A Fond Farewell
“Ada, please wait up!”
Legolas called out to his father, the king’s gait as determined as ever despite his heavy heart. But he was not going to let his father walk away again so easily from his chance of finding even the smallest bit of happiness.
“I know that you think you must stay, but please don’t bury your reawakened spirit again beneath that excruciating self-denial of yours.”
He had soon caught up with him, Tauriel on his heels, who listened intently to their unfolding conversation.
“You don’t understand son,” Thranduil said without looking at him. “I must do this. It is my duty as king. I always must serve my people first. And may I remind you that we are not speaking of a lifeless necklace for once, but of a young warrior who has not only gone through many hardships in his life, but who also was willing to give his life to save mine and Odmund’s. He deserves that I do everything in my power to save him. Mine is a small sacrifice in comparison to his.”
Legolas nodded slightly abashed, but still he would not give up so easily. If his father was not going to take his fate in his hands, then he would need to take it for him.
“I understand that you must always be a king first, but you could leave that heavily locked door of duty slightly ajar.”
Thranduil stopped in his tracks to take a good look at his son. The earnest warmth in his eyes touched his heart. “I very much value your concern for me and I promise you that I intend to stay on the path I chose, but for now I have another favour to ask of you.”
“Yes?” Legolas inquired, glad to be of help.
“I need you to fetch me some athelas. I fear that I will need it, even though Faeldir might not suffer from a poisonous wound.”
“Yes, of course. I will not come back without it. Anything else that you wish for me to do?” Legolas looked into his father’s eyes and the echo of his emotional upheaval on Ravenhill shone through their slightly dimmed crystal blue.
“No, that would be all. But be sure to make haste.” Thranduil sought to focus on the task that lay ahead of him. He was a skilled healer, but he felt unusually weak today. It would not be easy for him to conjure up the strength he needed.
“I will.” Legolas had already turned around when Thranduil called him back.
“One more thing: If you happen to come across Mithrandir you might want to bring him along with you.” With an unmistakable sneer he added: “This should not be a too difficult task as the wizard seems to be always around, even when no one has been asking for him.”
Legolas nodded obediently, slightly more at ease. “Do not trouble yourself father. I shall be back in no time with athelas in my hand and Mithrandir by my side.”
And with those words he took towards the old market and was soon gone from sight.
“May I walk with you my lord?” Tauriel asked tentatively, seeing that Thranduil had already resumed his brisk pace, and when he indicated his approval with a sharp nod, they both walked in silence, passing people that were searching for their loved ones, children crying and mothers weeping. The royal tent was only a few more corners away and the alleys through which they strode were littered with debris and corpses, a pitiful sight that left neither the king nor his head of guard unmoved.
“I know that this might not be the right moment, but I wanted to express once more my gratitude that you have shown me mercy,” Tauriel finally broke the silence.
“Do not be too overconfident about having gotten away unscathed. I am not letting you off the hook quite yet,” he shot Tauriel a stern glance and she lowered her gaze, her usual perky attitude still somewhat subdued.
“Yes, of course, I am fully aware of that. What I meant to say is that you have more kindness in your heart than what you are allowing the world to see.”
“The world is an evil place and kindness is best not worn on one’s sleeve if the enemy is not to think of one as weak.”
“I was not talking about the enemy,” she said and their eyes met for a brief moment, but before Thranduil could say anything else in response their conversation was cut short by a commotion heading their way from an alley to the left.
They both stopped in their tracks, Thranduil steeling himself for what would soon come into view. There was no mistaking that these were Feren and Amardir leading on a group of people carrying a body on a stretcher. The elven soldiers with their stern expression and solemn bearing made it appear more like a funeral train than a rescue mission. Solely Amardir did not even attempt to hide his agitation, urging the elves behind him on to make haste as they stepped over rubble and collapsed walls. The distinct shapes of Odmund and a woman with two small boys on either side followed them closely, a mixture of preoccupation and confusion on their faces as they hurried along, not quite knowing where this strange procession would lead them.
