Chapter 1: Homecoming
Out of caution at what might yet lurk in the Woods despite its cleansing, and from desire to make faster time across open country, the unlikely pair passed up the eastern side of Mirkwood, now Eryn Lasgalen, toward Dale and Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, beyond—each heading home. It had been almost six months since the Fellowship had finally disbanded at Isengard, and nearly one full change of seasons since the destruction of the One Ring and the end of the Dark Lord, Sauron. In those same weeks, the dwarf and elf had traveled together, fulfilling oaths made against hope in the midst of the War of the Ring—each to accompany the other to his respective stone and wooden wonder, and there to share in it. From a tour of the Glittering Caves at Helm’s Deep, they departed for a stay in Fangorn Forest as guests of its namesake eldest Ent. There they passed some time in the deepest parts of the oldest woods, and witnessed some secrets also of the roots of the Misty Mountains. After a brief return to Lorien, they crossed the River Anduin and viewed the ruined Dol Guldur—once secret stronghold of the Necromancer, before he was revealed as Sauron and fled to Barad-dûr.
Visits and vistas had, they passed along the top of the Brown Lands, and turned north around the southern tip of Eryn Lasgalen. As had become their custom over this past year and some months, they rode and chatted together upon Arod, the gift of Rohan and their mount of many roads.
To their right, the plains of Rhovanion stretched far east, across the River Running and off into the expanse of Rhûn. It had been some time since either had seen these sights, though the views had varied little despite all that had passed in the world in the time between. To their left, however, the tall, bright elf noted for the smaller, ruddy dwarf how changed the forest seemed, with the Dark Lord defeated and his minions scared and scattered. Not so foreboding as before, though not yet friendly, the woods’ edge drifted slowly past them through miles and hours, leagues and days—tall, strong and constant.
At length the River and Woods turned toward one another, meeting just beyond the Old Forest Road, near the base of the woodland Mountains. Passing through this natural crossroads, and around the mountains’ far side, Legolas Thranduilion drew back the reins sharply, cutting off Gimli Glóinion in mid-yet-another-story and nearly spilling him from the steed. For on this side of the slopes, the strong forest suffered mightily, thinned by axe strokes, scarred by fire and littered with other mementos of war. No smoke rose from the ruins before them, but the scene and scent of battle, flame and death still hung heavy in the space.
Arod trod delicately into the charred forest-become-field, mottled by broken trunks and burned stumps. Many steps in, they stopped and dismounted for a somber rest. Legolas stooped to mourn the earth’s injury, wondering what had become of his people. His distant kin at Caras Galadhon had shared little detail on how his home had fared on the northern front of the Ring War, saying only that the wounds ran deep in forest, folk and father, that autumn had fallen, and that, though spring approached for the wider world, no green leaf had yet to come to Mirkwood.
For his part, Gimli’s message from the Lord and Lady of the Galadhrim was no more clear, speaking both of loss and of life at Erebor. And as loathe as he was to leave his beloved Lady, Gimli had consented to the difficult departure and both had made haste for home.
Seeing now the injury around him, Legolas all but wished he had remained in the ever-bloom of Lorien. As the dwarf lunched on lembas cakes packed for their final leg northward, the somber elf spoke words of healing over stump and sprig, and mourned this welcome home.
With condolences offered, and dwarf palate refreshed, they rode on toward the distant, surviving treeline. As they approached the ragged remnants of the thick forest, they angled west and north passing through patches of death and life in solemn silence. No child of the forest, but more friendly to it now, Gimli’s heart went out to the woods and his woodsman friend. “I’m sorry, lad, it seems quite bare, empty of elves and all.”
“Not of eyes,” corrected Legolas plainly, nodding into the tall trees and deep thickets about them. “We are watched since entering and ever more closely as we deeper delve.”
Gimli could not decide whether his friend took comfort or caution from that vigilance, but they continued on in silence for a pair of days. They came across occasional signs of battle, and spoke little as they pushed on.
Though spring drew near, its approach was subtle here—where ash had choked and fire had scored. And yet, despite the damage, life was returning though small and scattered. As they pushed further in, Gimli noted that the barrenness of winter and of waste gave way gradually to lusher growth. Yet rather than new life or stalwart old, the forest colors turned to golds, reds and browns. He rightly guessed that Elven presence had been enough to turn both frost and fire from this part of the forest, but could not help but show the twilight of the folk themselves.
After many hours’ travel westward on the fourth day, Legolas turned Arod north and soon came into a slight clearing. The clearing opened quickly and stretched into a broad, tree-lined avenue, leading to a riverbridge and beyond it a pair of large stone doors cleft into the very side of a mountain. Before those doors and just across the bridge, a large cohort of elves was collected. Others also dressed in greens and greys, spears in hand or bows on back, spilled out from the trees around them as they continued up the path. Each one stared silently at the new arrivals without expression as even the few forest creatures held their tongues.
Gimli got no indication from his companion on how this bode, and so whispered, “I trust these are your kin, my friend, or we have survived all else for naught.”
Legolas gave no response of consolation or alarm, but only brought the horse to an angled stop at the foot of the bridge, horse and elf and dwarf all facing the stonestill party at the other side.
Gimli noted to himself how different were these elves from others he had met in his journeys. More earthy than light, not radiant but neither dull. Their subdued fabrics, lean stature and absolute stillness marked them more extensions of the surrounding trees than the familiar elven earthbound starlight. Unlike his golden-haired companion, nearly all had dark hair, though the pale skin and pointed ears made the kinship clear. These were surely Wood-elves, blood-tied to the forebears of Elrond and Celeborn, but grown closer through the ages to their forest home.
Though he was loath to admit it, most elves looked as alike to Gimli as if ever his two eyes saw the same one twice. (His well-known friend and Lorien’s Lady of Light were, of course, excepted.) But among these silent similars, three across the running waters stood out. One, in the center stood a little shorter than the others, weighed down perhaps by the gilded cloak of deep green upon his shoulders and the crown of blossoms and gold upon his head. His thin features, however ageless they be, showed him witness to many years and master to most. Sharp chin held high, he stared at the visitors three, with thumbs hooked in the jeweled belt around his elf-heavy waist. He stood proudly before the open doors, as if waiting for them to make some expected address.
The second, to his right, regarded them sternly from his crisp leather tunic and precisely draped cloak. Though of untellable years as were all elves, this one carried vast experience upon his expression, evidenced both in his stance and the scar across his forehead. Most striking, however, was the souvenir of more recent adventures—his hair was short and grew in mottled patches across his head, like a field of grass renewing unevenly after its winter’s sleep. Or after fire. In contrast to the morbid draw of this war gift, a brilliant sword hung at his side and he kept a hand upon its hilt as if daring them to take some unexpected action.
The third elf, standing to their left, was simply dressed and unadorned, in the single-shade brown tunic and grey leggings worn by the majority of the elves about. Though he carried no sword, he had a chest-high shaft of ebony black on which he leaned slightly and fidgeted. His long, dark hair was pulled back from view, while his dark eyes were fixed wide and clearly on Legolas, as if the dwarf, horse and all the others were not present. Gimli had heard of no wizards among elves, as he understood magic to inhabit them all to some degree. Still, he had encountered many unexpected creatures in this past turn of the seasons, and one pale and poled wood-elf held not a candle to the wonders he had already met and bested.
The nobleman, swordsman and staffman, each a different face of elvendom… Yet they blended with their brethren here in that the face of none gave any clue as to the timber of this reception.
On considering these elves, Gimli realized suddenly how his own companion had held himself more upright, more regal as they had moved nearer this place. Golden hair aside, he matched these folk to be sure, but he carried a particular pride now that he was back among them. Though he had never been called prince among the Fellowship, like Aragorn become Elessar and the Grey become the White, Legolas too had taken on a finer air and surer step upon his return to his rightful place. And yet the greeting for him, for them, did not seem royal or revelrous as had the others. But more troubling than its lack of warmth was the lack of any apparent emotion at all that left Gimli most unsettled as they stood amidst these impenetrable elves.
Without invitation or explanation, Legolas dismounted without disturbing dwarf or horse, and strode confidently to the bridge’s center. After a brief pause, the three distinct elves walked out to meet him, the last limping noticeably, though his eyes never wavered as did his gait. Once met, they faced each other—three to one, brown to gold, wood to worldly. Gimli shifted uncomfortably in the saddle, undecided as to whether he ought join his friend and even the odds; but he thought better than to interfere just yet, and kept both his perch and his watch.
Legolas faced the central figure, turned to the swordsman and finally the staffman. Gimli could not see his face, if different expressions he made. But his poise changed not, though he lingered on the last among them. Having acknowledged all, the dwarf-friend looked again to the mighty, middle elf, crossed his hand to his chest, bowed his head and spoke loudly without looking up, “Suilon a buion, adar-aran nîn. I greet and serve, my father-king.” He sank quickly to one knee before the king confirmed, Thranduil, Lord of the Woodland Realm.
With the gathered host withholding still, the silvan sovereign looked down, reached out his right hand and placed it upon the archer’s head. His left hand followed promptly, and he paused a moment, receiving his subject and son. Gradually, a smile and warmth broke across his face, and as his hands withdrew, a circlet of woven vine and gold gleamed around the bowed brow.
Legolas, feeling the release and the remaining presence, instinctively raised one hand to touch the crown and, assured it was in fact there, raised his eyes to his patriarch abruptly, as if disbelieving. The king looked down on him with a rediscovered sorrow, and nodded solemnly. Legolas’ head turned to the common councilor at the king’s side, whose face ached with consolation. The king cupped his right hand over the kneeling archer’s left ear, and Legolas leaned his head into it with gentle grief.
After a moment of absolute silence in the space, the elf-king offered his hands to help Legolas stand and to draw him close for a brief embrace. The swordsman’s countenance softened, and the staffman beamed in open joy as Thranduil clasped his son’s arms and held him out for a fuller look, his proud smile growing with every homecome inch inspected. He turned Legolas about to face the crowd, commanding, “Eglerio! Hail, Legolas Greenleaf, Knight among Men, Ringfellow and Prince of the Woods!”
The onlooking crowd answered the call in unison, and sank to their knee, smiles breaking now across their suddenly glad faces. Even the king’s staffed councilor struggled down, using the carved shaft to lower himself in homage. His eyes, however, he kept fixed still on Legolas, who glanced back to him, an elven blush spreading across his smiling face. Swiftly, the gathered subjects returned to their feet, continuing to cheer their prince welcome, and stepping in toward the bridge, without approaching it too familiarly or the mounted dwarf too closely.
Gimli, once suspicious at the cool welcome and quickly pleased as it turned warm, now started at the suddenly loud and forthpouring crowd of elves around him. That mostly an unfamiliar elvish had been spoken save Legolas’ generous self-translation did not help his understanding of the scene before him, nor relieve his ready and nervous axe arm beside him. The dwarf, in turn, startled the horse who had been taking the celebration quite in stride, by standing still at the bridge’s edge. “Legolas!?” both cried to their companion elf, each in his own way.
The newly crowned prince raised his hand to draw the company’s eyes and their silence. Smiling in amusement and pride, he strode to his traveling friends, and stroked Arod calmingly under the chin. For the dwarf, he knew, a different tack. “Lasto beth nîn,” he shouted, before continuing in the Common speech as he turned in place to address them all in turn. “It is good to be home at last, among the trees, my friends and my family again.” He shot a warm look at the king and his staffman, and faced the royal party for his next statement. “I am pleased and proud also to return with and introduce my fellow Walker, Gimli, son of Glóin, of Erebor. Together we have faced many perils in our quest of the Ring, and I bid you welcome him as I do: good neighbor, strong axe, faithful ally, and fast friend to me, the Greenwood and its good peoples.”
Gimli, much appeased by the introduction, smiled broadly and waved in anticipation of another round of cheers. He was left to smirk, alas, as the crowd, all save the king and swordsman, bowed their heads to him—a decidedly less tall welcome than his taller friend had received short moments before.
Legolas paid no heed to the restrained receipt of his friend, and motioned Gimli down to follow him. “Come Gimli, I shall present you to my king and father.”
Making his most graceful and least noisy dismount, Gimli landed, pulled himself to full height and walked beside the prince’s elbows to stand before the royal party. The nobler two regarded him with the non-committal face elves obviously spent their eternity perfecting; the simplest one finally split some glowing attention from Legolas to him—the most approval and curiosity any elf had ever shown him save, again, Legolas and the Lorien Lady.
“My lords,” said the prince, “May I present my gwador(1) Gimli, son of Glóin, warrior of Erebor.”
Gimli bowed slightly and sincerely, in modesty and greeting, adding his own, accented, “Mae Govannen.” The king’s eyebrow reared approvingly at the unexpected utterance.
“Gimli, may I present you to,” and gestured in turn to each, “Thranduil Oropherion, King under the Canopy,(2) and Lord of the Woodland Realm.” Gimli bowed deeply to the sovereign, awed both by stories told him of the king and by his presence here. The king gave only the slightest nod forward, though his expression now held some graciousness.
Next came the swordsman, and “To Thalind Bellerion, a captain of Mirk-- of Eryn Lasgalen.” The men of the blade nodded to each other smartly and without expression.
Finally Legolas brightened and turned to the staffman, whose odd attire and odder reactions joined the prior introductions to grant Gimli a sudden insight as to his identity. Not waiting to be introduced, he spoke to show his familiarity with his hosts. “And this must be your elder brother, Arandrandaur, the great warrior of the woods.”
At his speaking, their expressions fell instantly, and so Gimli adjusted his guessed introduction to be more… generous. “…Great alongside your greatnesses, of course?” He glanced back and forth among them for some glimmer of redemption in their face. He received none.
The staffman swallowed, and broke his silence softly to correct the error. “Nay, Master Dwarf. Prince Arandrandaur… fell… in defense of his homeland against Dol Guldur; you have just seen Legolas made crown prince in his turn.” He glanced from Gimli to the king, letting his consolation finally rest on Legolas whose crowning shock returned with the spoken confirmation.
Gimli swallowed hard and shuffled in embarrassment and in grief for his friend’s family. His look offered his regrets to each, including last the staffman. “My apologies all, I did not know. For I could not think at first of whom else might stand beside the king and captain. But now I see I have earned your disdain with my hasty words.” Needing much to right his wrong, he volunteered another name from Legolas’ stories likely to be among this important greeting party. “May you then be the good friend, of whom Legolas sang at times? Are you Melethnin?”
Again the faces around him held no release, though Legolas’ eyes gaped openly in shock at this utterance.
And again, it was the staffman called, who broke the stony stares to smile and laugh, “You are brave indeed, sir dwarf, to guess a stranger in the presence of sire and soldier and, guessing wrongly, to try again so amusingly.” Smiling broadly behind closed lips, he raised his eyebrows and looked to Legolas for confirmation for his last points. “I hope that it was I of whom our young prince sang, for I am indeed his meleth nîn, his own love. But my name… is Iavasulad.”(3) The elf stood tall against his staff, reached out and took Legolas’ hand in his.
Gimli gaped at his second mistake, and grumbled reproach to himself. His having broken the heavy moment he had created, the others broke into laughter, his mistakes washing away in their melodic tides. Legolas placed a re-assuring hand upon his shoulder, and finished his introduction. “My friend, I present to you my friend and love, whom I call Dunthon.”
Dunthon bowed deeply, balanced between his staff and the strong grip of the archer prince. Gimli took comfort in this return to formality, and returned the gesture for honest respect and humble pardon, his axe at his side. Both stood smiling.
Legolas took the moment to release the dwarf, and swept his melethron into a deep embrace, quick kiss and gentle rest of closed eyes, touching foreheads and wide, serene smiles. Gimli took great joy to see his friend so clearly happy, while the on-looking elfhost stood somewhat shocked by this most un-elven display. Even the expressive Dunthon was surprised at so mortal an outburst of emotion, but feeling the same relief on reuniting, gave in wholly and happily.
Recovering and reacting first, the Elvenking shouted over his son and the scene, “Make ready, my people, for tonight we feast a Homecoming Welcome to our Ringfellows!” And with that he turned, gracefully, on his royal heels and was followed back through the cavern doors by Thalind and several assorted elves around. Legolas and Dunthon finally stepped apart as the crowd around broke, still hand in hand.
Dunthon smiled warmly at Gimli, “Come my new-met old friend, the dinner hour approaches quickly. Let us find you fitting quarters for companion to both Ringbearer and royalty.”
(1) Sindarin: “sworn brother”
(2) Thanks to fanfic author Kida Greenleaf, for the description of Mirkwood as the "Empire below the Canopy," which I adapted with the dwarf title for the ruler of the Lonely Mountain.
(3) Sindarin: iavas “fall, autumn” + sûl “wind.” Here I have knowingly broken a Sindarin rule governing consonant soft mutations in compounds, as I feel the grammatically correct iavashulad sounds unelvishly slurred. Instead I opted to drop the problematic second ‘s’ as redundant, rather than retain and mutate it.
Chapter 2: In the Great Hall
It had been quite some time since Legolas had seen the palace’s Great Hall holding such happiness, for the creeping gloom of Dol Guldur had smothered much mirth in Mirkwood for many years. Even the annual feasts, held despite the menace to the south, had been more formalities to spite that dark presence than genuine festivals. And, as the evil intensified in recent years, the hall had increasingly held more songs of sadness than of celebration, and more lights lit for friends’ spirits than light-spirited friends. But this night, again, its joy rang true as in older days.
And yet, for all its heartfelt merriment at victory and homecomings, Legolas knew the large hall was more empty than it should have been. The lives lost in the Last War were as clear as the empty seats, and the empty spaces where tables had not needed to be set. Though not smaller in size, the room certainly was reduced in its fullness. Beyond the clue of absent faces, several banners of the great houses that hung along the walls were draped in willow boughs, to mourn the family heads who would not visit there again. Various other branches and blooms, harvested from willing trees and bushes who shared the loss, scattered the room in memory of others whose presence was also missed this night and forever after in this world.
