The Greenwood Tales: Part 2 - Cold Victory
Somehow, Thranduil was aware when Elaimar passed below him, carrying a hammer that seemed huge in her delicate hand. Suddenly, he was glad for his beauty - inherited from his father - and the way his light muscles rippled as he shoved the wall into place. Never was he vain or over-fastidious about his appearance, but for today he was glad that he was physically attractive.
That night, when he slept on a half-finished talan high in the trees under a blanket of leaves, he dreamed of Elaimar, dancing in the night as if she was Elbereth Star-kindler, her gracefully swirling, slender hands casting the light to each corner of the sky.
When he awoke, Thranduil wanted to cry for losing the sweet dreams. Closing his eyes, he retained the image of Elaimar, dancing through the night with nary a care or worry, so beautiful that his throat choked up and tears came to his eyes. Lying back upon the talan, just touched by dawn's first kiss, drawing the leaf blanket up over himself, Thranduil let his mind drift in fantasies of her.
Later that morning, Thranduil couldn't help but smile as he carefully carved designs into the wall. Greenwood had been settled faster than even he had anticipated. Beautiful, light Elvish buildings, much like those of Lothlórien, were spread through the trees as not to crowd each other. Everyone had helped, and Greenwood was as beautiful and fair as its cousin, Lórien.
Thranduil felt a touch on his shoulder, and turned to see Aladain, holding a delicate knife with a keen blade. The other Elf smiled at him. "We should be proud of what we have accomplished, my friend."
"And I am," Thranduil answered, turning back to his work. "How could I not be?"
A smile touched Aladain's lips. "Only if you were impossible to please, which you are not."
The friends shared a laugh. Thranduil took a drink from the waterskin nearby. Wiping the excess drops from his lips with the back of his hand, he said, "Greenwood thrives."
"All we need now is someone to guide us," Aladain said. He gave Thranduil a long look. "A king."
"I have told you before, and I will now tell you again," Thranduil said. "I came to Greenwood to live, not to rule. My father should take the throne. Not I. I know not enough of the ways of the world."
"A tree without a trunk will fall," Aladain replied. "If a kingdom is a tree, than what is the trunk?"
Thranduil ignored Aladain's comparison and threw himself into his work. He tried to reorganize his thoughts, but his friend's words had scattered them into complete disarray. He was not a king! In Ossiriand he had been known and respected, but that was not symbolic of a leader. Could he take the responsibility of an entire realm into his hands and guide them, never faltering? Would his people trust him to always know the path to take? Would they trust him to always find the light through the storm?
Would his father?
When at last the wall had been completed, built around a branch and carved with elaborate, elegant designs, Thranduil returned his chisel and mallet to the tool sack and hurried into Greenwood, his feet barely pressing upon the verdant ground. The green smell, that of living and growing things, was sweet in his nostrils.
As he walked, he heard the faint music of a lute and a clear, haunting voice, rising in song. It seemed to him that the music carried far above the tops of the trees and into the clear sky.
Thranduil hurried forward. He wanted to see what it was that could create such lovely music, so clear, so vibrant that it touched his very soul. The melody lifted his heart with it above the trees.
He stepped into a clearing. Elaimar was sitting on the ground, her frosty-green skirt billowing about her. Her beautiful face was worked in concentration as she made sure that each note she strummed was perfect. Her hair rippled down her back and rested on the ground. She plainly had no idea that he was there.
Thranduil held his breath, for fear that he might surprise Elaimar and disrupt the lovely music that flowed so easily from her fingers.. But at last he had to let it out, and the small noise startled Elaimar.
"My lord!" She leapt to her feet.
"No, sit," Thranduil said. "I am no one's lord."
Elaimar sank gracefully back to the ground, the lute resting limply in her slender hand. "Did I disrupt you with my playing? I only felt a moment of loneliness for Ossiriand and decided to play a song of the Laiquendi to ease my sorrow."
"Disrupt?" Thranduil echoed. "Not even a nightingale could sing sweeter."
A faint flush spread across Elaimar's cheeks. "Do you really think such? You honor me. Among my people, the nightingale is renowned for its sweet songs."
Thranduil walked closer, gazing at her. "The song of any bird pales before yours."
