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Chapter 4: Light against the Shadow
Third Age 1940
Sitting at the far end of the council table next to his father, Dolgailon watched his uncle and silently thanked the Valar for the distance that separated them. He had served the realm as a warrior since coming of age and so had never worked with the King directly. The last few months had been a learning experience as he slowly grew more accustomed to his new duties in the capital assisting his father and Engwe in military matters. Today, however, as Engwe presented the proposal for training new warriors that they had designed through the winter, Dolgailon was most uncomfortable. Thranduil was plainly displeased. His clenched fist rested on the parchment that summarized the training program and he faced Engwe with a harsh glare and stiff posture.
“Let me be certain that I understand what you are suggesting,” Thranduil said in a calm voice that did not seem to match his expression. “You want to admit elflings to military training. And you want to require new warriors to submit to a ten-year training program? Is that an accurate summary?”
Engwe drew himself up in his chair with a frown. “I would say that is the barest of summaries. The important issue is the content of the new program…”
Thranduil waved his hand to silence his uncle, shaking his head. “Those are the only two facets of this proposal that concern me at the moment. They make the entire program completely unacceptable. I will not consider it in this form. Redesign it to a reasonable length of time and omit the mention of elflings. Then we will reconsider it,” Thranduil stated in a firm voice, turning the paper face down in front of him and pushing it across the table at Engwe.
Engwe adopted the same determined expression that he normally sported when he squared off with his nephew and the other members of the King’s ruling council squirmed uncomfortably in their chairs. Dolgailon’s eyes widened and darted between the King and Engwe. He knew that Engwe often irritated his uncle to no end on family matters but, despite the evidence before his eyes to the contrary, the younger elf could not believe that Engwe would behave similarly in council. The next words spoken shattered that innocent belief.
“Training ‘elflings’ and other new warriors through a ten year program is necessary and you will consider it,” Engwe replied, shoving the paper back at Thranduil. When it sat under the King’s nose, Engwe turned it over and stabbed it with his finger to hold it in place. “If we do this, the realm will be better defended and many fewer of our new warriors will be lost in battle,” he said firmly.
Thranduil’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward, still speaking quietly. “I will not improve the defense of this realm at the cost of robbing parents of their elflings…”
Engwe also leaned forward and interrupted the King. “Parents already train their children with weapons…”
“With bows and knives, so they may hunt and feed themselves. Not with swords to fight spiders and orcs.” Thranduil retorted, speaking over the rest of Engwe’s argument.
“You trained with weapons before you came of age,” Engwe persisted.
“I was descended from the line of the High King and my Adar was one of his captains. These people are potters and weavers, not warriors,” Thranduil replied.
“My lord, be it your will or not, very young elves are becoming warriors in this realm and they are poorly trained when they take up their duties. If you will give me one minute to speak, I can explain to you how this proposal will help save their lives. Surely that is worth at least a moment of your time,” a soft voice intervened before Engwe could further anger the King.
Thranduil turned with a severe frown towards this new source of dissent.
Dolgailon sat back reflexively as the King focused on him. He had never confronted his uncle. Even in his childhood, Thranduil’s quiet corrections would put a halt to his misbehavior when his own father’s punishments would not, much to Aradunnon’s exasperation.
“Thranduil,” Dolgailon heard his father say with a warning tone as he waited for the King to speak.
Thranduil glanced at his brother with annoyance but drew a deep breath before responding to his nephew in a calm voice. “Very well, Dolgailon, you have one minute. Though you should not harbor any false hopes that you might persuade me to this course of action.”
Dolgailon looked automatically at his father before beginning to speak. Aradunnon returned his son’s gaze evenly though Dolgailon thought he saw a hint of sympathy and a spark of amusement in his eyes. It occurred to Dolgailon, rather belatedly, that it might have been wiser to wait for his father to address the King. Aradunnon certainly had more experience in council. With a grimace, he faced Thranduil and the realization that he was about to gain more practice debating with the King than he wanted.
“My lord, as it stands currently, new warriors receive a year of training with weapons, primarily swords, and nothing more before being sent to the Palace Guard or the patrols along the Elf Path. After a few years there, many move into the more dangerous border patrols. That training may have been sufficient when adults were joining the regular patrols after serving in the village guards or after fighting in the War of the Last Alliance. But most such elves are already in the patrols. The majority of the new warriors are, like myself, young elves just coming of age. They have never fought beyond hunting. They have no experience and need more training…”
“Agreed,” Thranduil interrupted, irritably. “That is why we are reconsidering our warrior training. But this proposal does not refer to elves that have just come of age—it recommends training forty-year-old elflings. And ten years is simply too long. Most of what you suggest teaching can be learned while serving in the Palace Guard or in patrols along the Elf Path…”
Dolgailon frowned. “Please let me finish, my lord,” he said firmly.
Thranduil’s mouth formed a hard line but he nodded.
Taking a quiet breath, Dolgailon responded Thranduil’s argument. “It may be that most of what we have proposed teaching could be learned by new warriors while serving in the Palace Guard, but only if you dedicate senior warriors to teach it and time for the new warriors to practice it. We are not doing that now.” He paused. “And cannot I recommend in good conscience that the defense of the stronghold be left to warriors that are unskilled and senior warriors that must take time from their duties to offer training.”