Thranduil greeted them with a nod, a quick glance behind Feren and Amardir telling him what he needed to know. And that was not good. He swallowed hard, the composed mask of his face only barely hiding the shock that befell him at the sight before his eyes. This was much worse than what he had thought. It truly seemed that Faeldir had been buried beneath a rock, his torso severely crushed under the immense weight, his right arm sticking out in a rather odd angle, a dagger still tightly clenched in his left hand. And his face, those gentle features of his, frozen in painful agony. He had to look away or else he feared that even his so well trained kingly countenance would cave in under the image of the wanton force, which had violated this body. A body that was after all not created to succumb to death.
In the long millennia of his lifetime he had seen many injured warriors, but it was always particularly painful to see a familiar face in such a state of dread. He had known Faeldir since the day he was born and despite the numerous dark moments he had always kept his high spirit and now it seemed that fate would send him to the halls of Mandos in the cruellest of ways. And all because Faeldir was too eager to fight a battle that the Elvenking had deemed necessary to reclaim a necklace, that he finally had found the courage to let go of. He would not be able to look Amardir in the eye knowing that he had failed to save his little brother. He already had their father’s life on his conscience and as a consequence also their mother’s, so failure was not an option.
With Thranduil now in the lead the whole group picked up their pace, more curious onlookers in the streets gradually joining their train. After all, if the Elvenking was rushing with such urgency, something of considerable importance must be about to take place, and when they had reached their destination, a veritable knot of people had gathered around the king’s tent, gawking to get a good look at poor Faeldir and furtive voices whispering of trolls and their atrocious deeds.
Thranduil ordered him to be rushed inside, but halted everyone else with a graceful wave of his hand, the desperate gleam in Amardir’s eyes not escaping his notice.
“I am sorry Amardir, but I must insist that you wait outside as well.” He cut him off before he could say anything in response. “What you will see might frighten you.”
“But I do not care. I am not afraid, I want to be with my brother.”
“I know that, but I am asking you to let me attend to your brother alone. Do not make me order you to stay outside.” The tone in his voice had gone dangerously low and Amardir knew that this was a line he rather not crossed. After all his brother’s life was now in the king’s hands, so it would not be wise to incur his wrath.
“Fine,” he nodded grudgingly and stepped back.
And then the curtains closed behind the Elvenking and the young elf whose life hung by a mere thread, and silence fell on those that remained outside, their hearts caught in anxious hopefulness. For a moment Amardir stood facing the drapes wishing to be able to see through the heavy fabric, being separated from his brother causing him physical pain. He could not resist the temptation of reaching out for the burgundy folds, when suddenly Tauriel’s hand shot forward and found his in a surprisingly firm grip.
“Don’t,” she said softly, but with determination. “You heard the king’s reasoning. You must not disturb him now.”
Amardir looked at her through narrowed eyes, assessing her silently.
“He will have his reasons for shutting everyone out. I assure you he is not doing this to hurt you.” Tauriel fixed him with an imploring gaze and with a resigned sigh Amardir let go of the curtains and Tauriel quickly retreated her hand from his.
“But I do not understand. Why can I not be there? My brother needs me, now more than ever!” He frantically ruffled his hair, the sleek dark brown strands tangling around his fingers, but he could not care less about his messy appearance. This was a matter of life and death.
“I know that the king will do everything in his power to save him, you can rest assured of that.”
“But what if that is not enough?” Amardir barely dared to utter those words, the thought of losing his little brother too terrible to behold.
“You must have faith. The hands of a king are the hands of a healer. You know that as well as I do. And Thranduil is amongst the most gifted ones.”
Amardir nodded weakly, still not convinced that his brother would come out of this predicament alive, when suddenly muffled rummaging noises followed by a stifled moan were heard from inside. Amardir’s eyes widened in alarm and he drew a sharp breath, clenching his fists to refrain himself from storming inside and wresting his brother from what he believed to be his deathbed.
