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9
There Shall Be Counsels Taken

Cold, starry night had fallen over Rivendell as two mounted figures picked their way down the valley's northern side - carefully, for the horses were weary and the grassy slope slippery. They had encountered border sentries as soon as they crested the rise through the pine trees, and from the flickering of signal-lanterns which leapt ahead of them down the vale, guessed that they would be expected by the time they reached the House.

The taller of the two reached down to pat his chestnut gelding's neck reassuringly as the slope began to flatten out, murmuring: "Mae agorech, Culagor, mae agorech." Shifting the weight of his quiver on his back, he straightened his shoulders and sighed heavily. His companion shot him a concerned glance.

"You are not looking forward to this, are you, my lord?"

"You know I am not, Taurlaegel. And I wish you would not call me that." The rider of the chestnut smiled wryly. "You know my name well enough."

"Forgive me, but we're not on border patrol now... sir," his companion responded. "Your father would wish you to ensure that Master Elrond's people show your house all due respect."

That remark earned him an impressive grimace from the other. "Well do I know it. Father is not exactly convinced of Imladris' goodwill towards our people..." He bit his lip. "Sad to say, the news we bring is hardly likely to improve matters." Is that why Father sent me? So that Elrond and his Deep-elves would not dare treat his messenger with disrespect? Or am I simply here to take the consequences of my own failure?...

The pensive rider finally shook his head, sending braided hair flying, and grinned. "Oh, come, Taurlaegel, enough gloom. Down we go. At the very least we shall get a hot bath, and perhaps some of Imladris' celebrated wine!" But for all his companion's attempt to make light of their task, Taurlaegel sensed that the further down the valley they descended, the edgier he became.

The gatekeeper looked them over curiously as they approached, walking their tired beasts slowly into the pool of light cast by the gatehouse lanterns. Worn and faded jerkins and cloaks of brown and green; a bow and quiver slung across each back, he noted, no other weapons visible, and riding without saddle or bridle. Not folk of ours, he observed with interest. Wood-elves. Still, had they not been accounted friendly, the sentries would not have let them pass unescorted, or signalled that they should be given entrance. "You are welcome, sirs. I will have your horses seen to - will it please you go up to the House?"

As they ascended the steps, the great doors were swung open, letting light and laughter and distant song spill out from somewhere within. A dark-haired Elf in blue robes emerged over the threshold looking mildly agitated. Taurlaegel's companion groaned under his breath. "Erestor. He will make much of our arrival, and I am in no mood for - "

"My lord! Forgive this lack of reception, we had no word of your coming!" Elrond's steward executed a formal bow. "The favour of the Valar be upon our friends from Mirkwood -"

Taurlaegel did not miss the faint twist of his master's mouth at that greeting. He has never learnt to like them naming Greenwood so!

"- Elbereth's light shine upon Imladris and all its people," the other cut in, frowning, before Erestor's more elaborate salutations could reach their full flow. "Erestor, we bring messages from my father to Master Elrond. Is the Lord of Imladris within?"

"He is, sir; there is a great feast tonight for the - " Erestor checked himself - " for honoured guests. Lord Elrond and Mithrandir have called a Council for the morrow - "

"Mithrandir is here?" Blue-grey eyes snapped wide open at that.

"Indeed, my lord, at the feast. Will you be joining the company?" Erestor motioned in the direction of the Hall of Fire, but the guest shook his head.

"It has been a long and not an easy ride, Erestor, and I think Taurlaegel and I both crave a bath and a bed before all else, tonight." And I am in no mood to join a festive throng as though nothing were amiss... "Our tidings will keep till the Council tomorrow, if - " He broke off, as approaching footsteps rang out; a moment later, Elrond was striding across the entrance-hall towards them.

"Mae govannen, my friends. I was told you had been sighted further up the valley." He nodded to Taurlaegel, and favoured his companion with a deeper half-bow. "You will wish to bathe and rest, I imagine, after your journey. Erestor can have food sent up to your lodgings. You have heard that there is to be a Council tomorrow?"

"Indeed, Master Elrond. With your leave, my message will keep until then." For delivering it once is likely to be bad enough!

"As you will." To his guest's surprise, Elrond reached to clasp him warmly by the arm, and smiled. "You are indeed welcome to Imladris, Legolas Thranduilion."

