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1
Darkenings

Disclaimer: The characters, the context and the main plot belong to Professor Tolkien, whom I greatly admire. I’m only trying to fill in the gaps he so graciously left for us, fanfic writers, to have some fun. However, the extended family of Legolas and the individual Mirkwood Elves belong to me.

Rating: Teens

Author’s Notes:
This is an amalgam of several as-yet unnumbered chapters of my upcoming Thranduil-story and will be incorporated into that tale eventually. So far, these are the only parts written, and I felt the need to post it in order to counteract all those stories that make Thranduil a greedy, cruel, obsessed, drinking, child-abusing monster. He was none of those, and the fact that Tolkien mentions his only weakness (his fondness for jewels) in “The Hobbit” only makes me more interested in him as a character.

Also, it made me curious why a Wood-Elf (as he no doubt considered himself, despite his origins as a Sindarin Prince) would be so eager to hoard wealth. I found one reason for it. It might not he the real one, but that does not make this story an AU. We know very little about Thranduil’s family background, except the name of his father, and it gave me more room and creative freedom than by other Elven characters. Please consider, that every one except him, his father Oropher and his son Legolas is my creation.

Many thanks to Cirdan and Nemis for proofreading and beta-work.


~~~

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Although the city of the Elves of Mirkwood had been carved out below and within a mountain, the slopes were riddled throughout with balconies and walkways that went among the trees that grew there, for now Wood-Elf could live in a closed space. Other than those labyrinthine outlets and the main gates, naught of the city was visible above ground, allowing the forest so beloved to the Elves to grow unhindered by their presence.”
Dwimordene: Roots – Chapter 2: Old, New, Borrowed, True


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chapter One: Darkenings

[Mirkwood, in the year 1139 of the Third Age](1)

Thranduil son of Oropher, King of the Silvan Elves of Eryn Galen(2), stood on the highest balcony of his magnificent palace and looked southwards. It seemed to him that he had been doing so a lot lately, ever since the Shadow began creeping back into his beloved forest, in many different form, making the once so safe roads perilous again.

What his keen eyes saw beyond the Old Forest Road was a dense forest of dark pine and close fir, dark and drear. The sun that lay all upon the lands that belonged to his own realm (whose borders had been slowly but inevitably closing up on him every passing century) seemed not to lie upon it; instead, a dark cloud seemed to cast its shadow upon the woods, filling the hearts of the beholder with some uncertain dread that had no real shape – yet.

It was much too far even for his eyes, yet the Elvenking of the Greenwood knew all too well what stood amidst the dark shadows of the Southern forest: the black hill Dol-Dúgol(3), where some two thousand years earlier the Enemy had one of his chief fortresses. And though it had been abandoned after the highly-paid victory of the Last Alliance, Thranduil sometimes asked himself whether it was still so.

True, a long peace followed the Last Battle, in which the numbers of the woodland folk grew again; but Thranduil, having seen all three Ages of Middle-earth, felt the changes that slowly came into the world, and his heart had become unquiet and anxious. The dominion of the Númenórean Kings of Gondor was reaching out northwards towards the borders of Lórinand and the Greenwood, and unlike his cousin Celeborn(4) and Celeborn’s wife Artanis, Thranduil had no other means to protect his realm and his people than the keen eyes and the strong arms of his archers. And though the archers of the woodland folk were the best Middle-earth had ever seen, they could only protect their home against ordinary foes. Orcs, yes, even Trolls, and they could handle the once again heavily breading Wargs well enough. But there were other perils in the darks shadows under the trees, and the Elves of the Greenwood needed allies.

The Free Men of the North, who were not under the rule of the Dúnedain and had not been subjected by the Enemy or his servants either, were spreading southwards: mostly east of the Greenwood, though some were settling in the eaves of the forest itself and the grasslands of the Vales of Anduin. Thranduil did not mind the neighbourhood, for these were woodmen who respected the forest and the trees just as any Wood-Elf would have; and they had built what became the Old Forest Road in a straight line from the Ford under the Carrock to the River Celduin, just below the mountains of Emyn Duir(5), making the travel through the forest swift and easy, for Elves as well as for Men.

Yet his chief allies were easiest to reach on the back of the Forest River: the impressive towns of Dale and Esgaroth at the Long Lake. Thranduil had a long-time alliance and good trading relationship to both towns and their kings, even in times when they had quarrels among themselves. More than once had his Elven wisdom been asked for to settle the differences between two all-too-stubborn mortal leaders, and he doubted not that it would happen again. Fortunately, he was a stubborn Elf himself, so the stiff necks of mere mortals could never match his own.

Still, he liked the Northmen – their simple but honest ways that were so different from the intrigues and power plays of his own kin, at least of those who had returned from the Blessed Realm and thought that this simple fact have them the right to handle the Faithful, who had not abandoned Middle-earth, not even at the peak of the strength of their Dark Enemy, like some sort of rustic tribe that would depend on their assumedly greater wisdom and leadership.

“Less wise” they called the Tree Children,” and “more dangerous”; names like “Moriquendi” and “Avari they gave the Silvan folk. Well, for his part Thranduil was proud of his people remaining faithful to the lands of their Awakening, instead of going to the West and hiding under the cloak of the Valar.

