Hey, I is back. I was struck with a rare instance of inspiration. Hopefully the inspiration keeps on rollin'. I got really excited with that new announcement of the LotR Amazon series. Makes me want to read the series again.
I wish I had a tl;dr, cause I forgot a lot of the details of this fic. But hey, we're getting to the thick of it.
Disclaimer. Do people still do disclaimers? Lmao.
"With all due respect, I did not ride to Mirkwood in utter haste if this were not a matter of importance," the mortal woman said. Despite the fact that she tried hard to maintain a tone of neutrality, Legolas could detect the impatience and irritation emanating from his companion.
Despite the Areth's insistence, Legolas was not very keen to dismiss her injuries. Areth possessed a will to be reckoned with for certain, but Legolas would rather face Areth's irritation than his father's irascible temper. He could already feel King Thranduil's heavy disapproval if he saw the woman in such a ragged state.
"I don't doubt the severity of the situation," Legolas said grimly. He was, after all, one of the commanding guards protecting the Forest. The months after her departure had led to multiplied casualties. So many lives lost, so many wounded soldiers… And still, the enemy kept returning in greater numbers than before.
"Please, Legolas," Areth implored, "Fengel's men are surrounding the Forest because of me. I cannot rest without undoing the ruin I wrought."
The elf paused. The tension on his young face seemed to soften when he gave a slight sigh. Shifting, he motioned a gloved hand towards the opposite direction of the Hall of Healing, silently urging Areth to shift directions. The woman looked to him in gratitude.
"King Thranduil is in the council chambers. I trust that you remember the way."
Areth nodded. Without a word, she quickened her pace towards the chambers, leaving the elf prince to follow her. It left Legolas with no choice but to match her haste, trailing only a few steps behind her.
"Man ceril? Daro, Areth!" he exclaimed, "You are injured—you need not strain yourself!"
"Boe annin mened, Legolas," Areth said, her pace never faltering. The strain of her travel left her body aching and weak, but she had enough strength to deliver the Elvenking her intended message.
The armored elf guarding the closed doors moved to block Areth's path, crossing a large battle axe across the entrance. He hesitated upon seeing his prince right behind her.
"My Lord," the guard said, bowing, "King Thranduil is currently gathered with the elders. Lord Melhros commanded that they not be interrupted."
"This is a matter of utmost urgency," Legolas said. His tone gave no room for argument.
He paused. After a moment, he acquiesced, "Very well." Prince Legolas, after all, outranked any orders from a council noble.
Beneath the silver helmet, the stoic guard regarded the disheveled, dirty woman accompanying Legolas with wary curiosity. But as he did not have the authority to question anything, he simply moved opened the large, ornate doors, allowing the two passage.
"Four were captured, but none of them are willing to share what they know," the voice of the interrogator echoed through the chambers.
Areth had never been to the Council Chambers. A mere visitor to the Elvenking's Halls had no business attending any sort of meeting regarding the affairs of Mirkwood. Like the rest of the palace, the Chambers was large and held an unspeakable elegance.
It was as if the earth paved way for the elves and offered them sanctuary against the world. Roots twined and met to form pillars, and the beauty was illuminated only by the softest of amber glows.
But even its beauty could not hide the tension that was present in the room.
"It is difficult to believe that those creatures would hold loyalty to a land that isn't their own," said a familiar, authoritative voice, "You are wasting your time. They know nothing beyond what they are paid to do."
Though seeming cold and commanding, Areth could not help but pause upon hearing the soft, sharp baritone of Thranduil's voice. She was wrought with tension. He was facing away from her, and she found herself slightly fearing how he would react upon her intrusion.
From his seat, an auburn-haired elf waved slightly at the interrogator, signaling a silent dismissal. The elven woman bowed shortly and left, passing her and Legolas when she made her way towards the exit. The elf gave a short bow of respect towards her prince. She spared a quick glance of question in Areth's direction but held any questions she had to herself.
"I refuse to accept that the enemy has any sort of advantage. To do so is an insult to the strength of Eryn Lasgalen," said King Thranduil coolly. Despite the calm he presented, it was evident that Thranduil was at the edge of frustration. His harsh gaze moved to every one of his council members as he said, "Our forces will not falter, but I will no longer tolerate these invaders in my land. My patience with these fools is waning rapidly."
