Third Age of Middle Earth – 93
Dadwenathan le, fae nín. Gwestan im an le men hirathan. Dartho an im… Melethron... faeraranuir nín!
The storms that had raged for days abated earlier that day, but bringing scant relief, and evening descended early with a viciousness that embraced Eryn Galen with more than just an absence of light. It felt more like a bitter surrender and it filled Celyndailiel with a fear that she had never before felt. She could not settle, no matter what she did, as if she could still hear the thunder, sense the lightning that had split the sky, because it had settled inside of her.
She put aside the book, the pages of which she'd been staring at, unseeing, since before dusk fell and climbing to her feet, walked slowly toward where her young son rested, seeking comfort there.
It wasn't to be.
Though she found joy in her son, in running her fingers through his golden hair, and the softness of his answering smile, the growing dread that had been growing in her heart took hold, and with it, a dimming of the light in which she had happily dwelt through all the ceaseless centuries of her life.
In its dimming she felt herself becoming unaccustomedly chilled, and then, as though from afar, she thought she heard an Elven horn, sounding out a cry of wanting in the gathering night. At its second sounding, she recognised the note of her husband's battle horn, but that could not be – for her beloved was far away to the north; called away to campaign against the ever present Shadow that stalked the heart of all the Eldar, and sought dominion over all the free folk of Middle Earth. Yet… doubt began to stalk her spirit and without thinking, she reached out along the bonds of their matrimony, seeking his mind, his soul… prepared only to meet the steel of his denial. Never, when he was in battle, would he allow her that closeness, meaning, she knew, to shelter her from the horrors of war as he always had, in his many ways. She expected to be rebuffed, but this time there was something else… a terrible pain she met in place of that mental barricade – an absence.
Almost before the horn sounded a third time – and closer then – she found her feet, hushing her son, and bidding him remain as he was. Then in haste, unmatched in all her years she began the long descent toward the outer courtyard, gathering ladies and stewards at her heels, reaching the doorway just as the first of the horses clattered into the paved enclosure.
"My Queen," Her husband's second dismounted. His usually measured, calm movements seemed hurried and discordant. It sped her steps toward him, but as she reached the foot of the stair, shook his head.
"Stay back, my lady," he said, his voice trailing off as he added, "You cannot…"
She had already ceased to hear him. Movement beyond him drew her eye away, and a litter carried between four armoured Elves passed beneath the arch and into the courtyard, and on the litter, a figure, motionless – dim in her sight – lay covered and yet, peeking from beneath the shrouding cloak, she recognised the tooling on the armour, and the dread she carried heavily within her struck like a viper, swift and full of poison.
She cried out wordlessly, and felt the arms of the king's second wrap around her waist, lifting her from the ground before she even realised she had moved again, and she fought to escape his restraint.
"He lives," the Elven warrior told her, his words gasped with the effort of restraining her. "Though barely."
"Let me go!" she demanded, and breaking suddenly free, let out another, inarticulate cry as she flew the distance between them, to her husband's side.
She fell to her knees beside the litter, feeling his failing life as the absence she had faced as she had reached for his mind. She drew back the cloak with which they had covered him and recoiled, letting go a third, most wretched cry as she saw the ruin that was left of him. Clear half of his body was scorched and mangled – his arm and hip, his leg and torso a bloody ragged mess, and above his mangled shoulder, the burned remnants of his once beautiful face seeped blood and matter onto the cloak on which he lay.
"Husband!" she cried, slipping her hand into his right, and squeezing its lifelessness. "Thranduil! My heart!"
He heard his strongly voiced order taken up and repeated along the line of warriors by unit commanders, and the slow turn of the Elven line became apparent. Throwing back his cloak he lifted his gaze to the withered line of the horizon and the dark shape there; one that grew rapidly. His people were not moving fast enough.
"Dan emyn!" he repeated, slashing his way through a line of foul orc filth to reach the loyal guards at the front of his line. His free hand gripped the shoulder after shoulder of his warriors as he all but pulled them back, taking their place; giving them time – protecting his people. "Bado i-ered! Gwao hi!"
"My lord!" Another's hand caught his own shoulder, pulled him back, much as he had been sending his warriors on their way. "You must retreat with the others. You cannot remain here!"