Dolgailon watched as some of the impatience faded from Thranduil’s expression before he continued.
“Sending new warriors to the Palace Guard or the safer patrols on the Elf Path does not ensure their proper training in either weaponry or other military practices. In both posts, there is very little opportunity to fight and fighting alone does not develop technique. New warriors need more time in drills to become truly skilled with weapons. But equally importantly, they need to learn tactics, survival skills, basic medicine, how to work within the command structure and how to perform everyday tasks in the patrols such as standing guard and making reports.”
“Surely I do not need to teach someone how to stand guard, Dolgailon,” Thranduil said scornfully but in a soft voice.
Dolgailon only nodded. “Yes, my lord, you do. You must know better than I that standing guard does not consist merely of staying awake at one’s post. Yet I regularly receive new warriors in the patrols I captain that barely understand that. Warriors are not normally sent to the south until after they have served in at least one other border patrol. Despite that, I was forced to dedicate time to weapons drills so that my warriors could carry out my orders. I taught them tactics so that they could understand my orders. And I had to manage youths that had no respect for command and no understanding of the importance of the simplest tasks.” He paused and was surprised to see that his uncle’s angry expression had softened to a merely serious one. “We need to accept and respond to the fact that most of the new warriors that we will add to our forces will be youths or adults leaving their household duties to defend their realm. If we are going to allow these completely unskilled elves to join the patrols, they need considerably more training than one year with weapons.”
Thranduil sighed. “I do not deny that the newer warriors need more thorough training. And if you feel that more than one year must be dedicated to this task, I will trust your judgment. That is why I asked you to work with Engwe on this proposal. But ten years is too long. I cannot afford for new warriors to dedicate so long to a training program. I need them in the patrols faster than that.”
Dolgailon nodded, relaxing considerably. “We may be able to shorten that estimate somewhat. And perhaps we could adapt the training for more experienced adults that wish to join the ranks of the warriors by designing tests to determine their skill level and isolate the areas where they need training before joining a patrol.”
Thranduil leaned back in his chair. “Then show me that. Prepare a detailed outline of the entire program—what you intend to teach and how and for what length of time. Who would be dedicated to teaching it? How would this testing you suggested be designed? Everything. And find a way to reduce the length of the training to five or six years.” He looked between Aradunnon, Engwe and Dolgailon with a stern look. “But allow me to be clear on one point—I will not compromise on the training of elflings. This realm does not now nor will it ever require its children to fight to protect it. You are recommending that the last years of the training be field experience within range of the stronghold. If you admit elflings to the program, you will be employing underage children in the defense of this realm. That is completely unacceptable.”
Aradunnon shook his head. “We are not discussing children, my lord, but rather forty-year-old adolescents,” he replied. “They will not be fighting. They will be training. And no one is suggesting that they be required to enter the warrior training. Only that they be allowed to start it, if their parents permit it, so that they may be ready to join the patrols when they come of age as so many want to do these days.”
Engwe nodded. “If you are concerned with the time frame of the program, allowing under age elves to enter it will supply us with capable warriors as soon as they come of age—you cannot get them in the patrols faster than that,” he interjected.
“That is not an acceptable solution, Engwe,” Thranduil retorted sharply.
Dolgailon frowned at Engwe’s argumentative posture and cast him an irate look before turning the King. “I fully understand your concerns, my lord. But consider this—if we do not train these forty-year-old ‘elflings,’ in only ten years you will no longer be able to shelter them. They will be of age and free to choose the course of their lives for themselves. And the Shadow in the south drives them to fight. Untrained, they will join their village guards, which you do not regulate, and they will die protecting their homes. I have seen it happen. Better to allow these youths to begin their training earlier in exchange for having them enter the regular patrols. In that way you have some control over where and how they serve the realm in their inexperience. With this program, they would be safely under the supervision of a senior warrior and only in positions where they will learn the nature of the command structure and basic military duties like standing guard and making reports.” He looked at his uncle intently. “It is a much surer way to protect them, my lord, while we better defend the realm.”
Aradunnon nodded. “Truthfully, this program will improve the safety of all the warriors. Even adults need some field experience before going into the patrols. Otherwise the complexity of the rules and duties and the general change in lifestyle is very overwhelming for them. Their first years are made all the more dangerous because they are struggling to adapt to too much.
Thranduil sighed heavily, eyeing Engwe, Aradunnon and Dolgailon narrowly. Dolgailon knew his uncle well enough to recognize that as a sign that he was wavering. He watched him silently, waiting for a response.
Engwe did not wait. “Would you prefer to see forty-year-old elflings training with swords or fifty year old ‘adults’ dead in the village guards?” he pressed.
Thranduil turned sharply and scowled at his uncle, his more reasonable mood fading swiftly in response to his inflamatory arguments. “I would prefer to see my people singing songs, carving designs into their hunting bows and dancing in the forest while drinking wine distilled from its fruits—as they did when Adar first led us here,” he snapped. “I would prefer for them to be able to enjoy a simple life free of orcs and spiders and other spawn of Morgoth. I recognize that is simply not possible with the Evil One in Dol Guldur but I will not allow him complete victory. Children training to use weapons made by dwarves and favored by the Noldor and Sindar? Elflings learning the basics of military tactics instead of the lore and arts of their people? Unacceptable. If my people are to be forced to train with swords and learn military tactics, I would prefer that they do so after they have had an opportunity, however brief, to learn and live their own heritage. I refuse to allow war to become the heritage of the next generation of these people. If I allow that, then we have already lost to the Shadow.”