As had become custom during the battles of Mirkwood, the king with his high company had left the raised head table empty and sat instead alongside their people, though still at the front and the center of the chamber. Beyond this, tradition still reigned while the king did, and others sat about him in order indicating their esteem to him: his son sat on his right and his captain sat to his left, with Dunthon and Gimli rounding out the head party to the king’s right.
The dwarf had noted that an empty seat separated the king and the swordsman, and had inquired whether there were not someone else to come or whether the soldier might not take offense at the distance. While Legolas and Thranduil exchanged news of state and elven society over their meal, Dunthon explained that the seat remained open in honor of the absent queen and elder prince, both lost to the Shadow in the past century, and that the captain would have been more offended to take that seat than to sit but one from his liege. When asked why not two seats bare, Gimli was reminded that the second would have pushed the captain further still, and would a total of seven made—a most unlucky figure in elven terms.(5)
“As to our positions,” said Dunthon, “I am finally permitted here alongside the prince after two thousand years beside him in all other ways. And you sit as a guest of both king and kingdom, the first dwarf in nearly an age to do so.”
Gimli looked both tickled and troubled at that revelation, and pressed him further, “’Tis enough for me to join the table at all, which seat does not so concern me. But why do I separate you and the prince, when your reunion is one cause for the celebration?”
With a clarity Gimli was fast appreciating for its rarity among the elves across Middle Earth, Dunthon spoke, “Your deeds, good friend, are mightily praised among us; and the idea of a dwarf as hero and prince’s friend is safe enough to celebrate. But your presence settles not so comfortably among us. You receive cautious welcome on the whole; I would not have you sit last lest some take that as sign of your worth. My place is secure among my people and I have the days ahead with him; I thought it best that you sit beside the prince, your friend, and let that settle any lingering doubts afoot. It is enough that we are both in the company for which we have worked and won; let us then enjoy this night of firsts.”
Indeed they did enjoy the seats and succulents of the evening, as did the entire if lessened host of Mirkwood. Music was played and songs were sung, telling of ancient tales and recent battles under the large trees and the larger skies of Middle Earth. Legolas, with Gimli’s help, recounted the paths of the Fellowship, from the snowy passes of Caradhras to dark passages of Moria, across the fields of Rohan and the grounds of Gondor.
Gimli wondered many times at how exact was the elf’s memory for things the dwarf had never noticed—the scents of Fangorn, the hues of fieldgrass, the names and relations of the many folk they had encountered on their travels. Yet Legolas recalled and the party-goers relished every endless detail. From behind his ale-soaked and crumb-dappled beard, Gimli was impressed also at how honest the elf was about his own actions that had irritated a certain dwarf in the party. Impressed that is, until he realized that the elf spoke them more in boast than guilt, and that the audience appreciated them as such. Still, Gimli broke in when he could to add or correct some obvious oversight on his friend’s part—they sparring comfortably as Dunthon smiled and Thranduil scowled.
Dances, toasts and older tales sprinkled the larger yarn, until it finally arrived the pair to Lorien and home. As the Ringfellows took a final bow, and Gimli another long draught from his mug, Legolas offered his hand to Dunthon for a dance together. Dunthon laughed and put him off, preferring to “sit a while beside our hero and his friend.” Gimli joined the invitation, shouting encouragement between swigs of drink. And still Dunthon demurred, noting that Legolas had always been the fleeter footed.
Spurned, the archer turned playful, turned and appealed to “Sire! As we have just heard, I have faced great dangers for my king and people. Have I not a right triumphant to some reward of my choice?” The hall fell quiet at this faux formality, with smiles spreading. “Of course, my liege, as my service to your self and subjects is pleasure enough in itself, there is little more I could hope for… Save a single dance with your fairest…” He dropped to one knee before Dunthon, one hand over his heart and the other extended again.
The king turned to the fletcher sitting at the table’s end, one eyebrow arched expectantly.
Feeling these and all eyes and expectations upon him, Dunthon glared at Legolas, sighed and made to stand upon both good and bad leg. He picked his staff from the ground beside him and with it pulled himself up proudly if slowly, braced to attempt the requested favor. Once upright, Dunthon shot another harsh and hurt look at Legolas before turning with stoic resolve for the king’s decision.
Legolas, thankful to have his back to the crowd, clamped his eyes closed in horror at the discomfort he had imposed on his mate and at the awkward situation he had created for the entire hall; he dared not make eye contact with either Dunthon or Thranduil. Gimli’s heart went out to them all as he too waited breathless for the king to work some magic—joining the entire hall in nervous looks askance.
Thranduil found himself in the difficult position of deciding which of the two to slight—the deserved hero or the hobbled fletcher. Well-experienced in these difficult duties, he opted instead for an alternative role, that of father: “In honor of this special occasion, I shall leave the matter of request and reward to the good judgment of the princes themselves.”
Gimli’s eyes darted to the empty seat beyond the king, wondering whether some elven tradition of involving the dead in resolving disputes had just been invoked; but there was no sign of the late crown prince Arandrandaur there. And a furtive glance about the hall showed him no one else who focused on the empty seat. Instead all eyes had shifted from the king to the current crown prince and his lifelong love—both of whom stared unabashedly at the king and his last statement.
Inwardly quite pleased with his successful distraction from the awkward subject of the dance, the Lord of the Woodland Realm stood and further flexed his royal prerogative. “Legolas, crown prince of your namesake Eryn Lasgalen, and Iavasulad—called Dunthon, royal fletcher, come forward.”
Legolas and Dunthon looked at one another in disbelief, while both moved automatically to stand before their king. Expectant expressions and hopeful smiles began to spread through the crowd, even to the bearded face of the other guest of honor who recognized, even if he could not fully appreciate, the significance of the king’s choice in words.
As Dunthon stepped in beside him, Legolas reached out and took his hand in a subtle show of contrition and reconciliation. Displeased with the scene the penitent had created, Dunthon was nonetheless too well-versed in elven etiquette to add to it by rejecting the hand. If for different reasons, and whatever was happening, they would face it together.
Thranduil, who seemed to have grown in stature simply by taking on the formal air of his office, looked across the wide feasting table at the pair and the larger party—sensing the expectant air in the hall, the slight confusion of the dwarf to his right and the mix of anxiety and anticipation in the two young elves before him.
“My people, tonight, we mark a number of significant events in our woods and world. In few words, that world is changed. And for elves, the blessings of the Valar are bittersweet. The One Ring and its Dark Lord are destroyed and their armies defeated. Yet even we woodland folk, who have long resisted any thought of such, even we can feel that their departure also heralds our own; despite and because of our victory, the time of the Elves is drawing to a close.
“Here and tonight, we celebrate the contributions and the safe return of our own Ringfellow. And of our neighbor Ringfellow.” He and the hall smiled at this generous inclusion of the dwarf. “Yet we remember also the many who are not here to celebrate either victory or homecoming with us.” Eyes around the hall shifted to the empty seat beside the king, as example of the absences they all felt personally. “Our world is changed.”
“Just as we took up arms and took action against the evil of Mordor, so too have we begun to make amends for the injuries done along that road. Be that healing our kin, cleansing these woods of their last shadows and restoring our forest home. For our kingdom itself, I have named successors for officers and officials lost in the war, including today’s ascension of the new crown prince. Our world is changed.” He nodded toward Legolas, who bowed his head humbly.
“And finally, I must make one change more for the evening, one change in my own world. For tonight, adding to our celebrations, I am pleased to announce the betrothal of my son, the crown prince Legolas, to Iavasulad Thalcuonion, House of Thalolf and royal fletcher. On the First of the New Year next, the Woodland Realm will celebrate the union of my son and become-son!” The king’s face glowed with joy as he built to that announcement, looking up and out to the royal couple and the hall’s host. Both couple and crowd stared silently at this world-shift indeed, before the latter broke out in joyous cheer and the former stared at one another in shock.
Thranduil stepped around his table and stood before the still speechless couple. He took one hand of each in his, and spoke quietly to them as the melodic song rang about them. “This bond between you is not new, I know; only is my recognition long owed. That it has taken me the change of the world to see it…” His voice trailed off as he shook their hands in a potent mix of unvoiced apology and clear affection. He took Legolas’ wrist in the warriors’ greeting, and was hugged royally in return. As he turned to Dunthon, the prince-to-be bowed before his king in gratitude, before embracing his father-to-be in not-so-royal fashion. On releasing him, Dunthon made quick connection between their eyes to thank him for both this unexpected gift and the rescue from the dance.
Pulling free of both, as they two grasped one another for strength and to help contain their joy, Thranduil held aloft his ringed hands to spread silence across the hall, and spoke to all once more. “My people, among our many reasons to rejoice this eve, join with this father’s joy in celebrating the first addition to his family in almost an age of loss. May this herald fresh blessings of the Valar on us, our folk and friends!”
Another cheer went up across the cavernous space, and echoed throughout the palace, kingdom and wood as soon the news would across the lands of elves, dwarves, men and halflings. Gimli jogged from his seat to the happy pair, showering his words and wishes on them through smile, shake and speech.
Before the festivities could fully take on the new excuse and exaltation, however, the king again held up a hand and the room slowly grew quiet. “In honor of the several occasions before us this night, and as proud father and regent, I will demand a moment more to exact my price for the princedom.”
Dunthon and Legolas stared at him in nervousness anew, wondering what possible cost the king had devised, of course, for this change of heart. The night had already held great surprises, what more?
“I shall share a tale of our new prince, as my contribution to our songs of war, woe and weddedness. I ask you all to take your seats, as I offer the Lay of Ecthelgedon.”
A laughing shout went up across the rows of tables and benches, as Gimli and Legolas both looked to Dunthon for insight. But Dunthon had turned several shades of sunset and sank into the nearest chair, pulling Legolas down beside him.
As Gimli pulled up his smaller seat beside them, he heard Legolas whisper to Dunthon, buried in his arm, “Spearcatcher?”
To perked and pointed ears alike, Thranduil proceeded to sing of a fateful day late in the Battle of Mirkwood, which our words here can only outline and never capture fully: He sang of himself, the crown prince and a small band of trusted warriors who journeyed to the farthest southern post of the kingdom, taking fresh arrows, supplies and encouragement to the forward guard. He named the names of the whole company, including Iavasulad, as well as the well-known trees, clearings, paths and points they passed along their way. He played the parts of Arandrandaur who first felt the too calm quiet among the trees, and of the spearman Idhrenard whose well-known sense of humor was first to fall silent when the orc crossbows opened on them. He screamed for the fight as the elf party was divided, and cried as the allied spiders swept up the dead and damaged.
Legolas had never heard his father sing beyond the family before, much less to have composed a song of his own and so quickly. As did all others present, he fell quickly into the story at the telling.
Thranduil’s face colored and creased with each painful turn of the tale, as he and his son fought back to back though bloodied and bruised. Until his voice cut short when the crown prince fell finally beside him, and did not stand again. “Mortal time had finally caught my mighty wood, and cut him low,” (6) he sang in part.
The hall hung still and silent as it seemed they had returned in time with the king, and expected at any moment for silk and spears from unseen foes to strike again before them. He spoke aloud his own words from that moment, seeing no hope but for an honorable death, “Come crawlers and cowards! For the final offering of my house, Darkness shall dearly pay!” The son of Oropher stood fiercely before them, ready to exact a high price for any such happening.
Yet no volley came; and instead the king turned his eyes slowly to the royal couple sitting at his side. For he shared then how, like a falling leaf in autumn, his not yet become-son had alighted beside him, the only other of the party to survive. Together they stood despite past differences, united now in a common fight and fate. With newborn pride, he spoke of how they faced the oncoming foes as one and how, as if upon their unlikely alliance, there appeared the forward guard who had sensed the struggle and come to their aid.
In the telling he moved behind the fletcher where he sat, and laid hands upon his shoulders, speaking of and over him. He sang how, as the tide turned for them that dark afternoon, the desperate foe made one final effort to strike down the king with a poisoned spear meant only for him. And yet, of how, the lowly arrow-maker, not counted before that sunrise among the greater warriors of the kingdom, had shown the deepest strength and courage by leaping before his sovereign to take the blow and blade instead.
Thranduil ended the tale saying that, though the royal party of Mirkwood returned to the northern glens in far fewer numbers and to find that the Enemy had struck deeply through advancing fires, the king had gained a new respect for the weapon-maker become weapon-wielder. He told how he had worried over Dunthon who lay upon the healer’s blankets and burned with fever as the forest burned. And how, as evil fled upon the passing of Sauron, so too had Dunthon roused to ask immediately of the king and princes’ health. For this valiance, the king had presented him two gifts of the kingly gratitude: First, a staff carved from the cleaned and charmed spear whose mark he now carried. And second, a title also to commemorate his unique role in the Battle of Mirkwood and the defense of the king. “…Henceforth,” the Lay concluded, “To be called Iavasulad Ecthelgedon!”(7)
The one dwarf present and the gathered elves, save two seated hand-in-hand, laughed and applauded both the singer and the subject of this rare, royal presentation; and the king, for his part, granted another rare gift that eve—a genuine smile in gratitude and shared merriment. He bowed his head as the cheering continued, and took the hand of his Ecthelgedon to have him rise and share the attention. Even Legolas joined in at this…
As the feast wore on, Legolas noted that while the elven host showed little sign of slowing, the dwarven guest of honor had begun to slow in his toasting, boasting and merry-making. He was on his countless malt beer, from the king’s secret store of Erebor’s finest, his sixth full plate of venison, his twelfth dance to a full-length elven song and his second slurred attempt to regale a nearby table with his own tales of the quest—and all this only since Legolas had begun to count. As Gimli completed yet another telling of the battle within Moria, the version in which he had single-handedly slain the cave troll and its masters in the Chamber of Mazarbul, Legolas stepped in on his and the table’s behalf, “And they were not the only creatures who had the misfortune of crossing the paths of Gimli Glóinion!”
The dwarf raised his empty glass and roared in agreement with the words, missing in his late-night and beer-laden haze, the elvish double-meaning which otherwise would have infuriated him. As it was, most of the table caught the complexities as Legolas caught his friend’s arm and turned him back to their own table, amusement and appreciation crisp in the mood of those remaining. “Come, my friend, let us save some tales for the morrow, and some ale for then as well…”
Dunthon appeared beside them, taking one dwarven arm in his, and graciously slipping the mug from the other dwarven hand with a smile, as elves across the hall took notice of the unique guest and his literal supporters. The dwarf-bearers led him before Thranduil’s table, where the crown prince spoke for the trio, being sure to speak loudly enough for the entire hall to hear. “My lord and father, we are grateful for this welcome and thankful for all the victories that we have marked this fine evening.” He and Dunthon bowed their heads to stress the sentiment, and Gimli’s head lolled forward as if on cue, long enough for the king to note the accession.
“And, though it pains us to cut short the festivities, some of us are weary from our journey and joy, and are overwhelmed by the graciousness of the Woodland peoples.” He nodded none too subtly at the groggy dwarf, who kept his head down, whether by force of will or of its own weight. “We think it best to retire for the night so as to be all the more fit and fresh in the morning to enjoy the company of our home and hosts. With your permission, sire…”
The hall murmured in approving acknowledgement that a year among the mortals had not dulled the prince’s sweet tongue, and that the dwarf showed such suddenly quiet respect before their king. Few were fooled to think it entirely intentional, but they at least were pleasantly surprised that he made no more a scene than this. For though a RingFellow, he was, after all, still a dwarf.
For his part, Thranduil stood to receive and speak to their goodnight, and to demonstrate his own good graces as monarch and host. “All of Eryn Lasgalen, and indeed of Middle Earth, stands in debt of your service against the Darkness. Our words and deeds of tonight and all the days to come cannot begin to repay you, though we may try. For tonight, however, let our gratitude and good wishes bring you swift sleep and pleasant dreams.” He nodded in return to them, and held up his hands in dismissal. “To all,” he added, signaling the official end of the now early-morning feast.
Dunthon and Legolas bowed before him, as Gimli stumbled and pitched forward at just the right moment to join them, proclaiming, “Good night, your majeshty!” Though Dunthon faltered on his weaker leg, between them, they managed to all stay on their feet and to begin to back away before the monarch or miner could speak again.
Before they could move far, and below the quiet sounds of the party’s breaking-up around them, Thranduil called to Legolas in Quenya, “Laiqualassë, when you have seen the Child of Aulë to his room, I would see you in my study as our folk may travel far, celebrate greatly and yet have strength to speak seriously a while.” Seeing no more to be said, the king turned to make his own way from the hall.
Legolas replied without stopping their retreat. “I look forward to our speaking, father. For tonight, however, my duty is to my guest and guren.(8) The notable past and nimble future can wait the night present.” He bowed politely as he walked, his down-turned eyes never returning to meet the king’s.
Shock and anger flashed fleetingly across the elder elf’s face, but softened quickly, as the father took some private pride that his son’s courage had not all been used on his travels. Yet, as he retired, the proud king was also pleased that the impertinence went unknown by the dwarf and become-kin elf, draped in the ancient tongues beyond their knowledge. There was fatherly pride, and then there was royal pride…
After they left the hall and neared the room given to Gimli, Legolas laughed to the dwarf as they passed the last of the party guests and turned down a more private corridor, “You are heavy with more the fatigue, my friend; either elven company or cordials, or perhaps both, prove too much for you.”
At that, Gimli stood upright and took both his hosts suddenly by the arms, switching quickly from led to leader. “But not so much so as to loose my tongue when I ought not, or to submit you to a royal interrogation on your first night home together.”
Both elves stopped short and stared, as he smiled up at them.
