-1 One Friend to Another
The old wizard stood in the expansive and book-crowded annex of Elrond's study, and unfolded carefully the missive in his hand. He glanced once at the elf lord who stood at the window, his back to the Maier. Elrond's hands gripped lightly at the balcony rail, his eyes distant, listening. He heard the gentle rustle of paper, the wizard clearing his throat. Then Gandalf began to read out loud.
I trust this letter finds you and your family well. Your advisor, on our last meeting, informed me of the human waif you have taken into your care. I hope you know what you are doing. But do not come running to me when the child grows up into a Man and kills half of your realm"
Despite the tense atmosphere in the room Gandalf laughed.
"He is serious, mellon nin" Elrond intoned, still looking out the window.
"I know" Gandalf harrumphed. "That is what is so funny"
"Please…." The lord of Imladris bowed his head, not amused in the slightest. "…read on."
The wizard complied, reading silently this time. He paused.
"It continues with meaningless drivel about humans in general and how you elves should not mix with them" His voice getting grumpier by the minute, Gandalf cleared his throat. "The damned king of Mirkwood will never change"
Elrond raised a hand to his brow, messaging his temples as if a great headache was growing behind his eyes. Which it was.
The Lord of Imladris had read the letter many times since he had received it from the hands of Legolas just last night, before the prince, exhausted by his long trek to Rivendell from Mirkwood had taken himself off to rest in his room after a brief supper with Elrond's twin sons, Elladan and Elrohir. He had read it then, and he had read it many times since, thinking over it's contents….and it's messenger, who now currently sat on the grass in the private garden below Elrond's balcony, in the company of the twins and their little human charge.
Gandalf glanced at him, then serious once more, began to read aloud again.
"As you may have gathered in your almighty wisdom, my friend, it is not with unintentional purpose that it is the Prince of Mirkwood that carries to you this letter."
If the wizard thought it odd that Thranduil would address his son by his full title, he said nothing. He did however raise his eyebrows at the sudden change in subject in the letter, and he did not miss the just as sudden change in the style of the old king's writing. As the letter continued, the Elven scrawl grew more shakier, less sure…..and even water stained in places. He read on, intrigued now.
"The darkness encroaches ever further into the realm of the Greenwood. The shadow of Dol Gudur creeps ever closer into my realm. My warriors, led by my last remaining son, struggle hourly, daily, monthly and yearly to keep the darkness back. We have lost many good elves in the past battles. Some have fallen to the black arrows of the orcs, others to the evil of the Shadow, many more have been taken"
Gandalf read solemnly now, the pain in Thranduil's words sinking in. He sighed. It was nothing he did not know, did not worry about daily in his own mind, but to have it worded in front of him in the script of the elven king hit it ever harder home. Mirkwood was fading. He sighed heavily, and once again resumed his reading.
"As you know, my friend, my eldest two sons have sailed long ago with their families and friends. I do not begrudge them leaving to seek safety for those they love. I miss my sons, but I still have my youngest and he will not sail. Not yet. Not now.
He is barely in the prime years of his life, yet it is he who leads my warriors in to battle with the enemy. It is he who commands the scouting trips, the skirmishes with the orcs, the main struggle to keep back the shadow from our beloved Greenwood"
At this Gandalf gasped. This he did not know. The young prince? Barely over two millennia in age, the General of Mirkwood's army. He did not know whether to be proud or worried. The elfling had exceptional skill with the bow and sword and knives, had the sharp mind of a tactictioner and a bravery that rivalled Glorfindel, Elrond's own general. But for Thranduil to have to risk his own son in the face of such constant danger belied all of Gandalf's belief. Things were truly bad in the Greenwood. The letter continued:
"Legolas and his warriors have managed thus far to keep the Shadow at bay. He has faced insurmountable odds to keep coming back to me in small victories, and I can not express my pride and love for him. And the guilt I have felt every time he must go out again into the Shadow. I have no doubt that without his plans and strategy and skills, coupled with that of my older and more experienced warriors, we would have all fallen long ago. But it is there that we have paid the price"
The old wizard paused once more, the contents of the letter weighing heavy on his heart, the words getting harder and harder to read aloud. If this was how painful it felt to read the inner thoughts and fears and confessions of King Thranduil, how hard must it have been to write them? He read on again, and if he thought the previous writings were gut-wrenching, what was to follow was much, much worse.
"My son has not escaped these battles unscathed, my friend, and it is here that I must implore for your help. He has seen childhood friends fallen or taken, friends that he commanded, took responsibility for, friends that followed him loyally to face the enemy with pride and determination and love. But he does not grieve for them.
He has taken wounds to his spirit every time one of his friends succumbs to the Shadow. He stumbles to deal with the Shadow in his heart. But he does not cry.
He has taken hurts to his body from those vile orcs, with poisoned arrows and blades and whips and Shadow sickness. My healers have bandaged him and cared for him. But he does not heal.
My son suffers for the pain that Greenwood must live with. But he will not stop. He carries on and leads still, no matter how I now implore him to stay at home, stay with me where I know he can be safe. He is the Prince of Greenwood, Elrond. He should be at court here with me, yawning with boredom at council meetings, He should be attending diplomatic trips to Dale, lounging as the prince he is under the stars at Harvest celebrations and laughing with the elleth under the trees. But he does not laugh.
Legolas does not know the contents of this letter. He thinks I have sent him to you as a General of the army he has become, for advice on the struggle against the Shadow. He probably suspects that I implore your help and the use of Valya in the defence of our Kingdom. He is only half right, my old friend.
