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Gandalf stood at the balcony of Lord Elrond’s study. He and the Lord of Rivendell were deep in conversation, and as he paused at the railing to gather his thoughts before broaching what he knew to be a very difficult and emotional subject, a sight to gladden his heart greeted him. A flash of white-blond hair caught his eye, and a small smile crossed his weathered face. He spied the youngest prince of Mirkwood, but immediately after that flash of fondness a wary curiosity flared. He pondered what brought the young prince from the Woodland Realm. His eye traveled to the gate through which Legolas had entered, awaiting a presence certain to follow Legolas beyond the borders of their realm. When the almost assured arrival of Thranduil, Legolas' zealously overprotective father, did not materialize, that flare of curiosity blazed into trepidation at what all this turn of events meant.
"My people are leaving these shores." Elrond's words cut through Gandalf's internal musings. He put thoughts of Thranduil's youngest off to one side for the moment and turned his focus back to the Lord of Rivendell. “Who will you look to when we’ve gone? The Dwarfs? They hide in their mountains seeking riches. They care nothing for the troubles of others.*”
Gandalf straightened his shoulders and spoke, “It is in Men we must place our hope.”
Elrond stared at him, a look of incredulity and shadow crossed his ageless face. “Men? Men are weak. Easily corrupted. I was there, Gandalf. The day the strength of men failed, and evil was allowed to remain in the world*. Diminished, yes, but not destroyed. It is hard to trust. Even after all these centuries the wound remains.”
“There is one who can be trusted.”
Elrond looked at Gandalf. The old wizard saw so many emotions run through the ageless face: pride, sorrow, anger, love and a glint of self-recrimination. He knew there existed a complex relationship between foster father and son, but what he did not know was why.
“Aragorn is indeed able to lead, to take the responsibility of his destiny, is he not?” Gandalf ventured.
Elrond continued to stare at Gandalf with that same inscrutable look. “Yes,” he said quietly. That one word laden with unknown emotions. His look softened. “I am proud of the man he has become. A worthy man who inspires loyalty and love.”
“Then he is ready?” Gandalf asked, gently reinforcing his position.
Elrond broke the stare and looked out toward the falls, fixating on their powerful and natural beauty, hoping it would calm his raging and completely unjustifiable emotions. Gandalf could not know what had transpired between father and son. The distance that had crept into his soul. He could not fully admit it to himself, even now. He thought back almost seventy years to a conversation that sat heavy on his soul…
Imladris, 2951 TA
Elrond paced back and forth, tracing a path that well might have worn a groove in the floor in front of the book-ladened table that served as his desk in his study, had a knock not interrupted his pace. He stopped and his heart lurched within his chest. In an effort to calm himself, he drew a deep breath before he answered the knock. The sound came again before he could answer, and he caught his voice just before answering, hoping that it did not tremble with the suppressed emotions he was trying so desperately to control.
“You wished to see me, Adar?”
Elrond looked up into the expectant face of his beloved foster son. “Yes, Estel, please take a seat! Would you care to crush a cup with me?”
Aragorn looked at his Adar and noted a trepidation in his tenor and movements. “Thank you,” he replied as he watched his Adar pour the wine, noting with alarm the shaking of his hands on the goblet and decanter. He tried to catch his Adar’s eye as he reached for the goblet, but Elrond looked away. Truly alarmed, Aragorn said, “Adar, what is wrong? Please tell me.”
Elrond sat down and arranged his robes with an air of delay about him before answering. “That entirely depends upon your answer, ion nin.” He looked straight into his son’s eyes. “You understand your destiny well, do you not?”
Aragorn quizzically looked at Elrond. “I think so, Adar. I’m the Heir of Isildur. The Chieftain of the Dunedain. I work and wait for the day to come when I can wield the re-forged sword and unite the world of Men.”
Elrond continued to stare into his son’s grey, somber eyes. “And would you agree that nothing is more important than fulfilling that destiny?”
“Nothing.” Aragorn had only been alive to his destiny for a short time, but in a way, it felt that part of him had always been in preparation for such a life.