“Happy I am, not helpless. I have begun to recognize your high tongues and tones; and am well at home in any underground, even be it home to haughty elf-lords.” He pushed the two together and back up the hallway, as if herding flocks. “I can find my way from here, to much needed sleep in a comfortable bed again. I think you’ll be wanting to find some comfort in your own.”
Both elves now gaped openly at the revealed conspiracy of the dwarf…. Before their faces dissolved into grateful and guilty smiles. Legolas nodded in gratitude to his friend, and took Dunthon’s hand as its owner smiled radiantly at the dwarf. “I am honored to meet you finally, friend dwarf. Hannon le.”(9)
The dwarf winked at the couple and turned to retire, a wide yawn spreading across his face as his did so, and a contented belch echoing down the corridor behind him as he faded also into the distance.
Before turning the corner back to the main halls, Dunthon drew Legolas close and kissed him with gentle strength in their first moment alone together in almost eighteen months. Though little time in elven reckoning, it had seemed a lifetime for the still young lovers. It also had been their first lengthy period apart, and each knew that on both parts it had several times come near to being a final and permanent parting.
In the late-night silence and the low torchlight, Legolas focused all his senses on the presence near him and experienced anew the familiar sight, sound, smell, touch and taste of his second self and soulmate. He knew and loved him all, from tender, calloused palms up strong arms, to warm chest and cool forehead against his own, to soothing thoughts and emotions shared across their once-again physical bond. “Bar,” the moment spoke to him, and he more than felt it, he was home.
And speaking of it, he gathered himself back from the encompassing co-existence, sighed contentedly, and confirmed without moving, “You have kept our flet?”
“It has been kept…” Dunthon whispered mildly.
Lingering in the intoxicating presence of his love, Legolas missed the subtle wording and implied uncertainty. “Then let us be aloft as well as alone again.” He took Dunthon’s hand and stepped lightly in the direction of the palace gates, but Dunthon drew him up short by remaining in place.
Perplexed, Legolas turned to meet a look of mixed disappointment and embarrassment on Dunthon’s fair face. “What is it, my love? Do you not wish to climb together?”
Anguished, Dunthon admitted painfully and simply, “I cannot yet climb at all.” As he spoke, he looked down and swung out his cane and damaged leg before him. “Though at this moment, I do not know which pain is deeper, the unwell leg or the unmet longing to climb with you.” He turned with a grimace to face a corridor leading away from the doors, and back toward the royal family’s private quarters. “Since waking from my injury, the leg and healers have kept me grounded, and the king has kept me underground. I have lived in your palace room, which Thranduil maintained for when you came to your senses and came away home from me.” The pain of being denied his trees, kept inside and remembering past unwelcome shown clearly in his face.
Legolas walked back and drew him close again, his celerity turned to compassion in an instant. Taking the mournful face gently in his hands, he said “I have seen both forest and caverns great and glimmering in my long life and leagues, but none is home save where you lay beside me. I am returned to you now, and will not see you denied Greenleaf or treetops any longer.”
He gripped the familiar hand firmly, and led them out of the palace in silence, strolling well beyond the royal grounds to Haldhoron,(10) their canopy home. At the base of the great tree, Legolas took the staff from Dunthon’s hand and stuck it in the ground beside the fletladder, whispering, “You shall not have need of it above the grass. Only threat of doom has parted us before; and with the shadow’s defeat by light, like the Sun I have returned to you as promised. We shall not allow the long height or slow heal of trunks to keep us from our sunrise sentry.” Legolas put one hand on the ladder’s rung, and stretched out the other to Dunthon. “You are light enough to carry…”
“…And strong enough to hold on,” interrupted Dunthon, with a wide smile connecting eyes aglow. He stepped behind Legolas, wrapped his arms around Legolas’ neck and shoulders, dangled there behind as the archer bore them both up the ropes to heights where thoughts, breath and bodies would blend and soar.
(5) Thanks to fanfic author Dwimordene for this deduction, introduced and explained in "Roots."
(6) “Arandrandaur” is a Sindarin compound for “woods without age.” The lenited taur is also a homophone for ‘king’ and ‘mighty.’
(7) Sindarin: “spearcatcher” (ecthel “point of spear” + gad- “to catch”)
(8) Sindarin: “my heart”
(9) Sindarin: “thank you”
(10) Sindarin: “High Oak” (hall “exalted, high” + lenited doron “oak”)
Chapter 3: Journeys & Tales
Short, sweet hours later the Sun ran its first warm fingers across the forest’s top. Elven eyes in an elven embrace welcomed its arrival with a contented joy that swelled in two elven hearts and across the uniquely elven bond between them.
Moments passed as the sunlight spread like a rising tide through the rough reaches of Eryn Lasgalen.
“I will never grow tired of this sight...” whispered one voice tenderly.
“You do not look at the forest…” laughed the other. They shared silent, knowing smiles, as Legolas caressed his favorite view, adorned playfully with a golden circlet that now sat askew. Opposite him, Dunthon ran long fingers through the golden strands surrounding his favorite view. “Sit up, melda,(12) and let me fetch something for your wild hair.”
As Dunthon gathered himself to gather the comb of carven hardwood and inlaid silver, Legolas sat up and watched him. His eyebrows knitted to watch his friend struggle simply to cross the broad platform without assistance, but he made no effort to help—he had called enough attention to the infirmity during the evening before. Instead, he focused his thoughts on other attributes of his mate, and his conversation on other topics. “Since you insist on speaking aloud this morning--”
Dunthon cut him off with gentle words and looks. “I insist on hearing a voice that has not graced my ears in more than a year, glass.(13) I have thought your thoughts and felt your feelings for most of that time, but I have missed the simple sound of your words.”
“Yando,” Legolas surrendered and agreed. “I began to say that it seems my father remains unaware that you comprehend Quenya?” He turned in place as Dunthon settled behind him.
“Your father and I spoke of many things in the last months of your travels,” said the fletcher as his nimble fingers gently unwound the long, tight braids—this the only place where, and he the person who was so allowed. “He had much to learn of me and us, but that this common elf has been taught the royal tongue I have yet to share with him. Folilma.”(14)
Legolas smiled and rested on the soft pillows, leaning comfortably against the low seat from which Dunthon brushed away a year of travels and battles. He lay with eyes closed, enjoying the quiet breeze, woodland sounds, loving attention and familiar presence of his lifelove.
He eventually broke the silence to show his thoughts had not drifted far. “I once thought that, so in love with these woods is he, my father would be the last elf to leave these shores.”
“And so desirous of that final title, as well…” grinned his groomer, equally enjoying the contact and connection his work brought them.
Legolas smiled, unable to deny the charge, and continued. “But these woods have changed greatly in these past years. First their mirking, and now their liberation at so great a cost.” He opened his eyes, and looked out sadly at the landscape stretching before them like a lush green cloth—save to the south and east where it was rent and stained by the wide, blackened gashes spreading out from the southward Mountains, unliving memorials to trees lost and those elves lost defending them. “As Sauron’s forces from Dol Guldur burned for spoil while they advanced, they did doubly so for spite while they fled. It will be generations of men before the forest is restored.
“And yet father was as clear as he can be last eve that, though he will remain and see his beloved forest healed, his mind already turns west. Where once it lay beyond even elven sight, his sailing now can be marked in mortal scale.”
“He has indeed grown tired of this world,” agreed Dunthon as he combed. “Its offers to him have worn thin and its costs grown high. You will find your father has changed also in other ways these bloody months. The departure of one son, the loss of another and the destruction of so much of his kingdom and kin have mellowed him. Yet he has also regained some fire of old. He has warmed in his contact with the Galadhrim, and a wartime among his folk and trees and neighbors has drawn him from his palace in more than residence. I am pleased most that he has seen to take you to his heart and side again.”
A chill tone of old crept back into Legolas’ speech. “We have much to address yet, he and I. I am default with my brother’s passing, for he cannot spare a son to scorn when he has lost his only other to strife.”
Dunthon pulled his companion’s chin back to bring their faces flush and began in half-mock admonishment. “He stamped his pride for you upon the world, glass, convincing Lord Celeborn to rename these woods for you! Few families in Middle Earth, and none else among elfkind, can count in their number a Ringfellow. Thranduil can hardly let that honor pass unproclaimed…”
Legolas slid free as they laughed at the mostly truth of the observation. Catching Dunthon’s hands, he turned onto his stomach, noting that, “He has also warmed to you, royal Ecthelgedon. Never have I known him to speak of you by name, and now he does so by that, and relation, and accolade.”
“We are redeemed to him both, then, and can hope our remaining seasons on these shores may be better spent together than the past age.”
Legolas let the smile fall from his face, and turned over again quickly lest the descent be seen. Dunthon resumed his brushing, and observed after some brief time, “The world is indeed changed, my love; have we not also? My leg and family have been broken, but my heart is whole to have you near again. And you, you are traveled and titled now, crown prince of the Woodland Realm.” Dunthon nodded respectfully down at him, in both pride and levity. “You return with dwarf beside, as Ringfellows both, bearing scars of this Last War and tales of the wider world you saved.”
Legolas reached up and back to stroke the face so dear to him, again so near to him. “Hobbled and orphaned you may be, min nîn,(15) but this prince’s love you remain, and never again alone. For we are we once more.”
Dunthon pressed the gentle strength of the offered palm into his cheek, relishing their unique bond. “And we remain the lastborn of the firstborn,” he agreed, “though neither can be counted as children among our kin any longer; we carry experience well beyond even our brief years. We have lived much in these short seasons, aged in life beyond the simple count of days. I am happy for the wisdom, though its price has been as high as its lessons short. And yet I must feel some regret that our time to apply it here is marked. May we find both the teachings and this time will serve us well in the Undying Lands.”
Legolas gave no reply, and instead pulled down the angled face above him for a kiss. “You brush more than a year away, my ancient love, for I am young in heart when with you.” He stroked dangling dark braids, and lightly pulled their attached face down again for another kiss. “’They are hair, not handles…’ I know,” he pre-empted, anticipating the annoyance that spread across Dunthon’s face.
Smiling up at the narrowed eyes and smirk, he made amends by offering, “Shall I return the favor with time on your braids, or perhaps some attention to your leg, before we alight for breakfast with father and friend, and more talking?” There was no visible reaction to the leg’s mention, and that was a good sign to Legolas.
Instead a sly grin spread across Dunthon’s face, “Must I choose only one?”
In late morning Gimli sat at a small, but well laid table in one corner of the sun-splattered Great Hall, happily feasting on the mix of fresh produce and winter provisions. Across from him sat King Thranduil sipping from a fine mug of hot-brewed tea. As the former ate, the latter introduced him to the Silvan name for the item, translating with ease among that rare elvish, the more common Sindarin, Westron, and even Dwarvish.
As Legolas and Dunthon approached this unusual late morning scene, Legolas thought to himself how often he had thus unwittingly learned the dwarf in the tongues of elves. Though no harm done indeed, he vowed that he would not again fall prey so easily to the rugged dwarf’s subtle surveillance, nor would he underestimate the smaller man more generally.
Legolas nodded to his father, and Dunthon still bowed to the king even as his become-father. The king acknowledged both with a tip of his head and a welcoming wave, and the couple joined the pair at the table as warm mugs were brought to them. Legolas was pleased to see that Galion, his father’s butler, had learned Dunthon’s favorite morning drink and had not forgotten his own during his absence.
For his part, Dunthon noted that Gimli had obviously made use of the thermal springs in the palace, as his head and beard were clean and combed out, and his clothing changed. His casual dwarf costume, while angularly attractive, looked nonetheless as uncomfortable as did his traveling wear. Dunthon wondered whether this rigid attire did not contribute to that race’s well-known unpleasantness; perhaps all they needed to soften their temperament was softer wardrobes. Still, this dwarf was pleasant enough, and was certainly appreciating the elven hospitality as his dining gusto demonstrated.
Between “good mornings” and menu inquiries, Gimli observed that Legolas had changed from his well-recognized journey wear into stately, but casual clothes—a simple elegance Gimli had not known in this elf since their first days in realm of Lorien. Though an unaccustomed look for the archer, Gimli could clearly see how right it was for the young someday king. Even his golden hair, now gathered simply behind his neck by a single band, spoke not of sloth but of serenity—indeed he looked the prince at rest. Beside him, Dunthon personified a complementary contrast, having exchanged one simple tunic for another, having kept the tight triangle of dark horsetails and having more than elf-usual emotion on his face. Perhaps most noticeably on this morning, Gimli had seen as they approached hand in hand, that Legolas’ head was not adorned with his simple circlet, and Dunthon seemed not to lean so heavily on his ornate staff.
Yet, of all these observations, it was Thranduil who first gave voice to his, having noticed also that “Legolas, you do not wear your crown.” Even the other two elves at the table took note of the neutrality of the utterance—its careful tone sitting clearly between declaration and interrogation.
With remarkably matched dispassion, Legolas served first Dunthon and then himself from the platter of sliced meats, cheeses and fruits, while responding matter-of-factly, “I dine as friend and family, not as prince. I had hoped this private morning meal might be a casual, not a court matter.”
“You must come to accept, my son, that there is no longer for you such a divide. You are a prince. At meals, at midday and at rest. That fact must guide your thoughts, actions and manner henceforth.”
As flat the tone, as level the voice and as calm the faces around the table, Gimli could not decide if he watched a school lesson, a reprimand or an exasperated plea. The two princes drank and dined nonchalantly, as the king sipped from his mug and glanced among them all. Gimli followed suit, continuing to observe across his quickly emptying plate.
Legolas made no response, but after some motion below the table level between him and Dunthon, he gently laid the circlet on the table beside his plate. Whether this was more in concession to his father’s wishes, or in resistance to the implied instruction, Gimli again could not discern. The question hanging, they all continued to eat as the sunbeams shifted slightly on the floor and walls.
“Dunthon,” finally spoke the king as his become-son looked up from his hot drink. “Master Gimli has shown a remarkably un-dwarven interest in our words and ways this morning. As encouragement for this curiosity, I hoped you might share more of the kingdom with our elvellon.”(16)
Dunthon looked to Gimli with a warm smile, and then caught himself short, looking back to the not included Legolas, who had not reacted beyond a sideways glance at him.
Sensing the unspoken question regarding the crown prince, or perhaps regardless of it, Thranduil cut a last bite on his plate and added, “Prince Legolas and I have much to discuss after his absence, and we would not want to keep either of you from enjoying this beautiful spring day in Eryn Lasgalen.” Only then did his voice and face lighten as he turned to the dwarf, “As friend of the Crown, it is important to us that you know and partake of all the beauty our kingdom offers.”
Dunthon barely had time to nod in understanding before the king had taken his last bite and stood from the table. All three other diners stood promptly as the king took his leave, promising, “Until later.”
Legolas made to call after him, but Dunthon grabbed his hand and whispered something curtly in Silvan. He then turned to Gimli, again smiling warmly, “I shall enjoy introducing our home to this new friend and brother.”
Gimli nodded a mix of resignation to the king’s wishes and appreciation for Dunthon’s warm words. Finding no other ready irritation to bolster his own, Legolas conceded and smiled too. “I shall trust you to one another’s care, then, and myself to that of the gracious Valar.” He twisted his smile nervously, kissed Dunthon on the cheek and set off behind his father, snatching the golden band from the table as he departed.
The dwarf and remaining elf stood looking after until they were left alone in the Great Hall. Dunthon glanced across the table still spread before them, and at the dwarf whose shoulders barely showed above its edge. “Well, sir dwarf, let us see what miles and mischief we may make today under royal command and with royal provision!” Taking up his staff, he called to the hall, “Galion?!”
Farther up the mountain stronghold, Legolas entered Thranduil’s formal study without knocking, presuming his kinship and crown exempted him from the uncommon courtesies shown the king.
The mid-sized room was just as it had been when he had departed nearly two years before. The walls still were lined with shelves of books, racks of scrolls and hanging maps. A wooden table, sturdy and broad, sat center in the room, covered in opened tomes, paper stacks and valuables collected from across the kingdom. Chairs at each of its six sides marked several projects underway at once, each station with fresh scrolls, inks and quills at the ready. A grand carven tree sprouted from the table’s center, with sweeping branches ending in candle stands made to look like flower blossoms, spreading light evenly around the table’s wide area. Beyond this desks-in-one, a small half-circle of chairs faced narrow, slotted windows carved through the mountainside to the bright forest day beyond. To one side of the sitting area, a tall, narrow table held fine cups and decanters of fine wines. To the other, a matching table held a large, ornate bowl and pitcher with small linen towels stacked neatly beside.
At this washbasin, Thranduil stood drying his hands. Moving to the table-desk, Thranduil patted a tall stack of scrolls and bound books, introducing them as, “The past years’ records I had pulled for your reading, Legolas; we can have them taken to your room if you prefer.”
“I continue to reside at Haldhoron with Dunthon.”
“Of course, of course.” Thranduil, smiled almost sheepishly as he circled around the table. “Old habit. Nothing more.” He shuffled a shorter stack at a seat that faced away from Legolas, and continued as he looked. “But for now, I wish to have you consider how we shall balance our trade obligations with Dale until our spring harvests can be made.”
“Father, on only my second Sun home, surely you did not summon me merely to review crop projections or provision inventories. I can read the records for myself.”
Thranduil smiled swiftly to himself before turning back to face his son and heir. He has never been slow to sense the elusive prey or stalking threat. He said, however, “You place too little value on these details, Legolas. It is their importance to our people, not their interest to you, that you must consider.” The look upon on the prince’s face darkened in anticipation of a lecture he did not appreciate and would not accept willingly. With a wave of his hand, the king dismissed the attitude and its source, “But you are correct. They are not, in themselves, my cause for calling you to me this day.”
