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We Were Young Once ~ III  by Conquistadora


Chapter 2 ~ Into Shadow

The glow of the lamps alone remained to illuminate Lasgalen after sunset, shining amid the trees like netted stars drawn down to earth.  Among the most constant of these beacons was the light of the king’s study, a comfort and a consolation as he presided over his people in silence.

Thranduil did not intend to work late that night.  There was indeed little reason to do so.  Some semblance of normality had returned to Greenwood in the two years which had already elapsed since his return, and so as he swept his signature once more over a dispatch it was with the intention that it would be his last for the evening.

“Will you take another?” Linhir asked, glancing down to the modest stack of papers at his elbow. They had already been arranged by order of importance and urgency, improving even on the work of the under-secretary.  As Thranduil’s seneschal, Linhir had no equal.

“No, not tonight,” the king declined, setting his quill aside.  “Unless you know of something which demands my immediate attention.”

Linhir made but a meager attempt to stifle a smile, glancing aside as he put away the rest of the documents.  “Yes, I do,” he said; “but she awaits you upstairs.”

Thranduil also allowed himself a crooked grin.  “Expunge that smile from your face,” he demanded, leveling an accusatory finger.  “You have had little else on your mind since you discovered Illuiniel.”

“I am very sure you understand the sentiment, my lord,” Linhir replied.

“I am not going to argue with you.”  Thranduil stood and stretched briefly, leaving his desk in good order, which is to say as good as he had found it.  “I am going to bed.  Mind the house a few hours more, my friend, and then you, too, may return to your lady wife.  And be certain the preparations for the arrival of the King of Gondor are begun immediately tomorrow morning.  We shall have little enough time to accommodate these Númenóreans properly.”

“Very well, Thranduil.  A good night to you, and bear my love to Lindóriel.”

The Guardsmen at the door dutifully recognized their king as he passed.  There was no need to escort him, for they were stationed thickly throughout the palace at each door and entryway.  Relieved of their extraneous military duties, their diminished number now served exclusively as his personal guard, the function that for many had been their last on the plains of Mordor.

Thranduil found Gwaelas waiting at the door of his chambers.  “Good evening, my lord,” he smiled as Thranduil climbed the last of the winding staircase.  “The queen awaits you.”

“I hope I have not kept her waiting long.”

“She has a patient heart, my lord,” Gwaelas assured him, opening the door before he also retired.

Thranduil paused as the door closed behind him.  Lindóriel was indeed waiting, wearing a diaphanous gown and carefully running a brush through her gleaming hair.  The wolves attended her, lying at the feet of their mistress in expectation of the master’s return.

“You enjoy doing this to me, do you not, love?” Thranduil asked playfully.

“Whatever do you mean, my lord?” she asked in turn, though there was no question in her eyes as she smiled coyly back at him.

“You obviously wish by this stunning display to remind me again what a fool I was to waste all those years which I might have spent with you,” Thranduil explained, discarding his mantle.  He slid his hands beneath her hair and over her essentially bare shoulders.  “Is that not your design?”

“You may believe so if you wish,” she said, deliberately denying him the triumph of an answer. 

No answer was necessary.  Instead, Thranduil turned her around and kissed her lightly on the cheek.  “That was from Linhir,” he explained.  Before she could object, he drew her nearer and kissed her fondly on the brow.  “That was from Galadhmir.”  Then, pulling her close against him, he kissed her full on the lips.  He let that one linger, holding her just as close even when it had ended, gently brushing her soft cheek, her perfect nose.

“And to which of you do I owe these endearments?” she asked with a smile.

“Your lord husband sends them, my lady,” Thranduil said, resuming his evening routine, idly unlacing his tunic.  “He regrets that he was not able to address his affections to you sooner, but he was only just able to escape his many duties.  He implores your forgiveness.”

“And I grant it readily,” Lindóriel assured him.  “I know he will make amends enough in his own time.”

Throwing his tunic over a chair, Thranduil sat on the edge of the bed and pulled off his boots.  After a fairly long day, he was ready to lie down and loosen the lurking crimp in his back.  He did so, looking up once more at the silver filigree encircling the bole of the tree as it passed through the ceiling, the same sight which began and ended each day.  Lindóriel rose and joined him there, sitting beside him with a look of quiet benevolence.

Thranduil smiled up at her, a simple and genuine smile without affectation.  “I missed you, Lin,” he said, a profession which lost none of its sincerity despite being repeated each evening.

“And I you,” she said, taking the hand he offered her.  “I would be little better than a distraction if I followed you about all day.”