Not that doing so would have brought them much good, the King of Eryn Galen thought dryly, for had the Dark Foe not found them even in the very heart of the Blessed Realm? They wanted to be shielded from the evil that was marring the flesh of Arda and had become part of that evil themselves, being the first ones to spill the blood of their own kin. Have they ever asked themselves who had truly less wisdom and more danger in their hearts? Their so-called wisdom and fine arts had only one result: they made Sauron stronger, giving him the chance to forge the most dangerous weapon ever since the fall of the Great Enemy.

Not that Thranduil would reject wisdom and art. After all, he was born in Doriath(6), and his hearth beheld the glittering beauty of the Thousand Caves of Menegroth, and that had been a sight he could never forget. And so, after the Last Battle, when he became King in his slain father’s stead, Thranduil established the seat of his kingdom in the north-east of the forest, as far from any former influence of the Enemy as possible, at the River, and delved there a fortress and great halls underground. In fact, the whole mountain had slowly become one huge city, with caves opening into other caves and arched corridors and chambers with carved likenesses of the real trees just outside, and open balconies – even though his halls were not to be compared with Menegroth. He had not the arts nor the wealth nor the aid of the Dwarves (whom he would never let even near his home); and compared with the Elves of Doriath his Silvan folk were indeed rude and rustic.

But neither Thranduil nor his father minded it. Oropher had come among the woodland folk with only a handful of Sindar, and they were soon merged with the Silvan Elves, learning their language and taking names of Silvan form and style. This they did deliberately; for they came from Doriath after its ruin and had no desire to leave Middle-earth nor to be merged with the other Sindar of Beleriand, dominated by the Noldorin exiles, for whom the folk of Doriath had no great love. They wished indeed to become Silvan folk and to return, as they said, to the simple life natural to the Elves before the invitation of the Valar had disturbed it(7).

Of course, this strong opinion (which the son and grandson of his other cousin(8), Galathil, happened to share) caused a slight estrangement between him and Celeborn, who had become rather close with the Noldor during the last Age through his wife. To be honest, Thranduil disliked Artanis greatly. Oh, he could understand why Celeborn had fallen for the Warrior Princess of the Noldor, despite her rather unclear part in the Kinslaying of Alqualondë – she was cunning and valiant and fair beyond measure, and she loved Celeborn very much. About that Thranduil had no doubt. But she was much too power-hungry for his taste, though he doubted not that Celeborn was able to handle her.

Still, it filled his heart with unease that young Amroth had to dwell and try to rule in her close neighbourhood. The Lady of the Wood she was already called, and one could not know just how great her hunger for power truly was. She could not assume kingship personally – unless Celeborn did, but he would never go against the grandson of his own brother – but she could make Amroth’s life miserable, luring his people to Caras Galadhon with her charms and thus making the young King’s realm weak and open for attacks.

And attacks would come, sooner and later; of that Thranduil was certain. The same shadow that was darkening the southern part of Eryn Galen, was threatening Lórinand as well. Artanis had her means to protect the Golden Wood to a certain extent – she had been taught by Lúthien herself, after all – but her powers were naught compared to the Girdle of Melian, and even the Girdle could be broken. Thranduil had been there to see it happen(9).

He shook off the memories of the enchanted forest that was no more; the memories of his mother and his cousin and so many others being slain mercilessly – it had been long ago, even if Elven memory kept it painfully vivid in his mind. It had been long ago, and he had known other sorrows during the times in-between.

His father and his beautiful, valiant elder sons slain on the slopes of Orodruin, the Fiery Mountain. His elder daughter leaving her home and going to the Havens, a victim of the Sea-longing of the Sindar, awakening in her hearth without any warning, for the first time in three generations. The fact that she fell in love with one of Círdan’s people, married him and chose to remain in Middle-earth for his sake a little longer, did little to heal Thranduil’s heart over the loss. She did not even ask for the blessing of her parents. But again, Celebwen had always been… different. Silver-haired, like no one else since her great-grandfather, gifted – or cursed – with an insight that was rare even among Elves, she had always longed for the Sea, listening to the lures of the West. She had been lost for her family from a very young age.

The King sighed, his thoughts turning towards his youngest children, the only ones still remaining to him and his beloved Queen. The birthing of Celebwen and their three elder sons had cost his wife much strength, so that they could not even think of having more children for a very long time. Well, several hundred years might not be that long a time for Elves, but the Silvan folk preferred large families, and the Queen, being one of their Wise Women, yearned for feeling a new life growing in her body again – and even more so after their horrible losses.

The coming of Legolas in their life (named after the valiant brother of Thranduil’s own mother) was a day of great joy in Eryn Galen. Even after the destruction that the war with Sauron had brought, and on the threshold of the next, devastating war that ended that whole Age, the woodland realm was filled with song and laughter upon the arrival of the youngest royal Prince. Who would have thought that soon he would be the only one?

Thranduil suppressed a sigh. The brutal death of his heir, Dorothil(10) and his two other sons in battle left him behind like a tree bereft of its ripest fruits, and when Celebwen went to the havens, the only one left to them was Legolas – just coming of age at the begin of the war, but thankfully still too young and inexperienced to go to battle with his sires and elder brothers.

