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The Prisoner of Dol Guldur
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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11
Part 11

Author’s notes:
For disclaimer, rating, etc., see Part 1.
The long-awaited reunion between the two brothers turns out differently than Thranduil has hoped.


~~~

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“And now Legolas fell silent, while the others talked, and he looked out against the sun, and as he gazed he saw white sea-birds beating up the River.

‘Look!’ he cried. ‘Gulls! They are flying for inland. A wonder they are to me and a trouble to my heart. Never in all my life had I met them, until we came to Pelargir, and there I heard them crying in the air as we rode to the battle of the ships. Then I stood still, forgetting war in Middle-earth; for their wailing voices spoke to me of the Sea. The Sea! Alas! I have not yet beheld it. But deep in the hearts of all my kindred lies the sea-longing, which it is perilous to stir. Alas! For the gulls. No peace shall I have again under beech or under elm.”

The Return of the King, Chapter 9 – The Last Debate, p. 178


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
PART 11

After the burial feast – or ierfe húsel, as the Rohirrim called it; it included an almost frightening amount of ale, beer and mead as well as lots of food, numerous boasts spoken to honour Théoden, the King that had been, and Éomer, the King that was now, as well as a great deal of singing and jesting – the guests were ready to leave. They drank the stirrup-cup and continued their journey first to Helm’s Deep, where they rested two days.

Legolas there mastered his fears and repaid his promise to Gimli; and the wonders of the Glittering Caves made him speechless, even though he was suffering under the earth from unexpected attacks of dread. When they returned to his friends and these asked him about what he had seen, Legolas gave evasive answers and pressed to continue their way to Fangorn. For he felt uprooted and restless, and hoped that a forest as old as Fangorn would help him to find some halt in Middle-earth again.

From the Deeping-coomb they rode to Isengard and saw with delight how the tireless work of the Ents had turned that once bleak and hostile place into a tree garden again. And while the wise and important people discussed the fate of Saruman with Treebeard, eldest of the tree-shepherds, a thought occurred to Legolas; a thought carrying a hope so faint that he had barely dared to give it form, not even in his mind.

Thus he wandered off from his companions, to think over that half-shaped idea, and he came to where once the old gates of Isengard had stood. There was no gate anymore, and even the stone circle was gone, removed without a trace; and instead of the gates now two tall trees were standing like sentinels, watching the green-bordered path that saw towards Orthanc that now rose from the middle of a clear lake.

Trees? Nay, these were no trees – their thoughts, albeit tree-like in some way, were slower and full of memories. Not even the eldest trees Legolas had ever met, not even the Great Ash of Northern Mirkwood had memories like these – and power like these.

Ents. These were Ents. There could be no doubt about that.

He heard a deep, resonant chuckle and looked up, directly into the large, greenish brown eyes of a tall Ent that recalled a rowan tree, with smooth, shining skin on his arms and legs, ruddy lips and grey-green hair.

“Greetings,” said the Ent, bowing like a slender tree in the wind. “I am called Bregalad; or Quickbeam,” he added, glancing at the Dwarf who was staring at him rather suspiciously. “You are not from the people of the Golden Wood, are you?” he then asked the Elf.

“Nay,” said Legolas. “I am from the North of the Greenwood, where the Great Ash has her roots, deep in unspoiled soil.”

“Oh, the Great Ash!” Bregalad smiled – at least Gimli thought that he was smiling; it was not easy to decide by a being that looked so much like a tree. “One of the few trees still here that took roots when I was but a little Enting, many, many years ago, in the quiet of the world. She was there already when the Elves left the Waters of Awakening and wandered south, to avoid being captured by the Hunter. Are you one of those who used to have their home on the hill-that-has-no-life-upon-it-now, ere the Sun and the Moon were born?”

“My great-grandfather was once the King of the First City of the Quendi that stood upon that hill,” answered Legolas, “and my grandsire returned there after Doriath fell and all within the Girdle of Melian was lost. But I was born in the tree city of Lasgalen, myself, in the Emyn Duir, and do not know the Naked Hill but as the second stronghold of the Enemy.”

“I heard that after the shadow fell upon Mirkwood, the heart of the trees in the South turned black,” said the Ent. “If ‘tis true, then it is a sad thing indeed. Fur curing the trees out of evils long and slow work, and very hard.”

“Yet not impossible, certainly not for the shepherds of the trees, I deem,” said Legolas, seizing the opening given to him. “The greenwood is in need of much healing, and who else but you could do such work?”

“True enough,” admitted the Ent, “but we are needed here, too.”