A huge sadness warred with an incredible determination within Elrond’s pale blue eyes, yet he held his son’s gaze. “Then,” he paused, resolve at last showing the stronger in his eyes. “She is not for you. Nor is anyone, yet.”
Elrond’s last words went unheard. His first, however, broke across Aragorn’s consciousness, initially met with incomprehension and then the sense of everything shuttering to black within his soul. “Why not?” the words fell from his mouth, their sound deadened, leeched of all meaning. “How? Naneth?” he uttered aloud the thought behind the word uncomprehending that his beloved Naneth would break such a confidence.
“No. Gilraen has said nothing to me. All that was needed was to see you together. My heart tells me it cannot be.”
“Why can it not?” Aragorn said, the shards of pain lancing ever word. “I love her. She is my soul.”
Elrond broke the gaze, closed his eyes against the memory of love he had had for Celebrian. Memories that were pulled through to the forefront of his consciousness by his son’s words. Love shattered and denied by the scourges of this world. Not only had he lost Celebrian, but his twins, born of mercurial light and joy, had traveled through the dark places in their souls for so long after their mother’s departure that he despaired of their deliverance from grief and revenge. “It cannot be.”
“You keep saying that!” Aragorn answered in a low voice, taut with restrained emotion. “But you have not given a reason.”
Elrond held the gaze of a soul tearing itself apart. “Arwen is Elfkind. She has lived in the world so many years that you may seem to her as a yearling shoot to a young birch that has seen many summers.**” Elrond stopped when he saw the doubt and torment building in his son’s eyes. “I do not mean to be unkind, my son. I only wish to prepare you for what might be.” Elrond forged ahead because what followed needed to said. “Even if for her these things matter not, a doom still awaits her. When the time comes and I depart these shores.”
Aragorn looked at his father in alarm.
Elrond instantly sought to placate the fear in his son’s eyes. “That will not be for many years by Men’s reckoning,” he continued. “When I depart for the West, my children must choose either to depart with me or be separated forever in a bitter parting in this world.”**
Seeing the torment still residing in Aragorn’s eyes, Elrond felt his heart relenting. He stood as he said, “It is not time yet for such decisions. Only after you have fulfilled your destiny may you turn your eye towards my daughter. Then…” his voice trailed off, “we will not speak of this matter until such time. You must leave Imladris and begin to learn that which will aid you in the fulfilling of your destiny.”
Aragorn rose from his chair, his clear grey eyes filled with silent reckoning. He hugged his father and departed. Elrond stared after him and it struck him that his Estel was taking his leave of him as silently as when he had arrived. Elrond thought back to the silent toddler that he first beheld in Gilraen’s begrimed and battle-besmirched arms. He thought his heart would break then, beholding the little soul. It had not, until this moment when Aragorn, tall and strong, and no less tormented, walked out the door of his study to begin the shaping his own destiny, in the hope of someday claiming that which was necessary to his soul.
The pain in Estel’s eyes had never left Elrond’s heart and yet he spoke truly, albeit a little selfishly. Many sacrifices he made for the Light, for the safety of Middle Earth. He could not face this last one. He knew that Aragorn had to succeed, and by Elrond’s own word, only then could he seek Arwen’s hand. Elrond knew what must be, shall be; but a small selfish part of him that he denied and refused, wanted what it wanted. The pain of reality and the pain of denial nearly crippled him, but still, the truth beyond all else needed to be spoken. He looked back at Gandalf and, as a tempest of emotion raged through his soul, he stated calmly, “He is ready.”
Aragorn looked across the Loudwater reveling in the verdant green across the river. Closing his eyes and reaching out with his feelings as Elladan and Elrohir had taught him long ago, he could feel the life of the place coursing through his veins. This was home. He had traveled long and far for many years, decades even, but Imladris had forever existed in his soul. The call of home warmed his heart, and at the same time, he felt apart from it. Elven and yet not elven, he yearned for what had been and could never be again. He had made peace with his destiny long ago; he accepted where his life was bound to go, but he still longed for the time before he had been told of his destiny, though sadly, he knew it was gone forever.
“Musing poetical again, my friend?”
