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

We Were Young Once ~ III  by Conquistadora

Chapter 48 - The Affairs of Wizards IX

The Lord of the Eagles assembled his companions on Ravenhill later that morning to formally take their leave.  Dain, Thranduil, Bard, and Gandalf came to bid them farewell.  The great birds had done them an incredible service, and Dáin had taken care not to come empty-handed.  

They were impressive creatures, evoking a primal awe in Thranduil which did not often stir anymore.  They were the messengers of the Valar, the eyes of the Elder King in Middle-earth.  Thranduil had often seen them from afar, but had only spoken with them once before when Radagast had summoned one to spy out the doings of the Wainriders in the east.  They were yet another living link to the First Age, the world of Thranduil’s childhood, and their presence made the tangible reality of the Blessed Realm seem much more present than it often did to those who had never seen it.  

“Our task is done,” their Lord said.  “We will return to our eyries and leave you to the spoils.  The mountains are emptied, and we may expect to have peace for many years.”

“We are greatly indebted to you and your people, O Windlord,” Dáin said very grandly.  “It would please us if you would accept these tokens of our gratitude.  We have nothing else an eagle may prize, but we would not have it said that Dáin Ironfoot allowed you to leave unrewarded.”

He presented the Eagles with a golden crown for their Lord and golden collars for his lieutenants.  The ornaments were accepted with gracious condescension.  

“May your people be blessed, Dáin Ironfoot, beneath the hills beneath the sun,” the Windlord bade, the diadem glinting on his brow.  “Enjoy the victory which was so dearly bought.”

The great Eagle turned then to Gandalf.  “Farewell, O Gandalf, as you continue about your task.  May all your ventures prove as profitable as this one.”

“Farewell, Lord Gwaihir!” Gandalf returned jovially.  “May your wings never tire, and your eyes never dim!”

Lastly, the Lord of the Eagles turned his gaze upon Thranduil.  His eyes were dark and sharp with depths no Man or Elf could read.  “Farewell, Elvenking of the Wood, Oropher’s son,” he said.  “Long may your reign endure against the darkness.”

“It may yet,” Thranduil agreed, “due in no small part to your timely assistance, and for that you have my enduring gratitude.  I am certain I owe you my life, which is quite precious to me, though perhaps of little consequence to Elder Lords.”

“Your life, son of Doriath, is of great value to many,” Lord Gwaihir assured him solemnly.  “There is one who continually pleads your cause before the Thrones of the West.  Her prayers are heard.”

Blindsided, Thranduil could not form a coherent reply.  His heart quickened, and his mind churned with a thousand questions, but he could sense that it was already an extraordinary grace to receive such a message, and it would be impertinent to demand more.  

Lord Gwaihir spread his great wings.  “Farewell, wherever you fare,” he said in parting, “till your eyries receive you at the journey’s end.”

“May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks,” Thranduil replied on behalf of them all, remembering the response Radagast had taught him.  

The wake of the Eagles’ wings was like the wind in the vanguard of a storm as the enormous flock took to the air in turns, lifting off the crags and soaring away to the west.  Thranduil watched them go, knowing he may never see anything quite so magnificent again.  

When the Eagles had disappeared into the distance, the small assembly returned into the valley in silence.  Thorin had not yet died, and it seemed vulgar to discuss their outstanding business while he still drew breath.  

Thranduil wandered toward the camp, oblivious for the moment to all else, deep in his own thoughts.  Gwaihir’s words had offered only the briefest glimpse beyond the bounds of the mortal world.  Who was she who interceded for him so faithfully?  It could be his mother, or perhaps it could be Melian, but he wanted to believe it was his wife.  It was a profoundly bittersweet consolation to imagine she was somehow aware of the trials he continued to endure in service of her dying wish, both of them rising to the demands of duty in different spheres until their task was done.  Wherever she was, Thranduil knew Lindóriel’s heart would be turned toward Greenwood.  Perhaps a day would finally come when there was no more war, and they would be free to find one another again.  Until then they would soldier on as they must, lovelorn exiles on opposite sides of the world.

He paused to allow a stiff western breeze to break across his face.  There were no sweet aromas upon it, only the cold and barren scents of winter, but Thranduil breathed deeply all the same.  Someday their time would come.  Someday the wars would end, or he would finally be killed, and then everything would be new.  But today was not that day.  Today he was the King, today he had an army to lead and a people to rule, duties to perform and vows to keep.  Someday would come in its own time, and he knew his queen understood that.

