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Ch. 6 – “It begins”
Mirkwood, Spring 3019
Winter had given way to spring in Mirkwood and with it a new hope and optimism even in the mist of shadow; the shadow that was being cast from Dol Guldur in the southern-most tip of Mirkwood. Everything in the forest the Woodland realm of Thranduil gave life to its inhabitants. They found a healing air within the forest, thinking it had restorative powers for their spirit. The bond between the Silvan Elves and Arda was strong and even stronger within the ruling family of Thranduil though they were not Silvan but Sindarin Elves whose love for the lands of Middle Earth was so great they did not answer the call of the unseen Valinor and retreated to the forest to find a simpler more natural way of living. Thus their love and faith in their land so great that they thought and indeed hoped that Gollum who was still being held at the behest of Gandalf could be healed by the forest. They kept watch over the creature but they did not have the heart to continually keep him underground lest he should revert to his old ways of hate and discontent. It was this wariness and their own belief in the healing powers of the forest that saw them, with the spring, allow Gollum time among the trees for a few hours every other day.
Gollum seemed to enjoy these trips. He grew calmer and did not mutter to himself as often and he started to lose some of his ill-favoured countenance. Even Legolas noticed the change in him. The original impression of the shadow that crossed his heart when he first looked upon the gangrel creature never truly went away but given his fair-minded disposition he brushed those feelings aside.
One day in spring however gave him cause for doubt. It had been his turn to lead the protective patrol that always set out to guard Gollum while he had his supervised visits in the forest. It was coming time for them to return to Thranduil’s halls and Legolas called out to the ill-favoured gangrel. He thought he overheard some of the guttural mutterings that had lessened the longer Gollum was in their custody. He called Gollum’s name out again and the mutterings ceased immediately. A bird took flight suddenly and moments later Gollum came bounding out calling “Sorry! Precious. Gollum did not hear!”
Legolas eyed him suspiciously for a few moments then said, “It is time to return!” and pointed towards the others in the protective guard, “Go on!” Gollum scrambled after the guard and Legolas eyed the darkened area from which Gollum had emerged and the shadow once again darkened his heart. He mused whether or not he would tell his father what Gandalf had imparted during his winter stay but again he decided it was not the right time.
He did however decide to mention his misgivings about Gollum to his eldest brother, Celebren. After seeing his charge replaced in his cell, Legolas sought out his older brother. Knocking on the door Legolas waited and heard a very faint scrambling sound before Celebren opened the door looking a bit more disheveled than Legolas was used to. Legolas distractedly said, “Can we talk?” He walked right in without waiting for an answer. Sitting on the folds of the green silk coverlet of his brother’s unmade bed, he started, “It is Gollum. He gives me pause, brother. I just don’t trust him.”
Celebren looked into his little brother’s blue eyes that were clouded with concern and realised that he did indeed need to talk. He sighed and smoothed back his silver unbraided hair and with a glance to the wardrobe he said, “I doubt there are any that do, little brother, but what can he do? We keep watch on him in the forest. Would you have him in the cell all day, every day.”
“No,” Legolas replied quickly, “and I know that Mithrandir did have some hope for his reformation.” He ended doubtfully.
“Exactly. And if Mithrandir thinks it and Adar has given approval for this course of action then it is the right one for now.” Celebren stated matter-of-factly, “He is our guest as much as he is our captive.”
Legolas sighed, “You are right.” He paused for a few seconds of dawning comprehension, “I will leave you to your joys of your unmade bed.” He waited a beat, “You can come out now, Teliriel,” he called to Celebren’s wife of many centuries. He cast a knowing look and a half-smile at Celebren, “you may go back to your endeavors that I so inelegantly interrupted.” Teliriel opened the door to the wardrobe and walked out. She just smiled at Legolas, “Little brother,” she nodded her head regally as if she were dressed in a silk gown instead of a silk sheet artfully covering. Legolas looked at them and smiled as he walked toward the doorway. The door closed quietly and he continued to smile as he heard a muffled giggle after he had departed. He hoped that whenever he should meet his intended mate that he should know the joy that Celebren and Teliriel had known these many centuries.
