A Tale of Mirkwood - Chapter Twenty-four - A Road Less Travelled
Well, I knew you were all anxious to see how I was going to handle Legolas going off to the Fellowship, so read, and let me know if I made the correct choice. I hope you all enjoy it! Thank you to everyone who leaves comments! No comments, no chapter!
A ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
Legolas' blue eyes rose higher and higher, viewing the mountain Caradhras in the distance like a treacherous doom. Capped in a snowy blanket with jagged cliffs leading nowhere, Legolas thought it looked menacing even at night, its peak wrapped with a ghostly halo. Much had he heard through the ages of the mountain's tyrannical nature to all trespassers on its icy rock.
Many weeks had passed since Legolas had left Mithryn and his home. The Fellowship had set out not long after his return to Rivendell, and thus began their longest journey together.
Upon the waning of the golden orb, the Fellowship once again packed up their belongings, and started on another long day's journey west of the Misty Mountains. Each day on this course was rough and difficult, especially for the hobbits. Never did they complain, but Legolas frequently gazed at the anguish upon their faces. Cold and desolate was the land, of which they all now knew the reason. No creature, good or evil, could possibly live in this barren wasteland for long. It's icy winds and no shelter proved an arduous struggle for life.
However fatigued the Hobbits were, nothing seemed to dampen their stomachs, Legolas thought. It was rare that Pippin never knew when a mealtime should be honoured, and thus at the time when supper would have been partaken in the Shire, he turned to Merry, saying, "Merry, I'm hungry. When do you think we'll stop?"
"Just a ways further," Gandalf said, answering for Meriadoc. "It is important that we keep moving as long as we can."
"Why?" asked Pippin so quietly only Merry and Legolas heard. "We never seem to get anywhere. Those towering mountains don't appear any closer in all the days we've been travelling toward them."
To Legolas' ancient eyes, Hobbits appeared little more than children. Two, named Merry and Pippin, continued to be droll and cheerful despite the cold, hunger, and ferociousness of their quest. Samwise was a faithful and trusted servant to his master, Frodo, and equally able to find humour in a pleasant tale or jest. The one hobbit who appeared unlike the others was Frodo. Quiet and serious, he remained sadly aloof, perhaps unwilling, or unable to join in friendly conversation.
Much to Legolas' displeasure, another member of the Fellowship was a Dwarf, Gimli son of Gloin. Long had the Elves of Mirkwood quarrelled with the Dwarves under the Mountain, and lengthy disputes did not die easily. Many winters past, in the time of Smaug, dragon in Lonely Mountain, King Thranduil had imprisoned thirteen dwarven trespassers, Gimli's father, Gloin, included. It was made clear to Legolas that Gimli had not forgotten his father's brief incarceration by the Elves' hands.
"Ah, this cold, bitter wind!" the sturdy Dwarf growled as Aragorn sat adding tiny sticks to an already dying fire. "It's chill blows to the bone! But fear not, young Hobbits! Things could be worse," Gimli continued as a shivering Merry and Pippin raised their small faces up at him. "One could find oneself in a Mirkwood prison!" Gimli said, eyeing Legolas. "Dark and dank as you've never seen, young Pip. Ah, yes! Things could be much worse!"
Pippin's eyes widened in surprise as he glanced at the quiet elf, tall and mighty in his stance. "Elves have prisons?" Pip asked, naively.
"To be sure they do!" Gimli replied with so much enthusiasm he nearly stomped out Aragorn's struggling fire. "Surrounded by shadowy stone, and thick wooden doors with strong bars to block out nearly all light and warmth. Guards hover in all passageways, ready to POUNCE!"
Pippin and Merry shrunk backward at the unaccustomed tale of the Elves. Never had they heard such before.
"I think you exaggerate slightly, Dwarf," Legolas said with a glint in his eye.
"Oh, do I?" Gimli said, head bent back, face gazed brazenly up at Legolas. "Then I suppose you've spent many comfortable nights in your own prison cells, Elf!"
It was at this moment Gandalf felt prudent to interrupt the somewhat embittered argument. "Let past wrongs amongst friends be forgotten," he said in his gentle, gruff voice. "Surely we fight for the same cause now. There is little satisfaction that Legolas can pay you, Gimli. He fought for the freedom of Dwarves at the Battle of the Five Armies. Is this not enough?"
"Well," grumbled Gimli, relenting and stepping away, "I suppose when you put it like that, Gandalf. We Dwarves are never one to forget a past friendship. Even if we are imprisoned by our so-called allies."
