10. So Fare You Well
The next morning dawned gray and rainy. Elrond had vetted Legolas's message to Thranduil the night before and pronounced it acceptable. Now Legolas handed it to one of the messengers who were setting off for Mirkwood. "Please deliver this to the King's hand," he said. "Take the Elf Path through Mirkwood; it is better defended from spiders and Orcs than is the Forest Road. And do not drink of the enchanted stream."
"I understand," the messenger said. "I thank you for the advice. Now we must be off." He strode out to where his companion was already mounted and ready to go, and swung up onto his horse's back. "Farewell, Lord Elrond!" he called. "We will return as soon as we may!" The two messengers galloped away down the path. Legolas watched them leave for Mirkwood without him, his arms wrapped around his body. He watched until they rounded a corner and vanished beyond sight, then turned to face Elrond, who stood beside him.
"This is hard for you," Elrond said, "but you are brave to do it. I am honored and grateful for the gift of your courage, Legolas."
Legolas nodded, not certain that he could speak.
"They will be gone for nearly two months, I should guess," Elrond went on. "I will not send the Ringbearer forth until my scouts return with news. In the meantime, you and the others will stay here as my guests. Rest, eat, and grow strong here, for you will need it on the road to come."
Legolas swallowed hard and found his voice. "Thank you, Lord Elrond. Imladris is indeed a pleasant place. It is everything I imagined, and more."
"Thank you. I have worked hard to make it so. Now, what would you like to do today?"
Legolas looked out at the rain. Riding and exploring the grounds would not be pleasant in this weather, and he doubted that his hunting skills were needed at the moment. Then an idea struck him. There was one thing that he had always wanted to do since he was very small. He had never been allowed to do it at home, as there had always been work that needed doing, but he was in Imladris now, and Elrond had all but ordered him to rest. He turned to the Lord of Imladris and smiled. "If you would permit me, Lord Elrond, I think that I wish to spend the day reading stories. There are so many here, and I find myself with unexpected leisure time."
Elrond nodded sagely. "I think that is an excellent plan. I recommend that you begin with the second library in the east wing. The couches there are large and soft, and the light is good, even on a wet day such as this one. Come, I will show you the way."
He showed Legolas to the library. Just as he had promised, there was a cushioned couch in addition to several small reading tables. Legolas selected a large book containing lays of old Beleriand and sat down on the couch.
"Read to your heart's content," Elrond said. "Someone will fetch you for lunch. I expect you to attend and eat. Then you may return to your stories." He lit a lamp with a coal from the fire and left Legolas to his book. Legolas curled up on the couch and promptly lost himself in tales of valor from the First Age.
November and December passed almost in a haze for Legolas. He was free to do as he pleased, and he chose to spend much time riding and hunting with Aragorn and his new acquaintance Boromir, or joining the Hobbits at their amusements. Bilbo frequently held court, and the other Hobbits never seemed to tire of his tales of adventure. Legolas found himself intrigued by Bilbo's descriptions of Mirkwood and the time he had spent in the delvings. He had never had the opportunity to consider his home from an outside perspective and Bilbo's observations fascinated him. Among other things, he learned how thirteen Dwarves and one Hobbit had managed to escape from beneath the noses of the Elves.
"I shall have to tell Menellir your tale," he said. "To this day, he and Galion turn bright red with disgrace whenever that incident is mentioned. Menellir has always maintained his innocence, but he has never been able to offer a convincing explanation of what happened."
"I always did feel badly for setting him up like that," Bilbo chuckled. "You may exonerate him when you return home."
"If I return home," Legolas murmured. Bilbo gave him a sympathetic smile.
"Don't despair yet," he said. "Where there's breath, there's hope, I always say. I returned home from my adventures, after all, and everyone was so sure that I had died that I returned in the middle of an auction of my property. Lost a set of lovely silver spoons to the Sackville-Bagginses, I did."
Bilbo also described for Legolas his encounter with Gollum, and how he had won the Ring by wit and guile. Legolas was only too familiar with Gollum's own treachery, and his admiration for Bilbo increased.
Legolas also found that he enjoyed spending time with Sam. Sam appeared to have adopted him as an Elf he could talk to without feeling too intimidated, and he was eager to hear tales of Elvish life in Mirkwood. He also had a taste for songs and poetry, and Legolas spent many wet days in the library with Sam. Sam could read a little of the Common Tongue, but he did not know any of the Elvish languages. Legolas would select a book of tales and read them to Sam, haltingly translating each line as he went. Sam soaked in the stories appreciatively, and Legolas was glad of the chance to practice speaking in the Common Tongue in preparation for the upcoming journey.