With a further wave, the father directed his son to join him at two tall chairs near the window. Legolas moved from the doorway and to his father’s left, where he perched stiffly in the seat, while the king sat with well-practiced comfort in the tallest of the set. “Your brother’s post and its responsibilities are now yours. The affairs of the kingdom are now your concern as well, and you must need learn soon. Your travels in the world have made you all the more capable for your adult roles. And,” the king sighed heavily, “we are short on good hands, and shorter still on time for them to work. And that is why we must speak today.”
Legolas squinted at his father, this last phrase had caught him unawares—as the lecture had taken on more a tone of confession. Thranduil peered at him with a sad wisdom only a fellow elf, or perhaps only a son of nearly three millennia, could detect.
“It does not take an Elf to know the world is changed indeed, my son. Nor did it require a Ring of Power to sense that change approached these many years.” The elder elf looked toward the open window through which the light, sound and air of their realm filtered in and brought alive the carven stones. His voice moved they two out through that opening to take in all they could sense, and expanded as did the scope of his story. “Ennor has grown tired of Elves. It yearns to move in ways our immortal and unchanging presence will not allow it. Yet tied so closely to it, we restrict and diminish it with our very existence here. We hold to old ways, give little thought to tomorrows and spare it at most to today. For all our life, experience and wisdom, we grow stale and the world grows weary of our bland flavor.”
“And so, though our numbers are diminished and our Sun setting, we will make what repairs we can to the Greenwoods before crossing the mountains, Shire and sea. With regret and great resignation, we accept that for love of this land we must leave it. We are now brief guests only in this, our everhome no more.” Thranduil finished with that choking conclusion, and realized that he had stood and crossed to the window, drawn and driven from his seat as the realization had pulled him from his ages of contentedness and complacency.
He broke his insightful gaze into the ever-present distance, and turned it to his younger, and now only, son. But the dark eyes in that fair head had also left the room behind his words, and had yet to return.
What is it that has so captured my child’s attention, wondered the king, when he, the youngest of the woodland folk, has always been most closely connected to his forest home? Does he feel betrayal in this revelation of his passion’s distaste for him and his people? Has he lost some of that connection in his travels across more of this world, and now mourns that separation? Or rather has the connection, and with it the pain, deepened on those wide roads? Does his newfound responsibility as crown prince weigh heavily on him, knowing the painful transition his princedom must now endure? Or does his pride mourn that these shores will never know him as king in ages to come? Or do perhaps his vacant eyes dream of new realms as his undying inheritance in the direction of the setting Sun? Where is my son at this moment, and what sits in his heart?
Beyond this moment, Thranduil realized that, for all their common years, he barely knew this son before him. Legolas had always held more to his own counsel than to that of others, preferring running through the kingdom to running it. And so, occasional hunting trips aside, the prince and the king had spent increasingly little time together through the years. By the time his fierce independence and his relationship with the fletcher had become clearly more than a childish phase, Thranduil would not listen when his beloved Mîriel attempted to educate him on their son. And then her offered insights had been lost. Their elder son took more after father than mother, and had had little better relations with the boy. It had been only in the absence of all his family that Thranduil had finally warmed to Legolas’ one love, and from him finally had asked and heard of the man his son had truly become. But those confidences gave him little insight into the fair but faraway face lost in his study now.
“Legolas?” he questioned across the room. And when no answer came, he commanded attention, “Legolas, I would know your thoughts. What insights bring you from your journeys across this world?”
The young prince’s eyes shown with returned passion. “I will not speak for the world, father. I know only that I must leave these shores.”
Thranduil waved off this change of focus, moving back toward the chairs and table to sip from his glass of wine there. “We all shall sail; that is not the question asked.”
The passion cooled in appearance but not in potency, as he stood in calm emphasis. “No father, what my travels have taught me of this change is that I must take the ships West. And soon. Quite soon.” As always, the prince’s words were few and final—but they held a special weight this day. It was not from stubborn scorn, but from simple fact that he spoke. He looked expectantly for the reaction he knew would come.
In the privacy of his study, the king felt free to react freely to the absolute finality of his son’s declaration. He slumped into the chair, wine glass tipping and spilling as he settled. With so much yet to do, and having only just returned, even this child would be taken from him! By the Valar!, he exclaimed inwardly as both interjection and accusation.
Legolas stepped to him quickly, knelt at his knee and took his hand. “Father, I heard in my march on Gondor the ocean gull’s song and it will not leave me.”
The king stared at him openly, grace of rank and years giving way to utter shock at his son’s homecoming so quickly turning to farewell again. He had just begun to hope to know him!
Legolas saw the pain on him, and tried to offer him some explanation, hoping understanding might bring some comfort. “When first I felt the call to sail, it paled still against my love of the forests. The destruction wrought on the woods of Ithilien pained me to see, and I thought immediately to lead some of our people there to begin its restoration as our parting gift to this world and to the realms of men in whose trust we leave it. I intended also to ask again and even demand anew your blessing to marry Dunthon so that we might travel there and beyond as one, but you have bested me with last evening’s gift.”
Legolas stood and took his turn at the window, absorbed by his own thoughts. “And yet, as this year has passed along my return to the Greenwoods, the sea-longing has grown ever stronger—as perhaps it was for Frodo with the Ring. In my case, though, it was distance from my goal that increased its pull upon me. In my journeys of the past year, I have thought of little else, save returning here on my way to depart. And I fear now, even with your generosity toward us, that my heart’s further desire will not let me tarry for the New Year as you announced, but rather make haste with husband for the Gray Havens.”
The king focused his thoughts forcibly, drawing on years of anger at this typical selfishness in his younger son. “Again, as usual, you speak of your needs and wants above all others. My child, this is no longer about your own desires; the demands of your people and of this world are now yours. You cannot shirk that responsibility for your own ends.”
“Father, you have just said that our days here are ending, that little remains but the healing work already underway. How will four less hands hamper that?”
“They are not just any four hands, my son! While Dunthon’s fletching skills may no longer hold their wartime importance, he, like each of our people, has knowledge of and passion for these woods that serve us and it well. And, you, as crown prince, now bear more than your mere hands can carry.”
“Father, I accept that leadership is my lot,” responded Legolas, more in rage than resignation. “I have grown much in that understanding and skill since last I slept in these woods and these halls. As one who has journeyed much of late, I know that the journey we foresee will be difficult for our people, just as it is for you and for me. Of all Elves, we hold most dearly to these shores, and may be hard-pressed to leave them. Perhaps it best that I, as prince, make real our coming departure by being among the first to sail, to lead the way Westward.”
Thranduil all but laughed aloud at this argument, smirking instead that “Your turn of phrase is swift but sour. The concern is not whether our folk will fly, but rather what we can accomplish in our little time remaining. And whether you, having now quested and courted successfully, will accept your final tasks of this age and their acres. You have earned well your Dunthon and your title, but cannot focus on the one and not the other. You will now wed the first, but fail to see that you are already beholden to the other.”
“You pushed me away for centuries on account of Dunthon, sent me away to part us, and now would draw me closer to the throne and its obligations in order to drive him away? With such devotion to your people, where is your love for me and mine?”
Thranduil turned away from the accusation, furious at the very suggestion. “I am happy for my son, but am concerned for my heir! Contrary to what you may have presumed, I did not send you to Imladris to part you from your precious Dunthon. Were I that petty, I would have risked him over you on that or some more perilous party. Rather I sent a king’s son to represent his father, a prince to practice his royal responsibilities, and a captain to represent his guards failed in their duty to our kin and friends there.”
“And as before you and those guards’ families, so too before the Council of Elrond did I bear the blame for Gollum’s loss. I daresay that burden paled against the pain of disappointing you and of delivering my condolences to the families of the lost.” That last burden weighed most heavily on the prince, as pain literally flashed through his body at its memory.
The admission deflated much of the king’s rising ire, and he offered almost soothingly, “Such is the weight of leadership, crown prince Legolas; I welcome you to it as I did your brother before you.” His face flashed back centuries to the days when he began formally introducing his late son to his large responsibilities. How proud he had been, and how he wished to feel that same connection here, especially when it was really all he had left to connect him directly to this prodigal prince. “I will admit that, though you bore responsibility for the news to be delivered, I had not expected that errand to become for you a march on Mordor itself.
“Instead, I knew that Elrond’s folk, for all our differences with them, are a responsible people and I had hoped some experience with them would temper your recklessness. Even when I learned of your selection to the Fellowship, I took great pride in you and also hoped that the exposure might mature you into a leader for your people—especially so when your brother fell, and the crown’s inheritance passed to you.
“I have not, in these acts, worked to hurt you or your relations with love, father or people. I wished them to hold us closer to you. Had I known that your travels beyond my borders would instead lure you away from them, I would indeed have kept you home.”
“My seeing the wider world does not blind me to the needs of our people, father. Rather, it clears my sight and opens my heart in ways that hiding here in the trees would not have permitted. You have spoken of the changes in our world, and I have seen them, faced them, even bested some—holdovers from past ages, promises for great tomorrows under united men and the present dimming of Elrond and Galadriel alongside whom we must abandon this world as you have said.
“I too have seen that we must depart. I have seen the capable hands of men and even of dwarves in which we leave this world and these woods. I have seen many wonders of this world, that their presence does not change our end, and that, as you say, our presence does harm theirs. We must go West; there you and I agree, adar.
“But for me, I do not choose to go to spite you or otherwise; I simply must—with every moment of me. For all my travel and teachings, I regret that I can explain it no more clearly than that. I simply must.” Legolas clenched his fist and held it against his chest, hoping to express the physical strength of the emotion he spoke.
Thranduil stared at him without expression, and then walked to a small stone column, visible from every corner of the room, on which stood a simple statue of a young woman in fine clothes. He reverently placed his hand at the figure’s feet, but seemed hesitant to touch her directly. “When your mother was killed, it was as though I had been also—perhaps worse, as death at least brings merciful end to physical pain. But I… I had a kingdom still to govern, two sons, neither with an heir yet likely, and a rising shadow threatening.” He stood before the carven figure with tiny gems set into the crown adorning it. “I wondered how I could continue with it all and without her here.”
He turned to look Legolas directly in the eyes. “But for those very reasons, I never doubted that I should continue despite the pain.”
He looked down again, as if memory and guilt pulled him away from both son and statue. “For myself, so missing her constancy of spirit, her endless beauty and the sparkle of life in her eyes, I sought false comfort in the splendor of gems and gilded things. Rather than lessening the loss of your mother, that grief-born greed instead grew in me—driving me to shameful, mortal gluttony. It was not until it drove me to risk my people, my sons even, for the dwarf and dragon horde in Erebor, that I awoke to it and to the worldly realities from which it had distracted me.” The king shook his head with shame and sorrow, age showing on him for the first time in Legolas’ long memory. “How could I have been so selfish and foolish?”
Hearing his father speak for the first time about the loss of his wife, his behavior afterwards, and his admission of wrong and regret, moved Legolas deeply. While defiant still, he felt moved to offer some solace, from child to parent. “But, father, it led to stronger friendships with men and dwarves for us, and allies against that goblin horde and those more recent of Mordor. Those relations brought us more regard, and now, greater respect among the lords of elf and men.”
“For that I have been grateful,” nodded the king as some of his age slipped from him again. “But that respect serves us little now that we are leaving these shores.” He looked up toward his son and spoke not with the authority of a king, but rather the passion of a father not wishing his child to repeat his mistake. “I was wrong seeking love in things, in seeking life in substitutes and solitude. Do not let this obsession with the sea take you from the place, and work and people that you love. Our flame here burns short, indeed, but has not yet gone out. Do not be so quick to journey on again.”
“If you know me so well, father, you know also that I take after my mother, and will do as I feel I must.”
“She was willful, not wild, Legolas,” Thranduil corrected sternly, before memories of both drifted through his minds. “But you are correct of both your and her obstinacy—with minds like stone when set on a course. As your father or king I could order you to stay, but I fear that you respect neither robe enough now to obey once your mind is made. So let me ask from a role I have been slow to accept, that of become-father. What of your Dunthon? You have told him of this pending flight?”
Legolas turned away at the question, the answer clear in his pained and guilty look.
Thranduil’s heart went out to his child, torn between two such strong desires—a love of thousands of years, and a lifelong destiny newly found. His voice rang with a tenderness Legolas had never heard in connection with the fletcher, and had not heard at all since he was a small child. “He has missed you sorely, Legolas. Though his service never varied, his mood darkened the longer you were away, toward me especially. I offered him what solace I could—his workshop moved out from the mountain, your palace room when he could not climb to his- - your flet. And if his real affection for you were not already clear, now I see that his leg and mood improve by the hour as you’ve returned.”
“He is a part of me, and I of him. We have both been incomplete these seasons apart.”
“As I have been without your mother this century separated. That I refused to see the bond between you two for so long, I beg you not to ignore it now.” Thranduil walked to his son and took him gently by the shoulders, facing him directly. “So I will ask again, my long-bonded boy, Should your other whole not wish to leave these woods he also loves, what then? If not for parent or people, would you remain a while for love?”
“He told me many stories of these woods, and though I still prefer a sturdy rock roof, they are not displeasing to the eyes.”
“I shall take that as high praise from you, Master Dwarf, especially since we have not yet seen an hour’s sights,” smiled Dunthon as the two walked through clear lanes not far from the palace, passing the groundhomes of many of Thranduil’s people. “And would that you might have visited when war, winter and elven weariness had not dimmed their blooming bounty.”
Gimli shifted the small pack upon his shoulders, noting how light it was compared to that which he had carried for so many months from Rivendell to Mordor itself. The memory of that perilous path and ultimate destination made him relish this soft and welcoming scenery even more. “Perhaps my people can come and visit after your folk have nursed the Woods back to health.”
“And remember us through visits here when we have passed from them finally?” Dunthon’s sadness was as close as his thoughts far away. He chose to brighten the mood, by forcing his own feelings to that same distance. “Still, we have much work to do before that Sun sets on us. And in the mean, I shall introduce you to additional beauties of our home.”
Gimli smiled in happy assurance, continuing to be amazed by the depth for which these folk could feel for trees and growing things, and the speed with which those same emotions could shift, like storms upon water. “Though I have not visited your king’s hall ‘ere last night, I have been through your forest once before.”
“I know,” admitted the guide as they moved beyond the last of the houses in this area, and the trail became considerably less perceptible to the guest. “I was with one of the patrols that tracked your party’s passage along the Old Forest Road on your way to Rivendell.”
Gimli smarted at the announcement, “You watched us? You knew?”
Dunthon chuckled at the dwarf’s shock, “Of course. Our woods have never been so under shadow that we could not sense and surveil a band of dwarves on the march. You should be thankful that orcs and spiders are not so keen or curious. Our scouts tracked you from the moment you approached the forest, until you passed from sight across the other side. Thranduil dispatched Legolas and his party several days later, and they overtook you along the mountain paths.”
Gimli continued to gape silently in astonishment, and so Dunthon offered some consolation. “These woods are our home, and we will watch them for all entries as surely as you would for men in the tunnels of the Lonely Mountain, yes?”
Gimli grumbled some form acceptance of this comparison, and made note to speak with the under-chiefs among his people’s warriors on both their stealth travel and their mountain security.
“I am surprised,” said Dunthon as they passed through a thicket of firs, under which a thin layer of year-old ash still sat, safe to date from cleansing rains. “That Legolas did not tell you of this during your journeys?”
“In truth, he offered very little. When he spoke, he shared mostly of his own activities and adventures in the Mirkwood and just beyond. He rarely mentioned, much less told stories of friends and relations, save his songs of old.”
“We Wood-elves are a private people, Gimli, and do not share with outsiders so openly as do halflings, men and even your hardy folk.”
The dwarf shook his head and rolled his eyes in exemplary expression of that very point, “Warm is not among the words I would count in describing your fair race, even with your hospitality and grace.”
Dunthon smiled amusedly, if not warmly, as Gimli realized how honest he had been. Fearing he again had again overstepped some sylvan social more, Gimli fumbled to unsay his words. He made a start to apologize, but was stopped before he could utter a sound. “Be at peace; I took no offense. You are honest, and quite correct.”
Gimli gave a relieved sigh as they began to ascend a small rise. To continue his tale, and as a peace offering of sorts, he added, “As I shared foolishly at our meeting, of the few names and titles Legolas shared, yours came forth most frequently and fondly.” Blushing at the admission, he confided further, “I believe I now recognize your proper name from some of his quiet songs and walking-dream whispers which I occasionally overheard.”
It was Dunthon’s turn to blush slightly, both pleased at the news and embarrassed at Gimli’s knowledge of it. “You are most observant, son of Glóin, for moreso than I gave your folk credit. You educate me greatly as to the values and value of the dornhoth.”(17)
They walked a while in silence, as Dunthon stopped here and there to touch a tree or shrub, or to listen to the faint warble of songbirds welcoming spring. Gimli let him lead, not sure where they were headed, for the Elf seemed to follow no discernible path despite his confident and sometimes stiff strides, and to take interest in the most mundane of blossoms and branches along the way. Between brief elven lectures on the name, life cycle and history of particular plants, Gimli took stock of this counterpart and companion to his original elven friend.
Despite his lessening limp, his movements through the forested trails showed a clear ease. This elf stood slightly taller than Legolas when fully upright, and his hair and eyes were much darker. More generally, his features held a more rugged grace than did the prince’s; perhaps Gimli’s eye was training to notice such subtle differences among elven classes. He felt moved to learn more from this elf, who unlike so many others, seemed ready and willing to speak forthrightly and not in such word knots as in which other elves reveled.
“I am grateful for this introduction to your home and lands, Dunthon, and for finally meeting the people important to my archer friend. As I’ve said, he was close-tongued despite our friendship. I wonder if you might also share with me more insight on the prince we have in common? We perhaps have a short while before the King and prince will join us for lunch?”
“They will talk for some time, Gimli,” stated Dunthon calmly, as if reminding him that the Sun shown or the trees grew about them.
