Coming to an End
The door closed quietly. A hush fell upon the crowd, and they looked at the newcomer anxiously. Their faces were dark, with only patches of ghostly white skin revealed in the thin film of sunlight shafting in through the holes in the cabin.
"Well?" asked one of the men. "Does he have the elf-child?"
Mutely, Dama nodded. He approached the circle of villagers, and rested his hands on the large table in the middle of the room.
A tense silence settled in. The townspeople looked at one another, eyes darting around nervously. With a growl, a dark-haired man raised his body from the wall and looked around.
"We will die if he returns with an army of elves. We must organize an army of our own!"
An old man in the corner snorted. "You think you can go against the army of Mirkwood elves, boy?" He raised his eyes, and laughed bitterly. "These elves are the mightiest warriors in the land. The whole fifty of you put together will barely leave a scratch on one of them. And I daresay there is more than one elf in this forest."
A sandy-haired woman suddenly gave a piercing scream, and slumped onto the ground. "We're doomed!" she moaned, burying her hands in her disheveled hair. "Why did we come to Mirkwood? Why did we intrude into the realm of the elves!"
A slim youth near the door, who had been chewing his nails all this time, looked up. "We must stay calm," he said with anxiety etched on his face, looking around. "Perhaps we can invite them to a feast, and poison all of them."
A general murmur ran through the crowd. When all eyes turned toward the herbalist, he nodded grimly and took out a pouch full of dried roots. "I have enough to poison at least sixty at the spot," he announced. The crowd of people murmured their consent, steeling themselves for the feat. But another man spoke up.
"Think you that elves are fools? They have lived far longer than us, and they know more herbs and poisons than we will ever know! If they find out, we are doomed!"
"We do not have a choice!" shot back another voice. "We kill them, or we all die!"
The heated blow of words halted upon the soft chuckle in the corner. All eyes turned toward the old man again. The old man pulled up his knees close to his chest, and smiled.
"We all come here to pay for our sins and start new lives, and you all readily put your heads together to plan mass murder of innocent people. Fine lives we lead, eh?"
The words bit into the silence. The people fell into a hush, glancing at one another uneasily. The old man wearily pulled his thin body off of the floor, and pulled his tattered garb about his shoulders.
"Do what you will," he muttered, moving toward the door, "but I am not so young and blind as to drag myself into another pit."
The door slammed behind the old man. No one spoke.
A middle-aged man by the window opened his mouth, hesitant. "Perhaps we can hold him hostage, and bargain with the elves. Then we will ensure safety and wealth, and we will move away to another land to settle in."
Another murmur of consent ran through the crowd. But then, an auburn-haired woman shook her head. "We do not stand a chance if we threaten the danger of the elf-child. Did the elf not say that he comes by the name of the king? What if the elf-king is related to the child?"
A gasp of shock ran through the crowd. "Royalty," mumbled the men and women, wondering at the possibility.
"If the child is indeed of a high-ranking family, we should give him back to the elves as soon as possible," muttered a man. "I do not want the wrath of an elf-king on my head."
"But how do we know if he is indeed royalty?" asked another woman. "Do you think he will tell us so? If he intended to reveal himself, he would have come to us for help long ago."
Another heavy bout of silence followed.
A young man threw his hands up into the air. "This is all Roloth's fault!" he shouted angrily. "We should take the child away from him and tell the elf that Roloth is to blame! Then the king will reward us and punish Roloth alone!"
Dama frowned. "Knowing that man, he will accuse every single one of us to go down with him."
A sigh of despair spread in the cabin. All bowed their heads, evidently at a loss.
Wearily, Dama looked up and scanned the crowd of people around him. His voice was dark, brooding. "Whatever may come, let it come. We have no need to fear, as long as our conscience is clear."
Legolas glanced up tentatively, careful not to move his body. His long blond hair was gathered and hanging over one shoulder, while his neck gently hung forward, long lashes lowered. His supple arms were resting gently on the bed, snaking out of the large shell of blankets that swathed his limber body. Roloth was busily sketching away his profile, as a lone candle flickered in the dark.
"Keep your head down," instructed the man. Legolas quickly returned to his previous position, eyes lingering once again on the wall. The curtain of hair lapped gently against his bare knees.
Scribble. Scratch, scratch, scratch.
"Can you move that blanket further down?"
The elfling glanced again toward the man, and blinked. "Why?"
The man's eyes were glowing fervently. It was a strange look, those eyes. The candle was shining bright.
"I want to capture the whole of your beauty," breathed the man, hands trembling slightly. "I want to memorize every lovely contour of your body." His dark eyes gleamed with the light of the candle.
The child still seemed confused, but pushed the blankets down lower. The stiff cloth moved from his bare shoulders down to his slender stomach.
When Legolas looked back at the man, the dark eyes were riveted on his stomach. He could see the man swallow hard several times, eyes fixed in a daze. The elfling frowned. Were all men this strange? Of course, Legolas knew of beauty – he sang with his people about it all the time. The flowing rivers, the shade of the trees, the soft warm earth – all of these were beauties of Arda, which he knew much about. But he had never seen an elf artist so obsessed with beauty of children without clothes on.
Perhaps humans saw beauty elsewhere. He would perhaps never understand. With resignation, Legolas shook his head to straighten out his hair, and hung his slender neck gently out again, allowing the soft hair to fall over his right shoulder. He could feel the man's eyes roaming over his bared neck from the left, and moving down about his round shoulders. He did not move.
"I'm ready," he called, a slight frown showing puzzlement again. Valar, this man was strange.
He wondered if he should have perhaps listened to the conversation earlier that day. The voices were loud enough to be heard beyond the door, if equipped with his hearing – but he had deemed it impolite. Furthermore, the fear of the unknown – which the man kept telling him of – kept him swathed in blankets and hiding in the dark, wondering and fearing.
Sharp eyes focused in Roloth. This man was kind to him. But a part of him wondered whom he should trust. His father had told him not to trust anyone besides elves. No one.
But he was a capable warrior. He could defend himself if this man tried to harm him. Not that he had, of course. The man's eyes were glazed, watching with a strange expression.
Legolas tightened his fingers under the blanket. He would venture out tomorrow night. Deep into midnight, he would look around the place and try to see if he could find a landmark somewhere. Ada was taking too long to find him. And the warrior instinct in Legolas told him that it was time to take action on his own.
As if awakened from a dream, the man bowed his head, hands busily moving over the canvas once more. Silence followed, only filled by faint scratching sounds of coal against parchment.
"Your people will come to take you away soon."
The voice broke Legolas' train of thoughts, and he blinked in surprise. He glanced at the man, but his head was still bowed, hands busy. Oblique shadows danced around the room, mingling with a lonely gold.
"It has been so wonderful...having you...it was like a dream..."
"And that dream is coming to an end..."
"I pretended that you were my adopted child...that one day you would open to me, and finally call me Papa..."
Scratch. Scratch. Scribble.
"Ah, so even a child as kind as you cannot bring yourself to call me that...'tis all right, no need to feel sorry for an old man..."
"But before the dream could go any further, it shatters before my eyes...and you are still as beautiful as ever, so beautiful that it makes my limbs ache..."
Scribble, scribble, scribble.
"And you will go away and forget about me...and I will long for you for the rest of my life..."
"And I don't even know your name..."
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
"My name...it is Legolas."