***

Rowanna hummed softly to herself as she moved around the tack-room the next day gathering what she needed. It was a crisp autumn afternoon of clear blue sky, and she felt her spirits lift as ever at the prospect of a ride. At least out here in the stables I have some purpose, she thought wryly. Delighted though she was that the combined skills of Master Elrond, the Evenstar and the wizard Gandalf had sufficed to save Bilbo's heir, since the party of Hobbits had arrived in Rivendell she had felt more and more in the way; for naturally, now that Frodo was awake, Bilbo spent almost all his time with him, and Rowanna disliked the pang of guilty jealousy she felt at the sight of the two of them ambling up and down the terraces above the gardens. Not that they had been ambling this morning; some sort of Council had been called, about which all Rivendell was agog, and which apparently looked set to be acrimonious. Unable and unwilling to fathom the intricacies of Elvish - or indeed Dwarven - politics involved, Rowanna had kept well clear of the House all day.

She was about to turn to cross the yard towards the stalls when a familiar, drawling tone reached her ears.

"Rohiril! I swear I almost did not recognise you in those breeches!"

Whirling, she confronted a Peredhel grinning quizzically at her from the doorway.

"Or is it just," he went on, cocking his head on one side to inspect her, "that I so rarely saw you on your own two feet? Well, never mind! I am delighted to find you up and about!"

I wish you had not reminded me, she winced inwardly; but she could not hold it against him faced with his real and obvious pleasure. "Elrohir, it is good to see you! I heard last night that you were returned..." Mischievously, she added in the Grey Tongue, "although you nearly killed your horse!"

Elrond's son looked startled for the merest instant; then he laughed uproariously. "I see you have been putting the idle hours until my return to good use, at any rate! Well done, rohiril!"

The twins had indeed ridden into the valley the previous evening just as all were making ready for the great feast, causing another lightening-storm of Rivendell gossip; for by all accounts their horses were blown, they themselves travelstained and filthy, and they had marched grimly into the House refusing all offers of baths and refreshment, insisting on seeing the Man called Estel - Aragorn, the Chieftain, Rowanna reminded herself - at once.

Elrohir, however, did not seem disposed to talk of the previous night's doings - or of the great Council held that morning, though Rowanna suspected he must have attended it. Instead, he demanded to join her in her ride. "Brethil must find me a mount, though," he added, "for I own I have pushed Nimloss too hard these last days, and the poor beast must rest today." Brethil obliged with a bay gelding in need of exercise, and they trotted up the river-meadows towards the head of the vale, talking idly of the doings of Rivendell in Elrohir's absence. For some reason, he seemed to find the idea of Bilbo teaching Rowanna Sindarin highly hilarious, and sniggered a good deal at her description of their afternoons of study.

"So we have Bilbo to thank, do we? I knew the furry-footed old rascal's love of all things Elvish would come in useful one day!"

"Bilbo is a fine scholar and an excellent teacher!" Rowanna retorted. She felt a sudden surge of irritation at Elrohir's easy mockery. "We poor mortals may not have eternity at our disposal, but some do manage to achieve a limited degree of wisdom nonetheless, believe it or not!" As he merely sat atop the bay grinning at her, she became truly exasperated. Did I really think I missed your teasing tongue? Very well, I will show you, you arrogant half-Elf! "You said that by the time I returned you expected to see me galloping up the valley," she threw back over her shoulder as she turned her mount about. "Well then - watch this!" And with a sharp nudge to the great red flanks beneath her, in a shower of earth and a sudden thunder of hooves she was gone. Elrohir shrugged - then murmured a word in the bay's ear, and shot away in pursuit.

***

A faint breeze rustled in the great beech-tree where two Elves sat, high in the branches, overlooking the river. The leaves were just turning, Taurlaegel observed, from their autumn gold to the deep rust-colour which betokened leaf-fall and sun-fading. Back home, the beech-leaves would have turned some days ago, but the sheltered vale of Imladris seemed somehow able to hold the Fading back a little longer. The breeze also lifted his companion's hair and blew it for a moment against his face; Legolas, however, made no move to brush it away. He had not stirred for several hours from the fork of a great branch where he was curled, head resting against the silver-grey bark, gazing silently out over the valley. Taurlaegel recognised the signs, and knew better than to disturb his lord in this mood; so he shifted to lean more comfortably against his own branch, and waited.

Legolas, as his esquire had correctly divined, was deeply troubled. Though his eyes appeared to rest on the rainbows of light dancing across the distant Falls, in truth he was very far away, back in a moonless summer night in the greenwood. Darkness under the boughs. A little black shadow high up in the branches of that lone oak, cold pale eyes mocking us in the darkness, refusing to come down. And I told the guards to let him be! He gnawed angrily at his lip. You fool, you over-soft, over-kindly fool! - But I did not know - none of us knew! He felt hot shame sweeping over him again as he recalled the Man Aragorn's anguished words. "How came the folk of Thranduil to fail in their trust?"

