A/N: Originally, this consisted of three chapters, due entirely to inability to get it to post anywhere in full. Here it is as it was intended to be, for all of this happens at once on the same day. My apologies to readers forced to read it in parts when it initially posted elsewhere.
Govadel o Erebor [Council of Erebor]
Not since the Herald of the High King had called for the aid of the Danwaith at the Last Alliance of Elves and Men had so many of the Greenwood's elusive, unobtrusive inhabitants collected at the locus of their Council's authority. Long before Thranduil had built his fortress here, Orod Im'elaidh [the Mountain Amid the Trees], brother to Orod Ereb on the plains of Erebor [the Lonely Mountain], had served as the meeting place for the Elders among the forest people. At the feet of the green-skirted peak, the shy Sylvans met whenever troubles befell them.
Whether the trials were as simple to correct as a dispute over where a neighbour might locate a talan or as unfathomable as the Dark origin of Orcs, the forest children had come to regard this site as their seat of wisdom and the centrepoint of their community.
They came now to learn the fate of their champion, for word of the new accusations had raved through the branches like a gale of warning before a storm, not in any agitation of the trees but rather a rush of voices passing the scandalous news from flet to talan. If the claims were true then their Tawarwaith was false and what hope could remain if the defender of the forest could be the bane of their prince? Should the opposite come to light, then what of the heart of their King?
Dissension among the people was widespread for some recalled that until they accepted a King no Wood Elf had gone to war since Denethor and his folk perished in the First Age. Others contended that without the Sindar's wealth no forces could be equipped to hold back the swelling cyst of the Shadow's purulence from the East. Whatever the outcome, the Sylvan folk hoped the Elders would reveal this dissonant chord in the Music of their woodwind world as the counterpoint to a theme of such magnificence that all of Arda, and Eru himself, would turn in wonder to hear the voice of Tawar.
Excepting warriors bound for patrol every Wood Elf was present within the city at dawn's arrival and a great number of them were pressed inside the Council Chamber. So closely were they fitted that dignity and modesty were summarily shoved to the backside of awareness as neighbours stood fronts against backs, shoulders rubbing, and the slightest shift displaced elbows into ribs, heels upon toes, and swaying locks against cheek and chin. Only a small semicircle of open space remained ringing the dais where the relevant parties were collected before the Woodland King.
The heat generated from too many bodies in contact with one another added to the unbearably, albeit predictable, sweltering temperature of the humid air everyone was attempting to breathe. Had the room not been open to the courtyard beyond, more than a few eldar would have eventually succumbed to a dwindling supply of oxygen and lost consciousness.
The breezeless atmosphere did little to ease the discomfort of the remainder of the Woodland folk crammed in the surroundings outside the formal hall. The dense earth of the outer courtyard, compacted by centuries of the weightless tread of elven feet, was obscured beneath hundreds of those very feet. The limbs of the surrounding trees were bent with the burden of Eru's Children, sturdy talans threatened to give way, the pathways and the branchways were unpassable, the barracks grounds and the stableyard, all were clogged with the citizenry. Only Ningloriel's walled garden and the Sentinel escaped occupation.
Yet despite this uncountable multitude the forest was utterly quiet.
The invocation was spoken, two in fact. One by Iarwain, traditional and known by rote to all who regularly attended these enclaves, and another by Mithrandir that no one could recall ever having heard before this day. And that was true for there were none among them, neither Sindar, Noldor, or Sylvan, who had ever been to Tirion and listened to the Litany of Iluvatar sung from Mindon Eldalië at tindómë. As Gandalf prayed the timeless praises Aiwendil droned a most unsettling chant no one could interpret in tones so deep the vibrations were felt across the skin and in the core of the soul rather than heard within the inner ear.
As the final overtone of this mysterious and foreboding sound died away, the Istari simultaneously thudded the blunt bases of their staffs severely upon the bare stone floor and the hollowed mountain rang with a clear, subterranean echo like the toll of a tremendous bell sounding somewhere in the depths. Silence followed, so complete that the beating of hearts was audible to sensitive elven ears, and all attention fixed upon the Ainur.
Majestic, transcendent, imposing and wise; these humble servants of the Valar were among the mighty upon Arda and thus were they revealed in this moment. To the Wood Elves, who had never seen the Powers, the two appeared glorious and omnipotent.
No longer was Radagast merely a simple charmer of birds clad in rough homespun garb. Instead Aiwendil stood before them transfigured, his mild eye now keen and hawkish, his gnarled fingers as talons sharp and fell, his kindly face bold and cunning as any raptor in flight.
The Grey Wanderer was vanished and in his place they beheld Olórin the disciple of Irmo, a dream-spirit clothed in glowing incalescence instead of drab and misty robes. His hair and beard fell about him like a flow of molten antimony yet to cool, his dark eyes seemed to draw the souls of those that dared gaze therein, and from his hands a fiery haze of his vital essence spilled and coalesced around his shimmering form.
Long tendrils of this visible ether stretched forth searchingly into the room, broke free into curls of glitter and spun away to seek the Tawarwaith, to be assimilated immediately upon touching him.
Then, gusting through the open arches, a sudden draught swirled about the high domed cavern, extinguished the flaming lamps and caught up a sheaf of parchments, dancing them in a whirlwind round the disconcerted elves. A few murmured anxious whispers to each other and one spoke aloud the name Sulimo in dread.
Out over the floodplain of the Anduin, the disk of the sun separated from the cold, dark line at the join of earth and air and hung exposed above the rim of Arda, freely shedding her warm, irradiant splendour.
Through a breach in the canopy and into the Chamber of Starlight shot a single slender shaft of rich golden gleam. Arien's finger paused momentarily to point out the Tawarwaith, bathing his simple suede garments in a glow of creamy orange light, passing through his unruly hair until the heavy strands glinted in gilded glory, illuminating the pale skin of his fair visage with a faintly roseate glow.
Then the narrow beam of radiance tapped into a prismatic crystal of calcite and divided, exiting as a truly iridescent rainbow. Anor painted the room in a spectrum of hues seldom seen in nature, so vibrant were the colours, stealing gasps of delight and awe from the assembly before vanishing behind the shadow of the clouds and the leaf-fingered hands of the trees.
Thus was the Council of Erebor begun.
The King presided from his customary place upon the dais. Less than a throne but more than a chair, the seat was crafted of golden oak and carved with the names of all his ancestors, both on his paternal and his maternal sides. The seasoned wood also displayed runes marking spells of power and drafting a future in a scatter of stars adorning the seat's back, the bearings of the constellations at Thranduil's birth.
More than the positions held by the stars visible now, these configurations included the gifts of Varda none could see behind the bright glare of Anor, even in the dark of Ithil's absence in the blackest corner of night's hours. But Thranduil was not impressed with such signs and divinations, and had never cared to ask about the predictions in the patterns.
Yet even the sceptical Sinda Lord could not ignore the dominant presence of the Ainur and the sanction of the Valar they brought to this forum.
Though these were his lands and he the only elven King left on Arda, Thranduil appeared before the gathered folk not in formal state attire but the gear of a warrior prepared to defend his homeland. Chestnut brown were the leggings he wore and his tunic was emerald green, sleeveless over a silk shirt cast in blue as pale as frost, the colours of the Woodland Realm.
Tall leather boots encased his long legs up to the thigh and a jerkin protected his vital organs; the armour much scarred and abused over uncounted sorties against the enemies of his House, both in Beleriand and the Greenwood. About his waist was belted the blade of Dior, a relic for which he had traded with Dwarves of the Blue Mountains, relinquishing much wealth to possess the weapon. Unlike Oropher, Thranduil was a swordsman and scorned the quiver and bow, and other than the deadly antique carried only a curved dagger sheathed where his right hand might easily find it.
No crown adorned his head and his long locks were bound back in the manner of the Sindar rather than the Sylvan elves, gathered in two perfectly equivalent four-part braids that fell over his shoulders and down his back. He did not need finery to proclaim his noble heritage and despite his love for jewels none adorned his person.
The King of the Wood Elves adjusted his posture with regal restraint and gazed upon the crowd, noting where each of the key participants in the day's proceedings was situated, and let his vision linger first upon his illustrious guests.
In an alcove between two pillars were Aragorn and Erestor of Imladris, standing with their backs to the King as they watched and waited upon the Istari's next move. Occasionally one would lean near the other and quietly mumble something in Quenya that they undoubtedly imagined no one here would understand, other than the wizards. They were dressed simply in the rugged clothes they had worn into the realm, though the garments were now clean and neat. Each carried their swords at their sides and rested a hand casually upon the hilt, and the Man had also a leather jerkin with battle scars enough to rival the King's.
Erestor's lengthy ink-black tresses were tamed in Noldor style; two long tendrils on either side of his serious face were wrapped, from cheekbone to an inch above their ends, in the tri-coloured ribbons of Imladris. Upon his back three braids lay thick and heavy against his spine, each tied off with a single ribbon: one of sea-green, one of clear white, and one of darkened red, leaving a thick two-inch tassel below. Though his was so much shorter, resting just below his shoulders, Aragorn's hair was worn exactly the same.
The seneschal's head turned ever to his left. As a father watching over elflings at play in the forest so his attention hovered there. Or a lover jealously minding his conquest. Thranduil tracked the line of his sight to the source of this interest and tensed just slightly when the flash of the Tawarwaith's eyes met his for a half second, and the King withdrew from the icy blue rage.
On the opposite side of the room and between equally substantial pillars, Talagan and his lieutenant flanked, but did not touch, the accused. The King allowed his vision to loiter on his captain briefly and then beyond this stalwart presence. Behind him and packed all the way back against the inner walls were the remainder of the archer's company from Erebor, and indeed all the warriors in the city were jammed along this side of the chamber, and Maltahondo was among them.
'Maltahondo has had him, too.' Elrond's words ran through Thranduil's mind as he raked the guardsman over, wondering if this was true or another of the Noldo's lies. The warrior did not know he was being observed for his regard was focused elsewhere, and the Sinda Lord flicked his glance upon the object of this scrutiny and let it stay, for the fallen archer was once more the centre of contemplation. Truth, then!
