The Scarlet Tide
Death is a cold, blindfolded kiss
(Sleeping At Last: Emphasis)
As much as Thranduil might have been hoping for another private conversation with Gandalf, the circumstances did not allow it. Things had come thick and fast after they had presented Thorin with the Arkenstone and it became quite clear that the new King under the Mountain would not be open to any type of bargain. The dwarf was not pleased at all to see the heirloom of his house in the hands of an elf and a human. And much to Thranduil’s dismay the hobbit was pushed quite rudely off the dwarves’ territory once it was revealed how did the precious jewel find its way into their hands. He should have stayed with them, just like Thranduil had suggested and not put himself at the mercy of this obstinate dwarf that was behaving as unruly as ever.
They had marched up to the barred gate of the Mountain, the blue banner of Lake-town and the green one of the Forest waving side by side in their unified attempt to claim their share in the riches of Erebor. Thranduil still hesitant to open war, but Bard fiercely convinced that no gold would come forth from the mountain unless they took it by force.
It was an impressive sight indeed, the Elvenking towering over everyone else as he sat proudly astride his elk, the majestic animal bridled for battle, antlers swaying slightly as Thranduil reined it in to take its place in the vanguard of his army. A silver circlet crowned the king’s impeccable tresses that cascaded over his shoulders, waves of palest gold gleaming bright against the polished black of his armour. His twin swords were safely sheathed in black leather scabbards on either side of his body, deadly and beautiful in their elvish craftsmanship.
And behind him rows upon rows of elvish archers and spearmen, all in perfect formation, a sea of gold beneath the dull wintry sky filling the barren wasteland. Fearless warriors, the paragon of utmost discipline and composure, moving or halting as one at a subtle wave of their king’s hand.
But nothing moved until suddenly the earth trembled beneath them and from the eastern spur of the Mountain a cloud of dust rose and heads turned towards the unexpected arrivals, Men and Elves in surprise and Dwarves in delight for it was none other than Dain, son of Nain and his kin from the Iron Hills. Surely those were the allies Thorin had hoped to call to his aid, Thranduil saw his suspicion now confirmed. The dwarves were many and a hardy folk, clad in the strongest steel mail, wielding two-handed mattocks as well as short broad swords and roundshields slung around their backs. More and more streamed down the slope and into the valley, ready to expel the besiegers from their position.
And if he wanted or not, it would come now to a battle at last, a battle which Thranduil was prepared to fight and to win. He would not suffer any more dwarves barring the way to his treasure.
“Ribo i thangail!” His sharp command cut through the cold winter air like the edge of a knife as he brought his archers in position behind the shield-fence to break the first wave of attacks that would surely hit the Elves soon enough. Bows were drawn and spears were lifted as Thranduil’s warriors moved in place, their oval shields forming a nearly impenetrable wall of defence in front of their king.
The valley shook beneath the tremendous force of the oncoming sea of dwarven warriors. Spears and swords were heaved against mattocks and shields, raised high in the air and ready to clash against each other, but as the first blows rained down the surging barrage was drowned by a terrible darkness descending on friend and foe and a foreboding of doom suddenly took hold of everyone. An all-encompassing and unnatural darkness that came from the North and engulfed Men, Elves and Dwarves, stalling their motions and laying an eerie veil of silence upon them. A silence only to be vehemently broken by the most terrifying noises, ear-splitting screeches like fingernails scratching on glass that made everyone’s hair stand on end.
Terror was in Thranduil’s eyes at the sight of what had come at last, Sauron had indeed unleashed his army of evil servants, a rumbling like that of thunder filling the air as unnumbered orcs, bats and wargs streamed into the valley. And inevitably he would have to face the shadow once again. A shadow that had veiled his heart since that fateful day long ago and he had hoped never to see rise again.
Alliances that had been broken were hastily remade if the darkness was to be defeated and soon enough Elves, Men and Dwarves stood side by side to face the rising night before them. A night that was dark and full of terror like the one Thranduil had witnessed when he was but a young prince following his father into a battle that would change his life forever.
Space and time might separate Dale from Dagorlad, but to Thranduil it did not seem all that different. In the end war was always the same: a bloodthirsty beast with the hungry shadow of death on its heels, taking lives at a frightening pace.