For over a thousand years, Legolas had remained their only child, both of them too far gone in grief to even think of creating a new life. Then, less than a twelve-year(11) ago, the wonder happened: the Queen was with child again, without them deciding to try for it as was the custom of Elves. The elders said it happened through their great love for each other; that though such a thing was rare, it was not entirely unheard of. What ever the reason might have been, Thranduil cared not. He had been overjoyed that their marriage was not barren any more, for he had seen how desperately his beloved Queen longed for motherhood.

Sweet little Aiwë(12) truly had been the wonder of the whole realm ever since her birth. She brought a new light into the hearts of her much-suffered parents, and her brother lover her dearly. The folk of Eryn Galen could not have seen enough of her, she was welcome in every home, her laughter could be heard everywhere in the palace, and she was known to be able to talk with the birds of the forest. Seeing his little daughter, born after such a long time of waiting, the King of the Greenwood felt new hope slowly returning in his heart, in spite of the new darkness arising in the south of the forest.

Light footfall brought him out of his brooding. He looked back and saw his old seneschal, Galion, approaching through the royal study. Yes, Galion, who modestly called himself the butler of the King (though in fact he carried the not-so-little responsibility for the whole palace) was one of the few Elves who truly showed the passing of time on their faces.

Which was no wonder, since Galion was truly ancient, even for an Elf. Though not one of the very first who had awakened at the Waters of Cuiviénen, he was one of the second generation – and the only one still alive who had seen Kortirion, the nearly mythical First City of the Elves. Not the one beyond the Sea, but the older one that had been built under the starlight of the times before the Great Journey.

He had been the seneschal of Elmö, the King of that city, and the tutor of young Oropher and his brother Galathon – and he saved the young Princes form the ruins of their burning home after the Demon of Fire had come. He brought them to the safety of Doriath, to Elu Thingol and his Queen, and had remained on the side of their sons ever since.

When Oropher asked him to come back to the East, in the neighbourhood of their home of old, Galion hesitated not for a moment, in spite of his painful memories. Under the modest guise of an elderly butler, he practically ran everyday’s business in the Forest City. He had done it for Oropher, was still doing it for Thranduil, and would most likely be doing it for Legolas as well, when the time came.

The Elvenking turned to his old friend to greet him with words of respect and fondness as it was his wont. But the words of greeting died in his very throat when he saw Galion’s face. After several thousand years, there was not much that could truly shake the old Elf, and even less that could have caused him any anguish great enough to actually show on his serene face. But this time, there was unveiled pain in those wise old eyes, and deep lines were pressed into the corners of his mouth.

“What is it, old friend?” Thranduil asked softly, dark foreboding already clouding his heart. “Something bad has happened, I can see it on your face. So tell me – I need to know; you cannot spare me. We have agreed on that long ago.”

Galion nodded in defeat, opening his mouth in a feeble attempt to answer, but no sound actually escaped his lips. He swallowed hard, several times, and tried it again, but still at no effect.

“Speak, Galion, I beg of you!” Thranduil urged, becoming truly concerned now. If Galion had lost his calm to such extent, then the tidings had to be very dark, indeed.

His mind ran through the few things of true importance for his seneschal, but no one of them was likely the cause of Galion’s unusual behaviour. Life in the palace was running smoothly, the horses were all healthy and well-fed, the silver dishes of the royal table newly cleaned and polished (as the King could see for himself when crossing the Feasting Hall on his way to his private rooms); even the new barrels of excellent wine from Dorwinion had arrived on time for the great celebration honouring the twelfth anniversary of Aiwë’s birth. (Unlike the Noldor, the woodland folk celebrated the anniversaries of the actual birth rather than that of the conception.) Getting older had made Galion develop a few oddities in mannerism, but no one loved or respected him less for those little quirks, the last the King himself.

Then, with a pang in his heart, Thranduil all of a sudden realized what – or better: who – was even more important for the old Elf than the smooth running of everyday’s business in the palace.

It was the King’s family. The safety and well-faring of the King, the Queen and their remaining children.

And now Thranduil understood that something very bad must have happened to one of his loved ones. Naught else would have caused his faithful old seneschal such distress.

“Tell me ’tis not about Legolas!” he said, noticing that he was all but begging that it would not be so. His heir had been riding out with the regular patrols ever since he had come of age and the dark creatures had begun to creep back into Greenwood the Great. Thranduil was not happy about this, fearing that he might lose yet his only son to the Orcs (that had reappeared in the Misty Mountains once again and invaded the woods more and more frequently), or to one of the other fell creatures that – in this he was certain – had been gradually spreading northwards from Dol Dúgol during the recent years.

But Legolas Thranduilion had inherited the stubbornness of his sires as well as his mother’s considerable charms, and there was no power in Middle-earth that could have held him back once he decided to go. Not even that of his own father. So Thranduil let him have his way, waiting in quiet (or sometimes not-so-quiet) anxiety for his return every time he was gone, for though his son had grown to become one of the best archers in the whole Greenwood, there were perils outside of their realm from which not even the swiftest arrow could save a young Elf when cornered. And it had been Thranduil’s worst fear ever since the end of the War that one day, his soon might not return.

“Say that ’tis not Legolas!” he begged again, waiting for the devastating blow to come.

And come it did – but not as he had expected.

“Nay, not Legolas,” Galion finally answered, finding his voice at last, though it was broken, nearly unrecognisable. “’Tis Aiwë, my Lord… ’tis your little bird...”

