A Different Man
"You have saved us! My lord, I do not know how to thank you!"
Thranduil gazed down at the human man that stood before him, surprised that he had the gall to direct his eyes at his face. His dark hair, hinted with white, was unwashed and half-tied back, and his beard was a bit overgrown with specks of dirt in it. His fur-lined coat was ratty and ripped and his other clothes weren't much better. However, he held himself in a way that was different from the rest of the humans scuttling around his elk, desperately reaching for the food that he had so generously brought.
"Your gratitude is misplaced," Thranduil responded. "There are things in that mountain that I too desire." Now that had been his true errand in coming here, but he had heard that the people of Laketown needed help, that their entire town had been destroyed by the dragon. He had seen the wreckage of it through his one good eye on the passage to Dale, a ramshackle of burned and fallen-down buildings, the massive body of the dragon sprawled over a part of the ruin, half-submerged in the cold lake.
A questioning look rose on the man's face, so Thranduil continued in explanation. "The heirlooms of my people are not so easily forsaken. I have come to reclaim something of mine."
The man nodded, lowering his eyes at Thranduil's intense, crystal blue stare. "We too have claim on the treasure in that mountain." He spoke with an accent, a sort of lilt that his delicately pointed ears found pleasing.
"Ah, so we shall fight together, I see." His elk, Evindal was his name, pawed the ground a bit impatiently and tossed his head.
"I do not wish to fight," the man responded, making eye contact again. There was something in his dark eyes that Thranduil found quite interesting. Confidence, compassion, but also some sort of unwillingness. "The king gave us his word."
Evindal danced a little and Thranduil reigned him under control. The elk was just as tired as his master. "The dwarf is only king to shadows and bones. He is a fool for thinking that he can once again make a home out of that mountain."
"He gave his word," was all the man responded with.
"The word of a dwarf means little," Thranduil spoke. "They are greedy and stubborn and will not negotiate. Trust me. I have tried." He paused for a moment and looked down upon this man again. The crowd around them was beginning to disperse, the wagons and carts Thranduil had brought now empty of food and clothing. "Where is your leader?"
The man scuffed his boot across the stone a bit anxiously and folded his hands behind his back. He cleared his throat before he spoke. "I am he. Or, I do believe I am. It is what the people want."
"And what do you want?" Thranduil asked. Just by this short conversation, he could understand why this man had been chosen to lead the people of Laketown. Perhaps the master of the town had perished in the attack.
"Only to do what is right and make sure we are given what was promised to us," he responded. "And to protect my children."
Thranduil gave a curt nod of his head and began to turn away, but then realized he had forgotten something. He tilted his head so that he could get a look at him with his right eye, the one that he could see out of.
"What is your name?"
"Bard," the man responded. "I am also the one who slayed the dragon."
"Quite a lot of skill, to do such a thing as that," Thranduil said in astonishment. "We shall speak later, Bard the Dragonslayer. I require rest from my journey. My men have set up my tent not far away. I am sure you will find it with no trouble."
With that, Thranduil rode off to his tent, wishing for the bed and warm, fur blankets that would have been set up for him. He would think more on Bard as well. Never before had he had a conversation with a mortal man without becoming irritated. They always seemed so trivial and pointless, but not this one. There was something about this one.
"What do you make of the human leader?" Thranduil asked his advisor, Frerin. He was also a captain of a company in his army.
"I have only seen him, brannon nin," the other man responded. They were both in Thranduil's personal tent rather than the command tent. Frerinn was standing with his hands folded behind his back while Thranduil was sitting at a camp table and eating a meal. He had offered wine, but the other man had refused.
"He looks capable," Frerin responded. "However, I did not think you intended to work with a mortal."
"These people have been our neighbor for a long time. Why not work with them?" Thranduil pushed away his empty plate and took a sip of warmed wine from his goblet.
"What have they ever done to deserve our help?" Frerin countered. "All they trade is fish in smelly barrels."
"They are not a wealthy people," Thranduil said. "But they are a good people and they deserve what that sorry excuse for a king promised them."
