Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters of J. R. R. Tolkien, nor any of the various dramatic incarnations thereof. No profit is being made from this work.
Greetings! Welcome to this story. It is a sequel of sorts to "A Charge To Keep" and "Coming Home," and it is also something of a bridge between that and stories set later on in the Fourth Age. I had a set of characters who made a significant transition in their lives, and this story is an attempt to show how they came to make this transition.
It is set over the autumn and winter from 3019 to 3020. This is a period of recovery for Middle-earth. Sauron has been defeated, and the King has returned to Gondor, but the Third Age has not yet ended. Lingering effects of the Shadow and the War still remain.
Enjoy the story, and I will meet you at the end.
1. Those Who Weep And Mourn
A terrible scream echoed down the corridor and tore Thranduil from his sleep. Even before he was fully aware, he was rushing to Legolas's chamber. Legolas cried out as he twisted and squirmed, fighting desperately against an enemy only he could see. Thranduil sat down on the edge of the bed and scooped his grown son into his arms.
"Legolas," he said, "you are dreaming. You are safe, mouse, there is nothing to fear."
Legolas's body stiffened in Thranduil's arms, and then went limp. He blinked, and managed to focus on his father's face.
"Ada. . . " he choked out. Then he hid his face in Thranduil's chest. Thranduil held Legolas tightly as he took great gasping breaths that were not quite sobs. After a while, Legolas grew calm enough to speak.
"I dreamed of the sea again, Ada," he said quietly. "It frightened me."
Thranduil's heart seized, and he tightened his embrace. "What did you dream?"
"I do not remember, exactly," Legolas said. "I heard the gulls crying all around me. And I was drowning, I remember that. There was no land in sight. I know I can swim, Ada, but this was different. The sea was pulling at me, it would not let me go. I was terrified of it. I tried to call for help -- I screamed and screamed. . . " A shudder ran through his body.
"Help has arrived," Thranduil said. "You are in your own bed, and I am here, and you are safe." He held Legolas for a little while, until Legolas's breathing slowed and his body relaxed.
"Do you think that you can go back to sleep now?" Thranduil asked. Half-asleep already, Legolas nodded. Thranduil laid him back on the pillow and tucked the blankets more closely around him. He sat on the edge of the bed and stroked Legolas's hair until Legolas was fast asleep. Thranduil remained where he was for a while, in case the nightmare should return. Though his body remained still, his heart shook with grief and rage at what had happened to his son.
Legolas had returned from the War whole in body, and Thranduil had been overjoyed. For the first few days, all had been well. Legolas had gone to visit those of his friends who had survived the final battle under the trees, and he had mourned those who had not. Thranduil savored the joys of having Legolas join him for meals once more, and was happy simply knowing that his son was somewhere in the settlement during the day. But then the nightmares had begun. Not every night, but still far too often for Thranduil's liking, Legolas would scream and cry in his sleep, as the memories of things he had seen on his long journey assaulted his mind.
Legolas had not yet shared all of his dreams with his father, but Thranduil knew many of the details. There had been a Balrog, and Mithrandir had fallen, apparently to his death. There had been numerous battles, not just with Orcs, but with the larger, more vicious Uruk-hai as well. And then there was the sea.
The sea haunted Legolas's nights often, and it appeared to provoke the worst of his dreams. Even now, it tried to force its way back into Legolas's thoughts, and he twitched and moaned a little in his sleep. Thranduil laid a warm hand on his son's forehead and sang softly, pushing Legolas deeper into sleep, beyond the reach of dreams. When he was reasonably certain that Legolas would not wake easily until morning, he slumped forward and buried his face in his hands.
Thranduil knew all too well the damage that war inflicted upon the hearts of those who fought. He had lived through the nightmares and cold sweats after the final destruction of Doriath, again after the War of Wrath, and then, most terrifying of all, following Oropher's death at Dagorlad. That battle and the following seven years of war had wounded him sorely, so that it had taken many years before he was able to recover. He suspected that he had never fully recovered. From the first time he held his newborn son in his arms, Thranduil had wanted nothing more than to spare Legolas the pain of losing family and the horrors of war. Now, it seemed that he had failed on both counts.
He sat on the edge of Legolas's bed, brooding, for a while. Then he decided that he was too weary to concentrate on his personal regrets. The darkest hours of the night had never brought him good counsel. Thranduil leaned over and kissed Legolas, then rose and returned to his own bed.
