A Welcome Arrival
The dark forest loomed before him, cavernous and foreboding. What had once been hailed as the beautiful Greenwood the Great was no longer. Gandalf sighed. So much for the power and splendor of elves. Where was the old glory, and ancient music of beauty? Since when did this enchanted realm fall to the spreading darkness?
As much as he enjoyed seeing his old friends, he did not enjoy the sight which greeted his eyes during the journey. No, not at all.
A strange scent caught his senses. It was an eerie feeling, hovering like a silent whisper slithering over the damp forest grounds. Gandalf perked up, and quickly reached down to calm his nervous horse. Something was amiss. That was no surprise, considering the evils crawling in this forest – but no, something dangerous was lurking nearby. Waiting for him. Or perhaps seeking him out. He wasn't sure. Gandalf glowered. Where is a Palantir when you need one?
Then he felt it. It was coming. Fast. Gandalf tensed. The horse was whinnying madly, stomping on the ground. Gandalf clasped the reins firmly, and held out his staff. He squinted at the menacing darkness before him.
"Come out, you foul devil, and show yourself!"
He felt the chilly breath before he heard the hiss. Tightening his grip on his staff, he stared boldly at the giant spider. It was halfway out of its hiding, standing directly in front of him – its eyes glittered delightfully, as if inspecting its meal before dining. Gandalf's horse bucked in wild terror. Gandalf swiftly reasoned whether it was him or the horse the spider was after. It was decided just as quickly, when the spider lunged forward, that the creature would get neither.
The spider had almost hit its target when it was knocked back with a tremendous blow. The wizard was holding up his staff, proud and strong – and the old gray shaft was shining with a dazzling brilliance. The spider screeched in terror before the blinding light, and scrambled away. Even then it remained in the shadow, eyeing the wizard menacingly.
Gandalf knew the spider would be back, as soon as the light dimmed. He could feel its breath, its eyes lingering. But Gandalf the Gray could not keep up with his fireworks all throughout his passage to the palace. The way was far, and he was weary. He patted and muttered comforting words in Elvish to the frightened horse, while distractedly looking around in the darkness.
"I think it's this way, my friend," he said, more to himself than the horse, as he turned to the left. "Quickly," he urged, as the horse broke into a canter. He needed to cover as much ground as he could before his power gave out.
He had not gone far before he realized that the sun had set. Now the dark forest was even darker, whispering sinister words of evil into his ears. Gandalf frowned. Why was the tangle of twisted trees becoming even thicker? He shuddered involuntarily at a shadow that loomed at a corner of his mind. Perhaps this was not the right direction...
Gandalf cursed under his breath as he felt his strength dimming. The light was fading quickly, and he would soon be enveloped in darkness. Then there would be no stopping those spiders...
The wizard started, and quickly turned around. Did he hear something? He muttered another curse. This was definitely not a good situation to be in. He now wished that he had asked Elrond to send word to Mirkwood ahead of time, so that a party of elves would be dispatched to meet him. Better yet, he could have accepted the company of elves who offered to take him to Mirkwood. But no, he had to decline the kind offer from the Lord of Rivendell and trust only his staff and feeble magic to venture to Mirkwood, alone. He cursed again. What a fool I am.
Then he saw it again. The spider. Gandalf raised his staff, but to his dismay it was now flickering with the brightness of a firefly. He uttered a battle cry instead, and charged his horse forward. If anything, he would give it a good, hard swipe and perhaps daze it. A foolish risk, he knew, but there was no other choice. The spider was fast, and the horse would not be able to outrun it in the dark.
"Come on, you filthy creature!"
But the spider flew off to its side with a tremendous force before it ever came into contact with the wizard's staff. Gandalf stared, wide-eyed, as his horse bucked wildly. The next moment was a blur as several more arrows hummed through the air with deadly precision, embedding themselves onto the struggling creature. With arrows flying from all directions, the spider gave a horrible screech; then it fell and moved no more.
Gandalf looked around at the trees. He saw no one, but he knew the shadows watching him with glittering eyes. "I thank you, kind elves, for your aid," he called out. "You saved this old fool just in time."
As silent as the night they were a part of just moments ago, several lithe figures dropped down from trees surrounding him. They were clad in dark green and brown, blending in perfectly with the forest – even their dark hair merged into the deep night that had settled in. In their hands they all held smooth, dark bows; around their waists was a firm strap holding elven swords, the keenest in the land.
The wizard met them warmly, exclaiming elven greetings as the shadows bowed and returned the greetings with humble courtesy.
