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We Were Young Once ~ III  by Conquistadora

Chapter 9 ~ Whispers in the Dark III

It took another six days for them to return to Galadhremmen Lasgalen, traveling at a slower pace for the sake of their wounded.  Dorthaer steadily regained his strength after being miserably ill for several days.  Thranduil realized it would probably be prudent to acquire some of that spider venom for Noruvion in the hope that he could devise an antidote.  Unfortunately, the king had no encouraging news for his people as he returned to the north.  He could only remind them that they were permitted and indeed strongly encouraged to remove themselves from the shadow’s path.

Thranduil’s mind had been steadily churning since their narrow escape from the corrupted forest, now commonly being called Mirkwood.  They rode in silence, allowing him to think.  There was so much to be done, yet he did not know if any of it would much avail them.  He would have a great deal to discuss with the others.

Galadhmir rode beside him, leading Bregolion’s horse by the reins.  Now and then, Thranduil could feel him looking at him the same way the healer had done, looking for reassurance.  They had been the best of friends ever since they had been young in Menegroth, and together they had experienced more than even their kind could expect in a lifetime.  Thranduil did not feel young anymore.  He felt worn, inadequate. 

He was not yet certain how he would counter this enemy’s advance.  Doriath had stood invulnerable inside the enchantments of Melian, yet had crumbled so easily after that protection was withdrawn.  The location of the Three Elven Rings of Celebrimbor was a closely guarded secret, but even a simpleton could recognize their influence at least in Imladris.  What would protect Eryn Galen?  Everyone was looking to him, but he did not know whether he could answer.

Despite these gloomy thoughts, Thranduil could not manage to despair so long as Bregolion bravely sat upon his horse regardless of the pain it must be causing him, grasping the mane with his remaining fingers and wearing a linen bandage over his burnt eyes.  Tortured and turned out to the mercy of the Necromancer’s beasts, many others would have already forsaken their lives.  Thranduil recognized in him the same indomitable resilience he had seen in Gwaelas, the same will to endure that Sauron had failed to appreciate.  It could be that they would need every ounce of that strength before long.

Rumor traveled more quickly than they did, so when at last they did reach the city Bregolion’s family rushed out to receive him with tears and kisses.  Baradhren and his mother thanked their king profusely for rescuing him against all hope, though his condition obviously grieved them.  Thranduil accepted their thanks with good grace, though there was only one face he was truly anxious to see.

Lindóriel was waiting for them at the foot of the stairs as he and Galadhmir arrived at the King’s House.  Worn, saddle sore, and conscious only of how much he wanted to spare her the dark times ahead, Thranduil unceremoniously put his arms about her and held her close.  Surprised, she accepted his embrace without reservation, though he felt her stiffen.  She could read his mood and knew the news was not good.

“Galadhmir,” Thranduil said at last, still unwilling to let her go, “tell the others we will meet here in an hour.”

“Of course.”  Galadhmir sounded equally tense, no doubt eager to see his own wife.

“Come,” Lindóriel said, pulling away and leading him up the stairs to their rooms.  “Tell me what happened.  Was it as terrible as you feared?”

“It was worse,” Thranduil said miserably.  “We could not safely approach even as near as the valley.  Dorthaer was bitten by a spider which had him vomiting for days, and we were set upon by wargs.  It was only by some miracle that we recovered Bregolion.”

“That alone makes the journey worthwhile,” she insisted, ushering him inside and closing the door after him.  “Did you discover any means by which to stop the blight spreading?”

“I do not know that it can be stopped,” he admitted, unfastening his vambraces and the front of his jerkin as she selected clean clothes from the wardrobe.  “It is obviously the work of some foul power, and at this pace it will be at our doorstep within a few years.”  He stopped talking for a moment as he sank down to sit on the bed, lost in his own unpleasant memories and imaginings.  As if on cue, his scalp began to itch at the mere thought of what was crawling through the wood.

Lindóriel caught his hand to stop his scratching, sat down beside him and began to untwine his warrior’s plaits with her skillful fingers.  Thranduil did not object; her attentions were soothing after the stress of the trip.  Just her presence was itself a welcome relief, though it did little to distract him from his gnawing cares.  Everything was still as it should be here in his house amid the trees, but he could not forget the shadow looming outside, encroaching ever nearer.  When she had finished loosing his hair, he leaned over to rest his head on her shoulder.

“What happened, Lin?” he asked pitifully.  “Our perfect world is crumbling.”