“You are the Elvenking.”

Thranduil was pulled out of his thoughts by an unfamiliar voice.  He turned and saw a coarse giant of a Man taking his ease beneath an ancient spruce which had given its lower limbs for firewood.  “You are Beorn,” he said, making an educated guess.  

The giant nodded.  “I am.  It pleases me to see you still alive, my lord.”

“I am pleased to still be alive,” Thranduil admitted, “and I doubt it would be so had you not come.  I cannot imagine how to properly reward you.  Name it, and it will be yours if it lies within my power to grant.”

“I ask no reward,” Beorn insisted.  “It is enough that you live, friend of my friends and foe of my foes.”  He gathered himself and climbed to his feet.  It was not often that Thranduil encountered someone taller than himself.  “I would not suffer vermin like Bolg to be the ruin of you.  Live.  Fight.  Triumph.  That would please me very much.”  He nodded at Thranduil with an amiable smile, and then abruptly turned and ambled away into the ruins beyond the camp.

Bemused by Beorn’s brusque courtesy, Thranduil watched the retreating figure until he disappeared among the trees.  He might have lingered there longer, but the smell of roasting venison drew him in the other direction.  It was high time he had a substantive meal.  

He was met at the edge of the camp by Bard.  “My Lord Thranduil,” he began with quiet urgency, “Bilbo Baggins has not yet been found, either living or dead.  Where did you last see him?”

“I set him behind us near Ravenhill before the battle began,” Thranduil told him, sharing his concern.  “I must confess I did not see him after that, although I suspect I heard his voice near the watchtower just as the Eagles arrived.”

Bard nodded.  “A final search will be made,” he said, and rushed away to arrange it.  

It was only a few hours later that word swept through the camp that the hobbit had indeed been found somewhere among the bare rocks of Ravenhill.  Soon afterward came the news that Thorin Oakenshield had finally succumbed to his wounds.  The King under the Mountain was dead, and his throne was vacant.  The Dwarves sang their laments, and the oppressive pall of sorrow which lingered over the survivors became only heavier.  Plans for his burial began.  

The cold afternoon was deepening into evening when Thranduil saw Bilbo wandering aimlessly toward a large open campfire, his arms wrapped about him against the cold.  The hobbit’s grief was plain to see, and he had clearly been weeping in some hidden place for some time.  It was a sentiment Thranduil understood all too well.  He retrieved some refreshment and went to join him.

“I know you are still far from home, Master Baggins,” he said gently, “and I cannot offer you that cup of tea, but I hope you can make do with something stronger.”

Bilbo accepted the wine gratefully, though still in very low spirits.  “Thank you, my lord.”  

Thranduil sat down beside him on another tree ring, his own cup in hand.  He recognized that desolate look that came when the tears were spent, and he knew the only remedy was pleasant distraction.  “Tell me about your home,” he said.

“Oh.”  Bilbo had to gather his thoughts, but he seemed pleased by the request.  “Well, the Shire is a fair green country, all rolling hills and farms and meadows, clear streams and hedgerows.  Very unlike your home, my lord.  It smells of flowers in the spring, herbs in the summer, and apples in the autumn.  Our houses are dug right into the hillside like a rabbit’s warren, grass on top, garden in the front.”  He smiled.  “Not so unlike your home after all, I suppose.”

Thranduil smiled as well.  “It sounds idyllic,” he said.  “There has been very little peace in Mirkwood for a very long time.”

“The inhabitants of Hobbiton would have no patience for the troubles you endure, my lord,” Bilbo insisted, his mood lightening.  “Anything adventurous or unexpected is considered extremely irregular.  We must have our breakfast in the morning, our post twice a day, and as many as six other meals before bedtime.”

“Oh, better and better,” Thranduil laughed.  

Bilbo’s smile faded as he gazed distantly into the dancing flames.  “No doubt it all seems very quaint and foolish to great lords like yourself who must face the dark things of the world.”

“It sounds like a very sensible and civilized way of life,” Thranduil insisted.  “If the rest of us cannot enjoy it, I am pleased to know there are some who can.”  

