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We Were Young Once ~ III  by Conquistadora

Chapter 26 ~ Holding the North IV

Caladwen urged her exhausted horse to greater speed as she neared the capital.  A fresh mount had not been available when she had required it, and they could not afford more delay.  She must reach the King.

The poor beast was ready to collapse when she turned him into the royal stables and leapt from his back.  An irate stableman shouted at her, but she was already sprinting across the green outside.  She burst through the door of the guardhouse and confronted the sentries on duty, always members of Thranduil’s personal guard.

“Take me to the King at once!” she demanded.  “I have news from the southern marches.”

“That will not be possible,” Lancaeron said, apparently unimpressed by her agitation.  “Give us your report, Captain, and return to your post.  Commander Dorthaer will be informed.”

Blindsided by the obstruction, Caladwen could not at once frame a coherent objection.  “Did you not hear me?” she asked incredulously, trying not to become shrill.  “I have urgent news from the south.   You must take me to the King immediately!”

“We have orders to the contrary,” Lancaeron explained firmly.  “Whatever your urgent business, the Commander is empowered to address it.”

Seeing that she was accomplishing nothing, Caladwen ran from the guardhouse and directly toward the palace gates despite the vigorous protests from Lancaeron and his fellows.

“Captain!  Captain Caladwen, wait!  Stop!”

Commander Dorthaer himself overtook her and halted her in her tracks.  He looked very stern, but also concerned. “The King is with his guests, and is not to be disturbed with petty affairs,” he said.

“If this were a petty affair, I would not have ruined a horse to bring word of it here,” Caladwen insisted.  “Please, Commander, I beg you, take me to the King.”


“These beasts have been our most recent study,” Thranduil said, leading Celeborn and Galadriel into a wide woodland aisle into which had been built two rows of fox dens.  Many of the occupants began whining and snuffling as they approached. “Once we had identified enough suitable individuals for breeding, they proved remarkably pliable.”

Thranduil opened the enclosure of one of their most prized vixens, and was welcomed with a display of affectionate submission.  He lifted out an older kit and gave it to Galadriel. 

“I had not expected to inspire such a love of animal husbandry when I gave you that dog so long ago,” Celeborn said, watching as his wife nuzzled the creature. 

Thranduil’s smile fell as he saw Dorthaer approaching with a disheveled captain.  He motioned for Celeborn to allow him a moment, and then turned to intercept them.  “I expect there is a compelling reason for this interruption,” he said severely, implying that there might be consequences if it were otherwise.

“I beg your pardon, my lord,” Dorthaer said, “but Captain Caladwen has just arrived from the south with all haste.  I judged the matter to require your immediate attention.”

Thranduil felt that sinking feeling in his stomach.  He remembered Caladwen from their shared experience of the great storm when she had been a child.  Though he had followed her career with only casual interest, he knew her courage and recognized how shaken she was.  “Very well, say on,” he said.

“Werewolves,” Caladwen said, calming herself enough to deliver a clear report.  “Great numbers of werewolves have crossed our borders. They have terrorized the Woodmen and harried our people for several days.  We were able to cull them at first, but their numbers are growing and we are overwhelmed.  Prince Legolas reinforced us yesterday with his patrol, but he agrees that only an action of the army will suffice to stem this invasion.  He awaits your judgment, my lord.”

Thranduil considered his answer.  This had to be some new machination of the Necromancer.  Gorthaur had always been a master of werewolves.  Had the attack upon him in his dreams last night been but a feint in this new assault?  He beckoned to Celeborn and Galadriel, who stopped pretending not to listen.

“Dorthaer,” Thranduil said, “see that the general call to arms is sounded at once.  Prepare my guard to ride within the hour.  Caladwen, you will return to your post with us, so see yourself mounted.”  When they had gone, he turned back to his guests.  “It would seem I am needed elsewhere,” he apologized.  “You may remain here if you wish; I am certain there will be no danger this far north.”

“We will not sit idly here while you ride into peril,” Galadriel objected.  “Do not be too proud to accept our assistance.”

“My pride is not at issue now,” Thranduil insisted.  “I cannot otherwise guarantee your safety.”

“We have never asked you to,” Celeborn said.  “Our safety is our own affair, and we will ride if you allow us.”

The bellicose call to arms sounded from the sentries’ horns, and was immediately echoed from the surrounding woods.  In a moment it would be reverberating throughout the length and breadth of the forest.  All those assigned to the first muster knew their duty.

“Very well,” Thranduil relented.  “Avail yourselves of whatever arms you wish, and be mounted as soon as possible.  The forward ranks will even now be forming to the south.  We will ride with my guard to the immediate relief of Legolas and the Woodmen.”

They nodded and hurried away after returning the kit to the fox master.  Thranduil strode across the green through the growing frenetic activity.  The ranks of a large division of archers and infantry were already forming, soldiers running to their posts from all directions.  Each captain came with the wolf entrusted to his keeping, and the kennel master had already released a large pack of the beasts to join the march.  A strident howl went up in accompaniment to the war horns.

