Fathers and Sons
The heavy stone doors of Thranduil’s palace swung open wide, the crisp morning air greeting the king’s face as he emerged from the darkness and strode out into the open, his bearing proud and unyielding, a tall figure towering over everyone else and impeccable to look upon, a true king in every way. His perfectly composed appearance would not reveal the emotional tempest that raged beneath this shining armour of his. His jaw clenched a little too tight, his lips firmly pressed together, it all could simply pass as utmost determination of a leader who was mentally preparing himself to go to war. Only the slightest flicker of sorrow in his eyes gave away that beneath all that self-restraint there was an anxious heart desperately fighting its own battle.
He knew that what he had set out to do was the right thing, head for the Mountain and reclaim his wife’s memento. In fact it was his only choice. He owed her that much and he knew that he would not be at peace until he had fulfilled this last duty. Only then would he ever truly be worthy of forgiveness. Maybe then he would finally find it in his heart to forgive himself for not having been there when his wife had needed him the most.
The door to his redemption had been timidly pushed open when he had granted Anna a glimpse into this black pit of grief that resided in the deepest corners of his heart. It had since then been left ajar and a small ray of hope shone through the narrow crack of the otherwise perfectly polished and virtually impenetrable shell that sealed away his emotions. Her heartfelt words had eased his tormented soul, bringing him just one small step closer to making peace with what he dragged along with him as his failures of his past.
An endlessly long past that still stretched ever unending into an unknown future.
The hint of a smile flickered across his face when his eyes were drawn to the elk, his loyal companion for so many years, waiting patiently for him in the early morning mist. Thranduil’s cloak swayed softly around him as he crossed the terrace, his gait determined and his thoughts now focused on getting his army in motion. He did not look back again, his mind set on the Mountain and his heart longing for the gems of his beloved wife.
His warriors filed in organised rows through the gate behind him, an endless stream of archers and spearmen pouring out into the open and filling the quiet forest with a bustling noise rarely heard these days. Armours were adjusted, weapons inspected, provisions loaded, making sure that the elvish host would not only reach the Mountain and recover the Queen’s necklace, but also fight a battle if needed and hopefully come out of it victorious and then make it back with as little losses and as much treasures as possible.
Thranduil gave his elk an encouraging pat as he reached for the reins when Feren, who was overseeing the final preparations, approached the king with a courteous nod: “My lord, everything shall be ready as soon as you wish to give the order to set out.”
“Very well,” said Thranduil, giving a last securing tug to his elk’s saddle, “the sooner the better, for I wish to make haste. The message of Smaug’s death now surely travels swiftly, so we must be swifter still.”
“Yes, my lord. I will see to it.” With another nod he turned away from Thranduil, busying himself with the last bits that required his attention and making sure the king’s orders were obeyed right down to the last detail.
“So we ride out once more mellon.” The elk bowed its head low, leaning into Thranduil’s hands so he could stroke the thick brown fur in between the antlers. A smile dawned on Thranduil’s face as he felt the warmth beneath his fingers. “I know you like that,” he said softly, allowing his hands to glide slowly along the animal’s forehead down to the nostrils and receiving a joyful nod in response. Thranduil brought his face closer to the elk’s head, who watched him through his trusting brown eyes, and murmured: “I promise you that when we return from this quest, you will be relieved of your duties. You have served me long enough and you shall live out the rest of your days in peace.” The elk gave him a disgruntled snort, but Thranduil would not hear of it.
“It is what I say, and there will be no complaint from you,” he said with an amused smile, “besides, you are getting too old for war, the glades of the forest with their lush grass in spring will be a better place for you than any battlefield.” With a final glance into the animal’s humble eyes Thranduil reached out for the saddle-horn and made for the stirrups and in one swift motion he was securely seated upon his elk. The reins in hand and with another slow stroke along the elk’s neck he said: “But let us not tarry any longer, so we might indeed reach the Mountain before everyone else does.”
With that he gave the order to set in motion and his company followed suit in crowded rows of four, the Elvenking’s green banner waving behind him in the wintry breeze and soon the vanguard of his army disappeared into the dark green mouth of the forest.
