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What Makes a King

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Still I’m pinned under the weight

Of what I believed would keep me safe.

So show me where my armor ends,

Show me where my skin begins.

Like a final puzzle piece

It all makes perfect sense to me…

The heaviness that I hold in my heart belongs to gravity.

The heaviness that I hold in my heart’s been crushing me.

--Lyrics from “Pluto” by Sleeping at Last

 

 

The Field of Desolation;  23rd of November, 2941 T.A.

The dark passages of Ravenhill were littered with bodies, the stench of death filled the air. The ground was slippery with the black blood of the Orcs that failed in their efforts to take the North.

Thranduil’s nose wrinkled in disgust, as he stepped over and around the corpses, but paused when his eye caught a small movement to his right; one of the foul creatures, not yet dead, stretch its hand toward the handle of its sword.  He ground the heel of his boot into the Orc’s arm, and with a casual flip of his wrist, drove his sword into its throat.  Within seconds, it was still.

Where was Legolas?  Feren’s report said he was sighted in these ruins during the fighting; his long, blonde hair was easily identifiable from the Field of Desolation.  Anxiety grew in his chest, and thoughts raced through his mind with increasing speed. 

Please, let him be alive… Let him be alive…

A shadow darkened the doorways, just ahead.  A tall figure whose silhouette was as familiar as his own.  Legolas turned to face him and when their eyes met, Thranduil’s knees nearly buckled, and he stopped himself from crying out.  His son’s face was full of anguish and disappointment, but he was alive.  Alive!  

Thranduil’s shoulder’s sagged in relief, and the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding escaped him.  Say something…anything, to make the pain in his eyes go away….

But nothing came out.  It hadn’t for years.

Legolas’s gaze lowered,  his blue eyes full of sad resignation, as the soft sound of sobbing reached the Elvenking’s ears.  “I… cannot go back.”

Thranduil had no valid argument for this, though his heart broke for his son.  In his own inept way, he’d tried to prevent Legolas’s growing feelings for Tauriel, but to no avail, and his son was forced to stand by to watch her cradle the body of the Dwarf she loved?

Thranduil didn’t want him to go, but it was too late for words; they would fall upon deaf ears, and be regarded with suspicion. The distance between them had only widened over the centuries since his wife’s death until Legolas hardly regarded Thranduil as a father anymore, after too many years with no affection expressed between them.  Legolas had always shown respect and deference to him as his King, but even that had vanished, when Smaug flew over their land to destroy Dale and sack Erebor.  When the company of Dwarves were captured in the Woodland Realm, leading to all the events of this day, their now their relationship was the worst it has ever been.

Legolas looked away from his father’s face and started to walk past him.

“Where will you go?” Thranduil asked.

“I do not know.”

Help me… do something…help...  think… think!

Thranduil had a sudden inspiration. “Go North,” he suggested. “Find the Dúnedain. There is a young Ranger amongst them. You should meet him.”

Legolas turned to him, curious.

“His father, Arathorn, was a good man, his son might grow to be a great one.”

“What is his name?”

“He is known in the wild as Strider. His true name, you must discover for yourself.”

The sorrow in his son’s blue eyes were palpable, reflecting the deep grief in his own. Legolas gave the slightest of nods, and turned to walk away, head down.

Say something to your son…. Say something…. Now!  Do it!

“Legolas?” Thranduil called after his son, a hint of pleading in his voice.

The son stopped, but didn’t turn.

“Your mother loved you," he said, softly.  "More than anyone. More than life.”

His froze, as the words sank in. Turning slightly, he lowered his head, put his hand to his heart, and extended it toward his father, not meeting his eyes. Thranduil returned the salute, head bowed.

Legolas Thranduillion, Prince of the Woodland Realm, was gone; possibly forever.  The Elvenking closed his eyes and lowered his head once again, trying to hold back the tears that wanted to escape, as he listened to the fading footsteps, which were quickly replaced by the howl of the winter wind blowing through the ruins…

And the distraught sobs, coming from the ledge.

He stepped through the rough arch and found Tauriel crouched over the Kili’s body, holding his hand, and desperately searching his face for any sign of life, though the wound in his chest and the pool of blood beneath him made hope impossible.

 She loved Kili, and he’d chastised her for it, ridiculed her feelings. Tauriel had accused him of being incapable of love; what reason had he given her to think otherwise?

