil's common subjects, it was awe-inspiring in the case of the court.
While he had always been included amongst the king's court, Thalgaladh had never considered himself a "noble," and so, never really had any tolerance or liking for the rest of the court. Hence, he had always run interference for the princes and their friends whenever they were caught at one of their flamboyant pranks. A quick wink and whisper to Thranduil of their own youthful antics would stem the tide of the king's irritation long enough for the youths to beat a hasty retreat. None of the other members of the court were ever pleased by Thalgaladh's interference, and so he could only assume that they were aware of his distaste for them. And though he'd never spoken a cross word to any of them, Thranduil had made no secret of the fact that the General had ever worn his disdain with the same openness as his scabbard and sword. Had any of that lot had the opportunity or nerve to approach him while the king sat at his son's sick bed, the General had little doubt that they would have learned of the depth of his dislike by both word and deed. Galion, on the other hand, had done a brilliant job of keeping the horrifying nobility at bay while still maintaining a sense of decorum. Not an easy task, for a certainty, and the General was more than willing to concede to the butler's fine diplomacy. Still, despite the elf's excellence at his job, his constant infringement on Thalgaladh's brooding had grown past the point of exhaustion.
"Beg your pardon, my lord but I thought you should know, a host of elves has been spotted approaching from the west." Thalgaladh hiked a questioning brow at the butler, indicating he should continue. "They bear the banners of Imladris."
Had Thalgaladh been younger or more rash, he might have shouted the curse that filled his mind. What in the name of Eru could that lot want now? After a thousand years they decide to pay a visit? Perhaps they come bearing housewarming gifts. The crueller parts of his mind, those still steeped in the shadow that had so thoroughly entrenched them, thought perhaps they'd come to gloat before shaking off the notion with no small amount of disgust at his own pettiness. "How soon before they arrive?"
"Quarter of an hour at the most, my lord."
Thalgaladh sighed again. He did not want to disturb Thranduil, especially not with news such as this. The elves of Greenwood had not had dealings with their western kin since the Last Alliance, and the parting had not been amicable. No ill words had been exchanged, but there had been a cool detachment in the soon-to-be king of Greenwood that could only indicate a deep anger. Though he never voiced it, Thalgaladh knew that Thranduil laid at least part of the blame for his father's death at the feet of the Noldor. Perhaps such thoughts were unfair, but equanimity seldom played a role in dealings of the heart. "Go and meet them at the doors. Be hospitable." Galion looked offended but Thalgaladh cared little for anyone's feelings right now. He had the most unpleasant task at hand, as far as he was concerned. He had to tell the king that the Noldor had come. "I will join you shortly."
He was lost, he knew. Oh not in the literal sense. Were that the case, he could find his way anywhere with no more than the stars, the sun or trees to guide him. After all, he'd wended his way through the blackened, silent forest with no guidance, bearing the limp body of his unconscious child in his arms. The cool wind in his face had indicated his northerly direction, and that had been enough for him to lead his bloodied and bedraggled people to their new haven. Though his wanderings were metaphorical, those of spirit rather than body, he was no less disoriented than he might be wandering in a desert. Probably more so.
Each ragged, pained inhalation the prince managed drew a sympathetic wince from the king that watched him. How long had he sat and watched his son suffer? A week? A month? Time meant little to an elf, and usually passed beneath their immortal notice. Agony had an amazing ability to slow time's incessant forward march, stretch seconds into eternities. It was not a fact that he'd been aware of two months ago. The Elvenking supposed that one is never too old to learn new truths.
Truth was a concept that he'd pondered much in the excruciating hours-days-weeks that he'd sat spectator to his son's insistent torture. Dozens of healers had traipsed in and out of the room he refused to exit, examining, puzzling, before offering up a pale reassurance and taking their leave. None had stated the truth that was so plain to the Elvenking.
Legolas was dying.
Sighing, Thranduil reached out and took his son's withered hand between his own. Legolas might have his eyes, his hair, but his skin was his mother's, pale and soft. The thought forced a tear from salt burned eyes, and Thranduil pushed away all thoughts of his dead wife, knowing that to dwell on such things would fracture what sanity he still possessed. Time for that would come. He had all eternity to mourn his dead family. All eternity, he winced at the thought, feeling a soul deep sickness sweep through his body. For now, however, he would hide in this chamber and focus on the warm, living hand in his own. The tips of the elegant fingers remained raw, occasionally leaking blood onto the white sheets, though Legolas received the injuries sometime during his journey to the Royal Chambers. A life's age, and no scabs.
"Oh my son." Thranduil whispered, though he wasn't certain whether the words be breath or thought. In truth, it mattered not. Legolas gave no indication of awareness, and had not stirred from his stupor since he'd fallen that fateful night. Leaning his aching head upon his son's sick (death) bed, Thranduil begged, "You cannot leave me, my Legolas. Whatever will I do if you leave me?"
A sharp rap at the door caught the attention of his exhausted mind, though it could not rouse enough interest for the king to lift his heavy head or even cast a casual glance. He already knew who it was. Thalgaladh was the only one who dared disturb the king anymore. On occasion, the General might ask if he could sit beside the king, or would inquire as to whether Luinaur might visit. But no more did healers come to offer their services, and Thranduil had arrived at the grim realization that no more healers remained. Hope was dead.
