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We Were Young Once ~ III  by Conquistadora

Chapter 13 ~ Whispers in the Dark VII

Thranduil led the first party north at first light.  Legolas and Lindóriel followed close behind, Linhir, Galadhmir, and Anárion interspersed throughout the line to keep order, Brilthor bringing up the rear.  A heavy guard was deployed to protect the column as they wound their way through the mountain pass.  It was unfortunate that they could not have postponed this retreat until spring, but Thranduil was confident that they were prepared to withstand the winter without too much hardship. 

The king arrived at Arthrand Lasgalen before any messenger could announce his approach, throwing Galasrinion and Arameleth into a bit of a frenzy.

“My lord!” Galasrinion gasped as he rushed out to meet him at the gate.  “I must apologize.  We did not expect you, and your rooms are not finished.”

“I do not care whether they are finished,” Thranduil assured him, dismounting, “but only whether they are serviceable.”

“After a fashion, yes.”

“Excellent.  We shall fuss over the details later.”

Following the architect through the gates and down the corridor crowded with workmen, Thranduil was quite pleased with the progress which had already been made.  The walls had taken their final shape, though still bare of decoration.  The enormous hall at the center of the complex had been vastly improved since his last visit.  The walls were fitted with sconces which flooded the interior with warm light.  Stairways had been carved out of the floor to join the different levels of elevation, and the thrones had already been placed on the dais.

“Have the other chambers been cleared?” Thranduil asked.

“For the most part, my Lord,” Galasrinion said.

“We may need to use them and the main hall until we can build homes for everyone,” Thranduil said, thinking aloud.  “The gates and the waterways are secure?”

“Quite.  They were our first priority.”

“Stop work for the moment,” Thranduil directed him.  “No one sleeps tonight until everyone has somewhere to shelter.  Put as many as you can here in the caverns, and your people must open their homes to the rest.  Tomorrow, I want everyone out of here and breaking ground for houses outside.  The palace is secure enough to keep me until they are finished.  If you require further direction, address yourself to the queen.”

Returning down the corridor, Thranduil arrived at the gate just in time to meet Lindóriel and inform her of her new duties.  She would manage the chaos beautifully, he knew.  People were less likely to argue with her.  For himself, he remounted and began a long ride around the hills.

The location was indeed more defensible than their tree-woven city had been, but Thranduil still felt they were exposed.  He had much more subtle work to do, and quickly.  He rode through the wood around the enormous hill, trailing his fingers through the overgrowth and along the trunks of trees.  This far north the wood did not completely recognize him.  He must establish himself soon or their subterranean fortress would avail them little.

He tried to empty his mind of all the swirling cares which clouded it, which was more difficult than he had anticipated.  The long list of practical concerns which harried him lately made meditation a chore.

When he had made a few complete circuits around the hill, he dismounted to walk the path himself for a while.  His horse trailed along behind, needing no guidance.  The trees wore their vibrant autumn colors, laying a bright carpet of leaves underfoot.  Squirrels and deer rustled through the foliage, looking up as he passed, but apparently reassured by his presence. 

The longer he tried, the more attuned he became to the breathing of the forest, the vibrant life just beneath the surface.  He could smell life permeating the air, even with winter approaching.  Mirkwood smelled only of slow decay.  It may prove beyond his power to protect this wood entirely from the Necromancer’s touch, but he would try.

As evening was falling, Thranduil stopped and crouched beside a small stream, a trickling offshoot of the river.  He trailed his fingers in the water and was immediately preternaturally aware of the river’s course, a pulsing vein in the heart of the forest.  He closed his eyes, and yet was just as keenly aware of everything that moved around him in the growing darkness.  More importantly, he felt the wood was equally aware of him.  Resorting to the time-honored practice of the Eldar, he began to sing.

It was a romantic lament of a fallen king, written by the woodland people long ago in memory of Oropher.  It was poignant, but not without a small note of hope.  He began softly, gratified to feel the spirit of a gnarled oak glow against his hand in reply.  Carefully he projected a bit further, and soon he could feel the forest awakening to the sound.  Gradually the whole interwoven tangle of living things revealed itself to him, teeming with the silent and inarticulate strength of the trees.  They responded with interest, if not immediate acceptance.

