Sáralissë - Part One: Chapter Two
--Mirkwood, Thranduil's Caverns | III 2620
Evening settled into the dark woods of Mirkwood, although it was hardly discernable amidst the constant, depressing gloom. The home of Thranduil, the Elvenking of the Woodland Realm, lay quiet, carved into the hills of the Mountains of Mirkwood and hidden by the great misshapen trees. The stillness within the caverns mirrored the silent, looming darkness of the outside like an uncomfortable pause. The forest lay cold and dark, ushering forth the nighttime horrors of a once great realm that was loosing its battle against the growing darkness that spread like a descending mist.
Lothelien walked briskly down the halls of her cavernous home, searching for her son. The child had not been seen since early that morning when an after-breakfast fiasco left him in tears. His father had accidentally stepped on and crushed one of Legolas' beloved toys. When the tears fell from Legolas' eyes as he beheld his broken toy, Thranduil had only made the situation worse by yelling at Legolas for leaving his toys lying around to be stepped on. Naturally, the boy only cried harder and ran out of the room. He had been quiet and out of sight ever since.
She wished Thranduil would have a little more patience with the boy sometimes. He was hardly out of his toddler age and the poor boy could hardly understand why his father became so upset on frequent occasions. Lothelien descended a flight of stairs and entered the king's magnificent hall, crossing the large, ornate room and swinging a right into the kitchen. She glanced around but only found the kitchener starting preparations for supper. Lothelien frowned in perplexity. Where could he be?
Stepping foot into the dinning hall, she beheld her fair-haired little boy sitting down at the large table, legs and feet dangling over the seat of the chair, crunching down on sugar treats from the kitchen, his fingers covered with sticky candy. She sighed. Legolas knew better: sweets were meant for after supper and only after supper. She folded her hands over her chest and opened her mouth for a scolding when her husband suddenly entered the room.
Legolas was startled by the sudden appearance of his father. He looked at him warily, trying to assess his mood this day. Even at his young age, he knew his father was a moody individual and that it was best not to bother him when he was in one of his sulks. But Thranduil smiled kindly at his son and sat down next to him and the young boy visibly relaxed. Lothelien let out a silent sigh of relief.
Thranduil took the young boy and placed him on his lap. She hung back and watched them now, as Thranduil took one of the last sugar treats in his hand and put both hands behind his back. After a few moments, he presented two closed fists to Legolas and motioned for him to pick one.
It's not that Thranduil was a bad father or a mean father. On the contrary, Lothelien knew that he loved his son dearly and was very protective of him. But when he turned to one of his moods, he took out his frustration, and whatever other emotions he had bottled up inside, on Legolas and herself and anyone else who was in his way. He became ill tempered and impatient and it terrified Legolas. And when they sought to comfort and soothe him, he pushed them away. It was difficult, for many within the household. One simply never knew when Thranduil would sink into one of his moods and all suffered.
Fortunately, today's little skirmish had been forgotten, or at least regretted. Thranduil usually felt guilty after his initial outbursts, especially when Legolas was concerned. She watched, smiling, as Legolas first chose the right hand. When he was presented with nothing, he immediately pounced on the other, trying to pry his father's big hand open. Thranduil finally relented and opened his left hand to reveal, yet again, nothing. But before Legolas could protest, Thranduil held up a finger to quiet him, reached behind Legolas' ear, and procured the missing sugar treat. Quickly, he closed his hand again and in a blink of an eye opened it to reveal nothing. Legolas frowned, bewildered.
"Ada," he whined, pouting, although there was a playful glint in his eye. He soon climbed over his father, poking and prodding, and finally reaching into Thranduil's deep pocket. She suppressed a laugh as her son's face lit up and he retrieved the lost sugar treat and popped it into his mouth, grinning and giggling wildly. Her husband joined his laughter, obviously delighted with his son's perseverance in retrieving his prize. He happened to look her way as she watched lovingly from a distance. He seemed to be taken by surprise, but finally managed a small, almost shy smile at her. She loved it when she smiled; she always did. And it melted her heart even more because such smiles were so rare from him nowadays.