Later in the summer…
The Elves of Mirkwood had hoped as Gandalf hoped that Gollum might find some measure of peace among the trees. Spring had grown into Summer and these forest visits had continued, seemingly having desired effect upon the spindly creature. Legolas tried as best he may to ignore the warnings in his heart, trusting in his father’s decisions. He was again in charge of the protective guard for Gollum’s forest visit one summer’s day in June. Only once more had he heard those guttural mutterings that given him so much pause in spring and it was again followed by a frantic flight of a bird and it again made him uneasy but there was no recourse. But it remained in a corner of his mind, giving him unease. Legolas sighed again as he thought of that first time in the spring. He drew a deep breath to calm himself when intuition told him something was not right. He looked around the clearing and saw Vivelle looking around suspiciously and silently drawing her bow. He caught the eye of Erthion and Navedir who were situated on opposite sides of the clearing communicating with a look to draw their bows as well, as a precaution. He saw the other six elves reacting to their lead and knocking arrows then drawing. The hour for departure back to the Halls was upon them. He called in a casual voice, “Gollum! Time to come down now!” He did not like the feeling at the base of his neck; the feeling that always presaged danger of some sort. There was no noise. No bending of branches, no called excuses as to why he should have more time among the trees. Legolas cast a suspicious eye at the environs surrounding the glade and saw nothing especially untoward. The feeling of uneasiness had past for the moment. He motioned his archers to stand down. He walked to the old tree that Gollum favoured, stood at the trunk and looked up into the branches seeing if he could catch sight of Gollum but the thick cover of leaves upon myriad branches did not allow for a clear view. He sighed, “Well, we cannot go back without him. So, I guess we shall be staying overnight. Maethon, Eithediriel! Stand guard at the foot of the tree.”
“Yes, my prince.” They both said within the cadence of their own voices.
Late afternoon coloring turned to twilight. Night at last fell and Legolas felt refreshed in soul by the clear, clean light of the stars. Their light always calmed him. Just after moonset there was a sudden crack of a twig and a scent on the air that was decidedly not elven alerting his senses that danger approached. He looked at Maethon and Eithediriel still standing guard at the base of the old tree and gave the hand signal for trouble approaching. They signaled back and silently readied their blades. A sound of a craven cawing and in the next few seconds chaos erupted as Orcs stormed through the glade.
Legolas let fly his first arrow and it found its mark. He whirled around as he pulled from his quiver another arrow and knocked it, pulled and let it fly in swift, artfully honed motion gained through centuries of training. He gazed briefly around the glade turned battlefield and he noticed that Erthion let fly an arrow and in a fluid and graceful motion he stowed his bow and pulled his sword free to bring it down upon an Orc head.
Legolas pulled his bow, let fly and in the same fluid motion as Erthion he then lobbed off an arm with his sword and the spewing Orc blood colored the ground an unsightly red. It was then that he noticed something odd, that after the initial attack the Orcs themselves were not stopping to continue the fight. They were just running straight through as if to cause a diversion. Legolas looked to the old tree and saw at its base both Maethon and Eithediriel immobile. Fear flashed through him as he ran to them. The sight that greeted him harrowed his very soul. Eithediriel’s throat was slashed. Legolas stared and then shut his eyes, “The Valar speed you to the Halls of Mandos, there to find respite and peace, Mellon nin,” the fervent hope spoken in a broken whisper. He heard a moan, he turned and saw Maethon’s grey eyes full of pain and the knowledge of his own approaching journey to those same halls, “Gollum!” He rasped with the last of his strength. Legolas was at his side and saw the thick black bolt with marred dark fletchings close to the Silvan elf’s heart. “Don’t speak Mellon nin! Let me help you!” Legolas spoke, though the look in Maethon’s eyes said he knew his prince was speaking the comforting lie. “Gollum tried-” The light left grey eyes; words unspoken. Legolas puzzled briefly as to what his friend had been trying to say and then it came to him in a sickening flash, “Gollum!” He shouted out in the clearing emptied of Orcs that had not been slain or wounded. “Gollum!” He shouted again as he heard a wheezing derisive laugh emerging from an Orc on the ground with one of Erthion’s arrows impaling his left lung. Legolas reached the filth in two long strides and placed his sword blade at the throat of the wheezing and coughing Orc. “Why do you laugh?” he demanded in a forceful snarl.