“It is fine, no reason to be alarmed.” Tauriel raised her hand in an appeasing gesture as she listened intently to the sounds from beyond the drapes that had lowered to a quiet shuffling and when she looked back at Amardir there was a veil of unshed tears blurring his grey eyes and his utter despair left her helpless.
“I made a promise,” he began, his voice low and shaky, “a promise to our mother. And I failed.” He rubbed his forehead with both hands, trying to keep himself from breaking down in front of Tauriel. “I though that I could succeed at both, protecting my brother and serving the king, but that was an illusion.” He shook his head in exasperation.
“There is no need to torture yourself with those self-accusations. I know that you deeply care for your brother and that you are a loyal servant to the king. But you know as well as I do that the fate of the ones we love is not in our hands.”
There was a sad smile on Tauriel’s face and Amardir only nodded silently, realising with shame that he was not the only one to bemoan a loss.
The near unbearable tension was broken by a sudden influx of voices and soon the shapes of Gandalf and Legolas came into sight, the wizard’s cloak billowing behind him in dusty ripples of grey, his weathered face more wrinkled than ever in concentration and Legolas beside him clutching a bunch of plain flowers in his hand. Legolas wordlessly proceeded to pull the curtains apart for the wizard, not without having handed him the flowers, and then closed the drapes behind him with a sigh that was both of concern and relief.
Amardir had observed the scene quietly, but now he could not contain himself any longer and his eyes went from Legolas to Tauriel.
“Why does he get to go in and I have to wait outside?” Anger and frustration were seething beneath Amardir’s tattered remains of his nearly gone composure.
“He is a wizard,” Tauriel explained quietly. “If the king wishes someone by his side in this difficult hour then it would surely be him.”
Legolas nodded in approval. “To be honest, I am concerned about my father’s strength. When I found him on Ravenhill he was in a state of unrest like I have not seen him before. It seemed that the dragon fire of old was burning him from inside out and might have even finally claimed victory over him.” He looked at Tauriel with dread in his eyes. “He was nearly gone when I came to him.”
This was too much for Amardir and he snapped.
“You are concerned about your father’s strength?” He talked himself into a rage. “And what about my brother? What about his strength? What about his life? Does that not concern you?”
The vein in Amardir’s neck stood out dangerously, his usually pale cheeks reddened with agitation, a mad fury in his eyes.
“That is what I worry about, Amardir.” Legolas sought to keep his voice polite. “I think you do not understand that my father’s strength is the only hope your brother has.”
“Yes, of course,” Amardir muttered apologetically as if he had been slapped in the face, “I am sorry, but you must forgive me, the worry about my brother’s life has made me unreasonable.”
And without another word he turned away and began pacing back and forth in front of the tent, hoping to keep his mind from going insane.
Time seemed to have forgotten its busy rush as everyone waited, all of them bound in idleness, the torches around the royal tent keeping the darkness of night at bay with a small circle of hope. Odmund had even set up a campfire, around which his wife and the children had finally fallen asleep, snuggled up against each other braving the cold, but to Odmund no sleep would come that night. When he could not stand the inactivity any longer he got up to stretch his legs and tentatively approached Amardir, who was staring up into the night sky and seemed to take no notice of Odmund’s presence. They stood for a while silently beside each other and when Odmund’s eyes also found the starlit blanket that spanned above them he said: “It’s hard to believe that after such disaster there is still such beauty left in this world.”
“There will always be beauty but it remains forever empty if we do not have someone to share it with.”
Odmund sighed heavily and then Amardir turned towards him and said: “I have heard about your missing daughter and I do hope that she will be found alive.”
“Your king was very kind in offering his help but I am afraid that he has more confidence than what I can muster,” Odmund said sadly and looking up to Amardir he added “I owe your brother my life and since I don’t know if I will ever be able to thank him I wanted to let you know that I am forever in his debt and if there is anything I can do to repay him, I will.”
He bowed deeply, hoping to have found the right words. After all, dealings with elves was not something he was particularly apt at.
