INTO THE DARK AGAIN
(closetwayfarer at yahoo dot com)
Under Shadow Eaves
At last the travellers' feet touched earth, yellow mottled by withered swathes of green. The long-dried fields of summer was giving way to the cool grip of late autumn. They drew nearer the River and the Forest beyond. Upon the eastern bank of the Anduin they stood, as the river split itself, embracing the boulders that sat in its path before its waters melded again past the ford for the southward journey. Laden with the cold of the coming season, its flow was languid.
'Word has come,' a voice rumbled behind them, 'they await you at the forest edge.'
Gandalf turned to look at the big man standing there. 'Thank you, Belen,' he said.
'You have paid the toll,' the Beorning said, as if that was the answer to all the questions in the world.
Reminded of the high price for passage to Mirkwood, a scowl formed on the wizard's brow. Yet Gandalf laughed as Belen met his eyes and raised his brow. 'Indeed,' said Gandalf as he leaned on his staff, his left hand on his hip. The Beorning seemed to consider his word for a moment and then his eyes seared; even his beard was suddenly stiff as the hair on the back of his hands bristled.
Beside Gandalf, Aragorn said nothing even as the wizard's brows raised and a glint suffused the twinkle in his eyes.
From a distance came the sudden cacophony of birdcalls. For a long moment, naught save the lazy murmur of the river could be heard.
'You should be on your way now,' Belen said darkly, though those clearly were not his intended words. 'My duty ends here. But you shall be safe while you are on the Road.' He cast a pointed look at the old man. 'Though, at your pace, they would have to wait longer than they are accustomed to.'
Gandalf's grip on his staff tightened, and his jaw clenched. But before he could reply, the big man had turned away. To Aragorn he said: 'Farewell, Strider.'
'And may your watch be safe,' Aragorn said.
The Beorning inclined his head and made his way with amazing grace for a man of his size across the Old Ford and beyond to the western bank of the River.
While Gandalf stared at the vanishing shadow of Belen, Aragorn raised his hood and stepped forward, at the same time hiding the smile that had began to light his face.
'Well!' Gandalf muttered as he turned from the River. 'Beorn himself would not take that tone with me -' He stopped when he saw Aragorn was no longer beside him. He scowled. 'Strider -'
The Ranger did not turned back. 'The day grows long,' he said mildly before lengthening his stride.
After a moment, a sigh could be heard, then footfalls. With Gandalf following, he walked onto the Road, a well-kept pathway that was wide enough for two horses to run abreast. Due east it ran, straight and true, even as it disappeared into the horizon, where it breached the Forest and plunged onward, to the River Running and to places beyond.
Behind him, Gandalf stopped and looked at it for long moments, his lips pursed in thought. At length he said: 'At times it seems-,' he shook his head. He smiled, wordless. Though he spoke not, Aragorn could discern in his eyes memories, some recalled with fondness, while others welled up of their own will.
In turn, Aragorn said no word: his own smile sufficed for an answer. Then he lengthened his stride, accustomed as he was to scouting ahead. But Gandalf lingered still. Then he took a deep breath and clutching his cloak tight against the cold, he began to walk.
'Well, at the least, a decent meal is at hand,' he muttered to himself. Then softly, he began to sing:
The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet... ...1
So it was that two travellers cloaked in grey reached the border of Mirkwood Forest as autumn waned.
The Road ran on, an open invitation to follow it to its end, careless of the trees upon its flanks even as it faded in the distance, blended into the grey shadows.
From their lofty heights, the trees seem to bend their heads, frowning in disapproval at the intrusion of the pathway through their midst, a scar that rived their hold of the Forest. Still they guarded their secrets jealously: naught could be discerned of what lied beyond the road for boles of enormous girth stood densely together, and kept prying eyes at bay.
The sudden trill of a thrush seemed to ring through the Forest, though its gentle song was soft, as if it did not desire to disturb the still air.
From among the dense trees, an answer came at length, a short rapid trill. Aragorn turned back, and saw that Gandalf too had stopped. He kept his eyes on the trees that stood upon the left of the Road then, as if seeking something, or a sign. At length he stopped. Gandalf was not far behind him.