Gandalf was glad that Legolas merely sighed and chose not to comment to Gimli's rendition, thus adding more fuel to his fiery temper.
Pippin turned to Merry, whispering softly, but was not missed by Legolas' keen ears. "Merry, did you know the Elves had prisons?"
"No, but it makes sense, don't it? Even Elves have enemies, don't they?" Merry replied just as quietly.
"Fear not, young Pippin," Legolas said, startling both hobbits. "Never would you see the inside of our cells."
Pip nodded, staring up at the soft, elven eyes in awe. Legolas stepped away; his face turned upwards gazing at the sky, which was littered with twinkling stars.
"Elves sure have keen ears, don't they Pip?" Merry said when he believed Legolas was finally out of earshot.
Stepping onto the cold, hardened earth, and staring into the celestial dome above him, Legolas shied away from his companions, and thought of Mithryn. He had done the same each night that the weather allowed, and was deeply disappointed when blackened clouds kept him from his only joy.
Boromir, a man of Gondor, and companion on the Fellowship, strode near, collecting twigs for Aragorn's fire. He was a tall, powerful man, with hair the colour of bark, his clothes displaying the mark of Gondor and his father, Steward of Gondor. Eying Legolas warily at first, he made no comment of his intrusion. Little did he know of Elves, and even less was his trust. Mirkwood was a place distant from his Father's marbled halls in Minas Tirith, and the forest continued to be shrouded in mystery and ancient folk tales. Elrond had asked him to accompany the Fellowship, and he had accepted without a moment's consideration. He could not agree with the decision of the Council, but nonetheless, felt a strong desire to protect the One Ring from Sauron, his greatest foe.
Long had Sauron's slaves and soldiers attacked Gondor's boarders and towns, murdering his people, burning fields and homes to ashes. Gondor, too, as elsewhere in Middle Earth, felt the dooming end drawing near. The answer to all his plights and anguish was so near to him now, yet, so far away.
Legolas, face and hair glowing in the velvety moonlight, turned and gazed at Boromir, only then taking his notice.
"You Elves are incessantly staring at the stars," Boromir said, grasping more fagots and loading them up in his strong arms. "I do not understand this love affair you have with them. Songs and poems, I saw countless Elves worshipping them in Rivendell. Tell me, Legolas, what comfort do they give you? They are as cold and bleak as the wind."
Legolas thought a moment before replying. His eyes rose once more into the night sky, and staring into the beatific lights, he smiled. Mithryn, he could feel, was so close. The mithril pendant he wore around his neck, which she had given him upon their wedding, warmed his chest, a constant reminder of her love and devotion.
Eärendil glittered down upon him, whispering words of consolation and solace. "The stars give me great comfort, Boromir," Legolas said, turning to see bewilderment in his steely eyes. "They go where I go. They can be hidden, shielded by magic and evil, but they are forever there, constant and resolute. My heart is with them."
Boromir stood gaping at Legolas, "I pity you, Legolas. You give your heart to the stars, and nothing will they ever give in return. Cannot you see that it is all in vain?"
Legolas made no reply, and Boromir strode off, adding his newfound fuel to the tiny, smouldering blaze.
"Pay no heed to him," Aragorn said as stepped out of the darkness, and joined Legolas under the creamy moonlight.
"I will not," Legolas assured, "but he is a person strange to me. Though I have lived long to the minds of mortals, man is a race peculiar." Aragorn shot Legolas a wry smile, as if to take it personally, him being a mortal man. "Oh, not you, my friend. But Boromir. . .his bitterness is unmistakable. It is I who pity him."
"I feel his despair. Gondor, as you know, has been the dog at Sauron's heels. Beaten and kicked, they are left alone to fend for themselves. But, no more."
"Of what do you mean, Aragorn?"
"There is another reason for my going upon this journey. I mean to claim what is rightfully mine at last," Aragorn said as he stood tall and proud, and with all the magnificence of a thousand Kings.
"You intend to affirm your throne and give Gondor a King once more?" Legolas asked. Aragorn nodded proudly.
"Then, I shall aid you in your pursuit, my old friend. Long have I wished you to do this," Legolas said, grasping Aragorn on his muscular shoulder.
"Long have I fought against it, but I see now that fight was in vain. I shall call the spirits of my forefathers to my side. Their wisdom and courage will be my guides. At this moment, so near the end are we, I am the only reason they ever existed."
"Do you feel we are truly at the end? Do you see Sauron's forces covering all Middle Earth in a cloak of darkness?" Legolas said, woefully.