“You are a good man Odmund and my brother did well in saving you. He would not want you to feel indebted to him. He only did what he deemed the right thing to do, without possibly thinking too much about the consequences. He was always the reckless one of us brothers.” After a moment of silence he quickly added “Well he still is.”
Odmund only nodded and then both went back to their mutual silence.
When the early morning light began to spill over the horizon like molten gold and silence was the only thing heard from inside, Amardir had nearly lost all hope. His nervous pacing had come to a halt long ago and turned from a gloomy stare into the flickering flames to a resigned state of hopelessness.
Suddenly the curtains were pulled aside and all eyes turned in anxious anticipation to the tall figure emerging. Thranduil had changed into his fitted robe of dark grey, an elegant cloak of the finest silk cascading from his shoulders like glittering starlight and the silver circlet on his sleek waves of platinum catching the first timid rays of sunshine. Despite his flawless appearance there was a rather strained look on his face, the familiar crease on his forehead deeper than the usual.
His eyes searched for Amardir, who had anxiously edged closer, his hands pressed together, trying to relieve the unbearable tension in his chest. But Thranduil’s gaze was impenetrable as always and when he spoke his words were few and chosen with great care.
“Faeldir will live, but his path to convalescence will be a long and difficult one.”
Audible sighs of relief made their way from one mouth to another as the tension finally broke and the weight of the entire Lonely Mountain seemed to fall off Amardir’s shoulders. He did not bother to stop the tears of joy that ran down his cheeks and he barely knew how to put his gratitude into words, so he only managed a mumbled:
“Thank you, thank you so much.”
Thranduil acknowledged his gratefulness with the ghost of a smile. He pulled the cloak tighter around his shoulders, the early morning chill beginning to creep into his bones. After all, the process of halting death meant giving from his own life and it always cost him to recover from it; today more than ever.
His voice was remote and strained. “And I do not know if he will ever be completely healed. Only time can tell and you will need to be patient.”
“Yes, of course.” Amardir nodded dutifully and then the question he had been burning to ask broke through: “May I go and see my brother now, please?”
“Yes, you may, but be sure not to agitate him when he wakes. He is now in a deep slumber to help heal his wounds and it might not be in several days that he will open his eyes.”
“I do not mind the waiting, as long as I can be by his side,” Amardir was quick to respond, the joy to be reunited with his brother evident in his eyes, a renewed spark of life in their solemn grey.
“Faeldir can count himself lucky to have such a devoted brother,” Thranduil said with amusement as he allowed Amardir to pass.
But Amardir most likely missed the king’s praise as he stormed into the tent like his life depended on it, the curtains closing with a noisy rustle behind him.
“I am sorry, but everyone else will have to wait their turn,” Thranduil said facing the small crowd. “This also includes you two.” He pointed at Tauriel and Legolas, who seemed ready to follow Amardir into the tent. “Give him some time alone with his brother, he has earned it.”
Legolas could not help but notice his father’s pallid face and the way his hands were holding on to the cloak, trying to conceal the tremors in his fingers beneath the abundant fabric.
“And you have earned yourself a rest, Ada. You must not overexert yourself, especially if you plan on starting back to Mirkwood soon.”
He shot Tauriel a pleading look and she nodded in agreement.
“Your son is right my lord. What you did is no small thing,” Tauriel chimed in without hesitation.
“My work here is not quite done, I am afraid,” Thranduil said with a meaningful glance in the direction of Odmund, who seemed to be anxiously awaiting his turn to speak to the king. He beckoned him to step closer, Odmund’s wife and children keeping a save distance to this strangely intimidating king.
“I am terribly sorry to bother you, my lord,” the farrier said in between bows, his hair more unkempt than ever after this sleepless night, “but could I borrow a moment of your precious time?”
“You may not only borrow it, but I might even be inclined to just give it to you.” Thranduil greeted him with a small nod, the obnoxious drumming in his temples getting gradually harder to ignore. “But if you are to inquire about your daughter’s whereabouts, I am afraid that my men have not yet found a lead.”
