The dark clouds that constantly hung in the sky over Mordor were as a sunlit day compared with the thunderous grey in Oropher’s eyes. The meeting to discuss strategy with Gil-galad and Elrond had not gone well and Thranduil found himself having to walk swiftly to keep up with his enraged sire as Oropher stormed to the rear of the encampment where he entered the makeshift tent that served as the King’s quarters. In fact, ‘tent’ was a generous description of the structure that was really only a large piece of cloth, albeit of elven weave and resistant to the elements, supported by four large stakes. The banner bearing the emblem of Greenwood the Great, the single adornment that distinguished the royal tent from the others of the Silvan army, fluttered in the chill wind that seemed to constantly swirl across the plains. Nowhere near as elegant or as roomy as those used by Gil-galad and Elendil, it served its purpose as far as Oropher was concerned.
So furious was he that he did not notice Thranduil stop at the campfire, and with a polite nod to the cook, collect two rations of the thick broth and two small lembas cakes that served as the evening meal. Following quickly after his father lest the broth become cold in the chill of the night air, Thranduil found himself wondering what delicacies the army of the High King feasted on this night; the aromas that had reached him as he passed the cooking fires had made his mouth water.
“See to it we are not disturbed,” Thranduil said quietly to the guard who had obligingly pulled the tent flap aside to allow the Prince to enter. Oropher was well known for his fiery temper and the guard was more than willing to allow Thranduil to deal with the King’s ire.
“Here, Adar, I suggest you eat this before it gets any colder. We need to keep our strength up for the assault on Mordor,” he explained as he walked over to the small table where the King sat studying his maps and battle plans. He carefully pushed the papers to one side before setting the food tray down and handing his sire a mug of broth. They sat quietly for a few moments just enjoying the warmth of both the soup and each other’s company, until finally Oropher broke the silence, the lightning in his eyes letting his son know that his anger with the High King had in no way diminished.
“Noldo upstart!” Oropher exclaimed as he slammed his empty mug onto the table. “If he thinks that he can order me around, he will find himself sadly mistaken.”
“What happened this time?” Thranduil asked, the slight sigh of exasperation in his voice not going unnoticed by his father who favoured him with a less than pleased glare. The battle with the Dark Lord had not yet begun, but Oropher and Gil-galad seemed to be highly involved in their own private war. Thranduil and Elrond had gone to speak with Elendil, as requested by the Númenorean, leaving the two Kings to their tempers and so he had not heard the full argument.
“Apparently it is not sufficient that I agree with the need to do all that can be done to defeat Sauron, and have allied the fighting strength of Greenwood with the armies of both Men and the Noldor, now HE insists that I must follow his orders to the letter! I knew it was a mistake to listen to Elrond. It is the interests of Gil-galad that concern him, not ours. Heed my warning, Thranduil, should anything happen to me do not trust any of them.”
“Nothing will happen to such a skilled warrior as you are Adar, I will not allow it!” Thranduil declared vehemently hoping his words were true. “And I promise to heed your words, Adar.” The light of genuine love and affection for his son filled Oropher’s eyes as he leaned over to gently kiss Thranduil’s brow.
“Thank you,” replied Oropher, all thoughts of his discussion with the High King forgotten in a typically mercurial change of mood that Thranduil had grown accustomed to over the years.
“Now, there is something I have been meaning to ask you Thranduil, do you plan to marry that lovely maid you spent so much time with before I dragged you away to war?” Oropher enquired, smiling at the slight pink colour that found its way to his son’s face and the look of surprise in his eyes.
“It is what we both wish,” he answered honestly, relieved that Oropher had broached a subject that he also wished to discuss, but could never seem to find the right time. Although, he thought wryly, the eve of a battle did not really seem the appropriate time to be speaking of marriage, either.
“How did you know? We have told no-one, for we decided to wait until my return to seek formal approval from our parents.”
“A wise decision in these uncertain times. But as to how I know, let us just say that there are very few secrets you can hide from your Adar, especially when he is also King of the realm. Besides, your love for each other was obvious to anyone who saw you together. ”
“Then you will approve the match? Without even learning of her background?” Thranduil asked, a radiant smile of happiness lighting his rather handsome features.