As Aragorn had promised, food was plentiful in Imladris, and Elrond and Mithrandir encouraged Legolas to eat as much as he wanted. Months of short rations in Mirkwood had dulled Legolas's appetite, but he managed to eat most of what his host set in front of him, and gradually, he found his appetite returning. When he looked in the mirror, he was pleased to see the hollows in his face disappearing and the angles in his joints softening a little.
Pleasant as life in Imladris was, Legolas was always conscious that it was a temporary pleasure. Members of Elrond's household measured him and the other chosen members of what was rapidly becoming known as the Company for new, warm clothes to take along on their journey. When December came, the cooks began to set aside packages of dried and wrapped food, and Legolas began to see rough camp blankets sitting on linen chests. Elrond and Mithrandir conferred often behind closed doors.
Legolas guessed that the scouts would return near Yule, and that the Quest would begin within a few days of their return. As the days grew shorter, the weight of his doom seemed to grow heavier upon his shoulders. He knew that the others were feeling something similar. Aragorn had grown quieter and more contemplative, and had taken to spending more time in private conversation with the Lady Arwen. Boromir and Gimli the Dwarf were becoming restive, and Sam had taken to fussing more over Frodo's welfare. Legolas spent as much time as he could in the beech grove, soaking in the song of trees that were healthy and at peace.
"Garrisons," King Thranduil said, looking over the map of Mirkwood spread out on the council table before him. "I think that we must transform the southern guardposts into something approximating full garrisons."
"Our situation is dire indeed, then," Menellir sighed. "I do not know that we have the resources to do that. Building materials we have in plenty; we can certainly fortify the posts. But I do not think that we can supply such garrisons, especially as they are likely to suffer considerable damage in the event of attack."
"Then let us at least begin by staffing them with healers and healing supplies," Thranduil said. "The worst problem for the guards in the south appears to be an increase in skirmishes with Orcs and spiders. If the wounded can be healed without the need to transport them back --" A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. "Come in."
The door opened, and Luindil appeared. He sketched a hasty bow to his King. "Forgive my intrusion," he said, "but this is urgent. Two messengers have just arrived from Imladris, and they ask to speak to the King immediately."
"From Imladris?" Thranduil was immediately interested. It had been over two months since Legolas had left, and he ought to have returned by now. Thranduil hoped that the messengers would have an explanation for this. "I am on my way. Menellir, I must apologize for breaking off this discussion. I assure you, we will resume it later."
"Of course, my Lord. I understand completely."
"Good. In the meantime, discover what healers and supplies might be sent south."
"Yes, my Lord. I will have the figures for you shortly."
"Thank you." Thranduil turned to Luindil. "Where are they?"
"They are in the Great Hall." Luindil's face was grave. "Legolas is not with them."
Thranduil put on what he hoped was an optimistic smile. "Then we will have to ask them how he fares." He followed Luindil down the corridor. Luindil threw open the doors to the Great Hall.
"King Thranduil of Mirkwood!" he announced. Thranduil strode regally into the Great Hall and seated himself on his carved wooden throne as two strange Elves sank to their knees. He acknowledged them with a nod.
"Rise and present yourselves," he commanded. The Elves rose to their feet and approached the throne. One held what looked like a letter in his hand.
"I bear greetings from Lord Elrond of Imladris to King Thranduil of Mirkwood," he said formally. "I am commanded to bear two messages to the King. The first is from Lord Elrond, and I am commanded to speak it aloud."
"Say it, then."
The messenger began to recite. He told the tale of a council that Elrond had held, on short notice and in the utmost secrecy. It seemed that strange and dark tidings had come out of that council. The One Ring had been found. Sauron himself knew of its existence and was massing his forces to find it and seize it for himself. War was coming to Middle-earth, and it did not seem that there was any way that this fate could be avoided.
