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Broken Wings

Author’s Notes:
As you might guess, Radagast’s home was conceived after Beorn’s house in “The Hobbit.” In this chapter I will use this particular book again, in order to visualize Thranduil’s palace, even though there will be differences.

Thranduil’s wife was christened by erunyauve, who is one of the greatest lore-masters when it comes to Elven languages. My never-ending gratitude for having solved my Ages-long problem. If the name sounds unfamiliar, it is because we tried to find one with some elements of Silvan Elvish, which is a less-known Elven tongue. (See footnotes.) All other Elven expressions are courtesy of erunyauve.

Many thanks also to Ithilwen for her help in the matter of spider venom symptoms and to Meg for giving me the necessary crash-course on spiders. As always, thank you, Cirdan, for proofreading the story.



For the next two days, the wizard and the Elven Prince rode hard, with few and short rests in-between. The nimble horses of Radagast seemed not to mind the murderous haste, and Legolas was a young Elf who did not tire easily; his only concern was to wear off his companion. Yet the old Man showed a strength that could match that of any Elf, and so they slowed not down and slept not and ate and drank but a little once or twice a day, during their rests. The urgency of their errand left them not a moment of peace.

Thus in the early evening of the second day they came to the Forest River, some miles within the edge of the Greenwood on its eastern side, where it ran out of the heights of the forest and flowed on, before the huge stone gates of the royal palace, out into the marches at the feet of the high wooded lands.

There, at the end of the narrow way that ran like a shadowy green tunnel under the dense growth of beaches, a bridge led across the River to the Elvenking’s doors, as they were called. In fact, they were the gates of the whole city. The water flowed dark and swift and strong beneath that stone bride, made by the hands of a few surviving stone carvers who had managed to escape from Doriath with King Oropher’s family, many hundreds of years ago; and at the far end were gates before the mouth of a huge cave that ran into the side of a steep slope covered with trees. There the great beeches came right down to the bank, ’til their feet were in the stream.

Across this bridge many of the King’s household now came running, some of them helping the wizard and their beloved young Prince to dismount, others leading the trembling horses away to take care of them in the stables, while the rest was offering Radagast and Legolas a drink of wine and a wafer of lembas(1), so that they could regain some of their strength.

Among these latter ones was old Galion, the seneschal of the palace, and his face was taut and his wise, old eyes full of sorrow. Legolas paled in fear at this sight, for he knew all too well how dear Galion kept his whole family and that he loved little Aiwë as if she were his own granddaughter of some kind.

“Master Galion,” the young Prince said, forcing himself to speak evenly, “is my sister….”

Galion, guessing what he was about to ask, shook his head. “She is alive… barely,” he answered sadly.

“Then bring me to her, quickly," the wizard ordered. “We have precious little time left, I fear.”

The old Elf bowed and let him out of the main cave that was, indeed, only the courtyard of the city-palace, an antechamber of some sort, along the twisting, crossing and echoing passages that were lit only sparsely with red torchlight, ’til they finally reached the royal chambers. Crossing a short, wider corridor they stepped through a heavy oak door and into a wide chamber, the windows and balconies of which looked to the West, and Radagast had to blink several times, for the reddish beams of the setting Sun blinded him for a moment after the long march in the dark passageways.

He knew this chamber already, of course, having visited it many times ever since he settled down in Rhosgobel. This was the working chamber of the Lady Lálisin (2), Queen of the Greenwood, wife to Thranduil and mother of six beautiful children, three of which had already been dead for more than a thousand years and the fourth of which was dying at this very moment.

Yet her working chamber was not one of those richly adorned halls one would have expected from the wife of an Elvenking. The Queen of Eryn Galen was of the Silvan folk – more so, she was one of their Wise Women and their greatest healers, and she shared the simple tastes of her people. Like many women of pure Silvan blood (those were the remnants of the true Faithful whom other Elves called the Avari), the earth magic they possessed due to their deep roots in the lands of their Awakening was strong in her – in fact, even stronger than in most, for she came from a family of healers, gifted – or cursed – with foresight, and she was quite ancient, even in Elven terms, being the granddaughter of Nurwë, one of the first leaders of the Faithful.