Aragorn turned to him, smiling. "Not while all goodness on this earth has strength left! If we are to fail, then we shall fail trying. Do not be downcast! To succeed, we must believe we can."
"I believe we can."
"Then we shall." Aragorn smiled, appearing like his old self again, the scraggly Ranger. Together, the returned to the weak fire, and all the Fellowship members huddled close for its much-needed warmth before they packed up, and resumed their harrowing journey west.
* * *
None had taken the departure of Mirkwood's first son and heir lightly, least of all Haldof. He had pined for many days and nights, speaking to none until, at long last, he slowly began to crawl out of his tormented seclusion, and focus on his own cause: his home. Far from forgiving his disillusioned brother, Haldof spoke naught of Legolas, and refused conversation when his name was mentioned. Thranduil, merely happy that Haldof had finally emerged from his shroud of isolation, refrained from forcing the subject upon him.
Emerged, yes, but in a dire disposition, as many noted. His duties seemed his sole interest, and during dinner festivities or gatherings, it did not escape anyone's attention that a gloomy cloud seemed to follow Haldof incessantly, casting forlorn shadows onto his pale, beautiful face.
* * *
It had been nearly six weeks since Legolas' departure, and the forest was well into winter. No snow fell, but icy winds blew mercilessly, and fires burned unceasingly upon every hearth. All of the forest, save some deer and the noble Elven people, had fallen into its lengthy, wintertime slumber, and lay quietly dormant. Life returned to normal for the Kingdom, and Legolas was spoken of as a hero of unparalleled measure, and with all the love and affection held in their hearts. No word had come from the traveller, and none waited for any such news. Legolas was far from forgotten, but in general, not believed to ever return.
Galamed, too, missed his brother dearly. More elves had parted for the west, and with them, he sent a loving letter to his long-departed mother. He spoke of the forest and friends, of family and foes, but of Legolas and his quest, he could not. Tried as he might, the words refused to flow from his pen, and thus remained unwritten. Anardil, his love and betrothed, had worryingly noticed Galamed's decline.
"You are so quiet as of late, my love," Anardil said as she strolled with her beloved under the barren branches. "Will you not share your thoughts with me?"
Galamed heard her gentle words, but could not do what she asked. His thoughts had lately been a myriad of anguish and horror, which he believed to be his brother's fate. He shook his head, nay, and she did not press him.
Without warning, Haldof stormed through the undergrowth, face distorted with disdain. Grunting a salutation, he walked past the couple, paying little heed to their existence.
"Ho, Haldof!" Galamed called, which halted his brother in his hasty, fleeing tracks. "Why do you run?"
"I have not time for this!" Haldof exclaimed striding further away.
"Father wished to see you!" Galamed called out to the escaping Haldof.
"I do not wish to see him!" was Haldof's reply. Galamed chuckled slightly at his brother's displeasure, which seemed to shock his betrothed.
"How can you laugh? I have never seen him so out of humour."
"Haldof is always out of humour. One never knows the cause. I find it amusing to see him so disgruntled. Legolas would too, if he were here. In point of fact, he would be the first to poke fun!"
"Now you are teasing me," she said, smiling warmly.
"Indeed not!" Galamed replied, eyes twinkling with delight.
"How is he taking Legolas' departure?" she asked in a manner more solemn.
Galamed's face was cast into sombreness once more. "With difficulty, as are we all. However, I fear for Haldof's sake more than any other having to bear Legolas' leaving. I know it appears that he is just short-tempered, but in actuality, I know him to be in utter misery. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I should not make light of him."
Anardil drew him close in a tight embrace. Neither the love nor compassion in all her heart for Galamed could ease his sorrow. "How painful to see one you love so distraught," she thought to herself, "and are helpless to lessen it."
Meanwhile, Haldof had unwittingly stridden from one uncomfortable situation into another. Far from his wanting to intrude and be forced to converse with Galamed and his betrothed, he merely escaped only to physically collide with Mithryn, nearly knocking her over.
"I beg your pardon, Mithryn," he said, softer than he had spoken to his own kindred not a moment ago. "Did I harm you?"
"Nay, thank you, Haldof," she replied, grasping his arm in support as she steadied herself. Her pregnant condition had, of course, been thoroughly circulated, which seemed to bring a newfound joy where there was only despair. The emptiness Legolas had left was soon to be filled by his child and heir to the throne, and all were heartily delighted with the prospect.