They both looked up as they saw Gandalf approaching the fire.  “There you are, Mr. Baggins,” the wizard said, seeming both relieved and sympathetic.  “I almost feared we had lost you again.  Now is no time to be making yourself ill by staying out in the cold and neglecting to eat, though I see the good Elvenking has been plying you with drink.  Come.  I have prepared a place for you to sup and sleep, and hopefully regain your strength for what tomorrow will bring.”

Bilbo drained his cup before he stood and handed it back to Thranduil.  “Thank you, my lord,” he said again.  “You have been very gracious.”

“And you have been very courageous, Master Baggins.” Thranduil said.  “Go now with Gandalf and keep yourself well.  I have already made it clear that I shall be quite cross with him if you come to harm.”

The comment elicited the ghost of an incredulous laugh from Bilbo, as he had hoped it would, but Gandalf just scowled.  The wizard gathered the hobbit, and then helped himself to Thranduil’s cup.  “What have you been giving him?” he grumbled.  “Not that wretched sweet stuff, I hope.”  He tasted the contents, and his expression lightened.  “Ah, very nice.  A fine vintage.  Allow me the indulgence, my lord; this has all been quite an adventure.”

The next days were cold and somber and many preparations were undertaken both in the camp and in the Mountain, the last great effort before the unexpectedly eventful reconquest of Erebor would be resolved.  Winter was coming on quickly, and they were all anxious to return to their homes.

At last, when all was ready, Thranduil and Bard presided over the burial of the Men and Elves slain in the battle.  There were hundreds of them, all laid upon one another in a wide trench which had been dug beside the ruins of Dale.  The fallen Dwarves were gathered elsewhere.  

An honor guard stood around the edge of the enormous grave commanded by Legolas and Galadhmir, those survivors who were hale enough to stand in ranks.  Thranduil could forgive them if they looked worn; not only had they survived the battle, but they had been obliged to do all the digging.  An icy wind whistled and moaned through the valley and across the mountain spurs, only accentuating the melancholy of the ceremony.

Death was a serious and ever-present concern in Elvish life, despite it being foreign to their nature.  One thing Oropher’s Iathrim had tried to bring to the silvan Elves was greater certainty about the Blessed Realm and the path appointed for Elvish dead, insofar as they understood it.  A much worse fate would be to linger in dread of the Valar and the Immortal West, lost and faded spirits clinging to the mortal world for fear of the unknown.  As he stood there in the cold overlooking another pit full of slain warriors, Thranduil reflected that perhaps it had not been without some purpose that the first Sindarin king of the Galennath had preceded them in death, and then their beloved queen, guiding them along the right path, leading by example.  They would more readily follow Oropher and Lindóriel into the Halls of the Dead than they would heed a strange call by powers hitherto unknown to them.  Perhaps there was some good in even their deepest griefs.

“Out of the depths of Middle-earth I cry to you, Guardians of this world who reign among the stars,” Thranduil began, reciting the solemn invocation required at funerals.  “Grant eternal rest unto these fallen, and may the perpetual light of the Blessed shine upon them.  O Belain, who have ever been attentive to the children of the All-Father, we beseech you on behalf of the spirits of our brethren who have been called out of this world.  Look upon them with pity and conduct them by your grace into the Immortal West, the true home of all Eledhrim.”

In the vast and empty silence, he stooped and took up a handful of earth, holding it over the open grave.  “Be at peace,” he said.  “Leave these mortal lands and fly upon the path appointed to you.  Mourn no loss.  Look not behind.  Fear no darkness.”  He opened his fist, and let the first soil fall over the dead.  

Bard then said what he had to say over the dead from Lake-town.  There were no flowers to be had in that season, but sweet pine boughs were laid in the grave before the arduous task of refilling it began.  The honor guard lay aside their weapons and armor and took up their shovels again.  Thranduil watched them work for a time, flanked by the only three of his Guardsmen currently fit for service.  It crossed his mind that the construction of a fitting memorial might be the first order of business upon which the Wood and the Mountain could collaborate peaceably.  

Bard and his attendants approached, and Thranduil nodded.  They had other ceremonies to attend.  Together with their companions they turned toward Erebor to represent the Lake and the Wood at the burial of Thorin Oakensheild and the crowning of the new King under the Mountain.  Thranduil’s household had thankfully had foresight enough to send fresh clothes for him, so he looked the part.  Gandalf and Bilbo had also begun walking that way.