Aragorn, the heir of Isildur. He had never taken much interest in the hierarchies and rivalries of Men, aside from the occasional diplomatic foray to Laketown deemed politic by his father; but even he knew of the fall of the royal house of Númenor, the descendants of Elros Tar-Minyatur. Fallen they might be, yet when he was presented at the Council the lean, grey-eyed Man's bearing had stirred his interest. There is something... almost of the Quendi about him, Legolas had observed curiously. He had been startled to learn that this was the same Man who had brought the hissing, cowering cause of all his own present troubles to the Greenwood; a filthy, scruffy Ranger straight out of the Wild, my folk told me! Legolas had been far out in the forest on patrol when the strange visitors appeared and, though he had been told of them and had ordered them closely watched, had not seen Gollum himself until he was called back to his father's halls to take charge of this strange hostage, whose close guarding Mithrandir apparently so counted upon.

Mithrandir. Legolas groaned inwardly again. We failed Mithrandir, and only now do I begin to understand how badly! The thought made his innards churn till he felt sick. The One. He had watched, with all the Elves, in fascinated horror as the little Halfling Frodo had held It up before the Council. The Ruling Ring. Sau - His ring. He had grown increasingly uneasy as Bilbo Baggins spoke, telling his extraordinary tale of riddles in the dark and the finding of the ring which the Gollum-creature called his preciousss... And we let him go. I let him go. The knife twisted in his chest. My guards, under my orders, on my watch. We had grown slack, weary of keeping endless vigil over this withered, twisted little thing, and we were not prepared... The sudden alarm-calls from the sentries, too few and too late. Crashing and howls as the Orcs came thundering through the undergrowth. He had reacted swiftly, marshalling his fighters, driving the foe off; not until too late had he understood. I did not see where the true danger lay! Two guards slain, and the others... He sent up yet another prayer to Elbereth that the missing members of his patrol were, indeed, dead. Spurred on by fear for their comrades, he had led his troop in tracking the Orcs and their captive - or their friend? as far south as they dared. Nearly to Dol Guldur. And all the Council, except Mithrandir and perhaps Elrond and Aragorn, looked at me as if to say, Nearly to Dol Guldur? You do not go that way? You dare not?

Well for them, Legolas thought angrily, that they do not understand. That they know not how the mere mention of that name chills the blood and sickens the heart. Oh, well for you, all you Deep-elves safe in Imladris within Elrond's bounds! When did any of you, except Lord Elrond's sons, last feel foul black Orc-blood splash across your face? How long since you felt the icy fingers of the Darkness reaching out towards your precious haven?

Haven. What was it that messenger from Círdan had said? "What power still remains lies with us, here in Imladris, or with Círdan at the Havens, or in Lórien." And suddenly at those words something long half-understood had leapt into sharp relief in Legolas' mind, clear as winter branches against the sky. I hope I did not gasp aloud. Imladris... the Havens... Lórien. Three refuges. Three.

Father has long known this, I am sure of it. Now I understand why he looks always half-askance when Elrond's name is mentioned; why he was so grudging, the same autumn of all that mad business with Bilbo and the Dwarves, about the White Council's decision to make war on Dol Guldur. He raged about "when the so-called Wise choose to lift a finger," and "deigning at last to aid those of us who have lived for
yéni with the Shadow growing on our borders" - and I thought he was just short-tempered because of Thorin Oakenshield and the Lonely Mountain! He must have felt that for all these years the bearers of the Three were content to leave us to battle the darkness alone, until it became a threat not just to our peace but to theirs... He would understand how Boromir of Gondor feels. Legolas had been struck by the second Man present at the Council too, by his quiet desperation, by the beleaguered dignity of a bear at bay. When he spoke of fighting a rearguard against the Darkness for unregarded years, I could not help but wince in sympathy! Small wonder he is tempted by the One - Men, they say, were ever the easiest for Sauron to ensnare with the longing to do great good...

Back to the One. Always, like a caged animal pacing, he circled back to that little golden thing, apparently so innocuous, yet drawing every eye at the Council inexorably to it. He is seeking it once more... and I have aided him! Every fibre of Legolas' being screamed against the knowledge. I cannot live with this! Somehow, no matter how, I must make amends...

