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A/N: I hint at what caused Lasgalen's death but I do not describe it.
A/N: Many, many thanks to my wonderful word wrangler, Ellynn! (((hugs)))
Ch. 18 – Even Painful memories can bring strength
As they came to the foot of the Misty Mountains memories that Legolas had been firmly keeping to one side forced their way forward. It was to these mountains that he had been brought when he had been brutally taken captive seventy odd years ago. He had escaped with the help of a very young Aragorn, so young he still only knew himself as Estel and was unaware of the destiny that was to befall him. It was where they had first met. Legolas smiled to himself as the thought of his father’s reaction to Aragorn after the story of his rescue was related to him. It was the only time he had ever seen his father speechless, and it had forged a sense of gratitude within Thranduil for the Ranger, young though he had been at the time.
Another darker memory forced its way into Legolas’ thoughts. His mother had been taken in these mountains. The bright shining beautiful light that was Lasgalen was shattered and cruelly snuffed out. All their lives had been tinged with sadness ever since that time. Legolas thought of his father. Though he had only been an elfling at the time, he remembered how an eternal sadness seemed to cling to his father whenever Legolas was allowed in his presence, which in those early years had not been often. One such time had been when he was only a twenty-year old elfling and found his father at the Enchanted River, just as he was to dip his hand into the waters that gave Oblivion. He had never told anyone of what he saw, and he and his father had never spoken of it since, but it had left a streak of indelible sadness upon his soul. It became a driving force in his life to always please his father – to make him happy so that he should never seek the river’s call ever again. The sight of these mountains had brought to the fore all these memories of fear and sadness that had changed his life forever. And yet, Legolas knew he had to forge his way through these emotions to continue along with what he knew to be his destiny.
Vivelle rode up next him. “Legolas?”
He glanced to his side and saw a look of concern written on her fair face. He then realized he had come to a full stop.
“Are you all right?
“Yes, I am well. And ready to go forward.” Valar, give me strength to have spoken truly! The prayer formed in his heart as he urged Lhegrin toward the mountains. They passed through forested land and mountain valleys filled with bluebells and waving green grass on their climb upwards. But even surrounded by this beauty that should have sung in his soul, Legolas could not shake the feeling of panic and dread as they travelled further and further into the mountains, as his memories threatened to overwhelm him, but still he said nothing. He would find his own way through.
As they approached the last flower strewn valley before they approached the High Pass, men of rough bearing appeared almost instantly in front of them, impeding their progress. They held what looked to be yew longbows and had arrows nocked to bowstring ready to be pulled the instant it should become necessary.
A man taller than the others and of a very stocky build stood in the middle of the path with his feet shoulder length apart and his hand on a big wooden staff. “We guard this pass as we have done since Beorn became our leader. We keep it clear of those filth who have no other thought than to murder and maim,” he stated aggressively, his demeanor tense and wary.
Erthion declared firmly, “Well, surely you can see that we are none of that kind. We travel to Imladris on business.”
The man did not seem to hear him for at that moment Legolas slipped his hood off his head and onto his shoulders revealing his almost white-blond hair. The burly man stopped and stared at Legolas as if he were somehow familiar. A question quickly followed.
“Are you kin to the Elven King, Thranduil?” His tone went from aggressive and tense to one of inquiry and respect.
Legolas was somewhat shocked to be known to this man, if only after a fashion. Others had often said he bore a great resemblance to his father, but he had never really seen it. Clearly, this man did. He answered in a sure, strong voice, “Aye, I am Legolas Thranduilion. I am his youngest son.”
“Ahhh! I see!” the man growled, evidently pleased. “It is an honor to be in the presence of the great warrior’s youngest! I am Grimbeorn, son of Beorn and leader to my people. I have fought alongside Thranduil defending what is ours.”
Legolas paused briefly and then remembered. “You are the skin-changers! Adar has spoken of your prowess in battle. He said you were fierce, and he was proud to have stood with you!”
“Hah Hah Hah!” Grimbeorn laughed a hearty, booming laugh. “It is good! It is good! Come! Night begins to fall. Come and break bread with me and mine! Proud I am to share what is mine with Thranduil’s youngest. This way!” He motioned as the rest un-nocked their arrows, returning them to their quivers, leaving only a few to continue to stand in guard of the pass and collect the necessary tolls from travelers.
Legolas looked at Erthion as if to say, “Seemingly, we have made a friend!”
Erthion looked back with a look that said, “Apparently so!” as he touched his horse’s flank to move off the main path and follow Grimbeorn at a walk.
