2. Part One: To Sing the Sun In Flight
'Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way . . .'
Thranduil heard the door creak open, the scrape of Galion's soft shoes upon the stone floor, and the clink of a tray being set upon the bedside table. "It is time to awaken, Sire; I have your tea . . ." His voice trailed off, no doubt at the sight of the empty bed. "Sitting in the dark, my Lord? This is not good."
"No light," Thranduil muttered, hearing the scratch of the tinderbox.
"Nonsense." Thranduil heard a sniff of disapproval as the candle flared, revealing the glass of wine in his hand. "We need to get you dressed, Sire. The sun is up and there is something outside that you must see."
Thranduil shook his head and laughed bitterly. "Galion, the word 'must' is never used to kings. Now put out that light and leave me."
"Sire . . ." The sound of his valet's voice seemed to reach him across a great distance; the words had no meaning.
"Go away, Galion. Can't you see I have nothing left to give? It's finished. I'm finished."
Thranduil waited for the sound of the door shutting. Instead, he heard an angry intake of breath and the sound of footsteps crossing the gap between bed and chair.
"Oh no you don't! You don't get to do this, Thran." Rough hands gripped Thranduil's shoulders and began to shake him. "Oh, I know, it's hard, so very hard. You didn't want it or ask for it, but it's your duty, Thranduil. Elbereth knows I didn't ask for the job of cleaning up after you for the past two Ages, but it fell to me and do you hear me whining about it? You're our king, curse you, and there is something outside that needs your attention. Now, on your feet!"
Had it been anyone other than Galion, it might have come to blows. As it was, too drained to react, Thranduil allowed his valet to yank him to his feet with only minimal protest and drag him from the room. Down the stone corridors they went, and if any of the passing elves felt astonishment at the sight of their bleary-eyed king, barefoot and in his dressing gown, being hustled along by his own butler, they wisely refrained from comment.
Galion spoke the password, the great gates ground open, and Thranduil blinked at the bright light of early morning. Outside, the forest was all a-twitter. "Elves!" sang the birds and small forest creatures. He heard their voices in the tree canopy and from the undergrowth. "Elves, riding . . . on the plain of the great river. On horses, grey, black and brown . . . many of them, riding eastward . . ."
Thranduil gave his head a shake to clear it, and looked, querying, at Galion, who stared back, hand on hip, as if to say, 'I told you so.'
What could this mean? Few elves remained in the Middle Lands. The Golden Wood had withered with the departure of Galadriel. Celeborn, too, had gone, and, after a short reign, his successor Rúmil had brought the remnant of his people north from Amon Lanc to join Thranduil over a hundred years previously. Legolas's Elven colony in Ithilien had long since been abandoned, the folk returning to the wood with their new lord, Glavras. Even Rivendell -- timeless Imladris, for two Ages a haven for all free folk in Eriador -- had failed with the fading of Vilya and the sailing of its lord. The timbers of the Last Homely House now lay as fallen and rotted as Thranduil's old palace in the Emyn Duir, its gardens deserted, home to wandering deer and foxes.
Only one explanation seemed likely for a large group of elves riding eastward: Cirdan, tiring of his long vigil, had sent the folk of Mithlond to fetch their Woodland brethren so that they too might quit these lands and sail west. No single, polite messenger this time, to be refused, equally politely yet with increasing adamancy. Thranduil suspected a company of Falathren soldiers for a forced relocation, for that is what he had finally told Cirdan's envoys it would take to dislodge him from his forest.
Thranduil took a deep breath and pulled himself a little straighter. "Galion, have my horse made ready and tell Magorion to assemble thirty men at arms. No, on second thought, make that fifty. And then come inside and armor me up. Whoever these strange elves are, Eryn Lasgalen's king will ride out to meet them." He looked into his old friend's eyes, slate-grey and filled with concern. "One last time, Galion. One last time."
* * *
Four days at the quick-march brought them to a point just inside the Forest Gate. Thranduil no longer kept a watch there. No orcs remained to trouble him, and the Beornings had come to fear the Wood, as did all mortals. He let the growing legends of an evil Elf-king, ruling over a strange and fey folk, protect his borders now.
