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Late December 3017
Aragorn looked around at the tangle of trees on the southern borders of Thranduil’s realm in Mirkwood. The feel of menace among these trees gave him pause. He sorrowed as he noticed how the malice was even beginning to bleed into the contracted realm of the Elven king, reflecting on how dank this portion of the forest had become, even in his lifetime. He looked at Gandalf, sorrow written on his face. The wizard returned the look, full of sadness and memory. When he first walked these woods, the trees sang in his presence. It was joyful but even then, the shadow had started to grow.
“Gollum! Gollum!” rasped the creature in their custody. Gandalf blinked away the sad memories and turned to look the present in the face. His eyes glinted at the pathetic, gangrel creature now only known as Gollum and sighed. The creature looked warily back at him. Gandalf side-glanced his companion and shook his head as if to dispel any thoughts or misgivings, “We forge ahead though to Thranduil’s halls.” He did not finish the sentence aloud because he could not be sure of being overheard. Even the trees had ears and the malice he felt among the trees did not sit well with him.
Aragorn nodded grimly as he brought up the rear as Gandalf forged his way through the forest in an effort to meet up with the Old Forest Road, then over the Mountains of Mirkwood and then to Thranduil’s halls. Gollum muttered constantly, sometimes intelligibly, other times not. It was going to be a long journey indeed, Aragorn inwardly sighed. It had already been a long and tiring road. He had captured Gollum in the Dead Marshes and had made as good a time as may, traveling with this tiresome companion. He had fortuitously met up with Gandalf just outside the foot of Mirkwood forest, Valar be praised, and the two old friends forged forward to Thranduil’s realm.
They found the Old Forest Road after half a day’s worth of hiking and as night fell the decision was made to make camp. At least in crossing the Old Forest Road they crossed into Thranduil’s realm proper where the trees showed less and less corruption. Thranduil’s will stretched far and they were on the southern borders. Both Gandalf and Aragorn breathed a little easier but they did not dare to release Gollum from his binding for fear of escape, but that only meant they were doubly punished having to listen to the creature moan and whine about said bonds and how the very air in this portion of Mirkwood beat down on him oppressively until he blissfully fell asleep. Aragorn murmured a prayer of thanks to the Valar for the quiet when he looked at Gandalf to express this when he saw the wizard replacing a cork in a flask and trying to look innocent at the same time. Aragorn simply looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “What was all that talk about no harm should come to him and how valuable he is.”
Gandalf stated irritably, “He will not be permanently harmed. He will merely sleep for a time.”
Aragorn looked the old wizard, “Um-hmm.”
“Perhaps I shall wake him up again!” the wizard offered testily.
Aragorn put his hands up in retreat, “Peace old friend. It is well. Perhaps better than well. At least now we can hear ourselves think.”
Gandalf harrumphed as he tried to light his pipe. After a few beginning puffs he agreed, “My point exactly.”
Aragorn sat and scraped out his pipe as he peered to the north. “What do you think, Gandalf? Two days, Three days to Thranduil’s halls.”
“Perhaps four,” The wizard puffed on his pipe thoughtfully, ‘Depending on the passage through the Mountains of Mirkwood.”
Aragorn mused heavily the task ahead, pipe smoke suffuse in the air, as he mused. He contemplated the sleeping form of the gangrel creature who was their prisoner and what his existence meant. He was not looking forward to this journey.
Early January 3018
The pass through the Mountains of Mirkwood was blissfully uneventfully, Gandalf, Aragorn and their recalcitrant company slipped along the snowy pathways of the forest, seemingly undetected. As they neared the Halls of the Woodland Realm the feelings among the trees were no longer ones of malice nor were they friendly or welcoming but rather wary and somehow expectant.
Aragorn felt many eyes upon him, the near silent pull of many bows, and then, “You are slipping, Mellon nin!” he heard a merry voice call out. He looked in the direction of the voice and dropping soundlessly to the moss-covered floor was a golden-haired elf looking at him and smirking.
“Legolas! Mellon nin! Good it is to see you!” Aragorn called out and more cheer than he had felt in many days filled his heart as he beheld the sight of the youngest Prince of Mirkwood with whom he had been sharing adventures with since they met in an Orc cave when he was fifteen. Both had been held captive but had escaped with the help of one another and a bond had been formed.
Legolas motioned his archers to stand down and stepped forward to hug his friend. “So good it is to see you, as well.”
Aragorn motioned to the archers, “What is with the ‘warm’ welcome?”