A mortal might have found her beautiful, but for an Elf she was rather plain, with the same auburn hair and deep green, slanted eyes as her youngest son (in fact, three of her four sons resembled her in their colours), but the delicate beauty that marked Legolas’ features clearly came into the family from Thranduil’s line. The Queen had a fairly ordinary, slightly round face, even though it looked haggard at the moment from weariness and deep concern for her little daughter. She wore a simple, unadorned forest-green gown and tied over that the long, loose apron of a healer. Her thick hair was bound back in a grey cloth and the sleeves of her gown were rolled up ’til her elbows.

“Master Aiwendil,” she greeted the wizard, rising from the side of the small bed that had been brought over from the nursery here, where she kept all her herbs and ointments. “I am grateful that you have come so quickly. We have tried all that we could – I know not what else might be done. Certainly naught that is in my power or that of any of our people.”

Radagast stepped closer to the bed where the fragile little elfling lay, with her head resting on the lap of her father. She seemed so small, even for a mere 12-year-old, so very small and so deadly pale; and she obviously was in a lot of pain. Thranduil had a damp cloth in his hand, wiping that hot and sweaty little face again and again, but it was of no use. Aiwë tossed restlessly, chewing on her lower lip, her eyes glassed over slightly; she obviously could no more recognize her father or her surroundings.

“Merciful Palúrien, Lady of the Earth, mother of all living things, stay with us,” Legolas whispered barely audible the time-honoured prayer of the woodland folk. The little girl was barely recognizable any more, with her puffy cheeks and limbs – that twisted and tormented small body had naught to do with the cheerful Elf-child he had left behind six days earlier when leaving for his patrol duty.

“There is no more hope for my little bird, is there?” Thranduil asked in a strangely detached voice, as if he were speaking of the inevitable change of the seasons. “’Tis not the poison alone, they say; ere it could have been purged out of her body, it already had begun to eat her up from the inside, and she has not enough strength left to fight it.”

Radagast shivered. The Great Spiders were not all of the same kind, and had Aiwë been bitten by one of the white-backed ones, she might still have a chance to live. But there were some of these monsters whose backs were red, bearing the evil black mark of Ungoliantë the Gloom-Weaver upon it, and these released a flesh-eating venom into their prey. If the little princess had been bitten by one of those, then she was dead already, even though still breathing. Such a small body could not fight that sort of poison.

“I do what I can,” the wizard said, “but you must understand, my Lord King that I cannot make any promises. Even if I had the time to bring her over the Misty Mountains to my friend Iarwain and his spouse the River-daughter(3), the outcome would be doubtful.”

Thranduil nodded, slowly stroking the now lifeless and brittle tresses of his little daughter. Of all their children, only Aiwë inherited his rich, honey-blonde hair – he used to be so proud of the beauty of the little girl and her resemblance of him. Yet know he would have been eternally grateful to simply be allowed to keep his child – even disfigured or with that wondrous hair of hers falling out completely… just alive.

“I understand that, Master Wizard,” he said. “Just do what ever you can think of to save my child. If it could be done I would give her part of my spirit as I have done, albeit not knowing of it, when she was awakened in her mother’s body(4). Can you not channel the strength of my fëa and lead it to her? ’Tis said to have been done in the Elder Days, and I am strong enough to recover from such a trial, given enough time.”

“So am I,” Legolas offered quietly, but the wizard only shook his shaggy head, mildly exasperated over the light-heartedness which the woodland folk handled perilous ancient customs with. Surely, things like that had been done in the Elder Days – but that usually ended with a disaster.

“Even if such thing could be done otherwise than in legends, she would not survive it,” he said, unwilling to risk the life or sanity of an other member of the royal family. “She is much too weak, your strength would tear her fragile spirit apart. There is still one thing I can try, though, but I need your help to do so. Come here, young Prince, and you, too, Lady Lálisin. Take the hand of the King and form a circle around the bed, for protection. I shall have to set free some power that must be contained – at any price. Do you understand?”

The Elves nodded mutely and did as they had been asked. Inside of their circle, the wizard sat down on the bedrand and laid both his hands upon the heaving chest of the little girl, noticing how swollen and shapeless that small body had become. Equally small was the hope that he might help, but he was determined to at least try.