Despite his determination Thranduil set out for Erebor with a heavy heart.
More than once he had questioned his choice of leaving Anna behind, but he had not been able to overcome his fear of putting her in danger and the possibility of losing her. This would not happen to him again. He would not allow it. The look on her face when he had told her that she would not be coming with him had almost broken his heart, but if he lost her to death his heart would never be able to feel anything ever again. All he wanted to do was to protect her, but all he ever did was push her away from him and causing her pain in the end, he thought to himself grimly.
Doubts about the rightfulness of his wish to keep her near him had resurfaced many times. Yes, she had agreed to stay out of her own free will and he had seen the affection in her eyes. But after all: what choice did she have? She had nowhere else to go so it might have not just been out of her alleged feelings for him that she stayed. Maybe she just wanted a safe place while she figured out how to get back to her old life? Maybe she would run away the moment an opportunity presented itself? What if by leaving her behind, he had just offered her a chance to escape?
Trying to fill his mind with thoughts that would be less gloomy the image of Legolas arose before his inner eye and a wave of affection rushed through him at the prospect of a possible reunion with his son, now that he was heading towards the Mountain. A wave that towered up only to break against the wall of regret that filled his heart at having parted in discord. He only ever wished to be a good father, but it seemed that the tight grip of his obligations would not allow it. The responsibilities as king weighed him down as he strove ever tirelessly to keep his kingdom out of trouble, but then his son had seemingly gotten carried away by Tauriel’s enthusiasm to rid all of Middle-earth from evil. And now both of them were gone, leaving behind an angered and even more lonesome king.
More than once his son had tentatively approached him, but too many times Thranduil had shown him just the unrelenting facade of a king.
Once though things had been different.
“I just want you to be happy Ada,” his son had said to him, seeing a spark in his father’s eyes that had not been there in so many years no one even had bothered counting them. “You do not always have to be only the King, you know,” Legolas had dared push further as he did not feel his father pulling up his usual icy wall of resistance he so much strove to uphold. Thranduil had only raised his eyebrow in slight surprise.
“Don’t give me that look Ada. I know you better than what you think. I see how you torture yourself trying to remain inside that pit of misery you have made for yourself. Grant yourself that little bit of happiness.” Legolas had leaned casually against the column in the king’s chambers while he had watched his father staring into the glittering turquoise surface of the water, the steady purling of the fountain filling the air.
“It is not as easy as you might think Iôn nín,” Thranduil had elaborated, his gaze still fixed on the soft ripples. “The little bit of happiness as you like to call it is not mine to take.”
A deep sigh had underlined the finality of his statement and when at last Thranduil had looked up to meet his son’s eyes the striking likeness with his mother had pierced Thranduil’s heart with both joy and agony. Everything in Legolas reminded him of her. From the delicate sweep of his brow and the elegant curve of his cheekbone to the sweetness of his smile and the candour in his voice. And his eyes, though crystal blue just like his own, carried within them her gentleness. She was here but still forever gone.
“I already once have been granted happiness, and I lost it. I cannot ask for it again,” he had said, struggling to remain calm in the face of the sorrows of his past.
But Legolas would not leave it there. His father’s insistence on turning away with unwavering precision from what could bring him joy was excruciating. Pity had stirred inside his heart at the sight of his father, weary and tired of this endless battle he had been fighting inside him, and something needed to be done about it.
“But Ada, you are the king, it lies in within your power to do as you see fit. Who else but you would have the power to change the rules if not you yourself?” Legolas had kept pushing his point further, hoping for at least a subtle crack in his father’s ring of defence.
“You seem to forget that not everything can be bent to our will for it to be as we would wish for. The past cannot be undone and the course of the future must not be altered. There are certain things that go even beyond my powers and things that are not to be tampered with.”
Thranduil had furrowed his brow and given his son a stern look, but the soft voice of Legolas had not gotten tired to point out to Thranduil the doors that lied before him. He just needed to push them open instead of remaining inside the prison he had constructed for himself.
