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The Prisoner of Dol Guldur
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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8
Part 8

For disclaimer, rating, etc. see Part 1.

Author’s note:
Once again, the opening quote is timely somewhat misplaced. But Arwen did travel through Lothlórien on her way to Minas Tirith (and her wedding).


~~~

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Arwen Evenstar remained also, and she said farewell to her brethren. None saw her last meeting with Elrond, her father, for they went up into the hills and there spoke long together, and bitter was their parting that should endure beyond the ends of the world.”

The Return of the King, Chapter 6: Many Partings, p. 130


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
PART 8

Gradually, he became more and more aware of his surroundings and he spent less time in that dream-like state. It seemed to him that the dark-haired Elf-lord had reawakened some hidden strength in him – some strength he did not even know he possessed. Yet he found the change a welcome one, hoping that he would, at last, regain some of what he had lost in the darkness of that evil place.

He blinked with some effort and tried to move his head, for he felt a presence on his side and he wanted to know who it was. He still felt terribly weak but managed to turn his head to the left nevertheless… at the second try.

For a few endless moments, he just lay there, eyes falling shut again from sheer exhaustion. It took him several attempts to reopen them, but he wanted to see. Not just in his mind, when Amme bespoke him, but with his real eyes, even if the light still hurt them.

He had expected to see the noble face of Ada, or the gentle features of the old one whom they called Galion, or mayhap Amme’s elusive smile. What he saw instead was – fog. Soft grey fog and a string of silver leaves, and above them silky darkness.

He blinked again, and his vision cleared a little, revealing the slender frame of a dark-haired, grey-clad woman, whose face was pale and beautiful like the newborn stars in the tales of the old one named Galion. The tales about a Lady who had made the stars, set them upon the skies and kindled their fire, so that they would shine in the darkness below, clear and bright. She had a name… a strange name, what was it again?

“Elentári?” he whispered in awe.

Her laugher was soft and gentle like rainfall upon the surface of a still lake, and her touch upon his brow like the kiss of a soft breeze.

“Undómiel,” she corrected, and he was grateful that she had not used any big words he would not be able to understand. The meaning of many, many words still remained muddy, and he often asked himself whether he would understand them ever again. Mayhap the damage done to his mind in that lightless, soundless place was too great to be healed.

The thought saddened him, for he knew Ada would be sad and angry, and he did not want Ada sad. Mayhap if he tried just a little harder, things would come back to him more quickly. If only he would not feel so weak and weary all the time! As if the weakness of his limbs had mudded his mind even more.

He remembered what Undómiel meant, though: Evenstar. A name almost as beautiful as she herself was, flowing over his tongue smoothly like fresh water. Mayhap it was just his fragmented memory, but he could not remember having seen such beauty before. Ever. Had he given up his broken body and fled to the Halls, not even the Lady of the Stars would he have found more radiant.

The blasphemy of his thought never registered with him.

His throat was painfully dry again, and coughing hurt more than it should have. He felt her soft hand lift his head, and the water cup touched his parched lips.

“Slowly,” she warned, her gently voice full of strength, and he obeyed, although it was a torture to give up precious water, now that there would have been enough of it. The others did not understand the horrible thirst, not even Ada. If he did not obey, they might take away the water again… nay, Ada would never do that, but Ada was not here right now, and he could not feel the presence of Amme, either. ‘Twas better to do as he had been told. He could not risk losing access to water.

He drank in small, careful sips, trying to get as much water as possible, as long as it lasted. To his astonishment, she allowed him to drain the cup entirely, ere taking it away.

“More,” he whispered, the thirst clenching his insides into a painful knot. “Thirsty.”

“I know,” she replied, laying her cool hand upon his feverish brow soothingly. “I shall give you more water in a moment. I promise. But you must rest a little before. Let me help you.”

He did not realize when she touched his mind briefly. He only felt her soothing presence envelop him like cool water, and he fell in a deep, undisturbed sleep.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
On a different talan, higher up in the royal mallorn, the King of the Greenwood and the Master of Imladris were sitting side by side. Triggering Enadar’s healing process had taken its toll on Elrond. He was still pale and week and utterly exhausted.

