Notes are at the end this time…. Thanks everyone, this has been lots of fun!
Leaf and Branch: Epilogue
The sumptuous longboat, fashioned of silver-grey woods and carved in the shape of a swan, meandered up the Anduin under a hidden power, against the flow and yet as serene as could be. At the prow, one arm draped about the neck of the swan, Legolas of Mirkwood hung over the edge as far as he could, perfectly balanced, trailing his fingers in the water and chattering endlessly on about anything and everything that caught his eye or fancy. Celeborn, who stood placidly beside him, listened with great satisfaction to the excited young voice, occasionally bending down to take the boy by the back of his belt when he leaned too far. The day was painfully beautiful, with a sky so clear that everything stood out in sharp relief all over the Vale of Anduin. Beyond the plains stretching to either side of the Great River, the Misty Mountains towered above them to the west, and the fastness of Mirkwood to the east. The sun was near its apex, bright and warm; it was a day to make one rejoice at simply being alive.
At the stern, under a canopy of pale lavender silk, Elrond Peredhil sat with the Lady Galadriel; they were attended by Glorfindel, who seemed utterly content to stand there and just breathe, relieved and delighted and glad to be heading home to Imladris. What might have been going through Galadriel's mind, none dared even ponder; but Elrond knew a vast, encompassing peace, one that could not be shattered even by the concept that they would be meeting soon with his old nemesis, Thranduil, before they all returned home. It was long past time to reunite father and son, and if the King of Mirkwood had not been changed by all that had happened, it was not Elrond's problem.
Nor, he suspected, would it particularly be the problem of Thranduil's unquenchable son. Smiling, Elrond looked down the length of the boat to where Legolas, no longer dangling off the prow, was now kneeling at Celeborn's feet, utterly enmeshed in whatever that worthy Lord was telling him – some tale of the Elder days, he supposed, by the look on the older Elf's face and the gestures he was making. The prince stared intensely up at him, his mouth in an O of delight; Celeborn was a master storyteller, and had probably lived through the events of which he spoke. Elrond almost envied the child his youth. So much to explore, so much to learn…
No, that child was unlikely to be weighted down by whatever madness had turned Thranduil from a reasonable, intelligent, normal Sindar lord into a seeker after Dwarven treasures, obsessed with things that faded away while ignoring the eternal right before his very eyes. Occasional jests were made in other Elvish realms, generally in questionable taste, that it might be the very atmosphere of Mirkwood that had made the House of Oropher so odd – all those giant poisonous spiders, and the interlocked trees so tall, forbidding and dark, they made the Forest of Fangorn look bright and airy…. Elrond knew differently, of course, for he had shared the mind of Thranduil's son, and walked through Shadow at Galadriel's back, and he did not worry for the future of the little prince any longer.
"He does not remember, does he," Elrond murmured. Galadriel shortened her gaze and looked as well upon the child, who was now crowing with delight as Celeborn wound up his tale and brought it to a rousing conclusion.
"He will remember enough, in time," she said softly.
"It seems somehow – unfair." Elrond groped for words. "To have been to Lothlorien and not be allowed to remember he was even there. These two days have done more to heal his spirit than anything else could do, and yet all he will remember is that he awakened here this morning on your swan-ship, was told he was injured but that all is well –"
"And that now he is being taken home to be with his father," Galadriel finished. "I have taken nothing of what he did in battle, or what the Orcs did to him; he has learned the lessons he needed from it all, Elrond. Of Nazgul and their potions, of death and abomination, he will instinctively understand more than enough at need. To let him remember one visit to Lothlorien is to require that he remember all. He has been through a great deal more than either you or I had endured by his age. And someday, he will return to Lothlorien. That much I do know."
Elrond bowed to her wisdom. "At least we will remember his visit," he murmured, not without irony. "And that will not be a bad thing, I think."
It had been an interesting two days. Some long years had passed since Celeborn and Galadriel had had a curious, limber, fearless little Elf loose in their household; that had been their grand-daughter Arwen, Elrond's child, and she was long since an adult herself. The Lord and Lady of Lothlorien had taken all in their customary stride, of course, but Elrond had a number of pleasant memories to help with the partaking of the more frightful.