Nevertheless, she needed someone now. Perhaps the Valar had arranged for it to be him.  Thranduil was at a crossroads now; things which had been stagnant for centuries had changed, and this was just the beginning.

He followed the sounds of Tauriel’s sobs, and came out onto the ledge to the mournful scene before him.  Tauriel was kneeling beside the Dwarf she had grown to love, tears flowing freely down her cheeks.  He stood there for a  moment, oddly fascinated by the sight of an Elf mourning over a Dwarf, yet compassion and pity was in his breast.

“They want to bury him,” Tauriel kept her eyes on Kili’s face, memorizing it, wanting to engrave the image in her heart.

“Yes.”

“If this is love, I do not want it.” Her eyes closed tight, and her breath caught.  “Take it from me, please!”

He sighed.  How many times had Thranduil wished he possessed that kind of power?  Would it not have saved him from nearly a thousand years of agony at the loss of his wife?  

“Why does it hurt so much?” Tauriel sobbed, grasping at her chest, as if she was trying to pull the hurt, the agony out of herself.

Thranduil gave her an honest reply. “Because…it was real,” he said, gently.

And it was.

He had no words of comfort, no magic to ease this kind of suffering.  Tauriel didn’t really mean it; it was her grief talking.  Removing the pain would also mean losing all memory of love she had for her Dwarven Prince.   She’d never want that, anymore than he wanted to lose all recollection of his beloved Queen.

It was unlikely she would fade from mourning; she and Kili had never been joined in marriage – they had never even had the chance to speak of their feelings.  Still the pain of Rista-Goeol might affect her badly.  Tauriel’s strength, both physical and mental, her character as a Captain of his Guardians, meant little when it came to matters of grief.  Many Elves he’d believed to have strong constitutions, had to sail from the profundity of grief his race was capable of feeling.

Would he lose Tauriel, too?  She’d been under his care since infancy, and to lose her so soon after Legolas… 

Like everything else this day, he had failed her too.

He swallowed down a lump of regret, and met Tauriel’s gaze, permitting her to search his eyes for sincerity, and after finding the assurance she needed, she gave a very small nod of her head.

Her eyes left his, and returned to her Dwarf Prince.  The tears still flowed freely, but her mouth curved upward into a determined smile. She kissed Kili fondly, held his gloved hand against her cheek, as she prepared to bid her Dwarf goodbye, to cherish his memory, but let go of what might have been.  Tauriel would keep their love turn it into a source of strength, and live for him.

Shame spiraled through him.   This “lowly Silvan elf” was so much stronger than her King! 

Presently, a small detail of Dwarves came with a litter, to take the body of their fallen comrade.  Thranduil stepped aside, putting hand to heart and extending it, head bowed; showing respect for the dead Dwarf Prince, and for his companions.  One of the Dwarves, the one with the hat seemed to know Tauriel, and offered, in a soft and kindly voice, to allow her to accompany the body to Erebor.  She was astonished at the invitation, but the others nodded their agreement and approval, should she wish to go.

Tauriel looked up at her King, pleading in her eyes.

Thranduil gave his consent, and with careful, loving hands, Kili’s lifeless form was placed on the litter.

“Thank you, My Lord.” She took her place by Kili’s litter and picked up his hand. Weeping openly, the Dwarves slowly made their way through the corridors, and down from Ravenhill.

Then there was nothing but the wind.

Thranduil stood, frozen.

No; not frozen.

Not anymore.  No longer was he the cold, remote, unapproachable, Sindarin King of the Woodland Realm.

He had been humbled, humiliated - and he'd deserved it.

Tauriel, Legolas, and even Mithrandir forced him to confront what he had become, and the enormity of it made him dizzy with anguish.  How much damage had to done to his people?  To his forest? Worst of all, his distant, icy demeanor had destroyed what was most precious to him: his relationship with Legolas.  He had driven away his own son!

This day was overwhelming, for many reasons.

 

Earlier, Thranduil had navigated the streets of Dale, taking in the horrific sight of bodies covering the ground, including Bara-Maethor, his beloved Elk.  He gazed upon the dead, unseeing eyes of his Elven army.  When he came across a small pool of red blood, with swirls of the foul, black Orc-blood, he felt the ground underneath him shift and the tall, ruined buildings threatened to disappear in a grey haze of memory…

Please, no...

It was Dagorlad all over again; the same sight of the ground carpeted in bodies and blood!   Panic rose in his chest as the horror threatened to consume him.  He had to stop all this death! 

