The Golden and the Black

Forest Shadows

Soundless prayers from elven lips sped to Araw Lord of the Hunt, giving thanks for the life to be taken, in the moment that the arrow flew, swift and sure. The deer staggered, then fell, its death quick and painless.

Three elves emerged from the leafy shadows into which they had blended, clad in the green and brown leather of the Woodland King’s bodyguard. The king himself, unstringing his bow, stood tall and calm beneath the trees in his hunting raiment, letting his maethyr handle the animal. In the dim, green light, only the king’s pale hair gleamed… and the hair of the bodyguard standing close by him. This young ellon remained at the king’s side, his alert, azure eyes keeping watch on the surrounding forest, and his light tresses the same rare shade of silver-gold as his king’s.

The horses were summoned and the slain deer was laid across one of them; two of the guard would have to share a steed. Before the king mounted his own stallion, the young pale-haired ellon said, “The breeze whispers of rain. Would you ride on or turn back, my liege?”

The king glanced casually at the youth before gracefully mounting his foam-grey steed. “Home, Lasseg.”

Little leaf.

Three maethyr exchanged silent looks, raised eyebrows and smiled wryly, as the youngest maethor blushed with embarrassment to the tips of his pointed ears, kept his eyes on the woods around them, and avoided looking at anyone as he sprang lightly onto his own horse.

It was a silent ride back to halls, and if the king was aware of the slip he had made, he gave no sign of it.

She wore the brown and green of the Silvan royal guard as she perched in the tree, her flowing, raven-dark hair lifted by the wind as she lifted her bow, an arrow nocked in it, her face alert as her bright grey eyes glanced over her shoulder.

The young ellon gazed in awe at the portrait. “She is beautiful, Âr-Thranduil. She looks as though she is about to take flight, like a deer, or a wild bird.”

Thranduil’s eyes were fixed on his wife’s face. He did not speak for a while. “Even more swift and light was she in life,” he finally said, in a quiet voice. “None were swifter nor more silent in the woods than she.” He treasured this portrait most, rather than the one of her in her queen’s raiment, standing at his side with the crown of summer flowers matching his upon her head. Her heart had broken when the shadow from the south fell upon her beloved forest, and she had hunted the spiders relentlessly with the guard. And been slain by the monsters, in the end, when Legolas was but four years out of her womb. Thranduil had set the portrait on this wall that it might look out of the south-western window high in the halls. Through it, she would see the endless canopy of her forest, a restless sea of dancing green stretching to the horizon.

The youngest elf in Ennor stood arrow-straight, willow-slender, tall as the king he now served and protected. He was clad in darker shades of woodland brown and green than the elleth in the portrait, the leather armour of the king’s own bodyguard. He wondered if the king gave each of his handpicked bodyguards this tour of his private portrait gallery. And all alone. As far as he knew, all guards and attendants were made to wait outside when the king entered here.

Wrenching his eyes from Lothuial’s face, Thranduil swept on up the gallery in long, spring-green robes embroidered with white and silver leaves and flowers. The crown of spring flowers on his head was not unlike the one he had been wearing when Arman first met him—the one a baby had seized from the royal head and taken a mouthful of.

Arman and his family were no strangers to the Woodland Realm. Thrice ere he came of age had he visited these halls, and many were the friendships he had formed over the years. Twice since he came of age had the king himself invited the boy to draw bow in the archery tournament held here every thirty idhrinn. And both times had Arman taken the champion’s prize—a feat which had not swelled his head. He knew he had probably won only as neither Legolas nor Glorfindel had competed. From the king’s pride and pleasure, one would have thought it was his own blood that had won. “As though he had been your archery master himself,” muttered Aryo. “All he did was give you your first bow. ’Tis Atto who trained you.”

There had been a time, not too long ago, when Arman had held the king’s hand and skipped at his side through the corridors of these halls, chattering gaily like a little bird, and the king had smiled down at him indulgently. But Arman was full-grown and a maethor now, and this his new master and monarch. The youth kept pace with Thranduil, maintaining a respectful arm’s length from him as they walked, his chin slightly lowered in deference.

The king had stopped before another portrait, a very old one done in a different style, painted from memory in the early years of the realm when Orodreth had ruled at Amon Lanc. An elleth reclined upon a couch, her body gracefully angled, gazing down at them from the wall. She had long, slender limbs, pale silver-gold hair flowing over her shoulders, and azure-blue eyes. The faint smile that graced her sweet lips looked wistful and enigmatic.

Thranduil was gazing penetratingly at Arman in a manner that baffled the young ellon.

“What think you of her?”

“She is exquisitely lovely, Âr-Thranduil. And I believe she resembles Aranion Legolas and Arathel Teliaris.”

“Indeed. Anyone else?”

“And you, of course, Aran-nín. In the hair and the eyes.” The austere, ageless beauty of Thranduil’s chiselled features were those of his noble father Oropher, and it was not hard for Arman to guess that he gazed upon Oropher’s late wife.

“And no one else?” the king asked softly.

Arman was silent for a moment before he spoke cautiously. “Well… there are those who say I have some likeness to Lego—to the Aranion… so perhaps myself, just a little.” The way he blushed, recalling how he had praised Rílel’s beauty earlier, made him look very young.

“A little.” Thranduil gazed piercingly, though not unkindly, at his maethor. The king reached out to take Arman by the chin and turned the youth’s face to the light from the window. “How modest. You look more like my late Emel than ever my son or my beloved ass of a sister ever did.”

Perplexed, all Arman could think to reply as the king still held his chin was, “The likeness you perceive flatters me, Âr-Thranduil.”

“Does it not make you wonder how this should be so?”

“Well... neither my Adar nor my Naneth know their parentage… might there be some distant kinship to your Emel unknown to us?… forgive me if that seems presumptuous, Aran-nín, but I can think of no other explanation apart from mere chance.”

For a moment, the king scrutinized his guard’s fine, delicate features with cool azure eyes. The boy truly knows nothing. “Indeed, I would agree.” It was an old rumour. The king knew it had been whispered throughout his realm ever since the pale-haired infant had first visited a century and twenty years ago. Let them whisper. He released the youth’s chin, and patted his cheek lightly. “But we shall never know, shall we? Dismissed. Wait outside.”