Finding himself in an utterly new place among Elves he had never met before – people who were delighted to take him into their hearts as much for the sake of what they knew he had suffered, as for his personal beauty and innocent charms – Legolas had made a gallant attempt to be everywhere at once, pointing out every new thing he saw, taking in every sight and sound and taste as if he were newly born into the world. Or re-born, Elrond thought, and quelled a shudder of awe.
One moment the child was watching Celeborn's master fletcher make new arrows, observing the Elven artist's technique and attempting to replicate it; then before anyone quite knew where he was off to next, he was hurtling down some forest path as fast as his strong legs could carry him, only to gather himself up and make an elegant leap onto the branch of a tree. Legolas would thence disappear for long stretches of time into the foliage and reappear at the base of another tree altogether, taking a quick nap with his eyes open.
He stalked rabbits in the Wood with Lorien's seniormost watch captain, Haldir; to Elrond's amusement, Legolas even convinced Glorfindel to teach him how to carve a whistle out of a willow twig, a lesson they accomplished whilst dangling their feet in the chill water off a small bridge over the Nimrodel. Turn one's back on him for a heartbeat, and the next thing one knew, the child was standing tiptoed on the base of Galadriel's mirror, stretching so he could watch in awe as she swirled the waters and showed him the history of their Race…. Except for quick Elf-naps, he had not really slept in the whole of two days.
And then this morning, just before they departed, Legolas had come down a path chasing after grasshoppers and singing – only to stop, still and watchful, at the sight of Elrond reading an old scroll with sufficiently intense focus as to catch the child's attention from across the little clearing. He waited politely for the Lord of Imladris to look up; when Elrond did not, but simply beckoned as he read, the child decided he had to know what was so interesting, and sat himself down next to Elrond on the carved bench. Legolas had all but instantly lost his awe of the Lord whose name was an unpleasant epithet in Thranduil's halls, and so sat close with a child's comfortable familiarity, resting his cheek against Elrond's velvet sleeve to ask his favorite question:
"What are you doing?"
Adults could be so obvious. Legolas grinned. "Reading what?"
Elrond looked up at that, and arched an elegant eyebrow at the imp. "A scroll. Now ask me what scroll."
The child giggled at him. He seemed to have quite gotten over the fact that he was all of twenty-three years old and a warrior, thank you very much. "No, because if I ask you what scroll, all you'll say is 'this scroll.' So –" Legolas took a deep breath – "What is the content of the scroll you are reading, my Lord?"
Elrond shook his head, smiling. "I see you are a morning person," he murmured, seemingly apropos of nothing, and moved the scroll slightly to his left so the lad could scan the words. "As it happens, this is the story of the final battle."
Legolas knew enough of his racial history to ask the most intelligent question: "Which final battle?"
"Of the War of the Last Alliance," Elrond said somberly, nodding in approbation of the choice of query. Legolas went all still, making Elrond think of fireflies captured in crystal.
Oh, indeed.Elrond did not admit to the lad that he was reacquainting himself with the incident in preparation to meeting up again with Thranduil, whom he had not seen in person – was it actually so long? Blessed Valar… -- since the departure of the Mirkwood forces for home in the aftermath.
"I've heard my father's songs about it," Legolas murmured after a moment, with careful polity. "What does this scroll say, my Lord?"
Elrond read it to him, making certain to highlight the places where the ridiculous and fatal bravado of Oropher – written down by a far more kindly chronicler than had written the account in Elrond's library at Imladris – were shown to be what they had been, not wise perhaps, but definitely gallant, for this was Oropher's grandson seated so confidingly beside him. And when the tale had been all told, Elrond added in his own recollections, which opened up a veritable floodgate of eager questions: you were there? You were there! You knew my grandsire? What was my father like when he was young? Did you know him when he was my age? Are you older than he? But Lord Elrond –
Thinking back on it now, watching as a similar flood of query went on at Celeborn's knee, Elrond congratulated himself on his forbearance. He had not told Legolas all of how he felt – that Thranduil had always been a curmudgeon, at the battle and even at twenty-three, who clung to old hurts because his father said he should – and he certainly said nothing against Oropher, neutrally choosing only to say that the old King had died like a true hero of old. Elrond felt sufficiently comfortable that his memory of things was accurate, having read someone else's account uncoloured by his personal bias, that he could face Thranduil and be kind for the child's sake.