Overhead, the bird perched upon an overhanging branch, looking with much interest at the curious travellers, turning his head this way and that, hopping first to the left and then the right. Then he raised his head and from his throat, a song burst forth. After a moment, another song seemed to thread itself through his, startling him into silence. He seemed to consider the hidden song. A quick protest was trilled, and he again looked at Aragorn. Suddenly he took wing, leaving only an echo of his uncompleted ode.
'Lle desiel?' Aragorn said softly as Gandalf drew abreast.
They turned aside from the Road, the crunch of leaves and twigs underfoot the only hint of their presence as they passed between gnarled trunks draped in moss and other climbing plants for they were quickly swallowed by the gloom. Slow progress was made, for it was no simple task to tell shadow from coiled roots at the feet of the great trees; they had to walk with care, often having to climb over giant veins, under fallen limbs and step onto ground hidden under darkness.
Suddenly, the trees no longer stood so close to each other. Beyond the forbidding wall, two Elves stood waiting with horses, well-trained beasts that remained calm despite the travellers' sudden appearance.
'Quel re,' said Gandalf. 'It is good to see you, Egalmoth.'
The Elf inclined his head as he returned the greeting: 'Mae Govannen, Mithrandir.' Egalmoth turned then to the Man beside him. The Beornings sent word only of a Ranger companion, and yet, despite the grey light he knew who the tall Man must be. 'And to you, Dúnadan, aaye.'
'Aaye, Egalmoth,' Aragorn replied, 'Mae Govannen!'
The Elf smiled, 'I had not thought we would meet again.'
Aragorn inclined his head, flashing a quick smile in reply. 'It is good to see you again.'
Egalmoth beckoned the other Elf to step forth.
Turning slightly, Aragorn said: 'Elen sila lumenn omentilmo.'
'Elen sila lumenn omentilmo,' said he in a soft voice. 'I am Dinhorn.'
'Mae Govannen, Dinhorn' said Gandalf.
'Aaye, Dinhorn,' Aragorn said. 'Mae Govannen.'
'Come,' said Egalmoth, holding out the reins of two horses. He looked around, 'Keep your hoods up.'
Under the twilight green of the Mirkwood sky, their ride was swift and sure with Egalmoth in the lead and Dinhorn in the rear. They set out northward, and their ride kept ever to their right dark peaks in the distance. Between trunks of enormous girth and through sweeping beards of lichen the horses galloped, and yet even a sure hand and fleet hooves were no match for the distance they needed to cover between them and the halls of Thranduil.
The green light faded in the face of true twilight and soon after they halted. Among bare-boughed trees the night was spent, and in the faint moonlight behind them shadows of dark peaks, the Mountains of Mirkwood that clove the Forest loomed.
As the next morning dawned, hinting at its early rise with the dappled light of the Mirkwood day, they were already wending their way under shadow eaves.
They came upon the unmarked path long used by Thranduil's folk. There their ride was smooth, speeding them on their way.
Faster, ever faster they urged the horses until the Enchanted River came into sight. Lightly, they cleared the narrow water. The path ran on and vanished into the Forest River, leading to the isle that rose like a ghostly fist reaching for the sky. On it was the sullen knoll that looked ever northward. There, they parted company with the path, and followed the River's flow, past the isle to where the banks came closest together.
Clear on the far bank were clusters of hills, marking the seat of the Elven-king. Quickly they forded the water, and urged the horses forward, eager to gain the halls before the day failed again. They slowed before a huge mound covered in moss and leaves of many hues.
Under the lee of a protruding rock, a part of the mound seemed to retreat and a line clove it neatly as the great stone doors of the Elven-king's halls swung inward and opened onto a yawning gap, a hole of darkness amongst shadows.
Egalmoth urged his mount through and the others quickly followed, and found themselves plunged into a long passageway of which a faint circle of light could be seen at the end. The hoof-beat of the horses echoed faintly, and as Aragorn's eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he could see where the high ceiling of the passage came down to join ledges and small windows designed to allow archers easy sight upon those who passed through.
