The Lords of the Ring

A Rustle of Leaves

They were unhappy. They almost couldn’t remember the last time a breeze cooled the stifling, rancid air. Worse was the damp. It certainly never used to be this damp, they mused. They could feel decay spreading all around. The fungus thriving. It wasn’t right. Someone should do something about it.

And as for the spiders – where had they come from. They weren’t like the tiny spiders you used to get that were no trouble to anyone. These were HUGE. They clambered everywhere with no regard, leaving messy, sticky webs everywhere. It was putting off visitors.

Only the Elves spent any time under the boughs now, but even they were seeming disconsulate about how things were changing round here. They were trying their best, but it was uncanny how the dank decay was spreading. Nothing seemed to stop it.

If it weren’t for the way their highest branches escaped to touch the sun and moonlight, and the leaves up there rustled in the clean, cool air, they’d have lost all hope by now.

As it was the Greatwood was incredibly unhappy. Where were the Ents when they were needed.

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A Pitiful Sight

Even before Thrandiul touched the pale, crumpled body he knew that he would find no life there. His hand touched the cold throat before him anyway, just to make sure. Whatever thin thread had been keeping this frail shadow of a creature alive had snapped most finally. It probably hadn’t taken much, but the tragedy remained.

He glanced at the pitiful body. It was barely recognisable as the Dwarf he had once met. He had become used to observing the changes in the young races as they aged, but this was different. This was more unnatural somehow. Like his life had been stretched further than it would otherwise have been. But that also seemed wrong. He hadn’t been an old Dwarf when Thranduil had last met him and too few years had passed to make him so. It also wouldn’t account for how pale and wasted he had become, though being trapped in a mountain with a dragon couldn’t have helped. No – his appearance was too reminiscent of that pitiful creature Gollum.

They would never know the truth of what happened in the intervening years, but Thranduil could guess and it did not bode well. But no time to think on it or the past right now. The argument behind him was heating up and showed signs of straying into lies and even violence. It was time for the truth and some focus. Besides – Kivi needed to know. He knew himself how hard it was to lose a parent, particularly to violence and darkness. He could not guess how much harder that would be when that parent had been a revered stranger, drained of all life and semblance of who he’d once been. Poor Kivi!

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A New Life

A small hand slid softly into Thranduil’s large palm, as they walked towards the palace doors. A mere glimmer of a smile ghosted across his lips, yet inside his heart was an inferno. He gently gripped the tiny hand, leading him out into the warm summer morning. They weren’t going far into the forest, no need for accompaniment, but for the small figure beside him it would be a mini adventure. Thranduil took a deep breath of the familiar scented air. It was an important day.

They strolled without speaking. Thranduil knew that later there would be a flurry of questions demanding urgent answers, but for now there was a expectant breathlessness beside him. He allowed himself a brief, heartfelt smile of contentment, knowing they were not watched. If Eru willed, he would spend thousands of peaceful days with this delicate hand in his.

Turning from the visible path, they moved deeper into the trees. An unwise move unless you were an Elf and could hear the ancient voice of the forest and see the secret ways. The small figure beside him had yet to learn how to interpret the forest, but in time it would come. Today would be another step on that journey.

A deep bellow sounded ahead of them causing the grip on Thranduil’s hand to tighten slightly. Pushing on through the trees, they suddenly came out into a sunlit clearing. Ahead was the owner of the bellow – his favourite giant Elk, making clear that incursions into this space were only with his permission. On the ground was a pure white Elk, mewing in bursts, as her labour proceeded.

It was almost time.

Thranduil raised his hands and gestured respectfully to the Elk, assuring them of his regard and non-interference. His signal, accepted with a brief nod and bark. He sensed movement behind him as the small figure peeked round his hip, small hands gripping his thigh and robe with a slight tremble. He moved a protective hand to the delicate shoulder to provide reassurance. Whilst some might think his son was too young to witness this, he disagreed. It was important he witnessed the wonder and precariousness of life. Appreciated the balance that was for them to nurture and maintain. Understood their place in this world.

