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.”
“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.