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A/N: Many thanks to Ellynn for being my word wrangler and sorting out my meaning! ((hugs))
Ch. 13 -- The Courage to Ask
Daenir arrived at Thranduil’s halls late and saw Raeven guarding the gate. He smiled. “Guard duty, old friend?” he queried in a teasing, yet inquiring way.
“Yes,” Raeven replied. “That is the absolute last time I abscond with a bottle of wine before I confirm where it was heading!”
Daenir simply shook his head chuckling softly, thinking of Raeven’s penchant for fine wines. “Who was it bound for this time?”
“The King.” Raeven murmured.
Daenir sucked in quick air. “Raeven! It wasn’t the King who discovered this, I take it?”
Raeven looked at him pointedly. “I’m still here, aren’t I?”
“True, true!” Daenir said thinking loudly that Raeven’s love of fine wine was going to catch up to him. “Who, then?”
“Amlach,” Raeven admitted in a low voice, naming the King’s wine steward.
Daenir simply shook his head chuckling and said, “This is going to be the death of you, you know.”
“I know, I know, but it would be a fine way to die!”
Daenir shook his head and rolled his eyes at his friend. “It is good to be back, my friend. We shall crush a cup of wine together soon!” He touched his horse’s flank and they walked on to the stables. He thought briefly about waiting until the morning to bring Thranduil the letter from Legolas, but he decided that it was best not to wait.
After stabling his horse, Daenir made his quick way to Thranduil’s private rooms as it was after hours, past evening meal, and he knew of no hall gatherings that were happening. He neared the suite and saw Lachon on door duty. “Master Lachon! Good it is to see you! Is the King still awake?”
Lachon was about to answer when Guildor, Thranduil’s main councilor, opened the door and stepped through. His worried face lightened considerably when he saw who stood at the King’s door. “Daenir! You have returned!” A streak of worry flashed across his face. “You bring glad tidings, I do so hope!”
Daenir nodded. “Yes, I do! If I may be permitted to see the King?”
Guildor replied fervently, “Yes! But be prepared. It has not gone easy with the King since you departed.” He said no more, but from his expression, a sense of foreboding struck Daenir’s heart. He nodded and stepped through the open doors.
He saw his King sitting as still as stone in the carved out and cushioned window seat. He was dressed in robes and sleeping attire, his blond hair unbound and falling haphazardly across his shoulders and back. He sat with his head leaning back against the windowsill, staring out of the window into the black night. He did not seem to notice Daenir’s presence. Even from distance, Daenir sensed a quietude that had settled upon Thranduil, a stillness that was most unlike him. He always gave off an air of energy, even while still, the impression of a barely leashed hurricane straining to be released. Now Daenir felt nothing. It was as if he was looking at a picture of his King and not a living, breathing soul. Grief was taking hold. He waited respectfully to be acknowledged as was proper, but after a few moments he realised that Thranduil did not even realize he was there. It was then that he moved in a few steps and spoke.
“My King! I have returned from the South.”
Thranduil at first seemed not to have heard him, remaining motionless staring into the blackness. But after a few moments he turned to look at Daenir and the maelstrom of emotions swirling in deep blue eyes shocked him. Never had he seen such torment playing across eyes in quite that way. Daenir’s voice forced its way through the torrent of his own emotions upon seeing such despair. “My Lord, I bear a letter from Legolas! Please, will you read it?” Daenir pulled the sealed letter from safe inside his tunic. He kneeled, his head bowed and held the letter up for his King to receive.
Thranduil looked at the letter in Daenir’s hand and saw clearly written in his son’s scrawling hand one word “Adar.” That word broke through the fog of grief that had surrounded Thranduil these past weeks. He got up from his window seat to receive the letter from Daenir’s outstretched hand. His hands trembled as he viewed the unfamiliar seal.
“This did come from Legolas?” Thranduil asked of Daenir in a voice that sounded as if it had been in disuse for days, weak and a little raspy. The sound of it startled Daenir, so used to the King speaking in tones of strength and command. He looked up into questioning and tired eyes.
“Yes, My lord. He handed it to me himself and I was to hand it only into your hands, My King.”