The elves of Oropher’s generation looked at Thranduil sadly, clearly sympathetic to his argument.
Dolgailon, on the other hand, leaned forward with a severe frown on his face. “I am the ‘next generation’ of ‘your’ people, uncle. What makes you believe that we do not have as much right to defend this forest as your generation?”
Thranduil raised his eyebrows and focused on his nephew, surprised at his vehemence. “I do not deny your right to fight, Dolgailon. Are you not a captain? You are also five hundred years old…”
“And I would be only entering the patrols now if the choice had been yours to make,” Dolgailon interrupted, his voice bitter.
Thranduil’s eyebrows climbed higher. “I certainly did not like to see you go to the patrols at fifty. And you are proposing training forty-year-old elflings. Try to understand, Dolgailon. When I first came to this forest, the Silvan were untouched by the Shadow. I loved their songs and arts. The beauty of these people helped me recover from the evils I had seen. It pains me to see the Silvan’s loss now. I would like to keep war away from the younger generation as long as possible, to allow them some time to enjoy the life they should be living. I do not think it is right to force such serious matters as the defense of this forest on children at such a young age.”
Dolgailon’s expression did not change and he responded with a heated voice. “I was born in this forest and raised amongst the Woodelves, not the Sindar. I am Silvan, no matter what blood runs in my veins. And I have seen what all the Silvan youth of my generation have seen—the Shadow that covers the south. I will tell you this: the Silvan are not defined merely by bows, songs or arts. Those things are important but they evolve with the ages. What will never change, and what you fail to grasp the importance of, is our tie to this forest. This forest is our heritage more than any other symbol you might identify with us. As the forest has provided for our people for the last three ages, we will provide for its defense against the Shadow of the Evil One now. When we do so, we protect our way of life—our heritage, as you put it. Any ten-year-old Silvan child can express his love of this forest passionately. By the time we come of age, we are ready to defend it as fiercely as the Sindar fought for Menegroth or the Noldor pursued their jewels. If you would be King of the Silvan, it is your duty to accept that and learn to accommodate it.”
Thranduil blinked at his young nephew, stunned to silence. The rest of the council, including Engwe and Aradunnon, stared at Dolgailon as well.
A blush slowly crept over the younger elf’s cheeks as he realized how he had just spoken and to whom. He lowered his eyes and continued with a softer voice. “I beg your pardon for my tone, my lord. And possibly for my last statement. But for the rest of it, I stand by what I said.” When Thranduil still did not speak, Dolgailon looked back at him, meeting his steely gaze unflinchingly.
Thranduil studied Dolgailon for a long moment. Then he let out a calming breath. “You are your adar’s son, Dolgailon, and there is no mistaking it. I have heard him make that same argument more times than I can count and I know he thinks himself Silvan, not Sindarin. As do I, to a large extent. I was very young when I came to this forest and I love it every bit as much as you do. I believe I have ‘accommodated’ its defense as well as I could over the last two millennia. I do not doubt the valor of the Silvan. Nor yours. I merely grieve the need to fight. I grieve your loss of innocence and I would protect that innocence, along with this forest, as long as possible.”
Dolgailon’s expression hardened. “Be certain that you do not grieve your own loss of innocence, my lord,” he said steadily. “For we only grieve the loss of the forest and we will fight it. Ultimately, it is not really your choice how we will fight that loss. The villages are very independent and employ their own guards. As I have already stated, if you want to protect the younger elves, the best means to contribute to their safety is to provide adequate training and exercise as much control as possible over where they serve.”
Thranduil frowned. “I do not deny that my own past colors my decisions, Dolgailon,” he said in a remarkably calm tone after a long moment. Then he paused again. “So you are saying that you believe the adults—not the children, but the adults—in the general populace would support a training program that admits elflings?”
Dolgailon nodded. “I am.”
Thranduil turned to Golwon. “Do the villagers have any notion that this proposal is being considered?”
“No, my lord. I only heard about this myself this morning,” he replied quickly and without any hint of his typical bluster.
Amusement lit Thranduil’s eyes in response to Golwon’s attitude. He smirked at him a moment before continuing. “Discuss it with some who you trust. Find out how the people will feel about allowing children to train and report to me what you learn.”
Golwon nodded. “Yes, my lord.”
Thranduil turned back to Engwe, Aradunnon and Dolgailon. “As for adults, prepare the full outline of this program that we discussed. I want details and then I will reconsider this.” He paused for attention. “For adults. Not children. Not yet, at any rate. I will withhold my judgment on that until I hear Golwon’s report.”
Engwe, Aradunnon and Dolgailon nodded. “Yes, my lord,” they replied, with a quietly victorious tone. Thranduil scowled at that as Hallion directed the council to the next order of business.
Late that afternoon, Thranduil and his council exited the Great Hall talking amongst themselves and walking towards the family chambers. A delighted cry interrupted their progress.
“Ada!” shrilled a cheerful voice.
