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Ch. 5 – The Calm before the Storm
Winter in Mirkwood lingered on and while what Gandalf had told him in January remained in the back of his head Legolas let the shorter days pass by much as he had done before the arrival of the “sterling personage” of Gollum. After a couple of weeks Legolas returned to the tour of duty in southern Mirkwood that he had been engaged in when he encountered Gandalf and Aragorn. And in these quiet days he did not feel the urgency necessary to tell his father of the full reason behind Gandalf’s strange request that Mirkwood keep Gollum captive.
When he returned from his tour, he had been curious to see how Gollum was behaving and irresistibly that was his first order of business after he had stabled his horse. He went down to the first level of cells and was greeted by a curious sight. Five or six elflings were sitting around his cell and seemed to be enrapt listening to Gollum’s sibilant tones telling a story about his life in the cavern where he lived. He listened before he rounded the last corner before Gollum’s cell and was alarmed that the gangrel creature was casually telling of the ring that Gandalf spoke of with such secrecy.
“Beautifulest ring it was, bright and shiny. It was a birthday gift, yes it was! I would look at it all day until nasty hobbites stole it from me! Nasty little hobbitests!” He heard the murmur of shock from the elflings and at that Legolas decided it was time to say something.
“So, this is where you all are. Master Gannedir is looking for his charges. Run along…” the Elfling boys groaned.
One of the elflings he recognized as Eredhon, said, “Ahh! But he was just getting to the good part where he was crunching on Goblins and picking his teeth with their splintered bones!” The other elflings nodded their heads enthusiastically.
Legolas wondered how many times the elflings had been down in these cells listening to Gollum if they already knew what portion of the story was coming next. He would speak with his father about this. Out loud he said, “As exciting as that sounds nevertheless Master Gannedir is expecting you for Archery practice. Go on!” The elflings reluctantly started moving knowing it was disrespectful to disobey even the youngest member of the ruling family.
He looked at Gollum who had been speaking to the elflings in a friendly voice now gave Legolas a watery-eyed stare and then suddenly blew a raspberry at the golden-haired elf. Legolas looked him, raised an eyebrow and doubted Gandalf’s sanity at the suggestion that he might yet reform. Legolas turned on his heel and left Gollum to inly ruminate upon whatever he was likely to inly ruminate upon.
As Legolas ascended the ramp from the cell level, he saw his brother Sadron walking towards him, “Muindoreg nin! You have returned from patrol I see!”
Legolas’ face lit up, “Sadron! So good it is to see you!” His middle brother mostly stayed in the Southern most reaches of their father’s realm. He was Thranduil’s eyes and ears in the south. It was a very important posting given the fact it was closest to Dol Guldur and the evil that resided there. “You are back?”
“Only for a while. Here to report to Adar, pick up supplies and to make sure Muindoreg nin keeps out of trouble.” Sadron said ruffling the top of Legolas’ head in a time-honored gesture.
“Me? It is you that always manages to involve me in trouble!”
“Legolas, you wound me, when have I ever gotten you the smallest trouble!” Sadron said with his unique eyes of one green and one light blue twinkling as he fell into step with his youngest brother as they gained the upper levels of Thranduil’s underground sanctuary.
“You’re right. It is the biggest trouble you manage to get me into,” Legolas said remember “I remember when somebody convinced me it was all right to ride Adar’s stallion when apparently it hadn’t been.”
“Convince you? I could not have convinced you if you hadn’t been already been willing in the first place,” Sadron said with a mischievous glint in his eye.
Legolas barked out incredulous laughter. How he had missed his brother in recent years. Sadron was a bright spark ready to create mischief at a moment’s notice. It was true he was quick to anger, but he was also quick to laugh. He had taught him how to find joy in life again after their mother had died at the hands of Orcs. Legolas had been very young, by Elven standards, and his father had had a hard time accepting his mother’s death. It was Sadron who had not been saddled with the responsibility that had befallen their eldest brother. Celebren, who as Crown Prince, had had to deal with the decisions of the realm when Thranduil for a time had not been able to see beyond his own pain and loss. It was Sadron who took the time to bring the Elfling out of the shell of grief and reticence he had briefly retreated into by spending time with him and talking with him; making him laugh and helping him to see joy again. Ever after, though he loved his eldest brother as well, whenever he saw Sadron joy came to his heart.