Baffled, Arman bowed deeply and walked away with his father Glorfindel’s long, graceful stride, feeling the eyes of the king on his back still.

How Arman came to be Thranduil’s bodyguard had begun the previous summer in Ithilien. As the twins and Legolas had sat high in the branches of a tree one starlit night, Legolas had reminisced about life in the Woodland Realm, and his years in the forest defending the marches of the realm.

“I could see myself as a marchwarden,” Arman had said, eyes sparkling. “That would be the life for me.”

“It would not be as exciting as it was in my day,” Legolas had said, recalling the era of spiders and yrch and assorted foul creatures of darkness. “Letters from Ada complain of the interminable nuisance of edain poachers and trespassers, travellers lost or hurt in the woods, and the occasional forest fire caused by lightning or camp fires. Oh, and ordinary wolves, not wargs.”

But that was no deterrent to the young elf who deeply loved forests and all creatures in it, and who dreamed of a life in the treetops under the sun and stars. So Legolas had written a letter for the twins, and sent them off north to his father with it.

Thranduil had eyed Aryo with the same bored distaste he normally reserved for golden-haired balrog-slayers. Aryo was the same height as his twin, slightly broader in shoulder from smithing, and his hair, though duller than his father’s, glowed like spun gold in the light falling through the ceiling of Thranduil’s high throne room. His features were pure Noldorin—Fingolfin, not Finarfin’s line, as his parents agreed with smiles. Of that he was blissfully ignorant—or how his parents remarked to each other that he looked like a young Turgon.

The Woodland King had peremptorily despatched the elder twin to the smithies in the bowels of the caverns.

Languidly elegant in autumn silks of copper and russet, crowned with a wreath of orange-red leaves and bright scarlet autumn berries, the king had looked down thoughtfully at Arman from his carved throne. He took the measure of Orlin Glorfindelion in a heartbeat. Sweet-natured, open, affectionate and generous, unassuming, loyal to the death. Like his father. What should he do with the young ellon?

The young elf had stood patiently, still and slender under the scrutiny, his pale hair shimmering in the mid-day sun pouring into the cavernous throne room through the skylight above.

“You will join the maethyr within our halls,” the king had said at last.

Arman’s azure eyes had widened, startled. “But Âr-Thranduil, Legolas—”

Thranduil’s mouth had hardened ever so slightly. “Too long has Legolas been away. He has little grasp of the needs of this realm anymore. We have little use for yet another warden on the marches. If you would serve us, you will serve us in these halls. And take the oath of service and allegiance as all others in the guard.”

Arman had been silent for only a brief moment. His father had served and protected kings and their descendants all his two lives, and here he was, trained from childhood as a warrior, standing before the last elven king of Ennor. Feeling the hand of destiny, Arman had knelt gracefully upon one knee at the foot of the throne. “Athon, aran-nín. I will, my king.

And so it had begun. The next morning, the king heard a musical laugh as he passed the training hall and thought of both Legolas and Glorfindel. He went to a walkway overlooking the training, and watched Arman spar with several other maethyr. The young ellon’s light, swift attack and bright smile brought Thranduil back to the day he had first seen Glorfindel at Lindon, shortly after a ship arrived from Valinor.

If Ereinion Gil-galad had hoped to keep it quiet, he would have had to keep the golden lord locked up in his highest tower after the white swanship docked at Forlond. From the moment the tall golden lord had walked into the court in the High King’s retinue, whispers had run through the court and from thence into the city. With neither confirmation nor denial from the king’s council, the whispers had grown and gathered. Look at that hair! bright and golden as Anor’s rays… a Vanya?... a Noldo, they say… his name?... Glorfindel... Elbereth! Surely not the balrog-slayer?… It is he. Sent by the Valar themselves… Holy Eru! back from the dead?... the hero from Gondolin?… THE Glorfindel?… yes, there is only one…

The whispers reached Thranduil, in Forlindon with his sister Teliaris as their father’s emissaries for a season. Intrigued, they had gone to spy on the courtyard where the reborn golodh hero was sparring with the High King’s knights. The first thing he had heard was that warm, melodious laugh, joyous and light and free. Then he had seen him. Glorious and golden, swift as the wind, the light of Valinor in his eyes as he wielded a practice blade and held his own with mesmerizing grace and ease against ten of the king’s best warriors. Gil-galad himself stood on a balcony and watched with Elrond Halfelven at his side. This is a game to him, Thranduil had thought, watching the joyous light in Glorfindel’s face—this is play.

Thranduil’s Sindarin friend Faervel had sniffed with disappointment at the warrior’s tall but slender build and lighthearted mien. “Neither as fearsome nor as formidable as one would have imagined. Did he dance the balrog to death?”

Faervel is a fool, Thranduil had thought, seeing the deadly skill evident in the fluidity and lightness of each move, the quick thought that went into every move and parry and thrust as Glorfindel outwitted and outmaneuvered them all. Thranduil could feel the strength tightly leashed in the slender frame, and the power masked behind the friendly banter and warm smile.

Within fifteen minutes, all the king’s knights had been disarmed and were out of the game. The warriors bowed to each other, and then to the High King, who walked down and grasped the balrog slayer’s hand with a smile, then cheerfully called for another sword that he himself might spar with the Valar’s warrior.

“He is… magnificent,” Teliaris had murmured at her brother’s elbow, with a predatory gleam in her eye. Thranduil had shot her a withering look. Not long after, he had hauled his elder sister back to Amon Lanc in southern Eryn Galen, as the woodland realm’s capital then was, before she disgraced their house by any efforts to bed the balrog slayer. Of all the foolish ellith… she is unworthy of the title Araniel, he thought angrily. He himself still wore the new title Aranion uneasily. Their father Oropher had just become Taur, or Aran, over his remnant of the Iathrim and several tribes of the Tawarwaith, the Silvan folk, who wandered through the forest.

When the letter from Gil-galad arrived seven centuries later, in the year 1693 of the Second Age, Oropher was lord over four thousand Silvan and Sindarin elves and his seat of power had moved further north, to the caves of Emyn Galen, later to be known as Emyn Duir, wherein he had shaped halls in the likeness of Menegroth.