Legolas shook his head. “Adar’s orders. More encroachments have been made upon these Northern reaches these past months. No pass is to be given without strong reason.” He looked at Gandalf, “Mithrandir! Again, Mellon nin! So good it is to see you!” as he hugged the old wizard having known him for most of his life, spanning some two thousand years, young for an elf. He then saw what Gandalf held on the end of his rope, meeting eyes with the grumbling, bitter creature. A shadow was cast upon Legolas’ soul that he attempted to shake off as he pulled away from Gandalf. He threw a questioning look at Gollum, “And what do we have here, Mithrandir?”
Gandalf looked the youngest prince of Mirkwood square in the eye. “It is not to be spoken of in the open here. But we must speak with your father. It is of some importance and no little urgency.”
Legolas eyed his old friend; Gandalf never did anything without purpose. He nodded, “It is good that it is I who is leading this scouting party for I am not sure another scouting party could give leave to your request at this time.” He turned to the elf next to him, “Narthon! Tell the others! We will bring Mithrandir, Aragorn and their ‘guest’ to my Adar and we will provide tree and ground cover for them. Tell them.”
“It shall be done my Prince!” Narthon, an elf with honey brown hair and green eyes. He placed his hand on his heart, but delayed slightly before leaving Legolas’ side,
Legolas sighed, “Narthon! I will be fine. Do as I have ordered.”
Narthon nodded his head and turned to disappear into the trees. Aragorn looked at his friend knowingly.
Legolas sighed as he motioned for them to start moving forward, “Yes, he is one of my body retainers, as per standard. Adar thinks I don’t know what he does. He trusts no one and I must never be left alone.” Aragorn eyed his friend, Legolas shook his head. “Fear still guides his heart. He has never really recovered from when the Orcs took me captive.” He chuckled mirthlessly. “It is better than it was. For a long time, you’ll remember, my body retainers were very obvious but I started to chaff under the restraints. I asked to have them removed and he gave in with remarkable ease. I should have realised he would never give up entirely. Now I just pretend that I don’t know that Narthon and a host of others are to act as my body retainers and Adar pretends that he doesn’t send them.”
Aragorn smiled ruefully. Thranduil would seemingly forever think of his youngest as forever too young. He wondered if that would come back to haunt the proud and stubborn ElvenKing. He had come to know Thranduil’s youngest. He was a dutiful son, cheerful and full of laughter, but within him ran the same streak of stubbornness as Thranduil. He bore the restraint well enough due to the great love he bore his father, but Aragorn did not know what would happen when, rather than if, the proverbial rock and hard place met. He glanced at his friend, whose golden warrior’s plaits swung gently under the brisk place at which they walked, his laughter sounding at something Gandalf had just mentioned.
Gaining the entrance to ElvenKing’s halls Aragorn once again marveled at the beauty of Thranduil’s stronghold. At first glance amid the branches and leaves of towering trees the entrance gate went unnoticed and not until the gates were opened by their unseen guardians did one realise there was an opening and even then it merely that seemed that the trees themselves were opening to allow entrance. Walking over the threshold was as if one was stepping into a hidden realm; the trees without and within creating a canopy over the open spaces, sunlight dappling the ground of a spacious courtyard of immense size. He looked behind him and the closed gate was barely discernible, nestled among a dense copse of trees. Aragorn was no stranger to Elven enclaves having grown up in Imladris and having spent time in Lorien but Thranduil’s halls were a tribute to seclusion and to beauty. These two aspects of his halls reflected its ruler. Aragorn reflected upon the history of the battle of the Last Alliance that he was taught as a child growing up in Imladris by Glorfindel, who served as his tutor in many things. Thranduil had lost his father at that battle and nearly two-thirds of his army. Glorfindel said Thranduil retreated to his forest and withdrew from the rest of the world. Aragorn always remembered the sadness with which Glorfindel spoke those words. He remembered asking his tutor about why it made him sad. By way of explanation Glorfindel said sometimes when the wound is so great all you can do is retreat and hope to heal. The child that Aragorn was did not fully understand what the Elf Lord was saying, but as he grew older he began to understand. Beauty and seclusion were the perfect definition for these halls and given what he knew about Thranduil their upcoming conversation concerning Gollum was going to be a challenge.
Aragorn was wrested from his musings by a joyful greeting. He looked to his side to see an older elf hugging Legolas.
“Muindoreg nin!” said the silver haired elf who was hugging Legolas.
“Celebren! You have returned from your tour of the Grey Mountains!” Legolas declared.
“We returned yesterday. I thought Adar said you would be out with one of scouting parties and would be gone for a fortnight or more, at least.”
“That was the plan but sometimes plans change.” Legolas motioned towards Aragorn and Gandalf.
Celebren then noticed the two travelers, “Mithrandir! Mae Govannen! How pleasing to see you!”