As the white Elk strained with her burden, her antlered companion kept keen watch, dipping his head to her own in reassurance. Thranduil knew a couple of Elves lurked at the treeline, poised to assist if there were any signs of distress, but all seemed to be progressing well. As the calf’s head appeared, he heard an awed gasp from near his hip. In mere moments the rest of a little spotted body emerged onto the grass. The white Elk got to it’s feet and turned, licking her baby all over, encouraging it to move. A high pitched squeal emanated from the newborn to it’s mother’s delight. A rustle in the trees signaled the rest of the herd moving closer, keen to meet their new member. A few nudges later and the calf had wobbled to it’s feet and was feeding for the first time.

He felt the sign of movement under his hand and tightened it, stopping his son in place. His curiousity was understandable, but respect must be maintained. It would be discourteous and dangerous to intrude before welcomed. Slowly shifting to a crouch he took in the wide eyed look of awe in his son’s face. Yes – he was beginning to understand.

“Utinu,” he whispered softly, his arm encircling small shoulders. “There will be time to meet the calf later, but now is time for his family. We will return tomorrow – lle rangwa?”

“Uma, adar,” he replied in solemnly hushed tones.

Taking his child in his arms, Thranduil stood, the Elk herd all around them now. Small arms circled his neck loosely, certain of security. The Elk parted seamlessly before him, as he moved back out of the clearing, away from the newborn. Through the trees they went, back towards the Palace. He could sense the bubbling excitement from his son, knew it wouldn’t be long till he found his voice again.

“Legolas,” he started thoughtfully. “This calf is the firstborn of that mother and as such will need a fine name to accompany him through his life. Would you like the honour of naming him?”

“Uma – yes!” He exclaimed eagerly, his face scrunching up with intense thought. After a few moments, with a finger grandiosely waggled in the air, he proclaimed loudly “Moose!”

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The long walk

The ground around the Lonely Mountain had been burned.

A great conflagration had passed through. Here and there the heartwood of a tree still stood after its bark and leaves had burned off. Where a stream burbled across the plain, grass and moss made a half-hearted attempt to re-seed themselves.

The company mostly kept silent as they walked across the ruined plain, the grand shape of the mountain growing above them as they walked. Everyone seemed lost in their own thoughts, and she didn’t want to challenge or question them.

They walked in silence, hour after hour through a dead landscape. Twice they crossed a group of burned corpses. And once a fresh one, its corpse in the process of being picked clean by the carrion birds.

Are we walking to our own death? Aoife wondered. What if the dragon is awake, if it chooses to leave its hiding place now?

It would see them in moments. There was nothing to take them from its sight. Nowhere to hide. It would come out of the great crack in the mountain, and see them. And then it would fly towards them, beating its mighty wings.

Perhaps they would try to scatter. It might not get them all with its first blast. While half of them lay dying, it would fly past. Then it would turn, and fly towards them again.

The company trudged forth silently, leaving footprints in the dust that once was living flesh, wood, plant.

She wondered if she would face it as it came.

She wondered if she would see the fire come up from its belly through its throat, filling its mouth before disgorging at her. At them.

She wondered if the mystical arrow that never failed to strike true would be enough to kill a dragon in flight. Or if it would just be a pinprick.

Perhaps it wouldn’t even notice.

They continued to walk, each lost in their own thoughts, saying nothing. She wondered if any of them thought that they could slay this beast if it attacked. Save themselves.

But everywhere Aoife looked, all she could see was ash.

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A Shadowy Siege

Several squads of cavalry began streaming from the Palace doors and across the bridge into the besieging army. Thranduil charged into the rear of the throng, his swords and Moose’s antlers clearing foul creatures from their path. He rode hard to intercept the head of his cavalry, to join them in their charge.

As he moved alongside the front rank he shouted commandingly “Onyë!”

He was proud – his army retained its focus and discipline as ever. Not a word or exclamation at his sudden arrival was uttered, though he could sense their surprise and exhilaration. That he had appeared in this dark hour to fight alongside them once again was a sign.

He called, in Sindar, to one of the Elves in the last squad to leave the palace, “Amros, I want archers and their sword-guard along the front of the Palace.”

