Gathering Broken Shards
Chapter 15: Gathering Broken Shards
Upon entering the quiet healing chamber, Gandalf stopped to allow his eyes to adjust to the light filling the room. Sitting in the hazy sunlight spilling in through the window was the hunched figure of the king, watching over his slumbering elfling. The sun caressed golden hair with gentle warmth, casting shimmering reflections about the room. A blissful peace enveloped the quiet chamber. The wizard may have mistaken the father and son as a pair of exquisite sculptures, had the elfling's small chest not been rising and falling rhythmically.
The wizard stood still, watching the two elves bathed in golden light. The peaceful hush of the room resonated in a silent hum, a phantasmagoric melody of yore that gently haunted the air.
Thranduil slowly raised his head. His eyes were soft, gaze lucidly floating on the wall. Dark lashes hovered halfway over hazy blue pools, entwining with the golden shards of the sun and casting a dancing prism of light upon his eyes. His hands hung limply over his knees.
"I had forgotten," said the elf quietly, turning his head to watch the small life breathing beside him. The chest rose in minuscule movements; the pale face was still, but the warmth of the fragile body glowed faintly with the returning song of life. Thranduil's gaze lingered over his elfling in silence.
The king turned his eyes toward the wizard. His eyes had never before looked so ageless, so silver deep. Gandalf returned the ancient gaze soothingly.
"I had forgotten how to laugh, and to sing – and had passed the grief to my child."
A pale hand caressed soft baby hair ever so gently, hovering over the face with utmost tenderness. Thranduil's eyes were watching his elfling's face once again.
"Perhaps I had been afraid."
Gandalf remained still as the king brushed his fingers over the small body reverently. Thranduil's broad back was tired, alone – and yet an air of steady strength remained about him, gently wrapped in the silent golden hum.
The king bent down, eyes closing as he brought his ear close to the child's beating heart. His fingers brushed lightly over porcelain skin.
"I had been afraid to face the sorrow of his heart – so immersed was I in my own grief."
He slowly raised his eyes, meeting those of the wizard. He rose, and made his way toward the gray-clad Istar. His voice was a whisper.
"You were right, Gandalf. Father though I was, I feared stepping forth to cross the distance between us."
Gentle dances of dust particles could be seen in the air as golden fog trickled in about the room. Swirling lazily, dreamily – the specks of memory continued their never-ending dance, embraced by the furry caresses of the sun. Thranduil's eyes glimmered softly as they became lost in the warmth.
The somber quietude was gently broken by the wizard's smile. Gandalf reached out and clasped the elf's shoulder. Thranduil bowed his head gratefully.
"You are a good father, Thranduil," whispered the wizard.
Mirkwood was bustling with commotion. Walking alone through the halls at a leisurely pace, Elrond took in the liveliness around him with bemusement. King Thranduil had insisted on holding a feast for the entourage from Rivendell, as it had already been delayed by the efforts to recover from the catastrophes caused by the orc invasion. Elrond had graciously declined the offer, but Thranduil was not one to be wavered easily. After all, he had said, looking at him directly in the eye – those bright blue eyes were quite unnerving when they pierced at one with such steadfastness – other ceremonies will be held in concurrence with the feast. There had been many young elves who had proven themselves worthy in the recent battle to defend their home, and a large number had been selected to let down their childhood braid. And of course, Elrond could not refute that point.
Wandering toward the healing ward, Elrond found himself wondering about that elfling of Thranduil's. Such a precious little jewel, that child was. And so young...
The lord of Rivendell sank into deep thought, recalling the first time his own children had first let down their hair. It was quite some time ago, but even then, they were older – considerably older, in fact – than this son of Thranduil. Perhaps it was largely due to the fact that Imladris was relatively well protected, and innocent little elflings had no need to pick up a bow and arrow in their hands. Elrond lowered his head. Perhaps therein lay the king's dilemma.Legolas had always fancied healing – until the incident. The king had stared at a chirping bird outside the window as he spoke, seated by his sleeping child. I do not wish him to lose his braid just yet.thought the elven lord, as he strolled slowly past the scurrying elves. Elflings were tender at such an age. Though the prince obviously possessed extraordinary talent inherited from his father, there was no great need to hasten the ceremony with such a young child. Elrond knew well that marking an elfling with a symbol at that age could easily bend a supple young mind to unconscious acceptance and self-identity; such an act could determine the rest of his life, for better or for worse. It was definitely wiser to wait to give the prince his warrior plaits. At least until he had decided for himself what he wanted to be – warrior or healer, or perhaps even a minstrel; he did seem to have quite an aptitude in that field, after all. And judging by Gandalf's remarks about the child, he possessed great talent required of a potential diplomat even. Yes, the child could wait until he was old enough to receive his marks as one able to defend his own home regardless of his social role.