“Ada, can you not see it? There is not only a past but also a future. And she is the key and you know it.” Legolas had stepped closer and looked directly into his father’s eyes and there had been assurance in his voice: “Why else do you think she has been sent here?”
Thranduil had met his son’s gaze with astonishment, his blue eyes a mirror of his own, but with the fire of youth that had not yet been dimmed by the trials of time. With a frown Thranduil had inquired: “And what would you know about that?” before reaching for his glass of wine and taking a seat, inviting his son to do the same.
Legolas had gladly joined his father, seeing as this might be a moment of unexpected openness in between both of them.
It had taken another encouraging glance from his father to loosen his tongue: “Nothing really to be honest. But I do not think that she has come here by chance.”
Thranduil had only nodded silently, but said nothing.
“Ada —,” For a moment Legolas had hesitated: “Is there anything you know about her that you are not telling me?”
“Well, there are many things,” Thranduil elaborated with a knowing glance in Faeldir’s direction, “this Mountain is full of riches, fabled gems, piles of gold and precious jewels more than what one could carry. Surely beyond anything your young eyes have ever seen.” With satisfaction he took notice of the look of awe on Faeldir’s face, who now turned to his brother: “See, it will have been worth for us to have come on this quest after all.”
Amardir responded with a tense smile that did not escape Thranduil’s attention as the two brothers prepared alongside their king and the whole company for a short night’s rest after the first leg of their journey. Galion, the king’s butler, busied himself with the gathering of food and plates that needed to be set in place for a proper mealtime, while Elros of the Mirkwood guard had been charged with taking care of Thranduil’s elk before he would join the meal.
Merry fires had been set up, the soft sound of elven-harps and sweet singing already filling the cool night air. When everyone had found a place to take in their light meals, Thranduil addressed Amardir directly: “Is there something you wish to tell me Amardir?”
Amardir looked up from his plate and when he saw not only the king’s questioning eyes on him, but also his brother’s, as well as Feren, Galion and Elros turning their heads his way, he for once wished not to be considered high enough in rank to be sharing his mealtime with the king, but rather be with the other common elves that were scattered around in huddled groups, taking in their meals, or joining in the various tunes that wafted harmoniously through the forest.
“No, my lord.” He shook his head and busied himself with his slice of bread, but Faeldir could not contain himself, seeing the look of doubt on Thranduil’s face.
“What my brother means to say is that he now has nothing more to say against us coming along.” He nodded fervently as he shoved another grape into his mouth.
Amardir threw his brother an exasperated look, knowing that he now would have to explain himself to the king. And indeed, Thranduil leaned slightly forward, his gaze wandering from Faeldir in his youthful enthusiasm to Amardir, who clenched his jaw in uncomfortable tension, having been so blatantly exposed by his brother.
Thranduil narrowed his eyes and after taking a sip of wine he inquired: “Tell me Amardir what it is that troubles you. I am your king and I have a right to know. You must not hide anything from me.”
Faeldir shrugged apologetically with a lopsided grin on his face as his brother let out an audible sigh and suddenly everything around them went silent. Elros had lowered his plate into his lap and Galion had even forgotten to chew, both in curious expectation, and Feren was watching Thranduil out of the corner of his eye with anxious anticipation.
“My lord, I ask you not to take any offence in my words, for they are not meant to offend, but are simply heartfelt concerns I have expressed towards my little brother.” He raised his hand to silence Faeldir, who was ready to mouth a protest at being addressed in front of the king as ‘little brother’.
“That will depend on the nature of your words,” Thranduil responded cooly.
It took Amardir a moment to collect himself, but then his eyes held the king’s gaze and he raised his chin, the fire sending flickering shadows across his face and a warm orange gleam on his smooth dark brown hair.
“Ever have I been responsible for my brother since the untimely death of our father and the unfortunate departure of our beloved mother.” He paused for a moment, watching out for a possible reaction from Thranduil. But the king remained unmoved, simply waiting for Amardir to continue.
“You must forgive me if I seem to go far afield, but the well-being of my brother is paramount to me and I would go to any lengths to protect him.”
