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A/N: Many, many thanks to Ellynn, my wonderful word wrangler. Untangling that which defies my abilities to untangle! ((hugs))
A/N: I have renamed this chapter and moved the last few paragraphs to the beginning of Chapter 18. It seemed to flow better.
Ch. 17 – A Silent Joy…
A little over a week later they were in the heart of the forest. It was apparent that Thranduil’s force of will that kept malignant forces from the south at bay, was stronger in the more northern portions of his realm, and was simply by dint of sheer distance lessened here in the southerly regions. That was evident in the look and the feel of this measure of the forest. The trees had a more gnarled and unhealthy look to them. Split or missing bark was obvious; many branches littered the road. Upon closer inspection, there were holes in the bark of many trees. Moreover, while the trees by the convergence of the Enchanted River and the River Running had had a weary and sad feel to them, these trees had an air of malevolence or at least a sense of ill-wish about them. Legolas could feel this most strongly. It was oppressive.
As they made camp, all four elves were more somber and wary here in the blighted heart of the Mirkwood. They ate a joyless and nearly silent evening meal as night fell upon them. They set watch and all was quiet as Navedir relieved Vivelle and took the last watch of three hours. After much time had passed, he sat tending the small, shielded fire and he pulled his cloak tighter as the night chill and oppressiveness stole around him. As he replaced the stopper in his wineskin after swallowing a bit of its contents in an effort to ward off the chill from both inside and out, he heard a snap of a twig and then another. His senses instantly shook off the enervating effects of the night and he was alert to all that what was around him. He woke Erthion and then Legolas, while Erthion quickly roused Vivelle. All were armed, ready and aware in mere moments in the way honed over centuries of patrol had taught them to be. Navedir took to the branches of the nearest tree and waited. Vivelle placed herself by the horses to be their protector as was custom, entering into any possible fray only when absolutely needed. As healer first, she fought only at necessity.
Another snap of a twig, and three spiders broke the tree cover. Legolas and Erthion stood back-to-back in the center of the small clearing firing arrows into the kill spot, a soft section just between the head and body of each spider. Legolas quickly dispatched one with a shot hitting the kill spot but the arrow for the second one was slightly amiss. “Damn!” he spat out as he stowed his bow and drew his sword in one fluid motion honed over his long life of service, and with an upward swing at the head, he decapitated it.
Erthion shot the spider charging him, striking the foul creature just below the kill spot. With the same fluidity of motion, he drew his knives to dispatch the spider swiftly as he plunged the twin blades into the space near the head, with downward thrust as he sidestepped it. He hissed as spider ooze singed his gloveless hand.
From his vantage in the tree Navedir saw a fourth and quickly delivered two arrows in the head and thorax, stopping it cold. He saw a fifth heading towards Vivelle and the horses. He left fly another arrow and then shouted: “Vivelle!” to warn her. He dropped from the tree next to the spider he had felled, careful not to drop into pooling ooze from the arrow protruding from the still convulsing carcass and ran to help Vivelle. He need not have bothered, as Vivelle’s long throwing knife imbedded itself into one of the eye sockets of the spider.
After the noise and calamity of the battle, there fell an eerie quietude for a few beats. All stood silent, waiting. Navedir, the tracker in the group, whispered, “I sense no more…for now.” With the silence broken Vivelle ran to Erthion who was clutching his sword hand as a visible splotch of spider ooze burned his skin.
Vivelle saw that Legolas stood near her pack of healing. “Legolas, my pack. Bring it to me please.”
She looked at her husband, “What do I always tell you, sleep with your gloves when on patrol!” she admonished him in a slightly frenzied manner. “And yet you do not listen.” She looked down into her pack for the jar of healing salve needed to take the sting away, rummaging for a few seconds longer, trying calm the fear she knew was lit in her eyes. Pulling the salve from the pack, she did not meet Erthion’s eyes as she rubbed the salve on his injured hand a little more vigorously than was necessary. Erthion lifted her chin with his uninjured hand and met a gaze that was defiant and more than a little frenzied. He reassured her, “I am fine, my love. It is all right.”