Legolas was aware the guardsman was there; how could he not be? Yet the outcast refused to turn his gaze over his shoulder no matter how strong the sense of the warrior's eyes running over him grew. Instead Legolas kept his sights turned to Fearfaron and Lindalcon where they stood with the Counsellors near the centre of the room, for neither could he bear to look ahead and meet the guilt-laden stare of Erestor.
The clothing Fearfaron had ordered for his foster-son was simply designed but well made, and the kindly craftsman had been surprised when the tailor had volunteered a more expensive fabric and then refused to accept payment. His reasons centred on his daughter's tale of the Battle against the Orcs, for she was a warrior under Talagan's command and also a devotee of Tawar, and fervently believed Legolas was chosen to release the Greenwood from Shadow.
Thus Legolas faced his fate in soft woollen leggings tinted as black as the Noldo's hair and a short, sleeveless tunic of undyed buckskin. Beneath was a fine linen shirt in blue almost the colour of his eyes, collarless and uncuffed with long sleeves that flared slightly at the wrist. Upon his feet he wore soft leather shoes instead of boots and a black leather belt closed the tunic about his slender waist. As the accused, he was not allowed his weapons.
Legolas had put these garments on with great relief, for he had dreaded to attend the solemn trial in the yellow silk sleeping clothes. He had fought his unruly tangle of a mane into reasonably respectable confinement, gathering up the handfuls of the twisted locks that hung about his face and securing them back with a leather tie. Within a prominent side-lock draped against his chest the eagle's feather proclaimed him a warrior of the wilds, a member of a community these tamer folk could but faintly glimpse.
It was somehow an odd juxtaposition, the comely clothes of elvish design upon the primitive Tawarwaith, a savage incongruously clothed in silk. Thranduil's eyes narrowed as he scanned his disinherited prince. The sense of uneasiness he felt gazing at the figure before him was more than the result of tangled tresses decorated in eagle's plumage. Even if he were arrayed as every other warrior here, hair braided back in traditional format, denuded of the single feather, even then this elf would still stand out among the others, for it was what moved in the depths of his soul that set him apart.
He does not look like an outcast. Instead the elf looked as though he had somehow traded in a lesser title and minor office for greater nobility and a place amid heroes and legends. Something more than the carpenter has adopted him. He held himself with understated dignity and an intensity of purpose that was at least as uncompromising as Thranduil's.
The Tawarwaith's dilated cobalt eyes pivoted to challenge his examiner; the feä within this resilient and resourceful elda, looking aeons ancient instead of scarcely an Age upon Arda, stared deeply into the King's. Legolas did not avert his gaze from Thranduil; indeed he seemed to be trying to force the Woodland Lord to acknowledge him.
A soft nondescript sort of snort gave the King the excuse he craved to break the defiant, and somehow strangely pleading, glare as he shifted his frowning countenance to the Councillors and found the eldest Elder regarding him with sardonic mirth. Iarwain had noticed with some amusement that it was Thranduil who could not endure the Tawarwaith's scrutiny, rather than the indicted being cowed by the might of the King.
Iarwain stood before the Sinda ruler, first in the ranks of his councillors, imbued with all the status granted by over ten thousand loa of walking the branchways of the Greenwood. He was dressed in elegance by the standards of the Sylvan folk, with formal robes of thick jacquard satin the colour of birch leaves in autumn. A long linen surplice of snowy white was draped about his shoulders and upon this was embroidered a scene depicting his legendary encounter with Oromë at Cuiviénen.
Directly at the Elder's back the remaining five Councillors clustered, dressed less ornately but no less formally than their revered colleague. Upon each of these waited their respective apprentices, excited to be part of such auspicious proceedings while trying not to betray it. Behind and to Iarwain's left were the Istari while Fearfaron and Lindalcon stood upon his right.
The youthful face of Valtamar's son was pale and haggard, and painful to behold was the incongruous mixture of despairing grief upon features yet so fresh with the innocence of childhood. His brown eyes shown no more with the clear brilliance of wonder and delight in all the world offered but held instead a mature awareness of the marring of what was meant to be good and the thwarting of that which began straight and true. His Coll o Gweth [Coming of Age] might be three years hence by counting, but he had shed the last of his nescience in the early hours of the previous night.
After leaving the nursery with Gwilith, it had required levels of self-control he had not known he possessed to concentrate his attention on his little sister while his heart was wild with worry for Legolas' well-being during the confrontation with Meril. Lindalcon served the child tea and cleaned it up, and when the bath was filled supervised her toilette and washed her hair for her.
Gwilith had recently discovered, upon inquisitive scrutiny of Taurant while Naneth was bathing him, that her body was not the same, and learned that she was inu [female] and Taurant was anu [male]. She had decided to ask Lindalcon for details about the specifics of his physique. Upon realising this caused her big brother some discomfort, she naturally expanded her interrogation with an unending series of 'why's' and a whole roster of elves she wanted categorised by appendages or lack thereof, and the ensuing discussion of gender distracted him for a time.
Then it was bedtime and Gwilith was verily inconsolable that neither Ada nor Nana came to tuck her in, and so settled for Lindalcon, demanding an extra story, three renditions of the Tengwar song, and a peek out the balcony to make sure Ithil was there watching over her home. At last the elfling's eyes sought the inner planes of gentle reverie, which Lindalcon knew were as yet filled only with memories of her waking hours, for but recently had Gwilith reached the age where her eyes remained open during rest.
With the child asleep he could bear the suspense no longer and decided to use Legolas' method of moving unseen through the stronghold, easily discovering the entrance to his sister's escape chute beneath a cabinet in the bathing room. Legolas' silver lantern in hand, Lindalcon lowered himself into the cramped conduit and edged cautiously along the narrow tube. He came to a connecting tunnel and instantly saw the signs of recent use in the clean track swept through the fine coat of rock dust on the surface, and followed this trail. As he had hoped, the passage brought him to the tiny alcove outside the nursery where the wild archer had awaited his chance to meet the infant prince.
Lindalcon settled himself in the exact same spot and pressed his ear against the heavy leather curtain to learn what was passing within the room. However, it was not the voice of the archer that conversed with his mother, for Legolas had fled the chamber some time ago. Instead, the son of Valtamar overheard the King and his consort discussing the day's events and the repercussions these would cause.
So distraught she had sounded, her words distorted by tears and choked with quiet sobs, and her husband's soothing consolation had underscored every sentence uttered. The sincerity of her grief and fear was appalling in the context of the fabrications she spun, weaving a lace-work curtain of half-truths and insinuations that Thranduil readily filled in with his own prejudiced ideas which she chose not to correct. Lindalcon listened to his mother's manipulations and felt sick.
He heard her suggest that Legolas had coerced him into co-operating, holding his father's feä as if hostage from Release should the youth refuse. Lindalcon cringed upon hearing her assert that the fallen archer had named her the instigator of the very crimes for which he had been judged responsible. He listened to her say that the outcast had threatened a dire future for Gwilith and Taurant if the investigation of Erebor was not halted. He quailed to hear the despairing pleading in her tone as she begged Thranduil to stop the Council from digging deeper.
Lindalcon could discern the verity of her speech, and if he could do so through the muffling drape of the deerskin hide then even more compelling must Thranduil find her woe. But in his heart Lindalcon felt the echo of fraud, perceiving that most of what she recited was removed from its correct context and the actual intent of the phrases thus skewed to serve her purpose. The King could not share this intuition, however, for his eyes had not beheld the Tawarwaith's overflowing joy as he had cradled the infant heir against his shoulder.
Thranduil heard only that the kinslayer had threatened the life of his children, and his rage was such that Meril had been required to reverse their roles, calming him ere their newborn son awoke frightened and confused. The persistence of his mother's requests to let the past remain forgotten stunned Lindalcon and by this he was almost convinced that she desired just the opposite, but for the desperate note of panic furled within her trembling pleas. And Thranduil responded by declaring that he had means to rid them of the outcast forever and begged that she trust him to secure their offsprings' future happiness and security.
How she had railed against this and cajoled her mate to leave her and their babes free of entanglement in these affairs! She had no desire to appear before the Council and accuse the kinslayer to his face; she could not bear to leave her infant in the care of others so soon upon his birth. In horror Lindalcon heard the King assuage her doubts by stating he would call her first-born child to reveal what had been done and give evidence against the forest champion. The youth's tattered confidence in his mother's benevolence dissolved when she assented to this plan. Now he must choose to support either his Naneth or his sworn brother, and this was a bitter choice he could not reconcile, and he knew this was her punishment upon him.
Unable to bear more, Lindalcon had scooted back down the tube and into his sister's rooms, flying from her chambers and down the back stairs to find Legolas. There in the secure embrace of the Tawarwaith's arms he had vented his sorrow and confusion, anger and despair, until exhaustion had claimed him and consciousness fled. He had awakened curled up in the archer's lap, who in turn was supported by Fearfaron, with the comforting sound of the warrior's fair voice crooning an old song from the days of endless starlight before the silver disc of Ithil had first shown forth.
The wizards were still there also and long hours had they all debated on how to forestall the doom of daybreak, to no conclusion. Legolas wanted no change in the status quo and was adamant that only harm could come to his siblings should the Council probe too deeply. Lindalcon was appalled, insisting his father would want the truth to come out and for Legolas to be cleared. Fearfaron agreed and Aiwendil was undecided, but Mithrandir dissented, siding with the archer.
The only bright note the Maiar could add to the developments was the assurance that with the destruction of Elrond's letter the population at large would never learn of its contents. Of the slurs in this diatribe Lindalcon had not been informed and the archer was relieved for that fact as well.
Finally, Mithrandir had broken the stalemate, saying that often the desire to protect those one loved by shielding them from truth resulted in far more serious consequences and a breaking of trust that was at best difficult to repair.