At twenty weeks along, Mithryn calculated, it was not to be surprised at seeing the beginning of that already beloved child as her stomach had begun to be more prominent. Her figure, was in fact, well hidden under a thick coat requested by order of the King. Elves were not as troubled by cold and chill as mortals, thus Thranduil made a point to display every delicacy of feeling toward her, taking care that his new daughter and grandchild were well provided and cared for as Legolas surely would have wished.
Though her figure concealed under that thick coat, trimmed with fur, Haldof's first alarm upon his collision with her was to the possible harm of his future niece or nephew. "Are you certain?" he enquired sceptically.
"Aye, I am certain," she said, smiling at the softer side of Haldof, which she had not witnessed in many months.
Haldof stood a moment gazing at her, mind turning in thought before exclaiming, " Why are you out unescorted? What if some accident should befall you? You should not be so careless!"
Mithryn stared at him blankly before replying, "You mean, if someone were to career into me, and I sustain an injury?"
Blushing, Haldof at first made no reply with the exception of a darkened look. "It was an accident," he replied at length, foul mood grasping hold once more.
"To be sure. Farewell!" she bade as she turned, leaving him slightly bewildered.
"Where are you going?"
"For a walk," she replied, somewhat bewildered also.
"You should rest! You are in no condition to be careening around the wild!" he said vigorously.
A smile once again touch her lips, "I assure you, Haldof, that I am in the best of health. Pray, think of me no further. Armenil has said that walks would do me good."
"You should not be alone!" Haldof replied irritably. "However, I am not your husband! You may do what you wish!" With a huff of indignation, he turned and strode away.
But not far. A sharp cry of pain was unmistakable, coming from where he had left Mithryn. Hastening back to their spot, he discovered her on the cold earth, curled up into a ball, arms wrapped around her head. She wept softly; eyes tightly clenched, small moans of pain escaping her.
"Mithryn, what is it? Oh, pray tell me! You are injured? I knew it!" he said, placing his tender hands on her back, but she seemed not to perceive him, for no reply did she give. Several anguished moments elapsed slowly, in which Haldof sat at her side, at a loss for what action he should take. Running for aid seemed his instinct, yet, he was reluctant to leave her side in her present condition. For those darkened moments, lasting an eternity for him, he beseeched Eärendil, though hidden by an azure sky. "Help me!" he whispered. "Give me guidance!"
He was repaid by Mithryn's breathing returning to its normal rhythm, and her leafy eyes opening to consciousness. She sat up; minds eye still reeling, and disposition much shook. Not, as it would seem, however, as much as Haldof's, who sat gaping at her in distress.
Plain was the agitation on his face, and instinctively Mithryn rest her clammy hand upon his, saying, "Do not worry. I am already improved. Cannot you see?" He seemed pale and listless. His brow furrowed with worry, but no words did he speak. "Rest assured, Haldof, I am not so much at death's door." Enlightenment suddenly rested its wings upon her and she hastily said, "My pain was none of your making, I assure you! I am unsure if you are unaware, but on occasion, a great quake enters my mind, but it never lasts long. I can already feel it fleeting."
"Are you certain?" he said in so small a voice Mithryn barely heard him.
"They have happened all my life. Honestly."
This new information eased him slightly, but the worried look upon his face was unchanged. "Is it rest you wish? Or perhaps to see Armenil?"
"Nay, your father. I must speak with him," she said rising, but whose weakened knees buckled under her own weight. He caught her arm effortlessly, holding her steady.
"To be sure, but allow me to take you. You are still unwell."
Relenting, she walked beside him as he shouldered her weight with ease.
* * *
The King was peacefully sitting in his study, re-examining a pile of letters upon his thick, oak table. Each letter gave him discomfort, as they contained news of disquiet in a town not far from his grand halls, called Esgaroth. King Brand had little but disconcerting news to tell.
The hasty opening of his door tore Thranduil out of his repose, and he sat bewildered at the furore entering his solitude. In rushed Haldof with Mithryn draped on his side. She was conscious, but seemed greatly ailed. "Ai, what has happened?" he enquired, rising and helping his son place her gently into one of his warm chairs.
"I struck into her," Haldof admitted, uneasily. Thranduil cast him a look of disapproval only to have Haldof hastily reply, "By accident!"
Thranduil's look remained, but vanished quickly when he turned his attention toward Mithryn, who appeared much more comfortable seated by the King's cosy fire. "Now, Mithryn, what happened?" he asked, sitting next to her.
Mithryn glanced toward Haldof, unsure if appropriate to speak in his presence. What she had to tell was of such a nature that it would perhaps be prudent for the King's ears alone.