“That you love each other is all I need to know. I wish nothing more for you than your happiness, and one day, perhaps a grandchild?” he added slyly, causing Thranduil to look decidedly uncomfortable. Without thinking he reached into his tunic and drew out the finely embroidered handkerchief his love had gifted him as a token of her favour, allowing the sweet fragrance of her perfume to calm his nerves. Seeing his father watching made him feel more than a little foolish, and he hastily returned the square of silky fabric to its place next to his heart.
“Carrying a token of your lady’s love is nothing to be embarrassed about; it may surprise you to know that I also carry a gift from your Naneth with me,” admitted Oropher. Reaching behind his head, he removed the small clasp that held his braids from his face, and handed it to Thranduil. It was elegantly carved in the shape of a leaf, a fine gold thread outlining the deep green of the emerald within.
“It is lovely,” he commented as he turned it in his fingers. “The workmanship is excellent, but why the shape of a leaf?”
“The forest has become our home, and she made ‘laegolas’ to remind me of the beauty of the trees until I can return.” Oropher said as he lovingly caressed the jewel before placing it back in his hair.
Thranduil stared in amazement. He had never seen Adar in such a gentle, romantic mood before, let alone ever considered that he would name, however appropriately, such a small object as a hair clasp.
“I think we should both retire, the battle begins early tomorrow,” said Thranduil softly.
Thranduil watched in horror as the black arrow pierced his father’s too thin armour, driving directly into his heart.
“Adar! NO!” he screamed. His voice was nothing more than an unheard whisper in the chaos of the battle. Wielding his sword in his right hand and a knife in his left, he hewed and hacked anything in his path with the ferocity of one maddened by pain and grief, until he finally fought his way to his Adar’s side. Dropping to his knees to cradle the beloved head in his lap, he let the tears fall as, without a word, the light of Ilúvatar faded from his father’s eyes. As he rose to rejoin the battle, he felt as if something had mysteriously been placed in the palm of his hand and he opened it slowly to reveal … ‘laegolas’.
In an act of great courage borne of desperation in a battle that was all but lost, Isildur, son of the slain King of Men, cut the One Ring, from Sauron's very hand, thereby breaking his evil hold over Middle-earth and turning certain defeat to victory for the Last Alliance. The Dark Lord and all his minions were returned to dust and ashes that had been scattered into oblovion by the cleansing wind. As the dim grey of twilight gave way to the sunrise of a new day, the dawn of the Third Age , so was the darkness and deep sense of gloom lifted from the hearts of the Elves and Men.
Thranduil watched from his vantage point on a rocky outcrop at the foothills of Mount Doom as the first rays of sunlight slowly made their way into the valley of Gorgoroth. The dark clouds that had been a constant in the skies above Mordor were no more; the glare of sunlight that had not been seen for many years forced him to put his hand to his forehead to shade his eyes as he paid silent homage to the thousands of Men and Elves who now lay in their final resting place. Each time the advancing sunlight was reflected from the remains of the armour or weapons that littered the ash covered valley floor, it seemed to him that the Valar were blessing those who would not return home.
Weeping silently, his thoughts turned to his own loss, that of his Adar, Oropher, King of Greenwood the Great. He took the elegantly crafted silver and gold circlet from his belt pouch and studied the intricate leaf design. The crown of the Woodland King had been his since the first attack on the gates of Mordor when Oropher had fallen as he proudly lead his host of Silvan Elves in the attack. Although they were poorly trained warriors who lacked the fine weapons and armour of their more wealthy kin from the West, they certainly did not want for courage and desired only to fight as well as they could for the honour of their King, but he still had not the heart to place the symbol of his Adar’s death on his head. He doubted he ever would.
It had been Oropher's pride, according to Gil-galad, that had been his downfall, for he refused to submit to the authority of the High King and had attacked too soon and many lives were lost, including his own. Thranduil had angrily refused to accept this and there was much ill feeling between the two leaders, but the uncrowned King of Greenwood had remained to honour his sire’s commitment to help defend his Race. It had taken seven years, but the battle had been won.