I implore your advice, yes, but not in the defence of Greenwood against the Shadow. That is our struggle, and for now, ours alone.
I implore your help in the defence of my son against the Shadow that has taken him. I seek your healing for the hurts and pains that plague him, ones that I have tried and failed to get him to admit to and heal. Wounds to the spirit, to his body, to his pride.
I send you the Prince of Greenwood in the hope that you, if any one, can restore and make whole again the elf that is my only child.
Please do what you will to aid him. Please get him to admit his pain and suffering and help him heal. Let him stay with you and the twins, his friends, in the hope that the beauty that is Imladris can reach the dying fea of his spirit and get him to open up to you. "
The old wizard read the next part with a catch in his throat:
"I send to you, my oldest and dearest and most skilled friend, a wounded battle weary General of a failing army. Please, mellon nin, return to me my beloved son."
The letter was signed simply "Thranduil". In the silence that followed the reading of that last paragraph, Gandalf re-read it, then read it again, and each time the meaning was simple, plain and heartfelt.
When Gandalf's voice stopped at the end of the letter, Elrond sighed heavily and once more rubbed his aching temples. He again gripped the balcony rail, and cast his eyes out into the private garden three storey's below him. There, wrestling and rough-housing among the pear trees his twin sons, Elrohir and Elladan, wrestled with a human child of around 5 years of age. Legolas sat limply under the shade of a pear tree, to all appearances an elf who hadn't a care in the world. Elrond knew the prince well, though. He knew that the prince of old would have been joining in and probably bettering the twins in their pranks with the child, would have been laughing along with the giggling boy and would by now have hurled either Elladan or Elrohir….or both…into the ornamental pond in the centre of the garden. He had watched the beings below as Gandalf had read the letter, and had seen the twins' futile attempts to get the prince to join in. They had baited him, insulted him and joked with him, but all the prince had done was smile tiredly and asked them to leave him alone.
Elrond turned from the scene outside and finally faced the grey wizard.
Gandalf appeared to be reading the letter again to himself, digesting the words and their meaning…and the pain of a father's dilemma behind them.
He looked at Elrond and met his eyes, reading there the same pain that dripped from the words on the page.
"You do not know how to help him, do you?" the wizard asked simply.
"No" Elrond closed his eyes in despair. "No, I do not, mellon nin". he turned and sat heavily in the huge chair behind his desk.
"I spoke to Legolas this morning, hoping to draw some kind of sign from him that he needs help. He seemed tired, yes. Burdened by the Shadow that encroaches on his home even as we speak. He worries for his father as much as his father worries for him". Elrond couldn't help a sad smile at the irony of it. "But if he is in pain, in need of help, he hides it well. He is too well schooled in the stoic ways of the prince, Gandalf" he sighed. "I cannot lock him in the Healing Rooms and tie him to a bed. I cannot plead with him to open up to me, to let his burden show so that he may release what shadow bears him down. He has to come to me, and I cannot see him doing that, anytime soon"
Elrond looked up from his desk to see that the wizard had wandered over to his own previous place on the balcony, no doubt viewing the merrily chaotic scene below in the gardens. The wizard had his hands behind his back, his back to Elrond, his eyes indeed on the occupants of the garden.
"All hope is not yet lost, Elrond" the wizard declared enigmatically. "There is one who may succeed yet where Thranduil has failed."
Surprised by Gandalf's words, Elrond left his chair and joined him at the open window to the balcony. The elf glanced at him then followed his gaze to the figure of the blond prince under the tree. The twins were nowhere to be seen, and Elrond surmised they had obviously been worn out by the child and gone for rest or to fetch food for the boy and their royal elf friend.
The object of the letter sat with his legs stretched out before him, his back against the tree, his eyes closed. The early morning sun shone on his face, glittered in the long golden locks. Reclining on the grass beside the young elf was the human child, his head on the prince's lap, his eyes closed in his usual mid-morning nap.
Whether he was aware of it or not, Legolas had his hand on the boy's head, fingers absentmindedly stroking and combing the child's tangled mop of dark hair.
On his arrival to Imladris, Legolas had barely acknowledged the tiny human beyond asking where he came from with mild curiosity then dismissing the child once that curiosity had been answered. For his part the child had become fascinated by the golden haired elf, once he had learned that Legolas was a prince of his own huge woodland realm and a warrior to boot. He had pleaded with Elladan to ask the Mirkwood elf to teach him archery. Elladan had asked and been turned down, much to the chagrin of the boy. Undaunted though, the child had taken to watching the prince from a distance whenever Legolas was around. Legolas had noticed but ignored the boy's fascination. In fact he had totally ignored him as if the child was but an annoying puppy to steer clear of. Until now.
Elrond found himself smiling as he took in the touching scene of the child and the reclining elf. He watched the scene fondly, two figures he loved like sons. The human child because he had vowed to protect him and nourish him until adulthood as his own son, and the Mirkwood warrior who's once sunny smiles and quirky humour and musical laughter had often gladdened the heart of every elf who met him. The Mirkwood warrior that no longer smiled or laughed and kept such pain deep in his heart that no-one could reach, but had just found comfort in a tiny human child that his own father had begrudged Elrond adopting. The suffering adult and the innocent child. The immortal and the mortal. Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood and Estel, future king of Men.
The hopeless soul and the boy named Hope.