The King’s advisors paused and turned, Golwon’s expression instantly matching the excitement and joy of the voice. He dropped to his knees to greet the elfling now running towards him from the Great Gates as fast as her little legs would carry her. Isteth trotted behind their daughter, watching her progress across the hard, stone floor carefully. But Eirienil was already old enough to dance so running presented little challenge. Behind them followed Lindomiel and Amoneth at a more sedate pace and festively adorned with chains of wild daisies around their wrists and neck. The child had a little bouquet of wildflowers in her hands that she gave to her father before he swept her up, kissing her forehead and the tip of her nose. She giggled and he closed his eyes and smiled, loosing a deep sigh as little arms wrapped softly around his neck.
“We walked through the forest and saw a squirrel and a fox and some butterflies and looked for flowers and nana taught me some new bird names and…”
She babbled on for quite some time, talking animatedly. The elves going about their business in the stronghold looked at the family scene warmly. So did Thranduil. As usual, he was greatly entertained by the complete reversal of Golwon’s normally stern personality in Isteth and Eirienil’s presence. He well understood it for he thoroughly adored Golwon’s daughter. Indeed the little elleth had completely captured the hearts of all her ‘uncles’ and the females in the family swore that an elfling slightly over one-year-old ruled the realm and not the King or his council. As Lindomiel and Amoneth approached, they smiled with dramatic indulgence at their husbands who were listening attentively to the child’s tales.
After Eirienil had told her father about her entire day in all the detail only a child can relate, she finally graced the other members of the family with her smile. Her eyes widened when they fell on Thranduil. The afternoon meetings had included a conference with several village leaders for which Thranduil had worn his traditional crown of spring flowers. It still sat, now forgotten by him, on his head and had attracted Eirienil’s full attention. She leaned towards him holding out her arms and he automatically took her from Golwon in response. As soon as she was securely in the King’s arms she reached up and plucked the crown from his head.
“This is so pretty,” she exclaimed and dropped it over her own head so it fell as a necklace along with the other chains of flowers she already wore after her day in the forest.
“Eirienil!” exclaimed Isteth, shocked and looking at Thranduil guiltily.
Much to her relief, Thranduil only laughed. “Indeed it is pretty. Almost as pretty as you,” he said, smiling at the child in his arms.
“I am sorry, my lord,” Isteth said, attempting to take the crown from her daughter but Eirienil scowled at her mother and grasped it firmly.
Thranduil shook his head dismissively. “She is welcome to it,” he said quietly as Lindomiel and Amoneth finally reached the family group.
Seeing her husband, Eirienil in his arms and the crown she had made for him that morning around the child’s neck, Lindomiel laughed involuntarily.
“This is a lovely sight,” she said, leaning to kiss Thranduil’s cheek. Eirienil put her arms around Lindomiel’s neck as she did, so the queen took the child from her husband, bouncing her on her hip.
“You are growing into quite a young lady, Eirienil,” Lindomiel said, making the child giggle. Then she focused on Thranduil. “We were just coming to see if we could induce you to abandon the Great Hall and come enjoy a beautiful spring evening,” she said with a bright smile. The same smile that Thranduil had fallen in love with two thousand years ago and that still made his heart leap. “The atmosphere on the lawn is nothing short of a festival day. The minstrels are playing and there is dancing and games. I think that your presence is required, my lord.”
Thranduil laughed lightly but was about to protest that he at least wanted dinner. Before he could make any response at all, Aradunnon’s arm draped firmly across his shoulders. “We will need to tell someone to bring out some Dorwinion as well,” he said, steering his brother firmly towards the gates. With his other hand, he caught Dolgailon’s arm. “Come, ion nin. Let us drag Thranduil into a few games. I can beat him at archery and I imagine you can too, by now. We shall have to test your skills.” Then he paused and an even more mischievous expression claimed him. “Or we could drag you into a few dances. Did I see you speaking with Arthiel a few nights ago by the river? She is a lovely young lady.”
Thranduil would normally firmly resist any attempt by his brother to pull him into any activity, no matter how apparently innocent. But he found himself distracted and amused by the stern glare that his nephew directed at Aradunnon. Despite himself, he laughed heartily.
Aradunnon turned to him with a broad smile, tightening his arm around his brother’s shoulder. “Not a word from you, muindor nin. You were even worse than my son. You were over three thousand-years-old before you met Lindomiel and finally kissed an elleth,” he scolded mockingly.
Thranduil heard his nephew’s amused and surprised snort. With a frown, he grabbed Aradunnon’s wrist, twisting it as he removed it from his shoulder. “Lindomiel was not the first elleth I kissed, Aradunnon. And you have much more to lose than I if we are going to start telling your young son stories about our lives before our marriages. I recommend that you bear that in mind before you speak again,” he said with a mostly joking, warning tone.
Aradunnon laughed and took Thranduil’s arm to continue to drag him to the green. “My brother and my son. The two of you are exactly alike,” he said disgustedly but with teasing light in his eyes.
Dolgailon looked at his father sidelong. “From what I have heard, and I have heard a great deal from my fellow warriors, you should be very thankful that I am more like my uncle than you, adar,” he said cheekily.