"I'm afraid our forest did not welcome you with much hospitality," said an elf apologetically, stroking the frightened horse. The horse became still under the elf's calm touch. Gandalf chuckled.
"It was an old man's foolishness. I am most grateful that you heard my horse, young one, for I would surely be a dead wizard by now if you had come a second too late!"
The elf smiled, and looked back toward the others who were scouting ahead. They quickly returned, and gave their sign to go. The elves fanned out, surrounding the wizard's mount protectively. "Let us make haste," said the elf at the lead. "The king will be most happy to see you, Mithrandir."
And happy I hope I'll make him, thought the wizard grimly. To suffer such a loss, at such a young age...
"The wizard has arrived."
Thranduil sat up as quick as lightning. "Mithrandir is here?" This was an unexpected surprise.
"Yes." The messenger bowed.
The king of elves gathered his robes and stood. Along the folds of the rich fabric, long threads of golden hair fell lusciously over a well-toned chest. "I will go out to meet him," he announced, his voice clear and strong. The advisors that had been standing on either side of the throne followed as he quickly stepped down from the throne and moved out into the halls.
The king did not need to go far. The wizard was dismounting from his horse, thanking his dark-haired elven companions, when Thranduil met him at the doorsteps of the palace.
The outburst of joy was an uncharacteristic display from the proud and mighty king. The rest of the elves watched, their dark heads bowed respectfully, while their king rushed forward to embrace the old wizard. Gandalf chuckled.
"I hope I am not presenting a cumbrance to you, my friend Thranduil."
"Not at all, Mithrandir. You know you are always welcome here." The king pulled back, gazing at the wizard with relief and joy. "I have missed you terribly, Gandalf." His eyes softened with an unspoken sadness. Gandalf looked back, an understanding smile sadly playing at his thin lips. He pulled the elf close, embracing him again in silent comfort. His whisper was like a sigh.
"I return too late, my friend. Forgive me."
"Do not speak such things." The king shook his head sadly. He looked like a mere child in the arms of the wizard. "I am not left alone."
What a striking image of his mother, mused Gandalf, gazing at the tiny creature before him. The golden halo hung in a single braid down his small back, illuminating the light green fabric of the tunic. The pale skin rivaled that of the fairest of elven ladies in Lothlorien, and bright blue eyes hid in a shroud of long, dark lashes. Such a beautiful creature. Such a sad, beautiful creature. He sighed.
"Meet my son," said the king quietly. The elfling raised his bowed head, meeting the wizard's eyes. "Legolas."
"Most honored to meet you, my little prince," smiled the wizard. The elfling bowed again quietly, and glanced at his father.
Thranduil nodded. "You may go now."
The elfling turned on his heels, and as silently as his entrance, left.
Gandalf noted the king watching the disappearing figure sadly. He chuckled and tapped the king's shoulder. "She has left you an extraordinary gem indeed, my friend."
Thranduil sighed. "I am saddened beyond grief every time I see him."
"Do not be, young Thranduil," said the wizard gently. He rested his peaceful gaze upon the king, who lifted his eyes slowly to meet the wizard's gaze with uncertainty. Gandalf smiled.
"He is a rare and precious gift, my friend. Do not grieve. Drive away the darkness in your heart, and rejoice with gratitude."
The elven king shook his head, hanging his gaze dejectedly onto the floor. "It has been only five years, Mithrandir. And Legolas is not so young that he does not remember..."
Ah, Valar. Gandalf closed his eyes. In his mind's eye he could still see the sunny beauty that radiated from the queen of Mirkwood. Her laughter was like an ancient music, melodious and smooth. How happy the young couple had been when their child was conceived. How the kingdom had rejoiced. It was now all in the past. There was no more queen of the woodland realm. There never would be another.
"But he is such a wise little elfling," soothed Gandalf, placing a hand on the king's shoulder. "I can see it in his eyes..."
"Ah, if only I could see anything else," the king replied, a bitter smile playing at his lips. He looked into the wizard's gray eyes. "Legolas used to be such a happy child, Mithrandir. Music and delight was everywhere with our little prankster of an elfling around." The chuckle that filled the quiet hall was mirthless. Gandalf squeezed the king's shoulder in sympathy.
"Do not bear guilt for your son, Oropherion," he said gently. "If the prince be truly one of you and the queen's blood, then he will have the strength and wisdom to endure this grief."
Thranduil looked away, sad gaze idly falling outside his glass door leading to the gardens. I hope so, Mithrandir, he whispered silently as he watched a small elfling sit on a stone bench. The bench where mother and son would always sit for a story in a sunny afternoon. I hope so.
To Be Continued