The child had eventually slipped away into one of his quick naps, head still tucked confidingly against Elrond's shoulder. It had not been too long after that Galadriel had come, bringing news that it was nearly time to depart. Elrond fancied he could still feel the wrench of finality with which she gently took the dreaming child from his side, the warmth of him lingering as she walked away with Legolas in her arms.
The next time he had seen the little prince, he had been deeply asleep aboard the swan ship; when he awakened, the whole thing had to be explained as Galadriel commanded – that fever kept him from remembering how he had come to be there, but his wounds were made whole now, and he was being taken home to his father. Introductions were made all over again. All of Lothlorien and the happy two days of peace were distilled down to the Now, and from some confused moments before the arrival of the Nazgul to this very moment, Legolas remembered absolutely nothing save what they told him he had done, or had had done to him. It made Elrond feel very odd.
Ah well, no mind; they were all more than ready for the reunion. The Lord and Lady would be as they always were, and Elrond's preparations were made. And Legolas – well, it was his father, after all, and adventures are fine – but home is a better place to be in the end. Celeborn rose, drawing the child to his feet, and they came toward the stern.
He looked a proper Mirkwood prince once more. Clothing appropriate to his age and station had been made for Legolas after the style and of the materials favored by his people. His long, sun-coloured hair had been neatly combed back into the topknot appropriate to his youth, tied into place with a strip of green leather left over from the making of his new tunic. Elrond would have liked to gift the prince with new weapons, but Celeborn had rightly pointed out that such a gift was a father's right to give, and Thranduil's pride might chafe; enough, that Elrond had gifted the boy with his life.
"We saw them!" Legolas announced, only just remembering at the last second to make a proper bow to Galadriel before rushing headlong into his words. "Father's outriders – they're coming!"
So great was his excitement that Legolas did not notice the nearly identical reaction among the adults: a kind of deepening focus, an unvoiced sigh. Quicksilver to the core, though, the child realized something in the very same heartbeat wherein the joy of reunion flared: that he would be leaving these stunningly different Elders with whom he had traveled so happily these past hours, and especially the mysterious Lord Elrond, who had found him in the Orc den and had saved his life. He subsided into silence, unsure, and clasped his hands behind his back. "I will miss you all!" he breathed, feeling a great tragedy was about to happen and resenting it utterly. Galadriel laughed indulgently and kissed away the resentment, embracing him until he smiled again.
"We are but returning home, little prince," she reminded him, "not taking ship for the West – not for many years. Someday, you must come again to visit me in Lothlorien. I will show you my mallorn trees, would you like that?"
Elrond could not look the child in the face as Legolas brought his blue eyes to bear on the Lady's, wide with wonder and joy. "I would like that very much, Lady! I hope it will be soon!"
"The young are so impatient," she said, making Elrond twitch slightly, and Galadriel tweaked Legolas' topknot in a maternal gesture of teasing. "Mallorn trees are almost as eternal as Elves," she assured the boy. "You will have plenty of time to see everything in the whole wide world, if that is what you desire."
Then she rose, turning Legolas about to face forward, and the barest second later there came a melodious report of silver trumpets from the eastern shore. It was Thranduil, surprisingly not attended by half the known world and then some; no banners flew, and apart from the trumpets – more a signal than an affectation – there was no other show of pomp. Looking at him, seeing how the centuries had changed him, suspecting how the past week had probably affected him, Elrond felt a twinge of pity.
The boat came to shore just below the bridge at the Old Ford. Behind lay the High Pass, whence shortly Elrond expected to see his sons and the warriors of Imladris arrive with a spare horse, to take him home; before, the shadowy opening in Mirkwood's fastness that was the Old Forest Road, down which Thranduil would bear his son away to Eryn Lasgalen. Lothlorien servants and Silvan Elves moved to make the boat secure and to facilitate the meeting of these great ones; the King of Mirkwood dismounted from a huge, moonlight-coloured stallion and started uncertainly toward the party as they debarked. Quivering with excitement, Legolas looked up at Galadriel for permission; she nodded gravely, releasing his hand.
The child whirled, quick as a deer, and left nary a footprint in the damp sand as he ran to silently throw himself at his father. Thranduil caught Legolas to him with a wordless cry; the prince clung with desperate joy to his sire's neck, breathing hard, his eyes closed as he dug his cheek into the King's shoulder and hung on for dear life. Safe… For his part Thranduil did not seem to mind that knowing eyes could see his tears of relief, did not care what he must look like with his son clinging to him like a limpet, the slender legs locked about his waist.