Legolas was quiet and subdued when he appeared for breakfast the next morning, though Thranduil suspected that he remembered little of his dreams the night before. Thranduil placed baked chestnuts and stewed mushrooms and onions on Legolas's plate and was relieved to see him smile. Silently, he thanked the Valar that Legolas was still able to find pleasure in such a simple thing as a good meal.
"I missed this," Legolas said through a mouthful of chestnuts. "I have dined in the homes of the great Lords of our time, but it was never as good as it is here."
"Though perhaps more abundant," Thranduil said.
Legolas nodded. "Especially when the Hobbits were present. I have never seen anyone who enjoyed meals as much as a Hobbit."
Thranduil's mouth twisted into a wry smile. "I cannot imagine how Bilbo Baggins ever survived the time he spent with us," he said. "He must have found our pantries a great disappointment, though that year was hardly our leanest. We were able to give aid to the Men of Lake Town then."
"Bilbo survived, and did rather well for himself," Legolas said happily. "Once more, he sends his greetings to you from Imladris. Elrond told me that, when he arrived in Minas Tirith with Arwen and the rest of his household for the wedding."
"Bilbo did not come as well?"
Legolas shook his head. "He is very old, Ada. Elrond said that he had declined much since I saw him in Imladris. He is too old to travel now, and Elrond thinks he has but one journey left in him."
"That is a shame," Thranduil said. "I would have liked to host him properly at least once. But that is the way of mortals, I suppose." He took another bite of mushrooms and onions. "Do you have plans for the day, Legolas?"
"Neldorín and Arasiel invited me to go foraging with them," Legolas replied. "I have not yet had a chance for a proper visit with them, and I do want to know what happened to Neldorín after we parted at the house of Grimbeorn."
"Go with them, then," Thranduil said. "But you should try to return before sundown. Heledir's mother sent a message yesterday evening saying that she would like to see you."
Legolas nodded soberly. He had played with Heledir from their earliest childhood, and the memory of his friend's death in an Orc attack the previous summer still stung his heart. That, it seemed, had only been the first skirmish in the great War. Both Legolas and Thranduil had lost many other dear friends, but Heledir had been one of the first. "I will go see her before sundown," Legolas said.
"Good. I think she has a gift for you."
Legolas smiled, but Thranduil could still see the sorrow that lingered in his eyes. They both concentrated on their food, on the reminder that they had survived and must look to the future rather than let themselves be consumed by the past.
After breakfast, Thranduil went to his council chambers. Luindil, his seneschal, was waiting for him, along with Inglor, the captain of the guard. They both bowed when Thranduil entered, and he acknowledged with a polite nod.
"Good morning," he said. "Please, be seated. We have things to discuss this morning." Luindil and Inglor sat down at the large table while Thranduil retrieved some letters from the document cupboard. He spread the first one out on the table. "This is from Thorin III, the new Lord of Erebor. He sends his deepest thanks for the gifts of fur and leather that we sent in celebration of shared survival."
"That was polite of him," Inglor said. Luindil merely nodded, the expression on his face unreadable. Thranduil glanced at him and took a deep breath.
"Thorin also writes that he wishes to send an embassy here to Eryn Lasgalen," he went on. "He does not say whether he wishes this embassy to be permanent, but I would imagine that neither of our folk would especially care for that. However, he does wish to send a representative of his folk to discuss the future of our corner of the world."
There was silence around the table for a moment. Inglor blinked as he considered the possibilities of such a visit. Luindil had turned a shade paler than usual. Thranduil glanced at him with veiled concern, for he was well aware of his seneschal's feelings about Dwarves. Luindil bowed his head, then looked up sharply.
"I think we should receive such an embassy," he said. Both Thranduil and Inglor stared at him in surprise.
"I am intrigued to hear you say that," Inglor said. "I thought that you did not like Dwarves."
"I do not," Luindil said. "But that does not change the fact that there is a colony of them living not far away. We have all been through the same war together, and now we must look to the future. I do not see how we can avoid dealing with them, so I would rather that such an encounter take place here, in our own familiar territory."
"You are brave to say such a thing, my friend," Thranduil said.
Luindil gave a mischievous smile. "Perhaps not as brave as you think, King Thranduil," he replied. "I did not say that I had any intentions of meeting with this embassy personally. I hear that Legolas has become quite adept at befriending Dwarves. I think we should make good use of his talents."