The Orc looked at him, hatred pouring from his eyes, “Lose something did you?” he said in a voice thick with mocking. Legolas’ eyes widen with fury and contempt, “What do you know. Tell me!” he hissed viciously, his sword starting to bite into the thick muscled neck of the disgusting creature.
The Orc held the prince’s gaze and said simply, “It begins,” the filth laughed, which turned into a blood letting cough and then he breathed his last. At those words Legolas had a feeling of great foreboding. He looked up and saw both Erthion and Navedir at his side. He asked the two Elves, “Have you seen Gollum?” although he knew in his heart what their answer would be.
“No, My prince,” came the expected answer. Legolas closed his eyes and uttered a heartfelt curse.
Navedir added “I heard the accursed filth say, “ ‘Lose something, did you?’ What do you suppose that meant?”
Legolas muttered, “I do not know, Navedir.” Which was true. He did not know for sure, but he had his suspicions. He did not elaborate; he wanted to give first voice to his thoughts when he spoke with his father and not before. “It begins.” The filth had said and for reasons inexplicable he felt a shadowing falling upon the forest of his father’s realm. “Burn these carcasses before they defile our earth more with their foul blood.” They set to their task with the last words of the Orc ringing though Legolas’ head ominously. He needed to speak with his father. The information that Gandalf had imparted over the winter in light of these recent events took on something of an ominous tone.
It was with a heavy heart that Legolas walked back over to the old tree, first looking up into her branches that grew so high that at night they seem to touch the stars themselves. Branches that gave unwitting shelter to malignancy known too late in the form of the gangrel creature of Gollum. He placed a hand on the tree trunk, feeling the rough bark under his fingers. He breathed deeply and sought the spirit of the tree, seeking to ask the tree to accept his fallen friends. With the Fëa gone the Hröa, the physical manifestation of an elf’s body simply dissolved into Arda itself. Returning from where it came. Legolas spoke in his mind to the old tree, “Humbly I ask that you receive the Hröa of my fallen friends. That you honor their return to the earth.” He stood completely still many moments and then received within his heart, “The Hröa shall find peace among my roots. Go now.” Legolas opened his eyes and knelt by Maethon and Eithediriel, a single tear falling for each as he placed a farewell kiss on each forehead. Maethon, with his somber mien and surprisingly sharp flashes of humour and gentle, beautiful Eithediriel with her cheerful, buoyant nature, always willing to play peacemaker between those in discord and yet always willing to take up a challenge should anyone wish to try against her skill with a bow. Ironic that she should find death at the blade of an Orc. Legolas stood as he saw that both Erthion and Navedir standing heads bowed in respect to their friends. Legolas placed a hand on each elf’s shoulder and gently but firmly, “Can the wounded travel?”
Navedir replied, “Yes, my prince. We can make the distance at what speed we must.” Legolas noticed a gash that had cut through the fawn green leather leggings the elf wore.
Legolas smiled ruefully, “Tend to what can be tended. And then we must be off!”
“Yes, my prince!” Navedir bowed, hand on heart and headed in Vivelle’s direction for her ministrations as healer that she performed for the patrol on both long and short term tours.
Erthion scrubbed his face with his hand and said, “The king is going to be most displeased with this turn of events.”
Legolas looked at the Elven archer and friend of many, many years and chuckled a near mirthless chuckle, “I see you have been practicing the art of understatement of late. You also have another great advantage over me, old friend.” Erthion looked quizzically at Legolas, whose face steeled with unpleasant musing. “You will not have to tell the King of this day’s events,” He paused and sighed for effect, “I will…”
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