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4
Epilogue

Author’s Notes:
This epilogue serves as a connection to my ongoing tale, “Innocence,” as it happens shortly before its future chapter, “Tentative Steps,” where Legolas finally gets to visit Imladris for the very first time and is reunited with his pal, Lindir. Since that chapter is still quite far in the future, however, you might have to wait a while for the reunion.

I realize that I have not fulfilled my promise at the beginning of this tale; the one about telling the reason I found why Thranduil wanted riches. This story just turned another way. Your answer is the upcoming new tale called “Astonishment in Mirkwood” – unless I find a less stupid title for it.

My sincerest thanks to Dagmar and Judy who came up with the flute-playing Thranduil and allowed me to borrow him. And, as usual, my gratitude to Cirdan for beta-reading.


~~~

EPILOGUE

[Mirkwood, the year 1.140 of the Third Age]


Galion, the seneschal of King Thranduil’s palace, was on a search for his Lord. His first way led him to the throne room: a great hall with pillars hewn out of the living stone of the mountain, carved in the likeness of the trees of the forest and with rich tapestries made by the Queen and her handmaidens themselves. However, the high chair of carven wood stood empty, and the carven staff of oak that served as the Elvenking’s sceptre, lay abandoned upon the dais that raised the throne above the rest of the seats in the room.

“Where is our Lord?” Galion asked Rhimlath, one of the younger servants who was busily cleaning the candlesticks. The ash-blonde young Elf – one of the numerous Nandor Elves that had chosen to live under Thranduil’s rule – shrugged.

“He went to the Queen’s gardens… with his flute. He said he wanted to be alone.”

Galion sighed. Over a whole year had passed since the death of sweet little Aiwë, and the only way Thranduil was able to find some comfort was to go to the Queen’s gardens where the empty shell that was left of the once so merry little child had been buried. He would spend long hours at the small grave, playing on his flute all the old songs of the Silvan folk that Aiwë used to like so much.

He was neglecting his duties towards his realm, leaving its affairs to the Queen and to Legolas, who – with the help of the councillors and Galion himself – tried to keep everything running smoothly, but they both feared that all their efforts would not be good enough, especially since the attacks of the Orcs and the Giant Spiders had increased. In just one year, things in the Greenwood had gone from bothering to downright bad and worse, and the woodland folk reluctantly accepted the name the Woodmen had given their home: Mirkwood, the Dark Forest. Things were slowly but inevitably changing for the worse with every passing day. They needed their King back – his strength, his wisdom, his leadership, all of which he had sacrificed to his grief.

“Prince Legolas went after him,” Rhimlath added with a meaningful look.

Galion nodded his understanding and left the throne room to seek out his King. He needed to speak to Thranduil, and if Legolas was present to help him, he might even have a chance of being listened to.

The Queen’s gardens – small, flowery patches, connected by narrow pathways westwards from the palace, so that she could see them when she looked out of her balcony – were bright and peaceful in the golden light of the late afternoon, as if they had remained untouched by the darkening of the forest. The flowers glowed red and golden: snapdragons and sunflowers and nasturtiums trailing all over the small clearings and leaning protectively over a small, grass-covered mould that was peppered with the small, white eyes of evermind(1), the flowers of remembrance. The wild and bittersweet tune of an ancient song, played on a silver flute, was piping through the fence of great beeches.

Thranduil, wearing the usual green and brown garb of the woodland folk, as it was his wont except on feasts, sat cross-legged upon the grass, next to the grave of his daughter, his hair unbraided and crowned with a garland of autumn leaves and berries only. He held the most wondrous silver flute in his hands and played it with great skill, which did not surprise Galion at all.

He had been the one, after all, who used to escort the then-young Prince to music lessons in Doriath. Nay, Thranduil had not been gifted enough to be taught by Daeron himself, but there had been other minstrels in Thingol’s realm, less great in gifts mayhap but more blessed in patience, who had instructed him well enough to become a good player, even in Elven terms.

The flute itself had come from Valinor with the Queen and was given him by Thingol as a gift when he had reached maturity. Before that, he had used a wooden one, made by his tutor; unfortunately, that one got lost during the fall of Doriath. To Thranduil’s regret, only Celebwen of all his children had inherited his gift of music and his love for the flute, though he would have loved to teach them all how to play. That was why he was always pleased when Radagast had brought over young Lindir for a visit. The youngling had a unique gift and loved to be tutored by the King.

