A/N: So when I saw The Hobbit for the first time, I was thinking one thing. Where's Thranduil? And then I saw Thranduil, and my reaction was, and I quote: "Guh." Because, oh my word, yes. Then I looked again, and my second reaction was, "Huh?" Because, seriously, PJ, what were you thinking?
So I wrote this. It's short and it's silly and it's a bit pointless, but it had to be done. And yes, the creature Thranduil rides in the movie is a giant deer, or elk, now extinct. To my American eyes it still looks like a moose. But an elk it is.
Thanks to my sister, Oceania, for the beta. Even if she does prefer Hobbits.
"An elk?" Legolas said.
Thranduil did not answer. After a moment his youngest son came to stand next to him, both of them staring at the newest occupant of the royal stables. Six and a half feet high at the shoulder, the elk filled most of the loose box and dwarfed the nearby horses. Its dusty hide had a strong, rank odor that penetrated the stable and overpowered the clean scents of wood, hay, and horse. As the two Elves watched, it lowered its great head to the food trough and lipped at the elm branches that had been piled there. Stripping a branch of its leaves, it raised its head and chewed, jaws moving methodically, dark eyes placid. Its branching antlers reached almost to the ceiling.
"Why is there an elk in the stable?" Legolas said blankly.
Thranduil sighed. "It is a gift from Celeborn. We had . . . words . . . concerning the White Council's habit of meeting in Lothlórien or Imladris and neglecting to send notice in time for us to have a representative present. He claimed that as he hails from Silvan stock, he can represent the Wood-elves on our behalf. I . . . disagreed."
"Oh, Father." Legolas closed his eyes. "Tell me that we are not at war with Lothlórien."
"Of course not," Thranduil said. "I just told you that Celeborn sent us this elk as a gift."
"Indeed?" Legolas glanced at him, one eyebrow raised. "And what message did the Lord of Lothlórien send with his gift?"
Thranduil cleared his throat. "He said that as a "true" Wood-elf, I should have a mount that also hailed from the forest."
Legolas' jaw dropped. "He cannot mean for you to ride it into battle!"
"And why not?" Thranduil smiled, warming to the idea as he considered it. "Its height will place me above an attacker, giving me the advantage in close combat, and its antlers provide it with its own means of defense. You have seen an elk charge before – you cannot tell me that would not strike fear into the heart of any who faced it."
"Only if they had not fallen over laughing, first," Legolas said. "It cannot have been trained for battle – it might well flee at the first attack. And even if it did not, you know that its natural gait is a walk rather than a canter or a gallop – would you stroll into battle? As for its charge, that is short-lived. I cannot see how you would find the rhythm to wield a bow, and its height is such that most orcs would be out of the reach of your sword. You would be perched up above the rest of the army, an easy target for the Enemy's archers while his foot soldiers hacked your mount's legs out from under you."
"Hardly that," Thranduil said. "You know I prefer the spear to the bow or the sword, and what better steed could I wish for combat at that range? My armour can deflect most any arrow, and besides, does Eryn Galen not command the finest archers in Middle-earth? Tell me, son, when did an orc bowman last manage to get within firing range of our army?"
"It was before you appointed me as head of your archers," Legolas admitted grudgingly. "But, Father, it takes only one ambush—"
"Enough," Thranduil raised a hand. "I have heard your words, but I am of a mind to try this new gambit. There was some rumor of a disturbance at the Lonely Mountain, and your brother was complaining that the northern regiment has had little to do of late. I think I'll take them and go see what the fuss is about."
"Riding that?" Legolas gestured toward the chewing elk in disbelief. "The Dwarves will think us mad."
"They already think that," Thranduil returned calmly. "This, at least, will give them some reason for it." Then, taking pity on his son, he added, "There is no chance of battle. If there were, I would ride Elroch."
Legolas' relief was palpable. He had always been the most serious of his children, Thranduil thought, and therefore the most easy to tease.
He shook his head. "Very well then, have your fun. At least none will be able to say that we backed down from a challenge."
"Oh, never that," Thranduil paused for a moment, surveying his son. In addition to his usual worn hunting tunic, Legolas wore a green traveling cloak, and he'd propped a second quiver full of arrows against the elk's stall door. "And speaking of challenges, you are leading a scouting party south, are you not?"
