When One Must Go
After the War of the Ring, Legolas ventures to the land of Gondor to create an elven realm in the shade of its forests, but first he and his companions must brave peril, grief, and even love... before building Ithilien.
In the previous chapter: Miredhel binds Legolas' shoulder wound at the village of Rilmost. The prince tries to convince the people there that they must evacuate for their own safety, and Farothin finally returns, badly beaten and clinging to life. Miredhel asked if she might escort him to Minas Tirith, but Legolas refused.
Chapter 34: When One Must Go
Outside the sun shone brightly, and the entire day seemed to be fashioned in the praise of joy. The elves at Rilmost had little to rejoice in, however, for one of their youngest had suffered dearly at the hands of the enemy. They had brought him in haste to the nearest building, a tavern called The Black Dragon. The room was dark and cool, faintly lined with shadows born of candle light. Miredhel patiently tended Farothin's wounds. For the moment she was alone with him. Colmaethor had left the tavern to see about building a makeshift stretcher to ease the transportation of the wounded elf.
The longer Miredhel stayed nursing Farothin's many injuries, the more reservations she had about her plan to steal away to Minas Tirith. The adventurous part of her wanted very much to make the trip and face tremendous forms of peril, all of which she would then triumphantly overcome. She saw herself racing through rapids on the Anduin, skillfully guiding her charge to the walls of the white city, where the king himself would praise her bravery. Farothin would be saved, and those who doubted her would be made to see her merit, her true abilities.
She was no young girl. She had watched thousands of summers burn and fade, had felt the sting of winter on her cheek, and had gloried in the rites of spring with the rest of her kind. She had known love and laughter, the simple pleasures of friendship, but had also endured the many trials and hardships bought through countless centuries. Despite all of her long years, this last year seemed to outweigh them all. Grief had become a constant shadow in all her doings. Miredhel had learned to hate, but also to love and with a passion and intensity that was frightening in itself. So many things in her life had come so easily, so freely, but there had been little in the past months that could be considered easy or free. She had witnessed violence and malice inconceivable. She had felt the piercing gleam of a dragon's slick yellow eyes as Anglachur plunged deep into the Anduin. She had escaped death's own grip from black-souled orcs, more than once! She had faced certain doom in the canyons of Emyn Muil, but did not retreat so she might stay with Legolas. Legolas!
The prince did not think she possessed the fortitude to make such a journey to Minas Tirith. He had made himself very clear on the issue:
"You've had Grief and have been given a second chance at life, but you're still so fragile. I see it in your eyes, and I can feel it when I hold you. Now is not the time for 'proving yourself,' Miredhel!"
And as much as his words stung her, a quiet voice inside the maiden told her that the prince was right. Look what had happened to Farothin, and he was so much more skilled than she. It would be sheer folly to take such a risk, leaving the protection of the group, especially when she had been implicitly warned against it.
Miredhel's shoulders sagged, and she braced herself against Farothin's table. When she squeezed her lashes shut, she could see Legolas' blue eyes in her mind as plainly as if he were standing before her, so intense and tender, speaking of his concern for her safety. She could not dishonor his request that she stay with him. She would stay with Farothin until his escort came, and then she would meet Legolas by the gate. It was the sensible thing to do.
Her eyes blurred and knowing she was alone, Miredhel allowed her emotions free reign as she gently clasped Farothin's bruised hand.
"If only I were a warrior and could make them pay for what they've done to you…" she murmured.
A slight cough sounded behind her, and she quickly wiped her eyes and slipped into a blank expression.
"I didn't expect to see you here, Lady Miredhel," a familiar voice drawled. "I though you would be getting ready to leave with the others."
Miredhel turned with a sinking feeling to confirm the speaker's identity—Captain Adrendil. She stifled an inward groan. "And so I shall," she confessed. "The prince gave me leave to stay with Farothin until his escort arrived."
Adrendil's eyes roamed over the battered form. "It seems their villainy has no end," he bitterly concluded. "His injuries are far worse than I had supposed them to be. I shall be glad to help this young elf in his hour of need."
"You?" Miredhel asked in disbelief. "You are his escort? You barely know him!" she accused darkly.
Adrendil nodded, and his eyes glimmered at the indignant lady before him. "Yes, I know," he said carefully, "but from the moment I met Farothin, he accepted me as a friend without a thought to our different backgrounds or what others might say about me."
"Yes, that sounds like Farothin," Miredhel said recklessly. "He would befriend anyone."
"I won't pretend to mistake your meaning, Lady," he slowly replied, and his light brown eyes actually seemed hurt by her remark. "I've few friends with the Galadhrim. Your people's pride would not have it any other way."