“Such a distraction would hardly be unwelcome,” he insisted, drawing her down to lie beside him, an invitation to which she gave only feeble resistance.  

These quiet moments of simple intimacy at the close of each day were what Thranduil truly lived for even after two years of passionate marriage.  In those moments the world was stilled as he held her close with her head over his heart, breathing the fresh scent of her hair.  He could honestly say that he had never been happier.  His one grief was that he was not free to give himself entirely to her as a consequence of his office.  Thousands also demanded his care and attention, yet he was her own insofar as he was himself within his power to give.

The lamps burned lower at his will.  A deep peace lay over Lasgalen, stirred only by the rustle of the wind through the turning leaves.  Lindóriel lifted her head, her eyes sparkling in the twilight, and much passed between them which was never put to words.  He ran a gentle hand along the contours of her face, marveling again at the unfathomable and yet accomplished fact of their union.  So long delayed, so keenly anticipated, and so greatly underestimated, at least on his part.  He had never known he could love someone so much.

She leaned in and began to kiss him softly, slowly, and he allowed himself to be swept along with her.  The cares of the day melted away as they began to lose themselves in each other.

A sudden rap on the door shattered the moment and gave them both a start. 

Thranduil rumbled irritably to himself as the rapping continued, more than piqued by this inexcusable invasion of his privacy.  “No, wait here, love,” he said, instructing Lindóriel to remain where she was as he pulled himself up and swung a robe over his shoulders.

He was prepared to be quite cross, yet even as he grasped the handle and swung the door wide, he knew it would have to wait.  Gwaelas had already braced himself for the worst, so Thranduil had not the heart to blame him.  Besides, he knew Gwaelas would not dare disturb him here without grave cause.

“I must beg your pardon, my lord,” Gwaelas began, hardly daring to look at him, “but Lord Linhir awaits your convenience below.  He assured me you would wish to be informed without further delay.”

“Did he?”  Thranduil was a bit short despite himself.  Gwaelas flinched almost imperceptibly as though the words stung him.  “Informed of what, may I ask?”

“A runner has arrived from the Woodmen of the western marches.  Lord Linhir has received him, yet awaits the judgment of the king.  He was quite insistent.  I made my excuses, but he would have none of them.”

Thranduil sighed brusquely.  “Very well,” he said, closing the door once more.

“Linhir would not defer light matters to you at odd hours,” Lindóriel reminded him, attempting to soothe his temper.

“I know it,” Thranduil agreed with a deliberate calm as he stamped into his boots, threw on a shirt, and pulled his hair back into some semblance of order.  “Thank you,” he said, for she had appeared at his elbow and handed him his crown, the circlet of sharp beech leaves in white gold and diamond that had been Oropher’s legacy.  In a moment it was secured on his brow with all its cold flash and fire, and he turned to go.

“Do not wait up for me, Lin,” he said before closing the door behind him.  “I do not know how long I shall be.  Stay with her,”  he instructed the hounds, both of whom had stood up expectantly, only to sink back down with a canine groan.

The Guardsmen stayed well out of his way on the staircases.  Despite his superficial annoyance, Thranduil felt a growing apprehension, and knew that whatever Linhir had dragged him out of bed to hear would be well worth the trouble.  That worried him.  He was descending the stairs two at a time when at last he reached the King’s Hall.

Linhir met him with a slight frown of disapproval in reference to his state of undress, to which Thranduil arched a severe brow as though to inquire what he had expected under the circumstances.

“My lord,” Linhir began formally, “a messenger has arrived from the Woodmen of the western marches with tidings of the King of Gondor, who in a matter of days was to have arrived here in Lasgalen.”

“Was to have arrived?” Thranduil asked with a sinking premonition.  Linhir gestured to the messenger, inviting him to elucidate.

He was a young and hearty-looking specimen of his race, with wild hair and unkempt beard, clad in the usual rough manner of the woodland Men, and apparently on the verge of exhaustion.  He had risen again to his feet in the presence of the Elvenking whom he had come to address, yet swayed a bit where he stood.

“Say on,” Thranduil bade him in the Common Tongue of the region, with which he was reasonably proficient.  The Woodmen often had recourse to the Wood-elves and to their king, and therefore harbored more love than fear of him.

“O Lord of the Wood,” the young forester began in a voice roughened by his exertions, “I bear the words of the chieftain of the west march.  The Gondorians are destroyed at the Gladden Fields by the Orcs of the mountains.   The Orcs fled before us, but our aid came late and found few alive.”

“What of King Isildur?” Thranduil interjected, realizing with a cold prickle the possible implications of such a disaster.