After a silence during which the Istar and the Tawarwaith conversed in mental accord, Legolas had kissed the crown of his brother's head and murmured that he loved him, and wished no harm upon him. What followed was an account of Erebor the youth rejected and in his wrath struck out against Legolas and spoke words so foul he wondered later how the archer did not eject him from the room. But Legolas did not, and wept bitterly instead, holding the younger elf and repeating that he was sorry, that he loved him, until the anger gave way to grief unlike anything Lindalcon would have thought possible to endure.
And after all of this was past the decisions came so easily, and seemed logical and right. Lindalcon made his choice for Valtamar and for Legolas, for Taurant and Gwilwileth, and while the forest champion agreed to all that was discussed regarding the morning's trial, his younger brother felt there was yet something held back. Too much heartbreak had he already suffered to enquire farther, however, and Lindalcon was relieved to be given the mundane task of fetching garments for Legolas, Fearfaron, and himself.
So now he stood facing the King with all of the Sylvan folk about to witness his part in it, and he did not permit himself to be bowed by the weight of the truth he hoped to reveal. Often his eyes sought Legolas' and he drew strength from the encouraging trust and confidence found therein, and from the undeniable sense of Valtamar's presence. Lindalcon had not felt so close to his father even in the soldier's life, and decided this had to do with the passing of his adolescence and the marks of grief his soul must surely bear, as starkly indelible as any wound upon the body earned in battle would be. The knowledge that the Lost Warrior approved of his courage filled Lindalcon with pride and resolve.
"My Lord Thranduil, it is with gratitude we greet your attendance. The concern you show for understanding all that befalls the Danwaith is heartening to our people," Iarwain stated formally.
"The King is always present for his people's needs," replied the Sinda Lord.
"Of course," the tone of the ancient counsellor's concurrence left no question as to his lack of faith in his Lord's assurance. "At your request we are gathered, so let your charges be stated clearly that all may understand the cause of your apprehension."
"Our Realm has been trespassed, our heir has been threatened, and the captain of our guard assaulted within the halls of this very stronghold," Thranduil announced and was pleased by the excited murmuring this provoked among the crowd. "In light of these invasions and treacheries, I have come to understand that these events originated with the disgraceful waste of immortal life at the Battle of Erebor. And at the heart of all these disturbances and crimes stands the exiled kinslayer, the child of Ningloriel!" The King rose and pointed dramatically at Legolas.
But the archer did not flinch and indeed stood forth boldly as the rustling whispers of the assembly instantly died away.
"I declaim these charges; they are false!"
"So noted!" called out the Councillor of Records as he moved to stand beside Iarwain. "What say you to Erebor?"
"What of it? Erebor is past and Judgement have I accepted; there let the matter rest."
"Nay! The matter cannot rest! There is at work an unwholesome element seeking to weaken our people and interfere in our lands. Shall the sovereignty of a free realm be thus disregarded?" demanded Thranduil loudly.
"Let us put aside Erebor for now and examine these recent actions," interrupted Iarwain.
"So noted!" intoned the Councillor of Record before the King could object. "What witnesses can speak of these events? Any with knowledge are bound by honour to make themselves known and reveal the truth as they have seen it."
"I gainsay the second charge for I was with my baby brother during the time of this alleged threat!" Lindalcon called out clearly and sent his brother an encouraging smile as Iarwain squeezed his shoulder in approval.
"I can refute the first accusation and will explain the charge of invasion!" shouted Erestor.
"I have knowledge of this trespass also. As for the third charge, I am the culprit who committed this assault," spoke Radagast amid astonished exclamations and gasps from the common folk.
"Aye, 'twas the wizard that struck me down," said Talagan dispassionately meeting his King's furious and perplexed glare.
The captain was not chagrined to so embarrass his old friend, for Thranduil had acted solely at the behest of his consort in the haze of irrational rage over the perceived threat to his child. Talagan felt his loyal service and complete dedication had been disregarded, he had a tormenting ache at the base of his skull, and was sure to face censure for his lapse of caution in the hallway. All in all, he was not disposed to support his liege at the moment. Talagan's lifelong comrade had failed to consult him and not only was the veteran insulted by this oversight, he considered it irresponsible behaviour on Thranduil's part.
"I witnessed Radagast's brief moment of temper, but must assert that he reacted to the carpenter's near impalement upon the captain's blade," added Gandalf.
"I was there, too, and swear Legolas bore no weapon, and was himself threatened at the point of Talagan's sword," Aragorn joined his voice to the growing volume of testimony and sent the Tawarwaith a small smile. "Hold up your left hand, Legolas, and show the cut of the blade you swept from its place against your heart."
Legolas obeyed and loud, disgruntled, cacophonous babbling accompanied the display of the long brown scab across the warrior's upraised palm. Thranduil sat back down in his chair, a most unpleasant sense of dejavu overwhelming his thoughts as the Danwaith rallied to their champion's cause.
"Tirno did no wrong here!"
"Aye, the claim is false!"
"The promise is violated!"
"Charge Talagan! Or Aiwendil if you dare!"
These cries burst from among the throng and a chaotic wave of movement surged through the mass as though they might engulf the dais and everyone before it. The Councillors grew concerned, and the apprentices ceased their note taking on the testimony rapidly pouring from so many individuals. Erestor edged closer to Mithrandir, tugging Aragorn along with him, judging that the safest place to be should the situation devolve into catastrophe. Aiwendil banged his staff repeatedly on the floor to quiet things down without result.
"Peace! There is no fault here on anyone's part!" Legolas spoke with the compellingly quiet demeanour that brought the whole of Greenwood to a standstill, and the grumbling ceased immediately for the Wood Elves wished to hear his words.
"Talagan sought to aid the King and his only error was being over-eager to defend our home and our prince. Aiwendil reacted for he thought Fearfaron and I were in danger, but it was not so. Were I fending off an attack by this warrior, there would be more to show than a meagre scratch."
In the silence that followed the Councillors conferred briefly and then Iarwain gave their verdict.
"We concur and strike the third accusation null. Inasmuch as Tirno will not lay blame upon the captain, no censure will be given."
The gathered folk greeted the decision with a unified acclaim of approval and a jovial exchange of relief. They knew it must be false! Their Tirno would not strike down the captain unprovoked! Had they not but recently come from battling Orcs together? How came any to believe such a ridiculous claim?
Talagan blinked, not certain what had just happened, and glanced at Legolas, who returned his blank look with a half-smile and a nod.
Thranduil remained unmoving, watching the players with hooded eyes, hearing the approbation of the people, feeling the furtive looks of mistrust cast upon him from among the Sylvan folk, and his anger grew hotter. Great was the struggle within the King's troubled mind to remain calm in the searing blaze of his rising wrath when the third charge was invalidated.
At the same time, reason cautioned and instinct warned that perhaps none of the events of the previous eve were as they appeared upon the surface. As easily as the clean, shallow waters of the garden brook revealed the darting silver slivers of minnows flashing by, Thranduil beheld the improbability of the supposed altercation between the former heir and the captain of the guards. Talagan would never have been subdued so easily by a direct attack.
And it hardly seemed logical that the fallen archer would try to assassinate the infant prince while surrounded by the host of the King's warriors. But never was reason a motivator for spiteful hate, and the disgraced elf no doubt believes he has much cause to despise me. Thranduil could imagine this list of grievances. Ningloriel's child was cursed, born in shame that had only increased over the dismal and loveless years of his childhood, unwanted and fatherless, his life marked with the stigma of his mother's infidelity.
He does not appear to feel this burden now! Thranduil let his inner eye assess the wild elf as a whole and the feeling of uneasiness returned. This was not the same elf he had cast out of his Kingdom and Thranduil was confounded by the chameleon shift from denigration to distinction, from unassuming archer to dangerous rival for the lordship of the Greenwood. The way the entire community stilled to hear him speak had not gone unremarked by the King. Even Talagan had become caught in the mood. So clever, refusing to assign blame to my captain! How noble their champion appears!
And though he was infuriated to admit it to himself, the Sinda Lord had been impressed as well, just as he had been affected upon hearing the recount of the lone warrior's heroic struggle to win through to the stronghold and safeguard his friends against impossible odds. Those were acts worthy of respect and, barring the depravity revealed by the Lord of Imladris, Thranduil would be proud to claim such an elf as a war-brother.
Or a son.
Yet, what purpose had the outcast to see the prince if not for malicious ends? No benevolent cause could Thranduil conjure for the disgraced elf to enter the nursery of his replacement. The memory of the Tawarwaith's song for the newborn heir nudged against the King's soul. None of it made any sense in his mind, the ideas clashed. Why would he care about my son other than as a means to exact vengeance upon me? The noble Tawarwaith blessing the newborn could not also be the bitter remnant of his first wife's hatred bent on revenge.
It is a ruse; like Sauron in the Second Age, he dons this fair demeanour to hide the assassin's blade from innocent and gullible eyes!
This was the only conclusion he could accept, for Thranduil knew his Beloved had felt real fear, both for herself and her children, and Meril had spoken words holding the resonance of truth within their syllables; cried tears of salty sorrow for the troubles within her household. And it was this that he could not ignore, for Thranduil had felt the same stab of terror within his own heart. Just as she had imagined a bleak and woe-stricken fate for Taurant and Gwilwileth, so the King could see their dreadful destiny unfolding should the outcast escape the Judgement.
And this he would fain prevent. Thranduil stood again.
"Yet my son's nursery was violated and his well-being threatened by this Hecilo!" he thundered and once more pointed at his cast-off child. "Lindalcon was there and will attest that this is true. I care not for these lesser charges, let us have an answer for that, and then finish with this disgrace among elf-kind. Did Sylvan Law and Custom allow it, I would send this nascent Orc to the Void!"
Legolas flinched to hear this insult and the Wood Elves were shocked into silence as they stared at the outraged father, but Valtamar's son was ready to answer and moved away from Iarwain to stand beside his brother.
"Aye, I was there, and none of that is true! This was no coercion or forced entry, for I agreed to let Legolas in to meet Taurant. Neither was there any danger, unless you count the reading of books harmful. The prince and heir slept in sweet repose the whole time his brother held him, safe and protected next to his heart." The younger elf made sure to emphasise the relationship of the former to the current heir, and wrapped his arm around Legolas' waist as the warrior squeezed him back.