A grim procession of Dwarves had gathered at the Gate, and they bore the shrouded bodies of Thorin and his two kinsmen on great gilded shields through the reclaimed corridors of Erebor to the beat of hidden drums.  They led the assembly into the deep passages lit by torchbearers, down into the very heart of the Mountain.   They entered an ancient crypt and lay their dead in three open tombs.

Dáin murmured solemnly over each in the secretive Dwarf tongue, and so did each surviving member of Thorin’s company.  Then they all stepped back.  Dáin struck the stone floor with the butt of a jeweled axe.  “The King under the Mountain is dead,” he declared.  “He has gone to rest with his fathers in the halls beyond our sight.  Are there any others who would offer him tribute?”  

Bard approached and drew out the Arkenstone.  Its pale gleam illuminated the gloom, reflecting the torchlight from its many facets as if to paint the walls with stars.  He laid it in the open tomb upon Thorin’s breast.  “There let it lie til the Mountain falls!” he said.  “May it bring good fortune to all his folk that dwell here after!”

All the Dwarves bowed low over their belts, signaling their agreement.  

Great carven stones were lifted and slid into place, covering the tombs forever.  The light of the Arkenstone vanished as Dain struck the floor seven times, and the ceremony was concluded.  

Before they all dispersed, Thranduil stepped forward and laid Orcrist atop Thorin’s tomb.  He could not in good conscience keep it for himself, and felt it was only right to return to the fallen king what had been taken from him.  Thranduil had many powers at work in the Wood to warn him of danger.  The sword of the Gondolindrim would be of greater use in the dark of Erebor, and the north need never again be surprised by an invasion of orcs.  

The assembly returned along the same corridor, climbing back into the upper halls.  The coronation was a simple and sober affair, though gleaming with more gold and jewels than many kings could hope to see in a lifetime.  Dáin was vested with the golden armor, the jeweled weapons, and the ermine cloak.  He seated himself in Thrór’s throne, and the royal helm was placed on his head.  

The herald struck the floor with his staff.  “Hail Dáin son of Náin, the second of his name, King under the Mountain!”

The Dwarves acclaimed him with lusty shouts, then allowed the echoes to reverberate in the vaulted chamber.  

Dáin dismissed all but his nearest attendants and the survivors of Thorin’s company.  “Come,” he said to Thranduil and Bard, Bilbo and Gandalf.  “We must conclude our other business.  All has been prepared.”

They followed him into a treasure chamber beyond the royal hall.  It was a very grand place, despite not being the king’s own treasury, and great heaps of wealth stood all around them, partitioned and measured.

“We will honor the agreement of the dead,” Dáin began, addressing himself to Bard, “for he now has the Arkenstone in his keeping.  This represents the fourteenth share that was named, as near as can be guessed.”  He indicated a small mountain of gold and jewels taller than any of them.  

“I accept it in the name of Dale and of the Lake,” Bard said grandly.  “May our realms endure in friendship as they once did!  A great share of gold I will give to the Master that Lake-town may be rebuilt, and those valiant men who accompanied me to war will not go unrewarded!”

“This also was found,” Dáin explained, presenting Bard with a jewel box, “and we restore it to your house.  They are the emeralds of Girion, set by our forefathers for yours in the days before Smaug.”

Bard accepted the box gratefully.  It contained a magnificent emerald necklace made with a multitude of very fine stones.  “It was made for Girion’s wife,” he said, “the Lady of Dale who escaped the dragon’s fire, and was intended to be a great heirloom of their house.  We thought it lost beyond hope.”  He seemed mesmerized for a moment, but then he returned to himself.  “These I give to the Elvenking,” he decided, “for without his compassion and generosity, until now unrecompensed, the house of Girion itself may have been lost.”

Thranduil was caught off guard by such an extravagant display of gratitude.  “Surely you do not wish to part with the only surviving heirloom of your house,” he protested quietly.  

“My house will survive to collect many more heirlooms, and for that we will be ever in your debt,” Bard insisted with a bittersweet smile.  “Even so, my lord, I would offer you some reward for the many kindnesses you have shown us, and I would count myself greatly honored if you would accept it for my sake.”