“Hold your ground,” he called out with a voice both clear and powerful as he encouraged his warriors, the gleam of dread in their valiant eyes, “and do not fear the darkness. We will not allow it to prevail. The light will chase away the night and we will be victorious in the end!”
Those were the words of his father, words that he had eagerly soaked up as a young elfling and that had left him with a bitter aftertaste nevertheless, one that would remain ever present for the rest of his life.
The sky had been heavy with clouds and the Silvan Elves under his father’s command had been restless, impatient to show their strength and eager to put the orcish force in their place. But their independence bordering on stubbornness would be their undoing and his father’s doom.
Elhadron never left Thranduil’s side as Oropher led his heated charge against the overwhelming host of Mordor, dust and smoke rising high above them and the foundations of Arda trembling beneath as hundreds of thousands of feet stormed across the battle plain. The prince of Mirkwood and his loyal companion had no choice but to rush along with the wave that carried them ever closer towards their enemies. Silver blades swayed through the air and bows were drawn, taking aim at the king’s command. And with a clear call ringing through the air countless arrows poured down from taut bowstrings at the legions of orcs ahead.
The clashing of the armies was swift and horrifying, a deafening cacophony engulfing Thranduil in between his father and his friend. He clung to his sword for dear life as he braced himself for the assault that was upon him. One quick glance and a brief nod were the last things he would know of his father before the torrent of bodies swept him away. In the blink of an eye the moment was gone and the breath was knocked from his lungs as the force of the hostile onslaught hit him. Black scimitars were swung high above a sea of hideous faces bearing down upon the attackers and bestial grunts accompanied their brutal blows that came with quick succession.
Orcish shapes slumped to the ground as the elvish arrows hit their marks, still the wave of opponents rolled on relentlessly for their armour was strong and their bodies resilient, bred by Sauron for only one purpose: covering all of Arda with darkness and despair. But the elves were as purposeful in their attack as were the orcs and so the crashing of the light against the shadow turned into a barbaric slaughtering where none would yield and no prisoners were taken. Heads were sent flying around, limbs chopped off with fierce strokes, blades cut through armour and flesh and an ever widening stream of black and red coated the battlefield.
Thranduil gripped his sword with both hands, a pitiless gleam in his eyes as he dealt blows left and right, his gaze moving swiftly from one target to the next as he ploughed his way through the black mass before him. The deadly dance of impeccably coordinated slashes and thrusts would have made Oropher proud of his son if only he had been given a chance to look. But the king was busy fending off blows from a group of enemies that had set their aim on isolating him from his army, hoping that taking out their leader would demoralise the elves, making them an easier target to vanquish. Thranduil’s gaze shot towards his father as the realisation of this wicked plan sunk in and panic surging in his chest he called out to Elhadron, hardly being able to drown out the deafening clatter surrounding them.
“My father! Quickly, we must rush to his aid!” Thranduil’s eyes were wide in anxious worry. “They are trying to cut him off!”
Elhadron spun around as he pulled his blood-stained sword out of an opponent’s chest, the lifeless body slumping to the ground in front of him with a dull thud and being carelessly trampled upon by his comrades who kept pouring in, the crushing of skulls and armour accompanying their clunky steps. With a silent nod Elhadron pushed his way through the orcs, punching a particularly nasty specimen in the face with the hilt of his sword, sending him right flying back into the drawn scimitars of the ones that came behind him, and knocking out another one with the back of his fist, the distinct sound of cracked bones conjuring a satisfied smile on Elhadron’s face. But the smile vanished as he reached Thranduil and understood the gravity of the situation.
The ring of enemies was closing in on the king, the elves who valiantly protected him with their own lives being cut down at an unsettling speed and leaving the king vulnerable on more than one side to a direct attack.
“We must divide,” Elhadron called over the noise, quickly assessing the situation, “you will take the left flank and I will make my way around to the right one. Our only hope is to engage enough of them in combat to pull them away from your father and give him space to fight back.”
Thranduil nodded in agreement, glad to have a friend by his side with wise words and a quick blade, and then they parted, each of them pushing against the incoming stream of foes that threatened to separate both of them from their king, square and massive bodies crushing every living thing in their wake.