"What is it?" Thranduil whispered, pale fingers tracing the whorls of Legolas's stark knuckles where they lay splayed upon the sheets.
The air in the room was stifling, laden with grief, pain and sickness. Thalgaladh ignored the death-soaked air and slipped inside, sealing the door against the world without. It had taken all his courage to enter, and the sight of his broken king and dying prince almost sent him skittering from the room with his metaphorical tail between his legs. Coward! He chided himself for so selfish a desire. A deep breath and squaring of shoulders lent him some of the courage that had continuously failed him since they'd begun the march from Emyn Duir. "I am sorry to disturb you, my lord." He paused for a moment, longing for a delicacy of deliverance of this news, for one iota of Galion's tact. His friend was so upset (fragile), and he feared this might just drive him off the precipice on which he unknowingly teetered. Thalgaladh grasped and groped until the king raised an interested eyebrow and lifted his head.
"Yes?" he prompted.
"A host of elves from Rivendell rides in, my lord. I sent Galion to greet them, and am going now. I just thought you should know." Smooth. Delicate as a battering ram.
Thranduil's lip curled upwards with distaste. "Noldor," he spat, the word nearly a curse. "What could they want, I wonder."
"I will handle this, my lord." With that the General stepped from the room.
But Thranduil wasn't listening, too trapped in his own musings. Always had the Noldor believed themselves better. The Silvans were rude and rustic, living as they did amongst the trees, singing songs and making merry. Too simple to comprehend great magics. Too weak to bear the rings of power. No matter that the Noldor had invoked the ire of the Valar, slew their own kin in order that they may rob them before slinking away over the sea. The Noldor's history was fraught with tales of betrayal, lust and hubris. Yet they were the high elves, the noblest. They, who had seen Valinor while the simple Silvans had remained in Middle Earth. Somehow, that made them greater in their own estimation. 'But they bloody well came back didn't they.' Inner imaginary Oropher chimed in, and Thranduil wholly agreed. It was not that the Noldor would ever speak of such greatness. No, no, they were far too graceful for that. It was their eyes, their turn of lip that would speak volumes of their supposed superiority. Their very attitudes conveyed the conceit well enough that the Wood Elves had attempted to maintain distance from them for long years. Thingol had been leary of the Noldor, and such caution had only proven the Sindarin King's wisdom in Thranduil's estimation . When the Noldor returned, they brought their curse and plague to Middle Earth, infecting the simple, happy elves that had ever dwelled here.
"Why are they here now?" Thranduil asked his son, his father, the air. It mattered not for he would receive no answers from any save the elves in question. He pressed his lips to Legolas's brow, murmured "Please wait for my return, my son. I will not be long away." He lay his hand over his son's and said a quiet prayer to anyone that might listen that Legolas would not depart while he left to deal with his unwanted and uninvited guests.
Stepping through the doors for the first time in…however long it had been proved a shock to the Elvenking. While he hadn't forgotten that they were in his new halls, he also hadn't adapted to the idea. The bright light of the corridor was unfamiliar, though welcome and Thranduil allowed himself a moment to soak up the warm sun through the window. He sensed eyes upon him, felt the relentless stares of the curious, and turned to face his audience. Verenaur and Luinaur sat on a bench, poised mid-conversation (mid-argument, more like, the king thought with a smirk) and openly gaped at the king.
"Verenaur." The king boomed, his voice holding all the majesty it ever possessed.
The still weak elf stood quickly, annoyed at the steadying hand his brother placed on his back. "Yes, my lord."
"I have some business to which I must attend and have no wish to leave my son alone. Will you sit with him?"
Verenaur's eyes widened with what could only be described as horror. Anything but that! Had the king asked him to march down to Dol Guldur and throttle the Necromancer in his stronghold, he would have eagerly and readily agreed. But the warrior had no heart to look upon his weak and dying friend. He opened his mouth to tell the king so when the thin eyebrow hitched upwards. The look dared him to refuse, a hybrid of exasperation and barely checked rage and the warrior nodded quickly in response. "Of course, my king." With a deep breath, Verenaur pushed open the heavy door to the prince's sickroom and closed it with a dull, quiet thud behind him.
Luinaur smiled at the door and then cast a curious look to the king. A blue eye winked at him conspiratorally. "It will do them both good, I think." The king strolled off to meet his guests leaving a thinly smiling Luinaur behind.
"What do you suppose is wrong?" Glorfindel asked of the elf beside him. The elf's long, dark hair shifted smoothly as he shook his head.
"I know not. But I feel a great sorrow upon these people. Evil has touched them and has not left them unscathed, I think." He'd felt the pervading sense of woe as they'd approached the sturdy, lofty halls of the Elvenking. The trees themselves sang a lament as they passed beneath the sturdy boughs.
Glorfindel nodded at his friend. He'd noted the grim faces of the normally jolly Wood Elves, heard laments in place of the usual jovial melodies. He agreed with his companion's assessment that these people had suffered great trauma. The knowledge, however, did little to assuage the irritation at having been ushered into a waiting room by a butler and left there inexplicably and indefinitely. Decorum dictated that the King himself greet guests in his realm and of his house. For him to leave them alone and unattended for so long was more than rude. "I still cannot believe they sent a butler to attend us and have not bothered to come greet us themselves."
