A TALE OF MIRKWOOD - Chapter Twenty-five - Reason Behind The Madness
Well, I hope you're all eager for more! Sadly, my muse has abandoned me again. I haven't written a word in AGES! I think I'm too caught up in wedding planning. I promise to abandon it all next week for serious writing. I hope this tides you over until then!
Nothing in all Legolas' long life had prepared him for the long dark of Moria. Elves, by nature, craved fresh air, space, light, living earth, and would each have felt as he did in this hell cavity of a mine and held it in abhorrence. It was not his desire to enter it, and not for the world would he go back again.
As they had been heading steadily east, the Fellowship found their way barred on the Mount of Caradhras. Try as they might, they could go no further and, thus, had but one choice: to travel beneath the summit, through the mines of Moria.
Elves did not tread there any longer. Nor, indeed, did the Dwarves. Orcs were still believed to dwell in its ancient, crumbling halls, but it was unknown how many. In days of old when Elves and Dwarves were friends and allies, they shared it, and it was not a place held in fear. However, the Dwarves delved too deeply in the mountain trove, awakening a creature so old and terrible, all who knew its name held it in great dread: a Balrog. This creature, engulfed in flame and with a might so powerful of destruction, was deemed invincible by all.
Legolas knew of the creature lying in the depths, but spoke of it to none. Hobbits, he had noticed, frightened easily, and knowledge of such a creature would, no doubt, haunt their dreams. He could not be so cruel.
Even so, it was with great caution and quietness that the nine companions travelled day and night through the unending dark. Indeed, even Legolas was unsure when last the sun had risen, so long had they been engulfed in this oppressive shadow.
Hobbits, too, though resembling Dwarves somewhat in stature, had more likeness to Elves with their love of fields and streams. Hobbits could discover nothing to love about Moria, with its dirty passageways and cold stone, and thus, were inclined to be frightened at every loose pebble and dark silhouette where something evil could be lurking.
"This is dreadful, this is, Master Frodo," Samwise said, as he walked along behind his master. "When we get out of `ere, a comfy hobbit hole is the farthest I wish to tread back underground ever again."
"You do not care for mines?" asked Gimli, bewildered. "Ah, but you are young, and have not spent much time in mines. Alas that we cannot now delve into the deeper parts!" On Gimli went, enthralled with all there was to do with a mine. The remainder of the Fellowship grinned, listening to him talk so.
Frodo turned toward Sam, saying quietly, "I must say I am a little glad that we will not have the time to tour the diamond colliery, though, I have not the heart to tell him so."
"A wise decision, I think, Frodo," Legolas whispered, amused. "I fear his wrath if it became known that we were not all equally as enchanted with this dark abyss as he is."
Snickering, Frodo and Sam marched on with the others in single file, and soon all fell quiet once more. The companions advanced onward led by Gandalf and his luminous staff. They entered a high chamber whose walls were spread so wide Gandalf's light was not fervent enough to reach them. All was quiet in the hall of stone, and then a sinister apprehension swept over the company.
"I do not believe we are alone," Pippin whispered uneasily.
A flash of glowing, sallow eyes lit up a corner just for a moment, but Frodo had seen it. "There!" he pointed, shouting, "In the corner!"
An Orc leapt from its veil of obscurity, lunging at the troupe. Pippin screeched in terror, but Legolas was quick to draw his bow, and before the filthy creature had taken two steps, it plummeted lifelessly onto the stone floor, an elven arrow in its throat. Pippin looked about sheepishly. He had not meant to cry so, but all were kind to his fright as they stepped closer to gaze at the still beast.
"You have never seen an Orc, I'll wager, young Peregrin," Gandalf said, soothingly in his husky voice. "How I wish this was to be your last!"
Pippin gazed up at the old wizard, and then down again at the grotesqueness of the dead Orc. Tales of Orcs he had heard, mostly from Bilbo, but it had been quite a different experience to see one with his own eyes.
"A deserter?" Boromir suggested.
"Perhaps a scout," Aragorn added. "When he does not return, others may go in search of him."
"More?" Merry enquired in a small voice.
"More," Aragorn confirmed.
Pippin and Merry both swallowed the lumps suddenly found in their throats.
"Should we not perhaps attempt to hide him?" Legolas suggested, though not at all wishing to touch the foulness of so vile a creature. "There was a large pile of loose stones we passed."
All agreed this would be the wisest course, and Gandalf and Boromir waited with the Hobbits while Legolas and Aragorn dealt with the dead Orc's body.
A dark stain of black blood was all that remained of the encounter, and the Hobbits shifted uneasily as they awaited the return of their two friends. Gandalf looked upon them, piteously, offering words of comfort. "If I could but spare you all from the ugliness of this world, I would do it willing, without pause for thought. There is much I wish you did not have to face, and I am saddened to say that this is but the beginning of our formidable adventure together. Be strong. Take heart."