"Do you mind," Elaimar asked nervously, "if I was to continue?"
"No, not in the least," Thranduil replied. "I would be most deeply honored if you deemed me worthy enough to hear it."
Elaimar smiled, lifted the lute, and touched her fingers to the strings. A rushing rain of music sprang forth, sweeping Thranduil's soul higher and higher into the air. He closed his eyes and shivered with pure enjoyment. He wished it would never end.
At last, Elaimar rose, and the music died on the strings. "I - I must leave, my lord Thranduil. I beg pardon for departing in such haste." Tossing back her flowing mane of golden hair, she dashed from the wood, her feet making no sound as she ran.
Thranduil gazed after her. All at once, he knew his heart was given to this beautiful Laiquendi, who sang such haunting songs and carried such a sad sweetness about her. His heart pounded faster with the knowledge. His mouth was dry with it. In the three months since they had settled Greenwood, he had found himself more and more attracted to her.
His feet moved slowly from the clearing, as if reluctant to depart a place where such musical magic had been wielded. Barely looking where he was going, not thinking at all, Thranduil blundered blindly back to the other Elves.
Aladain greeted him with a smile. "The evening repast is prepared, my friend."
Thranduil sat with the others, his heart pounding faster at the sight of Elaimar sitting across from him, her face lit by a smile, her golden hair glimmering in the waning twilight.
As the Elves were eating their rations of lembas, Aladain spoke, his mannerism grave. "Greenwood is settled, my friends. Our homes are built, our bonds strongly forged from this new fire. But still we are leaderless. Who, than, shall take up the position of our king or queen?"
The name was raised as one voice. "Oropher! Oropher Greenleaf shall lead us!"
Thranduil smiled at his father, who sat rooted to the spot, until a light touch on his shoulder roused him. "Oropher - or should I say, your Highness?"
It was Orophin, an Elf who had become good friends with Thranduil and Oropher over the course of their time in Greenwood. "My lord, I fashioned a crown long before we left Ossiriand, to be given to the king or queen of Greenwood the Great when one was appointed. Take it."
Orophin handed Oropher a masterwork of a crown, forged from light silver threads. Emerald leaves were set about it. Oropher carefully put it on, and the silver and emerald gleamed richly against the pure gold of his hair.
As one, every Elf knelt before him, then raised their voices in a rallying cry. "Aaye Oropher Haran! Aaye Oropher Haran!" 1
They rose as one. Aladain lit a smooth white taper and held it aloft. "To Greenwood, to our king, to all Elves!"
The cheer was echoed again and again. Some Elves took out instruments and began to play a joyful melody of rejoicing, including Elaimar on her lute. Thranduil's heart swelled with the cheers and the song, and he crossed to embrace his father, who stood tall and strong, a beautiful image of the elven kings of old.
He would never forget this night.
Through the days, as Greenwood grew more and more settled and populous, Thranduil felt relieved not to have been the king. He was content to settle with the role of Prince Thranduil of Greenwood, leaving the title of king - as for now - to Oropher. His father made an excellent king, and Thranduil quickly found himself falling into happiness.
As he worked and made himself useful to his people, Thranduil resisted the urge to fall deeper and deeper into sweet fantasies of Elaimar. Once, to his horror and confusion, he caught himself thinking about how sweet she would look if she would let the clothing fall from her body, her long, fragrant golden hair curling softly around her fine breasts and slender abdomen...
Confused and worried by such fantasies, Thranduil worked harder and harder not to notice her, but the more he tried not to, the more he did. He was worried by them, but managed to keep them in check, trying not to notice the way his heart pounded harder and his body temperature rose when she walked by.
It had been a long time since they had settled Greenwood - three thousand years in terms of men, the swift passing of a moment for the Elves - and each day Thranduil wished he could take Elaimar to his side and gift to her the title of Princess of Greenwood.
Aladain knew his friend's heart, but the Elf was discreet enough to keep his silence and not drop any hints to the other Elves of their prince's feelings. He saw the way Thranduil's eyes yearned after Elaimar, even when he and Aladain sat on a talan and spoke together of many things. Oropher was a firm but kind king, and Greenwood was prospering delightfully under his rule.