Thranduil looked at him, desperate longing in his eyes. “You saw Legolas?” There was a slight trembling in his voice as he said, “Is he well?” Does he hate me? Words that Thranduil could not form into audible sounds lest his heart should break.
Daenir answered, “Yes. He is doing very well, my liege.” Thranduil stood mute. He wanted to ask so much more. Daenir continued gently, “Pardon my liege. But I think many of your questions will be answered within the letter itself.”
Thranduil looked down at the letter in his hand almost as if he had forgotten its existence. He then looked at it as if it were a thing alive and bent on striking him down. He did not have the strength to open the letter and read its judgment. He simply continued stare at it.
Daenir was uncomfortable seeing his King in pain and he was unsure what to do. He did not know what the letter contained, but having seen and spoken with Legolas, he was certain that whatever was written would not cause harm. He drew a breath and ventured into a place he would have never normally gone, into the private world of his King. It was simply not done; all within the realm of Mirkwood knew that the King jealously guarded his privacy. But also, he saw pain and he meant always to be of service to his king. Remaining on his knee, he began hesitantly. “If by your leave, my liege, might I ask a question?”
Thranduil shifted his gaze from the letter to the kneeling elf almost as if he had forgotten he was present, but he nodded his leave. “You may.” The raspy voice granted.
Emboldened, Daenir asked, “In an effort only meant to be of service to you, may I ask to read the letter to you?” Daenir bowed his head, fully expecting to be tossed from the room for his impudence.
Silence. And then the same words repeated. “You may.” There was a pause. “Rise.” The words were spoken quietly with defeat as an underlying current.
Daenir’s heart broke at hearing such acquiescence, but he carefully schooled his expression to not show the shock he felt at his King’s acceptance of his request, which to his mind only showed how far into despair Thranduil had fallen. He rose from his knee and gently took the letter from his king’s hand. He broke the seal and, taking a deep breath, he scanned the letter quickly. He smiled inwardly and began:
Words cannot express what I am feeling right now. They are inadequate to this moment, but they are all I have to give so they are the vehicle I must use. Your words have brought joy to my soul. I feel your song wrap around my heart and it has begun to heal.
Daenir looked at his King after he read the first passage. He saw strain begin to fall away from Thranduil’s face.
“Continue,” whispered the voice of the King.
Daenir did as he was bidden.
If I heard anyone name you coward, they would have my blade and bow to contend with for I know they would be speaking falsely. I cannot allow you to call yourself one. It is damaging to my spirit to read these words with which you berate yourself, for I know they are false…
As Thranduil listened he felt the heaviness easing in his heart, healing the self-inflicted wounds. A light began to shine upon his inner senses again. When Daenir spoke the next passage, Thranduil’s heart began to sing.
You ask forgiveness. How can I not forgive you? I love you. Please know that I hold you in the highest respect. So yes, I forgive you.
Thranduil thought back to what Lasgalen had told him in the glade, that Legolas had a kind and forgiving heart and that he would forgive him anything if he asked. It seems that you were right my love, he thought.Thranduil opened his eyes. “You may stop, Daenir.”
Daenir immediately halted and looked into his King’s eyes. Gone was the defeated, sad look and in its place a dawning look of calm. Thranduil reached his hand out for the letter and Daenir placed it in his liege’s hand, and immediately cast his eyes downward respectfully. He felt Thranduil’s fingers lifting his chin up to meet his own blue gaze which was slowly regaining its more accustomed look of calm and command.
“Daenir.” Thranduil’s eyes warmed with gratitude. “I thank you. I owe you a debt I do not believe I will ever be able to repay.”
Daenir looked into the eyes of his King. “My Liege. There is no debt. I have only ever wished to be of service to you. I am honoured that you allowed me to be.”
Thranduil looked at him gravely. “There is great debt, and I am honoured to owe it. Ask and it shall be yours.” Thranduil leaned forward and kissed Daenir’s forehead. “You are as a son to me now for what you have risked and for what you have given. At present I wish to be alone to read the rest of the letter. Thank you,” he ended graciously.
Daenir had felt a joy of a kind he had never known flow into him as his King had bent to kiss his forehead. He quickly bowed and left the bedchamber in wonder. Thranduil read the rest of the letter.
