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A/N: Thanks again to Ellynn for putting up with me and being my word wrangler! :-))
Ch. 16 – “This I Ask of You!”
After three days they found themselves at the confluence of the Enchanted River and the River Running. It was not the straight-forward path, but it did not take them too far out of the way and Legolas still held a shred of hope that they might happen upon Gollum along this trail. He knew it was a vain hope, but nevertheless it was the route they had taken. He placed a hand on his chest and felt the slight crinkle of the letter his father had delivered to Sadron's holding. He took a deep breath and he felt warmed by the letter's presence. He thought of his father’s words contained within the missive. They had brought a measure of healing to his spirit, but as his father said, they did not absolve him of the responsibility for his actions. For the deaths of his two friends. For the loss of Gollum. But his father’s words had also had the effect of galvanizing his spirit. He moved forward into the unknown with purpose. From this moment forward the decisions he made would not be made out of guilt or regret, but through an acceptance of responsibility. This was the gift his father had given him. At long last he was being given the chance to take responsibility for his actions and he would not fail his father again.
Legolas shook himself from his thoughts to see Erthion ride up alongside him. “What is it, my friend?”
“Shall we make camp here tonight?”
Legolas surveyed the area with a keen eye. He then closed his eyes and reached out to the spirit of the trees that surrounded them. Hello my friends. Is it safe? Can we stay the night here? Are we welcome? Within his soul he felt the answering spirit. Son of the Forest king. Thank you for the respect shown in your questioning. You are welcome to stay, but it is not safe and has not been so for many of your years. But we will keep watch as best we can. Legolas could feel the weariness within the spirit of the trees. This southerly portion of his father’s realm had been under attack by the evil onslaught brought by the inhabitant of Dol Guldur for centuries now, since the end of the Watchful Peace. They were strong of heart, but they were weary and he was unsure just how much more they could withstand. Within his soul Legolas bowed to the trees. I thank you and my adar thanks you for all you have withstood. And I thank you for this night.
Legolas opened his eyes as a quick wind rifled through the leaves of late summer. He breathed in deeply as that same wind blew through his heart in welcome. He turned to Erthion, who sat upon his silver stallion that was stamping slightly in place as he awaited his master’s next command. Erthion held a similar stance, his face still awash in wonder as he had watched his friend commune with the trees. Erthion could also feel the communion with the trees, but not to the extent of Legolas and the rest of the ruling family of Mirkwood. It was one of the traits that marked them as special.
Legolas answered his friend with a simple, “Yes. And then we shall discuss how we plan to proceed from here.”
It was Navedir’s turn at the cookfire. While on deep patrol it was customary for camp duties to rotate daily so that no one elf was stuck with an onerous task for long. This was the pattern the traveling party adhered to after centuries of practice, though all knew this was something much more than a standard long tour. But in the face of uncertainty, one takes refuge in familiar patterns of being.
After having secured the camp tents Erthion sat swirling a small amount of wine in his silver travel goblet and sniffing the comforting cooking aroma. “Navedir! You do make a fine Hunter’s stew! Best I’ve ever had.”
Vivelle eyed him casually. “Better than mine?”
With a mischievous glint in his eyes, Erthion tossed back the rest of his wine and said, “My love, you are many wonderful things. It is a shame that being blessed in the cooking arts is not one of them.” Erthion ducked as an acorn came flying at his head.
“You don’t seem too bothered when it comes to the actual eating of my stew,” Vivelle countered.
“Well…I am your husband, bound to support you in all things even if at times it is… difficult.”
Vivelle’s green eyes widened. “Difficult?” she said, bristling. “Next time….you will get…” she paused ominously, “double helpings!” Letting fly with another acorn she had to hand.
Legolas laughed as he watched the two begin the pattern of their good-natured bickering. It was partially true. Vivelle’s talents with a cooking fire lay not with the cooking of comestibles, but with the concocting of potions and decoctions for healing. It was the true expression of her gifts. But that sure knowledge did not stop Erthion from teasing his beloved wife of centuries.
“Children!” Navedir announced amid the chaos, “dinner is served!”
