CHAPTER XXXX – THE NEW KING
Winter came once more to the forest. Crisp, chilly nights were repelled with cozy fires, steaming hot soups, mulled wine, and merry company. Mithryn’s health had slowly declined since her father’s passing to the Undying Lands, but she had revived as of late when the sun peaked beyond the snow-filled clouds and lit up the barren woodland.
The wood was even more barren than usual in recent months as more and more elves followed their hearts and travelled West. Hundreds had now departed, and Thranduil’s tables grew less and less occupied.
Thranduil had deliberated long, and when his decision had been made, he called his sons to him. They met in the warm sanctity of his private study; dried fruits and the finest wine already set out before them. The four brothers sat down attentively. Ignoring the fare, they concentrated on their father.
“Well?” Haldof asked after a long silence. “We did not come merely to stare at you, Father? What is it you wish to discuss?”
Thranduil chuckled quietly to himself. Haldof, he believed, could always be relied upon to break any silence. “I have called you forth, my sons, to tell you of my decision. I am leaving.”
“Leaving?” Galamed repeated incredulously. “When?”
“Upon the next ship sailing from the Grey Havens,” the king replied, his eyes turning toward Legolas. “And you, my son, will be king of this realm.”
Legolas’s eyes turned away, and fixed themselves on the fire. He could not hide what he felt in his heart, and his attitude puzzled Thranduil.
“Uh. . .father. . .”Haldof said, again breaking the silence, but this time more softly. “I am certain Legolas would wish for nothing more than to obey your wishes and follow in your footsteps as king of Eryn Lasgalan. However. . .” he said, exchanging uncertain glances with Legolas, “king Elessar has most graciously invited him to reside in Ithilien. All the remaining members of the Fellowship have been invited.”
A crease appeared betwixt Thranduil’s brows. “Is this true, Legolas?”
Taking a deep breath, Legolas turned and confessed his secret. “Aye, Father. The land of Ithilien has long been ravaged and beaten by the fists of Mordor, and much is there to do. With your permission, I would take a host of Elves wishing to help, and we would stay there repairing, to the best of our ability, all that Sauron had destroyed in that once-fair land. Our people possess skills, unknown to Men, in regenerating the lands and forests. I feel strongly that we can be of much use before all of our kind disappear from Middle Earth forever.”
“But, I fear I do not understand,” Thranduil said. “You do not wish, then, to become king? As first born, rulership rightfully is yours, but as is also your right, you may pass it to one of your brothers.”
“That is what I wish,” Legolas said softly.
“But why have you never spoken of this to me?” Thranduil asked. “And when did Aragorn propose this venture? In his last letter?”
“Nay, father,” Legolas said, confessing all. “Prior to my return home from the Great War. We saw that much work was needed to undo the evil that was done there. I witnessed with mine own eyes the putrid diseases of the waters, the soil, all things that grew, and even the air…my heart wept. Before I leave this Earth, I should like to do my part in restoring it to its natural health and beauty.”
Thranduil stared at his son with an expression that seemed to reveal all and nothing at the same time. “I knew of your promise,” he said at length. “In fact, I have known of it since Mithrandir’s last visit. Will you never learn, my sons? Am I really so fearsome that you need hide things from me?”
“Nay,” Legolas began, his heart pounding, “it was only that I did not wish to disappoint. I knew you wished me to be king.”
“Legolas, I do assure you,” Thranduil said, “that I only wish for your happiness. If Ithilien is where your heart bids you go, then go you must. Never would I desire you to travel through life pleasing only me and not yourself. Go to Ithilien with your wife and child and be happy. Make your home among Men and represent us well. Fear naught from me. You have my blessing.”
Legolas was too humbled for words.
Thranduil then turned to Haldof. “I suppose, Haldof, that the throne is now yours. Is it what you wish?”
“If we are being honest, Father, it is not,” Haldof said with a smile. “It is likely I would chafe under the restrictions of function and obligation as if shackled and burdened. This you know of me, Father. I fear I would make a very poor king.”
Thranduil sighed, and blinked. “Very well. Tarnil?”
Shaking his head, Tarnil said, “Long have I wished to journey across the sea. The forest is no longer my home. My heart drives me with a thirst as if I have already witnessed the great sea. I go with you, father, on this final path.”
“Is there none of you who wishes to rule after me?” Thranduil said, exasperated.
Without a word, Galamed humbly raised his hand. Tarnil turned to him, astonished. Long had he waited for Galamed, as they had agreed, as boys, to journey across the sea together.
“Is it your wish, Galamed,” Thranduil asked, “or do you merely wish to please me?”
“Father,” Galamed began softly, “I am not yet ready to leave our home, nor is Anardil. Our people require a leader. If I stay, I would stay as king with honour.”
“So be it.” Thranduil smiled, despite himself. “You shall make an excellent king, my son.” He sighed and rubbed his aching head. He had not supposed his sons would be so difficult. “Well, Haldof, what are your plans? Legolas goes to Ithilien, Tarnil travels with me, and Galamed shall rule. What is it you wish to do?”
“Middle Earth is my home, and where I mean to remain,” Haldof said, fervently.
“For how long?” Tarnil enquired.