“Perhaps it has always been too perfect to last,” she said with a note of keen regret as she put her arm around his shoulders.  “It is foolish of us, I suppose, to always expect that evil has at last been conquered forever.  It has never been true, yet we dare to hope that enough blood has been spilt, enough life lost, enough damage done to ransom this world once and for all.”

“I knew Mordor had not breathed its last, but I did not expect it to take root in our wood.”

“Unfortunately for us, it has.  What are you going to do about it?”

Thranduil was momentarily at a loss.  “I do not know,” he admitted, sitting upright again.  “Lin, I do not know.  I know how to command an army, but this necromancy is the sort which darkened the Elder Days.  Who am I in the face of that?”

Lindóriel stiffened again, offended by the question.  “You are one of the Meliannath of Doriath,” she said proudly, “a kinsman of Elu Thingol and the grandson of Thoron Dúthalion.  You are Elvenking Thranduil Thalion Oropherion, and you have ruled this wood for a thousand years.  You will not be unseated by a craven necromancer who dares not even declare himself.”

Despite his lingering doubts, Thranduil had to admit that her vehemence stirred something in his heart.  “Your confidence honors me, my lady,” he said wryly.  “You truly believe I can succeed in this?”

“I believe you will succeed because you have no choice,” Lindóriel said gravely.  “Your greatest strengths have always been revealed when your hand is forced.  But you are by no means alone.  We are here because you chose us, and we have freely bound ourselves to your fate.  You will never face an enemy alone while we live.”

It was true.  Though he had never doubted their resolve, Thranduil was touched to hear her declare it.  The Oropherionnath had already faced all the worst trials of their lives together.  He could scarcely remember a time without them.

Gratefully, he pulled her close and kissed her, drawing strength simply from her touch.  Lindóriel returned his affections with equal ardor, letting him know she had missed him over the past days as sorely as he had missed her.  He was undeservedly fortunate to have such devoted friends, such a peerless wife.  She smelled like roses, and her perfect skin was soft beneath his lips, yet regardless of her beauty Thranduil knew he could never find a truer companion with whom to share his life.  She knew him in his entirety, every weakness and failing, yet gave him only love in return. 

At long last, and yet entirely too soon, Lindóriel gently pulled away.  Thranduil found he had absolutely no desire to leave that room for the remainder of the day, nor to face any of the troubles which awaited him downstairs.  But it was no use pleading with her.  His queen would hold him to his duty.

“I love you,” he said, finding the words entirely inadequate.  “If you were the only Elf in this wood, my lady, I would defend it for your sake.”

“And I would never leave it without you, though it all turned to darkness,” she said, kissing him once more before handing him some folded clothes.  “Now, go make yourself presentable.  It will not do for the king to be late to his own council.”


The lords assembled in the King’s Hall as requested.  They found Thranduil already seated in his imposing chair at the head of the table, pouring over maps and making copious notes for himself.

Legolas slipped into his place, the first at his father’s right.  Thranduil could tell by his cheerless expression that his son had also guessed the gravity of the situation.  Linhir, Galadhmir, and Anárion took their seats on either side, while Brilthor, the silvan chieftain, sat at the end opposite the king. 

“As time is suddenly of the essence,” Thranduil began grimly, setting down his quill, “I shall not bore you with unnecessary pleasantries.  “The state of Amon Lanc and the surrounding wood is so far gone already that any attempt to reclaim it would exact a price too great for me to countenance.  Moreover, while the identity of this meddlesome necromancer remains unknown to us, we necessarily run the risk of underestimating his strength and rushing headlong into a disaster we can ill afford.  We shall not provoke him yet, and any action taken against him will be purely defensive until I should decide otherwise.  This is not open for discussion.”

The lords shifted in their seats, but did not oppose him.  It was indeed galling to admit that so insidious an evil had gained a solid foothold in their wood while they were looking the other way, but he had no intention of compounding that mistake with unnecessary bloodshed.

“What is worse,” Thranduil continued, selecting a map of the northern marches, “the corruption of Dol Guldur is by no means contained.  It continues to spread northward, and I believe should now be considered a threat to the entire wood.  As loath as I am to say it, we should consider moving ourselves to a more defensible position.”

“Have we not already moved ourselves quite enough?” Linhir protested immediately.

“It is rather tiresome,” Thranduil admitted, “but I would not suggest it if I did not believe it to be a great risk to stay here.”

“Where do you intend to go?” Brilthor asked calmly.

“Anywhere north of the mountains,” Thranduil said, pushing the map to the center of the table.  “I am prepared to hear whatever suggestions you have to offer.”