At the King’s Halls
Celebren saw the courier wearing the livery of his brother Sadron enter through the gates. It was not the normal bi-weekly courier. He was not due until the next week. His heart dropped; he instinctively knew that it had to do with Legolas. Dropping his worry behind the façade of cheerful leadership, he approached the courier. “Liriion! So good it is to see you again! Come you from our brother?” He clasped hands with the courier as a stable attendant lead away his horse.
“Yes, my lord! And good it is to see you as well!” Liriion said smiling to his prince. “Is the King in his chambers?”
“Yes, Liriion. He is.” Celebren dropped his façade and said bluntly, “Is the missive from Legolas?”
“Yes, my lord. It is. But I am only to give it straight into the King’s hand,” he said apologetically to his prince.
“Of course, Liriion. Of course. Let me take you to him now.”
Liriion bowed his thanks and followed the Crown Prince to his father’s study.
Arriving at the entrance to his father’s study Celebren saw that Thranduil was bent over some maps with Guildor in a corner by a window that overlooked the courtyard. Performing the duty of squire he announced, “Forgive me Adar for interrupting, but a courier from Sadron’s holding has just arrived and wishes to speak with you.”
Thranduil immediately went still and then stood to his full height. He eyed his eldest and Celebren could see a flare of worry within his father’s eyes before it was hidden quickly behind a calm and regal mask. “Let him approach.”
Liriion approached and bent a low obeisance. “My King!”
“You may rise!” Thranduil voiced, a hint of irritation at the formality that delayed news by even a second. “What is the urgency of this message that has my son playing squire?”
Liriion unbent and extracted Legolas’ missive from his pouch, and extended his hand to his king. Thranduil took the letter and managed to hold his emotions at bay as he spoke calmly and with restrained dignity, “Thank you --” he paused meaningfully looking at Liriion.
“Liriion, my King,” he stated bowing his head.
“Liriion,” Thranduil completed his sentence. “Please allow my squire to provide you with wine to refresh you after your journey. Lachon!” The young squire appeared instantly.
“Yes, my lord?”
“Please provide Master Liriion with wine and a light repast and bedding for the night. He will return to my son’s holdings in the morning.” Thranduil spoke with calm dignity, but Celebren’s eyes then fell down to his father’s hand clutching Legolas’ letter in a grip that cause his knuckles to turn white.
“At once, my lord! If you will this way, Master Liriion.” The squire indicated with his arm.
Liriion nodded his head and departed with Lachon. Thranduil quickly turned to Guildor. “If you could leave me, my friend. For the moment.”
Guildor bowed and followed Liriion and the squire.
Celebren stated quickly, “Please adar, may I stay?”
Thranduil nodded and quickly seated himself at his desk. With hands that trembled slightly he broke the seal on his youngest son’s letter. For his eldest son’s benefit he began to read the letter aloud.
By the time this letter reaches you, I will be well on my way to Imladris...
Pain slashed across Thranduil’s heart upon reading the last word of the sentence as he heard his voice break and he fell silent. Imladris. He felt tears mist upon reading the word. But taking a deep breath he continued, albeit in a shakier voice.
…to seek Lord Elrond and to explain what happened to Gollum; perhaps he can get word to Mithrandir or perhaps suggest a course of action for the accursed creature’s recovery.
“Damn Mithrandir for bringing that accursed creature here!” Thranduil swore fervently as he sat back heavily in his padded wooden chair and rubbed his temple with one hand as his arm leaned on the armrest. The other arm, still holding the letter, fell to his side as he reflexively rubbed the page between his first fingers and thumb as he tried to bring his emotions back into balance in order to finish reading Legolas’ thoughts on the matter.
“May I?” Celebren inquired. Thranduil sighed heavily as he handed to the letter to his eldest son and began rubbing one eyebrow repeatedly in a gesture that always denoted his unsettled state of mind.
Celebren quickly scanned the next portion of the letter and in a chagrinned but strong voice he read:
Even as I write the word “Imladris”, I know it pierces your heart as it does mine, but this is the course my penance must take.
Celebren looked at his father, whose face now carried a pinched look of pain. He continued:
I do not lightly take this action, but I remember at one time Sadron telling me that Naneth had the Sight. I may have not believed it then, but I fully believe it now because I have been given a vision in still waters that says my path takes me to Imladris.