Her glance was not mistaken, but Thranduil replied, "Have no fear of Haldof. If you do not mind, I wish him to stay."
Haldof was most touched by his father's words, and all this concealment on Mithryn's part, succeeded in whetting his appetite for what she deemed so secret.
"Indeed, I do not mind," she began. "My Lord, I had another vision."
"A what?" Haldof blurted.
Thranduil at once regretted his decision, for much explaining would there be now. "Mithryn has great foresight, Haldof. She is gifted and can, at times, see far into the future."
"The future?" Haldof repeated, gazing at her in an incredulous manner.
"Go on, Mithryn," Thranduil gently nudged. "There shall be no more interruptions," he said, casting Haldof a threatening glace.
Haldof opened his mouth in rebuttal, but was the wiser, and promptly closed it. Mithryn cleared her throat, and gazed at the ageless eyes of the King. "I saw a battle, my Lord, such as I have never seen before."
"Who were fighting? Orcs?" Thranduil enquired.
Nodding, Mithryn continued: "There were so many; thousands upon thousands. A sea of savage filth." Swallowing the lump in her dry throat, she paused to find the words. "Bodies, my Lord. Ai, there were so many!"
"Nay, my Lord. They were Elves," she replied in a voice so quiet and sad it was barely heard.
"Wait, Elves?" Haldof bellowed. "You say you say the bodies of Elves? Where? Mordor? Who were they?!" he demanded. Thranduil did not attempt to quieten him, for his thoughts drifted along the same river of thought. Was Legolas among the dead she saw?
"Nay," she replied, her body beginning to tremble. "Not Mordor. Here. I am certain of it. The battle will take place in Mirkwood."
That was an answer neither Elves had foreseen. "Here?" Haldof repeated, and strayed into deep meditation.
"Wait, here? You are certain?" Thranduil asked, acutely troubled.
"It was unmistakable. I saw mountains, trees. Mirkwood has been my home for nearly eighty years. I recognized it immediately when I saw it."
Haldof shook his head, disbelieving, "Perhaps Rivendell?" he suggested to his contemplative father.
"Nay, Rivendell is distinctive. Waterfalls, great canyons of which we have none. Not to mention, Rivendell is a great fortress. Elrond bears a ring of power. It would not be overthrown lightly, and Sauron knows this. No, not Rivendell."
"Listen to what I tell you!" she implored. "The dead in my vision were soldiers bearing your emblem, my Lord! The attack will fall upon Mirkwood!"
This was detail even Haldof did not attempt to fudge. There was to be no mistaking Thranduil's guards. Every Elven house in Middle Earth, Mirkwood, Rivendell, and Lothlórien, each had unique emblems.
"So the battle will transpire here," Thranduil replied. "So be it. In fact, perhaps it shall be the saving of us, for we can be prepared as never before. Mithryn," he said, with a newfound thirst for information, "come, you must tell me everything you can possibly remember. Every detail is important. When shall this battle take place?"
Mithryn sat baffled. "I do not know, my Lord. Sometimes it is far into the future I see. Decades. Other times, it is but moments before. I can never tell."
"Much use this is!" Haldof said savagely, but Thranduil paid no heed. "You said you saw trees. Is that correct? Were there any leaves on them, or were they barren?"
Mithryn's mind turned, replaying the images in her mind, "They were barren, my lord! It was dark, nightfall, I believe, but the trees were empty!"
Thranduil sat back and exclaimed, "Why, that could be any day now! There is little time to prepare, but it may be enough. You have done well, my child. I am prodigiously proud of you!"
"Father, it could be twenty years from now! I see not how this news aids us!" Haldof exclaimed.
"Haldof," Thranduil replied irritably, "It would not be so far into the future as you think. As you know, the One Ring is being taken to the fires of Mount Doom as we speak. It shall not take them twenty years to complete their mission!"
"Suppose their mission fails, and Sauron himself comes to overthrow our realm!"
Thranduil turned to Mithryn for aid, and she was quick to respond. "Nay, Haldof. I saw a great presence of Orcs, but not Sauron. It is true that I do not know what he looks like, but I would imagine I would know if I saw him."
"There!" Thranduil replied, himself convinced. "Depend upon it, this battle will take place before the destruction of the One Ring! Sauron has been strengthening his forces. Evil is surging in Dol Guldur once more. Sauron will wage a war to slay us once and for all, but he shall fail! We shall be equipped for our final fight and we shall prevail!"
End of Chapter Twenty-four