“You could be needed in many places that have been spoiled by evil, “said Legolas urgently, “but no-where more than in the South of the Greenwood, where the poisoning has been the longest and the worst. The Faithful Elves have no strong earth-healers any longer. My mother was the last, captured and fled from her body some hundred years ago. We cannot do this without your help.”

“I would like to help,” said Bregalad, “but the decision is not mine alone. You need to carry your plea before the Entmoot – and that might take time.”

“Time is naught I would have aplenty right now,” replied Legolas in concern. “For this friend of mine and I are set to visit Fangorn, and then we must hurry for Lórien, where my father is waiting for me.”

“If you are about to visit our forest, you can speak to some of the others,” said the Ent. “I shall send word by friendly birds, and we can see that you meet a few of the younger ones – they are more bent to move somewhere else than the elders. But now come and tell me the whole tale. I like tales if they are well-told, and even more when they are sung.”

He reached down with his shapely arms that looked like slender branches of a young tree, and offered each the Elf and the fairly agitated Dwarf a long-fingered hand to lift them to his shoulders.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
He spent less time in the tree house now and more on the forest floor, in places shadowed from direct sunlight, which he still found painfully bright. He was slowly growing used to the voices and noises around him and while he still could only eat a few selected fruits and greens and still felt horribly weak in body, his mind seemed to clear up a bit more with every passing day.

Sometimes, when he was bedded in the protective shadow of a tall bush, small creatures of the forest came to visit him, and one by one, he recognized them. He knew the little grey animal with the long snout to be a mouse and the reddish one with the lush tail and tufted ears to be a squirrel. That was what Amme used to call him when he was but a small elfling – little squirrel.

Amme still called him little squirrel when she bespoke him, and sometimes he wondered why. He was no elfling anymore; he had been a grown Elf long before darkness fell upon him. He had gone to war with Ada and the silver-haired Lord, and his brothers, save the green-eyed toddler. That little leaf had still been too young…

But nay, not a toddler anymore. He knew now that his youngest brother had been left behind to protect Naneth and their sister, but whenever he tried to remember him, all he saw was the small elfling with those leaf-green eyes.

Just as he could never remember their sister as aught but a silver-haired little girl. But most of all, he remembered her eyes, grey and somber and much too sad for her age, and the painful longing in her voice as she spoke about the Sea neither of them had ever seen.

Memories were a strange thing indeed.

A slight rousing of voices woke him from his half-slumber – he was spending more time awake lately – and for a while he just lay on his soft bed under his favourite bush, still too weak to open his eyes. But his ears were perked up and his mind sharp. Someone was coming – someone who had been waited for anxiously, if the joy and relief in the voices around him was of any indication.

There was laughing and singing and joyous cries and joking grumbles, and he heard a long-forgotten sound, too – that of hooves over a forest floor. He could feel the presence of Ada and Amme, and he heard the voice of old Galion and that of the copper-haired healer, and a few others he had come to know in this place but had no memories of from the times before.

And he could feel a few new presences, one painfully familiar, although he could not tell who it was at the moment; and another one previously unknown; and a third one, which was utterly strange. Despite the nagging familiarity, it was that strange presence that caught his attention. It felt vaguely like a tree, and yet completely different. Older than the mellyrn around him, older than the Great Ash even, and yet youthful somehow; quick as lightning, and yet slow as the growing of trees at the same time.

He had never felt anything like that before, of that he was certain, in spite of his faulty memory. But it was tree-like, and trees had always been his friends.

So he risked to open his eyes, just a crack.

At first he thought he saw a rowan tree, and a particularly large one at that. But rowan trees did not have huge, greenish brown eyes twinkling in their stems. Or mouths opening beneath those eyes to give low, rumbling chuckles. Nor did they usually bend down to take a closer look at sick and ailing Elves on forest floors.

“Ha-humm,” the rumbling voice said. “He certainly needs good, long draughts to become green again, wilted as he is. But fear not. Show me some clean water, and I shall give him a draught that keeps him growing and green for a long, long time.”

He was too awed to even seek out Ada’s presence. A talking tree? Nay, it must have been one of the tree-shepherds from Amme’s bedtime stories. But they did not truly exist, did they? Mayhap he was still asleep, or in a waking dream…

But then a warm, strong hand took his cool and thin one, and a voice, so familiar and yet without a face in his blurry memory, spoke to him urgently.

“Enadar, do you remember me?”

He turned his glance towards the sound of that voice, and saw a young, auburn-haired Elf clad in greens and browns, bent over him. The face bore a great likeness to Ada’s features, but this Elf had slightly slanted, leaf-green eyes that seemed to glitter almost golden in the sunlight. He knew those eyes, even though he still could not remember the face.