She entered the room now, and smiled down at her son who was seated on his father's lap now. Legolas grinned up at her. She reached into her sleeve and presented her son with the toy that had been broken that morning: a carved horse made from the wood of a Mallorn tree. The legs had been broken off, but she had been able to reattach them. Legolas' eyes lit up. "Thank you, naneth!" he exclaimed, taking his toy and hugging it to his chest. He then proceeded to bounce it lightly up and down on the table, mimicking a galloping stallion.
From where he sat, Thranduil put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. He rested his head against her stomach and sighed deeply, almost sadly, as she stroked his long, golden hair. It was a peaceful, domestic moment that they both treasured within their hearts.
--Mirkwood, Thranduil's Caverns | III 2941
The past few days had been particularly peculiar for Legolas Thranduilion and, in fact, everyone else within Thranduil's halls. Word had spread fast. A dozen Dwarves captured within the course of two days. One Dwarf had been brought in the day before; the rest had been captured by a small band of Elves returning from patrol. Legolas stood now at the Elvenking's side as the Dwarves were brought, bound and blindfolded, before his father in the great pillared hall. The Elves claimed that they had thrice been disturbed by the Dwarves and that their clangor had roused the Spiders. Two of their men had been injured as they strove to fend of the foul creatures. Thranduil listened to their grievances intently, and when they had finished, he ordered the blindfolds removed from the Dwarves.
Legolas looked curiously upon the Dwarves who were standing in front of his father, looking frightened but trying to hide it behind a defiant façade. Up until this point, he had never seen a Dwarf before. Now, he had seen more than his fair share. He counted: there were indeed 12 of them, not including the one that had been brought in the day before. They were stout men with thick, braided beards and gruff, weathered countenances.
Legolas stole a glance at his father, who was seated majestically on his throne of carved wood. Upon his head he wore a crown of berries and red leaves, reminding Legolas that autumn was at hand. The autumn celebration was coming soon and Legolas felt his spirits lift at the thought of the upcoming feast. His father surveyed the Dwarves grimly. He had a keen dislike of Dwarves, something Legolas never fully understood. "What has brought you into my forest?" Thranduil asked the Dwarves at last.
Thranduil questioned them long and hard about their business in Mirkwood--where they had come from, where they were going, and what was their business-- and only grew only more impatient with their refusal to give him an answer. The Dwarves themselves were none too pleased to be held prisoner and made no attempts to be polite. "What have we done wrong?" one of the Dwarves asked, almost indignantly. "Is it a crime to be lost in the forest, hungry and thirsty and terrorized by Spiders? Why would the killing of these Spiders make you angry, unless they were your tamed pets?"
Legolas could see his father nearly trembling with anger at this absurd accusation. "It is a crime to wander in my realm without permission!" he said in a loud roar that made everyone jump, including Legolas. "Did you forget that you were in my kingdom, using the road that my people built? Did you not trouble my people in the forest three times and rouse the Spiders with your riotous noise? After all the disturbance you have made, I have a right to know what brings you here. And if you will not tell me now, I will keep you all prisoner until you have learned sense and manners!"
The Dwarves were seized immediately by the surrounding men and dragged away against their will. "Put them in their own cells and give them food and water, but do not let them pass out of their cells doors until they are ready to speak!" his father bellowed.
Legolas took this opportunity to slip away quietly; his father was angry and upset now and would be for at least the rest of the day. He walked out of his father's hall and went to find his mother, going through the west door in the throne room and mounting the staircase that led to a long hallway. As he entered his parents' large chambers he found her bent over her desk, writing away.
"Would it be an understatement for me to say that things did not go well?" she asked, glancing up from her paper to where Legolas now sat on the bed. "I could hear him roaring from all the way up here." Legolas shrugged and his mother sighed and rolled her eyes. "He should just let those Dwarves go. They're probably harmless. He is overreacting."
Mother was probably right, he thought. The Dwarves looked fairly harmless. They had weapons with them, yes, but only small knives. Who didn't carry some sort of weapon with them nowadays? Then again, what would a band of Dwarves be doing in Mirkwood? Could they be a scouting party, perhaps? Legolas didn't know any Dwarves but he had been somewhat biased against them as influence from his father, who had a deep disdain for Dwarves and anything Dwarvish. Which was rather hypocritical, since the very caverns that he called home was indeed delved by Dwarves.