“No, it is not about my daughter, although I very much would like to hold her in my arms again,” Odmund swallowed trying to keep his calm. “It is about Faeldir. I am very glad, that he will make it through alive. He came to my rescue, you know, when everyone else had fled from the troll.” Drops of sweat began to form on his forehead at the mere thought of what this horrible creature might have done to him. “His valour gave me the courage to fight back and I would not be standing here in front of you, if it hadn’t been for him. I owe him my life and I already have offered his brother to repay him for his deed, but he would not hear of it.” He paused to organise the words in his head. “The only thing of value left in my possession is Silvermane and I would be honoured if you would accept her as my gift.” Bowing as low as his belly allowed it, he waited for the Elvenking’s response.
For a moment Thranduil considered his offer and knowing how much this horse meant to Odmund, this was a most generous gift. A gift he surely would have refused, if he hadn’t been in dire need of a new mount. But if he wanted to get back to the palace without delay, the mare would be the perfect choice.
He folded his hands in front of his lap, hoping that the tight grip he forced on them might finally do away with the lingering tremble, and said: “I shall gladly accept your offer as I wish to depart to Mirkwood before the day’s light is spent.”
“Yes, of course.” There was a sudden dryness in Odmund’s throat draining his voice.
“I know that Silvermane is of utmost personal value to you and I shall set her free to return to you once her duty is done,” Thranduil said upon seeing the look of distress on Odmund’s face.
“Thank you, that is very generous of you. And I assure you that you will not be disappointed. She is the swiftest horse in all of Dale and you will not find a more loyal companion.”
His chest swelled with pride and a brief smile lighted up his weary face, but then it came to him that there could only be one reason why the king would need a horse. “I am sorry to ask, but your elk, is it—?”
Thranduil nodded. “It sadly was killed in battle.” A shadow flickered over the Elvenking’s face as he was reminded of the painful loss, another innocent victim of the enemies’ crude violence.
“I am very sorry to hear that.” Odmund lowered his head. “I have to admit I’ve grown quite fond of it during the short time it was entrusted to my care,” he elaborated, “it seemed to possess a remarkable understanding of things which I have not seen in another animal before.”
“It was very special indeed.” But Thranduil sought to settle matters now quickly. “Have Silvermane saddled up and brought to my quarters as swiftly as you can.”
“Yes, of course my lord. I will see to it without delay.” And with another bow Odmund took his leave to head for the stables.
A sorrowful task lay now ahead of the Elvenking and his strides took him swiftly through the narrow alleyways towards the city gate. The morning hours were advancing fast and his mind drifted more than once ahead towards the path that hopefully would lead him home soon and a warm feeling spread in his chest as he saw the palace doors swing open, but his thoughts did not get to pass through them as his eyes were drawn to the pitiful scene before him.
Not far from the entrance to the city he found what he had been looking for. A sight that stirred up a mixture of anger and sadness inside him. In a puddle of frozen blood lay the lifeless shape of his elk, the majestic antlers a reminder of its impressive size. No one apparently had dared to touch or let alone move the king’s animal. It lay where it had collapsed, still pierced by the enemies’ arrows.
Without hesitation the Elvenking knelt down beside his mount that had served him loyally until fate in its unfathomable cruelty had decided to deprive it of its well earned placid days in the familiar groves of its homeland. Thranduil gazed silently at the limp form, no breath heaving its chest and only emptiness staring at him from brown eyes that had always carried within them the light of humble compassion. And there was a heaviness in the Elvenking’s heart as he motioned to bid him farewell.