"Are you going to attempt a parley?" Frerin inquired.
Thranduil scoffed at this suggestion. "With dwarves? No. I shall show up at the gates with my army and hope he is not foolish. I do not want a battle, but I am ready for one."
Frerin frowned. "And what if the human leader thinks differently?"
"Then I will let him parley," Thranduil stated. "Let him realize the stubbornness of dwarves for himself."
"How do we even know he is worth leadership?" Frerin speculated.
"He got his people here, did he not?" Thranduil took a rather large sip of his wine. It warmed him as it traveled down his throat and to his belly. "Also he is the one who slayed Smaug."
Frerin's eyes widened a little, but then squinted in suspicion. "And you believe that claim?"
"He has a bowman's arms," Thranduil explained. It was easy to tell that from his stature, similar to his son's, who was also an archer. "And he is in liking to the late Lord Girion of Dale. The people believe it, so I have no reason to challenge his claim. Do you have anything to speak of other than your dislike for the race of men?"
"We must discuss plans, brannon nin."
"Alright." Thranduil leaned back in his chair with his goblet in his hand. He was still tired, but a little more energized now that he had eaten. He hoped Bard would be included in these plans.
"And I will be going on foot?" Bard asked rather incredulously. "It is about a three mile walk." He was looking out towards the mountain.
"Of course not," Thranduil stated. "I am gifting you a horse."
"Do not bother with it, my lord," Bard said. He sounded overwhelmed. "You need the horses, do you not?"
"I can spare one," the king pressed. The two were walking through the picket lines. Thranduil had his fur-lined cloak wrapped about him to ward off the cold. He wondered if the other leader was cold in only his ragged, worn-down coat. It looked like it had been a nice coat once, but it still suited him. His imagination tried conjuring up an image of Bard in fine clothing that would better suit his position. Looking at him out of his right eye, he acknowledged that he was a rather attractive man, who deserved the best horse he could find him.
"My lord, I insist, I do not need one."
"I insist that you do, Bard, and also that you grace your tongue with my name. We are equals in this." He stopped at a fine-looking white stallion, leaving Bard to meander around on his left side. Usually it made him uncomfortable to place anyone on his side where he could not see, even his son, but his skin didn't even tingle at the presence of the human leader. He found this odd, but he dismissed it. It was a thing he had wished for when he had found that they would be working together.
"What do you think of him?" Thranduil asked, stroking the horse's nose to test his reaction. He seemed docile, but every single one of these horses had been trained for battle. He would serve any rider well.
"I have never seen a more glorious horse," Bard commented, rubbing a hand over his neck. "Though, certainly one of your soldiers wou-"
"Do you like it?" Thranduil interrupted. He didn't want to hear anymore argument on the matter.
Bard fell silent.
"I asked you if you liked it," he said, turning to the other man.
"I-I, um, I, yes, I do," Bard responded awkwardly, nodding. That must have been what he had done, and Thranduil had missed the gesture. He looked a tad uncomfortable, and like the idea had come to mind that he was half-blind. He didn't look like he would ask though.
I like this man.
"Alright then. I will have him saddled up and ready, along with my elk."
"You are coming with me?" Bard raised his dark brows in surprise.
"Yes, but you will do the talking. I want the dwarves to understand that we are allies. My presence will show that," Thranduil explained.
"May I ask why you ride an elk?" Bard asked. He seemed to agree with their plan.
"He was gifted to me when I was very young," Thranduil began, "and has been my companion ever since. Why should I ride a horse when I have a friend willing to carry my weight?"
Bard nodded once, but only because Thranduil was looking directly at him. He had probably learned not to do that unless he was.
Perhaps I should tell him about my scar. He may be deserving of the knowledge.
"I am surprised you are letting me parley with the dwarves," Bard said as they continued on down the picket lines, looking for a groom. "You seem to think that they will not listen."
"And they won't, but I will let you see for yourself," Thranduil responded. He stopped a groom that had bowed in his direction before continuing to walk past and ordered him to saddle the horse he was giving to Bard and his elk. The groom bowed again once given the order and rushed off to do so. "Besides, you were very persistent about wanting to try."