As the rider wheeled round on the bridge and headed back into the closing Palace doors with his orders, Thranduil led the cavalry through the enemy forces, trying to cause as much disruption and chaos in their ranks as possible. He drew them on, swords flashing, in and out of the hoards, trampling the filthy creatures beneath their hooves, determination and disgust etched like stone across his ageless face.

The great doors of the palace opened briefly once again, releasing several units of archers and their sword-guard out before the facade of the palace. Forming up, the archers began firing arrows into the furthest reaches of the besieging forces, which the cavalry had yet to breach. The arrows found their marks over and over, while with perfect synchronisation, the sword-guards kept them covered whenever the enemy attempted to retaliate.

Ahead of Thranduil there was a cluster of giant spiders, much like the ones that had tried to waylay him and his companions on the road. Now it was time to take some vengeance on those foul creatures that had been polluting his forest. Reforming the cavalry line once again, he shouted, “Togo hain dad!” and charged. The elves slashed and hacked at the spiders, a foe they had long reviled. Their assault damaged their hated foe, but some still remained. Turning the riders round, Thranduil pushed them on, bursting though a nearby group of goblins to strike again at the spiders. The goblins fell before the Elven onslaught, but the spiders were wily and tried to dodge their attackers. The Elves were determined however and soon they had reduced the group to twitching bodies.

Scanning the battlefield to determine his next tactical action, he spotted the familiar figure of Voronwe putting the finishing touches to one of the foul black serpents that had crossed their path earlier. Frowning, he scanned the area – no, the others weren’t to be seen. He hoped they had been sensible and were heading from the forest. This was no place for those without battle experience.

Satisfied that Voronwe was holding his own, Thranduil reassembled his cavalry squads. They had taken a few casualties, but were still in fighting form. He could see figures in the distance who looked to be co-ordinating the enemy forces, but they were unreachable at present. He had a uncomfortable suspicion as to who they were. If he were right, then the Dark Lord was targeting him and his kingdom. Either as revenge for his assault on the Witch King on the Dimrill Stair, because his army was still great in number…..or because he had an inkling of what Thranduil and his disparate travelling companions were up to. Whilst none of these options were ideal, he really hoped it wasn’t the latter – that could be disastrous.

They needed to try to breach a path to the commanders of this army, to try to stop them. “Herio!” he ordered and the riders galloped into the fray, trying to trample the opposition beneath them. A black serpent slowed their progress, ripping a rider from his horse. Thranduil and several of his soldiers hacked at the beast, spilling its insides across the grass, sadly too late to save their comrade.

Further into the throng they fought, until Thranduil confirmed his prediction. There were four Nazgul directing this siege and from what he could see of the fell beasts they were riding, his cavalry would be hard pressed to take them down. They would need more assistance. Preparing to extract his squads from the orc regiment they were fighting, he signalled for one of the riders to blow the cavalry horn. He hoped that his son would be ready to respond, hoped that his lessons in battlefield tactics had been understood.

Moments after the horn sounded, the great doors of the palace opened once more, a blur of cavalry rushing out with Legolas at it’s head. Thranduil was heartened. His son was there, well and in fighting spirit. Shouting commands, he turned his riders to get them into formation, to create a pincer movement with the fresh squads led by Legolas. As the two spurs of cavalry hit the army, creatures began dropping from the sky. Bats! He hadn’t seen them in long years and certainly not in the forest.

“Leithio i philinn!” he hollered, unsure if he would be heard above the battle. A cloud of arrows peppered the sky….perhaps at his call or the initiative of his officers. They caught many of the bats as they dived, but not all. He saw one dodge the missiles and plunge at a soldier, fangs barred. Too late he realised it was Voronwe, riding in Legolas’s company.

He shouted at the nearest officer to continue the charge and drove Moose across the battlefield, blades a blur as he cut down anything in his path. As he closed in, Voronwe was on the ground, all but hidden by the bat attacking him. Leaping from the elk, Thranduil slashed across the creature’s back and wings. A final strike severed its spine, but it’s deathy convulsions didn’t loosen its grip on the Gondorian. Thranduil slid it’s fangs from where they had pierced Voronwe’s body, the blood still flowing from the wound. It would be mere moments before the nearest orcs attacked and his ability to help his friend was curtailed. Voronwe wouldn’t last long after that. There was only one course of action. He hefted Voronwe’s limp and lifeless body onto Moose.