“Besides the benefit offered by the mountains, there are very few places in the north any more defensible than our homes here,” Anárion observed.  “Amon Lasgalen would have been the obvious choice.”

Galadhmir frowned.  “Unfortunately, the Necromancer has already recognized the benefit of that terrain.”

“The choice itself depends greatly upon the sort of fortifications we expect to construct,” Linhir said, “and whether it would provide defensible access to water.”

“The ridge where the river forks may be a possibility.”

“The east hills are a better one,” Legolas said, very decidedly. 

“The storehouses?”  Brilthor seemed incredulous.

“Precisely,” Legolas said, looking to his elders for support.  “The caverns are already there, and the river runs directly beneath the hills.  The Mithrim have lived beneath the ground before, have they not?”

Thranduil carefully considered the possibility before he spoke.  The mysterious caves beneath the hills on their northeastern border had thus far been used only for winter storage.  The place would need to be expanded considerably before they could even consider attempting to live there, and it would certainly never be Menegroth, but it was very advantageously situated.

“I agree,” he said at last.  “So long as we do not know the identity of our enemy, we might as well prepare for the worst.  Are there any strenuous objections?”

No one looked particularly pleased, but no one sought to argue.

“Very well,” Thranduil said, collecting the map and folding it once again.  “Linhir, I want our most capable architects sent there at once to investigate the site and inform me of what it will require to make those caverns a proper home.  In the meantime, I shall write to Luinlas about doubling the strength of the army.”  Before continuing, Thranduil leaned aside to his son.  “Legolas, would you summon Bregolion, please?”

Thranduil had sent advance warning to the broken Elf’s family, so it was only a matter of moments before Legolas returned, followed by Bregolion and his wife, who led him gently by the hand.

“Beyond all hope, we have managed to recover one of our own who has already been a prisoner of the Necromancer,” Thranduil introduced him, though he imagined they already knew who he was.  “Bregolion has agreed to tell us all he can about his imprisonment in the hope that it may be of some use to us.”

“I regret that I can tell you nothing of the interior of Dol Guldur, my lords,” Bregolion apologized.  “I was set upon as soon as I approached, and not long afterwards they took my eyes.”

“That would have been of little matter,” Thranduil assured him.  “You need not detail your trials here if it pains you.  Tell us what you heard.”

“There was little enough of any consequence to hear, for it seemed I was kept only by Orcs who knew and cared for nothing beyond their dungeon.”  He paused for a moment, obviously choosing not to disclose the many unspeakable abuses he must have suffered at their hands.  “There was one other.  He claimed not to be the Necromancer, but merely his mouthpiece.  Before they drove me mad, I still had sense enough to protest that our lord the king would never allow their cruelty to continue in our wood.”

Feeling a stab of shame and frustration at his inability to make good on that threat, Thranduil resisted the urge to shift in his seat.  “Did he answer?” he asked instead.

Bregolion swallowed, apparently regretting the words he had to repeat.  “He laughed and said, ‘Oropherion troubles me not at all.  I have witnessed the rise and fall of many realms, and was called cruel before the rising of the moon.  Your king excels not in saving lives, but in lamenting them.’”

Thranduil felt the blood drain from his face.  His eyes lost their focus, and he could hear nothing but the thunderous beating of his own heart.

“Did he ever reveal his name?” Galadhmir asked.

Bregolion shook his head.  “I can remember no more.”

Thranduil recovered himself enough to dismiss Bregolion with thanks and he left the hall to find what solace he could with his family.  It seemed his sufferings had not been in vain.

Thranduil found Legolas looking at him with obvious concern.  He forced himself to master the initial rush of panic as he realized the situation he was facing.

“It need not necessarily be him,” Galadhmir hissed, well acquainted now with the details of Thranduil’s encounter with Annatar, reading his fears immediately.  “It may yet be one of the wraiths.”

“Those were his exact words to me,” Thranduil insisted.

“Perhaps it is merely coincidence,” Anárion suggested.  “Bregolion’s memory may not be entirely reliable, considering his torments.”

“Perhaps you would like to call him a liar to what remains of his face,” Thranduil returned bitterly.  “How could he have fabricated something so precise?”

“Regardless,” Linhir insisted, attempting to stem the pointless argument, “the questionable identity of the Necromancer does not in any way change our plans, correct?”

“Indeed, it does not.”  Thranduil pulled himself together, knowing that panic was a luxury he could not afford in this game they were suddenly playing.  “Everyone to your duties, and report to me often.  I want to know what is being done, where, and by whom.  A great deal of work lies ahead of us.”

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