Miredhel knew that he spoke of her brother. Eledhel was influential in his opinions. He could easily persuade other elves to think as he did. Adrendil never stood a chance in finding friendship with the other Lorien elves. Where her brother usually was a source of pride, she could only feel shame at the moment. Yes, Captain Adrendil could be obstreperous and annoying at times, but he did not deserve to be made a pariah from the group.
"I am sorry," she said softly. "If it's worth anything to you, Captain, know that you have another Lorien elf who would be your friend."
Adrendil's eyes gleamed at her offer, and he took her hand in goodwill as he smiled to himself. "Thank you, Lady Miredhel. You really are a wonder."
"Not enough of a wonder to help poor Farothin, though," she said sadly, pulling her hand from Adrendil's to brush it across the sick elf's fevered brow.
"Prince Legolas is making the right decision, you must see that," he told her. "The trip alone is far too dangerous for any elleth to consider."
Miredhel swallowed, and her eyes strangely burned. "So I've been told."
"Of course, it would not be nearly so dangerous if you went with a more seasoned warrior, I suppose," Adrendil thought aloud.
"It would not matter," she answered glumly. "The prince is very set against my having any more adventures for a while. And even if he weren't, my brother certainly would never allow me to leave."
The captain pensively nodded. "Yes, they mentioned you when I volunteered."
"Oh, they did, did they?" Miredhel asked rather viciously. "What exactly did they say?"
Yet the captain only shook his head in protest to her request, until Miredhel put her hands on her hips and gave him a very pointed look. "Now, Lady Miredhel," he protested, "you know I cannot tell you. It was not meant for you to hear."
"You are right, I suppose," Miredhel said, her ears burning with the desire to hear their words. She could only imagine, and that was perhaps worse than anything Adrendil could have actually said.
Adrendil calmly placed a hand on her shoulder, and Miredhel eyed it for a moment before searching his light brown eyes with her own. "I am sorry, my lady. I should not have ever mentioned the journey to you in the first place, a deplorable lack of judgement on my part," he said with a sense of deep disappointment in himself.
"No, no. I was thinking of it myself when you entered the tavern," she owned with a sad smile.
"Well, it is a horribly perilous, and you must not go," the captain asserted. His voice was firm, even if his eyes were not.
"I know…" Miredhel reluctantly agreed. She practically felt like she was talking to Legolas again. Was every elf in a plot to keep her from striking out on her own?
Adrendil continued on, pretending not to notice the maiden's indecision. "Besides, some elves would consider it improper for you to venture off into the wilds unescorted, unchaperoned with another elf…with me."
Miredhel scowled, and Adrendil knew that his words were not without effect. "People can never just tend to their own affairs," she said bitterly.
"Ah, but I can think of two elves who would very much consider you part of their affairs—your brother, Prince Legolas. They only want to protect you."
"Sometimes I think I don't believe I want to be protected," Miredhel countered with a toss of her hair.
Adrendil merely smiled at her in a small sort of way, as if she had just made an incredibly foolish comment. "It is a great honor to be singled out by the Prince of Mirkwood," Adrendil said proudly. "He would take prodigious care of you, Lady Miredhel. The house of Oropher has always worshipped their women-folk. Adrendil lifted his heavy golden lids to gaze at her frankly. "Your every need, every desire, would be seen to, and you would never have to face the dreariness of decision-making or have any wretched adventures again. It has always been so, for any Greenleaf elleth."
Miredhel choked back a protest, and then fell silent. She turned away from Adrendil and headed to the door. Halfway there she stopped and looked back at the captain. "Why did Princess Celeril leave Mirkwood? Was she running away?"
Adrendil's eyes glittered. "What do you think, my lady?" He did not wait for her to answer. "All I can offer is speculation as to the princess' motivations. I'm sure if you think long enough, you will reach the same conclusions as I have."
She did not have to think very long. Based on what Captain Adrendil had said it was obvious to her that Celeril had left to escape her father's controlling grasp. When Miredhel reached the tavern door, she turned before leaving. "May the Valar guide your paths," she said quietly to both Adrendil and Farothin, although the latter still slept.
"Farewell, Lady. And don't you dare think about sneaking off to that boat launch and stream on the other side of the village. You belong to…err, with the prince now. No more wild adventures!"
Miredhel nodded curtly and then blew an airy kiss to Farothin as she left the room. Her cheeks burned as each of Adrendil's condescending comments repeated in her mind. Insufferable elf! It was really just too much! He had sounded like a perfect echo of her brother and Legolas. The more she dwelt on his words to her, the more angry she became. Too often had she regretted being left behind, to watch those she loved ride away to adventure and uncertainty.
