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We Were Young Once ~ III  by Conquistadora

Chapter 10 ~ Whispers in the Dark IV

“This passage leads directly into the deepest chamber,” Galasrinion explained, guiding his small boat toward the mouth of the cave with expert hands.  “The ceiling is quite low at first, so please mind your heads, my lords.”

Thranduil and Legolas followed in their own boats.  The ceiling was indeed quite low, and for several feet they were obliged to bend almost double over their paddles.  Eventually the cavern widened to reveal a torchlit chamber through which the river had cut a wide path for itself.

Following Galasrinion’s lead, the king and the prince guided their boats to a makeshift landing and climbed ashore.  They were joined there by Galasrinion’s wife, Arameleth, his partner in more than simply domestic life.  Together they were the most innovative team of architects Greenwood could boast.

“Welcome, my lords,” she said with a quick bow to them both.  “Welcome to Arthrand Lasgalen!  At least, we hope that in time it will be worthy of the name.”

“As do I, my lady,” Thranduil said pleasantly.  “Show me what you have planned for this room.”

On a work table nearby lay sheaves of completed plans and conceptional drawings.  Arameleth eagerly selected the one which showed an elaborate design for a network of cellars and laid it in Thranduil’s hands.

“As you can see,” Galasrinion explained, “the original stonework can still be identified beneath all the new formations.  We intend to incorporate and expand upon the work which has already been done lest we compromise the structure of the entire cavern system.”

“Yes, I see,” Thranduil said, distracted.  Gazing up at the ceiling, he could indeed see the crude but effective stonework of the ancient craftsmen.  The sheer passage of time had obscured it beneath innumerable growths of new rock, hanging from the ceiling and cluttering the floor like stony weeds.  The origin of this place would likely remain a mystery, but as a fortress it would serve his purposes perfectly.

“It is rather difficult to see your vision now,” he admitted.  “If you two can implement this design, you will have proven your worth ten times over.”

“There will be a system of storage rooms on this side of the river channel,” Galasrinion explained, beaming with pride, “and enough room for workmen on the other.”

“And, naturally, a portcullis at each end,” Arameleth added, “to secure the waterway.”

From there Galasrinion led them up a rugged incline into the next grouping of chambers, Arameleth following with an armful of papers.  “That slope will soon be hewn into proper stairs, my lords,” he apologized.

The size of the room they now entered was truly impressive.  The small flickering torches placed along the walls gave enough light to reveal a huge area, a maze of natural rock formations comprised of many different levels and side chambers all feeding into one central space with a high ceiling.  It was a commanding view. 

“We imagined this to be the royal hall,” Galasrinion said, as Arameleth handed the king another drawing.  “It is connected to a large tunnel leading to the southern face of the hillside where I propose we construct the main gate.”

The glimpse Arameleth’s drawing offered was of an enormous hall supported by pillars of living stone and bathed in golden firelight.  A raised dais set with three thrones stood at the far end.  Long tables were arranged in several of the chambers, everything joined by stairways carved out of the sloping floor.

“Quite impressive,” Thranduil said, looking up and imagining all the extraneous rock removed.  It would reflect the simple grandeur of his woodland realm, charmingly asymmetrical due to the placement of the natural pillars.

On the far right side of the enormous hall, Galasrinion led them along a passage which led to more domestic chambers.  A fissure in the wall revealed even more uncharted spaces which would be available later if they found they had need to expand.  Similar chambers located off the far left side of the hall had been designated for various purposes, such as the armory, the treasury, the library, and the like.

Finally, they were led down the main corridor to the cave’s mouth in the hillside.  It was not especially large, but the master architects had already drawn up plans for an impressive and apparently impregnable gate system which would require widening the opening.  A wooden bridge would be built to span the river, sturdy enough to endure vigorous use, yet easily destroyed in case of emergency.

“I cannot see how I could improve upon your design,” Thranduil told them, genuinely pleased.  “I can only hope you begin work soon.”

“We have waited only for your approval, my lord,” Arameleth said with a smile.