Aragorn looked up at the familiar voice. “Legolas?” For sitting atop Llegrin was the youngest prince of Mirkwood eyeing him as the sun glinted off his white-blond hair. “Is the King far behind?” Legolas was surrounded by only a few riders that Aragorn knew to be close friends. Legolas had never in all the years he had known him left the confines of the Woodland Realm without Thranduil in close company.
Legolas sighed and held Aragorn’s gaze. “No, he is not.” The small sentence dropped portentously.
Aragorn eyed his friend. “I sense a story that needs telling.”
“More than you know, my friend. Come, I must present myself at the main hall and then we shall talk.”
Aragorn nodded and said, “I shall await you here.” He pointed towards the falls as reference.
Elrond sat still in conversation with Gandalf when he heard a knock at the door. “Come!”
Elmiran entered and announced, “Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood, asks an audience.”
Elrond looked at Gandalf with a raised eyebrow at the curious and unexpected words. Gandalf held a similar look of curiosity at the announcement.
Legolas entered, followed by his riders. He bowed low, hand on heart, and intoned the formal greeting drilled into him by his father and many tutors, as he tried to bury the feelings of sadness and anger that all the royal family of Mirkwood bore towards Imladris. “Elrond of Imladris, I bring greetings and well-wishes from my Adar and all the Woodland Realm.”
“Sure, we thank you, and receive your greeting with a warm and open heart. We love Thranduil well and receive the honor of your presence.” Elrond intoned formally and continued cautiously. “To what do we owe this honor?”
Legolas unbent and Gandalf noticed a slight look of unease cross the blond Elf’s fair face. “My Adar regrets to inform you that the creature Gollum has escaped Mirkwood.” At this point he flicked a look of apology to Gandalf. “An extensive search has been undertaken, but to no avail.”
Gandalf harrumphed in dismay, but as he watched the youngest prince of Mirkwood unfurl his story, the thought dawned that there was more to this tale than was being formally conveyed to Lord Elrond. A second look of apology from Legolas confirmed his suspicions. Gandalf looked to Legolas’ companions to glean more from their expressions, but all three had their eyes cast respectfully downward. He pursed his lips in thought.
“These are grievous words indeed,” Lord Elrond stated. He cast a look at Gandalf. “Have you any counsel on this matter, Gandalf?”
Gandalf looked at Legolas’ downcast eyes before answering. Legolas’ spirit was always one of joy and light and yet his light was somehow diminished, and Gandalf would know why. There was more to this story, but the youngest Prince was unable or unwilling to speak it in front of Lord Elrond. His bearing said it all. And only the Valar knew what impressions of Elrond Legolas had received from his father, who was not the most sanguine of elves when it came to thoughts of Imladris and its ruler.
Gandalf began cautiously. “This news is indeed grievous. Much must be considered before a course of action can be determined.”
“Indeed,” Elrond stated as he looked dubiously at Gandalf and his circumspect answer. The wizard always had plans upon plans and never released his aims immediately. Elrond knew that he had to let Gandalf play out his designs before he would reveal his intentions. He found it irksome but also entirely within character. But he also knew the old wizard’s heart to be true to the cause of the Light and would eventually reveal the workings of his mind to him before time was dire. He decided it was prudent to give him that time, knowing he had little choice but to wait. He stood and turned his gaze upon young Legolas. “Prince Legolas, sure we thank you for informing us of this turn of events. We ask you to stay and take counsel with us in a few days’ time when we will discuss all such matters of import. You are welcome here and a suite of rooms in the Last Homely House shall be prepared for you. Elmiran!” Elrond called to his attendant.
“Yes, My Lord!”
“Prepare a set of rooms worthy of the Prince and his attendants!”
“At once, My Lord!” He left to perform his duty.
Legolas found his voice and once again placed his hand on heart, bowing his head. “You honor my Adar with your words.” He bent respectfully and with a knowing look at Gandalf he and his company took their leave.
Elrond watched them go and then glanced at Gandalf as he walked over to the side table where a silver flagon of wine and goblets sat. As he poured a dark red Dorwinian vintage into the fluted goblet for himself, he motioned as if to ask if the wizard would partake. When Gandalf demurred, Elrond sighed, took a sip and then rolled the goblet in his hands pensively. “Do you know why the famously overprotective King of Mirkwood would let his youngest past the bounds of Mirkwood unaccompanied by him?”
