I Shall Never Leave You
Chapter 16: I Shall Never Leave You
After Thranduil returned from a brief conversation with an advisor, he found Elrond and Gandalf alone in the quiet feast hall. The remnants of the festivities had been completely cleaned out, leaving the lord and wizard at a small round table amidst the expanse of carpeted floor. Elrond was leaning back in his chair, looking quite at ease, while the wizard was leaning forward on the table with a chuckle. The king tilted his head in inquiry. Gandalf waved his hand.
"Come sit, Thranduil. I was recounting the recent perils your kingdom had gone through."
The king strode toward them readily and seated himself at the table. Elrond said nothing, but with a lingering smile playing upon his lips, lowered his lids and pushed a golden goblet toward the newly-joined companion. Thranduil nodded graciously and lifted his arm, pulling out a dark wine bottle from within the folds of his sleeve. Gandalf' eyes brightened.
"Ah, finally!" he exclaimed. Elrond raised an amused eyebrow.
Smiling, the king proceeded to open the bottle and pour the content into the wizard's goblet. "He has been eying this wine for quite some time," he said to Elrond, tipping up the bottle as the wizard contentedly brought the goblet to his lips. He then raised his eyes and looked at the dark-haired elf. "How does Mirkwood wine suit you, my lord?"
Elrond gave a soft chuckle, watching the dark liquid trickle down as Thranduil served him next. "It is indeed a rarity," he replied, and let his eyes wander to where Thranduil was now pouring into his own goblet. "Stronger than what I expected, but indeed of excellent quality."
"Strong indeed. This elf here is a drinker, if you didn't know it," pitched in the wizard. Thranduil shot him an indignant glance.
"Just because I am more seasoned than certain others-"
"Yes, yes, he calls it 'seasoned.' A fine way to put it, I must say." Gandalf was chuckling humorously. Thranduil snorted as his two companions amused themselves at his expense.
Elrond took a sip of the wine, and was taken aback by the spark it ignited in his senses. It had been long since he last tasted wine such as this. Even then, it was not quite as strong – Oropher was apparently more concerned about the taste buds of 'unseasoned' elves than was his son. He was broken out of his daze when he vaguely heard Thranduil ask Gandalf about their subject of discussion before the king arrived.
"As I was saying," Gandalf was chuckling lazily – Elrond suspected it was due to the wine – as he waved his hand toward the lore master. "It was most definitely the first time that rune was used. Usually the land of the havens keep out the darkness on its own, but the magic had fallen silent when this foolish elf fell." Thranduil shot another indignant glance at the wizard.
Elrond nodded, his smile becoming somewhat more somber. He eyed the elven king, who was looking down upon his goblet.
Gandalf chugged down more wine, and held out his goblet while Thranduil poured him another filling. "It is a rather dangerous task, to summon and control the dormant magic – while it is controlling you," he commented. He nodded his thanks to the king and raised the goblet once more to his lips. "Lucky that Thranduil succeeded."
Elrond glanced at Thranduil with slight unease. Though Gandalf spoke of it with mirth, the elven lord suspected that this may be a rather tender subject for the king. When the unarmed and desperate queen had called upon the magic five years ago, it had come to her – stretching out of its territory, breaking into the lands seized by the darkness. It had come all right – but it had also cost her life. It was a miracle that Thranduil not only survived the magic but escaped unscathed as well. Perhaps it was largely owing to the fact that the magic reacted against the intrusion of foul forces upon its grounds, rather than being summoned to stretch out, uncontrolled, to unprotected lands. Perhaps it was because Thranduil was physically stronger than the queen had been. Whatever the reason, the magic of the elven realm had saved the prince's life in exchange for the queen's. And it was sure to be a wound to the king's heart.
The dark-haired lord watched with close scrutiny as Thranduil raised his goblet to his lips. Surprisingly, the king seemed at ease; eyes sparkling with the usual vigor, he held a slight smile as he held out the bottle to pour more wine for Elrond.
"Aye," said the king, reaching across the table to refill the goblet, "I must say it was quite fortunate – very risky, but fortunate – that all the orcs were within the haven grounds. They were all swept away, every one." He glanced up at Elrond, flashing a rogue smile. Elrond unconsciously held his breath when the sparkling eyes looked into his. Then they turned away, toward the wizard. "And fortunate indeed that Lord Elrond appeared there and then, and destroyed the remainder of the orcs. Our warriors took a heavy blow, but Dol Guldur did also. I do believe they will need sufficient time to recover their numbers, and by then, we will be ready." He poured another goblet-full of wine to the wizard. "And we will now be able to make the preemptive attacks."
