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We Were Young Once ~ III  by Conquistadora


"The King"


The force of the summer sun was weakening as the first chill of autumn entered the world again, the seventh time since the armies of the Alliance had first laid siege to the Dark Tower.  The grisly plain had quieted a great deal now that the battle had ceased, and a pall of exhaustion had fallen over all the ruined land of Mordor.  Victory was almost more bitter than sweet.  The strength of the West was sapped, even if not quite bled of its last efforts.  The demolition of the Tower itself had begun, a weary task, yet a point of grim satisfaction for the scarred victors.

The sad remnant of Eryn Galen largely held their silence as they gathered their camp and secured their last wounded.  Commander Dorthaer maintained an efficient order beneath the immediate command of the Lords Luinlas and Linhir.  A slight wind stirred up the dust underfoot, dust that had grown darker in the last years after receiving so much bloodshed.  Sauron had fallen, but not before clawing out his own bitter victories, and the wounds the Dark Lord had left in his wake would be slow if not impossible to heal.  There would be no more such alliances, Dorthaer suspected.  This would be the last.  The Last Alliance.

Both Gil-galad and Elendil had been cut down before the end, beheading the core of the allied command.  Elrond had filled the breach as well as he might, but without a blood heir to Gil-galad’s throne the high kingdom of the Elves was all but disbanded already.  The strain of the last age had uprooted and destroyed too much.  The younger realms of Men had passed to Elendil’s son who seemed able enough to hold them.  They would no doubt recover their losses more easily, as all mortal kind could, but the age of the Elves seemed to have largely come to an end.

For all his discipline, Dorthaer allowed himself a heavy sigh, burdened with a weariness like he had never known.  The war had sickened him deeply, and after seven years he had almost forgotten what it was to live without the taste of ash and the smell of blood.  He could scarcely recall the touch of his wife, the laughter of his daughter.  There had only been the screech of steel upon iron, the groans of the dying, and the silent tears of those who remained to face the next miserable day.  His wounds had healed, but the ragged scars remained to remind him of his trials here.  It seemed the very world in which they lived had been shattered, and although they had begun to reconstruct it, several key pieces remained forever lost.

Still, Dorthaer endeavored to remind himself, by some grace they had been spared the worst, and their costly victory was far from meaningless.  Once they could remove themselves from that hideous place they could be reunited with their loved ones and mourn their losses in peace.  It was not his place to despair.  He could not allow it.  Of his once impressive command of three thousand elite, only one hundred and twelve remained who were in any way fit for service.  The king had withdrawn most of them in the last years to function as little more than his personal guard, unwilling to lose the last of them unless at the last need.  The king had already lost too much.

That was another concern.  After the initial shock, Thranduil had seemed to grow into his new position with characteristic poise, but his old fire now burned cold.  He had become almost completely withdrawn.  It was not Dorthaer’s place to question him, but what he had heard was not encouraging.  The king apparently refused to speak of what had passed, attending his duties with an impassive efficiency which belied the fact that he had obviously closed his own emotional wounds prematurely.  He had become as far removed from his former self as night from day, reflecting the sting of tragedy and disgrace they all felt even after seven years.

“Commander Dorthaer.”

“Lord Luinlas,” he replied, turning to face him in proper form.

“Lord Elrond has granted us leave to depart,” Luinlas informed him.  “Will the army be ready to march within the hour?”

“Yes, my lord.”

Now Luinlas smiled, a weary but sincere expression.  “I commend you.  Lord Galadhmir has gone to fetch the king.”


They had buried him beneath the scanty shade of a gnarled tree, his sword thrust into the earth at his head.  There had been neither the time nor the resources to spend upon fitting memorials, even for fallen kings.  There were few enough growing things in that dead land, yet not all were evil at heart.  This particular tree had already dropped several dry thorns in deference to the remains entrusted to its roots, and each spring it attempted to unfurl a few healthy leaves.  These had begun to fall now, littering the ground like barren tears.

Thranduil shed none of his own, crouched there in the dust over his father’s grave.  After seven years, there were no more tears.  He had learned to bear his own sorrow, suppressing it into no more than a dull ache of unspoken emptiness.

He had entered Mordor a prince, a son, a follower.  He must leave it a king, a father to thousands.  The role still sat heavily upon him, as he supposed it always would, but it was the necessary loneliness that he wondered if he could long endure.  They all looked to him as once they had looked to his father.  He could not deny that he was blessed to be still surrounded by his dearest friends even after that dreadful war, yet none of them could truly bridge the chasm of responsibility which isolated him now.

It should not feel so foreign to him.  He had usurped his father’s authority on more than one occasion, and with hardly a qualm.  Perhaps it was because he had felt that if his father had truly seen fit to silence him, he would have done so.  Now there was no one to try himself against, and a single lapse of judgment or accident of fate had been enough to earn his predecessor a dusty grave in Mordor with the greater part of his army.

It was a grim thought, but Thranduil had hardened himself to it.  It was strange to think of their royal succession in motion like those of the mortal realms.  He would have wished it to remain fixed, secure and immovable, for it was in their nature to desire permanence.  He should have learned by now that if such security could not endure even in the Blessed Realm, it could never hope to stand in Middle-earth.

At last Thranduil hung his small twisted wreath of thorns on the hilt of Oropher’s sword and pulled himself to his feet.

Grief welled up in him again as he contemplated leaving forever that graveside which had become so familiar.  He was not unaware of Galadhmir approaching behind him, and the other chose that moment to put a hand on his shoulder.  Thranduil instinctively wanted to shy away from the familiar embrace, but his composure was already crumbling.  Galadhmir seemed to know his thought, and held him firmly.

“It happens so suddenly,” the other said, his voice still gentle though heavy with experience.  “Even now it seems as though he has gone off again on another of his journeys, and that any day he might return.”

There would be no waiting for him now, Thranduil knew.  “Galadh,” he said, suppressing a tremor, “how do you endure this?”

“With patience,” was his answer, “and no small measure of trust.  The deepest grief will pass once you learn to accept it.  Take what lessons you can from it all, and then have done.”

“But this should not have been!” Thranduil insisted heatedly.  “How am I to accept it?”

“You must,” Galadhmir said firmly.  “You must accept it because it is, and neither you nor I am the master of what should and should not be.  To go on questioning it will drive you mad.”

“But Celebrin . . .”

“Celebrin was irreplaceable to me, but it is not often our place to know why the young die and kings fall.  We must simply make what we can of our own lives.  King Thranduil cannot go on living in the shadow of Oropher.”

Thranduil had nothing to say to that.  Galadhmir was right, but the truth was harsh.  He wished he and his father could have discussed this.  They should have.  He grit his teeth in adamant refusal to weep any more.  If only for a moment to truly say goodbye!  He needed to hear it, a last encouragement upon which to build the rest of his life.  What would he have said?  Would his father have deemed him competent to rule, or would he, too, have resented this tragic turn?

Farewell at last, Thranduil.  I trust you can keep the household from falling apart in my absence.

The memory of Lindon rushed back to him unbidden, and so vividly that it made him catch his breath. 

You know how I dislike to leave you here.  There is no one I would rather have riding beside me.  But, on the other hand, there is no other I would rather leave with the charge I give you now.

The grave remained silent, yet Thranduil felt he had his answer.  It was bittersweet and made leaving no easier, but at least he could feel that he left with a purpose despite the aspersions cast upon them by the rest of Elvendom.  A single tear did escape him, but he swallowed the rest, setting his jaw just as he had three thousand years before.

“Come, my lord,” Galadhmir said, squeezing his shoulder before letting him go.  “Your army awaits you.”


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