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We Were Young Once ~ III  by Conquistadora

Chapter 30 ~ The Pieces Are Moving

Time inexorably marched on as it always did, and the years passed without major incident in Mirkwood.  The Elves, however, were far from idle, and the King’s chance survival of what should have been a fatal wound in the last battle did not go unnoticed.  The sudden demand for layered silk beneath every soldier’s armor created a new thriving industry which utilized an all too plentiful local resource, the webs of the giant spiders.  The cloth they produced was not half so fine as that used for heraldry, but it was quite effective.  Additionally, the innovation came with the grim satisfaction of turning one of the Necromancer’s horrors into an asset.

The slow drudgery of maintaining their borders continued for more than a century before the King’s scouts returned from abroad with alarming reports from Rhovanion.  Foreign armies from the east were sweeping into the lands left desolate by the plague.  Known as the Wainriders, they were apparently a rapacious people who slaughtered or enslaved all before them.  Disinclined to cultivate the favor of so unsavory a civilization, Thranduil closed his borders against them in an unspoken agreement of mutual disregard.  Any who fled from them were welcome to slip inside and join themselves to the Woodmen. 

Later it was rumored that Gondor’s initial campaigns against the Wainriders had met with disaster, and even that the Gondorian king had been killed.  It made Thranduil suspect that the relative peace in Mirkwood had little to do with any weakness of the Necromancer, but rather that he was busying himself in other lands.  The consequences of the plague continued to manifest themselves.

A new race of Men appeared beside the Anduin in those days, driven north ahead of the invaders.  Their lord, Marhwini, was presented to the Elvenking by the chieftain of the Woodmen and was granted leave for his people to seek refuge in Mirkwood if they wished.  They called themselves the Éothéod and seemed to have built their culture around their skill as horsemen.  They were allies of Gondor, and as such Thranduil was inclined to give them whatever protection he could, though he was not at liberty to commit to any overt campaign against the Wainriders.

The realms of Men continued to slowly crumble for another hundred years until finally Thranduil received a panicked message from Elrond in Imladris that the Witch-king of Angmar had at last completed the long conquest of Arnor and that the loss of all Eriador may be at hand.  Life was consequently very tense for several months as the entire kingdom prepared to possibly be attacked from both the west and the south.  The next year, however, brought word of a startling reversal of fortune in which it was reported that Angmar itself had fallen, conquered by an army led by Lord Glorfindel and Prince Earnur of Gondor, assisted by a remarkable but diminutive people who had established themselves in Eriador.  The Witch-king himself had unfortunately escaped and was abroad in the land.  As relieved as he was by the news of peace in the west, Thranduil did not relish the idea of the Nazgûl roaming through the country once again.  Like all foul things, he suspected they would be drawn to Dol Guldur before long.

The scattering of Angmar’s filth had consequences for the surrounding territories, and that same year King Frumgar of the Éothéod found the increased presence of Orcs and the growing boldness of the Wainriders intolerable.  He removed his people much farther north to the fork where the sources of the Anduin joined, neighboring Greenwood’s most pristine region.  Hospitable tributes were exchanged and Thranduil suspected they would be amiable neighbors.  In any case, he appreciated having allies to reinforce his northwestern border.

All too soon, word of yet another disaster reached them as small armies of displaced Dwarves wandered through the north on their way toward Erebor.  They did not condescend to explain their circumstances to Thranduil, but he heard later from Frumgar that all Khazad-dûm had been emptied and abandoned.  Frumgar seemed to be at a loss to accurately explain what had become of the place, but the fragmented description of “Durin’s Bane” left Thranduil and his lords with little doubt that the insatiable miners had stirred a Balrog, of all unbelievable things.  They agreed among themselves that it would be best not spoken of again within their own realm if it did not choose to make itself known.  With any luck, it would retreat into whatever hole it had occupied since the War of Wrath and sleep for another age. 

The air outside seemed calm enough for the moment, but with barbarians flooding in from the east, the realms of the Númenoreans failing, the Nazgûl unaccounted for, and now a Balrog awake in the mountains, Thranduil could not help feeling the condition of Middle-earth was gradually deteriorating toward a cataclysm of some kind.

“I feel that something is brewing,” he said to Galadhmir as they rode together through the northern woods.  “But I cannot make out what it is.”

“Would it matter?” Galadhmir asked.  “Whatever great evils are at work in the world will carry on with little notice of us.  Our purpose remains the same regardless.”

“True enough,” Thranduil granted, “but I would appreciate some advance warning all the same.”

The northern woods remained the most beautiful in the forest, a tranquil remnant of Greenwood’s past glory.  It did Thranduil a great deal of good to visit from time to time.  The small city Galadhmir had built for himself there was set into the branches of the trees in the old carefree style.  It was like a living memory of better times, a pleasant dream one could return to time and time again. 

As they arrived back at the city, they found Gwaelas waiting to intercept them.  “A messenger has come from Lórinand, my lords,” he said.  “He has been properly accommodated.”

Thranduil dismounted and accepted the pale letter, not knowing whether to hope for good news or not.  Word seldom came from Amroth anymore.  “Thank you, Gwaelas.  See that the grooms receive the horses.”

He strode away toward a copse of trees and sat on a low branch, turning the letter over in his hand and observing the carefully written address.  “It is not from Amroth,” he observed, breaking the seal, “but from Celeborn.”

“It has certainly been a long count of years since we heard of him,” Galadhmir said.  “Where has he been spending his time?”

As Thranduil read through the letter he felt his heart sink.  He read it again to be certain of the particulars.  As was his wont, Celeborn restricted himself to the brutal facts of the matter and did not indulge in a great deal of emotional effusion.  Thranduil was left to imagine his cousin’s unspoken distress, Galadriel’s grief, and the anguish of an entire kingdom.  “He and Galadriel have returned to Lórinand,” he said heavily, handing the letter to Galadhmir, “because Amroth is dead.”

The whole sad tale was there.  After surviving so many battles, it seemed slightly absurd that Amroth would drown while attempting to take ship into the West with his betrothed.  It seemed as though there was some quiet curse on the last generations; Legolas was adamant in his refusal to consider another marriage, Elrond’s sons were too restless to consider taking brides, and now Amroth’s love had ended in tragedy.  He had not wanted to believe he would see the fading of their kindred so soon.

Galadhmir sighed and returned the letter.  “This world can be a very unforgiving place,” he said simply, perhaps for lack of anything else to say, “as we seem to have daily proof.”

Thranduil did not answer.  It certainly did nothing to allay his fears that the times were darkening, but there was nothing he could do about the world beyond his borders.  As much as it grieved him, it was all beyond his power.  It was all he could do to hold the domain he had been given.  He suspected even that task would soon become more arduous. 

At least Amroth was beyond all those cares now.  The rest of them would be obliged to stand and face the storm.

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