Bard's face flushed a little at that. "I am sorry, Thranduil." The name sounded strange on his tongue and there was hesitation in the pronunciation, but he would soon grow used to it. "I see no harm in trying."
"There is none," Thranduil assured him. "When you speak to Thorin Oakenshield, do not speak to him as if he is a king. He is either equal to you or beneath. Do you understand?"
"I do. Do you want me to ask for anything on your behalf?"
Thranduil sneered a little, knowing that this little engagement was going to be completely useless. He would have to fight for what he wanted. "No, I do not. Thank you, Bard." The man's name was so simple, but there was something about it that Thranduil liked. Simple and strong. It perfectly matched the man standing beside him. He gave him a warm smile. Yes, he definitely liked the name Bard.
Bard had taken up a position on Thranduil's left side when he had taken the chair in the command tent. The king had offered him a seat but he had chosen to stand. The man definitely had suspicions about his blindness, and Thranduil was content to let him stand where he was. It comforted him somehow.
Gandalf the Grey had made an appearance in the camp, and was now trying to warn Thranduil about something. He had had dealings with this wizard before, and had learned that he wasn't of much use. The first time he had ever talked to him, the wizard had caused a panic over absolutely nothing that had made the elves distrust their king for a while. He had never taken the wizard's words seriously ever since.
Half listening, Thranduil found that his gaze constantly wandered over to Bard. He was an attractive man, wasn't he? Very attractive. And there was something about his simpleness and his open strength that made him rather compelling. Was it attraction the elvenking was feeling? He hadn't felt attraction in centuries, not since the death of his…
Bard had caught him looking! He met his gaze with a confused expression and Thranduil responded with a smile, a suggestive smile. Yes, he had deemed it as attraction, and not just a silly, fleeting one either. This man had been growing on him since he had met him the day before.
And then he turned back to Gandalf, realizing that the wizard had said something that he deemed important. His mouth opened in confusion for a second, the word "What?" almost slipping off his tongue, before he remembered that he should have been paying attention, so he then pretended that he was. Bard, however, seemed like he had been and made a comment.
"You obviously know nothing of wizards," Thranduil spoke, standing and pouring himself a glass of wine. He then went on to talk of the dramatics of wizards and their petty ways.
He thought to give the drink to Bard, who had decided it was fit to come closer, almost protectively looming in the blindness of his left side.
Thranduil passed it to him without looking. Years with such a handicap had taught him how to act like he didn't even have it. He could perfectly sense anything on that side, and the cup easily went into Bard's hand. He brushed his fingers against his rough, calloused ones to give him a quick, subtle sign of what he was feeling before pouring himself a glass as well, finishing his small, well-versed monologue, proud that he had come up with something so quickly. He was rather glad that Bard was on his left now, quietly sipping his wine. Now he couldn't see him unless he really looked, which would be much too obvious.
The debate over whether or not to attack the dwarves or if there was actually an army of orcs to believe in continued, ending with Thranduil angrily ordering a guard to spread information to shoot anything on the mountain that moved. Gandalf then left the tent in a flurry of gray robes, muttering something about the haughtiness of elves and needing a smoke.
"Do you think that is wise?" Bard asked once they were alone.
"The dwarves have declared war in not giving you what you were promised and then later demanded," Thranduil responded. "I have no other choice."
"There are only fourteen of them," Bard protested. "Certainly a deal can be struck."
Thranduil raised his thick brows at them. "I counted thirteen when they were brought before me in chains for trespassing."
"There is a halfling with them," Bard informed him. "He's clever and small. He probably managed to slip away before capture."
"A halfling," Thranduil murmured to himself. He had heard of the little creatures, but never seen one. He was surprised however that one would be on such a quest. From the little he knew of them, he had discerned them as quiet, peace-loving farmers.
"He was rather unlike the dwarves," Bard explained. "Reasonable, but loyal."