Legolas opened his mouth to comment on his mother's remarks, but his voice abruptly caught in his throat as he spied something peculiar from the corner of his eye. A strange shadow had passed the doorway, although Legolas had seen no one to whom the shadow belonged. He knitted his eyebrows in puzzlement.
"Legolas...? What are you looking at?" his mother inquired.
"Oh, nothing," he replied finally. "I just... lost my train of thought."
Heavy footsteps were heard coming down the hall and Lothelien glanced up sharply. Thranduil was storming down the hall, his shoulders stiff, fists clenching and unclenching tightly. He came into the room and looked at Legolas. "Go," he said tightly. Legolas got up from the bed and walked out of the room, not even stealing a glance at his father. He was used to this and had learned not to feel hurt by his father's coldness, although he was rather irked that his conversation with his mother had been cut short. He could hear her murmuring soothingly, although she was probably telling his father how foolish he was truly being. It wasn't unlike her to do so: she was not easily intimidated by his temper.
Legolas continued down the hallway, the mysterious shadow lingering curiously in his thoughts.
* * * * * * * * * *
Over the next week or so, Legolas had seen the strange shadows on several occasions, quickly darting in and out of rooms and pathways. He was reluctant to confide in others what he had seen, but he knew that he was not the only one who realized the presence of this Shadow. No one else seemed to see the Shadow, or if they had, they had dismissed it as a trick of the mind. One the other hand, others within the palace seemed to have a general feeling that something was lurking about, and they often times looked over their shoulder or cast wary glances about. He had even seen his own father do a double take. It was an altogether uncomfortable, foreboding feeling, but for the most part everyone kept it to themselves.
One afternoon, as Legolas was on his way to his chambers, he caught wind of an interesting conversation between two off-duty sentries. They were sitting down casually on a bench, their backs up against the wall, chatting away about something curious they had seen. They paused and nodded as Legolas passed by. Legolas smiled at them in return and turned the corner, then paused in his tracks to listened in on the conversation.
"Yes, it feels like some dark presence is lurking around the caverns," one of them continued. "I could have sworn I've seen something at least once or twice."
The other gave a little laugh and said, "Perhaps it's a ghost."
"I don't know..." the other replied doubtfully. "What kind of ghost is only three feet tall?"
The guard had a good point, Legolas reasoned. But, if it was not a ghost, what could it be? He waited for them to say more, but the conversation quickly turned to women and Legolas lost interest. He turned around and raised his foot to take a step; but no sooner had he done so he paused in mid-step and held his breath.
There it was... the Shadow. Legolas was able to see it more clearly this time against the carved grey walls, for the Shadow was oddly stationary. It appeared to be the shadow of a small, chubby child, scurrying around barefoot. It turned from side to side trying to decide where to go next, as if lost, before scurrying down the corridor. Legolas made up his mind that he would follow it. Perhaps he would be able to discern where it came from. He followed it stealthily as the Shadow moved hesitantly through the hallways of the palace, keeping his eyes peeled for where it might pop up next as it darted from darkness to light. Unfortunately, he did not have his eyes open for other people and he inadvertently bumped into a kitchen maid.
"Oh, dear! I'm sorry, sir," she apologized, but Legolas ignored her as he continued on quickly. He was able to catch a glimpse of the Shadow as it moved even quicker, turning sharply down another corridor. Blast! Legolas thought. It's startled now and he knows someone is on to it. He hurried after.
He was able to keep up, fortunately never loosing site of his quarry, and now found himself in the soldier's quarters. Legolas passed by the door where a large group of guards was laughing riotously amongst themselves as they talked. He had finally reached a dead end, where the soldier's barracks met with a stone wall. The area at the end of the hallway was darkened, cloaked in shadow. Legolas knew that was where the culprit was, although he could not make out the shape. He walked towards down the hallway slowly, then stopped, as he didn't know what to do next.