Aragorn had belatedly recognized the silver-haired Elf. Celebren was Crown Prince of Mirkwood and one would have difficulty locating an elf of more differing temperament to his father. Whereas Thranduil was an Elf of a fiery mien, Celebren was far more cerebral and was slow to rile. He never acted without thought first. In fact, he counterbalanced his father quite well in that regard.
Celebren then looked at Aragorn, “Aragorn, once again it is good to have you among us, the Dunedain are always welcome within our realm,” he finishing warmly, his hand on his heart. Then his eyes fell upon Gollum and a shadow not dissimilar to the one that dimmed Legolas’ spirit briefly. “What is this creature I see before me?”
Gollum returned the look and added a most peculiar noise, “Gollum, Gollum! We hates this place!” and he proceeded to blow a raspberry and then a sibilant hiss causing silver eyebrows above Celebren’s green eyes to shoot up in curious and yet slightly repulsed manner. He quickly looked at Legolas for explanation.
Gandalf barked out at the gangrel creature, “Keep your tongue!” simultaneously as Legolas sighed responding to his brother’s inquiry.
“That,” he said pointedly as he nodded in Gollum’s direction, “is why I am back from patrol early. Mithrandir has asked to speak with Adar, but he has waited until he sees Adar to give the reason for the request.”
Again Celebren’s eyebrows shot up. “Indeed?” he stated, looking at Gandalf, “Well, Mithrandir has his reasons I’m sure. Come let us away. I am sure that our Adar will want to see you straight away.”
Thranduil stood at the balcony of his study on an upper flet, looking out over the sprawling wooded courtyard. He saw walking towards him, his oldest and youngest sons, which in and of itself was odd because Legolas was supposed to be on patrol of the area nearer to the Mountains of Mirkwood. He grew even more concerned as he saw who walked with them. Mithrandir and the Dunedain ranger, Aragorn, for whom he owed a debt these past years for the services he rendered to Legolas when he was only a Mannish stripling. He had come to have a great deal of respect for this grim man of the forest and beyond. He saw that Mithrandir pulled something or someone behind him and Thranduil felt his heart misgive. His brow furrowed as he stood stock still pondering what he had seen. A few minutes passed as he looked out with unseeing eyes and a knock stirred him from his reverie. He turned towards the door and shouted, “Come!”
Thalion entered and bowed, hand on heart. “My liege, your sons ask an audience.”
Thranduil looked at his attendant, “Thalion, you know my sons never need ask for an audience. They are always allowed to enter my presence at any time.” He ended with puzzlement.
“They ask for audience in the auxiliary chamber. They have asked for privacy.”
A thrill of foreboding ripped through Thranduil’s heart. He pursed his lips and said, “I see! Very well. Tell them I shall attend them forthwith.”
“As you will, my liege.” Thalion left to deliver the message. Thranduil remained at the balcony and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly in an attempt to forestall the flare of anxiety that was attempting to take hold. He brushed at one of his eyebrows as he exhaled, the flare of anxiety unsuccessfully forestalled. He turned away from the balcony and walked the short distance to down to the auxiliary chambers.
He walked in and seated himself feigning calm as he arranged his robes decorously and motioned for Thalion to tell his sons to enter. His eyes lit with delight and pride as his sons entered. He nodded to Celebren smiling, and then, “Legolas, Come forward!”
Legolas stepped forward and Thranduil descended the few steps to where Legolas stood, pretense and façade cast aside at the joy of seeing his youngest stride forth. He placed his hands on his youngest son’s shoulders and kissed his forehead, “Gîl síla erin lû e-govaded vín, Ion nin. But why are you here? Are not you supposed to be on patrol?”
“Aye, Adar, but while on patrol I met with Mithrandir and Aragorn and they said that they needed to speak with you urgently.”
Thranduil shifted his gaze to both Gandalf and Aragorn and spun around back to his seat, “Mae Govannen! My good sirs!” lounging with a replaced feigned casualness, “To what do I owe the honor of your company?”
Gandalf came forward, “Thranduil King. I come forward to ask you a favour.”
Thranduil looked coolly upon the grey wizard, “I am intrigued, and may I ask what form this favour is to take?” he intoned smoothly.
Gandalf pondered how much to tell Thranduil. He needed to understand the gravity of the situation and the importance of Gollum. “I need you to hold some one for me. As much for the safety of Middle Earth and for his own safety.”
Thranduil leveled a look at Gandalf, all pretense of languor ending, “Mithrandir, what exactly, am I and more importantly, my people being asked to do?” Thranduil asked in a deceptively calm voice. Legolas heard that tone of voice and cringed inwardly, having heard that tone in his father’s voice on a few unfortunate occasions.
Gandalf realized he was going to have to allow Thranduil more knowledge, “What I am about to say must be kept in the strictest confidence.”
Gîl síla erin lû e-govaded vín. = A star shines upon the hour of our meeting.
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