Disclaimer: All familiar characters and situations are the property of JRR Tolkien, and I am merely borrowing them for a short time. This story was written for my own enjoyment and, I hope, that of the readers. I am making no money from it.
My thanks and gratitude go to my beta for this story, Lexin.
Part Six: All That Is Finished, Let It Fade
"Remember all those renowned generations,
They left their bodies to fatten the wolves . . .
Be still, be still, what can be said?
My father sang that song,
But time amends old wrong . . ."
W.B. Yeats, from Three Marching Songs (1939)
In the early hours of the next morning, Legolas sat in the tent of the healers, as one of them attended to his eye.
The tide of the battle had turned when the Goblin King, Bolg, fell crushed by the strange bearlike man, Beorn of the Carrock. Upon the death of their leader, the orcs, already sorely beset by the onslaught of the eagles, had turned and fled, some to the east, where they were cut down by Bard's men and the Naugrim, and some to the west, pursued by Magorion and the elven host.
Eventually, the healers had come and placed Galion on a stretcher, careful not to jar the spear point in his chest and cause further damage. Thranduil had taken a deep slash on the thigh from the dead warg rider's scimitar, and he was walking with some difficulty. Refusing to be carried, he leaned upon his son as the two followed the stretcher-bearers back to the hastily reconstructed elven camp.
There were few left on the field of battle who had not suffered some kind of wound. Gandalf had a cut on his arm and was being bound into a sling as Legolas and Thranduil entered the tent. Glavras had caught his ankle between two rocks and was having the broken bone splinted, but he managed a smile at Legolas when he saw him. Pallanen, whom Legolas had last seen leading the second charge of pikemen, lay with his eyes open, still and staring in a corner. Legolas would have mistaken it for sleep and said a word of cheer to him, had not a healer come at that moment and pulled a sheet over the elf captain's face. Also dead lay two of the youngest dwarves in Thorin's band. Legolas was told that they were Fili and Kili, the sons of Thorin's sister, and that Thorin himself lay mortally wounded, having been carried from the field by Beorn. Of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, there was no sign.
At the moment, Thranduil was having his own wound stitched up, but his attention was fixed anxiously upon the healer who was working on Legolas's eye. She dabbed gently with a wet cloth, removing layer upon layer of dried blood and dirt, pausing many times to rinse the cloth and change the water. Legolas began to realize that he must have looked a sight. At last she straightened and laid the cloth aside.
"The eye is intact, Sire," she said to Thranduil, who gave a sigh of relief, "and so is the lid. However, the brow and cheek will have to be stitched. I think it is best that we wait for Nestalinde. She has the skill for such delicate work." She handed Legolas a cold compress, redolent with herbs. "Hold this to your eye, my prince. It will keep the swelling down until Nestalinde has finished with Galion. It should not be much longer."
"I fail to see why everyone is making such a fuss about my looks when there are men actually dying," Legolas said petulantly. "It will heal without a scar eventually. Come, bring me a looking glass so I can see for myself. It cannot be that bad."
"Oh, no, that would be a very bad idea!" the healer exclaimed, looking to Thranduil for support.
"Legolas, you will do as the healer tells you and have your eye taken care of," said Thranduil evenly, "I do not want you frightening the horses. Do it for them, son, if not for yourself or the rest of us."
"What is this rebellion in my tent?" said a gentle alto voice that nevertheless held a ring of authority. "I brought you into this world, Prince Legolas. Are you going to be just as difficult now as you were then? What is the problem?"
It would be pointless to describe Thranduil's senior healer as beautiful, for every elf woman was beautiful. She was tall, dark haired, dressed in simple men's attire that was stained with blood despite her fastidious care, and her eyes were weary with millennia of sorrow.
"Wounded by my own bow, my Lady Nestalinde," Legolas said, shamefacedly.
"Not surprising," she said. "I have been expecting that for centuries now." She removed the compress from Legolas's eye and pursed her lips. "Hmm. Well, if you want the use of that eye any time soon, you will let me stitch it properly. We need more light. Follow me."
"Nestalinde, what about Galion?" Thranduil said.
"He is within. You may go to him now. I have removed the spear point, and as I feared, it pierced his lung. If he had been an adan, he would be dead or dying. As it is, he will have a long recovery, if indeed he survives this wound."
"See to it that he survives," Thranduil said pointedly, and the healer nodded her head.