Through the damp passage was the main gallery, and it was much as Aragorn remembered.
And as was his wont, the king's steward, Galion, stood ready to welcome the guests. 'Mae Govannen, Mithrandir,' he said, 'And to you, Dúnadan, aaye. Thranduil bids you welcome.' Turning to Egalmoth, he said: 'Captain, you are free for now, but the king bade you wait on his pleasure when he returns.'
The captain tipped his head. Turning to Gandalf, he said: 'Then this is where we part for the moment, Mithrandir, Dúnadan. 'Quel re.' So saying, he turned into another hallway with Dinhorn by his side.
'The king is away in the north,' Galion said apologetically. 'He shall return on the morrow.' He eyed the travellers succinctly: 'I am sure you are ready for a bath, and food served on proper plates. Come, your rooms are this way.'
Through the long halls of the Elven-king Galion led them, past curious onlookers who stared at the rare sight of guests.
Where the halls of Imladris were adorned with priced tapestries and rich paintings of the sagas of old, and sculptures trumpeted the pride of elven craftsmen from elaborate alcoves, many of the walls in Thranduil's halls were bare, the only memory of what must have once covered them traced by squares of lighter hue than the walls were wont to be. And once lovingly crafted alcoves sometimes stood empty, some fain near to collapse. Aragorn felt a touch of sadness at the phantom glamour that languished.
'Seven and ten years2, as reckoned by Men, have passed since you first came to Thranduil's Halls,' said Galion who had turned and saw Aragorn lingering over a painting where green veins crept down and outward from a corner. 'A mere blink of the eye to us.' He gestured at the ruined painting, 'And yet, look how it has conquered, the decay.' He shook his head. 'We have not time to spare under the lengthening shadow,' he said almost wistfully. 'Our thoughts are bent upon other crafts, and our time given to border watches. Only, whenever we may, we move what handicrafts we can to the vaults until such time when we can repair and restore their beauty.' They stood silent, and Gandalf also gazed at the painting. Then Galion said, 'I hope you find better cheer in these hallways when you next visit.'
Now the steward stood at the far end, holding a door open for the guests. And as they came nigh the heavy door, Galion beckoned them through. 'Fine craftwork these halls may be getting poor in, but be sure! Fine wine is ever on the king's board.'
First through the door, Gandalf beamed approvingly.
Aragorn turned, but before he spoke, Galion held up a hand and with a knowing smile, moved to another wall where two doors stood side by side. 'The water is freshly drawn. I shall leave you to reacquaint yourselves with bathing,' he said and withdrew with a respectful bow.
'As pert as ever!' said Gandalf. His frown faded as Aragorn offered a tall goblet, the one he held already drained. 'Ah.' Gandalf smiled at the strong aroma. 'Sustenance,' he said, raising his glass. He waited as Aragorn filled his own again.
A clink of glass was followed by a moment of silence as they took long slow drafts. Gandalf grimaced as his throat seemed to burn, so long away from fine vintage that the Dorwinion was leaving a fiery trail of its passage into his guts.
'Tis but a hint of what we face in this meeting with Thranduil,' said Gandalf, his voice rasping. He coughed but held up a hand as Aragorn set down his glass and quickly strode over. 'A true friend he may be, but his quick-fire wit perceives much. I would not wish for him to learn of things that are yet to be, and not yet for him to know.' Aragorn nodded in understanding, for if Thranduil did not mark him before, this meeting may yet bend the Elf's thoughts to him.
Gandalf sighed and cleared his still discomfited throat. 'I am soundly reminded of my task!' He inspected the empty glass with an ironic glare. 'Say naught of the truth,' he laughed softly 'and yet no falsehoods will I tell.' He turned to Aragorn, 'Nor can I, not with one such as Thranduil.'
'He returns tomorrow, Galion says. He may not hold the meeting anon,' said Aragorn.
'Yes, a respite in which I can set my thoughts,' said Gandalf. So saying, he disappeared into one of the rooms.
