Bard knows he should sit down, should rest, should eat. The streets of Dale are empty of all but the dead. The men and women of Laketown are tending the wounded and mourning their losses, cries of grief and soft bursts of song tangling together on the night breeze. He should join them, but he cannot. Not yet.
The flicker of the torch pushes aside the shadows as he walks, the light rippling off golden armour on a still body, catching the point of an orc’s spear, threading light through a spill of elven hair, soaked in blood.
He catches a flash of movement and spins, one hand going to his knife. The light falls on a kneeling figure cloaked in black. His back is to Bard, but the spill of silver hair down his back is unmistakeable. Thranduil is on his knees by the body of his elk, a hand resting on its nose. His shoulders are bowed, and there is such weariness and grief in his posture that Bard steps back, an unwitting intruder on the intimacy of a private grief.
“You should take care, Bowman – there may yet be orcs in the shadows.” Thranduil says. The elf-king does not move or turn. He reaches out a hand instead and closes the elk’s unseeing eyes, his fingers gentle.
“And you, my lord Thranduil.”
Thranduil comes to his feet as Bard joins him. The elk lies amidst the bodies of orcs, the bloodied arrows that took its life in a pile beside its head. It snuffled Bard’s pockets before the battle, searching for apples, and he can remember the soft velvet of its enquiring nose and the warmth of its liquid brown eyes.
“I am sorry,” Bard says.
Thranduil turns to him with a fey smile, sharp as a blade. “You sorrow for a beast when dead men and elves lie piled with the bodies of orcs?”
“Can I not sorrow for both?”
The golden light of the torch should soften Thranduil’s face, but the shadows catch in his blue-grey eyes and turn his pale skin to stone. “A man has only so much sorrow to spend.”
“And an elf?
Thranduil’s eyes flick to Bard’s face. They are as distant and alien as the stars that peek through the clouds overhead. “You should go to your people, Bowman. They will need you.”
It is true enough. His children are waiting for him as well. They have been working hard, tending the wounded and bathing the bodies of the dead. It is a heavy weight to fall on such young shoulders.
Thranduil’s gaze falls back to the body of the elk. Bard lays a hand on the elf-king’s shoulder. It is a simple, unthinking thing, but Thranduil starts.
“Forgive me,” Bard murmurs, stepping back.
Thranduil meets his eyes, his gaze unwavering. “You have a kind heart, Bard of Laketown,” he says.
It could be a compliment. But Bard, as he turns away, thinks that it is not.