Thranduil laughed out loud at that. "You are correct, and I should not have expected any less of you, Luindil. I will speak to Legolas about it when he returns home this evening. That is one burden that I would be glad to have off my mind. Now, let us proceed with other business. I would like to be finished before noon, as I, too, have a visit to pay."
Just past noon, Thranduil carried a covered basket out of the delvings and took to the trees, using the elegant, winding stair that Celeborn's aides had helped to carve into an old elm tree. Most of the Elves in the settlement now lived in small houses constructed among the branches of those large, sturdy trees that had survived the great fire. Swaying walkways connected the houses to each other, so that people could visit easily. Thranduil found that he enjoyed walking so high up in the trees, surrounded by the brilliant autumn colors and rich smell of the leaves. He paused just before he reached his destination to breathe in the crisp, cool air, blessedly free of any taint of shadow. Then he turned and knocked on the door of one of the small tree houses.
The door opened almost immediately, and the lady within smiled. "My Lord," she said, "welcome. I am glad you have come today."
Thranduil bowed politely. "Greetings, Mistress Saelind," he said. "I had not expected to find you here. Is everything well with your mother?"
Saelind's face clouded. "I do not know," she said. "Do come in. She had one of her bad nights last night, and I came to stay with her. She mentioned that she was expecting you today, and I think she will be pleased to see you." Saelind ushered Thranduil inside. They went to the window, where Saelind's mother, Doronrîn, sat idly, gazing out at the rustling branches of the tree.
"Mother," Saelind said gently, "the King is here to see you."
Slowly, Doronrîn turned around. When she saw Thranduil, she arranged her face into a smile, but not soon enough to hide the raw distress in her eyes. Thranduil set the basket down on the table, sat in the chair that Saelind brought him, and clasped Doronrîn's hands in his. "Greetings, Doronrîn," he said. "I have brought lunch. Do you feel that you can eat with me?"
Doronrîn glanced at the basket, then dropped her gaze to her lap. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, clutching Thranduil's hands tightly. When she looked up, her gaze was clearer than it had been before. "Yes," she said. "I believe that I could manage a little food."
Saelind looked relieved. "I hoped you would," she said. "You must be hungry, for you could not eat breakfast." She turned and went to the door, then looked back. "I am going home for a little while," she said. "If you have need of me, I will return." She slipped out.
Doronrîn snorted, and a little of her accustomed spark flared back in her eyes. "I suppose that this is turnabout for the times that I hovered over Saelind and Beleghir when they were children."
"You cared for them when they needed you, and now they seek to care for their mother in her time of need," Thranduil said. "That is only natural."
Doronrîn nodded, and tears suddenly filled her eyes. "I dreamed of him last night," she said. "And then I woke with a void in my heart that howled and raged, and it could not be filled. I could not bear to look at the breakfast that Saelind prepared. It seemed to mock the true emptiness inside of me."
Thranduil's heart twisted as she spoke. "I understand," he murmured. He had been the one to discover the body of Menellir, Doronrîn's husband, beneath the bodies of the Orcs who had killed him as he fought to defend the settlement. Menellir and Doronrîn had been the first friends he had made upon his arrival with Oropher after the War of Wrath. They had been childhood playmates, and he had watched with joy as their friendship blossomed into love. After Menellir's father had died at Dagorlad, Thranduil had stood in his place at Menellir and Doronrîn's wedding. Much as it had torn his heart to do so, he had not permitted anyone else to break the news of Menellir's death to his wife.
Doronrîn's breath hitched. "Yes," she said, bringing Thranduil back to the present. "You do understand. Saelind and Beleghir are always at my side if I need them, but Saelind's husband still lives. I am grateful for that, of course, but she cannot understand fully what I feel. Luindil visits sometimes -- you must know that -- as does Gilveril. They understand a little more, but neither one of them was married. I am glad when you come to visit. I do not have to tell you where it hurts. You already know."
Doronrîn turned away from Thranduil and stared silently out of the window, letting the tears run down her face. Thranduil waited for her, swallowing the lump that rose in his own throat at the thought of his lost Queen.
After a moment, Doronrîn shook herself and turned back to him. She laughed a little as she wiped her eyes with a handkerchief she pulled from her sleeve. "My apologies," she said, her voice shaking. "I should not have done that, especially since you are so kind to visit me as often as you do."