After about a five-minute ride over undulating landscape with flowers waving amid rocky outcroppings, they came to a ravine where they saw a tidy encampment. Legolas saw a low-slung longhouse just beyond the spray of a waterfall and a few little children out playing amid the foliage. The children scampered out of the way as the horses approached. They had been playing happily and seemed clean and well-fed, their clothing simple but in good repair. They stopped and stared as the four elves rode by. Legolas guessed they did not see many elves riding into their encampment and smiled at a little girl nearest to the road and was rewarded with a shy smile from the dark blond child who followed him with her eyes before running into a side opening in the longhouse wall.
“Enter my home!” Grimbeorn declared. “Tonight we shall feast upon mead and cakes. You will like.”
The four elves dismounted and handed off their reins to a Beorning man with an outstretched hand and entered the longhouse behind Grimbeorn. As Legolas entered, he viewed a scene of homeliness and family. The longhouse was clearly home to many families. He smiled as he saw the little girl with dark blond hair run up to Grimbeorn, who quickly encased her in a suitable bearhug.
“Daria! My little honeyflower!” Grimbeorn growled affectionately.
Daria then looked at Legolas. “You were on that horse!”
“I was, my little lady.” Legolas bowed elegantly. “Legolas Thranduilion, at your service.”
“Do you remember, Daria, I was telling the story around the fire outside about us bears joining forces with the bright and beautiful Elves? And the Great Warrior Thranduil, King of the Elves!”
Daria nodded most fervently.
“Well, this is the Great King’s son.”
Daria bit her lip and looked at Legolas with round blue eyes. “You are Elves? The ones who helped Papa beat the monsters!”
“Well, I was not there, but I remember my Papa telling me about how bravely your Papa fought!”
“Papa is the best fighter in the Mountains!”
Grimbeorn rumbled with laughter. “Thank you, my honeyflower.” He set her down. “Run back to Mama now.” The little girl scampered away.
Legolas watched her run back to her mother and he was struck by how much she reminded him of himself in how she talked of her papa, when he was but an elfling. The infallibility of a father who was perfect in the eyes of his child. He pushed away memories of his own father because so much distance stood between them. He wanted to run into his father’s arms as Daria had. But it was not possible, not for a long while. He knew some absolution, written in a letter kept close to his heart, but his spirit would not truly heal until he was finally able to look his father in the eye and know he was forgiven. Until such time he would forge a path and try not to think. It was all he could do. And conduct himself as Thranduil would want him to. He was his father’s son. He heard himself say in time-honored fashion.
“Grimbeorn, you honor me and my Adar. I thank you.”
Grimbeorn nodded his head and called out, “Mead and cakes for our honored guests! And make bedspace available for them as well."
Legolas tried to protest saying that they would sleep under the stars and that the stars would be all the blanket they needed. But Grimbeorn would not hear of it. Legolas acquiesced graciously. The man was a gruff but welcoming host, and he did not lie when speaking about the excellence of his table. It was simple fare, but good and filling. The mead and the honeycakes made from their own bee fields was beyond anything the four elves had ever tasted. And for the first time in weeks the four elves were able to let their wary guards down in the midst of good company and a welcoming hearth.
They sat at that hearth and Grimbeorn puffed on a long pipe and a strong honey scent drifted from it. Legolas sat inhaling the scent and allowed his mind to wander. After a few peaceful moments, emotions began to crowd in around him. Emotions that he had been avoiding or setting to one side simply rammed into his consciousness. He did not know what was the matter with him. A young woman bowed and served him a cup of spiced mead. He took one sip of the sweet liquid and tried to re-gather the balance that had served him at least functionally. He found his thoughts increasingly oppressive. Legolas pondered if removing himself from company might help him sort through his emotions. He stood and bowed his head respectfully. “Master Grimbeorn, I believe I must take my leave for the night.”
“As you wish, son of Thranduil. Dalaria!” He called for his wife. “Please see the Prince to his bedspace.”
Dalaria smiled. “If you will come this way, son of Thranduil.”
Legolas bent his head and Erthion noticed he looked a little peaked around the eyes.
“Legolas. Are you well? Should I accompany you?”
Legolas shook his head. “No, my friend. I am well. A little quiet is all I require.”
Erthion eyed his friend. “If you are sure?”
“Quite sure,” the Prince affirmed. “Enjoy!”
Erthion watched with foreboding in his heart as he saw his Prince slip away.
Dalaria lead Legolas along the far side of the longhouse to a partitioned enclosure with a large square bed. “Your bed for the night.” She nodded and smiled.
“Thank you, Dalaria. You have all been most kind.”
She held his gaze for a minute longer and said, “Rest now.”
Moments later Legolas closed his eyes and allowed sleep to claim him.