In answer Vivelle straightened her shoulders and started to repack her healing bag haphazardly and said brusquely, “I must intone the ritual.” She got up and walked over the spider she had killed with her long dagger. Withdrawing it from the eye of the dead spider she knelt a few paces away and cleaned the knife in the sparse moss cover and began intoning softly, “Varda of the unseen stars above and the blessed Arda upon which we stand. Please purify my knife and cleanse my fëa for the life I took today.”
As the words of the healing chant circled through the air, Erthion looked at Legolas bewildered at what he had seen in Vivelle’s eyes. “I’ve never seen her quite like that.”
Legolas said as he watched Vivelle chant, “I think it is this part of the forest. I can feel its despair and its anger. I think we all are sensing that and it is affecting our spirit. Vivelle is especially susceptible after a battle, maybe that accounts for it.”
Erthion sighed. “Perhaps.”
Legolas stated, “It is almost first light, we should break camp and depart. When we return I must tell Sadron the ill news that the Spiders have taken to crossing the Old Forest Road. Before they had not, but now…This is most worrying.”
Erthion breathed out thoughtfully. “A most disturbing turn of events,” and went to ready his belongings for repacking into saddlebags, leaving Legolas standing and surveying the carnage of spiders. The youngest prince of Mirkwood then breathed in and reached out to the trees. They were angry. He could feel it, but at what, he was less sure. He offered his apology. I am sorry for the blood spilt into the earth here in this glade. He could feel their presence, but it was as if they were ignoring him; he could feel resentment toward him. Legolas tried again. I can feel your pain, your anger. I will help however I can. Please believe me.He heard what struck his heart as an impatient rustling of leaves on what was a windless day then silence. He did not intrude upon their spirits any further after that.
After the cleansing ritual was finished Vivelle looked more at peace, but Erthion could sense that her fëa was still somewhat subdued. He tried to say something, but Vivelle stilled his lips with her finger and a caress of his cheek. “I will be fine,” she said with a small smile. “I am just a little tired. Come, let us leave this place of sadness!” Her voice was filled with a little more of her usual energy as she mounted her horse.
A week after the encounter with the spiders, the trees on either side of the Old Forest Road had begun to thin out gradually. The oppressive weight felt in the middle of the blighted forest had lifted. The spirits of these trees were much more akin to the trees at the convergence of the two rivers and the difference was felt by all in the traveling party. As they traveled a not so well kept portion of the Old Forest Road, Erthion stated, “So we will soon be leaving the forest and be traveling along open ground. I would suggest taking the route to the Old Ford, and then up through the Carrock that will lead to the High Pass near to the Golden Eyrie of the Eagles. It will lead straight into Imladris.”
Legolas breathed in deeply to quell the feelings of sadness and foreboding at Erthion’s mention of the Elven enclave. He thought of his vision and what it would bring forth. He thought of his mother and her bright light that had been taken from them too soon.
“Legolas? Is that agreeable to you?”
Legolas shook himself and looked at his friend. “I’m sorry, Erthion. Yes, if you deem that to be the most prudent course, then that is the one we shall take.” He gave his friend a small smile. “I am guided by your wise words and experience, hannon le.”
Erthion looked inquiringly at his friend. “Is there anything amiss, my friend?”
Legolas looked at his friend and suddenly the weight of all that had taken place pressed in on him. He gave Erthion a chagrinned smile. “Nothing I can put into words, dear friend. Suffice to say, though, I am glad you are with me.” They traveled onwards for the next two days until they finally left the last of the trees and headed into open country.
As he passed beyond the boundaries of the forest, Legolas felt a growing silence, one that he had never felt before. It was as if joy itself was diminishing the further away from the forest they rode. He was at a loss until realization struck. It was what Sadron had been trying to explain the night before Legolas and his companions left his enclave to set out for Imladris. His brother had been right. This feeling was quite different from when he had been captured by Orcs. Legolas remembered that Sadron had said it would be unlike anything he had ever felt before…
A few weeks earlier…
Sadron sat swirling the fine Dorwinion vintage in his silver goblet. Legolas sat patiently waiting for his brother to speak. For all of Sadron’s renown volatility and volubility, there were times when he struggled for words, often when he was fighting off strong emotion. His known loquacity having temporarily deserted him, Legolas began to worry about what his elder brother had to say to him. He watched as Sadron downed his goblet and stood to get some more himself, having dismissed Faron for the night – another sign he had wanted to be alone with his youngest brother. Sadron motioned to ask if Legolas would like some more as well, but he declined. As much as Legolas loved this particular vintage, he felt he should keep his wits about him as he was leaving in the morning and, possibly more importantly, he wanted to remain sober to receive anything Sadron needed to be alone to tell him.