“But I do not need to be protected, I can fend very well for myself,” Faeldir protested, slightly embarrassed by being treated like a helpless elfling in front of the king and his warriors.
Thranduil gave him a benevolent nod. “Yes, of course you can. But please do not interrupt your brother, for I very much long to know what else he has to say.”
Faeldir fell silent and stared blankly at the plate in his hands like a misbehaved child while his brother continued with his elaborations.
“His youth does not allow him to consider this quest in all its bearings. He believes it to be a simple treasure hunt, which it is not. And even if it were so: treasures are rarely recovered without sacrifice and loss. And more often than not the price we pay is too high and our only gains are pain and sorrow, which will be our inseparable companions for the rest of our lives.”
When he ended there was a moment of silence, Galion and Elros exchanging uncomfortable glances and Feren straightening himself, ready to intervene should the necessity arise.
Thranduil seemed to ponder the meaning of Amardir’s words before responding quietly: “So you mean to say that you do not deem my quest just?”
“If you wish to put it into such straightforward words, my lord, yes.” Amardir crossed his arms in front of his chest, defiance written all over his face.
Breaths were drawn in and one could have heard a pin drop if it wasn’t for the crackling of firewood as all eyes went from Amardir, now a shade paler after this bold statement, to Thranduil, who was assessing him curiously, a challenging gleam in his eyes.
“Your openness is quite daring, but it does not surprise me, Amardir. You might not have been in my service for as long as others, but you are in so many ways your father’s son. Fearless like he was, but an ever cautious advisor.”
Amardir responded with a scrutinising look, not quite sure if this remark was merely a criticism in disguise.
“And what would be wrong with being cautious?” Amardir added rather tight-lipped.
“Nothing, nothing at all.” With a slight inclination of his head Thranduil continued: “But say, my dear Amardir, if you were my advisor, what would you have me rather do? Leave the treasures of Erebor for anyone else to take? Leave everything to the dwarves, should they have survived, which I very much have reason to doubt?” He raised his eyebrows as he threw these rhetorical questions at Amardir. “The men of Lake-town will be next to lay claim and believe me, word of the dragon’s death has spread far beyond our lands already. So it is only a matter of time until the riches of this Mountain will have far too many contenders, all of them wishing to come into Smaug’s inheritance.” He leaned forward, his eyes on fire. “And make no mistake, I will not stand by idly and watch as someone else will lay their filthy hands on my late wife’s necklace!” He pointed a bejewelled finger in Amardir’s direction: “You of all people should understand the importance of this quest.”
The waves of his emotions threatened to shatter the surface of his perfectly composed self, old wounds still so painfully fresh, his heart bleeding as the sensation of loss dragged him into the abyss of loneliness and despair. But his gaze revealed none of that, for he would not lightly show his wounds to the world. A haughty look was all that Amardir saw, inciting him to challenge his king yet once again.
“My lord, I beg your pardon, but I daresay that I have every reason to have my doubts about the benefits of reclaiming jewellery, for nothing good has ever come from the desire for precious stones.” He pushed his chin forward, the wild gleam in his eyes nearly matching the king’s. Feren’s eyes widened in dawning shock and he grabbed his plate a little too tight, sensing the possibility of an angry outburst from his king nearing at a brisk pace.
But Thranduil remained calm, for he knew inside his heart that even he had been harbouring doubts about the necessity of this endeavour. Doubts he would barely admit to himself, because it felt too much like he was questioning his own ability as a leader and as someone who took the right decisions. Decisions that would usually go unchallenged by his people. He knew that they would follow him to whatever end, just like Elhadron, the father of Amardir and Faeldir, had done.
“I know that you blame me for your father’s death.” Thranduil only raised a finger to stop Amardir before he could respond. Thus put to silence by the king he closed his mouth reluctantly and swallowed his answer. “Don’t object. I know you do, you always have.” Thranduil’s gaze was lost in the flames for a moment before he looked up again, the orange fire burning through the crystal blue.