He stood there in silence, contemplating the idea of perhaps talking to it to see whether it was a being of intelligence or not. But suddenly he felt a push--no, a shove--against his legs and they gave way from underneath him. It was so unexpected that he didn't have time to catch himself before falling on his back to the stone floor with a splat. He rolled over onto his stomach immediately but the Shadow was gone. Legolas could hardly believe what had just happened. Could it be that the Shadow was not something intangible at all, but a being with substance? It had to be. He was positive that he had felt something push him out of the way. The touch was not cold, as he supposed a ghost's touch would be, but warm, full of life.
A guard peeked his head around the corner, gazing curiously at the prince lying on his stomach looking bewildered. "Sir, are you all right?" he asked, not quite sure what to make of it.
Legolas looked at the guard and realized that he was still on the floor. He felt his cheeks redden and quickly picked himself up off the floor. He smiled at the guard, who was still looking at him peculiarly, and hurried away.
Legolas soon resolved to catch the Shadow. He studied its movements secretly for a series of several days, which was difficult, for unless there was enough light, Legolas could not always see it. The Shadow made a conscious attempt to blend in with the surrounding dimness, only venturing into the light when absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, Legolas was able to determine that the shadow often passed down the corridor that led to the cells where the Dwarves were kept. How peculiar, he thought. Legolas was forbidden to go into the actual holding area, but he followed the Shadow as far as he could.
He soon devised a plan. He would need a torch and a weighted net. Borrowing these items from the storeroom, he set up his rudimentary trap in the corridor. Taking the torch, he fastened it into one of the holders near the doors so that he would be able to see the Shadow from behind the door. Then, he positioned himself behind the door with his net in hand and waited. Hours passed and there was no sign of the Shadow. But Legolas remained determined and patient. Finally, before nightfall, he could hear the softest patter of bare feet on the stone floor. Holding his breath, he waited for the Shadow to pass through the doorway and inside a few feet. Just as the Shadow was about to pass into the darkness, Legolas quietly slipped out from behind the door and cast his weighted net at the shadow.
Legolas gaped as the net seemed to float in mid-air, flailing and shifting about. He couldn't believe that there was actually something there! Despite what he had seen with his own eyes, he did not think that he could have actually caught something that seemingly had no physical substance. A strangled cry was heard and the creature struggled to free itself. "Reveal yourself, shadow," Legolas hissed, although he was not sure that this thing could reveal itself. The shadow stopped struggling for a moment and the net was still, and suddenly a small creature was standing before him, appearing out of thin air. Legolas was completely bewildered.
"Please, will you take this thing off me?" the small creature said, speaking in the Common Tongue. Legolas awoke from his shock and nodded eagerly, doing as he was requested. As he lifted the net, he stood back in amazement and was able to get a clearer picture of this curious-looking creature. It was small, perhaps three-and-a-half feet tall, with a mop of curly brown hair not only on it's head, but also on it's large feet. Legolas had never seen anything like it before. It looked somewhat like a man, and yet had this child-like quality to its appearance.
"What... what manner of creature are you?" Legolas managed to ask, more out of curiosity than interrogation. His eyes scanned over the creature in wide wonder. "You don't look like a Dwarf."
The creature, in return, looked at him in awe, trying to be brave but obviously exhibiting his weak nature. He looked as though he couldn't decide whether to run or not. Decision finally settled on his face and he looked up at Legolas and said, rather proudly: "I... am a hobbit."
Legolas bent down to take a closer look. "A hobbit?" he repeated as he brought a finger up and poked the hobbit on the shoulder cautiously.
"I beg your pardon," the hobbit said indignantly. "There's no need to poke and prod like I'm some sort of dead animal." Legolas quickly withdrew his finger.
"What are you called, hobbit?" he asked, sitting on his knees, but never taking his eyes off the little furry man. He was truly fascinated.
"That is my own business," the hobbit replied tartly. He was particularly defensive, Legolas observed. "And who are you anyway? And why have you captured me?" The hobbit folded his arms over his chest.