Thranduil laughed in earnest as Aradunnon turned wide eyes to his son. “You are absolutely correct, Dolgailon,” Thranduil affirmed. “Do not let him tell you otherwise. Ask your daernaneth for stories about your adar, if you dare. Or the minstrels, for that matter. They have a few songs about his escapades.”
Dolgailon looked at his father with sincere amazement, seeking confirmation of his uncle’s assertion in Aradunnon’s eyes.
Aradunnon laughed ruefully. “It is true, Dolgailon,” he admitted. “They could sing some songs that would probably shock you but I suggest you ask for a private audience. Your daernaneth does not like those songs.”
Thranduil laughed quietly at his brother’s completely unabashed admission as they crossed the bridge and joined the merrymaking on the lawn, much to the delight of elves already present.
Thranduil leaned into the embrace of a broad, old beech enjoying the fragrant spring breeze and watching his family on the green. For a while they all had sat together, teaching Eirienil the minstrels’ songs and new dances. Now, for once completely exhausted after a full day of excitement, Eirienil lay in her mother’s arms listening to Golwon tell stories about the stars. The other members of the family had left Golwon and Isteth to enjoy this rare quiet moment with their lively daughter. Aradunnon and Amoneth had gone to join in a game by the river. Dolgailon was pulled into the dancing by Arthiel, much to his elders’ delight. Lindomiel was singing with the minstrels as she often did though this evening was special—Engwe had been persuaded to bring out his harp and was accompanying their songs. That had drawn Dieneryn, Hallion and Celonhael, along with their generous goblets of wine, to join in the singing just to tease their peer.
In the midst of the merrymaking, Thranduil sat in quiet solitude, allowing his mind to wander. Normally, he felt thoroughly content on the green watching his people revel in the beauty of the forest on a warm spring evening. But this evening he was focused on his earlier debate with Engwe, Aradunnon and Dolgailon and his mind was restless. He could not help wondering how many of these elves would one day be spending their evenings standing guard rather than merrymaking.
As he contemplated their discussion, the one thought that kept coming back to him was Dolgailon’s accusation. ‘Be certain that you do not grieve your own loss of innocence.’ Thranduil could not deny that a deep shadow lay across his heart and he did grieve all the events in his life that contributed to it. There were many, but thinking about training elflings as warriors forced him to remember one of two in particular that he would gratefully forget if it were possible.
Settled with a book on cushions next to the fireplace, Thranduil looked up sharply, startled when the door to his chambers flew open. His mother came swiftly into the room with a look of open relief on her face when she saw him. He stared at her, brows furrowed with confusion.
“Thank the Valar you are in your room for once,” she said breathlessly as her eyes began to scan about quickly.
Thranduil snorted softly. “Adar says that if Rodonon complains to him one more time about my lack of preparation for my language studies that he is going to send me to live in one of the Mannish villages to learn first hand,” he replied with mirth in his voice, expecting to see his mother at least smirk as well. His father’s threats were creative and normally a source of amusement for them both since they knew the more outrageous ones were completely idle.
But Dieneryn only continued searching the room, now turning about to do so. “Where are your weapons, Thranduil,” she demanded.
He frowned. “Out of sight so that I will not be tempted by them to go to the archery range rather than study these less-than-fascinating, irregular, preterit tense verb forms,” he replied, his tone still rather cheeky.
Dieneryn faced him and he saw her expression was deadly serious. It caused him to sober instantly, as did her next words. “Get your sword and come with me. We are leaving.”
Thranduil’s eyes widened. “Nana, what is…?”
Dieneryn shook her head and reached for her son, pulling him up from where he still sat, now tensely, on the cushions. Her grip was surprisingly strong. “Menegroth is under attack. Arm yourself and come with me while we can still escape.”
Thranduil stared at her a brief second and then pulled his sword, bow and quiver quickly from a corner of the room. As he fastened the quiver straps, Dieneryn hurried him from the room.
“Where is adar? And Uncle Engwe, Aunt Ormeril and Ninglor?” he asked, looking about the halls. The living quarters were eerily silent.
“I could not find your aunt and cousin. Your adar and uncle are fighting,” she responded briefly and in a whisper.
Thranduil felt his heart begin to race as he followed his mother. She crept quietly through the familiar corridors as if they were a dark, fell mountain path, pausing to listen at each intersection and pulling him swiftly from shadow to shadow. When she rounded a blind turn that led to the entrance to the Elves Quarters, the glint of a steel blade flickering in the torchlight caught his eye, and he noticed that she too carried a weapon. Attached to the silver girdle that she normally wore was the leather scabbard of his great grandfather’s long knife. Dieneryn’s grandfather, Malaewon, had been killed in the First Battle of the Wars of Beleriand fighting with that weapon along side Denethor in defense of Menegroth. It normally hung with his shield on the walls in the family’s quarters. Now Dieneryn wielded it with a grip that Thranduil was surprised to see appeared to demonstrate that she knew how to use it.
As she turned the corner, Thranduil saw her tense. He gripped the hilt of his sword more firmly, dropping automatically into a defensive stance. Dieneryn glanced back at him, holding up her hand to keep him back.
“There has been fighting here but it appears to be clear now.” Her voice was steady but Thranduil recognized the warning in it and his breath caught in his throat. He nodded his understanding and his mother continued down the corridor. Bracing himself, Thranduil followed.