Elrond smiled to himself. Never before had he come across a parent who was distressed about his elfling's achievement, or so disinclined to give him the plaits of a warrior. But he also held sympathy for Thranduil; after all, he had never seen an elfling worthy of the braids at such a young age. What an unusual dilemma this was.
"But he said I killed her."
He stopped in his tracks, senses mildly alert, when he heard a thin voice seeping from a healing chamber. He looked around and saw great dark doors lining the hall in which he was standing. Why was he standing here again? Oh yes, he was back to check on the patients. Though Elrond had been periodically treating the patients in the castle, the elves of Mirkwood had been horror-struck at the thought of being examined by their honored guest and begged him to leave the patients up to the native healers. Thus the lord of Rivendell had been occupied with only the royal father and son. Whose healing chamber, he noted, he was about to enter.
Well, he was about to.
"No, Legolas, you did not kill Nana. Don't you ever believe that."
A firm note underlining the gentle voice halted his train of thoughts. Elrond instinctively strained his ears, but he could not make out the soft murmurs that followed.
"No, little one, there is no shame in fear. There is no shame in pain, or in tears. The only shame lies in cowardice."
There was a moment of silence. Then a young voice queried, "What is cowardice, Ada?"
Elrond stifled a chuckle. Despite what he had been told by Thranduil and Gandalf regarding the elfling, he could find no trace of a shadow in the child. True, a motherless child could be more thoughtful and observant than most other elflings that age – but what could possibly mar this innocent curiosity?
Though mindful of the fact that his present behavior passed as eavesdropping, the lord of Rivendell stood yet before the door, curious as to the king's answer.
"I will tell you after the banquet," came the gentle tenor, ringing softly beyond the wooden doors. "And," added the king's voice, now with a tinge of humor – to Elrond's instinctive sense of dread – "We must let the healer in, to see you one more time before the feast."
When he was met with silence from within the chamber – presumably filled with an elfling's questioning eyes – he had no choice but to assume that Thranduil was awaiting his entrance. Taking a moment to compose himself, Elrond pushed the door open and entered with well-mustered dignity.
He was met with a sight of the king seated on the bed, holding the elfling against his chest with arms draped protectively over the child. The king sent a gracious bow from his entangled position, but Elrond noted with a raise of an eyebrow that a snicker was rather poorly concealed by the mighty King Thranduil.
With a dark glance only noticeable to the king – who indeed pretended not to notice – Elrond knelt down to the elfling's eye level in front of the bed. The young king's amusement at his expense was rather richly compensated by the sight of an awakened elfling, he had to admit. The child's large blue eyes twinkled with a vivacious light that could only be described as the song of the stars, the breath of Arda, the Mandos' fire. The vitality in the eyes was that of his father, though the soft edges of the innocent lids could be traced to the benevolent queen. He smiled kindly at the blinking elfling.
Legolas stared with open curiosity, but whether it was for courtesy's sake or unease at the proximity with an unfamiliar elf – Elrond couldn't tell for sure – he remained snuggled against his father's chest, bobbing his head for a distracted bow.
"Legolas." Thranduil, looking down at the elfling attached to his robes – Valar, who knew Thranduil was capable of such a gentle smile? – nudged his child's round cheek with his finger. "This is Lord Elrond, the one who helped you heal."
Large eyes blinked, and he bowed again, this time a bit more composed. Elrond bowed back, a smile of amusement and affection for the little creature rising from the depths of his heart. Legolas then continued to stare. He turned his gaze to his father, the loose hair falling back as he tipped his head back to gaze up at the king's face hovering high above his own. He was apparently trying to categorize this elf and figure out why he was here. Elrond watched on in silence, curious as to what the elfling's reasoning would be.
"Ada," whispered Legolas, cupping his mouth as Thranduil leaned closer with attention, "is this your friend?"