At last he released the full power of his voice, letting it reverberate through the branches with a force that demanded recognition.  He was the king, he was the guardian of this wood, and it would answer him. 

The life force of the forest surged up through his body, tingling at his fingertips, consenting to be commanded.  The stream rose and the trees swayed in the windless night. 

The feeling dissipated as the song ended, and Thranduil allowed it to fade back into the stillness.  He was encouraged by how quickly he was being accepted.  Perhaps the trees of the north were more aware of the Oropherionnath than he had thought.  Perhaps they somehow understood he could not afford to spend years charming them.

As he rode back toward the fledgling city, Thranduil saw the trees were not the only things which had been awakened.  Small bonfires had been built all around the hill and music echoed across a scene of defiant gaiety.  Half of them were temporarily homeless and their wood had been invaded by a nameless terror, but all the silvan population was out dancing rather raucously on the grass.  A meager feast of smoked venison, apples and acorn bread had been thrown together out of the available stores, but no one seemed to want for anything.

Thranduil had to smile, strangely proud of them.  Even in the darkest times they could find something to celebrate.  It was the perfect setting.

Finding Lindóriel among the crowd, he leaned over to lay a kiss on her cheek.  “It is time,” he said, and she understood what he meant.  “Tell the others.”

While she sought out the rest of the ruling families, Thranduil turned his horse up the sloping side of the hill, heading for the distant summit.  They had discussed this plan well in advance, understanding the urgent need to entrench themselves as firmly as possible.  It had worked before, but more gradually and on a smaller scale.

When at last he did dismount at the crest of the hill, the view was spectacular.  He was far above the timberline with nothing between him and the stars.  He stood alone on the peak, planted his feet and drew a deep breath of the crisp air, so deep he could feel it bite his lungs.  When he released that breath, he released his fears with it.

He had flinched at first, but now he was dourly determined to look the Necromancer in the eye, be he Sauron or not.  There were many forces at work in his life, many memories and motivations which lent him the courage to stand now.  He was inspired by his father’s pride, his mother’s guidance, his wife’s encouragement, and his son’s trust.  Together they and the other Oropherionnath were a family which refused to be broken.  They would not be dismissed, they would not be taken for granted.

The wood below him was seething with lights, music, and the boundless energy of the woodland Elves.  He closed his eyes and allowed his other senses to sharpen, and after a few moments of focused concentration he was once again aware of the pulsing life of the forest.  More importantly, he was aware of his companions.

The rest of them had taken their places in a long half circle above the gate.  The other Meliannath were the strongest presences, Lindóriel, Galadhmir, Gwaelin, Linhir, Illuiniel, Menelwen, Noruvion, but woven between them were also the kindred energies of Anárion as well as those of the next generation, Legolas, Calenmir, Luinar, Lorivanneth, Annorín, and Moredhel.  United in a common purpose, they drew upon whatever abilities each possessed. 

For a time, Thranduil let that vibrant tapestry grow, each of them strongly aware of the others.  Then by sheer force of will, he drew that raw power up to himself like a wave, combining their strength to achieve in a moment what had taken Oropher years to accomplish alone.  They bore no Rings, they had not seen the blessed realm, but together they were a force to be reckoned with, and with them he could wield a power ten times his alone.  That power he now projected outward with all the force he could command, making his presence and his will known for miles in every direction.

The wood seemed overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught.  It was accustomed to the quiet silvan race, but had never before felt the concentrated power of the Sindarin lords.  It was a struggle to maintain that intensity, but Thranduil grit his teeth and held it a few moments longer, waiting for that tacit acceptance which would place the ancient power of the forest at his disposal.

At last it came, like a blast of invisible light.  For one intense moment he was blindingly aware of everything that lived and breathed around him, from the smallest insect to the largest beast, every ageless tree and sapling.  He was transfixed, at one with the deepest heart of Greenwood.

The moment did not last as their kindred nexus faltered beneath the strain, but they had accomplished their purpose.  Thranduil sank to his knees in the grass, surprisingly exhausted by the experience.  An echo of that vision lingered, a new and intimate awareness of the forest in the back of his mind.

He had established his new boundaries.  Let the Necromancer cross them at his peril.

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