He flattened his big hands on Aiwë’s chest and began to chant, slowly and softly, in the tongue of the Blessed Realm, calling back his last glimpse of Palúrien, the Earth-Lady, as he had seen her before leaving fort the Hither Lands: standing like a tree under heaven, crowned with the sun; and from all her branches there spilled a golden dew upon the barren Earth, and it grew green with corn; and the roots of the Tree-Lady were in the waters of Ulmo and the winds of Manwë spoke in her leaves(5).

Palúrien, the Earth-Lady was – aside of Aldaron(6), the Lord of the Forests – the one the woodland folk valued and respected from all the Lords and Queens of the West, more even than Varda herself mayhap; for she was the one who had visited the abandoned lands in the Dark Years and urged the Valar to remember their duties towards Arda. Radagast only hoped that his Lady would be merciful to the innocent child and her much-suffered parents – that his arrival had not already been too late.

Slowly, carefully, he began to release some of the power that he had kept safely contained in the depth of his spirit all the years spent in Middle-earth. ’Twas a very delicate thing to do, for it could have broken up his fana(7) and caused great damage in the structure of Arda – which was the very reason why they had been forbidden to use it. He knew he would be severely punished, should Curumo(8) ever learn of his trespassing, and yet he felt unable to deny his help to these much-suffered Elves who had been abandoned by the Mightiest of the West often enough in the previous Ages. Besides, mercy and not sacrifice was what the Lady Palúrien wanted of those that served her.

The three Elves watched in awe (and even a little frightened) as the shaggy old wizard began to glow in a faint, golden light. It covered his whole form, but gathered the strongest around his hands as they lay upon Aiwë’s chest. The child became restless again, writhing in pain under his touch, the thin cloth of her nightgown sliding off her shoulder and revealing the swollen and discoloured flesh around the blackened bite marks.

Legolas closed his eyes. Seeing the broken and violated body of his innocent little sister was almost more than he could bear. He ached to reach out and touch her sweaty brow or kiss her cheek or do anything to ease her pain, but he dared not to break the circle. As all Wood-Elves, he was somewhat taught in magic, and knew how perilous it would be to let that power that worked on Aiwë’s broken shell escape.

Finally the wizard ceased his eerie chanting and let go of the suffering child with a sigh, giving the Elvenking a rueful look.

“I have done all that still could be done,” he said. “’Tis up to Aiwë now. If she can make it through the night – which I very much doubt, to be honest –, then she still might live, after all. But her chances are not good.”

“That I know all too well,” Thranduil nodded, sitting back down on the bed and collecting the small, disfigured body of his child into his arms. “I thank you for coming nevertheless, Master Wizard. You must be weary, after the long ride and your labours, I deem. Legolas and the Queen will see to your needs. I… I shall stay here with my little bird if I may.”

“You should rest, hervenn nîn(9),” the Queen scolded him mildly. “You have not left her bedside for the last four days.”

“Nor have you,” Thranduil replied, smiling at his Queen sadly. “You fought for her life day and night, brennilen(10). Have some rest, I beg of you. I promise to call you, should any changes occur – for good or for worse.”

“Every healer could do that, Ada,” said Legolas. “Mother is not the only one who needs some rest. Come with us.”

But Thranduil only shook his head. “Nay, she might ask for me… my little princess, she always wanted to be near me. I can rest enough when… when she is gone. I shall not leave her to the care of strangers in her last hours.”

His broken voice revealed the fact that he no longer hoped for Aiwë’s healing. The Queen sighed and bent down to kiss first her daughter and then her husband.

“Be it as you wish, my Lord,” she said. “Our son and I shall rest for a short while, and we shall take care of Master Aiwendil. You have that time for saying your farewells in private.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
With that she left, taking both Legolas and the wizard with her. The two of them led Radagast to an adjoining guest chamber and the Queen called for some food and some wine. Would the guest be not Radagast but Curumo, head of their Order, he would have found the food offered to him rather crude, containing bulrush-roots, acorns, roasted fish, and cones, as Wood-Elves usually ate with what the forests supplied them, with tree leaf-buds cooked in honey, that was considered a delicacy among the woodland folk(11). But even though Radagast usually ate better himself, thank his household beasts and the trade with the Woodmen, he could appreciate the simple food and the hospitality of the Queen, as he knew that he was given the best this darkened forest could offer.