Elrond hid his smile with his hand, trying to remain unaffected by his long time friend's jokes. His blue eyes scolded, though his lips only hitched further into a smirk. For an elf of so many years, Glorfindel could be as petulant as any youth he'd ever encountered. He'd spent half of the journey over the Misty Mountains expostulating on why traveling east was a bad idea. Most of the complaints were jests, Elrond knew, made in hopes of placating the dread that had so ensnared his dark haired companion. But there had been an underlying seriousness and validity to each argument Glorfindel had posed that had not gone unnoticed by any in their party, especially Lord Elrond. "Behave," Elrond scolded and Glorfindel snorted at him.
"I was just saying…"
"Well do I know what you were saying." Elrond declared, unable to keep the smile from his voice. "Behave," he said firmly. The blonde sneered, then smirked.
The opening of the door had both elves quickly upon their feet, all traces of levity eradicated. The elf that approached them may not have been the king, but neither was he a mere butler. Silver hair swept into neat, efficient plaits about the crown of his head, the plush green velvet tunic with embroidered crest marked him as a warrior easily. It was his carriage and airs that told his station. A quick efficient nod, "Lord Glorfindel, Lord Elrond. Please forgive the wait. I am General Thalgaladh of Greenwood." The two elf lords cast questioning glances at each other before returning the pleasantry to the General. Gray eyes marked the silent exchange, and though he knew the two lords had many questions, Thalgaladh chose to keep silent.
They all kept silent, in fact, and it loomed over them like a hammer waiting to drop as the elves appraised each other. Thalgaladh had never met either of the elf lords before him, though their reputations were the stuff of song and legend. Ordinarily such an encounter might excite him, for who would not be awed to stand in the presence of two such figures. Tales of their feats were unnumbered. They were living, breathing icons of Elven lore and history and they stood before him now as flesh and blood. Belegalad would be positively giddy. Ever had he longed to travel Middle-Earth and meet the elves of legend. The thought sobered him, wearied him. The past few weeks of stress and anxiety weighed heavily upon him and where once he might have been honored, he found he could muster little more than dim detachment to their presence. Too exhausted by measures, all the General offered was a vague smile.
The two lords stood in quiet contemplation, studying the silver haired elf before them. The General stood aloof, and Glorfindel felt every muscle in his body knot as he once again questioned the wisdom of riding east to Greenwood. Though most of his arguments along the road had been made in jest, the doubt that he felt had been very real. Their eastern brethren had little use for the elves of Imladris, and Glorfindel was more than happy to allow them their distant sovereignty. If Elrond had not been so haunted by the growing evil, he would have tried seriously to dissuade the journey. It was Elrond who broke the heavy silence with the same ease he had the millennium long severance, hoping to relieve the tension thrumming through the room and radiating off his long time friend. "I sensed a burgeoning evil to the east and we came as soon as we could to offer our aid. I fear we come too late."
Thalgaladh turned the statement over in his mind like a shiny coin, examining it from every angle before accepting it as simple truth. What purpose would Lord Elrond have in lying? "On behalf of our people I thank you for your concern. 'tis true that a heavy shadow fell upon us in our southern home near Emyn Duir, stretching northwards for many miles. We barely escaped the onslaught."
"A shadow, you say?" This was ill news indeed.
"Aye, my lord. The new occupant of Dol Guldur decided to make his presence felt in the most literal way possible."
The elf lords were both intrigued and disturbed by the news. "If evil has once again taken residence in Dol Guldur then we must inform the others. Perhaps Mithrandir will know something about this." Glorfindel whispered to Elrond.
With a small nod, Elrond continued, "Tell me of this evil in Dol Guldur."
Thalgaladh stiffened. It was curiosity concerning their new neighbor to the south that had started this entire fiasco. Had the elves ignored the Necromancer, perhaps he would not have attacked them so readily and ferociously. "We know little." He watched disappointment rearrange Glorfindel's fair features while Elrond's remained placid. "Only that it is a creature of terrible power. A conjurer of great magics."
"What kinds of magic?" Elrond pressed.
The silver haired elf found himself quite put off by the inquisition. If you are so curious, why not ride south and find out for yourself? Why should you reap the benefits of our very hard learned lessons? The more rational part of him knew that Lord Elrond was only trying gain some understanding of what he himself was only vaguely aware. "The worst kinds."
Glorfindel stiffened at the clipped tone, asking himself for the hundredth time why he had come. He had a mind to scold the General for his discourtesy, and set out to do just that when he caught the shimmering look in the gray eyes.
Without prompting, Thalgaladh continued, "He visited every plague imaginable upon us, besetting us with a pestilence of insects, vermin and serpents. The sky opened to rain hail the size of heads and fists upon us, and unnatural clouds swirled thick, low and ominous above. We dwelled in pitch blackness both day and night, without stars to gaze upon. And that is merely the beginning of his powers." Of the rest the General could not speak. The warriors that had been taken and twisted had been his elite. Each one had he known the full lengths of their lives. He'd watched them grow from children into the finest warriors and people he'd ever met and to think upon their loss, that several in fact had died upon his sword, brought him great pain.
Elrond seemed to sense the grief welling in the General, and his own fears and suspicions multiplied. "Where is King Thranduil now?" The tone was flat, even and ripe with implications. Glorfindel caught on and held his breath for the answer.