He shook off the restraint of his second, and turning pushed him in the direction of the hills.
"I will not leave my valiant here to suffer and die. Not while I have strength," he snarled. "Go. I will follow when they are clear."
"But my King," His second started to protest, and then in greater alarm, as a darkening of the air around them shadowed the ground, repeated, "My King!"
Thranduil took in the expression on his second's face, then spun to face the direction of his horrified gaze. The sight made him redouble his efforts to send his warriors to safety. He had faced such horrors before, when the world was yet young, and a calm, rather than fear descended over him; a cold resignation that seemed to slow time around him.
"Drego," he ordered pushing elf after elf toward safety. "This foe is beyond you!"
They scrambled to obey, though his loyal second fought to remain at his side, but Thranduil moved toward the vast, vile shape of the Winged Serpent; fell dragon, a nightmare of legend and his blade glinted in the light of the creatures eyes, reflecting the glow of its inner fire as it gathered itself to let forth the stream of annihilation. Seconds only, he knew he had, and he slashed at it, driving it back with the deadly bite of Heleglim, lending him… lending all of them, precious moments.
Precious moments before the inevitable.
Rearing back, clear half mad with the pain and bite of the cold magic in the Elvenking's blade the dragon struck back, a snarling short burst of unspeakable fire following the raking slash of claws and Thranduil turned, an ineffectual defence against the devastation of flame that engulfed the left side of him, even as several desperate warriors, yet remaining at his side, sought to shield him, their King, and behind him, his second tried to pull him away.
The pain, unbearable, was mercifully brief, darkness descended, and feeling himself falling, as if into midnight, his only thought – his only regret – was that it had been tears he had last seen in her beautiful eyes.
A hand pressed to his shoulder, pushing him back against soft linens that were cool against his back.
"Do not move too much, Aran nín."
Galion's voice. He was home? Greenwood?
"Where is…?" His own voice was ragged with disuse, barely a whisper, trailed off, but if he were home, why then was it his steward's voice he heard, soothing him, curbing his desire to move.
"Here, Sire." A cool hand slipped beneath his shoulders, helped him to sit up against the pillow. Why was the room so dark, so unclear? "Take some water, my Lord."
The cup and the water were before him before he could protest, and in truth the water was cooling and welcome in his ragged throat, but after only a moment, he pushed it away.
"Celyndailiel?" he said, looking to Galion then, confused. Why was she not at his side?
"My Lord, you must yet rest," Galion answered, refusing his question.
"Where is the Queen?" he pressed, fear colouring his tone as he let down his steely mental walls at last and reached for her… feeling… nothing – an absence.
Do not be angry with me, my soul, you know I kept you away only for your own sake.
He sent the words out nonetheless… and waited for the rush of warmth that always followed in the touch of her mind, and for Galion to answer his question.
The absence of both, and the expression of the deepest grief upon the face of his steward told him all that he did not wish to know; all that he already knew.
Galion crossed the room to reach for a small, white wood box, carrying it reverently back toward Thranduil, setting the box into his trembling hands.
"She did… all that she could, my Lord," Galion said, his voice broken, "would not rest, barely enough to take breath until she was sure your heart would beat if she should release her hold upon you. She would allow no other hand to tend you, though we sent to Imladris for aid, for fear that they would fail, and when at last she could go on no more; when even Lord Elrond could lend her no more time to heal you further, she laid her head upon your chest and placed into your hand that which you will find cushioned within the box."
Galion's voice faltered as Thranduil unfastened the lid of the box, and found within… nestled on the deep blue cushion inside, the twin to the white star-opal ring that graced the index finger of his hand.
Galion whispered, "And with the last breath of her life, she bid me speak to you these words of her promise…"
Lau – no
Dan emyn! – Fall back to the hills
Bado i-ered! Gwao hi! – Head for the mountains! Go now!
Drego! – Flee!
Heleglim – Light of Ice (Thranduil's sword)
Aran nín – my King
The words at the header of the chapter are Celyndailiel dying promise to Thranduil, they translate (roughly) as, I will return to you, my soul… I swear to you that I will find a way. Wait for me… my love… Eternally radiant king of my soul.