“Bardh!” he instructed, before turning to face the next onslaught of attackers, swords drawn and eyes ablaze.

As instructed, Moose ran as quickly as he could to the palace without dislodging his load. At the closed doors he paused, while a couple of archers ran over to see who was slumped on his back. If they were surprised to find a Gondorian on their King’s mount, they didn’t show it. Calling for the doors to be opened, they ushered the Elk inside and handed the wounded figure over to the healers hovering inside.

Thranduil was surrounded on all sides, but he didn’t care. He span and whirled, his blades a blur, ripping through the flesh of those around him. As in the battles he’d fought before, time had slowed, his senses alive to every movement of his enemies. And then, they became more hesitant in their actions, more defensive than offensive. He heard the discordant note of the enemy horns and then they were retreating. In the sky he could see the Nazgul, spiraling upwards and then flying towards the south. He saw the cavalry slashing down the strays and was satisfied the siege had been broken.

He turned from the battlefield and headed back towards the Palace, stopping only to check the injured Elven soldiers he encountered, waving over others to help carry them back. The oppressive shadow he’d felt on entering the forest was receding, leaving just the decaying darkness that had been a feature for the last few thousand years. As he crossed the threshold of the palace, his home, he realised how much he’d missed it. The amber glow, the high ceilings, the security of his fortress. He had barely taken a step when two of his aides fell in beside him.

“My Lord, welcome back.” one began, before falling silent to wait for instruction.

“There was a Gondorian in the battle. Moose brought him in when he was injured. How is he?” Thranduil enquired.

“He is with Elenwë. His injuries are substantial, but she is certain he will survive.”

Thranduil thought for a moment. “I want to see him, but I need you to organise some things for me. As soon as he is able to travel, we will have to leave once more” he explained. “I will also need to speak to my son when he returns from routing our enemies.”

“Yes, my Lord,” the aides confirmed.

Heading towards his private quarters he continued, “I need Moose checked over and fed. We’ll need a horse for Captain Voronwe of Gondor to ride if his own can’t be found and a couple of pack horses. I want fresh supplies, as much as they can manage, to be put on the them, as we have some way to travel, plus a horse grooming kit. In addition – tell the healers I want a selection of plants and herbs that can be used in treating wounds and burns parceled up. I want a couple of the artisans to look over the creatures we killed on the battlefield – anything that they judge might be useful to an eccentric tinkerer or artisan they are to carefully retrieve, parcel up and put on the horses. I’m thinking of claws, fangs, wings….they’re to use their judgement. Grab two quivers of arrows from the armoury and one of the hard wood training clubs. Then lastly – nip down to the kitchens and get one of the iron sauteing pans.”

“Yes, my Lord,” the aides agreed, a little puzzled, before disappearing to do their King’s bidding.

In his chambers, Thranduil pulled off his armour and his travelling robes. They wouldn’t have long before they’d have to leave again, but he might as well get cleaned up while he had the chance. Slipping into the rainwater pool, he let the icy chill of the water soothe his tired muscles and bruises. He quickly washed, cleaning out some cuts and the spider bite from several days earlier. There was no time to enjoy the water this day, so he climbed back out and started yo dry himself off. A knock alerted him to company – Elenwë.

“Lord – the Gondorian will soon wake. I have done what i can to ease his injuries and pain. With a few more days I could do more….” she explained.

“Elenwë,” he interrupted. “The Captain and I will have to leave as soon as he is able. Sadly there will be no time for him to rest and recuperate.”

“As you wish,” she nodded. “My Lord, I see you also have need of my care. If you will sit a moment, I can tend to those injuries.”

Thranduil nodded his consent and moved to s chair to sit. Elenwë moved to his shoulder and examined the wound where the giant spider had sunk its fangs. Content in her assessment, she reached into a pouch at her belt and extracted some herbs and a tincture. She dripped a few drops of the liquid onto the herbs and rubbed them together in her palm. When it was ready she patted the herbs into the wound and placed her hands on his still damp skin and whispered “Lasto beth nîn, menno o nin na hon i eliad annen annin”.