Thranduil listened calmly to this news, which distressed him but did not surprise him. He had long suspected that the Last Alliance had not ended the Enemy's power completely, and now his suspicions were confirmed. Thranduil's heart sank at the thought of another war on the scale of the Last Alliance, but in an odd way, he felt relieved as well. The war of attrition his people had waged for the past Age of the World had worn them down and brutalized them for far too long. Now, things would change. Whether for good or ill, Thranduil could not yet guess, but no matter what happened, the slow bleeding of his people would cease. If that was the case, then so be it. If the Enemy wanted war, then the Wood-elves would give him a war, and if they were not victorious, then at least they would take as many of their foes as possible down with them.
"Thank you for informing me of this," Thranduil said. "I will inform my closest counselors and send a reply to Lord Elrond as soon as I may. I offer you Mirkwood's hospitality while you wait. What else do you have to tell me?"
The messenger exchanged a glance with his companion and offered up the letter he bore. "I bear this from your son," he said. "I believe it is of a . . . personal nature."
Thranduil willed his hands not to shake as he reached for the letter. If nothing else, its existence proved that Legolas had reached Imladris alive, something that Thranduil had wondered about ever since Neldorín had returned, limping, with the tale of how he and Legolas had become separated at the house of Grimbeorn. Quickly, Thranduil broke the seal on the letter and began to read. For one horrible moment, his heart stopped.
Luindil, standing in his accustomed place next to the throne, saw Thranduil's face turn gray and heard the King's gasp. "What is wrong, my Lord?" he asked.
Thranduil waved vaguely in the direction of the messengers from Imladris. "Send them away," he choked out. "Give them food, beds, whatever they need."
"King Thranduil --" one of the messengers began. Thranduil glared at him.
"I have received your messages. I will call you when I have composed a reply. You are dismissed."
Before they could protest, Luindil herded them to a side exit from the Great Hall. He located a page and instructed her to find meals and bedchambers for the messengers and inform him of the arrangements later. He returned to the Great Hall to find Thranduil sitting limply on his throne, Legolas's letter dangling from nerveless fingers. A strange expression, one of immense pride and shattering terror mixed, was upon his face. Luindil approached him cautiously.
"What has happened?" he asked. "Is Legolas well?"
"He will not return from his errand," Thranduil said. He offered the letter to Luindil. "Read it."
Luindil took the letter and glanced over it. The careful script was indeed Legolas's. Reassured that the King's son had indeed been well enough to write, he read the message.
My dear father,
I do not know how to tell you this in a way that will soften the blow, so I will be direct. I fear that I will not return home to Mirkwood for many months, if indeed I return at all. Lord Elrond has asked a boon of me, one that I cannot refuse in good conscience. I fear that I must keep the nature of this boon hidden from you if it is to be accomplished, but know that I mean no disrespect to you by this omission. All that I can safely say is that my path will lead me far into the wide world, but I hope that my heart will lead me home again.
I know that I must grant Lord Elrond this boon, and I do it of my own will in the end. You have always taught me to do what is right in all things, and my heart tells me that this is the right thing to do. I have given my word, and I will hold to my promise. But to you who taught me to do right I will also confess my fear. What I will do is dangerous, and I do not know if I will survive. I will not break my faith, but neither can I put my fear aside. I know what I must do, and I will do it though it frightens me greatly. Perhaps I will never see you again. If this is to be my fate, then I will tell you now that I love you, for I will not set off without saying it. I love you, Ada. I hope that I will return to say it to you again.
Your own little mouse,
Luindil read the letter twice, then looked up at Thranduil, shock coursing through his body. Thranduil's eyes glittered, and Luindil was suddenly aware of how hollow the sockets had become. He placed a hand on Thranduil's shoulder, and Thranduil gripped it.
"He has so much courage," Thranduil murmured. "I only wish that I could tell him how proud I am to be his father. Are the messengers still here?"
"Good. Then I will send that message back to Imladris. It will have to suffice." Thranduil shuddered and blinked hard several times. "I fear that I will not rest easily until my son comes home to me again," he said.
Luindil nodded. "Likely you will soon have other fears to occupy your mind," he said. "War is coming. Even were he close by your side, Legolas would not be safe. Perhaps his fortune will be kinder than ours, on whatever road he must travel."
Thranduil closed his eyes. "Elbereth keep him safe through what is to come," he said softly.
The lengthening shadows filled the bedchamber as Legolas looked around one last time to make sure he had not forgotten anything. All of Elrond's messengers had returned, bearing news from distant lands. The Sword of Elendil had been forged anew, and Merry and Pippin had been chosen to bring the Company's numbers to nine. All the preparations for their journey were complete. Tonight, four days after Yule, they would depart.
