To Vanquish Demons
Chapter 9: To Vanquish Demons
The healer was pacing madly.
Before her eyes loomed the great door of fine dark wood, the door to the healing chamber – her own healing chamber. And yet she dared not enter.
She stopped, and with steely determination, raised her hand to knock on the door. But the hand dropped hesitantly, and she began to pace again. Stopping once more, she sighed in frustration, running her fingers through her hair. She groaned as her fingers effectively entangled themselves in a neat braid.
"What an unexpected predicament. Does the healer need a hairbrush?"
She jolted at the amused tone of a light masculine voice, and quickly spun to face a tall warrior clad in armor. She opened her mouth to admonish the youth for startling her when she spotted a trickle of blood lining his arm. A healer's instinct taking over, she frowned in concern.
"You must go to a healer, young one. There are many other chambers down the hallway. Show your arm to any one of the healers – they are not occupied."
The warrior cocked his head, allowing a melancholic smile. "I am older than you."
The healer frowned deeper and placed her hands upon her hips indignantly. "It matters not. Listen to what a healer tells you."
"So tell me." The elf looked toward the dark door. "How is the prince?" His voice was solemn.
The healer fell silent. The warrior turned back at her with a questioning look. She shook her head and dropped her gaze dejectedly unto the floor. With a thump, she slouched against the heavy door and leaned her forehead. Her eyes closed sadly.
"I hesitate to enter through my own chamber doors," she whispered.
The warrior nodded, eyes softening with understanding. With gentle fingers he pried the healer off of the door, and raised his hand to knock curtly.
The healer watched, biting her lip nervously, as they waited in silence.
After what seemed like an eternity, a low voice answered. "Enter."
The male elf cleared his throat as he opened the door. The healer peeped in from behind his back, hastily smoothing her hair. The king was seated beside the bed, hands clasped upon his knees. His strong and commanding figure was hunched over, eyes closed and forehead resting against his hands. The elfing lay motionless still. Life seemed to have drained from both father and son. The healer swallowed hard.
Thranduil opened his eyes and slowly raised his head. His gaze was yet vacant.
The warrior stood upright, his eyes stubbornly rooted on the wall. "The enemies continue their attack, shielded by fog. We believe they aim for the castle. Their numbers do not wane."
The king let out an inaudible sigh. His forehead leaned heavily against his clasped hands, unfocused gaze hovering on the wall. "Injuries?" he inquired quietly.
"Two injured, including myself," answered the elf. "They are minor injuries. The other one is already at the healing chamber."
The king finally turned his head and sat upright, tired gaze sweeping over the two elves. The warrior saw the king looking up at him wearily, and quickly dropped to one knee, bowing his head. Thranduil silently watched as the healer hurriedly knelt down as well. His voice was low.
"How is the forefront?"
"They are relentless, my lord." The warrior's voice was grim. "We had driven them back overnight, but now our forces are being pushed back. We are making full use of our hunting army, and yet we will soon be forced to retreat to the havens."
The king was silent. The warrior waited.
Finally, Thranduil sighed again and turned his head back toward the elfling lying next to him. His gaze lingered on the pale, motionless face. The small shoulder wrapped in white bandage, the cuts and bruises all over the small body. The limp fingers. The king turned back to the sentinel.
"I will not permit any move that may result in casualties."
The two elves before the king froze, eyes growing wide. The king was a fearless warrior, a charismatic leader. He had never spoken thus – especially when it concerned battling in the face of danger. All of Mirkwood knew well the price that came with fighting to survive and protect.
Thranduil, however, seemed set in his decision. "Continue with bows; do not get down onto the forest floor. All evil that cross the threshold will be eliminated, but do not attempt to charge at them with swords. Driving them out only promises another day of danger." He glanced out the window. The sunlight was fading. The whole realm was wrapped in thick silver fog.
"Tell the commander that I will join once he wakes." He returned his gaze to his prone child. The warrior bowed deeper.
"We miss not your presence in battle during such times, my lord," he stated softly. "We beg you to stay with the prince."
The king simply nodded, pursing his lips. The elven warrior rose and, with a curt bow, left.
