"to the bone, the half-hidden root"
Genre: Drama, Introspection
Time Frame: TA 2770, (First Age flashbacks)
Characters: Thranduil, Legolas
Summary: Some, they never forget. Some, they never forgive. As Erebor burns, Thranduil remembers the fall of Doriath, and withholds his aid.
Notes: So, when seeing the The Hobbit (proving once again that Peter Jackson is beautiful and amazing in every way, even if the books will always be foremost in my heart), I absolutely loved the whole twenty seconds of Thranduil we were able to see (yes, including the elk-mount . . . especially the elk-mount, if I am being completely honest with myself), and after the bad rep that this character has gotten over the years, I decided to try my hand at finding my way into his head. This is not a justification, simply another side of the story, and I hope I'll left you all with some food for thought by the end of it.
And now, that said, I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed penning it. :)
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words.
"to the bone, the half-hidden root"
The call of the dragon was heard before the drake himself was able to be seen.
It's cry was angry; an unnatural sound heard down in their very bones, felt in their very hearts, before they could formulate it the whole of it in their ears. At the edge of the forest, the great trees shuddered at the the wyrm's mighty roar of conquest. Their roots curled under the soil, their massive boughs turned away from the promise of fire and ash in the air as they whispered together in their old tongues. The earth under their feet shuddered, mourning the pain she felt, from her mantle to her core, at the dragon's desolation upon her surface. The wind blowing down from the west was shaped like a warning, filled with whispers of bygone ages - memories of when whole hosts of wyrms had blackened the sky under the evil of Morgoth that was - under the evil of his servant who even now tried to scratch his presence into the bones of Arda marred.
Thranduil, son of Oropher, Elven-King of Mirkwood, high upon his steed of the forest, closed his eyes against the sound, long memories of old stirring in the ancient halls of his mind as the call reverberated deep in his heart. He breathed in slowly, once, then twice, focusing instead on the cadence of his marching warriors, the sound of the forest; letting both sound louder in his ears than that of the dragon beyond them. It did little to drown out the ferocity of the wyrm, but it was enough to sharpen his focus, to fuse his attention to the plight of Erebor and Dale before him.
And then, they were close enough to hear the sound of screaming . . . the cacophony of terror was then even mightier than that of the dragon's roar.
When his troops crested the knoll, it became apparent that the threat the forest had whispered of had already dug its claws in deep to the Lonely Mountain. The great doors of the dwarf city had been blackened and razed, and the human settlement of Dale – where the sons of men lived in accord with the mountain, supplying food and supplies in turn for crafted goods and weapons – was completely destroyed, her surviving inhabitants running for the protection of the hills and forests beyond. The mighty helped the weak as they fled, the old and the young both running as fast as they could under the direction of the strong and the able.
And the fire . . . Everywhere one could look fires still burned, dotting the landscape in a gross play of red and black against fertile green and gold - what once was the wealth of a prosperous city, a prosperous realm.
The dragon roared, and the sound echoed up from deep within the halls of the mountain. Over the leather of his reins, the Elven-King's hands became fists. He forced his breathing to be even, calm and steady.
"By Eru, but the dragon has taken all," he could hear the low exhumation from one of the soldiers in the line behind him. It was a sigh breathed by many in his company, taken up like the fires in the fields beyond.
But Thranduil was silent as the carnage before them spread to reveal itself in all of its turbulent glory. In his chest, his heart pounded, slow and steady. His eyes were cool stones in his face.
(For as he looked on the great doors, burned from their cradle, he remembered the first time he had stepped foot in Thrór's halls, to offer good will and intentions to the King Under the Mountain for the betterment of both their peoples. The Gonnhirrim had called their polite overtures 'tribute', as they thought fitting to pay to the master craftsmen of the land. At the time, Thranduil had not bothered to counter them, instead staring coldly at the King upon his throne, warning growing in his heart for the greed of those who even still wore the first of the Seven Rings upon their finger – so black would the stain on Thrór's soul be until he gave up that which was given to him in blackness.)
"Have you ever seen such a carnage?" he heard one of the younger warriors ask, a youth who only would have known the Shadow growing in the forest as the greatest threat to their Age. His years were too tender to remember the great battles they had fought before.
"Not in my lifetime," came the reply from his companion, and at that too Thranduil was silent.