"You seem distracted," Aladain observed neutrally one night when he and Thranduil were sitting on a talan above the palace, talking as was their custom in the long evenings of summer.
Thranduil started; he had been gazing deeper into the forest. Aladain heard the sweet, faint music of a lute, and knew what took Thranduil's thoughts so.
"Not at all," Thranduil said coolly.
Aladain raised an eyebrow, but said nothing more. If Thranduil was not willing to disclose his feelings, he was not about to force him to do such. His dear friend was a prince now, after all, and he was one of the commonfolk.
It was much later that evening, as Thranduil lay, restless and sleepless, in his bed in the palace, that there was the soft sound of muffled hoofbeats and urgent voices.
Casting the covers aside and standing, Thranduil crossed to the window and looked down. It was a messenger, obviously one of the Laiquendi; he was clothed in green, had fair hair, and carried a flute at his side. He rode a small white horse, and was hurrying toward the palace.
Dodging down the stairs, Thranduil hurried into his father's bedchamber and shook him. "Father, wake up! A messenger, from Ossiriand, it seems."
Oropher quickly shook the sleep from his eyes and hurried after Thranduil to meet the messenger.
"Greetings, King Oropher of Greenwood," the messenger said. "I am Lairan Icestar, Green-elf of Ossiriand and faithful servant of King Gil-galad of that realm. Alas! The tidings I bear are grave indeed, and I fear you must now be privy to them. Sauron has crafted a Ruling Ring of Power, to govern all other rings and their bearers, and has begun a crusade of terror against Middle-earth and all of its inhabitants. King Gil-galad is forming an army of Men and Elves, together with the King of Men, Elendil of Gondor, to lead against him. He begs me request the assistance of the Elves of the Wood. What is to be your choice? The King tells me that you are not forced to accept. But I shall let it be known that he is desperate."
Oropher's face closed in upon itself, and he drew his thin nightrobe closer about his slender form. "I am sorry to appear to you in a manner of such poor dignity, Lairan of Ossiriand, but tidings such as you bear are not easily heard whether in day or night. I knew this was to happen, but no word of it has reached the ears of the Wood-elves until now. Tell your king that the Wood-elves pledge their support. Our army shall be joining yours."
"Lairan!" a clear voice echoed from above. "Brother!"
Elaimar hurried from a tree dwelling, clothed only in a silken nightdress. Thranduil's face turned hot at the sight of her, and he quickly averted his gaze as Elaimar threw her arms about the Elf. "This is a rare pleasure indeed."
"The news he bears is not pleasurable at all," Oropher said. Using as few words as possible, his voice quiet and grim, the Elvenking told the Laiquendi woman what was to transpire.
Elaimar's face paled, but she squared her shoulders and threw her head back. "I am skilled with blade, my King. I shall fight alongside the other folk of Greenwood."
"No!" Thranduil said. When he realized that he had almost shouted in his abruptness, he quickly made amends. "I have no doubt of your skill, but it is a war with the greatest evil to haunt this world since Morgoth. You will be in terrible danger."
"As will the men," Elaimar said, her gray eyes driving into his, making his heart soft and his legs weak. "Are not the women as strong as the men?"
When the Wood-elven army marched out the next morning, with Lairan leading the way on his white horse, Thranduil was relieved to note that Elaimar was not among them. He would not be able to bear possibly having to watch her die. It would tear his heart out.
They reached Ossiriand within three days, as the distances they endured were brutal and no rests were taken. Food was eaten astride the horse, sleep was a luxury that they did not indulge in. Despite his worries, Thranduil was impressed by the wave of Wood-elves, strong and capable, ready to fight for their land and people. He saw Aladain, and gave his friend a small smile.
"Greetings," King Gil-galad said as the Elves rode into Ossiriand. "It has been a long time since I have had the pleasure to look upon your face, my friend Oropher."
The Elf-king was tall and strong, with hair the color of the night, dark eyes, and fair skin. A golden crown was curved about his head. He was clothed in armor instead of princely garb, and his eyes were haunted and dreadful in their fear. The Ring of Air, Vilya, shone like a star upon his slender finger, and his hand was never far from the hilt of a dagger.