Aragorn lingered. He gazed around the room. Even the most difficult guest could not fault the hospitality of the Woodland Elves: at the table, he reached out and held the side of the stewpot, sensing the warmth of the bubbling broth within. Then he traced the edge of a dinner plate, feeling the design of the delicate motif. 'And food served on proper plates,' he echoed Galion with a soft laugh. Then with his glass filled again, he sat down to a dinner he had long yearned for: warm and hearty.
Elegant lamps adorned the walls of the room, and through the slanting skylight, the light lent its pale touch. Against two walls on opposing sides of the room, dark wood shelves stood, stretching from floor to ceiling. In them were row upon row of books and scrolls.
They awaited Thranduil in his study. Gandalf watched Aragorn as he studied the tapestry set in the far wall, above a large desk. His unwavering stare was fixed on a detail of the weave. Its design was much like the wall-paintings of the Last Alliance in the House of Elrond. On it the mighty hosts of Gil-galad were gathered in the distance, golden in the splendour of their fine battledress, bright swords held aloft. But in the fore breaking their bodies upon the Black Gates were many Elves, their simple armour and swords marking them as separate from the great army. Among them a kingly Elf bleeding from many wounds was under relentless attack, while beneath him, a large dark shape was drawing him into the ground. But what held Aragorn's gaze was another who strove in vain to reach the stricken king. Very like to the fallen Elf he was, and in his eyes was a look of many emotions: rage, fear, shock, disbelief, grief. But above all, he seemed overcome with horror at the king's certain fate. Along the right side of his face, a gash gaped.3
'The wound heals not,' he murmured. Gandalf grunted. Aragorn had turned, distracted from the weave. Gandalf followed his gaze.
In the now open doorway an Elf stood, very tall and striking fair in the manner of his kind. The living face of the horrified Elf returned Aragorn's gaze. To Gandalf he approached, as quietly as he opened the door, a white hand raised in greeting.
'Aaye, Mithrandir,' said he. 'I hear word of your injuries crossing the Hithaeglir. Have your needs been seen to?'
'Aaye, Thranduil,' Gandalf replied. 'Indeed! Galion has provided us well with the generosity of your board. And I am - much mended now,' the wizard said, his voice wry with intimation. 'Though I might have been much less well for this meeting, but for -'
The Elvenking held up a hand, 'Yes.' He turned to the man, 'Mae Govannen, Aragorn Dúnadan.'
Aragorn inclined his head. 'Aaye, Thranduil. Mae Govannen.'
The Elf returned the courtesy. Then he strode to his desk beneath the tapestry. 'There is no need for ceremony,' he said, gesturing at chairs set before the table. He waited for Gandalf to make himself comfortable, and then his brows arched in interest as he eyed the Man anew.
Once before had Aragorn met the Elf, when he sought passage through the Forest Road on his journey into the East. The missive that Elrond, his foster father, insisted he hand personally to Thranduil was the only reason he was granted an audience.
Then, as now, the Elf-lord wore his kingship like a mantle with the ease of long use. There was no mirth in his fair face. Yet in his eyes afire with a quick sly wit, a merry look sometimes gleamed, though it was wont to be quickly supplanted by some lingering pain. His presence was almost elemental, the forceful aura of a leader not given to nonsense. Aragorn had thought the faint scar marring his face a new wound, for Elves were quick to heal.
Yet now as Thranduil stood beneath his own likeness, it seemed as if the weave served a purpose: it was clear the changes that had been wrought upon the Elven-king by long toil and maybe by design. On his right cheek still was that long uneven line running from temple to chin. A faint tracery, Aragorn knew then, of the terrible wound that had held his attention on the weave. Despite the prideful confidence of his bearing, Thanrduil bore in his eyes memories of that fateful day, now far in the past4.
Their eyes met for a moment, and Thranduil's lips curved into a half-smile. Then he folded his arms, eyes hooded. 'Well, Dúnadan,' he said. It seemed he was amused by a private jest that another has seen through, 'Have you another secret letter from Imladris?'
'I bear no letter this time,' Aragorn said.
