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The valiant Elven warriors marched homeward with saddened hearts. Their grief was intense, but their mission crucial. The soldiers nobly carried on their shoulders the three that were slain. Their thoughts also bent toward Legolas and Haldof, of which there had been no further word. Tarnil and Galamed bore the heaviest hearts. Veridis had been crossed, and now they stepped on safer ground. They followed the Enchanted River and stopped once more to rest before making the final stretch home and to their people.
“Tarnil,” Galamed said to his brother, when finally alone, “how do we tell our Father what has happened? The battle was won, but the loss was great. If Legolas and Haldof should not return… We ought to have stayed with Haldof.”
“Nay, we have done our duty. We must be the ones to tell our father of Legolas.”
Galamed sat by the bank, watching the reflected moon dance upon the water.
“Do not mourn yet; they shall return, brother. Come,” Tarnil said, offering Galamed his outstretched arm. He took it and Tarnil pulled his brother up. “Let us reach our father tonight.”
Galamed nodded and Tarnil roused the soldiers.
* * *
The company marched onward and turned at last onto the Elf Path. The palace watch had seen the paladins coming and sent word to his Lordship. Trumpets sounded, calling Elven people to greet the weary warriors. Lyrical singing filled the night sky, but turned mournful upon the sight of the fallen three. King Thranduil stepped out from his great hall, and crossed the lattice-laced bridge. Tarnil and Galamed stood before their father and King; their fallen heros laid at his feet. “This is a grievous loss for all our people,” Thranduil said at last. He raised his arms high into the air and said: “May we forever remember the names Numilor, Gwarinth, and Fenos.” He lowered his arms and began to sing. “A Elbereth Gilthoniel, silivren penna miriel o menel aglar elenath! Na-chaered palan-diriel o galadhremmin ennorath, Nanuilos, le linnathon nef aear, si nef aearon!”
Elves wept with heads bowed. Thranduil spoke again to the forlorn assembly. “My soldiers, you are weary and sorrowed, but are home at last. Go now and embrace friends and family.” The group began to disburse. The King then turned to Tarnil and Galamed. It was then that he first noticed the absence of Legolas and Haldof; his face fell. “Come, my sons,” he said, beckoning them to follow.
They did so, and entered the massive halls. The ceiling was ornately chiseled out of the mountain itself. Tall, interwoven candlesticks were lit, casting a rich warmth on the wooden chairs trimmed with sparkling filigree. Massive tapestries hung on the walls, which told ancient stories of their people. Thranduil sat on his mighty throne, eyes worried. “Tell me, where is Haldof and Legolas?”
Tarnil related all to their father concerning the battle and Legolas’ disappearance. Thranduil sat, head bowed, hand covering his mouth, distraught. “And you have had no word or sign of them?” he asked at last, voice faltering.
“Nay, but we have been moving fast and in the opposite direction,” Tarnil said.
Thranduil nodded while trying to banish despairing thoughts from his mind.
“Father,” Galamed said at last, “we wish to set out in search of our brothers immediately.”
“Are you not weary? It has been an arduous journey for you both.”
“We shall find no rest until Legolas and Haldof are discovered,” Tarnil said, resolutely.
“As you wish.” Thranduil rose and placed a loving hand on each of their strong shoulders. “But do not leave each other’s side. Of this, you must promise.”
They gave their word and prepared to set off again. Elf-maidens quickly supplied them with lembas, arrows and horses. They bade farewell to their father, and then rode forth with anxious but hopeful hearts.
Word of the prince’s disappearance spread swiftly.
Legolas was a favourite among his people, and his absence was deeply felt. Elven hearts struggled to remain brave and hopeful. He was not the first of their people to go missing. They instinctively feared the worst.
Laments for the fallen and missing were sung far into the dawn of the morning.
* * *
Days passed, and still no word came. Thranduil spent many passing hours alone, shrouded in deep thought. No companionship in his kingdom could offer him any comfort. He had taken to walking under the high branches of his beloved trees, day and night. Eärendil shone, and sparkled with brilliant splendor. “Is it vain to think my dear sons also turn to you for comfort this night?”
A guard approached the great King. “My lord,” he said, bending on knee.
“Have you word from my sons?” the mighty King asked hastily.
“Nay, my lord. A visitor has arrived from the west and seeks audience with thee,” the guard said, rising.
“Does it concern my sons?”
“I do not think so, your lordship. It is Aragorn, son of Arathorn.”
“Aragorn,” Thranduil repeated, mulling the news over in his brain. “Bring him to my conference hall. Tell him I shall come directly.”
“And of his weapons?”
“He may keep them.”
The guard bowed. “Yes, my lord,” and strode off toward the massive halls. Thranduil smiled. Indeed, it was his first smile since the company had departed. He turned once more to blessed Eärendil before striding to his palace.