"My Lord," Legolas interrupted. His bright eyes shifted to his companion for only a moment. "Perhaps we can help with the current situation."
"What, pray tell, is the captain of the guard doing here instead of surveying the borders of Dol Guldur?" he said, turning. Despite the hint of dispassion in his voice, his words were clipped with displeasure.
When King Thranduil finally faced them, the quiet, almost dangerous, question he posed the captain of the scouting sector was answered only by silence. His intense, cerulean eyes saw his son for only a slight moment before his gaze was fixed solely on the mortal woman.
King Thranduil paused.
In the silence, Areth suddenly became aware of the quick beating of her heart.
Thranduil brow furrowed, and his mouth opened slightly, as if caught blank on what to say. However, just as quickly as the shift in his expression, the stoic face of the Elvenking once again returned, resuming the authoritative, dispassionate mask that he wore. His bright blue gaze never once faltered from the human woman.
"I was not made aware of our visitor," he said softly. The warmth in his voice contradicted the indifference on his face.
Only when the woman step forward from the shadows did the rest of the council acknowledge her presence. A murmur of whispers rose among the elves. If she had looked, Areth would have recognized many of them from a feast that seemed to her a different age ago. She would have seen some regard her in curiosity, most in ill-concealed anger and blame.
As it were, her attention was focused solely on their king.
Stepping forward, she brought herself to a knee and bowed her head, as was the custom of the Mark's warriors. On this day, she represented the people of Rohan and the rightful ruler Thengel son of Fengel.
"I come on behalf of Lord Thengel son of Fengel of the Southern kingdom. I will speak in Lord Thengel's behalf."
"I did not realize that the Council of Elders was open to the public," a council member said drily. He eyed Areth with evident distaste. "Perhaps I will bring my dog next time."
If she had looked, Areth would have seen the King throw a scathing glare at the noble. It was a cool, dangerous look that simply dared them to say something impertinent. The noble quickly bowed his head in a semblance of an apology.
"Continue," Thranduil said. He motioned for her to rise.
Areth straightened and inclined her head in gratitude. She glanced at Legolas, who quietly urged her on. The woman, though haggard and clad in weather-worn travelling clothes, carried herself with every ounce of confidence that she could muster. She stepped forward and stood by the vacant space beside the council table.
"I bring word from the Mark and the discourse that brought the Wildmen of the West to the Forest."
Many of the council members regarded her with unhidden displeasure. It was not something that Areth felt she needed to defend herself from. Their involvement would be unbidden if Thengel had not sent her to lead the Gondorian scholar North.
But there were a few faces that were willing to listen with an open mind. She recognized the faces of Erithiel and her husband Morhir among those.
"Is this your attempt to gain the support of the Woodland Realm?" Morhir's brother Melhros questioned. His usual light lilt was hardened by a subtle edge.
"I would not ask any of you to risk your kin for a cause that is not your own," said Areth adamantly.
"Then why have you come here?"
"I came to warn you of their intentions."
"It is far too late now for a mere warning, Areth of Rohan. We have already lost sentinels to these attacks."
"Let the woman speak," Thranduil uttered. He raised his hand slightly to silence them. His cerulean eyes regarded each of the council members intently, quieting them, before meeting the forest gaze of the messenger.
"Rohan is in the midst of a civil war," Areth began, "Lord Fengel, the heir of Eorl the Young, has claimed his birthright to the throne, but he is unfit to be the leader. His corruption is the cause of my people's suffering." Areth remembered the empty villages, the pain of her people. She saw the casualties of men's negligence and antipathy. "People that he has sworn to protect…"
Her voice strengthened. "There are those of us who denounced Fengel as our ruler. The discourse can be pacified only by a king who puts his people first. The Circle of Eorl consists of the leaders of our rebellion, and we seek to place Lord Thengel on the seat of Meduseld."
"These are not our enemies," another of the elves said, "They have no reason to be here if not for you. And yet, they have not stopped their attacks in the past few months that you left. If anything, it has only grown in intensity. It leaves us all to question their motives."
Areth kept from flinching at the face of blame.