“An elven time or a mortal one?”
Dunthon smiled, seeing that his reminder was not entirely necessarily. “Well asked, Gimli. You have learnt much about us indeed. And as to your question, which it is depends greatly on their own and joint moods. For on Legolas’ departure for Rivendell, the threat of Dol Guldur was not the only dark cloud to have settled on the royal family.”
“My dear dwarf,” laughed the fletcher. “I said that we had some time to walk and speak, but you ask for the story of nearly the entire age passed!”
“I would ask then that you humor me, and our long-talking lords, with the mortal-length version of the tales you have in mind.”
“Very well, my friend. But do not think me poor host for covering great distance with both feet and words as we continue.”
“I trust your good judgment, and shall measure your graciousness by the generosity of your tales.”
And with that, Dunthon smiled and proceeded to provide Gimli a guided tour of both acres of forest and ages of elven life….
(11) Melin tye – Quenya: “I love you.” (my own construction based on available vocabulary and grammatical rules). Yando – Quenya: literally “Also,” here used as a reciprocal, “I do too/also.”
(12) Quenya: “beloved”
(13) Sindarin: “joy” (a playful abbreviation of Legolas’ name)
(14) Quenya: “Our secret” (my own construction from fólë “secret” + -lma pronominal possessive ending "our")
(15) Sindarin: “my one”
(16) Sindarin: “elf friend” (ell “elf” + lenited mellon “friend)
(17) Sindarin: “the dwarves” (collectively)
Chapter 4: Paths of the Past
“Legolas and I were the last elves born to Mirkwood, and save Arwen Evenstar of Rivendell, are the last known born to all Middle Earth. We three arrived alongside the first awareness among our folk that our Sun had begun to set in this world. Arwen was called Undomiel, Evenstar, for both her heavenly beauty and her true mark as our twilight’s begin. Here among us Wood-elves, many presumed that I was in fact to be the last, born as I was on the first day of autumn. As I was welcomed as that year and our collective ages began to fade, my parents named me what in the Common Tongue would be ‘autumn wind,’ and perhaps ‘autumn greetings.’”(18)
“The king has said that he so loved the forest that he could not let my arrival herald such an imminent end, and so he had and named a second son Legolas, Greenleaf, born on first day of spring as a more hopeful renewal against my farewell.” Dunthon leaned close to his guest, and glanced about conspiratorially, whispering, “My father preferred the explanation instead that Thranduil couldn’t bare to consider leaving without having the final word for himself.”
They shared a quiet smile before the dwarf’s eyebrows wrinkled as they began to walk again. “’Autumn Wind’, eh? But I have heard you rightly called by no name save ‘Dunthon’ since we arrived?”
“Well heard, Gimli. I would think you well aware that we Elves of many tongues cannot give only a single name to people and things when many more will settle better.” He smiled slyly, acknowledging the elvish linguistic traditions that were cursed by many a confused traveler and translator across Middle Earth. “Again my father, faithful servant and frequent frustration to our king: His last word in the child-naming battles was to call me daily ‘Dunthon,’ which you would say as, perhaps, ‘west root’, to remind us all that our destiny lay literally in the way of the sunset; we eternal elves are tied eternally to the west. At first I was known so only to family and friends, but its use spread, especially when Legolas came to call me so.
“Until recently, it was only the king himself who would not call me so, though he avoided it by not calling me at all.” Again, a dark cloud of sadness passed across his face, and his pace slowed.
Gimli slowed so as not to overtake him, and instead settled in beside him. “There is some tense history then, between the king and you beyond your naming.”
“We, Thranduil’s people, are not regarded highly among the other elves you have visited. Though we have been the largest realm of elves remaining, our forebears did not go West with the others in ages past; we maintain relations with lesser tribes of men; we had no Ring of Power; and our king makes his home not in a gilded realm but in the dark underground. Feledhil, they call us, ‘cave elves.’ I care not, but always it has sat heavily on the king’s pride. And so, to the king already unhappy in his status, I also came to claim his son’s heart. I from one of our most common houses. I, to be his become-son, as minor as one can be among elvenkind.”
“How came you then to catch the prince’s eye when the king held you so lowly?”
“My father, Thalcuon, was a skilled bowmaker, and his trade had at some point caught the king’s eye and come into his service. With that palace connection, my mother, Ferien’s sure aim with those bows earned her the honor of joining the queen’s personal guard. When Legolas followed my arrival by half a year, as the only elflings so small and both having parents in the palace, we grew up together in his home and my parents’ workplace—first at play, then in friendship, and eventually…”
“And eventually in love?” asked Gimli, confident this time in his ability to finish an elven introduction.
Dunthon smiled and nodded small, an honest contentment filling his countenance. He sat down stiffly upon a fallen bough, where a jutting branch provided Gimli a low seat as well. His voice bespoke the same far-away quality as his visage. “I have known and loved Legolas for as long as I have memory.”
“Yet Thranduil did not approve?”
“You have a gift for understatement, in addition to your dwarven turn to embellishment,” half-laughed Dunthon before shaking his head and pulling some travel food from his pack, in which Gimli joined him. As they ate, he continued. “Legolas and I were in love; my parents were happy for us; even Queen Mîriel shared our joy. But the king was much displeased, and his reasons were as great as his royal freedoms to share them with the young prince.” His voice took a commanding tone as he cited complaints from memory. “I would ‘produce no heir for Legolas’ and so would not add to the permanence of elves in Mirkwood. I was a ‘common tradesman from a common house—no proper mate for a prince.’ With the crown prince long married within our folk, I ‘preoccupied Legolas from Elrond’s daughter’ as she came of age, preventing a royal marriage that would have secured the status of the House of Oropher in the eyes of wider elvendom. And I myself, he felt, was of a ‘particularly common quality,’ being too direct in my speech at times, and disdainful of working in the royal cave as he bade my father do. I was an altogether poor match for and bad influence on his son and our prince. The king preferred that I kept to my arrows and my equals, and for Legolas to do the same.”
Gimli harrumphed in solidarity with his new friend, and took some pleasure in that these very qualities, so objectionable to the elvenking, were among his favorites in the elven craftsman. Even if he wasn’t fond of caves.
Dunthon smiled, as if understanding Gimli’s ironic affection. “I did my duty to my king as apprentice under my father, and eventually in my own trade. I spoke my mind and loved my love, and left their family relations to them. Through no influence of mine, Legolas was not the obedient son that his brother had been, caring more for a warrior’s work than a prince’s. As our love grew, and his father’s strained, we became engaged without Thranduil’s consent, and that settled like a harsh winter on the families.
“He would not marry without his father’s approval, and so I resented the king for mine—the longest betrothal among known elves. Unhappy both, Legolas and I took residence in our childhood treehome, called Haldhoron, and expanded the flet into a more proper house through the years.” Dunthon looked out into the forest as if peering back in time, and admitted with mature regret, “From where I sit today, I do not think that distancing was wise on our part.”
They sat in silence for some minutes, as centuries flashed across Dunthon’s eyes: Of bright days of travel, talk and togetherness; warm nights in treetops, spring-fed pools and a lover’s arms. And of cold hours under king’s watchful eye, and bitter nights at petty tasks far from home and one another. Of the strong support of three parents. And of the solid scorn of one most influential. Of safety in numbers against dark beast attacks. And of dangerous dinners when regents roared alone. It had been quite the two millennia.
Dunthon roused himself, not knowing how long he had been away; but the Sun’s angle, the wildlife’s noises and the dwarf’s concerned and attentive face indicated he had not long been gone. “We should continue as we have much still to see.”
Packing their meal and resuming their walk, they came soon to a patch of darkened trees—not marked with evils past, but seared by fire’s light. Gimli remarked at the tension so apparent in the space, as vibrant greens almost visibly spread to cover the damage done. “Sauron’s armies reached this close to the palace and homes?” He knew that Lorien was thrice besieged by the Dark Lord’s forces, but on his visit there had seen no sign save stories; here, he needed no words to know the cause and cost.
Dunthon looked up from the gnarled trunk against which he had laid a healing hand, “Nay, they pressed some distance closer near routes we have just passed. This is as far as we have helped the forest heal in the year since.” His feeling of inadequacy at even that considerable progress could clearly be heard in his voice.
Gimli’s face widened at this additional show of the elves’ love for their woods and world. Certain his own folk would set to repairs promptly when their own handiwork was damaged, he had not considered how fully the elves would dedicate themselves to restoring the growing things they had not so crafted with their own hands. Or perhaps, as understanding shuddered through him in the mottled glade, perhaps he had not before considered how these Wood-elves may indeed have had more hand in the making of trunks and trails around him than any dwarf had bothered to believe.
As Dunthon shared other insights into the tensions between father and son, and other tales of the Greenwoods becoming Mirkwood, he introduced Gimli to several sights well known to the silvan folk and rarely seen by others: Daer Galad,(19) the largest tree in the forest. Here Dunthon years before, like countless young lovers before him, had proposed to his love under a starry, moonless night sky. And, just years ago, Sauron’s orcs had tried to take down the mighty oak—but neither axe stroke nor fire strike had struck home. The Caborvoth(20)—a wide, shallow ford in a small tributary of the Forest River, where families would come each spring to see nature’s babes begin their lives.
And as the Sun began to settle near the Misty Mountains somewhere beyond the forest, they approached the palace mount from another side and climbed to the top along secret trails till they came to the Mahalmaran, the King’s Seat,(21) from which Thranduil himself, and Oropher before him, came daily to survey his kingdom from its center. The simple stone showed the gentle wear of countless visits by weightless elven sovereigns, though the ground about gave no sign of touch by any foot, paw or hoof.
At the talk of the king and the sight of his viewing throne, Gimli realized suddenly there was no mention of the queen, and that there had been little since his arrival. He broke from his gaze around the tops of the endless Eryn, to ask, “What of Queen Mîriel? Only you have mentioned her in this past day, and as I sit here I cannot recall ever a mention of a Lady of Mirkwood at any point in my knowledge of your people.”
Dunthon did not turn from his vigil across the forest’s southern expanse, and answered without any corresponding depth. “Sorrow holds our tongue on the Lady Mîriel. She left us nine dozens of years ago, not lasting the terrible winter that took so many of us from us.” He looked down at his printless feet, and knocked about a small stone with his staff as he related the story.
“The Queen, of course, survived the cold of that Fell Winter—not long I believe after your birth, friend dwarf—though many of our folk did not. Game was scare and stores ran quite thin as snow and ice covered much of these Woods, and all creatures hungered greatly for a spring slow to come that year. As soon as she was able, the Queen set out to visit the reaches of the kingdom and deliver what supplies she could to those in need. Her small party, including my mother always among her archerguard, was set upon by starvation-maddened spiders and wolves. Despite her own and the guards’ best efforts, most were killed and the Queen was wounded beyond the ability of our best healers to make whole.
“My mother and two others—the only survivors save the Queen, brought her back to the palace, but for naught. She and another guard were quickly overcome by their wounds. The site of the attack was marked to Darkness, and thereafter a great nest of spiders made residence there as if to relish its reputation. For the elven part, enraged and devastated, the king dispatched the surviving guards, including my heart-broken mother, to the farthest southern outposts to face the growing shadow building there. Citing threats increasing, he refused to let his armory works leave the palace as winter lifted, holding my father and I among them in the stone bowels of this mountain.
“Three decades later, after what the hobbits call the Battle of Five Armies, the king had little choice but to permit Legolas a long-earned captaincy in the forest guard. There were too few wardens and foresters remaining to avoid it for spite alone.(22) One of the new captain’s first acts was to recall my mother to his own patrol, where she served until she too was lost in defense of the creature Gollum as the Ring War took shape around us.”
A tear trickled down Dunthon’s cheek, as Gimli watched him reliving these memories as if they occurred again before him.
“The guilt and grief nearly killed Legolas, having to report as Captain to the families of the fallen and to his king of the failure. Moreso for him, to report to me that we were matched now in absent mothers, and to give his father more reason to begrudge his actions. It was a terrible, tense time between us and between us and the king. Until one evening, a few months later, he came to my workshop far below us here…”
The cavern was cluttered with the raw materials and simple tools for making the mainstay of the elven war effort. Stacks of sturdy tree branches and sapling trunks, baskets of feathers and piles of wood shavings crowded the small space, while scattered metal tools and filigreed points gleamed brightly from the light of the single lamp on the tall table in the room’s center. A comparable workshop of men would require greater light for them to work such fine details in wood, feather and metal. But elven eyes and an artist’s touch were more than enough to craft effective and artful arrows in the north Mirkwood stronghold of Thranduil’s besieged people.
The Elven-king’s fletcher needed neither light nor elven sight to sense the familiar presence at his doorway. He addressed the arrival without breaking stride in his work. “Stop skulking in the hall, glass, and make yourself useful. Remind the metalsmiths that without more ‘heads, these arrow shafts can only annoy orcs to death, if they hit them at all.”
The light and lean elf leaned against the archway, smiling and gazing at his tunic-clad friend whose dark, tightly braided hair reflected the same tense mood as did his sharp tongue. Legolas’ own mood a mixture of excitement and hesitation, he ignored the instruction and instead began the difficult discussion he had come to make. “They work as quickly as they can, Dunthon. You alone are simply too swift for they three to match.” As was their well-practiced pattern of conversation, he added the barb of his own, “If our best ‘smiths displeasure you, I can make errand to the men of Dale or dwarves of Erebor for a supply. How lovely their ‘heads would look upon your arrows.”
The arrow-maker volleyed back quickly as he crossed the room to fetch a needed tool, “I would sooner gnaw their shafts to a point with my own teeth than trust our defense to their shiny trinkets. Besides,” he added, glancing at Legolas with a wry smile as he returned to his workbench, “If we were to engage in such a folly, I would send any other on it as I prefer to keep you where I can see you. …As always.”
The flattered grin fell quickly from Legolas’ face, chilled from its perch by the honest affection his friend had slipped into their exchange, and by his imminent task to contradict that simple wish. He had no elegance with which to deliver his message, only an honesty more awkward than was his habit. He stood upright, wrung his hands in an uncommon show of discomfort and stated simply. “Dunthon, the decision is made. The king dispatches me to the House of Elrond.”
At first, the fletcher gave no visible sign of hearing or of being concerned; he continued to delicately carve at the arrow shaft he held. Legolas’ face darkened, not understanding whether or how he should continue, but desperate to know and soothe the other’s reaction. Paralyzed by possibilities and doubts, he simply stood in the archway, waiting.
Dunthon held the arrow out before him, sighted down the shaft to check its true and then clenched both it and the small blade that he had raised to it, unable to marshal the required concentration for the delicate work any longer. His shoulders tensed, and his posture stiffened; yet without turning he said only, “More rightly, you demanded to go and your father, as usual, would deny you nothing that serves to separate us.” The displeasure in his voice was now grave and gruff; levity had left him.
The young archer smiled briefly at how well his friend knew him, taking some small comfort that the unpopular news elicited no more immediate reaction. Their familiarity was mutual, however; and he knew well that the river’s calm surface often hid strong currents. Legolas waded in as he crossed the room to stand behind the craftsman. “I will take a small party with me, and the journey is not long while the High Pass is open. We will overtake the dwarves and beat them there handily,” he reassured. He gently grasped the fletcher’s arms from behind and fired his last shot softly, “I am to make for Imladris at sunrise.”
Dunthon finally set down the arrow, and sighed aloud as his shoulders fell. “I trust your company, and am familiar with your path. It is not your journey out that concerns me. Rather, it is the uncertainty of your return.” He spun within Legolas’ light grip to face him and his fears. “Quessinald,(23) my heart fears that you will travel as the Sun…”
“...In one direction only?” finished the green-clad not yet prince of the wood.
His subject and spouse nodded sadly. "If you know me so well to finish my thoughts, then why do you volunteer to leave and bring me such dread and sorrow?"
Legolas took Dunthon’s hands in his and hung his head to kiss them, having finally found the honest undercurrent in their emotions and now feeling its strong draw of doubt upon him. His face rose bearing his most endearing smile, “We have always talked of travel, to see beyond my father’s lands.”
“'We' aren’t going anywhere, Legolas,” shouted Dunthon, pulling and pacing away. “You are leaving, and for views we both have enjoyed. This is no happy holiday to the Last Homely House you plan for us two. So do not pour honey…”
“…on your wound.” Legolas again finished the thought, acknowledging the hollowness of his words. He changed approaches. “’Twas my archers who lost Gollum; and thus my amends to make to those for whom we kept him.”
“And ‘twas my mother among the guard lost in that battle; what of your obligation to me?”
That shot hit deep, and Legolas clenched his jaw knowing that Dunthon had only returned the blow he had just received. “These are perilous times, Rhoscheneb,”(24) he intoned, presenting his best elf-lord stoicism. “We must each do our part, our duty to our people. Especially if war is to come.”
“We are already at war, Lassë!”(25) cried Dunthon, his increasing exasperation showing in his voice, face and flailing arms. “Dol Guldur empties against us with enemies in such numbers as we can only hope to equal in arrow and spear strikes. The gangrel thing is already gone, and no apology will replace him. What you can do against the gathering storm is to keep your sharp eye and strong arm here, where your people need you. What of your obligation to us?”
Legolas walked slowly to stand before his lifelove again. Dunthon’s face wrenched with entreaty, but found no answer as Legolas kept his course and calm. “Our people have many archers, and are not lacking for targets, needing only arrows to send them. To our good fortune they—we have the best fletcher of this age to provide those deadly gifts; and he has been preparing for some time.” They both looked to the far side of the workshop where lay rows of Dale wine barrels packed with orc-thirsty arrows, one of many such stockpiles across the kingdom.
Dunthon dropped his head in unhappy agreement, nodding, “Your father was wise to have us make ready in these last years.”