"Now there is reason enough to forgive him much," Celeborn murmured, well pleased. Elrond completely agreed. Nor was he entirely surprised that Thranduil was profound and (for him) effusive in his thanks to them all, but chiefly to Elrond. After he coaxed Legolas to let him go there was actually a rather enjoyable visit, with Thranduil making an effort to be far more pleasant than any of them could remember him being in some long years. He could not take his eyes for long from the face of his son, of course, and every time the child's voice piped up, excited or thoughtful or delighted by the turns of a heartbeat, there was such naked relief in the King's eyes that it almost hurt to look at him.
But all things must come to an end, of course, and at length, knowing it would be dark in a few hours, they all realized it was time to make such an end and be about their own affairs. Yet did Thranduil beg their indulgence for one thing more, bowing gallantly to Galadriel.
"There is one matter that needs doing," the King announced, "and that is a thing always best done before one's Elders." He looked with some significance at Elrond, then at the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien, and finally at Glorfindel. "After what has transpired, I cannot think of four better Elders to witness this, than each of you."
"And what is this matter of which you speak?" Galadriel asked formally, looking unsurprised. Thranduil turned to look at Legolas, who stood at his side, poised on the balls of his feet; he smiled fondly, and the child blessed him with a heartbreakingly beautiful smile in return, leaning with familiarity into his sire's side.
"I know many a warrior who is privileged to wear his hair braided like an adult, who has not carried himself with half the courage as a little bird of my acquaintance," he said, and his son went suddenly very, very still, eyes widening as he stared up at the King. "We Elves are a gallant folk who are known for many bright deeds – but some are brighter than others."
Thranduil looked at the four visitors. "I intend to trade this little bird's topknot for the braids of a warrior, and I wish you to witness it – and since such things should also come from the hand of Beauty, I would beg that the Lady Galadriel would assist me."
Galadriel's smile went very deep indeed; she tucked her chin and gazed at the King from under her brows. Thranduil Oropherion of Mirkwood had not begged anyone for anything in a very long time – and if beg he must, she could think of no better thing for him to ask. For once, she was proud of him.
"I will, and it honours me," she said.
She seemed to know without asking what the custom was among Thranduil's kin; no one was surprised at that, either. She brought Legolas, who was still utterly stunned, from his father's side; made him stand with his back to the King, facing Elrond, Celeborn, and Glorfindel, then chucked the little prince on the chin to gain a quavering smile from him before stepping lightly to Thranduil's side, placing her hand atop his as he slipped loose the tie holding the bright topknot on his son's head. Only adults were allowed to wear their hair loose among the Elves, and there were as many reasons as there were patterns for the various braids, clasps, and such that were worn in the varied Elven realms. Legolas' breath came rapidly as the bright hair fell about his shoulders; he did not know where to look, and felt as if his heart might burst for joy.
As his gaze sought something to hold onto, Legolas looked first at Celeborn – but then he thought of just how old the Lord might be, and how many absolute thousands of warriors he must have seen braided in his time, and the weight of that responsibility just made Legolas' head hurt. So he looked at Elrond – and though that storm-coloured gaze had probably seen quite a few such rites of passage as well, somehow it was easier to look him in the eye because after all, there had been a life returned between them, and that was a very good thing indeed.
Elrond watched with poignant pride and a vast sense of relief as Thranduil took from one of his Silvan folk a narrow wooden comb, much carved and set with ithildin, and handed it ceremoniously to Galadriel. The White Lady bowed gravely in return and combed out Legolas' golden hair until it crackled about his slim shoulders like a cape of silk, falling halfway down his back. Then Thranduil, as was appropriate, gathered up the top layer of the bright stuff starting just at his son's temples, and smoothed it to the back, separating it into six narrower strands. These he deftly wove into the warrior's braid of the House of Oropher, intricate yet delicate, until it fell in a neat plait down the back center of Legolas' head. The prince was holding his breath; Elrond could almost see in the lad's eyes an echo of years of being taught the braiding pattern at home, practicing on ribbons, straw, anything but his own hair – because it was important that he someday be able to do it himself, when it was his right, behind his own head without looking.