But Thranduil matched their force with one that was as unrelenting as it was refined and with determination he slowly broke his way through the turmoil that had his father caught up in the middle. Rising anxiousness spread through his veins, but he could not allow his juvenile fear to cloud his mind, only if he like Elhadron stayed on target, his father stood a chance of making it through this merciless massacre alive. With steadfast hands he brandished his sword, his beautiful face a grim mask, the swirling blade slicing across multiple throats, his victims stunned by the sudden force that hit them, stumbling and staggering backwards as a horrible gargling sound escaped their mutilated windpipes and their bodies crumpling in a disorganised heap around the prince. But he heeded not their wailing and stifled screeches as he stepped over their fallen shapes. He did not show mercy for none would be given to him by those vile beasts. He retreated his sword only to thrust it into the next spiteful creature that had the misfortune to stand in his way, the elegantly curved metal dripping with gooey and dark blood as he pulled it out again.
There, a shock of silvery hair in the midst of a sea of black jagged shapes and the occasional golden dot of a fanned helmet in between, there was his father, valiantly fending off his attackers with gracefully flowing motions. Thranduil’s heart was pounding like a drum, fear and hope mingling in his chest as he drew closer, knocking over orcs that lunged at him from left and right. He increased the fierceness of his attacks dealing alternate blows with his blade and the blunt end of his sword’s hilt as he went, hoping to make it through to his father on time.
Faster, do not slow down! He told himself as he parried off another stroke aimed at his chest and slit the attackers throat in a calculated swing.
Hit them before they hit you! Don’t let them get to you! His father’s words rang in his ears, words of advice he had heard a hundred times in their sparring matches back in Eryn Galen. Anticipate their next move and you will always be one step ahead! He might have inwardly groaned at his father’s insistence, but he knew now that those unnumbered afternoons spent in endless practice sessions were what kept him going in the midst of this mayhem.
Twirling his sword in his hand he used the momentum of the fallen victim to his advantage and propelled himself over the dead body, stabbing another one in the gut as he landed on his feet with unwavering gracefulness.
There! Another one down!
But there was no time to enjoy his short lived victory as more orcs kept pouring in, egged on by unfettered bloodlust. A picture of misery unfolded itself before his eyes and the dreadful thought of defeat suddenly came crawling into his mind. The revolting stench that emanated from the corpses littering the battlefield filled the air with putrid fumes and Thranduil had to fight back the bile that rose within him. The noise of metal grinding against metal and the dissonance of the orcish foes in their grunting, taking delight in their murderous rampage, was nearly unbearable, threatening to drown out every clear thought in Thranduil’s head, the shadow of despair knocking insistently at his heart’s door.
But, no he could not allow himself to give in to the murmurs of hopelessness. Not while his father was alive. And he needed his help!
Now move on! Stay focused!
He had to keep his calm in the face of the horrific chaos that threatened to swallow him and shove him away from his father. His blood-stained hands were one with the smooth metal they enclosed, the relentless choreography of his deadly blade leading him on, pushing him ever further.
Closer and closer he drew to his father, who was still trapped, scimitars hacking with unrelenting force and more often than not breaking through the king’s crumbling defence. Oropher swirled around, his sword following his motions in a blur of silver as he aimed at his enemies’ chests with targeted thrusts. But there were too many, he was hopelessly outnumbered, for every orc he cut down, three took his place, fighting ever fiercer as they tasted elvish blood.
Thranduil could see Elhadron ploughing his way through the enemies from the other side and a renewed burst of energy filled the prince as he caught a glimpse of his father’s eyes, exhaustion mingling with relief at the sight of his son.
But then the king fell, brought down to his knees by a vicious stab from behind, his eyes widening with the force of the blade piercing his lungs. An outcry of pain drowned in his throat as the scimitar was twisted in evil delight and then pulled out purposefully slow, a hideous grin spreading on the assailants face when he saw the look of horror in Thranduil’s eyes.
“Ada!” A choked cry was the only thing that escaped him as he blinked back hot tears.
“There is your king,” the orc cackled, forcing Oropher’s head up with a brutal grip around his hair, brandishing the blood-stained scimitar like a trophy in front of the prince, “not so noble any more now that I cut him down, eh?”