Oropher had read of the war against Sauron in the distant west beyond the Hithlaeglir, and frowned at the missive. “What is the fate of the golodhrim to us? Did the golodhrin king’s people intervene when his uncles, the kinslayers, descended like rabid wolves upon Doriath? What manner of fool is he, to expect our aid for that spawn of Fëanor?” He had spat out the hated name like a curse, not caring that Fëanor’s grandson had never spilled kindred blood, and had been but a babe-in-arms at Alqualondë.

The letter had been tossed into the flames. “Let them rot in Mandos. We have enough to concern us here, with Gorthaur’s might growing in the south.”

In four years, Celebrimbor was dead, Eriador overrun by Sauron, and a second messenger had come. This time, the plea for help came not from the High King but from his lieutenant—the halfelven descendant of the great Elu Thingol and of Elmo, cut off from Lindon as he retreated north and east along the River Bruinen with the balrog slayer and hundreds of the survivors of Eregion.

This time, Oropher had let his son ride forth with two hundred warriors, leaving behind a pouting Teliaris. Thranduil had travelled through the mountains, and in them he met a warrior golden as the sun. Glorfindel had ridden out on his snow-white horse to meet them in the High Pass, and led them into the valley cleft where Thranduil’s halfelven fourth cousin had taken refuge. And there the Sindarin lord stayed for the next three years, as the forces of Sauron besieged the elven haven of Imladris. He had seen at last how stern and terrible in battle the balrog slayer could be—fair and bright as the morning rising, but with power almost as the one of the gods, deadly as Urion, herald of Aran Einior, as he carved his way through the enemy. And seen his frailty too, as he bled more than once by always placing himself where the fighting was fiercest. Thranduil’s friendship with Glorfindel had been forged in that crucible of battle, in the hardships and camaraderie of the siege, as they held the south-western and north-eastern passes of the valley and made frequent sorties to harass the enemy camp. The prince and the warrior had been gwedyr, sworn brothers, long ere succour from the Númenoreans arrived, Sauron retreated, and peace had returned to Eriador.

But the friendship had not survived Dagorlad… and what had come after.

Looking at the Glorfindelion as he sparred, Thranduil saw that same lightness and speed, and something of the skill and style of the father who had taught him, though the youth’s strength was in archery more than the sword.

The session over, Arman lowered his sword, and listened with grave attentiveness as Maemegil, the captain of the guard, spoke to them. The likeness to Legolas was so great that Thranduil laid aside all thought and simply stared.

No. This was not Legolas. This was not Thranduil’s son. It was a green boy who had never faced an orc or monstrous spider, let alone a balrog, a boy who had never slain more than wolves and game. A boy sprung from the loins of an ellon Thranduil had come to loathe. He struggled, willing himself to see the father in the son, to feel some stirring of resentment and dislike for the youth. But he could not.

Legolas looked like Glorfindel too, the king had long realized, though he disliked thinking of it… the mouth, the eyes…

The youthful maethor looked up, and with his sword he saluted Thranduil with a radiant smile. And all the king could see was his son again.

Most of the king’s guard were in the forest, and on the marches of the realm north, south, east and west. The odd troll or warg would come wandering in, mostly from the Withered Heath, and many were the intrusions of dwarves or men travelling through the forest. A number of these would glance at the surrounding forest nervously, sensing but never seeing the Tawarwaith moving swift and silent through the trees around and above, a secret escort watching and following the intruders till they left the eaves of the woods.

Only seventy maethyr fortified Thranduil’s halls in the north-east of the woods, a far cry from the glory days of Oropher’s reign. Dagorlad had decimated the forces of the realm, then the Battle of the Five Armies… loss upon loss, and as the Third Age drew to a close, there had been no more elflings born. The army had survived the Battle Under the Trees at the end of the Third Age with minimal casualties, and Thranduil acknowledged, a shade grudgingly, that Glorfindel’s tactics and training had played no small part in that.

Arman’s new life involved daily training and hunting for game for the kitchens, which he enjoyed. He liked much less the endless rounds of sentry duty. He would not have minded being posted more to the wooded hilltops above the caverns, where the winds blew strong and one could see the Lonely Mountain and Dale in the east, and the endless canopy of the Green-leaved Forest as it stretched out west and south. But for much of the time it was guarding the gates, or the treasury, or the throne room, or guarding the dungeon whenever edain were caught for poaching white deer or for cruelty to animals or trees.

Something happened at the end of that first winter to disrupt this tedious routine. Tawarwaith came running to the halls with tales of a large, slavering gaur, a werewolf. All the wardens on the marches and in the forest searched for it, and the king and his guard themselves rode out to hunt the foul beast, but they found it not. Only the torn corpses of deer and hares it had savaged. And the remains of three ellyn and an elleth.

The elves ventured out into the forest only in groups and escorted by the guard. The king’s three counsellors quickly chided him for his habit of going out on solitary rides, even if fully armed.

“Bring your guard, aran vuin,” pleaded his lords, who had been friends and advisers to Oropher, and once served Thingol in Doriath.

In the Third Age, in the dark years when the shadow grew over Mirkwood, the king had gone forth from his gates surrounded by three to six members of his elite bodyguard. In the Battle Under the Trees these proud warriors had taken the brunt of the attack. Some had fallen. Others, as gwedyr of Legolas, had been given leave by Thranduil to accompany him to Ithilien. The king had then dispensed with bodyguards altogether, and oft enjoyed the freedom of riding his forest alone.

Now, urged by his lords, the king chose four maethyr to guard his person. When he named the last, not one of his three counsellors dared speak their minds. A green boy… untried in battle...most unwise, even if the son of Ennor’s greatest warrior… you favour him too much… all can see it… how in this boy you seek consolation for the absence of your son…

Thranduil read it writ plain on their faces anyway. And coolly ignored them.

In spring, it was the wardens on the northern march who slew the gaur, with half a dozen flaming arrows. But thereafter, a shadow of unease lingered, as unanswered questions remained. Had the gaur slipped past the marchwardens from the Withered Heath? Had it been asleep long ages in a lair deep within the woods, and just awakened? Were there other gaurhoth? So throughout the spring, all the elves went into the woods with companions and well-armed as a precaution. The king’s lords urged him to continue taking his bodyguards with him.