The healer remained where she was, mind racing with panic. What now?
The king turned to her. He motioned her to come closer. She nervously approached the prince. She was never one to be uneasy, but it shook her to see a patient over whom she had no control. Seeing the child lying so helplessly before her was driving her mad. Was she not a healer?
"What is it that ails him?" The king's voice was ever quiet. The healer swallowed, and took a seat beside the prince, the king watching her profile intently. She reached out a slender hand and gently placed it over the prince's heart.
"His heart suffers, my liege."
The king's gaze lingered hauntingly over his elfling's fair face.
The healer slightly shifted her position, the sleeves of her robe rustling against the thin blanket as she bent over the elfling and placed one hand on his forehead, the other hand remaining atop his chest. She closed her eyes. An inaudible sigh escaped her lips; she had hoped that she would not have to do this, but it seemed that she had waited enough. She began to whisper an incantation, lips moving quietly as pale light began to emanate from her hands.
The healer's song...
Legolas flinched. The healer insistently pressed his chest, brows furrowing in concentration, as she continued her whisper. The king watched on warily.
You did so love this silent melody well, dear little prince.
Her lean fingers began to move delicately atop his pale garment, soothingly stroking his form. The incantation flowed around her like a soothing melody, as the pale light enveloped her entire body. Extending to the elfling.
Hear me, Legolas...
The elfling trembled. Thranduil's eyes were alert. The healer's brows creased further.
Open the gates, young one...awaken.
A spasm from the small body jolted Thranduil. The healer halted her chant, eyes fluttering open. In a flash, the ethereal light was gone. She leaned forward and studied the frowning elfling with concern.
Thranduil watched in alarm as his child lay trembling. He did not know whether to be glad that Legolas was no longer motionless, or to be worried that he looked as if in pain. The king turned a questioning look to the healer. She sighed and hung her head morosely.
"He will not let me enter."
The king bit excruciatingly deep into his lip.
Gandalf sat on the windowsill of his room, smoking a pipe lazily as he looked out into the morning. Even the thick blanket of fog could not hide the evils that permeated from the lands surrounding the havens protected by Thranduil. The wizard sighed and closed his eyes. It had been a long night, but his nerves had been too excited to sleep.
The wizard shuddered as the memories came back to him. He shook his head to clear his thoughts; he did not want to ever relive that horror again. The danger he faced with the elfling was one thing. But the desperate pursuit, the voices, the bloody trails...no, it was too much. The terror of finding four bodies lying together in a heap of blood was one he would especially prefer to forget. The scene screamed loud and clear; all creatures were unconscious save the lifeless spider, and the elfling lay just behind his father, whose position clearly told of his defiant struggle to the last waking moment. The sword, lodged deep within the monster that lay touching the elf, gave further testimony to that.
After that initial terror and shock, everything was a blur. The elven warriors dispatched the unconscious orc swiftly, and the party hurried back to the castle in desperate haste. The king had to be pulled away from the spider sting that was still embedded in his abdomen, and the elven prince had lost too much blood already. Life was hanging on by a thread.
The wizard blew out a smoke ring.
All was well, and the dangers were over. At least, some of them were.
But Gandalf knew better. He could hear the growing restlessness within the palace. The Mirkwood elves lived with danger, and battling spiders and orcs was a daily affair, something that was handled without breaking the cool readiness of the court. There should not have been so much commotion; the enemy was obviously attacking with a very lofty goal. The wizard sighed.
"I hope I am not intruding."
A quiet voice broke him out of his reverie. The wizard turned, and choked on the smoke when he saw Thranduil standing at the doorway. He swung his feet down and hastily stood on the floor. "Come in, Thranduil," he coughed, with an excessive wave of his hand. Then he noticed the pipe in his own hand, and quickly moved to the table to put it down. Then he hurried to the windowsill again, remembering only then to open the window. He had never expected an elf to show up in his smoke-filled room.
Thranduil entered slowly while the wizard scurried about in a fuss, and closed the door with measured silence. His eyes were calm, the icy blue crystals of his eyes trapping the crashing waves of emotion that swirled within.
"I am going out to the forefront."