He sat still like a statue, enveloped in his silvery cloak, his face solemn and his eyes not heeding the inquisitive gapes of some curious onlookers that had stopped in their tracks to stare at this strange sight, for his thoughts were solely with his departed friend. He gently laid his hands on the elk’s head in between the wide antlers and began passing them in firm strokes along the neck and then its flanks, the way he knew it most enjoyed it, over dried up blood that clotted the matted fur, diligently removing one by one the broken arrowheads that had remained inside the flesh. With nimble fingers he unclasped the saddle and untied the brindle around the head, relieving the mortal remains of all unnecessary burden. All this he did with great care as if he would not want to inflict any unnecessary pain on the poor creature. Fondly he remembered the days when it was but a young calf, cantering leisurely in the clearings of the forest. He had watched it grow until it had been strong enough to carry its master. Since then it had been his steady companion to battles but also countless hunts in his woods, and yes: it had finally brought Anna to his palace and into his life. An affectionate smile played around his lips as he thought of her small hands in his and he suddenly wished for nothing more than her tender touch. Sensing that the no longer calm sea of his emotions might overcome him at any moment if he lowered the guard around his heart just one more inch, he forced his thoughts back to the present and the last goodbye that lay now inevitably before him.
He brought his hands to a rest again on the animal’s forehead, slowly closing its eyes and from laden clouds a flurry of snowflakes began their dance around them, settling like delicate stars on the brown fur and Thranduil’s silvery hair.
Everyone around them seemed to be holding their breath in anticipation.
And then the Elvenking sang, first a soft humming like a gentle whisper in the wind, then melodic words in a strange language, his otherworldly voice rising to a song of ethereal beauty, the warm baritone of his spreading like liquid sunlight through the frost. An exquisite tapestry woven out of melancholy and wisdom hung in the winter air, filling the hearts of everyone with a golden warmth. Even though they might not comprehend the words, they understood. It was a brief glimpse beyond the confines that held the human soul captive. In wordless wonder they marvelled at the peacefulness of this scene, deeply moved by the strong bond that existed in between the Elvenking and this fallen creature, which most humans would only see as a lifeless carcass that would all too soon become subject to decay. The haunting melody rose and fell, a thin veil floating amidst the ever denser flurry of white, serene and peaceful until it ebbed away, the delicate threads of his words lingering on in the hearts of those that listened.
“Navaer, mellon!” The final words of his lament were spoken like a tender whisper and when Thranduil retreated his hands from the animal the remote glow surrounding it was buried beneath the soft blanket of white from the heavens above.
Nothing more could be said after this.
Except that it would not be the last farewell of the day.
More burials were in order as everyone in Dale and the Mountain mourned their dead. It was a farewell of great magnificence when the King under the Mountain and his nephews were laid to rest in all their dwarvish splendour and besides the Elves also Gandalf, Bilbo and Bard came to pay them their last respects. After all they had been allies in the end and had given their lives to defend the Mountain against the darkness that had reached out for it with its malevolent hands. The Arkenstone was returned to its rightful owner and Thranduil laid Orcrist, the elven sword that had been taken from Thorin in captivity, upon his tomb and it is said to have gleamed in the dark if ever foes were to approach the mountain.
When the daylight began to dwindle Thranduil was finally on his way back to the tent, his mind set on his imminent departure. He had done all he could for Faeldir, and Mithrandir had offered himself to keep Amardir company and remain by their side until Faeldir was in a state stable enough for another healer to take over. Despite his usual annoyance with the wizard Thranduil was for once grateful to have a weight taken off his shoulders and if he was quite honest with himself, without Mithrandir’s help he might not have been able to conjure up all the magic needed to wrest Faeldir from the cold claws of death. He also had left Legolas with clear instructions as to how to proceed in whatever possible scenarios that might unfold and made him promise more than once to report back to him if anything unusual were to occur. It would take him a while to get used to delegate some of his responsibilities, after all he did not intend to just slip off his kingly duties like a discarded glove, but he would make a point in hearing his son out and keeping him closer in both matters political and personal. After the recent revelations it was clear that this was only for both their good. It would help boost his son’s confidence and allow himself to gain a few more personal liberties beyond the confines he had laid on himself for far too long. In all this Thranduil had managed to avoid his thoughts from straying back to the necklace, but it seemed that he would not leave the Mountain empty handed after all.
Someone behind him nervously cleared his throat and sure enough, when Thranduil stopped in his tracks to turn around, it was Bilbo who seemed to be rather out of breath in his attempt to catch up with the Elvenking. Slightly nervous and a bit shaky as always in his presence he bowed low and waited for Thranduil to open the conversation.