By midsummer, he took just one.

On these long rides in the woods, the king would sometimes talk to his young maethor, sometimes ask him for a song. Occasionally, he would even laugh at something the boy said. When Arman mentioned that he had enjoyed crafting jewels at Imladris, the king had looked surprised. “I had thought that a lost skill.” Lost with the Gwaith-i-Mírdain of Eregion, who had been slaughtered by Sauron or long since sailed.

“My naneth taught me.”

“And how would she have learned it? She is little more than a child herself, not yet two în, I believe.”

“My naneth is brilliant. She discovered the secret to ithildin on her own. She knows the First Age techniques of working metal, both of the elves and the dwarves.” But Arman had nothing to say of how his mother had acquired this ancient knowledge.

Thranduil had looked thoughtful. “Intriguing,” he had said.

Arman had noted ever since he was a child that the king rarely addressed him by name. Occasionally, Orlin. Never, ever Glorfindelion. Sometimes, young one. Nowadays, Arman found himself mostly called or summoned with a curt “ech”—“you”—as though Thranduil, aware of his own partiality to the youth, sought to deny it. Over the year, there had been a few occasions when the king had called Arman Iôn or Lasseg, mostly when they were alone. They would both pretend it had not happened, and for some days following one of these lapses, the king would be cold and curt to the young guard, which baffled and hurt Arman a little.

It was not only with the king that the occasional confusion happened. It occurred in different parts of the Woodland Realm every now and again—in the training hall, the stables, along the corridors, in the kitchens. The captain of the guard had himself several times called Arman “Legolas”, and laughed heartily when he realized his unthinking slip.

Arman raced through the caves to their bedchamber when news of the epic quarrel in the smithy spread like wildfire through the halls. Loud, angry voices had rung through the tunnels, and hammers and tongs had been flung. “Aryo! What are you doing?” Arman cried in dismay as he stood in the doorway.

There was a nip of iavas in the air as the days shortened. The twins had been in Eryn Lasgalen for almost a year.

“I am sorry, hanno. I am taking my golodhrin face and skills to Erebor.” Aryo had a scowl worthy of their mother on his fair face as he shoved his belongings into his packs. “I am done with that tyrannical ass Angurunir calling me boy and insisting I use only his techniques in his smithy. Ammë is twice the smith he is, that stiff-necked despot. He would have me make naught but nails and horseshoes and arrow heads for the next century should I stay. He flies into a fury if I try my hand at so much as a dirk. I am like to enjoy a better welcome and greater freedom and trust amongst even the dwarves.”

Doriath’s ancient master-smith boasted of having forged swords for Thingol himself. He had lost his wife and sons in the sack of Doriath, and seeing echoes of the kinslayers in Aryo’s features had not helped his love of the youth. Maeglin herself had steered clear of the Sindarin smith during her visits to Eryn Lasgalen, recalling some rather choice epithets her father Eöl had awarded the Doriathrin smith, long ages past.

Aryo buckled a pack shut, his mouth set in an angry line. “Only for love of you have I stayed so long, and endured working under that dragon.”

Arman was pale. “We have never been apart before. We belong together.”

Aryo grew calm but remained resolute. “We do. Come with me, then. Let us return home to Imladris.”

Arman shook his head. “I took an oath. I will not seek release when I have barely completed a coranar of service. Stay! If not at the smithy, then join me in the guard. They could always use a skilled sword like you.”

“Oh? Even should Thranduil’s favourite coax him to grant me a place in the guard, I am not like to enjoy it. The king detests me almost as much as Angurunir does. Almost as much as he dotes on you. He might bear with me for your sake, and to keep you here, but I would probably languish in dungeon duty or freeze my ass off on the hilltops above us throughout the winter. Forgive me, hanno. I must have my craft. I shall oft write and send birds from Erebor. Or Dale. Whichever place grants me space in a good forge to work in peace. Come drink mead with me when you may. I shall be but a day’s ride east.”

Arman said nothing. He stepped forward and held his brother tightly. And Aryo, hugging him back, angrily blinked away a secret tear.

Thranduil and his young bodyguard found the tracks in the woods as gold and russet began to touch the foliage on the trees. They rode westwards following the prints, along the Tawarhir, the Forest River. The ground rose. The churning white water flowed with a roar in the gorge to their left as they rode along a high escarpment. Then they smelled it… the foul stench of carrion. The dark presence of a great evil crawled along their skin and lifted the hair on their necks. It was an all-too familiar sensation to the king who had fought with the Last Alliance and ruled Mirkwood for three millennia, but it was Arman’s first experience with evil of this nature since he had seen wargs and yrch as a tiny baby. Even as they strung their bows and reached for arrows, the youth was looking worried, and said, “Sire, we should turn back—”

The evil shadow came loping out of the trees ahead, drawn by the scent of elves, black fur bristling, eyes molten red. Standing on its two hind legs, it was larger than the one that had been killed on the northern marches. It was taller than the elves on their horses, and at the sight of them it bared its long, razor sharp fangs and snarled ferociously and slavered. Then it broke into a lightning-swift gallop towards them.

Almost faster than a mortal eye could see, both king and guard had loosed two arrows each in quick succession, even as their horses screamed and reared, spoiling shots aimed at eye and throat. The horses in this realm were born in the Fourth Age, not pure-elven ones, and whatever battle training they had received had not prepared them for the terror of a charging gaur. As the arrows flew wild, the gaur gathered speed as it lunged right at the king.

Thranduil had drawn his sword when the gaur sprang powerfully at him. He was swinging the blade on the leaping werewolf when a blur of green and brown and flowing white-gold hair flew from his right and barrelled into the beast in mid-air, knocking it away from its prey. Thranduil’s blade sang through empty air as his maethor and the werewolf were hurled off the steep cliff by the momentum of the youth’s leap, and plummeted sixty feet into the gorge that fell away to their left.

