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We Were Young Once ~ III  by Conquistadora

Chapter 7 ~ Whispers in the Dark

The rancid stench stung his throat.  His shield arm had begun to ache from holding it aloft so long, his movements constricted by the familiar weight of his leather armor and battle dress.  The air was choked with the roaring of Orcs and an endless hail of black arrows.

He had been here before.  He could remember it in all its horrible detail.  The ranks ahead of them collapsed into a wildly disorganized charge, only to be swallowed by the horde which came pouring out to meet them.

He ran after them.  He knew it was hopeless, but he was powerless to change it.  The barrage of arrows stopped for a moment, but then darkened the sky once again.  He felt the first of many slam through his breastplate and lodge in his shoulder.  A second and third sent pain exploding through his chest as he fell to his knees in the dust.  The Orcs rushed them, but now he was angry, angry enough to drag himself up on at least one foot and bring his sword to bear, impaling the first as it leapt at him.  An arrow tore into his thigh, another into his side, making it difficult to breathe.  He was certain he would be overpowered, but he continued to swing his blade with the desperation of a wounded animal.  A glancing scimitar bit into his side, knocking him down at last.  Orcs swarmed on top of him like rats, crushing him.  Their claws grasped at his arms, but with the last of his strength he tried to heave them off.

“Ai, Thranduil!”

He woke suddenly with a ragged gasp.  The noise and the filth and the stench were gone, leaving only the soft rustling of the woodland night.  Lindóriel was looking down at him, perturbed, struggling to hold him down. 

“What is wrong with you?” she hissed.

The sight of her was such a relief that he could not say anything, but merely pulled her back down beside him and held her close, filling his mind with her touch and her scent in an attempt to overpower the traumas of Mordor.  The memory of the pain was still so raw that his scars ached.

“What is it?” she asked again, plainly concerned.

“Nothing,” he said at last, making a conscious effort to calm his breathing.  “Just a nightmare.”

He was almost afraid to try to sleep again.  There was once no place where he felt more secure than in his own bedroom, but now even that was haunted by the new anxiety over what was festering in the south.  In any case, nothing could be done until morning, and he suspected he would be glad of all the rest he could get.

Mordor.  The long, quiet years had finally begun to calm those lingering fears that it had not been conquered forever.  Now, once again, he could not forget it, a nightmare from which he would never fully wake.

He pulled Lindóriel as close as he could, and buried his face in her hair.


Lindóriel lay awake for several hours.  Thranduil never did more than doze for the rest of the night, and he never stopped holding her.  It was a possessive hold, almost as if he were afraid something would take her from him.  She could feel his heart beating against her back, betraying his agitation.  He had suffered this kind of nightmare before, he had told her, but never since their marriage.  That did not bode well.

He had told her about the mysterious blight in the south as soon as they had excused themselves from the feast last night.  They had not had the heart to tell Legolas, but surely rumors would be well-circulated by morning.  Morning would not be long in coming now, she realized, and she suspected Thranduil would be too restless to stay in bed any later than dawn.

She felt him kissing the back of her neck as the first glow of daylight crept over the trees.  She rolled over to face him, still concerned. 

“I worry about you,” she said softly.

“I worry about me, too,” he confided, not without some attempt at humor.  “Just be patient with me, Lin.  I do not know if I could bear the loneliness without you.”

He often said it, but he seemed especially sincere this time.  They had been through so much together already, she could not imagine anything that could drive her from his side.

“You know I would never leave you,” she promised.  “I am your queen, and this is as much my wood as yours.”

He smiled then.  “I do love you.”

A knock at the door interrupted their brief reverie, and Thranduil’s face fell.  “Yes?” he barked.

Gwaelas opened the door but did not pull back the drape out of deference to the queen.  “My lord, a messenger has just arrived from the south,” he said.  “He is most anxious to speak with you.”

Thranduil was out of bed in an instant.  “I shall be down at once,” he said, pulling his clothes out of the wardrobe.  “Tell him to await me downstairs.”

There were very few of their people left in the southernmost reaches of Greenwood, but those who had stayed were among the hardiest and most willful Elves in the forest.  So it was with no small concern that Thranduil noticed how distraught their messenger seemed when he received him in a private audience in the royal hall.  He was in no temper to wait for the other lords to be roused from bed.

“Welcome to our city, Baradhren,” he said gently when he had learned his name, indicating that Gwaelas should bring a chair for him.  “I became aware that not all was well in the south and sent riders of my own only yesterday.  Naturally, I am anxious to hear whatever you can tell me.”

Baradhren gratefully accepted the chair at the foot of the dais.  From his throne, Thranduil could see the travel-worn Elf was a bit saddle sore, and had probably not stopped but for fresh horses along the way.

“My king,” he began at last, “an interloper has built a fortress on the crest of Amon Lanc.  No one has seen him, but he must be a sorcerer, because the evil blight has been spreading since his arrival.  My father, Bregolion, went to challenge his right to establish himself in our wood without gift or leave, but has not returned.”

Thranduil was stunned for a moment.  Bregolion was his governor in the south.  There had been no violence in Greenwood for so long, the thought that his realm had been quietly invaded right under his nose was astounding.  “And he has never declared himself, this sorcerer?” he demanded, growing angry now.