The wine, however, was the heavy vintage of the great gardens of Dorwinion, bought from the peoples of Rhûn for a high price and brought in by the merchants of Laketown. No one but the Elvenking himself and his family were meant to drink it, and Radagast appreciated the honour of being offered a taste of it.

The Queen seemed not to have much appetite. She sat at the table quietly, sipping on a small goblet of wine, looking weary and entirely without any hope.

“Do you truly believe that our daughter might make it through the night?” she asked after the wizard had eaten a few bits. Radagast shrugged.

“’Tis hard to tell, hírilen(12). It depends on how much strength she still has left… and how quickly you were able to flush out the poison of her body.”

“She had been attacked near the palace,” the Queen replied thoughtfully. “Galion brought her in shortly thereafter, and we began to give her lots of herbal tea, as long as she was still able to swallow on her own. But a day ago we had to stop doing so, for her body could not handle it any more. The bloating had become much worse since then,” she sighed. “I knew then that we cannot help her any more. Only a wonder could still save her – and somehow I doubt that the Valar would show any mercy towards us. They have never done so in the past.”

“They did send me, after all,” Radagast replied mildly. “And there still is some hope left that I have come in time.”

“You not truly believe it, and nor do I,” said the Queen. “Our daughter will die, and my husband will be devastated. This might well be the last straw for him. He already has endured too much for one Elf to bear.”

“What about you, hirilen?” the wizard asked. “Have you not endured the same?”

“I am of the Faithful,” the Queen answered with a shrug. “We are accustomed to sorrow. Also, I am much older than he is. I have seen things before the making of the Sun and Moon that no one could fathom, not even Galion. For our people have lived in the woods like wild beasts, without help, without guidance, without any protection. We had to learn to bear great hardships and cruel losses. It has made us strong. And this strength is what might save my son in the upcoming new darkness – if there is aught that could.”

“Worry not, Nana,” Legolas rose from his seat and stepped to his mother; he loosened the grey cloth that bound her hair back, took it off, and sinking his strong fingers into the thick, unbraided auburn mane, he gently began to massage his mother’s scalp. “In everything that counts, I am your son. You have given me the strength of the Faithful, and I do not break easily.”

The Queen gave a soft sigh and leant back into the hands of her only remaining son.

“Your father will need you once Aiwë is gone, my little leaf,” she murmured. “Remember, you are the only one left for us.”

“Nay,” Legolas argued gently, “you are wrong. You still have Celebwen as well.”

“Celebwen has never truly been ours,” his mother answered sadly. “Her Sindarin blood had set her apart from the rest of us at a very tender age – she never felt at home under the trees. You were but a little elfling when she left for the Havens – I am surprised that you still remember her.”

“Not too well,” Legolas admitted, “though I do remember that she had silver hair and grey eyes – and that she always was sad. And fair, beyond even Elven measure. I admired her and wept for a long time after she had left,” he smiled sadly, “but I think not that I ever loved her as a sister. She has always been much too distant for that.”

“She alone came after the Teleri in your father’s family,” the Queen nodded. “I hope she is happy among her true kin. At least she is safe in the Havens – more safe than we shall ever be.”

“I wish I could visit her in the Havens one day,” Legolas murmured with dreamy eyes. “To see the city of the Lord Círdan, the white ships along the quays, the dance of the foam-crowned waves...,” the longing in his voice was unmistakable. “Alas, Father would never allow me to travel to those shores.”

“He wishes not to lose you, too,” his mother said. “That is why he never goes there, either. For the Sea-longing is in his blood and so ’tis in yours, too. ’Tis slumbering still, but to wake it would be dangerous. You would never find peace under the trees again.”

But Legolas only laughed over her warning. “Nay, mother, I think not so. There is naught in Middle-earth that could make me abandon our beloved trees. Naught at all.”

“Yet the Sea is not from Middle-earth entirely,” Radagast pointed out softly, “and ever since the Awakening, the hearts of most Firstborn are bent to its call.”

Ere Legolas could have answered, there was a short knock on the door, and in stumbled, without waiting to be told to do so, Elulin(13), one of the Queens handmaidens.