Thranduil stood helpless as his father’s silver blade dropped to the ground and he clutched his chest with both hands, a scarlet sea blossoming rapidly on his golden armour, his face a frozen mask in the strain of trying to maintain a look of dignity even in the moment of utter defeat.
The orc bared a row of misshapen teeth as he made a show of ostentatiously licking the edge of the rough blade, tasting the king’s blood and revelling in the power he held over the fallen Elvenking.
“Should I end his misery and cut his throat or should I let him bleed to death slowly like an animal?” he asked, his voice dripping with mocked courtesy and his grip tightening relentlessly around Oropher’s silver tresses.
The colour drained from Thranduil’s face and for a moment he was thunderstruck, unwilling to accept the reality of what just took place right in front of his eyes. This could not be happening, his father, his beloved Adar, the strong and powerful king, invincible and deathless as he had always appeared to his son, could not be losing his life by the hands of a foul servant of darkness. With surging hatred he found his voice again and he spat angrily at the orc.
“Don’t you dare lay your filthy hands on my father!”
His words were adamant and his glare was a sheet of frost and when he rose to his full height, his silver armour gleaming beneath the dull sky, cloak billowing around him and waves of silvery gold framing his face, the light of the Eldar shone from within him and for a moment the orc flinched as if being whipped by a blinding light.
Using the momentary hesitation to his advantage Thranduil stepped closer, trembling fingers closed tightly around the hilt of his sword, his eyes darting in between the orc and his father, who was only kept upright by the orc’s iron grip, his arms now hanging limp by his sides, knees threatening to give in under his weight, when a sudden cough shook him and sent a torrent of blood trickling from his mouth. Thranduil had to resist the urge to simply charge forward in a reckless attempt to save his father and in the process possibly running straight into the orc’s scimitar. He knew as much that then Sauron’s plan would have succeeded indeed and both the king and prince of Greenwood the Great would have met their violent deaths on the battlefield.
Thranduil swallowed hard as he held his father’s gaze, the gleam of pride now dimmed by agony and the consciousness of his own death casting a shadow on their bright blue. No words of warning passed his father’s lips, but Thranduil knew that one wrong or imprudent move could cost him his own life.
“Don’t you get any closer, elf or I will slit his pretty throat!” The orc’s raucous voice rang with menace as he poked the edge of the blade into Oropher’s neck, casually drawing a fine line of red as he cut into the skin with pure deliberation, the king’s face taking on an even whiter shade of pale.
Shock and disgust at the orc’s sadistic delight stalled Thranduil’s steps, loathing mingling with the horror he already felt flooding his insides. From the corner of his eye he could see Elhadron drawing near the orc from behind, so he needed to keep the captor’s attention on himself long enough for Elhadron to make his move.
“Let him go, you witless spawn of Sauron, or I will cut your own throat before you can say another word!”
Murderous resolve rang through his words as he swung his elven sword in front of the orc, the blade sticky with the bloody remnants of countless foes it had cut down. He was playing a dangerous game, but the fear for his father’s life and the hatred for the creature that held him captive brought forth a courage and recklessness that was not unlike his father’s.
But the orc would not be so easily discouraged.
“I don’t take orders from an elf princeling!” he barked back with spite, “and if you keep annoying me, I will cut you down too, I bet your blood tastes even sweeter than your father’s.”
“No, not my son —,” Oropher’s raspy voice was barely audible as he was struggling for breath, his hands groping blindly for the sword that lay on the muddy ground before him.
With an evil snort the orc kicked the sword out of Oropher’s reach.
“Where you’re going, you don’t need that any more, elf!” he grunted. Taking delight in the king’s helplessness he yanked his head back with one harsh pull, a stifled cry of pain escaping Oropher as a thick stream of blood burst from his chest.
Thranduil clenched his jaw, his heart aching at the pitiful sight before him. How much longer he could bear to witness his father’s suffering without being able to do anything about it he did not know. All the noise around him was drowned out by the unbridled torrent that was his own blood pulsating in his ears and the insane staccato of his heartbeat.