"Fengel has grown restless and anxious, and from that grew a paranoia that he will soon be usurped. I have been grateful for the refuge you have provided for me, but I fear that my stay here has led Fengel to believe that the Woodland Realm has allied with the Circle of Eorl. An offer of sanctuary was misunderstood as an act of allegiance."
There was a quiet murmur that erupted between the council members. It was a mixture of low whispers that was mixed with occasional wary glances sent her way.
Among the private conversations, Lord Melhros said, "There is no other choice, then. We must sever any sort of illusionary ties we have with Rohan."
"Yes," Areth said quietly, "I believe that is the only way to draw back from from this."
"To publically denounce ties with Lord Thengel would undoubtedly send the Dunlending forces back to the South."
"And what of you?" the elven woman Erithiel broke her silence. Her almond eyes regarded the mortal woman with intense solemnity. "Without the strength of Eryn Lasgalen keeping them at bay, the rebellion will surely collapse."
"You underestimate the strength of my people, my Lady," said Areth, "While we struggle against the marches of Rohan's professional army, the Circle of Eorl is not so helpless as to fall." She sighed, and her shoulders dropped, as if in a resigned manner. Quietly, she said, "Not without a fight."
At the current state of her people, scattered, disorganized, and with no proper way of communication except through her intermittent messages, Areth did not see the fates favoring their cause. Their list of possible allies was running short, but it was not yet over. Gondor was still, after all, an option.
"Eryn Lasgalen does not meddle in the affairs of any kingdom," another elf said to Erithiel, "We have endured for centuries by minding our own business. It is a lesson that the race of Men has yet learned."
"I see no reason why we should not help," said Erithiel retorted calmly, "We have an army, and we are able to offer our support to a worthy cause."
"No, you have done enough. More than enough for a cause that is not your own."
Morhir stared at the mortal woman strangely. Rather than begging for aid, Areth pleaded for whatever ties bound the Realm to Rohan to be severed. "What have you to gain by coming here, Areth? Why do you warn us of this?"
"After the kindness that I have been shown, this is all I can offer. I will fight the Dunlendings from your land, and doing so will prove a victory to the Circle as well as pay a small semblance of whatever debt I owe."
"You would decline allegiance with the Woodland Realm, even at the cost of the rebellion's victory?"
The question struck her with a force.
She had travelled in different villages in an attempt to inspire the downtrodden hearts of the Rohirrim. Throughout this entire endeavor, Areth sought only the help of those who had a cause to fight for, those who wished to gain back the security of their homeland. But the elves of the Woodland Realm—they had no stakes in the affairs of Men.
Areth thought back to her travels with Aragorn. She thought of the suffering of people who didn't ask for a war, who were simply caught in the middle. She wanted help, needed help, but only from those who believed in a cause that was worth fighting for.
And though Areth hoped that she would not be alone in her fight, she knew that she would find no ally here.
"It is as you say. This is not your battle."
The Elvenking regarded the mortal woman silently.
Seeming to have made a decision, King Thranduil raised his hand slightly. All private conversations stopped.
Breaking the silence, the Elvenking said, "Areth of Rohan, I bid you to send word to the Circle of Eorl that the rebellion has gained the elves of the Woodland Realm as an ally."
Many of the council members stood up in protest. Suddenly, there was a roar of conflicting between the inner circle.
But none of them was more surprised than Areth.
"Thranduil, what are you doing?" she whispered.
She gripped the edge of the table, attempting to regain a semblance of balance. Her strength had left her, and she felt only the exhaustion of her travels.
"If Fengel of Rohan believes the Woodland Realm to be an ally of the Circle, then so be it."
Areth blankly stared at the elven nobles.
Whether in the halls of Meduseld, the Circle, Mirkwood—Areth could no longer tell the difference.
They were all the same.
Thranduil's bright, cerulean eyes met hers for only a moment. Apart from the weariness in his gaze, Areth could not decipher anything from his façade. His attention moved to his son.
"Legolas, prepare the scouts. Do not stray farther than Dol Guldur. We must deal with these pests before all else."
"My Lord!" an elf protested.
"We are not a kingdom that cowers in the face of intimidation. If Rohan means to silence us to submission, then they are very much mistaken. We will fight."
As the elves grew louder in their protests, Areth felt the need to step away.