"The Hall of Mandos is once again filled," Elrond commented sadly as he approached Thranduil, who was still deep in thought. "It is a high price we have paid for victory this time."
"Yes, the price was high, but have we really won?" Thranduil asked turning to face the new leader of the Elven host; Gil-galad had also lost his life in the final battle.
"Sauron was defeated, the One Ring taken from him," Elrond said, slightly puzzled. "Is that not victory?"
"Isildur should not have kept it!" Thranduil said vehemently.
"Nay, he should have cast it into the fires of Mount Doom," Elrond agreed. "But he refused to destroy it and I could not convince him otherwise."
"Then why did not you or Círdan simply take it from him and destroy it?" Thranduil asked, his anger building. "Surely two great Elf Lords such as you would have been able to overpower him and take the cursed thing!"
"We could have done so," Elrond admitted, managing to control his temper.
“What stopped you?” asked Thranduil. Elrond considered his answer and decided that his friend deserved to know truth.
“The danger to us all was too great. We possess two of the three Elven Rings so neither of us could risk touching it, even with Sauron defeated. I sense that the One Ring still holds his power and his evil and he must never know of the Three,” explained Elrond.
“Who has the third?”
“Galadriel.” He knew Thranduil would keep the knowledge to himself, for despite Oropher’s separation from the Sindar and his distrust of the Noldor, his son had proved his love for the elvish race.
"So, although Sauron's physical form is no more his evil lingers still." Thranduil surmised. Closing his eyes for a moment he concentrated on his inner light. "Ai, even I can still feel a shadow on the edge of my senses," he said returning his gaze to meet Elrond’s eyes. "This does not bode well for the future, Elrond. Already the numbers of our people have been decimated, and when we return home, there will be fewer still as many of the wives and loved ones of the fallen pass into the West with their grief." It was painful to acknowledge, for he knew that his beloved Naneth would be among those who would sail to Valinor.
"When Sauron rises again from the ashes of his defeat, he will seek revenge on the heirs of Isildur as well as the Elves. Lothlórien and Imladris will have the protection of the rings, but the Woodland Elves will have only the power we draw from within ourselves and our link to the natural world."
"It is a formidable power you possess, Thranduil, strong enough to keep the Shadow at bay, should it become necessary." Thranduil snorted derisively, he was in no mood for compliments.
"As long as the One Ring exists, no thanks to the weakness of Men, it will be necessary to keep a constant vigil on my borders and whenever I look to the south I will remember the danger," said Thranduil. "Mark my words, Elrond, he will return to reclaim the Ring of Power."
Greenwood the Great was in mourning, or so it felt to Thranduil as he finally walked once more beneath the familiar canopy of his beloved trees. In the grey light of dawn storm clouds threatened rain and the dew was so heavy that occasionally droplets of water fell from the leaves, making it seem as if the trees were weeping for the many woodland Elves who had followed his father to the Halls of Mandos. The trees whispered a sad welcome that did nothing to relive the heaviness of heart that the new King felt as he tried to think of words of comfort he could offer Naneth for a loss he himself still felt deep within his soul.
There were none, he realized as his mother, grief etched into her beautiful face, fell into his embrace. Her tears flowed freely from eyes that were no longer bright and full of spirit but had become dulled with sorrow. Thranduil allowed his own tears to fall, tears of grief for the loss of Oropher mingling with tears of immense sadness as through the bond of naneth and child he sensed that she was ready to join her beloved husband.
“Welcome home, Thranduil,” she said, managing a small, sad smile for her son. She knew what he had discovered and raising her fingers to his lips, she stayed his questions, promising to speak of her choice later. “I hope you were not expecting a celebration tonight to mark the end of the war and your safe return, for none here has the heart for such festivities.”
“Nor do I, if the truth be told,” Thranduil replied, sadly realizing it would be a long time before the Elves of Greenwood recovered from their losses. “Now is a time for lamenting, not for merrymaking.”