“The Gondorian king has not been found.  They had not discovered him among the dead when I was sent.”

Thranduil held his peace for a long moment.  He could be certain of nothing, and consequently the possibilities were sobering.  His mind roiled with many questions to which the young woodman would have no answer.  “My thanks to you,” he said instead, choosing to bide his time.  “I myself shall send word to your chieftain, and my household will minister to you.  Linhir,” he began again, reverting back to their own Sindarin, “see that he has a bath, a good meal, and a horse to bear him home in the morning.  You,” he said, addressing one of the two Guardsmen at the door, “Lancaeron, see yourself mounted at once and direct the Woodmen to send any surviving wounded here to Lasgalen if possible.  Also any heraldry, insignia or jewelry found at the site that we may return it to Gondor.”

“At your command, sire.”

Linhir returned to the king when he had deposited the herald in capable hands.  “What are you thinking?” he asked grimly.

“Many dreadful things,” Thranduil admitted, staring away into nothingness.  “You did well to call me.”

“Did I wake you?” Linhir asked with a small and awkward smile.

Thranduil returned a similar expression.  “No.”

“I am sorry,” the other apologized.

“No matter,” Thranduil dismissed it.  “We suddenly have more portentous matters at hand.  Be certain I am called again the moment any survivors arrive, and send a company of our Elves to assist in burying the dead and scouring the field for any trinkets of interest which might have separated themselves from their masters.”

“As you wish, Thranduil.”

He returned to his quarters quietly, and Lindóriel was still awake to receive him.  She sat up in the darkness and waited for him to speak, but he said nothing.  His mind was still heavy with his own thoughts and he had no wish to burden her.  Rather than return to bed, Thranduil went out onto the porch, into the breeze and the thin starlight, pensively facing the southern horizon.  He saw nothing but the vast expanse of the wood, dark and undisturbed, but the memories of the battlefield were still too fresh to be ignored and they came flooding back.

The Black Tower had fallen.  He had witnessed its demolition, and indeed helped to pull stone from filthy stone with his own hands not two years ago.  He preferred not to remember the appalling things they had found within that fortress of nightmares, and his single consolation had been the thought that such abysses of evil were finally conquered forever.  Still, the lingering existence of Sauron’s pernicious Ring of Power had unnerved him, though at the time he had been too sunk in his own misery to give the matter much attention.  Even if the Dark Lord himself was a thing of the past, he did not like to leave something so momentous as the Ring unaccounted for.

The power of Sauron was destroyed.  Was it not?

Even that thought was suddenly an uneasy one.  Sauron had previously been left unaccounted for, and they had all lived to rue it.

“Thranduil,” Lindóriel called at last from the doorway, coming to stand at his side on the balcony.  “What is it?  Why did Linhir call you?”

Thranduil merely sighed and put his arm about her.  “Orcs have destroyed Isildur’s entourage,” he said.  “The king is missing.  I have sent some of our own to aid the Woodmen in their care of the dead.”

She was silent for a moment.  “May the Belain receive and guide their souls,” she said at last.  “Is that all that burdens you?  The hollow look in your eyes frightens me.”

“That is a difficult question,” Thranduil admitted, taking her back inside with him.  “Perhaps more difficult than we know.  But I would not like to dwell any more upon it tonight.  There is nothing to be done until morning.”

Lindóriel did not press him further for an explanation, trusting his judgment.  However, she did turn to face him, drawing herself up with all the august dignity of an Elven-queen despite a sultry look in her eye that he knew very well.  “I beg your pardon, my lord,” she said, “ but there are a great many things that may be done before morning.”

Preoccupied though he was, her very nearness was still a greater temptation than he was willing to bear.  She always knew how to draw him out of his melancholy.  Isildur, the Orcs, the Ring, and even Sauron himself faded to the back of his mind as he pulled on a single cord and loosed the stays on her night dress.  “I am yours to command, my lady.”


That morning dawned dark with an abundant threat of rain.  Thranduil had risen to see the last of the stars veiled by the encroaching clouds, and for a time he merely perched himself amid the highest branches of Galadhremmen Lasgalen, feeling the pulse of the forest beneath his hand.  The wood released the memory of Oropher only slowly, and it was his task to strengthen his own hold on his realm while peaceful days endured.  Its power would be his to wield when he had entrenched himself deeply enough, as it had been his father’s.  The first rumble of thunder was released from the churning clouds at his command, and he was satisfied.