"I feel silly for ever desiring adventure," Frodo said, woefully.
Boromir listened with an acute ear, only now realizing what manner of life and existence the Hobbits had known until now. No battles; no dangers. They neither felt the threat of Mordor, nor saw the explosions of Mount Doom from their bedroom windows. They lived quietly aloof from the rest of Middle Earth; how he envied their innocent existence.
Legolas and Aragorn hastily returned and they all resumed their expedition with eyes even more wary to the dark shadows of the mine.
* * *
Hours passed, yet no more Orcs were seen or heard. Hopes were still held high of their passing without discovery, but for the tiniest of noises that Legolas continually heard behind him. They had stopped finally for much needed rest, and Legolas volunteered for the first watch. At first, no movement or noise was heard, until the smallest sound of shuffling was audible to his sensitive pointed ears. Too dark to see in the blackness of the underworld, he caught a glimpse of a pair of eyes which quickly vanished from sight. He armed himself with lightening speed; his bow ready to shoot. Aragorn stirred beside him, and opened his eyes.
"I see eyes," Legolas whispered, "far off, but we are being followed."
"More Orcs?" Aragorn suggested softly under his breath, rising.
"Perhaps," Legolas replied. "It is too dark to tell."
"Not an Orc," Gandalf said, wisely and calmly, rising also. "It is Gollum. I have felt his presence these few hours."
"This concernes me, Gandalf. Gollum has made friends with the Orcs. He is a liability to our mission," Legolas said, careful for his voice not to travel through the empty chambers.
"I must agree. Our journey is wrought with peril. Gollum, I feel, is too treacherous to be trusted. He may alert our enemies," Aragorn said quietly.
"It will be quick," Legolas said, holding up his bow. "He will feel little pain."
Aragorn spoke, "You are wise, Gandalf, and have a superior understanding. We look to your judgement in this."
Gandalf thought a moment, but replied, "Your feelings do you both credit, however, I feel reluctant to kill him, wretched though he is. I do not fear his betrayal, for we carry the one thing he covets. Never would he put his precious at risk of returning to it's Master. Though I cannot explain it, or even understand it, I feel Gollum has some part yet to play before all of this is over."
Legolas said, "So be it. I must say, I always felt immense pity for the wretch. I cannot imagine what he must have endured, having the Ring in his keeping so long. I saw him in Mirkwood, before he had slipped from our grasp. I only hope our pity will be propitious, my friend."
Aragorn nodded, "I have had sleep enough. Pray, you both take more rest. I shall have the next watch."
Gandalf and Legolas accepted his offer, and both lay down on the hard, cold stone, and once again attempted sleep. No more was heard or seen of Gollum that night.
* * *
When word came from the King of an expected battle, the people of his realm set quickly to work. Elves laboured through night and day, stopping little for rest; tirelessly striving to create a stronghold worthy of barring any attack, save that of Sauron himself, perhaps. Entrapments were created; great pits were dug and cleverly covered, concealing inescapable, deadly hollows. Great stones wrapped with sturdy vines were hauled to the treetops; knives were sharpened razor this for lethal expediency. More guards were posted and a substantial number of weapons were commissioned. In less than a week, Thranduil felt comfortable that they could repulse any assault on their land.
In those days, all merrymaking and festivities ceased. As Elven men toiled throughout the land, Elven women took to the kitchens, preparing nourishing meals which could be carried as far as the sentries at the boarders and not spoil. Fresh, flat breads, cheeses, slices of smoked venison, crimson coloured berry preserves, and jugs filled with nectar-sweet spring water, they packed, chattering courageously amongst themselves. Others made bandages and medicines given by Anardil and Mithryn's instruction. Mithryn enthusiastically took part in all preparation, wishing to make herself useful, much to the annoyance of the King. He had eyes, and saw her fatigue grow. Long was her resting period, and yet, she could not walk great distances without aggravating her aching back. A twinge of anxiety he felt in thinking of her, and thus, called her forth to him.
"You need not work so labouriously, my dear," he appealed to her, gently. "Pray, why do you not sit and rest?"
"I would rather work, my Lord, if you do not object. It is true that I tire easily, but I promise to stop if the pain becomes too great."
"You have pain, then?" he enquired, an ache in his own heart beginning to throb.
"At times. It is no worry. It will merely take longer to heal than expected," she said, carelessly. Thranduil nodded his head, choosing to make no comment. After a moments silence, she continued, "May I return to my work, Sire?"
With his leave, she turned and joined the Elf-matrons waiting nearby. Thranduil motioned for one to come to him; a tall, beautiful matron of indeterminable age, with long, flowing hair the colour of golden sunshine. "Silmethúle," he said quietly, upon her bowing to him, "under no circumstances is the Lady Mithryn permitted to carry anything beyond the weight of a goblet."
Bowing her understanding, she replied in her silvery voice, "Aye, your Majesty."