It was now Faeldir who took a stand, rushing to his brother’s aid: “My lord, could we please leave our father out of this?” The flames imparted him an unusually fierce appearance, his soft features hardened as he pressed his lips together, withstanding Thranduil’s gaze in youthful stubbornness.
Thranduil seemed to study Faeldir’s face for a moment, considering his demand. And what he saw in the eyes of this young elf was his own reflection, broken and torn apart by the ruthlessness of death that had deprived him of his own father Oropher when he was just a young prince. Emptiness and helplessness had taken him on the battlefield of Dagorlad, for death had not only robbed him of his father, but had cut down so many of their loyal warriors, that the seed of despair had begun to take root in his heart. But underneath the suffocating shadow there had been also a faint glimmer of hope to which he had to persuade himself to turn to and despite the uneven odds he had risen to be the leader who he had been born to be.
But where to was he leading his people now? A war to reclaim a piece of jewellery? Gems of purest starlight that were beautiful beyond imagination but nevertheless empty and cold, never again to be filled with life.
Was he being unreasonable?
“My lord?” Feren’s thin voice cut through the king’s thoughts as well as the dense silence. He turned towards Thranduil, who was still staring at Faeldir, the young elf shifting restlessly with his half eaten meal in front of him, convinced now that his interjection had definitely been misplaced and preparing for a possible reprimand. He shot his brother an apologetic glance, but Amardir had his eyes on Thranduil, the tension in the air palpable just like one anticipates the deafening rumble of thunder after a lightning has struck the earth.
Thranduil nodded slowly, his thoughts far away from the fireplace as his heart relived once more the horrors of his own battlefields and when he resurfaced from the shadows of his past there was sadness in his eyes and his voice was devoid of all harshness when he addressed Faeldir in an almost fatherly tone: “I understand that you do not wish to be reminded of your father’s absence, and in the light of your youthful rashness I will let your insolence pass, but do not forget that you are facing your king who knows the void of death all too well.”
Faeldir lowered his gaze ruefully, his words now nearly a mumbled whisper: “Yes, my lord. I am sorry, I did not mean to anger you with my words. It is just that our father’s death is ever too present in our lives.” When he looked up again, he had to control his urge to pour out his heart to the king, who was still watching him with a distinct glance of empathy in his eyes.
“So, let us now no longer speak of what brings us sadness, but of what might bring us joy.” With this Thranduil brought the conversation to an end before it would wander on to more dangerous paths and sighs of relief traveled around the fireplace as everyone relaxed in their places.
Thranduil took another sip of wine and over the rim of his cup he watched the flickering flames and their golden sparks flying upwards and dancing in the darkness like fireflies. And his eyes went around the faces as everyone resumed their meals and slowly the subdued conversations grew more animated, even Feren loosening his usual restraint and allowing himself a half-smile at the various jokes that were brought forth by Galion and Elros, the wine that had been brought along starting to show its effect. Only the two brothers were slow in joining in, but eventually their jovial nature prevailed and the wine washed the tension off their faces.
At last Thranduil rose his voice again, gesturing amiably at Amardir and Faeldir: “Why don’t you delight us with one of your works of art? It has been brought to my attention that you have been withholding a certain new poem from me.”
Thranduil’s eyes bore into Faeldir’s, who almost dropped his cup of wine and shot his brother a puzzled look. Although equally perplexed, it took Amardir only a moment to regain his wits and he responded cordially with a slight inclination of his head: “Yes of course my lord, it will be our pleasure to perform our newest creation for you.”
Voices were dimmed to a hush as Faeldir rummaged in his bag to pull out his harp which was his trusted companion at all times. While Amardir prepared his flute, Faeldir addressed the king: “My lord, this song is called ‘The Lady of the Forest’ and I daresay it speaks for itself.” And with those words the brothers began their performance:
Nameless she walks with her spirit so bright.
She comes from afar and a secret she holds.
Is it the sun that looks for the stars?
Her face shines with joy, but a shadow she bears,
a shadow that darkens her heart.
Is it the sun that looks for the stars?
Will the stars lift the shadow, will the sun find the light?
Will she linger forever until her own light shall fade?