He felt the power of her gift as it touched him, his eyes closing in reverence. The beautiful sensation as the poison was finally driven from his body, as the ache of his muscles became the tingle of skin regrowing. He pushed away the ancient memory of scorching pain being healed before it could resurface and let her do her work. Within moments she was finished, his skin seemingly unblemished.

He opened his eyes to see his son waiting by the door. “Hannon le, Elenwë! Your skill is unparalleled.”

She smiled in acknowledgement and with a quick farewell, headed back to her other patients.

“Adar!” Legolas smiled sadly. “I am glad you have returned, but I wish it had not been to such a welcome.”

“Legolas,” Thranduil replied warmly. “I want you to recount all that has happened in my absence and how the borders of our Kingdom have been so breached, but I must tell you that my time here is brief. As soon as the Gondorian Captain can travel we must be on our way.”

“So soon!”

“It has to be. I will tell you what I can as I make ready, but as you are certainly now aware – the forces of the Dark Lord are moving,” he added somberly.

Grabbing clean travelling clothes, he dressed and told his son of his journey, in particular where they had encountered dark forces and those who had been swayed by darkness. As he donned his armour once more he continued.

“News of the Beornings, the forces that are amassing on our borders and this siege must be sent to Lady Galadriel. She will get word to Lord Elrond. They must be alerted to these happenings, so that they too can prepare themselves.”

“I will send word,” Legolas agreed.

“We also owe a debt to a Halfling settlement on the Anduin. They lent us a coracle, which I had hoped we would be able to return. This isn’t going to be possible for the present, not least due to the Orcs, but if any of our people are out that way and can assist them, then I would wish it be so,” he added. “Now – what of our kingdom?”

Leaving his chambers, they made their way along walkways to the room where Voronwe was being cared for.

“For some time after you left things were much the same.” Legolas recounted. “Then the Orc incursions became bolder. I sent our patrols, but no matter how many we dispatched, more appeared. Many of our people chose to move into the palace to escape the raids and so that we could co-ordinate our efforts at pushing them back. The last week or so it was like a shadow had fallen on the kingdom. No matter what I tried I couldn’t expel it or reduce its effects. It had everyone on edge and I’m concerned that some of the hunting parties that were further afield might have been overcome.The spiders became more irascible and then the siege started. A couple of hunting parties had spotted them coming and were able to warn us, but we couldn’t fight them off till today. We decided that today we would have to make a stand!”

“And so you did! You fought well. Darkness is coming and we must do what we can to stop it. I would stay and fight with you if I could, but my path leads elsewhere for a time. If Eru wishes I will return to defend our realm, but till then, you must be strong.”

Reaching Voronwe’s room, they could see that the soldier was still unconscious.

“This is a brave man, my son. He could’ve travelled on with the rest of our companions, but he chose to stay, to help us. We owe him a debt. He will be ever welcome in these halls.”

As he moved closer, Thranduil could see Vorowe’s eyelids flickering. He was waking and so it would soon be time for them to depart. Again he would have to say farewell to this kingdom, his home.

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Flow

Now this. This she knew how to do.

Aoife ducked beneath the nearest spider and slashed at its abdomen with one of her daggers. It opened at the touch, showered her in warm ichor. Not a wound that would kill it, but perhaps one that would slow it for a moment or two. For long enough that one of her blades would find its mark.

She felt the battle-rush, and the calm came upon her again, taking her away from the world at large, and placing her in one singular moment. The constant chatter in her mind – whatifshouldhavedonewhynotyouWHYNOTYOU – receded and the world slowed. Time stood still here. Here there were no regrets, no anguish.

The spider moved slowly in the gap of her perception and between two of its legs she saw one of her companions surrounded by more of the giants. Then she rolled, easily and safely, avoiding another of its legs as it attempted to crush or skewer her.

The view cleared again for a moment. A different spider sank its venom-laced fangs into whoever-it-was, but they were obscured from vision and the moment was gone.