Elrond, who could well hear the child's whisper, felt his heart skip a beat. The look on Thranduil's face was carefully masked, but nonetheless it declared his loss for words quite clearly. Elrond himself was at a loss. Leave it to an innocent child to probe old wounds and bring great lords to shame. His gaze now lingered on Thranduil, who was contemplating his answer. The vibrant air in the room stilled in quiet apprehension.
Slowly, Thranduil picked up Legolas by the armpits and shifted him onto his lap, pulling him closer against his chest. "Yes," he said, eyes downcast and voice musing, as he stroked the elfling's cheeks. Then he looked up and met Elrond's frozen coal eyes. The king smiled, a hint of youthful light shimmering through the tranquil paternal air. "Yes, Legolas. He is my friend."
The feast was lively, to say the least. Flowers lay scattered about the floor and the walls, and graced the waves of elven hair, dappling their lovely complexions. The soft petals incessantly rained down from the brightly-adorned creatures onto the carpet. Alluring swirls of color bloomed and faded on the crimson floor, as voices soared in enthralling joy.
Elrond watched the dancers in awe. These Mirkwood elves really knew how to enjoy themselves. Perhaps it came with being in constant danger, being always alert and ready for action. Or perhaps they were more acutely aware of the sorrows and joys of the land, being wood elves. He absent-mindedly fingered his goblet of wine.
He had heard the excited whispers in the halls; he knew that this was the first grand feast held since the death of the queen. He did not see Thranduil all day since the healing chamber – but he could feel the heart of the king as acutely as his own. He, too, had breathed the same quiet breath, had closed his eyes in such a way – when he first picked up a mithril circlet after the departure of his own beloved.
Voices rose with elation; smiles and bows were humble yet bursting with joy. Enchanting dances of color and form melted against his eyes with maddening animation and splendor; he could hear the soul of the forest, feel the songs of Arda and the stream of life flowing in the hall and circling the pavilion under the open sky. The children of Arda were singing and dancing their rapture, their sorrows, their gratitude – unconstrained emotion flew out from the pulsating colors and songs, elves losing themselves to euphoria as their beloved king lifted the sorrow from his eyes.
Elrond lowered his lids and sipped from his goblet, listening to the mesmerizing music of the elves as the sweet taste of Mirkwood wine spread pleasantly through his senses. He felt himself relaxing, which was quite uncharacteristic in given circumstances; after all, he was a guest – and a formal one at that – and was drinking strong wine before a king with whom he had had less than pleasant dealings in the past. However, he felt at ease; these people were elves, and respectable ones. The king was not one to be guarded against, for Thranduil, as stubborn and somewhat rash as he could be, held intense distaste for ulterior motives and hidden grudges. If the Mirkwood king held the lord of Imladris in an unfavorable light, all of Mirkwood and Imladris would know it. And one glance at the king told the dark-haired lord all he needed to know.
Elrond turned his attention to the king and prince, who were seated across the table. Thranduil, with one arm loosely encircling his elfling' waist, was watching the festivities with genuine interest, seemingly absorbed in the ecstatic performances. Legolas' large eyes were also riveted on the musicians and dancers before him. The prince was now clad in a light blue tunic, his small hands barely visible from the cavernous sleeves of the garment. The golden halo of hair hung in a single braid down his back. Elrond scanned the large hall, his gaze briefly resting on each of the elves who were newly named capable warriors in the ceremony preceding the feast. The ceremony had possessed grandeur and honor befitting the festivities that followed, and by the time the victuals and celebration began, nearly fifty young elves were solemnly declared new defenders of their home – among them a number of practicing healers and poets. The king himself had bent down to personally loosen the single braid of each elf's hair and craft it into three elaborate plaits. The youngest elf in the kingdom had watched on in curious awe; it was apparent that Thranduil had explained to him – in simple terms, of course – why he did not want his little Greenleaf to be given the mark of a defender yet. So now, the prince was the only elfling in the realm to have proven himself worthy and not been given the warrior plaits.
Oblivious to Elrond's observation, Thranduil turned to reach for his goblet. The two lords' eyes met. In an isolated moment of deafening silence, two pairs of eyes bore into each other with enduring intensity. The brief – but seemingly everlasting – moment ended when Thranduil slightly tilted his head. Holding the lore master's gaze, the king slowly raised the goblet. Elrond also picked up his goblet with a hint of a smile, and solemnly raised it, mirroring the king's gesture.
Fireworks shot up into the night sky, embroidering the velvet darkness and eliciting cries of joy and excitement, as the two elven lords drank to each other in silent salutation.
To Be Continued