Legolas awoke to a smell of dampness, a dank smell of a bare cave. It was very dim, only a crack of light fell from a small, jagged hole in the uppermost reaches of the cave giving scant illumination to the enclosure. He felt cold rock beneath his fingertips and amid the dankness he caught a faint scent of lilac and rose. A flash of recognition and fear ripped through his heart. “Nana?”
“Shh-shh! Ion nin! I am here.”
“Where Nana? I cannot see you.”
“Follow my voice, little one.”
Legolas crawled towards the voice. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he could just see a shape resting against a wall. “Nana!” He crawled faster and even in the dim light he could see the warmth and smile in her eyes.
Lasgalen stroked his cheek. “You have grown so fine and strong, my little leaf. I am so proud of you!”
Legolas paused to savour the touch of her hand. But then he also noticed the dirt smeared across her face and a cut above her eye. Her gown had a tear at the shoulder. “Nana! What has happened? Where are we?”
“Shh! Legolas! They are coming again!” Suddenly his mother’s eyes filled with pain and fear.
“Nana!” Legolas cried frantically. “We must go!”
“Alas, my little leaf. I cannot.” She moved the fabric of her torn and dirty skirt to reveal a crude leg iron around her slender ankle.
“No!!” Legolas shouted as rough orc arms pulled him away from his mother…
The peace of the Longhouse had been rent by a scream in the night. Vivelle awoke and saw Legolas thrashing about upon the bed and Erthion and Navedir trying to hold him and keep him from injuring himself. She saw that Legolas was not awake but caught in the throes of some terrible night vison. Vivelle moved quickly to his side. She calmed her racing heart and placed one hand on the side of his face at the temple and the other inside his shirt on his heart and began the Chant of Calm. She sought to soothe him. Sensing he was becoming calmer, she breathed in and began the Chant of Knowing slipping deep into a trance that allowed her to join with his feä to sense what – if anything – might be dampening it or harming its joy. It glowed within her mind’s eye; a beauty to behold, but it was dimmed somehow. She allowed it to flow through her consciousness and she sensed his deep sadness. Bringing the light of her feä she tried to envelope his sadness and cleanse his light. Sensing she had done all she could this night, she slowly unwound her feä from his and came back into herself. She opened her eyes to gaze upon all who now surrounded Legolas and her in expectant silence. She saw Grimbeorn and his people gaze upon her in awe.
Erthion looked at Vivelle and spoke gently because he knew that she was always overly sensitive to strong emotions after communing with another’s feä “What did you see?”
Vivelle looked upon her husband and instinctively knew that the dimming she had sensed was deeply personal and not to be shared. She said in a soft voice, “I cannot explain it. But he is calm for now and will sleep the rest of the night.”
Erthion and Navedir visibly relaxed and Erthion turned to Grimbeorn. “We pray your pardon for such a disturbance.”
Grimbeorn nodded, placing his hand on his heart. “Well, we can understand this and there is no pardon needed.” He spoke to the assembled awakened, “Come, let us return to sleep.” He turned to Vivelle. “We shall leave so that you can tend to the son of Thranduil. Should you need anything, please ask.” He looked upon Vivelle with great reverence. He had heard of the mythical elven healing, but had never been within its presence before.
“Nana!” Legolas awoke in a cold sweat. Vivelle smoothed a cold cloth on his forehead.
“Shh-sh! Rest.” Her eyes were filled with pain. “You are safe now!”
Legolas’ eyes filled with shame. “I could do nothing,” he whispered, though if it were to her or to himself, Vivelle could not say.
Though she did not have to guess at the subject of his nightmare, the pain laced through that one screamed word told her more than her heart could bear in any event. Vivelle smiled through tears that threatened to spill over. “Shh-sh! It was a bad dream. That was all it was. You are here and you are safe.” She stroked his cheek comfortingly. From behind she heard a stutter of footsteps.
“He is awake now!” she called over her shoulder. “Tell Master Grimbeorn that he is awake.”
Legolas struggled to get up but found he was incredibly weak and had no real choice but remain in bed. He fought to recall what had happened. He remembered good cheer and then feeling light-headed departing company and then awaking up here. “What happened? How long have I been here?”
Vivelle looked at him. “Apparently, you were caught in a nightmare. You called out and we could not wake you. And in answer to your second question – since last night."
“You were having a nightmare. At first, we were not sure what was happening and there were a few very tense moments while Erthion and Navedir held you down until I performed the Chant of Calm and then the Chant of Knowing upon you.”
“You what? Vivelle you had no right—” Legolas was suddenly apprehensive.
Vivelle looked at him incredulously. “As healer, I had every right. You were not waking up and Erthion and Navedir could not calm you. I did what I needed to do.”