Adrendil's words riled her more than the elf could have ever imagined…or hoped. Adrendil had spoken proudly of his forest's royal family, but where he felt pride, Mirdhel could only muster resentment. She did not want her relationship with the prince to be the one-sided affair that the captain had described.
She brought one slim hand up to cool her cheeks and wipe her eyes, which peculiarly enough had started watering again, and sank against the tavern wall to collect herself. On the edge of the village, Miredhel glimpsed the people of Rilmost waiting, and at the front of the lines, Legolas astride his horse. As the afternoon sun played across his hair and cheeks, his eyes radiant and proud, he had never before seemed quite so noble. Miredhel momentarily forgot all about the elf who would patiently brush the hair from her eyes and kiss her hand with a mischievous smile. In his place, she could only see this new Legolas, an intimidating leader of men and elves, cool and kingly, descended from the royal House of Oropher. More than anything, the prince looked the very image of Thranduil, and the similarity bothered Miredhel in a way it never had before.
He would take prodigious care of you, Lady Miredhel…Your every need, every desire, would be seen to, and you would never have to face the dreariness of decision-making or have any wretched adventures again. It has always been so, for any Greenleaf elleth…
Adrendil's words taunted her. In Miredhel's defense, she really tried to be fair to the prince. She weighed every single one of her encounters with him against the captain's speech in hopes of vindicating Legolas from Adrendil's claims. When she finished reliving their conversations and quiet moments together, she realized with a sinking heart that Adrendil's account was not without grounds. Legolas did tend to be overbearing and controlling, used to having his way in every particular. While these qualities certainly afford an excellent leader, they are not as welcome in relationships.
The prince had gotten the better of her on a consistent basis. In fact, Miredhel could not think of one instance when they had disagreed, and she had made him see her way of it. This was not to say that Legolas was uproariously forceful in any way. In fact, he was just the opposite, so wonderfully persuading that she had wanted to agree with him or go along with his request! Miredhel was beginning to realize that she could not say 'no' to him, and that in itself was a terribly frightening thing. She remembered the way he had smiled at her when she had given into him during their disagreement about her going to Minas Tirith. He had smiled like he had expected her aquiescence! That thought alone rankled to the very core of Miredhel's core. She would not become one of those complacent, docile elleths of which Adrendil had spoken. The sooner Legolas recognized that, the better.
In seconds, Miredhel tugged off her cloak and hurried toward the long line of elven mounts. She had always been slightly impetuous when it came to making decisions. She pulled her horse away from the group and in towards the deserted buildings. No one had even noticed.
Well, almost no one.
Miredhel had pulled a young woman from Rilmost off the well-worn village path and was trying to convince the girl to wear her cloak and to take her horse.
"See? It fits you perfectly," she said and pulled the hood up over the girl's hair. "Only you must not take the hood off for any reason until the sun sets."
The girl nodded, albeit confusedly. "Thank you, milady," she said and bowed. The young woman's awe was evident, and her mouth dropped a little more when she saw another one of those beautiful elves approach.
"Lady Miredhel, what are you doing?" Celeril exclaimed softly.
Miredhel's eyes snapped toward Legolas' sister who had apparently followed her around the edge of the tavern. Inwardly, she cursed her luck. Of all the elves who might have seen her—Celeril had, and here she was, asking questions!
"Do not fear that I will run off and tell my brother," she reassured her in a whisper. "Your secrets are safe with me." Her eyes were so very much like Legolas'.
Miredhel paused and tugged on the end of her braid as she was wont to do when made suddenly uncomfortable. She wanted to like Legolas' sister but had hardly had the chance for improving her acquaintance with the princess. Could she be trusted? At the moment, Miredhel decided she did not really have a choice.
"I am leaving the group. I am going to follow Adrendil down the river," she said frankly, waiting for Celeril's reaction and half-expecting the princess' disapproval, shock, or even laughter.
None those things occurred.
Instead Celeril pulled off her long dark cloak with a determined light in her eye and said, "I'm coming with you."
Legolas noted with a peculiar amount of self-satisfaction that Miredhel and his sister joined the van together. He thought it a bit strange at the time for both of said maidens to be wearing the hoods of their cloaks pulled up, but he attributed this action singularly to female oddity, and did not think of the matter again until much later. He supposed that Miredhel had begun to cry upon leaving Farothin and that she did not want anyone to see her in such a state. Regret struck the prince upon seeing her thus and knowing that he could not rush to her side bearing comfort. His insides knotted as he longed to see her face, to push those imagined wet streaks away from her magnificent eyes ever so gently, and then draw her into his arms.