Immediately around the corner was a fallen Elven guard, his eyes staring emptily at the ceiling and blood trailing from a gaping wound in his chest along a seam in the stone floors to pool against the wall. The other guard that normally stood at this entrance lay face down on the cold stones several feet away. Further down the hall through the open door to the Elves Quarters were three dead dwarves. A fourth, that had killed the guard at Thranduil’s feet, lay dead next to him, axe still in his hand.
Thranduil stared dumbly at the guards. He passed them every day. He had tried to convince them many times to leave his late entries into the hall out of their logs. He had spared with both of them a few times while training with his sword. He had even gone with them once to a place along the river where the Elves of Menegroth made merry with some rather raucous games and songs. He could not take in the sight of them fallen, their post undefended.
“Come, ion nin. There is no time,” he heard his mother’s voice say. It sounded distant as the blood pounded in Thranduil’s ears.
He looked at her, unmoving. “Where is adar?” he asked, repeating his earlier question with a cold voice full of anger.
Dieneryn fixed him with a stern glare. “No, Thranduil, you have too little training with that sword. You do not have the skill to fight in this battle. Come with me.” She grabbed the wrist of his sword arm and pulled him along bodily.
They proceeded for several minutes down the silent corridors, making their way from the Elves Quarters to the front gates. As they crossed passageways that led deeper into stronghold towards the treasury and smithies, Thranduil heard or possibly imagined shouts and the sounds of swords clanking. His nose wrinkled as they drew closer to the front hall and the acrid smell of smoke assaulted his senses. That was undeniably real.
Still holding her son’s wrist firmly, Dieneryn stopped at the crossroads of two corridors, listening and clearly trying to choose which path to take. Before them was the entrance to a large public meeting room. Through its far door was a passage that led to the throne room and the front gates. Another corridor led to the library, smaller meeting rooms and a variety of public halls and gardens near the throne room. The sounds of battle in the halls between them and the gates were now unmistakable.
“We cannot avoid the battle if we intend to reach the gates, nana,” Thranduil whispered, his blood still hot from the sight of the dead guards. He expected his mother to argue, but suddenly any protest she might make was rendered useless.
No sooner had Thranduil finished speaking than the far doors in the meeting room burst open. Dieneryn pushed her son further into the shadows and flattened herself against the wall, looking at him with a fierce expression intended to silence him. Thranduil saw the desperation in his mother’s eyes. Against his will, he remained in place, hidden in the darkness.
A deep Elven voice shouted, ordering people to draw back into the hall. Thranduil heard the sound of feet running and higher pitched voices, ellyth and children, crying in fear as they fled. Some ran into the hall, out its back doors near Thranduil and Dieneryn’s hiding place and past them, deeper into the stronghold without stopping or seeing anything. Others Thranduil heard struggling to secure the far doors in the meeting room against the advance of the enemy. Above the clamor of the disorganized retreat rose the dull thuds of weapons as they clove flesh and the screams of the injured. Thranduil gripped the hilt of the sword in his hand so fiercely that his knuckles were white and looked again at his mother.
Dieneryn returned his gaze with pleading eyes. “I beg you, stay here, Thranduil,” she whispered. Her hand, which still gripped his sword arm, tightened reflexively.
Thranduil closed his eyes against the sounds of battle and obeyed, restrained only by his respect for his mother and refusal to frighten her further. He knew he had minimal training with weapons and would be little use in a battle against skilled warriors but every fiber of his being railed against hiding in the shadows when others were in danger so near by.
Then he heard a sound he could not ignore. A scream amongst many. But even that pain filled utterance was familiar. Thranduil glanced at his mother and saw her close her eyes, growing even paler than she had been before. The scream was followed by the incoherent, furious and grief-stricken cries of a voice that Thranduil plainly recognized.
Hearing it, Dieneryn moved away from the wall and stood in the open, looking into the meeting hall. Thranduil watched as her face immediately contorted with grief. She covered her mouth with her hand and Thranduil could not determine if she was stifling a scream or struggling to not become sick.
He stepped forward, standing next to his mother. On the far side of the meeting room, near the doors, lay Ormeril. Over her stood Ninglor, tears glistening on his cheeks, his sword in his hand and a look a pure hatred on his face. The guards struggling to secure the doors yelled at him to run but Ninglor was faced off with a pair of dwarves that still stood in the hall.
Thranduil watched for a moment as the dwarves appeared uninterested in fighting the youth, focusing instead on the guards that were trying to herd the ellyth and elflings from the room. But Ninglor refused to be ignored. He swung his sword viciously at the dwarf nearest him. The blow was turned by the dwarf’s mail, cutting only his leather jerkin, but it drew the dwarves’ attention. They turned on him as the guards finally finished barring the doors and ran towards him as well.
One dwarf pulled two small axes from his belt. He threw one at the nearest guard charging them. It was deflected by the downward stroke of the elf’s sword. The second axe immediately followed its mate and the guard could not raise his sword quickly enough to defend himself a second time. Thranduil watched, horrified, as the axe embedded itself in the chest of the advancing guard. He stumbled and fell forward.
