Stories of Arda Home Page
About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search

We Were Young Once ~ III  by Conquistadora

Chapter 25 ~ Holding the North III

There was an oppressive mist throughout the wood, thick and dank, hanging in the trees like a pall.  There was no sound, no sign of bird or beast, barely any discernible flutter of life. Thranduil found the stillness strangely disquieting.  He felt alone and exposed in that vast waste, conspicuous, vulnerable. He saw the leaves glistening wet, the dew gathered on the underwood, but he smelled only ash and the stench of wildfire.  The sky was gray, and somewhere the forest was burning.  Without seeing it, he perceived that he was clad again in the ruined mail and scored leather armor he had worn on that dreadful day he had first been named king.

He knew at once that he was dreaming, but he could not wake himself.  The patterns on the trees told him he was facing north, and the certainty of what must be waiting behind him clutched at his heart.  He wanted desperately to wake, to escape this confrontation.  He was not alone at all.  He felt stripped and helpless before that dreadful presence, reduced to nothing but his stubborn pride.  He felt the weight of its malevolent gaze on his back.  There was no escape.

Reluctantly, Thranduil gathered all his resolve, set his jaw, and slowly turned around.

His enemy was wreathed in smoke, looming tall and dark in robes of black and gold and bronze, exactly as Thranduil had known him in Eregion.  It had been said that he could no longer assume so fair a semblance after it had been drowned in the ruin of Númenor, but clearly he still wished to wear it in mind.  The land was charred and blasted where he stood, the stain slowly spreading in all directions as the undergrowth wilted in his heat.  He wore a spiked crown of iron like his cruel master of old, as terrible in his corruption as he must have been beautiful in his beginning.

Thranduil met his smoldering gaze without flinching, though it sickened him and was difficult to endure.  He remembered his father, Oropher, savaged in the wastes of Mordor.  He remembered their distant kinsman Finrod Felagund, mauled in the ruins of his own tower.  He remembered the legions of slain Galennath whose destruction this demon had wrought, and he let his anger quell his fear.

“So, it is you indeed,” Thranduil said at last, daring to break the silence.  His triumph was cold and cheerless. “You have taken great pains to hide yourself, Gorthaur.  Why show your face now?”

For a long moment, Sauron did not deign to answer.  Then he moved almost imperceptibly, like the shifting of a coiled snake, apparently cruelly amused by his adversary.

“You knew me from the start, Oropherion,” he said, his ancient voice like the rumble of thunder, causing the very earth to quake, “you who were so scarred by the sight of Mordor that you have since looked for me in every shadow.  Revealing myself to you is of no consequence.  Even if you should again expose yourself to the ridicule of the Wise, they will never bestir themselves to act upon a dream from the fevered mind of Thranduil.”

The truth of it was maddening.  Thranduil reached for his sword and found he had none.  He did not know what he would have done were it otherwise, for he dared not go any nearer that fiery spirit.  All thought of armed resistance was vain.

“Here I have you,” Sauron continued, “the last of the haughty Elven-kings, Thranduil the Outcast, obstinate son of Oropher the Fallen, Lord of the hapless Iathrim, alone in this forsaken corner of the world with only these woodland folk at your call.  Why do you not flee from me?  You have fled from everyone else.”

The valley itself seemed to constrict, drawing them ever closer.  Thranduil found himself rooted in place, transfixed by those eyes like coals which seemed determined to bore into his very heart.  He shook off the spell with an effort. 

“I shall never yield to you!” he managed to say at last, stumbling backward.  He felt strangely off-balance and disoriented, unable to put any distance between them however hard he tried.  “These people have pledged themselves to me, and I am their sworn guardian.  Are you so diminished in defeat that you lack the strength to finish me?”

The Dark Lord’s face twisted into a sneer.  “Who are you to threaten me?” he fumed, growing larger and darker.  “A vainglorious whelp playing at a game of crowns, neither ringbearer nor blood of the West.  Crawl back into the ruin before I wither in one breath that infamous vigor for which your mother named you!”

He lunged to strike him.  Thranduil, unable to escape, threw up his hand and caught the shattering blow with a strength that surprised them both.  Enraged, Sauron smote him to the ground with a devastating bolt of raw power.

Stunned, Thranduil choked as Sauron seized him by the neck and dragged him to his knees.  A hot black gauntlet clamped upon his brow, and many horrible incantations in the Black Speech were thrust into his mind by sheer burning force.

Thranduil roared in pain, rebelling against the violation with every ounce of strength he possessed.  As Sauron’s grip upon him faltered, he was able to form the words of a fraught counter-spell.

“Be still and do not speak.  Depart, you accursed, into the everlasting darkness prepared for you,” Thranduil commanded rapidly, focusing all his anger and pain and terror against that repugnant grasp.  “Hear my voice and be gone.  The shadow does not hold sway yet, not over me!”

