The Strength of One Green Leaf

Return to the Past

Chapter 12: Return to the Past

A horse grunted, shifting with impatience. The elves remained hushed.

The king stared mutely at the dark eyes that steadily gazed back. A golden banner flapped high in the wind.

Apprehension hung tightly in the air as the two bands of elves regarded each other in stoic silence. Gandalf tapped his staff upon the ground anxiously. He wanted to greet the other party, for he had been friends with them as long as he had been friends with the royal house of Mirkwood; however, a flicker of wisdom in his heart advised him to keep silent. Better to let them choose the course of action. Hopefully the young ones would act wisely.

It was the dark-haired leader of the opposite party who moved first. He dismounted from his chestnut steed; his fluid movements were unhurried, thoroughly composed. He held an air of authoritative weight, an aura that demanded respect without demanding. Eyes were riveted on him as he placed a hand over his heart and bowed his head.

"An era ago, a tragedy occurred which terminated the friendship between Greenwood and Imladris." His voice was low, gentle – and yet a rich dignity lingered beneath. The groaning trees hushed into reverential silence. "After many years of foolish pride and fear, the gulf between the two realms was finally to be bridged – but another unfortunate tragedy left the bridge uncrossed."

Thranduil sat atop his horse, still as stone, his eyes hauntingly staring at the elven lord and the bowing entourage before him.

The dark-haired elf looked up and met the king's eyes. "Late is the hour, but I beg thy welcome as I tread upon this forsaken bridge."

The tension in the air was leaden. The sorrow that underlay it sang among the trees with a haunting whisper. The sunlight sifting through the trees floated over the elven company with a phantasmagoric melody.

The king shifted. Gandalf thought he caught a glimpse of a tremor in his even gaze. Slowly, cracking the petrified silence of the forest, Thranduil dismounted. Despite his injuries, the young king moved with effortless grace. Lacking in the rich, deep dignity of the dark-haired elf, the blue-eyed king radiated life from his light, muscular body, somber though he was.

Time seemed to stretch into a continuum of painful stillness. The tension mounted as the woodland king reached his hand up. Thranduil slowly pulled his loose robes about him, and tucked the wayward edges securely in around his waist, concealing the bared chest and bandages lining the muscles that rippled beneath. The dark-haired entourage watched with apprehension akin to alarm.

The king brought his hand upward again and, with agonizing slowness, touched his heart, bowing his head deeply. Bright golden hair streamed over broad shoulders, absorbing the soft caresses of the sun. A clear tenor voice vibrated solemnly among the hushed trees.

"Hail Elrond, Lord of Imradris."

The quiet voice ricocheted off of the silent trees, ringing in a lasting echo. The rich baritone of the dark-haired elf vibrated in return, tendering the breaking tension in its gentle embrace.

"Hail Thranduil, King of Mirkwood."

The two elves lifted their gazes. Rich dark eyes met pale blue ones.

A symphony of relieved sighs could be heard as elves from both parties released the breaths they had been holding. The elves broke into a stir, voices murmuring and feet scuffling as they intermixed in relief and apprehensive interest. Gandalf smiled to himself, and arched an eyebrow when Elrond shot him a glance and made a slight bow. The lord of Rivendell turned back to Thranduil as the king took him by the arm to lead the way.

"Well met, Elrond. It has been long." The icy blue eyes that had stung so ferociously with hate many centuries ago shimmered in the soft glow of the sun. His voice was low and tranquil. "You are most welcome in the Woodland Realm."

Pale lips murmured fevered whispers as gentle hands caressed a damp forehead. Elrond shifted, pulling up the rich sleeves of his robe. Thranduil and Gandalf stood by the door, watching the lore master's ministrations with apprehension. The wizard's worn hand rested comfortingly on the father's shoulder.

When Elrond raised his head at last, Thranduil crossed the space between them hastily. "Can you heal him?"

Elrond creased his brows, and continued to stroke the trembling child's forehead. "He is already healed, Thranduil. Your healer has done her part well."

The king's jaw clenched. Gandalf closed his eyes with an inaudible groan, lifting a hand to massage his temple. He remembered well how conversation took form last time the two lords exchanged words. He sighed, and prepared himself for an impatient outburst from the son of Oropher.

He looked up, surprised, when it did not come.

Thranduil stood still, gaze locked on his elfling, as Elrond looked up at him with calm eyes. "Ethelia said his heart is suffering," he said quietly, voice tight with strained emotion. Elrond nodded.

"His heart suffers, yes. But he does not wish to bare it to any other." He glanced back down at the elfling, and returned his gaze to the king. "Will you sit, Thranduil?"

The king slowly took a seat beside the dark-haired elven lord. Gandalf leaned against the door and crossed his arms. This was beginning to look...interesting. Perhaps fatherhood had matured Thranduil a bit.

Elrond watched the king's profile as Thranduil stared at Legolas. The king's hands clenched painfully at his hanging robe.

Thranduil swallowed. He was a king who could defend his kingdom against the onslaught of evil, and yet...As a father I can do nothing.

His eyes were choked with a wild array of emotion as he sat helplessly at his child's bedside. A wan hand slowly reached out to touch a limp one belonging to the lifeless body of the elfling.

"I have called for him to return to the light, but he does not answer." The dark-haired lord was speaking slowly, thoughtfully. Gandalf pulled uneasily at his beard. He knew how powerful Elrond's summons were to the ailing; something had to be troubling the elfling deeply.

"His heart has been heavy," continued Elrond. "It looks as though it has been greatly lifted as of late. I presume it is your doing, Mithrandir?" he glanced back at the wizard. Thranduil looked back at Gandalf in surprise. Gandalf coughed a bit uncomfortably, and waved his hand.

"Just a talk."

Genuine gratitude filled the father's eyes as he regarded the wizard in silence. When Gandalf began to pull on his beard with increased haste, he turned back to the elfling.

"If his burden was lifted, why does he suffer so?"

Elrond narrowed his eyes contemplatively, stroking the creased brows of the elfling. He did not answer. The question lingered in the air, haunting the fearful father with a torturous echo.

Finally, the lord of Rivendell turned to look at Thranduil. His stern gaze was resolute.

"I know it is not my place." His words were measured, deliberate. "But I must know the circumstances surrounding his mother's death. He calls for her."

Thranduil's face paled.

A tense silence settled in the chamber as the king remained still. Time seemed to have frozen for the king. His unseeing eyes were pale and blank, his mind reeling backwards – reaching into the forbidden recesses of time which could not return.

Gandalf watched in alarm as the king raised an unsteady arm. Shielding his eyes with his hand, Thranduil lowered his head – trembling with an unreadable chill that haunted his heart. His body swayed unsteadily.

Elrond's steady gaze bore into his. Velvet warmth underlined the steel that glowed within the depths of his orbs. "Tell me, Thranduil." Turning away from the elfling, he reached out and gently grasped the king's pale hand. "Tell me what happened that day."

To Be Continued

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