Is she the sun in search of her star?
Faeldir’s clear singing voice trailed through the forest, carried by softly strung chords on his harp and the sweet and melancholy sighs of Amardir’s flute. From within the woven melodies Anna’s image rose in Thranduil’s mind. The high ring of her laughter when Amardir and Faeldir entertained her with their jokes rang in his ear. A small smile played around his mouth when he thought on how much he adored those freckles that spread like golden sprinkles from her nose over her cheeks and the way those cheeks flushed bright red when he caught her looking at him.
But also with it came a concoction of feelings, a painful amalgam of desire and guilt that had been brewing inside him for weeks; no, not just weeks.
If he was completely honest to himself it had taken hold of him already the moment her eyes had met his under the tree that fateful day back when summer had gingerly begun to make way for autumn’s saturated beauty. The way her gaze had simply broken through all his shields had frightened and elated him, awakening feelings he had deemed long forgotten. And when she had so defiantly stood up to him after that memorable banquet, her face heated and her eyes glaring, it was like a summer storm sweeping through his solemn halls and his ancient heart, a fresh breeze where everything had been stagnant for way too long. Something had shattered inside him that day, making way for something else to take root in its stead. But the gnawing sensations of dishonesty and selfishness had threatened to choke the tender sapling with their poisonous venom, depriving it of the redemptive light it so desperately longed for.
He had done everything he thought was right, but turned out quite the opposite: he had offered her his help should she wish to return to her world, he had ordered her to stay, softening it later to a heartfelt wish, had scorned her for her unduly meddling in his affairs with the dwarves, finally more or less pushing her into agreeing that she would stay behind while he went on his quest to the Lonely Mountain. How could he expect affection from her, when all he did was keeping her at a distance? But he had also opened up his heart to her about the sorrow that still lived within him, the shadow of darkness that ever lingered on his soul and he had shown her how much it meant to him that she would remain in safety and wait for his return.
Still, there were things he knew, or at least things he suspected and had not told her. After all she was not the first human to enter his realm from what the elves called the other side. Not because he withheld them from her with bad intention, for he only wished that she might stay with him instead of choosing to return to her former life. Uncountable times his mind had drifted back to that moment when he had almost kissed her, her eyes blindfolded, her hair a mess and her lips trembling in anticipation as he had approached them slowly with his own. It had taken all his self-restraint not to give in to the sudden overwhelming desire to draw her into a passionate kiss.
Since that moment he had been trying to keep his feelings for her under control and locked inside, but ruling a kingdom proved to be easier than to navigate the treacherous waters that were his emotions. He still felt committed to his wife, who, although long gone from this world, still remained ever alive in his heart. And the insurmountable difficulties barring a possible relationship between an Elvenking and a mortal woman, weighed even heavier on his already troubled heart. It was against all rules, rules he held in high esteem and he had never considered breaking himself. Only pain and suffering ever came from such unnatural unions.
Even if he would give in to his feelings, it would eventually lead only to more grief in the end, having to let go once again someone he loved, death being the inevitable fate of all humans. And he would have to linger on endlessly, being forever alone again.
All this had flashed before his inner eye and even when the music had ended and silence had once more descended on the circle around the fire, he was still with his thoughts gone. Only when Feren coughed politely did he finally stir, bestowing a benign smile on the two artists, a look of relief dawning on the brother’s faces as they lowered their instruments and appreciative nods were directed at them.
With a wave of his hand Thranduil gestured at both of them: “Lovely! You should not have hidden this gem from me. I see that our human guest has made quite an impression on both of you.”
Faeldir and Amardir exchanged curious glances, unsure as to what to make of their king’s statement.
“Yes, my lord, she has, and I only wish that happiness might finally turn towards her and find her.“ Faeldir’s open gaze met Thranduil’s eyes with unspoken words.
“And what am I to make of that?” Thranduil drew out his question purposefully, his eyes gleaming bright beneath the night sky.
Amardir answered in his brother’s stead: “It means that treasures are sometimes found in unlikely places.”