Legolas lifted the downtrodden chin with gentle bowfingers and cupped his left hand along his partner’s ear right ear. “We must trust that wisdom now to look beyond our own borders to the larger map for the assistance we can provide and receive against the Dark Lord’s storm. Lord Elrond calls a council at Imladris where I must report the escape of the creature Gollum, and learn what I can from others’ tales. Whether I return immediately with news or aid, or provide some longer service to that larger cause, our bond will burn brightly through this shadowed time.” As tears welled in all four eyes present, he gently kissed the face before him. “The Sun returns daily without fail, as shall I. Watch for me, melda, and take hope from sunrise.”
They remained connected for a moment, before sliding into a fierce embrace, each clinging to the other as if to bind the oath in flesh. Dunthon drew back a little, locked to Legolas with his right arm, and caressed angled cheek and vaulted ear with his left hand. He gazed into his lifemate’s eyes and made his own binding request. “Despite what your father intends for us two and for us all, I expect to sail one day into the West with you beside me, meleth nîn. Brono, a rado bar enni.” Survive and come home to me…
Though physically present there atop the palace mount, Dunthon was clearly back in those days scant years ago. “We passed that night in the highest boughs of northern Mirkwood. At dawn, he and three companions rode west toward the mountains. I watched with sunrise at my back, a warmth I have looked forward to and counted on each morning since.
“There came a day after many months when the Sun did not shine on us—blocked by smoke from the burning forest and by the dread shadow from the East. I was much afraid at that boding, but there returned some whispered songs occasionally to my heart, and I clung to hope as I would cling to him when next I saw him.”
While he spoke, the deepening hues of dusk spread across the forest around them as the mentioned Sun settled atop the Misty Mountains and began its slide down their far side. The bright traveler’s descent beyond the distant peaks did not discomfort Dunthon as had that of his light-haired love summers before, for no longer did the day star’s daily disappearance fill him with dread as it had in the days after Legolas’ departure. “My love promised to return as does the Sun each day, and he did so from the East to me. Though my people now look West for our hope and future, I shall always take some comfort from the direction of the sunrise.” His season’s spring, his sight’s daylight and his heart’s warmth had indeed come home and was here to stay.
The quiet confidence in his face was clear to Gimli, even as shadows crept around them on the grassy crest. As placid as these people could be, thought the dwarf, he was indeed learning to read how very honest their expressions could be and were. Typically calm, they showed it. And yet, when emotions ran high, there too it was evident in abundance. Through the presence of the Lady Galadriel he had learned. Through the number of days spent with Mirkwood’s prince he had learned. And even in the past day with this honest elf, he had learned even more.
“Dunthon, you of all the starry folk have shown me more than courtesy; why?” asked Gimli aloud, unable to find that lesson alone.
“You have well earned all the hospitality I can give, master Dwarf,” he answered as if the axeman had questioned why rock is hard or water, wet. “You have safely returned my prince to me—no small debt in itself. What is more, it is clear you are become like brothers, and I know well that Legolas does not take one to his heart lightly or with haste.”
“Aye, and a dwarf especially I would think…”
“Especially,” laughed Dunthon with him. Indicating both Gimli and himself, he argued further that, “You and I sit here as evidence of his election of good company over the expectations of others. A dwarf and a commoner, we—odd company for an Elf prince.” Gimli laughed in agreement at their curious state, and in gratitude for it.
The elf took in a deep breath and a final wide glance across the green sea, and turned to the dwarf. “Yet, enough of the troubles past and of the trees people, Gimli. As we make our way down to evening meal, I would know more of you, your home and folk. I am not so well traveled as you Fellows, though we have some years before us now as friends and neighbors. What shall I need to know?”
Placing a casual arm on the dwarf’s shoulder, he started them back down the bending path and the bearded past.
(18) In Sindarin, Iavasulad is intentionally a near homophone for iavas + suilad “autumn greeting.”
(19) Sindarin: “great tree,” daer also means “bridegroom” and hence its engagement function
(20) Sindarin: “frog puddle” (cabor “frog” + lenited both “puddle, small pool”)
(21) Quenya: mahalma “throne” + aran “king”
(22) Thanks to fanfic author Dwimordene for the Mirkwood warrior ranks used in "Roots."
(23) Quenya: “Treefeather” (variation on quessë “feather” + alda “tree”), a poetic twist on Greenleaf
(24) Sindarin: “brown-eyed” (rhosg “brown” + lenited heneb “-eyed”)
(25) Quenya: “leaf”
Chapter 5: Storms over Water
A fire flickered merrily in the grand hearth of the Great Hall. Where a day before, the walls had echoed with song and laughter of a kingdom at celebratory play, this night they repeated only the occasional crackles of burning logs and the steady whispers of quiet voices. Where before, the talk touted joy and jubilation, tonight words were of sacrifice and solemn sunrises. Where before, the Hall had hosted hundreds of elves, tonight it held only three, and a dwarf, and the occasional palace butler to refill glasses or tend the fire.
Before the fire, the King sat in his great comfortable chair. The deep seat and high back clearly favored the Oaken Throne, but this furniture was not crafted to impose or inspire visitors.
To his side, Gimli sat in a chair of only slightly less fine appointment, though it was smaller to match both his stature and status. As pleased as he looked to have a seat his size, Legolas had not the heart to tell him how he recognized it from among his childhood set. A princely seat indeed, even if that of a princeling.
The now older and larger prince now reclined on the king’s opposite side, nestled with the newest prince amidst cushions and blankets on the stone floor. As Legolas traced a finger absent-mindedly along Dunthon’s arm, both listened intently as Thranduil told them all of how fared Dale and Erebor under and after the War of the Ring. How, as it had been reported to him, Easterlings had beset the new laketown and eventually beaten back men and dwarves to the gates of the Lonely Mountain. How once again man, dwarf and even eagle stood together as they had more than half a century before against the goblins and wolves. How Dáin, King Under the Mountain, had fought beside and fallen finally over the body of Brand, king beside it. And how both their heirs had since set about rebuilding their kingdoms, and restoring trade with their also victorious Wood-elf neighbors.
Gimli stared into the fire, absorbed in his imaginings of the bravery and bloodshed that Thranduil had recounted. “I thank you for these stories, your majesty, for I have heard little of home beyond what Gandalf and Galadriel could tell me as the war waned. While comfort indeed it is to hear of the valor and victories, I admit that it has been too long since I have seen alive one of my own, and I much wish to walk among eyes of equal height again.”
“In two day’s time, I shall dispatch a trading party to Dale, where Stonehelm will likely also have folk gathered. You are welcome to travel there with my people, son of Glóin, and from there to your home with your kin in your own time.” He glanced at his son below and beside him, and to the dwarf further offered, “You are, of course, welcome to remain longer here if it pleases you.”
“I appreciate the generosity of both offers, my lord, and of your hospitality already. I much enjoyed my stroll and stories with Dunthon today; your land of green and growth offers more to the eye and mind than I had imagined. It is my hope that I can return the favor in coming seasons so that you can see the towering trunks and lofty heights of my home.” He smiled, and drank the last of his mug’s content, before slipping to his feet. “But for the night, sir, with your permission, I will retire to consider your beautiful realm and bountiful offers. Perhaps by morning, I can answer on the journey to Dale.” He bowed to await the king’s release.
Thranduil smiled gently, increasingly pleased at the small man’s larger-than-expected manners. “Your tongue and talents honor us for as long or little as you will stay with us. Think and sleep well, friend dwarf.”
Gimli nodded in appreciation to the monarch, and passed between the reclining couple and the fire, wishing each, “Good night, my friends,” and adding, “And thank you for today’s journeys, Dunthon.” He winked at the smiling fletcher, and received both the elves’ smiles before showing himself out.
Dunthon, watching after him, glanced up at Legolas for any indication on whether they too would or should add their night’s farewells. But the prince had already returned his silent gaze upon the fire, and gave no sign that he was prepared to withdraw. Dunthon instead looked to the king for a hint on how they three remaining should proceed, but Thranduil too stared into the flames.
These behaviors were all-too-familiar to the palace guest and worker, having sat trapped in such battles countless times before. For all their differences, he thought yet again, how alike in their obstinacy are my king and prince. On this occasion, however, his own status had changed, now welcomed and soon related, and so he chose to change his traditional role and not to lie for hours waiting for one of them to falter. He reached back to lay a hand on Legolas’ leg, and asked just loudly enough for the king to hear, “Legolas, perhaps I too should take my leave this night, and allow you and your father to continue your discussions of this day?”
Dunthon could feel the responses being considered in his motionless mate, like careful strategies in a dangerous hunt. With the well-practiced game confirmed afoot, Dunthon considered further taking his own stand by sitting up and perhaps rousing the plotting prince.
Before either could make his move, however, Thranduil sighed and stood, bringing both younger elves to their feet out of sheer courtly habit. As the king turned, Legolas placed his arm around Dunthon’s waist too abruptly to be mere affection, but no so harshly to be fear.
If he noticed, Thranduil made no note, smiling instead and offering, “After the festivities of last night, and the fullness of today, perhaps we all should pass this night on matters in smaller scales.” He gestured toward the Hall’s ceiling, lost in shadows beyond the fire’s reach. “My son and I have spoken much today, and I can spare this night for him to pass rightly with his favored ears.” The king smiled warmly at them both, yet looked only at Legolas. “Until the morrow, sleep and speak well…” And he faded into the shadows in the direction of his private passages.
While Legolas pulled the fletladder up behind them, more from habit than need, Dunthon removed his boots and set them beside a simple chest in the dressing corner of the platform. He walked with surer step than the previous eve to a shallow bowl cradled in a wild knot of the tree’s trunk, and splashed water onto his face.
Quickly slipping out of his own boots and shirt, Legolas stepped behind Dunthon, and slipped his arms around the taller elf’s waist. “I have missed you.”
“I can tell,” laughed the darker hair and eyes, drying his face and turning in the lighter’s grip as he did. He returned an errant flaxen tress to its rightful place, and gently wiped the face it had hidden. Legolas closed his eyes as Dunthon dabbed, while his hands began untying the slender strands of leather at the latter’s waist. With a final stroke down the royal nose, Dunthon smiled at his handsome handiwork, and returned the towel to its branch.
His belt dropped to the floor beside him, and Legolas opened his eyes. Eyelids heavy with the moment, the prince stepped in against his playfully wary companion. Almost from memory, his fingers unfastened their way up the tunic to cleaned cheeks, rounded the delicate ears and traced down the long, dark braids tucked behind them. Pulling lightly on their knotted ends, he leaned in to that same breathless vision.
Ducking the kiss, however, the vision took hold of his leggings’ waist hem, and led him over to a simple, short bench near the flet’s edge. The plank pointed east, where elven eyes could just make out the peak of the Lonely Mountain against the dark horizon. Sitting at the front of the bench, Dunthon faced out on the view, suggesting, “You owe me some attention for my braids from this morning when you allowed your feelings to wander.”
A smiling Legolas settled behind him, reaching nimbly for the nearby comb as he did. He gently pulled off the opened tunic before him, and they sat together barefoot and bare-chested, open to the open nature around them. He then moved to grant such freedom to the two thin braids at the temples, and the three thick horsetails aligned from ear to ear— releasing, unweaving, and combing. “You have not removed these in some time?”
“’Twas you who set them last before you made for Imladris. I kept your handiwork so that I might keep your hand near.”
Legolas laid a warm palm against the pale shoulder before him, touched. “It gives me joy to hear you say it, and to give you such small attentions as these…”
“As you do at fireside family rest, with dwarf and father watching,” he laughed, as if their earlier repose had crossed some line. He knew Legolas smiled behind him, smug and satisfied with the unusually open affection he had shown before friend and father in the Great Hall. “Not that I mind the attention ever, glass; however, you are that affectionate before your father only to agitate him.” He glanced over his shoulder to make sure the son had heard him.
Legolas looked at him as if to argue, but held his tongue when greeted with a look of nearly three millennia’s knowing.
Dunthon faced forward before any discussion might begin, submitting himself again to the careful ministrations. “Much of our grudge with your father is settled by his welcome of me, and so I think your goading tonight had aught to do with that ancient debt. Methinks, instead, it was born of your conversation today?”
“I know not what you mean. I was quiet as always at meals with him, and more than gracious on our retire to the hearth.”
“That you were princely is precisely my point, glass. You were not you. Your air was too foul through dinner, and too fair after. And, you showed no interest in the opportunity to accompany Gimli to his home, as he did you.”
Legolas gave no reply, and continued to comb. Relaxed and remaining curious, Dunthon pressed on, “Why do we not travel with him on his brief journey home? We may then repay his courtesy of bringing you here, and pay a royal visit to demonstrate our concern for our neighbors’ welfare. And I have not been beyond the Lake before; after your tales of Moria and the Glittering Caves, I would like to visit the dwarf halls I have lived so near so long. How feel you about another journey so soon after your homecoming?”
Legolas gave no reply, but paused in his combed caress ever so briefly. Dunthon turned abruptly, looked keenly at him as if he stood at a far distance, and strained to make out some detail of interest in obscurity. “Melda, what sits upon you so since your return and on this eve especially? There lies on you something new and more than the weight of a few years and miles; you are more than traveled, you are altogether changed.” He leaned close to his fair companion, studied closely and inhaled deeply of the familiar face. “Strange scents surround you.” He briefly kissed the archer’s calm lips. “Salt and sand lay upon you.” He gazed again into the light eyes before him. “Ships and sea birds crowd your thoughts.”
Legolas gazed back, one part relieved that the subject had been broached, and another fearful of its entry. He smiled warmly, and caressed the anxious cheek before him, admitting, “I want only that we should remain together, as we have both desired all along and especially through our parting.”
Dunthon’s face gave no reaction to the reach or re-assurance. “True enough perhaps, but there is more than our continued companionship in your imagined future. Do not feign innocence on this count; I have known you long enough that one year and weeks should not dim my knowing. What’s more, your eyes have changed their shade to follow your mood.”
Legolas looked away and cursed his rare gift; this one of few times he’d wish them not to speak his mind so clearly.
Dunthon swung his legs round to straddle the bench and to face the archer head on. Taking his hands, Dunthon implored, “Whatever has come home with you, Legolas, spare sparing me its ill news. When last I felt this dread upon you, you left for seasons to meet the world’s end. With that threat gone, I fear to think what dark path now stays your tongue. But still, let us have it and be done.”
“You know me well. As a first step, let me first share these with you,” said Legolas, jumping up from the bench and running to one of his dressing trunks. Dunthon remained on the bench, arms and mood crossed.
Legolas brought forward a large package wrapped in a grey-green, unfamiliar cloth. Kneeling beside the bench, he set the package before Dunthon and gestured him to open it. Not until Legolas placed a loving hand upon him, did Dunthon move to reveal the contents.
As he folded back the strange weave, four items he found within, which Legolas described in turn as Dunthon inspected them. “Beyond the cloak itself, from the Lady of Lorien as a wedding gift to us, I have brought you mementos of my quest.”
First, “A crystal from the caverns at Helm’s Deep, collected from the cave floor. I hoped it might provide some sense of the wonders of Aglarond, whose brilliance I know rivaled only by the play of sun across the water at summer’s height.”
Second and third, “a graceful bow of the Galadhrim, and a matching quiver filled with a collection of arrows from the many peoples met along my roads. Though none compare to your handiwork, I hope they may show you of your trade’s work in the wider world.”
Fourth and finally, a sea creature’s elegant shell, “from the shores of the Bay of Belfalas, at the ocean mouth of the River Anduin.” Where he had marveled at the previous gifts, Dunthon held tentatively the smooth cone of shifting colors. He slowly looked up from it to meet eyes with Legolas—awe, fear and confusion on his face and in his mind.
As Legolas smiled back with no great certainty, Dunthon forced grace and gratitude to take their place on his countenance. “My love, I am grateful for these, for having you back is all the gift for that I have wished. But gifts are things and not plans; you have been generous but not honest with my questions. Will you not also do me the courtesy of sharing your intentions?”
The archer looked pained as the fletcher loosed that strike fatal to his distraction, and the questions and qualms were clear to both across the connection they shared beyond touch. Tears brimmed in Legolas’ eyes, as he gently took the shell from Dunthon’s hands, lingering as his fingers passed fingers. He turned the shell so that its open edge faced his love, and brought the opening against his ear, whispering almost beyond even elven ability to hear, “Your answers are held within, with the sounds carried from its home to ours.”
The roar that Dunthon heard came not from the delicate shell against his ear, but rather from within himself. As blood surged through his body when his heart raced on the realization that preceded it. As a fear and anger raged through his emotions, clutching at and striking against the elf across from him. And as a cry welled in his throat against the pain and loss that followed from it all, “No…”
Dunthon pushed away from Legolas and his shell, almost leaping off the bench and nearly pitching himself off the flet itself. He stopped just in time, and stood there on the edge, willing himself not to take in the experience just presented him. He struggled to stand upright by himself, and to regain composure on his own, when his preferred source of strength sat before him as the origin of his pain.
Legolas set the shell among the other gifts, and sat calmly as he decided how and when best to act again. He watched Dunthon make to speak several times, balance there against the dark wood behind and below him, and rally independent strength to make sense of his shattered world.
When response finally came, it came with fury born of long years and deep emotion. “We are already leaving in good time! Why? Why must you be taken with the calling now, when that end is already certain?!” He peered up and about him, as if speaking to forces beyond the trees and shores. “What purpose does it serve now, but to create greater pain on parting?” He directed his gaze and questions at Legolas directly, “We have so much work to do together here, so much time to finally find happiness here together. Why are you made to leave again…” The painful answers that he could not and would not see before were now so obvious that they overwhelmed him with grief like a giant wave upon the ocean. His voice broke as his strength gave, drowning, and he fell to his knees, sobbing.