She needed him, and he could not be there for her. Oh, if he were any other elf! Not for the first time, Legolas doubted his place. He looked at the string of weary faces behind him, some confused and many frightened. They looked to him to make things right, and he would do it. He had never backed out of any responsibility, but with one look back toward that forlorn cloaked figure, he wished that he might just this once. Could he really ever be so bold as to ask Miredhel to give all of herself to him, when he would be forever divided between love and duty?
Miredhel and Celeril did not speak again until they had slipped away unnoticed from Rilmost and started their small boat along the narrow stream which drained into the Anduin River.
Miredhel's first words were: "Can you handle a boat?"
To which, Celeril nodded with a sly laugh, remarking "Does a wood elf love trees?" She then turned the small paddle deftly, marking her skill, and Miredhel allowed herself a grim smile.
"Your brother is going to have a fit when he discovers that you left with me," she cautioned the princess.
"When he finds out that we both left," corrected Celeril. "Stop me if I am wrong, but he did not exactly grant you permission to leave the group, did he?"
Miredhel scowled at the vague green horizon. "Not exactly," she agreed, mirroring the other maiden's words.
Celeril touched her shoulder. "Lady Miredhel, I do not blame you for wanting to go. In fact, I am fairly certain that I more than understand what you've been going through; that alone was enough to make me want to join you on this mad escapade."
Miredhel considered this for a moment. "I am so tired of having my life dictated to me," she said shortly and plunged her paddle into the water with a vengeance. "And part of me feels angry because I am the one who let it happen. I've let myself be pushed around by my family, even my friends. If I feel trapped, it's a cage of my own construction. But I am not going to let it happen anymore," she finished, with another vehement paddle stroke to the river.
"I know exactly what you mean," Celeril said kindly. She had a way about her, an easy disposition, that people often found themselves confiding their problems to her. "I must tell you that I had been standing near the captains earlier, and I overheard Legolas and your brother discussing the whole ordeal of taking Farothin down to Minas Tirith." Celeril's eyes gleamed, and she added with a mischievous grin, "Well, at first I did not mean to overhear, but your name came up, and I wanted to learn more about you."
"What did they say?" Miredhel asked greedily. "Captain Adrendil would not tell me anything about it."
Celeril stopped short of rolling her eyes at the mention of his name. "Oh, he wouldn't if it did not serve his purpose or benefit him in some way--Adrendil's frightfully clever in that regard." She shook her head at the thought of the scheming captain and continued, "So I listened, probably a wee bit more than I should have, to Legolas' and Captain Eledhel's conversation. I almost wish I hadn't. Both our brothers stood there congratulating themselves on the 'handling' of their sisters. They were so proud and full of each other, that I found their entire dialogue revolting." Celeril wrinkled her nose at the memory.
"And I," said Miredhel with a wicked gleam in her eye, "was almost feeling a little sorry that I had left them like that. I don't anymore."
"See here, Lady Miredhel. I know we've hardly been properly acquainted, but I like you already. Not to mention, I know that Legolas is very fond of you." Miredhel blushed, which delighted Celeril. The princess added, "You saved my life as a complete stranger, and I would help guard yours as a friend. Won't you let me?"
Miredhel reached for Celeril's hand and squeezed it. "We are in this together now, you and I, and please, call me Miredhel."
"And you must do the same for me," avowed Celeril.
They turned their paddles and followed the stream into the wide rolling Anduin. Celeril was every bit as handy at managing the boat as she had promised to be; in fact, Miredhel would later concede that Celeril's skill surpassed her own. With only the two of them aboard, their boat ran swiftly upon the water, and before sunset, Celeril and Miredhel could trace the dim outline of Adrendil's boat on the distant horizon.
As Legolas and the elves led the humans away from their village, the prince still puzzled over his refusing Miredhel to leave, wondering if he had made the right choice. He quickly brushed the unhappy memory of Miredhel's tears away, and silently repeated to himself that he had made the correct decision, and Miredhel would eventually learn to appreciate it.
Colmaethor pulled along side the prince to inform him that Adrendil had departed with Farothin in relative ease. He had left the Captain with a hefty supply of soothing herbs and sleeping draught, should the need arise.
"Do you think he has any chance of surviving the trip to Gondor?" Legolas asked him confidentially, referring to his injured scout.