When the General did not immediately respond both lords believed their worst suspicions confirmed. The General opened his mouth, but the voice that filled the room was not his. "He is right here." All three of the room's occupants turned stunned looks upon the King and Thranduil took a moment to enjoy the tableau.
"My lord, I told you that I would handle this matter." Thalgaladh griped, raking concerned gray eyes over his weary friend. Thranduil looked good, considering the circumstances. His posture and gait betrayed nothing of the grief and loss that he bore, and if the General did not know how very weary his friend was, even he would be fooled by the performance.
Thranduil held the gray eyes for a moment, some silent communication passing between the two friends, before turning back to his thoroughly confused guests. He'd known that the Noldor had come, but had no idea that Lords Elrond and Glorfindel were leading the host. Had he the energy to care, he might even be flattered by the presence and concern of such grand elves. As it was, he sorely wanted to get back to his dying son and could manage little more than annoyance at the noble elves' intrusion. "Lord Elrond, Lord Glorfindel…" he greeted, though he had no idea what to say to them. Somehow he didn't think, 'what in the name of Elbereth are you doing here' would be appropriate. Nor did he feel much like welcoming them to his home. Instead, he greeted them with the traditional salute of respect and stared at them.
The king's sudden appearance had taken them off guard, for a certainty, though only for a moment. When Thranduil said nothing to them, they returned his gesture and stare. Thalgaladh watched the exchange, saw the deep circles under his friend's eyes and knew that he was in no shape to stand against the piercing stares of the two elf lords. He also knew Thranduil well enough to realize that his pride would never allow him to buckle under the weighty glares. For all their sakes, he decided to intervene. "Perhaps I shall have Galion bring us some tea, my lord," he inquired, hoping to provide a subtle enough distraction from the glaring match the three elves had engaged in that all would come away with their pride in tact.
Thranduil nodded at the General and watched him disappear out the doors. He turned back to the two lords, felt his anger blossom white hot in his chest, before stifling it. "Please, take your ease. I fear that my hospitality is somewhat lacking today."
No kidding,Glorfindel thought. He couldn't be certain, but he thought he saw a small smile tug at his friend's lips again. Either his friend had picked up on his thought, or he shared it. By the time they'd situated themselves, the General had returned to the room with Galion in tow. The butler poured the tea before beating a hasty retreat. Glorfindel couldn't squash his envy of the butler. There was nothing that would have given him greater pleasure at that moment than leaving.
Lifting his cup, Elrond said, "So Thranduil, how fares the Queen?"
Without missing a beat, the Elvenking replied, "She is dead."
Once again Thranduil had the great satisfaction of watching both elf lords nearly choke in their shock. Judging by the clatter of cup against saucer, Thranduil would guess that at least some of their hot tea had spilt onto their clothing, and that thought gave him a warm fuzzy feeling in his chest where before there had only been a void. The smug look vanished from Glorfindel's face, and that of course had been the king's intention. He was in no mood to be swapping pleasantries at the moment, most especially not with people who had not bothered to have any contact with him or his realm since the Last Alliance. Well did he know what these elves thought of himself, his people and most infuriatingly, his father.
Both elves began offering condolences, but Thranduil only held up his hand to stop the words. "I thank you for your sympathies. But now perhaps you understand a little better why I must dispatch with formalities and ask you for what purpose you have come here."
Thalgaladh placed a calming hand on the king's arm, hoping to stem the oncoming tirade. The muscles beneath his hand were rock hard, vibrating in their tension, and the General felt his own anxiety climb. He fought his own instincts for some form of diplomacy. "What the king means…."
"I have said what I mean." He bit out, casting a hard, silencing glare at Thalgaladh. "Why are you here, now, after a thousand years?" Thranduil bellowed, shaking off his friend's hand and standing abruptly. His anger was a fire threatening to consume him whole and live, and he took deep breaths in hopes of quenching it.
With measured calm, Elrond said, "We came only to assist you, King Thranduil. We meant no offense." Elrond's cool regard and gentle words did little to assuage the Elvenking's ire, though he found his seat and his manners again. Shaking fingers bore deeply into his temples, trying to rub away the tension and bluster.
"Nay, 'tis not you that is the offense. Forgive me, I am not myself." Deflated, his thoughts turned once more to the son who lay dying upstairs. Leaning over to whisper something to Thalgaladh, Thranduil rose and said, "I am sorry, my lords. My home is yours. Please take your leisure here. You must be weary from your journey." With that, the Elvenking strode out of the room, leaving a devastated silence in his wake.
Thalgaladh watched as the two elf lords sipped their tea. Neither looked insulted at the king's unseemly outburst, but still he felt they deserved an explanation. "You must forgive King Thranduil, my lords. These past months have been exceedingly difficult. He has taken no food and little rest since we've arrived here despite my efforts. Though in truth, I cannot blame him. He has suffered much loss of late."
"There is nothing to forgive, General. It is plain to me that the King bears great sorrow. It is we who should apologize for disturbing him so." Lord Elrond said gravely, Glorfindel nodding once in apparent agreement.