He descended in time for breakfast, which he took quietly with his counselors, the Lords Linhir, Galadhmir, Anárion, and Brilthor.  The news of the disaster which had befallen the Gondorians cast a considerable gloom over the company, but it was by no means the only point of concern.  It seemed a domestic territorial dispute was again inflamed between two families of the northern marches, which Brilthor dutifully brought to the king’s attention.  The Woodmen of the south were making difficulties about the particulars regarding the delivery of a winter store of apples.  Thranduil waved these and other issues away for the moment.  What burned upon his mind now was of at least ten times their consequence.

“My lord,” interposed Lancaeron, the Guardsman standing in worn but otherwise perfect form in the doorway.  “At your command, we have returned bearing the Gondorian wounded.”


“He was discovered among the dead, but merely wounded and stunned,” Lancaeron explained as he led his king across the grounds toward the pavilion where the Men had been deposited. There were only three.

“Who is he?” Thranduil asked.

“He has not yet revealed his name, but we believe him to be a young man of some importance, as his heraldry seems to indicate.  The healers are with him now.”

Thranduil thanked him and bid him return to his duties, making his entrance into the pavilion alone.  The air was heavy with the scent of the impending storm, intensifying the already dour atmosphere of the place.  As he expected, Noruvion was present to oversee the healers at their work, his face grim and focused.

“Thranduil,” he acknowledged the king with a slight bow when he had finished washing the clotted blood from his hands.  He shook his head.  “They are all festering,” he said,  “but fortunately the Orcs have not had the ingenuity to concoct any novel poisons since the Alliance.  I dare say they have as good a chance of recovery as any at this point.  However, the mortal races have not been my study.”

“If they die, I shall be certain it was through no negligence of yours,” Thranduil assured him.  He had not forgotten how Noruvion’s skillful hands had put him back together in Mordor.  He would never forget it.

The king observed for a time, taking the measure of the scene.  All three Men were weakened by their various wounds, but apparently resting soundly.  It was without much difficulty that Thranduil distinguished the individual to whom Lancaeron had directed him.  More white and silver gleamed upon his gear than an ordinary soldier warranted.

“Thank you, that will do,” Thranduil directed, shooing away the two silvan healers who were in the process of changing a bandage.  “Leave us for a moment.”  They did not hesitate for more than an instant, and temporarily busied themselves carrying away the old linens and other refuse.

Thranduil took the vacant seat beside the bed and resumed wrapping the wound, a crippling gash to the forearm.  The dormant young man was not insensible to the change of presence beside him, and he woke slowly but with a start as his jaded eyes focused on the countenance of the Elvenking above him.  He stiffened, apparently uncertain how to properly comport himself.

“Stand down, sir,” Thranduil directed him, softly yet firmly, in the plain Sindarin with which he was accustomed to communicate with Isildur and his heralds.  A strong hand planted on his chest prevented the young soldier from doing otherwise.  “Can you answer me in the tongue of the Elves?” he asked, discreetly lowering his voice even further.

The Gondorian nodded feebly.  Though his strength was still at an ebb, his eyes were bright.

“What is your name?”


“And in what capacity did you serve the House of Elendil?”

“Esquire of Elendur, king’s son.”

Estelmo’s voice did not yet seem willing to serve him properly, yet Thranduil understood what was necessary.  A prickle of suspense coursed through him, a hunter’s instinct.  The bereaved esquire was distracted by grief, struggling to contain tears of anger.

“Enough,” Thranduil said brusquely with a soldier’s pity.  “There will be time enough later.  Estelmo, can you tell me what has become of the King of Gondor?”

A fearful look came into the Man’s eye then, a spark of significant but possibly forbidden knowledge.

“Isildur, son of Elendil,” Thranduil demanded.  “Did you see him?”

An agony of indecision played over Estelmo’s worn features.  He nodded feebly, but then shook his head.

Thranduil’s eyes narrowed ominously.


A crackling roll of thunder shook Lasgalen and the wet pit-a-pat of rain began as the Elvenking strode over the damp grass toward his palace in the trees, his mantle billowing in his wake.

“Linhir,” he instructed his seneschal when he had resumed his seat at his desk.  “Summon two couriers for me at once, one for Lórinand and the other for Imladris.”

The order was little more than convention, for Linhir had merely to gesture and one of the two Guardsmen at the door sprinted away to do the king’s bidding.  In the meantime, Thranduil immediately set quill to paper.

He had little enough to report to Amroth and Elrond.  Isildur remained unaccounted for, whether dead or alive none could say.  Yet before he had been knocked senseless, Estelmo confessed that he had overheard a significant farewell between the prince and his father, and had then seen his king vanish in a blaze of red flame.

If Isildur was lost, Sauron’s Ring of Power was certainly lost with him.

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