Thranduil murmured, “I always wondered which of my sons would be cursed with your Naneth’s ‘gift’ of the Sight.” He looked at Celebren quickly to see a shocked look on his face.
“I never knew that Naneth had the Sight.”
“Yes, well. I did not realize that Sadron knew,” Thranduil continued in a chagrinned voice. “It was never something she was comfortable with. She did not speak of it often and hoped it would not pass to any of you. But apparently it did. Please continue.”
Celebren looked down at the letter and began again.
I may not find answers there. I may only find more questions, but my heart tells me this is my path. I long to see you again, dearest Adar, but this I must do now. There is no time for journeys that will only salve my own heart.
As Celebren read the letter aloud, Thranduil’s heart was both bursting with pride and breaking apart at the same time. He could hear Legolas’ young voice in the letter. Proud and strong and ready to take on this task he had set for himself. Thranduil was proud of his son. More than Legolas could ever know. He was just what Thranduil had wanted in his youngest son. Despite him trying to protect him every step of the way, Legolas somehow learned to be a mature thoughtful elf. He smiled at the phrase But I do not go alone. Erthion, Vivelle and Navedir have chosen to travel with me as my companions. Legolas had the ability to inspire to those around him to follow him out of loyalty and love just as he did. He was his father’s son, though as he heard Legolas’ voice through the words he chose, Thranduil realized he was changing as well.
There is nothing I want more than to come home and walk among the trees near the Halls and listen to them sing their joyous song of life. To climb among them and sit in their branches. To look up through empty patches in the tree’s branches and see the stars of Varda’s beauty, and fall asleep lulled by the song of leaf and branch. To see our people dance beneath their branches delighting in their beauty. But I cannot. My heart says this is my path and I must see it through.
Thranduil knew in the core of his being that when next he saw his son, gone would be the untested yet earnest young prince who delighted in the beauty of his woodland home and in his place would be a Legolas he may not completely recognize. Thranduil’s heart was breaking at the thought of it and as Celebren read the last of the letter a tear broke the brimming boundary of his eyes and fell onto his cheek. Thranduil took a deep steadying breathe.
Celebren was still for many moments before saying in a voice thick with restrained emotion, “There is much wisdom in this letter.”
The sound of a chair pushing away from the desk caused him to look up from the page. Thranduil had risen wordlessly from his desk and walked to the window. Celebren could not be sure, but he thought he saw a tear track running down his father’s pale cheek as he passed by him to stand at the window. He let the observance go without comment. His father was an intensely private elf and Celebren knew enough to honor that privacy. Thranduil was quiet for several moments, his eyes upturned to the skies visible from the window. Celebren saw another tear drop in silent testament to his father’s inner pain. He heard the faint whisper, “I ask the protection of the Valar for my son. For clearly, I can no longer. This I ask of you.”
Legolas awoke the next morning amid bird calls and early morning mists. He looked around and saw that his companions were still sleeping lightly. Not feeling sleep’s hold upon him any longer, he rose silently and walked to the edge of the River Running. He sat down upon an obliging stone near the riverbank and simply listened to his surroundings, absorbing its beauty and tragically its weariness. In the southern environs of his father’s realm rarely were the two ever divorced from one another.
He opened his eyes and looked down at a small pool of river water near his booted foot. He noticed how it reflected the morning sky and the tall trees that rimmed the circle of the pool. He became mesmerized and slowly an image coalesced into what seemed to be a sea of people, of men on something that resembled the prow of a stone ship. The image confused him; it did not make sense. Then he heard on the air a sad and yet joyful voice flow through his consciousness. He looked up the steps of this stone ship and saw the one who was singing. He thought he recognized him but he was far away and the vision was becoming cloudy and soon disappeared altogether. He continued staring into the still pool of water and within his soul came the words of a soft feminine voice. “Bring your entire self to what is to come, and you will not fail. Remember my love. It will give you strength. Give completely of yourself and you will not lose yourself.” A gentle kiss was placed upon his inner senses and then it faded away.
He looked up from the small pool and across the water and for a blink he saw a shape, a bright beautiful shape and then it was gone. Left in its place a sense of hope and a sense of possibility that flared within his heart, and then calming to a steady but brilliant flame of purpose. He stood up from the stone and rejoined his friends to begin the journey once again.
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