(And he remembered just how much the unparalleled majesty of Thrór's halls had reminded him of the home he had known in his youth, at his father's side. The Guarded Kingdom, reigned over by the great Elu-Thingol himself. He remembered Doriath in the glory that was - how the halls of Menengroth had been a jewel upon that mighty crown, carved into the mighty Thousand Caves by skilled hands and eyes drunk on the vision of 'what could be'. He remembered how the dwarves of Nagrod and Beregrond had aided them in with fortifying the underground city - using their knowledge of the earth to carve into their stone halls that which resembled a great beech forest in winter above. The stone, once sleeping, awakened under their combined craftsmanships - a bounty of winged creatures and forest animals taking life in the hewn walls, finding succor in the rock as Thingol looked on in reverance and Melain looked on in pride.)
"What shall we do?" was the question that took root in his ranks, flying from one mouth to the next. There was fear on the lips of the young men he had with him; anticipation in the few older souls who would have remembering fighting Morgoth's flaming armies of old.
"What can we do?" one replied to the other, thick foreboding settling on their shoulders like a mantle as they looked on that which was already destroyed completely. The men fled, and the children of Aulë gave up keeping with their strong arms what they would loose to the flames. "Already the dragon has the mountain, and the sons of Durin flee with the men of Dale - what would we do but for to add our own blood to the earth?"
(More painfully, he remembered how, in those days, his people had lived in friendship with the dwarves of the Blue Mountains. Doriath had learned much from the children of Aulë, preparing as they were to battle the nameless dread of Queen Melain's heart - a nameless dread that had came true when the terror that was Morgoth returned was unleashed upon the shores of Middle-Earth, a foe for all of the three peoples under the sun to face. He remembered the First Battle, how his kin had fought side by side with their dwarvish neighbors, each side the better for such an alliance.)
The chatter of his men rose with the song of the dragon, with the flight of the dwarves and men beyond them. He blinked against the rise of sound, and slowly, he held up his hand to signal his troops to both stillness and silence. In the valley before the mountain, the eyes of the Gonnhirrim had seen them. Hope lit in their gazes like a flame in the belly of a forge. Through the flight and the destruction, Thranduil could see where Thrór's grandson stood tall against the flames and the smoke. Thorin Thráin's son was a boulder in a fast current, unmoving and unmovable, but still powerless to divert the forces around them.
"Help us!" Erebor's prince called. And Thranduil gave pause.
("With your help, this will be a treasure unparalleled," Thingol had breathed as he gave the Silmaril over to the hands of Nogrod's mastersmiths. He remembered how the spell of lust had fallen over the Gonnhirrim when Thingol had bid the dwarf lords to fashion the Silmaril to the magnificent necklace Nauglamir, and so great was the dwarve's love for their work that they had been unable to part with it when their task was finished. He remembered the unnatural greed that had lit in their eyes - flamed as if by some enchantress' magicks. He remembered the stony determination therein as Thingol had stood tall and refused to surrender what had been bought at great cost by he and those of his blood.)
"My lord father?" he heard a voice ask to his right. He tilted his head just slightly to see the last living of the two sons whom he shared with his Queen. Legolas was looking grimly down upon the fall of Erebor, his young eyes beholding the desolation of a full scale conflict for the first time in his life, only a flexing in his throat and a steeling in his eyes revealing how much the sight effected him. "What is your order?"
(And he remembered . . . how the dwarves of Nogrod had refused to honor Thingol's claim. How dishonor and falsity had been to their tongues as the Sindar king had stood tall from his throne and had demanded the Silmaril returned.)
"What is your order?"
(And he remembered the almost curious surprise in Thingol's eyes as he had died, felled by the dwarve's treacherous steel. He remembered the pain that had shaped the king's gaze, even as his mouth struggled to shape his voice around Melian's name one last time – both an apology and a final farewell on the dying man's lips. He remembered how he had reeled in shock, how from behind Thingol's throne those loyal to him had leaped forward to strike against the dwarves whose blade still dripped with Thingol's blood. He remembered being a half-step behind his father and Celeborn both – rage bubbling forth from the cauldron of grief in their hearts and spilling over to shape the cries of their tongues.)
He did not answer Legolas right away. And beyond them, the dwarf prince cried again.
"Help us!" Thorin hailed them. His voice was a desperate sound on his lips - a scream drawn forth from the deepest parts of him, much as they had sceamed for their king's murder those ages ago . . .