"I gave him a mighty draught for the pain of the removal, and he will be very sleepy and wandering in his wits," she said, as they followed her into the interior of the tent. "Sit," she told Legolas, motioning to a stool near a bright lantern and a table laid out with bone needles and boiled horse hair.
Galion was lying on a cot, wrapped tightly in a blanket. "How are you, Galion?" Thranduil said softly, sitting down beside him.
"I'm all right, Thran' . . ." he mumbled sleepily. "It was awful. King Oropher . . . gave me such a tongue-lashing. I didn' tell 'm though . . . that it was you who put the toad in his bed. Still thinks it was me."
"Ahh . . . well, you must rest, Galion."
"Perhaps we should keep Master Galion in a private spot until he comes to himself?" Nestalinde ventured diplomatically.
"If you are expecting any further embarrassing revelations," Thranduil said, "you will be disappointed. It is no secret that in my youth I used to lead Galion and myself into all kinds of trouble. And he was ever there to take the blame for it." He sighed. "I fear I have made Galion old before his time."
"What was it Or'pher always used to say?" said Galion. "Kings rule and . . . kings rule . . ."
"And princes serve," Thranduil finished softly. "And you must serve me by regaining your strength and returning to your duties, my old friend. I find I have become quite dependent upon your talents, whether it be as valet or as butler. Rest now."
Thranduil stood slowly. "I must go seek out Bard. There is much to discuss." Pulling his majesty about himself like a cloak, he walked from the tent with only a hint of a limp.
A hint of a smile played about the corners of Nestalinde's mouth. "In the course of my work, I hear much," she said. "Elves in pain and dying -- they cry out for their naneths, or they speak the names of wives and lovers, and sometimes those names can be surprising. I hear it all and take it in my stride. But a toad in Oropher's bed -- that is something new."
She brought her instruments and materials to bear and drew her stool in close to begin her work, Legolas had not been this close to an elleth since the years of his childhood, not even in the dance, and he found he was quite enjoying the sensation of her warm breath against his cheek. Discreetly, he crossed his legs.
At the first bite of the needle in his forehead, all pleasant thoughts ceased. In that moment, he learned that pain in the heat of battle was nothing like pain sustained at leisure to expect it. He broke out into a sweat, and a reflexive tear rolled from the corner of his eye.
The healer wiped it away matter-of-factly. "The brow is a most sensitive area, my prince. The reaction is quite natural." With a smile, she handed him a fresh scrap of deer hide to bite down on. "Only nine more to go."
The pale sun was newly risen when Legolas left the healers' tent looking for his father. His right eye was bound in bandages, and the frost covered vista of the valley still looked strangely flat. He found Thranduil sitting cross-legged in the dirt partway up the road to the mountain's gate, quietly surveying the cleanup efforts. Elves, men, and dwarves were all giving him a wide berth, because it was clear to one and all that the Elvenking was in one of his pensive moods.
Legolas nodded a greeting and sat down beside his father.
"I did not disappoint the crebain after all," Thranduil finally said. The valley was a sad sight, littered with the corpses of the fallen. The elves, after custom, had been quick to gather up their own, as well as the Edain, and the Naugrim were hurrying to collect their dead as well. The orcs, would be gathered up and burnt last, and meanwhile, the carrion birds were busy despite the morning chill. "It was this Orc army that I feared all along. We were very lucky this time.
"Thorin Oakenshield is dying, and when he passes, Dain will proclaim his kingship under the mountain. He and his armies will guard Erebor and the treasure it contains, which is well. Bard, after seeing to it that Esgaroth is rebuilt, intends to reestablish the kingdom of Dale. He will be a strong ally for Mirkwood, and that will be a good thing too. Better than the dragon, surely."
Off, across the valley, the first pyres of dead orcs had been set alight. "In time, the wreck of this battle will disappear. The rains will fall, the winds will blow. Any bodies that have been missed will melt into the earth, and Arda will heal itself. It is the way of things. And you and I, my son, we shall still be here."
"This battle was not for gold, was it, Father."
Thranduil smiled and shook his head. "It never is. You are learning, my son." He stood, stiffly. "Come, we must return."
Legolas stood to follow and stubbed his toe on a mass of something hard. It was not a rock, he saw as he looked down, but rather an amorphous shape of something melted in the dirt of the road. He picked at it with his dagger and saw the bright gleam of silver. Before he could ponder the mystery any further, he heard shouts from the direction of the Raven Hill. Elves were leading a small cloaked figure toward the camp. The hobbit had been found.