Later, the contingent of Men rode also into the elven refuge of Ossiriand, led by an aging man wearing a silver helm. He wore a sword in a sheath that was inscribed with the characters of the Rhovannion language. The words read Narsil, Flame of the West and Enemy's Bane.
Riding beside him was a younger man with dark hair and an untrimmed beard, clad in chain-mail and girt with sharp sword. Although his bearing was proud and noble, his gaze was fierce and cold and all that met it turned away in discomfort.
The older man climbed down from his horse and strode to Gil-galad. "Greetings, Starlight-king," he said in rough but passable Sindarin. "My men have ridden hard from the South-realm of Gondor to aid Middle-earth in its time of need. I am King Elendil of the line of the Númeanorians, and this is my son and heir Isildur."
He made a motion toward the younger man, who came to stand beside his father. "Our men are strong and brave, ready to fight and not afraid to die. You will find them a great asset in the war we wage against Sauron and his evil."
"Yes," Gil-galad replied softly. "I do."
That night was the last night of rest Thranduil knew he would get in a long while. It felt odd to be back in his quarters at Ossiriand, when he had left them for so long. He was restless and ill at ease, and could not sleep, although he tried.
In the morning, which dawned dark and overcast, the army of Elves and Men mounted their horses. Gil-galad, Elendil, and Oropher rode in front, with Thranduil, Isildur, and Gil-galad's standard-bearer, a young Elf of the Peredhil line who was called Elrond and was the son of Eärendil the Mariner and Elwing of the line of Beren.
They reached the fields of Mordor soon. As all had expected, Sauron had had ample warning of their plans and had amassed a huge army of the foul Orcs.
As the Elves and Men surged forward, only one thought crossed Thranduil's mind.
It has begun.
Led by Elendil and Isildur, the army of Men charged forward. Next came the Elvish archers, divided into sects and commanded by Oropher and Elrond. As Thranduil fired again and again, his bow snapping and blurring, he could see that the armies fought upon the flanks of the Mountain of Doom itself.
The battle seemed to rage infinitely, its blood and death combined into one long moment that lasted forever in the eternities of Eä. When the Orcs broke into the line, Thranduil drew his sword and fought them hand-to-hand, his blood and their own staining his armor. He had taken a small wound, and although at first he feared that some foul Orcish venom might contaminate the blade that had dealt it, his fears proved to be unjustified.
As he fought and fought, Thranduil could feel himself beginning to weary, a poison more deadly than any the Orcs could deal. His strikes came heavier, his breath harder. It was harder to think, harder to fight, harder to stay alive.
To his left, he saw an Elf - Lairan, he realized with a sickening jolt - fall to an Orc arrow with a scream. Then, with another terrible start, he saw the warrior that had caught him hold him in his lap, calling the dying Elf with a terrible voice. When slender hands were raised to the helm and a golden wash of hair spilled out, Thranduil knew he had been right to fear.
It was Elaimar.
She gave a terrible scream, cradling her brother. But it was too late. The life had gone from him.
Laying his lifeless corpse tenderly upon the blood-washed ground, Elaimar rose from his side and sprang at the Orc that had murdered Lairan with a horrible note in her voice. Clad in elvish armor, her long hair flying free, she cut and jabbed, her wrath consuming her.
Sick at heart, Thranduil turned just in time to see an Orc plunge its dagger straight into the gap between Oropher's chest plate and chain mail skirt.
The Elvenking fell.
Thranduil did not know if it was he who screamed this time, a terrible, animalistic note in his voice. Killing with reckless abandon, he plunged through the masses and caught his father as he fell.
The Elvenking stared up at him with vacant eyes. Thranduil seized the dagger and cast it aside, the horribly jagged blade stained red with his father's lifeblood. He could see smears of a revolting yellow substance on it, and knew that deadly poison flooded his father's veins.
"Thranduil," Oropher repeated weakly, his eyelashes fluttering, his body trembling as the lethal toxin spread like fire through his bloodstream. "Thranduil. My son. Do not grieve. I go to a place beyond mortal suffering. I go to be with my dear Lithiríel. I will see you once again someday, be it in the mortal realm or the metaphysical."
Thranduil cradled his father, the beautiful head resting against his arm. "Father, please don't die. You cannot! I am not yet finished in my training as a prince, and our people need you to guide them!" But even as he spoke the words, he knew they were futile.