Incredibly, Sauron was thrust back and Thranduil twisted away.  He raised his hand and braced himself against whatever evil might be thrown at him, but was only able to endure the blast for a few moments before he was hurled into the brake.  He rolled and was up again in a moment, but Sauron caught him by the wrist and bent him to the ground, assaulting him again in the vile tongue of Mordor.

“Depart, seducer, depart with your deceits!” Thranduil countered, more desperate now.  “Flee the light and return to darkness.  Cease!  Be silent!  Be gone!  Release me!”

Again he tore away, but he was weakening quickly, and Sauron seemed ready to have done with him.  Thranduil retreated as best he could, dazed and depleted, but the lord of Dol Guldur closed the distance and struck him down for the last time.  Thranduil cried out as his ancient scars from the Last Alliance tore open from within.  Spectral light poured from his wounds, and he felt his body flooded with fire.

Thranduil howled, frantic to stop his ears to the barrage of noxious words.  “No!   Tauron be with me, Enner give me strength, Gilthoniel protect me!  Belain, help me!  Help me!”

He was dimly aware of a brilliant flash of light and a rolling blast of frost which stopped the malicious incantation and set Sauron bellowing in pain and surprise.  Thranduil opened his eyes and found himself in his bed.  Gwaelas was standing over him with a dim lamp.

“My lord,” Gwaelas whispered in the sudden stillness, obviously perturbed, “can I assist you?”

Thranduil sat up immediately, disentangling himself from the bedding.  He felt lightheaded and weak, and he clenched his fists to steady his hands.  “What did you hear?” he demanded.

“I heard a good deal of thrashing about, and I thought I heard you call for me,” Gwaelas said.  “But it seems you were sleeping all the time.”

“It was a dream,” Thranduil assured him.  It was no secret that his dreams had often been dark, and he was still too shaken to discuss the particulars.  “You may go.”

Gwaelas seemed unconvinced, but he did not press the issue.  “As you wish, sire.” He lingered a moment more, then brightened the lamp and hissed sharply.

Thranduil looked down and saw at once what Gwaelas was gaping at.  The scars he had earned in Mordor were now as livid as if newly healed.  Thranduil touched his shoulder and found it hot and painful, more like a burn than a puncture.  He shuddered despite himself, unable now to wholly dismiss the terrifying encounter.

Gwaelas seemed to need no explanation, his face pale and drawn.  “It is that Annatar,” he said bitterly, “that Gorthaur of Mordor!  It is!”

Thranduil wanted to deny it, but Gwaelas read the truth in his eyes.  Gwaelas, alone of all his companions, had experienced the same brazen intrusion of the Dark Lord into his mind.  He understood as no one else could.

“It is,” Thranduil confirmed wearily, “but do not speak of it, not to anyone.  I will not have that name pollute my house until it can no longer be avoided.”

“Will you not tell Lord Celeborn and his Lady?”

“To what purpose?” Thranduil asked, more sharply than he had intended.  “No, there is nothing more to be done at present, and my conviction alone accounts for very little.  No spirit so vain as he can resist revealing himself to his enemies in time.  We need but wait.”

Gwaelas grudgingly accepted his decision.  There was clearly much more he might have said on the subject, but the guardianship and governance of the realm were not his province.  It was his duty, however, to attend the needs of the one who must bear that burden for them all.

“Wait a moment,” he said, and left abruptly.  He soon returned with a linen sheet and a small pot of honey.  “I never expected to have to dress these wounds again, my lord,” he said wryly, laying out the sheet to shear it into strips.

“You fetched that very quickly,” Thranduil observed with good-humored suspicion.  “Have you a hoard in your room, Gwaelas?”

“Perhaps I have,” the other said with a vague smile.  “One does work up an appetite in the King’s service.”

Thranduil was very glad not to have to call Noruvion or any of the other healers.  He had no convincing explanation to offer, and hysterical rumors would profit no one.  As ever, his secrets were safe with Gwaelas.

When all his injuries were dressed and bound, Thranduil stood and pulled a shirt from the wardrobe.  He was restless and agitated and needed time to collect his thoughts.

“You will sleep no more tonight?” Gwaelas asked.

“I dare not,” Thranduil confessed.  “But I have no wish to importune you further.  Take some rest, Gwaelas; I can look after myself.”

Gwaelas gave him a narrow look, but moved to obey nonetheless.  “Do not neglect to call me at need, my lord,” he insisted, gathering up the linen remnants and his empty honey pot.

“You know I never do.”

Thranduil left his chambers when Gwaelas had gone, too unnerved to be still.  Though the pain had subsided, the uncomfortable restriction of the bandages against his skin was reminder enough of what had passed between him and that brooding shadow in Dol Guldur.  It may indeed have been all in his mind, but it had not been of his making.  However he was destined to meet his death, he hoped it would not be like that.

He wandered aimlessly through the halls and corridors, and those who were also about at that hour went out of their way to give him a wide berth.  He resisted the visceral urge to descend deeper into the caverns. He would not cower like a beaten dog, nor reward Gorthaur’s attempt to intimidate him with this galling reminder of the beating he had already been dealt.  Instead, he eventually directed himself up and out into the open air.