(He remembered then how that first dwarf had fallen to his sword, how the Gonnhirrim blood had shone as red as Elven blood, but not nearly enough of it was spilt, not nearly enough . . .)
"Help us," Thingol's smiling mouth said in his memory as he clasped hands with the Dwarf-lord, as before him the prince of the mountain screamed, and their voices were one and together. They were the same.
"Help us!" Thráin's son screamed -
( - and he remembered how Melian had screamed upon finding her husband's body, having ran to his side after feeling the violent severance of their bond in her mind. He remembered how the woman's eyes - so much like Lúthien's, shining with the light of the Maiar and the celestial brilliance of Valinor - had dimmed under the curtain of her grief. He remembered how she had flickered and waned in the days that followed – the body of flesh and blood she wore merely a vessel connected to her husband's lifeline, and shed for her Maiar spirit when his time had finished. And as she had returned to Aman, her mantle of protection fell from Doriath - leaving the city unprotected, ready to fall as Thingol had fallen.)
Thorin looked on, and coldly, Thranduil held his gaze, as haughty as any king – a pride he admitted to freely running through his veins as he watched the young prince be deposed before his eyes. He felt an old wound, long festering, rise in his chest, in his lungs, and for a moment it was hard to breathe past that hate. Never mind that the dwarves of Nogrod who had came in force to destroy Doriath had found their end on their return trip home – felled by the mortal hands of Beren, husband of Lúthien, Thingol's daughter; along with him the Laiquendi and the Ents who had sworn to serve Beren in love and fealty both.
. . . and, never mind that those struggling at the base of the Lonely Mountain were not Nogrod's children. These souls were born generations later - whole ages later, birthed with new minds and hearts long dead to their deeds of old. Thranduil was one of few left from that age, and he alone carried the memories where most would carry an invisible wound of the heart – a hatred kindled and carried on without any true understanding to be had for the origin of that hate.
"Father?" Legolas asked again, and finally Thranduil made his decision.
Slowly, he shook his head and then he turned away from the disbelieving eyes of Thorin. He faced away from the dying land at the foot of the mountain. He turned his back to the flames.
"We will not fight?" was the question that followed, shaped in surprise. Confusion was thick in his Legolas' voice.
"The dragon has already taken his prize," Thranduil said, trying to turn his mind from the dead and gone to the here and now. He put aside his anger and his old hate, knowing it would do no good for the events transpiring before him. Instead, he thought of his men, calculating just how many he would lose if his hand stretched in friendship to the dwarves below. "It will be only death to those who fight now. The sons of Durin flee, and the dragon gives them their flight. We shall take ours as well."
He had bigger things to worry over, the thought ghosted like the breeze through the trees in his mind. With the Shadow growing from the southwest in Mirkwood, the suffocating blanket of hate and darkness that was stretching over his lands ever growing in potency and malice . . . No. Now was not the time to pick up arms, not if he wished for his men to come back whole and hale, free to fight another fight on another front. There would be another day for the wyrm, for not indefinitely would the sons of Durin leave their wear to the horde of a dragon, he knew.
"Doesn't this strike you as cowardly?" came Legolas' voice from besides him as they entered the shadows of the forest once more.
Slowly, Thranduil raised a pale brow as he turned to face his son. Mindful of his age and respectful of his elders, Legolas was normally one to watch and quietly observe rather than to outright question. On that note, Thranduil reflected, he could see more and more of his son breaking free from his shell over the last century or two – he was quicker to speak more often than not, revealing a sharply lined tongue that Thranduil recognized keenly as a trait the boy inherited from his mother.
His face never changing, he next wondered how much of Legolas' transformation he could blame on Elrond's brood. The twin Peredhil were a bad influence whenever they traveled from their grandparent's domain in Lórien to Mirkwood, and -
"The dragon we could not have defeated, aye," Legolas continued, as if riding on the crest of his own boldness. "But those escaping . . . we could have covered their retreat. We could have done something more . . . anything more than what we did."
The boy's eyes were blue and clear, boldly holding Thranduil's gaze. Not yet was his vision clouded by war or loss or memory. There was only the here and now in his eyes; only the itching in his palms for an arrow in his hands, the smooth string of the bow taut against his cheek. He knew of his kin's distrust for the Gonnhirrim only by the aftertaste of that distrust, and not the initial bite.