“You have it, unreservedly,” Thranduil assured her.  “I understand it will be some years yet before the details may be completed, but please see to the essential functions of the place before all else.  We shall not leave Galasremmen Lasgalen unless we are forced prematurely, but in that event, I would like our home beneath the hill to be ready at least to shelter us.”

“As you wish, my lord.”

“I eagerly await news of your progress.”

They stayed that night in the nearby village which had been hastily constructed to accommodate the small army of workers and craftsmen who would begin chiseling away the interior of the caverns.  A modest pavilion had been thrown up for the king and the prince, and the Wood-elves ungrudgingly offered their best provisions.  Those included the two large fish standing against an open fire on spits of green oak. 

Seated on a tree stump at the fireside, Thranduil looked up to find Legolas gazing absently into the dancing flames.  “You have been very quiet,” he observed.  “I would ask what troubles you were it not so obvious.”

Legolas immediately stopped turning the small silver ring on his finger.  He looked cross and preoccupied, which was very unlike him.  He had reason enough.

Thranduil felt a sympathetic pang for his son.  The wedding had been postponed indefinitely while the specter of Dol Guldur darkened everyone’s thoughts.  It was not the custom of the Elves to wed in dark times except at last resort.  A veteran of that interior battle himself, Thranduil could well understand his indecision.

“What would you do in my position?” Legolas asked abruptly, as though it had been building for some time.  “I appreciate that you have kept a respectful distance during this whole courtship, but I am asking you now.  Please, tell me what you would do.”

“Now, that is a difficult question,” Thranduil warned him, turning the fish.  “In your position, at your age and with your experience, I know what I would have done.  I know what I did.  It is not every day that one takes a wife, and I felt I had to wait for that perfect time when the stars were aligned and the world was at peace lest any hint of hardship mar our happiness.  But I cannot deny that it sickens my heart when I think of all the wasted years your mother and I might otherwise have spent together.”

“Would you do the same if you had it to do again?” Legolas asked.

“Knowing what I knew then, I probably would,” Thranduil admitted.  “But had I known what I know now . . .”  He trailed away, imagining the possibility.  “It was easier at the time to blame Sauron simply for existing, but it was my own choice.  By the time I realized what had happened, I had allowed him to take a thousand years from us.  If we could anticipate what the next few centuries hold, perhaps we would be acting differently now.  Unfortunately, guessing the future is a dangerous game.”

“Would you suggest then that I err on the side of caution?”

“There is a certain wisdom in taking the prudent course,” Thranduil agreed, “but there is also much to be said for not living in fear.”

Legolas sighed, exasperated.  “Father, you have still not managed to answer my question.”

Thranduil smiled wryly, though to some extent he shared the same discontent.  “I know.  In the end, I fear I have no satisfactory answer to give you.  Ultimately, it is for you and Lorivanneth to decide whether your happiness now is worth the risk later.”

“What risks are there to consider, really?” Legolas demanded.  “That our lives might not be perfect?”

Thranduil found that a ready answer did not at once spring to mind.  “When at last you cut to the heart of it,” he decided, “there are no trials a strong marriage cannot weather.  But do not be so quick to dismiss the hardships this world may yet have in store for you, Legolas.  Thus far, your life has been perfect.  When you are wed, you are wed once for all time, and that bond should not be attempted while you have neither the time nor the attention to discern it properly.”

An awkward silence fell for a moment.  Thranduil had not intended to start lecturing his son at a time like this, but he could not help feeling deeply concerned for him.  His entire future hung in the balance.  He had never known war of any kind, that last vestige of his youth spared until now.  Thranduil could not bear the thought of Legolas losing a child or his spouse to Sauron’s ravages, as so many of them had already, but he knew he could not protect him forever.

“Speak to Lorivanneth,” he said gently.  “Speak to her father.  Linhir also knows a thing or two about the ugly side of life.”

“I was ready to wed her last year before any of this happened,” Legolas said miserably.  “Why should that have changed?”

“It need not have changed at all,” Thranduil assured him.  “Just speak to her.  If the two of you decide you are better prepared to face the prospect of this life together,” he said, indicating the looming shadow of the cavernous fortress behind them, “I shall not presume to think otherwise.”

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