"Hmm." Thranduil took a sip from his wine, eyeing Bard's cup. It was still mostly full. Did he not like it? "It is no matter. We will go to war unless an entire army on their doorstep brings them to their senses, however doubtful that is."
"I was told you denied them help long ago when the dragon came down from the north," Bard suddenly said.
"Do not think me cold," Thranduil responded, worried that Bard was thinking poorly of him. He really was coming to like him, and it wouldn't be good if Bard didn't at least return friendship. "I have faced dragons before and I knew that there was nothing to be done. I did not want to risk my own people in a battle in which both dwarves, elves, and men would undoubtedly lose. It was wise not to engage and let the dragon take what he wanted. It is a shame your people did not decide the same."
Bard stood for a moment, looking into his cup, foot twisting the dirt in thought. "Were you wounded?" he finally asked, meeting Thranduil's gaze once again. "I have noticed a… hesitation on your left side."
"You may call it more than that, for that is what it is," Thranduil confirmed. "I was gravely wounded and nearly died. I am blind in my left eye." He didn't feel vulnerable in admitting this, though only Legolas and Tauriel knew of it. Certainly he could share with this man. However, under no circumstance, would he drop his glamour. He felt ashamed that he had done that for Thorin Oakenshield, mostly to try to persuade him that his mission was moot, that he and his companions would all die in the end or come out looking like him. He had wanted to scare him, but he did not want to scare Bard.
"Your face looks flawless." Bard suddenly blushed, seeming to realize how the words came out. "I mean…"
"It is alright," Thranduil assured him. "I use a glamour to make myself look normal, and I have learned to act like I can see out of both eyes."
"It explains why you always tilt your head like a condescending bastard," Bard said. Anger rose in Thranduil until he realized that there had been a joking tone in his voice. He laughed and clapped his free hand on Bard's firm shoulder. He could feel the shape of his muscle under his coat and it put a strange tingling in his fingertips.
"I have to look like a condescending bastard or else no one would take me seriously."
"I am sure they would."
"But then how would I explain the tilt?" Thranduil asked, letting his hand slide away from Bard, fingers playing lightly along his chest as he did so.
Bard blushed again, seeming to understand his advances. Thranduil had no idea if Bard held affection for men. It was always more risky flirting with a man than a woman, but he just felt like he had to try with this one. He was just so different from anyone he had ever met.
"The sun is in your eyes?" He suggested. He winced a little though. He knew it sounded like a poor excuse.
Thranduil laughed. "Surely not in my throne room! You should visit sometimes. My palace is spectacular!"
"Right, palace…" Bard now seemed a tad uncomfortable. "And I am a ruler who does not even have a house to speak of."
"You will. After all this is over, my people and I will remain and help rebuild Dale. It will be in ruins no longer!" he declared.
"A tempting invitation," Bard started, and Thranduil's heart fluttered a little, "But I cannot possibly leave my children for so long."
"Then you may take them with you," Thranduil told him. He would love to meet his children. Certainly children raised by this man would be remarkable and bright. "It has been a long time since my palace has echoed with a child's voice. "What are their names?"
"My two daughters are Sigrid and Tilda and my son is Bain."
Suddenly, Thranduil wondered why he had never considered that he was flirting with a married man. Perhaps it was because Bard had never mentioned a wife, and he had never seen a woman draped affectionately on his arm.
"What of your wife?"
"She passed while giving birth to Tilda," Bard said quietly, looking at the ground. "There was nothing anyone could do."
"I also lost my wife," Thranduil confided. "In battle." He cleared his throat, feeling rather choked up, right eye stinging. His left was incapable of making tears. "Speaking of battle, I want you on my left tomorrow. I trust you there."
"Are you sure?" Bard asked. "Certainly you cannot trust something so big to me. Perhaps one of your generals?"
"No, Bard. I trust you and wish for it to be you by my side." He smiled. "We will make a fantastic sight."
Bard laughed and then picked at his dirty coat. "In this? I do not think so."
"It suits you."
"That does not mean it looks nice."