She heard her every breath, felt her heart drum slowly inside her, every beat an eternity to plan and execute her next attack. She could see the monster’s movements before it made them, perhaps even before it knew itself what it was going to do. Her body moved of its own accord, rising to its feet in front of the spider.

It hissed and opened its mouthparts wide, then attacked again. Aoife sidestepped easily, turning its fangs with her twin blades.

There was nothing but the battle.

Aoife’s heart sang to her, and she placed her blades in time with the music, caught up in the moment. Her mind was empty of fears and regrets and weakness and the darkness, and even as she fought she longed for the encounter to hold for longer, so that she could stay here, caught in the moment where everything was well and nothing was wrong.

Aoife danced.

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A Web of Darkness

The new shadow over the forest, the boldness of the spiders and their barely repelled attack – there was nothing coincidental about this. His kingdom was certainly not how he left it and all was far from well.

Thranduil was more tense than he’d been in centuries. Even when the orc incursions had started, he had not been this worried….but then the forest had not been as anxious then either. It’s distress was palpable to him and it was getting harder for him to hide that from his companions. He was certain they could sense his anger already, but that was an entirely appropriate response for a King given the circumstances.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have left. Should’ve sent Legolas to Imladris as his representative. But that could’ve been fatal to the cause they now followed. While he had every confidence in his son and his ability to hold his own in a fight, he had not as much experience outside of this realm as would likely be required.

And this realm, his home – had his leaving reduced the strength of its borders? Legolas knew what to do – he had taught him the old ways as he had learnt them long ago, but perhaps he was yet too young to fully use the talents Eru granted them. Whilst the times of the Elves might be passing and the call of the sea growing stronger, he still had all his natural abilities and he expected Legolas would be no less able.

Thranduil swallowed a weary sigh and ruffled the hair on Moose’s neck. He was sure his son had done all within his power to protect their kingdom. He trusted him and if there was an error, then it was his own, for he had ultimate responsibility. He just had to hope that his people were still well and that the forest could recover, whatever had been happening. They should soon be within sight of the palace – there there would be answers and hopefully some respite before they travelled onward.

He was feeling unusually morose, though the usual forest tricks couldn’t touch him as they did others. If only he could tell what time of day it was, it would be less unnerving. It was like his senses were being muffled or maybe overwhelmed by the deluge of distress from the forest. The after effects of the spider’s bites were certainly not helping. Ridding the forest of those foul creatures could not happen soon enough!

Suddenly a large, black serpent snaked through the trees, across the path and disappeared. He started, horrified. No such creature had been seen here before. His ire raised, he moved Moose forward more keenly. As the path curved round to give him the first glimpse of his palace in many months he halted dismayed – the palace was besieged by an army of foul creatures. A familiar signal sounded and from the doors streamed some of his cavalry. Enough was enough…!

Face taught, he turned to his companions, pointed along the path forking off away from the palace and urged commandingly, “That is the way out of the forest. Follow it and don’t leave the path!”

Turning back to the palace he spurred Moose on, charging towards the fray and his Elven warriors. This was his kingdom, he was responsible for it and he would defend it to the death if Eru wished. He certainly wasn’t going to let it fall without a hell of a fight!

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Firelight

He was blond.

Aoife sharpened her dagger with the stone and looked across at the sleeping form of Théodred across from her. His family – nay, his father – had ordered the destruction of her village and her people. All of them.

She tested the blade against her thumb, swiping against it so that she could feel its sharpness without cutting herself.

Théodred rolled over. He was facing her now., eyes closed, chest rising and falling in the firelight. His neck and face were limned with red from the fire behind it, bringing out the gold in his beard. Such as it was.

She smiled to herself.

That neck. So close. Just a few short steps away. Varonwe was on watch, had moved a few steps away from the fire to check out a noise. He faced away.

Aoife could cut the sleeping man’s throat in a second, and be gone before Varonwe even knew that she had moved.

She could vanish into the night, no-one would see her. The rest of the Free Company could continue on their pointless quest, but Théoden, Théoden… he would hear the news of the death of his child. He would have the pain that came when his closest kin were taken from him, destroyed at the will of another. He would fall to his knees and scream into the night that his son was dead and that there was nothing that he could do to bring them back. He would scream into the void until his throat was raw and the tears would not come any longer.