He nodded, and she flitted back to the group, at once relieving Mithryn of her burden. Thranduil expected her to make objection, which she heartily did, but Silmethúle paid no heed to her protests, and thus, Thranduil was satisfied.
The task of overseeing all the fortifications fell to the King's three youngest sons. They embraced their responsibilities vigorously, delegating the workforce, and devising new methods of defence. Busy had they been, but gradually the workload lessened and their demanding task was nearing completion.
The three brothers stood together arguing boisterously concerning the placement of a giant sling meant to entrap Orcs by hoisting them off the ground. Tarnil, who grew fatigued of the dispute long ago, saw Mithryn approach surrounded by Elven-ladies, and brought the quarrel to an abrupt end by way of changing the subject. "Look! There is Mithryn now! Should we not say something to her?"
"For what reason?" Haldof said irritably, his mind still focussed on the sling.
"Why, for her prophetic warning, of course!" Tarnil said, incredulously. "If not for her, I think we would have been most ill-prepared for an Orc rampage!"
"Ha!" Haldof rebuffed. "You do not believe such tall tales, brother? I certainly do not!"
Tarnil and Galamed exchanged bemused looks before Galamed said: "And what reason have we to not believe her, Haldof? I know not of any. Pray, enlighten us!"
Haldof snorted, "An attack was to be expected, surely!"
"I am not so certain," said Tarnil, dubiously. "Besides which, Father seems a pretty adamant believer of these visions of hers. If he had no cause to doubt her, why should we?"
"I do not doubt that she has powers," Haldof said, yielding slightly, "but as for seeing the future? Pray, if she has, what else has she seen that we know not of?" The words had just escaped his lips, when the answer formed in his brain. Legolas. She had seen Legolas. His mind reeled. Suddenly, it all made sense! His sudden departure, her unwillingness to speak, her obstinacy on his staying; it was all so clear to him now! She had seen his joining the Fellowship! And, far from attempting to save his brother, her own husband, she had let him go to his doom! Nay, it was too much! His stomach turned. He could hear faint voices calling his name, which he assumed to be Tarnil and Galamed's, but no heed could he pay to them now, knowing what he now suspected!
Tarnil and Galamed, however, watched their brother transform before their eyes. One moment he was his hot, embittered self, the next appearing stricken with some illness, which certainly was not to be believed for Elves do not fall ill. "Haldof? What is it?" Galamed enquired gently, but Haldof appeared locked in thought, saying nothing for a long while.
Not knowing how to shatter his trance, Tarnil decided on a brotherly fashion, and promptly elbowed Haldof in his ribs. The tactic worked, but far from cursing his brother for his abuse, he merely stated his wish to speak to their father immediately.
He strode a few steps before swiftly turning about, demanding, "Well? Are you coming or not?!
Thinking even this behaviour to be unlike their brother, they followed, curious as to his anxiety. What answers did he wish to discover from their father, pray?
They found their father outside the Palace, observing the progress and the comings and goings of his people with continued interest. Great foreboding did he feel upon seeing Haldof charging toward him, his manner dark and dangerous, like a wild beast, cornered. However, before Haldof could breathe a word, Thranduil held up his hand, silencing his sons, saying, "I see you wish to speak with me. By the look on your face, Haldof, I think we should retire indoors, do you not?" The King did not wait for a reply, but promptly turned, and his sons followed him into the great receiving hall. The fire had died, unfortunately, but Thranduil did not request it be relit, in hope they would not tarry long.
"Well, my son? What is it you wish to say to me?"
Haldof, straining to keep his composure, asked: "Tell me, Father, once and for all. Did Mithryn foresee Legolas' future?"
"Yes," Thranduil answered blatantly, sitting down. "I saw no reason to tell you."
"You knew?" Tarnil asked, softly. "You knew, and yet you sent him?"
"You deliberately sent him to his death! And for what?!" Haldof exploded.
"Father," Galamed said, "I think we should have been informed."
"Attempt to see my side," Thranduil replied calmly. "I sent him to Rivendell with a message, yes. What ensued while he was there was none of my making. He was given a choice; he accepted. I could not in good conscience withhold this right from him, no matter where my sentiments or my heart lies. I would do the same for any of you, and I hope you see my reason."
"And what of Mithryn? Has she bewitched your senses too? Oh, I wish she had never come here!" Haldof exclaimed, face contorted with rage.
"You are looking for someone to blame, Haldof, but you will find no such person here. I regret not having said this before, but I understand your pain and frustration. You must be made to know that you are not the only person who loves Legolas. We all care for him. We are all deeply fearful for his sake, but you cannot control his life more that he can control yours." Thranduil rose, and approached Haldof whose face softened with his father's heartfelt words. "You are not alone, my son. Not anymore."
It was simply too much. All the vexation, all the anguish at last boiled over. He could fight it no longer. A great sob escaped Haldof, and he wept against his beloved father's warm shoulder.
End of Chapter Twenty-five