Thranduil, absorbed in his music and his grief, did not even notice the approach of his old seneschal. Legolas, however, who was sitting across him, watching him over Aiwë’s grave with worried eyes, looked up and nodded his greetings.

“He is falling to pieces, Galion,” the young Prince said quietly. “I know not what else I could do. We cannot lose him, not now when the darkness is creeping over our forest, more and more with every passing day. Mother is not the one made for ruling kingdoms, and I… I am much too young still. I cannot take over his place, not so soon. I am not ready. We need him, and we need him with his old strength and wisdom back together.”

“That I know, my Prince,” Galion sighed, “but I fear fate had dealt your father just one more blow than he had the strength to endure. I know not how we could keep his fëa from leaving. I hoped Hathaldir(2) of Lothlórien would be a welcome distraction, but our Lord did not even come in to greet him.”

This news, strangely, seemed to lighten Legolas’ mood a little. The rare visits of Hathaldir not only meant spontaneous archery contests which he loved to win against the older, more experienced Elf, but also interesting tales from far-away parts of Middle-earth, Hathaldir being one of the very few Galadhrim who travelled in other lands on errantry.

“Hathaldir is here?” Legolas asked happily. “What tidings is he carrying this time?”

“Encouraging ones, or so I hope,” said Galion. “It seems that the powerful ones finally decided to do something – together. They have called for the White Council to discuss the darkening of the forests and what could be done against it.”

“A Council!” Legolas’ mind raced. “Where, Galion, where? Is my father invited, too? Surely, they would not dare to leave him out of such important meeting?”

“Nay, they would not,” Galion sighed, “but his current state is not the only hindrance here, I fear. For the Council is called to Imladris – and you know how your father thinks of that place and its Lord…”

Legolas groaned involuntarily. Aye, he knew all too well the Ages-old animosity between his sires and the Noldor, which partially caused the horrible deaths of two-thirds of all the woodland archers that followed his grandfather into battle during the Last Alliance – including the death of King Oropher himself and that of Legolas’ three older brothers. According to Silinde(3), captain of the Mirkwood archers, who had been present in that battle, Oropher had not been entirely without fault in that tragedy – even though the Noldor were a little too ready to blame him for everything – but Thranduil himself would not hear of it. In his eyes Oropher was infallible – everything an Elvenking should be.

Legolas himself, however, had a slightly different view on those events. Certainly, he had respected his grandsire greatly, as all his siblings had, yet he was not as blind in his love and his respect as his own father. He was not all too fond of the Noldor himself, yet he was wise enough, in spite of his youth, to know that his dislike of them was based mostly on prejudice, as he hardly ever met any of them, except a few patrols sent out of Imladris that he ran into at rare occasions.

“I do believe strongly that we ought to be there when that Council is held,” he said to Galion softly. “My father might not be willing to admit it, but we need help if we want to drive the dark creatures out of our forests. And since he is in no shape to fight the Council right now, I also believe ’tis I who should go.”

“To Imladris?” Galion stared at him with wide, unbelieving eyes. “Your father will never allow you to go. Not after what happened with Aiwë. You are all he still does have left.”

“He cannot keep me here,” Legolas replied calmly. “I loved Aiwë, too, and my heart shall never cease bleeding for her, but she was only a little girl. I am a grown Elf and I am a warrior; ’tis my right and my duty to defend our people’s interests when my father and King is not fit to do so.”

“And who, pray you, should persuade our King to agree?” Galion asked doubtfully. “You both are much too stubborn for your own good – I wish not to get between the two of you in case there should be a fight.”

“Worry not,” said Legolas, “for I shall do all the arguing and the persuading.” And with that, he reached over Aiwë’s grave, took hold of the silver flute and pulled it gently from his father’s hands.

The music ended with a shrill tone, and Thranduil blinked in surprise as if a strange spell had fallen from him.

“Legolas? What happened, ion nín(4)?”

“You should come back inside, Ada,” Legolas answered softly. “Hathaldir has come from Lothlórien, with tidings that you ought to hear.”

“The affairs of state are of little interest for me in these days,” Thranduil replied absently, wondering why his son could not let him alone.

“Alas, I know that,” Legolas sighed. “When Aiwë died, you said that you still had much to do here. Those were your own words, my Lord, and very true words they were. And yet you care not for your realm and your people any more, leaving the burden of ruling the kingdom to mother and myself.”

“You are doing it well,” Thranduil countered with a slightly guilty look, for his son was right and he knew that. But Legolas shook his head angrily.