"He is still plenty strong, despite of all they did to him. It's Farothin's spirit that troubles me the most, my lord. Aragorn, son of Arathorn, might not have a cure for that type of malady, however much skill his kingly hands possess."
"Still, he knows much of elvish medicine. He is our best hope for saving Farothin," Legolas countered, wishing he could feel as optimistic as his voice sounded.
"Aye, that he is," agreed Colmaethor. "My skill alone certainly was not enough to bring him back. Did you…" he carefully eyed his leader. "Did you see his eyes, Prince Legolas?"
Legolas met his gaze and nodded.
Colmaethor continued, "They were Farothin's own eyes…yet they were not his own--as if some other creature stared through those bloodshot orbs and peered right into my soul." He felt foolish saying so, but even as Legolas answered, he shuddered at the prince's words.
"I fear that I have seen the like of this before," the prince replied uncomfortably. He would never forget the hatred pooled in Eledhel's eyes as they had matched blade to blade on the ancient bridge.
Legolas fell quiet to the turnings of his own mind, and oddly much of the caravan followed suit. The sunny roofs of Rilmost faded from sight, and the procession dipped into the mottled green-gold vales of the wetlands. Their pace was slow, and Legolas speculated that they would be most fortunate indeed, if they succeeded in spending only one night out in the wild without the protection of strong stone walls. And even then, the fort at Calenfen might not be enough to break the waves of the thousand-fold Orcish host originally spotted by Thranduil's spies. At best, the fort would only serve to buy them time before the regular Gondorian army could arrive.
Legolas had always been one for logic. He excelled at analyzing situations and delivering solutions. He could not, however, figure out why the orcs were on the move in the first place, what their motives could be, or who their leader was. That nameless foe which could bind such malice toward destruction posed the greatest threat, and Legolas wondered if the answer was perhaps locked inside the muddled strands of Farothin's mind.
As they rode onward and gloom settled upon all, Eledhel met the prince's side, pulling Legolas from his dark reverie.
"What are you thinking of?" he asked, hoping to share in his burden.
"Can't you guess?" Legolas posed to him bitterly.
"You are doing the right thing, Legolas. I've no doubt in my mind about that, and if Aragorn were here, he would agree," Eledhel said resolutely.
Legolas swept some loose strands of hair from blowing across his eyes. "I know," he agreed, "But I cannot shake the feeling that our road is more dangerous now than ever before. I…" he paused and carefully chose his words. "I cannot stop thinking about Farothin's message inside that tavern."
Now, Eledhel had not been present at Farothin's brief awakening, but he had heard all of what happened.
"That tavern--The Black Dragon," mused Eledhel. "Do you really think that name is just a coincidence?"
"Is anything really just a coincidence?" Legolas asked wryly. "Or are the Valar trying to tell us something? Ai, I do not know anymore."
Eledhel did not have an answer to that, and both elves quietly remembered the scene at the bridge: Anglachur perched atop the statues, the Anduin rushing below, the feel of the stone beneath their feet, and the howls of the dragon as he plunged from the sky with Miredhel's arrow piercing his side. Anglachur the Black, sleek and mighty like all his kin, possessed the ability to cloud men's minds with his own greedy desires, but fell to the single arrow of an elven maiden.
Legolas softly spoke first, "Eledhel, when I saw Farothin's eyes--they reminded me of yours when you suffered from the dragon sickness. A pallid yellow consumed the whites of his eyes just as yours had been."
Eledhel worriedly rubbed the side of his head above his ear and tugged on the ends of his hair, a gesture that Miredhel had repeated dozens of times when she was upset, and the brother-sister resemblance would have amused Legolas greatly if not for the serious context of the moment. Finally Eledhel spoke and in a whisper, "I can still see them, Legolas, when I shut my eyes. Those horrid golden slits tear at my soul. It haunts me. Something in them stirs within me the most wicked hate…toward you." Eledhel briefly hid his face in his hands from the shame of it all, and then bravely met the gaze of his friend and leader.
Legolas nodded, and to his credit, did not appear outwardly disturbed by Eledhel's confidance to make his friend even more uncomfortable. "I knew it on the bridge when you tried to kill me, Eledhel, and I saw that same hate in Farothin's eyes."
"Then Anglachur must live."
"That very thought frightens me the most for our people, for Gondor's," Legolas confessed, and neither of the two friends spoke again for many miles.
A/N: Thank you for reading another chapter of this story. Your feedback is much appreciated. Please respond with comments and constructive criticism!
I know this chapter was a long time coming, and I appreciate your patience!
In the next chapter: Legolas discovers that his two favorite girls are missing! How will he respond to that?! Any suggestions-- let me know!