A scout knelt on a path so narrow that only two horses might pass abreast. He lifted his ear from the leaf-strewn ground. "They are close, Sire."
Thranduil waved a hand and nodded. "Fall back. I will be the first to meet them." The scout bowed and returned to his horse, far back in the line.
"My Lord, is this wise?" whispered Magorion, from atop his dun horse beside him. "If these folk mean us ill, you will be a target out in front."
Thranduil turned his head to favor his chief general with an unwavering gaze. Magorion dropped his eyes and turned his mount around, as Thranduil urged his own forward. Galion fell back as well but remained firmly on the tail of Thranduil's bay charger.
Thranduil smiled to himself as his horse moved up a rise in the trail. Dear Galion! If he were to meet his end in the next few minutes, he would die with a friend at his back, at least.
The trail crested a hill and made a slight turn, revealing a long vista before him. There they were. "Ai, Sweet Elbereth!" Thranduil whispered, slipping back into the pieties of his youth in his shock.
He threw his right leg over the neck of his horse and dropped to the ground, moving on unsteady feet toward the two leaders of the oncoming group, who also had dismounted and stood waiting beside their mounts, a brown and a grey.
His heart hammered, hollow, in his own ears, the wind knocked out of him. His chest pumped, drawing air in and out of his lungs like a speared trout gasping its last upon a riverbank. Impossible, what he saw -- impossible! The Straight Road had run one-way for two Ages now. For those who took it, there was no returning.
'This is not real. It cannot be real,' he told himself. He dared not hope, for to allow his heart to feel it and then to have it snatched away would finish him off for real. He would die upon this trail like Fëanor, although, unlike the legendary son of Finwë, his body would not turn to fire and ash -- he would dissolve in a puff of fog.
"Are you a vision, sent by The Enemy, to tempt me into fatal folly?" he asked, afraid to speak too loudly lest he jar himself from dream and awake once again in the darkness of his chamber.
"Oh, you great royal fool, you 'would' say that," the dark haired one said with a laugh.
"Lalaithiel? Wife . . .?" he said, rushing forward to sweep her into his arms, and hang the consequences if this were some fell trick! He kissed her, gently at first and then desperately, as if he drank life itself from her lips. Her taste was the same, her scent the familiar sweet aroma of earth and trees and the forest after a cleansing rain, yet overlaid with the perfume of exotic spices from a land he now knew he would never see. "Is it really you?"
She nodded beneath him. "Not even the gods themselves could keep me from you, Thranduil."
He held her close, glorying in the press of a body he had thought lost to him until the end of all things. "You are the love of my life," he murmured, wiping his cheek against her hair before lifting his head, lest his men see his weakness. He drew back and looked at her, feeling the life and strength spring anew into his veins.
How could he have failed to notice it -- the beauties of the forest, the way the sun knifed down through the trees, turning the grass to emerald, the perfume of the spring flowers, the birds trilling a paean of joy to his returned dead? He held his hand up to the bright sky, where it showed through a breach in the leafy branches. It blocked the light solidly. He threw back his head and let out a wild laugh, glorying in the joy of simply being alive.
And then, although he ached to take his beloved into the trees to celebrate and renew their age-old and everlasting bond, he stepped away from her and turned his attention to the other rider. The pale-haired one, who stood beside his grey horse, looking on his parents with a bemused smile. On how many occasions does a son get to return the gift of life to a father?
"Legolas." Thranduil pulled him, hard and rough, into a bear hug, feeling at first the stiffness and then the surrender to parental arms.
"Well, Ada, I'm home," his boy said.
"Yes," Legolas replied. "To whatever end awaits me."
Thranduil stepped back, keeping a straight-armed grip on his son's wiry shoulders, afraid to let go. He looked past him to the train of elven riders, as it was lost in the twists of the trail, recognizing faces that he had not seen since the Dagorlad. How many? So many questions he had! The why of it, he knew already; the who and the how of it could wait for answers in the weeks to come. Suddenly, they had all the time in the world, and whatever end awaited them all, whether faded into whispers in the wind or on their feet and fighting in the Dagor Dagorath, they would meet it together.
"Nicely done, Legolas," he said. "Nicely done indeed."
* * * * * * *
To be continued . . .
Falathren: Shore-folk, Cirdan's people
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.