Thorin Oakenshield died that afternoon, but not before making peace with those with whom he had been at odds, including Bilbo and the Elvenking. He was put to rest deep within the heart of Erebor, and Thranduil laid his mighty sword, Orcrist upon his breast. It was said that it would glow with a bluish light in warning of the approach of enemies. And in the later days, among the Naugrim folk of the Lonely Mountain, it was said that in the last battle, at Ambar Metta, mighty Thorin himself would arise one last time to wield Orcrist against the Foe.
Home the army of the wood-elves rode sadly lessened by those they had left behind under a cairn in the valley beneath the Lonely Mountain. Thranduil was richer by a fabulous necklace of emeralds given him by Dain in return for the assistance of the Elven host in defeating Bolg's army. It was a generous gift, yet Legolas had seen a momentary flash of superstitious dread pass over his father's face as he received his portion. Bard also had received the equivalent of the dragon plundered wealth of Dale, enough to restore Laketown to its glory and rebuild the happy valley at the mountain's foot.
On the eastern edges of the marsh, they had met up with the other half of the Elvenking's army, along with the forces that had pursued to orcs westward from the rout of the Five Armies.
"They had little chance caught between us and the rest of your forces, my Lord," Magorion said grimly. "Any who managed to get past us into the wood will not last long. But they were few, I can assure you. The marshes will be greener from their corpses for many a year, and the mountains of the north and the passes of the Hithlaeglir will be safer from now on.'
At the forest edge, Mithrandir and the hobbit, who had been traveling with the elves, along with Beorn, who was massive, hirsute and swarthy enough to be a bear in truth rather than a man, bade them farewell, for they would be taking the northern route around Mirkwood.
"Will you not tarry awhile in my halls?" Thranduil asked, courteously.
"Nay," replied Gandalf, "we shall hope to reach the Carrock by Yuletide and spend it there with Beorn. Farewell, O Elvenking! Merry be the greenwood, while the world is yet young. And merry be all thy folk."
"And thou, Gandalf, may you always appear where you are most needed and least expected. The oftener you appear in my halls the better I shall be pleased."
'And the marshes shall grow greener for many a year from the manure of such flowery sentiment,' Legolas thought to himself but kept his peace.
"Excuse, me, pardon, me," said the hobbit, standing on one foot and looking for all the world as if he had to make water. He held out a necklace of silver and pearls. "Please accept this gift in return for all your, ahem . . . hospitality. I ate your food, drank your wine and alarmed your librarian. It is the least I can do. Even a burglar has principles."
"Librarian?" said Thranduil blankly, as a titter ran through the rest of the elves.
"Ai, Valar," Legolas muttered softly and gritted his teeth.
"I thank you for your gift, O Bilbo the magnificent, and I name you elf-friend and blessed," Thranduil said graciously. "May your shadow never grow less, or burglary would become too easy! Farewell!"
Mithrandir, the hobbit, and Beorn, turned aside and headed off to the north. Legolas caught a flash of silver under the halflings's cloak, and he felt a rush of secret glee to think he was seeing the last of that hated mithril shirt.
"What are you smiling about, my son?" said Thranduil, bringing his horse close for a confidential word.
"Ah, nothing, Adar," Legolas said innocently. "I am just glad to be getting back under the trees again."
"Nice little chap, that perian," Thranduil continued, running the necklace the hobbit had given him through his hands. "Honest, the sort who would never inspire me to count the silverware after he leaves, inoffensive, brave -- I cannot for the life of me understand why his presence made me so uneasy."
"You too?" Legolas said with some surprise. "You felt it too?"
Thranduil nodded. "I felt it, although I did not allow it to make me think the less of him. I rule with my head, not my nerves. I can only assume it was that magic charm Mithrandir spoke of. Certain types of magicks have always made me feel . . . jumpy."
"Whatever it was, it was not a pleasant sort of magic. Evil, even, I would call it. Did Gandalf say what it was?"
Thranduil shook his head. "Well, we've seen the last of Mr. Baggins and his magic trinket. I do not suppose we shall ever know, and there's an end to it. Come, Legolas, home awaits us."
Up ahead, the forest edge beckoned, and, for a short time at least, the world was yet young.