Legolas had calmed down somewhat, but he still had an apprehensive look on his face. “Yes, of course. Forgive the outburst, please.” His eyes told her to not mention the nightmare to anyone.
Vivelle nodded, affirming the silent communication and was about to say so when Grimbeorn drew back the skins that served as separators. He was flanked by Erthion and Navedir, both wearing looks of concern and relief in equal measure. She gave Legolas a quick glance that said, “We will talk more.” and then pasted a quick smile on her face so that the two other elves would not know that something was amiss. Whatever she saw in Legolas’ feä was only between healer and the healed. Whatever she had witnessed no other would know.
Grimbeorn growled out his relief. “Son of Thranduil. You are well. My spirit sings that you are whole.” He bent his head, with his hand on his chest.
Legolas had by this time levered himself into a sitting position. “Hannon Le, Grimbeorn.” He bowed his head in like fashion, but could not help but think Am I whole? He assiduously avoided Vivelle’s gaze because he could not answer the questions he knew burned in her healer’s heart to ask. Instead, he looked at Grimbeorn. “I am sorry that we have stayed longer than was asked. We shall leave as soon as we can.”
“You will stay until you are fit. The Elven King would do no less.”
Legolas smiled and wondered if Thranduil realized what loyalty and respect he had in this man. If he did not, Legolas would be sure to tell him when he returned from this errand.
Days passed and Legolas regained his strength. Several times Vivelle tried to bring up what she saw when they were alone, but Legolas would not speak of it. He was no closer to having any answers than when he woke up the afternoon after he disturbed the peace of the house that first night.
Legolas was outside the longhouse enjoying the autumn morning breeze when Grimbeorn’s little daughter walked over and gave him a flower, one of the many, many bluebells that were strewn across the ravine in which the longhouse was nestled.
“Hannon Le, sweetling. It is beautiful.”
The child smiled and said, “Mama said you were sad and that we were to make you happy!”
Legolas hugged the child. “Did she now? Well, sweetling. You have succeeded. I am very happy.”
“Daria,” a voice came from behind, “run along now! Vesta has just made muffins and you know that you love them warm right out of the oven.”
“Yes, Mama.” She stood up and kissed Legolas on the cheek and scampered inside.
Legolas looked up and saw Grimbeorn’s wife, Dalaria. He immediately moved to rise, but she stayed him with a hand.
“No, no please.” She sat next to him and simply looked for a few moments. “You are sad.” Which might have sounded a bit abrupt had he heard such a thing on their first night, but the Elves were learning that the Beornings were a very direct people. That being said, Legolas was still his father’s son and did not take readily to people becoming too close too fast.
He immediately demurred, “I am fine, Dalaria. Truly.”
“It is okay to be sad.”
Legolas said nothing.
“Give me your hands,” Dalaria requested as she moved to touch knees with the elf.
Legolas was reluctant, but Beorn’s people had been so good to them and he did not want to cause offense, so he extended them tentatively.
Dalaria clasped them gently and she looked into his eyes. “You have lost someone in these mountains…”
Legolas withdrew his hands and eyed her warily. “I do not wish to talk about it.”
“No…” she insisted gently, looking into his deep blue eyes. “You do not wish to burden your friends. There is a difference. There is much love there and sometimes we do not speak because of that love. But you cannot burden me. I ask freely.” She coaxed gently as she continued to mesmerize him with her deep tranquil blue eyes. “Please.” She gestured towards his hands once again. Part of him was wary, but a large part of him wanted to reach out, to bask in the peacefulness of those dark blue depths. Looking into her eyes, he realized that he was so tired of pretending that nothing was wrong.
He extended his hands once again. Dalaria smiled, clasping them. “These mountains, they are my home, but well I know how they can take.”
“Orcs!” That word slipped unbidden from Legolas’ wounded soul.
“My Nanath.” Two words filled with pain and meaning, finding their way to the surface before Legolas’ defenses could stop them.
Dalaria mouthed, “Oh…” Empathy lit her eyes as she caressed his hand. “Tragedy is hard to bear. But you cannot let it wear on your soul. You are strong. I feel it. But do not let the mountains bear down on you. Let it flow through you. You go to Imladris, yes?”
“It is a good place for healing.”
“Not for me.”
Dalaria looked deep into his eyes for many moments and then smiled softly. “It will be. If you allow your heart to learn.” At that she turned his palms up and kissed the inside of his hands. “Even the most painful memories can give us strength when we stop fighting them and allow them to become part of who we are.” She smiled at him and said briskly, “Now to follow that child and make sure that she leaves enough muffins for the rest of us to eat!”
Legolas laughed. And as he did, his heart felt far lighter than it had been in months.
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