The wizard's fingers froze in midair. A cool breeze blew in through the half-opened window.
Gandalf turned slowly, eyes glittering. "Are you mad, Oropherion?" he whispered. He looked pointedly at the elf's torso; he could make out the white bandages underneath the loosely hanging robe. Thranduil did not flinch.
"The orcs keep coming. They plan to seize the castle." The voice was cool and measured. Gandalf wondered what had overcome his usually hot-headed friend. He shook his head, and continued to stare, speechless.
Thranduil steadily held the wizard's questioning gaze. "They want a war to end it all. I will give them war." The quiet air in the room rang with steely determination underlying the serene tone. "A war they will not forget – for a very long time."
The blue silence of the room prompted a shiver. Gandalf sighed, letting out a breath he did not realize he had been holding. He then coughed out some more smoke, shaking his head with a sad chuckle. This was the Thranduil he knew. The fiery young lad in the king had not died.
"But must it be now, my friend?" The wizard approached the king, the half-opened window forgotten, and clasped the elf's shoulder. His eyes were soft with concern. "I understand how you feel. But you are unwell. Your child is not yet healed. Perhaps after a day or two of rest..."
"Legolas is in good hands. My battle lies elsewhere." Ever calm, the king glanced out the window. The blue fog had completely turned into misty white, encasing the woodland realm in a beautiful and deadly embrace.
The wizard sighed. "Don't be foolish, Thranduil. Your child needs you now."
The king's eyes snapped back to Gandalf, and a phantom of a smile fleeted past pale lips. "My people need me." He gently touched Gandalf's arm. "I am their king."
Frustration choked the wizard as he huffed and coughed out a breath that smelled of pipeweed. "You are a father too, Thranduil," he exclaimed impatiently.
The king's eyes flashed momentarily, but before the wizard could discern the emotion in them, the light was gone. The elf studied Gandalf in silence. The wizard saw that he was not going to speak in response.
Gandalf crossed his arms, a frown creasing his forehead. "Tell me. This isn't just about the orcs now, is it?"
Thranduil remained silent as the wizard probed his eyes for an answer he was so sure of. The king slowly looked away, gaze resting on the obscured world outside the window. His voice was barely above a whisper. "I will not deny what you say. But it is not only about her."
"I know it is more than revenge," rejoined the wizard, moving to block Thranduil's view and looking straight into his eyes. "But wait a few days. Keep them at bay. You must think about Legolas."
"Aye, Mithrandir. That is why I must go." The king tilted his head, a wistful smile tugging at his lips. The wizard watched intently, briefly wondering at the amazing semblance between father and son. "I cannot help him here. My little babe fights for life as we speak. I must go forth to face my own battles."
The wizard sighed. He slowly shook his head, and stepped back. "Stubborn Oropherion," he grumbled.
The king smiled slightly at the accusatory glare. "There must be an end to this. The time is right."
"Are you sure it is?" The wizard's tone was doubtful. Thranduil slowly raised his hand and traced the wounds in his abdomen absentmindedly, eyes deepening with a faraway look.
"Legolas has seen enough deaths." His fingers lazily trailed down to the outlines of the sword strapped around his loose garb. A distant smile graced his fair features as his eyes softened. "I wish him to smile when he wakes."
The morning was hushed in a strange chill. The wizard swallowed. The king suddenly lifted his gaze, breaking out of his dream-like expression. The resolute gleam in the steel orbs had returned. He faced the wizard once more.
"I will end this today. He shall see no more bloodshed, not of his own kind. Not whilst under my protection – never again."
The wizard narrowed his eyes and scrutinized the elf. His disapproving gaze did not last, however; he sighed, and crossed the distance between them. His gray eyes were soft as he clasped the elf's shoulder. "I understand," he whispered. "I will watch over him."
Thranduil smiled more visibly this time, albeit a bit sadly. "Thank you, Mithrandir."
The wizard's gray eyes probed into the elf's younger ones for a lasting moment. His hands squeezed his shoulder painfully. "May you drive away your demons once and for all, my friend."
A ghostly smile flicked across thin lips. Then the figure turned swiftly. Leaving behind a cold breeze, the king was gone.
To Be Continued