“You have taken a great risk,” said Thranduil. “I have not realized how much the Longing has weakened you already. ‘Tis a terrible curse of all of Sindarin blood.”

“I always hoped my mixed heritage would spare me this fate,” replied Elrond wryly, “and for a while it seemed as if I was right. But after Celebrían’s departure…”

“You have fought this for five hundred years?” Thranduil stared at him in disbelief. “I cannot imagine how that could be done.”

“I had no other choice,” Elrond shrugged. “I could not leave Middle-earth as long as my brother’s progeny needed me. Now that Sauron is gone, the time of Elves coming to an end and the Kings of Men are returned to power, I can finally have some peace.”

“You are paying a high price for that,” said Thranduil quietly. He had just recently learned about the ramifications of it and of the Lady Arwen’s choice, and – for the first time in his long life – was full of sympathy towards Elrond.

“A higher one than you might imagine,” replied Elrond tiredly. “For my sons do not with to leave with me yet, and I fear that should Elladan truly choose to become mortal, then Elrohir might follow him, leaving me bereft of all my children.”

"That would be harsh indeed,” said Thranduil. “Having to bury your own children is a horrible thing – I have done so thrice, so I should know. But at the very least, I still have the hope to meet them again in the Blessed realm... even though I would prefer to remain here.”

“You do not wish to sail to the West?” asked Elrond in surprise. The mere thought that someone would remain in Middle-earth willingly was a strange one for him.

Thranduil shook his head. “Nay, I never felt the Longing. But my daughter, Celebwen, has suffered from it since her early childhood, so I know what it can do. She would not survive in Middle-earth, not even in Mithlond, to where she has moved long ago, to be near the Sea. And I want to see Dorothil and Orchal again, and sweet little Aiwë, whom I have lost to the cursed Spiders… and my parents.”

“What about your wife?” asked Elrond, for it seemed strange to him that Thranduil would mention everyone else but her.

“The fate of my Queen is a strange and uncertain one,” said the King of the Greenwood, his face darkening. “I know not whether she truly followed Mandos’ call or remained behind as an unhoused spirit to watch over the forest and her family. Legolas says he had seen her under the Great Ash, shortly before the Dragon was slain(1). But the Great Ash is a strange tree, full of magic and hidden powers – it can make you see things that are not there.”

“She might have refused the Call?” Elrond’s eyes widened in shock. “She will never allowed to enter the Blessed Realm if she did that.”

“I know not,” replied Thranduil with a shrug. “The ways of the Faithful are different form ours, and she was a being of power so great we can barely fathom. It is my hope that she has made an agreement with Mandos for the time her family still dwells on these shores. After all, she gave up her life voluntarily, ere Sauron could have gained access to her powers. Powers which could have made the Dark One capable of bending all trees of the Greenwood to his will. Lálisin’s powers helped to keep our forest from falling into darkness, and she sacrificed herself to keep those powers untouched by evil. Certainly, that must have earned her some reward.”

“Sometimes I wonder how deeds and intentions are truly judged by the Lords of the West,” murmured Elrond bitterly. “My mother chose to save the Silmaril, leaving her own children to the mercy of the Kinslayers, and she has earned praise and admiration in song and tale for that. Your wife sacrificed everything to protect her people and her family, and she might get exiled from the Blessed Realm for it, fated to never see any of you again, should you choose to go to the West. Where is the justice in that?”

“I cannot answer you,” replied Thranduil, “for I have asked this and other bitter questions myself, many times. However, finding Enadar so unexpectedly allows me to delay the decision for a while, at the very least. He will need me her e for a long time yet. I shall not drag him to the West ere he becomes himself again – enough to decide what he truly wants.”

“And what if he never becomes himself again?” asked Elrond gravely. “What if his mind remains that of a very young child?”

“Then I shall try to decide in his best interest,” answered Thranduil simply. “He is the one who needs me most. Whatever the decision shall be, I am certain the others will understand.”

“Your choices are hard,” said Elrond, “and yet I envy you. If naught else, you can be certain that you will be able to keep at least one of your children. And when all comes to an end and Arda is re-made, you will be reunited again – all of you. Yet no-one can tell where mortal Men go when they die, and it is likely that Arwen – and mayhap her brothers, too – will be lost to me, forever, just as my own brother is.”

“That is, sadly, true,” agreed Thranduil grimly. “And it makes me wonder why your kind has been offered this most cruel of choices. For whether you choose to be counted among Elves or among mortal Men, your choice will make someone suffer. I cannot say any reward in it.”