~~~

End notes:
(1) The events described in this story happen about a year earlier than the chapter “Innocence” featuring Legolas’ first visit in Imladris.
(2) Greenwood the Great isn’t widely called Mirkwood yet.
(3) Original name of Dol Guldur, according to “The Treason of Isengard” (HoME 7). This being a story set in the first part of the Third Age, I simply assumed that it was an old-fashioned name a conservative Elf like Thranduil would use. This is also the reason why I have him to refer to Lothlórien as Lórinand and to Galadriel with her earlier name, Artanis.
(4) Ask me not. It is complicated. I made Oropher the elder son of Elmö, the brother of Elwë (Elu Thingol) and Olwë (the King of the Teleri of Alqualondë), and thus the brother of Celeborn’s father, Galadhon (at least in one of the Celeborn-genealogies in the Unfinished Tales).
(5) “Dark Mountains” = the Mountains of Mirkwood.
(6) This is my theory only. We know not for a fact where – or when – he was born.
(7) So it is stated in the Unfinished Tales, Appendix B: The Sindarin Princes of the Silvan Elves, p 272. I altered and extended it only slightly.
(8) Again, my own take on the genealogy. Galathil son of Galadhon was Celeborn’s brother; I made him the father of Amdír, King of Lórien, who was slain in the battle upon Dagorlad. This was done in order to make it acceptable why Celeborn and Galadriel would rule in Lórien as long as Amroth son of Amdír was still under age. Of course, this would make Amdír the brother of Dior’s wife, Nimloth. Confused? It will get worse, I promise.
(9) Well, actually, there is no proof about that, either. But when we accept that Oropher had come to Eryn Galen from Doriath (which is what Tolkien states in the Unfinished Tales), Thranduil could have been there when it fell.
(10) Yea, well, this is the weirdest thing ever happened to me. For the first time of my life, I actually did come up with a Sindarin name for a character (wanted it to do something with oak-trees), only to discover about a weak later that Dwimordene had a similarly named character in “Roots.” I swear I haven’t stolen it! I have been working on the Thranduil-tale for a very long time, so I decided to keep the name, since I have already become fond of it. Coincidences happen, even if no one would ever believe it, I fear.
(11) According to the Appendices of LOTR, Elves liked to count in sixes and twelves. The word itself is a little clumsy, but…
(12) Means “bird,” according to the Etymologies. I interpreted it as “Little Bird.” That is where the title of this story comes from. Obviously.


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