In a few strong strides Legolas moved to and knelt before him. He paused at this so rarely seen side of his lifelong love, finally wrapped his arms around him and, with the contact, joined him in the heartache that the revelation brought them both.
Tears ran. Heads swam. Hands clenched. Sight dimmed. All the soft and hard of wood and world faded from around the two as they loved and mourned only unto themselves.
In whatever time it took, Legolas gradually grew aware of the silent moan of their home tree, unaccustomed to the harsh tones from its favored elves. With no reassurance to offer, much less to spare, Legolas sought his own as he focused eyes, mind and heart on the wounded heart buried in his arms. He whispered softly, stroking pitch black hair, “glawar?” (26)
Dunthon inhaled deeply, drawing breath and strength before sitting up to reveal reddened eyes, wet cheeks and a still-betrayed expression. He searched Legolas’ face, hoping for some relief or retraction; finding none, he swallowed and asked hoarsely, “What does your father say of this?” All the day’s ambiguity had come to focus.
“He mourned in his own way,” understated the prince, before admitting, “But withheld his final statement until I spoke with you.”
“He hopes I will hold you here,” sniffed Dunthon, whose troubled appearance masked his still sharp mind.
“Will you?” asked Legolas, thumbing tears from glistening chin.
“This is our home, glass,” he pled. “Will you not stay?”
“The choice is no longer mine to make.” He felt Dunthon shudder at the statement, and so added what persuasive consolation he could. “We needn’t part, talmanya,(27) for we elves all are leaving these shores. Even Thranduil who rejoices in the return of his Greenleaf has admitted as much to me. Let us both, crown prince and autumn herald, lead our people west. We can lead the way…”
“Perhaps ‘we’ are not ready to journey. Not yet. Not for this reason.” Dunthon’s eyes were hollow and expressionless, as he broke his gaze from Legolas and labored to his feet, murmuring, “’We’ are cold.” He shuffled to the sleep skins, and sank onto them as though all ability to stand left him suddenly. He settled into the familiar folds where Legolas typically lay, and fell still even to Legolas’ straining ears.
A chill ran down the archer’s spine, though no cool breeze stole heat from him and though the cool nights of early spring had long passed from the woods. He knew, as surely as he knew himself, that the cold had aught to do with clime and heat, and all to do with cloven heart. Pained both for his own and for his other self, he performed what healing he could. He moved to the bedspace, lay beside his quiet companion and held him close—hoping what heat he could offer might suffice that night and whatever others they shared thereafter.
By midnight, they lay beside a favorite pool alive with darting gleams from gentle sunbeams, as tender winds bore them scents of forest blooms. Songbirds chimed around and overhead while the chorus of ancient boughs hummed soothing bass beneath. Soft grass, as cool as green, held them lightly as they shared warm caresses through tangled limbs. How glad in this glade, shared Dunthon. What more could Mandos offer? he pondered across their bond, before succumbing to the wondrous weight of their shared non-space—as they became paired notes afloat in the pool, the breeze and the Song of Iluvatar.
Even by elven measure, time flowed lazily through the endless song—jointly their personally private and the creation-encompassing connection of life. Slowly, Dunthon became aware that the winds turned cooler, the sunlight faded and the calls aflight became echoing cries. The trees shrank and swayed as the water’s surface broke and boiled as if in rapids, and the air’s sweetness gave way to salty sting. Dunthon’s mind reached for his love beside and felt only course crystals whose heat ebbed as it began to rain.
Shivering with chill and waking confusion, his physical eyes focused as his other senses roused, reporting the sleeping skins beneath him, the stars peeking through leaves, the earliest hints of oak pollen on the air. Beyond what his body could tell, he felt both Haldhoron’s song of welcome and also a sadness standing near him. He rolled in place, conscious of the now-familiar throb in his leg, to see a familiar form perched across the wide platform. There, Legolas stood staring out into the distant night as the slight breeze played with his long hair and moonlight played across his clotheless form. Dunthon needed not reach out to know him the source of his dreaming storm.
He rose and limped across the flet, standing beside Legolas so as to see his face without standing before him. He took one hand in his, and with his other tucked errant locks behind tender ear. His fingers came away wet with salty water that tears alone did not explain. He knew, however, that brine of another type did explain the tears, and his heart hurt physically for the pain that gave them birth.
“My love, I would ask where you have traveled this night, if I did not know and fear the answer you would give.” As if in answer to his question not asked, his eye caught the gleam of starlight off the seashell held in Legolas’ other hand.
The prince’s face gave no sign of hearing, but only continued to gaze out beyond its field of sight.
“Even now, you do not see the forest before you, or weep its past, or imagine its future, though I know you feel me here.” Dunthon watched him, spellbound once more by his handsome features, and troubled by the yearning upon them that he could not sate. “For you look not south or east to your one-day kingdom, or even to me beside you always.”
At the self-mention by his mate, Legolas seemed to wake to his dreaming without expression. “You know I need not have eyes upon you to know you near and take comfort.” He gently gripped the hand in his. “Nor need I see through forest and mountains, to know that my heart also lies where I peer west.”
Dunthon stepped behind Legolas and embraced him, chin resting on his shoulder. They shivered together as contact brought renewed warmth and strengthened bond. The touch confirmed what the archer knew, that his words had struck his mate as both true and terrible. He pulled the loving arms tight around him, returning what consolation he could, “You have my love, of course, but…”
“...You are fiercely torn. I can feel it clearly in your body, mind and heart.” Dunthon drew himself up his full two fingers greater height, kissed the flowing gold before him, and rested his head there—reaching deep into his lover’s self to sow clarity around and to harvest doubts away. Without spoken words, he sorted chaff from seed. Our love for this wood and world is a part of us, yet your call by the sea is the end to which we are born. Your taste of our fate is powerful, yet so is your love for mortal friends who cannot share it. You must obey the call else die, yet you suffer to think the pain its brings me.
“I know my riddles, love,” whispered Legolas. “I lack their solution.”
“I share the pain, and the powerlessness,” came the reply. Legolas’ thoughts and memories churned between them as they searched for answers. Until a flash of small faces brought a smile to Dunthon’s face. “Perhaps we should seek counsel from your halfling friends, so fond are you of them, and they of such mazes of the mind.”
As if summoned, recollections of six seasons with man, hobbit, dwarf and more poured through the silvan princes, reviving moments of ire, merriment, fear, pride and hope. From little men, Legolas reviewed human princes, aged warriors, valiant maidens, and fallen fighters and friends. At journey’s end, his thoughts returned to the sea, and its crashing waves swept all else away in head and heart, till Dunthon could all but feel its sting upon him.
He renewed his grip upon his lover, admitting, “I have never known the sea, my prince, save now through your eyes and memories. Yet, I am jealous of its power on you and also of your affection for the mortals met.” The depth and difficulty of that admission aloud was not lost to Legolas. “Still, I will welcome those lastborns’ bonds if they will hold you longer here against tidal pulls.”
Dunthon felt the embraced chest heave with a silent sob, loosed his grip to step around before Legolas, and took his wet face in his hands. His voice trembled and his eyes rained, as he gently wiped mirrored tears. “Above every other thought and dream within me, min nîn, I wish you whole, and hale, and happy and here with me. Yet I know those joint desires lie beyond any grace to grant so long as you remain on these shores.
“Curse the Valar for living afar and calling loudly. Curse these woods for housing you, and your parents for bearing you into them. Curse your friends and me for winning your love, and wounding you with it now. Would that I could bring you peace, meleth nîn, cuil nîn, for I am without it as long as you.”
Legolas could feel his chest near to bursting, so moved was he by the confession. “Would that you, they and these woods were enough to keep me, Dunthon, for I am woe to leave. Yet my journey’s end is fixed, and its begin is nigh.”
(26) Sindarin: “sunlight, radiance”
(27) Quenya: “my foundation” (talma “foundation, base” + -nya first person pronominal possessive ending “my”)
(28) Sindarin: “my love, my life”
Chapter 6: To sails and sunsets
The morning meal was set fireside, as the day had begun cool and the hearth had burned low but not cold in the night. The table was spread again with sliced goods and whole fruit, bolstered by hot breads and warm broths to counter the dawn’s chill.
First came Gimli who, finding none else yet there, took his steaming mug and toured more of the dwarven-carved halls now home, for the time, to the wood-elves. Under crystal torches and growing sunlight he recognized some features portrayed to him in unkind terms by his father, Glóin, and other companions of Thorin Oakenshield. Theirs, the last visit of dwarven-kind to these halls, had been not as guests, but under guard. Their stories had described the space in terms only of its use against them—they whose forebears had made the tunneled palace a gift to the Wood-elf king.
He did not find the scattered cells in which the dragon-hunting party had been held, as they had been placed well separated and hidden throughout the palace. Searching those, he wound his way deep and down to find the storeroom from which that same company had been set adrift by an invisible hobbit so many decades before. Though he knew of no prisoners held this day, he noted that even still, the empty casks sat open until checked, sealed and tipped through the trapdoor—a precaution for which his own father had helped make need.
From there he let his eye lead his feet from sweeping arch to clever cantilever, from intricate doorframe to seamless threshold. Even as he admired the craftsmanship of old, enjoying it through the reclaimed friendship in which it originally had been built, he felt the need to return to his own mountain home, now so close after so long. Knowing how he would answer the king’s offer, he wandered twists and turns with a growing joy, and only thought to return to breakfast when his cup ran dry.
On his return to the Great Hall, he found Dunthon seated alone at the table, with a sparse plate and a full but cooling mug of tea before him. Approaching, Gimli was surprised there was no mark of recognition despite the elf’s sharp ears, his own heavy step and the telling echoes of the wide hall. “Good day, young elf,” he said from a safe distance, not wishing to startle his friend, host and fellow warrior.
“Bright morning, Gimli,” answered the elf dryly, not looking up. As Gimli took his seat uncomfortably, Dunthon looked up slightly and made a point of casting a pleasant smile his way. “You needn’t fear surprising me, Gimli. I am not a serpent coiled to strike, no warrior primed to spring at the slightest start. Besides, I welcome your company this morning, as it appears we shall dine alone…” He fingered a slice of thick bread spread with sweet fruits, and nodded to the empty seats beside him and at the table’s head.
“Summoned by his father, to hear the morning’s guard reports. Galion met us on our arrival at the gates.”
“So while the king and heir converse, we humble warriors may dine at leisure,” smiled the dwarf, trying to bring some mirth to the morning.
Warming slightly at the generous gesture, Dunthon sipped his cup and played half the role Gimli assigned. “Humble indeed, friend dwarf, and honored to be counted by you among the warrior fold, though I am not. Not in the history of this Hall, nor the company of your line and axe.”
Taking the polite disagreement as a good sign, Gimli pressed on. “You are perhaps too modest, Dunthon, for only two nights ago did this space hear told of your courage in defense of your king and crown prince. I have met enough of your fair folk to know that elven kings do not make festival songs in honor of no ones. Eh, Ecthelgedon?”
“Thranduil is generous with his words, and also now with his deeds. But festival songs and newborn legends are rarely full in their facts.”
“Pray tell then, arrow-maker, what acts did pass that day? We have perhaps some elven time while the royals share, and I am sure we will find you a finer fighter than you suppose in the telling.”
Dunthon stared at Gimli wryly, and quietly laughed defeat at the axeman’s artful turns. “You do speak more sweetly than any dwarf of which I have knowledge. Perhaps you spend too long a time among we of songly speech. Yet, very well, I shall share my recall of Ecthelgedon’s creation, as it pleases you and as we may have some time this meal.”
Gimli served himself a hearty plate of elven fare, and settled in for favored tale of friend and fight. Across from him, Dunthon took a final sip of tea, and recounted, “I traveled with the king in that small party to the south outposts, brought along to deliver fresh arrows to the forward guard and to return with those needing repair. As was his wont, he and Arandrandaur, his elder son and heir, led the way and they spoke quietly to one another of the tides of war. We dozen others held our tongues and gave them some distance, heavy with arrow bushels as we were.
“As we passed the Greater Fallen Oak, the prince noted that the black squirrels had gone still and silent, and we all at once fell ill at ease. The Enemy had learned well in the battles before, and applied both his cunning and his creatures there for he laid them all against us as he had not thought to do before.
“We were set upon quickly by a force of crossbowed orcs, who hit the prince and three others of our company and divided our party in two. Lest we have the arrow stores they carried, the fallen were snatched, dead or nearly, by the detested spiders who also lay in wait around. Legolas’ brother was not so wounded as not to defend himself at first, and his father was at his side. The rest for our part defended self and sires as best we could, shooting shadows or soldiers equally in the darkened wood as our companions fell and were fetched.
“Three royal guards and I gathered against a fallen bough, resisting until even our carry-quivers were empty. Our numbers so reduced, the orcs came boldly now, so that we fought them sword to shield. One knife I threw and stuck a shrieking spider to its tree; the other I kept in hand and used my quiver as shield and stick, blocking and smashing while I stabbed and slashed.
“In short time, I realized that only the king and I remained. Across the clearing, he stood over the fallen body of Arandrandaur, and wept as he protected it, calling in Quenya, ‘Two sons, a wife –a family all, I have given to this world! For the final offering of my house, Darkness shall pay dearly!’ He had prepared himself to finish his days on these shores where he believed his kin and kingdom now were ended.
“I leapt across the back of one advancing spider, leaving my knife buried deep in its squat neck and myself without a blade. Landing near the king, he turned to challenge me, but saw me kin not kill. Yet he knew my face in an instant, and he hated me for proving him wrong even in this, his final stand. Despite his words, family-he-would-not-claim survived still, and came to extend his own life now promised as curse upon the glamhoth.
“I had come to him, and was met not with words of welcome but of wrath. ‘You earn not your name, Autumn Bringer,’ he spat, as we continued to fight the foes now recovered from my unexpected arrival. ‘Let your winter come on me at last, and end the anguish you have brought upon my house.’
“’In keeping with your worth of me,’ I called back as corpses piled about and live bodies pressed around. ‘I must disobey, my king. I herald not of death, and will not let you welcome it. Instead, we both await the return of our golden spring, and he will return to us if we will but hold for him.’
“We glared at one another between blades and blows, as the attack renewed on legs both two and eight, when arrows in scores reigned down upon them from above like a sudden summer shower. The forward guard had sensed our plight and come looking with every available man and woman, surprising all.
“In that combat and confusion, I never saw the spear or orc that took me; nor know why I stepped before the king as I did. I recall only that his eyes grew wide and his sword swept up as an icy fire danced through me and all went dark.” His face fell blank after the battle’s passion, as he relived the moment of charge, pain and sleep.
“They say the spear was poisoned to act so swiftly, though no other blade was so charmed that day. The king, in his usual way, believes it therefore meant especially for him. He feels no anger now that I should steal his gift, and calls me, smiling, Ecthelgedon to honor my service.”
A blush passed across his face at both the honor and its cost. “We do not know how many orcs we felled that day, as the fleeing spiders carried off even their remains; foe and friend making equal food for them. Little difference it makes really, as no count would equal the lives we lost, no victory ease the grief of father and liege.
“Still, from that and all our losses, some good has come. Darkness did fall soon after; the king sees me now with favor, not fury. And through all these changes, Legolas now may have his chance to make his mark on king and kingdom. If only…,” his voice fell off as his gaze drifted toward a beam of sunlight that had jumped now to the table in its steady crawl across the room.
“If only…?” Gimli asked, taken again by Dunthon’s rushed return to melancholy.
“If only he would stay,” came the soft reply from the Hall’s shadows, as the summoned prince stepped into another sunlit spot.
“Oh,” started the dwarf, so captivated by the fletcher’s story that he had not heard the archer’s approach. “Good morning, Legolas. Are you to travel?”
Dunthon’s head snapped up to see what decision would be delivered here, his hands on table’s edge in anticipation of the decree.
Legolas moved toward the table, shifting his eyes between friend and love. Standing before them, he finally rested his gaze upon the latter though he spoke to the former. “I must sail West, Gimli; my time has come.”
The dwarf seemed unsatisfied, as, “All your people are leaving these shores. We have heard so from Elrond, Celeborn and Thranduil alike.” He looked to Dunthon for some common clarity, but saw that Dunthon’s eyes had dropped forlorn into the feast.
“Indeed,” agreed the fourth elf-lord named that day. “But I shall take the gray ships sooner than most, for the sea’s song has named me in a summons no elf can refuse.”
“An elven ‘soon’ or mortal ‘soon’?” asked Gimli, keen that he did not grasp the certainty of the messages that sat so heavily at the table with them. Looking between the two for some detail, he added, “I had hoped to host you both in my home beyond the lake and perhaps that we might all visit the halflings’ holes beyond the Misty Mountains…”
“I cannot say more surely than ‘soon,’ for my family do not wish it and my friends likely will not. And yet I cannot ignore the call to sail.” He and Gimli both looked to Dunthon, who gripped the table’s edge now more in anger than anguish.
“Not even under king’s instruction of this morning, I presume. He would set out for the Havens today if he could, and he would have me beside if I would.”
“The choice is then yours, my love,” offered Legolas, stepping ever so slightly nearer him.
“I can no more travel now than can you tarry, Legolas,” spoke Dunthon through his teeth—torn between the grace before guests and the honesty of his heart. “Though I wish to remain with you, I need to remain in my home and complete my work for it.” Looking up at Legolas, as Gimli watched, “You may see your duty done through rightly valiant battles of these few years past. But much remains for me to do. The king requires his fletcher, for the woods are not entirely cleared of spite and spiders. And the Greenwoods need be made so again.”
Legolas slid into the open seat beside Dunthon, who edged away as he listened. “The king has ample arrow stock and indebted neighbors to hold him through to sailing. Son of Thalcuon, you are more than your trade to him now, and ever more to me. Would you leave me for your workshop?”