“Neither can I,” said Elrond in sorrow. “What joy could the Blessed Realm offer to someone who has already lost everything, without the slightest hope to re-gain any of it?”

“Unless it is allowed to have children in the West,” Thranduil jested half-heartedly.

“I have not heard that it would be forbidden,” replied Elrond with a weak smile. “I do believe, though, that those who sail there after millennia in Middle-earth are well beyond the desire to create a new life again.”

“This is your Golodh blood speaking,” riposted Thranduil half-seriously. “The Golodhrim have always been trying to preserve that which is, instead of looking into the future that could be. We of the woodland folk cannot afford this luxury. We have been loosing too many of our people, all the time.”

“Thranduil, please,” said Elrond tiredly. “Let us not begin the Ages-old quarrel about whose way is the right one again.”

“That was not my intention,” answered the King of the Greenwood. “I was just trying to point out possibilities to you. We are Elves. We shall last as long as Arda exists. For us, ‘tis never too late to begin everything anew.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
He did not know how much time went by ‘til her departure. The days and nights flashed away in a quick change of light and darkness, like in those shadow-plays showed to them by Amme or old Galion when they had been very little: moving shapes, cut from large leaves behind the screen of a blanket pulled taut before an open fire. She visited him several times, singing to him in the tongue of the woodland folk, although a bit differently than what he remembered from his youth.

She also told him tales of an Age long gone, tales he vaguely remembered having been told earlier. Tales of a great, enchanted forest, ruled by a King who wore a grey cloak and by a Queen whose girdle protected the woods and everyone who lived within their borders. Of a maiden who lived in a tree in that great forest, and whose hair was like spun gold and long enough to reach her ankle in a single braid. Of a great, silver-haired Lord who had fled from a great city in the North, destroyed by fiery monsters; how he caught a glimpse of the maiden in the tree and lost his heart to her, forever (2).

Sometimes Amme joined them, too, or old Galion, and they added small details to the tale, and he understood that at least Galion must have seen those people and those events with his own eyes. For coming from him, it all sounded less than a tale and more like memories. Still, he liked it better when beautiful Evenstar came alone, for her voice was the safest and loveliest, and he had grown to crave her presence almost as much as Ada’s. He could listen to her voice forever, and admire the light in her eyes, whenever he found the strength to stay awake for longer than a few moments.

One day, however, he knew not how long after her first visit, she came alone again, and now he could feel her sorrow.

“We must part now, son of the Greenwood,” she said, “for I am needed elsewhere, and my fate is about to change, forever. Still, though I shall never be the same again as I am now, I hope that you will remember Arwen Undómiel.”

Now she was using big words, and he did not understand half of what she was saying. One thing he could feel, though – that she did not want him to forget her. As if he would be able to do so, ever!

“I… remember,” he brought forth with some effort; putting the words into the right order was something that still eluded his grasp. But she seemed to understand him nonetheless, for she smiled down at him, and her smile was soft and radiant like starlight filtered though the golden mallorn leaves.

“That is good,” she said, “for my heart tells me that we shall meet again, you and I, before the end of all things. Mayhap right here, where everything began, for both you and I.”

She leaned over and kissed him on the brow, and for a moment his heart trembled with happiness, for this was more than he had hoped for, and even if he never received anything else from her, he knew it would be enough.

“Farewell, Enadar Thranduilion,” she said. “May you grow strong again, to the joy of your father and your people. May our paths cross each other again.”

And torn between joy and sorrow, he whispered in answer. “Farewell, Lady Undómiel.”

~~~

(1) The event of which Thranduil reflects here are described in great detail in my other story “Astonishment in Mirkwood”.
(2) The enchanted forest is, of course, Doriath, as Oropher and Thranduil are said (in “The Unfinished Tales”) to originate from there. The maiden in the tree – admittedly, influenced a bit by the German fairy tale “Rapunzel” – is Nellas, whom I have promoted to Oropher’s wife (and consequently to Thranduil’s mother) in my own little corner of the Ardaverse. The silver-haired Lord is Oropher himself, who – in my storied – was rescued from Elmö’s city by Galion, together with his brother (Celeborn’s father). Arwen is basically telling Enadar the story of his own ancestors, in order to trigger buried memories.


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