BETWEEN THE DARKNESS AND THE LIGHT
Greenwood the Great, in the year 1685 of the Second Age
The two Elves – one golden-haired, the hair of the other like pure silver – stood motionless on the small clearing amidst the great northern forest like two young trees in the windstill. The golden-haired one was clad in the customary garb of the woodland folk: in rough brown linen and fine, moss-green leather, with a grey cloak; his shining hair tightly braided in the warrior fashion of the Sindar of old. The silver-haired one wore a tunic, leggings and a cloak in shadowy grey, his hair falling unbraided over his broad shoulders.
There was some faint resemblance between the two of them, beyond the fact that they were both very tall, even in Elven measures – some likeness in the fine, aristocratic features, an elegance found only in the clan of Elu Thingol, to which they both belonged. Only the royal clan of the Sindar (the former Teleri) possessed this rare combination of strength and beauty that came in different forms but in equal measure.
Two pairs of wide, elegant grey eyes looked at the naked hill, some hundred yards southwards from where the Elves were standing. At the hill with a tower of grey stone on the top. A tower that had been defended for so long, at the cost of so many lives – and was now abandoned. The proud stone tower that had been the last thread to bind Oropher, King of the Silvan folk in Greenwood the Great, to his ancient, proud heritage.
The tower of Amon Lanc had been built on the ruins of the First City of the Elves. A city called Kortirion, back before the rising of Ithil and Anor, before the first sundering of the Quendi. Before the call of the Valar would drive a wedge between those who wanted to see the Light of the Two Trees and those who wanted to remain faithful to the lands of their birth.
Upon the hilltop of Amon Lanc – which was not naked and stony back then but round and smooth, and called Kôr by reason of its roundness and smoothness – the Quendi who had followed Elmö built fair abodes of shining white stones in the light of Varda's stars, and the white streets between the houses were bordered with the great, dark trees of Palúrien; and those streets wound with graceful turns or climbed with flights of delicate stairs up from the foothill to the hilltop. And all those shining houses clomb each shoulder higher than the others, till the house of Elmö, the King, was reached that was the topmost, crowned with a slender stone tower. In the upmost chamber of that tower, a white lamp of piercing ray was placed, the light of which shone through the windows of the tower in every direction, for it collected the starlight through the open ceiling in a white crystal in its middle, focused it and radiated it with tenfold brightness, illuminating the whole city. Most of the other windows in the houses of Kortirion, however, looked towards Koivi-néni, the Waters of Awakening, even though they were beyond eyesight.
Oropher's tower was, of course, in no way alike to the ancient city of his birth. The First City had been destroyed by the fire demons of Melko, when their dark master had first fled to Middle-earth. Udûn's flame not only consumed the city and many of its inhabitants but also scorched the very soil of the whole hill, burning it away to the naked rock underneath.
For a very long time, Amon Lanc, the Naked Hill, as it was named afterwards, had been abandoned. It had only been some eleven hundred years ago that Oropher decided to leave the remaining forests of Ossiriand (which were but a pathetic shadow of their former glory) to settle among the ruins of his home of old again. He found the Silvan folk of the Greenwood without a leader, and they welcomed him and the handful of Sindar who had followed him there from Doriath of old, and accepted him as their King.
And now Oropher was about to leave his old/new home again and seek out a new dwelling place, far from here; in the mountains of Emyn Duir, beyond the Sîr Ninglor that mortal Men called the Gladden River. It was a long way, even for the woodland folk, and most of Oropher's subjects had left already; the caravans with heavily loaded beasts of burden protected by the keen-eyed archers, as the forests still harboured many perils, more so for families with young elflings who were still learning how to protect themselves.
Most members of Oropher's court had been sent forward to prepare the new dwellings of the royal family – which was not very large at the moment. Oropher's wife had been killed during the second sack of Doriath, and his son and heir had not yet taken a wife. Thus there were only three of them, including the King's daughter, Lady Nelladel.
The King himself had left shortly after sunset – as one of the Starlight People (that was what all those born before the rising of Ithil and Anor were called), he preferred to travel by night. Also, he did not want to meet the son of his brother, whose intrusion into Lothlórien was one of the reasons why he had decided to move his whole kingdom to the North. He left his son and heir behind, with a strong troop of the Royal Guard, to say farewell in his name.
And thus Thranduil Oropherion, golden-haired prince of the Greenwood, now stood silently, watching the abandoned tower that had been his home for nearly seven hundred years, and his heart was full of sorrow. Thrice had he been forced to give up his home so far, and he found it harder every time.
"I wish I were a tree," he said softly, "so that I could burrow my roots deep into the soil and remain in the lands of my birth 'til the end of my life."
His silver-haired cousin, who had come to say his farewells, nodded in sorrowful understanding.
"I cannot believe that your father would leave the place that used to be the home of our whole clan, only to avoid us," he replied. "Does he truly despise us so much that he would rather flee to the North and make an alliance with the Moriquendi, just so that he would not need to dwell in our neighbourhood?
"My father," answered Thranduil sharply, "has his reasons."
"And what, pray tell, might those reasons be?" the other asked. "We never harmed any of you or your subjects. And yet, both your father and my brother's son(4) see naught but invaders in us. Why can you not forgive me for marrying a Golodh? Is it still Elwë's Ages-old hatred that poisons the hearts of the woodland folk?"