The sights and sounds of Mordor, the screams of fury and agony, the stench of blood and decay intermixed with those of Dale.  Faces of those he had lost long ago materialized alongside those who had died only hours ago; all were real to him.

Past joined with the present, and became one.  It filled him with such dread and terror, he angrily ordered Feren to blow the horn and withdraw from this madness. 

Then Tauriel blocked his path, forcing his mind to the present, before he abandoned the good people of Dale and the Dwarves to their annihilation. 

When Legolas had stepped up, weapon drawn, to force the point of his sword away from Tauriel’s throat, the contempt and anger on Legolas’s face had been a shock wave that kicked him in the gut and shaken him to his very core; he’d never been so ashamed in his life.

Legolas had no hope of a life with Tauriel but he didn't hesitate to go with her to help save Kili.  Legolas had strength his father had never recognized.  Strength Thranduil did not possess.  This compassion and determination was a quality he'd loved about his wife, Mírelen; yet another way Legolas was so like his mother.

His Mírelen had lived on; she was still present through her child, and he’d missed it.  He'd used his grief and an excuse, and now it was too late.

“Those gems were not all your wife left you, my friend.  She left you a son!  Tell me, which would she have you value more?”  The sharp reprimand came from some nearby steps of Dale’s ruins.  Thranduil, still in shock, turned his head sharply towards Mithrandir.

The Wizard’s reprimand was met with wide-eyed silence, as Thranduil realized the truth of his words. In the end, he said nothing, but searched the Wizard's eyes beneath those bushy, grey brows, for the same recrimination had been in his son’s eyes.  There was none.

There was anger and impatience, yes, but mostly, there was pity.

He quickly rescinded his command to withdraw, and ordered the Elves to redouble their efforts.  Thank the Valar, the Eagles came in time to head off most of the second Orc army from Gundabad!  They swooped down low, grasped dozens of the foul creatures into their clutches and dash them against the rocks and cliffs; over and over and over again.  Radagast was astride Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles, followed by Beorn, the Skin-Changer, riding Landroval, his brother. 

As he flew through the air, Beorn morphed into a giant bear, and even an army full of Trolls was no match for that ferocious creature.  The tide had turned, slowed down, and finally came to a stop. The Battle of the Five Armies, as it was later named, was over.  The combined efforts of Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Eagles had fought off the forces of Sauron and the Free Peoples of the North had prevailed. This time.

Alone, on this cold, windy ledge of Ravenhill, all the things he'd pushed to the back of his mind, suddenly surged forward, and his thoughts raced, as memories of his words and deeds swirled into a dervish.

Thranduil’s breathing turned into short gasps.  Overcome, he viciously ripped off his gloves and threw them over the side of the cliff.  With trembling hands, he undid the clasps of his breastplate, and tore it from him, as if it were burning his flesh.  He frantically tore at the many pieces of his armor, removing them with desperate hands and tossing them aside with a roar of anger and anguish.

Thranduil Oropherion, Lord of the Woodland Realm, the only Elvenking on Middle Earth, and one of the world's greatest warriors, stumbled over to rest his forehead against the stone wall, panting. Eyes still closed, he turned and slowly slid down until he was sitting on the frozen ground.  He pulled up his legs, wrapped his arms around his knees, dropped his head and wept.

He wept for his people, whom he had failed.  He wept for all who died today; his commands had sent them to their deaths. He knew the names of every one of them.  He knew the names of their fathers, mothers, and wives, husbands and children, many of whom would be lost to grief.  He wept for Tauriel’s loss, and for the shame of dismissing what she felt, treating her love as insignificant.  He wept at the loss of his beloved father, and desperately wished Oropher were here to help him! 

He wept for himself at losing his wife, Mírelen, who died protecting their son, covering his little body with her own; a shield between her child, and the sword of the Orc who had raised it, to strike a fatal blow.  Mírelen had willingly sacrificed herself, and how did he treat her act of bravery, of ultimate love?  He’d brought dishonor upon it, disguised it as indifference and aloofness, pulled away from everyone, including the son she given her life to save!

What a way of coping to keep from fading, he had turned into a way of life, and he wept for the lies he told himself: He was forever changed; this is the way he had to be now.  He became so used to the lie, he had made it truth.