“Once again, ’tis not I who leave,” he responded coldly. Glancing at the dwarf who kept wisely quiet, he softened slightly. “You are the remaining son of the king, heir to the Oak Throne, the Metimon(30) of our people and dear to us all. For that and age’s more you are special to me still. You are my prince, my friend and my beloved. And yet, you ask me to abandon the only home I have known, to rush from it to a home I am destined for and not yet desirous of.”
He stood abruptly and stepped away from the table, as if to distance himself from the very issues themselves. “If it were in my power, I would be both ship and sea to you, my love. But I am no more than I am—a common wood-elf tradesman, born in and of this forest, which I could no more leave injured than I could you.”
Legolas sat back in his chair, wrought with painful resignation. “We are at an impasse then, for I cannot expect you to follow though it pains me you will not. Yet, the farther from the shores I have traveled, the more sharp has become my pain. If I do not follow soon, I know not how long I may hold against it. I must either sail there or sleep here to the end of days—down either path, I will depart.”
Dunthon could hear no more, and sank back into his chair with his eyes clamped shut and his hands over his ears.
Legolas looked to Gimli, in expectation of further argument and in hope of some support. Instead, he saw a most peculiar look up on the small, bearded face—a mix of clarity and confusion, overrun by excitement. “Gimli,” he asked, unsure of what he saw. “Gimli, are you well?”
With elven ears unable not to hear despite his precautions, Dunthon looked up from his lap to see for himself what troubled his new, small friend.
As they watched, a wide grin spread across the hairy head, as the wide eyes focused on Legolas. “On the fields of Cormallen, you spoke of bringing some number of your folk there, to pass some years of men bringing blessings to those fair woods. And, if being far from ocean’s swell brings pain upon you, then beside the Great River’s waters might you find some relief? I am not so wise in the way of elven emotions, but could Ithilien be a compromise comfort between your love for the forest and your call to sail, at least for some time?”
Legolas sat upright in his seat, his eyes searching his own thoughts and feelings for their reaction. Dunthon, as if life returned to him, turned to see what hope he might draw the prince’s face. And Gimli, unsure himself how hopeful his suggestion was, surveyed both for some sign as to its value.
After breathless moments, Legolas looked to Dunthon, always his ready ear in trying times. “Our people are to sail; 'tis not a question of whether but rather when. If I would attempt this delay, would you come with me this side path until we too can board our gray ship?”
“As you have argued, Lassë, all time on these shores now is borrowed. Your father has ample folk to start the mend here; from your telling, the border forests of Mordor have none.” He knelt beside Legolas, taking the trembling hands in his, just as he seized this chance to stretch his stay in and service to Middle Earth. “We all indeed are leaving this familiar home and going into the West, a future I do not fully relish. Yet if we must go, let us not rush from it in haste, but rather show our love for this world in leaving some last and greater good ‘ere we depart. We have each made his mark here; let us now make ours there.”
“I can feel the sea calling in all my body; I cannot choose to ignore it,” confided Legolas as his eyes poured painful evidence upon his cheeks.
Dunthon wiped them, taking the face in his hands. He did not speak, but met the stare with tears of strength in reply. Though they did not speak, Gimli could see the oaths and encouragements offered across their unspoken bond. It was silently but surely clear that Legolas would not face alone whatever challenges lay ahead.
Adding his own support to the cause, Gimli stepped forward and stood beside the two, promising, “And I shall match your will and work by leading some of my kin to Aglarond, and by offering our skill with stone and steel to my friends across the south.”
With each word and wish they lay upon him, Legolas grew more calm and sure. The desperate and honest hope in his love and friend stoked his passion for each, his woods and his world. He clasped both, the dwarf upon his shoulder and the elf upon his cheek, and smiled broadly at the devotion he knew he must return in kind. Eyes still wet from joy over grief, he opened his mouth to speak… and turned abruptly to the Hall’s back corner.
There, emerging from the shadows, walked a grave Thranduil. The solemn sovereign strode toward them. “Will the Prince of the Woodland Realm take counsel from a common craftsman and a stunted miner, over that of king and father?”
At his appearance and utterance, the building joy among the trio fled like frost before fire. Legolas answered with a question of his own, on the trio’s behalf. “You heard this counsel?”
“Not that I needed hear to know that they would urge you to abandon your obligations here.” The king halted across the table opposite them, and glared at them each and all. “Well, Legolas? Would you leave your people not only for other shores, but first for fields of kings of men? What of your purpose here?”
Dunthon stood and Gimli stepped to the side, glancing at the archer for some sign of his resolve and intention.
Marshaling all his bred poise, his learned style and his practiced strength, Crown Prince Legolas rose and answered calmly, “‘Tis not disdain for our people that drives me from our world, father, but rather my love for it that shall keep me in it longer. Where Lorien and Imladris empty by the season, we Wood-Elves have nearly all remained in these groves, so settled to these shores are we. You may wear your crown of spring renewal, but we all know our forest is garbed in more honest autumn hues. Though our days are few, even by our measure of their passing, if Thranduil’s people shall hold to these streams and skies, then I too shall hold a while.”
Gimli gaped at the decision. Dunthon beamed with restored relief. Thranduil made no move or sound.
Unfinished, Legolas stepped toward his king with every fiber of his elven grace, royal authority and personal passion. “However, if we linger for love and labor, then I shall make my last stand for Ennor where I can aid it most, and that need is greatest, in my wider experience, in Ithilien. To challenge self in aid of our most beloved home—What stronger show of our- - of my devotion is there than that?”
His arms open in question, his tone rolled into a confident plea from child to parent. “For all our clashes through the centuries, father, I have not, in the end, crossed you on any decision. Yet, in this, our final acts in Middle Earth, I will not have you cite my proper duties for the silvan Elves alone. I too love this world, moreso now that I have seen it. If I must leave, can I not partake more of it, share it with those I love, improve it with them, and gather memories for the going? Lecture me not on this kingdom’s trade and territory alone, for I am thinking of my larger responsibilities, of the greatest goods.”
Legolas stood calm and steadfast. Gimli’s gaze swung between the first lord and the latter born.
Thranduil clasped his hands behind his back, looked at each in turn, and finally smiled with all his gathered years. “Restoring the woods of Ithilien from Mordor’s menace. Making a new silvan princedom upon Middle Earth. Leaving a living legacy of elven touch in sight of the man-king. What more royal roles than those? Indeed, what greater good could I ask than that?”
Three pair of eyes opened wide as this sudden shift.
The king mixed authority back into his amusement. “I have already my blessing given for this union, and what’s more, decreed a date on which it shall come to pass. I would not be made a liar by any fellow or force, and so will make my first condition for this mission that you shall return here on the first day of the New Year next for your wedding.”
Dunthon smiled, stepped up beside and took Legolas’ hand quickly in his to confirm he was not dreaming this, and to affirm his desire for it.
Legolas gripped back with the same sentiments, but cocked his head in careful consideration. “Before consenting, father, you said your ‘first’ condition?”
“Indeed,” nodded the king, stepping forward to deliver his further decisions. “I will no more command my people to travel to or toil in a foreign land, than I will my son to remain against his heart and will. Therefore, you may take only willing volunteers on this march.”
Legolas nodded in agreement. “And?”
“And. My final provision is that you promise to sail as soon as your work in mortal’s land is done.” He stood before the princely pair, and placed a hand on the cheek of each. “I shall not have my final sons left behind.”
Thranduil sat upon the small stone, high atop the palace mount as he had done daily for more than a thousand thousand days. Though the scene before him was one of serenity and living song, he knew that far beneath his feet and seat, the mountain passages bustled with preparations for the trading party to make for Laketown. Planning also had begun for Ithilien, for the first of many partings among his people as the Greenwoods began to empty of its Kindred people.
Long attuned to the subtle song of his realm and its inhabitants, he could feel the expected mix of joy and fear, of loss and looking forward. The Elves knew that it was their time to travel, and curiosity about the journey and the distant shores was growing. Yet, the mourning also was begun at having to abandon the only home and haunts they had ever known, the only they had forever known. Beyond his subjects, the king sensed the bittersweet anticipation of the trees, creatures, stone and soil beside and below him, out to the far reaches of his keen physical senses and beyond. The living woods pondered what the departure of the gentle step and soothing touch of the fair folk would mean; hesitation mixed with excitement as the inevitable absence loomed quickly on the same scale as the expansive land itself.
For his part, he wondered how he should handle these last tasks before him. The list was long, and his time, for the first time, was remarkably short. To repair the forest damage inflicted by flame and fiend in the Last War. To provide what assistance he could to the dwarves and men who would inherit the woods behind him. To remove all gentle intrusion of elven construction across the forest, restoring what had been in the all but forgotten days before even the ageless Elves. To prepare his own tunneled halls for the likely return of their makers, should Stonehelm or another dwarf lord so choose. To gather not his remaining sons to him, but rather send them forth into a world they should instead be making ready to leave.
Of all his daunting acts ahead, this last loomed largest before him. All others were under his direct command; but these last two had good minds and strong wills of their own. He had known his trees and trails for nearly two hundred generations of normal men; but his remaining family, he had chosen not to know well in that time. The land and lanes of his kingdom would sit still as he dealt with them and said his good-byes; but the youths made ready to fly beyond his reach and realm even as he sat and considered them. For the age wasted behind him, their parting to come would be most painful to his strong and seasoned heart.
Still, he gathered himself, inhaling the rising breeze that rode across the treetops, there are still some years before a final parting until the sea-crossed reunion he prayed would come. In the meanwhile, one of the princes approaches…
Thranduil did not look up or over as the voice called to him quietly up the slope. “Dunthon and I will accompany Gimli to Dale and Erebor as preparations begin here for the southern march. Yet, I go as more than friend to him, but also as royal representative. What tidings would you have me bring to men and dwarves?”
The seated figure smiled before turning to greet the request and its maker. “So you have embraced the role you were born to play, and now made to take?”
Legolas showed no such humor at the change, as he gracefully topped the crest and stood beside his father, sharing the view. As he spoke, he handed his father one of the simple goblets he carried. “I have accepted the challenge as my burden yes, but also as a bond to help hold me here upon this land against a growing strain.”
“For that reason also, then, I am happy that you lay some claim to this stone throne,” chuckled the king, tasting the fine vintage delivered him.
In a perfect duplication of his father’s emotionless delivery, now his own regal tool, Legolas corrected, “I do not lay claim to a stone or throne you shall occupy until all our people have passed over the western mountains, plains and sea. Nor shall there be a crown to claim once we all have left these shores. Though it pains me to stay, I claim only what time I may in which to relish and restore the glens of northern Gondor. Do not give up your seat too quickly on my account, father; I choose it not.”
“Then if you choose Ithilien a while over the Gray Havens at once simply to be contrary, you have failed to spite me or to know me. I do not want you to leave at all, my son, and thought I had made that clear.” He laughed to himself, uncovering an additional insight, “That I should find myself allied with your Dunthon against your favored choice is quite the turn of states and seasons.”
“I choose in my own right, for those important to me and not against any. I have chosen the hardest path before me, father—those dear to me over that destined for me.”
“Though I wish you would remain and serve beside me in this, our home, I am proud that you have not chosen the simple path, to succumb and sail. As would your mother and brother be, I am proud of all you have achieved and acquired: a wealth unlike your father’s, one not of treasure and trifles, but of experience, love, friendship and goodness. I wish you only more of that happy horde. And I will look for you to recount it fully with me in the Undying Lands.”
Legolas blushed at this unexpected and long-awaited praise from his father and king. He was accustomed to such outright affections from Dunthon alone. To what depth indeed have they two spoken in my absence? He smiled nervously, sipped his wine and gazed out into the distance.
His mind turning to length of time, rather than sight, he spoke across their renewed relation. “Father, our folk have never crossed the sea; we have no memory… Your place in the Undying Lands, among the other elven lords, seems clear. But what will he and I, an archer and fletcher, find to do there?”
“I cannot speak for any of us there and then, ion;(31) my sight and scepter extend not that far. Yet, I must believe that life and love are good beginnings at your final journey’s end. We shall leave much good behind, but have also much for which to look forward…”
With that thought, the two together—king and prince, father and son, fledgling friends—sat in good company and watched while the Sun sailed overhead, as it had for ages before and as it would for ages after they both had followed it. Each in his own time.
The couple sat side-by-side and hand in hand facing the sunset, perched a full two elves taller than any other tree around them. In their three thousand years together, this was only their second time atop the Greenwoods’ tallest tree, though the ancient trunk and canopy welcomed them with easy familiarity. It seemed to sense the coming travel about them, and so rejoiced at the two princes at play among its branches, and especially at Dunthon’s healthy and unassisted climb ahead of the fairer Legolas. Its years too fell away in their youthful energy, even as they turned their sights West and to years ahead.
Having finally settled and eaten their light meal in the crown itself, they sat quietly and allowed thought, dream and emotion to flow between them.
After a time, Legolas turned from the backlit moutaintop’s grin to look at Dunthon and to nudge his shoulder. “You hold back now… Tell me?”
Dunthon knew he knew, but both needed it to be named. He entwined his arm tighter with the archer, moved closer against him and met the gaze with almost embarrassed eyes. “You know I am deeply glad that you will make the effort to remain a while. But I am a Greenwoods’ son, and never have desired for other woods or walks. I must admit some doubt on this decision to make a new home before sailing, rather than remaining with this one until that time comes.”
Legolas smiled understandingly, and stroked the troubled cheek. “My love, do not fear the world beyond these trees. I have seen and tamed it, and will be there beside you, steady shot and arm both. Come and see a little more of this world before we must leave it.”
Dunthon nodded with this simple reassurance, trusting despite his doubts. Focusing on the task over his trembles, he turned his gaze past Legolas and strained southward as if to see this new forest in such need of them.
Legolas narrated, knowing neither had eyes so sharp as to see such distances even on the clearest and brightest day. “The woods there were sufficient to mask the Ringfellows from the Dark Lord’s eye; but to Elves and indeed most others, they appear thin and threadbare, neglected and gnawed in Mordor’s shadow. Were we to simply sit there, the mere presence of Elves would bring back some quick health. But I intend that we will take a more active hand in its restoring.”
Taking up the hopeful spirit, Dunthon suggested that “Haldhoron will shed no small number of acorns this season; we should gather and carry some so that we may truly make it home.”
Looking back to the returning spark in his companion’s eyes, he vowed, “As we shall leave these woods to start anew another, I shall call it Dundaur(32) —the First Forest of the Westlands, and forever companion to Lasgalen. They shall stand together into the ages as testament to the devotion of the wood-Elves’ love, of these elves’ love,” he explained, laying his open hand first on his own chest and then on Dunthon’s. “Some part of us will never leave these shores. Some part need never do so.”
Dunthon tipped his head to rest against Legolas’, and they remained contentedly so for moments considering all the many facets of the future. As before, and often after, Dunthon felt the distant crash of a wave or call of a bird echo through their shared thoughts. The challenges ahead rushed back as if of stormy surf, and he had to ask, “Always there on our horizons… How long do you think you can remain?”
“I know not, for I have not yet tried,” answered Legolas in an honest whisper.
“I know your heart and mind, my love. Even as you settle in this decision, the days play out ahead of you. You plan your battle against the mementos of Mordor, and our visits among your friends and Fellows.” Dunthon drew back slowly, opening his eyes to meet the deep, sad and resolute gaze of his lifelove, already taking him in. In his own confidently ambiguous, royal tone, he observed and asked, “You measure your passing over against their passing away; you intend to wait for the last of them.”(33)
Neither needed speak the painful truth. Together they had already accepted and agreed along that, their mutual path.
Dunthon gently kissed his archer prince, and wrapped an arm around his waist, asking “Sing to me once more, my love, of this world to which you will introduce me, and of that beyond where we will settle finally forever.”
Legolas nestled against him as the Sun sank below the distant mountain range across the treetop sea, and gave voice to the song within him. As the Sun made its final steps West that day, he sang words that would accompany him, as would his beloved fletcher and devoted dwarf friend, for ten dozen years more, and then beyond the count of days.
“…Long are the waves on the Last Shore falling,
Sweet are the voices in the Lost Isle calling,
In Eressëa, in Elvenhome that no man can discover,
Where the leaves fall not: land of my people for ever!”(34)
(30) Quenya: “the Last” (here the ‘last born’; from métima “last”)
(31) Sindarin: "son"
(32) Sindarin: “west wood” (dun “west” + lenited taur “wood”)
(33) See fanfic story "Immortal" by Gabrielle Lawson for an excellent and compatible story to the points.
(34) From the song Legolas sang on the Field of Cormallen, at the end of Chapter IV of Book Six, in LOTR.
• Arandrandaur Thranduilion, late Crown Prince of Mirkwood: ar- “without” + andrann “age” + lenited taur “forest, king, mighty”
• Ferien, late bowguard of Queen Mîriel and mother of Iavasulad: fer “beech (tree)” + ien “maiden”
• Galion, butler to Thranduil (from The Hobbit)
• Iavasulad Thalcuonion, royal fletcher to Thranduil, later prince of Eryn Lasgalen
• Idhrenard, spearman guard of King Thranduil: compound of idhren “wise, pondering” + nardh “knot” (double ‘n’ elided to one)
• Legolas Thranduilion, Crown Prince of Eryn Lasgalen: laeg “green, fresh; keen, sharp” + las “leaf”
• Mîriel, late Queen of Mirkwood: mîr “jewel” + iel “daughter”
• Thalcuon Thalolfion, late royal bowmaker to Thranduil, and father of Iavasulad: thala “steady, stalwart, firm” + cú “bow, crescent”; and thala + lenited golf ”branch”
• Thalind Bellerion, Captain of Eryn Lasgalen: thala + ind “inner thought, meaning, heart” and bell “strong in body”
• Thranduil Oropherion, King of the Woodland Realm (from The Hobbit)