"Elwë might have had his faults, and he certainly made some grave mistakes," said Thranduil thoughtfully, "but you, Galdaran(5), are blinded by love. You did not simply marry one of the Golodh. You married the Warrior Princess of the Golodh, a daughter of kings and a sister of kings, who wishes naught more but to have a realm on her own."
"And would that be such an unjust claim, cousin?" the silver-haired one asked softly. "Would my lady not be next in the line for High Kingship by oldest blood, if only the Golodh accepted female rulers? Was it not the right of succession that Maedhros established for the Golodh in Middle-earth when he gave up his right for the crown? And yet my lady chose to live with me under the trees and is content with the life we share."
Thranduil smiled sadly. He had always liked his cousin who was considerably older than he and had been his shining exemple once, in their shared youth in the enchanted woods of Doriath. But he could never warm to his cousin's powerful Noldorin wife, and feared that Galdaran's wisdom had been clouded by his love for that powerful and ruthless elleth.
"Is she?" he replied. "The two of you have been roaming the West of Middle-earth for nigh two thousand years, and wherever you went, the schemings of your wife caused discord. When you dwelt at Lake Nenuial, relations between she and Gil-galad were tense at best. Even Inglor, her own nephew, chose to return to the West in disappointment, after that disastrous family reunion."
At Galdaran's bewildered look he shrugged. "True, we lived in the forests at that time, but tidings reached us nevertheless. Then, just as Celebrimbor managed to establish his small realm in Eregion, the two of you suddenly moved there, Artanis starting to challenge him for the friendship of the Naugrim – and not entirely without success, 'tis said. And when the folk of Eregion chose to remain faithful to Celebrimbor, you came to Lórinand."
"You know naught about what truly happened in Eregion," Galdaran replied calmly. "You say your father has his reasons to turn his back on us and go to the North; but so does my lady have good reasons to act the way she does. You forget that she has brought knowledge with her from Aman that we cannot share – she has seen things we shall never have the chance to see."
"And what possible reason can she have – what possible reason can you have – to come to Lórinand and bring the life of the Silvan folk into turmoil?" Thranduil asked, more sharply now. "Amdír has worked long and hard to establish his realm there, and his work has just begun to show fruition. Why had the two of you to come and take that from him?"
"We have no intentions to question Amdír's rule over the Silvan folk," answered Galdaran with a frown. Thranduil tilted his head to the side.
"I do believe that you have no such intentions. But no-one of us trusts your lady in this matter. Amdír is bound to Lórinand and cannot retreat anywhere. But we shall leave these woods, ere she begins to bewitch our people as well, as she has done with many in Amdír's realm."
Galdaran shook his head, his eyes glittering angrily. "I will not have you accuse my lady of treason, cousin."
"I am not accusing her of anything," Thranduil replied wearily. "You choose to turn your eyes away from the truth? That is your right. But be not surprised if things take a turn for the worse again, and Amdír has no choice but to ask you to leave – or lose his kingdom to your wife. Where will you go then? The two of you have outworn your welcome in almost every Elven realm in Middle-earth, save mayhap Edhellond(6). Yet I doubt very much that Gildor Inglorion would be joyous if you knocked on his door one day."
"It will not come to that," said Galdaran simply. "Amdír is the son of my brother; I shall not allow him to be cornered. Not even by my wife."
Thranduil shrugged. "I know that you have the strength to do so. Yet you still have not told me the truth about what your true design in Lórinand might be."
"I have not," replied Galdaran, "for I cannot. I only know that we both feel strongly that we have a destiny to fulfil, and that destiny is bound to the Golden Wood."
Thranduil raised an ironic eyebrow. "Foresight, cousin? Or merely wishful thinking?"
"I know not," Galdaran admitted. "Only time can tell. Yet I know that this is something we have to do."
They remained silent for a while, each following the path of his own troubled thoughts.
"I regret that we have to part this way," Galdaran finally said. "I wish we could be the friends and close kin again that we used to be in Doriath."
"Doriath was in another time of Arda, and it lay under a magic that cannot be found on this side of the Sea any longer," Thranduil answered, a shadow of melancholy clouding his beautiful face. "I was barely more than an elfling back then, but I still relive that enchanted beauty in my dreams. Yet the yéni of our childhood are gone and cannot be brought back, save in memories. We have to look towards the future now, and my future, what ever it might be like, lies in the North."
Galdaran nodded, his heart full of sorrow. "I wonder – will we ever see each other again? So few of our close kin is are still left; 'twould be a shame to break the bonds for good."
"I know not," said Thranduil soberly. "The world is darkening again, and none of us can say for certain what the upcoming yéni may bring for us. But I hope that our paths will cross again, one day."
"So do I," replied Galdaran, and after a short hesitation he embraced his kinsman. "Take care, cousin, and may the stars of Elbereth shine over your paths."
Thranduil nodded, his throat too tight to give any answer. He returned the embrace, then swung upon his patiently waiting horse and galloped after his father's court. He had a long way to catch up with them.
Galdaran looked after him 'til he vanished even from the keen Elven eyesight. Then the silver-haired Elf, too, mounted his steed and rode off to the West, where the Great River could be crossed on horseback, to return to his new home.