The choice of words was not lost on Thranduil and he inhaled and blew back out a slow breath to contain his ire, covering the pair under his frigidly expressionless regard. Despite the firm tone of the youth's speech, the King could practically smell the fear oozing from Lindalcon's pores. And what might he fear should his testimony fail to please the outcast? Thranduil's disgust for the fallen elf manifested as an incoherently eloquent grunt of dissatisfaction and nostrils crinkled as if in protest of some detestable stench.
"You speak so out of despair for your father's feä" the King addressed Lindalcon. "I have already heard from your Naneth how that elf you shield verily holds your Adar within a cloud of confusion, unable to see any clear way beyond the bounds of this world."
"Nay!" both the younger elves denied together as the assembly gasped at the King's statement.
Thranduil gave a dry chuckle with no mirth in it.
"Indeed? Lindalcon, you need not do this. Only that one's death can free your Adar, do you not see how he has deceived you?" the Sinda Lord's words were filled with soft compassion; a wiser outlook offering the perspective of greater maturity and experience to the too trusting naivety of youth.
The crowd's whisperings hissed with anxious distress.
"In this you speak falsely, Lord!" this pronouncement issued from Fearfaron and everyone's attention bounced to him where he stood glaring, arms crossed before him, calmly assessing his King. "Although your interpretation of the Judgement's conditions is correct.
"My son was freed by the actions of the Tawarwaith, not by his death. This in itself speaks of the invalidity of the Judgement, for were it right then Legolas must relinquish his own feä to satisfy the losses of those wronged.
"Have you all forgotten the strange way his life was twice spared, once on the battle plain and again in the Men's town? And these many years Legolas has been under the shadow of death more times than even a veteran warrior of the First Age. Still, he survives and continues to harass the Wraiths and the Orcs that plague us. How is it he has been salvaged if it is his doom to die for his comrades?"
"Well that is no great mystery," snarled Thranduil. "It is not difficult for a coward to remain among the living!"
"This elf may be under our severest punishment, but craven he is not," said Talagan.
The Sinda warrior found that he could not stand by and merely let this insult be put forth. His conscience regaled him over his actions at Erebor, and even if the Judgement was right, he did not believe Legolas would slay an innocent babe with his own hand. And he had seen the elf fight; foolishly fearless more accurately described his battle tactics.
"Aye! I have seen him charge a troop of Orcs with but a dagger." Hearing their captain speak up, a good number of the warriors reinforced his remark.
"He put his body between his friends and death, more than once."
"He taunted the foul things, lured them away when his comrades were in peril."
"Taunts death, more like!"
"And bears the scars to prove it! No spineless knave would ever be so marred," called Gladhadithen from her place amid the ranks of the soldiers.
"Indeed," said the Spirit Hunter sadly as his eyes fell upon his adopted son. "Dares fate and begs death, yet lives! It is because the Judgement cannot justly fall on him. Our beliefs are clear; a true kinslayer cannot escape the righteous exercise of Eru's will. Thus has it ever been according to our history."
"That is so," acknowledged the Councillor of Record, as though only at this moment had he noted this idea.
A rumble of agitated concurrence from the audience underscored the point.
"We have no proof of your son's fate," countered Thranduil with empty audacity, his features a most unpleasant mask of livid embarrassment, for even he could hear the hollowness of this claim. The defection of Talagan and the warriors was a serious blow to his authority. The King needed a way to shift support back in his favour, to make these elves see the corruption the outcast inflicted upon them, upon him. Thranduil clenched his fists in frustration for the loss of the letter from Elrond.
"Why would I pretend such?" demanded Fearfaron incredulous, and the people seconded his rejection of the challenge. Like autumn leaves blown by Manwë's breath the rustling scatter of jumbled phrases swirled round in the noisy timbre of avowal.
"Assuredly, the craftsman has no motive to attest his son's Release if it were not done," added Iarwain.
"Unless the relationship between the outcast and the kind-hearted carpenter is not as platonic as they pretend. Perhaps Fearfaron's infatuation has allowed him to be misled regarding Annaldír's salvation."
"That is an outrageous lie!" hollered the Spirit Hunter, more enraged than he had felt since the night of the Twelfth Year Anniversary. He advanced to the very step of the dais.
"You dare speak such foul thoughts?" Legolas seethed through bared teeth and Lindalcon had to hold him tight to forestall an assault on the King. "He is my father in all ways but blood!"
Thranduil ignored the carpenter and turned his infuriated countenance upon the Tawarwaith.
"Nearness in kinship has not stopped you from bedding others that might be your sire by blood and seed; why should you have scruples for this fabricated link that binds you to Fearfaron?" He spat these hateful words directly to the former heir, his first since the Day of the Judgement.
Legolas released every molecule of air in his lungs and all the colour drained from his face as he stared in open-mouthed horror of this pronouncement, anchored to the spot, eyes locked with the Sinda's triumphantly gloating green gaze. He had thought the King would not present this derogation so soon or in this context and was unprepared to counter it. Fearfaron and the wizards had asserted that the Council could be convinced these indiscretions were a purely personal matter with no bearing on the charges. Legolas had needed to believe them.
Five heartbeats later his eyes slid shut and down dropped his head in ignominy. His whispered "I did not know," was heard by none but Lindalcon, whose soul bled to behold his brother so shamed in public.
The son of Valtamar knew no remedy for such a thing and could merely hold onto Legolas tighter, lest they both succumb to the desire to bolt from the room. It cannot be true, can it? Relieved that Legolas' face was turned away, Lindalcon could not find a way to look at his friend just yet; for he was uncertain anymore what he would see. The image of the world he accepted shattered once again revealing something wholly unseemly and twisted between the cracks. Lindalcon's eyes jumped to scan the Noldo Lord and found his answer there in the pained and remorseful expression in the elf's features. True, then. Lindalcon's gaze turned pleadingly upon the carpenter.
"That is a vile slander," growled Fearfaron.
"It is the truth," countered Thranduil smugly and bent his unfeeling eyes upon the distraught foster-father.
The Wood Elves were frozen in breathless anticipation for the details of this illicit union to be divulged, silently regarding the outcast with a foul mixture of hunger and disgust. They all knew who the suspected father was, and the presence of the Noldo elf suddenly became more interesting. If one was here, might not another succeed in infiltrating their forest world, especially with help from the wild archer? A hundred sets of eyes scanned the outcast's body noting now the length and shape of the tapered tips of his delicate ears, the suppleness of strong shoulders in contrast with slender hips and narrow feet, the fair features and his natural grace as he clasped so close to the younger elf.
"Then it is worse for being heartlessly cruel!" Mithrandir's furious umbrage threatened to erupt as he pointed his staff at the King and was only prevented from spilling elven blood when Radagast intervened, pushing aside the sorcerer's weapon with cautious pressure and a compelling frown.
"It is false, though therein may be a speck of truth," the Brown wizard said firmly.
"Aye, and now who speaks without proofs? Your words serve only to deceive!" added Erestor with heated indignation, for he knew the King was hoping to divert notice from Lindalcon's testimony.
Thranduil turned to grin at his unexpected guest, giving a chilling replication of a serpent's cold disdain, then laughed as an eyebrow raised in mocking salute.
"Do you require proof, Lord Erestor?" The question hung unanswered as Thranduil turned to include his subjects in the conversation, addressing the crowd directly. "The kin-slayer dares not deny it for our esteemed visitor shall confirm my words!" the King's out-flung arm directed everyone's eyes to Elrond's advisor.
The seneschal shifted uneasily under the weight of this scrutiny and chanced a glimpse at the fallen prince. A flare of fury ignited through his soul to see Pen-rhovan so discredited and bowed under this opprobrium and he sought to join Lindalcon at Legolas' side.
Aragorn held him firm, shaking his head with a silent warning clear in his wise brown eyes, for he knew they were outlanders and Thranduil would gladly turn their words of support into more fuel for his vindictive vendetta against the wild elf.
The previous night they had convened their own war-council in the room next door to Legolas', planning a strategy for the day's events. A visit from Aiwendil had made plain that both Mithrandir and Fearfaron thought it better for Erestor not to press Legolas for an audience just yet, thus the two had no chance to confer with their friend. The Brown wizard informed them of Legolas' visit to Taurant and its result, and of Lindalcon's news.
Without a means to prevent the King from demanding Erestor's statement, the seneschal had decided that in comparison to other wrongs he had committed lying was rather inconsequential and he would deny everything. Aragorn had cautioned that Legolas was unlikely to do the same, and this contradiction would only make the situation more confused. After hours of circuitous argument and no resolution, the Imladrians had determined the best way to help Legolas would be to refrain from volunteering any information, and to support whatever tactic he undertook.
It was with stinging self-reproach that Erestor realised he had played into the King's plotting and once more wounded Pen-rhovan with his wayward tongue. He feared to speak out again.
"Hah! How deafening is the chorus of rebuttal!" Thranduil stood facing the crowd and spread wide his arms in a gesture enveloping all who would offer defence of the outcast. "Look, good folk, how the Shadow perverts the wise and worthy to Its purpose." Now his voice lost its fiery fury and took on the august magnanimity of a learned tutor instructing his pupils.
"There is Mithrandir, high among his order, yet enthralled and tied, soul-bound to the outcast. Here stands Fearfaron, an upright citizen, ready to excuse the kinslayer responsible for his child's demise. And look upon Erestor, a noble warrior, veteran of Gondolin, who has left his own lands to come to seek out Hecilo
"If this is not evidence of the evil at work in our Realm, then what may be? How is that one misbegotten elf suddenly so renowned and deserving of such attentions, especially under the Judgement and exile imposed upon him by our Laws? What exactly has he given in return for such regard?
"Should not these astute and faithful individuals instead be reviled by the very idea of such an elf? Some Dark power invests him with this appeal he holds!
"Who else here would like to be formally counted an associate of this criminal? Please come forward, let everyone be acknowledged!"