Then, eventually, he would sleep.

And in the morning he would realise what had been torn from him in such a short moment, and would begin to scream again.

A sudden pain. She looked down, saw the blood running from her dagger where she was testing it. Careless. A scratch, but – careless.

She looked again across the fire at the man’s sleeping form. His neck was smooth, where he had shaved in an attempt to make his beard look more manly, more proper, more pretty than than the shaggy neckbeards that the wizards thought was right

She looked at his face, his blond hair shining in the firelight. Then there was a sound. A step upon the earth.

Varonwe had returned from his circuit of the camp, and sat down beside the fire, opening his hands and arms to cup its warmth. He nodded briefly to her as he arrived, then paid her no more attention.

A small nod in response. It was enough. Varonwe turned back to the fire. The moment had passed.

Aoife wiped her dagger clean with a cloth and absent-mindedly sucked the blood from her thumb as she marvelled at the strange colour of his hair, so different from her own, her family’s.

He was fair.

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A Disappointing Blow

As they rode swiftly towards the Old Ford, Thranduil released a silent sigh. It had saddened him to have to fight the Beornings, a people who had been so valiant and brave in times past. He could only guess at what had possessed them to allow darkness into their hearts. How their leader Grimbeorn the Old had perished, the Beornings only knew, but somehow he doubted the betrayal had started there. Grimbeorn and his father had been ever honourable, keeping both the High Pass and the roads to Mirkwood safe for travellers. They had had Thranduil’s every respect for their efforts. He hoped those that remained would see how they had been manipulated by the darkness and reject it now, but regardless – messages would have to be sent to Lorien and Imladris to ensure that they knew to be wary of those they once called friends.

The one question that remained, that he wished they knew the answer to, was – had the Beornings been told to stop them specifically or were they just stopping any travellers that passed by? Or that had not been picked off by the orcs amassing on the banks of the Anduin? He doubted they would find out anytime soon, but maybe the mystery would be revealed before it was too late for them to act. For now they would have to forge on and try to complete the mission they had taken on, with every hope that it hadn’t been discovered by the enemy. Whatever – it wasn’t worth worrying about right now.

For him – he now felt the call of home. All along the Anduin he had felt it just within reach, almost like it was calling out for him. There was nothing like the sensation of being under the trees, their familiarity and friendship. He very much doubted any of the others, bar Radagast, would be able to sense anything, but despite the decay brought by the darkness, he could still feel the life pulsing throughout. When they reached the eaves of the forest where the main Elven path emerged, he intended to take a moment to listen and take in the atmosphere. To find out what the forest wanted to share with him or perhaps warn him of.

Soon, soon they would be there if all went well. He made a mental note to reiterate the rules of the forest to his companions before they entered, as he doubted they had remembered them with all they’d had to contend with. This might be his realm, but it was wild and dangerous to outsiders. Whilst he would have the darkness banished from his boarders instantly if he could, he would not tame this land and turn it into some farmer’s orchard. Eru meant it to grow free and he would fight to keep it that way. It was his responsibility.

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A Detestable Ambush

Thranduil sat back against his elk and considered the expert workmanship of the sword before him. He turned it in his hands admiringly. Despite it’s watery home, it appeared none the worse for wear. In fact – it looked as it would’ve when it’s owner had last held it. An owner he had probably seen, if not met. Certainly they had shared battlefields together, shared losses and survived…for a time.

As his eyes drifted to the river and beyond he remembered that day long past when the runners, triggered by Ohtar and his companion reaching the forest, informed him that Isildur’s army had been ambushed. He had immediately gathered the portion of his army sited in the western glens of Emyn Duir and headed at full speed through the forest to Gladden Fields, unsure what they would find.

The scene that confronted them was nothing but carnage. It seemed all of Isildur’s company of Dúnedain had been slaughtered, along with three of his sons. The local woodmen and elves that had been alerted by Ohtar had rushed to the scene, but only in time to prevent the Orcs from mutilating the bodies. They had found but one survivor – Estelmo, Elendur’s esquire, who had been unconscious under his master’s body.