The other dwarf swung a large axe at Ninglor, who clumsily parried the dwarf’s blows with his sword. Ninglor was furious, swinging blindly with no attempt to control his blows, wishing only to kill. Thranduil was too stunned by the carnage before him to move until the dwarf landed his first blow. Seeing his cousin stagger back, pain and shock registering on his face, broke Thranduil’s restraint. Stepping around his mother and pulling his wrist free from her grip, he ran into the hall, sword raised and yelling a curse at the dwarves to draw their attention from Ninglor. He heard both his mother and the remaining guard shouting at him to stop, but he did not heed them.
Ninglor fell back, tripping over a body behind him and sprawling on the floor while clutching his wounded sword arm. His sword clattered to the stone floor next to him. But the dwarf that cut him was unable to press his advantage. Instead, he was forced to face a new foe as Thranduil charged him, driving his sword into the dwarf’s side. The second dwarf was engaged with the guard that had finally joined the fight.
Thranduil’s blade pierced the dwarf’s mail and he roared with pain, twisting his body away from the sword while swinging his axe at his enemy. Shocked that his blow had landed and instinctively dodging the axe, Thranduil jumped back, pulling his sword free. He sliced at the arm wielding the axe. The dwarf was wearing vambraces, so he was not injured, but the cut did manage to deflect the axe. In a pain-induced fury, the dwarf reached for a second axe and swung it at Thranduil’s chest. At the same time he hooked Thranduil’s sword and forced it down with the heavy axe in his other hand.
Thranduil’s eyes widened in fear as his sword arm was dragged down by superior strength. The only other weapon he had was a knife, far too small to deflect his enemy’s second axe now aimed to kill him. With an angry grimace, he drew the knife despite its uselessness to turn the dwarf’s attack and threw it. The blade buried itself in the dwarf’s throat but the axe did not alter its course—momentum carried it towards Thranduil’s chest.
Suddenly another blade fell into his field of vision. It bore down on the axe, driving it to the ground. Thranduil turned to see his mother and great grandfather’s long knife poised over the dwarf. He stared at his mother’s fell expression, his mouth hanging open slightly, his breathing coming in gasps.
He was awakened from his shock when Dieneryn turned without pause from the dwarf falling at her feet to the one still fighting the remaining guard. Thranduil automatically, albeit belatedly, repeated his mother’s quick scan of the room for further enemies. Finding none, he focused on the dwarf and guard. At that moment, the guard found his opening and drove his sword through the dwarf’s mail into his gut. The dwarf groaned and fell to his knees.
“We have to flee,” the guard shouted, taking Dieneryn by the arm.
Thranduil was at once aware of the pounding on the doors of the hall and the battle cries of the dwarves behind them. The doors were about to give way. He moved to follow the guard and his mother when suddenly he remembered the reason why he had charged the room. Fear clutched his heart as he realized no one other than himself, his mother and the guard were standing. Then his eyes fell on his cousin.
Ninglor lay on the stones, not far from Ormeril. The axe wound he bore was clearly mortal though Thranduil had not seen it fall. He stood, frozen in place, staring at his cousin and aunt.
“Come, ion nin,” his mother’s voice cried.
Come child,” a stronger voice yelled as a harsh grip seized his arm and pulled him towards the back of the chamber. Unseeingly, he followed.
Thranduil glanced at his mother and Engwe, singing with the minstrels. He remembered fleeing Menegroth through a garden that opened to the outside of the mountain. When the guard led he and his mother to where the other escapees were gathered, his Adar and Uncle Engwe were already there. They were sitting with his grandparents, wounded from the battle, but not unconscious, though Engwe might as well have been. His face was vacant and Thranduil thought his uncle might fade right there before his eyes from the loss of his wife and son. As his father described the battle, they learned that Dieneryn’s youngest brothers were killed as well.
Before that day, the only being that Thranduil had known to die was an ancient, beloved hunting dog that he had made into a pet during his early youth. Its death had seemed devastating to him for he could not comprehend it. He knew, as everyone did, that Thingol had been murdered in the dwarves’ workshops not long before, but he had not known the High King well and his parents had done all they could to shield him from the repercussions of that deed. They could not hide from him horrors of the dwarves’ invasion of the stronghold. What he had seen that day was something he would never be able to forget. Thranduil recognized that experience, along with the final loss of Menegroth at the hands of Elves and the destruction of Beleriand during the War of Wrath, left him with a deep, bitter anger that even now could consume him in certain situations if he was not careful to restrain himself. As he had told Dolgailon during the council meeting, the beauty of Greenwood the Great and its people was responsible for any healing he had found and for that reason he loved them in return. Seeing the forest and the Silvan marred by the Evil One was often more than he felt he could bear. An undeniable shadow fell over his heart every time he was reminded of Dol Guldur and the orcs and spiders that darkened his realm.
Dolgailon’s statement kept surfacing in his mind. ‘Be certain that you do not grieve your own loss of innocence, my lord. For we only grieve the loss of the forest and we will fight it.’ Fight it, indeed. Thranduil had fought it for many an age and he would keep doing so.
Thranduil was lost in these grim thoughts when a warm hand fell lightly on his shoulder. He turned to see Lindomiel kneeling next to him, looking at him with bright eyes. In their recesses, he could read her concern.
“Come dance with me, meleth,” she invited with a soft voice and the smile that always enchanted him.