Seeing that Bard was quite determined, Thranduil relented and accepted the box.  “For your sake,” he agreed, returning the smile.

Dáin shifted where he stood, apparently rather embarrassed by Bard’s very public effusions of generosity.  Perhaps it stood in too stark a contrast to the Mountain’s neglect to offer Thranduil any reward for his trouble.  “Is there aught the Elvenking desires in return for his part in the battle?” he asked stiffly.

“There is,” Thranduil decided.  “I would reclaim something of mine.”

Dáin nodded, put at ease once more.  “I can guess what that may be,” he said.  “Wait here.”

When he returned from the deep hoard, Dáin was carrying a small chest.  He laid it on the stone table before the Elvenking.  “I believe you have been without these for a very long time, my lord,” he said, opening the lid to reveal the six crowns of Oropher’s Greenwood.

The sight of them was a welcome joy after the dreary misery of the battle and its consequences.  “Yes, we have,” Thranduil agreed, realizing only then just how great a relief it was to have them back.  It was like rediscovering some lost part of their family after almost two thousand years.  He had missed them very much.

“Take them with the gratitude of all Erebor,” Dáin said, the formality of his tone clearly meant to mask an uncomfortable sincerity.  “Despite our heated words before the battle, we do not deny that we owe our victory in part to the valor of your woodland soldiers.  There are those who will still be reluctant to bind ourselves in friendship to the Elves of Mirkwood, but I, as King under the Mountain, would offer you a token of our thanks.”

Dáin opened his fingers to reveal Melian’s silver and sapphire brooch.

It was so unexpected that Thranduil was genuinely speechless for several long moments.  As a relic of his past he considered it beyond price, though he knew the previous kings in Erebor had thought it a trinket of little value.  The gift of it implied greater personal consideration than he had expected from any Dwarf.  

Dáin must have read his conflicted expression.  “How did I know?” he asked, laying the brooch in Thranduil’s hand.  “Thrór, although possessed of many admirable virtues, could not resist a good boast.  Your frustrated admiration of this particular treasure was a favorite tale of his, and we all heard it many times.”  He sighed.  “I would lay it to rest.  If we cannot yet be more than reluctant allies, we can at least stop making sport of one another.”

Thranduil nodded, appreciating his candor.  “If that is the best we may hope for at present,” he agreed, “so be it.”

Finally Dáin turned to Bilbo.  “This treasure is as much yours as it is mine, though old agreements cannot stand now that many more have spilt their blood in its winning and defense.  Even though you were willing to lay aside all your claim, I should wish that the words of Thorin, of which he repented, should not prove true, that we should give you little.  I would reward you most of all.”

Bilbo looked awkward again.  “Very kind of you,” he said.  “But really it is a relief to me.  How on earth should I have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don’t know.  And I don’t know what I should have done with it when I got home.  I am sure it is better in your hands.”  

“I will not hear of you returning unrewarded,” Thranduil protested.  “Perhaps I speak out of turn, but I suspect Dáin is of like mind.  If it is an escort you require, I am certain we could provide you with one.”

“Peace, Thranduil,” Gandalf interjected.  “That will not be necessary.  I will accompany Mr. Baggins across the mountains and see him safely to his own country.  I doubt there will be much trouble in the high passes now that Bolg and his army have come to ruin.”

“I must insist that you choose some acceptable prize, Master Baggins,” Dáin agreed.  “If you were to return from this quest empty-handed, the shame of it would redound to all our posterity.” 

“Well,” Bilbo said, shifting his weight and stuffing his hands into his pockets, “I would not like to cause any scandal.  Because you insist, I will have . . . two chests only, one of gold, the other of silver, as much as a strong pony can carry.  That will be quite as much as I can manage.”  

His wholesomely practical disposition never ceased to leave an impression on the company.  “Though you deserve much more,” Bard observed, “it is still a blessing to find satisfaction within the limits of your abilities.  May we all bear that in mind in the coming years.”

At last the day came for the great parting of ways.  Tauriel, like many others, had not yet sufficiently recovered to make the journey, and the field hospital would remain where it was for many days yet.  Someone would have to stay and maintain order.

“I will stay if that suits you, my lord,” Legolas volunteered as he and Thranduil walked through the tents at first light.  “Another fortnight in the wild will be no great inconvenience.”