"Oh, it does," Thranduil said, leaning a bit closer. He began to imagine what it would look like on the ground however, how this man looked with a bare torso, standing in his tent with the torchlight flickering over his skin. Bard's face had flushed red again, but he couldn't tell if it was from discomfort or something else. Certainly he had heard the sensual drop in Thranduil's voice. He looked at the man's mouth, the sweet curve of his lips, began to tilt his head in….
There was the sound of someone's throat clearing from the entrance to his tent.
Bard and Thranduil yanked themselves away from each other, both equally surprised, and turned towards the entrance. Gandalf stood there looking rather flustered and impatient.
"You have a visitor," he announced, stepping into the tent.
"And who would that be?"
"Mr. Bilbo Baggins," the wizard responded. "The halfling that I chose to accompany Thorin on his journey, though he prefers to be called a hobbit."
This has been an interesting night, Thranduil remarked as a being of less than four feet in height stepped rather awkwardly into his tent.
Thranduil cursed his dismissiveness of the night before. He should have heeded Gandalf's words. The battle was over, the battle that the wizard had said would take place. Bodies littered the ground, bodies of orcs, elves, and men. His heart was empty and he just felt so tired. He had searched desperately for his son afterwards, only to be abandoned by him, and now, with nowhere to go, his footsteps had led him back to the ruin of Dale.
His throat suddenly clenched up. Where was Bard? What of him and his children? He felt selfish that he had not thought of them until now, and he hurried through the northern gate, where earlier he had charged in on his elk to aid the humans in their fighting.
Evindal. His elk was dead. Dismissing Bard for the moment, he knelt down by the body of his friend, lying atop crushed orcs. He took off his gloves despite the chill and ran his hands through his thick fur, tears welling in his right eye. For the sake of the illusion, it looked as if his left eye made them too. He stroked his great head and down his neck and over his side. Repressed sobs ached in his throat. The fur was cold. It shouldn't be cold!
Finally giving in, Thranduil sobbed loudly and bowed his head and threw himself over his friend's body, arms wrapping around his neck, head buried in his chill fur. It wasn't right! It just wasn't right! Why couldn't he still be here with him?!
This day has been cruel indeed. First Evindal, then my son.
He had not cried in such a long time. As king, he saw it fit to hide his emotions from others and put on a mask of cold and indifference, but he was just so tired. It had all piled on top of him in the course of one day, all his doubts and worries, and now it had just come crashing down.
"Thranduil?" The lilting voice sounded hesitant, but then he felt a soft hand on his shoulder.
The king gave one more sob and then inhaled deeply, lifting his head to meet Bard's gaze. So some part of what made him happy had survived this day.
"I am so sorry," Bard spoke softly. "I know what he meant to you."
Thranduil just wiped his face with his hand - how undignified for a king! - and sniffled. "He died instantly," he said, trying to make himself feel better. "He did not suffer."
Bard bowed his head, seemingly unsure of what to say.
"How are your children?" Thranduil asked. The man was composed, so they must be fine, but he just had to hear it from his mouth.
"Fine," he explained. "In shock, but fine." Bard didn't seem to be able to suppress a smile, but he tried burying it at Thranduil's dismal expression.
"Go ahead. Smile all you want," Thranduil encouraged, forcing one onto his face. "This is glad news. I…" He didn't know what to say, and he suddenly hugged him. It wasn't an elven gesture, but Thranduil knew that Bard would be comfortable with the familiarity of it. "I am glad you are alright. I was worried that you did not-"
"Do not voice that," Bard interrupted. "I have a couple of scratches, but I am alright."
Thranduil breathed a relieved sigh against Bard's shoulder and then pulled away. He wondered why elves didn't usually hug. It was such a comforting feeling, to be wrapped in someone else's arms.
"I am glad."
"Now, Thranduil, I think we were interrupted last night, weren't we?" Bard was pointedly looking at Thranduil's lips and the elvenking's heart fluttered. He felt so silly feeling so happy at having returned attraction, but he just couldn't help it.
"Yes, we were." He smiled lightly before they leaned towards each other and kissed.