Suddenly he sat bolt upright, causing the leaves around him to quiver violently, so that Taurlaegel stirred quickly on his own branch to look across at him. "My lord?"

"Nothing, Taurlaegel, fear not. A thought came to me, that is all."

The Company. Elrond spoke of companions to go with the Halfling Frodo, to help him on the way to his quest. To cast the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. For a moment, a wave of darkness assailed him, and he closed his eyes, breathing deeply. But no, his path was clear. I must speak with Lord Elrond, as soon as may be, before the scouting parties are sent out...

With some sort of decision thus reached, his frantic thoughts ceased their circling; he blinked, seeing the valley before him as though for the first time that day. The sun was sinking, and wisps of mist were beginning to rise from the long damp grass along the river-banks. In the distance he thought he heard hoof-beats; sure enough, a moment later a pair of riders came into view far up the valley, galloping down towards the House. From their crouched stance over their horses' necks, Legolas guessed they were racing each other for the sheer joy of it.

"That looks set for a hairs-breadth finish," he observed.

"You think so, sir? I would wager for the red stallion, myself..."

"Inside knowledge!" Legolas quirked an eyebrow at Taurlaegel, who heaved an inward sigh of relief at this lightening of his master's mood. "Why so?"

"I wandered into the stables this morning while you were all at Council, my lord. That beast is Caradhras, Master Elrond's prize stallion. And a temperamental one too by all accounts - it's not every Elf in Imladris he'll bear with good grace, so they told me."

Legolas watched with growing interest as the racers approached. He knew the rider of the bay, he realised; that was surely one of Elrond's sons. But the other, Caradhras' rider, was indeed edging ahead, whooping with delight, urging the stallion on; he - no, she, he realised as they drew nearer - was losing her braid, glossy dark hair streaming out behind her, and as the two swept past beneath the beech tree her deep, throaty laughter drifted back on the breeze to the Elves watching above. He gazed after her as the riders neared the House, where lights were now beginning to twinkle into the darkening evening air. Thoughts of firelight and singing after supper replaced his darker musings.

"Shall we descend, my lord?" Breaking into his reverie, Taurlaegel's mind clearly tended along similar lines.

Legolas nodded. "They tell me there is to be feasting again tonight; we can sample Imladris' full hospitality after all!" They dropped lightly out of the sheltering beech-tree, glad to stretch their legs, and strode in the riders' wake towards the House.

***

Taurlaegel lengthened his pace to keep up with Legolas as the two approached the great doors. Whatever aim his master had decided on up in that beech, he had nocked and drawn at it now, without question. Halting at the foot of the steps, Legolas merely said tightly,

"Go on and prepare for the feast, Taurlaegel; I will see you within, I have a thing I must do first..."

Crossing the threshold into the great entrance-hall, Legolas' eyes and ears ranged swiftly over the bustle of preparation. Over the sounds of hurrying feet, laughter and chatter, he caught the slightly harassed tone he sought; Erestor in urgent consultation with the housekeeper, something about silver plate. Sparing a wry grin for the cares of the overburdened steward, having to oversee two such occasions in as many nights, Legolas approached with his request. Master Elrond, as he had expected, was preparing for the Feast; but if it would please him to go up to the small council-chamber which adjoined the Lord of Imladris' rooms, Erestor would see what might be done.

No breeze stirred the heavy winter drapes which hung at the unglazed windows of the small chamber, or threatened the steady flames of the candles in the wall-sconces; it was going to be a cold, still night of frost, Legolas observed, moving to a window to watch the first stars emerge into the deepening blue of the evening sky. Ithil would soon be rising above the peaks at the head of the valley; that way lay the Greenwood, his land and his kin. He rested his forehead against the cool stone a moment, feeling the cold calm his thumping heart. What am I doing here? he wondered again. What do I hope to achieve?... What the Powers intend, came an answering voice from somewhere deep within, the response ingrained over all the yéni of his life. Your part in the Song, whatever it may be. He slowed his breathing, trying to reach out into the valley and the starry night, trying to listen. A moment later, something shifted a fraction in the air behind him, and he swallowed hard. Elrond had come.

The Master of Rivendell stood for a moment in the doorway of his chamber, silently observing the slender figure, still in the worn brown and green of the Wood-elves on this feast night, leaning into the window-frame. No need to announce himself; Legolas, he knew, was well aware of his arrival. Finally, the other turned from his contemplation of the valley.