"Thranduil," Oropher repeated dully, closing his eyes. "You will be king, and all shall pay homage to you. Thranduil....I love....I love....."
"No!" Thranduil cried, holding his father nearer.
"I love....you," Oropher whispered, gasped, and died.
Letting his father's body slide through his arms to the dirt, Thranduil turned and attacked without thought, only brute rage. If he had been able to think, he would have known what Elaimar had felt like. His grief and rage filled him, embraced him, and he embraced it back. He needed to feel it, or he would have felt as heavy as lead.
It was not until a concussive shockwave knocked him completely off his feet and threw him to the ground that he realized the battle was over. A white light from an explosion was slowly dying.
What had happened? Forcing himself to his feet, Thranduil limped along - and came across Elaimar, who had just finished an Orc with her sword.
"Elaimar!" he gasped, the first coherent word he had spoken in hours.
She turned to him, the dazzling gray eyes wet with tears and dark with despair. "Lairan - is dead!"
Thranduil dully forced himself to speak, but he could feel no others' pain when he had just lost his father, who meant the world to him and then some. "Oropher as well," he faltered and fell to his knees.
Before he was aware of what was happening, slender arms encased in steel had slid about him, and Elaimar was holding him, somehow able to think of his pain when her own was nearly consuming her as well. Then his words sank in. She went paler than a sheet. "Oropher? But we have no king - and Elendil and Gil-galad have also perished."
Unable to speak, feeling dark and ugly inside for ignoring her pain, Thranduil stepped away from her, hurried back to his father's body, took the stiffening, cold corpse in his arms, and cradled it for a long time.
When at last he was able to reason again, he saw how dire the situation was. Elendil had been killed, as had Gil-galad. The young Peredhil Elrond now bore the Ring of Air, as Gil-galad had decided to bequeath it to him a long while back. Even worse, two thirds of the Wood-elven army had died. Thranduil spent a long time finding each corpse, cradling it briefly, and bidding it goodbye. It was with utmost relief that he discovered Aladain alive - shaken, wounded, and sorrowful - but alive. The two friends embraced each other tightly for a long time. They made a sorrowful portrait - two Elves standing in the midst of the carnage, among the bodies of their dead friends, sharing their grief.
The next day, Gil-galad, Elendil, and Oropher were given proper funerals as befit their station, and Isildur was crowned High King of Gondor. The coronation was a small and solemn event, with Elrond, Thranduil, and a few noblemen present. There was definitely an air of sorrow in the air rather than the sweet wine of festivity. Sauron's power had been broken, but it had come at great cost of the defenders of all that was good. The wine was tainted with grief.
Leading a greatly decimated army, Thranduil went home to Greenwood the day after the funerals. Elendil, Gil-galad, and Oropher had been given to the river Anduin so that it might carry them past the Bay of Belfalas across the sea and in so doing find Tol Eressëa. Elendil was the only Man ever to receive such an honor. It gave Thranduil small comfort to think of Oropher at last coming to glory in Eldamar.
Shortly after they returned home, Thranduil was crowned the new King of Greenwood. Seeing his father's crown sitting in his throne room almost unleashed the wall of tears Thranduil had pent up inside himself.
That night, the newly crowned sovereign of Greenwood sat alone in a talan apart from the others, his knees drawn up to his chest, fiercely fighting the tears that kept threatening. Far above, a fresh breeze rustled through the strong trees of Greenwood. It was summer, but in Thranduil's heart it was colder than the most bitter winter. He wondered if he dared to ever remember love again.
A soft step behind him made him turn.
It was Aladain.
"How dare you intrude upon me!" Thranduil growled, more fiercely than he meant. If he had not been crisp and curt, he would have given into the tears that struggled violently to release themselves.
"I felt it my duty to aid you," Aladain said, sitting as gracefully as a leaf falling on the talan. "If you do not want me here, I shall leave. You are the king now, my friend, and I do not think to go against your wishes. You but have to speak the word."
"No," Thranduil said numbly, his lips frozen stiff. "You may stay, Aladain."
Resting his head against his dearest friend's shoulder, he closed his eyes and no longer struggled as the tears came swiftly and took what was their due.