Sadron sat after refilling his goblet, returned to his chair and sat his goblet down untasted. He rubbed his face and let looked at his younger brother. “You are probably wondering why I’ve asked the others to leave.”
Legolas looked him with his clear blue eyes filled with questions. “The thought had crossed my mind.”
Sadron fought his inner instincts to demand that Legolas stay in Mirkwood and leave the questing to Mithrandir. He could not though. He knew staying was not the right path for Legolas, that destiny had marked him out for something other than what Sadron wished for him. However the older brother in him wanted to resist, to protect Legolas, but he knew it to be a futile desire. Fate would have its way. “I just wanted to have this night with you before you are off on the morrow.”
“Brother!” Legolas scoffed, “I will return as quickly as I may. I will go to Imladris and inform Lord Elrond of what has happened and then return just as quickly. There will be perils, but I know I will be able to handle whatever comes my way,” Legolas spoke with all the innocent fervor of the young and sheltered.
Sadron pursed his lips and then said, “I have great faith in your abilities, brother! That is beyond question. But fate has a way about her. We cannot know her plans.”
Legolas demurred, “The vision has said that I am to go to Imladris. I accept this. I will go and come back.” He paused. “Why? Have you seen differently?” The blue eyes were shaded with concern.
Sadron quickly countered that look with the assertion. “No I have not. I just wish to you to understand that this is no simple patrol that you are going on. There are dangers out there—” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew he had seriously mis-spoke.
“Sadron!” Legolas bit off his brother’s name with force. “I am well aware of the ‘dangers’ out there. If you will remember, I was captured by Orcs, an experience I am not likely to forget.” Legolas’ voice was colored with anger.
Sadron closed his eyes against the pain of that memory. “None of us will ever forget that, my brother!”
Seeing his brother’s pain written across his face, Legolas relented a bit. “Sadron,” he spoke more calmly, “what it is that you are trying not to tell me? What you have to say, say. Please. Will I not come back? Is this what you are avoiding?”
Sadron paused and buried his misgivings and doubts deep within his heart because he could not trust that they were not based on anything other than his strong affection and worry for his little brother. “You will come back, I know this in my heart.” But what changes will have been wrought on you, my dear little brother?, the voice said inside his head. Sadron paused, “I have muddled what I meant to say quite badly. I wished to give you advice and instead I sound as if I am questioning your abilities. That is not my intention at all. I remember my first tour outside of our forest. I was very excited—”
“Brother, I don’t—” Legolas tried to interrupt.
“Please, let me finish,” Sadron countered and Legolas fell silent. “I was excited, ready for anything, but when we reached the borders of our forest and rode beyond them, I felt what can only be described as silence, or a silencing of joy. Adar had warned me of this, but I did not understand, not until I experienced it for myself. I could no longer hear the trees. I could not feel their spirits anymore. My heart was bereft of their joy.”
“I have felt this, when I was captured by the Orcs. But I have always assumed it was because I was being held captive.”
Sadron stated, “I am sure that the fear overrode any other emotion. You had been very close to our borders when you were taken and may not have noticed the gradual silence. Trust me. You will know the difference.”
Legolas nodded and could not help but recall the memory and the fear of his capture. He then asked, “How did you bear this silence?” In part, he asked because he was trying to distract from those memories that he would rather not recall in any greater detail.
Instead of answering, Sadron got up from his seat and walked over to a chest of drawer to retrieve a small carved box. He returned to sit down and then handed the box to Legolas. “Open it,” he said softly.
Legolas opened the box; sitting on a bit of white silk was an amber pendant hanging on a leather cord. It was a translucent golden oval, a little bit larger than his thumb pad. He touched it and it felt warm and comforting in his hand.
Sadron took the pendant from his hand and placed it around Legolas’ neck. “It is yours. Adar gave it to me on my first tour beyond Mirkwood. He said that when the silence came upon me, I was to hold the pendant in my hand and it would remind me of the joy of our forest. It would restore joy to my heart and speak to me about the promise of joy upon returning. Adar gave it to me, and now I am gifting it to you. In essence it is from both of us, so you can carry a bit of our forest with you.”