Gwaelas was ready when Thranduil arrived and armed him with heavier boots, leather gloves, light mail, coat, breastplate, spaulders, vambraces, belt.  “What fresh horror awaits, my lord?” he asked simply as he handed the King his sword and dagger.

“Guarhoth,” Thranduil said grimly, securing his weaponry.  “Legolas has called for our support. See that Linhir knows he is empowered to rule in our absence.”


The King’s Guard was thundering south within the hour, exactly as he had wished.  The army followed at a brisk run, able to maintain order even at speed, the ranks fluidly forming and reforming as they plunged through the forest growth.  Had they been moving against an equally organized enemy, Thranduil would have stayed with the greater part of his forces, but because it was an infestation rather than a military invasion, he rode ahead to reach the beleaguered scouts as quickly as possible.  They slowed only to rest and water the horses, and were drawing near the southern marches by nightfall.  A sentry intercepted them and directed the King toward Lord Anárion’s stronghold.

The direction proved unnecessary.  The large settlement of Woodmen was garishly bright in the deepening darkness, alight with scores of torches and bonfires, and suffocatingly crowded.  Hundreds of frightened people had congregated there with their wives and their children and even some of their livestock, huddling together in the relative safety of the light.  A loud murmur grew as they gave way to the Elvenking and his militant entourage, an expression of the desperate hope that he could banish these new terrors of the night. 

Anárion had established his command in the chieftain’s hall, the largest building at his disposal.  It had high ceilings and long tables for feasting and drinking, but there was no merriment now.   Instead, Elvish scouts were running in and out like ants with reports from the field and instructions for their captains.  Thranduil swung down from his winded mount and entered without waiting to be announced, startling the assembled company inside.

“Thranduil!” Anárion greeted him, his voice colored by equal measures of relief and apprehension.  “It is good that Caladwen reached you so quickly.  Come and allow me to explain.”

“Please, do,” Thranduil said, approaching the table, which was at present covered with an array of hastily drawn maps.  “We encountered nothing on the road.”

“I expect not,” Anárion agreed.  “We suspected you may be near when we suddenly lost sight of the beasts as well.  Your presence in the region has driven them to ground for the moment.   It may prove difficult to flush them out, but at least it has given us a chance to form our forces into a proper cordon.”  He turned back to the map.  “Here is this village,” he said, pointing it out.  “Here are our people.”   Small stones littered the scene in what seemed a haphazard arrangement. “These,” he continued, indicating more permanent marks made in ink, “are the reported kills.” 

There were at least forty such marks already. 

There was a brief scuffle at the door as a hulking bear of a Man roughly elbowed his way inside.

“His name is Berangár,” Anárion whispered discreetly.  These mortal chieftains succeeded one another so quickly that it was difficult to keep abreast of them.

Berangár’s eyes were drawn immediately to Thranduil.  “Are you the Elvenking?” he asked brusquely, apparently equally uncertain of whom he was addressing.

“I am,” Thranduil answered, forgiving his manner.  There were several great Elven lords in the vicinity at the moment, and although each woodland chieftain sent Thranduil some small tribute upon coming into his estate, very few met him in person anymore.  “What do you wish of me, Berangár?”

“I pray you can rid us of these beasts, my lord!” Berangár said.  He was not pleading, for he was clearly much too proud to abase himself, but his desperation was evident.  “Perhaps you wield a power over them we do not.  They are not like any wolves we have known.  They unlatch our doors, open our windows, and carry away our children!  None dares sleep for fear of them.”

There was another small commotion outside as more scouts returned to report, this time Legolas and Anárion’s son, Annorín.

Legolas offered his father a slight bow, refraining from a more familiar embrace in mixed company.  His relief was plain.  “We have reformed our lines, my lords,” he said, taking the liberty of rearranging the stones on the map.  “All is strangely quiet.  If they show themselves, they will be prevented from penetrating any farther north.”

“We await the King’s command,” Anárion nodded, effectively giving place to Thranduil.

All eyes upon him again, Thranduil drew a deep breath and allowed his unease to calm and coalesce into something hard and focused.  His Queen’s words of encouragement always returned to him in these moments, all the clearer now that he had been stirring her memory.  He was the King, and all that was yet green and good in that wood answered to him.  He would not be defied in his own realm.

“Berangár,” he said, “I shall require as many stout-hearted Men as your defense can spare to bear torches.  Legolas and Annorín, have the trees hung with as many lanterns as can be had, and see fires kindled wherever they can easily be contained.  Let us drive these craven creatures from the shadows.”

His orders were swiftly implemented.  There would never be enough fire to effectively illuminate the entire forest, but gradually the darkest places for several miles in all directions were bathed in a flickering golden twilight.  It was more symbolic than practical, but it heartened the Men who were nearly blind in the darkness.