Then Galadriel stepped back to Legolas' side and, gathering more bright strands from his sidelocks, created a long, slender braid of three strands, knotting it elegantly with itself so that the free end hung loose to the length of his hair with no need of a fastener. When she passed in front of him to braid the other sidelock, she paused to bow to him – warrior's inspiration giving honour to warrior – and he was so awestruck at the concept that one could almost hear the music trying to sing out of his heart. Another moment of work, another braid perfectly done – and the little prince was no longer quite so little. Another turn of the wheel, another childhood runs its course, and the world wags on….
"May you always be brave and true, Legolas Thranduilion," Galadriel said, completing the ritual as she knelt to place her hands on his shoulders, brushing back the long, shining hair. She then cupped his face in her long-fingered hands, and kissed him thoroughly on the mouth. Had it been any other kind of moment, the adults might have been indulgently amused at the look of surprised, blushing wonder that overtook the lad's features at that unexpected salute. Celeborn thought privately that he must have looked like that himself, any of a thousand times over the preceding millennia, and had fatherly pity on Legolas; Elrond, Glorfindel, and Thranduil, who had each grown up in awe of the White Lady, found themselves exchanging looks of amused understanding over the brief tableau.
The new-found gravity and awakening confusion lasted for Legolas all of about a hundred heartbeats, long enough to give proper responses to the formal congratulations of the males, and to return Galadriel's salute with a kiss to her hand and a promise to do as she bade him. As the final goodbyes were said Elrond was pleased to see Thranduil allow his son to mount the King's own horse without assistance, which he did with all expected grace, while the Elven-King prepared to ride home on a somewhat lesser mount, though still magnificent and big enough to bear his height and weight with ease. But as the royal party from Mirkwood rode away, there were still echoes of the little bird with the golden topknot when Legolas looked back over one shoulder, flashed a lightning grin, and waved like the child he still was in some sense, until he disappeared out of sight into the Great Forest.
And as he settled down into what he knew would not be a long wait with the Lord and Lady, until the twins arrived to escort him home to Imladris, Elrond breathed a contented sigh and accepted the cup of wine that Glorfindel brought for him. Someday he would see the Prince of Mirkwood again, and someday Legolas would have a journey to Lothlorien that he was permitted to remember. For Elves, it was irrelevant to worry about when such things would happen or even if. There was time enough for all things if one could but live appropriately.
Some days were just better than others, that was all there was to that. And after a week such as this, today was a very fine day, indeed.
Galadriel's prayerful battle cry – "Le nallon sí di-nguruthos, A tiro nin, Fanuilos!" is Sindarin Elvish for "To thee I cry in the shadow of death – O look toward me, Everwhite!" which is part of the invocation to Elbereth Star-Kindler, used by Samwise Gamgee in Return of the King by Tolkien.
If you have already read Chapter 10, go back and re-read: I changed the very end slightly, it no longer ends with Legolas' admission of being hungry enough to eat a whole bear. Seemed to need something just a tad more… go back, hit refresh, and there it will be.
Well, folks, there it is: my very first tale on fanfiction.net! I am very glad so many of you have read it and enjoyed it; thank you so much! Your kind comments and helpful suggestions gladden my heart and make my plotbunnies happy. g
AJ and "evil old woman": thanks for the incentive to get off my butt and finish the Epilogue!
TreeHugger: Ooops, yes, I did kinda do a WHAM!, didn't I? g Sorry about that. My muse went a little nuts. I have to admit I enjoyed writing the byplay between Elrond and Galadriel… Gad, imagine having her for a mother-in-law… wooo…. But I can just hear Elrond way back when in a fit of pique, exclaiming that Thranduil and his entire House should be devoured by giant spiders… hee hee hee! Figures Galadriel would remember… ;-) And yes, poor Celeborn, when you read the appendices and the Other Tales, it becomes clear there is a whole lot more to him than one simple line, delivered as if he hasn't slept in a week and then been put on muscle relaxants… snrt!
Irena: Oh dear, I made someone else cry!! I hope the Epilogue left you feeling happier! And you are entirely welcome; thanks for the wonderful reading in your section too!
Thanks again, everyone, and by the way, Happy Easter! And no, I didn't intentionally write a fic about death and resurrection just for this occasion… snrt! It just kinda happened!! Honest!
May Elbereth shine brightly down on you all!