Sending the majority of his company to search the area for signs of the Orcs, he ordered the rest to begin readying the fallen knights for burial. He wished it was within his power to transport them to their families in Arnor for the burials they would have wanted, but that could not be. Here he could give them honourable soldiers burials, where they would no longer be threatened by Orcs. It was the least he could do and more than many had had in the recent War. So many deaths…too many and yet here there were still more. Would it never be over?

Before the melancholy in his heart could distract him, he went to find Estelmo. The local woodmen had been unable to part him from his master’s lifeless form and when Thranduil found him he was cradling Elendur’s head like a precious object. He resisted the temptation to offer to heal Estelmo’s injuries, knowing that it would be rejected for now. His injuries were his only anchor to what had happened and were all that was preventing his guilt for surviving his master from drowning him. In time the fallacy of that feeling would reduce, leaving just the pain of loss, but not yet.

Sitting by the young man, he placed a companionable hand on his back and carefully coaxed details of the ambush from him, hoping to hear news of Isildur, for they had only found the bodies of his sons. He slowly learnt that the party had left Lorien in high spirits, with hope that they would soon be back in Imladris. They had been about a mile down river from this spot when the orcs had ambushed (and Ohtar dispatched for help), but despite being horribly outnumbered, they had adroitly repelled the attack. Isildur had hoped that the orc withdrawal was an opportunity to escape to better terrain and perhaps no further incursions, but as they reached this location, they were circled and attacked again. After Ciryon’s death and Aratan’s fatal wounding, Isildur’s other son Elendur had pleaded with his father to escape with “his burden”. Somehow Estelmo had missed Isildur’s leaving…he’d seemingly vanished to be replaced briefly by a frightening blazing red star. Without Isildur and the Elendilmir on his brow, the Orc army lost any remaining fear of their enemy and renewed their brutal efforts. For Estelmo all had suddenly gone black until he was found, he had not even seen Elendur fall.

After comforting the distraught esquire as well as he could, Thranduil left him in the capable hands of a couple of his guards. He searched the area for any signs of Isildur’s passing, but the ground was so overturned that even he could not track him. Reports from his soldiers revealed that the orcs had scattered throughout the area, which meant they could only take down the stragglers. Then, when he’d feared they would never know what happened to Isildur, a couple of his Elves returned having discovered the King’s armour, shield and sword upstream. He had taken a search party to that spot and swept all of the surrounding area, but of Isildur and the Elendilmir they could find nothing. Concluding that the river had taken him, they returned to the site of the battle and finished burying the bodies, his Elven soldiers performing the warrior’s rites. When they finished they realised they were shy of the complete number of Isildur’s force, the missing likely also taken by the fast flow of the Anduin. Not one of them would have allowed themselves to be taken alive by Orcs.

Damn Orcs! They must’ve been somewhere near when he’d brought his army back from the War, but the cowardly filth had waited till Isildur’s far smaller force had approached before attacking. Even as exhausted as they were, he and his Elves would’ve gladly taken them on to prevent them attacking others. When he arrived back home, he would arrange some extra patrols to make sure they didn’t try this again.

But first there were people who would have to know of these events. Picking out some of his fastest riders, he sent messages to Lorien and Imladris to inform them of events. Then, with Estelmo, he led his soldiers back home, picking Ohtar and his companion up on the way. He promised that once all three were recovered sufficiently to travel, an armed escort would help them conclude their journey to Imladris. There they would be with Isildur’s kin and their own, and where they could properly grieve. Himself – he could only grieve in private. His people expected strength and a certain amount of stoicism in their new King.

Thranduil blinked as a glimmer of light sparkled on the surface of the Anduin. He had given his people the King they wanted and needed, but the ache of loss still rent his heart. They had hoped that that War had been the end of Sauron, that all those lives lost weren’t lost in vain, but the indications were that it was all happening over again. Could he bear to take his army into battle again, for the inevitable losses, for the hope that this time they might finally defeat Sauron once and for all? Could he? For all those who went before and those that would come after?

Gripping the ancient sword of Númenór firmly in his hands he knew. He would fight. Sauron must be defeated no matter how many thousands of years it took. Eru would expect nothing more.

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