Despite the work, all voices were hushed.  There was a tension in the air that all could feel.  It was uncomfortable and unnerving, like the calm before a lightning strike.  Thranduil rode in wide, slow circles around the besieged village, silently supervising the preparations and gathering his strength.  The quiet life of the wood answered him readily, offended by the pollution it had suffered.  He was the King, the guardian, the defender of this place, and it would obey him. 

When all was ready, he rode into a torch-lit clearing and stopped.  The oppressive silence had by now become almost unbearable.  His senses sharpened, Thranduil felt the heartbeat of his horse, the shifting of the soldiers, the slow motion of the stars.  He felt Galadriel move to assist him, but Celeborn quietly restrained her.  He felt the breathing of the forest, its griefs and wounds, the dark places where unnatural creatures hid themselves, and, as acutely as ever, he felt Gorthaur’s gaze upon him.  In all things it was an eerie waking parallel of his dream battle with Dol Guldur, but this time he had his sword.

“I know you are here,” he said heavily, his voice magnified throughout the forest as if it came from the trees themselves.  “Come into the light.”

It was not a request, but a dreadful command.

A clamor arose to the east as the monsters began to flee their cover, and the hunt was on again.

Forced to betray themselves, the werewolves rampaged through the forest against the army of Men and Elves, but the cordon stationed in the north prevented their escape deeper into the wood.  Thranduil charged freely across the battlefield for several hours, effectively driving the beasts into the open as they fled from him.  As kills were reported, he ordered the cordon to begin tightening.  As it did, the freakish howling became more strident.

“Beware, Thranduil!”  Radagast suddenly called over the din.  “These beasts are driven by a will other than their own!”

Thranduil had only a moment to acknowledge the wizard’s presence and consider his warning before a bristling werewolf flew at him.  Rearing back, his horse caught the attack in the chest and its throat was ripped out.  Thranduil fell and rolled to his feet just as a second and third knocked him to the ground.  One bit into his shoulder as he caught the other’s maw on his wrist and slashed its neck.  Dorthaer struck one in half with his sword and Lancaeron pulled the jaws free, but another threw itself upon the King even as he stabbed it through the heart.  A horse collided with another.  Celeborn swung down from the saddle, pulled Thranduil to his feet and stood back-to-back with him, sword in hand.  One after another the werewolves rushed at them, compelled by a single-minded madness, but by now the King was surrounded by a thicket of allies and the battle was little more than a slaughter.

Then, as suddenly as it began, the attack ended.  Thranduil and Celeborn slowly lowered their blades, standing with the others amid fourteen slain monstrosities, no two of which looked quite alike.  Only one remained alive, and it lay moaning pitiably in the dirt at their feet.  It yowled in its canine voice as if trying to speak, and its eyes had depths Thranduil had never seen in any animal.  They were a repulsive sight, long exaggerated limbs, matted hair in a confused mix of color and kind, and a shape that was not ideally formed either for crawling or standing upright.

“This is without doubt the work of the Necromancer,” Radagast said, coming to stand with them.  Without fear, he reached down and placed a hand on the beast’s head and was answered with a mournful whine.

“What devilry is this?” Celeborn demanded.  “Has he bound the spirits of the dead in the bodies of wolves?  Is it Elf or Man?”

“This one is a Man,” Radagast said.  “His name I cannot know, and indeed he himself may not remember.”

“What are we to do with him?” Thranduil asked, reluctant to kill him now yet pained by the thought of letting the wretched creature live.

Radagast whispered several words under his breath and pressed his hand firmly upon its head.  “Be at peace,” he said softly. “Break these monstrous bonds and fly upon the path appointed to you.”  At last, the tortured spirit fled its unnatural prison with a sigh, and the beast slumped dead.

A somber crowd of onlookers was gathering as the dispersed soldiers returned.  A horn call signaled an end to the fighting, and the fires were gradually extinguished just as the first glow of dawn broke above the trees.

“Were they all Men?” Galadriel asked.

“Perhaps,” Radagast said.  “Perhaps not.  They may well have been Elves or Orcs.  Who can know what happens in the deep places of Dol Guldur?”

Thranduil felt sick imagining that some of the hideous corpses littering the ground might have been inhabited by his own people.  It unexpectedly dredged up the darkest and most conflicted emotions of his past, the memory of the Kinslayings.  The thought that in some way he had once again been compelled to kill his own kind made him physically want to retch.

Celeborn must have noticed he was suddenly unsteady.  “Thranduil, are you hurt?”

“Not gravely,” Thranduil assured him, refusing the support of the arm he offered.  The marks of the teeth on his armor were plain to see.  The storm of grief, rage, and resentment he did not intend to reveal to anyone yet.  Galadriel was looking at him with an expression of profound compassion, but he shot her a narrow glance in return.  He did not want pity, he wanted assistance to prevent this sort of atrocity.  He knew the lack of it was not her fault, but at that moment he did not care.

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