“Yes, but tomorrow evening I think a small feast will be in order, if only to allow your people to greet their new King.”
Thranduil nodded agreement and offering her his arm, they walked slowly to the palace.
That evening the forest was filled with sweet elvish voices singing many melancholy songs of mourning.
Early the next morning, just on sunrise, Thranduil awoke to a quiet but persistent knocking on his door. This was his first restful sleep in a soft bed for many years and he was annoyed by the disturbance. Pulling on a robe, he opened the door and was surprised to see Naneth standing there, already dressed.
“It is very early, Naneth,” he complained barely stifling a yawn. “What are you doing here?” he asked as he ushered her into his chamber.
“We need to talk, and I thought you would like to take a walk in the forest with me. I know how much you love to walk among the trees when the air is still fresh and clean after the rain,” she answered with a smile that almost reached her eyes. Thranduil studied her for a moment before replying and he was pleased to see that she was in much better spirits than the day before.
“It has been a very long time since I have done so,” he commented as he walked over to his wardrobe and selected his favorite tunic and leggings. He took a moment to feel the softness of the fabric of the comfortable garb, thinking that it had also been a long time since he worn anything but his tattered armour. As he carried the clothes into his bathing chamber, he cast a glance towards his mother and his heart fell to see her suddenly looking pale and grief-stricken. Feeling Thranduil’s eyes upon her, the Queen forced herself to smile.
“Hurry up and dress or we will miss the sunrise,” she said eagerly, her pretence that all was well not fooling him in the least.
A few minutes later they were walking arm in arm through the forest, heading by unspoken agreement to the glade that when he had been a mere elfling, Thranduil had always considered his own special place. Settling himself comfortably against the trunk of the oldest beech tree in the glade, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders as she sat beside him with her head resting on his chest. They watched in silence as the first rays of sunlight filtered through the leaves, casting dappled shadows on the forest floor.
Thranduil felt his naneth tremble slightly as she finally found the courage to speak.
“The echo of Oropher’s song is slowly fading, and with it my spirit, and if I remain here I will surely die of grief. That is why I am leaving for Valinor with the others who can no longer bear to remain here,” she said, her words coming in a rush directly to the point.
“I suspected as much,” admitted Thranduil sadly. “Although I will miss you, I do not wish you to enter the Halls of Mandos. I will take comfort in the knowledge that you are safe and living in what is said to be a beautiful place.”
“You would perhaps miss me less should you find someone to love, to bear your children,” she suggested, causing Thranduil to laugh at the not so subtle hint.
“May the Valar grant me a love such as that which you share with Adar,” he replied as he kissed her lightly on the cheek. “When will you leave?”
“In the morning.”
“Does it have to be so soon?” he asked unable to hide the dismay in his voice. “I have only just returned.”
“I know and I am truly sorry, but I have already tarried longer than I would have wished. I long to be away from here, from everything that reminds me of him; the pain is more than I can bear. I will be closer to him in Aman, and that thought helps ease my pain. I was simply waiting for you to come home, for I also could not bear to leave without saying goodbye.” Thranduil gently wiped the tears that rolled down her delicate cheeks and held her close, muttering soft words of comfort in her ear.
“I am not the only one who felt the passing of a loved one, many have already travelled to the havens, and several others are departing at first light. I am counted among them,” she explained.
“I am sorry, I should not be so selfish, it is just that the grief of Adar’s passing still weighs heavily on my spirit, and now I am to lose you as well.”
“But I will not be lost I will merely be in another place. The music of your song will be ever in my heart, no matter where I am.”
“As yours will be in mine,” whispered Thranduil.
“Do you remember what we did the first time I brought you here?” she asked, hoping talk of pleasant memories would lift the melancholy mood.
“You taught me how to understand and speak to the trees, if I recollect rightly,” he answered allowing himself to be cheered as his mother intended.
“And what else?” Thranduil had to think for a moment, and rather than answer, he stood and wandered around the glade collecting leaves of various hues which handed to his naneth. He watched with a satisfied smile as she deftly wove him a crown of leaves as she had done so long ago. When she finished, she stood and placed it on his golden hair and said playfully, just as she had when he was younger, “I crown you King of Greenwood.”