“Yes, Master Baggins?”
Thranduil greeted him with the same mixture of benevolence and condescendence that did not really help Bilbo in finding his poise, no matter if he had just fought in a battle or not.
“I am very sorry to disturb you, great Elvenking, but there is something I would like you to have, you know, before you go back and we might never meet again,” he poured out, hoping not to lose his thread as well as his courage with Thranduil’s penetrating gaze lingering on him. He rummaged in his deep pockets and pulled out a beautiful necklace of pearls, which he placed on his open hands.
“This is something I have received from Dain and I am far from being an expert in jewellery, but it seems quite nice to me. Well, after all I’m just a modest hobbit and to be honest, what would I do with all those riches in the Shire? Not that I am returning with nothing, no that is not it, but I know of a certain lady in your palace that might look much better wearing this necklace than I ever could. Would you give it to her as a gift from me please? She offered me her hospitality and I would very much like to show her my gratitude.”
The necklace gleamed in its pearlescent beauty as he held it aloft in front of the Elvenking. Thranduil raised his eyebrows in surprise, his eyes travelling from Bilbo to the necklace and then resting on the hobbit’s face with appreciation.
“You never cease to amaze me Master Baggins. Not only is your generosity far greater than what many others might boast themselves of possessing, but your thoughtfulness concerning my dear guest speaks very highly of you. I am sure she will be very fond of this most lovely token of friendship.”
He took the necklace, the smooth surface gliding through his slender fingers and although it might not quite compare to the outstanding beauty of the White Gems of Lasgalen, the thought of seeing the delicate line of silvery white orbs slung around the curve of her neck elicited a smile of anticipation from Thranduil.
“I thank you very much for this beautiful gift.” And with those words he slid it into the inner pocket of his robe and addressed Bilbo with a warmth in his voice rarely heard from the proud Elvenking.
“I do hope that we shall meet again.”
“So do I,” Bilbo bowed deeply in response, his hands automatically proceeding to flatten his ever uncooperative waistcoat.
“You are very welcome in my halls any time you wish to pass by and I assure you that there is no need for you to remain invisible.”
When Bilbo looked up again he could feel the familiar gaze of the Elvenking staring right through him, knowing that Thranduil might long have guessed what he had so much hoped to conceal from him. An embarrassed smile spread on the face of the hobbit.
“Well, to be honest, I do very much long to be back again in my armchair, a crackling fire by my side and a good book in my hand, but if ever the adventurous side of mine takes over again I might consider your offer.”
“I hope you will.”
And with a polite nod Thranduil turned away and resumed his pace, his hand resting on the pocket where the pearls were securely nestled, the pull towards home now getting stronger by the minute.
He hurried towards his tent and saw to his satisfaction that the crowd around it had finally dissipated and Silvermane had been already tethered outside, all saddled up and munching away with relish on a bale of hay while she awaited the arrival of her new master. He greeted her with a friendly rub on the forehead, her dark brown eyes lingering curiously on the Elvenking.
“You will have to be swift and stout-hearted as the path that lies ahead of us is unfamiliar to you. But you need not fear, I will not let any harm come to you.”
Silvermane neighed in approval and her silvery crest flowed elegantly around her neck. Odmund had for sure not exaggerated when he had praised Silvermane’s qualities, Thranduil thought to himself with satisfaction when the curtains of his tent were pulled apart for him to enter.
With a wave of his hand he beckoned his servants to leave, making it very clear that he wished not to be disturbed as he longed for a moment to himself. Faeldir had been moved to an adjacent tent and he was truly grateful for the recovered privacy. He strode over to the small table and reached for the decanter to serve himself a goblet of wine and with an exhausted sigh he took a seat on his chair, his silvery cloak sliding off his shoulders and then he allowed the sweetness of the Dorwinion to spread through his veins. And when he leaned his head against the backrest and closed his eyes he suddenly realised how spent he felt. Since before the battle he had not given himself any rest and although as an elf he was much more resilient to the strains of war or life in general, all the turmoils of these past days eventually did take a toll on him. With another long sip he emptied the goblet and placed it on the table to allow himself just one more moment of peacefulness before he would tread on the new path he had chosen for him. Warmth flowed through his body and he smiled inwardly at what he was about to do. Just one more moment, he told himself, enjoying the silence that enveloped him, just one.