Thranduil looked at her a moment, listening to the music and delighted voices of the elves around him. At his back he felt the contented evening song of the old beech. Over her shoulder he caught a glimpse of Isteth singing softly to Eirienil and Dolgailon dancing with some maiden that was blatantly flirting with him. He saw Aradunnon sitting on a bench with Amoneth in his lap telling obviously outrageous stories to a group of his friends who were laughing uproariously. Aradunnon’s arms were about his wife’s waist and his hands rested on the slight swell finally showing itself on her abdomen.
Suddenly it occurred to him that there were many ways to fight and many ways to be defeated.
With a shake of his head, Thranduil stood, offering Lindomiel his hand to help her rise as well. “No, come take a walk with me, Lindomiel. Along the river.”
Lindomiel took her husband’s arm with an amused, if somewhat bewildered, smile and followed him silently.
They walked for a good distance beside the river, winding their way between the trunks and over the twisted roots of the beeches. Thranduil knew his wife loved the rushing water of the river and he took comfort in the ancient trees that grew on its banks. Walking here was a common pastime for them.
Finally, Thranduil stopped and leaned against one of the gnarled trunks, pulling Lindomiel to him. His arms slipped around her waist holding her firmly against him as his lips grazed hers and slid to her jaw to softly trace a path down her neck. His hands moved as lightly as the starlight over the silk gown she wore. Thranduil watched Lindomiel’s eyes flutter closed at his touch. In addition to her obvious contentment, he saw laughter in the lines of her mouth. It was normally she that dragged her husband to these secluded spots and Thranduil knew she was pleased that he had chosen to take her here. She would be even more pleased in a moment.
“Lindomiel,” he whispered softly, as his fingers entwined softly in her hair.
“Hmm?” she responded absently, already losing herself in his caresses.
“Look at me,” he entreated.
She opened her eyes and focused on him with playful impatience that immediately died when she saw his serious expression. Her eyes widened. “What is wrong, meleth?” she asked, concern in her voice.
He shook his head, tracing a finger along her cheek. “Do you have any idea how much light you have brought into my life, Lindomiel?” he asked.
Her brows knit as her concern deepened. “What is wrong?” she repeated.
“Nothing. I admit that when you invited me to dance I had been thinking about the Shadow. But as you always do, you have driven it from me. I can never tell you often enough how I love you, Lindomiel.”
She smiled at that, though she still studied him carefully. After a moment, she seemed satisfied and kissed him lightly. “As I love you,” she replied simply.
He tightened his arms around her. “After Beleriand was destroyed and so much of my family lost, it was a long time before I found any measure of peace,” he said without looking at her. He felt her tense at his return to this dark topic. “When my Adar was killed in Mordor, I did not see how I could recover from that blow to lead these people. I truly believe you were a gift to me from the Valar, Lindomiel.”
Her fingers on his cheek, she turned his face to make him look at her. “You had recovered before you met me, Thranduil. Perhaps not completely, but enough to lead these people with a strength that they needed to recover themselves. If I helped you, I am glad. But you are much stronger than you sometimes give yourself credit.”
He laughed softly. “Perhaps. But I am thankful for the light you bring to my life, nonetheless.” He paused and looked at her intently. “You said to me recently that a child, our child, would bring still more light to our lives. I agree with that, meleth. I do not want to let the Evil One win any battle in this forest. Least of all will I let him defeat me.”
She blinked and her mouth opened slightly as a hopeful gleam lit her eyes.
Thranduil laughed again, this time with clear happiness. “I want a child, Lindomiel,” he said plainly.
A bright smile lit Lindomiel’s face and she kissed him again. “Tonight?” she asked softly.
“It is a beautiful night,” he replied as his hands returned to wander softly over her back.
She did not respond. Instead she looked at him with dramatic patience. “Do you have any idea what day today is, Thranduil? Any recollection at all of why I might have organized this little festival on the green?”
Thranduil glanced up at the moon, thinking quickly since her tone implied he had better remember something. “What is the date, meleth? It would be the second or third day of this moon, would it not?”
She shook her head and responded with amused irritation. “It is the third day of the of the first spring moon. Is there any significance to this day, Thranduil?”
He looked at her now guiltily. “It is the anniversary of the day we met in Lorien and the day we were married. I am sorry, Lindomiel. I did not realize…”
She put a finger over his lips to silence him. “If you are indeed willing to make this day the anniversary of another event, I will forgive you,” she whispered, drawing closer to him.
He smiled. “I am, meleth. It seems even more perfect to me now.”
To that, Lindomiel only nodded as she ran her hands up his chest and around his neck, leaning in to kiss him, this time passionately.
The first rays of dawn found the King and Queen of Greenwood lying in each other’s arms on Thranduil’s cloak in the Queen’s garden. Thranduil stared at the fading stars through the branches of the old beech above them. The beech had seen Thranduil and Lindomiel in this activity before. But this morning its song was different, as if it knew this joining had been special. The tree whispered of new life and Thranduil did not think it referred only to the delicate green leaves budding on its branches but also to the new song that Thranduil and Lindomiel were lying so still to enjoy. Thranduil let his hand drift down to his wife’s abdomen. Encountering her hand there, he covered it with his own. He had never in his life felt so completely happy.
Ion nin--My son
Muindor nin--My brother
Meleth nin--My love
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