Gandalf, lounging back in his chair, chuckled. "Next time you get attacked by orcs," he said merrily, holding up his goblet, "Be sure to lure them all into your havens! Then you can blast them all away again." The king glowered and the wizard burst into laughter. Elrond smirked.
All was well. Relief washed up to the listless sands of his mind, the cool waves lapping gently upon the prickling heat. Thranduil sat before Elrond, eyes twinkling with the same brightness he had held when they first met. The account of how he had battled the sea of orcs was enough to conjure the nightmares he had fought against; and now, having summoned and controlled the force that had taken his wife away, the king once again held the aura of bright fire, cool and shimmering with life. The lore master smiled. Perhaps Gandalf was right. The king had defeated his demons.
Gandalf turned toward Elrond, a mischievous glint in his eyes. The elven lord instinctively drew back, a familiar apprehension setting in his stomach.
"That was a rather striking alignment of circumstances, my friend," Gandalf pointed out, raising his eyebrows meaningfully. Elrond swallowed, and glanced at Thranduil. The king was watching him curiously. Elrond stared up at the ceiling. They had rather exquisite decorations. On second thought, they were marvelously exquisite. It would do well to remember those elegant patterns and describe them to his architects. Perhaps he would bring some of them here, next time he chanced to visit. Perhaps...
"Well?" The wizard's voice was full of mirth. "Did you foresee this attack?"
With a defeated sigh, Elrond raised his goblet and allowed the sweet taste to overwhelm his senses once again. He then lifted his eyelids, scanning the relaxed gaze of the wizard and the intent stare of the king, before slowly opening his mouth to speak.
"Aye, I saw a vision – blurry it was, covered with mist – and saw the orcs besieging the castle." Lowering the goblet, he swirled the wine gracefully with slow movements of his fingers. Eyes riveted upon the churning liquid, he slowly continued. "I was hesitant...no, truth be told, I may have been afraid, through the years. Thranduil had been willing to come to my realm, but I was unable to cross the gulf between us after the tragedy struck."
Silence. Elrond closed his eyes. There was nothing more to hide. The old feuds were laid to rest, and the king had bared himself before him – all was to be reconciled again. Late was the hour, he knew – but fears and pride had to be put aside. It was already five years too late.
"It was...not forgotten, Thranduil. It was...consciously...delayed." He looked up, and met Thranduil's eyes. He looked down at his wine again, and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes. "Perhaps I had been afraid of facing Thranduil's sorrow, in fear that it would reawaken my own grief." His voice was quiet.
Gandalf's grays eyes turned sympathetic as he listened. It was unusual to hear such words from the lord of Rivendell. Elrond rarely talked of his lost wife, or his sorrows. And certainly not his fears. The wizard smiled with slight amusement as he observed the elven lord searching for words. Could it be that similar losses had forged a common ground between these two, and Valar forbid, even something akin to friendship?
Elrond looked up again, at last with determined light in his bold gaze, as he met Thranduil's eyes. The king stared back with equal intensity. The quiet hall was enveloped in warmth. No more ghosts of the past. No more fear, no more nightmares. Elrond could hear the hush of the hall as he breathed out his resolve. "No more. It is long past time."
The hall fell into quietude. The king regarded the dark-haired elf silently, head resting comfortably upon the palm of a propped up elbow. His entire upper body leaned heavily on the table, sprawled out carelessly; he appeared to be relaxed at the edge of drunkenness. But the lore master knew that this was far from truth. Bright blue eyes steadily watched him, a pool of fleeting emotions that were impossible to read. Elrond stared back. At last, Thranduil released a small smile; lowering his eyelids, he brought his goblet to his lips. The dark-haired elf smiled to himself and relaxed.
It was not much later that Gandalf stood to announce that he would retire for the night. His steps were heavy and slightly tipsy, allowing sweet intoxication to guide the way. The two elven lords watched him leave with amusement, and turned toward their wine again. The wizard's unsteady footsteps died in an echo, followed by quick elven footsteps hurrying to guide him to his chamber, and a tranquil silence settled in the hall.
Thranduil touched his goblet, tracing its golden outline with his fingers. Elrond noted with wonder that the strength of the wine, whose pleasant sensations were beginning to take an effect on him, did not seem to faze the king at all. Well seasoned, indeed.
"Forgive my belatedness," said Thranduil in a low voice, looking down at his wine thoughtfully. Then he raised his gaze, looking at Elrond with serene eyes. "How fares Imladris? And your children?"
Elrond smiled involuntarily at the mention of his children. The love and pride he held for them seeped out through mere reminiscences, despite the great distance that separated them. He could see their bright eyes, hear their merry laughter. He looked down at his wine, allowing the smile to spread unchecked. There was no more dignity to be upheld between the two now.