Now this speech was dripping with gallingly unctuous tones so that even the most bland of these statements seemed a description of some lascivious act about to be performed in their very midst. Thranduil relished the openly repulsed and furtively fearful expressions covering the faces of most of his people as they cast their eyes upon the group in the centre of the Chamber.
What manner of power could bind a wizard's soul? Have any heard of such a thing? Mithrandir never took much notice of our woods before.
Has the carpenter been deceived, overcome with whatever powers of allure this wayward warrior possesses? Does Annaldír still wander?
He is too attractive, more so even than his mother! It seems unnatural for so many to be drawn to this one elf.
What is this Noldor Lord doing in the Greenwood?
Look how he bows his head in shame; he has bedded the Noldo that bred him! Mayhap he has lain with the others as well!
He has enthralled the young one, too, and holds the souls of the dead at bay. This is of the Dark Lord's doing!
The low murmurs hummed and bubbled like a foul brew of some noxious swill about to over boil, rippling away through the arches, across the courtyard and among the trees. The tide of opinion receded from the accused as rapidly as it had eddied round him just moments ago.
Lindalcon could not believe how fickle was this assembly of elves, for he could easily comprehend that the King was generating this crude diversion to turn their thoughts from the false claims of threatening the prince. None but he had heard the fallen archer's admission and explanation to the ugly defamation of his morals. They could not see the tremors running through Legolas each time a new slur reached his perception. Abruptly Lindalcon moved his hands and covered both his brother's ears to muffle the callous comments, tilting the humiliated elf's face up, forcing Legolas to meet his eyes.
The younger elf's heart suddenly lurched; when had he grown taller than Legolas? It hurt, for some reason, to realise this, as though Legolas was somehow frozen at some earlier point in time while Lindalcon had gone forward and surpassed him.
"Do not hear them! I do not care about Thranduil's sordid innuendo! I do not care if it is true!" he said, sombre brown eyes boring far into the wounded soul behind the bright blue ones, and with firm assurance he shook Legolas a little in his grasp to underscore this fervent declaration. Then he released his brother and encircled Legolas' shoulders anew and faced the people.
"You should not listen to these confused notions that conflict one against the other!" he called out. "This is all meant to distract the Council from nullifying the charge of conspiring to harm Taurant. I will swear that my baby brother was never in any danger from the Tawarwaith. If my word is suspect, then ask my sister for she was there as well and knows not the concept of a lie."
"Nay!" this appalled cry came simultaneously from both the enraged father and the child's protective oldest brother, and both those elves startled upon realising this inexplicable fact, eyes joining in a fleeting glance of blistering bewilderment.
Aragorn had observed these proceedings as Erestor fairly fought against his hold like an ungentled stallion tethered on a lead. With Lindalcon's courageous words the Man's heart was moved and he no longer wanted to stand apart, an outsider. Thranduil had thrown down a dare and Isildur's heir was eager to take it up. The mortal met Erestor's equally clear-eyed countenance, gave a brief nod, and both moved to stand with Legolas, each placing a hand on his shoulder firmly.
"I am glad to be counted here as a friend of Legolas of the Greenwood," said the human. "Without his safeguard through the forest, I would long ago have perished in battle against the Glamhoth. It is not I who have pledged myself to your Tawarwaith, but the other way round. This eternal protection Legolas gifted to me in return for some small bit of healing I was able to grant him in the wilds, nothing more. Let the malice of the King's insinuations be revealed, for in those harsh slanders can be found the workings of the Shadow!"
"As for me, I owe your champion my life at least three times over," said Erestor. "Though a stranger with no cause to be within his woods, Legolas protected me from the Wraiths of Dol Guldur and led me and my colleague to safety among the woodsmen's villages. As to our purpose in your lands, I shall speak to it in regards to the first charge in due time.
"Beyond that, I am here to set to right a grievous hurt I have caused, if by any means I may," the seneschal from Imladris asserted, compressing the Tawarwaith's arm warmly as he spoke. "If there is Darkness in the Greenwood, then Legolas is Its bane not its source! Could the Light of the Silmarils be reborn in living flesh, his would be the form of that incarnation!"
These words brought Legolas' head up quickly to gape for the second time that morn at the speaker; this time stunned by such high praise and he searched the face of the Noldo Lord for any indication of dissembling or exaggeration. He found only the gentle roguish grin of Berenaur, dampened by the tearful gleam of the sorrow and remorse his dark eyes sought to convey. Legolas let a tenuous smile hover round his soul.
"Pretty words for your precious paramour!" scoffed the King and enjoyed the scarlet flush that suffused the outcast's face.
"Let them speak! You invited the testimony of those who would call themselves Tirno's associates; therefore, allow everyone so inclined to state their minds," snapped Iarwain irritably.
"So noted!" added the Councillor of Record with a complacent smile.
"Well said!" agreed Aiwendil. "I am Legolas' friend and have been since he began his assault upon Dol Guldur. Of all the eldar I have met, this one I most admire, and that includes those sundered from you long ago that dwell in the Farthest West. My regard has naught to do with how he looks, what name he bears, or whom he beds. Legolas has earned my respect and won my friendship because he cares to make right the marring of his world."
The elves shared their buzzing wonder. How could the might and knowledge of the Istari be beguiled? Should they not trust the judgement of all these diverse people that bore goodwill for their champion? Had not good come of Tirno's works rather than ill? How could he be an agent of the Dark One while so fearlessly warring against the cohorts and creations of evil?
"Like Fearfaron and Lindalcon, I am more than a friend to the Tawarwaith," Mithrandir added, moving up to take his place next to the carpenter. "We are his family, and by the bonds of such a relationship do we conduct ourselves; aiding and supporting one another as needed, trusting and depending upon the constancy of this 'fabricated link' forged by necessity, fired in the heat of battle, and tempered by the icy grip of despair. And thus united, it is ill-advised to oppose us!
"And let me be very blunt, Thranduil," Gandalf concluded in coldly clipped words edged in restrained resentment. "I am not bound to Legolas' soul, nor he to mine. I have aided his survival and I will neither apologise nor explain myself to you. Perhaps we could get back to the actual charges now, if this smoke has been cleared out."
"Indeed!" Iarwain jumped in as Thranduil opened his mouth to retort. "The day we decide an elf's guilt based on mistaken choices in bed partners, then we shall all have sentences to fulfil."
This blatant reference to the King's own erroneous first selection for a mate was not missed by the forest folk, and a scatter of smirky guffaws escaped containment as Thranduil sealed his lips into a thin dark line.
"So noted!" sang the Record Maker, not even trying to hide his widening smile of amusement at the Sinda's expense.
"Enough of this!" Thranduil shouted and turned to glare at Legolas anew. The Council was behaving as if the whole purpose of this meeting was a joke, and he would not permit it. "You were in my son's room and you did tell Meril that all of her children would suffer unless I halted the investigation of Erebor! Do you still deny it?"
Instantly the lighter mood fled and silence filled in around the diminishing echoes of the King's ringing challenge.
"I was there, but never to do Taurant harm. And one may warn of danger without being the source of it," Legolas responded clearly and calmly, determined to convince the King, or at least the Council.
"It was a threat not a warning! Taurant's birth makes it impossible for you to regain your former place, even if you escape the death promised by your Judgement. Admit your guilt as you owned your faults at Erebor! You went to end his life and you used his brother and sister to gain the opportunity. But for Meril's sudden appearance you would have achieved your goal." Thranduil strode to the edge of the dais looking down on the outcast, scarcely able to contain his desire to attack the one that dared attempt so fiendish a plot.
"It is a lie! Never would I hurt him, nothing could make me bring even the slightest disharmony into the lives of my siblings!" Legolas tried unsuccessfully to shake free of his friends' tightening hold on his arms and shoulders.
"They are not your siblings!"
"They are! I claim them; I love them! You are the one pushing them towards heartache and misery! I tell you now I will not allow it!"
"You dare such a low subterfuge, accusing a father of wishing to hurt his own? By Eru, the dungeons shall have use before this day is through!" The King was shaking from his rage and indeed his restraint was noteworthy for truly he believed his children had been a hair's breadth from their doom at the hands of his first wife's child.
Legolas shuddered at this pronouncement, for the anger Thranduil displayed left no doubt as to the likelihood of that outcome, and he was very grateful for the strength of his friends' supportive presence around him.
"Nay! Nay, you must not do that!" shouted Lindalcon, desperately seeking the eyes of the Councillors. "I tell you I was there and no greater gentleness could be shown that babe unless it was Naneth herself holding him!"
"Tell us exactly what transpired, Lindalcon; how did all this come about?" said one of the other Councillors quietly.
"You cannot listen to his testimony! He practically worships the fallen prince and would say anything to defend him!" yelled Thranduil in fury.
"Lindalcon is neither stupid nor a child nor known for a liar. Thusfar you have not accused him of wishing harm to Taurant. Therefore I do not believe he would knowingly welcome a murderer into the infant's nursery," countered the Elder.
"Aye, not knowingly," Thranduil repeated. "Yet I say again, he is blinded by his esteem for the outcast."
"What is that you say?" asked Mithrandir, puzzled.
"What?" demanded the King, irritated.
"I thought you just announced that Lindalcon offers this testimony out of fear, forced to back the outcast because his father's feä is at stake. Yet now you say he reveres the Tawarwaith. I wish to understand how both these scenarios may be possible," the wizard said testily.
Thranduil coldly assessed the wily Istar, furious to have fallen into a trap of his own making once more. Already the buzzing displeasure of the peoples' agreement hinted it would be difficult to repair the damage attending this disclosure.
"I think Mithrandir's question is wise," said Iarwain, nodding as he regarded the Maia with thoughtful eyes. "It is clear to me that the second statement is correct; Lindalcon does hold the Tawarwaith in high regard, mayhap even love."
"Aye, he is my brother!" declared the youth and smiled to say so.
"Oh, truly? Well that is a coupling I would not have guessed!" sneered Thranduil cruelly.
"Ai! Do not dare speak of her whom you drove from our lands!" Legolas shouted.
"My father's honour you cannot impugn! He was true to my Naneth and died in sacrifice to his comrades!" Lindalcon shrieked in fury and now both the elves had to be restrained by Radagast and the Imladrians.