“Yes, well,” Legolas said, smiling, “A corrupter of youthful enthusiasm, then!”
“Guilty!” Sadron declared, completely unrepentant.
“Where were you off to?” Legolas inquired.
“Well, I was off to get another bottle of wine from the wine cellar.”
Legolas inquired, “You could have the wine steward just bring you one.”
“I like to visit the wine cellar myself and see which bottle sings to me!”
Legolas rolled his eyes and shook his head in amusement.
Sadron quickly quipped, “None of your eye-rolling, Muindoreg nin! We get precious few comforts in the South. I like to indulge when I can!” he finished, his eyes snapping with mirth.
Legolas tried to look stern and look down his nose attempting to imitate their father, “It is an acceptable reason.” But he broke the façade by laughing.
“You will get a better resonance of sound if you tilt your head down a bit more as you are speaking.” Legolas looked to his side and saw his father looking at the both of them with a bit of an unexpected twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face as he looked upon his two youngest sons.
“Adar! I did not realise you were there—”
“Obviously not,” Thranduil said, perfectly executing the look that Legolas had been trying in jest. His face dissolved into a warm smile, “Do not trouble yourselves!” Thranduil reached for one of Legolas plaits and laid it near his cheek and placing his hand on his shoulder, “It was a very good attempt!” In truth Thranduil had been coming to speak to his wine steward and saw his two youngest sons bantering back and forth and it so warmed his soul; happy to see them so carefree. It had lightened his heart considerably if only for a few precious moments.
Legolas looked into his father’s blue eyes and saw a light reflected. The careworn look that usually inhabited his eyes had been temporarily banished. It was good to be home. Legolas smiled warmly, “Gîl síla erin lû e-govaded vín, Adar nin!” he intoned the greeting with affection, happy to see the rare carefree light in his father’s eyes.
Thranduil looked at Legolas, “That is it has, my youngest!” he leaned forward and kissed Legolas on the forehead. At this Legolas felt a rare joy spread through him as gifted by his father. Thranduil then looked at Sadron and placed an affectionate hand on his second son’s shoulder. “It gives me joy that all three of my sons are together with me this day. It is too rare.”
They feasted in the Great Hall that day, an impromptu recognition of the fact that all of the King’s sons were home. As Sadron was ostensibly the Lord over the Southern Marches acting in his father’s name; he provided what assistance he could to the woodsmen who inhabited the southern reaches and kept a watchful though somewhat distant eye over possible stirrings in Dol Guldur. Celebren frequented the Northern regions of Mirkwood and the Grey Mountains and was designated as Thranduil’s envoy to the newly re-established Kingdoms of Erebor and Dale which often saw him following his duty outside their forest home. Only Legolas stayed within the forest at his father’s behest. There were varying thoughts among the inhabitants of Mirkwood as to why Legolas was not, say, the envoy to Erebor and to Dale. He was certainly capable enough, but these thoughts were never voiced because all knew the reason. His father could not bear to part with him. The youngest child between Thranduil and his beloved Lasgalen and given the fact that Legolas was so young when Lasgalen was taken by Orcs, abused and killed; Thranduil had simply not allowed Legolas the same freedom to grow as he did his brothers. They had been given the unquestioned opportunity to stretch their wings. The youngest prince, well loved by all, was cosseted by his overly protective father. He was known throughout the realm to have a sunny disposition and seemingly unbothered the restrictions that had been placed upon him.