"Yes," Legolas said. "There have been reports of webbing near the path south toward Dol Guldur. I was going to take a party and clean them out."
"Take care you do not go too close to the tower itself," Thranduil said, and caught his son's exasperated look. "Ah, now, you cannot mother-hen me without expecting a little nagging in return. There is a dark power there, and despite my cousin's 'gift', I fear that we cannot depend upon the White Council for reinforcements."
Legolas caught on at once, as Thranduil had known he would. "Then this expedition to the Lonely Mountain . . . you mean to gather the army, don't you? Bring the northern regiments south without attracting suspicion."
"I hope it will not come to war," Thranduil said. He held out a hand toward the elk, letting it explore his palm with its large, flexible nose. "We cannot afford it now. But it may be that war will come to us, whether we can afford it or not."
"This trouble at Erebor," Legolas began.
"A dragon," Thranduil said. "Or so say the Men of Dale . . . let us hope that they are wrong."
"A dragon!" One of the horses in a nearby stall stamped at Legolas' tone. The elk left off nibbling at Thranduil's hand and flattened its ears.
"Keep your voice down," Thranduil said. "Yes, a dragon, but it may be only rumor. And even if it is true, it is focused on the Mountain and will remain there. We do not have the riches to draw it here."
"But it is an agent of the Enemy on our eastern flank," Legolas argued. "If the Necromancer allies with it, we will be attacked on two fronts."
"Dragons answer to their own whims, and rarely pay heed to the call of others," Thranduil said. "I doubt that even the Necromancer could offer an incentive great enough to make it leave the Mountain's hoard."
"Then you will not aid them?"
Thranduil heard the disapproval in his son's voice, and briefly closed his eyes. Once he had been the same: eager to fight the Dark Power's agents wherever they appeared, determined to defend every inch of Middle-earth from the Enemy's grasping claws. It had taken the deaths of his father and his two eldest sons at Dagorlad to make him understand that not every battle could be won, and not every price was one he was willing to pay.
It was a lesson he hoped his youngest would never have to learn.
"I will aid the survivors," he said. "I will take healers, and enough troops to guard them while they work. But I will not fight Thrain's battles for him, and I will not incite this creature to follow us here and attack our people."
He listened to the silence while Legolas struggled with this, and thought, Mayhap the loss of a little treasure will also make the Naugrim value life a little more, and gold a little less. Though he doubted it.
"Sire," Legolas said at last. "Forgive me, but this . . . this is not about Doriath, is it?"
"No, son," Thranduil said, though the memory of the Dwarves' betrayal still smote like a hot coal in his belly. "This is about Eryn Galen, and our people's safety."
Legolas nodded, though Thranduil could see that he was still not satisfied. "Request permission to accompany the king to the Lonely Mountain."
"Denied," Thranduil said, and added to soften the blow, "I need you to lead that scouting mission south. If the Necromancer is expanding his reach into the forest, I need my best eyes there, and my best bow. Keep a clear head, and if you see the Enemy, do not engage. Report back here at once, is that clear?"
"Yes, sire," Legolas bowed, though his jaw was set in a way that Thranduil knew from long experience meant trouble.
He sighed. The last thing he wanted was for his bold (not to say rash) young son to come face to face with a dragon. But perhaps there was another way to keep Legolas occupied.
"One more thing," he said, as Legolas turned away. His son looked back at him, eyebrows raised.
"While you are clearing out the ungolim, see if you cannot capture one alive and bring it back for me."
Legolas turned back to face him, eyes wide. "You want us . . . to capture a spider alive? Why?"
"A fancy of mine," Thranduil said. He glanced at the elk, which was again placidly chewing its leaves. "For my cousin, who has lived so long in his peaceful realm that he seems to have forgotten what war steeds are, or why we ride them. I intend . . . to send him a gift."
Now in Chinese, thanks to the brilliant Fiju! p/2848558605
Works inspired by this one: Vaneria Potter has written a delightful follow-up to this story, "A Spider." Check it out! s/9023592/1/A-Spider
Coming Soon: The Gloaming, an original novel by Lamiel. "In a world ruled by monsters, you have to be a monster to survive." Subscribe to my author alerts to receive a special discount when The Gloaming is published.