Whatever evils might be lurking in the darkness, it was otherwise a pleasant night.  The stars and waning moon gently illuminated the landscape, and chorus of insects flooded the wood with soft noise.  Only the best scents of summer were on the air, the fresh damp of earth, the warm fragrance of flowers, and the pulsing green life of the forest.  Thranduil breathed deeply.  Sometimes that indomitable green smell was more refreshing than sleep.  The thought of Gorthaur spitefully choking it away was unbearable.

He continued upward along the rough path leading around the hill and to the summit.  It was a much longer walk than a direct ascent, but it was easier and gave him a chance to gather himself.  He still felt a sickly chill in his heart where his enemy had touched him.  He tried to shake it off, but it was deep and persistent.  It was a sobering wound, though not a mortal one. 

Thranduil did not know what Sauron’s ultimate purpose had been in assaulting him, but he was certain he did not wish to find it out.  Although he had been constrained at last to call upon the Powers in his torment, he had no way of knowing whether he had been spared by their intervention or simply by Gwaelas’ timely interruption.  He was loath to invoke them directly unless at the last need.  He had reasons of his own.

He was abruptly startled out of his own thoughts by the sight of Galadriel.  She was seated on a low-slung branch amid a rambling copse of trees on the path ahead, her gaze trained resolutely south.  She did nothing to acknowledge him, but Thranduil knew he had not escaped her notice.

“This night is not so quiet as it would seem,” she said at last as he approached her.  “There are many powers at work in the dark.  I must confess that I am glad to see you on your feet after being so sorely tried.”

“I have not been broken yet,” Thranduil said guardedly.  How much did she know?

“The Necromancer has grown very bold,” Galadriel observed.  “Your defense was impressive, especially considering your limitations.”

“I am more keenly reminded of them each day,” Thranduil said, frowning.  There was no sense in pretending to be more than he was while in her presence.  As ever, he felt she saw straight through him.

Galadriel smiled wryly in the dappled starlight.  “Each of us feels the strain in his own way,” she said.  “We can only do as we must and commend the rest to the grace of the Valar.”

Thranduil’s mouth twisted into a grim smile.  Her pious platitude struck him false, and indeed darkly ironic.  Perhaps she had meant it that way.  “You will find that I have not an overabundance of piety where the Belain are concerned,” he admitted.

She finally turned toward him, a soft expression on her face.  He could see that her opinion of him had improved considerably since they had met in Lindon, and he even recognized an ungrudged respect he had never expected to be afforded to anyone of Oropher’s house.  “The same could often have been said of me,” she owned.  “You obviously know the essentials of my tale; whence come your reservations?”

Thranduil scoffed quietly.  Memories flooded back to him, memories of abandonment, of helplessness, the utter terror of floating adrift in a rough sea, their ship burst asunder in dragon fire.  “The War of Wrath did not leave us wholly unscathed,” he said simply. “It seems equally difficult to survive the violence of those who come to cleanse Middle-earth as of those who would destroy it.  I fear their help almost as much as I fear to be abandoned by them again.  It is difficult to trust when we have been so often forsaken, yet I cannot afford to despair.”

Galadriel said nothing for a moment.  She was not ignorant of the history of the Iathrim.  “Do not despair,” she agreed at last. “Only we have the power to inflict that poison upon ourselves.  Surely Melian intercedes for you.” 

His visceral reaction must have been obvious, because she read it at once.  She even seemed a bit scandalized.  “You have not yet wholly forgiven her,” she surmised.

This thread of conversation was dredging up a host of festering grievances Thranduil had not dwelt upon for centuries.  “Her blessings brought us to grief in the end,” he said tersely, “as I often find to be the case.”

Galadriel pursed her lips, apparently reluctant to comment.  “Whatever the consequences,” she said at last, very deliberately, “the Valar of Aman have never acted but for our good.  You will not find peace by distancing yourself, as I well know.  In any case, I perceive you have not been left completely friendless, for it was with the timely assistance of Radagast that you cast off the Necromancer tonight.  He is a valuable ally, whatever his origins.”

“Indeed,” Thranduil agreed.  He would have to thank the old wizard, perhaps send some wine and a good horse down to Rhosgobel.  It did give him some comfort to know he was not completely alone in his struggle.

“It eases my mind to know there is one here competent to reinforce you,” Galadriel said, echoing his thoughts.  “If you are ever forced to yield before this devilry, it may go very ill for the rest of us.”

“I have no intention of yielding,” Thranduil assured her.  “I have lived in his wood longer than in any other place, and I am bound to it and its people.  I know the distress of abandonment too well to inflict it upon them.”

Galadriel sighed, bearing the weight of many concerns as gracefully as she could.  “With Angmar rising and Arnor poised to fall,” she said, “I hope we are all prepared to be as obstinate as you are.”

<< Back

Next >>

Leave Review
Home     Search     Chapter List