"Master Elrond. Forgive me this demand upon your time, this night when I know your concerns must be many." The Half-elven did not miss the tension in the younger Elf's voice or in his stance. Whatever he comes to say, or to ask of me, he is not sure that I will hear him out or grant it!

"I know you would not call upon me without cause, my friend." Elrond kept his tone neutral, listening and watching. "What is it you would say to me?"

"It - is rather what I would ask, Elrond." A deep breath. "I... you spoke, this morning at the Council, of companions to be sent with the Ring-bearer. To guide and guard him on the way to Mount Doom. I would be numbered among that company, Master Elrond, if you deem it fit." In a rush, the words were out; but Legolas remained on edge, watchful for the lord of Rivendell's response.

Whatever concern or request Elrond might have been expecting, it was not this, he reflected. Veiling his surprise, he found himself beginning the familiar, steady pacing to and fro in the small chamber. When were the people of Eryn Galen ever interested in Rings of Power? And yet, perhaps, it should not startle me so. The blood of Thranduil and of Oropher, after all, flows in this one's veins. Only that morning he had had cause to call it to mind: the Dagorlad, where we had the mastery... but where, I did not add, the greatest warriors of the Greenwood hurled themselves too soon against the black might of Mordor, waiting not on Gil-Galad but only on the word of their lord, and were cut down like the grass. Courage indomitable, without doubt, and hatred of the Darkness as passionate as any Free People's. Yet are those our greatest need in our present peril?

"I know how many must be at your command in Imladris who have a greater claim than I," Legolas' plea brought Elrond sharply back to the present, "the lord Glorfindel, for one, and many others. Yet I have some skill in arms. And..." he paused, struggle transparent in his clear eyes - "in part my failure has brought us to this pass, Master Elrond. I ask only to try to make that failing good!" He finished with a faint gulp, but would not release Elrond's gaze.

So that matter of Gollum lies at the heart of this! Elrond realised, suppressing the urge to smile. Have a care you do not overreach yourself, youngling, taking all the woes of Middle-earth so onto your shoulders!

"I do not ask for your yea or nay now, my lord," Legolas urged, refusing to yield. "But you spoke of sending scouts north, south, east and west at once to seek out the Enemy's strength. I know some of those must be bound to my father's realm. If your mind is made up that the Ringbearer's quest is not my path, let me at least know it before your eastbound scouts go out!"

All the valour of his grandsire, perhaps; but he is of Thingol's kinship too, and the obstinacy of that line is legendary, as I should well know! Elrond observed. And yet.. from half Middle-earth, Men, Elves, Dwarves and Halflings found their way to this House just in time, it would seem, to take counsel for the peril of the world; and this princeling of the Greenwood came among them. Should such seeming chance be lightly disregarded?

"This much, Legolas Thranduilion, I will say now," he began, watching his guest's face closely. "It may or may not be that you are called to this quest: it is a heavy task which is laid upon me, this choosing of the Company, and I know not yet my own heart on the matter. But neither can I say that it is not your part to go. If you desire it, then, go not back with the eastbound scouts tomorrow to your father's lands; but rest with us in Imladris, and welcome, and let us hope that all paths may be made clear to me in time."

Legolas let go a long, slow breath, and a little of the tautness went out of his watchful face and his tense frame.

"Master Elrond, my thanks. I would ask no more of you tonight. I will delay you no longer."

Without hesitation he bowed deeply; then in a moment he span around and was gone, and though his retreat was soundless Elrond was sure that the son of the Greenwood was running down the stairs. If he has not simply climbed out of the first window and down the nearest birch, he reflected with a wry smile. No wonder my folk think him a simple Wood-Elf! And yet, I think, there is more Grey-elven in him than they, or even he, may know...

With that thought, the lord of Rivendell retreated to his inner chamber, and made his final preparations to preside over the evening's feast.


~~~

Author's Notes:

Mae agorech - you have done well.
Culagor - cul = golden-red, lagor = swift.
Taurlaegel - taur = forest, laegel = green-elf.
Nimloss - nim
= white, loss = snow

The fall of Oropher and two-thirds of the Silvan Elves under his command before the gates of Mordor is recounted in Unfinished Tales, in Appendix B to the History of Galadriel and Celeborn.

My decision to make Legolas distantly kin to Thingol (as well as just, obviously, being a Grey-elf) is stretching the available evidence somewhat, but I hope not beyond all likelihood.

Direct quotes, in quotation marks, of dialogue from the Council are lifted directly from The Council of Elrond, FoTR Book 2 Chapter 2.


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