“Laegalas,” he whispered.

But his heart was frozen with sorrow. For in those green eyes he could see the same sober sadness that had dwelt in the grey ones of the silver-haired girl.

Those eyes were seeking out the Sea.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thranduil had been waiting anxiously for his youngest son indeed. When Celeborn and Galadriel arrived with their entourage but without Legolas, he became truly agitated, despite Celeborn’s assurances that Legolas had just been tarrying in Fangorn for a while. He had, of course, heard of the Ents, although he had never seen one in the flesh (if one could speak of flesh where Ents were considered, that is) and the thought of his son roaming the most dangerous woods of Middle-earth with a Dwarf as his only company did naught to calm his worries. He of all people knew all too well what mayhem malevolent trees could cause and did not think that a Dwarf would be much help against them.

Contrary to common belief, Thranduil had no hostile feelings towards Dwarves as a whole. Yea, he still kept the old grudge against those who had murdered his great-uncle and benefactor, Elu Thingol, King of Doriath, but truth be told, so did Celeborn. And they were both very well able to make a difference between those long-dead Dwarven malefactors and the hard-working people of Durin’s folk… most of the time, at least.

‘Twas also true that he had had differences with the Dwarves who now, once again, dwelt under the Lonely Mountain. But those differences had been long in the past, and fact was that there were fairly… civil relations between Wood and Mountain now. A tentative and sometimes grudging alliance that had begun in the Battle of the Five Armies and lasted to the present day.

So nay, Thranduil’s concern about his son’s companion was not the mere fact that said companion was a Dwarf. It was the fact that he was a Dwarf unused to trees – and carrying an axe. Trees were generally suspicious about people, be they Dwarves or Men, who were carrying axes. Tree-shepherds might be even more suspicious. And, unlike most trees, tree-shepherds were all too capable of doing something about such people.

In which case even blameless companions of said people could come to great harm, if no-way else than by accident.

And for a Wood-Elf to be harmed by an enraged Ent, after having fought the greatest war of the entire Age without a scratch, would have been a sad fate indeed.

Small wonder then that Thranduil had been worried, and the greater was his joy when his long-missed son finally arrived, in the company of the Dwarf – and followed by a creature that could only be an Ent. For what else could a walking, talking tree have been?

Even more awed and grateful he was to learn that the Ent – whose name was apparently Bregalad – had decided to move to the South of the Greenwood, to help healing the forest and cure the heart of the trees from and Age of evil. This was more than he could have hoped for.

But all the King’s joy and hopes were torn asunder in the very moment when he looked into Legolas’ eyes.

He knew that eerily distant look all too well. He had seen it in the eyes of too many Elves – friends, fellow warriors, distant relatives. Above all else, in the eyes of his own daughter, Celebwen.

The Longing had caught up with his family again.

“I have never believed the Valar to be this cruel,” he said to Galion bitterly. “For see, I have got one son back from the Darkness, only to lose the other one to the Sea.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ada was speaking of the Sea in that hurt voice again, and it saddened him greatly, as always when Ada was hurting. He vaguely remembered that his people sometimes got onto ships and went on a great journey across the Sea, never to be seen again. Had the silver-haired girl with the sad eyes gone, too? And was the green-eyed toddler, who was no toddler anymore but a warrior, going too, soon? Were they all to leave Ada behind? Why were they doing this to him?

“Laegalas,” he whispered, barely able to keep his leaden eyes open.

That fair face, so much like Ada’s, and yet so different, bent over him again, and a low, gentle voice asked.

“What do you wish, dear heart?”

“Laegalas,” he struggled, frustrated, the words still refused to come to him when he needed them most. “You… must not… leave…”

“I shall not, not for a while yet,” promised that gentle voice.

“When…?” he asked, weary from all that sadness and hurting, his own, Ada’s, and that of this soft-speaking stranger who once had been his green-eyed little brother.

“I know not,” the soft voice answered. “I shall stay as long as I can.”

It would not be enough, he knew that, for once the Sea began to call to someone, they grew restless and could no longer feel at home under the trees. One day, this beautiful warrior, whom he had once known as a mischievous little elfling, would be unable to resist that powerful call, even if he wanted to. He would have no choice but go on a ship and sail away, leaving Ada behind. And Ada will be hurt, just as it had always hurt him when the silver-haired girl spoke about the Sea.

And then Ada would be alone, save from a broken wreck of a son who could not even sit up on his bed without help.

He let his eyes fall shut, hot tears of sorrow running down his sunken cheeks.

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