Legolas frowned. "All you need to know is that I am the king's son." If he can withhold his name, so can I, he thought. He felt that this creature was in no position to ask questions. "And, I have captured a trespasser in my father's home." He forked his eyebrows. "In any case, what are you doing here?"
The hobbit looked at Legolas angrily but did not answer. In turn, Legolas stared hard at the hobbit. The poor thing looked terribly beat and tired. Legolas felt himself soften and take pity. "Are you hungry?" he finally asked when he received no answer to his first question. The least he could do was offer this creature some food; perhaps then he would receive more answers. The creature looked harmless enough.
The hobbit continued to eye him warily but his face soon softened and became rather pained. "Yes," he said miserably, his body sagging slightly.
"Stay here, I'll return shortly." Legolas got up to leave, but turned back, suddenly worried that the hobbit would leave as soon as he turned his back. "You won't leave, will you?" The hobbit shook his head in fear.
Legolas set out to the kitchen and returned quickly with the promised food, but was terribly disappointed to find that the hobbit was nowhere in sight. His eyes searched the corridor. "Hobbit? Where have you gone?" he called out, his voice echoing in the hallway. He turned around and let out a small yelp as the hobbit appeared before him.
"Sorry," the hobbit said sheepishly. "I couldn't very well stay out in the open when you left." His eyes fell on the bundle that Legolas had in his hand. "Oh... is that buttered bread with jam?" he asked, his eyes seeming to glaze over.
Legolas looked down at the food, remembering that it was in his hands. "Oh! Yes, it was all that I could muster up. Supper won't be ready until later this evening."
"That's fine," the hobbit said automatically, licking his lips as he reached for the bread. But before he could grasp it, Legolas took a quick step back.
"Now wait. We can't stay here. Someone might see you and then you would really be in trouble. Come, stay in my chambers. You'll be safe there. You can eat and rest."
The hobbit looked doubtful. "You wont turn me in to your father, will you?" He looked at Legolas hesitantly, and then back at the food longingly. He was obviously torn between trusting Legolas completely and his ever-growing hunger.
"You'll be my secret," Legolas assured, noting the hobbits apprehensiveness. "You needn't tell me your name, or confide anything you don't wish to. I'll bring you food and we'll think of a way to help you escape."
"You would help me?" the hobbit asked, rather amazed.
"Well, you cannot stay here forever."
"No, I suppose you're right," the hobbit said rather sadly.
"Quickly now, make yourself invisible again and we'll be off," Legolas interjected before the hobbit could object.
* * * * * * * * * *
"I need a way to sneak out of here as inconspicuously as possible," the hobbit said, biting into his bread and speaking with his mouth full. Legolas watched him pace back and forth in front of his bed. The hobbit had gazed wonderingly at Legolas' lavishly furnished chambers and seemed to feel very out of place. But soon, with food and comfortable lodgings, the he had settled into an easy, rather congenial mood. "Which is not an easy task when you have thirteen of the loudest, most bumbling Dwarves in history." He stopped and looked at Legolas, waving the bread in the air enthusiastically. "This is really excellent! It's been so long since I've had any decent food."
"Exactly how long have you been here?" Legolas inquired.
The hobbit sighed and looked up at the ceiling for his answer, chewing thoughtfully. "Let's see... I snuck in when the Dwarves were captured... five, six, seven... oh, I don't know. I would guess almost two weeks."
He agreed to tell Legolas why he had been in Mirkwood in the first place, explaining that he had been "hired" by the Dwarves for business that he was not at liberty to divulge. Along their journey, they had encountered goblins on several occasions and before they had been captured by the Wood-Elves, they were at the mercy of the giant Spiders. All of this weighed very heavily upon the hobbit who had, if anything, been coerced into this adventure. And now he had been reduced to wandering the extensive halls of the caverns, trying to avoid being seen.
"I think I've managed... no one has seen me, or if they have, they probably don't believe their eyes. Except for you, that is," the hobbit said. He suddenly looked rather embarrassed. "Oh, and I'm sorry for tripping you in the hallway that day," he said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head and laughing nervously. "But when I saw that you were following me, I didn't know what to do."