"Elladan and Elrohir joined the border patrols recently," he said, taking on a distant look as he smiled broader. Recalling fond memories, Thranduil supposed. He watched as a peaceful stirring roused his heart, engulfing him in warmth. Something akin to sunshine. It was frighteningly overwhelming, and yet vaguely familiar. Perhaps this was something he had left behind that day, five years ago. The pieces were coming back in place. Perhaps happiness could return.
Elrond turned to smile at Thranduil. "You must have your child meet my daughter. Arwen is about the same age as he – I wager they will grow to be like siblings."
The king answered with a smile, a crystal blue twinkle in his eyes. Elrond let out a soft chuckle.
"Arwen does not remember her mother at all – dear child – but I do believe it did spare her much grief." He sipped slowly from his goblet. "You have a very strong soul in your son, Thranduil. You must be very proud."
The king broke into a soft, breathy laugh, turning his eyes away to gaze down at his wine. "Aye," he answered distractedly, a smile lingering on his face. "I do wish I could erase the memories from his sweet and innocent mind, but I know he will defeat his grief."
Elrond nodded, and suddenly raised his head to stare at the great doors of the hall. The king also snapped to attention and focused on the doorway.
A door opened ever so slightly, and a pair of large round eyes peeped in through the crack. The two elven lords broke into smiles.
Elrond nodded a greeting toward the elfling, who was glancing at him and shyly edging into the room. Tiny bare feet could be seen scuffling under the flowing fabric of the long bed wear. Locks of gold tumbled freely down his shoulders. He was tentatively glancing at both elven lords seated upon the table, and then at the wine, as he inched forward.
Smiling, Thranduil opened up his arms. The elfling scuttled across the scarlet floor and scrambled up onto his father's lap, now glancing at Elrond and the wine with unmasked curiosity. Elrond chuckled.
"Would you like a sip, little one?"
The horrified reproach of the king jolted the elfling and sent the elven lord into a peal of laughter. Thranduil tightened his hold on the elfling, and scowled at Elrond. The dark-haired elf smirked.
"I heard you wanted your child to be seasoned, Thranduil?"
Thranduil snorted. "I see you have been speaking to Gandalf." He looked down at his elfling, who was staring up with wide, curious eyes. "I keep a separate book of speech between you two for a reason. He is too young to be anywhere near wine." He tapped the elfling's nose and sent the child into a giggle.
Elrond smirked broader. Ah, fathers.
Legolas clung onto his father's arm and tugged at the long sleeve. "Ada," he whispered, "you promised."
Thranduil withdrew his scowl from Elrond and quickly faced his elfling. "Ah, yes, of course. I did not forget."
Before Thranduil could turn an apologetic look toward his direction, Elrond rose gracefully from his seat. "I shall retire for the night. My humble thanks for sharing with me such a wondrous feast." He bowed slightly, and smiled when he saw the elfing bob his head in his direction.
Gathering the child into his arms, Thranduil gratefully returned the gesture of respect. "May your night be restful," said the king, his expression deepening into a placid smile.
Then the two parted ways, yielding to the peaceful silence of the night.
Legolas blinked drowsily as the king placed him on the bed. Thranduil sat down beside the elfling and began to smoothen out the blankets spread over the small body.
"Are you not tired, little Greenleaf?" asked the king gently, smiling as his child yawned. Legolas shook his head.
"You said you'd tell me more about cowardice."
Thranduil reached out and stroked his elfling's forehead thoughtfully. Shifting to make himself more comfortable, he looked out into the night. The frogs were croaking. He could see shadows of trees tapping gently against the window.
"Cowardice, Legolas," he said quietly, "is when you allow yourself to be defeated by fear."
The elfling looked up with a frown. "But you said there is no shame in fear."
"That is true." The king smiled down upon his son. "The only shame is to give in to it, to turn from those who need you, and desert them in the hour of need." He lifted his gaze, a faraway look settling into his eyes. "There was a time when all brethren of Arda stood side by side, when great respect and honor bound the children of the land...but much of the valor and comradeship is now lost, only preserved in songs."
Quiet trickling of silver waters could be heard in the distance as silence settled into the darkness. The elfling tipped his head inquisitively, pouting his lips and creasing his face into a frown. Thranduil bit back a chuckle and continued to stroke his hair. Somewhere in the night, bell crickets were beginning to tune their breathy orchestra.
At length, the elfling looked up again. "But why do you always fight in the forefront, Ada? There are none but our people here." He was trying to solve a great puzzle, something his mind could not quite figure out. He looked utterly confused.