"Nay. You came offering help and have been answered with scorn," he said wearily and regretfully. "He meant it, that you should stay. He does not offer his home or his apologies idly. Please do stay with us to at least grant us the opportunity to rectify this mistreatment."
"We accept your invitation with much gratitude, General." Glorfindel spoke this time, wishing only to quell the silver haired elf's agitation. The words seemed to calm him and he sipped at the tepid tea with little interest. Glorfindel felt almost as ashamed at his reluctance to come as he did for his desire to leave. Elrond had been correct, their assistance was needed. He felt a keen desire to know everything. "Will you tell us what happened?"
"You mean to the Queen?"
"I mean whatever you mean," he replied with a smirk, knowing this game too well to be bested.
So Thalgaladh explained it all, from Belegalad's mysterious mission south, to the infestations and subsequent disappearances of bugs, rats and snakes. He told of Luinaur's self inflicted burns, the dark thoughts that plagued his own mind, and the Queen's mysterious sleep. He tried to explain the great quakes that shook the mountains, the spiders that nested within and the army that stood without. The two elves listened rapt for hours, exchanging tea for spiced wine, as the silver haired elf outlined in great detail the awful tale of their latest battle with evil. He told them of the dozens of spiders that laid siege to the throne room, his fear of the untimely deaths of the injured who lay within and the revelation of the secret path to freedom. "We gave chase to the injured but we reached them too late, I fear. The Queen already lay dead at the hands of the dark creature that had been our beloved prince. He was so changed," the General tried to rub the ache from his head with thumb and forefinger, "and yet he was still Belegalad. He murdered his mother and it was in the attempt to murder his brother that…he perished." Almost had he revealed the true horror of that night. Not all truths must be told. Some memories were theirs alone. "It became apparent during the trek here that the Necromancer had somehow pried the information on the secret tunnel from the prince's broken mind, for only three knew of its existence and location."
"Sweet Elbereth," Glorfindel whispered. Elrond closed his eyes in grief and horror at the tale. Such news boded ill for all of Middle Earth, for if a creature of such terrible power once again occupied Dol Guldur, it could spell disaster for them all. And yet, it was not Middle Earth that occupied his mind at present, but the plight of the Elvenking.
"Tell me Thalgaladh, what of the youngest prince?"
Thalgaladh sniffed once in an effort to hold back the tear that threatened to spill. He failed and the two lords watched its progress down the side of the silver haired elf's fair face. "Prince Legolas does not recover from his injuries. They bleed today as fresh as the day they were inflicted on him, and he has never once awoken since he fell unconscious. That is where King Thranduil is now, was when you arrived, and has been since we've come to our new home. He does not leave Legolas for we all know that he is fading. I fear it is only a matter of time before he joins his mother and brother in the Halls of Mandos."
And Thranduil is certain to follow,Elrond thought sadly. For who could bear such a loss and continue to live in the aftermath. True, he had little love for the King of Greenwood. Thranduil was stubborn and proud, much like his father. Yet, Elrond truly believed that Middle Earth would be a worse place for loss of him, and the Silvans lost without him. The king was a sturdy soul that bore a great strength, as evident by the survival of his people under such an onslaught. With a small shake of his head, he dispelled the dark thoughts. Now was not the time to dwell on such things. Not while hope remained. "What ails the prince?"
The General shrugged helplessly before taking a deep swallow of his wine. "No one knows for certain. Some believe that the shadow has taken hold of him, some believe he's been poisoned. Others think that Belegalad stemmed the blood flow to his brain for too long, thus killing it while his body yet lived, while others believe that it is grief that takes him from us. Every healer in the realm has tried to ascertain the source of his malady. Each have theories, but still the prince lays dying."
Glorfindel raised an eyebrow at his friend and waited for the predictable reaction. "Do you think that the King would allow me to examine Prince Legolas?"
Thalgaladh considered the offer for a moment. Thranduil had little love of the Noldor, true, but he loved Legolas fiercely and unconditionally. Tales of Lord Elrond's healing skills were great and widespread, and if there was any hope to be had, it very well might rest in the hands of the dark haired elf seated across from him. "I am certain the King Thranduil would be honored to have you examine his son."
"I would see him now then."
Elrond rose, waiting to be ushered to the dying prince. The silver haired General stood to take him, pausing momentarily to say, "I just have one request, my lord. Do not offer a false hope to the king." Elrond's brow furrowed and Thalgaladh continued, "so many others have offered platitudes and promises. The king needs to be prepared if and when the prince passes on."
With an understanding smile, Elrond followed the loyal General through the white corridors of King Thranduil's new home.
Verenaur believed he'd seen enough of evil in the past few weeks to prepare himself for whatever lay beyond the heavy door to the prince's chamber. The pounding hail, the swarm of rats, the deep pit that he'd fallen into, and the marauding spiders had all left a deep scar upon the stout, young warrior that had yet to start fading. Sometimes still he would awaken disoriented, thinking his bed to be the cold, damp floor of a spider's lair. Often would he mistake his blankets for a spider cocoon, convinced that he'd been bitten and woven into the spiders' great web, awaiting the time they would come and devour him alive. He'd nearly bitten through his tongue one night in an effort to stifle his screams.