Elhadron’s head kept bobbing in and out of sight as he made his way through the ring of assailants, pushing down opponents as he went, it was only a matter of seconds now until they could attack the orc from both sides. Seconds that stretched into endless eternities as Thranduil desperately waited for the right moment to strike. Lithe and graceful he slowly inched closer, his tall grey boots treading lightly on the soft muddy ground beneath him.
“You will not leave this battleground alive, filth!” Thranduil growled with as much condescendence as he could muster, his eyes never leaving his father, who grew weaker with every trickle of blood lost, precious time wasting away.
He was going to lose him if this took any longer. He had to make a move, soon! If only Elhadron would advance faster! Thranduil thought to himself in despair.
But then suddenly everything happened so fast and unforeseen that Thranduil could only stand and watch helplessly. In one last desperate attempt to free himself Oropher lunged for the black hands above him hoping to loosen the iron grip around his hair, but the orc evaded the king’s hands and with one brutal motion he sliced the tender skin of Oropher’s neck, blood gushing instantly from the fresh wound.
“Nor will your father!” A lopsided grin of satisfaction spread on the hideous face at his work of evil and the pure horror dawning on Thranduil’s face.
But the mad cackling died in his throat as his own head was cut off by a swiftly swung blade from behind. It fell to the ground with a muffled thud, blood bursting from the abandoned neck, his body remaining erect as if in stubborn denial of the finality of death, fingers still tightly clamped around the king’s hair.
Behind the decapitated orc Elhadron’s tall figure appeared, dark-haired and steely eyed, a look of pure revulsion distorting his fair features, his sword still held high, and with a disdainful glare he kicked the body to the ground, where it gave one last twitch as Elhadron buried his sword once more deep inside his ribcage.
Thranduil instantly dropped his own sword and burst forward to catch his father who was slumping down now that the tight grip upholding him was gone, his body weakened by his lethal wounds and heavy blood loss.
“Ada,” he sobbed, “Ada, please, no!”
The prince sank to the ground and pulled the limp body of his father onto his lap, holding on to him as if he could prevent his fae from leaving his rhaw if only he embraced him tightly enough. He did not care anymore about royal composure and let his tears of despair flow freely, his hands clutching his father’s bloodstained ones, the harsh frost of death beginning to creep under his father’s skin. Oropher’s breathing was shallow and irregular and a steady trickle of blood flowed from his wounded chest and mutilated throat, his half-lidded eyes straining to focus on his son’s face.
Elhadron stood guard over them, more elves streaming to his side, and finally pushing back the orcs, fending off anyone that threatened to get close to father and son.
Thranduil helplessly pressed against his father’s wounds with the palm of his hands, hoping to staunch the flow of blood.
“Iôn-nín, you must go —,” Oropher fought against the searing pain in his chest, trying to string the words together, but every word uttered brought forth another gush of blood, the spirit of life trickling from his body at an alarming rate.
“Lie still, Ada. I will get help. I will make sure you will be all right.”
He spoke in a soothing voice, more trying to calm himself rather than his father, who only managed a weak smile at his son’s words, his eyes beginning to dim as the shadow of death descended on him.
Thranduil looked up to Elhadron for help. “We need to get my father out of here, his wounds need to be taken care of.” Panic surged inside him when he did not see any reaction from Elhadron.
“Why are you not doing anything? Don’t you see that he is gravely injured?”
Thranduil’s blood-stained fingers trembled as he feverishly sought to bandage his father’s wounds with strips from his cloak, all the while speaking softly to his father as if he were a little elfling to be soothed.
Finally Elhadron knelt beside him, laying a hand on Thranduil’s shoulder and the effort it cost him to keep his voice from breaking was palpable in his words. His king was dying before his eyes and his best friend, the prince was in frantic despair, still stubbornly refusing to accept the inevitable.
“Thranduil, my prince,” he spoke in the most measured voice possible, not allowing the torment inside his chest to wash away the last remnants of composure he still held on to, “we cannot get your father out of the battlefield. The moment of calm we have will only last mere minutes, we do not have enough men to fight off the orcs long enough. There are too many in between us and a safe place.”
“What are you saying? What do you mean by this?” Thranduil said in an accusatory tone, his eyes darting from his father to Elhadron, their piercing blue veiled with tears.