He wept for the son who was robbed of his beloved mother; he’d banishing all reminders of her, even forbidding the mention of her name.  He’d refused to speak of her, to even hear her name, and

he’d convinced Legolas he wasn’t loved.

Thranduil’s glamour fell, exposing the wound to the sharp needles of icy wind, adding physical agony to his anguish. Good, he thought to himself, I deserve to feel this pain.  I deserve to be alone.

He was alone, and it was his own fault.

Thranduil lowered his head even further and wrapped his arms around his head, seeking shelter as his sobs overtook him more than he thought possible.  A dam had burst, the floodgates had been opened; how to be strong for his people now?

After an eternity, his sobs slowly subsided, and he gradually began to calm himself. Weary beyond words, he sat for a while and tried to slow his gasps; breathing in and out, in and out.  He was too exhausted to make sense of the tangle of emotions.  It was too much; too much.

In and out, in and out…

The cries of the Eagles filled the air, as they circled over the battle field, searching out what remained of the Orc army.  Ravens flew overhead, no doubt carrying messages for the Dwarves, and  all the Free Peoples below called out to each other, as they began to sort through the wreckage for their comrades, living and dead.

Mithrandir had been exactly right in his predictions; Thranduil should have listened, but he did not, and had influenced Bard into sharing his dismissal of the Wizard’s warnings.  Bard was straining to cope with all the burdens forced upon shoulders, and he'd relied on the Elvenking’s judgement.  And his judgment, like many other things, had been flawed. 

In and out…

Breathe slowly, in and out…

He thought of Bard; a simple bargeman with no military training, leading a desperate, suffering rabble of holocaust survivors into battle.  The people of Laketown weren't prepared for the kind of fighting required of them, yet, there they stood, tall and proud, with their makeshift weapons, in rags instead of armor, ready to fight for their right to survive.

Feren had assigned Elves to train them as much as possible, in the weeks before the Battle.  Bard’s men did their utmost to learn from their Elven comrades, with pride and courage to rival any of his soldiers.  These were a hardy and resourceful people. Thranduil had little doubt they would survive, and make the most of this victory.  With Bard as their leader, these folks would thrive and make Dale their home.

Bard... What to make of him?

He'd met the man six years before; only one short meeting.  He had interviewed Bard for his job on the Forest River, recovering his empty barrels, and delivering new ones twice a week.  Even then, he recognized the looks, the bearing, and strength of his ancestor.  This man was the direct descendant of Girion, the last King of Dale; he was sure of it.  Thranduil said at the time; it was tactless, to remind the rightful heir to the throne of Dale, he had no kingdom, that this noble line had been reduced to a poor fisherman and bargeman, struggling to keep his family fed and warm.

When Smaug had awoken from his slumber, the roar of the Dragon was heard even as far as his Palace.  Thranduil immediately gave the order to gather food and supplies for the survivors.  Hours later, the word came:  Smaug was dead, killed with a Black Arrow, and Thranduil was certain who had carried out the deed.

Upon his arrival in the ruins of Dale with the supplies, Bard’s face was the one he sought; he was sure it was the Bowman who had led those people to shelter here.

Though their meeting on the river that day was brief, Thranduil recognized the makings of a true leader.  Nobility was in Bard’s blood, but Thranduil learned long ago it didn’t guarantee good character; many weak, greedy men, whose only qualification was their birth, had risen to power, leaving disaster in their wake, such as Master of Laketown.  Thankfully, that slippery, greasy, man was dead.  Never again would Thranduil be subjected to his simpering lies or his cloying, phony words.  Good riddance to him, and that assistant of his.

He thought about the Dwarves.  Once again, the Gold Sickness brought destruction upon themselves and a city of innocent people.  But King Thorin somehow overcame the curse which haunted his bloodline, and rallied himself along with the rest of his people; giving his life in the process.  Whatever he may have thought of Thorin, there was no doubt he died with honor, defending his people.  Thranduil admired that.

On the ledge of Ravenhill, his thoughts kept turning to the Bowman he found so intriguing.  So much had been forced on Bard; yet he carried out this new responsibility without question, and worked tirelessly for his people. During the meetings with Bard in his tent, he'd insisted Dale would only accept their fair share of Erebor’s treasure, and no more.  The Elvenking was astounded by this! Gold and power held no sway over this man, and governance exuded from him with each move he made, with every word out of his mouth.  He was a calm, soft-spoken, but strong man, not afraid to fight for what he believed was right.  There was no greed or thirst for power in him; just a deep love for his people.