Haldof shrugged his strong shoulders. “Until there is no day. I know not. All I do know,” he continued, more seriously, “is that my heart does not bid me leave. “
“Then I can expect a lengthy interval before our next meeting,” Thranduil said. “It is your choice, my son, and, therefore, I shall not counsel you on it. However, you have not yet answered my question. What is it you wish to do?”
“With Legolas’s permission,” Haldof said, turning towards his older brother, “I wish to travel to Ithilien with his contingent and see more of Middle Earth. He has spoken at length of that land, its inhabitants, and their peculiar ways, and it intrigues me greatly. There is much to learn, much to explore that calls my restless spirit.”
“You need not my permission,” Legolas said, smiling. “`Twould be an honour if you would journey onwards with us.”
Haldof returned his brother’s warm smile, and Thranduil shook his head. “Very well. It is then settled.” He rose and held high his heavy, silver goblet. “I make a salute, my sons, to our noble family from our predecessors to our most recent addition. Wherever you go, and in whatever adventures you find yourselves, kindly think of your family, and let us all hope that we shall be reunited again anon.
In great spirits, the four sons rose, goblets held high, and hailed their father and king before drinking down the wine.
* * *
Thranduil did not delay in announcing to his people his decision to sail forth to the Undying Lands. He did not exclude the information that Galamed would succeed him, nor of Legolas’s decision to remove to Ithilien and help rebuild. All elves carefully considered each option presented to them; some chose to remain under Galamed’s rule, others chose the adventurous path to Gondor, and the remaining, which were, indeed, many, wished to follow king Thranduil.
Weeks passed in a fierce but happy flurry of excitement and preparation. Even Elves travelling to Ithilien packed their belongings as their departure time followed soon after the king and his cortege. When the day had at last arrived for Thranduil and those travelling with him to depart, every elf in the kingdom congregated outside the great, mountain palace as silvery winter stars glistened overhead. All of those departing carried a special lantern to guide them on their way. The assembly of hundreds of dim, ghostly lamps cast a festive warmth to the otherwise chilly night.
“The time has come for many farewells,” Thranduil said, “though, it is hoped, our partings will soon be followed by cheers of welcome when next we all shall meet. For those remaining here upon this Earth, I shall miss each of you, and hope that your time here is happy and fruitful.” Thranduil turned to his three sons, Legolas, Galamed, and Haldof who were each remaining behind. My sons, I shall miss you more than words can adequately express. May Eärendil keep you safe until our next meeting.” Reaching atop of his head, Thranduil gingerly removed a silvery laced crown. “Galamed, come forth.” Galamed stepped forward and knelt in front of this father, bowing his head. “The king of the realm no more am I. As you have agreed to take on all the responsibilities of government, and the nurture and care of our people as well as this sacred forest, I hereby pass this kingdom to you, my son Galamed,” Thranduil said placing the glittering crown upon his son’s golden head. “Rise up and be recognized.”
King Galamed rose and his proud father backed away. All in attendance bowed respectfully and proclaimed their allegiance to their new king.
With the ceremonies over, the time for departing became real. Elves strolled around, each bidding their personal farewells as tears and embraces were shared and deeply felt. Tarnil approached his new king. “My felicitations, brother. I believe you will make a very fine king. How I wish that I could but see it.”
Galamed attempted once more to beseech his brother to remain but a little longer. “Stay, Tarnil. Our home will not be the same without you.”
“You will have Legolas and Haldof,” Tarnil retorted.
“They are off to Ithilien in a few days as well you know. Come, cannot you delay this decision of yours?”
Tarnil smiled, but shook his head sadly. “I had waited long for you, Galamed, but you have chosen a different path from me. However, the years that I have remained have been cherished, and I do not regret them. I know where I belong, and it is not here. I am sorry. Until we next meet. . .” Tarnil said, embracing his brother, and then embracing Anardil at his side. “You make a truly lovely queen, sister. Would that our mother could see the pair you make.”
Thranduil, meanwhile, had anchored himself with Culúril in Legolas and Mithryn’s company. “My little grandson,” he said to the child wrapped in robes of thick fur and soft, rich silk, “a farewell must there be, but it shall not be forever. Forever is a very long time, I do assure you.” He placed a tender hand on the child’s soft, strawberry-coloured hair. “May you remember.”
Turning his attention to Legolas and Mithryn, Thranduil said, “And when do you leave, my children?”
“In a few days time,” Legolas replied. “The dwarves are coming, and will rest one night here before we all depart west.”
“Very well,” Thranduil said, kissing his grandson one final time and handing him back to Legolas. “Pray guard that little one, as well as his mother,” he said, taking Mithryn’s tiny, cold hands in his. “You must take care, my dear. I know that we shall not meet again. I would not wish to darken this farewell, but it seems fruitless to mask the truth from you.”
“No need to fear what my destiny entails, my lord,” she replied, smiling. “Thank you so much for all of your kindnesses throughout the years. You have been like a father to me when I had none.” Leaning over, she kissed him; her cold face brushing lightly against his warm cheek.
“As you have been a daughter to me,” he replied.
When, at last, all the farewells had been said, the entire company rose up in song, singing sweetly and clearly of times past and future meetings. Slowly, the group trailed out, some travelling by foot, others on horseback, carrying their lanterns high as they guided their way through the inky darkness. Those remaining behind, stayed in the clearing until neither singing, nor lamp-light could be heard or seen any more, and they were gone.
End of Chapter Forty