“No. But I do mean to find out,” Gandalf stated, rising to his feet.
“Please do. His presence here is perhaps fortuitous. Mirkwood, however insular, needs to understand what is afoot of late. This saves me having to send an embassage who would have received an unknown welcome.”
Gandalf nodded his head in pensive agreement. King Thranduil was not known for the warmth of his greetings to outsiders in his realm. He gathered his robes about him and with a nod to Elrond he made his way out of the door with the express purpose of finding Legolas and speaking with him.
“Well, that was all terribly formal now, wasn’t it?” Erthion looked at Legolas as they were walking to the falls where they had agreed to meet Aragorn.
Legolas laughed self-consciously. “That was, wasn’t it? I don’t know what came over me.”
“Don’t you?” Vivelle stated. “You are your Adar’s son. Haven’t you ever noticed at audiences he slips into deep formality when asked an uncomfortable question or dealing with those who trouble him?”
Legolas stopped and stared at Vivelle. “I suppose I must have noticed but I had never realized that until now.”
“You are your Adar’s son… and,” Vivelle continued, “there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.”
Legolas looked at his friend of centuries and smiled and then kissed Vivelle at her temple. He had no words for these three friends who had been with him through all his doubts, standing by him as he questioned himself. He did not know what he would have done without their steadfast friendship.
Another friend stood waiting at the falls. Aragorn embraced Legolas. “So good it is to see you! But now you owe me the why and the how.”
A gruff familiar voice sounded behind Legolas, “That is something both of us would like to know.” Legolas turned around and saw Gandalf behind him. Fresh shame washed over him as he was going to have to explain his actions once again to those he held in high respect and affection. He thought he had moved past his doubts but apparently the wounds ran deeper than he had realised. He was at a loss for words and was saved by the timely interruption of Elmiran bowing low.
“My Lord Prince. It is fortuitous that I should find you here. Your suite of rooms for you and your retinue are ready. If you will follow me.”
Legolas bowed a grateful head, glad to be able to delay explanation of his folly for a few more moments. “Lead, we shall follow.”
They were guided to a set of rooms that rivalled his father’s halls in elegant simplicity with beautiful autumn wall hangings, window treatments that billowed in the gentle breeze and warm mahogany furnishings. Legolas felt at home and was immediately assailed with a sense of guilt that he should feel so comfortable in a place that had harbored such sorrowful memories for his entire family for centuries. As soon as he had set down his saddlebags down on the russet-colored silk bedding to begin unpacking them he heard Aragorn cleared his throat in an expectant way.
Legolas sighed and sat down on the end of the bed, his eyes downcast. He was not looking forward to the explanation of his folly. A hand touched his forearm and he looked up; Erthion was handing him a silver goblet of red wine with a gentle supportive smile lighting up his face. “Hannon le, mellon nin.” He took a fortifying swallow of the wine and rolled the goblet around in his hands, wondering how to begin his tale of foolhardiness. He decided to just plunge into his reckless behaviour. “Gollum escaped because of me, on my watch.”
“Legolas! That is simply not true!” Erthion interjected.
“But it is true!” Legolas countered in a raised voice. “Gollum escaped on my watch and my decision cost Maethon and Eithediriel their lives. They wait in the Hall of Mandos because of me!”
Vivelle chimed in, “Their deaths are not your fault! They knew the risk!”
“I was their captain, they died under my watch!”
Vivelle exhaled heavily and said fervently, “Legolas, don’t do this to yourself.”
Erthion turned to a befuddled Aragorn and a rather pensive wizard. “That is not how it went at all.”
“Erthion! I can tell my own story of woe, thank you very much.”
“Well then tell it. The way it happened, not the way your guilt insists upon.”
Legolas just stared at his friend and then turned his booted heel and left, leaving a stunned array of people behind him.
Vivelle was the first to recover. She looked both Aragorn and Gandalf. “None of this has been easy for Legolas. He blames himself.”
Gandalf looked Vivelle kindly, furiously suppressing the urge to snap at her. “Suppose you can tell us what this is all about.”