Yes he'd thought he'd seen enough atrocity, degradation and defilement to prepare him for anything. Yet, stepping across that threshold and into the nightmare that had become his dearest friend's reality nearly sent the warrior crashing to his knees. The room had a strange odor about it, not entirely unpleasant, just tinged with something acrid. Verenaur's nose crinkled in distaste as he tried to place the odor. Sweet healing herbs and sour sweat, perhaps, though when he looked at the prince, his brow appeared dry. Everything appeared dry, in fact, right down to his white crusted lips.
"Oh Legolas," Verenaur cried, falling to his knees beside the bed. Shaking fingers reached out, hovering inches above the prince, afraid to make contact. To touch him would make this all real and Verenaur was uncertain whether he wanted to accept this reality. Part of him preferred the thought of being spider food if it meant Legolas could be whole and healthy.
His hand finally descended and with it reality. Legolas's skin was soft, dry and cool to the touch. Fingers flitted through the silken hair, brushing long strands back from the prince's still features. "Legolas," he whispered brokenly. "All has gone ill. There is much that I kept hidden from you and now I fear we shall never speak again." He shifted onto the bed, stroking the prince's hair with each word. "I thought it best not to tell you about the evil spell you came under in that corridor. Perhaps if I had, we might have understood what was happening. Might have realized this monster's terrible power." He swallowed thickly. "I thought we'd have time to discuss it with your father or the General. But then I lost you…." Or you lost me. "When I woke in that pit, alone…" he paused, unable to express the feeling. "Everything was so dark and painful. I wanted so badly to search for you, but I could not. I have never been so ashamed in my life as I was when I left that cavern." Verenaur went on and on describing his adventure through the darkness to the unconscious prince, telling him everything he had longed to tell since he'd awoken two weeks before. "Luinaur tells me that it was your mother who guided me through the darkness. She delivered me from certain death, you know."
"You delivered each other," a voice answered, and Verenaur looked hopefully at the prince. The features were still slack, blue eyes sealed against the world around and Verenaur looked around in confusion. He turned to see his brother behind him and offered a weak smile. "The Queen made that perfectly clear."
"He looks so small." Verenaur commented offhandedly. Luinaur did not respond, merely sat beside his brother in the dark room. "Do you think he will live?"
Luinaur averted his eyes. "Usually it is I who asks the unanswerable questions."
"And I scold you for them." Luinaur nodded his affirmation. "Will you scold me for asking this question?"
"Nay. I am not as bullheaded as you." Verenaur gaped in disbelief at his brother before chuckling. Luinaur joined him, clasping the hand still combing through the prince's hair. When the mood turned serious so too did Luinaur's tone. "Legolas is strong and well loved. I will not abandon hope so long as he draws breath. And neither should you, dear brother."
Foolish was the only word that could describe how the Elvenking felt as he marched his way back through the unfamiliar corridors of his new home. He should not have reacted as he had, should not have taken out his pent up rage on those who had come offering assistance. Nothing could excuse such disrespect. He had shamed himself, his father and his wife's memory with such unabashed triviality and foolhardy bluster. Linnaloth would have been ashamed of him had she witnessed his outburst. 'Bad Form,' she would chide. The thought made his ears burn, and brought tears to his eyes.
"Legolas is strong and well loved. I will not abandon hope so long as he draws breath. And neither should you, dear brother,"were the words that struck Thranduil as he reentered his son's room. Both elves turned at the sound of the king's approach, standing and readying themselves to leave.
"Please, there is no need for you to go," the king said, despising the idea of being left alone again with only himself for company. Poor company, indeed. The brothers exchanged wary looks before resuming their places by Legolas's side. Thranduil walked around the sick bed and took his seat beside it, opposite Verenaur and Luinaur. He watched as they comforted each other and his son. Verenaur lifted the rag from the washbasin beside the bed and dabbed at the prince's cracked lips while Luinaur combed out and plaited the long silken hair. Thranduil smiled at them, taking Legolas's hand between his own and began humming a tune. Both brothers recognized the song immediately as one of the prince's favorites. Verenaur remembered clearly hearing it vibrate through the stone beneath his ear when he thought that he was dying on the mountain side, and he began humming along with the king. Blue eyes snapped up at the sound and Luinaur joined in, singing the words to the song.
They sang on and on to the prince and one another. Though they had known the king the entire length of their lives, they had never heard him sing before. But sing he did, every word, every verse and of course they realized how preposterous the thought of the Elvenking of the Woodland Realm not singing, especially when his wife and sons were such musical creatures. And yet they still could not help but gape a little at the sweet voice, so very much like their friend's, as it lifted to sing song after song.
It was against the backdrop of the Song of Nimrodel that Thalgaladh announced his presence with a sturdy knock. The song died quickly and Thranduil bid his friend enter though he was loath to face him. Shame rose up in him again at his outburst, and he knew that while his friend would never speak a reprimand to him, he felt a bitter disappointment in his king.
Thalgaladh had not expected to find the king keeping company. Luinaur had only visited a few times and for moments only while Verenaur had wallowed too deeply in his own shame to enter the room at all. The king had spent the past two weeks in this room entirely alone, with only his dying son and personal demons for company. "My lord, might we have a moment?"
The platinum haired brothers took that as their cue. Verenaur whispered a promise of a swift return to the prince while Luinaur slipped out of the room. Thranduil marked their departure with regret. His son's friends had brought him the first measure of peace that he'd felt in weeks. Through their shared grief he felt some of his lost strength return to him and he drew on that reclaimed strength to face his friend.