"That's quite all right," Legolas said, dismissing the event as trivial. "But it should be so simple for you to escape!" he exclaimed. "All you need to do is use your magic, turn invisible, and walk right out the door."
"Magic?" the hobbit exclaimed in turn, alarmed. His tone grew guarded. "There's no magic," he said, almost insistently.
"Well, what makes your invisible, then?" Legolas asked, with a certain apprehensiveness. Despite all its good uses, there was something that bothered Legolas about the hobbit's ability to disappear. Something about it made him uneasy.
The hobbit appeared thoughtful. "In truth... I cannot tell you," he said, with a note of confused honesty. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. "In any case--and I realize that Elves and Dwarves are the least of friends--but, I hope you understand that I cannot leave this place without that party of Dwarves," he said.
Legolas was surprised by this. "But you are free to go now. You can go back to your home and not face all the dangers that lie ahead. Why should a band of Dwarves hold you here?"
The hobbit shrugged lightly. "I'm bound by contract." He sighed softly and a small, reluctant smile played upon his lips. "Besides, for all their bumbling and grumbling and altogether vexing nature, those Dwarves have grown upon me. They've shown me what a real adventure can be... and I must say, I quite like it." He looked up and smiled simply at Legolas. "We must continue on to our destination and I cannot do it without them."
Legolas reflected on this for a moment. He had never had an adventure. It was hardly surprising, considering where he lived. Mirkwood was a dangerous place, and although it might have been the perfect setting for a wild adventure, there was no way he, Legolas, son of Thranduil and Lothelien, would be allowed to go off on his own. No, that dream had fluttered out the window a long time ago. Not that he didn't yearn for it still.
Legolas studied the hobbit carefully. He was nervous and twitchy, constantly moving around and mumbling. A very animated fellow, he was. Legolas wondered if he was always like this or if it was just his unfortunate predicament that made him so anxious. From the sound of it, the hobbit didn't consider himself a very adventurous person; but Legolas felt that the hobbit had something in his make-up that was waiting for adventure. And now it had finally had its chance to come out.
Turning back to the dilemma at hand, Legolas also realized he had gotten himself into a fairly uncompromising situation. He had promised to help the hobbit escape, but the hobbit refused to leave without his Dwarven companions. A silly notion, Legolas thought. Dwarves are nothing but trouble, his father always said. And from the sound of it, it was true. But Legolas didn't dare go back on his word--it would be terribly embarrassing. And yet, there could be far worse consequences. The Dwarves were official prisoners of his father; if they had somehow escaped, there would be hell to pay. But, he resolved, he would help the hobbit.
Legolas wracked his brains for an idea. Sentries patrolled the caverns and the surrounding areas outside. If it was just the hobbit who needed to make an escape, it would be quite easy. But, it would be difficult to conceal the Dwarves. They were short, but thick and stocky--almost barrel-like. An idea struck Legolas like lightening. It had appeared in his mind as a simple visual, not even a full-fledged idea. The hobbit wanted inconspicuous and this was it. He gasped with excitement and jumped up from his seat, causing the hobbit to look up at him curiously. "Wait, I have it! Barrels!"
"Barrels?" the hobbit repeated, not following Legolas' train of thought.
"Yes! The Lakemen send us barrels of fine wine and other goods. When the barrels are empty, we send them floating down the river back to Esgaroth. I'm sure we could fit you and the Dwarves in them, and when the time comes, you will be heading towards Esgaroth in no time."
"Really?" the hobbit asked, hope creeping into his voice.
Legolas nodded. "And I know the perfect time to do it," he said, grinning madly. "The Autumn Feast is near at hand. Everyone will be outside in the woodland clearing, merrymaking. It will be the perfect time for you to make your escape!" Legolas stood and awaited the hobbit's approval.
The hobbit considered this proposal carefully, rubbing his chin. "Yes, but how can such a plan be executed?"
« Author's Notes »
Lothelien » "persistent flower"
Originally chapter two was approximately 10,000 words long, but I decided that was way too much for a single chapter. So, I basically cut the chapter in half and turned it into two separate chapters.
Comments are very helpful and most appreciated! Thanks to those who commented on chapter one.