“It is no longer a game, Naneth,” he said with anger born of pain, as he reached to remove the crown.
“And that is not simply a child’s plaything,” she countered. “Since you refuse to don your Adar’s crown, will you not wear this one tonight at the coronation feast?”
“If you wish,” he agreed with a sigh of resignation.
Thranduil escorted her to the feast later that evening, the deep green robes with silver leaves embroidered around the yoke and the edges of the sleeves that she had sewn for him highlighting his golden hair, on which he wore his crown of leaves.
The food and wine was excellent and the music, whilst somewhat sombre, still encouraged much singing and dancing.
“Would you care to dance?” Thranduil asked, holding out his hand in invitation.
“How can I refuse a request from the King?” she asked disappointed to see his brow crease at her words. “A frown like that is very unbecoming, Thranduil. You must grow accustomed to being called the King now. Wear the title with pride, your adar always did,” she said as she took his hand and they joined in the dance. Thranduil made no comment, his thoughts returning to Mordor and the accusations that it was Oropher’s prideful behaviour that was his undoing.
“What is wrong?” asked his mother, noting his sour mood.
“Gil-galad blamed Oropher’s pride for the loss of many lives,” he stated angrily.
“I assume he refused to submit to the Noldor’s leadership, as he vowed to do before he left for the War?” she asked quietly.
“Aye, but had we not been lacking in wealth we would have been able to purchase better armour and weapons, and perhaps more of our folk would have survived.”
“Perhaps, but you all fought bravely and followed your King’s orders, out of love and respect for him, did you not?”
“That is something that gold and jewels cannot buy, and is symbolised by your crown of leaves.”
“It will soon wither and die,” Thranduil stated.
“I think not, for there is much hidden power and even a little magic to be found in the spirit of the Woodland Elves,” she said mysteriously before softly kissing his cheek.
“Then, since you deem it so important, I will always wear a crown of leaves, rather than gold, as a sign of my love and respect for you,” he promised as he raised her hand to his lips and lightly brushed them over her fingers.
Thranduil did not need to hear the reports, nor did he need to see the destruction of the forest that heralded the rapidly approaching invasion. Ever since Dagorlad, the ice cold fingers of evil had been sending chills through his blood, reminding him that eventually the day would come when the shadow would rise again. He knew not only that it risen in Dol Guldur, but that it was about to engulf the very heart of his realm of Mirkwood, and he sensed that Sauron’s minions were close at hand.
After quickly donning his weapons and his crown of leaves, the King hurriedly made his way to the armoury and retrieved the banner that millennia ago had lead the Silvan host into battle. Carrying the folded cloth reverently to the gates that protected the entrance to his Hall, he carefully raised it high above where all could see it. Many of the warriors in the courtyard below had seen the banner newly unfurled at Dagorlad, and bowed their heads in respect for their lost comrades before resuming their preparations for the battle to come.
The banner, woven of fine elvish cloth had once been strong shades of brown and green, with the emblem of the House of Oropher emblazoned boldly in the centre. Over time its edges had frayed, and it had faded, with some discolouration in spots that might have been bloodstains giving it the appearance of nothing more than a tattered rag as it fluttered in the cold wind. To the approaching invaders it symbolised that their enemy was weak and unprepared for battle, but the Orcs and the Easterlings could not have been more mistaken
It was so much more than just a piece of cloth. It had been damaged during the battle of the Last Alliance when the standard bearer had fallen next to his King as he was trying to protect him. Their blood had mingled on the banner as they died, but the army had fought on courageously over the following years until the enemy had been defeated. Thranduil had never repaired nor cleaned the banner in that time, nor since, for it had always been the symbol of a strong willed King and had invoked a steadfast loyalty from his warriors. In more recent times it had been carried proudly into the Battle of the Five Armies, where the Elves again proved themselves to be fierce warriors who would fight to the death to defend all that the banner stood for.
So it would be this day.