"If you have come to chastise me save your breath."
Thalgaladh merely stared at his friend for a moment. He knew the king was ashamed of his loss of composure and saw no need to dwell upon it. Thranduil bore a great burden. It was no surprise that he might occasionally buckle under its weight. "I have not come to chastise you, mellon. Lord Elrond has asked if he might examine the prince."
Thranduil frowned in confusion. The sharp clear lines of his eyebrows drew together, furrowing his brow as he considered the offer. The expression reminded Thalgaladh of both Oropher and Belegalad, and he found he could not look upon it for long without being swallowed by his grief. "His healing abilities are the stuff of legend, my lord. If anyone can save Legolas, he can."
The king did not require convincing. His confusion was not a matter of whether to allow the other elf to heal his son, but why he might offer after the Elvenking's unseemly outburst. "Of course. Please show him in."
Within seconds of his friend's departure, the door opened again to admit the stately figure of Lord Elrond. Thranduil found it difficult to face him, but his pride would not allow him to display such weakness. He stared defiantly at the other elf, his fingers still woven tightly with the limp, lifeless digits of his son. Elrond nodded at Thranduil before turning his attention to the elf on the bed. "Must I leave him?" Thranduil asked, breaking the heavy silence around them.
Elrond had no expectations when he'd approached and still he felt horrified at the withered sight before him. Poor beloved child. His gaze drifted to the entwined fingers of father and son, felt the strength of that connection. "No. It is better for him to have you here. Though I may need you to step away momentarily."
The king nodded and complied. Backing into the far corner, Thranduil watched as the Lord of Imladris checked each injury with meticulous care. Sure fingers prodded the damaged knee, danced over the punctured throat, traced the split cheek. Thranduil winced at each gentle touch as though he could feel his son's discomfort. "He is all that I have left." The confession slipped out before the king had realized he'd had the thought, and he felt naked before the other elf in its wake. Elrond offered a small smile, revealing none of the shock he felt at the king's heartfelt declaration. With an understanding nod, he turned back to his patient.
In silence the dark haired elf finished his examination, checking each injury twice to be certain of his diagnosis. He sighed deeply when he'd completed his examination, and met the fearful eyes of the king. "The wounds are poisoned with whatever ill concoction the Necromancer used to create monsters from elves." Thranduil closed his eyes in resigned defeat. It was no more than he'd feared, but to hear it made him ill. "The shadow upon him is heavy, but I can dispel it."
Unsought hope blossomed and the Elvenking stared in momentary awe and disbelief at the elf-lord. "I am amazed that he has lived so long under so fell a shadow. Your son is strong, but I think that it is the strength of his father that has sustained him." Thranduil quirked an eyebrow at the elf lord and Elrond elaborated. "Were it not for your vigilant hope, King Thranduil, your son would have long ago followed his mother and brother to Mandos."
With no more words, Elrond lay his hands upon the prince's cold brow, calling to him with both will and words. He spoke in the high tongue, the language forbidden by Thingol long years ago, and Thranduil could not guess what he spoke. But on his final word, the grayish tinge that had come over the prince faded into the pink of life and the warmth that had abandoned his body began to return in force.
"Call to him, Thranduil. The child needs his father now," he said before leaving the room to give the king a moment with his son.
The Elvenking did not watch the other elf leave the room, though all his gratitude went with him. He quickly resumed his place by the prince's bed, capturing the still hand in his own. His eyes remained riveted to his son's face, now flush with color of life. "Legolas?" he called, feeling foolish in his hope. "Open your eyes little one. Return to me."
A flutter of lashes and a tightening grip answered his voice and Thranduil thought he might explode. "That's it Legolas. Come back now." A hint of blue appeared from behind the sealed lids, head turning in search of the source of the voice calling him. With his free hand, Thranduil cupped his son's face and turned it towards him. The touch seemed to draw Legolas even more from his stupor and the slitted eyes focused on the king's.
"Ada," he croaked, voice arid and guttural with disuse. Still, it was music to the king's ears and a balm to his soul.
"Hush now, my son." The king whispered, lifting the rag from the basin to wet the dry lips. "Do not exert yourself." Legolas's tongue swiped out over the freshly moistened lips, seeking something to put out the fire in his throat. Sensing his son's desire, the king offered a small drought of water, encouraging the newly arisen prince to take small sips.
"Father, Belegalad…." The king cut off the prince with a finger across his lips. When a tear leaked from one blue eye, Thranduil wiped it away.
"Let us not speak on that now. We have eternity to talk." Thranduil gathered his son in his arms and held him until the end of his sobs.
Thalgaladh ceased in his relentless pacing when he heard the door to the prince's room open and close. He searched the elf lord's face for any hint of what had transpired. But the face remained a placid mask, revealing nothing to the other elf. With a small flutter in his stomach and two nervous elves at his back, Thalgaladh asked, "Well?"
"Prince Legolas shall live," he declared. Glorfindel walked over to his friend, placed a congratulatory hand on his shoulder and studied him with concern. Elrond offered his friend a nod and smile.
"That is joyous news, indeed." The General declared. "Come my lords, I shall have Galion show you to your quarters. He shall bring you food tonight. Tomorrow, we feast!"