Vaguely, she felt a hand grasp her arm and lead her away from the chaos.
"I never meant for this to happen," Areth said. Her voice was low, hollow.
She really had not meant for this. While Areth held onto the hope that the council would miraculously empathize with her people, she knew that it would not be so. They were an ancient people, set onto their old ways, and would gladly turn a blind eye to their plight. And why shouldn't they? The war of men was no concern of theirs.
And though the outcome led to a new ally in the Silvan elves, Areth felt no comfort with this turn of events. It does not change the fact that, in the end, it had been Thranduil's sole decision, with no unanimous agreement from his council. Their help would be a reluctant servitude by the order of their king.
And what of Thranduil? It baffled Areth why he would decide such a thing. She had offered him a way to escape these attacks, a way to banish the Wildmen from his kingdom. His people would once again be safe from the meddling of the world beyond his own. He had nothing to gain from allying with the Circle of Eorl. And yet…
Legolas was insistent to take Areth to the Halls of Healing. Her wounds were not severe, and the cuts had dried enough to stop the bruising. More than anything, Areth wanted to clean herself up and sleep off her exhaustion. Her vigilance had given her the strength she needed during the swift travel, but now that she was safe in the palace, Areth could no longer ignore how tired she was.
Still, Legolas was insistent, and Areth found it easier to comply.
"I trust my father's decisions to do what he believes is right," Legolas said, "Quite honestly, I don't find myself as surprised by it."
The woman looked at him in question.
"He would not have ordered to hold off the enemy's forces if he had no intention of helping you," he said.
Areth's brow furrowed. But before she could say any more on the matter, Legolas dismissed himself.
"Forgive me," he said, adjusting his handle on the wooden bow, "I have been away for too long. I must return to the Forest. I trust that you will be well cared for here."
With only a small incline of his head, Prince Legolas turned and took his leave.
And so Areth found herself alone with the healer.
The woman sat at the edge of the bed as she allowed the elf to treat her in silence. The healer helping her had moved Areth's dirt-caked hair to one shoulder, treating the puncture on the back of her neck.
"I'm fine," Areth said, quietly insisting with the limited Silvan that she knew. She was fluent in Sindarin, and it was evident that not many of the Silvan elves were versed in this more common form of communication.
The healer regarded the woman with a hard glint that Areth did not particularly trust.
Areth kept herself guarded. Still, she did not particularly blame this elf for his ill glances. He had probably been one of the healers who had treated the wounded for the chaos she had brought upon entering their realm. This elf had tended to wounds, allowed them to heal… In some cases, he probably also tended to wounds that never healed—wounds that would be their last.
The woman's eyes lowered to the ground. She did not want to see the blame on the healer's face. She did not think she could take it.
After a moment's pause, the elf sighed. Areth gave a startled jump when she felt cold fingers brush against her neck, as if expecting the gentle touch to turn violent in an instant. She began to protest in broken Silvan, but the healer would have none of it. His touch was firm, unyielding, but remained gentle. He began cleaning the copper stains of blood that dried on her neck.
There was a moment of silence that ensued, but no longer was there tension between the two. She was not the woman who wrought chaos upon their hidden home. She was a wounded woman, and he was her healer.
"I'm sorry," she said softly in Sindarin, knowing fully that he would not understand.
To her surprise, the elven healer stilled in his work. He did not say a single word, but he rested a hesitant hand upon her shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze. Whether of acceptance or not, Areth could not be sure, but she was certain that it was one of acknowledgement regardless. It was enough to release the tension in her body, leaving her tired and battered.
"Where is she?" a deep voice thundered from beyond the doors. The hands tending to her wounds stilled once again. When Areth looked up, the sharp features of her healer turned startled. He said something to her, words she did not understand, with meaning that she could only guess at.
The voice was not a shout, but the force in the baritone, the sharpness that accented those words, was enough to have Areth's heart racing. She suddenly felt an amount of alarm, of trepidation.
Mistaking the look on her face as that of fear, the elf attempted to put her at ease. For all initial ill feelings towards this human stranger, she was still placed into his care as his patient. Her wellbeing was his priority.