“That would please me very much,” Thranduil agreed.  “I have no wish to leave you here, but I will rest easier knowing the matter is in your hands.”  He smiled to himself, hearing in his own words an echo of the commission Oropher had given him when he had been growing into his role.  He stopped and laid an affectionate hand on his son’s shoulder, deeply satisfied to see again what a competent and impressive prince he had become.  “You are a constant consolation to me, Legolas.  If I had known I was only to have one son, I could not have asked for a better one.  Your mother would be very proud if she could see you now.”

Legolas’ serene expression turned melancholy for a moment, touched by the sentiment.  “Somehow I feel she can,” he confessed, lowering his voice.  “Sometimes it seems she is more alive than any of us, and sees everything.”

Thranduil sighed heavily.  He understood the feeling.  “Perhaps she does,” he allowed.  “Perhaps she does.”

The Elves were standing in ranks and ready to march by mid-morning.  As Bilbo and Gandalf bade farewell to the Dwarves, Thranduil took his leave of Bard.  He would be taking his army along the more direct route across the plains, while the aspiring Lord of Dale would be returning down the river to overwinter in the encampment beside Esgaroth.  

“I expect we will be hearing a great deal of you and your heirs as all is rebuilt,” Thranduil said.  “Contrary to popular belief, we do take a keen interest in our neighbors, and I will depend upon regular reports of your progress.”

“And we will provide them!” Bard promised.  “We would not squander your favor, my lord, especially considering what we have already gained by having it on our side.  I only hope that someday we will be able to repay the service you have rendered to us.”

“Those times come when they will,” Thranduil said, “and none may predict them.  We can only prepare ourselves to seize the opportunity when it presents itself.  Farewell, Bard the Dragon-slayer, and may prosperity follow you.  Do not forget that you have already rendered to all your neighbors a greater service than you perhaps credit yourself for.”

They set out before the morning was far spent, a much smaller column looking much less splendid than it had when it had first emerged from the trees, but their hearts were not sorrowful despite their griefs.  The hard-won future seemed full of new promise.  

Thranduil led the column astride Espalass with Galadhmir and his Guardsmen.  Behind them rode Gandalf with Bilbo on his treasure-laden pony, and beside them walked Beorn, easily keeping pace with great long strides.  It was a two-day journey back to the borders of the Wood, and they arrived there as the shadows were lengthening into the second evening.  They dismounted to share a final meal together before continuing in different directions.

It was not a grand occasion, but it was certainly a merry one.  It was not a gathering that was likely to ever happen again, Thranduil and his Elven-lords seated cross-legged on the grass with Beorn, Gandalf, and Bilbo Baggins, and they all seemed to appreciate that.  

“Are you certain I cannot persuade you both to await the spring in my halls?” Thranduil asked as darkness fell and the time came to part once more.  “Winter will soon be upon us, and the northern road is long and cheerless.”

“We thank you, my lord,” Gandalf said as they all climbed to their feet, “but no.  I fear Mr. Baggins has already seen enough of Mirkwood to last a lifetime.  We will accompany Beorn back to his home, and now that the goblins have been routed I have no doubt that it will prove the safer road.”  He raised his staff in grim salute.  “Farewell, O Elvenking!  Merry be the greenwood, while the world is yet young!  And merry be all your folk!”

“Farewell, Mithrandir!” Thranduil replied in similar fashion.  “May you ever appear where you are most needed and least expected!  The more often you appear in my halls the better I shall be pleased.”

“I beg of you,” Bilbo stammered awkwardly, rummaging in his pockets, “to accept this gift!”  He produced a necklace of silver and pearls and offered it to Thranduil.

Not understanding the significance of the gesture, Thranduil hesitated.  “In what way have I earned such a gift, Master Baggins?” he asked.

“Well, er, I thought, don’t you know,” Bilbo continued, stumbling into an explanation, “that, er, some little return should be made for your, er, hospitality.  I mean, even a burglar has his feelings.  I have drunk much of your wine and eaten much of your bread, and I believe some were beginning to take notice.”

Realizing what the hobbit was driving at, Thranduil chose to receive the offer with the formality it deserved.  “I will accept your gift, O Bilbo the Magnificent!” he said gravely.  “And I name you Elf-friend and blessed.  May your shadow never grow less,” he added with a smile, “or stealing would be too easy!  Farewell!”