“You know what I mean to say. We are in the midst of a battle.” Elhadron struggled to keep his calm. “It would take us too long and it would be too risky.” Elhadron’s words were beseeching and when he met Thranduil’s gaze the realisation of the truth blossomed in the prince’s eyes, but still he shook his head in disbelief.
“You cannot mean that. We cannot leave my father here.” He clutched at Oropher’s blood-soaked armour as if wanting to desperately prove his point. “If we leave him here, he will not get any help, his wounds will keep bleeding. He is going to die, can you not see that? Is that what you want?” Breathless and broken was his voice when he turned his eyes away from Elhadron back to his father.
“You know that is not true. This is not what I want,” Elhadron said, but Thranduil heeded not his words.
“I will not leave you here to die. You will live, you must!” Thranduil gently took his father’s face in his hands, his fingers leaving trails of red on the pale cheeks already marked by death.
Oropher’s voice was barely a whisper. “No, I — cannot. It is too late.” His words faded away as the breath of life left him and his eyes searched for one last glimpse of his son’s eyes before the starlight was forever dimmed in their crystal blue.
“No, no, Ada! Don’t—!”
Thranduil collapsed on top of his father’s lifeless body, tears flowing and sobs shaking him uncontrollably. Elhadron said nothing but sat stunned with grief beside him and for a moment everything stood still around them.
Hopelessness and despair took the young prince as he was bent over his father, his arms wrapped tightly around the limp form. He pressed his mouth against his father’s forehead, tears and blood mingling on his lips in a bitter kiss of farewell.
“Ada, please don’t go,” he murmured into his father’s hair, the familiar scent of forest flowers still faintly present beneath the veil of decay that would soon claim victory over the Elvenking. A comforting smell of home he desperately inhaled, for it would be the last thing he could take back to a home that would be forever different.
“You have to come back with me.” He looked at his father’s face, his noble features solemn now that he had exchanged mortal agony for the peaceful serenity of eternal rest.
This was not how this was supposed to end, his father was meant to return home victorious with his son by his side and a satisfied smile on his lips. The bitterness of death was not something he had ever wished to taste and least of all like this.
Elhadron was the first to come to his senses and with a gentle tug at Thranduil’s shoulders he hoped to break through the wall of misery.
“Thranduil, my lord, you must stand up. We must stand up and fight.” There was urgency in his voice as the battle still raged on around them and the protective ring of elves would not hold forever with the oncoming host of orcs crashing against them with relentless force.
It took Thranduil a moment to realise that Elhadron had addressed him as king, his words suddenly giving an unexpected finality to his father’s death. He looked at Elhadron, the haze of sorrow still clouding his vision, but the reality of him being a prince no more beginning to sink in. The fate of his people was now in his hands and if he did not want them all to perish, he had to pull himself together and do what his father would have wanted him to do.
“We cannot stay here. There will be a time for grief, but it is not now. We must do what we came here to do and that is stop the darkness,” said Elhadron as if he had read Thranduil’s thoughts.
Thranduil nodded slowly, still reluctant to let go of his father’s body.
“We will come back for him, I promise.” Elhadron seemed to anticipate his friend’s concerns once again.
“Yes, you are right, we must finish my father’s work.” Thranduil forced himself to push his overwhelming grief back into the furthermost corner of his heart, where it would lay safely hidden from the world as he assumed his new responsibilities as leader of his people. A swiftly pulled up wall of icy composure would be his shield, an impenetrable layer of frost to keep his wounds sealed away. It was the only way he hoped to keep his heart from shattering beneath the weight of his sorrow.
Thranduil accommodated his father’s body as best as he could on the ground and whispered: “You will come home with me Ada, I promise,” and with firmness in his voice he added “and I will avenge your death.”
He picked up his father’s sword as well as his own and as he stood proud and tall over Oropher’s lifeless body, a deadly blade in each hand, his gaze was cold and clear like a diamond and the fire of retribution burned hot in his heart.
Turning towards his friend he said: “We will leave none alive.”
“Yes, my lord.” Elhadron nodded and the resolve in his eyes made it clear that he would follow his new king to whatever end.
Their wrath was terrible and a furious rage guided the hands of the new king and his old friend that day. Like flashes of silver their blades danced through the shadows overhead, a scarlet tide washing over their foes.
Darkness would not be victorious that day.