Despite Eldarion’s eagerness to reach Ithilien as soon as possible, when the captain of his guard called a halt for a short rest period, the young prince made no objection. The shade of the glen chosen as their resting place was most welcome after riding most of the day under Anor’s summer heat, as was the cool, clear water of the stream that flowed lazily past the small grove of trees.
Leaving the horses to drink and graze, the men settled on the soft grass, slaking their thirst and hunger with rations of their own, talking and laughing as they relaxed in the pleasant surroundings. Sarien, Eldarion and Faramir sat apart from the soldiers, and their conversation quickly turned to the reason for their journey.
“King Elessar has told us of his brief meetings with King Thranduil in the past, but tell us, Faramir, have you ever met any Elves other than those in Ithilien?” Sarien asked, the impending meeting with Thranduil obviously foremost in his thoughts. The steward nodded and smiled with fond recall a day before the royal wedding when he and Legolas had spent several hours with the formidable elder Elves who had arrived in Minas Tirith with Elrond.
“Indeed I have met all those whose portraits hang in the Queen’s chambers,” he replied with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. Sarien’s eyes widened in surprise and his voice was tinged with envy.
“That must have been a wonderful experience. I have seen those paintings many a time, and the elder elves, particularly Lords Elrond, Glorfindel and Erestor, not to mention Celeborn, seem somewhat different to Legolas and his friends,” Sarien said hoping for more information from Faramir. The steward smiled at the awe with which the names were spoken, an awe he felt himself when he had met each of them and he wondered how best to describe the living beings who were so much more than any picture could portray.
“The likenesses are excellent, but they do not really capture the depth of wisdom in their eyes, nor their beauty in full,” Faramir commented with respectful tone to his voice. “And do not forget that for all their youthful appearance, they are much older than our Wood elf friends, not to mention having lived through and endured the trials of a different Age.”
“Sauron was ever at war with the Elves, and even they with themselves, so Legolas tells us,” Sarien offered what little he knew of such things. Faramir nodded.
“According to Lord Glorfindel, who is a most excellent storyteller I must say, he and the others have witnessed much that the younger Elves will only ever hear about in the many songs sung about those dark days, or read about in history books,” he added with a knowing smile at the two very reluctant students he knew the two young men were often accused of being by their tutors.
“We would be exceedingly knowledgeable were we take the time to read books, rather than practice weaponry, as our history tutor often says,” Sarien said, exchanging a mischievous grin with his friend. Eldarion made a face to show his distaste of lessons in general and they both laughed at the reminder of the many times they had been in trouble for neglecting their books.
“I imagine there will be no need for book learning in the ranger’s camp?” Eldarion enquired of Faramir.
“There is always a place for knowledge, and old accounts of battles and the like often have hidden wisdom, but most of the training is in the field,” the once captain of the rangers agreed.
“Tell me what I can expect to learn when we reach the camp,” Sarien asked, listening intently as Faramir began describing the tasks that lay ahead for the novice ranger in more detail. Eldarion also listened for a few minutes, but the reminder of the path he could not take only served to reopen the slowly healing hurt, so rather than insist on a change of subject, he wandered away from his friends, leaving them to their discussion. He truly had no desire to hear more, or to let his sour mood affect his friends. Sarien glanced up at him with concern as he moved away, but Eldarion’s affectionate smile and indulgent roll of his eyes silently indicated that all was well and the new ranger turned his full attention back to what Faramir was saying.
Feeling restless and at a loss at how to pass the time, the young prince looked to where this guards were resting, and saw that some were taking a brief nap. He could do likewise, he supposed, but there was a strange voice on the summer breeze, as if the trees of the forest ahead were calling to him. It was a whimsical notion, for he was no wood elf, nonetheless he had a great love for the natural world and at times he believed he understood the whispers of the leaves. A sense of anticipation, like the dead calm before a storm, filled the air of the glen and he felt a strong urge to reach his destination.
Knowing they were close to Legolas’s forest home and that there was no danger in this part of Ithilien, Eldarion decided that he would continue on ahead. He whistled for his horse and after stopping for a quick word to inform the captain of his guard of his intent to ride the short distance remaining on his own, Eldarion rode to answer the call of the nameless voice.