A sudden draft of cold air rose him from his drowsy state and when he opened his eyes he realised in shock that the early morning light was prominently peeking through the open curtains. He rose from his seat only to see the dutiful figure of Feren lingering at the entrance.
“My lord, I am very sorry to disturb you, but I come with urgent tidings.” He apologised with a tight-lipped smile.
“Why did you not come earlier if it is as urgent as you say?” Thranduil shot him an angry glare while he straightened his robe and sought to clear his head of the remnants of sleep.
“I have been told that you wished not to be disturbed,” Feren said with a thin voice.
A drawn-out sigh escaped Thranduil when he remembered the orders he himself had given. He pinched the bridge of his nose and bade Feren to proceed: “Let me hear then what you have to say.”
“I come with tidings both glad and — not so joyous.”
The annoyed look on Thranduil’s face made him pour out the words quickly. “Our men might have finally found a lead to Odmund’s daughter Edda.” He paused, waiting for the king’s reaction.
“That shall please Odmund greatly. Make sure you let him know without delay.”
“Yes, of course,” Feren retorted with a dutiful nod.
“And now for the not so joyous part, as you like to call it. What other tidings do you bring?” Despite his effort to remain calm, a bad feeling started to pool in Thranduil’s stomach.
“We have received word from the palace,” Feren began, shifting uncomfortably.
“And?” Thranduil raised his eyebrows in growing impatience. “Well, don’t stop now.”
“It is about your guest. She has gone missing,” Feren said through gritted teeth.
“Missing you say? Meaning she cannot be found?” Thranduil pressed for more details, his fingers closing around the backrest of his chair.
“Meaning she has been seen leaving the palace. It seems that when the messenger arrived to inform about your return, she must have used the moment of distraction to her advantage and sneaked past the guards.” Feren’s body was taut as a bowstring, his eyes searching for an innocuous spot, preferably right behind Thranduil’s shoulder.
But there was no outbreak of wrath, Thranduil only looked at him quietly, the words slowly sinking in. Under different circumstances he might have considered taking out his anger on the message-bearer, but after all he only had himself to blame. How in Eru’s name could he have allowed himself to doze off like that? But it was no use to lament, he needed to act fast now that she was out in the unknown. He nodded absentmindedly as the possible scenarios unfolded in his head and then he began pacing back and forth, hands crossed behind his back.
“This means she has been gone for enough time to get herself into serious trouble. I must find her before trouble inevitably will find her.”
He stopped in his tracks to look at Feren, who was still rooted to the spot and possibly might have even forgotten to breathe.
“Well, don’t just stand there! The lead to Odmund’s daughter is not going to pursue itself.” He motioned him to leave with a determined wave of his hand. “And in my absence you will report to my son regarding any new developments.”
“Yes, of course,” Feren bowed and slipped through the opening in the curtains, silently blessing the Valar for having gotten away without a reprimand.
But the king had other concerns now weighing on his mind. He gave a quick glance around, scanning the tent for what he needed to take along, and his eyes fell on the armour that had been already polished and put back on the stand, waiting for its next mission. He pondered for a moment, but then decided against it, after all he was not expecting to head into a battle and he preferred his lightweight robe. He only reached for his scabbard and the swords as well as his thick cloak and the leftover remains of athelas, which he stored safely in the pockets of his robe. He dearly hoped that he would not need it, but a dark foreboding told him otherwise.
May your spirit return
to the glade you were born,
in the heart of the forest
beneath shadows of old.
Under branches you sleep
where the secret is kept,
in the heart of the forest
and its wintry embrace.
From the voice of the trees
a new song shall arise,
in the heart of the forest
to bring peace to your soul.