Time resumed its regular pace again, and as the General promised, the next day the Wood Elves had a grand feast. The people were shocked and overjoyed at the appearance of their absent king and ill prince. Many of the people started to believe the rumors that the prince had died and the king lay withering in his grief. But their presence diffused said rumors and left only disbelieving awe in their wake.
Lords Elrond and Glorfindel were the guests of honor and the Wood Elves toasted to them several times throughout the course of the festivities. Indeed all the elves of Rivendell had been embraced by their Woodland kin as honored visitors, and for the first time in a thousand years, the folks from the east and west forgot their differences and broke bread together.
The day following the feast, King Thranduil and the slowly recovering Prince Legolas presided over the memorial services for the brave warriors that had died in defense of their people. Legolas himself lighted his brother's and mother's funeral pyres as the king led the people in a lament. The winds caught and carried the ashes of the dead, bearing them off into the woods. The forest that had been their home in life would now keep them in death. Many of the ashes fell into the water of the poisoned, black river, and while the enchantment that lay across the waters was not lifted, it was later believed that the sacred ashes changed the very nature of the spell. No longer did those who touched or drank the water fall under a heavy shadow. Instead, they would fall into a deep sleep and dream sweet dreams of Elven festivals and merriment.
With heavy hearts, the host from Imladris prepared for their departure. Though it had only been a few weeks together, the elves felt the great chasm that had existed between their peoples grow narrower until it nearly passed from memory. While the attack of the shadow upon the unsuspecting peoples of Greenwood would ever be remembered as a time of tragic loss, none could deny the good fortune that ensued. The estranged elves from the west and east had found a common thread of peace, and the bitterness that existed between the King of the East and the Lord of the West eased until all that remained was a mutual aloof respect.
As Elrond and Glorfindel crossed the blackened waters of the Enchanted River, they fancied they heard a merry giggling. Glorfindel turned to his friend and said, "Will they ever recover from such a horror?"
Elrond thought on the question a moment before saying, "I have learned that we should not underestimate the strength of hope. And the Silvans are a hopeful lot."
"Well, you'd have to be to live in such a dark wood, I suppose." Glorfindel observed.
"It wasn't always so dark," Elrond countered.
"Evil has lived here a long time."
"So have the Silvans," Elrond shrugged. The two elves fell into a companionable silence, listening only to the soft clopping of their horses' hooves on the grass. After a time, the blonde elf lord asked, "Do you think that Legolas shall ever fully recover from the shadow that gripped him?"
As always, Elrond pondered the question seriously. He thought back on a conversation that he and the young prince had during their stay. He'd stumbled on the prince in the gardens one night, singing to the night sky. The prince was healing well, most of his bruises faded, his limp almost gone. "Prince Legolas," Elrond said, startling the youth from his reverie. "Did your healer not advise you against evening strolls alone on that injured knee?"
Legolas offered a sheepish smile. "Aye, my lord. But it has been so long since I've seen the stars, and I could not resist the temptation of so beautiful a night."
Unable to argue with the prince, Elrond merely nodded. "Might I join you?"
"Of course." Legolas replied, sitting upon the earth. "I do not believe that I have had the opportunity to thank you, Lord Elrond. I have been told that I owe you my life."
Elrond accepted the thanks with a nod, casting his gaze once more at the sky. The two sat in a peaceful silence for a long while, each caught in his own musings. When Legolas spoke again, his tone held a serious edge. "I do hope that you will not think ill of my father." The statement caught the dark haired elf off guard.
"I have no reason to think ill of the King, Legolas." Legolas eyed him for a moment before nodding in acceptance of the statement.
"He is not what many believe him to be. He is a good king and a good father. He has a kinder heart and gentler soul than most credit him." Legolas rose from the ground, approached the other elf. "I am glad that you have come and gave me the opportunity to meet my western kin. You are not what I believed you to be." The two elves shared a secret smile. "I hope that our two peoples shall ever be friends, and if you ever have the need you will not hesitate to call upon us." The prince left him then, limping away.
Elrond had sensed wisdom and strength in the young prince, and indeed, a great deal of healing. "Yes," he said. "Even now do I believe that he has cast off the evil shroud, and merely struggles to find his place. For his whole life he has been the younger son of the Elvenking. Now, he is the only son. His path will not be easy, I think. But I sense a majesty in him much like I sensed in his father when I met him so long ago. I think that the young prince of Greenwood will hold a great place in the history of our people."
"My heart tells me that we have not seen the last of him," Glorfindel reflected.
Elrond smiled. That the future was always uncertain was its only true certainty. But still, he could not help but feel that the fate of the young prince of Greenwood was somehow intertwined with his own future. "I believe you are right, old friend." It was many years before Elrond again met with Legolas Thrandullion, but when he did he could not help remembering his prediction or its accuracy.
But that is another tale….
The other tale is actually in the works right now, though you could of course interpret the final line as the events that transpire in The Lord of the Rings. For those of you who have read and reviewed, I appreciate your support. This is my first attempt at posting a story, but it will not be the last.
I'm also thinking about writing the story that I alluded to in this one--about Legolas and Belegalad. Anyone interested? (Even if your not, I'm sure I'll write it anyway. My muses are relentless and will not let me sleep.)