"Too much of these scurrilous outbursts have we been forced to attend!" thundered Mithrandir. "Two questions are before the Council now: is it possible for a convicted kinslayer to hinder the souls of the dead, and would Lindalcon lie to protect his sworn brother? Surely there has been enough said to decide on these issues."
"I concur," said Iarwain.
"So noted," the Councillor of Record formalised the closing of testimony and the six Elders drew together to quietly confer. There seemed to be some amount of dissension among them, but which question roused the discourse none could tell.
With a huge sigh the Sinda Lord paced away to the end of the platform and back before practically throwing his body down upon the chair in his agitated displeasure. He could sense the Elders wished to dismiss the second charge and was over come with incredulous and smouldering wrath. How can my people choose that kinslayer instead of their unblemished prince and heir?
"We are decided," announced Iarwain and everyone strained to see and hear the verdict. Thranduil rose and advanced again to the rim of the step and Legolas' friends clustered closely around him.
"We do not believe any elf can hold an unhoused feä bound unless that soul in life owed some debt to such an individual. Now, Valtamar was not under any obligation of honour to the Tawarwaith at the time of his demise, thus it is not possible for his spirit to be hindered."
A hushed wave of relief passed through the people, for among them matters dealing with unhoused spirits were fraught with fear and much superstition. Over the Ages, great was the accumulation of the Sylvans' feär still loose upon Arda. Some believed as Thranduil, that such spirits could be caught and forced to dark purposes. Indeed, some thought the spark of life found in Orcs was stolen from such houseless souls.
"Further, we find no reason to name Lindalcon a liar. Why would he choose to support his sworn brother against the best interests of his blood-kin? His actions may be termed ill-advised, yet such is the impetuous nature of youth. We find no cause to disallow his testimony of the events."
"So noted!" intoned the Elder of the Records as the Sylvan folk relaxed into pleased murmuring of approval. To them also Lindalcon's words had held the note of honesty.
The small group of elves, the Man and the wizards in the centre of the room offered joyful congratulatory hugs and nudges and shoulder squeezes to the Tawarwaith as he and Lindalcon embraced. Those two pulled back to make eye contact and Legolas leaned his forehead upon his young friend's.
"I thank you and I swear your father will be Released if any action of mine can do it," Legolas said quietly, yet no elven ears would miss the words.
"This I know," answered Lindalcon. "Yet it is not your Task to accomplish. Ada would have the real cause of his sacrifice understood."
"If I may continue?" interrupted the eldest Elder, and both younger elves sheepishly fell silent.
"Inasmuch as Lindalcon is the only witness to the events within the nursery, the Council finds that Tirno is not at fault. Admittedly his actions were unwise, for he should have sought the permission of the mother before entering, yet we find the sharing of picture books benign. Thus, the second charge is null and no censure do we pronounce."
Again the Sylvan elves ratified the Council's decision with a resonating refrain of glad expression, all eyes smiling to see the ecstatic relief shared between the small group ringing their Tawarwaith.
Passed from friend to friend for more well-wishing, Legolas even allowed a brief hug from Erestor before settling in the comfortable encirclement of Fearfaron's arms, just happy to lean his head upon the strong shoulders of the tall, willowy Spirit Hunter.
And for the second time that day Thranduil tasted the bitter bile of his people's betrayal and felt the terrifying sensation of his power disintegrating as fast as rain evaporating from sun warmed stone.
There now remained but one of the King's charges and Iarwain sighed with a smile of secret satisfaction as he contemplated the results thus far. His people were happy, their Tawarwaith was proved true, and Thranduil was in a most diminished position at the moment. He planned to keep matters in that status if at all possible, and the only one that might be able to prevent this was Legolas himself. If the wild elf did some foolishly noble thing, publicly forgiving Thranduil as he had Talagan, then popular opinion was likely to sway once more to favour the irate ruler.
The ancient eldar surveyed the son of Oropher and the forest champion.
How different they are! Oropher would have appreciated this Legolas. Stubborn, but loyal. Devoted to a fault, self-sacrificing and sometimes rash. he thought, for he had never doubted Ningloriel's assertions of Legolas' paternity. Iarwain wondered if Thranduil had ever noticed how similar in character the outcast was to the family patriarch. Unlikely. It occurred to the Sylvan elder that it might have been difficult for Thranduil to have such an elf around him, with a spirit so like his father's housed in a form that resplendently mirrored Ningloriel.
Thranduil sat glaring into the knot of elves comprising the Tawarwaith and his cobbled together family, utterly dumbfounded. His denial and disbelief were apparent in the slight glaze of disorientation clouding his murky eyes, the slumping posture of his stately form slouched within the seat's support, the complete stillness of his face and frame.
He had never considered the charge of attempted kin-slaying would be dismissed. With the fact accomplished, however, he found he was not truly surprised, given the undeniable impact of the outcast's vehement declaration of familial love for the infant prince and his sister. The benediction of the Tawarwaith's song echoed Thranduil's imagined rendering of the disgraced archer cradling Taurant in the crook of his arm while the other hand flipped the pages of a picture book.
It is a long road from errors in battle to destroying innocent life wilfully. That the outcast had not traversed that path was obvious and it seemed ridiculous now to have thought otherwise. It astounded him to realise that just moments ago he had been certain of edledhron's [the exile's] guilt. Meril's fear is genuine yet so is this elf's protective concern. 'To warn of danger without being its cause.' Perhaps, given the history, his mate's assumption of harmful intent was understandable. But inaccurate.
Slowly the Sinda's vision sharpened and his sight tracked across the features of the wild elf. The muscles around Thranduil's eyes contracted, drawing lines of concentration around the refined curves of brows and lids.
As Iarwain watched, the outcast stirred, for he must have felt the intensity of that inspection, and bravely met the King's regard with a countenance free of gloating or reprisal. Though wary and defiant, the guarded gaze of the Tawarwaith bore a tinge of compassion, a suggestion that, with even the smallest encouragement from the King, the forest champion would issue one of those soul-stopping proclamations and pardon the Sinda Lord for ever accusing him so basely.
Iarwain moved quickly to forestall just that eventuality while the fallen prince lingered in the euphoric release of tension following the acquittal and before the bewildered King deciphered the Tawarwaith's message.
"It pleases my heart to know this is the truth, for I have come to regard the works of Tirno as valuable to our lands," the ancient Elder said and obtained everyone's attention. "Yet one charge remains and must be addressed!
"Considering the presence of foreigners within our very borders, I am eager to understand the means by which that was accomplished and the purpose for such an incursion. The validity of the first charge none may deny as the evidence is here in our midst today." His eyes drifted to his fellow councillor as these words left his lips.
"Two witnesses have come forth regarding the trespass; are there any others who would be heard?" called out the Councillor of Record, and a shuffling in the crowd commenced.
"Here now, aye!" a muffled voice called from somewhere outside and an uncomfortable shifting and scuffling succeeded the yell as the speaker tried to get past. The Wood Elves grumbled and complained to be so rudely shoved when they had no place to go.
"Who speaks?" commanded Iarwain, craning his neck to see the cause of the disturbance. Indeed, everyone gathered before the dais turned to follow his gaze and learn the identity of the new witness.
"Me!" came the disgruntled reply. A minute more of squeezing and twisting amid indignant and scandalised eldar heralded the advance of a rumpled, red-faced Man dressed in the practical manner of a forester, for it was the messenger from the woodsmen's village.
"What do you want here?" demanded the King. "These proceedings are closed to all but the citizens of the Realm. If there is aught that impacts your folk, our scribes will inform you."
"He is a citizen!" retorted Legolas hotly and again his friends had need to restrain him. While he could find no will to defend his own honour, for those under his patronage he would face down any unjust word.
"I thank you, atheling," smiled the human with a warm glance to his forest prince. The bold mortal then bowed low before the Wood Elves' King. "My Lord, I want to add the names of my village's people, and those of our neighbouring settlements also, to that list of folk who deem it a privilege to be called Tirno's friends."
There were many exclamations of pleased surprise at this gesture and Thranduil really could not find anything with which to counter the goodwill of the Man's sentiments. He glared coldly at the mortal's open devotion to the disgraced prince.
Not so complete has the banishment been! Exiled from elven realms, the outcast makes a duchy among the Followers' settlements.
"Very well, human, your choice for your people shall be marked. And now if we may proceed to the charge…" Iarwain replied and was peremptorily cut off by Legolas' advance to the mortal, a huge smile gracing his fair features, his hand out thrust in the customary greeting among Men.
"I am so glad you are here," spoke Legolas.
The worthy woodsman grasped and pumped the elf's slender fingers twice before pulling hard and grappling the Tawarwaith in a suffocating bear hug, laughing heartily. They separated and the Man's face split into a delighted grin as he appraised the wild elf critically.
"Well then, Tirno, you look a mite better than when last I set sights on you! Our lasses would be well pleased, I warrant that," he said, and his mild tease was enjoyed by the elves as their champion could not hide the embarrassment the comment wrought.
"I thank you for bringing my letter to Fearfaron," the Tawarwaith continued, deciding not to encourage the human's humour. "How fares Cemendur? How much have Chloe and Amethyst grown? Is the Elder well? And what news of Llanadh and Sarah? I must beg forgiveness for leaving as I did, it was wrong of me!"
He would have continued in this vein for some time but the mortal overwhelmed his exuberant babbling with jovial laughter as he shook his head.
"Nay, atheling, none of that talk! The Elder understood I am certain, and Fearfaron explained the situation when I got here. Be at peace over Cemendur; he was bawling to have his belly filled when I left and keeps his aunt up nights with his stomach's demands rather than his hurts, I reckon.
"Now how can the wee ones be grown when you've not been gone but a two-month? We're humans, not weeds, young tree lord! When you return, the gals will still be too little to fight over who gets to be your bride."
More soft laughter filled the room at this gentle joking and the Tawarwaith's pink response. Not a single countenance was bereft of a cheery grin.