“Never,” Baradhren shook his head, “but his power grows each day, and the wood is quickly becoming an evil place.  In his shadow come spiders of extraordinary size and number, snakes, wargs, Orcs—”

“Orcs?” Thranduil interjected sharply.

“We have abandoned our villages,” Baradhren said, looking desperate, “and we seek your leave to remove north.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Thranduil said, admittedly distracted by his own roiling thoughts.  “Tell your people to come as far north as you feel you must.  No, you will stay here; you plainly need rest.  I will send riders to every village south of the forest road.  Gwaelas!  Summon Dorthaer immediately, and tell the stablemaster to prepare twenty of the fastest horses.  Lancaeron,” he called to the guard at the door, “rouse the other lords at once, and the prince.  I fear we must call a council of war.”

His first emotion was an acute sense of violation.  If he were younger and more impulsive, he would march on Amon Lanc with his best soldiers to expel this mysterious sorcerer before he could properly entrench himself, but the voice of hard-won experience warned him that any power so brazen could well be more than it seemed.

He was pacing back and forth when two servants arrived with the king’s breakfast on trays.  “Take it to the guest house,” he directed them instead, “and take Master Baradhren with you.  See that he has everything he may need while he stays with us.”  He could not eat now, though he knew he would be ravenous by midday. 

Before he took his leave, Baradhren reached into his courier’s pouch and handed his king a folded piece of paper.  Thranduil accepted it and sent him on his way.

Lindóriel ventured into the hall just as the others were leaving.  “Is it bad news?” she asked, reading his mood.

“It is certainly not good,” Thranduil said.  “I have called the others.  You may stay if you like, love.”

“I shall, thank you.”

At last, Dorthaer appeared in the doorway.  “Prepare twenty couriers at once,” Thranduil directed him, “and I want you and ten of your best men ready to accompany me into the south tomorrow.”

Dorthaer did not look particularly excited by the prospect, but he disappeared at once to do as he was bidden.

While he waited for the rest of the council, Thranduil sat down at the scribe’s table in the corner and quickly wrote out the message he wanted his couriers to bear, namely his permission and encouragement that his subjects remove themselves to whatever place they should deem safe.  There would doubtless be a series of disputes erupting from the confusion, but he would address them later.

Lindóriel simply watched, waiting patiently for an explanation. 

“Ah, Linhir.”  Thranduil looked up as his seneschal was the first to arrive.  “Please get this to your scribes at once before the others arrive.  I need twenty copies immediately.”

“Certainly,” Linhir agreed, though he still looked drowsy.

Alone again with Lindóriel, Thranduil suddenly remembered the paper Baradhren had given him.  He pulled it out and unfolded it, discovering it to be a charcoal drawing.  The strokes were hurried and smudged, but the image was of an evil looking citadel nestled on the crown of Amon Lanc.  A name had been hastily scrawled in the margin, “Dol Guldur.”

“What is that?” Lindóriel demanded.

“I would very much like to ask the same question, love,” Thranduil assured her, taking his seat at the head of the council table.

Galadhmir arrived.  He was closely followed by Anárion and Legolas, and finally Linhir.

Thranduil indicated with a sweep of his hand that they should take their seats as well.  “Good morning,” he said in a grim voice which implied it was quite the opposite.  He pushed the charcoal drawing to the center of the table.  “My lords, and lady, it seems we suddenly have a rather serious problem.”


The cat was certainly out of the bag now.  As Thranduil strode across the lawn away from the hall, he could feel eyes upon him.  It was different now; they were frightened, and they expected him to confront the danger.  His friends were also looking at him that way now, and his wife and son.  He wished he had someone to look to, but for the moment he was well and truly alone on that score.  The first thing he must do is see the contamination with his own eyes. 

He climbed the stairs which led into the tree which supported the guest house, usually reserved for visitors of more consequence than woodland messengers.  He knocked softly, just in case Baradhren was sleeping.  He was not, and he was more than a bit taken aback to see the king at his door unescorted.

“May I come in?” Thranduil asked when the other continued to gape at him.

“Yes, yes, of course, my lord.” Baradhren stepped back out of the way with an awkward bow. 

“I thought it only fair to tell you,” Thranduil said, taking a seat and directing Baradhren to the one opposite him, “that my council and I have discussed the matter, and the decision was made that some of us should see what is happening for ourselves.  So, Lord Galadhmir and I will be departing tomorrow with a small force—not an army, mind you.”

Baradhren just nodded, his eyes haunted by that hollow numbness of one who has already seen worse than he had imagined possible.  They had all looked like that after the war.

“I wish I could tell you I was going to raze that monstrosity to its foundations,” Thranduil continued in a more familiar tone, surprising even himself, “but I fear this Dol Guldur may prove to be greater than it would seem.  It may be beyond my power to retrieve your father.”

Baradhren nodded again.  “We did not expect it, my lord,” he confessed.  “Indeed, we hope he is already dead.”

It sounded harsh, but it was understandable.  Some things could indeed be worse than death.

“Do you have a family, Baradhren?”

“I have a wife and son.”

Thranduil smiled.  “So have I,” he said, stating the obvious.  “What I can promise you is that I will do whatever I possibly can to ensure that there is a safe place in this wood for you and your family, wherever that may be.  Is that satisfactory?”

“It is all we can ask, my lord,” Baradhren said, almost managing a smile.

“Very well.  Now, tell me everything I must know to survive this ride to Dol Guldur.”

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