It was a welcome relief to see his own home again.  The horns sounded to announce the King’s return as he led his entourage across the bridge and approached the great gate into the caverns.  The ranks of soldiers behind them were disbanded and given leave to return home.  There was no raucous celebration.  Those who were fortunate enough to be reunited with their families counted themselves blessed as they appreciated how many homes would still be without fathers, sons, and brothers that night.  

Thranduil reentered caverns without fanfare and quietly retired to his chambers.  He could not remain there, not until he had performed one final duty.  Gwaelas understood what was required, and he quickly provided the King with clean clothes, fastening an appropriately dark cloak over his shoulders.  Commander Dorthaer appeared at the chamber door with a formal retinue of Guardsmen, each of them entrusted with a significant item.  They entered as they were bidden, and each presented himself to the King in turn. 

Thranduil received first Neldorín’s scarred shield.  Upon it he placed the fallen Guardsman’s armored tunic, his knives, his quiver harness, the silver insignia of the King’s Guard from his collar, and his wedding ring.  He carefully shrouded Neldorín’s sword in the green banner of Woodland Realm and laid it atop the rest.  

He had prepared many such memorials during their long war, but each one struck him differently.  It grieved him to see the ruin of such fine soldiers, each truncated life reduced to a melancholy assemblage of memories.  Thranduil could never hope to pay personal tribute to each of Mirkwood’s dead, but he always made the effort for the King’s Guard, who had in many ways become as near to him as his own family.  

He remembered Neldorín’s early career, remarkable in the Guard for his youth and precocious ability.  That had been more than a thousand years ago.  Now he was dead and buried in the cold countryside of Dale, cruelly taken from his wife and son.  It was just one of a multitude of tragedies Thranduil knew his people were learning to bear in that very hour.  He could feel the raw pain of bereavement crying from thousands of wounded hearts at once.  It was all too familiar.  

Thranduil lifted the laden shield and carried it in solemn procession through the trees to Neldorín’s home by lantern light.  His wife and son were waiting at the door, apparently expecting them, though the lady’s composure faltered at their approach.  They had all seen it before, the final homage paid by the King himself to a life spent in heroic service.  It was a difficult honor to bear.

The boy, Aglarín, met Thranduil’s gaze with all the desolate courage he could muster, thrust at the tender age of twenty into his new role as the man of his household.  It was a trial that would make or break him, and only time would tell which.  Thranduil laid his father’s shield in his arms as tradition demanded.  

“On behalf of the Lords of Eryn Galen,” he said simply, as he always did, “the King’s Guard, and all the Galennath, please accept our enduring gratitude for your father’s honorable and faithful service.”

The brevity of it was both brutal and merciful.  It was not the time for grand words and high praise, and Thranduil would not intrude further on their grief.  Still, he hesitated a moment before he turned away.  Through his tears, Aglarín’s eyes hardened as he looked upon the battle-scarred King and the company of seasoned warriors.  It was the fierce light of a soldier’s pride, the determination to rise to the challenge of his father’s memory despite his pain, despite his youth, despite his innocence.  It gave Thranduil hope for the boy’s future.  He acknowledged him with a nod, and then they withdrew.  

Free at last to seek his own solace, Thranduil returned to his chambers, intent upon finally having a proper night’s sleep.  Gwaelas received his cloak and other trappings as he shed them, and was grateful to be dismissed.  They were all in need of rest.

Thranduil pulled off his tunic and threw it over a chair, availing himself of the Dorwinion Gwaelas had left for him, seeking the oblivion deliberate overindulgence would bring.  Despite it all, Gandalf had not been wrong to observe that they had much to be grateful for.  In the morning the sun would rise again on a new world.  Smaug was gone.  The Dwarves were reestablished in their mountain.  Dale was rising again.  Dol Guldur was emptied.  As a final point of satisfaction, Thranduil opened the jewel chest which had been left on his bureau and retrieved the brilliant crowns of the King and Queen of Greenwood.  He set them back on Lindóriel’s table where they should have been all those years that they lay gathering dust beneath Erebor.  

Slowly, in some deeply imperfect way, things were being set right.  

<< Back

Next >>

Leave Review
Home     Search     Chapter List