Thranduil stood and the hall quieted, “In these times,” he began, for the rumblings from Dol Guldur bespoke of troubled times to come, “is when most we need to acknowledge joy within our midst. This is such a time. When I rejoice that I have all three of my beloved sons home now. Nobody knows what the future holds for us, but we will take joy in this moment.” Thranduil’s face was lit from within as he raised his goblet. Celebren and Sadron raised their goblets; Legolas paused briefly thinking upon what his father just said, that “Nobody knows what the future holds for us,” A pang hit his heart as Legolas knew something of the future, something imparted by Gandalf, and he was still hesitant to tell his father. Thinking of the joy he saw in his father’s eyes, the joy being celebrated this night he quickly brushed aside the nagging reasons that he had not yet told Thranduil what he knew. This night was for joy not doubt; he quickly raised his goblet. He would not take what joy his father had in this moment to only replace it with doubt and frustration. In a mercurial switch, he drank from the goblet filled with sweet wine and turned to his brother, Sadron and said teasing, “Does this wine sing to you?”
Sadron laughed but it was his eldest brother Celebren who answered, “I don’t know if the wine sings to him but after many a glass, he will be singing to it!” Sadron laughed again and tossed a look at his older brother. “I recall many a night where after much wine both of us would have sang to anyone or thing we thought was listening!”
Legolas laughed but he really could not imagine his serious and somber oldest brother serenading anything that he thought was listening. But then again, he realised in a flash, much responsibility had been already been placed on Celebren’s shoulders even from when Legolas was a small elfling. He had always known Celebren to be of a serious mien but there apparently had been a time when he had been less so.
Thranduil raised another goblet and in another mercurial shift he said, “What will happen, will happen, but we must face all with honor, resolve and integrity. Valar bless us with such strengths.” And he bowed his head and all others followed his lead. “Words have been spoken,” Thranduil after the few moments of silence. “Now let us once again be mindful to embrace the moment we have. Enjoy.”
Legolas looked at his father and he wondered what he knew, what did he sense. He felt so close to him and yet he still resisted sharing what he knew. It troubled him.
The next day he sought out his father to discuss limiting the young elflings access to Gollum. He related the story from the day before. “As I entered the landing for Gollum’s cell, I found Eredhon and four other elflings hanging on his every word, enrapt with the tale he was spinning.”
Thranduil pondered what Legolas had told him. “I hear your words. Are you saying that you fear his influence on our young or that somehow he will co-opt our young and get them to do his bidding.”
Legolas thought before he spoke, “Not necessarily,” he paused and he realised that the problems he had with Gollum had to do with the information that he had yet to impart to his father. It just seemed unsafe to have stories of the Ring’s existence bandied about in casual stories that elflings might repeat. But he could say none of this. He looked up and saw his father’s eyes upon him, “I guess I just don’t trust him.”
“I understand, Legolas, he is an unsettling creature,” Thranduil’s light blue eyes examining his youngest son’s countenance. “But Mithrandir asked that we use him well. Perhaps the more he interacts with our people he may step away from his dark past. Also, should I forbid our young to visit with him I fear it will make him an even more attractive figure to their imaginations, forbidden fruit as it were.”
Legolas nodded, “In that I had not thought. It would be the most likely outcome should such an edict be handed down.”
Thranduil looked upon the troubled visage of his youngest and most beloved son, “What troubles you, Mellion nin? I sense you are distressed.”
Legolas looked into his father’s concerned eyes and confided something of what was in his heart, “His presence disturbs me, Adar. A shadow falls upon my heart when I look on him. I cannot explain it.”
Thranduil remained quiet for a few moments. He knew of what Legolas spoke of, for the same shadow fell upon his own heart when he had encountered the gangrel creature. He stood from his chair behind the table that served as his desk and walked over to his son. “I too feel that Shadow on my heart ion nin, but this is the task that was set before us.” He stood before Legolas and cupped his youngest’s head within his hands. “We can only go forward to see what Fate has in store for us.” He leaned in and kissed his son’s forehead, “Whatever happens, you and I will be equal to the task. This my heart tells me.”
Legolas looked into the eyes of the father he loved so much, “Thank you.” He bowed, hand on heart and took his leave. Thranduil looked upon his beloved son’s back as he left his study chamber with a flare of disquiet, a sense of foreboding that he quickly tried to quell. But he was unable to banish it completely and it sat in a corner of his soul, quietly waiting.
Gîl síla erin lû e-govaded vín. = A star shines upon the hour of our meeting.
Mellion nin = My dear son
Muindoreg nin = My little brother
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