Save Thranduil, who watched with cautiously curious interest. Despite his displeasure at having forgotten about this mortal in the excitement over his son's birth, he wanted to understand the depth of this Man's dedication to the outcast. At the disastrous Council of the Thrashing Trees, the King had been regaled with tales of the forest champion's deeds on behalf of the mortal squatters within his borders, and he pondered whether the disgraced archer was equipping these woodsmen with weapons and training them in warrior's ways.
It was not that he felt such forces could ever pose a threat to his rule, but that such troops might prove as useful to him as they would be to the Tawarwaith.
A single outcast elf against hundreds of Orcs must fall eventually either to death or a fate far worse. One First Born directing an army of mortals, doomed to die anyway, might just crack the impervious walls of Dol Guldur. Thranduil decided it was time to remind the woodsman who was the ruler in the Greenwood, and rose to his feet.
"These are formal proceedings, human, but we would be grateful to hear your words if they bear upon the truth. We must learn the source and extent of the plot against our lands."
"Aye, aye, that we must! And if one so humble may speak up here I was also a witness to the foreign elves' actions," he said, eyeing Erestor with distaste. "These two Noldor dwelt in our village a time and though they helped in some ways, I have since found out there was treachery afoot."
"Is that so?" queried Thranduil silkily. "Please enlighten us to all that transpired. Tell us, how came those elves among your people? Is it not true that this elf here, the accused, brought them into your settlement?" demanded Thranduil.
As simply as that the relaxed mood returned to its sombre, serious disposition.
"Accused? Our Tirno? Our atheling?" the human feigned shocked disbelief though of course he had heard of the impending charges the same as everyone else within the city. He shook his head gravely and reached out to wrap an arm over the archer's shoulders and draw him close.
"Nay, Lord, that is a gross error," he said earnestly and met the Woodland King's eye with his honest, steady stare.
"Well said!" seconded Aragorn vehemently and sent a smile filled with approbation to the simple forester. As the only two mortals present, he could not help feeling a sense of kinship with the Man, though in truth the woodsman was more distant in kind from Isildur's heir than ever Aragorn was from the eldar.
The messenger acknowledged this with a respectful nod.
"These are our ways, Man, and you should not be so bold in challenging customs among the First Born!" countered Thranduil, ignoring Aragorn. "Do you fear to offer your testimony now? Is what you know so injurious to your disgraced benefactor? And if you would claim citizenship among these borders, then your 'atheling' as you term him, sleeps above in his mother's arms. Our Realm does have an heir, but this elf is not he."
"It is not the same thing, citizenship within the Woodland Realm and citizenship within Tawar!" snapped Legolas.
Fearfaron could not suppress a satisfied smile to see the frustrated look upon Thranduil's features. The King was about to receive an education on the duality of the Greenwood's culture, a dip into the spiritual substructure to their society he found so unsavoury. And his tutor was not one the mighty Sinda noble was likely to appreciate.
Lindalcon shared the joke with the carpenter; the two trading amused gazes as the younger elf moved to stand with his brother at the human's side. Indeed, it was safe to say few in the room's centre misunderstood Legolas' views of the forest's governing except Thranduil. Iarwain looked positively delighted while the wizards watched with glittering eyes. Murmuring amid the population told their instinctive comprehension of what their champion meant, and agreement for his place among them.
The Imladrians only felt concern for their friend should he raise the King's ire farther, however, for both knew what must be divulged soon.
"Nay, I do not worry to explain it to you, Lord," the Man said with benevolent kindness, diverting the King's hostile eyes from the outcast. "It is as Tirno declares. Here within the borders of the Northern Forest is the Kingdom of the Wood Elves and this mountain is the fortress and symbol of the great strength of the One gifted to His Eldest Children.
"Yon babe, your prince, is heir to this Realm! We may be simple mortals, yet we understand this well enough and will pay due respect to him, when he comes into his own, even as we regard you now and bowed to Oropher before."
"Aye, but on the opposite side of the Central Mountains, there the strength of our warriors' arms no longer reaches." Legolas took up the lesson. "Yet beyond that boundary the forest still exists, and there is the Lordship of Tawar besieged. Once we were allies and defended Tawar. Now we can scarcely keep this small corner of Greenwood free of the Darkness!" The wild elf's impassioned words tugged upon the hearts of the Sylvan's for many remembered well the days of which their champion spoke.
Aragorn and Erestor, however, were completely confused and looked to Mithrandir and Aiwendil, then to Legolas, and last at Thranduil. Who were these confederates? Was he referring to Lothlorien or the Men of Dale? At least they had the satisfaction of observing similar bewilderment upon the King's countenance.
"Hold, of what alliance do you speak, Tirno?" he said, and the intake of breaths throughout the assembly upon hearing this use of the familiar term for the wild elf was almost but not quite undetectable. Thranduil frowned at his mistake and was about to correct himself when he sensed a definite upwelling of approval from among the throng. He hesitated.
"I do not speak of any treaty or union among armies, as you must be thinking," Legolas took advantage of the momentary lapse and continued patiently. "Tawar is…" he found this a difficult concept to put in words, so much was it a part of his soul. He could no more explain how his heart kept beating, yet knew well that it did so.
"The Greenwood, its trees, its creatures, its elves and its Men, all of this is Tawar. The air of it, that is Manwë's suspiration, and the water flowing across the lands like the lifeblood pounding throughout my body, Ulmo's gift, all are Tawar.
"And long were the days when none of these elements could be seen to conflict or work at cross purposes. It has not been so for numerous years, even prior to my birth. The Wood Elves have ceased to be Tawar's voice, though still we dwell here, abiding in Greenwood.
"Without a voice, how can the strength of the forest's feä be made known to Arda? When the trees are silenced, the Valar hear not Tawar's song, whether it be of hope and joy or sorrow and pleading! Thus does the Darkness enter in and force strange and terrible anthems from the harmony of the Music." Legolas himself became quiet, for he could see by the confused and somewhat incredulous expression on the King's features that he was not making this clear at all.
"Are you saying the Wood Elves are responsible for the Shadow's advance over the Greenwood?" demanded Thranduil angrily. "If so you are wrong to suggest that! Nay, more than erroneous, such words are verily treasonous. Without my warriors, the Wraiths would be residing here in this mountain fortress and not hiding in their pestilential tower."
"Nay, that is no betrayal," corrected Mithrandir. "Legolas does not speak against you but against the circumstances of our times. You wish to know the truth concerning what is happening in your Realm, then listen, Thranduil, and mayhap we will learn what motivates the forest champion's activities."
"In some ways, I do assign responsibility to elf-kind," Legolas continued carefully. "We did not bring the Darkness here, but neither have we been able to eradicate it! When first the eldar came under the eaves, was not a sort of pact made then between the Children of the Stars and the Greenwood? The forest protects us and gives us life, were we not agreeing to do the same in turn? The Sylvan people have broken this covenant and abandoned the rest of Tawar!
"We are sundered from the bulk of the woods, no longer sending our soldiers to aid the woodsmen. We do not patrol the Dwarven Road and the Orcs multiply in the Central Mountains, while the spiders' venom grows more virulent and resists our healer's remedies!
"How long has it been since any travelled here from among Beorn's folk or from Rohan? Less and less do merchants from Lake Town brave the pathways we created through the trees to reach our city. Of journeys to Lorien, these grow ever rarer and even messengers seldom reach their destination intact.
"Indeed, are you aware that the elf-made byways are being twisted and rearranged to lead the unsuspecting directly into the lairs of the foul Orcs? You could not know, for no longer do the warriors safeguard the way!"
"Yet what would you have me do?" shouted the King. "We are fewer in numbers than before the Last Alliance and cannot allow the might of our warriors to be stretched out too thinly. Our first responsibility must be to safeguard our own, our families and our homes."
"Are these others not our own, also? Thus is accomplished the work of the Shadow, when the First Born forget their stewardship over these lands and withdraw the protection we alone can give!" Legolas shouted back.
"Here now, Tirno, that is a bit too harsh," it was the woodsman, interrupting the elves to smother the growing heat of their interchange. "None of that was where I was heading with my little explanation to the King. I only wanted him to see that he rules here while within the wider reaches of Tawar another may shepherd. I but wished to make plain that whatever elf may be heir to this Realm, you will always be our atheling."
In soundless wonder Legolas stared at the Man, for he had not foreseen this at all, nor did he consider himself their leader.
"Oh," he said awkwardly and chanced a rather befuddled glance at Fearfaron, who was grinning hugely at his son's discomfort over this avowal of confidence and trust.
"So, the outcast would still claim his former title after all," seethed Thranduil. "That I do name treason!"
"If that is traitorous then so is this very Council," fumed Iarwain. "May I remind you, Lord Thranduil, that it is Kingship which is new here. When Oropher came among us with his army, he might have tried to subdue our people with force, yet he did not even though confrontations did arise and blood was shed."
"This history lesson I need not!" barked Thranduil, red of face and so tense his furled fists looked as though the very bones of his hands must split through the skin. In these woods and among its foolish people, Thranduil had spilled some of that blood himself.
"It was agreed the Council would remain in authority over the issues of the spirit, and these include our part in the song of our forest," the Elder continued as though he did not notice the affect his remarks produced, "while your father would grant us the benefit of his military might and diplomatic acumen. We knew even in those days the Tawarwaith would arise among us, and instead of posing a threat to your dominion he would strengthen it, whatever title he might bear, even if it were an opprobrious one. If you have lamed your own charger, blame not the worthy stallion."
"Aye, he is our Tawarwaith," the Man summed up with a nod of his head and the Sylvan elves murmured their concurrence.
The King paced back and forth on the dais before the assembly, visibly disturbed and beyond anger, for the mention of the early days amid the Greenwood wrenched unpleasant memories to the fore of his thoughts.
The events played out before his eyes as though it was but yesterday that the trek from Beleriand was completed. His party had been stopped as they came under the trees for their group was separated from the main body of the Sinda host. An elf had given birth on the journey and had need of a slower pace. The youngest son of Oropher and a small contingent of warriors provided the family's escort and protection. The Wood Elves were armed and requested Thranduil give answer for their trespass.