I hope that you can forgive me because regardless of any other considerations I accept as my responsibility the fate of Gollum. It was through my actions and decisions that he has escaped, and I will answer to it, if that is what is required.
Thranduil, after reading that passage, began to realize that Legolas had indeed grown into the elf that he had wished him to be. Honorable and responsible. His heart still hurt for the burden his youngest son was taking upon himself and he wished that he could lessen the load for him, but he knew that he could no longer make the way through life easier for Legolas. He was going to have find his own way.
Sadron stopped his horse at the stream that came from the River Running so that Luindaer could drink from the safe waters of this southern stream. He uncorked his wineskin and poured some wine into his mouth. He corked the wineskin sighing as he did and looked around. He peered toward the south with a sense of foreboding. He looked to the side and saw both Legolas and Erthion join him to water their horses as well.
Legolas looked to the south and then leaned forward on his saddle gently petting Lhegrin’s neck as the horse drank deep of the fresh stream water. “What do you think, brother?” he inquired of Sadron. “Do we go further south?”
It had been five weeks since they had left Sadron’s holding. They had first searched along the Enchanted River eastwards to the easternmost borders of Mirkwood and then the southern section of the forest under Thranduil’s influence where the Enchanted River and the River Running met, and they had found no trace of Gollum. They had however found much evidence of an Orc presence though they had not encountered any Orcs as such. They had forded the river at the convergence of the two waterways where it was safe from enchantment. Legolas peered in the same southerly direction as his brother.
Sadron sighed. “Legolas, I do not know. We have traveled along the river to the edge of the forest and have found no hint of Gollum!” He ended in a somewhat exasperated tone, scrubbing his face with both hands as if such an action could clear his frustration. “Do we go South? My heart says ‘No’, but I do not know if that is foreboding, sound judgment or weariness speaking.”
Legolas looked at his brother and could well understand the sentiment. He felt the same weariness of soul. He had heard his father speak of the south of Mirkwood, a lost portion of his realm, in those rare times when he was feeling melancholic or nostalgic. Indeed, he had heard stories of the fabled beauty of Amon Lanc, their home in the south, which over time had been tragically degraded to become Dol Guldur, where Thranduil knew Sauron had resided for centuries, though none of the wise would listen to his counsel. It was through Sauron and his evil influence that large portions of the southern forest had turned for the worse. Greenwood the Great had become Mirkwood. It could be that influence with which his father had fought mentally for centuries that was causing the weariness of spirit that dragged upon Legolas’ heart. “I say we head in a more southerly direction towards the Old Forest Road. We will see what we can see and then decide upon our course of action.”
Legolas was reluctant to admit, even to himself, that Gollum was indeed gone. It still weighed upon his soul that he was responsible for Gollum’s escape, which had also directly caused the deaths of his friends who had been under his command. He thought about what his father had said in his letter that Legolas kept inside his tunic close to his heart. I understand that whatever words I use to absolve you of Maethon and Eithediriel's deaths, they will still sit on your heart. That is something you will have to learn to live with. His father understood what Legolas was feeling and that salved his heart, to have his father’s understanding. But bearing the burden of his friends’ fates was a spur to finding Gollum, to make amends in some way. What path to redemption did he follow if Gollum was indeed lost? It was a question Legolas was unable to face just yet, so the search would continue for a while longer in the vain hope that any trail could be found and then followed. He looked up and saw Sadron’s unnerving gaze of one blue eye and one green eye resting upon him, sympathy evident on his face. Legolas held his gaze for a few moments but refused to divulge what doubts lay in his heart. He suspected Sadron knew anyway. He could always read his little brother like an open book.
“We ride to the Old Forest Road!” He looked at Sadron and then past him to Erthion and Navedir. He carefully avoided Vivelle’s eyes, not wishing for another gentle battle of wills from another that he held dear. The company of ten elven warriors from Sadron’s command in the south placed their hands on their hearts and began to form up loose ranks atop their horses.