Thranduil inhaled once, deeply. He lets the breath out slow.
(And he remembered Lúthien's eyes, bright and playful as a child as she had sat at her father's side and learned from Thingol the story of her blood. How those same eyes had clouded in such a grief at her parent's death - for her newly begotten mortal blood should have meant she would never know the end of her parent's lives while she was still living. Her parents should have buried a child - they had resigned themselves to such an end as soon as Mandos had returned the couple from his halls with mortal hearts and mortal dooms, but now for the strands of fate to be wound the other way around . . .)
"The wyrm has the mountain already," he spoke slowly, his voice carrying nonetheless. "He lets the children of Aulë flee, and for now they will run. There is nothing we can do without risking the loss of our own."
The child – nay, boyish though he may have been, Legolas was a man, and it was a man's eyes who puzzled over the particulars before him - frowned, not openly disagreeing with his father, but holding questions enough unspoken.
"It does not seem right," Legolas finally settled for saying, the pride and the phantom wound on his soul pushed aside in favor of bigger things – things like honor and glory and hands extended in friendship.
(He remembered then, how Melian had stroked her returned daughter's face, awe in her eyes for that which what was born out of flesh and bone – that love greater than that she held for the celestial might of her kindred. It was a simpler pride in her eyes, a parent's joy, a universal treasure - greater than jewel or ring or crown could ever be.)
In the wake of memory, for that moment, Thranduil felt pride in his heart as a parent. It was an unexpected feeling in that moment - a ray of light shining through the mire of old memories and the new events of the day. Perhaps . . . perhaps, history would show his actions that day to be the lesser of the choices he could have made. Perhaps, he was only taking recompense for a wound of old in the battles of new . . . Perhaps, his pride was as much to him as their greed was to the dwarves . . . Perhaps, his son would someday learn to shoulder that pride aside and step forward as one of the great leaders of their people. The turn of their age belonged to them, and in that, at least, Thranduil could hold no misplaced pride. Only hope - a light in the empty halls of his memory, long filled with ghosts and forgotten things.
(And he remembered . . . Oropher's hand on his shoulder in his own youth. His eyes shaped with pride as he had looked upon the fair expanse of Greenwood, not marred as Mirkwood now was, as their people had set about building again . . . A realm built in Doriath's image, in Doriath's memory.)
"Someday, the mountain will fall from the drake," he said, and that at least, he said with the utmost certainty, a knowing like prophesy in his voice. "Today, however, is not that day."
A long moment passed. "Someday," Legolas then agreed, nodding his head as if in speaking as such he had fought a battle of his own. There was determination in his bearing as he looked ahead then, his eyes reflecting the flames from the skyline behind them.
(He remembers . . .)
"Aye," Thranduil echoed. "Someday."
( . . . and he never forgets.)
While I understand that Thranduil made some poor decisions, I do not think him to be simply the greedy spite filled King that many portrayals showed him to be. He is a very old being, who has governed his realm the best he could for a very long time - with Sauron right on his doorstep for a good portion of that kingship, at that. His suspicion towards the Thorin and Co. in The Hobbit could be called paranoia - a paranoia furthered by his dislike of dwarves in general (a dislike which stemmed from the events in Doriath and was furthered by the discord Eru foretold would be when he adopted Aulë's creation of the Dwarves next to his firstborn Elves) - but in a time where the Necromancer was growing in strength and dark spies aplenty, I can understand that paranoia. Afterwards, he rode in support with the men of Dale, and fought alongside the dwarves he sill disliked in the Battle of Five Armies. While he can hold a grudge like nobody's business, and did make decisions that could have been handled in better ways, I do not think he is worthy of the 'omg, he's so evil and greedy and poor Leggy, but why did he have to grow up with such a dad!?' rep that he tends to gather at times. Speaking of which, he raised Legolas for a son - how bad can the guy really be? ;)
I'm not saying he is a perfect character - far from it. He is flawed, and having presented his side of the argument, I equally understand Thorin's complaints and grudges against Thranduil and his people. It's a situation of 'you are both right, you are both wrong. Get over yourselves, and let's move on.' Seriously.
If anyone wants to read more on this particular argument, I recommend checking out the amazing essay "The problem with pointing blame" by Gecco, which you can find on my favorites list. You won't regret giving it a moment of your time.
That said, I thank-you to any of you who made it through the end of my rant, and I hope that you enjoyed. :)