Gandalf deemed it time to speak and clearing his throat, said: 'He is my guide, and guard.'
'So I see,' answered the Elf. Then he turned back to the Man, his piercing gaze alight like a child who had set aside a puzzle and now found it irresistible.
'A guide-to where?' he asked Gandalf then. 'Surely you would not need help to find my woodland realm?'
'No,' said the wizard.
'Ah, you seek passage into the East then?'
'No,' said the wizard again.
'I do not understand,' Thranduil said, almost lightly, 'what, then, can your purpose in my realm be?'
After a sidelong glance at Aragorn, Gandalf returned his attention to the Elf. 'Thranduil,' he said, and there was an edge to his voice, 'if I have not known you these long years, I would have thought it your habit to stir your guests' ire.'
The Elf smiled and bowed his head: 'It is no pleasure of mine.' Then he spoke to Gandalf as if Aragorn was not in the seat next to his. 'He has rule of the Dúnedain, a leaderless realm so we hear, and from Elrond, he bore a letter, a missive of great import. Then he passed through my realm and journeyed into the East. More remarkable, he returned out of that wild unknown place. And now he is here again, a guide to Mithrandir.' He turned his piercing gaze to the Man. 'I merely wonder what hidden thing might he be bearing now?'
'Well!' said Gandalf, 'if there be secrets, they are his own to keep. As it is for yours or mine.' He placed a hand on the large desk and leaned forward, saying in earnest: 'But come, even were he to have any, they are of no moment to the Woodland Elves. That I assure you.'
Thranduil laughed, a short bitter sound. 'Maybe so. And yet, here in my realm, my rule is built on more than surety.'
'Come, come, Thranduil! Doubt my word, do you?' Gandalf said lightly. 'Is the hospitality of the Woodland Realm sunk so low that you will offer your best Dorwinion to a friend with the one hand and cast out his word with the other?' His lips pressed into a line, unseen beneath his beard. Thranduil frowned. Gandalf sat the straighter, shifting his grip on his staff. 'Tell me plainly,' he continued, 'What would suffice to appease the Elven-king?'
Still the Elf was silent.
Impatience, maybe, set the wizard's eyes ablaze suddenly. Gandalf seemed to fill the room. 'Again I say: I will vouch for the Dúnadan.'
Scowling, Thranduil too straightened himself. Almost, a crack of thunder could be heard as he locked eyes with Gandalf.
In the contest of wills between these beings who have lived through Ages, Aragorn sat like an rock rooted to the seabed, unmovable in the tossing storm.
Then it was suddenly over.
'Peace, Mithrandir,' said the Elf. He eyed Aragorn anew. Then his gaze returned to Gandalf, his head proudly raised. 'Understand, I do not give offense willingly. If I am forward, it is only prudence that drives me to it.' He stared down the bridge of his nose a moment longer. Then he dipped his head. 'I accept your word, Mithrandir,' he said softly. 'Now tell me: what drives you to seek my realm despite the treachery of a late crossing over the mountains?' He sounded affable, and yet on his face was a hard look.
Gandalf stroked his long grey beard, and eyed Thranduil, appraising his suddenly agreeable manner. He cleared his throat. 'Well.' Then he smiled. 'A small matter to you.'
'Small, you say?' Thranduil leaned forward, and in his bright eyes a piercing light suddenly kindled. 'A merry chase after some mysterious flesh-eater it was the last time,' he leaned back, his head resting against the high chair, 'And a fierce clash beyond my eastern border and the casting of Shadow from our abode of old also5.' He frowned and shook his head, 'Nay, I will not begrudge you the last for that was to the good of all and a great deed I will not soon forget. But two chief deeds at once were a little over-much to manage in my humble woodland realm.'
'Come now, Thranduil,' Gandalf said, 'the Battle was not of my doing - '
'Indeed,' he said in a cold voice, 'You merely led the chief trouble-makers to my door, and left the mess to unravel itself.'
'Ah, but I had another task to manage,' said Gandalf reasonably, 'and even I cannot be in two places at once.'