With a curse, the king looked down over the cliff edge in time to see his guard surface in the turbulent waters of the Tawarhir, followed by the gaur as the torrent swept them eastwards back towards the elvenking’s halls. Most gaurhoth are strong swimmers, and as the river current pushed them together, the gaur hurled itself at the elf and both vanished under the water.

The king rode swiftly back along the escarpment, trailed by Arman’s horse. If the gaur did not kill Arman, the boy was like to be dashed against the rocks by the whitewater. Thranduil saw them surface again, locked in a fearsome struggle. Tall boulders loomed in the king’s path, and he lost sight of the river as he skirted around them. Emerging from a grove of beeches, he came back to the cliff’s edge and saw the river again. The combatants were nowhere in sight. The fast-flowing water must have carried them further down. He rode on till the ground descended to meet the river, and reached the confluence of the waters of the Luithir and the Tawarhir. Here, the river widened and its flow was less fierce. He espied the gaur’s body tangled in some rocks on the far shore. There was a wound in its left ribs, probably inflicted by a sword blade. And from its throat protruded a dirk jammed up to its hilt.

Heart in his mouth, Thranduil scanned the river and its banks, and finally saw a gleam of silver-gold further downriver by some rocks. Riding over and dismounting swiftly, he waded in to his waist, and pulled the boy out onto the river bank. Arman’s face was white, blood trickling from a gash on his head—from a rock, not fangs, Thranduil thought. The boy’s leather armour was rent by fang and claw, and he lay limp and still. His eyes were shut, his lips tinged with blue.

The king pumped water out of the boy till at last he coughed. And as he coughed and retched weakly, Thranduil checked him over for other injuries. Apart from the wound on his head, there were fang wounds on his hands and forearms, and claw marks on his body, but miraculously, he had escaped a severe mauling.

The king ripped a strip off the hem of his own knee-length tunic. “You little fool,” Thranduil said in a voice tight with anger as he bandaged the boy’s head. “Pull an idiotic stunt like that again and you are out of the guard.”

Arman turned his head slowly and looked at the Woodland King wearily, blinking as the king, frowning and hard-mouthed, gently wiped a trickle of blood away from the boy’s azure eyes with his own silk sleeve. A corner of the youth’s mouth lifted slightly in a lopsided smile. He managed a nod of his head, then shut his eyes and slipped back into unconsciousness.

“My brother the gaur-slayer.” Aryo smiled as he spooned broth into his twin’s mouth.

Arman had a fractured foot from the fall, was bruised black and blue from being battered against rocks in the river, had twenty fine stitches on his head and numerous other wounds from the claws of the creature. But he could be grateful its fangs had not mauled his hands and arms too badly. “And you can thank the Belain that your fair face was not touched,” said the Sindarin healer. Elven flesh heals rapidly, young elven flesh even more so. Arman would soon be able to draw bow and wield blade again.

“I lost my sword,” said Arman forlornly.

“I will make you one even finer than that,” boasted Aryo.

“Do not ever let Ammë hear you say that.” Maeglin had made a sword for each of her sons when they came of age. “I have a mind to dive for it till I find it.”

“How does it feel to be a hero?”

“It was not heroic in the least,” said Arman, feeling oddly uncomfortable. “I did not think, I did not feel any fear. I just… acted.” That was what their father had tried to tell them about the balrog, he thought.

“I was not brave. I could only see clearly what had to be done and do it,” Glorfindel had said. “Thought and act became one, leaving no room for fear.” He had looked gravely at his sons. “Remember this—that it is those who fear and who yet overcome who are truly the bravest…”

“Oh—Maemegil told me to give this back to you when you woke up.” Aryo brought out Arman’s dirk, clad now in a beautiful new sheath at the order of the king. The maethyr had recovered the dirk when they had burned the body of the beast so that it would not befoul the waters of the Tawarhir. The dirk, too, was the workmanship of Maeglin.

Arman looked at the dirk thoughtfully as Arman laid it upon the bed covers next to his bandaged hands. “You know who I think is truly brave? Findaráto Arafinwion. I had armour and arrows, a sword and a dirk, and no time for fear to sink in. He was naked and unarmed. And he had time enow… days… to do naught but think of the gaur, and hear it… to see what it could do, as it killed his men before him one by one… and to know what it would do to him… to wait each minute for it to come... And still he refused to break, and still he kept his vow with his bare hands and teeth. He was a true hero, and there was nothing pretty about it. He must have been savaged beyond recognition.”

They were both silent for a moment as they sat in the healing halls, thinking of the brave and noble gaur-slayer… the golden-haired prince who, unbeknownst to them, was their own grandfather.

“Have more broth before it gets cold,” said Aryo, and lifted another spoonful to his twin’s lips.

One snowy evening in rhîw, the king and some of his guard returned from a long ride on which they had put down a badly injured mother bear that was beyond their healing or help. From the wounds, it must have been ordinary wolves, not a gaur.

The elves had tracked down the newborn cubs only to find them dead in their den. Eru alone knew why the mother had left her cubs alone in the first place… The elves were rather sombre as they rode back in thickly falling snow. After they had dismounted in the halls, attendants relieved the king of his cloak and hunting gear, and two of the maethyr escorted the king to his dining hall. Once the king was seated, the maethyr bowed and turned to leave, but Thranduil caught Arman’s eye and commanded crisply, “Ech—dartho!”

So Arman remained behind, standing at attention and still clad in his winter cloak and with his bow, quiver and weapons on him, the fine layer of powdered snow on him melting and seeping into his hair and cloak. In this small hall where the king took his private dinners in winter, the oval table of translucent white quartz could seat twelve. Down the length of the table, across from the king, was the chair where his queen had once sat, and then his son. A simple dinner was laid on the table. A winter quail roasted to perfection. A golden-crusted herb bread. Hot soup. A compote. The king dismissed his musician and two attendants.

Once all had left, Thranduil eyed Arman. “Take that off. Be seated.” He sounded tired.

Removing his cloak and gloves, his weapons and gear, Arman set them against a wall, then looked hesitant. “Where do you wish me to sit, Âr-Thranduil?”