Imladris seemed uncharacteristically quiet. Even as the Company's departure time drew near, Elrond had maintained the usual good cheer of his House. Its residents had continued to gather in the Hall of Fire in the evenings to tell tales and sing songs, and they had celebrated Yule in high spirits.
There had been another grand feast, which Legolas had enjoyed much more than the first, now that he was prepared for its scale. Although he did not expect Elrond's Noldor-influenced house to keep the tradition of the Masque, he was pleasantly surprised to learn that the inhabitants did sing and dance during the Longest Night, after their own fashion. Indeed, after many fashions, for the guests at that Yule celebration represented most of the Free Peoples of the world. Gimli and his father Glóin had sung Dwarvish carols from Erebor, and the Hobbits had danced and made merry. Boromir had told tales of Yule celebrations in Minas Tirith, where all shared in the light of the new Yule log. Legolas had even been so bold as to pick up a frame drum and request that Lindir follow him as he played a Silvan dance rhythm and sang the accompaniment.
Lindir's harp did not have the same driving tone as a fiddle, but he played it well, and he was skilled enough to improvise around the unfamiliar rhythm. Legolas had enjoyed the blended music they made, as did the rest of the guests. Many swayed in their seats, and even the Dwarves' feet were tapping along with the music. Arwen was the first to rise. She pulled Aragorn to his feet and began to dance with him, making up the steps as she went along. Soon, everyone in the Hall of Fire was dancing, the music and laugher ringing somewhat defiantly into the night.
But the celebration was over now, and the time for farewells and perilous deeds had come. Legolas had packed all of his things and stood dressed in the thick, warm, new clothes that Elrond had provided for him. He had tidied the bedchamber, and it was once again as lovely and inviting as it had been when Erestor had first opened the door. He drew his new fur-lined cloak around his shoulders, and as he clasped it, his hand brushed against the little wooden leaf which hung from a leather thong at his throat.
Thranduil had sent it to him along with his messages to Elrond. His message to Legolas had been brief and loving, and Legolas read in the wooden charm all that Thranduil could not say in words. The wood was oak, for strength, but the form was a beech leaf, for love. It was a small piece of his home that Legolas could carry with him wherever his journey took him, resting just below his collarbone, above his heart. When he had tied the charm around his neck, his apprehension had not vanished, but it seemed to become smaller, something that he could control.
He fastened his cloak, picked up his pack and left the bedchamber. He hurried through the silent corridors and out into the front courtyard. Boromir stood still and quiet, while Gimli stamped his feet restively. Sam fussed with the pack pony, while Merry and Pippin huddled close to each other in soft conversation. Aragorn sat on a bench with his head bowed. Frodo waited on the doorstep with Bilbo. Time seemed to stand still as they waited for Mithrandir; it seemed that they had already left Imladris, though they had not yet begun to travel.
After a few moments, Mithrandir appeared with Elrond. Aragorn rose to his feet, and the Company gathered together. Elrond spoke brief words of farewell, and others of his household echoed him. The words washed through Legolas's mind like water. Perhaps they would have meaning for him later, but he could not comprehend them now. At last, Elrond stopped speaking. Mithrandir and Aragorn turned, and the Company filed out behind them. Legolas, as the rearguard, was the last to leave. He touched his wooden leaf charm briefly, then squared his shoulders and marched forward to meet the fate of the world.
Many thanks to all who have read and enjoyed this story. It's been a real treat to read everyone's comments, and I appreciated hearing all the different points of view.
I have always been interested in Legolas's speech at the Council of Elrond concerning Gollum's escape. He implies that all of Gollum's guards were killed or captured, but seems to know many details about what happened that night. In particular, he claims knowledge of what the guards were thinking before the attack. This suggests to me that he was a member of that patrol. Only someone who was there could have known what the guards were thinking, and he doesn't suggest that anyone else was able to pass the information on. And thus was a story born.
Elrond's feast is based on recipes in The Williamsburg Art of Cookery, a 1938 compilation of 18th and 19th century recipes popular on Virginia plantations. I suspect that it's long out of print, but if you see it (or something like it) at a used bookstore or flea market, do take a look. Old cookbooks turn out to be surprisingly good reads.
It's been a lot of fun doing this story. I'll see you again next time!