Upon entering the hall, Thranduil was struck with amazement upon the sight of his visitor. Aragorn stood tall, cloaked in black. He looked worn, dirty, and had not dressed for attendance with a King. He held a rope in his hand, and upon the end of it was leashed a foul creature that Thranduil had never before seen. It squatted on the floor like a toad, muttering to itself, and whimpered repulsively. Its skin was stretched thin over its bones. Its eyes glowed eerily like lamps in a mist, darting about the chamber ceaselessly, searching for an escape. A foul stench arose from the creature; Aragorn did not appear to have any love for the piteous being. Thranduil approached Aragorn. They grasped each others forearm and drew close.
“Aragorn, my dear friend. It has been long since you have graced our halls.”
“Indeed Lord Thranduil. Too long.”
They smiled at each other in friendship and released their grip. Thranduil sat on his throne and called for a chair to be set for his friend. Aragorn accepted but maintained a firm handle on the rope.
“Am I to ask then, what you bring me?” Thranduil said, gesturing toward the decrepit creature.
“My lord, this is the creature Sméagol, the mischief-maker. The one Gandalf the Grey and I have been searching for these sixteen years.”
“Ah, yes. It has been long since we have spoken of him, and at last you have snared the beast. May I now inquire as to the reason for so great a quest?”
Aragorn sighed. “My lord, I fear I cannot tell you. This secret is not mine to share. Let it be enough that Gandalf has wished to speak with him for a long time. This creature has information which could be of vital importance to us all.”
“It is unlike you Aragorn, to speak in such riddles. Very well, keep your secrets. But why bring him here?”
“I was instructed to do so by Gandalf. He had hoped that should Sméagol be found, he would be brought hither to be guarded.”
Thranduil let out an annoyed huff. “Gandalf presumes a great deal! To tell me so little, Aragorn, and then to ask us to guard him! Is this all you can say to me?”
Aragorn paused in contemplation. “I do not think Gandalf would mind my saying this. May I approach your lordship and whisper it to you?”
Thranduil nodded and Aragorn stepped forward, bending to the King’s ear. “Gandalf believes the One Ring may have been found.” Aragorn again took his seat.
Thranduil’s face dropped. “No,” he whispered.
Sméagol began to pull on his lead, and moan.
“We know not for certain. That is why it is imperative that Gandalf speak with Sméagol.”
A hiss came from the dank, loathsome creature. “Leave, yess, my Precious,” Sméagol said, still tugging at the rope around his neck.
Thranduil sat and stared at the pitiful monster. “Very well, Aragorn. We shall hold him in our care.”
“Thank you, my lord,” Aragorn said, rising. Thranduil motioned and two Elven guards came and took the rope from Aragorn. Sméagol grew fearful and let out horrible wails. He clawed at the floor with his strong fingers. The elves stood shocked. Thranduil approached the frantic Sméagol.
“Sméagol, you will not be harmed. We hold you only for safekeeping.”
Sméagol was not convinced. He writhed, and tugged at his collar, nearly choking himself. “Let us go! Yess, Precious! Gollum!” The guards then dragged him away; his hysterical cries echoed through the great halls until at last all was again peaceful.
Thranduil turned again towards his guest. “Have you supped, Aragorn?”
“Nay, I have not.”
“Indeed! Well, you shall dine at our tables once more. Come! I shall have a room prepared.”
Aragorn bathed in scented water and dressed in the fine robes provided for the company of the King. Long tables had been set under the fair night sky for their feast. Merrymaking was being made in his honor and the air permeated with sweet, Elven song. Yet, something troubled Aragorn that he could not fully grasp. Thranduil then joined him and they sat among his wise kindred.
Suddenly, Aragorn knew what was amiss. “Where are your sons, my lord? I had hoped to have the pleasure of their company as well.”
“Alas, the battles of late have been great. Legolas was driven far from his kinsmen by the Orcs, and Tarnil, Galamed, and Haldof have gone in search of him.”
“Aye, that is ill tiding indeed! Have you had no word since?”
Thranduil shook his head. “Nay, I fear not.” They both looked over the fair faces of the Elves. They appeared merry, but a melancholy concern seemed to lie underneath their smiles. Aragorn’s sharp eyes saw this.
“I wish I could aid you in your search, Lord Thranduil, but I am long expected in Rivendell. Lord Elrond will also wish to know of Sméagol’s capture. I fear I must leave tomorrow.”
Thranduil nodded in understanding.
“I shall keep my ear to the ground for news of Legolas and Haldof and help as I may. I shall also alert Lord Elrond of your situation.”
“I can ask no more of you, my friend. But it has been good to see you. Your friendship has been of great comfort to me during this uncertain time.”
Aragorn smiled. “I know not when Gandalf will hear news of Sméagol, but when he does, he will surely come. Expect a visit.”
Their attention was taken by a fair Elf-maiden who stood and sang. Her silvery, harmonious voice rose as others joined in her sweet, sad song. Tales and verse flowed far into the night of which Thranduil and Aragorn only half heard.