Thranduil’s eyes lingered on Legolas’ high-backed chair of carved oak for a moment, across from his own. The king had seated a twelve-year-old Arman there before, when the elfling’s little feet had just extended over the edge of the seat, and he had not understood the significance of the honour. But now…

Thranduil indicated the chair at his right hand. “Sí.”

Arman seated himself in the chair, looking a little uncertain. Ever since that day by the Tawarhir, when he had slain the gaur, the king had taken care not to be alone with him. Through Maemegil, he had sent the youth one of the finest swords from his own collection of blades, in appreciation of his service. But when the young guard returned to his duties, Thranduil had seemed to be at pains to treat him no differently from any of the other guards. Arman had taken it in his stride, remembering what the healer in the halls had said to him.

“The king comes by daily, and enters only if I say you are sleeping,” the Sindarin healer had said one day as he changed the dressings of Arman’s wounds. “He comes and sits by your bed for a while. He leaves if you stir.”

“I see.” Arman had nodded, unsurprised.

The Sindarin healer had looked thoughtful as he snipped off the ends of the bandages on the left hand. “There are those who fear to love too much. There are those who fight it.”

Arman had thought the king loved him as an elfling. He had learned different as he grew older. “He does not love me. It is only his son he loves. It is his son he looks for when he looks at me.”

The healer had looked at him with ancient golden-green eyes. “It is both you and his son he sees and loves. You could be a very dangerous person in this realm, had you a grain of ambition or self-serving in your fae. You could be both hated and feared. Love confers power, and the king is not a man who has ever bestowed it lightly.”

“He has nothing to fear from me.”

“Has he not? He has loved only four persons unreservedly all his life. And lost them all.”

His parents, his wife, his son, Arman thought. “I do not seek his love. I seek only to serve and protect him.”

The healer nodded. “He knows that, and loves you all the more for it. Happily for all, you are too like your father. The gwador of every ellon. And doted on by the ellith, I must say. I have had a time of it chasing from my doors Merbin damsels who aspire to warm your bed. A fine mess they would make of my dressings if I allowed it! They will have to wait till I discharge you.”

And the healer had swept out of the room leaving Arman speechless.

Now, in the dining hall, the king leaned back in his chair and with a languid wave of his hand offered all the food to Arman. “Eat.”

“Âr-Thranduil, it is your dinner—”

The king frowned. “Eat. I am not minded to do so.” He reached out for the decanter and poured himself some wine.

“Le hannon,” said Arman, and obediently tucked in.

From the brooding look on the king’s face, Arman guessed that he was not in the mood for lively chatter, so he ate quietly. He imagined what Thranduil’s lonely dinners were like here. There were many feast nights, from spring to autumn, when the king ate with his people under the stars in their beloved woods. In winter, the celebrations of Mereth Glyss Vinui and Yule moved to the Great Hall of Feasts. Other nights, the king dined privately, waited on by a few attendants and guards and a musician or two, sometimes with dancers. At times, his guests would be his stewards, his counsellors, his captains of the marches or the captain of the halls. Or his sister, whenever she happened to return, and only if he was in the mood to tolerate her company. Teliaris and Haldir had come to Eryn Lasgalen after the Rhúnaer War, and lived on the western marches of the kingdom much of the time.

Almost every third night, Thranduil chose to dine alone. Arman wondered if, like Aryo and his Ammë Lómiel, the king actually rather enjoyed these moments of solitude. But his Ammë yearned ever for his Atto, and Aryo for him, Arman thought, even if they could forswear the fellowship of all others. Arman himself did not take too well to being alone. He missed his twin so intensely, it was like a perpetual ache.

Stealing a glance at Thranduil, he could not help but pity the monarch, bereft of family since Teliaris did not count for much, he imagined. As for friendships… Thranduil’s captain of the guard and a handful among his subjects had been friends of his since the early Second Age, and some like Angurunir and his lord counsellors had known him since Doriath. But all the gwedyr dearest and closest to him had fallen at Dagorlad with Oropher, their blood spilled for him.

“Have more bread, Iôn,” Thranduil said rather absently as he leaned back in his high-backed chair, goblet in one hand, seemingly lost in some memory.

Much as Arman loved Legolas, as he dipped chunks of bread in soup and ate them he could not but feel that the Aranion should not have stayed away for so long. Letters travelled dutifully and often between Ithilien and Eryn Lasgalen, but what did his absence say to his father?

…Beloved Ada, forgive me for my abandonment of you. I regret I have not visited for these past hundred and twenty idhrinn. What would we do, ada-nín, but quarrel fiercely, and part in hurt and sorrow? It is better I do not come home...

For Legolas, fearless warrior that he was on the battlefield, dared not tell his father of his plans to sail west. Not yet. Yet surely the king knows, thought Arman. Surely he can guess…

…The sea, Ada! It is almost all I dream of now. Ere long I shall set sail from these shores forever. But how could I ever hope to make you accept it? How could I make you understand? …

Legolas had built a dozen ships over the years, each larger than the last, each able to venture out further and better able to withstand Ossë’s great waves and storms. He had sailed along the coastline to Edhellond and as far south as Umbar. How could the king not see what was coming next?

…How do I say farewell?...

“You may help yourself to the wine,” said the king, startling Arman out of his musings as he finished the compote. The young maethor reached for the decanter and refilled the king’s goblet before pouring a cup for himself. Arman would have preferred it mulled, but even in the freezing depths of winter, the king did not like his wine spiced and warmed.

“Was the dinner to your taste?” enquired the king.

“It was excellent, Âr-Thranduil.”

“Winter quail was ever a favourite of my son’s.”

“I am sure he misses it in Ithilien.”

“Not enough, it seems.”

In the awkward silence that followed, Arman could think of nothing to say.

Thranduil drank silently for a while. “When Legolas was twelve,” he said at last, his eyes distant and fixed on some point beyond the far wall of the room, “I took him for a ride in the winter woods, on the north-eastern edge of the forest. We found a bear cub in the snow, abandoned and half-dead. Wolves or spiders must have got the mother, and the starving cub had crawled out from its den.” He gazed into the remaining wine in his goblet. “I knew it was dying. I would have ended its misery with one swift knife stroke, but Legolas insisted we bring it back. He refused to leave its side for two days and nights. When it died, he wept for a week.” He emptied his goblet.