Traveling towards the Old Forest Road meant traveling into a part of the forest that felt less of his father’s influence and more of the undue and tragic hold of Dol Guldur. The spirit of the trees was more muted, as if their joy was slowly being siphoned away only to be replaced by sadness, despair, and in the end, malevolence. It saddened Legolas’ heart. Traces of malevolence hung intermittently from the trees in the form of spiderwebs even on the northside of the Old Forest Road, though it was much more in evidence south of the road. After slowly moving through the forested areas for hours, the retinue paused in a small glade and dismounted their horses. A quick scan around the fringes of the forest was undertaken more in hopefulness rather than in expectation to see if any trail of Gollum could be detected. Legolas accepted the soldiers’ findings with a quiet nod to their failure.
“Galdor, Gwineith, Naldor watch the perimeter,” he requested this from three of Sadron’s command. “This is too close to the influence coming from the South, we cannot be too careful what may be about in the woods.”
They sat in the glade in pairs back to back watchful in this portion of the forest that was ever falling into desolation; their weapons, bow and blade, at their sides, lying in wait. Legolas sat with his back against his brother, his hand on the ground.
“Can you feel it?” Sadron’s voice broke into his thoughts. “I remember these trees from long ago. They were as green and as joyful as the trees near home.” Legolas heard the sad tenor in his voice and answered with shared understanding.
“It is a feeling of sadness. I touch the ground and I feel it. I hear it in the rustling leaves, the despair.” He could feel the spirit of the trees speak in his soul. He remained silent. He had no words, no joy to share with them. Then the two words. I’m sorry. Just then a scream ripped through his senses. Opening his eyes, he grabbed his bow and sword. “Spiders! Make ready!”
Sadron leapt up as did the rest of the retinue and grabbed his weapons.
Galdor came running from the tree line. “Spiders! My lords!”
Sadron spared a quick look at his younger brother, wondering how he knew before the watch. The next moment he could spare no thought for anything other than pulling his bow and aiming at the spider breaking the tree line. There were four spiders that they could see. Both Erthion and Sadron had arrows hit one dead center in the head. It stumbled forward and Naldor sliced its legs off from one side of its hideous body, rendering it immobile as black blood splattered on his arms, stinging slightly.
As his arrows found their targets Legolas dropped his bow and pulled his blade from his scabbard in a single swift motion. He stood waiting for the spider to charge him and then at the last moment he sidestepped the foul creature and took its legs out from under it. Then Gwineith on one side and he on the other both spun and drove home their swords into the spider’s head. Black blood speckled both elves and where it landed it burned Legolas’ skin slightly. He looked around to view the battle quickly and saw that the last spider was being dealt with handily by two of Sadron’s elves.
Legolas looked around the edge of the glade. All seemed quiet. He knelt and placed his hands in the sparse grass and felt the warm soil. He closed his eyes and reached out with his soul. "Forgive us for the blood we have spilled and now soaks into your soil. I am sorry. But those foul creatures will trouble you no more." He waited patiently and then received, "Thank you for that, but there are others who will dare. Can you not help us? They poison our spirit, we are weakening." Legolas felt a wellspring of pain and sadness. "I do not know what to do. But I will try. This I promise." He felt rather than heard a rustle of leaves through the trees. "That is all we ask. We are fading."
Legolas opened his eyes and saw his own pain reflected in his brother’s eyes; he, too, had felt the communion between Legolas and the spirits of the woods. The bond between the forest and the ruling family of Mirkwood was a very strong one. Normally it held joy, but on this day, it held only regret and sadness. Sadron placed a commiserating hand on his brother’s heart and left it there for a few moments. Moments that were filled only with Vivelle’s voice quietly intoning the healing chant.
A gentle voice broken the moment. “My Lords, I do beg pardon, but it is best we move now.” Legolas looked Erthion and saw the slightly awed look on his friend’s face.
Seeking to allay his friend’s somewhat discomfiture, Legolas said, “No pardon needed, my friend. You are right. We shall heal our wounds as best as we can and then it is time we move on.” Legolas paused and sighed. “It is time we admit that Gollum is lost.” Where was the next step going to lead? And just what was the next step going to be? Questions that circled in Legolas’ mind; questions that he had no answer for, but at least now he felt he had the courage to ask.
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