As he topped a rise, the young man sat up in the saddle and shading his eyes from Anor’s glaring fingers of light, peered into the distance, a smile of anticipation curving his lips as he caught his first glimpse of his destination as it rose from the horizon, surrounded by a shimmering heat haze that made it appear a mystical place. The tall trees of the forest of Ithilien, wearing their crowns of leaves of many different hues, seemed to be waving to him, beckoning him forward so with a tap of his heels, he urged his horse to a gallop and rode to answer the strange call he realised was more than just his fanciful imagination.
Eldarion had barely passed beneath the first of the trees when the eerie feel in the air caused the hairs on the back of his neck to rise, and a shiver travel down his spine. Certain he was being watched, but seeing no sign of anyone, he rode slowly amongst the trees, casting a wary gaze about him as he travelled deeper into the forest. There was definitely a strong sense of something powerful all around, and after a few minutes he realised that what he had mistaken for a hint of fear in the whispers of the leaves was just the opposite. There was a mixture of joy and wonder in the soft rustling of the foliage, and he felt the forest was more alive than ever before, as if it had only just now begun to truly awaken to the presence of the Elves. It was a wondrous revelation, and it came with a serenity that Eldarion decided to more fully enjoy by walking the rest of the way to the settlement.
“Did I not know otherwise, I could easily believe you were Elendil riding through my son’s forest,” an amused voice said from somewhere nearby, causing a startled Eldarion to almost fall as he dismounted. More silvery laughter filled the air, and this time he recognised the second voice that had joined the first, even before more words were spoken.
“Careful, Adar, do not alarm the young prince, I do not wish him to break any bones. It appears he is still unsteady when it comes to dismounting,” teased Legolas as he stepped from the Valar knew where to embrace his friend. Eldarion scowled and feigned annoyance but returned the embrace.
“And have you yet learned not to fall out of trees?” Eldarion replied as was expected. The two childhood incidents had become a private form of greeting, and occasionally a source of more serious teasing between the friends. He was about to say something else but his words turned to a gasp of astonishment when he saw the other elf who could be none other than Thranduil.
For a few stunned moments, he openly studied the golden haired Woodland King. That Legolas resembled his father in looks there was no denying, but it was also obvious the elder elf was not just fair of face. Even in his relaxed demeanour there was no mistaking Thranduil was a formidable king and a warrior of old, who had seen and experienced much. Not only was he stunning to look at, but he was surrounded by an aura of majesty, strength and power that Eldarion could almost see shining from behind eyes that were filled with the wisdom of many centuries. Those eyes sparkled with amusement as they observed the now speechless young man in turn.
“Legolas, will you not introduce us?” Thranduil asked quietly. Legolas complied with a similar air of regal grace to his father that made Eldarion truly look upon his friend as the king’s son for the first time.
“King Thranduil of Eryn Lasgalen, may I present His Highness, Eldarion of Crown Prince of Gondor,” he said bowing formally first to his father and then to Eldarion as he made the introductions.
“I am very pleased to meet you and offer greetings from my King, Your Majesty,” Eldarion responded after he managed to find his voice.
“Thank you, Prince Eldarion,” Thranduil replied in kind, a wry smile curving his lips as he felt the young man cringe slightly at the use of his title. ‘Legolas’s influence, no doubt,’ Thranduil thought and acted quickly to relieve the now uncomfortable silence. “Like my son, I prefer titles to be used only when required, and since you are a close friend of my son, please just call me Thranduil.” Eldarion accepted the offer with a smile and made the same in return.
“And I am simply Eldarion,” he said.
“Where are the others? Surely Aragorn did not send you without a proper escort?” Legolas asked, suddenly suspicious that his friend may not have sought permission to visit Ithilien. “He did send you, did he not?”
“Aye, my guards and Sarien and Faramir will be along shortly. I came ahead because I felt as if I was being summoned,” he explained with shrug. “There is something very different about the forest this day.” Thranduil’s surprise at this statement was evident and he studied the young man more closely.
“It is your elvish blood allows you to understand the whispers of the trees,” he commented.
“Not as Legolas does, but at times I can sense a difference in the air. Today the trees seem more alive to me,” Eldarion admitted.
“That is because Adar is here,” Legolas said simply, deeming no other explanation necessary, nor wishing to speak of that which saddened Thranduil. He exchanged a glance of understanding with his adar, and then one with Eldarion that asked the young prince not to question further, then smiled brilliantly as a more pleasant way to pass the time, and crossed his mind. “Come, let us make haste to my home where we will surely find a cool flask of wine to enjoy while we wait for the other to arrive.” he suggested, taking each by the arm and leading the way back to the settlement.