“Nay, we are not! Despite all our efforts and Galion’s help, things are not going well! Nor is it our duty to rule our people. Mother is a healer, her help is asked for in a thousand other places, and I… I still have so much to learn ere I could even think of replacing you. But how can I learn when you are not teaching me any more? We need you, Ada! Our people need you, our whole realm needs you!”

“I cannot,” Thranduil muttered helplessly. “I… I need time to recover from my loss.”

“You have had a year, Ada!” Legolas’ voice became unexpectedly hard and unforgiving. “And things are getting worse… with you, with our folk, with our forests, in the wider world beyond our realm. Yet you keep your solitude, keep avoiding us. Has it ever occurred to you that mother is grieving, too? Or that I am grieving? I have lost four of my five siblings already, and mother has lost four children. Have you thought of comforting her just once lately? Nay, you let her doing your work while you are wailing in self-pity and neglecting your duties as the ruler of our people and the head of our family.”

Strictly considered this was not entirely true. According to Silvan custom, the head of a family was the mother, more so when she was considerably older than her husband. Of course the Silvan folk had no kings before the coming of Oropher and his family (not after the fall of the First City, that is), and even after having accepted the rule of the Sindarin Princes, they kept seeing the Queen as the head of the royal family.

Still, there was much bitter truth in Legolas’ harsh words, and Thranduil could do naught but gaze in utter shock at his only remaining son. Eaten up by his own grief, he had forgotten, indeed, that the rest of his family had suffered the same loss.

“My Prince,” Galion murmured quietly, not being able to watch the anguish on his King’s face, “you are going too far…”

“Am I?” Legolas countered softly, reaching out again to take his father’s hand. “I think not so, Master Galion. Times are darkening, and I need my father and my King back. The one who used to teach me and guide me, who made me feel safe and loved; the one who used to be my guiding light, my ideal.” He squeezed the King’s hand and asked gently. “Can you not say where he has gone?”

Thranduil gave a long, shuddering sigh. Legolas’ words had hurt, surely, but in the hearts of his heart he knew that his son was right.

“I know not where your King has gone, ion nín,” he answered, full of sorrow, “nor can I promise that he shall ever return. But your father is still here. He has never left.”

“That is good,” Legolas rose gracefully and pulled up his father with him. “Then mayhap my father can come back inside with me and speak to the messenger of Lothlórien? I believe the tidings he has brought would interest my father, and maybe he can give me some sound advice ere I leave.”

Thranduil stopped dead amidst his track. “Leaving? Where do you intend to go?”

Legolas grinned. “I shall tell you about it when you have spoken with Hathaldir.”

The Elvenking sighed and followed his son obediently back inside. Hathaldir of Lothlórien was waiting with the Queen in the library. Both were more than surprised to see the King return. Also, the Queen noticed the almost invisible change in her husband’s demeanour, and for the first time in a year, she felt the tight feeling around her chest loosening a little.

“I am relieved that you feel fit to join us, hervenn nín,” she said, “for there is a decision to be made, and I feel not up to make it myself.”

“You have carried the burden of my duties long enough, brennilen,” Thranduil answered ruefully. “Fortunately, our son loves both of us enough to make me see my mistakes. I cannot swear to you that I shall be my old self any time, soon, but I promise you to try.”

“That is all we ask,” the Queen answered with a trembling smile. “We feared so much that we might lose you, too, at the end.”

Thranduil sat down next to his wife and took her hand. “You had sound reason to fear, brennilen, but you need to do so no more. We shall face what is coming together, just as we always have… if you can forgive me my selfishness.”

“Let us speak of it when we are alone,” the Queen suggested gently, seeing that her guidance would be needed for quite some time yet. “I believe you should hear what Hathaldir has to say now.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Half a day – and some serious discussions – later Legolas was already riding westwards in the company of Hathaldir and four of the best Mirkwood archers.

Towards a place where his life would change, forever.

A place called Imladris.

~Here endeth this tale.~

~~~

End notes:
(1) The same ones that cover the graves of Rohan’s kings. No, I have no idea if they grew in the North, too. I simply assumed they did, since the forefathers of the Rohirrim have lived many centuries north from Mirkwood,
(2) For a short time, Tolkien considered this to be the name of Haldir. I use it as an old-fashioned form of his name that Wood-Elves would use.
(3) A movie character whom I adopted, so I can’t promise that the name is genuine. I made her a Nandor Elf and a female, though. :-)
(4) “my son” in Sindarin (or so I hope)


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