It had just been a misunderstanding. He had spoken too hastily, too harshly, and ordered the archers to put down their weapons, believing his father had already encountered these Sylvans and arranged safe passage. Thranduil had become angry when they refused, insisting his party halt until they could get news to their elders. As he urged his horse to continue forward in defiance of their demands, one of the archers released a warning shot. It embedded in the trunk of a tree behind his head, but to his warriors it must have seemed he was doomed. One of his spearmen loosed his long lance into the leaves and brought down the Wood Elf, dead.
Of course this spawned retaliatory arrow fire and the Sinda soldier fell instantly. The whole situation spun out of control. The Sindar learned the skill of the Sylvan archers and the advantage of the branches, for in seconds Thranduil had lost three worthy fighters, including a cousin by blood. The son of Oropher took an arrow through his shoulder and skewered the leg of the elf that dared wound him, using the spear yanked from the body of the first casualty to do it.
He had never thought to see an elf kill another elf. He had never imagined he would try to do so himself and the event sickened him, emotionally and physically.
The same effect could be seen to take hold of the Sylvan eldar, for they also ceased warring and simply disappeared among the leaves, not even taking the body of their dead comrade away, an unholy keening dirge flowing from their souls as they left.
Thranduil did not know then that the surviving Sylvan warriors had taken their own lives. It was long centuries before this information was learned, and by that time his hatred for the Wood Elves had solidified in his embittered soul. They were kin-slayers, that which he most despised. Even worse, they had shown him that this capability lay dormant within himself.
And buried deep in a shielded fortress in his inner heart was the knowledge that the Sindar had made the first kill, and that he had caused this.
"Then, it will please you to understand that our King has pledged his assistance to the Tawarwaith in his undertakings to rid the Greenwood of the Shadow's grasp," Iarwain filled in the growing void in order to prevent Thranduil from exploding, for the restless Sinda certainly looked on the verge of some terrible outburst.
Hearing this, Thranduil turned his chilling disgust upon the eldest councillor. Plainly enough he could see this elf was attempting to goad him into losing control and further disgracing himself. He seeks to make me appear incompetent. Is he trying to capture his old place as the forest's leader? I should have thought to find the conspiracy involved Iarwain the friend of Oromë!
He could comprehend that the Elder had no need to seek the help of Elrond in this scheme. So blinded was Thranduil by his wrath towards the half-elf that any action against the Realm would rapidly be tied to the Elf Lord in some way. The King began to perceive how easy to predict his actions were, how simple it was to manipulate his thoughts. Unbidden, an image of Meril flooded his brain, but he swept it away impatiently.
What then of Elrond, for he is mixed in some how.
Still Iarwain would not be able to engineer the events at Erebor singly. Affairs of state were handled exclusively by the Sindar. There were no Sylvan captains, only warriors, archers, spear bearers and swordsmen. The Council did not even have a say in whether or no their Realm would go to war.
Iarwain is an opportunist! This rift is his chance to weaken the throne and wrest control of the Woodlands from Oropher's line.
While this reasoning did not help explain the Peredhel's activities or the connection to Erebor, it did underscore Thranduil's initial impression of his discarded heir. The outcast was merely a tool in skilful hands, a chisel employed by a devious artist to sculpt a new fate for the Woodland elves.
Nay, not a tool but a weapon designed for one target alone. In my disgust for Ningloriel's progeny I am even more predictable and easily riled to rage. Recognising this fuelled the King to indignant wrath and he decided that a weapon could be wielded by whatever hand took it up.
"So I did pronounce!" he stated loudly and abruptly stepped down from the dais. During his silent brooding the room had begun humming with excited, subdued arguing over the mood of the King, and his sudden action made everyone hush as all eyes riveted upon the Sinda Lord.
In two long strides he was standing right in front of Legolas, staring hard into the surprised and edgy countenance of the wild elf. Thranduil stood a head taller and his more substantial frame obscured the accused from the rest of the gathered elves, wizards, and Men in the centre of the chamber. He was so close he could see the flecks of gold within the blue irises, which shrank away to narrow rims of navy blue as the pupils dilated in response to this threat.
His actions had been too swift for any to intervene. As he had moved forward the nervous woodsman had retreated to Aragorn's side and only Lindalcon remained by Legolas to lend support. The younger elf was nearly trembling as he gripped tightly to the wild elf's arm and Thranduil watched the outcast attempt to calm his sworn brother with an answering squeeze to his hand.
"How can I fulfil that oath when you place yourself with outlanders and give them aid? What happened, Tawarwaith? How came you under the influence of those Noldor? What made you trust them?" The King's quietly uttered questions were such a startling contrast to the menace presented by his physical proximity that it was far more effective than shouted threats would have been.
Legolas opened his mouth and shut it; stunned and unable at first to make any thoughts come forward in a coherent pattern that could actually be expressed. He swallowed and blinked under the stern and searching gaze upon him, exasperated that Thranduil could still reduce him to internal quaking like some callow elfling. He shifted his head to try and find Fearfaron's eyes.
"Speak," demanded the King, but his voice was calm, for he had noted that the fallen archer sought out the carpenter and not Iarwain.
"I will answer!" replied Erestor, very afraid that Thranduil was prepared to do some physical harm to Legolas. He stepped up and reached for the wild prince, pulling him back from under the Sinda Lord's very breath while his hand found its place on the hilt of his sword.
At the same time, Legolas pushed Lindalcon away towards Fearfaron, and Valtamar's son did not need more encouragement to remove himself from the confrontation. He found a spot next to Aiwendil, and the two exchanged their worry for their friend in grim glances.
"Lies and deceit, these are the methods we used to gain his trust. But understand this, Legolas was never an accomplice to our plots."
"Erestor of Imladris, why should I hear you or believe any words you say?" answered Thranduil, but he had not removed his eyes from Legolas and willed the fallen archer to meet his stare. "If he is not your cohort, what have you made this journey to salvage?" Thranduil could hear Legolas' disturbed breathing in the soundless pause that followed these words. Does he fear the Noldo will reply with a lover's declaration?
"Friendship," responded Erestor with sombre remorse and sorrow in his tones.
Then the Tawarwaith's gaze did flicker away in pained dismay to dart over the Noldo's face before finding the floor and then returning to bravely stare back at the Woodland ruler. With the briefest lift of his left brow Thranduil acknowledged both the strength that required and the distress the wild elf tried, but failed, to disguise as anger.
"I do not think you have shown such regard to any citizen of these lands," remarked the King sardonically. "Nor have you explained why you are here, why you practised this deceit."
"I know something of it!" called out the woodsman.
"So you have said," interjected Iarwain. "Please tell us what occurred." He did not like this change in Thranduil's behaviour. The Council was his domain.
"Yes, human, give us your evidence!" commanded the King loudly but never turned from the forest champion.
"Our village was attacked by the Dark Lord in a curse of heaving ground and falling trees!" the woodsman's words tumbled out in fluid rush of anxious syllables. "Many were injured and Tirno brought the Noldor in, for one was a healer. And the healer went about by the name Erestor, which I heard you call this one here, while he was known to us as Berenaur. So Tirno called them and Radagast too, and we thought nothing about it.
"We were grateful for the help, until it was made clear those two had harmed our atheling somehow," added the woodsman with another disparaging look at the advisor. "Aiwendil and the Elder had everyone running round keeping sure Tirno was not ever alone with either of them."
"Indeed!" Thranduil at last relinquished Legolas from his compelling glare and turned a most unpleasant scowl upon the Brown wizard. "You certainly were aware of who they were yet you did nothing. You kept their secret! Why did you not send word to me of this invasive element in my Realm?"
"I am not your subject," warned the Istar. "Even so, had your lands been under any threat from the Imladrians, I would have done. My concern was for Legolas and the suffering humans. Admittedly, I failed my friend. Long will I regret it! Yet despite their subterfuge and his own reduced state, Elrond could not make Legolas speak against his own.
"Many were the charges the Noldo Lord laid upon your name, Thranduil, yet Tirno would not allow a single one to pass unchallenged. They assumed those identities, realising he would have acted differently were it clear he beheld the Lord of Imladris and his right hand. Their efforts were for nought; no ally did they win."
"Used!" said Thranduil to Legolas, the single word packed with scornful pity. "By this I take it to mean you would not have bedded them had you comprehended that one was, according to your understanding, your own father."
A spasm ran over the wild elf's frame and involuntarily he shook his head as if to displace the ugly image from its well-seated niche in his reality.
"Enough!" thundered Mithrandir, advancing to confront the King. Thranduil ignored him and held the Tawarwaith's gaze.
"You aided them; they exploited you. Would you have been more ready to become Elrond's spy had he approached you honestly? If he had not sought to possess your body, might he have been able to gain your heart?"
He could see that those words hurt, for the fallen warrior physically winced and grew as pale as the mist rising over the river at dawn.
But as Thranduil watched Legolas shed the clinging calumny of his defilement and the dynamic force of the Forest Spirit gained dominance in his soul. His countenance took on an expression the King found unsettling in its familiarity. With a jaw tightening surge of obstinate temerity the Tawarwaith drew his lips into a firmly compressed line and directed a fiery glance upon the wizard that halted him in mid-step. Simultaneously everything in the whole forest stopped. Thranduil found that even he was holding his breath. The blue rage returned to the wild elf's eyes and they refocused on the Wood Elves' Lord.
"I would never betray Tawar regardless of who holds my heart, and no enemy of my Greenwood could ever do so!" his statement was clear and none hearing it would doubt the verity of those words.
A small smile upended the corners of Thranduil's lips as he regained his respiration and nodded slightly. Likewise, the assembly relaxed and a low murmur rippled through the room.
"Nasan [It is so]," he said quietly and returned to his place upon the dais.
"I withdraw the charge of treason from the Tawarwaith. Let our history show that even under severe duress the outcast held true. The fault lies elsewhere," with these words Thranduil let his icy glare travel from the face of Erestor to that of the eldest Elder, there to remain.
"So noted!" intoned the Councillor of Record, and thus was the final charge voided.