Vivelle took a deep breathe and began, “Legolas broke with his Adar. Words were spoken on both sides. They have not spoken since.”
A look of stunned silence fell upon the visages of both wizard and man.
Erthion, seeing the understandable emotion displayed, took up the story as he stood at the side table filling his own goblet. “We need to take the story back a little further.”
Gandalf mumbled in a pointed way, “That would be most helpful.”
Erthion inclined his head. “As you requested, Gandalf, we did not leave Gollum is his dark cell. He had sponsored visits into the forest weekly. Each troop that was in residence and not on tour took turns keeping watch on Gollum as he climbed trees, and we had all hoped that the healing of the forest would cleanse his own dented and damaged spirit. Early in the summer it happened to be our turn to watch over Gollum. We were due back and Legolas called up the trees for Gollum to come down and return to the Halls. He did not come down. Legolas made the decision to stay the night and wait him out, and asked Maethon and Eithediriel to guard the trunk of the tree he had climbed.” He paused and had a swallow of the red vintage almost as if to fortify himself against the memory he was dredging up. “It was the middle of the night when a call to arms woke me. Within seconds I was defending off an Orc attack.” He paused. “Well, not so much an attack, more of a rush through…”
Gandalf looked puzzled. “A rush-through? What do you mean?”
Here Navedir added, “It was very odd…they merely ran through. They met our blades at pace and barely broke stride.”
“A diversion?” Curiosity colored Aragorn’s inquiry.
Navedir looked at him. “We think so. A diversion to distract from Gollum’s departure. Maethon and Eithediriel were killed because Gollum needed to escape down the tree truck.” At this, Navedir stopped talking and a shuttered sad look fell across his face as he emptied his wine goblet in one gulp and stood to refill it. He and Eithediriel had been especially close.
Vivelle looked at Navedir, compassion coloring her eyes. She took up the story. “Legolas was the first one to the tree. Eithediriel’s throat had been cut and was already dead. Maethon was still alive but just barely. He whispered a few words and then passed. Legolas spoke the Ritual Words.” Vivelle looked at Aragorn, a fellow healer. “He hasn’t been the same since. I’ve tried to help him. I’ve tried to cleanse his fëa, to release his sadness. But he won’t let me in anymore. I am worried for him.” Tear welled in her eyes as her voice lapsed into silence.
Erthion set his goblet and walked over to hug his wife. “Shh-hh!” he whispered gently. He looked at Gandalf. “Within a few hours of our returning to the Halls, Legolas appeared at our doorstep saying that the King had sent him out into the forest to seek the creature and only Navedir, Vivelle and myself were to accompany him because it was easier to track with a small party. He looked a little wild-eyed and before I could ask him any more questions, he went to seek Navedir and we were to meet him at the stables within the hour. We knew something wasn’t right, but regardless we attended if only to protect Legolas in any way possible.”
Navedir took up the story once again having recovered himself. “After we were a fair distance from the Halls, Vivelle stopped and wheedled the truth from Legolas. That he had not been sent by the King and we were out on our own to try and find Gollum. Legolas is trying to make amends for what he sees as his transgressions. He wants his adar’s forgiveness, but he has told us only very little of the audience with the King.”
As Navedir paused, Gandalf prodded, “What has he told you?”
The three were silent for a beat or two and then Erthion spoke, “He said that the King was angry that Legolas had kept the knowledge of why Gollum needed to be kept in Mirkwood away from him and in his turn he had yelled at Thranduil accusing him of not trusting his judgment, never allowing him make any decisions or bear any responsibility. He said that his silence had betrayed Thranduil by not telling all he knew and as a result Gollum escaped and Maethon and Eithediriel were dead.”
Gandalf, upon hearing that last sentence, closed his eyes in pain. It was clear. He was the reason Legolas was here in Imladris. His words to Legolas about Gollum had begun the sequence that had severed father and son.
“Gandalf, are you quite well?” The old wizard heard Aragorn’s words as if they were spoken from a great distance.
He turned troubled eyes upon his old friend. “Whether I am or not, does not signify, for I must now find Legolas. I must speak with him… to make what amends I can.”
* = denotes a quote from LOTR film trilogy.
** = denotes a quote from the Book
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