"Because, Legolas," answered Thranduil as he fingered his child's hair, "I am king."
The elfling looked up in surprise. He blinked. "Is that why you must fight?"
Thranduil nodded. "A king must fight at the very front to protect his people – he must play his part, in war as well as peace." He paused for a moment. "To lead the people into war and then order others to ride to the front – that is a cowardly and shameful act, a spreading practice among men and dwarves."
The king was taken by surprise when his elfling suddenly sat upright. Legolas stared up at him, eyes round with terror. "Then I don't want you to be king." The young voice was alarmed.
At this, the king let out a soft laugh. He looked down at the unhappy face of his elfling, and took the round cheeks in between his hands. "And why not, little Greenleaf?"
Legolas pushed the hands away in annoyance. "What if you get hurt?" The clear blue eyes became glazed with tears. "What if they take you away, like Nana?" His lips trembled as large eyes drooped mournfully. "I don't want you to go away, too."
Thranduil quickly bent down to embrace his shaking child. "Hush, little one, hush. I am not going anywhere." Legs crossed and arms gently wrapped around the elfling, he idly rocked the small body side to side. A helpless smile hovered over the king's fair face as the child's body trembled, a soft, muffled sob seeping out from the folds of his robe. Grief had sown terror in his young mind. Thranduil soothingly stroked the warm head as the child's sobs died down against his chest.
When the elfling was once again quiet, Thranduil pulled back slightly to examine his son's face and wipe the tears away. He smiled reassuringly at the teary-eyed child. "That is why a king must be the mightiest warrior among his people, Legolas, so that he will not fall."
The elfling looked up in surprise. He blinked, the wet eyelashes setting a glaze to shining eyes. "Are you the mightiest warrior in Mirkwood, Ada?" He sniffled absentmindedly. Such a concept was hardly fathomable for his young mind.
Chuckling, the king tousled the child's hair. "Believe it."
Legolas let out a sigh of relief. Thranduil bit back a smile and patted his cheek. "Time for you to sleep, my little leafling." He shifted his position, leaning forward to tuck in the wayward edges of the blankets atop the child. When he raised his body, he nearly fell forward, due to a certain small fist that curled around the folds of his robes. Round eyes stared up at him anxiously.
With a soft laugh, the king reached down to pat the child's tense wrist. "Rest, Legolas. I will not go anywhere until you sleep."
A breath of relief escaped the elfling's lips. Legolas released the robe, and grinned mischievously. His eyes sparkled with delight. "Then I shall stay awake all night."
Thranduil chuckled. "I doubt that, little one. Now close your eyes, and I will sing to you."
Legolas' eyes widened. "You'll sing me to sleep?" His voice was excited. "Like Nana used to?"
Gentle fingers caressed a small chin. "Yes...just like Nana." The king smiled.
Pulling the blankets closer about himself, Legolas squirmed back against his bedding, shutting his eyes tight. Smiling to himself, Thranduil looked out the window. His eyes absorbed the velvet sky, the tranquil darkness caressing the depths of the orbs. His voice slowly began to release the forgotten melody of old.
It was an ancient song. A soothing melody, words of comfort and love whispered in Quenya, the language of the peaceful, golden days. The gentle melody that his beloved would whisper to him in the darkened woods – the sweet, golden music that she would sing to her sleeping babe. The soft tenor rose up to the darkened sky, dancing among the twinkling stars.
When Thranduil had finished, he looked down in mild surprise to find his elfling snuggled close to his side. Shuffling among the fluffy blankets, the elfling wrapped his plump arms tightly around his father's waist, eyes shut and head buried on his father's lap.
"Don't ever leave me, Ada." The murmur was soft, muffled. "I promise I'll be a good elfling."
Thranduil's eyes hazed. He reached out to tenderly finger the strands of hair scattered on his lap.When the war is over, father, we shall return home together.He closed his eyes. Oropher never did give him an answer. He simply smiled at his son's youthful confidence, and advised him not to be ruled by emotion in the battlefield. He had clasped his shoulder and gazed long into his eyes – and never made a promise to return to him alive.
"Yes, Legolas, I know you will." He opened his eyes and looked down at his elfling, a phantom of a smile crossing his face. Delicate fingers stroked the warm head, and long tresses of gold slowly bent forward to spill onto the child's soft hair. Shadowed in the sanctuary of golden screen, the king closed his eyes – and opened them again slowly, hazy pools of soft blue beginning to crystallize under lowered lashes. His lips parted from the elfling's golden head and breathed a gentle whisper. "Fear not, little Greenleaf. I shall never leave you."
To be Continued