Arman thought of the motherless elfling mourning the motherless cub. He could think of naught to say but: “How strange, for a mother to leave her cub alone, so young… It goes against nature.” A nursing bear would never leave her cubs in midwinter, but remain with them in the den till spring came.

The king did not look at him. “She would not have done it needlessly,” he said softly. “It could only have been for her cub’s protection.”

“Yes,” said Arman, refilling the king’s goblet. “Only if there was a danger such as wolves.”

“Or spiders,” the king said quietly, darkly, and with loathing. He drank again.

I am truly putting my foot in it tonight, Arman thought. Legolas’ mother gave her life to save him from the spiders… Which was why, from the moment he was old enough to hunt, the prince had devoted so much of his life to exterminating the monsters.

After a silence, Thranduil said, “Let us have a song. Sing us something.”

“Gladly, Âr-Thranduil. What song would please you?”

“Any will do.”

And for some reason, because it was the first thing that came to his head, Arman sang an ancient lay of Enel, the first father of the Nelyar, and of Elmo of the silver-gold hair… of his great journey west and his love for his brother Elwë… the adventures and deeds of Galadhon his son, and the tales of each of Galadhon’s children… Celeborn the tall, Galathil the strong, and Gilornel the fair… of the founding of Doriath and Menegroth, and the long, enchanted years in the light of Melian beneath the stars…

Arman’s strong, melodious voice, much like his father’s, wove a web of beauty and wonder as his song lilted. By the time he finished, the attendants had quietly cleared the table, refilled the decanter and laid out sweetmeats. They displayed no surprise to see the maethor seated at the king’s right hand.

Thranduil sipped his wine. “Who taught you that song?”

“Lord Celeborn.” It had irked the ancient Sinda to realize that the twins’ knowledge of history was largely Noldorin. The pureblood had scorned both Erestor and Pengolodh’s half-Sindarin heritage.

“Ah. My revered great-uncle. Of course.”

Arman smiled. “He would make my brother and I walk beneath the stars by the waterfalls of Imladris, and sing it to him over and over till he was satisfied.”

“He taught you well,” the king said. “Have more wine.”

Thirsty after his performance, Arman was happy to do so. Thranduil watched as he drank.

So… Celeborn had taught Rílel’s grandchildren to sing their Sindarin lineage, as their own father should have, thought Thranduil. As the silver lord had once taught young Thranduil his mother-line, and as Thranduil had taught Legolas. It was confirmation. All these years, the silver lord had known about Glorfindel. Had known, and conspired to hide this secret. Thranduil’s thoughts of his revered great-uncle had never been darker.

Just then, the king’s latest elleth appeared at the doorway, a ravishing raven-haired creature with slate-grey eyes, almost black, flecked with gold.

“You may go,” said the king coolly to Arman.

“Le hannon, Âr-Thranduil. No vaer i dhû,” said Arman, rising and bowing. As he gathered up his cloak and weapons, he kept his face expressionless as the beauty seated herself on the king’s lap and slipped her hands into his robe. Well, Arman thought as he left the dining hall, at least the king would not be alone this evening...

As he left, Arman was composing a letter in his head to Legolas. Come home. Please. Your father needs you…

Then he felt something in his fëa that he would never be able to mistake. With a luminous grin spreading across his face, he raced through the corridors towards his bedchamber in the guard’s quarters. As he approached, he heard an irate voice sharply raised. “I said, no! Get out!”

The door of Arman’s room flew open, and two lithe, laughing lovelies were thrust out, and fell into his arms. He was immediately smothered with kisses and caresses, through which he saw golden hair and a familiar face scowling in the doorway.

“Orlin! Meleth-nín!” “Tell your handsome brother to let us stay.” “A foursome! Just imagine! How deliciously delightful!”

“Oh, Eru! Absolutely not!” cried Aryo in disgust. “Get off him and get lost! Ego!” And wrenching the two fair ones off his twin, he gave each a none-too-gentle shove. They giggled and turned back to blow kisses at the twins as they lightly ran away down the corridor.

“Aryo! It is so good to see you!” cried Arman in their private mix of Quenya, Sindarin and Westron which was barely comprehensible to anyone apart from their parents. He threw his now-free arms around his twin.

“And you, you rogue. What have you been up to? I return after a season and our room is overrun by ellith? Those two said they have been staying nights here for the past three months!” Pulling his twin into the room, Aryo bolted the door.

“Well—either them or others—the bed can barely fit four,” said Arman, blushing a little as he hung up his cloak and quiver and sword belt. “It was lonely without you. Anyway, it was only a bit of harmless kissing and cuddling. Nothing more.”

“Eru, if Amil ever found out, she would thrash you!”

“Mmmm… I like kissing,” confessed Arman with a mischievous sparkle in his eyes as he threw himself upon the bed, knowing that his twin would never give him away. “If you would but try it! Such fair blossoms, all of them, and the way they feel… all soft, silken skin and hair, and warm curves…”

Aryo glared at his twin. “Most of those fair blossoms probably had several shots each at trying to bed our Atar! Or Legolas. Did you never think of that?”

“So what if they did? None of them succeeded. And for all the kisses and cuddles in Arda, I have not forgotten what Atto and Ammë taught us. It was all within bounds of the laws and customs, so stop looking at me like that!”

“I hope sincerely that you have not been testing how far you can go ‘within bounds’. Can we mull some wine? I have a flagon and spices in my pack. The ride here was cold!”

Together, the twins began to gently heat and add cloves and cinnamon to some wine over the room’s small brazier. Aryo was still eyeing his twin and shaking his head. “Thank the Valar neither the Queen nor Ammë ever found out how much kissing went on between you and the princesses during the Rhúnaer War,” Aryo said. “Nor their husbands, years on.”

Arman laughed at the memory as he poured and handed a cup to his twin. “It was never I who initiated any of it. They pulled me behind the tapestries.” Elraen and Elrían were Arwen and Estel’s twin daughters, aged fifteen in the last year of the war… slender, bright-eyed damsels taller than Arman, and curious about love as their eldest sister began to receive suitors. That had been almost a century ago, and the twin princesses were grandmothers now.