The wooden doors opened with a muted slam against the wall. Despite the quietness of the intrusion, Areth stiffened. Her back was to the door, and she sat on the vacant bed facing the wall. Her eyes closed tightly. For all of the things she had wanted to say, for all that she prepared to say, she suddenly found her mind blank. Her mind was muted, but her emotions whirred into a storm.
What could she say?
What would he say?
"Leave us," King Thranduil said softly. The healer was taken aback by the tenderness in his gaze, the lack of bite in his words.
The Elvenking's icy gaze shot at the healer with a harsh intensity. "Leave us," he said again, his voice hardening. The edge in his voice sounded almost dangerous, which was a contrast to the tenderness that he had used.
The healer glanced warily at the stranger, and his countenance suddenly hardened. He did not believe the gossip about the Elvenking and the woman until now. Some had called her a witch to have left him so besotted. The Silvan elf kept whatever thoughts he had to himself, however.
The healer did not need to be told again. The tension his presence brought was overbearing, and as much as he resented leaving work unfinished, he longed to escape this confrontation. With a quick bow, he glanced back at the woman only once before striding out of the room in a hurry.
Areth heard the door close with a slam. It was the only tell she needed to confirm that she was alone with him.
"Why?" Areth whispered. She met his gaze.
Only after seeing him again did Areth realize the extent of how much she missed him. With the Council, he was the Elvenking, the leader of his people. The ancient Sindar who wore the hard mask of a leader was the elf she spoke to in the Council Chambers.
But here, in the secluded room in the Halls of Healing, they were alone. And there was no one that needed to see the mask.
His face remained unchanged. Ever youthful and perfect, Thranduil stood before her untouched by time. However, his eyes—his piercing, blue eyes—spoke of his exhaustion. Thranduil looked older than he did before.
Areth had decided to sever the ties she held with the Woodland realm and its ruler, and yet she found herself again in its halls in a seemingly cruel play of irony.
Thranduil's dark brows furrowed, and he regarded the woman strangely. Clasping his hands together, he said instead, "I did not believe our paths would cross again."
"I believed that, as well," said Areth, "When I left, I was to bring my problems with me. But it seems that my demons decided to linger with you." In her eyes was a combination of question but also… admiration. "Why did you do it?"
"I did nothing that I would not do again."
"You have nothing to gain from this," she said, "But so much to lose. Would you risk the lives of your subjects for a war that is not yours to fight?"
"My hand was forced, Areth. Surely you cannot expect me not to take action after these attacks."
"They would not have thought to touch the Woodland Realm if it were not for me. To drop retribution is not an act of surrender. This is not a game of pride, Thranduil."
Thranduil's temper flared in indignation. "Pride? Do you truly believe that I would agree an attack for the sake of my pride? Am I really no different from the Rohirric king that you despise?"
Areth was taken aback. "No, you are… You are nothing alike."
"If I stand by your side, I risk losing the best of my men. But it is no different from the daily battles against the growing evil of the South." The harshness in his voice dissipated, and his tone turned soft. "But if I stand apart from you, then I risk losing you entirely."
Areth paused. Her mouth opened as if to speak, but she found nothing to say. She stared at Thranduil with brows drawn, her green eyes wide.
"Thranduil, you do not owe me anything," she whispered.
Thranduil shook his head, turning from her. "I don't owe you anything. But you are…"
He closed his eyes, and he heaved a quiet sigh. "If it means that I would have prevented harm from coming your way, I would not change anything."
Areth softened. The woman's green eyes flickered to meet his, but he was turned away from her.
Her hand rose slowly. Hesitantly, her fingers touched the ivory skin of his cheek in a light caress. Thranduil seemed to lose tension, letting his shoulders drop in a rare instance of vulnerability.
"You look so tired," she said instead.
His large, cool hands engulfed her warm hand in a grip that secured her to him.
"I did not think that I would see you again," Thranduil whispered, "I found myself facing a different sort of agony since the day you left. I was so- I did not know if you were dead or captured or..."
He allowed himself a breath.
"Not a day passes that places you far from my thoughts."
"Nor for I," she said softly, her words emanating with utter truth.
Her hand tightened around his.
"I am so sorry," she whispered.
"Never apologize for the path that returned you to me, Mirdomiel."
Ain't that romantic.