"It is no bother," Thranduil said with a gentle smile. "Weep when you must, Doronrîn, for there is no shame in mourning someone you loved. I would be the last one to fault you for it."
Thranduil straightened in his chair. "Would you like to take a meal with me now?" he asked. "Galion has prepared chestnut-flour bannocks with a pot of honey and a jar of raspberry preserves. He and Glawariel send their love."
Doronrîn smiled at that. "Yes," she said. "I think I could eat something now. Thank you for sitting with me, my Lord. It eases the pain a little to know that I am not left entirely alone."
"Thank you for coming with us, Legolas," Neldorín said, as they returned to the settlement bearing their full foraging baskets. "I am glad that you found that huckleberry bush. I am fond of them."
Legolas laughed. "You are," he said, glancing over his shoulder, "but I think that it will be hard to convince Faron of that."
Behind them, Neldorín's little son trotted along, keeping up with his mother, Arasiel, and carrying a small basket of his own. He made a face at Legolas. "Huckleberries are nasty," he declared.
Arasiel smiled. "That is your own fault, Faron. I warned you that they were too sour to eat raw."
"But they looked so shiny," Faron said, pouting.
"Not everything that looks shiny is good to eat, Faron," Neldorín said. "When we get home, you may help me stew some of these huckleberries, and we will have them for dinner tonight. I promise you that they will taste better after we have stewed them."
Faron looked dubious. "All right," he said.
Arasiel ruffled his hair. "That is my brave little boy. Legolas, would you stay and eat with us tonight? We have enjoyed your company today."
"I cannot," Legolas said. "I promised to visit Heledir's mother before sundown, and it is nearly sundown now. Perhaps another day."
Neldorín nodded. "I understand. You are always welcome to come foraging with us."
Legolas climbed into the tree canopy and navigated the walkways until he came to the little house at the edge of the settlement where Heledir's mother lived. She was sitting by her window and saw him approaching. She waved at him and went to open the door.
"Legolas!" she said. "Come in, child." She wrapped him in a fierce embrace, and Legolas was once again startled to notice that he was taller than she was. "Oh, it is good to see you," she said. "It was such a relief when you came home again. I wanted to see you for just a little while, so I could assure myself that I did not dream that feast."
"You did not dream it," Legolas said, looking around at the bare new room. "I survived the War, though I am not sure how. I am glad to see you as well. I do not think I could have. . . " his voice trailed off, and he sat heavily in a chair. "It is strange to see you in this new house," he finished.
Heledir's mother laid a gentle hand on his head. "I am sure it is," she said softly. "It is not the house that you remember playing in. It is not the house where Heledir and my husband lived. I tried to save that house, but it burned before I could douse the flames. I remember that Mistress Innil was screaming at me to run to the river, but I barely heard her."
"But you did go, eventually."
"Yes." Heledir's mother nodded soberly. "Almost at the last possible moment, I made my choice. I suppose this new house suits my needs better. It is in the trees, so I smell them every morning when I wake up. And it is small enough for just one person. I no longer need a house big enough for two or three. . . " She fell silent and dabbed at her eyes. Legolas held her hand and closed his eyes against the memory of that terrible night when the Orcs had attacked and the Elves had lost Gollum. He could still hear Heledir's scream of pain as an Orc broke his arm. Now there was nothing left of Heledir, no trace that he had existed at all, save in memory only.
As if reading his thoughts, Heledir's mother took a deep breath and squeezed Legolas's hand. "Wait here, child," she said, and disappeared into the back room. After a moment, she reappeared with a slightly charred wooden box.
"Just before I fled to the river, I managed to rescue this from the fire," she said. "This is the box where I keep all my treasures. There is something that I have been saving for you."
She opened the box and withdrew a shining, elegantly crafted carving knife in a soft doeskin sheath. She placed it in Legolas's hands. "This belonged to my son," she said. "His father gave it to him, and I thought that he would pass it on to his own children. But that will not happen. . . " She paused to choke back tears. "You were such a good friend to Heledir, Legolas. I thought you should have something to remind you of him. Perhaps you will give it to a child of your own one day."
"Thank you." It was all Legolas could say before his throat closed. Hot tears pricked his eyes, and he put his arms around Heledir's mother. He could feel her body shaking as she wept. He held her tightly and let his own tears come. Together, they stood in the fresh-smelling new house and mourned the one who did not live there.