And with a court bow he rose from his place, bidding himself and his brother to be excused so they could prepare their bed for the night.
Thranduil dismissed them with a small nod, draining his cup of wine and granting himself a short night’s rest, for much of their journey lay still ahead of them.
Uneventful passed the next day of their journey, flocks of birds, big and small, crows and carrion birds gathered thick about them, fluttering and circling way above the treetops, in anticipation of an opulent reward should war be indeed the final destination of the elvish host.
As they made camp to rest for a short while during the following night, unannounced albeit not completely unexpected visitors presented themselves before the Elvenking. Messengers they were from Bard who had taken the lead after the Master of Lake-town had given preference to taking his own leave rather than burn or drown alongside his people.
They had been sent swiftly up the river for help was sorely needed and they were glad to find the elvish host already on the move.
Thranduil bade them step forward once the three stout men had disembarked from their barge, an echo of terror still lingering on their grief-stricken faces. They bowed deeply and then the eldest approached Thranduil with due deference as the king beckoned him to speak up. He was a wiry middle-aged man with a weathered face whose appearance spoke of days of agility long gone, his hair as grey as his beard and his patched-up clothes rather ragged and not much different from his younger companions’. For the people of Esgaroth were mainly fishermen and due to their Master’s widely unpopular heavy taxation all of them had been left with much less in their pockets as well as their stomachs as they would have wished for.
“My lord Thranduil, we bring word from Bard of Lake-town as our town has fallen victim to the wrath of the great dragon Smaug and as your servants we humbly beg you for your help. Most of our people have lost their homes as well as their modest belongings, many have perished in the fire or drowned in the waters of the lake. Our children, the elderly and the weak are surely doomed to die first in these harsh conditions, for the winter is before us and we are left with nothing. Please, great Elvenking Thranduil, will you help us in our need?”
He bowed again deeply when he had ended and his two companions followed suit dutifully. They had lingered behind and only dared to glance stealthily at the king, the look of awe painted on their faces when they found themselves for the first time in their young lives so close to the fabled Elvenking, a fact that had seemed completely unheard of until just a few days ago. Of course back then also the event of having their town razed to the ground by an angry dragon had been considered an old wives’ tale at best, but not something that would indeed ever come to pass during their lifetime.
“My good men,” Thranduil addressed the three messengers, opening his arms in a generous gesture. “Do not despair. You have suffered much and your losses are great, but help shall be given to those in need.” He tilted his head sideways, a benevolent smile on his face and a look of relieve and gratitude simultaneously dawning on the three faces, immediately followed by another set of deeps bows.
“Thank you, thank you, my lord,” the elder one was the first to find his voice. “We are forever grateful for your kindness and surely my Master will be ready to make any bargain you might wish for the future in return for such generous aid.”
“Very well, this shall be decided in due time.” Thranduil gestured towards Galion to have brought forth food and drink for the messengers, seeing their starved and rather worn out looks on their faces. “I would ask you to join us tonight as we camp, but I have reason to assume that you are moving with haste and wish to return as fast as possible to your Master.”
As he spoke, two elves stepped forward, carrying well packed baskets with food and bringing along a small barrel of wine, all of which were received by the three men of Lake-town with grateful smiles and brought about even deeper bows and many hastily murmured thank-you’s in low and husky voices.
“We are forever in your debt,” began the elder man again. “And yes, indeed, you know our plight quite well. We have been instructed to return with help as soon as we could. Knowing that aid is already on the way will surely lighten up the hearts of our people.” He looked up to Thranduil who had remained his usual composed and nearly motionless self all the while and was now with a lazy wave of his hand indicating for the barge to be loaded with more food to assuage the direst need until he and his host would be arriving in Lake-town.
Once the barge had been fully loaded and safely sent on its way back to Lake-town by the elves, Thranduil gave orders to his people that in light of this new development it was best to make haste and reduce their nightly rest to the absolute minimum.
And so it came to pass that in the dead of night, the Elvenking’s host hurried at great speed towards the ruins of Esgaroth, providing help being now paramount.
The Mountain would have to wait.
And so could the gems.