When Thranduil searched those green-brown eyes, he found no lie in them.  He wasn't surprised when Bard searched his own eyes, for the same reason.  Bard was not given to loyalty unless one earned it, which was an excellent quality.  The Bowman inherited all the best qualities of Girion, and they would serve him well, to make him an effective leader, and fair King.

 The Elvenking understood the sadness behind Bard’s eyes, and, in turn, the Bowman saw through Thranduil’s cold countenance, and knew the truth of him.  Thranduil should have felt uncomfortable, exposed, but he didn’t; and this was both unsettling and intriguing.

Thranduil’s thoughts turned to the Gems of Lasgalen.  When Thrór first took possession of the Lonely Mountain, to re-establish Erebor, Thranduil had taken the broken pieces to the Dwarves, hoping to have it restored to its former glory.  It was the key reason why he brought an army to the doorstep of Erebor.  Once things were settled, he still hoped it would be returned to him, but now he understood what he’d really wanted; and it had nothing to do with gems of pure starlight.

His wife loved the necklace, but would have gladly cast away an entire mountain of gems, if it meant saving the ones she loved.  Mírelen knew how to love; it flowed so naturally and freely from her and Thranduil and Legolas were the real gems of her life.  No matter how beautiful or valuable, they didn't have the power to ease a broken heart, or restore a broken life.

In these recent days, many things had come full circle.  The Heir of Girion had finished the task his ancestor had started.  His Black Arrow, the last of its kind, hit the exact place where Girion’s arrow had broken the scale on Smaug, and killed him.  The Dragons of Middle Earth were no more.  Dale will be rebuilt, and the Three Northern Kingdoms will, with much diplomacy on the Dwarves part (and even more patience and tolerance on Thranduil’s part),  would become allies with the Men, like they used to be.

This must happen; it was the only way the North will hold.

Mithrandir was right; Sauron wanted to destroy the defenses of the Northern Realms.  Thranduil’s foresight told him this will not be the only battle between these realms and Sauron’s forces. 

The next great battle would take place in the future, will decide the fate of Middle Earth, once and for all, and it was essential that the North form an alliance, gain strength, and remain stable.

But those were thoughts for another day.  As he calmed down, he concentrated until his glamour covered and protected his exposed face, and the pain eased.  He closed his eyes, and leaned his head against the wall.

Thranduil didn’t want to think like a King. He wanted to be just Thranduil: the son, the father, the widower, an ordinary Elf!  For a few more moments, he wanted to just be, without all the noise, without distractions pulling at him from all directions—

“My Lord Thranduil?” 

Feren, Commander of his Military forces, stood in the doorway, with concern in his eyes, but respect on his face.

“Are you injured, Sire? Do you need assistance, or a Healer?” he asked.

“No, I do not. Take my armor to my tent for now. I will be there presently."

“As you wish, My Lord. I will have Galion lay out your supplies for you.”

“That will be fine. Thank you Feren”

Feren picked up the pieces of armor, and made no comment about Thranduil's swollen, red-rimmed eyes.  They had been best friends since childhood; the Commander had fought by his side for thousands of years, always steadfast and vigilant, ready to throw himself between his King and danger, even at the cost of his own life. 

With his arms full of armor, Feren looked over his shoulder. “I have ordered for you not be disturbed, Mellon nîn; take all the time you need.

After Feren’s departure, the Elvenking closed his eyes again for several long moments; reveling in the quiet.  He would not be blessed with such a lack of noise for the foreseeable future; there was so much to be done. 

An hour or so later, he sighed, and got to his feet, brushed the snow off his clothes, wiped his eyes and nose with the silken kerchief he always kept in his pocket.  He rubbed snow into his face to soothe the sting around his eyes from his tears, and to wash off the remnants of dirt, blood, and anguish.

He sighed once more, and reluctantly turned toward the doorways of Ravenhill, to make his way down to the ruins of Dale, where his tent, his army, his duty, awaited him.

The ordinary Thranduil was gone. It was time to be a King, again.

 

 

 

ELVEN TRANSLATIONS:

Mellon nîn – My friend

Rista-Goeol – “Terrible Severing” The pain from losing a bond-mate.  If this happens after they are married, after their fëas become one, it can be a dangerous thing; the spouse will often need to sail, to keep from fading, or, if they stay, he or she will feel the hollow place forever.