Thranduil dipped his head. 'Well do I know it,' he said, 'And but for the errantry of the Grey Wanderer, the truth of the Shadow of Dol Guldur may still be hidden, free to threaten the safety of my realm under the guise of a lesser being. Still, there is much also, for which I desire answers to: burning questions that have not dimmed with the passage of time. But come, let us not dwell overmuch on past bravery,' he said with a suddenly pleasant tone, 'or misdeeds.'
'Misdeeds!' Gandalf muttered.
Thranduil heeded not the displeasure in his voice. 'Reminiscence is for the dinner table.' He eyed Gandalf then, a sharp look that have cowed many. Yet in reply, Gandalf returned a look as sharp, and then faint smiles lighted the faces of Elf and Wizard. Thranduil again dipped his head, and there was genuine warmth in his smile. But it quickly faded. 'I cannot but wonder: what will come of this "small matter", Mithrandir?' he said with a sidelong glance at the Man. He considered his guests. Then folding his arms, he leaned back into his seat. Yet, he held up a hand before Gandalf spoke. 'And yet, have the Woodland Elves ever refused your requests for aid?' Sighing, he said: 'Truly, we do not have Elves to spare, not unless it was for a need most pressing. So -'
The word hung in the air, lingering as Gandalf sat in a reflective mood, and Aragorn as quiet. At last, running out of patience or maybe to remind Gandalf he was not alone, Thranduil tapped the table with a fine-boned finger.
Gandalf grunted, and stroked his beard. 'It is for the abandoned hunt that we come.'
Now it was the Elf who sat silent, first looking from one to the other of his guests.
Gandalf cleared his throat, and leaned forward. 'You wonder, what has rekindled my interest?'
In his turn, Thranduil rested his head on a fisted hand, lightly tapping his temple. Then he too leaned forward. 'Pray,' he said in a conspiratorial tone, 'Enlighten me.'
Gandalf sat back, his eyes a steely grey. 'You know my purpose here, Thranduil.'
Thranduil returned a look as grave. He turned his head, eyes lingering on the terrible weave. 'Of course,' he said.
'Time and again, we haveheld Him back,' Gandalf said, his hand spread toward the tapestry. 'Since His last test, we have managed to keep a frail peace. But while the quiet has calmed many hearts, I fear our guard has been blunted by it.' He held up a hand for Thranduil to hear him out. 'I know, the Woodland realm had yet to taste the peace that covered the land, for the strife that was spread out through the realms seemed gathered unto the Forest. And you, your calls to arms had been unheeded; perhaps, unwisely.
'Call it folly, call it what you will. Yet, there is a time and place for everything.' He stopped, and watched as a strange light crept into Thranduil's eyes. 'Yes, my friend, even war. Still, I will not deny that while we waited, the world is changing, for He is restless.' Disbelief and rapture filled Thranduil's face. Gandalf nodded. 'Now, no longer will there be rest for the restful.' He studied the Elf for a moment, 'My work presses, for He is moving.'
Through hooded eyes, Thranduil gazed at Gandalf. His face darkened, and his thoughts were closed. 'He is always stirring,' he said in a careful voice. 'For three thousand years and more, the free people held against Him. The Woodland realm has weathered His interest before.' He set his jaw. 'We will endure,' he said.
Gandalf caught the quick look he cast at Aragorn. 'And yet, at times, heavy is the price in exchange,' he returned, glancing at the tapestry. 'You will bargain for the hope of learning things that will prove little no use to your Realm? For mark my words, what you seek to know is nothing against my need, against Arda's needs.' Quickly, before Thranduil spoke, Gandalf continued, 'And the next time He puts forth his might, it may no longer be another mere test of strength.' Thranduil's eyebrow arched with an elegant question. 'I cannot tell you all now.' Gandalf placed a heavy palm on the table. 'Only this, the creature may hold some clue – to what must come to pass,' he said.
The Elven-king frowned. He stared at his guests. 'Ere the end that must be.' Again, Gandalf has given an answer that did not lay his questions to rest. And the Dúnadan still held his secrets close.