Legolas was touched by belief. “Thank you, my brother.” He paused and then asked, “Why was I never given my own when I left for that tour?”
Sadron looked at him. “Remember, you left before I had finally convinced Adar to allow you to go! Both Celebren and I were given ours the night before departure. After your capture Adar was not about to let you go anywhere beyond our realm. So it was rendered unnecessary.”
Legolas grew quiet at the memory and of the pain and worry he had caused his family.*
With Sadron’s words taking root in his heart, Legolas reached into his tunic and pulled out the pendant. He held it in his hand and, while he could not quite hear the spirits of the trees, he could at least feel some joy returning to his heart.
Vivelle noticed his motion and saw the pendant. “What is that?” she asked softly.
“Something Sadron gifted me with the night before we left.”
Vivelle pulled her horse a little closer to see what Legolas held up from a cord around his neck. “Pure amber. It is beautiful, Legolas.”
“Yes it is. It was given by my Adar to Sadron and he gave it to me. It is a little of bit of home.” Legolas’ voice broke a little. Vivelle noticed, but did not say anything. Legolas may not have shared many traits with his father, but one he did share was the desire for privacy. He did not take well to others trying to peer into his thoughts.
She smiled. “It is good to carry a little piece of home with you wherever you go. It keeps you grounded.”
Legolas looked at her and they shared a smile. Legolas then sighed. “Why is that you always seem to know what I am thinking?”
Before Vivelle could reply, Erthion’s voice chirped in, “Annoying, is it not? It makes lying very difficult!”
Vivelle turned her attention to her husband giving him the gimlet eye. “Oh really? And when have you lied successfully, dare I ask?”
Erthion asked with a face of mock seriousness, “Do you really expect me to own up? I do have some self-preservation instincts!”
Vivelle eyed him dangerously. “Um-hmm! I know where you sleep!”
“Yes, right next to my lovely, forbearing and forgiving wife!”
Erthion smiled until Vivelle broke her stare and smiled at him. “You are incorrigible!”
“Yes, and you like a challenge or you never would have married me!”
“All right you two!” Navedir exclaimed as he rode between them. “Enough with the love in the afternoon talk!”
Legolas laughed. “Let us make camp here for the night and then press on tomorrow. Erthion! If,” Legolas emphasized the word, “you are done with love banter, can you tell me how many leagues do you make it to the Old Ford?”
Erthion shook his head as he dismounted. “One is never done with love banter when one is married to one as beautiful as she!”
Vivelle, yet to dismount, rode up by her husband and playfully slapped him upside the head. “Silly Elf! Answer Legolas’ question.”
“Ow!” Erthion flung out the exclamation.
“Oh! Like that hurt!” Vivelle riposted.
“Wench!” He flung back lovingly and then turned to Legolas. “I make it about eight leagues. If we leave at first light, we should make it to the Ford by fall of night if not a little before.”
“Good! Then that is our plan!” Legolas decided.
Once he grew at least partially accustomed to the silencing of joy in his heart that the trees of his forest had always provided, the wide-open spaces beyond Mirkwood had something of a wild open beauty to them. Other than when he had been captured and taken to an orc cave in the Misty Mountains Legolas had never been this far from the border of the forest. He saw rolling hills and small groves of trees and the mountains in the middle distance.
They reached the Old Ford just after sundown and Erthion advised that it would be a good idea to wait until morning to attempt the crossing. Legolas agreed and they made camp on the banks of the river near to a small grove of trees. After camp had been made Legolas simply sat and let the sound of the water flowing in the river soothe him. It partially filled the silence of his heart with its own never-ending sound of water over rock and silt. He looked up into the clear night and the vastness of the dark blue sky was filled with Varda’s stars shining their pinpoints of light into his heart, and he began to understand a joy of a different sort.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” A voice said behind him. Legolas looked to his side to see Vivelle sitting herself down on the grass next to him, wrapping her arms around her knees. Her upturned eyes reflected the stars in the dark moonless sky.
“Yes it is,” Legolas said, his eyes filled with wonder as his eyes turned again to the dark sky illuminated with Varda’s stars from horizon to horizon. A new world of possibilities was opening in his mind and he drank it all in with the curiosity of a child, the nighttime sky filling his heart with a silent joy.
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