“They tried to pull me too, you forget. I said, ‘no’. An easy word. You should try it.”

Arman sighed, and taking the cup from his twin, drank from it. “Hanno, don’t be so dour. You have been with the dwarves too long!” He eyed his twin’s hair critically, and reached out to examine his braids. “You really have been with the dwarves too long! Dwarven braids and beads? What did the guards at the gates say?”

“Nothing. They just stared.”

“The beads signify something, do they not? Did you get engaged to a dwarrowdam?”

“Friendship beads. And as if any self-respecting dwarrowdam would even give a beardless creature like me a second glance!” exclaimed Aryo, mock-ruefully.

“Was it refreshing to be the ugliest in a kingdom for once?” teased Arman.

“Oh, yea. My ego has been crushed. Multiple times. Whilst you made love to fair damsels nightly, I was suffering beard-envy and drowning my sorrows in mead.”

“And frequenting Dale’s taverns and fighting off scores of fair edenith, I am sure!” Arman laughed merrily and hugged his twin tightly. “Oh Eru! You have no idea how much I missed you.”

“I have a very good idea how much, hanno,” replied Aryo gruffly, hugging him back fiercely.

“When will you return to Erebor?”

“I am not returning to Erebor. But neither am I here to stay.” Aryo looked grave. “It is time for us to head south.”

Arman returned the look blankly. “South?”

“Did a letter from Atto not find you? He and Ammë are in Gondor. They have sent letters to Imladris as well. In spring, our household will journey to Minas Tirith to celebrate Nost-na-Lothion.” He paused. “All the household.”

Arman caught his breath, knowing what it meant. If all at Imladris were summoned to Minas Tirith, it was to bid farewell. “But I am bound by oath of allegiance to Thranduil. I shall remain till he releases me.”

Aryo looked sharply at his twin. “And when will that ever be? Did you think of that?”

“It will be when I ask. But I shall not ask now… not yet…”

Aryo had never understood the hold that Thranduil had seemed to have on Arman’s affections ever since he had been young, or the mystery of the likeness of Legolas and his twin. Had their fëar not been linked since they shared a womb, Aryo might have thought his brother a changeling… “This is the summons of your family, hanno. The time has come to take our leave of the King Elessar and Queen Arwen, as we always knew it would.”

“Just latterly, in summer, King Elessar was hale.”

“It will be his gift to be hale till his time comes. For us, it will be time to return to Imladris soon. And to prepare to sail.”

Arman looked away. “I will be there when the ship sails. But till then, my place is here.”

A moment of incredulous silence, before Aryo found his voice. “Your place has always been with me.”

“And will be again. Till then, I am bound and I will not be forsworn.”

“What claim does Thranduil have on you besides that bloody oath? Why will you not ask for release now?”

Arman was silent.

“Staying with him will not help him, Arman!” said Aryo angrily. “With you, he relives old days when Legolas was still his dutiful, obedient little leaf, and cared naught for the world beyond this forest. How long before he decides that he cannot bear to lose you as he lost his son? And you are bound by oath as his son was not. He will not release you, the longer you wait. He released Legolas because he loved him and wanted his happiness. You will always be less to him. His little pet. Sometimes he strokes you, and sometimes he kicks you—”

“It is not like that!”

“Either way, he will hold you to your oath.”

“I have no wish to be equal to Legolas in his eyes.”

“If you love this king you serve, you help him best by giving him what he truly needs. Persuade him to sail with his son.”

“And leave his beloved kingdom and his beloved forest? This forest full of memories of his father and his son, of his wife and queen?”

“He can stay and live on those memories till the unmaking of Arda, or sail and be with them. Be with her again.”

Arman gazed into the flames of the brazier. “You are right,” he said. “Travel south first, hanno, and join Ammë and Atto first. I will see if I may speak to the king.”

“And if he refuses, Arman, beg to be released from his service. Do not remain. You are no more than food for his ghosts. No good can come of it.”

So Aryo stayed a week longer, and then rode south along the eastern border of the forest.

As expected, after that night in the dining hall Thranduil was cold to Arman for some time, and the young maethor had no opportunity to have even a word in private with the king.

Then, on a clear day in the coldest month of the year, a letter arrived from Ithilien.

The guards and attendants watched the king break Legolas’ seal, watched his face turn livid as he read the letter. Watched as he flung it furiously into the flames of a brazier.

Out! All of you!

They quickly filed out of the throne room, silent before his rage, not daring to murmur till the great doors were shut behind them.

The next day, the king gave the orders that he would ride south with his four bodyguards, and the counsellors were given the rule of the kingdom.

A light snow fell as they rode out the following morning. Grey clouds were looming in the west. A storm is coming, Arman thought.

They spurred their horses and rode swiftly south.

Glossary (alphabetical order)

Aranion (S) – son of the king (suggested by dreamingfifi on

Arathel (S) – sister of the king (by dreaming fifi)

Aran vuin (S) – beloved king

athon (S) – I will

dartho (S) – stay/remain/wait (imperative)

ech (S) – you (emphatic – suggested by dreamingfifi on

edenith (S) – mortal women (plural of adaneth)

emel (S) – mother

gwador (S) – sworn brother / brother not by blood

gwedyr (S) – sworn brothers / brothers not by blood

hanno (Q) – brother (informal version of háno)

iathrim (S) – people of Doriath

idhrinn (S) – year cycle (equivalent of coranar; somehow I felt I should use the Sindarin word here since this chapter is set in Eryn Lasgalen)

iôn (S) – son

lasseg (S) – little leaf (Thranduil’s pet name for Legolas since he was a child)

Luithir (S) – Enchanted River (by dreaming fifi)

merbin (S) – dark elves (with connotations of uncivilized, and rather derogatory I imagine)

Mereth Glyss Vinui (S) – Feast of the First Snows (by dreamingfifi)

rhîw (S) - winter

sí (S) – here

tain (S) – smiths (plural of tân)

Taur (S) – can mean both forest and leader of tribes. I use it as the latter for one title of Oropher.

Tawarhir (S) – Forest River (by dreamingfifi)

tawarwaith (S) – forest people

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