A quick decision must be made, he knew. With great care, he weighed the choices. It was plain that Gandalf would tell naught of the Man. And yet, laid bare were the clues that held up his suspicions. No more could be made of them in this meeting, and the practical bent of his mind would not allow him to squander the time needed to delve for answers, though he was enjoying the challenge of crossing wills with the Wizard.
Over his face, a smile passed as he came to a decision. 'Very well, you have leave to resume the hunt.'
Gandalf nodded. 'Egalmoth -'
'Will be ready to aid the Dúnadan.'
'They must leave by first light.'
'Of course.' He turned to Aragorn, 'You shall require time to prepare yourself.' Aragorn nodded, and rose. 'By your leave, Thranduil.'
The Elf returned his bow.
As the door closed softly behind the Man, Thranduil said, 'He has the looks of him.' He turned to Gandalf. 'One whom I knew but briefly.' He shook his head, and almost, a faint smile curved his lips. 'But he is now long gone, even by elvish reckoning.' He looked sidelong at the wizard, watching as a slow frown crept across his forehead. He smiled. 'Now, what news, Mithrandir? Tell me of matters beyond my realm, knowledge you deem needful for the sake of my realm.'
'What?' Thranduil raised a brow in graceful question. Gandalf shook his head, 'Without a drink to soothe my parched throat?'
A merry sound echoed, a hearty laugh rare now to the ears of those who live in the Halls. 'Forgive the ill-manners of this host.' Thranduil said. Quickly he strode to the door, and called for Galion, his steward.
Gandalf sat back. Now he need only wait for Aragorn's return while keeping Thranduil's attention on other matters.
1 Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring, from the chapter "A Long-expected Party".
2 From these quotes in the Lord Of The Rings - Appendices; Appendix A, 2983/2984 was picked as the period Aragorn started out from Imladris bound for the East, and passage through Mirkwood was deduced as the logical route.
From 'Here Follows A Part Of The Tale Of Aragorn And Arwen':
"He rode in the host of the Rohirrim, and fought for the Lord of Gondor by land and by sea; and then in the hour of victory he passed out of the knowledge of the Men of the West, and went alone far into the East and deep into the South, exploring the hearts of Men, both evil and good, and uncovering the plots and devices of the servants of Sauron."
"It came to pass that when Aragorn was nine and forty years of age he returned from perils on the dark confines of Mordor... He was weary and he wished to return to Rivendelland rest there a while ere he journeyed into the far countries... "
From 'Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion':
"There was dismay in the City at the departure of Thorongil, and to all men it seemed a great loss, unless it were Denethor, the son of Ecthelion, a man now ripe for the Stewardship, to which after four years, he succeeded on the death of his father."
3 Unfinished Tales, "The History Of Galadriel And Celeborn". "…Oropher was slain in the first assault upon Mordor, rushing forward at the head of his most doughty warriors before Gil-galad had given the signal for advance. Thranduil his son survived, but when the war ended and Sauron was slain (as it seemed) he led back home barely a third of the army that had marched to war…."
4 Unfinished Tales, "The History Of Galadriel And Celeborn". "…. But there was in Thranduil's heart a still deeper shadow. He had seen the horror of Mordor and could not forget it. If ever he looked south its memory dimmed the light of the Sun, and though he knew that it was under the vigilance of the Kings of Men, fear spoke in his heart that it was not conquered for ever: it would rise again."
Please note: all scarring and other physical trauma inflicted on Thranduil are brands of Avallon's Thranduil!template.
5 The Lord Of The Rings - Appendices; Appendix B, 'The Tale Of Years'. The entry for Third Age, 2941: "Thorin Oakenshield and Gandalf visits Bilbo in the Shire. Bilbo meets Sméagol-Gollum and finds the ring. The White Council meets; Saruman agrees to an attack on Dol Guldur, since he now wishes to prevent Sauron from searching the River. Sauron having made his plans abandons Dol Guldur. The Battle of the Five Armies in Dale. Death of Thorin II. Bard of Esgaroth slays Smaug. Dáin of the Iron Hills becomes King under the Mountain (Dáin II)"