“My Lady,” she stammered, her green eyes full of tears, “’Tis going to the end with Aiwë. If… if you want to see her one last time, you should hurry…”

The Queen sprang to her feet and dashed out of the chamber like a frightened deer. Legolas and the wizard followed in a haste.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There was an eerie silence in the healing chamber. The child lay quietly on her father’s lap, her small, swollen face contorted in pain, her breathing quick and shallow. Írith(14), the best healer of the palace right after the Queen, stood on the other side of the bed, hands folded before her apron in a helpless manner. Obviously, there was naught she – or any one else – could do any more.

Thranduil looked up with dry, haunted eyes and stretched out his free hand towards his wife wordlessly, in a vague gesture that was both offering and asking for comfort. The Queen rushed to his side and embraced him tightly, while Legolas kneeled down at their feet, taking one of Aiwë’s puffy, unfeeling little hands.

“Tis over,” Thranduil murmured softly. “She is almost gone, and my only wish is now that it would happen quickly. She never opened her eyes again… and she is in so much pain. Could the Valar not show at least enough mercy to make her suffering end? What has she done to deserve a fate so cruel? Or are the Lords of the West punishing her for the unwillingness of our forefathers to leave our birthplace? Why cannot they punish me instead? I am the one who decided to remain here with the Faithful – is this why Mandos keeps taking my children, one by one, even the youngest and most innocent one of them? Now they all dwell in his shadowy Halls, and I shall never see them again.”

“Unless you decide to go to the West, after all,” Radagast said quietly.

“I think not so,” replied Thranduil, “but ’tis too early to speak of that right now. I still have much to do here. Even if no one of my family is allowed to remain with me. I only wish they were not made pay for my choices.”

He hugged his little girl closer and watched with saddened eyes as Aiwë’s breathing became more and more slow. The elfling was still warm, but her chest slowly ceased to heave, and she became eerily quiet all of a sudden. The Queen bent down to the still little chest to listen for the faint heartbeat; then she straightened again and shook her head sadly.

“She is gone,” she said, her voice low and full of sorrow, but her face hard and collected.

Thranduil answered not. He kept holding the lifeless body of his little bird in his arms, his upper body swinging back and forth in a strange rhythm, summing an old lullaby that used to be Aiwë’s favourite. Legolas, too, rose and tried to speak to him but to no use; he did not even hear his son’s voice.

“Come,” the Queen murmured, “let us leave him alone. He needs time to master his grief. We can say our farewells to Aiwë later.”


End notes:
(1) I know, I know. Lembas was the waybread of the Lórien Elves, who probably brought the secret of its making from Doriath. But since its corn supposedly had grown in the starlight before the making of the Sun already, I cannot see why the Mirkwood Elves would not know it, too. Tolkien only says that Gimli did not know it, but it is unlikely that the Mirkwood Elves would share such a thing with Dwarves anyway.
(2) Lálisin means “Elm of Knowledge.” According to the most knowledgeable erunyauve, one of Tolkien's last letters stated that Silvan Elvish was still spoken in Thranduil's realm, but not in Lórien, in the late 3rd Age. It appears that -in was probably a genitive singular ending, so an ending in istin would give "of knowledge" (or perhaps isin, since it appears that -st becomes -s in Nandorin).
(3) Tom Bombadil and Goldberry. To their relationship with Thranduil’s family see my Glorfindel-story, “A Tale of Never-Ending Love.”
(4) Elves believe that when a child is conceived, part of both parent’s fëar (spirits) is given to it.
(5) See: The Silmarillion, p. 18.
(6) Oromë.
(7) Corporeal form of a Vala or a Maia – not the same thing as the hröar (bodies) of incarnate beings. We all know, of course, that the Istari or wizards were actually Maiar in disguise.
(8) Saruman in Quenya.
(9) "Husband mine" in Sindarin.
(10) "my Lady", as said by the husband to his wife.
(11) "my Lady" as said by a subject, addressing the Lady of the house.
(12) In creating the meal I followed Tyellas’ lead, given in “The Bread of the Mírdain.”
(13) Earlier, rejected name for Nimloth.
(14) Earlier, rejected name for Aredhel. I’m not good with names, so I usually borrow them from Tolkien himself.


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